Monday, October 22, 2018

Tom's Halloween Blog

The month of October marks the beginning of autumn.  The leaves are turning color, the days are getting shorter, the air is crisp, and Starbucks is serving their pumpkin-spice lattes.  It’s also the month for Halloween…and when I particularly enjoy scary movies and novels.

I’m currently binging on the new Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. It’s comprised of ten episodes and, while it veers considerably from the 1959 gothic novel by Shirley Jackson, it pays homage to its essence.  It’s a slow-motion horror burn and it’s scarin’ the bejesus out of me.

Concurrently, I’m reading an excellent (if not spooky) account of a real-life paranormal investigation written by two dear friends of mine, Joey and Tonya Madia.  They were residents here on the coast of North Carolina and recently moved to Ohio.  They’ve written a book entitled Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina.

Now, to give you a little context here, this area of the coast has a rich and colorful history.  The pirate Blackbeard sailed in these waters three hundred years ago.  Indeed, his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge was scuttled by Blackbeard himself only a mile off our beach.  To my knowledge, it was one of the first examples of downsizing as a cost cutting measure.  Fewer pirates employed, fewer pockets to fill.

This region is also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic because of the large number of shipwrecks these waters have claimed.  Sudden savage storms and shifting sandbars all contributed to heavy losses of life and property creating some remarkable stories and legends.

Just around the corner from my office here in Morehead City, North Carolina, sits the Webb Library.  In 1929, Mr. Earle W. Webb, Sr., CEO of Ethyl Corporation in NYC and native Morehead City resident, began construction of a commercial building on the corner of 9th and Evans Streets in downtown Morehead City.

For the first few years the building had doctors’ offices downstairs and a training facility for the local garment factory upstairs. When the upstairs noise became too much for the downstairs occupants, the garment factory left. Mrs. Webb, a member of the Morehead Woman’s Club, asked her husband if the club could move its 300-book library to one of the upstairs rooms. When he agreed, the library was moved.

A few years later in 1936, the Webbs’ son, Earle W. Webb, Jr., became ill and died. In honor of their son, Mr. and Mrs. Webb dedicated the building as the Earle W. Webb Jr. Memorial Library and Civic Center and opened it to all the citizens of Morehead City for community use.

The Webb Library is subject of Joey and Tonya Madia’s book.  It’s fun to read about their investigation and how the spirits they encountered had personalities, moods, and sometimes indulged in playful activities as well as bad and rude behavior.

The difference between Hill House and the Webb Library?  I have no worries about going in and borrowing a book or two at the Webb.  I’ve been there for fundraisers, meetings, and have never been uncomfortable.  Of course, now after reading the Madias’ book, I find myself looking over my shoulder more often.

Hill House?  You wouldn’t catch me there….ever.

Full disclosure.  I’ve never actually seen or felt a ghost.  Honestly, the only spirits I’ve ever seen have been in the bottom of my glass, right where they’re supposed to be.

That being said, I still like a good scare from time to time.

Happy Halloween.

For more information on Joey and Tonya’s book:

For more information on my mysteries, go to

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Guest Author Dennis Palumbo Talks Erotomania

What would be the ideal professional background for a mystery and thriller writer? Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), today's guest blogger Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, all from Poisoned Pen Press), feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. For more information on Dennis' fascinating series, visit


Dennis Palumbo

Nietzsche once wrote, “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Perhaps. Then again, Nietzsche never met Sebastian Maddox, the villain in my latest suspense thriller, Head Wounds. It’s the fifth in my series about Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police.

What makes the brilliant, tech-savvy Maddox so relentlessly dangerous is that he’s in the grip of a rare delusion called erotomania, also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome.

Simply put, erotomania is a disorder in which a person—in this case, Maddox—falsely believes that another person is in love with him, deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must be hidden due to some social, personal, or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Often it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.

Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. They can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person with erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public, or doing certain gestures whose meaning is only known to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.

What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.

I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.

As psychoanalyst George Atwood once said of any delusion, “it’s a belief whose validity is not open to discussion.”

This is especially true of erotomania. People exhibiting its implacable symptoms can rarely be shaken from their beliefs.

Like Parsifal in his quest for the Holy Grail, nothing dissuades them from their mission.

In Head Wounds, Sebastian Maddox’s crusade—when thwarted in his desires— turns quite deadly, and requires all of Rinaldi’s resourcefulness to save someone he cares about. In real life, the treatment options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually antipsychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.

What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction—the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.

Nonetheless, as philosopher Charles Renouvier reminds us, “Plainly speaking, there is no such thing as certainty. There are only people who are certain.”

Friday, October 19, 2018

NaNoWriMo Time Again

This year -- once again -- I intend to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I say "intend" meaning I will sign up again and try to complete the challenge. In case you've never heard of this annual event, the challenge is to write 50,000 words in November.

 Many writers -- published and unpublished -- take part in the event. Many swear by it as an opportunity to focus on a work-in-progress or start a new project. Many see it as a way to power through a first draft, to get something down on paper.

However, even though I've tried this in the past -- a few years ago and again last year -- I have never gotten beyond the first few days. My life always intervenes. I have a day job, and there are things I must get done. But my larger problem -- or challenge -- is that my writing habits don't follow the guidelines. I don't sit down to write every day. I make notes. I scribble on sheets of papers. I sit down at the computer when I have chunks of time and scenes that I have been working on in my head that I am ready to write.

My process works, but it is messy and slow. Eventually, I'm always forced to withdraw from the world and sprint to the finish line. This works when I have a concrete deadline. But with this big book, my 1939 historical, all I have is my commitment to my agent and myself that I will get it done. I'd like to do that before we both are another year older. So, in November, I'm going to try to make NaNo my time to sprint.

I hope that committing to a month of being disciplined -- of designating a time to write and sitting down to do it -- will help me get to the finish line. I am not a pantser, but I have done my character bios and my plot outline. My research is at the point when I need to be deep into the story to know what else I need to know. I can keep writing and fill in whatever is missing in my knowledge of 1939 later.

I am hoping that this year, I will be able to use my advance preparation and my strong desire to get this book done to override my own plodding process. I need to finish a book that is closer to 100,000 words than 50,000, but I will not be starting from scratch. I don't care about registering my word count. I only want to make a public commitment. I want to set myself up for 30 days of nagging. That's the kind of "support" I need. I know I can write a book. I want people to hound me about getting this one done.

I am going to sign up with the local NaNo group. I am going to get support (nagging) from my Sisters in Crime and my local RWA chapter. I am going to pay myself ten dollars a day and reward myself  with an expensive treat if I make my word count.

During November, I will be using my post to report in. Please nag. Don't tell me I'm doing well. Ask me if I am going to get my 50,000 words done.

Is anyone else planning to do NaNoWriMo? Anyone done it and had great success getting a draft done?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Trip to the Homeland

I'm not really here today, Dear Reader. I am in Woodward, Oklahoma, as you read this. Last August I had to cancel a trip to speak at some Oklahoma libraries, after My Beloved fell and broke his arm. Fortunately, I was approached by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries with an offer to appear at the first Oklahoma Book Festival, to be held at the Boatyard in Oklahoma City on Oct. 20, and since Beloved (Don) is now in good enough shape to be left on his own for days at a time, I’m taking this opportunity to reschedule the library event n Woodward, Oklahoma, for noon on Thursday, October 18. We’re calling it the If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Try Again Tour.

Martha (r) and me

My youngest sister, brother, and sister-in-law are coming from Tulsa to OKC on Saturday to go to the Book Festival (and see me) and after the Festival, they are schlepping me back to Tulsa, my birthplace, where I will be staying for a couple days with youngest sister, Martha. We have yet another sister in Joplin, Missouri, who I hope will be able to drive down to the old homestead while I'm there, in which case it'll be a real family reunion. I'm going to get to see mystery author extraordinaire Carolyn Hart while I'm in Tulsa, as well, which will be a real treat.

In anticipation of this long-awaited trip, I worked busily to finish the first draft of the first book in my new series, and I did it, by gum. Don is reading it right now. When I get home at the end of the month, I hope to be able to clean it up quickly and get it sent in to my editor. This book is so different in tone from the Alafairs (it's set mostly in California in the 1920s and is much more Noir) that I'm curious to see what kind of reaction I'll get from my first readers. Once I have an idea of how this book will be received, I'll tell you all about it. But here is a teaser - I'm calling it The Adventures of Bianca Dangereaux, Episode One: Lust for Vengeance.

p.s. Full Disclosure–both above pictures of me are about ten years old. I have gotten a lot grayer and somewhat saggier since then. Martha, on the other hand, looks exactly the same.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Launches and signings and readings, oh dear

Last night I had the official launch of my latest book, PRISONERS OF HOPE, and so begins the frenetic season of promoting a new book. It's short but busy, often with back to back events that consume much of my fall weekends. This is my seventeenth book, and that's a lot of weekends. Missed opportunities to cut the garden back, rake the leaves, take leisurely walks in the glorious fall trees, and even vacuum the extra dogs that have accumulated under the tables in my house.

The launch is always the highlight of this time. I am not very organized and have not developed a newsletter, mailchimp list, or even email groups to help me send out invitations, so it takes time but I try to send out invitations to all of my contacts who live in the Ottawa area. I book a venue, arrange a bookseller, order some food, and cross my fingers that people will come. To my delight, they always do, some new readers, some faithful ones of old, and of course, my long-suffering family. This starts the season off with a boost, because everyone is excited about the new arrival and effusive in their praise. Thanks so much to all you loyal friends and fans who come out to support us authors!

I hold on to this boost during the long weeks of readings and signings that follow. Some are well attended, often to my surprise and gratitude, but other times I am reading to a rapt audience of five, including bookstore or library staff. I recall being scheduled earlier in my career to do a conversational hour at a conference, and one person showed up. One hour is a long time sitting face to face with a stranger!

All writers have horror stories about the dreaded mall signing. Bookstores forget you're coming or only order five books, snowstorms turn the mall into a graveyard, a raucous children's event is running in the store next door, or, despite seventeen books, no one has heard of you but they love James Patterson. As if authors need more lessons in humility after dozens of rejection letters, brutal editing, nasty reviews...

Through it all, you smile gaily, trying to look inviting but not desperate as you watch people walk by the store. Do they make eye contact? Do they scan your table as they pass? Or do they detour around to enter the store from the other side? Do they look on the verge of murder themselves as they drag a couple of screaming children in tow? Do they go for the fiction table or the scented candles?

If you decide the signs look favourable, you embark on phase one. "Hello. Are you a mystery fan?" or some such. Some pretend not to hear you as they scurry past. Some give a curt no, some say yes, rather dubiously as if uneasy about what they're committing to. If they stop, you begin phase two. You explain who you are and give a one-floor elevator pitch about the books. If they are still standing there, you continue with more detail. My favourite point is when the person's eyes suddenly widen in surprise and they say "Oh wow, you're the author?"

Most people are too polite to turn you down outright. Once entrapped into conversation, they mumble appreciatively and look for a gracious exit strategy. Is the book available on Kindle? Is it in the library? I'll be back once I go to the bank. Sometimes, after engaging for five or ten minutes and reading the blurbs of each book, they smile, say good luck, and move on. I feel for all these people. They don't want a book, it wasn't in their plan for that day, and they made the mistake of saying yes. I always thank them for stopping by, hand them a bookmark, and wish them a great day.

There are also the people who approach your table with great purpose and enthusiasm, raising your hopes, only to ask where the washrooms are or whether you have the latest Harry Potter. You learn to smile at these. An honest mistake.

There is two groups of people that seasoned authors encounter all the time, however. One is the person who's bored, killing time, possibly waiting for a friend who's in the store. So they figure they'll chat with the author. They usually position themselves directly in front, blocking everyone else's access to the table. After a few minutes of conversation, it becomes clear they have no intention of buying a book but merely want to talk. About their experience in the book business, about their grandchildren, whatever. Meanwhile potential readers are passing by, sometimes peeking around the talker to try to see the books.

At every signing, it seems, there is also the customer who isn't interested in your book but wants to tell you about the book they have written, or plan to write, or want to write. There are variations on this, but they usually want book advice such as where to get their book published. Curiously, I have found these are almost always middle-aged men who don't read fiction (often proclaimed with pride). They can explain their non-fiction book for hours, as others drift by, pause to peek, and go on their way.

Both these types of customers are difficult to deter, often standing by patiently if you interrupt them to address another reader and then resuming when that reader has left. Neither of them end up buying a book.
My last book signing at the wonderful Aunt Agatha's.
Why do we keep doing mall signings, you ask? Well, first of all, the connection to the booksellers, particularly the indies, is key. They are book lovers and readers themselves, and their belief in you means a lot. They are the ones who stock the book and recommend it if they like it (and you). They all have horror stories themselves about difficult or entitled authors, and believe me, they get their revenge.

But the signings are always redeemed by the customers who listen to the five-floor elevator pitch, ask some questions, say it sounds interesting and take the risk. Building readership one by one seems to be how the business works in the absence of a publisher with a big promotional budget. The signings are redeemed even more by the customer who comes up to the table with a big smile and exclaims "I love your books, I've read them all! I could hardly wait for the next one! And I want one for my friend's birthday too."

That is music to an author's ears. It's why we write, after all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Too close to home

by Rick Blechta

Imagine if you will the following plot for a novel.

An older man, legally blind and living alone, goes out for his usual evening walk. A large storm is coming but he doesn’t know this. He never returns from that walk. Since he lives alone and often turned down the ringer on his phone, those calling him aren’t aware anything is wrong.

Some weeks later, a woman arrives at his apartment for an appointment and the man doesn’t answer his door. She can hear the phone ringing inside when she tries to call. She gets the super to open the door. The man’s wallet is still there, and checking further, she discovers his debit card, something he preferred instead of cash because of his blindness, hasn’t been used in nearly a month.

She reports her friend missing. Due to the large storm the night the man went out for his walk, the police had already searched a nearby river and discovered no bodies. A month later, no sign of the missing has been found.

Sounds like a good beginning for a crime fiction novel, doesn’t it? The story is not fiction, however. It happened…to a musican I have worked with. Scott Cushnie has been a well-regarded Toronto musician for many years. He played with a lot of musical greats during his storied career: Robbie Robertson, Aerosmith and many more.

(Here’s an initial news report on his disappearance)

I met Scott in the late ‘70s when I was hired to play additional keyboards for him on a TV show. I’d seen Scott perform in a club a few times and was always impressed with his musicianship. He played the best boogie-woogie piano I ever heard. It was a joy to make music with him and the show, played live, was a great experience and very enjoyable. Over the intervening years, I saw him once or twice, but we sort of lost contact since I wasn’t performing at all at that time.

And then I read this horrible story in the newspaper. I contacted another good friend who had also played on the TV show — and who had kept better in contact with Scott — and he hadn’t heard anything.

We waited, but nothing was heard of our friend.

Then, last week, another article appeared and the story became even more bizarre and upsetting.

If I were writing a novel, I’d probably work in this information around chapter five.

But I’m not writing a novel. This is the story of someone I knew and respected. I can’t help feeling exceptionally guilty that I’m thinking of what was likely the death of someone I knew as good fodder for how I make my living. But as the second article above says, given Scott’s sense of humour, he’d find being the inspiration for a mystery novel quite funny.

That doesn’t give me a lot of comfort, however.

So now Scott’s many friends and fans wait for the results of an exhumation.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Living the Landscape

A couple of weeks ago there was a post from Donis talking about the need for boots-on-the -ground research. I know there are writers who seem able to conjure up the background for a book on the basis of reading, and now I suppose Google Earth, but I couldn't do it myself. The landscape is as important to me as any other character. I need to have direct experience of where the action is going to take place.

The new book, I think, is going to be set in the Borders, the area of Scotland that adjoins England. It is a place with a troubled history when the Border Reivers (raiders) swept from Scotland to England, and from England to Scotland, in violent sorties seizing cattle and sheep and taking the odd prisoner for ransom. With two countries constantly at war there was little royal authority on either side and the practice went on for several hundred years. The powerful warring families - like the Armstrongs, Ellits, Fenwicks and Musgraves – were romanticised in the poems of Sir Walter Scott.

It's beautiful countryside that gives no hint of the blood-soaked past, with its gentle hills and small towns with old-fashioned High Streets and its people who speak with soft accents. There are savage winters, though, and many, many miles of deserted moorland with not a house or a farm to be seen.

It's near enough to Edinburgh where I live for parts of it to be very familiar, but if my characters are going to live there I need more than a partial impression. My long-suffering husband who acts as driver on these occasions will say, 'Where do you want to go?' and I'm never really very helpful. What I need is to drive around, walk a bit, talk to people and get, somehow, what I hope is the feel of the place, somewhere I could put down roots.

After a long series set in one area it's been a novelty to go off looking at other parts of Scotland. So far, the other two places I have chosen as settings have spoken to me immediately; I look forward to seeing if the Borders does for the new book.

And if it doesn't? Well, my husband is always plaintively suggesting that perhaps the South of France would be worth exploring.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Branching Out into the World of Sherlock Holmes

By Vicki Delany

If there is one thing, I am not, it’s a non-fiction writer.  I like being able to make up things. But it never hurts, does it, to step out of your conform zone now and again.

A couple of years ago I wrote a creative non-fiction story based closely on my grandfather’s letters about his time in the trenches of World War I. That story appeared in an anthology called Engraved: Canadian Stories of World War I from Seraphim Editions.

And now a true non-fiction article by me has just been published in the collection Sherlock Holmes is Like: Sixty Comparisons for an Incomparable Character edited by Christopher Redmond, published by Wildside Press.

The idea behind the collection is to explore the stories and the legend of Sherlock Holmes by comparing him to other well-known characters of fiction and non-fiction.  People as diverse as Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, and Hermione Granger.

My “is like” is Inspector Edmund Reid from the British TV show Ripper Street (the character in which is based on the Insp. Edmund Reid who was involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper).

A very pleasant side effect of writing the Sherlock Holmes bookshop series is that I have been drawn, albeit peripherally, into the world of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockians.  And what fun it is. I’ve always liked the Holmes books and movies and TV shows (some far more than others). But in the last couple of years, I’ve discovered an entire whole world out there of Sherlock stuff . In my books, I make a point that everything sold in the fictional bookshop exists in the real world.  It’s not at all unfeasible to have an entire bookstore dedicated to nothing but Sherlock Holmes.
The people I’ve met in the Sherlockian world have been fun and interesting people. And not at all eccentric, as one might expect. Just great people with a fascinating, and highly intellectual, hobby.

Speaking of The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop,  the fourth book, A Scandal in Scarlet, will be released on November 13.  The third in the series, The Cat of the Baskervilles, came out in trade paperback last week.

Friday, October 12, 2018

I Needed Help

In my last post, I wrote about my unbelievably positive publishing experience for my first novel. Well, not my first novel. It was actually my second. The first one was The Octagon House, a valiant attempt at writing a gothic. 

The most important thing I learned from the gothic experience was that it's critical to finish that first book. With the first one under your belt, you'll know you can actually write a book. My agent once said that a lot of people who assume they can write a book find they simply can't when they sit down and try it. Or that they hate the process. 

Also, something psychologically mysterious comes with completing such a large project. It's liberating. It's self-affirming, as in "I told myself I could do this, then I did it. Good for me." As I mentioned in my previous post, not having someone mess with me during the creative process was a blessing.


I stopped writing this post right in the middle. I went to Parker to give a talk to a book club and stayed with my daughter the night before. I foolishly assumed I would finish the blog at Mary Beth's house. And I didn't.

Anyway, after my dream first publishing experience, I needed a mentor--another writer who had published books--to tell me things. I needed advice! I was astonished by the number of persons who had never written a book, let alone published, who were all too happy to tell me what to do.

At lunch, after my talk, a couple of the ladies asked me about the publishing process. What happens after writing the book. What are the next steps? In another blog I'll go through some of the steps involved with traditional publishing.

The publishing business is like a fast-moving train. By the time one figures out big moves, details, and sorts through the process of adapting as an individual the train has already whizzed right on by. Happily, and this is the first big lesson--there's always another one coming down the track. It doesn't feel like there is going to be.

Big lesson #No. 1 (and the most important of all) Write your next book. Write your next book. Write your next book.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Character Sketches

It's been a whirlwind of a week.

On the writing front, most of my time has been dedicated to character sketches as I work up a synopsis for my agent and as I think through the arc of a would-be series. It's productive organizational work, albeit a task that leaves me unfulfilled. (I'd rather be telling a story than planning how I will tell it.)

However, I find writing detailed character sketches helpful, more so in fact than outlining. Diving headlong into who each character is and what makes him or her tick tells me a lot about motivation, which I need to know as I write, and which I need to be able to see where plotlines intersect.

Here's an example of one:

Bo Whitney, 45, is our vantage point –– an outsider in the ultimate insider’s world. A dedicated family man who deeply loves wife Ellie. Now that she’s the recently-appointed head of school, he’s moved from a small-ish dorm apartment he liked to the headmaster’s mansion, which, given his lower-middle-class background, frankly, embarrasses him. And the symbolism of this new home isn’t lost on any of us: He’s cursing under his breath that he can’t find the beer in the commercial kitchen and hosted the Board of Trustees Saturday night instead of the faculty poker game. Reminds us that "in the academic world, most meetings are about as enjoyable as pulling your thumbnail off with pliers. Few are as interesting."

From a Maine mill town, a former star high school hockey player and fourth-round draft choice of the Calgary Flames. Did not attend an Ivy League college. Played at the University of Maine. Now his occasional limp reminds us of the knee injury that took him from the ice to the newsroom. Found his adrenaline rush on the crime beat at the Hartford Courant. Teaching (and if he was honest, he’d tell you that even coaching) doesn’t give him what the newspaper did. But his life is at Blaise Academy, and we believe he’s content. Knows wife Ellie is the power player in their academic world, and he’s fine taking a backseat. After all, as he says they don’t ask the guy who’s usually late to a faculty meeting to hold administrative roles.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on character sketches.


At work, we are on the cusp of midterms, and I hiked a mountain with the senior class yesterday. So, as Polonius said, "I will be brief." Here are some pictures from a crazy week.

Dad and daughter (Audrey, 17, a senior) on Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pumpkin Racing, Anyone?

My fourth book, Designed For Haunting, came out yesterday so Yay! me. I’m in the middle of my Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour as well as appearing on various other blogs. This book takes place around Halloween and is set in the fictional town of Vista Beach, California.

I enjoy incorporating my version of real events that happen around Southern California beach cities in my books. This time around I included Vista Beach’s version of a pumpkin race.

Every year Manhattan Beach holds a pumpkin race where people take their pumpkins, add axles and wheels and race them down the hill that leads down to the pier. Yep, that’s how we roll here at the beach. It’s a fun event for families. I lived here for many years before I realized it even existed. But when I did hear about it, I knew I had to have a pumpkin race in one of my books.

Here’s a video which will give you an idea what the event is like:

And here are pictures of some of the pumpkins I took at a race a few years ago:

For more and better pictures, here’s a pumpkin race album:

This year the race is on Oct 28th, 11:00 am at the Manhattan Beach pier.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018


by Rick Blechta

Yesterday was Thanksgiving up here in the Great White North, so consequently I woke up this morning at six a.m. with a jolt, realizing that it wasn’t Monday (the holiday always feeling like Sunday to me) but Tuesday. I had no idea what to use as a subject for my weekly offering on Type M!

I also have zero time to come up with something — because of that extra day off — so I’m going to have to resort to my usual fallback of a cartoon offering for this week’s post.

I’ll be back next week with something really juicy — and I have seven days to come up with it!

And if you’re up here in Canada, I hope you enjoyed an especially fine Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Finished Manuscript

On Sunday, October 7, at a little after noon, I hit the button and sent the manuscript for Graveyard Bay to my editor, Annette Rogers, at Poisoned Pen Press.  I did it with trepidation and relief.

Trepidation because when you’ve just spent nearly a year on a project, you don’t really know if it’s any good until someone reads it. Especially your editor and publisher.

Relief, because it’s done.

Plus this had some curves thrown into it.  One was a curve ball I created for myself.  At the end of the second Geneva Chase mystery, Darkness Lane, I left the book with a bit of a cliffhanger.  Everyone who’s read the book has asked me what happens next.  That’s a good thing because there’s a desire to read the next novel.  There’s also an expectation that it better be damned good.

The other curve ball was Hurricane Florence.  I knew I wanted to get the manuscript done by the end of September or sooner. And I was on track, right up until 105 mile per hour winds and nearly thirty inches of rain over the course of several days halted me in my tracks. Power was out for four days.  Internet, phones, and cable were out for 8 days.  And we were the lucky ones.   The storm hit on September 12 and there are still people without power.

And there are people without homes.  Lots of them.  Houses were destroyed by a combination of the high winds, falling trees, torrential rains, flooding rivers, and storm surge.  Whole apartment and condominium buildings are being condemned because of rain damage and the treacherous mold growth. Because of the damage sustained during the storm, most hotels in the area are closed.

Getting the area back on its feet is a full time effort.

So, Graveyard Bay had to take a backseat for about three weeks.  But now the manuscript is done.  But not the process.  Now both my editor and publisher will be reading the book and sending me their thoughts and suggestions.  As the writer, I can act on those suggestions or not.

However, both my editor and publisher have been in this business for a long time and I respect them and I listen hard when they offer their ideas.  Their advice has always made my books stronger and more exciting.

Once the revisions have been made and everyone is happy with the product, it goes to a copy editor who checks the book for typos and continuity errors.

Will there be a typo or two in the finished product when it’s printed?  Of course.  You can’t have a book of 80,000 words without one or two typos.

The point of this rambling blog?  Perception.

Finishing the manuscript, a year in the making, is a big deal.  Hell, the book is already available on Amazon for pre-order and it hasn’t been edited yet.

But getting Eastern North Carolina back on its feet is an even bigger deal.  I count my blessings that we survived on our island with minimal damage when so many others inland took such a big hit.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Guest Post: Margaret Dumas

Sybil here. Please welcome Margaret Dumas to Type M. I met Margaret at Left Coast Crime in Reno where we had a nice chat about our books and writing. Margaret is a new addition to the Henery Press family (HP is my publisher) and I'm very much looking forward to reading her book, Murder At The Palace, when it comes out in February. You can visit her at

Eavesdropping for Fun and Profit (or What I Learned from the Kardashians)


 By Margaret Dumas 


I am all about dialogue. There’s nothing I like more than quick exchanges, revealing conversations, and banter, banter, banter. Because I’m all about dialogue, I have zero tolerance for a tin ear. It drives me crazy when a writer misuses slang, gets anachronistic, or puts wooden words in her otherwise lovely character’s mouth. And since I’m zero tolerance, I agonize about my character’s words.

This is why I eavesdrop.

I am a woman of (mumble) years, living in California. Which means I can write dialog for west-coast women of (mumble) years all day long. They’re easy. There are usually several of them in my books. But for my new book, Murder At The Palace, I had a couple challenges. Two characters, both women in their early twenties. One is modern-day while the other one died in 1937. So, how to get them both right?

For the ghost, the one who died in 1937, I had only one reliable source: movies. This research was not a hardship for me. I’m a huge fan of classic movies. That’s why my new series is set in a classic movie palace, where the ghost in question hangs out. So I started revisiting 1930s and 40s movies and paying particular attention to the speech patterns of young women.

My character is an average middle-class girl, who had lived in San Francisco. This meant eliminating Jean Harlow (too brash New York), Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis (too posh, too New England). Rosalind Russell was too sophisticated. Greta Garbo was, well, Greta Garbo.

But Ginger Rogers—yes, please. And Jean Arthur – delightful. I can listen to Joan Blondell’s wisecracks any time, any place. And then there’s Judy Garland. Always and forever, Judy Garland. She was perfect. Or to be more precise…Gee, she was grand.

So I felt like I had a rough handle on my 1937 ghost’s vocabulary and speech patterns. Then it came to the modern-day young woman. How could it be harder to write a contemporary—a live—person than it was to write a ghost? But it was. So I had work to do.

In addition to my writing, I work in tech in Silicon Valley. There are a fair number of young women around. (Not as many as there should be, but that’s a rant for a different blog.) I started listening in on conversations in the cafeteria line, and in meetings, and while waiting for the coffee robot (I work in tech—we have a coffee robot). But I found myself wondering if these highly educated and—let’s face it—proudly nerdy women were truly representative. My character is a film nerd, not a tech nerd. So I widened my sample.

I take an evening class at Stanford University. (What kind of class, you ask? Film History, of course.) I started hanging around at the campus coffee kiosks (coffee was turning into a theme) and the bookstore. I’d follow young women who were deep in conversation on the walking paths. (Note to male writers—don’t try this at home.) I listened, and the language was fascinating. I learned that (and I’m generalizing) they literally don’t say totally very often, but they literally say literally all the time. “Very” is never used when “super” is just sitting there as a perfectly good modifier. And literally everything needs a super modifier.

I listened to young women podcasting (about movies and books, usually). I scrutinized my niece when she visited me from Southern California. (Sorry, Katie.) I felt like I was getting there, but something was missing.

That’s when I discovered the Kardashians.

Yep. I admit it. I started watching the Kardashians. And I found that you can pretty much find at least one of them on at least one TV channel at any time of the day or night. They’re ubiquitous. But you knew that already.

And (cue sounds of angelic choirs) they sounded like my modern-day character sounded in my head. They were exaggerated, with their lazy drawls and their vocal fry and their seeming inability to begin a sentence without saying “I mean…” Their speech was as overblown as their hair and bank accounts. But I could pare it back to non-reality-star levels while still keeping the flavor. Or at least I thought I could, and I think I did. The Kardashians, bless them, gave me the last big push to put words in my character’s mouth that sounded right for who she would be.

So thanks, Kim. Thanks, Chloe. (I know there are more of them, but you get the idea.) And thanks to Ginger and Jean and Joan and especially Judy. There is nothing more fun in this new series than having my protagonist (a woman of (mumble) years) converse with both of these young women at the same time. At least there’s nothing more fun for me to write. I hope it’s as fun to read.

When the book comes out in February, you can tell me if I got it right.

Margaret Dumas lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she reads and writes books when she isn’t watching old movies.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Another Voice

I should have known, but I didn't. A couple of days ago, I was editing some chapters. When I clicked "Review," I saw something I hadn't noticed before -- a big letter "A" and the words "Read Aloud Speech." I must have downloaded this at some point, but I had never seen it before. It isn't on my computer at work.

Curious, I clicked on the "A" and suddenly this male voice was reading my manuscript aloud.

Now, I haven't been completely oblivious to technology. I knew this was possible. But I didn't realize I had it, and that instead of spending hours reading my book aloud -- something I do with everything I write -- I can sit back and listen to my narrator read. This is going to save me precious time as I check my published Lizzie Stuart books against the last manuscript versions I can find of each. As I've mentioned the series is being reissued by a new publisher. I only have the ARC and edits for the last book in the series.

Discovering my narrator also means I can continue work on my nonfiction manuscript today even though I have a miserable cold. I need to save my voice because tomorrow I'm scheduled to offer a writing workshop at the public library.

Speaking of voices, I've been thinking about what Barbara and Donis said about characters in their posts this week. The workshop I'm teaching is about characters in mystery/detective fiction. It's a follow-up to the four-part course I offered this summer. Barbara, I will certainly quote your observation about characters: "I believe the greatest authenticity has to be in the realm of characters." And Donis, I love what you said about how the relationship between characters may change as they "reveal themselves." I'm going to send the workshop participants to Type M to read both posts.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go make myself another cup of tea with honey and lemon and try to get myself together.

If anyone else have thoughts about characters, please share. I can't write until I know some things about my characters -- at least some of their backstory. But I know pantsers who plunge in, discovering almost everything about their characters as they write. Thoughts?

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Off Into the Woods

Donis here. I've just completed the first draft of the first book in what I hope will be a new series, set in the 1920's in California. It's pretty rough and needs some cleaning up, as my books usually do because the ending I end up with usually doesn't match the beginning I began with...if you get my drift. In other words, things about the story reveal themselves to me as I write. For example, I may start out with Character 1 and Character 2 as uncle and niece and discover half-way through my writing that they aren't related at all.* I think this could be one reason why I am a relatively slow writer. I have tried many times to streamline my process. I would love to be both efficient and good, and be able to crank out two or three entertaining and well-written books a year, like our very own Vicki Delany, for instance.

But outline as I may, I never fail to end up going off into the woods, following some elusive story thread that suggests itself to me in the middle of the story. Sometimes the new idea changes the whole book for the better. Sometimes I waste days writing material that goes nowhere and I have to discard it and go back to Plan A. I'd be much faster, and probably much tighter and to the point, if I'd just stick to the program, but I can't help myself. I'm too full of "what if?"

As an aside, I've noticed that in past couple of years the 1920s have become the hot era in historical mysteries. I can't decide whether I'm feeling happy or feeling unoriginal about jumping on the bandwagon. I didn't plan it that way. Almost a decade and a half ago I started writing the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, a series that began in 1912, and followed it through to 1919. The new series spins off from from there, so I ended up in the 1920s in the most natural way. If it turns out that being on the bandwagon is a good thing, then who am I to complain?

As yet another aside, I'm happy to announce that in two weeks I will be flying back to my native country to participate in the first annual Oklahoma Book Festival on October 20 at the Boatyard in Oklahoma City. I'll be talking about the Alafair Tucker Mystery series, and the new direction I'm taking in my writing. Check it out here:

AND since I had to cancel a trip to speak at some Oklahoma libraries last August when My Beloved fell and broke his arm, I'm taking this opportunity to reschedule an event at the library in Woodward, Oklahoma, at noon on Thursday, October 18. We're calling it the If at First You Don't Succeed, Try Try Again Tour. Here's the information on that:

Husband is out of his cast, the arm is functional, he can dress, write, and drive himself, and be left alone for long periods of time. So if you believe, Dear Reader, that the Universe hears your prayers, join me in asking that the Powers That Be keep Donald Koozer healthy and injury free for the foreseeable future.

Thank you.

*This is just an example. No one in my new book is named either Character 1 or Character 2.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

In praise of authenticity

I am sitting in a hotel room near the Calgary airport, waiting for my flight home to Ottawa in the morning. It's the last day of my two-week Alberta research trip, and as they say, "the best laid plans..." I had intended to spend most of the day at the Calgary Public Library, doing some last minute digging into topics that came up on my road trip, but Calgary has been hit by an unseasonal record snowfall and the roads are nearly impassible. Plus I have no winter boots to manage the snow on the ground, which is currently about ten inches but still falling.

So the library research is not to be. The joys of being a writer.

A couple of recent posts have alluded to the need for greater authenticity in modern crime writing. I have always been a fan of realism. At the core, of course, our stories are made up. Murders that didn't happen, characters that don't exist... But the trick, at least in my type of writing, is to take the reader on a trip that feels real, that has enough touchstones in their real experience that they can believe they are immersed in something that could happen to them. So although I create fictional characters, they are often amalgams of people I know, with traits and background experiences that can ring true. I borrow from friends, colleagues, and family shamelessly, although I always hope the resulting fiction is unrecognizable.

I believe the greatest authenticity has to be in the realm of character. Writers can develop entire fictional towns or indeed universes, with geography and climate that is utterly unfamiliar. But if the character doesn't seem real or relatable, if the writer hasn't fashioned him to be at once complex and yet consistent with what he's been through, if he doesn't do things that follow from who he is, then readers will just bail on the story. That's why I work so hard to ground my characters in the place that has fashioned them. That's one of the reasons I always try to visit and absorb the settings I write about. The flat, empty prairie fields are indeed different from the teeming streets of Toronto. The wide-open, sparsely travelled rural highways of Alberta are an entirely different experience than the white-knuckle kamikaze trips along Canada's busiest highway, the 401. The pace of life is slower and more peaceful, the chance to reflect and enjoy is far greater.

As a writer, I need to feel those differences to help create the characters. And then of course, there is the landscape itself. It becomes a character that I hope will seduce readers and take them on a journey far from home. Canada is a country of extraordinary diversity in geography as well as culture and history, and I want readers to experience that as vividly as I did. Neither photos nor my imagination could never do justice to the vivid textures of the reality, from the weathered grey of the abandoned homesteads to the rich gold of the wheat fields and the Mars-like hills and hoodoos of the badlands. I only hope the words I ultimately find will do them justice.

So authenticity is not just about avoiding the errors that yank readers out of the story or cause them to roll their eyes in protest. It's about drawing the reader deeper into a rich and believable story that will keep them nodding their heads as if they were right there at the character's' side.

That said, I don't plan to put this record snow storm into my next Amanda Doucette book about the Alberta badlands. In THE ANCIENT DEAD, it will be hot and sunny, with the brilliant, open blue sky for which the province is famous. But who knows? It's nice to know that Alberta's weather is unpredictable enough that if I need a snowfall– to hide a body or impede a rescue, say– I can put it in.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

And now a word from the administrator…

by Rick Blechta

I think it’s a wise idea to use my space this week to explain something to everyone here.

Lately, Type M has been experiencing an large upswing in spam comments. There are controls for limiting this kind of garbage but obviously the Evil Ones have found a way to get by the software keeping them at bay. As an example, Aline’s post yesterday had three spam comments (which were quite entertaining, by the way). I completely deleted two of them but left a partially deleted one as a warning — similar to putting a head on a pikestaff outside one’s castle gates — to those trying to sell their wares through our blog.

It’s somewhat of an onerous job to keep an eye on this, but I’m firmly committed to keeping Type M a spam-free place, mostly because spammers have ruined my personal website to the point that those in charge of the worldwide web have placed it on a black list of spamming sites. And I can’t tell you the hassles that has caused me over the years.

So for the foreseeable future, you may see in our comment section that posts have been removed by an administrator. That’s me, and I’ve removed a spam comment. I would never remove any legitimate comment from our blog unless it was exceptionally abusive — which is something that’s never happened. Nor do I foresee it happening. (Everyone here is so nice!)

I just want everyone to know what’s going on and why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I now return you to our regular blogging program…

And please keep commenting! We appreciate any and all comments — as long as you’re not spamming us.


Monday, October 01, 2018

You Can't Tell a Book by its Cover - or Can You?

How do you feel about the covers of your books? What do you hope for, when you first get the image? Do you have a clear idea of what you want it to look like? Do you have any say in that, or are you content to leave it to the professionals?

I've just been sent the proof copy of the cover for my new book, Carrion Comfort, due out in November. It's always a bit of a crunch moment when the email with the jpeg arrives. What if I hate it?

There was no such problem with this one. I love it, with that clever, sharp lime green and the rather menacing landscape. I'm very lucky in that Allison and Busby, my publishers, have a particularly talented in-house designer (take a bow, Christina!) and they've always done me proud. The last one, Human Face (in the margin on your left and down a bit) was another big success and looks terrific when you see it lying on a table in a bookshop.

It's obviously important to establish a brand so that the books chime as a recognizable set, without being repetitive and boring. Not having an artistic bone in my body I wouldn't have the first idea how to go about that, so though I'm very graciously asked my opinion I'd never feel qualified to suggest anything other than very small changes.

What makes me particularly happy about this one is the scene there shows a cottage just like the one in the book. I know that doesn't matter. I do understand – it's been explained to me, lots of times, very slowly and patiently and without using any long difficult words, that book covers aren't meant to be an illustration of the story inside. They're meant to suggest the atmosphere of the book and to look inviting enough so that people will want to pick it up and find out more.

Still, it's a real bonus to get an image that's both stylish and referential. I will never forget the cover of my second ever book, written about the time when dinosaurs still ruled the earth. Oh, it was stylish, I have to admit.Slightly abstract, it featured a piano keyboard (yes, the detective did play the piano) with a long and lethal-looking steel poker laid across it. Yes, the murder weapon was a poker. But, as it said in the very first paragraph on the very first page, it was a brass poker with a big brass knob on the end. It did make it rather painfully obvious that the artist had only been given a vague outline of the plot and hadn't so much as bothered to open the book and read the first page.But maybe that's just wounded pride talking.

When the book comes out it's a bit like showing off your new baby. Of course you're proud of it anyway, but if the baby's particularly good-looking (as mine were, of course. Oh, yours were too? What a coincidence!) it does give a certain lift to your spirit.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Learning

I taught myself to write from books and magazines such as The Writer and Writer's Digest because I didn't know any better. I had a high school education and a year and a half of college at Kansas State University.

I was married at 19 and we moved to Western Kansas. Looking back, I've been incredibly lucky in so many ways. I had the capacity for happy self-delusion. Writer's Digest was incredibly upbeat in those days. It promised success to nearly anyone who would persist. And I believed it.

There were no writing groups to burst my bubble. I read and read about how to write. I've never had a creative writing class.

Because we were poor, I ordered books through Interlibrary Loan. Then I outlined them. I still have that precious notebook filled with pages printed on my cranky lightweight portable Royal Typewriter that I received for high school graduation. The "e" didn't work right. Every time I used it, I had to manually pull the key back in place. Something about the process of typing out my little outlines imbedded techniques in my brain.

Through Writer's Market I discovered articles made more money than fiction. I wrote a great query letter to Overdrive Magazine, a publication for owner-operator truck drivers. They were interested immediately. I was higher than a kite. Then I submitted the worst article I've ever read. They rejected it immediately. Since then I've sold a number of articles, but I've never forgotten the shame I felt when I re-read the opening paragraph when it came back by return mail.

The article was "You Don't Have to Learn the Hard Way." It was a great idea urging owners-operators to avoid beginners' mistake. A list followed. But my opening sentence was "The Road of Life is full of chuckholes."

Ironically, I submitted my first short story to the same magazine and they bought it right away. They bought the second one too. Then I had a good sale to Woman's World. When we moved to Liberal, Kansas, I wrote my first novel, The Octogen House. It was sort of a gothic, which were all the rage back then, and sort of a historical novel. I wrote to a couple of agents, and one was sort of interested.

I sent it to one agency that charged a reading fee and I managed to scrape up the money. I was ecstatic over the thoroughness of the critique. Because I didn't know any better.

Finishing that book gave me a wonderful feeling. I knew for sure I could write one, but I also knew I didn't want to write gothics. I wanted to write historical novels. My next book was Come Spring and it was published by Simon & Schuster. It was a great first publishing experience. Following that was a series of blunders. Too many to go into in this post. Explaining my mistakes will make a good blog.

When I decided I wanted to tell the story of Nicodemus, the first all-black settlement on the High Plains, I finished my bachelor's degree and also got a master's in history.

I'm still learning from books. I stumbled across a great one last week: Richard Russo's The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life. He has one of best essays on full omniscience I've ever read.

Full omniscience is my favorite voice. I use it in historical novels, but I don't know if it's used by mystery writers. I would love to know if our readers can think of any.

Lottie Albright, the protagonist of my mystery novels wanted to speak in first person. I had nothing to do with it.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Challenges facing the contemporary crime-fiction writer, cont….

Rick’s excellent Sept. 18 post “Is it getting harder to write contemporary crime fiction?” has me thinking. He astutely examines the works of Rex Stout and Michael Connelly and wonders if one’s need to keep up with technological advancements dooms writers entering the genre.

Good question.

Part of why I love Robert B. Parker novels so thoroughly is that –– viewed through the lens of which Rick writes –– they are simple. Spenser knows himself, and he knows human nature. And, thus, he solves the crime. “It’s a way to live,” Spenser tells us in Ceremony. “The rest is just confusion.” Sounds like Hamlet, when he utters those wonderful words: To thine own self be true . . .Know yourself well enough, and you can know the world around you. Wonderful. Poignant.

But outdated?

Say it ain’t so.

After all, it’s Connelly himself, in his essay titled “The Mystery of Mystery Writing” (the Walden Book Report, September, 1998) who states:

“The mystery has evolved in recent decades to be as much an investigation of the investigator as an inquiry of the crime at hand. Investigators now look inward for the solutions and means of restoring order. In the content of their own character they find the clues. I think this only bodes well for the mystery novel. It is what keeps me interested in writing them.”

Sounds like a Parker fan to me. I’m not questioning Rick’s assertion here. The passage above is dated 1998, after all. I agree that –– given the authenticity of TV’s cop shows and streaming networks’ crime thrillers –– the writer is better off cursed with writer’s block than to be inaccurate. There is no longer room to fudge details. But we aren’t doomed. The package might have changed. It’s a little shinier, a little spiffier, more precise, and procedurally more authentic.

But the heart of the story –– that heart that Wolfe Nero and Spenser and Kinsey Millhone and even Poe’s Dupin gave us –– remain at the core of why we write, readers read, and even our Netflix binge-watching next generation love this genre: at the heart of the story is the character.

The genre has changed and grown and now demands a level of authenticity of which Poe could never have dreamed. That’s a challenge, but it’s also a sign of evolution.

There’s another challenge we face that concerns me more: The way young readers now experience, learn, and consume narratives will pose the largest challenge to one who wishes to write crime fiction full time.

As many of you know, I work and teach at a New England boarding school. (I’m probably the genre’s only dorm parent to 60 teens.) So I know the habits of the teenage species well. And, frankly, I’m worried about our futures. Speaking to SJ Rozan this week, I mentioned that any writer I know who writes full time right now has their hand in some form of script work, as if TV/film work pays for them to write novels. Maybe that’s the new business model.

Or maybe Shakespeare was just further ahead of his time than I realize. Perhaps the Globe Theatre was supporting his poetry enterprise.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Knee Deep In Blog Posts

I just sent off my last blog post for my upcoming promotional “tour” of the internet and to say I’m relieved would be an understatement. One more thing I can tick off my list of things to do before my next book, Designed For Haunting, officially releases October 9th, a little less than two weeks from now.

I didn’t write as many posts as I have in the past, but I still feel like I’m knee deep in them. I always underestimate how much time they’ll take. The actual writing time is usually not too long, but it takes me forever sometimes to come up with a topic. Still, I enjoy doing them. It’s fun to talk about writing in general and my latest book in particular.

To my surprise, my favorite one to write was a post for The First Two Pages where authors analyze the first two pages of something they wrote. I love analyzing other people’s mysteries to see what makes them tick, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would enjoy analyzing my own work. Still, somehow it came as one.

Here’s a list of the blogs I wrote posts for and the dates they’ll be up:

Chicks on the Case – October 3
The First Two Pages – October 9
Dru’s Book Musings – October 12
Cozy Up With Kathy – October 16
The Montana Bookaholic – October 17
Mysteristas – October 26

With the blog posts done, I can now focus on the other things I need to do before launch day. I’m always worried I’ve forgotten something I have to do. I have visions of release day arriving and my realizing something critical has gone undone. Someone had to remind me recently to add Designed to my Amazon author page so forgetting something isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. After 3 previous books, you’d think I’d remember about my Amazon page but, noooooo. Once again it slipped my mind.

I’m also a little paranoid about forgetting to be places. I have dreams about some library or bookstore event that I’ve forgotten I’m supposed to be at. Or that my internet connection will inexplicably go away in the middle of my book’s Facebook launch party hosted by A Cozy Experience. (That’s October 10, 5pm-6pm Pacific/7-8pm Central at That’s something new I’m trying out this time. Instead of having an in person launch event that only those in my local area can enjoy, I’m doing a Facebook party where people can stop by and join in the fun.

Talking about all of this is making me tired. I’ve been fighting a cold the last few days and, right now, I think it’s winning. I’m hoping I’ll be cured by book launch day. At least most of my events are online so you all don’t have to worry about catching it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Living in the Past

by Rick Blechta

(No, I’m not talking about the song by Jethro Tull — and boy, does that date me! It came out in 1969. But it is a terrific song…)

I’ve continued to think on the topic I brought up in my post of last week. The inner discussion has transmogrified — maybe not the best word to use here, but it does make me sound quite erudite, does it not? — into “maybe I should consider this”.

What I’m talking about is not writing a series set in Second Century B.C. Rome. That would be way too much work and probably involve more research than one would need for a PhD thesis.

My thoughts were bending towards something set during my lifetime, in which case I would be my primary research source — something infinitely easier and less time-consuming. Instantly my stories would become bombproof to changing technology, and as I pointed out in last week’s post, changing technology can create huge problems in a contemporary story.

But then in discussing this with a friend, he pointed out that any novel I get published will instantly be set in a specific place and time due to any number of things that happen in the story. “You can’t get by this no matter how hard you try.” Problem is, he doesn’t read much crime fiction. He’s a science fiction nut and most of the novels he reads are set in the far-flung future, so who cares? The writer of those novels generally winds up actually creating the technology used in the stories.

What my friend didn’t realize is that many crime fiction novelists who set their stories in the here and now, don’t use actual dates on a calendar, the idea being that doing this automatically “dates” their books and somehow will limit future sales.

Having cogitated on that, I’ve decided that this is totally bogus. Do we really care when we read a Sherlock Holmes story that it’s set in Victorian England? (Actually that’s an advantage for most readers of Holmes.) Rex Stout didn’t care a fig for the fact that Wolfe, Archie et al never aged. The world around them changed. Wolfe bought a television set, for instance. World War II intervened. And from 1934 to 1975, the world around the characters evolved but they never change. Stout just ignored the passage of time on his characters.

Does that work? Pretty well, actually. You’re so engrossed in the doings inside that brownstone on 35th Street, the age thing goes right over readers’ heads — at least it does in my case.

Other authors have slowed down time in a series. Their characters age slowly. So let’s say Book #1 is set in one particular place at one particular point in time. Over the course of a year, the author writes Book #2 which is set immediately following Book #1. Well, unless the timeline of the plot of the second book takes over a year, you’re already in the past. With each succeeding book, you’re getting farther and farther behind. So why utilize this dodge?

You know what? Trying to remain contemporary or writing something in the past gives a poor writer headaches regardless of what he/she does. Face it: if the writing and characters are good, most readers will be willing to park their disbelief at the door.

As for me, I’m thinking of nailing the first novel in my new series at a specific time and if there are more in the series, I’ll cheerfully resign myself to living in the past.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hurricane Florence

I got back just in time from Bouchercon to prepare for Hurricane Florence. I live on Bogue Banks Island in Carteret County, North Carolina. Initially, when I landed in New Bern (which, as I write this, is still struggling with flood waters from the storm), Florence was a Category 3, growing to a Cat 4.

My wife, Cindy, and I have stayed on the island through Category 2 hurricanes, but not a 4. We considered our options, stay or evacuate. We’d make a decision closer to the actual event. On Monday I filled gas cans, filled water bottles, and bought nonperishable food.

On Tuesday, the storm crept closer to land. Even though Florence wasn’t scheduled to make landfall until late Wednesday or sometime on Thursday, evacuations were being called for…mandatory evacuations.

Mandatory evacuation means you really should leave. You can legally stay in place, but if something goes wrong, first responders can’t come help you. You are on your own.

Businesses started closing Tuesday afternoon, boards were going up on windows, more gasoline was being purchased. Bread, milk, and bottled water were in short supply. People were heeding the advice of government officials and leaving the coast for wherever they felt safe.

The problem with that is the interior of the state takes on a lot of flooding. Cindy and I weren’t sure where that safe option might be. We conferred with each other, talked with our neighbors, as well as town and county officials, many of whom were riding the storm out.

On Wednesday, our last day to make a decision and cut and run, the storm took turn to the South and weakened to a Category 2 storm. The prognosis was that it would weaken further to a Cat 1.

Piece of cake.

We were wrong. Florence was a monster in size and was moving lethargically. It would drop 8.1 trillion gallons of water on the region in the form of driving rain. Storm surge was predicted to be between 9 and 13 feet. 110 mile per hour winds tore into our area, dropping trees, damaging buildings, taking roofs off of houses.

Part of our island, where we live, is maritime forest. It’s a mixed blessing because the trees help protect buildings from the vicious wind. But they’re punished for that protection and most lost limbs and leaves and needles. Some were broken in half or pulled out by their roots.

Power went out on Thursday afternoon and didn’t come back on until four days later. What a blessing it was to take a hot shower when we got our electricity back. We had plenty of food, water, and we have a generator. I had a stack of mysteries to read and would work on my own book for short periods of time, charge up the laptop battery when I’d run the generator to juice up the phones and cool the refrigerator.

Every afternoon at five, the group of neighbors who stayed would get together for a happy hour, clustered around an oil lantern, drinking what beverages we had, and sharing snacks. The first few nights, when we showed up, we all were soaked, muddy, and tired. Shared misery builds strong bonds.

A low point came at the height of the storm and we lost cellphone service and couldn’t let our loved ones know were safe. Even now, we don’t have cable, landline phone service, or Internet. To send this blog to Type M for Murder, I had to find a mobile hotspot.

We didn’t ride the storm out on our island without making provisions, planning ahead, knowing our elevation, and letting everyone know where we were, including our town officials. Would we ride out a storm at Category 3 or 4?

Absolutely not.

Oh, and one last comment. Before we lost power, I’d been watching nonstop coverage of the storm on the Weather Channel and some of the other cable stations. I know that writers can sometimes suffer from hyperbola. But at one point, in the town where I work on the mainland, a weather announcer was standing on the waterfront, holding onto a tree.

The storm hadn’t really even hit yet. Puh-leeze.

Oh, and I will be using the hurricane experience in a future book. I’ll make damned sure that my hero isn’t in front of a TV camera hugging a palm tree.

To finish this blog, I'd like to thank all the first responders who did swift boat rescues primarily for homeowners inland. And to all the men and women, from all over the country, who came to North Carolina to help turn the lights on and bring supplies and provisions for people who literally lost everything in this storm.

Cindy and I were lucky. We didn't take any structural damage, had to clean up a minimal amount of storm debris, and we can get our lives back on track quickly. So many people can't say that.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Going on Location

This week I went out to do location scouting for my 1939 book in progress. I went to Nantucket -- a fast turnaround of two nights and a day. I had a credit at an inn from last year when the ferry wasn't running because of a hurricane. I needed to come back quickly because of an event my students and I will be attending on campus this afternoon. Since I really needed to get to the library on Nantucket, I decided the quick trip for a first look would be worth it.

If you live in the Northeast or have been watching the weather report, you know that the remnants of Florence have been bringing us rain. Nothing like the devastation in North Carolina and hardly worth complaining about -- just enough to produce flash flooding and to make the drive to Nantucket on Tuesday an exercise in peering at other people's brake lights and on-coming headlights through downpours. I stopped at one point to remove a temporary registration renewal from from my dashboard because the white paper was being reflected on the windshield and I couldn't see through it. That was the weirdest effect I'd ever seen, and I have to remember it for future use (somewhere, somehow).

But getting back to my soggy drive from Albany to Hyannis -- I ended up stopping and calling to change my ferry reservation. Lucky I did because even with the change in time, I barely made the next ferry. And had a hard time getting a taxi in the rain once I arrived in Nantucket. But finally made it to the lovely bed and breakfast where I was staying. The rain continued, and I ordered a pizza, had a hot shower, and settled down to make some notes about the book.

The next day was much better. After enjoying breakfast with the other guests, I walked over to the Nantucket Atheneum, the public library. One of the reference librarians told me that I would be able to access the digital collection of the Nantucket newspaper. That freed up the time I thought I would need to spend reading in the library. Then he showed me the Nantucket section (local histories, fiction, cookbooks, picture books, everything Nantucket). I settled down at the table and knew I was about to have a wonderful afternoon.

Any Moby-Dick fans here? I admit it. I've struggled since high school to read that novel. I love the opening lines, the first few pages, but I never gotten beyond that either in print or audible. I am now ready to try again. Now I know that at one point Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. I know that Melville's novel was inspired by the true story of the sinking of the Essex. I've read sections of the account written years later by one of the survivors, who was a fourteen year old cabin boy on the ship. I started to read the nonfiction book based on that account and other research. Now, I'm ready to tackle Moby-Dick again -- an unexpected bonus of my research.

But the real find was the prairie dogs. In the 1890s, for unknown reason, prairie dogs were brought to the island. The population quickly got out of hand. One of the problems was that the prairie dogs dug holes. Horses could break legs if they stepped in those holes. The town where most of the prairie dogs were found decided to eradicate the prairie dogs. This happened in 1900, long before the beginning of my novel. But the mention of horses breaking their legs reminded me of the real-life story from 1939 involving the death of a horse during the filming of a movie. One of my POV characters loves horses. I thought this would be an interesting minor detail. Two characters mention this in passing when she is out riding. But since she is the character who will go to Nantucket, followed by my bad guy (who is trying to court her), the prairie dog/horse story has caught my attention. In fact, it has sent me off in a new direction as I imagine an argument she might have with my bad guy and re-think what she does for a living. All that from one brief entry in a book about Nantucket history. More than worth the trip.

But that wasn't all. There were other bits and pieces that I can weave into my plot -- like the Fourth of July celebration that summer in 1939.  Now, I know what my female character would have done that week in Nantucket. I have photographs and descriptions.

In my room that evening, I also had time to think about the relationship between two other characters. To think and realize that I could eliminate a minor character by making one character do the work of two.

Anyone else love getting out and doing location research after days and days at your desk? Wonderful how being there can open a story up and make it work.