Thursday, April 30, 2015

All Hail the Whale and Review Musings

This week, I'm offering some brief (and random) thoughts.

As a crime-fiction writer, I spend a lot of time worrying about word counts. Should my mystery be 70,000 words? Is that too short? Is 100,000 words too long?

As a reader, I like longish books. I'm dragging around Stephen King's 11/22/63 right now (800+ pages), and I love Moby Dick (all hail the whale!), which weighs more than my six-year-old. I'm a slow reader, so both are major commitments.

But they're commitments I enjoy making. These two books and Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment are big books that will entertain you (and probably teach you something as well). If you're looking for a summer read, you can't go wrong with any of the four.

Second, in something of an epilogue to my post "First-World Problems," in which I mention the Kirkus review for my June novel – a review that gave me about 15 minutes of heartburn – I must share an excerpt received Monday from the second advanced review to roll in: “This edgy and emotional thrill ride will captivate readers.”—RT Book Reviews (4 stars).

The RT review is positive from start to finish and makes me wonder if the two reviewers even read the same book. These two contradictory reviews for the same book lead to many questions: Did one reviewer skim?

For me as author, will 50% of my readers miss the mark? (If so, that's clearly on me.) And what to make of reviews in general? How much do they mean and to whom? Who writes them? How much time is put into them? And so on. And so on.

I'd love to get readers' thoughts on those questions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Off to Malice


It was a good experience. Met some nice people, sold a few books, and generally had a good time. Even though I had a book due less than a week after the festival, I decided to push that to the back of my mind while I was there and be “present” for the experience.

I’ve since turned in Paint the Town Dead and am heading to Bethesda, MD, for Malice Domestic. Not looking forward to the 3 hour time change or plane trip, but I am looking forward to the convention. I’ll be on a panel with fellow Type M’er Vicki Delany as well as participating in the New Author Breakfast. I’m glad I attended the conference last year to get the lay of the land, so to speak. I have to admit I found it a bit overwhelming. Everyone was very nice, just so many people! The other conferences I’d attended up until then had been fairly small.

In June, I’ll be attending the California Crime Writers Conference presented by Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. This one is very familiar to me since I co-chaired the conference back in 2011. This time around I’ll be on a panel for the first time and have contributed a basket to auction off.


It’s all kind of surrealistic, but is slowly becoming the new normal for me as a published author.

Well, I must get packing. Now, where did I put those socks...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Computer translation to the rescue!

by Rick Blechta

For today’s post, we’re going to have fun, courtesy of Vicki. She found or was sent a link to a reprint of the Arthur Ellis Awards shortlist announcement made last Thursday.

That’s a good thing, right? The word is being spread around the world. The shortlisted books will garner increased sales due to their notoriety. Everyone, publishers and authors will win.

Except there’s a catch with this particular version of the Arthur shortlist.

We believe what you’re about to see was translated into another language and then translated back into English by one of those online, automated translation sites. The results are often unintentionally hilarious.

Vicki alerted me to what was done to the novella category in which we’re both nominated (an honour to be nominated, especially alongside my old pal, Vicki). And congrats to Barbara, as well!

First here’s the original announcement:

Best Novella
Rick Blechta, The Boom Room, Orca Book Publishers
Vicki Delany, Juba Good, Orca Book Publishers
Ian Hamilton, The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, House of Anansi
Jas. R. Petrin, A Knock on the Door, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine

and now the translated site’s version:

Greatest Novella
Rick Blechta, The Improve Room, Orca E book Publishers
Vicki Delany, Juba Simply Proper, Orca E-book Publishers
Ian Hamilton, The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, Area of Anansi
Jas. R. Petrin, A Knock on the Door, Alfred Hitchcock’s Thriller Magazine

I love The Improve Room and Juba Simply Proper. What great titles. Vicki and I should have used them. From now on I’m going to use the services of Google Translator, run my titles through several languages and then back to English. I’m sure it will make my publications far more memorable.

You’ll also notice that our category went from “Best Novella” to “Greatest Novella”. That’s a huge improvement. However it’s not as good as the change in the category in which Barbara is nominated. “Best Novel” changed to “Absolute Greatest Novel”. That means if she wins, she will have written the most important crime novel ever. Holy Mackinaw! What an honour!!

Here are the links to both lists (the official one and the one we’re talking about). There are several more translational gems:
Not to leave out the rest of the Type M crowd, here are examples of everyone’s book titles (from the left-hand column of this page) run through Google Translator. I think we’ll try English to Spanish to German to English:
  • From book and breaking by Vicki Delany (Not quite what she had in mind, I’m sure.)
  • What the Sawfly by Frankie Bailey (A mystery about insects. A first!)
  • None So Blind by Barbara Fradkin (She came through with flying colours!)
  • Roses for a Diva by Rick Blechta (So did I!)
  • Fatal Stroke by Sybil Johnson (Forget the artist crap and go for the gusto!)
  • Ill Feeling by Aline Templeton (A bit wishy-washy for the title of a mystery I’d say.)
  • Crossing Bitter by D.A. Keeley (Close, but no cigar, John)
  • Hidden Heritage by Charlotte Hinger (Obviously, Charlotte picked wisely.)
  • Wrong Hill to Die by Donis Casey (Must be a geographical mystery. Another first!)
  • Werewolf Smackdown by Mario Acevedo (The magic in this title defied translation!)

And finally, just to show you how much computer translations have helped understanding in our complicated world, I present the second paragraph in today’s post translated into Spanish, then German, and back to English:

That's a good thing, right? Spread the word throughout the world. Should come Garner preselection books increased sales due to its notoriety. Each winning publishers and authors.

See? Exactly the same! Err…

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Rivalry is Intense

By Vicki Delany

Rick and I have BOTH been nominated for an Arthur Ellis award for our 2014 novellas.  Mine is Juba Good, about an RCMP officer stationed in South Sudan, and Rick's book is The Boom Room.

I'd beg for your votes, but the Arthurs are juried awards. The judges have spoken, and all we can do now is wait for the winners to be announced.  No point in Rick and I facing off with sharpened pencils at 20 paces.

The Arthurs are Canada’s top award for crime writing, given by the Crime Writers of Canada.  It is, as they say, an honour to be nominated.

That's not all the kudos for the Typists either Barbara Fradkin's None So Blind is a nominee for Best Novel. 

The winners will be announced at the Arthur Ellis Gala at the Arts and Letters Club (very swishy) in Toronto on Thursday May 28th.  If you'd like to attend, either to cheer us on or just to mix with the Canadian Crime Writing Gliterati (as if) tickets are available from info@crimewriterscanada.com

I've written before about writing novellas for Orca press.  My first was A Winter Kill, about a young policewoman in Prince Edward County, Ontario (where I happen to live) which was also nominated for an Arthur. It lost to Lou Allen's Contingency Plan, which even in my mind was the better book.

When I went to South Sudan in 2011 I met an RCMP officer who was there working with the UN in a training and advisory role. I immediately thought that this would be a wonderful concept for a book.  But, it wouldn't be a light read.  South Sudan is not the sort of place you can set a comedy or even a family-driven procedural. I briefly considered sending Molly Smith there, but then I wouldn't be able to have John Winters or Lucky Smith go with her.  She could have come back from her time in South Sudan, but I dismissed that right off as the experiences she might have had there weren't the sort of things I want to get into in a Smith and Winters book.

The concept was, I realized, perfect for a novella. And thus I began Juba Good.

I loved the character, Sergeant Ray Robertson (after 17 published books,  my first male protagonist), and so did the nice people at Orca.  After Juba Good, they wanted another Ray Robertson book.  Unfortunately the security situation in South Sudan has deteriorated so much since my visits, I didn't think I could write honestly about it.

So off Ray went to Haiti. The next Ray Robertson book is titled Haitian Graves, and will be released on August 23rd.

Good luck to Rick and to Barbara on May 23rd!  May the best book win.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Double Dose of Magic

I've got a couple of new reads to pimp.

The first is Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo. She's the prolific author of short fiction with a bibliography that includes works in Weird Tales, Asimov, and Tor.com. And Rambo's been nominated for an Endeavor, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award.


Beasts is a clockwork tale rich with fantasy and magic. Soon after young Teo arrives in the city of Tabat, he's pulled into its complex politics and dangerous intrigue. It's a world of amazing chimera-like beasts vying for power in shifting alliances. To survive, he's drawn into the orbit of the gladiator Bella Kanto. Adding a twist to this already complex story is that the weather is determined by the victors in the gladiator arena, and forces are at work to undermine Bella. A beast revolt threatens an already tenuous peace, and Bella learns that she needs Teo as much as he needs her.

Get your copy Beasts of Tabat

Next is the thoroughly entertaining Signal to Noise by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. She describes herself as Canadian by inclination, which should endear her to several here at Type-M. 


Signal may seem like it simply rides familiar coming-of-tropes--alienation, young romance, validation, teen angst--but Moreno-Garcia expertly weaves in magic, humor, and music with character and plot. She gives us the personal odyssey of Mercedes "Meche" Vega, a teenager seeking identity and closure with herself and her family. The references to period music and the vintage (by now anyway) mix-tape technology give this story a wonderfully tactile texture to what is an already compelling and poignant narrative.

Support the cause and order yours Signal to Noise

Friday, April 24, 2015

Been There, Going Where?

Frankie, here. Finally, getting a chance to sit down at the keyboard. This week has been busy, and that brings me to my topic for today's post.

Yesterday, I was a guest lecturer for a series on genre fiction being offered at a local college. The attendees were all adults who were there because they were interested in the topic. I had two hours, and I decided to focus on the evolution of crime fiction and how that overlapped with the evolution of the criminal justice system. I started with our friend Edgar -- Poe, that is -- the "father of the mystery short story". I talked about his contributions to crime fiction as a genre -- from the brilliant, but eccentric, detective and his narrator to "hide in plain sight".  I told them about "The Mystery of Marie Roget," his fictional detective's investigation of the real-life murder of Mary Rogers, "the beautiful cigar girl" using accounts found in the "penny press".

I followed the evolution of crime fiction from Poe to Doyle to the "Golden Age" writers. I used Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder to move from country houses to "mean streets." I paused to discuss the real-life Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray murder case and what James M. Cain did with that case in Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice and how that influenced film noir. I moved on to the birth of police procedurals, and then to the impact of the Civil Rights movement and women's rights movement on crime fiction in the 1960s and after. I ended with the rise of the thriller. Along the way, I talked about crime fiction and theories of crime, the FBI, and modern forensics.

I packed a lot into those two hours. After my whirlwind tour through the evolution of crime fiction, I turned to writers and the changing industry. We've talked about the challenges here on Type-M and they come up during panel discussions at any writers conference. The challenges include finding an agent, finding a publisher, keeping a publisher. With new technology, we have to decide whether to continue with our efforts to traditionally publish or consider self/independent publishing or maybe become a hybrid. We worry about creating our "writer's platform" and then how much time to devote to maintaining it and making sure that all of our parts (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are all working together to ensure we reach a maximum audience. We worry about the time social media takes away from our writing. We think about how diversity and multiculturalism -- now being discussed -- affects us and the characters we create.

My audience was make up of people who read mysteries. They recognized the writers and titles I mentioned. And -- in case you're interested -- when I asked about use of social media, only 3 or 4 people out of an audience of around 50 said they use Twitter. On the other hand, I know some readers have found me on Twitter when a reviewer tweeted a link or a blogger mentioned my guest post. Something to ponder.

But, right now, I've got to run.
   


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kill Your Darlings


Donis here. Two days ago I turned in my latest manuscript to my editor. I feel somewhat like I’ve been through a long trial and am now waiting for the judge to return with her verdict. I’m a little scared. Will I be sentenced to community service or hard labor? I’m not expecting the death penalty, but you never know.

The first draft of the story came in at 91,000 words! That is way long for a traditional mystery, which usually comes in at seventy to eighty thousand words. So before I sent it off, I picked up my literary axe and went to work. I was able to reduce the word count considerably just by removing unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Then I removed repetitive descriptions of people, scenery, action. When I go back over a MS, it’s surprising to see how many times I’ll say the same thing twice. Once you’ve said a character is short and fussy, there’s no need to say it six more times. I sometimes forget that I’ve already mentioned some detail over the course of a long manuscript, and sometimes I think that I repeat details because I want to be sure the reader remembers some thing or another. Don’t do that. It’s always a mistake to underestimate your reader.

Removing the detritus and eliminating repetition was easy enough, but my manuscript was still a weighty tome which needed paring. It was time to kill my darlings.

I had to go through and remove all my beautiful, wordy description, all the lovely banter between characters, and all my clever turns of phrase that were delightful and gorgeous and I loved them so...but they didn’t advance the story. I have to tell you that the pain was acute. But the manuscript is at least twenty pages shorter and much tighter. In my heart of hearts I know it’s better, and I also know it could be tightened even further. I do not want the reader to get bogged down in extraneous detail and forget the direction of the story. Or worse, get bored and quit reading.

But I loved my darlings and I didn’t want them to die. This is why we all need a good editor who will look you right in the eye and tell you the cruel truth.

For me, rewriting is the fun part. After the very first draft, my beginnings seldom match the end. Somewhere in the middle of the writing, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line, didn’t waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. I have gotten caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I have learned to just keep going until the end and repair all the inconsistencies when I’m done.

As I reread the story, it’s interesting to see how it all turned out, to remember what I originally had in mind and see how the tale changed as I moved through it.

My inner lawyer tells me that I’ll probably be given a short period of hard labor. Anyone who’s ever scribbled a page knows that writing is rewriting. At least I’ve never met a literary Mozart, whose first draft is so perfect that it doesn’t need any alteration. It’s the rewriting that makes the book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reflections on the promo game

Barbara here. Several of the recent Type M postings have dealt in some way with all the things we authors have to do AFTER our brilliant piece of prose is released. There have been posts about the adventures of touring, the death of bookstores, the illusion of social media promotion, the art of reading in public, and the way we twist ourselves into pretzels trying to do all these things while writing the next book.

Who knew? I remember walking into my local Chapters when my first book had just come out. This was in 2000, before social media, before the demise of bookstores, before the store's take-over by candles and cards. I stood in the entranceway gazing in awe at the bookcases and bookcases and bookcases of books. I walked past the displays at the front of the store – shelves clamouring 'Hot new fiction', 'Best Picks', 'New releases' – past the seasonal displays and remaindered tables, past the general fiction section, all the way to the huddle of mystery shelves at the back of the store. And there I was, tucked into the middle of the middle row of the middle bookcase, dwarfed by an entire shelf of Dick Francis and Karin Fossum.

Who was ever going to find this book, I thought, let alone choose to buy it over the other tens of thousands of books in this store?

Therein lies the author's conundrum. And I believe it is amplified several-fold nowadays because of the sheer number of books being published. For the self-published author and even those published by smaller presses without the massive promotional and advertising budgets of the big guns,  spreading awareness of their book is a huge challenge. Bombarding social media with blatant and irritating pleas or brags doesn't sell books, and indeed may be counter-productive, but if no one's heard of the book, they won't buy it either. Hence the tightrope that we all try to walk on social media between self-promotion and personal connection, so that we nurture friendships and networks and balance self-promotion with sharing each others' achievements. It takes patience, luck, and above all, a damn good book. Your first book sells your second. Or not.

It's an ever-evolving marketplace, and what worked before may not work tomorrow, but I think the same principles will be at play. Write the best book you possibly can, listen to the advice of editors and beta readers, rewrite it even better, and then once it's published, start reaching out to booksellers, librarians, readers, and fellow authors. As Sybil said, this is challenging and unnatural for writers, who are often shy, but it actually does get easier, and I'd say you're well on your way, Sybil. I found my first panel (also at Bouchercon) terrifying, but eventually I got used to them. My first reading was no doubt abysmal, but I kept doing them. I attended conferences where I barely knew a soul. I did bookstore signings where I felt more like a Walmart greeter showing the way to the restrooms, library readings that two people came to, radio and TV interviews that I suspected no one watched. Over the past fifteen years I have probably attended dozens of book clubs. Love them! A great way to make new friends as well as readers.

I started off this post intending to talk about the secrets to a successful book tour, but as usual I am wandering around in the maze of ideas, in the process discovering that the secrets to book tours apply equally well to all promotional efforts. Here they are:
  1. Travel with another author. Not only do two authors make for a more entertaining event, but it's great to have company and someone to share expenses (and that glass of wine) at the end of the day.
  2. Always be prepared to laugh. It may be all you get out of an event. Look for the adventure, be prepared for the unexpected, and see the humour (and the story possibilities) in all that happens. This is easier if your companion knows how to laugh too.
  3. Never count the money. Promotional efforts are about forging relationships, building trust and readers. If you're thinking about what this trip is costing you, or about how many books you've sold, you'll sink into a deep funk. But if the book is good, the word will be spread.
  4. Be gracious, respectful, and appreciative not only of the librarians and booksellers who have organized the event but also of the readers who came. They owe you nothing; they put themselves out for you, and they all have horror stories of the divas who will never be invited again.
I know other authors who are much better at all this than I am. They keep track of readers who come to events, they use Mail Chimp to generate mailing lists for newsletters, Goodreads to get connected to new readers, and multiple blogs with various authors to spread the word. But I have not yet figured out Mail Chimp or Goodreads, and in the end, I need time to write. That's why I got into this in the first place. And although being friendly and accessible might help sell that first book, the first book sells the second.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thoughts on doing an effective reading

This is a post aimed at all the authors in the audience. But even if you aren’t yet a published writer or never intend to become one, you might find what I have to say interesting and illuminating.

Like many of the promotional things authors are expected to do, one of the most time-honoured is readings. I’ve done many. I’ve also heard other authors do many. Some of us enjoy doing them. Some loathe them. To be honest, most are not very good.

I’ve discussed readings here on Type M before, as have others, but I feel it’s time to hit on it once again. Why? I have to do a reading in two days for the Arthurs Ellis Shortlist Announcement here in Toronto. The participating authors have been given three minutes each. That makes the assignment doubly tough. What can you read in 180 seconds that will make an audience feel compelled to buy your book?

Here are some of my thoughts (in point form) on doing an effective reading:
  • Pick an effective passage. Remember: you’re selling your book here! Action scenes with dialogue are most effective. It helps if you can give some individualization to your characters by changing your voice. Even a little bit can make a difference.
  • You don’t have to read every word you wrote. Leave out long descriptive passages unless they’re really gripping. Sell the sizzle, not the steak! That’s why action scenes are best.
  • Don’t read from your book. Print out the passage in large, easy-to-read type, complete with any edits needed (see above point).
  • Practise your selection beforehand. Very few of us are trained actors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better with practice. Recording yourself is unbelievably helpful here! If you tend to get nervous, do a dry run before an audience of family or friends.
  • Before you read, take a deep breath and gather yourself. Speak to the audience, not to the air. Practising beforehand will make it possible to look up from your material and engage your listeners more effectively. Speaking more slowly will make you more understandable. Again, think about actors and speak strongly and confidently. Even if you aren’t, look as if you’re enjoying this. I guarantee that the better you get at reading, the more you will enjoy it!
Remember: when you’re doing a reading, you are an actor more than an author. Making a positive impression with your reading makes it far easier to sell your book.
___________

As a public service to some very good friends, I’m including in my post this week, the announcement for the 2015 Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award shortlist announcement.



Murder Is Nothing to Have Fun With...Or Is It?
Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award Announces Finalists

(Toronto, ON) April 15, 2015 – The Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award, an annual Canadian award that celebrates traditional, feel-good mysteries is pleased to announce this year’s finalists. The award is for a “mystery book that makes us smile” and includes everything from laugh-out-loud to gentle humour to good old-fashioned stories with little violence or gore.

Congratulations to the five finalists for the 2015 Bony Blithe Award:

Cathy Ace, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair (Touchwood Editions)
Judith Alguire, Many Unpleasant Returns (Signature Editions)
E.C. Bell, Seeing the Light (Tyche Books)
Janet Bolin, Night of the Living Thread (Berkley Prime Crime)
Allan Stratton, The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish (Dundurn Press)

The award will be presented at the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award Bash on Friday, May 29, at The Hot House Restaurant & Bar, 35 Church St., Toronto (Church at Front). The festivities start at 6:30 p.m. in the Library Room. For more information, contact us at bw-award@bloodywords.com.

The winner will receive a cheque for $1,000 plus a colourful plaque.

Thank you to all the publishers and authors who submitted their books for this year’s contest. May there be many smiles in your future.

Website: www.bonyblithe.com
Facebook: Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award
Twitter: @bonyblithe

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Perfect Murder

I have just discovered how to commit the perfect murder. In a spirit of generosity I am now prepared to share the inspiration with any fellow authors who may be looking for just this, or anyone who is merely thinking of bumping off the person who posted that bad review on Amazon.

Recently I went to a hygiene course in connection with some charity work I'm going to be doing. I had thought it would basically be about food handling – hand washing, paper towels, separate boards for raw meat – all the basic things we do anyway.

But it was much wider than that and I have to say the general reaction, having been told how death lurks in every kitchen, no further away than that less than pristine cloth you just wiped the surfaces with, was to consider that giving up eating altogether was the only safe thing to do. One of our number, a young girl who hadn't much kitchen experience, got paler and paler and when the instructor said that leaving meat out to defrost instead of in the fridge could be lethal, wailed, 'But that's what I've done today!'

What got my criminal mind working was having it explained that whenever meat is cut, it acquires a film of bacteria on the surface, which thorough cooking destroys. A rare steak isn't cooked right through but the searing on all cooked surfaces does the job. A rare hamburger, however...

That film of bacteria, once the meat is minced, gets mixed in and spreads right though. Put on the barbecue, the outside is safely seared but the bacteria inside, all cosy and warm from the gentle heat around them, multiply like crazy. My instructor's view was that Russian roulette is safer. It's a question of, 'Maybe not today, but sometime, and for the rest of your – probably very short – life.'

So there we have the plot. The victim: a guy, probably rich, who loves his hamburger rare. The villain, his young, gold-digging wife. The motive: obvious. The weapon: a pound of minced fillet of steak, set by the range in the kitchen for the day. The place: a sunny garden, the fragrance of roasting meat in the air. The time: very shortly afterwards.

A tragic case of food poisoning, a weeping, suddenly very rich widow safe in the knowledge that there will be no forensic evidence to prove she poisoned him. Sure, it could be traced to her kitchen but no one could show that she'd done it deliberately and (at least in Britain) you can't even be prosecuted for low hygiene standards provided it is food that has been prepared and eaten in your own home.

So that's why I'm being uncharacteristically generous with my idea for an ingenious method of poisoning. Normally when I've got a good idea I keep it to myself like a child with a secret stash of candy, but I can't for the life of me think how even the powers of DI 'Big Marge' Fleming could bring that one to justice.

But perhaps you can?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sunday Guest Blogger: Clyde Phillips

It is an honor to bring you Clyde Phillips this week. Clyde is a bestselling crime novelist, the former executive producer of the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Showtime series Dexter, for which he won the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting; and he currently serves as executive producer for the network's acclaimed Nurse Jackie. He also created the television series Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Suddenly Susan, and Get Real (starring Anne Hathaway). In his spare time, he is the author of the Jane Candiotti novels, Fall From Grace, Blindsided, Sacrifice and, most recently, Unthinkable.

I met Clyde via happenstance: his daughter, Claire, a very talented writer in her own right, was in the AP English class I taught. I had no idea who or what he was. One day after class, Claire approached my desk and said, "My dad writes stuff you'd like." She was right. He does. And I do – I like his stuff a lot. Below are Clyde's thoughts on his approach to writing.
________________

by Clyde Phillips

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I get to respond “I’m a writer,” I always feel an immense sense of pride. The follow-up question is usually “What kind of stuff do you write?” Well, the answer to that is: everything.

I’m a television writer in both half hour comedy and one hour drama. I’ve written several feature screenplays. And I’ve published four best-selling crime novels. So, then the question inevitably comes, “what’s the difference in your approach to writing in each of these media?”

The answer is simple: there is no difference.

I’m a storyteller; and it’s my responsibility to tell that story in the most authentic and entertaining way possible.

Each time I start to write a script or a book, my initial task is always the same. Outline, outline, outline. That’s the real heavy lifting. I’ll often sit with a writing assistant (an aspiring writer who gets the benefit of my experience while I get the benefit of someone taking notes) for weeks or months and bounce ideas around. Snippets of dialogue. Character traits (especially flaws). Action. Plot. When the outline is done – and an outline certainly isn’t a binding contract. I often stray from it if and when a better idea comes along – then the fun begins. The actual writing of the piece.

An outline for a half-hour comedy is usually about seven pages. For a one-hour drama, it’s ten to fifteen pages. And for a novel (at least for me) it can be up to one hundred pages. Seriously.

But that hard outlining is like intense training for game day.

Once the outline is ready (or nearly so), I let it sit and percolate for a few days (if I don’t have a deadline); waiting for some internal magic to bubble up. It invariably does. And then I grab that magic (a character’s secret, a crucial and unexpected plot twist) and weave it into the outline.

And then the anxiety floats away and a sense of calm washes over me.

And then I write.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Catch 22

I caught a psychological break this week and I needed it. One of my Poisoned Pen pals, the charming Tina Whittle, introduced a stunning topic to our newsgroup. She offered a post from Delilah S. Dawson's blog, whimsydark, entitled, "Please Shut Up: Why Self-Promotion as an Author Doesn't Work."

In it, Dawson discusses the oversaturated state of the book market and the futility of book promotion. She pretty well covers all the social media outlets. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I have an academic book coming out next spring. This book is important to me and it took an awfully long time to write. I don't intend to write another one. The research was mind-boggling and I want to do right by my publisher, University Press of Oklahoma.

The main point Dawson makes is that we are just sick of folks begging us to buy their books. I have made the point in a couple of blogs that once we read a book, we either love the author, or are not interested. In the first case, we read everything they have ever written. In the second case, we never read one again. All the promotion in the world can't persuade a reader to read that second book.

Even before self-promotion was regarded as a matter of life or death I was aware of how obnoxious a lot of it was. Dawson reinforced what I had already suspected: some of the best writers rarely promote and the most fiercely aggressive promoters offend nearly everyone.

But there's a problem. A classic catch 22. I believe we owe it to our publishers to do our best to get the word out. That being a very simple message: we have written a book, we hope you will read it and here's where you can buy it.

I am humbled and deeply appreciative of the opportunity to be published by a press held in such high esteem. It has an reputation for excellence in producing books about the American West. I have a point to make about 19th century blacks on the Kansas Frontier. I'm giving a lot of thought to making people aware of this book.

But thanks to Dawson's timely post, I won't drive myself crazy thinking up new approaches. And I won't drive readers crazy either. But just for kicks, I would love to hear from all of you.

What was the most obnoxious promotion by an author?

Here's the link to Dawson's post: http://www.whimsydark.com/blog/2015/4/13/please-shut-up-why-self-promotion-as-an-author-doesnt-work

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Boats Against The Current: More Bookstore Tales

With Amazon owning 22 percent of the bookselling industry and indie stores claiming a mere 6 percent of the market share, it comes as no surprise that bookstores as we know (or knew) them are going by the wayside.

You remember them. Some weren't fancy: preferably scuffed hardwood floors, tilted shelves, and (gasp) physical books to leaf through. But a recent loss — particularly in one region — has me reeling.

First things first: Admittedly, I have an Amazon account. And, admittedly, I use it. But recently, the declining number of physical bookstores hit me. Full force. In the face. The second book in my Peyton Cote series, Fallen Sparrow, hits shelves June 8 everywhere. But not exactly everywhere.

It won't hit any shelves in the region where the novel is set.

Yes, that's right. In the region — the entire county, in fact — where it's set. And this isn't just any county. It's the largest county east of the Mississippi. Aroostook County, Maine, has a land mass the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined but has fewer than 80,000 people. Therefore, its longtime bookstores — all three, including a chain store — have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Hard to believe? It is for me. I lived in the area for a decade, did many signings (and buyings) at the three area bookstores — two indies and a B. Dalton. Perhaps the scariest fact of all is that the area is dominated by an aged population. Therefore, I can't attribute the make-the-bookstore-disappear trick to a rising number of young people reading e-books rather than physical texts. What's that say about the role books play in people's lives?

Let's not think about that. That thought is scarier than Stephen King's fright-filled Salem's Lot.

So what's a writer to do? There are, of course, a few libraries. And I can certainly hit those, but the lack of stores in the region where the series takes place is a major blow. I'm relying on newspaper ads and (hopefully) reviews and features.

So, as F. Scott wrote so elegantly, we beat on, boats against the current. And self-promote like hell.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Signings

I read Barbara’s recent post on her adventures in book signings with some envy. Looks like she's had some great adventures touring in her writing career. I'm sure there'll be many more to come.

I’m just starting my own career so I don’t have much experience in book touring. (I have one, count it, one book out—Fatal Brushstroke. That’s it so far.) I did a short tour of Los Angeles area bookstores with the lovely Diane Vallere showing me the ropes. And I’ve done one library event, been on a panel at one convention (Bouchercon last year). So I don’t really have many stories to tell...yet.

This weekend, I’ll be signing for the first time at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the University of Southern California campus. (My alma mater. Always happy to get a chance to check out the campus and see what’s changed. A lot, believe me!)



I worked the Sisters in Crime/LA booth for many years, but this is the first time I’ll be there as an author. I’m looking forward to it, but am also a bit nervous. I’m not the most outgoing person, so it’s a little daunting.

My signing times, in case you’re in the area:
  • Sisters in Crime/LA booth—Saturday, April 18, 2015, noon – 2 p.m.
  • Mysterious Galaxy booth—Sunday, April 19, 2015, 10 a.m.
 Then a couple weeks from now I’ll be at Malice Domestic, on my first panel there. And I have a library event coming up in May at the Wiseburn Library in Hawthorne, California so I’m starting to get myself out there.

I know I should probably do more events, but, I have to admit, I’m struggling with juggling writing and publicity events these days. So I've been very select on how many events I do. If anyone has any suggestions or tips on how to keep all those balls in the air, let me know. I could use them. In the meantime, I will be keep on trucking...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Brought up short!

That’s me playing piano.
I enjoy listening to the radio. Sometimes I’ll even go out and sit in the car and listen to a favourite show or a ball game (if it’s the right time of year). I nearly always have the radio on when I’m driving anywhere. Interesting thing is, I’m generally not listening to music — an odd thing when one is a musician.

But this musician is also a writer, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to interview shows and documentaries, stuff like that. Talk shows drive me crazy.

Fortunately, I live in Canada where we still have the CBC and a lot of their radio programming, especially in the evenings is excellent.

This morning, I was driving home from an appointment, and listening to an interview on Q with a Scottish singer/songwriter, Stuart Murdoch, and a lot of the talk was around   his composing. I always find that sort of thing interesting since I’ve written some of my own, including a complete musical in my last year of university. (Sidebar: It had 8 performances and I even got paid for my troubles!)

Anyway, I’m driving along listening intently to what Stuart had to say (he’s very erudite), but then he uttered something that really caught my attention. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something about walking around with a whole bunch of characters in his head. These were the people he made up whose stories he then told through the lyrics of his songs.

Whoa! Believe it or not, I'd never thought that the little “stories” making up songs had something like characters in it. You may be slapping your forehead into your palm and this point since it’s a pretty obvious thing and I’m a complete dunce for not coming to this enlightenment a heck of a lot earlier, but there it is: song writers make up characters in much the same way prose writers do and for the same reasons.

Perhaps this whole point was lost on me since most of the songs I’ve written had lyrics supplied by someone else. My job generally involved melody, harmonic structure and much of the musical treatment of each particular song.

Now, I’m forced to think of every song I’ve ever heard and will hear with a completely different mindset. It’s a heady idea: making up a character, giving them some sort of back story and then tell a small, concise portion of their life. Maybe the structure that most resonates is this: a good song is a musical short story.

Funny, but I’d never considered that, and to say that I’m gobsmacked by this very late revelation is putting it mildly.

Does it make me want to write a song? Not really. I learned a long time ago that this is something that I don’t do well innately, and since I have so many other things in my life that need my attention (see last week’s post), it’s best that I don’t add any more to my to-do list.

But I know I’m going to be closely listening to the lyrical content of any song I run across from here on in – except for songs by the progressive rock band Yes whose lyrics make no sense to anyone – with a new sense of engagement, and try to reconstruct the character the lyricist conjured when writing the song.

How about you?

Monday, April 13, 2015

What am I working on?

By Vicki Delany

A heck of a lot.

I am juggling a lot of writing balls these days, so I thought this would be a good time to let you know what I’m up to.

Other than a couple of day trips over the spring and summer, I have no book tours planned until the Suffolk Mystery Festival in August.  I am hoping to squeeze in a vacation to London in the fall. I love to travel, both for book events and for holiday, but I have to stay at home sometime and work!

The weather here in Southern Ontario has been nothing but gloomy for the past week. Which is a pretty good thing for the productivity.

As I write this, I have just finished four days of solid writing and managed to do 14,000 words. Which is pretty mind-boggling, as most authors will tell you. That’s about 14,000 good words. Very few of it will be discarded when I do edits.

A lot of people have written to ask me if there will be another Molly Smith, and I am happy to say 

I’m working on the eighth book in that series now. The nice people at Poisoned Pen also asked me for another. How can I say no?

Here’s what on my plate:
Constable Molly Smith #8 – half finished first draft.

Lighthouse Library. #2 – Booked for Trouble.  Completely finished and waiting for copy edits back. Publication date September 2015.


Lighthouse Library #3 – Reading up a Storm. Finished and now with my editor. She may, or may not, want changes major or minor.

Lighthouse Library #4. No contract as of yet. That will depend on how books 1 and 2 do. It’s all up to the readers now (Hint, Hint).

Christmas Town #1 – Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen. Completely finished, edited and waiting for copy edits back. Publication date November 2015.


Christmas Town #2 – We Wish You a Murderous Christmas.  Ready for me to give it one last polish before going to the editor.

Christmas Town #3. Nothing done yet. (But heck, it’s not due until April. That’s April 2016)

Ray Robertson #2 (A Rapid Reads Novella) – Haitian Graves. Completely finished and in production. Publication date August 2015


Ray Robertson #3 – outline and opening chapters sent to editor for her approval.

Oh, and one last thing.  Proposal for a new cozy series. Three chapters and series outline are now with my agent.  No hints until (if) I have a contract! So stay tuned. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Working Intuitively

Rick's post earlier this week came at a time when I, too, was wondering how I was going to get everything done. I'm still wondering that, but I stumbled on something this week. I could be wrong, so I'm not offering this as a strategy. I'm just saying that I happened to do this and it worked well enough for me to experiment.

I have been focusing for the past week on a project that I need to get done. My co-editor on the project has finished his part and now I need to wrap up mine by next week. So I've been doing nothing else -- other than what is necessary to teach my two classes. I have been keeping up with obligations like guest posts, but other than that I have put my marketing plan for What the Fly Saw on hold until after next week. I've also not finished making some tweaks to my nonfiction book proposal that I intended to do quickly and send back to my agent. I've been focusing and getting work done. But in the back of mind all my undone tasks have been nagging away and stressing me out.

Then something unexpected happened. I was working on the project that I need to finish, and suddenly the solution to the problem I had been having with the nonfiction book proposal popped into my head. Normally, I would have stopped what I was doing and rushed to the proposal to catch the idea before it was gone. But this time, I had established a rhythm for what I was doing. I was "in flow" and I had made a bet with myself that I could finish the section that I was working on before I stopped.

Today I had planned to plunge right into the next section of the project. Except the day didn't go as I had intended. I had an appointment with a consultant about a cooling system for my house. And then I went to pick up prescription cat food from the vet, stopped at the supermarket -- been trying to get there for three days -- filled my nearly empty gas tank, dropped cat food and groceries at home, and went in to work. By the time I'd finishing sending a librarian the handout I needed copied and my power point for an author's talk on Saturday and checked in with a curator about media for a local history talk next week, it was almost three o'clock.

I was feeling guilty about not working on the project all day. But I found myself opening the file for my book proposal. I started writing and it was effortless. I zipped through several pages of the proposal, revising based on the idea that I thought was only half-formed. I even started revising one of the sample chapters. I was on a major roll. I stopped when I began to slow down. It was getting late anyway.

I drove home, put a frozen lasagna into the oven (takes 50 minutes that way but leaves more writing time than a microwave) and pulled out my project. But my head still wasn't there yet. So, with all the work I had to do, I watched today's episode of "The Young and the Restless". And then I played "bird" with my cat because he needed the exercise. Finally, at around 9:30, I settled down with the project again.

Technically, I had lost most of the day's work on the project. But I'm not feeling as stressed out as I would expect. In fact, I think that I might do better if I work intuitively. That would mean going with what is flowing at the moment. That would mean not allowing myself to be drawn away to something else because I've had an idea. Instead, give that idea time to germinate, assume that I need a break away from that (whatever it is) and that my subconscious will be working away until I get back to it.

Whether this is true or not, I'm going to let myself believe it for the next week. At least, I'll go to bed and get some sleep. I know that five hours or less of sleep a night is not making me more efficient. So to bed, to sleep, and wake up tomorrow and see if I zip through the next section of my big project.

Anyone else tried working intuitively? I'll report back on my own experiment. And I think I'll pick up this book. According to the blurb, the author has some thoughts about intuition and creativity.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Book is Born

Spring in Arizona


It is spring, the time of new beginnings. Barbara Fradkin has completed her latest manuscript, Vicki Delany’s latest has just been released, and John Corrigan has the end of his WIP in sight. Authors are traveling all over the Western world. And I am happy to say that I just finished the first draft of my eighth book, which is a good thing since it’s due to my editor at the end of this month. Besides, I am now brain dead.

The last few weeks of writing before a manuscript is due in to the publisher is intense and hair-raising. You finish. You send it off. It’s out of your hands. You are like a cork that has been anchored under the water for weeks and months, and now the string is cut and you pop to the surface. You’re floating. The sun is shining, the air is fresh. You are drifting. Aimless. You are disoriented. You’re blinking at the light. You don’t know what to do next. This has happened to me every time I finish a novel. I despair of ever being able to write another word.

This book, All Men Fear Me, which is scheduled for publication in November, was particularly hard for me to finish. It’s long. I have a lot going on. Too much? I don’t know. It seemed to me that everything I put in was necessary to the story. For every book I must come up with a compelling reason for a farm wife and mother of ten to get involved in a murder investigation. I also have to figure out a convincing way for her to either solve the murder or at least contribute to the solution, which as you might guess, isn’t that easy.

I have found over the course of eight books in the same series that I have begun to depart from the usual mystery novel format. The murders take place later and later in the story with each book I write. The later books are constructed more like thrillers than puzzles. In book seven, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, I told the reader who was going to die in the first sentence, but didn’t actually kill him for a hundred pages. In this book…well, I’ll let you see for yourself.

Or it could be that they’re all hard for me to finish and I just don’t remember from book to book, rather like childbirth. It’s a pain, but you’re always so pleased with the result that you forget how you suffered.

Anyway, my beta reader has the MS right now. I have no idea whether the book holds together or makes sense or is any good. I like the way it turned out, but mothers love their ugly babies as much as their pretty ones.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Fun on the road

Barbara here. Today marks one of those milestones in a writer's life, when we press the send button and email our editor the completed manuscript of the book we have spent the last year creating– living the scenes, hearing the characters, wrestling with plot tangles and clunky relationships, imagining the drama.

The timing of this milestone is fitting. It's a new spring. The snow is vanishing, new flowers are poking up, the air is full of birdsong, and my thoughts are already turning to new projects. What to do next? The world feels full of promise and possibilities. Even the next writing project is still only a promise, barely conceived and awaiting its year's gestation.

It's fifteen years since my first novel was published, and I want to do a little reminiscing about the journeys I have taken with my books along the way. Contrary to popular belief, we authors generally pay for our own tours and travels. We may get some financial support from our publishers or from small grants, but the author is almost always out of pocket in the end. From the purely financial point of view, tours are a terrible idea.

But money isn't the only currency. There is the networking and bridge-building, the forging of friendships with new readers, book sellers, librarians, and other fellow book lovers. And there is the pure fun of taking trips, seeing new parts of the world, meeting new people, and having unique adventures. Much of that is, in a word, priceless.

I have lost track of some of the shorter trips, but some highlights stand out. In fifteen years, I have been to every Bloody Words Mystery Conference ever held - I think there were fourteen. The friendships I made with Canadian authors and book people will last forever. I have been to Left Coast Crime conferences in Monterey, El Paso, Bristol, UK, Santa Fe, and Portland– all adventures to unique and interesting places. Highlights I remember include imagining myself in the Roman hot baths in Bath, driving a rental Chevy Suburban up to Santa Fe from Albuquerque in the dead of night because my flight had been delayed (the Suburban was the only vehicle left in the only rental agency still open), and walking across the Rio Grande bridge from Texas to Mexico to have dinner in Juarez with a bunch of crazy Canuck friends. The best part? The dinner was fabulous.

I have been to Bouchercon Mystery Conferences in Austen, Madison, Toronto, and Indianapolis. Besides making unexpected friendships in bars, my favourite moment was Tony Bidulka treating me and Robin Harlick to a champagne limousine ride and special dinner in celebration of his Saskatchewan Book Award. Tony always has the best memorable moments!

I have been on numerous short book tours, usually those that can be managed by throwing a couple of  outfits into the trunk of the car and visiting libraries and bookstores within a day or two drive from home. But a few book tours took me farther afield, usually with another author or two, and the shared experiences still make me laugh. There was the east coast book tour in 2005 with Mary Jane Maffini, where we piled into her small two-door Mazda (a mistake) and covered about two thousand miles and twelve events in less than two weeks. I remember fondly the day we were rocketing through moose country in New Brunswick and realized we were going to be late for our event in Miramichi, so we leaped out of the car in the middle of the forest and changed into our event finery– dress pants, Chico jackets, high heels– behind the largest tree. And the night we encountered Hurricane Wilma on our drive out to a library event on a tiny island off Cape Breton and arrived late and windblown, expecting the place to be deserted, only to find every single person in the town waiting for us with hot tea and cookies.

There was the 2007 Southern Ontario tour I took with Robin Harlick and Rick Blechta, where we covered so many bookstores over four weekends that I ended up at the wrong Chapters at the wrong time in London. Miraculously we were all still friends at the end of it! There was the terrific conference in Calgary, When Words Collide, at which I was the mystery guest of honour in 2013 (this one was paid!), and where I made friends with the dynamic group of western writers. Three highlights of that week stand out - the inspiring speeches by the other guests of honour on opening night, which made me realize regardless of the genre, we are all writers and storytellers; the scotch-tasting party that introduced me to Abelour; and the trip to Drumheller to see the badlands and the dinosaurs.


Also among my most memorable trips (to date, hopefully more to come!) was the sixteen-day tour I took with Vicki Delany to the Northwest Territories and Yukon in 2013. I met so many interesting people and had so many fine adventures that I am hard-pressed to highlight only a couple. Perhaps the "erotica open mike" evening at the NorthWords Literary Festival in Yellowknife, where many of the authors, including Vicki and I, tried our hand at racy writing. Writing hot scenes is easy; reading them with a straight face is not. A second highlight was getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere at 11:30 at night. A third highlight was arriving to do a library reading in a small village between Whitehorse and Dawson City and discovering our audience was a group of First Nations school children. I learned far more from the discussion we had than they did, I think!

This coming summer, I am going far afield again, as an invited author at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, on the beautiful BC coast. I have never been to Sechelt, and I am looking forward to the adventures and the people I will meet. This event is paid, but even if it weren't, there are experiences that go beyond money. I feel so privileged that my writing gives me the chance to enjoy them.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Keeping all the balls in the air

It never ceases to amaze me how busy things can get around here. Granted, I do take a lot of extraneous things on which is probably not the smartest of ideas, but there are days where I think of just how many things I have to do and I’m instantly anxious, almost to the point of despair. I don’t know about you, but when I’m faced with that hopelessness, I tend to just shut down. Since I can’t accomplish it all, I wind up doing even less.

Yesterday, I wanted to write (and I did) but any number of things kept getting in the way. Emails had to be sent and answered, I worked on two design projects, I had to sort music for a gig I had last night, some kitchen work had to be done, and then I was out from 6:00 until 11:30 playing. The issue is not what I managed to do, but what I didn’t manage to do.

Eventually getting into bed after a small amount of post-gig winding down, it hit me that I’d managed to fall even farther behind, even though I was on the go from 6:45 a.m. to midnight. That job jar had just as much in it and more would be going in as soon as I got up.

What to do?

Well, my motto these days seems to have become “keep on keeping on”, but truthfully? That isn’t going to get me out of this. There simply is too much to do. Chipping away at a mountain is fine — unless the mountain is growing faster than you’re able to chip.

One thing I can do is to maximize my time. Part of that will come from increasing the time I’m working. For the foreseeable future, my days will have to be longer. And no goofing off in the evenings watching something on Netflix, or reading, no matter how brain dead I feel.

The second thing is to not take anything new on. (Work doesn’t count here because that money is needed!) If someone asks for something, whether it be help, advice, or a new project, I’ll just have to learn to say no. That’s always been an issue for me. I’m naturally one of those people who wants to help whenever asked.

The reason for this post topic is I’m looking for any stratagems loyal readers of Type M might have to combat extreme “busy-ness”. Believe me, I need all the help I can get keeping those balls in the air!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Real Life Detection

I am just back from the Crime Writers Association's annual conference which is solely for members. It's always a particular pleasure because this is the only time when authors get together and don't have to perform or try to sell their books.

It's usually held in an attractive place and the venue this time, Lincoln, was no exception. It is a medieval city set on a hill, with cobbled streets descending steeply (and ascending even more steeply, or so it seems) to the town below.  Sung Evensong in the glorious cathedral was a highlight of the weekend, with wonderful music and even the classic small choirboy in his frilled white ruff with spectacles just slightly askew.


It's great to see old friends and the bars do brisk business for the two nights. But the other great thing about the conferences is the lectures that give us those professional insights from insiders into the topics we write about, which are often very difficult to come by in other ways.

We were well-placed this time. The member who organised it was a former policeman and judging by the amazing goodie bag gifted by local businesses he must have known where all the bodies were buried and didn't hesitate to use the information when it came to extortion. He was also able to persuade local coppers, lawyers, a forensic expert and even a High Court Judge to come and talk to us as well.

The talks were all absorbing and often very funny – as when the young lawyer told us about her nervous, early faux pas: 'Is that the same nose you broke when you were young?' 'How close were the two cars when they collided?' – and hugely informative as well.

For me the most fascinating one was a horrific case of torture and murder. The Detective Superintendent who pursued it for over two years was quietly-spoken and undramatic, and he told us his watchword was Attention to Detail. But when he said, 'I'm not obliged to take the first answer I'm given – nor the second one either,' I did feel glad that I wasn't the criminal he had in his sights.

His job, of course, is not down and dirty on the crime scene. He directs the operation and in this case, with no forensic evidence at all in the house where the murder took place, it was a question of slowly and remorselessly piecing together the circumstantial evidence until the jigsaw made a picture and he got his men.

There is a tendency to dismiss this, particularly among defence lawyers, as 'merely' circumstantial' evidence.  Forensic evidence is certainly the gold standard but after that eyewitness accounts are highly-valued – despite the fact that numerous studies have proved how totally unreliable these can be. But in collecting circumstantial evidence there are no shortcuts and the Detective Superintendent's painstaking investigation was a masterclass in how you could build a plot.

'If you find out how he lived you'll find out how he died,' he said. He had expensively-gathered evidence he didn't use because it was a complicating factor and wasn't rock solid and could weaken the case. He said that every so often he would step back from involvement and take the long view – 'What are the strengths and the vulnerabilities?' There is a jury at the end of every investigation.

I scribbled pages of notes and I'm putting in a lot of work this week in applying some of his principles, clearing less than effective scenes and assessing the strength of the plot, in the hope of a favourable verdict when it comes before my jury – the readers

Friday, April 03, 2015

Pirates Ahoy and Closing Fast

I have my email program set to alert me anytime someone writes something about my mysteries. It's a handy little gizmo. Whenever Deadly Descent, Lethal Linage, or Hidden Heritage comes up, I get an email.

The past week I've received a number of messages offering my books for free. It burns me up! Someone has pirated my books. Again. This is so unfair. I don't earn a cent from this kind of operation. I'm going to paste in the contents of the email:

If you want to get Lethal Lineage pdf eBook copy write by good author ... The Lethal Lineage we think have quite excellent writing style that make it



PDF eBooks Free Download | Page 1

Lethal Lineage (Lottie Albright Mystery #2) by Charlotte ... Lethal Lineage has 35 ... Carol said: LETHAL LINEAGE Poisoned Pen Press 2011ISBN.


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Some English, huh? And please note that it's really my book. Not some other book by the same name. It's clearly labeled as part of the Lottie Albright Series. I would be willing to bet that this company is not based here in the USA.

All of the large publishing houses attached to the giant conglomerates (the Big Five) and large independents such as my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, send Advance Reader's Copies (ARCs) to reviewers associated with magazines and newspapers well in advance of a book's publication date. Librarians also get their share of goodies. Publishers hope that libraries will order the books for their patron’s enjoyment, and that bookstores will stock the book. ARCs are in paperback and they are surprisingly expensive to produce.

It's well worth the expense and effort to have a book reviewed in one of the big four magazines that are especially influential in the trade. They are Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist. A good review in Mystery Scene sends us over the moon. Needless to say making the New York Times is almost too much to hope for. That's here in America. I imagine our Canadian friends could contribute a lot more venues.

Imagine the disappointment when three months before a book is published and available for sale to readers, a paperback version of this book is offered on Amazon by a third party vendor at a low price. How does this happen? Well, some reviewers offer their ARCs for sale perhaps even before they have read it. They have a little side business. But the bottom line is that there is no bottom line. The author doesn't make a cent from the transaction.

Pirates are an entirely different matter, although the outcome is the same: no money for the writer. Since my books will be downloaded for free, I'm a bit bewildered as to who makes money on this kind of a deal. There were more links I could have clicked on. I suspected that would be a mistake so I didn't do it. The free books could have been a ploy to collect information and numbers they had no business using.

If you are reluctant to spend the money for a book, please support your local library. This gives an enormous boost to authors. Librarians only stock books the patrons want to read. If no one ever checks out our books, eventually they stop stocking them.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Finishing Strong

The end is in sight. My work-in-progress, Fallen Sparrow, is (fingers crossed) three-fourths completed. I've read and re-read and re-read again, making sure I haven't missed any plot threads, and even outlined the final hundred pages. Now I have to write them and hope to deliver the manuscript by June.

It's a good feeling to be close to the end. It's an even better feeling to know the ending.

Don't chuckle. I say this because you know as well as I do that the ending is the most important part of the novel. I can hook you in the first twenty pages and get you to read to the end, but if you're not satisfied by my conclusion I've wasted your time and mine. We've all finished reading books, sat back, and shook our heads at the (in the reader's opinion) wrong ending. Take The Great Gatsby. What other possible ending could that book have? The conclusion is entirely fitting, albeit sad for many of my students.

I love endings that turn and twist, offering the unexpected. I just finished Chandler's classic The Long Goodbye. The climax occurs a hundred pages before the book's ending. This novel, though, never lets you go, and the final page stuns you. (I had to reread it.) Same with The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley and SJ Rozan's Winter and Night. I'm hoping (as I always do) that readers will be left guessing until the end of my work-in-progress.

I don't usually start a book with a scene-by-scene outline, but, rather, with five to ten pages of detailed notes. Mostly, these are character sketches that serve to make sure I understand each character's motivation. Motivation, after all, is the driving force behind any plot twist. But as I near the end, I usually stop to reread the entire book. And then I outline the plot from there to the conclusion. Often this outline forces me to go back and add or delete scenes. (This time I added three.) I spent three days (4 to 6 a.m.) on this. It seemed like a long time when I was working on the outline. But, three mornings or not, it will (I hope) prove to be time well spent.

If, that is, I can keep you guessing until the final page.




Wednesday, April 01, 2015

An Unexpected Gift

Even before I became a writer, I was a big-time reader. Fiction, nonfiction, mystery, thriller, historical. You know the drill. I pretty much still am, though I have less time to read these days.

When I do get the chance to pick up a book, I notice things about stories that I never used to. How they're constructed. How the choice of a word makes a difference in how I feel as a reader. And, when I find a novel or short story particularly satisfying, I'll go back and reread parts or all of it, trying to figure out what makes it tick. Why I liked it so much. How the author managed to make me feel sad, happy, angry, etc. at a particular point.

The same goes for television shows or movies though, with them, it's less about the words used and more about the construction of the story. The other day, I watched an episode of a crime drama that involved the kidnapping of a baby. At the end, the child was found. The man who had him was driving a car along a road and the police gave chase. The writers could have just had the police stop the vehicle (after whatever is deemed the appropriate amount of chase time for television) but, instead, they added a further complication. The vehicle ended up in a lake, completely submerged. Don't worry, the baby was rescued after someone dove in, broke a window and grabbed the infant out of the backseat. I don't remember if the kidnapper was rescued. I'm not sure I cared.

I appreciated that plot twist. It reminded me that you can't ever make it too easy for your characters. Just when they seem to be reaching their goal, add a complication. In this case, the car going into the lake and the possibility the baby won't be rescued after all.

This change in mindset is similar to what happened to me when I studied Hebrew in college. When I'd leave class, I started looking at the world from right to left instead of left to right. Things looked just a bit different. And when I did some script supervising on student films I started noticing continuity errors in movies I saw that I would never have noticed before. Though those two abilities both faded away as soon as I stopped studying Hebrew and doing continuity for films.

Some people might consider it an annoyance. You've lost the ability to simply enjoy a story instead of analyzing it. For me, it’s a gift, giving me the opportunity to appreciate an author's work even more.