Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Rose is a Rose

 by Charlotte Hinger

The process for recording an audiobook is fascinating. Blackstone Audio used to produce books published by Poisoned Pen Press. Blackstone was meticulous and I was fortune to have had Karen White, a top narrator, for all of my mysteries. She has a terrific voice and carefully collaborates on every pronunciation decision.

How can there be any controversy over how to say a word? You would be surprised. There was a lot of discussion involved with the Spanish honorific doña. Since the Spanish family in my third mystery, Hidden Heritage, had lived in this country a long, long time, would they be using a fairly rare variation of pronunciation followed by a little known group in Spain? Or would they instead cling to the more formal and better known Castilian? 

To Castilian or not to Castilian. That was the question. Four researchers were involved. I can’t tell how much I appreciated the care they took.

Where you live and where you are from has everything to do with how you pronounce a word. If you live in the top half of Kansas you will refer to the Arkansas River as AR-Kansas. If you live in the lower half of the state, it’s Ar-kan-saw (like the state). I write about Northwest Kansas, so I say AR-Kansas.

Even though I'm a native Kansan, people in Northwest Kansas used different words than I was familiar with having moved there from Eastern Kansas.

When we moved to Southwest Kansas I was puzzled over the word "bar-ditch." I honestly did not know what it meant. Then I learned it was what those of us in Northwest Kansas simply called a "ditch." And it certain regions of Texas it's "barrow ditch." All the words meant the same thing. It's the hollow area resulting from borrowing dirt to make a road.

Usage must be negotiated before the final copy of a manuscript. All of my conflicts have been settled amicably. However, with some authors this is nothing short of a duel to the death. I pay a lot of attention to an editor's preferences because they are more to tuned in to the population as a whole.

I was amused at how annoyed we in a recent discussion when city folks used the wrong words. The worst offence has to do with vehicles. An SUV is NOT a truck and it’s referred to by the manufacturer’s name. I would say “go out to my Tahoe (or fill in the blank) and get my address book out of the glovebox.” Yes. glovebox. A truck is a truck. A pickup is not a truck. It’s a pickup and it is NEVER a pickup truck.

We in Western Kansas have spoken.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Scribes to our Robot Overlords

 The previous Type M post from John Corrigan touched upon writing samples from the Artificial Intelligence app, ChaptGPT and its worrisome implications, especially to us writers. I've also seen other examples of what AI can produce as it scrubs the Internet for content in remarkable ways. What really impressed me were its Mid-Century and Art Deco period recreations of Burning Man. However, all was not perfect as like many other amateur artists, AI had difficulty rendering hands. Plus the occasional person was given three legs. Or it could be, AI has already decided that people do need these extra appendages and when it controls the human birthing process in artificial wombs (coming soon to a clinic near you), our children will be the deformed pets of our robot overlords. 

But there are groups who cheer AI's ability to generate content almost instantly. At the 20Books Vegas writing conference, the attitude was that since many of its authors write to market and depend on a prolific output to meet audience demands, the ability for AI to "write" sequels can be leveraged into more books to sell, i.e., more profit. Another group that welcomes AI are Instagram/TikTok influencers, such as models, who also need to produce a continuous stream of content to satisfy their audience and keep the algorithms happy. Many argue that since much of their content is the same--posing in bikinis, etc., why not use AI to make more pictures? 

The ability of AI to mimic reality is both its greatest strength and greatest danger. We're close to seeing credible imitations of people--"deep fakes"--in outlandish video simulations. One app claims it can sample a brief recording of your voice and from that, produce an audio of you saying anything. Couple that with similar video software and your identity as an individual can be at risk. Looking deeper into this dark mirror and acknowledging that the demographic most harmed by social media are adolescent girls, can you imagine the humiliation when an unassuming young woman sees that her image was uploaded into a AI porn app? Whoops, it's already happened.



Thursday, February 23, 2023

Hardcopy and ChatGPT

The pages and the pencil...
Sitges, Spain
Greetings from Spain.

I’m “working” –– chaperoning 14 students to Terrassa. While here, when I have a free moment, I’m finishing a manuscript.

Sitges, Spain

My process ends with a pencil and a hardcopy. I don’t make final edits on my laptop. I need the pages, my clipboard, and always a mechanical pencil. Editing on paper versus the screen has long been debated. I know many people who don’t edit the final copy on paper. They like to be able to quickly cut and move things around. For me, though, I need to cross out, draw arrows, and write henscratch in the margins. Reading on the screen feels too much like composing. The hardcopy, for whatever reason, provides a separation –– I’m a reader, not a writer when I hold the pages.


One topic has come up repeatedly in my work as a school administrator: ChatGPT. Who is using it? How to prevent it? Should we embrace it?
Montserrat, Spain

If you haven’t heard, ChatGPT is an AI writing program. I recently told a parent group that if I was paying for a student to get a technical writing degree right now, I’d be very nervous. The program can write what you need –– and pretty well –– in a matter of seconds. I imagine some writing professions will go by the wayside. 

Which brings me to the question: How will it impact our work as fiction writers? I would love to know what my colleagues at Type M and our readers think. 

What’s the future of ChatGPT?

Will it impact fiction writing as we know it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023


by Charlotte Hinger

 Well, what do you know? There is something new under the sun. It's MasterClass.

For some time my on-line reading was interrupted by a promotion for MasterClass. I ignored these clips the same as I do all other annoying ads. I wanted to cut down on subscriptions, not acquire new ones. 

Then The New Yorker published an article about the lecturers. Those at the top of their field vie with one another to be selected to lead a class. It's the ultimate indorsement of their abilities. Honestly folks, James Patterson and David Baldacci are not in it for the money. 

I'm absolutely hooked. Curiously, the presentations are straight lectures. The "star" sits a chair and tells the viewer everything he knows about his area of expertise. I've finished four classes: James Patterson, David Baldacci, Joyce Carol Oates, and Aaron Sorkin. The episodes vary from 8-15 minutes. Some include a round table analysis of students' work. 

The styles are wildly varied. I enjoyed Aaron Sorkin the most even though he opened by gloomily stating that speaking was very hard for him and he would be much more comfortable just writing the whole thing. This wonderfully talented playwright and scriptwriter wrote A Few Good Men and one of my favorite TV series, The West Wing. One of his most endearing statements was about writer's block. He said that was his default status: deeply depressed and blocked as a writer. 

I like Patterson a lot as a person. He's so passionate about promoting literacy. I'm only an occasional reader of his books, but used one in a creative writing class I taught. I wanted the students to see how he turned a whole plot with one of his one word, one sentence, paragraphs. It's not easy. Plus, I admire the way he gives co-authors full credit on his covers. An amazing fact is that the man writes in longhand while sitting in a rocking chair. He's a generous man and natural outliner. One of his detailed outlines is what his bevy of co-authors receive. 

Joyce Carol Oates teaches writing at Columbia University. Her approach is lovely and poetic and seductive. How can one person master so many different genres? I really wanted her book, We Were The Mulvaneys, to win the Pulitzer Prize of the National Book Award. Her suggestions frightened me. I found myself resistant to accessing some of the thinking she urged me to explore. Yet, as she pointed out, that's where my best writing lies dormant. Oates writes mysteries (both novels and short stories) in addition to literature. She's phenomenal and mystical. 

Ah, Baldacci! He was whisked in on a magic carpet. Yet, like most ultra successful writers he paid his dues. He learned his craft. The man has the most abrupt machine gun delivery of anyone I've watched so far. He does not pause between sentences. His first published novel was Absolute Power. For that he received a 2 million dollar advance for American rights, and 2 million for foreign rights. He's a lawyer so he knew a lot about contracts from the beginning. He has the most joyful presentation and gives a new meaning to "natural writer" When he worked full time as a lawyer, after the kids and his wife went to bed, he wrote from 10pm to 2am every night. I especially appreciated this man because he has the most turbulent intuitive (yet linear) idiotic method of writing a book of any of them. Finally. Someone just like me.

Next on my agenda is one on poetry, followed by lessons in forensics by none other than John Douglas.

Monday, February 20, 2023

First Piece Published--Feeling Remembered.

 by Thomas Kies

As I was walking Annie, our dog, one morning, I thought about the first piece of fiction that I was lucky enough to have published back in 1979.  It was a short story called Fast Dancing Detroit Style.  No, it wasn’t a mystery story.  It was horror—an erotic ghost story. I was paid $250, I was 26 at the time and I thought I was hot as a box of matches.

After all.  I’d been published in Cavalier magazine, the same publication where Stephen King got his start. With the same editor that he worked with, Maurice DeWalt.  

And yes, Cavalier was a men’s magazine that featured some of the top writers of the time, but it was also filled with full frontal nude women.  I remember proudly telling my father about being published and a couple of days later he phoned me to tell me how humiliating it had been to go into an adult bookstore to buy the magazine. I’m not sure he ever told me if he liked the story or not.  

Cavalier was launched by Fawcett Publications in 1952.  The original format was to feature novels and novelettes by Fawcett’s Gold Medal authors like Richard Prather and Micky Spillane. During the 1960s, the magazine featured such writers as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Coover, Richard Gehman, Garson Kanin, Paul Krassner, John D. MacDonald, Albert Moravia, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Shelton, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Theodore Sturgeon and Colin Wilson.

Film critic Manny Farber had a monthly column in the 1960s. Stephen King was a contributor during the 1970s, and his stories were also featured in Cavalier Yearbook.

I followed up my first published story with more horror only to be turned down by Mr. DeWalt saying, “These are too much like Stephen King.”  Okay…I guess that’s not bad.  

I tried other magazines, mostly “pulp publications” like Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Amazing, Weird Tales, Analog, and Strange Tales.  The cover pages, by the way, often featured illustrations of scantily clad women in the clutches of space aliens.  

I even submitted short stores to Playboy (no luck there) and Omni, a glossy four-color magazine devoted to both science fiction and science fact.  The editor was Ben Bova.  He was the author of over 120 books on science and science fiction, had won the Hugo Award six times, and was the president of the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. 

He sent me a personal rejection letter on one of my submissions with a handwritten note that said, “,,,keep at it.  You’re a good writer.”  

That was in the 70s and 80s and I was raising a family and working full time at the Elmira Star-Gazette. I wrote short stories in my spare time on my manual typewriter at my desk tucked away on the porch.  On the wall next to my desk was a corkboard where I kept the rejections slips.  

Back then, you’d submit stories by hardcopy via the mail accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope so that if your story was rejected, you’d at least hear back with a pre-printed slip of paper saying that they were sorry they couldn’t respond personally and that your story just wasn’t right for their publication. 

So, I found my copy of Cavalier from 44 years ago that I tucked away in a closet and reread my erotic horror story.  Could I have improved upon it?  Sure.

But you know, I enjoyed reading it.  Almost as much as I did when it first arrived in my mailbox a lifetime ago. But I think I'll stick with mysteries. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Tucson Festival of Books

By Johnny D. Boggs

I have been swamped with deadlines, assignments and shoveling snow. But here’s some great news:

March 4-5 is just around the corner.

Because that weekend, I’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books. For a writer, or a reader, there is no better place to be.

If you haven’t been to Tucson for this festival, you are missing something special.

I was invited to speak on a panel with the great Jane Candia Coleman at the inaugural event in 2009. Remember …? The economic downturn, the longest since World War II. I wondered who would show up to listen to authors or buy books.

Who turned up? Well, 50,000 book lovers and 450 authors/presenters. And an amazing 800 volunteers.

I haven’t missed one since. Nor have many attendees.

The festival has drawn more than 100,000 in subsequent years. Last year, the first since the COVID shutdown (canceled in 2020, virtual in 2021), concern about who would return faded fast. The event, always free to the public and held on the University of Arizona campus, was packed again. Maybe not the record 140,000 of 2019, but those two days were awesome.

Generally, I help staff a booth for Western Writers of America, but sneak away to catch a panel or two if I can. Most years I either moderate or speak on a panel. This year, I’m doing both.

Talk about exciting. I share a Saturday panel about film history books, “Lights! Camera! America!,” with Kirk Ellis and Alan K. Rode (moderated by film scholar Andrew Patrick Nelson) and on Sunday I moderate “Visions of the West” with Kathryn Wilder, Emma Zimmerman and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ted Conover.

But the real treat is talking to nonwriters, wannabe writers, colleagues, friends and literary icons about writing, process, books, literature. I can’t wait to pick Ted Conover’s brain.

Hey, I spend most days and nights alone in an office writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting and sweating. Then wondering is anyone really going to read that? Does anybody still read?

Well, the Tucson Festival of Books is a morale booster for any writer. Oh, sure, most of those 100,000 attendees probably won’t have much interest in what I write. But they are proof that people are still interested in literature.

I’ll drive home March 5 excited, ready to step back inside that office for another lonely year. The adrenaline from Tucson will keep me going till 2024.

Hope to you there.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Me, Too (Writing and Post-Covid)

Both Charlotte's and Donis's posts this week struck home with me. At the best of times, I procrastinate even when I have something I want to get done. The only thing I don't do this with is moving around odds and ins that I'm inspired to move around while flipping through home decorating magazines. I love those magazines even though I get sticker shock when I realize I picked up one with an enticing cover and tossed it into my grocery shopping basket without checking that tiny little price. I think they make it tiny just so people who need to dig out their glasses won't bother to stop and do that. And those $10.99 magazines have occasionally costed me even more because I have stopped reading to go to the site where I can see the options and sometimes I buy that perfect thing with one tap of my finger. In my own defense, at the trail end of the worse of the pandemic, I did finally get around to getting my handyman in to paint because I had spent so much time looking at the yellow walls that came with the house when I moved in. And then, when I had refreshed my walls with blue, new accessories were required.

But . . . as I was saying about procrastination, I have now reached "Master Level". It happened during the height of the pandemic when my brain ceased to work. The one good aspect of that was that I started an on-going email letter writing habit again with a friend from grad school. Back in the days when people  wrote letters in long-hand and sent them off by stopping at a mail box, we communicated more often. But in the age of emails, we had gone astray. During Covid-19 we have gotten back into the habit of checking on each and what is going on in our lives. I did the same with a friend here closer to home. And with other people who I communicate with regularly. But even with all this communication, I had curled up in my little nest, tossing mail on my desk unopened, and opening the front door only to walk the dog. I even joined a grocery delivery service -- actually that last decision turned out to be a wise one. After trying at least four other services, I found one that delivers protein, healthy fruits, vegetable, and cookie dough made of ingredients that all look healthy and can be eaten from the container or baked.

My improved communication habits and strategy for getting dinner in less than 30 minutes are in place, and I hope will continue. What hasn't change is my habit of spinning my wheels longer than I should each day before I get going. That means that when I finally start I end up going later in the day than I would like because I have more writing time to try to make up. But this morning when I was putting off getting out this post, I checked today's tip from Ancestry DNA and discovered that the fault is in both my environment and my genetic tendencies. In keeping with that I stopped to read the accompanying articles about other traits before finally getting to my post. Actually, today I have a semi-good excuse. I got up early to take my dog to daycare because I scribbled a faculty event in the wrong box in my old-fashion planner. It would have come up in my electronic calendar, but this week I planned to be proactive -- and I ended up being a week early. So, today, I was so early dropping off Fergus that I thought I could spend time thinking about whether to have brunch or lunch while wandering off to read those "when you have the time" articles that are fascinating when I should be doing something else.

I have found a good idea or two reading those articles. My only problem is sometimes I read something both useful and fascinating but I don't have pen and paper at hand and I'm too comfortable to get up and get both, so I tell myself I will remember, and I don't. I know enough to immediately write down whatever I wake up dreaming. But this week I was having a dream -- a solution to a plot problem -- and I woke up almost there but Fergus had shut himself up in my bedroom when he was pushing at the door trying to get out. I got up to let him out, and as quickly as that my dream was gone. I've been hoping it would come back, but it hasn't.

Like Donis, I am hoping that the more I get out again, the more I will get to at least "re-set" when it comes to socializing again. In one area at least, having animals in the house has helped out. When my beloved Harry died, I found both Fergus and Penelope -- not as replacements for Harry, but as animals with their own personalities. It has taken me a while to settle in with the two of them. But it has also given me a Covid interest. With Fergus, the wonderfully socialized puppy I received from a breeder, the task has been to contain some of that bounciness and train him. With Penelope, my rescue cat from Louisiana, it has taken almost a year between the time she began to talk to me when she wants something and expect me to understand and last month when she began to curl up against me on the sofa and even stretch out in my lap. That would be great except I gave myself a physical excuse for researching rather than writing when I grabbed my lap top to keep it from falling from the sofa and managed to loosen the hinge on one side. She jumped right up and finished the job. Now, I'm going to have to take it back to my computer guy again  after having broken both monitor hinges this time. 

But I have a fully functioning desk top at home and in my office at school. It is only a matter of sitting down at either. Note to self: Ideas rattling around in head have to be put on paper in timely fashion.


Thursday, February 16, 2023

There Are People Out There!

 I, Donis, am actually going to a conference next month! I'm signed up for Left Coast Crime in Tucson, AZ, in mid-March. This is the first time I've basically been out of the house since before the pandemic, and I certainly have not attended a large gathering like this in at least three years. I'm going this year because a) it's in Tucson, which is a 90 mile drive from where I live, and b) I'm going to have to learn to be around other people some time, and I am vaccinated to the nines so why not now?

I'm lucky to be on a panel entitled Why We Love Research on Friday, March 17,  10:15 AM - 11:00 AM, which is to be populated by fellow (mainly) historical novelists Clare Broyles, Francine Mathews, and Susan McDuffie, which should be great fun, because I actually do love research. Reality is usually a lot more fascinating and even shocking than anything one can make up.

I am torn between looking forward to LCC with great anticipation and feeling just a little bit apprehensive. The last time I attended Left Coast, I came down with the flu afterwards and that was no fun at all. 

I think attending conferences is very useful. Every time I attend a writers’ workshop or conference, I learn something and come away with good ideas, but the major thing they do for me these days is allow me to mingle with fellow writers. Other writers have been extraordinarily helpful to me. but I can't afford to go to as many conferences as I'd like. I've been doing this for many years, and I keep trying a little of this and a little of that, and attempting to judge what promotional activity works best for me. 

I wonder if I'll remember how to interact with people after all this time? I actually do force myself to make the rounds at the conferences I attend and talk to as many people as I can, but I'll never be as effective at it as someone who is naturally outgoing. However, I'm guessing I'm a much better schmoozer than J.D. Salinger, who could buy and sell me. So as effective as that technique is, it must not be the end-all and be-all of book promotion. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Road trip!

 Two weeks ago, I blogged about promotion and my upcoming in-person book launches in Toronto and Ottawa. As could be expected in Ottawa in early February, the weather did its best to sabotage both events. The day of the Toronto event, the city (indeed much of the eastern half of the country) was in the deep, deep freeze, with a brutal wind and temperatures not rising above -20 C (about -5 F) not counting the wind chill. It snowed all day long. Torontonians are used to balmier weather and many don't even have snow tires, so I was sure no one would come. Although some were understandably deterred, many did brave the winter and we had a lovely event with a reading, book chat, and truffles. The Ottawa launch at Perfect Books had similar problems. After a lovely, sunny, warm morning, the skies suddenly clouded over mid-afternoon and dumped a mess of freezing rain, ice pellets, and snow on the city. Traffic ground to a snail's pace and parking amid the snowdrifts was a nightmare. Once again, I was afraid no one would come.

The incomparable Sleuth of Baker Street

I should have had more faith in Canadians. We're an intrepid lot. People slithered their way along roads and drifted in to the store swaddled in scarves and slush-covered boots. They filled every chair in the place. I am so grateful to all my readers, friends, and family for continuing to support me through ice, snow, and polar vortexes (or is it vortices?). Not to mention more than twenty book launches.

My next step was to arrange readings and signings both in the city and farther afield. These are always more fun with another writer friend, and who better than my long-time dear friend, Mary Jane Maffini, who also had a brand new book out in her very popular local Camilla MacPhee series? I have toured all over the place with Mary Jane over the years, from the east coast to southern and eastern Ontario to the northern USA. So we got our heads together and devised a list of libraries within manageable driving distance from Ottawa. We call the tour Thrills, Chills, and Laughter; an evening with two award-winning mystery authors. I'm more of the thrills and chills writer, while Mary Jane supplies most of the laughter. The libraries that we approached have been very receptive to the idea, as eager as we are to see real people again.

We are still finalizing a couple of libraries, but here's what we have so far:

April 26 - Mississippi Mills Public Library, Almonte branch. 6:30-8:00 pm

April 29 - North Grenville Public Library, Kemptville branch 2:00-4:00 pm.

May 9 - Clarence-Rockland Public Library, 7:00-8:00 pm.

May 16 - Brighton Public Library, 6:00-8:00 pm.

All these events are free and everyone is welcome. Books will be for sale on site.

If you're in the neighbourhood, come on by. WhooHoo, road trip!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Creative Procrastination

 by Charlotte Hinger

My all-time favorite way to avoid the onerous task of writing a novel used to be through excessive research. I really knew how to milk that one. But I was saved by a scoldy part of my brain that monitors such nonsense. The rescue was quite simple. I forced myself to write a quota of pages every day. Five pages a day, five days a week. 

After producing the five pages, I allowed myself to research until the cows came home. It worked beautifully. Especially before the internet became my prime source of information.

 Now I've fallen prey again to my relentless curiosity. I have an instant attention span. I'm hooked immediately by obscure bits of useless information. When I watch TV, I frequently pause the program to look up tid-bits. 

For instance, the other night I watched an old movie about Mary Queen of Scots. Did she and Queen Elizabeth ever meet, I wondered. The answer was yes, Safari informed me. Frequently in movies and even in one of my favorite operas, but in real life, never. Was her second husband, Lord Darnley really that bad? Yes. He was a real mess. Did she really marry Bothwell? Yes. But historians don't know why. Not for sure. 

All of this carrying on interrupted my TV watching. It didn't matter. In fact, learning more about the background of this period in history increased my pleasure. 

However, excessive interruptions are deadly to the creative process of writing a novel. For this reason, I've switched to longhand for the first draft. Through the years, I've learned more about the craft. I'm convinced it's very important to get the story down on paper as quickly as possible in accordance with the writer's natural bent. Some of us are simply slower than others. I am not a fast writer, but writing in long hand does away with accessing the internet or responding to email. 

What's more, longhand stops me from "improving" a chapter into infinity. Through longhand, I have to get on with the story. Editing kicks in when I transfer the pages to the computer. 

But much to my dismay, I've acquired a new way to procrastinate. I tend to become overinvolved with other activities. Committees, meetings, etc. Some of this was accidental when I was too stupid to realize the work involved, but on other occasions I take too much on through an over-developed sense of duty. That condition evolved from growing up in a very small town where everyone had to pitch in or a community wouldn't hang together. 

I say yes when I shouldn't. But after giving the situation some thought, I've decided to go back to a set time. All I have to do is say, "I can't between 8-12 in the morning. That's when I work." That's a simple declaration that will force me to man up to writing difficult scenes and tackle plot problems. 

Worse, I'm very clever at finding ways to escape when I'm not sure where a book is headed. Who wouldn't want to run away?

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Writing Historical Mysteries


by Sybil Johnson 

My comment on Thomas’ post on Monday was a suggestion to have a workshop on writing historical mysteries. That came to my mind for two reasons: (1) I’m working on trying to write one myself and (2) I attended a talk on Sunday given by Naomi Hirahara on the subject. 

I’ve known Naomi for over ten years. She’s a lovely person, great writer and has been a help to me a number of times. She’s also an Edgar-winning author of multiple traditional mystery series. She ventured into the historical mystery area with Clark and Division, which follows a Japanese American family’s move to Chicago in 1944 after being released from a California wartime detention center.

I cannot say enough good things about Clark and Division. It has all of the things I look for in a historical mystery. It has an interesting plot and I learned a lot of things I knew nothing about. So I was very interested in hearing what she had to say.

The talk was fairly short, about 30 minutes or so, but full of interesting information. Here’s my summary:

- Write about a period/situation, etc. that really interests you. Something you’re passionate about. Build your expertise on the subject. Visuals are helpful when you can find them. You can’t find photos of a period before photography existed, but you might be able to find drawings. Also old maps of the area you’re interested in can be helpful. Find experts that you can consult with specific questions. Be sure to thank and advocate for the experts that help you. 

- Know your limitations. 

 - Narrow your focus. Pick a particular time period and geographic area to concentrate on. You can’t include everything. 

 - Periods before and after a big event could be a good place to start a story. 

- Tell the story from a perspective never told before.

 - Write from your strengths. If you’re good at describing, lean on that. Are you good at writing in 1st person? Write in 1st person. Same goes for 3rd person. If you know a lot about the history of a place, consider setting your book there. 

 - Be aware of your emotional/cultural blocks.

 - You will not please everyone. That’s okay. Write the best book you can write.

- The way to do twists in stories is to subvert expectations. Figure out what the reader thinks about a person or situation and twist it so that it’s something different.

We talked a little about process. Some writers do all of their research first, then write. Some do it concurrently or do just enough research, then start writing. I remember hearing that Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander novels, uses this approach. For Naomi, her approach depended on the book.

There’s a lot more that could be said on this topic. Here are two books I found that could prove useful: How To Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Once Upon a Time It Was Now: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom

For those of you who’ve written historical mysteries, any advice for those of us just starting out?

Tuesday, February 07, 2023


by Charlotte Hinger

Writers are a superstitious lot. Curses that people put on our ability to write hold us back. Here are a few that "everyone" knows about writing.

1.  You will never write another novel as fresh as the first one. 

    This one nearly did me in. I heard it from my best friend. Since I started so high on the totem pole and then had trouble selling my second book, it was easy to believe this. The truth was that my first book was deeply flawed. Most of us become better writers as we go along. The craft of writing is learnable, teachable, and acquired through practice.

2.  Writers peak out in middle age.

    I can't remember where I read this. Truth is a lot of writers don't start until middle age. Some of the most successful, prolific writers I know started writing after they retired. Yet, I've noticed that folks who hope to write when they "have the time" will never find it. There's a lifetime of experimentation and learning the craft that late-comers miss out on. 

3.  It's not what you know. It's who you know. 

Oh please! I'm from Hoxie, Kansas. Not only did I not know anyone, I didn't know anything either. When you finish a book--hopefully in a genre, you're familiar with--then start reading and researching marketing advice. I believe that writer's conferences with time allotted for hearing pitches is an excellent way to start. 

In short, don't let preconceptions stop you. 

Monday, February 06, 2023

Workshop Ideas, Please?

 By Thomas Kies

Over the past few years, I’ve taught Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing classes at our local community college.  I love doing it because I love talking about writing, publishing, books, and storytelling.  

The college has asked me to shake things up a bit for the spring and lead some workshops.  I’ve already reached out to the Carteret Writers Network and they’d like to have me do workshops at the new home of our county’s arts council, a beautiful location with the perfect space.  The college has bought into the idea as well. 

I’m reaching out to you for your advice on what workshops I should lead. What would you like to be part of?  Or what would you like to teach?

In the past, I’ve done session entitled “Good Guys, Bad Guys, and Plot Twists” for the North Carolina Writers Network at the writers' conference in Wrightsville Beach and I’ve done a similar workshop for the Pamlico Writers Group. 

In my classroom, I’ve covered character development, story arcs, character arcs, plot twists, colorful descriptions and the value of emotion in writing. 

We’ve talked about heroes and antiheroes and how to create a relatable protagonist and how all villains may not be bad…or at least that's what they tell themselves.

I’ve covered self-publishing vs hybrid publishing vs traditional publishing. I’ve talked about the value of finding and getting a good literary agent. We’ve discussed how long a chapter should be, how many words should your novel be, and how to begin and end a scene. 

But now, I’ve got to develop two or three solid workshops lasting about two hours each.  The audience will most likely be comprised of both new authors and those who have had some writing experience. What do you think?  If you have an idea, let me know in your comments below!!  I can use your help. 

Friday, February 03, 2023

What's Behind Me?

By Johnny D. Boggs

A fellow writer asked what dictionary I use.

Hey, I did not say that this was a stimulating conversation.

I turned around, made notes, and answered that a Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary sits right behind me. Deluxe Second Edition. I probably could buy a new one, but with the plethora of online dictionaries, is that worthwhile? Besides, next to that is Webster’s unabridged An American Dictionary of the English Language from 1860.

Since I mostly write historical fiction, I probably pull the latter out more than the modern Webster’s. Unless I pick up that 1876 copy of Webster’s A Common-School Dictionary of the English Language.

Then I spy the two-volume A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles from 1951, which I often peruse, unless I grab Richard Thornton’s two-volume An American Glossary from 1962.

My Roget’s Thesaurus is A Treasury of English Words and Phrases from 1883.

An atlas? Well, there’s a modern Rand McNally, but I also have a Cram’s Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World Indexed from 1885. I have to be careful with that one, because I can look at maps for hours.

Wow. I just learned something. My hometown of Timmonsville, South Carolina, was in Darlington County in 1885. That find sends me to Google to learn that Florence County wasn’t first formed until 1888.

My King James Bible is from 1868. Translations have changed over the years, you see.

For grammar I have that bible commonly known as “Strunk and White” but properly called The Elements of Style. It’s the Fourth Edition, but I still have the battered Third Edition that I used all through journalism school and my newspaper career.

The Elements of Editing and The Elements of Grammar sit next to the well-read On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition.

Those are the closest constant books. History books and biographies, etc., might be stacked in front of that shelf, but those will change depending on what I’m working on at the time.

Then there are books on the shelves above the printer. First Names. The Chicago Manual of Style. The Washington Post Deskbook on Style (to see what Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee might have been reading circa 1972-1974). A modern Roget’s (well, it was modern when I bought it in college). Tons of books on slang – always make sure slang references include an etymology if you’re writing historical fiction –  and English usage.

More reference books, books on firearms, 19th Century catalogs from Bloomingdale’s, Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Co. … Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable … Old West dictionaries … the 1955 reprint of Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore SocietyColonial American EnglishThe Complete Oxford Shakespeare (there's also a 1942 edition of The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare from Houghton Mifflin somewhere around here) … foreign-language dictionaries … various state historical atlases … David Dary’s Frontier Medicine … 19th Century baseball rulebooks … Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (to keep me grounded) … and even the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, which a foul-mouthed writer recommended to me years ago.

Yes, you are absolutely right. The writer who asked me what dictionary I use was sorry he asked.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

More thoughts on promotional outreach

Frankie's Friday post about promotional outreach touched close to home because my latest Amanda Doucette book, WRECK BAY was just released last week and I have been wrestling with how to promote it. Frankie was hoping to initiate a discussion about what works and what doesn't in this evolving world of book promotion. Evolving is a key word here. Social media is changing rapidly, as is software for presenting promotional material, and the nature of book selling itself. It's really difficult to keep up, let alone guess the next trend.

I was sorry no authors put forward their thoughts in the comments section, but the problems are complex and the answers perhaps too lengthy for a quick comment. I hope the post initiated some discussion and reflection beyond the blog. I decided my thoughts merited a whole blog, so here we go.

It's been twenty-three since my first novel was published, so I have been in the promotional game for a while. Wow, has it changed! When I started, I held in-person launches with food and wine in the gorgeous, marble-columned lobby of National Archives Canada, which hosted many author events for free (you just had to supply the food and drink). In 2000, the online world was very limited; no social media and only the beginnings of email and websites. Many potential readers didn't use the internet for communication, so I designed and printed out rudimentary post cards. I had a d-base file of readers which printed sticky little address labels on my dot-matrix printer. I bought reams of stamps. One by one, I mailed them to friends, family, and anyone I thought might be interested. 

My second promotional activity was throwing a box of books into the trunk of my car and driving around to every bookstore within a day's drive. I introduced myself as a local author, gave them a sample copy, and said I'd be happy to do a signing. This netted me a personal connection with most of the bookstores that remains helpful to this day, even though a great many of those bookstores have closed or changed owners.

About a year later, my friend Mary Jane Maffini and I (both at similar points in our book careers) decided we needed that new innovation called a website and I enlisted my then-teenage son to set one up for us, using html. It was clunky and impossible for us to edit, but at least we had a presence! A couple of years later, we decided we each needed our own website, and a techie friend volunteered to design them. 

My third promotional activity was probably the most valuable yet in my nascent mystery career - attending literary festivals, particularly mystery conferences. So many benefits! The most obvious being networking and sharing writing and publicity tips with other writers. Making connections with book industry people like librarians, booksellers, and reviewers not just in my own backyard but around the the world. Forming friendships that continue to be nourished through social media, notably Facebook. I started with Bloody Words before my first book was even published, and have attended Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and Left Coast Crime, as well as smaller regional festivals. If it weren't for finances and the pandemic, I would go every year. My list of contacts grew as my books got out there.

The mailed launch invitations continued for several books, and the d-base grew with each book. Sometimes I held joint book launches with local crime writer friends like Mary Jane, which increased both our reaches as well. But at some point we decided to ditch the paper in favour of email. I admit to being haphazard about collecting reader contact information. As people emailed me about my books or invited me to speak at bookclubs, I collected their emails in a dedicated folder in my email program, which gave me a record of sorts. I would painstakingly go through these to invite people to my launches or to inform them of a new release. Inefficient and old-school, but it did work. 

The next big leap forward was the arrival of Social Media. I created a personal Facebook page in 2009, and my editor created an author page and urged me to use it. I kept forgetting to, and instead used my personal page for a combination of friendly chat and book information. Facebook was, and still is, an interactive platform, and readers often became Facebook friends who enjoyed stories about my cottage, my travels, and my dogs as much as the book information. But social media platforms kept multiplying, and we authors were urged to keep up. I joined Twitter a few years later, but found it of limited use except to make very specific announcements about a new release, a signing, or good review. Posts seemed to disappear into the void within a few minutes of being posted, and I made no effort to cultivate connections there. Amid the recent controversy and the increasing toxicity of the platform, I have cancelled my account there. Meanwhile my plugged-in daughter urged me to join Instagram. Facebook is a medium for people you already know, she said, but Instagram will allow you to reach new readers, particularly a younger audience. She made a valid point, so I did join and I do post upcoming news there (and occasional photos of dogs) but it's no place to cultivate connections unless you're a celebrity. It takes little extra time and effort, however, and maybe it increases my visibility. 

The last ten years have seen an explosion in online promotional options. Mail chimp and other software to organize your contact lists, newsletters, blogs, Goodreads and Amazon pages, youtube channels, book trailers, TikTok, and probably others I've yet to hear about.  More and more of this online engagement falls on the author's shoulders, with only the bestsellers and those rich enough to hire PAs and other publicity machines getting outside help. It's become overwhelming. Many of these new avenues required time and some tech expertise to master and maintain. There are authors who love this kind of thing or have handy family members to help, but not me. I have little patience for spending hours tearing my hair out online. It ranks above housekeeping (another necessary evil) but below dog walking, skiing, kayaking, and seeing friends. Plus I usually have a book to write.

I did create an Amazon and Goodreads author page, but I don't do anything with them and don't know if they're any use. I created a Youtube channel but have not put anything on it, and I have dreamed about a book trailer but once again - no technical expertise to turn the dreams into reality. I have run like a madwoman away from the supremely narcissistic TikTok. Because I can't figure out Mail Chimp, I do not have a newsletter, and although I now have a website that I designed and can edit on my own, it is frequently neglected. The one other online presence I maintain is this blog. I no longer use my onerous and often out-of-date email lists to promote events, but instead rely on Facebook invites, Instagram, and my website.

The pandemic accelerated a seismic shift in book promotion. The shift to virtual appearances had begun earlier, with some book clubs hosting virtual talks with authors. Video chats allowed authors to attend events and connect with others much farther afield. When March 2020 shut down the world, however, all book signings, tours, festivals, and other events came to a crashing halt. All my events through the next two years were cancelled, and many since then have been doubtful. It was a very isolating and lonely time, but virtual technology had its up sides. I held virtual launches for my last two books, and invited friends on both my email lists and Facebook from all across the world. More people attended those than could possibly attend my in-person events. In that sense the reach is far greater. 

But I have always loved meeting with readers, friends, and fans in person. I love seeing old friends, sharing laughter, hugs, and love of books.Virtual appearances - staring at thumbnails or, worse, that little green camera light - lack that sense of human connection. And without knowing that our stories touch people, what is the point of writing them? So I am planning two in-person launches, in Ottawa and Toronto, to introduce this latest book over the next week. And I am planning a number of bookstore signings and library readings over the next few months. It's probably not the most efficient way to reach a bigger audience, but it feeds my soul.

What works and what doesn't? I'm not sure, but part of the question is what are you willing to put work into? No writer can do everything and still have a life and write the next book. No writer is comfortable with all the platforms and online possibilities either. For myself, I will continue to use Facebook and Instagram for ongoing book news, as well as this blog and my website for a more detailed background. I will do virtual events as the opportunity arises, and I will be open to learning new things that seem exciting. But I will also continue to seek out in-person connections through book signings, readings, conferences, and tours.