Edith/Maddie here, so happy to welcome my fellow novella writers to the blog!
Christmas Scarf Murder releases tomorrow, and the three of us thought we’d share our thoughts on the difference between writing a novella and writing a full-length book. Read down for a three-book giveaway!
Carlene O’Connor: *Absolutely no scarves were harmed during the writing of CHRISTMAS SCARF MURDER.
What’s the difference between a novel and a novella? A novella is shorter. The End. Cued canned-laughter and symbol-smash. A novella is around 32,000 to 50,000 words as opposed to a novel which ranges from 75,000 words to 125,000 words. Okay, all the boring stuff is out of the way. Are novellas limited in theme, or scope? No, I don’t feel limited. Do I have less suspects? You would think I would— but looking at my work, I still have around four to six suspects, although some get cleared sooner in the novellas. I tend to “loosen up” a bit with my approach to the novellas. Employ a “let’s just have fun” attitude, which is the secret of writing anything. Since we are given the method of murder— the first thing I consider is — who was murdered with a scarf, how, and why?
For “Christmas Scarf Murder” I wanted a fun tradition that is found in Ireland. For this one I decided to go with a Christmas Tractor Parade. When I lived on a houseboat in Seattle I always loved their Christmas boat parade, lights twinkling as they motored up and down Lake Union. It’s the same with the tractor parade— tractors lit up in Christmas lights parading down the street at night— how fun. That is of course unless something nefarious occurs, say, a long ugly Christmas scarf that gets caught in a tractor wheel…
Writing something short without sacrificing quality, can be daunting. As Mark Twain put it: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” It can be much easier to ramble on. But I like the challenge of a novella, and the change of pace. It is also fun to be given the same theme as the other writers, knowing they’ll soon come together in a fun anthology. (Shout out here to Maddie Day and Peggy Erhart). On release day it’s triple the celebration! That’s a wrap. I hope you enjoy the novellas as much as I do. And if you receive a lovely (or ugly) scarf for Christmas, do be careful whilst wearing it! Happy Christmas!
Peggy Ehrhart: The Knit & Nibble novellas I’ve written for Kensington’s holiday novella collections differ from the full-length books in ways obvious and not so obvious. Of course the novellas are shorter—each is about a third as long as a typical book in the series. Therefore I’ve given each novella only one murder, whereas the books usually have two. And the novellas have fewer suspects, because my sleuths have less time to work through and reject red herrings.
In the full-length Knit & Nibbles, the knit and nibble knitting club usually meets three times, with the first meeting very near the beginning of the book. The club members are an eccentric and opinionated group, and their discussions at the meetings offer me a chance to lay out aspects of the mystery and keep the reader posted on my sleuths’ progress or lack thereof. The third meeting usually happens at the end, and it gives my chief sleuth, Pamela Paterson, a chance to explain to her fellow knitters how she unraveled the mystery and identified the killer. Since the meetings always include coffee, tea, and dessert, the festive mood lends a celebratory feel to the last meeting, appropriate to the fact that with the killer brought to justice, order has now been restored.
The biggest difference between the novellas and the full-length books, however, is this. The Knit & Nibble series features an ongoing romantic subplot, presented in installments book by book: Will my sleuth, young widow Pamela Paterson, find love again? Individual books often include dramatic scenes in which hopes are raised—or dashed. It occurred to me when I was invited to contribute my first Knit & Nibble novella to Kensington’s 2020 Christmas collection, Christmas Card Murder, that the novella, “Death of Christmas Card Crafter,” might be a reader’s first experience with the Knit & Nibble series. So I decided to pause the romantic subplot in that one and in “Death by Christmas Scarf.” The reader might hear references to or meet current or past romantic possibilities but no progress is made in the novellas toward answering the crucial question of Pamela’s romantic destiny.
Maddie Day: Thanks, Carlene and Peggy! I can’t wait to read your contributions. I never hesitate to say Yes when my editor asks if I can write another novella, even though my schedule is always full, because … short. Mine have been about 25,000 words, and it simply doesn’t take as long to craft something that short, Mark Twain nothwithstanding. Like Carlene, I don’t find that I use fewer suspects. But similar to a short story, I need to make sure every character counts. I don’t name anyone who doesn’t play an important role in the book. Unlike Peggy, I haven’t thought about pausing a particular subplot for the novella. Maybe I should!
This novella is another in the Country Store Mysteries series, so I did have to figure out how to slide the story into book time between the published and to-be published books. This time it worked well. Batter Off Dead took place in July, and the next book, Four Leaf Cleaver (now up for preorder and on NetGalley!), is a St. Patrick’s Day story. Fitting in a Christmas novella was easy.
Another tricky part is the theme we share, Christmas Scarf. Hmm. At first I wanted to write a tale of someone meeting their end because they ate too fast. Scarfed down their food, so to speak. Editor says, “No, no, it has to be death by an actual scarf.” Back to the drawing board! But I figured it out, even though my contribution to the collection stayed titled “Scarfed Down.”
We hope you love our stories, and if you do, a short positive review is always a big help to the author.
Readers: What’s your favorite holiday garment, scarf or otherwise? Kensington will send a book each to three of you!
Carlene O’Connor is the USA Today bestselling author of The Irish Village Mysteries, and the acclaimed Home to Ireland Series, and soon the County Kerry Mysteries. Her mysteries have also been published in the UK, Germany, and Estonia. The Irish Village Mysteries have been optioned for television. She can be reached at https://carleneoconnor.net or https://www.facebook.com/CarleneOConnormysteries/.
Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor who currently writes the Knit & Nibble mystery series for Kensington. The eighth book in the series, Death of a Knit Wit, appeared in March and her Christmas novella, Death by Christmas Scarf, is included in Kensington’s just-released Christmas Scarf Murder. Her amateur sleuth, Pamela Paterson, is the founder of the Knit & Nibble knitting club, and Peggy herself is a devoted crafter. Visit her at www.PeggyEhrhart.com