Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving, 2020 be Damned

 Donis here, wishing you United Statesians a Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Readers. I hope you are all happy and healthy and staying safe, and may we all be together next year. When next I write you here at Type M 4 Murder, I'll have some fun news about my upcoming book release, but today I'm treating you to my mother's go-to Thanksgiving pumpkin pie recipe, delicious, easy and it makes its own crust. Eat hearty!


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 25, 2020

The best-laid plans

I acknowledge that I write this post from a position of extreme privilege. I live in Canada, which has universal public health care and a supportive government that is managing the pandemic reasonably well. I live in my own home and have a pension (hard-earned) that keeps the terror of destitution at bay. I have not yet lost friends or loved ones to Covid. I miss the company and hugs of friends and family, but as a writer, I am used to solitude and can conjure up playmates inside my own head. 

Many people, my own children included, have had their lives completely thrown off course by this pandemic. By comparison, I have absolutely no right to complain. But in the interests of documenting the pandemic's frustrations, big and small, here I go.

The first frustration surrounds the release of my upcoming book, THE ANCIENT DEAD, meant to come out in October 2020, in time for holiday signings, readings, and gift-buying. Covid crushed that plan and the publisher pushed the release to the dead zone of January 2021, with no possibility of in-person appearances and launches. Sales and publicity out the window. I gamely switched gears to think virtual. How do I hold a virtual launch? How do people attend and buy books? How do I greet and thank everyone who tunes in? I love my book launches, and the thought of staring at myself on the Zoom screen while disembodied attendees watch is profoundly unsatisfying. But I will figure it out. And I will figure out the Zoom book clubs and readings that I hope will follow in the months afterwards.

The second frustration is more serious, although still petty measured against the struggles of the world. I am just beginning to research the fifth Amanda Doucette book. I know nothing about it beyond the setting, which is British Columbia. The series has been moving across the country, and it is now British Columbia's turn. It was initially to have been set on a small cruise boat going through the inside passage, but after watching the cruise ship disasters of the past few months, I gave up that idea. Instead, I thought maybe Haida Gwai, a fascinating area I have always wanted to visit. Then access to the area was closed, with no guarantee when and how it would be opened up. So I started researching other possibilities on Vancouver Island and the mainland. Now, however, there is a real possibility that borders between regions and provinces may be closed and/or 14-day quarantines imposed on travellers. That would make the research trip untenable. I have no place to quarantine in BC and can't afford the extra time and cost of accommodation and dog care.

With one exception, I have never written a book without visiting the area. So much rich detail is missed when I can't walk the paths my characters walk, see the sights and hear the sounds, talk to local people and get a sense of the real place. I cannot imagine writing about the stunning and unique place that is wild BC while relying only on books, the internet, and friends. The book would be a pale imitation of what it could be. 

To meet this book's deadline, I need to do the trip in the spring of 2021, or at the latest by early September. But who knows where we'll be by then? Will there be a successful vaccine in general use? Will everything be in lockdown again? Will I be able to visit the places I want to, and find restaurants and accommodations there? I probably won't know these answers for months, and so am unable to plan ahead. This book may turn out to be a last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants scramble.

Not the way I want to write it at all. But... Covid doesn't care.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Today's post

by Rick Blechta

Oh my God, it’s Tuesday! You’ll see that I haven’t written a post. I can’t do my usual bale-out of posting a clever cartoon having something to do with book buying or the world of publishing. I can’t cartoon worth a fig and since you can’t just “borrow” something from another web page without worrying that you’re going to get your butt sued off, there’s no quick fix.

So I’ll try on the old tried and true excuse of “the dog at my blog post.”

Works for me. Does it work for you?

(Barbara, may I borrow one of your lovely dogs for the day just so I can prove that I have a dog if someone challenges me?)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Court in the Act

Ah, Scotland.

As you know, I'm a Scot, living in Scotland. And because many of you enjoyed the images last time (well, a number of you. Okay, a few. Fine! A couple) here's a taster of the delights:


The aptly-named Rest and Be Thankful

Not all if it looks like that, despite what the tourist board or Outlander may tell you. Yes, vast tracts of our 31k square miles and around 800 islands are picture postcard perfect, there's no denying it. We have mountains and valleys and lochs (one lake!) and green fields and rivers and beaches that can take the breath away. Usually by the weather. 

But there are a lot of misconceptions about my country.

We don't all wear kilts. We don't all look like Sam Heughan (no matter how much we suck in our gut). We don't all eat haggis regularly (they are tricky little rascals to catch). We don't all have the urge to go out and kill an Englishman when we hear the skirl of the pipes (although sometimes we do have the urge to kill the piper).

Not every part of my country looks like that above. There are areas that have absolutely no picturesque qualities at all. We have neighbourhoods that suffer from urban blight. We have crime.

It is our legal system that is arguably the least understood, even by Scots. We have seen and read so many legal dramas from the USA and England that there are many who do not know that, like the past, we do things differently.

For instance - juries. In Scotland they are 15 strong not 12, which means there can be no prospect of a hung jury. However, a judge can allow a trial to proceed with as few as 12 should any drop out due to illness. A majority here can be a straight 8 to 7, which means that if only one person believes guilt - or otherwise - the accused can be jailed. Or otherwise. 

Juries have three verdicts from which to choose - Guilty, Not Guilty and the controversial Not Proven. This is a holdover from the older system where charges were either Proven or Nor Proven. 

Our judges do not bang gavels and demand order. 

There are no opening statements. 

We do not have charges such as manslaughter or arson - they are culpable homicide and wilful fireraising. Other, more arcane, charges include hamesucken - home invasion today - and plagium - child stealing.

It was some of these differences that the Scottish Faculty of Advocates, the court service and forensic scientists wanted to illustrate in a courtroom drama in which I played a part. A real-life case was selected - one from the 1930s - and then adapted to fit a modern setting and names changed to be  presented in an actual courtroom during the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival in 2019 under the title You the Jury. 

Real lawyers played the advocates, a real judge presided, real court staff kept proceedings going, real forensic scientists played themselves and the jury was selected from the audience. I had put together the various witness statements and some of the evidence, the forensic experts handled their own. I also played the accused but did not give evidence. All I did was sit in the dock and look innocent or guilty, depending on your point of view.

Two performances were scheduled but they sold out within a matter of days so a third was slotted in. It sold out too.  

We had intended to take the show on the road but then 2020 happened and that was that. A charity event in Glasgow and almost two weeks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe went by the board. 

One performance was filmed and the highly professional result, which has been made available for study in schools and colleges, was screened as part of this year's virtual Bloody Scotland Festival. It was again hugely popular.

In two of the three performances I was found Not Proven, which given the evidence presented was the best we could expect. It was, however, interesting to note that the evidence was presented in exactly the same way by the same advocates and witnesses each time and yet one jury was convinced of my guilt by a majority while the other two were not. They were not certain enough to vote Not Guilty, though, so the tricky third verdict proved useful to them. When someone could be sent away for life on the basis of a single vote, the Not Proven verdict is necessary, I believe.

It was a pleasure and an honour to work with the legal professionals and it was an incredible experience to watch it all come together in the single day rehearsal we had.

I am certain, though, if I'd had more to do than merely sit in the dock and look guilty, innocent or somewhere in between, we would have required a LOT more rehearsal time!


A rehearsal shot for You the Jury



Friday, November 20, 2020

Weird, Weirder and Weirdest

 

Thanksgiving is getting beyond strange. Our county (Larimer) is begging people not to gather in person for Thanksgiving. Our county is under a directive to limit gatherings to ten persons and two households. 

I fudged last weekend. I drove to my daughter Michele's house. One household--she and her husband Harry also live in Fort Collins. However much to my delight, my granddaughter, Audrey, and her husband Pete were also there. Two households right off the bat. I stayed anyway. Three households. But what the heck? It was just five people. Not so bad. But I felt sneaky. I'm freakily law-abiding. 

So what to do about Thanksgiving? Everyone was going to come. Michele volunteered (sort of) to hold the annual celebration. Her dispassionate wording (as I recall) went something like "we'll be here. Anyone can come who wants to." The truth is no one in this family really wants anyone to come to their house for Thanksgiving in this county this year. And no one wants to visit relatives either. 

The simple truth is Larimer County's medical facilities are overloaded. We are dangerously close to filling all our ICU beds. 

So being the senior member of this highly dysfunctional family (don't blame me, I tried) I generously decided to stay home and have a Marie Callendar's Turkey Pot Pie for dinner. I would let someone else be the the lucky ducky who got to be the second household at the Crockett's. 

Then Michele had a splendid idea. She called last night and said she and Harry and Audrey and Pete had decided to go on a float trip for Thanksgiving. She magnanimously invited me to tag along. It would not be a dangerous white water adventure. No, no, no. Not the gleeful adventures they were famous for. Also they had plenty of warm sleeping bags. I would be quite comfortable camping out for the first time. Warm, even. They would do all the cooking.  

I considered my rather fragile bones, my precarious sense of balance, my sensible aversion to any sort of discomfort, but disregarded all my liabilities and immediately said yes, I would love to go. Michele did not expect this. 

I hope they are well and truly frightened at the thought of trying to keep an old lady alive on a cold river. 

Got to give the kid credit. While living in Kansas with vast swarms of people descending on our little house on the prairie--usually to hunt pheasants-- it never once occurred to me to suggest they all go on a river trip instead.

Possibly because we had no rivers. 




Thursday, November 19, 2020

A mind in knots

My youngest daughter, Keeley, loves to bake and to play the piano. She loves to read and daydream. Monday night, she sat down at the piano and said, “I don’t want to practice. I just want to play.”

She was talking about riffing. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

“Don’t overthink it,” we tell Keeley often. “Don’t over analyze things. Just go do it.”

Keeley with her latest culinary creation
Keeley with her latest culinary creation
I feel like when my writing isn’t going well, I’m not freeing myself up. My mind is in knots, and my plot soon follows. It happens when I think and overthink. Plot is a result of character; therefore, what happens in the story is what must logically happen, based on the attributes of the characters. I know this to be true.

Yet, when I’m struggling with plot, I’m overthinking. Elmore Leonard said he wrote the first hundred pages before thinking about the plot. Just meeting the characters and seeing where they’re going. I don’t believe in the fifty-page dilemma –– that fifty pages in, the book is either going to work or not. I’m with Leonard. It’s a hundred pages.

When I hit a hundred pages, sometimes, I start to think about where we’re headed. If it’s not going well, I’m trying to steer, rather than following along like a reader. Maybe it’s overthinking. My mind can get tied in knots. Then my focus can turn to wonderful distractions: work emails or student writing (would you really rather grade a paper than figure out your damn plot, John?!) or conference presentations (death or public speaking?) or even U.S. politics (let it go, John. Biden won. You can sleep now).

The first half-mile is fine, but then the woods get dark. This is when I need to freewheel, to let things go. I used to listen to music when I wrote. Heavy stuff. Everclear, Nirvana. I got away from that. Not sure why. I think I felt like I needed to concentrate more. I’m not sure that helps the work.

Overthink it? I wonder where my twelve-year-old gets it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Bank Robberies and Money Bail

One of my favorite things about being a writer is doing research. I’ve learned so many things that I never would have found out about if I hadn’t been writing a story: raw food, the annual Marilyn Monroe memorial service, temporary tattoos, surfing...and now bank robbery.

I decided one of the crimes in my WIP would be a bank robbery. We have a lot of those here in Southern California, probably because of our extensive freeway system. Pick a bank near a freeway onramp, rob it, then get on the freeway.

Since I know nothing about bank robberies, I did some research. Here’s some of the more interesting things I found out.

Robbing a bank became a federal crime in 1934 so you’d think the FBI would be the one investigating all of them. In practice, however, they focus on those suspects who pose the greatest safety threats to the public. So they leave the investigation of “note jobs”, where the robber hands a note to a teller and no violence is involved, to the local police departments, helping out where needed.

The FBI aggressively responds to violent bank robberies, robberies in which a significant financial loss occurs and serial robbers who cross jurisdictional boundaries. In 2012, the FBI launched the Wanted Bank Robbers website, which is national in scope. It’s there to enlist the public’s help in identifying and locating suspects. In 2016, they added an app. Yep, an app.

They also compile statistics on bank robberies throughout the country. The last report I found was for 2018. Lots of interesting statistics here. In 2018, there were 2, 975 bank robberies in the U.S., including its territories. 568 of those were in the Pacific region which includes the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. 405 of those were in California.

The crime in my book is a “note job” so I feel fairly comfortable not bringing the FBI in on this one, leaving it to the local police department.

Here in Southern California, there’s an LA Bank Robbers (www.labankrobbers.org) website which focuses on local bank robberies. According to the site, it is “devoted to the identification and apprehension of bank robbers (a.k.a. bank bandits) in the Southern California territory”. It includes actual surveillance photos of robbers taken during the commission of the crime.

All of this helped me out considerably in writing my story. I write cozies, not police procedurals, so I’m happy if my story “kisses the truth”, which I think it will after doing this research.

*** 

Here's an update for you on the bail situation in California. In 2018, I wrote a blog post, "Bye Bye Bail", that talked about the state legislature passing a bill that eliminated money bail in the state, replacing it with a risk-assessment system.

As predicted, the bail bonds industry fought back in a big way. The law was put on hold until the recent election where Proposition 25 was on the ballot. The votes are in. The cash bail system will remain in the state. No risk assessment system. I’m not terribly surprised. The bail bonds industry spent a lot of money on ads for this proposition. It was one of the more confusing ones on the ballot. I had to read it a couple times to figure out what voting yes meant.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Getting a little wind in our blogging sails

by Rick Blechta

Today’s post will be a short one (I still have a balustrade to install on our new front porch. Look it up if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, Tom Kies received an email last week from CamCat Books listing their favourite mystery blogs — and guess who’s second on the list? Click HERE to read the posting on CamCat’s blog.  

Type M for Murder has been around since the summer of 2006 and that’s a hell of a long time for this type of social media. We’ve had a cast of terrific writers involved since the beginning. Authors may come and go from our role, but we’ve always had such a great group here. I remain very proud of my involvement in this enterprise.

But it can be daunting to sit down to write a post for Type M, wondering how many people are actually going to bother reading it. Long-time member Barbara Fradkin has been known to liken this to “shouting into the void,” which is a pretty accurate description of what it feels like.

Then someone gives us a nice shout-out as CamCat did and you realize that people are noticing what we’re doing — and care about it.

And that certainly makes it easier to keep “the mystery little blog that could” chugging down the Information Superhighway.

Thanks CamCat!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Blood on the Page


 By Thomas Kies

Our local college has contracted me to teach another Creative Writing course in January—if our state is still allowing in-person classes by then. I’ve taught three of these in 2020, remarkable because of everything that’s going on. We all have masks on and we’re safely distanced apart in a large classroom. 

It was heartwarming when the college asked if I’d teach an Advanced Creative Writing class in addition after I finish teaching Creative Writing 101 in February. They tell me that they’ve been getting requests by former students asking that I teach an advanced course. 

I’ve noticed that the students, most of them adults, find the class to be kind of therapeutic as well as instructive. I’ve had as many as twelve in my classes (before the pandemic) and as few as four. All of the students start out as strangers, but at the end of six weeks, they’ve bonded and know a lot about each other.  

This is how I teach the class. Initially, I ask them all what they want to get out of the course. Once I have an idea what their goals are, I craft the classes accordingly. So, each Creative Writing course is slightly different, but we still cover the basics.

While the courses may vary, the structure remains the same. After each class, I give the students an assignment. It may be to write a deeply emotional scene. One assignment may be to create a scene with a kick-ass protagonist meeting a villain. The final assignment for all the courses has been to write the first few pages of your book and the last few pages of your book. Whatever that means to you.

In many cases, the beginning of their story and the ending are both deeply personal, even though it’s fictionalized.

We start the two-hour class period with the students reading their work out loud. Now, I know how scary that can be. I remember what it was like for me. It’s freaking terrifying. You’re showing everyone your baby. What if they call your baby ugly?

So, after each reading, we all applaud. Then we go around the room and we talk about the piece’s strengths and then we talk about ways that could potentially make the work stronger. When the course is over, I want the students to walk away feeling good about the craft and with a desire to keep writing. 

I love how the students have bonded at the end of six weeks. They start out as complete strangers, but when the course is finished, they feel close to each other. I think that’s because we put some much of ourselves on the page when we write.  

What was it Hemingway said? “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

When the fledgling writers do one of my assignments, in many cases, they fictionalize an event from their real lives. Some of those events are heartwarming, some of eye opening, and some are tragic. 

But much of what we write comes from our own lives and our own observations. Sure, we make stuff up. We write novels. But it’s all culled from a lifetime of experiences, emotions, feelings, observations, and influence by the people around us. 

I find these courses fulfilling and I’m gratified that the students and the college wants me to take it to the next step, Creative Writing 2.0…an advanced course. Now I’ve just got to figure out what that entails.  

Stay safe and stay healthy.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Lessons to Be Learned

 As I work on my historical thriller set in 1939, I have come to think of the year itself as a character. 1939 is an adolescent. He is torn between his ancestors who want him to carry their banners and beliefs into the future and the voices that are calling to him to march into "the World of Tomorrow." 1939 attends a Nazi rally and sits on the stage with smirking schoolboys in their uniforms. But two months later, he is in the audience when over 75,000 people gather at the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian Anderson's voice float out over the crowd offering balm on Easter Sunday. That summer he is off to New York City to join the millions attending the World's Fair. He especially enjoys Elektro, the Smoking Robot. Everybody smokes in 1939.

1939 loves movies and he sits in theaters across the country watching. Some of the movies are too sophisticated for an adolescent year, but 1939 is interested in movie-making. He munches on his popcorn and enjoys the masters at their crafts. 1939 is delighted that there are movies for every taste in his year.  Funny movies, romantic movies, western, mysteries -- history and adventure and love and romance. Sometimes all in the same jam-packed movie. Sometimes the history is terribly wrong and the love stories are ill-fated, but 1939 knows that Americans coming out of the darkest days of the Great Depression need to be entertained and distracted -- and sometimes even elevated and reminded of who they are when they are at their best. 

1939 gives America and the world Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Four Feathers, Young Mr. Lincoln, Stagecoach, The Rules of the Game, Wuthering Heights, Love Affair, Gunga Din, The Man in the Iron Mask, Ninotchka, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Beau Geste, Drums Along the Mohawk, Stanley and Livingstone, Dodge City, Destry Rides Again, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Old Maid, The Roaring Twenties, Of Mice and Men, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Son of Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz, Another Thin Man, Dark Victory, Union Pacific, The Women, Each Dawn I Die, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Rains Came.

In December, 1939 takes the movie-watching world to Atlanta, Georgia for the four-day premier of Gone With the Wind -- a sweeping saga of the Old South, a celluloid contribution to a mythology of a golden past now lost. In December, the African American descendants of the survivors of that past are not happy with that celebration in Atlanta. But 1939 is a clear-eyed adolescent who sees what is ahead, and knows that soon another battle will be joined, a battle abroad and at home for democracy.

Getting to know 1939 has helped me to make it through 2020 -- this careless, uncaring, cynical, often cruel year. I've imagined 2020 as the Devil, occasionally taking the shape of politicians and fanatics.  I've imagined 2020 smiling as he watches mourners weeping and protestors being gassed. I've imagined 2020 enjoying the chaos his henchmen (and women) are sowing in his year, knowing that his impact will be felt long after his time on the stage is over. 

I've imagined 2020 as evil, but as a writer I have found 2020 fascinating. He is much more sophisticated in his methods than 1939. Much more devious. Much more intelligent -- allowing us to destroy ourselves as if we were in an episode of Twilight Zone

But 2020 also has offered me some unwelcome -- but still valuable -- opportunities to learn. I've learned that if I hold on and keep moving, I can make it through moments that fill me with terror. I've learned to be patient. I've learned to be kinder to myself and other people. I've learned to think before I speak. 

I've learn to admire everyday heroes and the people who do the dirty jobs. I've learned to be grateful for all my privileges and what I have.

I will be glad to see the last of 2020. But as a character he is more nuanced than I at first imagined.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Never Assume.

 I (Donis) don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I am exhausted. I have generally kept my mouth shut about the state of the world, mainly because what do I know? But now that it's all over (but the shouting, of which there is still a depressing amount to come) I do have an observation or two which I'd like to share.

I grew up in one of the most conservative states in the nation and came of age during the roiling era of the 1960s. I graduated college the first time in 1970. I was deeply involved in liberal causes, especially the push for the ERA, and did my share of marching and sitting-in. Lots of young people in Oklahoma did. My immediate family was and still is very tolerant. I am more than happy about the outcome of the election. However, since I don't want to damage my relationship with any of my other relatives I have spent much of my considerably long life keeping my thoughts to myself, especially when I'm back in my home state and around people I don't know well. In some parts of the world, being seen as an "elitist snob" (i.e. an intellectual) could actually be dangerous in the wrong circumstance, so I'm very careful about offering my opinions, quoting Shakespeare, saying I like classical music, using Latin phrases. I'm not kidding. Even though I admit I'm probably paranoid, I have either been made fun of or been angrily railed at for doing all those things. I'm a little bit afraid of died-in-the-wool right-wingers. How sad. 

HOWEVER, HAVING SAID THAT: some of the people I grew up around may be conservative, but the great majority of them are kind, generous, loving, self-sufficient, competent people who would do anything for their neighbors. Many are also a little bit afraid of died-in-the-wool left-wingers. Don't think left-wingers are blameless, either. 

So here is what I've observed about both wings:

It's frightening when others treat you like you're either an idiot or evil. That attitude is likely to make you dig in.

The cancel culture is annoying. I learned years ago that in this country you can never be forgiven for anything you ever did, no matter how much you regret it now, or what you've done since. 

Here's a story I've told a million times, but it seems to fit - when I was a young woman, I flew out of NYC bound for Ireland. As we were over the ocean I got into a pleasant conversation with the older woman next to me, who was so intrigued with my accent that she suddenly asks, "Where are you from?"

"Tulsa, Oklahoma," says I, and she burst out laughing.

"What a place to be from!" she said.

I was surprised and a bit insulted by her tone, but I have to tell you, Dear Reader, that was no fluke. Whenever I visit the East Coast, I'm often teased about my accent. Some East-coasters have made assumptions about my political leanings , and I suspect some have made assumptions about my educational level and even I.Q. based on where I'm from and on my accent, as well.

I don't like to be pigeonholed. Nobody does, so it's best not to go around making snap judgements about people you've just met. You're probably wrong, anyway.

p.s. After she laughed, I responded to the airplane woman by asking where she was from, and she replied, "Teaneck New Jersey." What a place to be from!

p.p.s. Thanks for being our support country, Canadian friends.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Promotion in the Age of Covid

These past two weeks since my last post have been full of drama. First both my dogs got skunked (at 11 pm, pitch dark outside, and I had no makings for skunk shampoo), then one of them ate lawn fertilizer and needed her stomach pumped, and the next night she had a seizure. I pressed "send" on my latest manuscript and sent it on its way to the publisher, exactly on deadline. This year's non-Halloween left me with 80 baby chocolate bars and three pie pumpkins that had to be eaten. I have made four pumpkin breads, two dozen pumpkin muffins, and some soup. I am afraid to climb on the bathroom scale.
Then came the emotional roller coaster of the American election, which we all watched for five days while chewing our nails to the quick and incessantly checking updates online, to the detriment of any intelligent work. And it's not even my country!

In the midst of all this, my publicist informed me it's time to start the promotional gears grinding for my upcoming novel. THE ANCIENT DEAD, the fourth in my Amanda Doucette mystery-thriller series, was originally scheduled for release in October 2020. But factors beyond our control delayed it, namely printers that weren't printing, bookstores that weren't operating, supplies that were backlogged, etc. So the publisher pushed the date back to January 2021. The dead zone. 

And this is the real reason for this post. Promotion in the Age of Covid. Ugh. My book is already available for reviewers on Net Galley, so that reviews can be ready when the book hits the shelves. If you are a blogger or reviewer, feel free to check it out!  It is also available for pre-order, which provides a huge boost in sales ahead of the publication date and increases the number of books ordered. THE ANCIENT DEAD can be pre-ordered on all the usual online platforms, but please consider pre-ordering from your favourite local bookstore. They need our support if bookstores are to survive these difficult times.

But for me, the focal point of a book's release is always my book launch. But this year? It's bad enough my book is coming out in January when bookstores and warehouses are processing returns and trying to pare down their overstock of unsold holiday books, and readers can barely see over their sky-high to-be-read piles and credit card statements. But somehow I have to reach those readers with the news of my exciting new book with nothing but Zoom.


Normally I love launching a new book. I plan a launch party at a local pub, arrange for a bookseller, and invite all my friends and readers to come celebrate with me. It's a festive time. I spend a few minutes talking about the book and doing a brief reading, but otherwise it's a time to connect with old friends and greet new ones. In the weeks and months afterwards, I usually have a number of signings, readings, and book clubs lined up, and perhaps a festival or conference or two. These in-person connections with readers are inspirational for most authors; they nourish our hope and give us a reason to keep at it in our solitary, at times gloomy, doubt-filled world.

Now I will be faced with nothing but thumbnail photos arrayed across the top of my screen as I talk into the void of my living room. I am filled with trepidation and dozens of questions. What if I hold a virtual launch and no one comes? How should people sign up for the event? How will they buy the books? How can I sign the books? How long should the presentation last? An hour of talk and readings is much longer than normal launch talks. Should I get a host/ interviewer, as my publicist advises, and if so, who? I am not a tech wizard, and managing a Zoom call with multiple attendees and Q&A capability terrifies me.

I know there are advantages to the virtual format (besides no food and bar bill). People don't have to be in my own city to attend; friends and readers from all across the continent can tune in. It would be wonderful to see dear friends from as far away as British Columba and California, and to connect with readers from other continents.  

I know writers' festivals and other authors have managed to host virtual events, and I will be watching those in order to get some pointers. I will also talk to my local bookstores to see what their experience has been. If anyone has had experience either as an author or an attendee at a virtual book launch, I'd love to hear from you. Do's and Don'ts, and how to avoid falling on your face. All help gratefully accepted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The degradation of pronunciation

by Rick Blechta

I’m feeling curmudgeonly today, so you’ve all been warned. My irritation about what I’m going to discuss has been building for weeks now and finally reached a tipping point this morning. Anyway, here we go!

Is is just me or has correctly pronouncing words in English been going downhill more rapidly of late?

Listening to the 7:00 a.m. news on CBC radio this morning, someone was being interviewed and my teeth were immediately set on edge when the interviewee said, “It’s up to the government to pertect Canadians…”

Now this was a reasonably intelligent person (a physician) whom I’m sure would never incorrectly write the word “protect”, but yet in speaking, she obviously didn’t notice how badly she’d mangled the pronounciation of this very common word.

I’ve noticed this trend lately particularly in words beginning with “pro”. They’re far too often spoken as if the word began “per”.

Another word generally butchered when spoken is “immediate.” It’s now usually pernounced as if it begins with a long ‘e’, i.e. “emmediate.” It always makes me grind my teeth.

Years ago I noticed people seldom say February correctly. The ‘u’ is almost universally left out: “Feberary.” It’s so common now, it barely registers — which is in itself a bad sign.

I suppose there are those who would cluck in disapproval and tell me that English is constantly evolving, but damn it all, this is not evolving it’s devolving and just plain sloppiness.

I acknowledge that, among all the other bad things that have occurred in 2020, my complaint is minor and far, far from the worst thing that’s taken place. After all, this year saw “irregardless” being recognized by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being an acceptable word (although non-standard).

I, for one, won’t go along with this barbarity!

Is there are particularly poor pronunciation of a word that causes you grit your teeth? Please share it with all of us.

Stepping off the soapbox now…

Monday, November 09, 2020

Taking the show on the road

One of the things I love about being a writer is going on the road for book festivals and events.

I didn’t do much of that in my non-fiction days for some reason but when I started making stuff up I rediscovered my performing mojo.

I had lost said mojo for many years. As a teenager, I wanted to be an actor. This followed early ambitions to be an astronaut, a detective and a garbage collector. In pursuit of the world of make believe, I attended drama classes, performed in community theatre and wrote and appeared in comedy shows for hospital radio.

There was even a bit part in an episode of a TV show here in the UK. It was a drama for the BBC called ‘Sutherland’s Law’ and I played a drunken thief. No, it wasn’t typecasting. And yes, I would say that.

It was an exciting time. Filming for my scenes and others was done over a day and night near Oban on the west coast of Scotland. That episode’s guest star was Brian Cox, before he played Hannibal Lecktor (as they spelled it) on ‘Manhunter’ and answered the siren call of Hollywood.

He is a talented and erudite man who proved to be entertaining, funny and great to be around. There are long moments of inactivity on a shoot, unless you are on the crew, and he set himself up as morale officer as we sat in a mini bus waiting to be called.

It was after I saw myself on screen that I decided the likes of Mr Cox had nothing fear from my thespian talents.

I stopped performing altogether. Life took over; making a living, getting married, setting up a home.

Eventually the very thought of public speaking, let alone performing, filled me with horror.

That was, as I say, until I became involved with the fiction racket and had to get over myself.

Now I do a ten-minute bit when the fridge light comes on.

I’ve been all over Scotland for book festivals, events and shows with the two comedy/crime writing teams I work with. I’ve crossed the border to Newcastle and Bristol, both in England. I’ve even been to Spain for a show, which was great fun. I’ll tell you about those comedy/crimewriting teams in a future Type M for Murder.

Many authors love to meet readers, as long as they’re not telling us our books are nonsense. Some of us like to enteratin audiences not only on the page but on stage. We like to make audiences laugh. Off stage, though, I am actually quiet and reserved and not hugely sociable, which even I think is kinda strange given my antics in front of an audience.

All that activity came to a grinding halt this year, thanks to Covid-19, which has has been such a downer I don’t think I’ll binge watch the first 18. There were no festivals, no bookstore events, no comedy performances.

I had a great year lined up but one by one each of the events dropped like extras in a Tarantino movie. Yes, some have gone ahead in a digital format and they have been huge successes but you can't beat the excitement of being in the room with your audience. There's a  connection with live events that the internet just cannot replicate.

As I said, the suckage of 2020 has been immense.

It has also led to a curtailment of my photography.

Wherever I went I took my trusty Nikon camera (other brands are available, just not in my house) and I would click away like a snap happy chappy. It's landscapes mostly and I’ve included a few photographs here mostly from a trip to the isle of Mull last year, but that has been seriously curtailed this year, too, thanks to the C word.

For me, photography - and the editing of them afterwards - is strangely therapeutic. A writer's life is by necessity a solitary one and so is a photographer's. I prefer being on my own when at large with a lens because - frankly - I annoy non-photographers with this urge, no need, to stop every few miles, yards or feet to snatch a shot. And often more than one. 

So I hope festivals will resume when they can. I hope I will be invited and meet new readers. I hope I will grab new photographs! I hope our governments get on top of this crisis. I hope 2021 will see at least a partial return to normality for us all.

Towards the mainland from the Mull ferry

Lismore lighthouse

Oban

Tobermory

Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe


Clouds gather on the road from Oban


St Conon’s Kirk

A beach on the isle of Arran


Ayr Harbour looking towards Arran


Wetlands around Wigtown


The marina in Javea, Spain


A medieval bridge in Javea


A winter shot near my home