Friday, January 29, 2021

Tech Blues

 Yesterday I had another frustrating encounter with technology. The video trial period had run out on my Ring Doorbell. I received notice that I should enroll in a Protect Plan. There was an inexpensive one available. I quite like Ring because I can hear the doorbell in my basement. 

When I went on-line I was informed that I didn't have an account. I certainly did. My iPhone said so. The device worked perfectly. So I got in touch with a very savvy tech person. She patiently walked me through a number of steps. 

Nothing worked. According to the computer I simply didn't have an account. 

That was so not true. I protested vigorously to the techy. We went back and forth for a while. I kept getting notices that I was taking too much time between responses and the chat would soon close if I didn't reply at a faster pace. My problem was the length of time it took to alternate between the chat, the website, and the info on my phone. 

Finally she suggested that I had set up the account using a different email. She cut me off. 

I never use a different email. Like never. But I had. Then I remembered why. 

The Geek Squad person who came to install the first doorbell discovered my wiring wasn't sufficient and I needed a battery-charged device. He had set up an account using my usual email. So I was forced to use alternate identification when I switched to another device. 

The whole tech exchange took a lot of time. I mean a lot. 

Barbara's post on working through the dynamics of setting up virtual launches contained wonderful information. I really appreciated it. In fact, I would love to get more information about blog tours. 

We have to bite the bullet. Tech skills are part of the game now. I am fairly tech savvy, but learning process upon process takes a great deal of time. 

I'm cleaning out some of stuff during this forced Covid exile. There is a cache of fan letters over the years. Real actual letters. I was--and still am--very grateful for them. They remind me that my main job is producing books. Not conquering technology. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021


I have a short entry this week because the discussion seems pretty straightforward.

I’m always amazed at my friends who juggle different writing projects at once. These writers work on a novel and a story or script simultaneously. They seem to have the ability to juggle the characters, plots, and settings.

This topic came up recently in a conversation I had with SJ Rozan, who spoke about working on a story while writing a novel. I listened closely because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to write more stories while trying to finish a novel every year or 18 months. SJ was telling me how she hits pause on a novel when she reaches a difficult spot, writes a short story (in a week or two), then returns to the novel with fresh eyes.

This makes sense to me, and it’s something I plan to try. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the topic of juggling projects.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Developing A Tough Skin


Reading Tom’s and Rick’s posts from the last couple days reminds me that writing is not for the faint of heart. At least if you want to be a published writer. Your work won’t appeal to everyone and may, as in Tom’s case, spark the need for someone to write you a letter and tell you why (in this case it felt more like a lecture) they didn’t. And why they’d never read your work again.

I’ve never had anyone write me such a letter (yet), but I really haven’t been writing that long so I’m sure I’ll get something at some point. And I’ve never had anyone come up to me at a signing event and tell me they read one of my books and disliked it, as someone did to Rick. In that case, I picture the person saying what she said and tossing the book on the table in disdain.

I have had someone come up to me at a conference and tell me the cover of one of my books wasn’t great. All I did was nod and say thank you for your feedback. Somehow, criticizing a cover doesn’t get to me like criticizing my words. Probably because I didn’t create the cover in the first place.

But I’ve had my share of bad reviews. I remember reading a review of one of the first short stories I ever had published and feeling like I wanted to curl up into a ball. I think I actually cried. The review was quite thoughtful, but it made a point that I remember to this day. It said that the reviewer felt like I’d given up toward the end of the story and was racing to the finish to just get it done. After some thought, I realized they were right. I have a tendency to get tired toward the end of a project (no matter what it is) and want to just get it over with. To this day, I remember what that reviewer said and slow myself down toward the end of a project, making sure I’m not just trying to “get it done.”

But, from that point on, I pretty much haven’t read reviews, good or bad, unless they are part of a blog tour. I just don’t have a thick enough skin to deal with bad ones and, for even the good ones, if they mention one teeny tiny thing that’s negative, I fixate on that. I do occasionally break that rule for good reviews just to see what’s being said, but it’s pretty rare.

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate all of those reviews, good or bad. I think reviews are for readers more than the writer, anyway.

I’ve definitely acquired a thicker skin than I had when I read that short story review. But I’m still a work in progress. I’m hoping for the day when any negative comments will just roll off my back and I won’t feel the sting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

File under: You Can’t Please ’Em All

By Rick Blechta

You’ve just got to read Tom Kies’ post (just below this post). I read that and was laughing out loud — really.

“It takes all kinds,” is all I have to say.

I guess it comes down to people’s self-importance. Tom’s correspondent obviously feels he/she Must Teach Thomas Kies A Lesson. My response would be, “As if I care.” It’s not that I’m a hard-ass. I really do want everyone to enjoy my novels and I do feel bad when someone doesn’t. But…

I learned a long time ago that you have to be willing to take the punches when you put your work out in public. Every author has collected a fair share of bad reviews. I certainly have.

But what gets up my nose is when I’m lectured to. Tom’s correspondent is obviously trying to make a point — a needless point, really — that they are better than him, more understanding and more gracious. He obviously insulted this person greatly, but it was only because they feel self-important. “Let me point out the error of your ways, son…”

I have been on the receiving end of some rather, shall we say, pointed emails over my writing years. With only one exception they were prompted by errors I’d made. Some people are kind when they do this, but some people use this information to try to hurt. The funny thing is, my first response to an error I’ve made is that I’ve let down my readers. Why? Because I could have avoided those errors by doing better research. I should have fact-checked something but didn’t. I do not hesitate to issue a mea culpa in these cases, vow to do better in the future, and always reply. The emails that are obviously meant to be hurtful or prove the correspondent’s superior knowledge I ignore. I figure they’ve got issues that make them do this, so it’s better not to engage.

Years ago now I was doing a signing with Vicki Delany since we both had new books out. One lady came up, looked over my new book

“I think I may have read one of your books before,” she told me. Looking at the back cover, she added, “Yes. I did. I didn’t like it very much. It was a bad book.”

And with that, she walked away.

Why would someone think this was the way to handle this situation?

I guess the (generous) answer is, “It takes all kinds.”

But the juvenile inside of me was tempted to shout out, “Well, at least I’m not an ugly person like you!”

Monday, January 25, 2021

Weird Mail

 By Thomas Kies

This week has been a very good week…mostly.  It’s a new day in America, vaccines are rolling out (although, it’s a rocky road to be sure), and my publisher has told me that there’s good news afoot with the re-release of my first book, RANDOM ROAD.  More to come on that. 

Cool stuff.

The one tiny fly in a big tub of ointment was a letter I received through the mail on Inauguration Day.  While I was watching the new President take the oath of office on my computer, one of my staffers handed me a letter with my name on it. 

I opened it and found a two-page letter in lovely handwriting from someone in Columbus, Ohio.  

The letter read: “I bought your book DARKNESS LANE from a library book sale.  Before reading it I checked out RANDOM ROAD so I could read your series in order.  But as it turns out, I’m not going to read them at all.  I want to tell you why.  It might not matter to you—but maybe you can learn from this or at least become aware of it.”

In essence, the letter writer objected to this passage on the very first page of my first book.  In it, my protagonist, Geneva Chase, a crime journalist, is explaining to the reader a little bit about who she is.  The passage reads, “My name’s been on the byline of hundreds of stories over the last twenty years, in four newspapers, three magazines, a half dozen websites, and, for a very short, shame-filled stint, Fox News.”

The letter writer told me that he/she watches Fox News (along with other media by the way) and voted for President Trump. 

He/she went on to say, “One tiny little action I can take (a peaceful protest if you will) against those who are not my respecting my side is to not read your book.  Those words, “Shame-filled stint at Fox” wounded me.  I get slammed even in a mystery book? I wonder why you felt the need to include a swipe like that. Did you think it sound cool?”

Well, yeah. I know it felt kind of cool when I wrote it.

But you know, I never explained why Geneva was ashamed of her time at Fox.  She was a heavy drinker in those days.  Who knows what she might have done?  And there was a lot of sexual harassment going on in that company in those days.  Or so I’ve read.

The letter writer continued, “Thankfully there are many other books for me to read.  Oh my goodness! I’m starting to feel bad about this.  Like I might be hurting your feelings.  Probably not.  I hope not.”

No, my feelings weren’t hurt.  I’ve been slammed much harder than this. Writers have to have a thick skin. 

The writer went on to say, “The vast majority of Fox watchers are good, smart, interesting, tolerant, freedom loving people.  We are not racists; we are not rubes.  We think for ourselves.  We deserve respect. 

“That’s it.  I’m not including my name etc.  “Our Side” tends to lay low as it can be dangerous to say the wrong thing.”

These are dangerous times we are all living in.  

I try not to get too political when I’m writing a mystery.  But Geneva Chase is a snarky smart-ass.  It’s in her nature to be insulting.  That’s why she’s so much fun to write.   She gets to say things I can’t.

To my letter writer from Columbus, Ohio.  Sorry if you felt insulted.  RANDOM ROAD wasn’t written with that intent in mind. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Listening to the World

 I have to admit that I am much more visual than aural as I move through the world. I love colors and shapes and visual connections. I like moving furniture around and flipping through magazines to look at how rooms are designed. I find it difficult to spend time in certain rooms because I find them oppressive. I wear pops of color on rainy days. I see first and then understand. I watch people -- their smiles and frowns and gestures. I remember faces although I have always had a problem remembering names. 

This week I have had the experience of spending time with someone who listens to the world. Oddly enough that someone is my new puppy -- Fergus, an almost 4 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He arrived from Maryland a couple of Sundays ago, and he alternates between bursts of boundless

energy -- leaping, barking, nipping fingers -- and passing out with legs in the air in puppy exhaustion.

What is fascinating about Fergus, with his face so solemn in repose, is that he listens. A trip to the backyard is full of trotting about and tugging on his leash and digging up and trying to consume doubtful items. But there are also moments, when he stops and sits down or goes still of a sudden. During those moments, his head moves from side to side as he listens to birds in a nearby bush or the traffic passing on the two streets parallel to ours or to the sound of another dog barking. He listens to the wind and the squirrels. He seems to be taking it all in to his fluffy ears and storing it in his mental files. 

I am fascinated by this because I have had dogs before, and I don't remember any of them listening in this way. Yes, when there was a familiar sound or something out of the ordinary that put them on alert. But none of them with Fergus's absorption in the everyday. Or, with his silence.

Watching Fergus listen makes me listen. And that reminds me of how much better use I should make of sounds in my descriptions -- and in my plotting. I need to think about what my characters attend to when they listen.What sounds delight them or make a shiver run down their spine?

I'm not sure I even have the words to describe some sounds. I must see if there is a list somewhere.

And I will continue to watch my dog and try to move beyond my default setting and use my ears.

Note: Harry, my cat, seems to share my visual orientation.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

More Virtual Book Launching

 Oh my God, people, what a week, month, year it has been. Today is inauguration day, so I've spent most of the day glued to the television, watching events, celebrating, and breathing a sigh of relief. My last entry on this blog was Jan. 6.  My mood was much different. Horrified. Reading Charlotte's entry, below, gave me chills. Her experiences, coupled with the Capitol riot, reminded me of one of Brad Pitt's lines out of the movie Troy: "Men are wretched creatures." I've seen so much goodness in my lengthy life, but sometimes I despair. But thankfully, sanity has returned. At least for the moment. 

Now it's back to work. I read Barbara's entry from yesterday with great interest. I, too, am doing a virtual book launch in ten short days for my second Bianca Dangereuse Hollywood Mystery, Valentino Will Die.

Who is trying to kill the world's greatest lover? As Rudolph Valentino lies dying, his dear friend and screen idol in her own right, Bianca LaBelle, promises him she will find out who is responsible. One of his many lovers? A delusional fan? Or could it be a particularly vicious mobster? Publishers Weekly says “Lovers of old movies and Hollywood gossip will have fun.” 

I can only be thankful that my launch will be a Facebook Live virtual event hosted by Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona on January 30 at 4:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time  (6:00 Eastern, 5:00 Central, 3:00 Pacific). I have nothing but awe and admiration for Barbara for planning the Jan. 28 virtual launch of The Ancient Dead FROM SCRATCH. My hat is off, and I hope Barbara's event is a smashing success.

Of course, I hope my event is a success, as well, so I hope you'll check in and join me at Poisoned Pen Bookstore's Facebook page on the day. Fortunately, all I have to do is ZOOM. I did learn how to share photos while zooming, which is about the limit of my ability to learn new things.

I’ll be all around the blogiverse and the podcast airwaves for the next few months, and I plan to do a number of book giveaways, as well, both of the Bianca novels set in 1920s Hollywood and the Alafair novels set in 1910s Oklahoma, so keep your eyes peeled!

I'll be podcasting on February 4, 11:00 Eastern Standard Time, with PatZi Gil at Joy on Paper, a syndicated radio show for writers and those who dream of writing! I hope you’ll have a listen.

And now I must sign off and return to another frustrating task that has had me flummoxed for a week - trying to make an appointment for a Covid vaccine shot. Wish me luck, and I hope to see you on the 30th.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Planning a virtual book launch; Part 1, hair tearing and panic attacks

Today, as you read this, the United States and most of the world are collectively holding our breath, hoping for peace while fearing the worst as one of the most momentous shifts in power takes place. I don't yet know how it will turn out, but my thoughts are with the United States today.

But meanwhile, closer to home and on a much more trivial scale, I have been wrestling with my own drama over the past two weeks. That is when I began planning the virtual launch of my latest book, which has landed with a soundless thud smack in the middle of the pandemic dead zone. How hard can it be? I asked myself. I've done lots of Zoom meetings and chats over the past year, some small and personal, others more formal. I've even hosted the odd friend meeting. 


The first challenge was how to invite people. I have a disorganized contact list of emails that includes everything from my plumber to the fan who wrote to me from New Mexico. I have no newsletter, no mail chimp, no quick and easy way to separate out the plumber from the fan. As well, I needed to send out the invitations at least two weeks in advance in order to give people enough time to block it into their calendar, but two weeks is a long time to keep track of that Zoom invite if their inbox is as chaotic as mine. So I consulted Google and Facebook friends, and settled on the Eventbrite solution. Eventbrite keeps track of registrants and sends out reminders, and most importantly, it's FREE if the event is free.

I tackled Eventbrite, bringing my knowledge from about 0% to approximately 25% in a couple of days and designing an invitation. There were step by step instructions, and the chance to preview my efforts along the way. Next I needed to somehow link it to a Zoom event so that registrants would receive the link to access the event. I knew I had to test this invitation and its Zoom link to make sure it all worked right before I launched it out into the world, so I created a dummy event – a Zoom meeting – which I inserted into the invite, and then I sent it out to a few close friends to see whether the whole thing worked. It did, and we had a brief Zoom meeting to discuss problems that were encountered. Not many, other than the tedious business of setting up an Eventbrite account and registering. But as my friends pointed out, almost every online business requires you set up an account nowadays, so that shouldn't deter people.

Next I had to set up the actual real Zoom event. Oy. I had no idea how many people would actually attend, but the beauty of a virtual event is that people can tune in from all around the world. I have friends and family, and hopefully unknown fans, all over. I wanted to invite everyone I could think of who might be interested (although not the plumber). 50 people might come, or 150 people. Who knew? I have been to Zoom meetings with 50 little thumbnail faces all over the screen. It doesn't work. It also wouldn't work to have 50 people trying to talk at once. Reluctantly I realized I would need to mute the attendees and hide their videos, so the audience would only see and hear me. Which would be incredibly boring. So I opted instead for an interview format and asked my friend and thriller writer Rick Mofina to interview me.

Once I decided on a two-person interview plus Q&A, I decided that one hour was the perfect length for the event. Shorter, and you can't say all the fascinating things you want to. Longer, and the audience's eyes begin to glaze over. And the date and time was also important. What hour would be convenient for most people, considering this would go across time zones? I settled on 7 pm. Here in the east, most people would be finishing their supper but not yet asleep in front of the TV. On the west coast, it would be 4 pm, at the end of the major work day but before supper. Cocktail hour. I did get notices from across the pond saying it's 2 am for us here, for which I'm sorry. You can't accommodate everyone, as the Olympics found out.

Next I started to research how to set up a Zoom meeting for this format. Google, YouTube, tech contacts, and Facebook friends put in their two cents. It was suggested I could hire a tech person, but being an author with all the financial limitations that entails, I thought, how hard can it be? In the end, I realized I needed a Zoom Webinar, not a Zoom Meeting. So I set about learning everything I could about Zoom Webinars in two days. Time was getting short. I watched three live training sessions on Zoom (all free) and read through their guides and step-by step instructions. First of all, I needed to purchase the appropriate Zoom plan (the free basic 40-minute one wasn't going to cut it). I settled on the cheapest Webinar package for 100 participants which, added to the Zoom Pro Plan, brought the cost to about $75 CAD. I bought only one license, because only one person can be a host at a time. But I could assign co-host duties to someone else (my lucky daughter, in Toronto on her own computer) during the event so I didn't have to juggle everything myself while being interviewed.

Then I set about scheduling and configuring the Zoom webinar. Luckily the live Zoom sessions and set-by-step instructions made this a "relatively" easy part. I invited both Rick and my daughter as panelists, enabled the Q&A function, and did a couple of other things that I hope work. I chose "no registration required", because the attendees had already registered through Eventbrite. One of the beauties of Zoom webinars is that they allow practice sessions, so once the event is scheduled, you can do dry runs as often as you like. 

Next up came the process of sending out the invitations, running the practice session, and finally the event itself. All that is a blog post in itself, so stay tuned in two weeks for Part 2; no hair left but was it worth it?Here's the link to the Eventbrite invitation, in case you want to find out for yourself. Meanwhile, if anyone has held a virtual book launch, or attended one, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 18, 2021

A box of issues

 Hi - Douglas Skelton in the hotseat again from cold and damp Scotland.

It's a funny old thing, the English language. I mean, there are words that are spelled the same, are pronounced the same but can mean different things.

Let's look at the word "issue", for instance.

It can mean to leave (issue forth). It can relate to publications (in this week's issue). It can refer to progeny, or the lack thereof (he died without issue). And it can describe personal problems (that Skelton fella has issues).

And it can mean the events of the day.

There's a reason why this etymological conundrum has been on my mind. The word in one of its myriad of meanings has been used in relation to one of my books.

My most recent novel came out in the USA last week. I'm sorry if this seems like shameless marketing (Just to be clear, I'm not really sorry. It's called The Blood is Still and it's out in hardback from Arcade CrimeWise).

Anyway, it's had a couple of fabulous reviews in the home of the brave, one a starred review in Publishers' Weekly, but I don't like to brag. (Just to be clear, yes I do).

The other one, in Library Journal, was also very gratifying but I won't go into detail (just to be clear, they said it was 'an intricately plotted thriller ...  lyrical and thoughtful'.)

It said it was an issue-orientated novel.

I thought, whoa - did I do that?

Here's the thing - turns out I did.

It was written in 2019 and came out in the UK in March 2020. It has its themes and variations, of course, but I didn't set out to write about issues, at least not consciously.

Yes, there is a disturbing, always-in-the-news facet to the plotline as well as an examination of the challenges facing local journalism here in Scotland.

In addition, there is a sub-plot concerning right-wing politics.  Perhaps that, in light of recent events, has given what I simply describe as a thriller a bit more relevance.

There is even a riot when supporters of a neo-fascist go on the rampage.

Pointing no fingers, of course.

Did I have the rise of the far right in mind when I wrote it two years ago? Yes, without a doubt, for it has been seen here too.

Does the growth of extremism - left, right, religious - cause me concern? In other words, do I have an issue with it? You bet I do, but was I setting out to make a point, be controversial, form a polemic? Not consciously. My principal aim is always to simply tell a story, to create characters that hopefully step off the page and walk around the room with the reader.

As Sam Goldwyn said, messages are for Western Union.

But I was setting my story against real-world problems, and extremism is very much a hot topic so perhaps on some level I was tackling that issue. 

Everything seems politicised now - from the wearing of a mask during a global epidemic to whether you prefer Sex and the City over The Sopranos. Yes, there was such a debate on Twitty with some people growing quite heated and personal. It became a male/female argument, which is frankly ridiculous but that's where we are these days. Like one, like the other, like both. It's a matter of personal taste.

But one tweet was all it took for it to become an issue.

Political extremism has been on the bubble for some time.

To be honest, I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make here. I am most certainly not arguing against the review (I have no issue with it at all). I am grateful for it and pleased the reviewer enjoyed the book. I am always gratified when people take the time and effort to review. 

Well, maybe not the bad ones.

It was just that it took me aback slightly because, as I said, I did not set out to write an issue-oriented story though, now that it has been pointed out, I see that to an extent it is. 

I'm also amazed that it took a reviewer to make me realise it and that made me wonder if I had done it before. The only other book of mine I could come up with was book 3 of my Davie McCall series which in part dealt with the treatment of veterans in civvy street. It was one character, but it was there. 

Someone once said something along the lines of that if you want to understand the condition of a society at any given time, read its crime fiction. I think there is some truth in that.

As long as we also tell a good story. 

I'm sure no one will take issue with that.

PS - I was asked last time to publish a shot of Tom, the cat. Or He Who Must Be Obeyed. Here he is giving me the kind of look that tells me I've forgotten to do something, I'm about to forget to do something or there is something I have not done which I didn't know I was supposed to do and therefore could not technically forget to do it but I'm going to be punished all the same.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Mob and Me

This has been a dreadful week. Doubly so for me as it brought back frightening memories. In 1963 my husband I were at the center of the infamous Garnett Race Riots. Race in this case does not indicate people of color. Race referring to car races as in the Grand Prix.

Don was the Undersheriff in Anderson County Kansas. I was the jail matron. We had a two year old daughter. Our residence was in the center of the town which was built on a square. It was a multi-story brick building. The jail was on the top floor.

Garnett was a small town of about 5,000 people. I don't know when the races started. The peak attendance for this event was estimated at 75,000 people. The 2.8-mile road course at Lake Garnett brought in cars from all of the major automakers including Ferrari, Maserati, Shelby, Chevrolet and Austin-Healey. A Cobra won that year.

That night all hell brought loose. About 3000 young people descended on the town square. The crowd grew rowdy. There was drunken lewd behavior. Scary stuff going on. The chief of police decided to close the beer joints. The group was outraged. There were arrests. The arrests triggered further violence with cries of freedom and a vow to spring the victims. They decided to take the jail.

The jail was my happy home, remember. Luckily our two-year-old daughter was at my parents house that night. The mob was attacked with fire hoses and as much police force as our tiny little burg could muster. Throughout the night law enforcement came from all over the state. The governor called out the national guard.

My shotgun was propped up against my daughters toy chest. There were shotguns and rifles and police in every room of my house. I, and my sister-in-law, made sandwiches and coffee all night long. A policeman died. Over fifty persons were injured. These were mostly hell-raising college students who were intoxicated with both booze and the thrill of the car races. But what sticks in my mind to this day were the cries of "take the jail. Take the jail."

The races were discontinued the next year.

I don't participate in marches, even though I believe in peaceful protests. I believed in the effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter march. Also the Me Too movement. But marches can quickly turn into something else. They grow out of control. You can't tell who you will be marching next to. Marches can turn into mobs.

I was horrified and sickened by last weeks events. This was far from a peaceful protest. I cried all day.

Even as I write this my hands are shaking. My heart ached for those frightened members of congress. There are still those voices in my mind. "Take the jail, take the jail."

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A week or a lifetime?

My calendar says I last posted two weeks ago. The newscycle says time is no longer linear (if it ever was).

I sat glued to the TV last week in a way I have not since Sept. 11, 2001. I think I (and every American) was catapulted back in time about two hundred years. I find myself saying (perhaps naively), “We survived 1968” far too often of late. It’s a way for me to speak life into my hope that the sun will come out Jan. 21, and I’ll feel the ship, although still wobbly, straighten and stop taking on water. In short, for me, it’s a way of moving beyond.

All of this leads to the writing topic at the forefront of my mind: Deciding whether or not to discuss contemporary politics in a crime novel. Ezra Pound famously said artists are the antennae of the race. That speaks to a writer’s responsibility. I love reading novels and poems that tackle weighty societal issues. However, this week, I’m reading Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me and enjoying the absolute escape of the whodunit before falling asleep. I tell students in my Advanced Studies in Rhetoric class on day one that “fiction is universal; non-fiction rarely is.” Can fiction be universal, if it dives deeply but truly into one society’s political issue? Perhaps going deep enough and honestly enough will allow the issue to resonate for readers. And perhaps some readers wish to experience a mystery through a historical or societal lens. I have few answers but many more questions.

The events of this past week –– watching the United States Capital be overrun, seeing a presidency (further) implode; knowing 68 arrests (as of this writing) were made but that had the domestic terrorists been people of color there would have been mass carnage; and worrying about what might play out Jan. 20 –– has me wondering how much my characters should be impacted by (or aware of) the political landscape when they meet on the page. How much social commentary is too much?

I know this: If a decade ago I’d have proposed a political novel with a plot ending with the events taking place last week at the United States Capital, you wouldn’t have bought it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

My Year In Books, 2020


It’s time for my annual reading wrap-up. A much more fun topic than everything that’s going on in the world right now.

In 2020 I “consumed” (more on why I used that word in a moment) 117 books, 9 more than last year. The largest category was mystery/thriller at 46%. 15% of the books I read were in the non-fiction category, up 10% from last year.

I used the word “consumed” and not read because I’ve added audiobooks to my list. I listened to 19 of them last year (usually when I’m working on a painting or macramé project). Most of those were the audio versions of the Dark Shadows books by Marilyn Ross, originally published in the 1960s/70s. Enjoyable stories and quite different at times from the storylines in the soap opera.

In my December 16, 2020 post I gave a number of recommendations here for books I read last year. I won’t repeat those. You can see them here:

I read 4 books about the 1918 pandemic last year. They all have something to recommend them. Some delve deeper into the science and the state of medicine at the time. Others center on what was going on in the world at the time and the social reaction/cost. If you only read one, I’d go for “Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918” by Albert Marrin. I found that one the most interesting to read.

In the mystery category, the majority of them were cozies. Of those, my favorites were the Postmistress mysteries by Jean Flowers aka Camille Minichino and the Sylvia Stryker mysteries by Diane Vallere, set in space. Yes, I still consider them cozies because they really have a cozy feel in an unusual setting. If you like cats in your cozies, I recommend the Nick and Nora mysteries by T.C. LoTempio. I also re-read several Agatha Christie books. For whatever reason, I find her comforting. Even though she’s often put in the cozy category, I don’t think all of her books belong there.

In the kids category, I particularly enjoyed The Greystone Secrets books by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Two of them are out with the 3rd coming out in April. Looking forward to it. These really need to be read in order.

In the scifi/speculative fiction category, besides the Thursday Next novels mentioned in a previous post, I also enjoyed the Maze Runner series. And, yes, I watched the movies as well. The first movie adhered pretty closely to the novel, but the others veered away from the book story lines quite a bit.

There are so many other good books I read last year, most of which I would recommend. I only gave up on 1 book last year. Pretty unusual for me to stop reading. Even if I think the book is so-so, I’ll generally finish it. You can learn a lot about writing from reading the books you don’t like (and figuring out why you don’t like them) as well as those you do like.

That’s it for my reading wrap-up. Onto another topic next time.

I’m curious, did you find yourself reading more last year than in previous years?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

So what do you say after last week?

by Rick Blechta

I have been trying to come up with a topic for this week and it’s as if I’ve my brain is frozen.

Anyone who’s old enough to remember November of 1963 would likely be able to tell you exactly where they were when John Kennedy was assassinated. I was in 7th Grade Latin class and the principal put the CBS broadcast through the school’s PA. We all sat there with our mouths open listening to Walter Cronkite. School was cancelled and we went home and watched the TV the entire weekend. I was sitting there when Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down live on television. The events of that catastrophic time made a big impression on my 12-year-old psyche.

So you can imagine what I felt watching the congressional speechifying last Wednesday when they suddenly ground to an abrupt halt, Vice President Pence slammed his gavel down, called a recess, and disappeared out a nearby door. Something was obviously very wrong.

I was then glued to my computer screen — we don’t have a TV — until I ran out of gas around 1:00 a.m.

Anyway, my brain right now is foggy and dull, and I’m too emotionally wrung out to come up with much of anything worthwhile for this week’s post.

Maybe by next Tuesday things will have evened out. They can’t get much worse.

Oh geez! Now I’ve probably jinxed the whole damn thing.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Puppies and Pandemic Road Trips

  By Thomas Kies

I was going to do a sequel to my blog “Recipe for a Thriller No One Would Believe” about the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington DC, but I just couldn’t.  It’s just all too sad and I’m embarrassed for our country over it. 

So, I’ll write about something much more fun.  Lilly, our Shih-tzu and my writing buddy, passed away in September.  No, that’s not the fun part.  That was heartbreaking. 

Starting in December, my wife Cindy began searching for a Shih-tzu rescue to come live with us.

The pandemic has created a remarkable demand for pet company and the results are that there is a shortage of rescue dogs available to adopt.  My wife worked hard at trying to find a rescue. 

Finally, Cindy found an adoption agency that was looking to place a two-year old Shih-tzu named Annie Willow that had been rescued after being abandoned at a kill shelter.  They vetted us and on Thursday they told us we could come meet the girl on Saturday morning in Charlotte, North Carolina.  That’s a five-hour drive from where we live.

We packed our bags and took off on Friday to stay overnight and then meet Annie Willow the next morning.  

Now, this was the first overnight trip we’ve taken since March, when the pandemic began its horrible march throughout the world.  Things have markedly changed.

Starting with choosing the hotel.  It used to be comfort, location, and price that was how we decided on where we’d stay.  Now it was how they disinfected their rooms.

Then it was the drive.  Before, I looked forward to stopping off while on our journey where we’ve never been for a leisurely lunch.  Now we packed our lunch before we left so we could eat in the car. 

We did stop once to get gasoline and use the restroom.  In the convenience store where we were, they weren’t selling coffee.  Another result of the pandemic. 

Once at the hotel, what few people who were guests, as well as employees, wore masks (thank heavens) and discourse was kept at a minimum.  Distance was observed.

Here’s where I want to say something about writing, since Type M is a blog about the process.  In particular, about writing dialogue.  I have always enjoyed listening in on conversations so I could catch both discourse and dialect.  Now, however, there’s little of that to eavesdrop on. And what I do hear sounds like little more than mumbling.  

Back to our trip.

It was no surprise that we discovered that the bar was closed at the hotel and the bistro where you could get breakfast was also shut down.  There would be no hotel waffles for us in the morning.

When it came to getting something for dinner, we called a nice Italian pizza place in the neighborhood and had dinner delivered at the hotel.  

The next morning, we met the representative from the adoption agency and the woman who had been Annie Willow’s foster mom.  Everyone wore masks.  I never saw their faces.  That seemed so sad.  I’m sure we were all smiling from ear to ear.

Although, when I asked how the foster mom was doing, she told me, “I’ll be crying in my car in a few minutes.  I’ll be missing Annie.”  It must be difficult to foster a puppy, loving it, knowing that if you’re successful, you’ll be handing it over to someone you don’t know.  It must be like losing a piece of your heart. 

It was also when we met Annie Willow, who’s a cutie with the energy of an overcaffeinated ferret. She is definitely going to keep Cindy and me on our toes. 

It was a bright spot in an otherwise abysmal week.  Two friends of ours tested positive for Covid-19.  One is in the hospital but recovering nicely and the other has had mild symptoms.  

Unfortunately, thousands of others are dying every single day.  Hospitals are stretched to the limit but vaccinations, while slow and chaotic, are coming.

And then, of course, there was the insurrection at the Capitol on Wednesday at the urging of a sitting President of the United States.  I never thought I’d ever write or say those words.  Never.

The nation is divided, the possibility of a second impeachment is imminent, and I fear for what could happen before the inauguration of a new President on January 20.

It’s no wonder so many of us have looked to the unconditional love of a puppy. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

One of Those Days

Well, it's one of those days after one of those weeks. I had a topic in mind for today's post, but life has intruded. My cat, Harry, has the sniffles -- has been sneezing all week -- and his vet is holding medication for him that I need to pick up before 4:30 today. 

Then I need to swing by (as go in and sit for hours) the hospital emergency room and get an evaluation. My doctor's office says there is no way to be sure on the telephone about whether bumping my head last night might require attention. Stupid accident -- I was trying to catch up on my work emails. It was late and I was sitting on the sofa, leaning forward over my laptop rather than sitting back against the cushions. After two late nights and early mornings, I dozed off. I woke up as I was falling sideways off the sofa, clutching my laptop. The top of my head lightly bumped my old-fashion radiator.

When I got up and after I had mopped up my spilled tea, I didn't have a headache or feel dizzy. I went to bed and to sleep. It's been over 12 hours, and I'm aware that I bumped my head because I'm paying attention. But still no headache or swelling. However, I have freaked myself out thinking of what might be going on in my skull. That was the reason for the conversation with the doctor's office.

That and the splendid idea that I had about using a similar, but fatal, accident in one of my books in progress. 

Never let a good mishap go to waste, right?

Does anyone else have a story about being in the midst of a real-life situation and thinking "This would be great in my book?"

I also have a puppy arriving to join the household on Sunday or Monday. He's coming on a pet delivery van. It should be an interesting few days.

Have a good weekend, everyone. And, please, try not to watch the news unless you're working on a thriller.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A Virtual Book Launch - Yea or Nay?

My plan for this entry is to write about virtual book launches. I am writing this on Jan. 6. I am depressed. I lived through the upheaval of the 60s and 70s. I was hoping I'd never have to go through such things again. There are so many things I could say about what is happening in Washington DC as I type. But I won't. I'll save my outrage for a more appropriate venue and continue on as if nothing is happening. Soooo.... Virtual book launching! 

February 2 is the day that my second Bianca Dangereuse novel, Valentino Will Die, will hit the shelves and the e-universe and the airwaves. The official launch during this pandemic year will be a Facebook Live virtual event hosted by Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona! Which means that you can ALL come without traveling all the way to Arizona! The LIVE event will be on Facebook on January 30 at 4:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (That’s 6:00 Eastern, 5:00 Central, 3:00 Pacific. You’re welcome.) Click here to see all the information. If you can’t make the live event, never fear, the video will be available for viewing ever after at the Poisoned Pen site.

The old days - an in-person appearance!

Ten years ago, here on Type M, I (Donis) asked what you Dear Readers like or dislike about the performance when an author talks to an audience - what annoys you, or what makes you eager to read the author's book? I repeated the question on Facebook and on the DorothyL reader's forum, and I received dozens of interesting answers to my informal survey. My question for today is:

1. Do you as a reader attend virtual author appearances? If you do, what do you like about them and what do you not like?

2. Are you an author? If yes, what are your thoughts on virtual book events? Do you fear being nothing more than a talking head?

When I did the original survey about live author events, the top Dislike, mentioned by 25% of responders, was arrogance/pomposity in the speaker, or as K.B. put it, "if the writer comes across as one who is doing us all a favor by being there, but isn't really 'into' it."

(Personally, I don't mind if an author has a big ego. In fact, I think she probably ought to. Just don't push it in my face.)

Coming in at at a close second is panel-hogging. It annoys some folks no end when one panel member seems to become enamored of his own voice and won't let the others speak. (speaking on behalf of authors, here, I think most of us would second that.)

 Other pet peeves mentioned, in no order, were:

 Being unable to hear the speaker, or unable to hear questions directed to the speaker.

 Reading from the work and not interacting with the crowd.

 Salesmanship (I take this to mean hawking like a carnival barker.) P.B. says, "I don't want to be sold; I want to be befriended."

 An author not making eye-contact/being distant with someone who brings her copy of the author's book to be signed.

The number one Like, mentioned by almost half the respondents, is warmth and humor (though one respondent did say humor is fine but she doesn't come to hear a comedy routine)

 Also mentioned several times: Attendees like to hear about the writing process, the writer's life, where the ideas for the story/characters came from, the author's research experiences.

I, Donis, like wit, if it seems natural and not forced. I like it when the author seems to be enjoying herself. She will keep my interest if she has depth and passion about her work.

I've come away from many an author talk with warm feelings and a desire to read everything he ever wrote.

One of the best author events I ever attended years ago when Louise Penny appeared at our local library. She won us over from the first moment she walked in by shaking the hand of and personally introducing herself to everyone who had come out to see her. Her talk was intimate, personal, and joyful. I came away with the impression that this is a woman who is filled with love for her work and her life. Even if her books weren't as good as they are - and they are amazingly good - after seeing her in person I wanted to read everything she ever wrote at least twice.

This is a brave new world for all of us, so tell me, Dear Readers and Writers, what makes a successful virtual author event? Help us virtual book launchers out!


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Onward into the unknown

 Like my fellow Type M'ers this past week (along with just about everyone on the planet), I am thrilled to boot 2020 out the door. More than boot it. I have set fire to it, sent it off into outer space on a rocket ship, and buried it in the deepest bowels of hell...

Okay Barbara, rein in the hyperboles. 

And like everyone, I tread cautiously into 2021, wary of the surprises it holds and unsure whether it's safe to hope. Don't jinx it, I say to myself, as if I have any power whatsoever to control what the Fates of 2021 have in store for us. As Douglas posted yesterday, we can only control what is within our own power to control. For me, the wheels of the publishing industry grind on and I am proceeding with my part in it. I am researching the next Amanda Doucette book prior to starting the actual writing. As part of that process, I optimistically booked flights and rental car for Vancouver Island for late May. But 2021 is already messing with me; the pandemic is at its worst yet and the vaccine rollout has been way too slow. I may have to postpone that trip for a few months and write much of the book without in-person research. But onward.

In February the edits of my latest Inspector Green novel, THE DEVIL TO PAY, will arrive back from my editor and I will have to switch gear to remember that story. I already know there will be changes because the pandemic hovers over everyone's lives, even in fiction. I had written the book as if the pandemic were over by the release date in October 2021. But maybe not.

Lastly I am hard at work planning the virtual launch of THE ANCIENT DEAD, a book written pre-pandemic and postponed because of it. It is finally being released at the end of January, in paperback, ebook, and audiobook. When I launched my first book in 2000, I remember printing address labels from my database, stuffing postcard invitations into envelopes, and licking stamps. 

How times have changed! I am now in the midst of a huge learning curve on how to use Eventbrite, how to synch it with Zoom (currently Zoom is not cooperating), and how to coordinate myself, my interviewer Rick Mofina, and my host daughter Leslie, all of whom will be in our own little laptop silos. I have no idea how many people will attend, but unlike my usual in-person launches at local pubs, this one can be watched from anywhere in the world. Friends, family, and fans from all over can participate. That's very exciting, and I hope people tune in. I also hope they can figure out how to get the Eventbrite invitation, use the Zoom link, and get into the session. Fingers crossed on that score.

If all goes well, I should start sending out the Eventbrite invitation by early next week, using Facebook, Instagram, and good old-fashioned email. So keep an eye out. The date is January 28 at 7 pm. EST.

I hope to "see" you there!  

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Something beyond your grasp

By Rick Blechta

Here’s a thought for my first post of a brand-new year: Regardless of how many things you can do with accomplishment, is there anything you would really like to be able to do but which you know you could not do well? Sorry for the word salad, but I hope you grasp my meaning. 

I have had people tell me that I’m amazing because I can do so many things well. I set very high standards for myself, so I know what they’re saying is not really quite true.

Sure, I know a lot about music, can play a whole assortment of instruments decently, and I’m a good arranger. But I also know people who are way better and I’m always in awe of what they can do.

I write novels. Often they get good reviews. Sometimes they’re nominated for awards. One time I actually won one of those awards. Do I consider myself a good writer? Yes. But not a great one.

I could go on about other accomplishments, but you get the point. I can do a number of things well, however…

There is one thing I’d like to be able to do which I just don’t have the talent to do: paint.

We have a calendar of paintings by the Canadian artist Clarence Gagnon. He was very accomplished and while some of his paintings are very realistic, his smaller works are much more impressionistic — and I love them. The one for January is a view of a Quebec town in the dead of winter.

Looking closely, it is composed of just daubs of paint that mean very little. It’s only when you step back several feet that your breath is taken away. Even though the image remains indistinct, your brain can fill in the missing detail and those daubs become the steeple of a church or a bush in the foreground.

Both my parents were accomplished artists. It’s what defined their relationship when they met. It’s probably why they feel in love. They passed that love of painting down to their middle son, but they left out the ability to do it. My sister and brother both have that ability. I know. I’ve tried and the results ain’t good.

If there’s one thing I’d really like to be able to do, it’s paint. If I could do one painting like those little Gagnon masterpieces painted on plywood or academy board, I would be satisfied. But it would have to be good and I know I just don’t have the ability to accomplish my wish.

Is there something you don’t do that you fervently wish you could? Please share it!

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Keeping the faith

 Douglas Skelton calling from a snowy part of Scotland.

OK, it's probably nothing compared to what some parts of the US of A experience but it sure beats the rain!

That's not a standing stone, by the way - it's all that remains of Kyle Castle in Ayrshire. Nothing much of note happened there, although Kyle is derived from Coelus, a king from ancient times who ruled this part of southwest Scotland. He is better known as Old King Cole but I have no idea if he was a merry old soul. Given this was before whisky was widespread and there was no Netflix, he probably wasn't.

The dog is Mickey and he is mine. Or rather, I am his servant. Between him and the cat I do wonder if this opposable thumbs business is all it's cracked up to be.

Anyway, happy 2021, folks! The year that shall not speak its name is now a bad memory and we should look to the future with optimism.

That's where the whisky and Netflix will come in, perhaps.

Seriously, we have a period of tumult ahead but I do believe we will get to better times. As long as people continue to take the virus seriously and follow precautions, give the vaccines time to roll out and for goodness sake don't listen to politicians who downplay its dangers. Naming no names, of course, but you know of whom I speak.

The book world reels from the effects of the year that shall not speak its name. Increased sales were reported - and not just in digital as you might expect but also in hard copies - but titles that were postponed will begin to appear. There remains a domino effect, though, for books that were perhaps due to hit the shelves this spring have been delayed.

I can vouch for this, for my Rebecca Connolly books generally surface in the UK around March but the third one will not see the light of day here until August. Good thing/bad thing, only time will tell.

(The second, by the by, hits US shelves on January 12 in hardback but I will regale you with that when next we are together.)

In the meantime, I am pressing on with something I am writing on spec. I've given myself until the end of January to complete a first draft because then I have to move onto the fourth in my series, which must be with the publisher by July. Failure to do so will result in a severe finger wagging and perhaps punishment, like being forced to read literary fiction. (I joke, don't write in).

So summing up - Happy New Year, everybody. Keep the faith, we can get through this. 

I must leave you now for Lord Mickey is pacing and it must be time for feeding. It's only a matter of time before Tom (the cat) surfaces from whatever warm spot he has found and goes on the demand. He does not like to be kept waiting.