Monthly Archives: December 2011

Writer First v Academic First

I’m a full-time writer, not a traditional English professor. Thankfully, I’m employed in a wonderful English department that does embrace writing, from academic to mass market.

I do not have APA and MLA formatting memorized. I don’t care if you end a sentence with a preposition as long as readers enjoy the writing. When you write for the mass media, a preposition can be a fine thing to end a sentence with. The primary task of a writer is to retain readers. It turns out, few readers enjoy pretentious lectures.

It is my theory that working as a creative writer does make me a better writing and literature instructor. This is certainly the philosophy of many MFA programs, though they tend to be more literary than mass market in focus. I’m unabashedly about the “massiest market” I can obtain.

My goal as a writer is to have an audience. I don’t care if they remember I wrote something; I care that they remember what I wrote. Most of my blogs, columns, and the books I’ve written don’t include my name. Writing pseudonymously is ideal to me; words are the focus, not me.

Admittedly, I also like getting paid for what I write. There’s nothing wrong with being a “professional” writer, and “literary” authors are every bit the professionals as their mass market peers. I know because I’ve discussed appearance and speaking fees with a few literary authors. When you charge $20,000 or more (a lot more in several cases) to speak somewhere, you’re in business.

If readers don’t enjoy my columns, stories, plays, or other works, I don’t get paid. It’s a simple way to know if I’m writing effectively or not. When people stop wanting to read my works, I’ll stop getting paid. I don’t sit around waiting to be inspired because magazines, websites, and production companies have deadlines.

I love writing. I live to write. I don’t live to please the grammar gods or some academic committee. While I believe writers need to remember their audiences, I also am part of that audience. The best writers I know write what they want to read and read nearly as much as they write. Good writers seek out works they wish they had written. Words are their lives.

If you want teach writing, you should love writing.

Book Review – A Midsummer Night’s Scream by Jill Churchill

A Midsummer Night’s Scream is book 15 in what is now, and hopefully remains, a 16-book series featuring Jane Jeffry, a crime-solving stay-at-home mother. The title of each book in the series is a play on a famous book title, cleverly tying the mysteries to Jane’s love of reading and what is probably the author’s love of books.

As this title implies, Jane and her best friend and neighbor, Shelley, are loosely involved with a local college-run theater. I say loosely because Jane and Shelley’s only involvement is catering snacks during the play’s rehearsals so that Shelley can test new catering companies for her husband. During this time, two people associated with the theater, one of the actors and a janitor, are murdered. Jane’s long-time boyfriend, Detective Mel VanDyne, is assigned the two cases.

Despite the series name, A Jane Jeffry Mystery, Jane had almost nothing to do with solving these murders. Most of this book revolved around tasting testing caterers and attending a needlepoint class.

Previous mysteries make use of Jane’s intimate knowledge of all things domestic. In fact, it was her thorough grounding in her domestic life and children that was usually the key to solving the mystery.

Testing the caterers during the theater rehearsals was a feeble way to involve Jane and Shelley in the theater. Having them attend a needlepoint class as a way of befriending two of the characters in the story was equally feeble. Although the catering companies and needlepoint class would fit the description of “domestic,” they were poorly used devices. Neither the caterers nor the needlepoint class had anything to do with the murders, except as a distraction, and served no purpose in advancing the story or the mystery. I was waiting for the tie-in and was baffled when nothing happened.

There was also a slip in characterization, with Shelley feeling “hurt” that she and Jane weren’t working on their needlepoint together. Shelley wouldn’t feel hurt by something so silly, however briefly it was mentioned. The author also slipped in Bell, Book, and Scandal with Shelley’s character. At one point, Jane was worried that her preoccupation with the mystery would annoy Shelley to the point of damaging their friendship. The first reaction after reading these two sections of the novels was, “huh?” Shelley would never overreact like that. She should also know by now, after years of friendship with Jane, that Jane usually does solve the mystery and her instincts for the solution are usually correct.

A Midsummer’s Night Scream is clearly a continuation of the slow downward slide in quality that began with Bell, Book, and Scandal, and ends with the horrible The Accidental Florist.

Bell, Book, and Scandal had, I believe, only one change in viewpoint: we jarringly switch from Jane’s viewpoint to that of one of the victims. A Midsummer’s Night Scream had several changes in viewpoint, mostly to Mel’s view, which is unusual in this series. In the previous books, Mel was never a well-developed character and we never saw the mystery from his point of view, only Jane’s.

Unlike previous mysteries in this series, Jane does very little thinking about this mystery and had almost no input into the solution.

The oddest part of this book: the epilogue. No previous book in this series has ever done a “where are they now” ending to the story. It was out of place, not remotely entertaining, and again, not from Jane’s point of view. None of the “where are they now” statements would be anything Jane could possibly know.

Jill Churchill, if you are tired of writing this series, just stop. Don’t try to wrap everything up neatly for Jane as you did in The Accidental Florist. Just stop writing.

On a scale of 1 to 5, most of the Jane Jeffry Mysteries would get a 3 or 4. The previous book to this one, Bell, Book, and Scandal, would receive a 2, as would A Midsummer Night’s Scream. The final book in the series, The Accidental Florist, would receive a negative number if possible.

Title: A Midsummer Night’s Scream
Author: Jill Churchill
Publisher: Avon Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-050100-6