The Fun of Writing “Retro-Cozies”

Sally Carpenter

An interviewer once referred to my stories as “retro-cozies.” I liked the term and use it to describe my work.

A retro-cozy is an amateur sleuth mystery with no graphic gore, violence, sex, or language, and occurs in the past. What defines “the past” is up for grabs—I’d say any time before the 21st century.  My Sandy Fairfax series is set in 1993. The protagonist, a former teen idol, often refers to his TV show, which was filmed in the 1970s.  My newer series, the Psychedelic Spy, takes place in 1967.

Beatlemaniac_final_ large_2500Why do I use a time machine when I write? For Sandy Fairfax, I had no choice. I wanted to write about a ‘70s teen idol because of the culture of that time when teen idols were promoted through TV shows. I like the melodic songs from the era, the cheesy clothes, and the drama that often took place behind the idols’ innocent façades.  \

Sandy was 18 when his TV show started, so if I set the books in today’s world, he would have aged up to 61 or so. But I wanted to write about a younger man who could still do his own stunts and would be making a comeback, not plans for retirement. The year 1993 places Sandy at age 38, still agile but facing a midlife crises.

For the second series, the ‘60s is a ripe era for storytelling: war protests, civil rights and women’s movements, the generation gap, influence of Eastern religions, and the Cold War.  I love the culture of the age, the bright colors, pop art, rock music, movies, mod clothes and hairstyles. Let’s face it, women’s clothing styles in 2018 are—dare I say it—drab and ugly.

I like the simplicity of past times. I use a computer, but I’m out of touch with today’s technology. I don’t even own a cell phone (gasp!). I gave up trying to figure out streaming services, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, social media and whatnot.

If a contemporary protagonist gets in trouble, all she has to do is whip out her cell phone and call for help. Ho hum. But my protags have to think and fight their way out of their predicaments. If my protags need information, they can’t Google or ask Alexis; they have to put in the legwork. They need hard evidence, not just a DNA sample. With fewer crime fighting tools at their disposal, my heroes work harder.

People who stare at their phones or computers all day bore me. Characters who talk face-to-face are more interesting than those who send texts. Modern technology is helpful in real life, but it’s a story killer.  When I read for pleasure, I want to escape into another world, away from the commotion of modern times. Writing a retro-cozy lets me, at least in my mind, take a break from today.

Flower_Power_Fatality_jpg (1)In “Flower Power Fatality,” Noelle McNabb is an actress at a Christmas-theme park in Yuletide, Indiana. Her drab routine is interrupted when a stranger shows up on her porch with a bullet in his chest. Then, a super-secret spy agency recruits Noelle to find missing microdots along with veteran agent Destiny King. As Noelle goes undercover, she finds herself dancing in sleazy nightclubs and chasing bad guys at night while wondering who is going to feed her pet cat.

My next project is putting my first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” back in print. Washed-up pop star Sandy Fairfax, in a desperate move to get his career back on track, takes his only job offer—a guest appearance at a disorganized Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Indiana. What look like an easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is killed and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect.

“Beatlemaniac” will include a new cover art, new forward, updated author’s bio, re-edited text and a bonus short story, a brand new Sandy Fairfax adventure, “The Deadly Disco Caper,” in which the 1970s get skewered. Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah!

 

306141_347563052028408_642323995_n(2)Sally Carpenter was born and raised in southwest Indiana but now lives in Moorpark California, leaving the land of rain and snow for wildfires and earthquakes.  She has a master’s degree in theater from Indian State University. She also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s also “mom” to two black cats.

Her first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was named by Left Coast Crime as a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel.  She penned chapter three of “Chasing the Codex,” a group mystery written by 34 authors with Cozy Cat Press and has stories in three other anthologies.  She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and blogs monthly at https://ladiesofmystery.com/ .

For more about Sally Carpenter and her books, go to http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com/   Reach her on Facebook or email her at:  scwriter@earthlink.net .

 

 

This blog article is posted for Sally Carpenter by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

What Lies Beneath the Surface? by G.B. Pool

Discovering Aspects of Your Main Character That Even He Didn’t Know Existed

 

People 3Aristotle said there were five basic parts of a story: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue, and the meaning or point behind a story. People have argued for ages which is the more important, plot or character, but even though I agree with Aristotle that plot is the most important, we do like stories brimming with compelling characters.

I personally want the main character to be someone I would invite into my home; after all, we will be spending some quality time together, often in bed early in the morning… What I mean by that is simple. After my husband has left for work and I am curled up with a good book, I want the hero to be someone I can trust or the heroine to be someone I can go to lunch with or maybe to some breaking and entering with, if that’s the caper.

People 4When I came up with Johnny Casino, the character who inhabits the pages of the three books in The Johnny Casino Casebook series, I wanted someone with a past. The opening line from Past Imperfect, number one in the series is this: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me.

Of course his past does catch up with him, often. In fact, every “guest star” in each case in the first collection of short stories has a past, whether good or bad. It’s up to Johnny to sort it out. But along the way, he has to come to terms with his own past.

As I delved into his background while I was writing these stories, he explained a lot about himself. It might sound odd that I am giving credit to my character, but any writer will tell you these “people” have a life, if not a voice, of their own and when they whisper or yell in your ear, you listen.

People 2The first story I wrote had Johnny mention that he once worked for the Mob. I was channeling his voice and the words just came. Then I realized I needed to know a little bit about the Mafia. An ex-cop acquaintance with a rather interesting connection to the Mafia told me what books to read and he also shared some insights that you might never find in a book, but if you did, you would think it was fiction.

This revelation made me dig deeper into Johnny’s character. Even the names of the Mafia guys Johnny worked for changed. One was called Eddie Fontaine, but it changed to Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine when I knew him better.

People 1Elmore Leonard once mentioned when he gave one of his characters the wrong name, the guy wouldn’t talk, but when he changed the name, he couldn’t shut him up. The man was on to something.

It’s these layers that build up, like a pearl, that allow the writer to “create” a three-dimensional character. The first story I wrote briefly mentioned Johnny’s Mafia history. The second story, a flashback, shows it in somber detail and it also explains why Johnny has a problem with women. He will be a knight-in-shining armor to a lady in distress, even if she is less than virtuous, but he can be tough, too.

HollywoodAs I was on this road of discovery, I realized I had given Johnny the title: Hollywood Detective, but I didn’t have a story with a movie star. I do now, and a few of these legends make a return engagement in subsequent books. I decided not to use actual names of stars, but I did borrow heavily from stars I liked from the past, but mostly it was their stature and the era, since I doubt if any of these luminaries had too many dead bodies in their own past. That would be another story.

But I learned Johnny had a code, and sometimes that meant breaking the law to do the right thing or maybe covering up something illegal for a friend. But one of the coolest things I discovered in writing the first book was that Johnny’s past might not even be what he thinks it is. That question is answered in the next book in the series – Looking for Johnny Nobody. The first book sets the stage and lets you meet a few other characters that inhabit his world. And as I said on the back cover of the book – everybody has a past.

By the time I started book three, Just Shoot Me, I let Johnny take over and write those stories. He had discovered some new things about his own life that changed everything for him and he was going to carry on with this new identity that he had. But there was something else… He was growing. He was becoming a real character.

Open DoorMy newest character in a series is Chance McCoy. I bill him as a third rate P.I. in a secondhand suit who blows half the cases he takes on. Not a great track record. Then Chance is shot… and killed. But Chance gets the opportunity of a lifetime. He gets to come back, alive. Now he can fix some of those old cases and take on some that challenge even the brightest detectives. What does he use? As the guy who sent him back tells him: You use what’s inside. Chance’s discovery process is a trip in book one: Second Chance. Finding different aspects in this character was definitely a trip for this writer as well.

People 5Aren’t memorable characters what writers want to create? And isn’t that what readers want to read. You betcha. Write On.

MILESTONES by Linda O. Johnston

Signpost 1

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a milestone is “a significant point in development.” Writers can reach a lot of milestones. In fact, that’s part of the writing process.

One milestone is to begin plotting your first book. Even if you’re a “pantser” — you write by the seat of your pants rather than starting with an outline or well-planned plot–your mind will be working on your story, and, yes, that’s a milestone when you begin.

Starting to write is another. Finishing a first draft is another. Finishing a polished story is yet another.

Pencil 2Then there’s the publication process. There are different ways to approach it these days. If you want to be traditionally published, you’ll probably attempt to reach the milestone of obtaining an agent. Or, you may just go directly to a potential publisher with a proposal. Getting your manuscript accepted by one or both constitutes more milestones.

If you self-publish, the process is different, but you’ll still hit milestones–determining how and where you’ll publish, getting your manuscript in the right form for publication, and then, finally, getting your new book out there in print or e-book form or both, for people to buy and read it.

Pencil 1Either way, promotion also sometimes achieves milestones — getting your first review. Getting your first really good review. Throwing your story out there on social media. And milestones in actual sales.

This year, I’m hitting some milestones of a different kind. I’ve been traditionally published for many years — and this year, at the Romance Writers of America Annual Conference to take place soon in Denver, Harlequin will be acknowledging, in its 2018 Author Achievement Awards, that I’ve reached my 25th Book Milestone with them.

And as this year progresses, I’ll have two more Harlequin books published… and the second, my last Harlequin Nocturne paranormal romance since the line is closing, will be a milestone event, too. Including all my other books including mysteries, it will be my 50th published novel!

Signpost 2So yes, this year I’m particularly jazzed about milestones. But whatever stage of writing a writer happens to be in, whatever way they choose to be published, milestones can occur anytime.

What’s your latest milestone?

 

THE SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE by Rosemary Lord

Happy Birthday America

 

I remember my first July 4th in America. I’d only been in L.A. a few months and was still marveling at the endless sunshine. I was in Beverly Hills that day and saw a red English double-decker bus being driven slowly along Wilshire Boulevard. Along both sides were large white banners with “Happy Birthday America – love, Mum” written in bold print. It was an image I have never forgotten.

American flag 1That first July 4th was spent with an international group in an Australian friend’s back garden (or yard, to use the local term) where we all celebrated the start of our new lives in California – the land of such promise, excitement and new ideas.

As the years progressed I won the coveted Green Card, so I was working as an actress and enjoying a thoroughly Americanized summer. On location in Colorado, we had the day off from filming, and had a big barbecue with the crew. (The little English kid in me thought, “Wow! Mum – look at me, in America, celebrating with a Hollywood film crew!”)

HotdogI also found myself a wonderful, gorgeous American husband, Rick! And so Independence Days were filled with our own new traditions of hot-dogs, baked-beans and hamburgers with friends and neighbors. Some years we had picnics in the park or by our favorite lake, creating lovely memories. And always the fireworks burst forth over the nearby Hollywood Bowl.

FireworksSome of the July 4ths we spent in Kentucky at my late mother-in-law’s farm. What a wonderful slice of Americana: the local town congregated together and roasted a wild hog over coals in a huge, rusty brazier thingy. A local country and western group performed on a flat-bed truck and American flags flew everywhere. It was a ‘pot-luck’ affair, so there were tables groaning with an assortment of pies, savory things and desserts. A delicious chicken-like dish that one of the neighbors had brought turned out to be frogs’ legs! “Frog Gigging” was a local past-time, I learned. “Ya just have to remember to cut the tendons before ya cook it, or the darned leg will hop right out of the pan before ya can catch it!” As Hardin County was a ‘dry’ county, I am not sure what they were all drinking from an assortment of bottles. “It’ll put hair on yer chest…” I heard. I decided to pass on that one.

Sometimes, Rick and I were back in England where Rick observed that July 4th went strangely unnoticed – save for a few American ex-pats who had their own barbecues and flag-waving.

Trip of a Lifetime 2009 240One memorable Independence Day we spent at sea. Rick’s boss, Oprah Winfrey, had rented a luxury cruise ship (as you do!) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her television show and to thank her entire staff for all their hard work over the years. Rick and I were tickled pink when we were invited to join this Mediterranean cruise. After we left the last stop on the island of Malta, we headed back to Barcelona and we were at sea on July 4th – of course, not an occasion celebrated in Europe. The organization for that day was mind-boggling! The huge swimming-pool deck was covered and, after a ‘group photo’ of all the Harpo staff with their ‘plus-one’ and guests like Rick and me, the festivities began with a live band and several long tables filled with every sort of food imaginable and a large barbeque. The music and dancing went on until the small hours, long after we had retired. It was a good thing we were in the middle of the ocean with no neighbors to disturb – except the fishes and the dolphins.

PatriotsI grew up watching American movies with July 4th   Independence Day celebrations. They always appeared such a fun gathering for families and friends where everyone prepared their special dishes and decorated whole neighborhoods with red, white and blue. I loved being able to share this tradition.

But then I get the best of both worlds, as I can also celebrate Bonfire Night with fellow Brits or my family – as well as Boxing Day, which is just another workday in America.

When, as a young girl, I first heard about July 4th – Independence Day – when all that British tea was thrown into the bay, my selfish reaction was – how many delicious cups of tea were lost? But lo these many years later, and now as an American Citizen, it’s a different matter.

I think about the meaning of Independence Day: America’s independence from Great Britain, free to make its own decisions and rules. These days we enjoy our individual sense of independence. Today, more than ever, most people are free to create their own lives, go their own direction. As writers I feel we are privileged to have each created our own literary world, writing about whatever takes our fancy – even following our own schedules and timetables – except for those pesky publisher deadlines.

Happy Independence Day, one and all!

Just Rosie 2