Monday, November 30, 2009

Vicki’s Recommendations for Gift Giving

All this week we will be making recommendations for books that we have enjoyed reading and think will make great gifts. We have two ground rules: the books can not have been written by anyone we would call a friend, and they must have been published in 2008 or 2009. Here are my favourites for the year.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Mentioned previously on this blog, Outliers is an examination of why people succeed. Why do some succeed and others fail? Think it’s purely because of your own efforts? Think again.

Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie. Crombie’s Kincaid and James series has been around for years and I’ve read them since the beginning. They are traditional police procedural books, exactly my type of thing, set mostly in London, even though Crombie is American. Over the years the books have varied in quality, Dreaming of the Bones I still remember as one of my favourites. Lately she seems to have broken away from the pack and is making a big name for herself and her series. Deservedly judging by Where Memories Lie.

Devil’s Food by Kerry Greenwood. I do not like cosies. Period. But I really liked this little gem. Part of the Corrina Chapman series, it’s so beautifully drawn and the characters so charming that the book is as irresistible as the delicacies cooked up in the Earthly Delights Bakery. A blurb on the books cover says “proves it takes a village to solve a mystery.” It’s published by Poisoned Pen Press, but it isn’t really a mystery, just a story about a bunch of people trying to solve life’s problems.

One Careless Moment by Dave Hugelschaffer. Forest fire fighting is always good for creating excitement, and Hugelschaffer knows how to make it real. Of course the entire book can’t be about escaping from the fire, but he manages to keep the tension and the mystery going. I enjoyed this book very much, although it was marred somewhat by the ending. A male version of teenage girls dressed in their underwear going outside in the dark with only a flashlight to see what’s making that strange nose in the neighbourhood where a serial killer/undead monster is lurking.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. "Eat Food" That's one of the three principals behind this book. Think that's a no-brainer? It's not. If you don’t know what goes into making that pre-packaged meal you purchased at the supermarket, pick up this book and find out. Find out also how the modern North American way of eating is simply not sustainable. (Seeds that are genetically programmed to self-destruct does not make for food security.) In some modest way, I try to eat the way I believe, and it’s easier for me than most in that I live smack dab surrounded by family farms. I picked pounds of navy beans from the farm next to me (with permission) to see me through the winter. I look out over my own spread of vegetable garden – all 8 * 10 feet of it - and imagine acres of lettuces and tons of fresh tomatoes.

On the same line of thought, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. Okay it was published in 2007 but I am still sneaking it in. Kingsolver and her family set out to raise and grow all the food they will consume for a year. Obviously not at all practical for anyone with an 8 * 10 foot garden and no intention at all of slaughtering turkeys or chickens, but she makes a good point.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. I have blogged quite a lot about this book over the past year. 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 was stuffed into an outdoor privy (aka outhouse). As the house was tightly locked that night, and there was no sign of break and enter, suspicion immediately fell on inhabitants of the house, family and servants. After an initial incompetent investigation by the local police (which refused, for matters of delicacy, to question the family) a detective from the brand-new Scotland Yard was called.
And, not incidentally, the detective novel was born. Wilkie Collins based his Sergeant Cuff on Whicher, and I read The Moonstone immediately after Suspicions as a companion piece. Great book.

Fault Line by Barry Eisler. I am not a fan of ‘tough guy’ books and don’t much care for ‘tough guy’ authors either. At Left Coast Crime in Hawaii back in March Barry Eisler was one of the guests of honour. And he was such a nice guy, charming, friendly, self-depreciating that I decided maybe his books would be good too. I bought Hard Rain, loved it, and then got Fault Line. Tough guys with a soft edge.

Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters. Masterfully plotted. The protaganist is a wounded Iraq War vet. Bitter, in pain, disabled and seriously angry. Right up until the end Walters keeps us wondering, "Did he do it?"

Feel free to jump in with recommendations of books you plan to give as gifts this year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Buying Books Carrick Style

Here at Type M for Murder we are writers for sure. But we are also readers, and we love books and believe in the importance of the book publishing industry. We are happy to present our second annual Type M for Murder Give a Book for Christmas Week. To start the week off, the guest blogger is my friend and critique group member, Donna Carrick. As well as being a great writer, Donna is an enthusiastic reader, and she has raised her three children to love books as much as she does.

Let me say this right up front: I’m not much of a ‘shopper’. I’m still wearing last year’s shoes (which might in fact be 3 years old) and I don’t dare gain weight because then I’d need new clothes.

The one thing I do love to shop for is – you guessed it – books.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with my critiquing group, a circle of talented and prolific Canadian writers, on the subject of our changing book industry. We were wondering aloud what we can do to promote the sale of fiction during this year’s holiday season.

Maybe we need to take a fresh approach. Instead of studying the challenge of increasing book sales from the point of view of the seller (ourselves), we need to take a good, hard look at how the book-buying public actually conducts itself.

To this end, our own Vicki Delany asked the question: How do WE buy books.

Having 3 children (2 still school-aged) and being myself a passionate reader, this is a subject in which I feel well-versed. While other shoppers revel in new dresses or cars, I joyfully await my next shipment of books from my favourite on-line vendor. I have been known to use a precious vacation day with the kids. First we go for a morning swim. Then we’ll spend a fun-charged afternoon browsing through our favourite bookstore.

In our family travels, we make it a practice to stop at local bookstores in Collingwood, Huntsville, Ellicottville, Sudbury… in any little ‘burb or town we encounter along the way.

We also love the ‘big box’ stores, with their spacious aisles of children’s lit and entire shelves dedicated to the study of foreign languages and racks of knitting/crafting/music magazines… you get the point. Let me not forget my own special fondness: Crime Fiction! In addition, we are beginning to explore the world of e-books – Sony ‘readers’ are on this year’s Holiday gift list.

Our children love spending time in bookstores. The covers light up their eyes like candy in a bowl – they love the feel, the colours, the adventure/humour/mystery they know waits for them within the pages. For them, there is no greater thrill. When the school term stretches out and every day seems much like the one before, I will hear them say, “Mom, when are we taking a day off to go to the bookstore?” The hints will start to fly. “I’m almost finished my (insert favourite series here) books.”

In short, we are a bookish family. It’s a strange fetish to have in today’s modern world, but it has given us many happy hours. As our industry continues to change and literature makes its way toward e-publication, there will no doubt be something lost to all of us.

One hopes, though, there will also be something gained. After all, we must do what we can to preserve the joy of reading for future generations. If that means loading Charles Dickens onto a GameBoy DS system, then I say, “Plug it in, folks!”

Two series our children especially love for 2009:

Ted’s favourite: Derek Landy ~ The Faceless Ones (Children’s fiction)
Tammy-Li’s favourite: The Geronimo Stilton Series

Donna Carrick is an author and blogger living in Toronto with her husband and three children. Donna's lastest book is The First Excellence. Her web site is

Saturday, November 28, 2009

One Hundred Pages

I hope you all had as nice a Thanksgiving as I did.  Today, it’s back to work.  I may have mentioned earlier that I am trying to finish the first 100 pages of my next Alafair Tucker novel by the end of this month.  Poisoned Pen Press requires that a returning author submit the first 100 pages for editor’s approval before the new novel is accepted and assigned a place on the publishing schedule.  This prevents last minute delivery of a complete manuscript that either needs a lot of work, or is unpublishable.

I’ve been working on New Novel for two or three months, and as the Thanksgiving holiday came upon me, I needed to produce only six good pages to have my 100.  One would think this would be a piece of cake, wouldn’t one?  And sometimes, when one is in the Zone, it is.  The problem is that the Zone is a hard place to get to, and most of the time, pages are eked out one at a time in toil and travail.  

Also, the MS can’t just consist of any old 100 pages.  They have to be 100 good pages.  And therein lies the rub.  So, after spending the Wednesday before Thanksgiving typing my tail off, rewriting, rethinking, combining, I now need TEN pages.  

I expressed my woe and consternation about this setback to my brother on his Facebook page, since he’s participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)*, in which one attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, and he had just posted a boast that he was up to 45,000 words (word number 45,000 : in).  He sent me the following factoid :

Douglas Adams was writing the radio play to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and had only one weekend to turn eight pages he had already written into a full 22-page script. After a full weekend of furious writing, when he came into work on Monday, those eight pages had shrunk to six.

It's a comfort to know I'm not the only one.

Speaking of noir, (see Charles’ entry, below),  as you may know, Dear Reader, Akashic Press puts out a series of books of noir short stories set in different cities around the world.  If I remember correctly, they started out with Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin, and moved on to Boston Noir (Dennis Lehane), and  Baltimore Noir (Laura Lippman),   At last count, they were up to 34 editions, I believe, including Paris, D.C. Las Vegas, London, L.A, Toronto, and on and on.

In October, they issued Phoenix Noir, edited by Poisoned Pen Bookstore’s own Patrick Millikin, who is quite the scholar of noir literature.  The book is chock full of the most wonderfully nasty stories set Phoenix, written by many authors with whom I’m well acquainted, including Jon Talton, Charles Kelly, Diana Gabaldon, Lee Child, James Sallis, and Stella Pope Duarte, among others. (not Yours Truly, though.  I’m not known as much of a writer of noir).  I asked Patrick if he’d guest-blog for us on February 28, and he agreed, so if you’re a lover of the Dark Writing Arts, be sure and look for that.

And now, please excuse me.  Ten pages to go.


* a friend of mine noted that it must have been a man who decided to have NaNoWriMo be in November.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Every day is Black Friday with Film Noir

After a busy T-day visiting family and friends, topped off with a late-night martini mix with Rose, I’m ready for some good old fashioned, self-indulgent marathon movie watching. But what movies to see? Our best friends, Rick and Paula, use days like this to re-watch the Godfather Trilogy (well, Paula anyway – Rick uses that time to catch up on his well-earned couch napping). A pal at the ad agency likes to watch the Dumb & Dumber movies back to back twice, a tradition worthy of the movies’ name. Rose and I used to like watching the Bond marathons but there are only a few Sean Connery and Daniel Craig movies out there and only two of the others worth watching. We’ve decided to finally watch season 1 & 2 of the A&E series, Mad Men, but for you I have an even better suggestion. Here’s my (to date) Top 5 film noir* Favorites.

1. Double Indemnity (1944) – Who’s better in the movie – average guy Fred MacMurray turned killer, archetype femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck, or the cop/not cop boss Edward G. Robinson? I can’t decide and when you watch it, you won’t be able to either.
2. Criss Cross (1948) – Burt Lancaster plays a guy even more weak-willed than me, but then he’s playing it across from Yvonne De Carlo so I understand. I prefer the ambiguous ending to the ‘restored’ ending.
3. The Maltese Falcon (1941) – The only question I have for myself is why isn’t this Number 1 on my list?
4. Touch of Evil (1958) – Orson Wells, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich in a Wells film I will argue (over drinks, you pay) is better than Citizen Kane. It’s even more fun if you read Head Games by Craig McDonald first.
5. No Country for Old Men (2007) – With Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and a standout performance (hard to do with those other guys in the mix) by Woody Hareelson, this Coen brother’s flick deserved every award it got and a few it wasn’t up for.

I’d better post this quick – I’ve already made two changes (dropping Chinatown for No Country) and I can feel myself getting ready to edit more.

*Note the use of lowercase in film noir, separating it from the firm definitions of Film Noir, which my pal Jared Case enforces with a ruthlessness reminiscent of Max and Al in The Killers, which now that I think of it should be on the list too…

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

John here wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!
In this post, I’ll try (I'm not as tech-savvy as my colleagues) to include some pictures from Keeley’s first birthday (earlier this week) and a list of the things for which this writer is thankful.

1. My wife Lisa and daughters Delaney, 11; Audrey, 8; and Keeley, 1
2. My health
3. The joy that comes with writing
4. The drive to keep finishing books, despite the fiction market

Whether you're a bestseller or not, as long as you're putting words to page there is much to be grateful for. Enjoy the day, everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I've Got the Blues

If it’s Wednesday, it must be Debby, and I am in a bit of a slump. Though I recently trumpeted my relief at being a crime fiction writer as opposed to a pill counter, I’m a bit blue today. Maybe it’s the memoir topic, and the appalling facts that not only did S.P. receive a million-plus advance for the ghost-authored Going Rogue, her tour is getting the hype of a political campaign (a REALLY depressing thought).

I thought it was just my own low biorhythms—maybe I’m catching a cold—until I ran across Declan Burke’s blog on Burke is a journalist and author of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, and has two more books under consideration by publishers. Not bad, I think, but here’s what he has to say, and I can relate.

“… lately I’ve started to hear a little voice in the back of my head suggesting that it might not be the best thing for me right now were either book to be published. That’s because, barring a miracle, what will happen is this: an offer will be made that will amount, in practical terms, to no more than a couple of months’ worth of mortgage payments. Following acceptance, edits and rewrites will follow (a good thing, by the way, because I like both stories and their characters, and I wouldn’t mind at all getting back into the stories, especially if doing so is going to improve them). Then the pre-publication promotion will begin, which is very time-consuming; then the publication promotion; and then the post-publication promotion. Most of this will be conducted via the web, given that I am (a) not wealthy enough nor remunerated enough to do it in person; (b) married with a small child, of whom I don’t see enough of as it is; (c) a freelance journalist who works a minimum of 70 hours per week at the job, and can’t afford to take time off, let alone spend good mortgage money on hauling my ass around the world at a time when house repossessions are starting to climb at an alarming rate back home.

“It really is becoming as stark as that. I decided over the weekend, after interviewing James Ellroy, that it is actually immoral of me to steal time to write fiction when I could be writing freelance material that will actually earn real money.”

Another oft-published author believes the future of publishing will be in the self-published book, or small press book. She may be right, and perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. But like Declan also says, “Someone who liked my books asked me over the weekend, rather facetiously, how come I haven’t sold a million books. I said, rather facetiously, that it was because no one put a million dollars worth of advertising behind them.” Like Declan, I couldn’t pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into publishing and publicizing my book.

I spent a hefty percentage of a royalty check on the book tour Vicki and I did together last March. At the same time, my husband and I are paying two college tuitions. I can beat my chest and bemoan the economy, big advances for people who haven’t written their own books, and the poor remuneration of all artists in this country. No matter. The hard, cold facts are that bills need to be paid. I have a part-time job in addition to my writing, but I’m considering increasing the hours per week, which means that I’ll have less time to write. That makes me sad.

Someone tell me things will change, a living can be made writing crime fiction. Please?

Meanwhile, I’m going to bury my sorrows in the thriller I’m writing now. It’s heating up, and I can’t wait to get back to it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mind if I climb inside your head?

I recently read an article in The Walrus — Canada’s answer to Harpers — in which the author said something that really resonated with me.

Have you ever stopped to think that whenever you read something, you’re allowing the writer access to your consciousness at its most intimate level?

Like right now. I’m actually inside your head, talking to you. I’m making you visualize my words. As long as you keep reading this, I can dictate exactly what you’re thinking.

Hi there! I just made you hear those words inside your head, didn’t I? Now, imagine someone knocking very loudly on your front door. Could it be the cops? A bad guy? Someone selling magazines?

I’ll bet you “heard” the sound of those knuckles on your door, probably saw the cop, the bad guy, the magazine salesman. If you have a really good imagination, you probably even saw them as a more than rudimentary “images”. Reading my words made you do that — and you couldn't help yourself.

Now suppose I tell you that you’ve just returned home and found the dead body of someone you barely know, gruesomely murdered in your bedroom. You’ve barely had time to respond, your pulse is through the roof and you feel as if you’re going to pass out. That’s when you hear the loud knock at the door.

Hear it? Is your heart rate up even a teensy bit? Mine is and I’m writing this stuff!

As writers, we don’t really think about what sort of relationship we have with our readers, but it is pretty darn intimate when you stop and think, isn’t it?

It is also just about the coolest reason I can think of to keep doing what I love to do.

I’m leaving now. By the way, you really need to clean your monitor. There’s a big smudge on the lower right.

Monday, November 23, 2009

All about ME – how to write a Bestseller

Vicki here. I was listening to an interesting interview on CBC radio yesterday. They were talking about the increasing importance of memoirs in publishing. I’m sure you have noticed: walk into any bookstore and you can find the memories of self-important politicians (Hello S.P.), looking-to-blame-someone-else-soldiers (Hello General H.), tennis players, people who own dogs (like that’s unusual). Anything and everything. You don’t have to be rich and famous any more to write your autobiography, you just have to be self-important and the riches and fame will follow.

We all know by now that when James Frey wrote his novel A Million Little Pieces, no publisher showed an interest. He called it a memoir (i.e. said it was true) and a mega-star was born.

When Sylvia Plath wrote about her own experiences with mental institutions she fictionalized it and called it The Bell Jar. When Susanna Kaysen more recently wrote about her experiences, she wrote it as a memoir titled Girl Interruped and, again, mega-star status. Even a movie.

Aside from the point that people are more willing to reveal their secrets to anyone who will listen these days than in Plath’s time, it’s a lot more than the publishing biz driving these books.

It’s TV. Oprah and the rest don’t want to interview a fiction author. There is only so much they can talk about (where do you get your ideas?). Interview a memoirist however, and you can really get into the down and dirty about their secret habits, their families, their lives, their PROBLEMS. Remember how shocked SHOCKED!! and upset Oprah was to find out that Frey didn’t really live all that stuff in his book? Well she drove him, indirectly, to lie. He couldn’t get that book published without lying, and if he had found a publisher, Oprah wouldn’t have given him the time of day.

As for me, give me a good work of fiction anytime. A good novel tells a good story, about the world and the people who live in it without making it ALL ABOUT ME!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guest Blogger: Charles Noland

I met today’s guest blogger at a book signing held in conjunction with a larger gala fundraiser for the Rochester chapter of Gilda’s Club. He took a path to publication many authors considered but few have attempted. It’s an inspiring story that shows what can be done if you believe in you work (and his books make a great gift for the kids in your life, too).


The Road Less Traveled
By Charles Noland

As the author of a children’s chapter book series, The Adventures of Drew and Ellie, I am often asked—how long did it take you to find a publisher?

“Well,” I begin. “I only needed to look as far as the bathroom mirror.”

I’ve always been an avid reader and love getting drawn into one of those “I-can’t-put-it-down” novels of mystery and intrigue. But having grown up in a large family and then becoming an uncle more than twenty times over, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading children’s books too. Invariably I would often think, after setting one down, that I could’ve written it. That idea went on my mental list of things to do…someday.

My “someday” came in the early part of August, 2003. As I was reminiscing about two young children I had met months earlier, the idea and story for The Magical Dress just popped into my head. A few weeks later I presented a rough draft to some young children for their feedback. Encouraged with their positive comments, I decided to pursue publishing it. Never having done this before, I approached it the way my education in engineering taught me and that was to—research it.

Initially my findings were rather bleak, realizing that without an agent I wouldn’t get a publisher to look at me, and never having been published, I wouldn’t likely get an agent either. And, if I did manage to get my book published this way, the process could take years.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss and not knowing what I didn’t know, I plunged forward deciding to use a publishing service and gamble with a new technology called Printing-On-Demand. Heeding the advice I gathered from the Internet, I was careful about how much control I gave the publishing service and did most of the layout and design myself. By the time I got to my second book I was doing all the layout, design and editing. They merely needed to slap their logo and ISBN on it then send it off to the printer.

I should point out that my intention or motive for writing wasn’t just to be published but to convey stories that would teach children positive life lessons; stories that would inspire them to think and help them develop their creative problem-solving skills. It was also my hope that my books could be used for character development by teachers and parents.

It seemed that each step along this road prepared me for the next one, from the friendly account rep, who answered my 101 publishing questions; to the woman I met in Toastmasters who was running her own company. It was over lunch with her one day in 2005 that the most obvious question arose—since I was already doing most of it, why not do all of it and form my own publishing company? So with a leap of entrepreneurial faith, TMD Enterprises was born.

Along the way I was further encouraged by the book Inside the Bestsellers written by Jerrold Jenkins. In it, he profiles several famous authors that started by self-publishing and a couple even went on to form their own publishing companies.

TMD Enterprises suddenly gave me a lot more freedom and flexibility. Not only could I bring the price point of my books down, but there was still enough money left to donate a portion for a humanitarian cause and I started The Million Books Challenge™.

As I’ve progressed in knowledge and experience I’m now working on publishing books by other children’s authors. I’m even contemplating creating an imprint for adult books too.

So what would I tell a new author? Well, if your desire is just to get published then pursue it with vigor. But, if you have a message or story that you want to tell and it’s more important to get it to your readers, then consider the alternatives. No matter which road you choose, write with passion and believe in it! Also, it helps to surround yourself with people that believe in you, for those days when self-doubt tickles you.

Two tales worth mentioning before I close are about authors who were inspired to write merely for the reason of leaving something meaningful for their children—with no intention to publish it. They would even tell you that their success was purely accidental. In 1992 Richard Paul Evans wrote The Christmas Box for his daughters and it became the first self published book ever to make it to The New York Times Best Seller List. He eventually sold the rights for $4.2 million dollars. And in July of 2007, William Paul Young’s book The Shack was self published. What started out as a story for his six children, has now sold more than 8 million copies.

Accidental? I’m not sure. However, if you do anything with passion and belief, then success is just around the corner.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Side Story - Adding Some Perspective

We’ve had some discussion lately about how painful it is to have to cut things you love out of your manuscript.  Recently an author friend of mine told me that her agent thinks she needs to add 20,000 words to a MS.  My friend is bummed, because she considers what she and her co-author have written as tight and to the point.  But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and her very sensible solution is to come up with a side story.

I learn a lot from the funnies page in the newspaper.  I’m a puzzle aficionado, and start every day by reading the paper front to back, and then working all the puzzles.  This is not quite the time consuming activity it used to be a few years ago, when the daily paper actually had news in it.  But at least the puzzles get my brain revved up for the day.  One of my favorite puzzles is the Jumble, which consists of an anagram of a quotation from a well-known person.  A few days ago, I deciphered a quotation by Truman Capote which, as a writer, I found quite insightful. It is as follows:

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. 

Perspective is a sense of depth.  It is a way to show things in their true relationship to one another, a way to make them seem real.

We’ve discussed character development in this blog before.  Character, I think we all agree, is to the majority of readers the most important element of any novel.  The characters who people the novel are what we care about.  Action and suspense and intricate plot are all fantastic, but if we aren’t invested in the characters, we don’t much care if they get it all worked out, or if they escape the danger, or figure out who did the deed.  And if the author can create a series with true and appealing characters, then the reader will want to read the next installment, and the next.

So, your characters are involved in the intricacies of the plot.  The sleuth has to find out who committed the crime, or who is chasing him, and why.  The red herrings have to prove they didn’t do it.  The killer has to throw the hunters off his trail.  But if the characters only exist to serve the plot, so what?  If instead, the plot exists to reveal the characters ... now you’re talking.

What does this have to do with perspective, you ask?  Well, have a seat, for I’m about to tell you.  

A side story exists in a novel for the sole purpose of adding depth. It’s through a side story that the reader discovers why the sleuth is like she is.  Why is she so obsessive about unravelling this particular crime, even though she’s been removed from the case, or fired by the client, or threatened with death if she perseveres?  Could it be because the victim so reminds her of her own mother, who also was a battered woman?  We find this out not because the author simply tells us, but because the sleuth goes home after a long day of detecting, and her mother is there, fixing dinner.  We discover through successive scenes, actions and conversations, that her mother is physically and psychologically damaged from years of abuse.  Perhaps she’s agoraphobic.  Perhaps she finally shot her abuser and spent time in prison.  Perhaps the sleuth was ten years old when this all happened, and to this day is riddled with guilt that she was not able to help her mother at the time.

None of this has to do with the major plot line, which concerns the discovery in an alley of a murdered woman whose body shows signs of years of trauma.  Was she perhaps a professional show-jump rider, or a downhill skier?  A roller derby skater?  Or maybe she was a battered woman.  Our sleuth cannot help her now, just as she couldn’t help her mother.  But perhaps she can show the poor woman justice.*

The side story has given the sleuth a life apart from her job.  Now the reader knows her as a person, and, we hope, cares about her and is rooting for her to succeed. 


*The above scenario is not taken from any actual story, so don't go hunting for it.  I just made it up as I went along. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shelf Life

There’s a wonderful short essay by Paulo Coelho in this month’s Playboy in which the Brazilian author explains why he’s pruning his expansive personal library down to 400 books. While he plans on keeping some books for sentimental reasons and others because he always enjoys rereading them (like I enjoy rereading P.G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred in the Springtime each year), Coelho says that he can usually find what he needs online.

But that’s not the main reason he’s getting rid of his books and it’s not why I recommend the essay. This is why:

“[A]s soon as I finish a book, I let it travel, give it to someone or hand it in at a public library. My intention is not to save forests or be generous; it is just that I believe a book has a course of its own and should not be condemned to remain immobilized on a shelf.”

Coelho notes the obvious conflict with self interest – he lives off the money he makes from book sales – but he argues that books (and their authors) are meant to be read and that a few more readers are more important than a few extra sales down the road. “So let our books travel, be touched by other hands and enjoyed by other eyes.”

With 20+ titles to his name (including the modern classic, The Alchemist), Coelho is the best-selling Portuguese author of all time and I’m sure he’s signed lots of copies of his books. But the books he says he likes seeing most are the dog-eared, many-times-resold copies that people bring to signings since this means, “the book has traveled like the mind of the author traveled as he wrote it.”

This essay came at a good time since Rose and I are currently thinning down our book collection. The issue is one of space not philosophy, but in either case, books have got to go. So tonight, as I take another 20 books I enjoyed off the shelf, I’ll try to remember what made each book special as I add it to the stack to give away, knowing that I’ll never open it again. And, with Coelho in my head, I’ll try to remember that I’m not getting rid of them, I’m letting them go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let’s Sit Down, Think This Through, and Play Fair

Sixty thousand words into my current project, I’ve hit a point in the novel where my sleuth needs to sit down and think the crime through. Of course, beer leads to clarity of vision, so the protagonist is at a bar, drinking Coors Light, and doodling on a cocktail napkin.

This scene is a break in the action that serves two purposes.
The cerebral component of a successful crime novel is a big reason why I love reading and writing the genre. I don’t outline. Maybe that’s why some reviewers have praised my plots while others have criticized them. Either way is fine; as I’ve said before, I don’t want to know where I’m going before I start. Writing is simply too hard not enjoy being my book’s first reader.

I do take copious notes as I work my way through a novel, though. And my protagonist’s pause to think is also a chance for me to review my notes, which include questions that need to be answered over the duration of the story (who drove the car that slowed down as it passed Max in chapter two?); potential directions in which the book can go (if the autopsy results show that Margaret was pregnant, three more people are now suspects); and who did what and the reasons why (she can ONLY be a red herring now because she is going to tell four people at school that she hasn’t spoken to him in months).

There is another reason for the break in narrative action, and this one might be more important: It provides a chance for me to briefly outline some of the information mentioned above for readers. Not all of it, of course, but some.

“Playing fair with the reader” is something I first became aware of when studying Edgar Allen Poe’s classic Five Rules of Detective Fiction, years ago. However, the concept of “playing fair” became clear to me on a hotel bench at the 2006 Malice Domestic Conference near Washington, D.C. I had gone outside for some air and took a seat next to a lady who was reading a paperback cozy. Several times, she stopped reading, flipped to a blank page at back of the book, and jotted something down. I asked what she was doing.

“Keeping track of clues,” she explained and went on the say she wanted to solve the crime before the sleuth. I have never forgotten this woman—or the way she reads a mystery. She has become my “ideal reader,” the one I think about as I work my way through my novels.

And in the scene I’m writing now, she’s right there with my protagonist and me at the bar. Her beer is on me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Online Networking for Authors

Debby reporting late Eastern time, inspired by an article I read recently on Social Networking. Just so you know, I’m not good at online networking. I have a Facebook page, and am grateful for my “friends,” but don’t know what to do after that. I don’t Twitter or MySpace, and I’m not LinkedIn. Blogging here and keeping up my personal webpage are my highest priorities in terms of online communication, and I am probably a bit lax at those. Mostly, I’m trying to finish a novel.

Ergo, Sean Silverthorne’s article, “Understanding Users of Social Networks” caught my eye. Here’s the link: Harvard Business School Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski spent years studying who was using online social networks and why, and found some interesting facts.

First of all, pictures are key. People want to look at pictures, and Piskorski found that seventy percent of online social interaction is related to viewing pictures or viewing other people’s profiles.

Second, "Online social networks are most useful when they address real failures in the operation of offline networks," says Piskorski. For example, if you’re looking for someone to help you with a project (Piskorski mentions a business start up, but perhaps we could extend this to book publicity, or an agent search), you’d first ask a circle of friends in your profession. If that endeavor wasn’t productive, you’d ask them to ask their friends, but often the ball would stop there. People are busy and if they don’t have an incentive, they forget to keep networking. However, Piskorski says if you are LinkedIn, you could go and search through the network of “my friends of friends” and find the person you need.

I don’t use LinkedIn, but I may check it out after reading Piskorski’s findings. According to him, people display a lot of information about their careers on LinkedIn. At the same time, users establish relationships with others, stay in touch with peers, and make new contacts. Yet it remains social, friendly, allowing them in many cases to put out information to headhunters and others without letting on that they’re on a search. It’s a passive, socially acceptable way of gathering info, dispersing it, and making new connections.

Piskorski found that men and women use online networking in different ways. Men tend to look at women—especially ones they don’t know. (Why am I not surprised?) But women look at women they do know. Women receive two-thirds of all page views. I haven’t figured out how this information helps authors expand their readerships, but maybe one of you will come up with something. Let me know, okay?

None of these findings apply to Twitter, however. Because Twitter restricts usuers to 140-character messages, researcher Bill Heil found that 90 percent of all Twitter posts were created by only 10 percent of users. Nor does Twitter use photos.

Though MySpace’s presence has seemingly died out, Piskorsky points out that MySpace, though its membership isn’t growing, still has 70 million users. He asked, “Why doesn't MySpace get the attention it deserves?”

The answer is that MySpace users mostly live smaller cities and communities in the south and central parts of the U.S. (Apologies to my Canadian and out-of-U.S. friends, he only gave U.S. data). Piskorski named some MySpace hotspots: Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Florida.

Piskorsky recently blogged on these findings: “MySpace has a PR problem because its users are in places where they don't have much contact with people who create news that gets read by others. Other than that, there is really no difference between users of Facebook and MySpace, except they are poorer on MySpace." Piskorski recently blogged on his findings:

To wind up, Piskorsky found that online social networks were not effective in getting people to click through to another site. People who want to advertise need to think socially, as in, “this is going to make you all better friends.”

Which, when I think about it, is what Oprah’s Book Club has done. Food for thought.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let’s all write bestsellers!

Boy, wouldn’t that be nice: a fat bank account*, the luxury of only having to put pen to paper in order to financially survive, the opportunity of being on Oprah (or even better, on Michael Enright’s Sunday Edition), being able to travel, having a bigger house, a fancier car, fame… Believe me, I could go on.

However, no one has yet figured out what constitutes a sure-fire bestseller. If someone actually has, they’re not telling the general public. I know I wouldn’t — except for my Type M buddies.

On the other hand, publishers, editors, agents, critics, booksellers have all seemingly figured out what constitutes a book that won’t be a bestseller. I’m not talking about mss that continue to see the light of day and are poorly written, poorly conceived, poorly researched, poorly whatevered. There are people who just don’t have the skill or who just shouldn’t write, and they continue to be as hopeful as the rest of us author-types.

What I’m talking about are professionally authored novels that deserve to see the kiss of ink on paper. “This will never sell.” “Not for us, thank you.” “I don’t see a market for this in this country.” I’ll bet we could go on with these quotes for the next year and not reach the end.

It all boils down to this: personal taste. Editor X reads a submission. Maybe it has a plot line similar to something he’s already seen, or he doesn’t like the locale where it’s set, or whatever. The bottom line is that personal taste and judgement dictates what people like, and so the book is rejected. Too often we’ve heard of worthy novels that are rejected over and over, ones that eventually find a publisher, and when the book hits the shelves, they’re immediately grabbed by a hungry reading public. I could mention J.K. Rowling and Tom Clancy as poster children for this sort of occurrence.

How can so many publishing pundits have been so completely wrong in their assessment of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or The Hunt for Red October? What hope do we have to get by all these human barriers in order to achieve literary nirvana if these novels were rejected up to 35 times before some brave soul said, “Yes!”?

I turn to the flip side of the coin for hope. You’ve all seen them: books that are just plain no good and they’ve actually been put out by major publishers. I’ll bet these works went the round of publisher after publisher and eventually found a home. With that in mind, there must be a good home for all good books, my books, your books.

You just have to find them.**

*Why are bank accounts always referred to as fat if they’re big?
**Unless your name is Sarah Palin.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-aged Woman.

I just love the picture of Donis below. Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-aged Woman.

Somehow most of us seem to be in editing mode this month. Charles edited out a full three-quarters of his new book, and does that boggle my mind; Donis is throwing out whole scenes and moving them around as she goes; our guest Eric Stone is trying to put people and places in the correct place before someone points out the error of his ways; and I am still slogging through the dreaded publisher’s edits for Negative Image.

Why, oh, why do we bother?

I do it for the money of course.

And for the fame.

Sorry, was I dreaming out loud?

I guess I do it because I like it. I was on a panel recently and the subject was why writers write. The others spoke about their compulsion to write, that they are driven.

I said, I write because I like it.

Nope, no compulsion here. If someone handed me a million bucks (okay, I come cheap – a thousand?) and said don’t ever write another word, I'd take it.

I would miss writing for sure. I love seeing worlds come to shape under my fingers. I love hearing words come out of characters mouths just because I put them there. I love having an idea for a great story and seeing it all unfold. It takes a lot of time out of my life, but what else would I be doing – watching reruns of E.R. or catching up with the latest trends on Oprah? (Remember that I am at the stage in my life where I don’t have children and husbands and dogs demanding my attention).

But there is more than just liking it. Otherwise, I would write the first draft, fix it up, correct the grammar and punctuation (yes, that’s my idea of fun) and leave it. If my critique group doesn’t like it, or my editor says change this or that, I could say, “Nope. This suits me.” My editor would then say, “Bye.”

So I guess at the end of the day a certain compulsion does come into it. Not only do I enjoy writing, but I like to create the best work I can. I’ll rework it and rework it and change parts where people suggest I should and then rework it again.

All to sit back with a satisfied sigh at the end of the day at a job well done.
Whereupon some reviewer at some non-descript rag can shred my beloved to pieces.

Ah, the writing life.

The Winter of Secrets booktour now swings back into Southern and Eastern Ontario. Please check for details. Mention Type M and you will get a FREE bookmark, designed by our own Rick Blechta.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday's Guest, Eric Stone

I met Eric Stone several years ago through the SoCal MWA chapter, and quickly became a fan. If you haven't read one of Eric's fast-paced Asian thrillers, you're in for a new treat. Eric is the author of the Ray Sharp series of detective thrillers, set in Asia and based on true stories. The latest, fourth, in the series is SHANGHAIED. He is also the author of WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL, a true crime / sports biography. His website can be found at and his blog at

Get it Right

I got something wrong in my latest book, SHANGHAIED, and of course I heard about it.
“Eric — I loved the book. I have a problem with part of it though. After Mei Lin and Lei Yue escape, Mei Lin shoots Lei Yue with half a shot of "H," then saves the rest for later. This is NOT possible! The blood would have coagulated in the syringe, rendering it worthless, even an hour later. (How I know this is not important, but it posed a problem with the logic for me of that passage.)”

Damn readers — they’re vigilant. And knowledgeable, apparently.

And me? I should have known that. (Actually, I did, I just forgot about it in the excitement of writing the scene.) Or if I didn’t know it, I should have looked it up. Thanks to the internet, you can look up almost anything these days.

Now granted, much of what you look up on the internet is going to be wrong. But even Wikipedia is right a lot of the time. And if you take the few minutes extra to look at several sources for whatever it is that you’re looking up, you can at least get a consensus opinion.

And it’s important to get your facts right. Mistakes can throw off your readers. Last night I was reading a book by a well known author whose books I generally enjoy, when I came across this: “…my family is from Hong Kong and I was raised speaking Mandarin at home.”

I lived in Hong Kong for the better part of eleven years. Chinese families in Hong Kong speak Cantonese at home, not Mandarin. (Okay, I concede that there might be one or two Hong Kong Chinese families who speak Mandarin at home, but not many more than that.)

And the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is greater than the difference between French and Spanish. The author also refers to the “five major Chinese dialects.” You could just as accurately refer to Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian as the five major Latin dialects. (Although I’ll give him a pass on this, a lot of native Mandarin speakers derisively – and incorrectly – refer to Cantonese as a dialect rather than a language.)

Language counts. I just sent the polished first draft of my latest masterpiece to my agent. It’s working title is CENTRAL AVENUE. It’s set in Los Angeles, in jazz bars and nightclubs, in 1947. There’s a lot of colloquial dialog in it. A variety of people of different races, backgrounds, class and occupations have something to say in the book. It was fun to write, but I spent an awful lot of time pouring over dictionaries and especially etymologies to figure out what words people used, or didn’t use in 1947.

And I’m sure I still got some things wrong. Did a black jazz musician and a white college guy use the same word for marijuana? Beats me. And the dictionaries I consulted weren’t so clear on the matter either. They didn’t call it “pot,” at least I know that.

Geography, strangely, can provide challenges. Most of the locales in CENTRAL AVENUE are based on real places. Some of the action in my new book is set in a nightclub called the Alabam. I know right where it was in real life. I even have a photo of the memorial awning where it used to be. But I have three different addresses for a club called Dynamite Jackson’s, and two addresses for the Downbeat. The location of the clubs matters, as some of the characters move between them and action takes place on their way to and from them.

I had to give up on getting those facts straight. But I do know for a fact that sooner or later I’m going to get an email or letter from a reader who was disturbed to read that my characters walked three blocks down Central to Dynamite Jackson’s, when they should have walked two blocks up the street instead.

I put a geographic disclaimer at the front of the book. It won’t do any good.

Some writers fall back on the age old – and unassailable – defense: “IT’S FICTION.” And I can’t fault them for that. But I do like to get my facts straight because I, like the reader of mine who I quoted at the start of this blog, tend to pull up short when I encounter something I know is not right in a book.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

So You Want to Be a Novelist

You think that it would be a pleasant life to be a published novelist, do you? Allow me to let you in on a thing or two about the act of writing a novel that no one may have told you.

Have you been reading the entries below concerning the editing process? It isn’t pleasant to spend weeks of your life writing scenes and sentences and paragraphs that are actually wonderful, and then have to take them out because you realize – or your editor or your writers' group points out quite correctly – that they don’t fit the story.  t’s horrible! It’s horrible! I loved that character. That was a brilliant line. But the vicious truth is that a well constructed novel does not include anything that does not advance the plot or reveal something about a character. You want that story published? If your publisher/editor says to change or delete that scene you love, you suck it up, wipe your eyes, and take it out.

If you have signed a contract, and you have agreed to deliver an acceptable manuscript by a certain date, you will undergo a period of hair-raising terror and desperation as the deadline approaches, mark my words. You will offer your first born to the muses if you can just get the requisite number of words on the page by the deadline. You will pray that your manuscript is at least good enough that your editor won’t throw it back in your face and tell you that you’ll never write in this town again. Once the MS has been read and approved, and even praised, you will be relieved beyond measure while at the same time swearing that you’ll never put yourself through this again. Until another damn good idea pops into your head. I promise you that Toni Morrison, Steven King, and William Shakespeare have all had this experience.

You will undergo actual physical pain. I’ve just spent the past week in a writing frenzy. This frenzy includes long interludes of staring at a computer screen, waiting for just the right word to occur to me. (see photo) Aside from doing what is necessary to keep myself alive and fit for human society, I’ve spent day after day, hour after hour, in this chair, typing away. When I cannot take it any more, I wrench myself up into a standing position. I’m bleary-eyed, and have a headache. My back hurts. My butt is numb. My wrist hurts. Where did I put that wrist brace? My husband asks why I’m walking like Quasimoto. Take a stretch. Get a drink. Get a pillow for the chair. I go to the bathroom, splash some water on my face, and examine my face in the mirror. Oh, my God. No more writing today. I have to have something to eat. I sit down with Don and have a bowl of soup and some crusty bread. He asks me how it’s going.

Well, my dear, I wrote a scene in which Alafair visits her mother-in-law’s house and discovers a clue in the bedroom. I worked on it all day, but I’m not happy with what I’ve got. Perhaps if I approached it from another angle. Perhaps it would be more effective if it weren’t at her mother-in-law’s house, but in her own. I’ll have to rework that whole scene. Maybe I don’t even need it. Four hours of writing, shot.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cutting Remarks

My fellow blog mates and I often write about the joys/horrors of editing, and for good reason. Next to putting words down, nothing is as important as knowing when to pick them back up. But important doesn’t always mean pleasurable.

I don't care what they say, no author loves editing. Editing someone else's work, sure, but not our own. While we have no problem slashing red lines over a stranger's prose, each word of our own that we cross out cuts deep and I will admit to physically cringing when I realized a line I loved - a well written line at that - had to go. This is nothing new - all authors suffer (more or less) the same pains, and we all know it's part of the writing process and, once we're done, we know that what remains will be better for the drastic pruning.

Like I said, nothing new about that pain. But man, today I feel it.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm working on my second YA novel. It's not due for months but I think about it all of the time and write whenever I get a chance. I like the way the story is developing and things were moving along well. Until about a month ago. That's when things got just a tad hectic and, as much as I wanted to write, life sortta got in the way. Four full weeks passed before I was able to sit back down and do some serious writing. So the first thing I did was print out all 15,000 words and settle in with a glass of wine and remind myself where I left off.

Two hours and an empty bottle of merlot later, I was left with a manuscript of just under 5,000 words.

And yes, it's better.

But wow, it hurts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mystery Literature Class and An Essay Assignment

At Pomfret School, where I live and teach, I offer a senior elective, Mystery Literature. Before students sign up for the class, they often ask me about it. Do we write mystery stories or read them? I clarify that it is a literature seminar. What do we talk about?

“The class,” I explain, “ends up being part literature, part philosophy, and part the study of the legal system.”

I thought we were going to try to figure out who did it?

“We will,” I say, “and we talk about the stuff that make the genre important, stuff like what role does crime play in our society.”

To me, that question sums up not only my class but our genre. Is there an issue that serves as a better example of how we as writers explore the human condition?

When Ed McBain wrote what would be the first 87th Precinct novel, COP HATER, he was still Evan Hunter. The story goes that upon receiving the manuscript, McBain’s then agent told him the departure from mainstream fiction to crime fiction would kill his reputation as a “serious” novelist. Hunter’s reply was, “What could be more serious than life and death or crime and punishment?” They reached a compromise in the form of a pseudonym.

Perhaps it is in THE HECKLER where McBain most thoroughly explores the question he posed to his agent and where McBain’s work best exemplifies the question I ask would-be students.

Officer Steve Carella has been shot and, lying in bed, has a moment of clarity:

Carella wonder[ed] about his own role as a cop and his own duties as an enforcer of the law. He was a man dedicated to the prevention of crime, or failing that, to the apprehension of the person or persons committing crime. If he totally succeeded in his job, there would be no more crime and no more criminals; and, carrying the thought to its logical conclusion, there would also be no more job. If there was no crime, there would be no need for the men involved in preventing it or detecting it.

And yet somehow this logic was illogical, and it led Carella to a further thought which was as frightening as the sudden clarity he was experiencing.

The thought sprang into his head full-blown: If there is no crime, will there be society?

The thought was shocking—at least to Carella it was. For society was predicated on a principal of law and order, of meaning as opposed to chaos. But if there were no crime, if there in effect were no lawbreakers, no one to oppose law and order, would there be a necessity for law? Without lawbreakers, was there a need for law? And without law, would there be lawbreakers?


Read it forwards or backwards and it says the same thing. A cute party gag, but what happens when you say, “Crime is symbiotic with society,” and then reverse the statement so that it reads, “Society is symbiotic with crime?”

McBain’s novel was published in 1960, and, of course, he was ahead of his time; he knew just how “serious” this genre would become. After all, consider all the themes one can explore in a mystery literature course (not to mention when writing a crime novel). How’s this for a two-page essay assignment? Take a shot at the mid-term exam: Carefully examine the passage above from Ed McBain’s novel THE HECKLER focusing on the question(s) posed regarding society’s relationship with crime. Then write an essay in which you explain how closely society and crime are linked. You may use examples from your readings, your experiences, and/or world events.

Any takers? If so, e-mail responses to An "A" will get you a Jack Austin novel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Job Satisfaction

It’s Debby because it’s Wednesday. I love following Rick. His posts are always thought-provoking, and this one had me laughing out loud. I can relate!

Though I should have been sitting in front of my computer, I play in a tennis league and was happily cavorting (okay, shuffling) around a court on Saturday when I got a phone call from my older son, a college senior. He had a detached retina and needed surgery. As in get on the soonest flight you can, Mom. Since we live in Honolulu and he’s in college in Boston, this meant jumping through some hoops.

Continental Airlines was very helpful by giving me a special rate, whew, and I got on a flight that night. He had his surgery, which is done on an outpatient basis, on Monday and is doing fine, except that he has to remain face down for at least 10 days. But I feel like I’ve been in a time warp. If it hadn’t been Veteran’s Day, with roads blocked off by police horses and bands (nice, actually), I wouldn’t have known it was Wednesday.

Some of you may already be familiar with retina surgery. Certain retinal detachments are repaired by injecting a gas bubble to press the delicate retinal membrane back where it should be so that it can reattach. I think that’s a reasonable explanation without making you either gag or go cross-eyed with boredom. This air bubble has to stay on the BACK of his eye, hence face-down. This is pretty tough on the patient’s neck and back. In fact, he says his back hurts more than the eye—and he’s twenty-one. I don’t know what people my age do. Morphine drip?

The part about Rick’s blog that had me laughing out loud in particular was the part about walking down the street and making a spontaneous 180 degree turn. People here in Boston probably think I’m certifiable, as in Looney Tunes. I gave up checking my watch or acting like I had a phone call. I nearly took out a couple of dodderers more than once, and it was mostly due to one pharmacist.

The first pharmacy I went to didn’t have the eye-dilating painkiller (scopolamine, in case some of you are wondering; he was already taking Percocet) we needed, as in right now. Neither did the next one. The third one did. I walked to the counter, still on the phone with the aid at the doctor’s office, who was trying to steer (and calm) me.

“May I help you?” the pharmacist asks loudly, interrupting me mid-question.
“I’m talking to the doctor’s office.” I feel the need to explain. “Did you get the fax she sent over for the prescription?”
“No.” Pharmacist presses her lips into a thin line, then asks, “Patient’s name?”
I tell her.
“Birth date?”
I tell her, while the doctor’s aid waits patiently on the line.
“Don’t have it.” Pharmacist turns her back on me and walks away.
“Wait, will you talk to the doctor?” I hold out my phone.
“No.” Continues behind the counter, then has second thoughts. “They have to call us. It’s against HIPAA regulations.”
“What’s your phone number?”
She throws a business card down in front of me and simultaneously recites a number that is different from the one on the card. Fortunately, the aid at the doctor’s office hears the number and two seconds later, I hear the pharmacy phone ring. Twenty minutes later. (for prepackaged eye drops), I have my son’s prescription.

I wanted to leap over the counter. What is it with some pharmacists? Not all, grant you, but I’ve seen this attitude before. Most of them have good educations—to count pills, I guess. Job satisfaction must be low.

Meanwhile, my son has his eye drops and I thank my lucky stars—again—that I write crime fiction. That pharmacist probably earns more than I do, but I have so much more fun. I’m going to work on this scene, just wait. In my story, someone’s going to choke her.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No inspiration

Hi there Type M readers!

I've sat here for a good half-hour trying to come up with a topic for my weekly post today. Usually I have this all worked out well ahead of time. Today? Nothing. So I'm going to use a cheap dodge and pass on a very clever email I received last week. I call these things "philosophical one-liners". It is word-oriented, though. I'd like to tell you who came up with them, but I haven't got a clue. Enjoy!


I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid High-Crime Area" routing option.

More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me.

Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

I don't understand the purpose of the line, "I don't need to drink to have fun." Great, no one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they've invented the lighter?

Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk.

I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

The letters T and G are very close to each other on a keyboard. This recently became all too apparent to me and consequently I will never be ending a work email with the phrase "Regards" again.

Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft.

There is a great need for sarcasm font.

Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the hell was going on when I first saw it.

I think everyone has a movie that they love so much, it actually becomes stressful to watch it with other people. I'll end up wasting 90 minutes shiftily glancing around to confirm that everyone's laughing at the right parts, then making sure I laugh just a little bit harder (and a millisecond earlier) to prove that I'm still the only one who really, really gets it.

How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.

The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.

Was learning cursive really necessary?

LOL has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say."

I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

Answering the same letter three times or more in a row on a Scantron test is absolutely petrifying.

Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart," all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart."

How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said?

Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in' examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said, "Yes, that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies"

What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other?

While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks, Mario Kart.

MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water.

Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

Bad decisions make good stories.

Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and I find out that their profile is public, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the Red Ryder BB gun that I always wanted. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do!

If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring would probably just be completely invisible.

Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? Like I know my name, I know where I'm from, this shouldn't be a problem...

You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day.

Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection.

There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.

I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to.

"Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this, ever.

I hate being the one with the remote in a room full of people watching TV. There's so much pressure. 'I love this show, but will they judge me if I keep it on? I bet everyone is wishing we weren't watching this. It's only a matter of time before they all get up and leave the room. Will we still be friends after this?'

I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Damnit!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?

I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

When I meet a new girl, I'm terrified of mentioning something she hasn't already told me but that I have learned from some light internet stalking.

As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists.

Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

It should probably be called Unplanned Parenthood.

I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

I think that if, years down the road when I'm trying to have a kid, I find out that I'm sterile, most of my disappointment will stem from the fact that I was not aware of my condition in college.

Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what to do with it.

Even under ideal conditions, people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet my life everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time.

My 4-year-old son asked me in the car the other day, "Dad, what would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How the hell do I respond to that?

It really pisses me off when I want to read a story on and the link takes me to a video instead of text.

I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lites than Kay.

The other night I ordered takeout, and when I looked in the bag, saw they had included four sets of plastic silverware. In other words, someone at the restaurant packed my order, took a second to think about it, and then estimated that there must be at least four people eating to require such a large amount of food. Too bad I was eating by myself. There's nothing like being made to feel like a fat bastard before dinner.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Revising Negative Image (and a trip to Criminal Minds)

Vicki here. I got back from my East Coast book tour to find the revisions from my editor at Poisoned Pen for Negative Image, the fourth Molly Smith book. I didn’t even have a day to relax and enjoy the release of Winter of Secrets.

As usual most of her comments are pretty good; I agree with them. But I really hate squeezing someone else’s ideas into my lovely manuscript. For example, without giving too much away, a couple in the book are in crisis. I have him coming home after work and sleeping in the spare room or sitting in the den with the door closed and the hockey game (he hates hockey) turned up loud. The editor said that for various reasons he really should have moved out. Not a big point, no, but it does make sense, considering what is going on with these people, that he not be in the house. But now I have to have a scene where he decides to go to a motel, a description of a lonely man eating his take-out Chinese meal in a crummy motel room, his wife arriving to talk things over. And find places to fit this new stuff in, into what I thought was a smoothly moving story.

Do I have to do all this? No. If I stuck to my guns and said that I want him in the house because blah, blah, blah, she’d probably let me have my way. But she’s right, and I know she’s right so I really don’t have any guns to stick to.

Similarly there is a medical situation in the story. She found my disease-of-the-week to be too weak (actually too strong for a small town hospital to handle) so suggested I come up with a better medical situation. I wrote to a doctor I know describing what the outcome has to be and asking how I can get there and got some good suggestions. Now I have to go back and change all the references to why he’s in the hospital.

Will it make for a better book? Almost certainly.

But I don’t have to like doing it!

All this week (yes, for a whole 7 days) I am the guest blogger at Criminal Minds. ( Today I am talking about setting a police series in a small remote community, tomorrow about the RCMP in Canada, Wednesday about what readers expect from police procedural novels. Something different every day. So come on over and say hi.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Thrill Rides - Win a Book

As part of her guest stint, C.J. would like to give away a copy of her novel Warning Signs. . Leave a comment for C.J. and she'll chose a winner.


Hi guys! Thanks to Vicki for inviting me to Type M!

For those of you who don't know me, I'm CJ Lyons, a pediatric ER doc turned medical suspense author. My first book, LIFELINES, was published by Berkley in March, 2008 followed by my second book, WARNING SIGNS, in January and my third, URGENT CARE was just released last week. For more info on me or my books feel free to visit my website

I'm lucky enough that not only have I found two careers that I love (medicine and writing) and can make a living at, but also that I get to teach others about. I used to teach parents, kids, EMS professionals, nurses, doctors, firefighters, and even law enforcement officers. Now people pay me to travel across the country and teach about writing, and the most common question I get is: What is a thriller?

Good question. I've had the privilege of judging ITW's Thriller Awards since their inception as well as judging their romantic counterparts the Ritas, Golden Heart, and Daphne awards. Up until this year, for the Thriller Awards alone that meant reading around 150 books, trying to determine not the best book, but the best thriller among them.

So what makes a thriller?

My first and favorite definition of a thriller comes from David Morrell: if a thriller doesn't thrill, it isn't a thriller.

I love this definition, it's very intuitivie and visceral. But most of my students want something more definitive. Now, anyone who knows me is laughing by now because both in medicine and writing, I'm known as a bit of a maverick. I don't play by the rules, tend to think out of the box, ignoring convention, protocol, and boundaries.

In fact, my books are shelved in General Fiction and Literature (usually near Moby Dick!) because they're medical suspense novels with thriller pacing, romantic elements, and told from the point of view of the women of Pittsburgh's Angels of Mercy's ER. how many genre boundaries do I cross? Medical drama, suspense, thriller, romance, women's fiction?

Yeah, definitions are sooooo not my forte! So instead, I came up with a spectrum to describe my work and others--and to answer my students when they ask that pesky question.

Here's my take on the whole mystery/suspense/thriller spectrum:

--mysteries: deal with "Who" as in "who did it", "who will solve the case", etc. Mainly focused on a past event that begins the action (usually a dead body )

--suspense fiction: why? Why did the criminal act that way, why did the victim become the victim, why does the crime solver care and become involved. Mainly focused on the present--the impact of the crime on the psychology of those involved.

--romantic suspense: again focuses on "why" but with an additional "why should these two people be together" added. The romance is so intertwined that you can not remove it from the rest of the plot.

--thrillers: focus on "how" as in How will we save the world? ("world" being anything from the entire universe or planet to a country, town or other "larger" entity) How will we stop this terrible thing from happening? How will the hero find the courage, strength, tools, allies, etc necessary to overcome overwhelming odds? How will it all end?

The emphasis is on the future which, in my opinion, is what gives thrillers that wonderful free-fall feeling, that head rush of adrenalin as the stakes keep building and building.

Yes, you can have lots of action in mysteries and suspense, but the larger stakes and that constant forward momentum are what make thrillers, well, thrilling

--"Thrillers with Heart" (a term I coined for my own work) have at their core an emotional relationship that adds another dimension to the action plot. Again, like romantic suspense, this essential relationship can not be dissected out.

So, where do my books fit into all this? Let's see.....LIFELINES was defiitely a thriller. The stakes escalate tremendously until most of the city of Pittsburgh is at risk. And, as for that adrenalin rush? Well, Publishers Weekly called it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller"

My second book, WARNING SIGNS was more of a mystery. You don't know it until the end of the book, but everything that has happened is driven by a crime that took place in the past. The book is an investigation, and while the pacing is thriller-like, the stakes don't escalate tremendously from start to end. It's definitely focused on solving the puzzle of a mysterious disease killing patients--before it kills the main character, a medical student.

The third book in the series, URGENT CARE, falls into the suspense category, although given the rising stakes and pacing, some might call it a thriller....I suspect this is where the term "psychological thriller" is used. But this book is definitely focused on the psychology and relationships rather than the investigation or stopping the killer.

It's about why these victims, why this kind of crime, why this badguy is the way he is, why we fall in love with one person and not another, why we get up in the morning and go to work and do the jobs we do, why we live the way we live.....It's dark, and edgier than the other two books, I think, because it dares to delve more deeply into the murky realms of the human heart and mind.

Here's my challenge to you all--and yes, there will be prizes! Take a look at your own work or those of your favorite MSW authors, past and present, and see where they fit in this spectrum.

Some will be easy to place, others not so much. What do you think about genre-blending in your mystery/suspense/thrillers? A good thing? Why or why not?

Thanks for reading!
PS: To celebrate the release of URGENT CARE, I'm hosting a contest. One lucky winner will have their query package critiqued by my agent, Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. Check here for more details: http://cjlyons. net/2009/ 10/08/cjs- query-contest/
About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, on October 27, 2009. Contact her at

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Carolyn Hart Days

Donis today.  I’ve just enjoyed three most inspiring days.  Carolyn Hart was in town, promoting her latest novel, Merry, Merry, Ghost.  I was able to spend a lot of time with her, mostly eating with friends and talking about writing.  Carolyn Hart is the author of more than 40 published mysteries.  She is best known for her two series, the “Henry O” books, and the “Death on Demand” series.  In fact, her 20th “Death on Demand” book will be out soon.

As anyone who knows her can attest, Carolyn is the dearest person in the world, and a true mentor and guardian angel for new and aspiring authors.  She was an amazing help to me when I first started out, and still is.  Besides, we have something of an extra bond, since we’re both Oklahomans, of which there aren’t that many, at least in comparison to Californians or New Yorkers or Massachusettsians.

We spoke of many things writerly, and every evening as I drove home from our latest supper outing, I was practically electric with ideas, and actually speeding to get home and write.  When writers get together and discuss the Craft, something occurs that is more than just an exchange of ideas - it is, as my friend Judy Starbuck noted, more like an exchange of molecules, and you become more than the sum of your parts.

I have hermit-like tendencies, as do a lot of authors, but I cannot deny that getting together with fellow practitioners is extraordinarily energizing.  This is the major benefit of writer’s conferences, I think, just to be in the presence of others like yourself, and be able to exchange molecules.

One interesting discussion we had fits in very well with Charles’ observations of the previous post - playing God.  Carolyn has just started a new series featuring a ghost, Bailey Ruth Raeburn, as the sleuth (now, there is an original idea).  She said that it is quite exciting to create a whole new world, deciding what her ghost protagonist can and cannot do, what powers she has, how much she can know, the whole circumstance of her presence on earth.  

All kinds of things can happen in a book that don’t happen in the real world. Yet, once Carolyn sets the parameters of Bailey Ruth’s existence, she can’t change them just because she wants to.  Bailey Ruth can’t be able to move objects in one book and unable to in the next, for instance. Even if you are writing about the most imaginative alternative universe, the world of which you are god, like the world Actual God created, has to function by its own internal logic.


Our very own Vicki Delany is guest blogging today for the Fatal Foodies (  She’s writing about the most wonderful time of the year - for writers!  Happy eating.


p.s. Okay, you East Coasters, what do Massachusettsers actually call themselves?