We are happy to welcome author Beverly Allen aka Barbara Early! The second in her Bridal Bouquet Mystery Series, For Whom the Bluebell Tolls, just came out. Beverly has a secret but she shares them with us today.
I’m not a florist, but I play one in fiction…
I get a kick out of a few comments I’ve seen in reviews for the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries. From florists. It seems—or so they say—that I must have worked in the floral industry. Apparently it shows.
And I laugh! NOT at the reviewers! I love them. (Well, most of them.)
See, true confession: I’d never been all that into flowers, thanks to a pretty severe allergy. My husband had even been prohibited from sending me them. My only research, before writing the proposal, was to visit a local florist. I explained what I was doing, and they invited me into their back room. I took notes about the things I saw and heard, asked questions, and just watched them work for a couple of hours. “The best tool a florist has is a really sharp knife.” Can we say murder weapon? Then I went home, popped a Benadryl, and started writing.
More research came later: books, You-Tube videos, Pinterest pages, even a hands-on course in floral design. (Yay! More Benadryl!) I practice at home with silk flowers because of the allergy–and because my cats try to eat any live flowers I bring into the house. And a lovely woman at my church, who has since retired from running her own flower shop, reads through all my manuscripts before I send them in. My most treasured compliment came when she told me she wished she could work with Audrey and Liv (My protagonist and her perky sidekick.)
So here’s what I learned about faking an occupation or hobby I might not share. (Most apply even if you do.)
Don’t try too hard to prove it. Sprinkle in details. I’m not sure readers would like pages of nothing but the details of flower arranging. Instead, I let my amateur sleuth think about the murder suspects as she works on her arrangements. Since Audrey Bloom designs her bouquets using the old Victorian language of flowers, sometimes their meanings relate to the case or spark a new idea.
Don’t think you have to include every step. Unless you’re writing a culinary. And even then, those steps don’t have to go in the narrative, just in the enclosed recipes (I love recipes in books!) Those little, detailed sub-tasks also make great dialog attributions (replacing “he said” or “she said”), since my protagonist will often talk about the cases with her coworkers.
Do include sensory details and physical reactions to working hard. What does the working environment look, smell, and feel like? How do your feet, legs, or back feel after a long stretch of working at that occupation and craft?
Let your sleuth think about and enjoy her occupation or hobby. Audrey Bloom evaluates her environment based on her point of view, and flowers, since they are important to her, color her world. And if this can tie in to the mystery as well? All the better. And it should be upbeat. I’m not sure too many readers want to hear the protagonist grouse about her job, especially if that job was the hook that brought them to the series in the first place.
Remember your audience. Cozies will always have detractors who say that adding these details into a mystery is filler. But if you’ve seen the lovely covers Berkley has designed for my books, you’ll understand that many of the readers who pick up the books enjoy flowers, and they expect to see them displayed prominently in the mystery as well. Will it be too much for some readers? Yeah, well, not everyone will enjoy the same books. But for the most part, readers who read culinaries enjoy the cooking, people who read needlecraft mysteries enjoy their crafts, and people who read books covered with flowers probably like flowers.
I’m beginning to love flowers. In theory. And at a distance.
Beverly Allen writes cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. The first two books in the bestselling Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series: Bloom and Doom and For Whom the Bluebell Tolls are now available from Berkley Prime Crime, with the third, Floral Depravity, set to release in October.
Beverly grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and four naughty, but adorable cats.
Those are great tips, Barbara/Beverly. I take something of the same approach when my farmer is working and thinking about the murder. Best of luck with the series!
I am also allergic to most flowers among other stuff. I don’t stuff up reading about them though. 🙂
Good morning, all, and thanks for allowing me to guest today. Edith, I remember you best from the new author breakfast at Malice a couple years back. I was contracted but not yet published, so it was nice celebrating your first book with you and learning some tips!
Gram,ugh. and they’re so pretty. I think I’ve been able to narrow down my allergies to everything in the lily family. (I also have a food intolerance to onions and garlic, and they’re in the same family. Although apparently, so the allergist told me, it is impossible to be allergic to lilies because the pollen is too large.)
I have the same problem with flowers and perfume! Thanks for joining us today!
Sherry, you and I might indeed have the same problem. Most perfumes are derived from lilies. And thanks for inviting me!! Sherry moderated the first panel I was on at Malice Domestic–and did a fantastic job! Looking forward to catching up this year!
It was my first time moderating a panel and thank heavens I had such a fabulous group of authors. It made moderating easy!
And very interesting about the lilies being the perfume base! I don’t believe that you can’t be allergic stuff!
Welcome, Barbara and/or Beverly! I think you’ve got it exactly right: give readers enough detail to make what you’re describing feel real to them (using all the senses) but know when to stop!
Thanks, Sheila. The hardest part is knowing that stopping point. I wondered if I’d gone too far when some reviewers claimed I did, but then others said they really enjoyed all the flower references.So I decided to go with the flower lovers. 🙂
I’ve had so many people tell me how much they enjoyed learning about organic farming from my books, so I figure a little more detail is probably okay!
I’ve had the exact same thing with flowers, Edith.Those who enjoyed learning something about them (right along with me) far outnumbered those who thought there was a little too much. But I still try to weave them into the plot . But I guarantee they’re not filler. If I were to use filler, I would chose something that didn’t take so much research!
Thanks for visiting with us today! It seems like you really made the most of that visit to the florist! Congrats on the series and on your lovely covers!
Hi, Jessie. I’m thinking we met at Malice, too. At the Berkley dinner? And thanks!
We did! We sat right across from each other at the table. Looking forward to seeing you again!
Such great tips! My protaganist is a clock maker. I knew nothing about clocks, and am learning, but I am definitely using the “sprinkle the details” method. Looking forward to seeing you at Malice!
Yes, my new friend! I’m excited about your new clock series. Congratulations! And we share a release day–October is going to be fun!!
October is getting too full. One of you need to come out sooner. I have spoken. 😉
Let me get my editor on the phone…just kidding, Mark. You’re just going to have to read faster!
It really is! My first book–I am so excited! Looking forward to seeing you at Malice!
As long as its a subject the writer is interested in and enjoys researching, it works.
To quote Stephen Carter, quoting his editor…
And now I’ve come out as a fraud! Well, not really. After all that research I now know a lot about flowers, and have a few people watching my back to make sure I don’t mess up too badly.
I think the key words are, “believe you know everything about it.” Actually, I think he was referring to historicals, which he writes, and to sci-fi. Two circumstances in which you could never have actually experience the world, but you need to be convincing.
I have read some cozies that get bogged down in the details of the hook. I’m not that interested in flowers but loved both of your books because you sprinkle it in but remember that the mystery and characters are why I am reading. It’s a fun addition to the story without trying to show up the story.
I’m allergic to flowers as well. In fact, I get allergy shots for grass, trees, weeds, and dust. Really helps my allergies, although pollen can still get to me, especially in the spring.
Wonderful meeting you at Bouchercon! Wish we could have talked longer.
It was, Mark. That conference was a whirl. Kind of wish I was still there. (Winter blahs, and all.) Although I’m not getting anything near as much snow as some of these New England ladies are getting today
Hi, Beverly! Congratulations to my release day sister. I can’t wait until I finish the book I’m writing now so I can start reading some new-to-me series, like yours, which totally caught my eye. Aren’t the Berkley covers just swoony-beautiful? Are you attending Malice this year? I (and most or all of the Wickeds) will be there. My confession: I’m not Greek, but I write about them and adapt the recipes.
Looking forward to meeting you in person, then, Susannah! Yes, I am already registered for Malice! Great conference!
Your book caught my attention–yes, because of the beautiful cover and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the title FETA ATTRACTION, but also because I had just finished scouring the web for recipes for a Mediterranean-themed potluck dinner. It wasn’t that easy when you can’t eat onions or garlic! So I’m glad I got the bouquet series!
I ended up making chicken marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano (so good!)–and I faked a recipe just roasting potatoes with herbs in olive oil. I figured you couldn’t go wrong with olive oil. 😉
You can NEVER go wrong with olive oil!
Ha! Two similar recipes are in the back of Feta Attraction! (Lemon chicken and roasted potatoes. You could leave out the onions in my potatoes) Clearly, our connection goes deeper than release day and upstate New York 🙂
Susannah!! That is too funny. Now, the books are set in “upstate” NY, am I right? Whereabouts? And do you personally have connections to the area?
My fictional Bonaparte Bay is located in the Thousand Islands. Turn north at Syracuse and drive 2 hours until you hit the St. Lawrence River. If you cross into Canada, you’ve gone too far, LOL! And yes, I grew up there. Not in one of the River towns (though I worked there summers during college at St. Lawrence U), but closer to Fort Drum. And my family still lives in that area.
Pretty area. I’ve been planning a trip that way–only it keeps getting put off for some reason. I wanted to overnight in the Thousand Islands, and then drive onward to Montreal. But then I wanted to circle around to Nova Scotia and PEI, take in a coastal cruise, circle back through New England to NYC, then back home.
Come to think of it, I know exactly why it keeps getting put off. It’s insane. Maybe I should settle on a weekend in the Thousand Islands.
You could totally do that trip–if you had a month or two!
I haven’t read any of your series yet, but I put it on my list! My protagonist is a brewmaster and I’ve learned just enough about brewing beer to make the reader think I know how to actually do it, lol. I’ve met two really nice brewers who are willing to answer all my dumb questions. And the research is fun!
Also, I’ll be going to my first Malice this year. Hope to meet all of you in person!
Hi, Joyce–you’re going to love Malice, I think! Be sure to look me up and say hello! And don’t enjoy your research too much. LOL.
Joyce – let’s go out for an IPA at Malice! Great research topic…
You can never have too much fun with research–especially involving certain beverages!
Edith, you’re on. More research!
I’m intrigued. So far, I’ve only used protagonists with jobs I now very well, but you open up the possibility that I could consider things further afield.
In my Jesse Damon Crime Novel series, Jesse works midnight to eight in a steel fabrication plant, first as a laborer and later as a forklift driver. I can relate to that, since it echos some of my work experience. When have a scene inside the plant, I can almost smell the hot steel and oil, and hear the pounding of the presses.
I’ve have to work on getting that same feeling for other places.
You know, Kathleen, sometimes it might even be harder to write something you’re more familiar with. Sometimes if we’re overly familiar with an environment, it seems as if we begin to take a lot of the sensory details for granted. Kind of like you don’t smell your own cats’ litter boxes. I still think it helps to get into that environment and take note of the sensory details. Once I was sitting in the car in a thunderstorm–and I had just written a scene that took place during a bad storm–and I had to whip out my notebook and jot things down. I’d experienced storms, but putting myself in that environment jogged all kinds of sensory details that I went back and peppered the scene with. What an improvement!
Going back to what Barbara Ross said earlier, I’m amazed when Sci-fi and fantasy writers can pull me into worlds they’ve created with nothing but words. Or when historical writers take me back to a time that they haven’t visited either. I wish I could say I was up for the challenge! Maybe someday.
And thanks so much for inviting me to share on Wicked Cozy Authors!! It was fun hanging out with you for the day and meeting new people!
Hi, Beverly —
Thanks for the great tips. I found myself taking notes. It’s a challenge to include just the right amount of detail about your main characters occupation or hobby. Some readers love lots, while others will skim over it. The problem is meeting the expectations of an agent or editor.
Comments are closed.