Monday, April 3, 2017

Cozy Mystery Week ~ Lois Winston on Can Murder Be Funny?

I've brought in some of the best cozy authors out there to share their secrets and their insights about the booming genre of Cozy Mysteries. 



Can Murder Be Funny?
by Lois Winston

People are very opinionated. It’s the nature of the beast, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I happen to prefer people with strong opinions, even if their opinions differ considerably from my own. One of my best friends is my polar opposite when it comes to politics. We simply agree to disagree on certain topics.

I came to the mystery genre via romance, where I’d previously published two books. Romance authors can be very opinionated about their genre. When some romance authors embraced women’s fiction and chick-lit back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, it created a huge uproar within Romance Writers of America, dividing authors into two camps, the purists who wanted to exclude anyone not writing traditional romance and those who were open to a broader interpretation of the genre.

When I switched from writing romance to writing mystery, I once again found myself in the middle of what apparently was an old argument. You see, I write humorous mysteries. Some people have very strong opinions against this particular sub-genre because they find nothing humorous about murder. Actually, neither do I. However, I do find that it usually helps to have a sense of humor to get through much of what life throws at you, and I try to convey that in the way my characters approach life. (I also prefer to read books that make me laugh, rather than have me constantly checking the locks on all my windows and doors!)

So when I began writing mysteries, I knew I wanted to write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries, not police procedurals, thrillers about terrorists who want to blow up cities, or dark, gritty serial killer fare. I get enough of all that reading my daily newspaper and watching the evening news.

However, I firmly believe that there’s a place and a readership for all sub-genres of mystery. Taste is very subjective, and I respect whatever someone else’s particular taste in mysteries is. If someone likes to read or write stories that scare the stuffing out of people, that’s their choice.

Me? I like to make my readers laugh, even if they’re reading about a murder investigation. That’s why when I planned my first murder, the death of the fashion editor in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun (Book One of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series), I did it with (duh!) a hot glue gun. After all, anyone can kill someone with a Glock, a kitchen knife, or a vial of arsenic, but how many killers use a glue gun?

My mystery series is also populated with a cast of zany characters. I love taking polar opposites and throwing them together to create conflict. In the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, my protagonist has a mother who believes she descends from Russian royalty and a mother-in-law who’s a staunch communist. Not only are they both living under Anastasia’s roof, they’re forced to share a bedroom. Zany characters + conflict = humor, even though it’s in the confines of a murder mystery.

The problem with writing humor, though, is that you never know if your readership will “get it.” For me, writing humor is the second hardest part of writing a mystery. The first part is creating a story where you keep your reader guessing as to the identity of the killer. As the author, I have to know who the killer is. So it’s difficult for me to be objective. Did I leave too many clues? Not enough? The worst thing in the world is to have your readers figure out whodunit by the third or fourth chapter into the book.

Humor is very subjective, though. I’ve written scenes where I’ve laughed out loud as I’ve typed, then again each time I reread the scene. However, I never know if others will find those scenes funny. So I always hold my breath, fingers crossed, waiting to hear what readers have to say. Some will laugh; some won’t. All I can hope for is that more laugh than don’t.

So you can imagine how absolutely thrilled I was when I received the following starred review from Booklist: “Winston has hit a home run with this hilarious, laugh-until-your-sides-hurt tale. Oddball characters, uproariously funny situations, and a heroine with a strong sense of irony will delight fans of Janet Evanovich, Jess Lourey, and Kathleen Bacus. May this be the first of many in Winston's Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series.”

By George, they got it!

A Stitch To Die For is the newest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. I’m currently working on the sixth full-length book in the series. At this point my readers know what to expect from me in the way of humor. My task is to live up to their expectations. With each new book I hold my breath, hoping that I’ve succeeded.

A Stitch To Die For
Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

Buy:

Anastasia Pollack’s comfortable middle-class life comes crashing down around her when her husband, Karl Marx Pollack, dies suddenly, and she discovers his well-hidden gambling addiction. Karl leaves her with two teenage sons, no savings, enormous debt, and Lucille, the communist mother-in-law from Hell. As she attempts to dig her way out of debt, Anastasia finds herself stumbling across one dead body after another, forcing her to become a reluctant amateur sleuth.



Books in the series include:
Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun
Death By Killer Mop Doll
Revenge of the Crafty Corpse
Decoupage Can Be Deadly
A Stitch To Die For
Crafty Crimes (Three Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mysteries)

When her career is outsourced to Asia, fledgling romance author and empty-nester Gracie Elliott seeks a job that will allow her time to write. However, she soon discovers no one wants to hire her. Undaunted, she starts her own business, only to discover her path to success littered with dead bodies.

Books in the series include:
Definitely Dead
Literally Dead

Bio: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” 

In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. 

Visit Lois/Emma at www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/anasleuth and onTwitter at https://twitter.com/Anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5



41 comments:

  1. I love readying humorous mysteries with zany characters! Thanks for sharing, Lois.

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  2. Thanks for stopping by, Kathleen!

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  3. Lois, I think we were separated a birth. At the very least, your take on writing mysteries, what you like to read, and being relieved and thrilled readers get you is just like mine. And yes, your books are just a hoot!

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  4. Thanks so much, Heather! I am wondering, though, how you turned out a blonde and I a bottle redhead (formerly brunette) for two people separated at birth. ;-)

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  5. Lois, I love all your posts (as in on your own blog, too!), and this one hits it out of the park, too! I also prefer light to dark and so scared I have the cops on speed dial, and your books sparkled with humor!

    Have a great week!

    Light,
    Nancy

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    1. Thanks so much, Nancy! Your comment certainly put a smile on my face.

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  6. Hi Lois, thank you for kicking off Cozy Mystery Week for us. I have a question for you, back in a jiffy.
    Hugs, L.A.

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  7. Back with the question. And congrats on Booklist’s starred review! You did nail it.

    You mention that you have to know who the killer is ahead of time, and I agree, but I’ve also heard that it’s best if you the writer discover it along the way. Thoughts on this? It’s a biggie question out there in the blog-o-sphere.

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    1. Leslie, I don't see how an author can plot a mystery and sprinkle in clues and red herrings without knowing who the killer is. I'm sure there are probably authors who can do this successfully, but I have to wonder if too many of those books where the killer turns out to be a character who barely had more than a single walk-on presence in the story fall into this category. I think that cheats the reader. Part of the allure of reading mystery is the reader trying to figure out whodunnit.

      I will say, though, that there have been times as I wrote the story that I decided a different character would be better as the killer. When this has happened, I go back and restructure the story to make sure it works with the new killer. That sometimes means major changes or minor tweaks, depending.

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  8. You are absolutely right! I watch very few crime-solving TV shows because they are so gloomy. I like "Castle" because of the humor. And, that's what I write. MEMORY, my twelfth published novel, is just out, to be followed soon by JACK SPRAT COULD. Afraid you are also right about humor being subjective. Sometimes what I intend as funny, strikes another person as insensitive. It's tricky.

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    1. Sharon, I learned a long time ago that as a writer, I'm never going to please everyone. There are people who love my books and people who don't for various reasons, humor being one of them. Everything in life is subjective. Reading taste is no different. When I first started submitting my books to editors, what one would cite as a reason for rejecting, another would cite as being what she liked most about my story!

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  9. You're so right, Lois -- humor is very hard to write but wonderful to read, so thanks for taking it on! Looking forward to more of Anastasia.

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    1. Thanks, Camille. Anastasia should be back sometime this summer if the writing muse doesn't abandon me.

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  10. Good question, Leslie. I don't always know who the killer is because I'm one of those writers who plots by the seat of her pants. I enjoy it when my characters lead me to the killer. Fortunately, I figure it out before my protagonist does.

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    1. Kathleen, I'm not a big plotter, either, but I do start with a premise. I usually write a paragraph, much like back cover copy, in which I note the victim, why the person was murdered, and a list of possible suspects. I choose my killer from that list. The others become my red herrings.

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    2. On the note of knowing the killer and plotting. I start with a suspect chart. I have who is killed and how and then I list suspects, their motive, and the red herrings, This then becomes my outline for the story. As each person and motive is revealed it moves the story along. And then the sleuth discovering the red herrings and following them fills in the story.

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  11. Way back when I was in college (Creative Writing major), I remember a TA telling us not that murder is funny, but that dead bodies are. Or at least can be. I think of Twain's The Invalid's Story in which two men on a train mistake a gunbox and a piece of cheese for a smelly corpse in a coffin.

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    1. Vinnie, I wonder if that's the reason some people have an uncontrollable compulsion to laugh at funerals.

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  12. Yes, yes and YES! Great post, Lois!

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  13. Lois, I tip my hat to people who can write humor. I'm not good at it. And I enjoy reading a humorous mystery. I can't read anything scary. A friend published her first suspense. I started it, loved her writing, but it became too scary for me to continue reading. I like a good ole "whodunnit." Great post!

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    1. Paty, I'm with you. I have friends who write very gritty suspense. As much as I love them, I can't read their books. They give me nightmares.

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  14. I couldn't agree with you more, Lois. No, murder isn't funny, but the circumstances and characters trying to solve the crime can be.

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  15. Lois, I agree 100% with humor in our reading materials. Our world seems to have a rather small quantity of it sometimes, and laughter really is a tonic for day to day life. Cheers

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    1. Thanks, Marilyn. I think you're right. We definitely need laughter to get us through what's going on lately.

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    2. So true, I used to be a fan of darker mysteries, but when I decided to start a mystery series (stay tuned :) ) I realized it had to be cozy. I'm not sure I write humor, but we'll see.

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  16. I love humorous mysteries--I write them too. I once watched a cozy mystery (Midsommer Murders maybe?) where the weapon was a frozen fish. LOL. I love it!

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  17. Hmm...I wonder if the killer defrosted and cooked the fish for dinner afterwards. ;-)

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    1. Defrosted and cooked the fish for dinner afterwards? Now that's funny!!! I've got to check out your cozies as I just love light mysteries and to laugh.

      BTW, your humor is quite visible through all of your writings throughout this post, so I'm bettin' I'll get it in your stories! Thanks for the entertaining posts today, Lois. Can't wait to check out your novels.

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    2. Thank you, Lisa! I hope you enjoy my books.

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  18. Question, I'm going to ask this of each author;

    Do you think it makes a difference to the cozy if it's third or first person?

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    1. No, I don't as long as the author's voice is compelling. That's true of all fiction IMHO. Some books lend themselves more to first person, others to third person. My first published book, Talk Gertie To Me, was written in first person from the POV of two characters, a mother and daughter. In Finding Hope I wrote the heroine in first person and the hero in third person. In each it was because the stories worked better that way.

      What I wouldn't do, though, is switch the style once I'd established a series. I think it would be very jarring to readers of the series.

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  19. Absolutely. Fun to write, fun to read and the laughs are good for your mental health. We need humorous cozy mysteries now more than ever.

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  20. Lois
    Your humor is amazing. I can't write it, not a whole book full. Although I love to read them. most of my books may have the occasional humorous spot but that's it.

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  21. Thanks, Elaine. The funniest thing is, I can't tell a joke to save my life!

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  22. I leave that to my husband. He is the comedian in the family.

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