Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Villain, You Say

Is it true that in a mystery novel the author has to keep the villain a secret until the end?  Not necessarily, because the villain isn’t always the killer.   Sometimes the villain is the victim.  Witness Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express.  When I write a mystery novel, I try to mix it up from book to book.  Sometimes the bad guy is the killer, sometimes the victim, and sometimes the villain is just a red herring.  Perhaps in a mystery novel, there doesn’t even have to be a villain, just a killer.  A person can do an evil thing without necessarily being evil.

No matter what kind of book, though, you can’t beat a great villain. The touch of genius in  The Dark Knight’s Joker was that no reason for his evil was ever really given.  The tale the Joker tells about himself keeps changing - is one version true or are they all lies?  His most revealing explanation is when he compares his lust for destruction to a dog chasing a car.  Doesn’t want anything. He wouldn’t know what to do with the car if he caught it.  He just wants to chase it.

One of my favorite literary villains for sheer scariness is  Andrew Carlisle in J.A. Jance’s Hour of the Hunter.  He’s a genius as well as a complete psychopath, and you wonder how he’s ever going to get caught.  The possibility that someone like him actually exists kept me awake for a night or two.  If it can be thought of, it can be.

A brilliant movie villain, in my humble opinion, is Archie Cunningham, the character played by Tim Roth in Rob Roy. He is thoroughly despicable.  He never once in the entire movie does a decent thing.  He also spends a lot of time staring at a miniature of his mother, which he keeps in a locket around his neck.  As for Archie’s father, well, his mother had narrowed his identity down to three possibilities.  Maybe we can guess why Archie is like he is, and even spare him a little sympathy, but he’s such a pig that when he finally gets his comeuppance, it’s only what he deserves and we are entirely satisfied.

That movie, by the way, has several really interesting themes.  How far would you go to survive?  Would you be able to hurt yourself to keep from being killed?  Would it occur to you to climb inside a dead cow to save your life?

But I digress. 

We were speaking of our favorite villains.  Remember Snidely Whiplash? Now there’s a villain.  Isn't that his picture at the top of Vickie's post?

Friday, February 27, 2009

You dasterdly villian, you!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Great points, Vicki! Since we’re doing this workshop together, I’ll approach this topic from another angle.

As Vicki points out, sometimes works (thriller novels, some movies) give you the villain right away, and you, as the reader, have plenty of time to grow to hate this person. Think Voldemort, the Terminator, Captain Bligh, the Joker. Often, these characters encapsulate very little good, or are so twisted by whatever past sufferings have visited them that they’re irredeemable. The author presents us with a monster, often both psychologically and visually. For example, the shark in Jaws? Or the alien in The Alien? Any redeeming characteristics there?

But wait, sharks and the Alien are wild creatures, driven by nature. They’re acting to fill a need for survival. Except that these beasts were enormous and stalked with calculating intelligence. They struck terror when the movie’s characters merely spoke of them. The Voldemort of space and the oceans, perhaps.

But what about a villain that evolves before our eyes? Something like Jack Torrance in The Shining, who started out with problems and then proceeded to unravel in a thrilling and terrifying deterioration that kept us riveted to Stephen King’s page.

The evolving baddie is one of my favorite types of villain, and his or her transformation can keep us glued to the book or screen in fascinated terror. Who could turn off the light at night and try to sleep after watching Linda Blair in The Exorcist? Regan MacNeil, Blair’s character (from the 1971 novel by William Peter Blaty), started out as a nice little girl, maybe a bit preoccupied with her parents’ divorce, but that’s a common occurrence, isn’t it?

So is Jack Torrance’s struggle to overcome his alcoholism. We’ve either brushed up against those demons ourselves or been close to others who have. Hannibal Lecter’s fetishes are less common—I hope—but he, despite his cold, insightful intelligence and cannibalistic murders, isn’t the worst character in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. No, Jame Gumb is even more deranged, and the tension escalates because Gumb is out there hunting. And we, along with Clarice Starling, don’t know who Gumb is for a long time, though Lecter does. Whew, I forgot how good those bad guys were. No positive qualities in them, either—except for the tiny spark between Starling and Lecter, or was that just an intellectual outlet for Lecter?

Which brings me to a final thought in today’s little discussion. If your villain is really, really bad? Your hero has got to be really, really good. There needs to be a balance for the plot to satisfy. If your bad guy is desperate, your good guy needs to be more desperate. If the rogue is brilliant, your heroine must be even more gifted. If Voldemort has magic, Harry Potter’s has to be better. Most of the time, anyway.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's not my fault!

Blechta here, fuming...

Last week it was my computer acting up. Seems I'd filled the hard drive too much and need a bigger one. Anyway, all my survey data wasn't accessible. It's amazing how much we rely on computers.

Now I'm writing this entry on someone a neighbour's computer. This time the problem isn't mine. My Internet service is down. No email, no web, and also no phone since their computer system handles all of the answering stuff for them. We can phone out but anyone phoning us, just gets a fast busy signal.

I wonder if we can do this blog with smoke signals? There's enough of that coming out my ears at the moment that even Debby in Hawaii should be able to see. And no, Charles, that's NOT a major fire across the lake in Toronto.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Creating the Villain

By Villainous Victoria
If you live in the Western U.S. or Hawaii and you haven’t yet checked to see when Debby and I are going to be in your area, hurry right now over to Booktour.
As Charles would say, I’ll wait.

Back? good. Because here’s a sneak peak at one of the highlights of our tour. On Friday March 13th (right, that’s a Friday the 13th) we’re giving a very special workshop at Barnes and Noble on creating the villain. In order to help me get my thoughts down, you have been chosen to be the test audience.

The villain in a mystery novel can be a pretty tricky creature. The villain drives the plot, by committing the crime, the villain is the focus of the protagonist’s attention, as he or she attempts to solve the crime and apprehend the villain, and the villain must be the focus of the reader’s interest. In a good book, the reader will despise the villain and keep reading anxiously to the end in the expectation of seeing the villain get his just deserts.

But – no one knows who the villain is.

In a thriller novel – think James Bond – you know practically from the beginning who’s the bad guy, and that he has some nefarious plot in mind. The hero, James, must pursue the villain in order to bring him down and save the day. The reader can focus his emotions on the villain, and hiss and boo his every thought and action as if at silent movie.

In a traditional type of mystery, the writer doesn’t have that luxury. The villain must remain secret, while at the same time having a part, usually a complex part, to play throughout the book. The villain cannot be revealed as the mad-wife in the attic, or the evil-twin ten pages from the end. The villain needs to be a multi-dimensional character, and in the context of the story they must be able to switch rolls: Killer with motive X, person hiding their secret, in most cases good at lying and deceiving. The villain must also be able to hold the reader's attention so that the reader wants to read on, to find out what happens to him or her.

Whew. Now that I see it written down like that, I think this mystery writing stuff is too hard. Perhaps I’ll take up knitting.

Tell me – what do you consider to be a good example of the villain in mystery? What works? What doesn’t work?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Guest Blogger: Marc Blatte

Marc Blatte is the man behind the powerful new urban/hip hop noir Humptey Dumpty Was Pushed. You can get all the details on his website and you can get his debut novel at all the usual places.

Methadone and the Maginot Line

Two guys between nods are slow-walking up Lex on a cold and sunny spring morning. Both are small and stooped, rail thin. Each one is hanging loosely onto xxx-large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups. One is wearing blue jeans and a varsity jacket, the other a raincoat.

Varsity speaks. “You know the French they thought they were impervious.”

Raincoat. “I know they did with that Maginot line. That’s right. The Germans showed them.”

Varsity: “That’s right, Rommel he just drove those panzers right through the Ardennes and kicked French ass.”

Raincoat: “Did you know it was the 12th of May and the following day the French government was forced to abandon Paris?”

* * *
This conversation between two loud-talking junkies stands out for shattering every stereotype I ever had of everyone who comes to the neighborhood for drug maintenance, coffee, and good company. Given the Disneyfication of Manhattan you’d think that the conversation had taken place back in the day when you could buy heroin and cocaine or get robbed and murdered anywhere at anytime. But it happened recently near the fancy apartment of Julia Roberts, the thousand dollar a night suites at The Gramercy Park Hotel, and 17 million dollar brownstones. Back in the day the local politicians made a calculated deal with the city, and agreed to house the Police Academy in exchange for having the neighborhood become the “go to” place for methadone distribution. I suppose, the logic was that one way to keep a lid on populations prone to aberrant behavior is to allow them to “do their thing” under the watchful eye of wealthy folks and police cadets.

On reflection the conversation between the two methadone clients offers a potent history lesson, and a chilling reminder of where we are today and where we might be heading.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Touring by Teleconference

I am going to make a point to find Roman de Gare. (See Charles' entry, below.) As a rule, I have found that French movies are great.  Considering that the French love Jerry Lewis, I am at a loss to explain why that is, but it is.  The French have an attitude toward life that seems to me to be much less idealistic and infinitely more  quirky than the Anglos’.   If you want a lesson in the difference, just compare the American movie The Men and a Baby with the French original, Tres Hommes et un Couffin.

Do you live in the boonies?  Do you regret that authors never, ever come to your town? The members of the Manasha, WI, Public Library Mystery Readers Group had that very problem.  That is, until some of the women attended Bouchercon a few years ago and met our colleague, the lovely Fred Ramsay (The Stranger Room, Poisoned Pen Press), and his even lovelier wife, Susan.  When the ladies bemoaned the fact that authors never come to Manasha, Fred suggested that they should just call some authors on the phone.  Over the last few years,  they have interviewed many authors by conference call.  

Last Monday, I was privileged to be one of them. Their latest read was my third novel, The Drop Edge of Yonder.  I had an opportunity to do my favorite thing - expound at length about my work, and the members asked me lots of questions about the book, my entire series, and all the characters. I hope they enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

The economy being what it is, both authors and readers are going to have to come up with imaginative ways to get together, and thanks to a brilliant suggestion by Fred Ramsay, the members of the Manasha Public Library Mystery Readers Group have come up with a wonderfully simple and effective one.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Writer's Movie

Charles here, with your ticket to a great movie.

Do yourself a favor and rent Roman de Gare, a French flick (available at Blockbuster of all places) directed by Claude Lelouch and starring Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant and Audrey Dana. Honestly, I’ve never heard of any of them (and I’m sure they’ve never heard of me) but it was one of the best movies Rose and I have seen in quite a while.

You should see Roman de Gare if:
· You like thrillers with a lot of twists
· A lot of twists
· You like having your stereotypes driving those twists
· You have a sense of humor that could be described as “French”
· You don’t mind subtitles
· You like movies that focus on adults
· And when I say adults, I don’t mean 23

Now all of these things could be said about a lot of movies but since this blog is essentially about writing and writers, here are a few ‘writer-ly’ reasons to see Roman de Gare:
· It illustrates where writers (at least some) get their plot ideas
· It provides insight on what unknown writer (like me) feel knowing that they will never do as well as the handful of few celebrity authors – even when they write a good book
· It shows the anguish authors are forced to endure when they know that they are all washed up
· It takes a critical look at how a few authors are celebrated and the rest ignored
· It’s a good example of how a character’s back story should be slowly trickled into the plot
· It makes good use of subtle foreshadowing
· And, most importantly, it inspires you to become your best, because you never know…

Note: Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed is the fast-paced debut mystery by Marc Blatte. Part police procedural, part thriller, part hip-hop noir, it will take you places that no other book has gone before, all with a style that’s freakishly relaxed and absolutely authentic. But be forewarned, it’s no cozy, and it ain’t your mother’s thriller either. It’s gritty, it’s today’s urban, and if they could get it in the right hands, it could turn a generation into readers. This Sunday, Marc will drop in for a stint as gust blogger. Read his post, sure, but better yet, go read Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Techology and vanishing hours

I had to grin at Vicki's frustration. I'm there! Since she and I are planning our book tour together, I have some feeling for the mounting STUFF we have to do. We're printing off our postcards to invite people to signings, printing off more cards for the bookstores, making sure our dates are lined up, getting car rentals. You get the picture. And because of our technological advances, it has to be done right now. I mean, I feel guilty if it takes me a day or two to respond to an email. (Very often because I simply don't know the answer) Is everyone else that way? I would imagine so.

I've already done my rant about how often certain aspects of technology adds to stress in our lives, so now I'm going to rant about something different. I just read a review of my latest book, Pleasing the Dead. It's just hitting the bookstores, so I'm at that stage of holding my breath whenever I get a Google alert. Yikes, will this reader have liked it, or will there be negativity spread across the world-wide-web about my new baby? So far, the news has been good.

Until today.

The reviewer says that my protagonist has moved to California to be with her boyfriend, and she liked all my past books but this one could have taken place anywhere.

Huh? Are we talking about the same book? This person must have been distracted, or under a lot of stress. You see, my protagonist lives in Honolulu and goes to Maui to help a new client. Meanwhile, to Storm's great dismay, her boyfriend has decided to take a "break" from the relationship and has gone to California to do interim work with another law firm. Meanwhile on Maui, Storm spends a lot of time along the coast near Lahaina, Kihei, Wailea, Makena.

I'll be the first to admit I often make mistakes that muddy my intent, but everyone else has understood. So I guess it's just one of those things. The reviewer must have had other things on her mind.

So now I'm curious. Has this happened to you? What was your WORST review? Do you even want to talk (or write) about it?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ain’t technology grand?

Vicki here, pointing out that some of you might have noticed that our links section (don’t look to the right of your screen) has disappeared. I was attempting to remove one link and, like magic, the whole lot of them disappeared. Puff. Gone. Oh, dear. Now I have to remember what great web and blog sites I had linked to and recreate them. That will be about half a day’s work, if I'm lucky. Maybe I’ll just have another drink instead.

My publisher has developed a nifty new database on which we can enter our appearances and reviews. Hours of typing later, (I do have a jam packed schedule for this spring) I have absolutely no idea of what I’ve entered. He sent us the link to view the database, but it kept rejecting my ID. Thinking it was just me, I decided to ignore the problem. Reports are now trickling that no one’s ID works. I suspect my publisher will be having another drink.

My house is heated by a wood-burning stove (what someone in the newspaper recently called a wooden stove – take a moment to imagine that). I was feeding paper into its ravenous jaws today, marked up copies from my critique group, the flyers stuffed into my mail box that I almost need a forklift truck to get to the house, credit card offers (are they getting more desperate lately, or is it just me?) when I remembered that we were living in the paperless society.

Are you old enough to remember that? Back around the time that computers were first put on everyone’s desk (I was in tech support in those days, one of the people who snuck around at night putting a brand-spanking new computer on your desk that you were expected to know how to use as if by osmosis) it was predicted that from now on we would be living in the paperless society. Everything would be done electronically.


What happened instead was that rather than accepting the one copy of the monthly report he was given, the boss wanted it reformatted. And reprinted. The colour changed. And reprinted. Ooopps better go back to the original colour. And while you’re at it, make the heading bigger and print me a copy of that will you.
Rather than passing around the report at the meeting, everyone now must have their own copy. Better make extra in case more people show up. What the heck, that &*^%$ computer has gone haywire and the printer is spitting out hundreds of pages, each with one character of the report on it. Stop the printing, start again. Oh, no! I wanted it double-sided and this is only giving me one-sided, trash the lot and start again. One-sided is wasteful.

The modern office is drowning in a sea of paper.

All of which is apropos* to nothing at all, except perhaps started when I was thinking of Charles’s report of his illustrious ancestor’s research.** You simply do not know where technology is going to take you. Other than in the direction you least expected.

*Apropos, by the way, is not the short form of appropriate. That is a common error. Apropos means ‘with reference to’ or ‘regarding’. Print that out and hang it over your desk. Not in that colour! Print it again.

** My children are the descendents of a family of a real Irish saint (on their father’s side. On my side they’re descendents of sheep stealers and wreckers, and (I sincerely hope) ladies of ill repute.) Take that Ernst Wolfgang Dieter Joachim von Benoit !

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oh S**T, I forgot

Debby here, and I was a space case all week. Why not be consistent? This was my day for a guest blogger and I FORGOT! My apologies to all, mea culpa, mea culpa. No good excuses, either, but who wants to hear them, anyway?

So I’m going to discuss some interesting things I discovered while being an absent-minded dolt. Here’s an article on organized crime, with thanks to Avi Lap of Police Pulse. He mentions the Yakuza, which was what caught my eye, as those guys have been hanging around the islands for a while because it’s easy for them to blend in. Back in the 90’s, when the Japanese economy was stronger, the Yakuza had numerous money-laundering operations on Oahu and Maui. But it looks like they’re mild compared to the Eastern Europeans, and the Italian mob is starting to look provincial. Take a look:

I enjoy browsing Lee Lofland’s “Graveyard Shift, A Guide to All Things Cops and Robbers.” Check it out: He has an information-packed blog. One of my favorite entries is about specific software used by the FBI, CIA, DEA, and many local departments to enhance fuzzy digital images that may provide crucial evidence in investigations. Apparently, Ocean System’s dTective ClearID v. 20 system is one of the tools highly valued by forensic investigators. It is a forensic plug-in for Adobe Photoshop that will not destroy the original piece of evidence, and can be used to enhance any video from any source.

If you’re writing a murder scene in your novel, go to Lee’s section on murder investigations. As a former police detective, he knows the procedure, and he leads us readers through the checklist the detectives use. Prepare yourself, the pictures aren’t pretty, and I’ll bet they’re the most presentable he had on hand. Fascinating combination of science, intuition, and resourcefulness, let alone intelligence.
Hope this helps you with the next novel.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Brain Dead

I don’t have much to say today.  My blogmates, on the other hand, are full of the energy of creativity.  They are planning exciting book tours and making e-books and conducting surveys and busily writing novels.

My writing life is in suspended animation.  I have not written a word on my next book in over six weeks.  I cancelled all but one appearance for the entire month of January and most of February.

And yet there is a peacefulness to the situation.  It is what it is.  In fact, there is something of a feeling of gestation about it.  My writing mind is quiet, but something is going on in there, just below the surface.  I hope that when I am able to return to a normal life, that I will be refreshed and full of wonderful, bright new ideas.  That’s how I’m looking at it, anyway.

There is a certain freedom in helplessness.  When all possibility of a decision is taken from you, there is nothing to do but go with the flow.  One evening, many years ago, I was crammed under a dining room table, along with my mother, brother, and sister, waiting for a tornado to hit our house.  Having grown up in Oklahoma, I have been through more killer storms than I care to remember, and yet I never got used to them.  I was always terrified out of my mind when the sirens went off.

Once when I was in my twenties and living in my own apartment, the sky turned green and my front window bowed in, and I swear to God that the next thing I knew I was standing in my mother’s house five miles away.  I must have gotten into my car like and idiot and driven over there through the wind and hail, but I never exactly knew how it happened.  I was apparently so panicky that all I could think was that I wanted my mommy.

But I digress.

Let us return to the huddle under the dining room table, which occurred a few years later.  The tornado wound right through the back yard.  The electricity went off, the house began to rattle and bounce, and it became perfectly obvious that there was no escape.  And suddenly all my terror and panic went completely away, because there was nothing we could do to get out of this.  

Miraculously, the house was not hit.  But to this day I remember that feeling of peaceful resignation, and wonder if that is what it’s like at the moment of death.

Don and I are going through a quiet period right now - he is facing no more operations or major procedures until after the first of March.  I plan to actually do a couple of events in the interim.  I’ll be doing a talk and signing at Tempe Public Library at 3:30 on Feb. 18, and an interview on the Book Addict blog at, which should come up this weekend, or shortly thereafter.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A different kind of book survey

Charles, reporting in.

I found Rick’s electronic reader survey fascinating, and it reminded me of an earlier survey conducted in 1455 by Ernst Wolfgang Dieter Joachim von Benoit, a distant ancestor and next-door neighbor of Johannes Gutenberg. Other than translating it from German and modernizing the spellings, I have made no changes to this early example of user sampling.
Mainz, 1455. A Tuesday

The following are the results of my survey on the popularity and usability of, and the future prospects for, the “Printed Book”.

Question 1: Have you read a Printed Book?

Of the 50 people who responded, 12 had read a printed book, 15 had not, 10 recalled having seen a book, 11 had previously heard the word book, and 2 refused to answer, one because he disagreed with the premise and methodology of my research and one because he said I was a witch.

Question 2: If you can read, how many books a year do you read?
47% of the respondents said they read 1-5 books a year, 21% said the read 6-10 books a year, 18% said they read 10-15 books a year, and 14% said they read them all.

Question 3: Will you be buying a Printed Book?
67% said yeas, 21% said no, and 12% said they would wait for the play.

Question 4: Other than Bibles, what kind of Printed Books would you buy?
53% said Bibles, 23% said Almanacs or similar books of divination, 14% said pornography, and 10% would like something with a cat in it.

Question 5: What factors made you decide not to buy a Printed Book?

5% said poor quality cover art and/or illuminations, 7% said negative reviews posted on trees, 9% said papal decrees, and 79% cited the inability to read.

Although they are popular with a few early adapters, Printed Books have failed to catch on with the public at large and, like readers in general, will remain a harmless curiosity.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Type M for Murder E-book Survey

Blechta here.

Okay, I was being more than a little tongue-in-cheek when I referred to “the flood of answers” I expected to get for my informal survey. Surprisingly, that wasn't far off. While calling it a flood is a little bit over the top, we did get a respectable 88 people responding. Many thanks to all of you for participating!

I've collated all the responses, but rather than just give a bunch of dry numbers, I’ve decided to do it more anecdotally since we’re interested in writing, not statistics, aren’t we?

1. I have/have not tried an electronic readers.

This question was very evenly split with 45 people having tried them and 43 not. After this, the comments were generally positive for people who had bought them, not surprising since they’ve shelled out money. Only 15 people really disliked the experience of using a reader.

2. I own an electronic reader.

We only had 17 respondents who own a reader. Of those, 14 loved them, 3 did not -- but they had very good reasons for this: “The interface is clunky.” “The screen is difficult to see, especially in bright light situations.”

3. I would like to own an electronic reader.

This one really surprised me. Fully 69 of our 88 respondents would like to own a reader (this does include all but 1 of the people who already owned one. That shows there’s less resistance to these than I would have thought. That’s a good sign.

4. Electronic readers are an abomination! I will never own one!!

Only six people agreed with this statement. This is in line with the third question. These are the real diehard book fans. The rest of us are far more ambivalent about e-books and readers. The comments were more of the sort that many saw a place to use e-books (travelling, work-related, commuting), but preferred to do their recreational reading using books.

This is as far as I can go with the survey results for this week. I’m still getting in results from authors and reviewers. Publishers are somewhat reticent to answer. This may be because they have plans not yet ready to announce and they don’t want to say anything ahead of time. That’s only speculation on my part, though.

Next week: the rest of the survey. Please stay tuned!


We’re all really excited and honoured here at Type M to have been chosen one of the Top 100 Creative Writing Blogs by best

I would imagine that part of the reason we were chosen is due to all of you who comment on our weekly ramblings. Your input is greatly appreciated!

By the way, if you have a hot idea for a topic, don’t hesitate to let one of us know.

Book Roast Today

Today I am the guest roastee at Book Roast Blog: Come on over and chat. There will be a giveaway of Valley of the Lost.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Libraries and Self-Promotion

Vicki here to remind you that there is only one more day to enter the contest to win a signed hardcover of Valley of the Lost (see details below). If you haven’t seen it yet, have a look at my wonderful book trailer ( and read the first chapter (

Doom and gloom seems to be the pervading mood these days in the publishing biz. Saturday’s Globe and Mail ran an article headlined “Publish, and your book will probably perish.” It quotes Margaret Atwood “The term ‘relentless self-promoter’ used to be an insult in publishing circles. Now it will be a necessity.” Easy for Margaret to say, but those of us down here in the mid-list have always had to do our own promotion. Sure the game is changing, and it does seem to be harder to get noticed. (Did I mention that my book trailer is up at You Tube?).

The article gives the mind-boggling example of a writer who wrote a research-heavy non-fiction book, which did reasonably well, and she figures she LOST over $200,000 when she factors in the time she took off her job, the cost of research trips, the travel, and promotion.

On the bright side, I believe that we authors have one tremendous advantage over the music or movie business that is often overlooked. Libraries.

Are people cutting back on buying books? Yes. Are they cutting back on reading books? No. And it’s libraries that fill the gap. A mid-list mystery author sells around 70 – 80% of their books to libraries. Thus if no one bought a single book for the rest of the year, my sales would certainly slump, but my book would still get into people’s hands through their library. Debby and I will be visiting lots of libraries on our “HOT AND COLD” book tour, and I’m sure we’ll get enthusiastic readers out to talk to us about books.

If you’d like to read Valley of the Lost (or Debby’s new one, Pleasing the Dead, or a book by anyone else at Type M) and you can’t afford your own copy – go to the library. If the library doesn’t have it, ask them if they’ll order it for you. Many libraries try to grant their patron’s requests.

The important thing is to keep reading, and writing.

One more thing. As someone who is about to embark on the promotion of my new book I have to ask the question: At what point does ‘relentless self-promotion’ become self-defeating? I think of an e-mail blast I once got from an author. Hit, Hit, Hit, into my mail box. Delete, delete, delete, I went. I now consider that author’s books to be on the same level as that penis enlargement I am constantly being told I need. When does talking about your book become bragging?

Is it ever possible to do too much promotion?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lillian Cauldwell

I had the pleasure of working with Lillian when I hosted the mystery interview show on her radio station, Passionate Internet Voices Radio. Since then I was delighted to hear that Lillian had published a mystery book and it was being very well received. Her books are aimed at 'tweens'. I'll let Lillian explain what that means.


The Anna Mae Mysteries-The Golden Treasure is the first book in a series "that I hope continues for a very long time." Jacqueline Lichtenberg, January 11, 2009.

Three tweens find Jefferson Davis' lost gold treasure with help from a disembodied Black fist and divining rods.

What makes this multicultural historical paranormal mystery series for young adults different from the other tween mystery books being written? Glad you asked. I describe myself as an oreo cookie in reverse: white (the vanilla) on the outside, but African American (chocolate) on the inside.

I write multi-cultural historical paranormal mysteries for young adults, or what I call the "tween" world, 9 to 13 years old. Tweens neither belong in the kid world, under 9 nor do they belong in the teenage world. They belong in a world where their lives, relationships, emotions, and friendships are topsy-turvey. What I call "Upside down and inside out" because nothing is what it seems. One minute tweens love, and the next minute tweens hate. One moment a tween likes you and can't be separated from you, and in the next moment, that same tween thrusts you from their side and treats you like the enemy.

I visited several libraries in Houston, Texas, Cleveland, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan and spoke with the librarians. I wanted to know from them what was needed in young adult literature. They told me that tween literature was at a high time low. More importantly, those librarians told me there wasn't enough good literature out there for multi-cultural tween readers.

The sort of mystery, challenge, and adventure that boys would enjoy. Right? Wrong!

The sort of mystery, challenge, and adventure that GIRLS and boys would enjoy. That reads a whole lot better. In fact, I'll go one step further than the last one. The book addresses four major themes: 1) The War Between the States is still going on down South. You can look away, close your eyes, and cover your ears, but it's true. Just ask tweens. They'll tell you the truth even when us adults and parents turn away or ignore what we hear. 2) GIRLS are fine the way they are: fat, thin, big, tall, hips, breasts, lips, eyes, nose, cheeks, big feet, little hands. GIRLS ARE FINE THE WAY THEY ARE. It's the rest of the world that's out of whack. 3) GIRLS DON'T NEED TO DUMB THEMSELVES DOWN. The first time my son came home from junior high (7th) grade, he cried. It seemed that all of his friends (girls, that is) acted dumb. They wore their dresses and skirts too high (no mystery left, he said), put on a lot of make-up and resorted to one syllable words. 4) Solving problems. If you want to challenge and change the problems in the outside world, learn to solve the problems at home-at school-with your siblings-with your friends-how else can you be successful if you don't have a plan to put in place of the one that you just threw out the window?

Another thing, tweens have a language all of their own. No, I don't mean text messaging...or computer speech...I mean the kind of language that only they can understand. In school, tweens speak teacher speak, you know proper grammar with recognizable words-well most of the time. When tweens hang with their friends, they use abbreviated words to express what they're feeling. When they're around their grandparents, tweens pick up their grandparent's slang and dialect. And, that's what I did in Anna Mae and surprised the hell out of a lot of folks who live on St. Simon's island. They couldn't figure out how a reverse Oreo could write Gullah and not live on the Island. That's quite a compliment.

I advise anyone who wants to write a book, either fiction or nonfiction, to do several things before you even write that book. Go to your local bookstore and speak to the manager or to the book clerks. Find out from them what's selling in your particular genre. Ask which books fly off the shelf and which books don't sell at all. Go home and put together a Marketing Plan. Know who your target market is and then write your book for that particular audience.

My major goal in writing is to LEAVE SOMETHING BEHIND so that future generations can read my books and be entertained and learn without knowing it. That's the legacy I want to establish. blog:

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Since I've been on nursing duty for the last month, I haven't been able to get to the library or bookstore and replenish my bedside pile of reading.  So, I asked my friend Beckie, who is a reader extraordinaire and one of the most literate people I know, if she had something lying around the house that she would be willing to lend me until I'm back in circulation.  

Oh, the books she brought me!  I haven't had time to read at my usual rate, so I've only gotten through three of the novels, but oh, my!  Only one of the three is a mystery; Literary Murder, by Batya Gur, which is set in modern Israel.  The other two are Walking Across Egypt, by Clyde Edgerton, which is set in North Carolina and has nothing to do with Egypt; and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which takes place in Nazi Germany.

One wonderful thing that these three books have in common is their beautiful and appropriate use of style and language, qualities that lift a story out of the ordinary, as far as I'm concerned.  

I think sometimes that writing is very much like singing.  For some singers, their own voices are the most important element of the performance, and the song is simply a vehicle to show off their virtuosity.  For other singers, their delivery is secondary to the song itself, and though their voices are beautiful, they don’t purposely draw attention to them with all kinds of vocal gymnastics.

Both styles of singing are wonderful.  I love to listen to a beautiful voice.  It almost doesn’t matter what Maria Callas sings since her voice is so gorgeous.  Same with Sinatra.  His voice and delivery transcend the material.  

Sometimes, however, the song, or the story itself, is so beautiful that a true artist will step out of the way and deliver the music or the words in a plain and straightforward style and let the material speak for itself.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Valley of the Lost - Trailer and Contest

What a nice plug from Charles. And what a nice trailer he's had done for me as well. It's on Youtube at and will be on my web page shortly. PLUS, I am having a contest to celebrate the launch of Valley of the Lost, and will be giving away TWO signed hardcovers.

You can either read the first chapter (posted at and tell me the name of the police officer who is punched in the face outside of the Bishop and Nun OR view the trailer and tell me what type of town the story is set in. Send your answers to and I'll draw from the proverbial hat on Tuesday morning.

As Valley of the Lost is the second in a series that begain with In the Shadow of the Glacier, if you haven't read Glacier yet, and would like to start there, let me know if you'd prefer to win a copy of In the Shadow of the Glacier.

See the Video, Buy the Book

Charles here, using my blog day to encourage fellow blogger Vicki Delany to post the video trailer of her new book, Valley of the Lost, and to encourage you, dear reader to go see it. It's a doozie.

How do i know? I had the pleasure of working with video producer Shad Froman in creating this masterpiece of attention-grabbing, excitement-generating marketing, and let me tell you he did more with 40 seconds of footage than some directors do with 190 minutes of film. Spot-on images, clever editing, compelling music'll give you goose bumps. good as it is, the book is better.

So Vicki, post that video on your website today and then post a link here at Type M. And the rest of you? Watch the video and then email the link to no fewer than 15 of your closest friends/bookstore owners. And while you're emailing those bookstore owners, tell them to order you a copy (or two) of Valley of the Lost for your own self.

You can all thank me later.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Grammatical Goof-ups

Vicki and I are planning our book tour with excitement and some anxiety, as we are going to be doing a number of workshops and presentations. It will be fun, but in the planning, I worry about getting it wrong. Whatever IT is. So I decided to revisit all the grammatical goof-ups I’ve either made or could easily make. As you probably know by now, I get these from Patricia T. O’Connor’s Woe is I. Every time I open this book, I grin. I also learn something.

For example, I began to write something like, “Hopefully, my ignorance will entertain you.” Wrong. Hopefully is an adverb. (Duh, I knew that.) I can say, “I hope my ignorance will entertain you,” or, “I say hopefully that my ignorance will entertain you.” Which sounds a little stuffy, and calls for some work. But the first sentence is incorrect.

Here are some good words, often misused or misunderstood:

Did you know that decimate means literally “to kill every tenth one?” O’Connor warns us not to use decimate to mean “to destroy entirely,” and to never use it with a numerical figure, as in “the hurricane decimated sixty per cent of New Orleans.” I made that up, by the way. How much of New Orleans did the hurricane destroy?

Diseases are diagnosed, not people. So don’t say, “My neighbor was diagnosed with pneumonia.” Instead, “My neighbor’s cough was diagnosed as pneumonia.”

I always thought the word fortuitous had an element of luck attached to it. Wrong. The word means accidental or by chance. That’s all.

Here’s another one I’m sure I’ve messed up, except I may have been rescued by the fact that the word is a touch out of style. Fulsome means overdone or disgustingly excessive. And I thought it was a flattering term. Hope I never said it to one of my English teachers.

Effete means barren, used up, or worn out. It has nothing to do with men in velvet smoking jackets.

Here’s a really good one, because it’s practical, and I'm sure I've misused it. Enormity is not to be confused with enormousness, which describes a large size. Enormity refers to something hugely wicked, monstrous, or outrageous. Southern California was shocked by the enormity of Charles Manson’s crimes.

Did you know that the word dilemma involves two choices, both of them bad? Its specificity surprised me.

The movie was enervating. No, that doesn't mean it was exciting. On the contrary, it probably bored the crap out of the audience. Enervating means draining of energy. Yawn.

Wow, I didn’t know this—noisome means evil-smelling or offensive. It has nothing to do with noise. It does have to do with the word annoy, though.

Restive means unruly or stubborn, not impatient or fidgety. Restive and restless are not synonyms.

Did you know the difference between aggravate and irritate? I didn’t until I read this. Aggravate means to make worse; irritate means to inflame. O’Connor points out that aggravate does not mean to vex or annoy. Here’s why I love her explanations—she finds this irritating.

I hope you’ve learned something, and had occasion to smile in the process. I certainly did.


...I've had a few.

Blechta here.

Sorry to not post this week. I'm working to deadline on several (non-book) things and my brain is too stuffed full of other things to even THINK about anything else. It's not that I don't love and respect you all!

The response to the survey has been very gratifying and the only problem now is to collate everything in the comment area since many people were very generous with their thoughts on the subject of e-books.

More anon...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Read Except from Valley of the Lost for Free

Vicki here, to let you know that February 10th marks the release date of Valley of the Lost, my fifth novel and second in the Constable Molly Smith series. If you’d like a sneak-preview, I’ve posted the first chapter on my web page ( The book is now available at (click here)and (Click here)for pre-order. I’ve had a wonderful trailer made, and will be putting that up on my web page and Youtube shortly. Please, stay tuned.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

Vicki here, full of historical insights today.

I have been reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It’s a true story about a sensational murder in the town of Road, in England in 1860. Mr. Whicher is Jack Whicher, one of the very first detectives on the London Police. One night, in July of 1860, a three year old boy was removed from his bed, taken outside, had his throat cut, and stuffed into an outdoor privy (aka outhouse). From the start there was never much doubt that the crime was committed by someone inside the house, either family or servants. The case was a sensation, particularly because of the intervention of the police detective. An Englishman’s home, no matter how humble, was his castle and a lot of people, including the press, had a problem with the police breaking into a family’s privacy.

Initially, the local police wouldn’t even consider the family as suspects, preferring to concentrate on the servants, despite all evidence to the contrary. Mr. Whicher, however, changed that.

One thing really struck me in the book. We think we live in such crime-ridden times, but in the book much ink is given to details of the man of the house closing up before going to bed the night before the murder as he locks and bolts doors and windows. And then, everyone LOCKS THEMSELVES IN THEIR BEDROOM. What the heck?

This is a country home, outside a small village in England in 1860. And people had to lock themselves in?

Now that I think about it – parts of my house are well over 100 years old, and the bedroom door has a key hole. The key has long since disappeared. I don’t think they even make houses anymore with interior doors (other than the bathroom) that lock.
That struck me as weird.

The case was very influential in a way that effects us as mystery readers and writers. Wilkie Collins’ novel The Moonstone was influenced by the Road House case, and Collins’ detective, Sergeant Cuff, is considered to be a fictional version of Inspector Whicher. The Moonstone is, arguably, the prototype for all detective fiction being written today. Once I finished Suspicions, I dove into The Moonstone.

What a great book. And some things, despite locked bedroom doors, never do change. Here’s a quote. She ‘had been a thief, and not being of the sort that get up Companies in the City and rob from thousands, instead of only robbing from one, the law laid hold of her and the prison... followed.’ Think about that for a moment, and then read Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times.

'“Say I’m a banker and I created $30 million. I should get a part of that,” one banker told The New York Times. And if you’re a banker and you destroyed $30 billion? Uncle Sam to the rescue!'

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Gayle Trent on E-books

Our guest blogger today is Gayle Trent, full-time freelance writer, editor, and author from Virginia, whose work is available both in traditional and electronic formats. Her mystery Murder Takes the Cake is published by Bell Bridge Press.  Gayle is also the founder of the Fatal Foodies blog, (address below) featuring authors, including yours truly, whose writing features food. Check out her website, as well.  I suffer from technology envy whenever I visit it. - Donis -


The Impact of E-books on the Future of Publishing


We’ve all been hearing for years that e-books are growing in popularity. With the advent of Amazon’s Kindle, are e-books even more mainstream? Are we finally going to see an e-book Renaissance? Personally, I’m skeptical.


While I enjoy the convenience of having a book on my PDA to read while I’m on the go or an informative e-book on my computer with links to sites of interest, I still prefer the traditional hardcover or paperback book in most cases. I also enjoy adding autographed books to my collection, and that’s something I can’t do with an e-book. The e-books that I most often download to my computer or PDA are classics, fiction by a writer whose work I haven’t read before and the aforementioned informational e-books.


Please bear in mind these are my personal preferences, and I do believe there is a place for e-books in our literary world. E-books are excellent “salespeople.” If you want to introduce someone to your writing, there’s no better way than to give them a sample of your work. I am afraid the e-book audience is still limited, but I think its growing every day. I say the audience is limited because I gave out dozens of e-books to promote Murder Takes the Cake at the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show in September and was told repeatedly, “Thanks! I’ll listen to this on the drive home.”


I think the key to the best e-books is to make the reader feel she/he got something a little extra, especially if they’ve bought the e-book. That’s why self-help e-books sell so well. The author provides links to additional information, message boards, websites of interest and/or newsletters on the subject matter. Hope Clark’s market e-books for writers are great because the reader can click on a link and go directly to the market being discussed.


As for fiction, the e-book I’ve been happiest with (of the e-books I’ve authored) was Spontaneous Combustion, a romantic comedy I did for Fantasy Romances ( The e-book features instrumental music (which can be turned off) and graphics to accompany the text. Call me corny, but I thought it was cool.


These sentiments are somewhat echoed by Mike Shatzkin, founder and CEO of The Idea Logical Company, in his article Will You Recognize the Industry in 10 Years? for the February 2009 issue of BOOK BUSINESS. Says Shatzkin: “The robust e-book market—more than 50 percent of the sales of many titles (also a bit more than 10 years off)—will have been fueled by features built into e-books that can’t be replicated in print versions. For example, e-books will frequently use moving images as illustrations, rather than stills.”

 Gayle Trent
MTTC Book Trailer