By Julie, waiting for spring to arrive in Somerville
It is always such a thrill to know someone from conferences and then get to celebrate their debut. A wicked welcome to Connie Berry, and a huge congratulations on A Dream of Death!
LEARNING THE HARD WAY
by Connie Berry, author of the Kate Hamilton Mystery Series
In exactly seven days—one week—I will see the realization of a dream I thought might never come true. My debut mystery, A Dream of Death, will find its way to actual readers, who will enter a world I created, the fictional Isle of Glenroth in the Scottish Hebrides.
I hate to tell you how long it took me to wrestle a shapeless blob of a story into publishable form. Way too long. But along the way I learned valuable lessons I’d love to pass on to others. Some lessons must be learned the hard way, by making mistakes and correcting them; but other lessons can be shared, saving time and energy for those who are willing to take them to heart. Here are my top two:
1. Take time to learn the craft of writing.
When I first sat down at my computer and typed Chapter One, I thought I knew how to write a mystery. How hard could it be? I had a Master’s Degree in English Literature, after all. My writing skills had always been my strong suit. I’d read countless mysteries and understood basic things like planting clues and ending chapters with something to keep the reader turning pages. I dreamed that *somehow* [insert magical thinking here] my work would dazzle. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My first clue came with a manuscript critique at Sleuthfest with Neil Nyren. “Well,” he said, his eyes glazing over, “this needs some work, doesn’t it?” I’d seen that look before—on the face of a long-suffering middle-school band director. As deflated as I was, that critique jerked me into the real world and sent me to as many classes and books on craft as I could afford. I learned things I needed to know—like weasel words, head-hopping, POV, show-don’t-tell, pacing, story structure, less-is-more, story and character arcs, and so much more. I’m still learning.
2. Develop relationships with other writers.
One wintry Ohio day years ago, I attended a meeting of writers at the main library. That meeting was the local chapter of Sisters in Crime. There I met the wonderful Amanda Flower, whose first book was about to be published. She was so encouraging and down-to-earth that I decided to join the group. That led me to Sisters in Crime National, Guppies, Mystery Writers of America, and eventually conferences such as Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest, and Crime Bake. I’ll never forget the day I stood in the mystery section of our local Barnes & Noble and realized I had actually met most of the authors on the shelf.
As encouraging as friendships are, though, the greatest benefit in developing relationships in the writing community is the opportunity to get real help and constructive criticism from people who know what they’re talking about. If you want someone to tell you how amazing you are, have your mother read your stuff. If you want the truth, ask another writer. The mystery writing community is incredibly generous. I don’t know who said it first, but I love the quote: “No one must fail in order for me to succeed.” Ask someone to read and comment on a chapter or two. Swap manuscripts. Join your local SinC chapter. Attend writers’ workshops. Listen. And, of course, reciprocate. Give back. Help someone else succeed. Celebrate their successes and commiserate when the inevitable rejections come. We’re in this together.
Who in the writing community has helped you become a better writer—and how?
Like her main character, Connie Berry was raised in Wisconsin by charmingly eccentric antique collectors. Besides reading and writing mysteries, Connie adores cute animals, foreign travel, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable dog, Millie. She can be found at www.connieberry.com.
A DREAM OF DEATH (Crooked Lane Books):
Autumn has come and gone on Scotland’s Isle of Glenroth, and the islanders gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-tourist-season gala. Spirits are high. A recently published novel about island history has brought hordes of tourists to the small Hebridean resort community. On the guest list is American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton, Kate returns reluctantly to the island where her husband died, determined to repair her relationship with his sister, proprietor of the island’s luxe country house hotel, famous for its connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie. The next morning a body is found, murdered in a reenactment of an infamous crime described in the novel. The Scottish police discount the historical connection, but when a much-loved local handyman is arrested, Kate teams up with a vacationing detective inspector from England to unmask a killer determined to rewrite island history—and Kate’s future