We've all read hundreds of times of the importance of exercise, especially as we grow older. Who isn't familiar with the expression "sitting is the new smoking?" I won't go into the nitty gritty details of why sitting is so bad for us, except to mention it has been implicated in many conditions, from heart disease to nerve damage. And while our society is more sedentary these days, I think those of us who are writers have to pay special attention to the matter.
I don't love to exercise and won't initiate an exercise session on my own, which is why I take aerobic and yoga classes, either in person or via Zoom, three to five times a week. And I go for a walk occasionally. Luckily, there are many forms of exercise available to us, so we can choose those we really like. There's swimming, Pilates, dancing, skating, bike riding, various sports and working out in a gym to mention a few.
But the benefits of working out and staying in shape are significantly lost if we sit in front of a computer for hours at a time. It's essential that we get up and move every twenty minutes or so.
Just get movin'.
Get a drink of water in the kitchen. (And bypass the chocolate)
Walk around your office for a few minutes.
Do a few stretching exercises.
Having a pet helps keep us moving. I remember how my cat Sammy used to make his special sound, telling me he wanted a few treats or some attention. But now that Sammy's gone, I need to remember to get up and move on my own.
For those of us who get so involved in the creative process and forget to come up for air, you can set your alarm to remind you to get up and stretch. Or move. Sometimes moving around helps inspire new story ideas. Some of my plot problems are solved as I walk around my community.
When I sit too long, rising to my feet can be painful. There's no question that I feel better after exercising and moving about. If only I didn't have to do it so often! But that's the way the cookie crumbles, as they used to say. Moving and exercising are as essential to our well-being as eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.
A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense and novels for kids. Her books have received many accolades. As Allison Brook she writes the Haunted Library series. Death Overdue, the first in the series, was an Agatha nominee for Best Contemporary Novel in 2018. Out of Circulation, the eighth book in the series, will be published in August, 2024. Other mysteries include the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series and the Twin Lakes series.
Her juvenile novel, And Don't Bring Jeremy was a nominee for six state awards. Rufus and Magic Run Amok was an International Reading Association-Children's Book Council Children's Choice and has recently come out in a new edition as the first in a series of four books. Rufus and the Witch's Drudge, the second in the series, will be published in 2024.
Marilyn lives on Long Island, where many of her books take place. She loves traveling, reading, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, chatting on FaceTime with her grandkids and playing with her kittens, Romeo and Juliet.
By William Ade
A rabbi, a priest, and a minister walk into a bar. Hearing someone speak that line, you might lean in, anticipating a good laugh. Maybe your stomach muscles tense, fearful you’re about to be offended. Your anxiety could be from wondering why you're failing to get the joke while everyone else rolls with laughter. Being funny is risky, but when you flop, the embarrassment subsides as soon as you leave the room. Writing funny, however, is more hazardous for a reputation because if it offends, it’s forever in print.
A number of years ago, I created a character named Nic Knuckles, a caricature of noirish crime-solving protagonists like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Nic twice starred in published short stories and once won me a hundred dollars in a humor contest. I didn't consider myself a writer of humor until my then-editor at Level Best Books (LBB), Harriette Sackler, commented on the subtle drollness in my first LBB book, Do It for Daisy.
Perhaps Harriette was onto something, I thought, but I didn’t pursue the possibility. I had other fiction to write, and I wasn’t sure a character like Nic Knuckles could go 80,000 words and not grow tiresome.
It wasn’t until I realized that my fellow Besties were just too darn good at writing crime and mystery stories that I changed my mind. I mean, come on, how could I stand out against so many talented writers of fantastic novels? I needed a niche, and perhaps I really could find a bigger audience by writing humorous crime mysteries. I pitched a series to LBB with Nic Knuckles as the continuing protagonist, and Harriette was all in, giving me a three-book contract in late 2022.
(While it is suspicious that Harriette left Level Best Books soon after performing the developmental edit on the Nic Knuckles manuscript, I genuinely believe it was for the dogs.)
Not that Nic wasn’t problematic from the start. The style I was emulating was dated and prone to misogyny. A few years ago, when I was workshopping a Nic Knuckles short story, a younger female member of my critique group pointed out that Nic’s use of the word dame to describe women was offensive. I made the change but wondered what my friends at Dames of Detection would’ve thought. That was a lesson learned. Humor is often generational, and yesterday's funny gag might be today's cringe-worthy faux pas.
I’d always taken pride in my progressive politics and history of supporting the social causes of women and minorities. But I’m also an old white guy from the Midwest who has stuck his foot in his mouth more than a few times trying to be funny. Therefore, after I finished writing the first draft of Big Scream in a Small Town, employing a diversity of editors and beta readers was essential to keep me from unintentionally causing hurt.
My developmental editor for the novel was a young woman with a great sense of humor who just as quickly pointed out gags that fell flat. My editor at LBB, Ms. Sackler, with her broad view of the current publishing environment, provided another defensive layer against tactlessness. Before submitting my final draft, I hired a sensitivity reader and asked the woman to scrub the manuscript again.
The sensitivity reader was a good investment, and she identified a few remaining offenders. She wasn’t perfect, however. In the story, I mentioned that Nic Knuckles was a proud graduate of Bernie Madoff High School. The sensitivity reader thought I was disrespecting high school graduates and suggested I change it up. After I pointed out that having a school named after one of history’s greatest fraudsters was the gag, did she realize she missed the joke.
Another lesson learned. Humor can be easily misconstrued, so be prepared to defend or defuse.
The comedian and podcaster James Creviston talked about the difference between blue and clean comedy, pointing out the multiple variations of each. Although his experience was as a stand-up comedian, his observations were relevant to writing funny.
“Clean comedy is a type of comedy that is free from profanity, sexual content, and other topics that may be considered inappropriate for all ages. It is often referred to as family-friendly comedy. Clean comedy can be further divided into four types: club clean, TV clean, church clean, and squeaky clean. Club clean is something that would not offend most people, with no cursing or sexual references. TV clean is comedy acceptable on network television, where innuendo is acceptable. Church clean is tight with no innuendo or hint of obscenity. Squeaky clean are jokes grade schoolers can tell each other.”
I’d have to say the first draft manuscript of Nic Knuckles spouting his observations about his experiences was probably club-clean. After three layers of review encouraged me to kill several of my darlings, Big Scream in a Small Town now reads TV clean. Church clean, it’s not, and I'm good with that. Otherwise, Nic Knuckles would have no unique identity and not be humorous, just odd.
Another thing I discovered in bringing Nic Knuckles to life was that some people would prefer to avoid mixing humor with their favorite genre. Big Scream in a Small Town is faithful to Richard Chandler's Ten Commandments of the Detective Story, and Nic Knuckles is the prototypical noir investigator, but presenting him as an American cousin of Inspector Clouseau was off-putting to some early readers.
That awareness created a new concern. How do readers, thinking they just bought a classic crime noir, not feel cheated when I fail to deliver on that expectation? I hoped that authoring the book as Nic Knuckles would be sufficient a clue that the story was a parody. My promotional campaign is built around social media using short, funny videos underscoring Nic’s peculiar approach to solving crime. If that doesn’t do it, caveat emptor will have to be my defense.
If you're going to write funny, write what you think is funny, but be aware of the risks. There’s a good chance there’s an audience with a similar sense of humor who’ll become loyal readers. Although I suspect the less clean or quirkier you are, the smaller the likely readership.
How well will my sense of humor play with readers? I don’t know. Check with me in a year, and we can compare book sales. Then we’ll see whether I’m laughing or not.
Hey, did you hear the one about the writer of cozy mysteries who didn't like cats or dogs? Yeah, I know. The premise is too unbelievable to be funny.
William Ade was born and raised in a large family in small town Indiana during the fifties and sixties; an experience that strongly influences his writing. While attending graduate school at the University of Illinois, he met and married his wife, Cindy and following graduation, they headed to the East Coast. After settling in Northern Virginia, they raised two children into adulthood. Those years of love and life also influences many of his stories.
Ade’s latest novel, written as Nic Knuckles, is Big Scream in a Small Town and is the first in the Nic Knuckles Collection published by Level Best Books (LBB). LBB also published his crime novel, Do It for Daisy in 2021. Other novels by the author includes, The Man Who Fixed Things (2023), Art of Absolution (2019), and the serialized The Inevitable Failure of Jonathan Golding (2022). His short story collection, No Time for His Nonsense was released in 2019. His short stories have appeared in Mysteries Unimagined, the Rind Literary Magazine, The Broken Plate, Black Fox Literary, Mindscapes Unimagined, and the 2018 and 2019 Best New England Crime Stories. His short story, Punch Drunk, will be part of the 2023 Chesapeake Crimes: Three Strikes – You’re Dead anthology.
by Heather Weidner
What’s your writing process? This is what works for me. If something resonates with you, give it a try. If it doesn’t work with your schedule and lifestyle, stop and try something else. With this method, I can usually write three mysteries a year.
My first novel took five years to write and another two to get published. I edited each little paragraph and chapter, and I did hundreds of rewrites. The revision focus was good, but I never got around to finishing the book. I also read every writing book I could get my hands on. I finally picked the ones that spoke to me and donated the rest of them to the Friends of the Library. It was time for BICFOK. I learned this from the amazing Alan Orloff. BICFOK is butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Tune out the distractions and write.
Writing is a business, and most readers read a lot. For me, seven years of prep was too long. I knew I had to find a way to speed it up if I wanted to be a published author with more than one book credit.
I write cozy mysteries, and they’re generally between 71 and 75k words. I write a series, so I try to think about the next book, and I also make sure to mention something that happened in a previous book to remind readers of past adventures or to peak their interest if they haven’t read the earlier books.
Getting Started - I spend about 2-3 weeks doing a summary outline for each book. This helps me see plot holes. It helps me know where to add clues and red herrings. It also lets me plan out the murder or caper. I know who does it and why. It also keeps me from getting stuck in the saggy middle of the writing process. I know what goes in each chapter. This summary also helps me write the dreaded synopsis later. It is the plan or roadmap when I have to pick up the project on different days.
The Outline - When it’s done, I look over each chapter to make sure there’s enough suspense. Sometimes as writers, we want to move on to the next thing, but you need to slow down the action to build tension. I also highlight the comic events and the romance to make sure they’re sprinkled throughout the story. I also check to make sure there are enough motives for some of the other characters, so it might be plausible that they are the guilty party.
The Characters - I have a spreadsheet for each book in the series. It has a column for each book. I list basic facts for each person to make sure I keep important attributes consistent. Examples include what kind of car they drive, personality traits, hair color, eye color, etc. I also have a second chart to list key places in the book.
The First Draft - When I sit down to create the first draft, I just write. I don’t go back and edit and revise. I just write. This is what the great Mary Burton calls the “sloppy copy.”
During the writing time, I set a word count goal to keep me on target. I usually do 1k on days I have to work and 3k on weekends and holidays. If I stick to my schedule, I can usually have a rough, first draft in a little over two months. Life does get in the way sometimes. When that happens, I try to write ahead of my word count goal. If I can’t plan ahead, I don’t beat myself up over it.
I also don’t stop to research or verify things while I’m writing. I make a note in the manuscript and highlight it. That way, I know to go back and check on it during revisions. Keep writing.
Time for Revisions - When I finish the first draft, I let it sit for a couple of days. Then I jump into revision and editing mode. I usually do three or four full revisions on the entire book. I print it out and proofread on paper. I run spell check each time there is a round of revision to catch any little typo gremlins that found their way into the story.
Beta Readers and Critique Group - When I think I’m done with the revisions, I let critique or beta readers give it a whirl, and they always provide good feedback. When I get their suggestions back, I do more revisions and proofreading.
Editors - I am so fortunate to have a fabulous agent and great editors, so I don’t pay for an independent editor anymore. But before I had these amazing resources, I did hire an editor to go through my manuscript. You often get one chance to pitch to an agent or publisher, and I had to make my work the best it could be.
Each round of editing leads to more revisions and proofreading. (Spoiler alert: When the publisher gets the manuscript, there are several more rounds of revisions and proofs to check.)
The Agony of Deadlines - One book in each of my three cozy series comes out each year. I don’t write well under a lot of pressure, especially of a looming deadline. I try to write ahead of my deadlines, so I have time for the hours of revisions ahead of my contract deadlines.
Flexibility and Grace - I create my outlines and daily word counts as tools to keep me on track. If I need to add or remove a chapter to make the book better, I just make a note on the outline and write on. And if I don’t make my word count one day, it’s not the end of the world. Life happens. I try to get back on track during the next writing session.
This is what I’ve found works for me. Try pieces and parts that appeal to you but know that your style is your own. If something doesn’t work, try another technique.
Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She writes the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, The Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and The Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries.She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Sisters in Crime – Chessie, Guppies, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
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