No Tables For Me When I'm Writing!

I write on a laptop and it has to be in my lap, not on a table. This isn’t always the most comfortable position for several reasons. First, I’m not tall, and my legs are the least tall part of me. So in order for my lap to be level, I have to have a writing chair that is one step up from Kindergarten height or else I’m working on a downhill slide. Not ergonomically ideal. My arms are also on the short side so my fingers fall most naturally on the keyboard when working on my lap.

My laptop is a trusty old Dell with a souped-up long life battery and extra memory. It’s a bit heavy and it produces heat. This is not a problem in the winter – in fact it’s a plus – but it’s a definite drawback in the summer. I’ve tried several “heat shields” such as towels, trays and pillows before finding the solution – one of the absorbent pads used to beside the sink to stack dishes on! It absorbs the heat and gives just enough cushioning while staying level. It’s an odd set of requirements but it works for me. Anyone else have quirky requirements for writing?

My Favorite Authors

The earliest books I remember reading on my own were the Bobbsey Twins series where two sets of rosy cheeked twins set out to solve simple mysteries in their basically safe world. The younger set of twins were blonde haired and blue eyed and the older were dark haired and brown eyed. Luckily, kids didn’t know anything about genetics in those days or someone might have been accusing Mrs. Bobbsey of straying….

From there I moved on to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. I liked the Hardy Boys better because their mysteries were (as I eventually figured out) more interesting because there were two sleuths to bounce ideas back and forth between them. I have remembered that in my own writing and both of my mystery series feature partnered sleuths.

In my early teens I was heavily into gothic romances with a mysterious twist from writers like Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. In every book, the heroine’s romantic interest had some type of mystifying past that needed to be unraveled before they could live happily ever after. I was too young to wonder about what that much baggage would do to a relationship! In my books the baggage has a recurring role as my characters try to rise above or just come to peace with their pasts.

In my late teens I moved on to Dick Frances, Tony Hillerman and Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Polifax series. I loved Frances’ economy in choosing words, and Hillerman’s use of place and belief systems as driving forces in every story, and I loved the humor and quirkiness of Gilman’s characters and situations. I have tried to emulate Dorothy Gilman’s tone and Hillerman’s use of place in my books, and reread Dick Francis to absorb his skill in pulling the reader immediately into the story.

 As an adult, my favorite authors include Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Jaqueline Winspear, Chris Grabenstein and Lee Child. The first three write books with intense relationships and a good amount of inner dialogue for the characters. Those authors make writing seem effortless because the stories flow so smoothly. Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak books are snort out loud funny and can’t be read while eating or drinking anything. Finally, I enjoy Lee Child because the bad guys always end up in a bad way – broken bones and damaged egos – and there are days where that really appeals to me!

I have read and enjoyed many other mysteries and I could fill several pages with reviews and reasons I like them, but with an eye to space and keeping readers awake I have tried to pick out the high points. I own all the books these authors have written and keep an eagle eye out for any new releases. What authors do you rush to read as soon as a new book is published?

Why Write Mysteries? Three Simple Reasons and One Deeper Fascination

I like puzzles. Jig saw puzzles, cross word puzzles, word searches, find the hidden pictures, tetras, dots…the only puzzle I don’t like is Sudoku – mainly because I’m a word person not a number person. When the time finally came where I felt ready to try writing a book, I knew I’d need a story line interesting enough to keep the book from sagging and growing stale in the middle. A mystery seemed like the perfect answer.

In addition to puzzles, I like order. I like it when problems can be neatly wrapped up and stowed away with the label “solved” pasted prominently on top. And the final reason - I like it when the good guys win and the bad guys lose and get punished for causing so much trouble, heartache and misery.   I know this doesn’t always happen in real life, which is probably why I crave it in books.

The deeper fascination that draws me to mystery writing is trying to figure out why people make certain choices. When reading about a murder in fiction or non-fiction, my first question isn’t whodunit, but WHYdunit. Motive is key for me and I try to bring that forward in my writing. People do things that seem totally unreasonable to me – and I have to know why. What brought them to the point where crime seemed to be the only option?

What Genre Does Your Book Fall Into – cozy, mystery/thriller, suspense, police procedural…?

Somewhere between humorous cozy and police procedural. I think I might have to make an entirely new category – the cozy procedural? The humorous policer? An Uncertain Grave has many elements of a cozy: small town setting, quirky characters, and no overt in-your-face violence. However, much of the story follows the main characters, two New Hampshire state troopers, through their investigation and that feels more like a procedural. Humor plays a central role throughout the book, including the good humored verbal interplay between the troopers during their investigation.

Using humor in writing about something as serious as murder is a bit of a tightrope walk. You don’t want to sound crass and insensitive, but humor is a tool that many police officers use to cope with a tough and emotionally demanding job.

Do Your Characters Swear? Why or Why Not?

Choosing whether or not to have characters swear is a tough call. My book, An Unquiet Grave, falls mainly in the cozy category and many cozy readers are put off by swearing. On the other hand, as an author I want to create believable characters, and if one or more of those characters are law enforcement officers, wouldn’t it be more realistic to have these officers swear, at least occasionally, under times of extreme provocation? Because most cops swear. Same with EMT’s, fire fighters, doctors and nurses and other high stress professions. It’s a way to release pressure.

So the question remains, if you have police officers in what is an otherwise cozy book, should they swear? Mine do.

But not often, not excessively and only for effect. In a 72,000 word book, I think my characters use a total of eight swear words. I feel that, for my smaller town officers, having a few strategically placed swear words provides more impact than a continuous stream of expletives – but again, this is for my characters in my particular books. I think it makes them more believable if they occasionally let loose a frustrated four letter word.

By the same token, characters in more hard-boiled or noir books would not be as believable if they didn’t swear; frequently, colorfully and in original and inventive combinations. I think it’s a judgment call every author has to make, based on book type that leads to character believability.