Friday, September 29, 2023

Back on Track

Frankie here. I'm late today because I'm traveling with a couple of friends. We spent two days in Baltimore and saw the Orioles play. Now, we are in Delaware. 

I have to admit that was the first and only live baseball game I had ever seen. In fact, it was the only entire baseball game I have ever seen. But in my Lizzie Stuart series, Lizzie's partner John Quinn (a former military police officer and homicide cop) is a baseball fan. Because of that I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see a real baseball game. The friend who is a baseball nerd explained the rules to the other two of us. 

I know it was me because the fans in the stadium were jumping to their feet to cheer the Orioles on every few minutes. But since I was neutral about who won, I couldn't get too excited -- at least not about the game. As we writers are prone to do in any situation, I watched and listened to the people around me. And by the time the game ended -- as I was walking out surrounded by people -- I had an idea for a short story. I'd had to check my shoulder bag in, store it in a locker because it was larger than the size allowed, so I had hurried out as the game was ending to retrieve it. That gave me even more time to look and listen. 

I also had time to do some initial Baltimore research for the 1939 historical novel that I'm working on. In fact, the more I work on my thriller, the more I'm inclined to think of writing a nonfiction book about crime and violence in America that year. That would be a way of making use of the research that I can't weave into my novel. 

I need to make another trip to Baltimore after I have contacted the reference librarian at the museum I want to visit. While I'm here in Delaware I want to get some work done. There is also a museum I'd like to visit if I have a chance. 

I'm feeling that I'm back on track because I have a new laptop. I bought it on Tuesday because I had managed to destroy the laptop that I'd had only for two or three years. First, I nodded off when I was sitting on the sofa working late one evening. I woke up as my laptop was falling from my lap. I broke the hinge on one side of the monitor when I grabbed it. My computer guy repaired it when I finally had the monitor dangling by a wire. But then I somehow lost a brace on the side, and it went dead when I couldn't make the charger fit tightly in the hole provided. 

At the same time, I was having a problem with my desktop at the office. ITS had discovered my computer was 6 years old and out of warranty. I was told to get a new computer ASAP. Our staff did that, but then we had a problem transferring the files over and needed help from ITS uptown.

Before I left, we got the desktop back up and running. Then I couldn't get the software to work. . .but now I hope that I am finally back on track. Cross your fingers for me.


Wednesday, September 27, 2023


In my last blog, I posted that my work in progress refused to end, rambling on way past the expected word count with endless complications to be solved. I had set an unofficial deadline back in the spring of September 15 to finished the first drat, but it was now looking dicey.

Well, I did it! Sliding into the finish line at 9:05 p.m. on  September 15. It is a great feeling to reach the end of the first draft, because until that point, I am never sure the clumsy, chaotic collection of words and ideas will make a book. I'm never quite sure what the story is about and whether it will all tie together.

Writing THE END is very satisfying. As bad as it may feel, it's a book, and now I can work on making it a good book. I ought to know, after 20 successfully written books, that it will always end up being a book, but the doubts never really leave. This time may be different; I may truly bomb. This time I've lost my touch. Etc. etc.

Now I can breathe easy. I know how to do rewrites. How to fix plot holes and strengthen characters, how to tighten and expand, how to enrich and focus the story. Like a sculptor, once the basic shape is there, the rest is refining. Since I am largely a pantser, there are usually a lot of plot holes to fix, things that no longer fit or that need to be properly set up so the story ties together. There are some blind alleys and weed wandering that need to be culled. Day of the week, time of the day, and weather have to be consistent. And in the process, I have to lose about 5000 words.

And most important of all, I have to do research to make sure of details. When I am writing the first draft, I do not stop to reread or edit what I've done, or to look things up; I just keep ploughing ahead toward the climax of the story. My first job during the rewrites is to check my facts. So I read through the manuscript, correcting obvious typos, spelling and grammar mistakes, and I create a list of the things I have to research. If they are easy, like checking how to unload a Glock, I Google it and correct it on the spot. But if it requires a trip to a location, like the courthouse, the transit station, or a particular restaurant, I put it on a list and plan outings when I need a break. If it requires me to consult an expert like a police officer or archivist, I send off an email query or plan a visit. All of this stuff is fun.

I mentioned in my last post that the WIP still had no title. This is an interesting but frustrating part of writing. Until the book has a title that resonates with me, it's not complete. Finding a title is always a challenge. Along with the book cover, it's the reader's first introduction to the book. It can intrigue and excite, create the wrong impression, sound cliched or pretentious, or turn readers off. It should match the tone of the book (humorous, suspenseful, thoughtful). Certain words and phrases create expectations. Words like 'terror' suggest a thriller, 'ghost' suggests possible horror, animals suggest cozies. Short, single-word titles suggest a thriller, puns are strictly for cozies. The title should reflect the book's theme in some way without giving away the solution. "A Nephew's Revenge" may give too much away, for example. 

The title is like the cherry on the top of the sundae. It makes it perfect, so it must be chosen with care.

One of my favourite tricks is to look for a phrase while I'm re-reading the first draft that jumps out as both catchy and on point. Today I hit upon such a phrase, so I am quite excited. It may end up being supplanted by something better, so I won't mention it yet, but it's much much better than the working title I've had since I began back in January. Once I am farther along in the rewrites and the publisher has agreed to the title, I will let you know. So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, tomorrow I'm off to visit the courthouse.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Unintended Consequences

 One of my favorites phenomenons in the universe is that of unintended consequences. We think we have every angle covered resulting from our plans, only when things unfold, at the very least exposing a new wrinkle, or in the worst case scenario, have the entire scheme blow up in our faces. If you're a writer, you learn to appreciate the value of unintended consequences. After all, the best stories start with bad decisions, which at the time, seemed actually like good decisions. Unintended consequences make for great plot twists. Crooks rob a bank thinking it'll be an easy haul, only to discover all kinds of unintended consequences. Like the money brings out treacherous greed from your accomplices, or that the heist inadvertently bankrupted the family of a detective and the investigation becomes a personal vendetta. Better roads into the mountains to improve traffic safety brings more tourists, creating a demand for more housing, driving up the cost of real estate, requiring more infrastructure, straining water resources, drawing more traffic, and in full circle, a need for better roads! Wars are replete with unintended consequences, namely that they spin out of control. 

Closer in, I've started feeding the neighborhood squirrels. Yes, I was aware that soon I'd become beholden to the squirrel mafia and their relentless demands for more peanuts and bird seeds. And I was aware that I would become attached to several of the furry critters, even to the point of giving them names. In this case, one of the unintended consequences was that well-fed squirrels would mean well-fed foxes. Thankfully, none of our favorite tree rodents has gone MIA. But a good unintended consequence was that beside feeding the squirrels, the crows helped themselves to our offered bounty. And very unexpectedly, one of the crows brought this glass bead in appreciation.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

One Of Those Days

Donis here. I understand that Saturn squared off with the moon yesterday, which is supposed to mean that things annoy you and stuff goes wrong. That's as good a reason as any for why yesterday was like it was.

 I stayed up too late reading. Didn't get to sleep until nearly two, then I had anxious dreams and kept waking up off and on. Couldn't drag myself out of bed until 9:30. Then I got dressed and sat at the dining room table, staring into space like a zombie for fifteen minutes. Don went to the gym. I ran out to Subway and brought home a sandwich. Ate it over the newspaper, spent way too long messing with the puzzles.

I'm thinking I need to write. But if I don't do a wash we'll have to run around naked tomorrow. While the wash is running, I dust and run the sweeper. I need to put away the dishes I washed last night. I hang the clothes and run another two loads. I need to throw the bathroom rugs in the washer, which means I'll have to mop the bathroom floors. I'll be danged if I'm going to put clean rugs on an unmopped floor.

I finally sit down at the computer, where I make the fatal mistake of looking at my email. I spend the next 45 minutes answering my email and looking at Facebook. Then I finally start to work on the guest blog entry I promised so-and-so last month. I have to get it in to her THIS WEEK. Oh, and this is my Type M week, too. I have to check in with my sister - she fell and broke her arm a couple of weeks ago and is going to have to have a shoulder replacement. And then there's the thing I said I'd do for the writers' group.

Can it already be 5:00? I have no idea what to do about supper. I ask Don if he has any ideas, but he'll eat anything I come up with. He says he can take care of himself if I don't want to worry about it. I root around in the cabinets. If I had a can of hominy I could make up a quick posole. I need to go to the store. We go to the store together and diddle around up and down the aisles until it's too late to make anything. We bring something home from the deli and eat it in the living room while watching Frasier reruns. Don went to the library today and came home with DVDs of Kerry Greenwoods' Phryne Fisher series from Acorn TV. After doing the dishes, we spend the rest of the evening watching that. It's great.

Can it already be 10:00? I watch ten minutes of the news, but it's so upsetting I go take a shower. When I get out, Tom Hanks is on Colbert, so I end up watching him until 11:15 blinking o'clock. I go to bed with a book, resolved I'll turn out the light at midnight without fail. It's 1:30 when I rip myself away from the story. I'm all wound up and can't go to sleep.

At least I no longer have to get up at 6:00 and go to work from 8:00 to 5:00, then try to have a reasonable relationship with my family crammed in in the evenings AND write a book/story/poem whenever I can cram in a minute. How did I once do that? (I'll tell you how. All that mopping and cleaning would have gone by the by) I'm amazed at how tasks expand to fill the available time.

For the umpteenth time, I resolve to do better.

p.s. you'll be glad to know I actually got quite a bit done today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

A Fun Tradition


by Sybil Johnson 

Every time a book comes out in my Aurora Anderson mystery series, I take a copy to Disneyland and do a photo shoot. I started this with my second book, Paint the Town Dead. I circled back at one point and took my first book, Fatal Brushstroke, there as well. Though I don’t seem to be able to find those pictures.

Not long after I got my print copy of my latest, Brush Up On Murder, I went to Disneyland and took some pictures. Here are some of the pics I’ve taken over the years. (You may notice that the latest book opted for sunglasses instead of Mickey ears. That’s because I forgot to bring the ears with me and didn’t feel like buying a second set of kid-sized ears.)


I thought at first that people would find it odd, especially when I photograph a book with food items like Mickey-shaped pretzels. But no one’s commented. I’m not sure anyone’s noticed. If they have, they haven’t said a word.

Brush Up On Murder will release October 10th. 


It’s available for pre-order now: 

Amazon Kindle: 

Amazon TPB: 


B&N Nook: 


I’m publishing this one myself which has been quite the adventure. I’ll talk about that in a future post. In any case, I think fun traditions are important. It’s a way of celebrating our accomplishments as writers. Do any of you have any fun traditions?

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Talk About Perseverance

 by Charlotte Hinger

Last Friday, Judith Briles interviewed mega-bestselling Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame Inductee Kevin J. Anderson. In addition to being a famous science fiction writer, he stated that he had received 759 rejections. Amazing!

I am in awe of Michael and Kathy Gear who lived in a cabin with no running water for four years while they learned to write fiction based on their careers as archeologists. 

For I couple of years, I have mentored a young woman who is the most talented writer I've ever come across. Just out of high school when we started, she knows more about writing fiction in just one little brain cell than my poor mind has been able to cobble together in a lifetime. 

But she can't get an agent to read her material. That's despite a brilliant query letter. I'm so very anxious for her. But her response to the whole dismal situation has been to write the next book in this fantasy series, and then the next one. She will absolutely make it some day. She has everything it takes!

Just as our favorite detectives decipher cryptic clues and piece together a puzzle, authors must unravel the intricacies of the publishing world. It's a terrain rife with ambiguity, rejection, and uncertainty. Your manuscript may be the most brilliant piece of work, but initial rejections are not uncommon. Perseverance means understanding that a 'no' does not equate to a dead-end. The most important thing is to keep submitting.

In "Type M For Murder," we witness the detectives facing obstacles and setbacks in their pursuit of justice. Similarly, authors encounter rejection – a formidable adversary. But here's the secret weapon: the most celebrated authors have faced rejection, sometimes even multiple times.The lesson here is that every rejection can be a stepping stone towards acceptance, provided you persist.

Authors, like detectives, are often plagued by self-doubt. Our Type M'ers grapple with their own doubts and fears. But they press on because they know that perseverance can silence even the loudest doubts. 

The secret is to keep pushing forward.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Telling Secrets


By Thomas Kies

I wouldn’t come back again to talk about Bouchercon except I just paid off my credit card for the expenses I incurred while at the conference.  It was amazing how fast things added up while I was in San Diego.  Or how expensive things were.  $17 for a glass of wine…yikes.

But that’s not what this column is about.

It’s about the subject matter discussed at a number of panels that weekend. Secrets.

Isn’t that what’s at the core of a mystery?  Whodunit? Why? How? 

We’re always writing about secrets. Humans are much like puppies. We’re curious animals.  We want to know the answer to secrets.  That’s what makes us read to the last page of a novel.  We want to know what happens.

We have an internal drive to uncover secrets because of that curiosity. Secrets can be exciting, exotic, and mysterious and the very process of uncovering secrets can be thrilling. 

When it comes to crime novels, uncovering secrets is motivated by a sense of justice or a desire to expose wrongdoing.  Our fascination with secrets is a fundamental part of human nature.

Sometimes, however, we want to uncover secrets for their salaciousness. In my Geneva Chase mysteries, I’ve written about sex clubs, swinging, and BDSM dungeons.  When I’ve been at book events, inevitably someone in the audience will ask, “How do you know about these things?”

I’d love to just smile at them coyly, wink, and remain silent.  Let them think what they might.  Keep it a secret.

But instead, I tell them the truth.  I used to work for newspapers and magazines and through my job, I’ve seen many things and been in some very “interesting” places. 

Speaking of the news…that business is all about uncovering secrets.  Take a look at the news if you want to see some secrets exposed and some secrets that have been hinted at but not yet told. 

Here’s a headline from a recent edition of the Washington Post.  Va. Dem. House candidate performed sex online with husband for tips.  C’mon, there’s a novel here.  We both know it.

I’m not sure this could be classified as a secret because the woman and her husband livestreamed the sex acts.  Will it have any effect on her campaign?  Well, they say any publicity is good publicity. 

Here’s a headline from a recent edition of the New York Post: SD Gov. Kristi Noem having ‘absurdly blatant and public’ affair with ‘handsy’ Trump aide Corey Lewandowski, sources say.  What makes this more fun is that Kristi Noem is married and has repeated preached the gospel of “family values” and scoffed at anything other than “traditional marriages”. Is there a novel in this one?  I’m not so sure.  Corey Lewandowski had extramarital affairs before that have made the news.   But until recently, this one with the governor had been kept a secret.   Shhhhhh.

And lastly, here’s a non-sexual headline from Fox News: NASA detects molecule on another planet that can only be produced by life. The planet, K2-18b, is about 120 light years from Earth and it’ there that the Webb Telescope detected evidence of dimethyl sulfide.

Wow…the big secret.  Is there life on other planets?

Or, the bigger secret…is there life after death?

The one I’m most concerned about…who took the last piece of chocolate out of the candy dish in the kitchen?

And my writing tip of the day is when revealing secrets, do it slowly, lovingly.  Tease the reader. 

Now where the hell did that last piece of chocolate go?

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The tangled string

 Oh how I wish I had been at Bouchercon! Reading about everyone's experiences, both in this blog and on Facebook, has made me realize how much I miss in-person conferences where I meet old friends, make new ones, laugh, learn, commiserate, and celebrate with kindred mystery lovers, both formally during the panels and informally at the bar, lounge, patio, etc.

I haven't been to a conference since before the pandemic, and although I was sorely tempted by this one, Labour Day weekend is always a very busy one, and the costs can get out of hand when you factor in a flight from Eastern Canada. Sadly, the Nashville Bouchercon is on Labour Day weekend  as well, but I also greatly enjoy Left Coast Crime, so maybe I'll go to Seattle in the spring.

I had hoped to be able to brag in this blog this week about finishing the first draft of my new Inspector Green novel, which has been trundling along at a leisurely pace since last winter. I had set the goal of September 15 to get to the end, but unfortunately, this novel refuses to end. It is rambling on and on, which I know is not a good thing in any novel, let alone a mystery, but new complications keep cropping up and right now it feels like a tangled string.. It's supposed to be 90,000 words (give or take) and I am already at about 93,000, with the ending tantalizingly close but still playing hard to catch as I approach it. During rewrites, I do delete and tighten, but I also expand and enrich, so normally I end up with a fairly stable word count. 

When I am writing the first draft of a novel, I'm in creative mode and don't want to lose that edge and momentum by editing or rewriting as I go along. It's full steam ahead and fix the plot holes, wobbly characters, and dropped loose ends once I get the whole story down. Since I don't outline and only plot in fits and starts as the story evolves, I don't know what the story is about or its full shape, until I reach the end. 

A lot of fixing and tidying happens in second draft, or third or fourth.

I suspect when I finally reach the end this time, I will have a lot of tidying up to do. I like my books to pick up momentum as they near the end, not ramble on with endless complications to be solved. I hope when I write my next blog in two weeks, I will have written The End and will have good news to report. It's a book, it's going to work, and I can fix this.

Friday, September 08, 2023

At Bouchercon

I went to Bouchercon, too. I started to write a post last Friday but never had a chance to get back to it. Here's how I started:

"Sorry to keep this short. I'm in San Diego attending Bouchercon 23. I'll have more to say about that in my next post. This morning, I need to pick up my Bouchercon packet and hit my first panel. 

I slept in after getting up early yesterday to take Fergus, my dog, to daycare. He's going to board with the owner while I'm away. He is such a happy guy, he never minds being boarded. I was a little worried that Penelope, my rescue cat, might be unhappy about being scooped up and sent off to board with Lori, her wonderful cat-sitter. But this will be her second stay, and she seems to remember that it was really cool having a room to herself. Lori sent me a lovely photo of her yesterday afternoon.

As for me, I treated myself to a first-class plane ticket because I was dreading the idea of traveling across  the country in cramped seats. Since I didn't travel during the pandemic, I considered it breaking even. I have to say it was worth it. First on board, a window seat with plenty of leg and and arm room. A drink before take-off -- I had seltzer at that time of day. But I did enjoy the meal en route from Charlotte to San Diego. 

First-class is definitely more expensive than the budget-friendly tickets I usually try to book. But I was reading an essay about "self-care" and it caught my attention because the author  posed the question, "What would you tell your best friend to do?" It's an interesting approach because I've been thinking about what I consider spending money for -- being comfortable on a long flight may seem self-indulgent and it is. But, on the other hand, I make up for that by not spending lots of money on an expensive wardrobe. In fact, given the state of the world, I would like to spend more of my budget on  having travel experiences. Even better if I can combine with research for books in progress."

So, picking up where I left off with this post: 

As I walked into the hotel, I saw Jane Cleland. Years ago, Jane and I were with several other authors on a book tour of North Carolina. Molly Weston, former editor of the Sisters in Crime journal was our host. Nora DeLoach (the author of the wonderful "Mama Detective" series -- one of the first cozy mystery series by an author of color) drove one of the cars. Sadly Nora died not long after our book tour.  

After seeing Jane, I ran into one friend or acquaintance after another. That -- as you all know -- is one of the best parts of attending Bouchercon and other mystery conferences. But I also enjoyed the panel I was assigned to. It was about having a strong voice and a compelling point of view. Our moderator, Dorothy Welles, was well-prepared and the other panelists were an impressive group,

Here's our group photo (courtesy of Dr. Ian Smith):

I stayed over until Tuesday evening to avoid traveling during a holiday weekend. That gave me a bit of time for trolley tours and a water tour. I loved that boat tour (in a vehicle that went from land to water). We saw sea lions stretched out and relaxing with their cubs. I was really surprised when the tour guide explained that they (and the dolphins we saw being fed) are in a naval training program. The sea lions are taught to dive to retrieve objects in the water. They will do deep dives to earn food treats. 

If you haven't attended Bouchercon, do try Nashville in 2024. It should be fun. And, of course, it's also an opportunity to do some business. I had a chance to touch base with my agent and discuss my books in progress.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Please Don't

 Donis here. I have mentioned previously that besides writing mysteries, I have a side gig as a free-lance mystery reviewer for Publishers' Weekly Magazine. I don't choose the books I'm going to review. The editor at PW sends me three or four advance reading copies (ARCs) a month to review. Usually these books will not be available for purchase for several months, and an ARC is not the final version, so I don't pay undue attention to typos or other minor flaws that will more than likely be corrected before the book hits the shelf. 

I have just finished reviewing the most shockingly, badly written book, a historical mystery, the editor has sent me in the six years I've been doing this. It was so poorly plotted and edited that when I was halfway through the book I sent a note to my editor to warn him that this was going to be a pretty bad review and I was not happy about it. I said "The writing is cringeworthy, riddled with cliches and full of anachronistic language and behaviors. It’s amazing. Pick any page for examples."

"Go ahead," he says, so I did. I did my best to soften the blow, but I had to tell the truth - hopefully without sounding like an a** or causing the author to jump off a bridge. This experience  reminded me of an entry I wrote for Type M on this very topic several years ago. As a public service to all who are getting ready to send that MS out for review, I reproduce my observations below. Not much has changed in the four years since I first wrote this. Enjoy.

I try never to be mean with my reviews, because as a writer myself I know how that feels. Besides, just because I don't enjoy a particular type of character/plot/setting/time period, that doesn't mean it's not well executed, and other readers may love just that kind of thing. But I know an epic fail when I see one, and when I do, I'm honor bound to tell the truth. I've been doing these reviews for about three years now, and I've seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst, and both have taught me a lot that I've tried to apply to my own writing. In fact, I'm currently in the midst of getting a lesson on what not to do. I'm reading the second or third installment of a series in which some loose ends are left from earlier books, and the author keeps interrupting the action to catch us up on what went before. Now, it has to be done, but said author does it with such lengthy digressions that when he returns to the action, I've forgotten the details of the story.

As I read, I'm furiously taking "what not to do" notes, especially when I'm in the midst of writing the second installment of a mystery that contains loose ends from the first. How do you catch the reader up on what has gone before without bogging down your momentum? Do it in short intervals, I think, and try to work it into the action naturally. That's what I'm going to shoot for, anyway.

Here are some other comments I've sent to the PW editor about fails in books I have reviewed that I believe all writers would do well to watch out for. None of these comments actually showed up in the review I wrote for publication, and the names, situations, and details have been changed to protect the guilty.

"The plot had so many holes that I have a headache from slapping my forehead so many times while I was reading."

"She had an idea for a plot and bent all her characters out of shape to fit it."

"This is a historical, but I couldn't tell what the year actually was and the author never actually said. From things the author wrote in the beginning I thought it must be in the 1850s or so, but I kept revising my estimate forward as more and more modern items kept showing up. I think maybe the 1870s."

"The sleuth's method of detection consisted of basically going from suspect to suspect and loudly accusing him or her of murder in hopes someone would crack. The motive was stupid and the killer was stupid for falling for (X's) lame trap."

"No proper English lady would go on 'vacation' with a single male acquaintance in 18--."

"Great characters and deft handling of the mores of the time. But I wish (X) hadn't cleared (Y) of the murder by having the coroner pinpoint the murdered woman's time of death within half an hour! In the 19th century!"

"I like the unusual setting and the characters are fun. She handled tension well, but I would have liked it better if the big showdown between the sleuth and the murderer hadn't ended with a slapstick food fight."

"She certainly studied the manual on how to write a cozy, so cozy lovers will find much to like. But that ending! The protagonist and her sidekick lay a trap, then hide in the bushes to eavesdrop on the conversation between the killer and the person who agreed to be bait. I always get annoyed when the killer confesses all in excruciating detail, and at the drop of a hat!"*

But really good characters cover a multitude of sins: "Her editor would have done well to have her condense the beginning quite a bit, but it eventually picked up nicely and the main character was well drawn and realistic. She was actually emotional about the deaths! It wasn't hard to figure out whodunnit, but there's enough atmosphere and crafting and eccentric characters (and a hunky detective and a kitty) that cozy lovers won't care."


*This is a pet peeve of mine. Can you tell?

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

My Bouchercon 2023 Experience


by Sybil Johnson

Authors, readers, panels, interviews, awards, friends, books and walking—so much walking. That, in a nutshell, was my Bouchercon experience.

I spent last weekend plus some at Bouchercon in San Diego. It was nice to go to a conference that is only a couple hours drive from home. As Thomas noted in his post, there were a lot of people there. 1700 or so, the most of any Bcon. 


View from my hotel room

I started off my Bcon experience with the Cozies and Cocktails event Wednesday evening, put together by Ellen Byron. Cozy authors read from their books, other authors, including me, gave away one of their books. People mingled and chatted. It was great fun. Ellen is hoping to continue doing this event at future Bouchercons.

This convention also marked the first time there was an Anthony award category geared toward cozies, Best Humorous. I attended the panel where all of the nominees talked about their books. There was a fair amount of discussion about the term “humorous” being used in the award name. Not all cozies are humorous, but no one could come up with a better term.

There were numerous panels going on at the same time on a variety of topics. Plus there were the guest of honor and toastmaster interviews. I caught Toastmaster Naomi Hirahara’s interview and also National Guest of Honor C.J. Box’s interview. I also spent time working at the Sisters in Crime table hosted by the local chapters of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. 


I also caught up with friends and talked with other attendees from other parts of the U.S., Canada and England. I heard someone was there from Iceland.

The panel I was on was called Entrepreneurial Detectives: Small Business Owners Who Solve Crime with me, Cheryl Hollon (M), Esme Addison, Mary Karnes and Traci Hall. Unfortunately, Cheryl couldn’t make it because of the weather in Florida so Mary stepped up and moderated the panel. We also had a non-cozy addition to the panel. Del Chatterson, which was great fun. 

The panel minus Mary who left before I could get this pic taken.


As you might expect, I picked up a bunch of books. I bought some and got others for free.


Books, Books, Books!

There were two sessions of Speed dating with Authors, one at 7 a.m. one morning (too early for me) and one at 11:35 a.m. I went to the latter one and spent two enjoyable hours listening to 40 authors give 2 minute spiels about their books. It’s always interesting, but pretty tiring for both the authors and listeners.

While I spent most of my time inside, I did get a chance to check out the nearby Seaport Village and walk over to the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner a couple of nights. Future Bcons will be in Nashville, New Orleans, Calgary and Washington D.C. I don’t know which ones I will be attending, but I will certainly consider it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Old Books

 by Charlotte Hinger

Today I downloaded Captains and Kings by Taylor Caldwell. I can't pinpoint what made want to re-read this old old book. I read so many books that are less than memorable. I would like to pinpoint the reasons why so many of these ancient books have stuck with me. In the case of Caldwell, her characters were so vivid.

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 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.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Notes from Bouchercon

 By Thomas Kies

I’m writing this from the Marriott Marqui Hotel in San Diego on the last day of Bouchercon 2023.  This is one the biggest, if not THE biggest, mystery conferences in the world.  There are over 1,700 participants.  

The guests of honor here this weekend are David Baldacci, Ann Cleeves, Jacqueline Winspear, C.J. Box, Cate Carlisle, and Dru Ann Love.  The Toast Master is Naomi Hirahara.  

Some other notable names are Hank Philippi Ryan, Bruce Coffin, S.A. Cosby, Matt Coyle, Martin Edwards, Lori Rader Day, Alex Segura, and Heather Graham.  These are among dozens of others too numerous to list. 

Also attending are agents, publishers, and film and television executives.  

And readers. These are really the most important participants.  And among them are aspiring writers, here to learn from the panel discussions and network.  They’re the most fun to listen to and talk with. 

Sitting at our table on Saturday night were a married couple who live in both Naples, Florida and Tacoma, Washington who had driven all the way to San Diego.  They’re world travelers and she writes a travel blog.  She’s thinking about writing mysteries incorporating their travels.

Sitting right next to me was a young lady by the name of Susan who is working on her first mystery manuscript.  She’s religious about attending mystery conferences, learning as much as she can, and networking with other writers.  She remembers seeing me on a panel at a very small conference in Phoenix with Ian Rankin as the special guest.  

Her enthusiasm was sweeter than the dessert on the table last night.

This has been a great place to see old friends and make new ones.  Oh, yes, and bring home books.  Lots and lots of books. 

FYI…the winners of the Anthony Awards last night were:

Non-Fiction: THE LIFE OF CRIME by Martin Edwards. 

Short Story: “Beauty and the Beyotch” by Barb Goffman

Best Short Story Anthology: CRIME HITS HOME, edited by SJ Rozan

Best YA/Childrens: ENOLA HOLMES by Nancy Springer 

Best Debut: THE MAID by Nita Prose

Best Historical: ANYWHERE YOU RUN by Wanda Morris

Best Humorous: SCOT IN A TRAP by Catriona McPherson

Best Paperback, E-book, Audiobook Original: THE QUARRY GIRLS by Jess Lourey

Best Hardcover: LIKE A SISTER by Kellye Garrett

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A writer's summer life

 Summer always feels like a mishmash of competing interests and attractions, with little sustained direction or goal. Especially up here in Canada, after enduring many months of cold and darkness, we greet summer with a kind of frenetic euphoria. We tend to cram a lot of living into the brief months of sun, heat, and long, languid evenings. Friends to invite over, trips to take, family to visit, and there doesn't seem to be enough days in the week or weekends in the summer for all our plans and wishes. Serious life seems to take a back seat.

But a writer's life doesn't take breaks. The inexorable march toward the deadline continues, the momentum of the current WIP has to be maintained, or else we'd forget where the story is going. As a novel writer, I have developed a habit of trying to write one scene every day. It's the only way I know to actually reach the end. But in the summer months, with all the visits, trips, and outings, that plan is often derailed. I alternate between feeling guilty about neglecting the obligation hanging over my head and believing that there are other things in life and the summer is too short to miss a moment of it. 

So I find myself writing in fits and starts. I have a modest but beautiful lakeside cottage and I love to have family and friends come for a few days. We swim, we boat, we cook and eat, we laugh and play games late into the evening. I ignore that little voice that says this novel is not going to write itself.  In between visits, to compensate and appease that little voice, I binge write, burying myself in my writing and churning out several scenes each day, emerging from my cave disoriented but euphoric at the end of the day. Sometimes, I take time off, but that is usually filled with the other boring details of life like doing the laundry, battling the weeds in the garden, and shopping for food.

In the past couple of weeks I have hosted two "writers' retreats" at the cottage with two separate groups. These are informal get-togethers with good friends, that have taken place every summer for years. I have to confess that although we talk about writing, brainstorm the odd plot problem, and gossip about the book industry, we seldom do any actual writing. This weekend marks the end of the lazy summer season; after Labour Day, life gets serious again. I know I have to buckle down and get back to my daily writing ritual. The deadline awaits.

But man, this is fun and rejuvenating while it lasts!

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Mystery Central

 By Charlotte Hinger

BlackPast is the biggest blog or the website with the most readers that I'm aware of. So what does it take to create such a wonderful site?

A really big need. Dr. Quintard Taylor at the University of Washington saw a need and devised a plan to fill the hole. Before BlackPast there was no single central location on the internet that collected comprehensive accurate material about African Americans and people of African ancestry.

I refer to Dr. Taylor as the "major god of blacks in the West." In every field there is always someone regarded as the ultimate authority. Taylor is tops when it comes to African history. BlackPast received immediate support.

The site began in 2004. In the summer of 2005 Dr. Taylor received a U.S. State Department-sponsored invitation to visit the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Tyumen, Ishim, and Surgut to give lectures at various universities and institutes. That 14 day tour was initiated by the discovery of the faculty website by students at Urals State University in Yekaterinburg, Siberia.

This online reference center includes an online encyclopedia of nearly 3,000 entries, the complete transcript of nearly 300 speeches by African Americans, other people of African ancestry, and those concerned about race, given between 1789 and 2014, over 140 full text primary documents, bibliographies, timelines and six gateway pages with links to digital archive collections, African and African American museums and research centers, genealogical research websites, and more than 200 other website resources on African American and global African history.

I've done some entries for BlackPast. I feel honored anytime I'm asked to contribute.

My daughter, Michele Crockett, started a blog called Rivers Bent. She and her husband Harry are avid white-water rafters. She found a niche and also became an Amazon affiliate. I want to feature her soon and have her give us tips about writing about the outdoors. 

I don't know any super blogs in the mystery field, although I think Murder is Everywhere comes close. Sometimes I feel as those of us in the mystery field could use a place that is sort of a mystery central where information is gathered in one place.

 I have no idea how to monetize Type M. If anyone has a bright idea, please pass it on. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Writer's Junkyard

I've started a new manuscript and to my surprise, it was a challenge putting words on the page. I found myself struggling with the perpetual dilemma--either going forward as a panster or as an outliner. For the last few years I've been a ghostwriter and prided myself on churning out prose like a machine. In order not to waste my client's time, we'd discuss the story and I'd put together a chapter outline. I cautioned the client that an outline was a place to deviate from but at least the narrative had direction.

If this worked well for me as a ghostwriter, why not an outline for my book?  Honestly, I tried but my story became a jumbled mess. I had several challenges, the first being world building. Although I'm writing about modern Denver, a place I'm very familiar with, the issue was, what to tell? How to capture the ambiance of the city without bogging down into a travelogue? And the plot involved characters from a social environment outside my experience--conniving politicians, treacherous gangsters, and overworked, cynical police officers. Writing a thriller set in space or one involving vampires and werewolves, no problem. Readers in that genre are quite willing to suspend disbelief. But write a story, even in obvious fictionalized form, about the contemporary world and the bar to hold the reader's trust is much higher. Plus, writers often talk about the "white room," a scene where characters are little more than disembodied voices. I had the opposite problem, the creative space in my head was like a junkyard, crammed with pieces of research and ideas that I'd accumulated. There was so much detail that I got overwhelmed and my word count stalled. 

I tried the technique of writing chapters as separate episodes instead of chronologically. I found myself wrestling with the story timeline and the risk of devoting too much attention to secondary characters in a way that would derail my original plot. So I took the advice that we published writers give to newbie scribes, and to quote Pablo Picasso: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."

Thus self-chastised, I returned to my proven strategy of sitting at the keyboard and proceeding from beginning to end. Before I knew it, I was ten chapters in, a quarter of the way through this new book. Spoiler alert. Expect lots of murder in the near future.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Words From the Masters

As I struggle along with my work in progress, I take comfort from knowing that great literary masters had the same problems with writing that the rest of us do. One difficulty I have is picking up where I left off. I usually re-read everything I wrote the day before, which usually leads me right back into my novel's world. 

Hemingway suggested that you always know exactly what word comes next before you stop writing for the day. Sometimes he'd stop right in the middle of a sentence. I've tried this and find it to be an excellent tip.

I recently read an essay by John Barth, author of Lost in the Funhouse and professor of creative writing at Johns Hopkins, in which he advised that the number one rule of writing is to be wary of rules of writing. The exact quote is: "I myself advise that you merely perpend such advisements and predilections, including mine to follow, en route to discovering by hunch, feel, trial, and error what best floats your particular boat." (Aside: anybody who plays language like an instrument, as Barth does, is okay with me.)

Somerset Maugham followed a similar rule. An interviewer once asked him if he kept a strict writing schedule or if he simply waited for the Muse to strike him before he sat down to compose. He replied, "Oh, I wait for the Muse to strike. Fortunately she strikes every morning at precisely nine o'clock."

My piece of advice? The number one thing that works for me is just to sit down and do it and quit trying to figure out how to do it. Quit fooling around, Donis. The dishes will wait.

p.s. I looked up the Somerset Maugham in an attempt to get the above quote right, and I must say that Maugham is a fountainhead of quotable wisdom. Here are a couple that particularly spoke to me:

"The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected."

"There are three rules for writing a novel Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

"You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences."

And this, which seems especially apt right about now: "My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Of Tropical Storms and Earthquakes


I live in Southern California where we recently had a tropical storm warning, the first one in almost 90 years. The last one was in 1939, called the Long Beach Tropical Storm, and 100 people died. Lots of hype about how bad this one was going to be, although when I looked at the forecast for my area, the rain wasn’t going to be horrible and the winds were supposed to be less than tropical storm strength. Still, with hurricanes and tropical storms, you never know. I gather that we don’t get these kinds of storms here very often because the Pacific is too cold for a hurricane to sustain its strength.

As it turned out, near the ocean where I live, it wasn’t any worse than other storms we’ve had over the years. Yes, steady rain over many hours, but no real wind to speak of. We had power issues for a few hours around 2 a.m., but they were quickly resolved.

One odd thing was the earthquake we experienced Sunday afternoon. The husband and I looked at each other. Here’s roughly how the dialog went: 

(me) Earthquake? 

(husband) Wind maybe. Doesn’t seem like an earthquake. 

(me, more decisively) I think it’s an earthquake 

(husband, still not buying it) We’ll check in half an hour and see what the internet says.

We went back to watching TV, then checked and, sure enough, it was a 5.1 quake centered near Ojai, which is fairly far from us. Still, it was very odd to experience one during a rainstorm. I don’t remember that ever happening before.

Anyway, we’re all doing fine. There are areas of LA County that got hit pretty hard, but not as hard as expected. I haven’t heard of any deaths. Lots of traffic accidents in some areas and the swift water rescue team was busy. But, all in all, we did okay. Other parts of Southern California experienced issues, but I haven't heard of anything horrible. Catalina Island was evacuated as a precaution.

 This got me thinking about stories that are set during major events like storms, earthquakes, train derailments, bombings due to war, etc. It seems like the perfect place to hide murder or to have someone be unaccounted for so they’re presumed dead. Instead, they start a new life somewhere else under another name.

I know I’ve read stories like these. At least one of the Miss Silver books by Patricia Wentworth takes place during such an event. There are 32 books written between 1928 to 1961. She’s been compared to Miss Marple, but she’s a little different since she's less of a busybody and more of a professional. She's a retired governess turned private detective. They really are great books that are still available. Check them out.

Seems like it would be fun to write one of these stories. Someone could have been presumed dead, then someone who used to know them encounters them alive. Murder ensues. Or a death could be presumed to be because of the event but, upon further inspection, turns out to be murder. My mind is whirling with possibilities.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Writers Are Readers, Right?

 by Thomas Kies

I got a phone call from a man who was referred to me by a friend.  Apparently, they were talking about life insurance.  I know, I know, not the most exciting subject in the world.  But it was during their conversation that the man confessed to my friend that he was interested in writing a book.  Being as I’m the only published novelist my friend knows personally, he naturally gave him my phone number. 

To my friend’s credit, he gave him my OFFICE number and not my personal cellphone.  So good on him.  

To keep anyone from being embarrassed, let’s call the man Charlie.  Charlie called me and politely told me what he would like to talk to me about.  Now, I love to talk about books, writing, and publishing. So, we scheduled a meeting the very next day.

I was happy to spend time with Charlie.  He asked good questions and took copious notes.  We discussed the positives and negatives of traditional publishing, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing. I told him how valuable it is to join a writers’ group and get a beta reader…no, not his wife or any of his children. We talked about how you need a good editor and how you need to sit down and write something every single day.  That’s what writers do. 

I asked him what genre he was interested in.  Charlie told me he wanted to write a thriller. Then I asked him who is your favorite author and what do you like to read?

His answer was, “Well, I’m not much of a reader.”


My question for the audience is, can you be a writer without being a reader?  In my opinion, NO!

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot.”

If Charlie wants to be a writer of thrillers, he’d be best served by reading thriller novels.  He’d be studying the writers who have made it happen. They’ve not only gotten published, but they managed to get onto best seller lists.  Writers like Lee Child, Brad Thor, Gillian Flynn, Don Winslow, David Baldacci, S.A. Cosby, Stephen Mack Jones, Stieg Larsson, Karin Slaughter, and Thomas Harris, just to name a few. 

It's how you can study plot structure, pacing, grammar, character development as well as a hundred other writing items you should know about if you’re going to try to write a book that someone will want to read. 

To Charlie’s credit, he’s not alone.  I’ve lost count of the people who have taken one of my Creative Writing classes at our local college that have answered that same question, “What do you read and who is your favorite author?”  And their answer has been, “I’m not much of a reader.”

But, on the flip side of that equation, I’ve found that the best writers who have taken my class are indeed dedicated readers.  They not only study the craft and work at it but enjoy reading.  

How can you not?

Friday, August 18, 2023

Someone to Root For

 As I often do, I am reading books about writing as I work on my next book. Since I have multiple points of view and several primary characters, I've been giving more thought than usual to who these characters are. Their voices need to be distinctive. But I'm also thinking about what the fiction authors discussing characters have to say about how "likeable" a character needs to be for readers to care about that character and have "someone to root for". 

Personally, I have read books when I found there was no one I cared about or liked. And, then, there is a book like Gone With the Wind. I mention this book because -- as I have mentioned -- it is crucial to my 1939 novel because in my historical thriller, all roads lead to the Atlanta premier of the movie based on the book. I have been watching the movie in bits and pieces. I remember the movie well. But the book is still setting on my desk, waiting to be read again. Why?  Because even though I raced through the novel when I read it as a teenager, I found Scarlett a difficult character to root for. She is beautiful and brave, but I thought Rhett might have done better. Send Scarlett and Ashley off into the sunset and have Rhett find comfort with Melanie.  

I have given this some thought because I can understand why Mitchell created Scarlett (of course, I am analyzing the novel as it would have been read by her core audience in 1939. The racial politics is another matter entirely).  Scarlett is a dynamic character. She makes things happen. Even disliking her, one wants to know what happens to her. Even when she is being audacious, she is engaging. Melanie, on the other hand, is kind and unselfish, but she would have had to undergo the kind of transformation that Bette Davis does in Now, Voyager (1942) to hold the attention of many readers and movie goers. 

In the fourth novel in my Lizzie Stuart series, I have a character who does her best to take over the book. From the moment, she walks in -- even before that when she is being discussed by the other characters -- she is intriguing. I was as anxious as anyone who read the book to have her appear. I can't wait to have her turn up again in Book 7. But I share Lizzie's concern that compared to this woman -- her lost long mother -- she, herself, is rather dull. She has the feeling that even to John Quinn, the man who loves her and who she is about to marry, she must be less interesting than her mother. Not that she is jealous. She knows Quinn too well for that. But she recognizes that Becca is a woman who is neither good nor kind but renders other women invisible. 

I like kind characters just as I like real people who are kind. I am always in awe of people who seem to automatically do things to make other people's lives easier. That is not something that I do without thought because I am often in my own head and not paying attention to what is going on around me. To be kind, I have to make the deliberate decision to pay attention and look for the opportunity to do something nice. I would like to be a Melanie. My protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, is a Melanie. So I have to be careful that readers know her well enough so that even when Becca is in the  book, they still root for Lizzie. 

Well, and good in my series. But in my 1939 novel, one of my female character is channeling Scarlett. I have been trying to keep her in line. I am dismayed because I want to avoid creating a female character that might be perceived as a stereotype. But she is having her way. 

The thing is she is a lot more fun to write when she's bad than when she is good. But I want readers to like her and care about her. The end of the book as I have imagined it, depends for its impact on caring about this character. 

I have a feeling it isn't going to end quite the way I expected.