Friday, June 30, 2023

A Cautionary Tale

 "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . ."

You probably remember this opening line from A Tale of Two Cities. That was the novel that Charles Dickens published in 1859. But the description of that era might  apply as well to our own era. There is no denying that we are having another bad year. Right out of the pandemic and ready to enjoy summer , , ,but now we have climate change occurring even faster than predicted. Droughts, tornadoes,  forest fires, floods, mudslides. . .hoping no bridges will fall or buildings crumble. Watching for one of the trees towering around my house to land on top of my roof in the next high wind.

Here in upstate New York, between New York City and the Canadian border, we have alerts posted on the Northway suggesting we put on our masks. The same masks we were using during the pandemic.

When I dropped my dog, Fergus, off at daycare yesterday, I asked if they could keep him inside if the smoke got worse. He has allergies and he has been panting. I realized last night that I should turn off the air conditioner and turn on the humidifier. We were all -- including Maine Coon, Penelope, and I --breathing better after that. And this morning the sun was out. But on my way to drop him off, I could see the haze up ahead and I reached for my mask.

I was reminded this morning of something I have been  pondering. That brings me to the title of my post. I've been thinking about how this era is a lot like the years between World War I and World War II. My historical thriller in progress is set in 1939. That year, in February, the Nazi rally in NYC precedes the Easter Sunday concert by Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial. The opening of the New York World's Fair with the focus on"The World of Tomorrow" precedes that movie blockbuster about the Civil War and its aftermath, Gone With the Wind.

As I was reminded, it is sometimes a bad idea to use a real place as the setting of a book. For my Lizzie Stuart series, I have a fictionalized version of the history and geography of my home town, Danville, Virginia, and of Blacksburg, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech. I'm an alum of Tech (undergrad) and of UAlbany (grad school and faculty). I used buildings from both when I created my fictional university and located it on the campus in my mysteries. My fictional Southern city -- Gallagher -- has a history inspired by Danville.

I draw on Albany's real life history, but also have elements of an alternate universe in my Hannah McCabe police procedural novels set in my fictional Albany. I wanted to use real Albany history but have deniability about whether I was writing about real people and situations. And I haven't been. My two books have a twist with the UFO that had appeared in the skies in Nevada and disappeared after a NORAD scramble. I wrote about that UFO in 2012 in The Red Queen Dies. Now the government is admitting that UFOs are real and puzzling. 

I  wrote about a far-right candidate named Howard Miller, who was running for president in 2024 in both that first book and the second. What the Fly Saw. He was having an impact here in Albany. So was the female mayor. At the time when I wrote those two books, no real- life Howard Miller existed. At the time, Albany had never had a female mayor, not in all of the city's long history. But the mayor was elected while I was doing my revisions.

Now, I have a 2024 frame story about a murder related to the discovery of a time capsule in my historical thriller.. In my work in progress, the time capsule is discovered by some children who are playing. When it is taken to the museum to examine, a guard is killed and the time capsule is stolen. McCabe and her partner are trying to solve those crimes parallel to what is occurring back in 1939. 

I thought that was really a great way to keep the story moving and introduce another layer of tension. In my 2024 story, the candidates for president are coming to Albany for a debate, Is one of them going to be a target? Ticking clock as they try to make the connection.

In real life, in1939, as the World's Fair in NYC opened, a time capsule was buried. Burying time capsules was a fad. Some of my characters were here in my fictional Albany when a time capsule was being buried and put something inside.

Imagine my delight -- and dread -- when I heard the roundtable panel on the WAMC (public radio) morning show discussing the time capsule that workmen had discovered when they were taking down the statue that had stood in front of City Hall. The statue was of Phillip Schuyler, New York's first senator. Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton's father-in-law. He was also a slaveowner. And -- just as I finally figured out how to solve the problem I was having with the pace and structure of my novel -- there is a time capsule in his statute.

Don't know whether to laugh or cry, This makes for a good story to tell doing a panel. But I'm beginning to feel as if anything I write might come true. Just kidding -- the truth is I do my research and look for what might have happened or could happen if. . .but still it is occasionally disconcerting. 

Anyone else have examples of writing fiction that is a little too close to what happens next in real life?

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Weather Report

Watermelon pie

 Donis here. I live in southern Arizona, so the weather report for the end of June is always the same. It's hot. The forecast for today is 105º F (40.56º C). They say it'll be 114ºF (45.55ºC) by Sunday and drop to a more manageable 110-ish after that. The average daily temp for the end of June in Phoenix is 106º. I understand it’s supposed to cool down to 102º by early next week. We’re all looking forward to that.

Why, you may wonder, would anybody live in such heat? I wonder that myself, every year about this time. By August, ill will have made a solemn vow not to live here one more year. Then October will come, and the winter, and rather like childbirth, I’ll be so pleased with what I’ve got I will have forgotten what I had to go through to get there.

There are Arizonans who brag about surviving or even loving the heat, just as native North Dakotans brag about the cold. But I'm not one of them. Three months of super heat is exhausting. I get cabin fever. I try to get any errands done in the morning, but banks and stores often don't open before nine or ten a.m., and it's already hot enough for sunstroke by then.

My writing life is not helped by my heat-induced ennui. I have to gear myself up for the task of writing. But then again, I suppose, and shouldn’t complain. We’ll be laughing up our other sleeves come January.

We expect this every year and more or less know how to live with it. But I've been getting weather reports from my siblings and friends in Oklahoma and it is really not pretty. My brother and sister-in-law in Tulsa lost all their mature trees and part of their roof in a storm a couple of weeks ago and then to add insult to injury, they lost their electricity (along with much of east and south Tulsa) for six days in the midst of a killer heat wave. They're smart and own a generator, so at least they had lights, computers, and didn't lose everything in their refrigerator. But no a/c. If you haven't tried sleeping in 96ºF heat and 70% humidity, allow me to inform you it is almost impossible. After a couple of miserable nights they bought a single-room a/c small enough to work with their generator and were at least able to sleep. The forecast for Tulsa (45%humidity) today and tomorrow is about the same temperature as here (10% humidity) in Phoenix. Everyone in Texas, Oklahoma, and environs is praying to the electricity gods NOT TO ABANDON THEM.

How did people live in the south before air conditioning? I'm old enough to remember, so I'll tell you someday when we're relating how we had to walk 12 miles to school uphill both ways. 

For those of you who still have the blessings of electricity, I'll share with you one secret to surviving in a southern summer: watermelon. A few years ago, I saw a recipe in my local newspaper for a watermelon pie, and I just had to try it. The newspaper recipe calls for a graham cracker crust, which would be delicious, I think. But my husband can’t eat graham flour, so I just made the filling–basically a watermelon pudding. It was amazingly easy. The hardest parts were cutting and chunking the watermelon and cleaning up the mess. Otherwise, it took about twenty minutes to make. Here is the recipe as I did it:

2 1/2 cups watermelon flesh

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 eggs

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup sugar

whipped cream

Puree the watermelon in a blender until completely smooth. (about 2 cups of juice) Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan and add the lemon juice. Bring the juice to a simmer over medium-high heat.

In a heat-safe bowl, whisk together eggs, cornstarch, and sugar until smooth. Slowly pour the hot juice into the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Then pour the mixture back into the saucepan and continue to cook, whisking until thickened. Pour the watermelon pudding into a pie pan (or even better, graham cracker pie crust), press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cold. Serve with whipped cream.

I don’t care how odd it looks, it’s delicious!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Bye Bye Safety Deposit Boxes?

 by Sybil Johnson

I read a newspaper article not long ago about how Chase bank is phasing out safety deposit boxes (or safe deposit boxes, if you prefer. We’ll get to that bit in a minute.) Customers who have them can keep them as long as their branch remains open, but no new ones can be rented. If a branch closes, you won’t be able to rent a box at a different branch.

That got me thinking about the history of such boxes and how many movies and TV shows involve them. But first, let’s talk about the “safe” vs. “safety” thing.

I pretty much use the terms interchangeably, sometimes saying “safety deposit boxes”, sometimes saying “safe deposit boxes.” Just like I sometimes pronounce coupon as “koo-pon” and sometimes “cue-pon”. That seems to depend on what part of the U.S. you live in. According to a poll, 72% of the states in the U.S. lean toward “cue-pon”. Washington state, where I grew up, favors this pronunciation. California, where I live now, is a “coo” state. Hence my alternating pronunciations. Here’s an article on that: 

Let’s get back to the safe vs. safety thing. Apparently, “safety deposit boxes” is the term most often used in the U.S. “Safe deposit boxes” is used in the UK. I don’t have an explanation about why I go back and forth. Perhaps it’s all those British TV shows I watch.

Getting back to the history of them, I found an interesting article online from 2016 that goes through the history from the origins of safekeeping in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome through the birth of the modern safe deposit box in the 1800s. In the U.S., independent companies provided the service and, eventually, banks got into the act and got the majority of the business. That seems to be reversing now with banks building smaller branches with no room for boxes and new private companies coming into being. Some of them I googled provide 24-hour access and use iris scans with a pin code for security. For the article on the history, go here: 

Why do we as crime writers care about their apparent demise? Think about how many movies, books and TV shows involve breaking into vaults and robbing boxes or getting access to a box that holds a secret/info a character needs. So many that there are lists of them online. See and

I don’t think these boxes will completely go away. Private companies will continue to take up the slack. Who knows, maybe banks will get back in the business. In any case, I think writers can still create stories that involve the boxes. If they do go away, we can always set a story in a time when they were common.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Love a Good MacGuffin!!!

by Thomas Kies
In his last blog, Mario Acevedo mentioned a story device called a MacGuffin.

What exactly is a MacGuffin? The term originated with Alfred Hitchcock who said, "In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers".

If you read books, watch movies, or play video games, you most certainly have encountered a MacGuffin. It’s a plot device that motivates the characters and is the engine that drives the story forward.  But in reality, the MacGuffin has little or no real value or meaning.

Some famous examples of MacGuffins are:

The briefcase in Pulp Fiction (what WAS in there, anyway?)

The letters of transit in Casablanca

The Death Star plans in Star Wars

The Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade—or the Ark of the Covenant, or the stones in the Temple of Doom, or the Crystal Skull (awful movie).  Or…whatever else is in the new flick. 

The Maltese Falcon in The Maltese Falcon (Loved the book, loved the movie!!)

MacGuffins can be objects, people, places, or concepts. They can be tangible or intangible, concrete or abstract, realistic or something from a fever-dream. They can be sought after by the good guys, the bad guys, or, even better, both. They can be revealed, hidden, lost, found, stolen, destroyed, or forgotten.

MacGuffins are great story props and often where the real tale begins.

The MacGuffin is there to create conflict and tension.  And all stories are moved by conflict and tension.

It helps drive the story forward. It gives the characters a reason to pursue their goals, face obstacles, and overcome challenges. It also provides a source of mystery and intrigue for the audience, who may wonder what the MacGuffin is, why it is important, and what will happen to it.

However, a MacGuffin is not the same as a theme or a message. A MacGuffin does not have to be symbolic or meaningful in itself. It does not have to reflect the deeper issues or values of the story.  As a matter of fact, maybe it shouldn’t. 

 It does not have to be explained or resolved by the end of the story. In fact, sometimes the best MacGuffins are the ones that remain ambiguous or irrelevant. Once again, think of Pulp Fiction and whatever was in that briefcase.  Everyone wanted it, but we never find out what it was.

A good MacGuffin is one that enhances the story without dominating it. It is one that sparks curiosity without demanding attention. It is one that drives action without dictating outcome. It is one that matters to the characters but not to the audience.

Humphrey Bogart, playing Sam Spade, describes the Maltese Falcon as the “thing that dreams are made of.”  The Maltese Falcon, of course, turns out to be a fake.  The ultimate MacGuffin. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

My Crystal Ball Needs Adjustment

 I have good news to share as Denver Noir won a Colorado Book Award. The anthology had a great roster of writers who each contributed an amazing story. Our editor Cynthia Swanson deserves shiny accolades for doing the heavy lifting in putting this collection together.

As the title Denver Noir implies, the stories were set in the Denver area. Most were contemporary and a few had a historical backdrop. While I wrote mine to occur in the near future, in looking at the story now, I am surprised how even in the short interval from first draft to publication, that my crystal ball didn't get it quite right. I was certain that we'd have a woman mayor by now. Got that wrong. Also, technology has leapt ahead of where I predicted. When I began writing my story, I'd heard about AI but didn't recognize its impact on society. Here we are, wringing our hands, wondering to what extent AI will take our jobs. Without rewriting the story, I'm not sure how addressing AI would've changed the plot, but it might've. 

Another futuristic detail that would've rated a mention was the newest development of smart gun technology, which was part of the story's MacGuffin. The latest such type of gun is quite sophisticated as it relies on a fingerprint reader plus an IR camera that uses facial recognition to verify the identity of the owner. Again, I'm not sure how this would've altered my story but it goes to show that no matter how hard I stared into my crystal ball, the future remained a little too blurry.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

In celebration of writers' retreats, writing or not

 This will be a short post because I am spending four days at a "writers' retreat" with two of my close writer friends, Vicki Delany and RJ Harlick. We have been getting together two to three times a years for three or four days. Typically we go to Vicki's 140 year-old farm house in Prince Edward County, Ontario in June, to my lakeside cottage in late summer, and Robin's cabin in the Quebec backwoods during the fall for the gorgeous fall colours or in the winter. Each season and each place has its own charm and rhythm. Sometimes other writer friends like Linda Wiken come too, and I have also done writers' retreats with her and the rest of the Ladies Killing Circle for years.

We each contribute to the food and the wine, both of which are sumptuous, and cleanups are also a chance to chat, exchange stories, and laugh as well. There was a time when there were more of us, which meant more food, more chaos, and more fragments of conversation but still lots of camaraderie and support. And that, in essence, is the purpose of our writers' retreats. We talk shop, we share horror stories and moments of triumph and joy, whether it's a touching email from a fan or a slamming review. We dispense advice and therapy about this exasperating, frustrating, often disappointing but occasionally exhilarating world of writing. We catch up on industry gossip, brainstorm plot ideas and titles, troubleshoot blocks, and discuss the next dream.

Do we get any actual writing done? Usually, but not necessarily. Most of us have a schedule we like to maintain, in my case a scene a day, which typically takes two to four hours, but between the breakfast and morning coffee, then the day's activity (shopping in "The County", kayaking at the cottage, hiking at the cabin...) , lunch, more activity, afternoon drinks, dinner prep, etc. etc. Well, the day often gets away from us. Usually I am happy to steal two hours of writing time over the course of the retreat. 

But the shared activities and the social support are just as important. Writing is a very solitary life. We spent hours a day holed up with our own imaginations, working on a project that no one even sees for months, even years. We write it, polish it, send it off to the publisher, edit it, rewrite, and so on, often all accomplished without actually talking to a soul about the work except by email or text. Even the editing process is all remote. Track Changes is our way of talking. Wow, the editor made a comment! Yay!

And once the book is out in the world, people we will never meet pick it off a bookshelf or online, they devote a few days or weeks of their life to reading it, but we probably never hear what they thought of it. Did they like it? Did it touch them? It's a very solitary way of interacting with the world. That's why book signings, readings, launches and conferences are so meaningful. They connect us to our readers and give us inspiration to keep going. 

Writers' retreats connect us to our kindred community. Crime writers, whether we write capers or cosies or gritty thrillers, are a unique breed of writer, and when we get together, we feel among family. There's a Yiddish term "Landzman", which means a fellow Jew from the same town or district. A very useful word to describe that sense of instant connection among people who speak the same language and share the same experiences. That's what writers' retreats are good for. Not for getting
pages of brilliant prose down on the page but for making us feel less alone.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

What Happened?

 by Charlotte Hinger    

I'm finally back after a long absence. So here's what happened:

On a long-planned and much anticipated trip to New York with two of my daughters, I ended up in the emergency room in New Rochelle due to an onslaught of sepsis and a rare strain of pneumonia. 

What a shock! In more ways than one. I was in the hospital from Saturday morning until late Tuesday night and hit with a wicked mixture of antibiotics which, of course, resulted in a prolonged case of diarrhea. 

I'm recovering well, and there's a lot to be grateful for. I received outstanding care at the Montefiore hospital. Although I hated to put my daughters through this ordeal, I'm very grateful they were there at the hotel to call 911. My blood pressure plummeted and my temperature did too. I literally simply fell over. 

In addition to the shower, we missed a lovely brunch the following day held by the mother of the bride. 

I also had a meeting scheduled with my agent the day we were to fly home. I've talked with Claudia Cross a number of times on Zoom, but this was to be our first face to face meeting. So this whole misadventure was a double whammy for me. 

The following weekend there was a family gathering over Memorial Day and that, too, was out of the question. 

Today, I would have been going to the Western Writers of America convention in Rapid City South Dakota. This is my favorite writers' organization and I love seeing friends. Also, I am a finalist for the Spur Award for short fiction and wanted to be there for the Finalist Luncheon. I emailed my remarks to a friend and asked her to accept the award for me. 

By some stroke of good fortune, I had nearly completed my large historical novel for the University of Nebraska Press. Talk about luck! I received an email from my editor saying all manuscripts received before June 30th would be published in the spring of 2024. After that, they would go on the fall list. 

And my lovely, wonderful fellow Type M'ers. It was great to see posts up and running without a hitch. I'm so happy to be a part of this blog. 

Writers are a funny lot. In spite of careening off the road, my dominant emotion was relief because I only lacked thirty pages from finishing the final draft of my book. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Starting Something Completely Different...

 ...and wondering what the hell did I do that for?

Donis here. I've started writing a book that is entirely different from anything I've had published before, and it's rather frightening. All twelve of my previously published books have been historical mysteries, which I love. I love research, and I love going back in time and living there with the natives for a while. My new manuscript is a contemporary mystery set between - of all places - Arkansas and the Netherlands. I've always been interested in fish-out-of-water stories, so I decided to write about a woman who was raised by her single father in the Netherlands, always believing she was Dutch. After her father dies, she discovers while cleaning out his belongings that she was actually born in the U.S. to an American mother. Her European father is wanted in Arkansas for killing her mother twenty-five years earlier, then kidnapping our heroine and raising her in the Netherlands.

So of course she heads to the states to discover who she is, find her American family, and try to find out if her father really did murder her mother. The research has been tremendous fun for me. It's been quite an exercise to put myself in my protagonist's shoes and try to imagine what this country looks like to someone who was raised in Amsterdam. From having spent quite a bit of time in Europe myself, I already knew something of the feeling from the other side. The first time I stayed with an English friend for several weeks is when I learned first hand that English and American are not quite the same language, especially considering Allison was from Lancashire (Beatles country) and I'm from Oklahoma. Then she came and stayed with me at my house in Tulsa. Talk about culture shock. While Allison was in the states, we visited the home of a high school friend of mine whose father grew up during the depression in a tiny Oklahoma town. Lancashire girl and Oklahoma father literally could not understand one another. I ended up translating for them as though they were speaking different languages, which I suppose they were. Imagine trying to navigate the legal system of another country when you don't even know that what you said to someone is not what what they understood.

Allison and I discussed our cultural differences at length, and I came away fascinated by our cultural assumptions and how people from other countries view Americans. The Dutch heroine of my new book takes many of her impressions of the United States from Dutch people I've known over the years - constantly amazed and always bemused by our warm, friendly, scary, messy country. 

One thing I adore about writing is the opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes and judge it by their experience, which may be entirely different from your own.  That's why I'm a little bit skeptical about the idea of never writing from the POV of someone of another race or ethnicity. The world is so fraught now that trying to do so is like navigating a mine field, and it's true I can never truly understand the lived experience of a Native American, for instance. But isn't it important to try and understand? Having said that, I'd never try it without running it by at least a couple of sensitivity readers. Even if I'm writing about a Dutch woman.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

CCWC 2023 Recap

by Sybil Johnson

I spent last weekend at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, California. It’s a 2-day conference held every other year, put together by the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime and the SoCal chapter of Mystery Writers of America. This is the first in-person CCWC since Covid. I haven’t heard the final stats, but I believe we had 160ish people there interested in learning more about all aspects of the writing/publishing game.

I admit to being a tad nervous because I was serving as a mentor, I really prefer guide, to one of the three WriteGirl scholarship winners. From WriteGirls website: “WriteGirl is a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills to empower teen girls and gender-expansive youth.” I had breakfast and lunch with my winner, Kai Adia, introduced her to people and basically tried to make her feel welcome. It was a lot of fun. Kai is a graduate of the WriteGirl program and co-founder of Bee Infinite Publishing. She’s also an experienced copywriter, a writer of poems and an artist. I enjoyed meeting her and the other WriteGirl scholarship winners.


Me and Kai

CCWC Guests of Honor were Deborah Crombie and Rachel Howzell Hall. They each did a keynote address at the luncheon (Rachel on Saturday and Deborah on Sunday) as well as leading a workshop.

Deborah Crombie

Rachel Howzell Hall

They both did a great job, but Rachel’s keynote address really resonated with me. She talked about her 10 commandments of a writer’s life. Here they are: 

(1) You shall not ignore your emotions. It’s okay to cry when you get a rejection or don’t win an award. Acknowledge your emotions. 

(2) You shall not forget those trunk novels. Maybe you can get an idea for a new story or take a passage out of one of them for your next project. Mine them. 

(3) You shall not quit your day job.

(4) Remember the IRS.

(5) Honor your interests outside of writing. Take a break away from writing. Do something else you enjoy. 

(6) You shall not ever say ‘I don’t have time to read’. You can learn a lot about writing by reading. 

(7) You shall not shun friends and family. 

(8) You shall not hustle all the time. Remember to enjoy your accomplishments. 

(9) You shall not stay home. Travel somewhere. Drive somewhere. 

(10) You shall be kind. To readers, to authors, to family.

During lunch, the hotel alarm kept on going off. The hotel folks told us it was a false alarm. When Rachel was giving this speech, the hotel alarm went off once again. She held her cool and kept on going.

A full schedule!

There were lots of panels and presentations to attend. It was hard to choose. I tried to mix it up, doing a little forensics, a little business of writing, a little on writing. I went to one on advertising strategies given by Sheila Lowe, one on a brief history of criminal investigations by Anne Louise Bannon, one on the road to publishing by Naomi Hirahara, a panel on Hollywood and book options, a panel on writing historical mysteries, and a panel on anthologies, how they’re put together, how to find calls for submission...
Anthology Panel

They were all great. I got a lot out of them. I also enjoyed meeting new people and reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. I always come away from events like this a bit more inspired. The next CCWC will be in 2025. I’m looking forward to attending that one, too.

Monday, June 12, 2023


 On Saturday I attended a book event that I, along with nine other authors, were invited to.  I generally don’t like to spend time at an all-day affair like this, but the organizers are good friends and have been supporters of mine since my first book was published.  Plus, I met some great people and got to know the other authors who attended.  I had a terrific time. 

Only one other author at the event, other than myself, was traditionally published.  That is, with an agent and a publishing house that handles the editing, design, and distribution of your book.  

All the other authors were self-published or worked with a hybrid publishing house.  The question I got most often is how I found my publisher. 

I told them that it started by finding a literary agent.  

Agents are the gatekeepers.  Nearly all publishers will only accept submissions that are agented. But how do you find a literary agent who is right for your book? Here are some steps to follow:

1. Write a synopsis of your book.

I hate writing synopsis.  I’d rather write the book.  I’d rather get a root canal. But no matter what agent you pitch, you’ll need a synopsis. A synopsis is a short summary of your book that tells what it's about, who the main characters are, and what happens. It should be no longer than one or two pages, and it should be written in an engaging and clear way. A synopsis is not only useful for pitching your book to agents, but also for clarifying your own vision and direction.  

2. Write a query letter.

Each query letter should be tailor made for the agent you are pitching.  If you write a letter and think you can send it out  in a batch, you’re delusional. A query letter is a one-page letter that introduces yourself, your book, and why you are looking for an agent. It should include a hook (a catchy opening sentence that grabs the agent's attention), a blurb (a short paragraph that summarizes your book and its genre, audience, and word count), a bio (a brief paragraph that tells something about yourself and your achievements), and a closing (a polite sign-off that shows your interest and gratitude).  

3. Research literary agents and make a shortlist.

There are a lot of online sources but the way I did it was Google “literary agents”, “mysteries”, and “debut authors”. When I did that, about thirty-five agents came up that specialized in the mystery genre and were looking for new authors. 

When researching agents, pay attention to their submission guidelines, preferences, genres, clients, sales, and reputation. You want to find agents who are reputable, experienced, enthusiastic, and compatible with your book and your vision.

4. Follow up 4-6 weeks later.

After sending your query letters, be patient and wait for the agents' responses. Some agents may reply within days or weeks; others may take months or never reply at all. If you don't hear back from an agent after 4-6 weeks, you can send a friendly follow-up email to check on the status of your query. But don't be pushy or rude; remember that agents are busy people who get hundreds of queries every week.

FYI, you may never hear back from some of them.  There was even one that had sent me a rejection a year after my first book was published.  I had the pleasure of writing her back and letting her know that not only had I found an agent but had a three book deal. 

There was one author, self-published, at the event this past weekend that, after I’d explained how I’d found an agent, told me he simply didn’t want to spend the time.

It’s an investment in time, yes, but well worth it in the end.

Thursday, June 08, 2023


Inspiration. Muse. Ideas. Call it what you will. But story nuggets, regardless of where you get yours, keep us going.

I started out as a reporter at a daily newspaper and never lost my love of that world. To this day, I’m a news junky and get many story ideas from reading daily papers.

A recent example came last month when I read this article. A local man made national news when a DNA match taken from a genealogy kit linked him to two rapes from 1999. I became fascinated with the story –– and even more so after realizing my daughter is on the same swim team as the daughter of the man accused. I’ve been working on a short story inspired by it since. 

I say “inspired by” the story because I make it my own, of course. The story intrigues me not because a genealogy kit, such as, linked the man to two rapes that took place 25 years ago, something to which the media has latched on. Rather, I’m drawn to what my daughter told me: the accused man’s daughter, the girl on Keeley’s swim team, missed practice the day of the arrest because of “a family problem.”

That is what has stayed with me. This family, in a home no more than four miles from my own, woke up on a school day, and went to school with one life but came home to another. A wife and daughters, who thought their husband and father was one man, returned that evening to the same home, the same dishes in the sink, the same dog, but to a very different life.

He is a different man when they get home. Except he is not, not to them. Yet they now know he is and always was. How does the accused man’s wife and daughters reconcile this knowledge, these conflicts? He is the man they’ve known for 25 years, and yet at the same time is not.

And no bail has been set. In my mind’s eye, the sneakers he left by the front door will be put away forever, if he is convicted. His dresser cleaned out, his closet emptied. Dead but still very much alive. He left a coffee cup on the kitchen table and may never return home again to rinse it. My story is written from the point of view of the family members impacted by the man’s alleged double life.

Questions that I’m working through in my writing: Were there signs over the years? And if so, who saw them? What signs does his wife think she missed? Were there other victims? Could an alleged serial rapist simply have hit a switch and stopped, cold turkey, becoming a family man?

Inspiration. Where do you get yours? I’d love to hear from my Type M colleagues and our readers.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Vicki Delany takes over Facebook

 Yesterday was a special day. My great friend, travel buddy, and writer extraordinaire threw a Facebook party to celebrate the release of her 50th book. 50th!!! Vicki is a former long-time member of Type M for Murder, and she has been variously described as "the queen of cosies", "a one-woman crime wave" and "the energizer bunny of mystery fiction". In her twenty-one years since publishing her first novel, she has written nine different series and several standalone thrillers across a wide spectrum. Police Procedurals (Constable Molly Smith), historical (Klondike mysteries), adult literacy novels, and more recently several cosy series which she keeps in the air simultaneously. She now writes about three books a year, while the rest of us struggle to write one. It's a feat worth celebrating!

For her celebration, she used a format more familiar to cosy writers than to those of us who hang out in the darker shadows of the mystery genre, but since she herself has gone over to the light side, that seems fitting. The cosy community, both readers and writers, is a close-knit community bonded by several blogs and Facebook groups where they share each other's news (and recipes) and build a powerful network for the cosy brand. When Vicki first invited me to participate in her party, I had never heard of the idea, but it's apparently a common promotional approach among cosy writers.

The idea is to set up an event on Facebook and invite a group of authors to "take over" your feed for a specified part of it to talk about some theme. Interested readers are invited to join the event and participate in the discussions.  In this case, the theme was the celebration of Vicki's fiftieth book, WEDDING BELLS AND DEATH KNELLS. Beyond that, authors could do whatever they wanted. In her usual style, Vicki set about with focus and determination to plan the event long in advance  She invited select author friends and fellow cosy writers to sign up, she developed a day-long roster of writers, gave each of us a specific thirty-minute time slot to lead the discussion, and set about making each of us "hosts" on her page for that thirty minutes so that we could control the discussion. Twenty-eight authors, each hosting a thirty minutes segment over a 14-hour period. What could possibly go wrong?

The first problem was that although she could invite most of the authors to be hosts on her Facebook feed without difficulty, there was a subset of us (myself included) that couldn't get the invitation. For days we tried various tech strategies to solve the problem, but no dice. We had to find another way to participate without being hosts. We solved this by having us comment under posts hosted by Vicki, and although that worked reasonably well, it did mean that our comments and replies did not always show up in the feed and the continuity of the discussion was fragmented. 

One of the phots I had no time for

The second problem was that even some of those who were privileged with host status couldn't get posted in the right place. With a changeover of authors every thirty minutes, the posts and comments were coming so fast and furious that it was difficult to keep up, or to find a particular post or comment. Perhaps it was Facebook being its usual fickle self choosing at whim which posts it wanted to show. 

The third problem was was that old favourite – unreliable internet. We've all been in virtual meetings or Zoom calls where one of the participants suddenly vanishes because their internet crashed. Vicki lives in the country, and when this happened to her at the height of her party, she had to scramble. She solved it by using her phone's hotspot until her internet was restored, but it could have ruined the party for sure.

Technical glitches and participants' varying skills in solving them will always be challenges when we try to organize a large, long-lasting event with constant changes of hosts and posts. From what I could see, however, authors were enthusiastic and well-prepared. Most of the authors were from the cosy community and they had neat things like jigsaw puzzles, recipes, and interesting promo photos ready to post, and readers were engaged and eager to comment. From the inside, it felt like chaos when I was trying to find new comments (Facebook has to be constantly refreshed), keep up with the flow, and type in a coherent reply. I wanted to share some of our travel photos, but only got through about half my planned photos in my thirty minutes. Live and learn. But I think Vicki should be very pleased with the day, (although tired and in need of several glasses of wine).

I will be very interested to hear others' experiences with this type of promo. It's a great idea, but it's a lot of work and not without its moments of frustration and panic. Planning well in advance, anticipating the unexpected, like internet crashes, and having a Plan B, consulting with others who've done it before, and making sure you have quick communication capability with the authors hosting will help make it run more smoothly. Oh, and a huge sense of humour.

Facebook is not an intuitive or versatile platform, but is there an another option? 

Friday, June 02, 2023

I'm Back

 Better late than next time. I've missed my last two Friday posts. With the last, I was returning from South Burlington, Vermont. Luck was on my side. The GPS worked, the ferry from Vermont to Essex, NY was on time, and the traffic was not as heavy coming toward Albany as it was headed north into the Adirondacks. But by the time I got settled and ready to write, it was after midnight and no longer my day to post.

I went to South Burlington because I really need a break. School was out and I needed to get my grades in. I also needed some sleep. Thanks to the staff in the Registrar's Office I was able to get my grades in. Thanks to the hotel I stayed at in South Burlington I was able to get two nights in a lovely king-sized bed in a junior suite. I was supposed to have had four nights there, but my recently discovered carpal tunnel syndrome slowed me down when it came to grading the papers in my two classes. I'm looking forward to my doctor visit to learn about the treatment so that I can focus on the manuscripts I'm working on. 

While I was in Vermont I had a chance to scout out the settings for the 1939 historical I'm working on.   was rainy, but much like New York. When the sun came out, it was warmer than when I arrived. The friend who I had joined for her trip to Vermont left a little before I did. We spent Thursday enjoying the food Vermont hat to offer -- including delicious maple ice cream. I had a few stops I wanted to make to do research for the Vermont portion of my book. With map and guide book in hand, I looked for buildings that were there in 1939. 

I enjoy doing that kind of research. I enjoy walking in my characters' shoes. I enjoy imaging how my characters with various backgrounds and experiences would respond to the same setting -- the food, the music, the people -- to something they have never experienced first hand. I try not to make that off the cuff. If my protagonist loves Southern accents and blues music, I want to know when she experienced both. Maybe her mother sent her to live with her grandparents and that was the first time she also experienced being cared for and living in a stable environment. Or, if another protagonist hates the South and wants to get on a train or plane and never come back, maybe that character has experienced something traumatic in that time and place. Maybe my protagonist is someone who has fled a small Southern town one step ahead of a lynch mob. Maybe when he arrives in New York City, he is like the young African American man in one of Rudolph Fisher's stories who looks around him in astonished delight when he finds his way to Harlem -- just as my Southern-born schoolteacher will. But she will not be delighted. As I tried to imagine Vermont in 1939, I knew it was only an exercise. But as I gave some thought to how my white Southern plantation owner felt about the snow and the ski lodge and the laughing, happy young men and women with jobs in the city, The ones who had been on the train that the senator's daughter who he was courting had taken. She had invited to come along. He might well have wondered if she had wanted him to be uncomfortable. But he had accepted the invitation and was  having the rare experience of being ill at ease, 

 His insight was mine. Or, rather, his lack of insight was a clue to the mystery of his childhood and his pride. That was important and it made the time I had put in doing general and not very focused research about America in 1939, both the South and the North, worthwhile. I've been thinking about what I could use for other characters. I always take my characters to the settings where they might get a clue -- and if I pay attention, I will get more than a clue about who they really are and how they see the world.