Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why books are better than e-books in two cartoons

by Rick Blechta

There’s this:

And this:

I rest my case.

Monday, May 30, 2016



good idea well followed through we enjoyed
a great deal we read with pleasure and interest
there was much to take note of the bustle and
jar the excursion and homeward turn some
belters of poems got hold of my ears all well-
crafted precise rhyming we particularly liked
numbers three four and seven but

I heard this poem at a reading given by Hamish White and it made me laugh out loud.  Hamish is a well-known and very accomplished Scottish poet (who also reviews crime fiction) and he has  kindly given me permission to share it with you.

Do you recognise this too - the 'but...'?  I think it's what's known as the enthusiastic rejection: when you know that if they meant what they said in the first paragraph there's no way they wouldn't be publishing the book.  I think it's intended to be kind, but in the days when all I seemed to get were rejection letters ( wish I'd kept them to paper the downstairs loo) I used to skip the first paragraph and look for the one beginning with that 'but..'   It spared me the pain of hopes raised only to be dashed.

I wasn't very good at interpretation, though.  Just about the first story I sent to a magazine, while I was still at university, came back with a letter that pointed out what was wrong with it, and I was crushed.  I went wailing to my friends, 'They didn't want it!'  and it took me a long time to get up the courage to write another one.  If only one of my kindly and sympathetic friends had told me I was lucky because not being sent a form letter was real encouragement, and that I'd better learn, mark and inwardly digest every precious comment, I'd have started my professional career a lot sooner.

The difficulty when you're starting out is getting criticism from a reliable source.  With the best will in the world, your friends probably can't provide it; their responses are inevitably tailored by the relationship with you.  If they are too impressed, it doesn't help you, if they are too brutal it doesn't help the friendship.  After a very bitter experience, I decided to make it a rule not to critique other writers' work.

It was a steep learning curve, but I came round to understanding the value of brutal criticism.  It still smarts, particularly when it's justified, but I'm good about taking it now - as long as it's from my agent or my editor.  Between them, agents and editors have improved my writing beyond recognition and I'm grateful.

To this day, though, when my agent calls with comments and begins by telling me tactfully how much she loves what I'm doing, I don't listen.  I'm on the edge of my seat, waiting for the 'but...'  I'm always quite disconcerted if it doesn't come.

The other sort of criticism is the kind that comes in the form of reviews in newspapers or on Amazon and the like.  Of course the fun ones come from the highly intelligent, sensitive and discriminating readers who give you five stars and say, 'Even better than the last one.' You purr, but you don't learn from those.

At the other end of the spectrum are the ones who give you one star, and say they hated it from page one - clearly total dimwits.  Authors should be able to ban these people from ever reading another of their books.  Have you thought about that, Amazon, huh?

But there are the ones who come in the middle, who generally liked the book but thought there were one or two things that were wrong with it, and those reviews are invaluable.  There was the one, for instance, who pointed out a mannerism my lead character had that she found annoying; she was right, and I dropped it next time.  Someone else pointed out a theme that wasn't fully developed, and I took that one on board too.

The cruellest critic of all, though, is me.  I can always see something that wasn't quite what it should be, something that next time will have to be better.  It's uncomfortable, but I think if I ever wrote a book that was in my eyes perfect, I'd retire.

Hamish White's book 'Hannah, Are You Listening' is published by Happenstance.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Second Hat to Wear

This past year I've had the opportunity to serve as editor on two short-fiction anthologies. In Blood Business, a noir crime/paranormal anthology from Hex Publishers, I am the assistant editor alongside the editor/publisher Josh Viola. For the 2016 RMFW Anthology, Found, to be published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, I am the head cheese--the vato in charge of everything.

In both cases, serving as editor has been an instructive experience. For one, I'm on the other side of the editorial desk and it's enlightening to review manuscripts as they come to me. Hex invited writers with a track record in the genre and for the RMFW anthology, it was an open submission for members only. I got to see manuscripts arrive in various stages of preparation. Some read like first drafts and others were already quite polished, both in story-telling and craft.

Since the manuscripts that arrived for Blood Business came from established writers, I had my eyes opened a little more as to how challenging it is to write a good story. Mostly because we writers are always too close to our work. In our mind, we've tied together loose ends and the narrative flows in one logical current. Tightening the story shows the value of a good editor, and I hope I've been so. In my content editing, I had to be careful that I helped the writer hone the story and that I not rewrite it. Plus, many of the submitting writers have significant authorial credentials and now I'm in the lofty position of judging their work and suggesting changes, a humbling role. That concern is weighed against the publisher's desire to release a great book so Josh and I had to call them as we saw them.

My experience with the RMFW anthology has been more encompassing because I honcho the anthology from submissions through selection, editing, copyediting, cover and interior design, formatting for publication, publication as an ebook and a trade paperback, and marketing. Since we accepted open submissions, the editorial process heavily involved the R-word: rejection. We received 89 entries and I had to whittle that number down to fifteen. What helped--or hurt if you were on the submitting end--was that RMFW published strict formatting rules that I followed to the letter. That knocked 35 submissions out of the running, which was disappointing because that included stories from friends that I was looking forward to reading. The remaining 54 stories were doled out in a blind process to eleven volunteer readers, and we assigned a score to each: 0-pass; 1-maybe; 2-accept. Nine stories received a double 2 score. That meant we had to review the remaining to decide on enough stories to fill the anthology. Although I knew how subjective the process was going to be, I was still surprised how our opinions broke on many of the entries. In sending out the rejection notices, even then I had second doubts about which were the best and wished I could have included more, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

Found will be available this September, and Blood Business will hit the streets in 2017. Buy lots of copies of each and make this editor happy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Maine Chance

My grandson graduated from Colby College last Sunday. It has an excellent reputation for academics and was easily the most peaceful campus I've visited.

All the visiting relations stayed in Belfast the night before. My daughter, Michele, and son-in-law, Harry and his mother, June Crockett were treated to a great tour of the town by Murray and Margot Carpenter.

Belfast was fascinating and the town was one little hilly street after another. That surprised me and in a very short time all the muscles in my legs rebelled. By the bay the terrain was relatively flat and I was intrigued with the commercial aspects of shipping and ship-building. Besides, standing still and asking questions is a sly way to distract attention from a pained expression. These were serious hills. In town, yet!

I didn't know a thing about Maine. I've never been a huge supporter of the "write what you know" idea, but when it comes to setting, I think it's essential. No amount of Googling would have substituted for the couple of days in Belfast.

Streets in Kansas are wide and broad and in Maine they were narrow and winding. One could not zip right along.

From Maine we went to Manteo, NC where my granddaughter will be married Sunday. The family has gone to NC a number of times and I'm a little more familiar with that state.

But still! The chances of getting nearly everything wrong are sky high when writing about an unfamiliar setting. You'll have the flamingos going "eek" instead of "awk" and the wrong kind of flowers blooming at the wrong time and the wrong kind of grocery store chains.

However, there is a way of working around some of this if the protagonist is not writing from the viewpoint of a native. Write as an outsider. I did this with a couple of short stories that had a trucking background.

The outsider viewpoint is very useful for inserting background information. For instance, in my mystery series, Lottie Albright has moved to Western Kansas from Eastern Kansas and she often compares the two halves of the state

There is nothing wrong with using any setting you choose if you are willing to do the work. Visits, historical societies, and leg work can take you a long ways. As for me, I still enjoy writing about my native state.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


“There are three rules for writing a novel," W. Somerset Maugham once quipped. “Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Anyone who's set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) knows this to be true. However, that's never stopped members of the literati from offering advice in the form of "rules" to writers of crime fiction.

In 1841, with the publication of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Edgar Allan Poe launched the detective fiction genre and established what is known as "Poe's Five Rules of Detective Fiction":
1. There must be a crime, preferably murder, because it fascinates readers more than any other crime and there appears to be an unlimited number of ways in which people can die.
2. There must be a detective, someone with superior inductive and deductive reasoning, who is capable of solving the crime that baffles the official police system.
3. The police must be seen as either incompetent or as incapable of solving a certain type of complex crime.
4. The reader must be given all the information or "clues" to be able to solve the crime if the "clues" are properly interpreted.
5. The detective must explain who the criminal is and the motive, means, and opportunity by the conclusion of the story.

It's interesting to consider works of crime-fiction, past and present -- both literary and cinematic presentations -- and discover most honor Poe's list, give or take a rule or two. When we think of literary adages that have withstood the test of time, the final lines of Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder" stands out: "...down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man." You know the passage. You've read it before. You've probably even recited it to someone. I would argue, though, that, given the state of the contemporary crime-fiction novel where sleuths are more diverse and complex than ever, Poe's rules are more relevant than Chandler's musings.
Following Poe, in 1928, S.S. Van Dine offered his "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" in the American Magazine. His advice includes, "There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better" (rule 7) and compared the genre to "a sporting event." I can't imagine what Poe would have thought of Van Dine's flippant portrayal of the genre. Several decades later, as part of the New York Times "Writers on Writing" series in 2001, Elmore Leonard wrote "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle," his own list of ten rules that any writer is smart to follow. Where Van Dine is didactic and antiquated, Leonard is helpful and offers gems for contemplation.
However, for the contemporary writer of crime fiction (and our modern-day readers), Raymond Chandler's "Ten Commandments For the Detective Novel" remain helpful, interesting, and like all of Chandler's work, sparse enough to offer writers room to maneuver within his list and readers leeway to argue for or against the merits of any contemporary favorite.
  1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.
  2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.
  3. It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.
  4. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.
  5. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.
  6. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.
  7. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.
  8. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.
  9. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law....If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.
  10. It must be honest with the reader.

Like everything Chandler wrote, this list is direct, thoughtful, and provides excellent fodder, most of it pertaining to plot and authorial credibility. Which rules still hold up? Take the last novel you read and see. I'd argue most rules will apply. It's an interesting list to view as an author. Admittedly, I have sinned against some of Chandler's commandments in my own works, but I like to think of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, which, novel after novel, seems to uphold these "commandments" with the dedication of Mother Teresa.

In the end, what are we to make of lists and rules? Some argue rules only hold a genre back, imposing unnecessary (and/or antiquated) limitations to what the genre can achieve. Parker, after all, insisted he didn't write genre fiction and listed The Great Gatsby as the greatest crime novel. I say that where excellent literary criticism has the power to make a text more accessible for a larger reader base, our genre's lists and rules challenge us (as readers and writers) to examine works more closely while asking our best authors to at once write within these boundaries -- and to also stretch them to new limits.

*Originally appeared in The Strand, May 5, 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Brain On Vacation

Apparently, my brain has gone on vacation. It’s pretty much been that way since I turned in my book to my editor. I can think of nothing to talk about today. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

I’m sure my brain will return to its usual state once I receive the comments from my editor, but for now it’s happy watching TV and catching up on reading.

Here are a couple books I found particularly interesting, both historical mysteries.

From the Charred Remains by Susanna Calkins. This is the second book in the Lucy Campion series, set right after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The main character is a former maid in a magistrate’s household who has now become an apprentice to a printer.

Silent Remains by Christine Trent. This the second book in the Lady of Ashes series. I admit that what attracted them to me are the covers. The main character, Violet, is a female undertaker in Victorian England. Queen Victoria asks Violet to perform undertaking services for a peer who died after returning from Egypt. She also asks Violet to look into the death and to make sure the body stays unburied until the queen wishes services to be performed. Of course, no one refuses the queen!

 See you in a couple weeks after my brain has recovered.

Monday, May 23, 2016

How NOT to Approach an Author for Advice

By Vicki Delany

It happened to me again recently.  Ask any professional author who does public appearances, and they’ll tell you it happens to them all the time.

I was at a public event, in a spot reserved for me to give me the opportunity to introduce my books to readers and possibly persuade a few to actually buy and read them.  I had travelled some distance from my home to be there.

A person arrived: “I’ve written a mystery book.”

That can only mean one thing.  They are here to ask me to spend fifteen or twenty minutes of my valuable time, potentially fifteen or twenty minutes when that one eager reader passes by not wanting to interrupt me, telling them how to get this book of theirs published. They will, of course, not compensate me in any way for this advice.

Here’s a tip to every single person who has ever approached an author at an event when they are WORKING. (Yes, talking to the public is work) PAY THEM FOR THEIR TIME.

All you have to do is buy a book.  And not only should that not be a sacrifice but if you want my advice, wouldn’t you want to see what my product is?

In addition s/he is carrying a cheaply produced trade paperback book.  That can also only mean one thing. They want me to read it. They probably want me to buy it, but they might offer to give it to me for free, as long as I promise to pass it on to my publishers.

In this case, s/he said they would buy one of my books as long as I bought the one they were carrying (cost of $30 as opposed to my mass markets which are ten).  We could then exchange reviews on Amazon.   

I was pretty blunt about that: I would never promise to review a book I hadn’t read.

This person then wanted to know all about my publisher.  H/she paid $3000 for 100 copies of this book.  Who was my publisher? Penguin Random House. How much did I pay them to publish my book?  Uh, I paid nothing .Things have changed, h/she told me. Publishers these days expect authors to self-publish one book before they’ll consider them.

Now, I’ve heard that one before. I suspect some vanity publishers or self-publishing ventures are spreading this rumor. If anything, it’s the opposite. Unless your self-published book has been a huge hit (think Fifty Shades of Gray)  all you’ve done is destroy your marketability as a first novel author, and give yourself such low sales numbers that no one will look at you.

Sorry, that’s the way it is.

This poor schmuck had self-published the first in a series and was looking for a traditional publisher to pick up the next.  Never, never gonna happen.

Finally h/she left, book still under arm, and probably very unhappy with me.

Tough, I’m sorta losing patience, here. Not only with people who think my time and my professional advice, after 23 published books, isn’t worth forking out $10 to read what I produce, but who think they can make a success as a mystery writer with no research into the industry, no classes to learn the craft and the business, and no need to seek advice from the people you supposedly want to emulate (before taking that first, fatal step). 

I don't think there's anything wrong with self-publishing. But DON'T think it’s a natural step to a traditional publisher and DO go into it knowing exactly what you can expect. 

Oh, and buddy. If you want to sell books, ask yourself who’s going to buy them. Because obviously you are not.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Mysteries of the Human Mind

Yesterday morning – at 7:30 am – I woke up humming. As my feet touched the floor, I burst into song. This was weird for several reasons: (a) I am not a morning person. Even after a good night's sleep, I am not inclined to greet the sun with song – especially when I'm rising because the alarm clock has gone off and I need to move along or be late; (b) the song I was humming, then singing, was a cheerful little ditty that I remembered from the 70s or 80s, but couldn't remember the name of the group that had sung it; (c) I could only remember the first line and a half of the song and I kept singing that over and over. That song was on an endless loop through my head as I fed the cat and took a shower and dashed out the door to attend an academic workshop.

In an Alfred Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt, a character is humming a waltz and observes how funny it is that sometimes you can have a tune in your head and then you hear someone else humming the same tune. She wondered if songs might leap from head to head. I wondered if I walked into the workshop I was about to attend, still humming, if the other attendees would one by one become infected until we were all singing a catchy pop song instead of discussing the serious business of course design. Maybe someone else would know all the lyrics, and begin to conduct our chorus. Or, maybe the lyrics would appear on the screen, replacing the speaker's slides.

The question was how I had been infected. I hadn't been dreaming anything that I could remember when I woke. But I had put the television on its timer as I was going to bed to provide myself with background noise as I fell asleep (yes, I know electronics do not belong in the bedroom). The show I had fallen asleep to was "The King of Queens" and Doug was singing at a karaoke club. Maybe he had been singing that song. Or, maybe the fact that he was performing had reminded me of songs from that era and the name "Rosemary" had bubbled up from my subconscious because as I was closing the refrigerator door I had noticed that I still had a package of dried rosemary and wondered if there was a chicken recipe that I could try. And then I had gone off to bed and fallen asleep as someone was singing an old song. . .

The phenomenon of having a song stuck in your head has been the subject of scientific study. After reading the explanation, I am relieved that I am not a chronic sufferer.
Music in head

But I am prone to the "tip of the tongue" phenomenon. We all know that one. The name or the title or the word that is right there, but out of reach. I put it down to my brain being on overload with a jumble of important information and useless facts. Here's some research on TOT

Or have you ever experienced deja vu when you walked into a place that you know you've never been, or in the middle of a conversation that you know you've never had?
Deja vu all over again

When it comes to mysteries, the human mind still challenges investigators. Speaking of which, it's too bad many readers are irritated when writers use a dream sequence to show what is going on in a character's head or to allow him or her to make a vital connection that helps to solve the crime. It happens in real life. How many times have you solved a problem that you fell asleep chasing around in your head? I have to say I like problem solving while I sleep a lot better than waking up with "earworm".

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Am I Done? Finishing a Novel at Last.

I have finally finished my ninth Alafair Tucker mystery. Well, "finished" may be a bit premature. The manuscript is with my first reader, now. (Also known as Beloved Spouse). As fellow Type M-er  Charlotte Hinger pointed out so truly, most authors have no idea if what they have just produced is any good or not. In that respect, I am very much like most authors. The new book took me a long time to write. I am not a fast writer, but this book was particularly time-consuming, mainly because I changed the beginning at least five times. I ended up at one point with three beginnings in one manuscript, and as any reader will tell you, it's a much more satisfying read if a story only begins once.

I wrote one version of the story with an ending so grim that I feared readers would be suicidal after they read it and never pick up another book of mine. Believe me, it was a very clever plot twist, but sometimes you just have to kill your darlings before your editor kills you. I have to admit that even if I do have the ability to write dark...and I do mean inky black...this traditional mystery series just does not call for that sort of book. So, I ended up rewriting the entire second half of the novel so that everything turns out all right. More or less.

So this is the conundrum faced by any author of a long series. What would happen if you went off the rails for one installment? Suppose a long-standing and popular character dies? Suppose a character who has been a good guy for eight books suddenly does something unforgivable? Suppose a spouse who has been faithful for a literary decade decides to cheat on his/her spouse? Suppose a formerly innocent and naive character starts cursing like a sailor? Will your readers forgive you if you shake up their expectations too much? Or is it a good thing to shake up expectations? It seems to work for Game of Thrones. Somehow I think if I want to write a novel that is wildly different in mood and tone from all my previous books in this series, I'd be better served to write a stand-alone or start an entirely new series.

Any thoughts on the subject, Dear Readers and Writers?

However...by taking out much of the shock and horror of the situation, did I water the tale down too much? Is it now a pale imitation of its former gut-wrenching self? Or is it now an infinitely more satisfying resolution. Beloved Spouse will give me the first clue. Do I have something or not?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Games writers play

Barbara here. And unlike Rick, I am not writing about setting a mystery in a school, although there are college-aged students in my current work in progress, THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, and some of the action does in fact take place at the college. But I'm not here to write about that.

I am currently nearing the completion of this WIP, and over the past few months, I have devoted a couple of blogs to my writing process, which I have described using various game analogies. In fact, authors are fond of comparing their writing to one sport or another. We're coming down the home stretch, we've knocked it out of the park, we've struck out, we've got too many balls up in the air, and so on. It's actually surprising how many expressions in general have a sports or game origin. Sports are ready metaphors for struggle, loss, and triumph, and lend themselves easily to describing life's travails.

I am a "modified fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants" writer. I used to be a full member of the club but have discovered, since writing more layered plots with multiple points of view and colliding story lines, that I have to have some idea what's coming next. I still don't know where the overall story is going or how it will end, but I try to plan a few scenes ahead so they will fit together. One might call this "the-stop-and-go-by-the-seat-of-my-pants" approach.

When I first start writing a book, I liken the process to tossing balls up into the air, to get ideas and story lines activated and evolving. It can be a random and rather chaotic process, in that it's difficult to predict where balls will fly and where and when they will land. When I am in the saggy, unwieldy middle of the book, the plotting process seems more like a chess game. Plot points, clues, and character secrets evolve step by step. Every move follows from the move that came before and affects what move will happen next. I find myself asking questions like "What would this character do next?", "What would logically happen next?", or "What would be the most unexpected thing to happen?"

The final climax is usually the most difficult part of the process for me. I know I have to end the book somehow, tie all the loose ends together, and solve the mystery in a fresh, compelling, unexpected scene. By this point I have many balls up in the air, many dangling threads to be knitted together, and a great many questions to answer. I always struggle with this task, and yesterday a new analogy came to me. Writing the climax is like clearing a logjam. Living in Ottawa, I've learned a lot about the logging industry that used to be the main source of jobs and income in the region a hundred years ago. Logs were cut in the forests, floated down the river, and funnelled through onto barges or into chutes at the mills. Like any free-floating body, logs tended to have a mind of their own, and often got jammed up together trying to get through narrow sections. Skilled drivers would walk across the logs in the water, prod them apart and guide them into line until all the logs had cleared the narrows one at a time.

At the end of the writing process, all the questions should be answered, the big ideas and small ones fitted into their proper place, and the story has surged to its conclusion. Sometimes I feel like that driver, balancing on the pack of logs and struggling to contain and keep track of all the competing plot points, separating them out and deciding which should go when. Hoping than none are forgotten and that characters all clear the jam.

I'm delighted that as of today, I have a very roughly cleared logjam. Unlike the driver in the logging industry, however, I can go back and replay the game, nudging the logs into an even better and tighter pattern in rewrites. Who knows, maybe the rewrite process will inspire me with yet another game or sport analogy. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, which does your process resemble most? Tossing balls, playing chess, or driving logs?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Setting a crime novel in a school

by Rick Blechta

You know there's a lot of synchronicity among the posting crew here on Type M. Many times in the past, I've sat down to write my weekly offering only to find that someone in the past week (or coming week since I have access to all the posts) is planning to write on exactly or at least nearly the same topic as I.

Now if this is something that's “trending” as we now tend to say for current news topics, it's understandable that someone else might wish to write on said topic. But when it's something out of the mainstream or even on something rather arcane, then it gets a little creepy.

Such is the case with my post today. I had planned on writing about mysteries set in a school, because that topic came up at a panel I moderated two weekends ago in Brantford, Ontario.

Lo and behold, John wrote about it last week, then Aline wrote about nearly the same thing in her post yesterday! Sort of creepy isn't it? As a matter of fact, I just had a security expert in to sweep my office and computer for hidden listening devices and cameras.

Anyway, on the panel, the topic of setting a crime fiction novel in a school came up. One panelist (a former school teacher) was totally against doing something like this, even though she put forward a terrific plot idea for the murder which would drive the story. To her it somehow seemed wrong, I guess because this sort of thing would take place on what was to her sacred ground.

Another panelist (a retired teacher and school principal) stated that she would have no problems doing something like that.

For my part, I told the story of how in my earliest novels (when I was still teaching), I would often imagine some particularly troublesome student projected, say, thirty years into the future and then use the resulting character as the victim in a particularly gruesome death.

I found it very therapeutic. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Lark Ascending, was reviewed on CBC in part as having “a body count of positively Shakespearean proportions”. For the record, the novel was written during a year in which I had a large number of particularly odious students.

Coincidence? I think not!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Not Writing What You Know

I was interested to read John's post, Honest Writing. Like him, my background is in schools. In fact, until my husband retired I had spent all my life in schools, apart from four years off for good behaviour when I was at University.

In fact, I am contemplating applying for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest number of school prize-givings attended. My father was a headmaster so when I was at school myself I went to my own, and his. Then I taught, and went to my own. When I married, my husband was a teacher so again I went to my own, and his. I had children – one prize-giving apiece – plus my husband's (I was, at least, a stay-at-home mom by that time which spared me a fourth every summer); then he became headmaster in a three-stage school, each part of which had its own prize-giving, and there were still the children's too. Once the children left school, there were fewer though we were still frequently invited to other schools' prize-givings, sometimes as guests, sometimes to give speeches. Even today, we still often go back for the end of term at my husband's old school. Anyone want to challenge me for the title?

So I can certainly say I'm familiar with school life!  But unlike John, I've never been tempted to set a book in a school. I'm not sure why, because as John said, all the right ingredients are there.

 I very seldom  choose to read a book with a school background, usually because of my previous experience of books where the writer isn't doing John's 'honest writing'; they're inventing what they think a school would be like and I just feel irritated (I often cringe when a policeman tells me he's read one of my books.) 

Perhaps I just feel it would all be too close to home, that I know too much about schools and I know too many teachers. How could I create a fictional school that wasn't too like the schools I have lived in? And I couldn't bring myself to fictionalise real people I had known for the same reasons as I discussed in a previous post about not using someone's life experience, but it would be very tempting. I might even be  drawn into using them unconsciously and then find myself being sued for libel.

Indeed, I'm such a coward about this that I invented a whole police force so that I wouldn't inadvertently create a character in a real force, a police sergeant, say, who was deeply unpleasant, had a wart on his nose and was called Wilson, only to find that thee was a sergeant in that very force who answered the description.

For me, I think, writing what I know means, yes, writing about something I'm familiar with, but at one remove. I need a bit of distance for perspective.

How do the rest of you feel?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Guest Post: Nancy Cole Silverman

Please welcome fellow Sisters in Crime LA member and Henery Press author Nancy Cole Silverman. Take it away Nancy... 

Exercising the Muse 
by Nancy Cole Silverman

Last Christmas, my step-daughter got me a coffee mug that says, Please do not annoy the writer. She may put you in a book and kill you. It got a lot of laughs around the kitchen table. But, turnabout is fair play. Right? So, that night, while I was cooking dinner, I put my copy of Deadly Doses, a writer’s guide to poisons, on the counter next to my cookbook. Needless to say, I had lots of leftovers. Spice cake, anyone?

Two years ago, our houseguest, Gracie, arrived during the holidays.
Gracie at the piano
Gracie is a life-sized, soft sculpture doll who resembles my husband’s deceased mother. Don’t ask! Instead, let me share how Gracie came to be. We decided during a holiday celebration that the house seemed a little empty and since we’d be traveling, thought it might be a good idea if the place looked more lived in. You know, on the chance, someone might peer through the windows to see if anyone were home. Gracie was a perfect answer. She’s usually in the living room and when guests visit, they frequently do a double take, thinking she’s a real person. And just to keep things interesting, I move her around a lot. I’ve propped her up in the shower, complete with a shower cap, put her in the guest bed, and left her stretched atop the piano like a lounge singer for parties. She’s a sure starter for conversations and of course, my husband never turns out the lights without say, “Good night, Gracie.”

My point in sharing all this with you is that I believe it’s important to exercise our muse. David Ogilvy, a driving force of American advertising, had a fun way of looking at it. He used to encourage his writers to embrace their peculiarities when they were young, so that when they achieved old age, nobody would accuse them of being crazy. Instead, it could be said, they had always been that way.

So you see, my whimsical sense of humor is nothing more than exercise. And while I don’t write whimsical mysteries, I do like a little humor with my homicides. I also like my characters flawed, my scenes hard and fast, and my plots highly twisted. In short, I like to write cozies with a bite.

When I sat down to write the first of the Carol Childs’ Mysteries,
I looked for any number of twists to surprise my readers. For twenty-five years, I worked in newstalk radio in Los Angeles. Sometimes, the stories we reported on were only half as interesting as the stories that happened inside the station, behind the mic. Gallows humor was a constant and the personalities that hosted the shows, presented the news and ran the station were a menagerie of odd. They never looked like what they sound.

Some of what I write is true. Some not so true. Can you spot the difference?

A) A top Hollywood agent is murdered coming home from an awards show and leaves her twin nieces her entire estate; albeit unequally. One inherits a million dollars. The other, nada.

B) A big city developer and a member of the police commission likes young girls and runs a sex trafficking ring in Hollywood.

C) A Beverly Hills jewelry store is robbed by a group of international jewel thieves before an awards show and the jewels are replaced–or maybe not–with paste.

If you’re looking for me to say which of the above is true, I will only say this; A. Was the inspiration for book one of the Carol Childs Mysteries; Shadow of Doubt. B. Is a tall tale I manufactured after reading about a number of lost girls in Hollywood. It became the inspiration for Beyond a Doubt. And C? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide. Without a Doubt comes out May 24th.

Stay tuned.

Nancy Cole Silverman

Nancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. In 2001 Silverman retired from news and copywriting to write fiction fulltime. In 2014, Silverman signed with Henery Press for her new mystery series, The Carol Childs’ Mysteries. The first of the series, Shadow of Doubt, debuted in December 2014 and the second, Beyond a Doubt, debuted July 2015. Coming soon, in 2016, is the third in the series, Without A Doubt. Silverman also has written a number of short stories, many of them influenced by her experiences growing up in the Arizona desert. For more information visit www.nancycolesilverman.com

Friday, May 13, 2016

Luther and the Devil

Devil 5501885273.jpg

There is myth that when Martin Luther was translating the Bible, Satan came and tried to stop him from completing his work. The story goes that Luther threw his inkwell at the monster and it disappeared.
Although my minor mystery is not very important in the scheme of things, I'm a couple of days from click and send and that's when my demons come. One would think sending a book to an editor is the most triumphant stage in writing a book. A moment to be savored.
But no. For me, it's the time when odd impulses start tugging at my brain. In the old days it would have been to set fire to the manuscript. Now it's to hit Control-Alt-Delete. For some reason the same story that seemed just fine a month ago seems fantastic and amateurish at this point.
The most frustrating part of writing is the realization that a book can be improved into infinity. However, there is a point when we are in danger of editing the life out of a book. Words begin to look inept. Plots seem improbable. Characters seem unappealing.
Self-consciousness is a writer's worst enemy. The most important challenge we have is to banish everyone from the writing room. That includes demons. I, you, we, are the only ones who belong there.
The moment we stop to think what will my relations, my friends, my teachers, my priest, my high school principle, the boy who delivers my paper think of this? Is the book shallow? Self-indulgent? Pretentious? Amateurish? Dull?
It's important to follow Luther's example and bring out the inkwell in whatever form. Whatever it takes to click and send.
 Just do it and send the demons right on back to hell.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Honest Writing

I read Aline's, Frankie's, and Donis's recent posts with great interest and recalled Ernest Hemingway's famous line from A Moveable Feast: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." My three Type M colleagues touched on what, to me, amounts to honest writing – telling the story inside you, the one you have to tell. This is something I've been considering a lot recently.

The opportunity to explore a new character has piqued my interest. I've published nine novels (No. 9, Destiny's Pawn, comes out in June). Eight of those required tremendous research (five were set on the PGA Tour; and the last three featuring a US Border Patrol agent). Research can be fun. I like talking to people, learning new things, and reading or watching just about anything to do with the criminal justice system. But research is also time consuming and nerve racking (you must, after all, get it right).

I've had a character in my head and an idea for a book (and series) for several years. I started a version of the book a few years ago, then sold my Peyton Cote series, and wrote that instead for the past four years. All the while, this idea for an amateur sleuth novel set in a locale I know very well, has stayed with me. Then something happened about three weeks ago that stalled the book I was working on, and this novel's opening line appeared. I wrote it. And kept going. Now, I'm thirty pages in, and the book is writing itself.

One reason for the ease with which this project is proceeding is because I've set the book at a New England boarding school. For me, having received financial aid to attended a boarding school and now living and working at one, I am surely following the adage of "write what you know." Additionally, these are places where privilege, wealth, and power can collide -- always a potent concoction for plots. Most importantly, those same elements that combine to create interesting plots also offer potential for great empathy, which every story needs if it is to have a heart.

So where does this book go? Who knows? But I'm eager to see where it leads. More importantly, I'm motivated to finish it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Malice Go Round

At the recent Malice Domestic convention, I participated in the Malice Go Round, aka Speed Dating With Authors. It’s quite an experience, whether you’re presenting or listening.

Imagine 20 tables of 10. Eight of the chairs at each table are filled with listeners. The other two are for authors who are pitching their latest book(s). All of the listeners stay put while the pairs of authors move around from table to table. At each table, each author has 2 minutes to pass out postcards, bookmarks, etc. and talk about their book(s). Every 4 minutes the authors move on to the next table. There’s a 21st table where the authors get a four-minute break. Approximately an hour and 45 minutes later all the pitches have been done and everyone is exhausted.

For those listening, it’s a great way to learn about books and authors you haven’t heard of before. On the pitching side, it’s a great way to make others aware of your work.

I teamed up with fellow Henery Press author, Christina Freeburn, who writes the Faith Hunter Scrap This mystery series. Here we are looking chipper as we wait to begin pitching.

Christina’s giveaway was a stamped frame with a postcard of her latest book while my giveaway was a set of postcards of the two books in my Aurora Anderson Mystery series.

We put both our items in Ziploc bags so they’d be faster to give out. Here are our packets of giveaways.

Here’s the ballroom as the authors gather and get ready. Tip: If you’re pitching get there early and snag a table as close to #10 as you can get. That way your break will be halfway through your round.

And here’s the ballroom when the Go Round is in full swing.

Type Mer Vicki Delany and Cathy Ace were right behind me so I kept on hearing “We’re the Criminous Canucks...” every time we moved to a new table. I have to admit I wanted to hear the rest of their pitch. I learned later it continued “We kill people, but we do it politely.” My pitch wasn’t quite as interesting, but I think I did okay for the first time. It was definitely an experience I’m glad I had. So that’s my experience at Malice Go Round.

Oh, and by the way, I sent my third book to my publisher on Monday. Yay!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

If strangers talked to everybody like they talk to writers

by Rick Blechta

My post topic this week (well, last week, actually, but as you know that never happened) was not going to be on this topic, but an upcoming post by Vicki that’s also gotten rescheduled made me decide to break this one out because it does dovetail nicely with what you’ll be reading from her in a couple of weeks. This post today is primarily directed at writers, but it should prove amusing to anyone who enjoys observing the foibles of human beings.

First, you need to read this: If Strangers Talked to Everybody Like They Talk to Writers. I think Elizabeth McCracken and Lincoln Michel hit the nail squarely on the head, don’t you?

Everything said about the sorts of questions and comments we writers receive from the public is true and accurate. For some reason, when the general public meets a writer, even in the most casual of circumstances, all their social filters seem to shut down. Those of us who are ink-stained wretches have experienced the comments contained in the article I invited you to read. It really is a very odd, disconcerting occurrence, even after many years in the game. I’m always left wondering what I should say. Usually my social filters stay up and I don’t shoot back with a cutting comment or walk away in a huff – but I’m always tempted to do so.

My personal favourite is “Oh! So you're a writer. Would I have read anything of yours?”

How the hell should I know? Unless you suspect me of breaking into your house in the dead of night for the purpose of giving your library a once-over, or being an accomplished mind reader, there is no way of answering such a stupid question. And it’s not as if I’ve gotten this question from unintelligent people. On the contrary, many of them are people who are well-educated and otherwise pretty smart and accomplished. Think lawyers and doctors here, folks.

Regardless, everyone seems ready to dispense helpful hints to those of us who write. From plot ideas (“I'll share my plot idea with you for a 50/50 split of the profits!”) to financial pointers (“You really can’t expect to make your living from something like this, can you? You’ll definitely need to keep a day job going.”), we hear it all at some point or another.

Being a musician as well, I have a lot of friends in the arts. While they do occasionally get asked similar sorts of questions, it’s not a constant thing. Every time I’m invited to a party, for instance, I ask myself how many slightly embarrassing, more than frank, questions I’ll be subjected to.

Why is that? Is there some sort of open season on writers about which I’m not aware?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Keep Calm and Carry On. And They Did.

By Vicki Delany

What prompted this little bit of insightful wisdom from me was this video.

Watch it until the end.  What struck me so much about this was the lack of panic.  People are driving though a fire storm like they’re heading to the office or the mall.  Police are directing traffic as fire rains down around them, and everyone waits their turn.

And no one (so far, except for a young woman killed in a car accident) has been hurt.  An entire city of 80,000 evacuated in a fire storm and no one is dead or injured.

I can only think that it’s because no one panicked, and if they did there were people around to calm them down.

When people panic, then people die.   Keep calm and carry on might be a trite saying for coffee mugs and T-shirts, but in this instance it worked.

Easy for me to say of course, because I am not in the thick of things, and who knows how any of us would react until the time comes.

Good job, Fort McMurrayites.

For an insiders-view of the evacuation, my friend and fellow-writer Kevin Thornton has a good piece in the New York Times

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Guest Blogger: Charles Benoit

This week’s guest blogger is one of the founding members of Type M for Murder, Charles Benoit. He is a man of many talents: novelist, copywriter, producer, tenor saxophonist, bon vivant and brilliant conversationalist. An evening in a bar is always well-spent when in Charles’ company. Originally a straight-up crime novelist, he now inhabits (very successfully) the world of the young adult novel – but as always, crime is involved. Find out more about the man and his works at charlesbenoit.com. (And be sure to visit his website. It’s hilarious.)

Author as Character

by Charles Benoit

When I do talks at schools, students always ask me if the protagonists in my novels are thinly veiled autobiographical representations of my younger self. Actually, what they say is “Are you that guy in the book?”

In my latest novel, Snow Job, a D- high school senior ends up running large amounts of cocaine for a drug-crazed dealer, all while plotting with the dealer’s possibly prostitute girlfriend to rip off said dealer and ignore the murder they’re pretty sure happened. So my answer to those students is “No. And you can’t prove otherwise.”

There’s a bit of the author in everything we write, whether it’s the dashing good looks and Magic Mike physique or, as in my case, the confused expression and the ability to consistently make the wrong decision. I don’t set out to put myself in the books I write, but somehow I always end up in there anyway. It’s never a singular trait that’s unique to me—is there even such a thing?—but rather a characteristic or two that those who know me well would easily identify. At least that’s what I assume when I spot them in the revision process, glaring off the page at me like an angry tip-of-the-nose zit.

But the funny thing is no one else seems to see them. Friends whom I assume would notice the that’s-so-Charles traits in characters seem to think that I was referencing someone else—and that someone else is usually them. They like to claim that a character’s clueless nature or dim-witted dorkiness was inspired by their own lives. When I point out that no, that character was truly an autobiographical extension, they smile and shake their heads, chuckling at how wrong I am.

And that’s a good thing.

It means that somehow I managed to create characters that seem so real and relatable that people I wasn’t thinking about at all assume I was writing specifically about them. Or it could mean that my friends are empathetic readers who lose themselves in the story, becoming the characters they encounter. Or it means they didn’t read the book and are just playing it off to be polite.

So in the end, yeah, I am the guy in the book. But if I did it right, so are you.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Real People and Fiction

I can't resist joining this week's discussion about the use of real people's stories in fiction. I have done it, too. Because my character, Lizzie Stuart, is a crime historian, she is often concerned with cases from the past. I draw on real life cases, most of them involving ordinary people who would have passed their lives in obscurity if not for their involvement in a crime. 

I use the stories of these real people as inspiration and starting point, spinning form fact (or what is believed to be fact) into fiction. For example, in A Dead Man's Honor, the book began with a real-life lynching. I changed the victim and the crime that served as the catalyst for the lynching. I made the man who was lynched innocent of the crime. I inserted Lizzie's grandmother into the story as a child who had witnessed what happened.

A teenager girl's life and death was the starting point for another book. She had killed a woman and she was executed by the state of Virginia. The true story was sad and frustrating. The girl, whose name was Virginia Christian, was a member of a sharecropping family. She worked in the home of the widow who owned the land. During an argument and a physical confrontation, she killed her employer. I went to the Library of Virginia to go through the documents related to the case. A page from the 1912 record of Christian's appearance in court and the discussion of the charges against her appears to the left. Christian's story and that of her victim became the starting point for Old Murders. In my version, Lizzie encounters Christian's lawyer decades after he had failed to save his client's life.

In the same way, real people have found their way into my Hannah McCabe books. In the McCabe books, these people have been better known. John Wilkes Booth (long dead, but not forgotten) plays a pivotal role in The Red Queen Dies.  But there is another story involving ordinary people and an abandoned school that I would love to tell. In my mind that story has become interwoven with a newspaper article that I read about an investigation of a boys' school in another state. I have a victim and a case I would love to have McCabe investigate.

I am always interested in the ethics that we bring to bear in writing about real people. In my Author's Note, I acknowledge the inspiration/starting point of real cases and the people I include (if they might be recognized). I explain that I did research to learn more about what happened. But then I turned down another path, spiraled off into make-believe, and what was true was now blurred into fiction.

In my 1939 book, I do have real people appear in cameos. But I'm trying to stay close to what they might have said or done. I want to make sure that J. Edgar Hoover wasn't in Florida when I have him meeting with my FBI agent in Washington, D. C. I also want what he says to reflect his attitude about the looming likelihood of war and the real-life people being investigated.

This topic sometimes comes up when I'm doing an event. Someone from the audience will come up after it's over and tell me about someone they know who has been involved in a crime as victim or offender or an old family story about an uncle or a grandfather. This person often wants to write a book about what happened and is wondering whether to try a novel or true crime. I tell him or her that if there are gaps in the story and people still alive who were involved, I personally would write a novel and change the facts. But that's because I write mysteries.

Anyone else have these chats with people about stories they'd like to tell?

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Never Waste a Good Story

Aline’s entry from Monday concerning the ethics of using a third party’s actual life experience as a plot line, plus last weekend’s guest entry by Leslie Dana Kirby about how her debut novel was inspired by the O.J. Simpson case, brought to mind an entry I (Donis) did on a similar theme several years ago on this very site. I use real events, both historical and personal, all the time in my books. When I use personal events, I either disguise them or ask permission of the individual to whom it happened. I do have the writer’s mind, though, and when I hear an intriguing story, I do not forget it, and like Aline, I ponder long and hard on how I can use it in a book. Sometimes I ponder long and hard for decades, as I noted in this entry from 2011:

My third novel, The Drop Edge of Yonder,  was thirty years in the making. There are at least two pivotal scenes in the book that owe their existence to newspaper articles that stayed with me all that time. I read the first story when I lived in Lubbock, Texas, back in the ’70′s. Two women, an elderly mother and her grown daughter, were out shopping together, walking down the street and minding their own business, when a crazy person ran up and attacked the daughter out of the blue. The old mother saved her daughter when she jumped on the crazy man’s back and pummeled him and bit on him and basically beat the heck out of him.

Somewhere around the same time, I read an interview with an old British soldier who had fought the Massoud in Palestine after WWII. He described a fighter who came at him tooth and claw and absolutely refused to be killed, even after he shot him and stabbed him and beat him with the butt of his rifle. The fighter finally sunk his teeth in the soldier’s foot and the soldier had to decapitate him to make him let go. The soldier said it was the scariest thing that had ever happened to him in his life. I took both these images and put them together to create one of the climatic scenes of the book.

The opening scene of Drop Edge isn’t quite as old an image in my head as the other two, but it is also a tale that took me a long time to tell. Seven or eight years before I began writing that particular book, I did a family genealogy for my sibs for Christmas, which as you regular Dear Readers may know, is one of the things that inspired me to write my Alafair Tucker series in the first place . One of the things I learned while doing research on my family was the story of one of my a great-great grandfathers and three of his companions who were returning from the Civil War Battle of Pea Ridge when they stopped a few miles from home to rob a bee hive in a tree. While they were smoking the hive, they were ambushed by bushwhackers and killed. They were found by their families a few hours later but lay dead in the field over night, guarded from wild animals by their wives until morning, when they were buried where they fell.

(p.s. the following was also included in the same 2011 blog entry—I repost it now because it is five years later and the high school reunion is about to recur, and now it is not just depressing, it’s unbelievably depressing) On another topic, I recently received an invitation to a depressingly high-numbered high school reunion coming up in October. I graduated from Nathan Hale High in Tulsa in a class of nearly 700 people. (Nathan Hale is the guy who, while about to be hanged by the British as a spy during the American Revolution, said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” which I always thought was one of history’s great instances of bravado in the face of death. If it had been me, I might have done my patriotic duty like Nathan did, but when it came time to die, my last words would have been along the lines of , “For the love of God, please don’t hang me.” Of course, nobody would have named a high school after me, either.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Politics, money, and the Arthur Ellis Awards

Barbara here. In my last blog, I talked about the Arthur Ellis Awards (and taxes, but let's not go there). They are Canada's premiere awards for crime fiction, which for some reason never seems to make it onto the other Canadian fiction awards lists like the Giller and the Governor General Awards. Not that we're complaining, really. With the bigger awards, there is the issue of politics and money, which are really two sides of the same coin. Money not only in terms of the size of the prize, which in the case of the Giller is $100,000, but in terms of the huge surge in sales, which allows both publisher and author to live to create another book. Perhaps even longer.

Because of this, politics rears its ugly head. Writers compete, publishers size up potential books in terms of their ability to win the big prizes, writers can be dumped if their books aren't nominated, rumours of influence and backroom deals abound, publishers lobby, and writers chafe with secret envy. Media scramble to do features on the latest literary stars, thus producing priceless additional publicity.

I should say at this point that since my last blog, the Arthur Ellis shortlists have been announced, and my Rapid Reads book, THE NIGHT THIEF, was shortlisted in the best novella category. Three other Ottawa authors were also shortlisted in other categories; Peggy Blair for HUNGRY CHOSTS in Best Novel, Jeff Ross for SET YOU FREE in Juvenile/ Young Adult, and Pam Isfeld for BRAVE GIRLS in the unpublished manuscript category. We are all thrilled. Our local paper, the Ottawa Citizen, ran a story on us which was picked up by many major dailies across the country because its owner, Postmedia, happens to own most of the newspapers in the country.

This publicity, along with a well-timed phone call, led to three of us appearing on the local CBC radio afternoon show, during which the host asked what impact such an honour would have on our lives. After suppressing a laugh, I was tempted to say “huge!”, but the truth is, the impact is subtle. In fact, you have to be a serious optimistic to see it at first. Politics and money play very little part in winning these awards, once again because the two go hand in hand. There is little or no prize money attached to these awards, and an author's future does not hinge on winning or losing one. Most crime writers can count on a modest income that may never lift them above the poverty line but that will grow slowly as they prove themselves and continue to write consistently good books. Crime writers build readership good book by good book, often in a series, rather than by one spectacularly brilliant book.

Because there are no politics and money, crime writers rarely compete with each other (and we suffer only occasional tweaks of envy), but instead we find there is solidarity and fun in cooperation. Readers who read one crime writer usually read others, so it's not a matter of competing for readers but rather sharing them. Crime writers are generally the friendliest and most supportive of colleagues, and because there's little money or fame at stake, we know the friendship is without strings or self-interest. There are benefits to being frozen out of that $100,000 prize money!

Arthur and I
So besides avoiding the jealousies, anxieties, and financial windstorms of literary prizes, what are these subtle benefits of the Arthur Ellis Awards? Most importantly, they are an affirmation of one's achievement as an author. Independently judged by a jury of experienced book people, they are an acknowledgement that your work stands out among its peers as excellent. This in itself is a huge boost to one's confidence and self-worth. Authors labour for months, often years, in the privacy of our little rooms, trying to produce a work of substance, but we really have little idea whether we've succeeded until the verdict comes back from readers. These awards are that verdict. Believe in yourself. Believe in your writing. It's good.

Secondly, the awards give a writer gravitas. Beyond bragging rights, winning the award brings respect from the book world in general, in the form of libraries, bookstores, reviewers, and media, and from fellow writers as well. No one can ever take that award away from you, and everyone takes a little more notice of you once you have that funny little hangman statue on your mantle. You may not have the media hounding you for feature articles, but when your next book comes out, reviewers may pick it up from the huge pile accumulating on their office floor.

Along with the increased respect comes a related, third, benefit; more name recognition and thus, more invitations to book events. Canada is full of literary festivals, readings, celebrations, and events.   A lot of factors influence literary festival invitations, including the author's popularity, the size of the publisher's purse and publicity machine, the tastes of the organizers and their past experiences with authors. But one thing is certain; it's difficult to get invited if no one has heard of you.  Organizers look for fresh faces and new talents. They look for authors whose works have been vetted. The Arthur Ellis Award, like other respected juried awards, provides that vetting.

Awards are subjective, and many good books do not get nominated. While being nominated is good for the ego, it does not follow that not being nominated is a mark of failure. Certain styles of book seem to get nominated over and over, while other equally excellent books do not. I believe this is partly due to the judging experience itself. Juries read dozens of books in rapid succession, so a  book with a unique style or a compelling opening will catch their flagging attention more than subtler stories.  In my experience, the majority of readers enjoy a good book and are not much influenced by the Arthur Ellis Awards, mainly because they've never heard of them.

On May 26, Crime Writers of Canada will celebrate all Canadian crime writing at its annual awards gala. I will be there, looking forward to raising a glass with my friends and colleagues, whether they are competing for a funny little hangman or not. Good luck to all!