On Thursday October 8th, Meredith Public Library welcomed New Hampshire author Jessie Crockett to the library. She presented to an audience of approximately twenty. The mystery book club read her work, Live Free or Die, which she discussed and she spoke briefly about her series, Sugar Grove Mysteries.
Live Free or Die is a crime novel that opens with Gwen, the postmistress and assistant chief of the volunteer fire department arriving on the scene of a fatal fire. She teams up with the state fire investigator, Hugh, to try and come up with who murdered the owner of the local museum and why.
As the story unfolds the reader is introduced to a number of flawed characters, one of whom is presumably the murderer. Jessie notes that writing about perfect characters would be boring and would likely bore the reader as well.
Jessie has lived in New Hampshire since she was eight, when her parents moved from Maine, though they and she have remained close to the Maine border and she spends many summers in Old Orchard. She lives in a town of 299 people with her husband and children.
It is great to have published authors, both to learn about their works, and to get an insider’s view of the publishing and writing process. When an author is looking to be published they (or their agent) first try to make a connection with an acquiring editor within a publishing house. This editor acts as the author’s advocate at the publisher and reads the author’s manuscript for content. The manuscript is then sent back to the author with alterations that the editor believes will make the text more marketable. Often times this can mean fairly significant alterations, and sometimes it is impossible for the writer’s and editor’s visions to align.
Once the author and the acquiring editor arrive at a consensus, the manuscript is sent off to a copy editor who checks the manuscript word-by-word for spelling and grammar, local terms and jargon that may not be known to a broader audience, and again content. Once they have gone through the work they will send it back to the author for a final edit, though at this point the manuscript is already on its way to be printed so any alterations may be costly and so the author will likely not have the opportunity to correct a minor error that has gone through the editing process.
Jessie noted that one of the reasons mass market publications today often contain a number of errors is due to the fact that many of the publishing houses have consolidated with ensuing layoffs, and so the editors that remain often do not have time to check and recheck works before they are sent off to the printers. She also noted that it is often not a unilateral decision by the author what the title of a work will be. Marketing personnel within a publishing house often try to determine what titles will be most appealing. Finally, she said that she rarely rereads a work once it has been published, in part, because it can be painful to read errors and know that there is no way to fix them at this final stage.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Jessie’s visit was her description of her writing style and how it has evolved. She writes exclusively crime fiction and as she put it this means she never has bad days, because the worse things that happen to her and the more terrible people act, the better the material for a future book. She has a collection of matching notebooks that she begins writing questions and making observations in. As she answers some of these questions for her mystery, she also asks herself if they have the distance to go the approximately 80,000 words that generally go into a novel. This process generally accounts for one third of the overall novel.
Jessie does not directly place people in her life into her stories, but she definitely observes people and incorporates characteristics based on what she sees. She quipped that if she were going to add someone, she would make the men shorter and balder and women fatter, because no one will want to admit the character was based on them. She did say that the protagonist of Live Free or Die was influenced by her former postmistress, not as a person, but in her role in the community. The postmistress was connected in all of the town’s events without being a gossip.
Jessie also noted some of the integral features of a successful crime novel, particularly the cozy mysteries she tends to focus on. First of all, there needs to be “justice within the framework of the story.” This may not mean the villain goes to jail, but the reader finds satisfaction in the evil doer’s comeuppance, even if it is some sort of vigilante justice that might not otherwise fit into the reader’s moral framework. Next, the reader should solve the mystery one or two steps after the investigator. If it is still incredibly ambiguous after the ending, then the author has failed to provide sufficient foreshadowing, or they will feel that they were not given enough supporting evidence. If the author gives too much away, then it will not be suspenseful.
Finding a good first reader is incredibly important for authors and it can be a difficult task. The reader should be supportive, but at the same time needs to have a sufficiently critical eye. Jessie has her husband act in this capacity, but she recognizes this choice will not work for many writers. In her case, her husband is brilliant at spotting inconsistencies or logical fallacies, something which Jessie claims to have less of an eye for.
Finally, Jessie spoke about technology, both how it impacts the writing process and how it impacts the mysteries themselves. She noted how many authors she has been able to connect with via social media. She also noted the huge impact Amazon has had on the publishing industry, and how this impact will continue to grow as Amazon increases its own publishing (article from earlier this year on where Amazon’s publishing is currently). When asked if smartphones, Google and similar technologies would adversely impact mysteries or make contemporary ones difficult to keep believable, she seemed quite optimistic. She mentioned that there has been a shift to more of the domestic and personal aspects of life that will likely not end up on a Google search, because they are not sufficiently important or they are a well maintained secret. Also, even though it has become a cliché, there are still obvious instances where cell phones lose their reception, and while this should not be too heavily implemented as a writer’s tool, it is by no means unbelievable in rural parts of New Hampshire.
On behalf of the Meredith Library, I would like to thank Jessie Crockett for sharing her time and stories with us, and I would like to thank the Friends of the Meredith Library for supporting this event. If you are a writer who has interest in presenting please feel free to contact us at 279-4303, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org