Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pet Peeves and How Mysteries Differ--Cozy version

Don't you hate it when you're watching someone do something you know you're good at, and they keep screwing it up? I mean . . . I wince when I hear the results of lack of practice at most kids' piano recitals (I'm bad! I know!), I roll my eyes when people can't add one-digit numbers when they're on game shows (yes, it's tougher when you are under the spotlight, but still), and I go crazy when writers pull a fast one. It's as if I'm Houdini watching David Copperfield (no, not the Dickens character) saw a chick in half, and it's too easy to see the false floor and the wires and pulleys. You're supposed to rise above doing it the easy way (although I don't always do that myself. Raising the bar for published authors everywhere!)

I know you have pet peeves as far as your own reading. I do wish the mystery publishing industry would get tired of some of these creaky old overused tropes and start doing other things that we can make into peeves.

My own pet peeves in mysteries include:

That depressingly "heartbroken" "dark" hero or heroine. This sleuth or amateur sleuth is taken up with thoughts of the wife/husband or fiance or spouse-and-children who were violently or suddenly taken from them and are in Heaven now. This tragedy may have happened a while ago, but the sleuth has been scarred. Not scarred enough, I might note, to avoid immediately taking up with whoever is the detective assigned to the current case! Lots of pages are filled up with how wonderful the ex was and how wonderful the new one is. This romance is typically started in the first book in the series and thus has to be featured in the next book. Man, that same detective got assigned to the other murder she stumbled across! And he is in love with her, and vice versa! Sometimes that hampers the plot a whole lot.

I don't have this situation in my books because I find it so ubiquitous in all the other series. [In the NICE WORK series] Jacquidon broke up with college beau Colin almost a year ago. They'd been cohabiting when she discovered him cheating casually. With a man. He had been dismissive of her and was ruining her self-esteem anyway ("You're not really good enough for me," "I wish I could find someone better.") So she bought her own house, knowing her job was secure over at CSD where she had a very encouraging boss. Ha! Anyhow . . . we don't dwell at all on this, and there's exactly one reference to the past romance when she is shown to be attracted to Fred Gordon and her sister urges her on. A past co-worker, David, is also attracted to her, but she has to discourage his interest while still getting the info she needs out of him.

[In the MARFA LIGHTS series] Ari had pretty much gotten over Aaron's desertion, although she kept thinking she'd surely hear from him soon, when she hears he has crossed the Veil and has left her all his worldly goods (probably because he took so much from her and used her credit cards to buy the stuff he used to travel and relocate with, promising he'd bring her to be with him once he was set up in "the wilderness.") We don't dwell on that romance. She has enough trouble discouraging Gil, the creepy preacher who was Aaron's best friend in the new location, and a few others out in Marfa where she goes to hear the reading of Aaron's will and pick up whatever documents she needs to handle the disposal of the rest of the estate. So we don't get lots of dwelling on that one. Although at the end, her sister keeps wondering whether this has all been a huge scam and Aaron has actually used them as pawns--he was always a player, and it would be just LIKE him to disappear this way if, say, he were in Witness Protection (as a result of having written that code for crypto and getting into trouble with various federal agencies and corporations) and had been relocated. After all, they never saw the "body in the box" because they were busy being pursued by the perp during the service, and it was closed casket in the first place by Aaron's dictum. So who knows whether he might show up in a future story? For now, she has to shake off the tentacles of Gil and isn't dwelling on any of it.

I hate the way readers seem to LOOOOVE those romance deals with the cop on the case--and I despise it when they complain (loudly) that I could/should have squeezed down Jacks' romantic interludes with Fred and Dave. Just because they're not cops! Everyone else gets away with it, but I get dinged. Dumb-asses. /rant

No, really. Why can't MY characters have a romantic subplot when you tolerate the romances with detectives that all the rest of 'em have? I also think that the "keep out of the investigation" stuff coming from those cops would make more of an impression on ME, were I the sleuth. And I disbelieve the leaking of info they always do when on the phone with the sleuth!

Now, really, /rant. No, really.

I agree with this author, whom I met online (and may meet in person if I win the lottery and get to attend some conferences): "I would so much rather see a fully developed marriage with all its complications, than watch the falling-apart of the bereaved detective. Some authors seem compelled at some point in their series, to put the protagonist through this dark valley. I don't know why."--Siobhan Kelly, author of the new Through A Shot Glass Darkly: A Nebraska Mystery

I think the authors feel they have to compete with all the other dark, pathetic, twisted, bereaved/deserted protagonists who can NEVER be HAPPY.

There's something to be said for a cheerful protagonist. Jacquidon Carroll is basically happy and cheerful, despite her situation (being a suspect in the murder of her boss--whom she does mourn!! That's another of my pet peeves, when NO ONE cries or mourns or feels sad when the victim is offed), and her sister Chantal is the "happy moral compass" of the stories. True, Jacquidon does get kind of messed up emotionally while she is targeted as a suspect, and the visits to the BDSM clubs really unnerve her (they're checking out leads, not just having adventures, although these are adventures). She gets emotional when she thinks about the guy she worked for (whom she liked and believed to be a good person who liked her back--up until the last week or so there) having crossed the bar, and she gets upset when one of her ex-co-workers makes it clear that he has a "thing" for her, and she certainly has times of being terrified. But she's basically not a depressive and not always thinking about someone dead or some awful thing in her past. Refreshing!

Now, I have to be a bit shamefaced in this admission: Ari French (my other sleuth) is kind of a depressive. She is so much more like ME that it isn't funny. She *does* think about her losses (her nephew, her fiance Aaron who abandoned her and then did the Big Abandonment against his will) and her sadnesses (being estranged from her cult-entangled sociopathic parents, being burned out on her former passion for software and software testing, being reduced in circumstances because of Aaron's unwise decisions and things he did to her while he was alive). She does think deeply about some of these matters, and it can get heavily philosophical. She's vulnerable to people who make her endorphins pop for a short time (in other words, she might sleep around accidentally now and then, unlike Jacks and Chantal and even her own sister Zoe, who learned that lesson the hardest way and disapproves entirely of the two-backed beast.*) She is a thinker who weighs her options. If my potential reader is not a deep thinker and is one of the majority of Americans who are impulsive and approve of the "act now, even if it's wrong" and "ask forgiveness later because it's too much of a hassle to ask permission first and risk getting a NO" attitudes, that reader may see Ari as "too thinky" to identify with. However, she's more REAL (IMHO) than many of the perfect-figure perfect-everything heroines, so I think there's an appeal to a vertical audience who will BOND with Ari and will appreciate all that she goes through as she's sleuthing, and even when she's not.

* (Did you get that reference? Did you Google it? Should the editor have stricken it from my copy with the justification that "nobody will know what you're talking about, even in context"?)

Ari can be happy, though. We see it when she's with Gil (even as creepy as Gil can be) sometimes, we see it when she's bantering with her sister, we see it in her reflections upon her time with Aaron; we even see it when she's experiencing the Marfa Lights (terrifying though they may be on her second encounter with them). She is witty. She has witty internal asides. Again, this may not be some readers' cuppa. That's fine! Not every book is for every reader. But that doesn't make it a BAD book. It just means this particular style is not for you, and that you should seek out my other series where there's less thinkin' and more doin'.

AAAAAND back to general pet peeves in mysteries.

OH WHOA IT'S A CLUE--BUT LOOK, SOMETHING SHINY! REALLY SHINY!! This is when Our Heroine finds a Real Live Clue, but we can't let her immediately grasp what it means and how important it is, because then the book would be over. So for a hundred pages or more, the reader is "carefully distracted" from whatever it was, even though someone else might mention it just to keep that "fair play" ball in play. Suddenly, about three-quarters of the way though, someone says something innocent that reminds the sleuth about this clue. Aha! Aha! AHA! Now we know what that meant!

Sometimes authors can pull this off. Many do, I'll admit. BUT the worst thing in the WORLD is when the sleuth realizes the importance of that dull paper clip--and DOESN'T SAY SO. The sleuth jumps up from breakfast yelling, "I know! I know how Bogdorp offed Manimal!" And then proceeds to make phone calls that we don't overhear and go running around to set up police officers to be lurking in the background when the perp is confronted. The perp is cornered and either pulls a gun or does a full confession. Shades of "Murder, She Wrote"! Grrr.

If you are going to do this, TELL US what it is that she/he realizes. Don't be COY. I hate COY!

Also, why do these accused people give a full confession when cornered? I'd sure be over there with, "I was in Luxembourg at the AccordionFest when this happened. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it." Especially when the only evidence Mrs. Fletcher has on me is that I plugged the wrong electric guitar into the amp. Even ONE fingerprint can be explained away if I often visited that victim's house (why couldn't I have stumbled two weeks ago over the victim's cat and caught myself on that framed needlework on the wall, and that's why my blurred print is on the glass, not because I touched it by accident while beating Aireheadina over the head with a tire iron that you still have not found?) Flimsy stuff like that would fall apart during a court trial!

Then there's the stunt that is endemic to category romance. "If You Don't Know, I'm Certainly Not Gonna Tell You." So many plots hinge on something that a character doesn't tell another character, even when it would be perfectly natural and usually obvious to tell. If they'd just TALK to each other and ask what that line MEANT, or ask for clarification, there'd be no plot, so we get to suffer through as we flip pages and moan, "Why doesn't somebody just ASK why the sweatshirt was inside-out? Why assume that it means the same as flipping the bird?" And don't talk to me about when a person sees someone with someone attractive and jumps to the conclusion that s/he is cheating, and then it turns out to be a long-lost sister or cousin or mom, or a talent scout from MGM. *gnash* JUST ASK, WHY DONCHA.

If your detective doesn't ask questions that a five-year-old would think of, readers assume you intend us to think the detective is stupid. We hate that. If he can't bring himself to ask, get a five-year-old. There is very little that a five-year-old will restrain herself from asking. "Mommy, is Tayllorr a lady or a man?"

AND . . . your heroine must save herself. You cannot have someone else accidentally open the door and rescue her. It's OK if she manages to send smoke signals to the cops, or if she manages to flash the miniblinds in an SOS pattern, or if she gets a cell phone to connect while the bad guys are discussing how to dispose of her body. She must do whatever it is that spurs the rescuers on. Or she has to kick the guy in the groin herself and RUN to the nearest police station. Make her be the HEROINE! Make her be the one who figures it all out, if you can.

PLEASE don't get me started on Too Stupid To Live. DO NOT have your heroine go to a secluded place or dark alley at midnight to get info from someone ALONE. If someone calls me with immediate sensitive info but I have to meet them in South Oak Cliff at a long-closed haunted house, I hang up. Who needs it? So should your heroine. And then she can suffer from not having the info. But I'll bet the person would pursue her to give her the info or get whatever it is he wants out of her. Ha.

And . . . So what? Who cares about my pet peeves? Do you have pet peeves? Let's hear 'em so I don't do 'em in the next book!