Monday, March 31, 2014

Under Cold Stone: Coming up with a title

Titles

Is there anything more important for the potential success of a book than it's title? Well, other than being by a mega-bestselling author that is.

Titles are critical in drawing the potential readers attention. The title should give a little hint at the  type of book, perhaps some of the content. It needs to reflect the mood of the book, and to distinguish itself from other books. Titles can not be copyright protected, thus it's not unknown for several books to have the same title. I think of one year where a couple of people I knew brought out books called Fatal Grace at the same time.

In my own experience, sometimes a title is a no-brainer. Sometimes it's a struggle to come up with something. In Among the Departed (Constable Molly Smith #5) as soon as the bones in the woods are discovered by the police dog, Adam Tocek is about to say that the dog is signalling that he's located a dead body. At the last minute he realized a child is listening, and says "Among the Departed." I knew right away that would be my title.

Only once has my editor told me to change the title. The first Molly Smith book was titled Test Case. As it's about a brand-new cop, I thought that a suitable title. My editor said (probably correctly) that it sounded like a medical mystery. So we tossed ideas back and forth, and eventually came up with the only title of mine I don't like: In the Shadow of the Glacier. Thus proving that a compromise suits no one.


With the seventh book in the series, I really struggled. I wanted a title that would reflect the fact that much of the action takes place at the historic Banff Springs Hotel. The hotel is based on a Scottish castle (Banff, get it?). Lots of castle titles came to mind. Castle of the Dammed. Not entirely appropriate, nor would the owners of the Banff Springs Hotel be pleased.

Scotland. Castles. Words flew through my head. Then: when in doubt, go to the Bard. In this case, Macbeth.

Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot. (4.1.6-9)


I thought that captured the mood of the novel, set the tone (this isn't a comedy, nor it is a cozy, although the Molly Smith books are sometimes incorrectly called that). Secrets are buried, as though under cold stone, and personalities revealed, some for the better, some not. And the hotel is made of stone, and set in the stone of the mountains.

Perfect. (I think).

The book will be released tomorrow.  It will be available at your favourite independent bookstore as well as all the chains and online. Here's a link: Amazon.com Amazon.ca (E-books will be available next week.)

Next time I might talk further about titles. I'll think about some great ones, and some that I didn't much care for.

In the meantime, what are some of your favourite novel titles?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Invidious Distinctions



Today's guest is Barbara Fass Leavy, a literary critic who retired as a full professor from the Department of English, Queens College, the City University of New York. She still retains her honorary appointment as Adjunct Professor of English in Psychiatry at the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. Leavy taught courses in crime fiction, specifically in Women and Crime Fiction and Crime Fiction and Culture (the ethnic detective). She has lectured on the elements of psychology in mystery novels to members of the Institute for the History of Psychiatry.

Where is comes to reading mysteries, I have a somewhat split personality. I have devoured crime novels since my early adolescence, enjoying a good read and a teasing puzzle. When I started teaching and writing about mysteries, however, I focused on the so-called literary mystery, which for me is a novel or body of work by a mystery writer that yields to the kind of literary analysis on which I spent my professional career. But it can also be described as crime fiction that one will reread, perhaps several times, even if one knows whodunit.

This description is not original with me. I have borrowed it from John T. Irwin’s study The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story. Irwin wants to identify the point at which detective fiction can qualify as art. He starts with the assumption that the mystery genre’s “central narrative mechanism seems to discourage the unlimited rereading associated with serious writing.” He asks what he thinks is a simple question about detective fiction, how does the writer create a “work that can be reread by people other than those with poor memories?”


As a writer and teacher of literary criticism, l welcomed Irwin’s theoretical ground for taking crime fiction as seriously as any other literature. Especially because my academic colleagues were puzzled that I, who had published four university press books, considered mysteries worthy of my efforts. I ran into a similar lack of comprehension when I tried to publish my study of Ruth Rendell’s fiction. An editor from England (Rendell’s home ground, after all) wrote to my agent that he would read the manuscript but cautioned that his press restricted literary criticism to serious writers. Fortunately for me, the publishers of Poisoned Pen Press were willing to take a chance on a revised edition of what was originally a book I self-published out of frustration.


But as a mystery reader, I worried about Irwin’s book-length answer to his own question. Despite his taking the detective story seriously, did he not ultimately join those critics of crime fiction who denigrated its status, placing most mysteries near the bottom of a literary chain of being? Wasn’t he still asking, as did Edmund Wilson, “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd” (I did)? Was he so different from Raymond Chandler who, taking on the persona of a reader of discernment, directed his satire against “old ladies” who “jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item [entitled] The Triple Petunia Murder Case or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue.” Such trivial books were, according to Chandler’s essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” being published in editions of fifty or one hundred thousand copies while serious books were moldering on resale shelves.

My mother eventually became one of those old ladies, for throughout her life she read as many as several mysteries a week, until her eyesight gave out (I couldn’t persuade her to listen to audiobooks). She was still living when in 2009,Newsweek, which devoted most of an issue to mysteries and true crime writing, headlined one article, “Death Becomes Them: When Literary Superstars Turn to Pulp.” The author resurrects Edmund Wilson’s “eye-rolling put-down of detective stories” and wonders if today, when so many mysteries demonstrate fine writing, Wilson would change his mind. He thinks not.

I won”t apologize for enjoying mysteries I probably will not read more than once. I also think it is impossible for any mystery writer to come to the genre without ideas about evil, justice, and the many reasons why people commit crimes–which is never a simple matter. It is a rare mystery that does not get me thinking about such subjects. Colin Dexter worried that his books were nothing more than the jigsaw and crossword puzzles Inspector Morse occupied himself with. But who would be intrepid enough to dismiss Dexter as a trivial writer.
I love literary criticism, as did Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford, who solved a crime after reading a study of Wordsworth. Although his wife Dora is puzzled by his tastes, he enjoys biographies of writers and critiques of their works. But I wouldn't want anyone to think that I do not with great pleasure spend much of my reading time on mysteries I do not need to subject to literary analysis.

Read more about Barbara at http://www.barbaraleavy.com/index.aspx

Friday, March 28, 2014

Could I Injure Myself If I Fall Off My Platform?

I've been thinking a lot (well, some) about my "author's platform" since attending the Virginia Festival of the Book last weekend. I was there to take part in the Saturday "Crime Wave" (panels featuring fiction and nonfiction authors), but I arrived late for one of the panels I wanted to attend and found a packed room. I drifted back across the hall and discovered a large room where something else was about to happen. It turned out to be the next "Publishing Day" session, titled, "Building an Author's Platform". I went in and sat down, and discovered the panel was made up of two publishing experts and an author, with an able moderator (Jane Friedman, Bethanne Patrick, Gigi Amateau, and Molly Schwartzburg, respectively). The format was that the panel took questions from the audience about building a platform.

Early on, someone in the audience asked, "What exactly is an author's platform? How do you define it?" The panelists agreed that an author's work is at the base of the platform. They mentioned various types of outreach (e.g., blogs, Facebook, Twitter). Of course, that left open the question of the content of that outreach. Then one of the panelist (sorry, I couldn't see who from where I was sitting) suggested that we should build our platform on the topic(s) or cause(s) about which we feel passionate. That made sense to me.

The question is what do I feel passionate about? I've been pondering that and how it relates to what I might tweet about (my efforts in that direction has been dismal), put on my Facebook author's page (where I started to do a photo essay about Albany and then lost interest), or Pinterest (same story). I could even do an occasional blog post on my own website (intended to post there occasionally when I debuted my new website). But, although the idea of building my platform on what I feel passionate about sounds promising, I'm going to have to push myself to get started.

I think I'm going to go in a different direction with the photo essay on Facebook. Instead of walking around Albany (the location of my series), taking photos of buildings and street scenes, what I'd really love to do is a photo essay inspired by urban explorers. These are the people who go exploring in boarded-up buildings and old warehouses and other dark, deserted places. I have no intention at all of going into these kinds of places. First, because I'm afraid of rats, roaches, and whatever else might be in those places. Second, because trespassing is against the law. But I am inspired by the idea of doing a photo essay of whatever catches my eye – an overflowing garbage can, the glow from a lamp post, a black cat walking down an alley, the exterior of a creepy, old building. Trying to get those kinds on shots would be fun and would be a part of my story about the Albany in my series (six years of so in the future and in a parallel universe – a bit more noir and moody than the Albany I capture by taking photos of the Empire State Plaza in bright sunlight).

I could also do more on my website about some of the issues that my characters are dealing with in the near future. I do feel passionate about climate change and surveillance. I could post and tweet about those topics. Albany history also would work. Instead of doing a full-fledged blog post, I could actually do the "Research Notes" I had planned to do. But this time with a clearer focus.

I've been looking around the web for discussions about author's platform. I found this post by Jane Friedman, one of the members of the Festival panel:

http://janefriedman.com/2012/03/13/author-platform-definition/

There seems to be general agreement on the web that having an author's platform is important. The question often posed is how to make creating and maintaining a platform as painless as possible. Some commentators observe that it is even more complicated because authors are dealing with two distinct audiences when they build their platforms: (1) other writers (published and unpublished) and readers (current and potential). These two audiences do not necessarily overlap and writing for other writers does not necessarily sell more books (but does build community). Authors are advised to give some thought to the target audiences for the various activities that they engage in. But it is really about connecting, says the experts, about finding "your people" and achieving name recognition, visibility, and trust. Going broad and trying to reach everyone who might be interested in you and your work may seem appealing, but it may not be as effective as "going deep" (finding your niche and digging in).

Lisa Scottoline (who was the wonderful guest speaker at the Crime Wave Brunch on Saturday morning) loves book clubs. She interacts with them a lot. She also invites 400-500 book club members to her home for a party each year. Most of us can't afford to go quite that far, but some platform experts note that although we often focus on the Internet when we discuss platform-building, face-to-face interactions still matter and can be an important tool in building a platform. I find that comforting because I enjoy going out to libraries and other places to speak. I connect better in person.

However, I am going to give this more focused, passion-driven approach to Internet/social media platform building a try. I'm going to try making it fun. Today, I'm going to put my camera into my coat pocket and see if anything catches my eye. It's a rainy day in Albany, much more interesting than all the sunshine we've been having for the past few days. A perfect day to get started.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

How Do We Do It?

Carolyn Hart will be in town tomorrow, along with her fellow Berkeley Press authors Earlene Fowler, Avery Aames, and Margaret Coel. Carolyn is one of my favorite people, and every time she comes to the Phoenix area, we have a great time together with our friend Judy Starbuck. We spent a lot of time bonding over food and talking about writing and the writing life (and catching up on all the delicious gossip, too, but I won't go into that.) Whenever Earlene has been here at the same time, she has occasionally joined us for lunch. In addition to being an amazing writer, Earlene is a lot of fun.

On top of getting to hang out with Carolyn (and maybe the others)tomorrow, I participated in the Tucson Festival of Books a couple of weeks ago and was able to have some quality chat time with Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, and Tim Hallinan, among others. I didn't make Left Coast Crime in Monterey California this year, but I hear it was the best ever.

Anne Canadeo, me, Jenn McKinlay at TFoB, looking cheery

It's always a boost to be around other writers. This is such a solitary life that sometimes you wonder if you're not just a voice crying in the wilderness. It's a mystery to me how a book ever gets written, to tell the truth. I've written books in the midst of personal crises that went on for months, but then found myself paralyzed when nothing in particular was going on with the rest of my life.

After a panel, with Susan Shea (yellow top) & Tim Hallinan (partially obscured), looking harried

I'm always interested in other writers' processes, because frankly don’t know how I do it. I’m not very disciplined. I suppose I’m more of a spasmodic writer. It takes a great act of will for me to get started, but once I’m on a roll, I've been known to really knock it out. I’ve had six mysteries published and a seventh on the way, now, and every one came about in its own unique fashion. It took me three years of languid writing to finish The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. Hornswoggled was finished in about six months. The Drop Edge of Yonder and The Sky Took Him were written in the most disciplined fashion and took eight months to a year apiece. Crying Blood grew like Topsy, in fits and starts over a two year period, and yet turned out well almost on its own. The Wrong Hill to Die On came about in a workmanlike manner over a year. The new book, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, actually started life as something else altogether nearly four years ago. A couple of books intervened, and when I went back to finish the Something Else Altogether book, I split the original idea down the middle and made two novels out of it.

Writing a book is sort of like having a baby, I suppose. I’m so happy to have it in my hands when it’s done that I tend to forget how painful it was to write. The first draft is always difficult for me. It’s hard to figure out how to dole out the clues in a way that makes sense, plays fair with the reader, and yet doesn’t reveal too much. Even more difficult than that is figuring out how Alafair is going to figure it out. She has to come up with the answer in a logical and believable way. Sometimes I just want to make her psychic and have done with it! Considering the current trends in popular literature, that might not be a bad idea.

I frankly don't know how any of us do it. But then some magic occurs and somehow the books get done in spite of us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The glass half full

This past week, I have to admit to feeling a bit blue and sorry for myself. You see, I was stuck here in cold and snowy Toronto while a lot my friends got to be out in sunny and beautiful Monterey taking part in one of my favourite mystery gatherings: Left Coast Crime. All those Facebook postings from them made me positively lonesome. Problem was, I couldn’t justify the cost of attending, because traveling across the continent, missing a week of work (plus two rehearsals), and then having to pay for additional transportation, food and lodging, was all just too much for my wallet. And it broke my heart. I so would have loved to be there.

For a day, I ineffectually railed at the fates for not allowing things to fall into place. Sure, if I had a ton of money in my bank account, I would have been able to tell work to do without me for a week. The really big drawback for that is my writing doesn’t provide that level of disposable funds. I can’t justify telling my family to do without because I want to gallivant out to California for a few days.

On Saturday, my mood improved somewhat, and I realized that, even though I couldn’t afford to be where I wanted to be, I still had a lot to be thankful for because I took up the writer’s life. I have made a staggering number of friends in the crime writing community, people who understand what it is to write this very specific kind of novel, struggling over all the tropes and intricate details that their plots demand, not just getting the ideas and words onto the damn pages, but then having to deal with shepherding your novel through the publishing pipeline, which is always a long and tortuous course. You really can’t talk to “regular” people in your life about something so specific. You need another writer to listen, encourage, and share hard-won thoughts and information.

Yeah, I wasn’t able to be in Monterey on this occasion, but I was able to go there once for Bouchercon. I did get to attend LCC when it was in Seattle. I had those memories. There would be other occasions. Heck! There’s one right here in Toronto in June (and over my birthday!) when we convene for Bloody Words 2014. And I’ll get to see a lot of those people I missed not being in California last week. Plus, if you’re interested in attending, the special Guest of Honour this year is Type M’s own Vicki Delany!

And if I really want a reason to feel optimistic, I have a novella and a novel coming out this year: The Boom Room (available really soon) and Roses for a Diva (out in November). Believe me, I know how incredibly lucky it makes me, having two publishers willing to take a chance on my scribblings. As always, and like every other author, I live in hope that one might become a bestseller. Then next year I can go wherever I want – although my darling wife might have something to say about that!

Now if spring would finally arrive, I would be able to feel even more positive about things.
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Late breaking news: Look what just showed up on the doorstep! Now I feel all better. Buy lots of copies, please, so that I can attend Left Coast Crime next year.

Just kidding…sort of…

And it’s snowing. Again.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Writer's Block is Good for You

I was so interested to read the posts from Hannah and Donis last week about writer's block, which really struck a chord with me.

Whenever I've finished a book I've always started straight away on the next one, even if it's just thinking out the general lines of the plot and what a writer friends calls 'the clever bit at the end'. More often than not, I'll have something germinating even while I'm polishing the previous one.  I may not make a start for a bit while I do research but the wheels will be whirring as the plot takes shape in my mind.

 Last year, when I had finished Bad Blood, I found I didn't have the next book lined up at all.  I'd had an idea, but it was refusing to get up to flying speed.

I've been writing books for a very long time; it's what I love to do and I can't imagine not doing it.  For the last few years I've been producing a book a year and it completely fills my life.  Without the new idea to work on I was lost; I felt jaded and empty.  I would wake at four in the morning, panicking.  When I forced myself to my desk and made myself write, my characters wouldn't talk to me.

Perhaps, I thought drearily, the well was simply dry.  I wasn't even sure I had the appetite for writing any more.  Pilates would be better for me than sitting at a desk and I had Clive James's translation of Dante to stop the brain cells from curling up at the edges.

When  my editor mentioned a contract for the nest book, I played for time. I said I wanted to have a holiday for three months, though the way I felt I wasn't sure that that would change anything.  She was very understanding (thank you, Susie, if you're reading this) and agreed we'd go back to it then.

The result was little short of miraculous.  I'd said to my husband that I was taking a holiday and three weeks later he said, 'Er - how do I tell?'  I was back at my desk again.  With the pressure lifted, the ideas started to flow again and now I had time to play with them and develop them.  I even wrote a short story for the new Crime Writer's Association anthology  Guilty Parties - out soon, look out for it -  and had fun with that.

By the time my three months were up I was really eager to settle down to the new book.  My characters were speaking to me again, indeed positively  chattering, and I've got ideas for not only the next book but another couple after that.  I was rested; my mind had had a chance to breathe.

As Donis pointed out, we're not machines.  Because so much of our work is carried out inside our heads and not merely when we're using the computer, we don't realise how little time off we give ourselves and then we burn out.

I've always avoided mentioning the dread words, 'writer's block' for the same reason as golfers never talk about shanking but I won't shy away from it in future.  It's like the pain you get that stops you walking on a broken leg.  Writer's block is nature's way of telling you to slow down.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Shame On You.

I'm writing about shame as a factor in characterization. Although the Lottie Albright series is a contemporary mystery series, when my protagonist rummages around in old mysteries and murders, her delving into the past causes new murders. And presenting the past is where it gets tricky.

The past must be presented accurately, that's a research challenge, but it's not the main problem. The problem is making past morality and customs seem understandable. Recently I posted on the Poison Pen Press blog about an ritual that emerged yearly in Lone Elm grade school, when all the kids made a paper chain in February that went clear around the school. We would finally troop out with our creation which had been achieved by cutting the ruled strips on Big Chief tablets and pasting them into circles.

Every year one a certain boy always stood outside and would run in from afar and bust this chain. A mighty howl of collective anguish arose.

Nowadays he would be diagnosed as having aggressive tendencies, sent for a psyche evaluation and probably prescribed a medication. Hard telling what would happen to any teacher who went along with the useless activity of making a paper chain.

In fact, for  the most part, children were free to roam, and indulge in activities that would be considered dangerous in this century. For instance, in small towns, kids could ride their bikes all day long, and swim unsupervised in old ponds.

Developing motivation is a critical part of characterization. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries shame played an enormous part in shaping people's actions.

For a good part of the 20th century there were no welfare and social networks provided for people who had fallen into hard times. It's very difficult to convey to contemporary readers the shame a man felt when he couldn't provide for his family. During the Great Depression that meant kids went hungry. The Poor Farm was a literal  place. It was where people went as a last resort.

Sheriff's sale bills for unpaid taxes list every fence post, every pot and pan, every single dish towel, doilies,  and even hair combs. Unwed mothers were shunned, and women too lazy (or sick) to get their washing on the line Monday morning were gossiped about. And heaven forbid that they would be so slothful as to leave it out over night.

Judgment was swift and savage. Unless a true misfortune had befallen, such as an disabling accident, or an act of God, the chain went something like this: poverty was surely your own fault because if you worked hard enough, and was thrifty, honest and trustworthy, and managed your time and assets well,  you wouldn't be poor.

The deep shame came from screwing up and not honoring these virtues. Slothfulness was one of the most flagrant sins of all.

I wouldn't have fared very well in years gone by.

In my next post I will give some tips for working with nostalgia.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Continuity

John here.

I live and work at a New England boarding school. Hockey season is over, the hiring season is coming to an end, the 50-odd girls who live in the dorm to which my house is attached have gone home, and I’m on a two-week vacation.

I’m using March break to check for continuity in my current project.

Saying I’m “check[ing] for continuity” sounds better than admitting that I’m re-reading the first 50,000 words of my current project to make sure that if the book begins in June on page one that I don’t have spitting snow on page 200.

Yup, I actually caught that one once.

I’m working on what is currently called Fallen Sparrow (I’m a Hamlet junkie), the 2015 Peyton Cote novel. I’m 50,000 words into it, but I started in August. I read somewhere (On Writing?) where Stephen King says you should never spend more than three months writing a novel. Well, it takes me nine months to a year, usually. I try to write every day, but I miss a day or two a week.

A novel is the equivalent to a spider’s web: there are multiple threads all inter-weaved and subtly connected. Because of that, by the time I get halfway through writing a book, my primary focus is on the novel’s arc. I’m constantly going back, rereading chapters, reviewing sections, rereading dialogue to make sure character X speaks with the same dialect throughout the book.

In short, when I get well into the novel, I’m making sure the logic behind the novel holds up. (I wrote about character motivations a couple weeks ago.)

Therefore, admittedly, I lose sight of some other issues: The waitress who had blue eyes on page 10 might have green eyes on page 310. So now I’m starting at the beginning, using text-to-speech to listen to – and revise – the novel.

It’s not a fast process, and it’s rarely enjoyable. But it’s certainly necessary.

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Looking for something to read that perhaps you have missed? Recently, I stumbled upon this list: “The 10 Best Mystery Books” by Thomas H Cook in Publisher’s Weekly. Some titles are classics; some (perhaps embarrassingly) I haven’t heard of (too much time spent rereading Hamlet?). Thought I’d share the list with you this week.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Something to tickle your funny bone

I’ve got just a ton on my plate today. On the writing front, I’m currently looking over the proofs to Roses for a Diva (and fortunately not finding much) and also planning the launch of The Boom Room (more on that very soon). And then there’s a large number of graphic design commissions to get out to the door. Frank(ie)ly, I’m swamped!

But fear not! I have two great comics to share with you. Both are topical for Type M and both made me laugh out loud (I don’t LOL). I think you’ll enjoy them.

If I come up with a little time later in the day (or flame out on the other work), I’ll update this with what I actually wanted to post today. If not then, you’ll have to wait until next week, sorry to say.


The Poetry Corner



Chicken Line-up



(Special thanks to Randall Munroe (http://xked.com) for allowing me the posting of his “Dickinson” strip.)


Monday, March 17, 2014

Making a Life

By Vicki Delany

Dateline: Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

As my friend and fellow writer Jeffrey Siger has said, writing is a lousy way to make a living but a great way to make a life.

Case in point, I am sitting on the veranda of a luxurious home in Port-Au-Prince as I write this. My house sitter reports that back home in Ontario, we had a ton more snow and more deep cold.

Last week I was in Florida for the Lake County Book Fest with Canadian authors C.B. Forrest and R.J. Harlick.

We were hosted by the Lake County Library system and the wonderful Judy Buckland. Judy and her team put on a week of fabulous author events, including readings, talks, and workshops, ending in a lovely reception at which we got to meet members of the community.

I have said many times that the thing I value most in the writing life is the friends I've made, and as well as our various events, Robin, Chris and I had a great time exploring Central Florida. And we made new friends – WIN/WIN!

Then, we parted ways and I came on to Haiti to visit a friend. This is my first visit here, and I will have more to report later.

The thing that really surprised me was how hilly it is! I mean I knew Haiti was mountainous, but I didn't realize that the city of Port-Au-Prince is built right into the mountainside. We set off yesterday from my friends house to explore. We left her house close to sea level at 33 degrees C and travelled to 1500 feet and 19 degrees. We stopped in to say hi to friends at the 1500 feet mark, and they have a wood burning fireplace in their house! And, we didn't even continue to the top.

If you've ever been to third world countries, you know what the driving can be like. Now imagine doing it vertically.

While I am here, I will be speaking to a book club, giving a workshop to a high-school, and doing tons of research for the next Sergeant Ray Robertson book from Orca Rapid Reads (to follow Juba Good, out April 1st). Oh, yes, and swimming and lying in the sun.

It's a heck of a way to make a life.

Sorry there are no pictures. I cannot make my iPad add pictures to the blog post. I'll keep trying!




Saturday, March 15, 2014

All the Free Time in the World Doesn’t Make it Easier to Finish Writing a Book – Guest Blogger Gigi Pandian

GIGI PANDIAN is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series. She is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India, and grew up being dragged around the world on their research trips. Her debut mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” Debut Novel by Suspense Magazine. The follow-up is Pirate Vishnu, which came out last month. Gigi’s locked-room mystery short story “The Hindi Houdini” is currently an Agatha Award nominee for Best Short Story. Learn more about Gigi and her mysteries at http://gigipandian.com/.
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A few months ago, I took a three-month sabbatical from my day job to finish writing a novel due at the end of January. I was convinced that the extra free time would give me an abundance of time to turn the book into what I knew it could be. Instead, I learned an important lesson: eight hours of time does not equal eight hours of creative productivity!

I have a full-time job, and my normal schedule gives me two weekday mornings a week to write. The fact that I have to be at the office by 12:30 gives me a real deadline. I know I have to be on a train by noon, so I have no excuses – I have to get up and get writing.

But during my sabbatical, when each day was completely flexible, I didn’t have the same fire getting me going each day. It was no longer a special treat that I got to write for a few hours. Writing itself was my full-time job for those three months.

Since I’ve always had a day job while writing, it had never before occurred to me that creative energy is limited. I discovered I can write as much in three hours as I can in eight — even when I’m at a computer the whole day. I’m glad I learned that lesson about myself before taking the plunge to be a full-time writer.

While working on my novel from home during the sabbatical, I would find there was laundry to do, errands to run, or a few emails to answer—and suddenly the day was gone. However, I did find a few tricks I used successfully:
  • Getting out of the house to write at a coffee house where university students and freelancers congregate. It’s much harder to get up and do the dishes “for just a few minutes” when you’re several blocks from home.
  • Turning off the internet for two-hour chunks of time. Easier said than done, but well worth the willpower.
  • Setting quantifiable daily goals to accomplish before doing something fun like meeting a friend for lunch.

I’m now back to my normal routine and having a blast working on my next book, including plotting it on the commuter train I take to work.

And yes—I turned in my sabbatical book two days shy of my deadline!

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Gluten-Free Brain?

I'm in Indianapolis, attending the Public Library Association  (PLA) Conference. Or, rather, tomorrow I will attend and spend some time in the Sisters in Crime booth and participate in a panel of SinC board members and librarians discussing mystery/detective fiction and how readers discover it. I'll tell you more about that next time, after it has happened.

Right now, I'm sitting at the desk in my hotel room, and I've somehow ended up tuned in to a PBS fundraiser. A doctor, a neurologist named David Perlmutter, whose book package is available to donors, is explaining to an audience why eating right for the brain is crucial to the health of the entire body. He is opposed to gluten and in favor of healthy fats. Since I had grilled salmon and a "superfoods salad" for dinner – the hotel room service – I am feeling virtuous. But I am still concerned about my brain that is sometimes forced to function on meals such as the mac and cheese with bacon, popcorn, and three cherry lollipops that I had for dinner a couple of evenings ago. I fear that the salad loaded with veggies that I have for lunch most days has to work really hard to make up for dinners like that.

Although I don't know if the doctor is right that our brains function better if we eliminate gluten, I do think – in keeping with our theme this week – that I should be treating my brain better. How would I go on writing if my brain stopped functioning? I know from experience that on those days when I don't get enough sleep or when I've gone for days without exercise, my brain is sluggish. Too much sugar, and I'm like a irritable toddler, ready to have a temper tantrum. If my brain is my tool, then I should be trying harder to keep it sharp.

There is actually an index ranking states for "good brain health". Maryland is number one among the best brain health states. Mississippi is number one among the worst brain health states.

http://time.com/20458/top-ten-brain-healthy-states/

For those of us who have been less than efficient when it comes to nourishing our brain, BBC offered a list of 10 foods that will help:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/10-foods-boost-your-brainpower

More of us might be happy to "binge on blueberries" than "bet on broccoli". And, of course, that's the problem. Chocolate, yes, happy to do that for my brain. Water? Yes, I know my brain doesn't function well when I'm dehydrated, but do I really have to drink water – well, maybe with lemon or lime to spice it up.

Since our brains are technically in control, they should be able to direct us to what we should be doing to nourish them. A brain buzzer should have gone off when I reached for that third lollipop. Instead, I ate it and got a sugar rush and felt lousy, and I didn't get any more work done the rest of the evening. If I could remember what happened and apply it next time…if I could convince myself that the process of getting a book done would be easier if I were feeding my brain properly.

This is my brain on broccoli. Healthy brain. Much more productive writer?

I think – since we're about to begin our weeklong spring break – that I'll give it a try. I'll let you know how eating to make my brain happy works out.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends

I had to laugh when I read Hannah's entry, below. Not because she was writing about a funny situation. Far from it. Anyone who has ever written a book understands the paralyzing fear and loathing she describes. No, I had to laugh because of the serindipitousness* of it all. My plan for today is to bemoan the fact that I'm about to get myself back into the same situation.


This coming weekend, March 15 and 16, is the Tucson Festival of Books, held annually on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. TFoB is a giant gathering of nearly 400 authors of all ilks, all participating in panels, talks, signings, presentations, and workshops. Nearly 120,000 people normally attend over the two day period. That's pretty good, considering that the population of Tucson is around 585,000. The festival draws readers and writers from all over the desert Southwest, and has almost reached the size of the Los Angeles Festival, which boasted 150,000 attendees last year.

I'll be moderating a couple of panels, book signing at four signing venues, and participating as a panelist on a third panel. Participating on a panel is a little nerve-wracking if you don't care for speaking in front of crowds. I don't mind public speaking, but one does feel a some pressure to be entertaining. It takes a lot of preparation to be spontaneously witty and profound. The real work comes with being a panel moderator. Now, that does take a lot of prep. The moderator's job is to make the panelists look good. I've moderated many a panel in my time, and sometimes the authors are real pros who make it easy and sometimes you get a bunch of stiffs and you work your hindquarters off trying to keep the audience from either walking out or sliding out of their chairs in a coma, overcome by boredom.


I don't think I'll have that problem this time. My panelists are: 1) Rhys Bowen, Jeri Westerson, Jacqueline Winspear; and 2) Susan Shea, Tim Hallinan, Michael Gruber. My guess is all I'll have to do is open the gate and the thoroughbreds will be off and running. Just in case, though, I've been reading as many of their books as I can get under my belt before the day, studying their websites and reading blogs and articles, and preparing questions.

TFoB is the first event I'm participating in since I had surgery in January, and it marks the beginning of a very full slate for me all spring and summer--and probably fall as well.

I don't know how I feel about that. The surgery I underwent was not life-threatening, but it was an "open 'er up, dig around in there a while and take out some funny stuff" sort of thing, which did entail quite a bit of recovery time. Afterwards, for the first time in a few years, I had no commitments to prepare for. I've nothing from early January though the middle of this month except lie around, think, read, write, eat. At first I wasn't able to do much. Not even housework, darn it. By now I'm fairly well recovered, but something has happened to my brain.

I cannot say how wonderful it is to have nothing you HAVE to do. And because I was incapacitated, I didn't even have to feel guilty about it. Once I could sit up for any length of time, I found that I was able to write with an ease that I hadn't felt for a long time.

The feeling took me back to the happiest four years of my life, 2000 to 2004, after I decided to sell out my business and stay home to write a book. Before my mother got sick, before my husband got sick, before I got sick. Before I got published and started all the promotional work that goes with it. I did nothing but write. My house was clean, I was able to cook and garden, I wasn't worried about the needs of children or family.

Success is wonderful. I'd love to have more of it. I know what needs to be done, and I do as much of it as I can afford. Still, I sometimes think longingly of the Italian philosophy of dolce far niente. "The sweetness of doing nothing."

As Hannah so chillingly illustrated, we are not built to be in perpetual motion lest we suffer an inevitable breakdown.
_________________

*I don't care if that's really a word or not. I like it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Paralyzed by Writer's Block

I have just emerged from the most terrifying three weeks of my writing career.

Writers block.

Not the regular kind where you can use tricks to jump-start a scene, but the kind that is utterly paralyzing.

With just days left to turn in my manuscript (and that’s already with an extension) – I just ground to a stop. I couldn’t move onto another part of the book that needed work either. This draft was the polished draft—the one I must turn in that has to be the best it can be. This was the draft that had to reassure my publisher I would deliver what I’d promised to deliver.

I stared at sentences and paragraphs in dismay. My mind was completely blank. The more I worried, the emptier my head became and the less sleep I got. As my mother would say, “I got myself into a bit of a fizz.”

I put it down to my grueling work schedule with my “day job situation” – namely a weekly commute from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles but I’d been managing that for months. Quite well, I thought.

It was my husband who said, “You’re exhausted. Take a weekend off.” To which I said, “Are you mad? I can’t take a weekend off.” But in the end, I did. When I wasn’t snuggled under an electric blanket, I was sitting in front of the television eating chocolate.

I watched all three seasons of the UK version of The House of Cards (Ian Richardson is amazing). I did not look at my manuscript once. My husband also talked me into taking yoga classes in the hope that I could empty my head of murder, plot lines, characters and what happens if no one likes my new series.

It’s all about finding a balance. I know that. But who has time to find one?

We writers run the risk of leading very sedentary lifestyles—especially those of us who have the nine-hour day at the office and the logjam commute as well. I recently downloaded this program called RescueTime. It was very handy in that it logged what hours I actually spent on my computer every day including each software program. Rescue Time follows up with a summary at the end of every week. My highest ever computer week clocked 64 hours working in Microsoft Word—that’s solid writing and nothing to do with my day job. It was a sobering discovery.

It’s vital that we make time for sleep and exercise. I know I’m not the first person to say that great ideas often come when we’re doing just that—ironing or being in the shower.  Even if you step away from your computer for just fifteen minutes or get outside in the fresh air, that counts for something. But when I’m caught up in a deadline, I enter a sort of “manic” phase where nothing else exists except finishing my book. Maybe that’s what has to happen? I don’t know.

Robert di Niro summed up what it meant to be a writer at this year’s Academy Awards. “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

I think that says it all really.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You can’t go back – or can you?

The familiar
I’m currently sitting in a the kitchen of a rustic dwelling belonging to a very good friend. We’ve been here many times over the years. I’ve even written about the property, using it as the farm my protagonist owned in The Fallen One. Over the past year things have changed with the property, though, and what was once very familiar is now irrevocably changed.

Allow me to elaborate. This is a lovely 1830s log home in eastern Ontario. Our very dear friends own it and very generously shared it with us for a week or two at a time for many years now since they only used it as a vacation home. It’s small, rustic, and wouldn’t be a lot of people’s cup of tea for a holiday, but we love it since it’s quiet, nature is all around us, and its accoutrements were somewhat limited: no TV, no cell phone coverage and only a dial-up internet connection (if you really had to).

When our children were young, they loved this place. It has a big old barn that is a tremendous playhouse, and the owners dug a small lake (or a big pond) where a stream ran across their property, so summer afternoons were filled with shouts of happiness as the jumped off the dock, chased frogs and learned how to canoe. At least, the swam until a swarm of leeches also made their home in the water.

This past year, our friends decided to make this property their permanent retirement home – and building started. The place is  now basicallytwo homes grafted together by a breezeway, the very old with the very new.

As we were driving out from Toronto yesterday, the discussion in the car was about what we could expect. How would it all feel? Obviously, something would be lost, but what would be gained?

The unfamiliar
Well, the new part of the house is where people now tend to congregate. It’s warm and inviting. The old kitchen is now more of a secondary living room, and that’s very different. I spent many hours at the kitchen table, pecking away on the computer. Over the years, I’ll bet I’ve written parts of what would make up at least two of my novels when totalled up. It was also my preferred place to edit, away from the phone, the internet and people dropping in. If an edit needed to be done, we’d get on the phone to inquire if the old farmhouse was available. Within a day or two, the outside world would drop away and I could concentrate fully on the job at hand with very few distractions not of my own making. For a change of view, I could go out on the screened porch and continue working, the numerous birds much more obvious. To be quite honest, I can’t think of a better, more conducive place to create.

We’re only visiting for a little over 48 hours this time, but I do want to finish off a book proposal, a pretty modest goal. This morning I got up pretty early (shortly after six) and sat down to work. Since I’ve pretty well got the chapter-by-chapter synopsis either written out (in a totally incomprehensible form) or doped out in my head, it’s just a matter of putting in the time to put it all together. Since both my wife and our friend are late risers, I had three hours to work quietly. I naturally chose the old part of the house.

The magic is still there, and I’m now pretty well finished, just two chapters to get together. Yes, it did feel different – but also familiar. Things had changed. Life had moved on. The view out the kitchen window had changed with the new breezeway now blocking the view out to the barn, but I can live with that. The all-important inside of the place was still pretty much intact. Having morning coffee in the new part, I was struck how it felt unconnected from what was in my memory, though it was barely forty feet away. They could have been mile apart.

So I won’t say you can’t go back. What you can do is “sort of” go back – and that’s a good thing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Literary Crime Novel

I have just finished reading William McIlvanney's recently reissued novel, Laidlaw. His books aren't nearly as well known as they ought to be since he was, as Ian Rankin said recently, the father of  Tartan Noir, the Scottish crime tradition that has produced not only Rankin but Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride and a dozen others.

I had read Laidlaw a long time ago, before there was a collective term for Scottish crime writers, but in re-reading it I realized that it doesn't fit neatly into any of the sub-divisions of the genre. Yes, it's hard-boiled – it's about the sordid underworld of Glasgow in the 1970s; yes, it's a police procedural  – Jack Laidlaw is a Detective Inspector; yes, it's noir - the main character is a hard man, a flawed individual, a maverick, an adulterer.

But it's different from all of these.  It's not a whodunit either – we know the weak and terrified rapist right from the start. You don't read it being drawn along by cleverly organized 'hooks' at the end of every chapter.

Yet you are compelled and fascinated by the glittering brilliance of the writing, the wise insights and the elegant wit, and the sheer humanity of Jack Laidlaw, a policeman who sees crime as just another facet of normal existence, its perpetrators not as monsters but as human beings to be understood even as he brings them to justice.

There is often a debate about whether a book dealing with the subject of crime can ever be a literary novel; for me, this is one of the best arguments in favor. It's not really genre fiction: it's a literary novel about the human condition in a violent, bigoted and corrupt society.

And it suffered the fate of so many novels of that calibre. The books went out of print and Willie McIlvanney – a man of enormous charm, warmth and wit – was all but forgotten on the literary scene.

There is, however, a happy ending. He was a guest of honor two years ago at the first Bloody Scotland, the Scottish crime festival - do come, it's well worth the journey! – and the tributes paid by the Tartan Noir writers resulted in the reissue of his books, talks about another one and now the prospect of a TV series. Class will out.

I'm working on my own next book.  Reading Laidlaw made me think very carefully indeed about what I want it to be.  I don't dare to aspire to Willie's heights, but it has made me more aware of the need to be vigilant against glib and shallow writing as I go against the clock for my word count.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Browser Problem

I'm saving my "real" post for next time. I'm having a browser conflict with the network provided by the hotel. Michele and Mary Beth (daughters) and I are visiting my granddaughter who is a freshman at Northern Arizona.

More about this beautiful sparkling campus later.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Plot Thoughts

John here.

I’m 45,000 words into my 2015 novel, so I’ve reached the hard part. This is where I need to be thinking about an exit strategy. That’s putting it politely.

In other words: How the hell am I ever going to end this book?

My “outline” for this novel consists of six pages of character sketches and motivations. That pales in comparison to what many authors produce before they write. Jeffery Deaver says he outlines for eight months in order to write a novel in three. Twist Phalen once told me she writes a 100-page outline for a 300-page book.

Plot remains the hardest thing about writing for me. It’s what keeps me up at night. If I’m being totally honest, my fears are probably the result of a long-held dyslexic hangover. If you grew up dyslexic in the 1980s, you developed a serious aversion to being thought stupid. The term “learning differences” hadn’t yet been coined. But “slow” sure as hell had been. And I’ve been trying to avoid that term ever since.

Maybe it’s why I spend so much time worrying about the logic behind my plots. Which brings me back to character motivation. Raymond Chandler, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” wrote, “Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds.” But Chandler also said something to the effect of, When the book slows down, have someone enter the room with a gun.

And this is 2014, and readers demand a lot from the crime-fiction genre. I’m one of those readers. I want books that keep me on the edge of my seat like a Dan Brown novel but also give me a character I can grow with, a la S.J. Rozan.

Am I asking too much?

But consider this from James Hall, a best-selling mystery author and a professor of creative writing at Florida International University: “Writing a novel of suspense, I've discovered, is a far greater challenge than writing a mainstream, ‘respectable’ novel, in which nothing much needs to happen for a lot of pages. I think this genre has attracted some of the best novelists of our era, mainly because it’s a form that demands great discipline and forces good writers to stretch themselves in all sorts of ways” (January Magazine; March 2005).

Our genre is more literary than at any other time in its history. That’s a lot to live up to. It also pushes me to write the best books I can.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Then and Now

Barbara here. As usual, Rick's post of yesterday got me thinking. Like him, I take my research seriously. I write a gritty, realistic, psychological detective series set in the very real city of Ottawa. Much as I sometimes wish I could just make it all up, I find myself drawn to the bumps, scars, and twists of the real world we live in. Not a made-up town where I can draw the map to my own liking, not the elastic boundaries of magical realism or the carte blanche of a completely alien universe. I have to make sure every street corner is correct and every police procedure is, if not accurate, at least plausible. On TV, the detectives can traipse all over the crime scene with their long blonde hair trailing, but not in my books. I don't want police officers hurling the book against the wall. I want readers to believe the world I create, to be drawn into the lives of my characters and feel like they're walking in their shoes.

It's nineteen years since I had my first publication, and today, as I was researching my latest book, I reflected on how much my approach to writing has changed. First of all the mechanics of writing itself. I used to write all my fiction long-hand. Computers were work; they encouraged stilted, technical prose but not the intimate, free-associative flow of fiction. I wrote the first drafts of all my novels entirely in long-hand, and then transcribed them. But then hybrid writing crept it. Blogs, speeches, and essays, which were neither stilted professional writing nor free-wheeling fiction. I found it increasingly easy to write this style directly on the computer, as I am doing with this blog. Then I began my Rapid Reads literacy series of novellas. These involved a straight-forward linear plot with spare, simple language. With some practice I found I could write these on the computer too. In fact the computer made it easy to delete those literary flourishes and fancy adjectives that crept in from my regular style.

I have not yet written a complex, multi-layered, full-length novel directly onto the computer. I quail at the thought. My muse is most friendly when I am curled up in a comfortable chair with a pen in my hand and paper on my knee. I have been writing this way for decades, and the habits of thought and heart are deeply set. But I fear I am losing the facility of writing long-hand. I do it so rarely that it now takes thought and effort. That unconscious natural flow from thought and pen tip no longer exists. What if I have lost the fluid creativity of long-hand but not yet acquired it on the keyboard? This summer will tell the tale, when I graduate from my Rapid Reads novella to my next full-length novel.

Research is the other major area of change in my writing process. Twenty years ago, with the internet in its infancy, my first source was books. Remember the old index-card catalogues in the library? I frequented the public library and also both the university libraries, and would often walk out with a stack of eight books on the subject I wanted. My second source was people. I became adept at tracking down experts on the phone and making cold calls to everyone from locksmiths to coroners. If I had a lot of questions, I arranged for an interview. My third source was a personal visit to check out a place. I walked around, taking notes and photographs in order to get the feel, sights and sounds of the place,

Nowadays, I still use the libraries, but mainly for big-picture background. I currently have on my coffee table seven books on the north, which I will be reading or at least skimming to learn about the wilderness, history, ecology, etc. I will add more as I need them. I read at least ten books in researching The Whisper of Legends. I still use the phone to talk to experts, although I increasingly email them with questions. I still make a personal visit to the places in the books. But the internet has been a life-saver in providing answers. Google maps, satellite view, and street view give you details of cities. Websites of businesses and organizations provide invaluable information on everything from police procedure to dog handling. Online encyclopedias make information accessible any place, any time. Do you need to know the weight of a black bear? A five-second search on Google. The right type of rifle for shooting a man? Hunting and gun manufacturers' websites are a click away.

Today, if you want to be accurate, there is not excuse for sloppy research. An incredible world of knowledge is accessible from your living room. Writers (incuding me) used to type their novels on manual typewriters, with each change of phrase or word requiring messy liquid white-out. How much easier it is today, to research, write and polish to perfection! I sometimes wonder, if things were now as they were then, how many of us would have persevered?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Sweating the small stuff

We authors can be an anal lot. We have to be – especially in these days of social media and instant commentary. (Incidentally, you also have to develop a very thick skin.)

I’m using “author” here, as opposed to “writer”, since I firmly believe they are two very different jobs. In my edited down definition, a writer is someone who puts words together to make a cohesive story which will eventually become a book, while an author is someone trying to sell that book. Speaking for most of us I’m sure, it’s a lot more fun to be a writer. Being an author is far too much work – often for too little reward and not much fun.

When I’m thinking as an author, I’m keeping my eye on the business aspects of my craft. Things need be paid attention to, unfun things like doing the best job you can to self-promote your books and yourself. This involves planning book signings and other appearances, going to conferences, doing all those social media things, and generally trying to get your name out into the public eye. It’s nice when other people help (like your publisher’s promotional department), but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s this: you really can’t count on anyone but yourself.

Self-promotion is easier now than it used to be, though. Type M is one example. Make no mistake: we’re all here to promote ourselves and our books. That’s the real bottom line. If we can entertain and provoke visitors with our weekly scribblings, that’s all to the plus – but what we really want is for you to buy our books.

Like every other author on the planet, I keep tabs on the reviews of my novels that are online. Everyone can now be a critic or cheerleader by posting reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, 49thshelf.com (if you’re Canadian), etc. These reviews/assessments can be very blunt and very cruel, and what’s posted online can come back to bite you. I read them for other people’s books and I pay attention, making my decision based on what criticisms I’m seeing. Sure, there are trolls out there who just delight – in a decidedly sociopathic way – ripping apart any book they read. But there are also thoughtful readers who just flat out didn’t like your book, or some aspect of it. Their criticism is harder to take – especially if you’re forced to acknowledge that they’re right. No one wants to open themselves up to unnecessary criticism, though, and that’s where sweating the small stuff begins.

I remember seeing a review of a novel that had a musical theme to the plot. Obviously, those sorts of stories appeal to me. Two reviews – one on Amazon and one on Goodreads – had the same bone to pick, basically this: “It’s obvious that the author is neither a musician nor consulted one in the writing of this book.” Ouch! If I’d seen that sort of statement once, I might have still taken a chance on purchasing the novel, but when I saw it twice, and by what appeared to be different readers, I certainly took notice. The result? I didn’t buy the book.

I didn’t go further and find out if the author was or wasn’t a musician. It wasn’t clear from the profile on Amazon whether she was one. Being one myself, I get extremely bugged when it’s obvious the person has little idea of what they’re describing or using as a plot device. I’m sure lawyers, cops, accountants, really anybody would feel when reading a book filled with holes because the author didn’t take the time to do enough research – or to solicit needed help from experts.

Fortunately, this was top of mind when I spent last week looking over, commenting on and fiddling with the edited version of my November release, Roses for a Diva. I had consulted widely with my opera experts (singers with global careers), an expert on surveillance devices, and others who provided oversight to what I was putting down on paper, but also giving me those little detail nuggets that lend a plot real verismo (to borrow an appropriate post-Romantic operatic word).

All was going along pretty smoothly with my editor catching various faux pas that I’d made (errors, bad/missing words, dodgy punctuation). Then I got to a note late in the book: “This can’t happen. My significant other works there, and they guard the equipment very carefully. There’s no borrowing…”

You get the drift. What happened is that I assumed something instead of finding out for sure if what I was writing was indeed true. I should know better. (One of my life mottos is: “Never assume anything except an occasional air of intelligence”.)

Granted, it was a very small point to sweat over. One sentence in a 300+ page novel, but anyone who has worked at an Apple Store would know what I happened in my novel is completely erroneous. It was damned lucky for me that my editor had personal knowledge. The editor in the next cubicle would have undoubtedly let my erroneous sentence stand, I’m sure, assuming themselves that I’d done my research homework.

How many Apple Store employees are going to read Roses? Well, possibly one (the significant other), but the point is, when you blow a point like this, you’ve lost those readers who have the real knowledge, or at least made them highly suspicious of everything you’ve written. You’re also leaving yourself open to the kind of review statement I mentioned earlier. And that has the potential to cost you a lot of readers.

Now I like research. Who wouldn’t if you get to travel to places like Venice in order to write about it with some authority? But you also have to be aware of those smaller details. Those are the ones that will jump up and bite you in the butt when you’re not looking. You cannot let your guard down – ever. To write a successful crime fiction novel, you have to be just as authoritative as someone penning crime non-fiction.

And that’s something for which both sides of your wordsmith split personality will thank you for: the writer side for sticking to best craftsmanship practices, and the author side for not having to deal with embarrassing errors and potential lost sales.

I just pray we caught everything in Roses for a Diva

Monday, March 03, 2014

She's back!

I’m baaaack.

By Vicki Delany

Those of you who are watching a certain British TV show featuring a certain hugely popular detective updated to the 21st century, will know that the new season ends with a character saying “Did you miss me?

I am not hugely popular, nor am I a villain (I hope) but I’m baaaack.

Did you miss me?

Yup, I am back at Type M in the regular every second Monday slot.  Way back in the early days when people said, “What’s a blog,” I was advised by my good friend, and sadly the late, Lyn Hamilton to start a blog.

So, because I did everything Lyn told me to, I did. I asked Rick Blechta and Charles Benoit to be my blog mates. Charles came up with the incredibly clever name – TYPE M FOR MURDER.  Over the years authors have come and gone, including me, until only Rick, that stalwart, remained out of the originals.

Since then I’ve been part of a couple of other blogs, notably Fatal Foodies and 7 Criminal Minds, but when Type M beckoned, I knew I wanted to come back.

What have I been doing in the past three years, you ask?

Thank you for asking.

I’ve been writing. A lot. The seventh Constable Molly Smith book, Under Cold Stone, will be published on April 1st.  My second book for Orca’s Rapid Reads, Juba Good, will be released on the same day.  In December the fourth Klondike mystery was published, Gold Web. Last year, I wrote a standalone Gothic thriller, More than Sorrow, for Poisoned Pen Press.

And, I’ve gone over to the light side. Yes, I am now a cozy writer. And I’m loving it! It’s given me an infusion of new energy and rekindled my love of writing.  I have a three book contract with Penguin Obsidian to write the Lighthouse Library series. Set in a library, in a lighthouse, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The first book in the series, By Book or By Crook, will be out in Feb. 2015.  Seems like a long time to wait.  I am writing this series under a pen name, so be sure and look out for Eva Gates.

The highlight of my year is sure to be my gig as Canadian Guest of Honour at Bloody Words in Toronto, June 6 – 8. The International Guest of Honour is Michael Jecks, author of medieval-set mysteries, and I’m really looking forward to meeting him. Bloody Words is my favourite conference. Small enough to be intimate so you can meet your favourite authors, and big enough to have a full roster of panels, presentations and discussions.  For information and to register: http://2014.bloodywords.com/

It does feel nice to be back!