Monday, March 19, 2018

End Result

I've just reached the end of my new book.  I make a distinction between 'reaching the end' and 'finishing'; for me they are two very different things.

The great thing about reaching the end is that I know the story works.  I've now got past the terrifying stage where the plot gets more and more complicated and shows no sign of ever stopping and it now has a beginning, a middle and - hurrah! - an end.  But there's a lot of hard work ahead.

I don't describe this as a first draft.  I'm constitutionally unable to go on writing when I know that something I've already written is inconsistent with what I'm writing now; I have to go back and change it. Not doing that would feel to me like going on building a house when you knew the foundations were faulty and it could collapse at any time.

Continuity has to be maintained too.  I have previous on making mistakes with that - like a car that went on fire in chapter two and was being driven around a few chapters later - and if I don't keep a time continuum mistakes get embedded and trying to spot them first of all, and then dig them out is a complicated business.

So the job I'm starting on next week isn't exactly a rewrite.  I come to it with a list of editing points that have accumulated, where I know something ought to be emphasized or clarified.  It's an evaluation of what's there and how it can be improved and polished and initially it's quite an appealing prospect - at least on the first run-through.

But the nearer the time gets for letting it out of my hands, the more the worry creeps back.  I start seeing all its faults and get savage with it - hacking back verbiage, deriding implausibilities, slashing wordy dialogue, trying to see it with the eye of a critical stranger rather than that of a fond parent.  By this stage I have convinced myself it's rubbish and can't bear to let it out of my hands.

There was a mention last week of re-reading one's earlier books.  I can't, particularly at this stage.  They were published, so an editor liked them and readers have enjoyed them;  my poor, pathetic infant of a new book has no such imprimatur as yet.  I look at it with pity and fear.

And then the time comes when I have to let it go out into the big cruel world. I read it through one final time and it's only then I find myself thinking, 'Well, perhaps it isn't so bad after all.'  I press 'Send.'

That's when it's finished.  It's still a long way ahead but at least I can celebrate making it to the end.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

On Location

Here I am!

By Vicki Delany

Right now, I’m working on the fifth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop book, in which I’m taking Gemma, Jayne, and the gang to England for a Sherlock Holmes conference.
Sir Arthur Drank Here

At the end of November I went to London for five days to do location research for the book.  I had a great time and saw lots of interesting things to put in the book.  We stayed in South Kensington, close to where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hung out during his time as president of the College of Psychic Studies, and had a couple of drinks in a pub where he was a regular. My books are not about Sherlock Holmes, so I didn’t spend much time at Sherlockian sites, I was there more to walk the streets my characters would walk, look at houses they would visit, travel the tube where they would go, visit museums they, as tourists, would visit, and drink at pubs they would frequent. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

I came home with plenty of ideas and lots of pictures.

In-depth research
More In-depth research

But what about all the things I might have not known I’d want to see when I was there? Such as the inside of a Georgian row house in Kensington or a high end flat in Canary Wharf, or the exact route one would take to get from point A to Point Z with all the points in between.

For that I have the Internet. All that, and so much more, at my fingertips.

Which started me wondering how writers of old (meaning more than ten or fifteen years ago) managed. Sure they had maps and reference books at home or at the library they could refer to, but 

I’m thinking of the small details, the things that add colour and verisimilitude to a book. How much would a row house in Kensington cost? (Answer: twenty to twenty-five million pounds). What’s the view from the fifteenth floor of a flat in Canary Wharf? (Pretty nice).  Where do I transfer if I’m travelling from Harrods to the Tate Modern?

I suspect the writers of old simply didn’t put in as much description and minor fact as we do today. Sir Author Conan Doyle wrote a book set in Canada, and he’d never been here.  

After all, I could always say, this house is worth a lot, rather than specifying the amount, or say they travelled across town rather than giving the names of the stations.

Does it matter? Why am I going to all this trouble (and the expense of a trip) for details that don’t affect the plot or the characterization of my novel?

Gemma's parents live here
Because I think today it does matter. Readers are used to books full of color and background and minor details, they love the sense of ‘being there’ and if they have ‘been there’ they demand that the author get it right. They’ve come to expect it.  Get it wrong about the tube stations and I’ll hear about it, whereas Sir Arthur probably didn’t get letters pointing out the error of his ways.

All of which just makes writing a novel in the 21st century, so much more complex, interesting and, yes, fun.

The Cat of the Baskervilles, the third Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery, is now available. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Return of Good and Evil

Wonder Woman (2017 film).jpg

It's back! The concept of absolute good and evil. It came roaring in with a bang and a whistle thousands of miles per hour.

This summer I saw Wonder Woman and last week I saw Black Panther. Both movies reminded me of old westerns in that there was little doubt as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Or gals, in the case of Wonder Woman. The movies had staggering box office receipts.

Both were based on the eternal struggle of good and evil.

It's high time. Frankly, I'm  just fed up all the leaders who turn out to have feet of clay. Hardly a day goes by without having someone I've admired turn out to be crook or a deviant. I welcome the return of persons with a strong moral compass, a sure sense of right and wrong. Treks to the silver screen are once again providing a glimpse of a world (or worlds) where black and white is stark and heroes are sure-footed.

I understand that what is depicted is not real. And my favorite shows will always be complicated dramas that delve into the human condition. The real world is painful and some have extremely hard lives. But still, I can't imagine being a child today and being inundated with persons with no moral code.

There was a lot to said for the old westerns. I'm referring to the really old westerns when gun play was kept to a minimum, and the villains were likely to be yodeled to death.

Recently I wrote about my dislike of fuzzy endings. I don't like fuzzy heroes either.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Deadlines and James M. Cain

It’s spring break at New England colleges and boarding schools, so I’ve had a week off. And I’ve been hard at it, trying to finish the second draft of a novel that has changed a lot from the first version.

I have a self-imposed deadline –– Saturday of this week –– but may or may not make it. I have surgery scheduled for Tuesday, so, although I’d like to have the draft done by then, I know I’ll have downtime in the coming days to weeks to finish it.

The second draft is a chance to add consistency and clarity. Those are the two most important things for me. It has meant eliminating a plot thread that I found (and still find) interesting, one that might reemerge in later books, but took too much away from the ending of this one to leave as is. It meant developing one character and cutting another in the name of clarity.

I’m reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice right now, for the first time, and I’m marveling at the simple sentences that create a tension coursing through the text. It’s like standing at the base of a roller coaster, looking up to see the twists and turns, but still being frightened when you actually ride it. I’ve read a Cain biography, so I know how the book will end, and I’m still on the edge of my seat.

Which brings me to this second draft. Precision is clarity.

"I said it, and I mean it. I'm not what you think I am, Frank. I want to work and be something, that's all. But you can't do it without love. Do you know that, Frank? Anyway, a woman can't. Well, I've made one mistake. And I've got to be a hell cat, just once, to fix it. But I'm not really a hell cat, Frank."

"They hang you for that."

"Not if you do it right. You're smart, Frank. I never fooled you for a minute. You'll think of a way. Plenty of them have. Don't worry. I'm not the first woman that had to turn hell cat to get out of a mess."

This passage from Postman is in chapter 3 and establishes what is to come. Yet it also establishes Cora for us. She’s ahead of her time, given the women Hemingway and others were writing in the ’30s. She’s driving the murder plot. “Do you know that, Frank? . . . You’re smart, Frank.” At once helpless and complimentary. Precision. Clarity.

If you haven’t read Cain, check him out. He just might help you with your second draft. He’s sure helping me with mine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Kindle In Motion

Since I turned in my book I’ve been doing some reading, including checking out several books in Kindle in Motion format.

You haven’t heard of Kindle in Motion, you say? I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago. Apparently, the e-format has been around since 2016. This Kindle format adds animated book covers, animated gifs, embedded videos (this is also something you can do with the Kindle with A/V format, different from KIM), and custom page backgrounds to an e-book.

The added items can only be viewed on the Fire tablet (that’s what I read my e-books on) or on the Kindle apps on iOS and Android. If you read the book on an e-reader like the Paperwhite, only the text elements will be viewable. If you don’t want to see any of these enhanced elements, you can just turn them off.

I checked out a few titles, some fiction, some nonfiction. The animations and illustrations were very cool but, honestly, I don’t really think they added much to the story in any of the books I read. Maybe I’m just not the right demographic for it. Or maybe it would be good for children’s books. Or I haven’t read the right books.

I didn’t check out the illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (didn’t feel like shelling out the cash for it), but from this clip it looks like they really went to town on the illustrations and animation for it. You can check it out here:

Where I can see it as being useful is in history books about presidents or events that took place in a time where video clips would be available say of inauguration speeches or other such things.

Have you all read any of the few hundred books available in Kindle in Motion format? If so, what did you think of it? Did it enhance the story for you?

In other news, the audio version of the third book in my Aurora Anderson Mystery series, A Palette for Murder, is now out. Like the other two books, it’s unabridged and read by Vanessa Daniels. You can check it out here.

If you're attending Left Coast Crime in Reno, I will be there! I'm on a panel on Friday, March 23rd called Wooden Hearts: Craft Mysteries from 2:45-3:30 pm. It's moderated by Gay Gale. Other panelists are Peggy Ehrhart, Cheryl Hollon, Camille Minichino  If you see me, say hi!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Character appropriation

by Rick Blechta

I’ve been considering and then working on this post for quite a bit of time (for these things), but I’ve seen something recently that really pressed a nerve with me. I also don’t like calling people out, but while this topic has been percolating in my brain, I’ve found that I’m getting more upset about the situation rather than less. I simply cannot remain silent. So here goes…

Like the current trends in movies, publishing is constantly looking for ways to maximize their chances of cashing in to the max on every book they publish. That’s why the movie industry presents us with old TV shows packaged as movies. The idea goes that they have a built-in audience, and unless the movie is particularly awful, fans of those shows will come out to see their favourites (Brady Bunch, anyone?).

In books we see the popular creations of long-dead authors revived in pastiches. To be honest, I’ve found some of these that I’ve read to be very good. However, they come with an element of “sharp practice” to my mind. Would Rex Stout, for instance, be happy about someone using his characters and continuing his series? At its root, doing this is simply a blatant money-grab by the publisher. Find an author willing to do the work, an estate that’s willing to okay it to share in the money made, and the deal with the devil is done. Again, unless the product of this unholy alliance is particularly dreadful, the resulting books should be successful. Readers get their fix of favourite characters and the publishers et al make money. What the original author would think is probably not even a consideration.

But is it right?

I’ve heard of book publishing contracts where the publisher demands the rights to the author’s characters, in other words, they own the characters. If the creating author comes up with a bestseller and then wishes to end the series or move on to something else (or dies), then it is very easy for the publisher to continue on without skipping a beat. To me, that’s just wrong. I’m sure the publisher could justify their demand (“We put all this money into these books and we deserve some protection against the loss of our investment.”), but we’re dealing with something creative here — the creation of a particular writer, not a mass-produced widget to which you can purchase production rights. (The author in this case was told she had to agree to this particular demand or the book deal was off.)

Would we stand for a painter being hired to continue the works of Rembrandt, or a composer to write Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony? That would be the same type of thing.

At this point, I’m not calling out authors like Type M’s Vicki Delany whose Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries (which are, by the way, excellent) make use of the Conan Doyle characters, but they’re used as reference material for characters of her own creation. Vicki is definitely not writing The Extended Series of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries here. Her series is simply an homage to Holmes and Watson.

What got me going on this topic was a book I saw in the catalog of a remainders warehouse from whom we occasionally purchase books or videos. I’m referring to a series created by two authors appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s characters from his play Pygmalion, to whit Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. From the copy provided for this particular book, it’s a cozy mystery involving the characters in question with solving murders at a race track, and is the second in a series.

What is bugging me about this is that a) the book’s two authors are using someone else’s characters (hopefully with permission) and b) using them in a way that the original creator certainly never intended. If I know anything about Shaw — who was a noted polemicist he would be severely put out by this situation and would not have let it happen.

I’m sure the authors are very lovely people and the books are quite fun, but I’m sorry, I feel what they’re doing is wrong and an egregious example of character appropriation. It shouldn’t be happening. We writers should be working to create our own characters, not borrowing them from other writers and using them in ways not intended.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Guest Post - Aimee Hix

Please welcome Aimee Hix to Type M! I met Aimee at Malice Domestic last year where she moderated the panel I was on, Murder and Crafts. She was a great moderator and we had a great time on the panel. You can visit her online at Take it away, Aimee...

A Little Help From My Friends

 by Aimee Hix

In late January, my sweet-faced, gentle Karma had to be put down after a sixteen-month battle with adenocarcinoma. She was twelve years old and my soulmate. Some people may think that’s weird that a middle-aged suburban wife and mother declares a dog her soulmate but she was. She and I got each other in a way no one else did.

Karma was the kind of dog that inspired me to be the person she saw me as. Writing book two in my Willa Pennington PI series was difficult. I had an inner ear infection that wouldn’t clear up and gave me mild vertigo. I sat on my bed, sweet Karma by my side, and wrote every day after my medication had kicked in. We did this for months. January to June until I had a sinus surgery that cleared up the problem.

I did what any sentimental writer would do - I wrote her into the story. I named the dog in the book Fargo as a piece of continuity for my character’s love of Coen Brothers movies but when you read the book you’ll know Karma is the inspiration.

That’s what I do as a writer. I put pieces of the real world, my life and things I see around me into my fictional worlds. I want my stories to reflect reality in a way that makes it easy for the reader to immerse themselves in the world I’ve created. In real life, people have messy family situations; they make bad decisions; they love unwisely. Characters in stories need those too. It’s how you create conflict as a writer, certainly, but most importantly it’s how readers can relate to them. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t live an imperfect life.

In my first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU, Willa Pennington’s life and decisions mirror that of the real world - her family is loving but flawed; she makes bad decisions, some are very bad; she loves unwisely; she has problems with trust; she’s grieving the death of her best friend. All things people can relate to and I know people can relate to them because I’ve done all those things. My life is much more settled than that of a twenty-seven-year-old, single former cop, apprentice PI but I remember having the whole world laid out in front of me and trying to find my way, one foot in front of the other.

I love that Willa is flawed and complicated and snarky and tough. But mostly I love her because she is loyal and good-hearted. She wants to help people and she struggles to see people in a more positive and hopeful light. I do that too. Karma taught me how to do that.

In my sweet Karma’s memory, I chose, perhaps unwisely, to adopt two puppies this past weekend. We stumbled across an adoption fair and we were faced with two sleepy, cuddled up black lab puppies who’d lived most of their short lives in kennels outside. They had been rescued from a high-kill shelter and were looking at a long trip back to NC to their foster. They had been saved so recently they hadn’t even been given names. I just couldn’t not take them home. More heart than brains is probably a good way to describe me. It’s a good way to describe Willa too.

I hope you want to meet her now. I think she’s a good person to know. After WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU she has more adventures. She grows wiser and stronger. She gets a sidekick. And as I write book number three in the series, she may get two more. Because puppies make everything better.

An inability to pass the sight requirements and a deep aversion to federal prison prevented Aimee from lying on her FBI application so she set her deficient eyes on what most Northern Virginians do for work - the non-law enforcement side of the federal government.

After twenty years as a federal contractor, she retired and turned to fictional murder. She is the author of the Willa Pennington PI series set in Fairfax County, Virginia. The first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU published January 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Recurring Themes

Barbara's post on Wednesday about the recurring themes in her body of work reminded me of my own endeavor. Over the past several months, I've been re-reading my books. As I've mentioned, my Lizzie Stuart books are being reissued by a publisher. We needed to withdraw the first book after it had been released as an e-book to fix some technical problems. We ended up going back to the manuscript of the book for a better copy. I read the manuscript with printed book in hand.  I've also been re-reading the two Hannah McCabe near-future police procedurals. The plot for the third book have been rattling around in my head. I picked up my pace because the Albany Public Library Foundation informed me that I was a nominee for this year's Albany Literary Legends award. Then I learned I was one of the two recipients.  Since I'm receiving the honor in part because of my two novels set in Albany, I am digging into the books to remind myself of what I wrote.

Here's what I've learned from my immersion in my books and short stories:
 1.  I agree wholeheartedly with William Faulkner's oft-quoted observation ("The past is never dead. It's not even past."). Whether I'm writing the Lizzie Stuart books/short stories set in the recent past or the Hannah Stuart books set in the near future, the plots draw on the histories of places and characters.
2.  The family relationships of my characters are complex. There are absences, losses, and traumas. The dead are still present in the lives of the living. Relatives, living, dead, present, absent, and unknown have shaped the personalities of my protagonists.
3.  My protagonists have strong moral cores. They engage in internal debates and debates with others about questions of right and wrong. They have ethical lines that they will not cross. But they are not always sure that justice will be served by the punishment of someone who is technically guilty.
4. My characters debate social issues. I spent a lot of my time encouraging my students to debate those issues, so it makes sense that would carry over to my writing. 
5. That is also why literature and popular culture runs like a thread through all of my books and short stories -- from titles inspired by children's books to plots inspired by Shakespeare. I teach crime and mass media/popular. I was a double major in Psychology and English. I wouldn't know how to write fiction without a nod at a book or writer or a favorite movie (Hitchcock turns up frequently).
6. Animals. I started college as a Biology major, intending to be a vet. George, the dog in my Lizzie Stuart series, is still a young adult. Hannah McCabe adopted a Great Dane/Dalmatian/mutt in the second book. My third protagonist, Jo Radcliffe, who made her debut in "The Singapore Sling Affair" (EQMM, Nov/Dec 2017) inherited her great-aunt's Maine Coon.
Animals in my books provide companionship, act as sounding boards, and help the humans to connect with each other.
7. My books have romance. I loved romantic suspense when I was a teenager. I think there is a place in crime fiction for relationships. After four books, Lizzie Stuart and John Quinn got engaged. In the sixth book, she will meet his family. In the seventh book, they will wed. If Hannah McCabe is around as long as Lizzie, she may eventually found a mate as well. I like the possibilities for self-discovery inherent in romantic relationships. I also like couples that have little in common, but recognize in each other something that they can admire or a shared value.
8. I don't write cozies. My books have a dark edge that I hadn't really thought about until I started to re-read. Although most of the violence happens off-stage, some of it doesn't. And even the off-stage violence is discussed and the impact is shown. My protagonists and the other characters are traumatized by violence. But my dark edge is relieved by my protagonists' faith in justice (or at least the necessity to seek, if not achieve).

I've discovered that I really do write the stories that I'd like to read. That gives me more confidence about who I am as a writer and what I want to achieve.

Thursday, March 08, 2018


Well, this is embarrassing. I thought I had written my Type M entry and scheduled it to post this morning, but apparently that was somebody else posting at some other venue. Since I only manage to write about one book a year, every book launch is a big circus for me and I have to be very careful not to forget where I am and what I'm supposed to be doing for whom. Therefore I apologize for my tardiness, but better late than never. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

My official book launch party on February 24 at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona went off very nicely, thanks for asking. In fact, the bookstore recorded the whole thing and posted it on their Facebook site. You can check it out by going here and scrolling down to Feb. 24. To tide you over, here is a photo of the evening.

Dennis Palumbo, Priscilla Royal, Donis Casey, Barbara Peters
In more writerly news, a couple of weeks ago my Type M blogmates were discussing a thread on endings, which is a topic near to my heart. I am speaking about the end of a novel, but a few years ago I was thinking about the end of life, and in that vein I read a wonderful book called Being Mortal, Medicine and 
What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. If you’re interested in managing your own demise, I would recommend it.

But even when planning my own induction into the choir invisible, I can’t help but think like a writer. Toward the end of Dr. Gawande’s book, he quotes a study done by Daniel Kahneman, who says something to the effect that it doesn’t matter too much how much pleasure or pain we endure, it’s the ending of the experience we remember. As an example he cites the experience of watching an exciting sports match, when your team, “having performed beautifully for nearly the entire game, blows in the end. We feel that the ending ruins the whole experience…The experiencing self had whole hours of pleasure and just a moment of displeasure, but the remembering self sees no pleasure at all.”

What does that tell you, Mr. or Ms. Writer?

We are told that we must have a gripping beginning to our novel in order to engage the prospective reader as soon as possible. Then we have to keep drawing the reader on, keep him interested as we work our way through the long middle of the story. All excellent advice.

But, by God, the ending better deliver. Because as we all know, a great beginning makes a reader want to read your current book, but a great ending makes her want to read your next book.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Reflections on gender themes

Recently a new prize called The Staunch was created for thrillers and mysteries that do not feature violence against women. It was conceived with the best of intentions by author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless, who was disgusted with the excessive use of graphic violence against women for entertainment or titillation. However, its overly broad guidelines and its choice to look away rather than to confront the very real problems that women face have produced strong reaction among serious, socially-conscious male and female crime writers alike, among them Val McDermid.

Is there an over-reliance on female rape/ murder tropes among crime writers? Is it limited to a certain kind of graphic thriller or is the theme common throughout the genre? Is it more prevalent on TV and screen than in books? Co-incidentally, and before #MeToo, #TimesUp and the launch of this prize, my daughter, actor/ playwright/ producer Dana Fradkin, conceived of and co-wrote a short film titled The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping, which addresses this very issue, using comedy as a way to explore the tired trope of rape as a story driver and motivator. It's still in post-production, but should been on the festival circuit soon. Like many independent projects, its funding is largely through their indiegogo campaign, where more details are available.

 I rarely read or watch stories that feature "rape porn" unless they are powerfully written and have something new and important to say (I feel the same way about excessively violent fights and slaughters of men as well), so it's difficult for me to say whether there is an overabundance of them. However, the controversy around this prize got me thinking about my own views and my own work. There are all kinds of prizes for all kinds of works, and people are entitled to create any prize they want, but if the intent of the prize is to protest how violence against women is handled in creative work, I agree with the naysayers. Perhaps more than any other genre, crime writers explore and lay bare the moral wrongs, social inequities and human struggles of their society. Violence against women is a very real issue that deserves to be looked at head-on, rather than pretending that the problems faced by 50% of the population don't exist.

That said, I began to wonder about my own work. I now have sixteen novels under my belt, so I took stock. Much of our writing is determined by our subconscious preoccupations, and over time, we see the same themes surfacing in book after book by authors. I wondered what my subconscious had to say. How did I portray mothers? Fathers? What motives and themes predominated?

As it turns out, I have never used violence against women as the primary theme or story driver, although it's been a secondary theme in a couple of them, and I have not had a single rape. I've had several books that looked at childhood scars and child abuse, both physical and sexual, but since I'm a child psychologist, that's part of my my canvas. A quick and dirty head count of my books revealed that I had eight male killers, five female, and three where both a men and a woman were implicated. I had ten male victims, three female, and three where both sexes died.

Of all the themes explored in my books, from PTSD to child abuse to love gone awry, the theme of family – misunderstandings and jealousies, revenge and betrayal, old secrets, and protection of family– often lurks at the root. It appears I kill more men than women, and that men are more often the perpetrators. But women take centre stage as agents of violence as well, more often than as victims. "Evil" is rarely evil in my books, but rather a desperate, ill-advised choice at the end of a long, sometimes righteous, struggle. Perhaps it's time I used the powerful but damaged women I seem to create to shine a spotlight on gender-based violence. Who knows?

I'm curious to know whether other writers have done this kind of autopsy on their body of work (mine was admittedly superficial), and detected recurring themes that speak to the issues that fascinate them. I'd love to hear comments on this.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

A little levity for a rather dreary Tuesday

by Rick Blechta

Here in Toronto, it’s one of those rather gray, grim days you can get in March with snow anemically drifting down (soon to melt), a cold wind and the temperature hovering around the freezing mark. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about anything. March can be tough to get through because of the bait and switch tendency of the weather — and this is one of those days.

I was going to post a hard-hitting diatribe — in fact it’s more than half-written — but I just don’t think it’s called for today. Next week.

But I had something really fun in reserve for a situation just like this, a gift from a friend and lord knows where she found it.

So here’s something that might bring a chuckle to any of you facing an equally grim weather day. (I’m talking about you, Aline!) Hope you enjoy it!
  • A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
  • A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
  • An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
  • Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
  • A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
  • Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
  • A question mark walks into a bar?
  • A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
  • Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, "Get out — we don't serve your type."
  • A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
  • A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
  • Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
  • A synonym strolls into a tavern.
  • At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
  • A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
  • Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
  • A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
  • An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
  • The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
  • A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
  • The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Let It Snow - But I'd Rather It Didn't

Britain has been much mocked this week by the Scandinavian countries and - yes! - Canada for the paralysis that occurred when the 'Beast from the East' swept in last week from Siberia.  'Huh!' they all sneered, 'we'd hardly put on our winter boots for a sprinkling like that!'

It's a bit of a sensitive topic, personally, since I found myself stranded in London by twenty-foot snowdrifts on the railway line between there and Edinburgh.  I was lucky in that all it meant was a bonus visit to the grandchildren in Kent and an anxious day of traveling hopefully without knowing whether I would arrive or not. (Eventually, after a ten-hour journey).

I know, I know, you have teams of snowploughs, snow blowers, gritters by the score when winter comes, all poised to rush in whenever a storm is forecast.  And yes, we have too few for a winter like this.  But thanks to our temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream, those expensive teams would stand idle for years at a time.  Here in Edinburgh for the last five years we have never had a covering of snow that lasted for more than half a day. 

So if the mocking countries sudden received ten to twenty times the normal amount of snow, I think you'd have to admit that even they might struggle just a little bit!

But it did get me thinking about snow as a device within the plot of a crime novel.  The weather is always a feature in the books that I write with a rural setting and given that it's our business as writers to see to it that our characters are put in situations that are as difficult and dangerous as possible it might offer useful strands for the plot: the inability to escape from a snowbound cottage; the failure of the power systems; the evidence of sinister footprints...  Lots of possibilities there!

Maybe all that time standing on a station platform watching the departures board to see whether the  'Cancelled' would magically change to 'Edinburgh - Platform 4' wasn't wasted after all!

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Guest Blogger Marilyn Meredith

Type M is happy to welcome Marilyn Meredith as our guest this weekend. Marilyn, also writing as F.M. Meredith, is the author of the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series and the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, as well as other novels. What would you discover if you went back to your earlier work and read with an eye to republication? Marilyn fills us in.

A Series Being Revived
Marilyn Meredith

When my publisher for the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series had several strokes, the publishing company ceased to function. Though the books were still up on Amazon and presumably still being purchased, no royalties were passed on.

Because the publisher is also a friend, making the decision to take my rights back was difficult, but seemed the only wise thing to do. With the original publisher’s okay, Aakenbaaken & Kent published the books that had been contracted already, including #13 in the series, Unresolved.

Once I received my rights back, I approached A & K about republishing the whole series. He agreed and we’ve begun the process.

Because there are so many books in the series, we’re starting at the beginning. This means re-editing, of course. Once we started, we both realized how dated things were, after all the first book, Final Respects, was written in 1980. Most police officers sported mustaches, and smoking still went on in public buildings. When I wrote this, I had no idea it would end up being a series.

One of the first thing the publisher noticed was my too generous sprinkling of ellipses in the book—something I fixed in later books. One of the first things I noted was my overuse of exclamation points.

The second book, Bad Tidings, brought about another surprise. Though the writing holds up, it’s a bit more gory and sexy than I write today. And of course there are no cellphones and there are a couple of times characters use a pay phone. Also reading it again, brought back memories of some happenings that inspired parts of this mystery.

In Fringe Benefits I discovered I’d changed a couple of characters’ hair colors in later books. I’m glad to find out so I can make some fixes. The mustaches have continued, and water beds are introduced.

Smell of Death had something I’ve always wanted to change and that was the color of the shoe on the cover—easier to change the colors of the shoes in the story itself which I’ve now done. This book was a bit harder to edit for me as the subject matter is a bit dark. What was fun to read again was the beginning of a romance that continues in the next book.
Visit Marilyn's blog here.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Little Venues

This week my very good friend Donis Casey wrote about preparing for the launch of her new book Forty Dead Men. This book was released in February and won a rare starred review from Publisher's Weekly.
This very prestigious magazine is read by bookstores and libraries across the county to determine which books to purchase for sale to customers or shelve for library patrons. PW had this to say about Forty Dead Men:
"In Casey's excellent 10th Alafair Tucker mystery (after 2017's The Return of the Raven Mocker), 22-year-old George W. "Gee Dub" Tucker, a WWI vet scarred by his war experiences, returns to the family farm in Boynton, Okla., run by his parents, Alafair and Shaw, with the aid of their large brood of children....Casey expertly nails the extended Tucker family - some 20 people - and combines these convincing characters, a superb sense of time and place, and a solid plot in this marvelously atmospheric historical." (starred review) (Publishers Weekly)

For those of you who are not familiar with this terrific series, it begins with The Old Buzzard Had It Coming in the Oklahoma Farm Country in 1912.
Donis's launch was held at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona and she was joined by two other Poisoned Pen authors, Dennis Palumbo (Head Wounds) and Priscilla Royal (Wild Justice). It was combined with a tribute to the late Frederick Ramsay.
I participated in a couple of co-interviews with Fred and he was a great writer, a wonderful person, and I felt greatly honored just to set next to him. 
Being interviewed by the famous Barbara Peters (owner of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore and Editor-in Chief at Poisoned Pen Press) is one the most sought after experiences for authors. I was so in awe of her that I could barely remember my own name during my first visit to the store.
If I could have, I would have gone to AZ to applaud Donis's launch. But last year, I went to five libraries in Kansas and four major conferences. 
Looking back, I honestly have to say my favorite experience, the one that was a truly joyful event was speaking at the tiny library in Blue Mound Kansas. Thirty-seven persons attended. Later my nephew argued that there weren't thirty-seven persons in Blue Mound. But there were! And they were glad to see me. Happy that I came bearing books. Happy to buy them. Happy to listen to whatever I had to say.
With my next book, Silent Sacrifices, I'm going to spend more energy seeking out these rewarding little venues.   

Thursday, March 01, 2018

How long is too long?

I wrote my first novel in about 15 months. It wasn’t very good. I rewrote it several times, and despite all that CPR, it still wasn’t very good. But it was finished. When I got my first book contract, I was obligated to produce a book a year. I finished those first few books in about nine months each.

I’m starting a new series, and the time I’ve spent on this book has me thinking I’ve gone back in time. Life is more complicated now. I have three kids, for one thing. I had a health scare this fall that threw a monkey wrench into my pace. But when I’m done this book, I will have nearly two years into it. Not long, maybe, to some. But for a genre writer, who thinks of himself as a series author, two years seems like a long time.

If you write series –– and I love the process of seeing a character develop from book to book –– two years is too long. Publishers want a book a year. I get that. I grew up eager for spring because I knew the next Spenser novel was coming. You can’t create a brand and then run out of the product.

But we’re not making widgets.

So how long is too long to produce a book? The simple answer is as long as it takes. You need to write the best book you can, especially when you’re launching a new series. And once you “have the voice, the next one is easier,” the saying goes. Maybe.

Stephen King, in On Writing, says three months is optimal. I see his point: you need to be close to the text to follow the plot development. I have an encompassing day job, so writing a book in three months isn’t an option. My way around this is to work in 50-page chunks, writing and editing before moving on. If I hit a wall or have to go a few days without writing, I go back and reread the entire book again. This prevents me from losing significant forward momentum.

So how long does it take me to write a novel? Hopefully not two years each time out. But the answer remains as long as it takes.

I’d love to hear from others regarding this question.