First Page Friday #26: Cozy Mystery

Thanks for checking out First Page Friday! Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments!

If you like First Page Friday, please share it wherever you can! It takes a lot of time to put together the post each week and while I want FPF to succeed, with lower views than my other blog posts, I’m struggling to find the time to continue the series. Thanks to all my wonderful supporters! I truly appreciate it!

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

Cozy Mystery First 500 – HL Carpenter

It wasn’t the food.

Exactly one week after Jo Fernley’s death, Emma Twiggs pushed aside the artistically-plated roast beef and mashed potatoes the chef at Happy Haven Retirement Community prepared every Sunday evening. No, the food had nothing to do with her sense that something was off kilter.

It wasn’t the chatter in the dining room, either, nor the sidelong glances of other Happy Haven residents. Happy Haven was a hotbed—literally—of gossip and rumors. Emma hated being the topic du jour, but that was nothing new.

It certainly wasn’t her dinner companion, Arnie Bracken. Arnie was always charming, kind, and intelligent. She looked at him and shook her head. No, her foreboding had nothing to do with Arnie, despite the fact that her best friend, Olli, had begun avoiding him. Olli had even refused to join them for dinner this evening.

Arnie said, “I know what you’re thinking, Em.”

“Do you?” Emma picked up a glass of lemon-spritzed water and waited for him to explain why they were dining alone.

“Sure.” Arnie glanced at the closest tables, leaned forward, and lowered his voice. “You’re wondering how someone as fit as Jo accidentally drowned in the swimming pool.”

Emma froze, her gaze locked with his. Her fingers tightened on the glass. The chatter in the room faded into muted background noise. She had deliberately not been thinking about Jo—slim and athletic Jo, with whom she’d shared the part-time volunteer job of water aerobics instructor at the pool where Jo had been found, her swimsuit-clad body resting on the concrete bottom like a deflated life raft.

No, she was not going to think about Jo.

Arnie said, “I’ll tell you how it happened, Em. There was no accident about it. Jo was murdered, and Cahan did it.”

“I don’t—murdered? By Todd?”

“Murdered,” Arnie repeated. “By Cahan. And we need to prove it.”

“Arnie.” Emma set the glass on the table and uncurled her fingers from it. “You know the paramedics called Jo’s death an accidental drowning. Harmony’s police department and the district medical examiner agreed.”

“Yeah, I know all the euphemisms they used.”

Emma did, too. The headline in Harmony Notes, the local daily, had read TRAGIC ACCIDENT AT HAPPY HAVEN. Unfortunate was the word murmured most frequently at the funeral service where Arnie had stood in place of the family Jo lacked, followed closely by regrettable.

Arnie said, “They’re wrong, Em.”

A trickle of condensation wept down the side of the glass and puddled into a teardrop on the table. All the words used to describe Jo’s death were wrong. Wrong and inadequate. Words were inadequate now, too. If Jo had been murdered, she deserved more than a quiet closing of the book of her life. She deserved a balancing of that book.

And there was one person who ought to square the tally: Emma Twiggs, the semi-retired septuagenarian accountant who’d done nothing to prevent her death.

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Cozy Mystery First 500 – HL Carpenter

It wasn’t the food.

Exactly one week after Jo Fernley’s death, Emma Twiggs pushed aside the artistically-plated roast beef and mashed potatoes the chef at Happy Haven Retirement Community prepared every Sunday evening. < I feel that this sentence is doing too many things at once because so much information is packed into it. No, the food had nothing to do with her sense that something was off kilter.

It wasn’t the chatter in the dining room, either, nor the sidelong glances of other Happy Haven residents. Happy Haven was a hotbed—literally—of gossip and rumors. < I’m not sure what the “literally” is referring to. Emma hated being the topic du jour, but that was nothing new.

It certainly wasn’t her dinner companion, Arnie Bracken. Arnie was always charming, kind, and intelligent. She looked at him and shook her head. < I think her shaking her head in response to her own thoughts would look strange to Arnie. No, her foreboding had nothing to do with Arnie, despite the fact that her best friend, Olli, had begun avoiding him. Olli had even refused to join them for dinner this evening.

Arnie said, “I know what you’re thinking, Em.”

“Do you?” Emma picked up a glass of lemon-spritzed water and waited for him to explain why they were dining alone. < I think this is clear enough and not needed.

“Sure.” Arnie glanced at the closest tables, leaned forward, and lowered his voice. “You’re wondering how someone as fit as Jo accidentally drowned in the swimming pool.”

Emma froze, her gaze locked with his. Her fingers tightened on the glass. The chatter in the room faded into muted background noise. She had deliberately not been thinking about Jo—slim and athletic Jo, with whom she’d shared the part-time volunteer job of water aerobics instructor at the pool where Jo had been found, her swimsuit-clad body resting on the concrete bottom like a deflated life raft. < This is another sentence that’s working too hard. When sentences make several points at once, they all get buried. 

No, she was not going to think about Jo.

Arnie said, “I’ll tell you how it happened, Em. There was no accident about it. Jo was murdered, and Cahan did it.”

“I don’t—murdered? By Todd?”

“Murdered,” Arnie repeated. “By Cahan. And we need to prove it.”

“Arnie.” Emma set the glass on the table and uncurled her fingers from it. “You know the paramedics called Jo’s death an accidental drowning. Harmony’s police department and the district medical examiner agreed.”

“Yeah, I know all the euphemisms they used.”

Emma did, too. The headline in Harmony Notes, the local daily, had read TRAGIC ACCIDENT AT HAPPY HAVEN. Unfortunate was the word murmured most frequently at the funeral service where Arnie had stood in place of the family Jo lacked, This read a bit awkwardly to me because I expected it to relate to Arnie being at the funeral. > followed closely by regrettable.

Arnie said, “They’re wrong, Em.”

A trickle of condensation wept down the side of the glass and puddled into a teardrop on the table. All the words used to describe Jo’s death were wrong. Wrong and inadequate. Words were inadequate now, too. If Jo had been murdered, she deserved more than a quiet closing of the book of her life. She deserved a balancing of that book. < The repetition of “book” here reads a little clunky.

And there was one person who ought to square the tally: Emma Twiggs, the semi-retired septuagenarian accountant who’d done nothing to prevent her death.  < It seems to me that Emma swings a bit too quickly from not believing it was murder to not only believing it, but wanting to bring the killer to justice. I think that transition should  take longer.

My Overall Thoughts

I have no real complaints about the content, but I think there are some line editing issues that need to be addressed as well as some areas where clarity could be improved.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Did Emma feel something was off because of the murder? It wasn’t clear how her off-kilter feeling related (or didn’t relate) to her conversation with Arnie.
  • Opening with all the things that weren’t making Emma feel off-kilter gave this a slightly odd, almost middle grade omniscient narrator feel to me. I think your intention is third limited, so you may want to alter the opening. I think it’s coming across a bit sillier than you intend.
  • I’d like to get a little bit more about who Emma is. What kind of person is she? What is her typical life like? Is she usually nosy and the type to get involved or is she usually quiet? I’d like a better sense of Arnie’s personality as well. You may want to give the opening a bit more space to give the readers a sense of who they are.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3

There weren’t any major problems with this opening, but definitely some places that could be improved. I like the idea of a mystery in a retirement community.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Connect with the Authors

HL Carpenter is a mother-daughter writing team. You can learn more about them on their website.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently CLOSED to submissions)

The future of First Page Friday is uncertain. These posts don’t get as many views or shares as my other blog posts, and they get just a fraction of the views of my videos, so I’m considering applying the time I normally spend on First Page Friday towards something with a wider appeal. I’m still undecided. It will depend on whether views increase over the next few weeks.

You can help First Page Friday succeed by sharing the posts across the web. Thanks for your support!

About the Editor

Ellen Brock is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

087

Help First Page Friday Succeed!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

13 thoughts on “First Page Friday #26: Cozy Mystery

  1. Silvie Monk says:

    I agree with Ellen, and the comments above, so I’ll not repeat. And please forgive me, I’ve spent the last 30 years writing screenplays, so it’s my “go to” structure. That said:

    I would really like the image of a body floating in a pool as a dozen retirement home residents look on in horror–all dressed and ready to go into the pool for their old age water workout. It’s IMAGE that I’m missing most in your opening. I’m being told what has already happened. Can’t I be included in their discovery too? I’d like to get a feel for the location. I don’t mean you have to describe it in detail, but perhaps Emma pulls Arnie through the french doors and on to the patio.

    Your narrator seems a little stilted: “Emma hated being the topic du jour, but that was nothing new.” Seems this would be a line of dialogue a character would say, as in… Arnie: “don’t look now, Em, but your the topic du jour again today.” Em: “I know. I’ll never get used to those old hens. Just once I wish they’d mind their own damn business.”

    Be careful of exposition. You’ve got to slide it in when readers are caught up in the emotion of a scene. Be especially careful when using it in dialogue: “You know the paramedics called Jo’s death an accidental drowning. Harmony’s police department and the district medical examiner agreed.” This reads like “Here’s something you need to know, so I’ll just shove it into this one line.” Most novelist, even successful ones, are terrible at dialogue. It has to flow and seem like things people would actually say.

    Who is Cahan? I don’t know who he is, so I don’t care that they suspect him. If you can’t introduce him, I’d prefer the characters kept him vague so that we readers can be more curious about who might have done it.

    Slow down. You’ve got another 100,000 words to go. Let us soak up some character for a second!

  2. Holly Dolly says:

    “It wasn’t the food.”

    Love this punchy, concise opening line!

    “You’re wondering how someone as fit as Jo accidentally drowned in the swimming pool.”

    Arnie said, “I’ll tell you how it happened, Em. There was no accident about it. Jo was murdered, and Cahan did it.”

    “I don’t—murdered? By Todd?”

    “Murdered,” Arnie repeated. “By Cahan. And we need to prove it.”

    Great plot introduction! Your prose is edited down to the bone — no fat here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s