Friday, September 19, 2014

Cozying Up to Murder

By Leslie Budewitz

When I say I write cozy mysteries, some readers light up. “My favorite kind,” they say. Others squint and tilt their heads, asking, “What’s that?”

You all know the traditional mystery—think Agatha Christie, whose mysteries feature a Belgian detective, a sharp-eyed spinster, and a dashing couple of spy-catchers. One modern incarnation is the cozy. It’s the comfort food of the mystery world, the mac & cheese. And who doesn’t love that now and again? (Or carbonara if you’re Italian, like my protagonist’s mother.) No graphic sex or violence; lots of graphic food.

Okay, so they don’t all involve food. Some involve knitting. Or librarians or booksellers, psychics or museum directors. Or the owners of haunted houses and hotels.

But no FBI agents or bomb squads—at least, not as protagonists, unless he or she is retired and running a fudge shop. (In Sheila Connolly’s Museum Mysteries, her protagonist dates an FBI agent named James Morrison. Cozy writers love to play with names.)

The setting is typically a small town—my Jewel Bay, Montana, Janet Bolin’s Elderberry Bay, Pennsylvania, or Barbara Ross’s Busman’s Harbor, Maine. (Bodies of water are not required, but they do set a certain tone.) A cozy can also be set in an urban neighborhood or community: the capital environs in Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef Mysteries, Greenwich Village in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries, or the museum world Sheila Connolly’s characters inhabit.

Regardless of the rural or urban setting, the murder is a shock that disturbs the natural order. An amateur sleuth—typically female—is drawn in by the personal nature of the crime, and uses her skills and connections to solve it.

Not everyone likes the term. Carolyn Hart, a goddess in the mystery world (and a past president of Sisters in Crime, which calls former leaders goddesses), asks, “How cozy is it to die in agony from poison, knowing your killer is among your intimates, but dying without knowledge of the culprit?” Not cozy at all—downright terrifying—but in my opinion, the term is cheekily ironic for exactly that reason.

There is an official investigation, of course, run by law enforcement. But our amateur sleuth hears and sees things the police can’t. She knows the community—she and her shop, cafĂ©, or gallery are often at its center. As a result, she may be convinced that the police are focused on the wrong person—maybe her, or someone she’s close to. She may fear they will act too quickly or fail to take seriously the clues she uncovers. They may find her helpful—or try to stop her from interfering.

Ultimately, in the cozy, both professional and amateur detectives are essential, because they serve different functions. The professionals’ job is to restore external order, through the legal system. They can’t succeed without her, despite their initial reluctance. By giving her help, she demonstrates the triumph of the individual over evil. Her involvement in righting a wrong restores balance to the community. She restores social order.

That’s what a cozy is about: community. How it’s formed, how it’s damaged, how it’s restored.

And of course, how it eats.
Leslie Budewitz is the national best-selling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, was published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Assault and Pepper, her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015. Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks &Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books), making her the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. For more tales of life in the wilds of northwest Montana, and bonus recipes, visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter. Website:   
Find her on Facebook: LeslieBudewitzAuthor

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Southern Writers Magazine's Holiday Wish Book Catalog

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director at Southern Writers Magazine

If you were like me as a kid, when the weather turned crisp, I’d keep an eye out for all the holiday catalogs that used to line our mailboxes. The "wish books" containing all the offerings anyone at any age could possibly want or need.

Southern Writers Magazine is planning something special for our November/December issue. A wish book full of book gift ideas for every reader on your holiday shopping lists. Another opportunity for authors to promote and sell their books.

Due to requests from authors, we are adding a few extra pages to our November/December magazine to help authors boost their book sales for the holidays: "A Holiday Wish Book Catalog."

The featured authors tell us their books make great presents for family and friends and they want to have them in the magazine, as a special insert.

If you would like to have more information, you can go to find out more.

Our space is limited so let us know. The November/December magazine will be going to press soon.
If you have questions, email

Everyone, authors and readers alike, catalog shopping with Southern Writers Magazine gives you an easy way to do your holiday shopping while avoiding the crowds. 

When you blow out the candle in your Halloween pumpkin and Southern Writers Magazine's November/ December issue goes live on November 1st, you will be able to access the Wish Book Holiday Catalog insert digitally at Southern Writers Magazine’s website. 

In the comfort of your own home, with your feet propped up, you can click your way through your shopping list using our digital Holiday Catalog without having to leave your cozy home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writing on the Fly

By Michael Devaney

I’m a visual writer. By that, I mean while I’m writing I see the events running through my mind’s eye as though they were happening on a movie screen. Once the show starts, all I have to do is put pen to paper and before long, I have the start of a manuscript. I call it writing on the fly. The only issue is coaxing my fingers into keeping pace with the action. For this reason, I seldom do much editing during a writing session. I reserve that function for an editing session sometime later.

Sounds simple I know, but it goes against human nature not to correct errors as we find them. It’s so hard in fact, that many writers, a number of them well known, find themselves repeatedly drawn back into the trap unable to move on from one page to the next until everything’s perfect. Problem is, when stopping to make corrections; it’s easy to lose your train of thought and stop creative flow. And that, for writers, is the kiss of death.

Writing in this “on the fly” fashion is similar to speed-reading and it’s just as productive. Instead of continually stopping to re-read the previous lines and paragraphs or focusing on every diminutive grammar rule, it’s about getting the main ideas down on paper before they escape. The syntax can always be doctored later. But, don’t get me wrong either. I’m not suggesting that you form the bad practice of plowing through your writing with total disregard for linguistic principles; only that you shouldn’t be weighed down by them in lieu of being creative.

I think that’s why I like writing so much because it’s a process. It begins with a simple idea and grows inside your imagination until you create something original. Then, after the dust settles, you go back in and sharpen what you’ve written until it’s honed to perfection. That’s where good writing becomes a work of art. It’s there that you play with the words and wrestle with the structure until you breathe life into the characters and story. When you’re finished, if you’ve done it right, your readers will be captivated and won’t be able to put it down.
Michael Devaney is the author of The Inheritance and Tragedy’s Gift. Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1967 he was educated at Mercer University where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Later studies at Kennesaw State University garnered him a Creative Writing certificate. An outdoor sports enthusiast, his articles have been published in North American Whitetail magazine and Great Deer Tales. Michael also enjoys reading, movies, football and leisure travel with family and friends. He and wife, Beverly, have two children; son, Owen, here on earth and daughter, Emaleigh, up in heaven. Please help cure childhood cancer.You can follow him at

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Authors and Apps

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

The research done by Pew says 58% of adult Americans have a smartphone and 42% of them have tablet computers. 

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research does not take policy positions.  See their website for more information:

People are using their smartphones while walking, stuck in traffic, shopping–just about anywhere they are while the tablets they use at home, sitting in a coffee shop, their office. We have two users, even though they own both.

So as an author, how does this affect you? If you have developed an app to market yourself and your books, know that people using the phones are detail conscious and pay attention to the app, as to what is on it. This has to interest them enough to drive them to your website. To buy your book.

And I must tell you, remember the clichĂ© “Try before you buy” that is very important that you have a sample on your app. People want to see a few pages…so pick pages that will be cliffhangers. That is what will get them to buy the book so they can find out what happened?

Good luck with your apps.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Moment in Writing

By M. Sakran

Click.  Waiting … waiting … wait?  Nothing.  Days pass.

Click.  Waiting … waiting … wait? Something’s there!  Is that one of them?  Yes it is!

Okay wait.  Be calm.  Take a second.  Breathe.  Okay – I’m going to open it.  Alright wait.

As a writer, you know this moment – the moment when you open your email and there is a response from a publisher to something you submitted.  It’s there.  It’s bold.  It has that look of an unopened email that just wants to be opened. 

But you’re scared aren’t you?  You want to open it.  You’ve waited for it.  You’ve check for it everyday.  But what if?  What if it’s bad news?  Another decline.  Another thank you but no.  You’ve gotten them before but you’re still nervous.  To send it out again.  To edit.  To start over.  Things would be so much better if it was accepted.

But you still can’t open it.  It’s like getting a test paper back in school and not looking at the grade.  Not knowing gives you hope.  Maybe you did pass?

You’re worried.  You wonder.  You realize that worrying doesn’t matter, that the result is already there – but you’re still worried.

So there it is.  Bold.  Unopened.  The answer.  The result.

Finally you click, and you brace yourself like getting ready to be punched in the face.  You almost squint your eyes as you try to read it without reading it.

As a writer, when you’re faced with this moment, you need to remember some things.  First, don’t worry.  As you know, worrying doesn’t matter, the result is already there.  You feeling bad isn’t going to affect the result, so don’t.  Second, take a moment.  This is important.  It’s an answer to something you’ve been waiting for.  But don’t wait too long.  Don’t take more than a moment.  Open the email.  You waiting isn’t going to turn it into an acceptance.  Third, no matter what the result, move on.  If it was declined, feel bad, maybe eat some ice cream, but move on.  Edit, try again, do something new.  If it was accepted, feel free to run around and shout (depending on the appropriateness of your surroundings).  Feel good.  Have some fun.  Make sure to follow up, and then move on.  Get to the next thing.  Do whatever else is next on your list.  Start your next project. 

So, as you’re faced with that moment, of having a result from a publisher, but not knowing what it is, take a moment - but then find out what it is.  After that, take another moment, and then move on.
M. Sakran has written a variety of items for websites and magazines. He is the author of First Try. His blog can be found at

Friday, September 12, 2014

BANG OUT OF THE GATE With Your Writing

By Craig Faustus Buck

Bang out of the gate.  Or else.

Are you one of those readers who scan the first paragraph of a book and puts it down if it doesn't grab you?  I am.  If I'm feeling ornery, I'll give the author only one line to snag me.  So, as a writer, I make a point of trying to write openings that pop in order to avoid losing those readers who are as quick to judge as I. 

A lot of writers like to set the scene before diving into a story, but most readers aren't interested in what a character feels or how a setting looks unless they're already invested in that character or wonder about that setting.  As Elmore Leonard famously advised, "Never open a book with weather." 

I write noir.  Perhaps cozy, romance or "literature" readers have more patience than my readers, but hardboiled fans want to be grabbed by the throat and hurled into a story.  One way to do this is with a twist. 

A twisted open implies right up front, that more surprises are in store.  I like that in a story. Sue Grafton used the device to launch an empire.  Here's how she opened A is for Alibi: "My name is Kinsey Milhone.  I'm a private investigator, licensed by the state of California.  I'm thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids.  The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind."

She lulls you with a straightforward description of a single-divorced detective, then smacks you awake with the unexpected.

Another opening tactic is the suggestive hook.  In the first paragraph of my first novel, Go Down Hard I use an image: "I look through the spyhole.  Gloria has a bottle of gin in her hand and a pair of cuffs hanging from her belt loop.  A deadly combination."

It's a soft open for a noir thriller, but doesn't Gloria pique your interest?   

Michael Connelly opened The Poet with a suggestive concept: "Death is my beat.  I make my living from it." 

How can you put that book down before you've satisfied your curiosity about the narrator?  Make readers wonder and you buy time to hook them on your story.

These are just two of a multitude of possible opening tactics, but I've run out of space.  Bottom line: hit 'em fast and hard and where they least expect it.
Craig Faustus Buck is an L.A.-based journalist, nonfiction book author, TV writer-producer, screenwriter, short-story writer and novelist.  Among his six nonfiction books, two were #1 NYT bestsellers.  He wrote a short film that was nominated for an Oscar.  He was one of the writers on the seminal miniseries V: The Final Battle. His first noir mystery novel, Go Down Hard, will be published May 2015 by Brash Books and was first runner up for the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville.  His indie feature, Smuggling for Gandhi, is currently in preproduction.  His novella, Psycho Logic was published May 1 by Stark Raving Group and his short story, Dead End, the novella's prequel, is a current Anthony Award nominee.
Twitter: @CFBuck

Thursday, September 11, 2014

John Grisham is a Legend in These Parts

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

John Grisham was once again visiting That Bookstore on Main Street here in Blytheville, Arkansas. Grisham had been here before with his first effort A Time to Kill. It hadn’t caught on but it was still exciting that a writer with local ties was back in our little town and was returning with his second novel The Firm.   

That Bookstore owned by Mary Gay Shipley was in a familiar area to Grisham. His grandfather had a music store on Main Street when he was a kid. Grisham was born in Jonesboro a few miles away. Grisham’s family was from the Northeast Arkansas area. Familiarity is a big seller in marketing your book and with the poor showing of his first book Grisham was expecting bigger and better things. Mary Gay had an opportunity to get an early reading and encouraged Grisham in his endeavors with his second venture out. Within weeks the book would be on the   best seller list and Grisham’s career as a writer would be launched.

Many books and much success later Grisham was invited to speak at the May 2000 Commencement of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. My daughter, Melanie was graduating with one of her many degrees (proud poppa) so I was in attendance. Grisham did two important things that night. The first was to attempt to break the record of the shortest Commencement speech in the history of the school and the second was to announce his new novel that would soon be out.

Grisham went on to explain his novel was based on their family life in Black Oak and Cockle Burr Creek area of Northeast Arkansas. This area lies between Jonesboro and Blytheville and was well known to locals. Grisham had brought with him his parents, Johnny and Wanda Grisham, and his uncle and aunt. He introduced them during his speech. It made this occasion feel like we were all among family and friends.  

In 2003 the novel Grisham spoke of, A Painted House, was made into a movie. Grisham insisted its World Premiere and all events associated with it be held at ASU. The proceeds were to go to the new ASU doctoral program for heritage studies. The Hallmark Hall of Fame made for television movie aired less than two weeks later.

Some of the reasons Grisham is a legend in these parts is of course his great talent, his worldwide fame and the attention and colorful detail he has brought to our area here in the Mid-South. Grisham’s love of these places familiar to us keeps him in our hearts and minds when we frequent them. Grisham has occasionally returned, as he did to ASU, to bring home and share the benefits of his fortune and fame. You can’t help but have a soft spot in your heart for a native son that loves his roots.