Wednesday, March 30, 2022

March Writing Update

 I've worked on multiple projects this month:

Restaurants and Revenge: This one (the second book in my cozy mystery series) is still in revision. I was stuck on a particular scene, and there were some other things I wanted to change. I think I've figured out what I want to do, but it will mean going back earlier into the story to make changes.

Bubble Tea and a Body: This will be book three in my cozy mystery series. The word count is a little over 17,000 on the first draft. However, the victim died in time and manner I hadn't planned for, and I still haven't decided who the murderer is from my list of suspects. I guess no matter how hard I try to plan, I end up pantsing.

The Season Between: I've decided to link the short stories in this collection as stories being told to a journalist interested in the Season Avatars, who are telling her about events that took place after Summon the Seasons. This would be considered a composite novel or a novel-in-stories, and it's something I haven't tried before. I've already written the first scene with the journalist and Gwen. I've been stuck on Jenna's contribution for a while, as I didn't like what I've drafted. I've outlined a new plot for her story, but as I've noted earlier, planning my fiction isn't my forte. At least it's good to be writing in this world again.

How's your writing going this month? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Getting Together with Writers

I'm currently reading a cozy mystery series that features a writer's retreat. The main character is an author who hosts week-long writer's retreats in her Victorian house each month. I have to admit the premise sounds idyllic, particularly when you include all the treats the main character's best friend bakes for the retreat (though I imagine the writers gain a lot of weight over the week!). I also like the idea of being able to hang out with other writers and talk about craft. 

I've attended a couple of cons virtually over the last couple of years, but it's been a while since I've hung out with other writers. That's part of the reason I plan to join Sisters in Crime this year. I'm still pretty new to the cozy mystery genre and would like to learn more about it, and networking with other authors would also be helpful. I'm not sure yet if I'll be able to attend either WisCon or ChiCon this year, though I do particularly miss WisCon. (Some of the friends I used to see there every year no longer attend, so some of the vibe is gone for me. I also don't feel the writing panels have so much to offer me any more, though there are plenty of other interesting panels there every year.) I should also check to see if there are any regular writer chats on Discord or Zoom that I could join.

I've never actually gone on a writer's retreat; sometimes, it's difficult enough just finding the time/motivation to leave the house and write at the library or coffee shop. Perhaps once my son is a little more independent (he'll be old enough to get his driver's license next year), I'll be able to go somewhere for a weekend. Even if I get a hotel or B&B for the weekend, the change of scenery might be helpful. I'd be disappointed in myself if I wasn't able to be productive on a retreat, though I suppose it would depend on how much preparation I did ahead of time. It probably would helpful to schedule a balance between writing and doing other things.

How often do you get together with other writers? Do you do so in person or online? If you've attended a writer's retreat, was it helpful? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Mid-Month Mysteries: Spring Themes


Spring officially arrives next week, although it usually takes another month or so around here for the weather to turn fully spring-like. Spring is my favorite season, so I thought this month it would be worth looking at cozy mysteries set in spring. There are already a couple of cozy mystery sites that have created lists of spring-themed mysteries, particularly Cozy Mysteries Unlimited and April Hayman's Pinterest board. I'll try to focus on books I've read.

One series I would recommend is The Great Witches Baking Show by Nancy Warren. It's a takeoff of The Great British Baking Show, but the protagonist is a novice witch competing on a baking show set in a British small town. The show is filmed over several weeks in the spring. (I think the series starts in April and ends in June, though I'm not 100% sure about that.) This means that the entire series takes place in the spring, as opposed to a series that may stretch out over a couple of years and many seasons. Nancy Warren writes likeable paranormal protagonists and weaves a mystery well, so her books are automatic buys for me.

Another writer who is an automatic buy for me is Louisa M. Locke and her Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. As advertised, this series is set in San Francisco in the late 1880s, and it explores the lives of working women (there are a surprising variety of jobs available for women in this era). The focus is Anne Fuller, who runs a boarding house; occasionally, some of the boarders and servants get their own stories in this series. Scholarly Pursuits is the sixth book in the series, but it can be read as a stand-alone (though you get more out of the story if you're already familiar with the characters). The previous books are set in the fall and winter, so I think this is the first novel set in the spring. There may be some short stories in the series that are set in spring 1880, but I haven't read all of them yet. 

I'm Facebook friends with Vicki Lemp Weavil, who writes under the pen name Victoria Gilbert. Her Blue Ridge Library series includes the book Past Due for Murder, where the inciting incident takes place at a spring bonfire. If you love books and libraries, don't miss this series.

As for my Abigail Ritter series, the first book, Murder at Magic Lake, takes place in mid-winter, and Restaurants and Revenge is set in very early spring. (Of course, since the series is set in Wisconsin, that doesn't mean the weather is that good yet.) It's not until we get to the third book, Bubble Tea and a Body, that we get to experience the full glory of late spring. I'm still editing Restaurants and Revenge, but I've written about 14,000 words for Bubble Tea and a Body. 

What's your favorite season? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Death of a Character

In 2019, I started playing a mobile game based on a major franchise (which I won't name to avoid spoilers). A few months after I started playing, I learned through a Facebook group devoted to the game that one of the characters would die at a certain point. (The group allows spoilers, and many players experienced the character death at the same time since it had just been added as part of a new chapter. I was nowhere near that chapter at the time.) Since then, I've tried not to progress through the game too quickly. I know of some players who have stayed at that chapter for a long time, refusing to play the final scene. However, I have kept on moving through the game, and now I'm very close to the point where the character dies. I like this particular character a lot and don't want to lose her, but I don't want to be stuck at this point either. I'm not sure yet if I will rush through this point to get it over with or keep stalling for a while.

Character deaths are an important part of fiction. They may be used to motivate other characters to react (especially in murder mysteries), as punishment or a redemptive act, as a sacrifice, or as the climax of the story. The one thing they have to do is evoke emotion. The game designers have made this character close to main character, but the sacrificed character doesn't appear in the story as much as you might expect. I think the game designers may have blunted the impact of this character's death more than intended. Of course, with everything else going on in the world, a fictional character's death is trivial. On the other hand, fiction can help us make sense of reality--or escape it for a while.

I've had at least one character die in each of my series. The hardest one to write occurred in Twinned Universes. I've killed off major and minor characters, ones I've liked and ones that I was glad to let die. It's definitely easier to kill characters in mysteries than in other genres, especially since the victims are "designed to die." Most deaths happen "on stage," though some are revealed to the reader afterwards.

How do you feel about reading/writing character deaths? Have you ever had a spoiler change how you feel about a story (or whether you finish it)? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

March IWSG: Conflict about Conflict

Welcome to March! Hopefully it goes out like a lamb where you are. It's also time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Learn more about the group at their website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

Our question for this month is Have you ever been conflicted about writing a scene or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?
This kind of concern was more common for me earlier in my writing career, particularly regarding scenes with sex or violence. I know it was emotionally hard for me to kill off a certain character in Twinned Universes, even though the event drove the rest of the story. I think the key here is to see if the scene really serves the story. It's not always easy for a panster to determine this, but ultimately I think the best approach is to write the scene. It may not work as well as you thought, requiring you to revise or delete it, but it's still good writing practice. The scene can always be saved in a separate file, though I've never returned to deleted scenes for inspiration.

What kind of scenes are you conflicted about writing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


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