Friday, October 29, 2021

Not Heaven, But a First Draft

 In one of his dramatic monologues Robert Browning's chararacter -- an aging artist with a faithless wife -- muses, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/ Or what's a heaven for?"

I went back to make sure I had the quote correct because as with many texts, something is often lost or distorted when it moves into cyberspace. And, it has been years since I last read Browning. Reading "Andrea del Sarto" again reminded me of one of the sources of my inspiration. Browning was so lodged in my literary subconscious that I used a play on his words in explaining what the acronym for my all-purpose communication device (an ORB) stood for in my near-future (now alternate history) police procedurals. When I was asked by several readers, I needed to come up with an answer that I myself didn't know. I backtracked in my "world-building" and discovered that ORB was derived from a quote by the creator of my world's cybernet. In a philosophical explanation of what he had created, he used the phrase "our reach beyond".

The reason I wanted to quote Browning is because I've signed up for NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't recognize it, that acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is a much acclaimed annual event that writers love because it gives us a chance to set goals and have the support of other writers who are doing the same thing. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month, the month of November. Here's the link if you'd like to know more.

What has struck me about signing up for NaNoWriMo again this year -- as I have done in the past -- is that my reach always exceed my grasp. If the challenge is to write 50,000 words, I try to write an entire book. This year, I want to finally get through the first draft of my historical thriller. I know that it will be around 95,000 words when I'm done. Being sane, I won't try to write 95,000 words in a month while carrying on with my other job -- teaching. But I have set myself the ridiculous goal of writing 75,000 words. 

Why? Well, because I have realized that I write best when I have a challenge. This year -- as opposed to last and the years before -- I am not only announcing my goal to finish my first draft. I am announcing the goal to people who I know and whose opinion I value. Not to say I don't want support from readers and other writers who I have never met. But I do even better when there is someone (preferably, as this year, groups of people that I know) who will ask how I'm doing. That makes me accountable. 

Being accountable worked for me with my first published book. Belonging to a writing group kept me at my keyboard for the several years while I was producing one version of my first Lizzie Stuart novel after another. But accountability really kicked in when I told my fellow writers -- only half-serious when I said it -- that I was going to take my main characters along with me on my vacation in England and write a book set in London and Cornwall. Having said it, I did my advance research and, during the week I was there, did field research and outlined the book. And then I came home, excited and fired up, and wrote the book. When an opportunity to submit to a new imprint came up, I had a book ready to send out. 

So, once again, I am going to play a psychological game with myself. Ignoring the 50,000 words of the challenge, I'm going to try to exceed my grasp. That will get me through a rough first draft. Then I will have a manuscript to revise and send off to my incredibly patient agent. 

If you're doing NaNoWriMo be sure to look me up. Even if we don't know each other yet, we can cheer each other on. 

And, thank you again, Robert Browning.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Go There

In my Type M entry of Sept 30, I wrote about a new monthly feature on my own website I'm trying called “Tell Me Your Story”. Thus far I've hosted five authors who have told us about pivotal events in their lives which have shaped their writing and their careers. One of my guests sent me her story to look over before posting because she felt a bit nervous about putting herself out there so openly. I'm not telling which author it was, because they've all been amazingly courageous. 

It was a wonderful, mind-blowing tale, and I told her she shouldn't worry about what some random stranger thinks she should have done. I really wanted to publish it, because I thought it would help and inspire someone who probably needed to hear it. It did, too, judging by the comments we got on social media.

Well, now the time has come for me to decide whether I'm going to follow my own advice and go there myself. It's not so easy when you're the one in the hot seat. I've spent much of my life trying to do the brave thing, and I wimp out most of the time and regret it. Maybe it's time to go there myself.

My “go there” is  less brave than hers, since I'm using my work-in-progress to fictionalize a really problematic theme that has run through my life – racism. The new book is the eleventh Alafair Tucker mystery, my long-running series set in Oklahoma, with established characters and situations. The series began in 1912 and moved forward year by year, and  I've now reached 1921, the year of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It's also the year that the KKK had a horrifying resurgence in Oklahoma. I can't pretend like nothing happened.

I grew up in Tulsa, a little girl in the 1950s and a teen in the 1960s. I grew up in a segregated world. I knew nothing about anything. My parents were liberal for the time and I never heard anything untoward from them, but some of my other relatives...  Suffice it to say I heard things said that shocked me even then, and some of these things were said by people I loved.

In the intervening years, I've thought about those days a lot and wondered. Did any of them ever go beyond words and do something unthinkable? I hope not. What would it be like for someone who found out their jolly, much beloved uncle or father or grandfather had been a member of the Nazi party? Or a stormtrooper? Or a guard at a concentration camp? People are a mix of wonderful and horrible. If you discover that your loved one did the unthinkable could you instantly stop loving them?  Or would it just be profound disappointment and grief? How could you love a Nazi?

How am I going to handle this? What do people of good will do when they realize they've been blind and ignorant? In doing the research for this era I've discovered nothing has changed all that much in 100 years. It's depressing.

All I can do if forge ahead and pray I can pull it off in a way that isn't offensive and honors the trials so many have endured. I want to be brave and finally go there. Somebody needs to hear it. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Going hybrid

Last night I hosted a virtual launch on Zoom for my new Inspector Green mystery, THE DEVIL TO PAY. At this point in the pandemic, having attended and presented at dozens of virtual events in the past two years, including my previous launch for THE ANCIENT DEAD last winter, I was thoroughly sick of them, and I suspect everyone else is too. I wanted a proper party. I wanted to see my friends and fans, laugh, catch up, and feel the energy that a crowd generates. But I had no choice. Ontario had not yet opened up restaurants fully (until Monday, way too late for planning), and many people would still be reluctant to come to a crowded venue anyway. Bookstores had a similar limited capacity.

So once again, I bought the Zoom webinar package for the month, sent out Eventbrite invitations, asked my long-time friend and fellow writer Mary Jane Maffini to interview me, and crossed my fingers that people would tune in. They did. It helped that it had been dreary and rainy for two days before the event. The feedback was illuminating. Many loved the virtual format because it allowed a solid hour of in-depth conversation with the author, rather than five-minute snatches and a reading in front of a noisy room. Others loved the fact they could tune in from anywhere in the world. My cousin tuned in at 7 a.m. from Australia, and a friend tuned in from Mexico. For myself, it felt like chatting with my friend Mary Jane for an hour, trying to remember that in fact a hundred invisible people were watching. We both had pants on, although that wasn't necessary.

One of the disadvantages of virtual launches, however, is that books can't be sold. In the pre-pandemic days, there would be a local bookseller at my events who had lugged boxes of books from their store to set up on tables, and people would line up to get them signed. That gave me a chance for one-on-one chats with everyone. That personal connection is lifeblood for an author. This is a win-win for the author, the reader, and the bookseller. In the last virtual launch, the best I could do was tell people where to buy the book and to sign a certain number of books at the local store for people to pick up.

This time, with bookstores partially open, I arranged for two "meet and greet" book signings in Ottawa and Toronto, which I announced at the virtual launch. Most people will likely get their books through other means, but at least there is the opportunity to get signed copies if you live near Ottawa or Toronto, and I get the chance for real live conversation. The bookstore gets a boost too. There won't be the energy of a party, but I will take it. 

Here are the Ottawa details, at Perfect Books on Elgin Street October 30th!

And the Toronto details, at Sleuth of Baker Street on Millwood Road November 6th!

For those who like to meet the author and get personalized book, this is the next-best thing to the the in-person launch. It's also a great way for people to buy gifts for the mystery lovers on their holiday lists. We'll see how this goes. Now that I know the advantages and drawbacks of both virtual and live launches, I may consider doing them both next time. And get the best of both worlds. Apart from the task of setting it up, a virtual launch takes less work than live. You sit in your living room and talk to a friend. The biggest challenge, besides conquering the whims of Zoom, is keeping your dogs quiet. You don't even have to wear pants. And attendees don't have to get dressed, go out in dubious weather, find a parking spot, etc.

So thanks to all to tuned in last night. And come on down to the bookstore signing! Even if you don't live in Ottawa or Toronto, both bookstores will take orders for copies, signed if you like, and mail them to you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

No matter how things change, they still stay the same

by Rick Blechta

I was on Amazon the other day, looking for something I needed for a modelling project and somehow got into the book section. In a guilty hour of poking around there, I came to a surprising conclusion: book publishing is in a very healthy state.

My response to this was, Huh? How can this be? Your response might well be the same.

I must tell you at the outset that my conclusion is definitely not scientific. It’s simply based on the number of new books that come out every day. Thing is, the majority of them are self-published. There are hundreds and hundreds in every genre you can think of — and some you probably haven’t.

Amazon and other platforms have made it quick, easy and very, very cheap to self-publish any sort of book. One still has to do the hardest part, writing it, but after that the rest is easy. And unlike traditional publishing, an author can finish a book one day and have it released to the world the next, assuming that you’re only doing it electronically.

The big question is: are any of these books worth reading?

Since a listing can allow the casual browser looking for something to electronically crack open a book and skim a few pages to see if it’s worth purchasing, it’s pretty easy to see that many of these books are really very badly written and not worth considering. However, I did find several that seemed to be really quite excellent, based on the prose.

And this is where the title of this post comes in. No matter if your work is published by one of the large publishers or something produced start to finish on your kitchen table, the trick is making yourself known to the general public — assuming you’re not someone really FAMOUS. They definitely have an easier time of it.

Most authors are not given much meaningful promotional help by their publishers. Traditionally publishers expect authors to do more and more of the work. Believe me when I say that it’s no more difficult to get review copies, most of which are electronic these days, into the hands of people who will review them whether you did it yourself or your publisher sent it out. The vast majority of these reviewers aren’t professional anymore either. Many papers have cut their reviewers loose in order to save money. There seems to be no lack of people who are prepared to read a free book and then review it. Will an author get a fair shake? That's where you have to gamble.

The issue is getting your work noticed by the reading public. There is still a huge stigma involved with self-published books, and there is no shortage of bad examples to which one can point fingers. Since these works are more miss than hit, many people are naturally reluctant to plop down their hard-earned money on what could be something terrible.

So, for the vast majority of authors, the real struggle is still how to find your audience. Unless a massive publicity campaign is at your disposal, the sad truth is the author, you, are going to be responsible for the promotional heavy lifting regardless of who publishes your book. You will have to find a way to get your book read.

And that’s the real trick, isn’t it?

Monday, October 25, 2021

Do You Know the MacGuffin man?

Let's talk about the MacGuffin.

For those unacquainted with the term, it's one Alfred Hitchcock used often and an approach of which he was very fond. 

Briefly, the MacGuffin is something that the characters in a story believe is important, it's even important for the furtherance of the plot, but is not in itself terribly important. 

It was first coined, it's been claimed, by writer and script fixer (or scenario editor) Angus MacPhail, an old friend of Hitchcock's and who contributed - uncredited- to the scripts of both his remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo.

An example is the microfilm in North by Northwest, which is almost an aside in the storytelling, and the money Marion Crane steals in Psycho. It's what kicks off the whole journey to that shower and what happens afterwards but is so insignificant subsequently it's hardly mentioned again.

You might even argue the statuette of the bird of prey in The Maltese Falcon is the ultimate MacGuffin. Everyone wants it, the storyline is about finding it, but in the end it turns out to be fake. The story is about the search and the character interplay, the actual object doesn't really matter that much.

In Alex Cox's cult film from the 80s 'Repo Man', it's a strangely glowing case (memories there of Robert Aldrich's film version of 'Kiss Me Deadly'). A case also features in 'Pulp Fiction.'

And more recently, we have the Rabbit's Foot in Mission Impossible 3. What on earth is it? I don't know but it doesn't matter. The characters believe it to be important and that's enough.

I suppose it could be argued that the identity of the killer in some police procedurals - especially those where the culprit turns out to be someone perhaps barely introduced before - is also a MacGuffin. It's the investigation that matters and the people who are conducting it, not necessarily the person whose collar is felt. That may well be a controversial opinion but I'm from Glasgow and we fear nothing.

That was the driving force behind almost every episode of Columbo, I believe. I don't include the ones based on Ed McBain stories for which the makers abandoned the formula which gave us the identity of the killer up front. That showed us knowing the killer didn't matter - what was important was the way Columbo tripped them up and the wonderful character by-play along the way.

So, class, the MacGuffin is a catalyst to get the plot moving, it's not the plot itself. Write that down.

So why am I thinking of MacGuffins?

I've written a book on spec and I have pulled a MacGuffin. The thing is, it's only now that it's out on submission that I have realised! It didn't occur to me while I was writing or reviewing.

There is an item that everyone is desperate to find but really it's merely a device to kickstart the plot and to draw in the characters, because they are what the book is really about. Especially the protagonist who - and I can't believe I'm going to say this because it sounds so phoney - embarks on a journey both physically and psychologically. Yes, I'm cringing but I can't think of another way to explain it.

Obviously, I'm not going to expand on what that MacGuffin is or anything about the plot save to say that, despite my gut-wrenchingly arty-farty description above, it is a fast-moving adventure. (Publishers, please contact my agent).

I hope commissioning editors see it for what it is and not a flaw in the storytelling.

I'd be interested in hearing other examples of MacGuffins - and whether not any writers, whether published or aspiring, feel a MacGuffin is a valid tool in our belt or a cheat.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The General and Me

Colin Powell--former US Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs--passed away this week. There was a plenty of discussion about the fact he had been vaccinated and still succumbed to Covid. However, he was 84 and struggling with cancer and Parkinson's so I'm sure given his condition, a simple cold could have likewise done him in.

When I was in the Army, his presence loomed large through the ranks. Black soldiers, and particularly black officers, held him in high regard and affectionally referred to him as the HMFIC.

Though he and I never met, our paths did cross when I reached out to him personally. I had been called up from the reserves for Desert Storm and was sent overseas to serve as a soldier artist for the US Army Center of Military History. During my earlier tour on active duty, I had served as an infantry officer and then as an attack helicopter pilot, so I had already punched my ticket in the combat arms. This assignment as a soldier artist was a dream of mine as many of my boyhood heroes were combat artists such as Howard Brodie, Tom Lea (whose mural decorated the library where I spent many hours as a boy), and the great cartoonist Bill Mauldin.

By the time I got to the front, most of the fighting had quieted down. However during the day I'd hear gunfire and at night see tracers and explosions in the distance. The closest I got to real danger was when we had to clear out an Iraqi strongpoint, which turned out to be abandoned. Unfortunately, as we were approaching the bunkers, we discovered that we were in the middle of an enemy mine field. In literature there's a line when you get so scared that you can hear your pulse hammering in your ears. I experienced that, terrified that I'd get a leg blown off for nothing. 

While making my rounds of the battle area I ran into a black officer, a lieutenant-colonel in the Corps of Engineers. He had been an automotive engineer in Detroit, found that work unfulfilling, joined the Army, and was now the division engineer for the 1st Armored Division. As the expert in both construction and destruction, he was always supposed to be the smartest guy in the room, which I'm sure he was. I snapped his photo for reference, along with the minaret for local color, and a M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle with mine plow.

Months later, after I'd completed the watercolor "The Division Engineer" I read that Gen. Powell collected art featuring American black soldiers. So I send him a framed print. Unexpectedly, I received this note of thanks.  

Friday, October 22, 2021



Last week I picked up Thomas Kies's book, Shadow Hill, when I was in Barnes and Noble. I was delighted to see it prominently displayed on a table with the country's most prestigious fiction writers. I was heading to North Carolina to visit my daughter and I knew Thomas lived in that state.

Her family had rented a vacation house in Beaufort and when I arrived and cracked open the book, I realized from the flap copy he was the president of the Chamber of Commerce of the county where we would be staying. The very same county! And the very same town!

I emailed him immediately and much to my delight, he invited me to lunch. Naturally, our conversation focused on publishing and also how fortunate we were to be included in Type M For Murder. Type M is one of the oldest running blogs--since 2006. Our outstanding blogmaster, Rick Blechta is responsible for it's longevity. He gives a new meaning to "faithful to the task."

Thomas and I are with the same publishing house, Poisoned Pen Press, which was purchased by Sourcebooks several years ago. It was fun to recall the lessons we had to learn about writing, and how fortunate we were to have skilled editors to teach us how to improve our books. 

Oh the lessons I've had to learn! The humiliation I've endured. My third most embarrassing moment involved Barbara Peters. I have the world's second worst sense of direction. I was so thrilled when I was to appear at the bookstore for an interview. The other author was Michael Bowen. When I arrived and parked my car, I headed up the street in the wrong direction. Arizona was in the midst of an ungodly heat wave. 

I walked forever before I realized my mistake, nearly had a heat stroke, did an about-face, arrived sweaty, red-faced, with my lovely outfit limp and wilted. I was barely on time and went swanning in like one of those vain persons who make a dramatic late entrance. My hopes of making a good first impression on this poised sophisticated lady lessened to striving to sit upright on the stool. I settled for recalling my own name and hoped my blood pressure would return to normal. 

Nope! I'm not going to tell you who has the worst sense of direction because she's another author and I haven't asked her permission. But I will say she was at the wheel while her husband and family were asleep when returning from a Western Writers Convention. She was headed toward their home in Amarillo, Texas and ended up in Spearfish, South Dakota. Boy, was her husband startled when he woke up.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Seattle Fun


I spent last week in the Seattle area visiting my mom and sister. Had a lot of fun visiting, learning how to make lefse and doing some touristy things. One of those touristy things was a visit to the Space Needle, a place I hadn’t been in many years. Another was a visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass. The third was checking out MoPop, the Museum of Pop Culture, formerly known as the Experience Music Project. All three are in the Seattle Center within steps of each other.

Let’s start with the Space Needle built in the early 60s for the Century 21 Exposition aka the Seattle World’s Fair held in 1962. Things have changed over the years. A glass floor was recently added where a revolving restaurant used to be. This is a floor below the observation deck. On the observation deck you can stay inside and get a 360 degree view of the city or walk around outside. We went to the restaurant once for my sister’s high school graduation. I remember it being quite fun. Alas, there is no restaurant right now in the Needle.

If you want to see what the Space Needle looked like when it was first built, check out the movie It Happened at the World’s Fair with Elvis Presley. There’s a scene in the restaurant and a number of them on the grounds of the exposition. We rented it from Amazon Prime. It’s interesting how the Needle dominated the skyline of the city then. Now it’s pretty much dwarfed by a lot of very tall buildings.


Part of the glass floor

View from the Observation Deck

It was a tad windy on the Observation Deck

Chihuly Garden and Glass is a museum featuring works by Dale Chihuly, a well-known glass artist. You may have seen his work at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There are exhibits inside as well as glass sculptures mixed with plants outside. Truly amazing.


The last place we visited was MoPop where we saw a special exhibit on costumes from Disney films and TV shows. It was interesting to hear how some of those came about and the inspiration the designers used for them. The rest of the museum was interesting as well, but my favorite part was the costume exhibit. 

MoPop and the Space Needle


If you get up to Seattle, I recommend seeing all 3 of these places. We did it in 2 days, but you could probably do all 3 in one day if you started early enough.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Kinsey Headed for TV?

by Thomas Kies

 I read an Associated Press article in my daily newspaper this morning that I found jarring.  

Yes, most news stories I read, see, or hear are pretty disturbing, but I found this one particularly upsetting.  The headline reads, “Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries headed to TV.”

Most writers would celebrate when their book or series of books are picked up for the silver screen.  I have several writers who are friends who have been lucky enough to get deals with studios for their mystery/thrillers. I know I’d love to see my protagonist, Geneva Chase, played out on the screen. 

But Sue Grafton, recalling her unhappy experiences writing for television movies before becoming a world celebrated novelist, made a vow that her Kinsey Millhone series would never become a television adaption. 

In 1997, Sue Grafton said in January Magazine, “I will never sell Kinsey to Hollywood.  And I have made my children promise not to sell her.  We’ve taken a blood oath, and if they do so I will come back from the grave: which they know I can do.  They’re going to have to pass the word on to my grandchildren: we do not sell out our grandma.”

That sounds pretty definite. Sue Grafton passed away in 2017 and to my knowledge, never changed her mind about her alphabet mysteries becoming a TV series.  When announcing her death, Grafton’s daughter, Jamie Clark, publicly reaffirmed her mother’s vow. 

And yet, A+E has acquired the rights to the Kinsey Millhone novels. Steve Humphrey, Grafton’s husband, and according to the Associated Press is also the executive producer of the series, makes the claim that “the times-and the medium- have changed.”

Mr. Humphrey went on the say in the article, “Television has greatly evolved since Sue was writing in Hollywood in the 1980s.  From her experience then, she was concerned that her stories and characters would be diminished when they were adapted.  But the power of television has transformed over time, so too has the quality from writing and acting to the production values and viewing experience.”

Mr. Humphrey posted that quote on Sue Grafton’s Facebook page and there have been over 2700 comments and the announcement was shared over 900 times.  The responses were a mixed bag.  Many of Grafton’s fans are excited about the adaptation and many are appalled that her husband has gone against her wishes. 

I’ve been a Sue Grafton fan for decades.  My protagonist, Geneva Chase, has been favorably compared by two national reviews to Kinsey Millhone.  A compliment that would be hard to top as far as I’m concerned.  Would I like to see a well-done adaptation of her alphabet mysteries?  Of course, I would.

But the author didn't want anyone to do an adaptation at all.  

A friend of mine, who is well versed in the mystery field, pointed out what a studio did to C.J Box’s Cassie Dewell series—now called Big Sky.  He’s concerned that they’ll turn the adaptation into “Hungarian goulash.  Not to insult any Hungarians.  Or insult goulash.” 

I have two writer friends who have television deals in the works and I'm thrilled for them, and frankly, a little jealous.

Would I like to have my Geneva Chase novels adapted for television?  Sure, if they were done right.  That’s what I think Sue Grafton’s concerns were.  It saddens me that the family didn’t respect her wishes.  

Friday, October 15, 2021

Animal Stories

 The posts from Charlotte, Rick, and Donis over the past week struck a chord. I have to admit that as much as I love Fergus, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who turned one year old on October 2, and Penelope, my Maine Coon, who I adopted this past spring, I sometimes feel like a frazzled mother of toddlers. Last week, I actually heard myself warning Fergus, who bounces and zooms through life, to "Stop chasing your sister!"  At which point both dog and cat stopped dead and turned to stare at me. Were they wondering about that "sister" thing? Or confused by my tone because they had been playing when Penelope ran with Fergus on her tail. Obviously, they were puzzled.

In fact, they both spend a lot of time looking at me while I carry on conversations with them about whatever is going on. I am the leader of their pack. Penelope stares at me with a feline's unblinking gaze or meows if she would like to have her face and chin stroked. Fergus tilts his head, as if he understands what I am saying. But, according to an article I read, that has more to do with his floppy ears and orientating to hear better than being an expression of his intelligence. He is certainly not listening for further instructions. The word "No" means nothing to him when he is chewing on an electric wire and about to send himself up in a puff of smoke or running with my reading glasses in his mouth, stopping at a distance to watch me go for his "training treats" to pay his ransom demand. He needs training -- training in obedience, schooling on not ignoring the commands that he knows but only deems to follow when it suits him. We are going to an obedience class as soon as I can find one that isn't already at capacity with other people who have puppies acquired during the pandemic. In the meantime, strangers pause to tell me how "adorable" he is and he greets them like long-lost friends. "Everyone loves Fergus," the owner of his doggie daycare told me. 

I have returned late to pets ("companion animals"). For much of my adult life after college and beyond, I had no animals in my life. Then I bought a house and almost accidentally adopted Harry because I saw that the local shelter had a Maine Coon, and I wanted to see one of the big cats that I had written into my book, The Red Queen Dies. The cat in the book was there for a reason. The cat, who had only a walk-on-scene, held the secret to the mystery. 

In that same book, Hannah McCabe, my Albany police detective, and her partner, Mike Baxter, run into her first partner, now retired, while visiting the University at Albany campus. As in real-life, the university mascot is a Great Dane, and McCabe's ex-partner has one in tow and reminds her again about adopting a puppy. At the end of the book, she brings home a huge puppy that is such a mix of various breeds that both her father and her brother, from whom she has been estranged, are in awe. Discussing names for the puppy gives them a warm, family, moment. At the end of the second book, What the Fly Saw, another character sees the dog and suggests a name -- and shares an important moment of rapport with McCabe. My animals are in my books because they move the plots along and reveal something about the characters. Why else would a black cat have attended a seance in the same book? Would I be that campy for the fun of it?  

 George, a yellow Labador mix, debuted in A Dead Man's Honor, the second book in my Lizzie Stuart series, and became a continuing character. I didn't consciously think about adding a dog to the series. It was one of those moments when something happened -- Lizzie arrived at John Quinn's house and discovered he had a dog. A dog he had rescued from the side of the highway and had not intended to keep. But he had, and his bashfulness in talking about being a softie when it came to a stray dog gave Lizzie a glimpse of another side of the former military police officer, ex-homicide cop. George becomes the victim of a crime in Old Murders. He survives and recovers, but the incident is a turning point in the book.

In Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave, George is left at home, but he manages to "skunk up" Quinn's beloved Bronco before Lizzie and Quinn leave for a weekend visit with Quinn's friends. Thanks to George's pursuit of a skunk, Quinn is driving Lizzie's Ford Escort when they are in an auto accident soon after arriving on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The accident launches the subplot involving migrant laborers.

So far, no animals have appeared in the flesh in my 1939 historical thriller. But the senator's housekeeper has reported that his niece, Evelyn, has gone out riding. She has a conversation with the niece's suitor about Evelyn's outrage about the death of a horse during the making of a western movie (a true story). Since several of the characters are going to Saratoga, undoubtedly a race horse will have a role. Evelyn's suitor owns a plantation in Georgia. Is he the kind of man who has a dog that walks by his side? I don't know yet. If he doesn't, is it because of something that happened when he was a child? Something that helped to shape his character?

I have an aunt who doesn't like cats. She will probably never come to visit me with Penelope and Fergus in residence. I have a feeling there is a story somewhere in that. In the meantime, my first Jo Radcliffe novel, set in 1949, will be about the murder of a mean-tempered village storeowner who claimed the dog of a homeless World War II veteran bit him.  

Thursday, October 14, 2021


I enjoyed Rick's and Charlotte's latest Type M Entries about using pets our novels (though I'm sorry about Charlotte's grandson losing his friend and companion Mayzie). Rick says he doesn't include animals in his books. I certainly do, especially in the Alafair Tucker Mysteries. That series is set on a farm in the 1910s. Their lives revolve around animals, both companion animals, hunting partners, and dinner, so I pretty much had to include them. In the Bianca Dangereuse books, set in Hollywood in the 1920s, my protagonist grew up on said farm and can't imagine a life without animals. 

 In my mind this ties in with my thoughts about Vicki Delany's new series set in 1953. I cannot wait to read it. 1953 is about the time I was becoming aware of the world. The very mention of the year catpulted me back to that time, the feel of it, the way it looked, the smell of it. The beloved peopl, all gone now, who populated the little world I lived in when I was a small child. It's funny how a word, a thought, a conversation, can evoke memories and feelings you thought you had long forgotten.
The building in the distance is where Grandma's cafe was located from the late 1920 to 1970. I took this photo in 2018. Even the building is gone now. 

 A few days ago, my husband and I were driving down the street discussing candy bars. He’s one of the few people in the world who doesn’t like chocolate, so we were trying to think of as many non-chocolate candy bars as we could. I mentioned Zeros, and suddenly was transported back half a century, to Boynton, Oklahoma, and the eatery that my grandmother owned for over forty years, Mrs. Casey’s Cafe, on Main Street. 

That cafe was a very large part of my childhood, since we traveled to Boynton from Tulsa every other weekend to visit my dad’s mom, and we kids spent at least two weeks with my grandmother every summer. Our two summer weeks were no vacation, either. My grandmother couldn’t afford to take time off from her cafe, so she put us to work. I imagine that at the time we were like any other family ristorante in Italy or corner cafe in Greece, where a ten year old with a dishtowel wrapped around his waist comes to your table to take your order. I don’t know what Family Services would say these days about all the times I carried a tray full of open beer bottles to the men in the back room when I was pre-pubescent, or fried up hamburgers on the grill, or stood on a step stool in the kitchen to wash up glasses in a sink full of lukewarm dishwater. 

 Her cafe was a very small affair; a counter with half a dozen twirling stools that we kids made good if annoying use of, and three booths. Every weekend that we went down there, one of the rituals my sisters and I indulged in was to take a small paper sack and fill it with candy bars from the display behind Grandma’s counter to take home with us. We were thoughtless and greedy little buggers, and it never occurred to me that this was costing my grandma money. I hope that my father reimbursed her. I wasn’t aware of it, but knowing Grandma, she probably did bill him. 

 There were certain candies and treats that she always stocked, such as Hershey Bars, Mounds, Milky Ways, Snickers, Mr. Goodbar, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, Three Musketeers, Pay-Days, Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes. But there were others that only made an occasional appearance, and we would snap those up with delight when they did show up. One of these was the aforementioned Zero Bar, which resembled a Milky way, except for the fact that it was white chocolate, or something-that-would-be-called-white-chocolate-in-the-future. I don’t remember that term being in wide use back in the olden days. I also kept a sharp eye out for Heath Bars, Brown Cows, Almond Joy, Krackles, and good old Hostess Sno-Balls, which came in white and pink. I liked the white. Pink snow balls just seemed wrong to me. We didn’t neglect the chewing gum, either. My sister liked Double Bubble and Juicy Fruit, but both were too sweet for me. I liked Spearmint and Beeches Clove gum. I can’t say I enjoyed bussing tables every summer all that much, but I’m sure it was good for my character. Perhaps one of the reasons I write about food so much in my fiction doesn’t have something to do with the experience. 

I wonder if they still make Zeros?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Going to the wild side

 Barbara here, at last. Although I'm not sure anyone missed me, I have been AWOL from this blog for the past month and only remembered this week's post rather late in the game. Life has been getting in the way, but most of it is boring stuff about cottage close-ups, laundry, broken washing machines, thanksgiving prep, and such.

The only really interesting reason for my negligence was my sixteen-day trip out to Vancouver Island to research the next Amanda Doucette novel, which is set in the Pacific Rim area on the wild west coast of Vancouver island. Each Amanda book is set in a different iconic location across Canada, starting in the far east on the island of Newfoundland, then moving to Quebec's Laurentian mountains, Ontario's stunning Georgian Bay archipelago, and then the fascinating, slightly spooky Alberta badlands. In this fifth book, Amanda has finally reached the western extremity of Canada. 

Not every region has been represented, and I apologize for that, but had I chosen to include every province and territory, I would be closing in on a hundred years old before penning that last book. I did write about the north in my Inspector Green book, THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS, and should my publisher and I decide to do a sixth Amanda book, it would be set in the north.

In choosing my locations, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the incredible beauty and diversity of Canada's landscape and culture. Not only is the rugged, rocky coast of Newfoundland very different from the parched moonscape of the Alberta's badlands, but the lifestyle and daily preoccupations of its people are unique as well. To do justice to this uniqueness, I needed to visit each place I wrote about. While I was more familiar with Newfoundland, Quebec, and Ontario, my knowledge of the badlands was more limited and my knowledge of the wild Pacific Rim was non-existent. There is only so much one can learn by parachuting into a place and racing around it, taking notes and photos, talking to people, and trying to walk in my characters' shoes, but it is still better than the internet, books, and maps (although I did use those too). Nothing gives the sounds, sights, smells, and feel of a place quite like being there. 

The spirit of Tofino

Naure is awe-inspiring, and there is an emotional and spiritual impact to standing in the middle of it. Before I stood on the endless beach near Tofino, listening to the breakers gather and crumble and watching the surfers rise and fall, I would never have appreciated the soft, yellow luminescence of the early morning sun. Nor the humid, vibrantly green rain forest, which is both soaring and claustrophobic at the same time. I had pictured Amanda bushwhacking through the forest to get from one place to another, something that is difficult enough in eastern forests, but impossible in that dense, choked greenery. Had I not walked those forests myself and corrected my descriptions, I would have lost many readers who should have been immersed in the story.

Rainforest perspective

So in the interests of bringing a vivid, credible story to life, I spent sixteen days and took two day-kayak trips in different parts of the area, a whale watching trip in a Zodiac in three metre ocean swells, a bear watching trip along the inner shores of the many inlets, and a seaplane flight over the coastal islands that form the backbone of my story. I hiked numerous trails, walked for miles along the beaches, rolled up my jeans and walked barefoot in the surf, and visited the location of the local cemeteries and the old hippie commune at Wreck Bay. Now I have to incorporate what I learned into the book.

Long Beach in a storm

Sixteen days is not long to get the sense of a place, but it will be better than nothing. The pandemic nearly ruined all my plans. Closures and quarantine requirements, not to mention the dangers of social interactions, meant I'd had to cancel a previous trip and write a lot of the book beforehand on sheer guesswork. Even now, several of the hikes and activities central to the book are still closed, and one of the islands is still completely off limits to tourists. The famous Wildside Heritage Trail on Flores Island, which is in the book and which I had planned to hike, was closed, as were the Hot Springs. 

My acknowledgements will have to include a caveat and an apology for all the things I might get wrong, but I am trying my best to do justice to an astonishing place.

Plus, it was a fabulous trip!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Pet peeves

by Rick Blechta

I’ve used this title before for one of my weekly posts on Type M, but this post is different. It’s actually about pets, not things that annoy me.

The germ for my post today came from two sources: firstly from Charlotte’s post this past Friday, and secondly because our elderly cat is obviously reaching the end of her days.

I do understand people’s attachment to their pets. Our family dog when I was growing up slowly became my dog because I was the one who usually walked him and we went all over our small town together. Yes, I was upset when Spunky finally shucked his mortal coil while I was attending university in Montreal — but I got over it pretty quickly, which is odd because I’m normally a pretty emotional person.

Why is this? Because when I was in high school I had a weekend job for two years working at a local animal hospital. You pretty quickly begin to understand that pets’ lives are far shorter than their owners. I also realized that when you got a pet, you had to understand that this would eventually happen or it could drive someone to serious despair. This realization hardens you pretty effectively to the eventual death of pets.

My wife and I have always had cats. When you’re busy with life and not home much, and often at irregular hours, cats are a much better pet solution than dogs. Over the years we’ve had six. Our current feline, Abby (short for Abby Normal), was originally our son Jan’s pet. When he had to let her go for various reasons, we said we’d take over.

While a real character as a young cat, Abby is now 13 and her health is catching up with her. Based on her medical conditions, she only has a few months left. Our goal is to keep her comfortable. Once we can’t do that, it will be time to let her go. And it will be a sad day, especially for my tender-hearted wife.

Charlotte’s post got me thinking of why pets can often appear as important characters in crime fiction. We even have novels where animals are main characters and actually solve crimes.

My feeling has always been that unless the pet has a good “plot reason” to be included as a cast member, then it’s best to leave them out. I can’t remember the book title now, but the best inclusion of a dog in a crime novel was because the police detective main character found it useful to think about cases while walking his dog. The dog also seemed to understand this and would beg for a walk when her master had a particularly sticky problem in a case. It fit well and was handled in a pretty funny way.

Other times, though, you realize the pet is there for no real plot reason. They’re more window dressing than anything else and to me that distracts from the plot.

I’ve never even considered having a pet in one of my stories. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become a hard-ass about our beloved animal companions — which is no doubt a mechanism to spare me from woe — or maybe it’s a way to keep the storylines less cluttered by extraneous things. Heaven knows I struggle with that!

So here’s to pets, whether they be our boon companions or simply plot devices. I’m happy to know that many readers enjoy the inclusion of animals in stories. Maybe they’re a way to make crime fiction less dark, giving them a bit more humanity by their presence.

In today’s world, that’s a good thing.

Monday, October 11, 2021

A character by any other name brings notes from your editor

My editor sent me notes this week on the next book in my series and one of the comments made me laugh out loud.

I had used four different names for the same character in the MS and he suggested that I pick one and stick with it.

The funniest thing was, this is not a new character — she actually appears in an earlier book!

Names can be my downfall. Words, coherent sentences, spelling, syntax, plot, dialogue and endings also give me trouble.

I forget character names so easily. I have to write them down on Post-It notes as I go along, just to keep me right. Then, of course, I lose the Post-It note.

Writers have to keep track of a lot of different things. Names, back stories, time lines, whether there is a character with one leg called George (I forget what the other leg is called). I suppose there are apps that can help but I shun the appliance of technology. Until I use it, of course, then I wonder why on earth I was doing all that shunning.

Even coming up with names is difficult, well at least for me. It's easy to devise a character called Jehosephat McGillicuddy. Outlandish names are simple — it’s those that are both memorable and yet everyday that can be problematic.

Whenever I introduce a new character sometimes their names come to me instantly, more often than not I can be found scanning the spines of the books on my shelves to see if anything sparks.

As for forgetting names, this mild form of anomic aphasia extends to real life. I have often carried on complete conversations with someone who clearly knows my name but for the life of me I can't recall theirs!

There is no serious root to this — I hope not anyway. I think it is quite common. With me it is genuinely just a vagueness, even perhaps a lack of attention, caused by having a mind filled with so much nonsense that something has to go to make room for just how many times has Steven Spielberg worked with composer John Williams (I count 28, but there were also two episodes of TV’s Amazing Stories on which they collaborated).

Obviously, I'm not talking about people I know well. The names I forget are people I have perhaps met only one or twice, which I think is perfectly normal.

But to forget the names of people you have created and have spent at least part of however long it takes write a novel is ridiculous and I must do better.

Not losing those Post-It notes might be a start.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

This weekend’s special guest Vicki Delany!

I am most pleased to welcome back Vicki Delany, one of Type M for Murders founders and long-time members. She is here to tell us all about her new series set in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. Take it away, Vicki!

Researching the Catskills Resort Mysteries

1953. I was there, but I wasn’t exactly taking notice of the social and political environment of the day, so when I decided to write a series set in 1953 I had to do a lot of research. Fortunately, it was easy.

1953. Think girdles and stockings, fancy cocktails, grand ballrooms, cigarette smoke (and more cigarette smoke), angel food cake and Cheeze Whiz on celery sticks, Reds under the beds and slow moving fans.

It’s the Catskills. Comedians and big bands and glamorous singers. Paddle boats and bellhops, tomato cocktails and Jell-O salads, swimsuit competitions and unattended children.

1953 really wasn’t so long ago. Unlike writers with books set in, say Ancient Rome, or 18th Century Venice, I could watch movies. Not movies set in the era I am interested in, but actually made then. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, Esther Williams in the water, gritty hard-boiled detectives like Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon (although that was made in 1941). Movies are a fantasy, sure, but they are also reflective of their times. I watched the dance movies for scenes in the ballroom of my Catskills Hotel. I listened to big band music by the likes of Glenn Miller, as recommend by Type M’s own Rick. I studied the clothes, the furniture, the tilt of a cigarette in the mouth of a sophisticated woman and listened to the expressions.

I also read a lot of cookbooks from the era and looked at design magazines. Many of these are available online. I can’t say I tried cooking anything I read about though. Jell-O salads with canned pineapple just doesn’t appeal.

All of which helped me, I hope, to create the feel of the times, particularly in those minor but important details such as the cut of a character’s dress or her hair style or what she might order from the bar.

As for the specific history of the Catskills at the time of the famous resorts, there’s a lot of first-hand information available. Many people have very fond memories of the times they spent at the great hotels, or cheap bungalow colonies, either as guests or as employees, or children of owners and employees. “Mountain Rats” the latter called themselves.
1953. The Catskills. Put them together and you have my new series, the Catskills Resort Mysteries. Out front: swimming pool, beach, lounge chairs, tennis games, cards on the veranda, a full dining room, helpful bellhops. Behind the scenes: offices full of women pounding typewriters and answering phones, harried switchboard operators, temperamental cooks, non-stop smoking. Hundreds of employees from gardeners to bellhops to chambermaids to entertainment directors, lifeguards, and dance instructors.

And at the center of it all, Elizabeth Grady, war-widow, bookkeeper, reluctant resort manager. Her mother, Olivia Peters, retired Broadway dance star and unexpectedly the owner of a Catskills resort.

So take a trip back in time with Elizabeth and Olivia and enjoy your visit to Hagerman’s Catskills Resort. It is, after all, 1953.


Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books,  and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Vicki is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival.  Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Vicki is the 2019 recipient of the CWC’s Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Friday, October 08, 2021

The Long Goodbyes


This is a photo of my grandson, John Crockett, with Mayzie, the dog he received for his birthday. And if ever a boy and a dog were meant for each other! John is in Rhode Island in graduate school now, and two weeks ago the family laid Mayzie to rest. 

Next week my youngest daughter and her family will say goodbye to Dakota, another well-beloved dog who has so many ailments that she leads a miserable existence and the vet said it's time to consider her quality of life. 

The response to a pet's death is pure grief, even if we know it's coming. Because the love they give us is so pure, I think. A dog hears our troubles without judging. Dogs seem to know when we are down and need a little extra attention. They are a barometer for our moods and simply commiserate without trying to cheer us up. 

My favorite dog was a little Shih-Tzu named Brandy Noel. The daughters got her for Christmas one year, but eventually they went to college and Brandy became my dog and the inspiration for the ridiculously spoiled Tosca who is in all of my mysteries. I was grief stricken when I had to say goodbye to Brandy. 

I've heard that one of the big taboos for writers is killing off a dog or pet that has been a constant in a series. We can kill anyone else, grandparents, all sorts of relations, close friends — but not the dog.

I wonder how many Type M’ers have pets that are their writing companions? How many integrate pets into their series? 

Can you think of series that wouldn't be the same without the dog? 

There's a reason why I'm not including cats in this blog. Cats really don't need us. Nor do they much care how our day is going. Dogs do. 

Thursday, October 07, 2021

I’ve heard writers described as “pantsers” (writers who write “by the seat of their pants,” not knowing where the book will go as they’re writing) and “outliners” (someone who dutifully outlines before they begin; Jeffrey Deaver once gave a speech I attended during which he said he spends 8 months writing the outline, 3 months writing the novel).

Two weeks ago, SJ Rozan visited my classes after we read her story “Going Home” and offered another view: She said she works in a circular motion –– writing and pushing the story forward, then going back and rereading, before moving forward again. The image she drew for the students was this:


I thought it was a great description of the way lots of us write –– forward progress, then circling back, and moving forward again. I usually begin with character sketches and maybe a paragraph describing the plot, something like the description on the back of the book. Then I start writing. When the story lags or I don’t know where to go next (typically, that’s one and the same), I go back 50 or 100 pages (or even to the beginning –– desperate times call for early mornings of rereading).

There are a few benefits to this circular writing style. It allows me to edit as I go. It also speaks to how some of us plot. When the book stalls, it’s usually because I missed something in the writing. That sounds absurd (the book doesn’t write itself by any means), but I have found when I go back and reread that I discover opportunities to clarify the plot for the reader (and myself).

So if you’re not a “pantser” or an “outliner” maybe you’re a circler. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

AI and Audiobook Narration


For a long time, audiobooks were something I’d only listen to on a driving trip. On cassette tape. Yep, it was that long ago.

I believe that books should be available in whatever format people want to consume them in: print, audio, ebook. I was very happy when my first three books came out in audio format. But, as I noted above, I didn't listen to audiobooks on a regular basis.

Sometime in the last couple years, I started consuming more non-music audio content: podcasts, audio dramas and books. The books started when I wanted to read all of the Dark Shadows novels originally issued in the late 1960s, early 1970s. I had a few paperbacks that I bought when they first came out, but the majority of them I didn’t have access to until they were reissued as audiobooks. Read by one of the actors from the original soap opera, Kathryn Leigh Scott, they were all available for checkout from my local library on Hoopla Digital. It took me awhile to get through them but, after I finished, I realized I enjoyed them so much I wanted to check out other audiobooks.

I've listened to a variety of books since then with different narrators. The most important thing is the content. If you don’t have a good book, you’re not going to have a good audiobook. I did discover, though, that the right narrator for the project could enhance my enjoyment of the story.

In the past week, I heard about the use of artificial intelligence in audiobook narration. Google is getting in on the act as well as Speechki and DeepZen. Google Play Books has a beta version available and is working on making it available to publishers. You can check out some free audiobooks created using their software here. These are all books in the public domain.

Speechki is a recording platform that claims to be able to produce an audio book using AI synthetic voices from input in 15 minutes. The publisher or author uploads their book and selects a voice. DeepZen has a stable of actual, real voice over artists who have contributed their voices in some way, don’t know the details. From whatever sampling is done, DeepZen takes an input file of a book and does their magic to create the audiobook using a voice selected by the publisher or author of the book.You can go here and listen to some samples. I’ll wait for you.

Ah, you’re back. What did you think? I listened to the sample of Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was not as awful as I anticipated though some of the pauses seemed a little odd to me. I don’t know that I would have figured out that artificial intelligence was at work if I hadn’t known in advance. Still, I don’t think I want to listen to an entire book.

I’m not sure how I feel about this marriage of computer science and book content. A part of me is interested in how natural language processing has progressed since I was in college when it was fairly primitive. The part of me that consumes books is resistant to the idea.

On the plus side, for DeepZen anyway, they say that the voice over artists whose voices they use get paid for every audio book that is produced using their voice. Don’t know how much or how it relates to what the voice over artist would get if they read the audio book in the usual way. I suspect it’s less. On the other hand, they don’t have to sit down and record the audio book. Audiobooks can also be produced cheaper and faster using this method. But, from the little I’ve heard, the quality doesn’t seem as good as would result from a voice over artist reading the book. On the other hand, this may make some content available where it wouldn’t have been before.

There’s also the issue of rights. Do these need to change with the development of AI narration? I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know the answer to this, but I think the question needs to be asked.

While from a technology standpoint I find this fascinating, it still makes me uneasy. It seems like it’s taking away jobs from voice over artists. Plus I really prefer a good narrator for the audiobooks I listen to. But, then, I’m not dependent on audio for my book consumption. I can choose to read the book. Not everyone has this choice.

If you want to read more there are a lot of articles on the web on this topic. Here are a few of them:

So what do you think about the use of AI in audiobook narration?

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Scaring myself silly

by Rick Blechta

Once I read Tom’s post from yesterday, it was just too tempting to riff off it for my post this week.

Coincidentally, I was away last week because my wife and I took a few days to visit Elora, a small town about two hours west of Toronto. Why coincidentally? Because in October Elora’s small historic downtown comes alive with giant scary sculptures. People flock in from all over just to see them. We went for the annual studio tour, but alas, since it was still September, the sculptures weren’t out yet. They are quite spectacular. Click HERE to see some examples.

Anyway, on to the things that have scared me silly.

I’m with Tom all the way. It’s fun being scared by books or movies. There are, however, only three movies that have really gotten to me.

The first was The Mummy, not the one with Boris Karloff (which is legitimately quite scary, but the remake that came out in 1959 from Hammer Films. It stared Peter Cushing as the hero with Christopher Lee as the mummy.

I saw it as an eight-year-old with some friends at our local cinema in Mamaroneck, NY, where I grew up. It genuinely frightened the bajeejees out of me, so much so that I couldn’t go to sleep at night if the closet door in my bedroom wasn’t shut tight. I was probably 11 when the effect of that movie finally wore off and I could fall asleep no matter what the state of the closet door.

Next came The Uninvited. This was an out and out example of the classic ghost story. When I was 13, I stumbled across it on TV one Saturday afternoon in October (natch!) and watched it, alone in the house. When the ghost finally appears in the second act, I was so scared that I had to snap the TV off and run outside. It wasn’t until many years later that I watched the movie again and found out how the story ended. No wonder it was a big hit in 1942 when it came out. It’s a real chiller.

Last on the list is one Tom already mentioned, The Exorcist, both the book and the movie. I saw the movie first and then read the book. Since I was in my 20s at the time I saw it, I didn’t suffer any nightmares or have issues with closet doors, but the movie was indeed terrifying, the book less so, but still exceptionally good for what it was trying to do.

Interestingly, an extended director’s cut was released in 2000 and I saw it with my older son who also enjoys horror movies. There was a scene where the young, possessed girl comes down the stairs in the home upside down, moving like some kind of human spider. I don’t know why it was not included in the original movie because it is really very unnerving to watch.

And that’s maybe why some people gravitate to horror, whether it be books or movies. If done well, they are all certainly unnerving sometimes in the extreme.

Now I think it’s someone else’s turn with this subject. What do you find scary and why do you enjoy being scared?

Tis the season after all.

Monday, October 04, 2021

October: Time for Scary Stuff

We’ve just flipped the page on the calendar to October.  Definitely one of my favorite months, it’s the time when the air turns cool and crisp, leaves on the trees magically transform into brilliant bursts of color, and football is in full swing.

Pumpkin spice lattes?  I might do one.  Only one.

October is also the month of Halloween, the time when nearly all the streaming services are showing horror flicks.  What is it about horror that we love so much? 

My theory is it’s like being on a really scary rollercoaster ride.  When you get to the top of the first rise and you’re just about to hit that precarious drop, your heart is pumping, your palms are sweaty, and there’s a scream in your throat you know you’ll be helpless to stop. In short, it’s terrifying and exhilarating, but in the end, you know you’ll be safe. 

We like sitting in a darkened theater to watch a scary movie or cracking open a horror novel if in the end we know it’s all going to be okay.

As close to a horror novel that I’ve written was Graveyard Bay. It’s the darkest of the Geneva Chase Mystery Series.  It’s the book that when I asked my neighbor if he enjoyed reading it, he looked away and muttered, “The ending gave me nightmares.”

What book or movie has stayed with you for a long time or scared you silly?

For me, there have been quite a few.  As I was growing up, I binged on weekend horror flicks like the nineteen-thirties version of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolfman. Back in the sixties, Aurora manufactured plastic model kits based on the old movie monsters.  After I’d put those bad boys together and painted them for my bedroom, I decided to read the old classics.  

Dracula by Bram Stoker had some similarities to the movie, but it was much scarier to read.  Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly is a much different story than the movie starring Boris Karloff and I really enjoyed it.

Then I went through my H.P. Lovecraft phase.  It doesn’t get much darker than his Cthulhu Mythos.

My thirst for horror had taken root.  As I grew older, I read the likes of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.  That was pretty scary book, but the movie frightened the living hell out of me.  It was one time when the film was scarier than the book.

The book that gave me nightmares, however, was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. It scared me so much I hated going down into the basement for any reason for years.  His book The Stand comes in a close second.  

And of course, since then I’ve read many of Mr. King’s novels as well as such horror writers as Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice.  

Just a quick aside, did you know that in addition to horror novels, Anne Rice wrote erotica under the names of Ann Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure? BDSM erotica...written years ahead of Fifty Shades of Gray.

So, I’m going to pour a glass of wine, pop some popcorn, and get ready to binge on some horror before Halloween gets here.  What are your favorites?

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Guest Blogger Wendall Thomas


Type M is beyond thrilled to welcome guest blogger Wendall Thomas to our little family this weekend. Besides authoring one of the most witty, entertaining series out there, featuring a wildly appealing, hilarious protagonist, travel agent Cyd Redondo, Wendall  teaches in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, lectures internationally on screenwriting, and has worked as an entertainment reporter, development executive, script consultant, and film and television writer. Her first Cyd Redondo novel, Lost Luggage, was nominated for the Lefty and Macavity Awards for Best Debut Mystery of 2017. Her second, Drowned Under, has been nominated for a Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery of 2019 and an Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original.  Her short fiction appears in the crime anthologies Ladies Night (2015), Last Resort (2017), and the Anthony nominated Murder-A-Go-Go’s (2019).  Her third Cyd Redondo mystery, Fogged Off will drop on November 2, and is available now for pre-order.


 by Wendall Thomas

I’m delighted to be here, where so many authors I love share their secrets. Thanks very much, Donis, for having me.

Travel has always been my passion. And now as someone who writes about a travel agent, it’s also my business.

As a kid, I traveled vicariously through books like Lost Horizons, David Copperfield, Mrs. Mike, The Three Musketeers, The Jungle Book, and my parents’ copies of Dorothy Gilmour’s Mrs. Pollifax novels. As my reading became a bit more sophisticated, I headed to China in The Good Earth, Russia in Dr. Zhivago, and Southeast Asia with Grahame Green. 

Our family vacations were domestic, but still thrilling to me—Silver Springs and St. Augustine, the Smithsonian, Myrtle Beach, the Smoky Mountains. So, by the time I finished high school, I was ready to hit the road and go as far, and as often, as I could. During my college summers, I waited tables and sang in bars on Nantucket, in Estes Park, Colorado, in Berkeley, in the Keys, and once I graduated, I headed to Montreal, London, Paris, Ireland, Holland, Italy, and eventually, Australia and New Zealand. 

Every one of those books and all of those places moved me and influenced the way I look at the world. So, when I thought I might try writing a mystery series, I figured it would be great if the research involved travel—preferably international. When I created Cyd Redondo, a travel agent who had never been farther than New Jersey, it let me relive the wonder and panic of everything involved in navigating a different culture in an unfamiliar place. 

As a writing teacher I’ve always been fascinated by where my students’ stories start. Is it with a concept, with a character’s voice, with a theme, with a scene? I think it depends on the writer and the project and personally, as a screenwriter, my projects had usually started with a character or concept. This time, I had the skeleton for my “fish out of water” protagonist—but before I could really start developing her character and working out the story/mystery, I had to pick her destination. 

I wanted the series to be an homage to films like Romancing the Stone, Charade, or Bringing Up Baby, where the characters were off-balance and completely out of their comfort zones. Since Paris, South America, and Connecticut were already taken by those films, I needed someplace new. I thought about Cyd’s home in Brooklyn and what might be the most extreme opposite, a place she’d have the biggest learning curve. 

I suddenly had an image of her in the middle of a jungle clearing, in four-inch heels. She was wearing multi-colored bracelets from her wrist to her elbow, and, when a man with a gun appeared, she disarmed him with a whack from her bangled forearm while a leopard looked on. It felt like Africa. I started to research crimes on the continent and was shocked by the extent and horror of the endangered animal smuggling and poaching trade. Cyd, with her snakeskin shoes and tortoise shell barrettes, was not concerned about this issue—yet—so it allowed her an environmental learning curve, and let me place a Madagascan chameleon in her purse. So, once I had a location, everything in the book sprang from there. 

Now that the series is up and running and I have a handle on Cyd, her family, and her natural habitat, the “where” is always where I start. Until I know where she’s going, I can’t really decide on the crimes, the secondary characters, the ways her character will be challenged, or what she has in her background—and her purse—that might help her survive. Location is everything.

I was lucky in the Australian setting for Drowned Under—I had been to and loved Tasmania, the home of the “functionally extinct” Tasmanian tiger. So, it was easy to find the “endangered” piece of the adventure. Once I decided it would be a cruise ship book, that gave me my world and inspired my secondary characters, and I was off.

Wendall in London

For my newest book, Fogged Off, out November 2nd, I got lucky again. By the time Covid hit, I had already decided to set the book in London, where I’d been a frequent visitor over the years. I’m also married to an Englishman I met on one of my trips, so I could see, taste, smell—and discuss—the city from the desk in my bedroom. 

As always, the place generated the content. The book is set in world of London Walking Tours where Cyd’s client—a Jack the Ripper expert—winds up dead. Then I researched endangered animals in the UK and, since Carl Hiassen had already taken voles, my first choice, I settled on the hilarious hazel dormouse as the animal in danger of extinction. Everything else came from there.

Bruce, the hazel dormouse

Right now, because it’s still not clear when and where we’ll be able to travel again, I’ve chosen a location where several friends have lived. Because I’m lucky yet again, that happens to be Bali. I definitely want to travel there, but just in case I’m still marooned in my apartment as the deadline approaches, they can help me add details that research alone can’t supply. After that, I’m thinking about Macao, or maybe Greece. . .

So here’s hoping that we will all get the chance to explore the unknown from somewhere other than our couches soon, but if not, books will be there to get us through.


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