Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The more I think about it...

Blechta here, back at the keyboard in the T-dot (that’s Toronto for all you non-locals).

At this time of every year, I’m no different from most people: we all make resolutions. And then most of us break them within a month or two.

Since we’ve been discussing it here on TypeM sporadically over the past year, with me most recently two weeks ago, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about electronic publishing.

Bottom line: I do believe I’ll give it a try with one or two of my early novels. I own the total copyright for my first three, and the only thing I would be out of pocket for is the time it will me take to put everything together, so what have I got to lose?

I haven’t decided yet whether to do everything myself or sign up with an e-publishing house. The only thing I would need them for is to take care of publicity – and we all know how good most publishers are with that sort of thing. I might have to pay something for a bit of publicity, but at least I would know how it’s being done (or whether it’s being done). A lot of it I could do myself.

That’s my New Year’s resolution. You’ll be kept informed on what I learn and how it all works out.

Have a safe and happy holiday and all the best for 2009.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lesa's Book Critiques

I am so pleased to welcome today's guest blogger, Lesa Holstine, whose influential book review blog is one of the best on the web.


It was a pleasant surprise when Donis asked me to be a guest blogger to discuss my blog, and the life of a book reviewer. (Happy Birthday, Donis!)  I’ve been blogging for four years now, and I’ve enjoyed talking with readers and authors in that time.  I’m passionate about books, and my blog.

My name is Lesa Holstine, and I blog at http://www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com.  I’ve been a public librarian for twenty-eight years, and it’s that job that led to my blog.  I’ve managed libraries in Ohio and Florida, and, while in Florida, I was the Chair of Authors’ Programming for the Lee County Reading Festival for five years.  That job gave me the chance to meet authors such as Carl Hiaasen, Sue Grafton, Les Standiford, Elaine Viets, Tim Dorsey, P.J. Parrish, and so many other terrific crime novelists.

I missed that contact with authors when I moved to Arizona.  But, I started reviewing books for Stacy Alesi (Bookbitch), and Library Journal.  Then, in January, 200 I reluctantly attended a series of workshops.  It was there I learned to blog, and I fell in love with it.  I started blogging to share my love of books and authors.  Other readers, and authors, chime in with their comments, and we get to discuss books.  I started by emphasizing mysteries, but I review a little of everything – women’s fiction, nonfiction, sports books, and, even children’s books.  Sometimes, I cover authors’ appearances when they speak at my library, the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, Arizona, or at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale.

I’ve been very lucky with my blog.  Two years ago, I joined BlogBurst, a syndicator, and my book reviews have been syndicated throughout the country.  Reuters, usatoday.com, and The Chicago Sun-Times pick up articles most frequently.  The syndication, along with infrequent reviews for Blogcritics, and comments on Twitter, have brought the blog to the attention of more readers, authors, and publishers.  I’ve also joined social networks, solely for the purpose of publicizing my blog, and talking about books.  I use MySpace, Twitter, Bookblogs.ning.com, and other sites just to connect with the reading community.  

What do I enjoy most about blogging?  It gives me an outlet for my opinion about books.  And, it gives me a chance to discuss books with other readers.  Sometimes, I get a chance to discover a first time author, and share them with readers.  My blog brought a special challenge this year.  My New Year’s resolution this year was to read one more book in 2008 than I read in 2007.  (I’ve already reached that point, passing 164 a few books ago.)  My niece, Elizabeth, read that resolution, and said her resolution was to read one more book than I did.  Elizabeth is in fourth grade.  I sent her a book journal and two pens.  Her mother told her she had to read at grade level, and, together, we’ve been reading all year.  At the end of the year, I’ll post her picture, and her final total.  She was a little ahead of me all year. 

The blog has provided me additional outlets to talk about books, with people other than my niece. As I varied my reviews, and had more of them syndicated, I had more offers to review.  I just started to review books for Mystery News.  I regularly read manuscripts for a mystery publisher.  I’ve also had some flops.  I found I wasn’t the right reviewer for one online journal.  They wanted well-researched reviews with links to sources, and internet sites.  Although I’m a librarian, I found this source wanted too much time.  I found myself spending three or four hours on one review.  I can almost read the book in that time!  And, I do still have a full-time job as a library manager.

So, now is my opportunity to apologize to all of you authors.  You are my rock stars.  There’s no one I’d rather see than you.  (Other than Barack Obama, and I have met him in his role an author.)  I wish I had time to read every book you send me, or every book your publisher or agent sends.  But, if you check out my monthly listing of “Treasures in My Closet” on my blog, you’ll see that I have more books than I can get to in one month.  And, the treasures extend to the piles of books on the floor.  I prioritize them.  Library Journal, Mystery News, and the mystery publisher come first.  Then, I pick out the books my library patrons will want to know about, and I sneak in books by a few favorite authors.  And, then there’s my mood.  Sometimes I need to read a nonfiction book for a break, or a romance.  

But, thank you for offering me your books.  Thanks for continuing to tour, despite the small crowds and the high cost of gas in the last year.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of you here at The Poisoned Pen, including Lee Child, Cornelia Read, Louise Ure, Debby, Betty Webb, Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller, Brad Meltzer, and so many others.  I try to get there as often as I can.  Thank you for visiting my library for a series we’ve had for just over a year, Authors @ The Teague.  Donis has been there, and Vicki and Debby will be there this year.  We may not get large crowds, but I publicize your appearances on my blog, on The Glendale Daily Planet, on LibraryThing and Goodreads, as well as Twitter and MySpace.  After you appear, I’ll blog about it, mention it on DorothyL, and, maybe, it will be syndicated.  You are my rock stars, as I said, and on Lesa’s Book Critiques, I get a chance to say thank you for everything you write.  Sometimes I have to give you a negative review (and I have one coming out for the latest book by an author I like), but I always respect the hard work you put in, even if I don’t give it a positive review.  

So, thank you.  And, good luck in 2009.  I hope every author has a successful year, and every reader discovers a new author or two.  And, since we’re all readers, I wish us all a successful reading year.  You can see my reading year at http://www.lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com.  One hundred sixty-six books, anyone?


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Face to Face in the 21st Century

Christmas is over and it’s time to get back to work.  This morning, I was depressed thinking about planting myself in front of my computer and going at it again.  This is one thing they don’t tell you about the author’s life.  It is relentless. I wouldn’t mind so much if I had more to show for it.  Or would I?  Is my nature such that I could never reach a place where I think I’ve done enough?

I did have an interesting Christmas.  I live out in the wilds of the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan complex, far from any member of either family.  My husband and I generally have quiet little two person holidays, or with a few friends, and over the past quarter-century that we’ve been out here, we have developed many holiday traditions of our own that satisfy us just fine.

Since 2004, though, my three siblings and I have attempted a computer get-together on Christmas day.  The first few times, the only one of us with a camera was my brother in Tulsa, who makes his living as a web master and perforce buys every computer device known to man the instant it is invented.  He got into the webmaster business nearly 20 years ago now, and though I’ve always thought of him as a cutting edge young lion, he’s actually in his forties and a curmudgeonly internet pioneer.  He won’t buy a new computer if he can modify the one he has, so his looks rather like something Rube Goldberg whipped up. 

But I digress .

 At first, the other three of us would watch him live while typing instant messages to each other.  But time has marched on, and the rest of us have slowly come into the 21st Century and added some devices of our own.  This year, 2008, Tulsa, Joplin, and Tempe all had cameras, and Denver was able to see us and talk to us.  AND we typed instant messages to each other as well.  Then for the piece d' resistance, Denver’s daughter in Seoul, Korea, joined in with her camera.  Technology can be wonderful.

All of this inspired me to attempt a two minute film clip on my web site, so I’ve spent a couple of hours today creating said clip and attempting to upload it to the “Gallery” section of my site. As I type this, no dice.  But never let it be said that I’m a quitter, so I’ll keep trying and let you Dear Readers know when it happens.  Just don’t expect anything that could be entered at Sundance.

I also have in mind to attempt a video book presentation sometime.  Surely one of you fellow authors has made a presentation to a book club or writing group over the web.  I would be entirely fascinated to hear the details.

Tomorrow's guest blogger is the fascinating  Lesa Holstine, book reviewer and producer of http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com.  If you've wondered about how those all-important book reviewers get into the business, I suggest you stop by and check it out.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

To: You
From: Charles

Today is Boxing Day, a public holiday for many of the Commonwealth Nations during which people with give something to those without. In the US, we have a slight variation on the holiday and instead of giving, we spend the day returning things that were given to us.

One way or the other, I’m sure that for most people Boxing Day calls to mind gifts (given, received, returned), happy family gatherings and stuff like that. And it’s all true for me, too, although I also like to keep in mind that Boxing Day was the day in 2004 when the Asian Tsunami devastated the lives of millions throughout the islands and atolls of Southeast Asia. It’s all been rebuilt now—the buildings, the roads, yes, the families and the lives of the survivors, who knows—and given all the things that happen in the world on a weekly basis, it’s understandable if it slipped your mind entirely.

Is it weird to say that that disaster gave me the idea that eventually became Noble Lies?

Typing that line, it sure felt weird. It’s not like I watch the headlines looking for ideas to incorporate into my books, but the truth is that as I watched those first news reports, part of me did say something like that. Now, does the book stand up as an honest tribute to those who lost their lives or is it simply a crass rip-off that drove my plot? I have my views but if you’ve read it, I’d like to hear what you think.

For me, Boxing Day has come to represent something kind of personal. It doesn’t have anything to do with tangible gifts, it has to do with the gift of forgiveness, a gift I have no problem giving others but one I seem incapable of wrapping up for myself. Boxing Day is my symbolic day to think about forgiveness, and today I recommit myself to forgiving the forces of nature, the flaws in others’ character and the failures in my own.

But the first makes no sense, the second makes no difference and the third cannot make up for anything, anyway.

Some holiday, huh?

Ah well, this year will be different!

Here’s to a wonderful 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The busiest time of the year

Blechta here, currently on the doorstep of the Big Apple.

My formative years were mostly spent in *Mamaroneck, New York, which is just a few train stations north of the Bronx. It lies on the Long Island Sound and it really is quite a lovely place.

Every year our family comes down for the holidays, and this year is no exception. The only downside is that we have so many holiday-type things to do, it doesn't leave time for other pursuits, like coming up with interesting topics for Type M.

So, like Vicki, I'm just going to wish everyone Happy Holidays and the very best in 2009. I don't have any books coming out – unless miracles happen, but then again, this is the season of miracles, so who knows?


*For those who have read my most recent, A Case of You, you may recognize the odd name of this town, since I threw it into the story in one of the book's pivotol scenes. In fact, if you were here with me, I could take you to the street and house where the scene takes place!

Monday, December 22, 2008

...And to all a good night.*

Vicki here. I won’t write much today; my family are starting to arrive and Christmas preparations are underway. At least I have tons of food in the house: my party for my new neighbours out here on County Road 10 was snowed out. The storm was so bad that people whose houses I can see from my house called to say they wouldn’t be coming over.

Next week, I’ll be in the Dominican Republic with the whole family: mother, sibling, daughters, their partners.

In the new year, I have not one, but two books coming out. Valley of the Lost (the second Constable Molly Smith) in February, and Gold Digger (The first Klondike Mystery) in May. Plans are well underway for the book tours, so please stay tuned.

Life is good.

I hope it is as good for you and yours as well.

* From The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Home to the Present

This week's guest blogger is Mel Bradshaw. His debut novel, Death in the Age of Steam broke some new ground for a Canadian Crime novel. Its setting is Toronto of the 1850s and Mel succeeds in capturing that time with almost photographic intensity. His next was...well, I'll let the man himself tell you all about it. Thanks for joining us, Mel!


It’s an honour to have been asked to guest blog on Type M for Murder. My maiden blog anywhere, no less. I seem to be chronically behind the times—my excuse having always been that I write historical crime fiction.

My first novel, Death in the Age of Steam, was set in the Canada and (briefly) the Michigan of 1856. I used the search for a missing woman to explore a world now mostly forgotten, but eerily familiar in its wildly expansionist economy. Then the bubble arose because of unrealistic confidence in railways as infinite generators of wealth. Corners were cut, regulations flouted, morals compromised, and lives lost. For my second time trip, I stopped in Prohibition-era 1926. I found the fashions and frenzy of the Roaring Twenties irresistible, but saw the decade also as a potentially tragic postscript to the bloodbath of World War I. Hence my title Quarrel with the Foe, which harks back to John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” The plot turns on the murder of an industrialist, who profited during the war from shipping shoddy munitions to allied troops in Belgium.

Book #3, however, has broken the mould. The late adopter as always, I finally decided to write a crime novel set in my own age. With each day’s news, I was becoming more and more convinced of a gap between the kind of justice people want from their courts and the kind of justice judges and academics think these people ought to have. I decided to close the gap by making a university criminologist the victim of a violent crime and to see how he reacted. The just released Victim Impact is the result.

L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” As a novelist, I found almost the reverse. I was used to pouring over old books and documents, viewing historic paintings and photographs, visiting heritage buildings. If a bygone era started out as foreign, I knew how to make it less so.

Researching the present for Victim Impact was another matter. For example—

Historic jails are sometimes open to the public. Contemporary ones not. If I wanted a fictional murder suspect detained in the Maplehurst Correctional Complex, I couldn’t just walk in through the four sets of locked doors and take notes. I needed a new research method. What I did was get a psychologist with inmate clients to describe the Maplehurst visitors’ room for me.

Historic documents too, even if private to begin with, are often opened to public scrutiny after a number of years. What harm when concerned parties have all died off? In the Ontario provincial archives, you can actually read judges’ bench books from the 19th century. Not so court documents of the 21st. To my surprise, I found that even statements read aloud in open court are not routinely made available for inspection. Victim Impact Statements were what interested me most. A VIS allows victims to say how the crime has affected them, so the harm they’ve suffered may be considered by the judge when deciding on an appropriate punishment. Anyone in the public gallery will hear the VIS. And yet the court office will not permit members of the public to inspect these statements after the sentencing hearing has occurred. I was limited in my research to those few VIS that the victims themselves had released to the media. Fortunately, these proved enough.

Researching the present often meant oral interviews, collecting from experts opinions not sifted and tested by the passage of time. But I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that no books were of any use. A major feature of Victim Impact is biker gang culture, which has attracted serious if wary study. Interested readers should look for Daniel R. Wolf’s classic The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers. Or The Road to Hell by Julian Sher and William Marsden, winner of an Arthur Ellis Award for true crime.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

But She Was Thinking... A Christmas Tale for Authors

The following tale is a composite of actual comments said to me or to someone I know.

The Author is spending her afternoon in a bookstore, doing a signing,   She is pulling out everything she has in her bag of tricks, trying to interest shoppers in her latest book.  She does not sit.  She has all kinds of things to give away, including candy, on the table.  She hands bookmarks and flyers to anyone who comes within ten feet of her table.  She smiles so much that her cheeks hurt. 

She does not bother those who pass her table with their faces averted in order to avoid eye contact, but she engages with anyone who seems interested, and she talks about whatever they want to talk about, all the while trying gently to steer the conversation around to her book.

She is tact itself.  She knows exactly what to say to the questions and comments that are directed at her again and again.  But what she says and what she is thinking bear little relation to one another.  Let’s listen in...

COMMENT 1: I don’t like mysteries.

THE AUTHOR SAID: What sort of thing do you like to read? OR Do you know someone who does like mysteries?

BUT SHE WAS THINKING: What do you mean you don’t like mysteries, you knucklehead?  Have you ever read one?  Do you know what a mystery is?  A good mystery is a psychological drama extraordinaire.  Even Hamlet is a mystery - did Uncle Claudius kill Daddy, or is Hamlet just nuts?

COMMENT 2 : I don’t read anything that doesn’t have a contemporary setting.  If it happened before I was born, it doesn’t interest me.

THE AUTHOR SAID: Sometimes you can learn a lot about what is happening today by reading about the past.

BUT SHE WAS THINKING: Come over here so I can slap you upside the head, whippersnapper.  Don’t you know that people in the past were exactly the same as they are today?  Don’t you know that people never learn, and the same things keep happening over and over again?  That those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it?  Of course you don’t, since you were either born yesterday or just fell off the turnip truck. 

COMMENT 3:   I have a great idea for a novel.  If I tell it to you and you write it we can split the profits and become millionaires.

THE AUTHOR SAID:  I’m sorry, but I’m under contract to write X number of novels for the next 20 years and just don’t have time to ghost write.  But there are people who do that.  Look on the internet.

BUT SHE WAS THINKING: Are you too busy/handicapped/lazy /illiterate to do it yourself, or do you simply have no concept of reality?

COMMENT 4:  You’re the first real author I ever met.  I just finished my first novel.  Will you show it to your editor/edit it for me/recommend me to your agent or publisher?

THE AUTHOR SAID:  I’m sorry, but my agent/editor/publisher won’t allow me to read or recommend unpublished manuscripts in case one of my future stories has similar elements and we get sued for plagiarism. But I can give you some tips on how to get started.

BUT SHE WAS THINKING: No.  I’ve never seen you in my life.  How do I know you’re not a psychopath? Get away from me.

COMMENT 5: I’m not interested in your book.  I’ve never heard of you.

THE AUTHOR SAID: (she launches into a long tale about how years ago she bought a signed first edition of Outlander before anyone ever heard of Diana Gabaldon and now that book is worth at least $650.)

BUT SHE WAS THINKING: Actually, I’m going to be on the six o’clock news tonight after my arrest for assault.

(The author is just joshing.  I LOVE everybody who speaks to me during a signing and would never have an ungenerous thought about any of them.)

Much love and Merry Christmas - Donis

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dear Santa

Charles here, with a special insider’s look at my letter to Santa.

Dear Santa,

I realize that you are a busy man so I’ll skip all the details about why I deserve to be rewarded this holiday season* and jump right into my list of demands.
I would like,

● a definitive answer – does my character say “I lit a cigarette” or “I lighted a cigarette”? Or should I just make him quit smoking?
● a single word for that ‘tsk’ sound you make with your tongue and teeth to show displeasure.
● a reason why authors include first-person sex scenes in their novels. I blush when I read them, not because of the sex but because they are so poorly written, falling in somewhere between a sweaty Letter to Penthouse Forum and a high school locker room tale.
● the name of a local doctor that will prescribe Ritalin, no questions asked. I’ve been reading a great deal about cognitive enhancement (think Enzyte for brain) and I would like to do a little self-experimentation.
● the self-discipline to keep track of all my characters’ details in a character bible so I don’t have to go back and try to remember if some walk-on character was allergic to fish.
● that break-through idea that will finally link traditional book publishing and free Internet content in one profitable package. I know there’s a way to do it but I haven’t solved it yet.
● Oprah’s home phone number.
● a book blurb from Jesus: “When it comes to miraculously great plotting and divine writing, I stand in Benoit’s shadow.” Or something like that.
● one universally agreed upon word to replace the clunky phrase “he or she.” Also one for “his or hers.” We can fake putting a man on the moon but we can’t we solve this ridiculous grammar conundrum?

A short list, yes, especially as I deserve so much, but I would even swap all of the above items for this: More time to write.

Since we don’t put up a tree, feel free to leave the following on the bar. And I would advise you not to pass me by again this year as I know where you live.


*Details available by request.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Maybe not the best idea...

Blechta here, late again, but I do have a very good, book-related reason.

Like Vicki, we are giving some books as Christmas/Chanukah gifts, but not as many as I suspect other Type M folks are. But everyone on our list is getting a book of another sort.

Back in September, casting around for an idea for Christmas gifts, someone in the family (I suspect it was me in a fit of insanity) had a brainstorm: why not make up a small cookbook of family recipes and give that as a very personal present?

That was back in September. When we pulled out the recipe book and an envelope of notes we’d jotted down over the years, things started getting a little out of hand. Everyone in the family had their personal favourites. The number of recipes started going up. When the dust settled this past week and I took the files to a POD printer I’d found, the little family keepsake had grown into a tome. Last recipe count:124 in a 148-page book! This turned into a marathon effort, but it was reasonably fun, if stressful. The tone is all very tongue-in-cheek, but they are very good recipes and it gave my wife and I a chance to tell some tall tales about the family.

The process of putting together my first self-publishing project since my second novel, gave me an interesting insight into how the book production business has changed in the past 15 years. I don’t have the final copies yet (print run 24), but the proofs look darn good and the cost was far more reasonable than I expected.

Between publishing electronically and doing POD print runs, the future may well be within our grasps.

I also discovered that the page layout software I use (InDesign) has a setting to export a book to a digital edition. And this started the old wheels turning in my head. I’d been seriously thinking of re-publishing my second novel electronically and this could be the way to do it quickly and easily and without the huge cash outlay necessary to self-publish in the usual sense ($10,000+). I am excited.

I’ll keep you all posted.


I nearly forgot to mention that I'm taking part in another fine blog's feature, "Friday's Forgotten Books". Check out http://pattinase.blogspot.com.

Also, our guest blogger this Sunday will be Mel Bradshaw author of three fascinating crime novels, all very different, including the award-winning Death in the Age of Steam.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Annual Reading

Vicki here. Now that we’ve all been out buying books for gifts, I certainly have, it’s time to pull out the old favourites. I very very rarely, like almost never, re-read books. I have a fairly good-sized library, and often think I’d like to read much-loved such-and-such one more time. But I never seem to get around to it; there are just too many new books that I’m looking forward to, and too little time.

An exception is this time of the year, when even the coldest-hearted of us get a bit nostalgic. Every year I pull out my tattered old copy of my seasonal favourite and settle by the roaring fire, under the glow of lights from the Christmas tree in the corner, and read. The book is Holmes for the Holidays, a collection of short stories, all with a Christmas theme, and all featuring Sherlock Holmes, written by an assortment of modern writers, many of whom you will have heard of. A couple of years ago, I was in Don Longmuir’s late, and much-lamented, bookstore Scene of the Crime, when I happened upon More Holmes for the Holidays. So I now have two books for my annual reading.

As I was travelling last year, I didn’t have the books with me, and am really looking forward to re-discovering my favourite stories.

When my children were young and living at home, for many years over several nights leading up to Christmas Eve I would read to them from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I believe it’s the shortest of Dickens’ books, but still we rarely got further than the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. But that didn’t matter because they knew the story from the various movie versions. What mattered, I believe, was that I read it to them, in the original voice of the author, and we created Christmas memories.

I’d love to hear what book-related holiday customs you have.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"I need a book for a reading class..."

Today's guest blogger is Teresa Keyes, the librarian for Bloomfeild High School in lovely Bloomfield, NY. In the interest of full disclosure, she's my kid sister. And, it turns out, a hell of a good writer. Charles.

“I need a book for reading class …”

Twenty-or-so times a week, this proclamation is muttered by one of my students. Too often, they have no real interest in the book, the genre, or even the class, just in meeting the teacher’s expectation and earning the coveted ‘prepared for class’ tally in the grade book.

It’s my job to help them, not only to feed the insatiable GPA beast, but to whet their intellectual appetite for quality literature. So before they reach for another cheesy chick lit title or nibble on the next cookie-cutter vampire series, I try to steer them to the literary banquet that is Mystery.

I’m quick to recommend Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books, Running Out of Time and other Margaret Peterson Haddix works, or Ellen Raskin’s classic, The Westing Game. But if the kid’s idea of Mystery hasn’t changed since reading Encyclopedia Brown chapter books, it may be a tough sell.

You want to know what keeps them reading past the first page? Successful YA mysteries …
·… grab teen readers instantly. Mystery connoisseurs may enjoy the foreplay of a finely detailed, hand-sculpted tale of suspense, but reluctant YA readers don’t. Spend too much time setting the mood, and they’re using your book as a coaster.
·… don’t try too hard. Attempting to reach teens through awkward adolescent colloquialisms turns decent writers into the print equivalent of the geeky teacher doing the Macarena at the middle school dance. Some skilled YA authors have pulled this off, but most copycat attempts are crap.
·… are not predictable. Please. No more tragic tales of a quiet, yet likeable teen who loses both parents in a car/plane/cuisinart accident, left to solve the mystery of the attractive, yet dead/comatose/abducted member of the opposite sex, while being stalked by the eccentric tug boat captain/cheerleader/insurance rep. Oh, yeah, the dog dies, too.
·… have kick-ass covers. Like moths to a bug zapper, teens are drawn to books that can increase their coolness factor. If they have to actually carry a novel in the hallway, it damn well better make them look good. Seen the latest paperback release of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon? That’s smart marketing.

With disappearing budgets, school librarians need to be more discerning than ever. I’m going to spend my money on the best YA lit available. Here’s hoping it includes plenty of mysteries – maybe even yours – in 2009.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"The Sky Took Him" Is In the Building

The official release date for The Sky Took Him, is January 1, 2009, but it has already been shipped from the publisher, and is available for purchase just in time for Christmas!  If you'd like to read a blurb and an excerpt, wander on over to my website at your leisure, find the thumbnail pic of the cover, over on the right, and  click on “About This Book” or on “Reviews” to read the the starred review Sky received in the December 8, 2008, edition of Publishers Weekly

So now I’m “on the merry-go-round” of publicity.  This economy does not lend itself to extensive book tours, not that I was able to do that much travel in the first place.  But among all the cyber-plans I have for this book, I have been working to update my web site. I have added excerpts from the beginnings of all my books, including the newest one, on the “About This Book” page. I’ve also added content on the “Truth or Fiction” page . “Truth or Fiction” is the page on which I explain what in my books is based on reality - people, places, incidents, and what is purely made up. I’ve added some new tales about The Drop Edge of Yonder. Drop Edge, which will be out shortly in trade paperback, was entirely based on a true incident.

And if you’ll look at the links at the top of the page, you’ll see an entirely new one - “Gallery”. Click on that to see photos and movies from some of my signings and trips. I’m quite excited about the Gallery. I’m adding the content myself, which should be fair warning if you’re expecting anything fancy. It’s still a work in progress, so be patient with me.

The book launch party for The Sky Took Him will be 2:00 p.m., January 17, 2009, at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ. I plan to bring pie. Please mark your calendars and come help me celebrate.  I’ll be launching alone for this book, instead of with another author, so I’m shamelessly soliciting attendees.  

I’ve already posted on this site a picture of the book cover, but indulge me as I post it again.  See that little girl?  I usually send the artist family photos for my covers, and I suppose I did this time, as well, since she’s certainly a member of my family.  That’s me, back at the dawn of my life, standing in for the character of Grace.  The Sky Took Him takes place in 1915, and it occurred to me not long ago that when that picture was taken, it was actually closer to 1915 that it was to 2008!  How’s that for a kick in the head?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shake up your holidays

Charles here wishing you the very best, ah you know the rest.

Want proof of my sincerity? Here it is:

Click it, shake it, add to it and send it on.

PS-Our guest blogger this Sunday is a librarian who will share here picks of best books of 2008

Technology and History

My apologies for posting late! We had a hell of a storm most of the day—flash flood warnings, four-five inches of rain per hour, 40 mph winds. That’s winter blowing through the islands. It distracted me a bit, but heck, we’ve still got electricity.

Like Rick and Vicki, I've been pondering an aspect of how technology is influencing books and publishing. Not long ago, Charles recommended Agent ZigZag, by Ben MacIntyre. What a terrific read, about a real character (in all senses of the word) named Eddie Chapman who spied for England in World War II. MacIntyre wrote this compelling biography after MI5 released data and correspondence that had been held until it was either politically safe or the real-life people in the book had died. The account, which is witty and entertaining, paints vivid pictures about the personalities in MI5 whose job it was to run agents, the quirky and brilliant code breakers, and the somewhat desperate and often likeable Germans who believed Agent ZigZag, aka Chapman, was working for them. To do this, the author had access to volumes of printed material and photos from 1939-1945.

This got me thinking about records, letters, and photos. I love a good biography, and this one didn’t let me down. Part of the fascination is being able to view pictures of the people involved, pour over their letters, and be able to imagine their emotions, their insecurities, their personalities.

And here’s my thought—what are we going to have fifty years from now? Sure, the government agencies (FBI, MI5, etc) will have records that they’ve archived. But even though Gmail has a huge capacity for archiving, we’ve got messages with single, brief thoughts, quick instructions, and little personality. When Stegner wrote Angle of Repose, he drew on personal letters to create a novel that won a Pulitzer.

Today we have digital photos saved (if we’re lucky) on thumb drives, CD’s, and DVD's. I don't think nearly as many people write letters. My dad used to write me when I was in college, and I still have some of those long letters, which share some poignant and insightful thoughts. I text, email, and phone my college son.

Tell me we’re going to have actual pages of history to pass along that can be stacked into alluring piles, then nurtured into a fascinating biography. Tell me people still love books, or at least stories. It’s okay, you can even tell me I sound like my grandfather.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Blechta in cold, snowy Toronto.

There seems to be an overarching theme to the chatter on Type M lately, and like everything else in our lives lately, it centres around, “Just what the heck is going on with all those things that we once thought of as ‘the norm’?”

Welcome to the world of the New Norm, that is, nothing you thought was true, solid, substantial is anything more than a chimera. Things seem to change daily. Here in Canada, our House of Commons is closed. We have a prime minister who managed in the space of one week to unite the opposition parties against him to the point where his government would have fallen on Monday if he hadn’t managed to get Parliament closed. He opened a wide rift between the east and west in this country and reignited Quebec separatism. All this in one week. Safe, nice, secure Canada has been turned upside down and shaken hard. No one has absolutely any idea what will happen in January when Parliament reconvenes except that things will change yet again.

But that’s just an off-topic example. We’re here to talk about what we do: write books.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling like the little Dutch boy trying to hold back a flood with his fingers – except I’m running out of fingers. Technology is forcing the publishing industry to change. It’s down to the point where we writers have to wonder just how the heck we’re going to ply our craft and even continue making the small amounts we now make.

A few years ago, Google announced that it wanted to scan all books and put them online. That was quashed, but it still is a very real possibility. E-books are beginning to make real inroads, people are buying fewer bound volumes, bookstores go bust by the handful every day. People all over are losing their jobs. Oh, the tragedy of it all!

And now we stand on the edge of what might well be the most severe economic downturn in 80 years.

I’m sure the scribes who hand-copied books at the dawn of the printing press felt the same way we do now. The abyss opened at their feet, too. But writing survived – and even thrived like never before.

Television was the death of radio – NOT. It would also kill the movies. Didn’t happen. Every new technological advance displaces an earlier one. Naysayers proclaim the end of life as we now know it, but eventually, everything just finds a new equilibrium and things continue down a different path. We all get used to it.

We have that truism to cling to right now. It’s going to be a rough ride for the next few years, but it’s my belief that somehow we’ll come out the other side with a new model for disseminating our works, and it might even be more equitable than the model we have now.

See you on the other side.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Future of the Newspaper Book Section

Vicki's turn on Monday.

Following the example set by Type M for Murder, the online political and social-commentary magazine Salon dot com put up their list of recommended books for gift giving, and self-treating. In their case, five books of fiction and five of non-fiction. At the introduction to the piece, the author says: The conventional wisdom in publishing holds that tough economic times are good for books, because books provide more hours of entertainment per dollar, more life-enhancing education and more grist for post-materialistic soul-searching than any other form of purchasable culture. (www.salon.com)

I’d agree with that. So much so that I immediately went out and bought one of their recommended books for myself.

I hope everyone who dropped in to Type M over the last week enjoyed our list of loved books. Please remember, if you’re not in a position to buy a book you want to read, most libraries will purchase books at a patron’s request.

In last week’s post I said I would be telling you about a book, highly-praised, on everyone’s best-of-the-year-list, that shocked me by its failure to even attempt to achieve a bit of verisimilitude about the real-life milieu in which the story takes place. Well, I’ve decided not to go there. My goal for the next year is to be more positive (I have a very, very strong tendency to be negative). So I will start being more positive by not trashing that book.

However, it’s not easy to be positive in today’s financial world, and a couple of events do have me worried. When Scare the Light Away, my debut novel from Poisoned Pen Press came out in 2005 it got a review from the Chicago Tribune that I still use as a pull-quote on all my advertising. You can imagine how thrilled I was to even get a review from the Tribune, never mind a glowing one. It was announced today that the Tribune’s owning company has gone bankrupt.

Closer to home, I have been told that the Globe and Mail, Canada’s self-proclaimed national newspaper, is eliminating its book section. (I wrote to the book editor and the editor-in-chief to ask for clarification on this. No response as of yet.) Reading the book section of the Globe on a Saturday is a highlight of my week. Not only because I’ve been favorably reviewed in its crime section, but because I love reading the reviews. I read the Globe online every day, but I buy the paper on Saturday, largely to enjoy the book section at my leisure throughout the week. It’s thoughtful, dense and broad in the selection of books it covers. Even if I don’t choose to go out and purchase the autobiography of Paul Martin, I enjoy reading a précis of what he has to say. The Globe book section reviews a vast array of books, many of them not destined to be the next bestseller. They have a good First Fiction reviewer, and a great Crime reviewer.

It’s hard for small Canadian publishers to get any review space in the big guy’s market (you know who I mean!) and the Globe serves an important role in Canadian publishing by providing that review space. Not that it only reviews Canadian books. It’s the broad spectrum of what it reviews that makes the paper worth buying.

I began to suspect the book reviews section was in danger over the summer when they went on ‘vacation’ for two weeks. Can you imagine the movie reviews or the sports section not printing anything for two weeks?

My source tells me that the book section won’t disappear entirely but will be incorporated into another section of the paper. Come on, we know that that means – one page, two at the most. And what are they going to review in one or two pages? The same books everyone else is reviewing, of course.

Back to being positive, here’s some super news: Our Donis Casey’s new book The Sky Took Him got a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Congratulations to Donis.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

This morning's guest blogger is Don Bruns, author of eight books, including two mystery series and a couple of anthologies. He’s also a musician and PR guru. Enjoy!

The Importance of Networking

If you fly Delta, check out Sky Magazine this month. There's a full-page interview with yours-truly, regarding my writing career and my Caribbean mystery series. The Q &A centers around research, travel, and inspiration and obviously that's a large part of the writing experience. But what so many people miss about building a writing career is the networking.

I started attending mystery conferences about twelve years ago. No book published, not even a very good manuscript, but I went to the Bouchercon conference to work, not to necessarily enjoy myself or just observe. I wanted to meet authors, publishers, agents, and come back with a clear idea of what I had to do to sell my first book. I took notes, I walked into groups of writers and I asked questions. I met publishers and agents, and stuck my nose in a number of places I had no business being. I collected business cards, phone numbers and e mail addresses. And I came home with answers.

At a Left Coast Crime convention in Arizona, I paid $560 for a manuscript critique with Sue Grafton. Long story ( too long for here) short, she championed my cause and introduced me the following year at another Bouchercon conference. Four weeks later I signed a contract with St. Martin's Press. By the time the book was released, I had blurbs from Lee Child, Kent Krueger, and Sue Grafton. All due to networking.

I talk to a number of new writers who feel awkward asking questions. They are intimidated by the professionals, and so they sit back and don't interact. I've talked to dozens of people who want to be an active participant in the writing community, but they don't want to spend the time or money to attend the conferences. I don't know any other way to do it. Have some people been successful just writing a book, sending it to an agent, and sitting back waiting for fame and fortune? Certainly. Want to double your chances? Want to triple, quadruple your chances?

Network. Email your favorite author, and ask questions that are important to you. Find a conference in your area ( there are dozens of them around the country), find a literary figure in your town, attend book signings and talk to the authors before or after the presentation. Talk to agents, publishers, reviewers. Stay in touch with them, thank them for their generosity, and let them know who you are. When you feel you're ready to submit your manuscript, you'll have a built-in support group. People who've gotten to know you and are pulling for your success.

Network. I don't know any other way to do it. If I hadn't met Sue Grafton, Charlie Spicer from St. Martin's Press, Bob and Pat Gussin from Oceanview Publishing, author Mary Stanton, and the dozens of other good friends I've become very close to, I'd still be unpublished. I'm sure of it. Get out there and get involved. Meet the people who are making things happen. It's all worth it in the end.

(Don Bruns is a musician/author who's 8th book Stuff Dreams Are Made Of released in September. You can read more about Don at www.donbrunsbooks.com (( including the complete Sue Grafton connection story)) or in the Delta/Sky magazine in-flight, or on-line).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Thanksgiving Tale

Because of my husband Don's recent illness, I've been keeping in close touch with his sisters, who call and e-mail regularly for progress reports.  Don and I have been through similar events in our lengthy career, but this episode has been particularly tough.

It seems that those stories I'd heard all my life about how it takes you longer to bounce back from illness after a certain age are true, because weeks and weeks went by without any apparent progress.  I am generally a positive person, but this dragged on so long that it was beginning to take a toll on my attitude.  Were things ever going to get back to normal?  Is this the way it's going to be?

Thank God for Don's sisters, who listen so patiently as I whinge about the situation.  During one long telephone session, his eldest sister and I talked about their late mother (who is one of the inspirations for my character Alafair, by the way), how protective she always was of her seven children, and how concerned she would be by Don's situation.

In the true spirit of 'no atheists in foxholes', when I went to bed that night, and for many nights thereafter, I secretly invoked his mother to watch over him, if she would, please.  

Afterwards, he saw a couple of new doctors, has had several tests, had his meds adjusted, all of which has helped a lot, because just in the past couple of weeks, there has finally been a marked improvement.  In fact, barring setbacks, it looks like he's going to be all right.


The day before Thanksgiving, we went out for lunch.  During the meal, I was chatting on to him about a colorful dream I had had the night before, and he said, "I've been having an odd experience lately.

"Every morning for the past couple of weeks, when I first wake up in the morning, still half-asleep, I get the distinct feeling that there are three of us in the house - you and me, and another woman.  I don't have a strong impression of who she is, but I never feel alarmed, because it seems that she belongs there." 

I'm not implying anything.  I'm just saying.

On another note, I received my copies of The Sky Took Him a couple of days ago.  Expect nothing but author talk from me for the foreseeable future.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hey, what's Charles reading these days?

Throwing a little soirée at the pad this evening, just a few folks over for drinks and desserts, and in all the planning I forgot to blog up. So I’m taking the coward’s way out with just a simple summary of the books I’ve been reading of late.

The Modern Drunkard, by Frank Kelly Rich. It’s a must-have for any amateur imbiber, dedicated dipsomaniac or tiresome teetotaler. This little gem is filled with sage advice, helpful tip and vital information, to wit:
·40 Things Every Drunkard Should Do (#21 Hit a Dozen Bars in One Night)
·365 Excuses to Get Loaded (December 5th – Drunkard Liberation Day, commemorating the repeal of U.S. Prohibition, in Canada known as The Day We Stopped Being Able To Sell Overpriced Bathtub Gin to Desperate Americans)
·Cocktail Party Myths Debunked (Myth #3, Refrain from Criticizing the Bartender)
·Buzzwords for Boozeheads (raver pop n. a cocktail incorporating an energy drink)
·The Zen of Drinking Alone (Using Alcohol to Free Your Inner Monkey)

To top it off, it contains fantastic artwork, straight from the pages of Modern Drunkard. It’s all pitch-perfect and more than a little tongue in cheek and just what the doctor ordered.

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. This is the latest offering in the James Bond franchise and while I’m only a bit of the way in, I’m liking what I’m reading. If you told me it was a lost Ian Fleming I’d believe it…and tell you it was some of his good stuff. That said, I reserve the right to alter my remarks when I actually finish the thing.

My Tank is Fight, by Zack Parsons. This one’s hard to describe. It’s a irreverent examination of some real (and all failed) “Deranged Inventions of WWII” and it’s from the folks at SomethingAwful, so if you know them, you know what you’re getting. But on top of nifty analysis of tanks the size of a McMansion and Nazi space stations, Zack has added in some well-written pulp fiction accounts of the weapons in use, which is cool since most never got past the drawing board. If you like weird, outsider stuff, look this one up.

The Areas of My Expertise, by John Hodgman (yes, the "and I'm a PC" guy). Another hard-to-describe, must-at-least-skim. Imagine a trivia book, written in the style of a late Edwardian Book of Knowledge, where every bit of the information is 100% spurious. It’s loaded with wonderful bits of enlightenment, all of it made up, all of it fall-outta-bed funny. The section entitled “How to Write a Book: The Fifty-Five Dramatic Situations” is worth the price of admission alone. My favorite section? The fascinating chapter entitled “Nine Presidents Who Had Hooks For Hands.” That and the list of 700 (!) Hobo names (#381 Chalmers, the Bridge Champ, #461 Rhythmic Clyde Hopp, #608 Magnetized James)The website is also fantastic.

Now go forth and read!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thoughts on thoughts (and writing)

There’s a flu or cold bug going around, hack hack. Two days ago, I got fed up with coughing all night and went to my internist for medicine. I’m fine now, but we got into an interesting conversation, which started when I asked him what his kids were doing these days. His older daughter, who was an English major, is working in Human Resources for a local supermarket and retail company. As a father, he’d told her she could major in anything that she enjoyed, but she should learn to write well and think logically, as any employer would value these abilities. He was right; she just got promoted.

Thinking clearly and logically and putting these thoughts down in writing are skills that take development and practice. My fourth novel is coming out in February, and I still find myself struggling to gather scattered thoughts before I write. Some days it’s worse than others. When new writers ask how to finish a novel, I often say it’s like exercise or playing a musical instrument. You have to do it almost every day, because if you stop, you not only lose your thread, your nervous system and muscle memory get rusty. After Christmas, when I’ll be unable to write for two weeks, it’ll take a week for me to get back on track. Is anyone else like this? Maybe I’m just slow these days.

Most high schools could to do a better job at teaching these skills. Nor do MBAs and other graduate degrees make up for an inability to express oneself. Read an insurance contract, a package insert for cough medicine (hack hack), or anything written by lawyers. Don’t you want to get out your blue pen and go crazy? Either that, or toss it in the trash…except that you have to know what it says to protect yourself.

Okay, I know I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know. These were just some thoughts that came to me as I was substitute teaching today.

On another track, be sure to visit Type M for Murder this Sunday to read guest-blogger Don Bruns’s thoughts on networking for authors. Don is not only an award-winning author of two mystery series and a couple of anthologies, he’s a musician and PR guru.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

So many books, so little time...

Blechta here.

I love reading. Big deal. Everyone else here does, too. The big problem with me, is that I just really don't have time to do it.

Sadly, it's been that way for several years now. If I'm not working, practising or playing, I should be writing. Right? But there are some nights, quite frankly, where I just don't have energy enough to do what I should be doing. I often hesitate to pick up a book because the deadly thing about books, is that when you get a good one going, you just can't stop. So one night off becomes three or four since I certainly don't have time to read during the day.

So here's my list, and it does include people I know. With limited time, I often find myself reading books written by friends. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I restrained myself from recommending books by my fellow Type M bloggers, but suffice it to say, a couple their books would also be on this list.

No Such Creature, Giles Blunt; Random House. This book is a complete turn-about from his previous novel. At times, it's hilarious, scary but always believable, in a somewhat warped way.

The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly; Little, Brown & Co. I really like Harry Bosch. This is one of those books that consumed 3 evenings of reading when I should have been doing any number of other things.

Kill All the Judges, William Deverell; McClelland & Stewart. I'm with Vicki on this one. Hey, you guys down in the States, search out this book. It's worth it.


I decided I wasn't all that keen on my last two choices, so I'm going to leave those two up to you. All of my blog mates released books this year (well, Debby's and Charles' were out in 2007, but since I'm breaking all the rules...), read them and try to figure out which ones would make my list.

And no, I won't tell!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Vicki's Five Suggestions for Gift-Giving

My turn, yeah! Ever since Charles had the wonderful suggestion that we recommend five books for gift giving, I’ve been thinking of little else. Which either means that I take books seriously, or I don’t have much of a life. Perhaps a bit of both.
Next week I am going to write about a book I am not recommending, which, although it is excellent and received high praise from everyone and their dog, is so riddled with errors, and sheer writer and editor laziness, that it makes a mockery of the hard work we as writers do to make our books as realistic as possible.

But this week, it’s all positive. One of the rules of our little game is that we can’t recommend books by people we know personally. I would like to say that I read a couple of splendid books in 2008 from the small Canadian publisher Rendezvous Crime, and leave it at that.

Red Knife by William Kent Krueger. Atria. The dilemma of a kind man in a violent world. I have always loved the Cork O’Conner books (and perhaps Cork himself, just a little bit) and this one is the equal of any of the others. It is hinted in the story that this may be the last Cork book. I hope not.

Kill All the Judges by William Deverell. McClelland & Stewart. I have a serious weakness for gentle humour when done well, and Deverall does it very well indeed. This is a follow-up to the equally good April Fool.

Fear of Landing by David Waltner-Toews. Poisoned Pen Press. Waltner-Toews is (here I quote from Wikipedia) “an epidemiologist, essayist, poet, fiction writer, veterinarian, and a specialist in the epidemiology of food and waterborne diseases, zoonoses and ecosystem health. He is best known for his work on animal and human infectious diseases in relation to complexity.” And on and on they go. In his spare time, he wrote an unusual mystery that is so good it was one of Publishers Weekly’s best for 2008.

The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill. Knopf Canada. The fourth in the Simon Serrailler series. Hill is probably my favourite British-police-procedural writer, and that’s saying a lot. Once again she has made me break my ‘no serial-killer’ rule.

Easy Innocence by Libby Fisher Hellman. Bleak House Books. Dark and disturbing, and just excellent.

• And... just because I can, this was the year I discovered two new (to me but probably to no one else) authors and I’ve been reading steadily through their back list. The charming, humorous yet complicated DI Charlie Priest series by Stuart Pawson (introduced to me, not incidentally, by Linda Wiken at Prime Crime Books), and the dark, serious, psychologically-intense Inspector Erlendur books by Arnaldur Indridason, translated from Icelandic.

Where I have given the publisher, in some case it may be the Canadian publisher. Books are often published by other houses in other countries. Happy reading to all!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Linda Wiken of Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore.

Today’s guest blogger needs no introduction to Canadian mystery readers. Linda Wiken is the owner of Prime Crime Mystery bookstore in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. (http://www.primecrimebooks.com)

About all most of my American friends know about Ottawa is that it is the world’s second-coldest capital city (beaten by Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia).

Ottawa’s reputation as being cold and sterile is massively unwarranted. Ottawa is a fabulous city for a short vacation. It’s truly beautiful, particularly in spring and summer, packed with museums and art galleries, open air markets, good restaurants and wine bars, bike trails and walking paths and the world’s largest outdoor skating rink. Prime Crime is the perfect mystery bookstore, small and cozy, but packed with anything and everything mystery-related you’d want to read. It is located in the charming Glebe neighbourhood on a street of small, independently-owned shops.

As an added bonus: come to Ottawa this week and you might see Stephen Harper running for his life.

Here is Linda’s suggestions for that reader on your list. Someone once said that the essence of all mystery must be tragedy, and Linda’s essay is a reminder of that.

It struck me this morning as I listened to The Current on CBC Radio One, that I'm reading far too many mysteries these days that are set in war zones. The documentary in question was about a US medic made famous by having his photo taken carrying an Iraqi child whose leg had been blown off. It symbolized at that point, the 'help' that was being given the innocent victims. The follow-up story was about how this medic, now back in the US for awhile, had recently been sniffing inhalants and hallucinating about being back in Iraq and under attack. He died at home, certain the Iraqi soldiers were breaking into his house. An example of the tragedy that continues long after these young men come safely home.

The story brought to mind the novel, "The Painter of Battles" by Arturo Perez-Reverte. He's a terrific writer and this is one of his most compelling works. In the book, the 'painter's' photograph also makes the international media, a picture of a Croatian soldier in retreat. The aftermath of that photo and how it plays out on the lives of the soldier's family, leads to retribution and an ending both fitting and bleak.

The second novel, also recently read, was by Matt Beynon Rees, "The Prisoner of Gaza", the second in his series which features a Palestinian teacher as the main character. This series had already focused my thoughts on the horror of daily life for the innocent citizens in that tragic part of the world. The news today contained a grim reminder of that story.

These are two novels that have stayed with me....disturbing stories interwoven with suspense and mystery. Excellent reads, both. Could it be life imitating fiction?
The next book on my pile of TBRs is "That Summer in Sicily" by Marlena de Blasi....not a mystery, but certain fiction I'd love to be imitating on these cold, near-winter days

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Books for Christmas

I haven’t commented on this latest topic about the effect of the economic downturn on independent book stores and the publishing industry as a whole.  I don’t know what to say.  I have no idea where things are going, or what we’re doing in this handbasket.  All I can tell you is that books are the overriding passion of my life.  They have given me hope and comfort in the midst of some very dark times, and in the midst of good times, they have lifted me to heights I didn’t know I was capable of.  I cannot do without them.  There cannot be any better gift to feed the soul than a book.

Trying to recommend five 2008 books by people I don’t know is tough - not because I haven’t read 5 2008 books, because I certainly have.  But how can I pick the best ones?  They’re all worth their weight in gold.

How about Water For Elephants, by Sara Gruon?  When things get tough, the tough run off and join the circus.  What a tale.

Run, by Ann Patchett.  OMG.

I’m an absolute sucker for historical fiction.  I’d read Steven Pressfield’s grocery list.  No one else I’ve ever read can make a soldier’s life seem like a such a combination of absurdity and  spiritual journey.  This year, he released Killing Rommel. Don’t miss any of his Greek historicals, either.  (He’s the man who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance. If you only saw the movie, you have no idea how wonderful the book is.)

Okay, speaking of historicals, Steven Saylor issued another “Gordianus the Finder” book this year - The Triumph of  Caesar.  His  epic Roma was no slouch, either.

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s I Shall Not Want and Laurie King’s Touchstone are a bit of a cheat, since I have met and like these women, but neither would probably recognize me across a crowded room, so I’m stretching it a bit.

The last couple of books I want to recommend aren’t 2008 books, but they are good for what ails you, so I’ll mention Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, treat yourself, then give it to somebody for Christmas.

I read and enjoyed many non-fiction books, too, but I don’t want you to take issue with what a pinko/airy-fairy I am, so I’ve listed mostly fiction books here.

I’d love to hear what you Dear Readers would recommend.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Black Friday Stocking Stuffers List

Ho Ho Ho, it's Charles!

The holidays (pick your favorite) are upon us and as a bit of public service, we here at Type M are noting some great gift ideas that you absolutely must keep in mind as you buy gifts for the undeserving and never grateful enough people on your list. Keeping with Rick’s broadside on books (below), we are suggesting—nay, requiring—that you head directly to your local independent bookstore and buy multiple copies of each book we suggest.

Naturally, we would hope that you’d put ours on that list, but just to make it interesting, our self-imposed criteria requires us to only name books that are not written by friends and to books published in the past 12 months. Okay, we are willing to bend the later rule but not the former, so if you are a fellow author and don’t see your name on my list. Rest assured I would have put your book at the very top if it wasn’t for this darn rule.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, my suggestions:

The Good Thief
by Hannah Tinti
Lush Life by Richard Price
Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Okay, it’s published in 2006, but I didn’t buy it until 2008 and it’s staying on my list.)
Head Games by Craig McDonald
Clothing Optional by Alen Zweibel
Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer
Crossing the Rhine: Breaking into Nazi Germany 1944 and 1945 by Lloyd Clark
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein
Advertising is Dead: Long Live Advertising! by Tom Himpe & Will Collin

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Business, Publishing, and Books

I’m a child of the 60’s, which makes me cynical about big business. But I know I’m not alone in my cynicism about the people running businesses in the U.S. today. It’s affecting the entire world. To quote Thomas Friedman in Wednesday’s New York Times,
“the country’s best-paid bankers were overrated dopes who had no idea what they were selling, or greedy cynics who did know and turned a blind eye. But it wasn’t only the bankers. This financial meltdown involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics.”

Since we’re readers and writers, and we’ve been speaking of hard times in terms of falling book sales, here’s some disturbing news pertaining to the publishing industry: Sarah Palin may earn as much as U.S. $7 million for a book about her experiences in the campaign for Vice President. (At least that’s what I think it’s about. Who knows? Maybe it’s about moose hunting by helicopter.)

This was on an Australian website for the Canberra Times: "Every publisher and a lot of literary agents have been going after her," said Jeff Klein of Folio Literary management.

"She's poised to make a ton of money," public relations expert Howard Rubenstein said.

A spokesman for publisher Random House told the New York Post: "There are several of our imprints who are eager to talk to Governor Palin. She clearly has a constituency and we know books by conservatively-centred politicos usually sell very, very well."

Now we’ve asked this question before, but it pays to revisit it. How many books does Random House have to sell to break even? Especially after they pour a few hundred thousand (at least) into promotion.

I’m not saying every publishing house is run by idiots, nor is every U.S. business. But what can the every-day citizen do about the ongoing mess? I don’t know all the answers, but grass-roots activities might be a good start. We can buy local, with careful attention to quality and good business practices.

Here’s a way to start—an excellent suggestion by Charles Benoit, which supports my grass-roots theory. We bloggers are going to list five books that we’d recommend as holiday gifts. Our requirements are that the book not be written by a friend and that the book be published in ’08. This was harder than I thought. I ended up including one published in ’07. It was too good to be left out. Here goes:

1. Kate Atkinson, When Will There be Good News, Little, Brown, and Company, 2008
2. Craig Johnson, Another Man’s Moccasins, Viking Penguin, 2008
3. April Smith, Judas Horse, Knopf, 2008
4. Minette Walters, The Chameleon’s Shadow, Knopf, 2008
5. Stieg Larsson, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Knopf, 2008.
6. Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map, Penguin Books, 2007.

Just in case you don’t have access to a good independent bookstore, here are some I recommend. They all ship books.
The Poisoned Pen, http://www.poisonedpen.com/
M is for Mystery, http://www.mformystery.com/
Mysteries to Die For, http://www.mysteriestodiefor.com/
Mysterious Galaxy, http://mysteriousgalaxy.booksense.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp
The Mystery Bookstore (L.A.) http://www.mystery-bookstore.com
The Mystery Company, http://www.themysterycompany.com/
Vroman’s, http://www.vromansbookstore.com/
Book Passage, http://www.bookpassage.com/
And many others
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Consider books...

Blechta's turn.

At very long last, I've just finished the first draft of my current novel and now would be the time to tell you all about it.

But today is not that day.

Occasionally, we have to stop prattling on about ourselves and our books for a higher cause.

I received an email last week from Sean Chercover, one of our recent guest bloggers. Since he's also a good writer, I might as well let him speak:

"So I've been on tour and seeing a lot of empty bookstores and frightened bookstore owners. This economic downturn thing is hitting them very hard. People are not buying books. I've talked with folks in sales, editorial and publicity at two publishing houses (one huge, one indie), and all say that this is very serious -- layoffs are coming in the new year.

"Doom and gloom, I know. Anyway, I mentioned to one of these publishing people that I was gonna blog about this -- basically encouraging people to buy books this holiday season. Not that it will make any difference. Her response was, "Please! And please ask any other authors who blog to do the same! We're desperate."

So that's it in a nutshell. To all of you out there, writers, readers, anyone buying presents: think books this year. They don't necessarily have to be crime fiction. Go into your local bookstore, whether it be a small independent (who really need your help) or one of the big chain stores. Buy books and make a difference!

They make fantastic gifts, and if you really choose wisely, that gift can be life-altering. At the very least, you'll provide someone with several hours of pleasure -- and memories that may well last longer than that bottle of wine or box of chocolates. Three of my four favorite books, ones I've read over and over, were given to me as presents.

I don't share Sean's feelings that we can't make a difference. The largest floods start with tiny trickles. Get out there, talk to those people you know who love books, tell them what I'm telling you -- and tell them to pass the word on. I am now, and I will continue: to all those people to whom I usually send the latest stupid joke or funny video. But especially tell the book lovers.

This Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa think books!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Vicki here on Monday.

Donis wrote this week about problems and rewards in trying to capture the speech of her ancestors in her writing.

A very timely topic for me, as I’ve just begin work on a standalone novel that takes place totally in Scotland. The location is necessary in this case (either Scotland or Ireland) as the book is intended to be a fairly traditional ‘gothic’ with a very modern twist. Hands up everyone who read Victoria Holt as a young woman. (I’m guessing that no one read Victoria Holt as a young man – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

You know the thing – castles, fog, moody handsome gardener, Cook (with a capital ‘C’) and something (maybe) moving in the old ruins. My problem is that I have no ear for accents whatsoever. I don’t intend for my rustic locals to speak in dialect the whole time – nothing slows down a book faster than having to pronounce every word to decipher the meaning – but I would like to toss in a bit of an accent. Perhaps just the minor characters such as those the protagonist comes across in town, or when the character first speaks, or just for emphasis.
I am still debating with myself (in my upper-class Canadian accent, of course*).

There isn’t much worse, in life or literature, than trying for an accent and failing to get it right**

Any and all advice accepted. Who do you think does dialect right, and who doesn’t?

*(Charles is one of the very few people in the world who does a Canadian accent – here is that sentence written in Canadaese: “I’m... debating with....my...self, eh?)

**Notable exception of Peter Sellers as Insp. Clouseau followed by that guy from Montreal who convinced Sara Palin that he was the president of France.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ann Parker, Sunday Guest Blogger

As you Dear Readers know, I was unable to attend the Women Writing the West Conference due to a family emergency.  This is an excellent conference and a wonderful group of writers, and I was sorry I couldn't report to you about the conference this year.  Fortunately, today's guest blogger,  Ann Parker, comes to the rescue.  Ann is the author of two critically acclaimed historical mysteries set in the during the silver rush in 1880's Leadville, Colorado.  Ann's Silver Lies won the Willa Award for Historical Fiction, and her second book, Iron Ties, received the Colorado Book Award.


A Like-Minded Circle of Friends …

Attending the Women Writing the West (WWW) conference in San Antonio this October was a bit like coming home after a long absence.

Don’t get me wrong, I love mystery cons as well and have attended my share, as a mystery author and even before that, when being published (heck, of finishing my first draft) was but wishful thinking. 

But Women Writing the West is different. Not better … just different. At the latest WWW conference, I rubbed elbows with poets, nonfiction and creative nonfiction writers, and authors of contemporary fiction, historical fiction, children’s books, young adult ... and yes, mysteries. Add into this mix a healthy smattering of editors, agents, publishers, and a movie producer. What brought us all together? A passion for the American West, past and present, its women, and their stories. Former WWW President Jane Kirkpatrick summed it up nicely when she said: “Women Writing the West [grew] from the ideas of a few good women to the ideas of many with the focus on the western landscape and themes and the roles of women within them.”

So, what is the West? It's a geographical area, certainly. It's those wide-open spaces in Wyoming and Texas, but it's also Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and the ubiquitous freeways. But beyond that, the West represents a way of thinking, a sense of adventure, a willingness to cross into a new frontier.

So, there I was, in San Antonio, Texas, taking on a new frontier (for me anyway) and picking up a few history lessons in the preconference tour of the Alamo. THE Alamo. My first thought on seeing THE Alamo was "Wow, smaller than I thought." Closely followed by a quick memory flash of John Wayne (a la Davy Crockett). But that didn't stop me from being awed by the history and the "feel" of the place. After the Alamo, we toured the Menger Hotel, built in 1859 (anything built in 18-whatever gets my attention pretty fast), and strolled through the Riverwalk area. 

Having got my "history fix," I was now looking forward to the panels and workshops, and to catching up with folks I hadn't seen (except in virtual space) for several years. The panels included writers talking about how they got started, a discussion of "pitching" (Describe your book in 10 seconds/two sentences? I can always use help with that!), and the ubiquitous agents/editors/publishers panel … always interesting… And it was great to hear the agents/editors/publishers encouraging us to SUBMIT our work, rather than saying "there's no room at the inn" (which is sadly often the message these days). Workshops covered a variety of topics including writing small town and regional histories, what's new in the children's/YA market, and, of course, marketing … a topic near and dear to us all.

In between the conscientious note taking, we applauded the pronouncements of "cowboy poets," cheered on the winners and finalists of the Willa Awards, consumed far too much food, coffee, and chocolate, and exchanged news and views on this writing project and that manuscript. I gathered up a wallet-full of business cards and bought way too many books.

All in all, I rode away (well, flew away, actually), into the sunset, feeling renewed and, once again, ready to (metaphorically speaking) hitch up the horses, fill the canteens, settle my hat, and get busy working the little corner of the American West I've staked out through my Silver Rush mysteries. And isn't that what a good conference should inspire us to do, after all? Get busy and get down to the business of writing?

For more information:

Women Writing the West  HYPERLINK "http://www.womenwritingthewest.org/" http://www.womenwritingthewest.org/

The Menger Hotel:  HYPERLINK "http://mengerhotel.com/page/ntm5/The_Menger_History.html" http://mengerhotel.com/page/ntm5/The_Menger_History.html


Check out Ann's web site at http://www.annparker.net