Friday, August 25, 2017

My Three Minute Speed Pitch for Killer Nashville

I’m Mary Davidsaver. I built my first cozy mystery, Clouds Over Bishop Hill, around a fictionalized version of Bishop Hill, a former communal society and an Illinois state historic site. I gave Shelley Anderson, my protagonist and New Adult, a mission: Find a long, lost painting. I did my best to make her journey a difficult but maturing experience.

My sequel, Buried Treasure, begins with a body in a cemetery—the one body that’s NOT supposed to be there. Shelley gets involved when the prime suspect is a former boyfriend and the future fiancĂ© of Marsha Ellen: her cousin, best friend, and college roommate. It’s complicated. And becomes more complicated when Shelley receives some SHOCKING news.

To which she says, “Whoa, back up to the part where I can’t be a bridesmaid at your wedding.”

That turns out to be a pivotal point. The rest of the book explores just why Shelley would make the most unsuitable bridesmaid.

Add a cat food commercial and Bishop Hill is ready for the Hallmark Channel.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Jenny Lawson-ish Gift

For the August meeting of the West End book club we read Jenny Lawson’s second book, Furiously Happy. We had Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir on our 2015-2016 schedule, so some of us knew what to expect in terms of wit, humor, and honesty.

It appears that reading a Jenny Lawson book had an effect on me. It made me feel free-er to look at myself, my life, and it can influence my writing, if I let it.

As a gift to my readers, and for my husband, I wanted to share a story, “Alarms in the Nighttime.”

My husband has put up with me for 39-plus years of an interesting life. Not as interesting as Lawson’s, but we’ve had our moments. One of those moments came into play for this story, and I let myself run with it. As Jenny would say, “It’s mostly true.” Enjoy.

Alarms in the Nighttime
By Mary Davidsaver

My brain is trying to tell me something important like, “Wake up, the world has problems that need attending to. You need to move!”
     I should probably open my eyes.
     I roll over and mumble to my husband, “Is that another storm warning?” The past evening had been filled with our smart phones going crazy every few minutes with thunderstorm warnings and watches. Most were not too close, but when the Iowa City area had a funnel cloud spotted on the ground I’d gotten into gear and packed up my computer along with my most important notes to stow away in our storm room. My standard procedure for the midwestern tornado season.
     By now I’m aware enough to make out that the loud noise is not coming from a cell phone, and my husband is saying, “That’s the SMOKE alarm.”
     It provides a good jolt of adrenaline. I’m fully awake now and fumbling for my glasses. By the time we’re both out of the bedroom and standing by our kitchen table the awful sound stops. We’re both like, “Where’s the fire?”
     I don’t smell anything. He doesn’t smell anything, and his nose is much more sensitive than mine. We do a quick search of our rather smallish home and come up empty. No smoldering menace to be found.
     My brave husband volunteers to stay up to keep a watchful eye out, or in this case a watchful nose, for anything we might have missed. “I’m awake anyway,” he says. He proceeds to start up his computer and finds the instruction manual for our alarms. By now I’m not going anywhere either, so we start our search to see if we can tell which alarm did the deed. Which one woke us up at MIDNIGHT.
     He says, “You have to look for a blinking red light.”
     “Why me?” I ask. “Because I’m color blind,” he says.
     When we first started dating he downplayed his eye condition to merely “color challenged.” I remember this clearly. This color identification business shifted as he’s aged. What was once a “challenge” has become a badge of martyrdom and a ready excuse to get out of all kinds of color-based tasks. So, I take the lead on this hunt through our darkened house. I stand under each of our six visible alarms (there are three more tucked away out of reach) and patiently count to one hundred hoping my bleary eyes will catch a tiny green dot change to a tiny red dot. And wink at me.
     I make the circuit twice before I discover the offender. It’s in MY room. My personal writing-space room of disorder. I’m, like, thinking about how this room should be any different tonight, or rather this morning, than any other time. I can only come up with one answer—the caterpillar.
     I’m trying to help Monarch butterflies. To that end I welcomed four kinds of milkweed into my garden over the past five years—with little tangible success. This year I became determined to assist some caterpillars through to full butterflyhood. Over the past month I was harvesting the tiny white eggs, complete with milkweed leaf, and raising them in recycled Blue Bunny ice cream containers. My goal: to get them of a size that when reintroduced into the main milkweed patch they’d make it the rest of the way on their own. You see, I was SO sure that the precious eggs and hatchlings were being preyed upon by hungry ants, stealthy spiders, and nasty beetles that I put up with the fuss and muss of having wild things indoors. Well, in my garage. Things were going fine and I’d already released a couple of caterpillars. Then it got hot. Then it got hotter. The poor dears would lie in the bottom of their respective containers and NOT EAT. Not good. (Caterpillars are designed to eat—and do the other thing that’s opposite of eating.) When they tried to escape the over-heated confines of their plastic cells, I had to make the ultimate sacrifice, I brought them into the air-conditioned comfort of my home—specifically, MY room.
     On the night, or the morning, of the alarm going off I still had one caterpillar to go. I was waiting for the right time, for another break in the hot spell. How could I make this last creature go from 79 degrees of cool comfort to 95 degrees muggy torture? I couldn’t be that inhumane. My sleep-deprived brain was telling me that this bug had somehow emitted enough methane, or whatever gaseous byproduct that comes from digesting milkweed, to set off the alarm. Perhaps there’d been a build up over the past few weeks and the tipping point had been surpassed. How do I admit to my husband that it’s all my fault?
     But before I could come clean and confess—I was SAVED.
     My always clever husband presents his own theory. He declares with a straight face, it was still dark so I’m guessing it was a straight face, he says “It was those radioactive spiders.”
     I restrain myself and listen to him explain about how old-time smoke detectors used radioactive stuff to do their detecting work. Combine that with the spiders that travel into the country by hitching rides on bananas, which everyone knows are sources of radioactivity, and you get spiders that can set off smoke alarms all willy-nilly.
     What could I do but agree with him? I was so thrilled to be totally off the hook.
     That last caterpillar went free a couple of days later—and I placed a moratorium on raising any more Monarch eggs—for THIS year.

P.S. My husband read this and he totally disagrees about the martyr thing.

P.P.S. He likes to have sliced bananas on his cereal.

© Mary R. Davidsaver 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Wordinators and Panels

Two interesting items from this past week: A guest visit to a writer’s critique group in Madison, and a request to apply for another panel for Killer Nashville.

The critique group I visited does things differently than the Writer’s Studio that meets at the MWC office in the lower level of the Rock Island library twice a month. At the Writer’s Studio gatherings, we read a few pages and discus them. The other group in Madison has writers submit pages before the meeting for written comments, questions, and grammatical input. This is an approach I’ve been wanting to experience again. I liked it for a workshop on novel writing I had several years ago. The workshop leader came from Iowa City and it was as close as I could get to the Writer’s Workshop without enrolling in the U of I. (That old workshop was where I first came face to face with “comma splicing.” Didn’t know it existed until then. Can I handle it now? No comment.)

I think the Madison critique group's approach to grammar, hence the introduction to the term “Wordinator,” was quite helpful. Like a higher-level Beta reader. As one guy put it, “You combine all of us together and you get one good editor.” (Or words to that effect.)

My thoughts after 2 hours of 5 people going over 13 pages of manuscript: be constructive, be supportive, and be brief.

About the same time as I was working on my critique pages, I received an email the founder of Killer Nashville saying, “I want to make sure I portray you in your best light.” So, I could apply for a position on another panel.

I went through the KN schedule and made a list of panels I might be able to offer something constructive to and wrote down my thoughts:

Creating & Weaving Subplots

I read Kathy Reichs first novel, Deja Dead, and felt that she threw in everything but the kitchen sink. I was impressed with the complexities. So, I was not averse to add a lot of subplots to my novel. I have a missing painting, a fake painting, a destroyed painting, a Swede with a fake name, four villains with ulterior motives, detailed description of a village in Illinois, and lots of family secrets. The thing that (hopefully) saved me became clearer with a comment I heard from Ethan Canin: “There are lots of ways to build plot, characters, etc. There’s only one way for a story to go wrong: fail to pose one and only one emotional question for the reader.” (11-11-16)

Bad Boys (and Girls): The Villains You Can’t Forget

I love my villains. Once created I couldn’t get rid of them by pinning them with the crime. At a panel for Murder & Mayhem in Chicago the moderator asked for any examples of a mystery that didn’t have a killer. I was too shy to raise my hand, but I did slip her my card afterward with a note about the metaphor I thought was most important to me. (And yes, that was going against the advice of one of my editors, but I had to make a point for my theme of preservation. Just another stubborn writer I guess.)

Lighten Up, You are Where You’re Supposed to Be: Keeping Perspective

There is a YouTube video of J. K. Rowlings giving a commencement address where she talks about the lowest point in her life and how she had to focus completely on getting one thing right, her first novel. I can identify with that. I’m a late bloomer as a writer and I had a lot of ground to make up. I did one thing, my first novel, and not much else for years. Because of that singlemindedness I don’t have an impressive resume for publications, but I feel I did my best at getting my message across in the novel. (If I didn’t, well, there’s the 2nd book.)

I’m Not the Same Anymore: Character Arcs

Early on a friend made me promise to have my protagonist grow and change. I kept that in mind. Workshops taught me that there are positive and negative arcs. Upward and downward. I have used both. And none. It was pointed out that some characters don’t change, i.e. Jack Reacher.

(There’s a YouTube video of Curt Vonnegut diagraming story plots. Love the visual aspect of it. Might be useful for this panel.)

Buy My Book and Pay Me to Speak

I had to have a fifth entry on the form and I picked this for no other reason than I’m thinking about it now. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Two Reviews for Susan Furlong

Peaches and Scream

Peaches and Scream by Susan Furlong is an excellent introduction into the complicated life of Nola Mae Harper. She’s a Georgia belle who went AWOL after high school and has returned to sort out her life. She has issues with family, friends, job, and finding a body leaning against a peach tree on the family farm. Furlong leads the reader through the streets of Cays Mill as she piles up clues about a host of suspects. She then takes us on to a bumpy ride over narrow back roads to the final twist of an ending that I never saw coming.

War and Peach Review

I thought the Harper clan had its share of adversity piled pretty high in Susan Furlong’s third visit to Cays Mill, Georgia. Most of it thanks a long-standing grudge nursed by a peevish sheriff who can let important clues slip by. Though, I have to admit that those clues slipped by me as well. All thanks to the clever writing of the author. Furlong made me wait to the very end to fully reveal all the guilty parties.

Both books were well plotted out, stocked with believable and approachable characters, and true to the cozy mystery genre.

And the recipes were more than just window dressing or sources for peachy humor. I really learned to like peach salsa and how to thaw out frozen fruit. It works. All of this really works. Good reads all the way around.