Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Psst, Your Roots Are Showing

No, I’m not talking about those bits of gray that have suddenly appeared on your head. (Though, come to think of it, I could use a session with my hair stylist about now.) I’m talking about the words and phrases you use that reveal where you grew up. The things you say that you picked up in your formative years and still continue to say without thinking about it.

Expressions are the most obvious of these. The southern part of the U.S. seems to have a particularly colorful set of them. Much more interesting than the ones I grew up with. My favorite southern expression is “so good it will make you want to slap your momma”. Jeff Foxworthy, on an episode of The American Baking Competition, told a somewhat befuddled Paul Hollywood that it meant that the food was so good that you’d slap your momma to get at it. Something that no good Southerner would do, of course. So the food must be terrific to make you want to act that way.

Then there are things like what you use as the generic name for Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, 7-Up, etc. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest where, at least at the time, “pop” was the generic term. Seems to be the same in the Midwest where my parents grew up. I quickly learned, however, that not everyone uses that phrase. When I moved down to the L.A. area to go to school, people made fun of me when I said “pop” so I changed to using “soda”, which no one laughs at. I haven’t said “pop” to mean soda in a very long time. By the way, I’ve also heard that in some areas of the U.S., “pop” is a term for beer.

I recently discovered something else that shows that I grew up in Washington state. I asked some people to look through the ARC for GHOSTS OF PAINTING PAST recently to find any mistakes so we could correct them for the final printing. I found a few myself, but someone else pointed out to me that I used “aid car” to mean ambulance, something that they’d never heard before. Honestly, I didn’t think anything about it. I use the word ambulance all of the time in speech. But “aid car” popped into the book. Seemed fine to me.

After a little googling, I discovered that “aid car” is very much a Washington state thing. In the Seattle area at least, the term is used to describe a vehicle dispatched to provide first aid, i.e. a public ambulance. The term ambulance is reserved for private ambulances.

I changed the term to ambulance because I didn’t want anyone to get hung up on an unusual term, especially since the book is set in Southern California not Seattle. But that made me realize that in the course of a day, I probably say other things that indicate where I grew up.

What about you? What terms/expressions/words do you say that are peculiar to your part of the world?

Monday, July 29, 2019

First Lines

How important is your first sentence?

It’s important enough that Thrillerfest held a contest for best first sentence of a published novel.  I was lucky enough to be one of the winners.  My first sentence is from Random Road.

Last night Hieronymus Bosch met the rich and famous.

My agent once told me that she gets one hundred submissions from writers seeking representation every day.  A hundred submissions!

She also told me that the one thing that made her want to look at the rest of the first chapter of Random Road was the first sentence.  At the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, she was a speaker and asked me to stand up and recite the first sentence of my book to the crowd.

When I was finished, someone seated near me loudly asked if I could recite the last sentence of Random Road.  Slightly embarrassed, I couldn’t.  Frankly, I’d rewritten it so many times.  But I remembered the opening line, and so did my agent.

In a 2013 interview in the Atlantic, Stephen King said, “There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft—I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar.”

Here are a few examples of some of my favorite first sentences:

I feel compelled to report that at the moment of my death, my entire life did not pass before my eyes in a flash- Sue Grafton, I is for Innocent.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen—George Orwell, 1984.

All of this happened, more or less.—Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five.

I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I would ever love marry another man—Harlan Coben, Six Years.

They shoot the white girl first—Toni Morrison, Paradise.

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were place in a tub of cement—Dennis Lehane, Live by Night.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish—Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.

Three other winners from Thrillerfest’s First Sentence Contest:

Gracie Falcon was halfway over Vail Pass white-knuckling her Jeep through a late spring snowstorm when she heard through intermittent static on her car radio that she’d been killed in a plane crash.– C. Harrison

Prouty had a drinker’s face, a graveyard cough, and a heart a hangman would kill for.–Jeffrey B. Burton

San Ruben, California is a long way from Boston, whether you measure it in miles, years, or bodies.–Jack Soren

But not every first sentence is a keeper. Every year, the Bulwer-Lytton Prize, inspired by novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s famous “it was a dark and stormy night” opener, is given to an opening sentence for the “worst of all possible novels.”

Here are some of the best entries of the last decade:

As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand – who would take her away from all this – and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had—Ali Kawashima.

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil—Molly Ringle

As the sun dropped below the horizon, the safari guide confirmed the approaching cape buffaloes were herbivores, which calmed everyone in the group, except for Herb, of course—Ron D. Smith

For more information about the Bulwer-Lytton Prize, go to  Take a look at the 2018 Grand Prize winner.  It's a doozy!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

As It Was, But Not Much Better

Lately I've been feeding my nostalgia for the 70s by watching contemporary crime movies. Mind you, I graduated from high school in 1973 and I hated the time (just as most teenagers hate their high-school years).  What jumps out from those movies set in New York City is how much has changed there since then. I have first-hand knowledge because I was actually in NYC in 1973-75 and was overwhelmed by the grit, filth, and crime. In Times Square, you could stand on a street corner and watch violent crimes happen. Everything seemed smothered in graffiti. The ambiance was of inevitable collapse. The movie Heavy Metal has a scene of a science-fiction New York rife with corruption and decay and there was no reason that it wouldn't turn out that way. Of course, the Big Apple has since morphed into a theme park for the rich and is America's largest gated community. My sister lives in Midtown Manhattan and when I tell her how it was back in the day, I might as well be talking about mastodons and saber-tooth tigers. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) holes up in a tiny studio apartment that can best be described as squalid. Today, the same space would be a million dollar condo. Easy. Al Pacino's character in Serpico rents a garden-level apartment in Greenwich Village, then the bohemian nexus of the East Coast. By modern standards the place is run down but was acceptably chic for its day. Nail boards together, paint everything white, and decorate it with eclectic flourishes.

What else jumps out from these movies is the undercurrent of racism. Pretty much all the riff-raff criminals in The French Connection, Serpico, and Death Wish are black. In those days that was actually seen as progressive because in prior years, blacks weren't even portrayed as that. Sadly, if you go back further, the situation was worse. I was watching one of Humphrey Bogart's lesser known titles, High Sierra, and was dismayed by the character Algernon, played by Willie Best. Given his role as the mountain camp caretaker, Best could've been allowed to play his part with more dignity and realism. But he was costumed in threadbare clothes, shuffled about, was inclined to laziness, and spoke the required "sho nuff" dialog. At least, I suppose, he got a substantial speaking part. Unfortunately, like most black actors from that era, in later years he was denounced as a witless stooge, though, as he pointed out, he didn't have much choice. Either take the part as is, or get out.

Which makes me think that despite our "wokeness" in this hyper-PC environment, future generations will look back at us and ask, "What were they thinking?"

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Plugging On

Awaiting Cover Art

I just got home from seeing an audiologist and an ENT, since my hearing, which has been iffy for years, has been getting worse and I have been imagining myself trying to hear questions at my upcoming book launch this fall by lip reading. As it turns out, I am, in the words of the doctor, profoundly, irreversibly deaf in my left ear, and my right ear is nothing to write home about. What a jolly thing to learn. Worse, he wants an MRI of my head. I've had MRIs before and I've got to tell you that I hated them. I hate being thrust into those little tubes and the feeling of being trapped. So the doc gave me a prescription for one horse tranquilizer pill so that I can get through the procedure without destroying the MRI machine in a panic to get the hell out of there.

I've been putting this off, mainly because I spend so much time with my husband at his doctor appointments and hospitalizations that the idea of getting myself on the old medical merry-go-round depresses me beyond human understanding. Don's latest problem is his eyes, so basically he's half blind and I'm half deaf. There's an ironic symmetry there. I did tell him that I'd rather have my problem than his, and he agreed.

So, if the MRI goes off without a hitch and no horrible problem with my head is uncovered, my next stop is hearing aids, which anyone who knows me will be so glad to learn. I'll finally understand what you're talking about!

In other news, I finally got the advance reading copies for The Wrong Girl (The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, Episode 1), the final version of which will hit the shelves on November 1. I also learned that the launch will be at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, on October 27. Much more about that exciting news later. There is no cover to reveal yet. I understand that my editor has sent at least 2 cover versions back for revision. Once the cover artist comes up with something that pleases her, I'll be the first to let you know, Dear Reader.

Meanwhile, said editor wants me to send her the first 100 pages of The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, Episode 2, on or about August 1. They're done, and Don is currently giving them the last go-over with his wonky eyes. I will do my best to hear his opinion with my wonky ears.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Our annual writers' retreat

For over fifteen years, I have been with the same critiquing group, the Ladies Killing Circle, through most of the Inspector Green series and all the Amanda Doucette books. We are now very close friends but every now and then we put on our professional critiquing hats and dig into a manuscript in search of improvements, big and small. Each woman captures different concerns, and together their advice is invaluable. I never submit a book to the publisher without running it by these excellent, eagle-eyed women.

In those fifteen years, we have had regular, three-to four day writers' retreats to inspire us and help us focus on our latest work. These used to be twice a year but are now once a year during the summer cottage season. This year the retreat is at my cottage. We talk about the books we are reading and note those we want to add to our TBR pile, we talk about the trials of the book business, we talk about the joys and horrors of promotion, and we work on our own work.

We also take turns preparing the meals and cleaning up, which makes for easy work for all of us. Lots of laughs are shared, and wine is consumed, albeit in less quantity as we are all growing older, alas. Sharing those few days a year forges a deep, rich friendship that goes far beyond the value of the critiquing itself.

This blog is very late and will be very short, because all these things are taking priority. But here are a couple of pics of the day.

I credit this group, and the other close writer friends, with keeping me inspired, hard-working, and sane over the years. Writers' groups and retreats are the best!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

21st Century author promotion -or- What could possibly go wrong?

By Rick Blechta

Unlike Aline, I’m a more self-promotion type of person. I built an author website very early on* (1999) when this promotional tool was The Next Great Thing. In those days one had to pay a lot money to have a pro do a website, or take the bull by the horns and do it yourself. I’m pretty good with computers for some unknown reason, but learning HTML coding was like learning a language where the rules of grammar and spelling keep changing.

I eventually got it up and running and was very proud of myself. I had a website!

Then the trouble began. About the time websites came along, spammers did too, and these modern devils figured out early on that they could harvest website-oriented email address to spread their odious evil. My email (catchy, no?) was swiped probably the week I inaugurated my site. It has been used widely ever since to tell the world about the latest scam and get private information to use for the spammer’s criminal enterprises. It’s easy now to keep email addresses out of spammer’s greasy clutches, but that horse left the barn years ago. In fact, I just checked and they snatched the barn too!

My website is currently black-holed for the fifth or sixth time, so I’ve taken it down while I figure out what to do. The way it looks at the moment, I’m going to be forced to come up with a new website name — which is never a good thing — and hope that people can find it. I can put a “pointer” to direct people using the old website to connect to the new one, but with on the “Do Not Use” list, it’s probably not going to work very well. There’s also the matter of designing a whole new website. At least now there are templates and web-hosting sites galore to make that somewhat easier. Still, it’s a daunting task.

Last year, I was told I should get on Instagram. Good idea, I thought.*

Trouble is I pissed those fine people off in a big hurry! By the time I was almost finished setting up my account, they informed me that I was banned for something I’d done. Try finding out why. You can’t talk to a human being, and the reason I received from their online help section basically boiled down to “because”. There’s no recourse, no way to get real help.

So does anyone think I’m in a hurry to start tweeting my fool head off?

I’m sure glad I don’t have the same publisher Aline has!
*And promptly got myself into a world of trouble.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Taking the Plunge

I've just made a momentous decision. At least, I'm not sure I actually did, it just sort of happened after an afternoon with my publisher when somehow with tact, charm and drinks in Edinburgh's most elegant hotel, the Balmoral, she convinced me that twenty-first century technology wasn't all bad and that what I really wanted to do - indeed, was enthusiastic about doing — was to go on Twitter.

Yes, we agreed, we were both wistful about the days when what an author did was write books. I can still remember the joys of those early days when my editor would take me out in his blue Mercedes coupe for a very fancy lunch (however did he drive us back???) and I would just go away and send him my book when it was finished.

My problem with really working the internet to promote my books was that I was brought up to believe you just didn't do that sort of thing. I think I was probably a rather bumptious child and, 'No one likes a smartie' was one of my mother's favourite phrases (along with 'For a supposedly intelligent girl...' when she felt I'd done something particularity dumb). The Kardashians and their like have changed the game, though I was rather charmed today to hear of a school that was awarding a Humility prize, presumably to the least boastful child. It does, though, give me a vision of a whole classroom of little Uriah Heeps intent on winning it — and as someone pointed out, if you did, you couldn't really tell anyone you had without boasting.

Still, my publisher convinced me that it wasn't like that — just a regular sentence or two about what was going on in my life and I took the plunge. I'd been well chuffed (translation: really pleased) when a letter from a reader in Hoppers Creek, Australia arrived on my doormat, addressed to 'Aline Templeton, Edinburgh.' My first tweet.

It's a steep learning curve. I'm taking baby steps, and trying to work out how I get it up and running properly — and how to delete the profile of the MP for East Renfrewshire ( East Renfrewshire??) that fills up most of the screen whenever I click on twitter. Suggestions welcome.

I've been posting doggedly every day this week and if you'd like to join me and find out what happened to my Amaretto pannacotta at a lunch party this week I'd be thrilled. Onwards and upwards!

Twitter: @alinetempleton

Friday, July 19, 2019

Conference Envy

My fellow Type M'er, Thomas Kies, posted a report on Thrillerfest, a writer's conference held in New York this month and I confess I was seized by more than a touch of envy. I always learn something and meet new people at any conference and this one was full of terrific panels and workshops.

Thrillerfest sounds especially exciting. The line-up of speakers was spectacular. It was like a gathering of all the rich and famous in the mystery field. Conferences are also a chance to meet the not so rich and famous. I can honestly say some of my best friends are writers that I met at conferences.

Above is a photo from this year's Western Writers of America convention. It was taken at the Five Star party. In the middle is our brilliant editor, Tiffany Schofield, who is one of the most friendly persons in publishing. Her frontier series featuring historical novels about the American West has been a great hit both with librarians and readers.

I'm on the left. Having just discovered a western hat that fits I longer have to worry about my hair. What a relief. On the right is Irene Bennett Brown. I look forward to seeing her and her husband, Bob, every year. Irene and I have known each other forever. She and Bob started attending in 1978. Her book, Miss Royal's Mules, is a finalist for a Will Rogers Medallion Award. Her new book, Tangled Times will be published Summer, 2020.

Old friendships can be dangerous at conventions because of the temptation to spend all my time with people I already know and like.

I would love to go to Thrillerfest next year. I have a number of friends who attend. Plus this year a number of person's from Sourcebook were there. Sourcebook acquired Poisoned Pen last year and the conference would have been a great opportunity to meet representatives from our new publisher.

I don't like posting on the day mine is due. I like to schedule it at 12:01 am so our early morning readers will have fresh content. This has been a very harried summer full of disruptions. Most of them were good. But still, my writing has been interrupted a lot. Then everything else lags too.

Better performance next time!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The 21st Century Artist

This summer has been a whirlwind. Lots of travel. Some business. Some pleasure. I haven't been home as much as I would have liked.

My business travel has been prolonged and intense. I have been leading workshops for the College Board. This is stand-and-deliver, eight-hour days. It is always great to spend time with serious educators, speaking about student writing.

Still, it's not sitting at my desk writing fiction. It's also so intense that it's hard to get writing done while I'm leading these workshops. I know the value of a teacher’s dollar. And these educators are paying too much money to attend these workshops for me to not double and triple check (and even constantly tweak) my material.

So I find myself writing in frenetic fits, in stops and starts. I have written 75 pages in 3 weeks and then only 10 pages in a week. It is frustrating. I'm a goal-oriented person. I do well when I'm checking things off to-do lists. My goal for the summer was to write 150 pages and with only a month left that is very much in doubt. As an educator, I know I shouldn't complain about having the opportunity to earn extra money in the summer. But I'm not sitting at my desk writing fiction.

This is the life of the midlist writer. Of the actor who waits tables between auditions. Of the musician who practices law between Saturday gigs. In short, this is the life of most 21st Century artists. We right when we can, and we make sure we always can. Because not writing is not an option. So it may be in frenetic fits. But it gets done nonetheless.

So this week, I’m in Fitchburg, Mass., Sunday through Friday. Saturday, I fly to Orlando for a night, deliver a workshop Sunday and fly home that same night. Monday, I’ll be at my desk working.

And living the life of a 21st Century artist.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

I’ve lived on the West Coast of the U.S. my entire life. Most of my adult life I’ve lived in Southern California. As you might guess, I’ve experienced a fair number of earthquakes over the years, though I’ve never been very close to the epicenter of any of them.

The first one I remember experiencing was when I was pretty young, probably around five. That’s my best guess, anyway. I really only have a vague memory of the ground shaking. I lived in the Seattle area at the time. I’m pretty sure the quake I felt was the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 aka The Good Friday Earthquake. A 9.2 shaker, it’s considered the second largest earthquake on record and lasted, depending on the source you look at, from 3 minutes to 4.5 minutes. It caused the Space Needle to sway 1200 miles away. I can’t even imagine being near the epicenter of that one.

The two I remember most here in Southern California are the 6.7 Northridge quake in 1994 and the recent 7.1 quake near Ridgecrest. We were in escrow on two houses at the time of the Northridge quake (selling one and buying another). Even though we were far enough from the epicenter that no damage was done, both houses had to be reinspected before escrow closed.

The recent Ridgecrest 7.1 quake on July 5th was the longest quake I’ve ever experienced. We felt a great rolling motion for what seemed like a very long time (around 40 seconds I learned later). When you feel that kind of rolling motion you know a very large earthquake has occurred far away. (Ridgecrest is about 170 miles away from us.) That’s when you hope it hit a sparsely populated area and pray for those affected.

Most of the time, though, you’re not even sure you’re experiencing one. When an earthquake happens, a typical conversation goes something like this:

“Was that an earthquake?”
“Think so.”
“What do you think? 4.0?”
“Has to be at least a 5.”

The quake is usually over by then so we go back to what we were doing before the quake hit. After waiting a half hour or so, we head to the internet to find out its magnitude (got to see who was closest, after all) and where the epicenter was.

I know, I know. Seems a bit flippant, but that’s how some of us deal with the possibility of quakes in earthquake country.

The shaking tends to be a lot lighter where we live, though I do realize that some day a large quake might hit on a fault closer to us. Fingers crossed that never happens. But even with all that shaking going on, I’d still rather live in earthquake country than somewhere hurricanes and tornados are common. Those scare me far more than an earthquake.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


by Rick Blechta

Are you the sort of person who tends to put things off? I am, or should I say I try not to be.

It can be something as simple as the garbage needs to be taken out to the curb. In the past, I would likely have also added mentally I’ll get to that as soon as I do such and such.

The result would be the garbage never gets taken out.

Too often things that should have gotten done never did. The result would be I always felt as if I was playing catch-up, and when it was really bad, the pile of undone things seemed to go up a mile high, which I find highly depressing.

So now, rather than saying, “I have to take out the garbage this morning,” I get off my lazy butt and take it out right then, even if it means momentarily stopping what I’m doing to accomplish the task.

Now that I’m getting better at this change in philosophy, I find things running much more smoothly. Instead of I’ve got to remember to return this tool to my son, I immediately take said tool out to the car even if I’m not seeing him for two days. It’s done. I don’t have to remember any more — other than handing it over when I see him.

Here’s why this sort of thing is important to a writer. When we’re working on something, we not only have our work in progress committed to paper — whether real paper or electronic paper — but we carry a lot of information around in our heads — and that information is very important.

Sure, we can make copious notes, jot down ideas — and I do try to do this where needed — but we carry around in our addled brains something much more ephemeral and delicate: the tone of our story and our relationship with its characters.

If you’re also trying to carry around a lot of other unnecessary things (like remembering to take out the garbage), there comes a point where your brain just becomes too full and things start getting pushed out of your brain’s RAM (Random Access Memory, which is a computer term, but very apt for human brains too).

When I originally began trying to train myself to do small things NOW, I didn’t even stop to think of its effect on my writing. In fact I never did think of it. It was my wife who pointed it out when we were discussing our anti-procrastination battle (she’s in on it too). I mentioned that I’m having less trouble with my writing because I’m managing to “stay in my book” much more easily of late. Her answer was “Might that not be because you’re not having to remember so many little things?”

A bell went clang in my head at that point. She was absolutely correct.

I also play my band SOULidified’s entire repertoire from memory (some 70+ songs) and I’m having less trouble doing that too. Now at my age, one would expect one’s memory to be less good, and that’s not happening.

So here’s Dr. Blechta’s prescription: Take care of little things as they come up and you’ll probably lead a happier and more productive life. However, if you happen to be a writer, I know you’ll find my prescription A Good Thing.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Thrillerfest XIV

I’d never been to Thrillerfest in New York.  I’d heard it was pricy…and it is.  Of course it is, it's New York.  But it's also the most exciting city in the world. 

I’ve been to writers’ conferences that I felt were worth my while and I’ve attended some that I went home wondering if I could have done something differently to get more out of it.

I bit the bullet and registered for Thrillerfest XIV months ago.  Since then, Sourcebooks acquired my wonderful publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. As fortune would have it the first night I arrived, they hosted a cocktail party in New York for their authors (both new and old) as well as inviting members of the media.
Hours before the party, I flew into LaGuardia on Thursday, July 11, took a suicide taxi ride to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, unpacked and ironed some clothes.  I can never pack without getting my shirts and slacks as wrinkled as the skin of a mature rhinoceros.

Then I went to the Ballroom in the hotel for the Opening Reception and was pleasantly greeted by some outstanding food and drink.  The company was damned good as well.  I ran into Dennis Palumbo, Reavis Wortham, Jenny Milchman, and Joe Clifford as well as meeting many other writers I didn’t know.

At seven, Dennis Palumbo (a remarkable writer) and I walked through the rain to the MetLife Building where Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press was hosting the cocktail event (also awesome food and drink).  It was there that Barbara Peters, Editor in Chief and Founder of Poisoned Pen Press, introduced all the authors in attendance.  As always, she was effusive in her praise. This gave the PPP authors a chance to interact with individuals from Sourcebooks, who are really knowledgeable and nice.

What really set this event off was that it was attended by several members of the media including Bookreporter, Mystery Scene, Publishers Weekly, Strand Magazine, a freelancer working for People Magazine and two representatives from the New York Public Library.

Speaking of the library, on Friday during a break I walked  to the New York Public Library building on 42nd Street and went in.  I was thrilled to see my book Darkness Lane on the shelf.   Cool beans.

Friday morning, I listened to a panel of mystery/thriller literary critics talk about the way they work.  I found it interesting that some of them refused to write bad reviews.  If they read a book they didn’t like, they’d either not write something at all, or would be noncommittal in their overview.  Two of the critics on the panel were definitive that they do, indeed, write bad reviews if they feel the work warrants it.


They also discussed how competitive it is to get noticed in the publishing world and advised that a good publicist was vital in getting reviewed at all.

On the last day of Thrillerfest, I was on a panel discussing five year plans for writing.  None of us had one.  We all agreed that we write in the moment and if you try to follow trends, by the time you’ve finished your book, the trend is over. 

Better to write what you’re passionate about.  I told the audience that if you write a good story with compelling characters, you’ll do just fine. 

Oh, and a high point after the panel discussion?  R.G Belsky bought Random Road and asked me to sign it.  He writes from the viewpoint of a female reporter as well.

All in all, a terrific event.  If you think you’re going sell a ton of books at the event, you’re thinking about it all wrong.  It’s all about renewing and creating brand new relationships.  Relationships that will help you further your career and friendships you will keep for the rest of your life.  Writers helping writers.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely, no question.  I'm going next year!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Weekend Guest S.G. Wong

I'm delighted to welcome S.G. Wong to Type M for Murder.  S.G. is a Canadian author, speaker, and community organizer. An Arthur Ellis Awards finalist and WIBA nominee, she's also Past President of Sisters in Crime--Canada West. Known for the Lola Starke novels and Crescent City short stories of alternate history, hard-boiled detective tales, she is currently finishing a new stand-alone contemporary mystery set in the Canadian Rockies.

Just a Little Off-Centre

By S.G. Wong

This is a selected list of things I’ve held in my hands, while I pondered their utility as weapons:

·         soup ladle
·         frying pan (various diameters)
·         soup pot (various sizes)
·         The Compact Oxford English Dictionary
·         kettle bells
·         kettle (stovetop)
·         kettle (electric)
·         toaster

 I remember with particular clarity the moments with the soup ladle, so unexpected, a revelation of sorts, really. Stainless steel bowl, flattened steel shaft, black plastic handle. I hefted that thing for a while, wondering if it had the right weight to do some real damage, or if it would just temporarily distract. It had a great, balanced feel, really perfect for swinging.

In case I’m not being clear: I often spend time considering everyday, common objects for their effectiveness as weapons.

I especially gravitate to kitchen items, for some reason. Probably because I spend a lot of time there. I like to cook and bake and generally futz about with ingredients and non-recipes. It’s the closest thing to alchemy. What’s not to like?

I mean, okay, I spend a lot of time at my writing desk, too, but I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to imagine throwing my laptop or my monitor at someone in order to hurt them. Also, if someone corners me in my office, I’m a goner anyway: there’s only one way in or out.

On second thought, maybe I would use my laptop…

I remember a Sue Grafton novel, where a character dies an excruciatingly painful, messy death after being poisoned with amanitas, time bombs masquerading as mushrooms on the man’s pizza. Gruesome. And yet…intriguing.

I thought for a while that the huge fungi popping up among my spruce trees were amanitas. I was pretty disappointed to discover they’re actually just some sort of boletes. I mean some of these are toxic, too, but they just don’t have the same cachet as amanitas.

 Human beings are so ingenious. Yes, we can create obvious weapons: knives, guns, saws, ice picks, hammers, etc. etc. ad nauseum. But honestly, deadly things are all around us. And really, there’s something sneaky and weirdly satisfying (for me, at least) in skewing my perspective just enough so that I see a weapon where someone else (fine, most people) would see a beautiful maple cutting board or a hand-painted step stool.

I know it’s strange and morbid and possibly, not very healthy for my psyche—but. Hear me out.

Writing crime means studying crime. It means tipping one’s head just so, until an entirely new scenario comes into focus. It means observing the everyday and looking for its edges, where it unravels and where it’s patched up, where the familiar becomes a weapon and the known disappears.

It’s a mean, dark, dirty job—but somebody’s gotta do it.

PS. Have you seen the latest John Wick film? The one in which, before all the guns blaze and the knives come out, he does someone in with a book?

Yep. Gruesome. And…intriguing.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Wasting Time or Clearing Space?

Frankie here. I feel the need to establish that because I'm trying to focus with multiple things going on today -- including a visit from the cable guy in a few hours. That means I need to stay home for the appointment instead of going into my office at school. It turns out today is also bringing a problem with my internet connection to my school email account. Can't tell if that is related to my internet at home, but I was able to check on my phone. Whatever it is, technology is messing with my head today. But I am able to get to this website.

Anyway, on to what I want to write about -- actually it does have to do with staying focused. I have three different writing projects going on this summer and a couple on the back burner. I was hoping to get a lot done over the 4th of July. No plans for barbecues, picnics, trips to the beach or other travel. I was going to stay glued to my computer and work.

But then a funny thing happened. For months, I been putting everything I didn't have a place for or wanted to get rid of in a small room off my living room that I refer to as my "sunroom". The description is much too grand for the space. But the room is at the front of the house and gets sunlight all day when the living room and dining room only receive strong morning and midday sunlight. It also doubles as my guest room on the rare occasions when someone is staying over. For months, it's been a space to stage the stuff I needed to sort through and get rid of.

On July 4th, I walked by the room, looked inside, and suddenly had the overwhelming urge to wade into the boxes and books and old bills that needed shredding and gift boxes and whatever. It had gotten to the point that only Harry, my cat, could find a way in. He was using the room as if it were a forest and lurking among the chaos.

I started stacking and suddenly I wanted to tackle my chaos. I wanted to get the job done. I even stopped and called to make an appointment for a junk pick-up. An appointment on Monday. Wonderful! Have some junk, including an armchair that I've had for years and really need to get rid of. (Harry had been using it to sharpen his claws).

Appointment made, I spent the next two days sorting and packing in bags and boxes. I spent the day after that going through the notes and books I'd found. I had tried to reschedule the appointment on Day 2, put it off until later that Monday afternoon. But nothing else was open. So I kept working. And then I moved into the dining room and cleared off all the papers and books I had piled on the bench by my table where I had been working on my computer. My bench cushion had arrived by FedEx while I was sorting.

On Monday afternoon, the junk trunk arrived. The efficient team swooped in and departed with armchair and old porch chairs and all my other stuff. Then I turned on HGTV for inspiration and started moving furniture and organizing.

Meanwhile, I was not at my computer writing. I was not doing research. I was apparently getting nothing at all done. I felt guilty and completely undisciplined. How could I waste all that time. Who cared about the pillow or the vase of silk flowers that I'd moved for the fifth time. But I was obsessed and I kept at it until Tuesday and drifted over into Wednesday when I finally got dressed and went to the office. 

Wasted time? It seems it wasn't. I found notes to myself and books I had forgotten in the clutter. As I was doing the physical tidying and shifting, I seem to have done the same in my brain. Some books have found their way back to the dining room table. But every time I look over at the bench, I have a sense of satisfaction. The area rugs went out with the junk, and suddenly the rooms seem larger.

After I got rid of the physical clutter, I had an email from someone who was doing research on Albany with a question. As I was thinking about that, I suddenly realized that Saratoga in 1939 would be a wonderful place to send a couple of my characters. I had already established that the woman loves horses, but it had never even occurred to me until that moment . . . I also hadn't thought about using mobility (a theme that I was dealing with in the book I'm writing about gangster movies) as the unifying focus for a chapter I was working on in the dress and crime book.

I'm back at my computer today. Maybe I'm making excuses by saying that clearing my clutter helped me to focus. I could be done by now with what I had planned to work on during those four days. But I have this theory that when I have an overwhelming urge to do something else, it's probably because I need time for my ideas to incubate. Like that robin who is holding up my efforts to have my front steps and door repainted because she has returned to lay more eggs and is sitting on her nest under the awning, I need to follow my instincts.

Of course, it would be nice if I could explain that to the editor who is waiting for the chapters from the gangster book. But I'm getting there. I intend to keep writing while the cable guy is here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Get It Down

I didn’t sleep very well last night. I couldn’t go deep. This is a problem I’ve been having off and on for years, one with which I’m sure everyone who has ever been a writer/mother/caretaker/jobholder is familiar. I’ve become hyper-vigilant. I’m always right on the surface, aware even in sleep of everything that is going on in the house. My mind won’t shut off. It’s exhausting.

As I lay awake, thinking about the concept of ‘going deep’ did cause me to spend some time pondering the mysteries of the universe. Physicists believe they have found the basic building block of reality, the smallest thing there is. The elementary particle. The Higgs boson. But for years I have had an intimation that creation is not just imponderably huge, without limit, out there, it is also imponderably ‘in there’, deep without limit. Just as there is no top, there is no bottom.

A while back, I read Jonah Lehrer's book called Imagine. In it Lehrer propounds that daydreaming and otherwise allowing the mind to wander aimlessly is the most effective way to tap your true creativity.

I dearly hope that is so, because I would then be the most effectively creative creature alive.

I've been working on the ARC corrections for my upcoming first book in a new series, The Wrong Girl, and at the same time, working on the first draft of the second book in the series. Some days I can slog along quite handily, but there are days that I open a vein and nothing comes out. When that happens, it causes me great agony and despair that I can’t whip up the wherewithal to do what needs to be done. On such days I sit at my desk for an hour staring at a pad of paper, or at the computer with my fingers poised over the keyboard, and … nothing. It’s not even that I can’t think of anything to write. I am always writing in my head, and have done for as far back as I can remember.

So I just put down something. Anything. I figure I can always fix it later. Then I use myself up on the meal preparation, laundry, chores, errands, doctor appointments. Or clean something, or garden or dust or cook. Brawny tasks which take only muscle and no opening of veins.

I have author friends who have full time jobs and small children and broken arms and still manage to pound out two, three, four books a year. And one of the main tenets of writing that I propound when I teach a class is that it doesn’t matter whether you feel like it or not, you just do it. If what you write is drivel, keep going, and you will eventually attract the attention of the muses.

Anybody can have a good idea for a novel. It’s having the guts/strength/discipline to get it on paper whether you feel like it or not that makes a writer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Cedric is back!

As I write this, I am sitting in the airport in Montreal, waiting for my flight. Because I’m travelling to the US, I had to rush to get to the airport two hours ahead of time, then breezed through security and customs in no time, and now have WAY too much time on my hands.

It is the season of summer travel as people head off for vacations or family visits, and nowadays air travellers spend a lot of time sitting around. Looking around, I see many people thumbing mindlessly through their phones and others like me on their laptops and tablets. But for those in the know, nothing beats a good mystery book to help time fly. In fact you have to be careful not to become so absorbed that you miss your flight!

This is why airport bookstores feature a big selection of bestselling thrillers. But often these are hardcover, weighing in at several pounds and difficult to stuff into the corner of your purse or backpack. Ereaders are an alternative, but for many, nothing beats a physical book. Which brings me to the real subject of this blog post – the Rapid Reads books from Orca Book Publishers. These are small paperbacks easily tucked into a purse or jacket pocket, and although short and designed for people with reading challenges, short attention spans or little time on their hands, they pack a compelling, fully developed story into their 100-150 pages. The majority of the Rapid Reads books are mystery novels written by veterans like myself, Gail Bowen, Vicki Delany, and Melodie Campbell.

My Rapid Reads series features shy country handyman and reluctant sleuth Cedric O’Toole, who longs for a simple life on his farm with his dog, his organic garden and his inventions. The country is full of secrets, however, and trouble always seems to find him. There are currently three Cedric novellas available through regular bookstores and online, but the fourth one, entitled Blood Ties, is due out in August and is available to pre-order now.

In Blood Ties, Cedric’s simple life is turned upside down when a stranger from Calgary named Steve turns up on his doorstep claiming to be his brother. Cedric’s mother was a single mother who took the secret of his father’s identity to her grave. So Steve’s attempt to trace his father becomes a journey into Cedric’s past and the mystery of his family’s rejection of him.

I’m very excited about this new book, which delves more deeply into Cedric’s personal struggles than the previous ones. Rapid Reads make great vacation and cottage reads too, perfect for savouring few hours on the dock or in a hammock, in the doctor’s office or even on the bus. So check them out at Orca Books. Happy reading!