Thursday, November 16, 2023

Deacon of the Dead - A Guest Post and Giveaway

I'm pleased to allow MJ O'Neill to take over Cozy Up With Kathy today. MJ writes the Second Chance Inn Cozy Mystery series. Deacon of the Dead is the first book in the series and was released last month.

"Can We Murder the Grammar?” - Confessions of a Dyslexic Mystery Writer 

MJ O'Neill

As a child, reading felt like trying to solve a cryptic puzzle without any clues. I was terrible at it and frankly, saw little joy in the effort. There was no quicker way to get me to want to commit murder than to assign me a book report. That was until I stumbled upon my first mystery novel—suddenly, the challenge became thrilling. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden became my secret keys to unlocking the world of words. The real-life mystery unfolded in the eighth grade during an after-school algebra session. As I squinted at the jumbled numbers, I asked my teacher how he managed to keep those pesky numbers all neatly aligned instead of dancing the conga—a concept as perplexing to me as the equation I was attempting to solve. That moment of confusion led to a revelation that cleared up so much of my educational fog—I was dyslexic.

For those unfamiliar, dyslexia is often associated with challenges in reading and writing due to difficulties in recognizing and decoding words. The math form, which I also have, is dyscalculia. Dyslexia affects spelling, writing, and sometimes even speaking. My kiddo has an auditory form which means when you say banana they hear bandana. It can make teenage conversations extra fun.

In layman's terms, dyslexia is like reading a mystery novel where the author has cheekily jumbled all the clues. It's not just bumbling with letters; it's your brain's quirky way of decoding the plot of the English language, only backwards and in heels (in my case).

The Detective's Dilemma: At first, my teacher’s insistence that I had something going on fell on deaf ears. In that era, girls, especially girls with good grades, didn’t have dyslexia. Thankfully, he was persistent and once I had a name for my unique lens, everything clicked into place. The 'aha' moment of diagnosis was akin to finding the last piece of the puzzle in a locked-room mystery.

The Plot Thickens (And So Does the Plot): When reviewing my upcoming thriller, a reader commented that the book was “wickedly, intensely plotted”. This, I believe, is the silver lining of my dyslexia, my superpower—my ability to envision wide and deep, the breadth and depth of a narrative, simultaneously. It's a talent that is immensely helpful in plotting complex, intricate tales. Red herrings and character connections fall effortlessly into place. I can see clues and connections up and down the story as I'm writing or revising. It's also why you want me in your next escape room challenge.

Crafting the Culprit: I describe myself as a 'plotty pantser'—I start with a firm grasp on the crime, the victim, and the culprit before I try to put words on a page. I always have an inciting incident and a setting, too. But I leave room for the mystery and connections to unfurl as I write. My arsenal includes color-coded sticky notes to track plot points and heavy revising on the go for coherence and continuity. Only when the story is solid do I brace myself for the final and most grueling step—tackling the mechanics of grammar and spelling.

My favorite writing teacher is Yale’s Verlyn Klinkenborg. His advice to writers is to only write short sentences. His book is cleverly named Several Short Sentences on Writing. Bad sentences are easier to spot and fix when their short. Dyslexics aren't really taught to read words. Instead, we're taught chunking. Paragraphs, sentences and even words are parsed into smaller chunks. My brain contains a massive database of phrases that have nuanced meanings. The spelling of any given word is inconsequential because I read and write the phrase. That means I'm always writing short sentences and gluing them together.

Go, Go Gadget:

The first time I ever submitted to a potential agent I was told that I'd never get published unless I hired a professional editor before submitting. That was cost prohibitive for me. Thankfully, technology has bridged many gaps for dyslexic writers, acting as a Watson to my Holmes, helping me outsmart the Moriarty of grammar and spelling pitfalls. I've gone from needing an army of editors to fine-tuning my manuscripts with the help of digital tools acting as my first line of defense before a piece ever reaches an editor. Though exhausting, this process is vital in polishing my work to a sheen that meets the scrutinizing eyes of agents and publishers.

For quick thoughts and those sudden bursts of inspiration, I turn to dictation tools. And to any budding writer out there, dyslexic or not, my counsel is this: embrace audio books as a way to immerse yourself in your genre, and find a writing process that plays to your strengths.

The Support Squad:

I cut my teeth in online writing forums, where constructive criticism and encouragement became the bedrock of my growth as a writer. For those treading similar paths, especially with learning differences, my advice is to find your people. They are invaluable allies on this journey.

The Morale of the Story:

A mentor once said to me that what made me different was what made me different and that my path forward lay in embracing it. They were right. Our unique abilities are not just quirks; they are our signature, our fingerprints on the murder weapon. My dyslexia is not merely a footnote in my story—it is a key character in my mystery novels, influencing plot twists and character arcs in ways that I could never have imagined.

To the readers, teachers, and parents out there—know that learning disabilities are surmountable. There is hope, and there are success stories. I am living proof that with the right support and strategies, anyone can conquer the written world. And I never would have known that to be true if someone hadn’t questioned “wait, your numbers are moving?”

Keep scribbling, sleuths, and trust that in the library of life, every book has a place. Every story matters, especially the ones that take a little extra effort to tell.


 Deacon of the Dead: A Second Chance Inn Cozy Mystery by MJ O'Neill

About Deacon of the Dead 

Deacon of the Dead: A Second Chance Inn Cozy Mystery
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Setting - Georgia
Sweet Devotions (October 10, 2023)
Print length: ‎ 274 pages

Come Sit a Spell in Clinton, Georgia. Home to Southern Sass, Romance, Murder, and (Fake) Zombie Fun - a charming cozy mystery book series from award-winning author MJ O'Neill

Who Knew Fake Zombies Could Stir Up Such Real Trouble? When Harmony Holt’s daddy lands in the hospital putting their family inn on the brink of foreclosure, she’s dragged back to her quirky hometown, Clinton, Georgia, with an unconventional rescue plan: zombies. Well, zombie tours to be precise. As autumn unveils its colors, she concocts a daring plan to intertwine the town's newfound fame as film site for the hit TV show Walker, Zombie Ranger with it's upcoming fall festival, all to save her family’s legacy—and ideally, while dodging any awkward encounters with her ex, Seth.

But when Deacon Miller, a vocal opponent of her undead tourism idea, is found murdered in the middle of her zombie-fueled grand opening, shot with her inn’s gun, no less, she’s in a heap of trouble on both fronts. Now, with her tour permit hanging by a thread, land snatchers are clamoring for a piece of her property, and the local businesses that banked on her venture are in the lurch. To top it off, she’s prime suspect in the Deacon’s murder. Her sole beacon of hope? Sheriff Seth Johnson, her ex.

Is it a Second Chance at Love or a Second Chance for Murder? Dive into this fall treat by award-winning author MJ O'Neill, a unique blend of cozy mystery and romance, sprinkled with Southern sass and autumn charm. Can Harmony save her family legacy and find where her heart truly belongs, or are some secrets better kept whispered in regrets?

About MJ O'Neill

MJ O’Neill is an award-winning author, entrepreneur, and literacy advocate.

Her love of mysteries started as a dyslexic child who relied on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to get through the dreaded book report. Now, she is a fierce advocate for literacy and stands firm against literary censorship.

Her professional writing adventure began when she owned a chocolate factory where writing mysteries was a safer bet than “murdering customers”. Currently, you might spot MJ rambling around the Pacific Northwest in her jeep, with her teenager and fierce Yorkie, on the hunt for bigfoot and her next captivating tale.

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