Jeffrey D. Briggs 🌑

I pose my five questions to Jeffrey D. Briggs, author of the Waterfront Mysteries. I loved the first book, Out of the Cold Dark Sea (see my review here) and look forward to reading the latest, Within A Shadowed Forest. Books in the Waterfront Mystery series are available at Amazon, Beach House Greetings, Edmonds Bookshop, Paper Boat Booksellers, and Third Place Books. It’s awesome to call out some of these local spots.

What is your favorite book about the craft of writing? Why?

Jeffrey: I have found so much value in so many books on writing. They include:

Each book contains important lessons on craft, the need for discipline and perseverance. Some of it will be new. Other parts will be reminders that I have learned before but forgotten. Plus, there’s always a key piece of advice that stays with me well beyond the time I’ve forgotten or absorbed the rest: Like King’s advice, “Writers must be readers.” Lamont’s encouragement to “give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.” And Brenda Ueland’s, “I learned that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

What do you like most about writing a first draft?

Jeffrey: The first draft is when I’m at my most creative. I try not to edit as I go but to let the story unfold how it wants to be told, to follow the characters where they want to go. I am world-building at this stage, as close as I’ll ever get to playing God. First drafts are amazing and exciting and scary and frustrating. Much like life. Only more intense.

What is your favorite part of revision?

Jeffrey: The joy of revision is to be done with it. Revision is where the really hard work begins. It requires an awareness of craft, voice, dialog, point of view. It requires an attention to detail not needed in the creation of the first draft. I need to shape and mold that shitty first draft into something that resembles a finished book. That’s hard! Each of my books has required a minimum of 15 drafts before I felt satisfied they were complete. That’s a lot of revision. An old college professor of mine once advised about revision, “You have to learn to kill your own babies.” I have killed a lot of babies in my revisions. My favorite part of revision? The satisfaction of having pulled together, in the end, a good book that will entertain and (maybe) enlighten my readers.

Sarah: Wow. Fifteen drafts! I’m only on ten or eleven or… actually, I’m not really sure. But that explains a thing or two 🤣

What book (not about writing) are you reading right now or have you recently finished that you would recommend to others? Why?

Jeffrey: I am currently reading two mysteries by local authors and friends of mine, Alice K. Boatwright’s What Child Is This? And Devil by the Tail by Jeanne Matthews. They will be speaking at an upcoming Sisters in Crime [Puget Sound Chapter] meeting, and I want to know their work better when I hear them talk. The books are very different—one a historical novel set in 19th century Chicago, and the other set in a small village in present-day England with plenty of tea and scones surrounding an abandoned child and murder. I’m enjoying both.

I recently finished Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I loved the simple, elegant lyricism of his narrative voice, and his kindness and compassion for his characters.

I reread Moby-Dick and Lord of the Rings every few years for their large themes and wise counsel, often delivered from humble characters. I’ve grown to love the Fredrik Backman books for how they wrap humor and empathy in a delightful cast of misfits and oddballs. I just reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness to remind myself that light is the left hand of darkness—a lesson I needed this past year.

I’m enjoying my introduction to Vera Stanhope, Ann Cleeve’s British detective (I’m through the first four), for her psychological profiling of possible suspects and of Vera herself. I love the way she takes time to develop tension, and never forgets to place us in the muck of life.

I could go on all day about favorite books.

Sarah: I love that you took the time here to go on about favorite books. It’s a wonderful thing to love books, to be immersed in them, and to engage and learn from stories, both our own and others. I now have more books I need to read 😍 Also, I agree that Fredrik Backman is masterful.

Can you give an example of how you have been kind to someone else recently, in real life or through one of your characters?

Jeffrey: I have just finished my Driving Miss Daisy period in the winter of 2022. After major foot surgery, my wife was immobile for nearly two months and had another month of just beginning to hobble around. I cooked her meals, walked the dog, drove her to all her appointments, built her a ramp into the house and came running whenever she jiggled her bell. That is the kindness that comes with love.

Sarah: This is so beautiful, and a reminder that our kindnesses can be for those close to us, the people we might obviously be kind to every day. Your wife is fortunate, and I can see that neither of you takes the other for granted. Thank you!

Cynthia Blair 🍨

This month I pose my five questions to Cynthia Blair, author of three mystery series (written as Cynthia Baxter), including the “Reigning Cats & Dogs” mysteries featuring Long Island veterinarian Jessica Popper. Titles include Dead Canaries Don’t Sing and Putting On the Dog.  She has also written contemporary women’s fiction and young adult novels. You can find Cynthia on Goodreads and BookBub.

You will find that sometimes I can’t help myself and respond in italics, but sometimes it’s enough to let Cynthia say it all.

What is your favorite book about the craft of writing? Why?

I’ve never been a big reader of craft books. I’ve learned whatever I know about crafting a novel by paying attention to how other authors have done it. I’ve always been attuned to how authors ask a question at the beginning of the book that keeps the reader reading, the ways they end chapters, the ways in which they construct scenes and build tension…it’s all right there on the page.  

This is an intriguing answer for me, because I so often find writers pointing other writers to craft resources, as I have been doing for years. But one of my favorite exercises, borrowed from a craft book, was to write in the style of a favorite author.

What do you like most about writing a first draft?

That creative magic that comes from out of nowhere and enables me to pour out an entire scene without coming up for air.  Fingers flying, ideas tumbling over each other, sentences writing themselves… it doesn’t always happen, of course, but when it does, it’s exhilarating!  

What is your favorite part of revision?

Being done with it? I find it torture, especially when it requires moving scenes around and then reshuffling different sections throughout the book to be sure it all still makes sense. The only fun part for me is reworking individual sentences or paragraphs to make them cleaner and sharper. I’ll reread something and think, “Why on earth is that word there? Out!” Or “That verb should be at the beginning of the sentence, not at the end!” That’s a good feeling. 

What book (not about writing) are you reading right now or recently finished that you would recommend to others?

I just finished Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. It’s beautifully crafted. The writing is lyrical and the characters are wonderfully complex (and so human!). It’s about love and acceptance and disappointment and loss and rebirth…all the difficulties and rewards that people experience simply through having to (and needing to) live with each other.  

Can you give an example of how you have been kind to someone else recently, in real life or through one of your characters?

A Summer in Paris by Cynthia Baxter aka Cynthia Blair

A young woman recently wrote to me about a Young Adult novel of mine called A Summer in Paris. It’s the story of three high school girls who go to Paris on a school trip and the effect it has on their lives. One of the characters in the book decides to remain there, despite her parents’ objections. The woman who wrote to me said my book had inspired her to go live in Paris, which had always been her dream. She was grateful that my book had encouraged her to follow the character’s lead, so I suppose that was an inadvertent act of kindness!

Cynthia and I discussed how hard it can be to see our own kindnesses. This question isn’t easy for me to answer, either, and I hope that doesn’t make it unfair of me to ask it. Because I love the answers I hear from people in the Imagine Neighborhood podcast I borrowed it from.

I think that sometimes we don’t see our own kindnesses, either because they are inadvertent, as Cynthia points to, or subconscious, or because we aren’t sure that our intentional kindnesses are received as such. Yet it’s important to know we are being kind in the world, and to pay the kindnesses we receive forward. So I reminded Cynthia that in addition to the great kindness she did by inspiring her reader, she has also been kind to me — encouraging me as a writer and a member of the writing community, and answering these questions.

I hope you have enjoyed her answers and will strike out and read her books if you haven’t already. I confess I’ve so far only read from her Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe mysteries, and I love the intriguing flavors of this dessert that Cynthia weaves in with fun mysteries!