Friday, June 9, 2017

ARIADNE'S WEB

I've changed directions because I got hopelessly bogged down in the YA non-fantasy I have been working on. Everyone says what they want to read is a sequel to MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS. So I already had the opening, and now I've got five chapters of it and a good idea what's going to happen. I think I am finally in a good place to write (the depression is still here but not as heavy, and I've gotten the cataracts fixed).

Here's the opening.

Porpoises have sonar. RuPaul has gaydar. My sister Zoë has Zodar.

"Something's about to happen." Zoë handed me one of the Pink Thing ice cream treats she'd just bought. Who'd have thought a thirty-two-year-old would be hooked on a kiddie treat? But she loves them, and I often suspect we seek out roadside carnivals just to find them. Sometimes I eat one to be nice.

"Please. Not in the mood. We're here to have fun." Standing in the midst of the crowd on the parking lot of the old east Renner mall with the music from the carousel drowning out the screams of the teens on the Barf-a-Whirl was no place hear predictions of doom and gloom. "Let's ride something. How about that?" I pointed at The Spyder, a large and menacing-looking contraption in which each car spun horizontally as the spider's arms rotated vertically, just to irritate her.

"I do not ride things that go around and around." She glared at me under the Spyder's flashing colored lights. "I like to keep the contents of my stomach from reversing back up. But mark my words. Something's afoot. Something not good."

On cue, my cell phone trilled.

She frowned. "Did you forward your stupid work phone again?"

I peeked at the Caller ID. Unavailable. "I had to. Remember, I cover evenings on Tuesdays."

She waved me away. "They won't be able to hear you."

I stepped under the awning of a cotton candy vendor where it was somewhat quieter, plugged my free ear with one finger, and picked up. "Aqualife Tech Support, The Fishes' Lifeline. This is Ari French. How may I help you?" I recited mindlessly.

"Yes," said a strained voice. "Are you"--the voice consulted a rustling page--"um, Arnelle. . . ."

The voice trailed off, unsure, as most do when they encounter my full name. I go by Ari, but it's actually Ariadne, pronounced "R. E. Oddney" and straight out of Greek mythology.

"Ariadne Diane French?" I prompted.

"Yes. The niece of Agatha Suzette French of Pacific Grove, California?"

A spider eight-footed its way up my backbone. "I am, at least one of them, I mean."

"I'm sorry to have to be the bearer of ill tidings." The voice went on for a minute or so, but I could barely comprehend it. When it quieted, I thanked it and poked at the screen to terminate the call.

Zoe wandered back over to me as the teens on the parachute ride shrieked in freefall. "What?" She eyed my Pink Thing, now dripping all over my hand.

I handed her my melting treat, not having taken a single lick. "Aunt Suzette. She's dead."

~~~

"She had a good run." Zoë tipped back her bottle of Bubble Tea and drained it before settling back into one of her rattan dinette chairs. "You know Mother's family doesn't make it far past seventy. Eighty, max."

"But sixty-eight. That's still young." I looked down at the information the voice had given me. "It doesn't make any sense that she'd have an aneurysm. It runs in families, but not in Mother's. I can't accept it."

"This person gave you the date and time for the service?" She stood, apparently unable to stop pacing for long. My legs were too heavy to walk around just now.

I nodded. "Auntie had a pre-arranged plan. Her sisters in Eastern Star are taking care of a lot of the other things."

"I don't know why they called YOU when Suzette is my middle name." Her lower lip threatened to push out.

"They got my number somehow. I don’t know. Maybe off her cell phone. I call every year on her birthday and at Christmas."

Before she could look up sharply at me (I wasn't implying she should be doing the same, merely explaining), I add, "Someone has to keep the family in touch because you know Mother certainly won't."

"You know they won't go."

Meaning our parents.

"Probably won't even send a 'floral tribute.'" My sister put the phrase into air quotes.

"I know." Mother had been estranged from her sister for years after a nasty fight over our grandparents' estate. It had been worse because of that crazy extremist church they'd joined soon after. They weren't as devout about it now as they had been back when Zoë was sixteen and pregnant and they threw her out of the house to survive on her wits, but they hadn't gone back to mend any fences or un-burn any bridges or whatever it was, either. "I kind of want to go anyway. I want to pack up Auntie's photographs and family stuff that I know she'll still have. There's nobody else who'll care, but I don't want to see her and Mama's baby pictures hit a flea market. And just to see her house again. I love that area so much."

Zoë held up both palms. "We know, we know. The world has heard it over and over every day."

"Maybe not every day."

"Trust me, we know that the Pacific Grove area is beloved of monarch butterflies, sea lions, and my sister." Zoe hit her freezer and took something out, then loaded it into her microwave. She and I both have this comfort eating thing, but I haven't settled into being zaftig yet, or at least not as zaftig as she is. After all these years I'm still stuck with the fifteen pounds I gained as a freshman at Southern Methodist University, but men seem to like me with a bit of pinchable flesh on my hips, go figure.

Zoë calls herself "statuesque" or "Rubenesque." She's not only two years older than I am at thirty-and-a-half, but also three inches taller and quite a bit wider. No one will ever hear me say that aloud.

Her hair isn't naturally red, either, but a sort of chestnut with auburn highlights like mine. You can bet your bippie nobody'll ever say THAT aloud, either.

The microwave buzzed, and she handed me a Twinkie. She buys them in bulk when they're on sale., then freezes them. When she wants a snack, she microwaves a Twinkie and garnishes it with chocolate syrup out of a bottle. I sometimes eat one to be nice.

"God, I hope she didn't have some smarmy Holy Joe in her church that we have to deal with like we did with Aaron." Zoë rolled her eyes. Privately I think she had sort of a crush on Gil, Aaron's neighbor and pastor who led us through the circumstances of Aaron's death. But of course she'd rather have her toenails pulled off by a team of rabid pit bulls than admit to it.

"No, like I say, the Eastern Star ladies are doing most of the stuff. I don't think you have to worry."

"Maybe we should just send a nice floral tribute."

"We have a moral obligation to go as the representatives of the family. And the butterflies will be returning to Pacific Grove next month."

"Who can afford to lollygag around out there for a month?" She could, that's who. Me, that's a different story. "You can get a color postcard from the Chamber of Commerce." She squirted the chocolate syrup on a plate. "I found out it's better to dip the Twinkies so they don't get soggy."

I made a noncommittal noise. She was just making the requisite protest. I waited. Zoe adjusted her half-moon reading glasses (she's far too vain to admit she needs them, so she won't wear bifocals, just gets Wally World cheapies with purple frames) and looked down at the folded newspaper in front of her. She does the crossword puzzle every day. In ink, naturally.

Today she had filled in less than a third of the blanks.

She pointed her Twinkie at me. "Of course you understand I will not fly." She'd made an exception for me when my ex-fiance Aaron died last year, and she never let me forget it.

"It's only a three-day road trip from here. We'll get to drive all the way across Texas"--Renner is one of the northern suburbs of Dallas--"and New Mexico and Arizona as well as California." I made my voice happy. "We need a road trip."

Her glasses slipped a few millimeters down her nose. "We can't afford that. My old Mercedes would never make it."

"We can take the Navigator."

"You still making those payments?"

"Well . . . mostly." I had "inherited" Aaron's Lincoln Navigator along with the payments. They were a little steep. I might be behind one or two months.

"Get real, Airhead. You're going to get a call to surrender that any day."

"They're working with me. I might be able to catch it up." Unspoken between us was, "If she left me any money."

Zoë shook her head. "Forget it. Auntie always said she'd be leaving her entire estate to the Cat Rescue Crew of Greater Carmel. I believe her."

"Well, maybe. Let's wait and see." I searched my denim hobo bag for a scrunchie and pulled my long hair back into a ponytail. "That's not why I want to go, though."

"I know."

Aunt Agatha had been the only family member who was willing to help Zoë and shelter her until Ricky was born. She'd paid for Zoë's plane ticket to Pacific Grove and then another to get her and the baby back here and settled. She even helped her get work at a day care center here in Renner through a lady in the Eastern Star who'd moved here when California became too expensive for her on her retirement income. Zoë had made good on her own and now she was the owner of two day care emporiums nearby. She checked on them now and then, but she had others to manage them. She didn't like to go inside because since Ricky died she gets sort of sick whenever she sees little kids, especially six-year-old boys for some reason. If Ricky had survived the leukemia, he would have turned fourteen last month.

She squinted. "You going to eat that Twinkie?"

I handed it to her. ~~~ This is going pretty well. Yay?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Change of pace for a moment

For a change of pace, let's see how many of these questions people know the correct answers to.

How many branches of government are there?
How many members are there in the House and Senate?
Who’s third in line for the presidency?
Describe the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
What are the term limits for the American president and the representatives/senators?


You probably had an easy time of the first. Executive, legislative, and judicial. There are checks and balances built into the way these three branches function so that we have a fairly level system.

Easy answer on the Senate--fifty states, two Senators each, so 100 Senate members. The House is tougher. The number of voting representatives in the House is fixed by law at no more than 435, proportionally representing the population of the fifty states.

The line of succession is President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tem of the Senate, Secretary of State. If we ever had to go further than that, we'd be in BIG TROUBLE. (LOL)

The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, while we declared our independence with the other document. Do you know the Preamble to the Constitution? We used to have to memorize it in seventh grade.

The President now has a limit of two terms (after it appeared that FDR could serve forever.) Congresscritters have no term limits and can return over and over. There's a movement afoot to slap term limits on them, as well. Now, why did the Founding Fathers not put limits on them? They had NO IDEA there would ever be such a thing as a career politician! To them, it made sense that someone would put himself out there for a few years and serve the country, and then return to his huge land holdings to manage his business affairs. They couldn't have envisioned the way it works today.

How do you feel about the Electoral College? Never mind . . . don't need a flamewar. LOL

Friday, August 19, 2016

Two series/serieses--why? Why not?

On FB, we were discussing whether or not to do character sheets/character questionnaires. I don't do this, because the one time I did for a class, I lost all motivation and interest in writing about the character. I would be the person who put all those details in instead of only the ones that were needed. I do keep a file with significant information, such as hair/eye color, occupation, and that sort of thing for each character. I sometimes need to know who knows Morse code or whatever without searching the file.

But once I realized I was writing two mystery series, both with thirtyish female amateur sleuths, I opened a file called "Jac vs Ari." Jacquidon's book is in intimate third person; Ari's story is first person. Jacquidon is the college grad who had such great career opportunities, Ari the loner who had a distant mother and an admired elder sister who got into trouble young. Jacquidon is the elder sister to Chantal; Ari is the younger sister to Zoe. Zoe had a child who died last year; Chantal is single and has a boyfriend who never comes on the scene in person but is a comic relief figure who has often JUST called and is often invoked or quoted or has given Chantal some piece of the puzzle somehow (or sent just the right tool to use to fix something)--this is used for comic effect as well as to advance the plot. He's like Mrs. Columbo--remember, we never saw her int he original series, but he was always saying, "MY wife--she thought of this, and I wanted to ask...."

That kind of thing. But the reason for that file was so that I could show others that they weren't at all alike and that I couldn't possibly "just make both books about the same sleuth" for the sake of having one series. The books are rooted in the world known to each character and what happens/plausibly occurs to her.

Jac's books are light, funny, witty, Snoop Sisters-type, like the Anne George novels crossed with Joan Hess (or so I fancy). Ari's stories are darker, deeper in a sense, have more emotional development and change (at the end of the first book, Ari's sister has come out of her self-imposed hermit state somewhat in the process of solving the crime, and may come back out into the world from which she retreated when her son passed.) Jac's story clues use technology/computers. Ari's are more traditional mystery clues.

So now you know. I could NOT "combine" them, no matter if that was a Penguin editor saying so. Note that Penguin has discontinued most of their cozy mystery series just a couple of weeks ago. They no longer have that hashtag on Twitter. SO they're serious about it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Plot Nuts and Bolts, Part II (Conclusion)

Last time, I talked about plot bolts--a way to keep your story's threads tied together.

Okay, now for the PLOT NUT (nope, that's not a fan who has all the plotlines in the old STAR TREK series memorized.) What I'm talking about is a "helper" for your plot bolt. It's a reaction to the plot bolt that strengthens the connection. It's the equal and opposite reaction to whatever it was that prompted the "plot bolt." And it starts an entire string of events by its very presence or existence. This is tough to explain without an example. So--

Let's take an example from my upcoming standalone traditional novel, Southern Discomfort. Let's say that Christopher and Diane (two City Council members) know that Kimberly (a shrew, and his stalker--um, I mean she has a major jones for him and intends to win his heart however she can, even through blackmail or whatever) is watching them through the surveillance camera at the spa (she got a job there as an aerobics instructor just so she could follow him when he works out, say.) Chris and Di wait for a quiet moment in the hot tub and strip, starting to make out, just when they KNOW Kimmie can't get aloose and come bursting in on them (she's stuck covering the security cameras or something while others are at lunch.) This isn't real attraction, but just X-rated implication to frustrate and torment her. Let's say that, furthermore, they are doing this while they whisper about the conspiracy working against Kim (to reveal her theft from Chris's campaign's money when she was on his staff as treasurer.)

Twist the nut on a little: Kimmie shoves in a blank DVD where there's a convenient machine and records the whole "show." Then she mails it to, um, the local TV station--these two are high-profile city council members, let's say, and are assumed not to be involved with each other because of a conflict of interest, not to mention that they are both "taken." Whoa--the plot thickens! The station manager shoves the disc into his pocket and heads off to blackmail Chris.

On the way, the station manager has a fender-bender with a little old lady (in her car, not as a pedestrian!) as he's headed for the council meeting to confront Chris. He throws off his overcoat (which lands somewhere on the hood of his car) to change her tire and then to help the man hook up the tow truck for his Ferrari (these things are expensive, you know--you can't have Just Anyone touching the axle, or whatever.) The video DVD (you saw this coming, but you were giddy for it to happen, weren't you?) slides out of his pocket onto the pavement, of course. The tow truck guy picks it up to hold it for him and forgets to give it back. Guess what is in the pocket of the tow trucker's coat when the trucker gets back to pick up his wife, who runs the city's biggest day care place . . . and the owner's bratty kids pull it out, thinking it is their Rainbow Frog video he promised to get off the Internet for them. Suddenly, on the screens of the kids' day care room, there is a suggestive picture that does not go unnoticed. . . .

As someone said, imagine those smart missiles during the Gulf war suddenly showing DEBBIE DOES DJIBOUTI. And trying to find THAT target. (Not to worry: nothing graphic is going on at the beginning of the recording, at least not YET.) It's not a pretty sight, all those caregivers and mothers screaming and dashing for the DVD player. The one who ultimately snatches the disc out is the best friend of Chris's long-time girlfriend, a woman who has long hoped to "wake up" her friend and make her dump Chris because of what she feels are his Unethical Practices. She'd love to get him off the city's power base.

Now she has the ammo!

I'd say that this item is a little more than a maguffin, perhaps a Plot Nut that holds that Plot Bolt (which was the intersection between the Kimmie-is-stalking-Christopher thread and the City-Council-Scandal thread) firmly on. It helps to make the coincidences and implausibilities in the plot seem a lot less so.

I've used this technique to connect two wildly varying plotlines, such as subplot 1, the girlfriend who wants Chris and her friend to break up (hey--possibly so that SHE can snag Chris for herself, or so she can snag her girlfriend for her homely brother Gus who is in place to console her . . .) and subplot 2, the mayoral race in which Chris hopes to be a candidate, and which would be lost for him if he were caught fooling around with Diane, who is the wife of the current mayor. (This book is part screwball comedy.) Tensions heighten and the audience squirms in delicious anticipation of the blow-up that is sure to come.

Let's try something more subtle. Henry does not talk about his family, ever. In this mystery, the prologue and some scenes from the (unnamed) murderer's POV have established that he's doing it to protect a secret in his family. Every time anyone asks about Henry's holidays, relatives, etc., he quickly deflects the question, never having to answer. (There's the plot bolt.) Everyone suspects Henry, of course. (A nice diversion.)

Late in the book, Theo (our sleuth) is at a party where the punch is spiked and also (unknown to any of the party-goers) doped with a fashionable party drug. Theo (our heroine) is the only one besides Henry (and the real killer) who does *not* drink the Mickey Finn punch, leaving her the only one to deal with the killer who drugged the punch. Naturally, she's now convinced Henry didn't drink it because he spiked it, and therefore the killer blindsides her when he takes Henry hostage. The hero arrives, and the two of them play out the final confrontation with the killer, who now has Henry as a hostage. (Here comes the plot nut.) The reason Henry never spoke of his family is because he's ashamed: his father, who's all the family he has, has been jailed for (hot checks?) drunk driving (and has dodged the bullet once with a vehicular manslaughter charge) and is an alcoholic. And that's why he didn't drink the punch: he saw the gin being surreptitiously added, and he won't touch alcohol. The suspicion (a bolt throughout the book) is answered and ties right into why he's the only other one left on his feet for the confrontation, forming a plot nut.

Naturally, MOST of the best plot bolt and nut combinations are serendipity. Usually, when you were writing the first scene, you didn't realize why you were putting in that part about the alcoholic daddy until it came time that the later scene was flowing from your fingertips. And then people ask how you come up with these tight plots. Only another writer could understand the unexpected thrill of that plot nut screwing into place!

You can, of course, plan a connection between your subplots from the very beginning. That's why the subplots are there--to enrich the main story--and thus they need to be related. If you can come up with something that really sets up conflicts between major characters, such as his being a pilot and her being totally petrified of any thought of heights or flying, so much the better. Then she'll HAVE to get in the plane with him, barfbagging it or cowering on the floor of the light plane while they do the dogfight, or whatever. Conversely, maybe she turns out to be right about heights when he realizes the plane will NOT get off the ground in the shape that it's in, and then they jump out and let the criminals steal it and crash it into the stand of trees just across the road from the airstrip.

. . . this is called "setting up your crisis early" with things that your critique group tries to get you to cut, claiming you don't need these little hints that are obviously in there only for characterization. NOT!

The heck with them, say I. Plan your plot bolts, and place them throughout your book to strengthen it.

And if you find a nut for one of them, twist it down tight!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Plot Nuts and Bolts, Pt. 1

WOW. We just went without the Internet or cable television for a week, after a storm knocked a tree down on the cables that run from the house to the pole (narrowly missing the power as well, because other trees caught the top of the falling tree just short of that), and it was tough. I went to Starbucks a couple of times with my tablet to check mail, and I used an antenna to pick up some local stations to monitor the weather, but otherwise I was without global communication (LOL). I knew that Facebook was my major social outlet (most of my close friends keep in touch that way), but I didn't realize how isolated I would feel once I couldn't check in regularly.)

The world is wired in nowadays. I needed to do LOTS of business transactions by phone, and I'd always be regaled with how much easier it would be if I'd only come into the 21st century and do it online. I explained to people, and they said to move. (LOL)

ANYWAY! Let's talk for a moment about plot nuts and bolts, something I learned about in a long-Long-ago workshop that's worthy of your attention if you want to write stories.

(The article "Plot Nuts and Bolts" by Shalanna Collins is copyright 2016. A version of this appeared years ago on the FUTURES Web magazine site, but has been offline for a while.)

You've heard people talk about teaching or learning "the nuts and bolts of writing," right? Some time ago, SF writer Michael Stackpole coined the term "plot bolt," and now I'd like to discuss the concept, along with the nut that sometimes goes with it (and I'm not talking about the writer.)

What, you may ask, is a plot bolt? Just as a bolt fastens objects together by sticking through them and "hanging them from the holes," a plot bolt extends _through_ the plot of a story and helps to hold the parts together. Plot bolts pull a story together by helping the reader to see the connections and how things "all come together as a connected whole." The role can be played by a minor character (a "foil," for you literary types) who flits between the two major characters--perhaps the nosy neighbor ? la Mrs. Kravitz on "Bewitched," or a pet bird who flies between the two houses, or a cat like Pyewacket who runs away and has to be rescued; maybe, instead, it's a "maguffin" or semi-valuable object like the Maltese Falcon. These "minor" things are not so minor, and their scenes are not mere incidents, because the items or characters keep reappearing, helping to complete the circle of the story.

In the film "Bell, Book, and Candle," the cat familiar Pyewacket goes over to the Jimmy Stewart character's house and causes him to march over to the Kim Novak character's shop to return him? The cat also causes several other events in the tale connected to reconciliations or another fight. When he runs away, the viewers know that Gillian has lost her powers from being in love. All these functions bolt the story together at places where we'd otherwise have no connections (or maybe have to rely on coincidences).

Character "business," "tics," or "tags" may also add to the wholeness of the whole. Perhaps a characteristic little bit of action like Shalanna tugging at her earlobe when she's lying can irritate Drynxnyrd at first, until he figures out that she's always fibbing (she wouldn't go further than a compassionate white lie) or telling the incomplete story when she does it, and this can reveal to the hero later that she's not telling him the whole truth about that old boyfriend of hers who shows up later. It is something that starts out as characterization, and then the reader giggles when she sees it, but later she exclaims, "Of course! I should have expected that to be useful."

In Mary Stewart's THE GABRIEL HOUNDS, the narrator always reacts to the presence of a cat, even when she can't see it. This is established in an early chapter, when a kitten spooks her. Later in the book, she realizes that another character, supposedly a relative of hers, is an impostor, because the real relative shares this reaction--but the impostor doesn't even jump when a cat walks into the room. This one's related to all the movie scenes in which a character is "passing" for another character UNTIL the dog growls or snaps at him or her, and people realize that can't be good old Harryette. . . .

A plot bolt basically ties one strand of the plot into an entirely different strand. This may be the only thing that makes the subplots related. It's the realization of the reader that the romantic subplot that's been running through the last five chapters has just crossed paths with the minding-the-store thread, and they mesh. The reader doesn't see it coming in advance, but once it's there, it's inevitable. It's the only way things *could* be. And the book is praised as "tightly plotted."

Next time, the PLOT NUT (nope, that's not a fan who has all the plotlines in the old STAR TREK series memorized) and how it ties these bolts together so we have a framework that makes sense and the reader gets a wild ride through the tale.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Musing: why is there air? (Warning: thinky)

"Why is there air?" asked Bill Cosby on an early comedy album, WONDERFULNESS.

"To fill up basketballs. To fill up pool flotation devices."

Sure! It's that simple. For the persona in Bill Cosby's early comedy album, anyway. That's the important reason that there's air! A sports reason!

But then those of us who BREATHE it say, "If you don't think breathing air is important, try not doing it for a while."

The point being that we are all prisoners of our own viewpoints, and we often react by seeing what we expect to see or what we're accustomed to seeing. Why is air important to the coach? Filling up basketballs. Why is air important to the hot-air balloonist? We've gotta have lift. Why is air important to the rest of us? *cough cough*

But anyway . . . when you're writing, your character will notice what he is inclined to notice. It's probably not the same things about the room that you, a writer, would notice. Or that you, a firefighter, would notice. Or that you, a police officer, would notice. Are there fire exits and are they marked? Is there a place someone could lurk and surprise you? You see what I mean. Always question what you are doing, in the smaller and larger senses.

People who don't question what they're doing aren't usually doing anything important.

Is what you're doing important? Is what you're writing going to be significant to other people's lives? Is it going to make them see the world in a whole new way and encourage them to change their lives accordingly?

In order to understand if what you're doing is worth it, you must question everything. Ask yourself what you're trying to do. So many writers really just want to "have written."

Why do you write? You can try to answer this--and most have tried--but you probably won't be able to come up with a pithy, quotable answer. PLEASE don't cop out with, "I can't not write," because that only means you need a creative outlet of some sort. This isn't your fault. It's like asking "Why do you want to live?" It's not that the answer is bad, but that the question is stupid.

Why do you write? Is it to tell a story? To impart some wisdom and meaning to people's lives? To play with words and string them together into a progression of interesting thoughts? To present an idea that hasn't been presented before? Is it to entertain? To make money? To explain your life or views?

These are all valid reasons. Any combination of these would be a decent explanation. But you should think about which applies to you.

Why? Because if you know what you're doing, or trying to do, you're going to have less doubt about it. You're going to have confidence. You're going to find your mission in life.

And you won't leave this world without fulfilling your eternal destiny.

Your job is to find out what it is, and then start on that path. Now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cozies being cut by major NYC mystery houses--AAAACK

I was sorry to hear of the many cozy series being dropped by the major NYC houses. The astounding part of it for me is that many series are still popular, but aren't making money for the house, so they're discontinued. Also, some of the authors won't be able to take the series elsewhere because the characters or series name/identity is owned by the publisher.

I will venture a guess as to why the industry decided to downsize them, though. I realized the other day that the last six or eight cozy mysteries I have read were VERY similar in setting/form/setup. The sleuth is a woman who runs a shop on the restored main street of a small town or resort town. (A pickling shop, a cupcake shop, a popcorn shop, a yarn shop, or whatever.) She is next door to other women who are running similar businesses. She lives above the shop or nearby. A murder takes place and she is a suspect or her best friend/neighbor is. The circle of people she interacts with is full of suspects. The shop is popular when she is not under suspicion (and the town must be full of extremely unhealthy people, for they come to the chocolate fudge shop or cupcake shop daily to fill up! I have never seen such successful small businesses! LOL) and business falls way off when she is under suspicion or suffers from rumors. The sleuth usually has an estranged hubby who would like to either get her back or sabotage her. She also has a boyfriend (sometimes two!) and probably a dog or cat who helps defend the turf. Often the detective is a love interest.

OK, I will admit that I read and enjoy them mostly BECAUSE of the mundane details. I wish I could find such a town free of economic or environmental issues in real life. The recipes, the talk of neighbors, the puzzle (not generally super-challenging, though), the lack of overt gore and extreme violence porn (most of the time), and so forth make the books a reliable bubblegum read. You usually don't have to worry about animals getting seriously hurt (although there have been exceptions) or descriptions of extreme torture porn or yuckiness (ditto). You can usually relate to the protagonist, who is "determined to make it on her own without help from the ex and despite the town turning against her."

Those old ropes do fray, however. The problem is that there's so little originality and so much similarity. You could just about exchange one book in a series for another book in a different series and track right along. It stretches credulity that the shops could all be viable in a small town--because many stores are having to go out of business in real life, and this just isn't realistic. The authors are not stretching themselves creatively and the reader is getting into a rut. I'm pretty sure that this is another reason that the genre is being downsized. We need some new tropes and different plotlines. (Yes, the caterer's food was poisoned by a baddie who wanted her put out of business as a nice side effect. Many, many times. How about something new? True, there is nothing new under the sun. That IS a difficulty.)

Sorry to sound so harsh, but maybe the abandoned authors will now stretch and go to a more traditional mystery format. A traditional mystery that is not a cozy can be set elsewhere and might have different tropes. My own MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS is a paranormal without being a zombie/vampire/witch/werewolf deal, and NICE WORK explores the seamy underside of the BDSM lifestyle (and the minds of unscrupulous people.) Different, but still mysteries with the normal mystery feel. (Who did it? Why? Justice must be done. Goodness must prevail. Love conquers all.)

Who knows--the new books could even revitalize the field. After all, we do not want another "Twilight" fad with werewolves VS zombies or something to overtake the industry . . . aack! ;) Let's see if we can turn this to our benefit. Not to say that I never want to read another cozy-knitting shop-cozy again, but perhaps it IS time for the next fad to take hold. (Just hope it isn't more zombies.)