Monday, June 28, 2021

What Makes It Worthwhile

 Today I received the first half of my advance for WHISPER ROOM to be published in 2022.  My wife watched as I opened the envelope from my agent and she asked, “Do you think that pays for your time spent working on the manuscript?”

I could see her smile and the mischievous nature of the question in her eyes as she asked it.  After all, I spend the better part of a year producing a novel.

I smiled and replied, “If you use money as the only yardstick to measure by, then no.  There are other forms of compensation, you know.”

She does knows that.  Like today, we’re moving our chamber of commerce office to another location.  The building owner completely renovated to our specifications.  Financially, she made us a deal we couldn’t pass up.  And it has a lovely koi pond, complete lily pads, frogs, and a family of turtles. 

While we were discussing the move, the landlord took me aside and told me she was two chapters into my first book, RANDOM ROAD.  She said, “I love your lead character, Geneva Chase.  She’s such a hot mess.”

Bingo!  That’s what makes it worthwhile. 

When I walk into a bookstore and see it on the shelf, or lately, in Barnes & Noble and see it on a table in the front of the store--my book parked right next to Stephen King’s latest. Yeah, baby!

Or when I see a favorable review online.  Or when I’m out and someone walks up to tell my how much they enjoy my books.  That’s how I measure success.

So, back to WHISPER ROOM.  This past Monday I sent the manuscript to my editor.  This is the scariest part of the process.  I’m freaking terrified that she’ll email me and say, “Nothing personal, but this is crap!”

Oh, let me digress for a moment.  The book’s title is out for testing.  I didn’t even know they did that.  

I’m sorry, back to the WHISPER ROOM.  Waiting for my editor to pass judgement on the manuscript is pure torture.  So, rather than dwell on it, allow me to offer what some other authors have said about the editing process:

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.” — Raymond Chandler.

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” — Saul Bellow.

“Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” — Samuel Johnson.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain.

“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.’ — Stephen King.

So, yes, I’ll be patient to see what my editor says, but I think I’ll deposit that advance when the bank opens tomorrow. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Big Meh

If you look up conspiracy theories, one of the most famous is Majestic 12, which was claimed to be the US government's secret operation to cover up its study of UFOs and to discredit anyone who reported the existence of Majestic or that UFOs were real. People who said they had witnessed UFOs--flying saucers--or their crew of little green men were ridiculed as crackpots. Others who came forward with stories of being abducted by the aliens and "probed" became for a time, practically a cottage industry. Over the decades we've had numerous tales of UFO encounters, the most famous of which was the Roswell Incident of 1947 (which is a plot feature in my debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats). The radio program, Coast to Coast AM, was infamous for giving air time to many conspiracy theories, UFOs among the most popular. I grew up reading books and watching programs about alien encounters and was of the opinion, to paraphrase Jodie Foster from the movie Contact, that if we are alone in the universe, "it's a waste of space."

The USAF did have Project Blue Book, which investigated UFO sightings from 1947-1985. After that, case closed on flying saucers, or so we were told. Recently, the US Defense Department has admitted that it has been cataloging UFO sightings, that UFOs have appeared repeatedly around military bases and nuclear facilities, but there's no public speculation about the UFOs other than we don't know what they are or where they come from. So, Majestic 12 was probably true, but as a disinformation campaign meant to disguise the actual study of UFOs. Score one for the conspiracy theorists.

Now we stand on the brink of confirming that we humans are not alone in the universe and that our visitors are creatures with technology hundreds of years more advanced than ours. In the near future we could either be entering a period of glorious enlightenment or facing horrific annihilation. 

And the reaction to such a monumental turn in our history is MEH. Unless a UFO lands in a display of pomp and high-tech wizardry like in The Day The Earth Stood Still, I doubt many will peel their eyeballs away from their smart phones. And when they do, we can expect a surfeit of Tik-Tok videos, involving the Hopefully just dancing.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Thinking About Grief

I have been writing. I can't say whether I've been writing successfully or not. I've been writing in the same state of mind in which I've been doing everything else over the past year - drifting in a dreamlike state. I had a long bout of a strange non-Covid illness in late February, a final, ironic cap to the pandemic quarantine, and though I'm physically better, the brain has not emerged from its fog. It hasn't helped that several friends and relatives have recently lost dear ones and are struggling with grief right now. There's nothing you can say. You can only be present, and I'm having some trouble even doing that.

I was nineteen when my father died - the first big loss in my life. I remember thinking that until someone you love dies, you don't really know the meaning of the word "gone". It's more than just physical absence; it's a black hole in the universe. The whole world you knew is sucked into it, and you come out the other end to find yourself on an entirely different planet. No matter how much you hate being there, you're going to have to live in this new universe for the rest of your life. 

So you do the best you can, like it or not, to build a new life, because what else can you do? And you do build a life - you're even happy again, eventually. But nothing is ever the same.

I've told this story before, but it seems fitting – Years ago, I was a department head at a university library while a new wing was being built on the building. My departmental offices and reading room were to be relocated to the new wing, but my very large, closed*, special collection of books was to stay in the old building. The plan was that they would knock a door in the wall between the old and new sections, providing us access to our books.

Until, out of the blue, the library director called me in and told me that there wasn't enough money left to put in the door, so were going to be left with our offices and a reading room in one building and our books in another, with no access between them without a ten minute trip from our fourth floor location, down to the ground floor, through to the old wing, upstairs to the collection, and back again. This was not the first time, nor would it be the last,  that I sat in the director's office watching the walls melt and feeling the top of my head about to blow off. After a long, passionate discussion, he promised to reconsider our dilemma (ya think?), but when I left his office, I was so frustrated and annoyed that I went back into a corner of the stacks and burst into tears.

Naturally, one of my colleagues stumbled across me and, alarmed, asked me what as wrong. I babbled out the door story and he listened sympathetically. There was absolutely nothing he could do for me, so after standing there helplessly for minute, he clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Well, have a nice day." It was so absurd that I laughed.

The Great Door Incident was only only ridiculous, not tragic, but I mention it because of what that colleague did for me. He listened and sympathized, and even though he was really powerless to do anything, he made me laugh. He didn't change the situation, but his attention helped me feel better.

By the way, I did get the door.

In other news, I feel my fellow TypeM-ers' pain about technology. I recently bought a new modem, which has greatly improved my Zooming experience. The new equipment has done little to help my state of mind, however. I have begun venturing out into the world again, which is nice, but I haven't regained my sense of time yet. I'm usually lost, unaware of what day it is, even what time of day (which is why I totally forgot to write my scheduled Type M entry on June 10th!) Sadly, I am brutally aware that it's summer here in southern Arizona. I doubt if anyone in the first world hasn't heard we had a week's worth of high temperatures over 115ºF. (46.11ºC). That'll kill you, I guarantee. Fortunately we had a little rain today, and the temps have dropped to the low 100s, which feels downright cool. I think it might be time for Don and me to move to a more salubrious clime.


*A "closed" collection, for the uninitiated, means that the public is not allowed into the book stacks. You have to look up what you want in the library catalog, and a staff person goes and retrieves it for you. Most university libraries used to be like this, but these day only special collections do it like this. And yes, it's a pain.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Creeping cautiously into the future

 There's been a funny theme on Type M recently about all the ways in which life, technology, and other elements out of our control have been interfering with our ability to do our job. Be it the electronic devices on which we write our brilliant prose, those on which we promote it, or the brain circuitry that gets it all started, everything seems to be going awry.  

I feel as if it's been that way for almost a year and a half. Due to looming deadlines, I have managed to finish one novel and get one hundred pages written (and I use that term loosely) on the next - this despite all book events being cancelled and no vacations or get togethers with family or friends - but it's been a very disjointed, at times half-hearted struggle, and I am not confident in the result.

Some activities are returning to normal but I think many of us feel like a prisoner walking through the prison gates into the unfamiliar sunshine. Filled with both joy and trepidation. The whole world is suddenly open to us, except for those parole restrictions. What to do next? How to plan? How to structure our day? Some people are responding with a frenzy of pent-up activity - shopping, restaurants, socializing. Others are creeping cautiously into the light. 

I have started returning to my cottage and to the family gatherings that always marked my summer. Right now I have two of my three children and their families at the cottage, and we are all catching up on lost time. My days are consumed with cooking, washing up, swimming, canoeing, and sitting together over wine. 

Meanwhile, my lake association has resumed activities, with a Zoom exec meeting yesterday and an assignment to write two articles for the upcoming newsletter this week. Promised get togethers with friends are coming due and my calendar is getting complicated.

I know, given all that people have been through this year, I am extraordinarily lucky. But on the work front, I'm a dismal failure. I have not opened the file on my latest manuscript in weeks. And here I am in a rare moment of me time, writing this obligatory blog instead of tackling the book. My brain is no longer used to life in such high gear. I am worried that I have lost the thread of this book, if not my creative ability altogether.

I hope once I actually start reviewing what I have read and thinking about next steps, my creative muse will come back for a visit. It usually does, after it has given me enough time to worry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

It bears repeating…

By Rick Blechta

Yesterday’s post by Douglas concerning the perils of technology got me thinking.

Since the early days of “personal computers” (remember that term?), I’ve used these sometimes frustrating contraptions quite a lot for work. Early on, I used them to write arrangements for my students. It was far easier and convenient and when the little so-and-sos lost their music — a frequent occurrence — I could just print out another copy.

Later on, when I transitioned into full-time graphic design, I had to use computers because, well, no one did anything by hand anymore. Again they sped up the process and made complicated things easy. Plus, when the inevitable changes came in from clients, it was easy and quick to pivot in the required new direction. Seriously, I can’t imagine doing graphic design work without using a computer.

Along the way, I learned a bit about how these exceptionally complicated — and getting moreso all the time — machines worked.

The heart of any computer is storage of all work done using it. If one can’t recall their work, a computer is useless.

It’s also one of the weakest points. If the computational part of your computer breaks down, you can get it fixed. However, if the storage part craps out, well, to put it succinctly (and somewhat crudely), you’re screwed. In certain situations files can be retrieved, but let me assure you, it can be a very expensive process running into the several thousands of dollars.

If you use a computer to store your writing (or anything you do), you need to understand that it’s not a matter of if the storage device (generally a hard drive) will break, it’s when — because they all break down eventually.

I’ve written about this here on Type M before, so today I’m just reminding everyone — back up your work to multiple locations! Make it part of your daily workday. I have two storage hard drives containing my files and I also use offsite storage. I felt very smug about my two hard drives until a graphic design friend asked, “And what if your house burns down?”

Whether you’re a writer or not, you don’t want to lose files, period. There’s nothing more disheartening to hear of a colleague who didn’t take adequate precautions and lost precious (sometimes) months of hard work to the computer demons.

I heard of a writer who lost his entire manuscript of his just-completed novel when his hard drive died. He had to go back and rewrite the whole darn book.

Don’t be like him. Back up religiously to multiple locations every day!

Monday, June 21, 2021

The case of the vanishing words

Sometimes I think technology is out to get me.

I don't mean in a Skynet, come-with-me-if-you-want-to-live way, but there are occasions when I think there's been a meeting called by my devices in which the agenda is this:

  • 1. Minutes of the last meeting on how we can annoy Douglas.
  • 2. New ways forward on how we can annoy Douglas.
  • 3. Any other competent business (on how we can annoy Douglas).

Take my cell phone - please take my cell phone!

Here in dear old Blighty we call it a mobile, which does often cause confusion when I hear parents talking about their child being fascinated by a mobile. It takes me a beat to realise they are referring to one of those hanging contraptions that rotate and not that their new born is thumbing LOLs on social media. 

On the other hand, cell phone makes me think of tattooed felons making illicit calls from one of Her Majesty's penal establishments.

Anyway, my device has been proving unreliable of late. Calls either don't connect or when I answer an incoming call the other party can't hear me. It's also not alerting me to some texts for some reason. I don't mind when it's the usual spam but there are some people that I do really want to hear from and when I find one has arrived unanounced, and therefore unseen, it does annoy me.

Then there's my PC. It has been as slow as a week in the jail (without a cell phone). I've cleaned and dumped and even polished but it remains sluggish. Facebook in particular takes an age to load. And I often type faster than the technology can handle - at least that's how it seems - and it hangs there as if it's having a meeting on the shop floor to discuss the excess workload. My music apps can suddenly stop. And the built-in disc player is so useless - working only when it feels like it - that it should run for public office.

But more importantly, last weekend, the PC failed to save three thousand words of the book I'm writing.

I was nearing the end of the first complete draft of a new Rebecca Connolly and the words were flowing. I was in the zone, baby!

I did everything I was supposed to do and more. Auto-save was enabled. The text was also manually saved whenever I paused for coffee, functions of a personal nature or just for breath. It was saved to the PC, to an external hard drive and a thumb drive. I did all that because there had been a few minor issues and I wasn't taking chances.

I then took Mickey up the braes for a walk. It was a lovely day and I was thoroughly pleased with myself.

That's Mickey having a rest during the walk. 

Anyway, my plan was to complete the first draft when I got home. I was filled with confidence, unusually for this particular book because it has proved troublesome (Tip: Never move house when in the middle of writing a novel.)

But when I reopened the file I discovered that everything I had done that day was gone. Vanished into the ether. Not present on this plane. Or more importantly, nowhere on my computer.

It was a mystery so I consulted a friend whose knowledge of such matters I rely on with such regularity I'm surprised he doesn't insist on a retainer. But he could neither find the missing words nor explain why this had happened. It might be an issue with my software or my hardware. Or both.

And how did I feel?

Well, let's say I was somewhat vexed and there was some industrial language.

Naturally, much like the angler and the one that got away, I have convinced myself that those 3,000 words were the best I have ever written and even though the next day I churned out 4.5k to complete the draft they were not nearly as good. (Saved, incidentally, as above but also copied and pasted into an email. I was taking no chances.)

Then came the next phase in my writing process - printing it all up. I like to go through the words the old-fashioned way, with a pen, because I firmly believe that you see more on the printed page than you do on screen. Or, at least, I do.

However, that means I have to engage in a struggle with my printer, which does often seem to have a mind of its own. Maybe Skynet was involved after all. 

Before I can print anything, we have to engage in the old wireless set up two step. It resolutely refuses to connect until I make obeisance to it, telling it that it's the best, wisest, most beautiful printer in the whole wide world and if it would just please print up these 300-odd pages I'd be very grateful. It grants me the boon - and then runs out of ink. Having forseen such an eventuality, I produced a brand new cartridge, giving the machine a grin that said "I have you now." 

But my triumph turned to tragedy when I realised that I had somehow engineered to buy a colour ink cartridge and not a black one. Shamefaced, I had to go back to the shop and buy another.

Later, someone told me I could have printed it up anyway using the colour cartridge.

Cue more vexation and industrial language. 

Anyway, the pages were eventually printed - the ink cartidge held out to the very end but only just - and I have been going through them for the past few days with said pen.

The upshot of all this is that I believe I'll have to invest in a new phone and computer, and because I am toying with the idea of buying an Apple Mac I may have to consider a life of actual crime to pay for it.

As to the mystery of the missing words, that must be consigned to my Giant Rat of Sumatra file, not because the world is not ready but because I'll never get to the bottom of it. 

Friday, June 18, 2021


What a strange week. I'm picking up on the rather dismal tone Rick took in his post. My writing (or lack of writing) wasn't effected, but it's been one stumbling block after another. Little things that should have gone smoothly required unnecessary intervention on my part. 

For instance, my pharmacist delayed a prescription because he was sure I would want a 90 day supply rather than 30. Nope. Fill as directed.

Repeated trip to the pharmacy to pick up the medication. Unnecessary.

 The grocery store forgot to pack the Papyrus birthday card I had purchased. It was a fancy one, too. Just right. I had to make a special trip back to the store to pick it up from customer service. Now it will be sent late. 

Repeated trip to the grocery store. Unnecessary. 

UPS misdelivered my order to the wrong house. It was a file cabinet. No small thing. Luckily I have a hand dolly. I hauled it home, grumbling all the way. The house numbers in my little enclave are quite large and legible, so I didn't understand how he could have gotten this wrong.

Repeated trip to the neighbors. Unnecessary.

My favorite conference, Western Writers of America, started Wednesday. It's at Loveland, just 16 miles from my home. Naturally I'm not staying at the hotel, but have ended up running back and forth. I participated in a Sisters In Crime interview the morning the conference began, had a medical appointment in the afternoon, and flew down I-25 to get to the registration desk in time to pick up my material.

The climax will be the Spur banquet Saturday night. My good friends, Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, will receive the Wister award, in recognition of a lifetime of contributions. 

We had an excellent panel this afternoon, but I had a hard time hearing all the conversations because a number of persons in the audience spoke from the floor and added their comments. The topic was "Who Owns History?" Talk about a heated discussion! I'll go into the issues involved later. 

I intended to make this a super blog with pictures from the conference, but I haven't taken very many. I will get to it tomorrow. We have will have a busy day with a number of panels. 

There were unexpected problems with the food at the hotel. There wasn't any. No internal cafe. None. No dining room and no coffee shop, no room service, and no fast food within walking distance. 

Repeated trips to cafes. Unnecessary.

But oh the joy of seeing old friends! I will put up with any number of strange weeks for the privilege of seeing Irene and Bob Brown year after year. Irene has written many wonderful books for both children and adults. I always come away from this conference inspired to be more productive. 

So here's to conferences and the psychological boost they provide. .  

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

CCWC 2021 Recap


I spent last Saturday attending the California Crime Writers Conference - Pandemic Edition. CCWC is a joint effort of the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the SoCal chapter of Mystery Writers of America. It’s held every other year and is usually a two day event. The pandemic turned this year’s into a one-day virtual event via Zoom. All of the presentations were recorded except for one. They should be available on the website sometime in the next few weeks.

Past conferences were two-day events with around 200 attendees. In a normal year, there are 4 panels going at a time. I recapped the 2017 Conference here on Type M. You can read about it here to get a sense of what a normal year looks like.

Even though we couldn’t get together in person, the virtual event was still a lot of fun. There was a variety of things, all interesting in their own ways. We had a fifteen minute break between events.

The first panel at 9 a.m. was The Exquisite Joy of Finding Out: How to Research Your Novel. SinC/LA President Anne Louise Bannon moderated. Panelists were Anne Perry, Jeffery Deaver, Naomi Hirahara and S.A. Crosby. Panelists talked about researching for both contemporary and historical stories. YouTube was mentioned, which I admit I’ve gotten a lot of useful information from. was mentioned for online access to newspapers from the 1700s to 2000s. Jeffery Deaver also mentioned he used Natural Reader to read chapters of his WIP to him. I'm going to check this one out myself.

The next panel was Some Like It Hot: Adding Romance and Sex to Your Mysteries. Paula Bernstein moderated with Victoria Thompson, Deborah Crombie, Toby Neal and Pamela Samuels Young as panelists. I missed about 5 minutes of this one because my laptop decided it wanted to reboot itself during it.

Then came Police Procedurals 2021: Social Justice and the Pandemic. SoCal MWA President Jessica Kaye moderated with panelists Rachel Howzell Hall, Faye Snowden, Ausma Khan and Isabella Maldonado.

Next was the presentation that I was most interested in (and the only one that was not recorded): Identification of the Buckskin Girl: Forensic Genealogy and Cold Case Resolution presented by Elizabeth A. Murray. She is a forensic anthropologist and college professor. You may know her name from several books she’s written or the two Great Courses series she’s done: Trails of Evidence and Forensic History

In this presentation she talked about how they identified a body found in 1981 many years later through the use of genetic genealogy. I’m used to hearing about using this method to identify perpetrators of crimes, but this was a nice reminder that it can also be used to identify victims. In 1981, they had fingerprints, a photo of the face of the deceased, dental charts and autopsy results. Over the years, efforts had been made to identify her, even using palynology (analysis of pollen) to see if they could link her to a specific area. It was a very interesting presentation on how they finally identified her 37 years later.

The last presentation was Publishing in a Pandemic: A Glimpse of the Future Opportunities & Challenges with Jane Friedman. Jane Friedman talked about the state of the publishing world. How books sales dramatically increased during the pandemic and so many other things. She also talked about Kindle Vella, a way to publish serialized stories. It’s going live for readers in the summer. They don't take rights for this, but an author can't use Vella to publish a work that has been published as a book. This is one I hadn't heard about.

That’s my very short recap of the conference. The videos should be available for you to view soon. This year’s conference was fun, but I’m looking forward to an in-person conference next time around in 2023.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021


By Rick Blechta

Well, my wife and I got our second vaccination last week — which is the reason I missed my Tuesday spot here — so life should be all rosy now, shouldn’t it? Pre-pandemic freedom should be beckoning at every turn, right?

Somehow it isn’t.

Maybe something has changed in me due to what we’ve been through over the past year-and-a-half. I don’t feel any less free, and since getting the second vaccination, I’ve been having really bad dreams. You know, the kind where you’re supposed to be someplace and you just can’t get there, or your house is crumbling around you and you can’t do anything to stop it.

As for writing, I had to throw out a whole chapter the other day because I got off on this tangent that seemed too grim, too filled with angst to be included in my story. I don’t want it to go there.

It’s troubling and I’m hoping that this is just temporary. Maybe my subconscious is worried about our new reality or possibly this is all due to my concern about those near and dear to me who haven’t yet been fully vaccinated. 

To all of you out there: are you experiencing the same sort of thing? If you’re an ink-stained wretch like me, are you having issues with your plots unexpectedly taking dark turns?

And if you have experienced this, did you eventually snap out of it?

Monday, June 14, 2021

Writing in Paradise...Usually

 I’ve enjoyed some of the blogs here on Type M that detail locations where our fellow bloggers like to write and some of their writing habits.  As many of you know, I live on the coast of North Carolina.  We have a house on Bogue Banks Island, which is a barrier island south of the Outer Banks.

It sounds exotic—saying I live on an island.  It’s about twenty-one miles long and at its narrowest point, you can see both the ocean on one side of the island and Bogue Sound on the other. It’s a vacation destination with thousands of vacation homes, about ten hotels, and fabulous restaurants, boutique shops, and stores where you can buy anything from swimming suits to fishing tackle. 

In the “off season”, late autumn, winter, and early spring, it’s very quiet here.  There are times you can walk the beach and not see another soul.  That’s when I enjoy this island the most.  

But this is June and while it’s not yet officially summer, we are inundated with tourists.  The restaurants all have long lines, the grocery stores are overcrowded, and the roads are clogged with people trying to find their way around. 

I’m not complaining because this is when businesses here on the coast make their money.  Our county has a year-round population of slightly less than seventy-thousand people.  During the “season”, that grows to over two-hundred and fifty thousand people.  It can put a strain on infrastructure and that includes the internet.

Think of it as a pipeline from one end of the island to the other.  During the “off season” demand isn’t particularly stressful.  But when we have two-hundred thousand people out here, all downloading Netflix or playing World of Warcraft, that internet pipeline clogs up quickly.

Case in point, my publisher has re-released my first book Random Road. Our publicist arranged to have a Zoom interview with me and Barbara Peters from the Poisoned Pen Bookstore.  Full disclosure, Barbara has been one of the editors on all of my Geneva Chase mysteries.  

She told me that the interview would go anywhere from a half-hour to an hour, depending on how well it went.  

It was awful.

The internet kept dropping the Zoom connection.  She’d ask a question or make a commentary to which I’d start to answer and about halfway through, my screen would freeze.  The only way to get back in was to start the process over…every damned time.  Once, when I popped back onto the interview, I held up a glass of wine and said, “I’m turning this into a drinking game.  Every time I drop out, I take a drink.”

Barbara grinned at me, held up her own glass of wine and said, “Way ahead of you, kiddo.”

Unfortunately, the connection did not get any better.  Needless to say, the interview was over at a half hour.  Blessedly.

But all in all, this is a lovely place to work.  My home office has a window overlooking our front lawn. If I feel like a stroll, the ocean is a few minutes from the house.  

And now, I must get back to my WIP.  I have a July first deadline for my fifth adventure with Geneva Chase, and yet again, I’m putting the poor woman through hell. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Waking Early and Writing More?

 I am normally not a fan of summer mornings. They come too soon and they are too bright. For years, I have been closing the blinds and the curtains and trying to sleep in. But this year, I have been sleeping in a bedroom that receives early morning light because that is the larger of the two bedrooms in my house and that was where I set up his portable enclosure with his bed inside when my new puppy, then not yet three months old, arrived from Maryland. He is now seven months old and a good sleeper. But he likes to know where I am before he goes to bed. So does Penelope, the cat from "down South," who joined us a couple of months ago.

Penelope now strolls in and claims the foot of my bed as soon as she sees where Fergus and I are headed. 

Fergus is an early riser. He wakes up at around 6:30 am most mornings. This means I wake up, too. Having a puppy has forced me to change my sleep patterns. I believe I am still a "night owl" but now I am up and outside when the air is still so fresh that Fergus sits there sniffing. We hear the doves cooing. And despite myself I have found myself enjoying being awake -- even feeling smug and virtuous because I have started the day when some people are hitting their snooze button. Last night, I even anticipated being up early by heading to bed at a little after eleven. 

Being up early has also changed my writing habits. Instead of staggering to my desk to write, I am sitting down wide-awake after rising early and taking Fergus to doggie daycare. Since I need to pick him up by 6 pm, I am much more focused. I know that I need to get as much done as possible because when he gets home, he may still be full of energy and zooming through the house. I am falling into the habit of taking him for a walk after daycare. This makes for a calmer evening.  

Having no children, I am experiencing that discipline that writers with children talk about needing if they are to get anything done. This is a new experience for me because I have always been haphazard. I don't set word quotas. I have never written every day. I have thought through my plots and set down to write in long chunks of time. With Harry, my lovely Maine Coon, no animal-related adjustments were necessary. Harry was my night-owl pal, who enjoyed sleeping in as much as I did. 

But dear Harry is gone, and I am now in another animal universe. Not to say that I don't love Fergus and Penelope, but I didn't anticipate how much their sleeping habits would affect mine. Nor did I give a lot of thought to how much my writing habits would change of necessity. 

It is possible that having to structure my summer days in this new way will make me more productive. I'll let you know this September. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Best laid plans

 A writer's day is always fragmented. Time spent procrastinating on social media and more spent figuring out how to promote on social media, time spent staring into space supposedly thinking where on earth the work in progress should go next, time spent responding to the latest demand from the publisher related to another book in final proofs (this latest a "dear reader" letter to accompany the ARCs), time writing this bi-weekly blog, and time reading another author's manuscript for a blurb. If I'm lucky, I have time to walk the dogs and talk to my friends and family.

Don't you love it when people ask "How's retirement?"

So this week started off with great intentions to get all of the above done, especially the things with deadlines. I had arrived at the cottage in late afternoon, planning to cook two lovely little beef tenderloins for myself and my sister, who was joining me for the week. Then we would sit on the dock to enjoy the sunset over the lake, share some wine, and then I would retire inside to continue reading the blurb book. 

I had the table set and the food all prepped, and was down on the dock having a swim and enjoying a beer while waiting for my sister to arrive, when my dog Kenzie took off up the hill, barking furiously. By the time I got to him, he was in full tussle with a porcupine. Those of you with dogs know that the dog almost never wins. But my dog was determined, and by the time I had got him corralled and leashed, he had probably 100 quills or more in his snout and face.

This can mean a very expensive and time-consuming trip to the Kingston emergency vet hospital an hour away, which I've done with previous dogs and wanted to avoid. So I got him up on the dining table and spent some time trying to pull them out with pliers. It took a while and an increasingly frantic dog to realize this was never going to work. So I phoned the vet to alert them, phoned my sister to tell her to fend for herself when she arrived, and piled the dog into the car. I had to tie him to the back seat to prevent him climbing in front and scratching me.

The sunset, what I could see of it from the car, was spectacular. Possible the most beautiful of the summer so far. I stopped to take this photo, which really doesn't do it justice. The sky was on fire.

An hour and a half later, after some confusion about the hospital's location, I was waiting in my car in line to be seen. Kenzie was apparently the third "quill dog" the vet was seeing that night.  So we had another hour and a half wait and they finally took him in at 11:30 pm. I had meanwhile grabbed a take-out fast food burrito, while thinking fondly of the steak I had planned. 

The vet returned my de-quilled, slightly wobbly dog to me at 12:30 am and we began our return trip to the cottage along the dark and deserted highway. I arrived at 1:30 am, tried to persuade the dog to take his pain med with a little food (he was having none of it) and finally stumbled into bed.

Not quite the day I had planned. And all those things on my to-do list are still there, except this blog, which is thankfully done!

Monday, June 07, 2021

Self promotion, buttock-clenching and shark jumping

Last week, bound proofs of my latest title began to head into the wild. The actual book isn't hitting the stands until August here in the UK but obviously both the publishers and I want to generate what heat we can both ahead of time and around publication. There is so much reading matter out there that I believe we have to scream, scratch and scramble to get even a little attention.

In a display of shameless self-promotion, here is the advance proof alongside its series running mates.

Naturally, I am nervous. I always am when a book leaves the confines of my mind and the fingers of my editors. What readers think really matters - will it be met favourably or will it be dismissed as a waste of paper and ink?

Time will tell.

What I will say is that I am proud of it. I have done the very best I could. I did what I set out to do, told the story I wanted, developed Rebecca Connolly's character the way I wanted.

That doesn't mean everyone will agree.

Nobody can predict how their book will be received. There are authors who are super confident,  so certain that they have written an absolute belter that they don't lose a moment's sleep. There are, naturally, authors who are so successful and beloved that they could release their groceries list and be met with heaps of praise and prizes. And groceries, probably.

Then there are authors like me who still wait for someone to say that it was all a mistake, that they never meant to give you a contract, let alone money, which they want back, by the way. 

When I say this to friends they laugh - oh, how they mock - and say I've never produced a book yet that was really badly received. I've had some bad reviews, obviously, and poor little Janus Run never did find its feet but overall I've been very lucky. 

The fact is, we are all capable of producing a stinker.

In recent months I have read three books by authors whose work I not only respect but also covet. Frankly, I wish I was as good as them. I'm not going to name them but let me say that none of them are Scottish, so any of my friends reading this needn't look at each other and wonder.

As I say, these are three of my favourite writers. One of the books was well up to standard. Tight, pacy, enthralling. It wasn't simply enjoyable, it was a book to look forward to getting back to. Yeah, it was that good.

The other two?


One, as they say, jumped the shark completely. In fact, had there been a shark in there for characters to hurdle it might have been more interesting. In my view, the first three quarters of it could have been almost completely ditched, the information delivered in two, maybe three, chapters. The final quarter was, frankly, ludicrous.

The other was too long. Way too long. I mean, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long. In fact, there were complete sections I skipped because I realised that it had no impact on the plot or characters. Unfortunately, I feel there was an element of self-indulgence in those chapters.

Now, it has to be pointed out that this is all subjective. What I think is not necessarily what other readers think, although we will come to that. It was obviously not what the authors or, indeed their editors, thought. Because I didn't like them does not make them bad books, far from it. All it means is I didn't like them. And it doesn't make me right!

All three of those authors are super successful and rightly so. Their overall output is something to be admired and praised.

But I wondered about the two who had, on this occasion, disappointed me. What happened?

Are they so successful that they can tell an editor to go take a leap in the ocean and maybe find a large predator to leap over? Because there were things in these particular books that I firmly believe my editor would have suggested I reassess. 

But then, what do I know? These authors sell in the millions all over the world while I, well, don't. However I've had a look at the reviews on line and, though it is a mixed bag, there are a number of readers who share my views.

Will this stop me from reading further works by these authors? No, it won't. They are superb writers and one disappointing book doesn't mean they are limbering up for another go at that great white.

But I do worry that if authors of their skill and magnitude can (in my opinion) produce a couple of stinkers, then any of us can do the same without realising it.

Hence the current buttock-clenching as my new one goes out to early readers!

Friday, June 04, 2021

Seeking Dumbo's Feather

 Lately my fellow Type posters have discussed favorite chairs and writing methods. I definitely have a favorite chair. This is where I read, create first drafts, nap, fret, eat popcorn, cry, read endlessly, and pretty much just live.

This chair accompanied a sectional. It's supposed to be some sort of leather, but I doubt it. Vinyl? Perhaps. All of my furniture is purchased with this criteria: how will it look with a cup of coffee spilled on it? Or tea? Or soup? I bought it from JC Penney's decades ago. It's lasted forever without showing a bit of wear. 

For some reason most of the authors I know are just fascinated by the methods used by other writers. How long do they write, where do they write, etc. We are all searching for Dumbo's feather. Some magic formula or method that will make the process easier. It ain't going to happen. 

I'm amazed at the variety of paths taken to produce books. My own struggle to come up with material that's marketable or fit to read (not always the same thing) has involved a great deal of stealth. When my children were little I got up at 4:00 in the morning. My husband was driving a truck for National Beef and like a good wife I got up to fix him breakfast. It's a cultural thing. That's what rural wives did back in those days. 

Much to my amazement, I found that I had the energy of a little squirrel at 4:00 and nobody, not my kids, not my community, not even God, wanted a thing from me at 4:00. So I kept this habit for quite a number of years, even after Don had moved on to another job. 

Early on I developed a quota system. Five pages a day, five days a week. To accomplish this I learned to write anytime, anywhere, and under any circumstances. Didn't matter. In between numbers at music festivals, emergency rooms, on a bench at a softball game. Whatever. To save myself and the children embarrassment, and appear "normal" I learned to get at it "my work" very quickly, so I wouldn't have to tote it around to strange places.   

After Don bought the truck line and our children left home, my sleeping/waking hours mirrored his. When I became involved in the business, our hours were identical. Through the years my quota changed to a one page minimum and included a great deal of non-fiction.

Now I get up at 6:00. Since I'm in the first draft phase of my latest mystery, I curl up in my chair and am writing this particular book in longhand. I don't know why I'm using such an old-fashioned method, but I am. 

I have a dedicated office with a fast internet connection and a huge monitor. When I transfer the manuscript to the computer, I love the luxury of being able to edit it instantly. 

A friend was recently invited to contribute a non-fiction book to a series. She's thrilled. She plans to isolate a big chunk of time and get 'er done. This has never worked for me. It's what I want to do. Would love to do. Heaven knows I've tried it often enough. But when I do there's always some crisis. My allergies act up, something happens to my adult children or grandchildren, or a pet, or there's a plumbing problem. You get the drift. 

Now there is the relentless demand of social media and marketing. There's a proliferation of material I should be reading. Zoom calls and oodles of seminars. 

What works best for me is still the method I developed in the beginning: a certain number of pages five days a week whenever, wherever, and any time. Until I enter the hallowed halls of bestsellerdom and people bring me meals and whisper in my presence, I suspect that will always be the case. 

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Irons and Fires

Summer is off and running, and I have many irons in different fires this year. Writing, as always, is the fire that attracts all of my irons.

Personally, I’m about 150 pages into a novel I’m writing (and rewriting). That comes with keeping a journal in which I plot out where I’m going and ask questions about the story. The journal is where I solve the puzzle –– not so much as to how the book will end but rather how I’ll get from A to Z. I know the who and the why, but the journal is a great place to think through the road I’ll travel as the book progresses.

Another iron has led me to call on my Type M colleagues: I’m leading a summer program for young writers, and have several Type M authors offering mid-day Artist Talks, which I am thrilled about and grateful for. In addition, as I have for the past 20+ years, I’m heavily involved in the Advanced Placement English Language program this summer, grading the AP English Language and Composition Exam and leading two AP Summer Institutes for English teachers.

Through all of these endeavors, I have stumbled upon a book that I think anyone teaching writing ought to read, Craft in the Real World, by Matthew Salesses. If you’re teaching a writing workshop, it’s a game-changer, especially if you attended an MFA program and lead workshops. If you simply want a new lens through which to view the way Western and non-Western literature is structured, it’ll open your eyes. It certainly has opened mine.

I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great and safe start.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Teaser and Sample Chapters


I recently picked up a book I originally had no intention of reading. I’d seen the cover, read the back of the book copy and decided it wasn’t for me. Until it was... 

Here’s what happened:

I picked up a Kindle edition of the latest Eli Marks mystery (The Magic Square by John Gaspard). I really enjoy this series about a professional magician solving murders so was happy to see there was another book for me to read. I enjoyed the book and was ready to close it when I noticed the author had included the first four chapters of his book, The Sword and Mr. Stone, at the end.

Generally, I ignore those teaser chapters at the end of books, mostly because they’re usually the first chapter of the next book in the series. By the time I finish a book, I’ve decided whether or not I intend to read the next one so those sample chapters mean nothing to me. But this time, it was for a different book, one I’d been curious about, but had rejected as not my thing.

For some reason, I decided to read those four chapters. I enjoyed them so much that I bought the book to see how the story ended. So, this time, those teaser chapters did their job and I ended up buying a book I had previously decided not to buy.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time that I’ve bought a book based on teaser chapters at the end of a book. I do occasionally download a sample of the beginning of a book from Amazon when I’m deciding whether or not to buy a book, but that’s pretty rare and usually for non-fiction books so I can see what’s in the TOC. From there I decide if the book is what I was looking for. If I were in a brick and mortar bookstore, I’d be flipping through the book to get a sense if I wanted to buy it. For fiction, I might read the first page to see if I liked the characters or the author’s writing style.

I read a couple interesting blog posts on these teaser chapters that brought up points I hadn’t thought of. In this one by Elizabeth Spann Craig she noted that, when reading an ebook, these teaser chapters can make her think she has more of the book to read than she does. She also notes that a reader could be annoyed that the teaser chapter is for a book that hasn’t been released yet and might not be for many months.

In this one by Jami Gold she noted that there were circumstances when she read the excerpt for the next book in the series, it ruined the satisfied feeling she’d gotten at the end of the book she’d just read. She was all happy about the ending and the teaser chapters indicated that things weren’t as hunky dory as it appeared. This particular book was a paranormal romance. She noted: “However, if the next book unravels the end of the arc of the current book, we’re messing with the reader’s memory of this book.” I don’t think this is a problem with mysteries because they usually include a different crime. Each book is usually self-contained so they can be read out of order.

This got me wondering what other people think of those teaser chapters. For the ones at the end of a book, do you ignore them or read them? Do they annoy you? Has reading them ever resulted in you buying the book that was previewed? Has it ever ruined things for you?

What about those samples you can download from Amazon? Do you ever use that option to see if a book is for you?

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Something to brighten your day

By Rick Blechta

I’m pressed for time this week, so I’m going to share a joke that should make everyone smile (or even LOL) and is one all writers will appreciate. I may have told it here before, but it was so long ago now, who cares?

It goes like this…

A writer dies and finds himself (or herself, take your pick!) at the Pearly Gates. It was very busy that day and St. Peter is pressed for time.

When the writer finally reaches the front of the line, St. Peter tells him, “I can’t take time to go through your earthly record right now, so I’ll tell you what. How about you visit heaven for writers and hell for writers, then you come back and tell me where you’d like to spend eternity. Deal?”

Confused, the writer agrees.

Following directions, he goes down a path and finds an elevator. The only choice of floors is down or up, so he presses the down button.

Down, down, down goes the elevator, and when the doors finally open, the writer finds himself in a long hallway with doors on each side. He inquires about hell for writers and is directed to a door on the left. Arriving there, he goes in.

The room is vast and filled with rows and rows of benches. Chained to the benches are writers, each one furiously typing while the heat of a thousand suns burns down on them and demons whip them mercilessly.

There’s someone standing by the door and the writer approaches him. “Tell me, does this go on every day?”

“Yes. Day and night for all eternity.”

The writer quickly leaves and goes back to the elevator, quickly gets in and presses the up button.

Up, up, up goes the elevator and when the doors open once again he finds himself back in heaven. Stopping someone, the writer asks for directions to heaven for writers. Following them, he soon finds himself at another door.

Going in, he finds himself in another vast room filled with rows and rows of benches. Chained to the benches are writers, each one furiously typing while the heat of a thousand suns burns down on them and demons whip them mercilessly.

Totally confused, the writer beats a hasty retreat and walks back to the Pearly Gates. It’s much less crowded now and he waits in line patiently.

When he again approaches St. Peter’s desk, he asks, “Sir, I am very confused. I visited heaven and hell for writers as you requested, and well, they’re both absolutely identical.”

St. Peter looked down kindly. “No, my son, they are not. Up here you get published!”


My thanks to John Lawrence Reynolds who told me this joke originally over a post-conference libation or two.