Friday, February 04, 2011

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

by Jennie Bentley

I’m in a bit of a scramble right at the moment. I’m leaving for Norway on Monday, to spend a few days with my family – minus the kids, who are in school – and I didn’t realize how much I had to catch up on until I had only one week to do it all. I had to have the dog groomed, and I had to visit the chiropractor – who wants to travel halfway around the world with a bum back? – and I felt compelled to e-file the taxes before I left, and then there are a few things going on with the writing, as well, that I’ve had to stay on top of.

DIY-4, Mortar and Murder, was released a month ago, to much rejoicing and glad cries. It debuted at #3 on Barnes and Noble’s mass market paperback mystery list – my best placement yet; I hit #5 once before, but no higher – and at #27 on the big B&N list of all their paperbacks, not just the mysteries. The editor was thrilled, the agent was thrilled, I was thrilled... there were thrills all around.

DIY-5 – Flipped Out! – is already written and scheduled for release in October, but now it seems there’ll be another book after that, too. I sent my editor an outline a week or two ago, and I have been told an offer should be forthcoming shortly. And for those of you following my debacle either on Facebook or Twitter, it seems the baby skeleton in the steamer trunk stays. At least I haven't been told otherwise yet.

When you’re a cozy writer, you have to adhere to certain conventions of the genre. Cozies are traditional mysteries in the vein of Agatha Christie and the other classics, with an amateur sleuth, no graphic violence, no bad language, and certainly no graphic sex. Admittedly, I fudge a little on the language – some people curse, y’all, and if I’m gonna write about them, I feel I ought to portray them accurately – but I stay pretty true to the rest of it. Yes, Avery and Derek have sex (in case you wondered), but I don’t show it. They don’t talk about it much, either. And graphic violence creeps me out, so there’s no hardship there.

No, where I have the problem is with the cozy subject matter. Cozies tend to have a small cast of characters in a limited geographic (or otherwise) setting. A small town, a neighborhood within a bigger town, a college, a traveling acting company... I’ve got the small town, so no problem there either. But in the classics, the murders tend to be – for lack of a better word – very insular. It’s Cousin Freddy killing Aunt Alice for her money, or the seemingly devoted husband slowly poisoning his invalid wife so he can marry her sister. It’s all very small, very much rooted in the human condition, but not in a psychological thriller type of way.

And that’s great, if – as someone once said – it’s what blows your skirt up. The human animal is infinitely fascinating, no? I just find myself naturally tending toward somewhat less cozy subject matter. In DIY-2, Spackled and Spooked, I tried to murder two little girls, and had to rewrite. No children get hurt in cozies. In DIY-3, Plaster and Poison, the poor doggies locked in a room upstairs in the killer’s house caused some concern... until it became obvious that they weren’t dogs at all, the noises were made by a kidnapped woman. Then, suddenly, it was fine. But no animals get hurt in cozies, either. I was amazed when I got to tackle human trafficking in Mortar and Murder. You can’t get much farther from cozy than human trafficking and the sex trade. Of course, I did have to skip lightly over the sex part...

So when the baby in the steamer trunk idea hit me, I knew I had to do some fancy footwork to get it past the powers that be. I’m happy to say it seems I succeeded. DIY-6 will be about a big, old Craftsman Bungalow in Waterfield Village, a tiny baby skeleton in a steamer trunk shoved into a corner of the attic, and two old biddies who know more than they will admit. Other than the dead baby, it's actually pretty cozy.

But that’s a book in the future, and as of yet just a gleam in my eye. I’ll leave you with the brand new back cover copy for Flipped Out! coming in October. Here it is, straight from the horse’s – AKA my editor’s – pen:

Avery and her hunky handyman boyfriend Derek Ellis are renovating another house in Waterfield, Maine. But it’s not just any house. It belongs to local news anchor Tony “the Tiger” Micelli—and it’s a quaint cottage with limitless possibilities. Even more exciting is that the makeover is going to be filmed as part of a home renovation TV show.

Unfortunately the road to cable TV fame is a bumpy one: this DIY spins into a DOA when Tony’s corpse is found at the cottage, flat on his back and not from natural causes. Turns out there were a few people who wanted Tony dead, and that the murderer might have his sights set on a few more Waterfield residents. That means it’s up to Avery to nail the killer. And fast.

Have a great February, y’all! Play nice without me!


Gina said...

Have a good trip, Jennie!
I've never thought of visiting a chiropractor before a trip, but I have found it helpful to have a 10-15 minute upper body massage at the airport before boarding a long flight - it helps a lot to start the trip relaxed.

Joyce Tremel said...

Have a great trip! We'll miss you!

That's great news about hitting the B&N lists. I saw Mortar and Murder in Target last week. That's the first time I've seen one of your books there. And like I told you before, I love the idea of the baby skeleton in the steamer trunk.

Ramona said...

Enjoy your travels, Jennie!

As you note, writing within genre confines is both comforting and confining. It makes writing easier if you have to obey the rules...but then you have to obey the rules.

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, Gina. I'll keep that massage in mind, although I doubt I'll have time. I'll be passing through Newark and running into Manhattan for a powwow with the agent during the layover.

Joyce, Target? Are you sure? Where? No one's told me I'm in Target, and in writerly circles, Target is a VERY big deal. Are you positive?

Thanks, Ramona. Yeah, I've never been that good about obeying rules. Of any kind. :(

Annette said...

Have a safe trip, Jennie!

I'm glad the baby skeleton has dodged a bullet (so to speak). It sounds like a fascinating premise.

Karen in Ohio said...

Bon voyage, Bente!

Mortar & Murder is next up on my TBR pile. Can't wait.

Good for you, for stretching the cozy limits. The world is changing, after all. 20 years ago no one even heard of half the genres in bookstores now.

Patg said...

Have a very good trip, Bente. There is an inflatible, airplane seat pad called 1st Class Sleeper, Your Bed in the Sky that was is very good for people with bad backs and neck pain. It's great for trans-ocean flights.
I agree with Ramona, cozies are the comfort food of the mystery genre. It surprises me how good it feels to enter the worlds of the ones I follow.

Joyce Tremel said...

It was the Target store in Gibsonia, PA, just north of where I live. You were right beside Julie Hyzy's Buffalo West Wing, on the bottom shelf.

Jennie Bentley said...

Annette, I'm happy the baby skeleton escaped unscathed, too. So to speak.

Karen, thank you, my dear! Let me know how you like the book.

PatG - I'll look into that; thanks for the tip!

Joyce - thanks. I'll definitely look into that. Appreciate the info.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Hope you don't sit next to any male strippers on the plane.

Have fun Jennie.