Guest Blogger Kathy Waller – Three Ways of Looking at Austin Mystery Writers or, Why I go to Critique Group

February 8, 2016 13 comments

MOW cover - amazon pixThree Ways of Looking at Austin Mystery Writers or, Why I Go to Critique Group by Kathy Waller

#1   Yesterday Dominica felt faint, and Molly, my protagonist, steered her to a bench on the courthouse lawn and then dithered over what to do. She couldn’t leave Dominica there to topple off the bench, but asking a passerby for help sounded lame, and there weren’t any passersby to ask. So there was poor Molly, needing more help than I could give her, stuck any way you looked at it. She stayed that way all night.

Today, talking about treatments for migraines, one of my critique partners took a bottle of peppermint oil from her purse and passed it around. At the first whiff, I said, “Molly suffers from migraines! She carries peppermint oil in her purse! She can use that to revive Dominica.”

In one fell swoop, I both saddled Molly with migraines and solved a knotty problem.

That is why I go to critique group.

#2  I said to my critique partners this morning, The whole project is stinky it stinks it’s just nothing no hope.

They said, But it’s so good so funny Molly is so funny it’s not stinky.

I said, Yes, the first part and the last part are funny and very very good but there’s still no middle and what there is stinks and anyway the other 5,000 words stink except for a few hundred here and there.

And they said, But the middle could be revised edited it has promise.

I said, But it won’t work because I have written myself into a hole and can’t get out so I have to trash that part and anyway the whole concept stinks.

And they said, NO you can fix it just keep going because we like Molly she’s so funny.

This is why I go to critique group.

#3  So I finally got things together with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and today my critique group said it was fine. But…

“Nobody died,” said Kaye.

“I know,” I said. “It’s li-ter-a-ry.”

“But it’s crime fiction,” said Gale. “Somebody has to die.”

Laura and Valerie, sitting on the other side of the table, nodded. In unison.

“I was going for subtlety,” I said. “It’s a death of the spirit.”

They stared at me. I stared back.

“Somebody has to die,” said Kaye.

Then all four said they didn’t understand the last line. I had written the entire story so I could use that line, and no one understood what it meant.

I kept staring and thought about words like philistines, peasants, and bourgeoisie.

Finally I spoke.  I said, “Thank you.”

Then my friends began throwing out ideas for endings they liked, in each of which someone died. I sighed and said, Yeahhhh, and, Okayyyy, and, I guessss…

Gad, they were irritating, telling the truth like that. Especially the way they all kept agreeing. Especially since I’d known the ending was bad before I let them read it.

And then Kaye said, XXX—and I thought, YYY—and everything fell into place: I knew who would die, and how, and why, and what would happen next…

And I thought, Kaye has given me the perfect ending. All the suggestions are good, but hers works on multiple levels. It’s so right. Why didn’t I think of it myself?

And then I thought, Oh, who cares about why. What matters was that Kaye thought of it, and shared it, and that she and three other writers not only told the truth but grabbed me by the lapels and made me listen.

I rewrote the story, and it was published in Austin Mystery Writers’ crime fiction anthology, Murder on Wheels.

And that is why I go to critique group.

Every. Blessed. Week.

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Kathy Waller’s A Nice Set of Wheels and Hell on Wheels appear in Austin MysteryMOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3) Writers’ crime fiction anthology Murder on Wheels (Wildside Press, 2015). A former librarian, former teacher, former paralegal, and former pianist for a string of churches desperate for someone who could find middle C, Kathy was born and reared in a small (pop. 150) town in Central Texas, and as a result nearly everything she writes includes a river, a cow, or a group of old ladies playing dominoes on someone’s front porch.

Guest Blogger Tracy Weber: A Perfect Place for Murder

January 18, 2016 9 comments
Weber-Green Lake

Green Lake Park – A Perfect Setting for Murder

A Perfect Place for Murder by Tracy Weber

Seattle’s beloved Green Lake Park is my dog Tasha’s and my favorite walking and squirrel-prowling destination. So it was a natural setting for several pivotal scenes in Karma’s a Killer, my third Downward Dog Mystery.
Weber-Tasha

Tasha, the real-life Bella watching the activities on Green Lake’s inner path

The three-hundred acre park contains grassy fields, a lake suitable for boating, a local community center, and a 2.8-mile walking path.
Like Bella, the 100-pound German shepherd in my series, Tasha enjoys exploring the diverse scents, diving after squirrels, and lying in the grass watching the other walkers go by.

I enjoy getting fresh air and exercise while scanning for wildlife, including turtles, squirrels, geese, raccoons, and blue herons.

Weber-Heron

One of Green Lake’s Blue Herons – can you spot his turtle friend?

In the summer, the area near the lake’s shore is smothered with lily pads; its surface, dotted by boats. The path around its circumference is crowded with thousands of locals who flock to it each day. What better place to plot murder!

Weber-Lily Pads

Green Lake’s Ocean of Lily Pads

When yoga teacher/sleuth Kate Davidson agrees to teach a Doga (yoga for dogs) class at Greenlake, she has no idea that the area will soon be the site of a murder. In the excerpt below, Kate witnesses an argument between two women hidden behind a stack of paddleboats.

Weber-Paddleboats

Scene of the Excerpt

Excerpt from Karma’s a Killer

Raven held up her hands. “Back off, Dharma. I don’t need your help, but I won’t stand for your insolence. I’m taking this place down with or without you. Trust me; these hypocrites at DogMa are going to burn.” Her voice turned low and threatening. “And if you get in my way, I might have to fry you, too.”
Dharma flinched and glanced warily over her shoulder. “Watch what you say, Raven. Someone might take you seriously.”
Raven snorted. “Yeah, well, maybe they should.”
Dharma’s mouth opened, but she didn’t respond, at least not at first. After several long, tense moments, she shook her head, almost sadly. “I’m sorry, Raven, but this has gone far enough. Eduardo talked me into coming on this ill-conceived road trip, but we never agreed to violence. I’m out.” She turned and started walking away. “We both are.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about Eduardo.”
Dharma froze. Her entire body stiffened. When she slowly turned around, her expression was tight, as if her thinned lips and hardened eyes had been carved out of stone.
Raven’s lips lifted in a cruel-looking grin. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the paddleboats. “Sweetheart, you can leave any time. The sooner the better. I never wanted you here to begin with. But trust me, Eduardo’s not going anywhere. By the time I get done with him, he’ll be finished with you, too.”
The older woman exploded.
She howled and shoved Raven into the boats, using significantly more force than I would have expected from someone ideologically opposed to violence. Raven’s face hit the edge and she fell, splitting open her lower lip. Picket signs scattered in every direction.
Dharma scooped up a sign, snapped its wooden handle in two, and waved the jagged edges at her friend.
“I’m warning you, leave Eduardo alone, or you’ll be the one who burns.” She jabbed the wooden stake at Raven’s chest for emphasis. “In Hell.”
Raven’s response seemed more amused than frightened. She licked the blood from her lower lip, stood, and slowly clapped.
“Well done, Dharma. Well done. We’ll make an anarchist out of you yet.”
Dharma gaped at her hands, as if surprised to see them grasping a weapon. A strangled cry escaped from her throat. She took two large steps back, threw the broken sign to the ground, and stumbled away, sobbing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
About Karma’s a Killer:
Yoga instructor Kate Davidson is about to discover that when it comes to murder, there’s no place like om. When she agrees to teach doga—yoga for dogs—at a fundraiser for Dogma, a local animal rescue, Kate believes the only real damage will be to her reputation. But when an animal rights protest at the event leads to a suspicious fire and a drowning, a few downward-facing dogs will be the least of Kate’s problems…
The police arrest Dharma, a woman claiming to be Kate’s estranged mother, and charge her with murder. To prove Dharma’s innocence, Kate, her boyfriend Michael, and her German shepherd sidekick Bella dive deeply into the worlds of animal activism, organizational politics, and the dangerous obsessions that drive them.
And if solving a murder weren’t complicated enough, Kate will also have to decide whether or not to reconcile with the estranged mother who abandoned her over thirty years ago. Not to mention having to contend with an almost-bankrupt animal rescue, a cantankerous crow, an unwanted pigeon houseguest, and a rabbit in a doga class. What could possibly go wrong?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Weber Small Headshot

Tracy Weber – Author

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series. The first book in the series, Murder Strikes a Pose, won the Maxwell Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel.

Tracy and her husband Marc live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd, Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.
Karma’s a Killer is her third novel. For more information on Tracy and the Downward Dog Mysteries, visit her author website: http://TracyWeberAuthor.com/

Holiday Happiness vs. Happy Holidays by Debra H. Goldstein

December 28, 2015 9 comments

Happy-New-Year-Clip-Art-Free

Holiday Happiness.  Happy holidays.  One and the same? Not by a longshot.   

The phrasing of “holiday happiness” and happy holidays” is the difference between a state of being versus a wish. Not everyone has the opportunity or the desire to experience either. 

During the past the few weeks, everywhere I went, people told me “Happy Chanukah,” “Merry Christmas,” “Have a Happy New Year,” “Seasons Greetings,” or “Happy Holidays.”  TV commercials advertised joyful times, products for sale, and also wished me some form of a “Happy Holidays.” Radio music, that began blaring on our local Christmas channel before Thanksgiving, set the stage and mood by having lyrics that sent a subliminal “Happy Holidays” message.   

I got it.  I participated.  Even when I felt most Grinch like, I responded or automatically was the first to let one of these phrases roll from my lips.  Why? Because no matter how one feels inside, one has been conditioned to share a prayer for others to have a “Happy Holidays.”  It is the right thing to do.  In fact, it is the only thing to do. 

No matter how many times we say these words, they aren’t necessarily going to result in an individual experiencing “Holiday Happiness.”  We hope it will, but we can’t count on it. The world and life isn’t always perfect.  Parents, friends, and other family members may be ill, aging, or dying during this period of the year.  Some people may be short of money, have problems with jobs, co-workers or lack of employment, and some are simply without the economic resources for food and shelter.  

Like the wishes for “Happy Holidays,” words of platitude and caring are expressed.  People make donations of food, money, and gift items in the hope of improving the holidays for others.  Many feel good giving something that brings “Holiday Happiness” to others.  Not only does it make a difference in the recipient’s life, but it warms the heart of the giver. 

I am a realist.  There have been years that I have felt the joy of “Holiday Happines” and other times where the holiday season has been meaningless.  Last year was tinged by the loss of my mother.  This year, with a book coming out in April and two stories published during the December holiday period, it has been an up time professionally. With anticipated weddings, visits to children, grandchildren and granddogs, and other planned trips with family and friends, I look forward to an exciting and wonderful 2016 for my loved ones and me.   

Not all of you who read this message will experience the perfect definition of “Holiday Happiness,” but at least I can wish and pray for it for you. May the remainder of the holiday season and the upcoming year be one of health, happiness and prosperity.  “Happy Holidays!” 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Guest Blogger: Rabbi Ilene Schneider – Writing A Mystery Series

December 7, 2015 4 comments

NEW CG FRONT COVERWriting a Mystery Series by Rabbi Ilene Schneider

I write a cozy mystery series. They feature an amateur sleuth, Rabbi Aviva Cohen. All the sex and gore are off the page. There is humor. There is a lot of back story. There is a happy ending. They differ from other cozies in that there are a few expletive-deleted words that haven’t been deleted; as I explained to my mother when she complained, “That’s how aging baby boomers talk.” And none of the language is gratuitous. If you woke up in a hospital, with no idea how you got there, and can’t find your glasses, would you say, “Gosh darn it”? Neither does Aviva.

 

I decided to write a series because I am basically lazy. The books have the same protagonist and major characters. I don’t have to think up new ones for each book.

 

I’m making it sound as though I’ve published dozens of books. So far, there are two in print, with another in the works: CHANUKAH GUILT and UNLEAVENED DEAD are published by Oak Tree Press; the third, currently being written is YOM KILLER. I have, in my head, broad outlines and titles for an additional three: HIGH HOLY DAZE, SABBATH WHINE, and MATZAH BAWL.

 

But even with two (plus a bit) books written, I’ve realized there are UnleavenedDead- smaller cover (299x448)difficulties with a series. In writing a series, you need to be able to provide enough background information for those who haven’t read the previous book(s), while not making it boring for those who have. Earlier events can be referred to, but only vaguely, so as not to give away the plot. Never write, “Mehitabel used to be my best friend, but she killed herself after realizing her lies and schemes were about to be revealed.” Instead, write, “I still miss my best friend Mehitabel, whom I didn’t know as well as I thought I had.” It will send them to the earlier book to find out what happened.

 

There has to be character development, especially if there was a life-altering situation in the earlier books. If the long estranged mother, after a near-death experience, realizes how much she has missed in her life by not seeing her now adult children in book one, don’t have her still be uninterested in reestablishing a relationship in book two.

 

You have to be consistent. If the new book is taking place two years after the first, don’t have the protagonist be younger. Or taller. If her eye color changes, mention contact lenses. If her hair color does, mention she got tired of the old one. To keep the characters straight, I have a file on the computer that lists them by book, with their ages at the time of the book, relationship to the protagonist and to other characters. I use control-f to search the older manuscripts for physical descriptions.

 

Finally, know when the series has come to its natural conclusion. You’ll know when (or should know) it’s time to end the series when you keep writing the same book.

 

As for me, I’ll know the series has run its course when I run out of titles.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

WHYY photo 1Award-winning author Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She has retired from her day job as a hospice spiritual support counselor to devote full time to writing.

 

Rabbi Schneider is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries, published by Oak Tree Press: Chanukah Guilt, which was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2007, was one of My Shelf’s 2007 Top Ten Reads, and was a Midwest Book Review Reviewers Choice Book; and Unleavened Dead, which won First Place from the Public Safety Writers Association, and was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2012. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine called Unleavened Dead “… a solid, funny mystery that provides an insider’s look at Jewish life.”

 

A resident of Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia, she is working on the third book in the series, Yom Killer, and is also the author of the best-selling Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek: The Curses, Slang, and Street Lingo You Need To Know When You Speak Yiddish, published by Adams Media. The Jewish Forward described Talk Dirty Yiddish as “Such a breezy, engaging book, I should be so lucky to write.”

Guest Blogger Nancy J. Cohen – Far-Flung Family Ties

November 9, 2015 26 comments
Nancy J. Cohen

Nancy J. Cohen

“Far-Flung Family Ties” by Nancy J. Cohen

As we approach the holidays, we begin planning our family celebrations. These may not always be the joyous occasions we’d like. Disagreements, envy, cultural gaps with married partners, and secrets can keep families apart. In PERIL BY PONYTAIL, my recent release and #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, Marla and Dalton Vail embark on a honeymoon to an Arizona dude ranch.

Dalton’s uncle owns both the resort and a nearby ghost town that he’s renovating. Marla soon learns that Uncle Ray had an ulterior motive in inviting them out there. Mishaps have been plaguing both properties, and he suspects a saboteur. With Dalton being a homicide detective and Marla an amateur sleuth, Uncle Ray figures they can help him catch the culprit. But when a local forest ranger is found dead, the stakes escalate.

Marla is happy to meet Dalton’s extended family, especially since his mother isn’t speaking to his uncle for reasons unknown. Uncle Ray is just as tight-lipped, refusing to mention his past. However, he blames neighboring rancher Hugh Donovan for his troubles. Evidently, their animosity goes back to their childhood. Dalton’s cousins are more warm and welcoming. Annie is a dietician in town and Wayne manages the ranch. It’s a good chance for Marla to get to know this side of the family, but as she digs deeper into Uncle Ray’s secrets, she’s afraid exposing the truth might tear her new family apart.

Some of us may not know our extended family too well. We gather for holidays, exchange superficial news, and go on ourPerilbyPonytail merry ways until the next event. It’s not like the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where everyone is in each other’s business but is also there for support. Your old childhood roles might surface when the relatives gather. Were you the shy one? The troublemaker? The lazy kid in school who never studied? It’s hard to surpass those reputations. Getting together more often and in different settings than a holiday dinner might be the answer.

So how often do you see your relatives? Do you feel comfortable around them? Would you rather be somewhere else at those times?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Peril by Ponytail.

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Peril by Ponytail (Bad Hair Day Mystery #12)
Marla and Dalton’s honeymoon at an Arizona dude ranch veers from dangerous to downright deadly faster than a horse headed to the corral. With her husband’s uncle—the resort owner—on the suspect list for murder, Marla races to prove his innocence. She hopes her blind trust isn’t misplaced, especially when she learns their relative has secrets he’d rather keep buried. As the bodies pile up, she digs deeper to find the killer. With her new family in jeopardy, she’d better figure out who’s adding to the spirits at a nearby ghost town before someone she loves is hurt.

Excerpt from Peril by Ponytail

Marla and Dalton are invited to dinner at his cousin Wayne’s house in Arizona. Present are Wayne and his wife Carol, Wayne’s sister Annie, and their father who is Dalton’s Uncle Raymond.

After they’d eaten a hearty vegetable bean soup, Raymond addressed Wayne. “Did you get that leaky water heater fixed?”

Wayne’s mouth tightened. “Yes, we did. The plumber said a valve had been loosened. Maybe it got knocked open by a broom that may have fallen over, but I think it was deliberate. At least we were able to clean the dining hall in time for the next meal.”

“I told you to put more video cameras in place.”

“Carol is still waiting for an estimate from the security company. Why do you look like you swallowed a lemon pit? I’ll take care of it.”

Raymond gripped his water glass. “I attended a town council meeting today. Hugh Donovan is stirring up trouble again.”

“What did he want this time? Donovan owns the Dead Gulch Ranch on the other side of the mountain,” Wayne explained in an aside to Marla and Dalton.

“His cattle aren’t doing well, and he blames my renovations,” Raymond said. “The guy’s an idiot. We’ve done the proper environmental impact studies, and they were approved. There’s no way our ghost town project can be contaminating his property.”

“Why does this fellow worry you so much?” Dalton asked, voicing the thought in Marla’s head.

“The man has it in for me, and don’t ask why because it’s nobody’s business but mine. I’ll need more approvals for my construction. If the council refuses to issue even one permit, it’ll put us behind schedule.”

“And how does that benefit Donovan?” Wayne said in a frustrated tone.

Marla figured he must have asked his father before about Hugh Donovan without satisfaction. What had happened between the two men to cause animosity?

“He hopes I’ll run out of money if he delays things long enough. I’ve had offers to buy that property, and I suspect he’s behind them. If the council doesn’t heed him, he’ll find other ways to shut me down.”

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/T2Vao7yDIVY
Buy at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Peril-Ponytail-Bad-Hair-Mystery/dp/1432830988/
Buy at Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/peril-by-ponytail-nancy-j-cohen/1121698516

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Nancy J. Cohen writes the humorous Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring hairdresser Marla Vail, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list and been named by Suspense Magazine as best cozy mystery. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a valuable instructional guide on how to write a winning whodunit. Her imaginative romances, including the Drift Lords series, have proven popular with fans as well. A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, she enjoys fine dining, visiting Disney World, cruising, and outlet shopping.

Website: http://nancyjcohen.com
Blog: http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyJCohenAuthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nancyjcohen
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91508.Nancy_J_Cohen
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/njcohen/
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyjcohen
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+NancyJCohen/

Guest Blogger B.K. Stevens – What Do Teen Readers Want?

October 26, 2015 21 comments

Fighting Chance CoverWhat Do Teen Readers Want? by B.K. Stevens

Earlier this month, I participated in an unusual panel at Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina. The panel’s topic wasn’t unusual—these days, most mystery conferences devote at least one panel to young adult novels—but the panelists were. Three of them were real, live young adults, members of a high-school book club in Georgia. They brought along a list titled “Ten Things We Wish YA Writers and Editors and Publishers Knew about Actual YAs (Like Us).” As a writer whose first YA mystery was just published, I found the list both enlightening and reassuring. Parents and grandparents who give books to the young adults in their lives might enjoy checking it out, too.

Some items on the list are predictable—the club members like a diverse cast of characters, they don’t like having pets or young children put in jeopardy simply to heighten tension, and they think it’s important for YA writers to “talk to young people alive and young right now,” rather than relying on decades-old memories. Preachy mysteries don’t appeal to them—“We can smell a lesson a mile away”—but mysteries that mix serious issues with humor do. The club members also want writers to “treat YA mysteries as seriously as adult mysteries.” That means playing fair with clues, not introducing villains at the last minute, avoiding plot holes, and tying up loose ends. As someone who loves traditional whodunits, I was glad to see that some young people still value these time-honored standards.

The list also includes less predictable advice. The club members don’t see romance as a necessary element in YA Front Cover (2) (1)mysteries, especially not if it seems injected into the book “just to create a relationship subplot.” The characters’ attraction to each other has to feel genuine. Also, not every protagonist has to be a “misunderstood loner,” and “not all characters need a tragic backstory.”

That was good to hear. Misunderstood loners with tragic backstories are so common in YA fiction that I worried about whether young readers would care about my protagonist, a popular athlete with an intact family. When I was planning the novel, I wondered if I should give Matt a dead parent, an addicted sibling, at least a lactose-intolerant cousin. I decided against it, and now I feel more confident about that decision. Of course Matt’s family has problems—all families do. Matt feels distant from his parents and thinks they won’t understand his problems, and they’re so intent on making him feel secure that they hide the challenges they’re facing. But they’re all good, well-intentioned people, and they all love each other. Once they start talking more openly, things get better—not suddenly, completely better, but better. I hope the novel succeeds in acknowledging that the problems young adults experience can be painful and real, even when those young adults aren’t misunderstood loners with tragic backstories.

I also felt cheered by the second item on the club’s list. “Adults are not always evil/boring/patronizing/incompetent,” these young people maintain. “We live with adults, and we actually care about them and sometimes even like them. And we have people in our lives who care about us.” Frankly, I hadn’t expected a group of teenagers to take a stand on behalf of the adults in their lives, but I was moved when they did. It made me feel pretty good not only as a YA author but also as a teacher, a mother, and a grandmother. If you’d like to see the full list, you can find it here: http://ccatmystery.blogspot.com/2015/10/ten-things-we-wish-ya-writers-and.html. It might make you feel pretty good, too.

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bksB.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for young adults, which was recently released by The Poisoned Pencil / Poisoned Pen Press. She describes the novel as “a cross between The Hardy Boys and The Karate Kid.” Interpretation of Murder, a novel for adults, is a traditional whodunit that offers insights into deaf culture and sign language interpretation. . B.K. has also published over fifty short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. She has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com

Guess Blogger: Sandra Cary Cody-The Need for Stories

October 12, 2015 5 comments
 Sandra Carey Cody

Sandra Carey Cody

The Need for Stories by Sandra Carey Cody

“We’re always the same age inside.” Gertrude Stein

The Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor mysteries are set in a retirement community and the characters are a variety of ages. The youngest is Jennie’s six-year-old son; the oldest is a ninety-pound, ninety-something, feisty southern belle who still thinks like a teenager. Other characters run the gamut of ages.

The inspiration for this setting came from a bittersweet time in my life. My mother and one of my aunts lived in a facility similar to my fictional Riverview Manor. Their health had deteriorated to the point where it was impossible for the family to care for them. I won’t go into the anguish involved in this decision; that’s not what this is about. This is about … well, you’ll see.

I visited Mom and Aunt Hedy fairly often in their new surroundings and, as an unexpected bonus, spent time with some of the other residents. Most of them were also in poor health and no longer physically active. They were old. Very old. That’s all I saw at first but, as I got to know them better, I learned to look beyond their physical limitations. I started to listen – really listen – and I saw the young person they still were inside. I realized they each had a story and what they wanted most was someone to tell their story to. They were all individuals, came from different backgrounds, but each had a story to tell.

PUT OUT THE LIGHTAre any of these people in my books? Not really. My characters are cobbled together from bits and pieces of a lot of people, myself included. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Nate, an 84-year-old retired actor who was and, in his own mind, still is, one of the finest interpreters of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes to ever grace the stage. Nate “struts and frets” a lot, demanding more than his share of attention. He’s not a nice man. He does and says the mean-spirited things most of us don’t allow ourselves to do or say. Maybe that’s why I created him. Writing scenes for Nate gives me a place to put out my own mean-spirited impulses. Turning those impulses into fiction forces me to examine and (hopefully) understand them.

That’s one of the reasons we need stories, both as readers and writers. In fiction, we meet people who are of another world, sometimes another generation. Their experiences may be different from ours, but when we hear their story, we begin to understand them and, if we listen – really listen – we see past the differences and realize how alike we are inside.

My characters aren’t real and Riverview Manor isn’t much like the place that inspired it. It’s a mythical place where all problems have a solution and there’s always someone who wants to hear your story. And isn’t that what we all want? Some to listen to our story.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by people who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She now lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wherever she’s gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. Being the quiet member of a noisy family, her story-telling manifested itself in writing, mostly crime fiction. If you would like to know more, you can visit her website: www.sandracareycody.com or her blog: www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com