Sunday, December 24, 2006

Magazine Dreams

“I bought a magazine,” Robbi Hess said as we sipped fruit punch at Lift Bridge Books' annual Local Author Celebration.

Robbi writes and edits for a medical journal, a business magazine and a weekly newspaper as well as doing loads of free-lance and editorial work. Somehow she squeezes in time to teach writing classes and, along with co-author Marcia Layton Turner, has just published A Complete Idiot’s Guide to 30,000 Baby Names. You’d think a person with so much going on in her life would be a better conversationalist, but there she was, telling me she had bought a magazine. Because she is a friend and because I have long supported the efforts of the socially inept, I simply nodded and stated that just that very morning I had bought a newspaper and a Diet Coke and that I could thus truly understand her bubbly enthusiasm over her magazine purchase.

“Not an issue, you idiot,” she said. “A whole magazine.”

I don’t believe she actually called me an idiot, but her one eyebrow did twitch in a way that indicated she was thinking it.

Robbi is now the very proud owner of ByLine, a monthly magazine aimed at freelance writers, novelists and poets (both published and pre-published), stuffed with excellent how-to articles, short stories, poems, contest information, essays, motivational pieces and great humor. It’s been helping writers hone their craft for more than 25 years and how I’ve gotten where I am without it is a fine example of dumb luck.

As we downed Dixie Cup after Dixie Cup of that punch, Robbi told me about her plans and there was a twinkle in her eye that I have seen my friends flash as they recount the alleged joys of parenting. Fans of ByLine – and they are legion – can sleep well at night knowing that the magazine they love will only get better with Robbi at the helm.

Now all this got me thinking what kind of magazine I’d like to own.

At first I thought it would be fun to run a magazine where people who were writers could come and share their stories, offer advice, show off some of their work and alert fellow writers to little-known opportunities in the field. But then I realized that that was ByLine and I didn’t think Robbi would appreciate the competition.

Then I thought about owning a mystery magazine, the kind that published short stories and reviews. And it wouldn’t be stories by the Big Guys but by folks just getting started, newbies testing their skills and seeing their work in print for the very first time, a magazine that these writers would then feel indebted to the rest of their career, coming back after they really were one of the Big Guys, just to publish with the magazine out of love and respect. It’s a good idea. So good that Babs Lakey came up with it years ago when she started Futures Mysterious Anthology.

I mentally listed all my hobbies and interests, trying to think of an overlooked market begging for its own journal. Then I matched that list against magazines already on the racks. This was a good idea since I never knew there were magazines devoted to moving overseas (Transitions Abroad), learning to play the saxophone (Saxophone Journal), recovering stolen art (IFAR Journal), martinis (Modern Drunkard), pirates (No Quarter Given) and burlesque (Shimmy). My search went on for days but every time I came up with an idea (ska bands, camel racing, the worship of Zeus) somebody had beat me to it.

Then it hit me.

If all goes well, sometime next year you’ll be able to stop by your local newsstand and pick up a copy of Blank Page Magazine.

I’ll cut you a deal on a subscription.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Home - and Holmes - for the Holidays

Happy Non-denominational festive celebration of your choice to everyone. I’m taking a short break from cleaning the house to write my blog entry. If you know me, you’ll know how strange the phrase ‘cleaning the house’ is, coming from the tips of my fingers. I clean as infrequently as possible without being in danger of having my house condemned. I’ve always had a cleaning woman, but when the last of my children moved out (to take up housecleaning elsewhere) I decided that I could manage it myself. It’s been touch and go. I have a very, very longhaired dog (some of the hairs on her tail are 8 inches long or more) and hardwood floors, so tufts of what looks like black snow regularly drift down the hallway. But today I am cleaning, getting ready for all the children to start arriving home tonight. I am so excited! Once I’ve finished cleaning – if ever – I’m going to start wrapping gifts and hanging decorations. Then it’ll be time to drive to the airport to pick up the first of the wandering Delany offspring, coming in from Ottawa.

One of my private Christmas traditions is to read “Holmes for the Holdiays” every year. I light a few candles, pour a glass of seasonal cheer, curl up in a comfy armchair, and delight in reading the collection of modern short stories about that greatest of detectives, all set during the holiday season. Last year I was in Scene of the Crime Bookstore in Oakville (much missed) and discovered “More Holmes for the Holidays.” What joy! I’ve spoken before about the delights of small, specialty bookstores – you rarely get that kind of a delicious find at one of the big chain bookstores.

On that note, it’s time to get back to my swifter and mop, and that pile of wrapping paper. Perhaps I’ll squeeze in one more store from “Holmes for the Holidays” first.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Greetings from unseasonably warm Montreal. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to Type M. Anyone miss me? Since I’m trying to avoid starting a rewrite of yet another scene in the new book, I thought I’d bring y’all up to date on the unbearable dullness of being Michael Blair.

As some of you may already know, my father, Hugh Fairlie Blair, died on November 6. Lung cancer. He was eighty-five, hadn’t been sick a day in his life, but had smoked since he was a teenager. He was at home in Williamstown, Ontario, not far from Cornwall, on the banks of the mighty Raisin River. My mother and sister were at his side. I’d said good bye the day before, but I’m not sure he knew I was there. As my brother put it, he was on “some pretty good shit.” I dreamed about him the other night. He was mowing the lawn naked. He’d never done that, but it was just like him. He is basically to blame for me being a writer. I’ll miss him.

Some friends have had a pretty rough time lately, too. Two lost their fathers just a few weeks before my dad died, and another lost his son in mid November. You expect to eventually lose your parents; you’re never ready to lose a child.

My best friend moved to Toronto last June. He and his wife are having a difficult time adjusting. They are living in the Danforth area. If you happen see a slim, medium height, middle-aged guy with more dark curly hair that he has a right to, flogging astrological readings on the street, cut him a break; he’s a mystery writer, too, although he hasn’t had anything published recently.

Did you know there’s an English bookstore in Quebec City? Why would you, I suppose? Anyway, it’s called La Maison Anglaise. Nice store. I did a signing there in September. Nobody came. Well, that’s not entirely true. I talked to a young couple wandering through the mall. And a couple of cousins came by (my father was born and raised in Quebec City and his younger brother moved back there after living for years in England). Otherwise, it was pretty quiet.

I think there’re about twelve English people left in Quebec City (ten not counting my cousins, eight not counting my aunt and uncle). Unfortunately, there were two other English events taking place the same evening, one of which was literary. The other was a meeting of the Women’s Club of Quebec. Happily, a distant cousin on my mother’s side (my mother was born and raised in Richmond, Quebec, United Empire Loyalist country) is the VP and invited me to join them for supper. Actually managed to sell some books.

Quebec City is absolutely the most beautiful city in Quebec, possibly even Canada. Go there. Drop by La Maison Anglaise. Tell them I sent you.

In November, N.A.T. (Nancy) Grant, Crime Writers of Canada’s Quebec & Atlantic VP, organized a “Crime for Christmas” event at the Atwater Library here in Montreal. Me, Nancy, Louise Penny, and Robert Landori. Nibbles, wine, book talk, more nibbles, more wine, more talk. Good turnout and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Let’s see, what else has been happening? Uh… Hey! You in the back! Wake up!

Okay, I’ll give y’all a break. Have a happy holiday, everyone. May the new year bring health, happiness, inspiration, discipline, good reviews and, most important, sales (of one kind or another).

Till 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

He's baaaaack...

It's been way too long! Did I actually last write an entry in October??

I'm finally off the road and it feels good. I'm pretty exhausted, but it's a good exhaustion. Now I'm hot into the next novel.

This one has a tight timeline. No, make that a ridiculously tight timeline: the end of February. That gives me roughly 11 weeks to finish a novel that I'm less than a quarter of the way into.

With that deadline firmly in my sights, I've had to adopt a different way of working than the one I usually employ. Generally, I just let plots develop as I go along. When I begin a novel I know the start, middle and ending (although that's usually the sketchiest part of the equation) and just feel my way through. This allows interesting things to happen: characters walk into the book that I didn't expect, locations change and characters turn out not to be who I thought they were.

It's a very cool way of working, but it can lead to dead ends in the story or subplots that don't make the grade. This time out, I can't afford to take those kinds of chances. If I go out on a limb and then saw it off behind me, it could take days, if not weeks, to get back on track. It's happened to me more than once on past novels.

So now I'm spending a lot of time just thinking about the plot before I go near the computer or pull out my journal. It's a much more controlled way of working, actually blocking out several chapters at a time. I'm even making notes -- something I NEVER do. Thus far, it seems to be working. The book is humming along, although, since I also have a day gig, there's too much starting and stopping for me to be able to get the creative juices really flowing. That's hopefully going to come during the holidays, since I'm planning on locking myself in a dark room (no Internet!) and force myself to GET IT DONE!

Is this the best way to write a novel? I don't really think so. (Simenon, it's said, could write an entire Maigret novel in one weekend, working round the clock. They aren't terribly long books, but they are well written, so that's a damned impressive thing as far a I'm concerned.) But sometimes things like this happens and if you're going to consider yourself a professional, you just make that deadline.

I do work well under pressure and I think I can come up with something I can be proud of in the time given, but it's going to be a close thing.

With that in mind, what the heck am I doing writing a blog entry?

To all of you and yours, the very best of the holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not More Business!

The other day someone told me that she enjoyed our blog about the business of writing. And I thought, thanks, but uh,. I don’t really want the blog to be about business, but about the joy and pleasure (and the anguish and all that other stuff) about writing. So I’ve been thinking that I need to start writing more about inspiration, ideas etc. etc.

And I’ll start that tomorrow – because today I have a couple of pieces of business.

First, a very exciting announcement. The Crime Writers of Canada (CWC), of which all of us at the blog are members, is inaugurating a new award this year. For Best Unpublished First Crime Novel. The work must be by a Canadian, or a resident of Canada, who has never been published for fiction (in any form).
Contestants should have a completed manuscript and submit the opening 8000 to 10,000 words, and a 500-word synopsis of their crime novel manuscript. "Crime novel" is defined as crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, or thriller, and can be set in any time period and crime-related sub-genre. Short listed writers will then be asked to submit the entire manuscript.
If you’re interested, all the details and rules can be found here: And good luck!

Poisoned Pen Press, which publishes Charles and me, has brought out a short story collection called A Merry Band of Murderers. The book is already proving to be a great success. Four of the contributing authors gathered at Nicholas Hoare Bookstore in Toronto this past weekend for readings and music. (The book comes with a CD of original music to match the stories). My friend, Iden Ford, husband of Maureen Jennings, was there taking pictures. He’s posted them on his blog – have a look at

Vicki… here in dreary, rainy, brown Ontario anxiously awaiting the cold and snow.