Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Writer's Wednedsday: Planning and Plotting

I've been playing with making Wednesday posts more about writing and being a writer, and posting fewer reviews (partly because I'm busy and can't read as many books, and partly to keep reminding myself and you that I'm a writer). I can't do updates on my progress every week, though, so I'm going to share thoughts on my writing process. I can't claim it's wisdom; I can't even claim any of it will be applicable to anyone but me. But maybe someone will get something useful out of it.

I'm currently in the process of planning my next mystery, and I've talked about that process before (see below). But something I'm thinking about this time around is the structure of the novel. My last book got a comment from an editor about there being too much that happens before the murder, and that got me thinking about the right place for a corpse. Of course, when I looked hard at the draft of that book (and got feedback from another editor), what was really wrong was that there was too much *unimportant* stuff before the murder--too much detail of every move JJ made. But the fact that the first reader argued that the corpse should show up in the first chapter gave me pause.

Of course, a quick look at the cozy mysteries I read tells me that the rule is nothing like that hard and fast. I've seen books that started with the body on page one, and others that take half a book to get there (I'll admit that those usually frustrate me a bit; it is supposed to be a mystery, after all; the sweet spot may lie somewhere in between, and I'll bet it's in a different place for every book).

There's another issue, too: we are expected to open with some event significant and exciting/dramatic enough to grab the reader and make them need to keep reading. A corpse is a pretty good way to do that. But lots of things are important to the main character, so maybe a broken coffee-maker spewing grounds all over the counter is a good dramatic opening, too.

As you can see, I'm rambling, trying to sort out some ideas and see what flies. Let me know what you think: must a cozy mystery open with a major dramatic event, and at what point should/must the corpse show?

I had originally though I'd write this about outlining/plotting, since that's what I'm doing right now. I was bemused to see that I have written posts on this subject 3 times. My approach has evolved.

The first time was in Feb. 2013.  This post refers to a novel called "Murder Stalks the PTA." That evolved into Death By Ice Cream, the first of the Pismawallops PTA novels. That evolution was one of the things that convinced me the process I discussed in this post needed work. Up to that point, I'd been an unthinking pantser, taking the nugget of an idea and just jumping in and writing.

The second time was in September that same year, and I was starting to develop the outlining approach that I have more or less stuck to since, having struggled with the revisions of that novel.

The third time was in October 2015, as I was preparing to write Death By Trombone. Reviewing that was good--it reminds me of some things I'll want to do on the way to getting ready to write Death By Library.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: First-Class Murder

Middle Grade Monday and Mystery Monday merge at last, with this 3rd installment in the fantastic Wells and Wong series! 
I don't think this was the cover that came with the kindle book, but I like this one better :)

Title: First Class Murder (Wells and Wong/Murder Most Unladylike #3)
Author: Robin Stevens
Publication Info: RHCP Digital, 2015 (Kindle); Hardback 2015 by Corgi Children's, 336 pages.
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it's clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen - almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery - and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

My Review:
I've been delighted with this series from the start, and can't imagine why it took me so long to get back for book #3. This was a worthy addition to the series, with the relationship between Daisy and Hazel developing nicely (I'm happy to see Hazel gaining self-confidence and starting to hold her own more with Daisy). Other characters were fun and interesting, and I enjoyed seeing the girls work through their reluctance to work with any other sleuths (as well as their well-founded contempt for the adult in charge of the investigation).

I continue to be amazed that Ms. Stevens can actually write murder mysteries for children, and makes it work. In many ways, it's not much different from cozy mysteries for any age--keep the focus on the mystery, not the murder, and use a touch of humor to avoid being weighed down by the corpse. One thing I realized with this was that, unlike with most cozy mysteries where I am unimpressed with the amateur sleuth's motives for sleuthing, with the girls no excuse is needed. They are kids, and having decided that they are detectives, they just don't need an excuse or permission to solve the crime. As they say, it's what they do.

The mystery is well put together, too. I ran through much the same set of suspects they did, discarding each in turn mostly because the girls settled on him/her too early in the book for that to be the whole story. I did get part of the answer right--the killer isn't a big surprise--but it took the girls to figure out how it was done. That was a clever bit of plotting (and detecting). 

The book is also, of course, a tribute to Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, and I can't help wondering if there's a nod to Lord Peter Wimsey in there, too! These will mean more to adults than to most juvenile readers, but readers of all ages can appreciate that Stevens is also dealing with issues of race, racism, and belonging.

My Recommendation:
This is a great series, for older children and for any lovers of cozy mysteries, and this is a good addition to the series. I do recommend reading in order--there are minor spoilers in this book for the preceding books. My only objection is that I'm pretty sure that vocabulary has been changed for the American edition. I really wish publishers wouldn't do that--let American kids learn that not everyone speaks exactly as they do! On the other hand, the author deals well with things that are both British and dated (the setting is the 1930s) by having Daisy provide a glossary at the end, so confused readers can look up unfamiliar words.
Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of First Class Murder from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

#Fi50: Empty Nest

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!
fiction in 50   image Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words).

The rules for participation are simple:

1. Create a piece of fictional writing in 50 words or less, ideally using the prompt as title or theme or inspiration.
That’s it!  But for those who wish to challenge themselves further, here’s an additional rule:

2. Post your piece of flash fiction on your blog or (for those poor blog-less souls) add it as a comment on the Ninja Librarian’s post for everyone to enjoy. 
And for those thrill-seekers who really like to go the extra mile (ie: perfectionists):

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

This month's prompt is Empty Nest
At this time, I'm only planning to continue the hop through the end of the year, as it doesn't seem to have gotten any momentum.  

Empty Nest

Joan watched the moving van leave, and walked through the house one last time. Her suitcase stood by the door. A plane ticket was tucked into her purse.

“It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime!” Her words echoed in the empty house. Empty as the heart missing the grown children.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.