Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The things put into that opening scene are SO important!

by Rick Blechta

I enjoyed Tom’s post from yesterday, not only because Raiders of the Lost Ark is particular favourite movie of mine, but for how brilliant that first sequence is in establishing many of the things you need to know about the main characters and the direction the movie’s plot will eventually take, even though the goal of this sequence is too build excitement and pull viewers into the movie. It really is quite extraordinary how many moving parts it all has and how masterfully its done.

So here’s my quick breakdown of what is going on “behind the machinery” that makes this scene work so well.

First, Indy is introduced as being smart, knowledgeable, resourceful, brave but a bit reckless, cool in a crisis, but still very human (his fear of snakes), and more than a little lucky. All of these are important in building his character rapidly and is accomplished with breathtaking skill by the script, direction and acting.

We’re also introduced to his skill with a whip and his cool hat. (Interesting factoid: the part was nearly handed to Tom Selleck!)

Secondly, the character of his antagonist is also rapidly established. With barely a dozen lines, we learn everything we need to know about Belloq. (Actor Paul Freeman does a magnificent job but this role in Raiders also got him typecast into villainous characters which is too bad. He really is a fine actor with a lot more scope than this.)

What is really interesting to me is that the opening sequence has little relation to the coming main plot idea. In the movie’s next sequence, the plot takes an extreme left turn. But since we’ve already learned so much about Indy’s character, all we can think is, “Yeah, he’s the right person for this job.” And that is very important.

To me, I can’t imagine an opening sequence that could be better. Regardless that it’s part of a movie and not a novel, every writer can learn a lot about how to open a story with a bang while sneaking in nearly everything you need to know about the protagonist and the antagonist to make the rest of the story work. And all this is accomplished so effortlessly. Without the viewer noticing, we’re learning everything we need to know about why these two characters do what they do.

That is, we’re not privy to all the hard work and thought behind what we’re watching. We can only aspire to do as well in our own works.

Do you have a favourite opening scene/sequence for a movie or book, and why do you think it works so well? Please tell us!

Below is a good bit of that opening sequence for your viewing pleasure. (Sorry about the ad at the beginning.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

It was a dark and stormy night!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of your book's first line.  You can't let up after that first sentence though, you have to have a dynamite opening scene.

But first, let me tell you about a discussion I had a few weeks ago with an editor I know.  She told me about the hundreds of submissions she looks at every year.  She said, “I can’t tell you how many of them start with the weather.  If I’ve got to give a budding novelist one bit of advice, unless it’s a key part of your opening chapter, never, never , never write about the weather except as background."

Back to my original topic, a boffo first scene.

My wife is out of town so I can watch anything I want on Netflix.  Last night I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the millionth time.  The opening scene in that movie is classic.

The intrepid adventurer in the fedora, traveling with a troupe of shady characters through an Amazonian forest.  Indiana Jones, coming upon the tomb in the thick of the jungle, filled with bats and spiders and traps.  Indie taking the weird golden icon and outrunning the giant boulder, only to find himself ambushed by jungle natives.  Then watching Indiana Jones sprint for his life, swimming to the airplane, and upon getting into the plane, his seatmate is a snake named Reggie.  We find out Indiana has, of all things, a fear of snakes.  When he complains, the pilot says, “Show some backbone.”

During a book event last year, I was asked if I thought European mysteries move more slowly than American mysteries.  The answer to that is yes!!

American readers are impatient.  They want to be gripped immediately and taken for a tense, page turning thrill ride.

I try to do that with my Geneva Chase mystery series.  In my first book, Random Road, I open with six nude bodies found hacked to death in a mansion on an island.  I’d originally written the scene with two people found dead, decided to spice it up by adding two more bodies.  By the time I was done, I’d made it a six-pack.  When it comes to murder, more is better, isn't it?

Do you always have to start a mystery with a murder?  No, but you still have to start by grabbing the reader by the collar.  In my second novel, Darkness Lane, the book opens with Geneva, my intrepid crime reporter, finding out that her fifteen-year-old ward’s best friend (also fifteen) has disappeared.

Well, I’m fudging a little, there is a murder, but we know upfront who the killer is.   In that same first scene ,we find out that a woman who’s been physically and mentally abused for years finally snapped.  She waited until her husband is drunk and passed out, coverd him in gasoline and lit a match.  As the fire department struggled to quell the spreading flames, the cops found her outside with a glass of wine.  When they asked her what happened, she said, “I’m just toasting my husband.”

My third book, Graveyard Bay, has the darkest opening of all.  Geneva is watching the scene unfold in the middle of winter at a marina where two nude bodies are found under the icy surface of the bay, chained to the prongs of a massive forklift used to lift boats in and out of the water.  Brrrrrr.

Just a couple of other outstanding books  I’ve read this year with dynamite opening chapters.

One is Don Winslow’s The Border. This book starts out with a prologue in which the protagonist is caught up in an active mass shooting.  You have no idea what it’s about and won’t really learn until nearly the end of this 720 page thriller.  But it’s a page turner if there ever was one about drug cartels and politics and the parallels to what’s going on today are incredible.

The other book is a mystery called Head Wounds by Dennis Palumbo.  It starts out with “Miles Davis saved my life”. A domestic dispute outside the protagonist's home explodes into violence and a gunshot nearly kills Daniel Rinaldi.  After that, the tension ramps up and the action never stops.  You can’t put this one down.

To end up where I began, your first scene should grab the reader by the collar.  Oh, and never lead with the weather.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Guest Blogger Karen Odden

Type M 4 Murder is thrilled to welcome historical mystery author Karen Odden, who writes wonderfully evocative novels set in 1870s London, including the smelly Thames and the costermongers, medical puzzles and odd facts about poison, anything Scotland Yard, the true weird stories that surround musicians and visual artists, and good old-fashioned romantic plots.

On Time and Place by Karen Odden

Every year some girlfriends and I hike the Grand Canyon south rim trails, sixteen miles down Kaibab and up Bright Angel, all in one day.

I still remember the first time I did it, how struck I was not only by the beauty of my adopted state (I was raised in upstate New York) but also at how over the course of the 5,000 feet of elevation change from top to bottom, the color of dirt on my boots changed from yellow to brown to red and back to brown. I was literally walking through time, telescoping thousands of years into minutes, and as I turned at the one-mile marker and gazed up toward the rim, I felt surprised, stirred, humbled, and curious. And in that moment, I swear something in my brain sparked and spun in a new direction.

For me, the Canyon collapses time and place—or perhaps, more precisely, it renders time as a material place. I think the sheer enormity of the rocks overhead pressed two truths into my bones: first, that I should start paying attention to those wondrous moments when time collapses and takes a physical shape, and second, that sometimes, when I’m trying to absorb the essence of a site, there is no substitute for getting my feet on the ground, even if it’s decades or centuries later. Like some other writers who have blogged on this site, I write historical fiction and feel it is important to get as close as I can, physically, to the specific time and space of our settings—in my case, 1870s London. I do this partly for authenticity’s sake, but also because being in a place that evokes a particular time lights the creative spark in my brain better than anything else. And I am lucky because there are still bits of Victorian London in today’s city.

One of these bits is Wilton’s Music Hall, which is the last remaining Victorian music hall in London, occupying its original space on Graces Alley in Whitechapel. Most people know that borough as the site of the Jack the Ripper murders in the 1880s. Now the neighborhood is all gentrified and prettied up, but Wilton’s retains some of its Victorian grittiness and charm. I had been playing around with the idea of a novel about a young woman pianist who takes a position in a London music hall as a male entertainer because—yes—men were paid more. (Shocking, I know.) On a trip to London with my husband, I decided I would find Wilton’s.

I entered the twin painted doors and found myself in an irregularly shaped bar area with raw wooden planks.  Peering around and sniffing the lingering smell of hops, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and my shoe caught on a nail head. Recovering, I proceeded through that room and went down the wooden stairs into a space created by three basements patched together. Again, I had the sensation of descending through time. The concrete floors were uneven; the smell was musty; and the plaster was drawing away from the brick in parts.

All was quiet, and I stood still in the murky light, with the faint clamminess and the tang of rust in the air, and let it all work upon me. At last, I moved slowly along the passageway, pausing to inspect a stone carved with an inscription about the original owner, John Wilton; to read a framed newspaper article about a performer who leapt from the stage to attack his heckler—accidentally killing him; to study a framed piece of sheet music from the 1850s. Then I climbed the stairs and peered through the back door of the hall itself. To my surprise, it was elegantly painted in a pale greenish-blue, with chandeliers and spiraling gilt pillars.

(If you’ve watched the movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Robert Downey, Jr. you’ve seen this room. It’s where Holmes takes Watson for a bachelor party that devolves into a chase scene with Holmes being pursued by a raging Cossack.) The stage was raised off the wooden floor, and suddenly I could see my heroine Nell at a piano in an alcove at stage right. In that moment, Nell’s world became real. And when I returned to my computer to write, naturally I had to plot out my novel. But often, at first, I would just put Nell in the music hall and back away, so I might observe how that time and place would work upon her.

I’m not one for fiddling with a formula that feels right, so for my next book, I again wanted a world that I’d actually walked through and laid my hands on. In A Trace of Deceit (forthcoming, December 2019), my heroine’s world is the (real) Slade Art School and (a fictional) London auction house.

I was drawn to that setting because I worked at Christie’s auction house in New York in the 1990s. For two years, I was their media buyer for all forty-some departments—American Silver, European Furniture, Latin American Paintings, Jewelry, Antique Books, Rugs, and so on. In order to purchase advertising space in magazines and newspapers effectively, I had to read many beautifully illustrated art publications. (Hand to forehead, dramatic sigh.) Under the guise of doing my work, I devoured stories of thefts, absurd wealth, death, sabotage, forgery, corruption, and embezzlement. I found myself enjoying the art but thrilling to the stories behind the pieces—and the passion or anguish or desire on the part of the artist, the subject, or the purchaser.

Upon reflection, I believe part of the attraction of art for me is the way a piece collapses time, or creates layers of it. The time of a painting, for example, invokes both the artist’s present and the viewer’s present; sometimes it calls up the present of the subject of the painting, which can be different from the artist’s. Often when I gaze at a painting, that feeling I had at the Canyon returns, and ideas begin to spark in my brain.

And now I’ll leave you with a question. We all have places that serve as a locus for feelings, sometimes both wonderful and unpleasant. To what extent do we love these places because they materialize and collapse our pasts for us? And do you have a place that makes time material for you?

Note: for more on why the 1870s are my absolutely favorite Victorian decade, see my blog “Why the 1870s?” at www.karenodden.com.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Field Trip

My email today will be short because it's after 2 a.m. and I have a plane to catch this afternoon. I've been in Kansas City, Missouri all week. I had a couple of days off this week because of a school break. I joined a friend on a Road Scholar tour. At first, it was only going to be the vacation that I didn't take this summer. But it has turned into a research trip for my 1939 thriller.

As I was thinking about Kansas City jazz a bell rang in my head, and I realized that it would be the perfect backstory for one of my characters.
In fact, having the character come from Kansas City and giving him those memories and that perspective has made him three-dimensional for me and I hope for readers. I'm much more excited about his voice and how he moves through the story.

Before he was vaguely "Midwest." Now, he is someone who knows the things I've learned and has a worldview shaped by spending the first twenty-four years of his life in this place. The photo is of a Kansas City "Negro baseball team."

My character isn't African American, but he does love baseball. So did he know about this team in his hometown? Did he ever see them play? I've spent the week asking myself such questions. The answers have given me a much better sense of who this character is and what he will do in the book.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

What to Wear

As I (Donis) mentioned when last I wrote, I'll be launching my latest novel The Wrong Girl, A Bianca Dangereuse Old Hollywood Mystery, at 7:00 p.m., October 29, at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ll be appearing with the great Martin Edwards, who is also launching a new series with his book Gallows Lane. I hope that if you are anywhere in the contiguous United States, or heck, why stop there? - anywhere in this wide world - you'll hop a plane and fly in to join me. Or if that's asking too much, pick up a book (or ebook or audiobook) wherever books are sold.

All that may sound like a bit of promotional overkill*, but after writing ten Alafair Tucker mysteries,
The Wrong Girl is the first of a new series for me and I hoping it does well enough to warrant a second. Some of my author friends who are talented and disciplined enough to put out two or three really good books a year, probably don't worry as much about their launches as I do. But I'm a slow writer at best, only managing a book every year or year-and-a-half, so when I launch a book I have a tendency to over-prepare. Even though I've done this many times. Some may say this makes me neurotic. I wouldn't argue.

One thing I spend way too much time on is pondering what to wear. Why oh why so I make such a big deal out of the launch outfit? When I attend book events with well known male authors, it seems that none of them much care what they wear. In fact, I wonder sometimes if some guys cultivate a insouciant artist vibe, like "I live on too high a plane to care what I look like." I haven't noticed quite the same attitude with women authors. I believe that after all this time I've developed a kind of superstition about my outfit. Just the right outfit will - I don't know what - please the gods? I've stopped trying to figure it out and just give in to the inevitable.

This writing game is tough. And when it comes to promoting yourself, you just have to put your head
down and go. What works for one may not work for you, so you try everything you can manage and do the best you can. The really important thing, though, is to do the best you can without making yourself miserable. Life is too short.

It is now 19 years and probably a hundred personal appearances after my first book launch. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. It takes a great deal of practice and repetition to be witty and spontaneous on the spot.

2. There’s nothing wrong with using your 'A' material over and over, especially when you’re traveling.

3. Look at your audience when you speak - make eye contact. They’ll like you better as a person, and you’ll better be able to judge how you’re going over and make adjustments in your presentation as you need to.

4. Don’t worry about it if you’re nervous. Your audience is predisposed to like you.

5. Always wear comfy shoes.

*or a whiff of desperation?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Travel riches

In various ways, the past few Type M posts have been about setting. Airports, our favourite places to write, and visiting new parts of the country. I too have been thinking about setting. I recently returned from a trip to Russia, with brief detours into Finland and Sweden. It's why I missed my last Type M post. I had a fight with Google, who wasn't happy with my trying to log in on a different device (my mini-iPad) in the middle of the Baltic Sea. It was even less happy when I couldn't confirm my identity using the code they sent to my iPhone (which had a Russian sim card that didn't work on the ferry to Stockholm). It deemed me a security threat, and I had to wait until I was home to convince it otherwise. Clearly the tech world has not caught up with world travelling.

I love travelling the world and seeing different landscapes, cultures, city-scapes, and lifestyles. Admittedly, one can do little more than scratch the surface in two weeks, but even two weeks through the eyes of an eager stranger can be enlightening. In preparation for my trip to Russia, I started to read A Gentleman in Moscow, set in the decades following the Communist Revolution. The author's wry, charming observations on Soviet life provided a rich backdrop to the sights I was seeing, especially now that Russia is in the post-Soviet era, allowing me an even longer view of history. I visited the summer and winter palaces of the tsars, which rival le Palais de Versailles in opulent, gilt-dripping excess. It is this lifestyle that our hero in the book lived as a young Count, and it was fun to imagine him, if not in these grand halls, at least dancing in something similar. And it was sobering to imagine the struggles of the peasants on whose backs all this extravagance was built.

The Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg
I wasn't able to finish the book while I was there, so I finished it at home, and this provided another kind of enjoyment. I had walked many of the squares and streets the author described in the book, and I'd sipped champagne at the famed Metropol where the Count spent forty years under house arrest. I could picture the potted palms and the marble floors.

Champagne at the Metropol Hotel with Vicki Delany
I could picture the grandeur of Nevsky Prospect in Saint Petersburg and the bridges over the Fontanka Canal. I could picture the walk up from the Moskva River past St. Basil's Cathedral into Red Square. What fun to follow a character through streets in your mind!

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
I have always made a point of visiting the settings that I write about, spending time there and trying to walk all the paths my characters will walk. I have travelled across Canada for each of the four Amanda Doucette books I have written so far, and have loved every minute of the exploration. Well, perhaps not the snowstorm in Calgary last fall I have learned so much about my country, and I hope that my books take my readers on a virtual voyage of discovery, even if they have never visited the places in reality.

I have also written ten books set in my own city of Ottawa, and I know how much local readers love buzzing around the familiar streets with Inspector Green. Here's a little hint of what is to come... An eleventh Inspector Green novel, which I have only just begun. Who knows what back alleys and elegant neighbourhoods I will drag into the spotlight this time!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hey! What’s everyone doing while waiting for their plane?

by Rick Blechta

Having spent far too much time in airports last week drove home why I don’t like to fly. Problem was, there was no choice in travel modes I could use, considering what needed to be done and how quickly it all had to happen.

So I was forced to spend too many hours in airports waiting to board my various flights. Here’s a list of my itinerary and the minutes spent in each waiting area: Toronto (120 minutes), Philadelphia (80 minutes), Richmond, VA (140 minutes), Philadelphia (60 minutes). It’s a huge waste of time, of course, but that’s the reality of modern airplane travel.

It can all be improved with the aid of a good book. I was in the middle of one on baseball (Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game) which is interesting if one is a baseball nerd (I am), but still, a little dry. By the second stop I was beginning to get tired of reading it. That means Toronto isn’t part of this bit of tabulating.

So I came up with the idea of doing a bit of research: what are people doing while they wait for their plane? I wandered around the seating area for various gates and adjacent restaurants, trying to look nonchalant because you do not want to look suspicious in this day and age.

The expected result did happen at the gates: many people were staring at their smart phones or using them to listen to music, I’d say about 50% of the people 254 I observed. A few had newspapers (5), magazines (4), with an amazing 35 people reading either paper books (15) or e-readers (8).

In the restaurants, I found most (138) staring at some sort of news feed on the overhead TVs that are everywhere these days, followed by people conversing (77), with 36 staring at their smart phone, 12 listening to music, and only 5 people reading.

My numbers may be slightly off because I was having to store information in my head, but it’s reasonably accurate.

Oh! One more bit of counting: 189 were sitting with eyes closed or staring off into space. Any parents with young children I didn’t count because they were, um, rather preoccupied.

What does this mean? I don’t know because I don’t have enough data. However, if anyone wishes to help and has to do some air travel, please help out. I’m sure smart phone watching will win, but how many of your fellow travellers do you observe reading? It can be any medium, by the way.

And to conclude, boy, was I happy to return home!

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Room of One's Own

A room of one's own (with a lock on the door) and £500 a year were what was necessary for writing fiction, Virginia Woolf famously stated.  If it really was essential, there would be few of us writing today: that £500 was the present day equivalent of around £30,000.  (As a guide to prices, she was able to buy a whole house, not just a room, for £700.)  I'm rather taken with the idea that this wasn't what you were going to earn, it was what you needed before you could start.

It's always interesting to know where other writers feel they can work. There are the ones like Alexander McCall Smith who just scribbles away wherever he is, undeterred by the crowds around him in the airport or the railway station, or like JK Rowling, who wrote most of the first Harry Potter sitting at a table in a cafe.  I wonder how often their train of thought is interrupted by someone stopping to say, 'What are you writing, then?'

I would hate that.  I don't even like having someone else in the room with me when I'm writing - it somehow feels embarrassing.  I'm lucky enough to have my own study  and though I don't actually lock the door, it's very much a private space.

I like to have all my reference books to hand, even if now I don't consult them as often  as I click on Google.  And I like my shockingly untidy desk; it may look bad but I know where everything is and the only time I lose stuff is when I feel obliged to tidy up.

But, perhaps perversely, I don't envy people who have their own private office in the garden. It must be very peaceful but isolated and I like to be in the centre of the house so I know what's going on. And when I'm searching for the right word I can take a wander round and check on the soup for lunch or jot down something I've just remembered we need on the shopping list in the kitchen. For some reason, that always seems to help.

So I'm with Virginia Woolf all the way on the importance of that room.  I feel mine is almost as much a writing tool as my computer is, and if I have to give it up - for a visiting grandchild, say - I go round feeling like a snail without a shell.  

Sadly, I can't quite match up to her £500 - or £30,000 -  criterion.  Perhaps it's this that has stopped me attaining the dizzy heights of fame. I always wondered what it was.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Changing Locales

Daughter Cherie and Granddaughter Leah on Lake Jeannette

Last week I visited our oldest daughter who recently moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. Her lovely new home is adjacent to Lake Jeannette. What a gorgeous setting!

What a great place for a murder. There's all those trees. And a body of water. And well, you know. .. Let's face it. My mystery series is set in Western Kansas. There's something about the Great Plains that is nakedly honest. It's a chore to hide a body out here.

However, I once did a historical article set in Montana. The subject was the pits to begin with: "The Harlem Renaissance in Helena, Montana." It was for anthology about African Americans in the West.

The article took forever for me to write. Not only was gathering historical information difficult, but I discovered that I knew nothing about the state. To write well about a locale, one has to know the history of the state, the topography, the weather, the way the birds fly, the grasses that grow. The list is endless.

The only way I could write about mysterious North Carolina would be as an outsider. Some of the best books are written from a stranger's point of view, but my heart would not be in it.

The call of Kansas is well known.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Editing Thoughts: Technology is (and is not) Your friend

For the past two weeks, I’ve been revising my work-in-progress. I’m about (cross your fingers) two-thirds finished the manuscript, and I’ll share some go-to revision moves that work for me.

I’m a big fan of technology –– I sometimes compose using a dictation app –– but, as I wrote recently, I’m a stickler about editing on hardcopy. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Edit hardcopy. Don’t trust the screen. The computer screen plays tricks on you. You don’t always see what’s really there (and not there).
  2. Always read the book aloud (or listen to it). Someone once told me, “Read it aloud. You think you know what you said when you wrote it. Hearing it will tell you how other people will read it.” I use a text-to-speech app to hear what I wrote. But I like reading it aloud more because I know if I get knotted up in my own long sentences the reader surely will. Force yourself to read it aloud. It takes time, but it’s time well spent. One way to do this is read it for someone. (I offered the opening scene of my book at a reading Tuesday night, although reading a work-in-progress is another post altogether.)
    Image: helpmerick.com
  3. The Find option is your ticket to more active prose. Use it to search for repetitive phrases, inconsistencies, and weak verbs. I recently did this to see if I was capitalizing a title consistently (I wasn’t) and to find every use of the verbs to be, has, have, and had. I ran a scan finding every gerund and eliminated a bunch for more active verbs. Know your tendencies: I write has and had way too often in drafts, and I search for them and get rid of as many as possible. It takes hours to search out each one and evaluate it, but it’s worth it. I do this with and and but, too. As you can imagine the word and appears over 2,000 times in 175 pages. I spent upwards of four hours on this chore.

This list is short and sweet, and certainly not absolute. But this is part of my revision process, and it works for me. I’d love to hear additional thoughts on this.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Talking About Your WIP

Some people like talking about the stories they’re working on. They have no problem telling anyone who asks how it’s going, what it’s about, some of the scenes they’re thinking of putting in, etc. I’m not one of those.

About all people get out of me these days about my WIP is that it’s the 6th book in my series and it’s set in February so Valentine’s Day figures into it. Awhile back I did talk about on Type M how I’d been reading about love locks (those padlocks attached to bridges, etc., demonstrating a couple’s undying love for each other) and how I planned on using them somewhere in the book. But that’s all you’re going to get out of me on that subject right now.

Ask me a question about my other books and I’ll talk about them all you want. (But I won’t talk about the details of the murder unless you’ve read it, so don’t bother asking.) There’s something about talking too much about what I’m working on right now that doesn’t set well with me.

Some of the excitement of creating a new story out of an idea seems to go away for me if I talk about it too much. I also know that I can change my mind about putting a scene into a story and I don’t want people asking me why I didn’t include it in the final version.

For those writers out there, how do you feel about talking about the stories that you’re working on? Is it something that you regularly do? Or is it something that you generally avoid?

In other news, I’ll be attending Bouchercon in Dallas at the end of the month. Sunday morning, November 3rd at 10:00 a.m., I’ll be on a panel called “Small Towns, Big Crimes”. My fellow panelists are J.A. Jance, Libby Klein, Mary Sutton and Suzanne Trauth.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

An explanation

by Rick Blechta

Sorry, but there will be no post from me this week — other than this brief explanation.

I'm currently in Virginia to attend a memorial gathering for my brother-in-law, Scott Meynig, who tragically died very suddenly last week.

As you might imagine, it’s thrown a HUGE spanner in the works — for a lot more than this week’s post.

I promise to be back bright and early next Tuesday with something hopefully worth reading, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as they say around these parts.

Be good to yourselves. No one gets out of here alive.

If you wish to get a good snapshot of who Scott was, click HERE. One thing the article neglects to tell you is that he started out as a ballet dancer, which is how he met my sister. Imagine, if you will, a male ballet dancer from Texas. Scott was fond of saying that there were only two: him and Patrick Swayze. Probably not true, but it was funny. Scott could be very funny.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Building Your Brand...One Book at a Time.

I parked cars at the North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City yesterday.  My Rotary Club does it to raise money for local non-profit organization projects as well as college scholarships for deserving local students.

It was difficult to sneak away for the afternoon because I’m on deadline to finish the fourth in the series of Geneva Chase mysteries.  By the way, my publisher says they’re going to rebrand my books as Geneva Chase Crime Reporter Mysteries.

I like that.  Sorry, I'm free associating.

So, speaking of branding…

My latest mystery, Graveyard Bay, launched on September 10th.  Since then, I’ve done a local book signing on the patio of one of my favorite restaurants.  I did a book talk over dinner at our local country club. I drove to South Carolina to appear as a featured author at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Trade Show.  And this past weekend, I flew to Scottsdale, Arizona, to sign books at the renowned Poisoned Pen Book Store.

Coming up, I’ll be flying to Dallas for Bouchercon.  I’m lucky enough to be on a panel there called “Stop the Presses”. Then, a week later, I’ll drive up to a town in North Carolina called Chocowinity to speak to the Pamlico Writers Group at the China King restaurant.


Is it all worth it?  Of course it is.

Not because the number of books that were sold in any particular book signing put me on any bestseller list.  But I’m building a brand. I’m getting my name and the names of my books into the public eye.

My publisher’s publicist works hard at getting my name out, but every writer has to do his or her part as well.  And I enjoy it.  I love meeting people, talking with them, and telling them about Geneva Chase.

Some book signings are home runs.  But not all of them are.  I was invited to a library in a town where only one individual showed up.  That’s the kind of thing that keeps you grounded.
And early on in my writing career, I did book signings at some of the local bookshops where customers came in and avoided eye contact.  That was a little disheartening.

But I’m now three years into this adventure and I can say that I’ve had the best time of my life.  Yeah, there was that time when only one reader showed up.  But then there was that time when I was invited to a public library conference in Philadelphia where my distributor threw a party at the Pyramid Club, 52 floors above downtown Philly.  There was all the food you could eat, an open bar, and a live band.

There had also been a bad snow storm the day before and a lot of authors who were supposed to attend the conference couldn’t get there.

So, I was one of three authors signing books.  We went through cases of them.

Then, just two weeks ago, I flew to Scottsdale for the book signing at Poisoned Pen Bookstore.  I was there with the owner, Barbara Peters, and three other writers: Dennis Palumbo, Warren Easley, and Mark Coggins.  It was standing a room only.

Sure, I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning to make my flight, and the airline lost my luggage, and my hotel room wasn’t ready when I’d arrived.  In the grand scheme of things, that’s chump change.

The joy is talking with people about writing and your books and mysteries.  That’s not only fun, but building my brand.

So, back to parking cars at the festival.  I’ll let you in on a secret. I collect characters and their descriptions.  They’re all based on people I see and interact with.  And let me tell you, at almost any festival, you’re going to get some doozies.  Some of them will most certainly be in my next Geneva Chase Crime Reporter novel!!

Friday, October 04, 2019

The Thin Line

I'm working on a book about American gangster movies. All my writing career I've moved back and forth between "real life" or "true crime" or "nonfiction" (pick your term). In fact, when I decided to write a mystery novel, I gave my first protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, a profession that would provide both a focus for her sleuthing and a systematic way of going about it. Like me, Lizzie is a criminal justice professor who specializes in crime in American history and culture. To be precise, she focuses on Southern crime and culture, and she teaches at a fictional university in a city that bears some resemble to my hometown.  

This book about gangster movies require me to deal with the thin line between fact and fiction. It is in a series that my academic publisher is doing about history and movie. As have the other genre authors, I've selected the 8-10 important films and I've provided the backstory. One aspect of my assignment is to discuss the historical era and the cultural forces that were at work when each movie was released. The other -- much more challenging -- is to distinguish fact from fiction. 

As any fan of the genre knows, gangster movies came of age during the era of Prohibition and the
Great Depression. Real-life gangsters (such as Al Capone), and the "G-men" who pursued them,
participated in the "social construction" of the "public enemy." During the same era as the urban "gangster" or "mobster," the "rural outlaws" such as Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger were also being pursued by lawmen. This era of myth-making coincided with the era when "talkies" were drawing even cash-strapped Depression-era audiences into theaters.

In the aftermath of Prohibition, real-life gangsters expanded their activities and so did movie gangsters. Eventually, the focus was on urban gangs and organized criminals who were involved in trafficking drugs, sex trafficking, and other activities that were depicted in much more graphic detail than the movies of the 1920s-40s. But the references to those earlier movies were still there. The rise and fall of the gangster was still the most common plot trajectory even though the Production Code had been replaced by a movie rating system. 

And all of this makes it particularly challenging to separate fact from fiction. As with movies about the American west (westerns), I am dealing with decades of movie storytelling that has drawn on and contributed to real-life mythology. Real-life gangsters have inspired movie-makers; movies have influenced the style of real-life gangsters. Early films that produced their own mythology that influenced later movies. Writers and directors has sometimes attributed what was done or said by one gangster to another. Fiction hasn't required that they be accurate.

At the same time, the real-life people have told their stories. In interviews and memoirs each has offered his or her own perspective on events. This is like any eyewitness testimony. What a witness sees and remembers -- and is willing to share -- depends all any number of factors. Witnesses disagree.

My challenge is not to go down the rabbit hole with each movie and spend the same amount of time that I would on an book trying to disentangle fact from fiction. I could spend months following each gangster from birth to death. I am not going to do that. I am going to stay focused, finish this, and get back to my historical thriller -- and go back down that rabbit hole.

Did I mention I love research. But I am going to get this book done and gone. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Promote, Promote, Promote!

A Previous Engagement

-Please join me, Donis Casey, for the launch of The Wrong Girl, 7:00 p.m., October 29, at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ll be appearing with the great Martin Edwards, who is also launching a new series with his book Gallows Lane. -

Don’t worry. I’ll remind you again later.

I'm getting ready for my book to come out, the first of my new series, The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. I’m in the midst of planning the promotional campaign - and not enjoying it very much, sorry to say. I'm one of those people who doesn't care for the planning part. I don't like calling up people who've never heard of me and trying to convince them that I'm the greatest thing since little green apples and they should by all means have me speak at their bookstore/library/club. It's not that I'm particularly shy, and I'm certainly not overly modest. I secretly suspect that I am the greatest thing since little green apples.

Writing is a - let us not say 'late' - but more like a 'mature' life career change for me. I put in my thirty-five years in the workplace, and now I find that getting out there and beating the bushes doesn't appeal. I like to be quiet for a change, and write. I like the public speaking. I've done a lot of it in my life and am good at it. But I don't like having to set up the gigs. If I had the money, I'd hire a publicist to do it for me.

It’s difficult to know what the most effective things are to do to gain attention for your books. I think sometimes that I’d be better served to do fewer signings and start concentrating on attending more big writing conferences. That way I’d get to know more of the mystery writers and readers around the country, and maybe get a little bit wider exposure. Sadly for me, travel is not easy for me to plan, since I don’t know from month to month if some family health crisis is going to intervene and I’ll have to cancel my trip at the last minute. When I first started, I was advised to concentrate on a narrower audience until I was better known, which I have done, and it has served me well. But the law of diminishing returns kicks in after a couple of books, and you have to keep finding new venues.

I think that I'm going to try to do more internet promotion. Which is pretty optimistic of me, since I don’t much enjoy that, either. Fortunately, with a new series that has a new setting and new character, I have lots of fun new stuff to write about.

However, when next I write my blog entry, Dear Reader, I’ll visit a familiar subject : What to wear for your launch! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Finding an unexpected kinship with artists in a totally different field

by Rick Blechta

Sorry I’m so tardy today. My wife and I went out of town for a couple of days of much-needed R&R and were delayed getting back today. It’s amazing how much road work is being done in rural Ontario!

Anyway, one day of our time away was spent at the annual Elora Fergus Studio Tour. Over a very tiny area — two small towns more or less — the tour comprised 35 artists working in various media, mostly painting, but a few glassmakers, jewellers, and others. Most of them were surprisingly excellent.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. One of the artists we visited, Kathi Kuti Harding’s, specializes in miniature sculptures (fairies, fairytale characters, witches, small anthropomorphic animals, etc. All of them are hand sculpted in polymer clay. The tiny faces Kathi creates are incredibly striking and expressive.

We got to talking and I revealed I was a writer when we began talking about creating characters, in my case on paper and in hers, clay. She related to me how she only starts off with a rough idea of how she wants a particular face to look. Then the magic begins. “It’s as if they reveal themselves to me as I work. They also tell me how they want to be dressed and sometimes they can be quite difficult about it.”

Does that sound familiar? More than one of us here on Type M have discussed the same thing about our made-up people. I’ve written about going for a walk so I can discuss with a character whatever difficulty we’re having, usually caused by me wanting them to do something they don’t feel particularly like doing.

Now I find out sculptors can have the same issues with their works.

I’m beginning to think we artists, in whatever field they choose to express themselves, are mad as snakes!

Check out her website: kathikuti.com. Better yet, if you’re around southern Ontario, drive out to Elora and you can meet Kathi on Saturday or Sunday next weekend!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Literary Existentialism

Is it something to do with autumn - or as you guys like to call it, fall?  The note of literary existentialism struck by Sybil and Thomas has certainly resonated with me.

I have just sent my new ms off to my agent and I'm now in that itchy, unsatisfactory period while I'm trying to tell myself I'm on holiday but not really enjoying it.  (Fortunately we go off on proper holiday in ten days' time which will take my mind off it - apologies in advance if the next post is a bit sketchy!)

I want to start thinking about the next book.  I'm a slow writer and I like to have my ducks more or less in a row before I confront the terror of a blank screen.  Indeed, I always have the first few pages written in longhand to have something to get me going.

The ideas are there - the ones that float up and drift around for a bit while I do the stress-testing bit, and often at that point they disappear without a trace.  Gradually one will, I hope, consolidate so that it won't break when I start playing with it.

But I haven't found that one yet and as Sybil says, it's  very uncomfortable and unsettling, right up until the time it all starts to flow.  If it does.  This is the stage where I'm wondering pessimistically if next time it will.

Which brings me on to Thomas's point, why do we write?  As we all agree, we don't to it for the money.  I would sleep a lot better if I didn't write - none of those three in the morning awakenings when I'm convinced I've wasted six months on a story that's going nowhere fast.

I could take up time-consuming hobbies -golf, for instance, if it weren't for the fact that I have no natural aptitude.  Or bridge, perhaps, if I could convince myself to care who won. (I think I take after my very deaf but still sparky great aunt who was a keen bridge-player.  As she left a bridge party after losing to her hosts, she remarked to her daughter in what was meant to be a whisper but sadly wasn't, 'I'm so glad they won, dear, because they would have been so unpleasant if they hadn't.')

The trouble is, the urge to tell stories is so much bone-deep that it really is an existential question for me: I write, therefore I am.  I can't imagine what I would think about, if I didn't have the potential for a story somewhere in my head.

And the other thing is, when you have one of those rare spells when you feel the book is writing itself and you can't write it down fast enough to keep up, it's a thrilling high. So perhaps that's the explanation: I'm an addict.  Perhaps someone should give me the address of Writers Anonymous - though of course I don't really need it. I could give up any time I want.  I just don't want to.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Our deal with the devil

I just received a new Samsung smartphone. It replaces the iPhone I've had for many years and was so out-of-date that I couldn't download the few apps I might've found useful. The new phone is an amazing piece of technology and so pretty. It's got way more capability than I'll ever use. In fact, my first chore was deleting many of the apps that came standard. Years back, when cameras were first installed on a cellphone, I thought, "That's dumb. Who would bother?" So much for that prognostication.

But my use of the Samsung is haloed with trepidation. Everything I do on the phone is tracked and recorded, then fed through computers to build my profile and from that, predict what I'm going to do next. We've all had the experience of searching for something on one platform, our phone for example, and then finding similar search results when we access Facebook on the computer. We know we're being constantly watched but act like we're cool with it. People who opt for smart speakers like Alexa astound me. You're okay letting a corporation put a microphone inside your house? Then again, every new car is a rolling fountain of your personal information. Where you went. When. What you listened to. What you accessed on your phone. With every passing day, privacy means less and less. We've become a society of exhibitionists exploited by professional voyeurs.

Last week I was watching Hitchcock's North by Northwest and I noticed a scene in a hotel where people retreated into phone booths to make calls. Contrast that when a couple of days ago, a young woman passed me by on the sidewalk while she was doing a video chat and discussing her recent trip to the gynecologist.

Our attitude toward technology, more specifically, social media and communication is increasingly bipolar. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the detrimental effects of this constant exposure to social media (mostly by phone) for young women. The same issue then published a piece about using phone apps to improve romantic relationships. Which is it?

The surveillance Orwell predicted in 1984 is tame compared to what we've willingly accepted. Winston and Julia never carried a pocket device that tracked their every move or recorded every snippet of conversation. At the present, our individual ensnarement in the web seems benign. It's all about convenience. But the dark side looms ahead. You've no doubt heard of doxxing, which is the publication on social media of your private details such as residence, contact information, place of work, family and their addresses for the purpose of harassing you into silence or banishment. In the not too distant future, expect what I hereby coin "idoxxing," meaning the public disclosure of your internet search history. What naughty things have you been looking up? Shame. Shame. Shame.

What interests me more as a crime writer is how all this technology creates the illusion of security and safety. Idoxxing will be used for blackmail. Also, every advance in cyber security only exposes more gaps to be leveraged by the bad guys. Our homes and financial accounts have never been more vulnerable. Once criminals crack into any system, they're free to loot and pillage. Nest eggs will vanish into the electronic ether. You can buy a device that blasts a signal over a broad spectrum to disable cellphones and wifi connections within a perimeter for the purpose of robbery or worse. The victim can't call for help and all the security systems are shut down. Pretty slick gizmo. Watch for it in my next crime novel.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Seen, Scene, Sawed

Oh my scene! My lovely perfect scene. Cut to ribbons. The best writing I've ever done. But the fact is, this lovely scene didn't belong in my book. That's why rewriting it didn't work.

My character had changed. He would never, never do what this scene required him to do. It's very upsetting. But when I took a cold hard look at the manuscript, I realized my motivation was to work in an interesting bit of history. That's never a good idea.

There's an intellectual component to writing that complements creativity. I usually enjoy this second phase because all the characters have shown up by then and I know what they are like. They've auditioned and made the cut. Rarely do I throw someone out of a book. In fact, I don't like to eliminate whole scenes either.

But once in a while I have to cry "uncle" and just admit that a scene doesn't belong. Something went wrong.

There are many reasons why scenes fall flat. My first clue is that I keep trying to make it fit and it simply doesn't work. Rather than tossing the whole thing out, sometimes it's a matter of rewriting it in a different character's point of view. This can't be done in my Lottie Albright books because the series is in first person. All of my historical novels are in multiple third person so that format is easier.

Sometimes scenes are simply in the wrong place. The plot flow is interrupted when this happen. Or perhaps a scene would be best presented as a wee bit of back story. Whole flashbacks generally aren't used in modern mystery. Just a hint of the reason for a conflict can be used effectively in the sequel to a scene.

I've done a lot of cutting on the manuscript I'm working on right now. Sadly, a lot of it comes from not from scenes, but eliminating sloppy writing and passive usage. When did I finally understand the importance of active voice? I knew about passive usage with my brain, but not my gut.

There is so much to learn about the craft of writing. I'm in awe of the masters who command language and create scenes so vivid I'm whisked away to another world.  

Thursday, September 26, 2019

God Bless the Clipboard: Continuing the thread (my own)

My post from two weeks ago drew five comments, some conflicting, which, as a former columnist, I love. So….

I’m going to continue that thread.

This week, when I hit roughly the halfway point of my manuscript, I hit pause –– and then Print. I printed 175 pages, got my colored pencils and clipboard, and went over what I had written to date.

I was, frankly, amazed. I’ve gotten in the habit of composing at the keyboard and listening to the mechanical voice (a man’s when the voice is mine, a female’s when the voice is Peyton Cote’s) read the text to me. This works well for many aspects of editing –– finding missing words, spotting reduncies, stumbling over (and cutting down) long sentences.

What it doesn’t provide is the chance to read the book. Really read the book. My agent said in passing that she thought my second Peyton Cote novel, Fallen Sparrow, “wasn’t as tight” as the first book [in the series] Bitter Crossing. I didn't think much about the comment –– until this past week when, once again, I went back to the hardcopy, clipboard, and my colored pencils.

I realized something this week. I knew I was editing the manuscript, even revising extensively. However, I told someone the book “comes alive on the clipboard.” My best writing happens –– slashing, scribbling, drawing arrows –– when I recline on the couch. The book literally comes alive on the clipboard.

Why? I’m not entirely sure.

What I do know is that, pencil in hand, I’m reading the novel –– reading as a reader; not reading the novel as a writer, as I do on the screen. There’s a difference, and it’s a big one. On the screen, I read as a creator. I’m thinking about ways to make the book as I read. Holding the pages, I’m a reader, and I edit and rework the text in that vein. I don’t know if this makes sense, but it’s not “work mode.” I’m reviewing the pages from outside the creation process. My graduate school professor Rick DeMarinis used to say he “poured a glass of wine and sat down with the pages.” I know what he meant. Now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Why I Write

If you heard an odd noise last week, it was probably me sighing with relief. When I start a new project, it always takes me awhile to figure out where I’m going with the story. I think about the characters. I decide who was murdered. I settle on the killer and motive. I write the beginning scene and a few more. Even after all that, it still takes me awhile to really internalize the story and the new characters I created, to really figure out where I’m going with it.

Until I do that I’m uneasy. Can I write another book? Will I get it done in time? Will this story interest readers? All of those questions run through my head. When I finally get into a rhythm, as I did last week, I feel a great sense of relief.

During this time of unease, I have to keep reminding myself that this is just the way my mind works. No matter how uncomfortable it is, this is my creative process. There will always be this period of unease that lasts a couple months where I feel a bit like I’m floundering. When that period passes and I give that sigh of relief, I finally feel like I’m getting something done.

It’s tempting to compare myself to other writers. To say that I should be further along in the story by now because author X that I know would be. Or that I should get more done each day because author Y does. It’s not a good thing to do, to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s brains work differently. Everyone’s writing process is unique. Whenever I feel uneasy, I remind myself to have faith in my process and that, as long as I show up and keep writing, I’ll get there in the end.

With all of this angst I feel, why is it that I bother to write you ask. I don’t make a lot of money, which I’m sure is true of a lot of writers. I don’t sell a ton of books. I write because I feel compelled to tell stories. I have lots and lots of ideas that I hope one day to create novels or short stories from. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. It’s really something to have a book in hand that came out of a crazy idea I had.

I feel special when someone tells me they enjoyed reading one of my books. I feel blessed when readers take the time to spread the word about my series and to ask me to speak at a meeting like I did last week at a local church. I had a wonderful time talking about writing and my stories and answering questions. Sure, I sold a few books, but really it was just fun to talk to people who were interested in what I had to say.

I doubt I’ll ever write a best seller, but I’m okay with that. I’m happy spinning my tales and putting my books out there, hoping that readers will enjoy spending time with my characters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

So you’re a published author, now what?

by Rick Blechta

Tom’s post from yesterday is well worth reading — especially if you are a new author. He speaks truth, and if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s still truth.

As much as we would all like it to be so, getting a book published does not automatically open a door to untold riches. Certainly it is better than not getting a book published, but don’t get your expectations up too high.

I came at the book publishing game (and it is a game) from the music business (which is also a game, with an even more un-level playing field), so my expectations about being an author were more tempered than the average person.

My wife and I, both being musicians, teach private students to supplement our income. Every now and then we get a student who shows ability and decides they want to focus their life on being a musician. In those cases, the first thing we do is to ask them about their other interests in life. What else are they good at? We focus in on those things upon which they good build a solid working life.

The goal here is to find out their commitment to the life a musician. If they have anything else in their lives that would generate a living wage, we encourage them to do that and play music as their outside-of-work passion. However, if their answer is “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do than be a musician,” only then do we talk turkey. “So you want to be a musician, this is what you have to do and how hard you have to work to at least give yourself a chance.” It can be a hard thing to hear — but we present them with the truth, then help them as best we can to achieve their goal.

Yes, I have musician-friends who make a ton of money. But I have a much larger number of them who don’t make much money. They struggle to keep afloat (and that’s why so many of us have private students), so they can keep their dream alive. Most of us wind up taking day jobs in other fields so we can keep body and soul together — and finance our real passion in life.

It is exactly the same in book publishing. The only realistic course to plot for oneself is to write and get your works published simply because you just love writing and enjoy then being an author (which is not much more than being a sales person for your work). If you win the “writing lottery” and sell a ton of books, great! I’ll be cheering you from the sidelines — and be a slight bit envious at the same time.

Being a successful author or musician — or any sort of artist — involves far more luck than talent. Yes, there are those once-in-a-lifetime talents who just can’t miss, but they’re few and far between, and even then, the right people have to come in contact with them. Remember this: Mozart died penniless.

The reward for a writer is to hold in your hand a book you wrote. If you can accomplish that, you have gained a hell of a lot and won the most important prize. If you go into writing as a means to generate a living wage, then you are in the wrong business, or perhaps the right business — but for the wrong reason.

I like to think of my published books as my “letters” to the world. Someone on the other side of the world, perhaps years after my death, will find one of them and read it. Even if they don’t like it, I still touched their lives.

That’s the payoff in writing. If you get past that and go on to making a living wage from your writing, even better.

And if you strike it rich, well then God bless you!

But for the moment, keep your day job, please?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Why We Do This.

My newest book, Graveyard Bay, launched on September 10th. In the past week, I’ve done several book signings, one book talk (with dinner), and was a featured author at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance show in South Carolina. Next weekend, I’m flying to Scottsdale, AZ, to sign books at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

Since the launch, I’ve had readers tell me that the book has kept them up at night reading. One told me she stayed up until four in the morning so that she could finish the book. A work colleague told me a similar story, giving me a slight shudder when she talked about the scary ending.

That’s what we do this for, isn’t it? To know that you’ve told a good story? To know that you might have scared the bejesus out of someone? To know that you might have made a lasting impression and a new fan?

If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Early on in my writing career, I showed my wife a royalty check that was smaller than the others. Her comment was, “It’ll come.”

My answer to her was, “Well, you know I don’t do this for the money.”

That’s when she grabbed me by the front of my shirt and said, “I never want to hear you say that again.”

Perhaps it didn't happen quite like that, but I'm a storyteller.

It would be fabulous to be that tiny percentage of mystery authors who can make a decent living and not need a day job. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the President of our Chamber of Commerce here on the coast of North Carolina and being a cheerleader for this area is a wonderful experience. I'm not anywhere near ready to retire yet.

But writing is my passion. I do it because I love it. The reality is I could not live solely on the income from my books—yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Just not today.

Last July I attended Thrillerfest in New York and one of the events it a debut authors breakfast. There were about twenty writers who have either recently released a thriller or was about to. They had a chance to spend about two minutes talking to the audience about themselves and their books.

What was most disconcerting was that there were four or five of them who announced to the large crowd that, now they had a book under their belt, they had quit their day jobs. The crowd loved hearing that and applauded.

I wanted to grab those authors by their shirts, the way my wife had grabbed mine, and say, “Why the hell did you do that? That’s premature. You have to be realistic.”

Here’s a short explanation about how this generally works. Unless you’re self-published, and that’s a whole other subject, once you sign a contract with a publisher, the author receives half of the agreed upon advance.

Once the book has undergone revisions with the publisher’s editor and is locked and loaded for release, the author receives the second half of the advance.

That advance is not a gift. It’s exactly what it says it is--an advance on earned royalties from book sales. The author is paid a percentage of the number of books that are sold. If you don’t sell enough books to cover the advance (and you certainly hope that you do), the author doesn’t see another dime.

That’s why we authors are always hustling to promote ourselves and our books.

I think the best way to sum this all up is with a quote from another Poisoned Pen Press author, Jeffrey Siger. Mr. Siger is a former Wall Street lawyer who did manage to quit his day job to become a full-time mystery/thriller writer who also lives half of the year on a Greek island. In an interview, he said of becoming a full-time writer, “I’m also a realist, and in making my decision I knew and appreciated that writing, as with any career in the arts, is a lousy way to make a living, but a wonderful way to make a life.”

Thank you, Mr. Siger.

Friday, September 20, 2019


As I was last week -- when I briefly popped up because I had the wrong Friday -- I'm still deep into the manuscript I have due and day job. So please forgive me for not doing a real post.

I do want to direct your attention to two mystery conferences coming up in March 2020 (love that year. Can you believe it?).

The first conference will be the third annual Murderous March sponsored by the Upper Hudson (upstate New York) chapter of Sisters in Crime coming up the weekend of March 20 and 21. Our partner in this endeavor is a local library. This conference is growing much faster than we anticipated re writer interest in participating in what for the first year was a small, chapter event. Next year, we anticipate having expanded beyond our library space. If you are interested in attending, I'm the program chair and will have flyers available shortly.

The other conference is one you may already be familiar with -- Sleuthfest in Florida. Sleuthfest will be over four days, March 26-29. Catriona McPherson is the Guest of Honor. I'm one of the four Author Faculty who will be doing three workshops over the course of the conference.


More on my next Friday. Hope to report I've finished my manuscript on gangster movies and gotten it out the door. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Little Bit of Yourself

I (Donis) belong to an outfit called P.E.O., which is a philanthropic organization providing educational grants, loans, and scholarships for women. It's a worthwhile organization, but I am not the most diligent of members. Mostly because I am one of the more unsociable members of the human race. But I try to contribute where I can.

My local group has decided to hold a garage sale for their fundraiser this year. They have done this before, a few years ago, and I took myself in hand and spent the day working the sale. Sadly, it made me realize that I am not in peak physical condition, since I apparently don’t even have the strength to stand upright for several hours at a time without exhausting myself. Even so, I enjoyed it, more or less. We were fortunate that the sale was held that year during the first relatively cool weekend we’ve had here in the Phoenix area since last spring. If it had been held the weekend before, we would have all died of heat stroke. As it was, the temp reached the low 90s. But the workers and the buyers were all Arizonans and thus already desiccated and leathery, so we thought the weather was swell. This year the sale will be at the end of October, so we may be lucky enough to have low 90s again.

I will probably spend the previous couple of weeks going through my house in order to find things to contribute to the sale. I will be really proud of myself if I'm able to part with as much as I did the first time. However, I have my doubts.

It’s not that I’m a pack rat. No, I’m not. Really. It’s just … well, out of sight, out of mind. I’ve had other things to do. I’ve been distracted. And the dog ate my homework. I think ‘stuff’ just multiplies all on its own without your having to do anything, especially if you’ve lived in the same place for 25 years.

While going through my stuff, I've discovered that I’m quite sentimental about objects, though, which actually surprises me somewhat. What possible good can come of saving an item that you enjoyed when you were twelve, especially when it’s so used and beaten up that it’s hardly recognizable? I admit I find it very difficult to part with something that was given to me by someone I love. I agonized for a while before parting with a stuffed elephant my husband gave me, even though it has been sitting on a chair gathering dust for years. Out it goes, and lo and behold, I have my chair back!

A gift is one thing, but a handmade item is something else. A thing that someone created with her own hands has a kind of magic to it. There is an essence of the maker woven into the object itself, a bit of her soul imbued into it. I can’t possibly get rid of the little picture of vegetables that my sister embroidered for me, or the crocheted rainbow wall hanging that the other sister made. I even have a cigar box that youngest sister glued macaroni all over and spray-painted gold when she was in second grade (she's in her 60s now). I have kept several dresses that my mother made for me in the 1960s and ’70s. I couldn’t get into them with a shoehorn. Or a building crane. My mother is gone, now, but her craft and skill reaches across the decades and speaks to me as if she were still here.

I have the same soul-magic feeling about any craft or work of art. A piece of the creator is in it, and ought to be respected and admired for that, if nothing else. Even food that is cooked from scratch out of the goodness of someone’s heart is better for your health and well-being.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Old dogs in the digital age

Lots of material for blogs here on Type M this week! I was going to skip over the politics discussion, but decided to put in my two cents' worth first. Here in Canada, we are heading into our own election campaign, mercifully only forty days long instead of the 1 1/2 year marathons that seems to be the norm south of the border. I think if our campaigns lasted 1 1/2 years, I'd have no more hair left; forty days is quite enough! The savagery and the polarization is certainly one of the most depressing elements of campaigning these days, and we Canadians are not immune. The famous Canadian politeness does not extend online. But more infuriating to me are the lies. Not just lies of omission or cherry picking of facts or spin-doctoring, but outright, baldfaced lies that politicians have the temerity to come out with. They must be banking on enough people not knowing enough to recognize the lies. The sad result of this is that many of us don't believe a word politicians say.

Another interesting topic on Type M is the print vs. digital divide in reading, writing, and editing. There has been some surprising research in recent years about the differences - notably that people remember printed books better than ebooks or screen articles, and that college students who take hand-written notes remember and understand the lecture material better than those taking notes on a laptop. In the former case, it may have to do with the fact that the reader has more of a sense of the whole and where they are in that whole when they are reading a print book. They can flip back and forth to refresh their memory or doublecheck information. Reading on a screen feels like being caught in the present tense. It's not nearly so easy to check the context or to see how one part relates to a previous part.

In the case of note-taking, the theory is that because handwriting is slower, the student can't record verbatim, straight from ear to fingertips without passing through brain, but has to analyze the material, paraphrase, condense, and re-organize it, so that the key points are extracted.

I am one of those dinosaurs who writes my first drafts long-hand, in part because I started writing before the computer age and that habit of sitting with pen and paper in hand and drink at my elbow is well established. Writing on a computer was associated with more analytical, professional writing like the reports and articles I prepared for my other work. But I also think that handwriting serves creativity precisely because it slows down the brain, makes us think more carefully and deeply about a scene, listen more attentively to the characters, and so on. It also feels more visceral, as if we're more directly connected to the words we write.

Editing, however, is an interesting hybrid experience for me. I do what I call micro-editing on the screen – editing line by line not only for copy errors but also for clunky language, redundancies, over-used words, ambiguous sentences, and minor inconsistencies from page to page. eg the character is having breakfast one minute and dinner on the next page. A lot of tightening and polishing gets done on-screen. But the big-picture editing, which I only do once I've run through at least the first micro-edit to tidy up the manuscript, has to be done by printing out the entire manuscript, or at least the part I'm working on. I get a better sense of the whole – plot flow, pacing, character consistency, logic, effect – when I have a pile of pages to scan and flip through as needed, whether it is just one chapter or the whole book.

It's also easier to see at a glance what changes I've made, what words I've deleted and what paragraph moved. Track Changes, besides being very distracting and messy looking, replaces the old with the new and it's more difficult to decipher from the side column what the previous text was. And if I've saved multiple versions of a draft, it's much easier to compare them side by side on paper than flipping from screen to screen.

Perhaps the more computer savvy writer has tricks and software techniques to do these things more efficiently online, but I have enough trouble keeping up with the upgrades that the software industry keeps foisting on me. I guess I tend to do things as I always have. Old dogs and all that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

All over the map

by Rick Blechta

I don’t have a specific topic to write about this week, but I’d like to share a number of disconnected thoughts on various topics.

First, while Type M is usually a “politics-free” zone, I don’t think Charlotte’s and Aline’s most recent posts were out of line at all. The political state of the world seems to be in free fall these days with everything up for grabs from one polarized side or another. Both my comrades are correct when they say there no longer seems to be any common ground to build on. It’s “my way or the highway” on everything. My feeling is no good can come from this.

Here in “polite” Canada, we’re in the midst of campaigning for a federal election on October 21st. The battle lines are drawn. I’m not going to go into the specific platforms of each of the 5(!) parties running candidates, but from where I sit, things are very muddy. I know which party I will NOT be voting for, and with a British parliamentary system in place here, that leaves me with the choice of voting for the most viable candidate to defeat the candidate of my not-favourite party in my riding . More often than not, lately, that’s the way I have to vote. For the past three elections, I’ve been forced to only vote strategically. That’s not a good thing. At least this time, the candidate I will be voting for has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected.

I have noticed another troubling thing, though. The political ads in Polite Canada have become more and more nasty as trends south of the border filter into the Great White North. The two main parties are most guilty of this, but everyone is doing it to some extent. Again, not good. Wouldn’t it be great if candidates were limited to speaking only on the policies they are espousing instead of attacking the policies of their competition, as well as the opposing candidates? How refreshing that would be! Helpful, too, I imagine.

Stepping off the soap-box now…

From the publishing world: The juggernaut that is Margaret Atwood is dominating media coverage at the moment. Everyone seems to be talking about her latest novel. How good is that? Imagine, with everything else going on in the world demanding our attention, a novel is near the top of media coverage as well as around the water fountain in offices. I was on the Toronto subway this weekend and heard three people who obviously didn’t know each other discussing what they’d heard about The Testaments. Two of the people had already purchased the book. Wonderful!

Anyone out there into preserving and canning? We are, in a pretty big way. Since the beginning of September, we’ve done up two bushels of tomatoes into tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes, my yearly batch of crab apple jelly, pickled beans. We made pickled asparagus and strawberry jam earlier. We were all set to make peach and mango chutney until I discovered we still had 8 jars from last year’s fantastic batch. Same thing with damson plum jam. Tomorrow we’re going to roast a bushel of red peppers since we’re nearly out. (That will never do!) Then we’re going to rest until it gets cold enough to dry cure some pork in our basement. That’s another reason I enjoy fall so much — even though it means a lot of work.

What does this writing about food have to do with writing? Nothing, on the surface. But I find — especially when I’m working alone which will be the case while throwing shepherd peppers on a wood fire tomorrow — I start thinking about whatever work-in-progress I have going at the moment. It’s almost as if my characters drop by to keep me company. It would be great if they’d help out, but they never do. Still the companionship is nice.

I will get back at them, though, by not sharing whenever we’re enjoying the fruits of our labour during the rest of the year.