Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Hurry up and wait

 I had intended this post to be the revelation of my new book title, the twelfth Inspector Green mystery, featuring the disgruntled, exiled Green toiling away in the "Siberia" of police assignments and even contemplated retirement. Like THE DEVIL TO PAY, the previous  book, it also features his daughter Hannah, now a young patrol officer, and her boyfriend Josh, a newly minted homicide detective. I submitted the manuscript to my publisher on January 10, five days before the deadline. The publication date is January 2025, so I know it's going to be a glacial process. I heard nothing back until this past week, when I learned who my editor will be, and later exchanged emails with him. Luckily, it's the same experienced editor I've had for almost all of my previous sixteen books. So unless I have really missed the mark this time, it should be a fairly smooth and amicable editorial process.

To me, the title is the crucial crowning touch of a book, which captures its essence, creates intrigue, and matches the mood of the book. Thrillers and cozies both have identifiable qualities that capture the essence or at least the mood of the book. The single work FEAR would never  work in a cozy, and many thriller readers would run screaming from a pun. 

I want my titles to be unique, sophisticated, and thought-provoking as well as emotionally gritty, because that's the kind of book I aspire to. Sometimes I discover the title early on but other times the book is written but has an unfinished feel because I haven't found the perfect title. 

This was the case this time.

I had a working title that I used through, but it never really felt right and I was concerned that it was too generic sounding and also too "thriller-like". At some point in the writing, another title came to me that seemed to fit almost perfectly, but because it has similarities to one of my previous book titles, I pushed it aside and kept looking. But my thoughts kept coming back to that title.

As I sometimes do, I asked my four beta readers (the Ladies Killing Circle) to vote on the two possibilities, and the results were split,  for the same reasons I had. So in the end, because the deadline loomed,  I sent the manuscript to the publisher and suggested they decide which title works best. That was six weeks ago, and although there has been progress, there are still some members of the publishing team who have yet to weigh in.

So that's where we stand. I'm hoping for an answer in the next two weeks, but in the publishing business, you never know. So stay tuned, and maybe by my next blog post, I'll have something to talk about. And crow about.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Keeping Track

 By Charlotte Hinger

Boy, do I ever wish I had started keeping track of everything connected with writing from the beginning. Some years back when I needed to assemble a Curriculum Vitae (CV) for a writing class I would be teaching. It was the pits to put together. 

A CV is more detailed than a resume. A CV should contain everything: publications, awards received, talks and presentations, service rendered, organizations. 

How was I to know anyone would care about this stuff? I had all the information in crates and boxes. Usually in pasteboard files and scattered here and yon with various contracts. Awards I had received were branded on my heart. And copies of publications, you bet. 

But all the talks and presentations, readings, promotions, panels I had been on---no way could I remember. Yet these references, too, were there somewhere in these boxes. I've written a substantial number of reviews and articles. Why wasn't the proof of this all in one place?

This is the year I have taken a vow to go through all my paper. There's no shame in saving everything and I refuse to apologize for it. In fact, when I wrote the acknowledgement section for Mary's Place, a historical novel that will be published in July by the University of Nebraska Press, I dug out minutes from a committee I served on thirty years ago to get the names of fellow members of the Interfaith Rural Life Committe when we were trying to help farmers cope with losing their land. But the information should have been easily accessible. 

One of the few books that addresses organizational systems is The Successful Novelist; Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, Craft and Working with Publishers by David Morrell. Yes! The mega-award winning author of First Blood. Rambo, himself. 

The Successful Novelist is one of the best books about the craft of writing I've ever come across. I highly recommend it. It will also help you develop a system if you plan on staying in the game.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Back in the Learner's Seat

I've been at this writing game for awhile. My debut novel was published in 2006. Since then I've had several more novels and numerous short stories come out, plus I've done time as a creative writing instructor. However, after the pandemic, I felt unplugged from the writing community and to boost my connections, I recently attended Superstars 2024, about which I wrote some in last month's post. The experience proved more fruitful than I anticipated, delivering valuable advice about promoting and marketing yourself as a writer, specifically tips on newsletters and running a successful Kickstarter campaign. There were also great panels focusing on lessons learned, or more aptly said, "Things I wish I would've known at the beginning of my writing career."

My favorite class was "Finding The Perfect Story Structure" taught by Kevin Ickenberry. This is a subject I've presented in MFA programs and so on this, consider myself as more knowledgeable than the typical lay person. Even so, I was amazed by how much I learned. Ickenberry led us through a history of story structure from Aristotle to the present, character dynamics, archetypes, and modern interpretations about story such "Save The Cat." He also introduced me to The Heroine's Journey, a different take on narrative and structure that focuses on community dynamics rather than the solitary quest as in The Hero's Journey. That discussion helped me better understand the relationships and motives within a criminal gang in my current WIP. 

A much published and respected author, Kevin Ickenberry retired from the military, having started as an Armor officer (aka a treadhead) and ended his career in the Space Force. He writes fantasy, alternative history, and (big surprise) military science fiction. At this last Superstars, he was honored for his service to the organization, having served as a volunteer extraordinaire, mostly as Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta's chief of staff who made sure things got done and got done right.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Tempus Fugit

 Time passes so quickly that it alarms me sometimes. How did I get anything done at all in my real life when I worked for other people? The truth is that I didn't, or at least I was only able to do whatever was absolutely necessary to live.

Now my work is writing, and work at it I do, and yet it still feels to me that I'm always short of time. Days bleed into one another, and weeks, and months, and a year passes without my quite being aware of how it happened. It seems that I'm constantly busy, and yet I feel like I make little progress.

Yet when I remember the monumental events in my past that changed my life forever, or set me on a new path, I realize that most of them happened quickly, sometimes in an instant. I think of that when I'm frustrated, when it comes to me that I have less and less time in front of me to fool around with and wonder if it's just going to be like this for the rest of my life.

In the words of that immortal philosopher, Yogi Berra, "it ain't over till it's over."

With that in mind, I keep plugging along on the new book, and I finally see an end to the first draft, at least. I need a few more good weeks of writing. The end of this month is shaping up to be very busy, so I'm working hard to get as much done as I can before things get crazy. 

As for the new book, it's interesting to see how it's shaping up. I may have mentioned before that no matter what you plan to write, things show up in books that never occurred to you when you started out. This book is the beginning of what I hope is an entirely new series, a contemporary mystery with a story element set in the 1990s. My protagonist, a young Dutchwoman names Miep, is dealing with a lot of demons that I didn't realize were there until I started writing her.  Funny. You dig deep for your characters, and bring up a lot of stuff that was way down inside yourself.

P.S. I have no title for the new book yet. If anybody has any great ideas, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Becoming A Hybrid Author, Part II

 by Sybil Johnson

Today I’m continuing my thoughts on becoming a hybrid author and what I learned along the way. If you didn’t see Part I, you can find it here.  

Sorry this post is so long. I tried to break it up into topics so it’s easier to read. I’m not fond of long blog posts myself. 

  •  Get font licenses where needed.
    I admit I didn’t think too much about needing licenses for fonts until I put out Brush Up On Murder. I’ve known people who design them so I’ve seen the amount of effort that goes into it. I even tried doing it once, for fun. That didn’t last long.

    If you use a font for your own personal use, you don’t need a license, but as soon as you start talking about publishing and advertising materials, you may need one. I’m talking about the fonts you use in the interior of the book as well as the cover.  That also includes fonts used on a website in banners across the top or on bookmarks. Let’s get real here, the chances of anyone coming after you are slim, but would you want someone to use something you’d created without looking into whether you need a license or not?

    If you use Atticus to design the interior of your book, they restrict the fonts you can use to only those that don’t require licenses. For covers, you need to ask whoever designed yours which fonts they used so you can look up whether or not you need a license. The license you’ll need will be the desktop license. Don’t think “I can use Times New Roman”. At $340, it’s one of the most expensive fonts to license. Most fonts are in the $30-$60 range for a lifetime license.

    To learn more about fonts and licensing:

  •  Decide on launch plans.
    This is another item that falls into the plan ahead category. Are you going to have an in-person launch party at a bookstore or other venue? Are you going to do a Facebook launch party? Are you going to do a blog tour? You need to think about these things and schedule them ahead of time. Some require more lead time than others. Because of a lot of things that were going on at the time, I decided not to do any bookstore or other in-person events. Or a Facebook event. I’ve done both in the past. I did do a blog tour through Escape With Dollycas. A lot of people don’t think blog tours are useful, but I’ve found them to be so with cozies.

  • To ARC or not to ARC.
    That is the question. If you do your print book through IngramSpark, you can also do print ARCs through them. That requires a different book cover. While I have print ARCs for all of my traditionally published books, I opted not to do one this time around. I don’t really see any use in them anymore.

    You still want to get reviews, though, so I still think it’s worthwhile to use something like NetGalley to get digital ARCs out to the reviewing public. NetGalley is a tad too expensive for me so I opted for BookSirens, which a fellow author had used. It’s $10 to upload the book once it’s accepted and $2 for everyone who reads it. If you supply an email list of your favorite reviewers, they don’t charge for those.
  • Pre-orders, anyone?
    There’s also the issue of pre-orders. Do you have a pre-order period or not? I chose to do that since it’s a new book in the series. I know authors who don’t. It’s easy to do through any of the places you’ll be selling it. You just specify when you’re uploading the book whether the book is available for pre-order.

    If I were re-issuing a book , though, because say I got my rights back, I wouldn’t bother. The books have been out in the world and reviews have happened or not already.

  •  More on print books.
    I mentioned in Part I that I chose to go through IngramSpark for the print version of my books instead of Amazon. The reason I went this route for the print version is, if you go through IngramSpark, it allows you to use their global distribution network. That means, it’ll appear on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and be available to libraries and bookstores to order. You can do print versions through BOTH Amazon and IngramSpark, if you want. Some authors do this. There are different book cover requirements between the two so this is where a professional designer is a big win. They’ll know what needs to be done. Atticus allows you to format interiors for both Amazon and IngramSpark, you just need to specify the size of the volume.

  • More on ebooks.
    As I mentioned in Part I, I chose to do my ebook versions directly through Amazon, B&N for Nook, and Kobo. The hardest part about this was setting up the accounts. Amazon was a breeze. The others were a bit more challenging. You can format your epub versions through Atticus. Use the same version for all three of the above. (Amazon doesn’t use .mobi files anymore but, if you really need one, you can create it via the free Kindle Previewer program.)

    There’s also SmashWords and you can also do an e version through IngramSpark.

  • Learn from those who came before you.
    Lots of authors have published their own books. You may know some of them. Ask them questions, but do some research first to make sure you know what to ask. If you’re a member of Sisters in Crime, there are a lot of webinars available on the national website. Courses like the Self-Publishing Formula also can be valuable. 
  • Set aside time to write while you’re figuring out this publishing thing.
    This is something I didn’t do very consistently. I didn’t completely give up on writing. I wrote blog posts, author essays for a couple issues of Mystery Readers Journal (one on crafts in mysteries and one on Southern California settings in mysteries), an essay on writing craft-based cozies for a book about writing cozies edited by Phyllis Betz (soon to be out) and a couple short stories. Both of those have been rejected multiple times now, but I persevere. I think I could have done more, but I don’t intend to beat myself up about it...too much.

  • Most important of all, though, be kind to yourself when things get overwhelming.

    That’s my journey into the indie publishing thing. I hope my musings have been helpful. There are so many topics I could cover. These are the things I found either surprising or most interesting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

We Won

 by Charlotte Hinger

My heart is still in Kansas even though my body is in Colorado. I watched the extremely satisfying Super Bowl game with my daughter, Michele, and son-in-law, Harry Crockett. 

A visitor to their home once asked if the large photo in the background was that of my late husband (Michele's father). I said "no, it's the Crockett's patron saint--Hank Williams."

It was fun to watch a sporting event and focus on something besides the rancor of today's political climate. 

Political turmoil in this country is not new. It's bred in our bones. 

I'm amazed at all the upheaval America has survived. Those who wanted a new government were in bitter conflict with the Loyalists who wanted to remain a colony of Great Britian. Our vicious Civil War fostered so much animosity between family members that for some the stain of ill will is present today. 

And who can dismiss the 1960"s with the deep divisions over the Vietnam War? For that matter, the social changes introduced during that era were profound and lasting. 

This year's problems are augmented by suspicion. Self-serving political commentators have soured our belief that we can trust the government. I have my favorite sources of information. But my neighbor pays more attention to people I simply can't abide. 

It's a long time to the beginning of a new football season and an even longer time to the next general election. 

Here's to hanging onto our sanity until our country treasures it's many blessings once again. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Bad Reviews

 Donis here, Dear Readers. Today I'm posting a "Tip of The Week" from wildly prolific writer and my friend, Dan Baldwin, Dan is the author of westerns, mysteries, thrillers, short story collections and books on the paranormal. He is the winner of numerous local, regional, and national awards for writing and directing film and video projects, and if anybody knows what he's talking about, it's Dan. His weekly writing tips are always spot on and fun to read, and when I received this one, I asked his permission to repost it here. If you'd like to check Dan out, and maybe receive his Tips email yourself, do yourself a favor and click on

Do you get discouraged when you receive a bad review for the work you toiled so diligently on? Well, don't! A bad review tells you more about the reviewer than about your work. And Dan has the proof!

Concerning Bad Reviews….

by Dan Baldwin

Catcher in the Rye

"The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him.

In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was."

Tropic of Cancer

"Miller stands under his Paris streetlamp, defiantly but genially drunk, trolling his catch mixed of beauty and banality and recurrent bawdry-a little pathetic because he thinks he is a discoverer and doesn't realize that he is only a tourist on a well-marked tour. We see him at last as an appealingly zestful, voracious, talented hick."

The Great Gatsby

“This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story -- that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people."

For Whom the Bell Tolls

"A master of the concentrated short story, Hemingway is less sure in his grasp of the form of the elaborated novel. The shape of For Whom the Bell Tolls is sometimes slack and sometimes bulging. It is certainly quite a little too long."

To Kill a Mockingbird

"Miss Lee's problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn't consistently solved it."

O Pioneers!

"Miss Willa S. Cather in O Pioneers (O title!!) is neither a skilled storyteller nor the least bit of an artist."

Slaughterhouse Five

"The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness..."

Brave New World

"Mr. Huxley has the jitters. Looking back over his career one can see that he has always had them, in varying degrees... [he] rushes headlong into the great pamphleteering movement. [Brave New World] is a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”


“Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive...”

And just for good measure, consider the following:

The Wizard of Oz

“It has dwarfs, music, Technicolor, freak characters, and Judy Garland. It can't be expected to have a sense of humor as well, and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet."


“James Cameron has never been known for his dialogue, but Titanic carries some stinkers that wouldn't make the final draft of a Days of Our Lives script."

Lawrence of Arabia

“Seldom has so little been said in so many words."

Citizen Kane

“You’ve heard a lot about this picture and I see by the ads that some experts think it ‘the greatest movie ever made,  I don’t… It’s different. In fact, it’s bizarre enough to become a museum piece. But its sacrifice of simplicity to eccentricity robs it of distinction and general entertainment value.”

Need I say more?

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Becoming A Hybrid Author, Part I

 by Sybil Johnson

The first five books in my Aurora Anderson series are traditionally published by a small press. When they decided not to publish the sixth one, I could have tried to get another publisher to take it on, but I figured that would be hard since the original publisher still had the rights to the first five. So I decided to publish Brush Up On Murder myself. Here are some things I learned along the way. This is Part I. You’ll see Part II in my next post in two weeks.

  • Give yourself permission to fail.
    I am a perfectionist. I dislike failing or looking stupid. This attitude can paralyze me and prevent me from doing things that scare me. This was an issue when I was figuring out how to put out my book. I could probably have done things faster if I hadn’t second guessed myself so much and felt so anxious. I had to learn to just forge ahead knowing I’d probably make mistakes, but that it was okay. 
  •  Plan ahead.
    I’m usually a planner but, for some reason on this particular adventure, I didn’t write out a plan with dates and deadlines like I should have. It was somewhat ad hoc. So don’t follow my lead. Remember that if you need someone to do your cover or edit your book or format your book, you need to find out when they’re available and work that into your plans. Also note that, for a print cover, the designer needs to know how many pages the formatted interior is so they can create the cover properly. 
  • Take stock of what you know and figure out what you need help on.
    Having been traditionally published was a help here. I’d seen the process so knew a little about what had to be done. Still, I wasn’t super sure about it so I took Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula course. While I discovered I knew a lot more than I thought I did, it did fill in a bunch of gaps for me and I have a backup whenever I have a question. I felt a lot more confident in my ability to get the book out. 
  •  Decide what you can do yourself and what you want to farm out.
    To publish a book, you have to (1) get a cover, (2) format the interior, (3) have it edited, (4) write the back of book copy. Okay, there are a lot of other details, but those are the major ones. I knew I didn’t have the ability to do the cover and I wanted someone I trusted to edit it. Luckily, the person who did the first four covers in my Aurora Anderson series was available to do this cover and the person who’d edited my first three books, who I trust so much, was doing freelance editing work. I hired those two for those items. I chose to format the book myself because I like doing that kind of stuff. I have a PC and didn’t want to buy a Mac in order to use Vellum, the book formatting software a lot of people use. Luckily, Atticus had recently become available. It works on my PC and, after a little learning curve, I found it fairly easy to use. I could format both the print version for IngramSpark (that’s what I use for the print book) and the ebook version through it. For the back of the book copy, I had to do that for my other books so that was something I knew I could do. 
  • Decide what’s most important to you and do that first.
    The “normal” course of putting out a new book seems to be to release the ebook version(s) and the print version(s) at the same time. This doesn’t have to be so. There’s a learning curve to it all. You don’t have to release all of the ebook versions (Kindle, Nook, Kobo) at the same time. You can decide to say, release the Kindle one first and follow up with the others later. Or not bother with the others at all. You don’t have to release the print version at the same time, either. Decide what versions are most important to you and do those first. Of course, if you feel like you’ve got it all in hand, release them all at the same time. That’s what I did. It’s a little easier on the ebook front because now you only have to produce the book in the .epub format and can upload that to Amazon, Nook and Kobo. 

See you in two weeks with more.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

I Need A Hit Man

 By Charlotte Hinger


 No, I'm not plotting mayhem during this election cycle. Not yet, at least.

I need a hit man in my new mystery. It can't be someone too good at the job. The person should be a little dumb. More than a little. Can't be too bright or he won't take the job to begin with. 

Eureka! I discovered a terrific book, The Perfect Kill, written by a retired CIA agent, Robert Baer. He did a wonderful job of explaining the major ways assassins screw up. The fact is, there aren't that many really efficient ones around. 

As the saying goes, "good help is hard to find." Criminals often can't keep their mouths shut. I'm amazed at the number of times in real life murderers can't resist telling someone about their crimes. Not out of a feeling of remorse or a need to confess, but a compulsion to brag. Too often mediocre hit men think they are the smartest person in the room. 

Although I need a inferior hit man, through rather weird research, I unearthed some of the practices used by the very best.

Incidentally, these lessons can also be applied to writing and the promotion of books.

1.  Hits should be planned meticulously and always have a backup plan. 

2.  Protect your reputation. Always, always keep your word. Show up when you've promised you'll be there. 

3.  Don't work for crazy people. Check out organizations and individuals before you agree to do a job.

4.  Don't involve unnecessary people in your operation. You'll lose control. 

5.  Don't dance in the end zone. No one likes a braggart. 

6.  Don't make enemies. Keep a low profile. 

Although Baer's book is focused on political assassinations it provides fascinating instructions for those who would like to pursue a life of crime. Or writing. It's fascinating reading. 

Monday, February 05, 2024

Really? JAWS is fifty years old?

 By Thomas Kies

Fifty years…that sounds like a long time ago, and I guess it was.  But sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. 

I read in the Washington Post that it was fifty years ago that Patty Hearst was kidnapped.  For those of you who don’t recall, Patricia Hearst was the heir of the Hearst fortune, scheduled to be married, when she was targeted and kidnapped by a rag tag, disorganized group of far-left terrorists called the Symbionese Liberation Army. 

Shortly afterward, she renounced her “class privilege” and appeared to have joined the terrorist group calling herself “Tania”.  After a series of bank robberies and shootouts, many with deadly results, she was captured.  

At her trial, she claimed that she was brainwashed, raped, and suffered from “Stockholm Syndrome” where a captive begins to identify and empathize with his or her captors. Even so, she was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in prison, reduced to seven years.  Her sentence was commuted at 22 months by President Carter and eventually pardoned by President Bill Clinton. 

While reading this account, I tried to recall what books were released fifty years ago.  These are a few of what I found:

Carrie--Stephen King (think about how many books he’s written since that one was first published)

Helter Skelter--Vincent Bugliosi

Jaws—Peter Benchley (think about how many times you’ve heard that iconic clip of music for the movie)

All the President’s Men—Carl Bernstein 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—John Le Carre`

Centennial—James Michener. 

The Seven Per Cent Solution—Nichola Meyer (think about how many Sherlock Holmes books have been written since then) 

Coincidentally, Marc Jaffe, an editor who worked for Bantam, recently passed away at the age of 102.  He worked on Jaws when it was originally published, as well as such blockbusters as The Exorcist, Catcher in the Rye, and 90 Minutes at Entebbe.  He was a legend in the publishing business. 

Fifty years sounds like a long time, but when it comes to stories, some of them feel much younger than that—books that stand the test of time and live in our collective consciousness. When you’re a writer, you hope that happens with your own work.  

Have a great week and happy writing.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

American and British shows

 Barbara here, slightly late for my Wednesday morning post. Today I am simply copying a recent post I saw on Facebook, which addresses an issue that my friends, family, and I have been mulling over for several years. I'm copying it not because I am lazy, but because Michael Douglas articulates the issue more clearly (and provocatively) in his comments than I could. His conclusions are obviously generalizations, to which there are many exceptions, but his comments are meant to provoke thought.  My circle of friends and family tend to prefer British and European shows and novels more than American and we wondered why. So here goes.

Why does Hollywood keep casting British actors to play American superheroes?
This is an issue that extends beyond superhero films, to films in general. America has a young actor crisis. The topic has received quite a bit of coverage over the last couple of years, especially after the totally American story of Selma came out and people realized four of the primary characters were played by British actors.
The Atlantic did a feature on it, in which Michael Douglas commented on the issue, saying:
"Clearly, it breaks down on two fronts. In Britain they take their training seriously while in the States we’re going through a sort of social media image conscious thing rather than formal training. Many actors are getting caught up in this image thing, which is going on to affect their range."
Young actors from Britain, Ireland, Australia and other locations have grown up with their television dominated by American shows. They have heard American voices coming out of that box, every day, and they've mastered mimicking those accents. That means the best of those actors can cross the ocean and compete on a level playing field against the best young American actors. Add in the emphasis on training, overseas, and those young foreigners acquire an edge over many of their American counterparts.
Many young actors build their foundation in television before breaking into film. All one has to do is watch some American television and some British television and some structural differences will be noticed - differences that help young British actors and hinder young American actors.
The following is, of course, a generalization. Exceptions are easy to name. You might be tempted to reply with "What about Walking Dead and The Wire?" Well, they both starred British actors playing Americans. One doesn't need to be an absolute to have impacts.
American television has a heritage and tradition of glamor. American television characters are supposed to be better looking, better dressed, more articulate, and more superlative than the people watching television. There is a perspective that for a story to be interesting, it has to be about the best. The protagonist of a cop show should be a super cop. Police detective Kate Beckett, on Castle, has to be supermodel beautiful and thin, and yet still able to tackle a 240 lb bad guy. She has to be able to chase down a teenager in Nike's while she is wearing five inch heeled Christian Louboutin shoes. She does all this while wearing a $2200 jacket (that she'll have replaced next week with another $2000 jacket), and $600 jeans. She'll do all of this without sweating or getting a hair out of place. The protagonist of a law show has to be a GQ underwear model with an eidetic memory for the law and the charm to win over every jury. Soap operas are about the rich. Sitcoms like Friends are about beautiful people that rarely go to work. They sit in their palatial apartments wearing designer clothes and seemingly spouting spontaneous witticisms that took nine writers a week to refine.
American television has a foundation of depicting youth, vitality, exceptionalism, and wealth, and doing so in a weird warped world where everyone lives in either L.A. or New York, but has a nondescript middle of the country accent.
This is tough on actors. Rather than developing their skills at disappearing into multivariate characters, their job is to always look cool. Their job is to become a brand.
Conversely, British television has a foundation of reveling in the linguistic, economic, and cultural diversity of that small group of islands. A young actor will go from playing a cockney thug one week to a Yorkshire farmer the next, to a member of the 1920s landed gentry the next. Their job is to depict characters that feel real, not fantastical. Their skills get regularly worked and enhanced. Their job is to become a chameleon.
Here are two recent British examples. They aren't perfect, because they both utilize a ridiculously handsome actor that naturally looks cool.
It took me about three episodes of Agent Carter to realize that the actor playing Jarvis was the same actor (James D'Arcy) that played the thug on Broadchurch.
And I had trouble mentally switching from watching Happy Valley to Grantchester. In one, James Norton plays a sadistic, sociopathic, rapist and killer and in the other he is a slightly foppish 1950s vicar.
Imagine you are casting a big movie, superhero or not. You want a young actor or actress with great range and skill. You want the audience to see your character. But, you also want someone new to the film audience (and cheap), so you start looking at some good television. Where are the chameleons coming from?

Read more>>> 

To me, one of the most interesting observations concerned the difference between British and American art. The former emphasizes the linguistic, economic, and cultural diversity of their country and as such tends to focus on the nuances of real characters, whereas American leans towards youth, vitality, wealth, and exceptionalism. 

I'm a Canadian and we have always have our foot in both camps; the twin juggernauts of both American and British culture press in on both sides and both are reflected in our values, with notable differences across the regions. But our creative arts tend to emphasize character and diversity rather than exceptionalism and wealth. 

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Why?

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Superstars 2024

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

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

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Running Over the Goat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Do Cozies Take Murder Seriously?

 by Sybil Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are my thoughts on cozies. What are yours?

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

My Favorite Present


by Charlotte Hinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 22, 2024

Read Your Work Out Loud

   By Thomas Kies

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

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

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

It’s my second opportunity to be a playwright. 

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

It’s an adrenaline rush. 

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

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

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

That’s scary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

More on ducks and finding the path

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Putting All My Ducks in a Row


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

My Year in Books 2023

 by Sybil Johnson

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

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

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

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

Cozy highlights

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

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

Non-fiction highlights:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

About ChatGPT


by Charlotte Hinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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