Friday, December 13, 2019

'Tis the Season

The season that comes at the end of every semester. Today I have research papers coming in from one class while responding to the other about comments on their drafts of the papers due on Monday. In between the deadline for submission of one set of papers, I need to attend a meeting on our main campus.

In my first post next year (can you believe it's about to be 2020?), I will try to make up for not lingering here today. But the topic that comes to mind today is how the seasons -- the weeks --- the days -- even the hours affect my ability to write. Except in summer and the "intersession" that we are about to begin between the fall and spring semesters, I rarely sit down and write every day. I have learned to use the times when I can't to make notes, think through structure, and live in the world of my characters

Being away from my computer gives me time to work through the book or short story. With less time, I think I am more efficient than when I have long days to write.

Does anyone else find the same?

Wishing you all a joyful and stress-free season of the year!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

How Could You! Or The Perils of Writing a Spin-off Series.

The Wrong Girl, the first book of my new series, The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, has been out for a month now, and let me tell you, it's been interesting. The main character in The Wrong Girl, Bianca LaBelle (nee Blanche Tucker) is a spin-off from my previous 10 book series, the Alafair Tucker Mysteries. Blanche/Bianca is one of Alafair's younger daughters, and was featured as a child in The Wrong Hill to Die On (the double “wrongs” are a coincidence...) While she was growing up in Oklahoma, one of many children in a warm, loving family, Blanche was a sweet little kid, smart and pretty. So pretty, in fact, that Alafair was a little worried about what that might mean when she grew up.

As it turned out, Alafair was right to be worried. At fifteen, naive, headstrong Blanche ran away from home with a guy who promised to marry her and put her in the movies, but turned out to be the worst kind of predator. Fortunately, Blanche is as resourceful as she is beautiful, so she manages to escape, and with a lot of luck and a lot of help, she does manage to get to Hollywood and eventually becomes a big star. But for nearly a year after she runs away, she does nothing to contact her mother to let her at least know she's alive and well. She's ashamed, she's afraid, she's half-way excited about the adventure and doesn't want to be hauled back home to face the music. In short, she's fifteen.

I've gotten quite a number of wonderful reviews and fan letters about the new book, but I've also gotten a few letters that basically say How Could You Do That to Alafair! I'm sure that there are readers out there who had the same reaction but didn't write to scold me. Well, let me say that I worried about this before I started writing. The Dangereuse books are quite different than the Alafairs, and not nearly as warm and loving. It's a whole new world. I asked my husband, “If I write it this way, will I alienate some of the readers who love Alafair?”

My husband said, “Yes.” He was right.

But let me assure you all, grown-up Bianca is really sorry about what she did to her parents, and she does make a great effort to make amends. By the time she's famous, she and her folks are very close. I'm glad some of you are so invested in Alafair's feelings! But everything will turn out all right. I promise!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Books make the perfect gift

I love this discussion about books as perfect gifts. There is an endless variety of them - one for every taste and age and skill - and unlike most useful gifts these days, they won't bankrupt you. In my own family, we have two different traditions. My children and I celebrate Hanukah, but since none of them live in the same city as me and they only get the usual Christmas holiday time off work, we choose one of those days as our family Hanukah celebration. With any luck it falls on an actual Hanukah night, as it does this year, but otherwise we add a "Fradkin's Famous Ninth Night of Hanukah". We have always exchanged gifts on that night.

My extended family - sister, brother, nephews, nieces, and families - all lives in the area and we have been getting together for Christmas dinner since forever. Over the years, the families have proliferated, adding in-laws and next generations, so that now we are quite a big crowd both for Hanukah and Christmas. It's becoming an epic challenge to come up with affordable gifts. So some time ago we turned the Christmas event into a book exchange. It's brilliant. Each of us buys one book, wraps it, and puts it under the tree. When it's our turn to pick, we can choose to steal a book from someone else or take a wrapped one from under the tree. Some books are stolen several times.

This way people usually end up with a book they might at least vaguely want to read. Horsetrading and a lively discussion about each book's merits occur as well. Some books are duplicates, particularly award winners or books with buzz. Current political books are always hot, and there is a varied selection of both fiction and non-fiction.

When the children are small, they get books of their own from each of us, but the teenagers get to participate in the free-for-all.

I always have fun picking the book I plan to contribute, and this year I know exactly what I'm going to buy. Off to my favourite independent bookstore to buy it! I expect it to cause some merriment.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Book gift-giving

by Rick Blechta

I really enjoyed Aline’s post yesterday. Hope you did too. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, please Click Here.

I love giving — and receiving — books at Christmas. I will generally read anything, so if someone wants to giving me reading material, there isn’t a “don’t bother getting him this” list to go by. The field is wide open! (Actually, that’s not true. DO NOT give me an e-book.)

However, when buying books for another person, I really focus on buying something that will give a lot of enjoyment. That can be tricky.

This year, I’m only giving four books since the “adults” have decided to forego gift-giving. The books will be going to our grandchildren and two of our grandnieces/nephews. But even for children at various stages of reading development, it is a tricky process.

Our granddaughter is very much into “repeat enjoyment” of books. Whenever she’s over for her weekly visit, she goes to the shelf containing her books, takes her favourites out one by one and leafs through them. We also have some books that includes sounds/recordings — press a button and they play — but they’re also somewhat fragile, so Grandma or Grandpa have to read those with her. She always indicates when she’s ready for that to take place — she’s not really talking yet — and we love nothing better than to put her on our laps and let he turn pages and play her favourite sounds repeatedly.

Our grandson is now reading (quite well!), so he’s a different problem. We want something he can read to us, but tht he’ll also want to read on his own. Hmmm…

Our grandniece is turning seven shortly, so her reading skills are even more advanced. We’re just trying to figure this one out and may have to query her parents before coming to a decision. She’ll get a book she can enjoy on her own. I’d love nothing more than to give her “The best book I ever read!”

I always keep books I’ve received as gifts and at this point the shelf is quite impressive. It goes all the way back to the first book my mom ever gave me. There are probably a few missing along the way, or ones that had to be replaced because they’d been read so many times they were falling apart. But all are treasured.

So, from my point of view, giving gifts of reading is something to be taken seriously. There is nothing grander than to hear maybe months after that the person to whom I gave a book really enjoyed it.

That’s a wonderful thing indeed.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Improving Literature

One Christmas it was dressing-gowns. I don't know how it happened, but without consultation everyone seemed to have thought, 'I know - I'll get them a dressing-gown.' I still have a photo somewhere of five of us in a line-up flaunting them over our Christmas party best.

This year, I think it's going to be books. From the whispers I hear I don't think I'm going to be the only one who's decided books are the answer for Christmas 2019, and looking at the gaily-wrapped parcel my sister-in-law left with us in October – yes, she does that every year – I reckon it isn't a football.

When you get to our stage in life, when we've accumulated so much that the gift of another little knick-knack, however charming, isn't really going to be greeted with more than a wan smile as the parcel is opened, books are definitely the answer. It's usually not too hard to know what people's taste in books is and even if they are in the habit of buying what they like for themselves, most will wait for the paperback and having the brand-new hardback for Christmas is a luxury.

Of course,other motives beside careful and sympathetic choice can come into play. When my son gave my husband, a political biography freak, a biography of one of his own heroes knowing that his father didn't like him at all, it definitely came into the category of 'improving literature'. (He read it and enjoyed the book but it certainly didn't change his opinion.)

That was a great phrase in my youth. 'Improving literature' was the sort of book that would wean you off the other category, 'trash' and usually made your heart sink even though you might later see the point – though it could also have the opposite effect. My father gave me half-a-crown to read Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and I did it, but I've never read another one.

Which brings me on to the subject of my bookworm oldest granddaughter, aged 13. She has said she would like some 'classic' books for Christmas and I'm keen that my choice for her won't have that effect. Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice haven't grabbed her (she wants to be an astronaut) but she's been known to express an interest in 1984.

So, advice, please! I'm thinking along the lines of Animal Farm, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, perhaps even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. What are the books that really snared your interest at that age and perhaps even shaped your reading habits for ever afterwards?

Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Mesdames of Mayhem

Today I am delighted to welcome as our weekend guests the inspirational group of crime short story writers who call themselves The Mesdames of Mayhem. Initially based in the Toronto area, this group of women have made their own luck and their own success, and have a story to share! Take it away, ladies.

When Madeleine Harris-Callway announced to our writers’ group in early 2013 that she was forming a crime fiction writers’ collective, our ears pricked up. We knew the power of writers working with other writers. I had already done some online networking, but a collective of writers who lived in close proximity meant we could promote one another in person as well as online.

We called ourselves the Mesdames of Mayhem, and we started out small: the six women in the writers’ group and eight other women writers in the Greater Toronto Area. None of us were big-name authors, although several were winners of or finalists for major crime fiction awards. We started giving talks at libraries and book clubs, telling audiences why we write crime fiction and what we write.

And we plotted our first crime fiction anthology. The idea was that each Madame would have a story in the collection, as well as her biography, a complete list of her works, and links to her website. The anthology would serve as our calling card, giving samples of each author’s writing and telling readers where to find her other works. Titled Thirteen to mark the year of its release, the collection was published in October 2013 by Carrick Publishing run by Donna Carrick, a member of the collective. 

Thirteen did very well. Three of its 15 stories were nominated for major awards. Donna’s watermelon Weekend” and Sylvia Maultash Warsh’s “The Emerald Skull” were finalists for the Arthur Ellis Best Short Story award. My story, “The Sweetheart Scamster,” was a Derringer Award finalist. The Mesdames subsequently released three more collections, all with the numeral 13—our lucky number—in their titles. 13 O’Clock came out in 2015; its 15 tales of crime all contained elements of time. Madeleine’s “Glow Grass,” was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Best Novella award.

13 Claws followed in 2017; its 17 stories featured animals—and dragons and snakes. This collection did extremely well. Three stories were nominated for the AE Short Story award: Catherine Astolfo’s “The Outlier,” Jane Petersen Burfield’s “There Be Dragons” and Sylvia’s “The Ranchero’s Daughter.” “The Outlier” went on to win the Arthur Ellis, Crime Writers of Canada’s top award for short fiction. Madeleine earned another nomination for the AE Best Novella award with her noir tale “Snake Oil.” And Catherine and Sylvia’s stories were both mentioned in Otto Penzler’s The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018.
The success of 13 Claws will be tough to beat, but our fingers are crossed for our fourth anthology. In the Key of 13 was released this October, and its theme is music. It has already received a thumbs-up from Jack Batten, the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer. “One of the book’s appeals,” he wrote in his Oct. 16 review, “lies in the often ingenious ways the writers sneak Mozart or the Beach Boys or ‘Turandot’ into the plots.” 
The Mesdames’ anthologies have taken on lives of their own, but there is more to the collective than these four books. We’ve expanded to 21 members, including three men. And we’ve moved outside the GTA, with members in Fort McMurray, Alta., and Ottawa. Best of all are the ways in which individual mesdames and messieurs have lent their unique skills to the group. Donna has given us her publishing expertise. Veteran journalist Ed Piwowarczyk has edited the last three anthologies. Catherine Dunphy has scouted out venues where we can meet readers. Lynne Murphy, Marilyn Kay and Rosalind Place have worked their magic on our website. And Madeleine has kept us focused and committed.  
There really is power in writers working together, and the Mesdames have tried to pay it forward by holding two story contests for unpublished crime fiction writers. The winning stories were included in our last two anthologies: Mary Patterson’s “Night Vision” in 13 Claws, and Blair Keetch’s “A Contrapuntal Duet” in In the Key of 13.
Earlier this year, Toronto filmmaker Cat Mills was intrigued by a notice announcing a panel discussion by the Mesdames at a Toronto Public Library branch. She attended it. “These women were so interesting and vivacious and courageous,” she told “They didn’t seem scared of anything. They were confident and excited and curious.”
Cat and CBC producer Felicity Justrabo interviewed the Mesdames as they worked on In the Key of 13. The result was a short documentary, The Mesdames of Mayhem, currently airing on CBC Gem.

“They are pursuing their dreams,” Cat said. “It’s hard to make it as an author. But they keep at it because it [the Mesdames of Mayhem] has given the women a community and a creative outlet.”

 The Mesdames of The Mesdames of Mayhem are 21 Canadian writers who share one deadly mission: to thrill readers with their passion for crime fiction. Several Mesdames are winners of or finalists for major crime fiction awards. The Mesdames--and Messieurs--are: Catherine Astolfo, Rosemary Aubert, Jane Petersen Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick, Lisa de Nikolits, Catherine Dunphy, Cheryl Freedman, Madeleine Harris-Callway, Marilyn Kay, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Cat Mills, Lynne Murphy, Mary Patterson, Ed Piwowarczyk, Rosalind Place, Madona Skaff, Caro Soles, Kevin Thornton and Sylvia Maultash Warsh.

Friday, December 06, 2019

A Fine Bar for Dogs

I've spent many happy hours listening my daughter Michele's band, the Trucker's Daughter. But a couple of Sundays ago I had the pleasure of hearing her in a really unusual bar--the Soul Squared Brewing Company. It was a haven for dogs. 

Michele's fabulous guitar player, Josh Long, invited her to accompany him and what a performance it was. 

Talk about dog heaven! The bar was like a dog park. 

This certificate is very coveted recognition. Not every little doggie makes the grade.

There was a best-selling book several years ago: The Tender Bar. The bar the author described served as a parent during his childhood. What a great topic. I would love to know the story behind Soul Squared. 

Love and inspiration is where you find it. 

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Knowing your audience(s)

I’m caught between two projects right now: I'm trying to finish a novel that I've waded into 50,000-words deep, and I'm trying to write the pilot script for a would-be TV series based on said novel. My agent is awaiting the book, and a producer and an agent are waiting on the script. Of course, both are written on spec. (It wouldn’t be a mid-lister’s life, if they weren’t, after all.)

But something interesting happened on the way to the completion of both: I realized I'm writing for two different audiences.

The book, it seems to me, is written for an audience of mystery readers. People like me, I assume. People who want to find a new series, new characters, a new setting, and fall in love all over again (and hopefully buy this book and many more in the series). The book features a husband-and-wife team, and we move with them, learning about their lives together and apart, their struggles to raise a set of twin boys (one with a severe stutter) and a hyper-socially conscious daughter. We follow them on their journey to the solution of the crime. This is, first and foremost, a book I would want to read –– which is why I'm writing it.

The script, though it features the same husband and wife team, is dominated by the young people in the story. I knew it had to be as soon as the teenagers started talking. I went to a boarding school and now work at one. I know the pressures these kids face, know how they talk, and I know what they watch on Netflix. I also know that if the POV is to bounce around, as it must in the script, the kids can –– and will –– steal the show, so I’m going to let them.

All of this has produced an interesting lesson for me –– a lesson in audience awareness. The storyline for the script had to shift away from the novel’s plot. The script veered off the tracks of my outline as soon as the kids climbed aboard. Once they did, I knew we had left my favorite crime writers at the door. This was more Gossip Girl than The Long Goodbye.

All I do but try to keep all of it straight in my head, go along for the ride(s), and keep plugging away.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

It's The Journey

It’s Hallmark Christmas movie time once again. I’ve watched my share of them over the last few years after my sister got me hooked. Some I really love, some I think are just okay. But I always know what I’m getting with them. The couple always gets together and any other issues that come up are resolved in a positive manner.

I’ve heard some people complain that they’re too formulaic, too predictable and you always know the ending when you start. I suspect that’s why a lot of people watch them, because they know things will turn out okay in the end. For me, they’re a nice respite after watching grittier TV shows where things don’t always turn out as I want and favorite characters die.

It doesn’t matter to me that I know the basic ending. For me, these stories are all about the journey. How do they get together? What obstacles do they encounter that could keep them apart? Is it an interesting setting or an intriguing idea?

A recent one I watched, Write Before Christmas, had an interesting premise—at least to me. The woman’s boyfriend broke up with her a couple weeks before Christmas. She’d bought him 5 cards to send to him during the holiday period. So, instead of throwing them away, she sent each one to someone who’d been important in her life and told them how much they meant to her: her music teacher, the boy band member whose music had gotten her through tough times in adolescence, her best friend, her brother and her aunt who’d taken the two of them in after their parents died. The movie was about how those people were affected by receiving the cards. And, of course, there was romance.

I have a similar attitude toward cozy mysteries. They aren’t quite as predictable as Hallmark movies, but one hallmark(!) of them is that the killer is identified at the end and brought to justice and the world is righted once more. It doesn’t bother me if I can figure out who did it before the end of the story (this isn’t always the case, btw). I just enjoy the journey that brings me to the unmasking of the killer.

I used to fret a whole lot about how to hide the killer in my own books, but not so much anymore. I know there will be those who figure it out right away and those who don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I still am saddened when the former happens and I mentally pump my fists in the air when it’s the latter.

What’s really most important to me now is the reader’s journey. I try to set scenes in interesting places with interesting and fun characters and to put in twist and turns that surprise people. Because I think for a whole lot of readers, including me, it’s all about the journey.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

End of book depression

by Rick Blechta

First, let me set you straight what I’m referring to here. This post is not about being depressed when you’ve finished writing a book, but finished reading a particularly good book.

Obviously there is some connection between the two things. One point of conjunction is the fact that you won’t be hanging around with these very interesting people any longer. If you’re a writer, of course you can begin to craft a new story for your characters and just carrying on being with them. If you’re a reader, you’re at the whim of the author (or publisher), plus if you’re reading a current series, you know there’s going to be a wait of most likely a year of more.

And that’s depressing if the novel and characters you’ve just finished enjoying is particularly good.

Fortunately, the depression doesn’t last long. In my case, it’s generally just a few hours, but it is actual depression.

I’ve been down with a particularly bad cold the past week, with the result that I’ve been staying indoors and allowing myself to just relax and focus on getting better —Christmas season being what it is for musicians (lots of gigs) and get-togethers with friends and such.

So I went over to my favourite bookstore, the excellent Sleuth of Baker Street, and bought some novels by my favourite authors who thoughtfully released books in time for the Christmas season.

I finished a Peter Robinson novel yesterday, and as always, he didn’t disappoint. It was excellent. As I lay the book down for the last time, a strong wave of sadness filled me. I couldn’t hang out with Peter’s invisible friends until the next book is published. Bummer that!

My question is this: am I weird or are there others out there who get depressed when they have just enjoyed a particularly good book?

Monday, December 02, 2019

Storytelling—Casablanca Style

One of my favorite films, Casablanca, turned 77 on November 26. Whenever it’s on television, I never miss it. But what about it leads me to watch it over and over again? We do the same thing with movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

Is it the nostalgia? Possibly.

Or is it because they check off all the right storytelling boxes?

Let’s stick with Casablanca. Our protagonist is the mysterious owner of a café in a very dangerous, exotic location against the backdrop of World War II. Our hero, or anti-hero, is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a man with a dark past. He’s known to have run guns to Ethiopia during its war with Italy and to have fought with the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. But something in his past has made him bitter, unwilling to take sides. He says, “I stick my neck out for nobody.”

And yet, we see a soft side of Rick when the randy opportunist Captain Renault (Claude Rains) offers to trade letters of transit to a young couple, newlyweds and refugees, for sex. Okay, it’s never actually said out loud in the film, but it was 1933, and we know what Renault wants. Rick lets the husband win at roulette, allowing them enough cash to buy their way to safety.

Casablanca comes with a fabulous MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is an object or a device in a book or a movie that moves the plot forward but is largely irrelevant. In this case, it’s the letters of transit that the creepy Ugarte has stolen from two murdered Nazis. Ugarte is played by Peter Lorre and nobody does creepy any better than him.

The Germans are hot on his trail and he begs Rick to take the letters of transit and hide them until he can come back safely to retrieve them. They’re worth a fortune on the black market. Ugarte is arrested and eventually dies in captivity. In the words of Renault, “I’m making out the report now. We haven’t quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.”

The letters of transit are papers allowing their bearer to move about Nazi occupied Europe. They are the key to getting to a neutral country and safety

Enter the love interest. Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) is part of Rick’s dark history. She thought that her freedom fighter husband had died in a concentration camp and Ilsa had fallen in love with Rick. On the day that the Germans stormed into Paris, Rick and Ilsa were supposed to meet at the train station and leave for a safe haven. Rick waited at the train station in vain, never knowing why Ilsa never showed up, why she had forsaken him.

It wasn’t war that had made Rick bitter, it was lost love.

When she arrives in Casablanca, it is with her husband, alive and well, having escaped the concentration camp. Her husband, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) is a famed Czech resistance fighter, someone the Germans want badly to get their hands on again.

Lazlo and Ilsa need letters of transit to find their way to neutral Portugal and time to organize their fight against the Nazis. They need the letters of transit that Rick has in his possession.

So let’s review what we have here in this storytelling process. We have Casablanca, an exotic location in a dangerous part of the world during World War II. We have a strong, taciturn, hero who is reluctant to help anyone but himself. We have Rick’s former love, Ilsa, torn between her feelings for Rick and her love and loyalty that she has for her husband. We have Lazlo, who desperately wants to get his wife to safety but also to fight the Germans.

And then we have the bad guys. Captain Renault is part of the Vichy police force but willing to play both sides of the fence. But the actual villain is Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) willing to go any length to, once again, take Lazlo into custody.

And percolating behind the story is the tension between the French, yearning for their freedom, and the Nazis. One of the most stirring scenes of the film takes place when a group of Nazis gather around the piano at Rick’s Café and loudly sing “Deutschland Uber Alles”. Disgusted by what he hears, Victor Lazlo leads the band and the rest of the bar in singing “La Marseillaise”. It’s a duel of national anthems that the Nazis lose.

The story arc is nearly perfect. In the end, the bitter loner has regained his humanity and his patriotism. He proves his love to Ilsa by allowing her to leave with her husband, after she's tried to make a deal with Rick for the letters, telling him that she'd stay in Casablanca and leave her husband.

I won't tell you how the movie ends, although I'm sure anyone who's reading this has seen the film a dozen times. But for me, as schmaltzy as it is, I thought it was the perfect way to tie things up.

And finally, the movie has some of the most memorable lines in movie history. My favorite? “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Play it Sam.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Passage of Time

I'm late today because I "slept late" and only woke when Harry, my cat, began to meow outside my closed bedroom door. His stomach and the daylight had obviously told him that it was time for me to get up, brush, and feed him. The curious thing is that with daylight saving time, Harry, who is usually up and meowing between 8 and 9 in summer (because I am up late and he eats a bedtime snack) is now napping until between 10 and 11. Sometimes, when he is in my bedroom, he wakes up, notices that I am awake but not getting up, and cleans himself and goes back to sleep.

I'm writing about my cat and time because I wonder how it is to experience 24 hours if you are a cat (or a dog). What is it like to spend so much time napping? When we, who love our animals look at them and regret the speed with which the time with them seems to pass, do they have the same sense of time passing. Does my cat, Harry, who is now officially a senior at 13 years of age feel as if he has aged when he dashes through the house with even more glee than he did four years ago because he is much more "at home" than when I adopted him? Does he know about time passing when he plays like a kitten, chasing his own tail around and around? Maybe it's because of his breed, a Maine Coon mix, and how they age (or don't).

I'm thinking about all this because I had a birthday this month, and I've been pondering the passage of time. But I've also been thinking about cultural history and fiction. I woke up and headed to the computer this morning to do research because I've been thinking about the everyday lives of my characters in 1939. In my thriller, they are on the move -- traveling frequently by train because my protagonist is a Pullman sleeping car porter. Another character  is traveling back and forth between Georgia, where he lives on a plantation that his grandfather purchased before the Civil War. This character is involved in the state's preparation for the opening of the 1939 World's Fair in New York That fair is themed "the world of tomorrow." Another character migrates from a small city in Virginia to Harlem in New York City. And a fourth character moves from a summer home in northern Virginia to Nantucket. How do these characters experience time and place? Do they walk faster in New York City as I do when I go there from Albany? Or, did people in New York City walk slower in 1939?

With none of our modern technology-- mobile phones, Internet, television (debuting in 1939 at the World's Fair), are my characters really unplugged? Was radio an inherently slower experience? Or. were 1930s movies with chase scenes the equivalent experience of our chase scenes?

What about cooking with 1939 appliances? By virtue of technology, "slow cooking?"

I woke up and did a deep dive into a database called "America: History and Life" to see if anyone had written an article about this. What came up first was a wonderful book review in the February 1, 2013 issue of History & Theory by a scholar named Brian Fay. He calls his review "Hammer Time," a title that made me smile because it seemed a tongue-in-cheek reference to the performer who now does commercials. But the review is of a 2011 book by Espen Hammer in which Hammer examined what various philosophers had to say that might be relevant to our modern sense of time. Hammer, who Fay describes as a man of reason, takes as a given that we now perceive the passage of time as "a series of present moments each indefinitely leading to the next in an ordered way," We measure time by the clock. This allows us to have technological breakthroughs, but at the same time we have problems of "transience and memory."

In his review of Hammer's book, Fay was thoughtful and poetic in describing how he himself experiences time. He noted that as he watched his daughter running down the hall after her bath, he experienced time not only as moving forward toward the next moments of putting her to bed, but backward in time to when she was younger. Fay argues that any moment can be filled with "the what is, that what might-have-been, the what-will-be, the what has been, and the what was." These experiences reflect our perceptions, memories, expectations, hopes, fears, and regrets. Because of this, Fay argues, modern time seems to him to be "fundamentally multidimensional." And he wonders if there is any period (at least in modern history) when time hasn't been experienced in this way. How is the way T.S. Eliot perceives time in "Burnt Norton" and "Dry Salvages" differ from Shakespeare's Macbeth when he refers to "the petty pace from day to day" that lead to "dusty death " (Act 5, Scene 5, 19-28).

I know this may be a writer's dive "down the rabbit hole" of research. But I'm fascinated by this subject and I'm going to spend a bit of "my precious time" reading about it. I suspect that if I can grasp the sensory experience of the passage of time in 1939 (another period of uncertainty and anxiety but without the modern technology) than my book will be all the better for my deep dive.

Harry is awake again and after meowing and poking me with his paws to get my attention, he has stretched out beside my chair to remind me that it is time for his lunch. His stomach has told him that it is time, no need for a clock.

I look at the clock and realize half my day is already gone. Would I have experienced that in 1939? And if 40 is the new 30 now, what was it like then?

Harry's meowing. Got to go. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

Impossible Pumpkin Pie

It's Thanksgiving Day in the States, so instead of writing about writing today, I'm going to write about pie. On top of that, I'm going to gift you all with my mother's wonderful Impossible Pumpkin Pie recipe, below, which is easy as pie (as it were). There are several kinds of "impossible" pies that make their own crust, but this is a good one for the holidays.

For the past several years, Thanksgiving has been something of a problem for Don and me, since we (mainly he) have so many dietary restrictions. We've been vegetarian for the past thirty-five years, though I've relaxed my meatlessness a lot lately when I'm not at home. Sometimes it's just too much trouble to ask what is in the soup. On top of that, Don is supposed to avoid too many oxalates, so no greens, rhubarb, strawberries, or beans. Since his cancer operation, no refined sugar or pure fruit juices, either, and certainly no artificial sweeteners. Stevia is all right, if it's pure stevia leaf and no dextrose.

Have you ever tried to make a non-pumpkin, non-sugar pumpkin pie? Believe it or not, it can be done. Don has become an expert stevia-sweetened pastry chef. He can make a "pumpkin" pie out of pureed butternut squash and stevia which I defy you to tell the difference between it and the real thing. It's the spices that make the pie, I think.

Substituting squash for pumpkin is no big deal, anyway. Ever tried sweet potato pie? My grandmother used to make pies out of the most unlikely ingredients. Whatever she had on hand. Apple cider vinegar pie tastes like apples. One of my favorites was her Ritz cracker pies. I haven't had that since...well, practically forever. The crackers dissolved into a pudding-like consistency. I don't know how she did it.

But this is the real thing:

The following recipe is for the easiest and most amazing pumpkin pie ever made. This is my mother’s recipe, and I’m presenting it here exactly as she wrote it down.
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin
2 tsp. butter
2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 can (13 oz.) evaporated milk
2 tsp. vanilla
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 inch pie pan. Beat all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pan. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.
(No, you don’t make a crust. The pie will make its own crust.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Catching those silly words

On Monday I sent off the revised manuscript of THE ANCIENT DEAD to my editor, well ahead of the deadline. The revisions included some substantive changes based on his suggestions, some story changes I came up with on my own, and some minor tweaking and polishing. Do we ever stop editing our work? Every time I read over a section, I find things to tweak. Delete that unnecessary word, add another for greater clarity, change a word for one that flows better, or for an elegant variation as Aline described in her post this week. In fact, even once the book is published and been on the shelf for ages, I've been known to tweak phrases on the fly when I do readings, wishing I'd noticed that silly word choice earlier.

At a certain point, the tweaking has to stop. It's time to send the manuscript on its way and let others have their way with it. With fresh eyes, the copy editors and proofreaders come up with different improvements, and by the time the book gets to the printers, it is the most polished it can be. Except for that silly word that gets changed at every reading.

The last edit I do before I send the manuscript off is to run it through a series of mind-numbingly dull but crucial filters. I don't have any fancy apps that tell me I've used the word 'possibly' five hundred and eleven times in three hundred pages. I don't have an app to tell me my character has 'rolled their eyes' at least once in every chapter. Or drummed their fingers, or whatever verbal tic I am currently fond of. I am more aware of these now, so possibly I catch myself before my character rolls his eyes, but maybe some new tics creep in instead. And then there are the very useless words that just seem to pop into a sentence because I am on automatic pilot.

That's where the filters come in. For this, lacking a fancy app, I use good, old-fashioned "Find next". I type in the word I want to catch and then plow through the manuscript instance by instance, deciding whether I need that word or not, and deleting as many as possible. Because I don't want to catch all the embedded words like every, or justice, I have to do the search several times with a space preceding it and a period or comma afterwards. When you put as many just's into three hundred pages as I do, it takes a while. That takes even longer.

After that I tackle the adverbs. This involves typing ly followed by a space into the Find function and then wading through the adverbs that clutter the page, along with an awful lot of only's and family's,  but that can't be helped. Each adverb has to be considered on its merits and either spared, deleted, or replaced with a single punchier word. Then I repeat the whole exercise with comma and period after the ly.

Now the manuscript is almost ready. It only needs a final spellcheck. In my case, in the matter of hyphenated words, my Spellcheck happened to disagree with the manual of style being followed by my publisher, so I had to ignore all the times Spellcheck told me to fix coworker or reestablish.

After that, I press send and off it goes, out of my hands. And I go to the fridge, where the wine is already chilling. Perhaps I walk the dogs first, because that boring filter process can take a few hours and they and their bladders are running out of patience. But in the end, there is wine. Probably chocolate too.

I'm curious to know what editing apps and tricks other authors use to catch those pesky little phrases and words that the brain just glosses over when we reread our pages. If there is a cheap, easy fix for an old Luddite like me, I'll happily try it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Spam comments on Type M

by Rick Blechta

The time has come to do something about spam comments on our blog. I use “our” here because I (for one) consider Type M for Murder to be a big family.

However, like every family, we have “troublesome relatives.” I’m referring to that odious segment of humanity known as spammers. These people come to our blog to sell things or tell you about things that they want to sell you. They troll their way through blog pages like ours and leave their copy & paste messages, hoping to attract more business.

I’m sure the vast majority of people visiting Type M don’t bother to click on the links left behind by spammers, but it certainly does degrade your experience seeing all these messages.

I handle the moderation of our web page, and I’m constantly checking comments to remove spam. This past weekend, I happened to look back to some older blog posts (and don’t forget, Type M goes back to 2006!) and found hundreds of spam comments that have been left long after the posts were published. It took me several hours to purge them all. To say the least, I’m completely fed up.

Sooooo, beginning right now, ALL COMMENTS on Type M will be checked before they are posted. I will do my very best to review comments as quickly as I can and upload them. I suspect that this alone will cut down on spam comments right out of the box because these Odious Creatures will see that there is no hope.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’m sorry this has come to pass. Believe me, it’s a huge pain in the neck for me, but the Type M crew all want your experience here at our blog to be a lovely one, and spam doesn’t help that. Some recent spam messages have been quite appalling.

This DOES NOT mean that comments will be censored in any way. Good discussion often involves disagreement, and we do want to encourage good, vigorous discussion. The ONLY reason a comment will not be posted is because it is spam.

Thank you for your understanding!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Elegant Variation

Mario's mention of 'purple prose' reminded me of a linked subject I'd been meaning to write about – elegant variation.

I don't know whether the dislike of repetition is instinctive or instilled but I know that whatever I'm writing, using the same word twice in close proximity – unless deliberately – sets off a little warning buzzing in my head. It makes me uncomfortable, even if I'm just writing a quick email to a friend. And certainly it's something my copy editor pounces on if I've slipped up.

The danger is that it's so easy to go too far the other way, when the effort not to repeat puts the language through terrible contortions. It was HW Fowler, author of The King's English – the bible for classic English style – who introduced the phrase 'elegant variation'. Garner's Modern American Usage suggested that it should be rechristened 'inelegant usage', misunderstanding the ironic tone of Fowler's comment – 'elegant' implied 'pretentious.'

There are some wonderful examples, particularly in newspapers. At the Guardian newspaper they are known as 'povs' after a hapless journalist, trying to avoid repetition when he was writing about carrots, described them as 'the popular orange vegetable.' It went along with another where 'the elongated yellow fruit' was used to describe - well, I hardly need to tell you, do I?

Once you start looking out for it you see it everywhere. I found an article about the emperor who was later termed 'His Majesty' and then called 'the monarch.' (See what I did there?) Sports writing does it a lot – you get the guy's name, then it'll be 'the midfielder' or 'the star scorer' or 'the bearded player' – I could go on and on.

This approach is apparently particularly popular in France. A humorist explained, 'In an article about Gaston Deferre, it's OK to say Deferre once. So next you say the mayor of Marseilles. Then the Minister of Planning. Then, the husband of Esmonde. Then Gastounet, and then ... well then you stop talking about him because you don't know what to call him next.'

My favorite, though, was the report about a pet rat that was so fat it got stuck in an opening. In the course of the article, it became 'the rotund rodent', 'the furry fatso', 'the chubby pet', the well-upholstered mammal'. After that, I suppose the reporter just had to stop talking about it because, as the humorist said, he didn't know what to call it next.

I still can't stop myself from trying to avoid repetition but it's a timely warning to be very, very careful.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Making a Better Human

After his time in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and his common-law wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus, set out for Alaska, where they ran the Dexter Saloon. What intrigues me about this photo of their saloon is the humor, a hundred years after the fact, which still holds up.

Humor is an integral part of human nature, and though we are a civilization centuries old with many differences in customs, languages, and shared experiences, I'm amazed when jokes manage to transcend the ages. One of my favorites is from ancient China and discusses the origins of the house cat. The story is that cats had been sent by the Gods to watch over us, but the cats don't do a very good job of it because they sleep so much.

This interest about human character stems from panels at science-fiction conferences where we discussed future developments involving humans and high-technology. One favorite topic addressed the human-computer interface and potential changes to human biology. For example, connecting our brains directly to computers would allow us to access information from vast libraries and process that data at incredible speeds. The eventual goal would be "singularity," where every mind would be wired to the Internet to create one global super brain. What a schizophrentic mess that would be. Who would set the agenda? Proponents of that technology argue in purple prose that such a development should be hailed as the next step in human evolution. Homo-Google.

That ability would surely make us smarter. Right? And by extension, better. What's missing in this talk of becoming more advanced humans is any discussion about what truly makes us better. I've yet to see a software app that'll make anyone more honest. Or more empathetic. Or wiser. Conversely, I haven't seen an app that would prevent dishonesty, theft, treachery, or even murder. Human nature as expressed through humor, or doing good, or doing bad, won't change. To that end, here's one of my favorite quotes from Scripture, Job 5:7 Man was born into trouble just as surely as sparks fly upward. 

And that trouble is what keeps us crime writers busy.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Wrong Girl? Not by a Long Shot

My dear friend Donis Casey launched her new series this month. The Wrong Girl is the first title in the Bianca Dangereuse Hollywood Mysteries Series. It's a terrific way to slide into a new series without jettisoning all the readers who love her Alafair Tucker books.

I don't know if Donis composed the following or one of Poisoned Pen/Sourcebooks promotional whizzes came up with the following but it sure captures the transformation of Blanche Tucker in Bianca LaBelle:

Blanche Tucker longs to escape her drop-dead dull life in tiny Boynton, Oklahoma. Then dashing Graham Peyton roars into town. Posing as a film producer, Graham convinces the ambitious but naive teenager to run away with him to a glamorous new life. Instead, Graham uses her as cruelly as a silent picture villain. Yet by luck and by pluck, taking charge of her life, she makes it to Hollywood.
Six years later, Blanche has transformed into the celebrated Bianca LaBelle, the reclusive star of a series of adventure films, and Peyton's remains are discovered on a Santa Monica beach. Is there a connection? With all of the twists and turns of a 1920s melodrama, The Wrong Girl follows the daring exploits of a girl who chases her dream from the farm to old Hollywood, while showing just how risky—and rewarding—it can be to go off script.

Many established mystery writers have spun very successful series by plucking out a favorite character and spinning him or her off into a brand new adventure.

Here's wishing one of the most thoughtful contributors to Type M For Murder the very best of luck with the new series.

I can't wait to read it and really admire this skillful transition.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


Timeouts. I don’t know what else to call these pauses. I get in a rhythm, write 50 or 75 pages of the novel I’m working on and something –– let’s call it life –– gets in the way and delays me for a month.

Part of this is my OCD: if I break stride in a book, I have to go back and reread the whole thing, and that means reading it aloud (I think Rick has previously blogged on the importance of reading your manuscript aloud), which, although vitally important to me, is not a fast process, at least not for me. So I spend several weeks reading my work aloud (yes, apparently I’m talking to myself, to anyone who walks past my office) before advancing the narrative.

I’ve hit Pause again this week, about halfway through the novel I’m writing. I led a faculty retreat, which took a lot of planning and distracted me enough to slow me down for a week, and –– and more pertinent to this audience –– I was asked to write a three-season arc for a TV script I wrote based on said novel (yes, the one that’s not finished). Cart before horse? Probably. But the requests come from a producer and an agent who like the concept, and, as we know, nothing sells books like TV, so…

...the novel is on hold, and I’m fleshing out three seasons.

I like small goals and set them each week. Currently, I’m trying to get the arc done by Christmas, update the pilot script by New Year’s, and dive headlong back into the novel and finish it by April Fools’ Day.

I’ve called a timeout to write this, so I’m going back to work…

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

5 in 5

Monday marked 5 years since my first book, Fatal Brushstroke, was released. Tuesday was the release day for my 5th book, Ghosts of Painting Past. That’s 5 books released in 5 years. Hard for me to believe sometimes.

When I signed the first 3-book contract, part of me doubted that I could actually get the books completed in the time frame given, but I knew I had to try. The second book was particularly hard for me. It took me 10-15 years to write the first one and I had 9 months for the second. Yikes! Let’s just say that things did not go well. I did eventually finish Paint The Town Dead a few months late thanks to my publisher for hanging in there with me. For whatever reason, book 3, A Palette For Murder, was much easier to write. I still think it was a tight schedule, but that one seemed to flow out of me.

That goes to show you that every book is different.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to sign that second 3-book contract, but I knew I wanted to write Halloween and Christmas themed books and I wanted as many as possible on audio, so I signed it. I’m glad I did, but I admit to being very exhausted. I still have book 6 to complete. For whatever reason, it’s been much harder to figure out this story than books 4 (Designed For Haunting) and 5 (Ghosts of Painting Past.)

I think I’ll be like Scarlett O’Hara and worry about that tomorrow. Right now I’m celebrating the release of my 5th book and everything I’ve accomplished in the last 5 years. Happy Book Birthday to me! (Okay it was yesterday, but I can still celebrate!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Two random thoughts

by Rick Blechta

I found Tom’s post yesterday quite interesting. Here are a couple of riffs that his description of Washington inspired in me.

I’ve never been to Washington (despite growing up in the New York City area which is reasonably close), but I have been to several other world capitols (London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Ottawa). They all have one thing in common: government buildings all have rather self-conscious grandiosity incorporated into their designs. I suppose this is supposed to reflect each country’s feelings of importance and standing. Tom is right in his comment about the use of marble. It is a very common feature in all government buildings.

Viewing them up close, somehow, I always come away feeling a bit, well, squashed. I suspect that’s a deliberate function of the architecture of Important Government Buildings.

For instance, have you ever noticed how huge the main doorways are? A Tyrannosaurus rex could walk through one without worrying about bumping its head! There might be a smaller door-within-a-door, but you can’t help but be aware of how small and insignificant you are.

Just the thing any government would want from its citizens, I think…


Even though I was born and brought up in the States, I’ve lived in Canada since I was 20, so I guess I’m more “Canadian” than “American” these days — whatever that means.

So why am I completely consumed by the political shenanigans in the States? I mean, it’s got so bad that I actually find myself with an online subscription to the Washington Post (even though it Fake News).

Who else is suffering from this?

I used to not really follow politics all that much, just gleaning what I needed from various news sources to be an adequately informed citizen. Now I find myself wanting to check into the Post on a nearly hourly basis.

But that in turn has led to other thoughts. They’ve managed to turn Trump’s trials and tribulations into click-bait, haven’t they? It’s almost like an addiction, and is sort of frightening.

Well, last night I decided I’m only going to check in when I sit down at the computer in the morning, and then just after dinner. That’s it. My life is too busy to spend a half hour here and an hour there reading breathless reports on just what is happening. Between times, I’m going to resist the urge to see what new bombshell has landed in our laps.

Wish me luck…

Monday, November 18, 2019

Thoughts From Capitol Hill

This week I took a break from working on my fourth novel and flew to Washington D.C. where I joined a group of about fifty coastal business leaders and elected officials to talk to our federal legislators about banning offshore oil drilling and seismic testing. This lobbying effort was coordinated by Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization focused on influencing specific policy decisions on the national level to preserve and restore the world's oceans.

The trip fit nicely with the book I’m working on with the working title of Shadow Hill. That term is coined by one of the characters, already dead in the first chapter from a murder-suicide event. Instead of calling it Capitol Hill, he derisively called it Shadow Hill. The reason being, everyone on the Hill has a secret agenda hidden by the shadows.

So in addition to my lobbying effort, it was also a research trip.

Here are a few of my observations from my trip to Shadow Hill.

I lost count of the number of security checks I had to go through, and that doesn’t count airport security TSA. Every federal building we entered forced us to empty our pockets and walk through the metal detector. Which made me ponder that if everyone on the Hill is so concerned about weapons, why don’t they tackle simple common sense regulations like universal background checks for gun ownership for the rest of us?

The day we were in and out of Senate and House offices was also the first day of the impeachment hearings. Every congressional office had a television tuned into the hearings so the aides could keep track of what was going on. Not surprisingly, the televisions in the Republican offices were turned to Fox, the Democrats were watching CNN. Same hearings, same discussions, same questions and answers…different networks.

Even the televisions in the cafeteria were turned onto the hearings. Half tuned into Fox, half tuned into CNN. I was reminded of the last time I’d been in DC and the looking up while I ate my hamburger and seeing multiple images of Stormy Daniels.

I was amused by the hierarchy of offices. For example, the more senior members of the House were ensconced in reasonably spacious offices in locations close to doorways and bathrooms. The newest members of the House were not. We visited a Representative who had just been voted into office in a special election in North Carolina whose office was so cramped, we held our meeting in the hallway. His office, by the way, was way the hell away from the closest exit. If I remember correctly, it was right next to a janitor’s closet.

In spite of the fact that I’ve been to Washington several times to lobby for various causes, I’m always impressed by the grandiosity of the place. On this particular trip, I was blown away by the Capitol Visitors Area. It was where we were greeted by a cocktail reception with our delegation and additional elected officials. I don't recall ever seeing so much marble.

I was driven back to Dulles Airport to fly home by a cab driver who was originally from Ethiopia and had immigrated to the United States twenty years ago. He told me how much he loved this country. He loved the freedoms we seem to take for granted. We also had a comprehensive discussion about politics and I was very impressed with his knowledge of the political players and current events and he had the inside scoop on what was going on with the impeachment hearings. If you want to know what’s going on, ask a cab driver in Washington D.C.

Some of the earlier blogs over the last couple of weeks talked about what people read while waiting for their flights or on their airplane. I noted, like everyone else, that most people were staring intently at their phones or tablets. Smatterings of people were reading books. One man shocked the hell out of me by reading a…gasp…newspaper.

Back to working on my manuscript. I’m on deadline.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Writing Weather

When I was growing up in Virginia, we lived "out in the country." Not deep country, but a few miles outside the city limits. Far enough out to have several acres of land, sloping down from the road as a driveway and stretching out in back toward a field that could be used for planting vegetables and small fruit trees could be grown. My father mowed this yard. But when autumn came, raking the leaves that had fallen from the huge hickory nut tree and blown down the hill from my uncles' houses on each side of ours -- raking the leaves was a ritual that my parents and my younger brother and I did together. First, we raked. Then the dogs ran through the leaves. Then we piled the leaves up again and burned them. The bright fall day would be filled with that wonderful smell of burning leaves as we leaned against our rakes.

Fall is my favorite season. Snuggle up on sofa with book season. Add blanket to bed season. Sleep late and eat oatmeal season. I have my own rituals now. The moment when I bring out my small heater. The first night I make cocoa. This is "sleeping weather" when I make up for all the uncomfortable nights when I tossed and turned even with the air conditioner on.

This is also writing weather. The weather when I wake up and go to my computer. Weather when I feel like a storyteller -- when there are readers gathered with me around a fireplace, listening as I weave my story. My cat naps on top of the radiator and time has slowed down.

Today, after three trips in two months (Kansas City, Missouri, Bouchercon in Dallas, New England Crime Bake in Massachusetts), I am home. I have work to do -- time has not slowed down. I have errands to take care of, students to meet with at school, reports to write. But when I sit down at my computer with my mug of cocoa, it is writing weather.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Another Book Launch Under My Belt

Donis, Barbara Peters, Martin Edwards

What a weird couple of weeks it's been. I've had so many things going that I'm in a constant state of anxiety that I'm going to forget something important. In fact, I did forget to write my Type M blog entry on October 30. I'm sorry, but I suppose if I'm going to forget something, that's better than forgetting to put on pants.

October 29 was the official launch party for my 1920 silent movie era novel, The Wrong Girl, Episode 1 of my new series, The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. It was a wonderful event - a big crowd and I was pleased to appear with Edgar winner Martin Edwards, author of The Golden Age Of Murder, who was in the States to attend Bouchercon and tout his latest, Gallows Court. I didn't get to go to Bouchercon, but I am planning a road trip early next month to go back to my home country of Oklahoma to do a couple of events. (more on that later). Yes, my husband Don and I are planning to drive from sunny Arizona to who-knows-what-it'll-be-like Oklahoma. Don has not been "home" for a dozen years, and he is having a period of relatively good health right now, so we thought we'd better take advantage of the opportunity while we can. Besides, tomorrow (Friday the 15th) is our 45th wedding anniversary, and by damn, we're going to do something together to celebrate.

Always work the crowd.

The Wrong Girl is getting some nice attention already. It got a starred review in Booklist, and has been listed as one of their Best New Books of the Week! You can see the full list here: Cathy Cole's review at Kittling Books made me very happy, as well.

I also did a fun, short podcast at Biblio Happy Hour on Monday in which I wax eloquent about The Wrong Girl. Have a listen!

And if you haven't had enough, and want to see how it all came about, Elisabeth Storrs interviews me in her November inspiration newsletter here. If you subscribe to her newsletter you can enter into the draw for a digital copy of The Wrong Girl. As a special treat, my friend Judith Starkston is offering 3 copies of her new release, Sorcery in Alpara, at the same address:

Oh, there's more, but for the moment I'd better pause and think about all the things I've forgotten to do.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Cover Design

Covers sell books. Well, not by themselves, but covers are the "curb appeal" of books. They are what first catches the eye and makes a book stand out from all the others so that the casual browser stops for another look. Perhaps picks it up and turns it over to read the back blurb.

So it's essential to get it right. The colour, the image, the amount of detail, the title, and the font all combine to give an overall impression of what's inside. Pastels like pinks and purples suggest a nice, gentle cozy, and a cat in the image cements the impression even before you get to the title "Baking up Murder". By contrast, vivid, violent, and clashing colours like red and orange are more likely an action thriller, and moody, dark colours like grey, brown, and dark blue, often with a single, haunting image, hint at menace. If you're not in the mood for a tortured, moving read, you won't pick up that one.

Cover designers rarely read the novel beforehand. They rely on the blurbs and descriptive material provided by the editors, and sometimes, as in the case of my publisher, Dundurn Press, they ask for suggestions from the author. Here are two examples of FIRE IN THE STARS, my first Amanda Doucette mystery. Because it was a new series, there were no guidelines for how the covers ought to look. I had suggested a Newfoundland landscape, so here is the first cover that was developed.

A beautiful scene that captures the essence of Newfoundland, but does it speak of danger and menace? The scene , with its calm ocean and its quaint houses, is too peaceful and colours are too soft. After this feedback, here is the cover the designer came up with. (Thank you, Laura Boyle, you are awesome.) I think it speaks for itself.

We are now just beginning the process of designing the cover for THE ANCIENT DEAD, the fourth Amanda Doucette mystery, and this time I sent Laura about five photos taken during last fall's location trip to the Alberta badlands, and although she may find something even better, they can be a starting point for her. Here are a couple of of them.

I can't wait to see what she comes up with!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Marbled end papers

by Rick Blechta

I’m a bit rushed this week (and woefully short of ideas) but following on from a post I wrote nearly a year ago about hand-crafted leather bound books, I thought I’d cover those fabulously beautiful and intriguing marbleized end papers.

The function of end papers is to hide the join between the book’s bound pages and the  cover (as well as adding additional strength to the join). Marbleized end papers add an element of beauty, and because of the way they’re produced, uniqueness. All are different, so every book is different.

Here’s one way marbling is done. My wife and I have been in the shop where the video was shot and it is a lovely, lovely place if you’re a book nut like I am. I bought a leather bound journal (with marbleized end papers of course!) and is something of which I am very fond.

Monday, November 11, 2019

How To Grow Readers

Reading Rick's post this week about how few people are reading these days, I wanted to say that as a family we are doing our best to boost the numbers!  This shows my daughter, my son-in-law and two of my three grandchildren on holiday in France.  The reason the third grandchild wasn't in the picture would be because she was inside, reading.

We have a film clip of her as a five year-old: she was told to clear the table after lunch which she duly did, one item at a time, while reading the book she had in her other hand the whole time.

The reason they are such bookworms is the same as the reason my own children were, and I was - in self-defense. When Mummy and Daddy were reading you didn't get much attention so you had to entertain yourself on wet afternoons.  Nowadays the internet is the competition but for them time on line is very limited but books aren't.The result is, of course, that we all have a problem with books like some people have with mice.

Reading, of itself, is an educational advantage.  It's how you pick up spelling, grammar and punctuation as well as all kinds of useful information.  But what does concern me, a little, is what they're reading.

My grandson, aged eight, has developed a passion for Calvin and Hobbes.  Great!  I love them too, and there's plenty of other stuff he likes as well.  The ten-year old is into dragons, in a big way.  But the oldest grandchild is just entering her teens.

When I was her age there was no such thing as a teen novel.  Oh, there were series like Little Women and Anne of Avonlea and Pollyanna and Katy when the young heroine grew older and even had a very tasteful romance and got married, but apart from that, you had to move on to adult novels.  The books I read were by the Brontes, Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dickens, Thackeray, Tolstoy, even.  Later I discovered the great Americans like Salinger and Scott Fitzgerald.

But how many really challenging books did I pack in my bookbox for the recent holiday?  One or two good modern novels, an interesting biography - and 'easy-reads.'  They're so tempting, they sweep you along so you don't have to think; you enjoy it at the time by they don't leave you with anything to think about afterwards.

I did much of my serious reading between 11 and 18, but I know perfectly well that if there had been these wonderful 'teen reads' available I wouldn't have done it.  It's like eating candy; you lose the taste for chewing the tough crust of sourdough bread.  But it's much better for you.

I do hope that my smart-as-a-whip granddaughter gets dissatisfied with them and moves on. But it was a lot easier for me.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Flogging My Way to Success

Just can't do it folks. Can't nag my friends and family members about writing reviews of my books. I consider it an honor when someone tells me they bought one of my books and just loved it. Yes, that happens! But as far as going the extra step and twisting their arms to get on Amazon and give me a good review, I just can't. 

Good reviews are very important. I'm thrilled every time I get thoughtful comments from one of the four major review magazines: Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal. One of my biggest honors was when Hidden Heritage, the third book in the Lottie Albright series, was flagged by Kirkus as one of the 100 Best Mysteries, and one of the 100 Best Fiction Books of 2013. I wondered if they had made a mistake.

Publicity directors send books all over the country to magazine and newspaper editors who write book reviews. These people are swamped. There were over 1 million books self-published in 2017. In 2018, 675 million print books were sold in the United States. That's print books. The statistic doesn't include ebooks. And every one of the these writers would love to have a review.

Everyone who has ever held a job knows there are parts to their employment they really don't like to do. Personnel in health care complain about the volume of government forms they have to fill out. Some management positions involve a lot of travel. When my husband had the livestock truck line I remember one of the drivers commenting that if had wanted to be a bookkeeper he would have taken a job in that field. Filling out envelopes, check records, fuel purchases, dispatch information, and log books was a tedious undertaking.

Most of the writers I know would like to write. The more gregarious among us like speaking to groups. Frankly, I enjoy this. But I balk at constant blogging, creating newsletters, commenting on my computer, and even updating my website.

But the reality is--the work has changed. We are no longer sequestered in a garret courting our Muse in blessed silence. I'm very interested in how other authors manage this problem.

Nevertheless, I draw the line at pressuring my friends to write a review for me on Amazon. When someone does, I am grateful. But somehow asking them to do this reminds of chain product selling. You buy a product and the seller immediately pounces and wants you to become a distributor under them.

Doesn't that sound like a grim approach. "You've bought my book! Wonderful. Now review it."