Saturday, April 30, 2016

Guest Blogger Leslie Dana Kirby

Type M is thrilled to welcome Leslie Dana Kirby, whose debut novel The Perfect Game has recently been issued by Poisoned Pen Press. Leslie is a practicing clinical psychologist with a keen interest in human behavior.  Dr. Kirby’s writing is inspired by headline-grabbing stories involving ordinary people caught up by extraordinary circumstances.  Luckily for her, and for us, there appears to be no end to the shocking ways in which human behavior can surprise and intrigue us.



O.J. Simpson; Art Imitates Life

When Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered on June 12, 1994, I was in graduate school working toward my doctorate degree in clinical psychology. I spent my days attending classes, teaching undergraduates, and treating patients under supervision. I was spending my evenings reading journal articles and writing literature reviews. Although I have always loved reading, I didn’t have a spare moment to read for pleasure. I was completely absorbed in my studies and looking forward to my upcoming residency and career in psychology. However, my laser-like focus was derailed by this brutal crime, the ensuing investigation, and the resulting “Trial of the Century.” Although I had never been much of a professional football fan, even I recognized O.J. “the Juice” Simpson, although admittedly more for his roles in movies and commercials.

To say that I became enthralled by the trial would be a gross understatement. As I left for school each morning, I would carefully set an eight-hour VHS tape to record the daily trial coverage. In the evenings, I would rush through my homework and settle in to watch the trial. I abandoned all of my other regular television viewing, including ER, Seinfeld, and N.Y.P.D. Blue. It was entirely worth it to me because I found the trial provided better characters, conflict, and suspense than any other show on television. Important eyewitnesses were discredited for selling their stories to the tabloids, important timelines were established by a barking dog, a prosecution witness (Kato Kaelin) had to be declared a hostile witness by the the prosecutor who called him to testify, a glove demonstration went terribly awry, and a police detective asserted his own fifth amendment privilege on the witness stand. At the time, I remember saying that if the trial was written as a novel, it would be quickly dismissed as being ridiculous and fantastic. This real life trial provided more plot twists than any legal thriller that I had ever read. My graduate school mentor, who was an expert in psychology and the law, frequently tried to dissuade my interest by reminding me that this trial was not representative of the typical jury trial. I continued my obsession undeterred.

Although I had always been a diligent student, I admit to ditching class in order to hear the verdict read when the trial finally came to a close after more than eight months. Like many in the nation, I was shocked and dismayed when Simpson was acquitted in the face of a “mountain of evidence.” I clearly remember feeling particular empathy toward the family members of the victims, particularly Fred Goldman who had advocated so passionately for his son throughout the trial. What would I have done if one of the victims had been my loved one? What if Nicole had been my sister? And so the idea for my first novel was born.

But, alas, life interfered with my goal to write a book. When the trial ended, I resumed my studies in earnest and finished my graduate program in the spring of 1996. I went on to my clinical residency, joined the military, got married, and had two children. All of which explains why my first novel, The Perfect Game, wasn’t published until March 2015, more than 20 years after the murders of Brown-Simpson and Goldman.

In The Perfect Game, Lauren Rose is a medical intern who is devastated when her only sister, Liz, is murdered. Complicating matters is the fact that Liz was married to baseball pitching superstar, Jake Wakefield. As the sole beneficiary to Liz’s large life insurance policy, Lauren is quickly identified as a prime suspect. Given Jake’s fame, the media coverage during the police investigation and eventual trial is relentless. While the story is loosely based upon the Simpson case, the twists and turns take a very different course. Remember my impression that the developments of the Simpson case were too outlandish to incorporate into a novel? And in my opinion, The Perfect Game offers a much more satisfying conclusion than the real trial . . . although the fact that Simpson later landed himself in prison for a crime resulting from his attempt to hide his assets from the Goldman family also offered a very poetic justice.

I was surprised when the Simpson case landed back in the news this year as a result of the television miniseries, but I shouldn’t have been. As I have been watching American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson miniseries, I have become fixated once again. I have been thoroughly enjoying the peek behind the curtains that the series offers. As a result of my husband’s work, I have met Fred Goldman and as a result of my book, I have also met Marcia Clark. I have been watching the series with my own daughter, who frequently reacts with this question, “That didn’t really happen, did it?”

Believe it or not, that is exactly what happened!
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Leslie lives in Arizona with her husband and two children. The Perfect Game is available from Poisoned Pen Press, and wherever books are sold.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Country mouse/City mouse


I grew up in the very tiny town of Lone Elm Kansas. In a real sense, Anderson County will always be "home" to me. All of my family and my husband's family lived there and are now buried there.

In the Lottie Albright series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, the protagonists are twin sisters. Lottie is an historian who moved to Western Kansas when she married. Her sister Josie stayed in Eastern Kansas where they both were born. Writing about the two halves of the state has been a great way to play up the tension between the twins. Josie thinks Lottie is crazy for ever moving there. Lottie despairs of Josie's insensitivity to the grandeur of the prairie.

In fact the two halves of Kansas are like two different planets. The historic animosity of these two entities affects plotting in the series. I have lived in both places long enough to be acutely aware of the differences. Someone asked me once how this came about.

Militarily, Eastern Kansas is associated with the Civil War and Western Kansas with the Indian Wars. Eastern Kansas was settled much earlier. Western Kansas was labeled part of the Great American Desert and said to be virtually uninhabitable. It seemed to Eastern Kansans (the city cousins) that Western Kansans (the country bumpkins) were always looking for a hand-out.

In Western Kansas crops failed. Grasshoppers ate everything in sight. There were prairie fires and tornadoes and blizzards and Indian raids. Then by some miracle fortunes shifted. Western Kansas became the breadbasket of the world. Settlers struck oil. They discovered vast fields of natural gas.

Mining developed in Southeast Kansas and there was lively trade and shipping along the Missouri River. Population centers grew and suddenly the city cousins wanted part of their country cousins' tax revenue to finance their schools.

It's fun to watch the Albright twins argue about "their" place in the state as well as their roles in murder investigations. When a book stalls, try researching the history of your state or region. The information might jump-start your plot.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fresh Ideas

I have an idea.

Really, you say. A writer with an idea. Is that newsworthy?

Probably not. But it feels like a big deal to me. You see, I've spent ten years with the same protagonist, written perhaps 3,000 pages to get three published novels. And for the past three years, I've had . . . not exactly a conceptualized idea, but a voice kicking around in my head. And a voice is a character knocking on the front door, waiting to be let in. Last week, I opened the door, and he walked in, bringing a whole cast of characters and problems with him.

So I sat down and wrote a description of the setting, the cast, and a synopsis (something you might find on the dust jacket). The synopsis concludes with these three sentences: Money, power, and political swag go a long way in explaining a hidden truth. And some secrets are never meant to be told. Unbeknownst to Bo and Ellie, this one threatens not only them but their daughters as well.

And that's where I began. I sat down and started writing. What's the secret Ellie and Bo will learn? I have no idea. Not yet. Looking forward to finding out. I'm not working from an outline, just a 730-word, wide-open description. And something fun has happened: I having a blast writing this book. The voice keeps talking, the story is unfolding, and the book is taking off.

It's a rush. And that rush is why I do it. It's why I get up at 4 and write until 6 a.m. most days. Not for a contract. Not for a royalty check. And never for reviews.

Where will the novel go? No idea. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Musings on American English

Sybil here. As you read this, I’m on my way to the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD. I’m also finishing up Book 3 in my Aurora Anderson Mystery series. To say I’m stressed would be an understatement.

When I’m stressed out, I get annoyed at little things and get a bit nit picky about how people speak or write English. Don’t worry, I don’t actually correct people. Okay, I might talk to the TV screen, but they can’t hear me so...

I’ve taken enough linguistic classes to know a language is a living thing, in a constant take of flux. Words get added, deleted, change meanings all the time. I get that. I also get that grammar changes over time. What was once considered unacceptable and bad grammar becomes the norm.

I’m not a grammar snob. My own isn’t ‘correct’ all the time, but some things annoy me or, at least, bring me up short. Here’s my current list:

How do you pronounce ‘primer’?
Pronunciation of this word is one of my hot buttons. In American English it's pronounced two different ways, depending on its meaning. Go ahead, consult your American English dictionary if you don’t believe me. You back? If we’re talking about a book, it’s pronounced with a short ‘i’ like “primmer”. If we’re talking paint, it’s pronounced with a long ‘i’. I don’t know how many times I’ve been literally laughed at for pronouncing this word correctly. My gut response is: “Read the dictionary, people!”, but I usually just say that’s what the dictionary says. One of my AE dictionaries did note that in British English, the book is pronounced the same as the paint. I'd be interested to know if this is true. So, you speakers of British English, let me know.

Waiting/standing on line v. in line
This preposition difference between coasts only came to my attention in the last few years. I’ve lived on the West coast my entire life. We stand or wait ‘in line’ here. On the East coast, though, ‘on line’ seems to be preferred. You East Coasters can stand or wait on line all you want. I’ll stick with ‘in line.’ But when a character in a book that we’re told has lived on the West coast their entire life stands “on line”, I sit up and take notice. It bothers me, okay. Brings me right out of the story. I read a book once where that happened and it bothered me for pages. Okay, it’s still bothering me years later. Stupid, I know, but that’s the way it is.

pled v. pleaded 
Okay, this one I know is not incorrect. I was just taught that the proper past tense of ‘to plead’ is pled. Both are listed in my American English dictionaries, though pled seems to have pretty much gone out of every day use. All of the news articles on crime that I read use the form ‘pleaded’. Still jars me, though. Yep, I’m old.

‘she’ used as a generic pronoun
English needs a generic 3rd person pronoun. It really does. Neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ seems to work well. I was taught ‘he’ is the proper generic to use in English so that’s what I use. Now, I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I remember when single women couldn’t get mortgages without a man to cosign a loan. I understand the issue. I didn’t change my name when I got married, my own little womens’ rights protest, something quite unusual at the time. Years and years ago, I started seeing ‘she’ used in this context all over the place. Makes me pause every time. I know this is my problem. I’m okay with that. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong when I use ‘he’ as my generic.

than + preposition
This one I think I’m going to have to let go. It’s become too ingrained in current American English. Still, it grates on my nerves to hear someone say “he’s taller than me.” I was taught the correct preposition in this case is ‘I’ and here’s how you know: extend the sentence to use the proper form of the verb ‘to be’, e.g. He’s taller than I am. You can cut off the verb or leave it in. I tend to leave it in, because I admit it sounds a little odd otherwise. I did catch myself saying ‘taller than me’ the other day, though. Guess it really is time to ignore this one.

I’ve shown you my list of nitpicks. What things annoy you or at least cause you to pause?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

More rumours & a shout out to the Bony Blithe!

by Rick Blechta

Vicki Delany’s post yesterday made some very good points that need to be heard by those just starting out in the writing game or those contemplating a writing career.

Like any of the creative arts, publishing has more than it’s fair share of sharks and fast operators. It’s always best to look first, then ask a ton of questions, and if something doesn’t seem right or it appears to be too good to be true, rest assured that you are at risk of being taken.

Vicki’s post dealt with rumours about self-publishing, and I believe she correctly surmises that the rumours were started by those who have money to make out of this: vanity presses.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a vanity press. If you desire to publish (and print) your own works, more power to you. It’s just that the vanity press business model is all about selling dreams, and they know darn well that the likelihood of all those dreams of wild author success coming true happen in the neighbourhood of once every ten or fifteen years.

Then there are agents. Take it from me, if an agent asks you for a reading fee, he or she is not a real agent. If after reading your magnum opus, they recommend a great editor they work with, then be very suspicious.

And if anyone asks you to do something for free (especially if they’ll be making money on your efforts) because doing so “will be terrific exposure”, just tell them this: “People can die from exposure, you know.”

Sorry. Gotta run. Bills have to be paid, and well, I’m doing this blog because it’s, um, good exposure...

 

As for the shout out:

The Bloody Words Light Mystery Award (aka the Bony Blithe Award) Shortlist was announced on April 14th  – and our very own Eva Gates (aka Vicki Delany) is on the list! So are four other people, but I’ll give you the press release for the rest of the information!

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

(Toronto, ON) April 14, 2016 – The Bloody Words Light Mystery Award (aka the Bony Blithe Award), an annual Canadian award that celebrates traditional, feel-good mysteries is pleased to announce this year’s finalists. Now in its fifth year, the award is for a “mystery book that makes us smile” and includes everything from laugh-out-loud to gentle humour to good old-fashioned stories with little violence or gore.

Congratulations to the five finalists for the 2016 award:

Victoria Abbott, The Marsh Madness (Berkley Prime Crime)
Elizabeth J. Duncan, Untimely Death (Crooked Lane Books)
Eva Gates, Booked for Trouble (NAL)
Victoria Hamilton, White Colander Crime (Berkley Prime Crime)
Alexis Koetting, Encore (Five Star)

Help us celebrate Bony Blithe’s fifth birthday at the 2016 Bony Blithe Gala, an afternoon and evening of mirthful mayhem!

The award will be presented at the Bony Blithe Gala on Friday, May 27, at the High Park Club, 100 Indian Road, Toronto. The festivities start at 2:00 p.m. with panels and afternoon nibblies, culminating with the award banquet where the monarch of merry murder will be crowned. For more information or to buy a ticket for the gala, contact us at bw-award@bloodywords.com or visit www.bonyblithe.com.

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rumour Has It

by Vicki Delany

I’ve started hearing this a lot. I heard it again just yesterday.

Beginning writers are being told that major, traditional publishers are now only interested in publishing authors who have self-published their first book. Something like, “to prove they can write a book” or “to show that they’re serious about writing.”

I suspect this rumor is being circulated by the sort of vanity presses or self-publishing companies that are, shall we say, less than honest about their business dealings.

Because it simply isn’t true.

I was at a book signing about a year ago, and a woman came up to me and started telling me all about this article she’d read in the paper about some self-published author who’d gotten a major book contract. What did I think about that? I said that the reason it was in the newspaper was because it was so unusual.

They’ve all heard about Fifty Shades of Gray, or similar books that were self-published and only then did the author get a big contract. Fair enough. Nothing wrong with having something to attempt to emulate.

But these cases are extremely rare.

Unless the book really does break through big-time, a traditional publisher isn’t the least bit interested. For one thing, the author has destroyed their marketability as a first time author. First books get reviewed more often, and they are eligible for major awards in the first novel category. The competition is a heck of a lot more intense for second and later books.

Most of all, publishing is a numbers game. Publishers look at an author’s sales numbers when wondering whether or not to take on an author with at least one book published. Good sales = chance of a contract.  Anything less = pretty much out of luck. The publisher you were with, the distribution they had means nothing. They are only looking at the number.

Without excellent bookstore distribution (for print books) or a big promotional effort for e-books, an astronomical amount of luck, or tens of thousands of dollars to promote the book, most self-published books, particularly a first novel, can’t make the grade.

Agents and publishers have enormous slush-piles: stacks of manuscripts that are sent to them in the hopes of being picked up. The last thing they are going to do is wade through all the self-published books out there looking for next big thing.

There's nothing wrong with self-publishing, and I knew some people who are happy with their decision to take that path. But please, do your homework first. You wouldn’t embark on a career in medicine without knowing the pitfalls and the down side. So don’t do it with your writing career either.

Oh, and one more thing. Perhaps the LAST THING you want to do with your first book is “just get it out there”. I’ve heard that too. You have exactly one chance in your life to publish a first book. Are you prepared to do the work it takes to make the book the best it can be and to give it the best chance it has of being read? 

Or do you want to just “get it out there”?



Friday, April 22, 2016

Writing in the Present and the Past

Rick's post on Tuesday about the digital age and new technology struck a chord with me. I agree that as writers of crime fiction, we end up looking fairly stupid -- or making our characters look that way -- if we don't know about and make use of current technology in our books. I have tried a twist in my two Hannah McCabe books. They are set in the near-future, but in an Albany, New York that exists in an alternate universe. The characters communicate with an all-purpose device called an ORB. I've incorporated some other real-life technology already available but not yet widely used.

On the other hand, my Lizzie Stuart series is set in the recent past. The challenge there is to remind readers that Lizzie is in 2004 right now. Only problem, my memory of early 2000 is becoming a bit blurry. I haven't written a book in the series in several years. When I return to it with the next book, I'm going to have to do some research -- read some newspapers, look at some ads, get back into the technology of 12 years ago.

I thought it would be easier to write a historical thriller set in 1939. Even with the future looming and on display at the World's Fair, no one was able to pick up a smartphone and find information.  But I do need to know what  technology was available. That's a fairly easy question to answer regarding the FBI and large city police departments. But I must dig deeper to know how readily a small town police chief in Georgia would have been able to obtain information about a suspect or verify someone's identity.

And there are other questions I need to answer about 1939. Recently, I came across a collection of letters online. Letters to a young woman who was in her first year of college. Most are from her mother, with an occasional letter from her father, a minister. The letters are fascinating because the parents are keeping their daughter informed about what is happening at home. What has struck me is how often someone is ill that winter. The mother has a toe that has become infected and she is at home with her foot up in the early letters, waiting for the toe to drain and the hole to close over. She later comes down with a horrible cold, as do several other people she mentions. One of those people is a radio personality. A family in the town suffers a double tragedy when a young man attending the funeral of his sister, fails to dress properly for the wet, chilly weather, catches pneumonia, and dies soon after. All of this illness has reminded me that I need to know more about the state of medicine in the 1930s. I had this on my radar as a concern for the people struggling to survive the Great Depression, but even in this middle-class, well-educated family and among their neighbors, the danger of an early demise seems to loom over their heads. So research on the state of medicine in the 1930s is in order.

But right now, I am waiting to receive my new computer. I have turned over my old equipment to my computer guy and he is transferring everything over. I'm going to keep my outdated desk top to use for writing when I don't want to be distracted. The new laptop will have all of the most recent bells and whistles, including touch screen. It should be interesting to see how long it takes me to adapt

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cover Stories


Since All Men Fear Me came out, people are always asking me about the man on the cover, but since the publisher chose the cover and I had no more to do with it than to say, "I like it", I could never tell them who he is, only that he is a perfect depiction of the villain in the book. However, thanks to a curious reader who actually queried my publisher about the cover photo*, I now know who the man is!

Here's what the cover artist revealed: "I acquired the actual photo (not a scan or reproduction) from a collector. It is an original 1900s mug shot one of about a dozen that I purchased. The collection is quite intriguing; each mug shot has a frontal face photo, a profile photo and on the back is the name of the arrested and a hand-written description of their crime! Although there were some murderers in the collection of mug shots, this man was arrested for being a 'disorderly person'. His alias was 'Jack the Hugger' and he was arrested in Jersey City, NJ in 1903."

Now there's a story. I imagine old Jack was just a bubble off plumb, and was arrested for walking around Jersey City giving random hugs to people whether they liked it or not. The saga of the man in the photo has caused me to ponder the history of the covers on my novels. When my first book came out in 2005, Amazon and the ebook were not the juggernauts they are today. Just in the past few years, cover artists have to take into consideration that most people will first see the book cover as a thumbnail online.

I was told that a book cover is like a movie poster. The whole point is to intrigue the potential reader. For my early novels in the Alafair Tucker series, the production supervisor asked me to send family photos for the cover artist to work with. So I provided the photo on novels one through four, which have rather busy covers and look a bit cut-and-paste to me.



By 2011, when the fifth novel, Crying Blood, came out, the internet was the thing, and nobody asked me to provide anything. The only input I had was when they sent me the mock-up and said, "here it is. Hope you like it." The cover artist had created a simple, colorful cover that looks good online or on a physical book. When All Men came out late last year, the cover was down to its bare essentials. The book is looking right at you. "Buy me," it says, "or you'll be sorry."

One of my favorites, the tornado book, 2014



_______________

*Here is what the curious reader said to the publisher: "he must have been a murderer! His face was so creepy that I had to turn the book face down on the coffee table when I wasn't reading it!" She then called back a little while later to clarify that she did not mean to insult the cover--in fact, quite the opposite; she thought it caught the spirit of the villain and the book perfectly!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It's party time!

Barbara here. This is tax month, which for a self-employed artist means days spent scouring the house for all those gas, meal, and conference receipts scattered in various piles, purses, bags, and drawers throughout the house. Unfolding them, squinting to read them, and sorting them into categories, etc. The dining room table, sofa, end tables, and even floor are forced into service, and the house is unfit for visitors for the duration.

Every year I swear an oath that next year I will be more organized and keep better records, but once that huge pile of papers is handed in to the accountant, I pour a drink, do a little dance, and forget the whole damn thing for another year.

This is not a blog about my failings as a records keeper, however, but rather an explanation for the brevity of today's post. I was so busy catching up on the things I'd put on hold to do my taxes– like raking my yard and cleaning up the debris from the winter– that I forgot it was blog day until just before bedtime.

So I want to take these few minutes to talk about the Arthur Ellis Awards, which are administered by Crime Writers of Canada and which honour excellence in Canadian crime writing. The awards are given annually in seven categories of published work– novel, first novel, short story, novella, French, non-fiction, and juvenile– as well as one category for unpublished manuscripts. To be eligible, the author must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, but the works need not be set in Canada. Both publishers and authors can submit works. At the end of each calendar year, all eligible works are sent out to the independent three-person jury for that category. Each jury chooses both a shortlist of (usually five) finalists and the eventual winner.


The shortlists are announced with great fanfare in media releases as well as shortlist parties across the country in late April, and the winners are announced at the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet in June. The reason for this week's post is that the shortlists will be announced simultaneously across Canada tomorrow, April 21, at 8 pm. There will be shortlist parties held in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. Each party is organized by the local CWC members and usually features author readings, panels, and discussions.

The parties are free, open to the public, and everyone is welcome! So if you want to learn the latest and hottest in cool Canadian crime, as well as cheer on the authors nervously waiting to hear their name called, check out the party nearest you and come on down! If you can't make it, the results will be posted on the Crime Writers of Canada website shortly after the announcements.

Sandwiched between the huge markets of the US and UK, Canadian crime writers struggle to be heard and noticed. We compete with the international blockbusters for shelf space in the stores and for air time and review space in the media, so it takes a little more determination and ingenuity to find us. But we have a vibrant and active crime writing community in Canada, with books for every taste from nail-biting thrillers to historicals to gentle cozies, and once you find us, you won't be sorry. Crime Writers of Canada puts out a free monthly newsletter which contains all the new releases by members as well as the list of author events for that month. Check out the website to subscribe!

Good luck to all the authors on Thursday night!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Embracing the digital age and other new technology

by Rick Blechta

No, this isn't an email about how everyone should learn to love their smartphone. Heck! That sort of advice shouldn’t be coming from me. I don’t even own one.

What I’m writing about today is getting up to date when new technology hits crime fiction. The world has changed profoundly in the 21st Century and a crime writer's plots have to reflect that or risk having your stories lose credibility with an audience that is quite at home with smart phones, computers and all the other new toys we've been given to play with.

This post comes because of an article I just read in the current issue of The Walrus, Canada's intellectual magazine. Since I have a subscription, I also have access to The Walrus online, so here is a link to the article in case you want to read it: “Narrative Devices: Rewiring the mystery novel for the digital age”. Hopefully, the link will open for you.

Even though there are some points I would quibble with (like giving way too much information from the plots of novels we might like to read!), I think the author makes some good points.

It's something I'm sure many of us have wrestled with. With the ubiquity of smart phones and computers, modern plots have to be much more savvy if they're to maintain credibility with readers. Sure, you can use dodges like, “She took out her cell phone and felt like screaming. Her battery was completely out of gas. Now there was no way to call for help.” But after awhile, these really won't wash. Even now, this sort of passage would certainly earn an eye roll or two from young hipsters.

Part of the issue certainly does come from “writers of a certain age” who are unwilling to use or unknowledgeable about new technology, but also pointed out in the article are younger writers who work out some sort of dodge — such as the example I gave above — to negate the influence of new technology might have on their plots. For each, this sort of smacks of laziness or taking the easy way out.

I believe it is possible to use new technology to help move a plot forward. Let's face it: it ain't going away. Don't use it and your story line will become anachronistic even quicker than it usually does anyway. Unless you're writing historical crime fiction, I see really no way out of incorporating new technology in your plots.

That does mean learning about it and the possibilities that new technology opens, but we all do a lot of research anyway, don't we? No big deal. Using plots that embrace new technology can also make your plot cleverer. For instance, how would your hero defeat bad guys who can use a smart phone to track every move the hero makes? Something clever could be done here (short of turning off the tracking feature in the phone).

Regardless of how you feel on the subject or what you do in your plots, new tech is here to stay. Don’t get caught in a Luddite trap! If you're setting a book in the present, you have to at least have a working knowledge of what is possible — simply to avoid driving into plot “potholes”. The last thing you want is a reader to think (or worse, say out loud), “Why the hell doesn’t he just take out his #$$%%@ cell phone?!”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Getting the Knowledge

I enjoyed Vicki's recent post on the subject of 'write what you know'. Like her, if I only wrote what I know it would make for a pretty dull book. I've always envied those people  who before becoming writers have had a wonderfully chequered career – bouncer, roadie, explorer, stunt man – which must give them a huge advantage in terms of life experience.

I've had varied experiences, admittedly, from interviewing the then Archbishop of Canterbury to having dinner with a sheik and his entourage in Abu Dhabi, but that's not the sort of thing to qualify you for writing an ecclesiastical thriller or a wild Desert Song romance.

'Write what you want to know,'  Vicki said, and though it hadn't struck me before in those terms, I think it's an excellent principle.  One of the joys of writing is imagining yourself into a completely different situation.

The problem for many writers starting out is not knowing how to get that knowledge. When I'm doing a workshop, it's one of things I'm most often asked. I usually reply, 'Read up anything you can find. Go to the place. Talk to the people,' and what is interesting is how prepared they are to follow the first two suggestions while shrinking from the third.

Perhaps it's the fact that writers are at heart solitary creatures that makes them reluctant to impose on others.  'Oh, I couldn't!' is surprisingly often an instinctive, horrified response.  I used to have it myself, at the beginning.

But now I understand that most people love to talk about themselves and their expertise.  I wanted to have a character who was a silversmith; when I emailed a very well-known one who worked nearby to see if  he might answer a few technical questions, he asked me to his studio and spent the afternoon showing me everything he did.

When I wanted details about police procedure, I managed to get an appointment with a DI in Marjory Fleming country and turned up at 11 am with a list of questions, hoping for half-an-hour. I emerged well after 2pm, during which time he hadn't stopped talking and we'd both missed our lunch. As research, both were pure gold.

I daresay you might have to develop a thick skin in case people do refuse, though I've never approached anyone who did. And of course, I'm happy to tell anyone who wants to know all about my life as a writer. Sometimes I even get paid for to do it!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Guest slot: Ruth Dudley Edwards

 Aline here. It's my privilege today to introduce you to Ruth Dudley Edwards, distinguished  British/Irish journalist, broadcaster, biographer and crime writer.  She's won the Crime Writers Association's Last Laugh Award twice for her brilliant satirical crime fiction as well as the CWA Gold Dagger for non-fiction – a unique achievement, I think.  That isn't surprising, since Ruth herself is a one-off – original, big-hearted, clever and very, very funny.  You'll enjoy meeting her here.

I had a card some time back that showed a couple tied to a railway track with a train coming towards them round the corner. “It’s your confounded optimism I can’t stand,” one was saying to the other. It was a not so subtle rebuke from a friend who had declared herself fed up with my resemblance to “Pollybloodyanna”.

Eleanor H Porter’s early 20th century heroine had been disappointed when the missionary barrel yielded a pair of crutches rather than the doll she had been hoping for, but quickly accepted her father’s recommendation that she should be glad she didn’t need them. Later, as an orphan, Pollyanna would cheer up the depressed inhabitants of a small Vermont town by teaching them “The Glad Game”.

I saw the film for the first time recently and wondered why they hadn’t strangled her, but I’d read the book as a small child and it had formed much my character, so, relentlessly, I keep on looking on the bright side while realising how annoying I can be.

In fact - though I’ve learned the hard way that when people are telling you a tale of misfortune they mostly want sympathy rather than an assurance that it’s all for the best - I don’t know how I’d get through life as a writer without a cheerful disposition.

When I’m being a journalist, I’m grateful that articles are short and deadlines therefore easy to meet. When I’m writing non-fiction, I stop myself cursing about the massive amount of reading I have to do by telling myself I’m glad I don’t have to think of a plot. And when I’m writing fiction and wondering what should happen next, I remind myself of the joy of having very little research.

The journalism often concerns terrorism and the non-fiction is often on very serious or even gloomy topics, but I get jokes in where I can and it cheers me up no end that my crime fiction is comic. My last novel, Killing the Emperors, was an all-out assault on what I regard as the massive confidence trick that is conceptual art.

Last month I published a book about the rebellion, insurrection or rising (all the words are contentious) that began in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. The Seven: the lives and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic, looks at the unusual group of men, a clique within an oath-bound secret society, who planned a doomed revolution which afterwards turned them into nationalist icons.

A composite biography, it interweaves their stories. I realised as I was writing it, and many readers have commented, that its cliffhangers reflect crime fiction. I had to shoot them all in the end, which was rather melancholy because though I thought what they did was wrong and crazy, some of them were very likeable.

But I cheered myself up by reminding myself that I can play God in the crime book I’m about to begin. Mind you, it’s called A Fleece of Lawyers, so I’ll be tempted to go in for mass executions. Even Pollyanna will struggle to play The Glad Game in the law courts.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Wayward Words

A friend asked me recently if I read fiction when I'm writing and if that interferes with my own work. No, reading while writing doesn't affect the work in progress, and giving up reading when I'm writing just makes me cranky. Nevertheless, when I'm currently reading a book with great description or characterization I feel goaded to improve whatever is on my computer at the time. I also find myself giving more thought to details in my own work.

Most novelists have a horror of "unconscious plagiarism." So I was infuriated by Rick's recent blog on the outrageous blatant plagiarism perpetrated by a woman who copied a novel nearly verbatim and then posted it on Amazon as though it were her own book. She made quite a bit of money by doing this.

I feel so strongly about the issue of creative piracy that I won't even read books that expand on a dead author's characters or plot lines. I'm too cowardly to list all the books I refuse to read because I don't want to respond to readers who see nothing wrong with it.

To me, poaching characters is dishonorable! What's more, a line from an old Kipling poem, The Mary Gloster, comes to mind: "They copied all they could follow, but they couldn't copy my mind, And I left them sweating and stealing a year and a half behind."

The out-and-out plagiarism Rick referred to is in a class by itself. It's criminal. But I've noticed the "legitimate" books built on another author's foundation don't stand very well. Because the original creative spark isn't there they flounder in the marketplace.

Creative energy is unique to an individual. The source can't be duplicated.

Nevertheless there is a great deal of craftsmanship involved with creating good books and much to be learned by studying the techniques of the masters. Especially when one begins to write.

I often turn to books that I especially liked to see how they did something. I went back to Love Let Me Not Hunger to see why I thought Mr. Albert's leaving the circus was one of the saddest events I had ever come across.

How do other writer get characters out of room and change scenes? Oh. They don't. They simply double space. Why do the pages in this book rush by? Oh. Short, short sentences. Short chapters. Mostly action. Why do I like longer books with more detail? Oh. It's characterization.

Most of us go to the masters for instruction and inspiration, but a pox on anyone who goes with the intention of copying material.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Looking to the Master for Solutions

I'm 50 pages into a novel due in August (I know, don't say it), and to make matters worse, I hit a roadblock this week.

I don't usually consider this a bad thing, but the book is going where I thought it would go. The story seems to be moving too fast. Maybe that's because I outlined before I began. I'm not sure why, but the plot is playing out quickly.

So this past weekend I backed off, stepped back, and did what I do whenever I get stuck — I read a crime novel I thought would inspire me. When things are going well, I look for new authors, new voices (I just finished Bangkok 8 by John Burdett). But Saturday I reached for Raymond Chandler's The High Window.

Why Chandler? Why now? Here's Chandler on stalled plots: "Whenever I get bored a man enters the room carrying a gun," he once said.

So I read The High Window, and then — and please don't read too much into this — I went to church Sunday morning and, when I should've been listening to the sermon, thought of a necessary plot twist. I'm sure this says more about the kind of Episcopalian I am than either the quality of the sermon or the quality of my plots (I can assure you that God did not intervene).

But maybe Raymond Chandler did.

Saturday, I read one line in The High Window, about halfway through the book, and discovered where, perhaps, the master might have gotten "bored." The perfectly-timed, logically-positioned plot twist adds a secondary storyline and a layer of depth to the novel. I was truly inspired by The High Window but didn't realize it until I went back to my own novel.

Hopefully, I learned something.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LA Times Festival of Books

Last weekend I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Southern California. According to the Times, over 150,000 people attended the two day event. I’m not sure where they got their figures since no ticket is required to enter the festival grounds. I assume there’s some sort of estimating going on.

Tommy Trojan


The event is free. Tickets are required for the indoor panels, or conversations as I heard them called, but there’s no charge. You can get tickets on campus, but I recommend reserving your space ahead of time since some panels sell out fast. If you reserve online, there’s a nominal $1 per ticket processing fee. Quite a bargain IMO.

You never know what the weather’s going to be like. Last year it was in the 90s and sunny. As you can tell by these pictures, this year it was rainy with the threat of lightning. Unusual for this time of year. Still, I think everyone had a good time.

There are all kinds of things to do for all ages. Doesn’t matter what kind of books you like, the festival has it all. Booths and stages are sprinkled throughout campus. There are areas for children’s books, mystery, poetry, cook books. Pretty much everything you can think of. When I was going by one stage, Padma Lakshmi was talking about her book, “Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir”. Even though I'm not that into poetry, one of my favorite things to do is watch the poetry slams.

The Times also posts crossword puzzles throughout the area that people can contribute to. The white boards this year got a little wet, which was a bit of a challenge to write on, but people still had fun.
I’ve been attending for quite a few years. This is my second as a published author. Scores of authors sign at booths from the famous to others, like me, the not so famous. It’s a good opportunity to let people know you have a book out. Here I am signing at the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles booth.



You never know who you’re going to see at the festival. Henry Winkler was talking about his children’s books one day. T Jefferson Parker, Patt Morrison, Michael Connelly...the list goes on and on. I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken with the LMU mascot, ’cause that’s how I roll.


That’s my report on LATFOB. Hope you enjoyed it. If you’re in the LA area next April 22-23, check out the festival. It’s a lot of fun even when it’s raining.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dialogue or description?

by Rick Blechta

My turn — and there’s not a lot of time for me to write anything today due to work, so this will have to be brief. (Blechta being brief? Who’d a thunk it?)

I don’t know if I’m different from other writers in this — and I don’t remember ever having discussed this with any other of my colleagues, but it dawned on me recently that I have far less trouble writing dialogue than description. I can waste hours trying to describe what a person or a room or, well, anything looks like, whereas I can fire off an extended bit of dialogue almost as fast as I can type it. The interesting addition to this is that my dialogue needs far less editing than my description, both by me in the “refining” stages and by editors.

So I have a question for all you writer-types. Which is easier for you: dialogue or description? For all the non-writers out there, which of the two do you prefer reading? (And I’m not talking about description that is self-indulgent and goes on far too long in too much detail.)

And that’s all, folks, for this week. I’ll be back with much more of substance next Tuesday. Feel free to drop by!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Write What You Know? Not so fast

By Vicki Delany (Eva Gates)

In her post of last week, Barbara writes about the need for the author to put themselves in another’s shoes.  Essentially, isn’t that what most writing, except for memoirs and biographies, is? You are telling someone else’s story. I suppose you can fictionalize your life story, (and it’s said that most first novels are largely auto-biographical) but anyone who writes more than one book has to start moving out of what they know.

We all have heard the adage “Write what you know.” I’ve never been a big fan of that idea.

What do I know? I know how to write computer code for 20th century computers; I am highly computer-literate; I do a mean jig-saw puzzle; I can paddle a canoe
, and I am a very good baker.

All of which, let’s face it, is pretty dull.  Writing about my life as a computer programmer would make a mighty boring book.

So, instead I go by the adage, “Write what you want to know.” 

I have no background in law enforcement whatsoever, so when I decided I wanted to write a police procedurals series set in Canada,  I set about learning what I needed (and wanted) to know.

When I was asked to write the Lighthouse Library series set in the Outer Banks, I didn’t proclaim, "But I’ve never been to the Outer Banks,” instead I said, “Sure.”  I then read up on the Outer Banks and on lighthouses, and I went down there for a visit.

Not only did I learn many things I wanted to know, I got the chance to visit a wonderful place, and to learn a lot about the fascinating history of lighthouses.

As eating is important to any good cozy mystery, I immersed myself in North Carolina cooking (It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it).  Fried green tomatoes, shrimp po’boy, shrimp and grits, hush puppies. Yum. 




Here’s a bit from the third book in the series, Reading Up A Storm:

I practically know Jake’s menu by heart. I didn’t have to think hard about what to order. “Shrimp and grits please.”
“You’re becoming a true Southern woman,” Connor said.
“If Southern means shrimp and grits, then I’m in.  And a couple of hush puppies too, please.”

These days you can do a lot of research on the Internet, but I maintain that particularly when it comes to setting nothing can replace actually being there.  Google Earth can show you the layout of the streets compared to the ocean or lakes and rivers, and Streetview can give you a snap shot of streets and buildings at a moment in time, but nothing replaces actually seeing the light at dusk, or the sky when storm clouds move in. Even the best computer program can’t give you the scent of salt on the air, or the feel of the hot sun on your arms.


And only by being there, can you experience those unexpected moments that add real color and texture to your book.

Case in point, on my last visit to the Outer Banks, I went to the Bodie Island Lighthouse at dusk to see the light when it’s on.  Coming back I saw a deer at the side of the road.  Coming from heavily wooded Ontario, I wouldn’t have expected to see deer where the vegetation so space and poor. 

So, now Lucy Richardson, my protagonist, watches out for deer when she drives back to the lighthouse at night.

There really is nothing like being there.


Saturday, April 09, 2016

Brenda Chapman on keeping it all straight!

Please welcome this weekend's guest blogger, my good friend and fellow Ottawa mystery author, Brenda Chapman. A prolific author equally at home with young adult, stand-alone adult thrillers, and two mystery series, Brenda is best known as the author of the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedurals published by Dundurn. Cold Mourning, first in the series was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis award in 2015 for best  novel.Tumbled Graves, third in the series, was released in February 2016. Brenda also writes the Anna Sweet novellas for Grass Roots Press. 

Learn more about Brenda at brendachapman.ca 

Thank you to Barbara Fradkin for inviting me to share a blog post with you today. I thought I’d take this opportunity to raise an affliction common to many authors…

A dutiful parent does not forget the names of their children, or the moment their child took their first step, graduated high school or backed the family car into a tree. Books are often compared to an author’s children, but remembering the plot, the characters and even the specifics of a crime can tax any writer’s memory cells. Case in point: An author (whose name escapes me) recounted the time he appeared on a radio program and forgot the plot of his newly released book. The interviewer asked questions but the author drew blanks. Some might see this as an unbelievable memory lapse, since who better to know the content of a book than its originator…especially a book hot on the shelves?

Tumbled Graves is the third in my Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series. I have several main characters who are getting into all kinds of scrapes and suffering through unexpected turmoil — trying to lead happy lives while solving crimes. Half the time, I can’t remember who did what in which book. I have to look up the characters’ names, search their physical descriptions and reread passages to find out where they left off.

Yet something readers might not understand is that by the time a book reaches the shelves, often close to two years have passed since the writer submitted the final manuscript to the publisher. In my case, when Tumbled Graves was released at the end of February, I had already submitted the manuscript to Dundurn for book four and gotten a start on book five. To make life even more complicated, I completed an Anna Sweet novella for a separate mystery series with Grass Roots Press in between books four and five, and a few weeks ago, I set aside my latest Stonechild writing project to work on the edits. Not to mention my full-time communications job….

Taking a cue from the author who forgot the plot of his book, I’ve learned to skim through my notes about a book before an event. I run the names of characters and the crime through my mind before an interview. I make notes on scraps of paper. I head off brain freezes through careful preparation — much like studying for an exam at school.Of course, this cannot save me from out-of-the-blue questions from readers I meet in my travels, so I ask in advance for understanding as I stare back blankly while fumbling for a response. I really did write the book you are asking about. Those really are my children. It’s just that I’ve given birth to fourteen at last count with a couple more in gestation. It goes without saying that I love them all equally…once I can recall the details of their birth.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Painful Distractions

I'm writing this in pain. Yesterday I wore heels with a pointed toe. Today (Thursday) I switched to heavy, laced shoes. Somewhere between yesterday and today, I irritated a toe that I had stumped a while ago. It was hurting while I was working this afternoon, and foolishly I kept flexing my foot in the heavy shoe and pushing my toe downward against the floor. I think I might have sprained my arch -- if that is possible. I'm back at the computer after trying an Epsom salt soak. I'm hoping for the best because I've got a busy day tomorrow and being able to walk without limping would be helpful.

But no injured foot should go wasted. To distract myself, I've been thinking about how a low-grade nagging pain can be incredibly distracting. And irritating.Maybe I'll give one of my characters in the book I'm working on a toothache with no time to visit a dentist. But if the pain gets bad enough he'll have to deal with it. The book is set in 1939, so I'm going to have to do some research on dental surgery.



Or maybe the distraction is an allergy attack. The kind that leaves one with watery eyes and a runny nose. And makes it impossible to look composed or attractive. I could give this one to my female character as she is trying to prove to the male protagonist that she is up to the challenge. Wiping away tears when you're arguing your case doesn't work well.

 Anyway, it's late, and I have an early morning. Tomorrow I'll think some more about how to make creative use of my pain. Tonight, it just hurts. Maybe an injured foot is the way to go. That would certainly slow my protagonist down. But it is a bit of a cliche. Better a toothache. I think definitely a toothache.

And maybe it's my bad guy who should have the toothache. That would humanize him.

Off to take some aspirin and get to bed.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

A Delightful Turn of Phrase

I (Donis) can't stay too long today, Dear Reader. I have set the day aside for my Work In Progress and I must get back to it, for I'm on a roll. Well, not really a roll. More like an ooze. I'm on an ooze, but that is better than nothing, and if I stop, it's very hard to get started again.

A Healthy Alternative Sitting Method

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an entry for my publisher's blog about the physical perils of writing (check it out here), in which I talked about how an author risks eyestrain and carpal tunnel and numb-butt by sitting too long at the computer. I try very hard to moderate my sitting by getting up and doing some exercise every hour or so, but when you're in the zone sometimes that gets past you. I'm sure you have read the latest research that states that "sitting is the new smoking", which means that sitting too long is very very bad for your health. Therefore, I try to work standing up as much as possible. The only problem is that standing for long periods hurts my back and my feet. I try hard to maintain good posture, but there is only so much I can take even then. The only solution I can think of is to trade off sitting and standing, interspersed with periods of walking, yoga, jumping jacks. Otherwise, the only other remedy is to sit in a chair like Mork from Ork. I have tried it, and it's really rather nice, as long as you can keep from smothering yourself.

On another note, I loved my blogmates' entries below on colorful phrases and expressions. I love a good turn of phrase. In fact, I try to use colorful Southern/Western American phrases for the titles of my books, which can cause me some consternation when I can't think of anything good. I usually wait for one of the characters to say something appropriate. For my W-I-P, (working title: Book Nine) I'm still waiting.

I grew up among people whose goal was to curse in the most imaginative language possible, which can really increase your vocabulary if you apply yourself. My mother was particularly good at coming up with ways to express disapproval using only G-rated words. One of her scariest curses was "I heap coals of fire upon him." The words themselves weren't as frightening as her throaty growl and the curl of her lip over her eyetooth. My father had been a Marine, and knew words that I don't understand to this day, but he had a house full of little daughters and controlled his language heroically. He often had the pee-waddin' scared out of him and wondered what in the cat-hair was going on.

My grandparents—and parents— had the most wonderful way of putting things. One grandparent was born and raised in Kentucky and the others in Arkansas at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Their language and vocabulary was absolutely Elizabethan. When Grandma went to garden over yonder, she put on her gauntlets and hunkered down to tend her “yarbs”.

I, of course, was desperate to get rid of my Oklahoma accent when I was young and speak completely standard American English. My accent is not as strong nor my vocabulary as eccentric as my parents’, nor was theirs as strong and colorful as their parents'. My nieces and nephews in their thirties sound more standard yet. But after years living away from my native place, I saw on a news program an interview with two teenaged girls from Tulsa. They sounded like Valley girls. I was shocked. What happened to that beautiful twang? That poetic way with words? That delightful Scotch-Irish combination of humor and fatalism? Oklahoma is what linguists call a “Transitional state”. My husband, also a native Oklahoman, has an accent that is different from mine. (Mine is more Appalachian, his is more Plains) One thing I specifically wanted to do with the Alafair Tucker series was preserve something of a way of speaking that seems to be rapidly disappearing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Knowing your mosquitoes and other things

Sybil's and Aline's posts about colourful phrases and expressions that reflect the culture that created them got me thinking. We writers often venture very far into alien territory as far as culture goes. If we only wrote about our own backyards, we might soon run out of things to say. It's the rare author that can write original and compelling stories about the same small corner of the universe. Most of us lead fairly safe, mundane lives, notwithstanding the subtle, secret intrigues that seethe beneath the surface of the most ordinary neighbourhoods. First novels often mine our own experiences and are set in our familiar world, but by the time we get to novel number ten, we are casting our net far wider. How many stories are set during war, revolution, or other catastrophe? How many deal with turmoil and pain far beyond what we ourselves have lived? Crime writers in particular can only rely on personal experience so much (one hopes).

Yet writing about locales and people other than our own presents a challenge, unless one is content with cardboard characters, cliched settings, and a formulaic plot where anybody can be plugged in with equal plausibility. As an outsider, a writer could spend years before truly capturing the essence of a people and a place, but few of us have that luxury. Yet when we try to write from the point of view of someone with an entirely different life experience from us, we risk being superficial at best or fraudulent at worst. This is true when a man tries to write a woman't point of view, a middle-aged writer tries to capture a teenager's view, or a white person tries to write as an indigenous person. In extreme cases, this is labelled "appropriation of voice" and can be offensive.


As sensitive souls, we writers all have our lines in the sand. How far we venture outside our comfort zone depends on our skill, the type of story we are telling and how real and profound the characters have to be. Some of us are bolder than others, willing to put on the cloak of a serial killer or a Hitler, whereas others are reluctant to stretch our imagination and empathy beyond the narrow confines of our past. In addition, some of us restrict our reach out of respect for the authenticity of others' suffering.

Yet this challenge of stepping into another's shoes and getting it right confronts us when we write about anyone other than ourselves. How does a Canadian get inside the head of an American? A New Yorker inside the head of a Vancouverite? How does a Montreal-born Ottawa girl like me write about Newfoundland, as I did in my upcoming book FIRE IN THE STARS, and create real characters who don't sound as if they've stepped out of an episode of Republic of Doyle?


One solution is to stick as close as possible to what you do know or can find out. If you have Newfoundland friends or family, pick their brains and summon their presence while you are writing. Imagine their voices and reactions.  Shamelessly base your characters on them; steal their anecdotes and life story. Read books about Newfoundland, hunt down stories on the internet, check the Dictionary of Newfoundlandese. And once you've written the book, ask your friendly Newfoundlander to read it for realism. Luckily Newfoundlanders will give it to you straight.

Another solution is to visit the place you are writing about. The amount of detail and authenticity you will acquire cannot be matched by your imagination or all the books in the world. The smell of the place, the daily sounds and sights, the way every clerk and cashier calls you "m' dear" or "darlin'". The more time you spend in the place, not doing the touristy things but wandering and listening, the more you can capture its flavour. And the essence of the people. You will still be an outsider, but your characters may do a passable imitation of the real thing.

Dialect and sayings are especially tricky. They reflect not just the geographical origin but the age, class, and sex of the speaker. Thanks to their long history of isolation, Newfoundlanders have a wealth of colourful sayings and words, many of which reflect the hard-scrabble, no-nonsense, fishing life they led. But a outport old-timer is much more likely to use phrases like "Long may yer big jib draw" and "Was ya born on a raff?" than a young "townie" from St. Johns. Aside from the risk of getting it wrong, putting too much dialect or strange words into your book makes it tough going for the reader, and if they have to work too hard, they will lose the enchantment of the story. No writer wants that! As with many things, a little dialect goes a long way.

True dat! Old trout.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

More thoughts on book piracy

by Rick Blechta

The story I featured in last Tuesday’s post (Plagiarism in the 21st Century) seems to have really resonated with a lot of people. For one thing, it’s all over Facebook at the moment, mostly on timelines of authors (with surprisingly few publishers picking it up). I also heard privately from several people.

The article also really resonated with me (not that I’m expecting people to be snapping up my deathless works of art left, right and centre). The thing that sticks in my craw is the sheer audacity of these pirates.

I wish I had time to research this more completely, but I’m sure it’s all hidden in a carefully-crafted labyrinth of internet befuddlement. The person posing as Joanne Clancy is really rather accomplished. Think about it. She was giving interviews, albeit with questions sent to her. It would have been interesting to see how she would have handled a spot on TV.

It’s so easy to be anonymous on the internet. You can quickly create multiple people, in much the same way that a writer creates characters. I’m still willing to bet that “Joanne Clancy” also has other names under which she operates. If she didn’t when this whole thing blew up in her face, she does now. Why not? Like any scammer, you just fold your tent, disappear to another place, and set up shop again. Hell, she could even be peddling the same books again under different titles.

The thing to remember is that Eilis O’Hanlon only found out about Joanne Clancy by accident. Her whole series could have been plundered and she might have never found out. The other revealing thing is that she obviously has a very kind heart. How else can you explain someone being so understanding to a person (an anonymous one, at that) who is ripping them off for a substantial bit of money? While that says much about the quality of Eilis’ character, the fact is this Joanne Clancy person probably had that sob story she told Eilis well-rehearsed and ready to go. Sadly, it was swallowed and Ms O’Hanlon allowed herself to get scammed further.

But the really big idea to take away from this is that there is little an author (or publisher) can do. Find a good novel with mid-range type sales, rewrite a bit of it (easy to do if the scammer uses the global search function in a word processor, and you’re good to go. A company as big as Amazon can’t possibly be expected to uncover something like this and that size works in the scammer’s favour.

If they’re really smart, they’ll translate the novel into another language and further obfuscate the trail — especially if the language in which they market the book didn’t have a translation of the stolen book. Clancy big error was placing her versions of the O’Hanlon novel’s in the same country (Ireland). If she’d set them in Canada or the US, even England, she might have escaped detection for a long time.

The fact that the story is getting such wide coverage makes it almost certain other people will jump on this particular scam and the problem will spread. Everyone of us here on Type M has to be wondering if we’re being ripped off and don’t even know it — especially in foreign countries in other languages

That’s a pretty scary thing — especially since none of us are making pots of money writing crime fiction. Every dollar earned is precious.

But I ask: what can you do?

Monday, April 04, 2016

Sybil's Unhappy Mosquito

I read Sybil's post about turns of phrase with great delight and I shall definitely adopt the mosquito in a mannequin factory as a replacement for 'madder than a wet hen' which tends to be my standard simile.

There are lots of good Scots sayings: Folly's a bonnie dog, but a bad one (it's tempting to do silly things but you pay for it later): He draws in his horns like a snail at a child's finger:He can't hold (oat) meal in his mouth and whistle (someone trying to do two things that are inimical): Fools and bairns (children) should never see work half-done: I kent his faither ( I knew his father - a put-down, along the lines of 'a prophet is not without honour except in his own country'). This last is very typically Scots; 'Don't get above yourself,' is the first Scottish commandment.

One of the things that always interests me is how a phrase like that becomes an established saying – though perhaps this is an example, with Sybil posting it, me reading it and picking it up, then quoting it to others.  But in the days before the Internet (yes, there was actually a time like that) how did sayings gain currency?

Some, I suspect, appear in every language – the ones that simply state an obvious truth, like 'You can't have the penny and the bun.'  There are endless variants of that and if you have a good one, do share it!

Some catch on because they're colourful, like 'You can't take the breeks (pants) off a Highlander' (traditionally you don't wear anything under a kilt); 'I wouldn't call the Queen my cousin' (said when you're very proud of yourself).

But who said them first? And I'd love to know how in the old days they then managed to become part of the language.

My own two favourites are ones my grandmother used to use. They're not in common use now, sadly, and given that  she, as they say, 'had the Gaelic' I suspect that may be the derivation of the first one at least.  'Never said, "Collie, will you lick?"' is said mournfully when someone has eaten a tasty treat without sharing; 'Fine ham and haddie (haddock)' would be accompanied by an elegant sniff of disapproval when my grandmother felt that someone was telling an unlikely story.

It's good to know, though, that people like Sybil's judge are making sure that even as the old sayings die out, there are new and vivid ones to take their place.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Point of View

 
When our daughter, Michele, was a little girl she brought home a sheet of paper from school with her name written in perfect mirror image. She had beautiful handwriting.

I freaked. I immediately suspected all kinds of complicated learning problems. However, with this child I had already learned to ask for explanations. The world--from her point of view--was delightfully unpredictable.

Her explanation was that when the teacher handed out notepaper for them to practice cursive writing they were to begin at the red line and write to the edge. Sometimes the red line was on the right and sometimes it was on the left. It didn't matter to her. She wrote equally well in either direction.

Understanding point of view is an essential part of the craft of fiction writing. Originally I began the last sentence with "mastering point of view" but I don't think any writer ever does. Although there doesn't seem to be any connection between viewpoint in fiction and a school girl's acceptance of a teacher's whimsies, in a way there is.

In addition to the complexity of understanding first person, second person, third person, etc. when writing in third person or an omniscient viewpoint the story is greatly enriched by reaching into the soul of the character and using words and descriptions that reflect his or her view of the world.

The world outside can be "promising Spring. The tips of crocus bulbs are trying to break through the soil. A robin is spotted on a bare branch. And yes, there are geese overhead returning North. Splotches of color are everywhere."

Or a sour person might view the same scene as "winter still dragging down the streets like that homeless person shoving his foul-smelling carts through the crowded sidewalks. Old geezers hawking phlegm like they were competing with the honks of the hapless flight of geese flapping sluggishly through the grey sky."

Every word paints a picture of how one's characters sees the world.

I love to read books narrated in unreliable first person. Done well, they are immediately arresting. I think one of the greatest first lines ever is "Call me Ishmael." It's terrific! We are put on guard from the get go. Why would he want us to "call" him something instead of stating his name. Clearly, he's not to be trusted.

In other posts I'll discuss what is usually meant by viewpoint in writing. But for now, give some thought to how other people view the world. It's fun to write a paragraph or two from the viewpoint of a friend or family member who sees the world entirely differently than you do.