Friday, July 25, 2014

Cozy is the Word

I’ve finally found out how this novel of mine should be classified. Before, when asked what I was working on, I said simply, “It’s a mystery.” Now, I know better. I know more. It’s a cozy mystery.

I discovered my category while looking up definitions for the kind of work agents were requesting and found a list of classifications in mystery fiction. And there it was—cozy.

According to Wikipedia, the cozy mystery is a subgenre of crime fiction with the following aspects:

·        “Sex and violence is downplayed or treated humorously.”  

That’s me.

·        “The crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.”

That’s me.

·        “The detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs.”

That’s me.

·        “The emphasis is placed on puzzle-solving over suspense.”

That’s me.

·        “Focus on hobbies or occupations are all frequent elements of cozy mysteries.”

That’s me.

·        “Must like cats and dogs.”

Okay, it didn’t actually say that, but it could have. It’s still me.

Now that I know my niche and its proper title, I have to admit—I’m comfy with cozies.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Three Step Plan

One of my Beta readers sent me a compliment. She liked my dialogue. It was very kind of her and very much appreciated.

I responded by explaining a little about my three steps to building a scene.

When I first begin blocking out a scene, I think about what I want to accomplish and how best to advance the plot. Then I chose the characters I need. Since I’ve gotten most of my characters developed to the point I can hear them when they speak—I let them. Step one: I run through the scene with dialogue.

After I get a good sense of who’s saying what, who’s placing the important clue, who’s dropping the snarky remark, who’s making a joke—I get on with step two: making them move around within a defined space.

Step two takes awhile. I blame it on my high school English teacher, a no-nonsense WWII vet who marked down any padded writing that crossed his desk. It left me with a natural inclination for sparseness and brevity, good traits for a short story or an essay, but not so much for a novel. In a novel, the reader wants more details about everything.

As hard as it is for me, after I get the furnishings in the room, the room in a building, and the building in Bishop Hill, I’m faced with my most difficult task—step three: giving them emotions.

Seriously, at an early point, I considered the merits of an autistic protagonist. But I kept at it using the feedback I was given in workshops, writing groups, and from my primary reader, my husband.

Every time I revisit a scene I find something to fix, improve, and polish. All the little changes build up to enrich and add more depth. It reminds me of layers of varnish and wear on an old table, part of the whole that sets it apart, makes it unique.

This three step plan works most of the time. Once in awhile, one of my characters will take off on their own. I have to follow. It usually works out for the best. I’ve discovered that I need to pay attention to their dialogue. They know what they’re talking about.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pie in the Sky or Becoming Unstuck

Blocked. Stuck. Waiting for the Muse. Every writer has to develop ways to overcome the obstacles to writing. Here are a few of the things that I have tried:

·        Lie down for a nap
·        Go for a drive
·        Take a walk
·        Weed a flower bed
·        Cook something

I know what you’re thinking—laying down for a nap is pure hedonism. I’ll admit there’s a certain element of indulgence involved, but more often than not, it works out in my favor. I’ll be stewing over a scene, a bit of dialogue, or need some character development and when I close the door, darken the room, and tune out the world my subconscious mind kicks in and the answers come to me. It’s pretty neat when it works. On those other times, I wake up refreshed and ready to go back to work.

Going for a drive is another way to get to the subconscious, but I can’t do it the way I used to when I lived in Bishop Hill. Back then it was a 15 minute drive to Galva, 25 minutes to Kewanee, and 40 minutes to Galesburg. Since the roads didn’t usually have that much traffic, I could shift the mental gears to automatic and let the brain wonder a bit. (Unless it was deer season of course and you have to stay with the here and now.)

Since moving to the big city, I can’t drive like that anymore. I’m watching the cars in front of me, on either side, and behind. I’m waiting for the lights to change and trying not to get lost. Definitely not the time to relax and seek the Muse.

That leaves the healthiest choice—walking. I walk. I get ideas. I solve problems. I get exercise. What’s not to like?

I do think walking in Bishop Hill was easier. I walked to the post office. I walked to work. I walked to visit people. I walked for lunch. It was much easier to get “out and about” as an old coffee buddy used to say.

Bishop Hill had the ideal set up. The centrally located green space, actually a state park, was perfect for walking laps. Once around the park was a quarter mile loop. Work your way out to the next circle of streets and you added another quarter mile. Because of Bishop Hill’s smallness, there were only two more loops to be had, so you could work up to a mile and a half. Anything more required some creativity or branching off onto the country roads.

I’m getting better at taking walks in the city. I’m finding my way around the local neighborhoods. I can make it to the closest shopping center, the big mall, and even the YMCA. 

The last items on my list can explain themselves. The cooking, and the eating, can be healthy—or not.

Now, my main outlet is making gluten free bread. A much better alternative to what I used to call the “Bishop Hill pie diet.” Imagine the three o’clock doldrums within easy reach of five restaurants and their dessert menus. It often gave me an added incentive to walk the long way home and ponder other scenarios and better choices. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Pitches, Blogs & Microphones

I went to the pitch sessions I’d signed up for at the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference and a funny thing happened—I did okay.

Yes, I gave each one my best shot. I answered questions and made my points about character arcs, conflicts, and themes; filled my allotted ten minutes with thoughtful conversation about my novel; and came away amazed.

I don’t think I could have done that even a few months ago. If asked the simplest question: What’s it about? I would have been hard pressed to say anything coherent.

So what’s changed?

For one thing—this blog.

I’ve been working on these weekly articles about the novel since April and I believe they’ve made me become better acquainted with my own work, in part and in whole.

It wasn’t an intended goal. I just felt I was far enough along with the process that I could write about it for awhile. It seemed like a good idea.

The second thing that’s changed—I’ve done more public readings.

Most recently, I went to the conference gathering at Rozz-Tox in Rock Island. Following the faculty readings, the mic was open to conference attendees, so I signed up. I chose to read some poems. A brave thing to do, since I’m NOT a poet. I figured with one good free verse poem and three short limericks I could get up, practice speaking, and get out of the way fairly quickly.

Microphones are wonderful things, especially that one—once I got it into position. I stepped up, spoke into it, and could be heard. And by the comments I received afterward, appreciated.

Strange things happen all the time. A simple cat poem can become a confidence builder.

A Cat’s Ode to the Left-Over Pot Roast
By Mary Davidsaver

Eat a cow?
Eat it now?
It may be cold.
It may be old. it anyhow.

(You had to have been there.)

So, my pitches weren’t perfect, but I did well enough for an agent to request fifty pages. At this stage of the game, that’s a win.

Pretty cool stuff for a shy person.