My favourite authors of all time write in the literary and sci-fi genres, which to me means a marriage between complex character-driven plots that incorporate multiple storylines and points of view, and philosophy. But when I'm writing, I prefer to read light. In particular, supernatural, female protagonist cozy mystery kind of light. I have loved witches, vampires, symbols, anthropology, alternative history type stories since I was a teenage witch (read goth) myself, and it doesn't take much for such a story world to whisk me away from the daily grind.

Also, I am delighted to read about female characters who take centre stage, and while highly paid literature is still massively dominated by men, at least this niche is mainly written by and for women.

But if I am writing my own story, and I'm reading Murakami, or Nabokov or Bronte sisters for example, my writing starts to resemble theirs too much for my liking. I tend to fall in love with words and sentences, and when something is so good, I can't help but emulate it, sometimes even unconsciously so. This is no good, because I want to give my own voice to the characters and images in my head. Light reading is easier because the stories are engaging but the writing is such that I spend a lot of time noticing things I would have done differently, which in turn gives me ideas and helps me recognise bad writing in my own manuscript, so instead of polluting my voice, it helps to refine it. But there's a fine line between being entertained while noticing flaws and being frustrated with beginner errors despite the fact the author is on their sixth novel(a).

My recent paranormal cozy binge started a while back with Abbey Cooper Psychic P.I. books by Victoria Laurie, who is on a NYT bestselling list, the Holy Grail of most writers. It's a typical urban North American setting, so you can expect all the things that go with it, big cars, guns and awkward prudishness around sex and romance which always saddens me, like, we are talking about murder here, but romance has to be 'clean', implying that female sensuality and sexuality are somehow 'dirty' or even dirtier than death. I get it, dominant Christian conservative culture deeply rooted in misogyny and all that, so apart from regular eye rolls whenever sexual matters are discussed childishly, I quite liked the first few instalments of this series. The stories were engaging, the voice and writing not half bad, and due to the fact that the author is herself psychic, the perspective and description of seances and intuition were interesting. I stopped at the fourth novel because somewhere along the way, the author started writing these obnoxious scenes where the protagonist intrudes on people's personal space and starts spewing secrets about their life just to show them up, because they said they didn't believe in psychics. It's a classic wish-fulfillment scenario that can ruin even the best story. Plus, the love interest was somewhat aggressive, which I really didn't like.

Next was witchy cozy mystery series by Juliet Blackwell, which is set in San Francisco and features a young witch who runs a second hand clothing store, who also has a gargoyle familiar called Oscar. I have to say I really enjoyed this series, it was well-written, not prudish and stories were engaging, as were the characters. I read it all and I'm still waiting for the next instalment. The author has written another Haunted House Renovation series but I wasn't overly enamoured by the sample I read so I left it for later.

After a few more samples and flukes, I started reading Morgana Best witchy cozy series set in a small Australian town. A girl down on her luck inherits a sentient store and powers from her deceased aunt. There's a guy she likes, a few new friends and a steady supply pf murders she just has to solve. I read this out of nostalgia for a place I lived in for about ten years, but just like a lot of Australia, it's a bit naive and rough around the edges. This was my first foray into sub-250 pages novellas in which sometimes not a lot happens, and personal issues get dragged out across several books. To me, these kinds of stories read like first drafts, you've got one character and story arc figured out, but you can't really make a book out of it.

Next couple of series were an improvement. Adele Abbot's Witch PI series set in England featuring a special city where supernatural creatures live, has a cast of really good characters with their own voices, personalities and story arcs, all underpinned by an English sense of humour and a bit of cat cruelty which isn't quite what it seems. Downside is, as always, shortness of the story which means that there are a couple of characters and issues that are cardboard cutouts, or maybe the author got bored of them and isn't sure how to take them forward. Also, I suffered a transfer of obsession with custard cream biscuits from the protagonist, which has now thankfully subsided (ok, it still takes a lot of discipline not to buy a couple of packets every time I go shopping). And second most recent witchy cozy mysteries I read was by Juliette Harper, featuring a young witch, her best friend and a host of magical characters inspired by a strange mix of Celtic and Native American mythology, which strangely works. Second and perhaps third books were excellent, even though they were in the 250 page range, they somehow perfectly matched the story to the length and the imagination really offered something interesting, but then the author started to drag it out, and also, author seemed to struggle writing a leadership role for the protagonist. I have thought a lot about sexism inherent in the art of storytelling, which almost always favours male heroes whilst women struggle to be taken seriously or even with simply taking up space on the page. It's a very hard issue to overcome when your culture and reading experience is saturated with the male perspective, where does one even start writing something they seldom or never read themselves?

And then, there's the latest series, which I'll be critical about, so I won't mention the author. Let me just say this, exclamation points have almost no place in fiction. Rarely, if someone is really shouting, you can justify an exclamation in dialogue. But in internal monologue? Three, four times in a chapter? Ridiculous! ;) Tempted by the teen texting phenomenon of exclamating all over the page? Edit it out. Another pet peeve that abounds in this book are repetitions. Whether the author is repeating a word in the same paragraph, or statement of goals and motivations every couple of chapters, it comes across as either mindless filler or the author underestimating the intelligence of the reader. All this strangely doesn't lead to entirely two-dimensional characters, but their story arcs are certainly stuck on a loop. The male love interest is a Gary Stu, a cringeworthy wish fulfilment - gorgeous, extremely rich and submissive to the protagonist, all in a very cheesy way which is strange since in the first couple of books they had some pretty decent flirting. Now it's all "You are incredibly amazing, let me follow you around, buy you cookies and ask you how to proceed before I do anything". You’d think there’d be a sex scene in there somewhere, with him giving amazing head for hours on end, but no…Of course not! And then, there are the typos...

Mystery side of things has potential, and the author weaves the clues quite naturally, which is why I wish more effort has gone into the rest of it. But as this series seems to be self-published, I know that hiring an editor is extremely expensive. From my point of view, a writer should give their stories their absolute best effort, however, one doesn't churn out several novellas in a year by being too meticulous or lengthy.

I’m not writing this thinking I’m above all these mistakes, far from it. I have written loads of shit and then painstakingly re-written it until it resembled something non-irritating. Some chapters are still sucky, and until I sort them out, they aren’t seeing a light of day. But that’s why I’m writing one book for four years...The book which is now over 120K words long! At this point, I am hoping it'll be finished before it hits 140K.

Let me reward myself with some more of my favourite gothness...

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