Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Price Hike

 by Charlotte Hinger

Egads! I give my daughters, sons-in-laws, (or their significant others) and grandchildren books for Christmas. Always! In addition to anything else that I think they might need or enjoy. 

This year, I'm simply stunned by the price of books. John Irving has a new novel and Michele loves this author. But the book is $36.00 and I have fifteen people to buy for. Ironically, this year there is an abundance of books that will appeal to my family. 

Readers have balked at paying these prices. Realistically, publishers can't produce cheaper books. Sales have been profoundly affected. 

Houses that have been around for a long time have simply closed their doors. Sadly, Five Star (Gale/Cengage) is going out of business. This is not a bankruptcy move. They have simply made a strategic decision to meld into Thorndike Publishing Group, which is a dominant supplier  of large print books to libraries. Thorndike only buys books that have already been published. 

In a recent video presentation to its authors, the Five Star representative said the company can longer longer sustain the expense of acquiring, editing, and promoting its line of books. Cover design and the artistic aspects also involved a chunk of money. This imprint was a huge publisher of novels about the American West. Particularly appreciated has been the Frontier Fiction line, edited by Tiffany Schofield. The house was outstanding in its support for authors and impeccable production standards. 

Nevertheless I can't figure why the price of ebooks has risen so much. Equally bewildering are new novels with a price tag for the paperback edition more than the hardcover version. 

If I had used my head, I would have hit our library's used book sale. But I didn't. We have a great used books store, 2nd and Charles so I'll look there. 

Since I'm an Amazon Prime member, I'll have books shipped directly to my North Carolina daughters and hand deliver books to all of my Colorado people. 

Uh-oh. I forgot. There's the price of gas now too. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Handy-Dandy Things to Know

 Frankie here. 

This week I had been invited to do a writing workshop at a college the next city over. On Tuesday  afternoon  I prepared my Power Point slides that would keep me on track as I talked about the writing process. On Wednesday morning, I wrote for a couple of hours. Then I had lunch and got dressed. The class meets at 2 pm, and I wanted to leave home at around 1 pm. That would have given me about half and hour to spare after I drove over and found street parking. (Note the foreshadowing!)

Since I rarely go to this other city, I got out my GPS. Sitting in the driveway I put in the address that I had found on the college website. Then I backed out into the street with my comforting female GPS voice telling me which way to turn.  

I alread knew that, so I ignored her instructions. Then we got to the exit that the directions online had identified. She agreed. I glancded at my dashboard clock and relaxed. I was on schedule. 

Following her instructions about when and where to turn, I found "2nd Avenue" and saw some buildings that looked large enoungh to belong to an urban college campus. I even saw some young people waiting at a bus stop in front of one of them.

"Nailed it!" I thought.  

I was doubtful about whether I should park in what seemed to be a visitors lot because the instructor of the class had said there was a parking lot (and circled it on the map she had sent me). But she also had said it was easier to find a parking place on the street. Were there so few visitors to the campus that this lot was only half-full? And why hadn't she suggested I park there. 

But the GPS had brought me there. I got out and trotted over to the people waiting in line at the bus stop. I asked a young man if he could point me toward the campus center, He looked puzzled and shook his head. Several other people turned to look at me, and I asked the line of about ten people if anyone knew. That was when I thought to ask if I was actually on the college campus. They all shook their heads.

Panicking, I hurried back to my car. I found the address I  had written down and checked what I had put in my GPS. Both the same.

With the clock ticking, I dug in my shoulder bag for my phone and started scrolling through my emails for the one out of seven or eight in which the instructor had sent me her phone number. I sighed with relief when my phone rang. She was calling to make sure I was on the way. 

I explained my dilemma and gave her my street location. She laughed and said, "You're on 2nd Avenue. You want 2nd Street." 

She assured me there was no need to panic. She had the room for two hours and I was nearby. 

She was right. I was there in six minutes. I spent another seven trying to parallel park with traffic behind me. Not one of my skills even when I'm on an empty street. I passed my driver's license test as a teenager after my father and I had spent several Sunday mornings in an empty parking lot. He discovered that there was a crack in the sidewalk that could use as a marker when I begin backing in. . It worked. I have gotten better over the years, but not when I am rattled. 

I gave up. Pulling into an illegal spot, I called to let the instructor know I was there. I mentioned going down the side street at the corrner to find a spot and she said that would work.  She said she would come out to meet me on the 2nd Street side of the campus green. She would be wearing a pink sweater.

I was in luck on the side street. Half way down, I found lots of parking space just beyond the last car in the line. I grabbed my tote bag and headed toward the building -- turning in the wrong direction on the campus sidewalk, but making a course direction.  I sent up a silent cheer when I saw the instructor in her pink sweater waving from the other side of the lawn. We met, she greeted me with a smile and introduced herself -- probably to reassure me that I hadn't found the wrong woman in a pink sweater. 

I walked into the class after a quick stop in the women's room to wipe my damp face (remember the rain shower). Hoping for laughter, I joked that my protagonists had a much better sense of direction than I did. They were amused. I had emailed my Power Point slides and the instructor had them up and ready to go. Even the students who were Zooming in from London were there and waiting. 

The presentation went well, and I got to the Q and A. We were discussing writing a series when I heard myself say that it was important to think about the skill set that a protagonist might need several books later. I mentioned that in my fifth Lizzie Stuart novel she had needed to be able to swim when she found herself in a car in the water. She had been taking swimming lessons. 

The thing was that I was sure I had mentioned that in an earlier book and said I had. But later I wondered if I had. I thought it was in the third book -- but in that book she had been training to take part in a half-marathon. The training was important to the plot, and she had made it through with the other walkers. 

The question about what Lizzie now knows and how and why she knows it made me stop to ponder what every good series protagonist should know. When I glanced at my bookcase, I saw the books I have collected over the years. There was The Boys' Book: How to Be the Best at Everything. I could also see The Survival Handbook for Everyone. I knew that in another bookcase I have the Official Army Survival Handbook and a field guide to doing the things Girl Scouts learn to do.

I also have books on how to play chess and a box containing yarn and an introduction to knitting. I have a magnet on my refrigerator about wines. I have a handbooks on riding horses (took lessons) and doing first aid. Whenever I see a book about how to do something I snag it. If Lizzie is ever in a hotel room and awaken by a smoke alarm or lost in the woods, she will have read about what to do. Even if I didn't say she was taking swimming lessons, I did mention that she had the Army Survival Guide. That had amused John Quinn, her boy friend, because he is a former Army Ranger. 

But I've been pondering how many handy skills I should give my third protagonist Jo Radcliffe. She was an Army nurse during World War II and served abroad. She is home again now, and she has only appeared in two short stories. 

I am going to take my own advice and give this some thought. I got lucky with Lizzie because she is the type of bookworm who would have read about things that she can't do. She decided to add to her skill set when she met a man who can do things she can't. But Jo Radcliffe is going to be too busy working as a public health nurse to learn what she doesn't know. 

I'm glad I remembered that. One thing for sure -- she will have a better sense of direction than I do. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Punctuation Rules and Quotation Marks


by Sybil Johnson

I enjoyed the post on Monday by Thomas on breaking rules and quotation marks. (FYI, I really dislike it when people don’t use quotation marks for speech in fiction.) It reminded me of the time when I went down the punctuation rabbit hole. I wrote about it in a post a couple years ago. Since then I’ve found another book by David Crystal, Spell It Out, about the history of English spelling.

I thought I’d rerun that post today because sometimes it's fun to revisit stuff. FYI, my Swedish is getting better thanks to Duolingo. So here it is...

Going Down the Punctuation Rabbit Hole 

 Exclamation marks, periods, semicolons... We use them every day and don’t think anything about it. They’ve always been there for us. We think of them as being necessary for the written word. But they didn’t always exist. Even spaces between words or divisions into paragraphs wasn’t there when written language came about. 

I’ve seen this myself from the years I’ve spent studying Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Coptic. Nary a space in sight. It’s amazing how fast you can get used to figuring out where words and sentences begin and end. Or, in the case of AE, what direction the text is written in.

 But I didn’t really know anything about when punctuation marks came into being. I still know only a little, but I’m finding it a fascinating topic.

 This whole foray into the history of punctuation started when I read a post by author Kathleen Valenti on Chicks on the Case about exclamation points. https://chicksonthecase.com/2020/07/31/oh-exclamation-point/  I, myself, am a heavy user of exclamation points in emails and letters. I’ve learned to rarely, if ever, use them in stories I write.

Her post got me thinking about the several semesters I took of Swedish (don’t ask me to translate anything, ‘cause I’ve pretty much forgotten it all). I had this vague memory that the use of ! in Swedish differs from how we use it in English. So I did a little googling and found an article on the top 5 mistakes Swedes make when writing English. Number 1(!) was in the use of the exclamation mark. In Swedish it’s used to indicate a positive friendly tone while in English we tend to think of someone shouting or being overly excited about something.

This got me thinking about how punctuation marks came about in general. So I did more googling and came across this article by Keith Houston on “The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation.”

That led me to his book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks where I’ve learned a bit about the pilcrow, the interrobang and other symbols like the at sign and hyphen. I’m still in the process of reading the book, but it’s great so far.

I also found the book Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. This one gives a history of punctuation in English as well as advice on how to use it.

From what I’ve read so far, written texts were seen as an aid to reading aloud. Reading silently was a tad suspicious. So letters were all caps, squished together with no punctuation. Aristophanes in 200 B.C.ish came up with the first forms of punctuation to help with reading aloud. That didn’t stick. But punctuation started gradually being added until, in the 7th century, spaces in English was common practice and reading silently was no longer suspect. Basically, our current punctuation has its roots in the middle ages and was pretty much set when the printing press was invented.

There’s so much more to learn and it’s much more complicated than I’m making out. You’ll just have to pick up one of those books and see for yourself. The interrobang is an interesting little twist. It’s a cross between an exclamation mark and a question mark and was invented in the 1960s. You can put it in your Word documents by using the Wingdings 2 font. You can read a short history of it here.

Yes, you’re right, I’ve seriously gone down the rabbit hole on punctuation and I’m enjoying every single minute of it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Thanksgiving With the Family

 by Charlotte Hinger

There's nothing like a Thanksgiving trip to Pensacola, Florida. My nephew, Charles Mader and his wife, Brenda host a massive dinner every three years. This container of punch says everything about the spirit of the celebration.

Brenda is a gourmet cook. She seated 55 persons around their gorgeous backyard pool. I don't think anyone came up with an accurate count of all the animals, let alone the children. The pool of deserts was staggering and I think she cooked three turkeys and a ham.

 Among the entertainment highlights was bocce. Everyone can play. Even someone like me. All ages loved it. In this photo Chuck Mader is explaining the rules to his sister and visiting cousins. 

I also got to see my first ice hockey game and loved it. 

And the day after we went to an absolutely whopping club called FloraBama that's right on the Florida Alabama line. Bands play around the clock. It's open 24 hours a day. The place swarms with children until 5:30, then they have to leave. We were there during the day, so I have no idea what goes on after sundown. 

Do writers write about their families? I don't. At least not overtly. But there's no denying how much my wonderful goofy extended family shapes my attitudes and my memories. 

There's now a wistfulness creeping into my psychology when I remember times past. Happy memories of family celebrations. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Rules, Breaking Rules, and Quotation Marks

 by Thomas Kies

When I begin a Creative Writing class, I write two things on the whiteboard.  The first thing I write is the word “Rules”

I tell the class that I’ll talk to them about what I know about the rules of writing, such as they are.  For example, when you’re submitting work to an agent or to a publisher, your manuscript should be double spaced and in twelve-point Times New Roman type font. 

I’ll talk to them about using adverbs judiciously…or not at all. 

I’ll show them that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  Read critically.  What was it about that last book you read that you like and what didn’t you like?  Could it have been made stronger? Was there something the writer could have left out?

We discuss how to create engaging characters complete with good traits, flaws, physical descriptions, and backstories.  We talk about how even the villains have some redeeming characteristics. 

We experiment with dialogue, showing what characters are doing while they’re speaking and not using dialogue tags like “He said” and “She Said”.  

So, after I write the word “Rules” on the whiteboard, I immediately follow it up by writing the words “No Rules”.  Because in the end, most writers break the rules.  Although, it’s often at our own peril. 

I’m reading a writer right now who breaks a boatload of rules.  I’m wading through Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, his first book since releasing The Road back in 2006. 

One rule he breaks?  Quotation marks.  He simply doesn’t use them.  In his Oprah Winfrey interview, he says MacKinlay Kantor was the first writer he read who left them out. McCarthy stresses that this way of writing dialogue requires particular deliberation. You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks and write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.

Other writers who refused to use quotation marks were E.L.Doctorow and James Joyce.

Apostrophes…doesn’t use those either.  In his New York Times Book Review piece, John Jeremiah Sullivan said, “McCarthy does that, he takes out the apostrophes. He told Oprah in a 2008 interview that he doesn’t like semicolons and quotation marks either. They clutter. Too many “weird little marks.” But the problem with clutter is distraction. And what is distracting are words that lack punctuation where ordinarily there would be some.”

I’m about two-thirds through The Passenger. Am I loving it?  Yes and no. McCarthy is a remarkable writer and I find some of the passages in this book are sheer poetry.  The dialogue is crisp and snappy,
but I have to work at figuring out who is saying what and yes, I find it a distraction.  It’s still a hell of a well-written book. 

My lesson? If you’re going break the rules, you best be a really good storyteller. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

 Journalism 101

By Johnny D. Boggs

After two-plus years of writing, rewriting, screaming, pulling hair and watching countless movies that feature newspaper journalists, American Newspaper Journalists on Film: Portrayals of the Press During the Sound Era (McFarland) arrived at my front door last week.

Now comes the hard part: Promoting a book that, with a $49.95 price tag, won't entice moms and dads to stick it in stockings for their J-school students -- like any parents want their kid studying journalism these days.

Trust me. My son is majoring in journalism. Didn't you hear all my horror stories about working in newspapers?

Writing this book reminded me of why I'd rather write fiction.

1. Footnotes.

2. Facts.

But it also reminded me of why, even though I predominantly write fiction, I consider myself a journalist.

Instead of who-what-where-when-why, I ask, What if? I also ask tons of questions before typing a sentence. 

Besides, I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't spent nigh 20 years in the field as a high school and college student and as a professional in the then-competitive Dallas-Fort Worth market for two Pulitzer Prize-winning dailies.

I learned:

√ Get Your Facts Right: Sure, I make stuff up in my fiction, but by throwing in enough tidbits that are accurate, you lure readers into accepting your world as though Bob Woodward has vetted it.

√ Deadlines Are Not Figments of An Editor's Imagination: Flashback -- alone in the press box after a high school football game, the lights go off. In complete darkness, I run outside, yelling: "I'm STILL here!" No one is in earshot or cares. After grabbing my notes and Trash 80 (the world's worst laptop), I run down the stands and dash to the gate. Which is locked. I shove my stuff under the fence. Climb up chain-link and over razor wire. Jump down. Get my computer and notes. Run to my Datsun B-210, speed to a payphone. Finish typing the story. Hook up those silly acoustic couplers. And file the piece to the copy desk. On time.

√ At a Minimum, Get Two Sides to a Story: The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

√ Think Before You Type: Empathy is the key when writing fiction. And always be fair.

√ Never Back into Your Lead: The best scene in The Post (2017), for me, twice a copy-desk chief, is after reporters finish their story and it goes to the copy editor, who takes a pencil and scratches out the first line.

The Post isn't a great movie, but I laugh every time at that scene (which isn't played for laughs). I also love this scene in The Paper (1993), also not a great film: A reporter chains his chair to his newsroom desk.

I swear, I worked with men and women just like that.

Yeah, there's a line Humphrey Bogart, playing a NYC daily's managing editor, says in Deadline - U.S.A. (1952) that, even when I'm recalling newspaper horror stories, I agree with 100 percent:

"It may not be the oldest profession, but it's the best." 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

 Since all you Americans are eating yourselves into a stupor today, I thought I'd add to the joy by reprinting a beloved Casey family holiday recipe for your future noshing pleasure. This is called Impossible Pumpkin Pie, and it is easy as, well, pie. It should be eaten with about a quart of whipped cream, according to family members who shall remain nameless. Peace and Love, Donis.

Impossible Pumpkin Pie

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 23, 2022

The hazards of "how to"

 I read Charlotte's Tuesday post with interest, remembering the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly of my critiquing experiences. Some of my memories made me cringe, as it was me being the ugly one.

I've been writing all my life, since I was six and could first print words. For most of it I've been self-taught, like Charlotte. Words and stories poured out of me, and I had little regard for style or perfection. At one point in my early twenties I had some time off and decided to sign up for a creative writing class. This was small-group, workshop-style, and we submitted a chapter or short story to the group for critiquing the next week. Most of us were beginners, and we were given no guidance from the instructor on the do's and don'ts of good critiquing.

The result was a bit of a blood bath. Stories were ripped to shreds, sometimes for the sake of sounding clever or more skilled than the writer. I confess I too was guilty of this. It's so much easier to see what's wrong with a piece than what's right. Much easier than making useful suggestions. And when suggestions were made, they were along the lines of " I think you should.."  or "this is how I would write the story", with little regard for the fact it wasn't their story. After one particularly brutal blood bath (on an admittedly cliched and shallow piece of writing), the young man never came back to class. That memory bothers me still. We are all sensitive at our core - it's what makes us capable of the empathy and imagination needed to write in the first place. No matter how bad the piece is, we have poured our hearts into it and it is a part of us. 

That should never be so carelessly crushed.

That group put me off writing courses and critiquing groups for years. I continued to be self-taught. In fact, I was completely turned off by those who claimed to have found the secret to writing the perfect novel. All those "how to" books and talks that promised success if you follow these rules. A confession - I've never been fond of rules. Tell me this is the way you should do something, and I'm heading in the opposite direction. I've always wanted to do my own thing. So I soldiered on, reading about writing, reading great writers, gradually getting a sense about what worked and didn't.

Luckily for me, somewhere around my mid-century mark, when I started to think more seriously aboutgetting published, I did join a critiquing group of fellow beginner crime writers. We were all feeling our way and by then were mature enough to understand the sensitive task we were being trusted with. The first couple of groups had its ups and downs, and with their help I got my first couple of books published. We learned to set rules for feedback, to focus our comments constructively, and to avoid rewriting the story our way (mostly).

I later found my way to my present critiquing group, the Ladies Killing Circle, with whom I have stayed ever since. At this point we are more friends than a critiquing group. We yak about writing, pitch plot ideas, and may or may not read each other's work before we send it off. I almost always ask for a read-through once I have polished a book to the best I can make it. They act as my beta readers, finding flagrant flaws and questionable characterizations before the book lands on the editor's desk. They are my best friends and after nearly a quarter century, I trust them to handle my words with care. If you can find this kind of group, cherish it!

I believe everyone has to find the way to write a novel that works for them. Not everyone outlines, not everyone does character backstories, and to shoehorn yourself into an inappropriate approach that doesn't give you the room to breathe and discover, dooms you to failure. 

That said, I have found articles or workshops on specific topics useful. Articles on understanding POV, creating setting, or capturing dialogue can be enormously helpful to strengthening your writing, and we always hope to get better and better. I've even written some myself.

But the best way to approach them is to think of them as signposts rather than traffic signals. Not "right turn only" or "wrong way", but "consider this" or "if you do this, it has that effect."

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Too Dumb for Words

by Charlotte Hinger

Janet Hutchings, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, asked me to create a blog post for their on-line blog. Her guests blog about suspense, short stories and the mystery-fiction scene. I was delighted to have the opportunity. Here's the link to my post: 

The Bliss of Ignorance (by Charlotte Hinger) | SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN

Last Monday, Thomas Kies, had a great post about how he conducts his writing class. I can't applaud him enough. What a great approach. His classes are kind and helpful. He does his best to help his students achieve their goals. It says the world about the kind of man he is. 

My post was about my lack of writing education when I began my career. I was literally self-taught. Yet, in some ways I was better off because I never heard the discouraging words so many newcomers have to endure.

After a friend of mine read my post she said she wished she had never taken graduate courses in creative writing. That, and a critique group convinced her she had no business ever submitting a thing. She's just now getting her first novel published after picking herself up years later and working up the courage to try again.  

Another friend told me her writing classes leached all creativity from her years ago. She will never write now. 

This just burns me up! What in the world is going on? I didn't have access to either liberal arts colleges or writing groups in the little Western Kansas prairie town I lived in. I learned all the publication processes from books and magazines. What a luxury to learn without pressure. 

I attended my first writing group as a guest of a friend in another state. I had just finished Come Spring, a historical novel, which was later published by Simon and Schuster. I was in awe of the cultured well-dressed attendees. Yet, by the evening's end, I decided it was the meanest group of women I had ever come across. They absolutely slaughtered the work of the only one there who was writing a novel.

How could that poor timid little soul take that week after week? That's the real story of what soured me toward writing groups. I was glad I didn't have any part of my manuscript with me. I would have been expected to read it and probably would never have submitted my work after the group "helped me."

Again, what in the world is going on?

 I can't abide cruelty in any form. It's especially egregious when it comes to creativity. It doesn't take much to blow the flame out of candles. 

Three cheers for Thomas Kies. If you haven't read his post, do so. It a model example of the right way to teach a difficult subject.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Breaking up is hard to do

 The thing about life is that things end. One season become another, one minute becomes another. Life goes its own inexorable way and there comes a time when we have to change.

As the saying goes, the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

It's time for me, and my moving fingers, to move on.

As Neil Sedaka almost wrote, this will be our last post together.

I've been privileged to contribute meanderings here every second Monday for almost two years. I'm sure some have been more interesting than others. I'm also sure that's a highly sliding scale.

Workload, changing circumstances, the inability to simply organise my time properly mean that I have to reluctantly hand in my keys to the Type M executive washroom. 

I hope regular readers have enjoyed at least some of my monkeyshines.

I know I have. 

But the tra-la days are over and there's no other way for me to say goodbye but this -

Keep reading. Keep writing. And, if you can, keep smiling.

Driving rain

 The story so far: It's Book Week Scotland and crime writers are criss-crossing the country visiting libraries and other venues like bandits on the lam. Sometimes they meet, other times they go solo. But it's November. It's Scotland. And the elements are waiting...

The rain is hitting my windscreen as if it's trying to get through the glass. The wipers are making a game attempt to keep the road ahead in view but in fact they are only waving goodbye to clear sight. The tarmac is becoming a pool, the lights of the approaching vehicles are smeared by the monsoon. It's only 4pm but it's already as black as the earl of hell's waistcoat. 

And I'm still 50 miles from safe haven.

Not for the first time I wonder what in the name of all that's holy I'm doing out in this. The weather report tells me it's only going to get worse the further east I go but still keep the nose of my car pointed away from a sun that's setting somewhere behind the impenetrable murk in my rear view. 

Nobody will come out on a night like this, surely.

(Don't call me Shirley)

I'll get to the venue and probably be the only person in the room, apart from library staff. Okay, that's happened before and on bright summer nights, too, but seriously, what are you thinking about?

I'll tell you - because this is what I do. I'm a writer and that means more than just sitting in a garret awaiting for the heavenly muse to alight on the forehead like an angel's kiss. It means getting out there and meeting the people who matter - the readers. They're the ones who part with their hard-earned folding green to buy the books, whether physical or digital or audio, and borrow them from libraries.

But even they would be daunted by this weather, surely.

(What did I tell you?)

So I keep on keeping on. Like the postal service, this male will get through.

Like wethar, this has been the worst spell of weather all week. The first three trips were all dry but here we are, Thursday night, and it's like the end of the only decent Superman movie and the dam has burst. Only the big guy isn't going to make the earth spin backwards and reverse time.


At first it didn't look as if there was going to be an audience but slowly, in ones and twos, they arrived in the library's events room. They are a hardy bunch, Dundonians. They were't going to let something like a little precipitation prevent them from turning out to hear three crime writers talk about their craft. The roads may have been flooded but there they are, listening, laughing and - importantly - asking decent questions. As did the audiences at all three sessions I attended.

It's the final event of my Book Week Scotland. They have all been hugely enjoyable because, as I said the last time we were together, it's important to have that kind of contact.

Because that's what it's all about, surely.

(Don't make me come over there...)

Friday, November 18, 2022

In Search of a Title

This post is going to be short because I'm trying to finish my nonfiction book about gangster movies and get it out before Thanksgiving Day. 

But I also have a third Hannah McCabe police procedural simmering on the backburner. It isn't my next book. That's the historical thriller in which McCabe and Baxter will appear as secondary characters. After that I'll work on my 6th Lizzie Stuart book. But the third McCabe book is in the queue. I'm making notes as plot ideas come to me. 

I know who the victim will be -- a former private school teacher who has written a best-selling book about wolves and people. She's back in Albany to make a presentation at a conference about human-animal connections. Urban explorers find her body in a deserted building.

As I've mentioned before, I need to find a title before I can get deep into a writing project. In this case, I need to find a title before I can even do a backburner outline. The first two books have an animal on the cover. The first book -- The Red Queen Dies -- has the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The second has the fly from "Who Killed Cock Robin?" who sees with his little eye. Although I guess a fly is techically an insect. . .

In the third book I want to use a wolf as the theme animal. The human murder victim is an advocate for reintroducing wolves to the Adirondacks. In addition to her research on wolf packs, she has been studying coywolves  (coyote-wolf hybrids) who have found their way into cities. She argues that wolves have been the victims of negative stereotyping. So the wolves are not "bad" animals in this book. That rules out titles that reference stereotypes of wolves as predators (e.g., "The Wolf's Prey").

I'm collecting titles to play with as I ponder. Any ideas would be appreciated. Even if your suggestion doesn't fit "as is" I might be able to make use of it. 

I'm a week early, but have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Slow boil

I started reading “The Chain,” by Adrian McKinty, recently, and I’m loving it. The premise alone is riveting, especially to a parent, and even more so to a parent who is active on social media.

More than the riveting plot, though, I find the book captivating because it’s written in present tense. I’ve experimented with present tense previously, to varying degrees of success (probably more losses than wins, if I’m being honest). I recently finished writing a novel featuring a first-person narrator and chapters featuring other third-person points of views (no one’s done the bounce between first-person speaker and other third-person voices as well as Tony Hillerman).

I even have one chapter told in present tense. My present-tense chapter is an action scene, a shift from past tense to present to propel readers through a climactic scene in a way that I hope isn’t too jarring. We’ll see.

As my agent prepares to submit that book, I’m starting the sequel, and have toyed with the idea of writing it in present tense. Which begs the question: How does one decide if their story should be told in present tense?

For me, the decision is about consistency and pace.

My protagonist uses the first person. Present tense wouldn’t be appropriate. But more than that, I love the novels of Ross Macdonald, and those books aren’t thrillers; they’re detective novels. The pace is a slow burn, low heat that warms to a boil. Those are the novels I grew up with and still turn to often. And they are the novels I want to write.

You can't talk about POV without John Gardner's "Psychic Distance" chart from his book "The Art of Fiction":

  1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
  2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
  3. Henry hated snowstorms.
  4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
  5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.
Rule of thumb, according to Gardner: You cannot move closer that the point at which you start. (I tell students to try to read the list out of order to understand that.)

I’d love to hear from other Type M authors and readers: What are your thoughts on the use of the present-tense narration?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022



I first heard about Shepherd.com in Jane Friedman’s newsletter, The Hot Sheet. It’s a book discovery site founded a little over a year ago by Ben Fox who is an avid reader. He was dissatisfied with online book discovery so decided to create a site that he thought was a better way to find new books.

Not long after reading this article, I received an email from someone at Shepherd mentioning my book, Designed For Haunting, and asking if I’d like to put together a recommendation list for the site. This was all free.

I am relatively cautious when it comes to people contacting me about doing things so I checked out the site and reread the Hot Sheet article. It seemed like a lot of fun so I agreed. Since Designed For Haunting is set around Halloween and I love traditional and cozy mysteries set around that time, I named my list “The best Halloween mysteries to escape into.”

It only took a few minutes for me to come up with the 5 books for the list: The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry, The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates, The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan, Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie and The Spirit in Question by Cynthia Kuhn.

It took a bit longer for me to do short reviews of the books. I actually reread all of them so I could more easily remember why I love these books so much.

I used the words “escape into” for the list because that’s how I feel about reading cozies and traditional mysteries. They are my escape from the problems of the real world. I love diving into other authors’ worlds and revisiting characters I’ve read about before.

Here’s the list as it appears on the site: https://shepherd.com/best-books/halloween-mysteries-to-escape-into

The site is a fun site to look around and see what other authors have recommended. You can also browse books by Wikipedia topic. I enjoy nonfiction and fiction books set in the Middle Ages so I searched for that and came up with a list “The best books on the Middle Ages”. I see a bunch of books on it that I want to read: Viking Age Iceland by Jesse L. Byock, Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer, Growing Up in Medieval London by Barbara A. Hanawalt...

It was a fun experience, the people at Shepherd are good to work with and it’s a way for readers to become aware of me and my books and for me to spread a little love for books I’ve enjoyed reading. It’s a young site. It’ll be interesting to see how it grows in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Fake Phez Phest

 This past weekend was the beginning of pheasant season in Western Kansas. It used to be our favorite family celebration. 

It began innocently enough at Jerry Hinger's house in Codell, Kansas with a group of relations and the usual assortment of hunting dogs. It moved to our place in Hoxie, Kansas to relieve Kay Hinger from the ordeal of providing bread and board to an ever increasing bunch of men. 

I can't remember when or how music became part of the mix. But it did. Music and women and children. We're talking serious bluegrass enthusiasts here. I certainly do remember when the New Old-timers started coming. They were a professional band. Joe Newman played the banjo, his wife, Kenda, manhandled an upright bass, and the incomparable J.F. Stover played the guitar. In a couple of years, Todd Toman and his wife, Mary, were added to the mix. 

Other people began bringing instruments. Pheasants flocked to the Hinger's little homestead because they knew they were safe. Collectively, this was the worst group of shooters that invaded Sheridan County that weekend. 

Our adult children and our grandchildren looked forward to it and told their friends about it. Soon friends and their relations made Phez Phest a priority. Ian Alexander and his boys came from Michigan. There was always a group from Missouri. There were Californians, and Coloradoans. I wish I had kept a list. 

This was a kind group. Little boy fiddlers got to squeak out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," to standing ovations. Vic Mowry was delighted to bring his fiddle because my husband knew the words to every dance song he wanted to play. Country Western competed with bluegrass all weekend long. Hingers have a particularly vicious version of pitch. That's a card game for those who don't know. Learning to play Hinger pitch was a requirement. 

It was a joyful weekend for the children. We have pictures and videos of kids rolling in leaves. I recalled the year they filled our garage with tumbleweeds and tried to sell them to the adults. 

After my husband died and I moved from Hoxie to Colorado, we tried renting another house for a weekend. We called it Fake Phez Phest. And it was just that. Times had changed. There were other deaths, and divorces and health issues for some. 

It didn't work. The world had moved on. We were all miserable. The time for Phez Phest had passed. 

Those of us who have joyful memories of their childhood and positive family experiences are very fortunate. I'm very grateful that I'm among that number. 

The trick is to be aware of how precious family events are when they are happening.