Author Archives: Kate Preston

About Kate Preston

A writer, lives in Montreal with her family. Loves the outdoors, (prefers summer to winter), tennis, and cooking.

What Are Cozy Mysteries?

By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA - i103005 254, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19945728

By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA – i103005 254, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19945728

I am new to the cozy mystery genre but have been reading many books in it since I started signing up for ebooks through various websites (For information on where to find free e-books, see this post).

I couldn’t figure out the phrase “cozy mystery” and wondered about the definition. What does someone do when they want to figure out the origin of something? She Googles it, of course!

I found this great article by Brian Klems over at Writers Digest, which explained the genre and history of the genre – and of course, the reason why I tend to gravitate to it. So, here are four things about cozy mysteries I didn’t know:

1. G-rating

Lack of violence or sex in a storyline. According to Klems, the first ones were written by Agatha Christie. While we see the dead body, we follow Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot around as they interview (never interrogate) their suspects.

2. Amateur Detective/Shop owner

These days, the sleuth tends to be amateur and owns his/her own business in a small town or community.

3. Fast-paced compared to the originals

The pace of the story is much faster today than in Agatha Christie times. In my opinion, this is probably due to our being accustomed to the fast pace of  TV programs and movies which translates into a page-turner in fiction.

4. Usually developed as a series

What hasn’t changed since Christie’s writing days is that most cozy mysteries are written as a series. They have become a popular sub-genre of crime fiction.

For more information on cozy mysteries, visit Brian Klems’ original article:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-things-you-should-know-about-writing-a-cozy-mystery-novel

 

 

Is Pride and Prejudice Outdated?

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/adam-helliker/164240/Colin-Firth-to-reunite-with-Pride-and-Prejudice-star

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/adam-helliker/164240/Colin-Firth-to-reunite-with-Pride-and-Prejudice-star

I ‘ve probably read Pride and Prejudice a thousand times — yes, that is an exaggeration, but I have read it enough times to help my daughter get 100% on her English assignment (yay me!). When I am looking for story structure, vivid characters and a plot with various sub-plots that fit together seamlessly, it is my go-to novel for inspiration!While my daughter was studying the book, she offered me her opinion  which was fairly blunt and blasphemous to Austen fans the world over. “It’s so boring. All they worry about is who is going to marry who, and what kind of match it is. Who cares?”

To say that the premise of the book was lost on her would be an understatement. She is 15 and brought up in an age and country where girls are taught that with the right amount of work, skill and talent, you can achieve what you want without attention to class level or gender. So Austen’s focus on “marrying well” and “above your rank” was something she couldn’t understand.

In a way, this is a story that should be taught along side history  or women’s studies in order to better understand the context of the story. Yes, marrying well was important, really, right up until a few decades ago.  I suggested she just read it for the story itself, the plot line and how all the characters interacted, instead of trying to fit it into the modern world.

She begrudgingly accepted my advice (I think it’s a first!), and read the entire thing, although she said she liked Darcy before he confessed his actions in the letter to Elizabeth after his first proposal. My daughter thought he showed too many signs of weakness after the letter! Wow, not much of a romantic.

In an age when fewer couples are marrying and women earn their own incomes and can choose whether or not they even want to marry (or get out of a marriage that isn’t working), Austen’s focus on marriage and social status seems “silly” according to my daughter. Listening to her comments about the novel, I can understand her perspective. It also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate just how much women have progressed in terms of equal rights thanks to the trailblazing women before us.

We also discussed how doctors and lawyers and other professionals were looked down upon at that time by the upper class, which she also had trouble with. Austen, at least, portrayed Elizabeth’s uncle (a lawyer) and aunt as smart, level-headed people who could get the job done. These characters contrasted with the lazy, indulgent and superficial relatives of Mr. Bingley. So, Austen was ahead of her time in terms of respecting the professional class of people vs. the aristocracy.

Had Austen been writing today, I like to think she would have created an entertaining piece on the social ills of our times. All in all, the romance of the story Austen created is timeless, and my daughter notwithstanding, Mr. Darcy is still held up as the ideal mate for many women out there.

 

 

What is biodynamic farming anyway?

512px-Wineries_Hwy_99

By Flickr user eyeliam (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/542571706/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In A Vintage Year, the main character, Harris Tucker, ends up working as a farmhand on a vineyard that happens to be bio-dynamic. I decided to make the farm bio-dynamic instead of organic for the interesting aspects of bio-dynamic farming. I did a lot of research and have found that a lot of bio-dynamic farms tend to be vineyards, especially those in North America.

Bio-dynamic farming was developed by a German scientist, Rudolf Steiner, in the 1920s. The idea behind it was all about helping the soil be the most fertile soil possible, and to work with the plants and animals raised on that soil. In the ’20s, a lot of farmers were becoming concerned with the quality of their crops based on the chemical fertilizers they were using. They had noticed that the quality of their crops was deteriorating.

Steiner went to work, believing that there were many factors involved in developing good soil that grows superior produce. He believed that soil fertility could be increased by using field preparations and compost preparations. The field preparations he developed are called 500 and 501 — these are the ones that involve stuffing a cow’s horn with manure and planting it in a field for the winter, then digging it in the spring in time for field preparation for planting. Compost preparations consist of herbs stuffed into the stomach of a red deer, or the lower intestine of a cow, and left in the sun for the summer, then buried in the winter and dug up for use in the spring. These preparations, six in total, are dubbed 502-508.

Planting your crops is based on the cycle of the moon and whether it is a root, leaf, flower or fruit type of crop.

Annual crops are rotated from year to year in order to stimulate the soil.

There is no scientific evidence that bio-dynamic farming produces any better results than organic farming, and it sure seems like it’s a lot more work than organic farming. However, I have spoken to bio-dynamic vineyard owners who swear by it and say that the flavour of the terroir so much more pronounced in bio-dynamic wines versus wines made from conventionally grown or even organic grapes.

For more information on bio-dynamic farming, check out some of these links.

Biodynamic v Organic Winemaking – Southbrook’s Ann Sperling Video

https://www.biodynamics.com/what-is-biodynamics

Here is a great website on the practicality and reality of biodynamic vineyard farming – love the website url: “http://biodynamicsisahoax.com” !

For the record, while my farm family are bio-dynamic farmers, I have to admit, that if I were a farmer, I would fall on the organic side of things. The extra work involved to make a farm bio-dynamic just doesn’t have me convinced that it’s necessary. Also, when you think about the tiny amounts of “preparations” that are mandated for field coverage (1 tsp. per hectare), you have to question how much work the preparation would really do. Sorry to those bio-dynamic farmers out there for being a skeptic.

 

 

Story Endings: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I just finished watching Hitchcock on Netflix. It’s a great film if, like me, you love Hitchcock films. I should preface that by saying I like his suspense films, not the horror ones. I hope you won’t think any less of me if I confess that I’ve never seen Psycho. Even today I can’t watch horror films — I am a big scaredy cat.

Anyway, Hitchcock is about the making of Psycho, and all of the resistance that Hitchcock came up against during its making, including the friction in his marriage to Alma (Helen Mirren). Near the end of the film, Hitchcock was having trouble with the ending of Psycho, we don’t exactly know what the problem was, just that it wasn’t working. Alma comes in to save the day; Hitchcock and Alma reconcile and together they finish the movie and as everyone knows, the film was a huge success.

Endings can make or break stories, so setting them up to be satisfying, is critical. Satisfying doesn’t have to mean happy, it just has to mean that it makes sense given the set of circumstances and characters.

Good Endings

There are the classic, excellent, tragic endings, for instance, Casa Blanca orThelma and Louise. Your heart goes out to the characters, but you  understand that the conclusions were logical, if heart-breaking.

Les Edgerton writes in one of my favourite books on writing, Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go,

…all good story endings and resolutions should involve both an element of a win and an element of a loss. Tidy endings that represent a clear-cut vitory or loss just aren’t very good endings.  p. 14

If you think about all the movies or books you love, there are both elements of a win and loss.

One of my favourite endings to a movie is in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (the 1988 remake with Steve Martin and Michael Caine). It worked so well and came out of left field all at the same time and it was absolutely consistent with the characters and the plot.

Another great ending was in Private Benjamin, (1980). The movie is about a woman discovering empowerment after being coddled most of her life, and in the end she learns the lesson well.

I will never forget the ending to Tin Cup where Kevin Costner screws up on the 18th hole the last day and loses the tournament. But as Molly (Renee Russo) points out when Roy (Costner) is wallowing in self-pity after shooting a 12:

It was the greatest 12 of all time. No one’s going to remember the Open 10 years from now, who won…but they’ll remember your 12!” [source]

Costner may not have won the game, but he got his self-respect back and because of that, he got the girl.

Bad Endings

There are endings that are so awful, they can take away any goodwill you built up during the time you’ve invested in the story (book or film). In addition to endings that tie things up too neatly, endings that are so open-ended make it look like the writer isn’t even sure what will happen. I finish those stories feeling frustrated — wondering, guessing, trying to figure out what might or might not happen.

Another bad ending style is introducing a new plot point 90% of the way through the story. I read a distinguished, well-known author’s book after it launched to huge fan fare and accolades. It was based on a true historical incident that had never been resolved, so I was curious to see how the author would resolve it. At the last minute, there was a bizzare and unforeseen plot twist that came from nowhere introducing a supernatural element that had never even been foreshadowed. The story lost its credibility in my eyes after that.

Stories, for the most part, involve hope. You are introduced to a problem at the beginning, and the reader or viewer hopes, along with the protagonist, that the issue will be resolved in their favour, or, if not, that another just as satisfying solution, will occur. Stories that open with a dark, forboding end in sight (say, an innocent prisoner on death row), and end in that manner (the prisoner being hanged), after trying every way to conquer it, are nothing but depressing. They suggest that you can’t do anything, so don’t even try, that hope is futile. I find those kind of stories discouraging — particularly in fiction, because there are enough of those examples from real life.

Ugly Endings

Then there are endings where you realize you’ve just been manipulated throughout the story. I remember reading this one book where the ending made the entire story useless. I was so mad, I wanted my time back. I have never read another one of the author’s stories.

Writing a good ending is hard. You have to follow the boundaries of your story and your characters’ behaviour, and yet even if it is predictable, you want to make sure it’s still interesting and that your readers will stay with you to the end. You also really need to respect your readers’  time and intelligence and know that if you do it right, the ending will wrap up the story well. You want to make sure that your readers (or viewers), feel that the time they’ve invested in your work was worth it.

If you have some favourite stories with memorable (good or bad) endings, let me know in the comments section.

 

 

Reading eBooks for Free

In this day and age of technology developments, publishing a first novel isn’t as difficult or as involved a process as was pre-internet. In fact, I remember this one time, I was walking through a shopping mall and a new author was standing beside a stack of books approaching people as they walked past, asking if they liked mystery or suspense novels and then pitching them on his.  I remembered thinking that if that was the way I would have to sell a self-published book I would probably sell one copy to each of my family members (maybe), and that would be it. I’m a terrible salesperson, and talking to each person individually, trying to convince them to buy your book, in a small town, well, it would take a very, very long time for you to spread the word about your book. In the old, pre-internet, days, using traditional publishers was the only way to go.

The internet age has changed the self-publishing field. I self-published without even bothering to send my book out to professional publishers or agents for a few reasons — the primary one being that I’m no spring chicken and I wanted to see it in the hands of readers before I go senile.

However, being self-published means you are responsible for getting your book out there and into the hands of people who might appreciate it. So, I’ve done a ton of research into book marketing in the last few months and what I have happily discovered is that there are plenty of sites where you can offer your book for free and where you can read other people’s high quality published work for free or heavily discounted prices as well. The only caveate to this is that I am only talking about e-books.  While my own preference is for a hard copy of a book, I have become used to downloading works onto my phone — perfect for my 50 minute subway and bus ride to work — and lighter than a book in print!

So, here are a few of my favourite sites where you can find free or discounted ebooks.

Story Cartel: I often use this site to make my own book available to readers. In exchange for a free copy, readers are asked to review it on any site they please. As a writer, I appreciate having a platform for people outside my own personal sphere to be able to find and read my book. As a reader, I have downloaded many wonderful books (and some that are not quite my cup of tea), that I have happily read and reviewed.

Noise Trade: I’ve uploaded my book to this site, which anyone can access for free. There is lots of great content on this site for book AND music lovers. It is a great way to discover indie authors and bands. In exchange for the download, there is a suggested tip tray. Personally, I would rather get reviews than tips, but I get the feeling the site is more geared towards music than books.

Reader’s Favorite: A great site for finding tens of thousands of new books from new and established writers. Writers can submit their book to get one free review from one of their reviewers. Reviewers receive the book for free and you will most likely see your review attached to editorial reviews for an author’s book on Amazon. They also have monthly book giveaway contests that you can enter to win the book of your choice.

The Fussy Librarian: A great site that only suggests free and low-priced eBooks that have received an average of 3.5-5 stars. The review ranges become more forgiving as books have an increased number of reviews. Subscribe to their daily email and get targeted suggestions based on the criteria you fill out in the subscription form.

Riffle: A good site for both discussions and discounted ebooks. You can get all kinds of books for your e-reader or phone. Subscribe to their newsletter to get books to get notified of  free and discounted book deals on your preferred platform (Amazon, Google Play, iBooks, etc.).

BookBub: Another site with tons of high-quality books available at discounted prices. Subscribe based on personal preferences for suggestions sent to your inbox every day.

One final discovery — at first, I was limited to the selection of books I was receiving because I have an iPhone and many of the books that I was interested in reading were only available on Amazon. It took me awhile, but I finally realized that there was probably an app for Kindle on iPhone. Lo and behold there is! So now I have the choice of books for Kindle or iPhone.

These are just a few of the many sites out there with low-priced and free ebooks available.

If you have a favourite site, please suggest it in the comments section.