Friday, March 31, 2023


It fills the hole …

By Johnny D. Boggs

Frank Luksa was a longtime sports columnist when I joined the Dallas Times Herald staff in 1984. And I have used one of his sayings a lot over the years.

It even came to mind now and then after Charlotte Hinger talked me into blogging for Type M for Murder every other week for six months. As many of you know, it’s hard to tell Charlotte NO!

Well, six months ends today.

And this Western novelist-magazine writer-photographer-wannabe songwriter-film historian-former newspaper journalist and hack – the same guy who used to tell anyone who asked, “I write for a living. I don’t have time to blog.” – figured something out.

I can blog.

Well, maybe it was never provocative, awe-inspiring or halfway good, but I hope you got something out of it once in a while. A laugh. Or … If This Guy Can Write For A Living, Anybody Can.

Shucks, I even told Charlotte to hit me up again if she needs to. Just let me get through the projects I must finish this year. Including one deadline that, oh boy, is tomorrow.

Sure, I didn’t always figure out how to get the blog posted right. But that’s because my college-junior-techno-savvy son wasn’t around to help. Hey, I started out on a manual Smith Corona. (Sometimes I wish we still used typewriters.)

And I found myself reading Type M For Murder blogs, too. Learning. Laughing. Nodding. Blogging has a purpose.

You folks have talent. Keep it up. I might not be posting, or even commenting, but you can bet I’ll be reading when I can.

Back to Frank Luksa.

Frank had also worked at the Fort Worth Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (where I went after the Times Herald folded). After the Herald was being turned into a parking lot, he moved to the Dallas Morning News, where he kept sharing his opinions till he retired in 2004. He died at age 77 in 2012.

He covered the Dallas Cowboys, beginning with their inaugural season in 1960, and kept writing about them throughout his career. It didn’t take me more than a year in Dallas to grow to hate the Dallas Cowboys and loathe football in general. Frank covered the Seoul Olympics in 1988. He would file his column, call in, and if I happened to be editing his piece, as soon as we had OK’d everything, he would have me transfer the call to his home so he could talk to his wife.

When the newspaper closed three years later, I wondered if those long-distant charges had something to do with it.

But I always liked Frank. Hey, I liked columnist Skip Bayless, too. Both were professionals.

Skip was a wordsmith. You went over any changes you made with him. Frank, well, he had seen just about everything. And often, when he filed a column, he would tell me:

“It fills the hole – if not the need.”

Borrowing Frank’s saying and the newspaper symbol -30- (for END OF STORY) is a good way to sign off. 


Wednesday, March 29, 2023


LCC Tucson 2023 - a room with a view

Donis here, back from Left Coast Crime 2023, alive and well. Last time I attended LCC, in 2018, I came home with a nasty case of the flu. Covid wasn't even on the map, so you can imagine I was leery about finally venturing out into the world again. But LCC was in Tucson this year, which is about 90 miles from my house, so I figured, what the hey. It was nice to see everyone, and I didn't catch anything. So all in all I'm glad I went.

Me and a couple of panel members at LCC - Elizabeth Crowens, Clare Broyles, Myself

I did dose up on vitamin C after I got home, because the very next week I did a writers' workshop on the concept of voice, and I really didn't want to lose mine before I gave the class. Fortunately all was well, because I do like talking about "voice" in literature since it's such a misunderstood topic.

One of my favorite Voice quotes is from Julia Cameron in her book The Right to Write:  "It is my belief that all of us have a voice in writing because all of us have a voice. Working to have a “unique” voice is another concept that gets a great deal of play. I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover, or perhaps better, uncover it."

I like that.

Voice is not quite the same as style. Novels look quite different than they did at the turn of the 20th century. Readers don't have the patience to let a story develop like they used to, so the style is to start right off with action. Style is “Tyra Banks is wearing nude lipstick and tucking in her shirt this season.” Voice is Diane Keaton. Styles change, but voice is yours alone.

I feel that most authors are trying to give the reader an experience, and voice is a big part of that.

Voice the attitude of the novel - the mood. First person voice is the personality of the narrator, but third person has voice as well. Think of Ellis Peters vs. Hemingway.

If the novel is in 1st person, then the voice is literally the character’s way of expressing herself. Yet its not just the dialog, but the narration evokes the place and time, the atmosphere, the feel of the novel.

Voice is the way you're writing 'sounds' on the page. It has to do with the tone you take--friendly, formal, chatty, distant--the words you choose--everyday words or high-brow language--the pattern of your sentences, and the way these things fit in--or not--with the personality of the narrator character and the style of your story. It is a reflection of how your character(s) experience the world of your story. Let your characters tell you the story, listen carefully to how they do it, then start writing it down. If you can 'hear' your characters, it's likely that you'll get the voice of your story right.

Voice is important because it gives your writing personality. A strong voice helps you grab your readers' attention and establish a relationship with them. You probably have favorite writers you'll read no matter what their subject, because you like their style so much, and other writers you can't stand because they sound snarky or condescending or otherwise unappealing to you.

Our own Barbara Fradkin compared writing fiction to acting, in that you have to inhabit the character in order to present his true voice. You have to know how your character thinks and behaves so intimately that she practically takes on a life of her own, and it feels almost like you’re simply reporting her thoughts and actions, rather than creating them yourself. I suppose the question then becomes, how many characters in your novel can you inhabit so thoroughly that you can present all their POVs in a natural and interesting way.

Acting metaphor works for 3rd person too. Barbara called it improvisational writing. "Actors immerse themselves in the character they are to play, so they can live, breathe, and imagine that character's every move. This is about empathy, literally feeling for another. Improvisation is a tool actors use to discover their character and to probe more deeply into their feelings and needs."

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard writers say, “I was finally successful when I found my true voice.” I’ve said it myself. Your voice is your own unique way of perceiving the world. It’s the way you put things that’s yours alone. How do you find your distinctive voice? Like any other art, you have to build your basic skills, first. If you are a violinist, you have to learn to read music, bowing, fingering, then you have to practice until your fingers bleed. If you’re a painter, you have to learn about color and pigments, composition, style, then practice until your fingers bleed. If you’re a writer … well, you get the idea. Then, once you have the chops, once you’ve mastered your art, you are able to stop copying your teachers and other virtuosos and begin to do your own thing. You have to be brave, though. You have to trust your own instincts. You have to reveal yourself.

Another favorite quote: “A novel works it’s magic by putting a reader inside another person’s life.” Barbara Kingsolver

No kidding.


All dressed up for the first time in three years

The importance of community

 Recent posts on Type M have explored the many aspects of being a writer. What we like about it, what we hate, why we do it (hint, it's not for the money), how and why do we research, and how we get people to read it when we're done. As I am currently at the "tearing-my-hair-out phase of a new first draft, I found myself smiling and nodding a lot as I read. Whether we "meet" virtually in the blogsphere, at mystery conferences, library readings, or in a pub, the sharing of experiences with book lovers and fellow writers is one of the surprising delights of this wacky career and one of the main things that keep me going.

I've been a writer all my life because, like so many writers, I feel driven to tell tales. They are always spinning in my head and they clamour to be written. In my younger years, I just dabbled, writing as long as a story appealed to me but abandoning it when it got too hard or I lost interest in it. My childhood desk was stuffed with discarded plays, TV scripts, and novels. Eventually I decided I had to finish something, no matter what, and stuck with a few (very bad) novels until the bitter end. However, once I wrote "The End", I thought I was done. I had no concept of editing, polishing, trying to make the thing better. Into the bottom drawer it went along with the earlier discards, while I was on to another project that sparked my interest.

Since I was very busy with my paying career and my three young children, I didn't take the stories seriously. They were a catharsis and a creative outlet, not something to share publicly.

All this changed when I discovered a community of fellow aspiring crime writers. They're a small group of local Ottawa writers intent on learning the craft and the knowledge base of crime writing. When I walked into my first meeting - a presentation by the local Chief of Detectives - I felt as if I had found my kindred souls. And so it began. The laughter, the networking, the critiquing, and the sharing of ideas and news. Encouraged by their feedback on a couple of short stories, I began to think about the possibility of getting something published. It didn't happen overnight, of course. I had a lot to learn not just about the four pillars of a good story – character, dialogue, plot, and setting – but about the importance of rewriting, rewriting, polishing, and not giving up until the story was the best I could make it. And about the importance of sticking with it even when you hate it, think it's junk, boring, etc. etc. 

All of this I learned not only by practice, practice, practice, but by meeting other writers, and readers too. From this local mystery writers' group, I went on to join Crime Writers of Canada, attend mystery conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. Not only do you learn how other writers do the craft and solve the inevitable problems, but you make connections with other book people: readers, bookstore owners, publishers, and librarians. Each personal connection extends your reach, but it also draws you into a community. A community that lifts you up and encourages you when times are grim, shares horror stories, and knows exactly what you're going through. 

Without that, it would be a very lonely job indeed, and I think I might still be stuck at the starting gate.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Voice Recording

 by Charlotte Hinger

This is going to be a really short not so sweet blog. I was asked to record my short story, Lizzie Noel, and I thought that would be a very simple process. 


It would have been simple if I knew what I was doing. However, as usual I naively assumed it was a piece of cake. 

To begin with, I decided that the best approach would be to use the Voice Memo app on my iPhone. This entailed figuring out how to stop, resume, edit and improve the recording. 

My biggest problem was my voice. I sounded terrible. I have chronic allergies and sounded like a feeble frog. On top of that, since I don't regularly read aloud, my voice and breathing was irregular and breathy. I stumbled over simple words and repeated them. I used to be a good oral reader. What happened?

I think it was a case of use it or lose it. My neighbor who is a broadcast journalism advised me to drink lots of water, and a tea labeled Throat Coat. Those suggestions helped. I also dashed off to Best Buy and brought a mic that plugged into my iPhone that improved the sound quality. 

After I mailed off the recorded story to Ellery Queen I discovered there was a better system on my computer. Wow!

I wish I had done a better job. I'm going to start regularly reading aloud so I won't be caught off guard if I have another opportunity. 

It's embarrassing how many times I deleted the recording and started over before I learn that sections could be replaced.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

I want them all. I want the...

 Earlier this week, I hosted a guys' night at a local theater to watch on the big screen, the 70s classic, The Warriors.

Though I've heard of the movie, I'd never seen it before. In many ways, it didn't disappoint, being the cheesy, low-budget popcorn thriller people talked about. Plenty of contrived moments, like when the gang members are on the run for their lives, yet they stop to pick up girls. Teenage hormones, I suppose. What the movie did capture was the decrepit urban of landscape of New York City at the time, where the Big Apple seemed poised on the brink of collapse. I was there in the early 70s and vividly remember the squalor, the desolation, and the fear of imminent violence. Times Square was a cesspool of humanity. Boarding the subways--covered in graffiti inside and out--was like tempting fate, even in the middle of the day. I saw people attacked on the subway, kept out of the way during spontaneous brawls in McDonalds, witnessed muggings on Park Avenue and 42nd. It was a mess.

When I heard that the city had cleaned up, I returned in 1999 for a family vacation. The change for the better was shocking. It seemed futile trying to explain how bad things had been. My sons though, were expecting to find bodies floating in the East River.  One son even remarked, "This is New York? People are so friendly."

That was then, and NYC, like too many other big cities, Denver included, is staggering under rampant homelessness, drug trafficking, overdose deaths, and violent crime. Doesn't make for comfortable living but is fodder for good stories.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Favorite (And Least Favorite) Things About Writing


by Sybil Johnson 

I’ve been thinking lately about what I do and don’t like about writing. Overall it’s a big like, otherwise I wouldn’t bother writing at all. But, pretty much like everything else I’ve done, there are things I’m not particularly enamored of.

I don’t know if this is just me but, no matter how much I like doing something, there’s always a part that makes me groan just a little. Sometimes groan a lot. And, always, at the end of a long project I want to hurry up and get it finished. I’ve learned to curb this last bit because I know that I don’t always do the best job when I’m in a hurry.

Here are my favorites and least favorites: 

- My favorite parts about writing a new story or the plotting and editing. I’m not a huge outliner. As I’ve noted before, I’m more of a plantser. I think about the crime and the characters involved and a bit about the major story arcs, then I start writing. I also love editing something I’ve already written. No matter how bad it is, I enjoy whipping it into shape.

- My least favorite part about writing a new story is working on the first draft. It’s not a horrible dislike. I do have fun writing new scenes. But it’s hard, hard work. At least for me.

- My least favorite thing about the non-writing aspects of the publishing world are trying to get someone to publish your work and marketing. I’d much rather be working on a story than figuring out how to place ads or do the independent publishing thing. I do, however, enjoy being interviewed for podcasts and being on panels at conventions. I missed Left Coast Crime and I won’t be at Malice Domestic this year. (I’ve been to the last 7 so I am very sad about this one.) I will, however, be at Bouchercon in San Diego. I love going to conventions to meet readers, talk about my books and see the many mystery writers I’ve met over the years. 

- The final thing I enjoy about writing is the satisfaction of having a project finished, knowing that it all came out of my imagination. That is a truly satisfying thing about writing.

This year I’m going to work on the things I don’t like, figuring out how to improve in those areas.

What about you all? What are your favorite and/or least favorite things about writing or the publishing biz?

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What in the World?

 by Charlotte Hinger

I'm going through a novel, tightening wherever possible, and discovered the strangest thing. I dislike the construction of "said he" rather than "he said." But the "said he" usage is throughout my book. I have no idea how that happened, or why I didn't notice it. 

Thanks to the power of global searches, I will simply ask Word to find "said" and look at how it's used. Of course, it's better if "said" is used sparingly. That is not to say it should be followed by an adverb, but unique vivid description of action or a character tag. 

In addition to "said he" I'm annoyed by long passages of unattributed dialogue. I find too many authors think their dialogue is so skillfully done that the reader can easily tell who is speaking. 

For that matter, I don't like fiction that has no quotation marks. Writers who omit them strike me as affected in some way. 

Now, I'm worried that my previously published books have some peculiarity that I was unaware of. Are my other novels riddled with "said he"? What else have I done? I don't have the guts to look. 

Writers who care about improving become much better craftsmen over time. Even if no one is coaching them. I don't know how this happens. To be honest, I don't understand how the writing process works. All I know is that I'm better than I used to be. 

I have a contract for the book I'm revising now. Word count is limited to 105,000. That's quite reasonable. It's easy to find 10,000 words that should be deleted. What's scary is that every paragraph is just terrible. They all seem bloated. 

Does anyone ever reach the point where we get right the first time?

Monday, March 20, 2023

Our First Ever Local Writers' Conference

I’m excited that the Carteret Writers Network is gearing up for its first Writers Conference taking place on Saturday, April 15 from 8:30 to 5:30 at a lovely location called Carolina Home and Garden in Newport, North Carolina here on the coast. 

I’ve attended large conferences (Thrillerfest, Bouchercon), mid-sized conferences (North Carolina Writers Conference, The Virginia Festival of the Book) and smaller events like the Suffolk Mystery Writers Festival that just happened last weekend. Sometimes I’m a little overwhelmed at the larger events.  With so many other authors in attendance, it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd.

The smallest conference and the most exclusive that I’ll ever be invited to was in 2018.  It was the Poisoned Pen Conference with Soho Crime celebrating Ian Rankin.  All told, there were 26 authors there including Hank Phillipi Ryan, Dana Stabanow, Stephen Mack Jones, Tim Hallinan, Mark De Castrique, and of course, the iconic Ian Rankin.  That conference was held at the Arizona Biltmore and was incredibly cool!! 

Most recently, the Suffolk Mystery Writers Festival was held to fifty authors so that it had a very intimate feel to it.  It was limited to one day, had only eight panels, but had enough space that all the authors could display books and sell them (all sales handled through the event organizer). 

I’m hoping that the Carteret Writers Conference will also have that kind of intimate vibe to it.  I’m scheduled to be the Master of Ceremony for the day.  We’ll be having a good friend of mine as a speaker (and keynote speaker at lunch)—Sara Johnson, ( the author of the incredibly engaging Alexa Glock forensic mystery series.  She’ll be speaking about the Importance of Setting.  Point of information—her books take place in New Zealand.  

A second friend of mine who will be making an appearance is John DeDedakis, ( who is a mystery novelist, writing coach, manuscript editor and former writer for CNN.  He’ll be speaking about Buffing and Polishing—the Art of the Rewrite.  He’ll also be on a Q&A panel that will discuss editing and publishing and will include Robin Miura of Blair Publishing, Ed Southern of the North Carolina Writers Network, and L. Diane Wolfe of Dancing Lemur Press.  

There will be workshops on Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, a discussion on Independent Authors, and Podcasting. Then at the end of the day, there will be a cocktail hour with live music.  

If you’re in the area and interested in writing, you’re not going to want to miss this all day event!! It’s not going to get any more up-close and personal than this.

To register for the Writers Conference, go to 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Proofing and Public Speaking

By Johnny D. Boggs

Yesterday was one of those days I dread.

First, I had to get the final proof of a forthcoming novel for Kensington titled Longhorns East – shameless self-promotion – back to the production manager.

That’s never fun. Well, it’s fun to know that you’ll have a book coming out – in September – but that also leads to all sorts of stress.

Did I hit my goal? … Am I catching everything that needs fixing? … Does it read the way I want it to read. … Bigger question: Will anybody actually want to read this? I mean, it’s about a cattle drive to New York City and it opens in 1840 England! … It’s also my first original trade paperback. If the sales aren’t there, that’s when novelists get dropped.

There’s no job security in this business.

And you never know what the reading public will like and buy.

For me, the deadline for final corrections is more nerve-racking than the deadline for filing the manuscript. I’m confident that copy editors and main editors will catch the silly mistakes, question the parts that need questioning, offer erudite suggestions (or orders) and turn what I’ve written into something better.

But once I send in the final fixes, it’s all over but the worrying.

And then there was the rest of the day.

I had to give a talk for the Friends of the Santa Fe Public Library on the newest nonfiction book, American Newspaper Journalists on Film: Portrayals of the Press During the Sound Era (McFarland), at the Santa Fe Woman’s Club.

I know. It’s not that big of a deal. And I speak in public often. Have for decades. I’ve acted in theater (still waiting for some company to announce auditions for Mary Chase’s Harvey (Elwood P. Dowd or any part!), Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Inherit the Wind (the Reverend Jeremiah Brown) or Sam Shepard’s True West (either brother, but I’ll do the producer, too). I’ve been a talking head on documentary television shows. I get interviewed by newspaper reporters and magazine writers fairly often.

Besides, this is a library fundraiser, and I’ll do anything to help libraries. But then, paranoid as most authors are, I worry about trivial things like How Many People Will Show Up (maybe more this time, since they serve alcohol) … What Kinds Of Questions Will They Ask? … And I have to give a talk. Keep them entertained. Remember not to say anything that will turn them off. But what if they don’t laugh at my jokes?

High pressure. Maybe even more pressure than writing a Western novel that opens in England and focuses on a pre-Civil War cattle drive from Texas to New York City.

It’s a lot less stressful sitting in a room all day just typing ... with nothing to disturb you but doggies that demand attention and spam telephone calls that interrupt your train of thought.

But – and I tell every beginning author this when I’m speaking to beginning authors (which I have to do March 26 for New Mexico Writers):

It’s part of the job.

Thursday, March 16, 2023


Left Coast Crime 2023

 Hello, Dear Readers. I (Donis) am not really here today. I am in Tucson Arizona at Left Coast Crime. This is a rather alarming thing for me, since I haven't been in a large group setting for three years and I'm not sure I remember how to interact with others. I suppose I have to start sometime!

One fun thing I'm doing is participating in a live panel on Friday (St. Patrick's Day) morning entitled “Why We Love Research”, with Elizabeth Crowens, Clare Broyles, and Susan McDufee. The wonderful Francine Mathews was scheduled to be on our panel, but she came down with Covid at the last minute. I hope this doesn't bode ... anything!

Anyway, about research: I do a tremendous amount of research for my books. One would expect this of a historic novelist. But only a very small percent of the research I do for each book finds its way onto the page. I'm not writing a history book. I'm trying create a world, and it's amazing how little it takes to add just that perfect touch of authenticity to your story.

Mickey Spillane, when asked how much research he does in the intent of authenticity said, "None. My job is not to tell the truth. My job is to make you believe." (Note: I’ve used that quote for years, but when I looked it up for this entry, I see that it’s actually “I don’t research anything. When I need something, I make it up.” However, I like my version, so there it is. D.)

So why do research if all you have to do is make things up?

The purpose of research is to inform you, the writer, so that when you come to write, you do so from a position of knowledge, not putting all that knowledge on display, but using it to give you and your reader an absorbing, enjoyable, and authentic experience.

My own familiarity with the era I'm writing about is going to show without my having to make a big deal out of it. The characters are going to move naturally through their world without thinking about it, just like we do in our own world. 

I’m able to find out a lot on the internet, but it’s surprising how difficult it sometimes is to find simple facts that would be readily available if I was on the scene. So, I often end up on the phone, explaining what I need to a librarian or historian in whatever area or subject I am interested in.

Libraries have info you don't have. Right now I’m researching realistic and historically accurate ways to kill people. This is always problematic for me. Sadly, I have reached such a state of paranoia that I am a little bit afraid to do murderous research on my home computer, lest the NSA bust down my door in the middle of the night. Once I spent many hours doing anonymous research on library computers because wanted to discover exactly how oil field workers used nitroglycerin to clear obstructions from a well. I am writing murder mystery, after all, and I thought that blowing someone to hell with nitro seemed like a colorful way to commit murder.

 How much research is too much? I mean, eventually you have to write the book. it isn’t necessary to do so much research that I become the world’s foremost expert on my subject. The golden rule of writing is that you must never put anything in your novel that is going to take the reader out of the story. 

Concentrate on finding key points.  Drop details into your story like little jewels.  All you need are the important points and the reader will connect the dots.

Unless you’re writing a research paper or a textbook, a good writer, historic or otherwise, tries to make the reader feel that he’s had a true experience of a time or place or event.  You want to be accurate, but the point is not to give the reader information.  The point is to give the reader an experience. Your job is to make the reader believe.

p.s. When I do play fast and loose with history, such as move a historical event up a couple of months or have a historical character show up somewhere he never went, I always put an authors note explaining the truth at the end of the book. Some reader knows what really happened, and believe me, they'll let you know if you got it wrong.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Being old has its perks

 There are times when I'm glad I'm as old as I am and raised my children in the era before mobile phones, let alone smart phones and social media. Internet technology and communications has changed our lives in extraordinary, unimaginable ways since I made my first phonecall at the age of seven on my parents' one black rotary phone, that sat in the kitchen attached to a long, easily tangled cord. And since I used a slide rule to make calculations and my mother's old typewriter with its two-coloured ribbon to type the most important university papers.

I thought I'd been adapting and keeping up with the times quite well for a pre-IT dinosaur; I managed to analyze my PhD research data using an interactive statistical program (albeit on the university's computer, not my own PC), I have grown to love writing on the computer, although I still write first drafts long-hand, and I tolerate spellcheck, but not grammar check (which doesn't understand fiction writing). In 2009, when social media became a force, I joined Facebook and later Twitter (since deleted) and Instagram, recognizing their value for keeping up with friends and connecting with readers and book lovers. I created a website which I can update myself, I joined this blog. When the pandemic hit, I learned about the new frontiers of video chats, which vastly opened up our world to places and people far away. During this time, I launched two books using Zoom and still use it for the occasional remote book event. I've even learned to give Powerpoint slideshows over Zoom, which is much easier than trying to show them to a live audience.

But although the Internet and social media have enriched my life, they are not my primary contact with the world. I still love being out in nature, getting together with friends, and connecting with readers and other writers in person. I shop online for some things but still prefer to see and touch potential purchases in person. I still like to roam through stores. 

For some, though, especially the younger generation (anyone under 35, LOL), there has never been a world with screens and digital connections. My own children did not have cellphones, nor did any of their friends. There was no such thing as social media. In their vulnerable teen years, there were rudimentary chat forums as well as email and video games that allowed them to interact online, but because this was limited to a desktop computer (a single computer for all of us, only later did they get their own), the digital world did not follow them around and invade every moment of their lives. No online bullying or unwanted photo sharing, no instant group communications of the latest parties or transgressions. Bullying and social exclusion have always been with us, especially in the pre-teen to early teen years, but social media has amplified it to horrifying heights. Even adults can be destroyed by a negative post gone viral. 

This destructive force is bad enough but our over-reliance on the digital world has even worse consequences. The brain is growing and changing constantly over the first twenty years of life and needs the right stimulation at critical times for optimal development. I remember worrying , as a psychologist, about the effects on young brains of researching material using website-hopping and cut-and-paste answers. I feared young people would not develop the concentration and in-depth analytical thinking needed to see the big picture and synthesize ideas abstractly. And in the younger, developing brain, the loss of creative, unstructured play and hand-on exploration, of sustained attention, and managing time, frustration, and challenge can never be recovered.

I could go on and on, but that's not the purpose of this blog. I started off by saying I was glad I'm as old as I am. My children avoided the pitfalls of modern technology, although I worry about my grandchildren, aged 4 and 5. I have mostly learned to use technology as a tool and an assistive device, but also know how to do many things the old-fashioned way. I am glad that that I've managed to write twenty books without using ChatGPT and will not be one of the millions of hopeful writers trying to be noticed over the flood of fake writing. I think Thomas's point that AI produced a mediocre novel at best and mediocre marks on law exams is heartening, suggesting the power of a truly brilliant mind will still shine through, but it may be only a matter of time before the AI programmers figure that out too. By that time, with any luck I will be beyond the need of lawyers, or intelligence of any sort. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Black History

 by Charlotte Hinger

Wall Hanging by Kyle Odum

I'm on the board of directors for the Nicodemus Historical Society. I know a lot about Nicodemus, Kansas. Oklahoma University Press published my academic book about the town, and Five Star published a novel centered on this historic settlement. Last summer I attended the annual Homecoming Event and purchased this wall hanging made one of the descendants, Kyle Odum.

Nicodemus was the first black town on the High Plains after the Civil War. I maintain that it was the first time in American history that African American dictated political decisions to the surrounding white community. 

BlackPast is the finest resource I know for learning about black history. So what does it take to create such a wonderful site? A really big need. Dr. Quintard Taylor at the University of Washington saw a need and devised a plan to fill the hole. Before BlackPast there was no single central location on the internet that collected comprehensive accurate material about African Americans and people of African ancestry.

I refer to Dr. Taylor as the "major god of blacks in the West." In every field there is always someone regarded as the ultimate authority. Taylor is tops when it comes to African history. BlackPast received immediate support.

The site began in 2004. In the summer of 2005 Dr. Taylor received a U.S. State Department-sponsored invitation to visit the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Tyumen, Ishim, and Surgut to give lectures at various universities and institutes. That 14 day tour was initiated by the discovery of the faculty website by students at Urals State University in Yekaterinburg, Siberia.

This online reference center includes an online encyclopedia of nearly 3,000 entries, the complete transcript of nearly 300 speeches by African Americans, other people of African ancestry, and those concerned about race, given between 1789 and 2014, over 140 full text primary documents, bibliographies, timelines and six gateway pages with links to digital archive collections, African and African American museums and research centers, genealogical research websites, and more than 200 other website resources on African American and global African history.

I've done a number of entries for BlackPast. I feel honored anytime I'm asked to contribute.

I don't know any meta site in the mystery field. Sometimes I feel as those of us in the mystery field could use a place that is sort of a mystery central where ideas are gathered in one place.


Wednesday, March 08, 2023

This and That


by Sybil Johnson

I missed my last post because I was in the Seattle area. Not much of an excuse, I know. I couldn’t think of anything to talk about before I left... Weather there was actually quite nice, much better than the storm that passed through Southern California while I was gone. I was quite happy to be out of town and even happier when I got home and found the house still in one piece. Our neighbors told us we had so much hail it looked like a snow on the ground. I’ve seen hail before at the beach in the last couple years, but not that much. There was wild weather with snow in places where there shouldn’t be any and way too much snow in places that usually get it. People in the San Bernardino Mountains east of us are still digging out from all the snow. Roads are closed so people can’t get supplies or medicine. Some can’t get home. Relief efforts are proceeding. I hope things get back to normal for them soon.

Today I shall talk about a number of random topics that I’ve found of interest lately.

Let’s start with ChatGPT. I found the posts on the topic by my fellow TypeMers very interesting. I haven’t looked into it much so appreciated what everyone had found out. This seems to be the hot topic these days. It was even the answer to a question on Jeopardy! the other day. Things have certainly changed since I studied Computer Science eons ago. AI was in its infancy. I was always fascinated by natural language processing, but never studied it in detail. I certainly didn’t expect something like ChatGPT would come along. There’s a free AI/Media Advocacy Summit this Friday, March 10 starting at 11 am ET. You can find out more about it and register for it here:

Time zone for the moon. Apparently, the European Space Agency is pushing for the moon to have its own time zone. At first, this seemed very odd to me. I had questions like will there be daylight savings time up there? Why does the moon need its own time zone? After I read this article, it made more sense to me. Right now a moon mission operates on the time of the country who sponsors it. With lots of missions scheduled from different countries coming up in the next few years, there seems to be the need for all of those missions to operate on the same time. Other tidbits I learned: the International Space Station runs on UTC and clocks on the moon run faster than those on earth.

Dentists with therapy dogs. Did you know that there are dentists who have therapy dogs in the office? People can request their services while getting work done. It lessons anxiety for some people. I looked to see if there were dentists who have therapy cats since I’m more of a cat person. Alas, and not unexpectedly, I could find none.

Jaywalking in California. As of January of this year, jaywalkers no longer have to worry about getting a ticket unless there’s “an immediate chance of a collision.” This is known as The Freedom To Walk Act.

Life At Sea Cruise. There’s now a cruise where you can live at sea for 3 years. The itinerary consists of 375 ports in 135 countries. It will hit all 7 continents. There’s an on-board business center so you can get work done, if you want. Price starts at around $30,000 per year for an inside cabin. The most expensive is a suite at $109,000 a year. There’s room for about a 1,000 passengers. There’s a gym and hospital on board. There are people to prepare food for you. They have their own security force and jail if someone commits a crime onboard. (That was one of the FAQs.) You have your own fridge in your room. You could cross a lot of places off your bucket list... It’s scheduled to begin Nov 1 in Istanbul. Sounds pretty interesting to me. No, I’m not going to do it. It does seem like the perfect trip for a writer, though. You could give up your apartment or rent your house out. You can have your mail forwarded to a virtual mailbox. Maybe you could even get someone to pay for it in exchange for daily posts on what's happening on the cruise and/or frequent articles. It's something to think about. You can find out about it and book it here: 

Those are the things I found interesting lately. Let me know if anyone books that cruise!

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Surprise Breaks

 by Charlotte Hinger

One of my all-time favorite writing projects was the Sheridan County History Books. I edited these books They were unique because all the work was done within Sheridan. County. We actually had our own commercial book-binder in the area. A local artist designed the covers. Several contributed original art. We found a lot of old pictures and the stories were absolutely wonderful.

It was especially gratifying to see the wonder on some the contributors faces to learn details about their families that they had not known. The hardships and the sorrows of homesteading. The bonding with their relatives through collecting information.

This experience, of course, became the foundation for my mystery series. Oh, the stories people told me behind closed doors. This project was a gift. A surprise. It came out of nowhere when Don bought a livestock truckline and we moved to Hoxie. The local historical society was looking for someone to tackle organizing and editing the history books and I was delighted take on the work.

My latest book contract resulted from a chance contact at a writing convention. More about this historical novel later. The book is dear to my heart, and it was an incredibly lucky break. 

I was reminded once again of how some wonderful opportunities come out of the blue and it's not always necessary to "make" things happen. That mentally is a trap authors fall into right now. We are oppressively aware of everything we could be doing regarding social media or promoting our work on-line.

I'm especially appreciative of gracious little jolts--the surprises--that come my way despite my bumbling.

Monday, March 06, 2023

ChatGPT---Lookin' Over My Shoulder

by Thomas Kies 

I see an awful lot of chatter about an Artificial Intelligence app called Chat GPT. Wildly popular, ChatGPT debuted last November and is free for users.  It generates “sophisticated, human-like responses based on requests from users and mountains of data.” The app can be used for writing everything from emails to essays to coding.  

It’s also raising concerns for universities…and publishers…who are rushing to include this in their policies concerning plagiarism. 

In a column posted by a local real estate broker/owner here on the North Carolina coast, she quoted a CNN report by Samantha Murphy Kelly, business reporter.  “Real estate agents say they can’t imagine working without ChatGPT now.”  The local broker said in her column that real estate agents are using it as a time saver to write emails to clients, especially for repetitive questions and inquiries but also for property descriptions. 

That seems benign enough. 

Some law professors at the University of Minnesota used the chatbot to generate answers to exams in four law courses, then graded them blindly alongside actual students’ tests. ChatGPT averaged a C+ performance but fell below the humans’ B+ average.

Okay…but it still passed what amounts to a bar exam!

According to a Reuters report, if applied across the curriculum, that would be enough to earn the chatbot a law degree, though it would be placed on academic probation in Minnesota, ranked as the 21st best law school in the country by US News & World Report. 

The chatbot could have earned a law degree!

What about in the field of fiction?  Clarkesworld Magazine, a Hugo Award winning publisher of science fiction short stories has closed itself to submissions after being inundated with Artificial Intelligence generated pitches that overwhelmed its editorial staff. 

In a typical month, the magazine receives a dozen or so short story submission that were suspected of plagiarizing other authors. But since late last year when ChatGPT was released, they’ve seen that rate go way up. The founding editor, Neil Clarke, said that this past January they rejected one hundred submissions, banning the “authors” from submitting again.  Then in February, they banned five hundred more. 

Clarke said, “I’ve reached out to several editors and the situation I’m experiencing is by no means unique.”  He also said, “It’s clear that business as usual won’t be sustainable and I worry that this path will lead to an increased number of barriers for new and international authors.” 

Intrigued and a little frightened, I Googled “Can ChatGBT write mysteries?”

A couple of blog posts popped up.  One was from a blogger who had asked the chatbot to write a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The writer points out that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain so anyone can try their hand at getting a Holmes mystery into print.  

The chatbot insisted that it could write a Holmes tome in a thousand words or less.  It did so in a little over 800 words.  I read it.  If he were alive, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wouldn’t have anything to worry about.  It was rife with plot holes.

Then another blogger posted about how he had asked the app to write a mystery and once again, it wrote something in about a thousand words.

Maybe that’s as long as it thinks a mystery should be.  I’ve never used ChatGPT, nor have an inclination to do so, so perhaps the user mandated the word count.

Once again, the story was filled with plot holes and worse…cliches.  

It literally started out with “It was a dark and stormy night.” 

So, as a mystery writer, should I be looking over my shoulder for robots wielding a pen?  Yes.  I think all authors should.  

AI will only get better with time. 

Friday, March 03, 2023

Music in Prose

By Johnny D. Boggs

Micki Fuhrman called me the other day to pass on good news:

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City had called to let her know that her album Westbound (do we still call them albums?) was winning this year’s Western Heritage Wrangler Award for Outstanding Traditional Western Album.

Which answers that album question.

“So,” Micki  says, “you have a song on a Wrangler-winning album.”

That’s not why Micki’s getting a Wrangler next month.

But it’s cool. Hey, I can’t carry a tune – I don’t even hum well – or pick a chord. A note is something I pay off. A meter is what I feed quarters into to keep from getting a ticket. Scales are what I scrape off fish. Rhythm is something I ain’t got.

But sometimes I string a few words together that aren’t half bad.

The song Micki recorded as a duet with Jon Chandler is “Loving County.” It’s inspired by Elmer Kelton’s great novel The Time It Never Rained, about a ranching couple’s struggles during the 1950s drought. And a comment I overheard from an old cowboy/rancher in a West Texas café:

“A cloud ain’t nothin’ but a high school tease.”

But for a guy with no musical ability, I often think musically when I’m writing prose. I try to follow Johnny Cash’s instructions: Tell the story and get out of the song. Don’t waste words.

Is the rhythm right for this scene, this paragraph? Is this the right word? Do I need something else? It’s the right word, but what if I place it here instead of there? Hmmm … I’m stumbling over this phrase, which means the reader will, too. What if I repeat this word for effect? How does this sound when I read it aloud?

Since we’re talking music, we might as well get to songwriters. My favorites, other than the aforementioned Man in Black? The usual names: Guy Clark, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, Bob Dylan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard, Bobbie Gentry, Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty  …

And many prose writers I admire – Wallace Stegner, James Agee, Dorothy M. Johnson, Loren D. Estleman, John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Raymond Chandler – have a lyrical style. 

Rarely do I listen to music when I’m writing. Not because it’s distracting. I worked for newspapers, so I’ve had to write fast with people screaming two desks down from me, or dictate a story from a phone booth with sirens blasting and someone asking me if I could loan him a buck for cigarettes. 

All I want to hear when I’m writing is the keyboard clicking.

Anyway, I’m not moving to Nashville or Austin. And when I play Westbound, I usually listen to “What a Moon” or “Runaway Heart,” both of which Micki wrote.

She’s got that songwriting thing down. I’ll stick to prose. But sometimes when I’m driving at night, a song idea will percolate, and I’ll start noodling for words. Maybe I’ll jot down some lyrics later.

Just don’t ask me to sing anything.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

March Forward

 March is both coming in and going out like a lion for me this year – First of all, as I mentioned last time we spoke here, I’m going to the Left Coast Crime conference this year. I haven't been to an actual conference in a long time. I was registered to go to Left Coast Crime in March of 2020, when it was cancelled at the very last minute (some people had actually arrived) by the city of San Diego because of the epidemic. This year LCC is being held in Tucson, which is about a 90 mile drive from my house, so I could hardly pass up the opportunity. The dates are March 16-19, and here’s the link for all the information. It’s way worth it to go and meet your favorite mystery writers in person. I’m a little worried that I don’t know how to speak to people face to face any more, and also a tad worried because the last time LCC was in Tucson I got the flu and felt like I was at death’s door for weeks. You may be assured I just got a fresh flu shot and I’ve been extra-extra Covid boosted.

Still, it’ll be wonderful to see so many fellow crime-writing friends in person again, thought I might be tempted to wave and make kissy gestures at them from across the room. I am getting to do a panel on Friday March 17 from 10:15 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on the importance of research, especially to historical mystery authors. The panel is called “Why We Love Research”, featuring Clare Broyles, Francine Mathews, Susan McDuffie, and Yours Truly. I’m all exited!

As for my own writing, perhaps the less said the better. I may have mentioned that my long-time publisher has dropped my Bianca Dangereuse series, and I am in the process of slogging around from publisher to publisher trying to find someone who would like to issue the already finished third installment. Seems publishers aren't enthusiastic about picking up a series in the middle. However, several told me they liked my writing and if I wanted to submit something new they would love to read it. Encouraging words. But - it seems I have too many ideas and no clear direction. I am literally working on three books at once - all entirely different from one another; a historical stand-alone, another Alafair Tucker Mystery, and a totally new contemporary mystery that could be the beginning of a series.  I am very much enjoying hopping between worlds and moods and characters, but as I've sadly discovered, it's difficult to plow through when you don't have someone breathing down your neck saying "finish, finish!" If only I knew which book has the best chance of seeing the light of day I'd pick that one and stick with it to the end. Doodling around is fun but not the most professional attitude for an author. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2023


I love to read the recent posts of my fellow Type Mers, especially when I'm searching for a topic to write about. The perspectives and interests of other writers are a great source of inspiration. I have been doing this blog for a long, long time, and sometimes I feel as if I have nothing new to say under the sun.

The same thing can be said of writing itself. I've written dozens of short stories– although none recently due to lack of time (so I say)– as well as four short novels and sixteen full-length crime novels. I am not a fast writer, nor do I have an easy system for coming up with new ideas for plots and themes. Each book takes a lot of thought, research, and stumbling, bumbling drafts. I read about prolific writers who have fifty or more books under their belts and I am astonished. I don't know how a writer can create twenty original and powerful books about Detective X or Miss Y the librarian. After ten Inspector Green novels, I really want a change. I was afraid I would start creating the same book wearing different clothes, and frankly, I wanted to spread my wings. Hence Amanda Doucette. She gave me a refreshing change and a new writing style, settings, and characters to explore. After five books living with her, I was ready to go back to Inspector Green. With a new, updated twist.

Charlotte Hinger's post about the Masterclasses intrigued me. I'd seen them advertised but, like her, I had always dismissed them. But the four authors she described are all prolific writers with dozens of books to their credit. I was struck by the drive, professionalism, and passion they seemed to convey. I decided that I would try to track down their classes and listen. You don't get to be a successful writer by writing a book or two, and then dusting off your hands and sitting back to savour the results. You write the next book, and the next, because the stories are clamouring to come out. Most of us writers don't write for the money - you're better off being a plumber. We write because words and stories are our way of connecting. With others and with ourselves. 

I've never been a fan of "how to write" books. There are many different ways to write and to tell a story, and each of us has to find the way that works for us. Maybe outlining would make my life easier, maybe I should know where I'm going before I start, but that's not how my creative mind works. But over the years I've learned a lot about the craft of writing from other writers and from various workshops, panels, and discussions, as well as from my own bumbling. I like hearing what works for other writers, because most of the time, I find more similarities than differences, and I feel a kindred connection. I pay particular attention to writers whom I regard as exceptional. I look at their use of language, structure, character development, etc. How they weave the story together. 

Most writers always want to be improving the quality of our prose and the power of our stories. Inspiration is not just one ahah! idea that galvanizes a story; it's a hundred little ahah ideas along the way that lift an ordinary character or theme into an extraordinary one. Ideas that make the story sparkle and infuse it with passion. 

Which is something I'm not sure a robot can do.

Now I am curious enough that I am going to check out some of these masterclasses, starting with the ones Charlotte mentioned. To see where their passion comes from and how they capture it.