To Angle or not to Angle: That is the Angle!
Debra McReynolds, writing as mystery author Marva Dale
“Death of a Flapper” is the first in the “Death by the Decade” Series through Oak Tree Press.
Once in awhile I’m asked by interviewers the one question I hesitate to answer: How I came up with the “Death by the Decade” series. I came up with the series in order to have an angle or “a leg up” so to speak when I queried agents and publishers. In today’s mass media empire most writers get lost in the shuffle. It has nothing to do with talent, but with marketing—at least in my opinion. Agents, editors and publishers want something that stands out from the norm, something they can market and make big bucks on, something unique and exciting that just might be today’s trendy, new sensation. Dan Brown has angels and demons, Stephanie Meyers has teenage vampires and werewolves, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter! But since I’m not really into the sci-fi angle, I wanted to give my writing a unique twist. I began with writing a mystery novel set in each decade, beginning with the 1920s. This idea came to me after much soul searching. One day that little proverbial light bulb blinked furtively over my head and voila!—the mystery series was born.
I suppose I’ve been influenced by other writers, in particular Sue Grafton and her series featuring female P.I. Kinsey Milhone. Her series revolves around the alphabet, “A is for Alibi”, “B is for Burglar”, etc. Once I was introduced to Kinsey in Ms. Grafton’s first volume, I wanted to read more, thus the “keep them coming back” angle certainly had me hooked. At one time I worked as a public relations agent and I thought I had a fairly good grasp on marketing. But today, marketing means “hype” and a lot of it. Sometimes it also includes the outrageous in order to capture the public’s attention. Well, I’m not into hype or outrageous. I just want to write a decent mystery novel that will appeal to readers. That means developing a storyline and a mystery (the core element), as well as fleshing out the characters involved. Simple, right? Well, maybe twenty years ago. Today we have to have angles in order to spark a glimmer of interest and then wow the public with literary bells and whistles.
I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with up-and-coming writers. They inevitably ask me about the publishing process and how to get started. I believe it’s a combination of things, maybe sixty percent good writing, thirty percent marketing, and ten percent luck Then, if your work attracts enough attention to earn a publishing contract, chances are you’re going to be your own press agent even before your literary baby is physically in your hands. Smaller publishing houses simply can’t afford to employ expensive marketing people to do the work for you. So, gone, too, are the reclusive writers, those who give themselves an air of mystery by shunning publicity.
I’m a shy person by nature and I hate to toot my own horn. It’s by sheer professional necessity that I market my work on a continuous basis. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for new promotional angles. Sometimes that means having to spend a little money to make money. I urge all new writers to begin a slush fund for future marketing endeavors, even if it means putting a dollar in the kitty once a week. Chances are very slim that you’ll be the next Stephen King and amass a small fortune from sales of your books, and do so overnight. (Actually it took Mr. King years to get where he is today.) Most of the time it’s a “break even” proposition until you establish yourself in the literary world. Of course, good writing and a new approach to a story always helps. There are many ways to kill off your characters in a mystery, but to do so in a creative (and still believable) way is what catches the eye and sparks the imagination.
Well, I could go on and on about the pitfalls and successes of being a writer. Suffice to say, I love to write and I certainly appreciate those who read my work while, hopefully, enjoying what they read. I’ve always wanted to write, but I never had the time until I finally retired six years ago. In “Death of a Flapper,” I certainly had fun bringing to life Carney Brogan, the intrepid, novice private detective in 1920s Tin Pan Alley, New York. He certainly earns his dollar retainer while searching for a missing flapper. Arabella is the ultimate party girl who loves life, champagne and good jewelry, and not necessarily in that order. As Carney searches for her, he meets an assortment of characters, from a Fifth Avenue art dealer to a homeless jazz musician down in the Bowery. I also added a love interest for Carney by the name of Harriet who competes with his infatuation for the beautiful missing flapper.
My next novel in the series is set in the 1930s. “Fatal Follies” takes in account the Great Depression and the current issues of the day. My main characters are burlesque entertainers, Suzu and Violet, who travel together as the tap-dancing duo the Daring Darlings. When Suzu accidentally witnesses a murder on a train, she sets in motion the storyline, and one that involves Suzu and Violet as targets of a homicidal maniac.
Of course, the “Death by the Decade” series gives me the opportunity to delve into history, from clothing styles to the kind of foods in vogue at the time. (Did you know that Kit Kat bars were introduced in 1932? Or that a 1931 Auburn convertible cost $1,145?) I enjoy the research as much as I do writing the story. Just remember to get your facts straight. There’s nothing more disappointing than an author who takes historical license only because he or she is too lazy to check on facts. I have a favorite Southwest author whom I won’t name, but at least two of his books have errors that could have been checked and verified by a simple search on the Internet. With the trillions of information zinging around the web, there’s no excuse for a lack of accuracy. (I even went so far as to pencil in the correct information in the library book I checked out. Just don’t tell the head librarian, okay?)
A quick note: I’m always happy to hear from new and seasoned writers. You can reach me at email@example.com. (The Merrell comes from my alter-ego pen name, Deborah Merrell, the author of sexy ebook romances.) For more information about me and my work to date, check out my website. “Death of a Flapper” is available at amazon. and B&N. I want to thank Sunny and Billie at Oak Tree Press who liked my angle and gave me the opportunity. And last but not least, thanks to Ivy with Manic Readers for letting me blog on!
Marva & DEATH OF A FLAPPER on Goodreads.
Thank you for joining us, Marva. I don’t know about y’all but DEATH OF A FLAPPER sounds pretty interesting to me!