When one writes a series, no matter what the genre, which repeatedly uses the same community or town as its setting, readers eventually begin to fear for the lives of anyone visiting or living there. Their fear makes them question the reality of the world the writer is creating. This problem is often referred to as Cabot Cove Syndrome. The fictional syndrome, whose name was coined from the television show, Murder She Wrote, is attributed to the finding of bodies repeatedly in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine. After running for twelve years, not to mention the books and movies the show spawned, the BBC calculated Cabot Cove’s murder rate at 1490 per million, which translated to about two percent of its residents.
Number like that, if the town existed, would definitely make one leery of spending time in Cabot Cove. Readers feel the same way when reading a series. They want a cast of repeated characters who become like family, but they also want the character roster expanded enough that the dead victim(s) and the guilty party aren’t always characters introduced for the first time in that book. Consequently, to keep readers attracted to a series, authors must employ different methods to vary their stories.
Obviously, the town can easily be avoided by having the protagonist take a trip. That may work well in a thriller or suspense novel, but not in a cozy where the small town setting itself becomes a character. Neither Murder She Wrote nor Louise Penney’s books would be the same if they weren’t repeatedly set in Cabot Cove or Three Pines.
Another method is to introduce characters in minor roles and let them evolve in subsequent books in the series. For example, in One Taste Too Many, the first book in my Sarah Blair series, I introduced Grace Winston as a culinary student interning with Sarah’s sister, Chef Emily. Grace has several scenes in One Taste where readers learn about her personality, health, and history. Because Grace is referenced again in Two Bites Too Many, she remains one of many familiar characters in the reader’s mind. Her scenes become important in Three Treats Too Many, where Grace is now the sous chef for Emily’s restaurant. In fact, the title of the book comes from an idea she raises with Emily, Sarah, and Emily’s boyfriend, Marcus, during a menu brainstorming session. Although she still is a secondary character, the reader learns about Grace’s partner and sees Grace caught in a culinary job dilemma between restaurant rivals.
Four Cuts Too Many begins a few days after Three Treats Too Many ends. Grace’s dilemma is the impetus for a meeting between Sarah and Grace. Within pages, the reader sees Grace’s role expand as now, besides being a sous chef for Emily, Grace is teaching a knife skills course at the community college. After she has a run-in with her department head and he is found dead with one of her knives protruding from his neck, Grace becomes the primary suspect.
The importance of Grace taking a major role in Four Cuts Too Many is that her character is known and liked by readers. Consequently, they want Sarah to help vindicate Grace. Although the corpse may be someone new to the community, there is enough familiarity for the story to feel like a continuous extension of a discussion between friends. This developed continuity and affection for the characters is what lets readers suspend the impact Cabot Cove Syndrome might have.
For a chance to win a print or e-book copy of Four Cuts Too Many (U.S. only), tell me, how do you feel about Cabot Cove Syndrome in the books you read?
Four Cuts Too Many
Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in her friend’s culinary school serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon finds that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer.
Includes quick and easy recipes!
Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. Her short stories and novels have been Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, and Silver Falchion finalists. Debra is on the national board of MWA and is president of SEMWA. She previously was on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.
Learn more about Debra at https://www.DebraHGoldstein.com .
Mystery in the Midlands, co-sponsored by the Palmetto Chapter of SinC and the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America
Saturday, June 26, from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm ET with Dr. Kathy Reichs as featured guest.
$5 Registration Required.
10:00 am to 10:15 am EST Preparing for the Heat with a Warm Welcome
10:30 am to 11:15 am EST Scorching Short Stories
11:30 am to 12:15 pm EST Temperature’s Rising Keynote
12:30 pm to 1:15pm EST Hot for Historicals (British mysteries by American authors)
1:30 pm to 2:15 pm EST Searing Suspense
2:30 pm to 2:45 pm EST Final Comments Before Cooling Off in the Pool
Here’s the link to register that provides access to the live and recorded program:
What if you spent a year planning a party, sent out the invitations, and nobody came? For the past year, that has been the scenario for writers and readers. Each writer’s plan was simple: write the book and go on tour launching it. Readers looked forward to the party aspect of interacting with authors at bookstores, libraries, and conferences. Then, on March 14, 2020, the world shut down.
That weekend, I was in Washington, D.C. at a family function, not knowing it would be a year or more until I saw those loved ones again. Before arriving in Washington, I had been on a whirlwind tour for newly released Three Treats Too Many, the third book in Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. The tour had taken me to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, Fairhope, New York, and Atlanta in two months. More stops were planned for April through August, but they were canceled.
I, like many authors, had to pivot. We spoke to groups or participated in panels virtually. Authors learned to sit up straight, use microphones or earphones, adjust lighting and backgrounds, and provide bookplates instead of only bookmarks. Using Zoom, Crowdcast, or other platforms was a good substitute, but not the same as live interaction with readers and bookstore owners. Reaction times were different, especially for webinar platforms where readers could only communicate by leaving a chat message.
Although readers still establish links between themselves and the characters in books they choose to read, experimentation with new authors dropped. Why? Housebound, people found comfort spending time with familiar characters and scenes that brought back good memories.
Four Cuts Too Many, the fourth Sarah Blair book releases May 25. In it, Sarah, who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, has no desire to learn knife skills from her friend, sous chef and adjunct college instructor, Grace Winston. But, when Grace’s department chair is found dead with one of Grace’s knives in his neck, Sarah is forced to sharpen her own skills to uncover the elusive killer. The premise and the book are fun, especially for a summer beach, airplane, or bath read, but how to launch it to the most people is a dilemma.
It is a problem that is not mine alone (although it sometimes feels like it). Most authors with release dates that would offer readers the perfect summer book are finding that stores are still not having large in person book parties nor are the usual conferences taking place. Consequently, we’re planning individual virtual store appearances or panels, we’re increasing our number of Facebook parties and group take-overs, more blogs are being written, and we’re hoping for word-of-mouth help.
Whether it is Four Cuts Too Many or any other book you read, review it, and tell your friends about it. Publishers look at sales and numbers, so it is important that readers and writers work together if favorite series and characters are to be survive the pandemic.
I know I can’t wait to see you in person again, but in the meantime, do you have any ideas how you’d like authors to connect with you? I’ve got my pen and paper ready to take notes.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, which debuted with One Taste Too Many on December 18, 2018. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Find out more about Debra at any of the following links:
(Hover over cover for buy links. Click on cover for more information.)
(A Sarah Blair Mystery) Book 3 of a series
by Debra H. Goldstein
Kensington Publishing Corp. 2020
Sarah Blair couldn’t be happier. Her life’s on track and now her twin sister Emily’s dream of owning her own restaurant, Southwind, has finally come true. Soon Emily will be able dazzle Wheaton, Alabama with her superb culinary skills. But she can’t open until the building inspector clears her and he seems to be dragging his feet. Meanwhile, the nightmare across the street, her rival’s restaurant, Jane’s Place, has just celebrated its grand opening and threatens to eclipse Emily’s restaurant even before it welcomes its first customer.
To make matters worse, patrons are raving about Jane’s Place where Riley Miller, heart breaker and sous chef, is whipping up delicious and healthy recipes to die for.
But when Riley turns up dead it’s up to Sarah, faithful sister and amateur sleuth, to find the killer.
Think you’re good at following clues and figuring things out? Convinced you can beat Sarah to the punch? Then you need to read, Three Treats Too Many.
Psst! Don’t forget to try the recipes. They’re a real treat!
See you next time on October 22nd!
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, which debuted with One Taste Too Many on December 18, 2018. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her newest release is another Sarah Blair cozy mystery, Two Bites Too Many.
Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly.
Debra served on the national boards of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She is a past president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter and is the president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
The rising decibel of the mutterings in the room indicated the natives were getting restless. Her mother had joked that nothing could start without Lance, but it wasn’t like Maybelle to keep people waiting.
Sarah checked her phone to see if she had a message from her mother.
Commotion near the door used by the council members caught Sarah’s attention. Bailey, the loan officer, stood in the doorway. This time he wasn’t burdened down with a pile of papers when he scurried into the room toward the dais. If it was possible, Sarah thought his face was even paler than before. Although he went straight to Anne Hightower, who sat erectly next to Lance’s empty chair, instead of quite facing Anne, Bailey was intently scanning the audience. He froze when his gaze met Sarah’s.
“It’s Mr. Knowlton. He’s dead!”
Not sure if she’d heard right, Sarah maintained an unbroken stare with Bailey. Only when he repeated “he’s dead” and added “your mother” did she break the linkage of their gazes to push her way out of her row and the auditorium . . .
Some Books by Debra H. Goldstein
Three books in one . . .More info →
She fell in love with a rock star and lost everything…More info →
Side by side on the fateful night of the Titanic disaster . . .More info →