January 12th, 2012

promise tea

More Mysteries: The Personal Element

It finally occurred to me that I've been getting up at the same time every morning, regardless of what time I get to bed and regardless of whether or not I set the alarm, so I may as well stay up later instead of spending so much time in bed. That turned out to be a very good plan, and the book I'm working on must either be a "night" book or it's something about this time of year (my winter books tend to be "night" books) because I got a lot more done in an hour and a half after I got home from choir rehearsal than I did all afternoon, and then I woke up feeling a lot more alert this morning at the same time I usually wake up.

Speaking of waking up to the alarm, I've finally figured out that "Wow, Mom, I didn't know you had a sister" radio ad after hearing the whole ad. It turns out that my still mostly asleep brain misheard some of it when I heard it out of context. There were actually two speakers, both pre-teen or teen boys -- or the radio ad version of teen boys, which means voiced by adult women, or possibly woman, as the voices aren't very different (when I heard the end of the commercial without realizing it was a conversation, I thought it was all one woman talking). Boy 1 asks Boy 2 what he's doing, and Boy 2 says he's waiting for his mom. Then he goes on, for no reason I can discern, to talk about how different his mom has been since she started taking these supplements that are good for her skin and hair (because that's the sort of thing teen boys talk about all the time). Then Boy 1 says, "Whoa, I didn't know you had a sister!" and Boy 2 says, "Hi, Mom," then mutters, "See what I mean?" And then the announcer tells us about these miracle supplements. I'm curious about the situation and setting for this conversation. Where is Boy 2 waiting for his mom? Outside the vitamin shop where she's buying her miracle supplements? Or maybe he's in the mall, waiting outside Forever 21, and then Mom comes out in a miniskirt and midriff-baring shirt, prompting Boy 1 to think she's Boy 2's sister rather than his mom. I feel rather sorry for Boy 2. He's probably going to need therapy. Then I realize that I'm the age my mom was when I was a teenager and I wonder if I'm dressing in a way that would be gross to my teenage kids (if I had them). And I'm way overthinking a microbudget radio ad, but this is what happens when I hear something while my subconscious is still off in dreamland. I try to turn it into a story.

And speaking of overthinking, I'm continuing my analysis of paranormal mysteries, and I think I've figured out part of why no one series has totally grabbed me yet: The main thing that gets me hooked on a mystery series isn't the mystery element. It's the personal element -- what the heroine is dealing with in her life outside the mystery and particularly the romantic relationships. It almost needs to be a character and situation I'd enjoy even without the mystery element so that the mystery then mostly lends additional tension and complicates her life while maybe also giving her a reason to interact with and get to know the love interests. I know the heroine is going to solve the mystery and survive (unless maybe there's a series about a ghost who solves crimes after being killed during an investigation). What keeps me coming back for further books is to see how her life is progressing. It's like when I was a kid and hooked on the Nancy Drew books and I kept trying to find the last one (ha!) to see if Nancy and Ned ever did more than smile politely at each other at fraternity dances and to see if Nancy ever did anything more with her life than live at home with her dad and solve mysteries. She was obviously very intelligent, so why wasn't she in college with Ned? (This may have changed with the later books, but the ones in my school library when I was a kid were published in the 30s through maybe the 50s.)

But there's a delicate line there in the relationship arena. I'm kind of disappointed when the main relationship is pretty much a done deal by the end of the first book in the series, so for the rest of the series they're just an established couple. If the relationship is resolved and the heroine's figured out her life in the first book, then there's nothing that has me anxious to read the next one. On the other hand, it can get ridiculous if things are strung out too long, particularly with romantic triangles where the heroine is into both guys or even sleeping with both without making any decision and if she hasn't really learned any better how to deal with the situations she keeps finding herself in, like a certain bestselling series that shall remain nameless in which the heroine doesn't seem to have learned anything or figured out which guy she wants in something like eighteen books. I think my ideal might be that there are a couple of viable options in the first couple of books, but then the events of those books help make the choice more obvious to her, and then for a few more books there's a slow build as that relationship develops. I'm even kind of a fan of the bait-and-switch, where initially there's the one who seems like the obvious romantic interest with all the overt sexual tension, but then there's also a quieter guy who's steadily there, and then the obvious one fizzles out because there's no substance under the sexual tension but then things gradually build with the quiet one.

I've seen this sort of personal life development in the non-paranormal mysteries I've read. For instance, I grab the Rhys Bowen "Royal Spyness" mysteries as soon as I find them (note to self, check library for new one). I barely remember the cases, but I'm enjoying watching the heroine deal with having a title but no money, so she's secretly running a housekeeping service while regularly having tea with the queen, and there's the guy who's always there for her but practical matters make it nearly impossible for them to end up together. The book I'm currently reading shows some promise, though I'll have to see how the situation stands at the end, but I'm wondering about the fact that I haven't yet found the "personal" side that grabs me in the five or so paranormal series I've sampled. Do they think the paranormal stuff alone will be enough to hook readers? Do they not want this kind of thing? Is this genre more influenced by romances, so readers want their romantic resolution in the first book? If I wrote what I want to read, would that hook people into the continuing series or would they think it too "soap opera"?

I've also discovered that I seem to have a thing for cops -- and local cops, not private investigators or federal agents. If one of the romantic possibilities is a cop, that will end up being the guy I pull for (there's one series that disappointed me because I thought they were going to do the bait-and-switch thing and the cop would be the quiet one, but then all the surplus guys were paired off with the heroine's friends by the end of the first book, so the best friend got the cop I liked for the heroine and she ended up with Obvious Guy). And then I realized that although I haven't known a lot of cops, I do tend to get along very well with the ones I do know. In fact, one of my choir buddies is a cop in my city, and I had dinner with him and his family last night. It's not just the uniform, either. I haven't seen any of my cop friends in uniform (except when my choir buddy played Officer Krupke in the youth group's production of West Side Story when they decided they wanted real adults playing the few adult roles to make it more of a contrast to the kids, and having a real cop playing the cop added even more realism). (Note to self: see if he knows any single men on the police force.)