Thursday, June 5, 2014

Much Ado About Something

by Sparkle Abbey

When we attend conferences, besides meeting readers (our favorite part of cons and the biggest reason we attend) we’re often on panels with fellow authors, and we also try to attend as many of the other panels as we can. We admit we’re sometimes (okay, frequently) distracted by catching up with friends and finding out what’s going on in this crazy world of publishing. And margaritas.

But we do attend panels.

Often these panels are so great that a panelist says something and we go away and need to think about it. It may be just a snippet but there are times when the “something” hangs with us long after the plane ride home. After the unpacking. After the laundry’s all been done. After we’re back to the routine of the day job. It often pops back into our heads the next time we sit down to write.

Lee Goldberg said one of those “somethings” in a panel we attended. At this point, we’re not even sure of the topic of the panel, but in any case, Lee said, “No one remembers the mystery plot of a Monk episode.” We shared a shocked look, sure that wasn’t true. Lee must be wrong. However, he went on to explain that mostly when fans of the series talk about a storyline, they say ‘the one where there the trash collection workers were on strike’ or ‘the one where Monk had a look-alike who was a crime boss.’

His point was that as writers we often think that the backdrop of the story is secondary, but really it's vitally important to the story as a whole. If plot is “what” the book is about, the backdrop or sub-plot is tightly hooked into “who” the book is about. And together the what and who make the why, and that’s the trifecta that creates the richness in a series. It's what makes us remember a book and come back to a character. As a reader, you've now lived through an experience with Monk. (Or in our case, Caro and Mel.)

That's a very cool something.

We belong to an online book discussion group and recently everyone was sharing their all time favorite book(s). Wow, what a wide variety of novels were noted as favorites.

We were again reminded of Lee’s statement.

Fiction books are read for entertainment. We don’t read fiction for knowledge - though it’s very cool when we learn new things as part of the experience. We've tried to sprinkle in a few of things we learned about Greyhound rescue in our latest book, Fifty Shades of Greyhound. But when readers talk about the book we hope what they remember is the unique adventure Caro had as she worked to solve this whodunnit.

Because when we discuss our favorite books we talk about the people in the books and all that was happening to them while the story was going on. We share their experience. And that's the magic of a memorable book.

Now, it’s your turn to think about Lee’s “something”

How about you? When you talk about you favorite books what do you remember?
(Oh and thanks, Lee.)

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter who write the Pampered Pets mystery series for Bell Bridge Books. They are friends as well as neighbors so you’ll often find them writing at ML’s dining room table or at their local Starbucks. They live in the Midwest, but if they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and depending on the time of day either an iced tea or a margarita.

They love to hear from readers and you can find them online at:
Twitter: @sparkleabbey
Goodreads: goodreads/sparkleabbey


  1. I'm so glad I said something that was memorable...rather than being remember for embarrassing myself, which is more often the case. One clarification, though. You wrote:
    "His point was that as writers we often think that the backdrop of the story is secondary, but really it's vitally important to the story as a whole. If plot is “what” the book is about, the backdrop or sub-plot is tightly hooked into “who” the book is about."
    I don't think "backdrop" is the right word. What people remember is the conflict...the situation the hero was put it in that allowed his character to be explored from a new angle, that brought his unique personality to the forefront. Or, to put it another way, a conflict that underscored the franchise of the series... what sets the character and the series apart from everything else.
    I used Monk as an example in that panel, but I just as easily have used Jim Rockford or Harry Bosch or Stephanie Plum or Richard Castle. It's the characters we fall in love with, not the mystery (though that better be good, too!). We love what the mystery brings out in the character.

    1. Ahhh...exactly! Struggled with the word "backdrop." Yes, the conflict or the situation that favorite character was put it. Thanks for the clarification. :-)