Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of the year

Happy New Year from Donis. Christmas is over, Boxing Day is done, and I’ve eaten too much. The end of the year has always been a big time for me, marked not just by Christmas and New Years, but my birthday on December 29. Yes, I was Mama and Daddy’s little tax deduction. Which means that  January 1 is the beginning of my new year in a literal way. December is Big Birthday and Special Event Month in my family.* My mother, sister, and grandfather were born on December 6, 7, and 8, respectively. My parents’ wedding anniversary was December 16, which also was traditionally the day my father took us kids to the lot to pick out our Christmas tree. Then we had Christmas, my birthday, and New Year’s Day, which was the day we ate black-eyed peas and cornbread and took down the tree.

These days my Christmases/Birthdays/New Years are much quieter. My parents are gone, I have no kids of my own, and my siblings and in-laws and their families all live far away. So my husband and I have developed our own little rituals and practices with friends or on our own. We don’t even do much in the way of presents. For the past few years we have gone out together and bought things for ourselves. It really takes the pressure off.

For my 2015 birthday we saw the new Star Wars movie, ate pretzels and chocolate lava cake, and I worked crossword puzzles, which is a great treat for me since I love puzzles but don't generally allow myself to waste so much time on them.

But as of tomorrow, January 1, the end of the year celebrations are over and the time will have come to begin anew. I wish you all a wonderful 2016, and I hope it is a year of good fortune, health, and great productivity.
*Interesting factoid: my husband is one of six children, three of whom, including himself, have spouses with December 29 birthdays. I don’t know what that means.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A quote for our times

Barbara here, with my last post of 2015. I notice several of my blog mates have already acknowledged the passing of 2015 and the arrival of 2016, and of course the news is full of retrospectives and predictions... The year's top 10 of just about everything, the year's most important stories, etc. Besides giving journalists something to write about, these thumbnail sketches of the year serve to remind us of all that's happened, and highlight some of the crucial ups and downs of the life we have just barrelled through.

Can you stand another small commentary on the year that was? When I reflect back on 2015, it feels like a rollercoaster of wild extremes. Floods and droughts, heat and cold. Appalling terror and heart-warming inspiration, despair and hope.

All across the world, we seemed to battle one climate anomaly after another. Here in Canada alone, last winter the west coast had flowers in February and the east coast stayed in the deep freeze for months. This winter is starting off the opposite. Last weekend in the east, we were playing golf in shorts on green grass, while the west dug out from snowstorms and flooding. Winter only found its way to Ottawa yesterday, although admittedly she's making up for lost time, dumping over a foot of snow in blizzard conditions.

The world of politics was even more extreme. ISIS beheaded innocent aid workers, and our Canadian Prime Minister welcomed refugees arriving off the plane. Angela Merkel welcomed millions of desperate people to Germany, while Donald Trump proposed walls and bans to keep people out.

I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes of all time; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness... it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair".

I love this quote because it captures the tension and conflict inherent in all human endeavour and in every piece of good fiction. If we write every character and scene with contradictions in mind, however small and subtle, the story will crackle with energy and power.

On the real stage of life, however, occasionally it's nice to have a little break from all the storm and drama. Dickens has aptly described 2015. Let's hope 2016 brings with it more hope, light, and wisdom. And if you want storm and drama, pick up a good crime novel!

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: So how did we do?

by Rick Blechta

Like so many I’m sure, I tend to start looking back at the previous 12 months once Christmas slides into the rear view mirror.

Of course I’m paying the most attention to how my year was. Then the circle expands to include my immediate family, then expanded family, and finally friends and acquaintences.

No, I’m not about to subject anyone to a year-end report of how things went. My reflection is more personal, and besides, I don’t share every twist and turn my life may take via social media anyway. In fact, I don’t share much personal stuff at all.

I’m also a believer in setting goals for myself at the beginning of each new year, and that short time between Christmas and the beginning of a new year is the time to reflect on these. One of them last December concerned Type M. My goal was simple: to not miss a single week’s post. I did pretty well on that one. I missed one Tuesday (simply forgot) and I missed one weekend guest post. (I do not have an explanation for that one. I just lost track of my turn.) I also fudged on two or three and posted a few comics in place of my usual deathless prose and scintillating ideas. (Hah!)

Big things can start really small, and noticing details can eventually total up into something really worthy of notice. So it is with obligations. Fulfill them and they can snowball.

No, I’m not patting myself on the back for being so dedicated to our blog. My goal with Type M was something personal for me. I wanted to see if I could carry out my goal. Incidentally, one other New Years Resolution for 2015 was to always hang up my clothes. I did not do quite as well with that little one — but I did do better than I had in the past.

So, for my last post of the year (and please be kind when you notice how late this is being posted), I wish you all to find yourself better off in a year’s time, even if it’s just a tiny bit. The world has always been a dangerous place, and it will remain so. Bad things can happen to good people. And sometimes one’s luck just runs dry when it’s most needed. Ending a year slightly better off than you began it is a worthy goal it seems to me.

Whether you’re an old fan or someone who just stumbled across us, thanks for hanging out on Type M for Murder.

Live long and prosper.

Monday, December 28, 2015

An “edible tipple” for Hogmanay

I have to confess that this is being written well before you are reading it.  Tomorrow the entire extended family descends for Christmas; when they leave, I just have time to change the beds before the next lot of house-guests arrives for New Year (or Hogmanay, as we call it in Scotland.)

As you may imagine, my mind has been running on food, the way a hamster runs on its wheel.   I was really taken with Vicki’s Christmas gift of the recipe for Molasses Spiced Cookies and I thought you might like a New Year gift of a recipe to make your New Year party go with a swing.

 This appeared in The Killer Cookbook, a collection of recipes donated by crime writers like Peter James, Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid to raise funds for a state-of-the-art morgue in Dundee, Scotland.  Here is my contribution.

Lethal Bloody Mary Tomatoes

250 g baby plum tomatoes
200 ml vodka
A few drops Tabasco
1Tbsp sherry
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Score a cross in the bottom of each tomato.  Put in a plastic box, cross uppermost.  Whisk other ingredients and pour over.  Put on lid and leave in fridge for 48 hours.

Drain and bring back to room temperature before serving.

Health Warning:  Just make sure no one's planning to drive!

I wish you all a happy New Year and may 2016 bring you health, happiness and lots of success.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Day


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Rhythm

John here.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Lots of good cheer in the Corrigan household: I've been on holiday vacation since Dec. 17, and I'm spending the break doing what I love to do – writing and rewriting.

I'm working hard on the 2017 Peyton Cote book. My primary focus at this point, aside from the twin towers (character and plot) is rhythm. It might sound funny to hear a crime writer say that. You might expect to hear it from a musician (or, perhaps, a poet). But I've always written by ear. Scenes need to ebb and flow between narration and dialogue, the narrative tension dancing between slack and taut.

This means I spend a lot of my "writing" time simply listening. Right now, I'm listening to the opening 25 pages over and again, using text-to-speech software or reading them aloud to myself. Where do I need to break a line of dialogue by inserting attribution to create a pause and in turn emphasize what is being said? Similarly, where can I place a sensory detail to allow the reader to breathe and take in plot details? Questions like these are written here by the editor in me. They aren't ones I'm cognizant of while working. While working, I'm simply listening and reacting.

Ebb and flow. Rhythm means everything to me. This means a lot of complete sentences are slashed to fragments to improve pacing. How do I know when I've used too many fragments? It all comes down to the sound check.

Writing by ear isn't the most time-efficient method. Listening to the same paragraph five, six times in a row crashes the text-to-speech software sometimes. And a scene or chapter is never done until I can listen to it the whole way through without making a change.

Family Christmas Card

No, not fast – ebb and flow takes time. But, hopefully, efficient.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Paint the Town Launched

ARC here. My full name is Advance Reader Copy, but I prefer ARC. It has a special ring to it, you know. Like Cher and Madonna. Sybil, my writer, is off doing last minute Christmas shopping so she left me in charge. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I can handle it.

Here I am celebrating the release of Paint the Town Dead at Disneyland I’ve got my Micky years, mint julep and Mickey-shaped beignets. Can’t get better than that.

Oh, that’s right. I’m supposed to be posting photos of the Paint the Town Dead book launch party at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach, CA. Here’s my writer with our hostess, Debbie Mitsch. I didn’t get into this picture. Only the “official” book did. Just because I have two teeny-tiny mistakes.

Here I am with my writer as she reads a portion of the book from me. She’s not very happy about the picture of her, but I look cute, don’t I?

Here’s our spread: mini-quiches, wine, and chocolate cake that was to die for.

Everyone who attended got one of these nifty 3-D Holiday glasses that turn your tree lights into all kinds of things like snowmen, reindeer, stars... Here are the reindeer ones.

People seemed to have fun.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

But what is it you REALLY do?

I learned a long time ago — and considering my first novel came out in 1992, that is a long time ago — that any artistic endeavour, whether writing, painting, sculpture, music, is treated by many as a hobby or past time, not something you pursue full-time and certainly not something you spend your whole life doing — unless they’ve heard of you. For writers, even consistently making the bestseller list doesn’t ensure that the majority of the population will have heard of you. I have a few friends who are very successful authors who make in the six figures every year, and from the first time I mentioned one to an acquaintance who does read (just not in that genre), their response was to look puzzled and respond, “Who?”

About the only author you can pretty sure that most have heard of (outside of the Dickens’s and Shakespeare’s of the world) is Stephen King, odd as that may sound. And please notice that I used the phrase “heard of”. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find most have never read him or could even name one of his novels. I know because I’ve asked.

When I tell someone I’m a musician or writer, I can almost feel their pat on my hat. “Oh, that’s nice,” said in a rather condescending tone. “Have you had anything published?” or “Do you ever play in public or just with your friends?” Another response is often, “That is just so nice to be able to pursue your dreams.” Another favourite is, “But can you actually make a living at that?”

To hide the bit of hurt I feel at either type of response, I usually make light of it, but I also either mention when my next book is being released or where I’m performing next. The usual rejoinder is either (for music), “I should come out and hear you sometime” (which means never) or (for writing), “Would I like your books?” Both mean they’ll no doubt forget the conversation in the next five minutes.

If it sounds like I’m bitter — I’m not. I accept it now as a fact of life. If someone truly appears interested, I’ll tell them a bit more, but I’ll keep it brief. I have business cards for both endeavours, and I may hand them one. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised when I find out they did go out and buy one of my books, or they show up at a gig. If they like what they read or hear, I’ll often get this question: “How come I’ve never heard of you?”

How do you answer that one in under an hour?

Getting back to my famous friends, I’ve discussed this with two of them. What has me smiling now is that they have the exact same story. Now, when they do tell about themselves, they certainly have the “wow factor” going for them when all is revealed, but you can be sure that a lot of people they meet socially have no idea who they are until they do say something like, “I had a movie made about one of my novels”, or “there’s a series based on my series of books”.

What I’m trying to say is that this is all a fact of life, and if you’re an artist you’d better learn to live with it or you’ll wind up being unhappy, even bitter, and that’s really no good. The best revenge is to take solace in knowing that you’ve accomplished something that few people do. In the case of books, they will outlive you. Imagine how cool it is that someone two hundred years in the future may discover your writing and imagines what it would have been like to do something like this or to have met you.

That’s lasting fame — as well as a nice spot of revenge!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Reading

by Vicki Delany

I rarely read a book twice.  I keep my favourites on hand, always expecting to want to re-read them some day, but that day never seems to arrive. There’s always something shiny and new to attract my attention.

I’ve probably read the Lord of the Rings about twenty times. The last time was when the Fellowship of the Ring movie came out, and I wanted to refresh my memory (and look for similarities and differences, of course).  But now, I think I’m done with LOTR and won’t read it again. 

One of my favourite books is An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. I’d read it twice, and recommended it to my book club, so read it a third time, again to refresh my memory.  It’s so incredibly nuanced, that it does have to be read several times to get the full meaning, as the layers are slowly peeled away. Same for another one of Pears’ books, Dream of Scipio. Also a novel I’ve enjoyed rereading.

That’s about it. My list of books to read more than once.

Oh, there is another exception.

Every Christmas I try to at least read a few of the stories in Holmes for the Holidays, and More Holmes for the Holidays.  The books are anthologies, all the stories have something to do with Sherlock Holmes and/or Dr. Watson and are set in the holiday season.  What could be better?

Let me wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. As for me, I have reading to do. The game is afoot!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Oh, the Places You’ll Go" by Guest Blogger Kate Flora

Hi, everyone. John Here. It's a pleasure to introduce you to Kate Flora, whom I met in May at the Maine Literary Awards banquet (where she beat me!). I think you'll enjoy her post and her work.

A former assistant attorney general for the State of Maine, Kate is a founder of the New England Clam Bake Conference. Her books include seven “strong woman” Thea Kozak mysteries. The gritty police procedurals in her star-reviewed Joe Burgess series have twice won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Her first true crime, Finding Amy, was nominated for an Edgar. Her most recent true crime, Death Dealer, was an Anthony and Agatha finalist and won the Public Safety Writers Association 2015 award for nonfiction. Flora has also published 16 crime stories in various anthologies.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

— by Kate Flora

I’m riding on a four-wheeler—my first time on such a vehicle—driving down the streets of Miramichi, New Brunswick and heading into the Canadian woods. This is what I get for asking to see the spot where murder victim Maria Tanasichuk’s body was found by Maine game wardens with trained cadaver dogs. The detective who set this up is granting my request to see the murder site; he is also testing me to see how brave I am. This is not an aspect of writing that I envisioned years ago, on a Bermuda beach, thinking up the plot for my first mystery.

But that’s the thing about crime writing: we write for an audience that is pretty sophisticated. We often go to great lengths to do our research and get the facts right.

I write a police procedural series set in Portland, Maine, and writing police procedurals has led me into the world of true crime. As part of writing “cop world” better, I’ve taken a self-defense class as my local police department, and a citizen’s police academy in a neighboring city. On the night that we, the citizens, got to play cops and the cops played bad guys, I got out of my cruiser to do a traffic stop, caught my nightstick on the door handle, and slammed my nose into the glass with the whole class watching. By the time I got to the bad guys, I was ready to crawl in a hole and die. And that was before the cop who was playing bad guy refused to comply with my order to shut off the car and produce his license, remarking, “Oh, look at the girl policeman. Isn’t she cute?” In those brief moments, I learned a great deal about being a rookie cop.

So far, I’ve resisted asking my husband to put me in the trunk of his car and drive me around, but I have asked my local police chief to arrest me. I’ve gone on a stakeout and spotted the bad guys. I’ve had my amateur female detective head for her basement with a flashlight and spent the better part of a day doing research on just what kind of a flashlight her police officer husband would buy for her. I’ve had the amazing good fortune to attend Lee Lofland’s brainchild, The Writers Police Academy—three great days of training for writers in the world of public safety.

It’s paying off. I’ve had cops write and say I’m doing it well, noting that I’m including the small things that actually happen in their lives. It also makes the writing harder. When I started my fifth Joe Burgess, I wanted to have cops led into a trap and shot by a sniper. Before I was a full paragraph into the book, I was already sending out my first “Author needs help” e-mail, asking what kind of gun and ammunition the shooter would use.

There’s a line in an old song that goes, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” and sometimes that is true. The more I learn, the more I know what I don’t know. On the bright side, that means I’m off on another research adventure.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

A few weeks ago, I was fed up with my hair. When it gets long enough the natural curl falls out and then I have to "do something" with it. Since I happened to be sitting in a hair salon looking in the mirror when I realized I was tired of trying to duplicate what my hair stylist did at home, I said, "Let's cut it really short." He did while I watched my hair falling to the tile floor and wondered if I had made a mistake. This was not the first time I had gone for really short -- as in about an inch back and sides and only a bit more on top. I have done it in the summer, I have done it in the winter. And every time I do it, I think "What am I doing? Good grief, I'll have to put on lipstick and earrings so it looks like I'm at least "trying" (i.e., to be attractive). When I was about twenty years younger, I didn't have to try so hard and my short cut always went over well. Now, it just displays the gray at my temples. So this time, before we cut, I asked if we could add highlights. In theory, this distracts from any gray that is prone to resist coloring and brightens ones appearance. My hairstylist and the woman in the next chair and her hairstylist all assured me that it did. And looking in the mirror, I was pleased at having gotten a little crazy with my color this time around. Next time, I'm going to do purple instead of red. I have decided that if I can't beat the gray which is always back at my temples within days of coloring, that I'm going to have fun. Actually, gray is "in" right now. Young women are dying their hair gray. But if I did, people would just assume it was natural.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, if you read my last post about feet, you know that I said I'd write about heads next time. I am in the process of doing some research on how mystery writers handle dress and appearance in their books. I've been thinking about those concise descriptions that some writers can do so well. The shoes on the feet, the hat on the head that immediately brings a character to life. Of course, there are the clothes -- or lack of them -- between feet and head. And saying that a character has short hair or no hair or was wearing a baseball cap may leave the reader with the wrong mental image. A reader who wears her hair to her shoulders may think of "short hair" as a chin-length bob. Another reader who is losing his hair may imagine a character with "no hair" has gone bald rather than shaved his head. A baseball cap might declare allegiance to a sports team, been purchased from a street stand to keep the sun off, have a company logo or refer to the wearer's profession or hobby, might be worn pulled down low over the eyes or turned backward. The cap might be turned backward because the wearer, clad in white overalls, is painting a wall in her house. A baseball cap might be accompanied by sagging pants, running togs, or white dress with open collar (really cool CEO). Or it might be worn awkwardly by a politician in a suit and tie.

Men are much less likely to wear hats these days than in the past. We most often see hats on male celebrities who are making a style statement as they walk the red carpet or appearing on a TV show like "The Voice" (e.g., celebrity judge Pharrell Williams who likes hats). But in crime films and mystery/detective novels, hats have been an important accessory. Sherlock Holmes has his deerstalker. Hercule Poirot has his bowler. A hat was indispensable to James Cagney's look as a Prohibition-era gangster in The Public Enemy. Even as he staggers along in the pouring rain after being shot and finally falls down in the street, his hat stays firmly on his head. And no one wore a fedora like Humphrey Bogart. Add trench coat in Casablanca, and we have iconic movie style.

I plucked a couple of books off my shelf as I was writing this post. In Ceremony (1982), featuring Robert B. Parker's Boston PI, Spenser tells us that Hawk, his African American side kick, has attracted attention outside the Copley Plaza Hotel. Hawk is 6'2" and he is "wearing a glistening black leather jacket and skintight leather jeans." Spenser concludes his description of the reactions of those keeping their distance as they pass with this observation, "He wore no hat and his smooth black head was as shiny as his jacket and [black cowboy] boots." Of course, if Hawk had been wearing a hat, he might have looked even more intimidating to passers-by. And one wonders what hat, the always sartorially-aware Hawk, might have worn with a leather jacket, tight jeans, and cowboy boots. In Michael Connelly's Void Moon (2000), his protagonist, Cassie Black, a beautiful ex-con, is introduced to a man  named Lankford at a car dealership. The man, who is looking at "the silver Carrera with the whale tail spoiler," is wearing "a porkpie hat". A few paragraphs later, Cassie "turned her attention to Lankford. He was neat and well dressed in a set of retro clothes that went with the hat."

I am fascinated by hats and hair and shapes of heads. Some people can wear hats, and others would do better not to try. I grew up wanting to wear hats with the style and flair of church-going women on Sunday morning. I have been in awe of those hat-wearing women at the Kentucky Derby -- or, occasionally, hat wearers at Malice Domestic, the mystery conference. But if I were writing myself as a character in one of my books, I would leave my head hatless. And somehow I would work in the photos of my changing hair over the years that mark both era and mood and sometimes desperation -- from Afro to straight from long to short. Always worn "natural" now. If I were a character walking into the party I once attended after being caught in the rain, my hair would be clinging to my head when I arrived and a puff of curls and waves after I had retreated to the bathroom to try to dry it.

Hats on, hats off, head bald or covered with hair or wig. From "hat honor" (hat removed to show deference) that was a matter of theology for the early Quakers to hat-making that might have affected the "Mad Hatter" to a baseball cap worn in a classroom in defiance of a dress code or while holding up a liquor store, hats have been an accessory worth thinking about. So has the hair or lack of it underneath. Something to think about as we decide if a character will wear a black hat or a white one, throw his "hat into the ring" or depart with "hat in hand."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For the love of books

Barbara here. Chanukah is over (except for the Fradkins, who operate in our own weird universe and will celebrate it together on December 30) but there are still nine days before Christmas, so it's time to talk about the incredible gift of books.

I grew up surrounded by books. My father was a philosophy professor at McGill and an incurable book addict. Being a philosopher, he was inclined to be oblivious to the exigencies of daily life, and so even when the family budget could barely afford oatmeal, he bought books. Not as articles of decor or status to be displayed by the fireplace, but for the richness they contained. Knowledge about the origins of the universe, tales of adventure and peril, insight into the lives of great historical figures...

He was in love with knowledge, as the word philosophy suggests. Our house had bookcases everywhere, and when he ran out of room, he built another one. Usually somewhat rickety and rustic, because he was less handy with a hammer than he was with a pen. His study was lined on all four walls with books, and there was even a bookcase in his clothes cupboard. The minute you walked in the front door, you ran into a wall of books lining the front hall.

As a child, I loved to peruse these shelves, pulling out books at random and leafing through them to see what captured my interest. The great Russian novelists, Marcel Proulx, Faulkner, Shakespeare, Toynbee, Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell... I could be thrilled, intrigued, informed, entertained, sometimes bored, but there was always enough discovery at my fingertips to keep me coming back. I'm not sure how much I got out of Solzhenitzyn at the age of ten, but the images of the gulag have stuck with me to this day.

Both my parents were committed to books, to words and storytelling. My father told us bedtime stories about his childhood in Newfoundland, and my mother read my sister and me novels that were above our own reading level. The whole Anne of Green Gables series became an ongoing nightly drama that spanned months. On Sunday evenings, I recall we had a poetry hour in which each of us picked a poem from the poetry collections in the house, recited it, and talked about it. I recall loving the musical sound of the words tumbling through the air, and the laughter at some of the sillier poems.

This love of books has carried into our adult lives. I'm happy that after years of trying to select presents for our extended family get-together, we have settled on a book exchange. Each of us buys a book, wraps it without naming a recipient, and puts it under the tree. When we gather to unwrap the presents, each of us in turn selects a book. Others are free to steal it or trade theirs for it instead of selecting a new one, and in this fashion, everyone gets a book that they find intriguing, even if outside their normal reading habit. It fills the gift opening time with laughter, exclamations, and even groans.

All this for roughly $20 a person.

In this frantic lead-up to Christmas, as each of us struggles to figure out what to buy and how to afford it, think of books! They are so much more than an app on a tablet or a little block of paper. They are an invitation into a new world, of fantasy, mystery, history, or scientific discovery... They provoke thought and discussion, enrich the soul as well as the brain, and stimulate the powers of concentration and imagination far more than TV and video games can never do. And they don't break the budget. They are by far the best educational aide you can provide for your children. A lifelong habit of reading books is a life-long habit in learning. And thinking.

Books don't break, don't grow obsolete, don't invoke envy in the schoolyard, and don't clutter up the landfills. If you have too many books (how can you have too many books!), donate them to the local library, thrift store, women's shelter, or fundraising book exchange. It's a gift that punches well above its weight. And cost.

You gotta love it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

This crazy language called English

by Rick Blechta

I ran across an absolutely fascinating article a couple of weeks ago. It deals with (in a preliminary way) why English is such a bizarre language. It’s started off endless discussions between my wife and myself about how someone who doesn’t speak English could possibly learn all the ins and outs of not only how it’s spoken but how things like spelling are absolutely ridiculous — when viewed from “the outside”. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can cope learning English. Its vagaries would drive me nuts.

Okay. So you need to read the article first. Here’s the link:

Pretty fascinating, no? (I do take exception to the author referring to Scandinavians as “Scandies”, though. It seems entirely unnecessary in what is otherwise a scholarly article.)

It certainly answers a number of questions and provides some fascinating clarifications on the origins of things that I’d always considered nonsense, like “hickory, dickory, dock”. Never thought about that much, did you? I certainly didn’t. But now that its meaning has become clear, the context of the nursery rhyme really makes a lot more sense.

Which brings me to the actual topic of this post: the more we know about something and understand context, the more fascinating it becomes.

In my novels, I decided when I began writing that I could use my musical background to make my books more interesting. To many, the music world (in all its permutations) is fascinating. If you happen to be a musician, that background is very relate-able. To those who don’t know much about music, it can be instructive, too, even exotic. (The real trick is to not overuse it or risk having the musical stuff distract readers from the plot of the novel.)

Anyway, to a writer, an article like the one I shared with you today can be very instructive because we deal with English in our work. Every word we write has to be analyzed, every clause must prove its worth and each sentence needs to help tell our story in a graceful and transparent way, or be discarded.

Knowing more about the origins of our language can only help with those things.

Getting back to “hickory, dickory, dock”, I wonder why I never even considered that it might mean something more than nonsense.

Time to become more curious!

Monday, December 14, 2015

There's Nothing Like a Nice Cup of Tea

Our most recent import from America, Black Friday, has proved not to be an unqualified success.  Last year it resulted in near-riots, punch-ups and the police called to stores as everyone embarked on an orgy of greed.

This year, not so much.  I'm happy to say that this year it's the stores who are nursing their wounds, having reduced their prices without increasing their footfall by the hoped-for amount as, revolted by last year's scenes, people stayed at home.  My bet is that next year it will have disappeared.

The response of the Booksellers Association to Black Friday, though, was very well received and let's hope that it does become a fixture in the calendar.  They have instigated Civilised Saturday, when independent bookshops laid on treats for their customers, offering 'a relaxed atmosphere, great books and no panic.'  And afternoon tea with crustless sandwiches and possibly even a glass of fizz.

It's all very British.  Never mind 'Greed is good.'  We'll settle for 'Nothing like a nice cup of tea' - or even a glass of Prosecco - and a good book 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I'm nearly famous

 This weekend's guest blogger is my long-time friend Madona Skaff, a fellow Ottawa writer who has just published her first thriller, Journey of a Thousand Steps, with Renaissance Press. Madona was part of my first critiquing group twenty years ago, and in a nice touch, the model on her book cover is my daughter Dana. I'm delighted to welcome Madona to Type M.

 I’d like to thank Barbara for inviting me. I’ve been writing fiction long before my earliest memories. My mother used to tell me that she’d often overhear me with the neighbourhood kids, telling them about assorted wild escapades. She’d ask, “When did that happen?” My answer was always, “Oh, I’m just telling them stories.” Eventually she stopped asking questions and began to eavesdrop.

Later I started publishing short stories. Most recently, two of them appeared in The Whole She-Bang 2, an anthology published by the Toronto chapter of Sisters in Crime. I was so proud to find out that one of my stories, First Impressions, was named a finalist in the 2015 Arthur Ellis Awards.

I’ve also been writing full length books, though the road has been much bumpier. The first one was a Star Trek novel. After spending a week perfecting my query letter, I couldn’t believe it when the publisher asked to read the whole manuscript. But when they rejected it, thanks to franchise copyright, there weren’t any other possible markets. Obviously it was easy to get my novel into the hands of eager publishers. Ah, to be young and naive.

Working on the next two books taught me a lot about the art of creating a novel. But more importantly, what worked, what didn’t and what killed the story’s flow. I thought I’d finally hit my stride with my fourth – a high tech thriller. Unfortunately, it took so long making the rounds to several publishers, that the cutting edge technology I’d invented, sadly, became ordinary. I had a wonderful science professor in university, whose favourite saying was, “No failed experiment is a complete loss, because even negative results teach us something”.  The book isn’t completely lost because I did manage to come up with a way to fix it.

I took everything I’d learned and applied it to my next book. It was completely different from what I’d written before. No aliens. No trail of dead bodies. It took three years and almost 30 queries before Journey of a Thousand Steps was accepted by Renaissance Press. 
       I signed the contract in April with a proposed publication date of December 2015. Putting everything else on hold, I sailed through several rounds of editing and was rewarded with an early release date in September. Hugging, I mean holding a copy of my first novel, I cycled through a series of emotions. Not only joy, but also anxiety and fear. Would people buy it? Would they like it?

As soon as my friends discovered that it was available, they refused to wait for the book launch. Aha! Sales! One bought three copies. She told me that her friend had read my stories in The Whole-She Bang 2 and loved my writing. When she discovered that I now had a novel, she was thrilled. So was I. Imagine, I actually have a fan! I don’t know what’s next on my book adventure. Just to be safe, I probably should keep a pair of sunglasses handy in case the paparazzi start showing up.

Madona Skaff was a research technologist and now writes full time. She’s published several science fiction and mystery short stories. Journey of a Thousand Steps (from Renaissance Press) is her first mystery novel. It’s the story of Naya, a marathon runner, who becomes disabled and hides at home to recover. But when her friend disappears and the police don’t believe anything’s wrong, Naya leaves the safety of her home to find her. She ignores her physical limitations to follow a convoluted trail from high tech suspects to drug dealers, all while becoming an irritant to the police.

Visit Madona Skaff at for more information.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Sorry folks. I intended to post a blog I thought you would all enjoy. But I can't stand to work on straightening out my computer one more time tonight.

Ironically I am confident that I will get on top of all this. What happened this time was the little Microsoft elf sneaked (or is it snuck--I know it's not snucked) into my house in the middle of the night and did an automatic update that just threw a thunderbolt through everything.

The update should have been a wonderful experience and was long anticipated. I subscribe to MS Office 365 and the darling little elf installed the whole entire MS 2016 suite. Unfortunately it knocked out my whole Outlook address book. Yes. It did. And of course totaled my enviable Christmas card list.

Having spent the better part of the year working on anger management skills-- I worked on these skills ferociously--I think I did quite well in controlling my temper. Unfortunately, a nasty side effect of banishing ill temper is that it is replaced with uncontrollable hysterics and extreme depression.

My problems were greatly multiplied by a really inept techy who blithely proceeded to uninstall and install all kinds of programs which made everything a great big huge mess. When she figured that out for herself she announced she was "elevating" my problem to the next level--her supervisor--who would really understand my problem. This meant of course, that she had not understood my problem from the very beginning. This was not a rational attitude. And certainly not a smart thing to say to a customer.

The guy that knew everything called the next morning and sure enough, cleared up everything in about five seconds. He explained that Outlook on Windows 10 was no longer compatible with Apple and that's why my address book had disappeared. "Goodbye. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"Oh sir, don't go. Please don't go," I babbled. But it did no good. He was gone.

You would not believe how many systems were messed up. And that's why I simply could not scan this adorable little cartoon into my blog.

I know how disappointed my many, many adoring fans must be. Tough. See you next time.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Holiday Metaphors

The holiday and new-book seasons are upon us, and it's a great time of year, one of hope and renewal; amidst the shopping and welcoming of guests, I just started writing a new book.

A few weeks ago, I completed a three-book proposal and submitted it to my publisher, Midnight Ink, and this is the first book of that proposal, Everlasting Darkness, the fourth installment of the Peyton Cote series. Peyton is a United States Customs and Border Protection agent, and the CBP's priority is to prevent contraband from entering the US, with thwarting terrorism as priority one. The book I'm working on deals with Syrians immigrating to the US, a hot topic among US politicians and their constituents alike. (Peyton doesn't ask Donald Trump for help handling the refugee crises, if you were wondering.)

But I digress. I'm about 20 pages into the writing, and it's like playing in new-fallen snow on a sunny day: I can see my tracks, and I know where I'm going. I've yet to reach the dreaded 100-page mark, where the forest in front of me darkens, and I wonder if I'm lost.

Every writer has that tipping point, the place where the plot becomes grey, and you wonder if you can find a solution to the puzzle you've created. I find this happens even to those who plan ahead. Hopefully, months or years later, the reader never suspects the writer got lost on their way to grandma's house.

But I'm not at my dreaded 100-page mark yet, and I'm enjoying writing and re-writing my first three scenes. I've got some new developments in Peyton's life that I find interesting (and stressful for her), and I'm setting up the plot and hoping the three months I spent on the three separate book arcs will pay off and lesson the 100-page cramps a little. So far, so good. I caught a potential plot pitfall early, yet the three-page outline hasn't left me feeling handcuffed either.

All I need for Christmas is a detailed road map.


What I'm reading: ISIS: Inside The Army of Terror.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Happy Book Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was the official book launch day for my second book, Paint the Town Dead. This book was incredibly difficult for me to write and for a while there, I didn’t think I'd ever finish it, but publication day finally arrived and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Now starts a couple weeks of an intense round of promotional activities, mostly online this time around. For my first book, Fatal Brushstroke, I went on a bookstore tour with fellow Sisters in Crime member, Diane Vallere. This time I’m concentrating on online venues. I have a 14-day blog tour through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours as well as a few posts on other blogs. Full details are on my website if you're interested.

Saturday I’m holding my launch party at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach, CA. If you happen to be in the area, stop by.

Details: Saturday, December 12, 2015, 4 pm, Mystery Ink 8907 Warner Ave. #135, Huntington Beach, CA 92647

The first 40 attendees get one of these beauties that turn the lights on your tree into reindeer, snowmen, etc. This is the reindeer one. I have an assortment of various kinds.

Back to celebrating and working on Book 3!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Running late

by Rick Blechta

I’ve had a long and trying day labouring in the bowels of the graphic design Pit of Despair. A few minutes ago, with a sigh of relief, I leaned back in my chair and figured my day was over.

Alas! I’d forgotten all about good ole Type M for Murder. Yikes! It’s Tuesday and I haven’t even thought about a topic for a post, let alone written one!

Tonight is the Crime Writers of Canada and SinC annual joint holiday party (no, we don’t together and smoke wacky tobaccy, but some have been known to raise a glass or two), so there’s no time to dash off a quick post.

I will leave you with this, and I think it’s pretty cute and appropriate.

See you next week!