Monday, June 30, 2008
The Internet , not TV, is my downfall. I play an online game called Warfish with my family, friends, and total strangers. Hold on for a sec… I have to check and see if it’s my turn. I’m back – didn’t have a turn. Now where was I, oh yes, talking about work habits. Oh, e-mail pinged. I might have an important message. I’ll just check quickly and see if it’s Oprah calling about that show. Not Oprah, not this time, but it might have been. Oh, yes, work habits. Let me see. I write… wait, there was a turn-in-progress last time I checked Warfish, I’d better see what’s happening. Nothing’s changed: idiot must have started his turn and then walked away. I wonder if I have any new e-mails. No one’s responded yet to the one I sent all of ten minutes ago. Nope, nothing yet.
And on it goes. I’ve moved into a new house and have a new Internet provider (Note to Bell Sympatico – you can stop sending me e-mails asking if I’m happy with your service and take a hint – I found a new company) , and I’ve made a point of not hooking up my wireless network yet. So on nice sunny days, I take the laptop out to the deck when it’s writing time. Distance breaks me of my habit – I don’t carry the computer back inside and connect it, just to check if anything’s happening in a game or if Oprah has called. So I actually get several straight hours of work in. Fortunately it’s been sunny every morning for the past couple of weeks, since I settled down to solid writing again, so my resolve to stay away from the Internet while working has been firm.
Did you notice that I said morning? If you remember, I said a few months ago that now that I’m retired I was going to change my writing schedule completely and try writing in the morning rather than in the evening, as I got into the habit of doing when I was working. It worked so easily, I don’t know why I was concerned that I’d have trouble taking on a new pattern.
I bet every writer has a favourite procrastination device. What’s yours? Come on, tell Auntie Vicki, I won’t tell anyone.
Before I leave you, and check to see if Oprah has written me, I have a couple of announcements to make. First, I’m back on Internet Voices Radio for the summer. My first guest will be RJ Harlick, author of the Meg Harris mysteries set in Quebec. An incredible line-up of writers follows RJ, so please do check us out at www.internetvoicesradio.com. The show is on Thursdays at 8:35 pm Eastern time. If you miss the live broadcast, it is available as a podcast about an hour later.
And second, I can now reveal the worst-kept secret in the world of Type M for Murder: my novel Golddigger: A Klondike Mystery will be published by the prominent Canadian publisher, RendezVous Crime in late 2009. Golddigger is the first in a series set in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, in the ‘Last Great Gold Rush’ of 1898. It is, as Cheryl Freedman, the executive director of CWC, says, a mystorical. It is also, I hope, lighthearted and funny.
I intend to keep writing the Constable Molly Smith series for Poisoned Pen Press, so if I want to complete two books a year the weather here in Ontario had better stay warm and sunny. Or I’d better find a way to break that Internet addiction.
That’s my deep, dark secret revealed. What’s yours?
Sunday, June 29, 2008
"What are you doing?"
"Well, it doesn't look like something."
I had a lot of conversations like this in school with teachers that usually led to one of those "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of lectures. Sadly, my footwear never came with "bootstraps," so needless to say my school years weren't my best. Daydreaming was an issue that I didn't shift until I went to college. Now the daydreaming is back--in career form (of sorts). Daydreaming is even tax deductible. You just can't daydream without a bag of Ruffles in your hand.
Now that one book is in the bag and I'm embarking on the next, I'm in that daydreaming faze, where I'm piecing ideas, themes, scenes and other stuff together before I start outlining.
Normally, when Julie comes home at night, I'm banging away at the keyboard and she knows her little man has been hard at it since 9 a.m. At the moment, when she comes home, I'm stretched out in front of the TV with a cat or two on my chest.
"What have you been up to today?"
"It doesn't look like you're working. It looks like you're vegging out."
"I'm being conceptual. I'm forming a story, wrapping my head around the idea. You know me, measure twice, cut once."
"So it's been a DVD day."
"No, it hasn't." I sit up and a kitten slithers off my chest. "I have been working. I'm mulling things through is all."
"Simon, what's that pile of Dr. Who DVDs sitting on the floor?"
"They help me mentally cleanse my palate."
"And this empty Ruffles bag?" she says, picking it up.
"Brain food." I snatch the bag from Julie and aim a sleepy kitten at her. "Julie, you have no idea about the creative process. I am mulling. Mulling is an important part of the writing process. Now move, I can't see the TV."
Julie's an angel, but she can be mean sometimes--don't you think?
The problem is that we live in a quantifiable world. We need results. Tactile ones at that. When I'm in the throes of a book and Julie asks, "How much have you done?" I can answer, "Twelve pages," or "Three thousand words" or "Two chapters." These are things the world and Julie can hang their hats on. Me included. I like quantifiable. There's traction. Forward motion. Progress. Industry. A paycheck.
Mulling doesn't inspire the same response. Mulling is intangible--like air. It's there, but you can't see it. But just try and go through a day without it, and you (and I'm looking at you, my old teachers and Julie) will be begging me for some of that intangible stuff. Yeah, too bloody right you will.
So I'm mulling and I'm going to take my time with it. There's no point in going off half-mulled. That would be ridiculous.
I think I've explained myself sufficiently. Now where did I put my Ruffles and those kittens?
Yours in front of the TV,
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I know I’m harping on the heat, but there is a reason. I’m housebound, and I think it’s affecting my sanity.
In the past - 2007, for example - one could at least drive from one’s air-conditioned house in one’s air-conditioned car to some pleasantly air-conditioned location, but those days are gone. I’ve managed to limit my driving so much that I only have to fill up about every three weeks, as a rule. This week has been an exception. I’ve used half a tank of gas driving hither and yon, mostly on trips to the library and nearest bookstore for in-depth research I can’t do on the internet. I know I’ll have to pay for it, but it’s been heaven to get out.
This morning I drove to the home of the book producer for Poisoned Pen Press, Nan Beams, who is working at home three days a week rather than drive to Scottsdale every day. An artist is ready to begin work on the cover of my January ’09 book, so I took a couple of old photographs to Nan’s house, because she has a proper photo scanner and I don’t. On the way, I pass a gas station selling regular for $3.99 and I begin figuring whether it would burn more gas to travel this far from home to buy cheaper gas than it would save. I am perversely amused by the notion that I consider $3.99/gallon ‘cheap gas’. More relativity.
I spend half an hour at Nan’s house, watching her scan in photos while I pet her fat cat, then I start home, determined to buckle down and work. But I’m free, at least for the moment, and the nearer I get to home the more depressed I become. Until totally of its own accord, my car turns into the parking lot of a Good Egg restaurant and a force beyond my control draws me inside and orders eggs Benedict.
I feel very guilty for succumbing to my inner glutton. However, I remember a radio program I heard not long ago. Recent scientific research indicates that will power is finite. That is, if we are using all our will power on one thing, such as not smoking, then we have very little left to apply to another, such as not eating that quart of Ben and Jerry’s. This makes me feel better.
I finally get home around one o’clock and sit down to work on my latest book. My main character, Alafair, is not speaking to me. All the other characters won’t shut up. I could write entire books for each and every one of them. But Alafair is my central character, and I can’t interest her in telling me what she thinks. I write five complete pages of dialog, and Alafair has nothing to say.
Well, perhaps I will work on my blog posts. Since it’s hot and I’m housebound and not thinking clearly, I have volunteered to contribute to yet another blog - yes, my third blog. Am I nuts? We shall soon see. I did it because I’m trying to expand my web presence since I’m not going to be able to travel as much as I want. The new blog is about food. The contributors write books in which food is a major element. The address is www.fatalfoodies.com. I write up a nice entry, but when I attempt to post, I can’t get in. What is amiss? I e-mail the blog manager for another invitation, and while awaiting an answer, I go back to my book. I had such success earlier, but now nothing is coming. I type a few words out of sheer determination, and then Alafair finally speaks to me.
Go take a nap, she says.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Please check in Sunday to see what he has to say!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The comedy of George Carlin was something I always identified with, much more than I did with the routines of any other funny man active over my lifetime. Over the years, though, I became more and more aware of his fondness for words. Yes, he would turn them around to poke fun at people or ideas that certainly needed knocking down a peg or two, but he also enjoyed words for what they are: precise ways to express oneself. In his eyes, people who were sloppy with the English language deserved the worst of Carlin's scorn.
I'm attaching a favourite comedy sketch and it perfectly points out what I'm talking about. I also agree with his point of view completely. He's pointing out a much bigger ill of society than just our sanitization of speech. We're becoming more and more afraid of nearly everything. George Carlin wanted us to be less safe and comfortable in our own lives, more questioning of what we're told -- by anyone, and by extension, he felt we would get more out of life by being this way.
In the movie Shakespeare in Love (one of my favourites), there is a scene where it's announced that Christopher Marlow has been killed. I believe it's the character played by Ben Affleck who says, "A great light has gone out," or something close to that. I firmly believe that this statement applies to George Carlin, as well. In his own sly way, he shined his very personal light on hypocrisy, prejudice and fuzzy-headed thinking -- and made us laugh at the same time he made us think.
I hope you enjoy the clip of a master comedian at the peak of his game:
George Carlin on Language
Monday, June 23, 2008
I heard that quote on the radio today. The CBC programme Q (I love Jian Ghomeshi– hey, Jian, can I be on your show – I talk real good!) was doing a bit on the Edinburgh Author’s Festival and it was mentioned that people were lining up overnight for tickets for author’s readings. (I know, I know, sort of like it will be when Debby and I tour our new titles in March – more to come on that!) Did you know that Sean Connery has written a book? Yep, and tickets sold out for his reading. Okay, that’s a bit of a no-brainer, in Edinburgh, a book by Sean Connery, with a title like Being a Scot. But tickets also sold out, almost instantly, for Margaret Atwood and others. Causing the organizer of the Festival to exclaim the title quote.
Sometimes the book industry is such a swamp of doom and gloom that one feels like chucking it all in and taking up a more lucrative career – like quilting maybe. So it is nice to hear the occasional comment like the above. My rock-star time hasn’t yet come, but I’m ready and waiting. It will only be a matter of time, I am sure, before Jian’s people are calling my people.
Further on the good news front, we got some from Poisoned Pen Press recently. A first novel with the wonderful title of Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall has received a big, big contract from a big house, complete with foreign language translations, and all that jazz. The book hasn’t even been published yet, and PPP will be bringing out only 1000 copies before letting the big boys have their way with it. That’s great news for Carolyn and great news for the Press and all of us who labour there as it will bring the Press some much deserved attention.
However, I wouldn’t be Canadian if I didn’t point out the down side. Before Bantum publishes it, they want to re-edit it to make it ‘not a mystery’. Yup. They are going to take out the mystery and instead promote the novel as ‘literature’. According to Barbara Peters, grand poobah of the editing department of PPP, in the novel crimes are committed, but it isn’t really a ‘mystery’ per se.
Isn’t that just what we were talking about here recently? When is a mystery a crime novel? When is a novel in which a crime occurs not a crime novel? And when on earth does a novel with a crime in it fall on one side of the road or the other to become either ‘literary’ or ‘a thriller’?
In the report from the Sisters-In-Crime publishers meetings attended by, among others, our recent guest blogger, Judy Clemmins, it was mentioned that mystery novels are no longer in vogue. Publishers now want thrillers.
So what’s a thriller? I’d say the scene in Green Room by Deborah Turrell Atkinson when Storm is trapped in the flooding cave is pretty thrilling. You can’t beat Jackie Goode creeping down the halls of the sinister Sunnyvale clinic in A Case of You by Rick Blechta for thrills and chills, or the pirate attack in Nobel Lies by Charles Benoit.
If you want literature, the Alafair Tucker books by Donis Casey do a pretty darn good job of telling a good story well, of pioneer life and family and hardship.
Come to think of it, isn’t Hamlet a mystery? What really caused the death of the old King? Will Hamlet uncover the true killer before it’s too late? “Sorry, Will, but your play just isn’t enough of a thriller for what Gigantico publishing is looking for at this time. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Who came up with these labels, anyway?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
[My re-routed, delayed flight to Boise was made wonderful by Kelly Jones' The Lost Madonna. Learn more about her and her books at her website. - Charles]
Thank you, Charles, for inviting me to be a guest blogger on Type M for Murder.
Charles and I met earlier this month at the Murder-in-the–Grove writers’ conference in Boise where he served as moderator for “Making It Real: Creating Realistic Settings.” With his enthusiasm and impressive preparation (handouts with a cartoon portrait of each panelist on the front!), it was a pleasure to be part of his panel. We had fun and hopefully excited and informed some aspiring writers. Keynote speaker J. A. Jance inspired us all, sharing not only her writing life, but her personal life as well. She even sang to us! David Morrell offered a workshop and a presentation “Book to Movie.” I got a copy of FIRST BLOOD signed by the “Father of Rambo.”
It’s 4 A. M. and I can’t sleep. Maybe because we are entering the final week of baby alert, and I’m expecting that call any time now--“Mom, baby is on her way! Can you come pick up the kids?”
Or maybe I woke up simply to enjoy the quiet. For the past three weeks we have been rebuilding our deck, which has meant lots of pulling out the old, installing the new. And NOISE. This is the second phase of a home remodel: the first took place this past winter. Inside. The noise was bad enough, but the dust, not to mention invasion of my space, made it almost impossible to work.
In an art imitates life scenario, I feel I’ve been tearing down and slowly rebuilding my most recent manuscript. In all fairness I can’t blame the remodeling crew for my lack of progress, as I’ve made other changes in my modus operandi. My first two books were both written with the help of a writing group. I decided to try it on my own on this third effort, but recently jumped at the invitation to join another group.
I like looking at my calendar and knowing that by Wednesday I have to have another chapter ready to go. I love Judy’s green ink comments—“Yes!” because I know I got it right. And even her “Huh?” because I know I didn’t. I love Joyce’s squiggly lines through those extra words that I can
now see clearly shouldn’t be there, and her willingness to dig right in and read an entire manuscript straight through. I love Maria’s hyphens and her “You go, Woman!” comments.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Have a peek at my blogmates’ lists. Who are these people? I see some pretty arty, social-minded, with-it, sophisticated people. I’m very much inspired to read Wodehouse again with the old kith and kin while listening to Robert Johnson records.
What would Dr. Freud say about you if he were to analyze your choices of the top ten anything at all?
I will bet any amount of money that no one would agree with my choices of books, movies, or anything else. My choices are what they are because of what is important to me. So, in the spirit of complete honesty and self-revelation, following are a few Top Ten Lists of Things That Say More About Me Than Have Any Actual Meaning.
1. Top Ten Feminazis (You Go, Girl!)
This list would include Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth I, Vanessa Redgrave, Oprah, Golda Meyer, Gloria Steinem, and my Grandma Casey.
2. Top Ten Movies That I Could See Over and Over
Moonstruck, Sense and Sensibility, Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather I & II, Apocolypse Now, something with Hugh Grant, Die Hard, and Troy. (I adore the Iliad. It’s a great piece of literature, especially if you like blood and gore. The movie Troy bears almost no resemblance to the Iliad. But when Brad Pitt strips down and sluices himself off after a battle, I don’t care.)
3. Top Ten Varieties of Pie.
4. Top Ten Talk Radio Hosts I’d Like to Smack Around.
5. Top Ten Authors Who Have Influenced My Writing.
Ellis Peters, Pauline Gedge, Carolyn Hart, Steven Pressfield, Laura Ingels Wilder, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Lawrence Durrell, Edna Ferber, and Lee Child.
6. Top Ten Things I Wish I Hadn't Done.
(Never mind, you Nosy Parker.)
7. Top Ten Things I Couldn’t Believe I Heard When I Lived in Oklahoma.
Including : "What in the cat hair is going on?" "Well, feed me corn and watch me grow!" "Aw, batshit!" and the classic "I haven’t had so much fun since the hogs ate my little brother."
8. Top Ten World Events During My Lifetime That Shaped My Political Sensibilities:
TV images of police using dogs and firehoses on Civil Rights Marchers, Assasinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Roe v. Wade...(oh, my God, how old am I?)
9. Top Ten Biscuit Toppings
Which must include butter, honey, sorghum, ham gravy, strawberry jam, orange marmelade, and my Aunt Lorene’s chocolate gravy.
10. Top Ten Musicians Recording Since the Breakup of the Beatles.
They’re still recording after the breakup of the Beatles?
Friday, June 20, 2008
I caught the movie countdown (up?) that Debby wrote about below, and I really enjoyed her lists of movies and books that have made various Top Ten lists. Naturally, that got me thinking about my Top Ten movies and Top Ten mysteries, and that got me thinking about my Top Ten albums, Top Ten TV series, Top Ten comics, Top Ten vacation destinations, Top Ten martini bars, Top Ten David Letterman’s Top Ten lists, Top Ten jazz bands, Top Ten sports plays, and on and on until I finally reached the core Top Ten list: My Top Ten Top Ten Lists.
10. Top Ten Impossible Plays by Michael Jordan
9. Top Ten Bush-isms
7. Top Ten Facial Tattoos
6. Top Ten Nonsensical Uses of English on Product Packaging
5. Top Ten Movie Car Chases
4. Top Ten Worst Persons in the World Segments on Countdown with Keith Olbermann
3. Top Ten P. G. Wodehouse Quotes
2. Top Ten Versions of Bands Covering Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher
1. Top Ten Laughing Baby Videos
A few notes:
10. Kobe is good, King James is good, Magic was good, Larry was good, but Michael was brilliant.
9. These can either be deliberately stupid things he’s said or things that just came out funny. Sadly, the actual list is closer to 1,000.
8. Especially when they get a case of the giggles. Staged bloopers are an anathema.
7. For his visionary and groundbreaking leadership, the guy known as The Enigma has transcended this list and has joined the gods.
6. Only counts items I have personally seen. My most recent addition to the list (the new #7) is from the box that the Chinese waving cat got me for Christmas came in. “Cat brings you very best wishes may happity & happy hocks be with you forever.” By the way, since Rose gave me this cat my life has been one happity, happy hock after another.
5. And Bullet is not #1.
3. My goal as a writer is to create a single line that would be worthy of Wodehouse. So far I have yet to do it. From the list: #6 "On the occasions when Aunt is calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps..." and #3 “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”
2. As one or two of you know, I host a little show called the Smart Set on Jazz 90.1 every Saturday night from 5-6pm EST. Each week this year I’m featuring a version of Minnie the Moocher by artists other than Cab Calloway. Last night Rose and I saw the band that does the #1 version - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. You can hear their version when you visit the Jukebox link at the site.
1. The Champ is posted below.
PS: This Sunday’s guest blogger is mystery author Kelly Jones. If you love art mysteries – and who doesn’t? – be sure to tune in.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
#3 Rear Window
#5 Third man
#6 Maltese Falcon
#7 North by Northwest
#8 Blue Velvet
#9 Dial M for Murder
#10 Usual Suspects.
Naturally, there is a lively discussion about which ones should stay on the list and which ones shouldn’t. But it got me to thinking about top ten Mystery Novel lists—er, I mean Crime Fiction lists. When I Googled the concept using Mystery, I got a bunch of private websites, but I also came across a list on Amazon, the “Top Ten Editors’ Picks.” They are:
#1 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
#2 Fatal Flaw, by William Lashner
#3 Night of the Dance, by James Hime
#4 Soul Circus, by George P. Pelecanos
#5 Lost Light, by Michael Connelly
#6 The Bridge, by Solomon Jones
#7 Bold Sons of Erin, by Owen Parry
#8 Tropic of Night, by Michael Gruber
#9 Last Car to Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke
#10 Hard Rain, Barry Eisler
Here’s the link if you want to check it out. http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=509530 The list set my mind a-whirling. First, all but the first book are out of print (!?!). Next, I’ve only read two or three of these books, though some of my favorite authors are on the list. I love Dennis Lehane’s work (I would have picked Mystic River over Shutter Island, though), Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Barry Eisler. There are a couple of books on the list I may have read a while ago and forgotten about. If I remember correctly, I’ve read James Hime’s book and loved it. Which brings me to another thought—I need to go back and read more of these authors’ books. I’ve been missing some good stuff!
Then I got to thinking about semantics, and whether it makes a difference if we call our work Crime Fiction as opposed to Mystery, so I Googled the top ten crime fiction novels, and came up with David J. Montgomery’s award-nominated book dossier. The link is as follows: http://www.crimefictionblog.com/2008/01/top-10-mysterie.html, and his top ten CRIME NOVELS for 2007 are:
#1 The Watchman, by Robert Crais
#2 Power Play, by Joseph Finder
#3 The Ghost, by Robert Harris
#4 Down River, by John Hart
#5 The Crime Writer, by Gregg Hurwitz
#6 The Shotgun Rule, by Charlie Huston
#7 Body of Lies, by David Ignatius
#8 What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman
#9 The Reincarnationist, by M.J. Rose
#10 The Secret Servant, by Daniel Silva
I’ve read a few of these books, and if one uses Publishers Weekly reviewer Peter Canon’s definition of a mystery, all the ones I’ve read on this list would classify as mysteries.
Just in case you missed that discussion, Canon defines a mystery as a book where the sleuth seeks to solve a murder committed by an unknown killer, and the sleuth and reader try to figure out the murder before it’s revealed in the end.
Enjoy the Top Ten lists. I figure it’s a great starting place for finding new movies and books to enjoy.
In cruising some of my usual morning websites, I found the following link, part of the ongoing review of taser use in Canada following the tragic death of a Polish immigrant last winter at Vancouver International Airport:
It will be interesting to read what that delayed report has to say, but even more interesting would be to compare it to the original one which was supposed to be released last week.
I promise a much better post next week!
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Our Sunday guest blogger is the talented and prolific Judy Clemens, author of the award-winning and un-put-downable Stella Crown mystery series. Judy's newest book, Lost Sons, a stand-alone has just hit the bookstores. Judy is also president of Sisters in Crime, and has keen insight into the mystery field. When Judy speaks, I listen. Enjoy!
Several weeks ago I had the unique opportunity, as part of the Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit, of visiting publishing bigwigs in NYC, including such folks as editors and marketers at HarperCollins, Penguin, Harlequin, and Soho Crime, the mystery buyer for Barnes and Noble, and a couple of distinguished agencies. (For a complete report, please go to: http://sisters-in-crime-sinc.blogspot.com/)
While I returned home from this mission with plenty of food for thought about the industry, I also had lots to think about when it comes to…shoes.
Roberta Isleib, Nancy Martin, Jim Huang, and I spent two days tromping pretty much all over Manhattan. We took the subway several times, and I had one very nauseating taxi ride, but most of our traveling we did by foot. And I? I made the mistake of wearing dressy shoes that matched my clothes, but which sported absolutely no toe room.
This was not smart. By the end of the first day, my feet hurt like the dickens (do people still say that?), and I had actually worn holes through my socks and had one bleeding toe. (Note to Self: Make sure to trim nails before attempting any more cross-Manhattan travels) I practically cried with relief when I unleashed my feet from their bondage that evening. In fact, I think I actually did shed several tears.
For dinner that night, just downstairs in The Princeton Club’s restaurant, I hoped not too many people noticed my feet. Instead of shoes that actually matched my clothes, I was wearing my good ol’ leather clogs – with plenty of room for the tootsies to wiggle around. The host didn’t kick me out, and none of my companions mocked me (to my knowledge), so I eventually forgot about it.
Until I went to bed and my piggies began to throb. Oy, what a night.
The next day dawned, and instead of donning my sneakers or clogs, I stuffed my feet back into my dress shoes and blistered my way through another day. (Another note to Self: Sometimes looking well-heeled is just not worth it.)
By the end of our outings, my feet completely hated me. And I hated them. Not only did I wear through another pair of socks, but I had another bleeding toe on my other foot.
Okay, so I’m an idiot.
Rather than throwing out the despicable shoes, I shoved them into my suitcase and put on – with a huge sigh of relief – my sneakers. Never have I been so happy to see them. And I didn’t care that they didn’t match my khakis.
Now that it’s summer, and I’m either home or at the pool, I have a few top choices of footwear, and one of them is NOT my dressy shoes. They have been relegated to a dark, scary place under my bed. Instead, I wear:
My trusty sneakers
My toeless sandals
My Adidas soccer slides
Or…best of all…
My bare feet.
Happy Summer, everyone!
Judy Clemens, besides being friends with these lovely bloggers, is the author of the Anthony and Agatha-nominated Stella Crown mystery series, as well as the stand-alone novel, LOST SONS. You can learn more about her on her web site, www.judyclemens.com.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
When I’m on a roll, I can produce several usable pages in a day, but today, there were only one or two paragraphs that I feel confident about.
I never know why one day is better than another when it comes to writing. Why was today so unsatisfactory? Was it because it’s Friday the 13th? More likely it's the stars. Mercury must be retrograde, which is very bad for communications.
Maybe it’s the weather. June in southern Arizona - the humidity is 6% and the temperature is 105 F. There’s so much static electricity in the air that my hair is standing on end of its own accord.
Perhaps it’s because of my sensitive nature. I spent fifteen minutes deleting spam off of my personal web site, and I cannot believe the number of solicitations to view porn. I want to lie upon the couch and press the back of my hand to my forehead until I regain my equilibrium. Just the titles of the sites have given me the vapors.
Maybe it’s Louise Penny. I just finished reading her novel Still Life, and my head is full of her beautiful thoughts and turns of phrase, like the one below, and at the moment I can’t come up with any of my own.
"When does a cucumber become a pickle?" ... At what point does change happen?
Yes, it must be Louise Penny’s fault, or the weather, or the stars. It certainly can't be my fault, because I did everything required of me, and yet I couldn't produce anything brilliant, or excellent, or particularly adequate.
Oddly, my fellow author Hannah Dennison and I were just discussing bad writing days recently. Write, write, write, I said, whether you’re doing well or not, because the gods love the effort and will eventually intervene, and it’ll make a believer out of you. Oh, how often my faith is tested.
But what else can one to do? Tomorrow morning I’ll get up, invoke the gods and pray for intervention, sit myself down at the computer, and write.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Look, I’m slammed here folks, what with just getting back from Murder in the Grove and all, and then realizing I’m behind on my book and at my job, sooooo... you get this, a wonderful video that every writer will agree is 100% accurate. Or not.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Why do we read—and love—crime fiction, anyway? Do we seek an escape from real life, which isn’t tied up neatly? Do we want to learn police procedure? Or become familiar with fire arms or high-tech forensics? Do we love to fall in love with fictional people who put their lives on the line? Do we read to see these characters learn from their mistakes and reach a deeper level of humanity? Do we read to see the bad guys humiliated, then put away, where they can’t do any more harm?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I have a hunch it’s a bit of everything. And perhaps it changes a bit with each book and story.
Vicki’s examples of real life villains Conrad Black and Barbara (‘my extravagance knows no bounds’) Amiel are great examples of characters we’d love to hate. And then see making license plates for the next thirty years.... But it sounds as if Barbara is still free, out buying three thousand dollar handbags and spewing hateful rhetoric. Which got me thinking about the difference between writing truth and writing believability (and justice, for what it’s worth).
I had the good fortune to go to the Edgar Award Ceremony this May, and had the further good luck to chat with S.J. Rozan. I admire her both as an author and as a very insightful woman. We were talking about how we (and this doesn’t apply to everyone!) prefer crime fiction over true crime. As I was pondering why this was the case, S.J. said, "Fiction just seems more real."
And I agree. In fiction, there has to be a motive (aside from serial killers, who have the excuse of horrible childhoods or some other trauma) for murder; the fictional crime needs to make sense. The end, of course, brings justice. In fiction, if a high-ranking politician lies and schemes, a hero will appear to root out the corruption, punish the perpetrators, and stop the crime before disaster unfolds and thousands of lives are lost.
When I haven’t been cursing my internet provider (Bell Sympatico, for those of you wondering with whom not to do business) I’ve been thinking of the nature of the mystery, or crime, novel. I hate the phrase “murder mystery.” It is assumed, before one has even cracked the spine of the book, that a murder will take place. I am also not a big fan of the word “mystery” – I much prefer “crime” as in “crime novel.”
Does a mystery have to involve a murder? Why should it? In the book I’m now struggling towards the finish of, there will be no murder – just a suspicious death that the police at first suspect was a murder, only to find that someone panicked at an accident and tried to cover it up. Will my editor buy it – we will have to see. I have written crime novels that are not mysteries. In my standalone novels, no one is trying to solve the murder – frankly they just want to be left out of it. Many novels tell the reader from page one who did it and why. That’s not a mystery – it’s a work of suspense perhaps, a crime novel certainly, but not a mystery.
I was in the audience at an excellent panel at Bloody Words titled Sex and Violence of which Rick was a participant. Leaving aside for another posting the question of why those two words are so often linked, the question running throughout the panel was the necessity of violence in fiction. Is violence necessary, the moderator asked, to show the evilness of the villain?
John McFetridge (whose book title escapes me for the moment and I, being Internetless, can’t look it up – but you can!) asked why an act of violence has to happen in a crime novel at all. I loved that idea and have been thinking about it ever since. All of Canada was captivated last year by the exploits of one Conrad Black. Black, AKA Lord Black of Crossharbour, Lord Almost, Connie, and many other titles, is now serving time in a U.S. Federal Prison for racketeering (In England they say At Her Majesty’s Pleasure – isn’t that so much more civilized?) In the whole sordid Black tale, not a single drop of blood was spilled, not even (as far as I know) was a punch thrown. But the characters were so gigantic that the story fascinated everyone. Black gave up his Canadian citizenship in a very public spat with then-Prime Minister Chretien because Chretien refused to allow Black, a Canadian citizen, to sit in the U.K.’s House of Lords; Black’s wife, Barbara (‘my extravagance knows no bounds’) Amiel, is a harridan of a right wing journalist who can be counted on to blame the underprivileged for all their problems yet who received a fat paycheck from her husband’s newspapers regardless of whether she showed up for work or not. I was about to write “you couldn’t make these people up” and then it occurred to me that perhaps that’s the problem. It’s just too hard to fictionalize Conrad and Barbara, and so writers resort to easily-understood stabbings and shootings and what is called crimes of passion.
What do you think? Could a totally character-based crime novel make it? Or would the writer have to have the disgraced multi-millionaire press baron stabbing someone in the middle of the night?
But before I sign off - You heard it here first – Rick let it slip that his next novel is the beginning of a series featuring a Budgie who solves crimes. The as-yet-unnamed Budgie is forced to persevere despite the interference of his nemesis Sir Nigel Rancid-Goatsmell.
Update, June 11th. Still no internet.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I know this isn't the most exciting title for a blog entry, but I was part of a group of workshops for Crime Writers of Canada that preceded the Arthur Ellis Awards Dinner last week. My contribution was part of a discussion on do-it-yourself promotion for authors.
Anyway, I thought this might be a good topic for a blog. I'll probably say a bunch of things everyone already knows, but maybe you'll pick up a few odds and sods that you can use.
1. For the most part, an author can promote on the Internet for very little money and many times for free. You also control what you do, rather than having to rely on others (publicists, your publisher, etc.). This is a very important point.
2. All authors should have a website, even if you're not published yet, even if you have no content for it. Why? All web hosts allow you to bounce email through your website to your real email address through your ISP (Internet Service Provider). You do not want anyone to know this address because you may decide to switch providers somewhere along the line, or they go out of business, or whatever. If you've used your real address, then you have to remember who has it and tell them what the new one is so you don't lose contact with them. (Blechta's Email Rule #1: you will forget a whole bunch of them.)
If you bounce email through a website email address, you can change ISPs daily if you wish and just change the bouncing rule on the website. Your address on the website (the one everyone uses to contact you) remains the same. If you're not ready to put up a website yet, you can just put up a page saying "Under Construction" and post your website email address.
Fall-back position #1: If you don't want to get involved in any website rigamarole, then at least use a hotmail or gmail address for this purpose. Same thing applies for these as for websites as far as bouncing to your ISP, but seriously consider a website. They are very inexpensive.
Fall-back position #2: Consider myspace or facebook. While they aren't as good as a website, they can accomplish many of the same things for you (dissemination of information and personalization of you as a writer).
3. Once you have decided to have a website, make sure it reflects what you want it to. Your website is YOU. If it looks sloppy and amateur that reflects on you. Designing these things might not be a skill you have or wish to acquire. In that case, find someone who has the skills to design it for you. Get involved with the process so that it turns out to be exactly what you want. Templates can help, but make sure they get the stamp of your personality on them. A good example of a terrific and personalized website is charlesbenoit.com. Do yourself a favour and check it out.
Again, it doesn't need to get expensive. Contact a high school or college near your home and ask if they have courses on web design. The people taking those courses are eager to get hands-on experience and they will work cheaply.
4. Get some content on those web pages, interesting content that should not be just about your writing. Show people the whole person. It should also be visually rich (lots of photos and the like). And don't forget to keep it up to date! Get those visitors coming back to see what's new!
I can go on and on with other ways to promote on the Internet for little or no money. If anyone is interested, let me know and I'll continue!
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Dear Type M 4 Murder Readers,
Kind thanks to Donis Casey for her invitation to visit your blog spot. What a fantastic writer she is! I am enjoying her mystery series and, along with her other loyal fans, eagerly await the next one . . .
How often have we heard the phrase, “Oh, you’re so creative!”? I’ve heard it all my life, and never knew quite what to make of it. Was there another way to be? I couldn’t imagine there could be. So my own “creative talents” were as unnoteworthy as were my own hands: I enjoyed having them, used them daily, but also took them for granted.
While this worked well for the active child who wrote full-length stories, and also sang and performed in plays and on television, eventually well-meaning people began to mention that I should begin to “focus.” I went through a period of time where I’d decide, “Okay, no more writing.” Wouldn’t you know, that would be the week Rolling Stone would ask me to write a story. Quickly flipping to the other side of my universe, I’d then decide, “That’s it, no more playing music.” That would be the day a favorite rock band called to invite me to play on their next album. And, just as I firmly declared acting would no longer be part of my life, I’d get cast in a leading role.
Though working in multi-disciplines felt good from the inner perspective, I began to feel confused when asked, “What do you do?” It was a relief when I landed a long-running gig. Cast as “Darla Cook” in “Days Of Our Lives,” I could at last answer the question without hesitation. Of course, in Los Angeles when one answers the career question with “actress,” many people make the assumption the terms is synonymous with “waitress,” but that’s another story. (I only worked as a wait person in college, and that was quite enough, thank you very much. During my auditioning-and-acting-for-no-money days I temped in offices or wrote corporate ad copy to pay the bills.) Most of the time, though, I endured compliments about my seemingly inexplicable ability to “do it all.” Actually, I was envious of those who were able to ride their train down a single track. They seemed to have access to shiny rails that led directly—and often with velocity—into the sunlight of success.
This was too large a puzzle to solve with mere logic. This required intuition and spiritual guidance both from within and from without. I spoke with mentors like Alan Alda and Louis L’Amour. I read biographies of artists, and looked at paintings of writers. And eventually it occurred to me that all these pieces did in fact fit together. The design was there, but I’d have to have faith and trust my inner sense of things to allow it to become visible. Now, instead of feeling confused when I was hired to perform one week and to write the next, I trusted that in whatever work I accepted one more piece of the jigsaw would fall into place.
Then something really exciting happened. The two-dimensional puzzle I thought I was working, popped into 3-D. Each piece of work that rose over my event horizon arrived in a locked box. But uncannily, I had just received the key from my previous job.
This is all sounding metaphorical and esoteric. So here are some specific examples. While still in college, I was invited to participate in the creation of music for a Jerome Robbins ballet called “Watermill.” The dance, which we six musicians watched being choreographed, was highly symbolic. Further, it required a familiarity with Japanese theatrical and musical conventions. Though the task at hand seemed obscure at first—what kind of sounds and instruments would work for this strange, avant-garde dance—I had just returned to the States from a semester in Tokyo (I grew up there but went to Bennington College, except for one term at Sophia University in Japan.) While there, I studied koto (the Japanese harp) while also studying Japanese literature, notably “The Tale of Genji.” The thesis I’d written in class was about the use of light in this lengthy, complex novel, and in particular I had focused on the author’s use of the moon in its many phases and evocations. One of the first things Mr. Robbins mentioned was that his set would feature a large moon going through its phases. In that moment, the entire piece seemed to open like a door in my understanding. I now knew why I had been studying both that novel and that instrument at that particular time.
These are the events most people explain as “coincidence.” But in the artist’s life, these are signposts. For us, synchronicity begins to function like our own personal MapQuest program.
If the story I just told seems more poetic than practical, jump forward with me to more recent events. At this point I was a working actress, but the writing genie was trying really hard to get out of the bottle. So how did two totally different talents actually work together practically? At first I wasn’t sure how they could. I’d written a radio drama series that became a hit on BBC Radio. Now I wanted to adapt it into novel form. Most writers adapt books into scripts. How would I go the other way and adapt scripts into fiction?
I had at that point two skill-sets that might work either for or against me. One, as a member of the third generation of a theatre family, I had the equivalent of a Masters in dialogue. I acted in plays from Kindergarten on, and absorbed the family culture which was to perform in, discuss, read, and attend plays on a constant basis. Two, I had the practical equivalent of a PhD in journalism. My first newspaper job was writing columns at age fourteen for the Mainichi Daily News in Tokyo, where I grew up. Two weeks after graduating from Bennington, I landed a position at the Financial Times of London and worked in their New York bureau for four years. What followed were several enriching years of writing for the Associated Press, Rolling Stone, Working Woman Magazine, to name a few. Here I’d learned the rigors of research, as well as a smooth interviewing technique that always began with my true-confession to ignorance of the field in which I was about to interview the avowed expert.
But did any of this prepare me for the Narrative Voice? No. For this voice is born in the quiet distillations of the soul. And for this to happen, I seemed to need two things: a body of experience; and a sense of where I was. I remembered having this quiet center as a child. At age five, poetry and story burbled out of me like a clear little brook. But in the gushing waters of adolescence—where the Voice of the Peer calls forth an almost irresistible urge to match everything from clothing to vocal tonalities, from music to slang expressions—my own inner voice seemed to have grown quiet. So when I tried to call it forth, all I got was an echo.
I stayed in the cave and looked around. My work as an actress had trained me to leap from character to character—a tremendously useful tool in both performing and writing dialogue, but an apparent liability when it came to narrative. So on the one hand I had mastery of the “no voice” necessary for journalism, where it is expected one’s writing will be the perfect transparency that will best allow the facts to shine through without the smudges of opinion. And on the other hand, I had the multi-voiced cacophony of a world peopled with characters.
And then, as though a stained glass window suddenly replaced one of the cave walls, the distinctly different shades of my capabilities began to align into a color wheel. The unbiased willingness to occupy another perspective that is necessary for an actor, became a heightened ability to capture and write each character arc; the journalist’s clear eye became the basis for my own narrative voice, which I now understood as truth-telling of the deepest kind: the kind that is far beyond mere facts, and takes an ultrasound of the soul.
So the long-ago-suggested “focus” has finally arrived, and I’m a dedicated writer these days. The first three novels have won awards, and book four of my series appears in September. So I don’t have to bother with those pesky phone calls inviting me to theatre or music any more, right?
Well . . . actually the Jerome Robbins piece was back on the schedule at Lincoln Center in early May. It was a bit of a juggling act, keeping my prior commitments at the LA Times Festival of Books and Book Expo, and keeping up with the schedule to which my editor and I had committed. But, yes, I did once again play the koto, thrilled and grateful to let that other world seep into this one. As I tuned my koto strings, I felt them resonate through me, and notice glimmers in the words I write as the music weaves through the tapestry of my work like golden threads. Yesterday’s music has unlocked today’s metaphors. And today’s chapters will be the key to unlock tomorrow’s mysteries.
Please visit Mara's website at http://www.marapurl.com/
Saturday, June 07, 2008
A few months ago, I wrote a scene for my upcoming book in which I had a character say that she thought her mother, Alafair, didn’t have to create works of art, since her life was a work of art. That phrase, "her life is a work of art," has been rattling around in my head for about thirty-five years. The minute I wrote it, I instantly thought of Cheryl Dillsaver, who was a friend I made when I was a freshman at Oklahoma State University. We called her "Cher". It was the ’60s, after all.
Cher was a fine arts major, a painter, and just as arty and flamboyant as you would expect a ’60s artiste to be. Her canvases were large and splashy and colorful, and she was a liberal and a protester, like we all were, and a good friend to me during that first year away from home.
My father died before the next academic year started, and I went home to finish my undergrad degree at another university, whereas Cher finished up at OSU. We did see one another off and on over the next couple of years, though. Much to my amazement, given her politics, she married an Agriculture major and moved to a tiny little Oklahoma town and became a housewife and mother. Shortly after she married Bill (who was a great guy, by the way), she invited me to spend the weekend with her at her tiny little house in her tiny little town while her husband was away at a conference.
I accepted with alacrity, mostly because I enjoyed Cher’s company, but partially because I was curious about how she reconciled the life she had chosen with her previous artistic ambitions.
It didn’t take me long to see that she hadn’t reconciled anything at all. She was exactly what she had always been — a real artist. While I was there she showed me not only the painting she was doing, but the interior decorating, the beautiful dress she had made for herself, her plans for a garden. I still remember to this day the awe I felt over an apple pie she made. I thought that it was the most beautiful pie I’d ever seen. And that’s when it occurred to me that she was an artist to the very core of her being. Her entire life was a work of art.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’d like to live my life like a work of art. I finally garnered the courage to take up writing again in my dotage. Now, I think I’d like to go back to painting and drawing. I used to be a pretty fair artist. In fact, Don and I have quite a bit of our own art on our walls to this day. (Literally. I’ve done a couple of mural pieces.)
I’m talking about conventional arts, here, but I certainly haven’t forgotten that gorgeous apple pie. There should be joy and creativity in cooking, and sewing, and gardening, and cleaning. I used to feel that. I’d love to feel all of that again. Perhaps I’ll ease myself back into the art of living, Dear Readers, a little at a time.
By the way, I heard from my former roommate at OSU that Cher died a few years back. I don’t know what she died of, but I hope she lived her work of art right to the very end.
Friday, June 06, 2008
On the road with Charles
I’m in Boise, Idaho this weekend for Murder in the Grove. If you’ve never been here, start by picturing what you think Boise looks like. Ok, you’re wrong. At least if you were thinking along the same lines as I was thinking before I got here. If I had to pick one word to describe Boise, it would be cosmopolitan. I know, it sounds wrong, but the place is lined with night clubs, art galleries, progressive (read Liberal) bookstores and coffee shops, cute little shops, interesting public art—it reminds me of a scaled-down version of Toronto’s North York area and parts of Queen Street or, if you’re from Rochester, the best parts of Park, East and Monroe avenues. No idea what the event will be like, but if it’s as eclectic and unexpected as the city, this is going to be a great event
Speaking of Great events, Bloody Words is taking place this weekend in the aforementioned Toronto. I am looking forward to a full report from Vicky and Rick.
And speaking of Rick, his last blog entry got me thinking (a lot) about writing as a career. As a copywriter, I can say I make my daily bread with my writing—well, not my writing, the writing I do for clients of Dixon Schwabl. I have been curiously surprised that I find writing ad copy creatively stimulating and—god forbid—fulfilling. I know, it’s advertising*, but the challenges are engaging and the creative energy in the place is invigorating. The writing I do for me is better because of the time I spend writing for them.
But the problem with being a writer—and this comes back to Rick and his dilemma—is that everyone can do it. No client ever looks at the graphic layout and thinks that they could have done it, but client after well-meaning client love to point out that they could have written the copy. “Two hours to write a billboard?” is a line I’ve heard often, followed by, “but it’s only five words.” They never say ‘five perfectly-selected words that sum up the essence of our brand, our message and our offer while simultaneously being clever and memorable and fresh, without being childish or offensive.’
Rick is a great writer, but to many folks it’s just lining up letters to make words and words to make sentences, something kids learn to do in kindergarten. Making it look easy? Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?*Be sure you say it with a dismissive, oh-how-crass, voice.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Some of our recent discussion on Type M has dealt (at least peripherally) with coming to grips on how far we're willing to go as writers towards compromising our "artistic vision" -- vis-a-vis on sex and violence -- of our books. (Confused? Read the last week or so of entries. It will all become clear.)
I was playing devil's advocate with last week's entry, posing a lot of "what if?" questions to stimulate further discussion, but something last Friday has been dumped in my lap that brings "what if" to a whole new personal dimension.
As writers, I think I can speak for all of us on Type M, that our primary goal is for our book sales to be such that they can support us financially. My idea certainly has been to be able to come down to my "office", shut the door, and emerge several hours later with a few more pages of my latest novel stored on the computer's hard drive. Day's work done, I can then do other things I enjoy.
The reality is that most days I have to work at another job (graphic design) for 8 or so hours, then commute home (another hour), shovel some food into my mouth, and then go into my office and hope that I have enough energy and concentration left to actually make some progress on my latest work-in-progress. The further reality is that some days, the gas tank is empty -- or should I say "my head"? -- and no work gets done that evening. This is what most writers have to do. Our book sales income just doesn't make enough money to support us.
What am I trying to get at? Just this: my employers informed me last week that they're shutting their business for a year (maybe even permanently), and while it will take them a good bit of time to wind things down, the stark reality is that I have to find another way to make enough money to keep body and soul together.
The big question is: could this be the time to trust in my writing skills and the prospect of making enough money from my output (we're talking some foreign rights sales here) to jump off the Grand Canyon-sized cliff I've been standing at the edge of for the last 16 years? There are lots of considerations, the primary one being: I'm not just making money for me. I could handle starving in a garret for a year, if I were the only one doing the starving. I cannot ask others to starve along with me.
So, like having my editor saying, "I don't like the ending you've put on your book. Change it to this or I'm afraid we can't publish it," I'm faced with a dilemma: toss the dice and see if they come up with seven, or play it safe and find another job, one which will more than likely lead to further constrictions of my writing time.
It's not a comfortable place to be.
That's also my excuse why I'm, yet again, late with my entry. It's better than, "My dog erased my blog entry," isn't it?
Sunday, June 01, 2008
[Bath, UK] What a day. We woke up in Montreal, had a full day there, and now we're in Bath, England! This is intentional, not the result of a drunken binge.
We had the BEST flight. Can you guess what happened? Yes - an upgrade. I
almost fell on my knees blubbering. We've given up completely on Air Canada
and switched to British Airways for flights to London. So far after 25 years
flying AC and not a single upgrade we've been upgraded on BA twice in a year to
Business Class. Dear Lord - they almost had to call security to get us off the
plane when it arrived. It's fabulous. Lie-flat beds. Need I say more?
Actually, the man across the aisle from me farted the entire way over, but that
could have happened in economy as well, to even greater effect. But this was
bad enough. So pungent was the smell I was slightly surprised the oxygen masks
didn't descend. It reminded me of a story I heard at Malice Domestic about
Jeffrey Deaver, whose dog pooped in the middle of a party he was giving and the
fumes were so noxious it set off his fire alarms.
This man had a bit of the mutt about him.
But still, for an upgrade I was willing to put up with even that.
We're actually in the UK to go to CrimeFest, which is an annual convention for
mystery writers and readers. Never been to it but I'm on two panels so it
should be fun. It's down the road in Bristol and starts Thursday. Between now
and then we're going to explore Baah-th. Meeting my agent for lunch tomorrow
and between now and then? High tea and a nap, then dinner.
The suffering of writers. It knows no bounds. I've just finished the first
draft of my next book, so the timing is perfect. I find it really helpful to
take a few weeks off before starting editing - get a bit of distance. Get a
little less wedded to the characters and plot so I can slice away.
This is the perfect tonic.
And it's such fun to be able to write and tell you all about our travels and the
beginning of our time here. Thank you Rick!
And thank you, Louise! I'm sure everyone is as envious of your current whereabouts as I am. Raise a pint for all the Type M folks while you're over there. Waddington's 4X, if you can find it.
Be sure to visit Louise's site: www.louisepenny.com