Monday, July 22, 2019

Taking the Plunge

I've just made a momentous decision.  At least, I'm not sure I actually did, it just sort of happened after an afternoon with my publisher when somehow with tact, charm and drinks in Edinburgh's most elegant hotel, the Balmoral, she convinced me that twenty-first century technology wasn't all bad and that what I really wanted to do - indeed, was enthusiastic about doing - was to go on Twitter.

Yes, we agreed, we were both wistful about the days when what an author did was write books.  I can still remember the joys of those early days when my editor would take me out in his blue Mercedes coupe for a very fancy lunch (however did he drive us back???) and I would just go away and send him my book when it was finished.

My problem with really working the internet to promote my books was that I was brought up to believe you just didn't do that sort of thing.  I think I was probably a rather bumptious child and,  'No one likes a smartie' was one of my mother's favourite phrases (along with 'For a supposedly intelligent girl...' when she felt I'd done something particularity dumb). The Kardashians and their like have changed the game, though I was rather charmed today to hear of a school that was awarding a Humility prize, presumably to the least boastful child.  It does, though, give me a vision of a whole classroom of little Uriah Heeps intent on winning it - and as someone pointed out, if you did, you couldn't really tell anyone you had without boasting.

Still, my publisher convinced me that it wasn't like that - just a regular sentence or two about what was going on in my life and I took the plunge.  I'd been well chuffed (translation: really pleased) when a letter from a reader in Hoppers Creek, Australia arrived on my doormat, addressed to 'Aline Templeton, Edinburgh.'  My first tweet.

It's a steep learning curve.  I'm taking baby steps, and trying to work out how I get it up and running properly - and how to delete the profile of the MP for East Renfrewshire ( East Renfrewshire??) that fills up most of the screen whenever I click on twitter.  Suggestions welcome.

I've been posting doggedly every day this week and if you'd like to join me and find out what happened to my Amaretto pannacotta at a lunch party this week  I'd be thrilled.  Onwards and upwards!

Twitter: @alinetempleton

Friday, July 19, 2019

Conference Envy

My fellow Type M'er, Thomas Kies, posted a report on Thrillerfest, a writer's conference held in New York this month and I confess I was seized by more than a touch of envy. I always learn something and meet new people at any conference and this one was full of terrific panels and workshops.

Thrillerfest sounds especially exciting. The line-up of speakers was spectacular. It was like a gathering of all the rich and famous in the mystery field. Conferences are also a chance to meet the not so rich and famous. I can honestly say some of my best friends are writers that I met at conferences.

Above is a photo from this year's Western Writers of America convention. It was taken at the Five Star party. In the middle is our brilliant editor, Tiffany Schofield, who is one of the most friendly persons in publishing. Her frontier series featuring historical novels about the American West has been a great hit both with librarians and readers.

I'm on the left. Having just discovered a western hat that fits I longer have to worry about my hair. What a relief. On the right is Irene Bennett Brown. I look forward to seeing her and her husband, Bob, every year. Irene and I have known each other forever. She and Bob started attending in 1978. Her book, Miss Royal's Mules, is a finalist for a Will Rogers Medallion Award. Her new book, Tangled Times will be published Summer, 2020.

Old friendships can be dangerous at conventions because of the temptation to spend all my time with people I already know and like.

I would love to go to Thrillerfest next year. I have a number of friends who attend. Plus this year a number of person's from Sourcebook were there. Sourcebook acquired Poisoned Pen last year and the conference would have been a great opportunity to meet representatives from our new publisher.

I don't like posting on the day mine is due. I like to schedule it at 12:01 am so our early morning readers will have fresh content. This has been a very harried summer full of disruptions. Most of them were good. But still, my writing has been interrupted a lot. Then everything else lags too.

Better performance next time!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The 21st Century Artist

This summer has been a whirlwind. Lots of travel. Some business. Some pleasure. I haven't been home as much as I would have liked.

My business travel has been prolonged and intense. I have been leading workshops for the College Board. This is stand-and-deliver, eight-hour days. It is always great to spend time with serious educators, speaking about student writing.

Still, it's not sitting at my desk writing fiction. It's also so intense that it's hard to get writing done while I'm leading these workshops. I know the value of a teacher’s dollar. And these educators are paying too much money to attend these workshops for me to not double and triple check (and even constantly tweak) my material.

So I find myself writing in frenetic fits, in stops and starts. I have written 75 pages in 3 weeks and then only 10 pages in a week. It is frustrating. I'm a goal-oriented person. I do well when I'm checking things off to-do lists. My goal for the summer was to write 150 pages and with only a month left that is very much in doubt. As an educator, I know I shouldn't complain about having the opportunity to earn extra money in the summer. But I'm not sitting at my desk writing fiction.

This is the life of the midlist writer. Of the actor who waits tables between auditions. Of the musician who practices law between Saturday gigs. In short, this is the life of most 21st Century artists. We right when we can, and we make sure we always can. Because not writing is not an option. So it may be in frenetic fits. But it gets done nonetheless.

So this week, I’m in Fitchburg, Mass., Sunday through Friday. Saturday, I fly to Orlando for a night, deliver a workshop Sunday and fly home that same night. Monday, I’ll be at my desk working.

And living the life of a 21st Century artist.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

I’ve lived on the West Coast of the U.S. my entire life. Most of my adult life I’ve lived in Southern California. As you might guess, I’ve experienced a fair number of earthquakes over the years, though I’ve never been very close to the epicenter of any of them.

The first one I remember experiencing was when I was pretty young, probably around five. That’s my best guess, anyway. I really only have a vague memory of the ground shaking. I lived in the Seattle area at the time. I’m pretty sure the quake I felt was the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 aka The Good Friday Earthquake. A 9.2 shaker, it’s considered the second largest earthquake on record and lasted, depending on the source you look at, from 3 minutes to 4.5 minutes. It caused the Space Needle to sway 1200 miles away. I can’t even imagine being near the epicenter of that one.

The two I remember most here in Southern California are the 6.7 Northridge quake in 1994 and the recent 7.1 quake near Ridgecrest. We were in escrow on two houses at the time of the Northridge quake (selling one and buying another). Even though we were far enough from the epicenter that no damage was done, both houses had to be reinspected before escrow closed.

The recent Ridgecrest 7.1 quake on July 5th was the longest quake I’ve ever experienced. We felt a great rolling motion for what seemed like a very long time (around 40 seconds I learned later). When you feel that kind of rolling motion you know a very large earthquake has occurred far away. (Ridgecrest is about 170 miles away from us.) That’s when you hope it hit a sparsely populated area and pray for those affected.

Most of the time, though, you’re not even sure you’re experiencing one. When an earthquake happens, a typical conversation goes something like this:

“Was that an earthquake?”
“Think so.”
“What do you think? 4.0?”
“Has to be at least a 5.”

The quake is usually over by then so we go back to what we were doing before the quake hit. After waiting a half hour or so, we head to the internet to find out its magnitude (got to see who was closest, after all) and where the epicenter was.

I know, I know. Seems a bit flippant, but that’s how some of us deal with the possibility of quakes in earthquake country.

The shaking tends to be a lot lighter where we live, though I do realize that some day a large quake might hit on a fault closer to us. Fingers crossed that never happens. But even with all that shaking going on, I’d still rather live in earthquake country than somewhere hurricanes and tornados are common. Those scare me far more than an earthquake.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


by Rick Blechta

Are you the sort of person who tends to put things off? I am, or should I say I try not to be.

It can be something as simple as the garbage needs to be taken out to the curb. In the past, I would likely have also added mentally I’ll get to that as soon as I do such and such.

The result would be the garbage never gets taken out.

Too often things that should have gotten done never did. The result would be I always felt as if I was playing catch-up, and when it was really bad, the pile of undone things seemed to go up a mile high, which I find highly depressing.

So now, rather than saying, “I have to take out the garbage this morning,” I get off my lazy butt and take it out right then, even if it means momentarily stopping what I’m doing to accomplish the task.

Now that I’m getting better at this change in philosophy, I find things running much more smoothly. Instead of I’ve got to remember to return this tool to my son, I immediately take said tool out to the car even if I’m not seeing him for two days. It’s done. I don’t have to remember any more — other than handing it over when I see him.

Here’s why this sort of thing is important to a writer. When we’re working on something, we not only have our work in progress committed to paper — whether real paper or electronic paper — but we carry a lot of information around in our heads — and that information is very important.

Sure, we can make copious notes, jot down ideas — and I do try to do this where needed — but we carry around in our addled brains something much more ephemeral and delicate: the tone of our story and our relationship with its characters.

If you’re also trying to carry around a lot of other unnecessary things (like remembering to take out the garbage), there comes a point where your brain just becomes too full and things start getting pushed out of your brain’s RAM (Random Access Memory, which is a computer term, but very apt for human brains too).

When I originally began trying to train myself to do small things NOW, I didn’t even stop to think of its effect on my writing. In fact I never did think of it. It was my wife who pointed it out when we were discussing our anti-procrastination battle (she’s in on it too). I mentioned that I’m having less trouble with my writing because I’m managing to “stay in my book” much more easily of late. Her answer was “Might that not be because you’re not having to remember so many little things?”

A bell went clang in my head at that point. She was absolutely correct.

I also play my band SOULidified’s entire repertoire from memory (some 70+ songs) and I’m having less trouble doing that too. Now at my age, one would expect one’s memory to be less good, and that’s not happening.

So here’s Dr. Blechta’s prescription: Take care of little things as they come up and you’ll probably lead a happier and more productive life. However, if you happen to be a writer, I know you’ll find my prescription A Good Thing.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Thrillerfest XIV

I’d never been to Thrillerfest in New York.  I’d heard it was pricy…and it is.  Of course it is, it's New York.  But it's also the most exciting city in the world. 

I’ve been to writers’ conferences that I felt were worth my while and I’ve attended some that I went home wondering if I could have done something differently to get more out of it.

I bit the bullet and registered for Thrillerfest XIV months ago.  Since then, Sourcebooks acquired my wonderful publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. As fortune would have it the first night I arrived, they hosted a cocktail party in New York for their authors (both new and old) as well as inviting members of the media.
Hours before the party, I flew into LaGuardia on Thursday, July 11, took a suicide taxi ride to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, unpacked and ironed some clothes.  I can never pack without getting my shirts and slacks as wrinkled as the skin of a mature rhinoceros.

Then I went to the Ballroom in the hotel for the Opening Reception and was pleasantly greeted by some outstanding food and drink.  The company was damned good as well.  I ran into Dennis Palumbo, Reavis Wortham, Jenny Milchman, and Joe Clifford as well as meeting many other writers I didn’t know.

At seven, Dennis Palumbo (a remarkable writer) and I walked through the rain to the MetLife Building where Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press was hosting the cocktail event (also awesome food and drink).  It was there that Barbara Peters, Editor in Chief and Founder of Poisoned Pen Press, introduced all the authors in attendance.  As always, she was effusive in her praise. This gave the PPP authors a chance to interact with individuals from Sourcebooks, who are really knowledgeable and nice.

What really set this event off was that it was attended by several members of the media including Bookreporter, Mystery Scene, Publishers Weekly, Strand Magazine, a freelancer working for People Magazine and two representatives from the New York Public Library.

Speaking of the library, on Friday during a break I walked  to the New York Public Library building on 42nd Street and went in.  I was thrilled to see my book Darkness Lane on the shelf.   Cool beans.

Friday morning, I listened to a panel of mystery/thriller literary critics talk about the way they work.  I found it interesting that some of them refused to write bad reviews.  If they read a book they didn’t like, they’d either not write something at all, or would be noncommittal in their overview.  Two of the critics on the panel were definitive that they do, indeed, write bad reviews if they feel the work warrants it.


They also discussed how competitive it is to get noticed in the publishing world and advised that a good publicist was vital in getting reviewed at all.

On the last day of Thrillerfest, I was on a panel discussing five year plans for writing.  None of us had one.  We all agreed that we write in the moment and if you try to follow trends, by the time you’ve finished your book, the trend is over. 

Better to write what you’re passionate about.  I told the audience that if you write a good story with compelling characters, you’ll do just fine. 

Oh, and a high point after the panel discussion?  R.G Belsky bought Random Road and asked me to sign it.  He writes from the viewpoint of a female reporter as well.

All in all, a terrific event.  If you think you’re going sell a ton of books at the event, you’re thinking about it all wrong.  It’s all about renewing and creating brand new relationships.  Relationships that will help you further your career and friendships you will keep for the rest of your life.  Writers helping writers.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely, no question.  I'm going next year!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Weekend Guest S.G. Wong

I'm delighted to welcome S.G. Wong to Type M for Murder.  S.G. is a Canadian author, speaker, and community organizer. An Arthur Ellis Awards finalist and WIBA nominee, she's also Past President of Sisters in Crime--Canada West. Known for the Lola Starke novels and Crescent City short stories of alternate history, hard-boiled detective tales, she is currently finishing a new stand-alone contemporary mystery set in the Canadian Rockies.

Just a Little Off-Centre

By S.G. Wong

This is a selected list of things I’ve held in my hands, while I pondered their utility as weapons:

·         soup ladle
·         frying pan (various diameters)
·         soup pot (various sizes)
·         The Compact Oxford English Dictionary
·         kettle bells
·         kettle (stovetop)
·         kettle (electric)
·         toaster

 I remember with particular clarity the moments with the soup ladle, so unexpected, a revelation of sorts, really. Stainless steel bowl, flattened steel shaft, black plastic handle. I hefted that thing for a while, wondering if it had the right weight to do some real damage, or if it would just temporarily distract. It had a great, balanced feel, really perfect for swinging.

In case I’m not being clear: I often spend time considering everyday, common objects for their effectiveness as weapons.

I especially gravitate to kitchen items, for some reason. Probably because I spend a lot of time there. I like to cook and bake and generally futz about with ingredients and non-recipes. It’s the closest thing to alchemy. What’s not to like?

I mean, okay, I spend a lot of time at my writing desk, too, but I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to imagine throwing my laptop or my monitor at someone in order to hurt them. Also, if someone corners me in my office, I’m a goner anyway: there’s only one way in or out.

On second thought, maybe I would use my laptop…

I remember a Sue Grafton novel, where a character dies an excruciatingly painful, messy death after being poisoned with amanitas, time bombs masquerading as mushrooms on the man’s pizza. Gruesome. And yet…intriguing.

I thought for a while that the huge fungi popping up among my spruce trees were amanitas. I was pretty disappointed to discover they’re actually just some sort of boletes. I mean some of these are toxic, too, but they just don’t have the same cachet as amanitas.

 Human beings are so ingenious. Yes, we can create obvious weapons: knives, guns, saws, ice picks, hammers, etc. etc. ad nauseum. But honestly, deadly things are all around us. And really, there’s something sneaky and weirdly satisfying (for me, at least) in skewing my perspective just enough so that I see a weapon where someone else (fine, most people) would see a beautiful maple cutting board or a hand-painted step stool.

I know it’s strange and morbid and possibly, not very healthy for my psyche—but. Hear me out.

Writing crime means studying crime. It means tipping one’s head just so, until an entirely new scenario comes into focus. It means observing the everyday and looking for its edges, where it unravels and where it’s patched up, where the familiar becomes a weapon and the known disappears.

It’s a mean, dark, dirty job—but somebody’s gotta do it.

PS. Have you seen the latest John Wick film? The one in which, before all the guns blaze and the knives come out, he does someone in with a book?

Yep. Gruesome. And…intriguing.