Posts Tagged ‘mysteries’

Poking Around

I finished my client edit! Woo, that was an undertaking. And now I find myself with time to spend on my own projects!

But I also feel a little burnt out. I mean, that figures , but holy cow, is it frustrating.

Oh, I learned something today! So, I listen to a podcast called Myths and Legends, which tells stories from folklore around the world. I’m about two years behind (in the end of 2018, which is better than the four years I was behind), but, you know, not really time dependent.

Anyway, in the episode I started this morning, the host mentioned that legends are based in history, and myths are based in religion. Google research holds up this assertion.

I thought that was a neat distinction, and, uh, now you know too!

In other news, I’ve been researching mystery short stories. I enjoyed writing the mystery for Nano, and I thought I might try my hand at some other stories in the same genre every now and then. But, while I regularly read scifi and fantasy shorts, I’d never read any mystery shorts, excepting that one time I got that Victorian mystery collection from the library. All the stories in that were at least 70 years old, so I figure they’re not good research.

(Great book, though.)

I thought I’d get some short story magazines from the library, except they don’t have any, so I ended up getting a couple “Best of [year] Mystery Stories” collections. Except even those were hard to find, so I ended up with Best of 2020, Best of 2019, and a suspense collection called Nothing Good Happens After Midnight. I’ve been alternating them with two scifi/fantasy/horror short story collections I also have.

(Too many short story collections, let me tell you what. But, anyway, the idea is that I read a scifi/fantasy story, then a mystery, then a scifi/fantasy, etc., as a palate cleanser so the stories don’t get confused in my head.)

(Oh, I ended up reading the other Shannara short in that one collection even though it wasn’t next chronologically. It was only a few pages long and more of a scene outtake than a story.)

And I have to say…these stories don’t feel like mysteries. Oh, sure, they all have crimes, and some of them are presented in a way where what’s going on isn’t known about til the end, but a lot of them are more straight forward than that.

(Suspense and mystery are different genres, so I’m not too put out about the suspense collection not being mysteries. But the mystery collections, on the other hand…)

I mean, I guess I’m getting a decent idea of what’s current in the land of mystery shorts, but I expected more…actual mystery, if that makes sense.

Also, I’ve yet to come across any cozy-esque shorts in any of these collections. I know, for example, Agatha Christie used to write Miss Marple shorts, so they do exist, but perhaps they’re out of fashion. It only takes a few hours to get through a cozy mystery novel, after all, so many shorts just aren’t needed in the great scheme of things.

What do you know, squiders? Any thoughts on mystery short stories? Or short stories in general? Or thoughts on myths and legends? Or random facts (preferably about octopuses)?

See everyone on Thursday, when hopefully I have gotten my act together!

Nano Aftermath

Happy December, everybody. It’s miserably cold here and snowed for approximately five seconds before it got bored, which, well, boo, I guess.

December is here, and so Nano is over. I had 4,000 words to write yesterday, but they didn’t end up being an issue at all–in fact, it was some of the most relaxed I’ve ever been on a Nov 30 in a Nano year.

I also, for the first time ever, have a complete first draft after Nano. Now, most of the time, I’m writing fantasy or science fiction, which trend longer than mysteries in general, so I guess that’s not that big of a surprise. I think the closest I got before was a YA fantasy story (I may revise that one next year, we shall see) whose first draft ended up being around 60,000 words.

Nano was weird this year. Almost…dreamlike, in some ways. It had none of its usual trappings. The loss of the in-person write-ins made it so I didn’t connect with anyone locally, and even my online groups weren’t terribly active. Normally they perk back up for Nano, but I barely saw a bump this year.

So, did that make it worse…or better?

While I spent a lot of the month behind, at no point was I stressed. Heck, for the last two weeks, I was routinely writing 2K to 3K without breaking a sweat. Despite not doing my normal accountability things, such as posting excerpts and daily word count checks in one of my writing groups, I had no issues keeping myself motivated.

That makes me wonder how much of the accountability things are really working, and how much of them are just extra work on top of the writing.

50K is a little short for a mystery–my research says they tend to be in the 60-70K range, but I suspect I didn’t provide enough misdirection in the middle. That’s fixable. For now, though, I have written a complete draft of a mystery, and if you recall, I wasn’t sure that was doable.

Nano was fine. Barely broke a sweat. Felt weird about how not stressful it was.

Now we’re on to December! The education goals are back on, though I’m a bit tired out on writing books, so I’m doing a nonfiction book about Christmas folklore instead, and I intend to do my monthly prompts again. I shall have to think about whether or not I’d like to keep doing them, come the new year. The practice is good, and it’s nice to write something new each month, but they do sometimes detract from larger projects.

And I don’t know about returning to the Changeling story. It was going so poorly. My mystery went great. I don’t know if that’s because I had to plan the mystery more, or if there’s fundamentally something wrong with the Changeling story. Not all stories are salvageable, and I need to decide if it’s worth it to push forward still or give up.

2020’s almost over. This year has both been so long and too short. I was so enthusiastic at the beginning, looking out over a whole year of possibility. It’s hard to get up the energy to hope 2021 is going to be better. But we’re still a few weeks off on that, so we’ll have to see how everything goes.

How are you, squider? Plans for December? Looking forward to 2021?

Let’s Not Talk About That

Happy Election Day, squiders, I guess. Man, I’m exhausted from being anxious all the time and I wish I thought today would be the end of it. But that’s depressing, so let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about Nano!

Here we are, day 3. I’m pretty much right on track (though I haven’t written for today yet). Normally I try to write 2K a day so I can be a little ahead. I may get there yet, but thus far I’m just trying to keep up and not worry about it.

It’s actually a bit of a miracle that I’m on track. October, as I mentioned before, I spent most of the month trying (and failing) to finish my changeling story draft, so I didn’t switch to planning my Nano cozy mystery until pretty late in the month.

Which meant that I was not done with my planning by the time November hit.

We’ve talked about this before, but I find it really hard to outline in detail on a first draft, but I do like to have some direction (and also it helps with my pacing), so I tend to do an outline style where I know my major plot points and can head toward them in a timely fashion.

You can probably pants a mystery. Actually, the very first time I did Nano, back in 2003, I wrote a mystery. Well, I wrote 29,000 words of a mystery, then got a concussion and the death flu. That one was not planned. In fact, I wasn’t even going to do Nano until I woke up with a story idea on November 3rd. And I didn’t know who was the killer until I was 10,000 words in.

But I also haven’t ever touched that story again, so.

ANYWAY, though, I had to do new and different planning for the mystery. A lot more character work. Normally I just let them form on the page (though arguably that did not go well for the changeling story, so), but this time I found a blog post about using a random number generator so you could decide how they’d react in different situations, which was very useful. Also a quirk generator, because what’s the point of a cozy mystery if you don’t have wacky side characters?

And then I had to plan out my murder. (Actually greatly helped by a joke conversation on one of my writing group’s Discord channel.) And you can’t just plan out the murder. You have to know where all potential suspects are throughout the murder, so you can plan for red herrings.

My point is, on the morning on November 1st, I had MOST of my character work done.

So I spent the morning finishing my characters and then writing out the murder.

I spent the afternoon doing the murder timeline and the first third of a more detailed phase/turning point outline.

And in the evening, finally, I got to write. (And also botch dinner three times, but we’re not going to talk about that.)

It was an intense day.

My third of an outline should get me to about 20,000 words (or day 10ish), so around then I’ll need to do the next third. I think it’s okay, not having the whole detailed outline done. It’ll allow me to integrate things that happen organically in the first third, and I do have a general sense of how the story is going to go.

So. Still early, but doing okay.

How’s your November going, squiders? Doing anything distracting?

Messing Around with Other Genres

Squiders, I cannot find dumbbells anywhere. I guess it’s yet another victim of the pandemic supply chain issues (are we actually doing anything to fix for those for the future? Or just pretending they’re not happening?), but it’s ridiculous. I just want 8 or 10 pound weights and they are out EVERYWHERE.

Not that that has anything to do with anything.

The changeling story continues to not get anywhere, but admittedly that’s because I haven’t had any time to work on it. Instead, I’ve been working on a challenge for WriYe, where one person writes a log line, which goes to the next person, who writes the outline, and then on to the final person, who writes the story.

We’re calling it Tag! You’re It! I wrote a paranormal log line, the outline for a fantasy story, and got a straight contemporary story to write.

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything straight contemporary in my–no, wait. I did kind of once, a joint young adult story, that we ran with no speculative elements because my friend’s character was from a straight contemp YA story, but that was okay because 1) joint story, hooray, and 2) it took place at a summer camp which is one of my very favorite settings, and I should use it more often (but with speculative elements, woot).

ANYWAY it was a little intimidating. Especially since the outline I got was super detailed, way more so than I ever work off of, and then I had a bit of a crisis because I just did a straight phase outline with, like, ten points on it when I wrote my outline and then I wondered if I had not pulled my weight, but now that people are starting to post their stories (and the log lines/outlines they were given) I see that the outlines really run the gamut.

Anyway, it was an interesting exercise! The story that came out of it wasn’t anything special, but hey.

Otherwise, I’ve read How to Write Mysteries and am in the middle of How to Write a Mystery, both of which are older books (early to mid ’90s) that I inherited from my mother. (My mother wrote when I was younger, which is part of the reason I write. She wrote children’s books, though, so I’m not quite sure why she had writing books for every genre under the sun.) The publishing information in them is definitely dated but I think the mystery parts are fairly solid. And, well, I read enough mysteries to kind of know how they go these days.

The idea is that I’m going to write a cozy mystery here in the near future. (Possibly for Nano. If Nano happens.) A paranormal cozy, but still essentially a cozy. I’ve talked before about how I love mysteries but find them intimidating, and the books are good from that standpoint. The current one has examples of planning documents to help see who’s where at what points and how to dole out information.

(Actually, some of the planning docs seem generally helpful and I’m thinking about applying some of them to the Changeling story to see if that helps it roll along.)

It is still intimidating, though. But, hey, I’ll do the best I can and see where we end up.

Try anything new yourself lately?

Library Book Sale Finds: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Well, squiders. We were supposed to be on a cruise tomorrow. But, alas, that’s not happening, for obvious reasons.

Sad times.

So, a little over a month and a half ago, I went to another library book sale. Cuz I hadn’t in a while, and they were doing bags of books for $6, and I am weak.

(Actually, now that I think about it, I went to one in December too, though that wasn’t the best. The books were expensive. If I’m paying $6 per book, what’s the point? I should buy it new at that point so the author gets some of the money. I did get a ton of easy chapter books for the bigger, mobile one, though he has refused to read them.)

(He is mostly interested in books about Minecraft. Sigh. Though he doesn’t mind a story if someone else reads it to him. We just started The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.)

ANYWAY, this sale wasn’t the best either–not a lot of material, just a few carts of books and old movies. I did manage to end up with six hardcovers, though.

And here we are. In a timely fashion, for once.

Title: Twelve Angry Librarians
Author: Miranda James
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Cat
Cons: Not enough kooky side characters

There is something to be said about a bag full of old paperbacks, where you’re getting a mixed bag of who knows what from who knows when. Modern books are less fun, in that regard.

Now, you guys know I love mysteries, and you know I love cozy mysteries. But that being said, I find that most cozy mystery series, especially modern ones, don’t really do it for me. I’m not a big historical fiction person, but I tend to like historical cozy mysteries. Gives them something, I guess. Contemporary-based cozies feel the need for some sort of something extra, which is really hit or miss as to whether or not it works.

I’m guessing we’re doing a two-for-one here, in that we have a helpful pet (ala The Cat Who series) plus it’s library-themed. (I am as bad as the next writer about being a sucker for stories about writers/librarians/etc. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that said stories are any good.)

This is a well-established series (this is the eighth book) with Charlie Harris, late middle-aged career librarian, as our protagonist. Charlie is likable enough, if a bit dull, but that’s fairly par for the course. His cat, Diesel, is properly charismatic.

And maybe the other books in the series are better at this, but I kind of feel like a cozy mystery series, if not carried by the protagonist, needs a cast of wacky side characters. And we should get them here–the book takes place at a librarian convention–but we don’t especially.

There’s nothing bad about the book. It’s perfectly serviceable. But it’s also forgettable.

Read other books in the Murder in the Stacks series, squiders? Thoughts about how essential the side characters are? Favorite cozy series in general?

Be Jealous of My Box of Books

So, everyone I know is moving this week.

Okay, not everyone, but five people. It’s still a lot. And all at the same time.

One of the things about moving is that you realize how much stuff you’ve wedged into your current place, and how a lot of it you haven’t touched in years. Luckily for me, my family has realized they have a lot of books that they’re never going to read again.

And now they’re mine, bwhahaha.

My grandmother is an avid mystery reader and had a ton of books she’d already read, and my mother was offloading MG/YA science fiction and fantasy that she’d needed to keep up with what her students were reading, but doesn’t need them now that she’s retired.

Here’s my haul:

Box of Books

Mysteries/Thrillers/Gothic:

  • Lion in the Valley, Elizabeth Peters (1986)
  • The Ipcress File, Len Deighton (1962)
  • A Cold Day for Murder, Dana Stabenow (1992) (haha, her name has “stab” in it)
  • The Man with a Load of Mischief, Martha Grimes (1981)
  • Booked to Die, John Dunning (1992)
  • The Missing Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • Mosley by Moonlight, John Greenwood (1985)
  • Mists over Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • The Mind of Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1987)
  • What, Me, Mr. Mosley?, John Greenwood (1988)
  • Smoke in the Wind, Peter Tremayne (2001)
  • “A” is for Alibi, Sue Grafton (1982)
  • Raven Black, Ann Cleeves (2006)
  • Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller (1977)
  • The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley (1919)
  • The Scapegoat, Daphne du Marnier (1956)

YA/MG Fantasy/Scifi:

  • Uglies, Pretties, Specials (trilogy), Scott Westerfeld (2005-2006)
  • The Vampire Diaries (books 1-4), L. J. Smith (1991)
  • Songs of Power, Hilari Bell (2000)
  • Raven’s Gate, Anthony Horowitz (2005)

Other:

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1967)
  • Lord of Legends, Susan Krinard (romance/fantasy, 2009)
  • The View from Saturday, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1996)
  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech (MG historical, 2000)

(I really like E. L. Konigsburg. Or I did as a kid.)

What do you think, squiders? Read any of my new acquisitions? Where would you start if you were me?

Reading Through the Ages

Evening, Squiders.

I don’t know about your library, but if it’s anything like mine, it has displays throughout of books to entice you to take home more than you can manage. One of these, right in front of the check-out machines, is the “Staff Picks” table, which is evil and alluring and full of interesting things I might not pick up otherwise. I have found many wonderful things on the Staff Picks table.

The current one is called Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection, and, true to its name, is a collection of mysteries of the Sherlock Holmes sort of genre (including a Holmes story, The Blue Carbuncle, which I have previously read) ranging from 1845 (The Purloined Letter, Edgar Allen Poe) to 1904 (The Clue of the Silver Spoon, Robert Barr). (I’m currently in 1895.)

Lovely book, so far, except for one story that was so sexist that I immediately had to go on to the next one to rinse my palate.

(Actually, in general, the stories are pretty liberal on the gender equality issue, in some cases having their detective be female or the person who actually solves the case being a woman. Kudos, writers of another time. Actually, many of the writers included are women hiding behind pen names or initials, though some are out in the open.)

(Anyway.)

(As another aside, several stories seem to be parts of series, not unlike Sherlock Holmes, with reoccurring detective characters. I read an article the other day that was talking about a single person being chose to represent the whole, and this seems to fall into that. Of course there were other detective series–Sir Arthur couldn’t keep the whole thing running on his own–but you never hear about them.)

(ANYWAY.)

Some time ago a writer friend of mine made a comment about how you shouldn’t read any books that hadn’t been published in the last five years. I mean, the comment has merit–being up to date with what’s selling can help you target yourself for publication–but I don’t like it.

Part of that may be that I dislike the idea of writing to market, as unrealistic as that opinion may be. But the other part of it is that I enjoy older stories and, I would argue, looking at the differences in conventions between different eras has made me a more informed reader and writer.

Plus I like Victorian detective stories. You don’t see a lot like them in today’s markets, which seems to trend more toward thrillers or procedurals.

What do you think, Squiders? Is it worth it to read any book that sounds interesting, no matter when it was published? Is there some merit to only reading things that are new?