MOMS OF MYSTERY Newsletter
Who We Are: Two very different moms with one mysterious interest!
Alina Adams is Jewish, lives on the East Coast, married with two kids and is the author of Berkley Prime Crime's "Figure Skating Mysteries," including "Murder on Ice," "On Thin Ice," and coming in January 2006 "Axel of Evil!"
In This Issue:
Writing & Motherhood:
- A Motherís Author Tour --- By Kyra Davis
- How Motherhood Made Me a Fulltime Writer --- By Alina Adams
- Combining Genres --- By Kyra Davis
- Is it Real or Is It...: Fictionalizing the Non-Fictional by --- By Alina Adams
- Who Are We Anyway? --- By Jackie Brooks
A MOTHER'S AUTHOR TOUR -- BY KYRA DAVISAh, the ever controversial author tour. Some say they are a huge waste of money and time. Others feel they are the things that separate bestsellers from mid-lists. If anyone were to examine my schedule between the months of May and September they would assume I had bought into the second philosophy. In May I went to LA, New York and Philadelphia, in June I went to New York (again) and Seattle and in July I was in Portland and Seattle (again). Finally in September I was in Italy, specifically in Matera and Milan. I went to all these places to promote Sex, Murder And A Double Latte on the advice of my publicist or the request of my publisher. When other authors hear this they usually ask me one of two questions:1. Did it help?
2. Was it worth it?
The answer to question number one is a resounding yes. In every one of the cities I toured (with the exception of LA) I was able to secure both a television spot (sometimes several) and at least one review or feature article in that city's local paper. My publicist was usually able to get me a radio interview too. Of course I don't know how many people who saw me, heard me or read about me went out and bought my book but I do know that my book signings were extremely well attended and on more than one occasion the bookstore that was hosting me was able to sell thirty plus copies of my book by the end of the event. I continually get emails from readers who have seen me on television and I have to think that all of this publicity encouraged word of mouth sales. In addition to all that it helped me to establish a rapport with several booksellers and those kinds of relationships lead to hand-selling.
Now the second question is harder to answer. After all an author has to sacrifice a lot in order to tour, especially if she's a mom. I took my son to Seattle and Portland but he stayed with my mother for all of my other trips. By the time I returned from Italy he had pretty much had it. He put his little hands on his hips and said, "You don't need to travel anymore for work." It wasn't so much a statement as it was a command. Of course I understand his frustration, I'm the only parent he has who is actively involved in his life and my frequent trips were hard on him.
However I'm sure that he will recover from the strain much sooner than my bank account will. Sure, my publisher pitched in but I still had to invest thousands of dollars of my own money in order to get the results that I did. My sales have been great but I'm still forced consider my budget when making my grocery list. Of course the royalty checks will help offset some of the expenses but I won't really know exactly how beneficial the tour was until I see what kind of advance is offered me for my next book contract (assuming of course there is another book contract). I'm also hoping that my sales will translate into a big print run for my second novel along with good store placement. My publisher is toying with the idea of sending me on a small tour but unfortunately I'm not sure if I'll be in a position to supplement their efforts next time around.
That said I take an enormous amount of comfort in the knowledge that I did everything I possibly could in order to start my career off on the right foot. I'll never look back and say, "Oh, if only I had done X Y or Z my sales may have been different." I did X, Y, Z and most of the other letters in the alphabet. There is no room for regrets. So I suppose that means the touring was worth it and who knows, maybe in a few years my son will agree with me.
HOW MOTHERHOOD MADE ME A FULLTIME WRITER -- BY ALINA ADAMS
Once upon a time, I had a life that included jetting off to glamorous locations like Paris, France, Lusanne, Switzerland, Nagano, Japan, and Huntington, West Virgina. I attended opening ceremonies at the Olympics, opening night of Broadway's "Chicago," and wrap parties for the Daytime Emmy Awards. I wore evening clothes, and corporate logo clothes and clothes without crayon marks on them. And then I had children.
Two boys. Well, one boy, first. He was the one who made it clear that my travel and party days were over. I was used to coming back from wherever I last was on a non-stop multi-hour flight, collapsing into bed and leaving my suitcase to sit, unpacked, for days. I didn't have to talk to see anyone, talk to anyone, or cater to anyone until after I'd decompressed and untangled night from day. At which time it was probably time for me to take off again.
It was a doable schedule when single. It was even kind of doable when married. It was not doable upon having children.
When my older son was a year old, I worked as a feature producer for NBC's StarSkates series. Four skating shows in four locations in two weeks. Each show required three days of work on sight. Everyone else in the crew just flew from one city (Lowell, MA, Providence, RI, Tampa, FL, and the aforementioned Huntington, WV). I flew back and forth between the sites and New York, spending half a day with the family before needing to fly out again. I wanted to see my son.
Shame he wasn't too interested in seeing me.
My one year old may not have been speaking at the time. But he made his feelings about my travel perfectly clear.
He was not happy about it.
Every time I returned off the road and walked in the door, he pretended I didn't exist. He didn't aknowledge me, just walked right on by, doing his own thing.
I finished the "StarSkates" series. And called it quits on the travel front.
I gave up the road for my family. And I gave up telling stories with pictures for telling them with words.
To be honest, I'd always been better with words than I was with images. (One producer I worked with called me a "visual wasteland.") My features were perpetually criticized for letting the subjects talk too much, for telling instead of showing. But I couldn't help it. I love to hear a good story. And pictures can't make anything come alive for me as vividly as a well-chosen word. (In a bit of God-is-a-funny-guy, my older son is completely visually oriented. He is a wonderful artist who learns best when shown, not told).
So it was natural for me to move from television to books. And just as natural that I would set them in a world I understood and knew intimately - international figure skating.
The results are my three (so far) mystery novels, "Murder on Ice," "On Thin Ice," and "Axel of Evil." Each of which exists thanks to my past life and my kids.
(To read an excerpt from "Axel of Evil," please click here!)
COMBINING GENRES -- BY KYRA DAVISSex, Murder And A Double Latte had been touted as being a chic-lit mystery. Several reader have contacted me and explained that while they don't normally like mysteries they did love my book and as a general rule reviewers have said that it is a good addition to the chick lit genre. However a few critics have complained that it's too much chick lit and not enough mystery. I'm a big believer in listening to constructive criticism so when writing the sequel (Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights) I spent more time developing the mystery. I recently got the edit requests from my publisher and you know what their one criticism was? "Too much mystery, not enough chick lit." In fact they requested that I include scenes that have nothing to do with the mystery but allow the reader to just "hangout with the fun characters" which is exactly what some reviewers slammed me for doing in my first novel.
So who's right? Well I guess it depends on who you ask. If your novel has a bright pink cover featuring your protagonist wearing ridiculously high heels and holding a designer coffee (as mine does) you have to assume that the majority of the people who will pick that book up are going to be women who are interested in chick lit. Those searching for a mystery along the lines of something written by James Patterson are going to be looking elsewhere. Writing is a creative endeavor but for a professional author it's also a business. My job is to write an entertaining book that will satisfy my target market. Some would say that taking such a capitalistic approach to writing automatically makes me a sellout. Again, this is a matter of opinion but personally I have no interest in becoming the literary equivalent to Van Gogh. I want to sell my work while I'm alive, thank you very much.
But what about the critics? Here's a quote from a Washington Post review:
Kyra Davis's debut novel, Sex, Murder and a Double Latte exemplifies the pleasures and the irritations of the sleuthing-lass lit form.
The article then details exactly what those pleasures and irritations are.
I love this review. I love it because it's clear that the problems this reviewer had with my book have little to do with my writing specifically and everything to do with her opinion of the genre I write in. She even admitted during a live online chat with readers that she usually doesn't like "pink mysteries" at all so the fact that she enjoyed any part of my book is, in my opinion, a huge compliment and of course I'm thrilled she took the time to feature me in a periodical as well renowned as The Washington Post. But let's face it, she's not my target market and while it's nice to be loved by the critics it's really more important to be loved by the people who have to actually buy your book in order to read it.
Basically it comes down to this: if you're going to write a chick lit mystery you're going to alienate a few mystery readers. You're also going to attract some non-mystery readers and give some chick-lit-mystery readers exactly what they crave. If the second and third groups are large enough to earn you to a second printing then you don't have to worry too much about the first group. Patterson's got them covered.
"IS IT REAL OR IS IT : FICTIONALIZING THE NON-FICTIONAL" -- BY ALINA ADAMSSince 2003, I've written Figure Skating Mystery novels featuring a television researcher surrounded by tiny prima donnas, obsessive parents, abusive coaches and exhausted production people.
From 1995 to 2001, I worked as a television researcher (for ABC, ESPN, NBC, TNT) surrounded by tiny prima donnas (many), obsessive parents (most), abusive coaches (some) and exhausted production people (all).
Sounds like perfect material for a comical mystery series. And it certainly is. Except for one teeny, weenie little problem. One day (when my kids are grown), I may want to return to the wild and wacky world of television skating production. And that option would probably be more likely if I didn't slander, libel or offend any of the people I might be working with, in my books.
So, as it states so clearly on the copyright page, the characters I write about bear no resemblance to anyone living or dead. Which is true. I have never lifted, whole-hog, a real-life human being and simply changed their hair color and moniker in the name of fiction. My books truly are fiction. They just happen to be based on many, many aspects of many, many people. Some complimentary, some not so much.
For instance, in my third skating mystery, "Axel of Evil" (January 2006), the suspects in the murder of Russian defector turns American champion and coach Igor Marchenko include, among others:
· Lian Reilly: A driven, ambitious Asian-American skater with an adoptive mother who just might be a little too wrapped up in her daughter's success
· Jordan Ares: A talented, emancipated minor known for her dirty mouth and tendency to switch coaches on a moment's notice
· Gary Gold: An American coach still bitter about losing his own Olympic berth thirty years earlier to a defecting Russian
Let's take Lian first. Asian-American? Why, U.S. and World Champion Michelle Kwan is Asian-American! Adoptive mother? French and European Champion Surya Bonaly's adoptive mother was famous for her need to control every aspect of Surya's career, going so far as to fire Surya's coach mid-competition and take over the position herself. And then there was U.S. and World Bronze Medallist Tiffany Chin's mother, nicknamed "The Dragon Lady." And Olympic Champion Peggy Fleming's mother, who would call Peggy's coach at home after every practice session to dissect the details of their day.
Now how about Jordan Ares? We've got World Silver Medalist Tonya Harding (of course) with the foul mouth and bad attitude, and World Bronze Medallist Nicole Bobek for the musical coaching changes. And more bad attitude.
As for Gary Gold, while no American man has yet lost his spot on the World Team to a convenient nationality switch, in Ice Dance the situation is endemic. Russian skaters come to the U.S. and team up with an American female, pushing American-born teams down in the rankings. Amy Webster and Ron Kravette went from winning the Bronze at the U.S. Championship in 1993 and 1994 to coming in fifth in 1995 and 1996. U.S. Champions Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow were so eager to make sure their competition, Renee Roca and Russian-born Gorsha Sur, didn't get to go to the 1994 Olympics in their place that Liz and Jerod actually started a petition to keep Gorsha from getting his citizenship in time.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is: Those yearning for truly dirty deep-down dish on the glitzy, glamorous world of figure skating are better off picking up one of my fictional titles, rather than my non-fiction ones ("Inside Figure Skating," "Sarah Hughes: Skating to the Stars").
The reason is simple: When I write nonfiction books, I make sure to only include the non-offensive, the non-derogatory and, most important, the non-liable. But, when I write fiction, all bets are off. As long as I don't make it too obvious (to anyone except those really, really in the know), I can include any salacious story or embarrassing rumor I want. The only people who'll know who the tales are really about will be the ones it happened to. And they're not talking. Or suing.
WHO ARE WE ANYWAY? -- BY JACKIE BROOKSFew of us started out with ambitions of writing books, and probably even fewer have actually published. Most of us had lives before kids. Working lives. You remember, the kind where you worked and actually got PAID for doing it? Yes, I know. You can't begin to measure the importance of your life as a stay at home mom...though many magazines have pointed out that if mom's were being paid, we'd each be making about $400,000 a year. Now that's a lot of Chicken McNuggets.
But all those years BC (before children) as a marketing director, public relations agent, or even business owner can't prepare you for when your child asks the question of all questions. "What do you do, Mom?"
By age 7 or 8, kids are into quick and easy labeling. One word nouns that describe the livelihood of their nearest and dearest. My kids are quick to point out that Dad is an engineer. Miss Julie is a nurse. Mrs. Boone is a teacher. They're also just as happy to tell you "where" someone works. Miss Tracey works at the Navy Base or Miss Stephanie works at the library. They'll even tell you why people don't work. Jason's dad doesn't work because he's in jail right now. Miss Gina doesn't care if Mr. Billy never works again because they're better off living on Welfare.
You can smile all you want, but eventually they'll look back up at you, and ask again, "So, what do you do, Mom?"
"WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?" World wars have probably started over more trivial questions.
You know what you do. You know all that you've done. You even know what you'd like to do if the planets were ever aligned correctly.
BUT, you've got one word. A noun. A single word that your child will carry with them and display to everyone they come in contact with for many years to come. So, what's it going to be?
My first mystery novel, Paradise Prey, was published last Fall. The whole process has taken about 6 years of my life or about 2/3 of my children's lives. I had hoped it would be a five book series and much like Van Gogh gave one of my ears for my art, only to find out that publishers now only want writers with two ears. Needless to say, I don't see any new publishing deals in my near future.
MEANWHILE, my kids tell everyone and anyone that I'm a writer. Great noun. But very hard to live up to when you only have one published book and nothing new on the horizon.
I find myself being introduced as "the woman who wrote a mystery novel." Which is quickly followed by "How many books have you written?" "When will the next one be coming out?" "How do you ever write with everything else you do?"
I may write. I may have published one book. But does that give me the right to call myself a writer? If some level of success had followed, I think I'd quickly answer, yes! But instead, I drag around the guilt of feeling more like a tabloid writer calling myself a journalist.
What's a mom to do?
Visit Jackie Brooks at www.jackiebrooks.com
Until the next issue!
All the best from Alina & Kyra!