Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The non-professional hero

Barbara here. The first review of my upcoming novel, THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, landed in my email inbox this morning, courtesy of my publicist. I suspect all writers are like me, anxiously awaiting that first review of our precious darling, which we have just set afloat out into the world with no idea whether readers will hate it or love it. 

Reviews almost always start with a summary of the plot, which is of no real concern to us authors, since we wrote the thing. So here is the critical meat of the review ...

This is an extremely well written and plotted novel. The characters were likeable, except for Amanda’s tendency not to listen to advice and run off half-cocked into danger. This is my first Barbara Fradkin book, but it certainly won’t be my last. I truly enjoyed this novel. It was a refreshing and original storyline.

Overall, this is a very good review and allows me to take my first tentative breath of relief. However, there is that small prick of criticism, contained in most reviews: "The characters were likeable, except for Amanda’s tendency not to listen to advice and run off half-cocked into danger."  This one is minor and does not appear to detract from the reader's enjoyment of the story, but it got me thinking about the challenge of writing about ordinary people as sleuths. 

In my two previous series, I did not face this problem. In the ten Inspector Green novels, it was Inspector Green's job to go after bad guys, even to put himself in danger for the public good. Even some of his more outlandish breaches of normal protocol could be supported by the demands of the situation. In my Cedric O'Toole novels  Cedric was a reluctant sleuth and rarely set out to fix things, instead finding himself in the midst of a mess.

But Amanda Doucette is a different sort of hero, a former international aid worker whose concern for people in trouble often has her chasing it. 

As I wrote TRICKSTER, I was aware that I was venturing into the realm of the improbable and that the reader would need some suspension of disbelief, but it's a rare book that stays within the lines of a safe, predictable story. This is particularly true of thrillers and of books where the main hero is not a person habitually involved in enforcing the law or saving lives. In real life, most ordinary people would simply phone 911 and trust the professionals to handle things. The trick for the writer is to make the story believable one step at a time, to draw the reader out onto that limb of disbelief without having them pause, look around, and say to themselves "OHG, this is ridiculous, I shouldn't be here." 

Character is crucial here. The reader has to think the character's choice makes perfect sense given the type of person they are and their state of mind at the time. The moment the reader thinks this character would never do that or is making a choice that is blatantly stupid (like going down into the dark basement to investigate a noise, carrying only a candle), the reader disengages from the story. Creating the perfect character for this role of hero is more difficult that one might think. The character needs to be smart, resourceful, brave, determined, and self-reliant, which is why there is a recurrent trope of intelligence, stubbornness, and "feistiness" among these sleuths. In fact, it's a challenge to avoid cliches. The character also has to be distrustful of the authorities' ability to solve the case, which is why so many books portray the police as incompetent, corrupt, overworked, or some combination of these. Again a cliche that is hard to avoid.

Above and beyond all this, the character has to have a powerful personal motive for getting involved in the case. This can be something from their past, a friend or themselves being suspected of the crime, or a threat to themselves, a loved one, or someone in their care. Writers want the reader to care whether the hero solves the case and to root for them along the way. There are a lot of dangers and pitfalls for the writer to navigate along the way, including motives that are cliched or overdone, unsympathetic, or just plain ridiculous. 

In this review, the reader found Amanda's tendency not to listen to advice and to go off half-cocked annoying. But that's who Amanda is, so I'm not sure I could have avoided that. It's part of her nature, springing in part from her action-oriented temperament and in part from her past demons. Like real people, characters have flaws which make them human and, one hopes, more interesting and sympathetic. As a writer, I can only hope that people will understand her drive, forgive her pig-headedness, and root for her anyway. It seems as if, in this reader's case, that happened.

I'd love to hear readers' and writers'  thoughts on this challenge of believability, and also what cliches are most bothersome, what is getting old and tired. In the service of a good story, I think the suspension of disbelief can stretch pretty far. Talking cats, anyone? 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

And then there was this…

by Rick Blechta

Something strange happened to me last Thursday. I won an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada for my writing.

To say the very least, I was shocked. It was completely unexpected, and at the time, I wasn’t really paying attention the way I should have been. Allow me to explain.

In case you don’t know — and if the Canadian media is any kind of example, ignoring the winners of this year’s Arthurs with nearly complete unanimity, so you probably don’t — the Arthurs are one of the top awards in the crime writing world. It is an exceptional honour to receive one. (It is also an extremely cool statuette.)

Type M even boasts a multiple-Arthur winner (for Best Novel): Barbara Fradkin, receiving them in back-to-back years which had never been done before or since.

So it’s a Big Deal to get one.

I had been asked to be the Arthur Ellis Gala’s photographer for the evening, so I was hovering backstage waiting to leap out to take shots of the various winners and presenters. I fully did not expect to win because the field for Best Novella was very strong, and included Peter Robinson who has won more Arthurs than anyone else. My mind was focused on lining up the next shot as my old friend Linda Wiken walked onstage to reveal the winner of this year’s Best Novella Arthur. The names of the nominees, their books and the publishers of each were read and the envelope opened. “And the winner of the Best Novella is Rick Blechta, Rundown, Orca Book Publishers.” (Or something like that.)

My first thought upon hearing that was, “Oh God! Who’s going to take the photo?” I’d joked a few times over the past week that if I were to win, I’d have to take a selfie, but fortunately I didn’t remember that at the time. I was rescued by the CWC’s able Chair, Cathy Ace, who took the camera from my shaking hands (I would have taken a terrific photo with shaking hands, wouldn’t I?) who snapped a great shot.

After my moment in the sun, during which I hope I babbled out something appropriate, thanking the right people and all — I had not given a moment’s thought as to what I might say in the event Rundown won — I put my Arthur down on the floor backstage and went back to work with my camera.

As soon as the gala ended, I got busy packing away all the CWC gear my wife (who is the organization’s executive director) had brought. By the time I’d finished, I looked around and everyone was gone.

So much for the glamour of being an “award-winning author”.

Click HERE for a link to the complete list of Arthur Ellis Winners for 2017.

And a special shout-out to my fellow nominees: Brenda Chapman, Jas. R. Petrin, Linda L. Richards, and Peter Robinson who all wrote really great books. You should definitely check them out. Click HERE for all those details (scroll down the page a bit).

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Perfect Place to Write

Rick's post about our favourite place to read/write triggered some very nostalgic memories for me – though not so much the reading bit, because that has always stayed constant. When I can find it, my perfect place for reading has always been in shade, preferably leafy, when the temperature is too high to sit out in the sunshine.

As you can imagine, this doesn't happen too often in Scotland. So by the time you read this, we will be on our annual retreat to France with a massive book-box; to Burgundy this time. I'll raise a glass of the local beverage to you all.

When it comes to writing, though, my practice is much duller. I work on a PC, in my study, with the door shut. At the moment I have wisteria blossoms draping the window and there's a wren shouting its head off in a bush somewhere, but in general it's not exciting.

But years ago, I had a very punishing schedule and my books had to be writtten in snatched half-hours, here and there. When we went on holiday – yes, to France again – my greatest treat was the luxury of three uninterrupted hours before breakfast.

My husband was forbidden to come downstairs before nine o'clock. At six, I would get up, pick up my laptop and go out on to the terrace that looked out over a valley to the hilltop on the other side, with not another house to be seen. We were in the south of France but at that time in the morning it was still chilly and even fairly dark; the bats would just be going home to roost in the roof of the little porch.

I would sit there with a rug over my knees and watch as the sunlight coming towards me turned the valley gold. The only distractions were the golden orioles fluting below and the nuthatch running up the ash tree looking for insects in the bark. I always had binoculars to hand to spot the Bonelli's Eagle that came over on its rounds twice a day.

We were in a hamlet where no one spoke English; I was known as 'Madame l'Ecrivain' and our neighbour thought I was totally mad, so typically British. She would pass tomatoes and peaches across the dividing wall.

It was the most idyllic place. It wasn't a house we owned, but we rented it every summer for eleven years. Then the owner sold it, alas, and we can never go back. So when Rick wrote about favourite places to write, it did make me shed a fond Proustian tear 'A la recherche du temps perdu.'

Saturday, May 27, 2017


We crime writers write for many reasons but principally it's that we're storytellers, and we're compelled to spin tales involving murder and mayhem, all wrapped in twisted lies and dark motives. As writers we toil in solitary confinement (emerging occasionally like gophers to gather at the local watering hole), and we've learned to sustain ourselves with faith in our efforts and the pride of accomplishment that comes from penning our stories. But even the most jaded hermit scribe among us likes a pat on the back, an acknowledgement that others in the business appreciate our hard work and creativity

The best atta-boys are publishing contracts, sales, and awards. Of those three, I'd rather have sales. Not surprising since one of my most admired writers is Harold Robbins and his sole literary acclaim was only that he was one of the most widely sold writers of all time--over 750 million copies in print! Throw me in that briar patch.

Awards are also a welcome pubic validation, and I have to mention my good fortune in that last weekend I received a 2017 Colorado Book Award in the category of Anthology Collection. I was the editor for the 2016 anthology, Found, published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Although my name is on the awards plaque, I have to share the accolades with the writers who submitted stories, my fine crew of reader-judges, my graphic and interior designer, and the RMFW board. Interestingly, the competition included CyberWorld, whose editor had a story in Found, while I had a story in CyberWorld.

This wasn't my first go-around with the Colorado Book Awards. Ten years ago, my debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, was a finalist though I didn't win. So my 2017 CBA seemed especially sweet. What I did receive in 2007 was another award that I treasure as much as I do any other prize, and that is Westword's Best of Denver. While a Best of Denver didn't bring any of the vast fortunes I'm still waiting for, it did get me one free drink from the corner bar.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Bloody Benders

In a recent post I mentioned "The Bloody Benders." Readers were quite interested in the Benders who are known as one of the six most terrifying serial killer families in American history. So by popular request here's what happened:

The Benders lived in Southeast Kansas in Labette County which is southeast of Wichita.

Their little wood-sided house on the prairie served a dual purpose as an inn and living quarters for a family of four. Weary travelers--hungry, exhausted--were delighted when they came across this oasis. They were welcomed by the beautiful articulate Kate Bender, along with her brother, John, Jr., her father, John and her mother, Elvira.

Kate had a reputation as a healer and a spiritualist who conducted séances. She claimed to be able to heal blindness, fits, deafness, and drunkenness. She spoke excellent English, as did her brother, but the parents only spoke German.

Visitors were seated at a table with their backs toward a canvas curtain which divided the store from the living quarters. The chair was on top of a trap door. Distracted by Kate's charms, the hapless victims were unaware of the man in back of the curtain. Either the father or the son crushed the man's skull, the women immediately fell upon him and insured his death by slashing his throat, and then the trapdoor was released and their mark fell into the cellar six feet below.

More than a dozen bullet holes were found in the roof and sides of the room, possibly indicating that some of the victims had attempted to fight back after being hit with the hammer.

After men were stripped of their valuables, they were buried either in the cellar or outside on the prairie. Twenty-one victims--including an eight-year-old girl--have been verified, but there is some speculation that not all of the bodies were recovered

There were tales and whisperings of mysterious disappearances. And people became uneasy about the Benders. Nothing certain. Nothing they could put their finger on. The son seemed touched in the head. His laugh was crazy. The mother was mean as a snake. They were not the kind of family to invite for a cup of tea.

The Benders were outed through a series of events. In 1873, a widower, George Loncher and his eighteen month daughter set off to visit a friend, Dr. William York. Loncher never arrived. Concerned, Dr. York began to search for his friend and followed his trail to Labette County. Dr. York went missing too.

Alarmed by his brother William's disappearance, Colonel Ed York, a Civil War veteran, hunted for his brother and the trail led to the Benders. The family tried to switch suspicion regarding William's disappearance to the Osage Indians, but Ed didn't buy it. He told the Benders he would continue west, but would be back if there wasn't a trail.

Ed didn't like the feel of this family and obtained permission to search the place. He returned with a posse of fifty men. In the meantime, the Benders had fled. The searchers discovered Dr. York's body and many others. Some in the cellar, some thrown down the well, some buried on the prairie.

The Benders were never apprehended.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why I Stop Reading a Series

After viewing 31 seasons of the TV show “Chopped”, I recently dropped it from my list of shows to watch. That’s over 400 episodes of chefs creating appetizers, entrees and desserts from some of the oddest combination of ingredients you’ll ever see.

I stopped watching it because it dawned on my I wasn’t enjoying the show anymore. That I was watching it because I always had. That was quite a revelation for me. You see, I’m the kind of person who must see every episode of shows I consider worth watching. I can get quite obsessed about it.

That goes for books I read as well. If a mystery series captures my attention, I’ll generally read every book in it. Sometimes long after, shall we say, its expiration date.

This got me thinking about why I stop reading a mystery series and if there’s such a thing as the perfect length for one. I had a discussion with an avid mystery reader about the latter at a library event once. After some thought, he decided 7 books was the right number for a series. He felt the books after that didn’t match up to the first seven.

This interests me now in particular because I recently signed a contract for books 4, 5, and 6 in my Aurora Anderson mystery series. I have lots of ideas for these three books, but whether or not I’ll have ideas for ones past that, I don’t know. That’s a bridge that I’ll cross a few years from now.

Back to thinking about mystery series in general. I’ve read some where only 3 books were published and I felt there should be more. And others where 3 books were published and I thought that was too many. Then there’s the Aunt Dimity series. I’m 17 books in and still loving them. Sure, there are ones I enjoy more than others, but I love the characters and settings so much I don’t envision dropping it from my mental TBR pile.

After some thought, here’s my list of reasons why I stop reading a series:

I no longer care about the characters. I don’t necessarily have to like the characters to enjoy a series, but I at least have to find them interesting. Once I feel ho hum about what happens to them, that’s it for me.

The main character is too much of a wimp. I don’t expect the main character of a series to be Wonder Woman or Batman. Everybody has their wimpy moments and that’s okay. I’m pretty much a wimp myself. I also know there are professions where the customer is king and you’d better kowtow to them or you’ll be out of a job. I don’t count those in this. But there is a point that I find it hard to define where a character crosses once too often into Wimpville for me. That’s when I’m apt to not even finish the book and immediately cross the series off my reading list.

Situations have become too preposterous. I’m pretty easy going when it comes to books, especially amateur sleuths. Situations and reasons for investigating only have to be marginally believable for me. But sometimes, after many books, things become a little too preposterous even for me. This hasn’t happened very often. Maybe it has more do with the next item below than anything else.

I’ve grown tired of the main character. Sometimes a character I enjoyed at the beginning of a series no longer appeals to me. Maybe they’ve grown too far away from what I liked about them in the first place or maybe I’ve grown tired of their quirks.

I’m no longer enjoying the books. And then there’s the revelation I talked about at the beginning of this post. Nothing’s changed about the series. I just don’t enjoy the books anymore. Maybe this has to do with growing older and really realizing there’s limited reading time and I don’t want to waste it on something that’s just okay.

That's my list. Type M readers, why do you stop reading a mystery series? Do you think there's a perfect length for one?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Serendipity? I wonder…

by Rick Blechta

It’s late in the day to be posting, but I got held up by some “clientary” duties which I’ve finally managed to clean up.

So here I am.

The Castle Hotel in Chicago, circa 1896
The other night my darling wife and I watched the first two episodes in the fourth series of Sherlock on Netflix. Both were entertaining and thought-provoking, so we weren’t disappointed. (I feel this show is nothing short of brilliant – though others may disagree.)

Funny thing is, the second episode, “The Lying Detective”, really struck a chord with me. Why? Because I’d just read an article about one of the “background” characters.

The episode, based on Conan Doyle’s “The Dying Detective”, revolves around a serial killer whom Holmes is trying to unmask. During the course of the episode, this person talks about a famous mass murderer based in Chicago during the late 1800s.

So, here is the article: An infamous and sadistic American serial killer was hanged in 1896. Or was he?

For me, having the above prior knowledge made the Sherlock episode so much more real, considering that the killer as played by Toby Jones was a bit of a caricature of these most evil of people. He did pull it off admirably, but talking about H.H. Holmes in the way he did actually put a frisson of fear down my back. And that takes a lot of doing.

I won’t anything more to spoil the episode in case you haven’t yet seen it and would like to (I’ve really given nothing away), but it is well worth a viewing, especially if you’ve read the article above.

And to top it all off, is the very plausible theory that H.H. Holmes may have actually “gotten away with it”!

Stay tuned. I’m following this story avidly.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Guest Post - Daryl Wood Gerber

Please welcome Agatha Award winning author Daryl Wood Gerber to Type M. I met Daryl at a Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles meeting many years ago. Over the years, she’s given me some great advice. You may also know her as Avery Aames, author of the bestselling Cheeseshop Mysteries. Be sure to visit her at Take it away, Daryl...


by Daryl Wood Gerber  
Are you:
  • Organized or disorganized?
  • Right brain or left brain?
  • Enjoy the process of writing and hate the editing, or vice versa, or a little of both?
I am all of the above. It depends on the day and the mood. Did I wake up on the right side of the bed? (I always wake up on the right side, but sometimes my mood—a lovely cranky girl I call “Moody Two Shoes”—seems to have hiked over to the other side to crawl—um, slither—out.)

To keep myself on track, I start my mornings with exercise. I need to open up the lungs, get fresh air into them, and clear the cobwebs of my mind. All to pull Moody into the game.

Once that’s done, I get a cup of decaf coffee. If I have caffeine, I jitter. No need to jitter through the day. I like the warmth of coffee. And I love the smell. And I have a very special coffee machine that makes decaf taste phenomenal. Kid you not. Along with my coffee, I eat—I must eat breakfast or Moody becomes, ahem, Monster. She definitely is not my writing buddy.

After breakfast and a quickie crossword puzzle—one of the best ways for me to get focused—I face the computer; the blank page; the pages from the day before; the outline. At whatever stage I’m at,
that’s where I start. I’ve read that it’s important to review what I wrote the day before and then start. Sometimes that works for me; most times it doesn’t.

I do work from an outline. That seems to keep Moody in check, but at all times, the outline is a work in progress. I consider it a road map. For example, I could be driving up highway 5 to Northern California and suddenly see a sign to Paso Robles and veer off for an adventure. That’s how my outlines work. I know the basic route. I know where I’m headed. Yes, I know who did the deed and why, but filling in the parts about the other suspects and why they did or didn’t do it is key. I have the basics for each of them when I start, but sometimes their motives require a detour; a kick-start; a revamping. Their whereabouts and the lies they weave need to be revised. Sometimes I take a detour so I can design a day of fun or intrigue for my protagonist. Often I take the detour so my protagonist can encounter a new set of people who might prove valuable with clues. On occasion, I take the detour simply to appease dear sweet Moody because she wants to write something in an entirely different genre! Harrumph!

[Making a note to myself to be more forceful with Moody. She is not the boss of me.]

So, although I start the day with a plan, I have to remain flexible at all times. Just the other day, a character demanded more “page” time. She wanted a big role, not a cameo. I obliged, and in an instant, her history became clear to me. Was that the left or right brain taking over? Was it Moody butting into my “planned” story? Or was it simply me being flexible and open to creative thought? I didn’t care; it worked.

Writing is a wonderful, glorious, exciting, scary prospect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s your process?

Agatha Award-winning and nationally bestselling author DARYL WOOD GERBER ventures into the world of suspense again with her second stand-alone novel, DAY OF SECRETS. Daryl writes the bestselling COOKBOOK NOOK MYSTERIES and will soon debut the new FRENCH BISTRO MYSTERIES. As Avery Aames, she pens the bestselling CHEESE SHOP MYSTERIES. Fun tidbit: as an actress, Daryl appeared in “Murder, She Wrote.” She has also jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and hitchhiked around Ireland by herself.

Twitter: @darylwoodgerber

Friday, May 19, 2017

Had I But Known

No, I'm not referring to the subgenre of crime fiction/romantic suspense in which the protagonist informs the reader, "Had I but known the dangers that lurked beyond the gates of that Gothic manor…" I did gobble those books up like candy when I was an adolescent, but I'm referring here to my HIBK as a writer.

I'm in the midst of reading student papers as commencement weekend looms – beginning tonight with a graduation ceremony. But last night, during our first real storm of the spring, I took a couple of hours out to read a book that I'm using for research. As I read, my mind drifted to a thought inspired by a phrase the author had used. And – as I have many times since I became a writer – I regretted that I didn't know that I would eventually write and publish. I knew I felt like a writer and wanted to write. But I thought I would be a veterinarian, and I didn't anticipate a career beyond that. I was a Biology major during my freshman year. I later double-majored in Psychology and English, but I have never caught up. I have always read, but even as an English major (who took the required courses), I was drawn to some eras and some writers. Having read Shakespeare in high school, I plunged with delight into three quarters of his plays and sonnets. But I have yet to make my way beyond the first few pages of Moby Dick. I know the plot – as I do other books that I have struggled to read – but I have not read the book. And I want to. On the other hand, I have read Thomas Hardy.

Then there's the music. I'm learning about jazz as the backdrop for the historical thriller I'm working on. But opera still eludes me. I somehow managed not to learn about music in a systematic fashion.

My point is that if I had known I was going to be a writer, I would have made a list of the things I might need or like to know. I would have joined the Girl Scouts. I'd like to know how to start a camp fire or find my way in the woods. I'd like to be able to name the trees and plants. I'd also like to know how to swim and speak several languages. I'd like to know how to milk a cow and grow a rutabaga.

I'd still like to learn karate and be a whiz at first aid. I'd like to be able to make a martini or a really good cup of coffee.

But I'm not giving up. I don't have to restrict myself to what I need to know. I can still learn what I want to know. I've already bought the seeds, and this year I will try again to learn to garden. Maybe I'll also work my way through The Adventurous Boy's Handbook that I can see on a book shelf. This summer, during my breaks from writing, I'll try again to get beyond Melville's gorgeous first paragraph.

What would you have tried to learn more about if you had known you were going to become a writer?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The art of the synopsis

This week, as I wrap up teaching, meetings, and an unanticipated hire, my agent emailed to say she needs a synopsis for each of the three Peyton Cote novels: “...just the retelling of each book as you would tell a friend on a leisurely evening. There is no rule about length.”

Damn, I wish I outlined, was my first thought. Having an outline kicking around my Google drive or gathering dust in a desk drawer would be helpful right about now.

Then, Relax, how difficult can it be? was my second.

Well, I can answer the second question here and now: Pretty damned difficult. It not as easy as you probably think. What details need to be in there? What events can I skip? Which characters stay? Who goes?

Perhaps I’m synopsis challenged, but it’s taking longer than I thought. I’m trying to write things in present tense as one would the narrative sections of a screenplay, without leaving out too much, and while keeping the pace moving. After all, it is to be shopped to potential TV writers. My goal is to show the commercial appeal and potential plotlines.

I usually thoroughly enjoy writing the teaser (catalogue copy) on the back of the book. So I thought this would be easy. Not so. The synopsis, while not a summary, should offer the scope and depth of the novel. It also has to be tense. I’ve written and revamped the description, for example, of the opening scene four times.

“. . . just the retelling of each book as you would tell a friend on a leisurely evening. . . “ Really? I’m not finding much to be leisurely about this process so far.

I would love suggestions and/or to hear what my Type M colleagues and our readers think about synopsis writing.


Donis here. I ought to be taking advantage of the last of the good weather here in Arizona, but I'm still working hard to finish my next Alafair Tucker novel. I haven't even been outside much lately, except to drive hither and yon and talk to groups about books and writing (which BTW, check out Barbara's excellent entry on the care and feeding of writers, below). Judging by my husband's behavior, I am becoming crabby and weird, which often happens as I near a deadline. But the dear man has been picking up the slack around our house, and even brought me a present a couple of days ago. I had mentioned that I'd like to have new bedspreads for the twin beds in guest room, and he traveled all the way out to a mall in a neighboring town and bought a beautiful set. I was so happy that my limbic brain took over and I cried, "Oh, nifty newpot!"

I have not uttered those word for decades. This is a phrase that my sister Carol coined in her dewy youth, and it became usual in my family to use it to describe anything wonderful. Carol was and still is a little bit off center in a most delightful way. She's well known for the way she manipulates the English language. One of my favorites is, "Stop here for a minute. I want to pooch into the store."

All of my siblings are vocabulary-gifted. When we were young, it was a matter of great amusement to us to sit around the dining table and carry on a conversation in the most convoluted and pretentious language possible. It was hilarious, and it seems to have done something to our brains. I could give you endless amusing examples, Dear Reader, but that is not the point of this entry.

The point is that sometimes it is brought home to me how much I was influenced by my siblings when I was growing up. I am the person I am partly because of them. I am the eldest of the four, so I imagine they would say the same about me. I'm a little bit sorry about that, because I often think I could have done better by them when we were young. Our family (like all families, I'm sure) had some very rough times to go along with all the good. There were periods where I felt like I should do my best to protect them. So I made a habit of not talking about what was going on or asking them how they were coping. In hindsight, this was not the best strategy. Of course part of it was that I was pretty young, myself, and didn't really know what to do. Still, I can see that all four of us bear some scars.


We are all funny and self-depreciating, erudite and self-sufficient to the point of almost being anti-social. Life and circumstances have scattered us. I live in Arizona, my sisters live in Colorado and Missouri, my brother in Oklahoma. Since our mother died, we don't keep in touch as regularly as we did. But that doesn't mean I don't think about them a lot. We survived a lot together, really good stuff and bad. We're like old war buddies who are the only ones who can understand what we went through.

My siblings are the inspiration for many of the events in my books and many of the personal traits of my recurring characters. In fact, I'll admit that part of the reason I invented Alfair Tucker's safe and stable family was to provide the safe place for the children. I didn't know how to do it when I was a kid.

p.s. the photos of me and the sibs were all taken on the same day in 1972 or thereabouts.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The further care and feeding of writers

Barbara here. There are so many possible topics for a blog this week, from the cultural appropriation firestorm currently raging in Canada, set alight by a flippant and ill-advised editorial in the Writers' Union of Canada's magazine, to Donald Trump's latest bizarre and even more ill-advised venture into international relations. But I decided to steer clear of political firestorms in favour of further discussion on nurturing the arts, culture, and literature in our own countries.

In my last post, using tiny Iceland as an example, I talked about the cultural attitudes and government supports that allow local and regional creators to earn something approximating a living in our increasingly global culture. In this week's blog, I want to talk about what individual readers can do to make a difference, and what decisions readers make that help or hurt authors.

Do's ...
  • Buy their books new. It doesn't matter whether it's an ebook or paper book, online or from a bookstore. Only the purchase of a new book pays any money to the author who spent a year or more writing it and to the publisher who took them on.
  • If you like the book, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Peer reviews are showing up everywhere now, from airbnbs to lawn mowers, and increasingly people rely on them to help them sort the good from the bad. The review needn't be long or exhaustive. A couple of short sentences will do. Reviews not only help separate good from bad, but the more ratings and reviews a book has, the greater its visibility on sites like Amazon.
Don'ts ...
  • Avoid buying used books. Whether from a yard sale or a used book store, they give no money back to the author or the publisher. Not everyone knows this. All the money stays with the seller. I am slightly ambivalent about harping on this, because the low price of used books can entice readers to try unknown authors, and if they like that book, they might buy the next book new. 
  • Don't use "free download" sites to get electronic copies. These are pirated copies, much like pirated music sites. Some people are under the misconception that authors make enough money that they won't miss the few dollars lost on an ebook. Many authors have incomes below the poverty line. Some people think the author needs those few dollars less than they do. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of free downloads, and you have an author who's making virtually no money. Likewise, some people think there is no cost to an ebook because it's just a file without the cost of printing or paper. But paper and printing is only a small part of the process. Most of the cost of a book is in the year's labour of the writer, the salaries of the editor, formatter, cover designer, sales, marketing, and publicity people, and all those involved in the creation of the work.
  • Free download sites are also often scams or fronts for criminal organizations after your personal information.
Do's ...
  • Do take books out of the library. If money is a concern, particularly when trying out an unknown author, use the library. Unlike used books or free pirated downloads, authors and publishers do get money indirectly when their book is in the library, at least in Canada. If you don't find the book you want in your library, ask them to order it. The more libraries the book is in, the better for the author!
  • If you enjoyed the book, tell your friends. Over and above all the tweets and blogs and reviews, one of the most powerful marketing tools is word of mouth, and a recommendation from friends goes a long way towards cutting through all the books shouting to be read. Telling your friends on social media counts too.
Don'ts ...
  • However, don't pass your one copy around among all your friends. That's one sale, of which the author typically gets 10% (so $2 on a $20 book). When people proudly tell me they're seventh on the list at their workplace, I smile weakly. I'm happy my book is reaching so many people, but selling at least a couple of copies would be nice.
  • Don't expect a free copy just because you are friends with the author. People sometimes think authors get books for free, but we don't. We get a few copies which we use for promotional activities like draws and door prizes, or as thank yous to those who provided advice or expertise for the book. We have to buy the rest from the publisher, at a discount, but not free. We'd go broke giving away books.
  • For the same reason, think carefully before asking an author to donate a free book to a charitable cause. It can be difficult to say no; we want to be good citizens, and the charities are always worthy. But authors often find themselves donating as many as a dozen books to different silent auctions and fundraising ventures in a year, almost always without any kind of charitable receipt. Another path to bankruptcy.
So that's my list of kudos and pet peeves. But it's by no means exhaustive. Writers and readers, if you have more to add, I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Where is your favourite place to read/write in summer?

by Rick Blechta

The weather here in Toronto is slowly turning nice. We’ve had/endured/enjoyed what I have been calling a “slow spring” in Ontario this year. The end of our winter was well above seasonal norms, but then at the end of March, the cold, wet weather decided it wanted another go-round. It’s been lovely for all the spring bulbs and flowering trees, but I was beginning to feel like “Come on! Let’s get things moving here.”

Anyway, when the weather turns fine and temperatures finally warm up, I begin thinking of reading and writing al fresco. For me that’s a lovely thing to do.

Beethoven sketching while walking with Heiligenstadt
in the background (and yes, it did look like this at the time).
Beethoven’s bucolic Symphony No. 6 in F Major (The Pastoral) was composed over a summer holiday in the countryside near Vienna, Heiligenstadt to be particular. (To show how things have changed since Beethoven, the city of Vienna swallowed up Heiligenstadt many years ago, although the area surrounding it still has a rural feel.

Having visited Heiligenstadt while in Vienna researching Cemetery of the Nameless back in the ’90s, I could easily see why the Symphony No. 6 turned out the way it did. The great composer would head out in the morning with his sketch book, walk through the woods and eventually find a lovely spot to sit and contemplate nature while laying out his melodic and harmonic ideas. It was only natural that his surroundings would leak into the music he envisioned. If you haven’t listened to it lately, it’s worth a replay.

We have a lovely, though small backyard with two small trees which are pruned to provide shade for our patio. When I can’t go out to my own personal Heiligenstadt to write or read, you’ll find me in a comfortable chair with my laptop or current book, enjoying the breeze, the garden flowers, the birdsong and the sound of the waterfall in our small water garden (which helps to distract one from the car noises and far-from-occasional sirens of a nearby thoroughfare.) It’s a small slice of heaven.

But my favourite places to indulge in al fresco reading and writing is somewhere out in the country. We have a very generous friend who owns an 1830s log house in the eastern part of Ontario (which I used as a location for the opening of The Fallen One). I have written goodly parts of several novels while sitting on the screened porch or living room of this lovely old building with the windows opened wide. (The birdsong is spectacular.)

I don’t know what it is, but the words just flow for me in surroundings like that. When I tire of writing, or just need to step away and let an idea “mature”, I pull out whatever book I have on the go and enjoy myself that way. (I should also confess that I find it a great place to practise for a few hours. Since that usually means trumpet, I’m sure the birds, not to mention any neighbours within hearing don’t appreciate my presence!)

So, your turn to confess, where is your favourite place to read or write (or both!) in the warmer weather?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Weekend Guest--Tammy Kaehler

When Tammy Kaehler discovered the racing world, she was hooked by the contrast between its top-dollar, high-drama competition, and friendly, family atmosphere. Mystery fans and racing insiders alike have praised her award-winning Kate Reilly Mystery Series (Dead Man’s Switch, Braking Points, Avoidable Contact, and Red Flags), and Tammy takes readers back behind the wheel in her fifth entry, Kiss The Bricks. She works as a freelance writer in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Find out more:

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Hook

I turned the television on last weekend to watch the Kentucky Derby. It’s not totally out of character: I grew up riding horses and went to plenty of races, since I lived a mile from a horse racetrack. But as another auto racing fan said on Twitter, “I’m watching the Kentucky Derby, because I like all racing.”

But these days, my racing of choice typically has hundreds of horsepower, not just one (sorry, that’s the easy joke). And the races I watch or attend usually last longer than a couple minutes. But still, I turned on the Derby—while simultaneously searching for the article I’d seen earlier in the day: Derby storylines.

See, it’s easy to say “Tammy likes racing” or “I write about racing.” That’s the quickest and most memorable hook about my mystery series, and I do a lot to promote my racing approach (you may have seen me in racing team gear at a mystery convention). But of course the simplified message never tells the whole tale.

Because as much as it’s about racing for me, it’s more about the stories. Last weekend, I wanted to know the details behind the Derby runners and teams. When I’m at an auto race, I wander the paddock looking for the buzz around the drivers and teams. I like setting everyday characters, problems, challenges, wins, and losses against the backdrop of a gritty but glamorous pursuit. Racing is a microcosm of the real world, with every type of person from crook to hero to celebrity—and the added drama of a lot of money and life-or-death stakes.

I write about auto racing like Dick Francis wrote about steeplechasing. Like Cara Black writes about Paris. Like Patricia Cornwell writes about a medical examiner. Like Michael Connelly writes police procedurals. That’s not all our books are, but those are the settings for (hopefully) universal stories.

What I choose to write about is a woman who’s trying to be successful in an uber-competitive, male-dominated arena. She’s got to deal with sexism, the struggle to represent herself well to the rest of the world (especially to sponsors that will fund her racing), and the pressure to be outstanding at her job. Don’t tell me that’s not a universal story! Of course, where Kate Reilly differs from the rest of us (I assume) is that she ends up needing to investigate murders and other crimes.

But all of that took a paragraph to describe, and when you have ten seconds to tell someone what you write, you go with the hook—and don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have one that stands out. And I’m guilty, too! I’ve caught myself thinking, “I don’t want to read about beermaking, I don’t like beer” and “I don’t want to read about Cleveland, that doesn’t sound exciting.”

But I’m getting better at the snap judgments. The decisions made based only on the surface information. I’m trying to dig deeper, too. I’m trying to see beyond the hook (or the cover) and find out more about the story. Because I know there are a lot of great stories out there, and I want to read them all…

So tell me, do you find yourself making the same kind of judgments about a hook or a cover? What influences you to check out a book?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Point of No Return

Abigail Bieker

This weekend my darling granddaughter, Abigail Bieker, will be graduating from Northern Arizona State University. I'll be driving down with my daughter, her mother Mary Beth, tomorrow. We are so proud of Abby!

A college degree is an enormous advantage in today's economy. What's more, it can't be erased. It's there. Forever.

During historical interviews I've been struck at how much everything has changed. Women from a preceding generation told of canning little jars of beef to take for their food. Casually running home during a semester was unheard of. Rules were strictly enforced and expulsion was a constant threat.

Curfews reigned. Dorms were either men or women. Women were forbidden to ever, I mean ever, visit a man's living quarters. Even sororities locked their doors promptly at certain times every night. Over time the rules were relaxed and dorms yielded to men's floors and women's floor, then even that has given way to shared mixed gender rooms.

Calls home, which often involved party lines, were expensive and traumatic. Imagine chats with the parents with all the neighbors listening in. There were no credit cards, cash was scarce and skimping was a way of life. Friends chipped in a quarter to provide refreshments for a party. There was little relief from constant study.

Library, Rack, Books, Shelves, Newspaper

Libraries were hallowed ground. With no internet available it was essential to devour as many books as possible to do a decent job of writing papers and responding to assignments. It was study, study, study. This was the only time one would have access to this quantity of books.

Girl, Computer, NotebookThere has been a sea change globally in about every area, especially in how we do research. Having lived in small towns with limited libraries my gratitude for the internet knows no bounds. I cannot fully express my appreciation. Yet work is work. The young woman slumped over her computer knows this. The internet hasn't erased the need to think, and thinking is hard! The publishing industry is now totally dependent on electronics. A couple of weeks ago I broke my little Surface computer. I bought it in 2012 so it was ancient by current standards. I have a large desktop but it won't do me a bit of good when I'm in Arizona. I need something portable to take with me. I can and do compose in longhand a lot of the time. Especially when it comes to fiction.

But longhand is no good for transmitting documents. My weekend guest post is by the fabulous Tammy Kaehler and she has a wonderful series with Poisoned Pen. I won't be able to send her post before I leave. But the hotel has a business service center.

I've reached the point of no return. It's electronics or perish.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

10-minute (writing) workout?

Infomercials promise workout plans that can change your physique –– and, thus, your life –– in 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes a day. Sound too good to be true? Well, if it talks like a duck and it walks like a duck . . .

But what if we applied this theory, in concept and scale, to novel writing? Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t believe you can get into shape by working out 10 minutes a day. You can get your heart rate up, hold it there, and that’s a good thing. However, life-altering results, it seems to me, require more.

But novel writing? Creating a 100,000-word manuscript, even a rough draft, certainly takes a sustained, concentrated effort. In college, a professor told me he wrote poems because “writing novels takes large chunks of time.” Stephen King, in On Writing, says something to the effect that one should try to write a novel in three months. I understand his reasoning –– writing a book in such a short period of time guarantees that the story, characters, and conflicts remain burned into the forefront of your consciousness. It makes sense.

But it’s just not possible for many writers to write a draft in twelve weeks. Life usually gets in the way, and if it doesn’t, the fact is that few authors write as fast as Stephen King. And most don’t or can’t write as often.

Since many writers don’t have the necessary “large chunks of time,” can there be a 10-minute workout to turn your brilliant idea into a 100,000-word manuscript? Or more specifically, how does one write a novel without multiple hours each day dedicated to the task?

I try to write a book a year. That’s always been the goal. (It seems easier when a contract looms over your head.) And to do this, theoretically, one must only write a page a day for a year. Theoretically. But everyone knows the process on day 1 is not the same on day 51. Or day 251. The plot has a way of jumping up and grabbing you by the throat and squeezing the life out of you every hundred pages or so. (Or it does that to me any way.)

So I concentrate on time –– two hours a day. I can get 500 to 750 words of fresh copy written (or read through 30 pages) in two concentrated hours. It’s what I shoot for.

I’d love to hear what others who lack “large chunks of time” do to get their novels written.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Malice Domestic Recap

Like Vicki, I attended Malice Domestic at the end of April. I've been back for over a week, but somehow it seems like it was only yesterday. I think this is the 4th Malice I've attended, the third as a published author. There's such a great sense of camaraderie there. A lot of Henery Press authors attend and it's a chance for me to meet face to face with my editors. All of us stay in touch throughout the year via email, Facebook, etc., but it's always nice to actually see each other. That's my favorite part of Malice, spending time with friends I haven't see in a while.
I'm in the center, surrounded by my wonderful editors Erin and Rachel

My next favorite part of the convention is the Agatha awards banquet. I'm really not great at small talk, but I've always had a fun time talking with the people at my banquet table. This year was especially great because several HP authors were nominated for Agathas. Cynthia Kuhn won for Best First and Art Taylor won for Best Short Story (this is his third win in this category.) I was seated at Cynthia's table, which erupted in shouts of joy when she won. Tears were flowing, people were jumping up and down in excitement. It was great to see. You might remember Cynthia from her recent guest post.
Agatha Award Winners Cynthia Kuhn and Art Taylor

This year fellow HP author Gretchen Archer and I explored the possibility that we might actually be related through my husband's family and her son-in-law's family. We're exchanging genealogy info and looking into the possibility. The jury's still out, but it's fun to entertain the possibility.

I enjoyed the panel I was on, "Murder and Crafts" with Mollie Cox Bryan, Peggy Ehrhart, Maggie Sefton, moderated by the wonderful Aimee Hix. We had a great time discussing how we incorporate our craft into our stories. Knitting needles used as weapons came up a lot in the discussion with the audience. And I mean a lot. And, just so you know, knitting needles are allowed on planes.
The Murder and Crafts Panel

Next year Malice will be at a new hotel, 3 Metro stops north of the one this year. We'll have to learn a whole new area of Bethesda, but we'll actually have a bar. That was one thing that was sorely missed at this conference. The lobby bar bit the dust in the hotel's renovations. Not that I drink much, but it was a convenient place to find people you were looking for.

Just one more convention for me this year. June will find me at the California Crime Writers Conference here in Southern California. I'll be moderating my first panel there, so if anyone has any helpful hints, I'll take 'em.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The quick and dirty way out

by Rick Blechta

Help! I'm inundated under a deluge of author photos!

As I've mentioned here before, I'm responsible for designing the programme book for this year’s Bouchercon here in Toronto. It’s a gigunda job, to say the very least. Today, a call went out, a rather desperate one, really, asking registered authors who haven’t yet done so to please send in their author headshots.

The response has been an email blizzard of them, so much so that my inbox is overflowing. I’m not complaining in the slightest, mind you. This is a Good Thing. I could visualize them all arriving on the very last day for submissions, so getting them now will save me a ton of agony later on.

However, I’d only started writing today’s blog and had not got very far before the tsunami hit. So my interesting blog subject will have to wait until next Tuesday.

But, fear not loyal readers of Type M for Murder! In writing last week’s topic, I used a photo of a dead fly. That led me down a dark internet wormhole where I found a whole treasure trove of Dead Fly Cartoons.

So for your gentle delectation, I present some of my favourite examples of this obscure art form. Enjoy!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Fun times at conferences

By Vicki Delany

Now that I'm well established into a writing career, I'm cutting down on the number of conferences I attend.

I still enjoy them very much, but other things are increasingly taking preference. Like writing time.

But I will always find time for my favourites, and top of that list is Malice Domestic, held each year at the end of April in Bethesda Maryland.

Crooked Lane authors at Malice Domesitc
The Malice fun starts two days ahead of time with the trip down. This year it was Mary Jane Maffini, Linda Wiken, and I bouncing down the road. The trip is do-able in one day, but a couple of years ago we decided to break it up so we wouldn't arrive totally exhausted. (Plus, that will give some of the members of our group some shopping time!)

I love the community aspect of Malice, from the fans who come every year, often having read my newest book in the meantime, to the many writer friends I have met.  This year, the Crooked Lane authors, of which I am proud to be part, met for breakfast. I got to meet some of my fellow CL authors for the first time. Malice is also, for me, a busienss conference. I had lunch with my agent, the wonderful Kim Lionetti, and the Bookends Agency threw a party for us all.

Me with Kate Carlisle and Sheila Connely
The CWC contingent. MJ Maffini, Linda WIken, Cathy Ace, Vicki Delany (missing Judy Penz Sheluk)

I hosted a table with Barbara Early

Bouncing back down the road, we stopped at the marvelous Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore where we were, as always, very warmly received and our panel was well attended.  Thanks to Debbie Beamer for being so welcoming and to Dennis Royer for moderating an excellent panel.

What's coming up in the way of conferences etc?

I have the honour of being the Guest of Honor for Deadly Ink, Rockaway New Jersey June 16 - 18. Toastmaster will be none other than Mary Jane Maffini, which means more bouncing down the road.

Women Killing It, in Price Edward County Ontario Sept 1, 2. Ironically, although I am one of the sponsors and organizers of the festival, I won’t be there.  We had set the date before a family wedding was announced. But it will be great none the less as it's in the very capable hand of Janet Kellough.

Bouchercon, Toronto October. The worlds biggest mystery conference will be in Toronto this year, and I am thrilled to be participating.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Weekend Guest Elaine Viets

Please join me in welcoming Elaine Viets, last weekend's wonderful Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic, to Type M. Elaine's intriguing new series takes her full circle and in a new direction. She's here to tell us about it.

Going Back to the Dark Side
By Elaine Viets

            I've left the light and gone back home – and my home is dark, violent and bloody. After twenty-five cozy and traditional mysteries, I'm writing dark mysteries again: the Angela Richman, Death Investigator series.

          My first series, the Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries, was hardboiled. When Random House bought Bantam Dell and wiped out that division, I switched to the funny, traditional Dead-End Job mysteries, featuring Helen Hawthorne. The Art of Murder, now in paperback, is the 15th Dead-End Job mystery. I also wrote ten cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries.

          I love both series, but I never abandoned the dark side. I wrote dark short stories for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Lawrence Block. I wanted to spend more time on the dark side, but I didn't want to do another police procedural or a private eye with a dead wife or a drinking problem. Other writers had done those and done them well.

          Angela Richman, my new protagonist, is a death investigator in mythical Chouteau Country, Missouri, stronghold of the over-privileged and the people who serve them. Brain Storm was the first mystery in the new death investigator series. Fire and Ashes, the second Angela mystery, will be published July 25.

          My death investigator mysteries aren't too gory – not like Patricia Cornwell's "I boiled my dead boyfriend's head." This series is closer to Kathy Reichs' Tempe Brennan series. Janet Rudolph, who heads Mystery Readers International, believes this may be the only death investigator series.

          Many readers aren't familiar with DIs, but the profession is nationwide. At a murder the death investigator is in charge of the body, and the police handle the rest of the crime scene. The DI photographs the body, documents its wounds, records the body core temperature, clothing and more. Death investigators work for the medical examiner. They are trained professionals, but do not have medical degrees.  They're like paralegals for the medical examiner. I wanted the training – and the contacts – to make the new series accurate. I passed the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals at St. Louis University, a two-credit college course.

          Here's how the sizzling Fire and Ashes begins:

          Five fire engines, two ladder trucks, a portable light truck, a battalion chief’s van, and what looked like every cop car in Chouteau County were fighting this fire. Death investigator Angela Richman knew it was already too late—she was summoned only for death. Tonight, someone had died in that blazing building, choked by the smoke and seared by those flames. Angela oversaw the bodies at Chouteau County crime scenes or unattended deaths. The death investigator reported to the county medical examiner.
         Who was it? Angela didn’t know yet. The detective’s call was cryptic: “Luther Ridley Delor’s house is on fire. One body so far. They’re bringing it out. Get over there now.” Seventy-year-old Luther called himself a financier to take away the sting of how his family made a trainload of money: running a nationwide chain of payday loan companies. People—especially desperate ones—knew the slogan “You get more with Delor.” Was the old man dead? Was the victim his young fiancée? Or did a friend or servant die in that hellish fire?
          Luther's fiancée, a twenty-year-old Mexican-American manicurist, Kendra Salvato, is blamed for the fatal fire. After all, she's an outsider who's already made off with $2 million of the old lech's money. She's also accused of setting arson fires in this posh neighborhood. The Forest burns with prejudice and betrayal, and Angela has to fight it with the forensic facts.

Elaine Viets has written 31 books four series: the dark Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries, the traditional, humorous Dead-End Job mysteries, and the cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries. She returned to the dark side with Brain Storm, the first mystery in her Angela Richman, death investigator series. Fire and Ashes is her latest novel. You can find Elaine at   
Pre-order the Fire and Ashes e-book for $3.99 through July 25 here: