Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Perched on the cusp

Barbara here. In yesterday's post, Rick admirably summed up the successes of the Type M blog during the past year, and indeed since its inception nine years ago. Today I have the honour of posting the very last blog of 2014. On my next blog on January 14, I will talk about an exciting new venture I am starting in 2015, but as I perch on the cusp of that year, I want to take a final look at the lessons, thrills, and spills of 2014.

In addition to doing the usual book signings, readings, workshops, book clubs, and trips, 2014 found me scrambling to find time for four very different projects. It was a milestone year for the Inspector Green series. The Whisper of Legends was nominated for the 2014 Ottawa Book Award, to my knowledge the first time a crime novel has received that honour.  The German translation of the book, entitled Tote Spur, was also released in June, marking the first time (but with any luck perhaps not the last) that Inspector Green has appeared in Germany.

In the fall, the tenth book in the series, None So Blind, was released, garnering a record number of excellent reviews not only from major Canadian sources such as Quill and Quire, the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, the National Post, and the London Free Press, but also from Booklist and Publisher's Weekly. Partly as a result of this, for the first time in my writing history, the book was sold out within six weeks of its release.

Before you all line up for the free round of drinks, please note; as a Canadian book from a Canadian publisher, this means that I can now replace the brakes on my Volkswagen Golf, not that I can take that dream trip around the world.

2014 also saw me going from first draft to final edits on the third book in my Cedric O'Toole Rapid Reads series, entitled The Night Thief. I am thrilled with the end product, and I am looking forward to its release this coming April. And rounding out this year of diverse projects, I also wrote a short story for nEverMore, an anthology of short stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe and edited by the intrepid and innovative duo, Caro Soles and Nancy Kilpatrick. My short story, entitled The Lighthouse is based on Poe's last, and possibly unfinished, short story of the same name, and it required me to get into the head of a naive 18 year-old Newfoundland boy during World War II. This anthology should prove to be a blood-curdling mix of murder, mystery, and menace.

At the same time as I was working on these three very different projects, I was devoting most of my writing time to researching and creating the first draft of a new novel, the details of which I will discuss further in the new year. It was a fresh, untravelled road for me - new issues, new characters, new setting - that stirred up lots of excitement, uncertainty, and angst. The journey, and the angst, continue. Angst is good, I tell myself. If I feel too comfortable, I am probably telling the same story I have told before.

But too much angst, not so good. Writers need time to ponder, to let the stories percolate and the characters ripen. We need time for friends and family, for the pursuit of other interests. While writing, I also spent three weeks on a research trip to Newfoundland, scheduling activities, interviews, and location scouting for the new book, as well as the short story. The day after I got home, I welcomed a new puppy into my home. Puppies need time and attention too. They are young, impressionable and adorable for such a short time, and I would be doing him no favours either by being too busy to enjoy him.

I'm relieved to say we all survived the year, but as I read the frenetic pace many of my fellow writers complain of, I realize perhaps we all need to slow down. Take the time to think and feel, to revel in experiences, to enjoy those diversions that can refresh our souls and enrich our creativity. That is my resolution for 2015. I hope my writing, and my sanity, will both benefit from it.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, here's to a new year of peace, happiness, and health for us all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Another year passes: annual "State of the Blog" post

It’s been a pretty big year here at Type M for Murder.

Since Vicki Delany’s first post back on June 26, 2006, we have come a long way. My first post didn’t come around until the 12th of July for some reason (probably out of town for the first time through the rota), and I shudder to think how many posts I’ve written over the years. I need to go back and check, but it has to be over 400 by now. I do believe I also managed to carry through on a New Year’s resolution last January to not miss any Tuesdays in 2014 — although I did miss a weekend guest assignment two weekends ago, darn!

So what happened of note on Type M this year?

  • Vicki Delany returned to her roots and rejoined our family
  • Sybil Johnson took over for Hannah Dennison (who hopes to return before too much time goes by)
  • We passed 300,000 page views and are actually less than 10,000 away from reaching 400,000. (Thanks to all of you for that, by the way!)
  • We passed 2000 posts and I shudder to think of how many comments have been made by readers and members over the years
  • Our members had 10 books published (if my counting is accurate) and there are several more to come in the next 12 months.
And please remind me of all the other things I’ve forgotten to mention!

All of that is pretty amazing, but the really incredible thing is that we’re still going, and that’s a credit to  our regular Type M group who post here, but also our weekend guests who take time out of their busy schedules to share thoughts with all of us. We’ll pass our 9th anniversary at the end of June and very few blogs of any type last that long — especially in the crime fiction world.

We wouldn’t keep posting if you folks didn’t keep visiting Type M and commenting on what we’ve written, and that’s what makes this little blog so amazing: our readers. We have 104 “friends” (and please become one if you’ve been sitting on the fence). So many of you comment cogently on what we write, and for that we are very grateful.

This next year will be something very special. Before 2015 ends, we will have passed the half-million mark in page views, and that’s amazingly exciting. I’m thinking we should have a contest to celebrate that. What do all of you think?

Thanks to everyone who makes this special place possible: my blogmates past and present, our guest posters who are so generous with their time, and to all of you who show up day after day to see what we’re prattling on about now.

Have safe and happy new year’s celebrations and all the best to everyone throughout 2015!

Monday, December 29, 2014

PD James’s Top Ten Tips

As we all look forward to the New Year with all its possibilities, I thought I would share with you PD James’s top ten tips about being a writer, in the hope that some of her success may rub off on you in 2015!

1. You must be born to write
You can't teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don't think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.

Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can't make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly

2. Write about what you know You absolutely should write about what you know. There are all sorts of small things that you should store up and use, nothing is lost to a writer. You have to learn to stand outside of yourself. All experience, whether it is painful or whether it is happy is somehow stored up and sooner or later it's used.

I love situations where people are thrown together in unwelcome proximity. where all kinds of reprehensible emotions can bubble up. I think you must write what you feel you want to write because then the book is genuine and that comes through. I believe that someone who can write, who has a feeling for words and knows how to use them will find a publisher. Because after all, publishers do still need to find new writers. We all get old and we die and that's that and there have to be successors.  

3. Find your own routine I think all we writers are different. It's interesting, isn't it, how different we are? Some people have to have the room, the pen and others do everything on a computer. I write by hand and I can write more or less anywhere as long as I've got a comfortable chair, a table, an unlimited amount of biros to write with and lined paper to write on. And then the next day when my PA comes, which she does at 10 o'clock, then I've got quite a lot to dictate to her and she puts it on to the computer, prints it out and I do the first revision. In a sense, therefore, I revise as I go. It's important to get up early – before London really wakes and the telephone calls begin and the emails pile up. This is the best time for me, the time of quiet in the morning.

4. Be a ware that the business is changing Goodness gracious, how the world of publishing has changed! It is much easier now to produce a manuscript with all the modern technology. It is probably a greater advantage now, more than ever before, to have an agent between you and the publisher. 

Everything has changed and it's really quite astonishing, because people can self-publish now. I would once have thought that that was rather a self-defeating way of doing it but actually publishers do look at what is self-published and there are examples of people picking up very lucrative deals.

5. Read, write and don't daydream! To write well, I advise people to read widely. See how people who are successful and good get their results, but don't copy them. And then you've got to write! We learn to write by writing, not by just facing an empty page and dreaming of the wonderful success we are going to have.

I don't think it matters much what you use as practice, it might be a short story, it might be the beginning of a novel, or it might just be something for the local magazine, but you must write and try and improve your writing all the time. Don't think about it or talk about it, get the words down. 

6. Enjoy your own company It is undoubtedly a lonely career, but I suspect that people who find it terribly lonely are not writers. I think if you are a writer you realise how valuable the time is when you are absolutely alone with your characters in complete peace. I think it is a necessary loneliness for most writers – they wouldn't want to be always in the middle of everything having a wonderful life. I've never felt lonely as a writer, not really, but I know people do

7. Choose a good setting Something always sparks off a novel, of course. With me, it's always the setting. I think I have a strong response to what I think of as the 'spirit of a place'. I remember I was looking for an idea in East Anglia and standing on a very lonely stretch of beach. I shut my eyes and listened to the sound of the waves breaking over the pebble shore. Then I opened them and turned from looking at the dangerous and cold North Sea to look up and there, overshadowing this lonely stretch of beach was the great, empty, huge white outline of Sizewell nuclear power station. In that moment I knew I had a novel. It was called Devices and Desires.  

8. Never go anywhere without a notebook Never go anywhere without a notebook because you can see a face that will be exactly the right face for one of your characters, you can see place and think of the perfect words to describe it. I do that when I'm writing, I think it's a sensible thing for writers to do. I've written little bits of my next novel, things that have occurred to me. I've got the setting already. I've got the title, I've got most of the plot and I shall start some serious writing of it next month, I think

9. Never talk about a book before it is finished I never talk about a book before it is finished and I never show it to anybody until it is finished and I don't show it to anybody even then, except for my publisher and my agent. Then there is this awful time until they phone. I'm usually pretty confident by the time I've sent it in but I have those moments when I think, 'well I sent it to them on Friday, by Saturday night they should be ringing up to say how wonderful it is!' I'm always aware that people might have preferences and think that one book is better than another.  

10. Know when to stop I am lucky to have written as many books as I have, really, and it has been a joy. With old age, it becomes very difficult. It takes longer for the inspiration to come, but the thing about being a writer is that you need to write.

What I am working on now will be another detective story, it does seem important to write one more. I think it is very important to know when to stop. Some writers, particularly of detective fiction, have published books that they should not have published. I don't think my publisher would let me do that and I don't think my children would like me to. I hope I would know myself whether a book was worth publishing. I think while I am alive, I shall write. There will be a time to stop writing but that will probably be when I come to a stop, too.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Potboiler Giants

This last year I've been reading a lot of my favorite books from the 1970s, stories that impressed me mightily back then. Most of them were big fat potboilers, books my father brought home as soon as they came out in paperback. Among the authors: Leon Uris, James Clavell, Mario Puzo, Jack Higgins, and Michael Crichton. I was curious to see how those novels held up and I'm chagrined to say that most of them did. My favorite now was the same as it was back then, The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian.

Today it's hard enough to write a book on a computer and it's astounding if not incomprehensible to consider that those writers pounded out their manuscripts on a typewriter. No cut-and-paste (unless you used scissor and tape), no spellcheck, no online thesaurus, no Internet for research, no multiple copies of your original unless you made photocopies at fifteen cents a page. Just sit your ass down behind the Smith Corona (or IBM Selectric if you had the moola), feed a sheet of paper, and get to work. Keep the white out handy.

I couldn't help but engage my critical eye when reading these books and something else jumped out at me. That was the disregard for many of the craft rules that we modern writers get beat into us. Rules such as to avoid long expositions and backstory, adverbs, and wandering POV. That got me thinking that back then resources for writers weren't as plentiful or varied as they are today, things like critique groups, writers' workshops, writer Meetups, NaNoWriMo. Creative writing MFA programs were miniscule. But what worked for these authors was their compelling storytelling. Do we write any better today? I don't think so.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Really, Really Merry Christmas

What a wonderful and unusually blessed year. It was full of happy endings and middles and beginnings. My granddaughter, Dana Flink, graduated cum laude from Colorado State University with a degree in literature. We are so proud of her!

We had an outstanding midsummer Hinger cousin reunion. It was huge and all the in-laws made a superb effort to attend despite the distance and expense. We were overjoyed to see more musicians toting in their instruments or adding their voices to the vocals. Who knew? We had never met some of them before.

I'm very blessed to have a large extended family both by marriage and within of my own side of the family. No wonder I have a large amount of subject material for the Lottie Albright series.

We had several really serious health challenges that ended on a high note: a niece with a vicious form of lung cancer who was cured with aggressive treatment, a nephew who emerged with treatable injuries after a boulder hit his head, another niece who will fully recover after the removal of a benign brain tumor lying in a dangerous location.

I have a busy year ahead. I'm always seized by unreasonable optimism this time of year. I love a New Year. I even love making resolutions. Every year I change something for the better. Maybe not as well or as consistently as I had envisioned, but the result is closer to the finish line than when I started.

As to the writing—well, where I want to end up would take another blog's worth of day-dreaming.

Happy New Year and thank you loyal readers of Type M. We have the most wonderful fans anywhere.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

This year, my gift came early: My mother is spending the week with us, but more importantly, with her three granddaughters.

At Thanksgiving, my mother – the person who showed me the joy of reading and introduced me to crime literature, the person behind my writing career – was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her call informing me of that, simply put, took my breath away: Eight years earlier, on the longest day of my life, I had to explain to my daughters their grandfather was gone. Cancer then, too. But last week a skilled oncologist at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, removed the broccoli-shaped tumor.

And the follow-up scan showed no cancer anywhere else.

Having my mother here at my home to play grandmother for three granddaughters is the year's best gift.



Happy holidays to my colleagues at Type M and our readers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Year in Books

On this Christmas Eve, I’m reflecting on the books I’ve read this past year. I recently received an e-mail from GoodReads listing the ones I’ve reviewed or said I read this year. I haven’t been a member of GoodReads very long and I don’t list every book I read on my account so there weren’t very many. But there were a lot of good ones that stuck in my brain so I thought I’d highlight some of them.

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom (Historical Mystery)
I discovered the Matthew Shardlake series this past year. This is the first in the series, set in Tudor England. In Dissolution, hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake gets involved with the dissolution of the monasteries. It’s a wonderful book with an interesting protagonist who reluctantly gets embroiled in court politics. I’ve been reading about Tudor England ever since my sister introduced me to the subject when I was in junior high so this one was particularly enjoyable for me.

Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris by Eric Jager
This is one of those nonfiction books that read like fiction. A riveting tale of the horrible death in 1407 of Louis of Orleans, brother of the mentally unbalanced King Charles VI, and the investigation into his murder. The information in it is taken from documents of the time including that of the investigating officer, Guillaume de Tigonville, the chief law enforcement officer of Paris. Another book by the same author, The Last Duel, is also a compelling read.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
This is the true story of the development of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer who operated in its midst. Even if you don’t care about true crime, the story of the construction of the fair is riveting in itself.

As you can tell, I was really into historical crime and mysteries this last year. Lest you think I only read historicals, here are a couple other non-historicals that I enjoyed.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
There’s a lot of hype surrounding this series so I read this book because I was curious. I read the Hunger Game trilogy awhile back and thoroughly enjoyed it so I figured Divergent was up my alley. Even though I have to admit I’m a bit tired of dystopian societies, I couldn’t put this book down.

Aunt Dimity Digs In by Nancy Atherton

I love the Aunt Dimity books. They’re a cozy mystery series featuring the ghost of Aunt Dimity who communicates via a magic blue notebook to Lori Shepherd who is the real star of this series. Set in a small village in England, this one deals with the controversy surrounding a local archaeological dig. What I find so interesting about this series (I’ve read 5 or 6 of them) is that, so far, none have dealt with a murder. Death, yes, murder, no. There’s always a mystery to solve, though. I still find the books captivating and peaceful reads.

I could go on and on. I don’t know how many books I read in a year. For 2015, I plan on keeping track. Did you all read books you thought were particularly interesting this last year?

May your holidays be merry and bright and may you read many wonderful books in the coming year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blasts from the past

The current “me” rehearsing with my band
I’m currently back in New York, just north of The Big Apple, the area where I grew up. Getting everything ready for Christmas and also rehearsing some music with my brother’s band will mean this is a going to be a somewhat limited post, but I gotta have something online for everyone on Type M!

Last night a of twenty-one musicians, all who played in area soul bands back in the ’60s, got together for dinner as we’ve done for several years now. Of course there was the usual round of war stories concerning old gigs, rehearsing, traveling on the road, and you can imagine how funny some of them are. Actually, if you aren’t a musician, you might find it puzzling that we would find them remotely humorous, and probably, at the time they occurred, we didn’t find them all that funny, either. Only through the lens of time does amusement take over. A few of the biggest laughs came from situations that were downright dangerous at the time.

I tried to listen as much as I could to what was said, and something became very apparent in almost every case. Because we all shared a lot of common knowledge and similar experiences, there was a sub rosa shorthand to a lot of details. Things didn’t have to be explained or expanded on since we were all well-versed with the context and background details.

What struck me was that any “outsider” would have had little idea of what a lot of things meant. Of course, a lot of musical terms were thrown around, local places and geographical details, and shared language references, especially so since the preponderance of those gathered have strong Italian backgrounds. I’m not Italian, but having grown up with a majority of my friends being thus blessed, I just soaked in a lot of background without knowing. I also live in a very “Italian” city (Toronto), so this has only become stronger as my life has gone on.

An example is the term “gravy”. To North American Italians, this means marinara sauce (“Italian” Italians find this quite amusing). A lot of households always had a pot of this on the back of the stove. Kids would come home from school, grab a hunk of Italian bread, dip it in the sauce, and push back their hunger until dinner was served. If I was with them, I would gladly do the same thing. I even once asked my mother why we didn’t do that. She gawked at me like I fell out of a tree.

13-year-old “me” on guitar
The point here is, no one had to give any background to this rather obscure term when it was mentioned last night. Italians and non-Italians all knew what it meant. I could give you a number of musical examples of the same thing, but I think you get my point.

Thing is, if I was writing a scene for a crime fiction novel that revolved around a similar situation, all this musical and cultural shorthand would have to be explained or I would risk completely losing readers. In a work of “literary” fiction, I might be able to get away with a fair bit of background explanation. In crime fiction, I would risk completely stalling the pace of my story — and risk reader dropout.

We all want to add colour to our novels and short stories. It helps make our tales feel true. The issue is how to do this without appearing indulgent and having editors, reviewers and readers telling us things move to slowly. I do it myself when an author goes into an explanation on a topic about which I have no interest. I skip. I know most other readers do to on these occasions.

Does anyone have tips about how to work little shots of arcane (to some) detail and not derail the story? I’ve always struggled with this. My novels always have a musical element, and while I’m very familiar and comfortable within this context, a lot of readers aren’t. How much background information is too much? Give too little and you just confuse. I normally rely on non-musicans to advise me. (“You know, Rick, I have to admit I skipped that whole section. I wanted to find out what was going to happen!”) Usually, I truncate at the minimum. Quite often I’ll even toss the whole thing. Some of the best music winds up on the literary cutting room floor.

That’s all I wanted to say. I have to move on and practise a bit before this evening’s rehearsal. Please wade in with your thoughts, whether you be a writer or a reader. Do you have pet peeves? Ways to get around this problem? Any strong thoughts? Share them, by all means.

And enjoy a safe, happy and healthy holiday season!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Cheers!

By Vicki Delany

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

My family are coming for the holidays, and every woman out there knows that that means work. And a lot of it.

I do sometimes wonder why I do it. I bought a fresh Fraser Fir and hauled it home to to find that it’s waaaay too tall to put it on the table top as I’d planned. Rearrange the furniture, stuff the blasted thing into the stand, and decorate it.

The result of my labours

Mince tarts warm out of the oven


I’ve spent the last couple of days cleaning the house, wrapping presents, cooking and baking, and then more cooking and baking.  And there’s still three days to go until Christmas.
Okay, I guess the house has to be cleaned at least once a year, and I do think presents need to be wrapped. You can’t just hand someone a box in a plastic bag.

But I could buy one of those already-decorated trees and pop it on the table, and there are restaurants open on Christmas day, not to mention such things as store-bought pies and cakes and cookies and frozen lasagna.

So why go to all that work?

I can only speculate that it satisfies something inside us. The pleasure we get when we see our loved ones smiling at the Christmas tree, or digging into the traditional turkey dinner. The enjoyment we get from knowing that we do something well, and doing it as well as we can.

In a way, it’s a lot like writing. Not many of us are making much of a living from this gig and all but the most hugely successful make enough that they don’t need income from other sources, be it employment, retirement income, a supportive spouse. (A patron of the arts? If anyone like that is out there, give me a call). 

But we do it anyway, probably because we want to do something we think (we hope?) we do well and it’s an extra bonus if people let us know that they have enjoyed our efforts.
Heading back to the store for what she forgot the first five times

Will be making this cake again this year


I won’t tell you to relax and enjoy the holiday, but I do still hope that you have a very Merry Christmas, and I’ll talk to you again next year!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Hands, Change, and Other Quirks

A reader once shared an observation she had made about one of my quirks. I have this thing about hands. My protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, a crime historian, tends to notice people's hands. As I was writing What the Fly Saw, the second book in my Hannah McCabe series, I realized my homicide detective also notices hands. During a seance – yes, there is a good reason why a cop is taking part in a seance – she notices that the palm of the character who is holding her hand is rough. She speculates for a moment about what he might have been doing in the interval since they last shook hands. When I thought about this moment in the book, I realized it might have bubbled up from my own obsession with my hands in winter. I "forget" to wear my gloves because I hate wearing gloves. If you live in upstate New York, not wearing gloves means your hands get dry and rough and you have to drench them in cream or lotion at night. And you're self-conscious when you have to shake hands with someone. This have nothing to do with what was happening at that table during the seance, but it is my own little author's quirk finding its way into my books in various ways. I watch people's hands and how they use them – maybe because when I'm nervous I can never decide what to do with my hands. When I'm making a point, I "talk" with my hands. Therefore, it would be difficult for me to write a book in which hands were not reaching, touching, trembling, or doing others things that reveal something about the characters.

I don't think I'm alone in having an author's quirk that plays out in my books and short stories. In fact, as a reader, I'm sure of it. These quirks seem to reflect the author's deeply held concerns about being human. For example, there's the matter of change -- particularly the changes we feel powerless to control. My own case in point: lightning. I don't like lightning. A couple of days ago I read this article on the UAlbany website about the impact of climate change on lightning:

http://www.albany.edu/news/56832.php?WT.source=home&WT.svl=headline

The thought of more explosive storms and more lightning is not bringing joy to my heart. My quirk – my obsession with the weather – is getting played out as a subtext in my near future police procedural series where climate change is a day-to-day reality that affects not only what my characters wear but how well the infrastructure, including the police surveillance system, works.

Change happens. We get older. People we love leave our lives. The places that shaped our lives are transformed beyond recognition. In myriad ways the changes we see and think about are reflected in our characters and in our stories. As writers, some of us embrace change – are restless when nothing much is happening, want to be on the move, can't wait for the next device to be available. And then there are those of us, who when unsettled by the speed of the world, retreat to our cozy corners.

Our challenge as writers is to write about the things that concern us without making our characters our puppets. Writing a near-future series is forcing me to confront those changes that scare me. Luckily, Hannah McCabe is tougher than I am. A little lightning isn't going to throw her off her game. But we both get to ponder the nature of change and the impact it has on people's lives.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter Weather

Donis here, thinking about Christmases past. We've spent the past thirty Christmases in Arizona and are just about to grow used to the idea of spending Christmas in the desert. I grew up on the southern plains of the U.S., where the weather is extreme most of the time. (I exaggerate, but not much) If it's summer in Oklahoma, it's too dang hot and sticky and wet and miserable. If it's spring it's windy and stormy and dirty. I can remember walking to classes in March, when I was a freshman at OSU in Stillwater, OK, and by the time I got to where I was going my hair would be sticking out to one side and one cheek would have a layer of red dirt embedded in the skin.

My brother's front yard in Tulsa a few Christmases ago


Winter was always cold and windy and raw. We sometimes got deep, heavy snow that broke tree limbs, but it seldom lasted more than a few days. Ice storms were more common. One winter when Don and I lived outside Norman, in the center of the state, a big ice storm knocked out electricity and coated the roads. I was all for huddling in the dark and cursing fate, but Don insisted in getting into the car and driving five miles an hour sideways into town to go out to eat. I was pretty ill-natured during the whole trip, envisioning the police finding the two of us the next morning, frozen solid inside our car upside down in a ditch. I changed my tune when we were sitting inside a toasty warm Mexican restaurant wolfing down steaming hot chiles relleno.

But Christmas was Christmas, cold, like it ought to be unless you're an Australian. (Except when it wasn't. It is Oklahoma, after all, and cannot be predicted.) Now, in southern Arizona, we don't do cold, or at least what most people would consider cold. We are having a cold snap right now. Here is a picture I took of the thermometer on my back porch about an hour ago.

My back porch in Tempe today


Most normal people would not consider 60 degrees Fahrenheit to be cold, but I'm finding it uncomfortable. I had to rummage around in my closet for something long-sleeved. We can always tell who is visiting the desert for the winter, because they run around town in shorts when it's this chilly. We long-timers bust out the sweaters.

And no, people who live in hot climates are not wimpier than others. There is actually a physiological reason for their intolerance to cold. The capillaries grow closer to the surface of the skin after years of exposure to continual heat. Conversely, the capillaries of those who live in cold climates sink lower into the epidermis. A doctor friend of mine told me this. I don't know if he was pulling my leg, but I like the story and I'm sticking to it.

I'll take this opportunity to wish all you Dear Readers a very happy holiday season, great reading, and for those of you who indulge, successful writing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Yis the season to be busy

Barbara here. I had intended to post a blog today about the holidays and how we writers fit them into our books. Inspector Green, being Jewish, celebrates Chanukah and Shabbat in various books in the series, but like most secular Jews in a diverse, largely non-Jewish environment, he happily remarks on and enjoys the trappings of Christmas and other traditions as well. Holidays are one of the elements of setting that help to ground a book and evoke a sense of time and place and connection in the reader. A sense of cheer and warmth and family tradition, but also frenetic preparation, crowds, and stress over details to make it perfect.

That frenetic pace caught up with me this week, as I prepare for children coming home for the holiday, Hanukah gifts and food, a vaguely clean house at least with the clumps of dog hair vacuumed up, and in the middle of it, some house renovations.

So the blog never got written, and I am left instead to dash off this quick note, at least twelve hours late, and several paragraphs short. Because in all the horrendous news of the past few days, I do want to spread some cheer and warmth. My heart breaks for all those who have suffered incalculable pain and who are left to pick up the pieces in a world that suddenly feels very dark

This season, however we celebrate it, should be about light and peace and hope. So I hope you all have a Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and may the next year be a gentler, more compassionate year for all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sometimes you just gotta face facts: there’s no time…

…for a thoughtful post on Type M, that is.

Various aspects of my life are colliding in a serious way this week. I feel like a juggler who’s barely handling three balls, then I get handed a fourth, and a fifth, aware that the whole shebang is going to crash to the ground in another moment.

But I can’t bring myself to shirk my responsibilities (no matter how hard I try). I also have a rainy day contingency store of things to share, and now seems like a good time to empty the vault, because man, oh man, it’s teeming out there!

Here are some clever things, puns, posters, and even the odd tip that I’ve clipped and saved for a moment just like this. Hope you enjoy ’em!

See you next week with something more “substantial” to digest.


















And today’s helpful hint for all of you who are like me:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Peace and Goodwill

I'm going to be busy this week preparing goodies to take down for Christmas with my daughter and her young family. Christmas with little ones is a magical time; I'm making the most of it because all too soon the excited children with their shining eyes become bored teenagers with grannies and grandpas just another cross they have to bear in their tragic lives.

I've never written a book that centered around Christmas, though it's got lots going for it, when it comes to offering up plot-lines. 

Around this time of year the newspapers and magazines are full of articles about how to defuse family rows as your nearest, and not necessarily dearest gather about you. Goodwill can be in short supply  as the resentments that have rankled since childhood resurface and murderous impulses have to be sternly quelled, even in the best-regulated families.

Even in my own, the subject of Teeny Tiny still comes up, though it is greatly to my older sister's credit that she has never been warped by her crushing disappointment when she woke on Christmas morning and saw a very cute little teddy bear peeking out of, not her stocking, but that of the baby sister who was much too young to appreciate it.  Perhaps it helped that Teeny Tiny became so precious that he still lives in the drawer of my bedside table, because my husband drew a line at sharing the bed with him.  She does still mention it regularly, though.  Perhaps there are sinister undercurrents there and I should look twice at those mince pies...

When I'm working up a plot, I always start with an event that puts huge strain on the protagonists, and of course that's almost a definition of Christmas – so much hope is invested in it now, so much anxiety that it should be perfection,  so many competing demands for what that perfection should be. so much money spent on trying to achieve it that relationships buckle come January and provide a bonanza for divorce lawyers.

There are almost too many plots on offer there, many of them used before of course, but still susceptible to being given a new twist, I suppose. I'm not tempted, though.

I do like reading crime with a Christmas theme, but only around Christmas. If I pick up one in high summer, I don't relax into it: it feels oddly stagey, somehow.  So many conventions hang about it that even going against the convention seems a bit hackneyed.

Perhaps I just haven't read the right Christmas thrillers. Tell me what they are!

May your Christmas this year be happy and relaxed and may the only problems you have to deal with be the ones you invent at your desk.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guest spot - Sara Sheridan

Aline here. I'm delighted to introduce you to Sara Sheridan, the stylish Scottish author of the stylish 1950s Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries: Brighton Belle, London Calling and England Expects. She'a a real live wire and In between blogging for the Guardian, the London Review of Books and the Huffington Post, she also writes another series based on the real-life stories of Victorian explorers and adventurers. You can follow her on twitter: @sarasheridan or on FB: sarasheridanwriter

I started writing crime quite by accident. I had an idea for a character from 1951. I was already an established historical novelist and had set a couple of books in an earlier period: 1820-1845.

One day, having lunch with my father, he told me a story about a woman he’d seen on the pebble beach in Brighton on the south coast of England. In 1951 Dad was 13 years of age, visiting his grandmother for the summer holidays, and he’d spotted this well-dressed, glamorous lady dodging a deckchair attendant on the beach so that she wouldn’t have to pay a penny for her chair. ‘Odd,’ Dad said. ‘I always wondered why.’

As I walked home, I wondered too and I decided to write a short story for Dad’s birthday about it. To my mind it was going to be a comedy – this crazy woman who couldn’t bring herself to spend any money. Already an historical novelist, though, I committed myself to boning up on the period before I started.

I knew nothing about the 1950s apart from having watched a few movies, so off I went to the archive and uncovered photographs, video material, acres of personal accounts and what I found was extraordinary. Only 60 years had passed and yet here was a different country – a place I recognised and yet everything was different – the infrastructure, the politics, the economy and most of all, the mindset.

My generation talk about everything – here I am telling you about my father, for heaven’s sake! But in the Britain of the 1950s people harboured secrets of all sorts. From enforced secrecy about operations during WWII (governed by the Official Secrets Act) to the social unacceptability of issues which today are commonplace matters of discussion – homosexuality, extra-marital infidelity and divorce as well as a range of subjects which no 1950s Brit would dare touch upon: sex, religion, money, work, politics – all the good stuff.

 I’d never thought of writing a crime book before but it struck me that this was an era of secrets and of mystery. I turned to writers I had first read as a teenager – Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh – and I read their work with a new understanding. Traditional or cosy crime has a reputation for being soft, but although these women were not writing graphic scenes of sex or violence, they were writing about subjects their contemporary audiences would have found profoundly shocking – forbidden love, unconventional relationships, illegitimate children, divorce and homosexuality.

It seemed to me that modern readers had a completely false impression of the work of these classic writers. Their books weren’t safe in their day – they were just as edgy as police procedurals and forensic crime books are to a modern audience, though for a different reason. I decided I was going to involve that woman on the beach in a murder mystery that would seem traditional but I wanted to find something that was edgy for modern readers, not violent or sexy but something that was still shocking – just like those mid-20th century authors had done.

 It was a bid, I suppose, to resurrect the true spirit of cosy crime. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. Watching video footage from the era that included white people talking about black people and men talking about women, had me holding my hands over my eyes because I couldn’t bear to watch. We might talk about a wide range of personal subjects but sexism and racism are just as taboo for a modern-day middle class girl like me, as sex and violence were for my 1950s counterparts

. I knew immediately that woman on the beach had been through hell and not only that, she lived through everyday sexism the like of which I could only glean from watching Pathe newsreels. I called her Mirabelle Bevan and I constructed a black sidekick for her – Vesta Churchill, an unconventional insurance clerk from south London.

I’ve never written a series before and it’s interesting how fond of these characters I’ve become. Mirabelle is scarred by her experiences during WWII and the series is effectively a bid to mend her spirit and more than that – it’s a testament to the difficulties so many women faced in those challenging times. Writing her story has given me new respect for my mother and grandmother who transitioned from being second class citizens with fewer rights than their menfolk, to today with legislative equality - things might not be perfect, but we have come a long way.

I’ve always found that reading my favourite historical novels is a form of time travel. That’s what most readers are usually looking for – a book that makes the world disappear and instead creates an alternative one that sucks them into its pages. I think I’m addicted to the 1950s now – to visiting a time that is very directly where my life came from and, like Mirabelle, unraveling its mysteries, one at a time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's About Time

We are in the middle of a hysterical discussion here at Type M. It's about time. It started innocently enough with our faithful blogmeister, Rick Blechta, suggesting that we give a little thought to our scheduling. By this he meant instead of scheduling our post for 3:00 am (or just whenever) schedule for the earliest time, which is midnight. He could not understand the reasoning behind the strange variations.

I led off with an immediate frantic response that I didn't know when midnight was in military time. Actually Type M schedules on normal time and 12:00 a.m. has never seemed right to me when it's dark as the devil outside. So I always schedule my post for 12:30 a.m. which seems safer. When I blog for Poisoned Pen Press, it's on military time and 12:00 a.m. (midnight) is expressed by 00:00 which to my thinking is no time at all. It's free time. Time that isn't going anywhere. Meaningless time. Don't you agree? I mean, all those zeros. 

Donis chimed in next that she was on AZ time which agrees with the rest of America most of the year but stubbornly refuses to cooperate with daylight savings time. I never know what time it is in AZ. I always ask Google before I call anyone in that state. 

We have a number of readers around the world. Heavens! The day isn't even right with some of our posts. Much to our delight we have very supportive  readers in Russia. I'm not even going to go there in my time calculations.

Aline Templeton lives in Scotland. She said she doesn't know what time it is either.  She always posts at 6:30 a.m. because she knows America is six hours behind. Besides, she always thought 12:00 a.m was midday.

I will post this blog for 12:00 a.m. and see where it gets me. 

Time has never been a stable commodity. An older lady told me once that when they put lights on tractors, it ruined time and everything else. Before that, farmers could only work from sunup to sundown. With lights on equipment they could work half the night if they wanted to. Time no longer followed the sun. Previously, the womenfolk could tell with a glance when the men would be coming in from the field. Hard telling when to have supper on the table after the arrival of lights.

This year has defied every natural law of the universe. Time spun out of control. Were there actually twelve months? January changed to June and then raced on to December. No wonder we poor bloggers with our over-developed right brains are looking shell-shocked. 

And behind time, I might add.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dealing With Deadlines

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!
No time to say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, 
I’m late! I’m late! I’m late! 
—The White Rabbit in the Walt Disney Film Alice in Wonderland

Okay, I’m not late...yet, but I do have a big deadline coming up and I’m about as frazzled as the White Rabbit so this post is going to be short.

I don’t know about my fellow Type M’ers and all of you blog readers, but I’m not really great when it comes to dealing with deadlines. I get all anxious and bothered which makes it hard to write so awhile back I searched the web for advice from fellow authors. Here’s what I found:

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the author of the Odelia Grey Mystery Series, the Ghost of Granny Apples Mystery Series, the Madison Rose Vampire Mystery Series and a whole lot of other stuff. She writes all of these things while working full-time so she knows all about deadlines. Here’s the first post of a series she did on her blog about dealing with those deadlines: http://sueannjaffarian.blogspot.com/2014/09/diary-of-deadline-35-days.html

Here’s a post I found on the Writer’s Digest website:
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/5-tips-to-help-you-make-your-deadline

And here’s one on the Write It Sideways blog:
http://writeitsideways.com/how-to-meet-your-writing-deadlines-every-time-2/

I suspect if I actually took the advice in some of these blogs I’d be a whole lot happier and not as stressed out. Next time, next time.

Okay, that’s it for me. Back to my writing cave. I have that deadline to deal with.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Boy, does she have this right!

I’ve been in an ornery mood lately. Partially, it’s the season. The end of the year is always wearing in many ways, much as I love the fact that I get to see people dear to me in whose company I seldom get to bask. It’s the getting ready for it all that really saps my energy.

I have other more personal concerns that also are affecting my mood. The big one is my current novel, Roses for a Diva, has only gotten one (excellent) review in a major publication. It has gotten noticed and received nice reviews from the people who really count: readers. Sadly, though, those won’t sell all that many books. It’s frustrating because I actually feel for a change that I’ve written something worthy of the felling of a few trees or rearranging a few electrons on the great interweb. What can I do about it? Shake my fist at the stars and rage against the universe? Won’t do much good. I can only hope that some print reviews will come in before the book is re-boxed and sent back to my publisher’s warehouse sometime after the Christmas holidays.

And there are other things annoying or frustrating me that I won’t go into.

So with those thoughts as background, I spent the past hour, trolling said interweb for something to post about this week.

I found this:



And now I feel a whole lot better.

In my “Science Fiction Years”, I read many books penned by Ursula Le Guin, and The Left Hand of Darkness remains one of the most memorable books I’ve read. (As a matter of fact, it’s due about now for a rereading). When I was in the midst of devouring her books, computers for home use weren’t even in existence, so I didn’t know much about her. I’m going to find out more after hearing her speech at the National Book Awards.

She tells it like it is as only someone in her position can do. She could have taken the easy route, thanked those that helped her, certainly recognize the fact that a major award had been given to someone who writes (gasp!) genre fiction. You cannot argue that she deserves it. Her books are exceptionally well-written and have stood the test of time (she still sells well). Without hearing her speak, I was already up and cheering just because a prestigious organization recognized her “literary value”.

And then I viewed the clip.

What can I add? She’s one hundred percent correct – and it’s something we all needed to hear. Hopefully, it will give some in our industry a little backbone.

I think many of you might agree.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Enemy Within: Facebook

By Vicki Delany

Is there anything that modern humans have a more conflicted relationship with than Facebook?

I have been thinking about that lately because, one more time, Facebook is changing it’s privacy policies and people are en mass printing a paragraph of useless legalese mumbo-jumbo that they think is going to protect them from the great Satan.

In the way of our ancestors of old sitting around a smouldering damp fire at night while saber-tooth tigers prowl just outside the flickering firelight, they chant the magical words that are intended to keep them safe.

The really interesting part of it, to me, is that Facebook is 1) Free 2) Totally voluntary and 3) People absolutely hate it.

As a friend of mine said, Don’t put anything on Facebook you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspapers.

There, now you have nothing to worry about.

If you don’t’ want the chance of Facebook distributing your photographs, don’t post them. (Really, do you think they want your pics of your grandchildren around the Christmas tree?) And, BTW, Facebook never takes your copyright, but they do have the right to use your material as they like. You gave them that right when you signed up, and nothing you can say now can change that contract other than leaving the contract. Like any other contact you enter into, you can’t just change it on your own by saying you want to.

I do know people who have left FB because of worries over privacy concerns. But those can be handled, I think, with a bit of common sense. You don’t really think my birthday is January 1, 1984 do you? Facebook does.

Facebook is great for keeping in touch with family and friends and for making new friends. And it is invaluable for those of us with something to promote. There isn’t a better way of spreading the word about your new book or a library event.  

All you need, really, is a bit of common sense and an awareness of what you are doing. Because I am, in a very limited way, somewhat of a public figure as far as my writing’s concerned, most of my posts are set to public.  That means anyone at all can see them.  Occasionally, I’ll have something for my family or close friends, and I can change the setting to reflect that.

Regardless of your settings, your privacy is only as private as your network is, so leave the passed out drink photos and the racist or misogynistic comments out. Unless you want them brought up at a job interview.

If you really hate Facebook and don’t trust it, leave it. If you’re just suspicious (and you should be sometimes) use it carefully.

And, as for those legal warnings, as Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hannah Dennison, Guest Author

Today's guest post is from Hannah Dennison, Type M emeritus and one of my favorite people. Every time I read her bio I think what an interesting life she’s led—obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. Now you know her, of course, from her Vicky Hill Mysteries and Kat Stanford Mysteries—both set in Devon, England. Welcome back, Hannah!

We Are Not Alone! 
by Hannah Dennison

Oh! It’s lovely to be back on Type M. Thank you Sybil for hosting me this weekend—and congratulations on the launch of your debut series—the first, Fatal Brushstroke—that I’ve read and love.

I’ve been pretty busy these past few months—I turned in two books and I’ve settled into my bi-weekly commute from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles for my “better paying” job. Happily, this new schedule has made me far more efficient with my time with plenty of opportunities to do all of my research when I’m waiting in a departure lounge or sitting in a plane.

As a writer, research is one of my favorite things probably because I view it as a justifiable form of procrastination. My current research revolves around the paranormal past of the six-hundred-year old English country house where my new series, Murder at Honeychurch Hall is set.

Author Judy Chard—Devon Mysteries (1979)—is convinced that just as modern day technologies leave imprints on the ether, emotions—especially violence—release energies that are absorbed into the walls and floors of houses and places. I can hear a few skeptics groaning but having experienced a paranormal “episode” myself, I now believe one thousand percent, that…we are not alone.

Twenty-five years ago I lived in a sixteenth century cottage in Sussex that was adjacent to a butcher’s shop (in fact, the little store, although boarded up, still had the price list on the wall dated May 9 1947). My heartless boyfriend at the time had just dumped me for a Danish goddess. I was upset and I found that vacuuming the house at midnight directed my anger toward the carpet and not the blackguard in question. But clearly my heated feelings disturbed something—or someone.

Around four in the morning, I heard this frantic meowing coming from the spare room. Thinking a feral cat must have got in through the cat flap to scare my own kitty, I went to investigate. I’ll never forget what I felt and saw. The room was icy, icy cold. The air felt so heavy that I found it hard to breathe but what really shocked me was the state of my poor little cat. She was paralyzed with fear. Her fur stood on end, her eyes bugged out and she’d pooped everywhere (sorry, but this is true). And then I saw this shape filling the doorway to a closet that used to be the entrance to the back staircase. I could see right through it yet I could also see gazillions of molecules very much like those depicted in the transporter onboard the starship Enterprise when Captain Kirk is en route to another planet.

The shape—that was definitely male because of his dress—slowly faded away. I learned later that his name was Thomas Jeffery who tragically died well before his time. He was buried in the churchyard next door. I never “saw” Thomas again but after that there was a lot of poltergeist activity and I eventually had to have him exorcised.

Alas, there are no vampires or shape-shifters lurking behind the wainscoting in my new series, just the common-or-garden ghost—those beings that lived and loved decades ago but still want to be heard. Is anyone brave enough to share a paranormal experience? As they say, write what you know …

From the tombstone of Thomas Jeffery at St. Peter's Church

Hannah Dennison is the author of the Vicky Hill Mysteries and Murder at Honeychurch Hall—the first in a new series featuring a mother-daughter amateur sleuth set against the backdrop of a grand old country house in the wilds of the English countryside. www.hannahdennison.com

Friday, December 05, 2014

Time and the Still Undone

Sorry, I'm late. Lots going on today, and I needed to come into work early. This is one of those times when my day job as a criminal justice professor intersects with what I write about as a mystery writer. One of my series protagonist, Hannah McCabe, is a female police detective and so I've been viewing what's happening across the country through multiple lens. But that's a post for another day.

What I've also been thinking about today is time management. I'm still trying to find a system that allows me to manage multiple obligations and projects smoothly. I went through that era when I would buy every complicated system on the market hoping that finally I would find a method to keep my life in order -- as with today when I intended to get my post about crime theories and crime fiction up last night but got home too tired to do it. Then this morning, I dashed out the door without my notes so I can't do it from the office. I did finally realize that placing a basket on a table near the door and putting all my keys into that basket when I get home would eliminate that search through purse and coat pockets for door keys and car keys. But other strategies -- such as mind-dumping, getting everything I needed to do out of my head and down on paper -- never really worked out as well as advertised. Or, maybe it was me. But I made the list, prioritized the list, and I still haven't gotten a passport photo so that I can renew my passport. This means I can neither visit my Type M friends in Canada and elsewhere or go on that research trip I want to take in June. Neither have I picked up the last book that I want to read about cowboys in the west before I finish the first draft of the short story that I'm supposed to be writing for an anthology (an anthology based on a movie character --  more about that later). Anyway, the book is uptown in the University library, and in spite of having this task on my list, three weeks later I still haven't picked up that book -- even though I've been to the uptown library at least twice since I added that item to my "to do" list.

Actually, it does work well when I devote a day to working through the list and map my day so that I'm efficiently going from one place to the next and doing what I need to at each place. The trouble is, most days, I don't find the time to come up with a game plan. I know this is something that I should do at night. But I'm tired at night. . .

But not getting things done . . . I think we all get the urgent things done, but it's the long and growing list of tasks that need to be done but don't scream "I'm urgent!" until they are. . . I don't know about you, but that is one of the things that I, as a writer, find a chronic distraction. It's hard to slip into the world that I have created when a part of my mind is worrying about what I'm leaving undone in the "real world". I think that is why going on a retreat is so useful. If you aren't at home, you can't do it even if you want to. So, you can forget your to-do-list and write.

Here's to the future when we'll all be able to have our robot assistants take care of our to-do-lists. Unless that should turn out to be a problem. At least in the world of sci-fi, not all robots take kindly to human domination.

And now I'm going to go look for the book I bought about a new system for getting things done. If anyone has a system that works, I would love to hear about it. Please!



Thursday, December 04, 2014

Unintentional NaNoWriMo

I didn't mean to be participating in National Novel Writing Month. It just turned out that way. I spent the entire month of November holed up in my den trying to get my WIP in order.

And, by Jove, I think I've done it.

Not that the book is done, but the first draft is more or less finished and the first 100 pages are pretty well in order. My husband is off reading them right now. He’s the first person to clap eyes on it. He’ll have several suggestions, and I’ll do a little rewriting and rearranging before I send them off to the Big Chief at Poisoned Pen Press in a couple of weeks, I hope. Then, if she approves, I have to polish off the rest of the book. When that happens I will once again be Whereabouts Unknown until the book is finished.

Here’s a little secret that writers know. You can have the most brilliant idea every conceived on God’s green earth but what separates the men from the boys is the ability to get it down on paper in an effective way. And no matter how well received my novels are, I never feel like what I've written is as good as the story that was in my head.

This new book will be the eighth in the Alafair Tucker series. My original plan was only to do ten books, so I may be nearing the finish line. There are a couple of stories yet untold about some of the series characters, so the possibility exist that there will be an extra book or two, but we shall see. I really don't want to keep writing on this series until it run out of steam, or like Agatha Christie and Poirot, end up hating my protagonist. (Though at this point I can't envision that happening. If someday I can't think of anything else to write about her, it won't be her fault.)

One very big problem I've had with the last few books is that I get so caught up in the history of the period that I can hardly restrain myself from trying to put it all in the book. This is a problem familiar to any historical novelist. I've had special difficulty with the WIP, because it is set in Oklahoma at the beginning World War I. The American home front in World War I was pretty scary, but you would not beLIEVE what was going on in Oklahoma in 1917. Have you ever heard of the Tulsa Outrage or the Green Corn Rebellion?* I grew up in Tulsa and they never taught us anything about either one when I was in school. No wonder--I'm sure the adults just wanted to forget all about it. Let's just say people have always been as wildly hysterical and idiotic as they are now, and sometimes I despair of humanity.
_______________
*They never taught us about the Tulsa race riots of 1921, either. In the worst race riots in U.S. history, mobs attacked the African American section of Tulsa, the very large and prosperous Greenwood district, and burned it to the ground. Over 1000 homes and business were destroyed and an estimated 200 black people killed. The residents of Greenwood didn't just take it, either. They fought back, and many whites were also killed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Canadian, meh...?

NONE SO BLIND, the tenth book in my Inspector Green series, has been out for six weeks now, and a couple of recent reviews, reader comments, and newspaper articles have got me thinking about the issue of setting and preconceptions. What sorts of locales are considered exotic and interesting? Which settings do people want to read about, and which will they give a pass? Does setting discourage a reader from even trying a book? And what part do misconceptions and stereotypes play in that choice?

Canadian authors wrestle with these questions all the time when deciding whether to set their books in Canada. Canada has the reputation of being cold, snowy, and dull, Canadians of being earnest, polite, but boring relatives one doesn't want to sit next to. When authors propose a Canadian setting, US publishing marketers run screaming from the room. I know of one Canadian author who was persuaded to change his setting from Montreal to Buffalo. Nothing against Buffalo, but... seriously?

The attitude seems to be that no one wants to read about Canada, that nothing exciting could possibly happen in Canada, certainly not a juicy murder worth reading about. It's true that in real life, we have a depressingly low murder rate – statistics just released indicate that it is 1.44 per 100,000 (compared to 6 per 100,000 in the US, for example). Ottawa, a city of one million, has just had its sixth homicide of the year. However, what we lack in quantity, we make up for in originality. From a brief perusal of recent murders,iIt can't be said that Canadians have no imagination.

And some Canadian settings are more exotic and appealing than others. Set your book in Newfoundland, where they talk funny and make you kiss a cod, or in the wilderness of the north under threat from a grizzly, and people rush to buy it. Three Pines lives in its own enchanted, parallel  universe. But most Canadian cities and towns are not considered exciting enough to be worth a visit, even by an armchair traveller. Or so we're told, by publishers and agents in the know.

Writing about Canada, and telling our own stories about our homes, is a choice many of us make nonetheless. I don't write about Canada because I think it's good for us, like broccoli, but because I believe Canada has lots of interesting stories to tell and places to visit. It may be gentler and subtler than its neighbour to the south, but it is a multi-coloured fabric rich in layers and textures. It doesn't deserve its reputation for being the place where nothing happens. And no place exemplifies this more than Ottawa.

The Inspector Green series is set in Ottawa, which is not only the capital city of Canada but also an intriguing, complex, multi-layered metropolis in its own right. As a child psychologist who consulted to the city's school board, I travelled its length and breadth and knew its neighbourhoods and its secret corners very well. Yet  I constantly ran up against people who thought the city was nothing but government grey suits and sidewalks that rolled up at 5 p.m. Bo-r-ing!

Ottawa hasn't actually been boring in forty years, about the same length of time that Toronto hasn't been boring. I've lived in both places, and I grew up in Montreal, which set the bar for excitement pretty high. But contemporary Ottawa has a dynamic, interesting life outside of, and indeed in spite of, the mandarins on The Hill. It has a physically spectacular setting criss-crossed by five rivers, a canal, a man-made lake in the centre, natural wooded parks, escarpments, cliffs, and ravines. It has a jumbled mix of heritage streets and magnificent architecture like the Parliament buildings, the Art Gallery, the disney-esque Chateau Laurier, and numerous museums old and new.

It is a city of neighbourhoods, each with its unique style, ranging from exclusive Rockcliffe with its stone mansions, shaded drives, and diplomatic licence plates, to adjacent Vanier, where working-class immigrant families pack into little clapboard homes alongside crack houses and tattoo parlours and rent-by-the-hour rooms. Ottawa has biker gangs and private schools, a chaotic blend of colours, languages and food thanks to a rich infusion of immigrants from every corner of the world. It has music festivals all summer long, skating on the canal, festivals of lights at Christmas, a million tulips in gardens all over the city during the Tulip Festival. And yet a twenty-minute drive into the Gatineau Hills opens up a world of lakes, beaches, hiking trails, and some of the best cross-country ski trails on the continent.

So this blog is a bit of a rant in defence of one of Canada's least appreciated, most underestimated cities. Don't judge the city by the eleven-oclock news. Ottawa did not cut services or increase taxes. It's a place worth writing about, one that has provided me with endless possibilities for murder. Just like many other places in Canada.

So pick up a Canadian crime book and give us a try. www.crimewriterscanada.com.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A different way to look at the publishing industries marketing efforts

It’s required reading time here at Type M again, folks! The article you’re going to read is a very interesting take on how publishers might change the marketing of their wares, taking a leaf from the fashion and luxury goods industries. It makes a lot of sense — especially if the big boys work together and manage to get all their horses back in the barn. Could that happen? Possibly. But it would require a lot of resolve. First, you can read the article by clicking HERE.

Okay. So what did you think? One publisher (Hachette) is trying to fight the Amazon dragon. If the publisher of the next Harry Potter novel or a monster breakout hit like The DaVinci Code actually said, “No discounting on this or we won’t sell it to you,” what do you think would happen? The big thing is that it has to be tried and be seen as successful before the industry as a whole would begin to jump on board. Ms Atkinson is correct that Amazon (and other big retailers) would fight back through the courts, but really, why should Stephen King’s new novel be discounted right from the start? It’s silly — and probably unnecessary. Readers, and especially the fans of King, would still pony up the money. If Amazon wouldn’t play ball, they’d lose out. Does the film industry show their latest releases at discounted prices? Hell no.

What’s not said, though, is that the publishing industry slit their own throats ages ago. Nearly every single book stocked on bookstore shelves, whether brick and mortar shops or those that inhabit cyberspace, are there on consignment. If they don’t sell, they get shipped back to the publisher. In these times of a very over-crowded marketplace, a lot of books don’t sell and are sent packing, and the time on shelves is shrinking every year.

As a business model, it’s nuts. Who were the bright lights who allowed this to happen? Couple that with deep discounts right off the publishing bat, and it’s no wonder the industry is in deep trouble.

One solution might be to allow books to be discounted, but make them completely non-returnable. So instead of the usual 40% discount, a retailer gets, say, 50% but the books are theirs. If they don’t move them, tough boogies. At this point, most of time, the only books that cannot be returned are those that are sold as remainders, and we all know how much return on the dollar those poor orphans get. The publisher loses money and the author gets nothing at all for their sale.

All publishers face a bleak future, the small houses especially. When even the big boys get squeezed heavily by giants like Amazon, it makes an already bad situation even worse. Amazon’s response, of course, will be to start publishing it’s own books even more (they’re already heavily into the e-book marketplace on that and are making inroads into the POD marketplace), but so far, the big-selling authors are still with legitimate publishing houses.

Where will it stop? Who knows. The really sad thing is that we authors, or shall I call us “creators”, should have the actual power in this business. Without us, publishers and retailers have nothing to sell. Historically, though, we have been at the bottom of the food chain, not the top.

I’d like to close by saying, buy books! Buy them from small stores, or buy them from smaller dealers online. And for heaven’s sake, buy the books we here at Type M are writing. My Roses for a Diva is a good book. Even I like it. (I usually can only see the warts in my publications.) This past year, everyone here has published something worth reading. The holiday season is a lovely time to give books.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Phyllis Dorothy James – In Memoriam

The crime-writing community was plunged into sadness this week, along with her millions of readers across the world, when PD James passed away 'quietly'. How like her that was!

I first met her through her books which were to my mind everything a crime novel should be: elegantly written, cleverly plotted, with always a sub-text of convincing psychological and social comment. She was my literary idol and – unlike most idols who are in general subject to feet-of-clay syndrome – she was, when I was privileged to get to know her, every bit as clever and charming and interesting as I could have hoped she would be. And unlike many much less successful writers, she never trailed the clouds of glory to make you conscious of her worldwide fame.

She was also very funny, with a good line in terrific jokes, and she loved to laugh. I treasure the memory of a conversation when we were recalling to each other the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch, 'One-legged Tarzan', with us both saying in chorus, 'I have nothing against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you,' and Phyllis laughing till the tears ran down her cheeks.

She was the sort of person who spread happiness but there was a steely side to her too. When at the age of  89 she was guest editor on the BBC Today radio programme and was given the chance to interview Mark Thompson, the then Director General of the BBC, she had him wriggling like a worm on a hook. Their encounter was a joy: the  answer that began, 'Well, I mean, it - it- I - I've' was fairly typical of his responses to her merciless questions about over-staffing, ridiculous salaries and unworthy programmes – she highlighted 'Britain's Most Embarrassing Pets.' You could almost heard the applause from listeners up and down the country.

The joy in writing was something that never left her. When I last saw her a few months ago she was definitely frailer, finding it more difficult to get about, but her enthusiasm was undimmed. She was, she told me, starting a new book and she was excited about it. I did ask her how she'd felt about the television production of her previous book, Death at Pemberley, and she replied, with characteristic restraint, 'Well, darling,' my agent just said to me, ‘When it's sold, it's sold.’

There have been pages of obituaries and affectionate tributes to her in every newspaper, outpourings of reminiscences in the media. She was greatly loved;  a shining light, as more than one person has said. I will miss her very much, but I still can't believe how lucky I was to have known her as a friend.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Reflection on the Friday After

This was an especially memorable Thanksgiving. It's been a peaceful year for our family and we all gathered at my daughter Michele's house. All six grand-children were able to come and two step-grandchildren. A number of friends showed up. And stayed. There's an informal understanding that whoever hosts one of our holiday events should not expect an exact head count.

As usual there was an abundance of food. After the meal, some drifted to the TV to watch games, some played cards, and some just visited. There are always books passed around because we're a family of readers. Bookworms are sprawled on chairs and sofas reading their latest favorite.

There was a ridiculous number of really large dogs. During the evening the talented Crocketts brought out the musical instruments and various combinations of singers joined in.

There are so many things I am thankful for. Some small and deeply personal. Some shared by others and quite universal.

I feel guilty sometimes that in blogs and comments made by writers--myself included--that we talk about the trials and tribulations of writing. The truth is, we are an especially happy group of people whose minds are occupied by what want to be doing more than anything else in the world.

In addition to the physical process of writing, I especially appreciate a number of people who ease the way. I'm grateful for the Type M bloggers and Rich Blechta in particular. Rick, our blogmaster, does an outstanding job of keeping the group organized and is very, very kind.

One of my biggest blessings is my agent, Phyllis Westberg, who understands the meaning of an old-fashioned word--integrity.

I can't believe my luck in having Poisoned Pen Press as a publisher. The group gives outstanding support to its authors. They publish four books a month and are always available to help a really diverse collection of authors.

I'm in awe of all the interesting people I meet. I'm grateful for the wonderful events and conferences and the panels that contribute to my understanding of the craft.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday. We pause on this day to give thanks and ease the way for families who are having a rough year. Here in Loveland every effort is made to furnish meals to needy families and provide help for those needing assistance.

As a nation, I pray that we will continue to be conscious of our many blessings.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Admitting ignorance and other random thoughts on Thanksgiving


This past weekend, I attended the National Conference of Teachers of English with thousands of my closest friends. The event ran Thursday through Sunday in Washington, DC, with workshops and lectures every 90 minutes. It was exhilarating and exhausting.

I learned a few things about the book industry I didn't know. Among them, young adult authors are enormously popular with teachers. The lines for signed copies would have led you to believe the Beatles were at the event. I also learned just how ignorant I am: aside from Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling, I know of few other YA authors.

It was Stephen King who said (I paraphrase) if you're not in touch with the popular culture of your times, you're missing out. I'm missing out, so I picked up a few titles and will dive in.

In other news, I was thrilled with a couple milestones this week: the Mystery Guild selected Bitter Crossing as a book club choice; and my agent sold audio rights for all three books on my current contract.

Audio books might not mean as much to some as they do to me. As a dyslexic, I love audio books. I still have boxes of books on tape in my garage. Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexics helped me get through graduate school. My love of books and writing was certainly fostered by audio books. So the sale means a lot to me.

I have much to be grateful for on this day, mostly my wife Lisa and our three daughters Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley.

Happy Thanksgiving!