Thursday, September 29, 2016

What’s in a book signing for a mid-lister?

Book signings are tough and getting tougher, according to most bookstore owners I meet. Attendance is down, people are ordering online more and more, and the entire proposition is risky for the store (especially the independent stores) who face returning unsold books at the conclusion of the event.

This summer and fall, I did several signings/readings/book talks at various locations in New England. Some at chains, some at independent stores. I continue to be amazed by the spirit of the inde booksellers. Here is Western Massachusetts, I have several indes, including World Eye Bookshop, in Greenfield, Mass., which has been around for 40-plus years, and Mystery on Main Street in Brattleboro, Vt., a place I go to ask for “a mystery I can’t find anywhere else.” The recommendations are always excellent.

Price, Hilary. "Rhymes with Orange." Greenfield Recorder, p. C4. Sept. 28, 2016.

My 7-year-old, the real Keeley

This weekend, I signed at World Eye. A handful of people walked through the front door, and it got me thinking about what’s in a signing for the mid-lister?

At a slow event, most sales are what I call “hard-earned, hand sales.” This means I’ve chatted up anyone walking through the front door (standard pick-up line, “Hi, you like mysteries? I’ve written a trilogy featuring a single-mother and border patrol agent.”) or walked the aisles handing out bookmarks. This past weekend, at a 90-minute event, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I had to scrape for every sale.

Until Lynda Mayo arrived.

Lynda is why people like me (a mid-lister) do signings. Yes, I know I do them to meet store owners and, more importantly, readers, and to spread the gospel of my protagonist Peyton Cote. But when you’re hand-selling each and every book to people who thought they came in to buy a New York Times bestseller, a loyal reader like Lynda makes your day.

She arrived with a huge smile on her face, told her husband, “This was the book I spent all day reading.” We talked about Peyton Cote, each book in the series, secondary characters, and as she continued to rave two other people overheard her, approached, and bought books (who needs plants, when you have Lynda?). Our conversation was so great I forgot to get a picture with her.

It’s not about book sales, not for the mid-lister. It’s about enjoying the process -- of writing, of editing, even of fighting with the blank page; and it's about enjoying the promotional process, including the challenge of the “hard-earned hand sale.”

And readers like Lynda make your day once in awhile.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Random Thoughts on Libraries and Books

We’re having a September heat wave here at the beach, not conducive to thinking. So today you get random thoughts on libraries and books, things I’ve heard about recently.
The fairly new Manhattan Beach Library

Earlier this month, I read an article about a new imaging technology that can read closed books. MIT is developing a terahertz wave camera that will eventually be able to read the text on a book without it being opened. There are books in libraries and research institutions that people are afraid to open because they’re so fragile. Once this technology is perfected, they’ll be able to find out what’s in these books without worrying about destroying them. So far it’s in the prototype phase. For more details, including a short video:

Then there’s X-ray microtomography, similar to a CT scan, which scientists have used to read text in scrolls that are too fragile to unwrap. They discovered that the Ein Gedi scroll, discovered in a synagogue that was destroyed in AD 600 and looks like a lump of coal, contains the beginning of the book of Leviticus. This technique was also used on papyrus scrolls from Herculaneum, a city that was destroyed during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

Pretty interesting and exciting developments.

Then there’s Benjamin Franklin. I had heard that he was instrumental in the development of the lending library here in the U.S., but didn’t know many details. Apparently, he helped found the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, America’s first lending library and the predecessor of our free libraries. Franklin served as the librarian for the Library Company from 1733-1734. So, Ben Franklin was a librarian, however briefly!

While looking into Ben’s activities, I discovered this site, The Library History Buff. It’s full of all kinds of info on libraries and, yes, their history, including vintage postcards of libraries, and all kinds of links involving libraries.

And there’s National Hug a Librarian Day, which is August 25th. And International Hug a Librarian Day is March 1st, though there seems to be some confusion there. Anyway, I’m not sure I’d actually hug a librarian unless I knew them well, but we can show our appreciation by saying nice things to one. Then there’s Library Lovers Day on Feb 14th.

Those are my random thoughts for today. Hope you found some of them interesting.And if you happen to be in Manhattan Beach, CA on Monday, October 17th, I'll be on a panel there with Lida Sideris, Sarah M.Chen and Jennifer Chow at 7pm.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I know this is late…

by Rick Blechta

I’m well behind my time once again this week, but it has been an extraordinary day in a number of most excellent ways.

I go to Toronto’s world famous St. Lawrence Market every Saturday, usually in the company of one of my adult sons. We’ve done it for many years like clockwork and it’s a very important and enjoyable part of our week. So enjoyable, in fact, that I’ve used the market in several scenes in my most recent full-length novels.

However, this past Saturday, I was playing the music teacher role once again in helping a friend and former student get a French horn class started down the road to their music careers, and so I didn’t get to the market.

My son had the day off today so we went down this morning. It’s a completely different experience going there on a weekday. The stalls are less full of wares and the place has maybe 10% the business as a Saturday. We got a chance to chat with many of our shopkeeper friends.

We came home, dropped off our goodies and then I headed back downtown to stand in line for tickets to an open rehearsal of Norma by the Canadian Opera Company this evening.

While waiting (I scored a bench seat because I was there early!), as is my want, I was scribbling notes and writing a bit of dialogue for a scene I’m working on in my current novel-on-the-go, and as usual, I was writing with my favourite fountain pen. A woman of a certain age sat down next to me and noticed my pen.

“I noticed your beautiful pen. Are you a fountain pen lover, too?”

I didn’t get much more work in as we compared our pens (she had a lovely vintage Waterman; mine is a special edition Pelikan my darling wife gave me a number of years ago) and discussed different brands of ink. Someone else in line overheard us and said he, too, loves fountain pens.

Now, I love discussing fountain pens with anyone – but the day was about to get even better.

The question of my journal soon came up. I told them I was working on a novel.

“Oh, it’s nice you’re writing a novel. I’ve always thought I’d like to try. Are you hoping to get it published one day?”

I explained that I’ve already published ten and an eleventh is on the way in less than a month.

That sort of set the two people back on their heels. They asked my name.

“How come I’ve never heard of you?”

Good question and one I’ve answered many times — as have most authors I know.

The end result was — after I revealed that my two most recent novels have an opera singer as the main character — these two new “friends” were going to head over to the nearby Eaton Centre to look for the two novels in question (The Fallen One and Roses for a Diva).

Another person in line: “Excuse me for eavesdropping, but did I hear correctly? You wrote The Fallen One?”


She said loudly, “I really enjoyed that book! And there’s another one out with Marta in it? I’ve got to get it.”

I’m sitting here writing this post — far different from the topic I had originally planned for today — and I’m still on cloud nine.

This has turned out to be the best day ever!*

*Well, as far as my writing career goes…

Monday, September 26, 2016

What do do with All Those Tomatoes

by Vicki Delany

Looks like I’m out of step again.  We’re talking about libraries on the blog, but I’m giving you a recipe for tomato soup. Perhaps I’ll tell you another time why I have been called the Margaret Atwood of Prince Edward County (and yes, it has to do with libraries) but I know that right now you’ve got countertops covered with tomatoes and you’re wondering what do to with them.  

The thing about tomato season, is that when it’s over, it’s over. Sure you can buy tomatoes all year round – hard, firm, tasteless things that have turned red by an injection of gas, not the warmth of the sun.

Last time I talked about my love of tomato season and I’ve since had requests on my Facebook page ( for my soup recipe.  So here it is. Enjoy.

Vicki Delany’s Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

Place tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for about 60 seconds. Transfer them immediately to a large bowl of water. Cool, then peel off the skins and remove seeds.
Broil peppers (turning regularly) until the skins are charred. Place them in a covered bowl until they’re cool enough to handle. Then peel and finely chop.
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
Add the chilli peppers, chopped red peppers and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes, another pinch of salt, and vinegar. Cook for another 10 minutes.
Add the stock, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Cool slightly.
Using an immersion blender, tabletop blender or food processor, blend the soup to a smooth consistency.  Can be served immediately or frozen.

Enjoy! This soup goes very well with a good book.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Winding down summer 2016 with a new book

Last month I was in Albuquerque for Bubonicon 48. The event was originally known as the New Mexico Science-Fiction/Fantasy Convention. The name Buboncicon came from novelist Robert E Vardeman noticing that Egypt was not letting anyone from New Mexico into that country because the Land of Enchantment does have a problem with bubonic plague. As if Egypt is such a pristine environment? So the con was renamed Bubonicon and a rat was chosen as the mascot.

In other news, a book I co-authored has been released, Forgotten Letters. Although I'm known for tales about sketchy detective-vampires, I've always wanted to write a novel about World War Two. So in collaboration with Kirk Raeber, a physician and Navy vet from San Diego, we penned what I think is an awesome story about love, loss, and redemption set against the backdrop of the biggest violent clash in history. The estranged lovers are American and Japanese, but what makes our story different is that the romance is not about the internment camps in the US. Rather the American finds himself reuniting with his lost love in wartime Japan. And there's Shiba Inus.

Here's the back cover copy:

A trove of forgotten letters reveals a love that defied a world war.

 In 1924, eight-year old Robert Campbell accompanies his missionary parents to Japan where he befriends a young Makiko Asakawa. Robert enjoys his life there, but the dark tides of war are rising, and it won't be long before foreigners are forced to leave Japan.

Torn from the people Robert has come to think of as family, he stays in contact by exchanging letters with Makiko, letters that soon show their relationship is blossoming into something much more than friendship.

The outbreak of total war sweeps all before it, and when correspondence ends with no explanation, Robert fears the worst. He will do anything to find Makiko, even launch himself headfirst into a conflict that is consuming the world. Turmoil and tragedy threaten his every step, but no risk is too great to prove that love conquers all.

Wish us luck.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Libraries and the World

I'm been reading the wonderful stories my colleagues shared about the libraries that played such important roles in their childhoods and development as writers. I've been debating whether I would share my early library memories. But I think they're worth sharing.

I loved the public library in my hometown, Danville, Virginia. When I was a child and teenager, the library was housed in the Sutherlin Mansion on Main Street. That section of the street was known as "Millionaires' Row" and is now in the Historic Register. The Sutherlin Mansion was unique in the role it had played in American Civil War history. During his retreat from Richmond, Jefferson Davis stayed there. Danville is known as "the last capitol of the Confederacy." Today, the Sutherlin Mansion is the home of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History.The public library moved to a modern building up the hill from the courthouse.

I don't remember the first time I went to the old library in the Sutherlin Mansion. This is rather odd because during the Civil Rights movement, integration of the library became an issue. But I was young enough during that era not to be able to drive myself into town. We lived about five miles outside the city limits, in what was then called "country" (before the city expanded outward when the mall was built). There was no way for children to get into town unless adults took them. So I missed much of the discussion about the public library. I got my books from the school library.

I don't remember when I went to the public library and got my card. I do remember being a teenager and browsing through all of the books in the adult section. I remember discovering books that I loved. I checked The Day Must Dawn by Agnes Sligh Turnbull out every few months. And then there was Mary Stewart's My Brother Michael. And all the books with titles that intrigued about subjects that seemed fascinating. I love nonfiction as much as fiction.

What I remember about visiting the library was that the librarians sometimes looked at what I was checking out and offered smiling observations. What I remember is that they seemed pleased that I was leaving with my arms full of books.

What I remember is that a library that was of the time and place in which it existed became one of my "good places" where I could go and discover other worlds. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead

I was very sorry to hear that Michael Whitehead, husband of the wonderful Louise Penny, has passed away after a long decline.

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting the Louise  and Michael at my local public library several years ago. I sat next to Michael and we had a lovely and funny conversation about what it's like to be a writer’s spouse. He had on his usual bow tie and treated me as though he'd known me for ages.

If you don’t know Louise’s work (and if you are a regular mystery reader, I can’t imagine that you don’t), please go forth and familiarize yourself tout suite. I had read them all, and loved them all, so I went to see her, just as I’ve gone to see many many authors.

Now, I’ve been very impressed by how a number of authors handle themselves at events, but I must say that Louise blew me away. She is a true human being in the best sense. Even if I had never read one of her books, after listening to her, I would have given myself whiplash in my rush to buy them all. I’ve done many events myself, and do not consider myself an amateur at the game. However, I learned quite a bit from Ms. Penny on how to make a crowd love you.

Allow me to share :The moment she walked in the door, she went around the room, big smile on her face, shaking hands with and speaking to every attendee.

When she shook my hand, I said, “I’m Donis Casey…” intending to introduce myself since we have mutual acquaintances, but lo and behold, she knew my name! “Oh!” she exclaimed, “Let me give you a hug” Her pleasure appeared so genuine that I would now take a bullet for her.

When she spoke, her joy in her craft and love of her characters and setting washed over the audience. To tell the truth, when she was finished, I felt a desperate desire to regain that feeling, which is easy to lose in the everyday struggle of life. I vowed to rediscover the pleasure of storytelling, and to remember why I chose to become a writer in the first place.

However appealing and lovable a person Louise is, the bottom line is that she writes great books, full of heart and warmth, and true human frailty as well as strength, ugliness as well as beauty.

If you want to be a successful author, you have to write wonderful books. Its quite a bonus to be a wonderful person as well.

And so I offer her my dearest sympathy for her loss, and my gratitude for all the joy she has brought me and all her readers.