Monday, December 07, 2015

A Christmas Gift

By Vicki Delany

I can’t wrap up presents for all the readers of Type M and pop them in the mail, so I thought I’d share one of my favourite cookie recipes with you.

In November, I had a launch party for Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen, the first book in my new Year Round Christmas series from Berkley Prime Crime.  Because the book is set at Christmas (what was your first clue?) I made two types of holiday cookies for the event. It was a lovely evening and the turnout was good.  There were even people I hadn’t met before!

Three people asked me for my cookie recipe.  I said if they bought the book, I’d send it to them. For a brief while I considered using that as a new marketing ploy, but the logistics weren’t favourable.  I don’t want to bake for every event I do, nor lug cookies around the continent. 

Here’s the recipe for my Molasses Spice Cookies.  My holiday gift to you. These cookies are quick and easy to make. They freeze well, are sturdy, and keep well. I send them to my daughter in BC every year, and they seem to survive the journey.

For those of you who aren’t bakers, but would still like to try a cookie, you’ll have a chance this week!  I’ll be at the Picton Library’s Merry Mystery Christmas party with my good friend and fellow-writer Janet Kellough, reading Christmas scenes and telling seasonal stories.  And, because it’s a Christmas party, I’m baking! Thursday December 10, 2:00. 

Vicki Delany’s Molasses spice cookies

·         2 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
·         1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1 1/2 cups sugar
·         3/4 cup (6 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
·         1 large egg
·         1/4 cup molasses
1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a shallow bowl, place 1/2 cup sugar; set aside.
2.      With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup of sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms.
3.      Pinch off and roll dough into balls, each equal to 1 tablespoon. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat.
4.      Arrange balls on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges of cookies are just firm, 10 to 15 minutes (cookies can be baked two sheets at a time, but they will not crackle uniformly). Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; transfer to racks to cool completely.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Feet and the Writer

Frankie here. Earlier this week I paid my first visit to a podiatrist. I was a bit wary about the appointment because I had been referred after going into my primary care physician's office with my complaint -- my big toe on my left foot, or rather the nail on my big toe felt sore when a shoe pressed against it. I had been ignoring the problem for months. At first it was occasional, then after my vacation in Alaska that had involved more use of my feet than usual (including when I was riding that horse), I began to notice my sore toenail more. But what sent me sprinting to the telephone to call for a doctor's appointment was something I had come across while I was doing research for my new mystery. My protagonist was stressed out and I imagining her leaping to her feet to dance away her tension while her dog watched. But what was the music -- of course, Bob Marley, the Jamaican singer/musician. That sent me to articles about Marley and his music -- more than I needed to know for that scene, but that's how research goes. I learned, reading Marley's bio, that he had died young of cancer -- first discovered under toe nail. Pause .  . . panic .  . . sprint to telephone to make doctor's appointment.

The physician's assistant I saw said that was not the first thing that would have occurred to him about my sore toe nail. The podiatrist said the same thing.

Of course, he said it as he was looking down at my foot and my next concern was that he was going to say something about injecting something under my toe nail. I was already cringing and preparing to leap from the chair, grab my socks and shoes and flee, when he reach into a drawer for clippers. Yes, he agreed when he noted that the nail was loose and could be raised (cringe again), I might have traumatized the toe when I stumped it months ago. He clipped away and then said we would do an X-ray just to make sure no bone spur was pushing up the nail. The X-ray was clear, and he offered me options for dealing with the fungus (yuck! but not uncommon according to the podiatrist) that had found its way under my loosen nail. I chose the one that involved brushing on an oily substance twice a day and coming back in three months.

Okay, enough about my toe saga. But it happened at a time when I've been making my way through an over-sized Smithsonian Museum volume titled Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. Actually, it's a lovely book, but it weighs at least three or four pounds. And it takes forever to get through if one really wants to understand the evolution of fashion. I've glanced through it before, but now have it back on loan from the public library because I'm in the midst of writing my book about dress, appearance, and crime. And, of course, feet play a role in the evolution of clothing and fashion -- bare feet, clad feet, feet in slippers, boots, or pattens ("overshoes with raised wooden soles that kept the feet above the mud and filth"). Thinking about feet and how we accessorize them reminded me of another weighty book devoted only to shoes that I have displayed in my office as a coffee table book. Shoes -- laced, buckled, strapped up the leg, bizarre, outrageous, lethal with steel heels. Shoes that I admire when they are beautiful examples of craftsmanship, high heels that I am told do not hurt ones feet halfway through the evening when well-made. But I am unlikely to ever know because I am still not enough of a fashionista to pay that much for a pair of shoes. I would be afraid to wear them, lacking pattens to protect them from touching the ground.

But clad in expensive shoes, I could certainly "put my best foot forward" when I walk into a meeting. In fact, there are any number of things that idioms about feet tell us  might occur during that meeting -- from "getting off on the wrong foot" (a clumsy stumble in my gorgeous shoes) to "getting a foot in the door" (making a charming recovery from my stumble that convinces those present that I am worthy of further consideration). I might depart that meeting with "happy feet" like those penguins in that movie. And I might slip into the house on soundless "cat's feet" to surprise my spouse or partner with my good news and the bottle of champagne I've brought home. Encountering a burglar or serial killer lurking, I might dash for the door. If this were a "woman in jeopardy" movie, the dangerous felon would grab my ankle to drag me back or I would take a tumble and sprain an ankle. But I might kick my attacker with my good foot. A well-aimed blow in some vital part.

There are, of course, a number of martial arts that involve the use of feet in fighting. The author of a mystery I just finished had a musician protagonist -- a pianist -- who had learned to fight with his feet because he needed to protect his hands. Unfortunately, a bad guy stomped on one of his hands early on. And his feet really came in handy both for running and fighting. I would argue that as writers we should think more about our characters' feet. We can do that with our own "feet up" as we relax. While avoiding the cliched phrases of feet and leg idioms (Google for examples), we can use them as inspiration as we think about what our characters might do or what might happen to them. For example, protagonist breaks bone in foot (how did that happen?). Protagonist has foot in cast (can't run but will have handy cane or crutch when encounters villain). Or, female protagonist with "two left feet" decides to try ballroom dancing. She has always wanted to do it and is going to do it now even if she looks like an idiot. Good for her! Except one of her dancing partners turns out to be a stalker.

"On your toes!" Where are your feet taking you with this?

Next time, heads.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Life is Short. Tour Small Towns.

Donis here, feeling blue. I just spent an hour on the phone with an old friend from Tulsa whose husband died a few days ago. She and I have known one another since we were seven years old, and for most of our growing-up and young-woman years, we were BFFs. Even though I moved to Arizona in the 1980s, we have kept in touch and always got together whenever I managed to get back to the home country. I knew him pretty well, too. I was in their wedding over forty years ago.

This has been coming for a few months, so it was not unexpected, but it was not a particularly good passing. My friend is in that weird numb state right now, which everyone who has ever lost a loved one knows about. It's hard when you realize that you now belong to the "grandparent" generation, and you and your compatriots are the next to go. For most of our lives there was a buffer generation between us and the bitter end. No more. I don't mind the idea of joining the choir invisible myself, but for the past several years I've lived in a state of dread over losing my nearest and dearest. It's enough to drive you to take up Zen. Live in the moment and enjoy the day as best you can.

Holding forth in Ajo, Arizona

Anyway...on a less depressing topic, I took a few days off for Thanksgiving, but the next couple of weeks are full of promotional activities for the new book, All Men Fear Me. One of my favorite events in this cycle was my November 20 trip to Ajo, Arizona, far out in the desert, half-way to California and almost all the way to Mexico. As long as you're reimbursed for you gasoline, never pass up invitations to do events in small towns, my friends. Everybody will turn out and you'll feel like a star.

Holding forth in Boynton, Oklahoma

Nine years ago, after my second book came out, I did a book tour in Oklahoma. I hit all the big towns and did well, but we ended the tour by going to Boynton, where everything began, back in the misty past, when my great-grandparents moved to Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th Century. It was raining cats and dogs when we left Tulsa that morning, so I didn’t have much expectation of a successful event. But my expectation was wrong. The talk was held at the Boynton Historical Society building, in a 20X20 room that was bursting at the seams with people – and believe it or not, I wasn’t related to most of them! A gorgeous feature article about me and the books had appeared the day before in the Muskogee Phoenix newspaper, on top of a feature in the Haskell News, and folks had hauled out their canoes and rowed to Boynton in the rain from all around the vicinity. We even had a woman there from Oklahoma City! (130 miles away) It was a gratifying experience, to say the least, since crowd made me feel like some sort of celebrity. I sold every single book I brought with me, and could have sold a lot more if I’d had them. Pretty good for a town of about 400.*

So take advantage of every opportunity you are offered, big or small, and don't pass up the chance to eat ice cream if you want it. Because you never know.
*Boynton now has fewer than 200 people. In another nine years it will have disappeared altogether.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Great things in little packages

Barbara here. It's the beginning of December, and even the most reluctant and curmudgeonly among us has no doubt noticed the holiday ad season is upon us. In the true spirit of the season, I confess this post will be a gift-buying pitch of sorts. Dare I say there is no greater gift for the mystery lover on your gift list than a newly discovered gem, or the newest release from their favourite author, or even the latest hot new sensation.  Support your local authors, and make sure the industry thrives.

With millions of books published every year, how do you wade through the titles in search of something worthy? You can read reviews and blurbs online or in print. You can ask friends who have similar tastes. You can float the question on social media and be prepared for dozens of answers. After all, there is a book for every taste and mood, something for the beach and the armchair by the fire. Something for the bedside and the morning coffee time.

You can visit your wonderful neighbourhood independent bookstore and ask for recommendations. They will ask what you (or your Aunt Bertha) like, and they will put a few suggestions in your hands. Or you can browse the bookshelves on your own, picking out books, reading the jackets and first pages, looking for that magic connection.

And if you are Canadian, another place you can check is the website of Crime Writers of Canada, which maintains a e-catalogue called Cool Canadian Crime, which lists the new releases of its members (just about every serious crime writer in Canada). It is updated quarterly, and you can find it on the CWC website or sign up for email notices. Sometimes, as in the case of my latest book, The Night Thief, we forget, but most of the time the catalogue is complete.

Which brings me to my own little sales pitch. Almost every year for the past fifteen years, I have had a new book out to promote during the holiday season. I can barely remember a year I didn't have signings in bookstores in the weeks leading up to Hanukah and Christmas. The latest Inspector Green novel has become a reliable gift for quite a few of my family and friends. Much to their dismay, there is no new book this year. None So Blind was published in October 2014, and my next book, Fire in the Stars, the first in the Amanda Doucette series, is not due out until September 2016.

There is, however, an unsung hero on my bookshelf–my Cedric O'Toole easy-read series of short novels. Cedric is an unlikely and reluctant hero, a simple country handyman with a caring nature, a stubborn independence, and a knack for trying to help out people in trouble. Although the novels are written in the straightforward, easy-read style for reluctant readers, they are powerful stories with an adult punch and can be equally enjoyed by readers who want a short read for the plane, the doctor's office, or the beach. Many Inspector Green readers have bought them and enjoyed the same themes and sensibility as the Green novels. The books come in small trade paperback and all ebook formats.

The novels, and the other books in the Rapid Reads series published by Orca Books, would fit neatly into stockings or as part of a modest exchange among colleagues, families, and friends. Or for a more substantial gift, how about bundling all three Cedric O'Toole books, so the reader can follow his adventures through the whole series? Cheerfully wrapped together with a big bow, they made a great little package.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Conspiracy theories

by Rick Blechta

I’d be willing to bet that nearly everyone has a pet conspiracy theory. Did the US government actually engineer the terrorist attack that brought down the World Trade Center? Did an alien spacecraft really crash at Area 51? Is there a mysterious group called the Illuminati controlling the world’s governments? Was Princess Di murdered at the request of the royal family? Were the pyramids actually constructed to store grain?

Many of conspiracy theories are interesting to explore; others seem just plain crazy (jet contrails as a way of enslaving mankind, anyone?). There are some, though, that are compellingly explained to the point where you may start to believe them.

I have come up with one for those of us who write (and read) genre fiction. I think it’s pretty well known by now that far more genre fiction is purchased and read than Literature (definitely with a capital “L”). Now, publishers are always complaining about how much money they lose which is why they can no longer give reasonable advances or fund promotional support. But I suspect they say this most often to genre fiction authors (as explained below). At the same time, they keep pursuing those writers who produce literary fiction. Yes, many are excellent, some superlative, and some authors works sell like gangbusters. However, many disappear without a trace.

Look at all the big literary awards (Pulitzer, Man Booker, Giller, etc.) and you will never see lowly genre fiction represented. Is this because there are no excellent writers working in these fields? I don’t believe so. The issue is with the juries selecting the books to be finalists in these competitions. They wouldn’t admit any genre fiction to a short list even if faced with the working end of a ten-foot cattle prod. How come?

Here’s my conspiracy theory. Publishers gather great cachet by having a genuine “literary sensation” among their authors. It’s a big deal for one of them to receive a Man Booker Prize. It will sell a lot of books. Among the big awards, there is also great cachet accrued to have all these important authors vying for their prizes. Sponsors also benefit from having their brand attached to prestigious prizes.

Now take away these awards. Pretend they don’t exist. What are the chances many of the shortlisted books would be noticed by very many readers? Slim, I would think. The whole industry built around literary fiction would start to crumble. They need these awards to make it all viable.

On the other hand, as long as it’s reviewed and gets a bit of publicity, the top writers of genre fiction will do much better. Why? Because more people buy and read these books. It is not odd to see someone at a book store’s cash register with a stack of books penned by a new favourite author. You won’t run across too many people who do that with an author of Literature.

So why do the best of these authors get the cold shoulder from the big literary awards? Because letting them in would start a free-for-all and many of the “serious writers of literary fiction” would see themselves pushed to the side.

In closing, I will admit I’m positing a pretty extreme theory, but you have to admit it does make some sense. Those involved in serious literature have a vested interest to see that this branch of publishing (do I dare call it a genre?)   remains viable. To be most viable, it has to be separate from every other kind of writing. Crime fiction — and all the other genres — need not apply.

Throw all that’s written into one big pot, give it a stir, and what would happen to sales? Hmmm... It would be interesting to find out.

Okay,  I now throw this question open to the floor. Whaddaya all think?

Monday, November 30, 2015

The wee small hours

I'm just reaching the stage of my latest book when I always feel poised on the edge of panic. Having worked all this time to create a complex plot with twists, turns and an elusive perpetrator, it has now reached the stage when I have to bring all the threads together to provide a neat conclusion.

It's not so bad when I'm actually at my desk and I can work to my guiding principle, 'Follow the Story'. It's when I wake in those dark hours of the night when it's hard to keep a sense of proportion and toss and turn with my head full of my characters and their problems and become convinced that this time I really have painted myself into corner and the whole thing has now become so complicated that I can't unravel it.

Of course I could get up there and then and go back to my desk but on the whole I don't find this a very good solution; there's still the next day to get through and an exhausted author isn't a very good one.

The solution is clearly to work longer hours during the day and let the story sort itself out in the obliging way it always has before. The only problem is the other things that get in the way.

Like Book Week, Scotland. Scotland has a very enlightened approach to the Arts and there is a system whereby libraries can apply for funding to host a speaker. The speaker is paid £150 to do an event; the Scottish Book Trust will pay half of that and also for travel and accommodation if necessary and Book Week attracts a lot of funding.

I love doing library events – and not only because I'm paid. I think in the many I've done over the years, I have only once had a leaden audience and never a difficult one. They are usually hugely responsive and you are often talking to people who don't really have the money to buy all the books they would like to read and are truly enthusiastic and appreciative. The library will often also arrange to have books on sale for signing and we're now into the ‘Happy Christmas’ inscriptions with people buying for friends and family.

So what's not to like? There is just the small problem that while you're having a lovely time with people who will actually laugh and clap and then tell you how much they love your books you're not sitting at your desk getting on with it – and  that night again there's the wee small hours torment.

And then there's the run up to Christmas, with family descending from three different directions and expecting food over an extended period, and they tend to expect presents as well ...

But unless they're going to have a hostess who falls asleep over the turkey, I'm going to have to hope that the brilliant ending I'm hoping for is vouchsafed to me within the next few days.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

T-day dinners and other memories

Here in the US of A we joyfully cram our stomachs full on Thanksgiving Day. We could easily match the excesses of Roman aristocracy if only we had the rumored vomitoriums. Hosts put a lot of care into the meal, and I've never been to a T-day dinner where the food wasn't good. But not every Thanksgiving meal is memorable, in fact few are.

I got to thinking about specific meals that stuck in my mind. One Thanksgiving dinner that stands out is the only one I spent by myself. It was at a diner in Bisbee, Arizona, back in 1975. Another occurred last year when I delivered T-day leftovers to my friends Angie Hodapp and Warren Hammond who had just returned to Denver after a long, long flight from China.

Another remembered meal was when I caught up to my high-school best friend during our time in the army. We spent the afternoon in a Mexican restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. We ate and drank and ate and drank. Hours passed and dinner over, we expected to stumble into cool night air. But it was still light out and the sun's merciless glare stung our bloodshot eyes.

Another food-related snap shot. During a prolonged and painful period of unemployment, I finished grad school and to celebrate both my master's degree and my expected return to work, I arranged for a dinner with my critique group at a small bistro. The future never seemed so hopeful.

Another military meal. I had just completed the Fasotragulant Navy S.E.R.E. school near Brunswick, Maine. We students--Army Special Forces and Navy aviators--spent days hiking over the wilderness like hunted animals, eating nothing but tree bark and tiny raw trout caught with safety pins. That trial was followed by more uncomfortable days in a simulated POW camp run by a sadistic cadre who never broke character. Late in the afternoon of the last day, a bus rolled up to take us back to the navy base. Dinner included an urn of hot black coffee, another urn of steaming chicken-noodle soup, and a yellow sheet cake, which we stuffed into our faces during the ride to civilization. A humble repast but one of the most satisfying meals of my life.

Years later, I was in Baltimore, Maryland, for Bouchercon 2008. At the time, since I was still in HarperCollins' stable I was invited to their authors-only fancy, schmancy dinner. The other authors included HC's big hardback mystery NYT-bestsellers and international writers who sat with the editors at the big table. Because I was merely a writer of paperback vampire novels, I was shuffled to the equivalent of the little kids' card table where I sat next to Sarah Weinman. Later that night, Jane Friedman, the President and CEO, stopped by to say hello. She not only knew who I was, she even signed my name tag. I decided to keep that tag as a memento of my days with HarperCollins, not realizing that within weeks, Friedman and many of the editors at that dinner would be gone from the company. Ironically, I had outlasted them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Ghosts of Books Past

For some time now I've been thinking of my all-time favorite books and feel compelled to reread a number of them.

Thanks to Amazon it's easy to track down these old books that I've remembered for a lifetime. I still own a lot of them. My interest is more than a nostalgia kick, although I am a nostalgic person. This obsession was stirred up by my whimsical treacherous muse who pointed out that I needed to improve characterization.

The books I especially admire were mostly commercial successes, but that not why they stuck with me. I loved the central character in each one. But beyond that, these characters had a huge heart-wrenching problem worth wresting with.

For that matter, it seems to me the old writing books had a lot more information than the manuals I pick up today. I'm re-reading Maren Elwood's Characters Make Your Story. It's outstanding. It's tough reading and I don't think I understood some of her points until I had written several books.

Elwood insists that characters come from within. Spinning them from thin air doesn't work. You can give a man a quirky car, some semi-handsome physical attributes, a few snarly snappy lines and he will still seem like everyone else's cardboard cut-outs. Ditto for Too Stupid To Live Heroines. You know. The ones who never call for back-up. Or run around saying, "Oh I'll show him!"

Here is a just of a few of these old, old books I'll re-read and why:

Green Dolphin Street--Elizabeth Goudge.  It's my all-time favorite whose theme touches a spiritual chord within me. Goudge, has the  ability to make unlovable multi-dimensional characters profoundly lovable.

Love Let Me Not Hunger--Paul Gallico. This is a hauntingly beautiful insight into the cloistered world of the circus. Who knew that this society fostered it's own royalty? What I remembered forever and forever was Mr. Albert, the animal trainer. How did Gallico so vividly create such a noble humble old man whose personal story broke my heart?

A Distant Trumpet--by Paul Horgan. A historical novel telling about the Indian wars and the relentless campaign to hunt down the Apaches. And for years, whenever we moved to another town, another library, or even when I was visiting relations, I went to the their library to look up General Alexander Upton Quade. I couldn't believe he wasn't real. After forty years went by, I found out this character was based on the autobiography and writings of General George Crook. Horgan told the‎ story from the Indians' point of view as well as the soldiers'.

Not As a Stranger--Morton Thompson. One of the great all-time medical novels. Not only was it informative, I had such hopes for the protagonist. He was destined to be one of the all-time great doctors.

Five Smooth Stones--Ann Fairbairn. One of the great social novels and one of the few that delved into subtle Northern racism. This was published in 1966 when the Civil Rights Movement was roiling America.

Rebecca--Daphne du Maurier. Need I say more? One of the great classic mysteries, which was the forerunner of the gothic novels. At one time I couldn't get enough of them.

There are some common denominators to all the books I've mentioned. They all have great plots. Every single author is a masterful story-teller. And for some reason they are all l-o-n-g.

Will these books still resonate with me forty years later? Will I still have the same insight? Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Collage

John here.

Once again, my post falls on Thanksgiving in the US. I have much to be thankful for -- and my writing career is a very small part of that. I am grateful to be part of the Midnight Ink family and to have Julia Lord and Ginger Curwen representing me.

Most importantly, I am grateful for the home team and time this week to be together. Here's a collage from Thanksgiving week.

My daughters Delaney (right) and Audrey

My mother Connie and Edie

Happy Holidays!

Delaney and Audrey in the kitchen
My sister Kelli

The family
Nana and Keeley, 7

My stepfather Mike
My wife, Lisa

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Turkey Day Mysteries

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. Poor Thanksgiving. I feel sorry for it sometimes. Wedged in-between Halloween and Christmas, it often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. With some stores open on Thanksgiving Day, the focus seems to have gone off giving thanks and spending time with family to Christmas shopping.

This got me thinking about mysteries that take place around Turkey Day. I can think of plenty of Christmas and Halloween mysteries, but few based around Thanksgiving come to mind. That seems rather strange to me. The holiday is almost made for murder. Put some families together around the dinner table and voila! arguments start, old grudges come to the surface, family secrets are revealed. All good bases for murder mysteries.

I did a little investigating to see how many mysteries I could find taking place around Thanksgiving. I came across more than I expected. Here are a few of them:

The two I immediately thought of were The Killer Wore Cranberry and Secondhand Stiff. The first is an anthology of short stories centered around the Thanksgiving holiday. There have been three more volumes since. I’ve only read the first one, which I enjoyed. I expect the others are good as well.

Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian is one of my favorite books in the Odelia Grey mystery series. Let’s just say Odelia’s family doesn’t always get along. When her mother’s stay is extended after the Thanksgiving holiday, some of the family attend a storage facility auction where cousin Ina’s husband is found dead in one of the units for sale.

Turkey Day Murder by Leslie Meyer. This is the 7th book in the Lucy Stone mystery series. It’s set in Tinker’s Cove, Maine. The Thanksgiving festivities include a high school football game where Metinnicut Indian activist Curt Nolan is found dead with an ancient war club next to his head.

The Alpine Vengeance by Mary Daheim. This is the 22nd installment in the Emma Lord series. It’s set in a small town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. I love this series, partially because I grew up in Washington state, but also because it’s just a good series. In this one, the town of Alpine, Washington is preparing for Thanksgiving when anonymous letters are sent to the sheriff asserting that a murder conviction of a town resident from ten years earlier was the result of a wrongful arrest. The man has died behind bars. Then a fourth letter arrives “threatening retribution in the form of another death.”

The Pumpkin Muffin Murder by Livia J. Washburn. This one caught my eye because I’m partial to all things pumpkin including pumpkin muffins. This is number 5 in the Fresh-baked mystery series featuring retired small town Texas teacher Phyllis Newsom. I haven’t read it, but it looks pretty interesting. It’s Thanksgiving and Phyllis takes her grandson to the Harvest Festival, hoping she’ll win the baking contest. Then a decorative scarecrow turns out to be a body in disguise...

So, Type M Reader? Do you have any favorite mysteries centered around the Thanksgiving holiday? What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All in

by Rick Blechta

I know my share of very successful authors, you know, the A-list types who actually have the stature that their publishers will pay the freight and do the grunt work for publicity. Make no mistake about it, though, these authors still work very hard when they’re on the I’ve-got-a-new-book-out road, but I will also add that having someone paying the bills, arranging for local publicists, handling the bookings, etc. does make it a hell of a lot easier to bear.

The question everyone else has is this: How do I get to that stage in author-dom?

Well, generally one of three things has to be at work:
  • You’re very well-known for something else. Dick Francis was a champion steeplechase jockey before he began writing thrillers.
  • You’re incredibly lucky. Before The Firm, John Grisham was not all that successful. The novel was the beneficiary of an extraordinary promotional push by its publisher.
  • You’ve written an extraordinary book that everyone connected with it will move heaven and earth to get the word out and make it a success.
But there is a fourth way, and that’s a really tough road. It involves the author believing so much in themselves, justifiably I might add (the ditch by the side of the road to publishing success is littered with authors who believed in themselves but couldn’t deliver the prose goods) and devote all their waking hours, all their finances to achieving one goal: becoming a publishing success.

One of my ultra-successful author-friends literally hand sold books one at a time. I shudder to think of the number of signings, literary events, conventions this man attended (and still continues to attend). After a lot of miles and burning through a big chunk of change I’m sure, things started happening for him. He began to win awards. Novels got optioned — and produced! Now, this author did indeed have the ability to deliver the goods. Anything he writes goes to the top of my to-be-read stack. He’s seldom let me down.

But here’s the thing. If he hadn’t taken that leap of faith and gone all in, he might well not have risen to the top of the heap. It was his personal spade work in the book promotion trenches, that critical networking, those miles of being on the road which made his route to the top a success in the end.

Can we all do it? Well, no. Personally, I have too many responsibilities to family to be able to take the risk. It’s something I’m not prepared to do to them, because ultimately it is a rather selfish, or should I say self-centred thing to do.

I did, however, do it in my youth with a band I started. We had that belief in ourselves and the ability to be really extraordinary. It was a very heady ride while it lasted, but ultimately, we were too young and emotionally immature, had really inadequate management, but also couldn’t manage to get that one little sliver of luck to make stardom happen. Eventually I had to give up and get a “real” job.

So success is possible, but it is a very hard slog. One has to deal with so many things that are beyond your control. You can be the hardest worker of all time, but if someone wants to, they can easily stick a knife in your laboriously inflated balloon. You know what happens to them, and that’s exactly what it’s like watching your hard-won career running out of luck.

Still, it’s one of the biggest reasons we all keep on. We might actually manage to snag that brass ring on the very next trip ’round the publishing merry-go-round.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Mini Vacation

by Vicki Delany

Oops, is it my day again! 

I am working this morning on the final proofs for Reading Up A Storm, (by Eva Gates) coming in April, and I had some CWC business to do earlier. So about all I have time for now is to tell you about my vacation.

I took myself off on a short trip to Quebec City after my launch for Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen in Ottawa. I'd never been there before, despite living about 6 hours drive away.  A friend told me that the Chateau Frontenac, the huge luxury historic hotel there, was having a "Christmas in November" promotion.  

It was a great chance to stay at the famous hotel for a reasonable price, so I booked myself in for three nights.

I had a marvelous time.  Just enjoying the hotel, walking and walking and walking through the old city, and eating and drinking. 

The hotel was wonderful, as befits its reputation and location (and regular price) and the city is a marvel. You really do feel as though you are in France. Quebec City is the only remaining walled city in North America, and most of the walls are still in place, as are buildings and streets that date from the 17th century.

To make it all even nicer, the city is getting ready for Christmas. Here are some pictures. I hope you enjoy them. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This weekend’s guest blogger, RJ Harlick

I’d like to welcome RJ Harlick as our guest blogger. RJ writes the popular wilderness-based Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. With an underlying Native theme, each book explores not only the motives behind murder, but also issues facing Natives today and their traditional ways. Like her heroine Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests surrounding her wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and rivers. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. A Cold White Fear, the seventh in the series, has just been released. RJ is a past president of Crime Writers of Canada.

Launching into the great unknown

I’m thrilled to be making another appearance on Type M for Murder. Thanks, Rick, for inviting me.

I celebrated the launch of my latest book, A Cold White Fear, this week at a local pub in Ottawa with good friend and Type M blogger Vicki Delany, who was launching her latest, Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen. Even though this was the seventh book in my Meg Harris series, I still found it as thrilling as the launch of my very first book, Death’s Golden Whisper.

I know some authors don’t believe in official launches, but I’ve done it for every book and wouldn’t think of tossing it into the great unknown of discerning readers without a party. I love being able to celebrate my latest achievement with friends, family and fans. My sister even gave me a gorgeous orchid to mark its birth. For a few hours I am able to bask in their excitement at the prospect of reading a new book. For me it is a fitting end after months spent alone in front of my computer bringing my treasured words into fruition. I would feel cheated, if I only relied on my publisher’s press releases and ads to get the word out there. Sure I post numerous announcements of its pending release on Facebook and various blogs, but there isn’t the same feeling of celebration as there is with a gathering of excited readers.

For my earlier books I used the lobby of a nearby library for the venue, but I found it cold and uninviting despite being packed with gregarious readers. Three books ago I switched to a local pub and liked the warmth it exudes much better. A tipple or two doesn’t hurt either, on the part of the readers that is. I wait until after my reading to have my celebratory glass of wine or two, otherwise who knows what I would end up reading.

The pub I use has a room that is separate from the rest of the establishment, so I don’t have to contend with noisy chatter from regular pub goers, plus I can get the manager to turn off the Muzak. You want people focused on your reading and not on the conversation going on at the next table.

A pub location does however restrict the timing of the launch. Needless to say Thursday through to Saturday evenings are a non-starter. I usually chose Tuesdays, a quiet night for a pub and a night most people are likely to have free. Some of my fellow writers chose Sunday afternoons, another quiet time for a pub. But I prefer evenings, which gives the launch a more party-like atmosphere. To handle book sales, I bring in my favourite independent bookseller, rather than trying to manage that aspect myself.

Since people are there to chat with you and each other and to get a glimpse of what the book is about, buy it and get it signed, I like to keep my words to a minimum. I do a short five to seven minute introduction to the book along with appropriate thank you’s, followed by a short five-minute reading.

I always start with the first chapter. I figure if my first chapter can’t spark interest at the launch how can I expect it to draw in readers who pick it off an anonymous bookshelf. But I do some editing. I know, you’re probably suppose to read every word, but I don’t. I usually leave out the text that provides situational information that a reader reading the entire book would need. And I always end it on a cliff hanger. Usually this is the end of the first chapter, but sometimes it isn’t. I want my listeners to be hanging on every word, dying to know what will happen and when I don’t reveal it, having them rush over to the bookseller to buy the book to find out. I follow the same practice with any public reading.

After that the fun begins, chatting with everyone and signing their books, though I do find it a challenge to come up with appropriate and unique inscriptions. After all, you don’t want people comparing books and discovering that they all have exactly the same inscription.  And oh yes, now I get to enjoy a glass of wine.

In closing, I’d like to introduce you to A Cold White Fear, now available in a store near you or any online bookseller and in all ebook formats. This seventh Meg Harris mystery is a thriller, a departure from the crime-solving story lines of my other books, though they all have a thriller aspect to them. It’s an action packed read. One reviewer said she started reading it when she went to bed, couldn’t put it down and ended up staying up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it.

It’s the week before Christmas and Meg is alone with her young friend Adjidamo in her isolated Victorian cottage.  Outside a blizzard rages, closing off all road access. A knock suddenly echoes through the house. She discovers two men at the front door, one of them bleeding. And so begins a terrifying night that has Meg summoning up a courage she didn’t know existed to get her and Adjidamo out of it alive.
Visit RJ Harlick’s website,, for more information. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Moving up the Hierarchy

Last night I was watching Cupcake Wars. The four bakers were competing for $10,000. The winner would also have her fabulous cupcake creations served at the star-studded celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the iconic TV sitcom, I Love Lucy. I was watching this show because I love shows about food. But I was thinking now and then that I should be writing my post for today. But it has been a labor-intensive week, so I stayed there on the sofa with Harry, my cat, sleeping, belly up and paws in the air, beside me.

This week I finally finished the synopsis of a proposed book and sent it off to my editor. Actually, I sent a short version and a very long (34 pages) version. I had spent so much time on that 34 page version that I couldn't not send it along. When I was plotting this book, I used script-writing techniques to craft my scenes. Unlike when I simply outline, my characters had a great deal to say. They started talking to each other. Knowing I should type instead of telling them to shut up, I included those snatches of conversation in my synopsis. My characters were talking about what they needed. They were explaining how what they had done was related to what they wanted. In those snatches of conversations --either stated or implied -- they were telling me about the internal needs that motivated them.

My cat, Harry, had his bedtime snack early last night and at 7:47 am, he meowed politely outside my door. Harry has been incredibly considerate these past few weeks. A friend says Harry has "mellowed out" now that he knows he is really home and it's okay when I put him in his carrier and in the car (that I do intend to bring him home from the vet's or come back after my vacation to retrieve him from his sitter's house). Harry no longer meows and knocks on my door with his big paws (Maine Coon mix) because now he is not worried that I have disappeared and he is not going to be fed. He now sits on top of the radiator waiting for me to come out and raise the blinds so he can bird watch. Or he sits outside my door waiting for me to wake up and come out -- so quiet that I've almost stumbled over him a few times. But this morning, he was hungry, and he thought a polite meow would let me know that his stomach was rumbling.

Harry has reminded me of something I learned in Psychology 101 (or, whatever that long-ago Intro Psych course at Virginia Tech was numbered). It was in that course that I first heard about Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Offering a theory of human motivation, Abraham Maslow argued that humans are motivated by needs that range from basic physiological needs to self-actualization. Humans . . .

I had to take a break between paragraphs because Harry was standing beside my chair meowing insistently.
(Photo taken by his sitter, Russ, on another morning).

This morning, having had his breakfast (wet prescription cat food mixed with pumpkin) and spent some time looking out the window at the birds sitting in the leafless small trees, he felt compelled to remind me that I had neglected to carry out our morning ritual. Each morning, using a pet grooming tool that has a metal rake on one side and a bristled brush on the other, I attend to Harry's fur. When I adopted him in October of last year, Harry's back had been partially shaved because his fur was matted when he came into the shelter. Now, his fur has grown back and is luxurious and thick, and it tends to tangle on his stomach. I suspect that he knows he will be swallowing a lot of hair when he grooms himself if I don't brush him first.

But having me brush him each morning is also Harry's way of maintaining our connection. He is moving up his cat hierarchy. As he is being brushed, Harry is ensuring his continued security and maintaining bonds of affections. I'm pretty sure he's also nurturing his self-esteem ("I'm a handsome cat. I cannot be seen with my coat looking scruffy").

Observing Harry has reminded me about my character's pyramid of needs. My characters -- whether in my 1939 historical or the whodunit with the very long synopsis -- are not going to zip through my books without stopping for meals or bathroom breaks. Yes, the public stakes may be high in my thriller, but along the way my protagonist and his valiant team are going to have those moments I've always loved in books and movies -- the outlaws are lurking outside, but inside the safety of the jail Dean Martin is stretched out on a bunk and he begins to sing about his pony and Rick Nelson joins in and then Walter Brennan pulls out his harmonica. . . yes, I watch too many old movies.

But my point is that I have now found another way to think of that dictum that in every scene in a book or story, each character should want something. Harry -- meowing again, paws on my knees, before he jumps, all 16.5 lbs of him (he's a pound from his goal weight), onto my lap -- is working on his hierarchy. He wants to sit in my lap because he's ready for a nap. He could be much more comfortable on the sofa or curled up on the radiator or an area rug. But he wants to sleep in the crook of my arm as I type. His need to bond and feel secure makes him want to sleep in my lap even though he has better options when it comes to physical comfort. A cat's reminder that meeting ones needs sometimes requires trade-offs. I must keep this in mind about my characters.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


This year's Suit of Lights

Donis here, writing on a sunny Wednesday in Arizona. My latest Alafair Tucker novel, All Men Fear Me, finally had its official launch at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale last Saturday, the 14th. As usual I spent a lot of time picking out my outfit, or as I call it, my "suit of lights". This has become something of a ritual for me when a new book comes out. Though I don't know why. I've seen many a Big Name Author show up at personal appearances dressed like s/he just rolled out of bed.

My launch, with Betty Webb, Jenn McKinlay, and Kate Carlisle, was a lot of fun and there was a big crowd in attendance, which is always very nice. The very next day I drove the 100 miles down to Tucson to do an event at Clues Unlimited Bookstore along with fellow PP author Jeffrey Siger. Clues is a small place but it was packed. So my first two official promotional events for this book were successful and pleasant and many books were sold. I posted some photos of both events on my own website if you'd like to indulge.

I have today off, but tomorrow I'm off for another several day of appearances and programs around the state. When I'm in the middle of the Big Push it's very difficult for me to keep to my accustomed writing schedule, and howsoever much I enjoy myself, it is unlikely that my events are going to make me a New York Times bestseller.

Which brings up the question of why we do it. We mid-listers seldom get paid for our appearances, so travel is expensive, disrupts your life, and eventually becomes incredibly tiring. Yet it is very helpful to meet readers face to face. I'm often surprised by readers' thoughts about my novels. They see things that I didn't see myself. Sometimes I'm shocked by a reader's interpretation, and sometimes amazed and flattered to find out how insightful I am without even knowing it!

Also, I can't overstate how important it is to develop relationships with librarians and bookstore owners. They are the ones who are going to recommend your books to readers, so we authors had better do our best to deliver a good product and a good program for them.

When I can, I try to arrange appearances with other authors. First of all, that could broaden your audience appeal. Most importantly, it is incredibly helpful to get to know your fellow writers. In my experience they are a bright, thoughtful, intelligent and kind bunch, and it is very helpful to hear that even authors who are much more well-known than you also suffer the same writing pains as you do.

I don't know of one veteran author who hasn't had the experience of schlepping miles to do an event and then one or two (or no) people show up. If that happens, remember that even if just one person shows, your should treat her like Oprah's niece. Word of mouth is as valuable as gold.

Still, it is easy to become disillusioned with public appearances since they are not what is going to give you that push into best-sellerdom. My advice is not to expect them to. The thing that is going to make you the next J.K. Rowling is a dash of luck and writing a fabulous book.

There is only one of those things you can do anything about.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Life and art

Barbara here. In her Monday blog, Aline talked about the pitfalls and joys of research, which can suck hours, even days, out of one's writing schedule. She mentioned the delights of wandering from link to link on the internet, an armchair adventure that can consume an entire morning with ease. As an aside, I confess these armchair adventures can consume entire mornings with ease even when I don't have the excuse of research. Yesterday I managed to restrict myself to two Facebook quizzes and one amazing pet story, but some days I am a sucker for every come-hither headline.

Aline also mentioned the joy of spending hours talking directly to experts. It's all research, right, and we learn such fascinating things. Who else has a job where they can explore antique dolls one day and post-traumatic stress another? Rarely a dull moment in the life of a writer. Such research also serves as busy work and a nice distraction when we can't think where on earth to go next in the novel.

But one of my favourite types of research is physical location scouting. One can learn a lot about a place by researching on the web. Google Earth, maps and Street view can show us the layout. Numerous websites can tell us more than we might ever need about the history, culture, and make-up of a place. Online videos, photos, and travel blogs can round out the objective statistics with visual and personal input. It is possible to write an entire novel set in a place without ever having laid eyes on it. Possible, and sometimes necessary, but never ideal.

In my view, there is no substitute for standing in that place, surrounded on all sides, hearing, seeing, and breathing it. No amount of imagination or conjuring can make up for the specific, concrete reality. I always try to visit the places I write about, even if it is just one scene in the book, and that visit almost always adds a dimension or rich detail to the story. A small example occurred to me today. I had taken a two-day road trip to the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal to check out the location of my current book in progress. If my character was going to spend 300 pages in the Laurentian wilderness, I needed to know what she was going to encounter. I'd been to the Laurentians many times, but never that place. Never with a writer's eye.

I had in mind a particular village, but in driving around, I stopped for gas and discovered a much more picturesque and interesting village near by. I walked around to take pictures (another aspect of my research) and wandered over to look at what I thought was a classic French Canadian graveyard beside the little white church. As was typical of rural Quebec, the graveyard was presided over by a large concrete statue of the Virgin Mary cloaked in blue. I read tombstones, always a potential source of last names. Imagine my surprise when they weren't Sauve or Paradis or Levesque, but Majic, Solinski, and other long Polish names.

Here was an interesting twist. A Polish settlement in the middle of traditional, French Catholic, rural Quebec. I don't know what I will do with this tidbit yet, maybe no more than a mention, but maybe a major character will emerge with that background. There were many more delightful discoveries on that trip. The sound of a creek gurgling over fallen leaves, the moss clinging to boulders... All of it adds not just authenticity and accuracy to the story, but also a richness and texture that internet and book research cannot.

And the best part of it all, I get to go on mini-vacations and experience places I wouldn't normally see. Up close and personal, as I try to see them through a writer's eye. And what could be better than that? If it takes up a couple of days or even several weeks, it's worth it in the end. If not to my writing, at least to me!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On the outside looking in

by Rick Blechta

I am struggling with a particularly pernicious case of the flu. Strange also, because the biggest symptom is extreme vertigo. It’s gradually getting better, but on Friday when it struck, I couldn’t even sit up, let alone stand. Actually, with the swiftness by which it struck, that first part was rather frightening.

Which brings me to this week’s post’s topic: being “there” yet apart.

I’ll bet you’ve noticed the same thing when you’re really sick. Beyond feeling terrible (and being bored with the whole procedure), you lie in bed and suddenly you’re seemingly not part of your household anymore. Life is going on without you, somehow. Everything feels as if all activity, all sounds and smells are coming to you through an invisible curtain. It becomes almost a dreamlike state to be there. You are separate and experiencing things voyeuristically. Well, that’s how it feels to me.

I remember once being quite ill as a child, and I could hear my family discussing me in the living room. I’m sure they thought I was asleep or they were talking softly enough. My brother said I was faking and my sister felt I was taking up too much of the family’s attention. My mom admitted she was run off her feet. I guess all of them were just feeling cranky because of the “sickie”. The interesting thing was hearing them speaking honestly, not the way they would have had I been (knowingly) with earshot. Being ill, I had the distance I’ve spoken of above and it lent the whole episode a very surrealistic air.

My childhood imagination immediately projected me as being dead and I started daydreaming about what that might be like. Had I felt better, I might have written something. Even in those days, I would write “books”, although they generally would be only 10 pages in length!

Well, that’s all I have the energy for at the moment, so it will have to do for this week.

Stay well, everyone, and stay away from this flu bug! It is no fun at all.