posted by Leann Sweeney
Disclaimer: Serious and sefl-absorbed post by someone who prefers to remain essentially neither non-serious nor self-absorbed.
I recently had one of my books, A Wedding to Die For, discussed on a cozy list for two weeks as the "read of the month" for June. I must admit I was a little scared having my work examined that closely and yet I wanted to hear what the readers said as they experienced the book day by day. A critique group is one thing, but these people were not concerned with dangling particles or lack of tension or sense of place. That's writer stuff. No, they were asking the questions I, as a mystery writer, ask myself as I create a story. They were looking for the clues, wondering whether certain developments were red herrings, they were commenting on what made them laugh, what made them think, which characters they liked and who they suspected of being evil.
This was very different than anything I'd ever experienced while learning my craft. I've had my Amazon and professional reviews, but what happened on Cozyarmchair was a genuine dissection. And I loved every minute. These readers weren't shy about telling me where I went wrong and what I got right. And boy, it's hard to fool these women. They know their mysteries and they know story structure. The choice of this particular book was excellent for me as I got to revisit how I created this story. The first in the series had been rewritten a hundred times as I sought a publisher, but after I got that contract, I was expected to have a completely new book done in six months--and not one of the two others I'd already created for the series. Those were toast. They sit on the proverbial computer shelf to this day. Since I was in the middle of both my kids getting married, I decided a wedding had to be at the center of the crime. After all, I'd done the research! I have saved every question and answer from the group discussion because I am starting a new book now and it's fantastic that I will have this deconstruction to turn to when I get stuck--as I always do.
Coincidentally, another cozy discussion list is starting my latest release, Shoot From the Lip, next week. This time I will be asking the questions. Another great opportunity. Since this was my most researched book ever, I will be interested to see how well this one worked and of course, what didn't work, what didn't feel real enough. My worst fear is that at some point I have pulled a reader out of story because of some giant information dump. That's writer's talk, too. In my critique group we just write AYWK on the draft to point out that giant red flag. AYWKs must be fixed--immediately if not sooner. It stands for "As You Well Know ..." You've all read scenes where two characters have ridiculous dialogue. It goes something like this: Character One says, "Jack, as CEO, you have access to all the files and you know we have to do something fast or we'll be in trouble. And Jack replies, "Yes and the files are so damaging and we could both go to jail." See? The words AS YOU WELL KNOW may not be on the page but they are all OVER the page.
But a remark about this book made by a reviewer--and I learn from my reviews, too--still stings and I hope to get to some redemption for myself as the words, "not meaningful or thought-provoking" still stick like an old bandaid that I can't seen to peel it off without leaving a icky, sticky mess. I want to clean off the gunk and move on. So it's nice I get to ask people the questions this time, the questions I pondered while writing Shoot From the Lip that made me think long and hard about our culture and what we value. If that isn't thought provoking, I didn't do my job.