Why do you write cozy mysteries?
I have lived in small towns for most of my life, so the setting of a cozy mystery is familiar to me. I can’t imagine trying to write something set in an urban area. While I like to construct complicated plots, I like mysteries where the characters can be explored in some depth, and I prefer to have a cast of characters that I can introduce to the reader. The interplay among them is important to making the story compelling and encouraging the reader to solve the puzzle of the crime. The reader should have a sense that the people inhabiting the book are reachable.
The aspect of a cozy that is most important to me is the implied contract that is developed between the writer and the reader, the contract that says this book will not disappoint. I will solve this crime and set the village right again, perhaps not the same as before, but the bad guy or gal will be brought to some kind of justice. There is an inherent optimism in a cozy mystery: this crime can be solved and justice will prevail.
Please tell us about your book. What ideas or images inspired this novel?
Failure Is Fatal is the second book in the Laura Murphy mysteries and, as with the first one, Murder Is Academic, we have snoopy Dr. Laura Murphy, a member of the psychology department at a small public university in Upstate New York, investigating murder, this time of a coed. She’s encouraged to help ferret out clues by a detective and her good friend in the local police department. Her obsession with finding the killer puts her relationship with Guy LaFrance on the back burner, making the future of their love affair problematic. But Laura perseveres despite Guy’s reservations. Fueled with chocolate and her nosy nature, Laura’s quest brings her into conflict with a local fraternity and forces her to look closely into her own past for clues in this murder.
The idea for the book came out of a study on sexual harassment undertaken by my undergraduate research assistants and me the year before I retired. The project, hitting close to home for some faculty on campus, stirred up controversy. I simply took that controversy and blew it up into a murder.
Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write? If so, please describe that reader.
The typical reader for my work is a woman over the age of forty, and knowing this about my readers, I write to this description, not only because it appeals to this group, but also because cozy mysteries always find this age and gender group as their reading audience. Mysteries set in a small town where the characters know one another, where motives for murder abound and are intimate, and where the protagonist is fond of and part of village life is my ideal reader’s cup of tea, although cozies can feature jazzier settings and quite sassy protagonists. I think Laura Murphy is that kind of protagonist. If my readers don’t want to be like her because she’s too outgoing and in-your-face, they secretly like her style and might want her as the friend who says what they might not. I write the protagonists I like, but I’m pretty certain I’m creating a story the reader will find compelling because I include humor as well as serious themes, and the bad guy always gets it in the end.
Please describe your writing routine.
I do most of my writing in the morning and afternoon. With my morning coffee, I check my emails and attend to the business of writing and promotion. I’ll then work on my manuscript, taking a break for lunch and returning to work in the afternoon. I try to take computer breaks every hour, engaging in more active tasks such as walking to get the mail, doing a load of laundry, hanging out clothes, gardening, prepping for dinner or cleaning a closet. There’s something about cleaning a closet or organizing my desk or a bureau of clothing that allows me to let my thoughts free and sometimes I get writing ideas from accomplishing these menial tasks. I never write after dinner or before I go to bed. I’ve found that I can’t sleep if I do.
As for the writing itself, sometimes I have a plot outline which I check from time to time. Other times, I’m just winging it. I do go back and reread what I’ve written the day before so that I can pick up the thread of where I’m headed and to give my writing flow.
What advice do you give new writers just starting out?
Learn your craft by reading about it, taking classes offered by the Guppies, the unpublished arm of Sisters In Crime, joining professional writing organizations such as Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime, attending conferences, finding a critique partner, or joining a critique group online or in your area. Read books in your genre, lots of them. Read outside your genre. Talk with other authors, but don’t use them as the final word on what you write or how you write it. Your aunt wants the best for you, but she’s probably not the best judge of your work, so don’t think friends and relatives will function well as sounding boards. You need feedback, so get it from professional sources by swapping manuscripts or partial manuscripts through the Guppies Group as suggested above. If you are going to go the traditional route in publishing by finding an agent, learn how to do this. Learn how to write a synopsis and a query letter.
Most importantly, find your own voice, the one you’re comfortable with, and then write, write, write!
More About Failure is Fatal:
Someone at Professor Laura Murphy’s college appears to be playing a joke on her by planting sexually explicit stories in her research results, but the joke turns deadly when one story details the recent stabbing murder of a coed.
Laura’s close friend, Detective Derrick Pasquis from the local police, asks for her help in interviewing the prickly suspects who resist intervention from outside the campus community. Eager to search out clues, Laura ignores warning signs that playing amateur sleuth may jeopardize her newly developing romance with Guy. And of course her usual intrusive manner puts her at odds with everyone on campus — colleagues, the college administration, the head of campus security and fraternity members. Is there no one Laura can’t offend in her eagerness to find the truth? The closer she gets to solving the crime, the more it appears that the past — the coed’s, that of a prominent faculty member and Laura’s own — is the key to the murder. Caught in an early winter blizzard, Laura must choose between wandering the mountains and freezing to death or taking her chances with a killer clever enough to make murder look like the work of an innocent student.
Grab your copy here: [amazon text=Amazon&asin=B01AYNXO64]
How to connect with Lesley:
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