To celebrate the publication of Six Feet Deep Dish, I was invited to write a guest post for the awesome mystery blog, Criminal Element. Read on for more on writing, music, and my uncanny similarity to Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps.
Before a big race, swimmer Michael Phelps listened to a playlist to amp up his energy, increase his focus, and get in the zone. Maybe you can picture him, headphones on, bopping his chin to a beat that was audible only to him. I’m exactly the same. You heard it here, people. Michael Phelps and I are basically the same person. Except instead of setting world records for a sub-two-minute 100m butterfly and going for gold as the most decorated Olympian of all time, I write novels about a fat cat and pizzas.
You ask people about their cupcake preferences, and they probably have thoughts. Chocolate or vanilla, fancy boutique flavors or made straight from the Duncan Hines box, unadorned or topped with edible sugar tchotchkes. These are legitimate opinions, and a variety of taste preferences is generally accepted.
Ask people about their favorite pizza, though, and emotions start running hot. Foldable New York by-the-slice? The pleasingly solid rectangle of a Detroit-style pie? Or a simple, quick-baking Neapolitan? Choose your weapon, because this is a shooting war.
For a chance to win one of three copies of SIX FEET DEEP DISH, read more about this pizza versus pizza battle royale on the Wicked Authors blog…
The dating world can be tough when you have a job that quite literally scares the hell out of some men, and makes it hard to meet people “the old-fashioned way.” Guys I work with are out of the question, because I am their minister. Sure, there are some cute young doctors, but what if I date one, then he has a rough night in the ER and finds himself in need of the kind of support often provided by the chaplain? How awkward would it be if the chaplain on duty were his girlfriend, or worse yet, his ex-girlfriend? I think my no-dating-guys-I-work-with rule is a pretty good one. I spend a lot of time at church, which is often suggested to me as a good place to meet like-minded individuals. Yet I’m sorry to say there are absolutely no single men at this particular church.
I recently paid a virtual visit to Brooke Blogs, a website curated by a small-town Ohio librarian. She was kind enough to feature my newest release, The Burnt Island Burial Ground, which is the latest installment of the Reverend Lindsay Harding mystery series.
Pop on over to bookish Brooke’s blog to find out why, if I’m going to write about something as dark and sinister as murder, I need to do it with a spoon full of sugar (or a gigantic cookie) firmly in my grasp.
Oh, and if you’ve managed to read all three books in the series, I’d love to know which Lindsay Harding book was your favorite!
I’m going on an epic vacation this summer–a month traveling around England, Scotland, Wales, and Iceland. I know that conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t put things like this on social media, but since our house will be occupied by some strapping graduate students and a ferocious miniature Schnauzer, I’m confident that all the criminal types who follow my blog won’t easily be able to break into my house and steal my TV. Also, our TV is a piece of junk, so good luck when it shorts out in the middle of your favorite episode of Hillbilly Handfishin’. Anyway, much of this travel involves visits to family and friends, and some of it is research for a new series. Pubs! Castles! Volcanoes! Whatever people see in Wales! I can’t wait.
Writer, reviewer, and book blogger Judy Nickles featured an interview with me on her blog yesterday. Check out an excerpt here:
If you’ve written more than one book, what have you learned between the first one and the new release? I’ve learned to greet critiques from my beta readers with wide open arms. The prospect of doing major rewrites (or even minor ones!) can be daunting, but it’s a necessary part of improving the final product. I owe it to my readers to put polished, entertaining work out there for them. Odds are high that anyone’s first draft is going to suck. The more comprehensive the feedback you receive and incorporate, the more you diminish those odds in subsequent drafts!
I’ve also learned that there’s a reason most writers don’t achieve success at a young age. Writing well, for me, involves a deepening of wisdom, a broadening of life experience, a honing of the skills of observation and concision, and a hell of a lot of practice. A few very gifted, very lucky individuals write fantastic first books at an early age, but obviously those people are freaks of nature who should be isolated from society to keep the rest of us from looking bad.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed today on the Clean Indie Reads blog, home of “Flinch-Free Fiction.” So what exactly is flinch-free fiction?
While flinch-free books aren’t squeaky-clean Disney-Princess pure in every imaginable way, they are “clean” in the following ways:
They contain no erotica or sexually explicit scenes. There should be nothing that gives a play-by-play description of a sexual encounter or describes nudity in detail. Mild innuendo, reference to sensual or sexual activity that is “off screen” and not graphically portrayed may be used in some books written for adults, but that will show up in the interview with the author on the book’s page. They contain no graphic violence or gore. There should be nothing that paints a very specific and horrific image in the reader’s mind. Scenes generally described as appropriate for war stories, crime stories, etc. may be present, but that will show up in the interview with the author on the book’s page. The authors have curtailed offensive language. There should be no use of the “F-word”. Other words commonly considered as swearing and/or racially offensive terms should be used very sparingly, if at all. If such words are present in an effort to mimic speech in times of great duress for a character (and not just peppered in gratuitously), this will be noted in the interview with the author on the book’s page.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis finally acknowledged she’s having too much fun writing to ever sell another house and let her license lapse in May of 2013, after her twenty-fifth anniversary in real estate. She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteries. If you’re one of her clients, colleagues, or contractors, read carefully — you may find characters in her books that seem familiar. You may know the person who inspired them — who knows: maybe you inspired a character yourself.
Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): Your Regan McHenry mysteries are known for having lots of plot twists and turns. Have you ever drafted an epic twist (à la The Sixth Sense or Planet of the Apes) only to realize that — amazing as it is — it’s just not going to work?
Nancy Lynn Jarvis (NLJ): I’ve never had that experience, but I have had a character throw a plot twist at me. When I started writing Backyard Bones, I couldn’t decide which one of two characters was the murderer, but knew the choice could be put off until I was part way through writing the book. By the time I reached the deciding point, it was clear neither prime suspect was guilty; the villain was another character. No worries. I thought I’d just go back, do a little rewriting, and plant clues in the appropriate places. When I got to the revision points, the clues were already there. My character was in charge the whole time and laughing at me as much as at my protagonist for missing them.
MFM: Real-life events from your 25-year real estate career form the basis of your mysteries. With all that experience, have you done all the usual realtor things like walking in on naked homeowners, trying to sell a crazy cat lady house, or shoving dirty dishes in the trunk of your car before a viewing? Have you done anything even wackier than that, say, shoving a naked crazy cat lady in your trunk before a viewing?
NLJ: Several of the wacky things I’ve encountered or friends in the business experienced have found their way into the books. The (very common) naked homeowner story made a great little bit in a book as did the crazy cat lady (mine was a crazy dog lady) who wore tinfoil hats to keep the space aliens from reading her mind. The most unusual wacky story may have been a friend’s experience of finding a dead seller during a showing. The realtor was upset and assumed the potential buyer, who left the bedroom where the body was while he called 911, was too, until he found her in the living room sitting in a yoga pose, communing with the dead seller to negotiate the purchase of his condo. I used that in “The Death Contingency.” FYI readers, all the murders in my books are made up; the real estate stories, no matter how implausible they may seem, are all true.
MFM: Tell me about the absolute weirdest house you ever took clients to view. Did any elements of that experience find their way into your books?
NLJ: Let’s see. The one that was so cold the evil in it was palpable? No, I ran out of it and never took clients to see it, although it was the model for The Murder House. The one with the working dungeon dug under the house? Maybe. My clients and I got out of there quickly once we noticed the massive lock on the dungeon door and heard noises upstairs indicating the owner had come home. I haven’t used that one…yet. Oh, I know! The one where the building inspector announced he found Jimmy Hoffa. There was an anomaly in the structure of the house that created a perfect hiding place for a body. The inspector was kidding about Hoffa, but the house and that space are in Buying Murder.
MFM: You’ve now published more than half a dozen books, so I’m sure you’ve learned a thing or two about what works and doesn’t work for getting the word out. What are your go-to marketing strategies? For example, I was thinking about buying ad space for my book series on Kim Kardashian’s butt…
NLJ: Back in the day, I had great success offering a free download of a series book. It’s counterintuitive to give a book away to increase sales, but it worked beyond my wildest dreams, which is saying a lot because I’m a writer and dream up all sorts of things. Recently I convinced 128 cozy mystery writers to submit recipes related to their books for a cookbook and asked them to include biographies and links for buying their books. Authors are now a promotional army mentioning the cookbook everywhere. Sales are good and we are all getting publicity from Cozy Food: 128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes. It doesn’t hurt that “Cozy Food” is full of witty stories, terrific and entertaining recipes, works equally well for recipes and for discovering new authors to read, and is garnering rave reviews.
In her creative nonfiction work, Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, hospice chaplain Karen B. Kaplan shares her patients’ stories–some heart-breaking, some funny, some profound–and refuses to offer easy answers or sound-bite wisdom about what it means to face death. Excerpted below is Chapter One, entitled “You’re Too Nice Looking to Work for Hospice- -Being Made Welcome to My New Career.” For more samples of Rabbi Kaplan’s writing and information about her book, check out her blog, offbeatcompassion.com. She hastens to warn readers of my Lindsay Harding mystery series that her book has no detectives, murders, or blind dates with teenage Zoroastrian Civil War reenactors.
Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan:
I started looking for hospice work in 2005 as I wrapped up a three-year contract with Progressive Temple Beth Ahavat Sholom in Brooklyn, New York. As my contract was drawing to a close, I interviewed for pulpit as well as hospice positions, being ambivalent about leaving congregational life. The congregation was unaware that I was considering serving at a hospice. As of yet unannounced to a soul, soon after I got the offer from United Hospice of Rockland, one of these fans said, “Rabbi, I don’t care how far away your next post is, I will follow you there.” I told him I was overwhelmed with his faithfulness and touching sentiments, but that he would not want to fulfill his vow as the only way he would be following me would be as a hospice patient! A portrait painter would have had a heyday capturing the motley crew of emotions all over his face.
And that was one of the more positive reactions to my announcement of my career plans. One person made such an expression of disgust you would think I had already ritually defiled myself from contact with the dead as described in the Book of Leviticus. He was afraid I would be contaminating him in no time. Sure enough, he backed away from our remaining opportunities to get together over coffee. Someone else, upon hearing the news, raised his arms as if to protect himself, emitted an “Oh!” looked away, and retreated a step or two. Mentioning my new career to my congregants definitely was a way to throw a curveball into a conversation. (Nowadays, there is a mischievous part of me that sometimes gets a kick out of springing this surprise upon unsuspecting listeners such as fellow Bed and Breakfast guests.) Yet another congregant gave me a knowing look, saying “That is just the kind of job that would suit you.” Maybe I was imagining it, having been stung by the premature end of my tenure, but it felt like the subtext of that remark was “A pulpit rabbi you should not or could not ever be.” So onward I went, with all these votes of confidence, to life at the edge.