Wednesday, December 12, 2018

From page to screen

What a fun topic Aline introduced in her post Monday! Most of the past week's Type M posts have touched on the business of writing in some way; polishing and submitting a manuscript, getting used to rejections, creating pitches for TV and film, and promoting the book after it's finally released into the world. And now Aline has touched on one of an author's favourite games; dreaming about who will play your character when your series is produced for TV. And Aline makes a good point. It's not all about making enough money to pay the mortgage for once and even possibly to take a trip (although that would be nice). It's about the interpretation of your work, which is as close to reflecting your soul as it is possible to get.

When we read a book, the character emerges out of our imagination. We conjure them up in our mind's eye, and we put as much into their identity as the author does. The character is not just his or her physical appearance but the sum total of how they react, the words and tone they use, the gestures they make, the clothes they choose, the meals they like... Maybe the reason some authors don't actually have a clear visual image of their main character is that details like the colour of their hair are possibly the least important aspect of their identity.

A character on screen, on the other hand, is not a product of our imagination but a real person we can see. In fact the reader's first impression of a character is not what they're thinking or saying, but what they look like. And from then on, all our impressions of that character are grounded in that concrete reality.

What the great actors like John Thaw and Brenda Blethyn succeed in doing is capturing the essence of the character as we the readers imagined them, not just in looks but in gesture, tone, and style. I would add to that list of successes Stephen Thompkinson as Peter Robinson's DCI Banks. I was ambivalent about Nathaniel Parker as Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley, mostly because he didn't seem Patrician enough, but I thought petite, pretty Sharon Small (a perfectly fine actor) was entirely wrong as lumpy, awkward Barbara Havers.

In my own, more modest imaginings, I have gone through a number of Inspector Greens, most of them relatively unknown Canadian actors. In the the twenty years since he came on the scene, a number of my favourites have grown too old for the part, like Michael Riley. So I am now casting about for a new possibility - mid-forties, unremarkable looks but a bit ADHD and obsessively driven. Do any of you have an ideas about who would make a perfect Michael Green? As for my new series,  Jennifer Lawrence would do an admirable job as Amanda Doucette. Hey, dream big or go home. In the end, however, I think my own daughter Dana would have the spirit, fierce drive, and vulnerability to play Amanda.

And thinking about Aline's conundrum with Marjory Fleming, what about Miranda Hart from Call the Midwife?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Holiday Movie Entertainment

by Rick Blechta

I had an interesting conversation with a friend this past week about favourite Christmas movies. Like many, my favourite for many, many years is the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim and whole cast of brilliant character actors. Interesting factoid: The movie was filmed in August!

His favourite Christmas movie really startled me: Die Hard. I had to think back, and yes, the action (of the first two movies in the series, actually) takes place at Christmas. We have a DVD copy so my wife and I pulled it out and watched it. It was as I remember: filled with lots of macho action from Bruce Willis and the crew of bad guys led by estimable Alan Rickman. There isn’t all that much Christmas in it, though. It could just as easily taken place “in the heat of an August bank holiday”.

I got back to my friend after viewing the movie again and asked him why this was the Christmas movie for him. Answer: “It’s all about a man trying to save his wife so that they can spend the holiday together.”

I don’t mean to be insulting to my friend, but come on! That seems pretty shallow to me. Yes, the holiday season is a time for family coming together, but I don’t think most people would imagine that within the movie’s framework. But my friend is not a particularly sentimental person. I guess I am.

His wife, interestingly had another surprising choice: Love Actually. This is a very entertaining film but a number of the multiple story threads are really quite sad, and there is an overall feeling of anger and hurt in many scenes. Again, a rather surprising choice for a favourite holiday film. And this woman is quite sentimental.

Am I out of step? Am I missing something?

What is your favourite holiday movie?

(And by the way, if you have Netflix, you might want to watch The Christmas Chronicles which is new this year. It has flaws but also snappy dialogue, great computer graphics, and Kurt Russell as Santa is very entertaining. I don’t know if it will become a classic must-watch holiday staple, but it is definitely worth a view.)

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Interpreters

A question I'm often asked is, if my books were to be filmed (I should be so lucky!) which actress would I want to play my detective?  I can never manage a very satisfactory answer:  I've never seen an actress who made me think of  my 'Big Marge' Marjory Fleming. She would have to be Scottish, of course, and very tall - though I suppose if Lee Child can accept Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, that may just be me being picky.

I don't actually describe her in the books except in a very general way and I'm not even sure that I know what her face looks like. When I'm reading, I don't often conjure up a picture of the characters.

Film is different, though. The actor has to be the interpreter of the character and when I'm watching a series I will be very clear in my mind whether the chosen actor is right for the part or not.    There have been several TV series of Agatha's Christie's Miss Marple but for me the only real Miss Marple was Joan Hickson (those shrewd, faded blue eyes!) just as Hercule Porot was undoubtedly David Suchet.  John Malkovitch, pooh!

Ian Rankin, I know, never described Rebus specifically, yet Ken Stott seemed perfectly tailored to the part - a hard man, but soft at the same time.  Colin Dexter was thrilled with John Thaw, and indeed it's hard to imagine Morse having been the success it was if he hadn't defined the character so brilliantly.

For me Roy Marsden absolutely was PD James's Adam Dalgleish in the TV dramas and I was horrified when Martin Shaw took over, but for Phyllis neither was her Adam.     Similarly Brenda Blethyn with her Northern accent seems to me perfect for Ann Cleeves' Vera, but according to Ann she has the wrong Northern accent - a distinction rather wasted on those of us who don't live in the Pennines.

On the other hand, when the first Inspector Wexford series was made Ruth Rendell was so thrilled with George Baker's interpretation of the character that she thought of him from then on as Wexford himself in the subsequent books.

So, do you have someone in mind to play your favourite sleuth?  And of course, that does lead on to the other question - when they make that film about your life, who would you want to play you?

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Coconut Cupcakes

by Vicki Delany

Late to the party as usual, but I loved Rick’s suggestion of us putting some recipes from our books up on this blog.

There is a lot of cooking and eating in my books. In the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room is located next to the shop; In the Year Round Christmas series, Merry’s best friend owns Victoria’s Bake Shoppe, and in the Lighthouse Library series (by me as Eva Gates) Lucy’s cousin owns Josie’s Cozy Café.

I sense a theme here.  To continue the theme, my just-announced series for Kensington is the Tea By The Sea Mysteries (Spring 2020).

I myself love to bake, but I don’t do much of it any more mainly because now that I don't have children at home, I don’t need an entire cake after dinner, thank you very much.  But when I have guests, I like to pull out all the stops. A lot of the baking mentioned in my books is things I make myself., although the books don’t have recipes.

So here, from Vicki’s kitchen as well as Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, are coconut cupcakes.  These aren’t traditional Christmas treats, but the white icing, I think, gives it a lovely wintery feel.

I won’t be back on this page until the New Year, so I wish you all very Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas.

What will I be doing this year for the holidays you ask? Here’s a hint:

Image result for mozambique


·               1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
·               2 teaspoons baking powder
·               1/2 teaspoon salt
·               1/2 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
·               6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
·               1 1/3 cups sugar
·               2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg whites
·               3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
·               1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
·               1 1/3 cups large-flake unsweetened coconut

1.      Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

2.      Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse shredded coconut in a food processor until finely ground, and whisk into flour mixture.

3.      With and electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in whole eggs, whites and vanilla, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of coconut milk, and beating until combined after each.

4.      Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling eat three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers come out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; turn out cupcakes onto wire racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or freeze up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

5.      To finish, use a small offset spatula to spread a generous dome of icing onto each cupcake, and, if desired, garnish with flaked coconut. Store at room temperature until ready to serve.

Icing: Use your favorite buttercream vanilla icing. I like to use a splash of coconut milk rather than plain milk. If you don’t normally add milk to your icing, you can cut down slightly on the butter and replace with coconut milk.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Rise of the Foodies

The Type M'ers have gone temporarily nuts. Suddenly instead of discussing really cool ways to murder people some sort of fatal attraction to favorite recipes seem to have infected the faithful.

I've especially enjoyed Donis Casey's old recipes. In her latest book, Forty Dead Men, she includes a recipe for Red Eye Gravy. I've heard of it, but never tasted it.

In my own Lottie Albright series, Lottie as undersheriff doesn't spend much time in the kitchen so I really can't contribute recipes used by my characters. However, my family had a few that were really dillies when I was growing up. One of our favorites was Wacky cake. I've heard this cake called by a variety of names: Poor Man's cake, depression cake, hobo cake, war cake. The reason it was so popular was that it didn't depend on expensive ingredients. It's delicious. Here's the recipe:

1-1/2 cups flour (sifted)
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons Cocoa
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
Mix all together, then punch three holes in the mixture. Add the following ingredients (only one per hole)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup warm water

Mix by hand. Don't use an electric mixer. Bake in a 9 x 9 pan at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

And for Christmas I have the world's easier popcorn ball recipe. If you are ambitious, you can shape the popcorn into a miniature Christmas tree and add colored gum drops for ornaments.

I use one recipe per popper of corn:

1 cup light corn syrup and one 3-oz package of Jello. Bring to a boil over medium heat and pour over about 11 cups of popped corn. Mix very quickly and use butter on your hands (or gloves) to shape the mixture into balls. Be very careful. This concoction is really, really hot.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

And so the waiting begins.

The real Keeley in Copenhagen
The waiting. A holding pattern. I finished the first book in what I hope will be a new series, one set at a New England boarding school, and my agents Ginger Curwen and Julia Lord have sent the manuscript off to six editors, each of whom I’d be thrilled to work with.

And now I wait –– and try to stay busy: I’ve written a pitch for a TV show based on this novel, sought feedback on it, written a brief plot sketch of book No. 2 and will begin fleshing that out in earnest.

The TV pitch has been fun to work on. A friend who has successfully pitched TV shows gave me a sample pitch to read. I’m not even one hundred percent sure what I’ll do with it when I feel like it’s ready to show someone. I’m hoping my agents Ginger and Julia have ideas. But the process has been worth the time. Developing a character list and creating and rethinking the story’s long-term arc has made me consider subsequent novels and who will come, who will go, and where our family of characters might find itself in several books.

Audrey (left), Delaney, and Dad on boat tour in Copenhagen

I don’t like being between contracts. I’m a person who functions better when I’m busy. Writing on deadline forces me to focus and brings out my best. Give me too much time, and I over think things. I don’t procrastinate. That’s not me. But I will overwrite and over plot.

The book has been on editors’ desks for a couple weeks now. I’m hoping to hear something soon.


In my reading life, we spent Thanksgiving week in Copenhagen visiting our 20-year-old daughter Delaney, who’s there studying this semester. I loved the city and picked up Silent Woman, by Sara Blaedel. It’s a terrific procedural, featuring a female Dane as our homicide detective. I’m not yet finished and hoping the atmospheric qualities live up to the characterization. I’m also reading Walter Moseley’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, featuring an ex-con as our antihero. It’s dark and thematic. A wonderful, short read, told in a series of stories.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Have Book, Will Travel

I recently went on a mini bookstore tour with Ellen Byron (author of the Cajun Country Mystery Series) and Nancy Cole Silverman (author of the Carol Childs Mystery Series). Or, as Nancy puts it, Have Book, Will Travel.

We did a weekend in Orange County, CA hitting Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach and Book Carnival in Orange. Had great fun chatting about our books, answering questions and meeting mystery lovers.

The final stop on our mini tour was the Holiday Party at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. I'd never been to the store before, though I was familiar with them. They specialize in mysteries as well as sci-fi and fantasy.

They had 12 authors stationed at tables throughout the store. Mystery authors, YA authors, fantasy authors, authors of non-fiction books... We got a chance to meet and greet readers and sign books. They also had a short program where we could describe the book we were promoting. For me that was the latest book in the Aurora Anderson Mystery series, Designed For Haunting.

Some pictures from the events:

Nancy, Ellen and I at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach

Here were are at Book Carnival in Orange

Our table at Mysterious Galaxy

Listening to Nancy talk about her book

Waiting to talk about our books

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Bouncing off Tom

By Rick Blechta

First, read Tom’s excellent post from yesterday. Even if you’re not a writer, you will find it interesting. His post lays out very clearly some of the things that writers go through before you get to see their (hopefully) deathless prose in print.

But especially read this if you are someone at the beginning of a writing career. Everything he says makes wonderful sense. Yes, there are tricks of the trade and Tom lays out the most important of them.

Back in the dim, dark past, I took a university-level creative writing course while at McGill. Basically, I needed one more general academic course for my Batchelor of Music degree and, well, this course fit into my schedule, plus the classroom wasn’t too far away from the Faculty of Music, so I signed up. The teacher was pretty good, but a lot of the heavy lifting was done during seminars by a teaching assistant who was pretty green, by my reckoning.

I learned a fair bit about the nuts and bolts of shaping acceptable prose, but when I finally decided to sit down and write some fiction, and actually turned out a novel, I found that I had zero information about what to do next. That I had to learn by myself — as so many of us have.

Same thing with my music studies. The performance students were taught everything they needed to know in order to perform. What they weren’t told was how to go about being a professional musician in a business sense. What are the protocols for auditioning, promoting yourself, preparing yourself for a performance past the technical aspects of your chosen instrument. (Fortunately, in recent years, my alma mater has instituted a course that all performance students must take that prepares them with all the “business tools” needed for a successful active career. Good for them!)

We writers are in the same boat. If a creative writing teacher is thorough, one hopefully gets some of this important information. There are some excellent self-help books (Read Judith Applebaum’s excellent How to Get Happily Published!) but I suspect most of us are left to our own devices when setting out down the book marketing trail. By the way, that’s one of the things Type M is designed to bring you: stories of our own author travails, which might actually help guide an aspiring author towards getting published. Tom’s post from yesterday is of that ilk.

I suppose the point of this post is that there’s so much more to being a successful writer/author than turning out a great novel. Don’t expect to write a terrific story and the (publishing) world will beat a path to your door. The days of throwing your manuscript “over the transom” are long gone — if they ever existed at all.

Remember, it’s very difficult to write a good novel, but it’s far more difficult to get it published. Prepare yourself for that, do your homework, be prepared for rejection, and get really good at waiting. With any amount of luck and perseverance you may be rewarded with seeing your name on the cover of a book!

Monday, December 03, 2018

Thoughts on Rejection, Editing, and Scotch

On October 8, I turned the manuscript for GRAVEYARD BAY in to my editor. After a set of edits with her and then a second set of edits with my publisher (and a few suggestions from my agent), Poisoned Pen Press signed off on the manuscript this past Friday and it will now go to the copy editor for yet one more round.

For me, submitting my work and waiting to see if the story makes sense, the dialogue sounds genuine, and the clues are in the right places can be absolutely nerve wracking. Although, Annette, my editor has repeatedly told me to relax.  There’s nothing we can’t fix…if we have to.

The fact that the book is finished is a relief. However, while I exude a tough guy exterior, on the inside I’m a lukewarm puddle of insecurity. In my head, I recall the countless rejection slips and worse—no response—from agents and publishers when I was trying to get my foot in the door.

Back in the day before I found an agent and a publisher, I sent out countless query letters, synopses, and sample chapters, then waited with fingers crossed, hoping to hear back that someone liked what I was writing. The waiting was always the hardest part.

Except for the rejections. That was pretty bad too.

Oh, and when you didn’t hear anything at all.  That’s the worst because there’s no closure.

By the way, I sent out queries for my first book in the Geneva Chase series, RANDOM ROAD, in 2015. The book was published in 2017. I actually got an emailed rejection from a literary agency after the book was on the streets, nearly a year and a half after I’d queried. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise though, my own agent gets a hundred queries a day!

So back then, as now, I tried to get my manuscript as close to perfect as I could before I let anyone see it.  I read some tips from Stephen King that were true when I first saw them and are just as valid now.

The best of those tips is to read your work aloud. You hear things one way when you read silently. When you read it out loud, you hear it the way a reader might hear it.  You can get a better feel for scene description (Too much? Too little?), for action (Too fast? Too slow?), and for dialogue (Too snappy? Too sappy?).

Get a hard copy printed out. Personally, I can’t edit from looking at a manuscript on the computer screen. Spell check makes it too easy to write your when you meant you’re. A hard copy makes it easier see that I’ve got way too many commas goin’ on in a sentence. Or when I’ve used the same word three times in the same paragraph. Plus, it’s a much better method to refer back to earlier chapters to see if I’ve inserted that clue where I thought I left it. In GRAVEYARD BAY, I discovered that I’d left out a major clue.  It was still in my head, but not in the story.

Set it aside—sleep on it. Because a mystery can be a bear to write, what with all the clues, plot twists, and ruthless characters, I like to keep moving on it. I hate to put it down because I’m afraid that I’ll lose the plot thread. But to get the best perspective and train a fresh eye on what you’ve written, put the manuscript in a drawer and walk away for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll see new ways to improve what you’ve written.

These are just a few editing suggestions that I use.  One other piece of advice—trust your editor and trust your publisher.  They’re very good at what they do and their instincts are invaluable. Take their advice and suggestions to heart.

Okay, book is essentially done. Time for a celebratory Dewars and ice.