Uncozy by Jean Rabe

Please give a warm welcome to Jean Rabe.-ASG

I was LOST too

John Locke, portrayed by Terry O’Quinn, was my favorite character on the television series LOST. I identified with him because he was among the first to sense some of the magic in their world, but more because he kept insisting: “Don’t tell me what I cannot do.”

My first Piper Blackwell novel, The Dead of Winter, took second place in Killer Nashville’s coveted Claymore Award. It was my first mystery. By placing that high, by having book editor judges tell me how much they liked it, I knew I could swap genres from fantasy/sf to mystery.

But marketing my mystery books?

I was LOST.

I knew fantasy and sf editors, but not ones handling mysteries.

So, I approached six different agents, and they all told me the same thing … that I’d written a book that was a cross between a cozy and a police procedural, and that there was no such beast and they’d have too difficult of a time placing it. Urgh. I went directly to a couple of publishers. One told me I had a cozy police procedural and the hybrid genre wouldn’t sell. The other said me my main character was too young, that a twenty-three-year-old sheriff was not believable. URGH.

In 2014 Chris Davis, 27, of Bayboro, was elected Pamlico County Sheriff, in North Carolina. Thirty some years before that South Carolina had a sheriff who was 25. More, Sharon Mendenhall, was elected sheriff in Rush County, Kansas, at age 22. She was elected when her husband could not run for reelection to the same post due to state laws not allowing him to succeed himself. There are others, I’d read about them before crafting Piper Blackwell. In Indiana, you have to be twenty-one to run. I made Piper twenty-three, fresh off a four-year stint in the Army where she was trained as an MP. The character’s background was built with the help of soldiers in the public relations office of the Fort Campbell, KY, Army base.

Don’t tell me what I cannot do.

Don’t tell me what I should not write.

A few of the agents I’d approached said I was a “strong writer,” “clean,” and that I should write a mystery that fit a more traditional category and had an older character if my aim was to make that character in charge of some law enforcement office.

But I wanted to write about Piper Blackwell.

In the end, I turned to self-publishing. It would allow me to tell stories about Piper Blackwell and her department, and her very rural county. I guess I just wanted to write cozy police procedurals. I gave up on the traditional route and formed Boone Street Press. I hire an editor, copyeditor, layout guru, cover artist, publicist … everything a traditional publisher does. I’ve published nine titles—four of them Piper Blackwell Mysteries, four are YA fantasy novels where the rights reverted to me, and one is a standalone thriller called The Bone Shroud, which gained first place in the adult division of this past year’s Illinois Author Project Awards.

I get to tell my stories.

I’ve got a couple of books outlined and in process, and I’m going to start outlining another Piper Blackwell book.

And, watch me dance … I’ve been getting great reviews. Apparently, some folks don’t mind cozy police procedurals about a young sheriff.

I am flattered that so many people who used to read my Dragonlance novels have given my mysteries a try. Some wrote to me that they had never read a traditional mystery before (though I don’t know if mine is considered traditional). I nod to my roots … throwing in a geek dispatcher who games and loves comic books, a goth dispatcher who dresses strange and attends conventions. In my third Piper book, The Dead of Summer, some of the action takes place in a shop that sells games and comics—the place and the customers felt familiar to me, like wearing comfortable, old shoes.

I’m going to stay with self-publishing—not because I don’t think I can write a mystery that fits in a specific niche on a bookshelf, but because I enjoy the control and the speed. Life is so very short. It takes a while to write a book, then to have it edited. If you submit it to an agent, you’ve got another six months to a year added on … provided the agent takes you on. And then if a publisher picks it up, you might have up to two years more before it is released. That’s provided your agent sells it quickly. I once had a manuscript sit eighteen months on an editor’s desk before he took a look, said he liked it, and that he’d think about it. After another year, I pulled it and handed it over to a small press that put it out within three months—to great reviews.

I just turned sixty-three … yeah, I’ve been in the game a while. My first published book was back in 1991, Red Magic, set in the Forgotten Realms. Sixty-three. Life is short, and writing is a long game. But I’ve shortened my turn at the game table by creating Boone Street Press.

Piper Blackwell isn’t too young here.

And cozy police procedurals seem to suit me.

Best of all, I’m having a grand time.

*

Check out The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge (Piper Blackwell Mysteries Book 4). I highly recommend it.

Sheriff Piper Blackwell’s three-day vacation with old Army buddies ends in tragedy. At the same time, a vile hate crime along a county road enrages her department. Their forces divided, Piper and her deputies must solve both cases before tensions boil and threaten the rural fabric of Spencer County, Indiana. Only eight months on the job, the young sheriff must weave together clues to uncover both a killer and a secret that could scar her soul.

10 comments

  1. The “sense” around the first Piper Blackwell book reminds me a little of some of Sharon McCrumb’s work.

    Yes, a high sheriff can be 23-24. I’ve read about a few out here who were younger, but usually they took office because of a death, and then got elected in their own right. Like a number of the early lady sheriffs.

  2. I’ve been seeing a lot of “unmarketable” stories by established writers come out indie over the last few years – cross genre, cross sub-genre, novellas by people who are pigeonholed into goat-gaggers, etc.

    As a reader, this warms the cockles of my black little heart, because I have more awesome stories to enjoy!

    And while I do admit some reluctance to crossing genres with an author, after the first few times, I’ve decided I can usually trust the author, and give the genre a fair go. I might not enjoy, or I might – never know till I try!

  3. I was thinking about getting them when they were mentioned before, so now I grabbed the whole 4 book set on Kindle. I’m not sure when I’ll get started reading them, but once I do, I will at least rate them, if not put up a whole review.

    1. Working on Dead of Winter now. I was in the military for 20 years and have no trouble believing that a 23 year could command a sheriff’s office. Younger solders did more. She will make mistakes but learn from them.

      I’m enjoying the book and have no problem with a cozy police procedural. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

  4. Always looking for another good read. Since I prefer to begin at the beginning of a series, I’ll give the Dead of Winter a try.

Comments are closed.