Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Immortality of Writers

Man decays, his corpse is dust,
All his kin have perished;
But a book makes him remembered
Through the mouth of its reciter
Better is a book than a well-built house...

They made heirs for themselves of books,
Of instructions they had composed... 

Death made their names forgotten
But books made them remembered.

The above is a translation by Miriam Lichtheim of excerpts from an Ancient Egyptian text usually referred to as “The Immortality of Writers”. The text appears on the verso of Papyrus Chester Beatty IV** along with several other short pieces that relate to the scribal profession. Written in hieratic (a cursive form of hieroglyphs), it dates from the 19th-20th dynasties, around 1200 BC. (Tut was a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, living around 1330BC.)

It’s quite different in its outlook on immortality from a lot of the other AE texts I’ve read with its view that tombs crumble and bodies decay, but writing lives on.

I ran across “Immortality” recently in my reading travels and thought I’d share it with you all. It seems particularly appropriate with the recent passing of writers B.K. Stevens and Frederick Ramsay (see Donis’s post on him here.)  It reminded me that whatever writers or other artists produce has the potential of living on long after we’re gone.

I think everyone wants to make their mark on the world in some way, to leave something of themselves behind. Some people do that by raising families, others by inventing or making great discoveries that change the world, others by their artistic endeavors.

I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’m writing great works of literature like Dickens or Austen. I just hope that people enjoy the stories I write, that they provide a brief respite from a sometimes troubling world. It’s quite likely that my books and stories will not last much past my own lifetime. Still, the potential is there and that’s a nice thought.

If you’re interested in reading more of “Immortality” you can go here for a different translation. Lichtheim’s comes form “Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II: The New Kingdom”

** Papyri generally bear the name of the discoverer, first owner or the institution where they are kept. In this case, it’s named after Sir Alfred Chester Beatty who owned a number of papyri. He donated this one to the British Museum in the 1930s.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

bwana politics

 I was going to post about bad writing advice but something this week prompted me to address another topic. What happened is that a few days ago, Facebook informed me that a Facebook post that I reposted had been blocked because they considered it spam. Specifically, it was a post linked to La Bloga, a website that features news and commentary about Latino literature, poetry, culture, and some politics. This particular post mentioned my newest novel, University of Doom, and Floricanto and what they had to say about the border wall. Here's a screenshot of what Facebook told me.

I couldn't figure why this was spam since I only posted it to my feed as I do all my other posts and links and none of them were ever considered spam. When I clicked on the link Facebook provided to explain why my post was spam, it said that this post either violated community standards or presented a security threat. Both assertions are of course, caca. I figured that some Facebook bot had scanned the content and tripped upon some offending words or images, but I have no idea what they were.

Interestingly, I had no trouble posting this screenshot on my feed. Then other members of the La Bloga complained that sometimes their posts to La Bloga were getting blocked and were unblocked only after they submitted an appeal. However this week, no links to La Bloga were allowed by Facebook.

I haven't submitted a request to Facebook that they review my post because the process is demeaning. Basically I have to go, sombrero in hand, huaraches on my feet, and beg, pleeze señor rich, educated white person, I'm just a lowly brown-skinned piasano who means no harm. Pleeze unblock my post so that me and my burro can go on our way.

The issue is one of what we used to call institutional racism, in which the cultural and economic prejudices of those in power are built into a system to the detriment of the marginalized. The eggheads at Facebook see the world through their narrow microscope of entitlement, and being guys and gals who make a lot of money, what they decide is obviously right, no matter the consequences to anyone else. Like other Silicon Valley companies, Facebook is staffed by Ivy League elites who praise themselves for using the appropriate buzz words. Naturally, they proclaim progressive values such as diversity. Facebook recently bragged about a JUMP in the hiring of Latinos from 4 to 5 percent! This in a state--California--where the population is 40 percent Latino. Meaning, Facebook believes in diversity as a concept, just don't hold them to actually putting it into practice. So it's hasta la vista, Mexican peasants.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Changing Seasons

Aline's post on Monday reminded me of the anticipation that I used to feel as a child at the beginning of each new school year. I am still on that calendar. Still thinking that I should trade out the appointment book that I bought in January for a new one to mark the beginning of a new academic year.  

Today, I found the garbage cart that I had requested from maintenance waiting by my office door when I got to school. Feeling a ridiculous amount of delight at the idea of tossing things out, I rushed into my office and plunged in. Tomorrow's I'll continue the process. I already can see my desk top and my overburdened bookcases are tidier. For at least a few weeks, I'll feel in control of my space. I'll know what I have and where to find it.  

In her post on Wednesday, Barbara wrote about regretting the end of summer. So do I. Not because I particularly enjoy summer. I am much more attuned to autumn -- lovely crisp days and cuddle up in blanket nights -- than to summer's heat and humidity. But when summer ends, I feel sad. I realize that my late spring resolution to finish every thing on my to-do list during my three months of vacation is not going to be fulfilled this year either. In summer -- despite my best intentions -- I find it almost impossible to stick to a schedule. I seem to spend the days being distracted by minor tasks that take up much more time than they should.

So I welcome the feeling of being back in my groove. I do better with structure. The only problem that I haven't figured out is how to add minutes to shorter autumn days.

My schedule this fall is built around my teaching schedule. I plan to drive to Toronto for Bouchercon in October. I'm on a panel there. In November, I'm going to New England Crime Bake, where I'm going to teach a master class on "Using Research to Get to the Roots of Your Book". I have a short story coming out in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine that same month. A historical featuring a new protagonist. And I have also promised myself that I will do NaNoWriMo and get the first draft of my 1939 historical thriller done.

I'm looking forward to what I hope to get done this new year -- in that magical time before the year ends and winter sets in. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fred Ramsay and Me

Donis here, feeling sad today. I just heard that my friend and fellow author Frederick Ramsay passed away this morning. Fred was a lovely and accomplished man and a prolific author, and I understand that his latest book is still to be released. He did an amusing and enlightening guest entry for us here on Type M back in 2013.

Fred Ramsay and Donis at Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, AZ, Feb. 2017

It seems that as I grow older I find myself facing the impending mortality of my friends and loved ones more and more. Not to mention, as one of my friends noted, that we are each of us one blood clot away from our own end. Not long ago, I heard a woman on NPR relate that her five year old daughter once came stomping down the stairs in a snit and demanded to know why we were ever born if we're just going to die anyway.

An excellent question that should convince anyone that children are deeper than adults give them credit for. The mother said she pondered for a minute before answering, because she wanted to give the girl a meaningful answer, and finally she replied that it was because of all the stuff that goes on in between.

Billy Graham was asked what he had learned about life, and interestingly, he said that he was just surprised at how fast it goes by. I think of that quite a bit, especially when it comes home to me that I have less time ahead than I do behind, and I wonder why on earth I ever spend time doing things I don't have to do that I don't particularly enjoy.

On a more cheerful note, let me reiterate that I will be making a nine library tour of small eastern Oklahoma towns from Sept. 12 through Sept. 16. The September 16 event at the Muskogee Public Library will be particularly of interest, since after my talk at 11:00 a.m. I’ll be joined by fellow mystery authors Mary Anna Evans, Will Thomas, and Julia Thomas at noon for a mystery writers’ roundtable. You can see my entire schedule on my website. So if you live in eastern OK or western Arkansas, I’ll be looking for you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fall merry-go-round

In her Monday post, Aline talked about her eager anticipation of September, as a time of new beginnings and endless possibilities. As an Eastern Canadian who didn't get much of a summer this year, I don't share her impatience to see it on its way. I want to cling to every last sun-drenched, fancy-free moment of it. But I have another reason to prolong those last two weeks of summer; my autumn is going to be crazy. Labour Day weekend coincides with the release of my new book, and with it all the signings and tours and blogs and festivals. This year they seem more hectic than usual.

Right now I am at my cottage trying to power through the first draft of the book due out NEXT September, because I know once the fall promotion season starts, I will be hard-pressed to give the next book a moment's thought. As I try to write my novel, however, I find myself committed to writing several blogs. Blogs are creative and fun, and I happily agreed to do each one without thinking that each (including my old regular Type M) takes hours out of my writing time. As it stands at the moment, I still have three more blogs to write, two with deadlines this week.

And then there are the posters, evites, announcements, website updates, and social media posts to promote the fall events. And preparing the talks and readings for each of them.

So with a view to killing two birds with one stone, this blog is going to double as a bit of promotion. The complete list of appearances and events will be on my website once I finish updating it, but here are the highlights. If there is an event that interests you and is within in driving distance, I'd love to see you!

THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY is due for release in Canada and the UK on September 2 and in the US on September 26. The tag line reads:

A winter camping trip turns deadly as two missing teenagers, a twisted love triangle, and the spectre of radicalism create turmoil in the remote Laurentian wilderness.

Here's what is planned so far:

  • Sept. 1 - 2. Women Killing It! Crime Writers' Festival, Prince Edward County, ON
  • Sept. 16. Halifax Word on the Street, Reading at Halifax Central Library
  • Sept. 21. Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MN
  • Sept. 22. A Different Drummer Bookstore, Burlington, ON
  • Sept. 23. Toronto Launch, Sleuth of Baker Street, 1 - 3 pm
  • Sept. 24. Toronto Word on the Street, Crime Writers of Canada Booth, 1 - 2 pm
  • Sept. 26. Ottawa Launch, Mother McGintey's Pub, Byward Market, 7 - 9 pm
  • Oct. 2. Ottawa International Writers' Festival, details TBA
  • Oct. 12 - 15, Bouchercon Mystery Conference, Toronto
  • Oct. 20. Renfrew Public Library, Renfrew, ON, 6 pm
  • Oct. 21, Coles in Carlingwood Mall, Ottawa. 11 am - 2 pm
  • Oct. 24. International Festival of Authors, 7 pm, location TBA
In between, I have a couple of book clubs, luncheons, and workshops, all of which should be great fun once I catch my breath. I have not committed to anything major beyond Oct. 24, which coincidentally is a very significant birthday, but I'm sure the time will be filled in! I would not trade all this excitement and adventure for anything, but right now I am encouraging summer to stick around awhile yet. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

New Beginnings

I don't like this time of year.  August is still officially summer but it's chilly now in the early morning and the heat has gone out of the sun; it's as if it's tired and just putting in the time until the excitements of the brand new season of mellow fruitfulness and harvest festivals.

Newspapers and magazines are still dutifully promoting barbecues and swimsuits and recipes for salads but somehow you feel that their heart isn't in it and the shops that are now getting in the woollens for autumn seem much fresher and more attractive. (Let's not talk about the catalogue with Christmas stuff that someone sent me last week. I'm pretending it didn't happen.)

Yes, it's time that summer was over for another year. and even the schoolchildren are starting to feel they want to get back and see their friends, and the new pencil-cases, fancy notebooks and novelty rubbers are flying off the shelves.

I don't know whether it's the result of having spent a lifetime in and around schools - father a headmaster, teacher at one time myself, mother of schoolchildren, husband a headmaster too (oh yes, Freud could have a field day).- but I always feel that a new year starts in September, not in January.

Who can really plan new beginnings in January?  New Year resolutions are famously hard to keep.  Dismal weather, dark nights, the Christmas credit card bills dropping on to the mat - who can possibly feel fired up and enthusiastic?

September, though...  Somehow it always seems to me like the new notebook you got on the first day of term, enticingly pristine, and you always thought that this time you would be able to keep it neat, without all the blots and crumpled pages and sums marked wrong that the last one had.

This year, come September, my desk will be tidy, my accounts will be up to date, the book will progress according to timetable and I will sit down at my desk each morning with new vigour and a song in my heart. I can hardly wait.

August still has two more limping weeks to go, but I think I might go out now and buy a fancy notebook and a novelty rubber. Just to be ready.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What's In A Name? Guest Post by V.M. Escalada

 by Vicki Delany

One of my closest writer friends isn’t a mystery writer, but the fantasy author Violette Malan. Or is that really her name?  Read on to find out.

So I'm in my brother's bookstore, and I'm looking for my latest book, and I'm not finding it. Just as I'm thinking "oh really?" it strikes me that I'm looking for the wrong name.

I'm not sure how much of a secret it is, but besides being Violette Malan, who writes sword and sorcery fantasy, I'm also V.M. Escalada, who writes epic fantasy. I have to admit that when my agent first suggested I use a penname, my immediate reaction was unfavourable. There are all kinds of reasons for such a suggestion, however, change of genre and change of gender being two of the most common. What people don't often talk about, however, is the practical experience of being two people.

To start with, I was a little flustered. I had plenty of questions, and no one – it seemed – to go to for answers. Don't get me wrong, my agent, and my editor, had plenty of helpful suggestions, just not for these actual, practical, concerns.

My first concern? What explanation do I give people who know me, personally? After all, people who have never met/heard of Violette Malan, aren't likely to ask. The short answer, by the way, is "it's a marketing thing." The long answer is, as they say, beyond the scope of this enquiry..

Which brings me to my second concern: Who am I in public? At a con, for example? The easy answer is: I'm whoever was invited. That's the name that will go first on the con badge. It's not at all unusual, at cons, to see people with two names on their badges, the one who was invited, and (sometimes in brackets or in smaller print) the other one. If you weren't invited as a special guest? If you're just registered as a regular panelist? That's when it gets tricky. Do you use the established, familiar name? or the new one?

I haven't had to answer that one yet, but I'm thinking those marketing people are going to want me to emphasize the name of the author whose book just came out. 

But how do I become a second person? What would I use for a photo? A bio? This is the point at which it struck me that this could be a lot of fun. After all, I make people up for a living, don't I? Not that I can become entirely someone else. Again, people who already know me would have to be able to recognize me. I'm not becoming a different person, I'm becoming a second person. I can't dress entirely differently because, first, I can't afford all those new clothes and, second, I've already bought the stuff I look good in.  I'm not going for frumpy, no matter what the marketing people say.

But I will need a new autograph, won't I? At least I know which name to sign, right? The signature has to match the name on the cover, right? That feels right to me, I could be in a situation where the person asking for the autograph only knows the author standing in front of her. It gets more complicated when the person knows both of you. How personal do you make a personalized signature? Do you sign both names? On the same page? Family's easy. Family doesn't care how you sign the book as long as you sign it, and they can leave it lying around to impress their friends with – something the Escalada part of my family can now do more easily than before.

I admit, I don't really have an answer for the autograph issue. Maybe you can help me out?      


Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions),  as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the Faraman Prophecy series. Book One, Halls of Law, is available now. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Too Sad For Words

Usually I try to stay out of politics when writing my blog or on social media sites. We are all inundated with opinions. From the left. From the right. And everywhere in between. I figure mine doesn't add much.

But today, when I feel I must speak out I find that I don't have the words to express my overwhelming sense of sadness over the events in Charlottesville. I can tell you what I think. But that is a function of my mind. And in the immortal worlds of Blaise Pascal, "the heart has its reasons which reason cannot know." What is in my head is one thing, my heart quite another.

When citizens of this country can fearlessly march under the banner of Nazism, when members of the KKK can present their hate-filled ideology without the president of the United States denouncing them unequivocally we are in danger from within. Our democracy is being undermined.

"Good and fine" people who object to the pulling down of statues don't stand beside violent persons bent on tearing up our Constitution. They go home. They leave when events turn ugly. They don't lend their energy to movements that are blatant attacks on human beings. They write their congressmen. They start petitions. They try to reason with persons with another point of view.

They don't take clubs to their fellow man and they denounce those who do.

As to leaders, there is a statement in the Bible that serves us well. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Not by their blossoming. By their fruit. Never mind how charismatic a leader or how attractive the words coming from his or her mouth. What are the fruits?

If hatred, anger, dissention, and deceitfulness seem to follow someone around, something is wrong.

And right now, something is very very wrong in these United States.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer Musings

Summer is nearing the end, and it’s time to reflect.

It was a summer of travel –– my day job took me to Tampa, Fl.; Bozeman, Mt.; and Fitchburg, Mass.; vacation took me to Baxter State Park and Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I spent lots of time with my family, including the real DA Keeley (daughters Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley).

(from left) Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley
I wrote about 125 pages, not as much as I’d hoped. There have been summers where I cranked out 125 pages of rough copy in two weeks. But that meant sitting on my writing chair, behind a closed door, eight to 10 hours a day. I’m writing my current book on spec, and my oldest daughter is talking about a summer internship next year that could take her anywhere in the nation (and, thus, far away from my wife and me) Therefore, this might be the last summer with all three girls at home. So, no, I didn’t finish the book, but the end is near.

One thing I’ve most enjoyed about this new book is that I’m writing in present tense. I’ve always been intrigued by the present-tense narrative voice. Recent Type M guest blogger Naomi Hirahara is an author I enjoy. Her Ellie Rush series is told in the present, and I love the immediacy and the tension that creates. Also, I’ve taken baby steps into screenwriting, which requires present tense, so I grasp (and appreciate) the impact this unique tense has on readers and viewers. But the switch from past to present wasn’t easy. It took a long time (and three different POVs) to get the voice right (I probably wrote 100 pages no one will ever see to do so). But I’m nearing 70,000 words now, and the sun is shining.
Ann Whestone and Paula Keeney (right)

On August 12, I read and signed at Mainely Murders bookstore, in Kennebunk, Maine. It’s a must-visit, if you’re in southern Maine (and worth the drive, if you’re not). The store is everything that is great about independent booksellers. Owners Paula Keeney and Ann Whetstone retired, renovated a one-car garage to a small store with an eclectic inventory of 3,500 books, and travel widely to find new authors. They have a rock-solid loyal following. (One customer told me she routinely buys a used book from them and gives it back so they can sell it again, all part of an effort to support the store.) Above all, Keeney and Whetstone love mysteries and their writers. Whether you’re a fan or writer, I highly recommend seeking this store out.

With Audrey, one-third of the "real" DA Keeley

Signing at Mainely Murders

Now it’s time to get back to school and time to finish the book.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Reading List

I’m always looking for reading recommendations so I read Vicki’s recent post with interest. I don’t really distinguish between what I read during the summer and other times of the year. That's probably because while here in Southern California we do have some change of seasons, the changes aren't as dramatic as other areas.

Here are a few books I’ve read this year that I found particularly interesting:

The One-Cent Magenta by James Barron. This
is the story of the most valuable stamp in the world, the One-Cent Magenta. This is not your childhood stamp collecting experience. We’re talking high profile stamp collecting. A very interesting read.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann. In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of the lost city of Z and was never seen again. Over the years, others have ventured into the jungle trying to find him and the fabled city. This is their story as well as an account of journalist David Grann’s own venture into the jungle. I don’t know much about this corner of the world at all so I found it particularly interesting. A quick read. There’s also a recent movie based on the book. I haven’t seen it, but this book is definitely worth reading.

The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian. This is the third book in the Accidental Alchemist series and my favorite so far. This series is part fantasy part mystery. It features alchemist Zoe Faust and Dorian, a living gargoyle. I like all of the characters, but I’ve fallen in love with Dorian. You can read this book without reading the first two in the series, but I’d recommend starting from the beginning with the Accidental Alchemist.

A Sticky Inheritance by Emily James. This is the first book in the Maple Syrup mysteries. I stumbled upon this series sometime this past year, I don’t remember where. Honestly, I might have simply been attracted by the cover. Interesting covers can lure me in. The main character, criminal defense attorney Nicole, inherits a maple syrup farm in Michigan. At first, I wasn’t sure about a mystery featuring maple syrup, but I fell in love with this series from the first page of the first book. I’ve read several more in the series and have two others queued up on my Kindle.

That’s my brief wrap-up. I’ve read lots more books so far this past year, but I thought I’d highlight these as being particularly interesting. What have you all been reading?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer Reading

By Vicki Delany
We're moving into late summer now. Here in Southern Ontario, basically we haven’t had one. I am a heat-freak and this summer has been anything but.  Rain upon rain upon rain and otherwise generally cool and cloudy.  Not a single day with temps above 30.  (Sad face here).

Nothing I like more than to sit in the sun by the pool with my book while everyone else huddles inside with the air conditioning.  Everyone but my mom. I definitely take after her.

Product DetailsAnyway, nothing I can do about it, is there? So I haven’t done as much reading this year as I usually do. See above about sitting in the sun etc.

But what summer reading I have done has generally been good. I have never been one for a so-called beach read. When I have the time to really get into a book, I like something big and thick and complex and fascinating.

I noticed that John had one of the books I am going to recommend on his list.  The Sympathiser by Viet-Thanh-Nguyen is all of the above: big and thick and complex and fascinating. Set partially in Vietnam but mostly in the US after the end of what the Vietnamese call the American War, it’s an examination of the Vietnamese experience in the States and a look at the war through ‘the other sides’ eyes.  As you know, I went to Vietnam last year and loved it, and I’m now enjoying learning more about the country and its people.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train. I liked Train very much, this one was good but not as good, in my mind, but still an examination of the complex lives of women and girls and the dangers they face within and without. One thing I have started noticing lately is that in a lot of modern psychological suspense books there are a very large number of POV characters, sometimes even to the point of there not actually being an identifiable protagonist. You’d be hard pressed to say in Into the Water who the protagonist is. Done well, that works. Done badly, it creates a mess of a book. I’d say it works in Into the Water.

Product DetailsAbout Sixty edited by Christopher Redmond.  I am not a Sherlockian, but I do write the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries, and every book sold in that fictional bookshop is real. I don’t claim to have read them all, but this one appealed to me. There are sixty novels and stories in the original Holmes canon. In About Sixty, a Sherlockian picks one of the sixty and argues as to why it is his or her favourite. It provided a great reminder to me of the stories and an overview of the entire canon.
Vicki Writing (not exactly as shown)
Vicki Reading (not exactly as shown)

The Break by [Vermette, Katherena]The Break by Katherena Vermette. A tale of an indigenous family and community in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  A woman witnesses a crime and calls the police. All the people involved then tell their stories, both leading up to the crime and in the aftermath. In this case I thought the multiple POV and lack of an identifiable protagonist didn’t work.  I had no one to hang my hat on, so to speak, and some trouble keeping track of the characters. Still, I enjoyed it for the insight into the lives of the characters and their often difficult world.  Not for the faint-of-heart and definitely not for anyone who doesn't like bad language.  Almost none of the characters can finish a sentence without a swear word. Sometimes several. 

Product Details

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder.  Not big and thick, but very small, this book was written very quickly at the end of 2016.  We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.  Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience

Product Details

And, because every once in a while, you need light and funny. Caramel Crush by Jenn McKinlay. Who provides just that: light and funny in a classically-styled cozy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Having a Plan

The news this week -- that my laptop insists on delivering to me as breaking news -- has been distracting. Particularly because I'm racing to finish the draft of my nonfiction book while outlining my 1939 thriller. But I realized something important this week. Rather than going along and trying to ignore the news, I need to "go there." I don't do well when I practice positive thinking. Over the years, I've learned that doesn't work because I'm not prepared when, for example, the low tire pressure light comes on as I'm on the interstate on my way to a library event, or when the equipment malfunctions when I'm about to do a Power Point, or when I dribble salad dressing on my blouse right before I'm supposed to speak. So, now I imagine all the things that can go wrong on my way to an event. I print out a copy of my Power Point for myself and a handout of anything I want the audience to be able to see. I have a packet of stain remover if I know I won't have time to change. I feel much more in control when I anticipate and have a plan.

So yesterday when I was trying to write while ignoring the breaking news headline that had popped up on my computer, it occurred to me that I should just stop and do something. On cue my cat Harry strolled into the room. And I acknowledged my "not Boomer" problem. Those of you who have seen Independence Day will recall that Vivica Fox's dog Boomer jumped right out of that car and into the tunnel utility closet when she called to him. He obeyed when he should.

However, Harry is not Boomer. He's a cat, not a dog. He has incredible hearing, but ignores me as if he's deaf. He does not like riding in a car, and will hide under the bed when he sees me bringing in his metal dog crate (big cat). If we need to leave quickly, he is not going to morph into the cat version of Boomer. So yesterday I decided to tackle the problem by running through the Harry scenarios. That inspired me to get out the airline travel carrier I'd ordered for him and put it together. He was curious and spent five minutes inside enjoying the nice, thick cushion. Then I got out the clicker that I bought. The clerk at the pet store assured me that I can train him to come when called. I wanted to try training him, now it's more important. I'm also going to get out the harness that I bought ages ago and have another go at teaching him to walk on leash.

Other items on my list: Buy disposable litter pans. Make a note to put his vaccination papers and medical record into an envelope. Check my own emergency tote that I bought after 9-11. Get out my Army survival manual. . .

And, yes, I am feeling better. I always feel better when I face an issue and do what I can to prepare. Doing something also apparently freed up some brain cells. As I was working at the office at school with Shadow of a Doubt playing in the background (the movie premiered in 1943), it occurred to me that I should be channeling Alfred Hitchcock with my 1939 historical. I can't and don't want to write The Da Vinci Code. I'm more interested in suspense than breakneck speed. And when I began to imagine my book as a Hitchcock thriller, I could see the scenes that had been blurry. The conversation that my villain has with a lovely couple he encounters at the New York World's Fair. His charming manner as he chats with them while watching someone across the room that he suspects is  following him. . .

Of course the outline for the book may be coming together because I've also contemplated writing disaster. I was in a serious panic last week about whether I could actually write a book with a complicated plot, multiple settings, a historical, a thriller. I considered the worst case scenario -- never finishing a book I want so much to write. Now, I'm much calmer, and I have a plan. I'm going full Hitchcock -- reading about and applying his techniques. Whether it works or not, I'm feeling much more in control.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Trip to the Homeland

Donis here. I would love to write about regional idioms till the cows come home, but I'll spare you, Dear Reader, and share several pieces of news instead.

First of all, I've been invited to speak at nine libraries in the Eastern Oklahoma Library District, so I'll be touring the homeland on the Backroads of Eastern Oklahoma. From Sept. 12 through Sept 16, I'll be visiting libraries in Sallisaw, Muldrow, Checotah, Jay, Kansas, Tahlequah, Eufaula, Hulbert, and Muskogee, Oklahoma. At the final event in Muskogee, I'll be joined after my spiel by fellow mystery authors Mary Anna Evans, Will Thomas, and Julia Thomas for a mystery writers' roundtable. All the towns on this tour are fairly small, except for middle-sized Muskogee, which boasts about 40,000 citizens. The library district asked me to come, I expect, because I'm the only person in history to set a series in Muskogee County. A friend of mine said I should use this list of towns as pronunciation test in order to determine who is a native Oklahoman. Good luck. This will be my first trip to Oklahoma in years. To see the full schedule with dates and times, go to my website at Hope to see you there!

In other news, I'm currently copy editing the advance readers copy of my next Alafair Tucker novel, Forty Dead Men. I received a .jpg of the cover a couple of days ago, along with the editor's blurb. The book is scheduled to appear in February. Here's what it is about: Some people who have experienced a shocking, dangerous, or terrifying event develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is recognized today as a debilitating but potentially treatable mental health condition. Military veterans are a vulnerable group. But PTSD can deliver a knockout blow to anyone.

World War I is over. Alafair is overjoyed that her elder son, George Washington Tucker, has finally returned home from the battlefields of France. Yet she is the only one in the family who senses that he has somehow changed.

Gee Dub moves back into his old bunkhouse quarters, but he’s restless and spends his days roaming. One rainy day while out riding he spies a woman trudging along the country road. She’s thoroughly skittish and rejects his help. So Gee Dub cannily rides for home to enlist his mother in offering the exhausted traveler shelter.

Once made comfortable at the Tucker Farm, Holly Johnson reveals she’s forged her way from Maine to Oklahoma in hopes of finding the soldier she married before he shipped to France. At the war’s end, Daniel Johnson disappeared without a trace. It’s been months. Is he alive? Is she a widow?

Holly is following her only lead—that Dan has connected with his parents who live yonder in Okmulgee. Gee Dub, desperate for some kind of mission, resolves to shepherd Holly through her quest although the prickly young woman spurns any aid. Meanwhile, Alafair has discovered that Gee Dub sleeps with two cartridge boxes under his pillow—boxes containing 20 “Dead Men” each. The boxes are empty, save for one bullet. She recognizes in Gee Dub and Holly that not all war wounds are physical.

Then Holly’s missing husband turns up, shot dead. Gee Dub is arrested on suspicion of murder, and the entire extended Tucker family rallies to his defense. He says he had no reason to do it, but the solitary bullet under Gee Dub’s pillow is gone. Regardless, be he guilty or innocent, his mother will travel any distance and go to any lengths to keep him out of prison.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

'Ow's she cuttin', me cocky?

The ongoing posts about dialect, accent, and unique sayings have made me smile, and also made me think about the challenge writers face when creating dialogue in a region or among a group of people with a special lingo. It doesn't have to be an ethnic or geographical group; cops, for example, have their own shorthand for talking among themselves, often referring to the number of the criminal code offence being investigated or the outcome of a call. Outsiders rarely know what the sayings mean, and a discussion among two cops might be incomprehensible to anyone else. Medical personnel, and many other professional groups, have a similar insider language. The writer faces the challenge of how much of this insider language to use, in order to make the scene sound authentic, and how much overwhelms, districts, or confuses the reader.

One of the most unique and colourful, as well as incomprehensible, dialects in the English language is Newfoundlandese. Newfoundland was largely settled two to four hundred years ago by the Irish and West Country English, who brought their own rhythm and dialect with them, and because it's an isolated island, there was little influence from outside until recently. A lively, colourful language evolved, much of it tied to the sea upon which they depended. Some of the unique vocabulary is disappearing now but lingers in the smaller villages and outports. The title phrase in this post means "How are you, my friend?"

My father was a Newfoundlander who, although he moved away as a young man and lived his life as a philosophy professor in Montreal, never lost his love of his homeland and often used phrases unique to there. "Say n'ar word" was one of his favourite, meaning "don't say a word". Another was "knee high to a grasshopper" when referring to something very small. Most Newfoundlanders today can switch back and forth between dialect and standard English, and increasingly the quirky language of the countryside is disappearing, but on my visits there, I found people turned it off and on at will, depending on who they were talking to. Get two Newfoundlanders together, possibly trying to tease a "come from away" like me, and their conversation became incomprehensible.

When I was writing FIRE IN THE STARS, set on the Great Northern Peninsula in western Newfoundland, I wanted to give a hint of the local village language without distracting or confusing the reader. Trying to write "Newfoundlandese" necessitates many apostrophes, as they tend to drop their H's and the G's on the end of ing. The resulting string of written dialogue looks like a mess that the reader struggles to decipher. I opted to sprinkle the examples lightly, to give just a hint of the flavour.

Reaction to my efforts was mixed. Many readers thought I had captured the sound of the language perfectly and they felt as if they were back in that village. A few Newfoundland readers thought I had overdone it and fallen for stereotypes. As a come-from-away, I was very concerned about this possibility, and in fact I had downplayed the dialect in order to avoid it (and for the reason noted above). The language I put in the book was very much what I had heard in the little villages in remote northern Newfoundland.

But any outsider writing about a world that is not their own runs the risk of failing to capture the authentic flavour of a culture. I think we need to do the best we can, research, visit, read, talk to insiders, but then go for it. Venturing into the unknown and exploring new vistas is what writing is all about. If I only wrote about white, middle-aged, urban female psychologists like myself, I would soon run out of ideas.

Not to mention bore myself to death.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

You could be doing something iconic and not realize it -or- why pirates speak the way they do

by Rick Blechta

The two posts by Sybil and Aline about British sayings we’ve had recently here on Type M have been very entertaining. I had originally thought today that I would add my thoughts, but then another “left turn idea” (a saying of my mother’s) jumped into my brain and I’d like to discuss that. Don’t ask me how I got to this point, because I honestly couldn’t tell you.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with pirate movies, the most famous of those being Treasure Island which was made for the Walt Disney studios in 1950. British actor Robert Newton created the iconic rolê of Long John Silver and it really is an amazing performance to watch. He completely dominated every scene he was in and made the rolê his alone.

He went on to play Blackbeard and Long John Silver again in subsequent movies, but the die by that time had already been cast. To almost everyone now, pirates speak with Newton’s West Country accent because, well, that’s the way all pirates spoke.

Truth is, they didn’t. Newton was born in Dorset and spent his formative years almost complete in England’s West Country (generally considered the counties of Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset). When he was cast as Long John, Newton decided to give the character’s speech an amalgam of the regional accents, most heavily drawing on Devon to my ear. When I first visited Devon in 1990, I was charmed that lifelong residents of this beautiful place talked just like pirates. I didn’t hear things like “Avast, me hearties”, or anything, but the accent sounded right out of the Treasure Island I loved so much as a child.

It took a British friend to explain it all to me how the pirate thing came about. True, the West Country provided an awful lot of seafaring men over the years, and some of them did wind up being “bad-uns”, but the truth was that Robert Newton had unintentionally single-handedly given pirates their modern voice. (My friend, Martin Smith, also does a side-splitting imitation of Newton complete with the sideways squint.)

Sidebar: If you’re not aware, September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and on that date, you’re supposed to speak just like a pirate would. Guess who the “patron saint” of that event is?

Now, the question is did Newton set out to set the mark for how we think of pirates speaking? I’m sure it was just another job for him, but in crafting his performance, he did accomplish exactly that. His performance took over our perceptions of what a right and proper pirate is supposed to sound like. Part of the credit must certainly also go to Robert Louis Stevenson’s original strong characterization of Long John who also dominates the original story. But anyone reading his novel today will certainly have Newton in their ear whenever Long John speaks.

Because that’s the way all pirates talk, innit?

(The book photo above is from an early 20th Century copy of Treasure Island illustrated by N.C. Wyeth of which I happily inherited a copy from my mother. It is a gorgeous thing with tissue paper covering the fabulous illustrations inside.)

Monday, August 07, 2017

It's Not What You Say It's The Way That You Say It

I enjoyed Sybil's post about popular sayings on both sides of the Atlantic, and I thought it might amuse you to hear a few Scots ones.  The Scots have a rich vein of humor and vocabulary and I've chosen a few of my favorites - with translations where necessary!

Who stole your scone? What's the matter with you?  Said to someone looking annoyed. (A scone - to rhyme with 'gone' - is something between a biscuit and a muffin, recipe on request!)

You make a better door than a window  You're blocking my view

She's up to high doh  She's wound up to the top of the scale.

You look like something the cat's dragged in  A bad hair day plus.

You never died a winter yet  Even if things are bad, you'll come through it as you always have

He got his head in his hands and his lugs to play with  He got into serious trouble.

You're a long time dead  Or as the Romans put it, rather more elegantly, Carpe diem.

What's for you will not go by you  Don't worry, what's meant to happen will happen.

Your head's full of mince and not a tattie in sight  You're talking complete rubbish.  (Mince - hamburger - and tatties - potatoes - is a basic Scottish dish)

It's no aye the loudest bummer's the best bee  My favorite, this one!  The Scots word for bees buzzing is 'bumming' and this means it's not always that the person who makes the most noise is the best.

And now the American idioms I fell in love with when I first came to the States at the age of twenty, spoken by my Californian hostess:  'Well, I'll be a son of a gun!'; 'If that was a snake, it would have bitten me' ; 'This town is for the birds.'

How rich we all are in colorful language!

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Making the Deadline … or Not

Several years ago, I asked SJ Rozan to recommend a new series featuring a female police officer. SJ looked up from her lunch and said unequivocally, "Naomi Hirahara's bike cop, Ellie Rush." I ran out, bought, MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE, loved it, taught it, and my students fell in love with Naomi, albeit vicariously (she eventually led a Skype class for me). She has been a dear friend -- and a writer I admire -- since.
Aside from the Ellie Rush series, this week's guest, Naomi Hirahara, is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Japanese American gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes. Books in this series have been translated into Japanese, Korean and French. She has written a YA novel, 1001 CRANES, which was chosen as an Honor Book for the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2009. She has worked as a journalist, editing the largest Japanese American newspaper in the U.S., and has published numerous nonfiction works. Her short stories have been included in various anthologies.

By Naomi Hirahara

I pride myself in meeting deadlines. I cut my teeth in journalism, and the consequences of not making my deadline were very immediate, visible and audible. We had our own press at our newspaper, so experiencing unhappy pressmen was not my idea of having a good time. It was beneficial, however, to see how our tardiness on the editorial side would set off a domino effect on other parts of the operation -- in particular, production and distribution. One of my late predecessors, in fact, even had a column with the proud title, “Making the Deadline.”

That experience has carried me through writing novels. I know not making the deadline is going to affect my editor and everyone involved in polishing and editing the manuscript, sales, etc. So I don't consider asking for a writing extension a minor request.

But with my last mystery manuscript I needed to see I could get one. As I was balancing a nonfiction book-length project with this mystery one, I carefully timed my writing schedule, I knew that I somehow could get produce the volume of pages. On one crucial day, I wasn't feeling well, not necessarily healthwise but in my head. I had labored with this manuscript and its very big and personal themes and all that was taking a toll on me. I knew that some of middle sections were rushed and the action sequences needed more rewriting. I had to finally take a breath and slow the writing machine down to address these issues. So what did I do? Immediately e-mail my editor/publisher.

One thing I've learned over the years is when I need to deliver unwanted news is take care of it as soon as possible. Whether I'm late to an appointment or need to have a difficult conversation, I don't postpone. That helps no one. So when I feel I'm having problems with my manuscript, I don't wait to the very last minute to contact my editor, I do it as soon as I sense a problem. It's always good, however, to devise a compromise.

In this most recent case, I knew that I could easily complete the whole manuscript aside from the final chapter by the deadline. I promised to turn in the last chapter a week later. So while I know that's a very important to meet deadlines, I also know that it's possible to renegotiate them, too. Just make sure that you keep the lines of communication open. It seems so obvious, but for some, that's the hardest thing to do.

(A version of this essay was first posted on Naomi Hirahara’s Facebook Author Page as part of her Writing Wednesday series.

For more information, go to her website,
And yes, she did meet her negotiated deadline! The seventh and final Mas Arai mystery will be released in March 2018 in conjunction with Left Coast Crime Reno, in which she will be an honored guest with William Kent Krueger.)

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Friend I Never Met


Yesterday the New York Times announced the death of Rula Quawas,  a Jordanian woman, who died at the age of 57. She was a prominent academic and champion of women's rights.

She was my friend.

It came about in a strange way. When she was studying in the United States she did a paper on my first novel, Come Spring. As I recall, she identified with the emotions of a woman coming to a strange land. The feelings common to outsiders is nearly universal, whether they are felt by a student going off to college, a young bride moving to a different state, or even professionals beginning a new job.

Rula specialized in feminism in American literature and founded the Women's Studies Center at the University of Jordan. I was humbled that she included my book on her required reading list.

When I read this article in the Times, I unwrapped the six needlepoint coasters she made for me. I want to display them in my office in a special shadow box. We exchanged Christmas cards and a number of letters.

Her biography is lengthy and a litany of prestigious awards. She received a doctorate in American literature and feminist theory from the University of Texas. In 2013 she was named a Fulbright scholar in residence to the University of Vermont. In 2009 Princes Basma Bint Talai presented her with a Meritorious Honor Award for Leadership and Dedication for her efforts to empower women.

Several times she invited me to come to Jordan and visit. I day-dreamed about the trip but never did. It sounded like an overwhelmingly exotic thing to do.

Novels touch in people in unexpected ways. Who would have thought that the loneliness of a woman on the plains of Western Kansas would strike a common chord with a Jordanian intellectual?

I was very sorry to read about the death of this courageous and inspirational woman.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Where are we all headed?

By “we” I mean writers. And by “headed” I mean, What will the future of professional writing look like?

This is a topic I’ve found myself discussing often recently. I mentor writing teachers often, and when we talk about how to best prepare student writers for the future, I keep coming back to NetFlix.

Crazy for a book lover to say that? Maybe. But maybe not.

I live in a house connected to a dorm that is home to 180 teenagers, and I teach and work with these students eight to 12 hours a day. I know their interests and have a pretty good handle on what makes this group of next-generation professional writers tick. And as a writing instructor and literature teacher, I need to meet students where they are as I create curricula (for students) and design workshops (for writing instructors).

This is where it gets interesting: where are student writers learning the art of narrative?

When teaching Dickens or Conan Doyle, we talk about serial publications and discuss how readers eagerly awaited the next – weekly – installment of the story. Recently, I found myself in conversations where I said, Kids are learning narrative structure and the uses of narrative tension from shows they watch (or “binge watch”) on Netflix. (Admittedly, as someone trying hopelessly to catch up to the upcoming season of House of Cards, I know where they’re coming from.)

Would I rather students actually read Dickens’s novels or all of Conan Doyle’s work (or even the Harry Potter books instead of viewing the films)? No doubt. But I have reason to be hopeful. This spring, I offered my Crime Literature students an alternative to our term paper: Create an NPR-style podcast. S-Town is popular among them. Not all, but maybe a third of the class took me up on it. They produced detailed scripts (complete with background music, street sounds, etc), researched widely and deeply (the paper topic is Discuss the symbiotic relationship between crime and society, so it’s wide open), and produced 8-minute podcasts. And these were terrific, impressing peer students, my English department colleagues, and blowing me away.

The assignment didn’t introduce them to television writing per se, but it did expose them to the digital form – and just maybe to the place where narrative and technology will intersect in their futures.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Happy as Larry

I watch a lot of British TV, especially in the summer when the TV networks in the U.S. are largely on hiatus. My latest viewing: Broadchurch, Doc Martin, The Tunnel and The Great British Baking Show. I talked about my obsession with GBBS awhile back on Type M. You can read about that here.

I find the differences between American and British English endlessly fascinating so, as I watch, I collect words and phrases that aren’t normally used here in the U.S. Or at least I’ve never heard them. I can generally figure out what they mean from context, but not always. Here are a few I found particularly interesting:

Happy as Larry – I’ve heard ‘happy as a lark’ and ‘happy as a clam’, but never anything to do with someone named Larry. Just who is this Larry and why is he so happy?

Most comments on this expression reference the Australian boxer Larry Foley (1847-1917) who never lost a fight. When he retired at 32, he collected a purse of 1,000 pounds for his final fight and professed to being happy with his lot. This is about the time the phrase is first cited. There’s another suggestion that it comes from an Australian and New Zealand term larrikin, a name for a street rowdy or young urban hooligan from the 1860s or so. I prefer the boxer reference so that’s what I’m going with.

Keep your hair on – I heard this one on the second season of the The Tunnel. In the U.S., I hear “keep your shirt on”, but I’ve never heard anything about keeping hair on. They both mean remain calm and stop being so angry about something. I have to admit, I prefer “don’t get your knickers in a twist”, which I gather is another Britishism. I don’t remember where I heard or read this one, but it’s something I’ve used for a long time.

Drive a coach and horses through... Apparently, this means to completely destroy something, a plan, a rule, a life. The early uses seem to be regarding legislation where someone has found a hole so large you could figuratively drive a coach and horses through it, thus rendering it useless. Someone in The Tunnel said he felt like someone had “driven a coach and horses through his life”.

Sleep for England – From the context, I assumed this meant slept a long time or very soundly. From what I’ve read online it means that if there were an English national sleeping team, the person would be on it. I gather there are other variants such as “drink for England”

Another one I heard was “what it says on the 10”. I couldn’t find out anything about this one and I couldn’t really figure it out from the context. Did I hear it wrong? Anybody have any idea what it means?

My favorite expression of all time, though, comes from the American south: “Madder than a mosquito in a mannequin factory.” One of these days I’ll figure out how to get that one in a story

Type M readers, do you have any favorite expressions?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017


by Rick Blechta

noun: exigency; plural noun: exigencies
an urgent need or demand.
“Women worked long hours when the exigencies of the family economy demanded it.”
synonyms: need, demand, requirement, necessity

This has become a big word around the Blechta household. My wife Vicki, the French linguist, likes to use it (exigence) when talking about the way she approaches music and teaching, and it’s rubbed off on me. To sum up a whole lot of thoughts, the meaning for us is to make sure you’re doing a task correctly — and doing it until it’s completely done.

It’s never good to fake things or take unnecessary shortcuts in life, even when driven by contingencies, and if you are not forced onto that path, you should never fall victim to that siren song. At least that’s what my parents tried to drive into my head. It took me a long time and many unnecessary hard knocks before I realized they weren’t just being “annoying parents”.

It is tough to be that kind of demanding on yourself. The writer’s craft is one place positively brimming with reasons to be particularly exigent. Has everything been a researched as it should be? Is every word correct and the best choice? How about grammatical construction, spelling, correct word usage? The list goes on and on. Handing in a manuscript full of (usually avoidable) errors shows lack of professionalism and craftsmanship. If pressed, every writer would swear that they don’t cut corners. I definitely would. But truth be told, I have been guilty of it at times, even though there’s a certain self-loathing involved.

Right now, I’m faced with it every day while doing my Last Great Graphic Design Job, the Bouchercon 2017 Programme Book. I spent uncounted (but not unfelt) hours logging in over 700 author photos, all of which needed to be cropped and adjusted to fit the design with which I’d come up. All ads needed to be check thoroughly so I could be sure they’d print properly. And now as I’m laying out the pages, I have to check, re-check, and re-check again that I haven’t made any errors in executing my page designs.

It is a pain for sure, but in the end, the heart of the meaning of exigency is the search for perfection. And the only way to attempt to achieve perfection is through the use of extreme exigence.

I’ll let you know if ever do reach that exalted summit in a project.