Saturday, June 30, 2018

Guest Post - Lida Sideris

Please welcome the wonderful Lida Sideris to Type M! Lida writes the Southern California Mystery series featuring newly-minted lawyer Corrie Locke. I first met Lida on an author panel at Book Carnival in Orange, CA featuring me, Lida and Diane Vallere. We all had a great time and I’ve enjoyed doing other events with Lida since then. Take it away, Lida...

Writing Short

by Lida Sideris

A few mystery novelists have told me it's not easy to write short. Short stories, that is. Yet others excel at crafting them. About a year ago, I read about a submission call for New England crime stories to be included in a short story anthology. I'm SoCal born and raised, but I did spend a little time in Boston recently. This was the perfect opportunity to experiment. I had nothing to lose by trying, right?

As the deadline for submission approached, I chained myself to my chair, using high-grade, escape-proof iron, all prepped to plow ahead with my short story. There was only one, small problem: I didn’t know what to write about. One thing I knew for certain: my setting would be Boston. The anthology required either New England based authors or settings. I knew the locale well, but who would be my hero/heroine?

I scanned Boston headlines and learned that the central police headquarters had a diverse pool of officers and a talented crew of cadets. One young police cadet caught my attention. She'd earned a commendation for helping detectives apprehend a felon. My heroine was born.

Meanwhile, I had another character swirling around in my head. A character based upon a real-life encounter I'd had with an older gent who'd visited my day job. I run a legal non-profit where we try to help those who've exhausted other sources of legal assistance. A cane-carrying senior citizen walked into my office one day, wearing big black shades and velcro sneakers. He needed help with an insurance matter, but right before he left, he added a little tidbit about being watched by the government. Guess who ended up in my short story? The mysterious senior was going to encounter my cadet. But what kind of encounter?

For me, the hardest part in writing a novel is the beginning. I discovered the same to be true for a short story. I like starting off with action, so I threw my heroine, Cadet Lyndrea Watson, into the police station, manning the front desk and nearing the end of her shift. Lyndrea needed to behave the way I imagined a young police cadet would behave: ever helpful, kind, responsible, and conscientious. Always striving to do her best. And she was doing just that when confronted by a cane-carrying older man wearing black, space invader type shades. He approached her, asked a few questions, and said he’ll wait for her outside. What did he want?

Reading more headlines helped me answer that question. Soon my cadet was tracking a suspected drug dealer in Boston Common. Nearly 5000 words later, a short story was born.

Lida Sideris is an author, lawyer, and all-around book enthusiast. She writes soft-boiled mysteries and was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America scholarship award for her first novel, Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters. Murder Gone Missing is the second in her Southern California Mystery series and continues the misadventures of a newly-minted lawyer whose gene for caution is a recessive one. Lida's short story, "The Nut Job" was included in Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories published by Level Best Books in November 2017. Lida lives in the northern tip of SoCal with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Writing as Continuing Education

Yesterday I was thinking about a book -- a hefty volume -- that I owned years ago and probably still have on a book shelf somewhere. The title, as I recall, was An Incomplete Education. I can't remember where I bought it, but I'm sure I was drawn to this book because of the title. In spite of the fact that I have a PhD, my education in some areas has been haphazard. One thing I always wanted as a child was to "know stuff". I wanted to be well-rounded. I ended up with a deep knowledge of some topics and only enough information to know how much I don't know about others. As I recall, this book was divided into categories, such as Music. The premise was that all "educated" adults should possess certain basic information.

I remember that I set out to work my way through the book, but I was soon bored with the process.  I am the kind of learner who learns best when I am following my nose. For example, I have no interest in baseball as a game. But when I was creating John Quinn, the  homicide detective that my crime historian Lizzie Stuart was about to meet in Death's Favorite Child, I wondered what he would be interested in. I pulled baseball out of the air -- maybe I was flipping by a game on television.

I filed the baseball idea away because it was irrelevant to the first book in the series. But baseball -- a sport I still know little about -- has weaved it's way into my writing over the years. When Lizzie goes to Chicago in You Should Have Died on Monday, the fourth book in the series, she goes to a sports store to buy Quinn a White Sox cap, and -- as a crime historian -- thinks for a few moments about the 1919 World Series.

Even if I don't feel inclined to rush to a stadium, I have pondered the arguments that a friend, who loves baseball, makes  -- that there is something magical about the game, that it is a "thinking person's game," that the rituals around baseball are worthy of note. So when a new friend mentioned that he collects the figures of baseball players from each team, my ears perked up. When I joined him and his wife for dinner, I had a chance to see his collection on display. And, suddenly I had another character who loved baseball -- a secondary detective in my Hannah McCabe police procedural novels.  In one scene, Pettigrew, my detective, recalls going to a baseball stadium with his father. He has a collection of baseball players.

I suspect that one day I will go to a baseball game because, as little interest as I have in the sport, it  keeps weaving its way into my consciousness. There are other topics that I've included in my books because they are necessary to time and place. Others that I've dug into because of something that I read or saw in passing. Some have been fun to learn more about, others disturbing. When possible I've done on-location research. Here's a short list from a couple of decades of writing:
--Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London
--the artist colony in St. Ives, Cornwall
--The conception of of King Arthur
--peanut allergies
--early 20th century drug addiction
--doll collecting
--brothel cuisine
--training for half-marathons
--gangsters in 1960s Chicago
--female blues singers
--New Orleans radio
--migrant labor on the Eastern Shore of Virginia
--how to escape from a car trunk
--peacocks and their habits
--voice-over acting
--soap opera writing
--the lobster industry in Maine
--West Point and cadet life in the 1970s
--Ranger training
--phenol poisoning
--Maine coons
--Lewis Carroll
--Characters in Alice in Wonderland
--Central Park in NYC
--The Wizard of Oz and the origin of the yellow brick road
--3-D autopsies
--virtual reality
--surveillance systems
--vertical gardening
--World War II nurses
--parrots (care, vocabulary, and response to anxiety)
--upstate New York villages
--amateur theaters in the 1940s
--Somerset Maugham and Raffles Hotel
--how to make a Singapore Sling
--the lifespan and migratory habits of eels
--1939 New York City World's Fair
--Pullman sleeping cars
--the premier of "Gone with the Wind" in Atlanta
--Eleanor Roosevelt's newspaper column

The list goes on, but you get the idea. My education may still be incomplete, but I think I might be able to make a respectable showing on Jeopardy (a fantasy of mine).

How has being a writer contributed to your continuing education?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

More Writers on Writing, or Misery Loves Company

I'm having trouble with my work in progress. I'm always having trouble with my work in progress, whatever novel that may be and whenever I am working on it. I was moaning to myself about it recently, as I tend to do, when it occurred to me that when it comes to writing, I'm quite the whiney little creature and have been from the beginning. I think writing is difficult. The reason I think so is because I can never get my stories to turn out on the page as wonderfully as they are in my head, so I just keep whittling and trying this and trying that. Consequently I'm a slow writer, especially compared to many many of my friends and colleagues who shall remain nameless because I am eaten up with envy.

You'd think after ten books I'd have figured out that eventually I will make the appropriate choices and everything will work out. But no, I live in fear that this is the book that's going to defeat me at last. So when I get into this tiresome state of mind, it helps me to remember that far more successful authors than I have also wallowed in doubt, and yet the muses somehow triumph.

Allow me to share a few of the words of wisdom I have recently uncovered which have given me hope, perspective, and comfort about the art:

I like that no less a luminary than Thomas Mann said that, "a writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people." Right on, Brother Thomas.

My new book will be set in the 1920s, so during my research I'm continually coming across quotes by Dorothy Parker. Most of her genius quips have to do with other aspects of life than writing, (one I particularly identify with is, "I've never been a millionaire but I know I would be just darling at it.") but anyone who knows me knows that one of my writing mantras is, "I hate writing. I love having written."

Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird by Bird, is also a lovely essay about life. But she does look at the craft of writing with an unsentimental eye when she says, "Writing is easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat." However she does give me hope when she notes that, ""big sloppy imperfect messes have value."

Another of my favorites is Somerset Maugham, who said, "The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected," which ought to give hope to anyone going through the agony of trying to get published. Rejection after rejection still doesn't mean you aren't good. Sadly if you want to know what to do about it, Maugham hits the nail on the head with, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." So good luck.

But you finally struggle through and get the book written, you persevere through rejection and find a publisher, and after all your work and suffering your book is released into the wide world and your labor of love is out of your hands at last. And then? I'll let journalist Murray Kempton have the last word:

"A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Finding my muse

Aline's post about chattering monkeys and accessing our subconscious connected with me on so many levels. I've always believed writing - the creative process of it - was part magic, and I never wanted to analyze it too closely for fear of losing that magic. I love that my mind goes to unexpected places, and that ideas pop randomly into it while I'm in the middle of a scene. It's one of the reasons I am primarily a "pantser" rather than a plotter. My creative juices only start to flow once I am immersed in the story, fully engaged and racing with it, and if I had an outline telling me what was supposed to come next, I would feel frustrated and straitjacketed. Knowing me, I would toss out the outline and go with the new idea.

That's not to say there's no discipline or no just plain slogging in my writing process. Brilliant ideas and leaps in the story do not come all the time, and in between those leaps, I still have to create coherent scenes, make the characters consistent and vivid, fashion the setting, etc. But that magic of the imagination is the centrepiece of the process.

I think everyone's access to magic is unique, which is one reason why I've never been a fan of "how to" books. A writer can learn a lot about creating character, dialogue, setting, vivid language, etc. - all the mechanics of our craft - from books and workshops, but I'm deeply suspicious of "experts" who try to tell you how to craft a novel. Seven steps to the perfect novel, etc. Useful guidelines if you're stuck or self-editing afterwards, but the first draft needs freedom from rules. At least my first drafts do.

In that vein, what helps that freedom? What encourages that magic? We all have our favourite writing places and our favourite rituals – those places that nurture inspiration and bring us a sense of transcendence. Aline alluded to the view of trees and hills that brought peace and connectedness, that sets the mind free to float. Nature does that for me too, but not just any nature. I think it's nature that hints at infinity, like the vista from the top of a mountain, or the shores of an ocean, or a glorious sky at sunset, or, strangely, a fire.

Nature transports, but not always to peace and tranquillity. Sometimes it is awe-inspiring, fierce, or wild, and all these feelings can find their way onto the page. So sometimes I choose my location depending on the emotion I need to write the scene.

Most of my favourite writing places are close to nature, either on a chaise long on my deck or on the dock overlooking the lake. Or if it's wintertime, curled up by the fire. There's something primal about fire and water that seems to stir the subconscious.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Looks as if print books might be here to stay.

by Rick Blechta

I found an interesting article on the Penguin Random House website about book reading trends in the US. Read it by clicking HERE. I’ll wait while you do.

Okay, so the big take-away is that Americans are still reading at roughly the same rate as last year: 72% having read or partially read at least one book. That’s sort of good news. (I’d like to know the number of people who read more than one book, though. I think that would probably be more telling. My guess is that the number would drop precipitously.)

Anyway, the other big takeaway from the article is this: the level of market penetration by e-books appears to be flattening. Now that is interesting.

It wasn’t so long ago that there was great hand-wringing over “the death of printed books.” The way the pundits told it, in a short time we’d all be carrying around tablets or Kindles or the like and libraries with shelves full of books would start to disappear. For those of us who enjoy holding a “real” book in our hands, that was a pretty scary scenario. The thought of new books only coming out electronically with no print versions available anymore would be very sad to face.

However, if you’ve been around the block more than a handful of times, you know how it is when a technological advancement comes along. For example, television was supposed to be the death knell for radio and movie theatres. Never happened. Another example: CDs were going to bury vinyl recordings, and for a while, they did. But now, improbably, vinyl is making somewhat of a comeback due to its better sound reproduction. DVDs did replace video cassettes — as CDs replaced audio cassettes — but that was more a function of convenience. Cassettes were very clunky and unreliable, plus they degraded badly over time.

Back to e-books and the article mentioned above. Something else screamed out at me that you may not have noticed: reading of printed books in the 18-29 age range was over double that of reading books in a digital format. Knowing how young people love their electronic gadgets, I was quite astounded.

Looks as if electronic books are finding their high-water mark in the great scheme of things in the same way that television found its place.

If you’d asked me even three years ago, I would have reversed those numbers. My supposition was that printed books would not disappear, but that books in electronic formats would account for the majority of sales with good old paper hanging on because of old farts like me.

Shows how much the pundits and trend-makers know…

Monday, June 25, 2018

The External Subconscious

I have just come back, very reluctantly, from our French holiday.  Yes I know, kicking and screaming and lying on the quay sobbing isn't dignified, but - well, you know how it is.  It doesn't seem right to stop doing something that is so obviously exactly what you were born to do - sitting in sunny shade, reading, a cool glass of something just to hand...

I read a lot of good books. I like ones that are a bit off the beaten track, one of which was Why Are We Conscious? by Dr David Jones. He was a maverick scientist, a professor at Newcastle University.
He wrote a column for the New Scientist and later for Nature under the name of Daedalus and the columns were later published as a book, A Compendium of Implausible Science - wacky ideas about inventions that were plausible scientifically but that were just plain crazy. (He got a surprising number of people writing in to ask if they were copyrighted or if they could produce them commercially.)  But he was also the person who explained the presence of arsenic in the body of Napoleon, which had always raised suspicion that the British had poisoned him, by establishing that the green wallpaper in his St Helena bedroom took its colour from arsenic dye and exuded toxic fumes.  He designed a chemical garden for a NASA space trip and he designed a 'perpetual motion' wheel whose mechanism completely flummoxed MIT scientists and which is still, a year after his death, steadily turning round.

The book I read, published just before he died, is about the nature of consciousness, or perhaps even more the nature of the subconscious.  He postulates a sort of unknown world outside our conscious mind to which our subconscious has access, explaining effects like telepathy.  What he describes as the 'chattering monkey' of our conscious mind blocks our awareness of it.

It's a lot more complicated and scientific than that and there's a lot of the book I don't understand.  There's a lot I don't believe too - David was the brother of a close friend  and I knew his mischievous fondness for flying a kite just to provoke a reaction.  But as a writer, some of it spoke to me.

Do you sometimes reread one of your books and think, 'Now where on earth did that come from?'  Do you sometimes find yourself writing faster and faster to get down thoughts that you're not really controlling, they're just coming through?  That for me is the addictive part of writing.

When we choose a gite for our holidays it's very important that there is a view - not something spectacular, necessarily, just one where we can look out to hills and trees, particularly in the evening when after a hot day the earth seems to breathe a sigh of relief and the only sound is birds sleepily muttering as they go to roost.  As I look out to the horizon I can feel a sort of disengagement from my 'chattering monkey' mind and yes, it's when ideas start to come.

An external subconscious?  Who knows.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Tale of Two Books...with a bonus

July 10 is the laydown date, to use a vintage publishing term, for the release of Blood and Gasoline, the latest anthology from Hex Publishers and which I edited. John Hartness wrote the foreword and I lifted this to use as the cover blurb: Mad Max meets Sons of Anarchy. It's a collection of desperate characters cornered in desperate situations--my kind of stories. I won't say which were my favorite because I can't; they all kick ass! Some contributors hit the theme of the anthology square--High-Octane, High-Velocity Action!--while others approached the premise in a more round-about way. I guess the difference is between getting blasted with a shotgun versus getting shivved in the neck. In any event, the stories won't disappoint. If you're in the Denver area, the book launch is July 10, 7PM, Tattered Cover Colfax.

The second book is one that a friend turned me onto, Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This is a study of human sociological evolution in which he starts with the prehistoric origins of humans, moving to how we "homo sapiens" became the dominant of the human species, and then how we progressed through what he defines as the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions. His discourse into the Cognitive period was the most illuminating as he explained why we need to cook food, for example, and more to the point of this blog, that we needed to invent stories and myths to bind together as societies. However, the second half of the book drags and he keeps repeating himself. The narrative, sadly, betrays his leftist slant, and he frequently uses the US and Christianity as the bad examples, shying away from similar criticism of his home state of Israel, the European Union, Judaism, Islam, or any other of the SJW sacred cows. In his Q&A, he again chastises the US, this time for our reaction to 9/11, calling terrorism the equivalent to a fly in a china shop. As if the cold-blooded murder of almost 3000 people in a single day was simply the action of a fly. Harari is enamored with technology and gushes on how science can cure our ills while never mentioning how it can overcome poverty and crime. Show me the nanobots and other futuristic gizmos that will eliminate murder, avarice, lust, envy, sloth, mendacity, and greed. I'll bet good money that in Harari's fanciful tomorrow, people will still be as rotten as they've always been. Which is good for us crime writers.

For your summer listening recreation, here's my audio short story about opioid addiction, robbery, a vampire, and murder on Short Tale Broadcasts, Takers Find Givers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yanny v. Laurel

I’ve finished reviewing the ARC proofs of Designed For Haunting and I’ve started on Ghosts of Painting Past. My life right now consists of that plus figuring out promotional events for when Designed launches October 9th. And, honestly, I’m a bit tired of it all. So I’ve decided to think about something else.

Do you all remember the gold vs. blue dress controversy awhile back? Here’s the photo that went viral and caused all sorts of discussion over what color the dress really is.

I, myself, see gold and white in this particular picture. I know some people who swear it’s blue and black. You wouldn’t think a picture would be so controversial, would you? How can that happen? you ask. Here’s an article on the science behind it all and why some people see one thing and some another.

According to it, my brain was confused and working overtime. Since my brain usually feels like it’s working overtime, I’m not all that surprised

The latest in these things appears to be the Yanny vs. Laurel audio clip that’s been going around. Listen and see what you hear:

So, which is it for you? I clearly hear Laurel and, when I was watching The Ellen DeGeneres Show, that seems to have been what the majority of audience members heard also.

Here’s an explanation of that one from CNN:

Another explanation I read said that what you hear depends on your age. Someone processed the audio recording so you could hear both Yanny and Laurel.

None of this really matters, of course, unless you think about how witnesses to crimes can say they saw or heard very different things. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Profound disappointment at the finish line

by Rick Blechta

Everyone likes being told a good story. They provide so much enjoyment and make the outside world melt away. If the tale really resonates with you, you might find it still in your thoughts for years. It could even have the power to change your life.

For me, it’s money well spent to buy such a book, but you don’t even have to do that if you’re a library user or if someone loans it to you. Or maybe it’s a TV show or movie. In this day and age it’s easy to just turn on one’s computer and stream it. Let’s face it, the only investment you actually need to make is your own time.

Put like everything else in existence, there’s a flip side to this coin. You run the risk of getting to the end of what you think has been a great story and the book, play, TV show has a less than satisfactory ending? For me, my immediate thought is I’ve invested all these hours for what? This ending is crap!

I spent about ten hours over the past week watching a series called The Alienist on Netflix . I was initially attracted to it because it takes place in 1896 in New York City, and I’ve always been interested in that location during that time period.

And for ten episodes, I wasn’t let down. The production had a uniformly good cast and the location shots were fabulous. (Who knew Budapest looks so much like NYC in 1896?) and the plot was pretty good. Of course a serial killer is on the loose and it’s up to the alienist (a precursor of the modern psychiatrist) to sort it all out. Everything was moving along tickety-boo until the climax. The thud as the series stumbled and fell at the finish line was nearly audible. I don’t remember ever being so let down by a story. Seriously.

I was all set this week to talk about this show and suggest that anyone interested in period crime fiction should watch it. But that has to change to, “Don’t bother wasting your time.”

Okay, folks, question time: What book/movie/TV show has provided the biggest let-down ending for you?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Searching for Inspiration

By Vicki Delany

THE SPOOK IN THE STACKS, published on June 12 by Crooked Lane Books, is my 30th published book.  Wow! Seems like a lot.  It is a lot.

What thirty novels means, is that I’m running out of ‘ideas’.  Ah, yes, the proverbial ‘idea’.  At the beginning of my writing career I had SOMETHING TO SAY. My standalones (Burden of Memory, Scare the Light Away) discussed, in broad terms, the changing role of women and effect of events of the past on the present. The first Constable Molly Smith book (In the Shadow of the Glacier) was about forgetting the past, and asks if that is ever desirable or even possible.  The eighth Molly Smith book, Unreasonable Doubt, was about a man who’d spent twenty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and asked how could that happen.

It’s not so much that I don’t have anything to say any more, but maybe that I don’t want to write about it.  So now I write cozy mysteries, which really don’t have anything much to do with the larger pictures of redemption, justice, revenge, etc etc, although they do have a lot to say about character and friendship.

Which means I am sometimes in search of inspiration. One of the ways I’ve found it is in the world of classic novels.

Case in point: My lighthouse library series, of which The Spook in the Stacks is the latest. One of the premises of that series is that the book the classic novel reading club is reading is reflected in the plot of my book.  In Reading Up A Storm, they’re reading Kidnaped by Robert Louis Stevenson.  

Reading up A Storm opens with a shipwreck during a storm, and ends with an idea to capture the bad guy taken directly from Kidnapped.  The Spook in the Stacks is set over Halloween, but because this is a light, funny mystery I didn’t want to use a true horror novel. So I hit on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving. (Warning for those wanting to read along: Bracebridge is long, and very dull.) Two men vie for the affections of the rich man’s (grand)daughter. An idea straight out of Sleepy Hollow.

Vicki Reading (not exactly as shown)
Vicki Writing (not exactly as shown)

In the fifth book, Something Read Something Dead (coming in March 2019), cousin Josie is planning her wedding and the club is reading The Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers.

Once I had the idea, or the inspiration, I made it my own. My books are not an attempt to recreate these classic works, but maybe just to pay homage to them.

As well as giving me ideas, they’ve made me re-read some of the world’s great books.  And that’s always an inspiration.

What's your favourite classic novel? Maybe I can use it in the Lighthouse Library series one day.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Setting and Social Issues

Yesterday in her post, Donis wrote, "Setting is important to characterization." I've been thinking about that because of a brief conversation that I had with a colleague a couple of days ago. She was talking with a group of other people and as she saw me walking by, she paused to tell me she had finished reading all five of my Lizzie Stuart novels and the two Hannah McCabe novels set in Albany. I was pleased when she said she'd enjoyed all the books -- and surprised when she said the fifth book in the Lizzie Stuart's series, Forty Acres in a Soggy Grave, had been her favorite.

If I had been asked, I would have suspected that the fourth book, You Should Have Died on Monday, would be the one most readers liked best. That book had an interesting cover, introduced Lizzie's mother, the femme fatale, moved from Chicago to New Orleans. That book got great reviews. The fifth book came out with little fanfare. I was worried that I might have offended folks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. In the book, I'd use the real name of the location because it would have been obvious and because it was crucial to the book -- a barrier island, wildlife, farms, migrant labor, agribusiness, pollution, land-use issues.

I knew after my first visit that I wanted to set a book there. I loved Eastern Shore. I went back again as I was writing and spent another week at a bed and breakfast to make sure I was highlighting what made the peninsula unique. But the plot of my mystery was inspired by a  newspaper headline that I'd discovered from 2004, the year (in the recent past of my series) that the book was set. Starting there was probably not the best way to highlight the beauty of the setting.

In retrospect, after the book was published, I feared that I had gone too dark. Yesterday, I flipped through the book again, reading the last few chapters. I'll need to read it all in a couple of months when my editor at Speaking Volumes prepares the manuscript for the reissue. But I was curious about whether I had short-changed this literary child of mine. I think I did. It received fewer Amazon reviews than the other books in the series, but the reviewers generally liked the book. What they liked was the characterizations and the relationships.

This time around, I'm going to send Forty Acres out into the world with a hug and pave its way. I couldn't have written any other story. Setting and characters came together, and the clash was disconcerting, but important to the series. The ending was satisfying for me, and for the readers who understood it was the completion of a series arc that had begun four books earlier. Now, as I move on to the next book, the characters are in a different place in their lives.

Next stop, Santa Fe -- and that setting, too, is crucial.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Places We'll Write About

I've been thinking about surroundings lately.  My own private space says a lot about me, and it's made me consider how important it is, therefore, to describe a character's environment a novel. You can learn a lot about him from the setting in which he is placed.

You know how it is when you buy a red Toyota, thinking you're all unique, and then every other car you see on the drive home is a red Toyota?  It's the same with what you think are original observations. Rhys Bowen said that when she begins a novel, she often doesn’t know the complete cast of characters, who’s going to get killed or how, or who did the deed, but she knows where the story will unfold.

The very night before I heard Rhys say this, I was reading  P.D. James’ book on writing entitled Talking About Detective Fiction, and came across this :  “My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by a method of murder or a character."    She then describes a moment when she was standing on a deserted beach in East Anglia.  She could imagine standing in the same place hundreds of years ago, until she turned around and saw a nuclear power plant, and “immediately I knew that I had found the setting for my next novel.”

Ms. James also observes that : "When an author describes a room in the victim's house, perhaps the one in which the body is found,, the description can tell the perceptive reader a great deal about the victims character and interests.

Setting is important to characterization.  Even if the murder unfolds the same way in two novels you'll have two very different mysteries if the victim is killed in a beach house in Thailand or in a prep school auditorium; if the suspects live on deep in the moors, or in Manhattan across from Central Park; if the detective lives in a fifth-floor walk-up on the south side of Chicago or in a mansion in Beverly Hills.

If Miss Wonderly had walked into Spade and Archer Detective Agency on the first floor of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, The Maltese Falcon just wouldn't have been the same.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The embrace of summer days

The release date of my next Amanda Doucette mystery, PRISONERS OF HOPE, is October 2, 2018. As the date nears, the promotional machine is ramping up: the ARCS are being mailed out, the e-versions are up on Net Galley for those wishing to review it, and the publisher's marketing, sales, and publicity wings are busy making pitches to media, booksellers, and special events. But perhaps the biggest and most sustained promotional efforts are done by me. It seems every year we authors are being urged to network, blog, create newsletters, and add yet another social media outlet in order to increase our reach and visibility.

First it was Facebook, where much of my reader demographic is active, then Twitter, which I have yet to see the sense of for book promotion. It's great for breaking news, but tweets seems to have a shelf life of fifteen minutes, and even at that I sometimes wonder whether anyone actually reads them. Writers hurl book covers, brags, and review links into the great Twitter maw much as space junk is shot through space into the endless void.

Last year my publisher urged me to get active on Goodreads, so I dutifully spiffed up my profile, made a link to my blog, and opened my page to questions. Not a single question arrived. This year, Instagram is the new buzz. You'll reach a younger demographic on Instagram, I'm told. Instagram is pictures. Millions of pictures. Pictures of what, I thought. My book cover? Me doing a reading at a festival, me at my writing desk tearing my hair out? Me slouched over a bottle of whiskey? And once I've run through all those, my dogs? My breakfast? I will stick my dutiful toe into the the Instagram Universe to test the waters, but it all strikes me as a bit narcissistic.

It's also been suggested that I make a book trailer. It's easy, it's fun, check out these links... Sigh. I can see myself wasting days of my summer scrolling through photos and fighting with software as I try to put a decent book trailer together. Days when the sun is shining, the canoe is beckoning, and my favourite chaise long has an open book lying facedown on it and a wine spritzer beside it.

And then... In the midst of what should be languid, lazy summer, I have to start planning book launches and fall signings. Bookstores and venues have to be contacted, dates set, and itineraries figured out.

All this when I am actually trying to research and write the next book. Which is something I can do from my chaise long with a wine spritzer by my side. I don't mean to sound churlish, but it does sometimes feel as if I am constantly chasing the caboose. Most of these activities are enjoyable in themselves, but en masse, they could become overwhelming if I let them. So I suspect Goodreads and Instagram will get short shrift, and the book trailer might not even happen. But I will get out in my canoe, and I will read that book lying on my chaise long.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

You can’t rely on your memory

by Rick Blechta

Aline’s post yesterday (as her posts often do) struck a chord with me.

For nearly 25 years, I taught school music (band aka “crowd control with a beat”) and I learned pretty early on how memory can often play tricks on you — or your students (or both).

Just as Aline experienced, I had memories of situations in my memory that I was certain were 1000% accurate. This usually involved confrontations with students (thank heavens, I was usually an observer). In the most memorable confrontation, one student pasted another right in the nose (unbelievably, they were arguing over a trumpet fingering!).

I was at the front of the class dealing with a clarinet problem. As usual in a music class, the kids were coming in, getting out their instruments and music with the usual attendant “talking and squawking”. A normal class in middle school, right?

Then I heard a loud crash and a whole lot of cursing (“You broke my $#%^@ nose!”). At first, I thought a couple of boys were getting a bit rowdy, nothing more. Then I saw the kid on the floor, holding his face and there was a whole lot of blood. The classroom suddenly went quiet. “Everybody sit down and no one talks!” I said, and remarkably, they all did as I asked.

The unfortunate boy did indeed have a broken nose. I got some paper towels, and had him lie down on my desk (fortunately cleaned off for once) with his head off the end to try and slow down the bleeding. Then I got on the intercom to the office to get some help.

The upshot was, the parents of the punched out boy wanted to press charges. I had to give a statement. I laid down exactly what happened, positive that I had it right. I was helping so and so with her clarinet, heard the fracas and looked up to see the chair with the boy in it tip backwards and so on…

Some of the other children in class were also interviewed. What I found out later was the person I was helping was an alto sax player (but she was sitting in a chair in the clarinet section at the time). The tipped over chair fell sideways (which is why the struck boy didn’t have a huge welt on the rear of his head along with the injury to the front).

Before the principal informed me about my faulty memory, I was certain I had things correct. In fact I would have put a few hundred dollars down on that.

To say the least, I was stunned. Like Aline, I could see in my memory exactly what happened so clearly. But four or five of my students remembered something completely different — and all agreed on what they saw, so I had to accept that I was wrong.

Fortunately the whole debacle ended there, charges were never pressed, and both boys became good friends in a few months, as children will do.

But I learned so strongly that day that memory is a very faulty thing indeed. In a court of law, it can be a deadly thing, too.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Guilty/Not Guilty

With two criminal defence lawyers in the family and my own background as a Justice as well as a crime writer, I suppose it's natural enough that I'm fascinated by the way the justice system works. I'm totally addicted to The Good Fight but would love someone to tell me if that really is the sort of thing that goes on in a US court? It certainly wasn't in the Perth and District Court when I was in charge!

My books are, basically, about who did it and who didn't – who's innocent and who's guilty. It's somewhere close, I suppose, to Oscar Wilde's Miss Prism's prototype: 'The good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.'

In a court, it's different. At the end of a trial the defendant is pronounced 'Guilty' or 'Not Guilty' but of course that isn't really true. All the court can say is that the case has been proved or not proved, according to the legal rules about evidence.

And I had an experience recently that got me thinking about what constitutes proof.

The strongest kind is of course hard evidence which can stand on its own – direct evidence like fingerprints and DNA where there isn't usually much point in arguing.

Then there's circumstantial evidence – evidence that links to hard evidence but is indirect, relying on inference which can be disputed. You hear people saying dismissively, 'Oh, it was purely circumstantial evidence', as if that meant it didn't count. But a high proportion of cases rely on a complex web of circumstantial evidence that ultimately builds to the proof standard of 'reasonable doubt' and it's often a great deal more reliable than the next category – the eye-witness account.

This is the kind of evidence juries instinctively love – 'he was there, he saw it.' The trouble is, even with the best will in the world (which doesn't always exist) people's memories are unreliable. Two peoples' accounts of same event may differ widely and the most complicated thing is that they often quite sincerely believe their own version.

A few years ago I had a horrid accident when I fell down ten concrete steps into a basement and landed on my face. I was amazingly lucky to escape permanent damage but I can still see it happening – when you think you're going to die it tends to make quite an impression. I could describe the staircase to you in minute detail – the handrail down one side which I grabbed at and missed, the bare wall on the other side, the wide steps where people sat as they tried to help me.

The trouble is, I'm wrong. I recently went back there for the first time since it happened and it's a narrow staircase with identical rails on either side with absolutely no room for anyone to sit beside a sprawling me. But I utterly believed my mental picture.

The unreliable narrator is a standard in detective fiction. But I don't think I've ever read one where the plot hinged on an unreliable but genuinely mistaken eye-witness – perhaps an idea to play with.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

A Gold Mine for Mysteries

Please welcome our weekend guest, Dave Butler, an exciting new writer from British Columbia. Dave is the author of the Jenny Willson mystery series, published by Dundurn Press. Full Curl, the first in the series, won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel in Canada in 2018, and is also a finalist in the mystery category for the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writers awards. 

Dave is a forester and biologist living in Cranbrook, British Columbia, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. His writing and photography have appeared in numerous Canadian publications. He’s a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal winner, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. When he’s not writing, Dave is professionally involved in sustainable tourism at local, national and international levels and he travels extensively. He’s a Professional Author Member of the Crime Writers of Canada, and a member of The Writers Union of Canada. Take it away, Dave!

Rick Blechta’s June 5thpost offered some intriguing thoughts on the creative process. Rick wisely linked writing and music, but he also referenced the Greek goddesses who (may) act as his muse. I can’t help but wonder what Rick’s office is like, what with all those scantily-robed women lying around, sipping wine, tossing grapes into their mouths, strumming harps, offering him plot points.

While I’m not so lucky, and while my office may be much less crowded than is Rick’s, I have discovered that the front pages of major newspapers (or, if you’re so inclined, the home pages of major on-line news outlets) are veritable gold mines of ideas for mysteries.

Aside from the obvious surplus of political intrigue these days, I’ve been using major land use and development issues as a source of inspiration for my Jenny Willson mystery novels. As the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling used to say, “I offer for your consideration:” a good mystery needs a protagonist, an antagonist or two, lots of human emotion, inciting incidents, obstacles, a climax, and at some point, a denouement.  

Now think about pipelines, mining applications, new hydro dams, nuclear power plants, new ski hills, industrial agriculture proposals, gentrification of historic urban neighborhoods. See any parallels?

In every one of those situations, there’s no shortage of people willing to step up and take a side. And they don’t tend to do it quietly. Some are unstable and unpredictable, some sophisticated and professional. But the main things they have in common are that they care, and they’re willing to express their opinion. Campaigns are then built, clever posters created, noisy demonstrations organized. Emotions build, passions rise, and soon, neighbours turn against neighbours, friends turn against friends, and family dinners become awkward … if not violent. Often, these controversies quickly become good-vs-evil, black-vs-white, win-vs-lose, right-vs-wrong. 

There’s your gold mine, with the (mystery) ore ready for the digging, close to the surface. You can use any excavation tool you’d like, from shovels to backhoes. Even a teaspoon will do. 

Digging up those ideas is relatively easy because there are so many rich sources all around us. But like most mines, it’s the processing that’s the challenging and time-consuming part of the process. Once you’ve got healthy samples of that mystery ore, you need to take it to the next step. That’s when it’s fun to ask the famous ‘what if?’ question that we mystery writers hear so much about. 

What if the opponent of that hydro dam was willing to murder one of its main proponents to stop it from happening? (if Edward Abbey and The Monkey Wrench Gang comes to mind, you’re already on the right track…). What if the main spokesperson for that new downtown condo development disappeared without a trace? What if the proponent of a new power plant decided to murder her opponents, one-by-one, to silence them?

In Full Curl, the first Jenny Willson mystery, I asked the question: what if someone with no morals or ethics decided to use Canada’s national parks as a source of trophy animals? In the second, No Place for Wolverines, the question became: what if someone proposed a new ski area partly inside a national park, but the project wasn’t what it seemed on the surface? I’m working on In Rhino We Trustnow (the third in the series); that involves processing piles of Namibian mystery ore, along with the occasional pile of steaming rhinoceros dung…

If you’re stuck for ideas, or suffering from a short bout of writer’s block, grab a newspaper or your tablet and start asking “what if…?” I’m offer no guarantees that it will work for you. It does for me. But trying this idea just might lead you down a new creative path. Good luck!

You can learn more about Dave, Full Curl, and future projects at 

Friday, June 08, 2018

Colorado Book Awards

My fourth mystery, Fractured Families was one of the three finalists for the Colorado Book Award in the mystery category. 

The winner was Dead Stop by Barbara Nickless (Thomas & Mercer, Amazon Publishing. It was a very heady experience to be included in this distinguished group. The event was held at the SIE Film Center in Denver. It was beautifully organized. My daughters, Cheryl Flink and Mary Beth Bieker attended as well as my granddaughter, Leah Flink. I have been blessed with one of the most supportive families ever. 

I had hoped to fill this post with wonderful pictures from the event, then decided it would be impossible to top a YouTube video created by Colorado Humanities honoring the winners. 

So--in their own words:

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The art of the summary

Can you summarize your novel in two or three sentences? This is a litmus test many of us use. It’s helpful, and when I can’t do it, I know I’m in serious trouble.

This happened to me recently. I was talking to my agents, driving, when they asked me to summarize the draft of a novel I’d finished. Having sent it off to them, I turned my attention to the next book I’d write and drafted a short synopsis for book #2. It’s brief. A 1+1+1+1=4 summary of what will happen and why. (The why is the fun part and much of that I flesh out as I write.)

What occurred on the phone was that I realized I couldn’t offer them a short, succinct account of what happened in the book and why. My failure to do this was, I realized, directly related to questions they had surrounding plot points. I exhaled and told them I wanted the book back. Now I’m eliminating a character and revising.

A couple things happened in this case. The first is that I spent more time writing this book (18 months, maybe two years) than I have ever before. That’s too long. Stephen King, in On Writing, recommends three months. With a day job, I can’t do that. But I usually spend nine months or so on a draft. This time, I got sick, spent a month in the hospital, and when I returned to the book, I’d lost the thread of the story, had to go back, read it all again and made changes along the way, complicating the plot.

I’m not Tom Clancy and don’t want to be. I like books that work because of the characters, not because of the plots. I’m interested in human motivations and moral ambiguity. I guess, though, if you give me several weeks alone in a hospital room to think and rethink a story, my ego gets the better of me.

So I’m back at it, revising and streamlining my book so that in the end no one will say I didn’t play fair. It starts (and hopefully ends) with a three-sentence summary.


In other news, my 17-year-old daughter Audrey and I are traversing the midwest this week, visiting colleges. We’ve driven 1,200 miles (and counting), starting in Maine, turning around at the tail end of Ohio, and driving back, visiting seven colleges in five days, and meeting track and cross country coaches.

Children grow up too damned fast!

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Writing Acknowledgments

For most of my reading life, I’ve skipped over the Acknowledgments (or Acknowledgments, if you prefer) section in every book I read. (Dare I say, I barely acknowledged the acknowledgments? No! She didn’t!)

Now I read them all the time. What changed? I had to write my own and I wanted to see what other authors had done. Pretty soon I realized they can sometimes be more interesting than a list of names might suggest.

When I wrote the section for my first book, Fatal Brushstroke, I admit to being rather nervous. I was afraid I’d forget someone important or say something stupid name it, I probably thought it. The acknowledgments for my books are fairly short, but I try to make them somewhat interesting. I dedicated Fatal to my husband and wrote this in the acknowledgments: “Finally, a special thank you to my husband, Steve, who barely flinches at dinnertime discussions of poisons and other methods of murder and who always encourages me to follow my dreams.”

I’ve begun to think of acknowledgments as a conversation with the reader. So in my latest book, Designed For Haunting, I added an explanation for why I dedicated my book to libraries and librarians: “I’ve dedicated this book to libraries and librarians because of everything they’ve given to me over the years, for all the worlds they’ve introduced me to, real and imagined. Without them, I would not have discovered many wonderful books and authors or learned so many interesting things.”

That’s the fabulous cover you see here. It’ll be out Oct 9th, available for pre-order July 18th-ish.

Okay, back to acknowledgments. They seem to come in all sizes, long, short and sometimes they don’t even exist. Anything’s fair game, I think. Now that I know a fair number of people in the mystery world, it’s fun for me to see their names in the acknowledgments of other’s books. I even, once or twice, found my name there! That pleased me to no end.

I’ve even gotten a chuckle out of some of the things author’s say. Ellen Byron, in Body on the Bayou thanked her local Target stores. “I do some of my best thinking aimlessly wandering those jam-packed aisles.”

Acknowledgments can also be educational. If you’re looking for an agent, one of the things you can do is check the acknowledgments for books that are similar to your own and see the name of the author’s agent. Agents, editors, etc. are usually acknowledged. No guarantee they’ll become your agent, but at least it’s a place to start. Before you look, you’ll find my editors acknowledged but no agent because, well, I don’t have one of those. But if I did, I’d certainly thank them!

Those are my musings on writing acknowledgments. Now I have to hunker down and come up with ideas for my next book. I have an inkling of an idea, but I still have a long way to go. Perhaps one of those muses Rick was talking about in his post yesterday will help me out...

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Inspiration: how does it work?

by Rick Blechta

The creative process is a mystery to me. I have experience with it in two art forms — music and writing — so you’d think it would have become clear to me long ago how this inspiration works and where it comes from.

I was working on a musical arrangement the other day. Basically, it’s what’s known in the music biz as a “lift”. What that means is you listen to a recording, figure out what’s being played by the musicians and “lift” them into your arrangement. It can be a very tedious process, believe me. As I was working, a musical twist floated into my head completely unbidden. I examined it, tried it out in the software I use to do these arrangements and listened to the results (it has a playback function). It wasn’t much, but it certainly added something to the arrangement.

Where did this idea come from? I have absolutely no idea. I wasn’t even thinking to myself, How can I make this arrangement better? I was simply copying down what the musicians were playing on the studio recording.

Inspiration is even more evident — in any art form — when you’re actually creating something from nothing. Inspiration is actually everything at that point. Otherwise you couldn’t get started on a particular project in the first place.

The Greeks came up with the idea of muses, goddesses who helped in the creation of arts and even science by providing divine inspiration. Based on my experience with the hidden mechanics of the creative process, I sort of not willing to disbelieve these goddesses exist.

It’s a thrilling experience when inspiration strikes. In writing it may be as simple and innocuous as a character walking into your story with something interesting or even critical to your plot, the addition of which makes your deathless prose even more deathless.

But inspiration can strike anywhere and with any person. I’m certain everyone reading this has been struck by an inspired thought. Some of us may even have had their life changed by it.

But as an artist, I sure wish I could understand how it works and how to access it when I need it.

Perhaps I should invoke the aid of those Greek muses.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

This weekend's guest blogger: Cathy Ace

My use of plots (garden ones)
for plotting (writing ones) 

One of the questions I receive from readers which I particularly enjoy answering is “What do you do when you’re not writing?” Of course, the same as everyone, I live a life filled with “MUST DO” lists, but I am also an avid gardener, and – I admit it – that’s my passion-filled, all-consuming hobby. This time of year, from June through to September, is when most of us who garden would love to be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labors; but we all know it’s the time when we really have to apply ourselves because it’s peak growing season…and that, unfortunately, includes weeds!

Cathy’s garden in the spring.
I have come to terms with the fact that dandelions are just yellow flowers in the grass which the bees enjoy, and that I should therefore allow to flourish until they reach the seed-head stage, when I can happily mow the living daylights out of them. I have also accepted that buttercups in flower beds must be viewed the same way – as a natural phenomenon feeding the insects and they can look exceptionally good when the wind makes them sway, their yellow heads fluttering attractively. Then I rip them up. Roots and all.

When I’m mowing I find myself in a sort of Zen state; my mind is focused on doing a good job with the creation of stripes on our acre or so of grass, whilst it’s also able to play with plotlines, come up with devilish methods of murder, and offer me the chance to consider the intricate patterns of behavior my characters might display to allow readers to spot a real clue, or be taken in by a red herring or two. Ripping up weeds is a similar occupation – needing just a certain ruthless part of my brain to work in concert with my hands to ensure weeds come up and plants I want to protect remain undisturbed…all while figuring out how the suspects will be challenged by my protagonist, and finally brought to face justice at the denouement.

Cathy's garden in the fall – with Cathy on the mower!
So I would suggest that – for anyone struggling with plotting – a day or two working in the garden might help; I certainly find it allows me the mental freedom I need to be able to plot more fluidly. And then there’s the garden you get to enjoy as a result…not to be sneezed at (unless you, like me, suffer from allergies, so that a daily dose of antihistamine is required).

Happy gardening, and happy plotting!

Cathy Ace is the author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. You can find out more about Cathy, her characters, and her work at her website:

Friday, June 01, 2018

Honoring Your Process

Frankie here. Regular readers of Type M know by now that I'm not a pantser. As much as I often envy writers who can write a novel by plunging into the deep end, I can't do it. Not only do I write at a snail's pace until I'm well into the book, sometimes I fear I am channeling Adrian Monk. I can't begin writing until I have a title, and I keep coming back to the title, frequently and obsessively, until I have the right title. I do the same with character names and their backstories. I keep researching even as I'm writing. And, every blessed time I sit down to write, I read and tinker with the first chapter before going on. I do that at least until I'm halfway through the book.

I have the title of my 1939 historical thriller -- A Penny Struck by Lightning. As you may recall the title was inspired by a conversation Opie Taylor was having with his pa, Andy Griffith. The television was playing in the background, unnoticed, until the words "penny" and "lightning" caught my attention. The perfect metaphor for that year of 1939, and the New York World's Fair.

But having a title has not helped me move along. Yesterday, I switched the first-person POV of the protagonist -- who is attending Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial -- back to third person. And still it wasn't right. I had photos of the the crowd. I could imagine where my character was standing. I knew there was a brisk wind. But had the sun really come out as Anderson was about to perform. There were no mention of that in the second source I had looked at.

Being obsessive -- unable to pull myself away from Chapter One and get back to writing -- I stopped to find the answer to the weather question.

And that was when the Writing Gods showered me with gifts. During the next hour, I said "Wow!" three times. With the last "Wow" I was jumping up and down and dancing around the room. Harry, my cat, was looking at me like he was about to hide under the bed.

Here's what happened -- as Adrian would say -- while looking for a third description of the weather, I found the NBC radio broadcast of the concert. I had listened to portions of it before, but this website included the concert program and mention of the intermission during the concert when the announcer reviewed Anderson's career. The broadcast was almost 30 minutes long, and while I was listening, I started to go through some photos of the platform guests. It had occurred to me that maybe I really should take a page from Dennis Lehane. I love his novel, The Given Day, set in 1918, in the months leading up to the real-life Boston Police Strike. But the book opens with Babe Ruth, traveling on a team bus, coming upon a baseball game being played in a field . . .

So my idea was that I would have someone on the platform, looking out over the crowd. I thought of Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, who introduced Marian Anderson. When I searched for Ickes and the concert, a photograph I had never seen before popped up. Ickes and Anderson shaking hands and off to the right, a group of news cameramen and among them one black photographer. That was my first "Wow." The photographer reminded me of what the NBC announcer had mentioned about the concert being under "the auspices" of Howard University, the famed historically black university in D.C. I already knew that. My protagonist even mentioned seeing a group of Howard students in the crowd and wanting to go over and speak to them, wanting to tell them that he planned  to attend the law school.

I hadn't made too much of that, but now I was wondering how he would have known they were from Howard. So I Googled Howard University and the concert. I already had the telegram that Eleanor Roosevelt had sent to a professor there when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to use their hall. Now I was looking for information about the students at the concert. That was when I went "Wow!" again. Ossie Davis. I had stumbled across what Ossie Davis -- yes, the actor, writer, civil rights activist -- had said about that day. That day when he was in the crowd as a student from Howard University.

So now my chapter opens from the POV of Ickes looking out over the crowd  -- or maybe Anderson herself -- and down in the crowd, my character standing near a group of students . . . and one of them is named "Ossie" . . . and they are both moved and inspired and there is a brief exchange between the two of them. . .

And that was when I went "Wow! Wow!" and jumped to my feet. I knew Anderson was wearing a mink coat and a mink hat. My protagonist mentions that. But I had only seen black and white photos and barely noticed her outfit. Yesterday, as I was thinking about Ossie Davis, the Writing Gods dropped more gold coins into my lap. A photo of the donation that Anderson's family had made to the Smithsonian. The ensemble she was wearing under that mink coat. The kind of "telling detail" that I love as a researcher. The kind of detail that I might have missed if I weren't an obsessive plodder, but that no one who attended that concert and was close enough to see Ms. Anderson would have missed.

Writing lesson:  Honor your process even when you hate your process.