Friday, October 18, 2019

There's No Place Like Office

Laptop, desktop, Underwood or pencil. Do you budget based on book sales, or do you just go for it? What’s your dream office look like?

by Paul D. Marks

(Note: We received another notice from SoCal Edison that they might turn our power off for “Potential Public Safety Power Shutoff.” So if I don’t respond to your comments that’s why, but know they are appreciated. And don’t get me started on this crap!)

Pepper and Buster in my office.
All of the above…at one time or another. Well, not really an Underwood, though I did play on them as a kid at my dad’s business. And I have one in my office for its nostalgia value. It might come in handy with all the “preventative” power outages here… But I did write a lot of things on a portable Smith-Corona typewriter and then an IBM Selectric. The latter certainly seemed like a major move in the technology of the world. You could actually swap out that little ball and put in an italic font so itals would be in, uh, itals. Though at the time most people still wanted things that should ultimately appear in italics to be underlined.

The old Underwood in my office.

But then came the PC. And I’m one of the first people I know to have gotten a personal computer. My then-writing partner got an IBM clone (remember those?) and I thought, how silly…until I went over to his house and saw that he could move a paragraph from page 27 of a script to page 8 in a flash. And I was a hooked. So I got a Leading Edge computer with 2 floppies, the 5 ¼” kind—(remember those?). You’d have the program on one disc and your files on another and they didn’t hold much. Eventually, I swapped out one of the floppy drives for a  hard disc. I don’t remember how big it was, but suffice to say it was not very big and in that instance size matters.
A Leading Edge 2 floppy disc computer (not mine, but similar).

When we lived in our previous house I had a nice office setup with a good desktop computer…but I didn’t use it much because it was overlooking the street and we had some crazy and noisy neighbors across the street—think the Glossners from The Middle only worse. So I would do most of my writing at the breakfast table on a laptop. Besides, the view was better on that side of the house. But once we moved into our current house I’m back to writing on a desktop and I prefer it. I like the big, ergonomic keyboard and the big screen. I know you can hook both those things up to a laptop, but still…

And if I budgeted based on sales I’d be using the old stub of a pencil that my clarinet teacher used to use to markup sheet music. What I do use is a very fast computer with lots of memory because I always have a lot of windows open. Several Word windows and usually a ton (and I mean a ton) of Chrome tabs and even several Chrome windows. Most of those have things that I want to read but that I often never get around to. But if I bookmark them I know I’ll never go to them, because out of sight, out of mind. And I figure if I have them open I might stumble on one and actually read it. They’re all things of interest to me, but I just don’t have the time to read everything I want to. But now that computer’s getting a little long in the tooth—gotta sell some more books.

My office, looking about as neat as it gets.

Sometimes I’ll take the laptop outside and work there. But inevitably there’s something I need in the house—like a drink—and being the lazy slob I am it’s easier to get if I’m already in the house.
My dream office is like the cockpit on a plane, everything within reach—most everything anyway. And my wife call’s the chair I sit in the Captain’s Chair. It’s a comfortable chair that’s ergonomically designed. As I sit in it for hours on end I need something that won’t break my back.  I’m in command central.

My ultimate dream office would be on a boat or an island with a fantastic view of the ocean. That said, I’m pretty happy with my current office. Yes, it’s a cluttered mess, but that’s not its fault it’s mine. And I do have that old Underwood here, a nice view and everything close at hand, including a couple of terrific dogs.

How ’bout you?


And now for the usual BSP:

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Tools of the Trade

Laptop, desktop, Underwood or pencil. Do you budget based on book sales, or do you just go for it? What’s your dream office look like?

From Jim, subbing for Catriona, whose latest standalone, STRANGERS AT THE GATE, bows on October 22. PLEASE order it or buy it at your local indie store!

I don’t know if I have a dream office, but this is the one that I’ve got. I love it. Even when the cats demand attention.

I do all my writing on my iPad. It’s lightweight and versatile, and I take it everywhere I go. That allows me to write at the library when I’m in the mood for a change of scenery. Or sometimes I go to the lake in my car, though the wildlife can be distracting.

Yes, I take my iPad everywhere. In fact, I’ve lost it twice at writers conferences and got it back both times. God protects fools, children, and drunkards, I suppose. I use a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard that also serves as a protective wheel for the slippery iPad. At the risk of jinxing things, the keyboard has kept my precious iPad safe without a crack for more than two years.

I use Word for the iPad for my writing. It works pretty much the same way Word does for any laptop or desktop computer. I’ve set things up to save on the cloud, so I always have backup. One bit of advice: don’t use the Autosave feature. You’d be surprised how simple it is to select all by accident and hit a key, thereby erasing everything in the file. Better to save before exiting or every so often. The program prompts you to save when you try to close the document. And don’t forget to save your work with a new name every day or two.

The iPad is a great way to remain productive when you’re on the go. I write in coffee shops, on airplanes, on the couch, and in bed. And I track my progress in a spreadsheet, also on the iPad, using Excel. This was A STONE’S THROW.

I still use an old laptop for drawing original graphics for my books. For my upcoming release, TURN TO STONE (January 21, 2020), I worked for weeks on the map that will be included. This is the seventh Ellie Stone mystery and it’s set in Florence, Italy, in September 1963.

I drew the map on the laptop, believe it or not, with the dinosaur Flash. I also drew/created these from scratch in Flash for some of my previous books.

Any of these jockeys’ names look familiar?

So the most of the graphics I make are done in Flash on my laptop, but everything else I do on the iPad.

As for budgeting according to book sales, let me borrow from J. K. Rowling: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha... (takes deep breath)  ...hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha... (takes deep breath)  ...hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I try to be reasonable with my marketing and travel expenses, but nothing is based on sales.

Thank you, Catriona for the opportunity to fill in. Congrats on your latest release. May its sales dwarf  your expenses by a factor of a thousand.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Did you have a good day at the office, dear?" by Cathy Ace

Laptop, desktop, Underwood or pencil. Do you budget based on book sales, or do you just go for it? What’s your dream office look like?

I’m so lucky to be able to say I already have my dream office.

1      1) I work at home = 1 minute commute, being within cuddling distance of my dog and husband (yes, that’s the right order), snacks, and being able to get jobs like the laundry done.

2     2)  I can choose which “office” I use – either the dining table upstairs, or my actual office downstairs. Better view upstairs (so, more distractions), more privacy downstairs (better concentration).
The view from my upstairs writing spot

3     3) I graduated from a desktop to a laptop three computers ago, and won’t revert. Longhand is out of the question. I have never used a typewriter in my life, and I still can’t type properly (I’m a fast, three-fingered hacker). I bought my most recent laptop when it was on sale in the summer – that’s what credit cards are for, right? 

My office is set up to be the library/study/workspace I have always wanted. It has a black carpet (everyone said I was mad – and they had a point, because it’s really a challenge to keep it looking clean, given we have a chocolate Labrador); the aqua walls are a shade it took me a while to find, because I wanted the EXACT colour in my mind’s eye; all the other furnishings are black. I love it. I built the fireplace in the corner because I wanted to be able to see the flicker of (albeit fake) flames in the winter. 

My downstairs writing spot

The pictures on the walls have been collected over decades, as have the books on the shelves. The decorative objects are there because they mean something special to me, not because they are just decorative. All this means that whilst I choose an essentially art deco aesthetic, there’s a non-designer collection of items in the room – the only thing they have in common is that I like them all. 

It’s my nest. The room in the house that’s most essentially “me”. 

If you'd like to read some books that are also "me", try the ones I've written by CLICKING HERE.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Another Day at the Office

Laptop, desktop, Underwood or pencil. Do you budget based on book sales, or do you just go for it? What’s your dream office look like?

-From Frank

There are times when I use my laptop -- basically when I'm not at home -- but I work almost exclusively on my desktop computer. This all happens in my study (Kristi calls it the office, I call it the study, but somehow we make the marriage work). On the advice of my good friend Jill Maser (and after some achy tendons), I made the small but important investment in an ergonomic wireless keyboard. I've got two screens -- the 17" that I had for a long while, and the 40" flatscreen TV that we bought when Kristi was strongly considering a move to Las Vegas to get her doctorate. Ultimately, she decided not to go that route, so now I have a huge screen to work (and play games) on. The second screen is nice when editing from one document to the other, or when podcasting, for example.

Our house is cozy, and the study is a small room. The walls are adorned with an eclectic mix of art and achievements I've collected over the years, from the first check I ever got for writing ($15 for "Bill's Son" in 1990, never cashed) to the Scalise family crest to a pencil drawing of Bruce Springsteen to my Nanu's best painting ever to a few 'awww, you're great' plaques from my police career. My headphones and podcasting microphone sit butted up against the computer tower, ready for use. There's a little bit of closet space, some bookshelves, and room for the guitar stand within an arm reach and a half. My desk is right in front of the window (half obscured by the screen) that looks out to the back yard, and Kristi's desk is nestled in the remaining corner. She doesn't use the study/office nearly as much as I do, but there are occasional, joyful times when we're both ensconced, tapping away at our separate projects (side note: I don't know about every teacher, but my wife puts in at least another 50% of time outside the classroom to prepare...anyone who thinks teaching is an easy gig is a moron. Also, I once thought teaching was an easy gig).

All in all, it all feels like comfortable insulation from the world. It really is my dream office. I don't need, or want anything else.

As far as budgeting goes, I guess I kind of do base it on sales, to a degree. I have a separate account for my writing business. If it is flush, I know I can upgrade my desktop computer (haven't since 2014, except for a new video card), but it is more likely that the money will get spent on Bouchercon or LCC. Or there was that one magical year in 2012 when royalties were enough to pay for our trip to Italy the following summer. I'd love to have those halcyon days back!

Not to sound too much like a high school essay, conclusion, my study is a very content place.


Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

My newest release, At Their Own Game, was just released from Down and Out Books. 

This novel is the first in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. The second, In the Cut, comes out in January 2020.

At Their Own Game features Jake Stankovic, a former cop turned fence, who runs a two-man crew. He's doing great until he breaks his own rules and gets in over his head on a deal. Now he has to deal with a pissed off drug dealer, a pissed off police detective, a worried and possibly treacherous crew, as well as a dangerous woman from his past....and he has to find a way to beat them all, at their own game.

That is all.  

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Room of My Own

Q: Laptop, desktop, Underwood or pencil. Do you budget based on book sales, or do you just go for it? What’s your dream office look like?

- from Susan

If I had based my expenses on my advances or royalties… 

When I committed to a fiction writing future, I spent what it took to be all in. That meant squeezing a writing space into our second bedroom. It meant upgrading my home computer, buying a few highly-touted “how to” books on the craft, and spending the money on a writers’ conference (and then another). I had prepared for the new challenge by saving money from my other work life, so I was able to put out some funds. 

Now, in my new home, I have a real writer’s office. A desk, a reading chair, bookshelves that would be ample if I weren’t a book addict, my preferred laptop, a printer, a jar of pencils, a lifetime supply of file folders, a dedicated file cabinet. It’s hardly a dream since it’s always messy, but it works. It could use a major dusting, but that will have to wait until I send a finished manuscript off to my agent. Hmmm. Am I saying the reward for finishing a book is that I get to dust? I’m realizing as I write that that’s perverse. Chocolate first, then dusting?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Writer's Life for Me

Besides writing, what else do you do? What’s on your writer’s bucket list?

What does a writer do when they aren’t writing? That sounds like the opening to a bad joke. I hadn’t really thought about it until this question was posed and made me focus on the empty, writing-deadline driven husk that is my life. So, thanks for that.


I suppose the most interesting thing I do is the bi-weekly podcast called ‘The Red Hot Chilli Writers Podcast’ that I co-host with my friend and fellow author, Vaseem Khan, who writes the Inspector Chopra series of cosy crime novels set in Mumbai, where the good Inspector Chopra is accompanied on his investigations by Ganesha, his pet baby elephant. 

We discuss, life, the arts and popular culture, as we say, all with a hint of Garam Masala – It's British-Asian take on the world. We are joined by four other friends, our regular reporters: Londoner, Ayisha Malik, the author of the wonderful ‘Sophia Khan is Not Obliged’ – which has been described as the Muslim Bridget Jones; barrister and writer, Imran Mahmood, author of the critically acclaimed novel ‘You Don’t Know Me’ which is told entirely from the point of view of a defendant’s closing statement in the dock; A.A. Dhand, a writer based in the North of England whose books feature D.I. Harry Virdee, a British-Asian detective working the gritty streets of Bradford; and crime writer turned romantic fiction author, Alex Khan, whose latest novel, ‘Bollywood Wives’ is a steamy Bonkbuster. We also have regular celebrity guests from the world of the arts and television, such as author, Ann Cleeves, and mathematician, TV presenter and all-round genius, Bobby Seagull. 

However the star of the show is actually my mum. You see we record it in her kitchen. This started out as a matter of convenience – in that she lived half-way between Vaseem’s house and mine - but now, we really just go for the food and because people want to hear less from us and more from mum. And anyway, as Asian men in our forties, we are still naturally incapable of surviving in the world without the guidance and input of our mothers. Here’s the website. Please do check out the podcast!

Other than that – well I wish I could tell you I had the talent for painting or playing a musical instrument, but I don’t. I’m pretty hopeless at all of that stuff, though I could whip you up a rather nifty Powerpoint presentation if you asked nicely. I’m in awe of writers who are also musicians, such as the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers -  a group of some of the best British crime writers: Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Luca Veste, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnston and Chris Brookmyre, who have started their own band and play not just crime festivals but music festivals like Glastonbury. They really are excellent. It makes me sick.

So what else do I do when I’m not writing? There’s the day job – which is fantastically dull, but which has given me the opportunity to travel and meet wonderful people all over the world…but you don’t want to hear about my adventures in accounting.

Instead I’ll tell you that I spend most of my free time with my wife and kids. There’s so little downtime that every minute feels precious. Indeed my four year old boy is bothering me even as I write this. He wants to type words for you too. I’m going to let him because otherwise he won’t shut up.

Here you go:

Mi nam iz aran.

His name is Aran, by the way.

So that’s it. I don’t have a bucket list, mainly because I’d probably get depressed at all the things I’d like to do but would probably never get the chance. Still, life’s fun though.

Get a Life

Besides writing, what else do you do? What’s on your writer’s bucket list?

From Jim

This week’s topic challenged me to think about my life outside of my writing. I really need to find more things to do.

I suppose it’s fairly common for people in the prime of their careers to wish they had more time for other activities. When I was working at NYU, and later in Hollywood, sixty- and seventy-hour weeks were the norm, not the exception. When you’re building your career you tap into youthful stores of energy and ambition and somehow get it done. You’d think that kind of schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time for fun. Yet it was fun. At least in retrospect. In my youth I crammed more into less. Sports, travel, friends, learning. Now, as I get older, I’ve lost a step or two while time seems to have found its second wind. I can’t keep up the way I used to.

Except in one important area: writing.

I’m approaching the age when people normally begin to think about their retirement. But I now find myself in full career-developing mode again, this time for my writing. I write longer, better, and more knowledgeably than in my younger days. I treat my writing like a job and have more energy and patience for it than I ever had for my previous career. And infinitely more pleasure. But it’s hard work that never stops. These days I think about my writing all the time. When I’m working and when I’m relaxing. Whereas my previous jobs were interesting and (somewhat) enjoyable (sometimes), my writing is a passion, both professionally and personally. In my mind it has come to define me. When it goes well, I feel like a success. When it doesn’t, I feel like a failure. Writing, I’ve realized, bleeds into my spare time and elbows aside other interesting pastimes I might otherwise engage in.

So what do I do in my spare time? Sure, I travel quite a bit (off to India next week), go to concerts and museums, read, and even cook. That’s something I never did when I was younger. But it all feels meager when compared to what Terry Shames manages to accomplish. If only society prized the leisure activities I excel most at, like drinking and watching sports. 

By the way, I don’t like the idea of a bucket list. What’s at the end of the list, after all? Death. Kind of dampens any enthusiasm I would feel about checking off the last few items.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Showing up for downtime

Besides writing, what else do you do? What’s on your writer’s bucket list?

by Dietrich

It’s too easy to get wrapped up in a story. Even when I’m not writing, I often want to jot down notes as I think of a scene, or work out details for one in my head. So, it’s important to pry myself away and leave time for other things. Writing is solitary, so I need time to be social. And writing means a lot of sitting, so it’s important to get off my butt.

Art is entertaining, and I like anything from theatre, dance, live music, visiting an art gallery, to stopping to listen to a busker on a street corner. Whether I’m writing or not, I’m often listening to whatever music that suits my mood. I’m partial to my music on vinyl, and I know LPs are gaining popularity again. It’s interesting, I’ve been around long enough to see how we play music go full circle from records to eight tracks to cassettes to MP3s and back to vinyl again. And I still listen to much of the same music from the days when I first started collecting LPs. Does anybody remember those cheap little transistor radios we used to carry around, playing the top 40, even before the days of those suitcase-size boom boxes?

Not that I make much time for it anymore, but I occasionally paint, abstracts mostly, and I like to dabble in photography, creating images a different way. And I play guitar and create my own sound, or in my case, noise.

“I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they’re any good at painting, but because it helps their writing. It forces them to look at things. Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things…Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” — Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners 

“I basically like to apply paint onto canvas. I just like the act of it — I make it up as I go along. I really don’t analyze them that much.”  — Paul McCartney.

It’s interesting how many writers are musicians, and musicians who are also writers: Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, Steve Earle, Josh Ritter, Stephen King. And many musicians and writers who are visual artists: Charles Bukowski, Miles Davis, John Lennon, John Mellencamp. Ronnie Wood, Grace Slick, David Bowie, Kim Gordon, Tony Bennett, George Frayne, and the list goes on.

"I'm a painter first, and a musician second.” — Joni Mitchell

And it’s interesting how some famous writers incorporated their outside interests into their work. Dame Agatha Christie accompanied her husband on archaeological digs, her experiences inspiring several novels. Tolkien studied languages, and Hemingway was an avid outdoorsman.

Aside from painting and music, I’m an avid reader, and I’ve always got a stack on books on the go with the occasional audiobook tossed in.

So, as you can see, I don’t live life on the edge; I don’t run with the bulls, or jump out of planes or off cliffs or bridges with a big rubber band attached to my foot. And while I’m in pretty good shape for a fiction writer, I don’t compete in many sports these days. In fact, my sports are pretty much limited to the TV. And these days, it’s down to soccer, mostly European matches and tournaments, and the world cup every four years. 

“It’s better to do a dull thing with style than a dangerous thing without it.” — Charles Bukowski

I don’t know that I really have a bucket list, but I do like to travel, and there are a number of places that I’d like to see. One of my favorite places to go once the rain clouds start to gather here in the northwest is down the coast to California, and we get down there every chance we get. In fact, it’s just about time to get out the suitcase as I get set for another book tour down the coast. 

Which reminds me, I should mention my new one Call Down the Thunder will be released October 15th. You can order a copy or find out more at or at

Here’s the short pitch: 

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on. The land’s gone dry, barren and worthless. And the bankers, greedy and hungry, make life even more impossible, squeezing farmers out of their homes. The couple can wither along with the land, or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the other farmers. But Sonny comes up with a way for them to stay on their land and prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Reality and Dreams

Besides writing, what else do you do? What’s on your writer’s bucket list?

Oh , my, what a great topic. I sometimes feel as I I’m running full-tilt toward the end of life, trying to stuff as much in as I can. Here’s my “do” list, followed by my bucket list:’

Workout at the gym three days a week, including step class and strength training.
Three days a week either take a brisk walk or work out on my elliptical trainer or stationary bike.

One day a week hike with friends
Sailing—my husband’s passion, and my indulgence for him. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, too, but it’s really his thing.
Morning stretches. Every. Single. Morning.
Eating well. I like to cook, and try to use ingredients I know are good for me.

Feeding Creativity
Go to art shows

I wish I still had time to paint, but that has fallen away. I still think about it and sometimes look at trees, landscape, faces, and imagine painting them.

I love to cook and to entertain.

Opera, symphony, theater, ballet…never get enough.
TV. There are some great shows. I’m always interested in not only their entertainment value, but how they are successful, or what doesn’t work.
Attend Sisters in Crime and MWA events. Always something new to learn.
Attend writing conferences. This goes under two categories; this one, and the Emotional Health category.


Read, read, read. Everything: Mystery, sci-fi, popular science, literary books, political books, biography, essays. I belong to two books clubs, and two writing groups.
Political interest groups. I have been political since I was a child. I’m passionate about it. I majored in political science in college, and have never stopped being interested.
Attend lectures and seminars, and weekend events like Berkeley Uncharted that is filled with speakers from areas of interest I wouldn’t normally be drawn to.
Travel. Nothing expands the mind like travel. So many places to go!

Emotional health:
Get with friends!
Do what they want to do as much what I want to do. It expands the mind and can be refreshing. I have a friend who is passionate about antiquing and gardening. Neither interests me much, but when I go with her, I come home enriched.
Be with family. I always come away from visiting my son or my sister and her family feeling renewed and content. (Okay, not always—but usually!)
Watch basketball. It’s relaxing, exciting, and I love it.
Attend events and conferences with other writers. It’s nourishing, enlightening, supportive.

Bucket list:
Write and publish more books. I’ve had one book that I’ve toyed with for years that I’d love to put all my time and interest into. And I have three complete books written that need revising, editing and polishing.
Travel to places I’ve never been and yearn to experience: The Galapagos, Greece, sail the Croatian Coast, the Balkan countries (we’re going next spring), Alaska, Iceland, more of Africa

See more of distant friends.
Hike the Pacific Coast Trail
Hike the Appalachian Trail

Okay, regarding  those last two, nobody ever said a bucket list had to be realistic, right?

I’m very curious about what other people have on their bucket lists. Tell me!