Lessons Learned about My Own Book

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.

6 thoughts on “Lessons Learned about My Own Book

  1. India Drummond says:

    How interesting! What I find surprising every time is how my books and stories no longer belong to me. I don’t mean publication rights, I mean that readers take them in and they become their stories, the characters THEIR friends, not mine! So I feel a real need to keep that in mind and be certain I’m true to the characters when I write sequels, because some readers get very much attached!

    Congrats on your huge successes!

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks for commenting, India. I think you’re right—the books and characters take on a life of their own. It’s all a part of the magic. Staying true to the characters is key when you’re writing a series. I know I’ve followed a few series and thought: “WHAT? She would never do that!” LOL. And usually that means the writer has lost me.

  2. Ellen Stanton says:

    Sometimes characters like people, grow and evolve into people or characters we don’t recognize.

    The characters in my short mystery stories are generally based on traits of a number of people I know or have observed. Some plots are taken from true stories with my own twists and turns (particularly unsolved homicides or in one instance a death that was ruled a suicide that I truly believe was a homicide).

    By the way, I love your book and your characters.

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks for commenting and I’m so glad you like my book! It’s so true what you say about characters. Mine are growing and changing within the series, but in ways that are true to their characters. Cheers!

  3. madeline iva says:

    While I think that in America we can be uptight about sex, and yet the porn industry thrives, it sounds like the character in your book Maggie Rae — is interested in erotic romance. Something that’s not porn, and something that’s at the same time not uptight about sex. It IS interesting, and right now people ARE talking about it (think 50 Shades of Grey)

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      True! And maybe the reason the porn industry and erotica thrives is BECAUSE we are so uptight about sex. 😉 Thanks for commenting Madeline!

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