Crime TV: Part 2

What is great about my ten favorite crime shows on TV.

In my first post, I shared my 10 favorite crime shows. In this post, I am going to explain why these 10, and hopefully give you a little information to help you figure out if you want to watch them.

  1. Person of Interest: Wikipedia calls this a science fiction crime drama, and I guess I can go along with that. It is a show about corruption–of the government, of the police, and individual attempts to fight for justice and good. The show can be dark, but it has hope. Terrific character development. Great fighting scenes. Violence. Everything does not turn out for the best, and there are lots of surprises that are earned. Great for teens. Might be too dark for younger kids. 5 seasons.
  2. The Closer: female lead whose skill is in interrogation. Her strategy is fabulous. Not quite as dark a show as POI. Comedic touches in a wonderful cast. Good contrast between darkness and light. Great character development. Not sure kids would find this interesting. Sort of cerebral. Some of the violence is dark so OK for teens. 7 seasons
  3. Major Crimes: follows on The Closer. Similar cast. Continuing dark vs. light. In both shows, the puzzle is wonderful and not obvious. Sometimes ethical and moral dilemmas. Not sure kids would find this interesting. Sort of cerebral. Some of the violence is dark so OK for teens.5 seasons
  4. Quantico: First year of FBI training. Different people, different ages, religions, ethnicities, genders, political leanings, skill levels. Immediate undercurrent of something is wrong. Occasionally crosses the line into sensationalism, and melodrama and then back into a cold spy story. If you are sucked in like I was, you won’t want to stop watching. Probably not for kids. Teens might really like it, especially the first 2 seasons. 3 seasons
  5. Psych: Two detectives, one reluctant. One has a gift, the other is his dear friend. One of my favorite bromance shows.  One of the lighter shows on the list though as the seasons continue the show goes real dark and then comes out of it.  I love the character development and the fun mystery plots. Fine for kids and teens. 8 seasons
  6. The Good Wife: I avoided this show for years until I finally heard too many good things to let it go. I became obsessed with it.  It has been compared in some ways to Breaking Bad, but it isn’t how I see the program. The premise is a wife who stands by her philandering husband, the governor of a state and what happens when she decides she no longer wants to “support” him. The crime element comes in in that she returns to the practice of law, something she left behind many years earlier, and there is much courtroom drama and political intrigue. For the most part, intellectual and family drama level of emotion. Probably not for kids. Older teens OK. 7 seasons
  7. Chuck is a thrilling yet leaning on the comedy spy show. Lots of fighting and technology action. Great character development, a terrific arc (really, all the shows I mention except possibly Psych have terrific arcs), and heart warming to boot. This was another show that I couldn’t wait till the very next episode. Great show for kids as well, particularly teens. 5 seasons
  8. Leverage is about a group of criminals and one non-criminal who work together to help those who have been harmed. All five have skills: computer hacking, con artist skills, fighting with training in pretty much every weapon and martial art, and thievery. This is a feel good show. It is funny with some dark moments. It too has an arc, with an emphasis on character development. Another good one for teens as well. 5 seasons
  9. Castle is kind of the surprise, to me, on this list. I kind of liked it my first time watching it, but I resisted it. I actually stopped watching after second episode and it took a couple of years before I started watching it again. I am a huge Nathan Fillion fan (because Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and that’s what made me try again. Castle is a mystery writer who faces writer’s block. He teams up with a female cop, and together they solve crime. It was watching the series the second time that made me love it. I’m still not crazy about the key romance in the show, but I love Castle and his family (possibly my favorite grandmother, son, and granddaughter pairing ever) and I love the cops as their own unit. Good for teens and younger. Hopeful show. Never gets too dark. Lots of comedic touches. Good for whole family. 8 seasons
  10. Burn Notice is a fantastic spy show. I love the individual episodes and the arc that runs the show. Unlike Castle, I adore the romance in this show. I really love the friendships between the operatives. Our hero, Michael Weston, explains spy craft in every episode. This show, like all the ones on my list, makes it clear that women are as capable as men in doing this kind of work. Violence, action, things go boom nearly every episode. Justice show—good people being helped. Some moral ambiguity, some darkness, though there is hope…mostly sort of, but that’s really mainly in the last season. Until then, if you want a pick me up, this will almost always do it. Probably not for kids. Good show for teens. 7 seasons

#AustenTogether

Have you heard about #TolstoyTogether? Let’s do #AustenTogether!

Recently, I was listening to an NPR story about a Princeton professor who began a virtual book club with the goal of reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. She expected to have a handful of readers, and was surprised that within a short period of time, it grew to over 3,000 members.

I’ve read War and Peace, over 30 years ago, and I liked it, but I have no interest in reading it again. I then wondered, what author do I love, and what author do I love that might be considered a touchstone for others? The beauty of #TolstoyTogether is that for many people it is a love affair with Tolstoy, and there is pleasure in reading a well-loved novel, but for many others, it is seen as an important and difficult read.  Some people might feel they need a group to help them with what they consider to be a difficult book.

My favorite author is Jane Austen, and I think she fits the bill nicely. Many adore her. We find her funny and incisive and brilliant. Others are afraid of her. They sometimes feel she is beyond them.

My friend Kirsten Komara and I would like to invite you to read Jane Austen’s six completed novels with us. We’ll begin with Northanger Abbey. We are in the constantly delighted by Austen group, and we would love to share our knowledge and joy in her works.

Austen’s chapters are quite short. Our plan is to read 3 chapters a day, and that works out to about 15 pages at a time. At this rate, with Northanger Abbey, we will finish within 2 weeks. Kirsten and I plan on asking each other questions or pointing out interesting passages. We are hoping that other readers will share their take and observations.

How it will work:

Beginning May 11, we will have read the first three chapters of Northanger Abbey.

For people in Cleveland, if you don’t have a copy of the book, it is available as an ebook from Cleveland Public Library. You could also order it from Mac’s Backs or Loganberry Books. And it’s on Project Gutenberg! Totally free!

If you are outside of Cleveland, like say, in Texas, how about supporting your independent bookstore by ordering from Bookshop?

Northanger Abbey is also available free through the Gutenberg Project online.

Questions and thoughts will be posted on Katherine’s Twitter Feed @MysteryPhD; look for hashtag #AustenTogether.

We have no idea if anyone will be interested in joining us—but if you do, and if you have read Northanger Abbey before, please don’t give any spoilers. We will work hard to stay within the parameters of the text we’ve read up to for that day.

We hope that you will join us. We are quite excited to dive back into Austen. She will lift us up and out of our Stay at Home world.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Katherine at kclark904@gmail.com.

There is so much I don't know about publishing

I recently posted a blog about how my book was finished. I have, since that post, sent it to my crappy draft reader (who liked Chapter 5, the last chapter). I then tweaked Chapter 5 and have since sent Chs. 4 and 5 to The Four Readers. I then melted into a small ball of despair, thinking that it was silly for me to think that this book would ever be published.

Then my friend Barbara, one of The Four Readers, sent me an email today saying she loves Chapter 4. (She’ll be reading Chapter 5 after the departure of a house guest.) I’m afraid she won’t like Chapter 5 as much as Chapter 4, but she gave me energy with her comments. So, based on Barbara’s incredibly encouraging words, I began to do my looking for a publisher work.

I already have generated a list of possible publishers. In a previous post, I wrote about coming up with a list of those publishers who had published non-fiction mystery work that had been nominated for awards. Last night, I ranked these publishers by how often they were mentioned. It turns out that Harper Collins, Random House, and Penguin were the big winners in terms of publishing non-fiction mystery genre books. I went online to find out what their submission requirements were.

I’m guessing you are smarter than me (because it seems that most people are) and already figured something out. None of these major publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Nor does Midnight Ink (I’d call this a small publisher), Crown, Hatchette, or Harcourt Mifflin. We need to also include in this list of naysayers MacMillan, Minotaur, and St. Martin’s. By the way, one of the things I’ve learned in this process is that the publishing world is really confusing. Little, Brown is part of Hatchette. Minotaur and St. Martin’s are part of MacMillan (I think, or vice versa).

Sigh.

I don’t give up that easily though. I just started going through my list. I found a couple of places, small publishers like Henery Press and not so small publishers like Kensington, that will accept unsolicited manuscripts. So will McFarland. I’m sure there are others as well, but I haven’t checked them out yet.

So this raised a whole slew of questions for me, and I will definitely be asking my published writer friends for advice. For example:

  • Besides the obvious, are there publishers that are preferred? Like, is there anything wrong with going with a medium-sized publisher or small one?
  • How does one get an agent?
  • Would it make sense to go with a small or medium-sized publisher and then look for an agent?
  • How do I know what a good publisher is?

I am deeply impressed with how little I know about this. I did find what looks like an interesting book by Richard Curtis called How to Be Your Own Literary Agent. I also learned (because on every single publisher site that refused unsolicited manuscripts it was mentioned) that I need to look at The Literary Marketplace, which is all about finding agents.

I also learned from a published friend that I really do need a book proposal (which Shelley and Casey also told me. I get it now.) Yet, some of the places that will take unsolicited manuscripts want a query letter and/or partial manuscript. Though maybe that was just for fiction? I don’t know. Color me confused once again.

I know what I’m going to do next in my publishing journey. I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

Why Doesn't Jessica Fletcher Have PTSD?

I’ve recently started  binge-watching  Murder, She Wrote, and I mostly enjoy it. But lately, I’ve begun to worry about Jessica Fletcher. Why isn’t she a basket case? Why isn’t she in therapy? Why isn’t she suicidal?

I’m in the 11th season of the 12 year long series. At the end of practically every episode, we see a smiling Jessica, often laughing at a silly attempt at humor. (For the most part, except for Seth, the character played by William Windom, I don’t find anything particularly funny. This is no doubt a result of its being family-friendly show, which in the 80s and 90s meant, I think, that the humor had to be so understated, it was boring. But I digress.) The important thing to note is that no matter what circumstances have transpired in the show, by the end of an episode, Jessica is happy, emotionally light, and care-free.

Well, that’s good, right? Aren’t mysteries supposed to return to the status quo at the end? Isn’t everything supposed to be right with the world? Sure, but in the case of Murder, She Wrote, there really should be some sort of an emotional toll, shouldn’t there?

Think about it this way. How would you respond if someone you knew, even slightly but had seen recently, died violently? Pretty shaken up, right? How about if you discovered a dead body of an obviously murdered person? Very likely, this would upset you and your horror of the situation would probably affect you for longer than a few minutes.

New scenario: Suppose the dead murdered person was a former beloved student, or a person you had dated, or a close friend. Perhaps this would make the situation worse?

Nothing fazes Jessica. Over the course of 12 seasons and 22 episodes per season, Jessica has been, at a minimum, associated with over 264 murders. Of course in some episodes, it’s worse because there are shows that have 2 or even 3 murders! So every episode, Jessica encounters victims of violent crime, and nearly always these people are at minimum her acquaintances; usually, they are friends, if not close friends of many years.

(Yes, I know that there were a series of episodes around season 6 where Jessica just introduced the mysteries and didn’t discover the bodies, but really, is only discovering and solving 230 rather than 264+ murders supposed to explain why she is the very picture of robust mental health?)

Let’s consider a few other facts as well:

  • In the first several seasons, most of Jessica’s nieces and nephews are charged with homicide. They all get off, of course, but only because Jessica saves them. Her nephew Grady (the one that Jessica raised) becomes accidentally mixed up in a minimum of 5 murders. Geez! If Grady were your nephew, how often would you want to visit him? Ever?
  • Many multiples of times, the person who has done the killing is a close friend of Jessica’s. In one case, it was the man she almost dated instead of the love of her life, Frank. In another, it was a woman who considered Jessica her best friend. In yet another, it was a former student she considered a close friend. WTH? Think about how your life would be different if you discovered over time that numerous people you loved and trusted were not only capable of, but had actually committed murder. Perhaps you would be thinking about issues of trust and communication and how we really can’t know anyone, thereby turning Murder, She Wrote from a traditional/cozy show into the darkest noir.
  • In the course of solving crimes, Jessica has been subjected to threats and insults.  Frequently, she is told that she will be injured or killed if she doesn’t stop meddling. While looking momentarily rattled or chagrinned, she never listens and stops. The most common insult she receives is to have her books attacked. She is often called a liar and/or a person unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
  • Jessica has regularly been manhandled and assaulted. Having this happen once is enough to slow many people down. Jessica has these events occur routinely throughout the year with no change in her demeanor or actions. She laughs in the face of death and doesn’t care how often she gets slapped. Actually, Jessica has never been slapped, but she has been pushed down a flight of stairs and held at gunpoint too often to count.

Jessica, throughout the run of the series, never waivers in her pursuit of the truth, nor does she ever pause when it comes to helping a friend or righting a wrong. These are admirable traits indeed, but how does she do it?

Maybe those summers off rejuvenated her?

 

 

I Want To Be a Wish Granter, Part 2

So last week, on my birthday, I wrote a post about Make-A-Wish and wanting to be a volunteer wish granter, and I said I would call them on Wednesday and ask a bunch of questions, and hopefully, push through some of my emotional and psychological reluctance. In a bit of a swivet, and allowing stress to push me to do something I didn’t want to do (I hate the telephone), I made the call.

The volunteer coordinator wasn’t there.

Because I am me, and impatient and easily frustrated, and because I had worked myself into making this contact, I was not happy. I was also disappointed because I wanted to report back in this blog post. Oh well.

I received a call the next day while I was at work. Of course. This week, I finally had time today to call them again, and the coordinator was out, again. By this point, I couldn’t wait any longer. I practically pleaded with the person who answered to be put in contact with someone else who could talk to me and answer my three questions. I seriously was willing to call someone long distance. This was getting ridiculous.

Two friends of mine who know me really well (Mark and Donna) have told me that when I’m frustrated, it is an indication that I’m being prevented from doing something I really want to do, and I should (sort of) see this as a positive thing. I like that. It is an interesting insight into my character. I also know that I think I have something I’m going to call emotional ADHD. I can have a limited attention span, and delay can cause me to deflect. Put me off too long and I’ll move onto something else. There are a lot of kids who need help, and Make-A-Wish is not the only organization.

But I love Make-A-Wish. The training I went through made me into a fan.

An hour after I pleaded and was transferred to yet another answering machine, I got a call from a brand new person. I think whomever I spoke to realized that I really needed someone to talk to me. And the person who took on this Herculean task was terrific.

I explained that I was a new volunteer having trained in March and that I wanted to grant a wish. I was concerned though about three things:

  • Most of the wishes in Ohio (my Make-A-Wish group is actually made up of three states: Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. That’s a lot of area.) were far away from me. The closest Make-A-Wish kids were over two hours away. This was fine with me; I love driving, and certainly, it would be worth it to drive that far, but, was that fair to the kid? As volunteers, we are expected to make the journey to the child and family at least twice. Would it be a problem if I couldn’t go more often?
  • There was a child who was 45 minutes a way from me, but his family speaks a foreign language. I have some German and some French though not enough to discuss wishes at any deep level, and the family didn’t speak these languages anyway. Did the child speak English? Should I only go to families and children who spoke English?
  • The way we new volunteers find out about children in need is through an email newsletter. The children are listed with their geographic location, the disease that they have, some identifying characteristics about things they enjoy, and the number of days that they have been waiting for someone to pick them. It is very difficult to pick a child based on a geographical location when a child who lives far away has been waiting for 5 months. That seems so awful to me. I wanted to know how best to pick a child and wanted Make-A-Wish to help me with this.

April, the kind woman from Make-A-Wish who was willing to answer my questions, was great. It turns out that we really do only make two trips, though we can make more if we wish. Most of the communication with families is done through email and Skype and the telephone. Also, when we visit a family, there are always two volunteers. As long as one of those volunteers is fluent in a language, it is fine for the second volunteer to know only English. (OK, OK, I really do need to crack down and really learn French. I’m chagrined at my lack of a second language.)

Finally, before I even finished sharing the child I had been considering helping who was 45 minutes away, April knew who I was speaking of. It turns out that this child has been waiting for three months, and they are eager for him to have volunteer. She was as excited by my phone call as I was to have someone talk to me. I will not only help a child, I’ll be helping someone who has been on the list for too long. Yay!

Am I now relieved and excited? No, but I think I will be. Here’s how I am going to help myself feel less nervous about this. Let me share with you what I’m most enthusiastic about (besides of course helping the dying child have a happier life, helping the family, yada yada yada 😉

My job as a volunteer with Make-A-Wish is to

Get to the Heart of the Child’s True Wish

Doesn’t that give you goose bumps? It does me. What could be more wonderful?

And Make-A-Wish has a strategy to do just this. I see this as being a two part strategy, and if you read my blog in part for the writing prompts, you can use this as either a prompt or as a goad to creating some wonderful goals. For those inclined, grab a pen.

Strategy #1

Make-A-Wish says that there are Five Types of Wishes

(Can you guess? Try.)

See if you can come up with 10 possibilities, 10 desires per type of wish.

  • I wish to go…
  • I wish to be…
  • I wish to meet…
  • I wish to have…
  • I wish to give…

If you want to feel better about the world, let me share something I learned in training. There was a time in the not too recent past, when Make-A-Wish volunteers only had the first four of these in my list when working with a child. In recent years, “I wish to give” has become one of the more popular wishes.  In the past month, one Make-A-Wish girl wanted a neighborhood park to be cleaned. Over 1000 people turned up to clean it. I just read about another child’s desire to purchase beautiful, colorful bandages to give to children in the hospital. These children are amazing.

As a Make-A-Wish volunteer, I get to ask children and teens about their wishes. We are strictly prohibited from making suggestions or in any way pushing them in a direction, and I think that is right, but we are encouraged to do something quite wonderful instead.

Strategy #2

Getting to the Heart of the Child’s True Wish

Ahhh. I love that statement. We do this by asking a slew of questions, and I really love these questions. You should consider using these questions for your own desires. Here are some of the great questions:

  • Why do you want this WISH?
  • What would this WISH mean to you?
  • What do you know about this WISH?
    • I love this one so much. Let’s say a kid says he wants to go to Hawaii. Our job is to ask what the kid knows about Hawaii. It might turn out that what the child really wants is to surf, or to play with dolphins, or to experience climbing a volcano, or, maybe it really is to visit Hawaii. Make-A-Wish wants to know what is undergirding the wish so that we can give the child what he or she really wants and needs. That is truly awesome.
    • Why does this WISH/thinking about this WISH make you smile?
    • How does this WISH inspire you?
    • What does this WISH mean to you?

OK. I have to say now, after writing about these two strategies, I’m actually getting quite motivated to go and work on the first wish. I did sign up today with the child who lives 45 minutes away, and my name has been officially entered into the system. I could know as soon as tomorrow when our first contact with the family will be. I’m being paired with a seasoned volunteer, so that helps me greatly.

I have a whole packet from Make-A-Wish as to what steps to take (for example, we will be bringing presents to the child and any siblings in the home, and we’ll do that every time we go to the home. I love this.) and I’ll be reading and rereading the information beforehand. I will also be driving up with my fellow volunteer and will grill her with questions.

Besides wanting to grant wishes as a profession, I learned that Make-A-Wish kids and their families make some astonishing gains:

  1. 98% of parents feel the wish experience gives them the opportunity to be a “normal” family again
  2. 81% of parents observe an increased willingness by their wish kids to comply with treatment protocols
  3. 96% of healthcare referral sources observe increases in wish kids’ emotional health
  4. and 89% of nurses, doctors, social workers, and child life specialists say they believe the wish experience can influence wish kids’ physical health

For me, though, the most powerful thing I learned in the training was that “When a child knows you chose them, it has a profound social and emotional impact.” This has such a deep resonance for me. It didn’t occur to me before I heard this that this is what a Make-A-Wish child feels. The child who is granted a wish feels special. The child feels chosen.

What could be better than helping an ailing child and the family and making them feel as if they matter at a time when things seem so bleak.

It’s hard to imagine anything more worth doing.

 

*This information came from Make-A-Wish Foundation of America Wish Impact Study 2010, 2014

 

 

What Would You Do If…

Here’s a bit of a writing game inspired by a recent (to me) episode of Murder, She Wrote. I’m going to give you a scenario with some blanks. Fill in the blanks, and write your own story.  This scenario I’m presenting to you is the sort of thing I’d love to create for friends…or strangers.

You are at a _________ and a man in a tuxedo comes to you with a large, lovely, and fancy envelope in cream stock. You are surprised and eagerly open the envelope. Inside, you find a nearly equally large cream colored stiffened paper, and in red are the words: Midnight

What are your immediate thoughts and feelings when you see this word? What do you think will happen at midnight?

Next to the word Midnight is a symbol. The symbol is a code that you understand signifying a particular place. What is the symbol? Draw it.

How do you know what it references? Where are you going, or, do you choose to ignore this invitation?

Time passes, and you arrive __________ a few minutes before midnight.  Where are you? What is waiting for you when you arrive?

Was it worth it?

 

I Want To Be a Wish Granter, Part 1

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out what I should do for a living. For over 25 years, I have been a college English teacher, something I felt was my calling, and now I’m moving out of this profession as fast as I can. I’ve been wrestling with a variety of ideas as to what to do, and in the fall, I decided to try being whimsical as a way to come up with a new profession. I realized that one of the things I’ve always wanted to do for people (and I’ve even done it on a very small scale with friends, family, and few strangers) is grant wishes.

I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than finding someone who is in despair, who needs little, and being able to turn that person’s whole life around by taking care of the small problem or problems. I say small, because I don’t know how to cure cancer or replace the loss of a parent or friend, but perhaps I could shave away at a debt, pay the fees for a special program, buy books needed for a class. I don’t really have any money right now, which is frustrating, but there are other things I can do.

So, in the fall, when I was reaching for possible jobs, I thought to myself, I could grant wishes. Surely there is a job that does that. And then I remembered how years ago I used to give money to Make A Wish, and I thought, aha! So I did a Google search and discovered there truly is a job called a Wish Co-ordinator.

OK. Let’s be honest. I want to be magic and able to wave a wand, and Make a Wish doesn’t promise that, but I applied to be a volunteer, and went through an intense background check and waited, and finally, in March, I went through a training session. I assumed the training would have few people and be boring. The place was packed (maybe 40 people?), the training was terrific, and I, who am never late, showed up pretty much just in time to be close to the last person to speak. I was to say my name and why I was there. I heard people basically give speeches, and feeling grateful for having missed this (I hate this part of meetings where perfect strangers share information I don’t care about) I said, “I’m Katherine Clark, and I’m here because I want to grant wishes.” There was a long silence (people expected me to keep going), then laughter, then the presenter commented that that was perfect. I smiled and nodded. I had said exactly why I was there and no further explanation was needed.

Besides the fact that I had accidentally wowed the crowd (I really did assume that I would be the 10th person to say this), what I loved about the training was that it did three things for me:

  • It introduced me to an impressive and poignant history of Make a Wish, reaffirming my conviction that I was in the right place;
  • It showed me that there are many wonderful people in the Cleveland area;
  • And it introduced me to a slightly different way of looking at wishes. (I’ll explore this in Part 2 of this blog.)

I’m now waiting to be ready to select the first child or teenager to help with a wish. I hate the sentence I just wrote. It is convoluted and clumsy, but it matches well my psychological state. I love the idea of granting wishes and helping a child, but I’m finding this whole thing perhaps surprisingly emotional difficult.

I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. I know one thing that concerns me is that I will somehow fail and not do the right thing or I’ll say the wrong thing. Or maybe I’ll fail to successfully grant the wish. Or the wrong wish will be asked for and the kid will regret it. Or I won’t be empathetic or compassionate enough to the child and/or family, or I’ll be too entwined in the emotional issues surrounding a life-threatening situation.  Sometimes it is very hard to be me. My friend Mark has suggested that he should buy the domain name OverthinkingPh.D.com just for me.

And yes. I know this is not about me. This is about helping a sick child and a struggling family. In other words, I need to use my Army Brat background and suck it up.

OK. Here is my plan: on Wednesday, I will call Make a Wish with some questions that came to me after reading their weekly newsletter last week, and a few that came to me when reading an email from them a few days ago. I will then, based on their answers, look over my materials, and pick a child to help. Knowing me, I’ll probably pick the child who has waited the longest. (This is in fact one of my questions for Make a Wish. I don’t understand why there are children who have been waiting months. There is probably a really good answer, but it troubles me a bit.)

I deliberately wrote this blog post to help give me a push to get moving on this incredibly worthy project. I also wrote it to tell people about how cool a process Make a Wish goes through in order to help children select their wishes. (That latter was actually the initial reason for the post.) In Part 2 of this Make a Wish blog post, I’ll explore the wish process. I think there is something there to help all of us figure out our goals and desires. For this, among so many other things, I am grateful to Make a Wish.

Your Life as a Cozy Mystery

One of the tenets of the cozy mystery is that the person who is murdered tends to be a bad person. By bad, I mean, someone who is a nasty piece of work. Perhaps this person is a blackmailer. Perhaps this person is vicious, has fired people unfairly, been a gossip and spread untrue stories ruining people’s lives, or someone who has physically hurt people or animals (though with this latter, obviously, off the page).

In other subgenres of the mystery, of course, the murder victim or victims might be innocent, or partially flawed, or completely evil. But in cozies, in part to ensure that the reader does not have a negative emotional experience, it is important that the victim be someone the reader does not have a deep emotional connection to.

I have various friends who are experiencing negative work places with bad bosses and/or unfair expectations. I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of unjust workplace situations. In other cases, I know stories of sad romances, bad marriages,  and angry familial circumstances. I’ve also been binge watching Murder, She Wrote for an upcoming blog post, and it occurred to me that often what happens in these cozy and traditional mysteries is the bad person is killed, and everything changes, usually for the better.

The victim spreading false tales is revealed to be a liar, the embezzler is discovered and the funds recovered, the grasping, narcissistic, and soul-crushing parent dies leaving the inheritance with the kind and benevolent philanthropically minded family members, and the stalking boyfriend is dispatched while the woman he relentlessly surveilled is free to love the gentle guy who will treat her well. Ah! Such wish fulfillment!

So: What situation in your life would change if you could apply a cozy solution? Is there a particular person or situation that is so toxic its removal would change everything? I’m not advocating hiring a hit man (that would be uncozy). I just think this is an interesting mental exercise. As I was saying to a friend yesterday on a long walk, think what can happen if we learn to deal well with toxic people or circumstances rather than allowing them to hurt us or people we care about.

I’m also suggesting using this as writing prompt either for a personal journal exercise or a creative non-fiction story. As an adjunct, I often felt powerless in the schools I was teaching in. Writing murder mysteries with folks that were oppressive as victims was extremely therapeutic, and it kept me out of jail and a sanitarium.

Now you try. Think about your life or the life of a friend or family member who has suffered injustice. What or who is the source of this? In the fantasy realm, or the real one if you know details, has this toxic person or situation made a negative impact on others as well? What would happen if this toxic situation were removed? What would be gained? What would be the repercussions? What does the near and distant future look like for those most closely connected to the situation?

I guarantee that 20 minutes with this exercise will have you smiling and feeling more hopeful and empowered.

 

 

Query Letter, Part 2

On Tuesday of this week, I met with mystery writers Shelley Costa and Casey Daniels. I gave them each a copy of my query letter and was ready for them to tear it apart. Before they got into it though, Casey asked me to describe my book, one chapter at a time. This was such a great move on her part. She obviously needed to understand what the book was about before she read the query letter, but it also made me summarize and explain what I had written. When we started to deconstruct the letter, this summary of my book turned out to be incredibly useful for all of us.

So, lesson #2 (if lesson #1 is simply, based on my previous post, write something using a template and don’t worry about it, just get something down) is, when you meet with someone to go over the query letter, do a summary of the book first. It might be useful to take notes on what you say.

Before I talk about what my friends suggested I do to revise the query letter, I should probably show you my second draft. (The first draft appeared in the blog post called, quite brilliantly, I think, “My First Attempts at a Query Letter, Part 1”).

April 10, 2016

Re: Query about What Is a Cozy?

Dear _________:

In the 1960s, publishers attempted to kill the cozy, yet it survived, in large part because cozy and traditional mysteries have passionate fans who wouldn’t let their subgenre die. Over the last 10 years or so, booksellers point out that in their stores, cozies are the bestselling subgenre; many consider it the bread and butter of the industry. In my book What Is a Cozy? I explain the necessity of categorization, the value of the much maligned cozy subgenre to the mystery genre as a whole, and what the essential characteristics of the cozy are. My book runs 5 chapters and approximately 175 pages, not including appendices of reading lists and games and quizzes.

For my dissertation by the same name, I received responses to over 700 surveys with answers to over 50 questions from mystery readers as to why they love the mystery genre. I use much of this information in the book as well as examinations of many cozy and traditional works. I believe this book comes at the right time with the decision of many publishers to cut cozy series. Recently, a group called “Save Our Cozies” was formed on Facebook, and within less than a week had over 1000 members. The passionate cozy fandom has returned.

There are at least four markets for What Is a Cozy? Mystery writers, who are often unclear as to what the boundaries are between the subgenres; mystery readers, who know what they feel like reading but want help in identifying particular books or particular types of books; librarians, who are responsible for Reader Advisory and who helped me tremendously in the writing of this book; and academics, who are concerned about issues of subgenre and genre and a blind spot for anything in the genre that isn’t hardboiled, noir, or Agatha Christie. My book explains cozies and places them in the context of other mystery subgenres. It is not an apologia for the cozy, but it does recognize its value.

There is great interest in the topic of cozies. My dissertation was finished in 2008 and was made available electronically. As of April 2016, my dissertation had been downloaded over 1950 times, something that is nearly unprecedented when it comes to dissertations. 734 people filled out my 50+ question survey, and 93.9% said that I could contact them again. In addition to the survey, I conducted 9 focus groups in 4 states and I interviewed 7 independent bookstore owners in 6 states. I have interviewed many librarians, two of whom are involved in their library’s publishing arm. I regularly attend workshops or panels (Malice Domestic being one of the conferences) where my work is cited by participants.

I received my Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, OH in 2008. In order to write my dissertation, I was the first person in the English department required to participate and follow IRB guidelines since I was doing interviews, focus groups, and surveys. I have been asked to speak about my research to numerous groups including Sisters in Crime, Bouchercon, two Popular Culture Association National Conferences (in Boston and San Antonio), and a nationally known CWRU research conference Collabtech. I have been a reader for Poisoned Pen Press, and I have assisted in organizing mystery conferences. I have designed and taught courses on the mystery genre as well as other topics that are closely related, and in teaching these courses have been nominated for teaching awards. I have a blog in which I discuss the mystery genre and writing in general at mysteryphd.com, and I have a weekly podcast about Buffy, the Vampire Slayer at clevelandhellmouth.org. I am a founding mother of NeoSinC and a founding board member of Literary Cleveland, a new literary arts organization in Cleveland.

Thank you for your time in considering this query. I would be happy to send a book proposal or additional information.

 

Sincerely,

Katherine Clark, Ph.D.

address

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Notes from my friends:

First of all, they didn’t hate my query letter. Both concluded that I could and should trim it. The key suggestions were the following–Casey says I am burying my lead. Paragraph one is supposed to be the most important paragraph. It is in paragraph one that I am supposed to explain the essence of the book, yet she says that my most important comment is in paragraph two where I talk about the cozy fandom. Readers, she is absolutely right.

Shelley and Casey agreed I should mention a word count, and Shelley pointed out the dangers of saying things like “I discuss…” I sound too much like an academic. With that comment, Casey pointed out that the query letter, along with the book, should read like a cozy novel: breezy and easy. Sigh. Sheila Strong pointed out that my language goes up and down throughout the book. My other readers are fine with this–but Sheila, and Casey, are right. I need to work on making my book always accessible to the layperson, not the Ph.D. in English. This, I think right now, is going to be the hardest thing for me to fix, because I do write the way I talk and think. I often have a 10 dollar vocabulary, but I also like slang and informal language. I mix these all the time.

Casey has also suggested that I need a new title for this book. She is probably right, but I am not sure what to do. In many ways I love this title; after all, it is what the book is about. Nobody will be confused about what I’m doing if they bother to pick up the book. On the other hand, it is not a sexy title in the least. What do you think?

My favorite suggestion changing the query letter was from Casey. Shelley asked me what the thesis of the book is. What a great question that I should have been prepared for, but I wasn’t. I said, I can’t do a thesis for the book (though Readers, I think maybe now I can), but I can do a thesis for each chapter. Based on this, Casey suggested that I open the the first paragraph with a quote from Otto Penzler, mystery critic and independent publisher and bookstore owner, who in the mystery world, probably hates cozies more than anyone else. Casey said, start with him whallopping the cozy, and then explain how the cozy was saved and is worth saving. Starting with a Penzler quote will certainly start this letter with a bang.

I love the comments my friends made. They gave me a lot to think about. They’ve said they will gladly read further revisions, so of course I will be sending these along to them. I also plan on roping in a third friend for help. Casey and Shelley, it turns out, have not needed to write query letters. Both have agents. Double sigh. I’m going to reach out to a friend who has offered to help me in the past.

So, here is my commitment. I will both have a revision of this query letter and will reach out to my third friend before April 22. Of course, I will write a blog post on what occurs. I’m feeling pretty positive. Persistence is the key.

Note:  I mention Casey Daniels’ League of Literary Ladies series and Shelley Costa’s You Cannoli Die Once novel in my monograph. I suggest that readers check out their books. They are fun.

 

 

How To Select a Publisher: Step One

In my fantasy world, mysterious messengers would deliver the news to publishers that my cozy monograph was done and ready to be presented to the world. I love the idea of going to answer the knock at the door and seeing a woman in a 1940s red bellhop costume begin to sing and dance, letting me know that the BEST publisher wanted my book, and here was a $100,000 advance. I’ve been told that this is, unfortunately, an unlikely occurrence. Somehow, I can’t expect a miracle to happen. I have to find the publishers to notify myself.

I actually started thinking about this process months, even years ago, and I knew that one of the traps to avoid was to send my query letter to any publisher or every publisher. Many novice writers make that mistake, so I knew not to do that. Don’t send your non-fiction cozy monograph to a publisher who only publishes fiction. Instead, I decided to marry two concepts together.

Continue reading “How To Select a Publisher: Step One”

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