Thursday, September 21, 2017

Meet the Author

I'm not really here today, Dear Reader. I am currently sitting in a hospital room at Banner Desert Hospital after my long-suffering husband has undergone his eighth operation in eight years. While not life-threatening, he is having more body parts removed. Truth is he does not have that many left. I'll be leaving him in the hospital later on this morning (Thursday) to drive to the Arizona State University campus to facilitate the first session of a writing seminar for ASU emeritus professors and at this point (Tuesday) I don't have much of a lesson plan! I have a lot of prep to get done today, so forgive me if I am brief.

Relatives Galore!

I have just returned from a week-long book tour of my homeland, eastern Oklahoma. I was invited by the Eastern Oklahoma Library District to do a speaking tour of nine small-town libraries in five days, and since I have not had the opportunity to tour Oklahoma, where my Alafair Tucker series is set, in ten years, I was eager to go. Besides, the district kindly paid my way to get there and to get home. The tour was a great success. I had good crowds, saw lots of relatives and friends that I haven't seen in 20 years, and was very much reminded of how beautiful eastern Oklahoma is. I hope it is not another decade before I can return.

The towns I visited are, Sallisaw, Muldrow, Checotah, Jay, Kansas, Tahlequah, Eufaula, Hulbert, and Muskogee. And there is a gold star for those of you who can properly pronounce all those place names!

Sallisaw, Oklahoma

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Libraries as inspiration

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to be an invited author to do a reading at the Halifax Word on the Street Festival. For its size, Halifax, located in a spectacular harbour on the Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia, punches above its weight in terms of cultural and artistic activity, and also in post-secondary institutions. There are 400,000 people in Halifax and six universities. That's a lot of education.

Word on the Street is a celebration of all things literary, and includes author readings, panels, workshops, and booths which can be rented to showcase the products of publishers, authors, illustrators, and others connected to the written word. Similar events happen across Canada in the fall. They are organized by grassroots organizations and require commitment by local individuals passionate about the cause. Halifax is in its 23rd year, a testament to the dedication to literacy of the people of Halifax.

Another example of Halifax's dedication to literacy is their new Central Library. Fittingly, Word on the Street is centred around the library, using its front foyer for book sales and author signings, the conference rooms and halls for author readings, and the square outside the front entrance for the display booths. The library is in the heart of the city on Spring Garden Road and easily accessed by bus. It is a stunning, imaginative modern sculpture with floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the inside with light and warmth, and soaring ceilings that invite you to look up in awe and inspiration. I wish I'd had more time to explore the inner workings, but I'm sure it was designed with the latest digital access and learning hubs. Modern libraries have to do more than stack books in dusty rows of shelving. They are sources of community and information to connect people to ideas in the world.

To this end, the library has a wonderful independent cafe in the corner of the main foyer and a coffee shop on the top floor, serving fresh and local food. They have space for catered receptions and a beautiful outdoor patio on the top floor with a view of the harbour.

Ottawa has a dismal excuse for a central library, built in 1973 and crammed into a downtown corner far too small for it. It was designed in the brutalist architecture style which is what it sounds like, Brutal. Raw concrete and harsh lines suggestive of the Soviet Gulag.  Inside, it is dark and uninviting. The city is finally proceeding with plans for a new central library which it hopes will embrace the needs of the twenty-first century. The site has been chosen, and in the manner of public projects, it is likely to be many years of consultation, assessment, recommendations, more consultation, and so on before any shovel breaks the ground on the new site. I hope the politicians and the design committee tasked with it are possessed of imagination, courage, and vision, so that the city gets the bold and inspirational design worthy of a national capital, rather than a conservative, safe, and cost-effective building that offends no one but bores everyone.

In their deliberations, I hope the decision makers visit the great libraries already out there, from Vancouver to Halifax. Merely looking at pictures and blueprints don't do them justice. I dare anyone to walk through the glass front doors of the Halifax Central Library, look up in the middle of the foyer, and not be struck dumb with awe. That is a great homage to knowledge. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How do you get ahead these days without lying — or at least stretching the truth?

by Rick Blechta

Okay. I promise to stop writing blog posts about Bouchercon (but I may be lying — or stretching the truth).

Being so, well, intimately involved in the whole process of mounting a production like this through being the designer and layer-outer of the conference program book, I know where all the bodies are hidden. Even including Kathleen Fraser, its very able editor, I’m probably the only person who’s read Every Single Word of the darn thing — multiple times.

The largest portion of the book is given over to the author and panelist (if they’re not also authors) profiles. One thing struck me over and over again: the use of the words “bestselling” and “award-winning”. Authors throw them around like confetti, occasionally multiple times in the same 600+ character profile.

I have neither the time nor inclination to check out any of these claims, but I doubt very much that every one of them is true. But taken as a whole, it is a depressing spectacle. It seems we poor scribblers have to use any means possible to separate ourselves from the crowd. The result is a very sad thing. The two terms listed above are used so often that a potential reader almost stops noticing – which is not the result being aimed for. Not only that, but if you’re actually not award-winning or bestselling, sooner or later you’re going to be found out and that will be a very embarrassing experience.

So how do you make yourself stand out? After having attended about six of these monster conventions over the years, I’m sorry to say there’s not much of a way to accomplish this. Funny hats won’t do it. Handing out bookmarks or postcards to all and sundry helps, but only a little. Being everywhere at once (I’ve actually seen people try this one) might get people commenting about you, but also will garner some head shakes and strange looks.

It probably sounds like I’m dissing the whole endeavour — and one I’ve toiled over for many hours — but I’m actually not. Come a little bit closer and I’ll tell you the secret I’ve learned about Bouchercons. Bouchercons (indeed any convention) can help you if you simply mingle and talk with anyone you meet. Standing in a corner, wearing black, and with an angst-ridden expression that you hope proclaims you as a serious author is no help. Spending your days hanging around with people you already know, comforting and enjoyable as that may be won’t get the job done.

You just need to schmooze.

That means introducing yourself to people you don’t know, being friendly, striking up a conversation as you wait. If someone notices you’re an author, they’ll probably ask a few questions (work out your “elevator pitch” in preparation). But the real key is to ask them questions. If they’re a fellow author, you start the ball rolling with a question about their books. Most will return the favour. (If they don’t, move on quickly in a polite way.)

The reason this works is that everyone is intimidated at Bouchercon (well, except maybe for the guests of honour), so reaching out is a nice thing to do — as well as being potentially useful.

If the person you’re speaking with seems receptive, give them a bookmark or such (to help them remember your name) and when you see them again — which you most certainly will in such a closed environment — at least wave and smile.

If you’re painfully shy and thinking, I couldn’t do something like that!, thinking of it as a performance might help you break through. Most everyone participated in plays or performances of some kind while in school. Put yourself in that headspace.

Reaching out will also make the experience of attending the granddaddy of all mystery conventions a lot more satisfying fun for you, as well — and I’ll bet profitable more profitable too.

You’ll also make a lot of other people feel good.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Too Smart For Our Own Good

Mapping DNA was one of the smartest things scientists have ever done. It has been a gift to the criminal justice system, freeing the wrongly accused and convicting perpetrators even when it's a cold case many years old.

Eye witness evidence is notoriously unreliable; no two witnesses will ever describe the same event in precisely the same way - and indeed, if they did it would be evidence not of what actually happened but of collusion.

Circumstantial evidence, despite the 'it's only circumstantial evidence' comment sometimes being made, is much more solid. Even so, it has to be part of a chain of evidence to be convincing.

DNA evidence, though, like fingerprints, is hard evidence. It can stand on its own. Even the most optimistic and persuasive defence agent is unlikely to get anywhere with a jury if he challenges it. If a man's DNA is found at a crime scene, then he was there too.

Or was he? When DNA evidence was first used, obtaining it was the big problem. You needed a substantial sample before you could get any sort of result. Then the technique got cleverer still; DNA from even the smallest fragment could be analysed, even if it was just a few cells.

Recently there was a notorious case where an individual's DNA was found on the hand of a murder victim and he was arrested. It was only after he'd been in prison for some time awaiting trial that it was established that he'd a cast iron alibi; on the night in question he was in a hospital bed in an alcoholic stupor. Eventually they discovered that the paramedics who had treated him had then rushed to the aid of the murder victim, transferring cells of the alcoholic's DNA as they did so.

And there's another problem too. Belief in the infallibility of DNA evidence led to the arrest of a man whose DNA was found on the till in a coffee shop that had been robbed – despite the fact that the CCTV footage showed someone of a completely different height and build.

I was talking a while ago to Senior Investigating Officer who said that we had become so clever at picking up smaller and smaller samples of DNA, that the evidence from a crime scene had started to be a bewildering mass of tiny mixed-up traces of evidence, obscuring rather than illuminating what had happened. We are, indeed, becoming too smart for our own good.

In writing a modern crime novel, you have to retain at least the impression of realism, but somehow using DNA to solve the murder has always seemed to me a cop out. However, thinking about it now I know this, I can see it might prove to be a very useful red herring.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Guest Post: Kathleen Valenti

Please welcome fellow Henery Press author Kathleen Valenti to Type M. I met Kathleen at Malice Domestic last year and had a lovely conversation with her. Her first novel, PROTOCOL, featuring new college graduate Maggie O’Malley was recently released. You can find out more about Kathleen at it away Kathleen...


Message in a Novel

by Kathleen Valenti


There are many adages about novel-writing.

Write the book you want to read.
Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

And the truth is, I abide by many of them. They’re good advice doled out by some of the finest writers ever to hold a pen or sit before a keyboard.

But there are a few writerly axioms I don’t follow. Case in point:

If you want to send a message, call Western Union.

It’s a quote alternately attributed to Goldwyn, Capra, Hemingway and Bogart (although playwright Moss Hart appears to be its true author). And while Twitter has largely replaced telegrams, this perennial advice still makes the rounds in writing circles.

The implication is clear: keep the story the story. Forget about including a moral or expressing an opinion or assigning a deeper social meaning. Readers want to be entertained, period.

Of course, many (if not most) writers eschew such notions. We write where our heads—and our hearts—lead us. But still…That message (no pun intended) comes through loud and clear, especially to authors of genre fiction. We’re often told the plot’s the thing. End of story. And that’s perfectly wonderful if that’s the book you want to write or the story you want to read

Me? I can’t help but include a little message with my mystery

The Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series is young. PROTOCOL, the first book in the series, has just been released and 39 WINKS is in the queue, with another soon to follow. Yet already I know that each book will highlight, in one way or another, some kind of larger issue.

It’s a part of my writer’s DNA, a snippet of my real-life voice, a way to work out the mysteries of life’s dark secrets right along with each book’s plot. It also helps me advance the story and inspire my protagonist to action. Maggie is driven by a desire to solve a mystery and address a personal conflict (and life always seems to present those), all within a context that’s larger than both.

I’m not alone. Many mystery authors give a nod to social ills or worldwide problems that go beyond the page. We may write about death and violence, but in many ways, these aspects are the other side of a coin emblazoned with justice and compassion. The denouement that contrasts the action. The “after” that rights the “before."

We crave a world of kindness, courage, help and hope, and we create it, in part by bringing in larger issues that affect our human family.

Readers tell me they like to read books that provide entertainment and escape, along with a theme that informs and inspires. They say that as long as a book’s deeper meaning doesn’t impede the plot, feel didactic, or come across as preachy, they find that thematic elements add to the texture of a story rather than detract from it. In short: they like a side of message with their plot and characters.

And to that I say: message received


Freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.

With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.

When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Protocol is her debut novel and the first of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The New Mystery

The other day I had a lengthy wait in the post office line. Most of my fellow detainees were gazing at their cell phones.

Lines used to be a great place to people-watch. I could tell a lot by the expression on the face of a person forced to be idle and moderately civilized as we edged up in the queue. The varying postures are still revealing. Posture always has been.

There was little to be learned watching the new techies. Writers who guessed about the details of someone's life before cell phones was doing just that. Guessing. That's all. But it was fun.

One of the best books on characterization was Maren Elwood's Characters Make Your Story. It was published in 1941. She has an excellent chapter "Look at His Face." Faces in repose reveal a great deal. Is a person pleasant? Self-confident? Harried? If so, how does one present this on a page. If they give a critical glance at a crying child are they worried? Judging the mother for not having better control? Their faces told it all.

Not any more! In fact, I was tempted to sneak around and gaze over the shoulders of these unmoving statues. Were they playing solitaire? Reading email? Have they downloaded one of the Type M'ers novels? Most of the faces were expressionless.

Our job just got harder.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We Love Libraries!

I started a new volunteer position recently with Sisters in Crime. It’s been about 6 years since I completed 6 years on the board of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime. During those years I served in several positions, including a brief stint as chapter president, and co-chaired the 2011 California Crime Writers Conference. To say that I was tired after all that would be an understatement. Still, I wouldn’t change anything. I learned a lot and met a lot of great people.

This last year I decided it was time to get involved once again. This time with SinC National as the We Love Libraries! coordinator. I’m taking over from Andrea Smith who has spent the last 4 years in the position. She’s done a spectacular job and has been a wonderful support in this transition period.

When the opportunity came up, I thought this is the perfect job for me. I love libraries. I have ever since I got my first library card in grade school. My local library opened the world to me and was my refuge growing up. I thought it would be great to play even a small part in giving back to an institution that has given me so much over the years. Which means, of course, that I was very excited when I was selected for the job.

I did my first notification this last week to the Riverside Public Library in Riverside, Illinois. That was a wonderful moment, to hear the excitement in the voice on the other end of the line. I look forward to many more such moments.

August 2017 WLL Winner, Riverside Library in Riverside, IL
I’m not sure how many people know about the Sisters in Crime We Love Libraries! program. Basically, SinC gives $1,000 every month to a library in the United States. Libraries enter the lottery on the SinC website. At the end of every month, a library is randomly chosen to win the grant, which must be used to purchase books and may not be used for general operating expenses. Book purchases are NOT restricted to the mystery genre nor do they have to be written by Sisters in Crime members. All branches within a larger system may enter but, once a library in the system has won, no other libraries within that system can win the grant.

To enter, a library goes to and completes the entry form, which should include a photo of one or more of the library staff with three books in their collection by Sisters in Crime members. The picture I have here is the one the Riverside Library submitted.

Photos of past winners are posted on that page as well along with all of the nitty gritty details.

Spread the word to your local U.S. libraries. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be chosen. Think of all the books they can buy!