Saturday, October 31, 2015

Guest Post: Sue Ann Jaffarian

Please welcome prolific author Sue Ann Jaffarian to Type M. I’ve lost count of how many books she’s had published since I first met her at a Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles meeting. She's run the gamut in the publishing world from self-publishing to being traditionally published by both large and small presses. One of her series has a ghost in it, which seems so appropriate for Halloween! Take it away, Sue Ann...

Publishing: Plan Your Journey
by Sue Ann Jaffarian

It’s no secret that the publishing business has been in chaos for several years. Bigger publishers are merging, reducing staff, and facing restructures, while smaller publishers are cropping up like weeds and some disappearing just as fast. Authors are being cut or abandoned by publishers left and right and new authors are finding it tough to get a foot in the door. And then there’s self-publishing, which is a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish.

Frankly, I think it’s an exciting time to be an author. Never before have we had such a smorgasbord of choices for our work. On the flip side, never before have we had so many chances to screw up.

As Charles Dickens wrote at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… .”

Whether you are a newbie trying to get your first book published, or an author left high and dry after a few published books, or an author like me with many books under your belt and still under contract, you have to take the time to decide which path is best for your work. It used to be you wrote the book, found an agent, and the agent tried to sell it. Each step was a long and arduous process with no guarantee of success.

But here’s the thing, whether you opt for traditional publishing or self-publishing, or a hybrid, it’s still a long and arduous process. There is no getting around that. A lot of authors, usually first timers, think that they can skirt a lot of the hard work and time by going self-published. Not so. If anything, it takes even more work to be a successful independent author, but if you are successful, you reap bigger royalties.

But don’t let the bright and shiny bigger royalties blind you. Not all authors should go the self-published route and most don’t make those big royalties, at least not out of the gate. For many authors, wearing all the hats doesn’t suit them or overwhelms them. They take shortcuts in editing, proofreading, cover art, and marketing that dooms them almost from the beginning.

Early on, decide what you want out of your writing. Not all publishing options fit all books or authors. Don’t be swayed one way or the other by the traditional vs. independent debate. Look at all of your options and make the best decision based on your goals, time, and skill set. I think a lot of authors give in to peer pressure in this area and end up unhappy.

If it is important to you to have a big name traditional publisher, then by all means pursue that by finding an agent and giving that route a shot. It may take a hundred rejections to find an agent, but if it’s important to you, do it. Don’t settle for your second or third choice without giving your first choice a fair chance.

A lot of the smaller publishers will consider un-agented manuscripts. If you are set on a traditional publisher but are frustrated in your search for an agent or getting rejected by the big name publishers, check out some of the smaller companies that are putting out great books. Ask your writer friends for suggestions or even referrals to their editors at these smaller publishing houses.

If you think you’re cut out for going independent, first talk to several indie authors who have done it successfully. LISTEN to them. Take notes. Copious notes. Don’t think you can build a better mousetrap when you’ve never been in the business before. These people are experts. I’m starting to publish more of my own work and, believe me, I’ve bent the ears of countless indie friends with questions on everything from covers to editing services to marketing. And be ready to spend money to do it right. Freelance editors and cover designers cost money. Slapping something together is career suicide.

And once you choose a path, remember, you can change your mind down the line. Maybe your first book will be with a small press. The second self-published. And maybe your third will catch the eye of a major publisher. You just never know, so don’t lock yourself in. My work is in all three venues and it works for me.

In the end, whether you decide to go traditional or independent, there’s no excuse for laziness. First you have to write the best book you can. Without that, the rest is a waste of time. Sending an agent or publisher a sloppy manuscript will get the door slammed in your face. Self-publishing such a manuscript may tank your career before you even have one. Once those doors are shut or readers turn away from you, it’s extremely difficult and often impossible to get a do-over.

Do it the right way, or don’t do it at all.

There’s so much more to being an author today besides writing a book. You have to look beyond the book, to where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. No matter which path you take, writing a novel is not a casual joy ride on a summer’s day. It’s long journey that deserves your best effort, preparation, and commitment.

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the author of three critically acclaimed mystery series: The Odelia Grey series, the Ghost of Granny Apples series, and the Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries. She also writes the Winnie Wilde erotic romance series under the pen name of Meg Chambers, as well as short stories. In addition to writing, Sue Ann is a full-time paralegal living in Los Angeles. Kirkus has said of Sue Ann, "Like Stuart Kaminsky, Jaffarian juggles her franchises deftly, giving each a unique voice and appeal." Visit her at, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Two-Handed Clasp

She's very famous. Wins about every award out there. People line up to buy her books. She's every bookstore's favorite because at a signing she works the room and greets every person there.

When she shakes hands with her adoring fans, she uses a two-handed clasp.

And just what does she mean by that? Warmth? Comradery? Is she conveying caring? There's no doubt in my mind she genuinely is happy to see each person she greets and her very personal handshake expresses gratitude.

But as to us lessor lights, I think a two-handed clasp can convey a different message especially in ordinary situations. To me a two-handed clasp by someone I'm meeting for the first time in a non-writerly setting conveys insincerity. I'm immediately wary. I back away from overly familiar people.

Body language is a minefield for mystery writers. Never mind delving into countries outside the United States. That's too exhausting to think about.

Even tip-toeing through the nuances in the good 'ol USA can be tricky because there are also regional customs that can trip us up.

He said, she said, can be dreadfully boring. Dialogue broken up by description of what characters are doing provides context and also projects an imagine. When someone other than our protagonist is speaking in a scene, what is our protagonist doing? Are her hands at rest? Does she listen intently? Does she squirm in the chair. Drum her fingers? Twist her hair? We convey a lot without saying a word.

One of the clearest and most annoying signals of insincerity to me in "mixing" situations is for someone to look me intently in the eyes as through they are listening and then look over my shoulder at someone else. Several times. It's time to move on.

There are a jillion books out there on reading body language. I'm thinking hard about improving character tags and spiffing up personalities. TV is a great resource. I try to pay attention to the facial expressions of the best actors. Trying to describe the set of jaw, the lines of their faces, their eyes, is wonderful practice.

I don't think we have study all this very hard. We know how we feel about body language. Our interpretation is usually accurate without having to think about it.

It's describing it that's the pits.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Writing empathy

I'm a six-foot-one, straight, white male, who 30 pounds ago was a college athlete, and am a guy who usually votes Democrat. The character I write is a female, who is ultra fit, also straight, and is a moderate; and she'd vote for whoever offers the best border-security policy. We don't have much in common, other than we both notice the nuances and the situational ethics involved in the criminal justice system.

Because of these differences, some of the nicest compliments I receive are from readers who say, "I assumed you were a female," when they come to a signing. Or, "How do you write the dating scenes from Peyton's perspective?" If I don't have time to really elaborate, I have a go-to response, something I hope is funny: "I live with a wife, two teenage daughters, a first-grade daughter, and am the dorm parent to 55 other girls. Hell, even my dog is a female." Sometimes, this draws a chuckle.

Jokes aside, though, empathy is the #1 attribute a writer must possess. You need to be able to stand in another's shoes and walk the proverbial mile. Especially in our genre. Michael Connelly wrote in his brilliant essay "The Mystery of Mystery Writing": "When it comes to the mystery novel the writer must be inclined to write what he or she does not know and never wants to."

That can be a frightening thought. Writers in our genre step into many roles that challenge us and our beliefs. For two hours a day, I'm an actor, playing the part of a 35-year-old single mom. I enjoy the challenge. And, despite Connelly's statement, I want to know Peyton's worldview and political beliefs. Do I need to be like Peyton Cote to write her well? No. Do I need to understand her to write her well? By way of an answer, Aristotle said, The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. I understand Peyton well enough.

At a time when empathy might be the most important skill one can possess, it's good that I learn a lot by thinking as Peyton would think. Our views on border and amnesty laws, for instance, certainly differ.

In the end, my moderate character teaches me a lot and challenges my views.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Go Team Cozy!

Last week I participated in a Cozy v. Noir Mystery Author Smackdown with other Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and SoCalMWA members. Part of the North Hollywood Lit Crawl, the smackdown showcased the broad range of mysteries available to today’s reader. In the words of our referee/moderator/organizer, Stephen Buehler, the goal was to “get people to see that mysteries/crime dramas come in every form and they should be able to find one that suits them.”

Here are the two teams:

Team Noir: Sarah M. Chen, Craig Faustus Buck, Laurie Stevens, Gary Phillips, Travis Richardson

Team Cozy: Linda O. Johnston, Ellen Byron, Diane Vallere, me

Referee (in both photos):
Stephen Buehler

Team Noir

Team Cozy

Notice how Team Cozy is wearing more colorful clothes while Team Noir went for the darker shades.

We battled it out on the mat at XMA (Xtreme Martial Arts) World Headquarters. Five noir writers v. four cozy writers, going head-to-head, each reading passages from books, short stories or works in progress.

For purposes of this event, the definitions of cozy and noir were given to the audience as follows:

NOIR: Usually the protagonist is a regular guy (sometimes a criminal) who makes bad choices, then worse choices. Almost always it has a bad ending for the “hero”. Noir is dark, gritty, bleak, graphic. It’s usually more of a crime drama than a mystery.

COZY: The protagonist wins at the end, solves the crime. It is usually a lighter tone, sometimes with humor. Dead bodies are discovered not killed on screen. Many have cats or dogs. Usually the book/story takes place in a small town or community. The crime is solved or resolved at the end. They tend to be more “whodunits”. There are usually plenty of characters besides the hero.

The passages each of us read were fairly short, a few paragraphs, sometimes only a sentence or two. For each category (best noir/cozy scene, best death scene, best description of a character, best description of a location/room, best sex/romance scene) two of us battled head-to-head. After the two finished reading, the audience voted by applause on which one came closer to the given definition of noir or cozy. Our ref judged the applause level and kept track of the score. The cozy team was one author down but still managed to take the evening...barely. Yeah Team Cozy!

It’s great to have bragging rights, good for a lot of good-natured kidding in the future, but it was really just fun to hang out with my fellow authors and listen to all of the great and diverse writing in the mystery field.

I tried to select passages that went with the category, but that would also be fun for the audience to listen to. One of the noir writers came up to me afterward and commented that one of the ones I read had quite a noir bent to it, something that I’d briefly thought to myself at the time I selected it. Still, I’d characterize my novels overall as being pretty squarely in cozyland.

I don’t often read my work in public so I was surprised that I was only moderately nervous and, when the time actually came for the event, excited. I’ve talked on this blog about how I stutter so for me this was a great victory. I think the major reason for this was the passages I read were short and I wasn’t the only author participating so the focus wasn’t entirely on me.

I was originally going to read directly from my books, but decided to print the passages out on paper. This turned out to be a wise idea. I didn’t have to worry about flipping pages in a book while holding a microphone.

I’ll be reading from one of my books at the November meeting of Sisters in Crime/LA. All by myself. For five minutes. Now, I’m a little nervous about that. I feel privileged to be reading in front of the group. It’s a friendly and familiar environment, but I’m a lot more nervous about the meeting than last week’s event.

I have my selection ready. Like I did for the smackdown, I’ve been periodically recording myself reading to see where I need to slow down or speed up. I’m gradually imprinting in my brain the appropriate speed so, I hope when the time comes, I’ll read fast enough people won’t get too bored and slow enough they can actually understand what I’m saying.

Wish me luck and Go Team Cozy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nearing a MAJOR milestone!

by Rick Blechta

Sometime in the next week (possibly even today if a gazillion people show up to read this post), our little mystery writing blog, Type M for Murder will welcome its 500,000th visitor. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty darned amazing. There aren’t too many writing blogs that last long enough or have a loyal following to allow it to reach that kind of number.

We first appeared on the Interweb in late June of 2006, so this milestone did not happen quickly. During our first few years our posts often didn’t attract many readers. For instance, my first post got 10. One early post had (has) only two readers! As time passed, though, word got out and our readership began increasing steadily. We now often have more than 10,000 pageviews a month and that never ceases to amaze me.

Why did Type M get to where it is? The first place to look is our bloggers. There have been a lot of them over the years. We started with five: Vicki Delany (who first set the page up after a bunch of us decided at a Bloody Words conference that a mystery blog would be a Good Thing to Try), me, Alex Brett, Michael Blair and the august Charles Benoit who, even though from the US, had Canadian forebears (how can you not with a name like that?). We had a lot of fun even if we didn’t have a lot of readers.

We decided that our blog needed more of an international flavor, so as bloggers departed, we cast our nets wider. Of our current members, Barbara showed up briefly in early 2007, then returned to stay permanently in August 2010. (Okay, she’s Canadian, but she’s also a damned good writer and blogger.) Donis first appeared in July 2007. In May 2009, John Corrigan arrived on our (virtual) doorstep and was heartily welcomed. Speaking of 2009, we also began inviting guest bloggers on the weekends and that brought us some really amazing posts over time. Frankie’s byline first appeared in February 2011, closely followed by Aline a month later, and Charlotte a month after that. Mario has been with us since March of 2012, then Vicki returned (Huzzah!) after a few year’s away. Our most recent arrival is Sybil who came on board in August of last year.

Other long-time members who should not be left off the list are Deborah Atkinson, Hannah Dennison, and Tom Curran. Peter May was here for a couple of years and we had someone named Pip early on for a few months (I don’t remember the details of that.) I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone along the way, and if it’s you, first, please accept my apology, and then, wave your hand so we can call out your name!

Next June 26th will be our 10th anniversary. Of the original members, only Vicki and I remain, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m sure I can speak for her, too, when I say that a lot of firm friendships have been made over the years. We’ve always had a great crew here at Type M.

But while all this back-patting has been going on, don’t think that you, our loyal readers, have been forgotten. Type M for Murder wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for you, and for that you deserve a special salute and our heartfelt gratitude. And thanks for the great comments over the years. Keep ’em coming. They’ve given us some great discussions.

I wish there was some way to identify the person who keys for the half millionth time. Alas, it’s not possible. But to all of you who show up week after week to read our salient thoughts and deathless prose, thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts. We really appreciate it!

See you on the other side when we start on the quest for our 1,000,000th pageview!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Life Writ Large In Christmas Town

By Vicki Delany

I have a new book coming out next week.

What, another new book! you say.

Yup. Another one. My fourth this year. What can I say? I write a lot.

The first in my new Year Round Christmas series comes out on November 3rd. The book is titled Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen and it’s published by Berkley Prime Crime.

As you may be able to tell by the title of both the book and the series, it’s a Christmas book. Set in the town of Rudolph, New York, which calls itself America’s Christmas Town, the main character is one Merry Wilkinson, owner of Mrs. Claus’s Treasures, a shop on Jingle Bell Lane.

The Perfect Christmas Town?

Sounds twee?

Sure it is. And it’s supposed to be. It’s nothing but fun, and what’s wrong with that?

I’ve come to realize that cozy mysteries are about real people living real lives (except for that pesky murder bit), although writ large. Everything is exaggerated. The nosy neighbour is nosier, the ditzy friend is ditzier, the mean girl is meaner. And the handsome man is, well, handsomer. Even better if there are two of them.

Instead of one Christmas-themed shop (and don’t those seem to be everywhere these days) we have an entire town of them.

After putting in my time writing police procedurals and psychological thrillers, I’m having a lot of fun writing cozies. Keep it light, keep it funny, and have a good time with it.

What could possibly go wrong?

So, pull up a comfortable arm chair, light a blaze in the fire place, switch on the lights in the tree, put on that Bony M’s Christmas album, pour yourself a mug of hot toddy, nibble on another piece of shortbread, watch the snow falling outside your window, and enjoy the adventures of Merry and her gang in “America’s Christmas Town” when a spate of disasters, including the murder of a journalist form an international travel magazine threatens to turn Rudolph into the Ghost of Christmas Towns Past.

I’ll be launching the book at Different Drummer bookstore in Burlington Ontario, on Tuesday Nov 3rd, 7:00 pm; I’ll be signing at Books and Company in Picton, Ontario on Saturday the 7th;and I’ll be the guest author at Coffee and Crime at Mystery Lovers bookstore in Oakmont, PA on Saturday Nov. 14 at 10:00. Then on Nov 17th, I’m joining with my good friend RJ Harlick for a joint launch in Ottawa. I’ll be talking more about that next time, and how you definitely should be able to tell a book by its cover.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New York, New York!

I'm on a seventies retro kick lately. Those times were the formative years of my adolescence and early adulthood, and I don't have fond memories; I wanted the era to be done with and we should move on already. The way we process ''the good ole days" means that people are now cycling through the 1970s using the rosy-tinted lenses of nostalgia. To help ground me with the past I've watched some movies from that decade, specifically The French Connection and Taxi Driver. I saw both when they were first released, and at the time, neither impressed me. Mostly because I was young and those stories challenged my notions of right-wrong as I had little regard for moral ambiguity. What further tainted my appreciation--as it were--of the 70s was that I visited New York City at its worst.

Fast-forward to today. Every modern depiction of the city shows it as a polished theme park for the well-to-do. There might be shots of grungy alleys and forbidding sewers, but that's to establish mood. Pan the camera away and we're back to an urban landscape catering to the affluent and hip. Everybody seems lives in a spacious pad decorated with designer appointments, with a sweeping view of course. (However, not all who've lived recently in the city share this opinion. The comedian Emo Philips says that whenever he misses New York, he simply fills his humidifier with urine.) What jumps at me from movies like The French Connection and especially Taxi Driver is the unremitting grime and seediness. Garbage piled the streets. In TD, Robert De Niro lived in a squalid apartment that today is probably a million-dollar condo. His surroundings were filthy, his kitchen cabinet was a battered milk crate nailed to the wall, clothes hung from extension cords strung about the place. Even fancy destinations in the city were gilded in plastic tawdriness. In today's New York, everyone aspires to a bite of the succulent big apple and its promise of opulence and fortune. In the 70s New York, the decay sank everyone to the same filthy level. Mostly you wanted to survive without getting too dirty.

Friday, October 23, 2015

George By Any Other Name

Frankie here. The subject of naming characters has come up here on occasion. In fact, I probably bring it up more than anyone else. Well, I'm back there again -- resorting to everything from name generators on the Internet to staring at the names on the books on my bookshelves. A first name here, a last name there.

I've been struggling with this because I'm starting a new book. The only characters who have names that haven't changed in the past few days are my protagonist and the police chief. And I still don't know the police chief's last name. Well, I have managed to name a dog and a cat, but I looked at a lists of popular canine names to find one for the dog.

The problem is that I need to do a synopsis for my editor for this book. I would like to get it done before I'm a whole lot older. I have the basic plot. I've even managed to write chapter summaries. I won't be able to move any further until I have given my victim, killer, and suspects names. I certainly can't begin to write the book until my characters all have names. Placeholder names are dangerous because they can end up sticking. 

However, I think I may have had a breakthrough as I was waking up this morning -- or rather between the time I turned over because the light outside was seeping around the blinds and the moment when my cat, Harry, decided it was time I got up and meowed outside the door. Luckily, this morning, he let me sleep in. That gave my brain long enough to process the thoughts that were drifting through it. 

What occurred to me was that maybe I was going about naming my characters the wrong way. For example, I had an image in my head of one character and assigned a name based on that image. But this morning before I was completely awake I started playing with other names. Silly names. And one of them stuck and the character morphed into someone else. And suddenly I had a solution to how to handle that character's essential presence in the book. 

Having solved that problem, I got up and began to think about "George". George is the name I gave to a character who I wanted the reader to think of as an average guy. But this morning, it occurred to me that each reader will bring his or her impressions of and experiences with "Georges" to the book. Maybe I'm thinking George Wendt, who played "Norm" on the TV sitcom "Cheers". 

Maybe they're thinking George Washington. And then I thought of my own two grandfathters, both named George. I was too young to have known my paternal grandfather well and my maternal grandfather died before I was born. But they were both farmers, and I suspect not the kind of average guy the George in my book was intended to be. 

What if instead I named this character Malcolm or Ross. How would my former George, who would be playing the same role in the book be different? Maybe instead of rejecting a name because it doesn't seem to fix my character, I should think about who my character might be if he had that name. How would George's life have been different if his parents had named him Donovan or Adam. 

Yes, names conjure up images in our heads and we all associate certain names with certain personalities. We expect Brandi (with an "i") to be more likely to be a stripper than a lawyer. We might expect Cyrus to be a bit gruff or at least taciturn. 

But what if the stripper were named Catherine? How would a Catherine have become a stripper?

I confess that I am thinking a bit about my own name here. Being a woman named "Frankie" has certainly give me a different view of the world than if my given name were Ann because I have to take into account that some people may anticipate a male person when they see my name. For example, the driver of the airport shuttle bus who was picking me up at my hotel a couple of weeks ago -- he was surprised when the male passenger he had anticipated turned out to be a woman -- which caught me off-guard because I was thinking about something else and had forgotten the driver might expect a man. I could always put a "Ms" in front of my name, but that's a real drag -- although it seems "Drew" one of "The Property Brothers" on HGTV, does have "Mr." in his email address. 

But I digress. My point is that I've stumbled on this idea of picking interesting names and then thinking about who that character might be if he or she had that name. But I am naming-challenged. I discovered a few days ago that I had given the victim in my new book the same name as the victim in my last book. Two very different guys but I'm apparently fascinated by the name "Kevin" -- which would suggest that a name can send one in a number of different directions. Or maybe I was just desperate to find a name for my new victim and plucked the first one that occurred to me out of the air. 

Thoughts?  How do you go about  finding names that suit your characters? Name first or personality first?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Did I Forget Something? Or, Launching a New Book.

Donis here. I've been carrying on about the upcoming launch of my new book, All Men Fear Me, for months. I've mentioned before on this blog that in comparison to some, I am not a fast writer. I can manage a book every year or so, which is certainly faster than George R.R. Martin, but not nearly as fast as someone like Rhys Bowen or our own Vicki Delany. So it takes me six to eight months to finish the draft, another month or so for revisions and corrections. Then after the book is accepted it's another several months before it's published and released.

By that time I'm well into the next manuscript. By the time the new book is released, I've half-forgotten the details and have to spend a little time re-familiarizing myself with whichever book I'm going to be promoting. Otherwise I find myself telling the audiences at my events all about the fascinating details of the work in progress.

All Men Fear Me is due to be released by Poisoned Pen Press on November 3, so a couple of days ago I re-read the book, just to make sure I hadn't forgotten any important plot points. I must say that I enjoyed the story, and after I was finished I felt rather proud of myself for having written it. Of course one writes the kind stories that one likes in the first place, which doesn't mean they suit anyone else. But, hey, it's a good thing if you can at least please yourself.

The other problem with only having one release every year or so is that as the launch date approaches, I have to remember all the promotional necessities. I don't want to forget to send new release announcements to Sisters in Crime, or Women Writing the West, or Historical Mystery Writers, or Mystery Writers of America, or... who have I forgotten? How about the mailing list, both electronic and non-electronic? Events? Conferences? Blog tour? How much can I afford to travel this year? Where is the most effective place to put my limited resources? Oh, how I wish I could do a giant Jenny Milchman-like tour of the entire country.

One thing I did do was update my website with new book information, including the entire first two chapters for your reading pleasure.There is also an entirely new page of traditional Southern American recipes. So many readers have told me they enjoy the old-fashioned food and cooking lore and recipes that are included in each of the Alafair books that I decided to add the Recipe page to bring all the recipes together and to add a few that are not in the books. I'm beginning with just a couple of recipes, but I'll be adding a new one at least once a month, or as often as I can make the dish at home and take a picture of it for the site!

All I can do is the best I can do. And I think that nothing is more effective than writing the best book I can write and hoping it finds its audience. Till then, Dear Readers, if you're in Arizona over the next couple of months, check out my event schedule at Perhaps there will be an event happening near you. I'd love to see you and say hello.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Politics and the Arts

Barbara here. In case you haven't noticed, we Canadians have been a little distracted of late. Moreover, that little alert on my Apple Calendar, which was supposed to warn me to write my Type M blog, didn't work, so once again my post is late. My apologies for that, and for this short, admittedly political post.

We've had a long national election campaign during which many issues were raised, some laudable and others vile, and many promises were made. For much of it, the three parties were running close to neck and neck, all of them firmly aiming their pitch and their promises to "hard-working middle class families". This despite the fact that seniors now outnumber kids, and more and more people live alone. The politicians argued a lot about the needs of small businesses and the manufacturing sector but one would be hard-pressed to find any mention of the arts, either in terms of the needs of artists to earn an income above the poverty line or the contribution of arts and culture to the financial health of the country (never mind its spiritual health). The general public's awareness of the needs of the arts community seems minimal. They likely see the mega-million dollars earned by the big Hollywood stars and don't realize that most actors, directors, and other performing artists struggle to pay the groceries, let alone the rent, without juggling half a dozen part-time jobs. People see the bookcases of Dan Brown and JK Rowling books stacked high in Chapters and don't realize that most authors are lucky to get four books buried in the back corners of Chapters and many get none at all. They don't realize authors don't get a penny from the purchase of a used book nor from a free (usually illegal) download site. As an aside, a "bestseller" in Canada means it sold 5000 books. Do the math. From a $20 book, at the standard 10% royalty rate, the author earns $2 a book. That bestseller, which very likely took more than a year to write, earns $10,000. The music industry has the same struggles. A few millionaires, and the rest barely fitting in to the lowest income bracket. The middle class is a distant dream for most of them without a second income source, an inheritance, or a well-earning spouse.

In Canada, there are a few government programs designed to bolster the income of artists, for which we are grateful. There is the Access Copyright fund, which repays artists for the use of their copyrighted material through photocopying and other free content sharing. This program pays a few hundred dollars, but even that is under threat by the latest government's legislation which allows free use of huge swaths of material without compensation to the writer. Secondly, there is the Public Lending Right fund, a wonderful program which samples libraries across the country and compensates authors for the presence of their books in libraries. This program has a cap, however, so that the income to any one author is less that $4000.

In addition, authors or hosting agencies such as libraries and festivals can apply for grants for readings, research, and travel, but competition is fierce for these, and only a lucky few receive anything. The reading fee is $250, and an author would be lucky to get more than a couple of these a year. All sources of government support are not likely to raise even the luckiest author's income much above $5000.

A lot was made in this past election of tax breaks and tax credits. Tax breaks for the middle class and small businesses, tax credits for children, for home renovations, for fitness classes and for special interest groups. The out-going government was so fond of tax breaks, credits, income splitting, and so on, that filing an income tax return at tax time almost required an advanced accountancy degree. None of them was of much use to self-employed artists and writers.

During this frenetic election campaign, the out-going government made few promises relating to culture, likely having correctly perceived that was not their base, and having given the impression over the years that artists and writers were part of the pampered cultural elite divorced from the "bread and butter" issues of the man on the street.  Ironic, since bread and butter issues loom very large in the lives of most artists. The other two main parties made varying commitments to provide tax incentives and breaks, increase grants, and so on.

One proposal, touted by arts organizations and resurrected once again by at least one of the parties, is the idea of income-averaging for self-employed artists, which exists in Quebec and in the UK (and probably elsewhere). This may be of use to artists and authors who do well one year (hit play or record, best-selling book, etc.) after toiling in poverty both before their lucky year and afterwards. This seems like a sensible way to try to even out the feast or famine nature of an artist's income, which will fluctuate far more than most other small businesses. It takes years to write a book, and much of the income from that book will occur during its first year in print. If one is lucky enough to win a prize for it, the income may spike further, only to plunge again the next year.

Income-averaging seems a simple way to try to address some of the struggles the arts community faces in trying to generate a consistent, livable income. Do any readers have experience with it? What do you think?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I am numb

We had a federal election yesterday here in Canada. I am completely rung out from the whole 78-day campaign and then watching the results. I also couldn't tear myself away from the punditry and images until nearly 2 a.m.

Needless to say, I can't think of a single thing to write this week.

Not only that, I don't have time. I'm about to leave for the Jays/Royals game in less than a half-hour.


I don't want to leave you all here with nothing, though, so I will include this and it covers both the Canadian Election and the Blue Jays playoff game -- in a very clever way. For those who don't know the names and faces, instead of hitting a baseball, Jose Bautista hits Canada's former PM, Stephen Harper out of the ball park.

Let's get him outta here!!
Posted by Paul Piche on Monday, October 19, 2015

See you all next week, when my brain will hopefully be working fine once again...

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Effects of Weather

We have just seen American friends off on a tour of the Highlands. It's always a nervous business when visitors to your country for the first time arrive, particularly when it's here in Scotland.

I want them to get a good impression but being Scots in this situation is a bit like being the mother of a difficult child who can be quite amazingly charming when it wants to but which may equally sulk, brood, or even throw a spectacular tantrum. I have studied the weather forecast for weeks with fingers crossed and muttering ancient Celtic spells for sunshine.

It worked. Today it is the absolutely perfect autumn (fall) day, sharp first thing  with just the sort of hint of frost in the air so that it tingles as if you were inhaling champagne, and the sky is clear and eggshell blue. The leaves are showing orange and flame and red in windless sunshine and I know the lochs they pass with be mirror-smooth and making perfect reflections of the hills and dark pine forests round about.

We are promised the same for the rest of the week, when our guests will return by way of the west coast, which has scenery to rival the best in the world. Looking out to the Summer Isles, a string of tiny islands that on a calm sea look as if they are floating is, on a sunny day, almost unreal in its perfection.

Phew! Relief. Because, as every Scot knows, it can be quite different. Rain can come down in steady torrents, mist can obscure the majesty of the scenery for days on end; the first time I visited mountainous Skye, it could have been a flat plain for all the evidence I saw of anything above sea level.

And then there is the darkness. Already the nights are lengthening and until the winter solstice it's a journey into shorter and shorter days, less and less light. Perhaps it's no suprise that the novels written in the northern countries tend to have a very dark side – Tartan Noir, Nordic Noir.

I've just been reading one of Andrea Camilleri's brilliant Inspector Montalbano series where you feel you're basking in Sicilian sunshine. Perhaps it is our environment that makes up the sort of writers we are.

Still, it looks as if our American friends will go home wondering why on earth people moan about Scottish weather.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Geese and Graves and Other Writerly Concerns

The husband and wife team of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer published several short John, Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999's One For Sorrow, the first full-length novel about their protagonist. The eleventh in the series, Murder in Megara, will be published in October 2015. The Guardian Stones, set in rural Shropshire during World War Two and written as by Eric Reed, will appear in January 2016. Both novels are from Poisoned Pen Press.

When writing I occasionally find sudden doubts about possible anachronisms creep into the room on nasty little kitty feet. Almost always this distressing development relates to the content of informal conversations.

The OED and various slang dictionaries are, I do agree, most useful tools and furthermore available in the clock-round library the internet represents but, being a fool to myself, I feel more comfortable seeking confirmation that whatever the phrase in question might be has been used in novels contemporary to or before the era in which the work in progress is set. Perhaps it is because this method gives a better idea of the context than the necessarily telegraphic notes found in the works I mention? In any event, when such circumstances arise I hie myself off to the Gutenberg and Bartleby sites and run a search for the relevant phrase or word through them.

Let me give a working example from The Guardian Stones, our January 2016 title. Set during World War Two in rural Shropshire, a retired schoolteacher residing in the village recalls the description of one of those familiar sudden shivers we all get now and then as having been caused by a goose walking over the person's grave. Not having heard this particular saying before it was mentioned by my co-writer Eric (although I wot of the common variant "someone walked over my grave") I was not certain if it was known in the UK at the time. A quick shufti in my two go-to sites established it was indeed known before 1941, the year in which the book is set, and therefore appropriate to use for our purposes.

What I discovered was Rudyard Kipling refers to the grave-crossing goose in his rather nasty short story At The Pit's Mouth” in his collection Under The Deodars (1888). A couple rendezvous in a Simla cemetery where, as Kipling puts it, they "enjoyed each other's society among the graves of men and women whom they had known and danced with aforetime." One day they see a grave being dug and the man remarks to his companion, a married woman whose husband is away, "I have got a chill down my back just as if a goose had walked over my grave."

Even better in terms of proposed inclusion in a mystery, I was particularly happy to see Agatha Christie used essentially the same phrase in The Mysterious Affair At Styles (1924). In her novel it crops up in a conversation when the daughter in law of the matriarch of the family residing in Styles mentions she had been told that, due to the medical profession's general ignorance of uncommon poisons, it was thought countless cases of poisonings had gone unsuspected. To which her mother in law declares the conversation "...makes me feel as if a goose were walking over my grave."

Needless to say in due course Poirot solves the titular affair and cooks the goose of...but no, I must not reveal anything further. Those who perchance have not read the novel can take a gander at it on the Bartleby site at

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Judging a book by its cover

What's in a book's cover design?

Lots, according to 15-year-old Alyssa. "I think that's cool," she said, looking at the cover art for Destiny's Pawns.

I'd just received the jacket (see left-side column), loved it, and was showing it to nearly everyone. Alyssa was my latest viewer.

"They say not to judge a book by it's cover," she continued, "but everyone does. If the cover is brown, or something, it makes me thinks it's sort of old."


Maybe it's because I'm 45, but I've liked my some of my green and brown covers over the years. (After all, when you start your career writing golf novels and move to books set in northern Maine, you get lots of greens and browns.) And although 45 is only 20 in athlete years (but that's for another post), I see her point. In fact, Alyssa's comments produced a watershed moment for me. She is, I'd say, a pretty typical reader: she wanders through a (physical or virtual) bookstore and buys a book that literally catches her eye. Then she sees if she likes it and wants to read more by that author or in that series. So her comments made me sit up and take notice.

I've written nine novels and haven't been jazzed about all of my covers, believe me. "Something bright," I e-mailed my editor last spring. "Maybe teal or green or even orange." I don't usually get all that involved in my cover designs. (Rick Blechta, given his design expertise, is probably cringing at that statement.) However, this time, at the end of a three-book contract, I had time to engage in the design process and made some thoughtful recommendations.

I've spent my writing career with independent houses, so I can take care of some promotional items. I set up signings and usually an annual tour. But I'm no expert in the area of self-promotion. Truth be told, I enjoy the process of starting a book, seeing its characters and conflicts evolve, and finding the resolution far more than I do the business side of the venture. By the time I get the cover art for a book, I'm usually knee deep in the next project.

How important is a cover art in terms of sales? There's a lot that goes into why a book sells well and why it doesn't. And I hope writing has something to do with it. There's no comprehensive quantitative data (that I could find) to prove one way or the other that a cover can make or break a book's sales record. But I do think Alyssa speaks for many book buyers. And I'd love to hear the opinions of my Type M colleagues on the subject of cover art. Has anyone noticed sales spikes or dips from book to book based on the perceived correlation to a cover design?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Eat Dessert First

Today is National Dessert Day. So here are some pumpkin spice blondie bars made from the recipe on the back of the Toll House pumpkin morsels package. I added a little cinnamon to the mix just for fun.

Thinking about desserts reminds me of that saying, “Life’s short, eat dessert first.”And that reminds me of the project I’m currently working on. I usually write a story, whether a short story or a novel, from beginning to end. I know who the killer is before I start writing, but I generally don’t know what that confrontation scene between my sleuth and the murderer is going to look like, where it’s going to take place or what’s actually going to happen until I’ve written at least half of the book.

But this time around I’m working differently. I’ve found myself visualizing scenes and writing the story completely out of order. That confrontation scene popped into my head one day when I’d barely written the first couple chapters of the book so I wrote the first draft as soon as it entered my mind. I’ve done that with several other scenes since then. I’m gradually building up the story this way, hopping around as things come to me. This is very out of character for me.

This reminds me of a post fellow Type-Mer, Frankie Bailey, wrote awhile back about working intuitively, going with what is flowing at the moment.

I think there’s something to it, this working intuitively. I'm gradually building up this story with less angst than usual. At some point, probably after I’ve finished some other pressing tasks for my second book, Paint the Town Dead, that’s coming out December 8, I’ll go back to writing scenes from start to finish but, for now, I’m content with working this way. At least I feel like I’m making progress instead of staring at a blank document with no idea what to type.

Now I’m curious. How many people write a book or short story from beginning to end or do you “eat dessert first”, writing scenes out of order? For those who’ve written several books, do you change the way you write from project to project?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Finally! A chance to be positive.

By Rick Blechta

In searching around for a topic to write on this week (and the lateness of publishing this post will demonstrate how long my search took), I finally ran across something that is truly breathtaking – if you’re a bibliophile.

Here it is: Paper is back: Why ‘real’ books are on the rebound

I’ll wait while you read it.

I have heard it said that every new technological advance has to find its “place” among humanity. When television came along at the end of the 1930s everyone predicted the end of radio and cinema. Well, while they did take a hit initially, you can still use your radio and go to the movies, can’t you?

It appears that e-readers have begun to slip into their proper place. Many have tried them and found where they work and where they don’t, and it appears that paper books will still have a place among us, as will electronic books.

And that, to me, is a very Good Thing.

A long aside:

I was rather astonished when I came to the final section of this article where the author talks about studies that found people don’t view ownership of e-books as anywhere near as permanent as paper books.

The perception is true.

What many people are not aware of is that software (and that includes e-book files) are often not “bought”, merely licensed. For instance, I don’t actually own any of the software on my computer. It is all “on loan” for lack of a better term from the producers. This way of doing business has been extended into e-book publishing, maybe not completely, but near enough. The books themselves might not have a license applied by the publisher, but many re-sellers (say, Amazon) are using this approach. It’s another way of controlling what they sell you. (If there was fine print added to the sale of anything you buy on the internet, there’s a good chance you’re merely licensing the product. In no way shape or form do you own it. Read the fine print if you don’t believe me.)

Fortunately, with older technologies (like paper books), they haven’t been able to figure out a way to do this.

But I also assume that somewhere a person is working in a room trying to figure out a way to license that paperback you picked up at the airport today…

Monday, October 12, 2015

Leave me Alone, she cries in despair!

By Vicki Delany

Rick’s post last week about the decreasing complexity of our language, reminded me of something else that’s been bugging me.

Speaking of bugging me… Has anyone noticed that you can’t have a peaceful meal in a restaurant any more?

When Linda Wiken and I were travelling down to Virginia over the summer for the mystery authors’ festival, we stopped for dinner at a moderately upscale restaurant. We were interrupted twice by the waiter asking if everything was okay, once by the hostess, and once by the manager.

It was so annoying that we talked about it. And since then, I’ve been counting.

On my own later trip to the Outer Banks I was seated in an Applebee’s, iPad open in front of me. I order my meal, it arrives. She comes back to ask if it’s okay. Yes, thank you. Back she comes again, how’s everything? Fine, I said, instead of saying, “it’s exactly the same as it was last time you were here.”

Then AGAIN she comes while I’m still eating to say, “Can I put a dessert order in for you?” Okay, I lost it. I said, “You’ve interrupted me three times now.” I must say, she looked shocked.

Yes, I know they’re told they have to do this, but the question I have is why.

This isn’t customer service; it’s the opposite of customer service. They will only deal with you on their terms at a time convenient to them.

Try to actually need something from a waiter in one of these places and they rush past with eyes averted or whirl like an elf warrior in battle in a LOTR movie to change direction.

Customer service is helping the customer when they need it, not forcing yourself on them at a time that happens to be convenient.

Imagine Carson the butler leaning over the Dowager Duchess the moment she put her soup spoon into her mouth and asking if everything is okay.

I blame Wal Mart. In Canada we used to be able to walk into a store and we’d be left alone to mind our own business. No one rushed to ‘greet’ us and ask us if we’re having a nice day, and tell us to be sure and ask if we need anything. Then came Wal Mart and their cursed greeters and it was all downhill from there.
My day is none of your business, and I get that the point of having a clerk is to help if the customer needs it.

Bad enough, but nothing is as bad as this constant interruption by wait staff who don’t know how to subtly pay attention to what’s going on in their restaurant and intervene if the customer needs anything.

I’ll accept one interruption as the new normal. I think I’m going to start pointing out at two or more that I don’t like it.

Who's with me?

Friday, October 09, 2015

Using Boredom

I want to speak in praise of boredom. Not the kind of sitting around the house with nothing to do boredom -- or looking at me and meowing his complaint about having nothing to do as my cat Harry sometimes does -- but, instead, the sitting in an event and being bored silly kind of boredom. The "I can't get up and leave" but I really wish I could kind of boredom. For a writer those moments and that kind of boredom can be incredibly productive.

Of course, good manners requires that one try to look interested -- not yawn, not squirm, not glance at watch or check text messages. But I am of the opinion that it is acceptable to think about something else if you look like you're paying attention (please, don't tell my students I said that). I think it is much better to have an active, but distracted mind, then to nod off.

And then there is what I think of as passive listening. This is when you don't think of something else but instead allow what is going on to flow over and around you. In this state, you are hearing if not processing. Recently, I did this while attending an event. A few days later, I reaped the rewards of relaxing into boredom. My subconscious used what I had heard to provide the solution to a plot problem.

Right now, I'm attending Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh. I'm not at all bored. I'm happily running into people I see only once or twice a year. Tomorrow, I intend to attend some panels. But I suspect that even though I am not bored my mind will drift. I will engage in active listening, and something someone says will have me reaching for a pad and pen because I have an idea. And I may miss some of what is said after that. But I will try to jot down just enough so that I can come back to it later.

It seems to me that whether I'm bored or invigorated, what works best is to let my subconscious do its thing. I'm depending on that for a problem I'm trying to solve. I'm working on a plot outline for a book and in spite of using my usual multiple pronged approach -- name generators, baby name websites, sites with surnames by nationality -- I am having a more difficult time than usual finding the right names for my characters.

I've named my protagonist but several characters have only a first name, and others are identified only by occupation. I am one of those writers who needs names for my characters before I can move forward. But I'm assuming that whatever the block I'm experiencing is, it must be a part of the process. There must be something important I need to consider about these characters' names. And if I wait for it, my subconscious will make the connections.

How do you tap into your subconscious? Does boredom work for you?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

How Writing a Novel is Like Finding a Woolly Mammoth in Your Back Yard, or The Writer as Archeologist.

A few weeks ago a soybean farmer in Michigan was digging around on his property when he found something that he thought was a buried fence post.* He tried to dig it out, but discovered it was much bigger than a fence post, and attached to something. He kept digging, and lo and behold, after much toil he discovered that his fence post was actually a tusk attached to a skull. He called in the archeologists, who discovered that the skull was part of the skeleton of a huge woolly mammoth that had been butchered and stored in a pond some one hundred and fifty thousand years earlier by prehistoric hunters. Now, that is quite a discovery, to go from a hole in the ground, to a fence post, to the tale of early American mammoth hunters, butchering their prey after a successful and thrilling hunt and then sinking the carcass into a pond to keep it fresh for a while longer. Why did they not retrieve it later? Did they move on? Millennia later, a scientist holds a bone in his hand and wonders.

In related news, I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel. Every time I begin a new book, I survey the landscape until I find a likely place to hunt for a tale worth telling. Then I haul out my tools and I start digging, trying to find the gist of the story. At first I tend to slog around, flinging shovels full of mud out of the way, occasionally coming up with promising bits and pieces of bone, but nothing that excites me. Until I just happen to hit upon something that is different from all the mud I have been digging into. Often I think I’ve just found a fence post, but as I continue to dig, my author eye tells me that I have stumbled upon something that is going to be interesting. Then my heart rate picks up because I realize that what I’ve found is made of gold, and if I keep carefully digging, then scooping, then delicately brushing away the detritus around the story, I will have discovered a tale worth telling.

*read the story here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Edits and markets and bloggers, oh my!

Barbara here. This week I am well on my way to the publication of my next novel, the first in the Amanda Doucette series, entitled FIRE IN THE STARS.  Monday I sent the proofs back to my editor after spending a week combing through them trying to third-guess my second-guessing brain. Research has shown that when you read, you see what you expect to see–what makes grammatical sense or what you think is there. Once you've written and rewritten/ reread your precious work-in-progress a dozen times, you can practically recite it from memory, and in a sense, your brain does. It jumps ahead from word to word, barely noticing the transposed letters, the missing word, and the wrong character's name. Quite simply, the brain puts it to rights for you.

Authors try to outwit the second-guessing brain by reading aloud or reading backwards, but I find the former too tedious and the latter too arduous when the manuscript is over ninety-thousand words long. Other authors rely on their rushed, distracted copyeditor to catch it all. An ill-advised approach, trust me. Still others get their spouse or friends to read it. Every fresh eye helps. I tend to read as slowly as I can without falling asleep, and hope for the best.

This time around, I made a few content changes in the proofs, which my editor will no doubt wince at, because at this stage, the book is already laid out and any changes mess up the layout. I found very few actual copy errors in the proofs, but whether my second-guessing brain outwitted me or not, only time will tell, when readers begin to send in their comments. "Loved your book, but just so you know, for second printing, on page..."

So now the manuscript is in the production line, the cover is finalized, and the cover copy all set up. In a month or two, the advanced reader copies will begin rolling off the printing press. And that brings me to the job on my plate for yesterday. Back to writing, you might think. You'd be wrong. The first few chapters in the second Amanda Doucette novel, entitled THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, are sitting in a scribbled heap on the coffee table beside my feet, but I haven't been able to get to them for over a week. First, those proofs, and yesterday, the publisher's marketing document. My publisher calls this the Author's Grid, and it's an Excel document (I have a headache already) containing all the marketing information that might be relevant to the novel. Media contacts I've made, bookstore and reviewer contacts, conferences and events I plan to attend, suggested search keywords for the novel, even the names of my federal and provincial members of parliament! Do you think they can help?

This grid serves as a partial stepping stone for the publisher's marketing plan. They have their own grid, I assume, and there is likely overlap, but in this brave new book biz world, increasingly it is the author's individual connections and networking that help to spread the word. The publisher will send out numerous ARCs to the major review sites both in Canada and the US, but  the number of reviews in major print newspapers is shrinking daily. Papers devote entire sections to the latest trends in automobiles and real estate, but reviews of the arts manage at best a page or two, much of it syndicated rather than local. But that's a rant for another time.

Nowadays, publishers, authors, and readers rely increasingly on online reviews, whether on Goodreads and Amazon or on dedicated book review blogs.  Although in theory, anyone can design a wordpress page, claim to be a book reviewer, and request review copies, there are some well respected book reviewers who provide informed and objective reviews and whose opinions carry great weight in the book world. This is where the author's connections become invaluable. Word of mouth, networking with other authors, and attendance at conferences all help us learn who might be interested in our work.

Media and bookstore contacts are another area where the author's personal experience is important. Every time I do an event in a store, I make a personal connection with that bookseller which helps when my next book appears in their catalogue, or even better, when my publisher sends them an ARC.

Some authors are wonderfully organized about keeping track. Names and addresses of contacts, websites, blogs, and so on–all in a neat little file. I am not. I tend to rely on my increasingly fuzzy memory, and hence there I was yesterday, staring at the blank Excel spreadsheet of my Author Grid, trying to remember what bloggers I've met, who might be interested in hearing about my new book, who have I talked to in radio or TV. It's a job that took much of the day, while my dogs waited with increasing impatience for their walk. But it's done now, and sent off. Back to the grand, creative life of a writer!

Except that now I have remembered two radio interviewers whom I forgot to put on the list. And there are surely other book people inadvertently missed or as yet unknown. So if you are a mystery blogger or a bookseller interested in an ARC, please drop me a note and I'll add you to the grid.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Mulling over the sorry state of the English language

by Rick Blechta

I caught myself once again apologizing to someone by nearly saying, “My bad.” Darn! There goes some more slipping on one of my New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing wrong about trying to be hip, but there is something so grating to my ears (and mind) by using terms that I’m convinced spilled out of some 16-year-old’s pen because they couldn’t remember how to spell “fault”.

Think about it. We had a perfectly good phrase and it’s been turned into something that sounds awkward and puerile at the same time. Why? Because it’s been repeated over and over to the point where it’s an acceptable part of our language. Hell! It’s not even clever. It sounds like something a toddler would say.

I’ve written before here about how the average English speaker’s vocabulary is shrinking. I’ll admit I also find our language fascinating and I’ve discussed with polyglots (of which my wife is one) about how flexible English is in comparison to many other languages. I’ll have to take their word for it.

What I find alarming and sad in equal measure is that the English lexicon should be expanding if anything. Instead we would be talked under the table by our forebears of even 100 years ago. Think that’s not true? Read any E.M. Forster novel. If you don’t have a dictionary at the ready, you’re not going to make it through. A person reading it at the time it was printed would have no such issue.

I’m going to end my rant now, but I would really like some input on this topic from Type M readers. There are a lot of other “new” phrases and terms that are coming into common use that are not really adding anything to the language. You certainly all have your “favourites”, you know, the ones that make you grind your teeth.

What are they? And please share them with all of us.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Crime Writing Observed.

 I've blogged for years now about being a crime writer - my experiences, my habits, my problems.  Today I thought it would be rather refreshing to see the writer's life from a different perspective, so here are my  husband's observations on crime writers, as seen from the outside!

Ian writes:

I have never written a blog before, perhaps because I am not a writer. I am however, married to one and I have observed one at work for many years and also been lucky enough to meet a large number of others. So perhaps I am qualified to make a few observations – crime writers are my speciality!

The first striking fact is that many, perhaps most, writers don’t do it because they want to; they do it because they must. My own particular writer has been writing in one way or another since she was six and quite simply could not chose not to write and be happy (choosing to be published is a whole other discussion); it is perhaps like being a creative musician or artist, it is quite simply an integral part of their being.

I am by now an experienced hanger-on at conferences and literary events and have therefore met and talked to many crime writers who are almost, but not quite, always interesting and extremely nice.

They clearly work in all sorts of different ways, some, like my author, will say almost nothing about a book while it is being written, partly for fear of having a line of thought interrupted or, worse still, corrupted. At the other extreme, I know of one well known crime writer who reads his books aloud to his wife whilst they are in the process of being written and takes on board suggestions.

Although crime writers really are a nice lot, they all have a capacity to talk of death, corpses and the human tragedy that goes with it in the most clinical and dispassionate terms. And writing is a tough and demanding business; without exception, authors will tell you how much they enjoy the research they do and will usually admit that they are inclined to prolong it unnecessarily just to delay the time when they actually have to start writing.

The other thing authors all have in common is that they inhabit two quite distinct worlds. There is the everyday one where they relate to other people but there is another one altogether peopled by their characters who talk to them and come up with twists in what they thought was going to be the plot. In our case, many a long car journey has been spent in companionable silence while I drove and my wife was somewhere else entirely!

Finally, take it from me from first hand observation, it is very, very hard work.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Oh For Life-Changing Magic

A huge non-fiction best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up had the distinction of being featured in a recent New Yorker cartoon. I tried to copy the cartoon to display in this post but was defeated by electronics. So I will just include the caption:

The Life-Changing Magic of Shoving Everything into a Huge Hefty Bag and Leaving It For Somebody Else to Deal With.

I wanted to read this book and tried to get it through the library. Believe it or not, there were already 147 holds on the copy. I wasn't willing to be the 148th in line and ordered it through Amazon. Not only was I willing to pay good money for the Japanese author's slender little instruction manual, I had already listened to it on an audiobook. I even started folding underwear and my socks vertically and started sorting items for Goodwill by category.

My life is basically the same. I do some things well and some things poorly. I have good days and bad days, but mostly my days are pretty satisfying and on the whole I'm a happy person. I have a lot to be thankful for. The book had some great hints, but the "life-changing magic" seemed to bypass me.

So what in the world happened to make such a simple little book zoom to top of best-seller lists? I think that the author was Japanese lent credibility. We associate Japanese décor with uncluttered simplicity. Simplicity is appealing to those of us who are overburdened with the demands of our stressful societies and our plethora of electronic gadgets.

The book has a serene cover with a blue sky. It promises happiness. Serenity. A perfectly ordered house with everything in its place. There is a compelling narrative. The author, Marie Kondo, started down this decluttering path when she was in kindergarten. At the age of five, she could not wait to get home after school and begin organizing her things. It's her passion. She built a business out of organizing stuff.

She's the ultimate authority and very opinionated. No one else could have written from the same point of view.

But making a fortune from tidying up! Who would have thought?

This is a simple book. There is a lesson here for beginning novelists who complain that they are stuck in ordinary towns with ordinary uninspiring people. The greatest writers see the stuff of stories right in front of them. It doesn't take great adventures to come up with great fiction. And the same could be said of non-fiction.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Arc: The View From Thirty Thousand Feet

My three-book contract with Midnight Ink is up: I sent the June 2016 book, Destiny's Pawns, to my editor and now await feedback and cover art. I was thrilled last week when my agent called to say Midnight Ink's publisher wants to continue the series.

I'm hoping for another multi-book contract, so I'm writing synopses for a would-be three-book continuation. It's a process that has me thinking a lot about story arc.

I'm not much of a plotter: I'm a drive-to-the-end-of-your-headlights writer. I get jazzed by compelling characters and ensuing dialogue (as reader and a writer). My "outlines" are usually five-page character sketches – lengthy, detailed backstories and motivations for each of my books' major players. Then I put those players on the stage, give them a conflict (or several), and see what they do.

This process is different. And harder. Writing the arc for three novels means there is one or more over-arching storylines on top of the individual plot of each novel. This is a delicate balance, a secondary mystery that may not be answered at the completion of an individual book.

I was forced to think about this and to incorporate a secondary plot this summer when I wrote a screenplay. (Les Standiford, author and professor, once told me screenwriting taught him the art of plotting; I concur wholeheartedly.) I wrote a pilot episode, and in it I planted a question to be carried out through one entire novel: Peyton Cote has a photograph she's never shown anyone, a picture of a little girl. Who is the girl? What's her connection to Peyton? A teaser? Certainly. A larger part of who Peyton is and how Peyton came to be who she is? Yes. Additionally, I want a recurring villain, a foil to Peyton, a Moriarty of sorts, someone who could appear and leave, someone who enters – always unexpectedly – and makes the reader cringe before Peyton sees her.

Story arc – the view from thirty thousand feet – is a new way of thinking and writing for me, a lot more work upfront. I'm betting on plotting here. Creating the primary plot and overarching arc of several books should make for better stories for this author and (hopefully) his readers.