Saturday, September 24, 2022

Cooks In The Kitchen

                                            

If you've ever written a book, you know what a solitary process that can be. It's just you and those ideas in your head that you're trying to get on the page. But what happens when it's not just your ideas but someone else's? I've worked as ghostwriter on over a dozen books so I'm well aware of another set of eyes looming over my shoulder as I peck away at the keyboard. Some of my clients have been quite generous with feedback while others have given me broad latitude to interpret their vision of the work. Other gigs have been collaborate efforts with other writers, either fleshing out a new concept or in a deep revision process. Despite all the good intentions, the old proverb comes to mind: Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth. 

But that hasn't been my experience. Another writer and I worked on a screenplay and after drafting the story outline, we divvied up the scenes. Afterwards, we were amazed at how well everything meshed together with little break in continuity. What helped was our empathy for the protagonist, a down-and-out goon hired to eliminate a snitch while investigating the suspicious death of his daughter in an S&M episode gone wrong. Much perviness and violence which I guess is why we were in such synch. Another collaborative venture, albeit where I worked as a ghostwriter, was on the high-tech thriller, The Natanz Directive, and again, our contributions joined seamlessly.


More recently, I was asked to collaborate in the rewrite for The Bane of Yoto. While I don't have any experience writing epic fantasy, I do understand the mechanics of dialog, character, and narrative structure. The efforts of our writing team paid off as Booklife of Publishers Weekly, gave us an A in every category.

 
Gritty, vividly told, pulsing with a spirit of old-school adventure, Bane of Yoto is steeped in the history and present of its genre, drawing from the pulps, comic books, video games, and—in its seamless three-author approach—shared-universe collective storytelling...All this is delivered with welcome earnest confidence, as the authors resist the temptations to wink at their readers or to overcomplicate their characters. The villains are villains, full stop, and the heroes, though often preoccupied by vengeance, fight for freedom. Readers eager for moral ambiguity should look elsewhere...




Friday, September 23, 2022

My Travel Log

 Hello, Frankie here. 

I missed my last Friday post because I was away. For the first time since the pandemic began, I boarded a plane. For the first time in well over a decade, I went out of the country alone instead of traveling with a friend. The latter reminded me of when I was in my twenties and thirties, with a sense of adventure, and no thought at all that I might encounter a situation that I couldn't manage. Those were the days when I would eat pasta and pizza and save my money for a cheap ticket to the places with names that were like music to my ears -- a three-city airline tour to Madrid, Paris, and London. Another trip to Spain -- the Costa del Sol, with a side trip to Tangier. Jamaica, Bermuda. Aruba.  

I loved traveling alone because when I did I was detached from time and place. I met people and made friends because I was an American abroad and that was a starting point for conversation. For example, there was the African student who stopped to talk to me in the Paris metro and invited me to come home and have dinner with his brother and sister-in-law. -- and I went. That was my first opportunity to observe the legendary chic and charm of French women. His sister-in-law prepared dinner then sat on the floor nibbling from her plate, wine glass at her side, as she carried on an animated conversation in English that was much better than my almost non-existent French. Traveling alone, I was invited to come over and sit with the owner of a club in Malaga who wanted to chat about the States. I encountered a Canadian on a train who invited me to Toronto after we returned to our respective homes. As much as I enjoy traveling with friends, solitary travel allows for chance encounters. 

But I have become older and more cautious. I am now much more prone to worry about all of the things that might go wrong. To check my purse multiple times for my passport and the conversion rate for euros. To spend hours searching online for a carry-on bag because a checked suitcase might be lost. To shop for a bag at Macy's, and finally buy a roll-along attache case and a carry-on suitcase that would meet Aer Lingus requirements. And then sigh with relief when the bookseller for the festival I was attending asked me to bring along copies of my book because she had not been able to get it. Now, I had a good excuse to use my large suitcase that I would have to check. That meant packing a change of clothes in the attache case, while taking a tote bag that would hold my purse and anything else that wouldn't fit in the attache case with my laptop. But I would be able to pack everything I "might need" to be comfortable.

I took my travel agent's suggestion and flew Business Class on Aer Lingus. There was a great discount available on the trip to Europe, and I would be able to get some sleep. I had only three days in Dublin, and I wanted to see and do as much as possible. That meant not losing a day to jetlag. Aside from a short domestic upgrade, the flight from Newark to Dublin was my first experience of luxury travel -- the luxury of having comfortable seating in ones own little cocoon. That night I stretched out in a cleverly designed seat that moved forward to accommodate my legs, turned off my reading lamp, drew up my blanket and settled in wearing my socks and eye mask from the kit I had been proved. I slept so well that I almost missed breakfast. That would have been a disappointment after the dinner the night before. 

In Dublin, my hotel was in the center of the city. I ventured out on arrival to get my bearings. I signed up for a free walking tour the next day -- and missed it because I took a wrong turn on my way to the meet-up at City Hall. That was the first of the multiple times I lost my way over those three days and stopped strangers to ask for directions rather than dig out my phone to look for a map. I had the paper map that I had gotten at the hotel. But it seemed so "touristy" to pull it out there on the street.  

Too late for my tour, I struck out on my own. I spent the afternoon wandering down streets to what seemed to be the outskirts of the city. Four hours after I had left I found my way back to my hotel. I had not done the "must-dos" on my list. I'd by-passed Trinity College because I was too tired when I saw the sign. The same for the museums and galleries on my list. But my afternoon had given me a sense of the city. The next day I went on a "food tour" of Dublin. Our guide was a young woman who was getting her graduate degree in culinary studies. I divided the rest of the afternoon between the Wax Museum and the National Leprechaun Museum. 

Queen Elizabeth died while I was in Ireland. On television, the coverage of her death was continuous on BBC and most of the other networks. I had the opportunity to observe the solemn rituals for a beloved monarch from the British perspective. That was when I realized that I too felt a connection to a queen who had been there all of my lifetime.  

On that Saturday, I boarded my connecting flight to Torquay for my destination -- two days at the annual Agatha Christie Festival. I had intended to stay on for the week of events and presentations. But going to the festival via Dublin (to avoid the crush at Heathrow and a possible rail strike when I booked) meant that I had less time in Torquay. 

In the old days I would have stayed on, but now I have a dog and a cat. I thought Fergus, my bouncy Cavalier, would be fine because he getting home boarding with the owner of the his doggie daycare. He had stayed with her before. After three or four days, he might wonder why I didn't come for him when all his dog companions went home at the end of the day. But he would carry on. It was my rescue Maine Coon I was worried about. She had only one experience of  boarding a couple of days with her vet. Even though the cat sitter, who Harry (my cat before her) had loved, made a special trip to meet her, I was worried she would be confused and frightened.  

As her sitter showed me in the photos and video that she texted, Penelope, my cat who had hidden in the basement when she arrived to pick her up and required two trips to capture, was enjoying her stay. She was housed in the room reserved for one boarding cat, where she enjoyed the companionship of the sitter's husband who used the space as an office when he worked at home. She was relaxing on a carpet, snoozing on a chair, and playing with toys. Having her own vacation. 

But it was too late to change my plans. I did my presentation at the Christie festival that Sunday morning. Then that afternoon, I had my scheduled interview with the BBC crew that was filming a three-part documentary series about Christie and her works. The next day I took a taxi back to the airport, fretting unnecessarily that I would miss the only flight from Torquay back to Dublin.

In Dublin, the line through airport security and US Customs stretched endlessly -- but moved with speed and efficiency. And then I was on the plane  -- in economy for the return flight, but seated in an aisle seat beside a friendly couple with whom I coordinated restroom breaks and who ignored me as we all read and watched movies and had a not-bad meal.

I drove home the next day. In contrast to the downpours on my way down to Newark, the sun was out. I turned off the radio and spent the drive in blissful silence as I planned my writing schedule for the next year or two -- including a return to Dublin. During my four-hour walk, it had occurred to me that my characters Lizzie Stuart and John Quinn might end up in Dublin rather than Paris on their European honeymoon. But no sooner than I had the thought, then I experienced a magical moment of Irish serendipity -- a sign on a shop -- McCabe's. My protagonist in two police procedurals is named Hannah McCabe. Obviously, the universe was telling me that the book should be hers, not Lizzie's. My plot fell into place as I walked. McCabe and her father, a retired former newspaper editor, are on a trip to Ireland that will take an unexpected turn when McCabe witnesses an incident. . .

Many thanks to the International Agatha Christie Festival organizers who invited me to do the presentation, the audience who attended, and to the wonderful BBC documentary crew and Lucy Worsley, historian, curator and skilled interviewer. My time in Torquay was brief but delightful. My time in Dublin equally so. I returned home, cobwebs swept away. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Farewell Mystery Scene Magazine

 

I recently heard from a number of sources, including this one, that Mystery Scene Magazine is closing down. Kate Stine, its editor, announced recently the November issue will be its last.


 

This really saddens me. I've enjoyed the articles and reviews over the years. I've discovered wonderful books I might not have known about if it wasn't for the magazine. One of these as the “7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton. If it hadn’t been for the article I saw in Mystery Scene, I would have missed out on a great book.

The issues are full of reviews of books, articles, interviews, awards. It’s been a one-stop shop for what’s going on the world of mysteries for a lot of years. They also sponsored the New Authors breakfast at Malice Domestic every year, which is a fun event. I participated one year when my first book came out and have gone a few times since then. Admittedly, not as often as I should have, but it’s really early on Sunday morning. Did I mention it’s really early?

Mystery Scene Magazine, thank you for everything you’ve done over the years. You will be missed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

God Bless The Queen

Queen Elizabeth was the epitome of sanity and stability in a world that is wobbling on its axis. The way she lived her life assured us of the validity of Browning's words that "God's in his Heaven, and all's right with the world."

Despite the chaos all around, the world could count on Queen Elizabeth to do her duty without complaint. She was regal in every sense of the word. Not only was her death mourned by the United Kingdom, there was an outpouring of grief from all corners of the earth. 

She was our Queen, too. Those of us who admire the United Kingdom from afar. Those of us in countries without the underpinning of long established traditions. Those of us subjected to a topsy-turvy political systems. 

She was our symbol of a life lived with integrity. A reminder of immutable standards. 

She acted and spoke with assurance because knowing the right thing to do and say was bred in her bones. No one had to coach her. Decency emanated from her soul. 

A number of the Type M posters are members of the United Kingdom. 

Your American cousins extend our deepest sympathy.



Monday, September 19, 2022

Strange Places Research Takes You

By Thomas Kies

 During the height of the pandemic when the world was locked down, no, I wasn’t looking to date anyone.  However, I was like almost everyone else who was hunkered down at home, I was looking online for items that were difficult or impossible to find in our local grocery store (toilet paper, anyone?).  The longer I was in lockdown, the more apps I discovered on my phone and my laptop.

I found that I could buy most anything from the comfort of my home office while still in my pajamas—clothing, food, insurance, furniture, gym equipment, cars, boats, even a house. 

During that time, I was working on my fifth book, Whisper Room, and the thought occurred to me, what if there was an app where you could order an escort along with all the bells and whistles—a nice dinner, a fancy hotel room, a Broadway show, or a trip to the Bahamas?  Or as the fictional owners of the Whisper Room describe it, it’s a full-service dating app where both the escorts and the clients are fully vetted.   

That all led me to do some research into dating websites and apps. I was amazed to discover that online dating started in 1965 when two young Harvard students managed to wangle time on an IBM 1401 computer (one of the first computers to run on transistors and not vacuum tubes) and created the very first digital matchmaking service. 

The two men created a 75-question survey that applicants would answer and then mail in along with their $3 fee.  In turn, they would receive a list of matches that the IBM machine generated for them. By 1966, Operation Match claimed to have 90,000 people using the system. 

Computer dating really hit its stride in 1993 when Match.com was created by Gary Kremen and Peng T. Ong in San Francisco.  Match became a household name early on after garnering over 100,000 users in its first six months. At that time, participants were matched up based on answers to a wide variety of questionnaires. 

It wasn’t until 2014 that Match.com created a mobile app that used location to match people based on photos and using similar algorithms as the dating app called Tinder. 

With the success of Match.com, starting in 2000 a company called eHarmony brought people together by what they described as “scientific methods”. Prospective members answered a proprietary questionnaire about their characteristics, beliefs, values, emotional healthy and skills. At its height, 33 million members used the service. In 2010, the company claimed that after finding their match on eHarmony, an average of 542 members in the United States were getting married every day.

It was during this same period, the 2000s, that social media skyrocketed.  Once again at Harvard, Facebook was founded in 2004 and by the end of the decade, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn had taken root. All online places to meet and interact.

Then in 2012 Tinder came along and really kickstarted online relationships…or hookups. Tinder is location based and subscribers can swipe right on someone’s photo if they like them and left if they don’t. If both users swipe right, then they can message each other. As of 2021, the app has been downloaded 400 million times and has 57 million active monthly users. 

The advent of dating app specificity has exploded. No matter what your experience, demographic profile, or sexual interest is, you can find it online if you know where to look.  

If you’re looking for a DTF dating app…and I didn’t know this, but DTF means easy hook-up: Pure (no-strings attached hookup app), Feeld (looking to match singles with couples..threesome anyone?), Ashley Madison (an extra-marital website that thinks life is short, so have an affair), and Bootyshake (give your phone a shake and anyone who has logged on in the past hour will appear on your screen).

Then there’s Farmers Only (connects country folks), High There (for stoners), Clown Dating (yeah, exactly for what you think it is), Redhead Passion (for gingers), Gluten Free Singles, and Singles with Allergies…the list goes on and on. 

But in doing research for Whisper Room, I wondered if you could buy sex online?  Silly question.  You can buy anything online.

One site, that appears to have been taken down, is called Redevu that focused on creating a safe space for sex workers. When it was up and running, Rendevu was supposed to be safe because everyone is vetted and customers have to put in their credit card info before they receive their booking. 

Ohlala is an app that is supposed to be designed with women in mind.  On Ohlala, the customer makes a date request along with time and a budget.  The escort sees the request and if she accepts, a new private chat will pop up.  If they agree on a location, duration and price, that the date gets locked in. 

According to Bustle, “Ohlala is the one dating app where everyone’s intentions are clear.”  According to Tech.co, “Now there’s a dating app that is purposefully putting women in control.”

PinkDate connects clients and escorts just like Uber connects riders and drivers.  The app has a Tinder like feel where clients can scroll through thousands of escort profiles.  When the customer finds their choice, they check available times and dates.  Escorts shard hourly rates and calendar availability.  

So, during the lockdown, when I dreamed up the app called Whisper Room, I thought I had come up with something unique.  In reality, if you want something bad enough, you can find anything…or anyone… online and make a purchase. 


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Guest blog: Researching Bushman Culture

 This weekend's guest blogger is the talented duo of Michael Sears and Stan Trollip, known jointly as Michael Stanley. I first met them in a bar at Bouchercon years ago, and have loved their Detective Kubu series ever since.

Michael Sears

Stanley Trollip

They set their books in Botswana and always include fascinating glimpses into the people, culture, and issues facing the country. Here they shed light on their research for their latest book A DEADLY COVENANT. Welcome, Michael, and take it away!
 

We’ve always been fascinated by the Bushman cultures. We have a great admiration for how they survive in the harshest environments and for the unselfish aspects of their group behavior. Botswana, Namibia, and the Northern Cape of South Africa are the remaining areas where their descendants can be found and their languages can still be heard from native speakers. So when we decided that our mystery series would be set in Botswana, we wanted the Bushmen to play a role. 

It’s a challenge to feature a culture so different from one’s own in a novel, and when we started researching the Bushmen, we read everything we could get our hands on. However, we encountered many obstacles. Not only are there few representatives of their nomadic culture still alive, but the Bushmen don’t have a written history - they pass on their culture through stories and songs told around the camp fire. Although there has been much written about them, starting with the work of anthropologists in the nineteenth century, it was frustrating to find contradictory interpretations. Unfortunately, most of the historical writers couldn’t speak a Bushman language and sometimes came to conclusions that may have been based on miscommunication. 

Still, there was a huge amount that could be learned. Many of their tales have been recorded, and although much of this is myth, their values come through strongly. Also, there is a powerful record of Bushman life and beliefs in the wonderful rock art that survives throughout southern Africa. The most remarkable site is at Tsodilo Hills in northern Botswana near Shakawe, where the new Detective Kubu mystery, A Deadly Covenant, takes place. The Bushmen regard this as the birthplace of humankind. Today, it is a World Heritage site boasting over three thousand rock paintings, some of which go back thousands of years.

Eland

Giraffe

Much of the area where the Bushmen lived is arid, including the vast Kalahari Desert. For tens of thousands of years, their ability to survive in this harsh environment depended on a number of factors. They were skilled at discovering subsurface water and food sources. Their groups were small, seldom more than a dozen, so they didn’t need a lot of food for the group to survive. Importantly, they believed that resources belonged to everyone and had to be shared, so if they came across some water, for example, they would take a drink but always leave some for the next group. In fact, they didn’t believe in ownership at all.

However, European and the local black cultures did, and as they and their animals moved into the territories the Bushmen used, clashes were inevitable. A Bushman would come across a cow, for example. It was much easier to kill it, because it didn't run away, than to run for several days after an antelope they’d shot with a poisoned arrow. The farmer thought differently and would either kill or enslave the Bushman if he caught him.

Bushman with hunting kit

Over time, the nomadic Bushmen in Botswana retreated into the Central Kalahari, but even there they faced conflict. The government of Botswana wanted them to settle so that it could supply them with water, schools and other resources guaranteed by the constitution, and convert the central Kalahari into a huge nature reserve. The Bushmen wanted to decide their own lifestyle. Eventually, in 2006, the High Court in Botswana confirmed their right to continue to live in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but exempted the government of its usual responsibilities for them. The seduction of town life with the supply of at least some resources encouraged many of them to move to the recently built town of New Xade, a sad place where people have little to do but raise scrawny goats.

Starting a fire

Bushmen made their first appearance in our debut novel, A Carrion Death. It’s Kubu's Bushman school friend who teaches him to be observant and sets him on the path to becoming a detective. We liked their presence so much that we made them the focus of our third book, Death of the Mantis, whose backstory is the demise of the Bushmen and the struggle of the remaining ones to maintain their history and traditions. The book seemed to strike a chord with readers, and was short-listed for an Edgar Award and won a Barry Award. Bushmen featured again in Dying to Live, and play an important role in our new book, A Deadly Covenant

One of the attractions of Botswana as a setting for novels is the clash of cultures. Although it is a well-managed country, genuinely trying to uplift its peoples, there remains a struggle between old and new. It accepts new ideas and technology, but old beliefs and prejudices run deep. The Bushmen sometimes find themselves trapped in that interface.


Synopsis and bio

While digging a trench for a new water project, a contractor unearths the skeleton of a long-dead Bushman. Kubu and Scottish pathologist, Ian MacGregor, are sent to investigate and MacGregor discovers eight more skeletons. Then an elder of the village is murdered, and things become still more complicated when a mysterious Bushman appears at the massacre site, collapses, then disappears again, but seems connected to the murders in some way.

Accusations of corruption are levelled at the water project, and international outrage over the massacre of the Bushman families builds. But how do the recent murders link to the dead Bushmen? As Kubi's team investigate, they uncover a deadly covenant made many years before, and they begin to fear that their own lives may be in danger.


Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip write under the name Michael Stanley. Michael has lived in South Africa, Kenya, Australia and the US. He now lives on the Cape south coast of South Africa. Stanley splits his time between Minneapolis, Cape Town, and Denmark. They have written eight books in the Detective Kubu series and a thriller concerning rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling in Africa. Discover more about Michael Stanley and their books at: 

www.michaelstanleybooks.com

www.facebook.com/michaelstanleybooks




Thursday, September 15, 2022

Why Do You Want to Read This Book?

 Last night I was reading an older Barbara Kingsolver book, High Tide In Tucson. a collection of essays. In one of the essays, “Jaberwocky”, Kingsolver notes that “a novel works its magic by putting a reader inside another person’s life ... The power of fiction is to create empathy.” As an example, she says that a newspaper will give you the facts of a situation, say a plane crash, but a novel will show you just how it felt to be one of those hundreds of people who were killed in the crash.

One of my basic beliefs about fiction is that you as the author have to figure out how to make your reader care about the people in your book. It seems to me that truly empathetic characters can even cover sins in the plotting and construction of your book. Think of how many bad plots or unbelievable situations you’ve read in really popular books, and yet, even as you were aware of the novel’s weakness, you still enjoyed it. How does an author manage that?

Jean Auel’s books are a great example. Her Earth’s Children series is spectacularly fascinating. Talk about being able to create a world! She manages to make a character in Ayla that millions of readers wanted to follow all across Ice Age Europe though five encyclopedia-sized tomes. And yet in Auel’s world, one woman is responsible for every technological innovation known to Stone Age man. Do we care?

Here’s an egregious example: ever see the movie Troy? I love The Iliad. When I was an English teacher, I taught The Iliad. I know it well. And yet - in the movie, the Trojan War lasted three days instead of ten years. Paris and Helen lived happily ever after. Menelaus got killed. Agamemnon met his fate somewhere other than his bathtub. However, when Brad Pitt stripped down and sluiced himself off after a battle, did I care?

It all depends on how successfully the author (or filmmaker) is able to pull you into her world and how willing you are to go along with her. In his book on writing, This Year You Write Your Novel, Walter Mosely said, “a novel is a collusion between the author and the reader.” The reader wants to walk in your character’s shoes, to believe in the world you’ve created, and you don’t want to let him down.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Motive, justice, and the many shades of gray

 Douglas's Monday post resonated with me, as do many of the varied posts on this blog. Having a collection of authors from different countries and writing in different sub-genres (all while murdering people) makes for an entertaining and thought-provoking commentary on the creative life.

Douglas talked about the compulsion to write. Even if we won the lottery and could travel the world or retire to a tropical paradise, the writing muse would eventually find us. Possibly thinking up a story about death on a cruise ship or transcontinental train. Ideas come to us from everywhere, all the time. Most will be discarded, and others will find themselves as small scenes or subplots in our larger novel. 

But some, like the poignant story that John Corrigan described in last week's blog, Kernel of Truth, are made to form the cornerstone of a powerful story. So many stories could be told from that short, emotion-laden snippet. So much human tragedy, so much good, evil, and moral ambiguity to be explored. And that is what good storytelling does at its heart. It mines the powerful depths of human experience and pushes those insights to their limit. There would be heroes and villains in that story, often in the same person. There would be cruelty, despair, desperation, frustration, and outrage. There would also be moments to rise above that, to explore compassion, hope, and redemption.

Many crime novels make short shrift of the motive behind the murder in their story. It might be drugs, turf wars, intimidation, or impatience to get at Great Aunt Mabel's millions. But to me, the motive is the core of the story, and the most powerful motives are the ones we can relate to because they stem from primal human emotion. Jealousy, revenge, fear, despair. These are universal whether you live in a wealthy enclave or a tent city. I want readers to care about what happened, to care about the victim, the killer, and those who are left behind. Even the sleuth. I want them to question the moral ambiguities and to walk in the characters' shoes. Ask themselves "What would I do?"

Most crime novels also aim to provide justice of some sort, to bring order back to the world disrupted by the murder. There is satisfaction in seeing justice served at least in fiction, when it sometimes fails us in real life. I am not a fan of "tie it all up neatly in a bow". Life is messy and complex. Most of the time, there are no easy answers. In my books, I near the climax of the first draft without a clear sense of how it will end, or even of whodunit although the why has slowly emerged from the mess and complexity. And I sometimes waver over the "what is justice" question for some time before finding a resolution that reflects justice of a sort, or the best possible justice under the circumstances.

And so I have already started thinking about John's story of the eight-year-old boy and wondering what that justice would be, and what the path towards that outcome would look like. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Bite Your Tongue

Tempted to point out someone else's errors? I've learned the hard way the best policy is to bite my tongue and shut my mouth. Why is this so hard for me to do? Especially since there is always a chance I'm the one who is wrong. 

Those of us who have adult children already know we're likely to encounter eye rolls at best when we tell them what to do. I've come to love my father's comment: "I don't hesitate to give advice to my daughters, because the chances of them hearing it, let alone taking it is so remote it can't possibly hurt them. 

That said, I'll skip the kids and stick to the wisdom or folly of pointing out errors in another person's writing and give a few pointers as to how to do it well, and when to abstain completely. Here's some examples of when I waded right in when I should have abstained or used some common sense:

     1.  Dial it down. (This was huge) My third mystery, Hidden Heritage, was riddled with errors. I was livid and mortified. I fired off a three page letter to everyone at the press, detailing every single mistake and gave ample proof that the copy I sent had been pristine. It was perfect. It turned out the overworked editor had not sent the corrected galley to the printer. I generated a lot of ill will because of my flaming indignation. I should have dialed it down. My agent was appalled at how I handled the situation. Ironically, Kirkus Reviews singled it out as one of the best mysteries, and one of the best fiction books of 2013. 

    2.   Don't assume they want help. A friend sent me a novel asking to use my name as a reference when he was scouting for an agent. I foolishly read his book and gave a lot of advice on how to improve the book. He didn't want my advice. He wanted to use my name as a reference. Period. This was a tough one. I could see at once the need for structural changes and was dying to help.

    3.  If they already know, shut up. I recently took it upon myself to tell our priest that a website link in our bulletin was wrong. That was silly. It was probably the umpteenth time someone mentioned it. No need to rub it in. 

 Only the other hand, there have been a number of times when I've managed to shut up because of intuition. A young woman with a great voice brought me a novel that I could have improved a lot. I didn't say so. She'll be fine. She had an MFA and it was the wrong time in her life to hear criticism. 

Thinking about this post, I didn't point out some copy errors to one of my favorite magazine editors. The stakes were too high. Some other reader will do this for me. In the meantime, I want to keep publishing with this house. 

Ironically, when I pointed out an error to Dr. Quintard Taylor at BlackPast, it helped my reputation as a careful academic. The Kansas African American, E.P. McCabe, usually signed papers with these initials. An article on the website referred to him as Edwin. I proved his name was Edward. How? I found his signature on the form granting him authority to be a Justice of the Peace. Victory! But historians are another breed of cat.

There's an error on a plaque at the prestigious, stunning Charles Russell Museum. Should I tell them? Probably. On the plague beside the Fire Boat picture there's a reference to "sing language." I'll bet it should read "sign language." 

The problem with errors is that we can't see our own mistakes. 

There are errors in this post. I've gone over it several times. I can't see any. Go right ahead and have at it loyal readers. That's what our comments section is for. 


Monday, September 12, 2022

The thrill of seeing a book for the first time

 I've done it.

Typed THE END.

I think I speak for all in this room when I say, "Phew!"

The last time you and I were together, dear reader, I talked of climbing the mountain of words to reach the summit. That was simply to finish the first complete draft. To be clear, I had already revised much of it but hadn't written the final confrontation between my protagonist, Jonas Flynt, and the bad guy. That is now done, I have revised the entire thing, on screen and on paper, a step I find is vital because I spot more on the printed page than I do on a screen. Curious, I know, but a fact nonetheless.

And I have added those two simple words above. 

I can now lie down in a darkened room and decompress to soothing music. John Barry is my composer of choice for such moments. In fact, he is playing right now, the CD 'Endless Echoes' if you're interested.

I can do that, right?

Eh, no.

I can listen to the mellifluous music of Mr Barry but the lying down bit will have to wait.

I have a busy year. I've already completed two books but I must have another written by the end of December. 

Add to that household chores, pulling together my income and expenditure for the benefit of what is now His Majesty's Revenue and Customs (our Internal Revenue), plus festival appearances, interviews to conduct, research, a comedy play to revise and, let me see, oh yes - eat, sleep, walk the dog and be a servant to the cat.

I'm not complaining. Okay, maybe about the household chores. And the tax thing, because nobody likes that. But the writing? Hell, no - because that's what I do and although the physical act of stringing words together often makes me groan, I do enjoy (as Dorothy Parker once noted) having written.

But here's the nub of today's lesson, dear reader.

Writers write. 

Yes, I will moan about it, about deadlines, about editors not understanding my brilliance (although generally they are right), I don't sell enough, I don't make enough, not enough people praise my work etc., etc.

But would I stop writing?

You might as well ask a bird not to fly.

It's something that's in me and sure, maybe one day I'll win the lottery, become filthy rich and stop. For a while. But then that familiar sensation would return and I'd want to write something, perhaps how hard life is for the filthy rich. Mind you, we have entire governments telling us that.

And to stop writing, to stop being published traditionally, would deprive me of another pleasure.

The thrill of holding the first copy of that book you sweated over for months never gets old.

This week I received my author copies of my new book 'An Honourable Thief.' Opening that box is always filled with anticipation because it's the first time I get to see the actual fruit of my labours (as well as the hard work of the editor, cover designer and the myriad of folk who beaver away under cover of an author's by-line).

Will it not look as good as it did on the screen? Will I feel a sense of anti-climax?

In the end, as I took out the first copy, the response to those questions were - it did and I didn't.

It's a hardback, so it's got heft. I like a book with heft. I'm from Glasgow so we're always on the lookout for a weapon. (I'm kidding, don't @me).

 

(Pic courtesy off my agent Jo Bell because I'm too lazy to take my own 
and, anyway, I didn't get a bookmark with mine!)

The one I have completed will today wing its way to my agent. I'll take this week to do as many of the other tasks as I can before I head off to Stirling for Bloody Scotland on Thursday. After that it's nose to the grindstone again.

But that, dear reader, will be another story...


Thursday, September 08, 2022

Kernels of Truth

I’ve always believed the best stories begin with a kernel of truth. They stem, in some way, from real life. This week, I'm going to share a story I've used in writing classes for inspiration often. I hope it gets your creative juices flowing. 

*
 

"Prosecutors consider fate of 8-year-old"


Published: Sunday, February 06, 2000, Lubbock Avalanche Journal http://lubbockonline.com/stories/020600/nat_020600046.shtml#.WUOlMxPyv-Y


COKER CREEK, Tenn. {AP} Neighbors said that for months the ramshackle mobile home littered with piles of trash and beer cans had been the site of loud parties and drunken fights, most in front of two young boys who lived there with their mother and her boyfriend.

When it was quiet, they said, the children often were left alone with no food, running water or electricity.

Then, last week, the mother's boyfriend was stabbed to death, and the 8-year-old boy confessed to killing him, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department said. According to police reports, the boy said Keith Podzebka, 41, had been hitting his mother.

District Attorney General Jerry Estes said authorities are reviewing the case to decide if the boy will be tried as a juvenile or an adult.

"These issues are rare. I don't recall having an 8-year-old involved in a murder," Estes said Saturday. "This is a first for us."

Where the child is prosecuted depends on the motive and whether he has committed other violent acts, Estes said.

The second-grader described by neighbors as a sweet, intelligent child is accused of stabbing Podzebka in the chest Jan. 30 in this isolated rural community, tucked away in the Cherokee National Forest near the North Carolina border.

According to police reports, the boys' mother said another man stabbed Podzebka, but then her 8-year-old son confessed.

"He was smart with a lot of potential despite what was going on in that home," said Ann Irons, the parent of child who attends the same school as the boy. "He was attention-seeking but not violent. He was a good boy. If he did it, he was pushed."

The boy's mother was charged with child neglect and pleaded guilty Tuesday in Monroe County Sessions Court. She was given a suspended six-month sentence.

*

The story offers so many rich questions –– legal and ethical. If you think about it for a while, something will emerge that you can write about. It's all about the kernels of truth. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

CCWC 2023

 

This week people are heading to Bouchercon in Minneapolis. I’m not one of them. I admit there’s a bit of FOMO going on with me, but I’m okay with living vicariously through others on Facebook. Looking at the weather, part of me wishes I were there since it’s been 98 here in the beach cities for a few days. Extremely unusual for us, which means most people don’t have air conditioning, including us. In one of my books, A Palette for Murder, my fictional town of Vista Beach was going through a similar thing. Now all I can think about is the crimes that can occur when it’s hot and people leave their windows open!

Speaking of conferences, the 2023 California Crime Writers Conference is now open for registration. The details: 

Where: Hilton Los Angeles, 6161 W. Centinela Ave., Culver City, CA

When: June 10 and 11, 2023


Deborah Crombie
Rachel Howzell Hall

 

Guests of honor are Rachel Howzell Hall, Critically Acclaimed Author and LA Times Book Prize Finalist Nominee for the Anthony, Lefty and ITW Awards, and Deborah Crombie, New York Times Bestselling and Multiple Award-Winning Author of the Duncan Kincaid / Gemma James Mystery Series

This conference is a joint venture of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Its roots are in the SinC/LA No Crime Unpublished conference which was a one day event put on by the chapter. SinC/LA teamed up with SoCalMWA in 2009 to put on this conference which is a two-day event that happens every other year. In 2021, it went virtual, but it’s now back to an in-person event.

The programming for the event is not set yet, but in the past there has been four different tracks going on at the same time: Law Enforcement/Forensics, Marketing, Industry/Business and Writing Craft.

I’ve attended every conference since its inception, serving as co-chair in 2011, and have learned an awful lot at each one. It just keeps getting better and better. 

Visit https://ccwconference.org/ for more info and to register.

That’s all I am going to say for now. Too hot and tired to think.



Tuesday, September 06, 2022

It's a Heart Thing

When I was in grade school, September and the first day of school was my favorite time of year. The odor of freshly waxed floors and chalk was intoxicating. My brand new supply of No. 2 pencils, my Big Chief tablet, my pristine eraser and my see through plastic ruler seemed to assure me there would be an absolutely perfect year ahead. My heart was gladdened with virtue and resolution.

Excitement ruled. There was a rush of pure joy in seeing my classmates once again. They never changed in the small community of Lone Elm, Kansas where I attended school. First, second, and third grades were all taught in one room. 

Recess was wildly vigorous and mostly spent in violent running games; Red Rover, 23 Scadoo, Statues, Ante-Over, New Orleans and others that would not be permitted today. They were an outlet for pent-up energy.

Come winter, the girls switched to jacks. Then, an all school project of coloring the spaces on our Big Chief tablets seemed to emerge every February. These pieces were then taped and linked together into a huge chain until it circled the outside of the whole school. My heart was warmed by this friendly comraderie. It was a group thing. By the time this worthy goal was achieved, winter had passed and we gleefully rushed outdoors again. 

Our teacher read to us after lunch. Years later, people have told me their fondest memory of school was when the teacher read stories to them. Often it's a student's only exposure to reading for pleasure.

 Another highlight was the traveling music teacher. She went from school to school throughout out county and we learned about people through their country's songs. To this day, during the opening of the Olympics I recall the line "but other hearts in other lands are beating, with hopes and dreams as high and pure as mine." Right now, my heart aches for the people whose "hopes and dreams" are broken through war. Even the Olympics are tainted with controversy. 

Much of my interest of African American history can be traced to the stirring of my heart when Teresa Shurr led us in traditional spirituals. Music played a huge role in my educational experience. Folk music added to my understanding of geography.

Newspapers this week are filled with tales of little children terrified to go back to school. No wonder! As a highly sensitive child, I don't know how I would have survived emotionally if my school had been subjected to carnage. My heart would have stopped.

How can today's children focus? Is their terror lessened when they see armed officers patrolling the halls, or does their presence add to the children's unease? What about the mental health of the poor teachers who are expected to be brave, self-sacrificing, and ever alert to the threat of danger? 

The contrast between my school days and the experiences of today's children could not be greater. Each new school shooting breaks my heart. 




Monday, September 05, 2022

Paranoia and Life Imitating Art


 Cindy and I are binging on “The Americans” currently streaming on Hulu.  We’re on season 5 and loving the show.  It’s set in the 1980’s, the Reagan years, and a man and a woman from the Soviet Union, posing as a middle class married couple with two children, are spying on the United States.

Now, with this kind of setup, you’d think you’d hate the characters.  After all, they kidnap, steal, lie, cheat, and murder to achieve the goals of their handlers.  Even worse…they have sex with other people to get information.  Well, maybe that’s not worse than murder, but it can still be jarring.

So, you'd think the characters are completely unlikable.  But much like Walter White and the Sopranos, you can empathize with them...most of the time. 

So, why am I even telling you this?  Writers are keen observers.  At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.  I’m always on the lookout for art imitating life or vice versa.

A CNBC headline this week stated, “Lukoil Chairman Ravil Maganov is the 8th Russian energy executive to die suddenly this year.”

The story goes on to describe how Mr. Maganov, chairman of the Russian oil giant Lukoil and outspoken critic of Russia’s role in the war in the Ukraine, died after falling or of the window of Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital. 

Lukoil, the company Maganov helped to build, issued a press release that said the chairman “passed away following a serious illness.” 

Maybe that illness was called Gravity. 

Since the beginning of the year, seven other Russian energy executives have died by suicide or in murder/suicide events that included their immediate family.  One in particular, Alexander Subbotin, TASS reported that his body was found in his basement in a room used for “Jamaican voodoo rituals”.  The others were deaths by hanging or gunshots and not all were in Russia. One executive was found dead along with his wife and daughter in their vacation home in Spain. 

The retirement plan for Russian oil execs is brutal and deadly.

Watching “The Americans” has made me paranoid as hell.  It’s not bad enough that the FBI has found Top Secret files in a previous president’s country club estate, but dozens of those folders marked Top Secret were found empty.

Does that mean they’re still missing?  Who has them?

On August 28th, this headline appeared in BusinessInsider.com, “FBI is investigating a Ukrainian woman who posed as a Rothschild heiress and wandered about Mar-a-Lago with Trump.”

The story goes on to say, “A Ukrainian woman who posed as a member of the Rothschild banking family is under federal investigation after she infiltrated Mar-a-Lago multiple times and mingled with former President Donald Trump, a report says.”

“Ukrainian-born Inna Yashchyshyn used the name of Anna de Rothschild and claimed numerous business ventures as she rubbed shoulders with high-profile Trump guests. On several occasions in 2021 and 2022, Yashchyshyn mixed with Trumpworld heavyweights such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, Kimberley Guilfoyle, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, and Trump donor Richard Kofoed, the outlets reported. She was also photographed with Trump on his golf course, they reported.”

This is exactly the kind of shenanigans the Russian spies in “The Americans” pull.  

So, am I being paranoid?  In the words of one my recurring characters in the Geneva Chase series, “You can’t be too paranoid.”