Category Archives: Rules

Docendo Discimus: We Learn by Teaching by Katy Lee

Salve, it’s me, Katy Lee, and today I’m practicing my Latin on you. My kids think it’s only fair if they have to learn it, then so should I. But I have to say even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be a good teacher for them if I didn’t learn right along beside them. How would I inspire them when they struggled? How could I help them if I, myself didn’t understand? The truth is I couldn’t.

Home educating my children was not something I entered into lightly. I knew it would be a commitment that would stake claim to the nume unus place in my life. Their education isn’t something to let slide like the laundry. They are depending on me for their preparation into the world. They are counting on me for the knowledge needed to make good decisions in regards to their lives.

So…Quo vadis? Where am I going with this? What would happen if I provided them with untruths? Facts made up because I was too lazy to do the research.

I might be able to get away with it for a little while, but honestly, my daughter would take so much delight in proving me wrong that in the end I would be the one with ovum on my face. (That’s an egg, BTW) And I know she’s not the only one. This world is full of people itching to catch someone in an untruth.

As writers we cannot be caught flubbing it. (Sorry, I couldn’t find the Latin word for flubbing) The fact is we need to do the research. We need to take our commitment in teaching the reader seriously. Because isn’t that what a writer is? A magister, or magistra in my feminine case?

Writers are teachers. Whether your main character in your story is a medical examiner or a horse trainer, whether your story carries a moral or aims only to entertain you still have research to do for your reader to get a full understanding. For your reader to learn something. And I can guarantee there will be at least one reader out there itching to catch you in a flub.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be an expert on something before you can write about it. But you have to be willing to invest the time needed to become the go-to person on a particular subject. That means shadowing a professional or interviewing experienced people in your field of interest. Get it from the horse’s mouth. (equus for all you Latin lovers.) The internet is great, and you can get a wealth of knowledge from it, but firsthand experience will be best if you can find it. No one can catch you in a flub if it’s the truth.

The Unlocked Secret: Vincit omnia veritas. Truth conquers all. When your work is backed by truth, you are golden. And not only that, but you, yourself, will be smarter for it because if you can teach it, you know you’ve learned it.

Question: What are your favorite ways to get your facts straight? Who have you had the pleasure of interviewing, and what did you learn?

Voila tout! That’s all!

Let’s Cozy Up

Hey, everybody! Suze here, writing to you on a beautiful fall day. Hope you’re enjoying it!

When people ask me what kind of stories I write, I tell them cozy mysteries. (I have a needs-revision contemporary romance too, and a long-way-down-the-road literary novel or two I’d like to tackle, but the mysteries are what I’m focusing on now). More often than not, I get a blank stare in return, followed by: “What’s a cozy mystery?” So today, I thought I’d try to solve that puzzle for you. I’m pretty sure you already know a cozy when you see one, but you just didn’t have a name for it. Remember Murder She Wrote? How about Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple? And of course, Nancy Drew.

There is no one definition or set of rules for this mystery subgenre, but here’s my take:

  • The heroine (and it’s nearly always a heroine, not a hero) is an amateur who, for whatever reason (bad luck, nosiness) gets involved in a crime. This means she’s not a private detective or working in law enforcement. If she gets paid to find a killer, it’s not a cozy.
  • The heroine is single, usually childless or with children grown and out of the nest, at least at the beginning of the series. There are exceptions (Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Schultz books come to mind), but in general the heroine starts out on her own.
  • The heroine has some interesting occupation that the reader can either identify with or learn more about. Goldy Schultz is a caterer. Lucy Burdette’s Hayley Snow is a food critic. Rosemary Harris’s Paula Holliday is a gardener. Sheila Connolly’s Meg Corey owns a New England apple orchard. Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen owns a cookie shop. There are series about tea shops, knitting/yarn stores, cheese sellers, soapmakers, writers — the list goes on and on. There are also some paranormal variations. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books started out cozy-like. Heather Blake’s Wishcraft series is about a witch.
  • The stories are often accompanied by recipes or craft patterns/instructions.
  • Setting is extremely important. Cozies are always set in small towns, and as a series develops over time, the reader feels as though they know the village and its inhabitants intimately. You might not want to actually move there, since as an outsider your chances of getting bumped off are pretty good.
  • Close to the beginning of the book, a murder occurs, either of a townsperson, or a stranger.
  • The murder happens off-stage. This is crucial. In a cozy we do not see the murder happen. Our sleuth can, and often does, find the body, but that body is already dead (or dying, but in any event it is too late). There can be some on-camera violence, but it is not graphic (no heads exploding in a shower of bone and blood), and it’s usually done in self-defense.
  • Likewise, sex happens off-stage. People do it in cozies all the time — we just don’t get to, um, experience it.
  • There is often a love interest, but the relationship develops over the course of several books and may never actually end in marriage or an HEA. (Big difference here, between romances and mysteries)
  • As for the mystery itself, there are several suspects, each of whom has a credible motive for wanting the victim dead. It’s up to the sleuth, and the reader, to figure out whodunnit.

What about you? Do you like cozies? What’s your favorite series, either on television or in books? Know of an occupation or hobby that would make a good cozy?

E-mail overload…or etiquette?

It’s a lovely Tuesday here in the Berkshires with a billion leaves in full splendor. They’re turning and falling far too quickly, however. I spent the weekend in Vermont with family—a much needed break from my writing routine before jumping into Book Two of The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, called WESTERN DESERT. I would have liked to spend every minute enjoying the company and truly getting away from my work, but the truth is, I brought my computer and sacrificed some time with my siblings and the falling leaves to answer e-mails and stay on top of my blog tour. If I hadn’t, I would have come home today to a thousand e-mails and a to-do list that would take me into the wee hours of the morning to catch up on. You think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a look…

I belong to several writer’s loops, without which I would not be where I am, or be able to do what I do. I love my writing buddies! There is no doubt that networking is essential to this business and that none of us can do it all alone. As part of various writing loops, I have a certain responsibility to participate, reciprocate, and respond helpfully whenever possible. In these digital days, it’s easier than ever to connect with peers, find support, and work together to help each other succeed. I’m happy to do it, and I budget a considerable amount of time to keeping current—a worthwhile investment, in my opinion.

Some of these loops have strict rules about promotion and participation etiquette. Certain days are allotted for such things as “liking” FB pages, Amazon Author pages, and adding “likes” and “tags” to books. Some groups have no promo or only promo on certain days. Other loops allow promotion of blog appearances and will help “tweet” the word. There are groups that are for information only, and I love them for the invaluable industry scoop that everyone shares. The moderators who keep these groups on task and call us out when we go astray are amazing—giving freely of their time to make this all possible and keep some semblance of order to the chaos. As much of a rebel as I can be, I am happy for the rules because with so many participants (over a thousand in some groups), it can become a bit…well…unruly. 

Although the rules are slightly different for each group, there are some common etiquette tips that are good to know and sometimes ignored due to the fact that we are all insanely busy, and we often drop a few of the many balls we are juggling. I know I do. This post came about because of a few of my unintentional faux pas. Here’s my list of etiquette guidelines that I try to follow, but that have slipped through my fingers more than once. Lord knows that if we could all follow these tips it would certainly save me, personally, about half of the 400 e-mails a day that I have to go through to find the 100 I need to pay attention to. I’d bet I’m not the only one.

1) Trim your posts– This means that you keep enough of the previous poster’s message to give the gist of the content, but trim or delete anything that isn’t pertinent. People on “digest” have to search through every lengthy posting before they get to the final message. This is one of the reasons I’m not on digest. I would be tempted to delete threads without looking at them at all, and would miss a lot of important information. Therefore, I continue to receive individual e-mails.

2) Respond privately to CONGRATULATE, or otherwise personally support another writer. I know we all get excited when someone signs a contract, has a new release, or celebrates an amazing milestone, but I’m sure I’m not alone in my e-mail overload plight where thirty responses to congratulate someone come blasting through my Outlook in-box…ten times a day. I’ve got my e-mail set up so I can get a glimpse of the subject and weed through comments quickly, but multiply the thirty by five different loops, thousands of daily participants, and lots of amazing successes flying through our groups, and it becomes a tad overwhelming. So instead of hitting “reply,” look at the bottom of the page and click on “reply to sender” whenever possible. This is not a hard and fast rule and some people might not agree, perhaps thinking that “congrats” are meant to be shared with the group, but I think public encouragement ends up being more about the sender than the receiver–intentionally, or unintentionally. I’d love to hear the argument for and against this.

3) Check your links-My bad! I did this today. I was at my brother’s, on vacation, and obviously distracted. I requested some “tweet” love from some of my writing loops and figured out about twenty minutes later that I had put an incorrect link in the tweet. Tell me this hasn’t happened to you? Six of my very busy writer pals had graciously tweeted my incorrect link to a few thousand of their followers before I went back and made the correction. Efficient, aren’t they? It’s a waste of their time and makes it appear that I am unprofessional, and therefore reflects poorly on them as well. As a courtesy, I will do my best to check my links in the future before I send information out to my groups. Accept my apologies, gang. 

4) Saying “Thank you”- This one is tricky. Do we say “thanks” to every individual who tweets or re-tweets one of our messages? Should we do it publicly or privately? Do we thank every person who “shares” our FB posts? Is it okay to just respond to the group as a whole or is it clogging up the loops to do so? This one is tough and I’d love to hear what you all think about what the proper etiquette is to show appreciation for all that our writer buddies do for us without clogging the loops and over-running everyone with e-mails saying “thanks” or “congratulations?” One idea that a friend on one of my loops had was that re-tweeting or sharing one of their posts was a good way to thank someone. I tend to agree. 
What do you think? Any other etiquette tips you’d like to share? How many e-mails do you get in a day, and how do you manage them?

Everything You Never Thought You Needed

Greetings, Scribe friends, Suze here.  Did everyone get their taxes finished and out the door, either electronically or via the good ole Postal Service of the U.S. of A.? Here’s hoping you got a big refund. And when it arrives, or if it’s burning a hole in your pocket already, I’ve got a suggestion how you can spend some of it.

Come back after the flea market closes, and you can have dinner and see a couple of movies!

I’m talking about the flea market. Do you have one nearby? There are a couple not too far from my home, and Mr. Suze and our son visited one last weekend. This one has the advantage of being on the grounds of one of the only drive-in movie theaters left in New England.  (Check out Mansfield Drive-In here.)  So here are my top reasons for loving flea markets:

1.    You can find everything you never thought you needed. Where else can you find a banjo (Son wanted this, but at $350 decided against it), depression glass, knockoff designer purses (I was tempted on some of these), or this stunning planter:


Wouldn't this look great on the antique plant stand in the foyer?


2. You’re supporting small enterprise. Some vendors actually buy up other people’s unwanted stuff, clean it (sometimes!), pack and transport it, then set it up in a jumble on on their tables or on tarps on the ground, all for your viewing and purchasing pleasure.

3. You’re assisting someone else with her fung shui. Clearing clutter is good for increasing your energy and creativity. That person who is getting rid of unwanted items may now go on to achieve her dreams, all because you bought her barely used George Foreman grill for $5.00 (haggled down from $8.00).

4.  You can observe people for hours, getting necessary fodder to store away in your idea silo. This is one of my favorite things about the flea market. See that woman in the sunglasses and floppy-brimmed hat? Is she the careful, cautious type who wears her sunscreen without fail, exercises and eats right, calls her mother every Saturday morning, and is about to meet the man who will change her life forever? Or is she a spy-gone-rogue, on the run from a secret government organization, and the only thing that can save her is the long-lost information hidden in that dusty trout mounted on a varnished wooden board?

Now, you do have to be careful at places like this. It’s very easy to go overboard and come home with a lot of stuff that will actually make your life worse (see #3, above). Over the years I’ve developed some rules about what I can buy. If it’s just one more thing to store or dust, no. If it is a piece of my discontinued wedding china pattern (Mikasa Imperial Rose — anybody got some cheap?), yes.  I really have to keep my love of a bargain in check, and I have a weakness for antique dishes, vintage costume jewelry, and of course books, books, books.

That's a big TBR pile!

On this latest trip to the flea market, nothing fit my criteria. So I bought nothing. Mr. Suze bought a fold-up fishing chair and a reel for an 8mm film projector (the old projector, we already have). Teenage son bought a hot dog.

How about you? Love flea markets or tag sales (in other parts of the country you might call them yard or garage sales)? What items can’t you resist? What’s the most unusual item you’ve seen at one?

The Oscars — a Confession

Hi, everybody. Happy National Pig Day! (click here to learn more about this fascinating holiday) . Suze here on a fine and snowy Thursday in New England. Hope you’re all warm and comfy, wherever you are.

So — did you watch the Oscars last weekend? I’ll let you in on a little secret. I can never sit all the way through them. I always have to work the next day and, trust me, I’m not the friendliest puppy in the pet shop if I don’t get enough sleep.  So I just wait for the recaps the next day. Is that bad?

Let it happen, Cap’n!

I’m never all that interested in the winners, either. If Meryl Streep doesn’t win every year, she should, that’s a given. Who’s that French guy, the best actor? Didn’t see the The Artist, never heard of the actor. I read The Help  but still haven’t seen the movie. Christopher Plummer? Well, I’m happy for him, but I prefer to remember him as Captain von Trapp singing Edelweiss or dancing with Fraulein Maria in a moonlit garden.

What I really love are the gowns. Who was best dressed? Who was worst? I used to do quite a bit of sewing (before it got to be more expensive to make your own clothes than to buy them ready-made), and I still occasionally drag out the sewing machine if I want new curtains or throw pillows, so I know a bit about how gowns are constructed. Let me just tell you that there is a reason couture gowns are so expensive. There are hours and hours and hours of painstaking work that go into them.

I’m always amazed at how the designers make each gown unique. You’d think there would be only so many combinations out there: Start with your choice of strapless, spaghetti straps, cap sleeves, elbow-length sleeves, three-quarter sleeves, or long sleeves. Add a jewel neckline, sweetheart, or plunging vee.  Choose a peplum or no peplum (that’s the extra, longish ruffle that sits at the top of the hip — see Michelle Williams’s dress this year for that detail). Choose a fitted or full skirt, and skirt length (short, at the knee, tea length, or to the floor).

That’s pretty much it, right? Well, no. That’s only the framework. Leave out any of these items, and you don’t have a complete gown.  In fact, you’ve probably got a pretty serious wardrobe malfunction.  But once the basic choices are made, the artistry comes into play. The selection of a fabric or fabrics, the addition of embellishments such as beading or sequins, the way a gown is fitted to the individual wearer — it’s these details that make each creation unique.

Writing is a lot like that. All stories have a basic framework. But if you gave the same set of characters and circumstances to two different authors, each would come up with a completely different tale (now that I think of it, that might be fun!). That’s because each author brings her own beads and sequins and feathers to snazz up her own story.  How much fun is that? The sparklier, the better, I say.

Now, because I know you’re all just dying to know my opinions, here are a few of my Oscars fashion hits and misses. Click here to take another look.

1. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt — You’re both stunningly gorgeous, but what’s with Angie’s slutty pose?  Perhaps a few remedial lessons at a charm school would help. And Brad’s overgrown, shapeless hair borders on creepy – Get thee to a stylist immediately. Sorry, but thumbs down.

2.  Meryl Streep — Some people didn’t like the shiny bronze gown, and this made a lot of worst-dressed lists. Personally, I liked it, even though the top didn’t seem to be fitted properly.  Thumbs up.

3.  Octavia Spencer — I loved your simple gown, I loved your womanly curves, and I loved that you were so excited about your win. Thumbs up.

4.  Jennifer Lopez — You are also stunningly gorgeous, but why do you insist on such painful-looking, severe buns on the top of your beautiful head? And why do you so often choose gowns that look as though they weren’t quite finished? Or did a bodice-button pop off and roll under the limousine just before you were to go into the theater, with nary a safety pin to be found to hold the whole hot mess of a dress together? Whether or not there was nip-slip, or it really was just a shadow, this look was not daring or edgy. It was just distracting, like a twisted car wreck on the side of the road. Thumbs down.

5.  Gwyneth Paltrow — If her dress were gray, Gwyneth would look like an undernourished German prison matron. It’s both strange and severe. I might have liked it better if it had some color, or if Gwyneth had chosen a less awful hairdo. Although I dig the extra-large jeweled cuff bracelet, the overall look is a Thumbs Down.


Drum roll, please … my top pick …

6. Viola Davis— I absolutely adore this stunning green gown. I love the color, I love the style, I love the unusually funky earrings, and I love that Viola flaunted her hair in that cute, coppery style.  Way to rock your natural assets, Vi. Definitely thumbs up!

Your turn. What’s your favorite part of the Oscars? Which gown did you like best? Which did you hate?