Monday, November 30, 2020

Mr. Critical

 By Thomas Kies

I tell my Creative Writing students that once they’ve taken the class, they’ll find themselves being much more critical of the novels that they read.

I know I am.

I recently read Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen.  I absolutely loved it because it’s a complex current satire that’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Mr. Hiaasen writes about the rich and the ridiculously rich in Palm Beach, Florida, boa constrictors terrorizing the area’s country clubs, crooks, killers, cops, and a POTUS nicknamed Mastodon by the secret service. 

Needless to say, I enjoyed Squeeze Me very much. 

About a month ago, I finished reading Harlan Coben’s mystery thriller, The Boy from the Woods. The story begins thirty years ago when the police discover a feral boy living alone in the wilds of New Jersey.  The kid grows up and becomes a reluctant investigator looking into the case of a missing high school girl that no one seems to be too concerned about.  The book moves fast and is a cracker jack mystery.  My one complaint was the book never explained how the feral boy came to be in the woods in the first place.

I guess Mr. Coben wanted to leave room for a sequel.

I’m currently reading Brad Parks' newest mystery Interference.  In it, a brilliant physicist is working on the Entanglement Theory of quantum physics.  This is where two particles can be born with intrinsic connection to each other. You can separate the particles across galaxies and the connection remains: poke one and the other feels it. Immediately. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance.”

The physicist goes missing and the suspect in a possible kidnapping might be a reclusive billionaire. 

This book moves really fast.  The chapters are short.  I’m loving it.

My only complaint is most of the book is written in the third person.  Except for the physicist's wife who is written in the first person.  I find it distracting. 

Now, I have some criticisms for a couple of authors that I will not name.  One sent me his book to read and I loved it, right up until the end when I found a plot hole large enough you could drive a truck through it.  

One recently sent me a book he’d written asking me to critique it. He’s already got a publisher for the book.  It had been professionally edited so there were few distracting typos and the plot hung together pretty well.  There were about three chapters early on that I thought could have been cut, but the characters were well drawn, and the story held my interest.  I even wrote a blurb for his book cover. 

A few weeks ago, I visited one of my favorite bookstores here in our area and there was a delightful lady signing books that she had written.  I like to support local authors and plunked down the money to purchase her novella.  

I couldn’t finish it.  I couldn’t keep the characters straight, they didn’t seem to act true to the situations they were in, and the plot seemed muddled. 

That being said, I recently read a book by one of the biggest names in the mystery business.  After I finished the book, I felt mildly dissatisfied.  I took a look at some of the professional reviews.  One of them described the author as telling the story without breaking a sweat.

To me that meant that the author had mailed this one in.   But honestly, can anyone really crank out two or three books a year and stay sharp?

Let’s change the subject.

Since we’re in the season of giving thanks.  I’d like to thank my agent, my editors, my publisher, and my readers.  When I go back and reread some of my early work, I shake my head and wonder how I finally managed to write something that anyone would want to read let alone publish.

While I was talking to my publisher a few weeks ago, I told her that she’d changed my life.

She told me that it was me who had changed my life.  

I’ll always be grateful to the people who held my hand along the way, and I especially want to give a huge hug and shout out to my wife, who never let me give up and kept telling me that I was a good writer.

Even when I wasn’t.  Cheers and Happy, albeit belated, Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Stories from Cuba and Mexico

If you want to be a good writer, you'd better be good reader. To that end, I've got a bunch of books in my reading stack and at the moment, the titles are limited to a pair of writers, Leonardo Padura and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. You may recognize Padura as the acclaimed author of the Mario Conde series, the exploits of a Cuban police detective. The novels spin through the tropes of the big-city gumshoe: a deep cynicism about society, a distrust in authority, hangovers, stale cigarettes, failed romances, and an overbearing boss. What keeps the stories fresh is the location, contemporary Havana, which seems exotic in the details and setting, and Padura's incisive scrutiny of Cuba's political structure. Who knew so many sketchy characters thrived in the cracks of Marxist society? I tend to be a fast reader, which means I end up skimming more than I should, but in Padura's books, because I'm reading them in Spanish, that causes me to sift through the prose and better appreciate its rich texture.

I recently interviewed Moreno-Garcia for StokerCon 2021, scheduled for Denver...God willing. She's a Mexican writer (now living in Vancouver, BC). Besides extending congratulations for having her novel, Mexican Gothic, being adapted by Hulu TV, we discussed the writing process and her career. All of her novels are set during a definitive time period in Mexico. Every narrative carves a swarth through Mexican society, experienced through a woman's perspective, and what emerges is a Mexico quite different from the cliché that we're used to seeing from this side of the border. Mexico does not perceive itself as a Third-World country but a nation with modern sensibilities. Her novel Signal to Noise is framed by the mixed-tape pop culture of the 80s. Gods of Jade and Shadow is a supernatural tale blending Mayan legends with the 20s jazz age as it unfolded in Mexico. For sure, class privilege and historical antecedents create the stage upon which the characters appear, but that is true in any good story. In the interview we shared this quizzical take on what constitutes Latino literature in the US. Seems that the only accepted works as American "Latino" literature must focus on the immigrant experience (recent and impoverished) or on occasion, relate the tribulations involving the sisterhood of sassy Latinas. Even though my books feature a Chicano detective-vampire and draw from Mexican and Southwestern mythology, they are branded as supernatural stories, front to back. Then too, just one drop of science fiction or the paranormal keeps even a good detective yarn off the shelves of mystery fiction.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Dogs and Afternoons

 I'm thinking of getting a puppy. A little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I'm working at home, and I really need to get out of the house every day and walk.  But, the thing is that a puppy requires thinking through the logistics. I just got a vet recommendation from my neighbor because my cat's vets only see felines. 

 So far, I can't get Harry, my Maine Coon, to comment about having a canine sibling. But since this dog breed is known for being cat-friendly and his breed tends to get along with cats, I think he would be okay with her. Especially since he would get to help train her about the rules of the house. So I'm

pondering the puppy, and thinking oddly enough about Dog Day Afternoon.  Al Pacino is pacing around, shouting "Attica!" in my head. That adds nothing to my decision-making about the puppy, for whom I would also need to fence my backyard. But it does remind me that I'm not a morning person. And it reminds me that I want to check with the curators at New York State Museum to see if the planned commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the prison rebellion is going forward next year.

But I'm rambling. It's been one of those weeks. One of those months. One of those years. We'll all be happy to see the last of 2020. I did realize this year that working at home and not being able to go into my office at school isn't any fun. I need structure, or, at least, to be able to leave home and go some place else for a while. I would be happy to go to a coffee shop or the library or a bookstore and write. As it is, I'm trying to move back and forth mentally between teaching online, working on my academic book, and finding time to work on my 1939 historical thriller (my November NaNoWriMo project). 

I didn't realize how much my ability to focus depended on my ability to move physically between office at school and home. I do academic work at school. I write crime fiction at home. In the summer, when I find myself watching soap operas and old movies, I hop in my car and go into school in the afternoon. The last time I was in my campus office, all of my plants had died of thirst. Now, the campus is closed down at the end of semester, and I would have to pick up my COVID-19 test kit if I set foot on campus. So I'm waiting until I'd ready to return all the books I brought home back in March. And I'm trying to remind myself that I need to swing by and pick up my 2020/2021 parking sticker that I ordered online during the summer, but never picked up. I'm trying to gear up to go back into a familiar building that feels creepy now not only because the elevator is ancient and creaks, but because anyone who is in the building is told to avoid anyone else who is there. We are keeping safe, but we are only seeing each other on Zoom meetings.

The other side of this whole pandemic thing -- and hardly compensation, but at least something that is a lesson learned about technology -- is that writers are able to interact more and in really interesting ways. At our last upstate NY Sisters in Crime chapter meeting, we had guests from a chapter in Ohio. The meeting before that we had guests from Northern California. I have been attending online writing workshops, meetings, readings, and webinars. 

Of course, this is no substitute for bookstore gatherings and the ability to interact with our readers in person. We are all trying to think that through. How do you launch a book during a pandemic?

However, I am going to take advantage of the technology to do something I've been wanting to do wearing my academic hat. In 2021, I'm finally going to have the opportunity to host a symposium of Crime Writers of Color (now an official group). I've been wanting to do this for years, but I didn't have the funding to bring so many writers in. But this March, I can do it virtually, and I will have the capacity to invite thousands of people to attend. I'm excited about that. 

But I'm still sitting here in my chair -- or standing up by my virtual desk -- and getting stiff and out of shape. I need a dog to play in the yard with and to get me out and moving. I need a canine with a leash in her mouth. Harry, my cat, refuses to wear the harness I bought him. He licked his paw and gave me his, "Could you possibly even think I would do that?" look. But, who knows? If the dog and I go for a walks, he may want to come along. I'm his person, and he may not want the puppy to get too much of my time.

 If I should get the puppy, we'll have all next spring and possibly summer to become a happy family. 

Anyway, that's the news from here in my house. Take care and stay well. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving, 2020 be Damned

 Donis here, wishing you United Statesians a Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Readers. I hope you are all happy and healthy and staying safe, and may we all be together next year. When next I write you here at Type M 4 Murder, I'll have some fun news about my upcoming book release, but today I'm treating you to my mother's go-to Thanksgiving pumpkin pie recipe, delicious, easy and it makes its own crust. Eat hearty!

The following recipe is for the easiest and most amazing pumpkin pie ever made. This is my mother’s recipe, and I’m presenting it here exactly as she wrote it down.

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)

1 can (16 oz) pumpkin

2 tsp. butter

2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 can (13 oz.) evaporated milk

2 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 inch pie pan. Beat all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pan. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

(No, you don’t make a crust. The pie will make its own crust.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The best-laid plans

I acknowledge that I write this post from a position of extreme privilege. I live in Canada, which has universal public health care and a supportive government that is managing the pandemic reasonably well. I live in my own home and have a pension (hard-earned) that keeps the terror of destitution at bay. I have not yet lost friends or loved ones to Covid. I miss the company and hugs of friends and family, but as a writer, I am used to solitude and can conjure up playmates inside my own head. 

Many people, my own children included, have had their lives completely thrown off course by this pandemic. By comparison, I have absolutely no right to complain. But in the interests of documenting the pandemic's frustrations, big and small, here I go.

The first frustration surrounds the release of my upcoming book, THE ANCIENT DEAD, meant to come out in October 2020, in time for holiday signings, readings, and gift-buying. Covid crushed that plan and the publisher pushed the release to the dead zone of January 2021, with no possibility of in-person appearances and launches. Sales and publicity out the window. I gamely switched gears to think virtual. How do I hold a virtual launch? How do people attend and buy books? How do I greet and thank everyone who tunes in? I love my book launches, and the thought of staring at myself on the Zoom screen while disembodied attendees watch is profoundly unsatisfying. But I will figure it out. And I will figure out the Zoom book clubs and readings that I hope will follow in the months afterwards.

The second frustration is more serious, although still petty measured against the struggles of the world. I am just beginning to research the fifth Amanda Doucette book. I know nothing about it beyond the setting, which is British Columbia. The series has been moving across the country, and it is now British Columbia's turn. It was initially to have been set on a small cruise boat going through the inside passage, but after watching the cruise ship disasters of the past few months, I gave up that idea. Instead, I thought maybe Haida Gwai, a fascinating area I have always wanted to visit. Then access to the area was closed, with no guarantee when and how it would be opened up. So I started researching other possibilities on Vancouver Island and the mainland. Now, however, there is a real possibility that borders between regions and provinces may be closed and/or 14-day quarantines imposed on travellers. That would make the research trip untenable. I have no place to quarantine in BC and can't afford the extra time and cost of accommodation and dog care.

With one exception, I have never written a book without visiting the area. So much rich detail is missed when I can't walk the paths my characters walk, see the sights and hear the sounds, talk to local people and get a sense of the real place. I cannot imagine writing about the stunning and unique place that is wild BC while relying only on books, the internet, and friends. The book would be a pale imitation of what it could be. 

To meet this book's deadline, I need to do the trip in the spring of 2021, or at the latest by early September. But who knows where we'll be by then? Will there be a successful vaccine in general use? Will everything be in lockdown again? Will I be able to visit the places I want to, and find restaurants and accommodations there? I probably won't know these answers for months, and so am unable to plan ahead. This book may turn out to be a last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants scramble.

Not the way I want to write it at all. But... Covid doesn't care.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Today's post

by Rick Blechta

Oh my God, it’s Tuesday! You’ll see that I haven’t written a post. I can’t do my usual bale-out of posting a clever cartoon having something to do with book buying or the world of publishing. I can’t cartoon worth a fig and since you can’t just “borrow” something from another web page without worrying that you’re going to get your butt sued off, there’s no quick fix.

So I’ll try on the old tried and true excuse of “the dog at my blog post.”

Works for me. Does it work for you?

(Barbara, may I borrow one of your lovely dogs for the day just so I can prove that I have a dog if someone challenges me?)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Court in the Act

Ah, Scotland.

As you know, I'm a Scot, living in Scotland. And because many of you enjoyed the images last time (well, a number of you. Okay, a few. Fine! A couple) here's a taster of the delights:

The aptly-named Rest and Be Thankful

Not all if it looks like that, despite what the tourist board or Outlander may tell you. Yes, vast tracts of our 31k square miles and around 800 islands are picture postcard perfect, there's no denying it. We have mountains and valleys and lochs (one lake!) and green fields and rivers and beaches that can take the breath away. Usually by the weather. 

But there are a lot of misconceptions about my country.

We don't all wear kilts. We don't all look like Sam Heughan (no matter how much we suck in our gut). We don't all eat haggis regularly (they are tricky little rascals to catch). We don't all have the urge to go out and kill an Englishman when we hear the skirl of the pipes (although sometimes we do have the urge to kill the piper).

Not every part of my country looks like that above. There are areas that have absolutely no picturesque qualities at all. We have neighbourhoods that suffer from urban blight. We have crime.

It is our legal system that is arguably the least understood, even by Scots. We have seen and read so many legal dramas from the USA and England that there are many who do not know that, like the past, we do things differently.

For instance - juries. In Scotland they are 15 strong not 12, which means there can be no prospect of a hung jury. However, a judge can allow a trial to proceed with as few as 12 should any drop out due to illness. A majority here can be a straight 8 to 7, which means that if only one person believes guilt - or otherwise - the accused can be jailed. Or otherwise. 

Juries have three verdicts from which to choose - Guilty, Not Guilty and the controversial Not Proven. This is a holdover from the older system where charges were either Proven or Nor Proven. 

Our judges do not bang gavels and demand order. 

There are no opening statements. 

We do not have charges such as manslaughter or arson - they are culpable homicide and wilful fireraising. Other, more arcane, charges include hamesucken - home invasion today - and plagium - child stealing.

It was some of these differences that the Scottish Faculty of Advocates, the court service and forensic scientists wanted to illustrate in a courtroom drama in which I played a part. A real-life case was selected - one from the 1930s - and then adapted to fit a modern setting and names changed to be  presented in an actual courtroom during the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival in 2019 under the title You the Jury. 

Real lawyers played the advocates, a real judge presided, real court staff kept proceedings going, real forensic scientists played themselves and the jury was selected from the audience. I had put together the various witness statements and some of the evidence, the forensic experts handled their own. I also played the accused but did not give evidence. All I did was sit in the dock and look innocent or guilty, depending on your point of view.

Two performances were scheduled but they sold out within a matter of days so a third was slotted in. It sold out too.  

We had intended to take the show on the road but then 2020 happened and that was that. A charity event in Glasgow and almost two weeks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe went by the board. 

One performance was filmed and the highly professional result, which has been made available for study in schools and colleges, was screened as part of this year's virtual Bloody Scotland Festival. It was again hugely popular.

In two of the three performances I was found Not Proven, which given the evidence presented was the best we could expect. It was, however, interesting to note that the evidence was presented in exactly the same way by the same advocates and witnesses each time and yet one jury was convinced of my guilt by a majority while the other two were not. They were not certain enough to vote Not Guilty, though, so the tricky third verdict proved useful to them. When someone could be sent away for life on the basis of a single vote, the Not Proven verdict is necessary, I believe.

It was a pleasure and an honour to work with the legal professionals and it was an incredible experience to watch it all come together in the single day rehearsal we had.

I am certain, though, if I'd had more to do than merely sit in the dock and look guilty, innocent or somewhere in between, we would have required a LOT more rehearsal time!

A rehearsal shot for You the Jury

Friday, November 20, 2020

Weird, Weirder and Weirdest


Thanksgiving is getting beyond strange. Our county (Larimer) is begging people not to gather in person for Thanksgiving. Our county is under a directive to limit gatherings to ten persons and two households. 

I fudged last weekend. I drove to my daughter Michele's house. One household--she and her husband Harry also live in Fort Collins. However much to my delight, my granddaughter, Audrey, and her husband Pete were also there. Two households right off the bat. I stayed anyway. Three households. But what the heck? It was just five people. Not so bad. But I felt sneaky. I'm freakily law-abiding. 

So what to do about Thanksgiving? Everyone was going to come. Michele volunteered (sort of) to hold the annual celebration. Her dispassionate wording (as I recall) went something like "we'll be here. Anyone can come who wants to." The truth is no one in this family really wants anyone to come to their house for Thanksgiving in this county this year. And no one wants to visit relatives either. 

The simple truth is Larimer County's medical facilities are overloaded. We are dangerously close to filling all our ICU beds. 

So being the senior member of this highly dysfunctional family (don't blame me, I tried) I generously decided to stay home and have a Marie Callendar's Turkey Pot Pie for dinner. I would let someone else be the the lucky ducky who got to be the second household at the Crockett's. 

Then Michele had a splendid idea. She called last night and said she and Harry and Audrey and Pete had decided to go on a float trip for Thanksgiving. She magnanimously invited me to tag along. It would not be a dangerous white water adventure. No, no, no. Not the gleeful adventures they were famous for. Also they had plenty of warm sleeping bags. I would be quite comfortable camping out for the first time. Warm, even. They would do all the cooking.  

I considered my rather fragile bones, my precarious sense of balance, my sensible aversion to any sort of discomfort, but disregarded all my liabilities and immediately said yes, I would love to go. Michele did not expect this. 

I hope they are well and truly frightened at the thought of trying to keep an old lady alive on a cold river. 

Got to give the kid credit. While living in Kansas with vast swarms of people descending on our little house on the prairie--usually to hunt pheasants-- it never once occurred to me to suggest they all go on a river trip instead.

Possibly because we had no rivers. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A mind in knots

My youngest daughter, Keeley, loves to bake and to play the piano. She loves to read and daydream. Monday night, she sat down at the piano and said, “I don’t want to practice. I just want to play.”

She was talking about riffing. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

“Don’t overthink it,” we tell Keeley often. “Don’t over analyze things. Just go do it.”

Keeley with her latest culinary creation
Keeley with her latest culinary creation
I feel like when my writing isn’t going well, I’m not freeing myself up. My mind is in knots, and my plot soon follows. It happens when I think and overthink. Plot is a result of character; therefore, what happens in the story is what must logically happen, based on the attributes of the characters. I know this to be true.

Yet, when I’m struggling with plot, I’m overthinking. Elmore Leonard said he wrote the first hundred pages before thinking about the plot. Just meeting the characters and seeing where they’re going. I don’t believe in the fifty-page dilemma –– that fifty pages in, the book is either going to work or not. I’m with Leonard. It’s a hundred pages.

When I hit a hundred pages, sometimes, I start to think about where we’re headed. If it’s not going well, I’m trying to steer, rather than following along like a reader. Maybe it’s overthinking. My mind can get tied in knots. Then my focus can turn to wonderful distractions: work emails or student writing (would you really rather grade a paper than figure out your damn plot, John?!) or conference presentations (death or public speaking?) or even U.S. politics (let it go, John. Biden won. You can sleep now).

The first half-mile is fine, but then the woods get dark. This is when I need to freewheel, to let things go. I used to listen to music when I wrote. Heavy stuff. Everclear, Nirvana. I got away from that. Not sure why. I think I felt like I needed to concentrate more. I’m not sure that helps the work.

Overthink it? I wonder where my twelve-year-old gets it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Bank Robberies and Money Bail

One of my favorite things about being a writer is doing research. I’ve learned so many things that I never would have found out about if I hadn’t been writing a story: raw food, the annual Marilyn Monroe memorial service, temporary tattoos, surfing...and now bank robbery.

I decided one of the crimes in my WIP would be a bank robbery. We have a lot of those here in Southern California, probably because of our extensive freeway system. Pick a bank near a freeway onramp, rob it, then get on the freeway.

Since I know nothing about bank robberies, I did some research. Here’s some of the more interesting things I found out.

Robbing a bank became a federal crime in 1934 so you’d think the FBI would be the one investigating all of them. In practice, however, they focus on those suspects who pose the greatest safety threats to the public. So they leave the investigation of “note jobs”, where the robber hands a note to a teller and no violence is involved, to the local police departments, helping out where needed.

The FBI aggressively responds to violent bank robberies, robberies in which a significant financial loss occurs and serial robbers who cross jurisdictional boundaries. In 2012, the FBI launched the Wanted Bank Robbers website, which is national in scope. It’s there to enlist the public’s help in identifying and locating suspects. In 2016, they added an app. Yep, an app.

They also compile statistics on bank robberies throughout the country. The last report I found was for 2018. Lots of interesting statistics here. In 2018, there were 2, 975 bank robberies in the U.S., including its territories. 568 of those were in the Pacific region which includes the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. 405 of those were in California.

The crime in my book is a “note job” so I feel fairly comfortable not bringing the FBI in on this one, leaving it to the local police department.

Here in Southern California, there’s an LA Bank Robbers ( website which focuses on local bank robberies. According to the site, it is “devoted to the identification and apprehension of bank robbers (a.k.a. bank bandits) in the Southern California territory”. It includes actual surveillance photos of robbers taken during the commission of the crime.

All of this helped me out considerably in writing my story. I write cozies, not police procedurals, so I’m happy if my story “kisses the truth”, which I think it will after doing this research.


Here's an update for you on the bail situation in California. In 2018, I wrote a blog post, "Bye Bye Bail", that talked about the state legislature passing a bill that eliminated money bail in the state, replacing it with a risk-assessment system.

As predicted, the bail bonds industry fought back in a big way. The law was put on hold until the recent election where Proposition 25 was on the ballot. The votes are in. The cash bail system will remain in the state. No risk assessment system. I’m not terribly surprised. The bail bonds industry spent a lot of money on ads for this proposition. It was one of the more confusing ones on the ballot. I had to read it a couple times to figure out what voting yes meant.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Getting a little wind in our blogging sails

by Rick Blechta

Today’s post will be a short one (I still have a balustrade to install on our new front porch. Look it up if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, Tom Kies received an email last week from CamCat Books listing their favourite mystery blogs — and guess who’s second on the list? Click HERE to read the posting on CamCat’s blog.  

Type M for Murder has been around since the summer of 2006 and that’s a hell of a long time for this type of social media. We’ve had a cast of terrific writers involved since the beginning. Authors may come and go from our role, but we’ve always had such a great group here. I remain very proud of my involvement in this enterprise.

But it can be daunting to sit down to write a post for Type M, wondering how many people are actually going to bother reading it. Long-time member Barbara Fradkin has been known to liken this to “shouting into the void,” which is a pretty accurate description of what it feels like.

Then someone gives us a nice shout-out as CamCat did and you realize that people are noticing what we’re doing — and care about it.

And that certainly makes it easier to keep “the mystery little blog that could” chugging down the Information Superhighway.

Thanks CamCat!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Blood on the Page

 By Thomas Kies

Our local college has contracted me to teach another Creative Writing course in January—if our state is still allowing in-person classes by then. I’ve taught three of these in 2020, remarkable because of everything that’s going on. We all have masks on and we’re safely distanced apart in a large classroom. 

It was heartwarming when the college asked if I’d teach an Advanced Creative Writing class in addition after I finish teaching Creative Writing 101 in February. They tell me that they’ve been getting requests by former students asking that I teach an advanced course. 

I’ve noticed that the students, most of them adults, find the class to be kind of therapeutic as well as instructive. I’ve had as many as twelve in my classes (before the pandemic) and as few as four. All of the students start out as strangers, but at the end of six weeks, they’ve bonded and know a lot about each other.  

This is how I teach the class. Initially, I ask them all what they want to get out of the course. Once I have an idea what their goals are, I craft the classes accordingly. So, each Creative Writing course is slightly different, but we still cover the basics.

While the courses may vary, the structure remains the same. After each class, I give the students an assignment. It may be to write a deeply emotional scene. One assignment may be to create a scene with a kick-ass protagonist meeting a villain. The final assignment for all the courses has been to write the first few pages of your book and the last few pages of your book. Whatever that means to you.

In many cases, the beginning of their story and the ending are both deeply personal, even though it’s fictionalized.

We start the two-hour class period with the students reading their work out loud. Now, I know how scary that can be. I remember what it was like for me. It’s freaking terrifying. You’re showing everyone your baby. What if they call your baby ugly?

So, after each reading, we all applaud. Then we go around the room and we talk about the piece’s strengths and then we talk about ways that could potentially make the work stronger. When the course is over, I want the students to walk away feeling good about the craft and with a desire to keep writing. 

I love how the students have bonded at the end of six weeks. They start out as complete strangers, but when the course is finished, they feel close to each other. I think that’s because we put some much of ourselves on the page when we write.  

What was it Hemingway said? “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

When the fledgling writers do one of my assignments, in many cases, they fictionalize an event from their real lives. Some of those events are heartwarming, some of eye opening, and some are tragic. 

But much of what we write comes from our own lives and our own observations. Sure, we make stuff up. We write novels. But it’s all culled from a lifetime of experiences, emotions, feelings, observations, and influence by the people around us. 

I find these courses fulfilling and I’m gratified that the students and the college wants me to take it to the next step, Creative Writing 2.0…an advanced course. Now I’ve just got to figure out what that entails.  

Stay safe and stay healthy.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Lessons to Be Learned

 As I work on my historical thriller set in 1939, I have come to think of the year itself as a character. 1939 is an adolescent. He is torn between his ancestors who want him to carry their banners and beliefs into the future and the voices that are calling to him to march into "the World of Tomorrow." 1939 attends a Nazi rally and sits on the stage with smirking schoolboys in their uniforms. But two months later, he is in the audience when over 75,000 people gather at the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian Anderson's voice float out over the crowd offering balm on Easter Sunday. That summer he is off to New York City to join the millions attending the World's Fair. He especially enjoys Elektro, the Smoking Robot. Everybody smokes in 1939.

1939 loves movies and he sits in theaters across the country watching. Some of the movies are too sophisticated for an adolescent year, but 1939 is interested in movie-making. He munches on his popcorn and enjoys the masters at their crafts. 1939 is delighted that there are movies for every taste in his year.  Funny movies, romantic movies, western, mysteries -- history and adventure and love and romance. Sometimes all in the same jam-packed movie. Sometimes the history is terribly wrong and the love stories are ill-fated, but 1939 knows that Americans coming out of the darkest days of the Great Depression need to be entertained and distracted -- and sometimes even elevated and reminded of who they are when they are at their best. 

1939 gives America and the world Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Four Feathers, Young Mr. Lincoln, Stagecoach, The Rules of the Game, Wuthering Heights, Love Affair, Gunga Din, The Man in the Iron Mask, Ninotchka, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Beau Geste, Drums Along the Mohawk, Stanley and Livingstone, Dodge City, Destry Rides Again, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Old Maid, The Roaring Twenties, Of Mice and Men, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Son of Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz, Another Thin Man, Dark Victory, Union Pacific, The Women, Each Dawn I Die, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Rains Came.

In December, 1939 takes the movie-watching world to Atlanta, Georgia for the four-day premier of Gone With the Wind -- a sweeping saga of the Old South, a celluloid contribution to a mythology of a golden past now lost. In December, the African American descendants of the survivors of that past are not happy with that celebration in Atlanta. But 1939 is a clear-eyed adolescent who sees what is ahead, and knows that soon another battle will be joined, a battle abroad and at home for democracy.

Getting to know 1939 has helped me to make it through 2020 -- this careless, uncaring, cynical, often cruel year. I've imagined 2020 as the Devil, occasionally taking the shape of politicians and fanatics.  I've imagined 2020 smiling as he watches mourners weeping and protestors being gassed. I've imagined 2020 enjoying the chaos his henchmen (and women) are sowing in his year, knowing that his impact will be felt long after his time on the stage is over. 

I've imagined 2020 as evil, but as a writer I have found 2020 fascinating. He is much more sophisticated in his methods than 1939. Much more devious. Much more intelligent -- allowing us to destroy ourselves as if we were in an episode of Twilight Zone

But 2020 also has offered me some unwelcome -- but still valuable -- opportunities to learn. I've learned that if I hold on and keep moving, I can make it through moments that fill me with terror. I've learned to be patient. I've learned to be kinder to myself and other people. I've learned to think before I speak. 

I've learn to admire everyday heroes and the people who do the dirty jobs. I've learned to be grateful for all my privileges and what I have.

I will be glad to see the last of 2020. But as a character he is more nuanced than I at first imagined.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Never Assume.

 I (Donis) don't know about you, Dear Reader, but I am exhausted. I have generally kept my mouth shut about the state of the world, mainly because what do I know? But now that it's all over (but the shouting, of which there is still a depressing amount to come) I do have an observation or two which I'd like to share.

I grew up in one of the most conservative states in the nation and came of age during the roiling era of the 1960s. I graduated college the first time in 1970. I was deeply involved in liberal causes, especially the push for the ERA, and did my share of marching and sitting-in. Lots of young people in Oklahoma did. My immediate family was and still is very tolerant. I am more than happy about the outcome of the election. However, since I don't want to damage my relationship with any of my other relatives I have spent much of my considerably long life keeping my thoughts to myself, especially when I'm back in my home state and around people I don't know well. In some parts of the world, being seen as an "elitist snob" (i.e. an intellectual) could actually be dangerous in the wrong circumstance, so I'm very careful about offering my opinions, quoting Shakespeare, saying I like classical music, using Latin phrases. I'm not kidding. Even though I admit I'm probably paranoid, I have either been made fun of or been angrily railed at for doing all those things. I'm a little bit afraid of died-in-the-wool right-wingers. How sad. 

HOWEVER, HAVING SAID THAT: some of the people I grew up around may be conservative, but the great majority of them are kind, generous, loving, self-sufficient, competent people who would do anything for their neighbors. Many are also a little bit afraid of died-in-the-wool left-wingers. Don't think left-wingers are blameless, either. 

So here is what I've observed about both wings:

It's frightening when others treat you like you're either an idiot or evil. That attitude is likely to make you dig in.

The cancel culture is annoying. I learned years ago that in this country you can never be forgiven for anything you ever did, no matter how much you regret it now, or what you've done since. 

Here's a story I've told a million times, but it seems to fit - when I was a young woman, I flew out of NYC bound for Ireland. As we were over the ocean I got into a pleasant conversation with the older woman next to me, who was so intrigued with my accent that she suddenly asks, "Where are you from?"

"Tulsa, Oklahoma," says I, and she burst out laughing.

"What a place to be from!" she said.

I was surprised and a bit insulted by her tone, but I have to tell you, Dear Reader, that was no fluke. Whenever I visit the East Coast, I'm often teased about my accent. Some East-coasters have made assumptions about my political leanings , and I suspect some have made assumptions about my educational level and even I.Q. based on where I'm from and on my accent, as well.

I don't like to be pigeonholed. Nobody does, so it's best not to go around making snap judgements about people you've just met. You're probably wrong, anyway.

p.s. After she laughed, I responded to the airplane woman by asking where she was from, and she replied, "Teaneck New Jersey." What a place to be from!

p.p.s. Thanks for being our support country, Canadian friends.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Promotion in the Age of Covid

These past two weeks since my last post have been full of drama. First both my dogs got skunked (at 11 pm, pitch dark outside, and I had no makings for skunk shampoo), then one of them ate lawn fertilizer and needed her stomach pumped, and the next night she had a seizure. I pressed "send" on my latest manuscript and sent it on its way to the publisher, exactly on deadline. This year's non-Halloween left me with 80 baby chocolate bars and three pie pumpkins that had to be eaten. I have made four pumpkin breads, two dozen pumpkin muffins, and some soup. I am afraid to climb on the bathroom scale.
Then came the emotional roller coaster of the American election, which we all watched for five days while chewing our nails to the quick and incessantly checking updates online, to the detriment of any intelligent work. And it's not even my country!

In the midst of all this, my publicist informed me it's time to start the promotional gears grinding for my upcoming novel. THE ANCIENT DEAD, the fourth in my Amanda Doucette mystery-thriller series, was originally scheduled for release in October 2020. But factors beyond our control delayed it, namely printers that weren't printing, bookstores that weren't operating, supplies that were backlogged, etc. So the publisher pushed the date back to January 2021. The dead zone. 

And this is the real reason for this post. Promotion in the Age of Covid. Ugh. My book is already available for reviewers on Net Galley, so that reviews can be ready when the book hits the shelves. If you are a blogger or reviewer, feel free to check it out!  It is also available for pre-order, which provides a huge boost in sales ahead of the publication date and increases the number of books ordered. THE ANCIENT DEAD can be pre-ordered on all the usual online platforms, but please consider pre-ordering from your favourite local bookstore. They need our support if bookstores are to survive these difficult times.

But for me, the focal point of a book's release is always my book launch. But this year? It's bad enough my book is coming out in January when bookstores and warehouses are processing returns and trying to pare down their overstock of unsold holiday books, and readers can barely see over their sky-high to-be-read piles and credit card statements. But somehow I have to reach those readers with the news of my exciting new book with nothing but Zoom.

Normally I love launching a new book. I plan a launch party at a local pub, arrange for a bookseller, and invite all my friends and readers to come celebrate with me. It's a festive time. I spend a few minutes talking about the book and doing a brief reading, but otherwise it's a time to connect with old friends and greet new ones. In the weeks and months afterwards, I usually have a number of signings, readings, and book clubs lined up, and perhaps a festival or conference or two. These in-person connections with readers are inspirational for most authors; they nourish our hope and give us a reason to keep at it in our solitary, at times gloomy, doubt-filled world.

Now I will be faced with nothing but thumbnail photos arrayed across the top of my screen as I talk into the void of my living room. I am filled with trepidation and dozens of questions. What if I hold a virtual launch and no one comes? How should people sign up for the event? How will they buy the books? How can I sign the books? How long should the presentation last? An hour of talk and readings is much longer than normal launch talks. Should I get a host/ interviewer, as my publicist advises, and if so, who? I am not a tech wizard, and managing a Zoom call with multiple attendees and Q&A capability terrifies me.

I know there are advantages to the virtual format (besides no food and bar bill). People don't have to be in my own city to attend; friends and readers from all across the continent can tune in. It would be wonderful to see dear friends from as far away as British Columba and California, and to connect with readers from other continents.  

I know writers' festivals and other authors have managed to host virtual events, and I will be watching those in order to get some pointers. I will also talk to my local bookstores to see what their experience has been. If anyone has had experience either as an author or an attendee at a virtual book launch, I'd love to hear from you. Do's and Don'ts, and how to avoid falling on your face. All help gratefully accepted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The degradation of pronunciation

by Rick Blechta

I’m feeling curmudgeonly today, so you’ve all been warned. My irritation about what I’m going to discuss has been building for weeks now and finally reached a tipping point this morning. Anyway, here we go!

Is is just me or has correctly pronouncing words in English been going downhill more rapidly of late?

Listening to the 7:00 a.m. news on CBC radio this morning, someone was being interviewed and my teeth were immediately set on edge when the interviewee said, “It’s up to the government to pertect Canadians…”

Now this was a reasonably intelligent person (a physician) whom I’m sure would never incorrectly write the word “protect”, but yet in speaking, she obviously didn’t notice how badly she’d mangled the pronounciation of this very common word.

I’ve noticed this trend lately particularly in words beginning with “pro”. They’re far too often spoken as if the word began “per”.

Another word generally butchered when spoken is “immediate.” It’s now usually pernounced as if it begins with a long ‘e’, i.e. “emmediate.” It always makes me grind my teeth.

Years ago I noticed people seldom say February correctly. The ‘u’ is almost universally left out: “Feberary.” It’s so common now, it barely registers — which is in itself a bad sign.

I suppose there are those who would cluck in disapproval and tell me that English is constantly evolving, but damn it all, this is not evolving it’s devolving and just plain sloppiness.

I acknowledge that, among all the other bad things that have occurred in 2020, my complaint is minor and far, far from the worst thing that’s taken place. After all, this year saw “irregardless” being recognized by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being an acceptable word (although non-standard).

I, for one, won’t go along with this barbarity!

Is there are particularly poor pronunciation of a word that causes you grit your teeth? Please share it with all of us.

Stepping off the soapbox now…

Monday, November 09, 2020

Taking the show on the road

One of the things I love about being a writer is going on the road for book festivals and events.

I didn’t do much of that in my non-fiction days for some reason but when I started making stuff up I rediscovered my performing mojo.

I had lost said mojo for many years. As a teenager, I wanted to be an actor. This followed early ambitions to be an astronaut, a detective and a garbage collector. In pursuit of the world of make believe, I attended drama classes, performed in community theatre and wrote and appeared in comedy shows for hospital radio.

There was even a bit part in an episode of a TV show here in the UK. It was a drama for the BBC called ‘Sutherland’s Law’ and I played a drunken thief. No, it wasn’t typecasting. And yes, I would say that.

It was an exciting time. Filming for my scenes and others was done over a day and night near Oban on the west coast of Scotland. That episode’s guest star was Brian Cox, before he played Hannibal Lecktor (as they spelled it) on ‘Manhunter’ and answered the siren call of Hollywood.

He is a talented and erudite man who proved to be entertaining, funny and great to be around. There are long moments of inactivity on a shoot, unless you are on the crew, and he set himself up as morale officer as we sat in a mini bus waiting to be called.

It was after I saw myself on screen that I decided the likes of Mr Cox had nothing fear from my thespian talents.

I stopped performing altogether. Life took over; making a living, getting married, setting up a home.

Eventually the very thought of public speaking, let alone performing, filled me with horror.

That was, as I say, until I became involved with the fiction racket and had to get over myself.

Now I do a ten-minute bit when the fridge light comes on.

I’ve been all over Scotland for book festivals, events and shows with the two comedy/crime writing teams I work with. I’ve crossed the border to Newcastle and Bristol, both in England. I’ve even been to Spain for a show, which was great fun. I’ll tell you about those comedy/crimewriting teams in a future Type M for Murder.

Many authors love to meet readers, as long as they’re not telling us our books are nonsense. Some of us like to enteratin audiences not only on the page but on stage. We like to make audiences laugh. Off stage, though, I am actually quiet and reserved and not hugely sociable, which even I think is kinda strange given my antics in front of an audience.

All that activity came to a grinding halt this year, thanks to Covid-19, which has has been such a downer I don’t think I’ll binge watch the first 18. There were no festivals, no bookstore events, no comedy performances.

I had a great year lined up but one by one each of the events dropped like extras in a Tarantino movie. Yes, some have gone ahead in a digital format and they have been huge successes but you can't beat the excitement of being in the room with your audience. There's a  connection with live events that the internet just cannot replicate.

As I said, the suckage of 2020 has been immense.

It has also led to a curtailment of my photography.

Wherever I went I took my trusty Nikon camera (other brands are available, just not in my house) and I would click away like a snap happy chappy. It's landscapes mostly and I’ve included a few photographs here mostly from a trip to the isle of Mull last year, but that has been seriously curtailed this year, too, thanks to the C word.

For me, photography - and the editing of them afterwards - is strangely therapeutic. A writer's life is by necessity a solitary one and so is a photographer's. I prefer being on my own when at large with a lens because - frankly - I annoy non-photographers with this urge, no need, to stop every few miles, yards or feet to snatch a shot. And often more than one. 

So I hope festivals will resume when they can. I hope I will be invited and meet new readers. I hope I will grab new photographs! I hope our governments get on top of this crisis. I hope 2021 will see at least a partial return to normality for us all.

Towards the mainland from the Mull ferry

Lismore lighthouse



Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

Clouds gather on the road from Oban

St Conon’s Kirk

A beach on the isle of Arran

Ayr Harbour looking towards Arran

Wetlands around Wigtown

The marina in Javea, Spain

A medieval bridge in Javea

A winter shot near my home

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Guest post by Judy Penz Sheluk

I am happy to welcome to Type M our guest this weekend, Judy Penz Sheluk. A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy is the author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreaks & Half-truths, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at

Take it away, Judy!


Someday, maybe

It was a cold, wintry day in February 2002. I was training for my first full marathon (Ottawa) and our program called for a 21k (13 mile) run. A saner person would have stayed in bed, put off the run for another day. Instead I covered my face with Vaseline, donned triple layers top and bottom, and ventured down to the Running Room, only to learn that all of my running mates had bailed. Disheartened, but determined, I was just about to head out on my own when a guy named Dan stopped me. “I’ll run with you,” he said.

Now, I didn’t really know Dan, beyond the fact that he did something in construction and ran with the blistering fast group (I ran with the slow plodders group), but he seemed like a nice guy, and the thought of running all those miles alone didn’t hold a lot of appeal. So off we went, and while Dan must have felt as if he were running in chains, he never once made me feel as if my snail-like pace was holding him back. And somewhere along those miles he told me he’d always wanted to be a lawyer, and I said I’d always wanted to write murder mysteries, and we both laughed and said, “someday, maybe.”

Fast forward to 2019. I’m at Chapters Bookstore in Newmarket with a table full of my books and a stack of bookmarks. It’s early, the store is quiet, and I’m preparing myself for a very long day, when who should appear before me but Dan. “I saw your notice on Facebook,” he said. “I’m so proud of you for following your dream.”

It turned out that Dan had also followed his dream, graduating from the prestigious Osgoode Hall School of Law in 2012, and now with a successful practice specializing in estate law. 

“Estate law,” I said, my author brain kicking into high gear. “I might need legal advice for my work-in-progress…” I let the words dangle, hoping he’d say, “Call me.” He did.

And that brings us to the point of this post (whew, you’re saying, that’s a long way to get to the finish line). Anyway, when it came to Where There’s A Will, book three in my Glass Dolphin cozy mystery series, not only did Dan help me with the finer points of estate law, he also shared a story about the will of Cecil George Harris, who, in June 1948, was pinned under his tractor on a farm near Rosetown, Saskatchewan. Fearing he may not survive, Harris used his pocketknife to scratch sixteen words onto the tractor’s fender. “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris.”

“It would be ten hours before help arrived to take Harris to the hospital,” Dan told me. “He died the next day from his injuries, never mentioning the will, which was later discovered by neighbors. The fender was removed from the tractor and determined by the courts to be a valid holograph will. The fender was kept as evidence until 1996, when it was turned over to the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. It’s still there, on public display.”

Did Cecil’s saga make it into Where There’s A Will? Of course it did. It’s simply too good of a tidbit not to include. But even so, it’s just a tidbit, a fun fact blended into the fiction. What truly changed the course of the story, far beyond anything I could have planned or plotted, was something Dan wrote in response to one of my many questions.

“The dead can’t reach out from the grave.”

Or can they? I leave it for you to read the book to find out.

About the book: Emily Garland is getting married and looking for the perfect forever home. When the old, and some say haunted, Hadley house comes up for sale, she’s convinced it’s “the one.” The house is also perfect for reality TV star Miles Pemberton and his new series, House Haunters. Emily will fight for her dream home, but Pemberton’s pockets are deeper than Emily’s, and he’ll stretch the rules to get what he wants.

While Pemberton racks up enemies all around Lount’s Landing, Arabella Carpenter, Emily’s partner at the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, has been hired to appraise the contents of the estate, along with her ex-husband, Levon. Could the feuding beneficiaries decide there’s a conflict of interest? Could Pemberton?

Things get even more complicated when Arabella and Levon discover another will hidden inside the house, and with it, a decades-old secret. Can the property stay on the market? And if so, who will make the winning offer: Emily or Miles Pemberton?

Purchase Links:

Friday, November 06, 2020


Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear were keynote speakers at the recent Women Writing the West conference. The Gears have over 17 millions copies of their books in print worldwide and translations into 29 languages.

 If that weren't enough to turn you green with envy, Kathleen has a super academic record. She has published over 200 articles in the fields of archaeology, history, and bison conservation. The United States Department of the Interior has twice awarded her a "Special Achievement Award" and she received a "Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition" from the United States Congress in 2015. 

I met the Gears when they first attended a Western Writers Conference in Fort Worth. At that time they were living in a cabin in Colorado. I recall Michael saying they just had a mattress thrown on the floor. It was all they could afford. 

In the late Richard Wheeler's autobiography, An Accidental Novelist,  he reported on meeting the Gears (yet unpublished) at that same convention. He was interviewing wannabes for Walker Publishing and agree to read their stories. After the convention, a UPS truck delivered an enormous box. "I discovered a cache of manuscripts, five hundred pagers, one thousand pagers, one after the other." Wheeler was looking for books of about 60,000 words and could not publish these monsters. 

When they did finally begin selling, Michael told Richard they were down to their last 75 bucks and about to return to contract archeology. Richard points out that they were both willing to integrate editorial suggestions and made swift progress toward becoming best-selling novelists. 

In Michael's talk at WWW he stressed the important of improving one's writing. He emphasized that writing has changed over the years and we must read today's best-selling authors to understand how styles have evolved. 

I read a lot and some of my favorite novels were written during the 60s. It was the era of great social novels which were mini history lessons that captured the spirit of America. I learned more about the Civil Rights movement in a novel, Five Smooth Stones, that I have in any of my African American textbooks. And I own a bunch!

Yet, in re-reading these books, I find that language is stilted, and exposition and explanations are too drawn out. A lot of books that were best sellers during the years they were published would be rejected today. 

People are in a hurry. They don't put up with much. They like short chapters with whiffs of a backstory. I heard someone say that Americans like a lot of white space. Michael encouraged the listeners to read broadly. Read all the genres on the best-sellers list. Think about techniques that might improve our own writing. 

This is not a license for degrading our writing. Think of how much is conveyed in poetic images. It can be a new art form. 

Now don't yell! Once I asked writing students to notice how James Patterson changed a whole plot with a chapter ending with a one word paragraph. I know how disheartening it is to walk into a library and see seventeen copies of Patterson's latest book on the shelf. But there's a reason why he sells. 

It's a challenge to cultivate our own style and voice while keeping all the new rules in mind. When you feel frustrated, remember the Gears and their astonishing determination. They wrote a lot before they discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  

Thursday, November 05, 2020

A week in slow motion

I greatly appreciated Rick’s Tuesday post. Tuesday, for me, dragged on and on and on. I’m usually pretty good at keeping myself busy. As I mentioned in my last post, my mother has read four or five books a week since COVID isolation began. (Be nice to my mother. We need readers like her.) I haven’t been that voracious, but I’ve read a few –– I’m enjoying Megan Abbott’s YOU WILL KNOW ME and Adam O’Fallon Price’s HOTEL NEVERSINK –– and I’ve lost 40 pounds since COVID began.

But Tuesday didn’t feel like a productive day. Taught two classes over ZOOM. Met with students. Lots of pacing.

And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that is what most writers do, isn’t it? Pace?

In actuality, the waiting keeps us going.

Wait for the next idea or story to emerge. Wait for the rejection. No, the acceptance. But still waiting. Waiting is part of this game we all long ago decided to enter and to which we have dedicated blood, sweat, bourbon, and tears. And what to do while we wait? Write the one that shows up, even if it’s not the one you hoped for. There really is no other answer.

And for that reason, a frustration I’ve always had about this business is that so much of what happens is out of my hands. An agent pitches your book. A publisher decides whether or not to read it based on the agent’s pitch. It’s a product-based business that only tangentially revolves around the product.

“Your previous sales numbers aren’t good.”
“Okay, but do you like the new book?”
“Your previous sales numbers aren’t good.”

You can’t wait for sales numbers to change. You write the one that shows up. So Tuesday, if nothing else, I wrote a few pages –– and paced long into the night, waiting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Social Distancing? Quarantini? Faceism?


Hard to believe it’s almost the end of the year. Pretty soon it’ll be January and time for various organizations to decide on the word/phrase of the year. The words they choose don’t have to be new words, but ones that reflect what happened during that year.

In a post awhile back, I talked about how the American Dialect Society selects its word. It’s done at their annual conference in January. Sadly, the 2021 conference has been cancelled due to Covid, but they’re looking into remote meetings. We’ll have to see what they come up with.

These are the words that various organizations chose for 2019:

American Dialect Society – “(my) pronouns”. Their Word of the Decade is “they”.

Merriam-Webster – “they”

Oxford – “climate emergency” – “existential”

Here are some possibilities I came up with for 2020:

social distancing/physical distancing – I don’t remember hearing either of these phrases before 2020 so I think either/both of them are good candidates.

self-quarantining – Lots of people have been doing this.

quarantini – A drink you drink during lockdown. I’ve also heard it used as a description of a get-together with friends via video-conferencing instead of at a bar.

Covid-19 – One strain of the coronavirus. Yeah, it describes this year all right, but let’s come up with something better.

faceism – When we make quick, unfair judgments about people we don’t even know based on seeing their face. I’ve been hearing this a lot recently.

Covid fatigue/pandemic fatigue – Tired of being cooped up. Tired of being careful. Tired of being scared.

safer at home – At the beginning of all this, we were told we’re not “sheltering in place”, we’re just “safer at home”.

quarrulent logorrhea – I added this one after reading Thomas’ post on Monday.

There’s still a couple months left in the year so who knows what new words/phrases will pop up. Perhaps we’ll have another “pregnant chad” situation and some new election phrase will come into vogue.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the election until now. I wrote this before the polls closed in the U.S., before the results were known. Heck, maybe we don’t even know the results yet given the large number of mail-in ballots.

When the various organizations select their words, we’ll have to see if they chose one of these or selected something else. I rather like “social distancing” myself.

What about you? Any other words/phrases that describe 2020? What has your vote?

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Today is a special day

by Rick Blechta

I won’t bore you with why it’s so special. If you don’t know, then I won’t ruin your day by reminding you why.

However, I’m finding it rather to focus on much, so I thought I would do something fun.

We all know 2020 has not been kind to everyone. Back on December 31st, I remember being with some dear friends and as we toasted the new year, someone said (probably moi), “Here’s to a brand new year! It’s going to be so much better than 2019. No way it could be worse.” I’m still doing a face plant when I think about how wrong the statement turned out to be.

So let’s laugh about it. Here are some memes I’ve been collecting over the past few weeks. Hope they make you at least smile!

IF 2020 WAS A MATH PROBLEM: If you’re walking on the ice cream at 5 ounces per toaster, and your bicycle loses a sock, how much gravy will you need to repaint your hamster?

ONE DAY 2020 WILL BE THE ONE-WORD CATCHPHRASE FOR EVERYTHING MESSED UP AND BAD; “How’s your day going?” “A total 2020.” “Say no more…”

IN 20 YEARS WHEN KIDS ASK ABOUT THE 2020 TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE, I’m telling them we had to drag our butts across the lawn — in the snow — uphill. Both ways.

Hope I get what I’m wishing for tomorrow morning!

Monday, November 02, 2020

On Elections and Quarrulent Logorrhea


Is anyone thinking about writing today, the day before election day?  I know I’m not. 

Since everyone else is talking about the election, let’s jump in ourselves, shall we?

In 1758, a young George Washington was running as a candidate in Virginia for a seat in the House of Burgesses.  Washington spent his entire campaign budget, 50 pounds, on 160 gallons of liquor to 391 voters.  Already a custom in England, it had become a tradition in Virginia to roll barrels of booze into polling places as encouragement to voters. 

While he was president, Andrew Jackson said that he had only two regrets. “That I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.”  Here’s a recap on Jackson’s backstory.  Before he became president in 1829, he’d fought in three wars and is said to have participate in up to 100 duels, including one in which he killed his opponent.  Once president, he passed the Indian Removal Act and was responsible for 4,000 Cherokee deaths on the Trail of Tears. 

In 1844, James Polk ran against Henry Clay and won the presidency.  That was in spite of the fact that Clay, in trying to appeal to the massive Irish population in New York City at the time, claimed that he was an immigrant, and his real name was “Patrick O’Clay.”

In 1876, in an attempt to beat Rutherford B. Hayes, the opposing party spread a malicious rumor.  They claimed that Hayes shot his own mother “in a fit of insanity” after a long night of drinking in Ohio.  His mother was, in fact, already dead so she wasn’t around to help debunk the rumor.  Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel J. Tilden but won in a wildly disputed electoral college vote.

In 1896, the New York Times endorsed William McKinley for president.  They also ran an article about his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, with the headline, “Is Mr. Bryan Crazy?”  So-called experts were interviewed and concluded that Bryan suffered from megalomania, delusions of grandeur, and quarrulent logorrhea, which means he complained too much.  One of the psychiatric “experts” said, “I should like to examine him as a degenerate.”

Quarrulent logorrhea…oh yeah, I’m using that. 

In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was expected to have an easy win over Adlai Stevenson.  Making it worse, Stevenson wasn’t helped when a flyer was distributed throughout the American heartland that claimed Stevenson had once killed a young girl “in a jealous rage.”

Also, in 1952, President Harry S. Truman said about General Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The General doesn’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.”  Eight years later, when Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, ran for president, Truman said that Nixon was a “no-good lying bastard,” and he told a crowd that anyone who votes for him “ought to go to hell.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson was well known for his crude put-downs.  He also wanted people to know where he was superior to President John F. Kennedy, under whom Johnson had served and then succeeded.  Presidential historian Robert Dallek wrote, “When people mentioned Kennedy’s many affairs, Johnson would bang on the table and declare that he had more women by accident than Kennedy had ever had on purpose.”

So, on that classy note, please go out and vote.