Saturday, July 29, 2017


This weekend I'm pleased to welcome my good friend Janet Kellough as our special Type M guest.  Janet is the author of The Thaddeus Lewis Mystery Series. The fifth book in the series, Wishful Seeing was short-listed for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award. The sixth “Thaddeus” book, The Heart Balm Tort was released in July. To learn more about her books, check out her website.

She's a native-born daughter of Prince Edward County, Ontario, where the Thaddeus Lewis books are set, and she's here now to tell us about an exciting new venture she and Vicki Delany are spearheading. 

If you’re a female writer, you’ve probably read the articles and participated in the discussions – about how women’s books aren’t taken as seriously or reviewed as often as male-authored books; about how women are more often published in paperback than in hardcover, which impacts their incomes; about how less frequently they are featured at literary festivals; and how so many female authors have tried to get around the barriers by disguising their pennames that now any author who uses initials is automatically assumed to be female.

I’m a female writer. I get as ticked off by this stuff as anybody else. But anyone who knows me knows that I’m always looking for solutions. What if, I thought, we just go ahead and do our own thing? What if we start a festival that showcases Canadian women crime writers? There’s a niche available – both the Bloody Words Conference and the Scene of the Crime Festival have disappeared, leaving a void that is felt by all crime writers. I could do this. After all, I have a background in small concert production, and writers have got to be easier to herd than fiddlers, don’t they? (We’ll see.) I could do it on my home turf – Prince Edward County Ontario., the country’s newest tourist mecca.

Wisely or not, fellow author Vicki Delany agreed with me, as did the owner of The County’s independent bookstore Books & Co., graphic designer Christine Renaud and foodie Theresa Durning. Macaulay Heritage Park and Picton Library offered their cooperation. And two local wineries, The Grange and Black Prince came aboard as sponsors. The Women Killing It Crime Writers’ Festival was experiencing a remarkably easy birth.

And the writers we contacted were unbelievably enthusiastic and supportive. New York Times bestseller Susanna Kearsley said yes. So did Maureen Jennings of Murdoch Mystery fame. Canadian bestselling authors Barbara Fradkin and R.J. Harlick are coming. Bony Blithe winner Elizabeth J. Duncan will be on hand, as will Melodie Campbell and Nazneen Sheikh. Local author Robin Timmerman is featured. And Mary Jane Maffini, aka Victoria Abbott, agreed not only to participate, but to hold a Saturday morning (Sept. 2) workshop at the library.

And this won’t be some stodgy old literary festival. We’re talking women here. There will be refreshments – of both the sticky and liquid variety. And fun, starting with Friday night (Sept. 1) at The Mysterious Affair “table-hopping” event, where each author has five minutes to tell a table of readers all about her book; Saturday afternoon’s Murder at the Vicarage, an elegant Victorian tea in an historic home featuring the writers of lighter fare (hats and gloves optional); and Saturday evening’s Appointment with Death (and Dessert) with the authors of grittier stories, who will discuss life and death and sex and other fun stuff. We aim to raise the roof.

Will the festival be successful? I’m pretty confident that it will. Will male readers come? Because we need their support too. I hope so. Will it turn into an annual event? Chances are good. Because we’re women. And we know how to kill it.

The Women Killing It Crime Writers’ Festival in Prince Edward County runs September 1st & 2nd in Picton, Ontario. For schedule and ticket info visit our Facebook page or go straight to the WKI page at

Friday, July 28, 2017

Flying Time

I'm late posting today because I forgot to check the calendar. These days if I don't check my calendar when I get up in the morning, I'm likely not to be where I should be or to forget something I need to do. That happens in the summer.

During the summer, I'm likely to be so deep into writing that I forget what day of the week it is. Today, I knew it was Friday but what I was thinking about is that I have only another month left before school begins. I was wishing I had more time because I'd had a brilliant idea – about a book that I haven't started yet, about third in the queue.

But now I have the plot. An idea that came to me when I woke up early and started thinking about a situation I needed to deal with because it was distracting me. I make a telephone call, got someone else to take care of it, and then realized thinking about the worst case scenario had given me the method of death and a bunch of suspects for that book I don't have time to start now.

What I need to do today is get into my office at school and take care of some emails I need to return. I would like to be more efficient – deal with each email as it comes in. But I've been trying to do similar tasks all at the same time. The only problem with that is that I can't forget what I haven't done, and more items get added to the list. And something unexpected pops up. And the game plan gets shot to whatever.

I admit it. I am in a continuing state of frustration because I am never as efficient as I'd like to be. I have so many ideas and so little time to get it all done. It shouldn't be a choice between speed and quality. On the other hand, if I didn't have one eye on the clock and the other on the calendar, I would spend the next five years doing research and tinkering. I have two books – one nonfiction, the other my historical thriller – that I just need to get down on paper. Finish the first drafts. Then revise. And then I can start the next book in the queue.

Anyone have any tips on making peace with time?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summaries: How to be Brief but Brilliant

Last Friday, Charlotte wrote about the agony of having to write a one-page synopsis of the great and glorious piece of literature that you have worked and slaved over for a year or two. How can it be done? How do you reduce your brilliant tome to its barest essence in such a way that readers will be whipped into a frenzy of anticipation and beat down the doors of their local bookstore in their desire to get their hands on your book the minute it comes out? In my humble opinion the one of the hardest things to do well is a compelling summary.

Yet being able to summarize your book in a few words and make it interesting is an incredibly important skill for an author to have. Every time one of their authors finishes a book, my publisher asks for a 250-300 word summary they can use to create advertising material—blurbs, letters to reviews, that sort of thing. In fact, I just had to go through this rather painful exercise this very week for my upcoming release, Forty Dead Men, which is due to drop in February 2018. I sent two, because in 250 words, you really have to decide what to reveal and what not to reveal. So I put the emphasis on a particular plot point in one summary and on another plot point in the second. Let the publisher decide, that was how I justified myself. In the end, they combined the two!

Here’s the summary technique I’ve developed over my dozen years of novel-writing: I start by writing a summary of the story that is as long, wordy, flowery, poetic, and descriptive as I think it needs to be, and word-count take the hindmost. Then I go back and cut out the flowers and the poetry. Then out comes the descriptive. I don’t need to say who this character is. This plot point or side story which I mentioned is not a crucial element of the story. In the fifth draft, I realize I don’t need this sentence. In the sixth draft, I don’t need this clause. This word. By the the tenth draft, the summary is as distilled and to the point as Scotch whiskey.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Teasing loose the logjams

Barbara here. These are the lazy, hazy days of summer, when I can be found lounging on the dock at the lake, sipping that evening drink, and waiting for the barbecue to work its magic without dirtying a single pot or bowl. The light lingers, the final rays of sun stay warm...

The TV is rarely turned on. The news is followed but at a distance. In Canada at least, it seems like a sacrilege to waste time indoors in front of the babble box when the all-too-precious days of summer are calling.

It would be nice to take a break from all work, to do nothing but read, eat, sleep, and hang out with friends. But writing is a full-time, 24/7 job. Deadlines beckon, and in the writing business, there is no one but ourselves to snap the whip. My novels usually take about a year to complete, and during that year the publisher and editor sit quietly, trusting that the completed work will land in their inbox by the contracted deadline. So it's up to me to set the mini-deadlines. It's easy to let a day slip by without writing, saying "oh, I'll make it up tomorrow". Easier still to let the second day go by, and pretty soon, I've forgotten where I was going in the book, I've lost the momentum, and the whole project feels like one giant millstone. I don't know how many times in the past few weeks I have said "I hate this book, I don't know where it's going but I'm afraid it's nowhere."

People often ask me if I write every day. I say yes, I write in some fashion. It's the only way the book will get written. But sometimes the "writing" is really thinking. Pondering the next step, untangling a mess, trying to figure out where it should go next. This thinking is essential, because in my modified "pantser" style of writing, I often don't know what ought to come next. So even though I may barely put pen to paper, by thinking, I may dislodge an entire logjam of ideas to move the story forward another few chapters.

For me, one of the worst logjams occurs when I am nearing the end of a book, before I have figured out how it will end. Before I have figured out how the main character will solve the mess or who the villain will prove to be. I am at that point in my current WIP, the third Amanda Doucette mystery, Prisoners of Hope. I have half a dozen story threads on the go, a few suspects, and a bubbling cauldron of problems. Amanda is on the move, chasing down one of the suspects. But will that suspect be THE one? Or will there be more twists?

One of the elements I love and hate most about writing mysteries is this climax, where everything has to come together simultaneously. The main character must figure it out at the last minute, just ahead of the reader, and the whole solution must be revealed in a dramatic, exciting finish. Drawing room discussions of guilt or innocence, a la Hercule Poirot, or courtroom accusations like Perry Mason are now a cliche, and todays' readers expect more. Moreover, twenty-page epilogues to tie up all the loose ends are an anti-climax. As much as possible, loose ends should be explained in the main climax.

All this – the big reveal, the dramatic finish, the maintenance of suspense, and the tying up of loose ends – is no easy feat. No wonder I get exhausted just thinking about it, and am currently circling around and around the ending. I poke away at the logjam as I drive the car, walk the dogs, wash the dishes, and even as I sit on the dock with my glass of wine, letting the evening haze settle over me. I know the answer will probably not come in a single stroke of brilliance but in a series of small "what ifs" that nudge the logjam from the edges, teasing possibilities free until something shifts and the way forward is revealed.

I know it will happen. I have learned, after fourteen books, to trust that I will eventually figure it out. But it always feels as if this time, I may crash and burn.

Hopefully not.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Going back in time

by Rick Blechta

The two most recent posts on Type M by Mario this weekend and Aline yesterday have put a new thought in my head for this week’s post.

Both these posts look to the future or at least the present and how it relates to the future. The post I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to finish for the past two weeks also dealt with looking into the future a bit. I’ve decided that it couldn’t be finished for a good reason, and I also don’t want to beat a dead horse since both Mario and Aline spoke eloquently on some of the points that I was going to make.

Instead, I’ll look back…sort of.

I grew up in a very historic part of the US: the New York area. Back in 1961, my hometown of Mamaroneck celebrated 300 years of existence. Now that isn’t very much time if you compare Mamaroneck with Europe and other places, but in the US, 300 years is “old”.

A great deal of the early Revolutionary War was fought in and around New York and the area is positively littered with historical plaques keeping the past in constant view if you’re paying attention.

Now, my next statement is purely subjective, but to me, where I grew up feels old.

Mamaroneck is located on the Long Island Sound, but my favourite place in the area is the majestic Hudson River Valley. It just resonates with me. Its physical beauty, its history, too, just speak to me. That perhaps explains the psychological reason I decided to set the “headquarters” of my protagonists for this series in this picturesque place.

I was down there for nine days this July, and it really hit me strongly how much the history of the Hudson Valley is affecting the writing of my novel-in-progress. Certainly my main character has been shaped by it. A non-repentant Luddite, his personality is one that tends to look back rather than forward. My other protagonist is completely the opposite which is why they find each other — or I might say need each other — and why they are seeming to work so well as characters since they each jostle the other’s sensibilities.

The interesting thing is I didn’t set out to write my novel in this way. I was going to have a hardened former cop taking a young but very smart amateur under his wing in order to solve the problem to which I’d set them. It wasn’t until I began doing background research onsite in the Hudson Valley that all these historical ideas began to present themselves as background to why one of the characters behaves as he does. My recent trip down there only served to reinforce that idea.

Now I find myself drawn into doing more historical research going right back to the roots of European settlement of the area (if that isn’t too politically incorrect), and who knows, perhaps even further.

So, as usual, Blechta is going the opposite direction of everyone else.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Too Much Information

I can still remember the utter thrill I felt when I held my first book. It was a bit like when I held my first baby but without the rush of pure terror at the thought that if I got it just a little bit wrong he could just, well, die.

But first book? Pure, uncomplicated joy. Before the internet, our words were writ on water until they appeared in solid print to be our legacy. That word sounds a bit pompous but I guess most of us are happy to think that even after we're no longer here, someone could still read our books and share our thoughts and ideas.

In our post-internet world, we have a different legacy problem. There's too much information about us out there. Every word we write – every email, every tweet – is recorded somewhere. It was Oliver Cromwell who, when he was having his portrait painted, insisted it should be done with 'warts and all'. (And it was. You can view them at the National Portrait Gallery in London.) All our 'warts' – the ill-considered comment, the rushed article sloppily written, the book we felt just didn't quite work – are there on display in merciless perpetuity. It is like Omar Khayyam's Moving Finger; 'Not all Thy Piety or Wit/ Shall lure it back to cancel half a line/ Nor all Thy Tears wash out a word of it.'

I remember a popular commercial promoting gas cookers that showed a flame leaping up as a woman snapped her fingers, with the slogan,'Don't you just love being in control?' When it comes to our legacy we don't have control any more.

Don't get me wrong – I'm devoutly grateful that ebooks have given my backlist a flourishing new existence. And all my books are out there – except one, that precious first one I mentioned. I've never given permission for it to be digitised.

It wasn't such a bad book. I promise you that there are plenty of much worse books still being published. But when I wrote it I was still, so to speak, a work in progress and there was a gulf between that one and the second, where I had found my voice. I would hate a new reader to judge me on the first one, so it's not available.

Unless, of course, you go to where, for a mere £105 you can find a second-hand large print copy. Yes, well... But I'd hate you to be disappointed. Why not get The Third Sin, the latest DI Marjory Fleming novel, instead for a paltry £4.31 on Kindle?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Our future jobs

First off, my newest book, University of Doom, is out. I blogged about it last month so you can read about it there.

Lately, what's really gotten me wound up is talk about a Universal Basic Income. What drives this idea is that advances in Artificial Intelligence and automation are going to push a lot of people out of a job with no work to turn to. The most popular guess is that by 2030, robots will have replaced fifty percent of all jobs. Self-driving cars are about five years away, and the first two industries to be hit hard by them are taxis (to include Uber and Lyft) and commercial trucking. In the US, we have around 3.5 million commercial truck drivers, and there's plenty of speculation about how many of them will lose their jobs to automation. In the Wolverine movie, Logan, there's a scene where robotic trucks make a cameo appearance. It's a quick look, but telling in how no one in the movie remarks about them. Plus, we have to account for the ripple affect as the elimination of those drivers will impact truck stops, diners, repair facilities, and the industry's administrative overhead.

Elon Musk is among those giving the most dire of warnings. The problem is, without jobs, what will people do for money? Representative Chris Lee of Hawaii has proposed discussing the state issuing a Universal Basic Income, but as the idea is still in its infancy, the details are yet to be sorted out. As in who gets it? How much will it be? Where does the money come from?

Which got me thinking about the world of the future as we see in it in science fiction. We seldom see people in regular jobs. We have cops, guards, soldiers, the IT geeks, assorted pilots and crew, scientists, and those people at the top calling the shots. Once in a while we might see a clerk (though according to the futurists, those jobs will be among the first to go). And what about us writers? Will we be replaced by robots? The publishing industry would love that. (I call dibs on that story idea.)

This is obviously a huge topic and one I'll return to in the future. What I'm most curious about is crime in the future. Because of technology, fraud and theft have become more widespread. Our dependence on evermore prevalent narcotics is a major factor in violent crime, and the sex-slavery trade is as prolific as ever. So it seems, we crime writers will not lack for inspiration.

Friday, July 21, 2017

@#%$*** Synopsis

I did it. I finally finished a synopsis for a l-o-n-g historical novel that actually fits on one page. The whole undertaking made me totally miserable. In fact, there are a lot of writing chores that I find disagreeable.

That's the way it is with any job. We only love about 55% percent of the work and the rest is tedious, boring, or unbelievably difficult. Many teachers hate grading papers but love the interaction of the classroom. Truck drivers love to drive but hate the paperwork involved with the job. Policemen don't like writing reports. Waitresses don't like the cleanup work after the place closes for the night.

A good deal of the writing life is spent on non-creative activities. I just sent all the requested data for an upcoming event so the organizer can do a good job with promotion. Sadly, I probably get an email a week wondering when I'm going to write a sequel to Come Spring. I explain once more that my original editor was fired and I didn't have a contract for the other two books. But really, since I own all the rights I should have it up on Kindle. I simply haven't taken the time.

And then there is social media. Boy howdy. It's like navigating a maze. I know I don't do as much as I should. But I have good intentions.

 I emailed my agency to see if royalty statements had been sent for my non-fiction book. I redid a bio for an upcoming event. I contacted my Poisoned Pen buddies to see if it was a good idea to switch my domain registration to my new site.

The newest edition of Author's Guild's magazine arrived and I immediately read a terrific interview of Dennis Palumbo, who also publishes with Poisoned Pen. Although I'm registered for Bouchercon which will be in Canada this year, I haven't booked my flight. Plus I'm worried that I didn't give myself enough downtime before I go to Kansas for a signing at the Garnett Public Library.

I didn't get any writing done on my new mystery today. That's fatal. I must put that first before I become entangled by writing chores.

Instead of putting my shoulder to the wheel, I'll join my knitting group! Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Musings (and Excursions)

This summer, I’ve traveled to Tampa, Fla., Bozeman, Mt., Millinocket, Me., and Old Orchard Beach, Me.; and soon I'll be in Richmond, Va., and then Fitchburg, Mass.

Summer is a time to recharge and move forward. I usually work on a new book –– jotting notes, outlining, and getting the project off the ground. But this year, I’m trying to finish a book, writing and rewriting. A lot. I began the book a year ago. It’s taken much longer than anticipated (and much longer than it typically takes me). I had a hard time finding the voice. I wrote the opening 50 pages three times, changed point of view and tense each time until I got those right. Now I’m 250 pages in. Jogs and long walks are helping me plot (“I’m going writing,” I tell my wife). I started with an eight (or so)-page outline, which I’ve followed somewhat. But the story usually knows where it wants to go, and I learned a long time ago to get out of its way and try to solve the mystery –– in a logical manner –– with my sleuth. If the book stalls, I missed a clue, and I go back and reread what I’ve written. This will keep me busy until the school year starts up again –– and well into the fall.

I hadn’t planned on all the travel, but some educational consulting opportunities arose –– and I enjoy working with teachers who take their craft seriously enough to give up a week in the summer –– so I’ve mixed work and play. The result has been a lot of time in the car or on a plane with books (both audio and print). My reading list to date is The Sympathizer (2015), by Viet Thanh Nguyen; Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014), by Bryan Stevenson; Passing (1929), by Nella Larsen; and Here First (2000), a collection of biographical essays by Native American writers. All are highly recommended. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably know that The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer and the Edgar, so I’m not going to plug that book –– you’ll read it anyway.
And, if you’re reading this post, you probably know of Bryan Stevenson’s incredible humanitarian work on behalf of the oppressed in the criminal justice system, so I’ll leave that one alone, too. I will, however, plug Nella Larsen’s hundred-page gem that speaks of race as a currency, and of Here First –– you know of Sherman Alexie’s work; reading this will allow you a chance to meet a variety of other native American writers. The collection is both fascinating and compelling.

Right now, I’ll be in Richmond, Va., watching my daughter play lacrosse and listened to Passing (more than once) on our 10-hour drive from Maine.

I hope you’re getting as much reading and writing done as I am this summer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Musings On the Open Road

I recently drove from Southern California to Seattle to visit my mother for her 95th birthday. (Yay, Mom! Happy Birthday!) Okay I didn't actually do the driving. My husband prefers that honor while I’d rather be the navigator/passenger. That's 24 hours or so of driving if you go the I-5 route, which we did on the way up. On the way back, we drove down the Oregon and California coasts until we got to around San Francisco where we cut inland and did the rest of the trip on I-5. (Side note here. It’s very odd for me to refer to I-5 as I-5. When I’m here in So. Cal., I refer to it as “the 5” as everyone else does down here. That’s a whole other, and interesting, story. You can read the origins of this here:

As you might guess, there's lots of time to muse over things on that long a drive. Yes, we did talk and listen to a couple of the Cat Who books on tape (really, tape, our car is old enough to have a tape deck). Sometimes, though, it was just nice to watch the scenery go by and muse over random things. Here are my musings:

Until I became a writer, I didn’t really think that much about sand on beaches. How there’s a lot of different colors and textures around the world. Yes, I’ve been to all sorts of beaches, in the South Pacific (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora), the Caribbean, East Coast of the U.S., up and down the West Coast of the U.S., Hawaii, Mexico and the Gulf Coast of Florida. I remember there being differences, but it wasn’t until I started writing my mystery series set in the fictional Los Angeles County beach city of Vista Beach, did I think about how to describe the sand. Now when I visit areas, I notice things more.
Somewhere along the coast of Oregon

Like how the sand on the beach here, where I live, is a light brown color and can get very hot when the air temperature is hot and is very hard to walk on. But the sand on the Gulf Coast of Florida is coarser and lighter in color and, even when the temperature was in the 90s, it was still fairly cool and easier to walk on. On this trip, I noticed the sand along the Oregon coast, which is very fine, but more of a gray color than brown. These are important differences for a writer. If you write a story that features a beach and you get the details wrong, someone’s going to notice.

The next thing I thought about on this trip was how something is phrased can affect behavior. Think about it. Doesn’t “I need to talk WITH you” sound better than “I need to talk TO you”? Don’t you dread a little bit more the “to” phrasing?

In California and Oregon I noticed a difference between signs along U.S. 101. In Oregon, it’s “Keep Right Except to Pass”. You know what, that’s what everyone did. Kept right as a default and only got into the left lane when passing. But, as soon as we crossed into California, it became “Slower Traffic Keep Right”. Same thing really, but now more cars stayed in the left lane as a default. I mean, really, does anyone want to admit that their vehicle is “slower” than others? Okay, maybe this is a little silly, but I really did see a behavior difference. And I have no doubt that how something is phrased can produce behavior differences in people.

So that’s what this writer thought about on a long driving trip. What do you all ponder on the open road?

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Thought About Research

I was in awe when I read Barbara's post on Wednesday about her working vacation. Reading about the time she spent on Georgian Bay doing research for her book reminded me of what I am never likely to do in the name of research. I love water, and I would happily have gone to Georgian Bay. But I would not have camped out. The only time I have ever slept in a tent was during basic training in the Army. I did not enjoy it. And the idea that I might wake up in a tent during a thunderstorm is an additional reason why my idea of "roughing it" is staying in a cabin. I don't like bugs. I don't like rattlesnakes. I worry about ticks.

Being reminded that I am not the outdoor type is depressing. I would love to plunge into research that takes me into the wilderness. In fact, I do field research. I go to my settings. I take photos and make notes. But since I write books and stories set in the past or the near-future, I am looking backward or imagining forward. I read other people's accounts of living through a flood or a hurricane. I watch news videos. I read geographic reports. I try to get as close as I can to the actual experience.

I have done experiments such as being locked in a car truck while tied up. I've visited a virtual reality lab.

What would happen if I challenged myself to more outdoor adventures?. Would that affect what I write about and how I write? I did go to Alaska on a cruise, and I allowed my traveling companion to talk me into white-water rafting and a helicopter ride to a glacier. . .but what I really need for the book I'm working on is to be aboard a train in a Pullman coach in 1939.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Degrees of Separation

I finally finished the rewrites for Forty Dead Men a few minutes ago. I have a book review to write, and another book to read for review. Tomorrow my husband Don goes in for an outpatient biopsy, which the doc tells us is just a precaution. (which doesn't mean either of us is looking forward to it). What I really do look forward to is Wolf Hall.

Louis Jenkins (l) and Don Koozer (r) @1965
Don and I don't watch much on television except for the occasional movie or the rare series binge-watch. (All right, I love Game of Thrones, books and series) When I find something that we both really like to watch, it is a nice bonding experience. We talk it over afterwards, and a good movie will take my mind off my troubles for a few hours. For the past few evenings we’ve enjoyed binge-watching the PBS series Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s two wonderful novels about Henry VIII’s court and Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. No matter what your opinion of Mantel’s take on Cromwell, the PBS production is gorgeous and the acting is spectacular. Claire Foy makes an excellent Anne Boleyn, and Damian Lewis is compelling as Henry. Of course, I’d watch Lewis read the phone book and enjoy it, but several professional critics agree with my assessment.

Yet as wonderful as the entire cast is, Mark Rylance as Cromwell is eye-poppingly good, if that’s a word. How is it that a person can convey the entire gamut of human thought and emotion without ever saying a word? I had only seen Mark Rylance in one other major production before Wolf Hall, (The Other Boleyn Girl) but I have known of him for years. That is because he and I only have three degrees of separation.

My darling husband, Don Koozer, grew up in Enid, Oklahoma. Don is a literate person who has been interested in writing, especially poetry, since he was a very young man. When he was an undergraduate at Phillips University, he was one of a posse of four young men who liked to gather and talk literature (Among other things. They were four idiot college guys, after all.) One of the crew was Louis Jenkins, who for some years was Don’s best friend. Eventually, Louis moved to Minnesota and Don moved to Arizona, and though they still keep in touch, they have both lived long lives apart.

Don never lost his interest in poetry, and since his retirement he has had dozens of poems published as well as two books of collected works. But Louis became a professional poet.

Can you support yourself as a professional poet? What do you think? However, between working in libraries and driving UPS trucks, Louis actually became famous. He has published many many books of collected works, has read his work several times on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, and had a play based on his work produced and performed by—you guessed it—Mark Rylance.

Mark Rylance was the director of the Globe Theatre in London for years. He has won a British BAFTA award, two Olivier Awards, and three Tonys. And for two of those Tony acceptance speeches, he recited poems by Louis Jenkins. I can quite understand why Rylance likes Jenkins and Jenkins likes Koozer. They’re all…let us say…quirky. Jenkins’ prose poems are weird, hilarious, and deep all at the same time. If you didn’t see the Tony presentations, here is a link to the 2011 ceremony and Rylance’s fabulous recitation of Louis’ poem “Walking Through Walls.”

I like historical fiction and historical drama, so I was disposed to enjoy Wolf Hall in any event, but Rylance’s Cromwell is such a wonder that I’m proud to claim my three-degree separation, however dubious.

I wonder if Mark Rylance knows Kevin Bacon?
Disclaimer: This is a reworking of a similar entry I did for another blog several years ago, after I watched Wolf Hall the first time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Have book, will travel

Barbara here. Work vacations are some of the great perks of being a writer. In a recent post I talked about my obsession with authenticity and realism in my stories, to the extent that I trekked all around the Great Northern Peninsula for FIRE IN THE STARS and endured a five-day winter camping expedition for THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY. After that particular research trip, I vowed my next book would be set in Hawaii. Or on a Greek island.

I couldn't quite work either destination into my Amanda Doucette series – which is set in various iconic locations across Canada, alas – but I did the next best thing. I picked the beautiful islands of Georgian Bay in the sunny, warm summertime. Georgian Bay is a misnomer. It has sometimes been called the sixth Great Lake, but because of a quirk of geology it is not sufficiently separated from Lake Huron to be eligible for its own lake status. But at 15,000 square kilometres, it is no mere "bay". It is a UNESCO world biosphere reserve and home to the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. It has 2000 kilometres of rugged granite shoreline and at least 30,000 islands, which makes it a paradise for cottages, camping, boating, and especially kayaking. I did a kayak trip there a few years ago and always wanted to capture its wild beauty, powerful weather, and changeable moods. A perfect setting for drama, struggle, and escape.

Georgian Bay is about a 600 kilometre (375 mile) drive from Ottawa, so I had to plan my trip carefully. I could not jaunt back and forth each time a question arose, to double-check my facts or refresh my memory of specific locales. But since I don't really outline or plot my novels ahead of time, I don't really know what I need to know until I need to know it (if you get my meaning). This is the challenge of writing about a setting that is far from home. Another challenge is that Georgian Bay is a far different place at the height of the summer, when it bustles with tourists, adventurers, and cottagers cavorting on its sparkling waters, than it is in the icy grip of winter. I needed to see the area in the exact season I was writing about.

So my preliminary musings about PRISONERS OF HOPE were based on my memory of my kayak trip, and last summer, while I was actually still writing THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, I made a quick three-day trip out there to scout locations. This past winter, when I started to write, I used my memory and my notes; I used that writer's great friend, Google; and I relied on maps, books, and friends. What I didn't know and couldn't find out, I made up. Along the way, I kept a running file on all the questions that surfaced. What does the hospital in Parry Sound look like? What do the cottages around Pointe au Baril look like? What does a Massassauga rattlesnake sound like and how fast does it move? How hard is it to paddle in the open bay? How big are the waves?

At the beginning of July, with about three-quarters of the first draft written, I set out to answer those questions.

Accompanied by my ever-patient sister and my less patient Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retreivers, I booked a little cottage for a week on the shore of Georgian Bay north of the town of Parry Sound, which, with a population of about 6500, is the regional hub for the area. Armed with my checklist, my iPhone camera, and a notebook, I drove north and south in and out of the coastline and talked to people along the way. By kayak and canoe, I explored the inlets and islands. I experienced sunny days, moonlit nights, misty mornings, and crashing thunderstorms. I took a three-hour lake cruise through the islands, I rented a kayak to trace part of the route Amanda would take, and I hiked along the shore cliffs and through the bogs and crags of the forest. I saw rattlesnake, deer, mink, turtles, frogs, toads, herons, ducks, gulls, geese, whippoorwills, woodpeckers, and more bugs than I cared to. But that too is part of the Georgian Bay experience.

I answered my questions and found new ones. I made notes about the changes I would have to make to the manuscript and mentally added the rich detail that will bring the final version to life. But all the while I had fun as I learned more about the beautiful jewel that was my setting. I watched my dogs interacting with the environment, playing in the water and reacting to the rattlesnake. Role models and inspiration for Kaylee, Amanda Doucette's lively Duck Toller.

It made a great combination of work and play, and at the end, after I've polished this novel over the coming months, I hope readers will feel as if they have stepped out of the pages and into the Bay, dipping their paddle in the sparkling water and clambering over the smooth pink shores. I hope they will feel the wind in their face and hear the waves slapping against the boat. I hope they will become travellers too.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Small Marks on a Page

Punctuation: just small marks on a page, that's all.  But it's quite astonishing what emotions it can provoke.

What is known in Britain as 'the greengrocer's apostrophe'  is a particular bugbear.  No one seems to know why it's such a temptation to advertise 'juicy apple's, pear's and plum's' but you can spot a few in every market with hand-lettered signs and it has spread on to shop fronts too now - 'Belle's Hair and Nail's', 'Acme Taxi's'  People have been known to foam at the mouth on seeing one.

A small town in Britain hit the news recently because of the Phantom Punctuator, who felt so passionately about it that he went round secretly in the dead of night with a ladder and a pot of paint, removing inappropriate apostrophes and, where necessary, putting in appropriate ones.  Remarkably, none of the 'victims' seemed to mind; indeed, several touchingly said they were very grateful because they'd never understood why an apostrophe needed to be there at all.

Then there's the semi-colon (see what I did there?) .  I like them because I think they give balance to a sentence. I hate reading books that have a lot of short sentences.  Like this.  I feel as if I'm running along.  And then I stumble.  And fall flat on my nose.

Lots of people don't think that way so you can have a really good argument about it.  And once you've stopped wrestling on the floor you can go on to debate the use of the colon.

Every so often I read a book where the author has taken against inverted commas, whether single or double.  True enough, you can usually tell when someone is meant to be speaking but sometimes it takes a moment or two just to check, a moment or two that breaks the story's thread.

It's the punctuation that determines the pace of the writing.  But it should be like the perfect butler - Carson at Downton Abbey, say, or P G Wodehouse's Vosper - who makes things happen so unobtrusively that no one notices he is there at all.

Writing style, of course, has its fashions.  Queen Victoria never used a comma where several dashes would do, but if I'd done that in writing my weekly composition at school I'd have had red marks all over it.  Now, though, dashes to mark parenthesis are having their moment in the sun, elbowing out the common comma.

Exclamation marks, on the other hand, seem now to be frowned on as rather gauche, like raising your voice and shouting at your reader, even though  Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children had an average of six per page!  (I think that deserved one.)

A little while ago there was an impassioned debate in the CWA about whether it should be the Crime Writers' Association as the purists would have it, or the Crime Writers Association, which admittedly looks snappier on a letterhead.  It raised strong feelings in some but to tell you the truth, I can't remember what we decided.  So perhaps I'm not as passionate about punctuation as I ought to be.

Get me on semi-colons, though...

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Approaching the Bottom of the Well

By Vicki Delany

My good friend fantasy writer Violette Malan wrote at the Black Gate blog about the age old question “Where do you get your ideas?”

Our own John wrote on Thursday about getting ideas from the headlines.

Both of which started me thinking about that very subject. And I have to conclude that my idea well is running dry.

Let me explain. A book is more than an idea. Sure you have a great idea.  You write it down.

That’s one sentence in a 400 page novel done.  Only 399 more pages to go.

It’s everything else that happens after and around the “idea” that makes a complete novel. All the plot points and character quirks and sub-plots.  The sort of cozy mysteries such as I write are very much puzzle mysteries. I have to have an idea for the general plot. An idea about how the murder is committed. An idea about where the dead body is discovered that involves my protagonist doing the discovering.  Another idea about how the protagonist arrives at the conclusion. Many, many ideas about the red herrings and the secrets everyone is hiding. And last of all an idea as to where the climax will happen and what it will consist of. (A raging gun battle through the streets or the suspects gathered in the library?)

In my cozy mysteries, things get even more complicated when the ideas have to suit a theme. In the Lighthouse Library series by Eva Gates, most of the action takes place in the Lighthouse. That’s the concept. The murder is committed there, the characters make frequent visits, the climax has to happen there.

Vicki Writing (not exactly as shown)
Vicki Reading (not exactly as shown)
Trying to think of a different way to kill someone in a library plus how to solve the crime in the library and confront the baddie in the library is becoming challenging.

In the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop books, I’m trying for a bit of a Sherlock angle to each story.  Also challenging.

So, gentle reader, my idea well is running dry.  Anyone have any suggestions for a murder in a library?

Hey, I’ve just had an idea. I hear water filling the well. 

Friday, July 07, 2017

Level of Squirreliness

Oh never mind spellcheck. I know squirreliness is not a word. It's my own term. It seems to me that we all seek the maximum level of activity we can handle without being overcome by stress. That's your level of squirreliness.

I've reached mine again. Although most of my "stuff" is related to writing, I'm also on the church finance committee and my homeowner's association board. And there's that book study I will help lead. And a number of other things that are clogging the creative flow.

No one ever tells wannabe authors about the business/busyness of writing. It's never-ending and with increased success the pressure mounts. Social media can be a soul-sucker that will drain every spare minute. I once heard a speaker say she set her alarm to wake up every two hours all night long just to keep up with emails and to respond to media opportunities. She looked like she was auditioning for the role of Morticia in the Addams family. She was also very very successful.

Many of the Type M'ers are involved with preparing for Bouchercon which will be help in Toronto this year. I'm going and so looking forward to my first trip to Canada. But I've been involved with the grunt work of conferences in the past and know the effort involved. I've developed spreadsheets, scheduled interviews, organized judging....well you get the drift. The potential for volunteer work is endless. I so admire all of you who are helping with this conference. Whew!

I love writers' conferences. They are a time of renewal. I learn something every time I attend one. I just got back from the annual Western Writers of America convention which was held in Kansas City this. Some of my dearest friends are in this organization. But I didn't get a bit of writing done. I have friends who do, including fabulously productive best-selling Kat Martin who is simply amazing and has over sixteen million books in print.

It was a pleasure to see Johnny D. Boggs receive his seventh Spur award. It's an all-time record. And this man can write!

My built-in high pressure valve is when I can't seem to find time for fresh composition. Therein lies restoration and renewal. The most joyful part of being a writer is the experience of unexpected characters showing up for a book or the ah-moment of a plot finally clicking.

I know how to fool myself that I've spent adequate time on my writing. I can transfer hand written pages to the computer or fiddle with improving a story or part of a book. And spend too much time doing research.

So it's back to reality and saying "no" and resisting any activity that pulls me away from the blank screen.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Confessions of a News Junkie: Where does inspiration come from?

I’m addicted to CNN’s Headline News. I swore off it after they botched the election predictions so badly (and let me relax), but like every junkie worth his salt, I lasted only a couple weeks. Now I’m checking my CNN app constantly and watching Headline News daily.

If you live in the US right now, keeping up with the political landscape on the news is not just a form of entertainment (and you thought Americans needed House of Cards for that!), it’s damn scary (but a little like watching a slow-motion car crash, too). A daily (sometimes hourly) refrain of Is this really happening?

But I also find the news to be a source of inspiration. Primarily for the questions constantly raised: What would it be like to walk in that person’s shoes?

Some story ideas from recent news items:

What would it be like to be the mother of a famous killer? The Aaron Hernandez trial and suicide fascinates me. And everyone’s mother loves them, after all. Sports Illustrated did a great long-form article on Hernandez's brother, showing how the murder conviction changed his life, but the mother has been silent (for what are probably obvious reasons). Yet she has my sympathy. In a world where media coverage shows her son in one light, she, of course, sees him differently. What would she say? What would she think? How would she move on? It’s a story I’d like to write, probably a short piece.

What would it be like to be both a good police officer and a minority teen who doesn’t trust him or her? In Northhampton, Massachusetts, about 30 minutes from my home, the local police department tried to institute a program where officers would visit area schools each Friday to greet students as they entered the building. They called it “High-Five Fridays.” This was a gesture to build community relations. However, after parents raised concerns that minority students or immigrants might feel threatened, the program was disbanded. It made me think about the plight of a law-enforcement officer, especially the small-town cop. Much like the Catholic priests, the public perception has changed. What would the minority student be thinking looking at the cop offering a high-five? An interesting point-of-view for the story.

As you can probably tell, I don’t subscribe to Trump’s “fake news” theories. Regardless, I’d rather take a real story and put my own spin on it. I’d love to hear about the ones I’m overlooking. Send them my way!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Year of FPIS Revisited

In January you might remember I declared this the year of FPIS, Finishing Projects I’ve Started. Since we’re now halfway through 2017, I thought I’d report on my progress.

It pains me to admit that I didn’t immediately jump on the project finishing bandwagon. It was some time toward the end of March when I realized a significant amount of time had passed and I hadn’t finished a single project. It’s not like I was doing nothing, of course. I attended a painting convention in Las Vegas as well as Left Coast Crime in Hawaii and worked on book 4 of my Aurora Anderson mystery series.

The problem was, I think, that I hadn’t set myself any dates to finish things by. Even though I’ve been known to grumble about them, deadlines tend to keep me honest. As long as they’re not too impossible to meet, they spur me on to activity.

I’ve made the most progress on partially finished painting projects. I ditched one and completed 4 other projects that required little work. Some only needed to be varnished.

The two painting projects I’m highlighting here required more work. This bear wind chime I started in a painting class mumble-mumble years ago. Okay, it was over ten. Once I sat down, it took me only a few hours to finish. He’s now hanging in my kitchen.

This next photo is of a Christmas decoration I started in a class at the Creative Painting convention this past February. At least I didn’t wait ten years to finish it.

I also repainted the trim around the front door, the simplest of my home improvement projects. I still have numerous other painting, scrapbooking, needlework, etc. projects awaiting my attention.

As for partially done writing projects...on the one hand I don’t have as many of those. On the other, I also haven’t made as much progress as I wanted. I did find some missing notes on a short story I’d somewhat planned out a couple years ago, so I’m hoping to work on that while I’m also writing the book that’s due to my publisher next February.

Sometimes I find that the hardest part about finishing a project is making the decision to sit down and do it. That goes for writing as well, including seemingly simple things like this blog post. I often spend more time thinking about a project than actually working on it. For writing, of course, that thinking time can be very important.

Finishing projects is great for me, psychologically. I really feel a weight lift off my shoulders when I finish one. I’m hoping that, at least on the painting front, once I complete all of my partially done projects, I won’t abandon them as often and finish them in a timely manner.

What projects have you all finished lately? Do deadlines spur you on to activity or make you freeze?

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

How a made-up person can infect a writer’s life

by Rick Blechta

My novel-in-progress (for far too long with not enough progress) is beginning to send out some scary tendrils into my life away from writing. The problem is all down to the main character’s influence.

I’ve never written somebody who’s quite the way he is: highly intelligent, erudite, a complete bookworm, and a person who has always marched to the beat of his own inner drum. It’s been a challenge to get to know him well enough to write his part convincingly (there’s a lot in the book that will have to be fixed when I go back to revise), but I now feel I’m winning the battle.

Trouble is, he’s reaching out and manipulating my life in unexpected ways.

First of all, his words reflect an impressive knowledge of the rules of grammar. He speaks the way the rules state he should which often makes his half of a dialogue sound stiff, formal — and just wrong, because of the way the general rules of good grammar are ignored most of the time. It’s giving me fits to get it correct (because it ain’t gonna be effective if I blow things with errors.

The problem is that I’m beginning to speak that way myself. Good grammar is important, but it lends one’s words a certain stiffness — or should I say snootiness — if it’s used in day-to-day chatting. More than once recently I’ve watched people to whom I’m speaking (see?) either get a glazed or stony look as I'm speaking to them. Finally, my wife pointed out that it’s the way I’m putting words together.

I’ve always been very impressionable when reading. One time my wife was reading a few chapters upon which I wanted her opinion (there I go again!).

After finishing, she looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You’ve been reading Rex Stout, haven’t you?”

“Yes. I read a couple of short stories the other night when I couldn’t sleep. Why do you ask?”

“Because your main character is suddenly speaking just like Archie Goodwyn!”

So it’s not as if this influence from my “invisible friends” hasn’t happened before. It’s just that this time it’s far more pervasive. The real issue is I’ve still got a long way to go on this book, so I’m going to have to be more aware of the way I’m speaking. I figure by the end, people will be sidling away from me or turning their backs when they see me coming.

And this is supposed to be the start of a series!