Saturday, December 31, 2016

Guest Blogger Pascal Marco

Type M is delighted to start the year off right with guest blogger Pascal Marco, Pascal, a Phoenix business entrepreneur for over two decades, brings us his newest thriller novel, RENDER SAFE. The December 2016 issue of Suspense Magazine said this about the book, “Marco has . . . created an action thriller worthy of Grisham or Ludlum.” A University of Illinois Chicago Masters in Communications graduate, Pascal’s RENDER SAFE was selected as a national finalist in the thriller/suspense category for this year’s Best Book Awards. His Amazon Kindle #1 best-selling debut, IDENTITY: LOST, which New York Times #1 best-selling author Brad Thor called, “Fresh, compelling and incredibly intricate” also was a national finalist for the 2011 USA Book News Awards. The one-time steelworker from the South Side of Chicago currently resides in Mesa with his wife and high school sweetheart, Karen.

“Oh Brother, Who Art Thou?”

I recently got a phone call from my sister. In and of itself that was nothing new or  unique, since we’re very close and talk often on the phone or via texts. We’re less than eighteen months apart and have been close all our lives. But the ensuing conversation would strike me as being one that was different than any other we had had in the past. Specifically, she had called me to talk about the ending to my new thriller novel, RENDER SAFE. The book is a follow up to my debut thriller, IDENTITY: LOST.

In the first book I introduced my hero, Maricopa County (Arizona) Prosecutor Stan Kobe, and his sidekick, Chandler Homicide Detective Brian Hanley. The crime fighting duo return in book two to handle two disturbing murders, both multiple, both ten years apart, and both with victims who had died extraordinarily gruesome deaths. When she had texted me and said she need to talk to me about the ending to my latest book, I was worried at first that sis didn’t care for what she had read. It’s that little voice that goes off in every writer’s head that says, “Uh oh, what is this person going to ask me?” or “Uh oh, did I miss something and make a huge mistake?”

Fortunately, little sister asked neither type of question (phew!!) but rather was curious about some specific details at the end and wanted to know if she understood them correctly. Or maybe more so, she wanted to know what meaning(s) did my ending have, real or imagined. It was a harmless question, one I actually had fun discussing with her at length. The end result: I wanted the reader to think and wonder exactly how she did at the conclusion of the long and complex journey I had taken them on.

I thought the conversation was over at that point, since she had given me several replies of “Oh, yeah, I get it” and words to that effect. But the conversation wasn’t over. No, not at all. She then gave me one of those wonderful, long pauses we all like to write in dialogue. After several moments she said, “Oh, and by the way, I wanted to talk about that guy in your book and the way he killed those people. It scared me when I read it. I mean, I was thinking, ‘How could my brother think and write those types of things? I mean, Pat (my family and friends call me that), it was so graphic.’”

Aha! I had hit a raw nerve with my reader. I had pulled her so deeply into the story that her world was suspended so profoundly that her only recourse to pull herself out of my fiction was to ask this so, so innocent question. Of course, my reply was, “Well, sis, it is fiction, you know.”

This didn’t seem to appease her. “Yeah, I know, but, my God it was so real. Where did you ever come up with such an idea? I mean, because (another perfect pregnant pause) how would you even know about something like that and make it seem so real?”

At that moment, I felt the joy every writer must feel when they know they’ve mined deep into their reader’s psyche and grabbed a hold of it with an unforgiving and relentless hand, yanking them into the reality you’ve created on the page. Although I did feel a slight bit of remorse to cause my sweet sibling such dismay wondering if her big brother had skeletons in the closet she may not want to ever know about, I let that feeling pass and savored the deep satisfaction of knowing that I had been able to take her somewhere she had never been before. I had pushed her so deep into the story that her only recourse to snap back out of it was to question the writer’s knowledge and motives.

Ah yes, murder can have that kind of effect on people, so it seems. I couldn’t help thinking right at that moment of the sheer chilling beauty in the famous line we all know, “I’ll get you, my little pretty, and your little dog, Toto, too!”

So, when in doubt, just let it rip.

visit Pascal at

Friday, December 30, 2016

Chaos and Clarity

This is my last post of the year. There have been times this year when I've felt as if we've all fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice. But my own year -- when I've been able to shut out the rancor and craziness -- has been "not bad". In fact, it's ending on several high notes, with my first series poised to make a comeback and my other writing projects receiving encouragement. During the last couple of months, my publicist has more than earned her retainer by setting me up with great radio interviews. I have been doing a better than usual job of balancing the different aspects of my life. In fact, the chaos all around me has given me more clarity about my roles as a criminal justice professor. Seeking distractions, I've gone back to activities that I enjoy such as trying out new recipes and moving furniture around. I've tried Zumba and remembered that I love to dance -- exercise that I can enjoy doing.

One task remains before the year ends. I needed to dive into the clutter that has accumulated in one room in my house. For weeks, I've been shoving everything into that room. Yesterday, I discovered to my distress, I can no longer walk through that room. I have reached the point when glancing into that room causes me anxiety, when I close the door if company is coming, and left a note to my pet sitter explaining that it's my staging area as I prepare for a junk pick-up. Yesterday, I scheduled the pick-up because the idea of going into 2017 with that room messing with my feng shui was too scary to contemplate.

As the year ends, I want to tie up as many of the loose ends from 2016 as I can. I want to get graded student papers into their mailbox, finish the revisions I promised on an article, and get all of my odds and ends from projects organized, so that from January 2 until school begins I can get serious work done. In this respect, the end of 2016 is no different than the end of any other year. But I need to end this year with as much serenity as possible.

I wish you all joy and peace in the coming year. May we each find our own sense of clarity and calm in the midst of chaos. May we -- and the world -- find an exit out of the rabbit hole.

Harry, my own Cheshire Cat, who was undeterred by his dental appointment on Wednesday (four teeth removed and he was still hungry when he got home) sends his best to one and all. His advice for 2017 -- never miss a meal or the opportunity to curl up for a nap on any convenient surface.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Return of the Raven Mocker; An Alafair Tucker Mystery for 2017

Happy New Year to all and Happy Birthday to me. Yes, today (December 29) is my birthday. It's the end of another decade for me, and the beginning of a year that I could face with some trepidation if I allow myself to do so. But let's be merry where we can! I'm celebrating 2017 by announcing the release of my ninth Alafair Tucker Mystery, The Return of the Raven Mocker, as hardback, paper, and ebook, on January 3.

Raven Mocker is a Cherokee legend, an evil spirit who takes the form of a raven and takes wing at night to possess the bodies of the sick and elderly and torment them until they die. When the Raven Mocker returns to little Boynton, Oklahoma, in the fall of 1918, he brings with him the great influenza pandemic that claimed fifty million lives all over the world. World War I is still raging in Europe, but the women of Boynton are fighting their own war as the epidemic sweeps through like wildfire. What a perfect time to commit murder. Who’s going to notice?

People are dying in droves, most of the doctors are gone to the war, and the nurses are all falling ill themselves. Alafair and her husband Shaw quarantine their younger children on the farm and Alafair moves into town to care for her stricken daughter Alice and son-in-law Walter.

No one has the time or inclination to wonder about the the circumstance when Alice's neighbor Nola and her son Lewis die, but Alafair suspects that these particular deaths were unnatural. The epidemic is so overwhelming that it is many days before the only doctor left in town can confirm Alafair’s suspicions. The only witness, twelve-year-old Dorothy Thomason, is so traumatized that she is rendered mute. Were Nola and her son really murdered, and if so, why?

My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, is featuring the entire Alafair Tucker series, including the first, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, which is being reissued with a new cover. I wrote a new forward for it, explaining  how I got the idea for a series set in my native Oklahoma, and how Alafair herself came to be.

In fact, iTunes is offering The Old Buzzard Had It Coming as a FREE download,. The Press aims to promote my series through BookBub, but the promotion won't work as intended unless Amazon also lowers their price for the electronic version of Buzzard to zero as well. They won't lower their price unless enough readers notify them that another outlet (iTunes) is offering the book for free. So allow me intrude upon you holiday season to ask you to help me persuade Amazon to offer Buzzard as free ebook. Here's how:

Please go to the Amazon page for the ebook version of The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by clicking here.

Scroll down to the bottom of the Product Details section where it says: "Would you like to give feedback on images or tell us about a lower price?"

Choose "tell us about a lower price" which will bring up a dialog asking to choose Store or Website.

Click on Website and enter the URL for the iTunes page:

and and $0.00 for the price AND for shipping cost and then Submit Feedback.

That’s all there is to it. If enough people participate, Amazon will drop the price to zero. And if you make it over to Amazon (or iTunes) and the price is already zero, you can download your very own e-copy of The Old Buzzard Had It Coming for nothing.

On top of everything, I'm offering a giveaway of The Return of the Raven Mocker, and you can read the first chapter of it and all of my other books at my website,

Thanks for all your support over the years, Dear Reader, and may 2017 be a wonderful year for you and yours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Here's to 2017

Barbara here. I'm late, I'm late! My Wednesday post was due at midnight, and is now twelve hours late. Blame it on the surfeit of wine, turkey, latkes, company, and activities of the past week. When Hanukah and Christmas festivities come at the same time, my usual quiet life is turned upside down. There were six of us staying in my little house that I normally share with just two dogs. There were bodies (live) in every room, bed, sofa and chair, and the din of chatter from morning until bed. At every new sound, my big baby dog barked, prompting the other to add her trademark scream.

There were fourteen people and four dogs crowded into my cozy living room and around my dining room table (well, the dogs were underneath) for latkes and turkey at "Christmakah", and to give you a visual image of under the table, Eva was the smallest of the dogs at 40 pounds. The largest was a Golden the size of a polar bear.

It's been a chaotic week but in our busy day to day lives, it's wonderful to have this time to reconnect with family, to put aside the pressures and demands of our regular work and to spend time taking walks, going to movies and out to dinner, and catching up on the news and adventures of those we love.

My Work-in-Progress sat on the bookshelf in my bedroom completely ignored, although the occasional pang of guilt flitted through me as I bustled past it. It sits there still, but its beckoning call grows a little louder. Maybe tomorrow I will pick it up. I will have forgotten my place in it and my train of thought, but I hope this forced separation will usher in some new insights, a brilliant new plot twist or a fascinating character. All that wine and plum pudding should be good for something, right?

In his post yesterday, Rick did a good job of saying good bye and good riddance to 2016. Not humankind's finest year, and with climate denying billionaires in charge who are interested only in power and profits, with little professed concern for the public good or the health of the planet we all share, 2017 is not looking great. I won't add to the doomsaying, but will merely urge everyone to think of one or two small things they can do - a couple of reasonable, achievable resolutions they can keep - to try to stem the tide if not turn it. Many good deeds cost nothing. Smile at clerks and waiters and strangers in the street. Shovel an elderly neighbour's driveway. Carry a harried mother's grocery bags.

Donate to a charity or two. There are many trying to alleviate the suffering around the world. Even modest donations can add up to a real difference. Many of them allow you to pay a small monthly amount instead of a bigger lump sum.  Check the provenance of the goods and food you buy, and try to avoid companies that exploit workers, use forced labour, or damage the environment.

I could go on, but I need to get this blog up on the site. So I will end with one last resolution that I will try to keep. To remember my Wednesday blog before the actual day is half over, and to be as entertaining and informative as possible. Here's to good intentions!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

At the end of 2016, I’m wondering…

by Rick Blechta

So now I’m down to my final post of the year. I’m sure I’m not alone with how I tend to look forward and backward at this time of the passing season. It’s pretty well unavoidable.

It has been an “interesting” 365 days, hasn’t it? Sadly, I feel life has been tilted more to the bad side than the good in 2016. Politically, the world is a mess. The climate issue should be at the top of everyone’s list — and it isn’t. Corporate greed is running rampant. Problem is, like many things in life, we find out far too late when we’ve done something stupid. Climate change is that, in spades.

Personally, my year has been “good enough”. I had one novella published. (Vicki D always makes me feel so lazy when I see what she’s been up to. Actually, she could make any three authors feel lazy.) I’m working on a full-length novel, but I really need to turn on the afterburners in 2017 if I’m going to finish it and hand it over to my long-suffering agent before we reach this point in a year.

My problem with writing was my day gig of graphic design. The really big news of 2016 is that I finally was able to stop doing it. However, the bad part was that closing up shop took until December to be completed, even though I started the process in July! Now I’m getting used to the wonderful feeling that I no longer have to worry about clients and their deadlines. Deadlines I have now are ones that I make myself.

As for looking forward, I wonder what the next year will bring to book publishing. Self-publishing has become huge, but its practitioners are still viewed as “outsiders”. Will this be the year where self-published novels start racking up big sales? Will a big-time author take the plunge, begin self-publishing, throwing the industry into a blender and hitting frappé — because that’s what it would do. All the paradigms of our little world will be thrown right out the window when that happens. Frankly, I believed it would have by now.

I also hope that so many good people don’t shuck their mortal coil in the coming year. We lost a huge number, didn’t we?

I’ve made my resolutions for 2017, and over the years I’ve gotten better at keeping them. I won’t share them with you here because a lot of them are personal goals, but I will say that the top of list say: write more — every day!

So to all you out there: All the best in 2017 and may we all convene here at this time next year to see how it all turned out.

I hope we’ll all still be here…

Monday, December 26, 2016

Books to Keep

The Christmas guests departed at 6am this morning to get ahead of the forecast storm and the Boxing day homeward rush.  The house is silent and seems somehow empty, but outside the snow flurries are blowing, there are leftovers in the fridge and there is a lot to be said for a day in which there is no need to go out, the fire is on and there are Christmas books waiting for me.

We are a bookish family.  Even the grandchildren, 10, 8 and 5, are quite content to spend the down time on Christmas Day between one meal and the next, and to fill in the pause after opening presents from Santa and before attacking the ones from family and friends with either reading or being read to - barely a tablet in sight.

Reviewing my own Christmas goodies, I was struck that the book element consisted of two fat biographies my family knows I will find interesting, an Enid Blyton spoof (Five Go to Brexit Island) and a book of entertaining cartoons.  No fiction, yet everyone knows I read more fiction than anything else.

How many people buy hardback fiction any more?   My own hardback sales rely heavily on library purchases. For myself,  I am an eclectic reader and I don't have one particular favourite author that I wouldn't be prepared to wait for until the paperback came out - or the ebook, I suppose, though if it was a book I was really looking forward to reading I'd enjoy it more in physical form. (Not since Georgette Heyer, of blessed memory.)

Perhaps it's just me.  But if books were mice, we'd have the sort of  problem that would mean calling in pest control, so  I'm very selective about the books I actually keep as opposed to recycling via a charity shop:  For me to keep one, I must know I will want to read it again, or it must have some other significance to earn a place in one of the many crowded bookcases.  It has to furnish, not just the room, but the mind as well.

One of the nicest things a reader can say to you is, 'I have all your books...'  So may 2017 be a year when we all write the books that our readers want to keep and when, with the horrors and traumas of 2016 behind us, we may be able somehow to work towards a more unified and peaceful world.   



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Killings!

Season's Greetings to everyone. It's been a busy, yet amazing year. I spent a lot of time on the road with WordFire Press, hawking books at various ComicCons from Miami to Seattle and parts in between. I got to meet old fans and make new ones. And I edited two anthologies and got several short stories published. Plus, I taught writing classes at Regis University and Lighthouse Writers. Like I said, it's been a busy year.

While we push books here at Type M, I can't ignore that many of us indulge in binge-watching. My favorite was the New Detectives on Netflix. The series detailed the use of forensics and old-style sleuthing to solve actual crimes. It was sobering but not surprising to learn that murderers tend to be, in order of most likely: husbands, boyfriends, wives, adult children, neighbors, and strangers. If any of you are contemplating homicide, word to the wise--ditch the murder weapon and destroy the notes or letters where you outline the steps to the crime! Rookie mistakes like that will get you fifty-to-life, if not a date with the needle.

For the New Year I've got an ambitious schedule. More stories to publish. Hopefully edit at least one more anthology. More touring. More teaching. Stay tuned.

Here's hoping 2017 brings good tidings for all of us. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Advance Readers

The goal was to hit page 50, reach about 10,000 words, and then share the work with advance readers who would offer feedback. That happened last weekend.

It’s been a long road. Since July, I’ve written the first 50 pages of the work-in-progress maybe four different ways. Same plot. Same characters. But different points of view, narrators, and even tenses. About a month ago, I got things where I wanted them, and last weekend I hit page 50. So I shared the Google doc with my current agent, who is exceptional and never fails to call my bluff; a librarian, who catches even the smallest typo; and two people very familiar with the setting of the novel.

Some people wait until the novel is finished before offering it up for criticism. I can understand why –– new ideas coming at you while you work might nudge you off the road you’re traveling. And certainly when I finished three years of workshopping in my MFA program, the last thing I wanted was additional critiquing. As I wrote my first six novels, the process was simple: I composed the book, sent it off to my former agent (who offered very little feedback), and he submitted it. In fact, the submission process was my main form of critique –– many vague rejections and a few acceptances. When I have worked on multi-book contracts, my agent rarely read the sequels, only that original book. Often, the draft –– usually written on deadline –– went from me to the editor, then out into the world to face reviewers. The terror of that experience is well described by poet Anne Bradstreet in her work “The Author To Her Book”:
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain/
… In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;

Maybe it’s age (I’m hesitant to call it wisdom), but I now want feedback as I write. It’s probably easier to receive critiques as I write the book now because I’m not flying by the seat of my pants. Typically, I have no outline. However, this time I have the plot roughly sketched out in a reasonably cohesive manner. Maybe that knowledge makes it easier to seek (and receive) feedback.

I’d love to hear how other members of the Type M community approach this. Are my colleagues in writer’s groups? Do they prefer to work alone? And why? Do they rely on an agent for feedback?

Fifty pages certainly don’t make a novel. But it’s a start, and I’m eager to hear if my advance readers think it’s a good one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Year in Books, 2016

It’s almost the end of the year. Time for my annual reading wrap up. I’ve always believed a writer should read as much as possible – both good and bad. You can learn a lot from reading both.

So far this year I've read 76 books (13 of them non-fiction, all but 3 of the rest crime fiction of one variety or another). There’s still a few days left in the year. I suspect I’ll get another 2 or 3 read.

During the year, I visited old friends and discovered new ones. In the old friends category, I finished off the Pennyfoot Hotel series by Kate Kingsbury, read another of Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range mysteries, and spent some time with Aunt Dimity. And I got to read another great story in the League of Literary Ladies series by Kylie Logan, And Then There Were Nuns.

2016 was the year I finally read a Lee Child book (61 Hours) and loved it. Yes, I know, everyone else has already read a Jack Reacher story. Better late than never... It was also the year I read all of the Family Skeleton mysteries by Leigh Perry (loved, loved, loved them all) and all of the Book Club Mystery series by Laura DiSilverio (also great fun).

The biggest surprises for me this year were how much I loved Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. What a beautifully written story, though sad! And how captivating I found The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson.

My favorite nonfiction book of the year is a toss up between Val McDermid’s Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime and Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages.

I still have stacks of books around the house and a slew of them on my Kindle, waiting to be read, but I'm always looking for something new to read. What books did you enjoy reading this past year? Any suggestions for me?

I hope all of your holidays are happy and that you have a wonderful new year. See you in 2017!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hey! Anyone out there need a gift suggestion?

by Rick Blechta

This is going to be a philanthropic bit of outrageously self-promoting promotion.


Well, it goes like this. To the right and left of this post are either authors (your hosts here at Type M) or the front covers of their most recent books.

If you’re still in need of some Christmas, or shall I just say holiday gifts, look no further! We’re a talented bunch of writers here, and well, our published works would look pretty darned good encased in wrapping paper and given to a relative or friend who enjoys curling up with an enjoyable book on a cold winter night (hot, too, if you happen to be in Florida at the moment).

So please, this gift-giving season consider a Genuine Type M for Murder crime novel. Or two! (Two is a great number.)

And help make the end of the year a little brighter for everyone involved, you, your giftee and everyone here at Type M.

We thank you!

And now I return you to your regularly-scheduled blog...

Monday, December 19, 2016

Goodbye to 2016 and Hello to 2017

By Vicki Delany

This is my last post at Type M for 2016. It’s been quite a year. Although it seems that the same cannot be said for the rest of the world, it’s been a good year for me.

New books, new contracts, new friends, even a new son-in-law to be!

Same house, same health, same family. And isn’t that all pretty much any of us want?
Vicki Reading (not exactly as shown)

Vicki Writing (not exactly as shown)
In March I went to Vietnam, which I absolutely loved, and in November to The Netherlands and Tunisia. February was Left Coast Crime in Portland and March saw the annual road trip to Malice Domestic with Mary Jane Maffini, Linda Wiken, and Robin Harlick.

What’s coming up?

In book news:
  • The first in the new Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series from Crooked Lane.
  • Not one, but TWO, Rapid Reads Novellas from Orca. The third Sgt. Ray Robertson book and the first Ashley Grant book. Totally, totally, different tone. 
  • The third Year Round Christmas mystery in November. 
  • Trip to India and Nepal in February with our own Barbara Fradkin
  • Malice Domestic in April and then Bouchercon in Toronto in October
A wedding! Yeah! My daughter, Julia Delany, will be married to Coleman Webb in Nelson B.C. in September.

The start of a BRAND NEW crime writing festival here in Price Edward County called Women Killing it! It’s going to be September 1, 2nd and promises to be just fabulous. Great authors in an intimate small-town setting. We’re still getting into gear, but we do have a FB page and over the next weeks we’ll be rolling out our web page as well as the author line up and ticket info.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and all the best for the new year.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Guest Blog: Len Tyler

Aline here. I'm delighted to introduce you today to Len Tyler, Chair of the Crime Writers Association. From this seat of immense power and prestige, he oversees the famous Dagger Awards, from the Debut Dagger for unpublished writers through to the Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence and contribution to crime writing. Despite this, he remains kind and undulgent to mere members such as myself and happily agreed to be my guest blogger this week. He has won the 'Last Laugh' award twice for his comic crime novel series as well as being twice short-listed for the Edgar Allan Poe award.

Len writes:

One of the things that you are always trying to do with your work is to instill a sense of time and place. The time of year my books are set often depends on when I begin them - it’s somehow much easier writing about a fine autumn day when it is actually autumn and you’ve just come in from wading through dry leaves with the sun low in a reddening sky.

The book I’ve just turned in (Herring in the Smoke) was begun last spring and, sure enough, the opening chapter is a bright, cold day in late March (and the final chapter is is set in early autumn, roughly when it was first drafted). Christmas features quite a lot in my work however, almost regardless of the progress of the real-life year as I write. Very often it plays a symbolic part in the story. The fourth novel in my Ethelred and Elsie series is Herring on the Nile. It is set (the title is something of a give-away) in Egypt and the narrator, an author, does not have a terribly pleasant time – he is pursued by somebody who does not wish him well, kidnapped in error and almost blown up. Finally, he returns to England just before Christmas. The time of year provides a symbolic healing. He writes in the final chapter: ‘From a window I can see, a little way down Horsham Road, the lights of a Christmas tree shining on the pristine white blanket. In front of me is my computer and a pot of coffee. I’ve just started writing a new book. It’s surprising how little you need to be happy.’

Ethelred’s attitude to Christmas shows, you might say, a certain amount about his character. His agent, Elsie, by contrast, has less enthusiasm for the festivities, referring to ‘that terrifying, yawning gulf between the Queen’s Speech and the earliest that you can decently go to bed’. You can tell a lot about people by what they like and dislike.

Christmas also plays an important part in my John Grey historical series, which begins in the 1650s, when Christmas had been banned by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime. The lack of Christmas symbolises some of the joylessness of the period. When my narrator criticises his mother for celebrating Christmas anyway, it again tacitly comments on the respective characters of John Grey and Mistress Grey. John, though he constantly denies it, is something of a Puritan at heart and very much a child of the new regime. His mother refuses to allow Cromwell, or her son, get in the way of enjoying herself as she always has. John’s acknowledgement, at the end of the book, that it would do no harm to put up a bit of holly this year, is one indicator of how he has changed during the year.

Christmas 1657 saw a general round-up and arrest in London of anyone attending a church service on Christmas Day. That provided me with a sub-plot in the second book in the series, A Masterpiece of Corruption. John Grey, hearing of the plan, tries to warn his friends of the danger of attending church, only to be arrested himself. It proves not to be the most enjoyable Christmas he has had. One of the friends he was trying to warn does however very kindly visit him in prison to tell him what he’s missed. So, I always get Christmas in when I can. Why not? It was and is a great time of the year.

Occasionally the plot forces you to write about some other month. I am for example currently working on a book set at the time of the Great Fire of London. That was in September 1666, no getting away from it. The setting is the end of a long hot summer. Still, I can probably cover the aftermath of the fire – I can see the desolate ruins of London, the walls of the houses collapsed into heaps of now cold rubble and just the church spires left standing as strange vertical markers in a low, grey landscape. Then the white snow begins to fall, covering the grey ash, and somewhere, in the distance, from one of the churches that survived the conflagration, the bells begin to ring.

There’s symbolism there all right. Yes, I rather think that might work…

Friday, December 16, 2016

Holidays with My Characters

Posts from Rick, Barbara, and Aline about holiday customs got me thinking about Christmas when I was a child. I grew up in Virginia, and my parents both worked. Today, my family would be classified as among the "working poor."  That made holidays even more special because my parents always splurged on Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

On Christmas morning, we had oyster stew and fried oysters for breakfast -- or, in the case of my brother, who would eat neither, his usual cereal.
I never asked why we had oysters, but I know now that the custom is supposed to have originated with Irish immigrants and become an American tradition. After breakfast, we went back to the Christmas tree to open any packages that might have been missed in that first rush to the toys. Our tree was the old-fashion kind -- a real tree that my father had chopped down on my grandfather's farm and that we decorated with tinsel, ornaments, and lights that had to be put on in the right order. The tree went up in early December.

I still have oysters on Christmas morning, but with less of the delight than when I was a child. Now, that I can afford to have them any time I'd like, some of the magic is gone. But it's nice to remember all those childhood breakfasts.

Thinking about all this, has made me wonder about my characters' holiday customs. I suspect that Lizzie Stuart, my Southern-born crime historian, had many of the same meals I did. Of course, she was born and reared in a small town in Kentucky by her grandparents. I must do some research on Kentucky delicacies that her grandmother, Hester Rose, might have served alongside her own childhood favorites from Virginia. And then they would have gone to church. Christmas Day and Easter would probably have been the only two occasions when Lizzie's grandfather, Walter Lee, would have gone without nudging from his wife. As a traveling man, a sleeping car porter until he retired, Walter Lee was not as religious as Hester Rose.

Does Lizzie still go to church on Christmas morning? Or does she share a romantic breakfast with her fiance, John Quinn? In the book I'm working on, they go to Santa Fe to spend Thanksgiving with Quinn's family. Quinn is 1/8th Apache. They will be spending that holiday with his half-sister and her family. His sister, mother, and step-father observe Native American traditions and customs that he does not. His sister, who owns an art gallery, is married to an archeologist, whose parents immigrated from Scotland when he was a child. What will be served at Thanksgiving dinner and what food memories will they share?

And what were Quinn's Thanksgivings like after his mother left his father? Quinn's father was career military and an officer. He had married Quinn's Native American mother and expected her to fit in. Did Quinn and his father join other officers and their families for holiday meals? Or, was his father impatient with such celebrations? Did he occasionally allow Quinn to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with his mother and her family in Oklahoma?

Intriguing questions and something to think about as I'm imagining that Thanksgiving meal and the discussion over the table about how everyone intends to spend Christmas.

How do your characters spend the holidays?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A New Book Coming

On its way!

Remember this old folk song, Dear Reader?

The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up the hill one day,
Then marched them down again.
When you’re up, you’re up,
And when you’re down, you’re down.
But when you’re only half-way up,
You’re neither up nor down.
And that about describes my life over the past two months.

Between my family’s little medical adventures and trying to get my upcoming book launch in order and attempting to make progress on my WIP, I don’t know why I bother making plans at all. Of course, any Zen master would tell you that making plans is what leads to misery in the first place.

Life must be getting back to normal, because I’ve returned to my old pattern of saying yes to everything anyone asks me to do and then driving myself insane trying to get it all done.  I am constantly chiding friends and relatives (mostly the female ones. You know who you are.) for overextending themselves and not particularly enjoying it, to boot. And yet I’m as bad about it as anyone. Part of the problem is that you don’t want to disappoint. And then, this one little project won’t take much time, and neither will this one, and this one, and this one, and there’s no end to it.
Well, damn it, Donis, just say no, and strike a blow for women* everywhere. And if I ever manage to do it, I’ll be sure and let you know, Dear Reader.

Now that my rant is over, I happily announce that I just received the hardback copies of my January release, The Return of the Raven Mocker. There will be a giveaway when the book launches, Dear Reader, and I will tell you all about it and about the book when next we meet here at Type M on December 29. (Which happens to be my birthday, and that means perhaps I’ll be the one giving you a present.) Until then, I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannuka, or whatever you celebrate.

*with a nod to the men, as well. They are as guilt-ridden as the women.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

'Tis the season of wandering minds

Barbara here. I was so happy to see the two previous posts of my blogmates. What to write about? No ideas. Nada. Let's try to think serious thoughts about writing while making Christmas cookies, Aline says. Let's write about Christmas trees, Rick says. What a serious group we are. The reality is that the holiday season plays havoc with a writer's schedule and focus. Charlotte Hinger's post on her valiant effort to write a book at this worst of possible times struck a chord. I am just embarking on the third book in the Amanda Doucette series and I am trying to use Charlotte's tricks. Consider writing like any other job; set a daily goal, choose a time of the day, write no matter what's going on around you or wandering through your head.

Easier said than done. Even if you're not trying to get ready for that Christmas luncheon or shop for gifts before the rush hour or clean the house for the neighbours you invited over so that you would have to clean the house (it's nice to see the neighbours too), it's difficult to pretend this is a time of year like any other. In my extended family, we celebrate two traditions, so I get distractions in spades. Do I have enough Hanukah candles for the menorahs, and where on earth can I buy Hanukah napkins and wrapping paper? The colours of Hanukah, at least in my family, are silver, white and blue. Try finding those in a season crazy about red, green, and gold.

Every year I pore over Hanukah recipes looking for a combination of old and new dishes. At the very least, my children expect classic potato latkes and Hanukah sugar cookies cut into shapes; all else is negotiable. We also celebrate Christmas with my extended family so I have gifts and food to prepare for that as well. And when you're a work-at-home writer sharing a house with two rambunctious, long-haired dogs, there is not a high premium put on house-cleaning. Until all three children and their partners descend for the holidays, in which case not only do the beds need to be changed, but the accumulated dog fur has to be vacuumed, muddy dog prints mopped up, the books, maps, pages of notes, and other clutter of my craft cleared off all the available surfaces in the house, etc.

With all these demands yammering in the back of my head, how on earth can I expect to find that zone of creativity and inspiration that a writer needs to produce a reasonably coherent sentence?

Then I take comfort in the thought that, even when I had a normal job out in the world, not a lot of real focussed work got done in the two weeks leading up to the holiday season. There were staff parties and gift exchanges and lots of gossiping around the water cooler. Not that there was an actual water cooler in my job, but in each school I went into, the kids and teachers seemed more excited to talk about decorating and baking and shopping and visiting than about the serious business of learning. Life is not all work; there needs to be time for fun too. Time for connecting and laughing and indulging oneself. So with that in mind, I accept that I'm not likely to get a whole lot of serious writing done over the next three weeks. I'll be lucky if I get the dog hair vacuumed. But I plan to have fun.

Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and the best of the season to you all!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Going completely off-topic

by Rick Blechta

Yeah, yeah, I know this blog is supposed to be about presenting thoughts about writing, crime writing in particular, but like Aline yesterday, I can’t think of anything particularly interesting to post about writing or reading or publishing or…

So I’m going to go off on a tangent — not like I didn’t also do that last week! My post has zero to do with the Type M “mandate”, but, well, I won’t apologize.

What is it with people’s Christmas trees this year (at least in the city of Toronto)???

The past two evenings, my wife and I have been out and about in the city in which we live, and of course, we look at people’s Christmas lights. Quite often, there’s a Christmas tree in their front window, too. The outside lights are generally very colourful, but it didn’t take long to notice that there’s something quite odd going on inside those houses.

The vast majority of trees we’re seeing — and I’ll get to numbers in a moment — are decorated with white lights. That’s it. Whether the tree is real or not is immaterial. There’s just this mono-colour decor thing going on.

So let’s get to the numbers. Last night, driving back from a band rehearsal (a rather long trip on smaller residential streets) we observed a total of 28 Christmas trees in people’s front windows. Of that number, 25 had white lights only, another had those light blue lights and only 2 had multiple colours. I don’t know what the numbers were last year, but I’ll bet it hadn’t swung this far or we would have noticed — which we did immediately this year.

Here’s another thing: none of the trees had any Christmas ornaments! I’m only talking for us here, but one of the joys of the holiday season is to take out our much-loved ornaments to adorn our tree. Many were bought in faraway places (Scotland, Vienna, Florence, Paris, etc.) or to celebrate the birth of children and grandchildren.

We still have three of the four my wife and I bought for our first tree together so many years ago now. All we had money for was 4 good Christmas tree ornaments. The rest of the tree’s decorations consisted of a dozen cheap, red glass balls, strings of popcorn and cranberries, red and green braided yarn and some pine cones I picked up under the trees at the nearby mall and decorated with glued-on sparkles. To us they are precious objects with many memories wrapped around them. All of our decorations are like that.

So why have Christmas trees descended into becoming mere fashion accessories? Did we miss some important news that all trees were to be white lights only? Did some fashion gurus mandate away our sort of decorations? What’s going on? Keep in mind that it’s been proven in bad economic times people tend to put up more outdoor lights rather than fewer. Does tree decorating have an underlying meaning?

Then I had a rather sad thought. What if this trend is indicative of the rapidly changing world in which we’re living? As society becomes more fractured and insular — and, well, colder, is this being reflected in the way we think of our Christmas trees, that they’re just an after-thought decoration but up mostly because “we should have a Christmas tree” rather than a link to our families and our past. Even our two thirty-something sons, hardened characters that they can be get all dewy-eyed when they spot special decorations they loved from their childhood and they still take delight in moving the other’s “First Christmas” decoration to a spot against the wall, while putting theirs in a place of pride right at the front (this happens several times as they come and go from our house).

Is the 2016 Toronto Christmas tree something that’s only happening here, or is it more widespread? I sure hope not!

And if it is widespread, is there a deeper meaning?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

No, this isn't another post about the impossibility of finding an easy answer to this most frequently-asked question.  This is about sitting down once a week or once a fortnight to write a post for Type M.

Usually when I have one to write soon I see something that strikes a chord - a topic chosen by one of my fellow-bloggers, a news item, a problem or a particular joy I've found in my writing life, an observation about technique, even ( a rarity, this) an original thought.

This week, nothing seems to have come my way.  I know why.  Apart from writing time, my mind has been taken up with the preparations for Christmas.  With the whole family, grandchildren and all, coming here this year, my mind has been taken up with all the usual preparations - presents, cards, house-cleaning, decorating, cooking.

So when I started to think about writing this, nothing obligingly sprang to mind.  I did have a casual thought as I made marzipan cookies and amaretto chocolate truffles how strange it is that when cooking is absolutely my favourite hobby, my main character, DI Marjory Fleming, is famously an appalling cook - a reflection of mild interest to me but not really to anyone else, and certainly not material for a blog.

However, I bet I'm not the only person who has clutched their head in despair wailing, 'What am I going to write in my post?'  (My husband is fortunately very tolerant.) So what do you do, when inspiration doesn't strike?  All suggestions gratefully received.

Since my next post won't be until Boxing Day - sudden thought, do you call it that on the other side of the Atlantic? The 26th, anyway - so I want to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a wonderfully successful 2017.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Guest Post: Sarah M. Chen

Please welcome fellow Sisters in Crime/LA member, Sarah M. Chen, to Type M! We worked together on the SinC/LA board plus we've done several events together. You may remember my posting about a cozy v. noir smackdown awhile back (we both participated, on opposite teams). Take it away, Sarah...

Reading Books on Writing

by Sarah M. Chen 


Lately, I’ve come across blog posts or Yahoo Group threads that mention invaluable books on writing. People responded enthusiastically, especially if it’s one they haven’t heard of yet. Some said they have so many books on writing, yet they’re always willing to add one more. Or that these would make excellent gifts for their fellow writer friends.

I’m reading all this and wondering if I’m a horrible person because I don’t have a lot of books on writing, whether it’s craft, inspiration, or memoirs by famous writers. It’s not like I don’t think they’re a great idea. As writers, we’re by nature alone and work in a vacuum. It’s easy to become disillusioned and on the verge of heaving your laptop across the room. Reading someone else’s writing journey or how they coped with the frustration of being a writer is comforting. Or learning a new way to write realistic villains is surely worth a quick read.

Now I admit, I read many writing books in school. I mean, it’s school, so we kind of have to, right? I studied screenwriting so the books I read were Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. I have to say that the lessons learned in these books have stuck with me to this day. Even though they were geared mostly toward screenwriting, I found they can be applied to any type of storytelling.

When I decided to try my hand at writing crime fiction, I bought a book that was something like “How to Write a Mystery.” It was essentially a workbook. I can’t honestly review it because I never finished it. I kept thinking as I was going through the exercises, “Shouldn’t I be using this time to write?” Perhaps if I’d finished it, it would have made me a better writer or I would have made fewer mistakes along the way. Now I’ll never know.

Friends who found out I was following my writerly dream bought me books like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit. I’m sure it’s a lovely book but I had no desire to crack it open. I feel awful for admitting it (and I apologize now if you’re the friend who bought this for me). And I hear amazing things about Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I keep telling myself one day, I’ll buy these books but really, I’m just lying to myself.

I do find quick bursts of inspiration and handy writing tips with crime fiction blogs. In addition to Type M for Murder, you have SleuthSayers, Criminal Minds, Do Some Damage, The Thrill Begins, and Kill Zone. I also have a printout of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing near my computer because—well, it’s Elmore Leonard.

But let’s not forget what truly inspired all of us to write great crime fiction: crime fiction books. For me, reading crime fiction (interspersed with YA titles) energizes me and gives me that needed boost. I know many writers can’t read fiction while they’re working on something but I don’t find that to be a problem. Although sometimes it backfires and I realize I’m a total fraud. But that’s a blog post for another time.

So what about you? Are there books on craft and writing that you swear by? Or are you like me, and you can’t generate enthusiasm for reading anything but fiction and the occasional blog post?

Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. She has published over twenty crime fiction short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Betty Fedora, Out of the Gutter, and Dead Guns Press, among others. Her debut book, Cleaning Up Finn, is out now with All Due Respect Books.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Best Worst Time

I began writing a new mystery Wednesday. The timing was absolutely horrible. I'm always stressed during the Christmas season. There is too much to do, too many decisions to make, and since I'm extremely introverted, way too many places to go. I'm very quickly worn to a frazzle.

I began this book at this dreadful time on purpose. Yes. Deliberately chose the worst possible day in a year that hasn't been all that hot. I even wrote my ideal quota of five pages. In longhand, yet.

Fractured Families will come out in March and I would love to have the first draft of my next book done before that time.

But really now. Beginning a book right during the Christmas season? Why would I make such a peculiar move? Because one of the most important things a novelist has to learn to do is to get over regarding writing as more precious and mysterious than other kinds of work.

We are on the same plane as everyone else in the world. We do not exist at a higher elevation. Nurses, teachers, mathematicians, musicians, fast food workers, clerks, bankers, truck drivers get up every morning and go to work.

There's a downhill slope from regarding writing as very special undertaking to then seeing oneself as a special person. From that comes the sense that the world should accommodate your talent and leave a box lunch at your doorstep every noon.

Ain't going to happen. I started writing when my daughters were young and I used a quota system for a book. Five pages a day, five days a week. I've strayed from that many, many times, but it still works the best. I trained myself to write anywhere under any circumstances. One of the bonuses of the quota was that I became much more realistic about time. Since I'm a morning person, I began scheduling appointments in the afternoon.

There were and still are days when it's nearly impossible to work in writing. And looking back to the time when I was quite rigid about the quota and wrote just pure D crap on these very horrible days, when I reread the material the next day I was always, ALWAYS surprised.

The pages I had created were as good or as bad as the drivel I usually turned out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Bookmarks and Postcards and Pens, Oh My

One of my favorite things to do at conferences is to check out the postcards, bookmarks and other assorted items left for attendees to grab up. I’ve gotten pens, postcards, bookmarks, candy, rubber jar openers and probably lots of other things I’ve now forgotten. But just how much of this stuff really helps sell books?

So far with my own books, I haven’t ventured beyond postcards and bookmarks. I’m thinking about expanding, but I don’t want to throw my money away.

Candy seems like a good idea, but I’ve seen people grab a package, tear it open and gobble down the chocolate without bothering to look at the writing on the package. Doesn’t seem like very good advertisement. I think I’ll skip that one.

Pens are fun. I have to admit they’re my favorite thing to snap up. I’m the kind of person who can spend hours in a stationery store. I do actually notice the author and book series that’s written on the pen when I’m using it. So that seems like a good possibility. Rubber jar openers are nice, but you really need to have a series that involves food or cooking, I think, to pull that one off. Since I don’t, I think I’ll skip it.

Between postcards and bookmarks, if I had to choose only one, I’d go with bookmarks. Most people can use bookmarks and you can have fun with the design. I do really like postcards, though. I put the book cover on the front and information about the book on the back. This is the kind of thing I enjoy getting at conferences for books I’m thinking of buying later. I stash them away and, yes, I actually look at them after I get home.

Unfortunately, I tend to go overboard when it comes to the number of bookmarks/postcards to order for my own books. Does anyone have any rule of thumb when it comes to how many to order at a time? And what are your favorite items to get at conferences?

On a different note, I enjoyed Rick’s post last week on the little free libraries that are cropping up everywhere. We have several in our area. I checked one of them out the other day. Lots of older books. I dropped off a book that I enjoyed that was published fairly recently, putting one of my own bookmarks in it, and I noticed it was snapped up within a couple days. So I’m going to start putting other books I enjoyed in the library with one of my bookmarks. Someone else will get to enjoy the book, it’ll free up some space in my own library, and who knows, maybe someone will buy one of my own books after looking at the bookmark.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Other Blechta

by Rick Blechta

The past two weeks I’ve done very little writing. Why? Because I’m trying to clean up the last of the graphic design work after which I’m shuttering my studio — except for the odd job for friends and a handful of clients with whom I enjoy working — and mostly to pick up a bit of pin money (an interesting term in itself). I had hoped I’d be done with GD by now but two jobs went on and on despite me more and more desperately nudging my clients to finish up their projects. Anyway, I’ll soon be free!

Second of all, I’ve been working on promotional materials for my current music project: SOULidified, a 9-piece band specializing in performing classic soul music from the ’60s. It’s a labour of love, really, since this music is what got me interested in my main life’s work: music — of all kinds.

Sure I love writing, and still enjoy the act of creating compelling stories with interesting characters and settings, but it was actually music that led me into writing in the first place. I’d always had a way with words (just ask my high school and university teachers), and when someone asked me to do a music review for the local paper, I said sure. That led to more reviews and even a few magazine articles (wish I’d kept copies!). Eventually, I started into crime writing because I’d sort of temporarily burned myself out on music (teaching music seven days a week eventually takes its toll) and needed a new creative outlet.

But, honestly, if I was forced to pick only one thing to do going forward, it would have to be music. I currently have the pleasure — and honour — to play in a very fine big band, The Advocats ( and that has been a huge part of my life for the past 12 years.

A few years ago, soul music called out to me when my niece asked me to put together a band to play at her dad’s surprise 60th birthday party. Since soul music was where we both musically began, I wrote out some arrangements, got in touch with some old musical friends down in the NYC area, and we surprised the hell out of my brother when he showed up to a “Valentine’s Day Dance” (it would be more accurate to say he got dragged there by his wife) and there were his drums (untouched for more than 20 years) and 10-piece band in need of someone to keep the beat. It was an epic party!

It also made me realize how much I missed playing this music. Since I had written over a dozen arrangements, I thought, Why not find some good musicians back home in Toronto and put together a band that could perform this great music the way it was done back in the day?*

SOULidified was born. And ever since, my attention has been divided. On one hand, I desperately want to write and hate to see my novel-in-progress languish. But on the other hand, I want to work on new arrangements (I’m up to 46 currently) and perform with my mates, great musicians and also great people.

So now I’d like to share with Type M followers (and my fellow authors) a bit of “The Other Blechta”. Hope you enjoy it!

There are more clips if you go here:


*The band was rehearsing an Otis Redding tune one day and I said we should do it a certain way because, “That’s the way Otis used to perform it live. I saw it, and believe me, it was #$%@@$@ amazing!” Most of the musicians in SOULidified are a fair bit younger than me, and one of those who was up on his Otis history said, “What a minute! Didn’t Otis die in 1967? How old are you?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Rainy Days and Wednesdays

I love the rain. The rain when I lived in Seattle, rain in the morning, with Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier in the distance. The kind of rain that seems to be a part of the landscape.

Or, rain that comes in a sudden, cloud-burst in summer and sends people fleeing for shelter and laughing as they run. Or, rain on a Saturday afternoon that provides the perfect excuse for not going out to do those errands that aren’t that urgent anyway. A quiet time to make a mug of cocoa and curl up with a book.

And then there’s the kind of rain we’re having in Albany today. A Wednesday work-day rain that makes me want to pull the covers up over my head and spend the day in bed. Too much to do, gray and sad outside. A day when you wonder if anyone would notice if you didn't put in an appearance.

Wednesday. With no classes to teach today, I decided to spend the morning working at home. I had an article to revise. I intended to check the headlines in the news and then write.

The headlines were depressing. I clicked on an entertainment blog about Tuesday night’s episode of The Voice, when Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton performed “Jolene.” I had heard some of it from the kitchen during the show and rushed out to watch. I’m a Dolly Parton fan. I decided I had time to watch the video of the complete performance.

My cat, Harry, was hunkered down on top of my desk when I started my impromptu concert. By the time I had pulled up the YouTube video of Dolly performing “I Will Always Love You,” followed by Whitney Houston’s live performance of the same song, he had climbed down into my lap to have a nap. All sixteen pounds of him, stretched out and comfy.

But then I happened on the videos of Simon Cowell and his fellow judges on X Factor responding to a nine-year boy who was so stricken with stage-fright that he began to cry. His mother came out to comfort him, a judge rushed up on the stage to hug him. He tried again and sent his voice soaring, I wiped away a tear or two.

Then I noticed my YouTube search had brought up some Reba McEntire videos. Yes, I’m also a Reba fan. I grew up in the South with country music. By the time I’d gotten through her videos about heartbreak and triumph and grief and comfort, I was sobbing out loud.

Harry raised his head, opened his eyes, and gave me what I’ve come to recognize as the cat equivalent of a dog's empathy. The look that says, “Are you all right?” while you know your cat's also thinking, “Really? Are you really about to make me jump off your lap. I’ll give you five seconds to get it together.” I laughed and got it together and assured him that everything was okay. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep. And I realized it was okay. Instead of being sunk in gloom, I felt like putting on my royal blue sweater and a smile and heading out the door.

I need to remind myself from time to time of what music – from country to rap, from jazz and movie theme songs to classical – does for my soul. I am a visual person, and sometimes I forget to stop and listen. I forget that music can make things better.

This morning also gave me another way of thinking about my characters. What does my protagonist do when she wants to hide under the covers? What is her “go to” for coping with melancholy? Does she watch old movies (Lizzie, my crime historian) or go for a four-mile run (Hannah, my police detective). I’m not sure yet what Jo, a new character does. But it's something to think about.

What do your characters do?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Ice Ages

Time passes so quickly that it alarms me sometimes. How did I get anything done at all in my former life when I worked for other people? The truth is that I didn’t, or at least I was only able to do whatever was absolutely necessary to live.

Now my work is writing, and work at it I do, and yet it still feels to me that I’m always short of time. Days bleed into one another, and weeks, and months, and a year passes without my quite being aware of how it happened. It seems that I’m constantly busy, and yet I feel like I make little progress.

Yet when I remember the monumental events in my past that changed my life forever, or set me on a new path, I realize that most of them happened quickly, sometimes in an instant. I think of that when I’m frustrated, when it comes to me that I have less and less time in front of me to fool around with and wonder if it’s just going to be like this for the rest of my life. In the words of that immortal philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

I’m normally not much bothered by things, and I think I have a naturally sunny disposition. But every life goes through periods that must be endured, and the past few years have been my personal Ice Age. My husband’s health problems have been no secret. We have endured and he keeps coming through, and I’ve been able to return to my own pursuits. But it seems that something has changed. I go through the days with a sense of unreality. I want to hold myself at a distance. My mind wanders. I’ve frozen over.

Everyone gets to go through these periods, if they live long enough, and this is not my first rodeo, as we say in Oklahoma. It’s the universal life experience, to lose loved ones, to go through extended times of stress and fear. In the past, no matter how unendurable a situation seemed at the time, I lived through it whether I felt like it or not, and the fog eventually lifted. I expect that will happen again. You just have to hunker down and wait for spring.

With that in mind, I’ve finally begun working on the tenth Alafair Tucker novel, though at this point the manuscript consists of several pages that meander about like the mighty Ganges. But I keep plugging along. I need a few more good weeks of writing to make significant progress, yet next month is shaping up to be very busy with the launch of book nine, The Return of the Raven Mocker. So I’m working hard to get as much done as I can before things get crazy. It’s interesting to see how a new book shapes up. No matter what you plan, things show up in your writing that never occurred to you when you started out. Funny. You dig deep for your characters, and bring up a lot of stuff that was way down inside yourself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The lure of maps

Barbara here. Every since I was a little kid doing treasure hunts at birthday parties, maps – and especially hand drawn maps – have always given me a little thrill. Nothing like holding a puzzle in your hands, with directions to decipher, clues to follow, and a big X at the end to mark the treasure. It didn't matter what the treasure was (it could be a simple chocolate bar), because it was the challenge that mattered, not the prize. Had there been no treasure, of course, or worse a little note saying nyah, nyah, we would have called foul, but otherwise the fun was in the hunt.

In a sense, the hand drawn treasure map is a metaphor for the crime novel. The reader is invited to embark on a quest, with the thrill of following the clues and uncovering the solution at the end. Some readers are only interested in the characters or setting, or simply enjoy being along for the ride, but most commit themselves actively to this quest. For this reason, perhaps of all types of fiction, the crime novel engages the reader most. A good argument for reading crime novels to keep the mind alert throughout life!

Some crime novels go even farther. Not only do they present a metaphorical map for invite the readers into the story, but they also place a real one at the beginning of the book. These maps are usually simple and hand drawn, reminiscent of the treasure maps of childhood. They are like a little lure dangled before the reader, inviting them to turn the page.

My latest novel, FIRE IN THE STARS, is set in Newfoundland, in an area unfamiliar to most readers, and the reader is invited to follow my protagonist Amanda Doucette on her own wilderness quest to find her missing friend and solve a murder or two. I wrote this book with a multitude of topographical maps spread out on my dining room table so that I could get the geography right.

A number of readers have told me that they read the book with the atlas open beside them and would have liked a map at the beginning of the book. This idea had never occurred to me, but it shows how powerfully the readers were engaged in the quest.

The Amanda Doucette books are each set in different iconic locations across Canada, most of which will be unfamiliar to readers, and the setting will be an vivid part of the stories. As a result of these readers' comments, I am considering the idea of including little maps at the beginning of each book to show the major landmarks that appear in the story. There will not be an X to mark the solution, of course, for that will be included in the pages of the story, but it should be an interesting and helpful aid to those who like treasure hunts.

Drawing a map is proving more difficult that I imagined because of my limited software and design expertise, but I hope between myself and my publisher we will get a reasonable approximation  that readers can follow. Here is what I have so far for the next book in the series, THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY.

What do you think? Do you ignore maps at the beginning of books or are they helpful. Do they add an extra enticement? Or do they seem like a gimmick, rather like the cast of characters at the beginning of a book?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Little free libraries

by Rick Blechta

To the right you can see what looks at first glance like a large birdhouse. It’s not. This is a “little free library” and here in Toronto — and I expect many other places as well — they’re sprouting up on people’s front lawns like mushrooms after a fall rain. Intrigued, I recently stopped to look at a few.

Here’s how it works. You put one of these up in your front yard, fill it with books you no longer want or have space for. Neighbours or random people passing stop, find something that intrigues them, and take it away with them. If they happen to have a book they no longer want, they can leave it, thus paying it forward, as the trendy saying goes.

It seems like a quaint and friendly idea. You can even register your little free library for a small fee which will include it on a searchable map. Little Free Library, the organization of which I’m speaking, says it has over 50,000 registered worldwide.

In consulting their map for my area, however, it seems that there are also a lot of unregistered little free libraries. I have no idea whether they’re dangerous or not. Personally, I usually stay away from unregistered entities. I mean, you wouldn’t go to an unregistered dentist, would you?

Seriously, though, it sounds like a good way to share books you’ve enjoyed. Problem is, of the half-dozen front yard libraries I’ve browsed, I haven’t found much beyond paperback bestselling thrillers, self-help diet books, and other things I’m not really interested in reading. Only one had what I would consider a “literary classic” (read it in Grade 8). I definitely got the feeling the owners of these libraries were simply clearing bookshelf space, or had chucked a forgotten carton of books from their basement or attic, the flotsam of a long ago move. Or perhaps all the good offerings had been snapped up before I got there.

Another thing that is really rather sweet is that every one of the libraries I’ve seen are completely different. One matched the person’s home in colour, shutters, etc., even down to the shake shingle roof. The scope to express yourself in your library’s design is limitless. A good woodworker could keep him/herself happily engaged for hours designing something really special. Of course, you’d then have to worry about graffiti artists defacing your little architectural marvel.

Now that I’ve begun exploring this free library movement, I think I’m going to fetishize stopping at every single one I pass to see what I can turn up in the way of unexpected reading material.

I may even put one on my front lawn. Heaven knows I have books I can pass on.

Or — wait for this — I’ll go around and place my own works of deathless prose in carefully chosen neighbourhoods so that my literary gifts may be presented to all and sundry in a non-confrontational way! I mean, who enjoys being bombarded by a desperate author with a new novel when they’re going into an Indigo store simply to pick up a throw pillow for their Great Aunt Margaret’s Christmas present? Isn’t some guerilla book placement a much more elegant way to cultivate new readers?

Have you seen these little free libraries? Have you stopped at one to browse or even drop off a well-loved tome? The last place I stopped this morning had a rather nice book on perennial gardening which I borrowed. I fully intend to take it back when I’m through, and maybe leave something of my own.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Thief of Time

Recently my daughter gave me a present of procrastinating pencils. They came in a little pack and each of them bears a suggestion.
  • You probably need another coffee.
  • Go on, take me for a doodle.
  • Mmm, what's for lunch?
  • A to-do list, you need a to-do list.
  • You can't possibly work in an untidy room.
  • Just chew on me and look thoughtful for a bit.
There may be some writers who sit down at their desks at the determined hour and get to work straight away without allowing any form of distraction, but I haven't met any of them.  They are probably the same people who only ever have one slim file lying on the otherwise empty desk, who have the whole book planned out with spreadsheets before they type 'Chapter One' , who always meet their deadlines without any sort of unseemly scramble at the end and who always have a spare ink cartridge in reserve for the next time it runs out - so we don't like them, do we, boys and girls?

For the imperfect mortals among us, there is a bizarre resistance that often has to be overcome before we open the file that contains our work in progress and get on with it.  If you haven't got a big excuse, a little one will do : 'If anyone comes in and sees the kitchen floor looking like that, I'll be mortified...'

It's completely irrational. I know that writing is what I like to do more than anything else - whereas I hate having to wash the kitchen floor. Once I sit down and get absorbed, the time simply flies and I'm surprised when I find it's lunch time. I can look at what I've done with a glow of satisfaction that carries me on through the rest of the day.

I can remember in the long-ago days when I was a teacher pupils who had upcoming exams would tell me they 'just couldn't make themselves' get down to revising. An excuse, I thought at the time and was fairly crisp about this kind of problem. But now I wonder, is there something deeper at work than just being easily distracted?

As long as we are writing our book in our head, it is going to be the very best thing we have ever done — probably the best thing anyone has ever done. But whenever something is set down on paper it becomes limited, and however good the writing may be it never quite takes flight with the glorious freedom it had before.

So is procrastination, after all, not just a funny little lazy quirk but a dark, deep-seated fear of failure?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Readers versus Writers

Jess Walter and Dana Spiotta will be speaking next Saturday at Inside the Writer's Studio presented by Lighthouse Writers Workshop. In anticipation of their visit, I attended Lighthouse's Writer's Studio Book Club where we discussed Walter's Beautiful Ruins and Spiotta's Innocents and Others. We talked mostly about narrative structure, but at times the conversation got heated when we debated who wrote the better book. Having read all of Walter's novels and even taught a seminar from his Beautiful Ruins, I was definitely his champion. However, Spiotta had her fans. Not everybody involved in the back-and-forth was a writer; some were there because they are readers and wanted to share their opinions. The episode got me thinking about the conceit we writers can have about the writing process. Since we're intimately involved with the mechanics of putting words on paper and trying to have the effort make sense, we assume we have a better understanding of what makes for a good story. Just because we're more familiar with the ingredients, we think we can whip up a better meal. Conversely--and to build on that food metaphor--I may not be a chef, but I know a good dinner when I taste it.

Blog Bonus!

I wrote a piece of short fiction for the world in Aaron Michael Ritchey's steampunk opus, The Juniper Wars. In Book One, Dandelion Iron, a trio of gunslinging sisters brave a post-apocalyptic wilderness to save their family ranch. My story, "Ezekiel 37:38," let me tap into my evangelical roots as I explored the early days following nuclear disaster. It's a tough place to be. Check it out here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The First Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving yesterday. It was the first time I hosted a large family event in my home since moving to Fort Collins. I was amazed at how my house accommodated the group. The too small kitchen seemed to swell to include all the women who had their fingers in various pies. There was even room for the essential pitch table in the living room.

I have a large leather sectional that is just right for viewing movies. A large arched three-shaded lamp provides plenty of light for those who want to knit or do needlework.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. This autumn has been one of the most spectacular I've seen. The weather has been gorgeous and the country is slowly emerging from the wounds afflicted during the recent election.

Thanksgiving is the source of one my happiest memories. I was introduced to reading through a little book about Thanksgiving. The title was Hoot Owl.

I wanted to learn to read more than anything in the world. We were in a tiny school where three grades were together in one room. No pre-school or kindergarten. No TV, Sesame Street, or clever toys. My mother read stories sometimes out of the old Book of Knowledge. We were simply jump-started into first grade.

I thought reading was a trick or a revelation. I emulated a third grade boy I especially admired. I sat exactly as he did, held my head at the same angle, frowned like he did. But I couldn't read. Then one day the teacher told us about the alphabet and that the alphabet formed words and the words then became sentences and sentences were the basis of stories. I was swept with a wave of white-hot fury that it was that simple and everyone had withheld it from me.

The alphabet and everything connected with it became an obsession. And then came one of the most joyful days of my life. After the class had endured yet another fumble-through with Dick, Jane, Spot, and that damned ball and I was out of anything to do, the teacher told me I could choose a book to read.

And I could! I could actually read. And these books all had plots.

 The first book I ever read on my own was Hoot Owl. It was about a little pioneer boy who got lost in the woods. Just when everything seemed the darkest and he despaired of ever making it back to his colony he was befriended by a little Indian boy, Hoot Owl, who took him to his stern, but kindly Chief. A group of Indians guided Hoot Owl back to his anxious parents who, along with other welcoming colonists, were preparing a Thanksgiving feast. Naturally, the grateful colonists invited the Indians to share their meal. It was the first Thanksgiving and everyone lived happily ever after.

There now. Wasn't that wonderful? The shelves were full of similar books and I was off and running.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving & Audiobooks

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

I found Vicki’s recent post about audiobooks interesting, and it got me thinking about my own relationship with audio reads.

As a dyslexic, audiobooks (we called them “books on tape” back then) showed me books could be friends, not just the source of academic embarrassment. In fourth grade, when the class read aloud, I would try to gauge my turn and judge which paragraph would fall to me, knowing I was doomed to stumble my way through the text.

Years later, I found Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels on audio. I fell in love with the books, read by Burt Reynolds and even Joe Mantegna. I learned to pace a scene this way, I learned a lot about narrative voice, and I learned to write by ear.

Most of all, I learned to love books, reading along and annotating as I listened to Hemingway, Falkner, Melville in American Literature. Learning, too, to read my written work aloud, first for class, then for the newspaper, and now for my publishers.

To this day, like Vicki, I listen to audiobooks constantly –– at the gym, in the car, before bed. I might be reading one book and listening to another. That’s the case right now. I’m reading Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger, and listening to Turning Angel, by Greg Iles.

My advice is this: Never try to do both at the same time.


As a writer, I shouldn’t ever say a picture is worth a thousand words. First, it’s a cliche. And second, well, I’m a writer, not a photographer . . . but, here are some pics from the past two weeks.

"Writing Multiple Series" panel(from left) Liz Mugavero, Lea Wait, Diane Valerie, and Lucy Burdette.

Crime Bake, put on annually in the Boston area by New England’s chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, is a small but intimate conference. I had a great time this year. William Kent Krueger was the guest of honor, and he gave a memorable keynote address.

Keeley's 8th birthday dinner at Friendly's

Welcome Home! Someone missed her big sister away at college