Tuesday, December 27, 2022

What a Book Launch

 by Charlotte Hinger

Shortly before Christmas I went to a book launch for Rita Popp's first book, The First Fiancee, published by Wild Rose Press. It was at Rita's home. Rita is a Sisters In Crime friend who lives here in Fort Collins. 

The event was held outside on a cold Sunday afternoon. It didn't sound like a good idea. Surprise! it was a howling success. The driveway to their double garage was scattered with tables and chairs grouped around an fire pit. To one side was an enormous array of hot drinks and snacks. Hot chocolate, cider, and coffee hit the spot. So did all the crunchies and plates of homemade cookies. 

Clutters of people gathered around the fire and we had no trouble finding our connection to Rita, who is a lovely woman and a natural facilitator. For those who liked more activity or were not into chatting, she had set up a throw the bean bag game with sacks of cookies as the prize. 

She sold a lot of books. What a great idea. Who would have thought? December? Outdoors? Cold weather? It worked!

Novel way to launch a book

Great Attendance

Two bags in the hole won a package of home made cookies

Plenty for all

This all goes to show--there's something new under the sun when it comes to selling books.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas

 Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and wishing you a prosperous and healthy New Year.  May all your mysteries be solved. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Back to The Scene of The Crime

 My holidays began with a visit to a client in Bradenton, Florida. When I arrived at the airport Hyatt, I found out that the hotel restaurant was closed. Upon asking the desk clerk for dining recommendations, she handed me a photo-copied map and said the closest place was Rico's. Off I went on foot. When I read the street sign at the next intersection and saw that it was the North Tamiami Trail, I said to myself, "I've been here before."

The opening chapter for my third novel, The Undead Kama Sutra, took place close to this intersection. My detective-vampire Felix Gomez had been summoned by an alien from the first book. The alien was asking Felix to find "the man who killed me." (The alien was dying from a gruesome blaster wound.) The scene:

"I sat on the alien's bed. We were on the second floor of a cheap motel in Sarasota, Florida. To get up the stairs I had to get past three hookers, their pimp, and a blind man selling pot--for medicinal purposes, of course...

Outside, the second shift of hookers prowled the curb alongside North Tamiami Trail, the main drag in this part of Sarasota. They strutted on stiletto heels around discarded hip flasks and bottles of malt liquor...

None of the hookers showed any interest. Considering the neighborhood, a whale could fall out of the sky and flatten the motel, but no one would admit to seeing a thing."

To Florida's credit, North Tamiami Trail has improved considerably since I wrote that passage. Had I continued straight at the intersection I would've wound up in the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum (of the Ringling Brothers circus fame and fortune). But as I was hungry, I took a left at North Tamiami Trail and continued in search of Rico's. The street was a wide, divided boulevard and in spite of the busy traffic, surprisingly dark. The sidewalk passed stretches of businesses, closed for the night, and gloomy grassy lots, marked with signs prohibiting access. Like similar places in other American cities, empty liquor bottles, discarded clothes, and stolen grocery carts lay abandoned in the weeds. Whereas closer to the airport, you had your pick of chain hotels, here the accommodations were local motels. Most seemed well kept, some retained the sketchy vibe from my book, and others were shuttered and deserted. No hookers anywhere. As I said, it was quite dark and when another person approached from the opposite direction, the chance meeting filled me with a cautionary dread. What if he--they were all men--pulled a knife or a gun and decided to rob me? Step by step we closed the distance and even in the meager light, I could sense they were as apprehensive as I was. I find it hysterical that anyone would be afraid of me, but being Mexican, you get used to this sort of thing. When we passed shoulder to shoulder and realized that we would survive the encounter unscathed, we both breathed a sigh of relief but quickened our pace away from each other, just in case. 

I made it to Rico's, alive. The pizzeria was quasi-divey but friendly and welcoming. My earlier meals had been in over-priced airport restaurants and frankly, Rico's was the cheapest and best place I'd eaten at all day. 

So with this tale of my most recent adventure in Florida, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2022

 Remembering Peter Cooper

By Johnny D. Boggs

“Somehow, Johnny Cash is dead.”

We’re taught in Journalism 101 to tell readers what they need to know in that first paragraph. Make every word count. And force those readers to keep reading.

Peter Cooper nailed it on September 13, 2003, when his obituary of The Man in Black appeared in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper.

For 19 years, I’ve been saying that’s the best lede to any newspaper story I’ve ever read.

Peter, newspaper journalist turned musician, songwriter, historian, music producer, author of liner notes and senior director, producer and writer at the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Dec. 6. He had sustained a head injury after a fall the previous week.

He was only 52 years old.

We both hailed from South Carolina. Peter was born in Spartanburg – he wrote Hub City Music Makers: One Southern Town’s Popular Musical Legacy about his hometown’s music scene (the Marshall Tucker Band, Walter Hyatt …) – and taught school in Rock Hill (“I used to live in Rock Hill/South Carolina, South Carolina/I’m glad I’m not living there still/I feel much better now” he sings in one of his songs).

I grew up farther south in the Pee Dee country. Living in New Mexico, I feel much better now, too.

Peter Cooper. Photo by Deone Jahnke

Courtesy PeterCooperMusic.com

After Peter’s death, I started rereading his Johnny’s Cash & Charley’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures in Country Music. If you want to know about Nashville, songwriters and country-music stars, that’s the book to read. And Tom T. Hall’s The Storyteller’s Nashville: A Gritty & Glorious Life in Country Music (Peter wrote the preface).

How do writers improve their writing? They read great writers.

I read Peter Cooper. And learned a lot.

Peter wrote:

“[O]bjectivity is the mortal enemy. …

"But objectivity is dispassionate.

"And we’re in the passion business.

"We’re trying to make people feel something different than what they felt before they read our words.”

That’s a concept White House beat reporters or those covering cops in Dallas might have trouble wrapping their heads around, but for entertainment writers or fiction writers, it’s a subject worthy of discussion in the bar after deadline.

Recalling an interview during which Johnny Cash told Peter, “I read everything you write,” Peter wrote:

“Immediately, I was ten feet tall.

“Johnny Cash reads all my stuff.

“Then I shrunk eight feet down from ten.

“Johnny Cash reads all my stuff.

All my stuff.

“Stuff I write on deadline … stuff I just can’t nail … stuff where I am writing over my head … stuff where I am unduly judgmental … stuff where I am overly kind.

“All my stuff.

“Johnny Cash.

“Writer’s block ensued.”

Peter was a writer I wanted to sit down with at Nashville’s Loveless Café and talk craft. Now, all I can do is listen to his music and reread his prose.

Because I’m still waiting for my brain to accept this fact:

Somehow, Peter Cooper is dead.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

A Better New Year to All!

Eat well for the holidays!

 Since my birthday falls between Christmas and New Year, the end of the year is the literal end of another year of life for me and I always approach January 1 with  anticipation. I've begun a whole new series and plan on some upcoming trips to which I look forward, so I hold out hope for a pleasant 2023.

Many years ago, I had a friend who was into numerology. Now, I must tell you that of all the divination arts such as astrology or palmistry or tarot or reading chicken entrails, I had always considered numerology the most illogical.* But no, my friend told me, one must approach numerology with the mindset that there are no accidents. That there is a numerical logic to the universe, a vibrational order, like music.

Every number, she said, corresponds to a vibration, a musical note, and we humans are attuned to this music and express it with our language. Each number expresses a series of qualities or traits, just like combinations of notes, rhythms and silences create certain types of music, from rap to classical.

Get it?

This means that your parents looked at you when you were born, sensed your tune, and said to each other, "hey, she looks like a Jane. Jane Doe. That sounds nice." I was impressed by the logic, whether I buy the idea or not. (I prefer to be in charge of my own destiny, thank you very much.)

The point of all this is that 2023 is a 7 year, my friends, and 7 is the number of inner peace and seeking the truth. As for me personally, 2023 is a 1 year - new beginnings (I can only hope they're good new beginnings!) Any numerologist would say, "it ain't that simple", and any non-numerologist would say, "you're nuts, lady." But whether you believe it or not, it's a nice idea.

So here's wishing all of us a wonderful 2023, full of lots and lots of peaceful contemplation and a whole lot of truth.


*Though chicken bone divination is a close second.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Holiday ups and downs

 This will be my last post of the year, and good riddance to 2022! We have been hanging on for nearly three years through this pandemic rollercoaster, hopes rising and falling with each successive wave and variant. Every single one of our family get-togethers since the pandemic began have been disrupted in one way or another. A grandchild's runny nose, an unexplained cough, a covid exposure... 

But each time, we have picked ourselves up and made another plan. Maybe at Passover... Oh well, there's always Labour Day weekend. Last year at this time, we thought we were finally going to pull it off. All three children and partners, plus two small grandchildren - all were coming to my little house! I stocked up the fridge and the wine rack, planned menus, even as the Omicron variant  began its relentless rise. Then the morning of the first arrivals, there came the call from my son. The two year-old has a weird rash. 

I remember cheering the end of 2021, thinking surely 2022 has to be better! But it wasn't. In fact. 2022 had some terrible surprises up its sleeve. In Ottawa here, first the "freedom convoy" invaded the capital for three weeks of noisy, up-yours, horn-honking nonsense, soon eclipsed by the war in Ukraine and the crushing assault by the bear, Russia on the small, proud nation led by a man who wouldn't say die. And still the Omicron variant tightened its grip. In the spring came supply shortages in food and just about everything from lumber to vehicles. Shipping containers were backed up in ports, employers couldn't find workers to open their shops and restaurants, prices began to soar.

I could go on, but you already know this. 2022 sucked, and now here I am looking forward to kicking it out the door and welcoming the new year. Thinking surely 2023 has to be better! But I am wary of my optimism. Already there are warning signs. It is three to four days before my family arrives at my house to celebrate the holidays - a mix of Hanukah and Christmas that reflects the mix that we have become. They are all driving from other cities. And Mother Nature has a great big storm planned for exactly that holiday travel time. Rain, freezing rain, flash freezes, snow, blizzard winds possibly up to 120 km an hour. This storm spans the continent and has already been ruining travel plans for families everywhere.

But I am holding steadfast to my hope that we can pull it off. So far there are no positive Covid tests, no runny noses or suspect coughs. We are Canadians. What's a little snow? 

Here's a couple of holiday messages I'd like to share before I go back to my holiday preparations. First, if you still haven't got all your gifts yet, consider a book. Any book, although if you choose to go beyond the big-name bestsellers, you will find lots of unique, varied, and entertaining books by lesser-known authors who could really use your support. Including the authors on this blog, just saying. Writers too have struggled during the pandemic. Buy their book, write them a review, and spread the word.

Secondly, before you spend your last dollar on gifts, consider donating it to your local food bank or toy collection or Christmas hamper program. With inflation and rising interest rates, there is a desperate need this year for extra help to make the holidays happen. Every little dollar counts.

Thirdly, may your holiday season, however you celebrate it, be full of light, laughter, and warmth, and may 2023 bring joy, health, and peace. 

Too much to hope for?

Tuesday, December 20, 2022



Friday, December 16, 2022

Snow Day

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all safe, dry, and warm. I intended to do a blog about writing and marketing this past year. But I had to make this a snow day. I left Fergus to board at doggie daycare on Wednesday and again last night because I needed to pick up my new lease car and get his back seat cover in. 

I've been leasing for years and I was planning to buy the car I had. But I had to make an unexpected trip to the dealership on Wednesday morning to get my tires checked because they were all showing low pressure, then three came back but one didn't. While I was waiting for the service check, I decided to pop over to Sales and see about buying. That was when the rest of my week went off the rails. My sales associate from my last lease wanted to show me the 2023 and then do the numbers. 

I looked and when I had held out long enough to feel I was getting a good deal, he brought out a folder full of paperwork for me to initial or sign. I saw the lease accountant yesterday and talked about dogs and daycare and trips abroad that we had recently made as we did more paperwork. And I drove out with my next three year lease car -- a dark orange car instead of my silver. But this dark orange is dignified, not the awful orange-yellow of my first car decades ago.

This car also comes with bells and whistles, including a sideview mirror that covers the blind spot. If a car is there but not visible, a tiny car icon and a light come on.The review camera for backing also provides a wider view in the 2023 model. And this car even picks up anything that is about to pass behind the car, but is still out of view. The driver assistant that alerts and corrects if  you are drifting into another lane and brakes if you are getting too close to another car's rear end should be useful, too. And this car is bossy enough to make sure I don't forget my sleeping furbaby in back, When I turn off the engine, I am instructed to "Check the Rear Seat." 

All of these features will make my life a little less stressful during my rush-hour, weekday treks to pick up Fergus from daycare. This semester I can go earlier becase I'm on sabbatical, but come January I'll be back into the office on the days when I teach. 

Meanwhile, I can enjoy being a stay-at-home writer for another month. This afternoon we (Fergus and I) have finally made it home after a stop at the ATM, the pet store, and CVS (in lieu of a trip to the supermarket to get snow day frozen pizza). 

And I am about to get back to my gangster movie book. Almost done but I need to expand on several chapters. I usually need to reduce my word count, but with this book the publisher has some specific instructions about what should be covered. This book needs to follow the same format as the others in the genre movie series. Having instructions should have made it easier to write -- but it hasn't. On the other hand it's useful to have a structure that will work for each of the movies.

If I stick to it, I will be done by Monday morning. Just in time to mail out holiday cards and put up a few decorations. 

I have one more blog post before the end of the year. I'll blog then about the books that I have read over the past year that I have enjoyed and/or found useful. Meanwhile, my time spent at the car dealership also turned out to be useful. As the sales associate and I were discussing the blind spot feature on the 2023 car, I realized I had a title for the short story I have due (for an anthology) at the end of the month. "Blind Spot".  Got the title, and now all I need is a story to go with it.  

All is calm here, Fergus has moved his nap from the back of the sofa to the space between sofa and wall. He is snoring now and then as he sleeps. Penelope the cat is asleep on top of the radiator in the dining room.  And  I am going to pop my frozen pizza in the oven and -- pretending I haven't seen or heard the most recent warning about over-processed food -- use the time I'm not cooking to get back to work.

Happy last minute shopping, tree decorating, cookie baking, curling up on the sofa with hot chocolate and an old movie  or whatever you're doing this weekend as the holidays approach. 

Today is National Ugly Sweater Day. I'm about to go see what I have in my closet to wear while I write.

Fergus and Penelope send their best.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Words of the Year 2022


by Sybil Johnson

The words of the year for 2022 are starting to roll in from various organizations. Unlike previous years, I haven’t come up with candidates myself. Maybe ‘divisiveness’ or ‘pandemic fatigue’. That’s all I can think of. Here’s what I've seen so far:

Merriam-Webster chose gaslighting as their word for 2022. Every time I hear this I think of the 1944 movie “Gaslight”. (Excellent film.) I believe the term came from the 1938 play the film is based on. Anyway, gaslighting is ‘the act or of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.’ Merriam-Webster says there was a 1740% increase in look ups of the word in the past year. To see the full article go here

Collins, a British dictionary, chose permacrisis as their word of the year. It is “an extended period of instability and insecurity.” I would say that describes 2022 very well. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/woty

The Cambridge dictionary chose homer. “Short for home run: a point scored in baseball when you hit the ball, usually out of the playing field, and are able to run around all the bases at one time to the starting base.” This seems very strange to me. I gather the term homer is not common in the UK. Don’t think it would make word of the year here.

The Macquarie Dictionary (Australian English) chose teal. “A political candidate who holds generally ideologically moderate views, but who supports strong action regarding environmental and climate action policies, and the prioritising of integrity in politics”. As far as I’m concerned, teal is a very pretty color or a duck. Found this definition interesting. Apparently, many political candidates in Australia in 2022 wore the color teal.

And, finally, there’s the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year: goblin mode. For the first time, the public voted on the word of the year. The contenders were goblin mode, metaverse and #IStandWith. Goblin mode is defined as “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” I am not aware of this term. Guess it shows you how old and out of it I am. Unless this is a British thing? What do you all think? Have you heard of “goblin mode”? For more on this: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/goblin-mode-selected-as-oxfords-2022-word-of-the-year-180981245/

The American Dialect Society will select its word of the year at its annual meeting in January 2023. They are accepting nominations through December 28th. https://www.americandialect.org/now-accepting-nominations-for-2022-word-of-the-year 

In other news, a reminder that the price for the California Crime Writers Conference goes up January 1st. It’s being held June 10 and 11, 2023 in Culver City, in person! You don’t have to live in California to attend. For more information and to register go to https://ccwconference.org/

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Leap of Faith

 by Charlotte Hinger

I'm building on Johnny D. Boggs's blog this week. He wrote about a series of seemingly bad breaks that were catalysts to better developments. He's at the top of his game today and a multiple award winning author. In every conceivable genre. Except songwriting, I think. This man has awesome credentials.

He's where he is today because he didn't quit. I've read a number of articles he's written about writing and at no point have I read that he considered quitting. 

Once in a while when I give talks or presentations I come across a person who tells me they submitted a manuscript--either a book or a short story--once, and if they were rejected, they never sent it out again. 

That's fatal, of course. Writing is no arena for the faint-hearted. Yet, I remember, I remember, when I was beginning, when my heart was in my throat, and my anxiety increased every hour while I waited for the postman. This was in the days when manuscripts were always mailed. I printed my books on pristine white paper of a certain weight and mailed them off in a double box manufactured especially for manuscripts. My labels were perfectly typed.

I decided it was the secret to eternal life. I couldn't imagine dying when I had a manuscript off to a publishing house. The suspense would keep me alive forever. This of course, was a lifetime ago, when editors always responded to submissions. Usually, negatively, and with a form rejection. But it was a response, nevertheless. 

It was possible for editors to participate in this kind of courtesy because they were not inundated with the insane volume of submissions they deal with today. At the time my first novel was published, there were about 55,000 novels published a year in this country. With the invention of the internet and ebooks, self publishing has exploded and the annual tally of novels is close to four million. No wonder personal comments from editors are a thing of the past. 

Nevertheless, this truth will always remain: those who succeed never quit. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

What's Rattling Around in Your Head?

 by Thomas Kies

Back in September, during the two nights that the local community theater troupe performed Death of an Author which was my first foray into playwriting, the emcee kicked off the evening with a monologue.  In her speech to the sold-out crowds, she described the books that I had written. It was germane to the dinner theater since the characters were all based on my Geneva Chase novels.

The first book she described was Random Road where six nude bodies were found hacked to death on an island.  The book also goes on to talk about sex clubs and swingers. 

In the second book, Darkness Lane, Geneva Chase has a brief, tawdry affair with a lascivious actor.  

The third book, Graveyard Bay, is about escaped convicts and dungeons, a dominatrix, and S&M.

By design, I was sitting in a back corner where I could view the performance, eat dinner, and drink a glass of wine.  At the point in time the emcee described the book about a dominatrix and S&M, ladies sitting at a table near me who weren’t familiar with my books were turning and giving me long, curious stares.  

This past Thursday night, I was at one of two holiday parties my wife and I attended, and the wife of one of our community leaders came up to me and told me she had read all of my books, including my latest, Whisper Room, having to do with
an escort service run by women.  She smiled at me and said, “You know, I held out your latest book and told Jim that he should read this. He won’t believe that this all came out of your head.”

I get that a lot, from friends, from clients, from neighbors.  Where on earth does this stuff come from?  Often, they’ll ask my wife, “Aren’t you concerned?”

She simply replies, “I sleep with one eye open.” 

After working for newspapers and magazines for over thirty years, I've seen some strange things, been in some decadent places, and met some scary people. So, I can draw upon that while I’m writing, but more importantly, I draw upon my imagination.  

As writers, the characters that we create might share some characteristics or bear a resemblance to people we know, but they’re figments of our imagination.  That includes the good guys as well as the bad guys.  And let’s be honest, aren’t the villains fun to write? Isn’t it a kick to be evil, even if it’s just on paper, to increase the tension and to the suspense of a story? 

The good guys, the bad guys, the peripheral characters…they're all us, the writers. Writing fiction is about as close to being schizophrenic as you can be, I think. As a writer, don’t you hear voices in your head?  The dialogue is playing out while you’re driving to the grocery store? A plot twist appears when you least expect it like while you’re taking a shower or having breakfast?

Once, a friend of ours, who aslo happened to be a fan, told me, “You think about death a lot.”

Yeah, crime novelists think about death a lot. I think we all have a lot of dark shadows lurking in our heads, rattling around in our skulls.  Mystery novelists just allow those shadows to slither out of our heads and onto a blank sheet of paper. 

Friday, December 09, 2022


By Johnny D. Boggs

Today is December 9, which has me remembering 31 years ago.

December 7, 1991: I'm assistant sports editor/nights at the Dallas Times Herald when we move into our first house, an adorable two-bedroom 1 1/2-bath Austin stone home built in 1941. December 7? That doesn't bode well, I joke.

December 8, 1991: The first phone call I receive in my first house comes from a friend at the rival Dallas Morning News. She says: "Uhhh, there's a strong rumor going around here that we've bought the Times Herald and are shutting it down."

It wasn't just a rumor. I went to work that day to put out the last edition of the Dallas Times Herald. Eleven hundred people were out of work.

Somehow there was one massive party at my house after we put out that last edition and drank champagne in the newsroom.

Months later, I landed a job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But during those months, to supplement the unemployment check from Uncle Sam, I started querying magazines and submitting articles on spec. I gave serious attention to that first novel I kept saying I'd write.

At one point, a former colleague, who had landed a job at a gardening magazine, called to ask if I could drive to a state prison unit in East Texas and write about a horticulture class being taught there. Pay would be 200 bucks. "I thought 'prison,'" he said, "and you were the first person to come to mind."

Hmmm. Since then, magazine assignments have carried me inside Angola three times and Huntsville once.

A week from today I have a novel due at a NY publishing house. I'm contracted for several magazines (no assignment is about maximum-security prisons). I live in an area many people only dream of visiting.

But every year around this time I think back.

If I had not lost my job, and watched many friends move away from DFW and out of my life, would I be here? Or would I still be working in newspapers? Hey, in case you haven't heard, the majority of the newsroom staff at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is striking. Would writing awards decorate my home office? Would I have made connections and deep friendships with fellow writers and editors of fiction and nonfiction? Would I have found the guts to quit my full-time newspaper job and take off to New Mexico on practically a whim in October 1998?

Don't get me wrong. I work my butt off, often seven days a week. Writing for a living is not for everybody. There's no job security, and I'm always keenly aware that there's no guarantee that the book contract I sign won't be the last book contract I sign.

But I'm doing what I want and love to do. Not everyone can say that. And the catalyst came when I lost my job on a dark December day.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

The More Things Change...

I (Donis) haven't been feeling all that well lately. We've had a lot of rain here in the Phoenix area, which is horrible for my head and I haven't really been able to spend time on the computer. I feared at first I had succumbed to the "tripledemic", but it seems not. I did have a Covid booster last week, so that may have contributed to my woes. Anyway, my head is a mess and nothing seems to help right now. but a warm cloth to the forehead. The old remedies work best sometimes.

In 2017, I wrote a novel called Return of the Raven Mocker, which was set during the influenza pandemic of 1918. No one knows for sure how many died in the flu pandemic, but modern estimates put the number at somewhere between thirty and fifty million people worldwide. Unlike our recent pandemic, which seemed to target us oldsters, the Spanish flu mainly killed young people, and was so virulent that a person would be fine in the morning and dead by nightfall. Once the disease began to spread, whole communities tried to quarantine themselves. People would mark their doors with a red “X” to let their neighbors know the family was infected. There were few doctors available because of World War I, so nurses were the absolute heroes, keeping people fed and looked after, and often falling ill themselves.

 One of the primary research materials for my novels is always the newspapers of the time, and it was fascinating to see what people knew in 1918 and when they knew it. From the perspective of 100 years on, we know how things turned out. But, like now, they had no cure and no idea what was going to happen. In the early days of the pandemic, the government actually encouraged the press to downplay the seriousness of the situation, because the war was still going on and nothing was to be allowed to interfere with war production!

Then there was the mask business – people were encouraged to wear masks and half the population of the country went insane, sure it was a big government plot! Eventually, factories all over the United States were no longer able to stay open because most of their workers were ill, and the stories in the papers began to change radically, printing all kinds of weird and generally useless advice about how to avoid becoming sick. People died from being dosed with turpentine, coal oil, mercury, ox bile, chicken blood, and other unmentionable home remedies they were given by their well-meaning caretakers. There are modern scientists who believe that some of the deaths in the epidemic were caused by aspirin poisoning rather than the disease. Aspirin was relatively new on the market, and folks may have figured that if a little aspirin was good for fever and aches, then eating whole handfuls every hour was even better if you were really sick. 

However, when you have no cure, there are old remedies that can actually be useful. Garlic really does have antibiotic properties, and was used a lot as a treatment during the 1918 flu outbreak. I found a recipe for garlic soup in an early twentieth century cookbook that called for 24 cloves of garlic to be simmered for an hour in a quart of water. That sounds like it would kill any germ that dares to try and infect you. 

 My great-grandmother swore that placing a bowl of raw onions in a sick room would absorb the ill-humors.  I found a number of remedies that called for binding something to the feet. An 1879 cookbook recommended taking a large horseradish leaf, placing it on a hot shovel to soften if, then folding it and fastening it in the hollow of the foot with a cloth bandage. I also found foot-poultice recipes that used burdock leaves, cabbage, and mullein. All the above are guaranteed to “alleviate pain and promote perspiration”. 

Chicken soup really, really does help. Your mother says so, and so does science. Prohibition was the law in Oklahoma in 1918. Even so, my grandmother’s favorite remedy for fever, cold, or flu, was a hot toddy.  She swore that this never failed to break a fever and rouse a sweat.  A hot toddy is made thus : 1 teacup hot water juice of half a lemon 1 tablespoon sugar 1 jigger Scotch whiskey My grandmother was so enamored of this curative that she made it often, just as a preventative.

As for me and my headache, the toddy didn't do the trick, but at least I didn't care about it so much. That's about all I can write now, Dear Reader. Time for a hot rag on my forehead.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Soldiering on

 I read with interest and dismay Charlotte's post on the rising cost of books, which is forcing publishers out of business and driving away readers. It echoes what I myself have worried about. Inflation is affecting the cost of goods and also forcing people to choose between life's pleasures like reading and food on the table or a roof over their heads. Books themselves are not immune to the pressures of inflation, nor are the authors and publishers who produce them. Yet trying to price books to reflect when they really cost means people won't buy them and fewer writers will write them, which would be a terrible loss to the richness of our lives.

There are a number of other pressures affecting the demand for books as well. Entertainment through TV and the many streaming platforms provides a hundred ways to lure us from the written word to the visual, easier to digest world of animated storytelling. I say easier to digest because most of the time, reading demands more active engagement, concentration, imagination and effort on the part of the consumer than sitting in front of a screen. And nowadays a screen is always at our fingertips, ready to draw us in, whether we are on the bus, walking down the street, or preparing dinner.

How can we counter this? I am not one of those doomsayers who thinks the book as an entertainment medium is dead. Not everyone reads, but those who do, love it. We find an enchantment and depth that is rarely present in the more fleeting visual media. We can read at our own pace, whether we race breathlessly to the end to find out what happens, or slow down to savour the power or beauty of the author's words, or reread parts to check details we missed. But if authors can't make any sort of living (most of us barely make a living as it is) and publishers can't pay their staff and stay afloat, there will be less diversity and richness in the choice of books, and the only ones that will survive will be the blockbuster bestsellers by tried and true writers or with tried and true formulae. A lean diet indeed.

Are there solutions? What about used books? They are much cheaper and have the added benefit of keeping things out of the landfill. Used bookstores are popping up all over the place as an answer to the  struggles of the retail book industry. The problem with used books is that neither the author nor the publisher makes a single cent from the sale of a used book. Authors make a paltry percentage on the sale of every new book – it's called a royalty and the typical percent is 10%, often less – and publishers rely on book sales to pay not just that 10% to their authors but also to pay for their editors, marketers, publicists, proofreaders, cover designers, and so on. Used books put no money back into the publisher's bank account.

Which brings me to the second solution that's being proposed. Ebooks. Why should they be priced as high as paper books, when a single digital file is used to produce the ebook, which can then be downloaded by hundreds or even millions of readers at no extra cost? There is an argument to be made that ebooks should cost less than paper books for this very reason. I think the price is kept close to the same in order to subsidize the cost of the paper one, and also to ensure that people continue to buy paper books. For now, there are still a lot of people who prefer paper (myself included) and others who don't own an ereader..Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages.  

However, paper and printing costs are only part of the publisher's costs. How much will depend on the number of copies printed, the quality of the paper, the length, etc. But much of what the publisher spends, whether it's a self-published or traditionally published book, goes to pay the editor(s), proofreader, designer, cover artist, publicist, accountant, and all the sales and marketing people who work to actually get the book into the public eye. And once they have paid all those costs, paid the author's 10%, and given the bookseller a slice of the remaining pie, the profit margin is very slim. 

It's a mug's game, really. Those who are in it, from the author to the publisher to the bookstore owner, are usually in it not for the piles of money but for the love of books.

My new Amanda Doucette book, WRECK BAY, is coming out in January. Despite the dire predictions about dwindling book saes and shrinking markets, I am still going to work hard to let people know about it. We authors are usually excited about our works and eager to share them with readers. I hope to have a couple of in-person launch parties in Ottawa and Toronto, because there is nothing like talking about the book to real people rather than to a disembodied thumbnail photo on the edge of the screen. And I am also thinking of setting up some good old-fashioned book tours like the ones I did in years past, driving to libraries and bookstores within a two-day radius of home to do readings and signings. Winter weather always presents a challenge in Canada, where snow and ice can create havoc with the best-laid plans. But winter doesn't last forever. 

I don't begin to break even on these trips, but that's not the point. They are fun, they get me out of my garret, which has been really isolating during the pandemic, and I make connections not only with readers but with librarians, and booksellers, who are an author's best friend and biggest ally. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Price Hike

 by Charlotte Hinger

Egads! I give my daughters, sons-in-laws, (or their significant others) and grandchildren books for Christmas. Always! In addition to anything else that I think they might need or enjoy. 

This year, I'm simply stunned by the price of books. John Irving has a new novel and Michele loves this author. But the book is $36.00 and I have fifteen people to buy for. Ironically, this year there is an abundance of books that will appeal to my family. 

Readers have balked at paying these prices. Realistically, publishers can't produce cheaper books. Sales have been profoundly affected. 

Houses that have been around for a long time have simply closed their doors. Sadly, Five Star (Gale/Cengage) is going out of business. This is not a bankruptcy move. They have simply made a strategic decision to meld into Thorndike Publishing Group, which is a dominant supplier  of large print books to libraries. Thorndike only buys books that have already been published. 

In a recent video presentation to its authors, the Five Star representative said the company can longer longer sustain the expense of acquiring, editing, and promoting its line of books. Cover design and the artistic aspects also involved a chunk of money. This imprint was a huge publisher of novels about the American West. Particularly appreciated has been the Frontier Fiction line, edited by Tiffany Schofield. The house was outstanding in its support for authors and impeccable production standards. 

Nevertheless I can't figure why the price of ebooks has risen so much. Equally bewildering are new novels with a price tag for the paperback edition more than the hardcover version. 

If I had used my head, I would have hit our library's used book sale. But I didn't. We have a great used books store, 2nd and Charles so I'll look there. 

Since I'm an Amazon Prime member, I'll have books shipped directly to my North Carolina daughters and hand deliver books to all of my Colorado people. 

Uh-oh. I forgot. There's the price of gas now too. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Handy-Dandy Things to Know

 Frankie here. 

This week I had been invited to do a writing workshop at a college the next city over. On Tuesday  afternoon  I prepared my Power Point slides that would keep me on track as I talked about the writing process. On Wednesday morning, I wrote for a couple of hours. Then I had lunch and got dressed. The class meets at 2 pm, and I wanted to leave home at around 1 pm. That would have given me about half and hour to spare after I drove over and found street parking. (Note the foreshadowing!)

Since I rarely go to this other city, I got out my GPS. Sitting in the driveway I put in the address that I had found on the college website. Then I backed out into the street with my comforting female GPS voice telling me which way to turn.  

I alread knew that, so I ignored her instructions. Then we got to the exit that the directions online had identified. She agreed. I glancded at my dashboard clock and relaxed. I was on schedule. 

Following her instructions about when and where to turn, I found "2nd Avenue" and saw some buildings that looked large enoungh to belong to an urban college campus. I even saw some young people waiting at a bus stop in front of one of them.

"Nailed it!" I thought.  

I was doubtful about whether I should park in what seemed to be a visitors lot because the instructor of the class had said there was a parking lot (and circled it on the map she had sent me). But she also had said it was easier to find a parking place on the street. Were there so few visitors to the campus that this lot was only half-full? And why hadn't she suggested I park there. 

But the GPS had brought me there. I got out and trotted over to the people waiting in line at the bus stop. I asked a young man if he could point me toward the campus center, He looked puzzled and shook his head. Several other people turned to look at me, and I asked the line of about ten people if anyone knew. That was when I thought to ask if I was actually on the college campus. They all shook their heads.

Panicking, I hurried back to my car. I found the address I  had written down and checked what I had put in my GPS. Both the same.

With the clock ticking, I dug in my shoulder bag for my phone and started scrolling through my emails for the one out of seven or eight in which the instructor had sent me her phone number. I sighed with relief when my phone rang. She was calling to make sure I was on the way. 

I explained my dilemma and gave her my street location. She laughed and said, "You're on 2nd Avenue. You want 2nd Street." 

She assured me there was no need to panic. She had the room for two hours and I was nearby. 

She was right. I was there in six minutes. I spent another seven trying to parallel park with traffic behind me. Not one of my skills even when I'm on an empty street. I passed my driver's license test as a teenager after my father and I had spent several Sunday mornings in an empty parking lot. He discovered that there was a crack in the sidewalk that could use as a marker when I begin backing in. . It worked. I have gotten better over the years, but not when I am rattled. 

I gave up. Pulling into an illegal spot, I called to let the instructor know I was there. I mentioned going down the side street at the corrner to find a spot and she said that would work.  She said she would come out to meet me on the 2nd Street side of the campus green. She would be wearing a pink sweater.

I was in luck on the side street. Half way down, I found lots of parking space just beyond the last car in the line. I grabbed my tote bag and headed toward the building -- turning in the wrong direction on the campus sidewalk, but making a course direction.  I sent up a silent cheer when I saw the instructor in her pink sweater waving from the other side of the lawn. We met, she greeted me with a smile and introduced herself -- probably to reassure me that I hadn't found the wrong woman in a pink sweater. 

I walked into the class after a quick stop in the women's room to wipe my damp face (remember the rain shower). Hoping for laughter, I joked that my protagonists had a much better sense of direction than I did. They were amused. I had emailed my Power Point slides and the instructor had them up and ready to go. Even the students who were Zooming in from London were there and waiting. 

The presentation went well, and I got to the Q and A. We were discussing writing a series when I heard myself say that it was important to think about the skill set that a protagonist might need several books later. I mentioned that in my fifth Lizzie Stuart novel she had needed to be able to swim when she found herself in a car in the water. She had been taking swimming lessons. 

The thing was that I was sure I had mentioned that in an earlier book and said I had. But later I wondered if I had. I thought it was in the third book -- but in that book she had been training to take part in a half-marathon. The training was important to the plot, and she had made it through with the other walkers. 

The question about what Lizzie now knows and how and why she knows it made me stop to ponder what every good series protagonist should know. When I glanced at my bookcase, I saw the books I have collected over the years. There was The Boys' Book: How to Be the Best at Everything. I could also see The Survival Handbook for Everyone. I knew that in another bookcase I have the Official Army Survival Handbook and a field guide to doing the things Girl Scouts learn to do.

I also have books on how to play chess and a box containing yarn and an introduction to knitting. I have a magnet on my refrigerator about wines. I have a handbooks on riding horses (took lessons) and doing first aid. Whenever I see a book about how to do something I snag it. If Lizzie is ever in a hotel room and awaken by a smoke alarm or lost in the woods, she will have read about what to do. Even if I didn't say she was taking swimming lessons, I did mention that she had the Army Survival Guide. That had amused John Quinn, her boy friend, because he is a former Army Ranger. 

But I've been pondering how many handy skills I should give my third protagonist Jo Radcliffe. She was an Army nurse during World War II and served abroad. She is home again now, and she has only appeared in two short stories. 

I am going to take my own advice and give this some thought. I got lucky with Lizzie because she is the type of bookworm who would have read about things that she can't do. She decided to add to her skill set when she met a man who can do things she can't. But Jo Radcliffe is going to be too busy working as a public health nurse to learn what she doesn't know. 

I'm glad I remembered that. One thing for sure -- she will have a better sense of direction than I do. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Punctuation Rules and Quotation Marks


by Sybil Johnson

I enjoyed the post on Monday by Thomas on breaking rules and quotation marks. (FYI, I really dislike it when people don’t use quotation marks for speech in fiction.) It reminded me of the time when I went down the punctuation rabbit hole. I wrote about it in a post a couple years ago. Since then I’ve found another book by David Crystal, Spell It Out, about the history of English spelling.

I thought I’d rerun that post today because sometimes it's fun to revisit stuff. FYI, my Swedish is getting better thanks to Duolingo. So here it is...

Going Down the Punctuation Rabbit Hole 

 Exclamation marks, periods, semicolons... We use them every day and don’t think anything about it. They’ve always been there for us. We think of them as being necessary for the written word. But they didn’t always exist. Even spaces between words or divisions into paragraphs wasn’t there when written language came about. 

I’ve seen this myself from the years I’ve spent studying Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Coptic. Nary a space in sight. It’s amazing how fast you can get used to figuring out where words and sentences begin and end. Or, in the case of AE, what direction the text is written in.

 But I didn’t really know anything about when punctuation marks came into being. I still know only a little, but I’m finding it a fascinating topic.

 This whole foray into the history of punctuation started when I read a post by author Kathleen Valenti on Chicks on the Case about exclamation points. https://chicksonthecase.com/2020/07/31/oh-exclamation-point/  I, myself, am a heavy user of exclamation points in emails and letters. I’ve learned to rarely, if ever, use them in stories I write.

Her post got me thinking about the several semesters I took of Swedish (don’t ask me to translate anything, ‘cause I’ve pretty much forgotten it all). I had this vague memory that the use of ! in Swedish differs from how we use it in English. So I did a little googling and found an article on the top 5 mistakes Swedes make when writing English. Number 1(!) was in the use of the exclamation mark. In Swedish it’s used to indicate a positive friendly tone while in English we tend to think of someone shouting or being overly excited about something.

This got me thinking about how punctuation marks came about in general. So I did more googling and came across this article by Keith Houston on “The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation.”

That led me to his book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks where I’ve learned a bit about the pilcrow, the interrobang and other symbols like the at sign and hyphen. I’m still in the process of reading the book, but it’s great so far.

I also found the book Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. This one gives a history of punctuation in English as well as advice on how to use it.

From what I’ve read so far, written texts were seen as an aid to reading aloud. Reading silently was a tad suspicious. So letters were all caps, squished together with no punctuation. Aristophanes in 200 B.C.ish came up with the first forms of punctuation to help with reading aloud. That didn’t stick. But punctuation started gradually being added until, in the 7th century, spaces in English was common practice and reading silently was no longer suspect. Basically, our current punctuation has its roots in the middle ages and was pretty much set when the printing press was invented.

There’s so much more to learn and it’s much more complicated than I’m making out. You’ll just have to pick up one of those books and see for yourself. The interrobang is an interesting little twist. It’s a cross between an exclamation mark and a question mark and was invented in the 1960s. You can put it in your Word documents by using the Wingdings 2 font. You can read a short history of it here.

Yes, you’re right, I’ve seriously gone down the rabbit hole on punctuation and I’m enjoying every single minute of it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Thanksgiving With the Family

 by Charlotte Hinger

There's nothing like a Thanksgiving trip to Pensacola, Florida. My nephew, Charles Mader and his wife, Brenda host a massive dinner every three years. This container of punch says everything about the spirit of the celebration.

Brenda is a gourmet cook. She seated 55 persons around their gorgeous backyard pool. I don't think anyone came up with an accurate count of all the animals, let alone the children. The pool of deserts was staggering and I think she cooked three turkeys and a ham.

 Among the entertainment highlights was bocce. Everyone can play. Even someone like me. All ages loved it. In this photo Chuck Mader is explaining the rules to his sister and visiting cousins. 

I also got to see my first ice hockey game and loved it. 

And the day after we went to an absolutely whopping club called FloraBama that's right on the Florida Alabama line. Bands play around the clock. It's open 24 hours a day. The place swarms with children until 5:30, then they have to leave. We were there during the day, so I have no idea what goes on after sundown. 

Do writers write about their families? I don't. At least not overtly. But there's no denying how much my wonderful goofy extended family shapes my attitudes and my memories. 

There's now a wistfulness creeping into my psychology when I remember times past. Happy memories of family celebrations. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Rules, Breaking Rules, and Quotation Marks

 by Thomas Kies

When I begin a Creative Writing class, I write two things on the whiteboard.  The first thing I write is the word “Rules”

I tell the class that I’ll talk to them about what I know about the rules of writing, such as they are.  For example, when you’re submitting work to an agent or to a publisher, your manuscript should be double spaced and in twelve-point Times New Roman type font. 

I’ll talk to them about using adverbs judiciously…or not at all. 

I’ll show them that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  Read critically.  What was it about that last book you read that you like and what didn’t you like?  Could it have been made stronger? Was there something the writer could have left out?

We discuss how to create engaging characters complete with good traits, flaws, physical descriptions, and backstories.  We talk about how even the villains have some redeeming characteristics. 

We experiment with dialogue, showing what characters are doing while they’re speaking and not using dialogue tags like “He said” and “She Said”.  

So, after I write the word “Rules” on the whiteboard, I immediately follow it up by writing the words “No Rules”.  Because in the end, most writers break the rules.  Although, it’s often at our own peril. 

I’m reading a writer right now who breaks a boatload of rules.  I’m wading through Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, his first book since releasing The Road back in 2006. 

One rule he breaks?  Quotation marks.  He simply doesn’t use them.  In his Oprah Winfrey interview, he says MacKinlay Kantor was the first writer he read who left them out. McCarthy stresses that this way of writing dialogue requires particular deliberation. You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks and write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.

Other writers who refused to use quotation marks were E.L.Doctorow and James Joyce.

Apostrophes…doesn’t use those either.  In his New York Times Book Review piece, John Jeremiah Sullivan said, “McCarthy does that, he takes out the apostrophes. He told Oprah in a 2008 interview that he doesn’t like semicolons and quotation marks either. They clutter. Too many “weird little marks.” But the problem with clutter is distraction. And what is distracting are words that lack punctuation where ordinarily there would be some.”

I’m about two-thirds through The Passenger. Am I loving it?  Yes and no. McCarthy is a remarkable writer and I find some of the passages in this book are sheer poetry.  The dialogue is crisp and snappy,
but I have to work at figuring out who is saying what and yes, I find it a distraction.  It’s still a hell of a well-written book. 

My lesson? If you’re going break the rules, you best be a really good storyteller. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

 Journalism 101

By Johnny D. Boggs

After two-plus years of writing, rewriting, screaming, pulling hair and watching countless movies that feature newspaper journalists, American Newspaper Journalists on Film: Portrayals of the Press During the Sound Era (McFarland) arrived at my front door last week.

Now comes the hard part: Promoting a book that, with a $49.95 price tag, won't entice moms and dads to stick it in stockings for their J-school students -- like any parents want their kid studying journalism these days.

Trust me. My son is majoring in journalism. Didn't you hear all my horror stories about working in newspapers?

Writing this book reminded me of why I'd rather write fiction.

1. Footnotes.

2. Facts.

But it also reminded me of why, even though I predominantly write fiction, I consider myself a journalist.

Instead of who-what-where-when-why, I ask, What if? I also ask tons of questions before typing a sentence. 

Besides, I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't spent nigh 20 years in the field as a high school and college student and as a professional in the then-competitive Dallas-Fort Worth market for two Pulitzer Prize-winning dailies.

I learned:

√ Get Your Facts Right: Sure, I make stuff up in my fiction, but by throwing in enough tidbits that are accurate, you lure readers into accepting your world as though Bob Woodward has vetted it.

√ Deadlines Are Not Figments of An Editor's Imagination: Flashback -- alone in the press box after a high school football game, the lights go off. In complete darkness, I run outside, yelling: "I'm STILL here!" No one is in earshot or cares. After grabbing my notes and Trash 80 (the world's worst laptop), I run down the stands and dash to the gate. Which is locked. I shove my stuff under the fence. Climb up chain-link and over razor wire. Jump down. Get my computer and notes. Run to my Datsun B-210, speed to a payphone. Finish typing the story. Hook up those silly acoustic couplers. And file the piece to the copy desk. On time.

√ At a Minimum, Get Two Sides to a Story: The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

√ Think Before You Type: Empathy is the key when writing fiction. And always be fair.

√ Never Back into Your Lead: The best scene in The Post (2017), for me, twice a copy-desk chief, is after reporters finish their story and it goes to the copy editor, who takes a pencil and scratches out the first line.

The Post isn't a great movie, but I laugh every time at that scene (which isn't played for laughs). I also love this scene in The Paper (1993), also not a great film: A reporter chains his chair to his newsroom desk.

I swear, I worked with men and women just like that.

Yeah, there's a line Humphrey Bogart, playing a NYC daily's managing editor, says in Deadline - U.S.A. (1952) that, even when I'm recalling newspaper horror stories, I agree with 100 percent:

"It may not be the oldest profession, but it's the best." 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

 Since all you Americans are eating yourselves into a stupor today, I thought I'd add to the joy by reprinting a beloved Casey family holiday recipe for your future noshing pleasure. This is called Impossible Pumpkin Pie, and it is easy as, well, pie. It should be eaten with about a quart of whipped cream, according to family members who shall remain nameless. Peace and Love, Donis.

Impossible Pumpkin Pie

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

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)

1 can (16 oz) pumpkin

2 tsp. butter

2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 can (13 oz.) evaporated milk

2 tsp. vanilla

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The hazards of "how to"

 I read Charlotte's Tuesday post with interest, remembering the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly of my critiquing experiences. Some of my memories made me cringe, as it was me being the ugly one.

I've been writing all my life, since I was six and could first print words. For most of it I've been self-taught, like Charlotte. Words and stories poured out of me, and I had little regard for style or perfection. At one point in my early twenties I had some time off and decided to sign up for a creative writing class. This was small-group, workshop-style, and we submitted a chapter or short story to the group for critiquing the next week. Most of us were beginners, and we were given no guidance from the instructor on the do's and don'ts of good critiquing.

The result was a bit of a blood bath. Stories were ripped to shreds, sometimes for the sake of sounding clever or more skilled than the writer. I confess I too was guilty of this. It's so much easier to see what's wrong with a piece than what's right. Much easier than making useful suggestions. And when suggestions were made, they were along the lines of " I think you should.."  or "this is how I would write the story", with little regard for the fact it wasn't their story. After one particularly brutal blood bath (on an admittedly cliched and shallow piece of writing), the young man never came back to class. That memory bothers me still. We are all sensitive at our core - it's what makes us capable of the empathy and imagination needed to write in the first place. No matter how bad the piece is, we have poured our hearts into it and it is a part of us. 

That should never be so carelessly crushed.

That group put me off writing courses and critiquing groups for years. I continued to be self-taught. In fact, I was completely turned off by those who claimed to have found the secret to writing the perfect novel. All those "how to" books and talks that promised success if you follow these rules. A confession - I've never been fond of rules. Tell me this is the way you should do something, and I'm heading in the opposite direction. I've always wanted to do my own thing. So I soldiered on, reading about writing, reading great writers, gradually getting a sense about what worked and didn't.

Luckily for me, somewhere around my mid-century mark, when I started to think more seriously aboutgetting published, I did join a critiquing group of fellow beginner crime writers. We were all feeling our way and by then were mature enough to understand the sensitive task we were being trusted with. The first couple of groups had its ups and downs, and with their help I got my first couple of books published. We learned to set rules for feedback, to focus our comments constructively, and to avoid rewriting the story our way (mostly).

I later found my way to my present critiquing group, the Ladies Killing Circle, with whom I have stayed ever since. At this point we are more friends than a critiquing group. We yak about writing, pitch plot ideas, and may or may not read each other's work before we send it off. I almost always ask for a read-through once I have polished a book to the best I can make it. They act as my beta readers, finding flagrant flaws and questionable characterizations before the book lands on the editor's desk. They are my best friends and after nearly a quarter century, I trust them to handle my words with care. If you can find this kind of group, cherish it!

I believe everyone has to find the way to write a novel that works for them. Not everyone outlines, not everyone does character backstories, and to shoehorn yourself into an inappropriate approach that doesn't give you the room to breathe and discover, dooms you to failure. 

That said, I have found articles or workshops on specific topics useful. Articles on understanding POV, creating setting, or capturing dialogue can be enormously helpful to strengthening your writing, and we always hope to get better and better. I've even written some myself.

But the best way to approach them is to think of them as signposts rather than traffic signals. Not "right turn only" or "wrong way", but "consider this" or "if you do this, it has that effect."

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Too Dumb for Words

by Charlotte Hinger

Janet Hutchings, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, asked me to create a blog post for their on-line blog. Her guests blog about suspense, short stories and the mystery-fiction scene. I was delighted to have the opportunity. Here's the link to my post: 

The Bliss of Ignorance (by Charlotte Hinger) | SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN

Last Monday, Thomas Kies, had a great post about how he conducts his writing class. I can't applaud him enough. What a great approach. His classes are kind and helpful. He does his best to help his students achieve their goals. It says the world about the kind of man he is. 

My post was about my lack of writing education when I began my career. I was literally self-taught. Yet, in some ways I was better off because I never heard the discouraging words so many newcomers have to endure.

After a friend of mine read my post she said she wished she had never taken graduate courses in creative writing. That, and a critique group convinced her she had no business ever submitting a thing. She's just now getting her first novel published after picking herself up years later and working up the courage to try again.  

Another friend told me her writing classes leached all creativity from her years ago. She will never write now. 

This just burns me up! What in the world is going on? I didn't have access to either liberal arts colleges or writing groups in the little Western Kansas prairie town I lived in. I learned all the publication processes from books and magazines. What a luxury to learn without pressure. 

I attended my first writing group as a guest of a friend in another state. I had just finished Come Spring, a historical novel, which was later published by Simon and Schuster. I was in awe of the cultured well-dressed attendees. Yet, by the evening's end, I decided it was the meanest group of women I had ever come across. They absolutely slaughtered the work of the only one there who was writing a novel.

How could that poor timid little soul take that week after week? That's the real story of what soured me toward writing groups. I was glad I didn't have any part of my manuscript with me. I would have been expected to read it and probably would never have submitted my work after the group "helped me."

Again, what in the world is going on?

 I can't abide cruelty in any form. It's especially egregious when it comes to creativity. It doesn't take much to blow the flame out of candles. 

Three cheers for Thomas Kies. If you haven't read his post, do so. It a model example of the right way to teach a difficult subject.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Breaking up is hard to do

 The thing about life is that things end. One season become another, one minute becomes another. Life goes its own inexorable way and there comes a time when we have to change.

As the saying goes, the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

It's time for me, and my moving fingers, to move on.

As Neil Sedaka almost wrote, this will be our last post together.

I've been privileged to contribute meanderings here every second Monday for almost two years. I'm sure some have been more interesting than others. I'm also sure that's a highly sliding scale.

Workload, changing circumstances, the inability to simply organise my time properly mean that I have to reluctantly hand in my keys to the Type M executive washroom. 

I hope regular readers have enjoyed at least some of my monkeyshines.

I know I have. 

But the tra-la days are over and there's no other way for me to say goodbye but this -

Keep reading. Keep writing. And, if you can, keep smiling.

Driving rain

 The story so far: It's Book Week Scotland and crime writers are criss-crossing the country visiting libraries and other venues like bandits on the lam. Sometimes they meet, other times they go solo. But it's November. It's Scotland. And the elements are waiting...

The rain is hitting my windscreen as if it's trying to get through the glass. The wipers are making a game attempt to keep the road ahead in view but in fact they are only waving goodbye to clear sight. The tarmac is becoming a pool, the lights of the approaching vehicles are smeared by the monsoon. It's only 4pm but it's already as black as the earl of hell's waistcoat. 

And I'm still 50 miles from safe haven.

Not for the first time I wonder what in the name of all that's holy I'm doing out in this. The weather report tells me it's only going to get worse the further east I go but still keep the nose of my car pointed away from a sun that's setting somewhere behind the impenetrable murk in my rear view. 

Nobody will come out on a night like this, surely.

(Don't call me Shirley)

I'll get to the venue and probably be the only person in the room, apart from library staff. Okay, that's happened before and on bright summer nights, too, but seriously, what are you thinking about?

I'll tell you - because this is what I do. I'm a writer and that means more than just sitting in a garret awaiting for the heavenly muse to alight on the forehead like an angel's kiss. It means getting out there and meeting the people who matter - the readers. They're the ones who part with their hard-earned folding green to buy the books, whether physical or digital or audio, and borrow them from libraries.

But even they would be daunted by this weather, surely.

(What did I tell you?)

So I keep on keeping on. Like the postal service, this male will get through.

Like wethar, this has been the worst spell of weather all week. The first three trips were all dry but here we are, Thursday night, and it's like the end of the only decent Superman movie and the dam has burst. Only the big guy isn't going to make the earth spin backwards and reverse time.


At first it didn't look as if there was going to be an audience but slowly, in ones and twos, they arrived in the library's events room. They are a hardy bunch, Dundonians. They were't going to let something like a little precipitation prevent them from turning out to hear three crime writers talk about their craft. The roads may have been flooded but there they are, listening, laughing and - importantly - asking decent questions. As did the audiences at all three sessions I attended.

It's the final event of my Book Week Scotland. They have all been hugely enjoyable because, as I said the last time we were together, it's important to have that kind of contact.

Because that's what it's all about, surely.

(Don't make me come over there...)

Friday, November 18, 2022

In Search of a Title

This post is going to be short because I'm trying to finish my nonfiction book about gangster movies and get it out before Thanksgiving Day. 

But I also have a third Hannah McCabe police procedural simmering on the backburner. It isn't my next book. That's the historical thriller in which McCabe and Baxter will appear as secondary characters. After that I'll work on my 6th Lizzie Stuart book. But the third McCabe book is in the queue. I'm making notes as plot ideas come to me. 

I know who the victim will be -- a former private school teacher who has written a best-selling book about wolves and people. She's back in Albany to make a presentation at a conference about human-animal connections. Urban explorers find her body in a deserted building.

As I've mentioned before, I need to find a title before I can get deep into a writing project. In this case, I need to find a title before I can even do a backburner outline. The first two books have an animal on the cover. The first book -- The Red Queen Dies -- has the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The second has the fly from "Who Killed Cock Robin?" who sees with his little eye. Although I guess a fly is techically an insect. . .

In the third book I want to use a wolf as the theme animal. The human murder victim is an advocate for reintroducing wolves to the Adirondacks. In addition to her research on wolf packs, she has been studying coywolves  (coyote-wolf hybrids) who have found their way into cities. She argues that wolves have been the victims of negative stereotyping. So the wolves are not "bad" animals in this book. That rules out titles that reference stereotypes of wolves as predators (e.g., "The Wolf's Prey").

I'm collecting titles to play with as I ponder. Any ideas would be appreciated. Even if your suggestion doesn't fit "as is" I might be able to make use of it. 

I'm a week early, but have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Slow boil

I started reading “The Chain,” by Adrian McKinty, recently, and I’m loving it. The premise alone is riveting, especially to a parent, and even more so to a parent who is active on social media.

More than the riveting plot, though, I find the book captivating because it’s written in present tense. I’ve experimented with present tense previously, to varying degrees of success (probably more losses than wins, if I’m being honest). I recently finished writing a novel featuring a first-person narrator and chapters featuring other third-person points of views (no one’s done the bounce between first-person speaker and other third-person voices as well as Tony Hillerman).

I even have one chapter told in present tense. My present-tense chapter is an action scene, a shift from past tense to present to propel readers through a climactic scene in a way that I hope isn’t too jarring. We’ll see.

As my agent prepares to submit that book, I’m starting the sequel, and have toyed with the idea of writing it in present tense. Which begs the question: How does one decide if their story should be told in present tense?

For me, the decision is about consistency and pace.

My protagonist uses the first person. Present tense wouldn’t be appropriate. But more than that, I love the novels of Ross Macdonald, and those books aren’t thrillers; they’re detective novels. The pace is a slow burn, low heat that warms to a boil. Those are the novels I grew up with and still turn to often. And they are the novels I want to write.

You can't talk about POV without John Gardner's "Psychic Distance" chart from his book "The Art of Fiction":

  1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
  2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
  3. Henry hated snowstorms.
  4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
  5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.
Rule of thumb, according to Gardner: You cannot move closer that the point at which you start. (I tell students to try to read the list out of order to understand that.)

I’d love to hear from other Type M authors and readers: What are your thoughts on the use of the present-tense narration?