Monday, August 31, 2015

Rapid Reads

By Vicki Delany

As most of you know, as well as writing novels Rick, Barbara and I write Rapid Reads novellas for the Canadian publisher Orca Books. 

The Rapid Reads books have a dual purpose. First they’re short, fast, but interesting and exciting crime stories for the reading public with perhaps not a lot of time to get into a longer book.  Secondly, the books are aimed at a low literacy or ESL (English as a second language) audience.  

Adult books, with adult themes and adult language plainly written, without a great deal of complexity.

My third book with Rapid Reads will be released on August 25th. It’s titled Haitian Graves.  

The first book I wrote for them was A Winter Kill, about Nicole Patterson, a young police woman with the OPP in Price Edward County, Ontario, where I live. Before I continued with another Nicole Patterson book, I had the opportunity to visit South Sudan , and there I met some RCMP officers who were working with the UN, helping that country set up a modern, efficient, police force. (Aside: I blogged extensively about my visits to South Sudan over at One Woman Crime Wave, my private blog.  Here a link to a sample, for those interested in reading further: http://klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.ca/2011/12/klondike-friday-juba-south-sudan-2011.html

And so I created Sgt. Ray Robertson and Juba Good.  But by the time the nice people at Orca asked me for another Ray Robertson book, the situation in South Sudan had deteriorated so much that I felt I couldn’t write another book set there.  

As it happened, I was heading off to Haiti to visit a friend there. And, as it also happens, the RCMP is active in that country, also working with the UN.

I asked my friend to introduce me to some Canadian police officers and then I took Ray to Haiti in Haitian Graves.

I love writing the Rapid Reads books.  To me, it’s an exercise in stripping a crime novel down to its most basic elements. No flashbacks, no subplots, only one POV, a linear time frame, little introspection. Just a fast moving plot, clearly defined characters, and a great setting. Word for word, these novellas take far longer to write that any of my other books do. 

Intrigued? 

Why not check out Haitian Graves or one of Rick or Barbara’s books. We promise you a great read!





Friday, August 28, 2015

Self-Discipline and Writing

I'm frequently told that I accomplish a great deal -- criminal justice professor and mystery writer -- non-fiction and crime fiction. Right now, I'm in the midst of writing a nonfiction book about dress, appearance, and criminal justice and a historical thriller. Meanwhile, I'm working out the plot details of another mystery. But the truth is, I am easily distracted.

As Donis told us in her post yesterday, sometimes there are ants in the kitchen -- or some other distraction from sitting down at the keyboard and writing. I think at some point, all of the Type M-ers have recounted a major or minor distraction from writing. So I know I am not alone in having to cope with the ups and downs of the real world. In fact, these legitimate reasons for not writing on a given day are of less concern to me than the thought that I waste time. I admit I have a limited supply of self-discipline.

Over the years, I have tried to develop strategies to compensate for my lack of discipline. I have read numerous books and articles and blog posts from other writers about how to be more productive. I have tried to apply some of that advice. For example, the advice to "be consistent" and "develop writing habits". I have tried getting up at the same time every day and going to my computer. That would work if only I could persuade myself that I should go to bed at the same time every night, or set my alarm to go off at the same time every morning no matter what time I finally fall between the sheets. I am a night person. I like being up and reading or doing research at night. When I have a deadline, I write at night. After all these years, my bed time remains erratic, and so does my rising. Actually, in summer I am much more likely to wake early because of the light pouring in. But if I am tired, getting to the keyboard consistently is still a problem. Hence, my feeling all summer that I was wasting my precious mornings with tasks around the house and to-do lists.

I am on sabbatical from teaching this fall because I need to finish my book on dress, appearance, and crime. I did a proposal, so two chapters and the introduction are already done. The other chapters are outlined. My research is done and I am ready to write. I have a deadline -- the beginning of January when I need to start preparing for spring semester. I know I will get the first draft done because I must. But it is still annoying that I could not develop and follow a writing schedule this summer. Yes, it was true I had another lingering writing commitment that I needed to finish up, and I served on a committee, and I cleaned out my office and my house. And my spaces are now much more tidy. But I might have finished those tasks more quickly if I hadn't been distracted by ideas that occurred to me and sent me off to the computer to spend whole afternoons looking for articles and then reading the articles or requesting the ones I couldn't access from the library. During the summer, I created new piles of articles and books to read. Some of them may be useful in the end, but looking for them was a distraction because much of what I was looking for could have been found later when I got to that point in my writing.

Right now, I am fascinated by Eleanor Roosevelt. I am reading her "My Day" newspaper columns (collected in book form). I needed to only read the columns from 1939 for my thriller. But the columns cover the period 1936-1945, and I sure that I will not be able to stop reading when I finally get to 1939. Eleanor and I will go right through World War II together. And then I will have to restrain myself from reaching for Goodwin's No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a hefty volume about the home front during World War II. But my book is set in 1939. I need to exercise some discipline and focus only on what people living in the years leading up to 1939 would have known. And as intriguing as she is, I will stop reading about Eleanor. I will get back to what I am supposed to be doing.

But you can now see the problems created by my lack of discipline. In spite of the good advice that would undoubtedly make my writing life easier, I am not consistent. I don't have a fixed time to write. I don't have a  word count/quota that I am trying to reach. I don't have -- and this is one of my greatest distraction even though I tell myself that it isn't -- but I don't have one place that I write each day. I move back and forth between my office at home and my office at school. I fear I am wasting a significant amount of writing time in transit. But even this fall when I will be on sabbatical, much of my collected research for the nonfiction book will be stacked up in boxes and file cabinets at the office. And I will still focus best on my fiction when I work at home.

I am thinking of designating days of the week for working at school or at home. On those days, I will get up and move briskly to reach my desk -- a few feet into my office or get dressed and out the door and drive into school. I will sit down, I will focus, I will not be distracted by ideas that pop into my head that seem urgent but can be thought about later. I will write those ideas down on a pad and come back to them later. I will have a designated day of the week when I will do all my chores such as grocery shopping and taking clothes to the cleaners and filling the car with gas.

I will not be distracted. I will be consistent. . . well, I will at least do a calendar and write down proposed word counts and try to follow it. I must because if I don't, January will come and I will not have finished what I must get done.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Bad Writing Day and a Good Review

I had a good writing day yesterday. Today, not so much. To begin with, I awoke to an infestation of ants in my kitchen. There are very few things more disgusting that finding ants all over everything in your sparkling clean kitchen. It’s a little bit cooler today*, and overcast, so I’m thinking the ants are taking advantage of the fact that they can emerge from their den in the daytime and not be instantly crisp fried.

So I spent half an hour or so moving all my utensils and spraying the little buggers with fruit wash, which is lemony and kills them dead while making my kitchen smell lovely and not poisoning me at the same time. Then I have fifteen minutes of cleaning up the carnage with disinfecting wipes, after which the toaster oven, can opener, and their friends go back into their places. The fruit wash is used up, so I’m off to the store to buy more, and for good measure, some ant traps for the window sill.

I have two blog entries due over the next two days, so after fixing a bit of lunch for my better half and myself, I spent an hour on the computer writing up one post, followed by finally checking my email and social media and responding to everyone who needs a response. By this time I have become stiff and sore from standing in one place (not to be left off the latest health fad bandwagon, I’ve been writing standing up). I took some time to pay bills, and noticed that one long-standing bill has gone up for some reason not explained. Like an idiot, I called the billing department to find out why.

Forty-five minutes later, I am informed that this is an across-the-board rate hike for everyone in Arizona, and she’s so sorry that I didn’t receive a notification.

It is now 4:30 p.m. I still have to finish this entry before Don gets home and supper needs to be made. I’m almost done! I may have an hour to get some work done on the WIP!



So, to end on a high note, I’m appending an excerpt of the first review of my November release, All Men Fear Me, from the August edition of Kirkus Reviews. It was a very good review, much to my pleasure and satisfaction. I hope this is a harbinger of things to come.

“When the U.S. enters World War I, hate and suspicion triumph over rational thought…Naturally, Alafair is worried about her sons being drafted, but she never suspects that a visit from her brother, Rob Gunn, will cause problems with people she’s known for years. Rob is a union organizer who’s lying low after his release from an internment camp for his involvement in an Arizona miners’ strike. While everyone waits to hear whose number has come up in the draft, strife breaks out between the pro-war patriots, who think anyone with a foreign-sounding name is a spy, and the anti-war socialists, some of whom want to march on Washington and take over the government… Casey’s skill at making you care about the injustices of a time and place not often covered in history books is second to none. The admirable mystery is the cherry on top.” Kirkus Reviews, August 17, 2015

________________
*“Cooler” is 102º. I live in Arizona.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflections on an author tour

Barbara here, recently returned from the British Columbia mini-tour that I blogged about two weeks ago. What a wonderful adventure it was! Some of the greatest, unexpected, perks of being an author are the adventures you have and the people you meet in the pursuit of your career. You may be out of pocket or at best clear mere pennies once you have factored in the cost of travelling, conference fees, promo, etc., but the sheer fun of the constantly changing experiences makes it all worthwhile. The tax deductions aren't bad either.

The trip began with the usual cramped, frustrating plane trip across the country. Air Canada had chosen to assign me middle seats for the two legs of my journey (despite my stated seat preference), and it was only by alert attention to detail that I detected this early enough to change to the aisle. So far so good. In Vancouver, after waiting ages in the ticket line, I navigated the city's fancy new Sky Train and found my way to my Airb&b, which provided reasonable accommodation near the downtown that didn't break my budget.


The Airb&b had a great location within walking distance of the Book Warehouse and the coffee shops on Main St., and I had dinner at a local noodle place with some old friends before the reading. The Book Warehouse on Main Street has a wonderful, flexible space that allows shelves to be moved and chairs set up for readings. Not only did I share the stage with two of my favourite Vancouver authors, Sam Wiebe and ER Brown, but I also met another terrific local author Janie Chang, who came to the readings and joined us afterwards for drinks at the pub across the street (by which time it was two in the morning for my eastern body). I bought her book, THREE SOULS, which I am currently enjoying thoroughly. Connecting with new author friends from all over the world is another unexpected perk of this author business.

The next morning my Sunshine Coast Festival adventure began with a 1955 DeHaviland Beaver float plane, which seats six people including the pilot. I got to ride shotgun. What a thrill! We took off out of Vancouver's downtown harbour and soared over the sunlit coastal mountains and twisting coastline to the Sunshine Coast peninsula. There I was met by Shelley, who drove me in her green Mazda Miata convertible to the inn. What an introduction to the next four days! The Driftwood Inn is an old-fashioned, unpretentious motor inn with a spectacular location right on the ocean front. Its dining room has a wall of windows overlooking the ocean. After lunching there, I walked along the ocean and took two swims in the warm, gentle surf. Being used to the wild, frigid breakers of the North Atlantic, this was a special treat.


That evening, the formal festivities began with a reception followed by a presentation by Anne-Marie MacDonald. The festival is unlike any other I have been to, and under the special stewardship of festival organizer Jane Davidson, it is an author's delight. Attendance at the festival as a whole is in the thousands, and each author is given a full hour on the stage to shine. Most of us combined talk and reading throughout our hour, and every presentation I attended was heartfelt and riveting. As a crime writer, I most frequently meet other crime writers at events and festivals, so it was a treat to meet authors from all across the spectrum, from Camilla Gibb to Waubgeshig Rice to Craig Davidson, Michael Christie and Cathie Borrie. Everyone used words in unique and moving ways. This is another unexpected perk to the writer's life– the chance to broaden and inspire our own writing.

Many festival attendees come year after year and often stay for the full three and a half days, giving a warm welcome to new authors and old favourites alike. Most sessions were full. Where else can an author get an enthusiastic and appreciative audience of 450 people on a Sunday morning? After each session the bookseller, the wonderful Bev Shaw of Talewind Books, did a brisk business. Mindful of my flight limit, I resisted the urge to buy books by each of the other authors.

Photo by Cathie Roy

My four days at Sechelt ended, fittingly, with a devilish moonlight swim in the ocean and then an early morning float plane back to Vancouver and a ferry ride to Victoria. I wandered the streets and pathways of that charming city for a day before my final event at Chronicles of Crime,  one of the few mystery bookstores left on the continent, and well worth the trip. Owner Frances Thorsen, along with Orca Books, had organized a panel with myself and local authors Kay Stewart, Linda Richards and Brian Harvey. What a lively and interesting exchange it proved to be, with the discussion ranging over morality, justice, mystery conventions, and the death of cats. The audience pitched right in and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.


I staggered into my taxi at 6:00 am the next morning to begin the flight home, bearing a suitcase of lovely memories, new books, new friendships, and fresh inspiration to explore new heights in my own writing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why the best font is often the one you don’t “see”

by Rick Blechta

Not a typeface I'd want to use EVER!
If you read Aline’s post yesterday, you probably guessed this was coming — or you should have!

I’ve always loved typefaces. Being a graphic designer, I also need to have some knowledge about how they work, an understanding as to why that is, and what to use where for the best effect. My collection of typefaces was in the hundreds before I got into graphic design. It now numbers in the thousands — and I still always have my eye out for something new and distinctive.

I don’t think anyone out there wants a treatise on typography, but I will share a few important things I’ve learned along the way. This is not just aimed at writers (whether published or not), but at anyone who’s reading this post.

Not all typefaces are created equal
Every computer comes with a generous compliment of free fonts. Some are really good, some poor, and many of them overused.

Just because a font is overused doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. An example: you’re sending out a digital form of your ms to an agent or publisher. This is not the time to exercise creativity in your font choices. You want to know what your deathless prose is going to look like on the receiver’s computer monitor. If you choose something that’s not generally available on everyone’s computer, the software will choose the font for you, and it might not end well. My suggestion: in cases like this, use Times New Roman for running copy and something like Arial or Helvetica for chapter headings, your name on each page, the book’s title, etc. Probably every computer on Planet Earth will be able to display your work in the same way.

Now, if you’re submitting a printed ms, that’s a different matter. Here, it doesn’t matter, so go for something that looks good and reads well. Two very popular (and for a good reason) fonts for book copy are Sabon and Bembo. Your computer probably doesn’t have these, but they are not expensive to purchase. A large proportion of the world’s books use these two (or variations of them). Why? Because they’re very readable.

They also aren’t Times New Roman. Those in publishing see mountains of material in TNR and receiving a printed ms in something else is going to be welcome to them. It’s also distinctive and that can score you a few brownie points.

But more importantly, none of these fonts draw attention to themselves. There’s a saying among typographers: “Good typography is invisible.” Aline already said something like this in her post yesterday. A typeface that draws attention to itself in any way is not a good one. It can be as damaging as poor prose or an impossible plot point. It can draw the reader out of the story. Don’t want that, do we?

If you’re writing business correspondence, I’d also recommend Garamond (a favourite of mine), Caslon, or Minion (another favourite). They’re distinctive and eminently readable.

Above all, every font I’ve mentioned are generally very well designed. That means they’ll go on the page (digital or paper) smoothly, without awkward spaces (called kerning) and they’ll be reliable since most have been around for many years — centuries, in fact, in some cases.

To finish up, may I share a pet peeve? To set it up, there are two types of fonts: monospace and variable.

Monospace fonts were primarily designed to work with typewriters. Every character is the same width. Whether it’s an ‘m’ or an ‘i’, the distance taken up between it and other characters will be the same. The result is an ‘i’ (or other narrow character will have a ton of space around it. The classic monospace is Courier (but there are many others). That’s why (to those of a certain age) if you learned to type on a typewriter, you were always told to put a double space after a period, question mark or exclamation. It showed clearly that you were at the end of a sentence.

Variable space type actually has been around for centuries, way longer than monospace. Each character has a different width, so thin or thick, the space between characters will look “right”. So because of this, you do not need to put a double space at the end of a sentence. In fact, it looks downright wrong.

So if you’re one of those “double-spacers” and you’re not using a monospace font, please refrain from following bad habits. It will make your prose look more elegant, and that’s always a good thing.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What's in a Font?

I have a confession to make. I've never really taken any interest in fonts.

Perhaps it stems from the fact that I'm sadly not artistic. I would love to be able to draw or paint but since I'm no good at it (Grandchild: 'Draw me a pussycat, Granny.'  Me: 'Er...') I have taken the 'Oh well, suit yourself,' position and have sulkily stopped bothering about stylistic detail.

I use good old Times Roman professionally, but it does look a bit formal. For my personal emails, I looked at a bewildering number of alternatives and chose Lucida Sans, I think because it was the first one I came across that looked less stiff but still sort of normal and not obtrusive.

Having said that, though, when it comes to the print in a book l'm like many philistines: I don't know much about it, but I do know what I like.

I hate it when the letters draw attention away from the words I want to read. I dislike it when to differentiate between two fictional voices, one's story is printed in italics, or even worse, in handwriting. When I'm racing along, enjoying the narrative, a solid slab of italics makes me feel as if I've fallen on to my nose. I've even been known to abandon the book in disgust.  And a flashy or jokey font in an email induces in me the same dark suspicions as a handwritten letter in green ink.

What I don't notice, I suppose, is good practice – the simple, elegant fonts that don't draw the eye. Certainly I would never have thought that these would make any difference to the way I read.

But the research Amazon did before introducing 'Bookerley,' a new font used for some best-sellers that that will soon be rolled out more widely, was fascinating. Some styles actually fatigue the eye (See above, italics and handwriting) but by making curves and serifs thicker and thinner in strategic places, the eye is led forward and reading, they claim, will be 2% faster and much less tiring.

It would never occur to me to have a discussion with a publisher about the principles on which fonts are chosen, but perhaps it should. We're all trying to write easy, flowing prose that draws our readers on, and we need any help we can get.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Guest Author Lois Winston



I am so pleased to host the inimitable Lois Winston at Type M today. Lois is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author who writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. See the links to Lois' wonderful crafting and writing blogs below.

Characters Who Think Like Their Authors

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, was published in January 2011. Four additional full-length novels and three mini-mysteries have followed over the last four-and-a-half years. The timeframe for each book spans anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Thus, less than a year has passed in the life of Anastasia and her family. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun takes place in February. A Stitch to Die For, my newest release, takes place the last week in October and the first two days of November.

In this book for the first time Anastasia is confronted with a murder in her own neighborhood. Halloween also plays a role in setting the stage for A Stitch to Die For.

Like most authors, I’m often asked how much of me went into creating my protagonist. Anastasia and I have many things in common, including a communist mother-in-law, but we’re also different in many ways. Luckily, I don’t have a Dead Louse of a Spouse who gambled away all our money and left me up to my eyeballs in debt. However, in A Stitch to Die For Anastasia and I have something else in common—my hatred of Halloween.

I was a very shy child. Having to dress up in a cheap plastic costume and go door-to-door begging for candy was something I dreaded each year. From a very young age I was pushed out of the house to walk the neighborhood on my own, ringing strangers’ doorbells. If I didn’t come back with a full bag of candy, I was sent back out. Add to that the multiple times I was the victim of egg-hurling, marauding teenagers, and you can understand why I’m not a fan of the holiday.

I tamped down this hatred when my own kids were young, even making their costumes. I also accompanied them as they went trick or treating and never allowed them to approach homes where I didn’t know the residents. As a result, my kids have a much different attitude toward Halloween than I do.

Writing about Anastasia having the same feelings I have about Halloween was a bit of a cathartic experience for me. I still hate Halloween, though, not only for the memories it stirs up but also for other reasons, ones which Anastasia gives voice to at one point in A Stitch to Die For:

“Everything okay?” asked Zack as he unloaded the contents of our cart onto the conveyor belt.

I frowned at the bags of Halloween candy he grabbed next, wondering how many of the kids who rang my doorbell Monday night would offer a thank-you. Most of them didn’t even live in the neighborhood and few bothered with costumes—another reason I hated Halloween. “Hardly.”
~~
A Stitch to Die For
The adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

_________________
Visit Lois/Emma at www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Tsu at www.tsu.co/loiswinston, on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/anasleuth, and onTwitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter by clicking here.
Her books are available in paperback, on Kindle Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rangers Lead The Way

All the talk recently about the first two women to graduate from the US Army Ranger School made me reminisce about my time in Ranger school, 37 years ago. Where to begin. Well, it was hard. Historically the graduation rate is around 50 percent, and most quit within the first few days, which surprised me. To apply for Ranger school you have to be recommended by your cadre or your commander, plus you have to surpass the prerequisites for physical fitness and military skills. Basically, you have to convince everyone that you're the kind of demented, hard-headed kook who could make it through the nine weeks of anguish. Before you left for the school, you are briefed by recent graduates about what to expect. I remember listening to their litany of misery and asking, "Didn't you do anything fun?" The two Rangers looked at me like I'd grown an extra head. I did spend the month before I was to report for the school toughing myself up. Besides my usual routine of gym work and running, I'd take long hikes through the desert in the middle of the day with a cinder block in my backpack. I wasn't kidding about being a demented, hard-headed kook. The first days of school were what I expected. O-dark-thirty wake ups, lots of running, crawling through the mud of the infamous Worm Pit, obstacle courses, sergeants yelling, being tired all the goddamn time. When a student decided to quit, the RIs (Ranger Instructors) would pounce on the hapless soul and torment him relentlessly for the rest of the day. I didn't understand how someone could show up to the school and not realize what they were getting into.


The Ranger chow line. Even honed Ninja-killers have to eat.

Despite all the hype of "elite" training, most of what we practiced were tried-and-true infantry tactics. Except that we did them for days and nights at a stretch. As motivated as we were, because of the strain it proved tempting to slack off when we could. One embarrassing episode happened to me after we had forded a deep stream. At first opportunity we were supposed to field strip our weapons and wipe them dry. I got lazy and only toweled off the outside of my M-16 and the bolt. Later that day, an RI at random asked to see my rifle. Upon field-stripping it he discovered water dripping from the firing pin. He shamed me mercilessly in front of my Ranger buddies but thankfully didn't write me up.
 
The press loves photos of Ranger students rock climbing and rappelling during the Mountain Phase because it makes for good copy. I had some mountaineering experience so I didn't think that particular training was so strenuous. What did kick my ass were the mountain patrols. Those Georgia hills might not be as tall as the Rocky Mountains but they're more than impressive enough and go on and on and on. Plus they're covered with mountain laurel that would snag our rucksacks and radio antennas, whip the back of our heads, and stab us in the face. To test our daredevil mettle, my platoon parachuted twice into tiny drop zones surrounded by menacing pines, once at night. Between phases we'd get a break lasting eight to twelve hours. After hustling rides into nearby Columbus, Georgia, we would drop off our dirty uniforms at a laundry, visit a steakhouse and shovel food down our throats, pick up our clothes, and rush to the barracks for some lusted-for rack time. Mother Nature cut us slack during the notorious Swamp Phase as Florida that summer suffered a prolonged drought. The swamps and creeks had dried to trickles, forcing the alligators to vamoose for wetter terrain and leaving us plenty of dry ground to tramp over. But the Yellow River had grown so shallow that we had to drag our rubber rafts as often as we rode in them. And yet, every afternoon like clockwork, a thunderstorm would pound the area. To avoid lighting strikes--which have killed Rangers--we'd pile our gear in a heap, lay at a distance in groups of one, and get soaked as we waited for the storm to pass. The RIs advised us to not wear underwear so as to prevent crotch rot; we were going commando during commando training--how meta is that! When on patrol we'd get one C-ration per day (a normal daily ration is three) and would consume everything in that little box. We'd chew the instant coffee to stay awake (didn't work) and ate the creamer because we convinced ourselves it tasted like cotton candy. The big trial was getting a passing grade on the patrols, basically a small-unit operation--a raid, an ambush, a reconnaissance--which is what Ranger school is fundamentally about. If you got lost, you failed the patrol. If you misplaced equipment, you failed. If your team missed the rally points, you failed. If you didn't orchestrate a proper mission, you failed. Fail half of your patrols in any given phase and you'd be recycled or dropped. Keeping track of all these details was challenging enough in ideal conditions. Compound that with sleep deprivation and nutrition deficits and we turned into hallucinating physical wrecks. Sometimes the trance would fall over you in mid-sentence. You dreamed about food, I mean you fantasized about it like sex. Even though we had showed up for school lean and mean, we each lost 20-30 pounds. Finally, after nine weeks, my buddies and I were standing in formation to get Ranger tabs pinned to our shoulders.

So what's the big deal with Ranger school considering few of us would ever engage in small-unit operations? I guess it showed that we were willing to go the extra mile. As for women, barring them from attending Ranger school was a reminder that they are still regarded as second-class soldiers, as less than fully able to perform in any capacity, that they are judged on appearance and stereotypes instead of merit. Consider women athletes, particularly gymnasts, and they certainly have the strength and drive to make the cut. In the military we already have women fighter pilots, astronauts, submariners, divers (now that is tough training!), and combat nurses. The irony of not letting women attend special operations training is that women are deployed anyway with SEALs, Special Forces, Rangers, Marines, and Air Force special operations. Several have been killed on those missions. They have to do the job but not get all the training. So to the Army's newest Rangers, Cpt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt Shaye Haver, I say congratulations and it's been long overdue.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Cold Hard Truth

A friend emailed me recently who was worried about a young man she knew who was not doing too well. He had never held a "real" job. He wants to become a writer and she wanted to know what I thought of his ability.

In fact, I think he is quite talented. That said, it's very, very hard to assess the merit of a work in a genre you don't regularly read. But talent is not the problem here. The problem is reality.

Only a very few writers make really big bucks. They are very talented and have something quite special going for them. Never mind that this one or that one is not your own personal cup of tea. When they first started out, each person on the best seller list time after time brought something new to the marketplace. These are the born naturals. The cream of the crop. They cannot stop. Case in point is J.K. Rawlings. The lady doesn't need the money but she keeps on anyway. She can't help herself.

 And then we move on to another wealthy tier of writers. They are really good, usually genre specific, but things can get a little weird down the line. Books are outlined and someone else does the actually writing. Names are licensed. Writing becomes harder. Trips beckon. Time with family. A cocktail at sunset. They make a terrific living. Have a sweet life.

But the cold hard truth is that most writers need a day job. Seldom does one's writing alone provide enough to support a family, generate income for research trips, or enable one to attend the endless round of conferences that compete for time and bucks.

So what kind of day job? How many hours a day? I find it puzzling that some of the people with the most demanding jobs produce phenomenal books year after year. As to the type of job? When I taught a course in writing at Fort Hays State University one spring, I found myself worrying about the students' stories, instead of my own writing. It was like trying to water two fields from the same well. Yet, Joyce Carol Oates, who is incredibly gifted has taught writing at Columbia for decades. Our own Frankie Bailey is a professor in the department of justice.

Some writers find that working in a trade or doing something involved with physical labor is just the right contrast. That makes sense to me.

I like bookkeeping and accounting. It's comforting to do non-creative work that is exacting and precise. It's black and white. Right or wrong. Writing is a very messy occupation, but it's so exhilarating! I would rather be a writer than anything else, nevertheless sometimes I think how nice a regular paycheck would be. Sometimes I hate the fog that is a part of creativity.

So my question for the young man would be "How do you intend to support yourself?" The cold hard truth is that if you plan to become a writer you must figure something out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Off the Grid

Hi, all.

John here.
This week, I've been in the woods of Maine, near Baxter State Park,
at a camp that has no Internet.
I've done nothing but swim with my daughters, kayak, and fish (no luck). Here are some pics of Mt. Katahdin and Togue Pond.





Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Taking a Breather


Psst! Sybil’s computer here. I need your help. She’s gone off somewhere. Said she needs to recharge her batteries. What’s that about? I recharge mine just fine at home. She “claims” she needs a rest from all of this electronic stuff. No Facebook. No Twitter. No email. I don’t believe it.

I think she’s cheating on me. I’ve seen the way she looks at that Kindle Fire of hers. And I don’t see it anywhere in the house.

I found these photos on websites she visited. I think they’re clues as to where she’s gone. She thought she’d hidden them from me, but I’m smarter than she is.


So, what do you say? Can you help? Wait, what’s that?

Oh, looky here. She downloaded the latest Nancy Drew mystery game. Never mind...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Learning from negative experiences

I am currently dealing with an extremely distressing and unhappy situation. It has consumed a good part of my daily life, is nearly unbearable to think about, and most importantly, completely unnecessary. These sorts of things happen to everyone at some point or other in their lives. They can be tough to live through and tougher to deal with. Eventually, it will all be resolved — hopefully without further grief, although I’m not expecting that sort of happy outcome.

Thing is, something like this can also be a good learning situation if you happen to write fiction. I’m trying to look at it from that viewpoint. It’s been a struggle to embrace what I’m feeling and let it flow over me, but I’m determined to see the process through. Out of something bad, maybe some good can come.

For any novel to be successful, something has to happen that causes change in the story’s characters’ lives and/or personalities. The real story is how these imaginary people deal with what they’re facing. In crime fiction, this usually means dealing with death or violence of some sort. If it’s a police procedural, the cop has to solve the crime. If the protagonist is an “amateur sleuth” then they have to rise to the occasion and solve the crime. (I know most of you understand this, but it helps to set out the parameters of the discussion.)

Thing is, the narrative of characters changing has to, above all, be believable. This is precisely what Frankie was talking about in her post last Friday, Stupid with an Excuse. Sometimes writers are fortunate when faced with this conundrum, other times not so much. How many of us have yelled at our TVs while watching something and a character does something so incredibly stupid that we fall right out of the story? Obviously, the writer failed miserably in making the situation believable.

The believability of a character’s actions is something we fiction writers have to face a lot — and we have to become good at it to enjoy any kind of success and ultimately satisfy our readers.

What many writers are not successful at is injecting negativity into characters’ lives. Yeah, you can superficially deal with it, nearly anyone can understand it on a basic level (the character has a drinking problem, or an unhappy home life or something of that nature), but to really have a character be ultimately believable, negativity of some sort needs to be injected at a very basic level into their psyche and allowed to grow and develop as we get to know them. Once it’s organic in a character, then it just needs to be teased out by the writer, glimpsed here and there, before it is needed for a big scene or perhaps the book’s climax.

Since negative things in people’s daily lives are something that we all shied away from as much as possible, we don’t give ourselves much of a chance to learn the nuances of these feelings. (“I just don’t want to dwell on this. I want to get it over and done with.”) As a writer, I’ve let many good opportunities to improve my writing in this way by shying away from uncomfortable/unpleasant situations — ie: dealing with negative issues as quickly as possible to get them over and done with — slip away without completely understanding my underlying feelings. We all write best when we’ve lived through something first, and quite frankly, I’ve blown it more times than I care to remember.

So as I deal with this unfortunate issue in my life, this time I’m trying to embrace the way I’m feeling, digging deeper even though it’s making me truly uncomfortable. Down the road I’ll be able to relive what I’m discovering and (hopefully) realistically inject it into a character’s DNA and then come up with some prose that will successfully make a situation more real and visceral for readers.

It was a favourite saying of a dear friend that “everything can provide a learning opportunity if you just look for it”. This is one of those occasions.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Guest Slot

Aline here.  I'm delighted to be able to introduce Chris Sims to you today.

His life experience has given him quite a range of experiences to draw on in his writing: he's travelled the world and worked in airports, nightclubs and telecentres.  He is now the lively editor for the Crime Readers Association's free on-line magazine well worth a look at for exclusive insights into your favourite British writers. His two most recent books are Sleeping Dogs and Sing me to Sleep. 

Proud to be a Genre Jumper


Just about every crime novel ever written shares a common link: corpses. That’s always been fine with me. When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t actually think of it as a crime novel – but it certainly featured a few dead bodies. In fact, Britain’s motorway system was strewn with them by the end.

My next few novels kept to convention – people got slashed, stabbed and strangled in all sorts of interesting places. Saddleworth Moor. The island of Anglesey. A secluded hill in the Peak District. I even had a dead guy pop up in the Manchester Ship Canal, putting some of the city’s restaurant goers off their meals in the process.


The city of Manchester makes a superb setting for crime novels. Once known as Cottonopolis, it was the world’s first industrial city. Factories, mills and warehouses sprung up at an astonishing rate – and with them grandiose civic buildings and sprawling slums. The textiles produced were transported around the world.

Manufacturing has now moved to other countries, yet many of those buildings remain. Some have been converted into plush apartments for young professionals. The derelict ones are inhabited by people at the other end of the social scale. I find the city’s stark contrasts fertile ground for plots.

But while writing my detective thrillers, I was always enchanted by another genre where the dead are de rigueur. Ghost stories. They’re a fine British tradition; everyone from Charles Dickens to Daphne Du Maurier has had a go. And so recently, I put my two detectives aside and fulfilled a long-held ambition of writing one. Well, two actually.

In many ways, crime novels and ghost stories are incredibly similar. There’s amystery to solve. There’s a threat of danger. Tension needs to be built. Justice demands it be served. And, most importantly, the reader must be gripped. The only real difference is, in a ghost story, the dead person doesn’t just…lie there.

Writing my two ghost story novels has been a truly refreshing experience. But now I feel ready: it’s time to bring my detectives back from the dead.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stupid with an Excuse

The other day I heard some people talking about the stupid things characters in fiction do. We've all had this conversation. It's even played for laughs in a commercial for a well-known insurance company. You know, those kids who run into a barn rather than toward the car with the engine running. From horror novels to crime fiction, romance to "mainstream" – hapless characters run, walk, or meander into situations that any sensible person would avoid. They put themselves in danger and often – well, yes, always – it's the writer's fault. Character in dangerous situation gets to be brave or saved (if the character is female). Character in dangerous situation has an opportunity to discover the crucial secret/clue that leads to the resolution after a climatic confrontation. But modern readers are often annoyed by characters who should have known better, who should have been smart, who did not behave like sensible people.


I've been thinking about this because I was listening to a CD from a recent writers conference. The speaker was talking about why writing oneself into a corner can be a good thing because it forces the writer to find a solution. That solution – in a thriller – means finding a way to get a character (or characters) out of an impossible situation. I've been thinking about this because I'm a hybrid writer. Although I don't plot out every scene in the book I'm writing, I do like to have some sense of what is ahead. I've learned to allow for a change of direction, to let my characters take the lead (my own intuition at work). But this idea of being more of a pantser and writing in a way that allows my characters to get into impossible situations – that they (I) must get out of – is new to me. 

My series protagonist are both rational, sensible women. Hannah McCabe, my police detective, walks into dangerous situation with backup there or on the way. She has her gun in her hand. Lizzie Stuart, my crime historian, may be curious and determined, but she is also cautious. She may end up in danger, but it's not because she did something "too stupid to live".  If I allow the protagonists in my historical thriller to rush forward and get themselves into an impossible situation, do I also have to worry that the reader will wonder how they could have been so stupid?

But, there is a different standard for protagonists in thrillers, isn't there? They are allowed to go boldly forward, to be impetuous and even reckless. If the stakes are high enough, they can take chances -- try to break into impenetrable fortresses, rush into a basement with a bomb ticking, walk into a room full of enemy agents wearing a thin disguise. They get to be stupid with an excuse. The excuse is someone must try to do this. And the person who tries is a hero not an idiot. 

As we have been told in books and seminars, the stakes must be high in a thriller. When the stakes are high enough, what would otherwise be reckless and/or stupid becomes courageous. But how the reader evaluates the situation depends on how well the writer has laid the groundwork. What the character perceives as high stakes might not seem so high to the reader. I've been thinking of a real-life example. This happened year ago, but I still think about it now and then when the weather outside is scary. A severe storm warning had been issued. As I recall, there was also a tornado watch in effect. Maybe it had been elevated to a warning. It was late afternoon, and the time when classes were ending and students and faculty should have been heading home. But most of us were sheltering in place in the massive brick and stone university buildings on the downtown campus. With the ferocity of the storm outside, a few of us had even headed down to the basement in our building. I was standing there in the basement hallway, when a man passed me, heading for the exit into the parking lot. Without even thinking, I called after him, "You aren't going out in that?" He called back over his shoulder, "Got to. My family's waiting for me at home."

He was probably a grad student taking a late afternoon class. He seemed in that brief glance to have been in his thirties. In his mind, the need to get to his family and be there for them outweighed the danger he might face as he drove through a storm. If this man were a fictional character in a book, it would be my obligation – if he were my protagonist – to make his actions reasonable. Rational people might think that rushing out into a storm was reckless behavior. What if he were injured or even killed as he tried to get home to his family? Where would they be then? Would his family want him to risk his own safety to get to them? But what if he had just spoken to his wife on the phone and knew she was frightened? What if he knew she was terrified of storms and she was there alone with their toddlers? What if his wife were pregnant and had miscarried before? What if the family waiting at home was his two children and his elderly mother who had been living with them since his wife died? What if he knew his mother would have a hard time coping if something happened in the house? All good reasons for rushing out into the storm. I could make these personal stakes matter. Bad things might happen to people he loved if he didn't take this risk.

On the other hand, I could take this character in another direction. What if his calm and capable wife had assured him during his call home that both she and the children were fine? They were in the basement, had books, flashlights, snacks, and were prepared to ride out the storm. His wife is a nurse. His son and daughter are both Scouts. They all know what to do in the event of an emergency. But my character ignores his wife's concern about his safety. He thinks a "real man" would brave the elements to get to his family. He is sure they wouldn't be able to handle an emergency without him. He has several mishaps on his way home and finally arrives after the storm is over. The power is off, but he finds his children playing a board game by lantern light. His wife is in the kitchen making sandwiches. He feels ridiculous. Maybe he sulks or gets angry when his wife exclaims about how wet and muddy he is and asks why he didn't wait until the storm was over before heading home. 

Before I begin to write – and write myself into that corner that I will have to get out of -- I'm going to think some more about who my characters are. Actually, I rather like the idea of having my protagonist do something really stupid  – with an excuse rooted in who he is and how he sees the world. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Make Your Own

Grandma's homemade dress, 1911
I have been called penurious in my time. Yet, in comparison to my mother, or her parents, who had to support themselves and their families during the worst downturn in U.S. history, I am downright profligate.

Nobody knows from frugal any more.

I recently saw a woman on television say that there is a trend among fashionable young people to buy cheap, hip clothing that may fall apart the first time it's washed. But they don't care. The only spend $30 or so for something they throw away when it's ruined and then they can buy something even more stylish and up to date.

I make no judgment. I'd rather be in a position to do that than to have to wear clothes I made myself out of a flour sack. For much of American history, few farm families had the money to buy ready-made clothing from a store. Clothes were homemade and worn until they were so patched and stained that they were unwearable. After which the mother would use what was left the make a quilt, or a rag rug, or a mop. Then she'd use the scraps to make a patch for a shirt or trousers, or a button cover, until the material disintegrated into molecules and floated away on the breeze.

In the mid-1800s, companies that sold sugar, flour, and animal feed began packing their goods into heavy cotton sacks instead of boxes and barrels. It didn't take long for women to realize that once the bag was empty, they were in possession of a piece of fabric that made durable work shirts, or aprons, or really nice, cheap clothes for the kids. Once the flour and chicken feed companies found out what was going on, they started printing pretty designs on the bags, and suddenly every rural child in America was wearing a dress or shirt with little pink flowers on it, or underwear with "Pillsbury" printed across the seat.

A while back I received a note from a cousin of mine who wrote, "Aunt Thelma [our mutual great-aunt] always bragged about how Grandma Bourland [our mutual great-grandmother] only had to look at a photo of a dress to be able to copy it." That comment made me smile, because my grandmother on the other side of the family had said exactly the same thing about her mother [whose name was Alafair].

"Ma didn't even need a pattern," Grandma Casey told me. "You'd just tell her, 'I want pleats here and this kind of sleeve,' and she'd whip it up."

She did, too. Above is a photo of my grandmother Casey standing in front of her parents' house in Kentucky in 1911, clad in a dress that her mother made for her. For a fictional wedding in my second book, Hornswoggled, I dressed the bride in this very outfit.

I suppose if you had seven daughters and you made every stitch of clothing they wore from birth until they left home, not to mention clothing for your sons and your husband and yourself, you'd become an expert seamstress in short order. Even if you had to sew it all on a treadle machine. Years ago I tried to make something on my grandmother's treadle sewing machine. You really have to get the knack of pumping the treadle with your foot. It's like rubbing your head and patting your tummy at the same time.

Me in Italy, 1969. My mother made my outfit.
My own mother made a lot of clothing for her three daughters. We did not live on a farm and could afford store-bought clothes, but Mama grew up in the country during the Depression, and she was the living embodiment of frugality. If she could make do, she did. I never felt put-upon by wearing homemade clothes, because what my mother made was excellent. She had a great eye for material and color and we girls always looked chic. I so loved some of the dresses she made for me in the '70s that I still have them to this day. I think they are museum quality. I'd model some for you, Dear Reader, but these days I could get into them with a shoehorn.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On to British Columbia!

Barbara here. Today I am on  an airplane, flying almost 4000 kilometres across Canada from Ottawa to Vancouver to begin the first leg of my week-long mini book tour of British Columbia. BC is a beautiful province of spectacular mountains, rugged oceans, and quirky cities. Have I really only visited it once in the past forty-three years? I am really looking forward to bringing Inspector Green along with me, to three book appearances in three parts of the province.

First, the gorgeous city of Vancouver, where tonight (Wednesday Aug 12) I will be at The Book Warehouse on Main Street for an evening of book talk and killer readings with two BC writer friends I have met on previous book travels, E.R. Brown and Sam Wiebe. Both Sam and Eric set their books in and around Vancouver, and have been nominated for numerous awards. Details of the event are on the poster below. It's free and all book lovers are welcome!


Then tomorrow I fly up the coast to Sechelt by float plane– how cool is that? I've never been on a float plane, despite writing about one in my novel THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS, and so it will be a test to see how well my imagination worked! In addition to being a beautiful coastal peninsula, Sechelt is home to the annual Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. Sunshine Coast is "Canada's longest running summer gathering of Canadian writers and readers, featuring established literary stars and exciting, new voices". I am honoured to be one of the invited authors this summer, among a select list from across the literary spectrum, each of whom gives an hour-long presentation. The festival lasts four days, but my talk is on Sunday morning, Aug 16, and the rest of the time I am free to enjoy the other presentations and the glorious scenery of the coast. 

An hour will provide plenty of scope to cover my writing in detail, so in the past few weeks I have been thinking about what people would like to hear. There are ten books in the Inspector Green series, which has an arc of its own as my character has matured and faced different challenges in his personal life as well as his work. I have decided to talk about the series as a whole, and to this end have been scouring my earlier books in search of short selections that illustrate that arc. I will start with DO OR DIE, the debut novel of the series, and will read the scene the first introduces Green to readers. It is very odd to go back fifteen years to the beginning of my novel-writing career. The series and my skills have evolved in breadth and depth over time, as one would hope, so it is a bit like meeting my younger, clumsier self.

I will read from one or two other books in the series before ending with a focus on my latest book, NONE SO BLIND. In the process, I will talk about why I write mysteries, why a nice, gentle healer of souls (I'm a psychologist) would be drawn to murder, and why I chose the themes I did. Partly catharsis, partly trying to right the world, partly... Who knows? It will be an interesting journey of discovery for me as well as the audience. 

After four days in Sechelt, I fly back to Vancouver by float plane and then across the ocean by ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island. There I have another exciting evening of book talk and readings at the wonderful mystery bookstore, Chronicles of Crime, on Aug 18. This time I will be joined by three authors from Vancouver Island – Kay Stewart, Linda Richards, and Brian Harvey – all of whom have multiple achievements to their names. Once again, a free evening for book lovers everywhere! The details are in this poster.


If you live anywhere near any of these venues, I'd love to see you!

Then, on Aug 19, it's an early morning flight back home, tired but hopefully exhilarated and inspired by the new experiences and people I have met. We authors spend a lot of time lamenting the dismal state of publishing today and the poverty-level incomes most of us make, even those with successful,  long-running series. All of that is true, yet there are unseen, surprise benefits like making new friends, travelling across the continent to conferences and festivals (albeit most of the time on our own dime), and joining the worldwide community of booklovers. 

That's priceless.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On location...

Hi there!

Mr. Blechta regrets to inform you that there will be no blog post from him today. You see, he is on vacation. As a matter of fact his regrets come to you from the top of Anthony’s Nose which lies just north of Peekskill, New York, and from where he is looking down at the Hudson River several hundred feet below. He could tell you what he’s doing up here, but has declined because it’s a top secret research mission for his work-in-progress.

This bird keeps croaking, “Nevermore.” I have no idea why.

“It is rather amazing to be able to do something like this from such a remote location,” Blechta stated a short time ago. “Please wish all Type M readers my very best, and tell them I’ll be back next Tuesday in fine fettle and with some terrific stories to tell.”

Thank you for your kind attention.

—The Management

Monday, August 10, 2015

Near Death Experience

My website nearly died last week.  It's still in intensive care, but there is, thank heavens, a good chance it will recover.

The first notice I had of it was when a reader emailed to ask if I knew it had gone down, which I didn't, but sure enough when I checked it wasn't working and it wouldn't let me in to see what was wrong.  So I immediately did what I do in any crisis like this - contacted wonderful Andrew in the confident expectation that I would get his usual response - 'No problem, just a couple of clicks,' and because he is a very very nice man, he doesn't add the 'you stupid woman' bit.

When the email came back saying that something was badly wrong and he didn't know if it was rescuable, I went into shock. A huge amount of time, money and thought had gone into my website and I realised I didn't even have a hard copy of what was up there.

I'm well aware of the dangers of viruses and my PC has protection and back-up systems. I get a warning if I look like straying on to a dodgy site and I never download anything when I don't know the source

On the website I get quite a lot of spam 'comments', mostly trying to sell something, but I never opened them, just trashed them. I didn't really worry about it since any personal information is in the public domain and there's no access to any of my accounts or contacts. There is nothing to be gleaned from it that could be of any commercial use to anyone.

Yet what has happened to it has been fairly comprehensive destruction and if it weren't for the amazing talents of my webmaster it would have gone completely.  He's now trying to drag it across to another safer site so that the content can be separated from whatever has poisoned the system.  It's going to be a very expensive operation – and whenever I'm sure it's properly up and running again I am going to have much greater security and I will print off a copy of every page just in case something like this happens again.

What really bugs me is, why should somebody bother to do that?  Is there a purpose that I don't understand, or is it just 'motiveless malignity', as Coleridge said of Iago?

So much time and money is wasted by criminal activity of one sort or another.   I constantly have to answer the phone to people trying to persuade me that there's something wrong with my computer that only they can fix or there's been a fraud on my credit card that they can sort out for me.  My street has been targeted by burglars recently so we have to have a state-of-the-art alarm system that means I have to find the fob and switch it off if I want to make myself a cup of tea in the middle of the night.

None of that is pleasant, but at least I can understand the hopeful 'phishing' emails that invite you for one reason or another to oblige them with your bank account number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, etc.  They're just plain crooks, nasty little parasites on society.

But there is something much more upsetting about these vermin who have nothing to gain except, I guess, pleasure at the thought of someone else's unhappiness.




Saturday, August 08, 2015

No Apology Necessary

This week’s guest blogger is fellow Henery Press author, Wendy Tyson. She’s the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the forthcoming Greenhouse Mystery series.

Visit Wendy at her website: http://www.watyson.com


No Apology Necessary

By Wendy Tyson

My family and I just returned from a trip abroad where I was doing research for the next Allison Campbell mystery, Fatal Façade


I was looking for the right setting for a murder, and I found it in Sesto, a small South Tyrolean village in the Dolomite Mountains of northeastern Italy. In Sesto and the surrounding towns, the people are friendly, the scenery majestic, and the food delicious; plus, there are all sorts of Alpine nooks and crannies—perfect places for hiding a body. With miles of walking and hiking trails and a sophisticated lift system, exploring was easy. 

 
I had only one problem: the language barrier. I’m proficient at neither German nor Italian, the two primary languages spoken in South Tyrol, and many people there don’t speak English. Armed with Google Translate and a first aid kit’s worth of Italian, I meandered my way through Sesto, taking copious notes and hundreds of pictures. But that wasn’t enough. I had compiled a list of questions and I needed to talk to someone.

Fortunately, I met several people whose mastery of English was far greater than my grasp of their language. I so badly wanted to tell them that I was a mystery writer, to sit down for hours over tiramisu and a cup (or three) of cappuccino and discuss the rich history, culture and traditions of the area. My issue? A sudden attack of shyness. I found myself afraid to approach these strangers. Research or not, I was feeling oddly sheepish.

It was Julia Child who said, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” In cooking…and in writing. Julia Child believed in living life unapologetically. Her robust, take-no-prisoners attitude was one of the things I loved about the chef, and as we made our way through Europe,
sampling the culinary offerings in each region, Julia came to mind. How many times had I avoided asking questions for fear that I would be bothering someone? How many opportunities to learn and grow as a writer had I missed because I censored myself, believing that people, including those I met in Sesto, would be uninterested in helping me or that I would look like a fool? How many times did I apologize before asking for help—for taking up time, for taking too long, for not being fluent in a language? Too many times.

I realized then that I have trouble saying the words, “I am a mystery author.” After all, I don’t have the street cred or name brand recognition of Patterson or Child or Gerritsen. I still feel a little bit like an imposter. If you’ve ever experienced Imposter Syndrome, you know exactly what I mean. Imposter Syndrome is not unique to writers. As a first year lawyer at a big Philly firm, I spent many days wondering when people would figure out that I didn’t belong. Little did I know at the time that most of my first year colleagues (and some more tenured ones, too) felt the same way. It seems Imposter Syndrome is universal amongst new lawyers. Perhaps it’s universal amongst writers, too.

But in order to do research for my book, in order to do right by my readers and create the most authentic story possible, I needed to develop, like Julia, a what-the-hell attitude. I needed to get past Imposter Syndrome. I needed to stop apologizing.

After five days in the region, I felt my confidence growing. Perhaps it was a result of the sustenance gained from local delights like spinach knödel, fried apples (with ice cream!) and grappa. Perhaps I was simply getting more comfortable with the area and its people. Or maybe I was channeling a little of Julia’s chutzpah. In any case, I asked questions, outing myself as a mystery writer. Unsurprisingly, everyone I spoke with was helpful—and interested. The more I opened up, the more I learned—and I vowed that there would be no more apologies.

Julia was right—giving in to a fear of failure is the surest way to fail. Confidence and conviction are key. But what else would you expect from a woman who said “A party without cake is just a meeting”? Clearly, she knew her stuff.

Wendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy has written four published crime novels, including Dying Brand, the third novel in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, which was released on May 5, 2015. The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, is due to be released in spring 2016. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers, and she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writers’ online magazine. Wendy lives with her husband, three sons and three dogs on a micro-farm just outside of Philadelphia.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Summer, in a Nutshell

Book Promotion


It can be time-consuming and costly. But book promotion is also exhilarating, and summer 2015 has been all of the above.

My 2007 Honda Pilot and I bonded.

I drove over 1,500 miles, sold two cases of books out of my trunk, sold many others at bookstore events, and met countless new friends. I did library talks eight hours north, in Aroostook County, Maine, signed at a street festival, and appeared on the Cold River Radio Show, a live radio variety show, filmed and recorded in front of 200 or so patrons.

@ Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle, ME
When I first started out, a writer told me, "No one can promote a book better than its author." Publicists probably disagree. And I know this doesn't apply to every writer. (I once went to see one of my favorite poets read and was horrified when he leaned on his elbow and mumbled into his palm for an hour.) But if you genuinely enjoy meeting people and discussing writing and your own work (and I know many writers do not like doing this), it can enable readers to put a face to your book and series.

There were many highlights. Some were professional (cracking the top 75 on Amazon's Kindle list), and others were personal (visiting Aroostook County always feels like going home, and although I live in western Massachusetts now, many of my closest friends still reside there).

If you're interested in learning about the anti-book tour, check out J.A. Konrath's post on his blog. Konrath promotes his work better than most of us. Much better!

Social Media


One thing I accomplished this summer, was a separation of my personal social media sites from my professional ones. This was important to do for many reasons. Among them, I want to do a better job using Facebook and Twitter to interact with readers, and that's tough to do when grandparents (rightfully) request photos of their granddaughters on my Facebook page.

Writing


And, of course, I've been writing a lot this summer. I finished Destiny's Pawns (2016), and, as mentioned previously, I'm experimenting with a screenplay. Never thought I'd enjoy writing one, but I'm loving the constraints of the form.

The challenges and demands of brevity might keep me coming back. I recently described it to a friend like this, "You're trying to summarize a character in 15 words. If I can find a metaphor to do it, I can save 20 words."

The first thing I ever published was a poem, and this form is taking me back to those roots. I'd recommend trying to write a screenplay to any fiction writer. Here's the industry-standard software. (Warning: The computer software is NOT cheap, but the tablet app is.)

That's my summer. Now onto the fall!

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Stratemeyer Syndicate

Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Tom Swift. I spent Sunday at the meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime where I listened to a presentation by James Keeline on the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the entity responsible for developing all of the above mentioned children’s series and more. (I also acquired a 1936 copy of “The Mystery of the Ivory Charm,” pictured here.)

I’ve talked before on Type M about how I loved reading the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Happy Hollisters when I was growing up. When I was a kid happily curled up in a corner reading these books, I never knew they were developed by the same syndicate. I just knew I loved the stories.

Sunday’s presentation was interesting so I thought I’d share a few tidbits. The syndicate was started in 1905 by Edward Stratemeyer and, from its inception to when it was sold to Simon & Schuster in 1984, was responsible for developing 1385 books and 102 series using 74 pen names and employing 99 ghostwriters. That’s a heck of a lot of books! One thing I never realized was that it was a book packager, not a publisher.

The most common day job for one of their ghostwriters was newspaper reporter. A writer would get a two-page outline of a story and, 4 weeks later, the writer would turn in a 60,000 word story to Stratemeyer who would then comment on it. That’s a pretty fast turnaround even if you were given the story outline. Not sure I could do that!

New stories are still being published. Nowadays, writers come up with their outlines that then have to be approved. Keeline wrote an interesting article on writing one of these books in the post-syndicate era. There are loads of other interesting articles on stratemeyer.org.

I’ve read one or two of the newer Nancy Drews and, have to say, I don’t really like them. Even though I’m most familiar with the 1960s versions, the ones published in the ’30s and ’40s are my favorites.

What Stratemeyer Syndicate books did you read as a kid? Have you read them again as an adult? If so, what did you think of them?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Confidence: it's all in your head

by Rick Blechta

Lack of confidence is certainly not just a writer thing. I have not met many (if any) people who are brimming with confidence in all parts of their lives. Catch anyone in “the dark hours of the night” and ask them about it then, and you will probably be surprised by their answers. Not that I normally pop into people’s bedrooms at three in the morning or anything!

But based on my experience, I think all writers suffer from confidence issues far more than any other occupation. Quite frankly, most of us are doubting ourselves nearly all the time. It can be on an hour-by-hour basis in bad cases. “Is that last paragraph what my story needs at this point?” “Did I even give this character the correct name?” “Is my writing any good?”

This non-confidence we scribblers feel is exacerbated by the time we spend working in solitude. There’s a saying that you’re only as good as your last book. (Should be previous, but who am I to quibble?) How can we help but doubt ourselves with that kind of pressure, especially if you knocked the last one out of the ballpark?

I’ve found it doesn’t help if you’re handing out your deathless prose to others while you’re still working on it. Sure, it's helpful to get other opinions on a work-in-progress, because we can get so myopic about what we’re doing. But you may well open yourself up to more doubt which will certainly lead to second-guessing, and that you don’t need if you’re going to hope to reach the finish line.

That’s not to say I never send out an mss without people whose tastes and decisions I trust. I have to regular ones on whom I rely and occasionally others if certain knowledge or opinions on the storyline are needed.

The point is, I plow through to the end, regardless of my confidence level about various facets of the storyline or the way I’m handling it. Putting on blinders is the way I look at it. If you take those blinders off, you begin looking around, probably too much, and then the doubt creeps out from dark corners or during the dark hours, and you can easily become paralyzed by it.

Yes, it is all in your head most of the time, and getting caught up in it is not a good thing. But even if those doubts and your confidence turns out to be misplaced, you can always fix it during the editing stage. Right?