Tuesday, January 31, 2017

It’s getting awfully hard to be optimistic these days

by Rick Blechta

No need to amplify much on the title of my post. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past, say, two years, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Not having been alive during the 1930s, I can’t say for certain, but I’ll bet any number of citizens of the world felt much as we do now during Hitler’s rise to power. Regardless of what camp you’re in, you’ve got to be feeling a lot of apprehension right now. Everything has changed and the unrest is only beginning.

But Type M is not about politics, so let’s move the conversation, shall we — but not too far.

Over the next few years, I can’t help but think that we’re going to see a lot more plots with terrorism, racial strife, government spying and the like at their centre. Most of these will be thrillers which by their nature often have plot elements like this.

But I also see a new subtext spreading into other sub-genres of crime writing. Police procedurals are a natural setting. Will it even affect cozies, or will the writers of cozies batten down the hatches to allow readers to be “not so much in this world” for a little while? Or will they, too, find ways to weave in current events/world political tensions into their plots?

I think the world of crime fiction is about to get a lot more interesting. And that’s something to be optimistic about, isn’t it?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Reading Ourselves to Empathy

By Vicki Delany

I enjoyed Rick’s post about Entertaining Yourself.  I was also reminded of Neil Postman’s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death.


In that book, Postman worries that we are relying too much on media for information and entertainment, rather than getting it for ourselves via reading and conversation. Postman is talking mostly about television…

“…what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment.”

… if anything, his theses seems even more valid today, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and 24 hour news.


Sure we read books for entertainment, as Rick suggests, but in the pages of a good book, we can’t help being drawn into other worlds, other lives and other experiences. Watch a movie or TV and you see how someone else lives, whether a rich housewife of someplace or other  or a detective in pursuit of a master criminal, but you are NOT THAT PERSON. No matter how good the acting or how dramatic the music, all you are doing is watching someone else do something.

Whereas in a book you can BE THAT PERSON. The difference is critical. Within the pages of a good work of fiction (and heck, often within the pages of a poor work of fiction) you can genuinely be exposed to other people’s thoughts, feeling, and emotions. What that does, what that cannot fail to do, is to create empathy.

And empathy seems to be sorely lacking in some parts of our world today.

As are facts. If you want to understand a complex issue you won’t get it from the TV news or a tweet. You can get the information you need to understand the complexities of an issue and make a decision from a well-researched newspaper article, maybe a TV documentary, but once again, for real comprehension you need a book.


Want to understand the rise of fascism? Not only read fiction such as 1984, but some of the many historical fiction books set in Europe in the late 1930s, and then go on to non-fiction books about the early to mid-twentieth century. One book that got a lot of press late in 2016 is Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich.

A book I keep meaning to re-read is The Magus by John Fowles, which (if I remember correctly) deals with living under fascism and resistance to it.

Worried that maybe we’re slipping back a century to pre-1914? Try Margaret MacMillian’s The War the Ended Peace.

Read: you’ll not only be entertaining yourself but making yourself aware, as well.

P.S. yes, speaking to the choir here, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the things we know. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

When Mary Met Raymond

Mary Tyler Moore died on Wednesday, and I cried. I was surprised that the death of a woman I had never met hurt so much. Maybe because although I never met her, I felt I knew her. Whether she was "Laura Petrie" -- professional dancer turned suburban housewife -- or "Mary Richards" -- making her way up the very short career ladder of her TV newsroom -- she was someone I liked. I was one of the many young women who could imagine having Mary as my downstairs neighbor and BFF.

When I heard she was dead, I ran through my memory bank of favorite episodes of  The Mary Tyler Show. I still watch them in re-run. If you've read my post, you know by now that I love television. In fact, I even managed to make TV relevant to my academic research. I study crime and popular culture. But ask any baby boomer, and many of us will be able to describe episodes of our favorite TV shows scene by scene, even quote favorite lines. We can go down the list, calling out the shows that were the visual sound-track of our childhoods and that taught us important life lessons. We're no snobs. Many of us also love the great sit-coms that came later -- but the classics helped to shape who we are.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was special to a generation of women. Aside from what we learned from her about being single and pursuing a career, Mary taught us important lessons about grown up friendships with both women and men. Those friendships were messy and touching and complicated. We learned that it's okay if your best friend occasionally makes you crazy. Remember that episode when Rhoda, who was spending night at Mary's, left the dinner dishes in the sink "to soak" and Mary got up in the middle of the night to try to wash them without waking Rhoda. Mary and Rhoda always reminded me -- still do -- that friends don't have to be carbon copies. Friends can come from different worlds. The important thing about a good friend is that she is always there no matter where you are. She's the person who listens and understands, who you laugh with and cry with, and who always has your back.

And then there was what Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant, her boss in the newsroom, taught me about writing. When I was thinking about my favorite episodes of the show, I remembered when the one when Lou introduced Mary to Raymond Chandler. I found it again on YouTube. The title of the episode is "Mary the Writer." Mary persuades Lou to read a piece she is working on. It's a true story, but he thinks she's trying to write fiction. He opens his desk drawer -- where he also keeps his liquor -- and pulls out a book. In his gruff, tough-guy voice, he reads her the first paragraph of Chandler's "Red Wind." When he's done, he tells her that's great writing. Mary's response (that I appreciate even more now): "He writes well about the weather."

RIP Mary. Thanks for the laughs and the life lessons. And for sending me back to try Raymond Chandler again with Lou Grant's voice in my head.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Double Brain



By the time this post comes up, I will have launched my ninth Alafair Tucker Mystery, The Return of the Raven Mocker, on Tuesday the 24th at the fabulous Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona. I will have also appeared at three other venues and am looking forward to another two months of talk and travel. Yes, this is the merry-go-round of publishing. I'll be writing guest blogs and speaking to group after group about how I researched and wrote a book about murder during the great influenza pandemic of 1918.

The irony behind all this is that in my head is currently occupied by the tenth Alafair Tucker Mystery, and sometimes I forget which book I'm supposed to be talking about. I call this "double brain".

Raven Mocker is a good book, even if I do say so myself. The next book is going to be even better. (How optimistic we writers are) It is going to have a bang-up ending, if I can pull it off as well as I envision it. A really good ending is wildly important to me, for as I've said many a time, a good beginning will make a reader want to read your current book but a good ending will make her want to
buy your next book.

I learned about the importance of a great end by reading Ellis Peters. She is the woman who inspired me to write the type of historical mystery that I do. She was very good at moral ambiguity, which is one reason I love her books, especially the Brother Cadfael series. The resolutions of those novels are usually very clever and perhaps not what you might have suspected. One of my favorite resolutions was in her novel Monk’s Hood. The victim wasn’t a pleasant man, but he wasn’t evil and didn’t deserve to die the way he did. The killer shouldn’t have taken the action he did. Cadfael figures out who did it and why, and confronts the killer, but in the end … well, let me just say, I was taken aback by what happened. Was it justice? I think yes, and mercy, too.

And that’s the mark of a truly successful mystery. We don’t just find out who did it. We are given a just resolution that satisfies us right down to our toes.

And if the author can pull off a big surprise, that's even better.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

So how long did your new year's resolutions last?

Barbara here. Well, that will teach me to make new year's resolutions. On my last post, I resolved that in 2017, I would try not to miss my Type M posting day - every second Wednesday. And what did I promptly do? Miss the first two in a row! The problem lies with the essentially timeless nature of a writer's life. The day of the week is often meaningless to me. I write every day, unless I have other obligations or distractions, and these don't usually fall on any predictable schedule that would help me remember that today is in fact Wednesday. Having spent most of my life in the era before computers and other devices, I have two calendars – an old-fashioned book variety, which I still find far easier to use (no turning on a device, clicking through links, fumbling back and forth between days or weeks), and an electronic one, which usually I program to remind me of my dogs' tick and heart worm medicine. The advantage of the electronic is that it will beep a reminder. The book one, unfortunately, does no such thing, so the trick is to not only put an entry in the book, but also remember to look at it.

I think I will have to finally admit that I no longer can keep track of all sorts of things in my head. I reminded myself numerous times in the past few days about Type M, but in the end I was distracted by booking flights and airbnbs and rental cars and coordinating plans with others, while trying to find time to do my daily quota of writing. So guess what fell off my radar?

It's no excuse, of course, but outside obligations often fall off the radar in the life of a writer. We get so engrossed by the story in our head, even when we are driving in traffic or walking the dog, that we tend not to be aware of the the passage of time or the demands the outside world. "What, you mean it's dinnertime?" "Really, is it two weeks since I last phoned?" Absent-minded, thy name is writer.

In my defence, I come by my absent-mindedness honestly. The term may have been invented to describe my father, a university philosophy professor who inhabited a world of lofty thoughts. We children used to marvel that he found his way home every night, and managed to be on time for lectures and airplanes and such mundane but unforgiving things. He kept a little appointment book to help him keep track of his life, and even as an old man, he entered things in it, underlined them if they were important, and ticked them off once he'd done them. I remember looking at the little book one day late in his life, when he was mostly confined to home. "Brush teeth" was on his list, duly ticked off.

Most mornings I still remember to brush my teeth, even if I do forget to get out of my pyjamas. But I can see the future. And it starts with my opening up that tedious electronic calendar and entering "Type M post" on every second Tuesday, programmed to startle me with an annoying little beep every time I open up a device.

We'll see how that works. Can brush teeth be far behind?


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I consider reading to be “entertaining myself”

by Rick Blechta

When we’re little, people (usually our parents) tell us far more often than we want to here, “I can’t always be entertaining you. Entertain yourself for a change.” This is usually followed by, “I’m far too busy right now.”

In looking back, I feel I did this far too often than I should have with my own sons, but those were busy times. With a grandson who is now three years old, I am keenly aware of this. Kids naturally come with a time stamp that runs out all too quickly. Said grandson will be starting junior kindergarten next fall, and once that happens, I might get to see him once a week if I’m lucky. So too will it be with our granddaughter. Now that I have more time, I’ve vowed to make the most of it.

Playing with Jackson, I’m always aware that part of what I’m doing is “entertaining him”. In his mind, I’m more his playmate than his grandfather at times. I enjoy setting free my “inner child”, too, when we play. My wife finds our games and the changes/amplifications we both make as we go along “very entertaining”.

On my daily rambles around our neighbourhood, I’ve found myself thinking about the difference between being entertained (passive) and entertaining oneself (more active). There are spaces where each of these works best, but (naturally) it seems to me the more valuable of the two is also the more active one.

So what exactly is “entertaining oneself”? It can be working, if you’re doing something you find enjoyable. It can be found in gardening, spending time at a hobby, all sorts of things. It certainly can be found in reading.

But that also seems counterintuitive to me. An example: If you were watching a movie, or attending a play or a concert, that’s you being entertained, isn’t it? Reading a book is the same thing to a great extent.

Last week, my wife and I both spent our late evenings reading. Far too often we close our days watching a movie. We’re usually too brain dead to concentrate on a book.

Anyway, one of those nights, Vicki turned to me and said, “It’s so much more enjoyable reading together rather than watching a movie, isn’t it?” I had to agree she was right.

More cogitation followed.

The difference between a book — and I’m meaning novel here more than anything else — and a movie (as an example) is that one’s brain is engaged to a far greater extent. You are lifting the author’s words off the page and your brain/imagination has to give them life. We don’t just understand the meaning behind the words but we can’t help creating visual images, too. You don’t do that with a movie. It’s all right there in front of you, the imaginative work has been completely realized for you.

Watching a movie, a play or a concert is a much different experience than reading. I don’t know about you, but I find a good book leaves me feeling much more enriched than a good movie does, generally speaking.

And feeling enriched is always a good thing.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Magic

I read Charlotte's last post wincing sympathetically. I too have fillings that are only just hanging on in there and despite a genius dentist who has somehow managed to keep them that way I know that sooner or later – very probably sooner – the sad wreckage will be beyond even his skills and it will be the full works. And when the day comes, I too will take refuge in books to take my mind off it.

Books are the stress meter in our household. When we're feeling relaxed on holiday we take on big books – biographies, thought-provoking novels, topical non-fiction, the odd classic we've always meant to read but hadn't got around to before. Normally we read an eclectic range of pleasurable  fiction of the sort you can pick up and lay down as time allows and get easily back into the story again. But when it's all just Too Much, there's only one solution.

Georgette Heyer. I've read her books so many times that I could just about recite some of them verbatim – large chunks, anyway.  For minor problems, the nearest one on the bookshelf is enough. For a major stress situation, only the strongest dose will do: The Grand Sophy, undoubtedly her very best book. Maybe you don't agree with me – my husband doesn't – but you're all just wrong. I'm on my third copy now and even that's starting to look a bit battered.

Many years ago when I was a student (make that many, many) I had a couple of summers as a camp counsellor in Connecticut. It was a wonderful experience and it has given me a life-long affection for Americans. I made great friends with a girl who lived in California and with the aid of a $99 bus ticket I set off to visit her by Greyhound. It took me, if I remember rightly, three nights and four days, only getting out to stretch my legs at bus stations.

You do see life on a Greyhound bus. I met all sorts and with the exception of the ratbag who when I was on the way back stole the bag containing my money, passport and air tickets, people were friendly and kind. But morale gets low at bus stations in the middle of the night and of course I was desperate for reading matter too. The book stands weren't exactly Barnes and Noble but one night I saw to my amazement a copy of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, one of my very favourite books. (If you haven't read it, run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore and demand a copy.)

I was feeling tired and low and not a little homesick when I started reading. I don't know how long I read for but when I looked up I was completely disorientated by the view from the window of the Arizona desert. I was so caught up in the magic of the story that I was expecting to be passing through the English countryside.

I'm sure we've all had the exerience of getting  an email from someone who says that a book we have written has helped them so that they have briefly managed to lose themselves in the story as an escape from pain, worry or grief. This is the most precious reward a writer can have. How privileged we are to have been given the ability to do that.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bookaholics

Several days ago something went south with a tooth. The old filling decided to leave or I chipped it. Whatever. Yesterday it began to ache and I called the dentist for an emergency appointment before the pain became immobilizing.

The office could work me in immediately. I hastily assembled everything I would need. Insurance cards, check book, credit cards, glasses, keys, and most important of all — a book. In this case it was one I was reading for the Western Writers Contemporary Novel contest.

Books play so many important functions in my life I hardly know where to begin the list. I was highly amused by Aline's recent post where she said, "I taught myself to read at four and to this day I feel a sort of panic if I'm going to be stuck somewhere with nothing to read."

Right! And double that if it involves any medical procedures. If there is a short waiting time for a routine appointment often the magazines strewn around the office are sufficient and I catch up on all the latest scandals roiling Hollywood. I take in the Red Carpet fashions and mentally join the praise or criticism flung at the glitterati who can afford $10,000 gowns.

But yesterday's dental visit involved a crown, a great deal of money (even with dental insurance) and a long, long procedure. Turned out they could make the crown right there in the office.

Ironically, despite the unexpected expense, and my usual concern over reactions to medications, my very first thought was, "Thank goodness I brought a book." Then my second thought was, "What if I finish it before I get out of here?"

Books distract me. It's how I cope with anxiety.

I hate dental appointments. After reclining in the chair and finishing a volley of x-rays I propped the book on my lap and the instant the hygienist, dental assistant, or doctor left the room to fetch needles, compounds — god only knows what else — I read. The book made everything tolerable if not pleasant.

Books are also how I take myself in hand when I'm overwhelmed, (often) and have way too much work to do (often) I pick up a book and decide after I've finished a chapter I will do xxxx and then read another chapter or scene. Somewhere along the line work seems manageable and I'm merrily humming away. Then when I've finished a decent chunk I reward myself with another chapter.

So I'm a bookaholic! Want to make something of it? Through the blessing of libraries and free book exchanges no criminal gangs are involved with feeding my addiction. Other than encouraging my tendency toward sloth there's no risk to my soul and books keep me so very very happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

More on Reading

Recent posts about being read to as a child hit close to home. As the father of an 8-year-old daughter, Keeley (the real Keeley, I say), Donis’s post certainly spoke to me.

The Real Keeley
Similarly (and maybe coincidentally), I wrote a short post on Facebook last week when Keeley honored her late great grandfather. My grandfather, George Dumont, came to Maine, one of 17 children (yes, 17, that’s not a typo) in search of work at age 12 during the Depression. His education fell by the wayside in lieu of millwork, something he would continue until age 65, when he retired with a pension and health insurance. If asked, he would tell you he achieved the American Dream, and thus enlisted in WWII to repay America “for all that it gave me.”

When looked at through my grandfather’s lens, reading, therefore, is a privilege. As an American this fall, this very week of the Presidential Inauguration, for sure I am thinking about privilege. Given my “day job,” living and working at Northfield Mount Hermon School, helping to offer teenagers (my own included) an education many deem "elite," is an embarrassing privilege when I think of my grandfather, who for good and obvious reasons may not have been a great reader. (I don’t remember him ever reading to me, for example.) Reading and education, though, were never lost on him. His goal was simple: to offer his own children an education. And he did. All four children attended college, one earning a Ph.D. and going on to become a university president.

Keeley at the NMH Farm
Reading is seen differently in my home. Not as a privilege. Not as an expectation. It simply is. Keeley loves books. She’s certainly exposed to them. She lives in a house attached to a girls’ dorm with 46 young women who take their education seriously and work very hard to maximize it. She lives in a house where her parents read and read to her. And she lives in a house where books are written (and revised endlessly and contemplated and hair is pulled out, but I digress). So Keeley is a reader.

So during this, the week of the Presidential Inauguration — an event during which power and privilege will most likely not be discussed by those who are privileged the most — I am thinking about reading not only as a joy but also as a privilege.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

1969: The Astronauts' Reading Club

It’s the summer of 1969. While man is walking on the moon, I’m enjoying playing outside with my sister and reading lots and lots of books. I was a voracious reader. I read everything I could get my hands on. The library was my best friend.

This particular summer I participated in the local library’s reading club, called The Astronauts’ Reading Club. If kids read 5 books, they got a badge, 10 books they got a certificate AND their name in the paper! Who knew you could get your name in the paper for reading books!

Ten books was pretty easy peasy for me. I’m sure I read many more than that this summer between 4th and 5th grades. I looked at the list of books I read: three Freddy the Pig books (I honestly don’t remember these at all, but I know I liked pigs); two Great Mouse Detective books (those I do remember, I had a thing for books with mice), The Horse and His Boy (part of the Chronicles of Narnia series), and several others.

I don’t really know what sparked my interest in books. Perhaps it was being read to as other Type Mers noted in their posts. I’m sure I was read to, but I honestly don’t remember anything specific. All I know is that I was always fascinated by books. There’s a wonderful picture of me and my sister sitting side by side on the couch, reading. I use the term “reading” very loosely when it comes to me. Being almost 4 years older than I am, my sister actually knew how to read but, at 3, I was just looking at the pictures, imitating my big sis.

The most vivid memory of early reading for me was in kindergarten. Back in the stone ages, you learned your alphabet in kindergarten and learned to read in first grade. I remember looking through a book and being very angry that I couldn’t read the words on the page. I mean, really, really angry! I wanted to know what those three little pigs were doing! I knew the words told the tale and were very, very important, but I couldn’t yet read them. That fueled my eagerness to learn to read more than anything else. By the time first grade rolled around, I was off and running, reading well above my grade level in no time.

Reading has given a lot to me. I’ve visited foreign places, relived historical events, had great adventures and solved mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. I can’t imagine not being able to read or not having access to books.

Even though reading has been a large part of my life, I never really thought I’d be a writer. But I’m glad I took the leap of faith and started writing stories. Even though it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it’s also given me a lot.

P.S. My third book, A Palette for Murder, officially releases January 31st. To celebrate I’m having a launch event, Sunday, February 5, 2017, 3:30-5pm at the Manhattan Beach Library in Manhattan Beach, CA. Stop by if you’re in the area and help me celebrate!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…

by Rick Blechta

Now that I’m back seriously crafting my new novel and able to put in the required hours without risk of falling behind in more monetarily meaningful work, I’m faced with the problem of getting to know the characters populating the story.

Since this is also the first in what I’m hoping might become a long-running series, I’m also well aware of the dangers and pitfalls of the long term consequences of getting their personalities incorrect. As I’ve mentioned here before, I once began one of my one-off thrillers with a poorly-drawn character and by the time I got to around the 70th page of my ms, I realized that I was faced with a horrible problem: I really disliked the person who was driving my story, and if I’d continued on, I would probably have wound up killing him off before the end of the story. Even worse, the narration was in first-person! So I was down the end of a dark alley facing a blank wall. I stopped writing the novel, then began again with a completely different protagonist, one with whom I felt I could “work”.

So with the start of a novel that is also the start of a series (if I should be so lucky), I have to make sure I’ve gotten things right. I don’t want to be working on a story several books down the line and realize that I’d gotten one of my protagonists seriously skewed way back in the first book. Not much you can do then, is there?

I spent a lot of hours working up pretty extensive character background outlines for both of my protagonists. Even so, nearly every time I sit down to work, I realize I left out something pretty critical. Back to my outlines to add this additional information. Yesterday, for instance, I realized I hadn’t given my characters birthdays. Now it might become important in some future novel to know that so-and-so was born in late June. No big deal if I hadn’t known this information beforehand, but how about the year they were born. That has huge ramifications when shaping their likes/dislikes and experiences. We are a product of our generation, as the saying goes. And I hadn’t thought of that.

The question that has me really worried now is this: what other critical information have I overlooked. Or worse yet, have I already used something that could have serious consequences somewhere down the road?

This writing gig is tough!

And sorry for the Rogers and Hammerstein quote that makes up the title...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sherlock Holmes and Me

By Vicki Delany

There is, as we are always being told in creative writing classes, no such thing as a new idea.

It’s all been done before. Take the story of an orphaned boy: a lowly (and lonely) childhood; a secret, ever-watchful guardian; dangerous times; an eternal enemy; the big reveal of the boy’s true identity; armed with knowledge of his destiny, boy saves world.


It’s been written a hundred times, from the tales of King Arthur to Star Wars.

The trick is not to come up with an original idea, because you probably can’t, but to make it your own.

Enter Sherlock Holmes. I don’t have to tell you how popular Sherlock is right now, from movies to TV (two series!) to more books than you can count. Colouring books, puzzles, mugs.  Old books reissued and re-illustrated, new ones being written.

Favourite characters reimagined.


Make it your own.

And I have. 

Meet Gemma Doyle, transplanted Englishwoman, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in the Cape Cod town of West London. Gemma is also the co-owner of the business next door, Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, with her best friend Jayne Wilson.

Gemma is highly observant and has an incredible memory (for things she wants to remember).  She is, shall we say, occasionally lacking in the finer points of social niceties.

Jayne is ever-confused, but loyal.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, reimagined as modern young women just trying to get on with life.

Like the Benedict Cumberbatch character, Gemma deciphers cell phone signals and finds clues on the Internet. Like that Sherlock, Gemma’s relationship with the local police is complicated, but unlike that character, in her case it’s because she’s in love with the lead detective, but he can’t trust her because she seems to always know more about his cases than she should.

Elementary She Read, the first in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series from Crooked Lane Books, will be released on March 14th.  I’ve taken a very light hand with this series, just having fun with it, and it falls firmly in the category of cozy. It’s now available for pre-order in ebook and hardcover formats at all the usual sources.

If you’d like a sneak peek at the first chapter, I’ve posted it on my web page. www.vickidelany.com
I’ll be running contests up to the release date; to catch all the news (if you don’t already) please like my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/evagatesauthor/) or sign up for my newsletter (send an email to vicki at vickidelany dot com)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

THE KNOW-IT-ALL WRITER

I am delighted to invite my good friend Janet Kellough to blog for us this week. Now that I am also living in Prince Edward County, I am finding myself drawn into the character and the history of the area through Janet's enthusiasm. And her darn good books. (Who knows when you need to trap a muskrat.)
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The old adage in the world of writing is “write what you know”. I have heard this amended (probably on this blog) to “write what you’d like to know”. [Editor: That might have been me. VD]



It’s good advice and I have done both. I started out as a performance storyteller, spinning tales drawn from the lore of Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I grew up, and where my family has lived for generations. It was, and remains, a rich source of material. (Did you know that the Glenora Ferry was once hijacked and a 19th century hangman bungled a double execution in Picton? The first was a prank; the second was grisly.) I have also written what I was anxious to find out about. The first novel in my historical series The Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries concerned a saddlebag preacher who stumbled across a serial killer. The bare bones of the story was right there in the preacher’s autobiography, waiting for me to pluck it out, but I was eager to fill in authentic details and bring the story to life. I now know more about Methodist Church history in early Canada than I ever thought possible. (It was complicated, cantankerous and contentious.)

In continuing the series, I discovered a further amendment to the aforementioned writer’s advice: “Write what you never dreamed you’d want to know, but have stumbled across and found fascinating anyway.”

The first two novels in Thaddeus Lewis were set firmly in familiar territory – eastern Ontario in general and Prince Edward County in particular. I fudged the third one a bit - 47 Sorrows began with an old newspaper clipping I ran across that described a peculiar incident in Toronto in 1847 when a wagon overturned and spilled a coffin into the street. It burst open to reveal two corpses inside. Scandalous! And intriguing! This led me to articles about the tragedies experienced by the influx of sick and starving Irish flooding into Canada that year, and to the “fever sheds” that housed them. After all, where better to set a murder than smack dab in the middle of a group of people who are dying anyway? I placed the bulk of the story in Kingston, Ontario, a place I know, but there was an exciting chase that led to Toronto.

The next book, The Burying Ground, led me into completely unfamiliar geographic  territory. The story revolves around The Toronto Strangers’ Burying Ground, a potter’s field which in 1851 was at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets. It was in the middle of nowhere back then. Honest. I spent hours poring over old maps. The harbour was different then, and the Don River hadn’t been straightened out yet. And the latest Thaddeus book Wishful Seeing takes place between Cobourg, Ontario and Rice Lake to the north. Oh wondrous intrigues of the early railway boom in Canada!  I knew nothing about it when I began, but now I understand why Cobourg has such an improbably spectacular town hall.

In the meantime, I took a dive into speculative fiction and found myself reading about genetics and the founder effect, as well as the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos. Right now I’m researching stories about sex in early Ontario. And I’m trying to find out what the Royal Shipyards in Deptford, England were like in the 1650s. I know how to trap a muskrat. I can make soap from scratch. I’m familiar with the diagnostic signs of typhoid fever.

I will admit that this kind of obsessive and far-ranging research might be most attractive to the sort of junkhead who watches Jeopardy and wins trivia contests (aka me) but it’s the thing that keeps me plunking words down on the page. Because I still don’t know what it is I want to know. And I may never find out, because I’ve discovered that I want to know everything. About everything. And being a writer gives me the perfect excuse to keep reading about it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thrilling in Slow Motion

I have to catch an early train down to New York City. So I'm going to make this post brief and interactive.

As you may recall, one of my writing projects is a crime novel set in 1939. I've been calling it a "historical thriller" because the plot does involve a race to uncover the details of a conspiracy and prevent a crime from being committed. But this is a race that happens over eight months in 1939. Although I hope for thrills and chills along the way, with an edge-of-your seat confrontation in the last few pages, I want to make my characters three-dimensional. They will drive the plot.

I'm trying to think of crime novels with thriller elements that extend over a substantial period of time — months rather than days. I'd love to see how the authors deal with pacing.

Any titles spring to mind?  Please share.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How We Learn to Love Books

Rick and Aline both wrote wonderful entries this week about being read to as a child. I'm sure every book-lover has a similar story. When your parents read to you when you're little, you learn to associate the experience with being loved and safe. I, of course, have stories of my own. Rick's story in particular brought to mind the Golden Book of poems and riddles my parents bought for me when I was little more than a toddler.



I had a lot of books when I was a kid. My parents bought them for me long before I could read, for which bless you, parents. This little Golden Book was one of my favorites, and I can still recite parts of it to this day. For instance: “What did the old woman say when she looked down the rain barrel?” Answer: OICURMT (It took me years to figure out what Oicurmt meant). But the poem I loved the most was You Are Old, Father William, by Lewis Carroll. I enjoyed it enough to memorize when I was a little girl. I still remember it, and as the years pass, it means more to me now than it ever did.

My parents took turns reading to me every night, and I never, ever let them weasel out of it for any silly reason like floods or fires or deathly illnesses. They read the same books to me so many times that I knew them by heart. I still remember very clearly an incident that occurred when I was about four and spending the night with my grandmother. I had brought my pre-sleep book with me, but my grandmother--a notoriously impatient woman--kept trying to skip lines. Needless to say this was not going to pass unchallenged. My grandmother also had a somewhat perverse sense of humor, so once she realized that she wasn't going to get away with it, she made a game of leaving out words and changing sentences to see if I'd catch her. I always did. This may have amused my grandmother, but it didn't contribute to a peaceful night's sleep for her little fusspot of a grandchild.

The joy of a good story well told turns a child into a book-loving adult. I spent much of my teenaged years and young adulthood with my nose in a book. So much so that my mother was a bit concerned about the fact that I'd rather read than play or hang around with friends. It was something of a joke in my family that if I was reading, I couldn't hear the phone ring or knocking at the door or gunshots and screaming.

A good book has gotten me through many a tough situation. A well written story teaches a child about compassion, perseverance, bravery, and lets him walk in another's shoes in a way a thousand lectures can't do. I can't imagine a better gift a parent can give her child.

p.s. On another note, don't forget that my first Alafair Tucker Mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, is being offered as a free download at Amazon and iTunes through the month of January. Don't miss your chance!


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On being read to


by Rick Blechta

I really enjoyed Aline’s post yesterday, especially so since just the day before I was chatting with my wife and son about how enjoyable it was having someone read to you.

I’ve previously written here on Type M how one of my fondest recollections from childhood was being read to by my mother when I was ill. Early on, I couldn’t read, but even after I could, if I was especially under the weather, my mother would appear in my doorway with a book and read a chapter or two (if she could spare the time). This would happen a few times during the day..

I remember being so comforted by this. Perhaps I even made small illnesses a tad larger so that I could stay home from school and be read to. My mom was also an above average reader so that really helped. She could bring Uncle Wiggly adventures or Treasure Island vividly to life for a young listener. Later on, she’d bring me a book that she thought I’d enjoy reading while I was ill. Thus, I read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for the first time – and this time I definitely malingered for a few extra days so I could finish those books.

When my own boys were a similar age, I would have loved to perform the same service for them, but alas, I had to be off at work doing my job of “crowd control with a beat” (teaching band to middle school students). My wife would read to them when she could but she was also busy. It’s always bothered me a bit that we might not have shared this pleasurable experience with them enough.

Reading to our boys, though, was a big part of the going-to-bed ritual. I must have read The Cat in the Hat several hundred nights running to my eldest (I’m not exaggerating), to the point where I could recite the entire story from memory (shades of Homer!). Since I was usually on “night duty” with the lads — my wife off at the Conservatory teaching flute as soon as I could get home — I read to them a lot, certainly most nights, until they were around six or seven.

The interesting thing to me is that later on one became an avid reader and the other probably reads one or two books per decade. However, the latter son is a now the father of two young ones, and lo and behold, a big part of his family’s going-to-bed ritual (at least for his 3-year-old) is reading a story or two every night before lights out. When my wife and I babysit, we’re more than happy to indulge the lad — probably, truth be known, with more stories than he gets from his parents on a nightly basis.

Of course over the years, I’ve shared my early reading experiences with my wife. Maybe ten years ago I caught the “flu from hell” and man, for a week was I sick! Miserable and alone upstairs one afternoon, my darling wife must have sensed I could use something special. Lo and behold, she appeared at the door, some book or other I’d been reading in hand, and asked, “Would it help you feel better if I read to you for a bit?”

My heart melted and I was a child again.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Tell Me a Story

I've just dismantled Christmas. The tree is in the garden awaiting disposal (why is there always one bauble left on the branches, however carefully you check beforehand?), the crib is packed away, the cards have gone and all the little sentimental ornaments are in the box waiting for another year.

This has been one of the special Christmases – the ones when you have small children in the house and the 'Santa stop here' sign has to be put out in the garden, the mince pie and carrot have to be left on the hearth and the ritual reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” performed. There aren't every many of these; children grow so fast and Christmas is never the same afterwards.

And the 'Read me a story' days pass quickly as well. My five-year-old grandson can read for himself but he still likes having a cuddle and being read to. His older sisters, bookworms both, now lose themselves entirely in what they're reading and have no need for a narrator.

I shall be completely redundant soon, sadly. It always went to my heart: the desperation in the voice of a non-reading child when everyone was busy – 'Please will you read me a story? Please!'

Humankind has always wanted stories, probably since the beginning of time and certainly before any sort of record began, with an oral tradition going back to long before writing was invented. And now neuroscience is coming up with a suggestion as to why they are so important to us.

When we see someone performing an action or feeling an emotion, the mirror neurone cells in our brain fire up so we experience something similar. If you look at the faces of people in a cinema, say, or watching TV, they are reacting as if something was happening in real life and they were experiencing it too. We empathise, thanks to our mirror neurones.

Empathy is a rewarding emotion, releasing the feel-good chemical oxytocin. So when we are drawn into a book with sympathetic characters, this may be what makes it hard to put down – we're addicts.

So no wonder the poor little mites, newly hooked on the stuff, get desperate. I can remember it vividly myself – the sheer frustration of holding a book with the story inside and not being able to pull it out for myself. I taught myself to read at four and to this day I feel a sort of panic if I'm going to be stuck somewhere with nothing to read. Until I read about the research, I hadn't realised that what I feared was withdrawal symptoms.

May all your books in 2017 be addictive and may there be many good times for you, even in this troubled world.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Guest Blogger: The Return of Hannah Dennison!

As Hannah is in no need of introductory help, I’m not going to provide it. I will say this, though: Welcome back! It has been too long indeed, Hannah.
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When Rick invited me to return to Type M as a weekend guest, I was delighted. Apart from the fact that a few years ago I had been a member of this stellar group of authors, Type M hosted my very first blog post and has a special place in my heart. I even remember the date—July 13, 2008. It was after I’d met Donis at my all-time favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, whilst promoting my debut cozy mystery, A Vicky Hill Exclusive! Donis asked if I’d like to be a guest on Type M. At last I was a “real” author! I had made the cut! Frankly, that date still feels like yesterday although the starry-eyed newbie that I was then has long been replaced by a much more sober attitude to the realities of what it means to be a published author. Basically, writing is hard work—but would I swap it for any other profession? Of course not!

Since I wrote that first book, I’ve discovered quite a few things about my writing process. I’ve learned that each book is just as difficult to write. The only difference is that I have come to expect—and dread—the month-long panic and despair that follows reading the “shitty first draft” (to quote Anne Lamott’s well-known phrase). This panic gives way to a zombie-like numbness that accompanies the delete button as I cut about 70% of the shitty first draft and practically start again from scratch. I know that the key to finding the story is somewhere in that mess and that I just have to sit there and keep on going until it eventually materializes. It’s part of the so-called magic of the creative process. But trust me it sucks. HOWEVER … by about the fourth draft I start feeling excited as slowly, everything starts to come together. And yet with each new book I always fear that this will be the time it just won’t gel.

I’ve learned that the self-doubt monster will always be hovering over my shoulder and that the only way to ignore it is to focus on the writing and not the outcome. Even so, the monster lurks in the corner of the room and rears its ugly head from time to time, usually—and irrationally—when I’ve been given a lovely review or received a nice note from a reader which makes me question their intelligence and/or sanity. But at least I no longer beat myself up about negative reviews or spend hours obsessively Googling said negative reviewer to see how many stars they awarded other authors in the mystery genre. A word of warning—don’t go there.

I’ve also learned that it’s important not to put all your eggs in the proverbial one basket and always have a few elevator pitches up your sleeve. Sure, the term sounds corny but actually, it’s exactly how I sold my second series. It was a long elevator ride. This was at Malice Domestic (never under-estimate the importance of conferences) when I pitched an idea to an editor for a Hollywood nanny series that I’d been working on for ages. She pulled a face and said, “What else have you got?”

For some reason my widowed mother’s rash decision to purchase a highly impractical wing of a country house—without telling anyone—came into my head. She was 73 at the time and is now a spry 87. As you can imagine, my sister and I were really worried. It wasn’t so much the isolated location with a mile-long drive, no local shop and no public transport. The house was a money drain, with a roof in need of mending, heating and plumbing breaking down constantly and generally, the whole estate was falling apart. The editor loved it and asked for just a two-page proposal—which was just as well as I had nothing fleshed out at all! And so The Honeychurch Hall Mysteries were born

In a nutshell, my protagonist Kat Stanford stars in a hit road show called Fakes & Treasures. Weary of being permanently in the public eye, Kat switches careers initially to set up an antique business with her newly widowed mother, Iris. Kat’s mother, however, has other ideas. Kat is horrified to learn that not only has Iris secretly purchased a dilapidated carriage house on a crumbling country estate several hundred miles away from London, she’s actually an internationally best-selling author of erotica, writing under the pseudonym of Krystalle Storm. Kat sets off to make her mother “see sense” and ends up staying herself.

Yet, murder and romance aside, at the core of the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries is the relationship between a mother and daughter facing new and uncertain beginnings. I’m fascinated by the notion that it’s those who are nearest and dearest to us who are often the most duplicitous of all and so far, my fabulous readers are too! Happily, Minotaur will publish the fourth adventure in the series called Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall, in May 2017. If you’d like more info and a sneak peak at Chapter One, please sign up for my newsletter.

Thank you so much for inviting me today. Happy New Year everyone!

www.hannahdennison.com
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Friday, January 06, 2017

Generating Hope


Usually I'm a January Junkie. I love the beginning of a new year and fresh starts. My pervasive post-election depression is fading although there is no good reason to be optimistic about our political climate.

However, each day is one day closer to spring and I'm reminded that one of the most essential components for a writer is hope. The whole industry depends on little worker bees who are willing to spend a couple of years working faithfully on a product that might not make it to the marketplace.

Until we have iron-clad contracts or are a mega-star we have no guarantee that a publisher will produce our book, that the bookstore will stock it, or that the public will purchase it. Certainly we don't have a clue as to whether our books will get reviews, win awards, or that we will make some money.

Other than military expeditions, I don't think there is any occupation where there is a greater investment of blood, sweat, and tears where the odds are stacked against success.

The only rationale for writing books is love of the process, joy in creation, and because we can't help ourselves.

I've started my fifth mystery for Poisoned Pen Press. I'm thrilled with the two good reviews I've gotten from Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly for Fractured Families, my fourth mystery, which will be released in March. The book is a bit odd so I'm also surprised by the glowing critical reception.

But most of all I am genuinely relieved and surprised that after a difficult harrowing year my enchantment with research and my love of making plots work has magically emerged again. I honestly believe a book will simply come together if I faithfully plug away day after day.

Most of all I'm always surprised by the "gift" character that appears fairly early. This character knows what the book is about even if I don't. In Fractured Families it was a tragic little handicapped unloved child who kept a Commonplace book.

And so my beloved fellow Type M'ers and all of our fans and readers to begin this new year have hope for your writing, your friends and families, and our countries.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

New year, same resolution

My resolutions rarely change.

2016 was a wild ride. The year ended with a Dec. 30 surprise 70th birthday party for my mother, Connie, who has 19 stents, has had two open-heart surgeries, has an artificial heart valve, and beat cancer last year. If anyone’s earned a party, it’s her.

Connie Corrigan

On the fiction front, I turned the page –– at least for the time being –– on Peyton Cote and in November started a new book that will take me the coming months to complete. Peyton is not dead. She’s far from it. But after a decade writing a third-person female, it’s nice to write a first-person male again (I began, after all, writing Jack Austin thrillers from 2000 to 2007).

While my personal reprieve provides me with a sense of clarity, the publishing world continues to spin in directions no one understands. Print and digital book sales figures industry wide were all over the place in 2016, but audiobooks appear to be on the rise. As are adult coloring books. Adult coloring books?

So what will 2017 hold for the book biz? Who knows? And in this volatile industry, I learned long ago to worry only about controlling what I can and setting lofty goals. This year, my aim is to make the book I began in November better than anything I’ve written to date. And to get book III of the Peyton Cote series, Destiny’s Pawn, in as many reviewers’ and TV execs’ hands as I can. (A producer and writer are shopping it currently.)

No resolutions for me. A new year, and hopefully, God willing, a new book.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Year of FPIS

Happy New Year! It’s the time of year for resolutions. I don’t usually make them, but this year I’m declaring 2017 as the year of FPIS, Finishing Projects I’ve Started. You know, those UFOs* (Unfinished Objects) that are stuffed in closet corners or somewhere in a long forgotten folder on your computer.

For those of you who know me, yes I’ve said this before only to have the momentum slow down after a few months. This time I’m going to make more of a conscious effort to work on some unfinished project every day. I may not get all of my UFOs completed, but I should make good progress.

What kind of projects? you ask. All kinds. I have writing projects, painting projects, needlework projects, scrapbooking projects, home improvement projects, all that I’ve started or bought the supplies for, but haven’t finished.

I admit that I’m the kind of person who gets all excited about a new project, gets the supplies and starts it then, when a deadline looms or life intervenes, I set it aside. My intention is to get back to it, but sometimes I don’t. There’s an interesting article on Pick The Brain that talks about the effects of having partially finished projects hanging over your head.

It talks about the importance of knowing if a project is truly dead (ditch it) or you’ve just lost enthusiasm for it (salvage and repurpose what you can) or you still want to do it, but haven’t gotten around to it (make a plan to finish it).

I think there are a lot of psychological benefits to not having so many unfinished projects cluttering your life. I’m the kind of person who looks at a room in my house and all I see are the things that need to be done, not how nice the room looks. The husband, on the other hand, doesn’t view our house this way. Is this a male/female thing? or just a personality thing?

That’s my plan for 2017. What’s yours?

My wish for all of you this year: May you be happy and healthy, may you find success in all your endeavors, and may you finish all your UFOs.

* I first heard the term UFO used to describe an unfinished project on a panel I was on with other authors of craft-based mysteries. One author noted the term was used commonly among quilters to describe unfinished projects. I loved that so I’m using it too.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

So here we are in 2017. What’s going to happen?

by Rick Blechta

I’m not going to belabour the fact that we’ve entered a new year. I sort of did that last week, or last year, or even 10 years ago on Type M. That’s right, there’s more than 10 years of history of this little blog we started, so I’ve done the new year thing quite a few times. Done it to death, actually.

So, where do I begin a new year of Type M posts?

Well, one thing I’ve been cogitating on is the change in mood the whole planet seems to be undergoing. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that multiple governments my possibly take a more totalitarian turn. That seems to be happening in the US, France, and other European countries. Russia is a dictatorship in all but name only.

Will this lead to the rise in novels with a more dystopian viewpoint? (Merriam-Webster: from dystopia — an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives) Certainly we saw more dystopian fiction in the late ’40s and ’50s, but mostly confined to Sci Fi and speculative fiction. Is it now crime fiction’s turn?

Or — as I speculated a few weeks ago — will more cozies, with their comfortable “world view” be published? I certainly don’t mind reading something challenging, but there are times where current events are overwhelmingly grim and I want to escape into a book describing a more comforting ethos, so it would not be surprising to me to see more cozies on the shelf.

Or will things not change at all in the writing world? Certainly there are numerous examples of people just hiding their heads in the sand and ignoring the blatant lies and untruths that swirl around us daily. I, for one, have become an incredibly skeptical reader in the past couple of years. Even the most trusted journalistic sources are spinning the truth more than ever. Journalists or politicians flat out lie, and when caught, throw up their hands and say, “So what?” That attitude didn’t wash when my mom caught me lying, and it still doesn’t. But we seem to care not a jot these days when it happens, because it’s so prevalent. Maybe the plots of novels will continue much as they have for the past several years.

With the publishing industry still grinding at what seems a glacial pace, I don’t expect any changes in the type of stories being published being manifested until at least two years have passed.

But those two years are certainly going to prove “interesting”.

Monday, January 02, 2017

A New Year at Type M

Happy New Year!

By Vicki Delany

I have the honour of being the first to post for Type M in the year 2017.

Can it be 2017 already!  I remember when we were so excited about the arrival of the new millennium.

Despite the doom and gloom in the world, it was an excellent year for me and everyone in my family, and I hope for you and yours also.

I try throughout the near to be a reasonably good person, I give regularly to charities of my choice, and I buy food and other goods locally and sustainably made whenever I can, but I was stuck by what Barbara said on Wednesday about consciously trying to do good in the world.  I liked that idea a lot.

Not just to be not an awful person, but to consciously try to be a nicer one. To do little things for someone if you can, or say a kind word. Good deeds do cost nothing, and a smile or a word of praise costs nothing at all.  We also have to be aware that it might be up to us to do what little we can to stop the spread of hatred and bigotry. Don't let small sneers or insults directed at groups or individuals pass. 

I am going to try to make that my resolution for 2017.  I don’t have much influence on the rest of the work, but I do have influence on myself and the people I interact with.

So, happy New Year to you all, and may you be what you want the world to be.