Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Campaigning for more votes and explaining myself

So knock me over with a feather, but Brett Kavanaugh is holding her own in Jen's Book Thoughts' amateur sleuth survey. She's made it to round three. Please go vote for her and keep her in the running!

I have to say that I'm thrilled that she's made it this far. When you're a writer and you spend hours sitting in your little room, your fingers flying across the keyboard, trying to make a story come together, it's really validating to know that a character you've created resonates with people. Brett was not a character I ever thought I'd write, but through the course of four books, I have grown to love her and her world.

I know I've been scarce around these parts lately. I've been writing every day, trying to pull this manuscript into shape. I've discovered that reworking an old manuscript doesn't mean I can merely do a search and replace on names. The whole backstory has changed, the setting has changed (somewhat), the new characters insist on doing things that the old ones had no clue about. And the new ones seems to be a little smarter, too, about how to try to solve this crime.

I have been reading a lot, too. I've spent quite a bit of time reading about Lady Jane Grey, one of those elusive Tudor period people that I hadn't really researched too much before. She and her family were fascinating, and I've discovered that perhaps she wasn't as innocent as she's been portrayed through the years.

I also ordered something online that I've been eyeing for a long time: a slim volume of Henry VIII's love letters to Anne Boleyn. While there are a lot of mystery writers who won't read crime novels while they're writing, I'm not one of them, but I must admit that it's nice to immerse myself in Tudor England after a couple of hours of murder and mayhem.

It's nice to see that it's almost spring (and while technically it is spring, we're having some snow today) and the crocuses and daffodils and tulips are starting to poke their heads through the dirt in the garden. I know the snow won't last, and it will really be spring soon. My SAD days are almost over.

So what have you been up to lately?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Go vote for Brett at Jen's Book Thoughts!

Jen Forbus is one of my favorite crime fiction bloggers. She always has very interesting interviews with authors as well as insightful reviews (and I'm not just saying that because she likes my books!). She also has authors give her six word bios. Jen actually created scrapbooks with these bios and has gotten those of us who've penned them to sign them for her.

And now Jen's doing something that I think is incredibly cool: She's got a survey going on her blog to whittle down to the best amateur sleuth.

Brett Kavanaugh made the list! And Brett has actually gone onto the second round, which is up at Jen's blog this week:

Go check it out and vote. You'll see Brett and some of your other favorites, and I'm not quite sure who's going to win in the matchup between Jack Reacher and Nancy Drew. (I have to admit that I voted for Nancy, who is my childhood hero.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

One more from the inbox

I wrote last month about getting emails from readers who don't care for the use of the F-word in my Annie Seymour series. While I don't want to keep dissing readers, I am very curious about something: Why, if you don't like a book, would you bother to write the author and tell her so? Why not just put the book down and forget about it? That's what I do. If I don't care for a book, why would I go through all the bother of actually finding the author online and then sending an email to say so?

Case in point: This morning I received the following from a reader:

I wanted to write and let you know that my husband and I were disappointed with the first two tattoo shop books we read. Well, I should say I read them, —— only read the first and part of the second. We both felt that the first time Brett goes to a strange place she's not supposed to be in to meet someone she's suspicious of is maybe okay, but the second time she does it she is Too Stupid to Live. —— threw the book across the room.

I'm hoping you have decided not to include this kind of stupid choice in the other books. I'll be looking for them at the library this time.

Now, this email is quite interesting in that the reader clearly did not like the book (her husband, identified here only as —— was a bit more adamant about his dislike), but the last sentence indicates she's still going to read the series. Could it be that she possibly thinks that writing me to tell me that I shouldn't make my character too stupid to live will affect the rest of the books? Does she think she's doing me a favor by advising me about this? Possibly, I suppose. But I hate to tell her that the other two books are already written, the third one is already published and the fourth is already typset and ready to go. So if Brett is too stupid to live in those, well, it's just a little too late for any advice.

I believe I can speak for all authors in that we do not write characters intending them to be too stupid to live. In fact, we try desperately to keep them from that. Problem is with amateur sleuth mysteries, the sleuth is not a professional, has no backup, usually no gun, and is expected by the reader to solve the mystery anyway. When you look at it that way, the whole concept of the amateur sleuth mystery is rather silly, because regular people really don't go out and solve crimes. Most of us don't even really know when a crime has been committed until it's been on the news and then the police are already out there trying to solve it. We do not see a news report and then decide, hey, I think I'm going to get involved in that and go out and see if I can beat the police at their own game. And despite what we read in mystery novels, most of us are not suspects in crimes. The police are not knocking at our door to try to discover our motives for killing anyone.

When I was a reporter, I covered only two murders in six years. The first was clear cut: a kid killed his father over a pack of cigarettes. There was no mystery. In the second, a love triangle ended up with a man shot dead in his car in the parking lot at a local watering hole. The guy who shot him waited for the police to show up to turn himself in. Again, clear cut. Although he did claim self defense (the other guy had a broken beer bottle), and it ended up in court. (As an aside, one of my best friends met his wife at the trial. They were both covering it for different newspapers.)

I think readers who pick up an amateur sleuth mystery and expect realism need to check their expectations at the door. I had one reviewer complain that Brett's brother who is a cop would never be assigned to a case in which his sister is involved. As if a tattoo artist would solve a crime. That's my point. Tattoo artists are not solving crimes. Neither are knitting store owners, apple orchard owners, home repair people, ghosts, psychics, book group participants, cats, dogs, and any of the other hobbyists or cupcake store owners you will see gracing the mystery section shelves at the bookstore. And if they did solve crimes, I'm afraid they will at some point be too stupid to live. Because they're not professionals and can't be expected to know what they're doing.

Do you read amateur sleuth mysteries? Do you suspend your disbelief or are you trying to live vicariously through these crime solvers and expect more from them?