Monday, September 30, 2019

Literary Existentialism

Is it something to do with autumn - or as you guys like to call it, fall?  The note of literary existentialism struck by Sybil and Thomas has certainly resonated with me.

I have just sent my new ms off to my agent and I'm now in that itchy, unsatisfactory period while I'm trying to tell myself I'm on holiday but not really enjoying it.  (Fortunately we go off on proper holiday in ten days' time which will take my mind off it - apologies in advance if the next post is a bit sketchy!)

I want to start thinking about the next book.  I'm a slow writer and I like to have my ducks more or less in a row before I confront the terror of a blank screen.  Indeed, I always have the first few pages written in longhand to have something to get me going.

The ideas are there - the ones that float up and drift around for a bit while I do the stress-testing bit, and often at that point they disappear without a trace.  Gradually one will, I hope, consolidate so that it won't break when I start playing with it.

But I haven't found that one yet and as Sybil says, it's  very uncomfortable and unsettling, right up until the time it all starts to flow.  If it does.  This is the stage where I'm wondering pessimistically if next time it will.

Which brings me on to Thomas's point, why do we write?  As we all agree, we don't to it for the money.  I would sleep a lot better if I didn't write - none of those three in the morning awakenings when I'm convinced I've wasted six months on a story that's going nowhere fast.

I could take up time-consuming hobbies -golf, for instance, if it weren't for the fact that I have no natural aptitude.  Or bridge, perhaps, if I could convince myself to care who won. (I think I take after my very deaf but still sparky great aunt who was a keen bridge-player.  As she left a bridge party after losing to her hosts, she remarked to her daughter in what was meant to be a whisper but sadly wasn't, 'I'm so glad they won, dear, because they would have been so unpleasant if they hadn't.')

The trouble is, the urge to tell stories is so much bone-deep that it really is an existential question for me: I write, therefore I am.  I can't imagine what I would think about, if I didn't have the potential for a story somewhere in my head.

And the other thing is, when you have one of those rare spells when you feel the book is writing itself and you can't write it down fast enough to keep up, it's a thrilling high. So perhaps that's the explanation: I'm an addict.  Perhaps someone should give me the address of Writers Anonymous - though of course I don't really need it. I could give up any time I want.  I just don't want to.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Our deal with the devil

I just received a new Samsung smartphone. It replaces the iPhone I've had for many years and was so out-of-date that I couldn't download the few apps I might've found useful. The new phone is an amazing piece of technology and so pretty. It's got way more capability than I'll ever use. In fact, my first chore was deleting many of the apps that came standard. Years back, when cameras were first installed on a cellphone, I thought, "That's dumb. Who would bother?" So much for that prognostication.

But my use of the Samsung is haloed with trepidation. Everything I do on the phone is tracked and recorded, then fed through computers to build my profile and from that, predict what I'm going to do next. We've all had the experience of searching for something on one platform, our phone for example, and then finding similar search results when we access Facebook on the computer. We know we're being constantly watched but act like we're cool with it. People who opt for smart speakers like Alexa astound me. You're okay letting a corporation put a microphone inside your house? Then again, every new car is a rolling fountain of your personal information. Where you went. When. What you listened to. What you accessed on your phone. With every passing day, privacy means less and less. We've become a society of exhibitionists exploited by professional voyeurs.

Last week I was watching Hitchcock's North by Northwest and I noticed a scene in a hotel where people retreated into phone booths to make calls. Contrast that when a couple of days ago, a young woman passed me by on the sidewalk while she was doing a video chat and discussing her recent trip to the gynecologist.

Our attitude toward technology, more specifically, social media and communication is increasingly bipolar. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the detrimental effects of this constant exposure to social media (mostly by phone) for young women. The same issue then published a piece about using phone apps to improve romantic relationships. Which is it?

The surveillance Orwell predicted in 1984 is tame compared to what we've willingly accepted. Winston and Julia never carried a pocket device that tracked their every move or recorded every snippet of conversation. At the present, our individual ensnarement in the web seems benign. It's all about convenience. But the dark side looms ahead. You've no doubt heard of doxxing, which is the publication on social media of your private details such as residence, contact information, place of work, family and their addresses for the purpose of harassing you into silence or banishment. In the not too distant future, expect what I hereby coin "idoxxing," meaning the public disclosure of your internet search history. What naughty things have you been looking up? Shame. Shame. Shame.

What interests me more as a crime writer is how all this technology creates the illusion of security and safety. Idoxxing will be used for blackmail. Also, every advance in cyber security only exposes more gaps to be leveraged by the bad guys. Our homes and financial accounts have never been more vulnerable. Once criminals crack into any system, they're free to loot and pillage. Nest eggs will vanish into the electronic ether. You can buy a device that blasts a signal over a broad spectrum to disable cellphones and wifi connections within a perimeter for the purpose of robbery or worse. The victim can't call for help and all the security systems are shut down. Pretty slick gizmo. Watch for it in my next crime novel.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Seen, Scene, Sawed

Oh my scene! My lovely perfect scene. Cut to ribbons. The best writing I've ever done. But the fact is, this lovely scene didn't belong in my book. That's why rewriting it didn't work.

My character had changed. He would never, never do what this scene required him to do. It's very upsetting. But when I took a cold hard look at the manuscript, I realized my motivation was to work in an interesting bit of history. That's never a good idea.

There's an intellectual component to writing that complements creativity. I usually enjoy this second phase because all the characters have shown up by then and I know what they are like. They've auditioned and made the cut. Rarely do I throw someone out of a book. In fact, I don't like to eliminate whole scenes either.

But once in a while I have to cry "uncle" and just admit that a scene doesn't belong. Something went wrong.

There are many reasons why scenes fall flat. My first clue is that I keep trying to make it fit and it simply doesn't work. Rather than tossing the whole thing out, sometimes it's a matter of rewriting it in a different character's point of view. This can't be done in my Lottie Albright books because the series is in first person. All of my historical novels are in multiple third person so that format is easier.

Sometimes scenes are simply in the wrong place. The plot flow is interrupted when this happen. Or perhaps a scene would be best presented as a wee bit of back story. Whole flashbacks generally aren't used in modern mystery. Just a hint of the reason for a conflict can be used effectively in the sequel to a scene.

I've done a lot of cutting on the manuscript I'm working on right now. Sadly, a lot of it comes from not from scenes, but eliminating sloppy writing and passive usage. When did I finally understand the importance of active voice? I knew about passive usage with my brain, but not my gut.

There is so much to learn about the craft of writing. I'm in awe of the masters who command language and create scenes so vivid I'm whisked away to another world.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

God Bless the Clipboard: Continuing the thread (my own)

My post from two weeks ago drew five comments, some conflicting, which, as a former columnist, I love. So….

I’m going to continue that thread.

This week, when I hit roughly the halfway point of my manuscript, I hit pause –– and then Print. I printed 175 pages, got my colored pencils and clipboard, and went over what I had written to date.

I was, frankly, amazed. I’ve gotten in the habit of composing at the keyboard and listening to the mechanical voice (a man’s when the voice is mine, a female’s when the voice is Peyton Cote’s) read the text to me. This works well for many aspects of editing –– finding missing words, spotting reduncies, stumbling over (and cutting down) long sentences.

What it doesn’t provide is the chance to read the book. Really read the book. My agent said in passing that she thought my second Peyton Cote novel, Fallen Sparrow, “wasn’t as tight” as the first book [in the series] Bitter Crossing. I didn't think much about the comment –– until this past week when, once again, I went back to the hardcopy, clipboard, and my colored pencils.

I realized something this week. I knew I was editing the manuscript, even revising extensively. However, I told someone the book “comes alive on the clipboard.” My best writing happens –– slashing, scribbling, drawing arrows –– when I recline on the couch. The book literally comes alive on the clipboard.

Why? I’m not entirely sure.

What I do know is that, pencil in hand, I’m reading the novel –– reading as a reader; not reading the novel as a writer, as I do on the screen. There’s a difference, and it’s a big one. On the screen, I read as a creator. I’m thinking about ways to make the book as I read. Holding the pages, I’m a reader, and I edit and rework the text in that vein. I don’t know if this makes sense, but it’s not “work mode.” I’m reviewing the pages from outside the creation process. My graduate school professor Rick DeMarinis used to say he “poured a glass of wine and sat down with the pages.” I know what he meant. Now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Why I Write

If you heard an odd noise last week, it was probably me sighing with relief. When I start a new project, it always takes me awhile to figure out where I’m going with the story. I think about the characters. I decide who was murdered. I settle on the killer and motive. I write the beginning scene and a few more. Even after all that, it still takes me awhile to really internalize the story and the new characters I created, to really figure out where I’m going with it.

Until I do that I’m uneasy. Can I write another book? Will I get it done in time? Will this story interest readers? All of those questions run through my head. When I finally get into a rhythm, as I did last week, I feel a great sense of relief.

During this time of unease, I have to keep reminding myself that this is just the way my mind works. No matter how uncomfortable it is, this is my creative process. There will always be this period of unease that lasts a couple months where I feel a bit like I’m floundering. When that period passes and I give that sigh of relief, I finally feel like I’m getting something done.

It’s tempting to compare myself to other writers. To say that I should be further along in the story by now because author X that I know would be. Or that I should get more done each day because author Y does. It’s not a good thing to do, to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s brains work differently. Everyone’s writing process is unique. Whenever I feel uneasy, I remind myself to have faith in my process and that, as long as I show up and keep writing, I’ll get there in the end.

With all of this angst I feel, why is it that I bother to write you ask. I don’t make a lot of money, which I’m sure is true of a lot of writers. I don’t sell a ton of books. I write because I feel compelled to tell stories. I have lots and lots of ideas that I hope one day to create novels or short stories from. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. It’s really something to have a book in hand that came out of a crazy idea I had.

I feel special when someone tells me they enjoyed reading one of my books. I feel blessed when readers take the time to spread the word about my series and to ask me to speak at a meeting like I did last week at a local church. I had a wonderful time talking about writing and my stories and answering questions. Sure, I sold a few books, but really it was just fun to talk to people who were interested in what I had to say.

I doubt I’ll ever write a best seller, but I’m okay with that. I’m happy spinning my tales and putting my books out there, hoping that readers will enjoy spending time with my characters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

So you’re a published author, now what?

by Rick Blechta

Tom’s post from yesterday is well worth reading — especially if you are a new author. He speaks truth, and if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s still truth.

As much as we would all like it to be so, getting a book published does not automatically open a door to untold riches. Certainly it is better than not getting a book published, but don’t get your expectations up too high.

I came at the book publishing game (and it is a game) from the music business (which is also a game, with an even more un-level playing field), so my expectations about being an author were more tempered than the average person.

My wife and I, both being musicians, teach private students to supplement our income. Every now and then we get a student who shows ability and decides they want to focus their life on being a musician. In those cases, the first thing we do is to ask them about their other interests in life. What else are they good at? We focus in on those things upon which they good build a solid working life.

The goal here is to find out their commitment to the life a musician. If they have anything else in their lives that would generate a living wage, we encourage them to do that and play music as their outside-of-work passion. However, if their answer is “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do than be a musician,” only then do we talk turkey. “So you want to be a musician, this is what you have to do and how hard you have to work to at least give yourself a chance.” It can be a hard thing to hear — but we present them with the truth, then help them as best we can to achieve their goal.

Yes, I have musician-friends who make a ton of money. But I have a much larger number of them who don’t make much money. They struggle to keep afloat (and that’s why so many of us have private students), so they can keep their dream alive. Most of us wind up taking day jobs in other fields so we can keep body and soul together — and finance our real passion in life.

It is exactly the same in book publishing. The only realistic course to plot for oneself is to write and get your works published simply because you just love writing and enjoy then being an author (which is not much more than being a sales person for your work). If you win the “writing lottery” and sell a ton of books, great! I’ll be cheering you from the sidelines — and be a slight bit envious at the same time.

Being a successful author or musician — or any sort of artist — involves far more luck than talent. Yes, there are those once-in-a-lifetime talents who just can’t miss, but they’re few and far between, and even then, the right people have to come in contact with them. Remember this: Mozart died penniless.

The reward for a writer is to hold in your hand a book you wrote. If you can accomplish that, you have gained a hell of a lot and won the most important prize. If you go into writing as a means to generate a living wage, then you are in the wrong business, or perhaps the right business — but for the wrong reason.

I like to think of my published books as my “letters” to the world. Someone on the other side of the world, perhaps years after my death, will find one of them and read it. Even if they don’t like it, I still touched their lives.

That’s the payoff in writing. If you get past that and go on to making a living wage from your writing, even better.

And if you strike it rich, well then God bless you!

But for the moment, keep your day job, please?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Why We Do This.

My newest book, Graveyard Bay, launched on September 10th. In the past week, I’ve done several book signings, one book talk (with dinner), and was a featured author at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance show in South Carolina. Next weekend, I’m flying to Scottsdale, AZ, to sign books at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

Since the launch, I’ve had readers tell me that the book has kept them up at night reading. One told me she stayed up until four in the morning so that she could finish the book. A work colleague told me a similar story, giving me a slight shudder when she talked about the scary ending.

That’s what we do this for, isn’t it? To know that you’ve told a good story? To know that you might have scared the bejesus out of someone? To know that you might have made a lasting impression and a new fan?

If you’re doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Early on in my writing career, I showed my wife a royalty check that was smaller than the others. Her comment was, “It’ll come.”

My answer to her was, “Well, you know I don’t do this for the money.”

That’s when she grabbed me by the front of my shirt and said, “I never want to hear you say that again.”

Perhaps it didn't happen quite like that, but I'm a storyteller.

It would be fabulous to be that tiny percentage of mystery authors who can make a decent living and not need a day job. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the President of our Chamber of Commerce here on the coast of North Carolina and being a cheerleader for this area is a wonderful experience. I'm not anywhere near ready to retire yet.

But writing is my passion. I do it because I love it. The reality is I could not live solely on the income from my books—yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Just not today.

Last July I attended Thrillerfest in New York and one of the events it a debut authors breakfast. There were about twenty writers who have either recently released a thriller or was about to. They had a chance to spend about two minutes talking to the audience about themselves and their books.

What was most disconcerting was that there were four or five of them who announced to the large crowd that, now they had a book under their belt, they had quit their day jobs. The crowd loved hearing that and applauded.

I wanted to grab those authors by their shirts, the way my wife had grabbed mine, and say, “Why the hell did you do that? That’s premature. You have to be realistic.”

Here’s a short explanation about how this generally works. Unless you’re self-published, and that’s a whole other subject, once you sign a contract with a publisher, the author receives half of the agreed upon advance.

Once the book has undergone revisions with the publisher’s editor and is locked and loaded for release, the author receives the second half of the advance.

That advance is not a gift. It’s exactly what it says it is--an advance on earned royalties from book sales. The author is paid a percentage of the number of books that are sold. If you don’t sell enough books to cover the advance (and you certainly hope that you do), the author doesn’t see another dime.

That’s why we authors are always hustling to promote ourselves and our books.

I think the best way to sum this all up is with a quote from another Poisoned Pen Press author, Jeffrey Siger. Mr. Siger is a former Wall Street lawyer who did manage to quit his day job to become a full-time mystery/thriller writer who also lives half of the year on a Greek island. In an interview, he said of becoming a full-time writer, “I’m also a realist, and in making my decision I knew and appreciated that writing, as with any career in the arts, is a lousy way to make a living, but a wonderful way to make a life.”

Thank you, Mr. Siger.

Friday, September 20, 2019


As I was last week -- when I briefly popped up because I had the wrong Friday -- I'm still deep into the manuscript I have due and day job. So please forgive me for not doing a real post.

I do want to direct your attention to two mystery conferences coming up in March 2020 (love that year. Can you believe it?).

The first conference will be the third annual Murderous March sponsored by the Upper Hudson (upstate New York) chapter of Sisters in Crime coming up the weekend of March 20 and 21. Our partner in this endeavor is a local library. This conference is growing much faster than we anticipated re writer interest in participating in what for the first year was a small, chapter event. Next year, we anticipate having expanded beyond our library space. If you are interested in attending, I'm the program chair and will have flyers available shortly.

The other conference is one you may already be familiar with -- Sleuthfest in Florida. Sleuthfest will be over four days, March 26-29. Catriona McPherson is the Guest of Honor. I'm one of the four Author Faculty who will be doing three workshops over the course of the conference.

More on my next Friday. Hope to report I've finished my manuscript on gangster movies and gotten it out the door. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Little Bit of Yourself

I (Donis) belong to an outfit called P.E.O., which is a philanthropic organization providing educational grants, loans, and scholarships for women. It's a worthwhile organization, but I am not the most diligent of members. Mostly because I am one of the more unsociable members of the human race. But I try to contribute where I can.

My local group has decided to hold a garage sale for their fundraiser this year. They have done this before, a few years ago, and I took myself in hand and spent the day working the sale. Sadly, it made me realize that I am not in peak physical condition, since I apparently don’t even have the strength to stand upright for several hours at a time without exhausting myself. Even so, I enjoyed it, more or less. We were fortunate that the sale was held that year during the first relatively cool weekend we’ve had here in the Phoenix area since last spring. If it had been held the weekend before, we would have all died of heat stroke. As it was, the temp reached the low 90s. But the workers and the buyers were all Arizonans and thus already desiccated and leathery, so we thought the weather was swell. This year the sale will be at the end of October, so we may be lucky enough to have low 90s again.

I will probably spend the previous couple of weeks going through my house in order to find things to contribute to the sale. I will be really proud of myself if I'm able to part with as much as I did the first time. However, I have my doubts.

It’s not that I’m a pack rat. No, I’m not. Really. It’s just … well, out of sight, out of mind. I’ve had other things to do. I’ve been distracted. And the dog ate my homework. I think ‘stuff’ just multiplies all on its own without your having to do anything, especially if you’ve lived in the same place for 25 years.

While going through my stuff, I've discovered that I’m quite sentimental about objects, though, which actually surprises me somewhat. What possible good can come of saving an item that you enjoyed when you were twelve, especially when it’s so used and beaten up that it’s hardly recognizable? I admit I find it very difficult to part with something that was given to me by someone I love. I agonized for a while before parting with a stuffed elephant my husband gave me, even though it has been sitting on a chair gathering dust for years. Out it goes, and lo and behold, I have my chair back!

A gift is one thing, but a handmade item is something else. A thing that someone created with her own hands has a kind of magic to it. There is an essence of the maker woven into the object itself, a bit of her soul imbued into it. I can’t possibly get rid of the little picture of vegetables that my sister embroidered for me, or the crocheted rainbow wall hanging that the other sister made. I even have a cigar box that youngest sister glued macaroni all over and spray-painted gold when she was in second grade (she's in her 60s now). I have kept several dresses that my mother made for me in the 1960s and ’70s. I couldn’t get into them with a shoehorn. Or a building crane. My mother is gone, now, but her craft and skill reaches across the decades and speaks to me as if she were still here.

I have the same soul-magic feeling about any craft or work of art. A piece of the creator is in it, and ought to be respected and admired for that, if nothing else. Even food that is cooked from scratch out of the goodness of someone’s heart is better for your health and well-being.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Old dogs in the digital age

Lots of material for blogs here on Type M this week! I was going to skip over the politics discussion, but decided to put in my two cents' worth first. Here in Canada, we are heading into our own election campaign, mercifully only forty days long instead of the 1 1/2 year marathons that seems to be the norm south of the border. I think if our campaigns lasted 1 1/2 years, I'd have no more hair left; forty days is quite enough! The savagery and the polarization is certainly one of the most depressing elements of campaigning these days, and we Canadians are not immune. The famous Canadian politeness does not extend online. But more infuriating to me are the lies. Not just lies of omission or cherry picking of facts or spin-doctoring, but outright, baldfaced lies that politicians have the temerity to come out with. They must be banking on enough people not knowing enough to recognize the lies. The sad result of this is that many of us don't believe a word politicians say.

Another interesting topic on Type M is the print vs. digital divide in reading, writing, and editing. There has been some surprising research in recent years about the differences - notably that people remember printed books better than ebooks or screen articles, and that college students who take hand-written notes remember and understand the lecture material better than those taking notes on a laptop. In the former case, it may have to do with the fact that the reader has more of a sense of the whole and where they are in that whole when they are reading a print book. They can flip back and forth to refresh their memory or doublecheck information. Reading on a screen feels like being caught in the present tense. It's not nearly so easy to check the context or to see how one part relates to a previous part.

In the case of note-taking, the theory is that because handwriting is slower, the student can't record verbatim, straight from ear to fingertips without passing through brain, but has to analyze the material, paraphrase, condense, and re-organize it, so that the key points are extracted.

I am one of those dinosaurs who writes my first drafts long-hand, in part because I started writing before the computer age and that habit of sitting with pen and paper in hand and drink at my elbow is well established. Writing on a computer was associated with more analytical, professional writing like the reports and articles I prepared for my other work. But I also think that handwriting serves creativity precisely because it slows down the brain, makes us think more carefully and deeply about a scene, listen more attentively to the characters, and so on. It also feels more visceral, as if we're more directly connected to the words we write.

Editing, however, is an interesting hybrid experience for me. I do what I call micro-editing on the screen – editing line by line not only for copy errors but also for clunky language, redundancies, over-used words, ambiguous sentences, and minor inconsistencies from page to page. eg the character is having breakfast one minute and dinner on the next page. A lot of tightening and polishing gets done on-screen. But the big-picture editing, which I only do once I've run through at least the first micro-edit to tidy up the manuscript, has to be done by printing out the entire manuscript, or at least the part I'm working on. I get a better sense of the whole – plot flow, pacing, character consistency, logic, effect – when I have a pile of pages to scan and flip through as needed, whether it is just one chapter or the whole book.

It's also easier to see at a glance what changes I've made, what words I've deleted and what paragraph moved. Track Changes, besides being very distracting and messy looking, replaces the old with the new and it's more difficult to decipher from the side column what the previous text was. And if I've saved multiple versions of a draft, it's much easier to compare them side by side on paper than flipping from screen to screen.

Perhaps the more computer savvy writer has tricks and software techniques to do these things more efficiently online, but I have enough trouble keeping up with the upgrades that the software industry keeps foisting on me. I guess I tend to do things as I always have. Old dogs and all that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

All over the map

by Rick Blechta

I don’t have a specific topic to write about this week, but I’d like to share a number of disconnected thoughts on various topics.

First, while Type M is usually a “politics-free” zone, I don’t think Charlotte’s and Aline’s most recent posts were out of line at all. The political state of the world seems to be in free fall these days with everything up for grabs from one polarized side or another. Both my comrades are correct when they say there no longer seems to be any common ground to build on. It’s “my way or the highway” on everything. My feeling is no good can come from this.

Here in “polite” Canada, we’re in the midst of campaigning for a federal election on October 21st. The battle lines are drawn. I’m not going to go into the specific platforms of each of the 5(!) parties running candidates, but from where I sit, things are very muddy. I know which party I will NOT be voting for, and with a British parliamentary system in place here, that leaves me with the choice of voting for the most viable candidate to defeat the candidate of my not-favourite party in my riding . More often than not, lately, that’s the way I have to vote. For the past three elections, I’ve been forced to only vote strategically. That’s not a good thing. At least this time, the candidate I will be voting for has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected.

I have noticed another troubling thing, though. The political ads in Polite Canada have become more and more nasty as trends south of the border filter into the Great White North. The two main parties are most guilty of this, but everyone is doing it to some extent. Again, not good. Wouldn’t it be great if candidates were limited to speaking only on the policies they are espousing instead of attacking the policies of their competition, as well as the opposing candidates? How refreshing that would be! Helpful, too, I imagine.

Stepping off the soap-box now…

From the publishing world: The juggernaut that is Margaret Atwood is dominating media coverage at the moment. Everyone seems to be talking about her latest novel. How good is that? Imagine, with everything else going on in the world demanding our attention, a novel is near the top of media coverage as well as around the water fountain in offices. I was on the Toronto subway this weekend and heard three people who obviously didn’t know each other discussing what they’d heard about The Testaments. Two of the people had already purchased the book. Wonderful!

Anyone out there into preserving and canning? We are, in a pretty big way. Since the beginning of September, we’ve done up two bushels of tomatoes into tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes, my yearly batch of crab apple jelly, pickled beans. We made pickled asparagus and strawberry jam earlier. We were all set to make peach and mango chutney until I discovered we still had 8 jars from last year’s fantastic batch. Same thing with damson plum jam. Tomorrow we’re going to roast a bushel of red peppers since we’re nearly out. (That will never do!) Then we’re going to rest until it gets cold enough to dry cure some pork in our basement. That’s another reason I enjoy fall so much — even though it means a lot of work.

What does this writing about food have to do with writing? Nothing, on the surface. But I find — especially when I’m working alone which will be the case while throwing shepherd peppers on a wood fire tomorrow — I start thinking about whatever work-in-progress I have going at the moment. It’s almost as if my characters drop by to keep me company. It would be great if they’d help out, but they never do. Still the companionship is nice.

I will get back at them, though, by not sharing whenever we’re enjoying the fruits of our labour during the rest of the year.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Poisonous Politics

Charlotte's post, not surprisingly, struck a chord with me.  Is the poison in politics a contagion?  Is simply the zeitgeist?

 In Britain, the public watches with slack-jawed astonishment as the 'honourable members' (so-called) of our esteemed parliament behave like children at a party that has reached the cake-throwing stage,  as we wait to see whether our next leader will be a Marxist who hates the United States, a Trump mini-me with a truth problem or a so-called Liberal  Democrat who is so democratic that she has proposed calling another referendum which she will only agree to respect provided the vote goes the way she wants it to.

Negotiations with the European Union have been horrifying, with unpleasantness, spite and bad faith on both sides.

In France, the streets of Paris - and elsewhere - burn in out-of-control protests against their President.  In East Germany, Angela Merkel's party is losing to the fascist Right.  In Glasgow, Irish Republican marches clash violently with Orange Order Protestant marches, despite the Good Friday agreement.
(And please, what on earth does it have to do with us in Scotland?)

As Charlotte says, it is the savagery that appalls.  What is it about our brave new world that makes 'compromise' a dirty word?  That makes 'hate' a legitimate feeling to have about someone whose opinion you don't share?  That calls being prepared to understand the other person's point of view  weakness?

I mourn too the American politics of my youth when Republican and Democrat politics more or less touched in the middle and it was still possible just to weigh up the policies and vote accordingly - respect!  In Britain, it was always more tribal and loathing for the other side is more or less compulsory now. In defiance, I have never joined a political party and have voted for several different ones in my time. I don't hate anyone, though when members of one party in Scotland swear at you in the street, never mind on Twitter, it's sometimes hard not to seriously dislike them.

Twitter - ah yes!  How much does the internet, and the ability to send abuse anonymously, have to do with our problems?  Discuss, as my university essay topics used to say.

But at least in the US, you have the chance to vote to change it all next year.  Here, irrevocable decisions are going to be made and it's hard not to think of  WB Yeats's lines in The Second Coming: 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.'

Please, somebody, write something to cheer me up!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Politics, Anyone?

I don't discuss politics when I'm at a signing or asked to speak at an organization. I stay away from giving my opinion about controversial subjects. This is a matter of courtesy to me. People doing me the courtesy of attending an event don't come to be subjected to political tirades.

Politics in these United States have taken a savage turn. Discussions turn mean fast. I suspect that is true for my British Type M'ers over Brexit.

I'm liberal by choice and because I was instilled with fervor for the Democratic party by my father whose family came from the Deep South: Haversham County in Georgia. Politics were discussed passionately and often in the Southerland household.

Nevertheless, I'm not a "Yellow Dog Democrat." This term refers to people who would vote Democrat even if the party's only candidate was an old yellow dog. The phrase was coined after the Civil War during a heated Presidential campaign. I always vote. I'm most likely to be swayed by statements on a candidates website.

It's hard to gather accurate information about issues and personalities in today's world of sound bites. I would love to hear unopinionated news.

I can think for myself, thank you. I want to know what our candidates say and think, without immediate exposure to some political wonk's professional opinion about what a speaker "really" meant.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Paper or Plastic (really LCD)?

This week I'm editing –– lying on my couch, a No. 2 pencil in hand, manuscript pages cycling through my clipboard in stacks of 25, and I’m “chopping the wood,” as one writer-friend describes it.

And I’m thinking a lot about the process.

By day, I am a teacher, an English teacher. This means that over the course of my 20-year career, I have graded exactly a classroom full –– floor-to-ceiling –– of essays. Grading is by no means editing, and I pride myself on being paperless in that pursuit. When it comes to working on my own manuscript, though, I prefer paper over the screen. I have come to believe that I read faster on the screen than I do when holding a paper book. I know I can go through my manuscript much faster when reading pages on the screen than the printout on my clipboard. But I also know the finished product isn't as good. I learned that the hard way.

All of which makes me wonder why this is –– at least for me –– a disparity in editing a manuscript on the paper vs. reading it on the LCD monitor. What is it about editing and revising on a computer that is different from holding paper pages? Is the tactile experience part of revision? I know writers who insist on writing on legal pads and typing afterward. They describe the experience of handwriting a manuscript as slower, maybe more deliberate and thoughtful. I compose on computer. Couldn't imagine writing it out longhand. (Embarrassing confession time: working with my fifth-grade daughter, I realized I have forgotten how to write cursive. My late grandmother, a first-grade teacher, is turning over in her grave.)

The process is slower. Maybe that alone explains it. It takes me two hours to go through 25 manuscript pages when I'm working on hard copy. That's maybe twice as long I might spend going through the same pages on a screen. Is that why the finished copy is better? Maybe that’s part of it. But I sense there’s more to it. And I’m not sure what or why.

So I turn the discussion to you, dear Type M Community, to add your two cents here: Why is paper better than plastic?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Little Rebellion, A Little Fun

I’ve been feeling a little rebellious lately. And annoyed. And frustrated. So I went to visit those rebels in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland yesterday.

Yesterday was the first time I’ve seen Disneyland since the Star Wars “land” opened. My annual pass blocked me out most of the summer, which is fine because it’s too crowded and hot for me then anyway.

They did a good job on the look and feel as Disney always does. Disneyland was not terribly busy so you could just walk in and out without having to wait in line. When it gets busy, they give you a time when you can enter the new land.

Not a lot in the land, though. There’s one ride right now (Millennium Falcon) and one other coming in January. Then there’s a place to build your own droid and one with light sabers. As far as I can tell, those are both expensive. Then there’s Oga’s Cantina, the only place in Disneyland that you can buy an alcoholic drink. There was a line to get into that so I didn’t bother. There's a place to eat. And then there's something called "Milk Stand" where you can get non-dairy fruit drinks. No milk involved. Seems an odd name for the stand.

I thought you might be interested in a few photos.

What does this have to do with writing, you say? Well, I took the ARC of my latest book, GHOSTS OF PAINTING PAST, with me and did a little photo shoot. It’s been a tradition since my second book. Alas, my first has never been to Disneyland. I will have to rectify that one day.

The book will be out November 19th and is available for pre-order now. Or mostly available. That’s one of my frustrations. Pre-orders for the Trade Paperback at Amazon are lagging behind all of the others. One of these days the stars will align and everything will fall into place at Amazon.

Here are some pre-order links if you’re interested:


Before I get to those pictures I promised, I feel I should acknowledge that it's September 11th and remember all of those who lost their lives on that horrible day. I can't believe it's been 18 years. We were in Hawaii at the time, on the Big Island, so ended up having to spend a few extra days there. Not a bad place to have to wait to get home, but I still remember the shock and sadness and fright I felt.

Anyway, here are those pictures:

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The value of daydreaming

by Rick Blechta

Years ago, my mom gave me an envelope filled with a bunch of my old report cards from grade school. I must have glanced at them at the time, but I don’t remember it. Looking for something in my filing cabinet the other day, I ran across them again.

Something really struck me as I thumbed through the stack. The first mention was in Grade 2: “Student has a very vivid imagination.” In Grade 3, two standout mentions: “I often catch Richard daydreaming,” and “Richard seems to enjoy creative writing assignments the most.”

In every year up to Grade 6 (as far as the report cards went), there are multiple mentions about creative writing assignments and repeatedly I’m gently chastised about daydreaming too much.

Of course now, this all makes sense, but I remember my mother talking to me about paying attention more in class. Since these reports are from roughly 60 years ago now, I can’t tell you what I was daydreaming about, but I do know that from an early age I was constantly making up little stories/scenarios about various things, most of them pretty mundane, even into university. It just seems to be part of my make-up.

I’m a strong believer in the power of a good imagination, as well as the value of daydreaming or even simply getting lost in thought. I think all go hand-in-hand and need to be nurtured. Neither of my sons had many comments on report cards about daydreaming, but both of them have pretty vivid imaginations and have written a few very intriguing stories over the years. Neither became a writer like their dad — probably a good thing considering what we get paid — but I’m always thrilled to read something they’ve written.

My question to all of you — readers and writers alike — is this: did you have these experiences in childhood? And how were they handled by the adults caring for you? I’ve heard some wonderful stories about nurturing these things, but also some pretty horrendous stories about “applying oneself to valuable things, not wasting time daydreaming and living in a ‘storybook’ world.”

So, what do you have to share with us?

Monday, September 09, 2019

On Hurricanes, Book Launches, and Anticipation

I’ve mentioned in the past, that my wife and I live on a barrier island on the coast of North Carolina. Not officially one of the Outer Banks. We’re just south of there, jutting out from the mainland facing south. You can consider us a speed bump for hurricanes racing up the coastline.

Except Hurricane Dorian didn’t race. It crawled. From the time we first heard about it, to the time it battered the Bahamas with Category 5 winds, to where it appeared it was going to slam into Florida, then it crept up the east coast—it took days. Someone described it as being stalked by a turtle.

For us on our island, the storm track was alarming. The weather experts forecast that it would go north, hugging the coast, right up until it got to us. Either it would miss us by a whisper, or it would hit us dead on.

We didn’t get the direct hit. But we were slapped with ninety mph winds and driving rain, enough to knock out power, down trees, and damage roofs. The Outer Banks, just north of us, weren’t so lucky. Especially Ocracoke Island which was seriously flooded.

We weathered the storm with a group of die hard neighbors. We always assess what the danger is and decide to stay or to evacuate. We stayed and we are fine. We have power and internet and little structural damage. However, many others in our county can’t say the same.

The damage left behind by these storms is heartbreaking. We are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Florence. There are still many families that are displaced from their homes and hotels and businesses still under repair, and psyches are fragile.

As you may know, my newest book, Graveyard Bay, is being released on September 10. I was supposed to fly to Scottsdale for a book launch event on Monday, September 9, in Scottsdale at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.

I asked my publisher to reschedule because a storm like Dorian doesn’t just come and go. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. It’ll be days or weeks before many businesses reopen. It’ll take even longer to clean up the storm debris. Both Poisoned Pen Press and Sourcebooks graciously have rescheduled my appearance in Arizona to take place September 29.

I say all of this to talk about anticipation. I’ve been anticipating the launch of my new book for months. The wait is agonizing. You wonder if you’ll get favorable reviews, if readers will like your book or even buy it.

Even worse was the anticipation for Hurricane Dorian. We saw what it did in the Bahamas. It was coming at us as a Category 2, but then somewhere off the coast of Georgia, strengthened to a Cat 3. Would it continue to strengthen? Would we take a direct hit as many predicted?

Since we talk about writing here in Type M for Murder, keep in mind how anticipation builds tension in a book, amplifies concern, and ramps up fear. Don’t give away too much too soon.

Because I’ve only had power back on for less than twelve hours and watched our internet flicker back to life only just this morning, this blog will be very brief.

My first book signing for Graveyard Bay will be here in Carteret County, on the patio of Floyd’s 1921 Restaurant in Morehead City on Friday the 13, from 5pm to 7pm. Floyd’s is a perfect choice because almost exactly a year ago to that day, it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Florence. But now it’s back and survived the battering that Dorian gave us. The perfect place to launch!

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Guest Post: Janet Laurence

 Hello, Aline here. It's my pleasure to introduce you this week to Janet Laurence, a woman of many talents and very much a live wire.  She has not only written cookery books but a book about how to write them, she was 'Bon Viveur' to the Daily Telegraph newspaper and is the writer of contemporary novels as well as several crime series.  So she's well-placed to write about That Question.


Any writer will have been asked the same question whenever they give a talk: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

It’s as if there is a shop you can go into, look along the shelves, browse the items stacked on the display tables, and find a few ideas that will fire your new book – or whatever it is that you need ideas for. Whereas in real life ideas are all around, if your mind is open to them.

Ideas for the first crime novel I wrote, A Deepe Coffyn, came from a talk given by P D James. Up until that point, though a great admirer of her crime novels, I had never met her, nor had I written a book, any book! It was at a conference of Southern Writers held in a lovely centre (now, alas, gone) just south of Chichester. There were peacocks in the garden uttering their unbeautiful cries every now and then.

Phyllis told us all we had the perfect setting for a crime novel. It provided a ‘closed circle of suspects’, which she said was important, and the peacocks added an unusual touch of atmosphere. Unlike many speakers at such conferences, Phyllis did not disappear immediately after her talk but stayed the rest of the weekend, allowing any of us who wanted to speak with her. Awe struck, having told her how much I admired her books, I said I didn’t think I could ever write a crime novel because I could never guess ‘who dunnit’ in all the ones I read.

‘Ah,’ she said gently, ‘you see, when you know whodunnit, it’s all much easier.’

 Her talk and my conversation with her came back to me some months later when I had to produce various pieces of writing for a course I went to at the same conference centre. I’d gone there hoping to be helped into writing a romantic novel, I was keen to pursue a career rather on the lines of Mills& Boon. Instead, I ended with all the makings for the first in my culinary crime series featuring Darina Lisle, roving cordon bleu cook. ‘Have knives, will travel,’ kept running through my brain as the course attendees were instructed to write various pieces.

I bashed out a first page, then samples of conversation, and various scenes to order on my portable typewriter (no lap top in those days), following the same characters, and gradually realised I had the makings of a crime novel. So I created a weekend symposium of the Historical Epicurean Society (and I still can’t understand why there isn’t one), held at a centre providing a closed circle of suspects, a cook,my main character, to provide the historical food, and a murder.

Both the conference and the creative writing course taught me, first: that if something somebody said, be it a speaker or in general conversation, reverberated in my mind, it was offering me something. Some idea. I might not know exactly what or if I could use it, but there it was, mine for the taking.

 Writing the ten books in that series, I found that as I was approaching the end of one, an idea for the next would gradually take shape in my mind. Where had I found the idea?

I set that series in the food world, one I knew quite well as I wrote the weekly cookery column for the Daily Telegraph at that time and was one of the very early members of the Guild of Food Writers. So I had a licence to talk to anyone I thought might be able to give me background information and, maybe, ideas I could use.

There was an importer of specialist foods who told me some of the problems they had as well as showing off their range of foods. Then and in the train going home, my mind was turning what he’d said into possible ideas for characters and dastardly motives. I think he was the only person I sent a copy of the book that resulted from their help (acknowledged in the book), who didn’t write and thank me! There are definitely informants who have been dismayed at what I have read into their seemingly innocent factual account of their dealings.

 When I sent Peter Bazalgette the book I wrote after he had so kindly allowed me to attend a day’s recording of the Food and Drink programme he produced and directed for the BBC, he wrote back saying he’d had no idea the programme contained so many possible areas for conflict and resentment.

That’s what I mean about opening one’s mind to possible ideas. After I sent a book to someone I worked for as a public relations consultant he asked me to promise never to set one of my novels in his world! So far I haven’t.

 I find that the really interesting part of writing crime is the way that murder – and which of us does not write about murder? – and its subsequent investigation throws a spotlight on relationships. Being suspected of murder, or being close to someone who could just possibly have killed someone, could be likened to being in the cauldron stirred by the witches in Macbeth, with its ‘eye of newt and tongue of frog’, etc, etc.’ The resulting crime novel brew raises previously unsuspected passions and reveals reasons that could well be motives for murder.

Which brings me to the heart of any crime novel: what can set one human being to kill another? It is the most dastardly, most final action one person can take against another. Here I find a valuable source of information in newspapers, particularly the Daily Mail. For instance, there has recently been a story regarding the havoc current public interest in having their DNA analysed can produce. A remarkable number of men have been dismayed to discover that the sons they had regarded as their progeny were, in fact, sired by another. That could well engender murderous thoughts against the wife but I find I can’t stop thinking about one particular case where the husband is suing the wife for the money he had spent in bringing up the son, I think he was about seven years old when the husband discovered the child wasn’t his, and he’d rejected the child from his life (I think I saw from a later story that he hadn’t).

 Now, for my purposes, the reaction of the supposed father isn’t my main interest. What occupies my mind are the possible feelings of the child as he grows up with a father that isn’t a father, who rejects him for no fault of his, and the terrible question mark over who is his biological father. Add a mother whose personality so far as the child is concerned is irrevocably changed and there is a story that could well lead to murder.

 Of course, wherever the idea comes from, by the time whatever work it inspired has been written, the actual source has been changed out of any recognition. This is the nature of creative writing.

One book I wrote arose from a news clipping about a child who found a beauty box that had been accidentally left behind on a beach. When the owner was finally tracked down, it turned out that she had felt unable to face anybody without her makeup and therefore hadn’t come out of her room until the box that contained what she considered ‘her face’ was found. When the book was finished, the only factor that remained from that cutting was the reliance one of the main characters had on her looks and their effect on others.

These ‘ideas’ are spurs that set my mind working. They can show themselves anywhere and at any time.

Talking to people, particularly people one doesn’t know, often produces amazing details of others’ lives. I find myself thinking, and sometimes saying, ‘there’s a story there’. Usually I don’t note the interesting details or history down and such is my chronic lack of memory (nothing new, I lost it when I was about ten. One week I had total recall, the next - a blur) I usually forget whatever it was. I would be totally lost without my diary. However, I was once told that if an idea is good enough, it will return. Which infers that if it doesn’t return, it wasn’t worth much. That is calming but I don’t really believe it’s true.

 Waiting in a station or airport, travelling in a train or on a bus, can produce ideas and characters. Body language can be almost as informative as words and faces can suggest characters. It doesn’t matter if your translation of that language or facial looks is way off beam. The ideas that have arisen can form the basis of a short story, or of a sub-plot.

 I was watching an episode of ‘Who do You Think You Are’ when the subject that week discovered a couple of ancestors along the line had been part of the fairground world around the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. All of a sudden, there on the TV screen was a large wooden screen illustrating various jungle animals and I was carried into another world. In the same programme was a marriage certificate that stated the bride was a spinster. But there was an earlier marriage, one that seemed to have been forgotten. Which, I thought, surely meant that the second marriage had not been legal. The ideas churned in my mind. I recorded the repeat of that programme so I could watch it again and again. Two essential cogs for the second book in my Edwardian Ursula Grandison series had been put into place.

 If I think a television programme could possibly provide ideas or background information, I record it. Easy enough to delete if it doesn’t.

True crime books are fertile grounds for ideas. I read in one that suicides are never committed lying down. Well! Mulling over this interesting fact, it occurred to me that what looked on the face of it a genuine suicide, could be questioned by someone aware of the ‘never lying down’ information. So I had a turning point for the first in my Edwardian series.

 Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Some can kick-start a book, others can help along a plot in difficulties. An audience member at a talk I gave complained he couldn’t see how to sort his plot out and could I please tell him what he should do. Keep working at it, I said, especially before you go to sleep at night, and keep an open mind. Eventually, I assured him, he would find the answers.

 So maybe there is an Ideas Shop out there. We just take it along with us as we try and sort out our plots and characters. May mine never be shut!

Friday, September 06, 2019

Guilt as a Plot Device

I'm still trying to finish up summer projects, settle into fall semester, and set up a schedule. But I did have a thought this morning that I want to share.

I woke up when it was still early --or seemed to be. My bedroom doesn't get morning sunlight, so I always have to check the clock. I mention this because I looked down toward my feet and remembered that my cat, Harry, had knocked on my door (literally -- with large Maine Coon paws. He does that every morning when I haven't gotten up by the time he is ready to start the day. It's his follow-up to meows).

Last night, he knocked as I was reading, and I was surprised. I opened the door, he strolled in and instead of looking around and leaving, he hopped up on the bed. He stretched out and settled in. It was almost as if he had been reading my mind and thought this would be a good time to remind me that he is a cat who enjoys company. I had been gone most of the day, and first he curled up in my lap for a nap after he'd eaten, now he was getting in more quality time with me by sleeping on my bed instead of his favorite living room chair.

He seemed to have sensed that I was feeling guilt and decided to rub it in. Before he knocked on the door I was reading a book (research for 1939 thriller that I have on my nightstand) and debating a trip in 2020. I've been wanting to visit Ireland and Scotland. A friend is going on a guided bus tour of Scotland, and emailed to invite me to join her. I have enough travel points to cover my airfare, and it would be the perfect time to do some research for the seventh Lizzie Stuart book I plan to write (assuming I'll finish the sixth). Only problem: If I go to Scotland, I will have to board Harry with his sitter while I'm away. His sitter is one of his favorite humans, and he stayed with her when I was in Alaska. But he was really upset with me when I crated him up and dropped him off. He tried to hide under a chair when I returned to pick him up. Of course, we have been together almost three years longer now. He should know by now that I'll come back to bring him home. But I'm still worried that two weeks away from home would be traumatic for him.

Okay, I know, he's a cat. But I have to live with him. And I feel guilt about not being a good "parent" to my "fur baby" (guilt is built into this language). Even though my cat lives much better than some people and he's certainly lucky that even though I didn't intend to adopt a cat, I was persuaded. He has a good life, and it's not like he would suffer during those two weeks. But I feel guilty. On the other hand, Harry's sitter has a camera in the room reserved for the one cat she is boarding. I can dial in and even talk to him. So if she can keep him, I will probably go.

That brings me to how this is related to writing -- as I was thinking about Harry this morning, it occurred to me that what we feel guilty about provides a clue about what we feel important. I have a character that I'm trying to get a handle on -- two of them in fact -- and I'm going to ponder this.

It turns out there is a difference between feeling "guilt" and feeling "shame". The two emotions are aligned, but not the same

As you can see from the title of the article, people who experience guilt are attuned to how our behavior affects others. But the question is what we do about that guilt. If a character does something because of guilt -- or doesn't do something that everyone would expect him or her to do, knowing that the character would have felt guilty if he or she didn't  . . . follow that?

Of course, it's possible to make a decision and then backtrack. I'm still feeling guilty about going away later this year and leaving Harry alone at home -- even though he'll have twice-daily visits from his sitter. But I'm locked in, having paid. What if I wasn't, and he climbed into my suitcase as I was packing. . .

I'm penciling in time to think about what each of the characters in my thriller might feel guilty about. This could also work for the character who disappears in my next Lizzie Stuart book. I might as well put my own guilt to good use. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Time for Nice Girls to Be Bad

Donis here. After spending more than a decade writing about a family in Oklahoma in the 1910s, I've started a new series set in Hollywood in the 1920s, featuring a glamorous, young, up-to-date woman named Bianca LaBelle. I'm in a whole new world, and in trying to portray a realistic picture of what Bianca's life is like, I find myself doing research on the strangest and most interesting things.

Bianca is a silent movie actress, so I had to learn about movie makeup as well as the daily makeup routine of a modern young twenties-era woman. In the age of the Flapper, even nice girls wore makeup on the street, and young women were very much influenced by the glamorous ladies in the movies – pale complexions, dark red “bee stung” lips, and a ton of kohl eyeshadow.

There was a reason that movie queens sported that particular look, and it had more to do with lighting and film quality in the early silents than any particular idea of female pulchritude. In the 1910s and early part of the 1920s, film was orthochromatic, or blue-sensitive. Red appeared to be black and light blue filmed as white. In fact, blue-eyed actors had trouble finding work because their eyes basically disappeared. Imagine a movie full of characters as blank-eyed as Little Orphan Annie. Actors’ skin would appear dark gray, and their facial features tended to disappear and look fuzzy. Flaws were magnified tenfold. Studio lighting was harsh. Special makeup was necessary to make actors look like real people with eyes and mouths.

In the 1920s, makeup artists like Helena Rubinstein and Max Factor began creating different tones of greasepaint and powders especially designed for film, making it easier for actors to look natural. White chalk was sometimes added to hands to match the whitened faces. Eyes were nearly always lined with kohl and darkened with grey or purple eyeshadow to help them stand out.

By 1923, the movie industry started using better studio lighting and panchromatic film, which registered colors more naturally. Actors could cultivate a much more natural look on film. But by that time, all the smart young things were sporting mascara and bow lips.
The Wrong Girl: The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, Episode 1, now available for pre-order on Amazon

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Trials and tribulations

by Rick Blechta

I guess this week’s post might be of more interest to authors than non-authors, but I believe anyone might find my topic interesting.

Here it is in a nutshell: as an author, what is the most annoying thing you face? I’m not talking about the big-ticket items such as agents or publishers not getting back to you, having your novel’s title changed because of a “marketing decision”, or maybe being interviewed by someone who has not read your book or who has any idea who you are.

So, we’re talking about the more petty annoyances. Here are the top three on my hit list:
  • At a signing, being buttonholed by someone either telling you their life story or asking questions about how to get their novel published — but at the same time having no intention of purchasing your novel.
  • Someone you hardly know or maybe don’t even know asking you to introduce them to your agent/publisher, maybe even going so far as to ask you to recommend them.
  • Someone who tells you they have an amazing idea for a novel. “I’ll tell you my idea. You can write the novel and we’ll split the proceeds fifty-fifty!”

The first one on my list is the really sticky wicket, mainly because it takes place in public. It doesn’t take long for an author to spot these folks. The obvious solution is to tell them something like, “I’m signing right now. It’s not kind to make the folks behind you wait. Perhaps we can talk after the signing concludes.” Trouble is: what if there no one else in line?

I’m not by nature an unkind person, but there have been times where I’ve wanted to scream, “Look here! If you want advice, I'll give you advice! Just bugger off!” But I often wonder why these people never buy your novel.

The second one is very awkward. I’m not willing to risk my reputation recommending someone whose writing skill I don’t know, nor do I have sufficient time to invest in reading their manuscript. They don’t seem to realize it’s a pretty big request to make. My default is to tell them to contact either my agent or a publisher through the normal channels, then contact either of those and tell them what I’ve done and that I have no idea whether this person has anything usable on offer.

The last one is less fraught. I simply say, “I’m sorry but I can’t work like that. But I wish you great luck and may you make me regret my decision for the rest of eternity.”

So those are my top three. What are yours?

Monday, September 02, 2019

What's in a Name?

I wonder if you've ever been asked to allow some worthwhile charity to auction the right for someone's name to be used as a character in one of your books? And if you did, how much did you afterwards regret your charitable impulse?

I did it a few times and got away with it. There was never a promise that the named character would be the murderer or the victim or even one of the principals and luckily the winners were people with perfectly ordinary names that could be fitted in quite easily to the book I was currently writing – and indeed, one was someone I knew and I already had a character who was much in the same mould.

I think there was a particular fashion for this at one time and stories began coming through that it had become a 'thing' for people with unusual names to make a point of winning auctions, just to wind up the authors. That was when I had a problem.

The book I was writing, Lamb to the Slaughter, was set in a small Scottish border town where feelings are running high about the threat to the small local shops posed by a supermarket's plans to open on the doorstep. Elderly Colonel Carmichael is shot dead on his doorstep; other characters have names like Forbes, MacNaughton, Burnett, Wilson – all common Scottish names.

So you can imagine how I felt when I was told the name of the man who'd won the auction and whom I was now obliged to insert somehow into my story – Wilfrid Vernor-Miles. There may be Scotsmen who are called Wilfrid, but I've certainly never met one. And Vernor-Miles – he'd definitely have to be posh, with a name like that and it was going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Mercifully, one of my characters was working for a pheasant shoot and I could actually slot in Wilfrid as one of the clients. But it did make me decide that in future I'd give the charity a donation instead of a name in future.

Ian Rankin has had a bigger problem. He recently offered two slots for names that would be put in his next Rebus novel and was, I think, gratified that he got two very high bids, each for £5000. He didn't know who had bought them, though, until the names were disclosed to him later. The bidders, clearly possessed of a lot of money and a wicked sense of humor, were – Lee Child and Karen Slaughter.

I'm waiting with interest to see how he deals with that – and whether he ever agrees to auction a name again!