“All these people (I invent) have to do as I say,” cracks “cozy” mystery writer and Parker resident Becky Clark, as she talks about her processes in writing a new book.
First comes an outline, she says, with a “pretty standard template … I start with an idea — a series is easier.” Her latest book, “Foul Play on Words,” is the second tale featuring her mystery writer—and mystery-solver, Charlemagne, “Charlee” Russo as a focal figure. Hart’s humorous world view kicks in early and often…
Russo arrives in rainy Portland expecting to be the keynote speaker at a mystery writers’ conference, organized by her close friend Viv, but learns right away that Hanna, Viv’s daughter, has been kidnapped. Viv tells Charlee to take charge of the conference while Viv searches for Hanna. Turns out when our heroine arrives at the conference hotel, that all is not neatly in place!
To begin with, most volunteers are out with food poisoning — acquired while checking samples of the planned lunch — and the chef is missing??? As Charlee proceeds to the Clackamas Room to meet volunteers and begin to handle supplies, she finds Lily and Orville, “awaiting instructions.”
Boxes sit unopened and gift packs are not assembled at all. Lily giggles a lot and Orville, who claims to be “a computer guy,” doesn’t have one with him to check on how registration is coming. (The hotel’s website is down.) Emblems need to be ironed on T-shirts, etc., etc. Where to start?
And a couple of hotel employees, Jack and Sarah, heard talking about the missing Hanna, are under Charlee’s suspicion and need to be watched carefully … Who are they meeting with? The missing girl’s boyfriend? What can she find out about him except that he delivers Chinese food from his mom’s restaurant? She follows him of course.
And, it turns out, the hotel staff has double-booked the conference rooms — with a dog show. “We thought they’d be coming next year,” the blue-blazered staffer says, “but it was this year. Isn’t that silly?”
A favorite scene for this reader was when the dog owners begin to arrive and rearrange the lobby furniture into an agility practice course for “Sparkle,” a terrier type and other athletic dogs of all shapes and sizes to practice their routines. (Clark says she’s a dog lover and always has them around her.) Those owners are another scene unto themselves.
In the meantime, assorted people appear for the conference — with funny names and individual quirks, causing Charlee to consider more kidnapping suspects.
Clark speaks of developing some of her characters by speculating about the subjects of celebrity photos … and speaks of the characteristics of a “cozy” mystery: “Somebody will die; who is murdered and why? How will killer and victim intersect with each other? (This had to happen yesterday!) One goes back and forth through the story …(`don’t use first three ideas — too outlandish’), cozy mysteries can’t have much foul language and no sex and violence — but what happens can really be outlandish — there’s a huge suspension of disbelief … I try for a murder or kidnapping …”
Clark notes that generally, cozy mysteries are OK for teens to read— “they’re pretty clean.” And, she notes that there’s always a dog on her website — begging for a cookie. (This scene repeated while we were chatting and her furry buddy stopped by for a treat.)
How did this obviously rewarding career come about? “I started in the insurance business,” Clark said. She stayed home with her three kids in the same Parker home for years). “During nap time, I started to knock out personal essays. I sold one — stunning to me! The most exciting $50 ever. I have a degree in criminal justice and English … was interested in famous people. I read to my kids and took my son to the library where he couldn’t find one he was interested in that he hadn’t already read. `Why don’t you write one?’ he suggested. “I did, in 2001 and was underway. (It’s still in the drawer.)”
Clark says she lives “in a constant churn” of new ideas. Her agent is shopping a series set in the crossword puzzle world. “And there’s the one I’m working on today — no one’s dead yet.” She finds that publishers like to buy a series — typically a three book deal — “they can renew if it’s selling well.”
She keeps large files on newspaper clippings — sometimes a single sentence starts a book going. “Who will live in this world? ... What if a body? … I eavesdrop on people, in restaurants and elsewhere, pretending to be on my phone … I see a house — that’s where they live…” She has a standalone mystery in mind about those residents.
She is a member of the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, an international organization, and calls on friends to review a new manuscript for her. “It’s nice to have a tribe like that.” She also sends new work to her agent to critique. And she enjoys local and national conventions — some for fans and authors — both famous and not-so-famous. She teaches workshops for wannabe writers.
She tells them to network locally and nationally and especially recommends the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs (May 3-5 in 2019).
She’ll need to find a new publisher for the third book in her Charlee Russo series as Midnight Ink has closed — and she is working on another series. She also writes non-fiction and teaches a workshop: “How to write a novel in eight weeks.”
Her career is sustaining, she says — it’s a full-time job. Her daughter is a professional editor and she tries to deliver “an as clean as possible” manuscript to her agent.
A closing note: From a Sisters in Crime speaker recently, she learned that wild animals won’t eat tattoos — so a book could start with the discovery of a tattooed body … Gems of information accumulate at the group’s quarterly meetings. The club in Parker meets at the Vine, near her. It’s on the website, https://sistersincrimecolorado.org/.
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