Thursday, September 19, 2013

You're Writing About What?

RHYS BOWEN:Last year I had the fun experience of writing a short story for an anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni LP Kelner. It was called AN APPLE FOR THE CREATURE and gave me a rare chance to write something deliciously dark and spooky. But these very successful anthologies have really given Toni a taste for the supernatural and the creepy, so much so that she has recently become a shape shifter and has morphed into a new person called Leigh Perry.

I'm delighted to have LEIGH PERRY guest blogging for us today so take it away Toni--I mean Leigh

Let me put this right out on the table. I’ve written a mystery about a skeleton.

You may be thinking So what? There are plenty of mysteries with skeletons. For starters, there’s Aaron Elkins, who’s famed for his wonderful Gideon Oliver mysteries about a forensic anthropologist using his knowledge of skeletal remains to solve crimes. Charlotte McLeod’s The Family Plot starts out with finding a mysterious skeleton in the family tomb. In fact countless books include skeletal versions of the murder victims. But here’s the difference. In A Skeleton in the Family, the skeleton isn’t the victim--he’s a sleuth. You see, he’s a living skeleton. Named Sid.

Sid walks, talks, and makes really bad bone jokes. And in the first Family Skeleton mystery, he helps solve his own murder. 

Needless to say, the first question I’m usually asked about the book is how I came up with the idea.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. Worse still, I don’t even have a funny answer. The fact is, I don’t remember. I do know that I’ve had the bare bones of the book planned since May of 2004, and have gone back to my earliest notes to see if I wrote down anything like, “I got this idea from...” But all I can find is references to noodling over the idea for a year, meaning that I first got the idea in 2003. That’s where the trail on my computer ends.

From the very first, I recognized that it was a weird idea, but I just kept coming back to it. Like most writers, I’ve got tons of ideas I’ll never get around to writing, and most of the time, once I jot down an idea I forget about it until I look through my files. But Sid never left my skull.

Flash forward to 2011. My “Where are the now?” series was ending, and Ginjer Buchanan, my editor at Berkley Prime Crime, asked me to pitch something new. I wrote up nine different ideas of various flavors: dark, light, straight mystery, paranormal mystery, a historical, urban fantasy. And Sid. 

Ginjer went right to Sid.

The ironic part is that I almost didn’t include the Family Skeleton series proposal at all. As much as I liked the premise, I still thought it was kind of weird. But my husband Steve said, “Why not?” so in it went. I never dreamed Ginjer would pick it, and I was flabbergasted when she did, though not so much that I turned down the offer. I didn’t know if anybody other than the two of us and my agent would want to read the finished book, but at the very least, I knew I’d have a great time writing it. And I really did.

Now I could talk about the other characters in the book. Sid doesn’t work alone, after all. He lives with Georgia Thackery, who is technically the protagonist. Well, maybe not “lives” so much as “rattles around in the attic of.” At any rate, he’s been a part of her family since she was six, but the only other people who know about him are her parents and her older sister. Georgia has her own story. She’s an adjunct English professor who can’t seem to make tenure track, and is the single mother of a teenaged daughter. She and her sister have some sibling rivalry going on, and she doesn’t have the best luck with men. I like her a lot, and she’s also fun to write about. I think she’s a strong character.

But I know darned well that it’s Sid who’s going to be remembered.
There are so many mysteries with interesting, strong protagonists. (Including the books written by the Jungle Red authors.) Skeletons? Not so much. In fact, there really aren’t that many ambulatory skeletons in any kind of fiction. A talking skull which houses a demon features in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books; Lord Shinigami in the Soul Eater anime and manga series is a skeletal death figure; and Ghost Rider looks like a skeleton, as do some other comic book characters. The most famous is Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas. But none of those are mysteries--I’ve got this particular sub-sub-sub genre all to myself.

Of course, I realize that the whole ambulatory skeleton bit will lose me some readers even before they open the book. Some people aren’t going to be interested in this particular brand of whimsy, no matter how well written it might be. (I’ve already had one Goodreads review to that effect.) My sense of humor may very well turn off other readers. I can’t help that, and I can’t let myself worry about it. After all, there are readers who won’t pick up a cozy, an amateur sleuth, an academic setting, a single mother, and so on. Readers are entitled to their own preferences. I just hope there are enough people who share mine so I can keep the series going.

You see, while I can’t really tell you where I came up with the idea for Sid the Skeleton, I can tell you why I want to keep writing about him:

Because he tickles my funny bone.

Though A Skeleton in the Family is Leigh Perry’s first book, she’s been publishing under her real name--Toni L.P. Kelner--for twenty years. She’s the author of the Laura Fleming Southern mystery novels, the “Where are they now?” mystery series, and a slew of short stories. It was while co-editing paranormal anthologies with Charlaine Harris, including the New York Times Bestselling Many Bloody Returns and Death’s Excellent Vacation, that she got her first taste of writing about the supernatural. Leigh and/or Toni lives north of Boston with her husband, two daughters, and two guinea pigs. Her personal philosophy is that we’re all skeletons under the skin. And meat, and organs, and stuff.
RHYS:Leigh and I are attending Bouchercon, the big mystery convention in Albany NY today but she has promised to check in and answer comments and questions. Also she has generously agreed to give a copy of A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY to her favorite comment of the day.


  1. Okay . . . Sid is definitely going onto my to-be-read pile. He sounds like great fun and, strange idea or not, I suspect there are going to be lots of folks hoping he [and Georgia] will be staying around for a long time . . . .

  2. A highly original idea, Toni/Leigh! Sounds like great fun, and a good way to spend a weekend.

    The whimsical side of the supernatural is more to my taste.

  3. I think he's adorable, and I'm going to read the book.

  4. I had the pleasure of going to "Leigh's" book launch last week at the wonderful Bestsellers Cafe in Melrose. Her daughter had designed a gorgeous (and delicious) red velvet cake (how perfect is that?) and Leigh read the book's opening chapter. It's funny and refreshing... you haven't seen this before, definitely not! I've got a copy right here on my desk and I'm looking forward to reading the rest on my way to Bouchercon.

    Congratulations, Leigh!

  5. This sounds like such fun Toni! congrats on the new book. I wish I had a brain that thought outside of the box the way yours does:)

  6. This kind of off-beat thing is right up my alley and I can't wait to read it! If you're worried about people not liking your sense of humor, it's probably much like mine, so I KNOW I will like Sid and friends!

  7. Read it. Loved it. Keep them coming.


  8. Joan,since Sid already dead and any smelly bits are gone, theoretically he should have a long shelf life indeed. The books? Those are anybody's guess.

    Karen, whimsical is so much nicer a way to put than weird as all get out.

    Hallie, here's hoping you like Sid on your trip. (If anybody sees were a copy has been flung onto the road, we will know she didn't like it much.)

    Roberta, thinking outide the box is also a kind way to describe this premise.

    Deb, every time an author uses humor, she runs the risk of alienating readers. What's funny to me just gets confused looks from some folks. But how could I write about a skeleton and remain deathly serious?

    Kathy, thank you so much. We must compare notes on the two names thing. Or is it up to three for you?

  9. "...I’ve had the bare bones of the book planned..."

    I see what you did there. :-)

    What a unique concept! Sounds like a fun read. It's going on my TBR list.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck with Sid.

  10. I'm glad you took Sid out of your mental closet and shared him with the world!
    I was intrigued from the first when I saw the cover and the title a while ago. Now when you've chosen to describe this writing with the word "whimsey", I MUST read it. Whimsey is one of my favorites. I even have a cat with that name (In honor of Lord Peter Whimsey from Dorothy Sayers).

  11. Looking forward to reading all about Sid's adventures. I downloaded a free sample on my kindle last week and enjoyed getting a peek at the first few pages.

    If I don't win a free copy (hint, hint) I'll be ordering it once I finish up reading W Is For Wasted and The Wrong Girl.

    Jen K. from MA

  12. My alter ego, Sofie Kelly, had the chance to read an advance copy of this book. I really like Sid.

  13. Oh, do say Sid is a bit of a smart ass. Obviously I'm thinking of Dresden's skull aleck. I hope he is a witty bag of bones, bossy, and funny.

  14. I'd love to win the book. It sounds like a hoot! A skeleton that walks and probably talks ... wow! I think it blows me away.

  15. Sounds like a humerus concept and I'm looking forward to it. I much rather read about a skeleton than a ghost: so much more substantial.

  16. Hooray for you, Toni! I love the idea that you're writing something that sparked your imagination rather than trying to fit your ideas to some imaginary reader's taste.

    As a reader, I'd much rather read stories by writers who fully enjoy their work and allow their creativity free rein. So much more satisfying.

  17. Marianne, snicker.

    Libby, Lord Peter is a frequent re-read out our house. Both my husband and I adore Sayers.

    Jen, that would be excellent company to be in.

    Darlene, I didn't realize Sophie was a pen name. Thanks so much for that lovely blurb!

    Pat, though it was not intentional, Sid may have been partially inspired by Bob the skull in the Dresden books. I love those books!

    Michelle, he totally talks. Getting to hold his tongue--well, if he had one--that's the tricky part.

    Judy, Sid is a substantial guy for sure.

    Lynda, I do enjoy writing about Sid, as odd as it may sound. I'm just hoping plenty of people enjoy reading about him.