Miss Prim Visits Dru’s Book Musings

At Bouchercon 2013, I was fortunate enough to meet Dru Ann Love, a Brooklyn-based mystery lover and blogger.  Dru kindly invited me to do a guest blog for her, and it is live today at Dru’s Book Musings.

Dru’s blog has a unique take on guest bloggers. She asks her bloggers to write from the point of view of their protagonists to introduce their books. So, today on Dru’s Book Musings, Miss Felicity Prim, heroine/protagonist of The Outsmarting of Criminals, introduces herself and talks a little about her need to flee New York City. Please feel free to make Miss Prim’s acquaintance by clicking here.

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Here’s a little more back story for anyone who might be interested:

Several months (or was it years?) ago, I was in an art gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They were selling a print that reads as follows:

MODERN ART = I COULD HAVE DONE THAT +  YEAH, BUT YOU DIDN’T

How does this relate to Dru’s blog? Well, I guess you could say that when somebody asks me to write something, my initial reaction is always, “Yes, I can do that.” By which I mean that I blithely assume I can take on a writing challenge and figure out a way to make it work.

But blogging for Dru taught me a lesson, which is this: It’s really, really challenging to switch from third person to first person with a particular set of characters. The Outsmarting of Criminals is told in third person, but for Dru’s blog I had to write Miss Prim in the first person. This was surprisingly difficult, even though I of course know Miss Prim quite well. I’ve written books in first person (Androgynous Murder House Party, parts of Circle of Assassins) and books in third person (The Outsmarting of Criminals, Who Gets the Apartment?) and if I had to make a blanket statement, I would say that for me it is slightly easier to write in first person. So, why should it have been so difficult to convert Miss Prim from third to first for Dru’s blog? There must be some cognitive process at work (or not at work here). I think I will look into it and report back if I discover anything intriguing.

 

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Cozy Appreciation #2: MMA PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE

Moving from St. Mary Mead to Gaborone, Botswana takes us from Miss Jane Marple to Mma Precious Ramotswe. How much do I love Alexander McCall Smith’s “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” books? So much so that I’ve read all of them, in order, from the beginning. 

On the face of it, Gaborone is very different from St. Mary Mead – Gaborone is the capital city of Botswana and is home to about 10% of the country’s population. Yet Smith gives Gaborone the same “village” feeling that Agatha Christie gives St. Mary Mead. Everyone seems to know one another, either as friends or because they are closely or distantly related. So, IMHO, Gaborone is just St. Mary Mead writ large (and much, much hotter, with many more snakes and acacia trees).

In addition to their deep knowledge of human nature, Mma Ramotswe and Miss Marple share a characteristic with many other great cozy heroines (for example, Hamilton Crane’s Miss Emily Seeton): specifically, they use a title (Miss or Mma). Some might say the use of a title is somehow old-fashioned or distancing. I would argue the opposite. You don’t know Miss Jane Marple or Mma Precious Ramotswe immediately — that is, the writers don’t ask you to become immediately intimate with “Jane” and “Precious.” Instead, readers get to know them by spending time with them. This harkens back to pre-Internet days, where relationships were developed slowly, over time (perhaps mostly in fiction, but surely in many cases in real life, too).  As Miss Prim says in The Outsmarting of Criminals, “Better formal too long than informal too quickly.”

Pat of this may be my bias. I respond well to the idea of knowing someone on a more formal level before knowing them at a more friendly level. I grew up calling my friends’ parents “Mrs. This” and “Mr. That.” I went to a traditional college, where instructors were either “Professor This” or “Doctor That.” I don’t know, there’s just a part of me that likes that structure, that idea that I have something to learn from people who are older than me, and using a title seems like a good way of acknowledging that. Case in point: I graduated from college almost thirty years ago, but I am still friends with my undergraduate advisor. She has told me to call her by her given name, but I just can’t… so I use what everyone else uses, which is “O’D,” the beginning of her last name. It suits us just fine!

 

Cozy Appreciation #1: MISS JANE MARPLE

Many people have tried to define the “cozy” as a genre. Genres can be so slippery in terms of their definitions (which is one of the joys of them), but I think we all “know a cozy when we see one.”

I think of The Outsmarting of Criminals as a cozy that pays tribute to cozies, if that makes any sense. My idea was to try to use all the things that readers (including myself) love about cozies while making that tribute a part of the book (in the chapter titles).

So I was thinking I might do a series of posts here talking about some of the great cozy heroes and heroines, and what I appreciate most about them.  First up is Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple.

Here’s what struck me so forcibly when I was a teenager reading these books: St. Mary Mead. I grew up in the suburbs, but not the “country.” The way I think about “country,” at least in the tri-state area (where I live), is “acreage.” So, for me, the suburbs were a place where houses were on fairly small lots, packed together on streets. The country was a place where a house had a couple of acres, enough for a garden, lots of animals, and so on. I had a friend who lived in a country-like setting and we never got together at my place… always at hers, because I loved her setting so much. (So I guess “settings” are as much a part of real life as they are in fiction.)

St. Mary Mead was a fictional place that held so much appeal for me … quiet, sylvan, quaint, neighborly. It was the quintessential English village, a place to escape to.

And Miss Marple… I wasn’t sure why I felt drawn to her when I was younger, but now I know. Miss Marple is an expert at making a virtue of necessity. She’s getting on in years and she uses that to her advantage. She feels that “invisibility” that people of a certain age feel (although that feeling of invisibility is common among many groups of people who aren’t necessarily chest-beating extroverts), and, rather than feeling victimized by it, she uses it. Her sense seems to be, “OK, people expect me to be dotty and forgetful just because I’m older. They think that they can open up to me because I’m older and harmless.  I can use that to help solve these murders.” She’s a marvel of working with what she has, which makes her a progenitor for many of the protagonists who followed in her wake. She’s not Superwoman — she’s just really, really smart, but in an understated way. She’s savvy about the way people think and react; her methods are quite different from Hercule Poirot’s, but just as effective.

 

Animus International? NO: Malice Domestic!

I am eagerly awaiting the Malice Domestic conference, held this year in Bethesda, Maryland, the first weekend in May. It will be a bit intimidating to be surrounded by so much talent … maybe some of it will rub off!

I’m fortunate enough to be taking part in a panel on Sunday, May 4th, at 9 a.m.,  titled “The Dating Game: Authors Reveal Their Fictional Crushes.” Our moderator, Catriona McPherson (author of the Dandy Gilver series), is planning a surprise format. It promises to be great fun with a superb selection of bachelorettes and one lone bachelor (yours truly).

I haven’t met any of the other panelists, but just from chatting with them over email, I can tell they’re a hoot. My partners in crime will be: 

  • Joanna Carl, aka Eve K. Sandstrom, who clearly loves her chocolate;
  • Hannah Dennison, whose book Murder at Honeychurch Hall has one of the most beautiful covers of the season; and  
  • Maddy Hunter, whose book titles make it clear that she has traveled more widely, and has in general lived a more interesting life, than I have.

A listing of the full Malice Domestic program can be found here. How can you not attend and have great time? If you do attend, please say hello – I will be the person who looks the LEAST like his protagonist (I think).

 

Announcing … THE OUTSMARTING OF CRIMINALS

I am delighted to announce the publication of my first cozy, The Outsmarting of Criminals, published last week. This is the first in a series featuring Miss Felicity Prim, who decides to leave the big city for a cottage in the country. Miss Prim believes that her ample experience in reading mystery fiction has prepared her for a new career in private detection. But she gets more than she bargained for when she discovers a crime in her new home.

The early reviews have been very kind and supportive:

“A pitch-perfect mash-up of the greatest traditional/cozy mystery trope … A pleasure from cover to cover.” – Library Journal (starred review)

“An absolutely charming mystery, with nearly every element of the book, from the cast of characters to the small town setting to the cleverly crafted plot itself, just about pitch perfect.” – Mysterious Reviews (5 stars)

“A delight to read.” — Gumshoe Review

“Recommended for lovers of traditional mysteries.” – Foreword Reviews

The book is available through all the usual outlets (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). It’s also available as an ebook for Kindle, Nook, and iPad.

The Outsmarting of Criminals was great fun to write. It’s not only a cozy, it’s also an homage to the mystery genre, paying tribute to the genre’s many wonderful conventions in each chapter. If you choose to read it, I hope you enjoy it.