Thursday, March 31, 2022

Ink-Stained Wretch

 Did you ever have one of those days? That's a silly question, I suppose. Since the dawn of 2020 all of us have been having one of those decades. However, even in the midst of a problematic year some days are more problematic than others. I had one of those days last Monday.  In fact, the troubles started on Saturday and built up until it exploded into to a Keystone Kops-like comedy of irritations and annoyances.

My year-old router began to malfunction over the weekend. At first I didn't know it was the router. I was blaming Cox for our wifi blinking out a couple of times a day, mainly because when we called the helpline and activated the automatic reboot, it worked. Until it didn't. I finally got hold of a person to talk to, who did that voodoo they do and determined it wasn't them, by gosh, and it wasn't our modem either, which was working fine.

The lovely young man from Cox then offered to switch us to a combination router/modem for even less money than we currently pay for our service. So I say dandy! I can return their rented modem and pick up said piece of combo equipment at a nearby Cox store on Monday. In the meantime, young man reboots me one more time so I can continue working over the weekend.

Monday morning I arise, raring to go, walk into the kitchen to find it covered in ants. I spend an hour murdering ants with citrus fruit wash and wiping up ant bodies while my husband runs to the store to buy ant traps. Once the counter is purified, I unplug the modem and off we go to the Cox store. All goes smoothly - in fact it's easy as can be - and home we go with our new modem/router combo. 

I hook it up with no trouble, which is an amazing feat in itself, then spend the next hour signing in all our many devices to the new network. The phones and computers are no problem, but the printer nearly drives me out of my mind. At last I get it done, just as husband walks in and announces that the modem/router HUMS. The other modem didn't do this. He calls Cox, finally gets a person, who tells him, No, the device should make no noise at all.

So I unhook the device, put it back in the box, and back to the Cox store we go. When we explain the problem, lovely young tech says, "Oh, we get that complaint a lot. They all do that. It's the fan." Husband, all red in the face, says, "You'd better let your Helpline people know that."

Young lady is apologetic, but says the best she can do is give us another device and hope it doesn't hum as loudly. We take the new device home, I hook it up and re-connect all our varied electronics to yet another new network. This time I cannot get the printer connected to save my life.

Eventually a message comes up on the printer screen that basically says "your printer is discombobulated. Please unplug it, wait a while, and try again." 

An hour later, I renew the siege, and after much coaxing, I manage to get the printer connected. Still doesn't print, though, because now it's out of ink, and I do mean dry as a bone. We really need a new printer, but I just spent nearly $80 for ink and I'll be damned if I'm going to get rid of this one until I get my money's worth out of that ink. I change all the ink cartridges and end up with fingers that look like I still write with a quill pen, but by damn the printer prints.

So now we have excellent fast wifi and a printer that prints, and a modem/router combo in the office/spare bedroom that hums like a mosquito.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Return of great things

I'm late with my post today because I got sucked down the Word Game rabbit hole. I'm up to four different puzzles, each with their own unique challenges. A friend of mine called Wordle the "gateway drug" to this new addiction, and he has a point. One game is such an enjoyable, relaxing way to ease into the day that one is tempted to prolong the experience with another. And another. Pretty soon I've wasted an hour, although at my age, an hour spent teasing the brain while having morning coffee is not really a waste of time. 

As well, I forgot what day it was. That's happened a lot in the past couple of years, and I hope that's not due to the aforementioned age but to the pandemic isolation. My calendar used to be sprinkled with activites, some of them book-related and requiring preparation, whether it be creating a presentation, doing research, or simply finding a decent outfit that hasn't already been all over social media. Oh look, I wore that sweater to three of the last four conferences! For the past two years, my slate has been virtually empty, although perhaps virtual is the wrong word to use. I've had a smattering of virtual appearances at book clubs, libraries, and literary organizations as well as a couple of online conferences. I have come to dread Zoom, although it is easier on the outfits. Only the top half of you needs to look presentable. 

This is a long-winded way of announcing that I have two appearances coming up that I am especially excited about. The first is Noir in the Bar in Toronto - the first time this event has been held in person since you know when. Apart from a couple of drop-by book signings last fall, I have not been able to meet and chat with readers and other authors in person since... In a pub, with wine or beer and decadent wings! The event is April 21 at the Duke of Kent pub, at seven-thirty. More details to come.
The second event is a virtual one, but you can't have everything and this one is ground-breaking. It's been over ten years since the very popular Bloody Words, the only full-scale Canadian mystery conference, ended its run, and the mystery community has felt its absence. Canada is a big, sprawling country with excellent, under-recognized crime writers sprinkled across it, and Bloody Words was our chance to meet each other, network, form suppportive friendships, and share horrors and triumphs. It was our chance to have the spotlight on our work rather than jostling for light in the shadows at the big American and British conferences. Now a group of enterprising Canadian writers has picked up the torch and has launched the very first Maple leaf Mystery Conference, featuring a number of Canadian stars as well as new writers from across Canada. It will be virtual this spring, but I hope to see it go live in the future. There are advantages to virtual; readers and writers can participate from across the country without having to mortgage their souls on flights and accommodations, but an array of thumbnail sketches and a chat bar on the screen are a poor substitute for hugs, laughter, and serendipitous meetings in the bar. There is nothing like the buzz of a real gathering, as I think we are all discovering. But this conference is a beginning! And a huge undertaking for the organizers who are making it all happen. Everyone is welcome from anywhere in the world! Register here.

There are panels from the east and the west, as well as different kinds of crime. I will be moderating the panel on Thrilling and Chilling mysteries. The panel description is hard-boiled and urban tough, but of course that's just a starting point. Thrillers take many forms.

So a huge thank you to Mike Martin and his team for your support. I hope lots of you will check it out and drop by for as many sessions as you like. At $25 for the whole five days, it's money well spent.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Genre Fiction

 My post today is in defense of "genre fiction." It's a follow up to comments by Douglas Skelton. This is the second time I tied my post to his comments. I simply can't help myself. I like what he had to say. 

Right now I'm reading a book on craft that was recommended by one of our own Type M contributors. It's Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses. In the preface he states "Most of the TV we love is very formulaic. Most literary fiction is no different. It meets the expectations of a specific audience." 

We are a reading family. My husband enjoyed reading and heaven knows I easily survived the strictures of the pandemic because I read all of the time. I never have to find time to read any more that I have to find time to breathe. The wonder is that I get anything done at all, let alone write books. 

Our three daughters read and all six grandchildren read. I realize we are very lucky because so often when I speak or give presentations a mother or a grandmother will approach me worried about their kids inability to enjoy books. Society has changed. It seems to me that there are a lot of forces arrayed against books. We are so overwhelmed with printed information that it's no wonder people have been turned off. 

In addition to reading to children, I believe nothing influences children more than the example set by their parents. Instead of always hearing "wait until commercial" they need to hear "wait until I finish this chapter." Grownups can create the impression that reading is one of the most fun activities adults do for pleasure. 

I love reading the award-winning books that walk off with the prestigious prizes. They improve my mind and speak to my soul. In fact, recently I started re-reading some of the books that I read at too young an age. Too young to understand the depths of the themes or the poignancy of the conflicts. 

But in this family of readers, we all have our favorite genres that get us through troubled times. Some of these books are excellent and have become classics in their own right. As contraindicated as it sounds, when I am under a lot of pressure and have too much to do, reading a chapter or two helps me get everything under control. My decompression genre is psychological suspense and mysteries. A little on the dark side.

I tell myself after I read a couple of chapters, I'm going to do xxxxx. Repeat. Repeat. Crazy as it sounds, it gets my enormous to-do list under control. Before long, I can stand to face all of the xxxxx without a sanity break. Then I can put my book aside and tackle my work like a responsible adult.

The daughters' genres are really fascinating. The oldest, Cheryl, is a psychologist. The good doctor has read every Louis L'Amour western ever written. Several times. Much to our amusement, when a professional interior decorator was re-doing her house, she demanded that the classless paperbacks be removed at once. They didn't belong in the same room with her majestic grand piano. Eventually, the designer was vanished and the tattered paperbacks were restored to their rightful place of honor. 

Michele reads childrens' literature when she's maxed out. All the old classics and a bunch of new authors. 

Mary Beth, the youngest, shares my love of mysteries. She has a wee bit of a collector's soul and buys everything Elizabeth George has written.

Ironically, over the years, much of society's most durable literature has come out of "genre fiction." However, when those books reach a certain status, they are then designated as "literary fiction." 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Back in time

 Like many authors I have to do a fair amount of reading, perhaps to provide a publicity puff,  preparation for a panel or research (yeah, been doing a lot of that recently). I seem to have little time to read for pleasure, although I am looking forward to a new one from Robert Crais, by the way. 

Now and again though I pull something down from a shelf just for the sheer hell of it. It will often be something I read many years ago and I don't intend to fully re-reading but merely dip in and see what I think of it now. 

I have books I first read in my teens - yes, I'm a hoarder. Dusty paperbacks, some with cracked spines thanks to much rereading, some with loose pages, a few with covers detached because paperbacks can be so flimsy. Remember, we're not talking books I read yesterday here. Not even the day before that. It's many, many days, weeks, months, years, decades.

I have titles by authors who were hot in their day but some not so much now. Authors whose every new release was keenly anticipated.

Ed McBain I've mentioned many times before but there's also Alistair MacLean (now experiencing something of a resurgence), Robert Ludlum, John Mortimer (creator of Rumpole of the Bailey), Edmund Crispin (my favourite from the Golden Age of Crime Writing), even a number of old Wilbur Smiths (though he did continue to be popular).

But the one I picked up recently was Harold Robbins. His back catalogue is still in print but his name not so recognisable these days.

Good grief, I hear some of you say, how can you sully yourself with such trash?

Well, very easily, actually.

He specialised in bestsellers that were somewhat saucy in places. Think 50 Shades of Grey but less explicit and with a better story. Today we'd call them bonkbusters but his earlier ones were more than that. Many were epic in their scope and saga in their approach.

His most famous work was perhaps 'The Carpetbaggers', a thinly veiled drama based on the life of Howard Hughes. This massive story detailed the rise of Jonas Cord from the wastrel son of a millionaire to one of the most powerful businessmen on the planet. It was about commerce and it was about the movies and it was about how many women Jonas could bed in around 700 pages (a lot, by the way. It's a wonder he had the strength to make his millions).

It even found time to tell a western in the quest by Max Sand - later known as Nevada Smith in the story - to track down the murderers of his parents. When the book was filmed, with George Peppard as Jonas, this section was spun off into a movie of its own with Steve McQueen.

'The Carpetbaggers' was part of a trilogy about the movies and TV that began with 'The Dream Merchants' and ended with 'The Inheritors'. It was a world he knew something about. Harold Robbins had worked for Universal Pictures and then became an independent producer himself, making movies from his early novels. 

But my personal favourite was 'A Stone for Danny Fisher', the two-fisted tale of a young boxer who gets mixed up with the mob. It all ends tragically, of course, just the way I like 'em. It was filmed, too - but as an Elvis Presley musical, 'King Creole' in which the boxing character became a singer and the original New York setting was switched to New Orleans. It worked well enough but I would love to see someone film the book.

Were the books any good? Well, yes and no. The writing was fairly basic and there were decisions made in the storytelling that might raise an eyebrow today. In 'The Inheritors' the story leaps two weeks so abruptly that had me going back to see what I had missed. Nowadays we might pad it out a bit, add something more, have a section break or even begin a new chapter but no, old Harold just ploughed right on. 

Some of the characters were cardboard enough to store cereal in. The women were much too willing to jump into bed with the protagonist and many of them had very little in the way of depth. In fact some of the men were also so shallow that a dive into their gene pool would cause concussion.


There was, for me, a power in that storytelling that held me, even when I picked up 'The Inheritors' and began to leaf through it. Soon I was carried through to the end. Despite all the issues I mention above, I was invested in the plot and I wanted to find out what happened.

I had forgotten how tricky he had been in that storytelling. Timelines slipped back and forward, often without as much as a nod to the reader. I had to be on my toes to keep up with it. 

Yes, it was racy, at least for its day, not so much now. I don't claim any real literary merit - whatever the hell that is - but I found it compelling. At their heart they are soap opera. Without him I don't think we would have had the likes of 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty'. That was the world he so often wrote about, battles in boardroom and bedroom, high finance and high passions. We might not have had Jackie Collins or Sidney Sheldon, perhaps even Arthur Hailey.

There will be those who think we might have been better off but these authors all sold a bundle and brought pleasure to millions. And there's nothing wrong with that. Not everything needs to be a Booker prizewinner. There's room for escapism. Especially now.

The books were very much of their time and that has to be recognised. They could reflect attitudes that we today find troubling and I am not for a minute suggesting that we should applaud them or even return to such things, so don't write in. My purpose today is to highlight how writing styles, even in what they call pulp, has changed. As his career progressed the books became less about the story, more about the sex and they suffered because of it, became less interesting. Some of the storytelling techniques - the shifting timelines, the multi-strand POV - remain in use but the speed of it less so. For instance, 'The Carpetbaggers' today might become a trilogy - yes, he has that much story in those 700 pages but not that much colour. We might spend a little more time on character and less on sensation.

Well, perhaps some of us.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

La Malinche and me

Last month I visited the Denver Art Museum and toured their exhibit of La Malinche. It was an enlightening retrospective about the history and folklore surrounding her with pieces and narratives reflecting the takes by other artists: visual, theatrical, commercial, and literary. I'll admit some sour grapes here because I wasn't invited to contribute, especially since I'm one of the few writers from the US to feature La Malinche in a novel.

So who is La Malinche? She is famous for serving as a translator to the Conquistador general Hernán Cortés and helping him overthrow the Aztec throne. She was an indigenous woman from the land we know today as Mexico, and as a young girl, taken as a slave. Later she was gifted to the Spaniards, where her talents as a translator were valued by Cortés who used her to negotiate with the Aztec emperor Moctezuma and his imperial court. Malinche was not only an expert interpreter but her keen knowledge of local culture and politics allowed Cortés to gain a military advantage over Moctezuma and set into motion the rapid destruction of the Aztec empire.

Because of this, in Mexico "Malinche" is synonymous with "traitor" someone capable of the ultimate betrayal. But over the centuries, and especially more recently, a more complicated appraisal has seeped into popular culture. She is also portrayed as a victim of exploitation and because she bore two children with the Spaniards, a son Martin with Cortés and later, a daughter Maria with her husband Juan Jaramillo (a lieutenant of Cortés), Malinche is regarded by some as the mother of the mestizos, people of mixed Indigenous American and European blood. (If you want to stir the pot, just go to Mexico and ask around what "mestizo" means and you'll get a heated earful about the country's enduring culture of racism. Sound familiar? Colonization on both sides of the border has left one convoluted legacy.) 

Malinche is known by other names such as Malinali, Manitzin, and Doña Marina. In post-colonial Mexico she was again redefined as "La Llorona" (the Crier), the phantom woman who prowls the waterways and lures the unsuspecting to their deaths. Her lamentations seek out her children, whom she drowned in a fit of madness. This myth is that La Llorona is actually Malinche condemned by fate to walk the earth, her children being the Indigenous people she betrayed to the Conquistadors. 

Since the reputation of Malinche is up for grabs, I decided to put my own spin on things. In the second book of my Felix Gomez series, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, we learn that the vampire trickster Coyote was actually her first child. As I was writing that book, I discovered that many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 by the Edict of Expulsion had joined the Conquistadors to escape the attention of the Inquisition. Acevedo was a popular last name adopted by these Jewish refugees. Drawing on this history, I decided that one of these Spanish Jews had a secret tryst with Malinche, who subsequently gave the baby away, to be raised by a guajiro, turned into a vampire, taught the deepest secrets of the supernatural world, and given the name "Coyote" to serve the undead as an enigmatic and mischievous shaman.

It is as La Llorona that Doña Marina herself appears in my novel, Rescue From Planet Pleasure. To rescue another vampire from the aliens, Felix travels to the sacred ground of Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico, where he reunites with Coyote, who's tormented by his mother Doña Marina. Turns out, she's somewhat of a party girl with a friend-with-benefits relationship with El Cucuy, the Mexican bogeyman. And we get to hear her side of the whole "you betrayed Mexico" narrative. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pep Talks From Kindergartners and Other Random Things


Feeling mad, frustrated or nervous? Need words of encouragement? Then Pep Talks from Kindergartners is for you! Just call 1-707-998-8410 now!

This is actually a real thing. I called and selected from a menu. Kindergartners gave me words of encouragement and told me how to deal with being mad or frustrated or nervous. Really very cute. Brought a smile to my face. Cookies and ice cream were mentioned, but they also had some sound advice like going into your bedroom and punching your pillow instead of taking it out on other people.

This is a project of the students of West Side Elementary in Healdsburg, California. You can read more about it here.

Here are a few other random things: 

Lone Star Law – This is a reality show on Animal Planet. I’ve also seen it on the Discovery Channel on occasion and I’m sure it’s on Discovery +. This show follows Game Wardens in the state of Texas. Lots of hunting and fishing and critters of all kinds. I now know more about the hunting and fishing laws in Texas than I ever thought I would know. I’m really quite hooked on it. There’s also Northwoods Law which is Game Wardens in New Hampshire.

The rain in Spain – I’m sure you’re all familiar with “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” I’ve heard it all of my life, but not until I was 26 did I ever see it in print. All of those years I’d been visualizing this sentence completely wrong. For some reason, maybe because I grew up in the Seattle area where Boeing was king, I thought they were talking about a plane. So I always visualized a plane flying over Spain with the rain hitting it and nowhere else. Go ahead, laugh! I laughed at myself and still laugh when I think about this.

Burying the Lede – Until a couple years ago I thought the word after the in this phrase was spelled l-e-a-d. Then I wondered why it was spelled l-e-d-e. A question on Jeopardy! the other day gave me the answer. Apparently, in the time of typesetting newspapers with lead (the metal), journalists spelled the first paragraph of a story (the lead) as l-e-d-e to distinguish it from the lead used in typesetting.

Those are my random thoughts for today. Call for your words of encouragement from those kindergartners. It’s quite fun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Writer's Guidelines

Nearly every publishing house with a website has a "submissions" tab containing instructions for submitting material. Agents also post their requirements. 

Thomas Kies's post give excellent tips on acquiring an agent. About 85% of the books in Barnes and Noble and other chain sellers are published by the large conglomerates that dominate the industry. Most (but not all) will only look at manuscripts submitted through an agency. Agents separate the wheat from the chaff. 

One agent I know said she received 9,000 queries the month after her agency was spotlighted in Writer's Digest. How much time do you suppose she spent reading these letters? You would be amazed at how quickly agents decide which manuscripts they would like to see. 

Thomas mentioned that when he submitted material, he had followed each agent's guidelines exactly. 

That may sound elementary, but it isn't. I wish I had kept track over the years of the number of writers who have told me no one will look at their novel or non-fiction book. If I offer to "help" (That's the subject for another column) I quickly realize that no one--not a soul--has looked at the manuscript. Why? Because the writer ignored the submission guidelines or wrote a poor query letter. 

Here are some of the most egregious errors: 

1. Sending a snail mail letter when the guidelines ask for email submissions.

     I've also seen hand printed coffee-stained letters with the stamp in the wrong place and the editor's name misspelled. 

2. Ignoring the requested format for the query.

    If the agent asks for one page and can see at a glance that your query letter goes on and on for several pages, you're doomed. She knows immediately that you won't follow instructions. 

3.  Assuring the agent that this is the most wonderful manuscript since the first Harry Potter.

     Oh really? They've heard that before. Also, that everyone just loved your manuscript. They don't care who liked it. They care about selling your manuscript. 

4.  Talking about everything but what the agent needs to know.

    Mention up front if your book is psychological suspense, a cozy mystery, a classic who-done-it, a spy novel. And always state the word count. 

The good news in all this is that detailed information about writing query letters can be found on-line. A good query letter is a business letter. It should be short and to the point. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Do You Need an Agent?

Last Friday, I spoke to a group of about thirty people in our county’s writers’ group.  I talked about the number of books I wrote before I finally found an agent (five) and how even if you get an agent, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find a publisher.  

That had actually happened to me in 2001.  The book was called PIECES OF JAKE and it convinced an agent in New York to sign me to a contract. My agent, however, only shopped my book to the top publishers in New York.  He didn’t try any of the indies.  When he couldn’t find a publisher to take me on, he dropped me like a bad habit.

I was devastated. I didn’t write another word for two years.

But in 2016, I found my agent and she found a publisher willing to take a chance on me.

One of the subjects I talked about with my group, was how I found my agent and how important it is, these days, to have one.  It’s getting harder and harder to find a publisher willing to look at an un-agented manuscript. Agents have become the gatekeepers.

They have all the contacts, know the trends, and know who is willing to take a chance on a debut author.  After all, publishing is business and taking on a new author requires an investment from the publishing house. 

One of the questions I got during my talk was-- how much does an agent charge to look at your work?  The answer is no legitimate agent charges to look at your work.  If they sign you to a contract, and if they find a publisher to take you on, and when you get paid your advance, then the agent receives their commission.  And the agent/client relationship can be a lifetime thing.  The agent also gets a percentage of all your royalties.

But the agent is always looking out for their client’s best interest.  Have you ever tried to decipher a contract from a publishing house?  Or figure out how a royalty is calculated?  That’s what your agent does.  

How did I find mine?  First, if you’re writing fiction, your novel needs to be complete and it helps a lot if it’s edited.  And a little advice—you’re first sentence needs to be kick-ass.  My agent told me that she gets one hundred queries a day. You don’t have a lot of time to catch an agent’s attention.

But then you need to hold their attention, so your book needs to be tightly written with well-drawn characters and a solid plot. 

What I did after I had confidence in my book, was Google literary agents, mysteries, debut authors.  About thirty names came up.  Then I did as much research on them as possible and when I wrote my query letters (emails) they were tailored to each individual agent.  No cookie cutter queries. 

Then I followed their submission guidelines to a fault.  Some wanted the first fifty pages, some wanted the first few chapters, and some wanted a synopsis. 

Four agents asked to see a complete manuscript. That was a first for me.

I eventually signed with one of them after she and I went through the manuscript page by page over the phone (she’s in California and I’m in North Carolina).  Finally, after we agreed on some minor revisions, she asked if I’d like to take our relationship to the next level—a contract.  

For a fledgling writer, I was over the moon.  The only other feeling like it was when she called me and said we were getting a contract from a publisher. 

A good agent is not only essential but they're also nurturing and wonderful mentors. 

Friday, March 18, 2022


Like several other TypeMers, I am in transition. I'm late today because I was getting in the final edits for the reissue of the third book in my Lizzie Stuart series. I had to first go back to the last manuscript I had on an old-fashion floppy disk and check that against the first edition. Then I sent it off to my editor at Speaking Volumes (the publisher that is reissuing the series). She  sent back the proofs, and -- after  got it back to her -- we did another round of proofs. I hope we're done now.

The new cover is very different from the old.  Here's the original cover, followed by the new:

I find the changes thought-provoking because they deal with different aspects of the book. The original cover is the artist's depiction of an attic in the old house that a wealthy woman offers to the School of Criminal Justice at Piedmont State. She wants Lizzie to be the director of the institute that she will endow. Several objects that are elsewhere in the book are in the attic on the cover.  The new cover focuses on two characters who are much discussed in the book, but long-dead when the story begins. The "old murders" in the title is a reference to them.

Now that I've gotten Book 3 done, I will have a much easier process to look forward to as I proof Books 4 and 5.  After that I hope I'll be able to move into rebooting the series with Book 6. 

But I'm also trying to adjust to transition from winter to spring. Here in upstate New York, we have gone from weather in the 30s and below last week to the mid-60s today. I'm not a warm weather person, and I want a few more weeks of snuggling in my blankets at night and my caps and jackets during the day. The sun seems too bright and garish. 

I need to adjust before I can settle into the work I want to get done during the summer on my various projects. The fun of getting Book 4 out with its new cover should keep me motivated. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022


Pandemic writing

I (Donis) can relate to Barbara's feeling of discombobulation at not having a deadline to face down. Since The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, my first mystery, was published in 2005, I've faithfully produced about one book a year, all of which were accepted and published – until my publisher changed at the almost same time the dreaded pandemic hit in 2020. AND I had just launched a new series set in Hollywood during the silent movie era of the 1920s.

The first Hollywood book, The Wrong Girl,  came out only weeks before the shutdown. The publication date for the second, Valentino Will Die, was pushed back six months as the pandemic ground on. I turned in the third, The Beasts of Hollywood, almost a year ago.

It has yet to be accepted. Or rejected. A few weeks ago, the acquisitions editor, whom I've known and admired for years, finally sent me a note asking forgiveness for being so slow and assuring me that though she hadn't read the MS yet, she'd get to it as soon as she could. Apparently the publishing industry is suffering its own bout of discombobulation.  

So here I am, in publishing limbo. 

I've done preliminary work on another Hollywood book, but I've gotten so many emails from readers who asked if I'd write another Alafair Tucker mystery (my original series) that I've spent most of the past contract-less year working on an eleventh Alafair.

It's hard. I'm using my work-in-progress to fictionalize a really problematic theme that has run through my life – racism. The new book is part of a 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. When I write I always wonder if I can make the book as good as the one I have in my head, and this one is particularly scary. Can I do it justice?

I feel like if I can pull it off, the book could tell an important tale. But I'm doing this hard work basically on spec. When I finish it to my own satisfaction, I have no idea how I'll be able to get it published. After nearly twenty years, I feel like I'm back at square one.

I'm not complaining, really (Well, maybe a little) At least I have a publishing track record and I will get this story told one way or another.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Missing old friends

 I recently submitted my latest Amanda Doucette novel, WRECK BAY, to my publisher, Dundurn Press, and now await the verdict from my editor. I'm delighted that the editor assigned is a long-time friend who has edited the majority of my books and I look forward to his notes and suggestions. WRECK BAY comes out in early 2023, and I have no further books contracted with the publisher at this point. So if I choose, WRECK BAY may be the last in the Amanda Doucette series that began on the east coast island of Newfoundland and currently ends on the west coast island of Vancouver Island. Last October, my eleventh Inspector Green novel, THE DEVIL TO PAY, was published, with no clean plan for a sequel either.

It's liberating to have no deadline hanging over my head, but it's also discombobulating. It's been twenty years since I got my first contract, and I've been operating under the deadlines and pressures of writing demands ever since. Suddenly, my day no longer has the structure of writing, whether I felt like it or not, and my head is empty of the voices and struggles of characters. There is no staring down the barrel of three hundred pages, wondering how to get to the end.

Original cover

Updated cover

I figured I'd take a vacation from writing for awhile and then perhaps try my hand at something completely different. After twenty crime novels, maybe a children's book. Or a memoir, although not mine. Meanwhile there have been plenty of other things to distract me - Omicron, the so-called "freedom convoy" that occupied Ottawa, the loss of my beloved dog, and now, worst of all, the tragedy in Ukraine. But a strange thing has happened. In trying to escape this constant barrage of bad news, my mind has turned not to children's books or memoirs, but to the comfort of old fictional friends.  Mike Green and his entourage have been my constant companions for decades and it's been eight years since Amanda walked into my life. Or I should say "burst" into my life. Life with both was never dull, whether I was emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog, or trying to get to sleep. It feels strange and empty to have them suddenly both gone from my life. 

I have begun to wonder whether I should invite one of them back for another book. But which one? Either series could easily be continued. Amanda could go north to Nunavut or the Northwest Territories. Mike Green, now with the added spark of his daughter Hannah, could always find another murder.

Original cover

Updated cover

As it turns out, Dundurn has decided to reissue the whole Inspector Green series and has been redesigning and modernizing both the format and the covers, some of which could definitely use some improvement. This is an interesting turn of events and makes me feel this series is being given new life. Perhaps because stubborn, impetuous Hannah and her new friend Detective Kanner have been added to the cast. Their addition gives the series a whole different twist that promises to keep me entertained as well.

I've included some examples of a few updated cover ideas, contrasted with the old. Whaat do you think? And if you had a choice, which character would you like to visit with next?

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Ordinary People

 Foyle's War is my favorite mystery series. It's being rerun on the Acorn channel. I like it because of its superb acting, plot line, and the faithfulness to historical accuracy. 

The series is set in England before, during, and after World War II. Foyle is a Detective Chief Superintendent who quietly serves as a policeman for a small English village. The complexity of war and the depiction of ordinary life on the home front is often heartbreaking. 

I had not realized how many children living in Londan were sent to the historic "great houses" and had to live in the countryside during the bombing. I hadn't thought about the number of Englishmen who had relations living in Germany and the ache of having to break off communication with those who believed in Hitler's aims.

Ordinary life is the backbone of literature. We are all enriched when persons from different time periods and countries understand and share the details of their culture. Throughout literary history, talented writers have given us a glance of ordinary life. Even a partial list would be too long for this blog.  

Last year, one of the Edgar finalists, Before She Was Helen, was especially intriguing to me because of the author's bio. It was about as modest and unassuming as it could be. Caroline B. Cooney taught Sunday School and helped with a choir. And she wrote this superior book set in a retirement community.

Wow. Some authors' credits are awe-inspiring. I'm quite wistful when I read of their travels and adventures and their interesting occupations. I would love to be able to follow in their footsteps. But then when I read Cooney's bio, I realized life is right under our noses. 

The rich and famous may be intriguing, but so are the ordinary people all around us. It's a matter of paying attention.   

Monday, March 14, 2022

Trying to look on the bright side

 Okay, before I get to what's been on my mind of late, let's catch up on the great Mickey Visits The Vet adventure.

After some difficulty, we did finally manage to see to it that he received his booster vaccination. I gave him  pills that were supposed to reduce his anxiety in a cascade fashion, whatever that means, but I didn't really see much of that, to be honest.

That was until after his ordeal was over and he was snoring on the couch at home.

Anyway, that's it done for another year or so. Let's hope he doesn't take anything wrong with him before then because I don't think I can handle the stress.

Perhaps I should have taken the pills. And I do think I need them, not simply because of the Mickster's antics.

I've mentioned before that I now have two series to write, my continuing Rebecca Connolly mysteries and a new historical series featuring an adventurer called Jonas Flynt. That means there will be times when I'm juggling not just two plots but also two time periods and two differing writing styles. But hey, that's showbiz, right?

At the moment I'm writing the fifth Rebecca book (the fourth hits the UK in July while the third will be for sale in the USA in the fall. The concludes the word from our sponsor). I'm also researching the second Flynt (the first will be out here at home in September. Another word, another sponsor). While I'm writing that I will be researching the sixth Rebecca. And so on, and so forth for as long each series lasts.

Is it ideal? No, but it's simply the way these particular cookies have crumbled and I am not going to insult writers who may not even have one series on the go by complaining.

There are other projects in which I am involved. A couple of TV documentaries, always stressful to me because I'm neurotic. A podcast. Not to mention the day to day pressures that we all have. And, of course, the situation the world is in, which is very worrying indeed.

Is it any wonder that I take a wee drink now and again? As in right now - and again soon.

But I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a home and I've not been forced from it by an invading army. Energy prices are ballooning but I'm not shivering in a cardboard box under a bridge. I'm healthy, as far as I know (physically, at least. Mentally I'm a mess. Hey, I'm a writer and we're all a little out of kilter). I have good friends. I have Mickey, troublesome though he can be, and Tom, the cat, who listen to my moaning without judgement. Or, if they do, they keep it to themselves because they know I'm the one who dishes out the food.

When times are dark, and they are, we need to look for the light in our lives and hope that it spreads a little.

Friday, March 11, 2022


 Type M for Murder has been guided by Rick Blechta since 2006. He has been the best blogmaster any group could hope to have. His wisdom and tact have kept the site going through good times and bad. 

For a while, I will take over his moderating responsibilities. I do this with awareness that I will not really be able step into Rick's shoes. I have this image of timidly tip-toeing after him. This is my last Friday post. I will switch to Rick's weekly Tuesday slot. 

I love this blog! Type M has been inspiring seasoned and beginning authors for years. It's set apart by the willingness of the participants to share their frustrations and triumphs as writers. There's no pretense here. We bare our souls when it comes to the difficulties of crafting manuscripts and dealing with agents and publishers. We are unusually frank in describing our tangled emotions. 

Type M For Murder has a large international presence. We have had 1,400,300 page views, with a surprising amount of support from Turkey and South Korea. In these troubled times perhaps there is some comfort in focusing on our on-line compatibility. 

Struggling to find just the right word is a universal endeavor. It's the tie that binds.  

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Wait. What? You can DO that?

On Friday, my students in my creative writing elective finished their eight-week poetry segment of the course. For fun, the day before spring break, when motivation and attention spans wane, I thought it wise to give them something different to try, so we took a 70-minute baby step into fiction.

We read “Crossing Spider Creek,” by Dan O’Brien, now something of a flash fiction classic. The open-ended story was a hit with my seniors, who for one fleeting class, let impending college decisions go and dove head-long into O’Brien’s story, left wondering at the end, as we all do, whether “the seriously injured man on a horse,” makes it across the creek.

For me, inexplicably, the move from poetry to fiction was just as invigorating. Fiction is never far from me –– writing and reading it daily –– but reviewing a 600-word +/- story with kids who were saying things like, “Wait. What? You can DO that? Is that allowed?” I told them, “It’s fiction. Anything’s allowed.” And we wrote opening lines that posed questions that we as writers wanted answers to (presuming that our readers would too).

That was all. A pretty straightforward lesson plan. Nothing any teacher hasn’t done.

Yet the day was a reminder of sorts for me, after months spent revising a manuscript, getting feedback, and waiting for more, all in preparation to send a book to my agent, which will require more waiting and wondering if she’ll validate my hard work, and later waiting to see if a publisher will. Writing for publication often amounts to writing and waiting for the validation of others.

Which isn’t what it’s about.

It’s about that question: “Wait. What? You can DO that?” And it’s about finding the answer, which is all the validation any of us should need.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Great Courses


I’m a big fan of The Great Courses, a series of college-level audio and video courses produced and distributed by The Teaching Company. Topics include history, linguistics, forensics, how to play piano, writing...and the list goes on. Each of the lessons is about half an hour so it’s not that hard to fit a lesson into a day here and there. Rick mentioned them awhile back in one of his posts.

I’ve watched or listened to courses courtesy of several local library systems in my area via Overdrive/Libby, Hoopladigital and Kanopy. What you have access to depends on what your library subscribes to.

They’re convenenient ways to do research for stories. I’ve gotten a few ideas from watching or listening to them.

As with anything, some are better than others. Some instructors are better than others. For some of them, the audio versions are adequate, for others you’ll get a little more out of them if you watch the video versions. Here are 10 of my favorite courses, in no particular order.

1) Great Trials of World History and the Lessons They Teach Us – Douglas O. Linder, J.D., professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. 24 lectures on trials from Socrates through the Nuremberg trials and ends at O.J. Simpson.

2) Forensic History : Crimes, Frauds and Scandals – Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D. Dr. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and teaches at Mount St. Joseph University. 24 lectures. 

3) Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works – also Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D. 36 lectures. All kinds of forensic topics from toxicology to computer forensics to...the list goes on. Pretty much touches on every topic in forensics as far as I can tell. 

4) The Secret Life of Words – Anne Curzan, Ph.D. Dean of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan 36 lectures. Lots of interesting stuff on English words, how they change, how new ones come into being... 

5) The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague – Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D., professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue. 24 lectures. Okay, I freely admit that I’ve listened to the audio version as well as watched the video version. For whatever reason I find this subject fascinating. And, no my viewing this had nothing to do with Covid-19. I did my viewing/listening before Covid reared its ugly head. 

6) The Rise of Rome – Gregory S. Aldrete, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 24 lectures

7) The Roman Empire: From Augustus to the Fall of Rome – Gregory S. Aldrete, Ph.D. 24 lectures. The follow-up course to The Rise of Rome. 

8) Language Families of the World – John McWhorter, Ph.D., American linguist, teaches at Columbia University, 34 lectures 

9) Myths of Language Usage – John McWhorter, Ph.D. 24 lectures 

10) Languages A to Z – John McWhorter, Ph.D. 24 lectures 

Can you tell that I enjoy Professor McWhorter’s lectures? Anybody else listen/watch The Great Courses? Any favorite ones?

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

And now it’s time for me to say goodbye

by Rick Blechta

Way back in mid-2006, Vicki Delany, Charles Benoit, and I decided to start a blog. Vicki, if memory serves, came up with the name Type M for Murder, got things pulled together with, and off we went.

My first post appeared on July 12, 2006 and I’ve been posting weekly ever since. My total count of posts, is (more or less) 723. I never stopped to think how many I’d written until I pulled out my archive the other day. There may have been a few more when I was using other people’s computers while away from home, but 723 is the number I have in hand. Wow. Did I do that?

The last year or so, however, I’d been feeling the weight of coming up with yet another topic to talk about. It’s also hard not to begin repeating yourself after so many posts, and there were a few times this happened.

Anyway, I now feel, and very regretfully, it’s time for me to shut up shop on Type M, so this will be my last post.

I’m leaving behind a very strong group of bloggers — and terrific human beings — who will continue to share their thoughts with you, and I’m equally certain they will come up with someone to fill the Tuesday spot I’ve occupied for so long.

Thank you all for reading my post, and especially to those who have felt the need to comment on them, even if you completely disagreed with me. I really appreciate the fact that you took time out of your day to visit Type M. Please continue to do so!

I may well be back as a guest from time to time, and until then, I wish you all the very, very best.

Many thanks, and good night.

Monday, March 07, 2022

The Last Class

 By Thomas Kies

Tonight will be the last class in my Creative Writing workshop series at the college.  The last class is always a little bittersweet, although many of the participants sign up for my Advanced class starting in three weeks, so I’ll get the chance to work with them again.

This time around, there were seven people in the group.  Starting out, no one knows anything about each other. By the end of six weeks, they’re all friends, supporting each other in their writing, and sometimes their lives. 

Every week, I give them a writing prompt and the following week they read it in front of the class.  Now, I know how scary that is.  I’ve been reading my own work in front of groups for years, and I still get the heebie-jeebies. To make it easier on them and a positive experience, after the students read the piece they’ve written, the class applauds, and we go around the room talking about what we liked about what they’ve written and what might make it stronger.

One week, I asked them to write a kick-ass protagonist.  Another week, I asked them to write an extremely emotional scene.  Throughout the workshop, it’s clear that in some cases, they’re writing as wish fulfillment (think: James Bond-style spy thriller) and in some cases it’s therapy (think: suicide, PTSD, or spousal abuse). 

Whatever they write, it’s clearly personal.  And I think that’s what all writing is about.  We’re making stuff up, sure, but to some degree, what we’re putting down on paper is a piece of ourselves. 

Which is why we get nervous when we read it in front of a group of people. 

For my last class tonight, the assignment is to write the last three or four pages of your book.  Whatever that means to you.  

Some of the students have managed to keep the thread of a cogent story going using every one of my exercise prompts.  So, most likely, we’ll hear the last few pages of the book they have in their head.

When they go home, they will have written the first and last chapters of their first book.  Now all they have to do is fill in the middle.

Of course, that’s the trick, isn’t it?

In some cases, the last few pages of their book represent closure to something that they have written about that’s deeply personal to them. There will be resolution. 

This is the sixth time I’ve taught this workshop, and thankfully, the resolutions I’ve heard have always been positive. 

So, I look forward to tonight’s class and see how the friendships that have formed play out after the workshops have ended.  Some of my students have gone on to create writing/critique groups and continue to meet.  Two of my students have gone on to write books and one has had one published. 

That’s my reward. 

Thursday, March 03, 2022

For Love of Animals

 My dearest sympathy to Barbara on the loss of her beloved Eva. I love the fact that Barbara has immortalized Eva in her novels. All dogs deserve to be immortalized. 


From my very first published novel, The Old Buzzard Had it Coming (2205), I've made it a point to always have an animal as an important character. When you write murder mysteries you explore the psyches of human beings and all their foibles and ugliness (which has been on blatant display all over the world lately).

My first series, the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, mostly take place on or near a farm, so adding animals is natural and easy to do. One the ten book series, readers have gotten to know the horses, Hannah and Missy and Sweet Honey Baby, Gregory the Duck, and the family's dogs, Crook, Buttercup, Charlie Dog, and Bacon (Charlie Dog and Buttercup's illegitimate offspring) Often they figure in the mystery. In the fourth Alafair, The Sky Took Him, a Persian cat named Ike helped solve the mystery. I added Ike the cat after the entire manuscript of The Sky Took Him had already been  written. I had to go back and sprinkle Ike’s presence through the novel and it was a lot of trouble. And yet, I don’t know he did it, but that cat tied the action together with a big red bow. He was a magic character.

When I started working on my first Bianca Dangereuse Hollywood Mystery, The Wrong Girl, I was busily typing along on the MS when it struck me like lighting that my heroine needs a dog, and that dog is going do something that saves the day. Thus was born Jack Dempsey, the feisty little mutt who looks like a cross between a rat and drain hair.  He has the same juju as Ike and Bacon and all the others.  Putting an animal in one's books adds an element of ... I don't know what else to call it besides "trueness". Animals are true. They do not have an agenda. Even the crazy and the seemingly vicious ones are what they are and without shame they let you know where they stand. They are pure and innocent, and that's an element that we can all do with even when the rest of life goes to hell in a hand basket.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Immortalized on the page

 This year is only two months old, but already it's shaping up to eclipse 2021 in horrors. In the western world at least, as the fresh new year approached, we were just getting our hopes up that the pandemic was on the wane. We were dreaming of travel and family hugs and dining out again. And then Omicron slammed us, people were getting infected despite being double vaccinated, hospitals and ICUs were getting overwhelmed again, and, here in Canada, a dark, dismal winter loomed ahead. Restrictions and various public health mandates were brought back in. Some people snapped and began to resist, demanding the virus be over and all mandates be removed, including mask mandates. So we got the so-called "freedom convoy" which rolled across the country honking and blaring and gunning for the government. I won't say much more, except that the city was under siege for nearly a month before they were driven out. Vehicles were towed and arrests were made, revealing some very nasty organizers and financial supporters who had quite a different agenda from repealing health mandates.

So sooner had the last truck been towed and the last organizer denied bail than Russia invaded Ukraine. We are once again on the edge of our seats, frightened, helpless, furious, and gnashing our teeth as we watch a brave country, led by an extraordinary man, fight for its survival. What else is in store for the rest of 2022? The apocalypse?  

So like Douglas, I turn to a tale about a dog. But unlike Douglas's tale, this one is sad – yet another blow from this brutal year. A week ago, my beloved Nova Scotia Duck Toller Eva crossed over the rainbow bridge after a wonderful, fun-filled eleven years. She was the perfect dog. Sweet and loving, super smart, and tirelessly playful, especially if you had a ball or stick. She had energy to spare, putting most younger dogs to shame, and her sunny disposition made even the grumpiest, most depressed person smile. I still expect her to come rushing up the minute she sees me, her whole body wagging and the nearest toy or ball snatched up in her mouth. I still look for her hopeful, expectant face as she tries to judge what I'm up to. Memories fill every corner of the house, and her younger brother and I miss her at every turn.

But she lives on. Seven years ago I started to write the first Amanda Doucette novel, FIRE IN THE STARS, and I gave Amanda a dog as a support animal – a bouncy, playful, endlessly happy Duck Toller. I named her Kaylee after a previous dog, but she was all Eva. And through five books, I brought Eva to life on the page for others to meet. The fifth book, which comes out in early 2023, will be dedicated to her memory.

Kaylee is the only character I have ever created who is completely based on a real being. Humans might have taken issue with how they were depicted and what I made them do, but Eva would have loved every minute of the adventures and her role in helping Amanda. Kaylee proved to be adept at locating lost things, tracking scents, detecting danger, and providing moments of levity, and I'm so glad she is there on the page to be enjoyed. For as long as the books are read.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

A sense of dread

by Rick Blechta

Unlike Douglas with his lovely post yesterday, I can't let my weekly post go by without a political comment. We usually don't make them on Type M, but well, a one-week moratorium seems in order in my view. So if you don't wish to read my post this week, I completely understand.

It’s with a sense of dread that I wake up in the morning as the news comes on the radio. These days you’re certain what the lead story will be and you only hope things haven’t gotten worse. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to be living in Ukraine at the moment where anything is possible, right up to nuclear annihilation.

War is such a stupid thing and always has been, yet it persists. I wonder, if a head-count in Russia were taken, I wonder how many people would support what their leader is doing.

The world lost something when those who started wars actually had to fight in them. In fact, they often led the charge. I wish that were still the case.

Political thrillers are a popular sub-genre of crime fiction, but they seldom have ongoing wars as a plot point. What is often a plot point is someone preventing a conflict from getting started. Not only can that be very exciting, but it gives the reader someone to cheer for. Who could be against someone who is (usually) risking their life to stop a madman? We can cheer on the good guy and hiss the evil genius behind the nefarious plot.

Right now the people of Ukraine are our heroes, but I don’t think they can pull off a miracle and save themselves.

What will be the outcome? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: the world will be even more damaged after, and nobody needs that. Unfortunately Putin doesn’t see it that way.

I hope he rots in hell — the sooner, the better.

Getting off the soapbox now…