Tag Archive | Mary Stewart

Free Novel for 5 Days on Amazon

My romantic mystery novel Benicio’s Bequest is currently free on Amazon for five days. So if you haven’t read it before, now’s your chance. And if you don’t have a Kindle on which to read it, you can download the free Kindle app on the same page at Amazon.

I do understand that if you’re not into romantic mysteries you’ll probably want to give it a miss. However, it is free so it won’t cost you anything other than time, so why not find out whether you might enjoy a romance with a bit of historical mystery thrown in? It’s free until midnight on Friday 18th March. Midnight on Pacific time, that is, so readers in the UK, South Africa, Australia and various other parts of the world have until sometime on Saturday to download it before it goes back to its original price of $2.99.

I don’t write to a specific formula and my style is not that of most books which fall into the popular genre of romance. Obviously I like to give romance readers the ending they expect (hint – I love happy endings), but I also like to give readers of mysteries and lovers of history a little bit of what they enjoy too. Those of us who write mixed genres will tell you that our books are formally categorised into the genre which ticks the most boxes, but there is always room in those pages for a little extra entertainment.

I don’t write erotica, so you won’t find Fifty Shades of Anything Like That between the covers of my books, but if you enjoy good old fashioned romance in the style made famous by Mary Stewart, then you’ll enjoy my feisty heroines and the puzzled chaps they take up with while trying to solve a mystery that involves something historical, in an exotic place.

My heroines always find themselves in what’s known as a fish-out-of-water situation, usually while on holiday overseas or in a new place they have moved to but haven’t yet settled down in. In that place there is a man who might be willing to help, or who needs help himself, and their paths cross.

There is always something historical involved – an artefact, a painting, a box of letters – and the two characters are thrown together and forced to tolerate each other while they navigate unfamiliar waters on their mutual quest.

Inevitably, this leads to conflict, doubt, betrayal, and just a little bit of chemical sparkery along the way. They fall into an adventure with enough danger for them to realise they don’t want to die, or to live without each other, but they have to solve the mystery and vanquish the Bad Guy before they can find their happy ending. There is a climactic confrontation with said Bad Guy, after which our hero and heroine emerge changed, older and much more in love than when they first started.

Benicio’s Bequest is set in Italy and follows the adventures of holidaying art teacher Lisa, who witnesses the murder of a man who has been trying to chat her up in the courtyard of Juliet’s house in Verona. Minutes before he is gunned down, he slips a notebook addressed to his brother into her handbag. Lisa delivers the notebook to the brother, Matteo, a wood artist who lives in Venice. Thus begins an adventure in which Lisa and Matteo have to uncover the art forgery scam that killed Matteo’s painter brother, Benicio.

As I always say – if you enjoy it, please write a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both!) and if you don’t enjoy it, rather send me a private email via my Contact Me page, telling me why you didn’t like it. I am always open to constructive criticism, and will take valid points on board, in order to improve the next novel.

You can download Benicio’s Bequest here from Amazon.com, or here from the Amazon store nearest to you. Happy reading…!

IMG_3889

Advertisements

Romantic Mysteries and the Melbourne Writers Festival

I have to admit that I’m confused. Again. Uploading books to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is not for the faint-hearted. I might have been fearless when I uploaded my first novel four years ago, but I’ve learned to be wary of my biggest stumbling block: Categories.

As an author, you are allowed to choose two categories (genres) to describe your book to would-be purchasers. In each category, there are sub-categories which narrow down the choices so that readers who might enjoy your book can actually find it in a niche which appeals to them. For example, for a novel you would select Fiction, then narrow it down within that by choosing Action & Adventure, further narrow it down to Mystery, Thriller & Suspense and then narrow it down again to Mystery.

Fantastic, you think – you’re now listed amongst your peers! Many peers. Too many peers.

Unfortunately, with around 4,000 titles for readers to choose from in that Mystery category, your book is probably going to be listed on page 390 out of 400 pages. This means that no one is going to find it because no one is going to have the patience to wade through 390 pages to find yours. Likewise with the second category you choose.

Beware, the author who misjudges her initial broad category! I received a less than favourable review from someone who thought that my mystery should have had more action and adventure, and less soppy romance. My romantic mysteries are more about the romance than the mystery, unlike Dan Brown who writes fast-paced, action-filled mysteries.

The trick is to select the category that is most predominant in your book. So I considered re-categorising mine as Romance, followed by Action/Adventure. Fortunately I browsed first and what did I see?  Erotica, sexy adventure, action sex, and so on. Neither the action nor the adventure that I had written about! Clearly a major re-think was needed.

Back in the 1960s, the great Mary Stewart pioneered the genre of Romantic Suspense, or Romantic Mystery. On Amazon, if you choose Romance first and then look for Mystery within that it doesn’t exist, but Suspense does. However, if you browse Amazon using keywords, Romantic Suspense brings up what others call Paranormal Romance – relationships involving werewolves, vampires or other supernatural phenomena. Mary Stewart’s Romantic Suspense novels are not about those things, and neither are mine.

As a confused writer, I attended the Melbourne Writers Festival, thinking that a little insight into current writing trends might help me. I chose my sessions carefully, hopped on a train and opened my mind. Opened it a little too wide, maybe. Shades of Pandora and her troublesome box, perhaps, but I really enjoyed my time at the festival.

The first session I attended was about romance writing, comparing the treatments between the Young Adult and traditional Romance genres, and was entitled Losing It. With a title like that, I should have guessed – but didn’t – that this session was all about losing one’s virginity. YA literature is almost exclusively about this topic, according to one of the panel members, Fiona Wood.

Well, I wouldn’t know, would I? I don’t write YA, and it didn’t exist as a category when I was in that target age group. For the modern YA reader, loss of virginity is more often non-consensual than consensual.

Romance novelist Melanie Milburne agreed that the Romance genre usually follows the same pattern, albeit aimed at a slightly older age group. Even in Historical Romance, the traditional “bodice-rippers” seem to imply that sex is non-consensual. In other words: rape. Well, imagine my shock and horror! I always thought that Romance was supposed to be about… you know, Romantic Stuff.

For example, my novels – my romantic mysteries – centre on the exploration of a mutual quest, in which two people start off on opposing sides and gradually change as the story evolves. The female protagonist gets to know another side of the male hero slowly over the first 100 pages, and their budding relationship is advanced by the mystery they both need to solve.

Along the way, diversions include the occasional picnic or shared bottle of wine, followed by an unexpected awakening of emotions, culminating in a midpoint consummation behind closed doors, heralded by that most diplomatic of writer devices: the chapter break.

In the second half of the novel, the tension notches up as the Bad Guy closes in. The romantic couple cling together through increasing danger, during which they respectively realise that they have each found their life partner through the most extraordinary circumstances, only to possibly lose that person due to the misdeeds of the Bad Guy. When all hope seems lost, the indomitable lovers gain the upper hand, solve the mystery, save each other and restore a new balance before the final Happy Ending.

Just your average falling in love, bells ringing, music and flowers Romance.

That’s certainly how I would like to fall in love and find my life partner. Reality check: maybe that’s why I haven’t found him yet! Second reality check: maybe that’s why the stuff I write is primarily categorised as fiction…

Does this mean I don’t write Romance after all? Should I try a new approach and re-classify my novels as something else?

The words in my novels are not just thrown together in some random order to tell a mediocre story quickly and earn me a fast buck. A lot of thought, planning and research goes into my plots, so they are more than just romances and have a strong historical or artistic theme. They delve back into the history of a particular era or movement, with the emphasis on archaeology, art, lost loves of a previous generation, and so on. Thought provoking stuff, so perhaps what I write could be considered Literary Fiction?

This led me to attend a discussion on Literary versus Genre Fiction. Once again my eyes were shocked into the surprised open position as I learned from writer Krissy Kneen that generally, Literary Fiction seems to be another term for Erotica. Harrison Young, an American-born writer, set out to write what he thought was Literary Fiction, but his novel was re-classified by his publisher as a Thriller. He felt this was unfair because some readers of traditional thrillers thought that his book was too different from the norm, and not to their usual thriller tastes.

Writer Honey Brown confessed that she didn’t think about genre at all when writing, because that was for her publisher to sort out. I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy for both these two writers – lucky them for having publishers to take on the task of deciding on categories!

As a last resort, I attended a session on Women’s Fiction. It came as no surprise that Women’s Fiction is all about politics: the politics of domestic abuse, the politics of the glass ceiling for women in a so-called “man’s world” and the politics of women fighting against any ingrained, immovable system. This is very noble stuff, and I have the deepest respect for the people who write it. It is obviously extremely popular, judging from the queues of people (mainly women) waiting to get in the door at this session.

Unfortunately my writing is far too frivolous to be this noble, this edgy. I don’t write about politics – the single biggest reason why I was unable to find a publisher in South Africa. Some do, some don’t write Women’s Fiction. I happen to fall into the latter group.

Towards the end of the session, a woman in her 70s stood up at the back and asked: “Why is no one mentioning Chick-Lit? Surely that falls under Women’s Fiction too?” Despite the fact that the floor was carpeted, you could’ve heard a pin crashing onto it if someone had dared to drop one in the ensuing silence. The bemused expressions on the faces of the panel members made me want to laugh out loud.

The term Chick-Lit doesn’t seem to be used anymore – it’s now called Romantic Comedy – but regardless of the label, its writers have a knack for comic timing that I can only dream about. While what I write is light and frothy, fairly clean and thought by at least one reviewer to be “more Hallmark channel than cable,” I cannot claim to be a writer of Chick-Lit, but I do enjoy reading it.

One theory remained constant through all the eye-opening which I experienced at this festival. Cross-genre writers definitely need to first choose the category which reflects the main genre of the book. As explained by Harrison Young (whose Literary Fiction novel became a Thriller), writers cannot afford to disappoint habitual readers of any genre. We must give readers what they expect, plus something extra that they didn’t realise they wanted. Maybe it will expand their reading horizons, and they will come back for more. I took his words to heart and made my decision on my Amazon categories based on them.

So, after all that, what did I choose? Romance and Mystery, of course. In Romance I have chosen the sub-category of Suspense, and in Mystery I have chosen the sub-category of Cozy. Let’s see how that works out. Watch this space…

IMG_3337

Just a Dash of Serious…

One of the reviews I received on Amazon for my first novel The Epidaurus Inheritance ended with the line: “This might be to the taste of those who like their adventures more Hallmark channel than cable, which is perfectly fine, but this just didn’t ring true to me.” At first I was hurt by this, until I realised that the reviewer had a good point. I had obviously categorised my book in the wrong genre.

My novels are not serious. I write ditzy heroines who step in a bit too deep and have to sink or swim. There is always a macho flawed hero who reluctantly helps out the heroine against his better judgement, or against hers. And yes, as I have said on my website: I do like happy endings. I enjoy writing something that is far-fetched but I’m not the next Dan Brown. I don’t like violence – neither in real life nor on my screen (be it Kindle or TV), so I suppose I am a Hallmark kind of a gal.

I have a close friend who, after reading that first novel of mine, introduced me to the works of Mary Stewart. I was delighted to find a writer who not only wrote the kind of stuff that I love to read, but the kind of stuff that I love to write as well. Bearing in mind the negative review I had received on Amazon I went back to my book’s product page and re-worded my blurb so as to leave a prospective reader in no doubt that my book is “a light holiday read with a mixture of adventure, mystery and romance, written in the genre pioneered by Mary Stewart – Romantic Suspense.”

A year or so later, the same friend who had introduced me to the Mary Stewart books (let’s call her L) lent me an Amelia Peabody book, written by the wonderful Elizabeth Peters. I have since worked my way through almost the entire series – some of them twice. I just love that family of Edwardian Egyptologists! They get into scrapes between the pyramids, discovering both ancient mummies and fresh corpses, all against the backdrop of the First World War and the days before Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb.

My own novels always feature a South African woman travelling in exotic places, and stumbling across some crime or mystery to solve; a sort of fish-out-of-water story in which she has to rely on her South African wits to stay ahead of the Bad Guy. The latest of these is slightly different in that this protagonist has already settled in Australia but discovers some unfinished family history and has to return to South Africa to solve it, bringing with her an Australian who is now the fish out of water. I have been getting good feedback from beta readers on this WIP, but one of those came as a bit of a shock.

My friend L didn’t finish reading it because the South African situation depressed her too much. I was disappointed at first, and then I realised that I was actually disappointed in me, not in her. At first she avoided telling me until finally we thrashed it out last week. (Okay, maybe I bullied her just a little bit. Sorry, L!) The main reason for L’s dislike of my novel was a lot more useful to me than the nice things she had said about my characters.

I have realised three things from this:

One: I am a bad friend and shouldn’t bully people. I had strayed from the straight and narrow path!

Two: I had strayed from my writing path too. I don’t like serious writing. I never have, never will, and I should probably not have tried to bring more depth to my novel than the bare essential backstory I usually include. L, besides getting me onto reading both Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters, is herself a writer of fantasy and sci-fi which is the ultimate in escapist reading. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not implying that L’s stuff is light and fluffy. Far from it. It’s a lot more complicated than anything I write.

Personally I don’t read sci-fi because I struggle to understand the technological bits, and my version of fantasy seems to be a genre or two removed from the accepted definition of that word. The Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters books that I have read so far are neither fantasy nor sci-fi, but both writers have penned far-fetched adventures; escapist stuff which is definitely my cup of tea.

Heavy South African literature is not. There are plenty of excellent South African writers who are brilliant at that type of stuff, but I am clearly not in their bracket and nor do I want to be.

Three: I should just stick to what I’m good at: light-hearted, frivolous romantic stuff with a bit of a mystery to solve and some interesting places to explore along the way. I need to return to my MS with a keen critical eye and examine just how heavy and depressing the text is. It’s good to have a bit of gravitas, but how much is too much? So far, my readers seem to enjoy the light-hearted adventures of The Epidaurus Inheritance and Benicio’s Bequest and so do I. That’s why they read them and that’s why I write them. However, the light-hearted stuff often needs to contrast against a darker background. So that’s what I’m going to be looking at in my eighth draft. I don’t want to lose the South African flavour, but perhaps it needs to be added with a lighter touch. After all, to my overseas readers, South Africa is a foreign, exotic place.

Like many South Africans, I find myself bogged down in our day-to-day struggle against crime, corruption, unemployment and poverty. My friend L isn’t the only one who wants her reading to take her away from it. All my life I have enjoyed reading books that take me elsewhere.

I guess the word “elsewhere” is the key. I don’t want to go to other planets or battle scientific things I don’t understand. Neither do I want to meet supernatural, paranormal beings whose worlds I don’t believe in, but I do want to go somewhere slightly exotic on this planet and have adventures that I wouldn’t normally have in my own life, but which could be believable if the world was a kinder, more romantic place.

I’m not averse to killing off a character or two along the way of course, but most of the time they have been written in purely for that purpose and the odd shocking death moves the story along, cranks up the tension and helps to increase the reader’s belief in the serious evil of the Bad Guy.

What I’m saying is that I like far-fetched stuff, with just a dash of serious. The question is: how much is a dash?

IMG_1821