Stand Back

New York City, NY, June 16, 2022 – Mystery Writers of America announces the establishment of the Lilian Jackson Braun Award for the best full-length, contemporary cozy mystery published by an MWA-approved publisher. This annual award comes with a $2,000 prize as the result of a generous endowment to MWA by the late Lilian Jackson Braun, who died in 2011 at the age of 97. Braun was the New York Times bestselling author of the “The Cat Who…” series of amateur sleuth mysteries which spanned 29 books published between 1966 and 2007. Featuring clever Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum, who lived with grumpy newspaper reporter James Qwilleran, her books sold millions of copies and were published in 16 languages.

“Lilian Jackson Braun is a legend in the mystery community,” stated Greg Herren, the Executive Vice-President of Mystery Writers of America. “Her incredibly generous bequest to MWA was a very pleasant surprise and will enable us to fund some exciting new projects and programs to benefit our membership. It felt appropriate to honor her career and her legacy in this way.”

“I’m thrilled that MWA is finally recognizing the cozy mystery as the powerhouse literary sub-genre that it is,” said Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of the NYT bestselling Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series written as Ali Brandon. “I grew up reading “The Cat Who” books, and my inspiration to write cozy mysteries came directly from my enjoyment of Lilian Jackson Braun’s work.”

Debra H. Goldstein, chair of the MWA committee that created the LJB award and author of Kensington’s Sarah Blair cozy mystery series explained that “In crime fiction, the cozy sub-genre often is compared to the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire movies because like Rogers doing everything backwards and in heels, cozy mysteries must stick the whodunit with a solid plot and characters without putting the blood and gore on the page. Consequently, Mystery Writers of America’s honoring of the cozy mystery demonstrates its understanding of the importance and complexity of the sub-genre.”

Honoring Braun’s legacy, any book submitted for consideration for the LJB award must be a contemporary cozy mystery with a current day setting and the story emphasis on solving a crime, usually a murder. As with Braun’s work, eligible stories will be light in tone, often humorous. While the book may reference serious themes or subject matter, it does so in a non-heavy-handed manner. The crime itself must be solved in a satisfactory manner by the end of the story.

Judging will be done by an MWA-appointed committee of cozy mystery authors, and the winner will be announced at the annual Edgar Award banquet in New York City each Spring. Rules for eligibility and submission may be found here.

Please contact the MWA national office if you have any questions.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, I suppose it’s time to start spreading Christmas hunk cheer around here, so enjoy today’s hunky elf–who actually makes me think about my story “The Snow Globe.” I’m not really sure when the anthology it is in will be coming out, but I am looking forward to it. I so enjoy getting short stories into print, and do wish I had more time to write them. Then again, perhaps if i stopped wasting so much of my time maybe I could get more stories written. I know I’ve committed to three more that I’ve got to finish (two only need a final edit/revision; one had to be written almost entirely from scratch) for the new year, and once I get this current book finished–well, after the new year and so forth I am going to be rather too busy to write a book for a while; at least, to focus on writing a book, at any rate. I have the Bouchercon anthology to work on, the release of #shedeservedit is right around the same time as the new book is due, and….yikes.

FOCUS, Greg, you need to FOCUS. And make lists.

And breathe.

Yesterday was a really good day, though. I got up early, got caught up on some blog entries about books I’ve read recently, made serious progress on the cleaning and organizing, and I worked on the book. I got another chapter finished; it’s not very good at the moment, but I know what I need to do to make it better, and I also made it to the gym yesterday afternoon, which was also lovely. I need to work on the book some more today–I also have to make a grocery run at some point–and finish the cleaning and organizing I got started on yesterday. The kitchen office looks a lot better than it has in a very long time, and while there are still some odds and ends to touch up, and file, and forth, I feel much better about everything.

Part of the organizing yesterday also included gathering and sorting all my notes for this book and putting them into one, easily accessible place–as well as sorting out the file folders, etc. that had been gathered at some point that have the same title or a similar title or may have some old notes and so forth; I was actually very surprised to see how many times I’d started writing a traditional mystery over the last decade or so–and in my head I conflated them all as the same story, which SURPRISE! They were most definitely not–but I filed those other fits and starts in an easily accessible place, where I can get to them if this first book turns into a series, or if it doesn’t–well, I can then try again with another idea I’ve already made lots of notes on in the past. (I am talking about physical files here, of course; my electronic files continue to be an utter and complete disaster.) But after a terrific day of getting things done and kicking ass and taking names (okay, Chapter Five isn’t very good but it’s a first draft, okay?) I went to the gym and saw some of the Georgia-Alabama game on the television there. After coming home and doing the dishes and some more filing (and making a protein shake), I curled up in my easy chair with Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and turned on the television. I read while glancing up periodically to keep an eye on the game–Jesus, Georgia, even LSU was able to play decent defense when they played Alabama–and kept an eye on my iPad and watched part of the Michigan-Iowa game until Paul got home from the office (late) and we switched over to Gossip Girl (the original is so much better than the sequel that we probably won’t even bother going back to the new series, even though there’s only two episodes left). I also got a pretty good night’s sleep last night as well, which was quite marvelous–I seem to be sleeping better these days, which is lovely.

Today, as I said, I have to make a bit of a grocery run, and need to write and finish these odds and ends of filing around here, as well as write some more on the book–I should do another chapter today–and I’d also like to get some more reading done on the Christie; the murder/mysterious death has already occurred, and now I am wondering if Agatha Christie did, indeed, write cozies; there’s certainly no sense of community here in this book–how can there be, since Miss Marple is visiting a resort hotel on the fictitious island of St. Honoré (an island name I may abscond with at some point), but now that I think about it, the sense of warm community that is a hallmark of most cozy mysteries doesn’t really exist much in any of Christie’s books–but then again, my memory is faulty and I don’t remember much of the plots and stories and characters the way I used (and I do miss that recall skill I used to possess in abundance). But I read almost all of Christie’s books a million years ago, when I was in high school, and I simply cannot revisit all eighty or so of them (I never read the ones she wrote as Mary Westmacott, either), so I will leave commentary on the Christie canon (other than the ones I actually reread) to those who are expert.

But over all, I am feeling pretty good about life in general. As always, I am buried under and busier than any one person probably should be; but it’s how I function best–and I am not sure why that it, probably has a lot to do with the short attention span and having to always balance multiple things at once, and also why taking the time to actually sit down and get organized, making lists and so forth, is the best way to go for me. Paul is getting me an old-fashioned day planner for Christmas, because even though it’s become a thing of the past, I discovered that having a physical journal to write down random thoughts in or brainstorm plots and so forth in was much more effective for me than the electronic system modern technology had forced onto me–so it’s not really much of a stretch to think that having to physically write things down as opposed to making entries into a digital calendar will be even more effective and increase productivity and stop me from forgetting things. (I will continue to use the electronic calendar for bills; that is one thing that has worked remarkably well for me.)

And so now, I shall return to the mines for more spice. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Different Drum

I am, and have always been, a voracious reader. Mysteries and crime novels of all types have been my favorites, but I also try to read outside the genre every now and again–mainly because I think a constant diet of reading only the genre you write can make your own writing get stale; it’s nice to mix it up every now and again. I’ve never been a snob about reading or what others read and find pleasure in; the fact that so many others are so judgmental about other people’s reading choices has always made me raise my eyebrows and tilt my head slightly to one side in bewilderment (unless it’s, you know, Stephenie Meyer). To me, the most important thing is that people are reading, and I don’t judge anyone for their choices (unless the choice is Stephenie Meyer). Nothing bothers me more than when, upon being asked what they like to read, people squirm with embarrassment and have to be coaxed into revealing what they enjoy. Reading is supposed to be a pleasure, and no one should ever be shamed for what they find pleasure in reading (okay, even if it’s Stephenie Meyer–I would never shame someone to their face for reading her, and really, I am joking when I mock her on this blog. Again, as long as people are reading I don’t care what their choices are)–and once someone opens up and starts talking enthusiastically about books and writers they love, it’s infectious–and I love their excitement.

But reading snobbery also rears its ugly head within the crime fiction genre, which bothers me. I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to simply say, “that *whatever sub-genre* isn’t to my taste”–which is really all it is; reading is subjective and no one person is the authority of what books are worthy and what books aren’t. I like every sub-genre of crime fiction. Like every kind of label you put on books, there are excellent writers, good writers, and bad writers in every section of the library or the bookstore; good writing is good writing, no matter who the author is and what kind of crime novel they’ve written. There are shitty private eye novels and police procedurals–but those kinds of books don’t get the disdain that is reserved specifically for the tradition mystery, i.e. the “cozy.” I’ve often held that this sub-genre of crime fiction gets dismissed because they are the “romance” novels of crime fiction–in other words, not taken seriously because they are mostly written by women for women about women. (There are exceptions, of course; men write in this style and quite well, in fact.) One of the most popular mystery television series of all time is traditional/cozy: Murder She Wrote. I personally enjoy reading them, and don’t read them enough, to be honest. The common denominator in all traditional mysteries is that they are escapist reading–you can escape from the cares and worries of your every day life and world into a world where justice is always done, people are generally kind, and the settings are often places–usually small towns, or a community within a larger one–the reader would love to actually live. There’s often a hook to the series–often built around a business run by the heroine–and there’s a cast of lovable eccentric characters who appear in every book that the reader loves to visit; the books are like the holidays, when you gather with friends and family to celebrate life and love and joy.

My favorite panel I attended at Crime Bake this past weekend was the “Cozy Trends: Home Sweet Home?” moderated ably by Ang Pompano; the panelists were Sarah Osborne, Julia Henry, Barbara Ross, and Tina deBellegarde (Sherry Harris was also listed, but she wasn’t there, alas). They were fantastic, and the discussion was truly terrific. (This is the panel where Julia Henry said something I thought profound and true: “Respect the genre you’re writing.” I want that on a sampler.) I bought books by all the authors, and am really looking forward to reading them. On the flight home from Boston, I finished reading Invisible City by Julia Dahl, and pulled Shucked Apart by Barbara Ross out of my backpack and started reading.

I finished it last night.

“Julia, meet my friend Andie.” My boyfriend Chris, looking tousled and handsome as always, stood in the doorway of my office. He entered the room, confident and casual, and a pleasant-looking woman followed.

“You mean Andie from your poker nights?” I put my hand out to cover my confusion. For two years, I’d been laboring under the misapprehension that “Andy” was a man. “No, we haven’t. I’m Julia.”

She took my hand and shook. “Andie. Greatorex. So glad to finally meet.” Her handshale was firm and strong, which seemed right, given her looks. She was tall, broad-shouldered, and obviously fit. Her sandy-blonde hair, pulled back in a high ponytial, framed a round face with wide set, hazel eyes. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, like Chris and me. Also, like Chris and me, she wore jeans, work boots, a T-shirt, and a plaid, flannel overshirt, as if we were planning on starting our own Grunge band. Andie’s T-shirt was maroon and had the words, GREAT RIVER OYSTERS on it in white block letters. My T-shirt was navy and said, SNOWDEN FAMILY CLAMBAKE. Chris “doesn’t wear advertising”, quote, unquote, so his T-shirt was black.

In other words, we were dressed appropriately for a morning in coastal Maine in mid-May. Outside, pre-season tourists From Away wore jacket and windbreakers, but we natives are hardier folks.

Barbara Ross was an absolute delight on the panel, and I grabbed the last copy of this book the bookseller had and was able to get her to sign it for me–which is something I am not ashamed to say I completely geek about still; I will always be a fanboy.

Shucked Apart is the ninth (!) book in the Maine Clambake mystery series; Ross’ heroine Julia Snowden lives in the fictional Maine coastal village of Busman’s Harbor. She left a career in high finance in New York to take over her family’s clambake business (highly dependent on tourism and seasonal) and make it thrive. It’s very clear that Julia works very hard but has clearly gone back native–she doesn’t miss her old life at all–and the town is filled with likable and interesting characters. Her live-in boyfriend, Chris, has brought his friend Andie, an oyster farmer, to meet Julia to get her help. Andie was attacked and robbed of $35,000 of oyster spat for her farm (spat being the term for baby oysters), and she wants Julia’s help getting to the bottom of the robbery/assault. Not sure she can really help more than the police, Julia takes a liking to Andie and decides to see if there’s anything she can do to help. There are any number of suspects to investigate–including Julia’s own uncle–and then Andie turns up dead and it becomes a murder investigation.

There’s also a personal story going on during the course of the book–as indicated in those opening paragraphs above, Chris has been keeping Julia away from his friends (most of the mystery and investigation are centered in the nearby town of Damariscotta), and over the course of their relationship there have been a lot of secrets he’s kept from her–and this personal issue is really handled deftly by Ross. The juxtaposition of the crime investigation and the personal dilemma is juggled beautifully; Ross really makes the reader care about Julia and her friends, and the pacing is perfect–and it’s not easy to do this without making one story more important than the other.

As I said the other day, I love to learn things when I read, and I learned a lot about oyster farming, the politics of fishermen vs. oyster farmers vs lobstermen, and the ecology concerns with keeping the delicate balance of the ecosystem from being damaged. Ross casually slips in diverse characters and the issue of the warming of the seas without making a big deal out of them–no small feat, and it’s done so effortlessly it’s almost unnoticeable.

This was a fun, charming read, and I look forward to my next visit to Busman’s Harbor.

Sweet Summer Blue and Gold

WEDNESDAY!

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that I only have another two work days left before I am on vacation yet again; maybe that’s why I was so rested and full of energy yesterday as opposed to tired, worn, and old the way I usually feel on Tuesdays. I guess how this day will play out remains to be seen. I also managed to get caught up with reviewing the books I read whilst on my trip–I would have done this sooner, but my wireless keyboard stopped functioning (writing on a laptop is difficult for me; I’ve always used a separate keyboard) and so I ordered another one yesterday that will hopefully arrive before it’s time to go to Kentucky so I can take it with me so I can actually get work done while I am there.

And I am behind, as always, on everything.

But I am making progress, which is always pleasant and a relief of sorts. My book-buying compulsion is getting out of hand again, so I am going to have to do some more serious pruning of the books-on-hand this weekend and over the next few evenings, so I can drop off some boxes to the library sale this weekend. Yay! And I have some of my stuff-to-do more under control now than I did before, so again, it’s always lovely to make some progress as each day passes. It’s hard to believe next week is Thanksgiving; it kind of shook me up when I realized it on Monday that I only have a week between trips–and will be traveling again in mid-January (New York again) and will most likely be heading to Left Coast Crime in April as well (I think it’s in Albuquerque?)–barring another variant and another spike or wave of COVID infections. We got caught up on The Morning Show last night, just as the pandemic is beginning to break in the US–yay for reliving that horror, but they are doing a really good job with it, and I am not sure how I feel about their take on “cancel culture”–as someone who the right tried to cancel, back before it was called cancel culture, and yes, I do need to write about that at some point–but there is something to what they are saying, I think; I’m not sure. I don’t consider myself a moral authority on anything; I just think about things and try to learn and try to be better myself than the person I used to be. Life is about nothing if it’s not a constant learning and growing process, and we can always do better, be better, and grow, right? The people I feel bad for are those who actually stop growing and learning, stagnate and fossilize their beliefs and values, and think they don’t have anything else to learn, no need to grow. To me, that’s just sad and tragic.

I didn’t make it to the gym last night after I got off work because I wound up staying later than I usually do–I didn’t leave the office until after five, and thus got stuck in rush hour traffic going through the CBD on the way home (although they finally fixed the lights at Poydras and Loyola, so it wasn’t the nightmare getting through there that it has been since Ida, thank you Lord) and then I did some things around the house when I got home–things that needed doing–before Paul got home. I’ve also been listening to Red (Taylor’s Version), which is I think my favorite Taylor Swift record (yes, I am a sixty-year-old Swiftie, don’t you dare try to shame me for it), which is also quite good. I was a little brain-fried when I got home, but I am hoping to get back to reading Barbara Ross’ Shucked Away, so I can move on to Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon. I think I am going to simply take cozies with me to Kentucky; I really enjoy reading them and I also should spend more time reading them–it’s so hard to decide what to read all the time, and there are so many different books and styles of books that I want to read, and it’s not a bad idea to get away from the darker stuff for a while…

I also noted that there are new episodes of both Foundation and The Lost Symbol for me to catch up while condom packing on my work-at-home days, and I also have some data entry to do (almost caught up at last, huzzah!). I also have to figure out what audio books I want to take for the ride both ways–eleven hours; I listened to A Game of Thrones on the way up last time and End of Watch by Stephen King on the way home; perhaps this would be a good time to listen to one of the Stephen King novels I haven’t gotten to–The Outsider or 11/22/63 or Dr. Sleep or Black House–so many choices! Or perhaps it would be fun to listen to cozies on the way up? I get too much pleasure from actually reading Donna Andrews to give that up to listen to one; but maybe there’s another one of my favorite cozy series I can listen to; who knows? But I have all weekend to figure that out since I am not leaving until Monday morning.

I am going to try to not spend all day Saturday in my chair watching college football all day–at least not until I get the writing done that I need to get done–and hopefully will be able to read while the games are one when I finally do sit in my chair and relax.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

Chiseled in Stone

Sunday! It’s raining and gray outside this morning; I’m not sure (because I haven’t looked) what that means for today’s parades (Femme Fatale, Carrollton, and King Arthur–which is over fifty floats and loaded down with gay men, most of whom I know so I always get buried with beads), but I will take a look later. This morning i need to get some work done, and I need to make it to the gym for the start of week three of my workouts–which means today is three sets rather than two of everything. However, I decided it only made sense to cut the treadmill/cardio part of my workouts during parade season; it only makes sense, you know–as I am doing a lot of standing and jumping and walking during the parades. We only went to the night parades yesterday–Sparta and Pygmalion–because Paul was sleeping during the day (it’s festival crunch time, and he stays up really late working) and yes, I could have gone by myself–but it’s not as much fun without him. If the parades are–heaven forbid–rained out, then I will have a lot of free time to get things done, rather than trying to get them done before and after the parades.

Instead of parades yesterday afternoon, I spent most of the day writing some and finishing rereading Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? It really is a hard book to put down, which was, of course, Mrs. Clark’s biggest strength as a writer–that, and her ability to tap into women’s biggest fears. I’m writing a rather lengthy post about the book already–so I won’t discuss it too much here. And if the parades are cancelled, I’ll probably get that finished today.

So, I intend to spend this morning prepping for the gym and answering emails, then when I get home from the gym I’ll get cleaned up and write some before the parades get here–if they are, indeed, coming; they might just be delayed. There aren’t any evening parades today, so of course they can all have their scheduled departures pushed back; they may also abandon the marching bands and walking crews to roll in the rain. I don’t know if we have the physical stamina to stand in the rain for four hours–neither one of us can risk getting sick at this point–but then again, there are overhanging balconies at the corner, so who knows? I guess I’ll judge how bad the weather is when I am walking to the gym this morning.

I also now have to make the all-important decision on what to read next. I think I’m going to take a break from books that I have to read and read something just for the fun of it, and I think I’m going to choose a cozy by a writer I’ve not read before. When I said I wanted to diversify my reading–and started, last year, doing so by reading more authors of color–I didn’t just mean reading books by authors marginalized by race or sexuality; I also meant books outside of what I generally read. I don’t read a lot of cozies, and I’m not exactly sure why that is; I’ve read Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, Leslie Budewitz and others, but I am now questioning whether or not those actually qualified as cozies? I generally get cozies in the gift bags given out at conferences, and I do buy them from time to time–I support women writers, and I do feel like cozies are treated as somewhat less than by the crime  genre in general–and I also feel like it’s time to change that perception, and give cozies their due. I have an interesting looking one on hand from Ali Brandon, Double Booked for Murder, and I think that’s what I am going to read next. My cozy reading is woefully less than what it should be, and I want to start making up for that lost time. After that, I’ll probably move on back to the books I need to read and one of my reading projects, whether it’s the Reread Project or the Diversity Project (I am thinking Mary Stewart’s The Moonspinners is way overdue for a reread), or even, perhaps, some Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich is one of those pulpy writers from the mid-twentieth century who wrote a lot of books and short stories, but was also a miserable alcoholic and a gay man who lived with his mother most of his life. He wrote the story Hitchcock adapted as Rear Window, and wrote several other important noir-esque pulpy novels. I had started reading The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but got sidetracked by something else–probably reading for an award–and never got back to it, which is a shame; I greatly enjoyed it, and I find Woolrich to be an interesting character. I wish I had the time and the energy and the wherewithal to devote more to writing nonfiction; I think a biography of Woolrich would make for interesting reading (I also have always wanted to do one of John D. MacDonald, but again–would I ever have the time to read his–or Woolrich’s, for that matter–entire canon? Not entirely likely; maybe once I’ve retired from the day job and have days to fill with writing and reading and research); I am also curious because it seems most writers from that time period–including Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald–all had drinking problems; as did Woolrich. I’m not surprised a gay man living in those times lapsed into alcoholism–it’s a wonder more gay men of my generation don’t have lingering addiction problems.

I’m still dealing with my creative ADD problem, alas; being aware that it’s going on and happening doesn’t make it easier to control. I just realized yesterday–as I was writing notes in my journal about another short story idea (“Die a Little Death”) that I’d also completely forgotten about “Never Kiss a Stranger”; which is still yet another long story (novella?) I am in process with, along with “Festival of the Redeemer,” and still another I’ve not pulled out and worked on in over a year. It’s absolutely insane how many works I currently have in some kind of progress, which means ninety-five percent of them will most likely never be finished or see print. (Well over a hundred short stories or novellas; I have at least four novel manuscripts in some sort of progress; and fragments of at least five other novels–and none of this is counting essays in progress, either…yeah, it’s unlikely that I will ever finish all of this. And still I persist. Just like I will never read all the novels I want to read, I will never finish writing everything I want to write. Sigh.)

All right, I’m going to go read for a little while before I brave the rain to go to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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I Love Music

I’ve always supported women crime writers, and I’ve always read them. From the women who wrote the children’s mysteries for Scholastic (Mary C. Jane and Phyllis A. Whitney, to name two) through the Agatha Christie canon (which essentially includes every subgenre of mystery to come, from serial killers to cozies to spy novels to romantic suspense to Gothic to locked rooms to private eyes to amateur sleuths to unreliable narrators–you get the picture. An argument can be made that And Then There Were None was the original Friday the 13th; a group of people stranded somewhere being targeted by a killer, who goes through them all systematically), moving on eventually to Victoria Holt and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Eden and Mary Stewart, who in turn were followed by Grafton, Paretsky, and Muller…terrific stories and series and stand alones by such terrific writers as Nancy Pickard, Lia Matera, S. J. Rozan, Laura Lippman…the list of women crime writers I love is insanely lengthy, and there isn’t any way that I could possibly, successfully, sit down and make a list of them all without forgetting so many, many others who don’t deserve to be forgotten or left off.

Women are currently some of the top writers in our field–Megan Abbott,  Alison Gaylin, Lori Rader-Day, Jamie Mason, Lisa Unger, Catriona McPherson, Wendy Corsi Staub, Carol Goodman, Gillian Flynn, Lori Roy, Alafair Burke…again, the list could go on forever and I would always manage to forget someone. There’s not, after all, enough time for me to ever read everything I want to read, and there’s fantastic new work being published all the time. And I am finding new to me writers all the time, that I greatly enjoy.

The reason I am even bringing this up is twofold; recently, there was an article in The Writer that acted like women crime writers essentially don’t exist (I don’t think, ultimately, the piece was mean-spirited or this was actually deliberate; the problem was the author of the piece used the angle that there were no women being written accurately, with nuance, in crime fiction today; she simply failed to qualify her thesis by adding by men. Had she done this, her piece–about how Lee Child and Paul Doiron have evolved and are now writing complex, believable women characters–probably would have been applauded rather than the subject of some outrage), and then, yesterday, Sisters in Crime president Sherry Harris wrote a blistering response to the almost non-stop mockage the cozy mysteries–which are kind of the backbone of our genre–are almost always subject to from the non-cozy writers in our genre.

I personally have never understood why some writers are so condescending and rude about any genre, to be honest. Romance novels aren’t for me, really, but I certainly am not contemptuous of romance novels, or the genre as a whole. Writing, and getting published, and maintaining a career as a writer, is fucking hard; I would daresay that writing romance novels would be incredibly difficult. There are the constraints of the formula and the required HEA (happily ever after) ending; you try to make a formula fresh and new and interesting to readers who read dozens of novels a year and are looking for something fresh, that will move them, will keep them reading, and leave them wanting more of your work.

I’ll wait.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I hear cozies dismissed and not taken seriously all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. And I don’t understand it. Sure, there are terrible cozies. There are also terrible noirs, terrible private eye novels, terrible police procedurals, terrible psychological thrillers, etc.; not every book in every style of mystery–or writing, for that matter–is good, and not every one is bad. And cozies are, quite frankly, incredibly hard to write. They have to be light, they have to be funny (and no matter how easy it looks–writing funny is fucking hard), and there have to be a lot of suspects and clues and red herrings and so forth. Cozies are also often stories about communities–whether it’s the people who work at a spice shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (Leslie Budewitz) or the extended friends-and-family of the Langslow clan in Caerphilly, Virginia (Donna Andrews) or those who live in an art deco Fort Lauderdale apartment complex that used to be a motel (Elaine Viets)–and again, this is incredibly difficult to do, let alone do every goddamned year, managing to keep the stories and characters fresh and new, as well as juggling the need for a plot against the need to include the regular cast members the readers have come to love over the years.

For example, there are characters in the Scotty universe that have kind of dropped away as the years and the series have progressed; every time I write a new Scotty I think, I really need to include David in here somehow and yet it never seems to work. (David was Scotty’s best friend in the first three books; a character I genuinely liked and loved writing about…but in the after-Katrina books, having to juggle Scotty’s two partners and his family grew ever more difficult and David just kind of fell to the wayside.)

I digress.

I always say that cozies aren’t given the respect they deserve for the same reason romance novels aren’t, either; they are seen as books by women about women for women, and therefore couldn’t possibly be as important as the testosterone driven he-man crime novels men write. Even the non-cozy crime novels written by women don’t get the same respect as those by men–its the reason why Sisters in Crime exists, the Malice Domestic conference, and the Agatha Awards.

And let’s face it. Scotty might be a licensed private eye, but his adventures are more cozy than hard-boiled.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Hollywood Nights

I used to be obsessed with Hollywood when I was younger.

That should have been the tip-off to my family, right? My obsession with old films, the Oscars, and superstar actresses of the past? I lived for awards season; read tons of books about Hollywood history and the making of movies and biographies/memoirs of stars; I read People and Us magazines (Us was a biweekly years ago). I wrote about movie stars in Murder in the Rue Ursulines, and my first Phyllis A. Whitney novel that wasn’t a y/a that I read, about a haunted Hollywood legend (Listen for the Whisperer) remains my favorite of hers to this day. I’m not sure when I stopped being interested in celebrities and gossip about them, and the entertainment industry; but while the interest has somewhat waned (I often skip the Oscars now), I do still enjoy reading fiction set in or around the industry.

So, it’s strange that it took me so long–and that it also took the Diversity Project–for me to finally sit down with Kellye Garrett’s terrific debut novel, Hollywood Homicide.

hollywood homicide

He stared at my resume like it was an SAT question. One of the hard ones where you just bubbled in C and kept it moving. After a minute–I counted, since there was nothing else to do–he finally looked up and smiled. “So, Dayna Anderson…”

He got my name right. The interview was off to a pretty good start. “So what in your previous experience would make you a good fit for this position?”

He smiled again, this time readjusting the Joey, Manager, Ask me about our large jugs! name tage that was prominently placed on his uniform. Since I was sitting in the Twin Peaks coffee shop interviewing to be a bikini barista, said uniform happened to be a Speedo. I pegged him for twenty-two, tops. And it wasn’t just because he didn’t have a centimeter of hair anywhere on his body. I made a mental note to get the name of his waxer.

And so opens Kellye Garrett’s terrific debut novel, which I hope is the first of a long series I will be able to continue to enjoy over the years (the second, Hollywood Ending, was published last year before the publisher, Midnight Ink, announced that it was shutting down, thus orphaning many a terrific crime writer: SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS TO PICK UP THIS SERIES).

Dayna, our main character, is a retired actress with no source of income and running out of cash pretty darned quick. To compound her financial problems (spoiler: she doesn’t get the bikini barista job) her parents are underwater on their house payments and she needs to come up some cash to prevent them from being evicted. One night while out on the town with friends they are almost hit by another car…and as they continue driving, find out that someone has been killed by a hit-and-run driver. As the financial woes continue to compound, Dayna decides to solve the crime in order to win the offered reward  and bail her parents out.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But it’s not the worst premise for an investigation for the first book in a series where the main character is not a professional investigator (cop, PI, reporter, lawyer), and it’s actually much more of a clever take than the standard trope of “stumbling over a dead body/I have to solve this crime because everyone thinks I’m the killer,” which most authors use* (holds up hand–GUILTY AS CHARGED).

And the supporting cast is as interesting and fun as Dayna herself; we don’t get a lot of background on any of them, really–Garrett is guilty of playing her cards close to her vest, as it were–which gives her the opportunity to delve into them all more deeply in the future volumes I hope are coming for us all. The plot twists and turns and winds up very very far from the hit-and-run accident the book opens with…and every step of the way I was rooting for Dayna. She’s likable, has a great sense of humor (not only is she funny but she also has a sense of humor about herself, and about Hollywood as well), and then there’s that love interest–a friend from back home who is just now breaking big on television.

SO MUCH FUN.

COnstant Reader, get thee hither to the book merchant with credit or debit card in hand.

*This isn’t a bad thing, by the way–most authors who do use this trope are incredibly creative and smart in how they use it; the point I am making is I greatly appreciated the originality of Kellye’s methodology of getting her amateur sleuth involved.

A Different Corner

Very tired today; a late night of bar testing got me home late last night, and so my sleep–always an issue–was not good last night. The end result is that I am very foggy and tired today, with a lot of spice to mine.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I am very pleased to report that I finished reading Nadine Nettman’s Uncorking a Lie last night, and might I add that my Bouchercon homework is ever so much more fun than any homework I’ve ever had previously in my life?

Scan

PAIRING SUGGESTION:

CREMANT DE LOIRE–LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE

A sparkling wine made primarily from the Chenin Blanc grape, ideal for beginnings.

When bottles of wine are sold for large amounts of money, they end up in the news. Sometimes it;s because the bottle was rare and other times the final price was noteworthy or even extreme. Yet the seller is never really emphasized in the articles. It’s always the buyer.

The buyer, who paid thousands and thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine, often with the notion to safely tuck it away in a cellar where it might not be moved again. I understand saving special bottles for long periods of time, but to know that a wine would never be released from the bottle, never get to live out its purpose of being enjoyed and savored, always gave me a tinge of sadness.

This time I knew the buyer well. Paul Rafferty was a longtime customer of Trentino and although he had an extensive collection of unique bottles kept safely in his wine cellar, he was also known for occasionally opening rare wines, sometimes at the restaurant where I had the honor of uncorking the bottle and releasing the story.

I never deny the fact that I am, for all intents and purposes, a peasant. There are a lot of things about manners and etiquette, for example, that I neither know nor understand. My family has very poor, rural Southern roots; it was in my parents’ generation that the cycle of poverty was broken and our family moved from blue-collar/working class to comfortably middle class. I am always worried I am committing some social faux pas because I simply don’t know any better; I simply stick to the basic manners of being polite when a guest but there’s always that niggling doubt in the back of my mind that I am going to do something that makes my host or hostess think to themselves oh yes, I always forget Greg is white trash. Smart, but still white trash.

Wine is one of the things I don’t understand or get; something I don’t know a lot about. I am always afraid to order wine with dinner or in a bar setting because I don’t know what I’m looking for; for many years I simply differentiated between wines as “red” or “white”; I still get thrown every once in a while by all the many different varieties that fall under each color–and then, of course, there’s rose. Sigh.

Uncorking a Lie is a terrific traditional mystery, in that the main character, through whose point-of-view we see the story, is not a professional investigator of any type but a sommelier at Trentino, a nice restaurant in San Francisco. Katie has recently passed her certification exam and is studying for her Master Sommelier certification. She is invited to a special dinner at Paul Rafferty’s mansion in Sonoma where he plans on opening and serving a bottle he bought at auction for nineteen thousand dollars; once the bottle is opened Katie realizes that the bottle is, actually, a counterfeit. She informs Paul’s assistant–and less than an hour later the assistant is dead. Paul asks her to get to the bottom of the counterfeit bottle of wine, and now we are off to the races.

This was a very fun read with a likable main character; and even though I don’t know much about wine, Nettman’s discussions about wine were not only not over my head, but made me even more interested in learning more about wine.

Look forward to reading more in this series!

How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?

I got up at five yesterday morning for the NO/AIDS Walk; which I worked for five hours. I also worked Saturday, so I gloriously have today off, and don’t have to go in until later tomorrow. I intend to go to the storage unit and retrieve some copies of the first two Scotty books, Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz, because I don’t have any copies in the Lost Apartment, and every once in a while people ask for copies, or I might be able to sell some, or something. In either case, it sucks not having copies on hand. I am a little worried they may be buried in the back of the unit, but I also need to start getting rid of the stuff stored in there anyway. I’m not going to get rid of it all, but obviously, there are things in there I don’t need to keep.

After I came home yesterday I was delighted to watch the Saints win, and we also finished watching Atypical, which is really a charming and funny show you can binge-watch on Netflix, and we also started watching Harlan Coben’s The Five, which is also very well done and interesting.

I also finished reading Linda Joffe Hull’s Eternally 21.

eternally 21

I didn’t think things could get much more for worse than the night my husband came home looking like his usual tall, dark, and handsome self but wearing a very unusual shade of  I’m-really-sorry-but-I-lost-everything-in-a-Ponzi-scheme. Suffice it to say, the news was shocking, distressing, mortifying, terrifying, and any number of other disaster-relating –ings. Given my husband happens to be Channel Three’s wealth-management guru, it was also potentially career ending.

After all, who would watch his show, Frank Finance, if Frank “Finance” Michaels was broke?

I needed to help make ends meet, but there was no out-of-the-way bar where I could cocktail waitress in guaranteed anonymity. Not one where I was sure my husband’s face wouldn’t appear on the corner TV. Beside, Frank had to let his personal assistant go, so I stepped in at a salary of hopefully we’ll be able to keep the house.

Under strict gag orders about our financial bind and obligated to keep up the appearance of what was suddenly our former lifestyle, I did was any resourceful, close to middle-age, stay-at-home mom with a computer would do–after I finished crying and had consumed all the Rocky Road, Doritos, and Girl Scout cookies in the house: Welcome to http://www.mrsfrugalicious.com, the website devoted to all things savings!

Four months had passed since I posted those words and I, Mrs. Frugalicious, AKA Mrs. Frank Finance, AKA Maddie Michaels–still felt a little thrill.

Okay, a big thrill.

In that remarkably skillful opening, Linda Joffe Hull sets up her series: Maddie Michaels is our erstwhile heroine; she runs a website devoted to tips saving money; and she explains not only who she is, but why she runs that website. This is also an incredibly, incredibly clever opening, and a mini-master class is defining character: because you see exactly how Maddie sees herself–she is a wife and mother and partner first and foremost, a person second. She even lists, towards the end there, how she sees herself, in order–Mrs. Frugalicious, Mrs. Frank Finance, Maddie Michaels. She herself doesn’t even realize how important being Mrs. Frugalicious is to her; it’s a career and persona she has created herself, by herself, for herself; her second most important identity is as the wife of a television personality, and lastly, herself. And as you turn each addictive page, the real story of Eternally 21 isn’t necessarily the murder mystery itself, but the story of a woman who has long subsumed herself in the identity of being supportive wife and loving mother, slowly coming to terms with, and accepting, her own power.

This isn’t to say that the murder mystery–a horrible store manager at the local mall Maddie frequents dies right in front of her–isn’t interesting and compelling, full of twists and turns, with some big surprises at the end I frankly didn’t see coming. It’s very deftly plotted, and of course, the most important part of any amateur sleuth novel is coming up with a believable way for the amateur to get involved in the case, and want to try to solve it.  And as she solves the mystery, struggles to keep her secret identity secret, continues to be the glue holding her family and household together, and pull off keeping her website going, it quickly becomes clear that Maddie Michaels is a force to be reckoned with. Maddie is someone the reader can identify with and root for, and her twin sons are also incredibly likable…and you begin to wonder why, precisely, she puts up with her narcissistic husband.

It’s a lot of fun. Published by Midnight Ink, an excellent press primarily focused on crime fiction–they also publish Jess Lourey and Catriona MacPherson’s terrific stand-alones and R. Jean Reid’s (J. M. Redmann’s pseudonym) new series–the book is compelling and a lot of fun; there are times when I smiled, others when I laughed out loud.

I do look forward to reading more in this series.

 

Always Something There To Remind Me

Monday morning.

I didn’t get as much done as I wanted to this weekend–do I ever?–and now it’s Monday morning. Ah, well, ’tis life, isn’t it? We have friends coming in this week–we’re having brunch Saturday at Commander’s–and I’m not sure what other opportunities we’ll have to see them this week.

I did manage to finish reading Donna Andrews’ latest, Gone Gull, over the course of the weekend, which was fun.

gone gull

“Wow, you could kill someone with that thing! Doesn’t that worry you?”

I counted to ten before looking up from the anvil, where I’d been about to start hammering on an iron rod. I’d only finished heating the iron to the perfect temperature for shaping it. If I was working in my own barn, I’d have ignored Victor Winter’s remarks.

But I wasn’t in my own barn. I was at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center being paid–quite handsomely–to teach Blacksmithing 101. And however annoying I found Victor, he was a student. If ignored, he’d start muttering again about complaining to management. I didn’t want him doing that. Management was my grandmother Cordelia, owner of the center, and I didn’t think she needed the aggravation today.

So when I’d reached ten I put my hammer down, set the rod safely on the anvil, and pushed up my safety goggles. Then I smiled, and did what I could to turn his question into a teaching moment.

“Yes, Victor,” I began. “You could kill someone with this metal rod–even if it wasn’t heated to its present temperature of approximately a thousand degrees Fahrenheit.”

I love the Meg Langslow series, and eagerly await each new volume (there’s another one coming out in October, The Finch That Stole Christmas, huzzah! The Christmas ones–there are two already–are amongst my favorites).  Meg is, as you can guess from the above opening, a highly skilled and trained blacksmith; if I had any complaint to make about the series, it’s that Meg’s blacksmithing has taken a backseat to all of the many other things she somehow manages to do. This book is also not set in the small college town of Caerphilly, Virginia (I pronounce it carefully, because it makes me laugh), but rather in the Blue Ridge mountains, where Meg’s long lost grandmother (introduced in The Good, the Bad, and the Emus, another favorite) lives. (Although I do miss Caerphilly, but I am hopeful the October release will be set there.) Meg has an enormous family, a wry sense of humor, and is uber-organized, which is why she also ends up running so many, many things–almost all of which result in someone being murdered and Meg having to use her highly honed organization and deduction skills to catch a killer.

The premise of every  cozy series, of course, is that the main character manages to catch the killer before the police do; this is a very difficult thing to pull off, and Andrews does it every single time. The books are witty, and clever, and I don’t think I’ve ever even tried to figure out who the killer is, or solve the crime (which is something I tend to do whenever I read a crime novel) because I am enjoying the ride so much.

Gone Gull is a fine addition to a series that I hope Andrews never grows tired of writing, because I’ll keep buying and reading as long as she does.