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Friday, August 31, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR JUDY ALTER


Our guest today is award-winning novelist Judy Alter who has written fiction for both adults and young adults, primarily about women in the nineteenth-century American West. Judy no writes contemporary cozy mysteries. Trouble in a Big Box, her third Kelly O’Connell mystery, follows Skeleton in a Dead Space and No Neighborhood for Old Women. Learn more about Judy at her website and her two blogs, Judy's Stew and Potluck With Judy.

Judy is offering a copy of Trouble in a Big Box to one of our readers this week who posts a comment to the blog. And don't forget to check back on Sunday to see if you've won. -- AP


The Jessica Fletcher Problem

Remember when mystery writers talked about the Jessica Fletcher problem, from Murder, She Wrote? Why were there so many murders in tiny Cabot Cove? As I started the third Kelly O’Connell Mystery, I faced sort of the same problem. I think it’s inevitable with a cozy series—sort of, why do bad things happen to good people?

I had to ask myself why Kelly, a realtor and the mother of two young girls, keeps bumping into so many crimes. Her new husband, Mike, says that she has a real talent for trouble. She maintains that she’s looking out for her beloved neighborhood. He, once a neighborhood police officer and now a detective, says she should let the police do their work and stay out of things. She argues that she would if they’d move fast enough and act on the tips she gives them. Kelly has been vandalized, almost shot, and almost asphyxiated. What kind of new trouble could I get her into?

I wanted this to be Mike’s book, for a change, so in the opening pages, he’s badly injured in an auto accident; a young girl in the other car, which sped though a stop sign, is killed; the driver of the other car escapes on foot before the police get there. Once she knows Mike will be all right, though he faces a long recovery, Kelly, a born nurturer, sets out to help the family of the dead girl. She sees that as concern, not intervention in police business, but she meets a hostile reception from the victim’s twin sister.

They say you should listen to your characters, and they’ll tell you what to do, so I listened…and they did, with a little help from current local headlines when a big-box store tried to move into Fairmount, the fictional Kelly’s neighborhood. There were the threads of my story: Mike, who is powerless to keep Kelly out of trouble and physically unable to protect her and the girls; someone who begins to stalk Kelly (is it that small-time criminal who was driving the car or the dead girl’s sister?); and the fight to prevent the big-box store from moving into the neighborhood. Who knew they were tied together and Kelly would end up in danger of taking a one-way trip to Mexico? Working all that out was the fun of writing—though at the time it was less fun than hard work.

I hope you enjoy Kelly’s adventures. Mike’s right—she has a real talent for trouble.

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Judy. Readers, what do you think of Jessica Fletcher syndrome? Are you able to suspend disbelief and enjoy a good cozy? Let's hear from you. One lucky reader will win a copy of Trouble in a Big Box. -- AP

24 comments:

Stephanie Queen said...

It's true--that notion that Cabot Cove being the murder capital of the world!
(my parents still watch re-runs faithfully!)

Sounds like you're dealing with the crazy coincidental crime rate just fine!

Stephanie Queen

About Bobbi C. said...

Anybody who writes a cozy small town series will run into this challenge. To me, it actually helps with plotting, because the possibilities are narrowed down. And just because you're in a small town doesn't mean that you can have criminal elements coming in from larger outlying areas. I personally have never had a problem suspending my disbelief in these type stories. I actually like the idea, because it shows how clever the author is in doing it so that it's different each time.

About Bobbi C. said...

Argh! I meant, it doesn't mean that you CAN'T have criminal elements coming in from other areas. Sorry, too early, not caffeinated enough. LOL

Anonymous said...

I remember reluctantly watching Murder She Wrote With my mother years ago... She used to love that show. I know have fond memories of it and could still whistle the theme song for you! I enjoy your books and am so fond of you as a writer!

Janet C. said...

Oh, I love this series. I just finished No Neighborhood for Old Women. I can't wait to see how things will change with Kelly's mother living in town.

Anonymous said...

This one sounds really interesting and like how you solved the problem of too many murders in a small town! Thanks for opportunity!

Lucy Burdette said...

This sounds so familiar Judy! It's absolutely the hardest part of writing an amateur sleuth story--what is her stake in getting involved? And then how to bring law enforcement in without letting either them or the protagonists look like idiots!

Sounds like you managed that brilliantly!

Christine Bush said...

To me, it's fun to see how the author pulls this off! I never forget its FICTION, I like the familiarity of location,even when it makes the murder capitol list! And I STILL LOVE Jessica (grin)!

Pat Batta said...

Having your protagonist married to a policeman doubles the problem. She can't cross too far over the line of investigation without antagonizing him, and she has to be careful not to act as if she doesn't think he can do the job.

Cheryl Norman said...

I love cozy mysteries. I'll have to check out Trouble In A Big Box.

Cindy Sample said...

I love the small town element and it sounds like you've managed it beautifully. I decided to have my protag take a vacation to Hawaii in my third book so that gave my real town a break from all the dead bodies I tend to pile up. Can't wait to check out your series, Judy.

shelley freydont said...

I've been grappling with the same problem, I always do about the third book in a series. I actually just wrote a blog that will be posted on Monday about Why Amateurs Must sleuth. My poor new little town is on its third murder in three months. I was watching a Jessica Fletcher rerun a few minutes ago. It was set in an Amish community (years before the current popularity of Amish mysteries.) I just hope readers are willing to suspend judgment for my Celebration Bay like we do for Cabot Cove.

Maryann Miller said...

I was a huge Murder She Wrote fan the first few years and never had trouble believing that so many murders could happen in a small town. The writers always made it believable,a nd that is the key, make it believable.

Moving away from just murders, as you did, Judy, does help. That expands the number of crimes your sleuth can get entangled with.

Kathy said...

Having so many murders in a small town never bothers me. If there weren't murders, there wouldn't be any books and I love to read murder mysteries. Keep those bodies piling up.

Dru said...

As long as it entertains me I'll enjoy the murders in the small town.

Although I live in a big city so I do get to say...things like this don't happen here.

I'm behind on this series but plan to catch up soon.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Judy,
Your new book sounds intriguing. I think we mystery lovers suspend belief and accept the Cabot Cove syndrome. Interesting, how we like our murders to take place in a cozy, friendly setting.

E. F. Watkins said...

You notice that, before very long, the writers of "Murder, She Wrote" got Jessica out of Cabot Cove so she could stumble over bodies in all kinds of exotic locales. That made Cabot Cove bit less of a "murder capital," but raised another question--Why did murders happen every place, and every time, that J.B. Fletcher arrived in town?

Judy Alter said...

Thanks all. I love it that so many agree that you have to and can suspend disbelief when so many crimes occur in a small area. Note that Kelly lives in an inner city neighborhood, not a small town--problem of credibility is the same. And yes, I've thought of having her travel. Double yes, having her marry her copy made it all the more difficult--not my fault they fell in love:-)

Judy Alter said...

Too early in the morning--I meant cop not copy. And that's a word she has learned not to say. She says officer.
Sorry i didn't get to answer all of you yesterday--too many things happened.

Irene said...

Jessica had to eventually go outside of her home town to find a dead body.
Perhaps that is what must happen to all these amateur sleuths.
I would not want to live in a town that had a murder every week! So you take the Jessica on long trips where there are lots of people. Surely there can be a murder in another fictional location for her to stumble upon. There, everything fixed and tied up with a bow for ya! :)

Patg said...

I agree that most cozy mystery lovers suspend belief and just want to enjoy being with a favorite character. And most 'small' towns aren't so small these days.
And what's wrong with a character traveling. Christie's Miss Marple is a good role model.
Patg

Diane Schultz said...

I think Lillian Jackson Braun dealt with this pretty well until her last book (there wasn't much of a crime or mystery and no one bothered solving it), but I think Agatha Christie's Miss Marple had it first. And, I never wondered why they stumbled into dead bodies, I think we are WILLING participants in suspending that kind of disbelief, so go ahead and kill someone else...it's just a ripping good story when you do and make us wonder how, and why, and hmmmmmm.

Judy Alter said...

To all who've suggested travel, you may just have given me the idea for Kelly's fifth adventure (I'm struggling with the fourth right now). At least she'll get out of her neighborhood. And Patg I'm a big believer in suspending disbelief--just read the newest of Nancy Martin's Blackbird sisters mysteries--you really have to suspend disbelief to enjoy these zany books as much as I did.

kiki w said...

This is a new author to me. Love Cozy-Mysteries