The urban setting of these mysteries allows me to bring together churchgoers, city dwellers who depend on the food bank and thrift shop for basic necessities, the volunteers who serve them, the residents of the high rise condos and retirement communities and the ex-cons living in the halfway house. I especially enjoyed creating meet-up opportunities for the pampered pets of the condo dwellers and the ‘strays’ who accompany the homeless.
Blog Entry: Camel Press
Thoughts While Waiting
My second mystery, titled Death in the Old Rectory is coming out the first week of February, 2016. Even though I submitted the manuscript last Spring, my publisher told me that lead times are stretching out because editors, reviewers, etc. need more time to do their jobs. I’m guessing part of it is the sheer number of books being published these days. “Print on demand” has lowered the start-up costs for both self-published authors and publishers. So now I’m waiting. I’ve approved the cover, which you will find to be awesome. I’ve reviewed the “line edit” and also the proofs. I’ve revised my author biography (less wordy) and written the acknowledgments (more wordy). I’ve conducted an interview with myself, using questions supplied by my publisher, which will be handy for posting on Goodreads, Facebook and other sites.
I didn’t fully realize that Camel specialized in genre fiction when they accepted Death in the Memorial Garden. I just knew that Catherine Treadgold, and Jennifer McCord were providing me with the support and feedback (and upfront financing) that a new author craves.
Camel publishes genres besides mystery, including sci-fi, romance, paranormal, young adult, and something called speculative fiction. There’s more; see their website www.camelpress.org for a full list and check them out on Facebook and Twitter.
Each genre has sub-genres. My subgenre is the Cozy Mystery.
I think of it in geographical terms. The traditional police procedural or detective novel lives in the city. The cozies, historical mysteries, and thrillers are the suburbs. Each suburb has its exurbs, containing many cul de sacs. For cozies, the exurbs include every kind of craft, all types of cuisine, and most all occupations. My exurb is the one labeled cozies with religious subjects and/or clerical protagonists.
It gets more complicated. The heroine of one of my favorite series, Faith Fairchild, is married to a clergyman, but also owns a catering business. The recipes for the food she prepares before, during and after the crime are included in the back. I’m sure her readers appreciate that she doesn’t also include here husband’s sermon texts.
I’m a miserable failure at quilting, and pastry baking, so I’m not drawn to those cozy subgenres. But give me a great writer whose subject has to do with the social work or court system (my former career), or who likes gardens, libraries or communites with quirky characters, and I’m hooked. For me these include Margaret Maron (southern small town judge with bootlegger father), Sue Grafton (private detective with a quirky set of friends), and Jo Dereske (prim librarian from Bellingham, also with a quirky set of friends). Father Tim in the long-running Mitford Series by Jan Karon doesn’t solve murders, but he certainly inspired my protagonist. I like to think of Father Robert as Father Tim’s cousin living in the unchurched Pacific Northwest.
Another thing about cozies: they attract readers who don’t care for excessive sex or violence to be a part of the search for whodunit. Think of the recent interest in the Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie, and the enduring interest in Agatha Christie, and my favorite, MC Beaton (the Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeath series, set in Scotland).
The Cozy Mystery Website:
This is the must-go-to site for cozy lovers. The blogger, whom her readers know as Janna, writes a post almost every day. She lists the new mysteries for each month, and also the mysteries adapted for TV. She maintains a list of cozies by sub-genre, and welcomes readers’ comments. Death in the Memorial Garden is listed under Religious Theme. She even decided before I submitted my second manuscript that it would be the first in a series she labeled “The Grace Church Mysteries.”
Janna generously includes worthy mysteries outside the cozy genre. Recently, she mourned the death of Ruth Rendell, the esteemed British author of the Inspector Wexford novels, which are technically police procedurals. However, the Inspector has been unfailingly decent over the years, and concerned about social issues, which appeals to us cozy-lovers. We also recognize that Rendell elevated her mysteries to the level of literary fiction, which we cozy authors pray to attain.
I like my subgenre because as what they call a “clergy spouse,” it’s familiar to me. I can draw upon my knowledge of places resembling Grace Church, where all types of folks, many of them quirky (remember organist Daniel?) can form a loving community on somewhat neutral ground. So stay tuned for Death in the Old Rectory.
I paid a visit to the real “Grace Church” recently. It’s been undergoing an exterior facelift. New grout for the cladding stones, and cleaning and repair of the stained glass. It was just in time. Above one of the window casings, the workers found a whole section of wall that was held together by – nothing. In my fictional account, loose stones from the church tower fell (and were thrown) into the Memorial Garden. In real life, part of an exterior wall was poised to crash onto one of downtown Seattle’s east west arterials !
I’ll never forget another close call in 2002, when the church was rocked by the Seattle earthquake. My husband Paul was getting ready to perform a baptism. When things started to shake he was standing at the back of the church. There were exits to his right and left. He decided to run right, a few seconds before a stone crashed through the roof to his left. And that wasn’t all. When the structural inspectors looked at the big, I mean huge, marble altar at the front of the sanctuary, they found that nothing, yes nothing, was attaching it the back wall, and never had been. The congregation had bought it at an early- 1900’s fire sale from a Roman Catholic church back east and had it shipped around the horn. I guess they decided to just prop it up against the wall.
Readers sometimes accuse writers of stretching their imagination beyond its breaking point. When a writer protests, “But it really happened!” the reader is not satisfied. Like when I described Lucy’s cats as playing a game of kitty hockey on her kitchen floor with their kibbles. “I’ve seen cats do that!” I say. Or the two homeless guys sitting on top of an outdoor heat grate, looking at dirty pictures on a laptop. Allright, there was only one guy, and I didn’t get close enough to see what he was looking at. But still, the thought of someone using a heat grate for a desk is too much for some imaginations.
When challenged, I feel like a magician forced to give up her trade secrets. “Alright, I didn’t spend hours creating that scene. I just copied it down from memory. Are you happy now?!”
Readers, including myself, don’t like to be messed with. Unless it’s fantasy, science fiction, or speculative fiction, we don’t want the sky to be green or animals (except parrots) to talk. But what about a blue-green sky,– or a thinking animal?
The mystery writer Martha Grimes www.marthagrimes.com/ found herself in the middle of a tempest a few years ago when she introduced two new characters to her Inspector Jury series. Harry Johnson is a villian and Mungo is a hero. Harry is a human and Mungo is his thinking dog.
Jury has tried for three books now to get the goods on Harry, and Mungo has done his telepathic darndest to help him. In his spare time, Mungo drives the housecat to distraction by hiding her kittens. He’s become one of my favorite fictional characters. In real life, Ms. Grimes has devoted her time and resources to animal rights causes, and has probably not minded losing some of her more literal-minded readership.
We all know that Lassie led Timmy to safety. We saw it on TV. So why shouldn’t Mungo be able to lead Jury to an arrest? In honor of Mungo, I’m expanding the role played by Spike, the German Shepherd, in the sequel I’m writing to Death in the Memorial Garden. No, Spike doesn’t think on the page; at least not for now.
Here are the answers I provided to bloggers during the virtual book tour I took after the mystery was published last October. They asked on why I write and the journey I’ve been on as a writer. I’m sure my experiences reflect those of many others.
I’m going on a virtual book tour in November via Partners in Crime. They tell me I won’t have to leave the house, just let my fingers do the talking as I answer questions and make pronouncements online about the mystery. Some nice people who blog about mysteries will post what I say, read the book (glad it’s not too many pages), and let their readers know what they think. This is my kind of tour; no travel, no unattended book signings.
I love real bookstores, and there are some nice ones here in Santa Barbara. Two of them have agreed to stock my book. I have a few more to approach but one a month is the limit of my courage.
Friend Chuck from Denver found a list of all the mystery bookstores in the States (and the world!), including the Northwest’s Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Olympia’s Whodunit? Books. Seattle’s Episcopal Bookstore isn’t on that list, but they have a plump mystery section. As my character Lucy thinks, why is it that Episcopalians and other Catholics write most of the churcy mysteries?
I started reading mysteries at age ten with Agatha Christie and Rex Stout, my Mom’s favorites. It was more about the far away locales and characters who grew orchids and wore bowler hats than the plot. I never once figured out who did it. After that, lots of fiction but no mystery until the past fifteen years. My brother and I have traded off buying Tony Hillerman, Dick Francis, “The Cat Who”‘ mysteries, Jonathon Kellerman, and Sue Grafton the minute they were released in what used to be known as “hardcover.” Sadly only Jonathon and Sue are still alive. These later favorites also operate in interesting locales and associate with interesting characters, but also let us know that community is important, as is trying to follow the Golden Rule.
On my own, I’ve read Jane Langton. Her novel Divine Inspiration showed me that a church building could be a character. And then Father Tim, in the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Not technically mysteries, but structured much the same. They taught me that fictional clergy people could be balding, insecure at times, and a little clumsy. Of course I already knew this, being married to my own clergy person. Even more community, funny, interesting characters, and overt spirituality. Then the Reverend Clare Ferguson series by Julia Spencer-Fleming . Another small community on the East Coast with the amazing name of Millers Kill, interesting characters, spirituality, and topical themes, but faster paced, with chills, thrills and an illicit love affair. My recent favorite is Louise Penney’s Inspector Gamache Series, set in Canada, involving an even smaller community and astute commentary on the characters’ interior lives. None of my favorites are set on the unchurched west coast, my editor Jennifer pointed. out. I still very rarely figure out who did it, and that’s been the hardest part of writing Death in the Memorial Garden.
No more mysteries that I remember until fairly recently.