Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Madder Than a Mosquito...

I’m a sucker for colorful turns of phrase, especially the ones that evoke an unexpected image in the mind. The southern part of the United States has quite a few of those, far more interesting than any saying I’ve heard here on the west coast. Maybe that’s because I’ve lived somewhere on the west coast my entire life and I’m used to them.

One of the contestants on the most recent season of Holiday Baking Championship was from Georgia and had several interesting expressions. She referred to something she baked as having “fallen right out of the ugly tree.” My favorite was “madder than a mosquito in a mannequin factory”. Can’t you picture a mosquito flitting from plastic arm to plastic arm, getting angrier and angrier as it realizes none of them are real and its expectation of a feast to end all feasts has turned into famine.

I’d never heard this expression before so I was curious to see if this was a common one. In my five minutes of googling, I discovered that Larry the Cable Guy has used it and a judge used it in a court order in 2011.

The judge’s court order was a fun read. Here are some of the other expressions he used in the legal document:
  • happier than a tick on a fat dog
  • more confused than a baby in a topless bar
  • he would rather have jumped off a twelve foot stepladder into a five gallon bucket of porcupines than...
I also found Hickapedia where redneck sayings are cataloged. I think I’ve been guilty of this one myself: "Ask her what time it is and she’ll tell you how to build a clock." And then there’s “Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” I feel sorry for that cat.

How about you all? Are there any expressions you particularly like? What about expressions that confuse you?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Plagiarism in the 21st Century

by Rick Blechta

Always on the look out for topics for my weekly Type M posts, I ran across this yesterday: The girl who stole my book

It will take you a bit of time to get through Eilis O’Hanlon’s account, but believe me, whether you’re an author or not, it is gripping reading about the changing nature of plagiarism.

Okay, I’m assuming you read the article. Pretty awful, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe that this person posing as Joanne Clancy wrote any of the books that she self-published on Amazon. As a matter of fact, we can’t even be sure “Joanne” is a she. If you do the math, you can see that a pretty healthy living could be made by taking other people’s work, switching things up a bit and selling it in the most anonymous way possible — by formatting it as an e-book. Multiply that by a few dozen offerings and you’ve suddenly given yourself a pretty healthy income — and one that will keep on paying.

The ploy is really quite clever. Find an author who writes well but doesn’t have a lot of success even though his/her books are pretty good. Change a few things, and voila! You have a “new” book. Publishing e-books on Amazon is relatively easy and because of the volume published, it would be very difficult for Amazon to police. I’ll revise that first comment in this paragraph: the ploy is bloody brilliant. “Joanne” even had the audacity to do interviews. This person is a pro.

Several other things leapt out at me, though, in cogitating later on the article’s contents.

First of all O’Hanlon and her partner were far too kind. “In a way we feel sorry for her. Just because she plagiarized our work, doesn't mean that she's a bad person.”

Is she kidding? This person was a thief. Full stop. You can bet that sob story “Joanne” fed O’Hanlon about being a writer with severe writer’s block and that this scam being the thief’s sole source of income is complete BS from start to finish. These flim-flammers know what they’re doing. They know how to prey on their marks, and “Joanne”, I suspect, did it with aplomb. She was caught out lying in the middle of her sob story saying that she’d only made “a few hundred euros” when she’d made far in excess of that. Still O’Hanlon felt bad for her. Why does she think the sob story was created? To keep her from going to the cops is why — and she fell for it. Joanne Clancy survived to plagiarize another day under another name.

Somewhat off the track but relevant to this writer is the ridiculous amount of money kept by Amazon after the “author” was paid off. Come on, what did Amazon do that required them to get such a large portion of the publishing pie? I’m not familiar with the terms of Amazon’s publishing agreement with e-book authors who self-publish but sales of 15,000 euros only generating a payment of 1,761.80 euros is unbelievable. I hope that part of the article is wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were correct. A 12% royalty payment for an ebook where the authors done all the prep work and all Amazon has to do is upload it and track the sales is absolute highway robbery.

All in all, this article is a wake-up call to authors to protect their work as best they can. O’Hanlon only found out about this by chance. How many more authors are getting ripped off? You can be sure others are working the same scam. How can a poor author possibly track this sort of thing? It is also very possible that “Joanne Clancy” is one of a number of pseudonyms this crook may be using.

As if the book publishing game wasn’t bad enough, it just got a lot more depressing. There be sharks in these waters…

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Non-Book Holiday

By Vicki Delany

Vicki at Ha Long Bay
I am just back from 18 days in Vietnam. It was a wonderful holiday.  I loved every minute of it. I loved the people, the scenery, the food. I even loved the traffic in Hanoi and Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City), but that is only because I didn’t have to drive in it.  Although you take your life in your hands just crossing the road. 

What made the trip particularly special, is that it was a completely non-book related holiday.   I travel a lot, to mystery conferences, promoting the books, doing research, but this time I let all that go and just enjoyed myself.  I had a vague idea of maybe setting the next Sgt Ray Robertson novella in Vietnam, but quickly gave up that idea as I have no police contacts in the country. 

I love the writer’s life (to mis-quote Jeffry Singer, “writing is a poor way to make a living, but a great way to make a life”) but it can be all encompassing.  I write every day of the week, every week of the year, and when I am not writing books I am blogging, or thinking up blog posts, or Facebooking or Tweeting about my newest book, or trying to arrange trips and promotion.

So the break was just great.   The weather in the North (Hanoi and Ha Long Bay) was cool, but it got extremely hot as we went south.  In Ho Chi Minh City and on the Mekong Delta it was around 35 – 37 C, and very humid.  We were extremely fortunately in that we had no rain at all.

Here are some pictures of my trip.

Buddha at Marble Mountain outside of DaNang

Traffic in Saigon

Mekong Delta
Marble Mountain

A Temple
Old books

Friday, March 25, 2016

Writing Groups

I joined my first writing group when I was learning to write mysteries. The experience left me with a clear sense of why I was not an ideal writing group member. I revise as I write. I revise every day before beginning to write. What this meant for my friends in the writing group was that I would give them a chapter and before they could respond, I would have revised that chapter. Sometimes I would have revised the chapter by changing the plot. This meant that when we met once a month in the Barnes and Noble Cafe, they were providing feedback that might no longer be relevant.

Actually, our writing group was not deeply devoted to critiques. We were composed of unpublished writers and mystery readers who had met at our local mystery bookstore, Haven't Got a Clue. When the bookstore closed, we ended up as "the Wolf Road Irregulars" (the name referring to the location of the Barnes and Noble). The cafe worked well because we were a small group and who could be there for the regular Sunday evening meeting varied. Those of who were, caught up, talked mysteries, and occasionally exchanged sections of our manuscript to be read before the next monthly meeting.

I worked my way through multiple drafts of my first Lizzie Stuart novel. With nothing remaining the same except my protagonist and why she had come to a small town in Virginia. In the end, even that changed. The book that I had intended to be the first in the series became the second. I was invited by a friend to join her and her young son for a week's vacation in England. As a writing exercise, I decided to try my hand at an updated classic detective novel set in a private hotel in Cornwall (much like the hotel my friend and I were staying in). That was the book that I researched, outlined, and wrote in transit. That was the book that I ended up selling because it was actually finished when I had an opportunity to submit a manuscript. The vacation I'd taken Lizzie Stuart, crime historian, and John Quinn, American police detective, on required that I rewrite the book I had been working on with my writing group to take that meeting into account.

But being part of a writing group had been crucial to my goal of becoming a published mystery writer. The members of the writing group were the first people I had told that I intended to write a mystery. This was what had been missing years earlier when I wrote two romantic suspense novels and tucked them away in a drawer. No one except me knew that I was writing. The members of the writing group also had been able to see aspects of my book that I could not -- that I was too close to see. For example, I had not intended John Quinn to be a continuing character. But even as I was writing the first book (that became the second), one of my writing group friends observed that there seemed to be a bit of chemistry going on there. (This observation came from one of the male members of our group, who did not read romance novels but had a keen ear for dialogue). I denied that I intended to put the two characters together. But, by the time, they arrived in Cornwall, even I had noticed what was happening. Still, I resisted. Until the friend I had been on the vacation with read the finished manuscript and objected to the fact that there was no "payoff" at the end. Lizzie and Quinn said good-bye and went their separate ways. So I added a kiss. And proved my writing group friends right.

The Wolf Road Irregulars disbanded after several years because we were losing members to life changes and moves out of the area. One of our members became the founder of the upstate New York chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC) Most of the remaining members of the writing group joined the chapter. And I found that it worked much better to wait until the first draft of my manuscript was done and send it to two or three trusted readers for feedback. In that interval between first draft and beginning revisions, I could take a break and give them time to respond. That worked well. Even if they responded after I had started to revise, they were responding to a manuscript that was not going to undergo major changes. They could comment on characters and continuity and where the plot bogged down or wandered off.

But here I am in another writing group. One of the members of our SinC chapter suggested we add an after-meeting writing group. The group would be open to anyone who wanted to stay. I went into the group knowing my flaws as a writing group member. But the first meeting was fun. We helped a group member brainstorm possible titles for the debut book in her new series. I decided to ask for time in the second meeting to brainstorm the structure of my historical thriller. I have the plot, but the challenge of moving three groups of characters over eight months to a climatic encounter was giving me serious heartburn. Whose perspective? How many voices? The hero and the villain? Six possible perspectives. Good grief.

That was what I took to my new writing group in our second meeting. I had cheated. I had sent them two versions of the synopsis and changed character names and events. I had added an important character. I had given them too much backstory (that would never appear in the book). But even though I was not making their task easy, the ideas about structure flowed. They looked at my choices, asked questions until they understood what I wanted to do. And after more than an hour, one group member threw out an idea. Others picked it up. And suddenly I had the solution to my problem. It was an idea that might have occurred to me but that I would have discarded -- even expressed doubts about when they were discussing. I pointed out that it wasn't usually done in crime fiction. They asked what difference that made. It worked for my book.

They were right. It does. I finally have structure. I also have a way of telling the story that I love and that my writing group friends assured me readers would enjoy as well. I think they're right about that, too. I would read the book they are urging me to write.

So I come to this post today to speak in praise of writing groups. Sometimes nothing beats a good brainstorming session with a group of people who are focused on your problem.

Anyone else belong to a writing group?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Easter, or No Event in Your Life is Wasted When You're a Writer

Eggs dyed with onion skin and pansies

Happy Easter, for all those who celebrate it. I've been thinking lately about how much of my own life, both incidents and feelings past and present, I use in one form or another when I write. For most of my growing-up life, my family traveled to Boynton, OK, and had Easter dinner with my grandmother.  When she decided it was too much trouble, my mother began hosting the family gathering, which became the new tradition throughout my young womanhood. The old folks are gone, now, and my immediate family is scattered across the country and the world. But even though my Easters are much smaller these days, members of my family still adhere to the old Easter dinner menu we knew as kid.

We always had a ham. When I was small, in Days of Yore, the ham wasn’t vacuum packed and spiral cut, it was a big old bone-in hunk of meat, marbled with fat.  It wasn’t bought at the store, either.  It was raised from a piglet, butchered and smoked by one of the family members still on the farm.  By the time we were going to Mama’s, the sty-to-table ham was no more, but she made up for it by tenting and slow cooking the thing with brown sugar and mustard glaze, and clove buds stuck all over the top.

My parents never bought chocolate bunnies and eggs and colored jelly beans for us, but we did have to have our Easter eggs. My sisters and I pestered our mother to let us dye the eggs for weeks before the day, and finally she couldn’t stand it any more and let us make a mess of the kitchen several days ahead of time. We used those commercial dyes that come in little pills, but recently, largely because of my old-time housewife research, I've been dying eggs with onion skins and flowers. Which is kind of a mess, but beautiful and certainly cheap.

My husband’s very large family had their Easter egg traditions, as well. Don is the seventh of seven children, only two of whom were boys. His only brother, whom I will call “Mac”, was nine years older than Don, so Don remembers their relationship as being one of his tagging along behind Mac and allowing himself to be talked into whatever mischief the elder came up with. One year, Mac and Don loaded up several hard-boiled eggs, snuck out to a nearby field, and spent a happy half hour throwing the eggs at a telephone pole. I loved the image so much that I used it as the inspiration for an incident in my second novel, Hornswoggled.

In fact, one entire chapter in Hornswoggled is about a giant family Easter dinner like the ones I remember from my girlhood, with all the mamas, aunts, sisters and cousins bustling around grandma’s kitchen, readying a massive dinner for sixty-five.

The kitchen was literally a hotbed of action. The spring day was cool, but the heat of the wood-fired, cast iron stove, combined with the harried activity of nearly a score of women, served the make Grandma’s big kitchen uncomfortably hot.  Grandma Sally herself stood in the center of the floor at the hear of the kitchen table, directing the action like a trail boss.

So, happy Easter, all.  Now, go forth and make some memories that the kids will think of fifty years from now with such fondness that one of them may write about them in a novel.
p.s. I loved Rick's entry on titles, below. Titles are a constant source of bother and worry for me. Perhaps I shall muse upon the problem when next I blog.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Writing as chess

Barbara here. I was entertained by Aline's post about the French award for Page 112.  In truth, I think all of us should receive an award for getting to, and past, Page 112. There is a point in the saggy middle of every book when all the brilliant plot ideas that propelled us into the story have been used up, but the end looms nowhere in sight. We still need to dream up material to fill at least 100 more pages before we can bring the wretched thing to its much deserved end. And I don't mean just flabby, meandering prose that limps down one blind alley after another, nor an endless series of contrived crises that pass for tension and suspense in some circles. When I read "action-packed" books like that, I think "Oh for Pete's sake, not another explosion!"

I've often heard story telling, especially mystery story telling, being described as throwing a bunch of balls up in the air, juggling them, and then miraculously catching them all and bringing them safely back to earth by the end. There is a certain truth to this analogy, especially when you are at the page 200 mark, with dozens of balls in the air, and you're terrified of forgetting some ball that will drop on your head at the end, or remain suspended in the ether until some astute reader points it out, long after the book's release.

However, I actually think the closer analogy, at least for my writing style, is more like a peculiar chess game in which the pieces are introduced one at a time until there is a full board, and then they move strategically, each move being dependent on the one made before, until the final checkmate. I use a variant of the "pantster" method of writing with some "plotter" mixed in. I don't outline or plot ahead of time; rather, the next scene grows out of the one that came before. Thus I can't anticipate the end, nor even very far ahead. In the beginning, perhaps the first 112 pages, I am introducing elements of the story, developing the complexity of the situation and unfolding the conflicts of the characters. This is pure fun and creativity. After that, in the saggy middle, the challenge of working with those elements begins. Characters make moves and counter-moves. Each character's moves are determined by what they would do next. I am always asking myself "At this point, with this development, what would be this character's next step?"

I'm actually a very poor chess player, so perhaps this analogy is quite wrong for the master chess player who envisages his whole sequence of moves ahead of time and knows exactly how he will win. But the analogy works for me. When I play chess, I try to think several moves ahead, or at least line up my possible moves in my head. But I can't see how the game will end until it's very nearly upon me. So I am with advancing the plot, by seeing only a few scenes ahead at any time.

I am aware of two storytelling devices as I move my story forward. First, that each step has to move the story forward towards uncovering the solution, even if I don't know what that is. The second is that things must never get boring. Plod work is skipped over, back-to-back scenes of similar content–such as inner monologues, interviews, phone conversations, etc.–are avoided. And every now and then, I ask myself what would really shake things up? What would be the most unexpected thing to happen to a character? I like surprises that slam the character, and the reader, off course.

In practice, what this style means is that I write for awhile, hit a wall, brainstorm the next few scenes, write them, hit another wall, etc. In this fashion, I inch towards that magical checkmate. Often the brainstorming occurs on long drives or walks, when I have lots of uninterrupted thinking time and no distractions. Yesterday I was driving home from a research trip and used to time to brainstorm my way through the next section of my current novel. The problem with brainstorming while going 120 kph is that I can't write down the brilliant ideas as they come to me, but have to rely on my sometimes capricious memory instead. Fearing the ideas might completely vanish by the time I arrive home, I have on occasion pulled off the road (once into a liquor store parking lot) and jotted the whole sequence down on the back of whatever paper was at hand. Yesterday I pulled off the highway and sat at the stop sign to record my ideas on my iPhone. Hurray for technology!

Now I am all set to write the next small section of the book. I am curious to know what other writers do to get from Page 112 to the end of the book. What tricks do you have up your sleeve?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The trouble with titles

by Rick Blechta

One of the most difficult tasks for every writer is coming up with a great title for their stories, whether they are novels, novellas or short stories, fiction or non-fiction. Names are important, not only from a marketing standpoint. They are how we introduce our story to the world, and our “children” deserve the best, don’t they?

The reason I’m going on about this is that I ran across an interesting piece on this morning. It’s about first cracks at titles for famous novels, and they provide an interesting insight into the thought processes of writers as they struggle with finding the perfect title for what are famous novels. Would they have been famous if the first title had stood? I wonder...

(The blog post was written by someone named Will S. I wish I knew more about him, so I could get in contact with him to ask if I could quote him. I haven’t been successful as of yet, but I want to share this, so Will, thanks in advance. If you don’t wish this, just let me know and I’ll remove the quoted material.)

So here goes: bad titles for famous books!

Here are the titles. See if you can guess what the book is. Descriptions will follow. They are all iconic works of the 20th Century.
  1. The Kingdom by the Sea
  2. Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires
  3. The Last Man in Europe
  4. Fiesta
  5. Something that Happened
Any ideas? Come on! Try to guess.

And now the answers:
  1. Vladimir Nabokov nearly titled his 1955 novel, Lolita, with this more imagistic title. Had he done so, who knows how reception of his controversial classic would have gone!
  2. Believe it or not, F. Scott Fitzgerald went through several titles for his American classic, The Great Gatsby. Sometimes it’s the simpler titles that say the most. Instead of choosing this more abstract title, he chose the epithet of its most exciting character, Jay Gatsby.
  3. Although this original title makes sense for content of the book, doesn’t 1984 have a nice ring to it? George Orwell couldn’t have known the lasting effect of his now-famous dystopia when he originally wrote it, but dating its plot shows readers of every decade how close we still are to Big Brother.
  4. This is an example of how sometimes a successful title can come from a source that is external to the book. The Sun Also Rises is a quote that Hemingway adapted from Ecclesiastes to title his famous novel about the running of the bulls in Pamplona, applying the quote to the “lost generation” of which he was a part of. Although most of the book takes place at a fiesta, Hemingway was wise to choose a more elegant title for his novel of failed romances.
  5. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was a commercial success in the U.S. with his Robert Burns-inspired title. How would his audience have reacted in 1937, to such a vague title for such an intense story? Something did happen, but it’s the mice and men that still haunt audiences today.
I don’t feel so bad now with some of my poor ideas for titles for my own works when I was coming to grips with what to call them. Most of these are pretty bad – especially the last one. It would be interesting to know who came up with the works’ final titles. Was it the author after more consideration? Or did the publisher say, “No way are we releasing this with your title.” Or possibly a loved one who gently chided, “Honey, just what the heck are you thinking? This title is awful!”

The really interesting question, though, is: would these books have been successful if the original title had stood?

Monday, March 21, 2016

The importance of Page 112

I'm an avowed francophile. I love everything about France; I love their countryside, what they call 'La France Profonde' with the pretty villages that don't seem to have changed much in the last few hundred years. I love their food, and their wine, of course. I love the people, who have an unjustified reputation for rudeness. How can you say they're rude when the shopkeeper says he is 'désolée' if he happens to be out of whatever it is you want?

But more than anything I love the elegant quirkiness of their minds. Is there any other country that has an a book award like Le Prix de la Page 112?

Yes, this is quite literally a prize awarded for the best page 112.  Just that page, not the whole book.

The idea behind this is, I understand, that page 112 is held to be the point at which the initial enthusiasm that drove you in starting the book in the first place has waned and all the brilliant ideas and aperçus you thought would carry you right through to the concluding chapter have been used up. This is where the book starts to sag.

Presumably the temptation will be to cheat. Once you knew which page in the book would be 112 you'd want to revise it to a high state of polish. However, since you never know until you get the page proofs, this presumably has copy-editors up and down France tearing their hair out as they have their work to do all over again in a blizzard of corrections.

I kept wondering whether having read 112, the judges then couldn't resist checking out 111 and 113, to see whether it toned in with the rest of the story. Perhaps they judged on the basis of which page 112 was so interesting that they rushed off to read the rest of the book, or more likely, being French, they would award the prize to the most elegant and 'literary' page.

I looked back through a few of my own books to check on page 112 and I have to say I don't think I'd have been on the shortlist. The one that began, 'Yes, she was his mother. But yes, he had reason to hate her. She had used him when he was too young to understand, had condemned him to the sort of half-life he was leading now,' was probably the best of them in that it was reflection rather than just dialogue and events, but I have to say I couldn't dig out anything elegant or literary. I'm down and dirty with the plot at that stage of the books.

So what about a prize for the best first page, or even the best last page? First impressions are so important and the last page is the impression of you as a writer that the reader takes away with them so these are definitely the pages I spend most time on and I suspect some of you would say the same.

Or – here's a radical thought – not the first page, the last page, or page 112, but a prize for the best page chosen at random? It might make authors keen to compete take that sort of trouble over every page. It could make writing the book a very slow process – but think how good it would be.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Guest Blogger: Naomi Hirahara

John here.

A year ago, I asked my pal SJ Rozan for a recommended read. She gave me the name of an author I'd never read but upon reading MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE immediately loved. That author is Edgar Award-winner Naomi Hirahara, this weekend's guest blogger.

Naomi Hirahara, born and raised in Southern California, is the author of the Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Japanese American gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, GASA-GASA GIRL, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, BLOOD HINA and STRAWBERRY YELLOW). Books in this series have been translated into Japanese, Korean and French.

MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE, her new mystery series with a female twentysomething LAPD bicycle cop, was released with Berkley Prime Crime in spring 2014, with A GRAVE ON GRAND AVENUE following in April 2015.

She also has penned a middle-grade novel, 1001 CRANES, which was chosen as an Honor Book for the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2009.

A former editor of the largest Japanese American newspaper in the U.S., she also has released a number of nonfiction works, and her short stories have been included in various anthologies. Her sixth Mas Arai novel, SAYONARA SLAM, will be released in May 2016. I hope you enjoy her post. To learn more, visit her web-site.

Flourishing in Blockbuster Times
By Naomi Hirahara

Last year I was invited to speak at the San Fernando branch of the California Writers Club. In addition to a consummate L.A. meeting space -- Motion Picture Television Fund retirement home next to Spielberg Way, the club had wonderful members devoted to improving their craft.

My topic for that talk was “Flourishing in Blockbuster Times.” Here’s the blurb I provided them:

According to prevailing economic theory, publishers and movie studios need to chase blockbusters to stay in business. But what about on the other side – creatives who are not necessarily making blockbusters, but still producing valuable work that provokes, entertains and informs society. Are we destined to be on the financial periphery – writing creatively on the side or perhaps a hobby? Or can we make creative production at the center of our work lives?

What spurred this topic was an online debate about the long tail versus the blockbuster. A Harvard business professor, Anita Elberse, has introduced a strategy that media conglomerates should go after the blockbuster movie, books, etc. as a better financial bet than going for the long tail of countless smaller projects. Professor Elberse had been making the rounds on talk shows since 2008 – I had been clueless at the time, but was witnessing this playing out in the 2010s.

In a strange way learning about this established financial theory for the pursuit of blockbusters made me feel better. What I faced in publishing wasn’t personal; it was the system. I could cry and wail, or I could put on my armor and grab my weapon and figure out where there were cracks in the wall. This was actually no different from what I faced my whole professional writing life. So here are a few things that I’ve learned on the way.

Timing is everything.

Luck does play a role in a writer’s success. For instance, timing. But we often can’t predict the right time for a book. The important thing is that we actually create our stories and put them out there. If they aren’t written, you’ll definitely have no luck.

Be open to change.

If one path isn’t working for you, perhaps think about going in another direction.

Never say never and don’t burn bridges.

I know that when we feel personally mistreated by a certain company, system or person, the tendency would be to lash out. That’s where professional comrades and bars come in. No need to rant and rave in public, and that includes the Internet. I’m talking business, not systematic discrimination. There’s a place to put the latter on notice in a big way.

Work from your strengths.

Is description, not dialogue, your thing? Then saturate your writing with your beautiful prose. If it’s dialogue, maybe keep your descriptions to a minimum. Are you more of a comedic writer than hard-boiled? Then own your power. There are many homes for books. Don’t try to be like your neighbor or even like your favorite scribe if your writing voice takes you to a different place.

Live cheaply and smartly.

Do you want to write on a fulltime basis? Then don’t drink champagne unless it’s purchased for you. Be smart on promotional travel, especially if it’s on your own dime. In the beginning, swallow your pride and stay on friend’s couches.

Ask for money.

When you are starting your career, it makes sense to do select non-bookstore events pro bono. But once the invitations from groups and organizations come in, it’s time to inquire about an honorarium, at least to cover travel. Your time, too, is valuable. You could be writing rather than speaking.

Global can be your friend. And so can other licenses and rights.

My debut novel, published in 2004, got its first French deal last year. The same publisher picked up the second and third. Audio books for five in my series were released last year. And finally some serious movement on an independent feature film this year. Take good care of your books. Keep nourishing the stories so they are not forgotten. Sometimes the right timing is 11 years after the publication. This takes me to the first point on this list. Timing is everything. Rinse and repeat.

More on big-publishing consolidation here.

Oh! Canada!

Oh happy neighbors to the North.

 The Crime Writers of Canada treated the attendees of the recent Left Coast Crime conference to one of the loveliest receptions imaginable. It was well organized and generous and greatly appreciated by all.

One of the highlights of LCC was getting to visit with this talented group of writers. I'm especially interested in Canada right now due to our stressful presidential campaign. The sixties were this corrosive. The very air seemed charged with ill-will toward all. And frankly this election brings back memories. Yes, Canada, you should prepare for another flood of refuges like you had once before.

Not draft-dodgers this time, but a great many of your bewildered neighbors who want to think about fun things. Like writing.

This post is very short. I have serious unexpected medical allergies and when I got back I received a tetanus shot that played thunder with my health. We (by we I mean all the doctors involved) expect to have this resolved shortly. But in the meantime I'm getting in some serious junk TV and doing no writing.

I have many topics on my mind right now. Things I would love to write about. In fact, one of the subject I've never seen covered is the anxiety produced by looming deadlines teamed with illness. Books in particular are so treacherous. They seem to have all the time in the world and then up jumps the devil.

And oh to be through with this wretched presidential campaign.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How Much Fiction is Fiction?

This week, I'm on a family vacation in Florida (see photos). The timing has been good because I'm 40-ish pages into my 2017 novel, and I've hit a plot snag. So it's time to slow down and do some research.

The plot will remain in tact; after all, I outlined this one pretty thoroughly (yet, admittedly, I'm not an outliner, per se, so "pretty thoroughly" means a couple-page plot summary I worked on for a week). Last week, I printed out my pages, sat down with my pencil, edited what I have, and realized I have questions about the backstory of two characters that I need answered before I can continue writing the story. These questions are specific to the Syrian refugee crisis.

A family vacation means I refuse to work when everyone else is awake, which means rising early to write for a couple hours before the rest of the clan wakes. The "writing" I've done this week has been looking for and e-mailing (or Facebook messaging) experts on Syria and refugee smuggling. As of this writing, I've e-mailed questions to 1) a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, 2) a Boston College professor, 3) a University of Massachusetts professor, 4) an immigration attorney, 5) a Nova Scotia fisherman, and 6) a former deputy chief of the United States Border Patrol. That's more time networking than writing, which is the cost of doing business for a procedural writer.

I began my writing life as a newspaper reporter (two years after college), so I know how to find and cull information. (Often, I send multiple experts the same questions so I can cross-reference the answers.) And research is vital to writing fiction, especially considering today's information-savvy readers. In our genre, fact-based fiction is the primary difference between procedurals and other other sub-genres (amateur sleuth and private investigator crime fiction). For me and this project, most importantly, lots of people know something of the Syrian refugee crises; therefore, I flat out have to get these details right or the novel will collapse under the weight of failed reader-expectations.

All of which brings me to the question of how much fiction is fiction? And maybe even how much fiction should be fiction? Yes, I research. For some books more than I enjoy. (Robert B. Parker is a hero to me because he knew human nature and the human condition well enough to write clear, riveting novels that dealt with little else.) But today's readers, particularly those who favor procedurals, demand and deserve authentic portrayals of the professions writers explore, be it life as a homicide detective or the life of my US Border Patrol agent. Subsequently, research makes my books better.

And that's the bottom line.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Getting Unstuck

I’m back from Vegas and heavily into finishing my third book, which is due at the end of April. About now, I’m wishing for my own personal Groundhog Day, like in the movie, where the same day repeats over and over again. I’m not where I’d like to be and would welcome the extra time.

One difference I have noticed between writing book 2 and book 3 is that I haven’t gotten stuck as much. I prefer the term stuck to writer’s block. Stuck indicates it’s a temporary phase that can be gotten past while writer’s block seems far more permanent. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve figured out ways to jog my brain or if it’s just having more writing experience under my belt.

I read with interest Vicki’s recent post on the creative pause. How, in the past, those involved in a creative activity would pause when stuck, look out the window, get a drink of water, etc., to help kick start the process. Now, with the internet and constant access to the world, we no longer enter the world of the creative pause.

For book 3, I wrote the first draft longhand. Yes, using actual pen and paper. You remember those, right? The physical act of putting ink to paper dislodges something in my brain and my thoughts start flowing. I get those chapters done much faster, plus I’ve avoided the plethora of cute cat videos available on the internet.

Most people don’t take such a drastic approach. Instead, some writers, like Vicki mentioned in her post, have two computers, one used for writing and one used for email, research, etc. Looking at a computer screen can sometimes cause my mind to freeze up, so I prefer writing longhand for the first draft. (Pretty funny coming from someone who has two degrees in Computer Science, isn’t it?)

Here are some other things I do to help me get unstuck:
  • Take a walk, clean a room, reorganize a cupboard. I’ve come up with solutions to problems and some of my best ideas while exercising, cleaning the bathroom or reorganizing a kitchen cupboard. Plus, I’ve done something good for myself or my home. I keep a pad of paper nearby to jot down the ideas so I don’t forget them. I also have a digital voice recorder and keep it handy.
  • Work on some other part of the project. If I’m having a problem with a particular chapter or scene, I work on a different chapter or scene. Usually, there’s something that’s niggling on my brain, aching to be written. This is the first book I’ve not written in order. It’s been an interesting experience.
  • Look at the writing from a different perspective. Try writing in a different room. Or get out of the house and try writing in a different location altogether. If I’m editing a draft on the computer, sometimes I’ll print out a chapter and look at it on paper instead of on the screen.
  • Ask yourself what your characters are doing ‘behind the scenes’. If I’m stuck on what’s going to happen next, I ask myself what the antagonist or other characters are doing at this point in the story. This is the stuff that’s happening ‘behind the scenes’ that won’t make it to the page. The consequences of this activity will, however. e.g. in a mystery, the murderer feels your main character is getting too close to the truth so he sets fire to your character’s garage. Your character has to deal with the consequences of the action. That might delay her investigation or she might come up with evidence that will bring the murderer to light.
  • Look over characters’ bios. I write bios of my major characters before I start writing so I get to know them better. Looking over those notes will often help me remember who they are and what they want. That helps me figure out what actions they would take under various circumstances.
  • Interview the main character. This goes hand in hand with the previous suggestion. Ask the character questions and type out the responses. What were they thinking when X did Y? What do they want in a particular scene? How did they feel?
  • Take a drive. I use a digital voice recorder set to voice activation mode to capture the ideas when they come to me.
  • Start with the dialog. For me dialog often comes first. If I can’t visualize a scene, I write out the dialog and, as the characters are speaking, I can figure out what they’re doing. As I refine the dialog, the prose surrounding it slowly gets hammered out.
If none of the above works, I give up for the day. I know from experience, it doesn’t help to force the situation too much. But I’m right back at it the next day. What do you all do to get those creative juices flowing and get unstuck?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why writers are their own worst enemies

by Rick Blechta

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been bouncing back and forth between my three jobs (graphic design, music, and of course, writing). It’s not as if I don’t do this a lot, it’s just that it’s been much more intense lately and therefore more noticeable to me.

First, I have a new novella being released by Orca next fall. I’ve had to focus my attention first on getting the copy-edited ms back to Orca, but second, on thinking about how I’m going to do my share of the promotion, organize signings and do a book launch.

My 9-member soul band, SOULidified also has a critical gig fast approaching. We’re expected to promote it (sound familiar?) and that’s a huge responsibility – and a time-consuming one. (In light of that, I encourage everyone to visit the band’s website ( and to “like” the band on Facebook ( We thank you!

Finally, I have an enormous graphic design job that I’m in the middle of. It has taken hours to get it to the mid-point and will take many hours more before it’s sent off to the printers and web people. The sad thing is: most of what I’ve written and designed will get chucked into the garbage since it has to do with renewals for a well-known Canadian magazine, and those renewal letters almost always get chucked out immediately. Sad but true.

So, you can see that my three endeavors are all creative and all artistic in nature. It’s what I do and that’s because it’s what I’m good at, and to a large extent I really enjoy doing it.

But to get back to today’s topic – and to explain why the introduction to this post is so long and detailed – most of what I do pays squat. I need three jobs to make ends meet, and even then, I’m certainly not on the road to easy street. Why? Because I’m not really that good at any of these things, so therefore my income is low? Au contraire, I’m pretty darn good. Understand, I’m not a boastful person by nature, but I also understand that one can devalue one’s talent by being modest. I don’t usually say this out loud. I’m a very good musician. I write well. And enough people value my copywriting and design skills to give me employment helping to promote their businesses.

So why is my income not big enough to allow me to concentrate on one endeavor and still survive? The answer is simple: income for all three of my jobs has been steadily declining. Since Type M is about writing, let’s concentrate on that.

It’s become clear to me by hanging around with a lot of writers that we do what we do because we have to. The need to tell stories is very akin to an addiction. I’m not alone when I feel withdrawal on those days when I don’t write.

But crafting a novel, novella or short story takes time. In order to justify that as much as the desire to have people read or stories drives writers to look for payment. Trust me, starving in a cold garret is no fun. There is also the possibility of not just getting paid, but getting paid very well if you “hit one out of the park” and that’s a very big incentive to keep working.

Trouble is, most of us don’t hit one out of the park. What happens then? Well, you can no longer expect much money when you sign a contract with any publisher these days. When the whole advance-against-royalties idea was inaugurated, its purpose was to allow a writer the financial support to complete their writing project. “We’ll make sure you don’t starve so you can complete the terms of your contract with us and deliver your ms.”

Most publishers have conveniently forgotten this of late. Economics has a large part to play in this. Most are hanging on by the skin of their teeth (or so they claim). But even so, publishers know one very important thing: writers will do nearly anything to get their work into print.

We now work for slave wages. I know a publisher that generally offers $1000 to complete an 80,000-word novel. I worked it out. For me it works out to $1.85 per hour start to finish (and that doesn’t include my time spent on promotional activities that are now “required” of all authors.

Why do we do it? Why don’t we just walk away? Some do. Maybe they’re the smart ones. The rest of us can’t. We have to tell stories.

So we put up with miserable financial return on our labour. We take large amounts of time to promote our work. We pay money for websites, publicity, and drive hours to readings and signings, all because it’s part of the game.

Is it too much to ask for reasonable compensation for creating product for the publishing industry?

Just ask the writers, painters, actors, sculptors, dancers and musicians. We’re all in the same boat. Those who sell our art realized a long time ago that artists are addicted to creating their art and are willing to put up with a lot in order to do it. It’s sad but true.

And don’t get me started on the music industry…

Monday, March 14, 2016

Creative Spaces

By Vicki Delany

I am in Vietnam right now, and no doubt having a marvellous time. So I searched for an old blog post that could use an update.  I wrote this back in 2009. I have solved the problem, and I tell you how at the bottom.
CBC radio runs a programme called Spark which is all about the world of computing and the Internet and how it is changing our lives. Today I heard an interview which stuck with me. The guest was talking about creative spaces. Meaning spaces as in gaps, not physical places.

She said that in the past when people were engaged in a creative activity, which of course to me means writing, if they got to a point where they were stuck, they would take a break and look out the window perhaps, have a glass of water, let their mind move. This even works with something as minor as looking at the flowers on your desk or the picture you keep there of your loved ones. Then, once your mind was in the place of the creative gap, it would kickstart itself (I am now using completely my own interpretation of what she had to say), and you’d return to the creative task with a fresh idea.

In the age of the Internet, however, as soon as we have a momentary pause, we flip over to Outlook to send off an e-mail and read three others, or we check our Facebook account, or Tweet to #writing to say we how hard we are writing.

We are not entering a place of the creative pause.

I have absolutely noticed that with myself. Sometimes, I don’t even realize that I’m doing it.  The mind will hesitate over the next thing to happen in the book, and wham! my fingers have sought out the Inbox. I have tried closing down mail and all browsers. Works for about fifteen minutes and I have to check quickly to see if anyone thinks I’m important enough to send me an e-mail.
I have talked to writers who have two computers, one for writing and one for all other stuff. That sounds like a great idea, but I don’t want two computers, I don’t want to get into having to shift documents around between one and the other. I have a laptop and a wireless router because I like to carry the laptop around the house and take it outside.

You know where this is going, don’t you?  I’m going to have to switch the router off when I’m writing.

I started thinking about whether the constant access to the Internet has affected my own writing. I’ve written before about how invaluable it is for doing research, but I’m thinking now about the creative process itself.

I have always written fiction on a computer. Way back in the ‘80s I was one of the few people I knew to have a computer in the house – my company gave me one to take home. It was an IBM PS/2 as I recall. Of course we didn’t have the Internet, or not something totally all-encompassing then. When did it become such an integral part of our lives?  By 2000 at least, I guess.

At a guess, my first three books were written without the constant presence of the Internet. Are they different, most importantly are they better, than what I have written since? I can’t say. When I worked full time I wrote in the evening, usually with a glass of wine at hand. Now I write in the morning with a pot of coffee at elbow and that has probably had a strong effect on the quality of my prose also!

Tomorrow, I’ll switch the router off.

Coming April 5, 2016, now available for pre-order
Let’s hope my head doesn’t explode.  

2016 Update:  My head didn’t explode, but I gave in and bought a dedicated writing computer, a small netbook. I have talked about how I now write standing up, but what’s important for this conversation is that what I use when standing up is totally dedicated to one thing only: writing a novel. I don’t even use it to write these blog posts.  I have never set up email and I have never even opened the browser. It seems to be working fine for me. 

I do have it connected to the internet, because I use Dropbox for backup and sharing.  And that's been a boon too.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Marketing for Fiction Writers

I wanted to follow the eloquent posts this week by Donis and Barbara with my own thoughts about Women's History Month. But I'm going to wait until next time and think a bit more. This post will be about marketing. I suspect I may be more susceptible to a sales pitch than my colleagues on Type M because I study mass media/popular culture. I am sometimes drawn in while I'm analyzing what is happening. A really good marketing strategy leaves me wanting to see if the product lives up to the hype. Yesterday morning, I watched a marketing master at work.

I tuned into a webinar conducted by publishing executive and life coach, Michael Hyatt. I discovered Hyatt because he was mentioned in a non-fiction author's blog post. She had a link to his website, and I found him interesting enough to read a few of his posts -- and ended up on his mailing list. I received an invitation to join his webinar, offered at several convenient times. He promised to tell me the three questions I needed to ask and answer to set my life priorities. Now, I should say here that he caught me at a vulnerable moment. Within the past couple of weeks, I'd almost said "yes" to something that I knew would be stressful and require a learning curve. I managed to step back and ask myself if I was the best person to do this and, more important, how would this affect all the others things I had committed to getting done within the next few years. But it was a close call, and it made me aware of those time management issues that I am always trying to balance. That made me an excellent prospect for Hyatt's webinar.

I tuned in -- but I almost logged out in the first ten minutes. Hyatt began his presentation by jarring his listeners to attention. In his conversational tone, he mentioned his friend who was an actuary. He had asked his friend how many of the thousands of people attending the webinar were likely to be dead in the next two years. He shared the statistics. Only a few, but not what you want to hear as you're sipping your morning coffee. Before his listeners could flee in horror, Hyatt followed up with the acknowledgment that he had delivered unsettling news. Knowing he was going to do that he had looked for humor in the situation and found it in the form of amusing last words on tombstones. As we were recovering from the "Boo!" we'd just gotten from the Grim Reaper and chuckling along, Hyatt moved into his presentation -- about having an opportunity to design the legacy we would leave behind. During the next 40 minutes or so, Hyatt provided a blueprint for identifying priorities and staying on track. When he was done, he offered his book for sale -- sharing the major league blurbs and early sales ranking. He also offered more giveaways to those who would make their purchase and enter the information from the sales receipt.

I was impressed by Hyatt's marketing, but I didn't buy -- until I was in a bookstore later in the day. I remembered his book, but didn't see it. I asked about it as I was checking out and was told the book was just out and not in stock. Asked if I wanted to order, I said yes. Even though I hadn't ordered his book after his webinar, Hyatt had found a way to influence my buying behavior. At the end of his presentation, he had quoted psychological research on failure to follow through. I had linked failing to buy his book with failing to set my priorities and being vulnerable to "opportunities" that were not right for me. The fascinating aspect of his strategy was that he had given me enough information during the webinar to be able to implement his blueprint. But I thought I would do it better with his book in hand.

Hyatt hooked me because he tapped into a universal fear. Then he offered  me a way to harness the anxiety he had induced. He convinced me that he had the solution to my problem. He could be confident that I and other members of his webinar audience would be receptive because we were the people who allowed him to reach out to us.

The challenge for fiction writers is to identify the readers who respond to us the way I did to Hyatt. We have to identify the readers who would be interested in our books and then get their attention in a crowded marketplace. We blog, we tweet, we do YouTube trailers. We sign in bookstores, do talks in libraries. Attend conferences and participate in panels. We Skype, send out newsletters, and do workshops. Most of us try not to shout "buy my book" or become spammers. But are there lessons we can learn from a master marketer like Hyatt about offering something of value and connecting with readers at a deeper level?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

An Interesting Time for a Writer, and Women's History Month

Left Coast Crime is over and the Tucson Festival of Books is coming up this weekend. I’ll be teaching a class on writing historical mysteries while I'm in Tucson, as well as participating in a panel with other historical mystery authors.* It’s always a boost to be around other writers. This is such a solitary life that sometimes you wonder if you're not just a voice crying in the wilderness. It's a mystery to me how a book ever gets written, to tell the truth. I've written books in the midst of personal crises that went on for months, but then found myself paralyzed when nothing in particular was going on with the rest of my life. But  however lovely it is to get out in the world, I must say that I’m beginning to get tired. And poor. As authors continually point out, you can’t help but wonder if all this travel and outlay and acting as free entertainment just for the exposure is really worth it. Especially when you can hardly find the time to finish your novel.

Things are changing so fast in the publishing world that nobody can keep up. How can one plan for the future? You can’t predict which of the numberless trends is going to have legs and which is going to fizzle out. We begin to understand the true meaning of the Chinese curse that that you should live in interesting times.

I detect a lot of fear about what’s going to happen, and resentment, because it seems that in the publishing world the authors are way down on the food chain, and no matter what format or delivery system comes out on top, the producers of the primary product will be the last to profit. (Rather like farming. Or the music biz.)

When J.D. Salinger, the famously reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye, died, he left piles, stacks, boxes, rooms-full of manuscripts that he had written just for his own enjoyment, any one of which he could have sold for an astronomical advance. He made the conscious choice to create art strictly for art’s sake. He was able to maintain this philosophy because the first book he wrote made him a millionaire. The rest of us can’t afford the luxury of such high ideals.  Sometimes I wish for the days when artists were supported by wealthy patrons.

I do like to tell stories, though, and will do my best to keep telling them however I may.

On another note, March is Women’s History Month, but since I write a historical mystery series featuring a female protagonist, every month is Women’s History Month for me. According to the National Women’s History Project, “the history of women often seems to be written with invisible ink. Even when recognized in their own times, women are often not included in the history books.”

Women’s lives – and I mean the real, everyday, down and dirty business of women’s lives, past and present – aren’t included that often in fiction, either. A traditional woman’s life has historically not been seen as very glamorous, or held much interest for those who didn’t have to, or choose to, live it.

But considering the things a woman often had to cope with in the past, we ought to be incredibly interested in their lives, if for no other reason than to make sure we don’t slip backwards and lose the rights and respect we’ve earned. Case in point: read Barbara Frandkin’s post, below.
Check out my TFoB schedule here

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Women's Work

Tuesday was International Women's Day, and the news was filled with articles and stats on how far we have come (gender parity in Canada's federal cabinet) and how far we still have to go (spousal assault stats, gender wage gap). Having been born in the immediate post War years and come of age in the social revolution of the 60s, I have marched some distance along the long road towards equality. In those nearly seventy years, it's easy to forget–and indeed, some never knew– how far we have come. My now 97 year-old mother has been my inspiration and role model for a strong, independent woman. She was born to relative privilege and attended private school in Westmount followed by finishing school in Paris, in the days when young ladies went to finishing school to get ready for their debut into "society". But while her friends practiced their courtesies and schemed over their dance cards, she chose instead to take the McGill university entrance exams. While those fine young ladies paraded their pedigrees and assets in the hopes of securing a hefty diamond ring by the end of the season, my mother was studying philosophy and science and dreaming of her place in the world.

Yet she was trapped by her era, her dreams stifled by her time and by the men who held the power over her life. She came from a long line of physicians and surgeons who had helped build the McGill medical school and the affiliated Montreal teaching hospital into a force to be respected internationally. Like her grandfather, father, and older brother before her, she wanted to be a doctor, but was told it was no job for a woman, who had neither the health nor the stamina for it. At 97, she sure has proved them wrong! So she did graduate work in biology and bacteriology instead, and when the reality of family responsibilities encroached, she became a high school biology teacher. But what a teacher! Innovative and creative throughout her teaching years, she wrote text books, developed a new ecology curriculum decades before its time, acted as president of her teaching union, and inspired countless students. After she retired, she went on to settle refugees and participate in social action and social justice causes, earning at the age of eighty a Caring Canadian Award from the Governor General of Canada. At 87, she wrote a book.

As her daughter, I had it slightly easier. But when I wanted to go to graduate school, the universities still required a letter from my father proving he could support me. When I wanted to buy a car, the bank required my husband to co-sign the loan, even though I was a professional on an equal footing with him. When I enrolled in my doctoral psychology program, the class consisted of nine men and me. Many of those men had wives who cooked their meals and did their laundry, allowing them to stay all hours at the lab. I had a great but lonely husband who just looked sad when the meals were late and the laundry forgotten. When I first started working as a school psychologist, women dominated the classrooms in elementary schools and made up about half of high school teachers, but there was only one woman principal in the whole school board. The higher you got in the school board, the more men dominated.

I'm happy to say times have changed. Women are everywhere in psychology and teaching and school board administration. They are dominant in many fields of university study, including law and medicine. But there is still this niggling reality that the fields dominated by women are the "soft", "nurturing" fields, and that the pay in these fields is not equal to the power-broker fields of science, tech, finance, and business, where it's still a man's world. I vividly recall a comparative entry-level income survey done between psychologists (who require a PhD and roughly 25 years of study) and regular engineers (a B Eng and less than 20 years). The engineers started at about $20K more than psychologists. At the time, I thought it's a good thing I love my work!

What does this have to do with this blog, which is after all a blog about writing? Because in some ways, the underlying themes hold true. Since I started my second career as a writer, I have banged my head against the same glass ceiling, encountered the same biases against women's stories the same undervaluing of women's choices, and the same preconceptions about the worth of women's work. An unpublished author, in an effort to find out why agents and publishers were rejecting her submissions, changed her name (and nothing else) to a male pseudonym and received eight times as many expressions of interest. Male authors receive more reviews, more festival invitations, more offers from the big publishers. And when it comes to prestigious awards, men win hands down.

Since recent surveys of publishing and literary agents reveal an overwhelming majority are white women, our sisters seem to be perpetuating the same message; men's stories matter more. And here's a recent anecdote to illustrate this. At the conference I just attended,  our Canadian contingent of crime writers organized a reception to highlight Canadian Crime. Pictures of all of us were posted to Facebook, prompting several commenters to ask "Are there no male Canadian crime writers?" There was one, but he was lost in the sea of hard-working women toiling on behalf of all of us. It's just what we do. What we have to do.

So it seems it is not yet time to lay down the sword and declare the battle won. But every time I grumble grumble grumble, I just have to remember my mother– where she came from and how far she travelled, against far greater odds than me. And if if all else fails, there's always the plucky thought "It's a good thing I love my work!"

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Stuff and blather

by Rick Blechta

Sorry I missed my spot last Tuesday. I was sick as a dog with a 24-hour bug of some sort. I’ll spare all and sundry the gory details, but to demonstrate how horrible I was feeling all that day, I’ll tell you this: I didn’t even turn on my computer. I can’t remember when that last happened. I also felt horribly guilty for abandoning my duties.

Today’s post will kind of bounce around to various things that I’ve been cogitating on but which don’t warrant a full post. Here goes…

The publishing industry continues to go through a pretty amazing period of upheaval. I won’t go into how authors are getting an even shorter end of the stick through all this. I sometimes wonder if we ink-stained wretches should form a union and start negotiating with the publishing industry as a united group. I’m sure the idea has been floated before. Knowing how writers operate, I can imagine the chaos putting together an organization like this would create, and there would always be those who prefer to travel their own path — making the whole exercise even more difficult. Like everything else in the arts these days, authors are preyed on by others to do more and more things for free. If we could go back as recently as 50 years, we would realize how radically the writer’s plight has changed — and we’re expected to do it for even less.

I’m continually amazed at how book cover design seems to be going downhill. A lot of it can be explained by the rise of self-publishing. As much as it irks me at times, there is a good reason publishers try to keep authors at a distance when it comes to creating a “face” for their works. From speaking to authors, both mainstream and self-published, it’s pretty clear that the relative simplicity of cover art (only three main ingredients: title, author and image) causes them to think that book covers are simple things when the direct opposite is true. But I’m also finding the art departments of mainstream publishers taking an increasingly cavalier approach to book cover design. With few exceptions, cover art is chosen by cost, rather than commissioned. This means that those images are becoming generic and disconnected. If you’re a big-name author, your works’ covers might not even get an image, just huge type with your name and the book’s title. And that’s a cover? It’s a disturbing trend.

Lastly, I notice that Barnes & Noble is abandoning the Nook reader. I love it when an industry gets everyone to buy into some new technology only to have it chucked because some other competing technology beat it out. Remember the short-lived HD DVDs? Blu-Ray smoked that in not much more than a year. Sure, we can always expect technology to move on and improve, but it’s the idea of one knocking out another competing platform that gets my goat. Will Kindle go on to destroy Kobo? Amazon sure hopes so. But in the end, it’s always the consumer who suffers – in their pocketbook. This sort of thing gets tedious after awhile.

Do you have anything that bugs you like this?

Monday, March 07, 2016


I was so interested in Vicki's post last week about why it is that she writes. I felt really envious when she said that she doesn't have to write. Because I do.

I think I've shared with you before my little fantasy that at my christening party the Good Fairy was invited but the Bad Fairy wasn't. The Good Fairy wanted to give me a wonderful gift, the Bad Fairy wanted to put on a horrible curse: they both spoke together and said, 'She shall be a writer.'

What is it that drives me? I don't know, I only know that when I'm not writing, I'm miserable. Sometimes I'm miserable when I am writing – when the story sticks, when the characters won't do what I want them to, when the inspiration doesn't seem to be there – but I know it would be much, much worse if I didn't.

But when it's working well, when I feel as if all I'm doing is taking down dictation from somewhere and my fingers can't keep up – ah, that's the hit that feeds my addiction.  I can't give up.

I wonder sometimes what people think about when half of their mind isn't on the story they're currently working on. For me it's a bit like living with a split screen; I'm quite adept at providing an answer to questions I haven't really heard, a talent I think I developed at school to cope with the teacher who would ask, 'What did I just say?' when she noticed I was daydreaming.

So I can't claim to write for anyone except me. I'm thrilled when other people join me for the ride - readers' emails are the very nicest part of being an author – but if they didn't, I'd still be there at the desk telling myself the story I'm writing because I want to know how it ends.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Presenting Erika Chase ...and Linda Wiken

This weekend, our guest blogger is my good friend and fellow Canadian author, Erika Chase. In a parallel life Erika, AKA Linda Wiken, is a former mystery bookstore owner.
The fifth book in the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries, Law and Author, came out last Sept. A new series, the Dinner Club Mysteries is due in July under her real identity (Linda Wiken). Toasting Up Trouble introduces the Culinary Capers gang. She’s a member of those deadly dames, the Ladies’ Killing Circle. She's been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel for A Killer Read and for an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story from Crime Writers of Canada. Her website is Please welcome Erika, and Linda!

A couple of weeks ago, one Type M blogger wrote about mystery conferences. Now I’d like to present you with a cozy view of the conference world. And believe me, it’s a different one.
Of course, rule number one, is choose your conference. For those of us who write cozies, Malice Domestic, held the last weekend in April or first in May every year, in Bethesda, MD is the place to be. There’s a good mix of writers and readers which provides a great opportunity to renew friendships, share ideas and grab some tips, and to foster new readers all the while having a fun time schmoozing.

The secret is this – cozy readers love cozy mysteries and that means, they love meeting the authors. If you don’t think you’re a cozy reader, beware – you might be. Cozy refers to a gentler mystery, one where excesses in sex, language and violence seldom if ever grace the page. Of course, there are murders! But there’s not the detailed descriptions nor the accompanying forensics to taint the reader’s gentle reading experience.

More often these days, cozies are alternatively referred to as traditional mysteries. You know, like Agatha Christie used to pen. We have a puzzle, a full cast of characters, and a setting that plays a large role. In fact, most cozy mysteries come in series, because the readers want to meet their characters in more than one book and see how their lives evolve.

Do not make the mistake of thinking cozies are fluff. Of course, some may be, but by and large they deal with important social issues, they highlight strong heroines in the roles of amateur sleuths, and justice prevails. Some are decidedly edgier than others; some are more humorous; some appeal to pet lovers; some to handicrafters…cozies run the gamut of reading tastes.

Another conference that fits that bill is Left Coast Crime which appeals to a wider audience but where cozy writers and readers also feel welcome. Having just come back from LCC 2016 in Phoenix, AZ (another advantage of this conference set in the dead of winter – the hot left coast locations!), I’m still pumped and have jumped back into my rewrites with renewed vigour.

There are also numerous regional mystery conferences across the country such a Killer Nashville, Magna Cum Murder, and Sleuthfest. In fact, you probably don’t have to travel too far to find one that fits your reading and writing tendencies.

Promotion is such an important part of being an author these days and being visible is a key factor in this. It’s all well and good to use social media but nothing can beat face-to-face and word-of-mouth.

So, my advice is to save your pennies, choose wisely, and to go out and enjoy!

I’d like to end with a special thank you to my good friend Barbara Fradkin for inviting me to Type M for Mystery!