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?

Read more>>> 

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?

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Superstars 2024

My big 2024 New Year's resolution was to network more with like-minded writers. To follow up on that commitment I enrolled in Superstars Writing Seminars 2024, a writing symposium hosted by Kevin J Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta. The faculty includes names with extensive pedigrees in the science fiction and fantasy genres to include Jim Butcher, Gail Carriger, Kevin Ikenberry, and Charles Gannon. Unlike other writing conferences that focus solely on writing, Superstars bills itself as teaching writers how to succeed in the business of writing. While the emphasis is on indie publishing, a fair number of agents and editors will be available to hear pitches for traditional publishing opportunities. And we'll sell books. Our Bookstravaganza will be open to the public.

My goals at Superstars are to build on the promotional strategies I learned at last year's 20Books Vegas and schmooze with other writers where they typically congregate (the bar). What helps is that Superstars is local to me--more or less--being about an hour south of Denver in Colorado Springs and that I already know many of the visiting writers. If all goes well, I'll probably be kicking myself that I didn't attend Superstars sooner.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Running Over the Goat

 Is it my turn again? Time certainly flies, especially when you have a jillion things on your mind and you barely know what day it is. I live in fear that some day I'm going to turn up at some bookstore to speak when I should be at the library giving a workshop. I often have dreams that I suddenly realize I'm supposed to be at some event in Texas, or Colorado, or I forgot that I'm supposed to be at a conference in fifteen minutes. Not that I'm in such demand, God knows. It's just that I'm not always aware of the passage of time like I ought to be, since I spend so much of it in my own head rather than in the world .

Which reminds me of a story, like most things do. I've always been interested in the writings of J. Krishnamurti for their absolutely no nonsense to-the-pointness. For those of you who don't know, in the late 1910s, when he was just a small child, Krishnamurti was declared by the Theosophical Society to be the final reincarnation of the Buddha, who when he grew up was supposed to take over the Society (and the world, presumably) and usher in a new age of enlightenment. So, in 1927, after being raised and educated in England by this group, the young man Krishnamurti called the devotees to a gigantic gathering, promising to finally impart to them the great wisdom and enlightment they had been waiting for. And it was this:

"You've said for years that I was born to tell you the truth and you would do what I say, so here it is. Why are you people looking to me to enlighten you? You have to do it yourself. I can't save you, and neither can this group. Therefore, this group is dissolved. Everybody go home."

And all the thousands of people looked at each other and said, "Well, this guy can't be the Buddha." The Theosophical Society continues on to this day, and Krishnamurti went on his merry way.

The gist of his teaching was that you have to pay attention. You can't figure things out with your brain, you have to be conscious. Many years after the above event, he told a tale of being picked up at the airport in India by two young men who were supposed to take him to a friend's house in the country. As they were driving along with Krishnamurti in the back seat, the two young men were so absorbed in a discussion about consciousness that they ran over a goat and never even knew it. 

So, whenever I do some idiot thing because I wasn't paying attention, I say I "ran over the goat."

And speaking of storytelling, in one of my early books, Hornswoggled, I told the story of my husband and his brother throwing eggs at a post. Don (husband) read it and said, "well, it's a good story, but it's totally wrong." Seems it wasn't raw eggs they threw, it was boiled eggs, and it wasn't a fence post, it was a telephone pole, and it wasn't several times they did it, it was only once. Which leads me to make this disclaimer: When I write historical novels, I do all kinds of historical research to make sure my facts are straight. When I include family lore - not so much.But if it's a good story, I don't care.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Do Cozies Take Murder Seriously?

 by Sybil Johnson

At a holiday party last month, someone said they didn’t read cozies because they don’t take murder seriously. I wholeheartedly disagree. They do take death and murder seriously. There might be some humor in there, but it generally doesn’t revolve around the body, but the situations the sleuth(s) find themselves in during the investigation.

Here’s the definition of a cozy, which I think contains all of the important points: 

  • Contains an amateur sleuth, usually a woman, but that’s not set in stone 
  • No sex on the page 
  • No excessive violence on the page 
  • The bad guy always is discovered and punished in some way in the end 
  • The emphasis is on the investigation, i.e. figuring out whodunit 

Nowhere in there does it mention humor. The idea that cozies must be humorous might come from the award categories they fit into: Lefty (LCC): Best Humorous, Anthony (Bouchercon): Best Humorous. I’m happy there is a category where they can compete against each other (the Anthony one is new), but I’ve always found the term confusing. I don’t consider my books particularly humorous, they just concentrate on the whodunit aspect of a mystery. (The Edgar Award category for cozies is the Lillian Jackson Braun Memorial Award, which seems very appropriate.)

The Agatha Awards are a different beast, since they are all for traditional and/or cozy mysteries. (My take on the difference is that a cozy must have an amateur sleuth while traditional can have someone who gets paid for sleuthing. So, Miss Marple is a cozy, but Poirot is traditional. That’s my take, anyway.)

As far as I can tell, the term cozy didn’t even come into being until the 1990s or so. I’m not sure what they were called before that, but whodunit seems the best fit to me. I’d rather the awards be termed something like ‘Best Whodunit', but that’s not up to me. Maybe cozies would get more respect then.

Those are my thoughts on cozies. What are yours?

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

My Favorite Present


by Charlotte Hinger

My favorite Christmas present this year was not one I received, it was one I gave to my granddaughter, Audrey Crockett. My photo of this project (taken in haste) didn't reproduce very well on this blog. It's a collage of seven generations of women beginning with Marie Stephanova Pishney. (bottom right)

Next is my own grandmother, Lottie Caroline Pishney Smerchek, then my mother Lottie Josie Smerchek Southerland and myself, Charlotte Faye Southerland Hinger. Above is my daughter Michele Renee Hinger Crockett, then granddaughter Audrey Charlotte Crockett Bell, next to my first great grandchild Francesca Michele Crockett Bell. 

I put all the photos in inexpensive frames from Michael's. Then I glued them all to foam board. The finished project looked much neater than it does in the photo and the colors are more consistent. I was able to size each photo through my word program and also apply a sepia tint. 

The Smerchek family did an outstanding job of keeping records. Our Bohemian heritage has been traced back to a church in Moravia, I believe in the 1600s. 

Readers who are familiar with my mysteries will recognize my mother's names, Lottie Josie. Lottie is the protagonist in my series and her twin sister, Josie, serves as a female Dr. Watson, who keeps her on the right track. 

I have tons of pictures to file and place in albums, but I wish I had taken more through the years. Back in the day, film was costly and I had to watch every penny. Now we have digital photography and can take as many as we like. 

One of my most joyful writing projects was the honor of editing the Sheridan County history books. There were over 500 family stories submitted and the photos brought tears to my eyes. 

In addition to my family pictures, I treasure each photo I took at conventions through the years. This coming year I want to develop better photography skills. Even if photos aren't to be used directly in our written material, they are a wonderful reference. 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Read Your Work Out Loud

   By Thomas Kies

I was recently one of the judges in a short story contest called “Winter Hauntings”.  The winners were celebrated at a ticketed event with music and wine.  They were also treated to hearing professional actors read their stories aloud to the audience.  

One of them told me, “That was an adrenaline rush!”

I get it.  We’re in rehearsals for a mystery dinner theater I’ve written.  This one is called the Reading of Dr. Bell’s Will.  It’s a combination of live theater, video, and live music—I guess you could call it mixed media.  

It’s my second opportunity to be a playwright. 

The joy of doing these is not just that it raises a lot of money for the college and our local theater, but I get to hear and see my characters come to life.  

It’s an adrenaline rush. 

When I’m teaching my creative writing class, I advise my students to read their work aloud, not necessarily to any kind of audience, but to themselves to hear it.  It’s one thing to see your sentences and your words on the screen of a laptop or on a sheet of paper, but if you listen to it, you get a better feel for how flows.  

Is it clunky? Is the dialogue not believable? Does that word feel awkward? Should I delete that adjective? 

As part of my class, every week, I ask my students to write about a thousand words after I give them a writing prompt.  Then at the next class, they stand up and read what they’ve written.

That’s scary.

Even after this many years, I still get the yips when I read my own work in public.  

But in my class, after the student has read the piece they’ve written, we applaud.  Then we go around the room and talk about what we like about it.  And then, and only then, do we spend time talking about how we might make the piece stronger. 

I want it to be a positive experience. And one where the people in the class see how important it is to hear what you write. 

According to the Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this is why you read your work aloud. “As listeners, we need the order of ideas in a paper to make sense. We can’t flip back and forth from page to page to try to figure out what is going on or find information we need. When you hear your paper read out loud, you may recognize that you need to re-order the information in it or realize that there are gaps in your explanation. Listeners also need transitions to help us get from one main idea to the next. When you hear your paper, you may recognize places where you have moved from one topic to another too abruptly.

Sometimes sentences aren’t grammatically incorrect, but they are still awkward in some way—too long, too convoluted, too repetitive. Problems like these are often easily heard. Hearing your paper can also help you get a sense of whether the tone is right. Does it sound too formal? Too chatty or casual? What kind of impression will your voice in this paper make on a reader? Sometimes hearing your words helps you get a more objective sense of the impression you are creating—listening puts in you in something more like the position your reader will be in as he/she moves through your text.”

By the way, the dinner theater will take place on February 8 and 9 at the Carteret Community College Culinary Building and you can purchase tickets here: 

Have a great week and keep on writing…and reading.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

More on ducks and finding the path

 Donis's post on rewriting struck a chord with me. The first draft is always a challenge. Fashioning a story out of nothingness is like standing at the edge of an unknown wilderness, full of towering trees, desolate desert, and swamp in the dead of night, with only a vague idea drawing me forward. I grope my way through the darkness with little more than a flashlight illuminating the possible path ahead. Sometimes the path is smooth and easy, and I can sail ahead confidently. Other times, I come to a dead-end or a fork and flounder around trying to scan ahead for the best route. And there are, of course, those times when I am sailing along a smooth path and suddenly trip on a hidden root or rock, falling flat on my face.

Still, I carry on, because somewhere out there is the best path that leads to the end of the story. And once I've arrived at the end, I can see where I am and what path I've travelled to get there. I see what story I am telling, despite all its roughness, redundancy, and wrong turns. The whole path is lit up, and I can go back and forth along it, getting rid of dead-ends and irrelevancies, smoothing the path, creating visual interest and surprises, even adding twists to keep it interesting and to keep the traveller guessing what comes next. 

Although, like Donis, I don't rewrite or fix anything while writing the first draft, partly so I don't block my creative momentum but also because until the story is all laid out in rough, I can't be sure what needs fixing or how. But since I write longhand and rewrite once it's on the computer, there is some initial rewriting that occurs while I am transcribing onto the computer. I do transcribe at regular intervals so I don't face the daunting task of typing out 500 pages of scribbled mess all at the end.

Also when writing first draft, I keep a running file on my computer of all the bits that I may have to change, add, or delete during the rewrites. Everything from adjusting characters' backstories to inserting scenes or moving scenes around, changing the weather, etc. Otherwise when writing in this "wing-it" style, I might forget them all. 

It takes many rewrites and partial rewrites to get the story to the best I can make it, and even now, having just sent my latest WIP off to the publisher, I am still rewriting in my head and can think of more improvements to make when it comes back to me.

There is no one way to write a novel. Some writers outline, others hate outlines, some write detailed character backstories, others get to know their characters as the story evolves. Some write longhand to tap into their imagination, while others love the speed and ease of computers. Some keep side files, others post-in notes or index cards. The one rule is that every novel needs multiple rewrites to be its best self.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Putting All My Ducks in a Row


Donis here. I’ve already reached a point in the first draft of my new manuscript where I have begun to rewrite. After I finish first draft, my beginnings never do match the end, for somewhere in the middle of the writing, I change my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line. Generally I don’t waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. I can get (and have gotten) caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I'd just keep going until the book was done, with every confidence that I could repair all the inconsistencies when I was finished. However ... this time I'm trying to write something that is totally different than all my previous novels, and I find myself suddenly deciding to omit a situation or a character who isn't working out, or changing the entire drift of the story. 

So I've ended up doing the thing I don't recommend doing - going back and rewriting parts of the beginning before I get to the end. So, this book may take me forever to write, but by damn, I want it to be consistent throughout. I expect if I ever end up making this a series, I'll know the characters so well it won't require so much diddling about.

We’ve all heard many times that writing is rewriting, and anyone who’s ever scribbled a page knows that’s true. At least I’ve never met a literary Mozart, whose first draft is so perfect that it doesn’t need any alteration. In fact, most authors I know, even very well known and accomplished authors, think of their first drafts as something too embarrassing to be seen by anyone. It’s the rewriting that makes the book. If I may repeat something I’ve said here before - and never let it be said that I missed an opportunity to repeat myself - you have to have that block of marble before you can carve out a statue of David.

Rewriting is the fun part, as well. For me, at least, the first draft is eked out like bone marrow, but with the rewrites, I have something to play with, to refine, to remodel, to put makeup on and make beautiful.  I’ve just begun my  rereading and adjusting, making sure that the beginning matches the end.   

I reread a finished MS, it’s interesting to see how it all turned out, to remember what I originally had in mind and see how the tale changed as I moved through it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

My Year in Books 2023

 by Sybil Johnson

It’s time for my annual reading wrap-up. January to December, just to make it clear. One reason I say that is because I put together a list of my 3 favorite reads for Their year, however, went from end of September 2022 through end of October 2023. Those books were:

  • Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery by Larry Millett 
  • Charlie Thorne and the Lost Equation by Stuart Gibbs 
  • The Vampire Book Club by Nancy Warren 

I won’t go into details here. You can read about these at They should be up soon. Just search for my name.

Number of books “consumed” (audio plus print/ebook): 68, 25 fewer than last year. 30% non-fiction. 70% crime (middle-grade books, cozies, historicals, mystery/thrillers and traditional). 35% of those were cozies.

Cozy highlights

  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
  • Vampire Book Club series by Nancy Warren
  • Death Knells and Wedding Bells by Eva Gates (Lighthouse Library series) 

Yes, I have gotten on the Richard Osman bandwagon. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and intend to read the rest of them. I also read all of the books in the Vampire Book Club series by Nancy Warren and treated myself to the latest book in the Lighthouse Library series.

Non-fiction highlights:

  • Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt by Kenneth McKenzie and Todd Harra
  • Denali’s Howl by Andy Hall
  • The Great Typo Hunt by Deck and Herson
  • The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann
  •  In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • The History of the World Through Body Parts: The Stories Behind the Organs, Appendages, Digits and the Like Attached to (or Detached From) Famous Bodies by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras
  • Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy

(The last two look a bit macabre, don’t they? They were both interesting.) 

This last year I learned about the Tudor era affliction known as the sweating sickness (you did not want to get this!), extinct languages, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, books on Henry VIII’s wives (this continues to be a fascination for me), true stories from undertakers, an ill-fated attempt at scaling Denali in the 1960s, a trek across the U.S. fixing typos ... Apparently, I was really into tragic sea voyages as I read two books on the subject, one on the Wager and one on the whaleship Essex. 

That’s my quick summary. I don’t usually set a reading goal for the year, but this time around, I think I’ll try for 100 books in 2024. I have so very many that I want to read. 

I’m curious, did you find yourself reading more last year than in previous years? Did you read different things? 


In other news, the American Dialect Society has chosen its word of the year: enshittification. I have never heard this term. Apparently, it became popular after a blog post by author Cory Doctorow to describe “how digital platforms can become worse and worse.” As usual, I am sadly out of touch with such stuff. You can read more here:

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

About ChatGPT


by Charlotte Hinger

I spoke with a lady Sunday who knows a lot about ChatGPT. I'm fascinated with this new technology and have used it for composition twice and for a query once. 

She advised against using it to write anything because Google and other search engines have already become adept at spotting material that has been generated by AI and will downgrade the blog with its wily algorithm. 

Besides there are some serious lawsuits filed by major players who have the money to affect the usage by ordinary word toilers. 

My source enthusiastically endorsed using ChatGPT in other ways, including solving problems or locating information. 

Here was my query: "Can you devise a marketing plan for a historical novel that will be published by a University Press in July?"

Before I could draw another breath--there it was. And it was perfect! With all the right steps. You bet, I'm going to use it to promote my upcoming historical novel, Mary's Place

While all the discussion about AI rages, I'm comforted by a line from Rudyard Kipling's poem, "The Mary Gloster.":

"They copied all they could copy, but they could not copy my mind. So I left them sweating and stealing a full half mile behind."

Monday, January 08, 2024

Is Your Protagonist "Different"?

 By Thomas Kies

I recently finished two books back-to-back that I enjoyed but for completely different reasons.  The Maid by Nita Prose and Holly by Stephen King.  

The Maid was described by the Washington Post as “A cozy mystery to take along on vacation . . . a lighthearted mystery that shines as Molly evolves and learns to connect.”

The book blurb for Holly reads “Holly Gibney, one of Stephen King’s most compelling and ingeniously resourceful characters, returns in this thrilling novel to solve the gruesome truth behind multiple disappearances in a midwestern town.”

These are two completely different novels with one interesting likeness.  Their protagonists are neurodivergent.  Until recently, I’d never even heard the term.  

According to Forbes Health "Everyone’s brain operated differently.  For the average individual, brain functions, behaviors and processing are expected to meet the milestones set by society for developmental growth.  For those who veer either slightly, or significantly, outside of these parameters, their brain functions could be classified as neurodivergent.”

It goes on to say,” Neurodivergent is a non-medical umbrella term that describes propel with variation in their mental functions, and can included conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other neurological or developmental conditions such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),”

The protagonist for The Maid, Molly Gray, is clearly autistic and utterly charming.

The protagonist for Holly, Holly Gibney, seems to be on the spectrum…and is utterly charming.

In spite of some of the descriptions, I’m not sure I’d describe the Maid as a “cozy”.  But it is fun to read and when you’re finished, you’ll feel good.

Holly, on the other hand, is grim, and as the book cover describes, “gruesome”. King’s writing is wonderful, of course, but I was happy to be done with the book.  

By the way, it was one of King’s more political novels.  He doesn’t pull any punches about people who refuse to get vaccinated for Covid, wear masks, and there’s no love lost for Donald Trump in the book. 

That’s not why I was happy when I got to the ending of Holly. While this was a mystery/thriller it was also classic King horror and this one got under my skin. 

In both books, the protagonist is “different”.  

Isn’t that what we want in our heroes?  We want them to be brave, of course, and driven, like a dog with a bone when it comes to solving mysteries and righting wrongs.  But we also want them to be different than regular people.  

The protagonists should be memorable and someone we care about.  A terrific example is Sue Grafton’s character Kinsey Millhone.  

And if it’s someone we don’t immediately identify with, we want to be fascinated by them, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. 

Then there's the protagonists who are quirky like Monk and Columbo. My own recurring protagonist, Geneva Chase, has plenty of quirks of her own--drinks too much, makes bad life decisions, has questionable morals.  But she has a good heart and readers identify with her and like her.  

So, in your own “work in progress”, what makes your protagonist different?  What makes him or her likable? 

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Art and Politics

New Year's resolutions aren’t on my mind this week.

Don Winslow is.

I’m late to the game when it comes to Winslow, having just picked up THE POWER OF THE DOG. I immediately fell in love with his narrative style. He bounces between past and present tense, the dialogue is clipped and does the work, and the characters are strong but very human. And, of course, the book deals with moral ambiguity. The more I learn about Winslow, the man, the more that makes sense.

I’m glad he has several books, because he’s stopped writing fiction. His decision to do so and his reasoning behind it leave me deeply fascinated: Don Winslow has set his writing career aside to focus on his work as a political activist.

Winslow thinks the United States has lost its way, and, according to this LA TIMES article (and others), he’s calling out those who are leading it in what he perceives is the wrong direction. A major goal seems to be making sure Donal Trump does not become a two-time U.S. President. Winslow gets threats and is accosted on the street. He remains undeterred: “Most of those people are physical as well as moral cowards. I’m 69 years old. What are they going to do to me?” he says in an April 3, 2023 LA Times feature.

I’m curious to hear what others think of his decision, his stance, and the role of art in politics.

Happy New Year to all from Detroit!

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

In Praise of Mystery Conferences

 Festivals and conferences are a wonderful way for writers and readers to connect, forge networks and friendships, learn about new books and authors, and learn from the greats in informal meetings as well as in formal panels, readings, and interviews. As an author, I have been inspired, energized, and given new hope at these events. I have made many wonderful new friends and met authors I have admired all my life.

Mystery readers are fervent supporters of the genre and embrace new authors with warmth and enthusiasm, and mystery writers are a collegial, friendly, supportive bunch who welcome both readers and new authors. We jokingly say that since we get all our aggression out on the page, we are really nice people in real life. Mystery conferences are a bit of a lovefest celebrating the quirky genre we all love.

Some mystery conferences are small and intimate, often focussing on a specific region, while others are big, sprawling, and attract readers and writers from not only North America but from across the world. Probably the two biggest and most prestigious are Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. Both these conferences move around from city to city in North America, giving people a chance to travel to new places and others to attend one closer to home. They are energizing but also can be intimidating to a debut author who knows nothing and no one.

I got hooked on mystery conferences when I attended the inaugural Bloodywords Mystery Conference in Toronto in 1999. Bloodywords was Canada's only uniquely Canadian conference and it drew writers and even readers from across the country. It was the brain child of a dedicated  group in Toronto led by Caro Soles, who presided over it for eleven years. It flourished and introduced the Canadian mystery community to each other and to readers across the country  and beyond, and I attended every one. Everyone was very sad when it finally came to an end.

In 2001, shortly after my first novel was published, I jumped into deep end and attended my first Bouchercon in 2001 in Washington DC. This was six weeks after September 11th, which set a hushed, emotional, and more intimate tone to the gathering. Gone were the brags and promotional gimmicks while we clustered instead in the bar and restaurant to share memories and feelings. The community seemed to wrap its arms around each other.

I have attended Bouchercons now and then and enjoy the electric buzz, but the cost tends to be prohibitive and it's easy to get lost in the huge crowd of writers jockeying to be noticed. Left Coast Crime, which concentrates on cities on the western half of North America (mainly the US) is smaller and its organizers have deliberately cultivated a more informal, playful, and egalitarian atmosphere.The conferences are held in slightly smaller cities like Monterey, Portland, Santa Fe, and Seattle, which keeps the cost down too. 

I have attended quite a few Left Coast Crime Crime conferences over the past twenty years and have loved them all. But the pandemic brought all conferences to a stop, and since then I have been uncertain about venturing into such large gatherings and committing a large amount of money to an event I might have to cancel.

I have a book coming out in early 2025, and I discovered today that not only is Left Coast Crime being held that spring in Denver, Colorado, a state and city I've never visited, but fellow Ottawa mystery lover Grace Koshida is the fan guest of honour. What a thrill for her, and what fun to be part of that. i haven't committed yet, but I think I will finally toss caution and financial restraint to the winds and book myself a trip. 

Let the fun begin!