Since I have nothing else to do in the week leading up to the first Seder except worry and eat weird combinations (edamame and knishes, anyone?), I accepted the invitation of Sally Carpenter, the author of the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mysteries (The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper and The Sinister Sitcom Caper) to answer four questions about my writing process. After you read my answers, you can check out hers at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com. And then in a few days, check out the answers given by Oak Tree Press authors Janet (writing as J. L.) Greger, author of the medical mysteries Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, and Ignore the Pain at http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com/; and Denise Weeks, author of Nice Work, at http://deniseweeks.blogspot.com.
Questions (and answers!): 1. What am I working on?
It feels some days as though I’m working on everything except the third Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, Yom Killer. While reading some novels by Oak Tree Press authors (have to scope out the competition … I mean, support my colleagues), I realized how many, including mine, contain recipes. “An OTP cookbook!” I thought in a moment of clarity or madness, and then compounded matters by suggesting it to the others (and the publisher). They all enthusiastically endorsed the idea, especially after I volunteered to compile and edit it. I figured, “How long can it take? A week? Two?” Five months later and I’m still gathering recipes and cajoling submissions.
And did I mention promo work, guest blogs, and conferences?
The more I do and the more I try to get ahead so I can concentrate on Yom Killer, the further behind I am. Somehow, retirement has not translated into more free time. Maybe I should stop lolling in bed reading until noon. (But it’s research!) Maybe I should take a break and put the brakes on guest blogging. Hmmm … wonder if Senior Sleuths would be interested in a blog on that topic?
2. How does my work differ from others of the same genre?
So far as I know, my books are the first and, as of now, only mysteries to feature a woman rabbi as the protagonist. But, except for a few non-gratuitous uses of Anglo-Saxon four-letter words, it does fit the general definition of a cozy mystery: amateur sleuth; no overt sex; no graphic violence or blood or gore; humor.
But the books are not just for Jews. They have cross-over appeal as well, as evidenced by the Public Safety Writers Association’s giving the first place award to Unleavened Dead at last summer’s conference and by the placement of Chanukah Guilt on many “best mysteries of 2007” lists.
3. Why do I write what I do?
As they advise, “Write what you know.” And the corollary: “Write what you enjoy reading.” (Who are “they” anyway? And who appointed them arbiters?)
But a story about why I write: A woman I know (non-Jewish, by the way) loved Chanukah Guilt and was looking forward to Unleavened Dead. When the book came out, I made sure she received a copy even before the launch date. She was still in mourning for her husband of many years, and I hoped she’d welcome the diversion. A few weeks later, she came to the launch party, arrived early, and sat in the front. I asked her if she had read the book yet. “Read it!” she said. “I went home that night, got into bed, started to read, and went to sleep with a smile on my face. I did the same for the next two nights.”
And that’s why I write. Certainly not for the (still non-existent) fame and fortune. It’s to know that I’ve brought a smile to someone’s face.
4. How does your writing process work?
It doesn’t. (See answer to Question #1.)
I am a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants. I have a vague idea of the outline of my plots, but no idea how those plots will develop. I rely on my characters to tell me what will happen. And they always come through, although often not as I expect. For example, I added Aviva’s first ex-husband as an interim police chief as a way for her to have entrée to the police. I didn’t realize their relationship would become an ongoing “will-they-won’t-they” leitmotif. In fact, I hadn’t realized it had, until my friend (the one I talk about in Question #3) told me how much she loved him and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next between him and Aviva.
Being a pantser makes the writing process more fun, as I’m never quite sure what will come next. I find writing from an outline to be a chore. But there’s always the problem of the characters’ deciding they’re going AWOL and leaving me with a blank computer screen.
I also have a lack of self-discipline. If I don’t have a specific deadline, I procrastinate. The guest blogs I’ve finished are ones I was asked to submit by a definite date. The open-ended ones are still in my “guest blogging” folder in my inbox. I’ll get to them. Soon. I promise. Maybe.