Monday, April 21, 2014

The Hazards of that Ticking Clock

Janet here. Stories often have deadlines, a ticking clock that pushes characters to pursue their goals with a sense of urgency. In a suspense novel, the hero might be racing against the clock to find his sister before she dies at her kidnapper’s hand. Of course not all ticking clocks have life and death stakes. But if that ticking clock is connected to your characters’ goals—what they want and pursue throughout the novel—then that deadline is vital to the characters and the readers.

In my historical novel The Bride Wore Spurs, heroine Hannah’s goal is to run the family ranch. When events make it abundantly clear that the ranch hands won’t listen to her, she is forced into a marriage of convenience with neighboring rancher Matt. The wedding will take place in three days. That short time frame ups the tension. Hannah must get her mother’s wedding dress altered and endure the startled reaction of others, all the while grieving her father’s failing health and the lack of love between her and Matt. With this short time period till the wedding, the heroine and I had no problem keeping track of the days.

But I did lose track once.

In my novella, “The Last Minute Bride,” Brides of the West, Elise and David are estranged but must join forces to provide a lovely reception for their best friends’ wedding in two weeks. All the while Elise is hurting by what she believes is David’s betrayal. As I wrote the novella, I had no problem keeping track of the days, but during revisions, I reordered some scenes, easy to do with cut and paste. The problem—I somehow missed that in the new version of the story I’d messed up the passage of days. I was able to fix the discrepancies during editorial revisions. Still, that blunder unnerved me.
Since that experience, when writing a story with a specific deadline, I’m very aware of the importance of keeping track of the passage of time. So how do I make sure I get it right? And don't have the crazy urge to rid the story of that ticking clock?

                                 Eliminate Ticking Clock Hazards with a story outline

As I write, I like to outline my story, giving the briefest mention of what happens in each scene of each chapter. The outline is invaluable when my story has a ticking clock. I not only list the scenes in each of the chapters and the briefest mention of events, but I also add in large bold font the date and day the scenes take place. I may have more than one scene or even more than one chapter under that date. If a scene doesn't take place for a day or more, then I must be careful to include them in the passage of time. At the end of writing the draft—or my version of a draft, which is never rough or fast—I’ll have a complete outline of the book.

This outline is a great resource for me. As I write, the outline allows me to check facts like a minor character’s description or the name of the hero’s dog without having to scroll through the manuscript. I find this handier than the Find feature in Word.

Some may find the idea of dividing your story into chapters as you write bazaar, especially if you don’t write linearly. Still, you do create scenes and if your story has a ticking clock, you can decide what date those scenes should fall under. If you like to skip around writing scenes, beware that writing out of sequence is another potential hazard of the ticking clock.

In my current manuscript heroine Carly must have a bridal gown and trousseau made in three weeks, the date of her customer’s wedding. If the deadline is vague, then keeping track of the days and weeks might not matter, but in this case, the deadline is specific and reputation of her business is at stake. Try not to create a deadline merely to add pressure to the characters and up the emotion. Deadlines should force characters to take actions that forward the plot. Everything that happens in your story should forward the plot.

Here’s a peek at the opening of my story’s outline. Notice I give only enough details to trigger the scene in my mind. I don't list every event. For example before Carly looks for the deed in Chapter Three, she puts her son to bed. No need to remind myself of that little detail. Scenes may be in the same chapter but take place on different days. I add any information to the outline that I might want to check like minor character or store names.  

Tuesday, March 1, 1898
Chapter 1: Carly buries Max. 

Friday, April 1, 1898
Nate visits Carly’s shop. Sister Anna has deed won in a poker game by Anna’s dead husband Walt. Carly faints. Nate promises 6-year-old Henry he’ll help his mother.
Chapter 2: Carly won’t give up shop without a fight. Nate agrees to make livery repairs in exchange for Morris Mood’s empty house out back. Stray mutt.
Chapter 3: Carly questions Sheriff Truitt about legalities of shop ownership. Is told the Circuit Judge must rule. Lester and Lloyd Harders in jail. Carly searches house for deed and fails.

Saturday, April 2, 1898
Nate moves Anna. Visit cemetery on way.
Chapter 4: Carly gets Vivian Schwartz’s big bridal order for April 22 wedding in 20 days. Nate returns with Anna. Carly hires Anna.
Chapter 5: Nate moves Anna and stray dog she names Maizie into house. Carly and Henry bring food. At Stuffle Emporium Nate asks about outlaw Shifty Stogsdill.

Monday, April 4, 1898

You get the idea. I keep the outline open as I write and add to it as I go or soon afterward while events are fresh in my mind. Note that I had no Sunday scene, but the dated outline ensures I won’t lose track of the ticking clock, even when I skip days.

When I first used this outline technique, I added page numbers of the chapters but then was always changing them. I don’t need page numbers to find what I need when I use the Bookmark and Find features on Word. 

                              Eliminate Ticking Clock Hazards with Scene Headers.

If the idea of an outline still makes you nauseous, but you have a ticking clock in your story, you might want to consider adding the date at the top of the page before you write a scene. If you add the point of view character’s goal, you've given yourself a nifty guide for writing the scene. For example, Monday, April 12, ten days till the wedding, Carly hopes for no interruption so she can… That helps me stay on track with the scene's goal and time frame.

To learn more about the importance of scene goals for your characters, click my post here.

Not that we want to show that ticking clock by starting scenes with the day of the week as if writing in a journal.To make a ticking clock an effective tool, writers should show characters scrambling to meet that deadline in the story itself. Make readers worry by planting roadblocks that stymie progress and raise the stakes. Start scenes with a hook and bring that information in during the action.   

              Eliminate Ticking Clock hazards with a  Historical Calendar 
Historical writers must make sure the days of the week jive with the year of their story. If the aforementioned wedding takes place on April 22, 1898, then I’d better know what day that falls on. It’s super easy to check the old calendar online. These calendars show what day holidays fall on and even identify the phase of the moon. If you want a romantic full moon in your historical, you can make sure that’s feasible.

For breakfast I brought yummy store-bought goodies. None of the “Use by” dates has expired so the donuts, muffins and pastries meet my freshness ticking clock. My goal. LOL

Have you written a story with a ticking clock? If so, please share how you keep track of the passing of time. 

As a reader do you enjoy stories with ticking clocks? 

Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Weekend Edition

Easter greetings from all of us in Seekerville.

We Have Winners

 Please send us an email to claim your prize. ( See our legal page for any questions.

 Winner of last weekend's mystery box of books is Wilani Wahl.

Monday, Love Inspired author Missy Tippens brought you "Backstory: Where to Draw the Line." Winner of the first five pages with backstory in mind is Sherida Stewart.

What do dragons, time machines, and God have in common?  Dawn Ford was in Seekerville on Tuesday with her post, "Speculating on Speculative Fiction." Winner of a $25 Amazon gift card is Amy Campbell.

Wednesday Debby Giusti hosted humorous mystery author Larissa Reinhart, who discussed "How to Cozy Up a Cozy Mystery," in her blog post. Larissa writes the Cherry Tucker Mystery series and graciously donated one of her books in e-format to a lucky winner of the drawing. Debby Giusti added a second drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. Larissa's winner for the digital book is S. Trietsch, and Debby's winner for the gift card is Jana Vanderslice. Congrats, ladies!


Thursday Cheryl St.John shared about how to keep your story moving forward--Everything that happens in your story, every piece of information learned, every obstacle faced, every conversation, should propel the story toward the conclusion. Winner of one Kindle copy of any book of Cheryl's books is KAV.

Love Inspired author Tina Radcliffe shared "Five Things I Learned About Writing From Jack Reacher," on Friday. Jack's drink of choice is black coffee. (Shaken not stirred.) Where did the name REACHER came from? The author's wife suggested that if his books didn't sell he could be a reacher in the grocery store since he is so tall. Winner of an Amazon gift card is Debra Marvin and winner of a Starbucks gift card is Piper Huguley.  

Next Week in Seekerville

Monday: Love Inspired Historical author Janet Dean is your hostess today. She'll chat about the "Hazards of Ticking Clocks" and share tips for keeping track of story deadlines. Janet will be giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to someone leaving a comment.

Tuesday: Sandra Leesmith will discuss "Using Setting to Deepen Your Character." She learned several exciting techniques at the Desert Rose conference and will order Writing An Active Setting  by Mary Buckham for one lucky winner.

Wednesday: Seeker Glynna Kaye brings us “Layering As You Go: Part 2,” which will take a closer look at some of the elements of layering touched on in Part 1. There are THREE chances to win a copy of Glynna’s April Love Inspired release, Pine Country Cowboy!

Thursday: Seeker Cara Lynn James is your hostess with her post, "Making Unlikable Characters Likable." She's giving away a $10 gift certificate to Starbucks to one lucky commenter.

Friday: Join award-winning author Siri Mitchell when she discusses "The Fine Art of Making Stuff Up,” a must for every novelist who reaches a point where gaps begin to appear between research and the story. What you do about them can make the difference between a compelling tale and a self-conscious apology. Learn the whens, whys, and hows of "making stuff up and win one of two giveaways of Siri’s latest books, Love Comes Calling and The Miracle Thief.  

 Seeker Sightings

From Audra Harders: My gift to you this Easter weekend. Second Chance Ranch is #free Saturday and Sunday on Amazon. Download it to your Kindle or Kindle app and share the gift with your friends. Tell everyone you know they reeaaallllly need to read this book!!!! 

And join Audra on Friday, April 25 as she shares her family favorite Cheesecake recipe on An Indie Adventure.

Join Sandra Leesmith this week on her blog tour that features her new release LOVE'S PROMISES. Begin the tour at Seasons of Humility on Monday and find the schedule for exciting interviews that feature Sandra's research for this novel, the marvelous Lake Tahoe setting, and don't miss the interviews of the hero and heroine. There is also a fun surprise rafflecopter gift featured during the week. The tour runs Monday, April 21 to Friday, April 25.

Beginning today, Mary Connealy is publishing a novella in thirteen installments, twice a week, leading up to the release of Stuck Together, June 3rd. Closer Than Brothers is how the Trouble in Texas heroes met in Andersonville Prison. It's not really a story, just a string of scenes showing them meeting, fighting at each other's sides,  helping each other through the nightmare that was Andersonville.We begin with Vince.

Chapter One is up now at

Debby Giusti will attend Barbara Vey's Reader Appreciation Luncheon on SAT, April 26, in Milwaukee!
She'll bring back lots of picture to share.

On Wednesday April 16, Ruth Logan Herne sneaked out of her rabbit hole and had a wonderful time talking with the Hilton Readers Group. The ladies invited her to do two of her favorite things: Eat and Talk!!! 

Random News & Information

Many thanks to those who contributed links this week! 

Night Class Info Here.

  Seekerville congratulates the Christy Award Nominees!  How the nominees are determined: here.

Baker Publishing to Acquire Regal Books (PW)

Nominate Your Favorite BLOG at the TCBN Blog of the Month Nominations. (Shameless Seekerville Self Promo!) (TCBN)

Book Expo America to Hold Book Start-up Pitch Contest (DBW)

How To Market Your Book To The Locals – Four Secrets (The Future of Ink)

No pressure Speedbo writers. But you have approximately 12 days to submit your polished pages for the Perfect Pitch Contest!~

The Art of Creating Memorable Villains Whatever Your Genre (Writer Unboxed)

Ways to Publish and Sell Your eBook: INFOGRAPHIC (GalleyCat)

The Trailer to Authors Anonymous! (Movie Maniacs)

Colorado House Passes Sales Tax Fairness Bill (ABA)

That's it! Have a blessed weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Five Things I Learned About Writing from Jack Reacher

 We shared an interesting article by Forbes Magazine in the Weekend Edition a few weeks ago:

The Strongest Brand in Publishing is....

"Lee Child's Jack Reacher series has the largest reader loyalty of any best-selling author today." 

When Child was interviewed for the magazine he credited the following with the strong branding:

Consistency: Jack Reacher can be counted on to be the same character in each book.

Authenticity:  " the art of narrative authenticity is culling details that are authentic from the larger pool of those that might be merely accurate."

Uniqueness: The series is like none other, filling a previous hole in the market.

When I picked up my first Jack Reacher novel I had no expectations. In fact, I don't read many, if any, books with a single male protagonist, so I suppose I had negative expectations.

My response was hugely unexpected. I read through 16 books in four weeks (I didn't read the two prequel novels or the singles).  It became an obsessive experience.

There were several occasions when, after I finished a book, I paused, a little annoyed at plot contrivances. BUT--that was after the book was finished or if during the actual devouring of the book, it certainly didn't keep me from completing the book.

Child had done his job. I was pulled into the world he created and I empathized and cared enough about Jack Reacher to read to the end.

Being a writer, naturally I sought to analyze how Child does this.

First let me say that I recognize that in Seekerville our audience is comprised of CBA authors and readers. The Jack Reacher series are thrillers, with very little or no use of graphic language. They have violence depicted, and they do have adult content in some of the books (none in the movie). So whether you read them or not there is still a vast amount of learning to be found in analyzing the writing.

Here's the trailer for Jack Reacher

Do not  be confused. Jack Reacher is NOT Tom Cruise. We'll save that discussion for last.

Now let's get down to the nitty gritty. Here are the five things I learned about writing by reading Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  I learned how these writing techniques are done by a pro and you can too!

1. Empathy

I've often (okay, possibly ad nauseum) quoted Michael Hauge. Identification with the protagonist equals empathy. You make the reader identify with the character in the following ways:

1. Make the character the victim of some undeserved misfortune.
2. Put the character in jeopardy. 
3. Make the character likeable.
4. Make the character funny.
5. Make the character powerful.

Hauge recommends using two of these characteristics. Jack Reacher embodies all five of them. 

He's alone in the world. Each book is a Jack Reacher in jeopardy book, and we are not only rooting for him but worrying about him.

Jack is likeable, funny (with a self-deprecating, dry sense of humor) and powerful.
  • His mouth was set in a wry smile that was halfway between patient and exasperated.
  •    "When in doubt, turn left."

  •  Reacher was six feet and five inches tall and had hands the size of supermarket chickens,... 

 Characters like Jack Reacher are anti-hero archetypes, no different than Robin Hood, Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry) or Spiderman. They are flawed heroes, vigilantes, doing for humanity what we don't dare do ourselves. Child calls him an over-dog.

2. Goal -motivation- conflict.

There is never any doubt in a Lee Child book what the GMC is and you don't have to wait very long for the GMC to be unveiled. There is no subtle hint, it's in your face, explosive GMC and every single time Reacher is willing to risk everything to achieve his goal no matter what stands in his way. That's what makes the books so powerful. 

As Hauge says,"If your hero isn't putting everything on the line to get what he wants, WE DON'T CARE!"

A Writer's Digest article quoting thriller writer Gary Braver, says this on how to write a thriller:

 "There are only three themes in all of literature: death and rebirth ; the hero slaying a dragon to restore the world to normalcy ; and the quest to make life better . Know which theme fits your story. 

..make clear what your protagonist wants and what he fears.  There are two quests: Stopping the bad stuff form happening  and dealing with the character’s baggage.

 Isn't this applicable to  romance as well?

3. Urgency 

"Urgency pushes the plot and the pace."-Debra Dixon (GMC)

Urgency is tied to motivation.  It creates a finish line and one that is so easily defined it sets the pace for the protagonist who is willing to (as Dixon says) "act against his own best interest" in order to get there.

Not only that, but this well defined urgency is what makes readers stay up and read obsessively and ignore their own best interest to finish the book.

Can you FEEL the urgency in these Child novel blurbs?

A bus crashes in a savage snowstorm and lands Jack Reacher in the middle of a deadly confrontation. In nearby Bolton, South Dakota, one brave woman is standing up for justice in a small town threatened by sinister forces. If she’s going to live long enough to testify, she’ll need help. Because a killer is coming to Bolton, a coldly proficient assassin who never misses.
 Reacher’s original plan was to keep on moving. But the next 61 hours will change everything. The secrets are deadlier and his enemies are stronger than he could have guessed—but so is the woman he’ll risk his life to save.- 61 Hours.

Four people in a car, hoping to make Chicago by morning. One man driving, another telling stories that don’t add up. A woman in the back, silent and worried. And a hitchhiker with a broken nose. An hour behind them, the FBI descends on an old pumping station where a man was stabbed to death—the knife work professional, the killers nowhere to be seen.

All Jack Reacher wanted was a ride to Virginia. All he did was stick out his thumb. But he soon discovers he has hitched more than a ride. He has tied himself to a massive conspiracy, in which nothing is what it seems, and nobody is telling the truth.- A Wanted Man.

4. Character Driven versus Plot Driven

"Character-driven: When something about the character's essential self leads to a particular action or event in the story. Plot-driven: When a character takes a particular action so that the result is a particular plot point." - Alicia Rasley

Or from Indie Tips Film making:

 "In a character driven story, if you change one thing about the smallest character the dynamic of the whole story changes. If you were to remove the main character from the story, there would not be a story left to tell." 

 "A plot driven story is one where the plot defines who a character is. The call to action still exists despite a change in character."

Most of us write character driven stories.

Lee Child writes a perfect blend of both. 

 5. Details 

 Possibly one of my favorite things about Lee Child books is his unique blend of showing and telling and his attention to details,  and his phraseology. 

 "The shaved snow on the street was part bright white powder and part ice crystals. They shone and glittered in the moonlight." -61 Hours

"I could feel the storm boiling up overhead. The air was like soup. It was pitch dark. About midnight, the storm broke. Heavy drops the size of quarters spattered the leaves around me." -Killing Floor

"Two minutes later the phone rang. An old-fashioned instrument. The slow peal of a mechanical bell, a low sonorous sound, doleful and not at all urgent."- Worth Dying For

"He kept the car at a nothing-to-hide seventy miles an hour and touched the CD button on the dash. Got a blast of mid-period Sheryl Crow in return, which he didn't mind at all. He stayed with it. Every day is a winding road, Sheryl told him. I know, he thought. Tell me about it."-One Shot

 I'm really running out of time and space, though not enthusiasm. A word for you suspense writers... If you want to learn tight, fast, action packed pacing.. read a Lee Child book.

Now let's talk Jack. 

Box Office Case Study: Why "Jack Reader Couldn't Muscle Through Anti-Tom Cruise Outcry

"A vocal outcry erupted among Reacher diehards the moment Hollywood’s 5’ 7” Top Gun expressed an interest in playing the 6’5” taciturn anti-hero – a hulking ex-military-cop-turned-vigilante, defined by his ability to overpower and intimidate by virtue of his size and cold-blooded determination to mete out justice at all costs."


Who is Jack (None) Reacher?

 Born: October 29, 1960

Army brat. Mother is French. 

All family deceased including his brother Joe, formerly with the U.S. Treasury Department.

Reacher is former Army MP, rank of Major.

Left the Army after 13 years. 

A drifter, he chooses to stay off the grid.

Has an expired passport for ID, a debit card and carries cash and a travel tooth brush. Does not carry a change of clothes. 

 Physical description: 

 A man of abnormal size and strength, he is six foot-five, with a 50-inch barrel chest, and weighs approximately 220 to 250 pounds-all muscle.  Has dirty blonde hair and winter cold, blue eyes. Needs to eat ten thousand calories and two gallons of water a day just to stay level. Note the aforementioned hands the size of chickens.

Not agile, he is a methodical and well-trained fighter. Also a military marksman.

Has a mental alarm clock.

I ask that Tom Cruise?

Reacher-isms for the true Reacher fan:

"Hit them fast, hit them hard, and hit them a lot."

"Always move on and never look back. Never do the same thing twice."

"Look, don't see; listen, don't hear. The more you engage, the longer you survive."

"If you're constantly looking down at your phone, you're not looking at the world around you."

"Tune in to your circadian rhythms to set your personal internal alarm clock."

"Your silence will make your opponent want to babble."

"We're making an omelette here...we're going to have to break some eggs."

From Jack Reacher Rules by Lee Child

If I've made you consider being a Jack Reacher fan, here's info on his upcoming release:

 Personal  by Lee Child

September 2014

Someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president but failed to kill him. The suspected sniper has serious skills and is a hard man to find. Reacher tracked him down once and put him in jail. Now he's asked to hunt him again, and put him away permanently.

 Tracking the shooter will take Reacher from France to England after a killer with a treacherous vendetta. He'll need to uncover who did the hiring and what's behind the assassination attempt before executing his orders

Read an excerpt here.

Now today, being my hosting day, I have two giveaways.

1. If you can guess (wrong or right) how the author came up with the name Reacher, your name goes in a drawing for an Amazon gift card. Certainly enough to buy a Jack Reacher book on Kindle.

2. And if you guess Jack's favorite beverage-your choices: Vodka, coffee or milk,your name goes in a drawing for a Starbucks card. Wrong or right, you're in if you guess.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keep Your Story Moving Forward by Guest Cheryl St.John

Cheryl St.John
A lot of writers have had trouble reading Dwight Swain’s book. I did for a while, too. It kept putting me to sleep. But as a new writer, I was hungry for the principles it held, hungry for the education, and so I persevered. Finally, after many tries, a light bulb went off over my head and I understood what his teaching was telling me. I got it! I saw the techniques in every book I had ever loved. And my writing changed forever.
Everything that happens in your story, every piece of information learned, every obstacle faced, every conversation, should propel the story toward the conclusion—something I learned and took to heart from Techniques of the Selling Writer. Keep your character's goal in mind. Everything should impact the main character and his goal. Make things worse for him. Make sure that all the changes that happen complicate things. Box him in. Impede his goal. Each obstacle should change things for the character
> Change forces your character to adjust. Change won’t let him stand still. Your character must react to what is happening. Your character needs a reason why he can’t simply quit. At each disaster ask, "Why doesn't the character quit?" and you should have a powerful reason why. The reader will lose interest in a character that is fighting without good cause. Your hero is only as strong as the villain or the force opposing his goals.
> Make the stakes high enough to fight for. Each person in the story should have something at stake that makes him willing to fight. Increase intensity. Drag your character further and further from his goal.
> Make sure the conflicts are important—life threatening or life changing to your character. Remember anything can be important. We’ve all seen entire movies based on saving a single tree or a coffee shop or an animal. Your job is to use the focal character to show the reader why he should care and make him believe. If it’s important to your story person and the reader cares about that person, then the outcome is important to the reader. Show the reader why he should care. Never forget for a minute that your story is about feelings.
> Box in your character. Keep whittling away until you take away his choices. Take away the heroine's options, run down the clock, increase the degree of the threat, make each action result in a dead end. This forces your story person to make a choice between two specific courses of action. Keep the reader guessing. Turn an assumption on its head. Slam the hero with a disastrous surprise. Kill off someone. Crush a dream. Do anything to keep the reader turning pages and wondering what will happen next.
> Balance peaks of action with valleys of introspection or humor. Hook the reader with action, but allow him to catch his breath before you drag him back into the dilemma. You want a peak and valley pace that will keep the tension from exhausting your reader. At the same time, never end a scene or a chapter without a hook or a dilemma so that your header is forced to keep going.
> In action scenes use short sentences and vivid words. Use longer sentences and a gentler story rhythm to slow the pace. Choose your words carefully, and contrast them with the tension of the peak that happened just before. Give the character something to ponder. After the action of the previous scene, make the character figure out what to do next. This is a good time to show who your story person really is because of his thinking process and his courageous or wise or heart-felt decisions. Change of viewpoint dissolves tension, so explore another person’s reactions.
> Don't use trivial scenes or conversations just to impart information. Too often I see new writers having their character tell another character something that they both already know, just to get the info into the story. Fill your scenes with true conflict and action, and end them with a disaster or dilemma.
Click to Buy on Amazon
> Don’t rehash. And I know we hear repetition in classes and we often repeat things in real conversation, but don’t repeat yourself. Remember readers aren’t dummies. They got it the first time. You’ll insult your reader, or at the very least, irritate him with repetition. If there’s a television show you’re invested in, take note of how quickly events happen and how you can miss something important if you miss an episode or a scene. Yes, some things are repeated for effect, but that is mostly for the sake of characterization. For example, I think Meredith Gray and Christina Yang, started the whole “Seriously? Seriously,” thing when the show premiered ten seasons ago. And several times Meredith herself says she’s all “dark and twisty.” But for the most part, don’t have your character thinking the same thing in chapter six that she thought in chapter three. If it’s something important that characterizes and makes a point, show the dilemma or personality trait in a different way to emphasize.
Seriously, if you don’t have a copy of Techniques of the Selling Writer, do yourself a favor and order one now. It’s a training manual for writers.
And guess who is speaking at the Writers Digest Conference in NYC this August? I am still incredulous over the invitation and will appreciate your prayers for the trip. Sherri Shackelford is joining me, and I am so thankful and excited. Neither of us have been to NYC, so we’re going to enjoy every minute. Thank you, friends, for helping to make Writing With Emotion Tension & Conflict a popular book among writers! So many of you have recommended it. It has an average 5 star rating on amazon. I am completely humbled and grateful.
Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a Kindle copy of any book of your choice of Cheryl's.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Cozy Up A Cozy Mystery! by Guest Larissa Reinhart

Mystery writer and Seekerville guest blogger,
Larissa Reinhart
Debby Giusti here! 

I'm excited to introduce today's guest blogger, talented author and dear friend, Larissa Reinhart. Many of you will recognize her name from frequent visits to Seekerville. Larissa sold her first book, Portrait of a Dead Guy, soon after hearing about our blog. Of course, we can't take credit for her sale, but we can celebrate her success and the release of her fourth humorous mystery, Death in Perspective, this June. Larissa's books feature Cherry Tucker, a struggling artist turned amateur sleuth, and a crazy cast of characters who hail from a small town in Georgia where zany is normal and dead bodies pop up as sure as dandelions. Her stories contain adult content, but lean more to PG-13 rather than R-rated. Join me in welcoming today's guest blogger, award-winning mystery author, Larissa Reinhart.

Hello, Seekerville. *waves* Long time fan, first time poster! I’ve got my coffee, since I know y’all start early! I’m very happy to be here!

Like romance, the mystery genre is fast growing and contains a lot of sub-genres. Many readers like a light dollop of humor, romance, and suspense in their books, which has meant an explosion of cozy mysteries in the market. In the most basic sense, a cozy has an amateur sleuth solving a mystery that’s more puzzler than thriller. Generally, the setting is small town, the characters are quirky, and the violence is off-page. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who made the genre famous. Or Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote.

There’s a blending of genres in mystery just like you see in other genre fiction, and because bookstores and libraries need categories, many mysteries are called cozy by publishers. This was the case for me and many of my mystery writing friends. I thought I was writing a humorous, romantic mystery series. Well, I did and am. But it’s a bit long of a title for a sub-genre category! In today’s market, it falls into the cozy category. Cozy mysteries themselves have broadened in their scope. On the shelves today, you can find mysteries with paranormal, humorous, chick-lit, treasure hunters, urban, culinary, crafter, animal (there’s a whole section in Amazon dedicated to cat mysteries), and more as subjects.

So how do you know if you’re writing a cozy? Its easier to define what is NOT a cozy. It’s not hard-boiled or noir (gritty and dark, like The Maltese Falcon). It’s not a suspense or thriller (where the protagonist is pursued, like in The DaVinci Code). Or even romantic suspense because romance is a subplot at best in a cozy, not evenly balanced with the suspense (like Debby Giusti’s The Colonel’s Daughter). It’s not a detective (Sherlock Holmes), because the sleuth is generally amateur, although the amateur can be paired with a detective. It’s definitely not a police procedural (like Tony Hillerman's or Ed McBain’s cop books). And not a courtroom drama (like John Grisham’s) or medical mystery (Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Scarpetta).

Where you didn’t find rough language or sex in a cozy, those are creeping in as well. However, Malice Domestic, the annual traditional mystery fan convention, defines “traditional” mystery as one that doesn’t have any explicit sex or excessive gore or violence. If you are a mystery writer, I highly recommend attending Malice Domestic (always the first weekend in May in the Washington DC area) to get a sense of all the different types of traditional mysteries out there, which are generally called cozies now, much to the chagrin of some of the authors.
Larissa (far right) took part in a panel at Malice Domestic, entitled,
The Art of Death: When Music and Painting Lead to Murder, with
authors (L to R) C. Ellet Logan, Kave George, Peter Lovesey,
and Karen Mcinerney.
Are you ready to write your cozy? Generally, these are the hallmarks that an agent or editor will look for in a cozy. And I say generally, because as you see above a lot of rules are being broken!

    Around 80,000 words, give or take five to ten thousand.

    Usually first person, whereas traditional suspense is third. It’s important for the reader to solve the mystery along with your sleuth. Cozies are a puzzle more than a suspense.

    Tone is light. Murder is heavy, but because the violence is off-stage, you have room for humor both in your character’s voice, side characters, and situations. Light humor balances the darker subject of the crime.

    An amateur sleuth with some kind of profession or hobby that lends them to crime solving.

    Setting traditionally is small, however it doesn’t have to be a small town. I like to think “tight” rather than “small.” Murder on the Orient Express was on a train. In order to expand from killing off everyone in Halo, Georgia, where my character lives, I’ve had her solve mysteries at a private school, a festival, and now at a hunting lodge.

    Side characters tend to be quirky.

    Crime solving is generally done by gathering clues, listening to gossip, and deductive reasoning. Forensics aren't a part of your sleuth’s job, although your protagonist might have a friend on the force who provides that information.

    Red herrings are a must. However, they can’t be so outlandish that the reader has no way to solve the crime.

    Publishers prefer series, which means your protagonist doesn't have a big character arc like you see in a stand-alone romance or suspense. You can have series arcs, though.

    Romance is a subplot. You don’t have to have any romance, although many do. And because cozies are generally a series, you can have a longer series arc with the romance, building it book by book (which readers love, including me!).

These are only the basics to get your cozy writing on track. I recommend joining groups like Sisters in Crime (SinC) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA), that also have local chapters. I’m in Kiss of Death, the online mystery and suspense group for Romance Writers of America. Other popular conferences and conventions, besides Malice Domestic (, are Sleuthfest, sponsored by MWA’s Florida chapter (; Bourchercon (; Killer Nashville (; and Left Coast Crime ( There’s a host of other ones, look in your area.

The best thing you can do to write a cozy is read the genre. Any of you writing a mystery? I gave you the basics, but would be happy to answer any questions. What mysteries do you enjoy reading? For some lucky person who comments, I’ll send an e-book of any in my Cherry Tucker Mystery series. The fourth in the series, Death in Perspective, releases June 24th! 

After teaching in the US and Japan, Larissa loves writing sassy female characters with a penchant for trouble. The first in the Cherry Tucker Mystery series (Henery Press), PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist. STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW, HIJACK IN ABSTRACT, and DEATH IN PERSPECTIVE (June 2014) follow, with the prequel novella, QUICK SKETCH, in the 2013 anthology, HEARTACHE MOTEL.  Larissa lives near Atlanta with her family and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Find her on her website ( or on Facebook (, Twitter (@RisWrites), Goodreads, and Pinterest (LarissaReinhart).

Debby again...

Head to the breakfast bar for Southern delights, including made-to-order eggs, Virginia baked ham, biscuits and gravy, fresh Georgia peaches and grits. The coffee's hot. Grab a cup and take time to chat with Larissa. 

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