Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Calm Down and Write

I don’t know about you, but I can’t write when I’m too stressed out. Right now I’m a bundle of nerves with all of the tasks to be done in preparation for the launch of my second book while trying to write book 3. Yes, I know, every writer goes through this. Yes, I knew it would be a challenge going into it, but I didn’t realize just how stressful it would be until I signed that contract and the roller coaster ride of writing truly began.

So I’m always looking for activities that will calm me down enough so I can focus on writing the story that’s rolling around in my brain, trying to get out. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far: 

Exercise. That’s my number one calming activity. I’m not a huge exercise fanatic, but I do try to ride my stationary bike, do step aerobics or walk to one of the many Leslie Sansone DVDs I own five days a week. Walking down to the beach and watching the waves roll in is nice, too, as long as there aren’t too many people around. 

Adult coloring books. They seem to be all the rage these days. (No, not that kind of adult coloring book!) I see them everywhere, marketed as a de-stresser. I’m not sure why we can’t just color in kids’ coloring books, but I suppose we adults want fancier patterns or something. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try one out. There are a lot of coloring books filled with geometric patterns, but I opted for one with lots of ugly holiday sweaters. That’s one of the pages I started coloring in the photo. 

Going barefoot. Woman’s World magazine often has stress-buster tips. In a recent issue, an article claimed that rubbing bare feet against something soft like carpet or grass for four minutes will cut your tension 33% for 90 minutes. I don’t know if that means pacing said soft object or if sitting in a chair and rubbing your feet against the carpet would do. Haven’t tried this one yet, but we do have some nice soft carpet, so it’s been added to my list. 

Tai chi. I have a tai chi tape that I do occasionally, which calms me down quite a bit. 

Music. Certain kinds of music calm me down: Baroque, some Celtic instrumental music, Gregorian chants, and the music of Hawaiian singer, Keali’i Reichel.

A lot of people I know swear by massage and meditation, but those activities just stress me out even more.

So, Type M readers, what about you? What are your favorite calming activities? How do you de-stress your life?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

And in the same vein…

I read Vicki’s post yesterday and shouted, “Hallelujah!” You can find it just below this one — and if you haven’t already read it, you really should.

The new “cheap” is now “free”. We’ve seen it in the music business for a long, long time. We’re seeing it in the book biz now. Even in the workplace. It is self-serving garbage foisted on the public (and the content producers) by those who are greedy to the point of absurdity. They should instead be ashamed and embarrassed. They know they’re taking advantage of people, but they do it because they can get away with it.

Case in point
The head of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, started a firestorm last year when he suggested that jobless university graduates take unpaid jobs to bolster their resumes.

Huh? Why is this a good thing? They’ve gone through university, likely racked up big debts for that, and now they’re expected to work for nothing? Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but this is the basis of what the man said. I’d like to ask Mr Poloz this: would you work for nothing? There is a point to volunteering for a charity or something similar in order to build up your resumé, but working for a company whose goal is to make a profit and you’re doing it for nothing? And that’s supposed to be a good thing? Unpaid internships are happening more and more — and not connected to school programs, either. Young people are desperate enough to take a chance on these simply in the hope that they might get a job. Surely the businesses could afford even a token salary. Some do; most don’t.

As most of you probably know, I’m also a working musician. The two bands I play in often get asked to play charity gigs. In the band that I actually run, we won’t do a charity gig for nothing. Just to get onto a stage costs us money (parking, car costs, travel time, etc). My musicians are professionals who are relying on what they make. If I take a booking for a charity gig and don’t charge anything, they also can’t take a paying gig for that evening. We musicians don’t make a lot of money playing and every little bit helps. I can’t ask my guys to play for free — although I never ask for a huge amount. (What I do offer organizers is that some might give their pay back in order to support the event. I leave it up to each musician to decide what to do. I usually donate my pay back, but that’s me.)

Here’s the rub: we have had charity organizers move on when told we can’t play for free. These are the people who always use the phrase “great exposure for your band!” Sure. It might be. I counter with an explanation that the band is made up of professional musicians and we at least need a small honorarium to cover expenses. “We don’t have the budget!” I tell them that we’d really love to play, but I have to hold firm on that. Some move on, some try to help out, but it can be damned uncomfortable.

Even club owners get in on the act. “I’d like to see how you do. Play at my club (for nothing), and if you do well, I’ll book you in for a paying gig.” Some clubs actually charge the band to play there because the club is a happening place and it will be “good exposure”. Heaven help us! And there are bands that are actually dumb enough to do this.

And now I hear that organizers of conferences are getting in on the act. That is really depressing — and they should know better. Free books? Hundreds of them? All so a company can promote their business? Don’t you folks see what is happening? Vicki is damned right. And it is an insult to all of us who write.

The thing with writers, especially those who haven’t been published yet, is that they’re often desperate to get published, to have their work read. Many do it in their spare time. I don’t think those writers value their work as much as writers whose income depends — at least in part — on their writing. The carrot, of course, is as Vicki said, the hope that they’ll be discovered and they fall for the “good exposure” canard.

I’ve already been through this in the music biz back in my youth, and I know many other youthful musicians who have been in the same boat. Let me tell you this: getting “discovered” doesn’t happen very often. It’s more a matter of luck than anything. Think of it as winning a lottery where they odds are stacked astronomically against you. Sure, it can happen, but let me ask you this additional question: how much have you won on your lottery ticket purchases? There’s an old song by Billy Preston, “Nothin’ from Nothin’ Means Nothin’. That’s what I’m talking about here.

The sad thing is there is no real solution. I’m sure some published authors will contribute books to the Smashwords promotion for Bouchercon. That’s their right, but they should also be aware of this: they’re hurting all of us by not respecting our craft enough. Writers who are unpublished are desperate enough to welcome this dodge with open arms. It’s tough to get a book out. We all understand that. But giving your work away will not really do you much good. I’ll bet Smashwords wouldn’t take a healthy chunk of a book offered as a teaser. That would help everyone — but it wouldn’t be good for their business. Complete books are better for them. And if they come free, well, that’s icing on the cake. It would be stupid of them not to try something like this.

But if all of us told them “No free books but we’ll help with a teaser or two,” I’ll bet they’d take it.

Sad thing is, throughout society, many are so desperate to get noticed that they’ll work for free — to the detriment of all.

Sad, that…

Monday, September 28, 2015

What’s the Value of a Book?

By Vicki Delany

What’s the value of a book? I don’t mean the price, but the value.

What is it worth to you that you have good, well-written stories to read, maybe stories that reflect the history or the present of who you are or where you came from, or offer insight into the lives of people and times very different from you? Or just books that give you pleasure and a break from this hectic, troubling world. Do you have children? What is it worth to you that your kids are exposed to other ideas, cultures, and lives beyond their own. And beyond the little square of their iPhone or iPad.

For me, the value is immeasurable.

So, let’s then talk about price. Say an author spends a year working on a book (some write faster, some slower, but that’s a good estimate.) A year of what by every measurement is work. Sometimes they get an advance to help out a little bit, but sometimes they don’t. What price do we attach to a year of labour?

What then, should the price of a book be?

$0.00 seems fair these days, would you agree?

Well, I wouldn’t.

A latte at Starbucks cost $4 -$6. An hour-and-a-half movie at a theatre is around $10. Just one entrée at a mid-priced restaurant can be in the $20 range these days, never mind wine, appetizers, dessert, coffee.

All together we spend a lot of money. But somehow when it comes to the work that artists such as writers and musicians do, some people don’t think they should have to pay.

That’s not the fault of readers. If something’s offered for free, why not take advantage of it?

(Before I continue, you may say what about libraries. Books from libraries are not really ‘free’. The books are purchased at a fair price from money that comes out of the public purse. Plus, in Canada anyway, authors are compensated to some degree by PLR.)

Sure publishers and authors sometimes give away books as loss leaders, to entice new customers, as contests to reward faithful readers. Same as any industry. Enter a contest and you might win a car! Doesn’t mean you can pop down to your local used car lot any time you want and drive away with a FREE CAR!

There has been a trend lately to give books away free willy-nilly. You can find entire lists on Amazon of free books. Many of these books are being put up for free by desperate authors hoping that the right agent or publisher will happen upon it and it will become THE NEXT BIG THING. (Aside, do you really think good agents are looking for another slush pile?)

In 2014 Romantic Times worked with Smashwords to give every conference attendee a thumb drive containing – wait for it – 342 free books. This year, they are going to do the same at Boucheron. Smashwords sent emails to authors attending the conference to tell them they can send in up to three of their books. Sisters in Crime sent the same email to all of its members, whether attending the conference or not. Potentially, this thumb drive will contain hundreds of FREE BOOKS! A years worth of reading!

Smashwords, of course, is promoting their brand by offering other people’s work for free. How kind of them. But, I hear you shout, the authors get exposure.

In my opinion, all this sort of thing does is devalue the worth of a book. Why pay for something if it’s being offered for free?

Turning that argument around, why spend a year of your life writing something if it’s worth nothing? Monetarily, speaking worth nothing to you, nothing to your readers. In non-monetary terms it may be worth a lot to the author, but not many people can live on satisfaction alone.

It’s no secret that author’s incomes have decreased dramatically over the last twenty years. By some estimates 50%.

Do we really want a world where books are written by those who can afford not to have paying work, consider it a hobby, or drive themselves deep into debt?

If you are an author, ask yourself, what is the VALUE of this work I do.

If you are a reader, ask yourself, what is the VALUE of literature.

And then pay, or charge, accordingly.

Note: I've discussed this before,when I was asked to be the unpaid guest speaker at a ticketed event by a for-profit company, and GIVE everyone of the attendees one of my books. Same principal. Here's the link: http://typem4murder.blogspot.ca/2015/02/a-visit-to-north-carolina-and-head.html.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Don't mind Big Brother's wiretap.

I have a problem with some thrillers, especially those of the steely-jawed hero triumphing over evil doers and meddling do-gooders in defense of truth, justice, and the American way. At the heart of my objection is that in these stories, said hero usually belongs to a secretive government organization, which if allowed to shake off the pesky constraints of the law and bleeding-heart whistle blowers, it could smite the villainous foe. It's not that the earth lacks for assholes who deserve such a smiting, it's that in reality those shadowy government entities have a poor record keeping us safe or acting for the greater good. For example, Admiral Michael Rogers, argues that the NSA needs unfettered access to the American public's telephones and can't be bothered with legal trivialities like search warrants. As usual, the boogy-man terrorist is hauled out and made to go boo! What Rogers fails to include in his argument is that the NSA, and the CIA, in fact the entire national security apparatus, has done an abysmal job keeping us safe. People should've been imprisoned for falling asleep at the switch before 9/11. The father of Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab (the Underwear Bomber) warned the US State Department that Umar had come under the sway of terrorists and should be considered a threat. That warning passed across a bureaucrat's desk and was ignored. Years later, the Russians warned the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the older brother of the Boston Marathon bombers) and his terrorists leanings. The FBI claims it interviewed Tamerlan and afterwards decided he was no threat, even though the CIA put him on their terrorist database. So we have two instances where the government had credible evidence about terrorist activities and they fumbled the ball. You'd think the feds would have instituted thorough measures to tighten its security protocol. Instead we get excuses that the security agencies can't deal with the volume of leads they get, but that doesn't stop them from turning around and amassing even more data on the American public. So far, despite it's carte blanche, the NSA hasn't done much aside from lying about what it does or doesn't do. Other than the expensive incompetence, a big worry is the government using its surveillance to thwart domestic law. In fact, there is an official program called "parallel reconstruction" where federal agencies like the ATF teach local law enforcement how to disguise the NSA's (or CIA's) discovery of suspected criminal activity. "Parallel reconstruction" means inventing probable cause and excising any mention of domestic surveillance by agencies prohibited to do so. So you ask, "Who's getting busted? Drug dealers? Gangsters? Good riddance." The problem is that if the government, with its limitless resources, can't prosecute its law by its own rules, what chance do we have should we find ourselves under its heel? Dovetailed with this is the "Stingray," a cellular tower emulator the police use to eavesdrop on cell phones. Again, besides the warrantless surveillance, law enforcement agencies sign under-the-table contracts with the Harris Corporation to prohibit the disclosure of the Stingray. These contracts circumvent the legalities that law enforcement cannot enter such contracts without state legislative approval. So who's watching the watchers? Who's keeping the law?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Time and Space

I'm back home from my Alaska adventures. But – the reason I'm late today – I'm experiencing a slow transition back to every day life. It's rather odd because my body and mind seemed to be lagging behind – back in place, but not quite there yet.

It began when I opened the front door to my house late last Thursday afternoon. The quality of the light seemed off. Even when I raised the blinds, the light seemed not quite right. The rooms seemed to have shrank a bit in my absence – except for the bathroom which now seemed larger, but I automatically stepped up as I had been doing for a week in my cruise ship cabin.

I put this distortion of light and space down to the fact that I'd been up at three a.m. that morning to catch a flight from Vancouver, Canada to Albany. And over the course of the past two weeks, I had changed time zones a couple of times. And I'd come from jacket weather, including hat and scarf to Albany, in the midst of a September hot spell.

But here it is a week later, and I am still a little sleepier than usual. Still trying to catch up with the world that went along without me for two weeks – although I did occasionally check my email. Undoubtedly, over the weekend, I will make the transition and by next week I will be back in the rhythm of my life. But I wonder if this isn't a bit of psychological resistance – the need to hold on to what I loved about the wilderness of Alaska. To remember white-water rafting and riding horseback in a rain forest.

I think there is a story here about stepping out of one’s daily life and then coming back – about a character who is gone for a longer period of time, who does resist settling in again. I'll have to give it a bit of thought. Meanwhile, here are photos taken as I was standing on a glacier. I was a bit hesitant about getting into a helicopter for this ride, but the friend I was traveling with convinced me. It was awe-inspiring.


This photo doesn't capture the awesomeness of a glacier. Here's a crevice in the glacier that was quite deep and a little scary. There is a name for it, but I had on my gloves and no pen at hand to write it down.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A New Beginning—Times Four

Oh, brilliant inspiration

Yesterday I wrote a new beginning for my work in progress.* This is the fourth beginning. I like it. Of course, I liked the three previous beginnings as well.

Beginning #1: In the middle of that cold, cold winter of 1917-1918, somewhere in the far reaches of western Kansas, Earnest Clinton received letter from the President of the United States. He had been called by his country do his bit and help defeat the Hun. So Earnest packed a change of underwear, and caught the train to Camp Funston, just outside of Junction City, Kansas, and took his place in the ranks of the U.S. Army.

I’d congratulate myself on my cleverness and merrily write on. Then, thirty or forty or one hundred pages on, I’d start to brood. Is my opening good enough?

Beginning #2: Men are sorry creatures. Oh, some are useful to have around. Loyal, protective, competent providers, like well-trained hunting dogs. But generally, men are a disputatious lot, prideful and easily roused to mischief. If a woman wants to avoid heartache, it will serve her well to stay far away from the world of men and tend to her own affairs.

I read an article by an editor who said that she gives a manuscript three pages before she decides whether or not it’s worth her time. I’ve heard this before. Conventional wisdom is that three pages all you have to capture a prospective reader.

Beginning #3: On the fine soft morning of September 1,1918, the congregation of the First Christian Church of Boynton, Oklahoma, prayed for a speedy end to the Great War in Europe. The new preacher, Mr. Huster, didn’t ask that the enemy be annihilated and crushed into dust, as did many of his flock in their private prayers, but that the better angels of human nature would prevail and peace and good will be restored between nations.

I think that if you are as popular an author as Steven King, the reader will give you the benefit of the doubt, because he knows that eventually you’re going to deliver.  But if nobody ever heard of you, you’d better be as interesting and exciting as you can as fast as you can.

Beginning #4: Wesley M. Cotton, prosecuting attorney for the District Court of Muskogee County, Oklahoma, looked up from the deposition to study the couple seated in the chairs in front of his desk. Mr. and Mrs. Shaw Tucker, currently residing on a farm located outside of Boynton, in the western part of the county.
“My wife has come into possession of some new information that we think you should hear.”
Shaw Tucker was doing the talking, but Cotton had no illusions that the reason was because Alafair Tucker was shy or demure. Ever since she had set foot in his office, Cotton was aware that she had been evaluating his every move, judging his every word. He resisted an urge to straighten his tie and adjust his waist coat. Instead he folded his hands on his desktop and leaned forward. “If that is the case, I would appreciate it if you could relate this new evidence to me in your own words, Mrs.Tucker.”
Her sharp, dark eyes gave him a final once-over. Cotton decided that he had passed inspection when she relaxed back into her chair and said, “Mr. Cotton, you have the wrong man, and I aim to tell you how I know.”

Readers used to be more patient, I think. One of my favorite books when I was young was Beau Geste, by Percival Wren, that swashbuckling tale of the French Foreign Legion.  I must have read that book half-a-dozen times.  And yet, I defy any modern to slog through the first 70 pages of set up before the action begins.

A proven technique for beginning a novel is to start in the middle of the action, off and running. The protagonist finds a body. Our hero is sitting in the middle of the road with a gunshot wound and doesn’t know how he got there. The heroine comes home from a trip to find her children are missing. Something intriguing and mysterious has happened before the reader comes in to the story, and now she desperately wants to find out what it is and how it happened.

That’s the idea, anyway.

What do you want to do with beginning? Catch the readers interest, make her wonder what is going to happen next.One may have written the most fabulous novel ever conceived of by any human being, but if you don’t get them by the first three pages, they will ever know how heartbreakingly beautiful your work is.

________
*I'll probably use some variation of all these beginnings somewhere in the book. But don't bet the farm that I use any of them as the actual beginning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Betwixt and Between

Barbara here, with apologies that this blog is a little late. Blame it on technology, or rather on my rather conflicted relationship with technology.

I grew up in the dark ages, before computers and iCloud and Internet, and I am of that generation that has to be hauled, squirming and bewildered, into each new technological era, usually coached by the ten-year-old in handy reach. Our family didn't get a TV until I was twelve, and for most of my youth, we fiddled with rabbit ears, colour balance, and vertical control to keep Ed Sullivan from being green and spinning dizzyingly on the screen. We had one phone in the house, which was firmly anchored by a cord to the wall in the hall. Imagine my sister's and my teenage delight when the 25-foot cord was invented, allowing us to drag the phone into the bathroom to talk to our friends.

I did quick mathematical calculations on a slide rule, and the statistical analysis for my M.A. thesis on a Monroe calculator, which looked rather like a glorified cash register. I typed my papers on a manual typewriter, using white-out to correct mistakes. Needless to say, one tried not to make too many mistakes.

I had a tattered little address book with every contact I'd ever made in forty years. Old phone numbers were scratched out and new ones squeezed beneath, sometimes a long succession of them. Knowing which one was the latest phone number was a game akin to reading hieroglyphics. I looked up research books from card catalogues in the library and then tried to find the books in the obscure back shelves of the library.

Today I have a 'contacts' list on my computer, a landline which is used primarily to screen out telemarketers and political robocalls, and a computer that allows me to write twenty-five pristine drafts of my latest novel without a single misstep. I don't even have to know how to spell, although that's an advantage. I can find out just about anything I need to know by clicking through links on the Internet. It's amazing, and I often wonder how on earth we did anything before the computer age.

Some things elude me, of course. I have not figured out what possible use Twitter is, and have not even attempted Instagram and Google Circles. I update my website with trepidation, and I resist downloading each new suggested software until I've been harassed to do so for months. I know from bitter experience that it will screw up some other perfectly functioning program, and I will have to call in the ten-year-old. And I admit, the notion of self-driving cars and even self-parking cars gives me the willies. Computers may control things better, until they don't. And we all know, sometimes they don't. I like to be in control, knowing the car will respond to my foot on the brake and the twist of the steering wheel. I use cruise control mainly to avoid getting speeding tickets.

What does this have to do with forgetting my blog? Throughout my years as a travelling consultant, I carried a day planner in my purse, held together with an elastic so the thousands of pink phone messages wouldn't fall out. It was easy and efficient. I wrote everything in it– all my appointments, phone numbers, to do lists, and so on. I could flip through it at a glance to check this week's appointments or next month's. None of this clicking through interminable links, squinting at tiny font on my phone, and waiting for the next page to load. I still use a day planner today, and about half my appointments go in it. But I have also discovered the Apple calendar on my devices, and have even managed to sync my phone to my laptop so it doesn't matter which device I'm on. This calendar has these handy little alert functions, reminding me to change my furnace filter and give my dogs their heartworm medication. So now, some things go on my paper planner, and some on my electronic one.

And regrettably, some things go on neither. Thus I forgot today was my Wednesday blog day until this morning. Next time, with any luck, a handy little alert will notify me the day before, just as soon as I have time to click through all the links and set it up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A dreaming breakthrough!

I may have mentioned it somewhere along the way on Type M, but I’ve been interested for a number of years in lucid dreaming. What is lucid dreaming? Well, reading this article will lay it all out for you: what-is-lucid-dreaming.html. I’ll wait here while you read it.

So there in a nutshell is what I’ve been trying to do (when I remember — which is one reason why it’s taken years for me to make the small advances in this technique). I can now pretty regularly wake myself up from dreams that are unpleasant or that I find annoying, you know, those dreams that keep going around and around. A few times I’ve been able to “wake up” inside a dream and actually make things happen. I have always particularly loved those dreams where I could fly. My best experience was becoming lucid during one of these and really being able to control my aerial adeptness, rather than struggling to stay aloft, which is the way these dreams usually proceed for me.

Last night, I was not sleeping well. I woke up and immediately my brain started turning over all the things I need to work on, thinking about problems I’m having, all those things that can make sleep nearly impossible. I would have gotten up but we had house guests so there was no place to go.

I decided to try one lucid dreaming technique I’d read about and set out to create a dream around me and drift off with it, staying lucid while it happened.

In short, it actually worked! I’ve probably tried this a hundred times over the years and never got anywhere. The dream state would either refuse to start (usually because other thoughts kept drifting into my head or I would simply just fall asleep. Early this morning, I entered a dream and as it took hold I found I could control nearly anything I wanted. It was as if I was in this imaginary world, but I was consciously “me” and able to do what I wanted, not like usual dreams where you sort of drift along and things happen to you over which you cannot exert any control.

And let me tell you, it was a very heady experience! The interesting thing was that my conscious mind turned this dream into a sort of spy thriller — and I was the spy! I was up against this multi-billionaire who was creating some sort of super weapon, assisted by a Dr. Nice (as in the city in France). It was my job to thwart them. I can’t tell you how it ended because my grandson downstairs started crying in the middle of it.

It could have been a novel…

Do any other Type M readers have any experience with this, or any knowledge/interest in lucid dreaming? Please weigh in. I’d love to hear what you have to say!


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Genre-Sliding with Margaret Atwood in nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre

Please welcome this weekend's guest blogger,  Caro Soles, a mystery maven of incomparable energy and talent. Caro is the founder of Bloody Words, Canada's biggest mystery convention, which finally closed in 2014. Her work includes four mysteries (one of which was short listed for a Lambda Literary Award), the sf series, THE MERCULIANS plus two short story collections and four novels under a nom de plume. She has edited several anthologies, the latest nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mayhem and the Macabre, co-edited with Nancy Kilpatrick.

Learn more about Caro at http://www.carosoles.com

__________________

Every good story has a mystery curled up at its centre. This is not to say that every story is a mystery. I remember being impressed while reading an essay by Nicola Griffith who said that writing a genre novel, whether science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, distorts the shape of the story, unbalancing one or two of the elements to such an extent that the whole is literally pulled out of shape. Of course she said this far more elegantly than I, but that is the gist of how I remember it. I promptly imagined a beautiful round orange being squished and shoved until it literally went pear-shaped, as the Brits say. It went from being one thing to being another.

This calls to mind what one astute reviewer wrote about my first mystery novel, The Tangled Boy. If you take the murder out of the story, he wrote, you still have a story, only now it is a coming-of-age/coming out story. Although at the time I was, of course, outraged, gradually I saw that he was right. Now I see it is all about genre. What he meant was that I had not written a genre mystery. And he was right. Genre is all about emphasis. Are you concentrating on the crime? Is everything else secondary to this? The crime provides the main story line, and this shoves other elements out of alignment. Genre is also labeling, which is imperative in our current market-place. There is no label for just “good story”, and if there is no label, the publisher/bookseller, etc. has no idea how to sell the thing. Genre stories have to be pear-shaped.


Back in the days of Edgar Allan Poe, and to a lesser extent the days of my childhood, (Note: These were not the same days) there was no such concept as genre. Poe wrote everything. And that was what Nancy Kilpatrick and I were looking for in stories for nEvermore!, our Poe-inspired anthology. To get what we wanted, we contacted writers well known in different genres, from literary to fantasy, to mystery, to outright horror, and invited them to genre-slide. Could they do it? They all professed enthusiasm for the idea. For Margaret Atwood it was easy. She does this all the time. Others could reflect the Poe influence by writing pretty much in their familiar arena. The mystery crew, all from different categories of crime writing, took a bit of nudging to slide out of the more rigid structure needed for mysteries but they all came through in the end with flying colours. All of the stories are inspired in some way by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Some authors came through with a modern take on a familiar story, sometimes obvious, sometimes more subtle. Other writers went with atmosphere and themes. Still others played with style. No matter how they did it, they all went a little pear-shaped for nEvermore! Tales of Mystery, Murder and the Macabre.

How successful were they? Publishers' Weekly has already called the anthology "Eclectic and delightful...a cache of worthy tributes...". The ebook is already out on Amazon, and will be available in October from all other ebook dealers. In Canada, the print version of nEvermore! hits the bookshelves in September. Pick up your copy and slide along with us! Try it. You'll like it! If you are in any of these places, drop by and say hello! 

Sellers & Newel - Toronto- Sept 24, 6 - 8
Sleuth of Baker Street - Toronto - Sept 26, at 2 - 4
Word on the Street -Toronto - Sept 27
Edgar Allan Poe Museum -Richmond, VA - Oct 7, at 6 - 9pm
Bouchercon - Raleigh, NC - Oct 8 - 11
Horror-rama - Toronto - Oct 17 - 18
Paragraphe - Montreal - Nov. 3, at 6 pm
World Fantasy Con - Saratoga Springs, N.Y. - Nov 5 - 8
Dark Delicacies Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA - Dec 5

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Breaking Rules

Don’t start with weather. I’ve heard some variation of that writing rule so many times over the years and from so many sources that I’ve lost count. So what am I doing in the book I’m working on right now? You guessed it. Starting with weather ‘cause I’m such a rebel. Yep, that’s how I roll.

Anyone who knows me is laughing hysterically right now because they know I’m a fairly rule bound person. I obey the laws. I don’t go in the out door. I always wait for the walk signal to cross at a light. Even if no one were around for miles, I’d have trouble crossing with no little man urging me on. It’s ingrained in my psyche.*

But every once in a while the rebel in me comes out from hiding and asserts herself.

As you might have guessed, I think rules are important. They bring order to chaos. But I also think it’s okay to break one now and then as long as there’s a good reason for it. And as long as you know what those rules are before deciding to ignore one of them.

The reason I started with weather is because the heat wave that’s hitting my fictional town of Vista Beach is critical to the story line. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. It might be partly because we're having our own heat wave here at the beach and I'm really tired of it. But I digress. I’ve barely begun this story so I have no idea if this the beginning that I’ll end up with in the version I turn over to my editor months from now or if I’ll start with something else. Time will tell.

So, dear readers, what writing rules have you broken? Do you think of writing rules more as guidelines and suggestions than actual rules? When you’re reading what someone else has written, do you care if a writer breaks a rule? Are there any rules that should never be broken?

In other news, I’m sharing the cover love in this post. The artwork pictured here is for my second book, Paint the Town Dead, which will be released on December 8th. Incidentally, this isn’t the book where I’m starting with weather. That one’s tentatively titled Trompe l’oeiled to Death.
______________

*This quirk is affectionately lampooned in the 1990s musical, Waiter, there’s a slug in my latte!, a spoof of Seattle fads and foibles. You guessed it. I grew up in the Seattle area.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The importance of capturing the moment

by Rick Blechta

Good ideas come in their own time and own way. Regardless of whether you’re an ink-stained wretch like me, I’m sure you’ve all arrived at solutions to problems at the most inopportune moments. And if you’re like me, you’ve often failed to capture and hold on to that fleeting idea. Trying to rejuvenate a lost idea after its passed through your mind is a bit like someone presenting you with a bouquet of faded flowers.

When I was still teaching band in schools, my assignment involved working in several schools, which meant driving, sometimes on busy highways, sometimes on residential streets. My current work-in-progress would often drift into my head during travel time and I sometimes came up with the most marvelous ideas, only to find I couldn’t capture “the moment” when I sat down to write that evening. Believe me, it got exceptionally frustrating in a very short time.

The obvious solution was to carry a journal. When I’d get to my destination, I’d jot down a few notes. Sometimes this worked; most of the time, it didn’t. I remained frustrated as good ideas continued drifting into nothingness.

What I needed was to capture the moment of inspiration — right when it happened. Driving on a 6-lane highway is not the time or place to pull onto the shoulder and begin to write, even if it’s just a few quick notes, so I got a handheld recorder. The first used mini cassettes, but technology changed and I eventually graduated to a digital one.

Voila! Problem solved.

But the writing gods were still not smiling. One wintry day, I was paying too much attention to my muse and not enough to the road. At the very last second, I spotted a car stopped in the middle of the road. I eased on the brakes, started to skid, and watched helplessly as my car continued towards its date with destiny. Fortuitously, I stopped without hitting it, but when both of us got out to look, I was literally only an inch from the guy’s back bumper. He still reamed me out for being careless. I shot back that he didn’t put his hazard lights on. Still it was hard to get too angry. I knew I’d been damned lucky.

Back to the drawing board.

Shortly after, I happened to run into an actor/friend and he said that in order to memorize a role more quickly, he found it was advantageous to speak it out loud.

“It doesn’t work as well if you say it in your head. You need to get your mouth involved. For some reason, it drives things into your memory better.”

Hmmm...

The next day, I was struck with an interesting angle for the new chapter I’d be working on that evening. I was on the highway. My trusty recorder was sitting on the passenger seat. Should I risk life and limb to get down my idea? My friend’s comment percolated into my head.

So I drove along talking the idea over with myself, loudly. I went on at great length and listened with riveted attention. And you know what? It stuck. I was traveling over lunch hour and had a few minutes to jot down the ideas before afternoon classes began.

I’ve used the system ever since and it’s never let me down. Well, actually, that’s not true. One time I wasn’t paying attention to my speed while declaiming in my car. I got pulled over and the interruption caused me to not only lose the feel of my idea, but every iota of what it was in the first place.

C’est la vie.

Monday, September 14, 2015

It never gets old

By Vicki Delany

Having a new book out, that is.

When it does start getting old, I’ll quit writing.  Because if it’s not fun, why do it? It sure ain’t for the money.

The second book in my Lighthouse Library series is titled Booked for Trouble and it was released on Sept. 1. (It’s written under my pen name of Eva Gates)

View from my hotel room
I drove down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the books are set, on a short book tour.  I visited five marvellous independent bookstores in three days (Ducks Cottage and Island Bookstores on the Outer Banks, and Bethany Beach Books in Delaware), and stopped in for stock signing at the cute, crowded, and cozy Buxton Village books near Hatteras. The Outer Banks are a huge tourist destination and all the bookstore owners tell me that tourists love to find books set in the Outer Banks.

I also stopped in at some Barnes and Noble stores when driving by to do stock signings as well. It’s just so great to walk into a store and know without looking that my book will be there!

(P.S. Booked for Trouble made #19 on the Barnes and Noble paperback fiction list!) 

It was a lot of fun, although the trip was pretty rushed.  I am quite a heat freak and while I was driving the two days down to North Carolina, and the tow days back, and spending my time there in my car or air-conditioned bookstores, I gather we were having the hottest week of the summer at home.


This trip I had almost no time for relaxation. I got about two hours one day on the beach and in the pool, but I managed a couple of nice dinners out.  Gotta keep trying that North Carolina cooking you know.  All in the name of research. How we suffer for our art. 

Booked for Trouble is now available at all your favourite bookstores,independent and chains, in paper and ebook formats.  here's but one link: Amazon.com 


 
Dinner night 2 was jambalaya 
Relaxing after a hard day on the road with shrimp and grits
 
Dinner 3 was a disappointing sea food platter. And why it was served with a bowl of beans I do not know

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A dozen reasons to love writing mysteries

I am delighted that this week's guest author is Victoria Abbott. So charming and delightful is Victoria that they couldn't fit all that awesomeness into one person, so two had to do!

First of all, there’s all the fun of engaging in a contest of wits with the reader.  We writers want to pull the wool over the readers’ eyes while playing fair, of course.  Strategic misdirection, it’s like a drug for us. The reader is determined to figure it out and we are equally determined not to let that happen.  Music to our ears, the words:  You really surprised me!

Then there’s the unmitigated joy of creating secondary characters (the sidekicks and walk-ons and love interests) some of whom are fun, moderately insane and many of whom cause things to blow up now and again. Explosions are a treat for those of us who a little too law-abiding in real life.  Kids: do not attempt this at home! 

Regardless of the writer’s personal issues with the numbers on the bathroom scale, writing a mystery, especially a cozy, allows that writer to feed her main character endless delicacies. In the book collector mysteries, we let our protagonist chow down on mountains of homemade Italian food and never gain an ounce. There’s lots of fun to be had with junk food too.  We can include whatever food descriptions suit our mood to lure the reader into this crazy world of ours.  Face it, we’re better together.  Poutine anyone?

Any foolish individual who upsets you in real life can be easily be transformed: a bad toupée for him, a fringe of hair on the upper lip for her, a different hair color for anyone, an irritating accent, a few other incidentals and, poof!  Our nemesis has been transformed into a suitable victim or villain.  So very satisfying and yet, they will never be aware. We can just keep that enigmatic and knowing little smile when we see them.

Then there’s the chance to explore some issue that interests us and call it work. Nudge wink. Say for instance you loved reading mysteries from the Golden Age of Detection and you were writing, hypothetically, the book collector mysteries which link to authors of The Golden Age, then you would be required to spend quite a bit of time curled up rereading the books you love and it would be all in the pursuit of business.   It’s a tough life, all right.

Have we mentioned the freedom of writing?  Unlike at home, if the building you are writing about gets cluttered or dusty, you can just burn it down.  That’s really quite liberating.

You can double the number of pets in your life without really having to walk them, feed them or pay the vet bills. The furry darlings are there to provide affection and lovely tactile elements to the story and also can serve to make sure your protagonist is less of a jerk, because he or she cares for them.

You can develop useful new skills: researching how to build a still, open a lock with a credit card or make a Molotov cocktail were recent favorites. Could come in handy in real life too.

A remarkable number of your activities, purchases and expenditures become tax deductible.  Others that you think should be, like your closet, your dress jackets and your powder room, strangely are not. 

You may have to go to jail. This may be your choice as in ‘great place for a promo shot’ and the police may remark that the ladies who end up in that cell don’t usually put their lipstick on first. Or it may be an unwanted close call if you’re, say, a Canadian getting a mood shot of the historic post office in a certain upstate New York town that is quite a lot like your fictional setting and security becomes more than a bit alarmed.  We dodged a bullet with that one. 

In our case you may get to write a mystery with your mother/daughter and live to tell the tale.  We’ve had a remarkably good time, set a few fictional fires and set off explosions, but neither one of us has stuck a mustache on the other one (so far!) or turned the writing partner into a villain or victim. But then again, how would we know?

_____________________

That shadowy figure known as Victoria Abbott is actually a dangerous collaboration between artist and photographer Victoria Maffini and her mother Mary Jane, author of thirteen mysteries in three other series. The Marsh Madness was released on September 1 which means they have managed to stay alive during the writing of their four book collector mysteries: They expect that to continue during the completion of the fifth, The Hammett Hex, September 2016. When not writing, they can be found lurking mysteriously on the outskirts of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s capital. Most likely they will be surrounded by dogs, including Peachy the Pug.

You can find out more at www.victoria-abbott.com or www.maryjanemaffini.com

Friday, September 11, 2015

Seeing Glaciers

Frankie here. I'm on board a ship in Alaska. I had intended to do a full post with photos. But, alas, I had not taken into account the time it takes to write a post and expensive Internet minutes. And, of course, there is also the matter of time zones.

See you next time with photos and stories from my travels.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

He's Alive!

My eighth Alafair Tucker novel, All Men Fear Me, comes out in November, which means I have two months before the merry-go-round of promotion begins in earnest. I'd like to at least finish the first one hundred pages of the ninth book before that time. This means that I'm letting a lot of things go in my regular life that ought to be taken care of, because I feel like I ought to be writing. As I wrote in my last entry on this blog, two weeks ago, occasionally things arise that have to be dealt with RIGHT NOW. Like my husband's kidney stones or the big tree in the front yard that was busted up in the storm a while back and had to be taken down before it fell on the house. But dusting and sweeping, not so much.

The latest distraction
I'm not a fast writer. I do the best I can. I do preliminary research and sketch out a plot and cast of characters before I start, so I do have a direction mapped out. I have a strict writing schedule and force myself to sit down and type words whether I'm in the mood or not. Miraculously, this seems to work for me. Stories do reveal themselves to me and books do come about. I just can't make them come about any faster than they do. I have great respect for and envy of writers who can knock 'em out and not only do it in three months but do it well. For me, the book just comes when it comes.

He isn't dead!
I have perhaps 80 usable pages out of 120 written thus far on book nine (Working title: Book Nine).The story is finally beginning to take a recognizable shape in my mind, but just in the past day or two a new problem has arisen that I can see is going to complicate things. It seems that I don't know who is going to get killed. I knew who the doomed party was before I started writing, but as I proceed, it begins to dawn on me that said victim may not be the victim after all. And if Party A is not the victim, I don't know who could have killed Party B. Was it the same person who was supposed to have murdered Party A? The original killer (Killer A) doesn't seem to have a compelling motive to off Party B.

I wish I could write faster, and not just because I'd like to be able to put out two or three books a year. I really would like to see how this story is going to turn out. Who IS going to die, and for heaven's sake, who is the murderer and what is the motive?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Rhythms in the life of a writer

The lazy days of summer
Barbara here. The first week in September has a special meaning for me, as I think it does for much of the Western World. That is the week when the real work of the year begins again. August is lazy, often hot; businesses operate at half-staff and half-efficiency, tourists flood the streets, and friends and family are posting pictures from Ontario lakes or Scottish castles or Parisian cafes. But the first week of September, I suddenly notice the nip of fall in the air, the tinge of red in the trees, and the swifter descent of night.

For about sixty years of my life, I was governed by the rhythm of the school year, starting at age five when I headed off to my first day of kindergarten. Back in the mists of time, children walked to school, usually accompanied by an older sibling or neighbourhood child, and we didn't carry a backpack worthy of a trek up Mount Everest. We skipped along, trampling lawns and jumping over small privet hedges, our hands free to pluck dandelions.

For the next thirty years, I sat in one class or another, pored over books in the library, and hunched over a typewriter, as I slogged my way up the academic ladder to a PhD. I was a slave to the school year. July and August were months of lightness and relief, September arrived with a thud, and then every week had its own small echo of this. Friday night was a night to celebrate surviving the week, and Sunday night was a night of panic and dread as I faced the looming week of unmet deadlines and unfinished work.

No sooner did I stagger across the finish line with my PhD clutched in my hand than my children began their march through school, and I landed a job as a consulting psychologist for a school board. Once you become a parent, days off become a distant mirage, but even so, there remained a relaxed rhythm to summers and a hectic pattern to school days. Alarm clock, up, wake kids on way to shower, race downstairs pulling clothes over head, breakfast on table, lunches in bags, boots found, jackets, etc. etc. You've packed a full days' work into the morning and you aren't even out the door yet. On days when the driveway needed shovelling, well ...

Throughout the following quarter century, the week was for work (and soccer and ballet and music lessons and and and), while the weekend was for everything else– shopping, cramming in appointments, seeing friends and family, and having fun. Work hung over my head, usually in the form of presentations to be prepared or reports to be written, but generally my non-work life took priority. There was a pervasive sense of "not enough time!" for either work or fun.

During all those years, I was a writer in my "spare" time, driven by a compulsion to tell stories that began when I was a child, and I squeezed out moments of writing time from my already overloaded day. That's why my first novel took over fifteen years to complete. But once it was published in 2000 and I embarked on a new career as a writer in addition to psychologist, I discovered there really were only twenty-four hours in a day and no amount of screaming on my part would change that.

When I retired from psychology, and turned my full attention to writing, I thought I would have all the time in the world. No more September panic or Sunday night despair. Time would spread out before me, mine to fashion and fill as I wished. I discovered the joy of shopping at times when the whole world was not also trying to shop, the joy of navigating the streets at non-rush hour (although increasingly there is no non-rush hour), the joy of scheduling appointments at midday, midweek.

I also discovered that without the imposed rhythm of the work year, it was up to me to impose my own if I wanted to get anything done. Moreoever, to finish a novel at deadline and do all the other writing-related stuff the job requires (like writing this blog, which is late today), I had to put in hours of work every day. Aspiring and beginning writers ask, rather wistfully, how I manage to finish a book a year or so. I do so by writing at least a scene a day, every day. Skip a day, and the story slips away from you. How easily that one day stretches to two or three, and the momentum of the growing story is lost. Writing does not always mean pen to paper– it can mean research, rewriting, scouting out locations– but the story is always in mind, worming around in my brain.

At a book signing at Sunshine Coast Festival in BC
After the story-related writing, which can take three or four hours, mainly in the morning, I have to attend to the other writerly activities like blogging, social media, preparing presentations, planning and travelling to signings and tours and launches, etc. People ask me how I'm enjoying retirement, and I have to tell them I am not retired, I am on a second career. It's a career I love, and one I continue by choice, but it's serious work nonetheless. My life is no longer governed by the rhythms of a regular job. No longer 9 to 5, no longer Monday to Friday, no longer September to June. The leaves still turn in September and the days grow shorter, but now I am just as likely to be hunched over my computer on a Sunday morning or Friday night as any other time.

But I can shop when I like, and make sure I'm home before rush hour. What day is it today, anyway?


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Being read to

For many of us (hopefully most!) our first exposure to books was when someone (parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, etc) read to us. Right this moment my wife is reading a few of his favourite books to our grandson. Nearly every time he comes over, he asks to be read to. It was the same with his dad and his uncle. Generally I put the boys to bed and books were an important — dare I say critical — part of the bedtime ritual. All these years later, I can still do a large part of The Cat in the Hat from memory. With son #1 wanting it every night for nearly two years, how could memorizing it not happen?

Hopefully, reading to them starts children off on the path to reading in adulthood. We were only 50% successful in this regard. One of our boys reads incessantly, the other confines his reading to the newspaper and occasional magazines. Why? I can’t tell you — but wish I could. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.

As I got older, the only time I was read to was when I was really ill. That’s how I got my first exposure to a “real” book: Uncle Wiggily in the Country. Even though I only got the story in dribs and drabs doled out when my mom wasn’t busy, I was certainly hooked on reading. Around seven at the time, I certainly had decent reading skills, but it suddenly became important to read books on my own.

From then on, I devoured books. Any spare moments I had, you would find some book or other in my hands, and I read anything that took my fancy. While friends were stuck on comic books, I was reading history or short stories or novels or biographies, anything that caught my interest.

By the time university rolled around, reading has to take a back seat — although I didn’t like that necessity. Sometimes I would sneak in some reading when I should have been doing other more important things. I inevitably paid the price, but I didn’t completely regret what I’d done.

Do I still enjoy being read to? You bet. But now it’s generally audio books (especially on long car trips). If there’s a radio play, I’m first in line to listen. There’s something about a voice (only) telling you a story that brings me great comfort. Perhaps it’s a harkening back to my childhood with my mother’s gentle voice reading me The Jungle Book or Uncle Wiggily stories, but whatever the reason, I love to be read to.

How about you?

________________
And I can’t wait to read Uncle Wiggily and The Jungle Book to my grandson. I just mentioned this to my wife and she told me that my (non-reading) son is already delving in to The Jungle Book with Jackson. Wow! That’s the best news I’ve got in a long time. Maybe we didn’t do so badly — vis-a-vis reading — with our second son after all.

Monday, September 07, 2015

A Future Customer

Every other day, it seems, there is a media item about the modern child's adddiction to electronic entertainment. With television, smartphones and tablets on offer they don't have either the concentration or the inclination to read a book. Books, by comparison with the excitements of technology, have allegedly lost their enchantment.

So I was enchanted to find this clip  on YouTube:
At least we have one future customer. In fact, more than one. My small grandson, a robust little boy – and we all  know what that means – has even so always been so addicted to stories that his nursery had to make a deal with him that when he had had two he must go and do a different activity before he would be allowed to have another one.

Of course, the effect was to make stories more desirable than ever. Whether it's really the story itself – and in the case of the little boy who cries, it certainly seems to be – or the adult attention and cuddles that go along with the reading, it's hard to say, but there's no doubt that it's the best way to instill in a child the instinct that books are a Good Thing.
I was talking the other day to a first year primary school teacher who works in a school in one of our poorest areas and it was one of the saddest things I've ever heard; there are children coming into her class who don't know their own name, and have to be taught to speak, because their parents have never engaged with them.
Sometimes it's a problem of drink or drugs, sometimes it's just a teenage parent who has no proper experience of mothering herself, but the child will have spent its infancy in front of a TV screen with a dummy in its mouth to keep it quiet.
Recent research shows that success in adulthood can be predicted from the age of two by a child's interest in books.

So I hope the parents of the baby who cries with disappointment when the story is finished keep reading – even though it may seem a long five years before he's able to do it for himself..  

Friday, September 04, 2015

Buy My Book. Please!

Gentle Reader is going to read only one of your books. I’m convinced of that. Then GR is either going to love your work or give you a pass. One book. That’s it. I don’t care how good you are or how much money you make or if the whole known universe thinks you are the best writer ever.

If Gentle Reader loves you he or she will buy everything you’ve ever written. If the dear soul doesn’t.

Well.

I’ve seen writers agonize over sales, quality of their books, marketing, social media, etc. But basically it comes down to a tricky match between the reader and the writer. Books are too expensive to buy those of writers we really don’t like all that much. For that matter, reading books we aren’t enthusiastic about are like being on a forced march. We don’t have to if we don’t want to. It’s one of the bonuses of being an adult instead of an English student.

I read books that I don’t care for. Quite a few, in fact. I read them out of curiosity, or because a friend has asked to “blurb” a book, or because I thought they were going to be worth reading. But I often feel cheated and resent wasting my time. I read a number of books to study technique, or because they are a classic that everyone else has read. I’m a sucker for good reviews. I read books that win awards. I’m going to read everything that’s on the Edgars list. And all the Pulitzer finalists. Ditto National Book Awards.

My oldest daughter, Cheryl was over the other night carrying books I had given her for Christmas. On top was Lila by Marilynne Robinson. The first words out of her mouth were, “Whatever you are reading, put it down. Right now. Start reading this instead.” Now that’s the way to sell a book.

My daughter, Michele, tried to stop me from taking The Secret Place by Tana French. Because her husband hadn’t read it yet. Isn’t that silly? I pulled the seniority card.

Our whole family reads everything Tana French writes and also Craig Johnson who writes western mysteries. Audrey likes David Mitchell, but I don’t. How could she not have liked Gone Girl—but she didn’t.

My husband loved military history. Especially books about World War II. I gave Mary Beth one of Mo Hayden’s books and she was an instant dedicated fan. She bought everything Mo had ever written.

What we are looking for is a real live fan. The kind that adores our books and will tell all their friends. But to reach this person we have to do a lot of work. We can’t make someone like our books. But we can do everything possible to make sure a likely person knows about a book we’ve written and if possible, persuade them to read the first few pages.

That’s where the rub comes in. What is the best way to get our books in the hands of a reader?
At the beginning of this year, I decided to do more with social media and go to fewer conferences. I went to fewer conferences, but fell down in my determination to conquer social media.

There are three basic ways to get find that elusive dedicated fan:
  1. give talks and presentations at bookstores, libraries, or groups
  2. Become a social media whiz
  3. Go to conferences and befriend a fan
The trick to find our own "best way."

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Getting the itch again

It's been a month. Almost to the day.

In early July, I finalized and delivered my spring 2016 novel, Destiny's Pawns. Then I wrote a 63-page screenplay, a pilot for a would-be TV series featuring my heroine Peyton Cote. My agent is doing her thing with that now.

It's autumn. School has begun, and I run a dorm at a boarding school. That means I'm up late lots of nights. Recently, on those nights when my family has gone to sleep and the house is dark that little voice has been whispering in my ear again.

It's been one month since I've written, and there are stories to be told.

My three-book contract with Midnight Ink is up. Now we wait to see what they want to do and what I want to do. Do they want more Peyton Cote novels? Do I want to write them? I have more of them in me; I know that. And a single mother who's also a US Border Patrol agent in a region as interesting as northern Maine and who has a loony mother is just plain fun to write. So we'll see how it all shakes out. If Peyton doesn't come back I have another character who's been whispering opening lines as well.

As an aside, one thing I love about Midnight Ink is they let me do what I want: I've written three books in this series, and each is very different from the others – stylistically, structurally, as well as the pace in which the novel unfolds. In a day when branding seems to mean so much, it's great to have artistic freedom to stretch yourself.

We'll see what the future holds for Peyton Cote. But I know it's time to start writing something.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Batteries Recharged

As my computer informed you a couple weeks ago, I was on vacation—a driving tour of parts of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and a teeny bit of Wyoming (Yellowstone.) Three national parks and 2700+ miles later I’m back with my batteries recharged.

Unlike the Donald*, I’m a firm believer in taking breaks from work. No matter how much you enjoy what you do, I think most people benefit from a change of scenery and not thinking about their job. You come back with a new perspective and new ideas.

I didn’t actively think about my WIP on the trip, but my mind must have been working away because I came up with some new ideas that will make the story much stronger. I jotted them down in the handy-dandy notepad I carry in my purse because otherwise I’d forget them. Since I returned, I’ve begun incorporating the ideas into the book.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from my trip.

Here I am at the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, ID. By the way, Idaho has the nicest rest areas of any state in the west. Okay, Oregon has good ones, too. Hey, these things are important on driving trips.


Yep, that’s a real bison wandering around a parking lot in Yellowstone.


Here’s a photo of Glacier National Park in Northwestern Montana. Even with three fires burning in the park, the air was remarkably clear and the scenery beautiful when we were there.


Here are a couple pics of Arches National Park. Much hotter here in eastern Utah and not as clear. The 16 or so fires burning in Washington state were causing bad air in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Utah. (Montana and Idaho seems to have taken the brunt of it.)



*In his book, Think Like a Billionaire, Trump gives ten ways to think like a billionaire. The first one is “Don’t take vacations.” He believes there’s no point to them. “If you’re not enjoying your work, you’re in the wrong job.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Autumn arrives!

When I was younger, autumn was my favourite season (even though it meant that school was starting up again). Eventually, when I began my career as a school band teacher, autumn began losing some of its lustre as my favourite (because it meant that school was starting up again).

Now my favourite season is summer. Though I no longer teach — except on special occasions — I still love summer more. I think it boils down to the length of the days. Those long summer evenings are absolutely golden, as are early summer mornings when the wind is still but the air is cool. What a wonderful time to sit and watch the world go by.

Still, autumn retains some of its charms for me. For one thing, I feel much more energized, and no, it has nothing to do with cooler weather. (I actually like hot weather.) For whatever reason, autumn’s arrival actually helps me focus better and get more done.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that autumn has arrived — at least as far as I’m concerned. Huh? It’s still summer Blechta! The calendar says so.

I disagree. Calendars are very arbitrary human inventions and mean absolutely nothing to the physical world. The earth thumbs its nose at our stupid expectations, courtesy of J. Caesar, Esq. I know with certainty that autumn arrived here in Ontario last week—if you were paying attention.

When our family was younger, the highlight of our summers was to camp in late August on Flowerpot Island off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. What made it so cool for all of us was that it was pretty rough, just a platform near the water (to protect the fragile ground) on six campsites and very seldom were all of those occupied. A few times, we were the only ones camping. Tour boats came to the dock all day long disgorging daytime visitors, but around 5:00, they stopped running and you were alone out there until the next morning around 9:30. We didn’t have cell phones in those days, so if something bad happened, you were stuck. But the solitude was also magnificent.

Experiencing the natural world like this brought you closer to it. You noticed more things: changes in the wind, changes in the temperature, and the state of the waves on Georgian Bay gave us a hint of something going on.

One day, we were walking to our favourite spot for swimming. Then something odd happened. You couldn’t see it or smell it, but you could certainly feel it. We walked through what felt like an invisible curtain. In one or two steps, we went from warm to chilly. It was probably a matter of a couple degrees, but it was certainly noticeable.

We stopped. What had happened? As it turned out, it was a weather front, a passage from a low-pressure southern system to a higher pressure northern system. We found out later while talking to one of the tour boat pilots that we’d actually walked through a change of seasons.

“Wind’s changed. The Bay will turn over tonight. You can bet on it.”

“What?”

“Georgian Bay will turn over. That’s what happens on all the lakes at the beginning of autumn. The cold water from the bottom will flow to the top and everything will change. Happens every year.”

Sure enough, he was right. A wind came up with the high pressure system and over the course of the day, the water began to get cooler. Swimming out over the big underwater cliff that dropped straight down a few hundred feet, I could feel the rush of the colder water rising up and flipping the sun-warmed “summer water” down to the bottom. It was probably happening all along the Niagara Escarpment that runs down the eastern spine of the Bruce Peninsula.

Next morning it was noticeably cooler and feeling, well, autumn-ish. Yes, we had some more warm weather that year (as we are experiencing in Ontario currently), but it was clear that another summer had passed into memory.

We weren’t in the north last week, but knowing the signs, we could definitely feel the shift in seasons. My wife has noticed it in her gardens, too. The plants certainly know that it’s autumn. I haven’t seen or heard goldfinches in a couple of days. They’re always one of the first birds to leave.

I also know it happened, because I suddenly feel a shift in my energy levels. Time to begin getting more work done! This probably harkens back to the struggle to amass enough food to last through a long, cold winter, but I’ll use it. I’m waking up this week, ready to get to work.

Today I wrote 2000 words before even making coffee. If you knew me well, you’d know that’s pretty strange on its own.