Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
But the blog must go on.
I get several e-mails each year from people I have met or past students asking for agent referrals. I have had a couple agents over the years, and currently have one; one specialized in non-fiction, the other in fiction. So I can often make a referral.
Recently, much of my e-mail correspondence with other writers has centered around the topic of agents. Our discussions have included some important questions that I would like to bring up here in hopes of starting a thread: What should one look for in an agent? What can one expect an agent to do? Has an agent’s job changed at all in this ever-shrinking marketplace or with the addition of e-books? How much should you trust an agent? How do you know when the relationship is over?
Last week, I mentioned these two unique perspectives on an agent-author split.
I’d love to read my Type M colleagues’ views on agents.
Back to my ginger ale and crackers.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
What a stressful build up to the holidays this year!
Thanks to Arctic-type weather, England came to a standstill for days. Airports were closed. Passengers stranded. My friend in Dorset couldn’t leave her house for almost a week. My husband and I had our flights cancelled twice. Eventually, Virgin Atlantic offered us a flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and then on to Gatwick. I love Virgin Atlantic. They use Twitter to communicate flight information to passengers @VirginAtlantic. Being able to ask a question and instantly get a direct, personal answer was very cool.
The 250-mile drive that followed from Gatwick in the south-east to Devon in the south-west was surprisingly easy since motorists had been advised to steer clear of the roads. We finally arrived in Harberton, a tiny village close to Totnes on the edge of Dartmoor late on Christmas Eve. Six days late, but better late than never—especially for my lovely mum who is a spry, feisty 81 and had been looking forward to our visit for a whole year.
With the release of my fourth book in the Vicky Hill Mysteries, Thieves!, just under a week away, I was delighted to learn that the Dartington Morris Men were braving the winter chill and would be going ahead with their traditional Boxing Day performance, after all.
For those unfamiliar with my English mysteries set in the wilds of Devon, I like to introduce readers to a British hobby or unusual profession – be it hedge jumping, hedge cutting, snail racing, a Farmer Calendar competition etc. (I still have a few 2011 British Farmer Calendars left for anyone who is interested.)
So … there we all were on the Totnes “Plains” at noon on Boxing Day, cheering on the Dartington Morris Men who were dressed in thin white shirts and baldricks; their black trousers adorned with bell pads, bravely stepping out to the sounds of “The Mumper” and “The Nutting Girl.” The biggest coup was discovering a member of Dartington Morris was in fact, a former national champion who has agreed to give me an interview for my website in the new year. I captured some terrific photos and filmed several of their dances that will be up on my Facebook page once I’m back in Los Angeles.
Much as I have been reluctant to embrace the wonders of the Internet—call me old-fashioned—I have to admit that Virgin’s tweets saved my sanity and the opportunity to post a bit of Morris dancing on my website, very handy.
Of course, my mother’s house in Harberton does not have access to the Internet. I had to find an cafe … and, for some reason, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Starbucks has infiltrated the depths of the British countryside.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Of course, when I looked at the novel in question once again with her words in mind, I really was horrified. I hadn’t even been aware that I was doing it.
Which brings me to today’s blog topic: waffling. We all use the technique every day, I’ll bet.
An example: why is it that people no longer die? Why is it that we no longer seem capable of saying that? “Bob’s wife passed away last week.” Or worse yet, “Bob’s wife passed last week.” Is it just me or is this sort of mealy-mouthed? Are people that afraid of death that they won’t use the word anymore?
Corporations and politicians naturally are past-masters of the waffle. They don’t want to be caught in a bold statement. They need that wiggle room. Naturally this is reinforced by every situation where a bold, unequivocal statement is made and the next day it bites someone in the butt and they have to backtrack.
The wafflers par excellence are meteorologists. “We have a 40% chance of rain tomorrow.” How many times are they right? Every time, of course! If it rains, they’re right, and if it doesn’t rain, they’re right. Just don’t try to plan your day around what they’re telling you.
Here are some of my favourites: “Mistakes were made.” (Who’s trying to weasel out of something here?) “Common sense would dictate that...” (Whose common sense?) “Experts know that...” (Here again, what experts?)
Okay, the examples in the paragraph above are from the political and corporate realms. Where do you see other examples of waffling in everyday conversation? I’ve only given one example. I came up with others yesterday, but unfortunately didn’t write them down. Mistakes were made...
Last of all, I’m at the tail end of another year of Tuesday blogs. I didn’t miss too many weeks in 2010, so that’s a lot of writing. I hope you’ve found something of use in it. Have a safe New Year’s celebration and I wish you all the best in 2011.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Sunday Guest Blog: An Interview with Tess Gerritsen
I met international bestseller Tess Gerritsen nearly a decade ago when I decided to teach one of her novels and invited her to speak to my students. She drove five hours, spoke to my classes, and then made a public presentation for community members all for an appearance fee that probably barely covered her gas expenses. The next morning, Tess and her husband Jacob (a doctor in his own right) came over breakfast. I remember coming down the stairs to find Tess feeding pancakes to my then 2-year-old Audrey.
For a string of four years, we signed new releases together each fall at the Borders store in Bangor, Maine. At each signing, people would walk to our table, glance at my books, and begin to move on before realizing Tess was seated beside me—then stop and gush. (One woman literally screamed.) Tess, ever engaging, would sign one of her books. But then she would make a passionate sales pitch for her fan to buy one of mine, too. Picture it: a top-five NYTIMES author hand selling one of my PGA Tour novels to her medical-thriller fans. This is who Tess Gerritsen is.
And she has been on quite a run. She has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, in more than 37 languages, and recently her series featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the current TNT television series “Rizzoli & Isles.”
I hope you find the following Q@A interesting.
TYPE M: How did you come to writing from the medical profession? Could you talk about your start?
TESS: I started off as a writer first. By age seven, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller. But the practical matter of making a living made me head off to medical school instead. It took a few years to get back to my first passion, and I was finally able to write my first book while on maternity leave from my hospital work. I think truly passionate writers will manage to find a way to write – no matter what.
TYPE M: Could you talk about the details of your writing process?
TESS: Story ideas come from all sorts of sources. I find it absolutely necessary to read lots and lots of newspapers and magazines. Sometimes that germ of an idea will be found in a true-crime story, or something I encounter in the National Enquirer. The idea must evoke a strong emotion in me – fear, anger, fascination – or it just won’t make me want to write the book. From there I start to sketch out a bit of plot, and I do it all in longhand for the first draft. I don’t feel I need to have the plot 100% figured out before I start writing. In fact, sometimes I’ll know only about a third of the story. All I need is a good starting-off crisis and I begin to write, feeling my way through the plot as I go. After the first draft, I’ll type it into the computer and print it out. But all the subsequent drafts still end up getting worked out on paper.
As for where I write, I find it easiest just to do it at my desk at home. But early on, before I had a home office, I would write in the kitchen, at my kids’ swimming practice, anywhere I could be left alone.
TYPE M: You have shifted from stand-alones to a series. Why the change? Do you prefer one over the other?
TESS: It wasn’t at all planned out. I had written a book called THE SURGEON, and one of the characters was a homicide detective named Jane Rizzoli. She was just a minor character, but she stood out so vividly for me that I wanted to know more about her. So I wrote another book about her, THE APPRENTICE. Without ever intending to, I ended up with a crime series that features not just Jane but also a medical examiner, Maura Isles. Over the course of the series, these two women have become friends as they work together to solve crimes. As for which I prefer, series or stand-alones, there are advantages to both. With the series, it’s very nice to know these people and to follow the ups and downs of their lives, which I now know intimately. But I do long for a bit of variety every so often, which a stand-alone provides. I’m hoping I’ll be able to return to those ever so often.
TYPE M: How did the TV series come to be? What is your role in the TV series, if any? Has it impacted sales? Do you like the casting?
TESS: A producer named Bill Haber optioned the characters a few years ago. When he called me, he said that he was bound and determined to make this TV show happen. Naturally I didn’t believe him, because things in Hollywood so seldom come to fruition. But over the months, Bill kept calling to let me know his progress. Even after the option expired, he was still passionate about the characters and renewed the contract. He hired a screenwriter named Janet Tamaro, who wrote a terrific pilot script. TNT was very enthusiastic, and suddenly it all came together. The speed astonished me – when it happens, it happens fast! I have no role in the TV show, except as a “consultant,” but Janet is really the one in charge now as executive producer. I’m not sure if it’s impacted sales, although I do hear from readers who tell me they didn’t even know about the books until they saw the TV show. “Rizzoli & Isles” has been a huge hit for TNT, and I have to give credit to Janet as well as to the two terrific actors, Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander, who bring incredible charisma to their parts.
TYPE M: What were your early influences? What are they now? Authors?
TESS: As a kid, I was a huge fan of the Nancy Drew mystery series. As I got older, I moved on to Tolkien, Arthur Clark, and Isaac Asimov. So I guess you could say that I was a big SF, fantasy, and mystery fan. Nowadays, I’m a fan of anything that’s well-written, whatever the genre. And I’m always on the lookout for great debut authors, which means I try to pick up a lot of unfamiliar names. But on vacation, when I’m sitting on the beach and just want to fall deeply into a book, I’ll go for historical novels – Philippa Gregory, for instance.
TYPE M: Where do you see publishing headed? E-books? Do you own an electronic reading device?
TESS: E-books are definitely on the rise. I own a Kindle, and while I love taking it on vacation, I don’t use it much at home if I can read a real book instead. But I do see a huge upsurge in e-book sales of my own books. I predict that within a year or two, e-books will comprise 50% of sales of bestselling new releases.
TYPE M: Any advice for new writers?
TESS: Read a LOT. See what other writers have done. And when you do sit down to write, give yourself permission to write badly for your first draft. Just get the plot down until you know what the book is about. It’s during the second draft and beyond where you’ll have to hone your words and make it perfect. But that first draft? That’s meant to be playtime.
# # #
Saturday, December 25, 2010
I'm not at home right now. I'm with friends and family eating a great big Christmas brunch, and I have a feeling that none of you Dear Readers are currently here in my particular cyberspace, either.
Friday, December 24, 2010
In a European experiment conducted in the last few years, specially prepared modern manuscripts of classic pieces of literature were sent to various publishing houses. Not only did the editors fail to recognise the works, they were ALL rejected. Imagine! Masterpieces like “Les Misérables” might never have seen the light of day.
It makes you wonder what great books might have been written that we will never have the chance to read, what wonderful writers are going unheralded - victims of the “factory farming” model of modern publishing.
My own example is, perhaps, not quite so spectacular, but certainly an indictment of that model.
It concerns my book, “The Blackhouse”, which will be published for the first time in the UK in February. It has already been out for over a year in France, where it has been hugely successful, winning awards and nominations.
I have made a short video about it. Not the story of the book (I will leave the book to tell its own tale), but the story behind it.
Watch for yourself, and tell me what you think...
Thursday, December 23, 2010
The holiday season isn’t only about family, food, and gift giving. It’s also about parties and meeting new people. As a mystery reader and writer, I love talking books with fellow crime-fiction aficionados.
And you never know where you’ll meet one.
Last Saturday night, at a great Christmas party hosted by friends, I was drinking New Castle beer and eating sushi, when a fellow partygoer said, “You should meet this guy,” and pointed me in the direction of a stocky white-haired man, who, to an author, spoke like one bearing gifts.
We talked crime fiction for nearly an hour. John D. MacDonald to Carl Hiaasen. Robert B. Parker to Nelson DeMille. Michael Connelly to S.J. Rozan.
Of course, as any self-respecting midlist author would do, I didn’t miss the opportunity to tell him about my series.
Ever respectful of the recession, I added, “You can save money if you buy them in paperback or Kindle.”
“I only buy hardcovers,” he said.
Did someone ring a Christmas bell?
“It’s a lot of money, but most books are worth it,” he said and explained that he used to buy paperbacks, but now gives in to his vice.
In a time when the Kindle format seems to be the future and the recession has the book business reeling, it’s nice to know crime-fiction aficionados are still out there.
And maybe, just maybe, one of them is Santa.
On the writing front this week, I’m revising a novel. Been at it for more than a month. Like always, it’s a lot of work. But this time more than usual. I’m adding a character and a storyline. This has led to a struggle with the novel’s structure. The book is a thriller with multiple points of view, and I’ve gone over the first 100 pages about four times now, changing the scenes from chapter numbers to days of the week and times. I’m looking for the least intrusive way to make the story’s chronology clear for the reader.
There has often been talk of agents on Type M for Murder. Here are two unique perspectives on an author-agent split. Jennifer Crusie has this to say of “being fired” by her agent Meg Ruley. While agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds says this.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
I’m a child of the sixties. Back then we thought we had life by the tail. We knew everything, especially not to trust anyone over thirty.
How humbling life is.
A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk to a high school English class interested in knowing about the life of a writer. It was a talk full of enthusiasm and excitement, tempered, I thought, with a strong dose of realism. I regaled them about the need for persistence, hard work, brutal critiques and a very thick skin. I talked about the rooms papered in rejection letters, the fifteen rewrites, and the stacks of really bad manuscripts that insulate every writer’s basement. All practice, I said. All part of learning the craft.
On the way out of class, a young man with downcast eyes slipped up beside me. I’m writing a thriller, he said shyly. It’s half finished. How should I go about getting a publisher? I asked him if anyone had read it, and he said no, he was afraid of someone stealing his idea. I suggested he finish it, polish it until it shone, and then give it to an experienced reader whom he could trust to give honest feedback.
But before I do all that, he said, I just want to know if I can get it published, because I don’t want to waste my time. I bit my tongue, replied that no writing was a waste of time and a writer should never submit to a publisher anything less than his absolute best. You’re seventeen, I wanted to say, you’ve got three or four decades to become a good writer. Right now you know nothing. Your ideas, no matter how brilliant you think they are now, will look puerile in ten years’ time, and you’ll be eternally grateful that no one was willing to publish them.
I searched instead for words to keep his eagerness alive. As he followed me out to my car, I told him he was already well ahead of the game. He had a passion to write and the persistence to keep at it. I told him his next step was to find a community of writers like himself, who would give him honest feedback to make his work better, encouragement to support him through the hard times, and information about the bewildering, ever-changing book business he was trying to break into. I gave him some suggestions for groups.
He looked crushed. Seventeen years old and facing his first reality check. But how do I find a publisher just to look at it, he asked. I sighed. By this time we were standing by my car in the gently falling snow. There are compendiums of publishers in bookstores and libraries, as well as websites on the issue, I said. Read submission guidelines, check the type of books they accept, and above all, be wary of any publisher or agent who will be delighted to look at your manuscript. For a fee.
He clutched this bit of practical advice eagerly, and set off back towards the school. And I climbed into my car, feeling very old.
Monday, December 20, 2010
The Cargo/Delany clan begins to arrive from near and far. Not quite as many, or as far, as our big trip last month to Las Vegas when there were 14 of us, 11 with the last name Delany.
But it's my immediate family this time, and all coming for Christmas. It’s been a few years since we’ve all been together.
It seems that just about everyone is having travel problems this year. I hope Hannah is able to get to her family in England.
Daughter #2 was the first to travel. She lives in Nelson, B.C. (Aka Trafalgar). If you’ve read Winter of Secrets you will know that the nearest airport to Nelson is in Castlgear. Called Cancel-gar. Castlegar is at the bottom of a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains. Great views coming in and out, let me tell you. However, in the winter the weather can be a mite tricky.
There is one flight to and from Calgary per day, two to Vancouver. And that is it. The plane arrives, lands, throws the incoming passengers off, loads up the outgoing and takes off. Turn around time? About 15 minutes.
If it’s cloudy the incoming plane will circle the airport for ten minutes or so and if the clouds don’t clear – back it goes.
That happened yesterday to Daughter #2. Much panic on my end as I watched the flight status on my computer. When I saw that it was 15 minutes past arrival time and the PLANE was still “in flight” I knew what that meant.
Fortunately she was able to get on the second flight of the day to Vancouver, and fortunately that PLANE did get in and out. And she was able to change her flight from Calgary to one from Vancouver.
She will spend two days in Toronto with Daughter #3 and then they’ll drive up here together in an AUTOMOBILE.
First to arrive will be my mom, who gets in on the TRAIN this afternoon. The weather forecast is for cold but only a couple of centimetres of snow so the TRAIN should be okay. I will pick her up at the train station in my AUTOMOBILE.
Tomorrow evening Daughter #1 arrives with my brother on another TRAIN. Again, not expecting much snow so I’m hopeful all will go well.
And we’ll all have a very Merry Christmas. And I hope you do too.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Hi, Donis, Type M members, and fans. Thanks for inviting me back.
Was it worth it to e-publish a collection of my stories? Yes. Absolutely. Have my sales been over the top? Hardly. In fact, they have been mediocre at best. But I’ve learned that, like the DTB world (DTB = dead tree books, btw), short story collections and anthologies are a hard sell, even if they were previously published in print. I’ve been more successful with my novels EASY INNOCENCE and DOUBL
EBACK. Those sales have been brisk and steady.
I have discovered a few things, though. About a month after I published the collections, I separated the collections into individual stories on Kindle, each priced at 99 cents. Since then I’ve noticed regular downloads of those stories. I suspect they are people who are “trying me” for the first time, and they don’t want to pay more than a dollar. Which is kind of amusing, because the collections are only $2.99 each. But that’s okay. It’s helped spur more sales in general.
Which brings up another point that Joe Konrath (whom I call the “Pied Piper” of e-publishing) makes, and that I have come to believe, too. The more “product” you have online, the more you sell. He makes an analogy to shelf space, and I think it’s valid. The more individual e-books, stories, even collaborations you have online, the more you will sell. To that end I’ve found that since I separated the stories, which bolstered my content by fifteen, sales of all my work have gone up.
Another interesting discovery is price. As I mentioned the first time I blogged for you, I skew towards a lower price range. The minimum you can charge – and still get the Amazon 70% royalty – is $2.99. So I do. And I believe it’s paid off. Further, I think prices for mid-list authors should stay low. The fact is that people will buy a $2.99 ebook, but will
equivocate if it’s over $5.00 – that seems to be the break point. So if you have control over your ebooks, I recommend the $2.99 threshold. At least to start. As I said, I’ve seen steady sales at that price. (Better than my Poisoned Pen ebooks, btw, which are over $5.00.) The publisher of SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE and I talked it over, and although it’s not $2.99, we did keep the price below $5.00, which I think is fair.
What sort of promotion did you do for the collection? Do you think your
strategy was effective?
There’s a lot of ebook promotion that can be done online these days. And it’s mostly free. The catch is that it takes time. And effort. And the right attitude. Results won’t materialize overnight. I’ve been at it for about a year now, and I’m just starting to see some traction. An
yway, here’s what I have done:
Several websites review ebooks, both original and “reprints,” including:
Books on The Knob-- http://booksontheknob.blogspot.com/
Red Adept-- http://redadeptreviews.com/
Daily Cheap Reads-- http://dailycheapreads.com/
They don’t review but they do “feature,” and there are criteria you have to meet, but I got a wonderful bump in sales when they featured DOUBLEBACK.
Of course, these are in addition to all the book bloggers/reviewers. I strongly recommend that authors analyze and target review bloggers whose audience will find their book/topic appealing. I use a combination of Google, Alexa, Twitter, and Technorati to categorize and rank blogs. This takes a LOT of time, but it’s worth it. You can tailor your pitch much more carefully.
I’ve done a bit of paid advertising, which has been generally very successful. And very reasonably priced.
Kindle Nation Daily, http://kindlehomepage.blogspot.com/
is fabulous. It doesn’t cost too much and it has paid for itself in sales.
Kindle Boards Banner ad (see below)
Kindle Boards Book of the Day (see below)
The featured titles are at the top of every page of the Boards for a 24 hour period. Some writers have seen a significant bump in their sales by doing this. I hope I will, too.
OTHER ONLINE ACTIVITIES/GROUPS
As many of you know self-promotion is moving from blogs to Facebook and Twitter. While I don’t think they sell books, at least initially, I do believe they help introduce and establish your presence online. The trick is to interact and not to plug your books too often.
Besides those, there are also a host of discussion boards, and some of them home in on crime fiction. Others on ebooks. Etiquette is important – you can’t toot your own horn, but people do tend to read/buy you if you’re respectful.
The best groups I’ve found are the Kindle Boards -- http://www.kindleboards.com They have hundreds of threads, and that can be intimidating to a new-comer. However, they are HUGE; they claim to get 80,000 hits a day! For that reason, I’ve taken out a banner ad and a book-of-the-day spot on their boards. (See above). The ads are supposed to run for 24 hours and will appear at the top of ALL their threads. They also have a “Writer’s Café” which often has valuable information on ebook production and promotion.
There are also the Amazon Discussion Boards, but they’re less structured than the Kindle Forums, and it sometimes seems like the self-published are talking to the self-published. I’ve managed to find and participate in a couple of the mystery discussions, which you can find here:
I need to stress that my participation is more as a reader than a writer. They’re very picky about BSP. But I’ve made several online “friends” and have introduced myself to new readers.
There’s also a new group I just joined. It’s called Backlist (
e-books, and it’s specifically geared to promoting traditionally published authors whose work is having
a second “e” life.
What insights have you gained about the process and promise of e-publishing?
We’re clearly in the throes of a revolution in the way people read and purchase books. At the same time, I don’t think real books are going to disappear. I think of ebooks as the new “mass market” format except that they come out – or should-- at the same time as the hard cover. That has had repercussions. There will always be a market for hardcovers, but as time goes on, it might not be as robust. Bottom line, there’s no avoiding ebooks, and if your books are not already there, they should be.
The difficulty for most of us is keeping the erights for our books. I only have the rights for 4 of my works, and I wish I had more. For example, as the person in charge, I could vary the price, even offer a book for free for a limited time. But most publishers are not willing to relinquish them these days. Barring a sudden change in attitude, I think the most important thing is to agree on a specific definition of what “out of print” means contractually, so that in the event your book does go out of print, you can actually get the rights, including erights, reverted.
Do you have plans to do any more original on-line publication?
If I write material that has not been traditionally published, and I think it’s good enough for publication, of course I will. It’s a great way to keep my name and “product” out there. But I won’t publish any of my early unpublished work – it isn’t what I would consider “professional.”
I will also make sure all my books and stories are available on Kindle as well as Smashwords, which is the portal to the other e-tailers like Barnes & Noble Kobo, Sony, etc.
As you may know, in terms of e-book formats, there are two dominant ones: Kindle and e-pub (which most other etailers use). It’s much like the days of Beta Max vs VHS, and it’s hard to believe they will both survive. It’ll be interesting to see which prevails.
You've been busy since NICE GIRL DOES NOIR. Tell us about your latest
traditionally published novel, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, which is just about to
launch. Why did you decide to do this story as a stand-alone? How did the idea for the tale come to you?
I wrote SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE several years ago, but it’s just seeing the light of day now. (Motto: never give up). I came of age during the Sixties. I remember the era and I’ve always had unresolved feelings about it. But I also love thrillers and wanted to write a “pure” thriller, as opposed to a mystery-thriller, a term that some critics have used to describe my Ellie Foreman books. (incomprehensibly to me, actually).
So I combined a story that, for the most part, takes place in the present. A young woman is being stalked by someone she doesn’t know for a reason she doesn’t understand. That, btw, is probably the most frightening thing I can imagine. As she tries to figure it out, the evidence leads back to her parents, who lived through the Sixties in Chicago. In the process, she discovers her parents were not the people she thought. Essentially, it’s a three act play with Acts One and Three in the present, and Act Two starting at the Democratic Convention in 1968 and continuing through Kent State.
I just produced a video trailer for it, for those of you who are interested. You can find it right HERE
This novel is a stand-alone, a departure from your wonderful series
featuring Georgia Davis and/or Ellie Foreman. But like those books, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE is quintessential Chicago. I read the excerpt you posted on your website, and I must say you certainly got the 1960s slang right, not to mention the zeitgeist. How did you research the events of the late '60s in Chicago?
I was in Washington DC and Philadelphia during most of that time, but the Anti-war Movement was national, not regional. So it wasn’t hard to relive the time. There were certain events that I needed to research, but having lived in Chicago now over 30 years, it wasn’t that difficult. I’m sure I got a detail wrong, here and there, but – hey – it is fiction, right?
You've published seven novels and dozens of short stories. The two forms
require different writing skill sets, and you seem to have mastered both. Do you prefer one form over the other, or do you enjoy mixing it up?
I love both forms. Short stories are an affair; novels are a marriage. I enjoy taking a break from a novel with a short story, but it’s usually intense and – well – short. For the long haul, I go back to novels.
What's next for you?
I’m writing another historical thriller. It’s probably my most ambitious project to date – spanning three generations and two continents. I’m only about a third of the way through, so we’ll see what happens. I also wrote two short stories this year and am working on another… even as we speak.
Libby's website is http://libbyhellmann.com
Photo of Libby by Jason Creps
Friday, December 17, 2010
Peter here. My apologies for not having much to say for myself this week. I have been sorely distracted by a fraud on my bank card - the second time in six months, with different cards!
Apart from the fact that nearly 1000 dollars’ worth of unathorised transactions was made with it over two days, I have now developed an unhealthy (or perhaps healthy) paranoia about where the thieves are getting details of my cards. The search for that source continues.
However, living in France, there are certain peculiarities that one confronts when dealing with such a situation. In the UK I would have had a telephone number to call which would immediately put a block on my card.
But my French bank does not allow that. First I have to go and report it to them. Then I have to go to the gendarmerie and lodge an official complaint of fraud. This is a process that takes at least two hours. When it is completed, I have to sign multifarious forms, and I am given an attestation of my complaint, which I then take back to the bank - and only then will they block the card.
It is their loss, of course, if any unauthorised transactions take place in the meantime, because I will be fully (I hope) reimbursed.
The one bright spot on the horizon was the moment outside the gendarmerie when I spoke into the intercom system to be allowed access (security is very tight at all gendarmeries), and the duty gendarme came to let me in. Surprise, surprise, he turned out to be someone I knew - a HUGE fan of my books!
He led me excitedly into his office and showed me his collection of police officers’ headgear from around the world, and asked if there was any chance I could get him a Chinese one the next time I was in the Middle Kingdom. I assured him I would do my best.
As various gendarmes filed through the office, he kept looking up from his computer screen to say: “Do you know Monsieur May?” They would look at me blankly, then he would add: “You know... the writer.” And they all smiled and shook my hand.
It reminded me of the first time I met my gendarme. In town one market day to go to (ironically) the bank, I was crossing the busy main street when a gendarmes van screeched to a halt, and one of them leaned out the window, pointing a finger at me, and indicating I should approach.
Now, gendarmes in France have a pretty fierce reputation, so I approached the van with some trepidation, wondering what the hell I had done. He said: "Monsieur Peter May?” I was shocked. He knew my name! I admitted I was, and his face was suddenly wreathed in smiles. “I adore your books,” he said.
So it felt good to be in friendly hands as a filed my complaint about card fraud. When he finished, finally, I asked if he would be the one to pursue the investigation.
He grinned and said: “Yes. I will catch the perps - just like Li (the Chinese cop in my books).”
I hope he does.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Poe’s groundbreaking short story opens with what appears to be nothing less than an essay explaining the cerebral processes upon which his new genre is to be founded. However, in the story itself, writers discover five truisms that I would argue—consciously or unconsciously—today’s writers continue to live by:
1. A crime must occur.
2. The story’s sleuth must possess superior inductive and deductive reasoning skills.
3. The police must be incapable of solving the crime.
4. The ending must offer a dénouement—who, what, why, and how must be explained.
5. The author must "play fair"⎯clues must be present to allow the reader to solve crime.
In graduate school, I was told rules only exist in fiction writing if you get caught breaking them. And it is particularly interesting to view Poe’s rules in light of the evolution of the genre. For instance, what does one do with number three in a police procedural? How does a whydunit or a multiple-point-of-view thriller fit with Poe’s original concept?
Every writer strives to put his or her own stamp on the genre; that is he or she strives to stretch the genre in a new and unique direction. I certainly attempted to do that with my Jack Austin series—Raymond Chandler meets the PGA Tour. Yet it seems to me that every work of crime fiction still meets at least three or four items from Poe’s criteria.
I see this as a testament to the staying power of Poe’s work and his original concept, not as an indictment of the genre as cookie-cutter fiction. Poe’s rules have been stretched and bent often as crime fiction has evolved. Yet but they remain strong enough and necessary enough to have never broken.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I love Google Maps.
Although controversy continues to rage about the invasion of privacy—and I have to admit to feeling a bit alarmed when I googled our cottage on the north Cornish coast and saw an image of myself and my sister enjoying an early morning cuppa—who can deny it’s a great resource for an author? No more jumping into a car, getting on a plane or wearing out shoe leather pounding the pavements—unless you have an expense account or a good CPA.
My Vicky Hill mysteries are set in Gipping-on-Plym in Devon, England, and obviously it doesn’t exist. I like to take various slices of England and create my own ideal town. Since Vicky is a newspaper reporter, the Gipping Gazette is located at the top of the High Street in Tiverton. Actually, it was where I started out my newspaper career—the name of the newspaper has changed many times but I still get a thrill when I drive by. The ancient Pannier market serves as the locale for Gipping’s own market; The Grange is a private country estate where I used to keep my horses and, had I not had Google Maps, I would never have discovered an adorable folly nestled in the woods that became a key setting in my second book, SCOOP!
Like Donis, only a fraction of what I research ever reaches the page, but I absolutely have to know and “see” my world inside out before I can write with confidence. When I do reach the odd roadblock, it’s always because I don’t know a character or a place well enough to bring her, him or it, to life.
A friend of mine was reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors chronicling the astonishing battles between the US and Japan in 1944. He told me he kept Google Maps handy so he could follow the course of the campaign, saying it made him feel as if he was physically there.
Of course Google Maps can become a tempting tool for procrastination. Since my protagonist Vicky Hill, claims that her parents were eaten by lions on safari in Africa, I must just transport myself to the Masai Mara to see if I can pinpoint the exact acacia tree where it was supposed to have happened.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I always buy my crime fiction at Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street, in fact, if I’m not in a rush, I just order any book I want through them and drop by to pick it up when it comes in. This year, though, I’m nowhere near close to that organized!
So I was in our local Indigo bookstore, browsing around for the people on my list. Then it hit me: what a great opportunity to do a little first-hand research.
I went upstairs to the Mystery Section and watched seven people shop (6 females and 1 male). All checked out the tables in between the C-shaped bookshelves of the section. Two of the people picked one book off this table and were finished. Four of the others also browsed the shelves. Two people bought several things. The last person bought 3 copies of the same book.
I stepped forward after each was finished, explained that I work in the publishing industry and wanted to ask a few question if I could. (I thought it would appear very tacky to say that I’m an author).
Here’s what I found out:
* Person 1 (female, middle-aged): She bought one book for her sister because she liked the cover and the copy on the back looked interesting. She glanced at the opening page as well, but only briefly before making her choice.
* Person 2 (male, around 30): bought a copy of a Tom Clancy book for his father because “Dad likes Tom Clancy.” He also thought he’d read the book before he gave it to Dear Old Dad.
* Person 3 (female, maybe 25): She bought 3 books, all different. One was a book for her grandmother “who loves Peter Robinson”, and the other 2 were for her mother because she thought they looked like something her mom would like. She liked the cover on one which is what led her to picking up off the table. The other one was because she’d seen a book by this author on her mother’s bedside table.
*Person 4 (female in her 60s): She bought 3 copies of the same book (forget what it was) because she absolutely loved it and wanted to give it to her sister-in-law and two friends. She thought the cover was terrible. (I agreed.)
*Person 5 (female, middle-aged): Hadn’t planned on buying any books. Was just in the store to get a coffee and stopped on the way out. She bought a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because she’d heard so much talk about it and was going to Cuba for the holidays and wanted reading material. She really liked the cover -- even though it has little to do with the book itself.
*Person 6 (female, middle-aged): She had an organized list and found 2 of the 3 books she wanted. She doesn’t read mysteries at all, but her daughter loves them as does her best friend. The third book was for her aunt and wasn’t in the store. I sent her to Sleuth...
*Person 7 (female, “I’m 83!”) Was looking for a book for her niece who “loves mysteries”. She picked out a book because it looked interesting. I asked why, and she said that the cover made her pick it up and the inside flap copy was “intriguing”. That was Nevada Barr’s 13 1/2. This nice woman also said that she never buys books where the author’s name is really large. “Those books are always disappointing”. She said that unbidden by me.
What does it all mean? Well, people are buying books, and the response to a good cover seems to at least get a book “in the door” with the buyer. Most people enjoyed looking over the books on the table and picked from there, because something made them look at the book in the first place. (Three recognized authors names and chose because of that.
None of these people had electronic readers, although the 83-year-old really hoped that her niece would give her one for Christmas. The male’s wife had one and he occasionally uses it to read the paper (he said he had little time for reading) and one woman had a daughter who owns one, but she “didn’t like it”.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Vicki here on Monday. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six weeks in bookstores, both chain and independent, and I’m pleased to say they’ve been packed. It’s been nice to see that with all the talk of the demise of the bookstore, they can still draw the gift-buying crowds.
In particular it was nice to see in one big store the number of kids crowded into the children’s section. The store had big soft mats laid out on the floor and kids of all ages were lounging about reading while their parents shopped.
So, with just a week and a bit to go until Christmas, here’s a reminder that books make fabulous presents. In my time at the stores, I’ve seen a lot of people walk up to the front display, pick up something by, say, Dan Brown, and head for the cash without even reading the blurb at the back. No need, I guess. And if that’s what’s on your mother’s list, well then get it for her.
But I’ve also seen people in the stores for hours, carefully going down the stacks, picking up books, reading the back, replacing them and finding another, sometimes coming back, finally leaving absolutely weighted down with their selections.
There is something very personal about a gift of a book.
People who’ve read and really enjoyed a particular book like to give that book to someone of similar taste. Some people I’ve spoken to hesitate over giving books because they don’t know if their friend will like it. So? I bet if they’re a book lover they never mind trying something new. And if they don’t like it, fine. They’ve had the experience of trying it and maybe gotten something out of that. Even better if you aren’t sure if they’ll like it and they LOVE it.
As I’ve talked to people while doing my signings, many, many of them told me they now have an e-reader or are getting one. The demonstration area for the product in the chain store has been very busy, with lots of sales. Having an e-reader does make it hard to select a book for a gift. There are gift certificates, but a gift certificate always lacks that personal touch, doesn’t it? My friends who have e-readers tell me they still read paper books.
Books for gifts. Think about it.
And, a reminder that if you love the Christmas season and love reading a book set at this time of year, Winter of Secrets (Constable Molly Smith #3) begins on Christmas Eve and ends on New Year’s Day.
If you met me at a bookstore lately you’d have heard me say, “It’s Christmas Eve and the snowstorm of the decade has settled over their little mountain town. The police are…”
What are your suggestions for books for gifts this year?
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Our guest blogger this Sunday is none other than another of the original members of Type M for Murder, Michael Blair. He's published 5 novels so far and there's some information about his sixth at the bottom of the posting. Take it away, Michael!
I read once, many years ago, that you should never let anyone read what you’ve written until you are completely sure it’s the absolute best you can do – and even then, think twice. It was around the same time, I think, that I also first heard what I call the “big lie” of writing, usually told to beginners by creative writhing – oops – writing teachers and correspondence school instructors, that there’s this muse who peers over your shoulder and whispers into your ear and you just write down what the muse whispers. That, I’ve learned, if I’ve learned anything about this game since I started writing, is a crock of shit. Writing is work, plain and simple, and hard work at that, despite what my mother thinks. My dad knew; he was a writer until my mother thought he should go into advertising. But I digress...
The other thing, though, about not letting anyone read your work until you’re certain it’s ready – that I know is true.
Raymond Chandler wrote, “The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.”
When we set out to write something, be it a song, a mystery novel, even a blog entry, we usually have something we want to achieve, a unique style or voice, some point we want to make, things we want our readers to “get” – or at least appreciate that we’ve given it our best shot. But writers aren’t generally the most confident people on the planet. I’m not so sure about self-published writers, though; it takes real guts to publish some of the dreck I’ve seen. Vanity, thy name is – You’re digressing again.
Sorry. Where was I?
Because a lot of writers – okay, maybe not you, but a lot, I think – are never quite 100 percent – or even 90 percent – certain that what they’ve written is the best they can do – or even any good at all – they tend to hate to let go. There’s always room for improvement, one more revision, another fraction of a percentage of certainty to be gained, before inflicting their work on some poor, innocent editor. Yes, I know there’s no such thing, but – Jesus, will you stick to the goddamned point!
Uh, sorry. My internal editor is getting frustrated. It’s only trying to earn its keep, I suppose. I really should listen more often. Maybe if I’d listened to it before I let go of the umpteenth draft of what I hope will eventually be my next book, I might have saved myself – and my best friend – a lot of grief. But despite my internal editor’s admonitions that it wasn’t quite cooked, I took it out of the oven and sent it to my “first reader.”
Even though I knew – or at least my internal editor did, but I wasn’t listening – that at 125,000 words it was too long; that there were too many characters and too many of them, particularly the main characters, weren’t quite as developed as I’d have liked; that the plot was overly complicated and had a tendency to wander off now and then; that the internal logic occasionally broke down; and, finally, that I hadn’t accomplished some of the things I’d set out to do. Moreover, I was not sure at all about my decision to write an “American” book in an effort to find a U.S. publisher. But that’s another story for another time.
I know what you’re thinking. “What a maroon,” as Bugs Bunny used to say. And you’d be right. But can you honestly tell me that you’ve never done it yourself? If the answer is yes, you’re either lying or you’re a hell of a lot more confident a writer – notice that I didn’t say necessarily a better writer – than I am.
Anyway, I did it and suffered the consequences, as did my reader. He wasn’t right about everything, of course, but he zeroed in on pretty much everything I felt was wrong with the manuscript when I sent it to him – some of which I didn’t consciously realize until his feedback. Such feedback can be a very painful experience, but it is necessary from time to time to maintain your connection to reality.
So it’s back to square one, more or less. It’s either that or chuck the whole thing out and start something new – and you can probably guess how likely that is.
Now I’m letting go of this, for better or worse. My friend and I are still speaking to each other. And I’m looking forward to reviewing his next manuscript.
Cheers from snowy Montreal.
Michael's next book will be No Good Deed. Here's a bit of a teaser:
Business is slow for Burlington, Vermont, private investigator John “Hack” Loomis, so when Connie Noble, Loomis’s assistant and sometimes lover, asks him to look into the disappearance of her friend Belle Ryerson, Loomis agrees. It doesn’t take long, however, for him to realize that what should have been a straightforward missing persons case is far from it. Connie‘s friend isn’t the only person who’s gone missing after attending meetings of a local UFO group run by the charismatic psychiatrist P. Thaddeus Underwood, who looks more like a biker turned Buddhist monk than a shrink, and a disarmingly beautiful woman who claims to be in contact with an alien mothership. Add to the mix the body of a young woman frozen into the ice along the edge of Burlington Bay and a socially challenged tabloid journalist and it isn’t long before Loomis learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished.