Last night I was the guest at a book discussion group meeting at Stone Soup Books in Waynesboro. SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS was under the microscope. As a writer, this was an nerve-wracking experience. It really forced me to look at my work in ways that I had not really considered—which is an odd feeling, to say the least. But I am so close to my characters and my story that sometimes I wonder if I see my work clearly at all.
Here are some surprising revelations I learned from readers last night:
1. My cozy mystery is really pushing boundaries of what a cozy mystery is. (This was not my intention, necessarily.) One of those reasons, according the readers last night, is that it’s a complex story line—not simply about the murder but also about these women’s lives and families and so on. I think other cozies do this, as well. But because I have three points of view, it’s more prominent, perhaps. But make no mistake, my book is squarely in the cozy genre—there is no graphic violence or sex, meaning you don’t SEE it happening. All of it takes place off-camera, so to speak.
2. This book is reflective of the community in which I live. By community, I suppose I mean “region” as well as Waynesboro, my town. The readers who were there last night were all people who moved here—not locals—and they related to Annie’s experiences as an outsider. I knew I was writing about my area, of course, but what I didn’t realize is the extent to which it’s recognizable.
3. Beatrice’s knife in her neck business has a lot of people talking. Suffice it to say, I based this on a true story I had read about years ago.
4. When I was asked about the sex component in my book, it gave me pause. I really don’t know why I chose the particular discussion about the particular kind of sex in my book. All I can say is that I found it interesting and I think most other people think it’s interesting, as well, though they might not admit it. That intrigues me in the same way that many of American’s puritanical views of sex intrigue me, when the porn and erotica industry continues to thrive. We, basically, are hypocrites about sex. As a writer, I like to play with that idea, as well as the idea that we never really know what our neighbors are up to. And sometimes that’s a good thing—sometimes, it’s not.
5. People are trying to figure out who I based my characters on. As writers, we are really sponges, soaking up all of our experiences with people and events and so on. As I was writing the book, I in no way intended any of the characters to be reflective of myself or of anybody I know. But, of course, bits and pieces of myself and everybody I know are in my characters. You don’t really think about this when you’re writing, or else it will drive you batty.
6. Many, many, cozy mysteries have a romance element in them, as was pointed out to me last night. I think this is due to the fact that many of the amateur sleuths are young-ish, single women. All of my croppers are married—at least at the start of the book—and so their views reflect that. The only romantic element is within marriages, all of which has ups and down. Later, in the book, there is another romantic element that comes into play. But we never see that—just hear about it. In fact, as I thought it about it last night, I think my book is kind of an anti-romantic mystery. It’s more of the day-to-day-working-it-out kind of book—which some of us find romantic in another kind of sense.
All in all it was a great discussion and I hope to meet with more book groups both in my area and outside of it. I’m available by Skype and am eager to try that out. In the mean time, I hope to meet some readers this weekend at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. I’ll be on a panel Saturday morning—“Add Murder to my Resume”—then I’ll be signing books. If you’re in the area, please stop by.