Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Two random thoughts

by Rick Blechta

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Who else is suffering from this?

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

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

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

Wish me luck…

Monday, November 18, 2019

Thoughts From Capitol Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Writing Weather

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Another Book Launch Under My Belt

Donis, Barbara Peters, Martin Edwards

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

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

Always work the crowd.

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

I also did a fun, short podcast at Biblio Happy Hour on Monday in which I wax eloquent about The Wrong Girl. Have a listen! http://ow.ly/acrM50x89RV

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Cover Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Marbled end papers

by Rick Blechta

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

How To Grow Readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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