Thoughts While Waiting

Blog Entry: Camel Press

Kathie Deviny

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  for a full list and check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Mystery Subgenres:

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.





Reality Imitates Fiction


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 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.








Inspiration and Apprenticeship

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 think my inspiration came from a lifetime of reading every chance I got and learning through osmosis what makes for decent writing. My mother loved mysteries, and so do I, especially the cozy kind. In essence, I wanted to do what these authors did, because what they did gave me so much pleasure. I was fortunate to be the descendant of people who read and wrote and taught, so that the writing basics came fairly easily.
 After a career as a social worker, I took a series of creative writing classes over a period of ten years to learn the ‘beyond the basics’, which extend well beyond a mastery of sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar. I found that dialogue and characterization came fairly easily, but not physical and sensory description or plotting.
I suppose the other inspiration has been my grounding in both social service and the religious tradition. I want to let readers know how ordinary people can make a positive contribution and receive much in return by participation in a loving community.
When I began to study creative writing in my 50’s, I wanted to document what it was like to have Stage Three breast cancer. Time was of the essence, since I didn’t know how long remained. I had translated my oncologist’s prognosis of “cautiously optimistic” to a fifty-fifty chance of long term survival. I had always wanted to be a writer, so now was the time.
I signed up for a week-long workshop in Cannon Beach, Oregon, taught by the memoirist and poet Judith Barrington, whose recently published book about her family had sent shivers up and down my spine. Her students were a diverse group. Two men, as I recall, were writing autobiographies to share with their families. One young woman’s parents had been involved with the famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, and her description of assembling a Cassoulet with her father had the sensuality and beauty of a love sonnet.
I selected my fiercest writing to share, one a piece titled, “Cancer of Unknown Origin,” and another comparing my chemotherapy hair loss to the shaved heads of Auschwitz victims. I expected that Ms. Barrington would declare my work compelling, important, and ready for immediate publication. Possibly she could introduce me to her agent. I had been writing for about eight months at the time.
We spent much of the time outside our readings in free ranging discussion, and I challenged her when she criticized another, arguably more famous memoirist, for not being supportive of other women authors. I countered by saying, in effect, that geniuses operated under different rules.
Seeing that some of her students had gotten a little ahead of themselves, and knowing that her own “breakthrough” publication had emerged well into her middle age, Ms. Barrington decided to give us a traditional lecture. Its subject was the writer’s apprenticeship. She began by describing the ages old vocational training path of craftspeople, that of the apprentice. Blacksmiths, barbers, butchers, troubadours, Jesus the carpenter –  all learned from and worked with their elders. They could not ply their trade until worthy to do so. Room and board might be part of the deal, but in effect they were indentured servants, trading youth for livelihood.
Why should writers, or musicians, or poets need any less time or supervision to achieve competence, she asked. And it takes a minimum of ten years, she added. Even I knew enough not to argue with her. Hadn’t it been at least ten years before I could get through a whole day in my previous career as a social worker without being desperate for a social work angel to bail me out?
The apprenticeship system is a tattered one these days. With the decline of labor unions, the average youth of apprenticeship age today probably doesn’t know what the word means. A new hire is lucky to get one work shift to learn the ropes. Employers cry out for skilled workers, but can’t find them, and apparently can’t take the time for an apprentiship.
Ten years. I never forgot what she said. I studied writing for seven years after that workshop, and joined a writing critique group. I finished my unpublished memoir about having cancer. I started writing a mystery. Eight years and many drafts later it’s been published, after a year of revising with my editor. I’m now receiving Medicare. God willing, I’ve begun the transition from from apprentice to journeyman.

Mystery Authors Who’ve Inspired Me

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.

Ashes, Ashes

The inspiration for Death in the Memorial Garden came from an essay I wrote called, “Ashes, Ashes,” about the many ways we honor and “dispose of” our departed loved ones. In it, I described the grassy courtyard between our downtown Seattle church and its parish hall. The courtyard is called the Memorial Garden, and under it are buried the remains of many former members and their families.
To reserve a spot, you must agree that there will be no urn, and no marker other than your name on a plaque inside the church. You must also not be bothered by the idea that the grass above your resting place will be the scene of Easter Egg hunts, summer concerts, and St. Francis Day animal blessings. The soft green grass will also attract urban campers, as well as flocks of pigeons fed by an eccentric lady from the neighborhood.
After finishing the essay, I wondered, what would stop someone from performing a do-it-yourself burial when no one was watching? What if they didn’t bother to remove the ashes from the urn or other container, but just dug a hole big enough for everything, and carefully replaced the sod on top? And what would happen if this was the same location pre-reserved by someone else, someone whose internment was today?  And what if the pigeon lady and her flock decided to attend the service?
So I wrote a mystery to answer those very questions.