Saturday, March 23, 2024

Stories Not Yet Written

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Let Us Begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And an oldie but goody:

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

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Out And About

 by Sybil Johnson

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

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

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


Jennifer J. Chow and me

Jennifer, Debbie Mitsch from Mystery Ink and me

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2024


By Charlotte Hinger

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 13, 2024


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

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

The mysterious, evocative one. 

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Let Us Talk About Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, that same year:

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

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Working Environments


by Sybil Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 04, 2024

Looking at Things in New Ways

By Thomas Kies

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

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

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

Some people say it wasn’t a new scenario.

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

It’s weird.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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