Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Podcasts, Podcasts, Podcasts

 by Sybil Johnson

I’ve written a couple posts before about some of the podcasts I’ve listened to over the last few years. I admit that I haven’t listened to as many lately as I used to, but I’m starting to get back into it. 

Podcasts come and go. The History This Week one has finished its run, unfortunately. I hope it comes back some day since I really enjoyed it. The Behind the Page Eli Marks podcast is still going strong. I like the books by John Gaspard so I’ve been enjoying the interviews he’s done with magicians. Such a different world than the one I inhabit!

Here are some podcasts I’ve run across recently: 

Criminalia – I haven’t sampled this one yet, but I found out about it because I read the book “The League of Lady Poisoners” which mentioned that there was an associated podcast. The episodes related to the book are pretty far back in this podcast’s history, but there are also a lot of other episodes that sound interesting.

History On Trial – I heard about this one because the podcast host was a contestant on Jeopardy! not long ago and she mentioned it. I thought it sounded interesting. So far I’ve listened to 2 episodes about trials that shaped the U.S. in some way, but which I was unaware of.

Writing Criminals – This is a podcast recently started by the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime. Episodes are recordings of SinC/LA chapter meetings. This is great for me since I often can’t get to the meetings for various reasons. If you want to see the interviews, instead, you can go to SinC/LA’s YouTube channel. 

Chatting Cozies – This is an interview podcast with host Angela Maria Hart of the Cozy Mystery Book Club. Interviews are with cozy authors.

Putting together a podcast seems like a difficult thing to me, probably largely because I have no idea what’s involved. I do know that some of it involves writing so I googled “writing a podcast” and came up with this interesting article on doing just that:

If I did a podcast I have absolutely no idea what topic it would be on. Have any of you ever put together one or thought about it?

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

More About Curses

 by Charlotte Hinger

Both Thomas and Donis have recent posts about cursing. According to the guidelines for submissions for the Will Rogers Medallion men didn't cuss around ladies before 1962. Is that a fact?

Yes, it's true in a general sense and ladies never used foul language.

Believe it not, the old standards are making a feeble return. 

Gary Goldstein, (the western editor at Forge) recently said that he does a global search for the "f" word and the "s" word because Walmart won't stock the books if such language is contained within. He has three pages of acceptable substitutes to suggest to the authors. 

I was shocked when he said this. Then I noticed that Grisham never uses vulgar language and Baldacci rarely does. And oh, to have their sales!

Yet we are privy to language every day on the screen and in ordinary conversation that our mother's would never have uttered and men only used in the presence of other men. 

I think I only heard my mother say "damn" about ten times when I was growing up. When a gentile person cusses it has an enormous impact. 

Her favorite express was "oh for p-i-t-y sake." She had a way of drawing out "pity" that expressed her contempt for an idea or a person's behavior. Another usage was "Ye gods and little fishes." That conveyed absolute contempt. Beyond contemplation even. Too foolish to even discuss. 

I gave a lot of thought to language when I did the final draft of my upcoming historical novel. One of my characters, my old banker cusses a lot. He takes the Lord's name in vain when he's trying to persuade his best friend, Iron Barrett, to help him save his bank, but he wouldn't use these words in conversation with Iron's wife or his daughter. 

Some prettied-up written substitutes for spoken language sound silly. "You deceitful villain" in place of "you lying bastard" simply doesn't have the same impact. 

But there's workarounds. Iron and Mary's daughter-in-law uses words that Mary knows would "make her mother reach for a bar of soap." 

On the other hand, sometimes we simply have to use words that are realistic. Sales be damned. It's a matter of integrity. 

Believe me, when a very old man is in danger of losing a bank that's been passed down for 100 years, he does not say "Ah, shucks."

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Colorful Language

Oh, dear me. I have company coming. I have been cleaning like a madwoman and have fallen so far behind on everything writerly. I missed my last scheduled Type M entry - mainly because I got a Covid booster the day before and as usual wasn't worth shooting the day after. I hope I'm not screwing up the schedule here by posting today, but I felt an irresistible urge to comment on Tom's wonderful entry on Curses, below... because I love curses.

 I love language altogether. I’ve always been fascinated by words and the mind-pictures they paint. I’m sure I come by it honestly. I've written stories since I could hold a pencil in my fist. Perhaps it's because my parents read to me from the cradle, or because I come from such a long line of tale-tellers. One of my grandmothers used to keep us fascinated for hours on end with her stories of life in the Kentucky mountains. Toward the end of my grandmother's life, one of my sisters asked her how much of what she had told us was true and she replied, "Well...some of it." So the truth is I didn't decide to become a writer. I'll quote the Achilles character in the movie "Troy"..."I didn't choose this life. I was born and this is what I am.”

My grandparents—and parents— had the most wonderful way of putting things. One grandma was born and raised in Kentucky and the others in Arkansas at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Their language  and vocabulary was absolutely Elizabethan. When Grandma went to garden over yonder, she put on her gauntlets and hunkered down to tend her “yarbs”.

Now, I of course, was desperate to get rid of my Oklahoma accent when I was young. Especially when I was traveling. My accent is not as strong as my parents’, nor was theirs as strong as their parents. My nieces and nephews sound more "standard" yet. But after years living away from my native place, I saw on a news program an interview with two young women from Tulsa. They sounded like Valley girls. I was shocked. What happened to that beautiful twang? That poetic way with words? ( That delightful Scotch-Irish combination of humor and fatalism? Oklahoma is what linguists call a “Transitional state”. My native Oklahoman husband, who comes from a different part of the state than I, has an accent that is different from mine. One thing I specifically wanted to do with the Alafair Tucker series was preserve something of a way of speaking that seems to be rapidly disappearing.

I've been known to use less than pristine epithets myself and find them extremely useful in times of stress.  In fact, a dear friend of mine who I have known since my salad days at the University of Oklahoma was at the time an extraordinarily innocent boy who on frequent occasions would curl your ears with the most astoundingly filthy curses known to man.  Because of his sweet face and gentle nature, the effect of this language was much less shocking than it was hilarious, and ever since, for good or ill,  I've had quite an affection for dirty words.

I grew up among people whose goal was to curse in the most imaginative language possible, which can really increase your vocabulary if you apply yourself.  My mother was particularly good at coming up with ways to express disapproval using only G-rated words.  One of her scariest curses was "I heap coals of fire upon him."  The words themselves weren't as frightening as her throaty growl and the curl of her lip over her eyetooth.  My father had been a Marine, and knew words that I don't understand to this day, but he had a house full of little daughters and controlled his language heroically.  He often had the pee-waddin' scared out of him and wondered what in the cat-hair was going on. 

So curse on, Tom. It's good for the soul.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Sunny for the Bunny and more


by Sybil Johnson 

Today I shall talk about a number of random topics I’ve found of interest lately. Let’s start out with Sunny for the Bunny!

  • Sunny for the Bunny – I was in Seattle last week where KOMO news weather was using the phrase “Sunny for the Bunny” to describe how nice it was going to be in the area on Easter. A different news station decided that it was going to be an egg-cellent day, but not quite egg-ceptional. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it. I flew back on Easter Sunday not expecting it to be sunny when I landed in Los Angeles because there had been several days of rainy weather before but, yes, it was Sunny for the Bunny here too! I searched to see if the phrase was trademarked or copyrighted because, well, what else do I have to do after being away from home for a week? Okay, fine, I came back with a cold and didn't feel like doing anything other than laundry and random web searches. Couldn't find anything. In any case, I love the phrase and intend to use it every year if it's applicable. 
  • April Fool’s Day – I dislike April Fool’s Day largely because I am and always have been a very gullible person. People loved fooling me when I was a kid so I pretty much wanted to hide out for the entire day. Honestly, I still do. I was watching an episode of the UK version of Ghosts and discovered that across the pond you were only allowed to fool someone until noon! I guess when April Fool’s Day got transported over here, we did the American thing and made it bigger! and better?!
  • Usedom island – I’ve been watching The Nordic Murders recently. The stories are set on an island called Usedom. Not being familiar with this particular island, I got confused when the story would move into Poland. As far as I could tell, no one drove over a bridge or got off the island in any way so I looked it up. Usedom is a Baltic island that is part of Germany, but in 1945 the eastern part of the island was assigned to Poland. Thought that was interesting.
  •  Overset – I’ve been reading some historical mysteries recently and have run across the word “overset” a number of times. I could tell that it basically means upset. I checked an American English dictionary and, yes, it’s still in there and isn’t even listed as archaic. Do any of you use “overset” in daily speech?
  • Pulchritude – I am familiar with the word pulchritude. I’ve seen it in my reading and looked it up a few times. It only dawned on me recently, though, that the word does not fit its definition of “great physical beauty and appeal”. Pulchritude does not sound very attractive to me. 
  • Toilet roll over or under? –This seems to be an ongoing debate for households. I’ve done it both ways though I favor the “over”. The patent that was granted in 1891 clearly shows the intended way is “over”. Just look at the picture. Something tells me that most people won’t care about that and the debate will rage on. Check out the patent and picture here: 

That’s it for my random thoughts.

Upcoming events for me: 

On Saturday, April 20, I will be signing at the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held on the main campus of the University of Southern California (my alma mater). My signing time is noon-2pm. The booth is a hop, skip and a jump from Tommy Trojan. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, stop by and say hi. 

I’ll also be attending Malice Domestic this year. I’m on a panel on Friday, April 26 from 2:00-2:50pm with Barbara Barrett (M), Sally Handley, Jackie Layton and Misty Simon. It’s called Love and Murder: “Rom-Cozies”. Should be interesting.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Curses! When To Use Them!

 By Thomas Kies

Swearing, cursing…include it in your dialogue?  Don’t include it?  Does it make what your characters are saying any less authentic?  Will you p*** off readers if you DO include it?

Full disclosure, I have a deep well of vocabulary to draw from when it comes to blue language.  Generally, I reserve it for when I’m driving alone, and another driver does something stupid or dangerous or both.  As long as the windows are up, it’s mostly harmless.  If I forget that my window is down, well, I’ve gotten some interesting responses to my observations.

Swearing, technically referred to as "using intensifiers," can be a potent tool in a writer's arsenal. A well-placed curse can convey a character's emotion more effectively than an entire paragraph of description. However, it's a delicate balance. Get it wrong, and it can sound gratuitous, silly, or just plain stupid. Get it right and it’s a gut punch.

I think the rule of thumb should be to be true to your genre.  If you’re writing war fiction, if you don’t use slang and bad language, it’s not going to sound realistic. You may not swear as much as real soldiers in combat (they swear all the time), but you have to create some semblance of reality.  If you don’t use blue language, you’ll sound like dialogue from a movie from the 1940s.

I specialize in crime fiction.  Working for newspapers and magazines most of my life, I’ve known good guys and I’ve known bad guys and they all swear copiously.  Writing dialogue as realistic as that would be tiresome, but not including it would sound fake. I can’t have a drug dealer shout, “Gosh darn it all to heck!”  Nor can I have a police captain growl, “Golly, get those cuffs on that astronaut.”

Oh, and politicians?  Get them away from the public and they also have a colorful vocabulary.  Surprisingly so. 

Cursing in a love scene?  You’re using a whole different set of words, and we can talk about that at another time.  Use the wrong words and you just sound like a bad porn movie. 

Why can swear words be a beautiful thing?

- They have the ability to shock.

- You can equate them to linguistic violence.

- They can mark extreme emotions, moods, or turning points.

- They can be used for comic effect. 

Now, you don’t always have to use street language, depending on the context.  Shakespeare had the ability to swear without really swearing.  He wrote the mother of all literary cuss-outs (cuss is simply a variant of curse) in King Lear, but interestingly there is no profanity or obscenity as we know it, merely terrifically imaginative vulgarisms, delivered with passion. Here it is, the Earl of Kent preparing to thrash the crap out of Goneril’s loathsome lackey, Oswald:

"Knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch, one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.

I don’t think I’ll use any of that the next time I’m in a bar or shooting pool, but it’s worth thinking about.

Now, can you lose readers due to foul language? Of course, but why on earth would they be reading crime fiction if they have a weak constitution?  Have a great f****** week and keep writing.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Stories Not Yet Written

 I recently saw The Godfather Part II and one scene that struck me as painfully relevant to today was when the young Vito Corleone was processed through Ellis Island. The episode was meant to show how chaotic and daunting the experience was at the time, but to me it was a model of efficiency and care compared to what I see going on with the migrant crisis.   

If you live in a sanctuary city, as I do in Denver, you no doubt have seen the migrant crisis up close and personal. Over 38 thousand asylum seekers, mostly from Venezuela, have been processed locally. We had a large tent city outside a hotel close to my house; the encampment caught fire and was then dismantled. These immigrants get shuffled around in a bureaucratic shell game. In the daytime, they turn up in supermarket parking lots, either to beg or sell candy/flowers. Many of the young men drift through neighborhoods offering to do yard work, shovel snow, and have claimed street corners for the return of the infamous "squeegee men." As a Latino, more specifically a Chicano, I can empathize since my family came to this country as "illegal aliens." Back then, we were called mojados, which in English translates to wetbacks. And there is another faction of Chicanos whose families were already here for 500 plus years before the US annexed the southwest from Mexico. "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." While we share with the Venezuelans a common language and Christian faith, a Spanish heritage, and mixed ancestry, our experiences as Latinos in the United States are decidedly different. 

This crisis is demoralizing because the scope of the problem is overwhelming. If helping one stranger is a challenge, then how to help thousands? I give money when I can and engage with the immigrants to learn more about them. Despite their desperate situation, I'm impressed by their determination to get ahead. Somehow they've managed to scrape enough money together to purchase bicycles. One fellow arrived at a squeegee corner in a used Jeep Liberty with temporary tags. At the Safeway service desk, the customer ahead of me was an immigrant wiring $260 to his home in Caracas. 

Many of the Venezuelans came here as a family, so it's not unusual to see them pushing strollers or shepherding one or two children. At the street corners, while mom or dad are trying to collect dollars, their kids while away the hours playing on the concrete. I wonder how these children are internalizing their experience? What opinions are they forming about America, its culture, and this new life? As their generation matures and claims its slice of this country, what will be their unique shared history? What will be their stories?

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Let Us Begin

When you open a book you've never read before, when did you first go “Hmm! How interesting!” I (Donis) know you've heard many times how important the opening few sentences of a novel are, and, really, that can hardly be overstated.

 If you’re Steven King, people are going to cut you a lot of slack about the beginning of your novel, but if nobody every heard of you, you need to create the most interesting beginning you can.  Grab ‘em right away. In a way, your story is starting in the middle. A lot has happened before we get there. Suck them in with a good first page.

When I open a novel to the first page, I always notice how quickly the author sets the stage, the first moment the author gave the reader a clue about the time period, the setting, the problem, the characters. I've learned a lot about good beginnings from my favorite authors. Below are some openings I admired (and one I used myself), and I ask you, Dear Reader - Would you read this book?

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body. – Tanya Dubois, The Passenger.

The letter from Tally came on the day Bert Checkov died. – Dick Francis, Forfeit

If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. – Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale

When the girl came rushing up the steps, I thought she was wearing far too many clothes.– Lindsey Davis, Silver Pigs

Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault. – Janet Evanovich, Tricky Twenty-Two

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening when I poked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. – Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

Coming back from the dead isn’t as easy as they make it seem in the movies. – Christa Faust, Money Shot

The last camel collapsed at noon.
It was the five-year-old white bull he had bought in Gialo, the youngest and strongest of the three beasts, and the least ill-tempered: he liked the animal as much as a man could like a camel, which is to say that he hated it only a little. – Ken Follett, The Key to Rebecca.

The traveler stood at the head of the alley and watched the ruckus for a long time, trying to decide whether or not to get involved. He thought not. He had just been passing by on his way from the hotel to the Muskogee train station when he heard the commotion and stopped to take a look. He wished he hadn’t.–  Donis Casey, All Men Fear Me

And an oldie but goody:

Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down—from high, flat temples—in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.
He said to Effie Perine: “Yes, sweetheart?” —Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Is there an opening line/paragraph that knocked you out, Dear Reader? All we authors who have to start somewhere would like to know.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Out And About

 by Sybil Johnson

I recently did a bookstore event hosted by Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach, CA with Jennifer J. Chow, author of four different series including her most recent one, the Magical Fortune Cookie series. She was promoting the first book in her series, Ill-fated Fortune, and I was promoting the most recent book in mine, Brush Up On Murder. (I highly recommend her book, btw.)

This was the first bookstore event I’d done since before the pandemic. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed doing them. We had a nice time discussing our books, writing and other authorly topics in front of a small, but enthusiastic group. The questions were interesting and the conversation fun. Plus, we each sold a few books.

I’ve discovered over time that I don’t like doing bookstore events by myself. It’s much more fun to have one or two other authors with me “in conversation.” Here are a few pictures. I’m happy I actually remembered to take some. I often forget.


Jennifer J. Chow and me

Jennifer, Debbie Mitsch from Mystery Ink and me

My next event is signing at the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I’ll be at the booth on Saturday, April 20, noon – 2pm. Then it's off to Malice!

Tuesday, March 19, 2024


By Charlotte Hinger

I've received the pages for Mary's Place, my historical novel that will be published by the University of Nebraska Place this July. The next step is for me to scrutinize all the copy to make sure there are no typos and other errors. 

I would have liked a larger type size, but I'm keeping my mouth shut. Fonts affect the number of pages and add to the expense of a book. The price of printing a book has risen so much that it's a huge issue. And all of my historical novels are really long. 

If a book costs too much money, it affects sales. There's a limit to what people will pay for entertainment.

There's an uproar right now over Netflix and Amazon allowing commercials on their shows. I'm taking a pretty hard line. I absolutely refuse to pay exorbitant fees for TV channels, nor will I put up with having shows interrupted by really obnoxious sales pitches (one right after the other) that break into the plot line. 

PBS has become one of my favorite channels. Yes, they have commercials, but they are at the beginning of a show and the pitches make sense. Another channel I may subscribe to again is Acorn. It had some of the best mysteries. 

My local library is a treasure house of DVDs and books. I certainly encourage our Type M readers to check out books by our bloggers and while you're at it--scout for DVDs of your favorite TV shows. If you've never used Interlibrary Loan, please do! Through this wonderful service you can get nearly any book you want. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2024


In my last blog post, I said I was waiting for the final decision from the publisher on the title for my upcoming Inspector Green novel. It's rare that I don't know exactly the right title for a book by the time I finish it. The perfect title is like the cherry on the top of the sundae, the finishing touch that creates a bit of mystery, captures the essence of the story, and pulls it all together. But this time I faced a conundrum. Two possible titles, both with their drawbacks. One is mysterious, evocative, but slightly obscure; the other more classically thriller-like but less unique.

Only twice in my twenty-one-book career has a publisher not liked the title I came up with, usually for some marketing reason, but this time I decided to let the publisher choose between the two titles. It passed before many eyes, including editorial, marketing, and organizational, but finally we have a title!

The mysterious, evocative one. 

So without further ado, here it is. SHIPWRECKED SOULS.

SHIPWRECKED SOULS is a powerful, poignant story close to my own heart, and I felt it deserved a title that evokes that. The book brings back not only Green, his best mate Brian Sullivan, and some familiar police faces, but also his patrol officer daughter Hannah and her young detective boyfriend Josh Kanner.

 It is slated for release in January 2025, which seems interminably far away for both readers and for me, but it will be here eventually. Editing, copyediting, galley preparation, proofreading, marketing and sales planning, advertising, and on it goes. For me, there are book signings to set up, library readings, launch plans, social media promotion, blogging, website updating, and outreach to readers. 

As a teaser to get that started, I will be putting a link to the first chapter up on my website (once I've updated it!), so keep an eye out for that. And here's a smaller teaser for the book to pique your interest.

The death of an elderly woman from Ukraine leads Green on an emotional journey into his own past, where he makes a startling discovery.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Let Us Talk About Dreams

 I  (Donis) would like to talk about dreams today, Dear Reader.

A while back I was getting ready to conduct a journaling and memoir workshop. I pulled out some of my own old journals and went through them in hopes of finding a couple of creative examples of entries I could share with the class. Here is what I discovered: It’s horrifying to go back in time and see what was on my mind twenty or thirty years ago. Mainly because I really haven’t changed much. I was hoping I’d learned a thing or two.

The journal that interested me most was one that I kept about twenty years ago. I was going through a period of recording my dreams. 

Mar. 5, 2004 — I dreamed that Lois and Beckie and I were sitting around smoking weed…

I have always been a big dreamer. When I was very young, up through my twenties, my dreams were incredibly vivid and sometimes prescient. As the years passed, my dreams became more mundane. Now that I am no longer young, I mostly dream about something I read or just saw on television. 

October 12, 2004 - last night I dreamed I was driving John Kerry to a political rally but I got hopelessly lost. He was very patient. I kept acting like I knew what I was doing.

Like everyone else, I have the occasional weird, archetypal dream of the sort that you can find in any dream interpretation book. 

June 11, 2004 - I dreamed I went to a deli for a sandwich. I realize I’m naked, so I wrap myself in my newspaper, which turns into a gauzy blue scarf and looks very pretty. Finally I order a roast beef sandwich but realize that I can’t sit and read my paper without getting naked again…

I actually believe that many of the dreams of my youth were out-of-body experiences—floating around the house, or over the house, or visiting people in my sleep. Oh, yes, I do believe that dreams can be a portal to something. Early on in our relationship my husband and I had a long discussion about The Dream that sometimes happens when someone you love dies. This is a dream that is different from all others, and I don’t care how many logical people try to explain it away for you, you know you’ve been a party to something extraordinary.

Don said three of his five siblings reported that before they knew their mother had passed, she had come to them in a dream so real that they all swore they were awake. Maybe they were. Who am I do say otherwise?

In 1967, my own mother told me that a few months after my father died unexpectedly, he visited her in a vivid dream and assured her that he was all right.

Almost forty years later, the January that my mother died, I told Don that I had never had The Dream, even though for decades I had really wanted some contact with my father, and now I longed to know that my mother was okay. Wanting does not make it so. But that didn’t keep me from wishing. 

Finally, that same year:

Sept. 20 - I dreamed that my father was leading me through a forest. We found the nest of a tiny hummingbird, with a tiny blue egg in it. I said I wished I had a little egg like that, and my father produced one and told me to hold it in my moth. I put it between my lips and a little bird flew up and took from my lips with its bill, and I realized the egg would eventually hatch into a blue butterfly. I knew I was being given a gift of magic words.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Working Environments


by Sybil Johnson

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how companies are having a hard time getting workers to go back to the office post-pandemic. People seem to have settled in working from home and be reluctant to commute. I suspect some of that reluctance comes from the environment they would be returning to.

I think there’s a lot of value in being in an office environment. It’s easier to interact with fellow employees and you’re not by yourself the whole time. On the other hand, I can understand why people want to stay home given what I’ve seen of today’s working environments that seem to favor open offices and cubicles instead of individual offices with a (gasp!) door.

In my working life as a programmer/software development manager, I was lucky enough to always have an office with a door. Sometimes I shared that office with one other person, but most of the time I was on my own. We all generally kept our office doors open, closing them only when we really didn’t want to be disturbed or, in the case of when I was a manager, I was doing a performance appraisal or having a “sensitive” conversation.

At times when I didn’t want to be disturbed and had to venture out to get a performance appraisal off of the printer (no individual printers for us first level managers, alas), I would tape a piece of paper on my back that said “Do Not Disturb” so no one would bug me when I was walking down the hall. It was remarkably effective. I’m sure people thought I was a little odd, but most of them had worked with me for a long time so they probably shrugged it off. I also did a lot of MBWA, managing by walking around, where I’d pop into people’s offices or the lab and see what was going on. I suppose that would be easier under an open concept plan.

I’m glad I stopped working in the software industry before companies stopped using individual offices. I can’t imagine trying to program in an open office or cubicle environment.

The people who say the open office or cubicle plans are superior (i.e. management) say it encourages interaction with your fellow employees and workers become more efficient. Balderdash, I say! Balderdash! We did plenty of interacting when we had individual offices either in the hallway or the break room or popping into each others offices to talk about problems. Open offices and cubicles are noisy and a lot of people find it hard to concentrate on their work. This is particularly difficult for anyone who works in a creative field. I include programming in this because I consider it an art based on science.

Writers have their favorite environments to work in. Some prefer the local coffee shop, some their homes. I can’t imagine doing any writing in a coffee shop, at least not on a regular basis. The more I write, though, the more I have discovered that I can write in a lot of odd environments like a few minutes in a doctor’s office while I’m waiting or at Disneyland. I’ve got a lot of good scenes written at The Happiest Place On Earth.

With all of the construction happening on our block (remember that 9 1/2 year stretch of continuous construction?), I learned that I could write even when it wasn’t quiet outside. Of course, I prefer quiet, but sometimes you don’t get that. BTW, construction is continuing on the house next door. This is the second bout of construction on that lot. Now, though, I’ve learned how to deal with it much better.

Someone I worked with eons ago wrote an interesting article on this whole office environment thing. You can read it here.

So, what does everyone think about the open office and cubicle concepts? Have you ever worked in that kind of environment? Did you feel you were productive?

Monday, March 04, 2024

Looking at Things in New Ways

By Thomas Kies

On Valentine’s Day, my first cataract surgery took place.  Romantic, huh?

It was my left eye and before the surgery, it had gotten so that I could barely see out of it.  My vision faded so slowly, so subtly, that I didn’t notice it until it got really bad. 

Once that surgery took place, one eye was still nearsighted, as it had been since I was five years old, and the left eye was now farsighted.  My brain was flummoxed. 

Some people say it wasn’t a new scenario.

Then, last Tuesday, my right eye underwent surgery.  Now I’m not wearing glasses, for nearly the first time in my life. 

It’s weird.

However, now I need “readers” for reading, obviously, and writing and working on my laptop.  I won’t get the prescription specs that I need until sometime next week so I’m using glasses I found in Walgreens.  A stopgap measure at best.

What’s this got to do with writing?  I’m now more keenly aware than ever how much we rely upon our eyesight for everything and what it means when it comes to writing.  Not only logistically, but creatively. 

Describing a scene, we usually start with what it looks like.  As I tell my writing class, you should incorporate all the senses—sounds you hear, scents you detect, what things feel like.  You want to bring the reader into the scene. 

As an example, here is an excerpt from my first book, Random Road:


I poured a healthy serving of Glenlivet for Kevin and tumbler of Absolut over ice for me. Then I suggested, “How about we go out and sit on the porch?”

We sat in chairs next to each other and breathed in the night air, thick with the sweet scent of roses that my landlady, Mrs. Soldaro, had planted all around the base of the front porch. A history of the universe twinkled down at us in the form of a sky full of stars.  Crickets and cicadas hummed and chirped, giving auditory proof that the earth was a living, breathing entity.

I took a long, hard sip of vodka, the ice tinkling against my teeth, the liquid lighting a fire in my throat and igniting a familiar heat in my stomach.  Almost immediately, the warmth and a sense of well-being stole into my consciousness.   I took a deep breath.  The world was okay.


So, I’m getting used to the new vision and editing and tweaking what I hope will be my next Geneva Chase novel.  I’m also marveling over how fresh and new colors look.  I'm enjoying the new experience. 

It’s a unique opportunity, seeing things for the first time through fresh eyes.  I guess that’s what we try to do for our readers. Look at things in new ways.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Hurry up and wait

 I had intended this post to be the revelation of my new book title, the twelfth Inspector Green mystery, featuring the disgruntled, exiled Green toiling away in the "Siberia" of police assignments and even contemplated retirement. Like THE DEVIL TO PAY, the previous  book, it also features his daughter Hannah, now a young patrol officer, and her boyfriend Josh, a newly minted homicide detective. I submitted the manuscript to my publisher on January 10, five days before the deadline. The publication date is January 2025, so I know it's going to be a glacial process. I heard nothing back until this past week, when I learned who my editor will be, and later exchanged emails with him. Luckily, it's the same experienced editor I've had for almost all of my previous sixteen books. So unless I have really missed the mark this time, it should be a fairly smooth and amicable editorial process.

To me, the title is the crucial crowning touch of a book, which captures its essence, creates intrigue, and matches the mood of the book. Thrillers and cozies both have identifiable qualities that capture the essence or at least the mood of the book. The single work FEAR would never  work in a cozy, and many thriller readers would run screaming from a pun. 

I want my titles to be unique, sophisticated, and thought-provoking as well as emotionally gritty, because that's the kind of book I aspire to. Sometimes I discover the title early on but other times the book is written but has an unfinished feel because I haven't found the perfect title. 

This was the case this time.

I had a working title that I used through, but it never really felt right and I was concerned that it was too generic sounding and also too "thriller-like". At some point in the writing, another title came to me that seemed to fit almost perfectly, but because it has similarities to one of my previous book titles, I pushed it aside and kept looking. But my thoughts kept coming back to that title.

As I sometimes do, I asked my four beta readers (the Ladies Killing Circle) to vote on the two possibilities, and the results were split,  for the same reasons I had. So in the end, because the deadline loomed,  I sent the manuscript to the publisher and suggested they decide which title works best. That was six weeks ago, and although there has been progress, there are still some members of the publishing team who have yet to weigh in.

So that's where we stand. I'm hoping for an answer in the next two weeks, but in the publishing business, you never know. So stay tuned, and maybe by my next blog post, I'll have something to talk about. And crow about.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Keeping Track

 By Charlotte Hinger

Boy, do I ever wish I had started keeping track of everything connected with writing from the beginning. Some years back when I needed to assemble a Curriculum Vitae (CV) for a writing class I would be teaching. It was the pits to put together. 

A CV is more detailed than a resume. A CV should contain everything: publications, awards received, talks and presentations, service rendered, organizations. 

How was I to know anyone would care about this stuff? I had all the information in crates and boxes. Usually in pasteboard files and scattered here and yon with various contracts. Awards I had received were branded on my heart. And copies of publications, you bet. 

But all the talks and presentations, readings, promotions, panels I had been on---no way could I remember. Yet these references, too, were there somewhere in these boxes. I've written a substantial number of reviews and articles. Why wasn't the proof of this all in one place?

This is the year I have taken a vow to go through all my paper. There's no shame in saving everything and I refuse to apologize for it. In fact, when I wrote the acknowledgement section for Mary's Place, a historical novel that will be published in July by the University of Nebraska Press, I dug out minutes from a committee I served on thirty years ago to get the names of fellow members of the Interfaith Rural Life Committe when we were trying to help farmers cope with losing their land. But the information should have been easily accessible. 

One of the few books that addresses organizational systems is The Successful Novelist; Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, Craft and Working with Publishers by David Morrell. Yes! The mega-award winning author of First Blood. Rambo, himself. 

The Successful Novelist is one of the best books about the craft of writing I've ever come across. I highly recommend it. It will also help you develop a system if you plan on staying in the game.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Back in the Learner's Seat

I've been at this writing game for awhile. My debut novel was published in 2006. Since then I've had several more novels and numerous short stories come out, plus I've done time as a creative writing instructor. However, after the pandemic, I felt unplugged from the writing community and to boost my connections, I recently attended Superstars 2024, about which I wrote some in last month's post. The experience proved more fruitful than I anticipated, delivering valuable advice about promoting and marketing yourself as a writer, specifically tips on newsletters and running a successful Kickstarter campaign. There were also great panels focusing on lessons learned, or more aptly said, "Things I wish I would've known at the beginning of my writing career."

My favorite class was "Finding The Perfect Story Structure" taught by Kevin Ickenberry. This is a subject I've presented in MFA programs and so on this, consider myself as more knowledgeable than the typical lay person. Even so, I was amazed by how much I learned. Ickenberry led us through a history of story structure from Aristotle to the present, character dynamics, archetypes, and modern interpretations about story such "Save The Cat." He also introduced me to The Heroine's Journey, a different take on narrative and structure that focuses on community dynamics rather than the solitary quest as in The Hero's Journey. That discussion helped me better understand the relationships and motives within a criminal gang in my current WIP. 

A much published and respected author, Kevin Ickenberry retired from the military, having started as an Armor officer (aka a treadhead) and ended his career in the Space Force. He writes fantasy, alternative history, and (big surprise) military science fiction. At this last Superstars, he was honored for his service to the organization, having served as a volunteer extraordinaire, mostly as Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta's chief of staff who made sure things got done and got done right.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Tempus Fugit

 Time passes so quickly that it alarms me sometimes. How did I get anything done at all in my real life when I worked for other people? The truth is that I didn't, or at least I was only able to do whatever was absolutely necessary to live.

Now my work is writing, and work at it I do, and yet it still feels to me that I'm always short of time. Days bleed into one another, and weeks, and months, and a year passes without my quite being aware of how it happened. It seems that I'm constantly busy, and yet I feel like I make little progress.

Yet when I remember the monumental events in my past that changed my life forever, or set me on a new path, I realize that most of them happened quickly, sometimes in an instant. I think of that when I'm frustrated, when it comes to me that I have less and less time in front of me to fool around with and wonder if it's just going to be like this for the rest of my life.

In the words of that immortal philosopher, Yogi Berra, "it ain't over till it's over."

With that in mind, I keep plugging along on the new book, and I finally see an end to the first draft, at least. I need a few more good weeks of writing. The end of this month is shaping up to be very busy, so I'm working hard to get as much done as I can before things get crazy. 

As for the new book, it's interesting to see how it's shaping up. I may have mentioned before that no matter what you plan to write, things show up in books that never occurred to you when you started out. This book is the beginning of what I hope is an entirely new series, a contemporary mystery with a story element set in the 1990s. My protagonist, a young Dutchwoman names Miep, is dealing with a lot of demons that I didn't realize were there until I started writing her.  Funny. You dig deep for your characters, and bring up a lot of stuff that was way down inside yourself.

P.S. I have no title for the new book yet. If anybody has any great ideas, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Becoming A Hybrid Author, Part II

 by Sybil Johnson

Today I’m continuing my thoughts on becoming a hybrid author and what I learned along the way. If you didn’t see Part I, you can find it here.  

Sorry this post is so long. I tried to break it up into topics so it’s easier to read. I’m not fond of long blog posts myself. 

  •  Get font licenses where needed.
    I admit I didn’t think too much about needing licenses for fonts until I put out Brush Up On Murder. I’ve known people who design them so I’ve seen the amount of effort that goes into it. I even tried doing it once, for fun. That didn’t last long.

    If you use a font for your own personal use, you don’t need a license, but as soon as you start talking about publishing and advertising materials, you may need one. I’m talking about the fonts you use in the interior of the book as well as the cover.  That also includes fonts used on a website in banners across the top or on bookmarks. Let’s get real here, the chances of anyone coming after you are slim, but would you want someone to use something you’d created without looking into whether you need a license or not?

    If you use Atticus to design the interior of your book, they restrict the fonts you can use to only those that don’t require licenses. For covers, you need to ask whoever designed yours which fonts they used so you can look up whether or not you need a license. The license you’ll need will be the desktop license. Don’t think “I can use Times New Roman”. At $340, it’s one of the most expensive fonts to license. Most fonts are in the $30-$60 range for a lifetime license.

    To learn more about fonts and licensing:

  •  Decide on launch plans.
    This is another item that falls into the plan ahead category. Are you going to have an in-person launch party at a bookstore or other venue? Are you going to do a Facebook launch party? Are you going to do a blog tour? You need to think about these things and schedule them ahead of time. Some require more lead time than others. Because of a lot of things that were going on at the time, I decided not to do any bookstore or other in-person events. Or a Facebook event. I’ve done both in the past. I did do a blog tour through Escape With Dollycas. A lot of people don’t think blog tours are useful, but I’ve found them to be so with cozies.

  • To ARC or not to ARC.
    That is the question. If you do your print book through IngramSpark, you can also do print ARCs through them. That requires a different book cover. While I have print ARCs for all of my traditionally published books, I opted not to do one this time around. I don’t really see any use in them anymore.

    You still want to get reviews, though, so I still think it’s worthwhile to use something like NetGalley to get digital ARCs out to the reviewing public. NetGalley is a tad too expensive for me so I opted for BookSirens, which a fellow author had used. It’s $10 to upload the book once it’s accepted and $2 for everyone who reads it. If you supply an email list of your favorite reviewers, they don’t charge for those.
  • Pre-orders, anyone?
    There’s also the issue of pre-orders. Do you have a pre-order period or not? I chose to do that since it’s a new book in the series. I know authors who don’t. It’s easy to do through any of the places you’ll be selling it. You just specify when you’re uploading the book whether the book is available for pre-order.

    If I were re-issuing a book , though, because say I got my rights back, I wouldn’t bother. The books have been out in the world and reviews have happened or not already.

  •  More on print books.
    I mentioned in Part I that I chose to go through IngramSpark for the print version of my books instead of Amazon. The reason I went this route for the print version is, if you go through IngramSpark, it allows you to use their global distribution network. That means, it’ll appear on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and be available to libraries and bookstores to order. You can do print versions through BOTH Amazon and IngramSpark, if you want. Some authors do this. There are different book cover requirements between the two so this is where a professional designer is a big win. They’ll know what needs to be done. Atticus allows you to format interiors for both Amazon and IngramSpark, you just need to specify the size of the volume.

  • More on ebooks.
    As I mentioned in Part I, I chose to do my ebook versions directly through Amazon, B&N for Nook, and Kobo. The hardest part about this was setting up the accounts. Amazon was a breeze. The others were a bit more challenging. You can format your epub versions through Atticus. Use the same version for all three of the above. (Amazon doesn’t use .mobi files anymore but, if you really need one, you can create it via the free Kindle Previewer program.)

    There’s also SmashWords and you can also do an e version through IngramSpark.

  • Learn from those who came before you.
    Lots of authors have published their own books. You may know some of them. Ask them questions, but do some research first to make sure you know what to ask. If you’re a member of Sisters in Crime, there are a lot of webinars available on the national website. Courses like the Self-Publishing Formula also can be valuable. 
  • Set aside time to write while you’re figuring out this publishing thing.
    This is something I didn’t do very consistently. I didn’t completely give up on writing. I wrote blog posts, author essays for a couple issues of Mystery Readers Journal (one on crafts in mysteries and one on Southern California settings in mysteries), an essay on writing craft-based cozies for a book about writing cozies edited by Phyllis Betz (soon to be out) and a couple short stories. Both of those have been rejected multiple times now, but I persevere. I think I could have done more, but I don’t intend to beat myself up about it...too much.

  • Most important of all, though, be kind to yourself when things get overwhelming.

    That’s my journey into the indie publishing thing. I hope my musings have been helpful. There are so many topics I could cover. These are the things I found either surprising or most interesting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

We Won

 by Charlotte Hinger

My heart is still in Kansas even though my body is in Colorado. I watched the extremely satisfying Super Bowl game with my daughter, Michele, and son-in-law, Harry Crockett. 

A visitor to their home once asked if the large photo in the background was that of my late husband (Michele's father). I said "no, it's the Crockett's patron saint--Hank Williams."

It was fun to watch a sporting event and focus on something besides the rancor of today's political climate. 

Political turmoil in this country is not new. It's bred in our bones. 

I'm amazed at all the upheaval America has survived. Those who wanted a new government were in bitter conflict with the Loyalists who wanted to remain a colony of Great Britian. Our vicious Civil War fostered so much animosity between family members that for some the stain of ill will is present today. 

And who can dismiss the 1960"s with the deep divisions over the Vietnam War? For that matter, the social changes introduced during that era were profound and lasting. 

This year's problems are augmented by suspicion. Self-serving political commentators have soured our belief that we can trust the government. I have my favorite sources of information. But my neighbor pays more attention to people I simply can't abide. 

It's a long time to the beginning of a new football season and an even longer time to the next general election. 

Here's to hanging onto our sanity until our country treasures it's many blessings once again. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Bad Reviews

 Donis here, Dear Readers. Today I'm posting a "Tip of The Week" from wildly prolific writer and my friend, Dan Baldwin, Dan is the author of westerns, mysteries, thrillers, short story collections and books on the paranormal. He is the winner of numerous local, regional, and national awards for writing and directing film and video projects, and if anybody knows what he's talking about, it's Dan. His weekly writing tips are always spot on and fun to read, and when I received this one, I asked his permission to repost it here. If you'd like to check Dan out, and maybe receive his Tips email yourself, do yourself a favor and click on

Do you get discouraged when you receive a bad review for the work you toiled so diligently on? Well, don't! A bad review tells you more about the reviewer than about your work. And Dan has the proof!

Concerning Bad Reviews….

by Dan Baldwin

Catcher in the Rye

"The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him.

In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was."

Tropic of Cancer

"Miller stands under his Paris streetlamp, defiantly but genially drunk, trolling his catch mixed of beauty and banality and recurrent bawdry-a little pathetic because he thinks he is a discoverer and doesn't realize that he is only a tourist on a well-marked tour. We see him at last as an appealingly zestful, voracious, talented hick."

The Great Gatsby

“This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story -- that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people."

For Whom the Bell Tolls

"A master of the concentrated short story, Hemingway is less sure in his grasp of the form of the elaborated novel. The shape of For Whom the Bell Tolls is sometimes slack and sometimes bulging. It is certainly quite a little too long."

To Kill a Mockingbird

"Miss Lee's problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn't consistently solved it."

O Pioneers!

"Miss Willa S. Cather in O Pioneers (O title!!) is neither a skilled storyteller nor the least bit of an artist."

Slaughterhouse Five

"The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness..."

Brave New World

"Mr. Huxley has the jitters. Looking back over his career one can see that he has always had them, in varying degrees... [he] rushes headlong into the great pamphleteering movement. [Brave New World] is a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”


“Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive...”

And just for good measure, consider the following:

The Wizard of Oz

“It has dwarfs, music, Technicolor, freak characters, and Judy Garland. It can't be expected to have a sense of humor as well, and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet."


“James Cameron has never been known for his dialogue, but Titanic carries some stinkers that wouldn't make the final draft of a Days of Our Lives script."

Lawrence of Arabia

“Seldom has so little been said in so many words."

Citizen Kane

“You’ve heard a lot about this picture and I see by the ads that some experts think it ‘the greatest movie ever made,  I don’t… It’s different. In fact, it’s bizarre enough to become a museum piece. But its sacrifice of simplicity to eccentricity robs it of distinction and general entertainment value.”

Need I say more?

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Becoming A Hybrid Author, Part I

 by Sybil Johnson

The first five books in my Aurora Anderson series are traditionally published by a small press. When they decided not to publish the sixth one, I could have tried to get another publisher to take it on, but I figured that would be hard since the original publisher still had the rights to the first five. So I decided to publish Brush Up On Murder myself. Here are some things I learned along the way. This is Part I. You’ll see Part II in my next post in two weeks.

  • Give yourself permission to fail.
    I am a perfectionist. I dislike failing or looking stupid. This attitude can paralyze me and prevent me from doing things that scare me. This was an issue when I was figuring out how to put out my book. I could probably have done things faster if I hadn’t second guessed myself so much and felt so anxious. I had to learn to just forge ahead knowing I’d probably make mistakes, but that it was okay. 
  •  Plan ahead.
    I’m usually a planner but, for some reason on this particular adventure, I didn’t write out a plan with dates and deadlines like I should have. It was somewhat ad hoc. So don’t follow my lead. Remember that if you need someone to do your cover or edit your book or format your book, you need to find out when they’re available and work that into your plans. Also note that, for a print cover, the designer needs to know how many pages the formatted interior is so they can create the cover properly. 
  • Take stock of what you know and figure out what you need help on.
    Having been traditionally published was a help here. I’d seen the process so knew a little about what had to be done. Still, I wasn’t super sure about it so I took Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula course. While I discovered I knew a lot more than I thought I did, it did fill in a bunch of gaps for me and I have a backup whenever I have a question. I felt a lot more confident in my ability to get the book out. 
  •  Decide what you can do yourself and what you want to farm out.
    To publish a book, you have to (1) get a cover, (2) format the interior, (3) have it edited, (4) write the back of book copy. Okay, there are a lot of other details, but those are the major ones. I knew I didn’t have the ability to do the cover and I wanted someone I trusted to edit it. Luckily, the person who did the first four covers in my Aurora Anderson series was available to do this cover and the person who’d edited my first three books, who I trust so much, was doing freelance editing work. I hired those two for those items. I chose to format the book myself because I like doing that kind of stuff. I have a PC and didn’t want to buy a Mac in order to use Vellum, the book formatting software a lot of people use. Luckily, Atticus had recently become available. It works on my PC and, after a little learning curve, I found it fairly easy to use. I could format both the print version for IngramSpark (that’s what I use for the print book) and the ebook version through it. For the back of the book copy, I had to do that for my other books so that was something I knew I could do. 
  • Decide what’s most important to you and do that first.
    The “normal” course of putting out a new book seems to be to release the ebook version(s) and the print version(s) at the same time. This doesn’t have to be so. There’s a learning curve to it all. You don’t have to release all of the ebook versions (Kindle, Nook, Kobo) at the same time. You can decide to say, release the Kindle one first and follow up with the others later. Or not bother with the others at all. You don’t have to release the print version at the same time, either. Decide what versions are most important to you and do those first. Of course, if you feel like you’ve got it all in hand, release them all at the same time. That’s what I did. It’s a little easier on the ebook front because now you only have to produce the book in the .epub format and can upload that to Amazon, Nook and Kobo. 

See you in two weeks with more.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

I Need A Hit Man

 By Charlotte Hinger


 No, I'm not plotting mayhem during this election cycle. Not yet, at least.

I need a hit man in my new mystery. It can't be someone too good at the job. The person should be a little dumb. More than a little. Can't be too bright or he won't take the job to begin with. 

Eureka! I discovered a terrific book, The Perfect Kill, written by a retired CIA agent, Robert Baer. He did a wonderful job of explaining the major ways assassins screw up. The fact is, there aren't that many really efficient ones around. 

As the saying goes, "good help is hard to find." Criminals often can't keep their mouths shut. I'm amazed at the number of times in real life murderers can't resist telling someone about their crimes. Not out of a feeling of remorse or a need to confess, but a compulsion to brag. Too often mediocre hit men think they are the smartest person in the room. 

Although I need a inferior hit man, through rather weird research, I unearthed some of the practices used by the very best.

Incidentally, these lessons can also be applied to writing and the promotion of books.

1.  Hits should be planned meticulously and always have a backup plan. 

2.  Protect your reputation. Always, always keep your word. Show up when you've promised you'll be there. 

3.  Don't work for crazy people. Check out organizations and individuals before you agree to do a job.

4.  Don't involve unnecessary people in your operation. You'll lose control. 

5.  Don't dance in the end zone. No one likes a braggart. 

6.  Don't make enemies. Keep a low profile. 

Although Baer's book is focused on political assassinations it provides fascinating instructions for those who would like to pursue a life of crime. Or writing. It's fascinating reading. 

Monday, February 05, 2024

Really? JAWS is fifty years old?

 By Thomas Kies

Fifty years…that sounds like a long time ago, and I guess it was.  But sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. 

I read in the Washington Post that it was fifty years ago that Patty Hearst was kidnapped.  For those of you who don’t recall, Patricia Hearst was the heir of the Hearst fortune, scheduled to be married, when she was targeted and kidnapped by a rag tag, disorganized group of far-left terrorists called the Symbionese Liberation Army. 

Shortly afterward, she renounced her “class privilege” and appeared to have joined the terrorist group calling herself “Tania”.  After a series of bank robberies and shootouts, many with deadly results, she was captured.  

At her trial, she claimed that she was brainwashed, raped, and suffered from “Stockholm Syndrome” where a captive begins to identify and empathize with his or her captors. Even so, she was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison, reduced to seven years.  Her sentence was commuted at 22 months by President Carter and eventually pardoned by President Bill Clinton. 

While reading this account, I tried to recall what books were released fifty years ago.  These are a few of what I found:

Carrie--Stephen King (think about how many books he’s written since that one was first published)

Helter Skelter--Vincent Bugliosi

Jaws—Peter Benchley (think about how many times you’ve heard that iconic clip of music for the movie)

All the President’s Men—Carl Bernstein 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—John Le Carre`

Centennial—James Michener. 

The Seven Per Cent Solution—Nichola Meyer (think about how many Sherlock Holmes books have been written since then) 

Coincidentally, Marc Jaffe, an editor who worked for Bantam, recently passed away at the age of 102.  He worked on Jaws when it was originally published, as well as such blockbusters as The Exorcist, Catcher in the Rye, and 90 Minutes at Entebbe.  He was a legend in the publishing business. 

Fifty years sounds like a long time, but when it comes to stories, some of them feel much younger than that—books that stand the test of time and live in our collective consciousness. When you’re a writer, you hope that happens with your own work.  

Have a great week and happy writing.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

American and British shows

 Barbara here, slightly late for my Wednesday morning post. Today I am simply copying a recent post I saw on Facebook, which addresses an issue that my friends, family, and I have been mulling over for several years. I'm copying it not because I am lazy, but because Michael Douglas articulates the issue more clearly (and provocatively) in his comments than I could. His conclusions are obviously generalizations, to which there are many exceptions, but his comments are meant to provoke thought.  My circle of friends and family tend to prefer British and European shows and novels more than American and we wondered why. So here goes.

Why does Hollywood keep casting British actors to play American superheroes?
This is an issue that extends beyond superhero films, to films in general. America has a young actor crisis. The topic has received quite a bit of coverage over the last couple of years, especially after the totally American story of Selma came out and people realized four of the primary characters were played by British actors.
The Atlantic did a feature on it, in which Michael Douglas commented on the issue, saying:
"Clearly, it breaks down on two fronts. In Britain they take their training seriously while in the States we’re going through a sort of social media image conscious thing rather than formal training. Many actors are getting caught up in this image thing, which is going on to affect their range."
Young actors from Britain, Ireland, Australia and other locations have grown up with their television dominated by American shows. They have heard American voices coming out of that box, every day, and they've mastered mimicking those accents. That means the best of those actors can cross the ocean and compete on a level playing field against the best young American actors. Add in the emphasis on training, overseas, and those young foreigners acquire an edge over many of their American counterparts.
Many young actors build their foundation in television before breaking into film. All one has to do is watch some American television and some British television and some structural differences will be noticed - differences that help young British actors and hinder young American actors.
The following is, of course, a generalization. Exceptions are easy to name. You might be tempted to reply with "What about Walking Dead and The Wire?" Well, they both starred British actors playing Americans. One doesn't need to be an absolute to have impacts.
American television has a heritage and tradition of glamor. American television characters are supposed to be better looking, better dressed, more articulate, and more superlative than the people watching television. There is a perspective that for a story to be interesting, it has to be about the best. The protagonist of a cop show should be a super cop. Police detective Kate Beckett, on Castle, has to be supermodel beautiful and thin, and yet still able to tackle a 240 lb bad guy. She has to be able to chase down a teenager in Nike's while she is wearing five inch heeled Christian Louboutin shoes. She does all this while wearing a $2200 jacket (that she'll have replaced next week with another $2000 jacket), and $600 jeans. She'll do all of this without sweating or getting a hair out of place. The protagonist of a law show has to be a GQ underwear model with an eidetic memory for the law and the charm to win over every jury. Soap operas are about the rich. Sitcoms like Friends are about beautiful people that rarely go to work. They sit in their palatial apartments wearing designer clothes and seemingly spouting spontaneous witticisms that took nine writers a week to refine.
American television has a foundation of depicting youth, vitality, exceptionalism, and wealth, and doing so in a weird warped world where everyone lives in either L.A. or New York, but has a nondescript middle of the country accent.
This is tough on actors. Rather than developing their skills at disappearing into multivariate characters, their job is to always look cool. Their job is to become a brand.
Conversely, British television has a foundation of reveling in the linguistic, economic, and cultural diversity of that small group of islands. A young actor will go from playing a cockney thug one week to a Yorkshire farmer the next, to a member of the 1920s landed gentry the next. Their job is to depict characters that feel real, not fantastical. Their skills get regularly worked and enhanced. Their job is to become a chameleon.
Here are two recent British examples. They aren't perfect, because they both utilize a ridiculously handsome actor that naturally looks cool.
It took me about three episodes of Agent Carter to realize that the actor playing Jarvis was the same actor (James D'Arcy) that played the thug on Broadchurch.
And I had trouble mentally switching from watching Happy Valley to Grantchester. In one, James Norton plays a sadistic, sociopathic, rapist and killer and in the other he is a slightly foppish 1950s vicar.
Imagine you are casting a big movie, superhero or not. You want a young actor or actress with great range and skill. You want the audience to see your character. But, you also want someone new to the film audience (and cheap), so you start looking at some good television. Where are the chameleons coming from?

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To me, one of the most interesting observations concerned the difference between British and American art. The former emphasizes the linguistic, economic, and cultural diversity of their country and as such tends to focus on the nuances of real characters, whereas American leans towards youth, vitality, wealth, and exceptionalism. 

I'm a Canadian and we have always have our foot in both camps; the twin juggernauts of both American and British culture press in on both sides and both are reflected in our values, with notable differences across the regions. But our creative arts tend to emphasize character and diversity rather than exceptionalism and wealth. 

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Why?