Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Scams and Scoundrels

 by Charlotte Hinger

I can't keep up with all the crooks operating online. Sometimes I think the people who never use the internet are the smart ones after all. 

A couple of weeks I foolishly bought a new sofa bed and matching loveseat without selling my old furniture first. I truly thought someone would snatch it up immediately because it's in perfect condition. I love this all-leather sectional. There's also a matching chair and two ottomans.

It was not snatched up immediately. The first person who responded was a scammer. Luckily, I had read all the warnings on Facebook, Craigslist, and NextDoor. The lady who was so eager to buy the set offered to send me a cashier's check. However, she said since she was in the process of moving to Fort Collins she would simply have a mover pick up the furniture. 

All three sites, warned about taking a cashier's check since they can be faked. I was quite leary anyway of someone wanting to buy furniture they had not seen. So I asked her to overnight the check to a certain person at a bank in Hoxie. (name withheld to protect the innocent) I assured her via text that it would not be necessary to give her any account information. I would simply alert the officer that the check would arrive and he could take care of depositing it. 

Naturally, the check never arrived. How can this be a scam? What this kind of person is after is account information and all kinds of personal details.

The best way to conduct a transaction like this is to meet in person in a public place, like a Walmart parking lot, and ask them in advance to bring cash only. Always bring a friend along. Don't risk meeting people alone. Bring the merchanise with you so they can look it over. 

As you can see by the photo, it would be impossible to bring the merchanise with me. But I can ask an able-bodied friend to be with me in my home. On the other hand, it's no protection against people who just want to look the place over so they can plan their next heist more efficiently. 

I suspect that this furniture will end up in the basement which is actually a pretty good idea. Not a great idea, but not too bad. It easily sleeps one person. 

As to writing scams, oh dear, where to begin? The first rule used to be--never give anyone any money.  Legitimate trade publishers give the writer money. Writers don't give money to the publisher. However, since I first began there are a lot of variations and some of the houses expect writers to share the expenses. Some of these arrangements are legitimate and an excellent compromise.

Then there are the fake agents. Years ago, a lady who had never sold a single book, came to a writers conference every year. She wore stunning hats and dark glasses and glorried in the flock of writers begging for her to take them as a client. I knew another agent who never read a single word of books that were submitted.

Why would people do this? I have no idea. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Mother Nature's wrath

Sybil's post about conflict struck a chord with me today. She listed the three basic types of conflict - with yourself, with another person, and with the environment. Including all three in the same story makes the story even more vivid. The more conflict and challenge, the better. The environment can be a physical challenge like a dangerous whitewater river, a steep mountain, or a dark, underground cave, but it can also be the weather. Many a classic whodunit has centred around a blizzard in a remote inn, and as a Canadian, the extremes of winter weather make it easy to imagine being blinded by the snow, losing ones way, floundering in the snowdrifts, and succumbing to the cold, not to mention power outages and blackouts.

Even a regular  mystery about interpersonal conflict can benefit from having some extra drama thrown into it by Mother Nature, and this summer is shaping up to be full of Mother Nature's wrath. Climate extremes are becoming more and more common, adding to the stress and struggles of people just trying to cope. Just today, Eastern Canada, and in particular the Toronto area, was hit with massive thunderstorms that dumped torrents of rain on the area within a very short time, with hail and tornado warnings added to the mix. Rivers and lakes overflowed their banks and flooded streets, blew the lids off sewer manholes, and caused widespread power outages. Luckily, although many people are inconvenienced and the cost of cleanup will be exorbitant, I have heard no report of fatalities.

But a mystery writer is always thinking about the possibilities. A body is discovered, a long-buried secret is dislodged. I remember an instance in England where a long, severe drought dried up some reservoirs that had flooded out villages years before, and no fewer than three famous British crime writers wrote mysteries about bodies that were exposed by the drought.  In the British crime drama I watched recently, After the Flood, a man's body is discovered in the cleanup of a serious flood, apparently drowned, but an autopsy revealed no water in his lungs. In my upcoming book, SHIPWRECKED SOULS, a house in Kyiv, Ukraine is hit by a Russian airstrike and in the rubble of the attic, a mysterious note is found that kicks off a chain of events that leads ultimately to murder.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, landslides, floods, wars... The possibilities are endless. They can all cause massive destruction and uproot people's lives, shattering their sense of security and causing them to refocus all their priorities on survival and recovery. It brings out not only the worst but also the best in people. Against that backdrop of upheaval and potential death, human experiences and emotions are heightened. it's as if even everyday life is thrown into more vivid relief. There is a reason why some of the most powerful books and films take place against the backdrop of war.

The stakes seem higher, the potential for heroism and villainy amplified. The stories beg to be told, not to exploit the suffering of those enduring it in real life, but to bear witness and to do what we writers do best; examine the social cost.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024


 by Charlotte Hinger

One of the best writers I know is Johnny D. Boggs. He actually earns a living from his writing. Of course, he qualifies that by adding "it depends on how you define a living." 

I admire him tremendously for the quality of his writing. He and board member Natalie Bright gave a great panel presentation at the recent Western Writers of America convention in Tulsa.They talked about being alert for opportunities to publish articles. 

Conferences are really expensive. The price of registrations, hotels, and transportation, is daunting. Yet Johnny said on the way to Oklahoma he came up with ideas for articles related to the trip that he could submit to five different magazines. 

 He's very, very good at recognizing opportunities. 

How good is he? Once when he was at a conference he got "altitude sickness" and ended up in the emergency room. He didn't miss a trick and interviewed the ER doctor about the pending signs of this sickness, the inherent dangers, and the best treatment. Another published article! 

Johnny thinks articles. I think short stories. There's no question which "think" is more profitable. 

And speaking of altitude sickness, next spring Left Coast Crime will be held in Denver. For those of you who live at sea level, the Mile High City might require some adjustment. Here's what various internet sites have to say about coping with changes in altitude:

Basically your body is deprived of the amount of oxygen you need. The symptoms usually go away in a day or two for most people. But until the adjustment occurs there can be dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. 

When I moved from Western Kansas to Colorado, I didn't have any of these problems. Yet, walking any distance was exhausting. That's no longer true.

I've arrived!

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Communication Issues in Fiction

 by Sybil Johnson

Sometime in my 20s I decided managing expectations (yours and others) and good communication were the key to minimizing conflict in everyday life. I’m all for minimizing conflict IRL. 

This should not be true of fiction, of course, We need conflict and misunderstandings to make a good story. The conflict could be with others, with yourself, with the environment...

Communication or lack thereof is one source of conflict in stories. I am a fan of Hallmark movies. Not all of them, but quite a large number of them. In a certain type of Hallmark movie, in the last 15 minutes or so, there is a miscommunication between the two love interests. This often comes in the form of one of them overhearing something and misinterpreting it so they leave without talking to the other person. At this point, I’m usually shaking my head and internally screaming at the couple to “just talk to each other!” Okay, sometimes I say it out loud. Of course, they do eventually do this and everything is resolved in the end and they get together.

Apparently, this is called the “miscommunication trope”. Some people hate it, some people don’t. Some believe it mirrors real life where people just don’t want to or are too scared to talk to each other.

There are other forms of communication issues that can lead to bad things happening:

  •  A phone call could be missed or someone just doesn’t answer when the person calls. Usually the person who doesn’t answer is annoyed with the one calling. For this one, I’m usually internally screaming at the person to “answer the phone, it’s important! Forget about what happened five minutes ago!” Honestly, people should be texting more often to convey information in these urgent situations, but then, a bit of the story would be resolved too easily. 

I’m sure there are a lot of others. The above are the ones I can think of right now.

Are there any communication issues that happen in stories that particularly annoy you?

Monday, July 08, 2024

My Crime Noir

  By Thomas Kies

I’ve been working feverishly on a book that I’m really excited about.  The working title is Exit Signs. The first draft of the last chapter is being written today.  Later this week, I’ll go back and reread and edit the manuscript one more time.  It’s very noir, a genre that I’ve always loved.  

The characters in my new book are deliciously flawed.  Nothing is what it seems. The setting is cold and grim. 

I’m having the best damned time. 

So, what exactly is noir fiction? It’s gritty and hardboiled. In many cases it’s centered around a P.I. or cop who is seriously flawed and self-destructive. But noir doesn’t necessarily require its protagonist to be a private investigator or an officer of the law.  Just watch Body Heat or read Double Indemnity by James Cain. 

Noir fiction often revolves around crimes that ultimately contribute to the downfall of the protagonist or other sympathetic characters. Noir fiction is
the ultimate example of no good deed goes unpunished. 

Some of the commonalities of noir fiction are:

1-They’re mysteries.  That’s a given.  But aren’t all stories mysteries?  Will Holmes uncover Moriarity's evil plot in time?  Will Juliet and Romeo live happily ever after? Will they live?  Will Batman defeat the Joker…again?  Thrillers, romance novels, adventure, fantasy, horror…no matter the genre, ultimately, they’re trying to answer questions and solve mysteries. 

But noir mysteries skulk down a very dark alley.  Speaking of alleys, have you seen the movie Nightmare Alley? It’s a wonderful example of noir that doesn’t have a cop as its protagonist. 

2- They often have a femme fatale. (What’s the male version of a femme fatale?  A rogue?) Brigid O’Shaughnessy in the Maltese Falcon is the perfect example of a femme fatale.  She weaves a tale of deceit and intrigue that Sam Spade has to negotiate making it a wonderfully dark tale. 

The actual definition of a femme fatale is: A captivating and dangerous female character often found in literature, film, and art. She combines beauty, charm, and cunning to manipulate and ensnare others, typically leading them to their downfall. These characters are mysterious, alluring, and often associated with crime, betrayal, or tragic outcomes.

The perfect girlfriend. 

3- They often have a gritty, urban setting.  Think New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Francisco. But the book I’m writing takes place in the cold reaches of upstate New York in the dead of winter.  I grew up there.  From November to March, it’s frigid and gray.  The perfect setting for crime noir. 

4- It has a grim view of human nature.  Like I said before, they’re hardboiled stories, often with great dialogue and a lot of action.  But characters are motivated by their basest of instincts, driven by their lust for sex, power, and money. 

Characters in crime noir are flawed, the stories filled with danger and desperation, the plots riddled with despair, and the settings are bleak. 

Ah, crime noir.  To paraphrase a line from the Maltese Falcon. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.  

Or nightmares. 

Friday, July 05, 2024

Early Writing Days

 by Charlotte Hinger

I confess that Donis's post about the not-so-good-old-days sent me down memory lane. The above picture is of me and two of the daughters and our beloved evil little dog Puppies. More about Puppies later. 

Donis talked about traveling with children years ago. There were no seat belts and a number of times the girls and I would take off at night to meet Don's truck and go on one of his trips. It was an unbelieveable treat for the daughters to pile into the roomy sleeper. A treat for me, too, to be relieved of the tedium of tending to kids and then to eat in truck stops. Later, the third daughter, Mary Beth joined the crew.

Somehow we usually ended up traveling at night to meet him. The sleeping arrangement in the car was predetermined. Cherie was the oldest and she slept in back on the floor of the car. Michele slept across the seats and little Mary Beth was squeezed in the not so roomy area above the seats in the back. Right up against the rear window. If I had to brake suddenly, Mary Beth would be thrown down on top of Michele, and she would tumble down on top of Cherie. 

There were no safety precaustions. And at that time insurance regulations for passengers in commerical vehicles were very loose. Don was a bull-hauler. He hauled cattle and loved doing it. After twenty years, he bought the truckline and managed to keep it going for twenty-three years. But he never lost his love of being on the road. 

We sang on these trips. Don had a great voice with a wonderful range and am amazing memory for county western lyrics. Although Michele aquired a double degree in English and Journalism, she also started a band, The Trucker's Daughter that specialized in roadhouse county music. 

I've drawn on my background as a trucker's wife a number of times for short stories and novels. My first published short story, "Alone At Night" was published in Overdrive, a magazine for owner-operators. To this day, I remember the thrill of having the editor call to tell me they wanted to publish my story. Then they bought another one. I was in seventh heaven!

My mystery, Hidden Heritage, began with an incident at a truckline. It was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of best 100 mysteries that year, and one of the best 100 fiction books. My latest short story, "Lizzie Noel" published last year in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine was set in a truckstop. 

It goes to show that writing what you know not only provides a wealth of background details, there's an emotional component that comes with living the life. 


Thursday, July 04, 2024

Writing Classes

 Happy Independence Day! We’ve lived through another Arizona June, and now we have to endure July and August and part of September before we can remember why we love Arizona in the first place.

I complain, but it is a dry heat, which truly does make a difference. And I know. Remember that I grew up in eastern Oklahoma, where 98 degrees is accompanied by 98 percent humidity and 98 million mosquitos, gnats, and midges. And cockleburs. And no air conditioning, at least when I was young. (Besides, we walked twelve miles to school in our bare feet and lived in a box in the middle of the road.)

So thank you, Mr. Carrier, for inventing the air conditioner and making life infinitely easier for us Southerners, even if it has made us wimpier. (P.S. I am aware Air conditioning is bad for the environment and try to temper my use. But I do use it, since I can't afford to move to a cooler climate and I don't want to die. And don't blame Mr. Carrier. He didn't know...) 

I'm working on a new book as hard as I can. It's taking longer than usual since it's a new cast of characters and a new setting and I have to take time to get to know them and how they react to the horrible situations I put them in. I'd like to finish by next month. Partly because I made a bet with our beloved previous Type M-er Hannah Dennison that we'd both finish out new novels in August, and partly because I've agreed to act as writer in residence for the Glendale AZ Library system from September through November, and that's going to take most of my time. Because A) I haven't done a Writer in Residence program since the pandemic and I'm going to have to review and update my programs, and B) I live an hour away from Glendale AZ so I'm going to be spending a lot of time traveling.

However, if you live in the northern Phoenix metropolitan area and want to do a deep dive into writing techniques and tips, do come see me in Glendale this fall. 

Speaking of writing classes, The Society of Southwestern Authors—Valley of the Sun Chapter will present a workshop on indie publishing on Sunday, July 28, 2024 at 2 p.m. You can enjoy the FREE workshop at home on Zoom. The Zoom invitation will be sent out twice: one week before the workshop and a reminder two days before.

The workshop will include two handouts, the first being a checklist of important tasks to consider before publication from covers to blurbs. The second is a list of local and national organizations for writers. You’ll receive the handouts along with the first and second  Zoom invitations.

Three speakers who have all published traditionally as well as self-published will share their experiences: DEBORAH J LEDFORD, SUZANNE FLAIG, AND ART KERNS. 

If this sounds like something of interest to you, email Margaret Morse, President of Society of Soutwestern Authors – Valley of the Sun, and she will send you the invitation. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Do You Wish You Wrote That?

 by Sybil Johnson

Someone asked me once in an interview what books I wished I’d written. It’s an interesting question. There are all sorts of reasons that a writer might wish they’d written something:

  • It sells really well and makes the author very well-known
  • The writing is beautiful and/or the plot is well-done
  • It changes the world in some way
  • Because you want to be known as the person that wrote that book.

I’m sure there are others. Those are the ones I thought of.

Here are the books “I wish I’d written” and why: 

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom – This is always the one I think of first. It’s a historical mystery set in Tudor times during the dissolution of the monasteries, hence the title. That period fascinates me. It’s well-written, you feel like you’re in Tudor England and it’s well-plotted. Plus the characters are interesting and it’s just the right length. 

Pompeii by Robert Harris – This a historical novel set around the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. For whatever reason (maybe because I watched all of those 1970s disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure), I like reading about natural disasters. Someday I would like to be able to take some disaster and craft a fictional story around it. 

The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan – This is a well-crafted cozy mystery set around Halloween. It’s fun and clever with interesting characters and I’ve read it at least twice.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – My favorite of Dame Agatha’s novels. A very well-done mystery. Note that the book’s ending is different from most of the TV or movie adaptations that have been done. In many ways, I like the book’s ending better. 

Those are my four. What are your choices for books you wish you’d written?

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

WWA Forevermore

 by Charlotte Hinger

My trip to the Western Writers of America convention got off to a rocky start this year. I intended to take off for Kansas Monday, stay in Nicodemus with my friend Angela Bates that night and we would leave for Tulsa Tuesday morning. But Sunday evening I gashed my leg on an open bottom dresser drawer and ended up going to ER for stitches. 

Between a dramatic rise in blood sugar and blood pressure due to the trauma, I wasn't fit to drive the next day and we ended up leaving a day later. 

So much of the pleasure I take in this event is visiting with old friends. There are three of us members who attended the Santa Fe convention in 1982: Loren Estleman, Preston Lewis, and myself. That's a long time to be devoted to an organization. 

This year I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Quintard Taylor receive the cherished Wister Award. It's given to an individual who has made a signicant contribution to the literature of the West over their lifetime. Not only has Dr. Taylor written an avalance of books and articles about the West, he also founded a website, BlackPast.org with an amazing 10,000 pages created by over 1,000 academics and independent researchers. It's an amazing resource! 

Dr. Quintard Taylor

No session is complete without our wonderful Roundup editor, Johnny D. Boggs

This is nearly the only time I dress Western

And here's Angela:

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Book Contests and Mob Hits for Uncle Sam

 Earlier this week, a fellow writer shared that a couple of writer organizations were asking for book contest judges. Was I interested? No, because I knew what I would be getting into.

Years back, I was a judge for best novel contests by the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. I did so in the spirit that I was serving the writing community. My intention was that after I received each entry, I would give to it the same attention as did the author and publisher, aware of the hopes and earnest work each book represented. At first the books trickled into my home, welcome as lost children. Then more and more arrived, to be stacked in ever taller piles all over my house. The torrent of books didn't stop. I felt like the Sorcerer's Apprentice.  

Then the hard part...reading all those novels. I empathized with literary agents and editors who must slog through a daily flood of manuscripts. There was no physical way I could read every book within the allotted time. To get through the stacks of entries I had to rely on the dictum: "You have to grab me in the first five pages."

Certainly, each book had been lovingly written and professionally edited. The story lines tight. The characters interesting. The world-building well done. And yet, whether I continued past the opening scene and the inciting incident was purely subjective. You either had me or you didn't. 

The contest rules prohibited us judges from communicating about our assignments until the end when we compared our top ten lists. Interestingly, from our picks of the finalists, every one of us had five of the same titles. So as subjective as the process was, it worked in selecting what we all considered as the best novels.


For the last decade, besides penning my own stories, I've worked as a ghost writer. The gig has partnered me with a lot of great people and their wonderful stories.

One of my favorite projects was John Mattia's memoir, Always Forward, his account of growing up in a corrupt and violent Detroit and the enduring painful memories that experience had imprinted upon his life. As a young teenager, he was banished from home in the middle of a blizzard, forced to take care of himself and his younger sister. He dealt drugs and carried a gun for protection, surviving as a street hustler. Living fast and loose until he realized that this career path would land him in prison or an early grave. He decided that the rigorous discipline as a Marine infantryman would deliver the kind of sustaining challenge he needed. Because of his expert marksmanship, he was selected for Scout Sniper training. His deployments with the Fleet Marine Force included a tour in Somalia and this was where he first used his sniper skills. He and his team buddy were given a Mission Impossible-style dossier on the target, a Mogadishu warlord with deep ties in the international black market. Much of the intel came from vengeful locals eager to settle scores. Mattia and his teammate set up their Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle in an abandoned bakery and waited for the warlord and his entourage to arrive at a neighborhood barbershop. When the warlord stepped back out after getting his haircut, Mattia dropped him. I told Mattia, "Shooting a man leaving a barbershop, that sounded like a mob hit." Mattia replied, "It was. A mob hit for Uncle Sam."

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Mystery Quest

 Years ago, my husband brought home from the library a copy of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. He writes poetry, and symbology is important to him.  I borrowed it from him, and as I read, it dawned on me that one of the defining traits of the mystery story is that it is basically a hero quest, an archetypical tale, a medieval myth in modern clothing.

Evil is done

The hero goes on a quest to right the wrong.

The hero finds the villain, confronts him, and they do battle.

The hero triumphs, and balance is restored.

All right, you’re saying, I can think of seventeen mystery novels where the hero didn’t triumph, the villain didn’t lose, yadda yadda yadda.   

First of all, quit trying to mess up my theme. Second, I realize that there are plenty of mysteries in which things don’t quite work out that the killer is caught by the law and punished for his deed.  But that doesn’t mean that there was no justice. In a mystery novel, a satisfying ending occurs when the right thing happens.

Consider Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Poirot finds out who murdered the victim, all right.   But when was justice done? As far as our hero is concerned, justice was done when the victim was done in by those he had horribly wronged. And so, he contrives to convince the police that the murder was committed by a phantom train conductor who has disappeared forever through the snow.

Even in the blackest of noir mysteries, where even the hero comes to a bad end, he brings it upon himself. He has a fatal flaw. Perhaps he sacrifices himself because he’s done a bad thing and this is how he atones. The dragon is slain, even if St. George goes down with him.

Letting the reader see right prevail - whatever that may entail - is what gives a mystery novel its satisfyingly mythic ending

Monday, June 17, 2024

Is Coffee a Necessity for Creative Writing?

 By Thomas Kies

I’m hard at work on a new book (almost 240 pages into it) and I’m really excited with it.  It’s dark but not terribly violent and the protagonist, while professing his decency, makes decisions that could be considered borderline illicit. 

But what I’ve discovered is that the characters are drinking a hell of a lot of coffee.  So, I’m wondering, is it because I drink a hell of a lot of coffee? Admittedly, I feel the need for a hot cup on the table next to me as I write. I like the taste of it.  I enjoy the feel of the warmth of the cup in my hands…even on a hot day.  And yes, I like the addictive kick it gives me. 

My wife recently drove to Tupelo, Mississippi, to meet with her brother.  He lives in Texas and Tupelo is dead center between where we live and where he lives.  Tupelo also happens to be the birthplace of Elvis Presley.  So, Cindy, knowing I’m a coffee geek, brought me home something I don’t have—a coffee mug emblazoned with an image of the king with a tiny guitar serving as the handle.  

I began to wonder if other writers are coffee geeks.  I’ve read that a lot of writers work on their craft in coffee shops (something I’ve never been able to master---too many distractions).  But do they actually need the caffeine to be creative?  I found a few quotes that seem to confirm, coffee has its place in literary society.

"Where do you get inspiration for your books? I tell myself I can’t have another cup of coffee till I thought of an idea." — Douglas Adams 

"It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity. I bet this kind of thing does not happen to heroin addicts." — Dave Barry 

"I could settle down into a state of equable low spirits, and resign myself to coffee." — Charles Dickens. 

 "Reading in bed can be heaven, assuming you can get just the right amount of light on the page and aren't prone to spilling your coffee or cognac on the sheets." — Stephen King. 

"Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all." — David Lynch. 

"Don’t look at me in that tone of voice." — Dorothy Parker (on having to interact with people before she's had coffee).  

"I believe humans get a lot done, not because we’re smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee." — Flash Rosenberg. 

"Coffee is a lot more than just a drink. It’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself." — Gertrude Stein.

"The best maxim I know in this life is, to drink your coffee when you can, and when you cannot, to be easy without it." — Jonathan Swift. 

So, get yourself a cup of your favorite brew, sit down in front of your laptop, and continue writing. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Scams That Target Writers

by Sybil Johnson


It never ceases to amaze me how many people try to take advantage of others with various kinds of scams. If only they used the time they spent on them for something more productive. But then, of course, that means fewer possibilities for crime fiction, doesn't it? 

It seems I hear every day of yet another scam to separate people from their money. Writers are often targets. I subscribe to the WriterBeware blog, which alerts me to scams that are new or have resurfaced.

Here are 3 of the scams that are targeting writers:

Book-to-Film Scam


According to Writer Beware, this one surfaces and resurfaces. A lot of writers would love to see their book made into a movie or TV show, but few know how this comes about.

The scam starts out with a solicitation email from some company saying they’re interested in making your book into a movie. You just need to submit a screenplay. Of course, most writers don’t have a screenplay handy. In that case, there’s a solution! They’ll pass you off to a company that will, for a fee of course, create the screenplay for you. And that’s where they get their money. 

Writer Beware has a post written by Jeanne Veilette Bowerman on How a Book Really Becomes a Movie. Understanding that will help you avoid such scams.

Book Licensing 


An author will get an email from a scammer saying it’s necessary for an author to have a “book license” in order for their book to be published or re-published. This is, of course, incorrect. From the blog post: “As the copyright owner of your work (which you are, by law, from the moment you write down the words), you have the power to grant licenses for publication, but you do not have to obtain any kind of license or permission in order to do so. By re-framing licensing as something authors have to get, rather than something they are empowered to give, scammers turn the reality of licensing on its head.”

Impersonation of Reputable Movie Production Companies, Literary Agents, Organizations... 


This blog post has a list of reputable people/companies who have been impersonated. It’s quite long. Makes me rather sad. The post also has a list of things you can do to verify if an email you’ve received is legitimate or not. Generally, unsolicited emails aren’t legitimate, but sometimes... 

I’m sure there are a lot of other scams. It’s always good to do your homework before acting on anything you receive. Beware, writer, beware.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

The Not-So-Good Old Days

 Donis here. It's summer again in Phoenix, Arizona, and we are forecast to reach 113º F  today. Time for the first of my annual "it's way hot here" posts. Since it's early in the season, you may look forward to at least one more paean to heat before the fall.

Every we denizens of the Phoenix metro area are beginning to receive multiple warnings about staying outside too long. Drink lots of water, even if you’re not thirsty. Wear sunscreen even if you’re just going outside to pick up the newspaper. NEVER leave a kid or dog in the car for even a minute. Watch your children around water. Excellent advice. It’s nice to know that the city is looking out for you.

And are they ever! In fact, the city of Tempe, where I live, recently made it illegal to smoke in the car when there is a child on board. It is also illegal to drive in town without wearing a seat belt. I applaud the sentiment. However, when I read about the smoking ordinance, I immediately remembered the road trip my family made from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Miami, Florida, to visit my aunt in 1962. My parents smoked in the car, you’d better believe it. They smoked everywhere. We made the trip to Miami enveloped in a miasma of second-hand carcinogens. My then two-year-old sister spent most of the trip lying on the shelf between the back seat and the rear window, watching the scenery go by. My parents thought that was dandy, since it kept her quiet and amused. The rest of the time she rode on my mother’s lap or played around on the floor of the back seat. There were six of us in car*: My parents, three kids, and my grandmother. Nobody wore a seat belt. There were no seat belts in cars at the time, unless you were an Indy driver. And forget about child restraint seats.

Of course the car was built of industrial-strength steel and probably could have survived being stepped on by Godzilla. There is a scene in the movie “The Aviator” in which Howard Hughes’s sedan is broadsided by another car driven by his teenage paramour, Faith Domergue. Then she backs up and rams him again, several times. His car isn't even scratched. Up until the 1970s, cars were tougher, even if they did only get 7 miles to a gallon of gas and leave a yellow haze in the air wherever they went.

I don’t want to sound like someone who reminisces about how much better it was when kids walked ten miles in the snow to school. It wasn't! It’s just that childhood was much different once-upon-a-time. It would have been better if I had been wearing a helmet and pads when I crashed my bike into our mailbox at ninety miles an hour and ended up with my skin half scraped off and bruises all over my body. I do wonder if it would not be better for children to have a bit more  unsupervised freedom to roam, to have the opportunity to figure out life-problems on their own. The brouhaha about the parents in New York who were threatened with arrest because they let their kids go to the park alone strikes me as overkill.

And yet, if I had young children right now, would I let them wander about on their own? Probably not. But what delicious freedom it was to be shooed out of the house after school to play in the street or in a vacant lot with your siblings and friends. I particularly enjoyed playing in a drainage culvert one street over from my house. Then at about six o’clock, my mother—and every other mother in the neighborhood—would come out onto the front porch and holler out our names one by one and we’d run home for supper.

I’m not saying it was better. I’m just saying.


*The car was a 1962 Chevrolet sedan. My dad bought a new car every two years. It was as big as one of those new-fangled tiny houses and had plenty of room for all of us.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

When is enough not enough?

 In my last post, I asked the question of when  writer ought to quit. Before the reviewers start searching for tactful ways to say "pretty  good for the old dear"? Before you run out of original ideas and start rehashing old storylines, possibly without even remembering them? Before you need a whole sheaf of post-it notes to remember where you are and what came before, who your characters are, etc.?

It was, I realize, rather a downer of a post, perhaps reflecting my mood at the time. Tired and drained from putting the latest book to bed and wondering whether I want to start over again. I did mention that without something to write next, I felt adrift and unsure how to fill my time. (Which is actually not that hard, I have since discovered. Summer, the garden, the cottage, reconnecting with friends on restaurant patios).

So this post is about all the reasons not to quit. Sybil has already alluded to many of them. There are many ways to fulfil the insistent writing urge without committing to an onerous book-a-year deadline. Without worrying whether you're rehashing old plot lines. I've always been published by traditional publishers, and although there are many other options open to writers today, I have no wish to get into the publishing business. I love to write, I don't love the promotion and the hustling. Some people do and are good at it, and some people like the control over the work and the process that self-publishing allows. I don't, but I've had been lucky to have publishers who shared my vision of my books and gave me pretty free rein over the creative part. Any suggested substantive edits almost always improved the book.

But as Sybil suggests, I could write a different type of book, or a novella or short story, both of which are less of a time commitment. I could - gasp - leave crime fiction completely and write a biography or memoir (not mine!). I have in fact such a project in mind, one that I've been collecting material on for years but never had the time to write. I could buckle down and start writing it.

But one of the main things that draws me back to crime writing has less to do with plot lines and more to do with community. Mystery writers are a community, connecting online through social media and chats and Zoom gatherings as well as in person at book events, signings, readings, conferences, and the like. We may only see each other once a year but each time we meet as old friends sharing a passion for our crazy genre. It's been one of the unexpected pleasures of becoming a writer. I've made so many friends, and feel so at home in the company of crime writers. Who else wants to discuss the most undetectable poison or the appearance of bones buried years in the back garden? I have friends spread across the country, and indeed beyond. We are supportive of one another, share one another's triumphs and commiserate with one another in the bar over bad reviews and dismal mall signings.

Besides the community of writers, which would be hard to give up, there are also the good friends I have made over the years with readers, librarians, booksellers, and book club members, many of whom have become friends too.

So who know? Without the pressure of a deadline or contract, I may begin to toy with a short story or even a standalone that may take me a couple of years and a ton of post-it notes to perfect, but don't count the "old dear" out yet!

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Fried Chicken

 by Charlotte Hinger

 I found this really great cartoon in The New Yorker. It was perfect for my Type M post. I really wanted to use it. It featured this chicken and the ridiculous efforts a certain social media company  (you can bet it will remain nameless) uses to win users to their network

I can't use it. People who know what they are doing (not me) say that nothing will get one sued faster than copying images without permission. What's really sad is after many years I have mastered the knock of inserting pictures into blogs. Some of my friends mastered the art at the very beginning. They just went plink with their index finger and voila--witty entries appeared that were illustrated.

The cartoon was so applicable to what's on my mind: marketing. I can't use the cartoon, but I can tell you what it was about. A guy is walking down a hotel corridor carrying a chicken, knocking on each door, telling each occupant that he would like like for them to join his professional network.

I thought it was hilarious because it summed up the sheer looniness of much of today's marketing efforts. The number of books being published every year is astronomical. Far too many for the market to absorb. The industry counts as a book a work that has an International Standard Book Number. No doubt there are many more that do not have this number. 

The whole purpose of marketing is to get a book into the hands of persons who might want to read it. One of the surest ways to do this is to win an award given to writers in that genre. I always read the Edgar winners and the finalists. I read the winners of Western Writers of America Spur Award. I read the Pulitzer prize winners for fiction and some of the finalists. There are many other contests that interest me.

Another sure way to focus attention on a book is through reviews. Unfortunately, the publications with the most influence (New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and BookList) receive so many books in a week that it's difficult to make the cut. The New York Times receives about 1000 books a week. Of course, there's a substanial increase in sales of a title when it's featured. 

Sadly, with the winnowing of small town or regional newspapers there are fewer publications that try to call attention to local authors or novels that have something to say about issues in that locale. 

Marketing is an important part of the business. I've always thought those of us who have had the good fortune to be traditionally published have a duty to our publishers to do our best to sell our books. 

There's always someone waiting in the wings who would be tickled plumb to death to take our place!


Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Forging Your Own Writing Path

 by Sybil Johnson

I found Barbara’s post last Wednesday (“When is enough enough?”) thought-provoking. As writers we get so caught up in what we should be doing that we sometimes forget to ask what is right for us at this moment in our lives.

The x-book deal with a traditional publisher still seems to be the gold standard for writers. But it requires writing at least one book a year or 8 or 9 months, depending on the publisher. Plus there’s the publicity and making sure your website is updated... I don’t think non-writers realize how exhausting it all can be. It’s not for everyone.

When my first book came out ten years ago, I knew I wanted to be traditionally published. Self-publishing wasn’t as acceptable a thing to do as it is today. I also wanted to give the 3-book deal thing a try. In some ways it was harder than I expected. In some ways easier. It was the right thing for me to do at the time. 

At the moment, I’m struggling a little bit with what’s right for me now. I managed to self-publish a book, which I’m quite proud of doing, but I don’t know that’s what I want for my future. At least not with a new series. Right now I’ve been writing some short stories and trying my hand at writing a historical. 

I think every writer has to figure out what’s important to them. I don’t think it has to be necessarily “I’ll stop writing completely”. (Unless, of course, this is what you want.) Maybe turning to writing short stories is what’s good for you now. Maybe changing the kind of book you write is the best thing. Maybe taking a long break from writing is what you need. Maybe self-publishing is the route you want to take. Maybe all of the above. 

Writers need to forge their own writing paths. Whatever that looks like.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Final Stretch and Freebies

 I've posted before about my role as the jefe editor for Ramas y Raices: The Best of CALMA, an anthology from the Colorado Alliance of Latino Mentors and Authors. The project started in early 2022, and now, at last, we're in the final stretch to the finish line. However, it's not a time to coast as plenty remains so that the book launch goes off without any problems. Approaching this completion, I fidgeted for many nights, tormenting myself with disaster scenarios.

Final manuscript. Check. And rechecked. Checked again.

Cover: Ready for Amazon and IngramSpark. Check.

Advanced Reading Copies ordered and reviewed. Check.

Press releases sent out. Check.

And on and on.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone as my editorial staff and the CALMA Executive Board all helped with the heavy lifting. This is the third anthology I've honchoed and the last, I promise.

The Freebies.

HarperCollins, the first publisher of my Felix Gomez detective-vampire series, is offering books 1-3 for free as eBooks on Kindle Unlimited (through June 30, 2024). Get yours here:


Book 1





Book 2






Book 3

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

When is enough enough?

 How does a writer know when to quit? How many books are enough? How long a series is too long? These are questions I've been grappling recently, especially since my recent illness reminded me I will not have boundless energy and perfect health indefinitely. I have passed the three-quarter century mark and although I always had the energy and health of someone ten years younger, I am now aware anything can happen.

Coming rather late to the game, I published my first Inspector Green novel in 2000, and my twelfth will come out in 2025. In between I've written five Amanda Doucette novels and four Cedric I'Toole, for a grand total of twenty-one books. That averages close to one book a year, which sounds impressive until one compares it to other highly productive writers, who  average at least a book or two a year thirty or forty years. I'm in awe and can't imagine coming up with that many powerful, interesting stories.

Yet I've written all my life just because, and now that my latest book is in the production phase, I find myself twiddling my thumbs and wondering what to do with myself during those long hours that would have been devoted to writing the next book. A writer writes, the urge never dies. The stories don't stop spinning in our heads just because we don't have a contract deadline hanging over our heads. 

But there are some cautions. No writer wants to read a review saying they should have quit while they were still at the top of their game.  Or that this latest effort is not up to their previous standards, or that it is just a rehashing of old story lines. How many original plots can we think up? How can we ensure the stories remain fresh and compelling. This gets harder and harder the more books we write. Furthermore, writing a novel requires a lot of cognitive acuity, to find the perfect word and phrase, to juggle plot ideas and keep track of all the character and details in the book. I'm sure it's extremely good for staving off demential. But as we age, the words comes more reluctantly, the perfect phrase eludes us, and the memory for what we've written and what should come next becomes more fickle. The memory does return, the words do fall into place, but it takes more time and effort and more jotted notes to keep us on track. How will we know if the final product measures up or reveals our failings?

Several of my writer friends of similar age have already stopped writing, but others are still carrying on well into their eighties. We're all different, and for some the passion to write was no longer stronger than the urge to travel, to spend time with grandchildren, and to explore new interests. I already feel the urge to spend more time doing other fun things, because life is short to spend it all chained to a laptop. 

I love series, and when I find one I like, I tend to read all the books in it. I've worked my way through a number of British crime series that I missed in my earlier explorations, and am catching up on series which have grown since I last read the author. Currently I am devouring Val McDermid. Val has an astonishing number of books in several series and has produced one a year since the 1990s. Some of her series are long and some (so far) relatively short. There are various reasons for ending a series, some due to publisher choice and others the author's wish to try something new, which was why I started the Amanda Doucette series. Fresh characters, setting, and style of story all lead to new ideas and new directions. I did return to Inspector Green recently but I couldn't imagine writing twenty-one Green books in a row. Besides getting bored, I would be afraid I was telling the same story over again.

At some point, before that happens, and before my mind is no longer agile enough to produce top-quality work, I hope I know when to quit.  


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

What Happened Was...

 by Charlotte Hinger

A couple of week ago I started a semi-witty post about chickens. I wrote it at night which is always a mistake and intended to publish it the next morning. Then life intervened and I was swamped with the consequences of running off to North Carolina and ignoring my slush pile. 

I went to Merlefest, a fabulous bluegrass festival in honor of the late Doc Watson, a legendary guitarist, who tragically lost his son, Merle over 30 years ago. This was an anniversary visit for me. I attended the third festival which at that time was on a hill side and very low key as concerts go. My daughter, Michele, was pregnant with my granddaughter, Audrey. It rained constantly. I thought we all were going to drown. 

The concert is huge now and definitely a money maker for all the vendors and performers. There are many stages and it lasted four days.

But what stood out the most to me at the first concert I attended in 1991 was the presence of Doc Watson himself and his eerie hearing. The participants were in awe of that man. They should have been. The man won seven Grammy's and he was absolutely one of the best flat guitar pickers in the whole universe. 

He was blind from the time he was two. I don't know if his extraordinary hearing developed from being deprived from losing his sight. The memorial concert honoring his son, Merle, began in 1988. But I do remember Doc stopping a performance a couple of times to say to the sound technician, "that's just a little too bright there, son." 

This experience inspired my short story, "The Family Rose," first published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It was subsequently republished in two anthologies, Murder to Music and Death on the Veranduh. It's about a broken-down country western singer who tries to manipulate Doc Watson's hearing. 

My beloved niece, Linda Northey, and her husband, Kevin, joined the rest of the family at the concert and the following day I went to Beauport and stayed at my daughter's coast house. I intended to work like a demon and do everything I could online to publicize my upcoming novel, Mary's Place, but I fizzled out. 

Actually, I don't know what happens when I'm away from my home setting. The muse just takes a seat in her rocking chair on the front porch and watches the ships sail by. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

How Insulting! And Loving It!

 Have you ever been in a heated conversation and, when it was over and you had a chance to think about it, wished you could go back and throw out a piercing verbal barb?  Something that would draw imaginary blood and dazzle your argumentative opponent at the same time?

Me too.  I just never think that fast. Thank heavens, when we write dialogue, we can always go back and amend what we’ve written to make it sound sharper and more intelligent.

If only real life was like that.  In the meantime, I offer some of the best insults ever uttered.  If only I’d thought of them.

-"He had delusions of adequacy.” Walter Kerr

-"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”- Winston Churchill

-"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. - Clarence Darrow

-"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”-William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

-"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

-"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it.” - Moses Hadas

-"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” - Mark Twain

-"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” -George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

-"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one.” - Winston Churchill, in response

-"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial.” - Irvin S. Cobb

-"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. - Paul Keating

-"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” - Forrest Tucker

-"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” - Mae West

-"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” - Oscar Wilde 

-"He has Van Gogh's ear for music.” - Billy Wilder

-"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I'm afraid this wasn't it.” - Groucho Marx

-The exchange between Winston Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison." He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

-"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln

Let me know if you have any favorites that I don’t know about.  Happy writing!!

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Never Ending WIP

I have been incredibly crabby over the past couple of weeks. I don’t know quite what to blame it on. Sometimes these moods just come and go like the tide. Part of it may be the fact that our air quality here in the Phoenix area has been horrible, and high ozone has always done a number on my head. Two solid weeks of low grade headache would make anybody crabby. I also might blame the mood on my never-ending WIP. I made a bet with my friend Hannah Dennison that we'd finish our new books by this coming August, and every day I think, this is the day I’m going to finish. And every day, the damn ending keeps getting farther and farther away. Every minute I spend doing something other than writing causes me great anxiety.

But those bills have to be paid and meals made and doctor appointments kept and meetings attended. The state of my house is beginning to depress me. I manage to keep things clean and tidy enough to forestall the Department of Health, but that’s about it. My long-suffering husband bought me a Hurricane Power Scrubber a couple of days ago (at my request. It wasn’t a clueless anniversary present or anything like that). I thought that having a power scrubber would make short work of cleaning the shower, so I was all excited to give it a try. The instructions say that you have to charge the scrubber for 24 hours before the first use, which I did. Then I rushed into the bathroom, I clicked on the appropriate scrubber head, gave it a couple of test whirls, lowered it to the shower floor, and…nothing. It seems our power scrubber is a dud.

I was immediately plunged into unreasonable despair. Sometimes it feels like nothing is easy. Why oh why couldn’t I at least be able to clean my shower without it being an ordeal? Don will return it tomorrow (he has one of those pesky doctor appointments in a couple of hours, which always makes me a bit nervous), and I hope he’ll be able to exchange it for one that works.

I’m sure that once I finish this book and get it off my hands, I’ll feel better. When I re-read parts of the manuscript, I’m pleased with the way the book is shaping up. When I next write to you, Dear Reader, I anticipate that the air will have cleared, Don will have gotten a good report from the cardiologist, the book will be done or nearly so, and my shower will be sparkly clean. I live in eternal hope. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Isn't there?

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Malice Domestic 2024 Recap

 by Sybil Johnson

In my last post, I talked about the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. A few days after that event, I headed to Maryland for Malice Domestic.

I usually arrive late in the day on Wednesday. This gives me Thursday to adjust to the 3 hour time change and do a little sightseeing. This year we went to the zoo and the National Postal Museum, which is across the street from Union Station. The Postal Museum is part of the Smithsonian so it’s free. This one didn’t require a timed ticket like some of the museums so we just walked in. We took a 1-hour guided tour, which was very good. Our guide was a retired history teacher. He described the museum as history through stamps, an apt description. I highly recommend it.

Friday it was time for Malice! As usual, it was great fun. I saw people I hadn’t seen in a while, learned about new books, met new people. I was on a panel titled “Love and Murder: ‘Rom-Cozies’”. Besides me, panelists were Barbara Barrett (moderator), Misty Simon, Sally Handley and Jackie Layton. As you can tell from this picture, we had a great time. Probably the most fun I’ve had on a panel so far.


I didn’t get in the Go Round this year, but I sat and listened to the authors who did. Even though this is tiring, even from a listener’s standpoint, I do enjoy it. It’s interesting to see how people describe their books in 2 minutes. One author wrote a poem about the book, which was quite fun to listen to. Several of them did flashcards so people could see their names and other relevant information since it’s sometimes hard to hear in the room. Another author had everyone at the table sign their copy of the book so she’d have a memento of the event.

I attended the Agatha Awards banquet. Not everyone does. For me, it’s less about seeing who wins and more about the conversation at the table I’m seated at. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and enjoyed great conversations that I wouldn’t have if I’d skipped the banquet. It’s one of my favorite parts of Malice, which is odd since I’m not the most outgoing person.

Agatha Award winners: 

Best Contemporary Novel: The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski (for the first time I know every person who was nominated) 

Best Historical Novel: The Mistress of Bhatia House by Sujata Massey 

Best First Novel: Crime and Parchment by Daphne Silver 

Best Short Story: “Ticket to Ride”, Dru Ann Love and Kristopher Zgorski, Happiness is a Warm Gun 

Best Children’s/YA Mystery: The Sasquatch of Hawthorne Elementary by K.B. Jackson 

Best Non-Fiction: Finders: Justice, Faith and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction by Anjiili Babbar 

Next year LATFOB and Malice are going to be on the same weekend so I will have to decide which to attend. I’ll probably go to Malice since I enjoy it so much. Also, Lucy Worsley will be there getting the Poirot Award. I love her! And my friend, Gigi Pandian, will be Toastmaster.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The blurb industry

 How time flies! How can I already be late for my Type M post? Today I want to comment on what I see is an increasing trend in publishing. Review space in credible, respected publications such as  newspapers has been declining for years along with the number and size of those publications. Many have closed their review columns or disappeared altogether. They are being replaced by a plethora of "common man" reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other websites and blogs, usually written by regular readers but often with no training of skill in the art of reviewing. Amazon in particular uses an algorithm that increases the visibility of a book based on how many reviews it has, so authors are flooding social media begging people to leave reviews, however brief and ill-informed. Numbers fuel sales, not quality. 

Publishers are also trying to hype their new releases and in the "good old days" used to print short, punchy  quotes from respected reviewers on the book jacket. In the absence of those, publishers are now leaning on fellow authors to create pithy quotes to put on the book jacket. If Stephen King likes the book, after all, it must be good.

In my experience, the publisher doesn't find these willing blurbers themselves, but asks the author to find authors willing to provide a blurb for their book. This practice has been going on since I published my first Inspector Green novel nearly twenty-five years ago. I was asked by my publisher to get a quote or two from fellow writers. The challenge is that the blurb should be by a well-known and respected writer (at least better known than you), writing in a similar genre as you.  Feeling foolish and presumptuous, I chose a couple of writers who knew my work. Luckily they agreed and provided great blurbs, both of which appeared on the cover. For my next books, the publisher pulled blurbs from reviews, and it was not until quite recently that I was again asked to procure blurbs from writers. Sometimes I complied and other times I ignored the request. I only wanted to approach writers who are not only well known but also personal friends writing in a similar style. I never approached the same writer twice, and I always felt it was an imposition. I also only approached one writer for each book.

As my career progressed, I began to get more and more requests for blurbs myself. Sometimes the request was by a personal friend in the writing community, but as this trend continued, I found the connections more and more tenuous. For example, a social media friend whom I had never met at any event and with whom I'd never had a conversation. I take these requests seriously. I want to support my fellow authors and I know the uncomfortable position they have been put in by their publisher, who is essentially downloading their publicity job onto the backs of their authors, much as they do all the social media promotion. But some of these requests come from authors who write very different genres than me, such as speculative or historical crime fiction. Some authors don't say why they chose me or even mention that they read my books. No personal connection.

When I accept a request, it's with the caveat that I will only write the blurb if I feel I can comment on it positively, which is awkward but necessary. It's my integrity on the line. I can't say wonderful things about a book I thought was poorly written. Then I read the entire book, which takes time from my own writing commitments, and I take the time to craft an original, catchy blurb that captures some of the book's strength. Writing a good blurb is a skill and it takes time.

What do I get out of it in return for the work put in? Beyond helping a fellow writer, nothing except my name underneath a couple of lines of text on the cover. Once again, the author is "donating" their time in exchange for exposure. Increasingly doing the job that the publisher has kicked down the food chain. 

But what is happening more and more often now is that authors in search of blurbs are using a scattershot approach rather than a carefully thought out choice of who to approach. They are requesting multiple blurbs, some from authors they may barely know, and presumably the publisher is picking only the ones they like best. Rather than appearing on the cover, the multiple blurbs are showing up on social media posts, websites, and promotional material, or on a whole page of blurbs inside the book. Free advertising copy at the expense of the author.

I'm not sure how other authors feel about doing blurbs, so I can't speak for them, but things have reached the point where I do feel that authors are being used. No one in this industry is making a lot of money, from publishers on down, but authors eager to get their book published and keep their publisher happy are being asked to do jobs that rightly belong to the in-house publicists, who are probably poorly paid and spread far too thin. It's a model that we need to rethink? Do blurbs really accomplish anything? Do quotes from reviews, even amateur ones, work just as well? What are others' experiences with this practice? In the meantime, I must learn to say no.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Never Shoot the Dog

When all the brouhaha first arose concerning a most unfortunate incident perpetrated by a certain Governor of South Dakota, one of my first thoughts (aside from horror) was that this woman has never heard one of the first rules a fiction writer learns: If you don't want to lose your readers' good opinion of you and your characters, never kill a dog in your novel.

There are exceptions, as long as the death of said canine is the catalyst for a revenge quest by the protagonist. I offer as an example Keanu Reeves' reaction to the demise of his dog in the movie John Wick. I used a somewhat similar device in one of my own novels, The Sky Took Him. In that book, an explosion killed two people and a dog, and it was the death of the dog that drove the survivor to a frenzy. I was a little afraid to kill the poor animal for fear of readers' reactions, more so than the two grown men, but I suppose I got away with it because the perpetrator got his in the end.

Said incident also made me think about my grandparents, who were subsistence farmers in Oklahoma from the 1910s until the mid '60s. Besides crops, my grandfather raised hogs and cattle, and my grandmother had a large chicken yard. They butchered, dressed, preserved, and ate animals all the time.  Wild dogs often ran in packs out in the country and raided farmers' coops and killed calves, and I do know for certain farmers would shoot at least the pack leader if they could.

HOWEVER, my grandpa always had a dog of his own, and often two, and loved them like children. In fact, he loved all animals and would not stand to see any suffer. Even the ones who were being raised for meat. Believe me, they lived good lives with him until butchering time. And even then, he was adamant that the animal be killed quickly and without fear. He once beat up a man he saw mistreating a horse. 

I only know of one incident where Grandpa shot a dog. I was there when it happened. The dog was my grandfather's beloved old mutt Butch, who had been Grandpa's companion for as long as I could remember. Old Butch finally went blind and deaf, but Grandpa took good care of him just the same, until the dog wandered off into the woods and was lost for over a week. My family happened to be visiting when Old Butch found his way home, tottering into the yard half starved and barely able to stand. Grandpa sat on the porch steps for a long time hugging that dog. He gave him food and water, and while the dog was eating, he went into the house and came out with a pistol. He waited until Butch was full and satisfied, then picked him up and carried him off into the woods. He was gone for a long time.

He came back alone.

Now, if you have to shoot a dog, that's a reason I can live with.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books 2024

 by Sybil Johnson

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was held April 20-21 on the main campus of the University of Southern California. I attended on Saturday where I wandered around a bit before signing at the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles booth. I met a lot of great people including current students and people who were working on writing a mystery. Also saw friends I hadn’t seen in a while. And I sold a few books, which is always a plus.

I went to USC eons ago so it’s always fun for me to do a little wandering around campus, reliving my student days. A lot of it has changed, but some of it is the same. I noticed that this time some of the elevator buttons, when lit up, show an intertwined S and C. We didn’t have anything so fancy when I went to school there!

We took the light rail to the event this year. On our way back, one of the lines (the K line) had police activity on the track ahead of us so we had to get off the train and take a bus around the activity, then get back on the train. Kudos to the Metro system for sending someone to guide us to the appropriate bus and stops. I did a bit of googling, but couldn’t find out what the issue is. We were told it involved 15 police cars, but no other details.

Here are a few pics:

One of the many crossword puzzles throughout the campus.

The fancy schmancy elevator button

Even the flowers are cardinal and gold (school colors)


Monday, April 29, 2024

Writers Gotta' Write

 By Thomas Kies

In a recent blog that’s gone viral written by Elle Griffin for the website www.Elysianpress.com, she refers to the time when Penguin Random House tried to buy Simon and Schuster in 2022.  The government brought a case against the merger saying that it would create a publishing monopoly and a judge ruled that the $2.2 billion acquisition could not take place. 

During the trial, a number of publishing houses and literary agencies testified, and some interesting numbers came to light. 

Ms. Griffin, in an essay that she wrote in 2020, stated, “only 268 titles sold more than 100,000 copies, and 96 percent of books sold less than 1,000 copies.”

Madeline Mcintosh, CEO of Penguin Random House US, when asked how many authors over a four-year period sold 500,000 units…she answered 50.  

The upshot of Ms. Giffin’s blog is that publishing houses gamble by buying books and paying low advances in the hopes that one of them will be that lightning in a bottle and hit it big.  The big advances are paid to celebrities like Brittney Spears and Prince Harry who have recognizable names, and the publishers feel are a comfortable bet. 

Now, admittedly, the numbers from Penguin Random House/Simon Schuster trial were meant to be depressing.  The reality is that more books are selling now than ever before.  Numbers that were tossed around in the trail were based on calendar years and not necessarily during the lifetime of the book.  It was a trial.  Isn’t everything about a trial depressing?

Books don’t go bad like vegetables or fruit.  My first book, RANDOM ROAD, continues to sell in bookstores to this day and it’s been around for seven years. Will any of my books make me rich?  Nah…not in money.  

Don’t kid yourself, getting published the traditional way is still hard.  Finding an agent, then finding a publisher, then getting bookshelf space and a place in libraries, getting the marketing message out…it’s all a slog. And even when you do, there’s no guarantee about anything.

Bottomline, publishing is a business.  They’re not in it to lose money, although, don’t kid yourself, many books do. 

But there are many publishing platforms and I know many writers who are happy using those publishing avenues.

There’s a joy when you hold one of your own books in your hands. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when someone tells you how much they enjoyed what you’ve written.  There’s an indescribably elation when you see one of your books on the bookshelf of library or in a bookstore. 

Before I was published, I had dreams of flying to New York, being picked up at the airport in a limo, being treated to lunch, then hustled off to a standing room only book signing.  Well...that doesn't happen.  At least to most of us.   

I recall that early in my writing career, I did a book signing and one person showed up.  That keeps you humble.  But to keep perspective, Don Winslow (if you don't know him, read him...he's terrific) in one of his first book signings, had one person buy his first book.  That person happened to be the owner of the bookstore, Barbara Peters who owns the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Arizona (and was my first publisher). 

I advise the students who take my creative writing class that writers gotta write.  We do it because we love it.  We do it because we want to tell stories.  We do it because we’ve got something to say.

To paraphrase a friend of mine, a wonderful writer by the name of Jeffrey Siger, “Writing is a hard way to make a living.  But it’s a great way to make a life.”

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Never Take Our time Together For Granted

Here's a blog I was hoping I'd never have to write. Last December, Travis Heermann was in a very serious motorcycle accident, which left him in a coma. In that month's post I was going to share some thoughts about him but it sounded like I was writing a eulogy so I didn't. Now here we are.

I'm not sure when I first met Travis, ten years ago perhaps, when he showed up in our critique group. He was an exceptional writer, and like many with such talent and potential, didn't get the recognition he deserved. He was incredibly disciplined and always thoughtfully planned out his next big thing. Travis' favorite genre was high fantasy, heavy on the action and adventure. He enjoyed steampunk and most of his stories had a strong Japanese influence, reflecting his admiration of the people and the culture. In fact, he lived in Japan for a while and was conversant in the language. He also liked horror and the last major project he was working on was finding distribution for his award-winning, horror-comedy short film, Demon For Hire.

As we men get older, we find it more difficult to make friends. I considered Travis my friend. We didn't hang out that much but when we got together, our conversations were relaxed and understanding. There were topics we avoided--politics and religion, big surprise. We discussed the many facets of writing, the challenges of specific genres, and the business aspects of making a living as professional scribes. He and I worked as ghost writers for the same company. Since he liked writing action, he had an appreciation for weaponry and would on occasion, accompany me to the shooting range where we would spend a few hours blasting ammo.

He was good company, had a keen though restrained sense of humor, loved scotch and cooking--brisket and BBQ among his choice items to grill. He was an accomplished gear head and responsible for cinching tight the technical details for a podcast my critique group hosted for a while. The last time we hung out was at a Christmas party where he spent a good while showing off his new Ford 150 hybrid pickup truck. He and his wife Chanel (recently retired) had made plans to sell their home and vagabond in an Airstream trailer, in which he could work remotely and keep writing.

The following Thursday I was at a men's group in a local church. At the end of the meeting, the pastor asked us to pray for help in something in our lives. At the time, I felt blessed in that I couldn't think of anything in my life that needed prayer. Then when I got home, my girlfriend told me what had just happened to Travis. Now after four months of care, Travis has passed on.

I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil. 
JRR Tolkien