Thursday, September 21, 2017

Meet the Author


I'm not really here today, Dear Reader. I am currently sitting in a hospital room at Banner Desert Hospital after my long-suffering husband has undergone his eighth operation in eight years. While not life-threatening, he is having more body parts removed. Truth is he does not have that many left. I'll be leaving him in the hospital later on this morning (Thursday) to drive to the Arizona State University campus to facilitate the first session of a writing seminar for ASU emeritus professors and at this point (Tuesday) I don't have much of a lesson plan! I have a lot of prep to get done today, so forgive me if I am brief.

Relatives Galore!


I have just returned from a week-long book tour of my homeland, eastern Oklahoma. I was invited by the Eastern Oklahoma Library District to do a speaking tour of nine small-town libraries in five days, and since I have not had the opportunity to tour Oklahoma, where my Alafair Tucker series is set, in ten years, I was eager to go. Besides, the district kindly paid my way to get there and to get home. The tour was a great success. I had good crowds, saw lots of relatives and friends that I haven't seen in 20 years, and was very much reminded of how beautiful eastern Oklahoma is. I hope it is not another decade before I can return.

The towns I visited are, Sallisaw, Muldrow, Checotah, Jay, Kansas, Tahlequah, Eufaula, Hulbert, and Muskogee. And there is a gold star for those of you who can properly pronounce all those place names!


Sallisaw, Oklahoma



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Libraries as inspiration

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to be an invited author to do a reading at the Halifax Word on the Street Festival. For its size, Halifax, located in a spectacular harbour on the Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia, punches above its weight in terms of cultural and artistic activity, and also in post-secondary institutions. There are 400,000 people in Halifax and six universities. That's a lot of education.

Word on the Street is a celebration of all things literary, and includes author readings, panels, workshops, and booths which can be rented to showcase the products of publishers, authors, illustrators, and others connected to the written word. Similar events happen across Canada in the fall. They are organized by grassroots organizations and require commitment by local individuals passionate about the cause. Halifax is in its 23rd year, a testament to the dedication to literacy of the people of Halifax.

Another example of Halifax's dedication to literacy is their new Central Library. Fittingly, Word on the Street is centred around the library, using its front foyer for book sales and author signings, the conference rooms and halls for author readings, and the square outside the front entrance for the display booths. The library is in the heart of the city on Spring Garden Road and easily accessed by bus. It is a stunning, imaginative modern sculpture with floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the inside with light and warmth, and soaring ceilings that invite you to look up in awe and inspiration. I wish I'd had more time to explore the inner workings, but I'm sure it was designed with the latest digital access and learning hubs. Modern libraries have to do more than stack books in dusty rows of shelving. They are sources of community and information to connect people to ideas in the world.


To this end, the library has a wonderful independent cafe in the corner of the main foyer and a coffee shop on the top floor, serving fresh and local food. They have space for catered receptions and a beautiful outdoor patio on the top floor with a view of the harbour.

Ottawa has a dismal excuse for a central library, built in 1973 and crammed into a downtown corner far too small for it. It was designed in the brutalist architecture style which is what it sounds like, Brutal. Raw concrete and harsh lines suggestive of the Soviet Gulag.  Inside, it is dark and uninviting. The city is finally proceeding with plans for a new central library which it hopes will embrace the needs of the twenty-first century. The site has been chosen, and in the manner of public projects, it is likely to be many years of consultation, assessment, recommendations, more consultation, and so on before any shovel breaks the ground on the new site. I hope the politicians and the design committee tasked with it are possessed of imagination, courage, and vision, so that the city gets the bold and inspirational design worthy of a national capital, rather than a conservative, safe, and cost-effective building that offends no one but bores everyone.


In their deliberations, I hope the decision makers visit the great libraries already out there, from Vancouver to Halifax. Merely looking at pictures and blueprints don't do them justice. I dare anyone to walk through the glass front doors of the Halifax Central Library, look up in the middle of the foyer, and not be struck dumb with awe. That is a great homage to knowledge. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How do you get ahead these days without lying — or at least stretching the truth?

by Rick Blechta

Okay. I promise to stop writing blog posts about Bouchercon (but I may be lying — or stretching the truth).

Being so, well, intimately involved in the whole process of mounting a production like this through being the designer and layer-outer of the conference program book, I know where all the bodies are hidden. Even including Kathleen Fraser, its very able editor, I’m probably the only person who’s read Every Single Word of the darn thing — multiple times.

The largest portion of the book is given over to the author and panelist (if they’re not also authors) profiles. One thing struck me over and over again: the use of the words “bestselling” and “award-winning”. Authors throw them around like confetti, occasionally multiple times in the same 600+ character profile.

I have neither the time nor inclination to check out any of these claims, but I doubt very much that every one of them is true. But taken as a whole, it is a depressing spectacle. It seems we poor scribblers have to use any means possible to separate ourselves from the crowd. The result is a very sad thing. The two terms listed above are used so often that a potential reader almost stops noticing – which is not the result being aimed for. Not only that, but if you’re actually not award-winning or bestselling, sooner or later you’re going to be found out and that will be a very embarrassing experience.

So how do you make yourself stand out? After having attended about six of these monster conventions over the years, I’m sorry to say there’s not much of a way to accomplish this. Funny hats won’t do it. Handing out bookmarks or postcards to all and sundry helps, but only a little. Being everywhere at once (I’ve actually seen people try this one) might get people commenting about you, but also will garner some head shakes and strange looks.

It probably sounds like I’m dissing the whole endeavour — and one I’ve toiled over for many hours — but I’m actually not. Come a little bit closer and I’ll tell you the secret I’ve learned about Bouchercons. Bouchercons (indeed any convention) can help you if you simply mingle and talk with anyone you meet. Standing in a corner, wearing black, and with an angst-ridden expression that you hope proclaims you as a serious author is no help. Spending your days hanging around with people you already know, comforting and enjoyable as that may be won’t get the job done.

You just need to schmooze.

That means introducing yourself to people you don’t know, being friendly, striking up a conversation as you wait. If someone notices you’re an author, they’ll probably ask a few questions (work out your “elevator pitch” in preparation). But the real key is to ask them questions. If they’re a fellow author, you start the ball rolling with a question about their books. Most will return the favour. (If they don’t, move on quickly in a polite way.)

The reason this works is that everyone is intimidated at Bouchercon (well, except maybe for the guests of honour), so reaching out is a nice thing to do — as well as being potentially useful.

If the person you’re speaking with seems receptive, give them a bookmark or such (to help them remember your name) and when you see them again — which you most certainly will in such a closed environment — at least wave and smile.

If you’re painfully shy and thinking, I couldn’t do something like that!, thinking of it as a performance might help you break through. Most everyone participated in plays or performances of some kind while in school. Put yourself in that headspace.

Reaching out will also make the experience of attending the granddaddy of all mystery conventions a lot more satisfying fun for you, as well — and I’ll bet profitable more profitable too.

You’ll also make a lot of other people feel good.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Too Smart For Our Own Good

Mapping DNA was one of the smartest things scientists have ever done. It has been a gift to the criminal justice system, freeing the wrongly accused and convicting perpetrators even when it's a cold case many years old.

Eye witness evidence is notoriously unreliable; no two witnesses will ever describe the same event in precisely the same way - and indeed, if they did it would be evidence not of what actually happened but of collusion.

Circumstantial evidence, despite the 'it's only circumstantial evidence' comment sometimes being made, is much more solid. Even so, it has to be part of a chain of evidence to be convincing.

DNA evidence, though, like fingerprints, is hard evidence. It can stand on its own. Even the most optimistic and persuasive defence agent is unlikely to get anywhere with a jury if he challenges it. If a man's DNA is found at a crime scene, then he was there too.

Or was he? When DNA evidence was first used, obtaining it was the big problem. You needed a substantial sample before you could get any sort of result. Then the technique got cleverer still; DNA from even the smallest fragment could be analysed, even if it was just a few cells.

Recently there was a notorious case where an individual's DNA was found on the hand of a murder victim and he was arrested. It was only after he'd been in prison for some time awaiting trial that it was established that he'd a cast iron alibi; on the night in question he was in a hospital bed in an alcoholic stupor. Eventually they discovered that the paramedics who had treated him had then rushed to the aid of the murder victim, transferring cells of the alcoholic's DNA as they did so.

And there's another problem too. Belief in the infallibility of DNA evidence led to the arrest of a man whose DNA was found on the till in a coffee shop that had been robbed – despite the fact that the CCTV footage showed someone of a completely different height and build.

I was talking a while ago to Senior Investigating Officer who said that we had become so clever at picking up smaller and smaller samples of DNA, that the evidence from a crime scene had started to be a bewildering mass of tiny mixed-up traces of evidence, obscuring rather than illuminating what had happened. We are, indeed, becoming too smart for our own good.

In writing a modern crime novel, you have to retain at least the impression of realism, but somehow using DNA to solve the murder has always seemed to me a cop out. However, thinking about it now I know this, I can see it might prove to be a very useful red herring.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Guest Post: Kathleen Valenti

Please welcome fellow Henery Press author Kathleen Valenti to Type M. I met Kathleen at Malice Domestic last year and had a lovely conversation with her. Her first novel, PROTOCOL, featuring new college graduate Maggie O’Malley was recently released. You can find out more about Kathleen at https://www.kathleenvalenti.com.Take it away Kathleen...

 

Message in a Novel

by Kathleen Valenti

 

There are many adages about novel-writing.

Write the book you want to read.
Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

And the truth is, I abide by many of them. They’re good advice doled out by some of the finest writers ever to hold a pen or sit before a keyboard.

But there are a few writerly axioms I don’t follow. Case in point:

If you want to send a message, call Western Union.

It’s a quote alternately attributed to Goldwyn, Capra, Hemingway and Bogart (although playwright Moss Hart appears to be its true author). And while Twitter has largely replaced telegrams, this perennial advice still makes the rounds in writing circles.

The implication is clear: keep the story the story. Forget about including a moral or expressing an opinion or assigning a deeper social meaning. Readers want to be entertained, period.

Of course, many (if not most) writers eschew such notions. We write where our heads—and our hearts—lead us. But still…That message (no pun intended) comes through loud and clear, especially to authors of genre fiction. We’re often told the plot’s the thing. End of story. And that’s perfectly wonderful if that’s the book you want to write or the story you want to read

Me? I can’t help but include a little message with my mystery

The Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series is young. PROTOCOL, the first book in the series, has just been released and 39 WINKS is in the queue, with another soon to follow. Yet already I know that each book will highlight, in one way or another, some kind of larger issue.

It’s a part of my writer’s DNA, a snippet of my real-life voice, a way to work out the mysteries of life’s dark secrets right along with each book’s plot. It also helps me advance the story and inspire my protagonist to action. Maggie is driven by a desire to solve a mystery and address a personal conflict (and life always seems to present those), all within a context that’s larger than both.

I’m not alone. Many mystery authors give a nod to social ills or worldwide problems that go beyond the page. We may write about death and violence, but in many ways, these aspects are the other side of a coin emblazoned with justice and compassion. The denouement that contrasts the action. The “after” that rights the “before."

We crave a world of kindness, courage, help and hope, and we create it, in part by bringing in larger issues that affect our human family.

Readers tell me they like to read books that provide entertainment and escape, along with a theme that informs and inspires. They say that as long as a book’s deeper meaning doesn’t impede the plot, feel didactic, or come across as preachy, they find that thematic elements add to the texture of a story rather than detract from it. In short: they like a side of message with their plot and characters.

And to that I say: message received

About PROTOCOL

Freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.

With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.

When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Protocol is her debut novel and the first of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The New Mystery





The other day I had a lengthy wait in the post office line. Most of my fellow detainees were gazing at their cell phones.

Lines used to be a great place to people-watch. I could tell a lot by the expression on the face of a person forced to be idle and moderately civilized as we edged up in the queue. The varying postures are still revealing. Posture always has been.

There was little to be learned watching the new techies. Writers who guessed about the details of someone's life before cell phones was doing just that. Guessing. That's all. But it was fun.

One of the best books on characterization was Maren Elwood's Characters Make Your Story. It was published in 1941. She has an excellent chapter "Look at His Face." Faces in repose reveal a great deal. Is a person pleasant? Self-confident? Harried? If so, how does one present this on a page. If they give a critical glance at a crying child are they worried? Judging the mother for not having better control? Their faces told it all.

Not any more! In fact, I was tempted to sneak around and gaze over the shoulders of these unmoving statues. Were they playing solitaire? Reading email? Have they downloaded one of the Type M'ers novels? Most of the faces were expressionless.

Our job just got harder.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We Love Libraries!

I started a new volunteer position recently with Sisters in Crime. It’s been about 6 years since I completed 6 years on the board of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime. During those years I served in several positions, including a brief stint as chapter president, and co-chaired the 2011 California Crime Writers Conference. To say that I was tired after all that would be an understatement. Still, I wouldn’t change anything. I learned a lot and met a lot of great people.

This last year I decided it was time to get involved once again. This time with SinC National as the We Love Libraries! coordinator. I’m taking over from Andrea Smith who has spent the last 4 years in the position. She’s done a spectacular job and has been a wonderful support in this transition period.

When the opportunity came up, I thought this is the perfect job for me. I love libraries. I have ever since I got my first library card in grade school. My local library opened the world to me and was my refuge growing up. I thought it would be great to play even a small part in giving back to an institution that has given me so much over the years. Which means, of course, that I was very excited when I was selected for the job.

I did my first notification this last week to the Riverside Public Library in Riverside, Illinois. That was a wonderful moment, to hear the excitement in the voice on the other end of the line. I look forward to many more such moments.

August 2017 WLL Winner, Riverside Library in Riverside, IL
I’m not sure how many people know about the Sisters in Crime We Love Libraries! program. Basically, SinC gives $1,000 every month to a library in the United States. Libraries enter the lottery on the SinC website. At the end of every month, a library is randomly chosen to win the grant, which must be used to purchase books and may not be used for general operating expenses. Book purchases are NOT restricted to the mystery genre nor do they have to be written by Sisters in Crime members. All branches within a larger system may enter but, once a library in the system has won, no other libraries within that system can win the grant.

To enter, a library goes to http://www.sistersincrime.org/?page=WeLoveLibraries and completes the entry form, which should include a photo of one or more of the library staff with three books in their collection by Sisters in Crime members. The picture I have here is the one the Riverside Library submitted.

Photos of past winners are posted on that page as well along with all of the nitty gritty details.

Spread the word to your local U.S. libraries. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be chosen. Think of all the books they can buy!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The zen of cooking and writing

by Rick Blechta

We’re just pulling into the finish line of our annual canning, pickling and preserving binge. It's a lot of work, but when you can go down to your cellar in the depths of winter and pull out a jar of chopped, super-ripe San Marzano tomatoes to make a pasta sauce of great flavour, that’s a real blessing — as well as great eating.

But this isn’t a post for my food blog.

This past Saturday, I was sitting at a table in our back yard peeling and chopping tomatoes. My wife was in the house dealing with getting my handiwork into jars, so I was alone for about half an hour.

One reason I enjoy cooking is that I get into what you might call “almost a trance-like” state. My mind sort of spins free. It’s not like I'm not paying attention to what I’m doing, something particularly dangerous when you’ve got a industrial-quality vegetable dicer (one of my better kitchen purchases of the last decade) that’s made up of a grid of razor blades and a two-pound weight to push the vegetables through. It’s as if everyday cares just float away. I’m focused on the job at hand, but some of my conscious is left over to think of other things, more important things than what I have to do tomorrow. It’s a sweet spot in which to be.

Now you all know I haven’t been writing really at all this summer due to designing the programme book for this year’s Bouchercon. Even though I handed in the finished product to the printer last week, there were a number of other things apart from my writing that had been neglected and need immediate attention. Then the weekend was taken up with canning tomatoes and making crab apple jelly.

I’ve been aching to write the past few weeks and I should have been doing it, but, well, other things intervened.

Then right in the middle of prepping tomatoes to be chopped, story-in-progress resurfaced in my head and an issue I was having with the last chapter on which I was working suddenly seemed to resolve itself. It’s as if my muse stepped up to say, “You idiot! All you have to do is this and you won't have a problem, will you? Do I have to tell you everything?”

I immediately went into the house to find my little dictation device so I could just speak the words to resolve this scene and hopefully move on to the next one.

Then my three-year-old grandson came outside and wanted to know who I was talking to (being “all alone”) after which he spotted the little digital recorder and immediately wanted to play with it.

So much for getting any sort of work done, but it did prove a point to me. You only need to get your head in the proper state for your “writing imagination” to kick in. For me, it’s usually when I’m out walking, occasionally driving or riding on transit. Never before has it happened when I’m preparing food.

Maybe I should do that more often…

Monday, September 11, 2017

Are we losing the plot?

I'd like to take a moment to welcome our newest member to the Type M for Murder family, Marianne Wheelaghan. A brief bio is in the right-hand column a bit of the way down and it would be a good idea to read it. You should also purchase one of her novels for an even better introduction!

And so without further blather, take it away Marianne! —Rick
___________________


The other day, I heard best selling author Robert Harris being interviewed on the radio. He questioned whether the novel had a future in the face of a perceived declining attention span in readers, arguing that stuff like online streaming and box sets are offering more dynamic alternatives to novels. “A box set takes 10 or 12 hours to view, and that’s the same length of time it takes to read a novel … my impression and certainly my own habit is that these series are pretty sophisticated, a lot of them are, it seems to me, in many ways, our modern novel and they’re more central in our culture.” Yikes! If Mr Harris is right, where does that leave us novel writers? Out of a job, that's where. I needed to know more and turned to the internet.

Within minutes I'd found a bunch of articles all echoing the same one damning thing: our increasingly digital lifestyle was leading to a dramatic decrease in our attention span. The headline grabbing accounts were all based on the one Microsoft report. In a nutshell, ten years ago our average attention span was 12 seconds, today it is a mere eight seconds. This is a whole one second less than a goldfish. Yes, I said a goldfish. It looks as if we are all, readers and writers alike, slowly but surely losing the plot. Digging a bit deeper, however, I was relieved to discover that not everyone agrees with the idea that our attention is declining. For example, Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University, suggests that the concept of an “average attention span” which increases or decreases is misguided. “Attention span is very much task-dependent and how much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is."

In order to process the myriad of information digitally delivered to us on a daily basis, it seems we've become very discerning about what to pay heed to, sort of super multi-taskers. Out of necessity, we have learned to quickly distinguish between information that is of importance to us and that which is not. So, while we may well be allocating our attention in a different way, we are no less attentive when it comes to focussing on the stuff we like, such as reading a novel or watching a box set. Certainly, when I watched the boxset of The Killing, I paid as much attention to it as I did to reading Hilary Mantel's (lengthy) Wolf Hall, enjoying both equally. And this is where I take issue with Mr Harris and his suggestion that watching a box set is fast becoming an alternative to reading a novel. The two activities don't have to be mutually exclusive. Far from it. So, I will have to disagree with the best selling author for now. I believe the novel does have a future. Will it remain central to our culture? That is up to us writers, surely? But it is worth noting that figures released by the Publishers Association for 2015 showed the UK publishing industry was in good health with total sales or book and journal publishing up to £4.4bn. The figures also reveal for the first time since the invention of the ebook, overall physical book sales increased while digital sales decreased. Vive le novel!

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Body on Baker Street: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery

By Vicki Delany

Ta Da!

On Tuesday Sept 12, Crooked Lane Books will release the second in my Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, Body on Baker Street.  As befits a series set in a bookstore, this one is about a visiting author who comes to an unfortunate end face down in a pile of books awaiting her signature.

Fear not fellow Typists! I had no one in mind when I wrote that character.

But, like the other books in the series, I had a lot of fun writing it. In Gemma Doyle, I created a character with the mind and the personality of Sherlock Holmes, but in a modern young woman. I then created a bookstore, and I stocked the store. Everything described (with the obvious exception of the books by Renalta Van Markoff, mentioned above face down) are real and can be bought in the real world. You too can have a life-sized cut out of Benedict Cumberbatch in your living room or Holmes-themed thimbles for your sewing machine or a set of dishes for your next tea party.   

When Renalta Van Markoff, author of the controversial Hudson and Holmes mystery series is murdered at a book signing in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, the game is afoot and it’s up to the unusually perceptive Gemma Doyle and her confused but ever-loyal friend Jayne Wilson to eliminate the impossible and deduce the truth before the police arrest an innocent man.

The first chapter of Body on Baker Street, as well as Elementary She Read, is available on my web page at www.vickidelany.com

This time I thought it would be fun to have a friend come with me on the small book tour this time, so I asked Barbara Fradkin to join me.  We’ll be at Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor on Sept 21 at 7:00, Different Drummer in Burlington Ontario on Sept 22 at 7:00 and Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto on Sept 23 at 1:00. Hope to see some of you there.  We'll also be taking part, along with Rich Blechta, in a discussion about adult literacy at Word on the Street in Toronto on Sunday, Sept 24. 



Friday, September 08, 2017

Long, Short, or Both

I can now go to the EQMM website and see my short story, "The Singapore Sling Affair," listed in the next (November/December) issue. It's like that moment when you see the cover of your book and know you'll soon have it in your hand. This will be my third published short story -- the first in an anthology, followed by two in EQMM. I'm surprised because I've never thought of myself as a short story writer.

Now, I admit, my short stories are long. "The Singapore Sling Affair" is almost 12,000 words. I wrote it because I discovered a fascinating historical tidbit and because I wanted to try writing about a new protagonist. I'm hoping my former Army nurse will get her own series. I'd love to write about the adjustments people were making to their lives after World War II in a small town in upstate New York.

But even with my motivation to write this short story, I went through multiple drafts as I tired to find the focus that a short story requires. I love subplots. I love finding connections. There isn't a lot of time or space for that in a short story. Still, I found that I enjoyed the challenge.

That doesn't mean I'm about to give up novel writing. Books provide the opportunity for subplots. For character development. For descriptions. I can write 100,000 words and then make adjustments by trimming away the flab. I can go off on tangents while finding the story. Short stories, on the other hand, require a plan.

But for a writer who is introducing a new protagonist, a short story has advantages. Much less investment of the writer's time. Much less investment of the reader's time.

Thoughts from those of you who write (or read) both novels and short stories?


Thursday, September 07, 2017

Ten Books Later...

Alafair #1
Alafair # 10
When I first began writing the Alafair Tucker Mystery series in 2003, I had a story arc in mind that was going to carry through 10 books. This is a wonderful idea, but as anyone who has ever written a long series knows, after a couple of books all your plans for a story arc have been knocked into a cocked hat. The reason this happened, at least to me, is that I seem to be writing about real people who have their own ideas about how things should be gone about, and once I put them into a situation, they react to it in ways I had never anticipated. Besides, I really want readers to be able to pick up any book in the series and have a satisfying experience without having to know anything about what went before.

My original arc idea went like this: I would to feature a different one of Alafair's ten children as the character of interest in each book. The featured child would somehow be involved in the events surrounding a murder, and as their mother, Alafair would intrude herself into the kid's life, whether s/he wanted her or his parent's help or not, and in the end, Alafair and maybe the child would contribute to the solution of the mystery. As an aside, the featured offspring might end up with a life-partner.

I stuck with the formula through book one. As it turns out, I like to mix it up a bit.

The million dollar question for the author of a long series is this: How do you keep it fresh? How do you make every story stand alone, yet in its place as well? I have found over the course of ten books in the same series that I have even departed from the usual mystery novel format. The later books are constructed more like thrillers than puzzles, they may or may not revolve around one of the children, and Alafair may or may not be able to solve the mystery.

And now that book number ten, Forty Dead Men, is in the can and due to hit the shelves in February 2018, I’m wondering where I want to go from here. I have begun an eleventh Alafair and it is a big departure from the formula, but I have also started working on something completely different. Because if you aren't excited by your own writing, how can you expect your readers to be?

Speaking of repeating myself, let me remind you Dear Readers that I will be making a nine library tour of small eastern Oklahoma towns from Sept. 12 through Sept. 16. The September 16 event at the Muskogee Public Library will be particularly of interest, since after my talk at 11:00 a.m. I’ll be joined by fellow mystery authors Mary Anna Evans, Will Thomas, and Julia Thomas at noon for a mystery writers’ roundtable. Check out my entire schedule at my website. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Our writing tics

Aline's post on word use got me thinking (and what a cliche that is, as if I don't usually think). We all have our pet words and phrases that are the first to pop into our head when we are articulating our ideas in words. To go beyond them requires that we stop, beat them back, and ferret around for a more accurate, interesting, and unique way to say what we want. That takes time and effort, which slows down the conversation.

Words, phrases, and cliches rise and fall in popularity too, and are often an excellent shortcut to shared understanding. A well-chosen word like "squirrel!" saves us a whole lot of words. As Aline said, we writers are no different; we all have phrases and words that become our "go-to" choices, used far too often. Usually we are unaware of the overuse and it's a laborious process to purge the excesses from our writing in later drafts.

One of the challenges in writing is to "show" reactions, emotions, and thoughts through action rather than telling them through such flat phrases as "he felt sad" or "he was angry." Short phrases like "he flushed", "he clenched his fists" are often interspersed with dialogue not only to convey feeling but to serve as a tag. For me, this is where I am most likely to fall back on my own writing tics.

How many times in the course of a chapter would my character roll her eyes or grit her teeth? Far too often, I suspect, so I decided to run a test. I have completed 287 pages of the first draft of my new novel, with about 50 - 60 pages left to go. First drafts are notoriously messy, with not much attention to refinement of language. To keep up the momentum of the story, I write and write without stopping to edit or critique, knowing that I can fix things later.

I don't have a fancy editing tool to track words but you can do some quick and dirty word counting using the Advanced Find feature in MS Word. Armed with this, first I wanted to know how many times I used those innocuous connector words "and","but" and "so". The result suggests I ought to take a second look at my love affair with "and" (2008 times), and be careful with "but" (620), but "so" and I are good (146). However, I also know that, in trying to work around the ands and buts, one risks creating a pedantic, fussy style that is far more distracting than the occasional extra and. So I approach this editing with caution.

I was next curious to know how many times I stuck in those often unnecessary words "very", "really", "just", and "that". "Just" won the race (162!), and "very" clocked in on the high side for a useless word (112), but "really" wasn't bad (27). All will get a critical eye. "That", however, showed up nearly 500 times. Now some of those thats are necessary, but I will be taking a hard look at that word!

Next I looked at overuse of adverbs. I think adverbs have their place, but where they can be replaced with a punchier verb or just turfed out altogether, the few that remain will have more power. I found 821 words ending in "ly", which gives a rough estimate of adverbs. That's about three a page, and each one will get at least a cursory glance. Are there more powerful or precise words? Does the adverb add anything?

As noted above, we all have our favourite ways to convey emotion in a fast moving scene. Shorthand, if you like, without pulling the reader out of the scene or dragging the action down. The eyes are very expressive, and writers often use them to convey whole stories. Eyes darken, flash, light up, widen, narrow, etc. etc. etc. I know I am guilty of overusing this, so I ran a couple of tests. The word "eye" showed up 118 times (sometimes as a verb), but I'm happy to report that the eyes never darkened, flashed, or lit up. They rolled twice, widened three times, and narrowed once. I thought that wasn't too bad, but I will still keep an eye open for misuse of the idea, because I did use the word "look" 207 times. However, I'm happy to report I didn't clench anyone's fists ever.

Other emotions were conveyed through smiles, grins, laughs, frowns, glares, scowls, and so on. Based on their counts, I decided I'd better watch out for frowning and laughing.

Lastly, I couldn't resist counting the swear words in my first draft. I get the occasional reader who wags an admonishing finger at my language. I usually have some salty characters in my books, including cops and journalists, and tempers can run high. I think 33 instances of the F word, 7 of the S word, and only 28 various religion allusions shows remarkable restraint.

All told, it was an interesting and useful exercise. I will be keeping an eye open for favourite words that I need to rein in as I go through rewrites.




Tuesday, September 05, 2017

I’m back, I’m back, I’m really, really back!

by Rick Blechta

The past few months have been really busy with the design and layout of the program book for the upcoming Bouchercon. Should I have volunteered for this job 4 years ago when I raised my hand up to volunteer? Probably not. It was a matter of being willing to help and not putting a lot of thought into the ramifications of my decision. As an example of the dangers of speak first and think later, there was dealing with all the photos submitted by attending authors (742 of them). That alone took days of work.

Anyway, this morning at 12:30 a.m. I pressed “Upload” on my FTP software and sent the whole thing off to the printer — right on schedule, too.

Along the way with this project, I learned a number of things about the state of the publishing industry in general and the crime writing community in particular, things that certainly raised my eyebrows a number of times.

First, publishing houses don’t know much about the timeliness of responding to requests. I’m not talking about the “please read my manuscript” kind. I’m referring to requests for things like proper high-res promo shots of their author who happens to be a guest of honour at the largest crime writing conference on the planet.

I contacted one very large publisher on six different occasions (2 phone calls and 4 emails) requesting a promo photo. To this date: nothing. Not even an out-of-office response. The author in question also contacted his publicist at the publisher and got no response. My response was “Huh? They can’t be bothered? They’re too busy? What? This is the sort of thing that’s very likely a daily occurrence, and is a matter of pushing a few keys on a computer, not something that takes up hours of time.

Second eyebrow-raising story: poor ad submissions. Several, again, large publishing houses (or their design department) couldn’t be bothered reading the ad submission requirements I put on the ad rate sheet (with the title in red so they’d notice it). I had ads come in that were the wrong size, the incorrect colour space (for web use instead of print use), wrong information, and other very normal and needed protocols ignored completely. Can’t these people read or don’t they care? In one case, someone even got snooty with me and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. The tune changed when I sent them a proof of what their ad would look like if it went ahead as submitted. But there was no apology.

In another case I was told to “Fix the ad yourself. That’s what you’re getting paid for.” When I pointed out that I wasn’t getting paid and had no time (or inclination) to do this, the charming correspondent told me, “Well, that’s your problem.” I responded, “Are you serious?”

The final thing I’m going to report is authors tend not to read very thoroughly or for comprehension. Of the 742 author headshots that arrive in my Inbox, only about 35% gave me what was asked for. The requirements were quite clear and I went so far as to suggest if the respondent didn’t understand something, I would be only too happy to help them out. Maybe a couple dozen people asked for help or clarification (happily given). Most just threw me some sort of photo and fully a third of them were far too small for print use. I even explained why I needed photo files of a certain size. My main suggestion was that a photo file be about 2 megabytes. I actually received one photo that was 8 kilobytes! I responded that this photo wasn’t usable and why. The author’s response was “But I’ve used that for other Bouchercons and they took it with no problem!” I had four recent program books here for reference, so I looked up said author. It was the same photograph — and it looked truly awful.

So my takeaway from my experience with the Bouchercon program book is this: Don’t trust your publisher, no matter how huge and important, to do the job correctly. My guess is that they have a lot of inexperienced people working for them who don’t know any better. The only way to be sure something is done and done right (not to mention in a timely fashion) is to do it yourself. It’s not difficult nor particularly time-consuming and it will earn you brownie points.

And if you’re an author, take some time to understand the business. It’s very important! Don’t put things off. Respond in a timely fashion. Read instructions thoroughly, especially if you don’t have much experience with what is being asked for. And by the way, I’m happy to tell you about images you may need to send to conferences or newspapers or magazines. You only need ask. (Leave something in the comment section and I’ll get back to you.)

As I told all these people, “I want you to look good in this presentation. That’s my 100% goal.”

I was only trying to save them from themselves.

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Words We Use

Isn't technology amazing? I was fascinated by a recent article by Andrew Taylor (author of the best-selling The American Boy among many others) in The Author, the Society of Authors magazine, that quoted an American journalist, Ben Blatt, who had sampled a wide range of novels and data-crunched everything he found.

Apparently, every author uses one or more relatively rare words disproportionately often. Ray Bradbury's was 'cinnamon', Jane Austen's 'civility' (and, Andrew adds, 'John Updike's three favourite words were not ones you would care to discuss with young children over the breakfast table')

Cliches feature too, it seems. Blatt's list includes Salman Rushdie - 'the last straw': Zadie Smith - 'evil eye'; Donna Tartt - 'too good to be true'; Dan Brown - 'full circle'; E.L.James - 'words fail me.'

I wonder whether, if they saw this report, they were surprised? I tried to work out what my own were, but it's surprisingly difficult to isolate your own habits of style. I have certainly sometimes found myself thinking, if I use a slightly unusual phrase that seems to have an echo as I write it, 'Now, have I used that before?'' and once again thanks to the power of technology I can hit 'Find', check it out and remove a repetition if necessary. I'm not sure that a reader, who is by then on chapter seventeen when the first use was in chapter two, would actually notice it but I wouldn't leave it in case they did.

From a cursory flick through the last few chapters I've written, I see that 'bleak' is a favourite adjective. I shall have to ration the 'bleaks' in future, and perhaps I'll take to checking as part of the writing process.

Mind you, if 'civility' is good enough for Jane Austen, maybe 'bleak' is good enough for me!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Immortality of Writers

Man decays, his corpse is dust,
All his kin have perished;
But a book makes him remembered
Through the mouth of its reciter
Better is a book than a well-built house...

They made heirs for themselves of books,
Of instructions they had composed... 

Death made their names forgotten
But books made them remembered.


The above is a translation by Miriam Lichtheim of excerpts from an Ancient Egyptian text usually referred to as “The Immortality of Writers”. The text appears on the verso of Papyrus Chester Beatty IV** along with several other short pieces that relate to the scribal profession. Written in hieratic (a cursive form of hieroglyphs), it dates from the 19th-20th dynasties, around 1200 BC. (Tut was a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, living around 1330BC.)

It’s quite different in its outlook on immortality from a lot of the other AE texts I’ve read with its view that tombs crumble and bodies decay, but writing lives on.

I ran across “Immortality” recently in my reading travels and thought I’d share it with you all. It seems particularly appropriate with the recent passing of writers B.K. Stevens and Frederick Ramsay (see Donis’s post on him here.)  It reminded me that whatever writers or other artists produce has the potential of living on long after we’re gone.

I think everyone wants to make their mark on the world in some way, to leave something of themselves behind. Some people do that by raising families, others by inventing or making great discoveries that change the world, others by their artistic endeavors.

I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’m writing great works of literature like Dickens or Austen. I just hope that people enjoy the stories I write, that they provide a brief respite from a sometimes troubling world. It’s quite likely that my books and stories will not last much past my own lifetime. Still, the potential is there and that’s a nice thought.

If you’re interested in reading more of “Immortality” you can go here for a different translation. Lichtheim’s comes form “Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II: The New Kingdom”

** Papyri generally bear the name of the discoverer, first owner or the institution where they are kept. In this case, it’s named after Sir Alfred Chester Beatty who owned a number of papyri. He donated this one to the British Museum in the 1930s.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

bwana politics

 I was going to post about bad writing advice but something this week prompted me to address another topic. What happened is that a few days ago, Facebook informed me that a Facebook post that I reposted had been blocked because they considered it spam. Specifically, it was a post linked to La Bloga, a website that features news and commentary about Latino literature, poetry, culture, and some politics. This particular post mentioned my newest novel, University of Doom, and Floricanto and what they had to say about the border wall. Here's a screenshot of what Facebook told me.



I couldn't figure why this was spam since I only posted it to my feed as I do all my other posts and links and none of them were ever considered spam. When I clicked on the link Facebook provided to explain why my post was spam, it said that this post either violated community standards or presented a security threat. Both assertions are of course, caca. I figured that some Facebook bot had scanned the content and tripped upon some offending words or images, but I have no idea what they were.

Interestingly, I had no trouble posting this screenshot on my feed. Then other members of the La Bloga complained that sometimes their posts to La Bloga were getting blocked and were unblocked only after they submitted an appeal. However this week, no links to La Bloga were allowed by Facebook.

I haven't submitted a request to Facebook that they review my post because the process is demeaning. Basically I have to go, sombrero in hand, huaraches on my feet, and beg, pleeze señor rich, educated white person, I'm just a lowly brown-skinned piasano who means no harm. Pleeze unblock my post so that me and my burro can go on our way.

The issue is one of what we used to call institutional racism, in which the cultural and economic prejudices of those in power are built into a system to the detriment of the marginalized. The eggheads at Facebook see the world through their narrow microscope of entitlement, and being guys and gals who make a lot of money, what they decide is obviously right, no matter the consequences to anyone else. Like other Silicon Valley companies, Facebook is staffed by Ivy League elites who praise themselves for using the appropriate buzz words. Naturally, they proclaim progressive values such as diversity. Facebook recently bragged about a JUMP in the hiring of Latinos from 4 to 5 percent! This in a state--California--where the population is 40 percent Latino. Meaning, Facebook believes in diversity as a concept, just don't hold them to actually putting it into practice. So it's hasta la vista, Mexican peasants.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Changing Seasons

Aline's post on Monday reminded me of the anticipation that I used to feel as a child at the beginning of each new school year. I am still on that calendar. Still thinking that I should trade out the appointment book that I bought in January for a new one to mark the beginning of a new academic year.  

Today, I found the garbage cart that I had requested from maintenance waiting by my office door when I got to school. Feeling a ridiculous amount of delight at the idea of tossing things out, I rushed into my office and plunged in. Tomorrow's I'll continue the process. I already can see my desk top and my overburdened bookcases are tidier. For at least a few weeks, I'll feel in control of my space. I'll know what I have and where to find it.  

In her post on Wednesday, Barbara wrote about regretting the end of summer. So do I. Not because I particularly enjoy summer. I am much more attuned to autumn -- lovely crisp days and cuddle up in blanket nights -- than to summer's heat and humidity. But when summer ends, I feel sad. I realize that my late spring resolution to finish every thing on my to-do list during my three months of vacation is not going to be fulfilled this year either. In summer -- despite my best intentions -- I find it almost impossible to stick to a schedule. I seem to spend the days being distracted by minor tasks that take up much more time than they should.

So I welcome the feeling of being back in my groove. I do better with structure. The only problem that I haven't figured out is how to add minutes to shorter autumn days.

My schedule this fall is built around my teaching schedule. I plan to drive to Toronto for Bouchercon in October. I'm on a panel there. In November, I'm going to New England Crime Bake, where I'm going to teach a master class on "Using Research to Get to the Roots of Your Book". I have a short story coming out in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine that same month. A historical featuring a new protagonist. And I have also promised myself that I will do NaNoWriMo and get the first draft of my 1939 historical thriller done.

I'm looking forward to what I hope to get done this new year -- in that magical time before the year ends and winter sets in. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fred Ramsay and Me

Donis here, feeling sad today. I just heard that my friend and fellow author Frederick Ramsay passed away this morning. Fred was a lovely and accomplished man and a prolific author, and I understand that his latest book is still to be released. He did an amusing and enlightening guest entry for us here on Type M back in 2013.

Fred Ramsay and Donis at Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, AZ, Feb. 2017

It seems that as I grow older I find myself facing the impending mortality of my friends and loved ones more and more. Not to mention, as one of my friends noted, that we are each of us one blood clot away from our own end. Not long ago, I heard a woman on NPR relate that her five year old daughter once came stomping down the stairs in a snit and demanded to know why we were ever born if we're just going to die anyway.

An excellent question that should convince anyone that children are deeper than adults give them credit for. The mother said she pondered for a minute before answering, because she wanted to give the girl a meaningful answer, and finally she replied that it was because of all the stuff that goes on in between.

Billy Graham was asked what he had learned about life, and interestingly, he said that he was just surprised at how fast it goes by. I think of that quite a bit, especially when it comes home to me that I have less time ahead than I do behind, and I wonder why on earth I ever spend time doing things I don't have to do that I don't particularly enjoy.

On a more cheerful note, let me reiterate that I will be making a nine library tour of small eastern Oklahoma towns from Sept. 12 through Sept. 16. The September 16 event at the Muskogee Public Library will be particularly of interest, since after my talk at 11:00 a.m. I’ll be joined by fellow mystery authors Mary Anna Evans, Will Thomas, and Julia Thomas at noon for a mystery writers’ roundtable. You can see my entire schedule on my website. So if you live in eastern OK or western Arkansas, I’ll be looking for you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fall merry-go-round

In her Monday post, Aline talked about her eager anticipation of September, as a time of new beginnings and endless possibilities. As an Eastern Canadian who didn't get much of a summer this year, I don't share her impatience to see it on its way. I want to cling to every last sun-drenched, fancy-free moment of it. But I have another reason to prolong those last two weeks of summer; my autumn is going to be crazy. Labour Day weekend coincides with the release of my new book, and with it all the signings and tours and blogs and festivals. This year they seem more hectic than usual.


Right now I am at my cottage trying to power through the first draft of the book due out NEXT September, because I know once the fall promotion season starts, I will be hard-pressed to give the next book a moment's thought. As I try to write my novel, however, I find myself committed to writing several blogs. Blogs are creative and fun, and I happily agreed to do each one without thinking that each (including my old regular Type M) takes hours out of my writing time. As it stands at the moment, I still have three more blogs to write, two with deadlines this week.

And then there are the posters, evites, announcements, website updates, and social media posts to promote the fall events. And preparing the talks and readings for each of them.

So with a view to killing two birds with one stone, this blog is going to double as a bit of promotion. The complete list of appearances and events will be on my website once I finish updating it, but here are the highlights. If there is an event that interests you and is within in driving distance, I'd love to see you!

THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY is due for release in Canada and the UK on September 2 and in the US on September 26. The tag line reads:

A winter camping trip turns deadly as two missing teenagers, a twisted love triangle, and the spectre of radicalism create turmoil in the remote Laurentian wilderness.




Here's what is planned so far:

  • Sept. 1 - 2. Women Killing It! Crime Writers' Festival, Prince Edward County, ON
  • Sept. 16. Halifax Word on the Street, Reading at Halifax Central Library
  • Sept. 21. Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MN
  • Sept. 22. A Different Drummer Bookstore, Burlington, ON
  • Sept. 23. Toronto Launch, Sleuth of Baker Street, 1 - 3 pm
  • Sept. 24. Toronto Word on the Street, Crime Writers of Canada Booth, 1 - 2 pm
  • Sept. 26. Ottawa Launch, Mother McGintey's Pub, Byward Market, 7 - 9 pm
  • Oct. 2. Ottawa International Writers' Festival, details TBA
  • Oct. 12 - 15, Bouchercon Mystery Conference, Toronto
  • Oct. 20. Renfrew Public Library, Renfrew, ON, 6 pm
  • Oct. 21, Coles in Carlingwood Mall, Ottawa. 11 am - 2 pm
  • Oct. 24. International Festival of Authors, 7 pm, location TBA
In between, I have a couple of book clubs, luncheons, and workshops, all of which should be great fun once I catch my breath. I have not committed to anything major beyond Oct. 24, which coincidentally is a very significant birthday, but I'm sure the time will be filled in! I would not trade all this excitement and adventure for anything, but right now I am encouraging summer to stick around awhile yet. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

New Beginnings

I don't like this time of year.  August is still officially summer but it's chilly now in the early morning and the heat has gone out of the sun; it's as if it's tired and just putting in the time until the excitements of the brand new season of mellow fruitfulness and harvest festivals.

Newspapers and magazines are still dutifully promoting barbecues and swimsuits and recipes for salads but somehow you feel that their heart isn't in it and the shops that are now getting in the woollens for autumn seem much fresher and more attractive. (Let's not talk about the catalogue with Christmas stuff that someone sent me last week. I'm pretending it didn't happen.)

Yes, it's time that summer was over for another year. and even the schoolchildren are starting to feel they want to get back and see their friends, and the new pencil-cases, fancy notebooks and novelty rubbers are flying off the shelves.

I don't know whether it's the result of having spent a lifetime in and around schools - father a headmaster, teacher at one time myself, mother of schoolchildren, husband a headmaster too (oh yes, Freud could have a field day).- but I always feel that a new year starts in September, not in January.

Who can really plan new beginnings in January?  New Year resolutions are famously hard to keep.  Dismal weather, dark nights, the Christmas credit card bills dropping on to the mat - who can possibly feel fired up and enthusiastic?

September, though...  Somehow it always seems to me like the new notebook you got on the first day of term, enticingly pristine, and you always thought that this time you would be able to keep it neat, without all the blots and crumpled pages and sums marked wrong that the last one had.

This year, come September, my desk will be tidy, my accounts will be up to date, the book will progress according to timetable and I will sit down at my desk each morning with new vigour and a song in my heart. I can hardly wait.

August still has two more limping weeks to go, but I think I might go out now and buy a fancy notebook and a novelty rubber. Just to be ready.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What's In A Name? Guest Post by V.M. Escalada


 by Vicki Delany

One of my closest writer friends isn’t a mystery writer, but the fantasy author Violette Malan. Or is that really her name?  Read on to find out.
------------


So I'm in my brother's bookstore, and I'm looking for my latest book, and I'm not finding it. Just as I'm thinking "oh really?" it strikes me that I'm looking for the wrong name.

I'm not sure how much of a secret it is, but besides being Violette Malan, who writes sword and sorcery fantasy, I'm also V.M. Escalada, who writes epic fantasy. I have to admit that when my agent first suggested I use a penname, my immediate reaction was unfavourable. There are all kinds of reasons for such a suggestion, however, change of genre and change of gender being two of the most common. What people don't often talk about, however, is the practical experience of being two people.

To start with, I was a little flustered. I had plenty of questions, and no one – it seemed – to go to for answers. Don't get me wrong, my agent, and my editor, had plenty of helpful suggestions, just not for these actual, practical, concerns.



My first concern? What explanation do I give people who know me, personally? After all, people who have never met/heard of Violette Malan, aren't likely to ask. The short answer, by the way, is "it's a marketing thing." The long answer is, as they say, beyond the scope of this enquiry..

Which brings me to my second concern: Who am I in public? At a con, for example? The easy answer is: I'm whoever was invited. That's the name that will go first on the con badge. It's not at all unusual, at cons, to see people with two names on their badges, the one who was invited, and (sometimes in brackets or in smaller print) the other one. If you weren't invited as a special guest? If you're just registered as a regular panelist? That's when it gets tricky. Do you use the established, familiar name? or the new one?


I haven't had to answer that one yet, but I'm thinking those marketing people are going to want me to emphasize the name of the author whose book just came out. 

But how do I become a second person? What would I use for a photo? A bio? This is the point at which it struck me that this could be a lot of fun. After all, I make people up for a living, don't I? Not that I can become entirely someone else. Again, people who already know me would have to be able to recognize me. I'm not becoming a different person, I'm becoming a second person. I can't dress entirely differently because, first, I can't afford all those new clothes and, second, I've already bought the stuff I look good in.  I'm not going for frumpy, no matter what the marketing people say.

But I will need a new autograph, won't I? At least I know which name to sign, right? The signature has to match the name on the cover, right? That feels right to me, I could be in a situation where the person asking for the autograph only knows the author standing in front of her. It gets more complicated when the person knows both of you. How personal do you make a personalized signature? Do you sign both names? On the same page? Family's easy. Family doesn't care how you sign the book as long as you sign it, and they can leave it lying around to impress their friends with – something the Escalada part of my family can now do more easily than before.

I admit, I don't really have an answer for the autograph issue. Maybe you can help me out?      

    

Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions),  as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the Faraman Prophecy series. Book One, Halls of Law, is available now. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.




Friday, August 18, 2017

Too Sad For Words

Usually I try to stay out of politics when writing my blog or on social media sites. We are all inundated with opinions. From the left. From the right. And everywhere in between. I figure mine doesn't add much.

But today, when I feel I must speak out I find that I don't have the words to express my overwhelming sense of sadness over the events in Charlottesville. I can tell you what I think. But that is a function of my mind. And in the immortal worlds of Blaise Pascal, "the heart has its reasons which reason cannot know." What is in my head is one thing, my heart quite another.

When citizens of this country can fearlessly march under the banner of Nazism, when members of the KKK can present their hate-filled ideology without the president of the United States denouncing them unequivocally we are in danger from within. Our democracy is being undermined.

"Good and fine" people who object to the pulling down of statues don't stand beside violent persons bent on tearing up our Constitution. They go home. They leave when events turn ugly. They don't lend their energy to movements that are blatant attacks on human beings. They write their congressmen. They start petitions. They try to reason with persons with another point of view.

They don't take clubs to their fellow man and they denounce those who do.

As to leaders, there is a statement in the Bible that serves us well. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Not by their blossoming. By their fruit. Never mind how charismatic a leader or how attractive the words coming from his or her mouth. What are the fruits?

If hatred, anger, dissention, and deceitfulness seem to follow someone around, something is wrong.

And right now, something is very very wrong in these United States.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer Musings

Summer is nearing the end, and it’s time to reflect.

It was a summer of travel –– my day job took me to Tampa, Fl.; Bozeman, Mt.; and Fitchburg, Mass.; vacation took me to Baxter State Park and Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I spent lots of time with my family, including the real DA Keeley (daughters Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley).

(from left) Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley
I wrote about 125 pages, not as much as I’d hoped. There have been summers where I cranked out 125 pages of rough copy in two weeks. But that meant sitting on my writing chair, behind a closed door, eight to 10 hours a day. I’m writing my current book on spec, and my oldest daughter is talking about a summer internship next year that could take her anywhere in the nation (and, thus, far away from my wife and me) Therefore, this might be the last summer with all three girls at home. So, no, I didn’t finish the book, but the end is near.

One thing I’ve most enjoyed about this new book is that I’m writing in present tense. I’ve always been intrigued by the present-tense narrative voice. Recent Type M guest blogger Naomi Hirahara is an author I enjoy. Her Ellie Rush series is told in the present, and I love the immediacy and the tension that creates. Also, I’ve taken baby steps into screenwriting, which requires present tense, so I grasp (and appreciate) the impact this unique tense has on readers and viewers. But the switch from past to present wasn’t easy. It took a long time (and three different POVs) to get the voice right (I probably wrote 100 pages no one will ever see to do so). But I’m nearing 70,000 words now, and the sun is shining.
Ann Whestone and Paula Keeney (right)

On August 12, I read and signed at Mainely Murders bookstore, in Kennebunk, Maine. It’s a must-visit, if you’re in southern Maine (and worth the drive, if you’re not). The store is everything that is great about independent booksellers. Owners Paula Keeney and Ann Whetstone retired, renovated a one-car garage to a small store with an eclectic inventory of 3,500 books, and travel widely to find new authors. They have a rock-solid loyal following. (One customer told me she routinely buys a used book from them and gives it back so they can sell it again, all part of an effort to support the store.) Above all, Keeney and Whetstone love mysteries and their writers. Whether you’re a fan or writer, I highly recommend seeking this store out.

With Audrey, one-third of the "real" DA Keeley


Signing at Mainely Murders



Now it’s time to get back to school and time to finish the book.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Reading List

I’m always looking for reading recommendations so I read Vicki’s recent post with interest. I don’t really distinguish between what I read during the summer and other times of the year. That's probably because while here in Southern California we do have some change of seasons, the changes aren't as dramatic as other areas.

Here are a few books I’ve read this year that I found particularly interesting:

The One-Cent Magenta by James Barron. This
is the story of the most valuable stamp in the world, the One-Cent Magenta. This is not your childhood stamp collecting experience. We’re talking high profile stamp collecting. A very interesting read.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann. In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of the lost city of Z and was never seen again. Over the years, others have ventured into the jungle trying to find him and the fabled city. This is their story as well as an account of journalist David Grann’s own venture into the jungle. I don’t know much about this corner of the world at all so I found it particularly interesting. A quick read. There’s also a recent movie based on the book. I haven’t seen it, but this book is definitely worth reading.

The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian. This is the third book in the Accidental Alchemist series and my favorite so far. This series is part fantasy part mystery. It features alchemist Zoe Faust and Dorian, a living gargoyle. I like all of the characters, but I’ve fallen in love with Dorian. You can read this book without reading the first two in the series, but I’d recommend starting from the beginning with the Accidental Alchemist.

A Sticky Inheritance by Emily James. This is the first book in the Maple Syrup mysteries. I stumbled upon this series sometime this past year, I don’t remember where. Honestly, I might have simply been attracted by the cover. Interesting covers can lure me in. The main character, criminal defense attorney Nicole, inherits a maple syrup farm in Michigan. At first, I wasn’t sure about a mystery featuring maple syrup, but I fell in love with this series from the first page of the first book. I’ve read several more in the series and have two others queued up on my Kindle.

That’s my brief wrap-up. I’ve read lots more books so far this past year, but I thought I’d highlight these as being particularly interesting. What have you all been reading?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yet another apology

by Rick Blechta

Here’s what I look like at the moment.
To everyone here at Type M, I'm really sorry but I just don't have time to write a post this week. You can blame it all on Bouchercon 2017, though. I am charged with handling the design and layout of the programme book and it is a horrendously large job.

I hope you understand. And you will likely get the same sorry excuse next week, as well, sad to say. But once we hit September, I'll be back in the Type M saddle again!

—Rick