What’s New in 2022: It’s a Party and You’re All Invited!

I don’t know about you, but somehow the end of the year snuck up on me without my realizing it. Life got crazy there for a while, and I never got around to making my EOY post, which is fine because I hate doing those kinds of reflective summaries anyway. I never seem to have been as productive or as successful as I might have hoped, you know?

Most of you who follow this blog know I like to create a power word or phrase for the coming year, and that looks like it will be a bust this year as well. I chose fearless for 2019. It was audacious for 2020. Resilent for 2021. I think maybe it’s time to retire power words for a while, don’t you?

I had a Tarot reading done for 2021 heading into 2022. The Tower and Judgement cards were major players in my life in 2021 (sadly, this could apply pretty much to every year since 2016), with the Devil and the Fool being factors in the upcoming year. I can overcome if I play to my strengths and ditch my issues with self-confidence and self-sabotage. Sounds ominous? I think so, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was recently exposed to Covid through the workplace, which led to a scramble to get tested. I’m negative at the moment, but isolating from my high-risk family members to be on the safe side.

All in all, I’m surprised I’ve gotten anything accomplished this month!

But the good news is I finished the draft of the second Ginny Reese book: The Dog Days of Murder! It’s off to editing soon. Look for a release date late winter, early spring! If you are signed up for my newsletter, you’ll get a sneak peek at the cover before everyone else! The gang’s all there: Ginny, her dog Remy, Ming the Merciless, the Siamese cat, as well as the cast of characters living in Greenbrier, including her mother, the indomitable Julia Reese! Ginny’s plans to open her own vet practice go awry when a newcomer swoops into town with mysterious financial backing AND a connection to Joe. Of course, this new veterinarian winds up getting murdered, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

I did a fun interview with Marcia James about pets in books and why I include them. Be sure to check it out and see some great pictures! 

Tomorrow, I’m participating in a big release day bash for Kerry Blaisell’s latest release, Damning the Dead. There’s going to be a Facebook party with 13 other authors, with games and prizes galore. Not only are you invited, but you should invite your friends too! It’s Jan 5 from 4-7:30 Pacific Standard Time, so be sure to join us!! Join the group now so you won’t miss a thing!

Here’s the schedule:

Schedule of participating authors:
  • Jeff D. Ellis ~ 4:00 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Bob Herold ~ 4:15 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Tena Stetler ~ 4:30 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Dan Rice ~ 4:45 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • McKenna Dean ~ 5:00 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Hunter Skye ~ 5:15 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Pamela Thibodeaux ~ 5:30 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Shelly Chalmers ~ 5:45 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Theresa Finn ~ 6:00 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Augustina Van Hoven ~ 6:15 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Janet Raye Stevens ~ 6:30 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Anna M. Taylor ~ 6:45 PM PACIFIC TIME
  • Sally Brandle ~ 7:00 PM PACIFIC TIME

 

And now that I’ve finished the second Ginny Reese book, it’s time for me to go back to Bishop and Knight’s story. When we last left them, Rhett and Peter had become very close, but they’d also been fired from Redclaw and hired by the competition: Rian Stirling! We all know that Rian has his eye on Rhett as well, so this doesn’t bode well for our intrepid duo. Sometimes, however, you must form an alliance with an enemy to defeat a more powerful adversary. No spoilers, but we’ll find out the source of all those mysterious artifacts and why the planet has been seeded with them…

 

Maybe I should chose a power word after all. How does confidence sound? ๐Ÿ™‚

 

 

What to Do When the Spirit of Christmas Ghosts You

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas this year.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s not just this year, though for some reason, it feels even worse than usual. Normally by this time of year, I’m happily working my way through holiday romances and mysteries on the e-reader, as well as indulging in my love of cheesy Christmas movies on Hallmark and Netflix. I’ve picked a night to do my annual re-watch of the Muppet Christmas Carol, and I’ve decided which of my other beloved favorites to add to the list. Will it be Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas in Connecticut? I rotate these favorite classics to keep them fresh but also to make room for new movies, like A Cinderella Story: A Christmas Wish or Last Holiday with Queen Latifah.

I normally hide presents all over the house (sometimes to the point of forgetting to recover and wrap them in time for Christmas), though we’ve begun to scale back on that too. Most years I become possessed by a seasonally driven urge to bake. Completely ignoring my lack of skill in the kitchen (oh boy, do I have a post to share with you about THAT at some future date), I try my hand at dozens of different kinds of cookies, filling the house with the scent of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Co-workers and neighbors are the recipients of anything edible that my family can’t finish, though I eat far too many of them myself.

We haven’t done the elaborate holiday dinner for some time now. The family is smaller, its members scattered. Most of us have so little time off from work that travel isn’t feasible, even if the pandemic hadn’t made it impossible or unwise. We’ve never been big on outdoor decorations, either, and when you have pets, Christmas trees with ornaments can be problematic.

So we’ve been scaling back on Christmas a little each year for a while now.

Last year, while the pandemic still raged and vaccination wasn’t on the horizon yet, there was a desperation to my attempts to get into the holiday mood. This year, there is just apathy. I haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to watch more than one or two of the new holidays movies out there, and haven’t watched any of my old favorites. I have dozens of holiday books on the reader, and keep scrolling past to read something else. The weather isn’t helping, either. It’s been a balmy 70 degrees here recently with nary a snowflake in sight.

But in a conversation with one of my friends this morning, she said that though she and her husband feel the same, they put up a few decorations, and were glad they did. She planned to watch a cheesy movie and drink some hot cocoa, and suggested I should do likewise.

You know what? I’m going to take her advice.

Scaling back doesn’t mean going all out Grinch. Maybe finding the Christmas spirit is a little like writing when the Muse has left you. 

Sometimes you just need to sit down and do it. Don’t wait for the feeling to come. Go out and grab it.

Or put another way, if you open your heart to the spirit of Christmas, it will come.

Tonight we took a chance on a new holiday movie, Single All the Way. Lately the newer holiday movies have been a little hit-or-miss with me, but this movie was one of the best, most satisfying holiday movies I’ve seen in some time. It perfectly nailed the goofy, strange dynamics of a loving family. The writing and acting was top-notch. It took the fake boyfriend trope and turned it on its head. Best of all, there were no bad guys, unless you count demanding bosses who expect you to work over the holidays. Highly recommend.

Holiday Gift Guide for the Writer in Your Life

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

It’s that time of year again–when we start thinking about holiday shopping and what the writer in our lives might want as a gift. Okay, that writer is me. Just kidding! Okay, maybe I’m only kidding a little.

See, most non-writers don’t have a clue what kind of gift to give to the authors in their lives. They want to show their support! They want to give something useful. But if you’re not a writer yourself, it’s hard to know what to get. That’s why I’m going to recommend a few things myself but I’m also opening the door for YOUR suggestions. Tell me what you’ve been longing for, what you have on your wish list, what you’d dearly love the most. I want to know about it! Who knows, someone you love might stumble across this list and get you the one thing YOU’VE been hoping for!

Let’s start with the easiest kinds of gifts to shop for: books on craft! There are SO many out there, and many are targeted to genre as well. I know a lot of people who recommend Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. For romance writers, many consider Romancing the Beat an invaluable tool. I’m also a big fan of The Emotion Thesaurus (and the other books in that line).

But as a mystery writer, I also love books on forensics and police procedure, as well toxicology, poisons and the other means by which you can kill someone. Keep in mind, books on craft aren’t necessarily about writing per se; they can also include books and courses on marketing, advertising, and so on. 

What about planners? I would be lost without my Author’s Planner by Audrey Hughey!

Itโ€™s more than just another notebook or calendar. SO MUCH MORE. You can track your daily and weekly goals, your expenditures (to make doing your taxes so much easier!), plan your marketing and social media campaigns, newsletters, you name it! What I love about it is itโ€™s large enough for me to work in without cramming tiny notes everywhere, and the coil-bound cover allows it to lay flat while youโ€™re working on it. Itโ€™s a bit like having an organizer, an accountability partner, a cheerleader, and a coach all rolled up into one.
 
The 2021 Authorโ€™s Planner is designed to be your all-in-one day planner and writing-career coach, helping you organize your writing life and get on a clear path to reach your goals.
 
Have you thought about editing software? I bet you haven’t! But there are some great programs out there. I like ProWritingAid the best, but there are lots of services out there. Right now, PWA is having a Black Friday sale until 11/30/21 so you can get a year’s subscription up to 50% off!
 
Online courses are also wonderful! There are all kinds of courses on mastering Amazon ads, writing blurbs, or just writing in general. I got a lot out of Inkers Con last year, and the best part is you have access to the materials for three years after the conference! I’m toying with attending live versus digital in 2022, but to be honest, it’s FAR more economic for me to attend digitally–no airfare, no hotel, no boarding the dogs… and I can attend in my PJs if I want! You can still get access to the 2021 Conference if you want to start there. I believe it’s discounted right now!
 
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been toying with looking into such software as Scrivener, Vellum, and Atticus for formatting to take my self-published books to the next level. Unfortunately, Vellum is for Macs, but sometimes I’m tempted. I’m very tempted…. 
 
Likewise, the author in your life might be jonesing for some graphics programs, such as the premium services offered by Canva or Bookbrush. Sure, we can use the free versions, but the paid services allow us to take our publications and social media graphics to that coveted next level of professional design.
 
If all else fails, offer to gift your writer the funds to cover the purchase of cover art or professional editing! Those two items right there represent a huge chunk of investment, and something most indie authors would love a little help with.
 
So what about you? What’s on your wish list? What have you been eyeing for yourself or someone else?

Have You Written a Holiday Romance or Mystery? Tell Me About It!

Last week I posted about my love of holiday movies and books. I’m particularly fond of holiday romances, but I’m partial to holiday mysteries too. In last week’s post I asked for your recommendations, and I certainly want to hear about your favorite books and holiday movies, so drop in at that post and tell me more!

But this week I want to hear all about the holiday stories you’ve written! Doesn’t matter if they were published this year or in years past, I want to know all about them! Drop your links, share your blurbs and teasers. SHOW ME THE STORIES!

I’d love to make this the ultimate 2021 Holiday Book Shopping List!

 

As much as I love holiday romances, I haven’t actually written one myself. Maybe next year! The closest I’ve come is my snowed-in paranormal romance, Ghost of a Chance. She’s a fangirl with a dark secret. His inner wolf isn’t speaking to him. Pitted against each other for an valuable inheritance, cut off from the outside world, they must learn to work together when a series of increasingly dangerous events threatens their lives. When it becomes clear that these incidents aren’t accidental, who can they trust?

Like snowed-in stories? Then check it out!

But PLEASE leave me your holiday book links!! 

 

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: I Need Your Holiday Movie and Book Recommendations!

Okay, so those who know me know I am a SUCKER for holiday-themed romance stories and movies. I got hooked on them as a teenager when I discovered an anthology of Regency Holiday Romances. I devoured it, and have looked for more every holiday season.

For me, that “holiday season” starts in November, and some years lasts until March. I crave romances that take place in snowy venues, mysteries in snow-bound country homes, average girls who find their prince in a fictional kingdom in the snow-covered Alps.

See, the key ingredient for me is snow. It’s a rarity here, and cause for celebration because Snow Day! Am I right? When you live in the hot, humid, sweltering South, you pine for ice skating parties, sledding down monster hills, and drinking hot cocoa by a crackling fire in the hearth. I love stories where the girl returns or arrives in a small town and falls in love–probably because I am not a city girl myself. I love wreaths on the doors, and baking snickerdoodles, and at this time of year, I want holiday stories and movies.

Mostly because the message of these stories is guaranteed to be uplifting. There is joy, hope, love and a little bit of magic to be had in these stories, and we could all use a little bit more of that these days.

This is the first of a series of Holiday-Themed Posts asking for your recommendations.

This post is for story and movie recommendations. This time, Monday Nov 8, I’d like very much if you’d sell me on YOUR favorite holiday movie or novel. This post is for you to recommend something you love, but not your own work, please. Next week, Monday Nov 15th, I’ll ask for links to YOUR holiday stories–and I want to hear about them ALL. There are 12 holidays of all nationalities and religions celebrated in December alone–if you’ve written a story set during one of these times, I want to hear about it! It does not have to be a new release, either! The post after that, Monday Nov 22, I’m going to be asking for your gift-giving recommendations, with special focus on those for writers.

I have some current favorite movies to share with you here. Yes, I love It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and not a single Christmas goes by without a re-watch of The Muppet Christmas Carol. But I also love The Holiday, with Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Jude Law. A fun, heartwarming movie about finding your place with the right people. I also adore Last Holiday with Queen Latifah–I adore how she finds her inner lioness when she thinks she is about to die. I’m also a sucker for The Princess Switch movies–how many characters can Vanessa Hudgens play in one movie? Can they possibly add a 4th character? We’ll have to see! Because I also love musicals, I make a point of re-watching A Cinderella Story: A Christmas Wish. Just love this one! I’m also fond of A Princess for Christmas, in part because I really like Katie McGrath as an actress and she brings her skill to this movie.

As for stories, there are almost too many to share! I have on tap to read On Christmas Tree Cove by Sarah Vance-Tompkins, Holiday Ever After by Jill Shalvis, The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo, and Jenny Holiday’s A Princess for Christmas. In the past, I’ve enjoyed A Timeless Christmas by Alexis Stanton, It Happened One Christmas (Anthology), Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory, A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas, and SO MANY MORE. It’s embarrassing how many of these stories I have on my Kindle, and I’m looking for more!

So share with me YOUR favorite holiday movies and stories! I want them all! Tell me where I can find them, but more importantly, why do you love it so? Why should I love it too?? I can’t wait to indulge!

Accolades for An Embarrassment of Itches!

Talk about embarrassing! Yesterday I received an email congratulating me on my recent recognition from InD’Tale Magazine: a Crowned Heart of Excellence from their reviewer, Moira Wolf.

Only I wasn’t aware of any such recognition.

After making a confused face and saying, ‘What Crowned Heart?”, I scampered off to the website to check, and saw that yes, indeed, I’d received a very nice review from them. But the only place the Crowned Heart shows up is in their digital magazine itself, not on the review page I linked here.

So yes, An Embarrassment of Itches has received one of InD’Tales top honors! I believe that puts it in the running for their year-end awards as well, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

It also received a stellar review from Linda Tonis with the Paranormal Romance Guild! (Don’t let the name fool you, they review books from all genres).

Hmmm. I guess I’d better crack on with the next installment, eh? Not to worry–I’m working hard on Book 2, The Dog Days of Murder. Hopefully we’ll see a Christmas release date, but if not then, just after the New Year!

 

Compassion Fatigue: or Why I Didn’t Share Your Post

 

TW/CW for sad things tugging on your heartstrings.

 

 

 

The other day during work I got an email from an acquaintance. A shelter in the neighboring county had posted an urgent notice: they’d been inundated with puppies during the past week and if they didn’t find homes for them by the end of business hours that day, they would have to euthanize them.

Did I know of anyone who wanted a puppy? Like right now? Immediately.

I wracked my brains but couldn’t come up with anyone on the fly.

“Send me the link and I’ll share it when I can,” I offered as a stopgap before delving back into work.

But ultimately, I didn’t share the link. Let me tell you why.

You see, something about that urgent request to spend compassion currency that I have in dwindling supply broke me just a little.

I have to reiterate: it was puppies. Puppies that needed homes right away or they would die. But for the first time ever, getting hit with such a request rang the resentment buzzer instead of the compassion bell.

Whoa. Hold up there. Resenting an impassioned plea to help save at least one or two puppies? Doesn’t that make me some kind of Cruella de Vil?

Sure, I couldn’t do anything directly to save the puppies. But I could share the link, right? How much energy could that possibly take? How could I refuse to put out the word?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. For starters, there was the link itself, which felt very “click-baity” when I read it. “Help us! Puppies will die if you don’t come TODAY!”

Believe me, I know there is probably someone on the other end of that post, hoping against hope that they don’t have to perform the soul-destroying task of euthanizing healthy puppies because some irresponsible person let their dog have them without any intention of raising them and finding homes for them. And my heart breaks for that shelter worker. I know their pain is real, even if they couched their request like so many other posts begging for help.

But practically speaking, by the time I’d put out the half-a dozen or so fires at my job, which also requires a great deal of compassion, it was so late in the day that my sharing the post would have been too late for that litter of puppies. Perhaps it could have raised awareness for someone else out there looking for a puppy that they should check out the shelter, but the puppies in question? Too late.

And that’s when I realized that my compassion bank account was dangerously low.

Because every day we’re hit up with thousands of similar requests. GoFundMe accounts for medical or funeral expenses shared by our friends. Political organizations playing off our justifiable outrage over some restrictive measure that’s just been enacted, and if we don’t donate NOW, warning of the Bad Things coming our way. Just causes demanding we take action. Global catastrophes begging for our financial support. Legal funds for kids in cages, ripped from their families. Egregious acts of racism that deserve investigation and some kind of response. Missing children on milk cartons needing to be identified. And so on.

And yes, I realize that I’m speaking from a place of great privilege because I’m not the one begging for help paying my bills or needing someone to rescue me from having to perform a heartbreaking task.

I think of myself as a compassionate person. Professions that demand compassion tend to attract empathetic people, and I chose my career path years ago because I had compassion to spare. I donate generously to things I believe in because I usually don’t have the time to volunteer in person. I spent years serving as a caretaker to my father because it was my mother’s wish that he be able to stay at home rather than enter an advanced care facility. I trap, neuter, and vaccinate the stray cats that show up around my house on my own dime, finding homes for those that can be tamed and going to ridiculous lengths to take care of the remaining ones (see the expensive catio that I built for these furry freeloaders). I cried when the annoying trash panda, whom I caught three times before trapping the mean tom (who hisses and spits at me every day, despite being nursed back to health), got hit by a car.

I share things. The post about the homeless trans teen who needs help. The post from an internet acquaintance who needs help paying for her cat’s surgery. The posts about fundraisers, many of which I contribute to myself. The posts about organizations raising money to deal with the aftermaths of flooding, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The posts where some mother is asking for likes to show her son or daughter how beautiful they are. I comment with sympathy on the posts of total strangers who have experienced a great loss.

My lack of willingness to share the post about the puppies, and the resentment the request generated, tells me I must draw the line somewhere. None of us are designed with endless wells of compassion. To mix metaphors, we can’t keep overdrawing our compassion accounts to spend on things out of our control. The constant withdrawal of coins to spend on people we don’t know will bankrupt us.

I’m not Cruella de Vil.

I have compassion fatigue.

Put another way, if I’d found a box of puppies myself, I would have taken them into my home. I would have had them vaccinated and dewormed, and tried my best to find homes for them all, while at the same time, trying to socialize them and instill some manners in order to make them the best possible candidates for adoption.

If the local shelter had a fundraiser, I’d volunteer my time, donate some money, and if I couldn’t do either of the above, I’d share the post about it. I’d probably share the post regardless, but in terms of doing something, sharing is the last on the list. I’ve said it before, but sharing posts without taking action is little more than virtue-signaling. It might make you feel good, but for the most part it accomplishes very little.

I wrote a bit about my struggles with social media in general a few weeks ago, and how I think SM breaks are necessary for our mental health. In that post, I mentioned this metafilter thread that my husband had shared with me: What’s Mine to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. The original post cited, as well as the discussion thread it generated, is well-worth reading. In the OP, If You Can’t Take In Anymore, There’s a Reason, the poster refers to the need for an emotional circuit breaker because our minds and hearts aren’t wired to care about everything that’s on fire all over the world at the same time, and if we don’t flip that breaker, our whole house will burn down.

I couldn’t agree more. So like the OP, I recommend you pick one fire to put out at a time, and you concentrate on the fire that threatens the things you care about the most. Battle that fire with all your heart and resources. Fight the fire you think you have the best chance of helping to contain, or the one that is the most pressing to you because it’s in your backyard. You can help fight a fire halfway across the world, if that’s the fire that’s important to you, but you can’t squander your limited resources on trying to fight them all.

Because if 101 Dalmatians show up at your doorstep looking for a ride home, you want to have enough compassion in the bank to get them there.

And perhaps if I wasn’t staring down at a compassion overdraft notice, I would have shared the post about the puppies after all. Because that is the sort of thing I care about.

Is it Time to kiss Social Media Goodbye?

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

More and more people I know are discussing leaving social media altogether. Divorcing themselves from Facebook, Twitter, and even the relatively happy place, Instagram.

I’m not surprised, to be honest. Social media has become a toxic swamp, weaponized by those forces wishing to polarize populations and bring countries to their knees. Think I’m exaggerating? Remember the huge hate the latest trilogy of Star Wars movies received from supposed fanboys who hated the fact none of the leads were young, white men?

Welp, a post by Wired in 2018 revealed that as much as half the negative tweets about the film were politically motivated or generated by bots (a storyline worthy of the franchise itself, if you ask me).

It’s not just polarizing people over issues such as diversity and inclusiveness. Social media has become the place most people get their information these days, and the amount of disinformation out there, aimed at creating divisiveness at best and destroying nations at worst, is scary. I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but when I see well-educated people in the medical profession or education supporting unverified, crazy theories over statistically-backed scientific reports, I’m concerned, let me tell you.

On a personal level, I find the damage it causes something else altogether. We’ve become addicted to doomscrolling, and because clicks are king, media outlets are creating provocative headlines designed to keep us in a perpetual state of outrage. My husband and I had a conversation about this the other day, and I think for many of us, we share these anger-inducing posts because it’s the bare minimum we can do. Most of us don’t have the time, energy, or resources to do anything other than share the outrage because we think people should be angry and upset over these important issues.

(Don’t get me started on the data mining these platforms do… how creepy is it that my husband and I talk about buying a new mattress and shortly thereafter, our feeds get flooded with mattress adverts??)

But the truth of the matter is not only is sharing bad news (and OMG, there’s SO much of it these days) completely worthless in terms of doing something about it, there may be great harm in doing so as well. It fosters a sense of hopelessness about our ability to change anything: from the impending climate disasters, to voter suppression and the march to invalidate any election results the opposition doesn’t like, from politicians who get vaccinated themselves, but tell their constituents Covid-19 is nothing to worry about, so don’t bother with vaccines and oh, by the way, get back to work, please. And when we get sucked into a state of despair and cynicism, then we stop trying to make a difference where we can.

My husband shared this great metafilter discussion thread with me, and I’m sharing it here with you: What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT MINE to care about. It has some great things to say about limiting your anxiety over the things for which you have no control and what to do about the things you can affect. That you can’t fight all the battles in the world, but you can’t opt out of fighting any. And if all you’re doing is sharing outrage posts, how is that different from virtue signaling? The metafilter discussion was in reference to this post here, which points out we are not designed to handle all the suffering in the world, and that circuit breakers exist for a reason: to prevent electrical systems from overloading.

My friends, the majority of whom I met online, are moving off social media and onto other, smaller platforms, such as WhatsApp and Discord. The main reason? To keep up with each other during the day but avoid getting sucked into the mire of disinformation and ugly rhetoric out there. I can’t say as I blame them. I’ve taken Facebook off my phone. I’m considering eliminating Twitter next. Some of my friends have taken things one step further: they’ve deleted their accounts.

I confess, the idea of doing that fills me with a sense of dread. I’m a writer. I’ve been told over and over again that I must have a presence on social media. And without the backing of a Big Name Publisher, I suspect this is true. I need to keep hustling to remind people my stories exist, to build a newsletter following, to manage groups, to post regularly to all my platforms, to stand on the deck of the Ark amidst limitless seas, releasing doves again and again in the hopes of one of them eventually bringing back signs of dry land out there.

To consider eliminating my social media presence feels a bit like giving up. Like accepting that I’ll never be more than a small potatoes writer releasing a handful of French fries once a year. So maybe I won’t delete my accounts.

But I can be a better steward of them.

You want fries with that?

Photo by Dzenina Lukac from Pexels

What do Romances and Mysteries Have in Common?

The other evening I popped into an online book discussion group being held by the Carnegie Library, hosted by Jennie Ellis. I only found out about the book club at the last moment, and joined because while I hadn’t read the featured book, I had read other books by the author, Julia Buckley, and she was going to be present.

What ensued was a delightful hour in which Ms. Buckley described her writing process, and how she came to create her various series, including the Hungarian Tea House Mysteries. She also fielded questions about the publishing industry, her past projects, and what to expect from her in the future.

Toward the end of the discussion, the subject of cozy mysteries in general came up. I lamented that many publishing houses had dropped their cozy lines, and the consensus was this was an inexplicable decision on their part because like romance readers, cozy readers are voracious.

That got me to thinking about the other ways in which romance and mysteries have commonalities, and it occurred to me during the discussion that one of the biggest things the two genres have in common is their contract with the reader.

There’s only one hard-and-fast rule in Romance: there must be a happily ever after (HEA) or at the least, a happily for now (HFN). That means that no matter what happened during the course of the story, we should have either a declaration of commitment between the couple or some indication they are going to be together in the future. It does not mean there must be a baby in the epilogue, though this is an addendum many authors and readers enjoy. It also doesn’t mean that the entire story must be fluffy and light without any angst or difficult storylines. Sometimes the reward of the HEA is all the sweeter for the suffering that took place before reaching that point.

I was having this discussion with my husband this morning, and he brought up (on cue) Romeo and Juliet. Everyone brings up R&J! Shakespeare’s play is not a romance but a tragedy. I went on to say that one of the reasons people take exception to Nicholas Sparks’ books being labeled as romances is the frequent lack of a HEA. Romances have ONE rule.

“Okay,” my husband said, “but what if the purpose of breaking the contract is to get you to look at something from another point of view?”

“Then categorize it as something else,” I countered. “Put it like this: suppose you bought a sci-fi story based on the cover and the blurb. You had every expectation of reading a military space opera based on these things, but instead, you get a romance. You’d be disappointed, especially if you were in the mood for something different.”

“But the Murderbot books aren’t just science fiction,” he offered. “They explore relationships, what it means to have friends, to be human.”

“Themes science fiction explores all the time. Romance has one rule. HEA. How you get there can vary in a million different ways but you have to get there.”

Which brings me to the rule I believe mysteries–or at least cozy mysteries–have: justice will be served.

Like romances, the route at which you arrive at justice can take many forms. I can recall reading an old Ellery Queen novel once in which Ellery figured out who the killer was, but for various reasons, couldn’t go forward with the conviction. At the time, the ending enraged me so much, I threw the book across the room. As a much older and wiser person, I can see the ending made sense, and that the authors had not broken their contract with me, the way I thought they did when I read the story.

It was the frustration of my expectations that angered me so much when I read that story.

The contract should be sacred in my book.

In a mystery, you’re presented with a crime of some sort (not necessarily a murder, but that is often the case). There may be a romance as well–certainly I was more invested in Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigations when they included Harriet Vane–but the romance isn’t central to the story. The central story is the puzzle, the “whodunnit”, behind the shady activity. A mystery writer should make all the clues available to the reader as well, not holding back vital information that the sleuth has access to but the reader does not. It’s part of the deal: providing enough information for the reader to connect the dots while hopefully obscuring the solution until the very end. 

The one rule of mystery? The good guys win.

I think this is why the mystery genre has its devoted following. It’s the same concept as it is with romance: you have certain expectations when you enter into the story. You picked up the story because you were in the mood for something specific. Perhaps you chose a romance because needed to hear that love conquers all. Or perhaps you went with a mystery because you needed to believe that crooked bad guys would someday get their comeuppance.

When I choose to read genre fiction, I do so because I want a certain kind of story with expectations of it ending in a certain way. Let me tell you, with the stresses I’ve been under the past few years, I select my entertainment carefully these days. I don’t read as much sci-fi as I used to because the storylines are often darker and less likely to end well. Am I coddling myself a bit right now? You bet. At some point, when life doesn’t hurt so much, when my mental health is more stable, I’m sure I will go back to stories and movies with darker themes.

While I fully believe there’s a place for having your beliefs challenged, or your insight expanded, I think that can still be done within the confines of a contract if you’re writing genre fiction. Not writing genre fiction? The sky’s the limit! Torture your protagonists! Throw them off a cliff. Let the bad guys win.

But call it something other than romance if your story ends in sorrow, and something other than mystery if the murder is never solved. Your readers will thank you.

Ooops! I Accidentally Published a Book!

You may have heard that owing to a blunder on my part while trying to upload my first cozy mystery for pre-order, I accidentally launched it instead!

My mistake is your gift, however! An Embarrassment of Itches, (Ginny Reese Mysteries Book 1) is now available for only 99 cents and also on Kindle Unlimited for a limited time.

Ginny Reese returned home to her “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small town” of Greenbrier, VA to help take care of her dying father. She’s used to seeing her share of the weird and wacky as a house-call vet, but nothing in her experience has prepared her for finding the dead body of a client floating in her pool. When she’s named the deceased’s heir, Ginny becomes the number one suspect–and must prove her innocence to the newly elected sheriff–who just happens to be her old high school boyfriend.

At least she can rely on her trusty German Shepherd, Remington!

Creating a new pen name posed some challenges for me, and I’m currently in the process of rebranding the site. My Twitter and Instagram accounts will share both information from McKenna Dean and M.K. Dean, as will my newsletter, but if you’d like to follow M.K. Dean on Amazon, Goodreads, M.K’s Facebook page, and BookBub, here are the links.

I would appreciate any follows–my new pages are so empty! ๐Ÿ™‚