COZIES, or cozy mysteries,* was the theme for the May meeting of Sisters in Crime-Orange County. The informal first part of the meeting included a round table discussion of the genre (and subgenres), well and little known authors, and several titles that straddled the line between cozy and soft/hard boil mysteries.
Jeri Westerson’s Medieval Noir mysteries as well as Jack Martin’s Civil War and Patricia Wynn’s Regency historical novels were discussed and debated. The fact that John J. Lamb, an ex-detective from Oceanside, wrote a series of collectible Teddy Bear mysteries surprised and delighted the group.
After a brief time to gather up snacks, soft drinks and coffee, SinC President, Gayle Carline, introduced the main speaker, newbie cozy author MARY MARKS.
Relaxed with the microphone – you got the feeling she was sitting in her living room in her favorite cushy chair talking to a circle of her best friends – Marks told the amazing story of her journey to publishing.
“I never thought of myself as a writer,” she began. “I wrote letters to my kids and to politicians, but that was about it. What I was, was a QUILTER! I made one hundred quilts in twelve years!” It was this hobby that got Marks started on the road to becoming a published author.
“After making so many quilts, I decided that I needed to keep a list, what they were and where they went. Then I noticed other quilters were taking photos of theirs and making scrapbooks. I began doing the same. Then I thought I ought to write a page about each one, and as I was doing that I was reminded about events and experiences in the past.”
After the fourth thick binder – almost a memoir of sorts – Marks showed them to her writer/editor daughter.
“Mom, take a writing class,” she said. Marks took her advice and signed up for a UCLA Extension class on memoir writing. She worked on her memoir for four years – writing about a difficult childhood and a rough life.
“After four years I got sick of it,” Marks confessed. “It felt like I was just whining.”
Then she signed up for another UCLA writing class, this one on writing mysteries. “Quilters like to piece things together,” she thought. “I can put clues together. I’ll write a book, fictionalizing some of my experiences!”
Six months later the first draft was finished and her instructor agreed to edit it (for a fee). “It’s crap,” was the verdict. However the woman encouraged Marks to keep working on it and take some more classes.
“I changed the POV from third to first person, and was able to add a lot of humor. (She’d always loved the humor in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books.) It took a year to write it and a few more months to polish it, but then she entered it in the Malice Domestic competition** for First Time novelists. To her amazement, she was a finalist and won third place. On the strength of that award, she was able to secure an agent, who sold her book six months later.
“My book is a cozy, in the crafters subgenre.*** My protagonist – like me – is a quilter of a “certain age.” She’s Jewish, overweight and over 55, a political activist, and a neighborhood organizer – again like me. Martha Rose is a wise-cracking LA girl, and all these characteristics figure strongly in my book.”
Marks then reviewed briefly her writing process (a favorite question from audiences). “I read and review cozy books, but I didn’t know all the rules for writing them. I begin with an idea. I know who gets killed, but not always the killer. And I don’t usually know how it ends. I just get my characters talking to each other, and they “show” me how it should go.”
“I don’t use outlines. Actually I’ve tried it on my third book (still in progress), but it hampered me. I felt obligated to follow it so I got rid of it.”
“I belong to a critique group and a writer’s workshop so my manuscript gets evaluated each step of the way. By the time it’s done, it’s pretty polished. I also use AutoCrit,**** the online writing wizard to help copy-edit my work.”
After answering a few questions Marks ended with a grin and, “I have a lot of fun being a writer at age 70.”
To learn more about Mary Marks and purchase her books, check out her website at http://marymarksmysteries.com/
For more info on Sisters in Crime – OC visit http://www.ocsistersincrime.org/
*Cozy mysteries have amateur sleuths, usually women. There is no overt sex, violence, or swearing, and they are usually set in a small town. Neither pets nor children can be seriously harmed, and the murder usually occurs “off stage.”
**A competition put on by St Martin’s Press and Mystery Writers of America, with the winning book getting published.
***Crafters include quilters, seamstresses, needle workers, knitters & crocheters, etc.