The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘cozy mysteries

Two conversations, in the past few months, has me thinking a lot about readers and the lengths they will go to for the authors they love. And, as writers, how do we put our attention even more squarely on creating an amazing reader experience.

This author has created very loyal and responsive fans

One of my colleagues recently shared a story with me about how completely determined she was to obtain the latest release of a Louise Penny novel. At the time, she was traveling in Michigan and the bookstore that she usually visits while there had already run out of LP’s novel. She was scheduled to take a plane home later that day. She was so determined to get this novel that she called several bookstores in the area and then wound up driving over 45 minutes to a bookstore that still had the novel in stock. * She almost missed her plane in search of this book. That’s devotion.

One of my dearest friends and I were recently discussing what we were reading. Since I knew that my friend was also a fan of LP, I mentioned that my colleague was looking forward to diving into the latest LP novel. My friend paused and said with intensity, “Louise Penny is the only author that I make sure I do a pre-order for, so that the day of her release, the book arrives at my door. And, then I drop everything for a few hours to read it.”

I was struck by both conversations. Also, on a recent episode of the fantastic ‘The Writer’s Well’ podcast with Rachael Herron and J. Thorn, Rachael mentioned that a writer she knew had fans who would call in sick on the day of a new release. That’s commitment!

Having fans that make it a priority to read your work is every writer’s dream. It made me think about the question posed in the blog post title: What Lengths Are Readers Willing to Go to Read Your Work?

The deeper question is: How do we craft stories that readers can’t put down? Stories that keep them coming back for more.

This, as you already know, is a million-dollar question and there is no magic answer. I do think a piece of the answer is consistently thinking about one’s ideal reader. Over the years, I made an important realization—I am ultimately writing for reader experience and engagement, not just my own personal pleasure. Twenty years ago, I really didn’t think much about reader satisfaction or engagement—it was all about MY MESSAGE. Or, it was all about HOW CLEVERLY I USED LANGUAGE. This sounds so dumb and pretentious as I write it here, but it is the truth. Now, for me, managing and heightening reader experience is where the gold is and is always in the forefront of my mind. The first draft of anything is still just for me, my flights of fancy and risk-taking. Each subsequent draft though, I try to hone the kinds of emotions I want the reader to feel in each scene and across the whole manuscript. I also pay much more attention to where I might lose the reader in a story.

While teaching at the Table Rock Writers Workshop a few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing a fantastic book talk by Emily Nunn, author of The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart and former writer and inventor of the “Table for Two” column in The New Yorker.

She shared the grueling writing process she went through her after book proposal for a memoir (based on her experiences being in a psychiatric facility) was sold with relative ease. Her book is about the circumstances that got her into the facility and after leaving, how she healed by traveling to see friends and cooking together. She shared with us that she really wanted to include a chapter about her time in the psychiatric facility and someone on her team (I can’t remember if it was her agent or editor), said no and told her to take the chapter out. She was very upset with this advice. She had labored over that chapter and to her it represented the heart of the book. They, however, felt that the tone of the chapter was completely out of sync with the rest of the overall upbeat feel and transformational tone of the book. This same person said something along the lines of, “You don’t want to eject the reader from the book.” And, that chapter, in their opinion, though well-written would have created such incongruities for the reader, there was a potential of ejecting them out of the book. Thinking about what ejects the reader out of our work struck me as a useful bit of advice. We never want to eject the reader from our work! Ejecting the reader can look many different ways, right?

For example: Sloppy dialogue, a wandering plot, undeveloped characters, shoehorning one of our darlings into a book that just doesn’t fit (Nunn made it clear that the chapter she was being asked to cut was one of her favorites and she considered it important). Nunn added though that in retrospect, the advice was solid—the chapter didn’t fit in the current version of the book and could work instead as an excellent essay. Her team was thinking about the reader’s experience.

Many writers don’t read their reviews for a variety of reasons. I have found it helpful to look at the reviews of my work and pay attention to emails I receive or in person responses. What they like (or don’t like) are hints to their reader experience.

Sometimes when soliciting feedback on a draft, I will ask someone to mark in the text, exactly where they were able to out the book down. I go to that spot(s) and ask hard questions about what is either not working, or what is working but in a very uninteresting way.

No one starts out writing something that they know readers will devour; if you’re lucky you grow into a gifted storyteller over time. The writers who consistently create work that makes people stay up late, almost miss planes, and tell others about it have cracked something valuable about reader experience. The answers are out there in others’ work and our own, if we are brave enough to dig for them.

How do you understand the role of the reader’s experience? Are there questions you ask yourself when rewriting that focus on reader experience? I’d love to know!

*You may be wondering why she didn’t order it on Amazon—she doesn’t use Amazon and prefers to support independent bookstores.

Photo Credit-Louise Penny

Photo Credit-Emily Nunn

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Last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I took on the daunting but exhilarating task of writing a 50,000 word draft of a cozy mystery. I finished with a 50,000 word ‘baby’ draft that I loved. More recently, I’ve been revising that baby draft toward a real first draft. Cozy mysteries are ones that typically involve humor, an amateur sleuth and are set in an intimate social setting (usually a small town). They tend to downplay violence, sex and police procedure. As part of my research I’ve been reading a lot of cozies, paying attention to ingenious plotting, and keeping an eye out for new authors. I’m happy to have discovered the work of Karoline Barrett.

Karoline Barrett writes women’s fiction and cozy mysteries. Her first book, The Art of Being Rebekkah is women’s fiction. Her agent is the person who encouraged Karoline to write her first mystery as Karoline notes below. Like any good writer, she heeded her agent’s suggestion. Her new book Bun for Your Life (A Bread and Batter Mystery) is being published by Penguin this month.

I’m so happy to welcome Karoline Barrett to The Practice of Creativity!

Michele, thank you so much for having me on your blog. Appearing on blogs is one of my favorite things to do, and I had lots of fun answering all your questions! KB

 

bunforlife

 

What inspired your new book, Bun for Your Life?

I love this question. My first novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, is women’s fiction. When I finished that, I was floundering around, trying to think of what to write next. My agent asked me, “What do you like to read?” I replied, “Mysteries.” She then replied, “Why don’t you write one?” Then she tossed ideas at me, one of them being a hybrid pepper. From that, grew my premise for the first book in my Bread & Batter cozy mystery series, Bun for Your Life. Only, the pepper she talked about turned into apples!

-Tell us about your sleuth, Molly Tyler. What’s she like?    

Molly owns a bakery with her best friend, Olivia. Molly’s intuitive, funny, an animal lover, and she’s partial to puzzle solving-hence her love of solving mysteries! It doesn’t hurt that she’s a little bit nosy as well. She loves Destiny (most of the time), the small upstate New York town she grew up in, and is devoted to her family and friends. Last, but not least, she certainly wouldn’t mind having a special man in her life to make her forget about her feelings for her ex-husband! Maybe the bachelor auction in Bun For Your Life will introduce her to a new man!

Did you always want to be a writer?fb home picture----

Off and on. I was always a reader, but I didn’t get serious about writing until I was older.

What’s been your journey to published author?

I began writing short stories, which were published. Then decided I wanted to write a novel. My first novel started off as a short story. Once I finished it, I began querying agents. I got a lot of requests for partials and fulls, but no takers. I was ecstatic when Fran Black of Literary Counsel signed me. She was my 121st query!

What does your writing practice look like?  

Quite messy at times! I work full-time in addition to writing, so even though I have a schedule, I don’t always stick to it! I have a little office at home, which is my writing room, so I can retreat and leave my husband happily watching TV. Most of my writing is done in the evening, which is hard as I am not an evening person, and on the weekends.

-What starts you writing a new story? 

Since I’m working on a mystery series right now, the main characters and setting are already in place. I come up with a story, bad guy (or girl), the crime, some new secondary characters, a secondary plot, and throw in as much humor and conflict as I can.

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?  

Just one? That’s hard! I’d have to say, Don’t get bogged down with self-doubt, just write!

 

Karoline lives in a small Connecticut town with her husband. When she’s not writing, she loves reading, the beach, traveling, and her family.

Visit her at http://www.karolinebarrett.com/


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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