VL: Today’s guest blog is by Teresa Inge, whose novella “Hounding the Pavement” is the opening work in the recently released To Fetch a Thief. Teresa has contributed to several anthologies both as author and as organizer. Today she will share her perspective on collaboration.
Just as writing is a lonely experience, collaboration is a group effort. As a short story author, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with many authors on several writing projects.
These projects have included the coordination of joint mystery anthologies. Some years ago, I came up with the idea to create the Virginia is for Mysteries series, a collection of sixteen short stories set in and around Virginia. I first discussed the series with the Sisters in Crime Mysteries by the Sea chapter members and the Central Virginia chapter members. Once members were on board to move forward, I organized an anthology committee. This began the wonderful partnership of writers joining together to create great mysteries. Along the way, we teamed up to generate timelines, book titles, number of contributors, submissions guidelines, promotion, and securing a publisher.
VL: As a contributor, I can say Teresa did a great job!
We also learned that working with multiple authors can be challenging with schedules, editing, and finding time to promote the books.
VL: What Teresa may be too polite to say is that it was sometimes a real pain in the neck—or somewhere! For example, people missing deadlines, arguing over suggested edits, and/or never being available for talks or signings.
Next, I created 50 Shades of Cabernet, a mysterious wine anthology with authors I knew from Malice Domestic, a fan-based mystery writer’s conference. But I took a different approach and solicited authors who were established, had a following, and created well-crafted mysteries. I knew from experience that these authors would put in the time needed to make the book successful.
More recently, I collaborated with three authors on To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, featuring four novellas that have “gone to the dogs.” In this howling good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs. Since I’ve been in several books with this particular group, we now have the knowledge and experience to create well developed mysteries and a strategic marketing plan.
Collaborating with multiple authors combines efforts to develop great mysteries and create a strong network, since there is strength in numbers.
VL: Teresa, thank you for sharing your insights. From your closing remarks, it sounds as though collaboration—like so many other things—gets easier with practice. No doubt many authors would benefit from working with and learning from you!
Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
VL: Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge. Although Rosemary doesn’t get into her story in To Fetch a Thief directly, “This is Not a Dog Park” is great. She should definitely go long again/more in the future. And as an added bonus, check out her dog!
I’ve commented to friends (and to anyone asking about my writing) that completing a novella was difficult for me, a short-story writer. As I reflect on this, the words to “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical Rent keep floating through my brain. Let me plant the ear-worm for you:
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a year in a life?
Now, let me connect the dots. Short stories have a word count of 4,000 to 8,000 words; those are the targets many publishers suggest when soliciting short story submissions. How long is that? At 250 words to a double-spaced manuscript page, you’ll find short stories weighing in at sixteen to thirty-two manuscript pages. What does that mean in a book? For a 5.5” x 8.5” book size, that translates to ten to twenty pages.
In writing a short story, you typically write twice the length and then cut, edit, and rewrite to produce a tight short story—eliminating half of what you initially wrote. I chose short story projects for several reasons. Primarily, I liked the compressed focus—of both the length and the writing period. I could assess my time and plan accordingly. Violà! I’d finish and see results within weeks or months.
For the first in the planned Mutt Mysteries series we aimed to produce a book including four novellas. “What are those?” you ask. Simplistically, a novella is a short novel or a long short story. To check what I tell you, I Googled “novella,” and found one explanation that a “novelette” runs 7,500 to 17,499 words, and a “novella” is 17,500 to 39,999 words. How precise! You guessed it—40,000 words and more is a novel. The varied fiction genres, however, have specific expectations. A mystery novel runs 80,000 to 90,000 words, for instance. The To Fetch a Thief novellas run about fifty pages each.
I wrote my first draft of “This is Not a Dog Park.” My word count was 8,300 words—and that was only the first draft! Remember my comment about expecting to cut half of a first draft? I was sunk. Clearly, this novella task was a different animal than a short story. Yes, but I didn’t realize the different animal was a beast! I floundered for several weeks, trying to “gin up” my plot and visualize the long mile to 17,500 words. (“Gin up”? Who says that? I looked up the idiom—see * below for the very interesting origin—I love words—but I digress!)
My first attempts at adding volume to the story were horrible. I found myself cranking up meaningless descriptions. I added useless comments. Each time I did this, my short story writing training rebelled at the waste and at the imprecision of the prose.
It took me adjusting to a completely different mindset to make any useful progress. The place to start for me was the plot. In a novella, I could have more happening than I could in a short story, and I explored that. In addition, my characters could interact more and build their relationships over several scenes. I gave myself permission to relax the compactness of short story boundaries. Still, my product was unfocused. It’s only when I deleted some useless scenes and repurposed others that I felt progress.
Back to the song. Here’s how the words translated to my novella ordeal:
Seventeen thousand—then add five hundred words.
Up to thirty-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine.
More than seventeen thousand five hundred words.
How do you measure,
Measure a plot?
In scenes or in lines?
In pages, in edits, in words by the ton?
Seventeen thousand—then add five hundred words.
How do you measure when your novella is done?
The beauty of this novella-writing exercise for me was that finally the “organicness” (that’s a dodgy word—“organicity” is worse—that layers on medical meanings) of writing emerged, finally, and I received the gift of having a glimpse of the work of a true novelist. Yikes, that’s some hard work! My regard for any novelist has increased, and my awe of good novelists compounds exponentially.
In my learning experience writing this novella, I did, as “Seasons of Love” reminds us, “You got to, you got to remember the love.” I do love writing!
* “Gin up” – one Googled source yielded the explanation below. You bet I checked the definition of “feague”! That definition used the euphemism “fundament” . . . I love words!
“Gin up” means enliven, excite or enthuse. Its probable derivation is from the 1800s British slang term “ginger up,” which referred to the practice of putting ginger up a horse’s butt to make him spirited and prance witha high tail, for purposes of show or sale. The other term for this practice is the verb “feague.” This is confirmed both by the online Phrase Finder from the UK and the OED. (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gin%20up)
VL: Thank you Rosemary! I appreciate your candidness and rich language. In addition, I think you are an inspiration to other writers striving to expand their writing lives. I do hope we collaborate again sometime. And to close out, just one more great photo.
Rosemary Shomaker has called Virginia home for decades. After a state government career writing inspired nonfiction, she now writes fiction. You can find a few of her short stories in anthologies such as Virginia is for Mysteries – Volumes I and II, 50 Shades of Cabernet, and several of the Shaker of Margaritas anthologies. Her “This is Not a Dog Park” novella is included in the Mutt Mysteries collection To Fetch a Thief. You may recognize her if you shop at thrift stores, attend estate sales, visit historic sites, or poke around abandoned buildings—she cannot resist the lure (and lore) of the past.
VL: When I invited the four authors who have stories in To Fetch a Thief to contribute something to my blog page—interview, blog, rant, whatever—I was hoping for diversity. And they are coming through!
I’m a writer. I write cozy mysteries. When I’m not huddled in my writing hut, I’m out and about, either physically or cyber-ly, mingling with readers. The number one question I am asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer: I collect “story nuggets” everywhere I go and in everything I do and all the crazy stuff I see in the news. All it takes is a teeny tiny event and my imagination is off and running. It’s no secret I am particularly influenced by things in my life and events that occur in my coastal community.
For my most recent publication, I was challenged to write a novella (about 15,000 words) that involved a dog, a theft, and a murder. Two years later, a book was born. To Fetch a Thief is a collection of four novellas. My story is titled “It’s a Dog Gone Shame!”
Fortunately, I had a cache of “story nuggets” at the ready.
The “dog” part of the story was easy. Although dog-less at the time, we’d been lucky enough to have been adopted by four wonderful rescues over the years. I knew how to write “dog.”
The “theft” part of the story was a snap. We have a wonderful place in our neighborhood to honor dogs that have crossed the rainbow bridge. It’s called The Dog Gone Garden. A local artist paints a colorful rock to represent each dog as it passes. The rocks are huddled under the shade of a Crepe Myrtle tree. Our own Norwegian Elkhound, Jamaica, has a rock there. One summer’s day all of the rocks disappeared! Just gone! Nobody knows where or why or how. (There were a lot of them so it was a heavy load!) Aha! my mystery-writer self said. A theft! I tucked that into my carton of story nuggets. (Although I solve this little mystery in my story, the real rock theft remains on the loose.)
The murder part? We live on the Chesapeake Bay. It is a semi-annual occurrence for a body to wash ashore. Mostly they are traced back to a drug gang further up the bay. Sometimes it’s a result of too much drink and too little sense when a person climbs aboard their trawler to sleep it off. One misstep and they splash in the bay and end up sleeping with the fishes. The beauty of being a cozy writer is the amateur sleuth only has to discover a dead body. We don’t have to know how to kill. Interviewing neighbors who’ve discovered the “floaters” has given me enough “nuggets” for a dozen mysteries.
To answer the perennial question, “Where do you get your ideas?”; I get them from life. Once the “story nugget” is planted, I turn it over to my imagination. I then stand back and watch the words fly! (Most end up on the cutting room floor, but that’s another story for another day.)
VL: Big thank you to Jayne Ormerod! No doubt readers have enjoyed this peek into your writing process—and some may decide to emulate you! To read more about the stories in To Fetch a Thief and the writers who wrote them, check out www.MuttMysteries.com
About Jayne Ormerod: Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne has penned over a dozen novels/novellas/short mysteries.
VL: I’m delighted that Heather Weidner agreed to an interview. Her most recent publication, “Digging Up Dirt,” appears in To Fetch a Thief. In addition, Heather has published two mystery novels and numerous short stories—and dogs show up frequently!
VL: Is the dog in your story in To Fetch a Thief based at all on your dog?
HW: It is. It’s based on my little female JRT Disney. She’s a bundle of energy, a great companion, and she always likes to explore outside. Thankfully, she’s not dug up anything strange.
VL: Disney is definitely cute! I can understand why you would want to put her in a story. But how did you come up with the actual plot for “Digging Up Dirt”?
HW: My husband is a realtor, and people are always leaving things in houses when they move out. That gave me the idea for the random things (that might not be so random) in the story.
VL: No need for a spoiler alert, but I will say I admired the variety of things left behind and how you tied them together. But back to your passion—I don’t think passion is too strong a word—for dogs. Do any of your other stories (or future stories) involve a canine companion?
HW: They do. In my Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery series, my sassy private investigator has a partner, Duncan Reynolds, and Duncan’s best pal is Margaret, the English bulldog. She’s a brown and white log with legs. She has two speeds, slow and napping. But she likes treats, and she’s a great companion.
I’m also working on another cozy mystery, and there is another Jack Russell Terrier in it. Her name is Bijou.
VL: While you are producing stories involving dogs, what do you do with your actual dogs?
HW: There are two dog beds in my office on either side of my desk. If they aren’t roughhousing, then they’re napping.
VL: Most writers are voracious readers. What types of books do you read?
HW: I love all kinds of mysteries, thrillers, history, and biography.
VL: What are you reading now?
HW: I just finished John Grisham’s The Reckoning, and now I’m reading Lee Child’s Past Tense.
VL: What’s your favorite book or movie that has an animal as a central character? Why?
HW: My early favorites were Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. I have always loved animal stories, and even today, I tend to read mysteries that have pet sidekicks. My favorite mystery authors who include pets are Bethany Blake, Janet Evanovich, Krista Davis, and Libby Klein.
VL: What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?
HW: I have three TBR piles right now. One’s on my night stand. I have one on a bookcase, and there’s another downstairs in the den. There are always more books than I have time to read. Most of the books in all three piles are mysteries and thrillers. There are a few biographies in the pile.
VL: Based on the locations of your TBR piles, I could probably guess at the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask anyway. Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?
HW: I can read just about anywhere. At home, I like reading on my deck in the early mornings. At night, I like reading in bed with two snuggly Jack Russell Terriers.
As for the writing part of your question, I tend to be a binge writer. At home, I write in my office or on the deck. But I tend to write or proofread whenever I get a free moment, so it could be at lunch at work or in the dentist’s waiting room.
VL: What’s next for you?
HW: I am working on the third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. It’s called Glitter, Glam, and Contraband. I am also working on a new cozy mystery set in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had a nonfiction piece accepted in the Sisters in Crime book marketing anthology, Promophobia, and that will be out next year, along with a short story, “Art Attack,” in the Deadly Southern Charm: A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology.
VL: You clearly have a lot going on! Thank you for taking time for this interview.
VL: Thank you, Heather! Congratulations on all you have done so far. No doubt we will see more of your writing in the future, especially Delaney Fitzgerald. Learn more about Heather Weidner below.
Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders are her novels in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her novella “Diggin’ up Dirt” appears in To Fetch a Thief.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.