Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Art of the Blurb

 Once you've been published and have achieved even a modest amount of fame, you'll be asked by another writer to provide a blurb. Sometimes the request might be uncomfortable because it comes from a writer whose work you aren't familiar with, or by a writer you don't think much of. In that latter case, a good excuse is to claim that you're too busy... a brush-off I've heard more than once. 

There's an art to writing a blurb. The premise for a blurb is to generate interest in the book by leveraging the technique sales people call a third-party endorsement. It needs to deliver the theme or ethos of the story, be punchy, memorable, part logline and part advertising jingle. Less is more. A blurb by a famous author or celebrity could certainly juice sales. In that regard, I'm bemused other writers think that a blurb by me would get a prospective reader to buy their book. Still, I'm honored that anyone would think enough of me to ask for a blurb and I take each chance as an opportunity to excel.

Here are some of my favorites:

"Supernatural intrigue and criminal mayhem that ricochets from double-cross to double-cross." Paradox by Jeanne Stein

"A twisted, kinetic escapade through darkness and danger." The Legend of Carl Draco, by Gary Reilly

"Humane and brutal but never illuminating critique of American history and myth." Mad Boy by Nick Arvin

"A labyrinth of misdirection and treachery." Angels in the Winds: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos.

You've hit the mark when your blurb gets picked for the book's cover as what happened with these two:

"A quirky and thoughtful reflection on what it means to be human." Fated, by S.G. Brown 

"Raw. Visceral. Compelling. As unforgettable as a stabbing." Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond

And the latest, which I'm especially proud of:

Thursday, June 23, 2022

A Love Affair With Writing

 A lot has been happening in my daily life, as usual, and it's been hard to find adequate time to write. Especially considering the fact that I'm trying to write two novels at once. 

When my first mystery novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2005, I was hardly a neophyte author. I had been writing professionally for untold years, and though I had never had any fiction published before, I expected that being a novelist was not going to hold any surprises for me.

My twelfth novel, Valentino Will Die, came out last year, and after twelve books I’m here to tell you that I was wrong. Oh, I held no illusions about the romance of the authorly life. I knew it was going to be hard, and it is. I knew there would be days when you sit and stare at the screen, unable to type a single word that isn’t crap and you know that you’ll never be able to write again.

I knew that it was going to be wonderful, that there would be days that deathless prose flows so effortlessly that it makes you believe in God and divine inspiration. 

I knew you had to have a hide like a rhinoceros and never take your reviews to heart, good or bad. I was perfectly aware that you have to know your craft. You have to practice, practice, practice, like a concert violinist, because it doesn’t matter if you have the skill of your art like Leonardo DaVinci and the genius in your field of Albert Einstein, if you don’t actually sit yourself down and put words to paper with ruthless determination, you ain’t a writer.

I was well aware that, unless the planets aligned and the gods conspired, I was not going to be able to support myself on royalty payments. Thus far, the planets have not aligned nor have the gods conspired.

I knew that you must never give up, even when you wonder why on earth you’re putting yourself through this for so little reward. I even knew how brave you have to be, to persevere, to trust the process, to write what you know you should write without wondering if it’s going to sell. (And believe me, that takes more courage than I sometimes have.)

I even knew that it was going to take over my life.

What I didn’t fully realize is how much writing is like being in love. You do things for it that you never thought you’d do. You long for it when something keeps you from it, and yet you resent how it takes over your life. You break your heart for it. You can’t give it up.

But when it loves you back, there’s nothing like it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

More on reviews

 Charlotte's post yesterday on writing reviews caught my attention. I loved her thoughtful, sensitive, but honest approach. In a world where independent professional reviewers are becoming scarcer than hen's teeth, online, "ordinary man" reviews are becoming not only the norm but the main guide to decision making. This goes for almost everything we buy nowadays. It seems before I buy anything, whether it's a vacuum, a patio umbrella stand, or a new car, I read the reviews. These reviews, taken as a whole, are enormously helpful. If half a dozen ordinary Janes tells me the patio stand crumbled within a week, or the vacuum can't handle pet fur, I give the product a pass. Those are objective, observable faults that can be easily recognized by everyone.

Books are a different story. Judging a book is subjective. Not only do people have different preferences and tastes, but different standards. Rarely is a book universally bad, but almost all will be considered bad by some readers. It's extremely difficult to remove your own preferences from your evaluation of a book. I don't read romance or fantasy and know nothing about either genre. Most likely, I would apply my standards for literary or mystery novels, both of which I do read, and my review would not only be worthless but potentially damaging not only to the book's sales but to the author. As an author, I know how much it hurts to get a negative review, particularly one that is ill-informed or mean. As Charlotte says, writing is hard. It can take more than a year, and a lot of heart and sweat, to write a book, and no matter how it turns out, it is very personal to the author. 

Because of this, I almost never write reviews. The writing community is small and close-knit. I have a lot of author friends, and although I know how important reviews are to our sales and rankings, and thus to our chances of getting our next publishing contract, but I value my friendships more. I can't give Author X a five-star rating and Author Y a three-star rating, leaving that author wondering why I was so stingy. For the same reason, I can't review Author X and not Author Y, leaving self-doubts and questions in Author Y's mind. 

A similar problem arising with cover blurbs, which we authors get asked to write frequently. Some authors refuse all requests, others accept all, and many of us pick and choose. I do the latter, but always with trepidation and the explicit caveat that I will read the book before deciding. If it's a friend or a connection of some kind (same publisher, met you at a book event), I will probably agree to read it. If the book seems to fit my style or preferences, I am also more likely to agree to read it. I will not accept a book by someone I've never heard of who writes books entirely different from mine unless the author or publisher makes a very good case.

I say trepidation because what if I hate it? What if the writing is appalling? We authors put our name and reputations on the line when we endorse a book, and I won't be misleading, even for a friend. But it's extremely difficult to find a gentle way to refuse once I have read the book. Fortunately so far, I have been lucky. Sometimes I have loved the book and had no trouble saying so in the blurb, and at other times, I have managed to find positive things to say even when the book wasn't to my taste. But I dread the day when I encounter a book that I can't endorse at all. I will have to think up some convoluted excuse such as "I'm sorry, I realize I have no time after all..." or "Once I started to read your manuscript, I realized it's not my strong suit...".

Writing a good review or a blurb takes time and careful thought. Any less, and 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Reviews and Mean People

by Charlotte Hinger

I don't give nasty reviews. But I don't lie either. This philosophy puts me in some rather delicate situations.

First of all, I'm deeply aware that it's much easier to find what's wrong with a book than what is good about it. In fact, looking for what's right instead of what's wrong is not a bad approach for assessing human beings. When it comes to evaluating a book, I always keep in mind that writing a book is hard. Even if the book stinks, it's hard.

Commenting on a book I love is easy. Descriptive words come easily. It's a joy to urge readers to run down to their local bookstore and add the title to their collection. If I'm really crazy about it, I'll foist it off on all my friends. "You gotta read this. Just gotta."

Next down the list are books that I don't really like but recognize their merit. These are mysteriously painful reads that I simply don't care for. I simply soldier on and do my best to expand on themes and or point out some special strength.

Next are books that are competent, but mediocre. The plotting is predictable, the characters trite, and the writing lazy. I simply come up with a completely objective plot summary, with no praise whatsoever. It goes something like this: "John Doe's historical novel, Blue Against the Grey, is set during the Civil War. Doe follows the story of two families caught up in the Late Rebellion." I don't recommend these books, but don't make negative comments either.

And then there are the books I simply refuse to read beyond the first five pages. When that happens, I turn them back to the editor with the comment that I don't feel like I could do a good job reviewing this book. Find someone else!

An author I met at Bouchercon one year told me about a situation she was in and asked my advice in handling it. Although it had never happened to me, I knew what I would do. A lady who was very aggressive asked her to review an ebook and post the comments on-line. Blatant Self Promotion was the lady's middle name. She was shameless in pursuing people to offer their opinions.

My new friend finally agreed to give her a review. She herself wrote hardcore ebooks, but when she reached the lady's second page, she knew it was the most depraved book she had ever read. What should she do? She loathed the book, but the lady was quite influential. She knew a lot a people.

I told her to nevertheless to refuse to have anything to do with the book. Refuse immediately and firmly. Use polite wording if you can in this kind of situation.  Something like "Your writing is completely different than mine. A recommendation from me wouldn't help your book. Find someone who supports your genre."

In fact, not only would I ditch the book, I would ditch the person. There's something blackmailish about someone throbbing with a veiled threat of "Give me a good review or I'll ruin your career."

Keep your distance from mean people.

Monday, June 20, 2022

As others see us

Even though I have been writing stories for almost as long as I can remember, which is about two weeks back, I didn't always want to be a writer.

I was going to be an actor.

That was my dream for a very long time. I performed in school plays. I took part in amateur drama. I attended a course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I took a bow every time someone switched on a light. I even took elocution lessons because it was felt that an actor's diction had to be closer to Received Pronunciation. That was garbage then and it's garbage now and was little more than prejudice against any kind of regional accent, an insistence that we should all talk as if we've just stepped in from the cricket pitch in search of cucumber sandwiches.

I hated those classes and only attended, I think, half of the sessions. At the end I had to take an independent audition/exam, presenting two readings - one from the court scene of 'To Kill a Mockingbird', the other as Fagin teaching Oliver Twist how to steal. The tutor was sniffy about my chances, telling me that I didn't have a chance.

I passed. 69 per cent, if I remember correctly.

I took great pleasure in returning to her studio and telling her. She accepted it with ill grace. (I hope Grace got well soon)

Despite my still fairly strong Glasgow accent,  I still thought I could have been a contender for the big time.

Until I landed a small part in a BBC TV show called 'Sutherland's Law'. I played a young car thief.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, filming during the day and overnight near Oban on the west coast. I believe I've written about that on Type M before.

The problem came when I saw myself on screen.

I was horrified and right there I decided that an actor's life was not for me.

So I concentrated on the writing, which I had been doing since childhood anyway, thinking that TV and I were finished.

But it wasn't finished with me.

Don't get me wrong, I still performed. Community theatre. Comedy shows for hospital radio. Mostly material I wrote myself. But I didn't trouble anyone's screens.

But then I became involved in a campaign regarding a miscarriage of justice here in Scotland. I won't go into the details but it did lead to me being asked to comment for TV news and documentaries. And that has extended to appearing in segments concerning Scottish true crime. 

That particular case has been with me for 30 years now and last year I presented an hour-long documentary on the case that required me to drive around Glasgow in a vintage 1990s Ford Capri. A beautiful car, to be sure, but a nightmare to drive. How on earth did we survive in the old days without power steering? 

More recently I contributed to a programme that I have vowed will mark my last word on the subject. I am mindful, however, of the old adage to never say never.

I have made a point of never watching anything that I do, because seeing yourself as others see you can be something of a shock. They say that a mirror merely reflects reality but let me tell you that's not true. Mirrors lie like a grifter on the long con.  

In the past few years my TV appearances seem to have ramped up in documentaries concerning various true crime matters in Scotland and almost sounding as if I know what I'm talking about, but I've still never watched them and I don't think I ever will. I recorded a segment for another just this week and the chances are I won't ever see that, either.

I'll stick to hiding behind a keyboard. If I want to be disturbed I'll watch the horror channel. 

On another note, my last Rebecca Connolly book has been longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize here in Scotland. 

It's my third time up to bat - one every three years - so maybe this time it will be a charm. Or maybe not!

Whatever the outcome, it's nice to have work recognised and I am proud to be on this roster.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Summer Plans and Agatha Christie

I've lost track of my posting schedule, but I'm sure I missed last Friday. Mid-week I went down to New York City to do an interview for a documentary. That was fun. But the documentary won't be out until 2023, and I wasn't told I could talk about it. Since I could end up being left out of the final cut, I will wait to share the details.

Last weekend, I attended the Maine Crime Wave. I had intended to drive because there is no train or plane that would have taken me directly from Albany to Portland. But as it happened, the production company that asked me to come down to NYC for the interview flew me to Portland for the festival. Then I flew back to NYC and took the train back to Albany.

The festival was on the campus of University of Southern Maine. It was a wonderful gathering with great panels and guests of honor. Lovely weather. Highly recommended. 

But I was glad to get home without delays along the way. Penelope, the cat, was pleased to see me because -- although she'd had a sitter who came in twice a day -- she was in the house alone. Fergus, my bouncing boy, had spent the week boarding with the owner of his doggie daycare. We have been getting back to our regular routine this week as I try to finish an article for a special issue of a journal. The article is about Gothic literature, Edgar Allan Poe, and "haunting" in works by several African American mystery/detective writers. I'm aiming to have that out the door this weekend. 

Then I'm going to start my summer projects with fall in mind. I have a sabbatical coming up in this fall. I intend to savor every minute of it, and try to actually get some writing done. In the lead-up, I need to finish my book about gangster movies and get it polished and out to my publisher by the end of August. 

Then in September . . . a coincidence that Agatha Christie came up in the posts this week. I'm about to settle into a couple of months of reading/re-reading her novels and short stories. I'm scheduled to do a presentation during the International Agatha Christie Festival in September and seeing my travel agent next week.

I was first invited to present in 2020. Then came the pandemic. Last year, I was invited again and decided to wait one more year. This year, I want to go to Torquay and deliver my talk in person. I love England. My first Lizzie Stuart novel is set in Cornwall. That first book, Death's Favorite Child, was my tip of the hat to Dame Agatha. The victim is a young housekeeper in a private hotel. My sleuth and her best friend, a travel writer, are guests there. A friend had invited me to meet her for a week's vacation in St. Ives, and I began writing the book during that delightful week. 

My festival presentation will have an observation or two about Christie's 1939 And Then There Were None. I've already shared my thoughts about that novel in Out of the Woodpile, my book about black characters in crime fiction. Christie's plot itself is one that other mystery writers would love to pull off with such finesse. That's why every writer of crime fiction should read Christie's books and short stories. She was not only prolific, she has influenced us all. 

Personally, I also love the movies. My favorite is Death on the Nile  -- gorgeous photography and great cast. After I get my article done, I'm going to make a bowl of popcorn and watch it again. What better way to launch my summer with Agatha.


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Live from . . .

I’ve been off the grid for a couple weeks, in transit, between Massachusetts and Michigan, between schools (Northfield Mount Hermon and Detroit Country Day), and between lives. The dog and I drove 14 hours ahead, arriving in Lake Orchard, Michigan, to meet the movers. Now we’re surrounded by boxes, awaiting my wife and daughters.

On the writing front, I’ve gotten positive feedback from my agents about a book set at a boarding school that I hope will be the first book in a new series. Now, I’m revising. There’s one more stop before we submit, and, for me, it’s a unique one: I’m sending the book to one more reader, this one an editor.
Boxes and boxes and boxes

This is new for me. I’ve never used an editor before when writing on spec, only my friends, but the opportunity makes sense to me, at this time. She’s had a storied career at a host of publishers, and considering everything I’ve had going on this year (a move, a surgery, a new job), I welcome the chance to have someone look for plot holes and call my bluff(s)

It'll be a new experience, one I never considered previously, but I want the book to be as strong as it can be when we go out with it, and the price seems reasonable.
The dog discovered a new neighbor

Well, I’m sensing that the dog isn’t going to unpack any boxes, so . . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

More On That Hot "New" Writer


by Sybil Johnson

I read the recent Wall Street Journal article Thomas mentioned in his post on Monday, the one about younger readers discovering Agatha Christie. I admit that I was surprised that she wasn’t already well known to the younger set. This ranks up there to when I first met someone who didn’t know who the Beatles were.

Dame Agatha was still alive and writing when I first checked a book of hers out of the library in junior high. I still remember how sad I felt when I saw the newspaper headline announcing her death in 1976.

She’s often labeled a writer of cozies, but people forget how many different kinds of crime stories she wrote over the course of her career. The only ones I would label as cozies are her Miss Marple books. Poirot I would classify under traditional mystery. She also wrote spy stories, romances under Mary Westmacott, and even some stories with supernatural elements. My favorite of her books, “And Then There Were None”, I would even label as noir. (Only the book version, not the play version that has a different ending.)

I’ve read all of her mysteries, some of them numerous times. They are my go to read when I need some comfort. It seems strange to say a murder mystery brings you comfort, but Agatha’s books always do that for me.

I’ve also enjoyed a lot of the film adaptations done over the years. My absolute favorite is the Helen Hayes version of “A Caribbean Mystery”. That’s also a go-to for me when I’m needing some comfort and I don’t feel like reading.

I’m glad people are rediscovering her books, but I haven’t much enjoyed the newer film adaptations that seem to have sparked that interest. Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is too athletic for my taste, though his version of “Murder on the Orient Express” was beautifully shot and decent. I really disliked his version of “Death on the Nile”, though. The David Suchet and Peter Ustinov versions are far superior. The 2020 version of “The Pale Horse” was also not to my liking. I honestly found the ending very confusing and very un-Agatha.

A lot of the newer films and TV shows add sex scenes and back stories for characters that I really don’t see any need for. The only time I didn’t mind the addition of a backstory was the series with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. They moved the stories into the fifties and gave Miss Marple a bit of a backstory that was interesting but not intrusive.

All in all, though, I’m glad Agatha continues to find new readers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Will Rogers Medallion Award


by Charlotte Hinger

What a surprise! When I picked up my mail this evening there was a brown envelope sent from Fort Worth. It contained a letter from Chris Enss, the Executive Director of the Will Rogers Medallion Award Committee. My short story "The Book Mama" is a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award. I am absolutely thrilled. 

I was honored to be included in this quartet of writers and am proud to announce that of the six finalists for the Short Story Award, Randi Samuelson-Brown, Mark Warren, and Candace Simar--the other three contributors to Librarians of the West--are also contenders for the coveted medallions. Our publisher, Gale Cengage/Five Star has been a leader in supporting westerns and historical novels about the American West. 

My historical novel about the African American community of Nicodemus, Kansas, The Healer's Daughter, won the silver medallion in the Western Maverick category in 2020. How I wanted to attend that ceremony, but Covid was rampant that year and I decided not to try it. Wild horses can't keep me away this year. 

The Annual Awards Banquet is held in Fort Worth in October. I'm going all out. I'll attend the Friday afternoon book signing and the evening Meet-and-Greet. It's terrific to see organizations and conventions return to their regular activities. So many events in the publishing world were cut back or eliminated in 2020 and 2021.

Luckily, I'm close enough to drive. I've heard from a number of people who have had problems with airlines. 

My daughter and son-in-law were going to a Lisbon, Portugal to a business sponsored retreat. The first stumbling block was that she tested positive for Covid. He was negative. Then when they both had proof of negative test, the plane was delayed several hours, then a day. Finally, they were able to board. Then I received a text that the plane was broken. They couldn't fly. No chance of making the connecting flight. Then after a harrowing bought of rescheduling everything worked. 

My good friend, Angela Bates, and I will be traveling to the Western Writers of American convention next Tuesday. Unless I develop a miraculous reserve of energy, we will have to break the trip into two days. 

I very much love the energy boost I get from writers' conferences. However, since I write both historical novels and mysteries, for financial reasons I select carefully. I could easily attend a conference a week. 

And then where would I be? Besides, broke, I mean.

Another writer who isn't actually writing. That's where.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Younger Readers Discover Agatha Christie

 By Thomas Kies

A little a week ago, I attended Thrillerfest in New York.  It was my first in-person conference since 2019 and I loved it.  The organizers of the conference did a terrific job even though it was at a different venue than it’s been in the past.  The Sheraton Times Square is a wonderful facility, but it took me a couple of days to figure out the configuration of the conference area.  

Because of Covid, it appeared that attendance was down, and I noticed that a couple of the panels were missing some of the participants.  Toward the end of the conference, there was a panel on News and Investigations.  Three participants were missing leaving only two authors and the facilitator.  In an interesting quirk of fate, John DeKakis, formerly a CNN writer for Wolf Blitzer, and I were drafted to sit on the panel.

Yes, I had my own panel the day before.  This was just extra and something fun.

But even with the threat of an uptick in Covid, there were hundreds of attendees including authors, publishers, agents, and most importantly, readers and fans. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, there was in an interesting article entitled “Young People Discover a Hot New Writer—Agatha Christie.” It talked about how a young generation has “discovered” Christie.  Indeed, scrolling through TikTok, videos labeled #AgathaChristie have clocked in at 26 million views. 

Sales of Agatha Christie books in the US have risen 39% in the first quarter from last year’s period according to book tracker NPD BookScan. 

Part of the reason may be the popularity of the 2017 movie “Murder on the Orient Express” that featured Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.  Then there was another spike in popularity when the 2022 movie “Death on the Nile” arrived.  

Indeed, at ThrillerFest, it appeared there was an increase in interest in mysteries and thrillers from those who are under 40, both readers and writers. I have no hard evidence of that.  Only my observations in the panel rooms, the cocktail parties, and at the hotel bar.  You know…the typical mystery writer hangouts.

So, let’s go to the basics.  Why do people like mysteries and thrillers?  It’s an opportunity to sit at home, or on a train, or in a coffeeshop, safely, and experience danger, fearsome scenarios, and life and death struggles with some really nasty villains. In a world fraught with injustice, nearly all of these books have a satisfying ending.  The bad guy is brought to justice, the good guys win.  That’s life as it should be. 

It also gives us a chance to match wits with the detective.  If the mystery is well written, the clues are all there.  You simply have to recognize them and figure it all out…before the ending. 

But if it’s well done, the reader should get to the ending, slap his hand against his forehead and say, “Of course, I should have seen that coming.”

And that’s another reason why Agatha Christie is finding a renewed audience. She wrote 72 novels, 150 short stories, and 20 plays over a writing career that spanned fifty years.  She’s synonymous with writing intricate stories, incredibly clever plotting, and red herrings…leaving trails of false clues. 

In addition to meeting some great people and interesting characters at a conference like Thrillerfest, you inevitably bring home a new cache of books, many from authors you’ve never heard of.  That’s part of the thrill of Thrillerfest.  While some readers are just discovering Agatha Christie, others are discovering new mystery writers. 

Speaking of new…my newest Geneva Chase Mystery, WHISPER ROOM, will be released on August 2nd.  I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Guest Blogger Mary Anna Evans

Type M is thrilled to welcome our friend and guest blogger Mary Anna Evans, author of thirteen award-winning Faye Longchamp mysteries. Her fourteenth mystery novel, The Physicists' Daughter, is the first in a fabulous new series set in WWII-era New Orleans and introduces Justine Byrne, whom Mary Anna describes as “a little bit Rosie-the-Riveter and a little bit Bletchley Park codebreaker". What's it like to start anew after a long successful run? Mary Anna has some thoughts about that.*

The Terror of Starting Something New

Mary Anna Evans

It has just now occurred to me that there is a strange symmetry to my writing career as of this moment. From the time I submitted my first short story to a magazine (and was rejected) to the time I sold my first novel, Artifacts, about eighteen years passed. 

Now, I wasn't writing and submitting and being rejected continuously all that time. I had jobs. I had children. I published a few poems. But, by and large, the publishing world spent eighteen years telling me "No," loudly and often. 

It has now been about eighteen years since I sold Artifacts, so my writing life hands in the balance, at least in terms of time. Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that I'm doing something new? And is it any wonder that I'm nervous about it, after writing thirteen books about Faye Longchamp, a protagonist whom I still admire and enjoy? I could easily keep writing about Faye, and I may well write about her again, but life and art are about learning and growing. It's time to flex some new muscles. 

The Physicists' Daughter went out into the world this month. It's a historical novel, and 1944 is a new time period for me. While still published by a mystery imprint, it's as much a spy thriller as it is a traditional mystery. I had enormous amounts of fun learning about 1944 and World War II and top secret weapons and mid-twentieth-century science. My new protagonist, Justine Byrne, is young and awkward and brilliant and loyal, and I think my readers will have as much fun spending time with her as I do. Her best friend, Georgette Broussard, has been another gift to me as a writer. These two women were born for adventures, and I hope I get to the intrepid pair on many of them.

None of these things makes the nervousness go away, but you know what? I think we're supposed to be nervous. It's not good for us to get complacent. Who wants to live in a rut?

I like to think that I've brought everything I've learned in the years I wrote Faye to this book. I like to think that those things have made The Physicists' Daughter the best book I can write today. Next year, I'll know enough to write one that's even better.

In the meantime, don't mind me. I'm just sitting here in my corner of the internet, watching my new baby go out into the world and worrying about her.


*p.s. Mary Anna has nothing to worry about. The Physicists' Daughter is an absorbing, heart-pounding read - Donis

visit Mary Anna's website at

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Random Thoughts on Writing

I (Donis) have been doing my best to write over the past months - though it's hard to concentrate these days. I'd plead that I've had writer's block, but I've thought for years that “Writer’s block” is not really a thing. If you’re stuck, put something down, some reminder, or thought, a place-filler, or just a blank. Recently I read about an author who writes the word “bagel” when he can’t think of anything else. This allows him to keep moving. He can always go back and find the perfect term later. Believe me, even Shakespeare’s first draft looked like the dog’s dinner.  I live by this philosophy, especially lately, since I am not only not bringing my A game when I sit down to write, I’m not even up to my W game. But you must plug on. Later, after you have something to work with, you rewrite, and then you go back and do it again. And again. I think that most authors are never really satisfied with what they’ve created.  As for me, I’ll tinker with a book until I absolutely have to turn it in for the last time. Years after the book is published, I’ll find myself coming up with fresh ideas for a scene and wishing I could go back and work on it some more.

I once read an essay that postulated that a person’s thinking patterns might be formed by the geography of the place he grew up. I don’t know if that is true. However, I have observed that people are happier in some places than others, possibly due to where they were reared. My husband was raised on the wide-open Great Plains, and becomes claustrophobic in heavily wooded country. A friend from the Ozark Mountains once told me that she loves the woods. She feels protected and secure in wooded country, and exposed and vulnerable on a treeless plain. Many a city-raised person is disoriented in the wilderness, and vice-versa for someone who grew up in the country. It’s what you’re familiar with, I suppose. I read a piece in the newspaper several years ago about an unusually long period of sunshine in Iceland, which is normally has cloud cover for some 300 days a year. An interviewee said that the clear sky was nice at first, but after a week, she was beginning to feel nervous and unhappy. I’m sure there is a story idea lurking in there somewhere.

If I’m going to spend two or three days of my life reading a novel, I would prefer to like at least some of the characters. I try not to spend too much time with real-world people I dislike, after all. I once read a well-known book by a Very Famous Author and found the mystery quite interesting and the writing excellent.Very Famous Author really knew how to invoke a setting and construct a plot. The characters were  well drawn, but they were  all so unpleasant that even though I really wanted  to know how the story turned out, I had trouble finishing the book. I finally skimmed through just enough to get the gist and then read the end. I take a lesson from this experience and try to create characters who the readers will enjoy spending time with. Not to say that all the characters should be nice. Where’s the fun in that? I  do enjoy seeing evil people get their comeuppance.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Inspector Green or Amanda Doucette

I am facing a dilemma. My current contract with Dundurn will soon be fulfilled, with Wreck Bay in its final edits and scheduled for winter release. Dundurn and I are discussing what should come next. Once Wreck Bay comes out, the Amanda Doucette series will have five books with settings that span Canada from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. The much-longer running Inspector Green series has eleven books. I am trying to decide which series I want to address next. 

Both series have similarities – they are gritty, realistic, psychological stories with underpinnings of social justice – and both have a following. Although many people like both series, some are fonder of  Green, which is a more classic police procedural whodunit, while others like the more adventure thriller style of Doucette, along with the exploration of Canada.

There are differences for me too. The Green books are easier to write, not because the plots or issues re simpler, but because the setting is Ottawa, which I know very well, and more of the characters carry over from book to book. His family and colleagues, for example. As well, police procedurals have the built-in structure of a police investigation which I can fall back on for inspiration. Amanda requires research into a whole new setting for every book, most of which are unfamiliar, necessitating more reading and at least one trip out there to explore and get the details right. The books also have only three characters (four including the dog) in common, so I have to start from scratch creating a world of characters and their relationship to Amanda.

Moreover, plotting an amateur sleuth book is much more challenging. There are no guideposts of what might come next, and I have to be very creative about how Amanda becomes and stays involved in the crime.

I love writing both series. I love the adventures Amanda takes me on, and I love the old friends I've created in the Green books. Both series offer intriguing possibilities for a next book. I would travel north for the next Amanda, probably setting the story somewhere in Nunavut or the Yukon, which I know from previous visits and have contacts in. I have no idea what the story would be, but that would come.

In The Devil to Pay, I shook up the series by introducing his daughter as a rookie cop and a brash, young detective who wants to get ahead. This younger generation modernizes the series and adds a new dimension that I'd enjoy exploring. 

At this point I have no idea what either story would be about, but that will come once I focus my energies. I will continue spinning possibilities in my head until one emerges as a clearer frontrunner. Meanwhile I leave you with the question; do you have a preference for what you'd like to see. I'd love to hear from you! Tell me which, and maybe why, in the comments. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

The Fatal Click

 by Charlotte Hinger

I'm about five pages away from finishing my new mystery. I think. As usual the first 100 pages have been gone over a number of times and there's somewhat of a rush at the end. This is the second time I've finished the book. It usually takes three drafts before I'm satisfied, or least not totally in despair over the sorry quality. But for some reason the foundation of this book was there from the beginning. It was a pleasant surprise. 

And next, and next, comes the fatal click. The decision to send it to my agent. The irreversible engaging of the "send" button on my email program. With a file attached. There's no taking it back. It's every bit as final as going to the post office years ago and saying farewell to the big heavy manuscript box that contained a couple of years work. I was psychotically fussy about this mailing. The book was printed on very good paper. The box had a removable lid, and my label was immaculate. 

Mailing or emailing a manuscript is a bittersweet experience. One of the most satisfying experiences is finishing a long project. It's exhilarating to reach the end. And yet--the next stage is anxiety. For me this happens every time. 

I have a new agent and I'm worried about her reaction. My former publishing company was sold to another which has a sterling reputation for marketing and sales. I'm worried about making the cut. 

Vigorous promotion is part of the game now. I believe that those of us who are lucky enough to be traditionally published have an obligation to do our best to publicize our books. 

Wish me luck. Friday is the day of the fatal click.