Thursday, August 6, 2020

Little Help Here? from James W. Ziskin

When you have craft questions, where do you go for answers? A particular website? A book? Podcasts? Writer friends?


This week’s question is a difficult one. Why? Because the vast majority of questions I have are research related, not craft related.

I am very much a solitary writer. I don’t show my work to anyone until I’ve done at least three complete revisions. So any questions I might have about craft go to my beta readers. Usually It’s something along the lines of “Is this compelling? Does this work? Will this offend people? Does it make sense? These beta readers—hopefully—give me honest feedback on my stories, my plotting, clarity, and character likability. Once a book or story has gone though my first six or seven revisions, which incorporate changes based on my beta readers’ feedback, my editors will also provide opinions on the same questions as above.

Each book or story I write has a somewhat different group of beta readers. For TURN TO STONE, for example, I relied on—among others—several Italian readers and people familiar with Italy. For A STONE’S THROW, I asked some horse racing handicappers and fans to provide feedback. And for my work in progress, A MONSOON SEASON (tentative title), which is set in India in 1975, I am asking Indians, young and old, to let me know their thoughts on the tone and the believability of the setting and the people.

But that’s not exactly “craft.” Maybe if we stretch the definition. It feels more like research and sensitivity feedback that I’m seeking.

As mentioned above, my work in progress, which is currently on its fourth revision, is set in 1975 India. It’s the story of a young American journalist working for a wire news service who has recently arrived in Bombay for a long-term assignment. Before he can settle into his new life, a domestic “emergency” is declared by the government, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi seizes broad powers. She suspends many civil liberties and limits freedom of the press. She also jails her political opponents and, for all intents and purposes, becomes a dictator for about eighteen months. The Emergency is the backdrop for the novel, but the story is not political. It’s a stranger-in-a-strange-land throwback thriller, what I describe as Gatsby meets Graham Greene on the Subcontinent. An ambitious story like this requires a lot of research and familiarity with India.

Me on a kettuvallam in Kerala
Me on a kettuvallam in Kerala
Now, little-known fact: over the past twenty-five years, I’ve made fifty-six trips to India and spent more than four years there, living, working, and touring the country. I know Mumbai and Pune well. Bangalore, too. And I’ve visited Delhi, Chennai, the foothills of the Himalayas, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Goa. I’ve slept in a treehouse near Lonavala, on a kettuvallam (houseboat) in the backwaters of Kerala, and in a five-star luxury tent in Jaipur. So I have a rich store of experiences that I can call upon to flesh out my main character’s expatriate life in India. But...

I’m not Indian and I wasn’t there in 1975. Those realities present some formidable research challenges. Here are some of them.

How do I handle (realistically and sensitively) the issue of skin color (darkness and fairness) in a book about India? This is like walking a tightrope. One main character in my book has darker skin than the Bollywood “ideal.” She is emotionally scarred by memories of taunting from her youth. Added to the difficulty of discussing skin color is the fact that the narrator of the story is a white man from America. And, yes, he’s in love with her.

Other, less-tricky problems to resolve include:
The cost of hotels, liquor, and food in 1975 Bombay. (Mumbai today, but in 1975 it was Bombay.)

The big films of the day. (This one was easier than the rest to research.)

Daily life under the Emergency of 1975-77.

The name of the Osho Ashram in Poona in 1975? Hint, it wasn’t Osho.

The problem is that the Internet can only go so far in helping with this research. It’s hard to find The little details of history and everyday Indian life from that time online. The same was true, by the way, in my research of 1963 Italy For TURN TO STONE. Here in America, we seem to love looking back in time. Online, you can find almost anything you want to know about products, prices, fads, music, films, and more from the past. But the records are sparse online for similar examples of Indian nostalgia. That’s why I have leaned on some wonderful people who were there at the time and remember. Several of them have agreed to vet the accuracy and believability of my 1975 India. I think I’m in good shape to look after the American in India part myself. Indian and other readers will advise me on the skin color issue, which is an important and emotional theme in the book.

My M.O., then, is really threefold when it comes to consulting people and resources. One, I consult beta readers (writers, fiends, family, and experts) to help with research and tone. Two, I use the Internet all the time—personal blogs, Wikipedia, Google Maps, newspapers, Google’s Ngram Viewer (to verify words used at that time), and many more. Three, I consult the Chicago Manual of Style for grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and other stylistic concerns. You can take it to the bank that I use the Oxford comma. You should, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The right track


When you have craft questions, where do you go for answers? A particular website? A book? Podcasts? Writer friends?


by Dietrich


I learned a good deal about craft from reading, reading and more reading. I read what I think is good, the kind of books that inspire my own writing. And maybe some of that resonates and becomes part of what works for me. 


When I got started, I found out about showing and not telling; having hidden meaning under a character’s dialogue; using description sparingly to drive a story’s pace, learning when to slow it down and when to pick it up again. I learned to drop in plot twists a reader wouldn’t see coming from twenty pages away. And above all, I learned what to leave out on that important next draft. As I gained confidence, I felt I was starting to understand what I was doing. I took what I learned, sifted and whittled what worked and I just kept on writing. I guess I found a voice and a niche that worked for me, and I was having a blast writing the kind of books that I liked to read myself.

There are a couple of brilliant books I’ve mentioned before on the subject of craft: Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. Both are highly recommended.

There are courses on the subject too, and there are plenty of helpful authors, publishers, editors and agents who one might ask. Sometimes asking for criticism can be a bit of a crap shoot, depending on who one asks, and depending on the way their own tastes run. But, if a new writer finds it hard to be objective about their own writing, it could be a good way to go. 


I try not to overthink things and I’ve come to trust my instincts. I don’t want chains and straps thrown over my imagination. It’s a creative process that requires good instincts, and when I feel it’s working then I go with that. And I’ve learned not to over edit and second guess my own work. When it’s done, then it’s time to pass it on. There’s always that safety net of publishers and a team of editors who will be giving it a hard look and likely catch anything I goofed up.


For me, there’s no substitute for just rolling up my sleeves and writing until something clicks. And when I can pick up what I wrote the day before and honestly say, “Hey, this isn’t total crap.” Then I know I’m on the right track and getting somewhere. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Who You Gonna Ask?

Terry Shames here. Our question this week is about Craft:  When you have craft questions, where do you go for answers? A particular website? A book? Podcasts? Writer friends?

 

Craft is a particularly personal subject for writers. Ask a writer how he or she writes, and you’ll get answers all over the place. One writes straight through without much thought to sentence and paragraph structures, whether scenes work or not, whether they’ve chosen the proper words, whether they’ve gotten descriptions right. They write to “discover” their story. Others edit as they go along, reviewing work every day to make sure they have said exactly what they meant to say in the way they want to convey it. Some writers outline roughly; some outline in detail. Others wouldn’t think of outlining. There are whole books written about each process. But it’s certain that some point every writer thinks about craft.

 

I recently gave an on-line presentation to a Sisters in Crime chapter. It was a double subject—one I felt confident that I had valuable insights about; the other I wasn’t so confident about. For both subjects, though, I needed help to make the presentation stronger. I never rely totally on my own experience when I do presentations about craft. That’s because I fall into ruts when I write and take shortcuts that work for me but may not work for every writer. I need to be reminded that there are other ways of doing things. I also always feel like I can use a refresher for my own work, and that gives me a chance to dip back into valuable resources..

 

The subject I felt confident about was Inspiration for Characters and Plot. I thought I had a good slant on it—but I still wanted some tips from other writers to fill out my talk.

 

So I went to my two trusty folder—one in my Word files, and one “paper.” I call the folders “Writing Tips.” In them I stash things I’ve seen on-line or heard in person that seem particularly insightful. For example, I have notes on talks by David Corbett, Kelli Stanley, Jess Lourey, and Jeffry Deaver, among others. In presentations I put out my own twist on the ideas, but their talks inspired me.



 

The other subject, short stories, I don’t think I know much about. I’ve written short stories, but each time it feels like I’m reinventing the wheel. So I went first to Margaret Lucke’s handbook on the subject, published several years ago that is still very much in demand, Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories. I contacted her to ask if it was okay for me to draw from her book, and she said yes. (Of course I put in a plug for it in the talk.) And then I emailed two short story writers I admire, Gigi Pandian and Art Taylor, and asked for “quick tips” I could give my audience. They gave me two tips I could use not only for my talk, but for my own writing.

 

I also have a library of books on writing that I dip into if I’m feeling at sea about something I’m working on and need a craft reminder—or If I just need a little inspiration. Books like Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody or Take Off Your Pants, by Libbie Hawker are terrific reminders when my writing shortcuts start to put me into ruts that aren’t useful.




 

So in a way, I could say I go to writer friends for help, either from presentations they’ve given, or books or articles they’ve written.

 

 

 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Getting Crafty by Brenda Chapman

When you have craft questions, where do you go for answers? A particular website? A book? Podcasts? Writer friends?

 Like all writers, I’m constantly on the look out for any new information that will advance my craft, be it improvements on writing style, story arcs, character development, building suspense, or pretty much anything. I can’t say that I have one website or one writer friend to turn to when I have questions. My method for acquiring knowledge is more of a shotgun approach — I’m constantly absorbing information from wherever or whomever I can get it.

One of my primary resources is the wealth of books written by my fellow authors. Not only do I read for enjoyment but I also read to analyse why a story works and even why it doesn't (in my subjective opinion). I look at word choice, sentence structure, plot, character development ... you name it. This isn't to copy their style or to steal from their stories but rather to improve on my own writing. (A lot of this goes on subconsciously at a mystical level that authors sense but can't explain.)

I've also read a lot of writing wisdom online as well as watched writing workshop videos. There's an amazing amount of solid writing advice at our electronic fingertips. Stephen King's famous rules of writing are a good place to start. Last year I gave a writing workshop on point of view and found an amazing amount of information online. I also turned to a book that I bought at a book conference a few years back Write Away by Elizabeth George.


A little anecdote about the book. I bought a hard copy and stood in line to have Elizabeth George sign it. I've long been a fan of her Inspector Lynley series and was excited to meet her The lineup was long as you can imagine and the wait time was more than I had to spare so I bowed out after about twenty minutes. Anyhow, when I finally opened the book back in my hotel room, lo and behold, I'd unknowingly bought a signed copy! This reminds me that book conferences and attending panels have also been great ways to glean tidbits to improve the writing craft. I can't tell you how many times a bit of advice from an author on one of the panels comes back to me as I write or market my work.

Back to this week's question. I've been fortunate to belong to two crime-writing organizations that are into writing development and information-gathering in the crime field. Any writers getting started in the business can't go wrong joining an organization or two for support, friendship and information.

Capital Crime Writers is Ottawa-based. Over the years, they've had numerous experts in to speak about everything from art theft to gambling in sport to gang activity. Psychologists have spoken about narcissism and detectives have given workshops on murder scenes. In addition, authors have spoken about various aspects of the craft and generously given tips and advice. Every speaker has donated their time, making this an invaluable resource that I've never taken for granted.

Crime Writers of Canada is our national organization for crime writers and they offer online workshops on the writing business and the craft of writing. I recently watched a presentation on poisonous plants, for example. Canadian crime writers - I urge you to join if you haven't already!

I also belong to The Writers' Union of Canada and note that they have a number of online presentations not tailored to crime writing specifically but still very informative about all aspects of the writing business. I've yet to watch any although several are of interest. I read their newsletter, which is also a good resource. 

As for specific craft questions, I've worked with various editors assigned by my publishers and have learned a great deal from each one. The key is to be open to their knowledge and to absorb whatever makes sense for my writing going forward. I've also learned a lot speaking with other authors and reading their blogs and like nothing better than getting together with another author to 'talk shop'.

Ultimately, what to use from all the advice on craft that one takes in is up to each individual writer, but we're lucky to be in the community of people who like to share and mentor. I can't imagine the day will ever come that there won't be something new to learn or to tweak.

website:  www.brendachapman.ca

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, July 31, 2020

Writers to Read

Please recommend an author who may not be widely known to readers and tell us about them and their book(s). In addition, what books are on your bedside table for July and why did you select them for summer reading?

by Paul D. Marks

I’m not sure these authors are “widely unknown” to readers, but I also don’t think they’re widely known, at least in the larger realm. And I’ll stick with crime writers here, with one exception at the end.

Carol O’Connell:

On the Penguin Random House page it calls Carol O’Connell a NY Times best-selling author, but whenever I mention her to anyone almost to a person they haven’t heard of her. She does stand-alones but is best-known for her tough-as- nails NYPD detective Kathy Mallory. In the first Mallory book, Mallory’s Oracle (1994), NYPD detective Kathy Mallory is a hard-as-nails cop and not just because of her bright red nail polish. As the first in the series, Mallory’s Oracle is probably the best place to start. Even Mallory’s creator, O’Connell, describes Mallory as a “sociopath”. I’ve talked with people about Mallory and recommended the Mallory books to several people over the years. And it seems people either love or hate her. I’m in the former category. I love her no-nonsense, doesn’t suffer BS approach to her job. Nothing, including the law, will stand in her way, at least in this fictional world. Not that I’d necessarily like to be friends with her if she suddenly came alive and jumped off the page. I think the Mallory books would be good for someone who likes solid crime stories, strong female characters and doesn’t mind one who’s a sociopath…


According to Wikipedia, O’Connell started as an artist, but when she couldn’t make it there she started writing mysteries. The art world’s loss is our gain.


Kem Nunn:


Photo by Etonnants Voyageurs - Philippe HUET, Kem NUNN, Leonardo PADURA, Justo VASCO : Regards noirs at 06:20, cropped, brightened, CC BY-SA 3.0Link


















Nunn is another successful writer that a lot of people haven’t heard of, though when I mention him to others there is more recognition than with O’Connell. These days he’s arguably better known as the co-creator of the TV series John from Cincinnati, as well as a writer on Sons of Anarchy and Deadwood. But he’s also the author of, I believe, six novels. Tapping the Source (1984) is his first and is something special. If it’s not the novel that invented the “surf noir” genre it’s certainly an early and foundational entry. This is not the Beach Boys’ version of sun, sand, surf and surfer girls, but a much darker vision of life on SoCal’s storied beaches. Ike Tucker, a naive and innocent young man from Bakersfield, treks to Huntington Beach (a.k.a. ‘Surf City’) to find his missing and possibly dead sister. There he gets hooked up with bikers, sex and drugs. No Gidgets or Moondoggie’s here. And Ike will be lucky if he gets out alive. Tapping is good for anyone who loves surf, sun and murder. I liked this book so much that I wanted to option the film rights for it. I had them checked out, but they had already been optioned/bought. That had to be at least 25 years ago, probably more, a lot more. But to this day there is still no movie version of this story. It is, however, said that Point Break, with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves was, uh, inspired by Tapping the Source. The story is different and imho not nearly as good.


Several decades ago a friend of mine in the WGAw turned me onto Nunn and some other authors, telling me how terrific they were. Thank you, Elliot. Tapping the Source is Nunn’s first novel and with it he pretty much invented his own genre: surf noir. I guess I’m not the only one who likes it since it was a finalist for the National Book Award.


David Goodis:

Goodis, who I’ve probably mentioned before, has been called the “poet of the losers” by Geoffrey O’Brien and his stories of people on the skids certainly bear that out. I came to Goodis through the movies, which is how I’ve come to several writers and/or novels. I’m a fan of the Bogie-Bacall movie Dark Passage, so after having seen it a couple of times I decided to check out the David Goodis novel it was based on. I liked it enough that I began to read pretty much anything of Goodis I could get my hands on, but this was before he came into vogue again so mostly I had to pick up very scarred paperbacks (many, though not all of his books were only published in paperback), and I devoured his whole oeuvre. And, though I liked pretty much everything to one degree or another, Down There (1956) (a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player, after the Truffaut movie based on it) really stood out for me. It’s the story of a World War II vet, a former member the elite Merrill’s Marauders who, for a variety of reasons, is down on his luck—way down. Francois Truffaut made the book into a movie called Shoot the Piano Player which, to be honest, I don’t like very much, but that’s why the title of the book was changed from Down There and is probably better known today as Shoot the Piano Player. I think it would be good for fans of classic noir, old movie buffs, and others.


When it comes to noir, David Goodis is the man. His stories deal with failed lives and people who are definitely on the skids. They’re often people who weren’t always in this position though and the interesting part is seeing how they deal with their downfall—not always so well. Goodis inspires me so much that I wrote a story that might be considered an homage to him. Born Under a Bad Sign was originally published in Dave Zeltserman’s Hard Luck Stories magazine, but is now available in LA Late @ Night, a collection of some of my previously published stories.



Dan Fante:
Dan Fante photo by Camila Emar
As a bonus, I’ll add Dan Fante, yes Dan, not John. Dan is John ‘Ask the Dust’ Fante’s son (And Ask the Dust is one of my favorite novels in any genre.) Dan’s books are what I would call an acquired taste. They can be rough and gross in a lot of ways. But I turned my mom onto him, thinking she probably wouldn’t like his work. So imagine my surprise when she did. You might want to start with Mooch (2001) and Chump Change (1998).




Oh, and another lesser-known writer you might want to check out is some dude called Paul D. Marks, who just had a new book come out in June that’s getting pretty good reviews:

"I hate saying a book transcends the genre and I honestly usually don't like books that do. This one however does and might win some awards because of it."
                                                                          —Jochem Vandersteen, Sons of Spade
                           



~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Six of the best, by Catriona

Reading: Please recommend an author who may not be widely known to readers and tell us about them and their book(s). In addition, what books are on your bedside table for July and why did you select them for summer reading?


I miss bookshops this year. So I'm trying to make this blog post into a random browse for you, with the jackets, some blurbs, the first line or so. And me walking on as the bookseller pressing things into your hands and guaranteeing you'll love them.


PINE, by Francine Toon, is obscure of you're in the US (Book Depository!) but hardly if you're in the UK, where it's longlisted for the MacIlvanney award at Bloody Scotland.



It's the debut novel by my Dandy Gilver editor but even if it wasn't I would be all in. A small village surrounded by forests? Locked doors and stone circles? A missing child? I could not be more all in

.
Mick Herron said "a moving study of memory and loss ... both spooky and tender, drenched in a sense of place".


I read the first line "They are driving out for guising when they see her" but I'm going to try to save it for the Christmas holidays and read it curled up on a couch while the rain drums on my roof.


No way could I have saved IN THE DREAM HOUSE by Carmen Maria Machado. I devoured it. 



It's not crime fiction, but it's about crime. This memoir traces the course of a relationship from the giddy days of new love, down through obsession, manipulation, gaslighting, and into full-on abuse. It's painfully honest and beautifully written. And it's got a plot twist! 


I'm not going to lie to you; there's a Derrida quote on the first page of the prologue, but keep going, fellow Philistines. It's worth it. "I daresay you have heard of the Dream House" is how chapter one begins, setting the real house where Machado's abuse took place in a fairytale setting of forest and clearing. (Another book I finished recently - Silvia Moreno Garcia's MEXICAN GOTHIC - had a socialite leaving the city for a country house stay and realising that she had never considered "the forest" as a real place before. How lovely is that?)

On to fiction but with maximum realism. John Copenhaver's DODGING AND BURNING comes trailing starred reviews from LJ - "a powerful debut" and PW - "the consequences of war - and prejudice - in small town America", and offers letters, photographs and chapters from classic pulp, as well as irresistible voice characters, to build a puzzle box of a plot.



And even though that title would be wasted on me, because I don't know enough about photography to deserve it, that doesn't dent my envy one little bit.

Next up is what I'm reading right now. When I was ordering some titles from Once a Upon a Crime in Minneapolis a couple of weeks back, I asked Devin to add naother title and surprise me. (I thought booksellers were probably missing hand-selling as much as customers were missing browsing. Also, the last time I asked Devin to surprise me, she put Kristen Lepionka's debut in my hands.) This time, the wildcard book was THE LAST by Hanna Jameson


Billed as "Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None collides with Stephen King's The Shining" - by NPR, no less (who also mention Nevil Shute and who ever mentions Nevil Shute???) this is a postapocalytpic thriller to make the real word seem not so bad, in spite of everything. It opens with Jon Keller finding out that the world is ending via text alert. And his first feeling is embarrassment about the banality. 43 pages in as of this morning and Jon's hero credentials are no less complicated. But the plot is off and running like a snowball on a steep roof. 


The opening line of Claire Askew's ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS speaks to anyone from Edinburgh. "Moira Summers was on the top deck of the number 23 bus". The 23 is Edinburgh's poshest bus. (Yes, there's a social stratification of buses; I've never lived on the route of the 23. And for a while I lived on the route of the 44. My dear!) The skewering of Edinburgh snobberies, the shade thrown on systemic sexism in the police force, and the heartbreak of mothers trying to keep their children safe while they're forced to let them go . . . all of this is added to a tight and propulsive thriller plot. God, it's good. Again, huge in the UK maybe less so here. So . . . Book Depository again.


Finally - and my last attempt to replicate a visit to a bookshop - here's Bernadine Evaristo's GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER. Yes, I know it won the Booker prize and this blog is supposed to be a head's up about stuff you might have missed, but that's the point. Sometimes, if you're anything like me, you keep on hearing about a book, until you think it must be over-hyped, so you pass it by. Then one day you pick it up and it's not over-hyped! It's utterly fantastic!


This is one of those books. Structured in four sections, with three narrators per section, it's a solid, perfect, natty whole. All the voices start to make chords; all the stories weave together. I lost count of the number of times I said "Oh, riiiight!" out loud as I feasted on this wonderful novel It's not crime fiction, but it's got a lot to teach crime-fiction writers about knitting a plot and springing surprises.

Happy reading whether you pick up one of these or go for something completely different.

Stay safe,

Cx 







Wednesday, July 29, 2020

I don't know what you don't know by Cathy Ace

Reading: Please recommend an author who may not be widely known to readers and tell us about them and their book(s). In addition, what books are on your bedside table for July and why did you select them for summer reading?

The first part of this week’s questions is tough to answer – because I don’t know which authors you know of, and which you don’t…and, let’s be honest, most of us are totally unaware of MOST crime writing because there’s such a lot of it about (which is a good thing!). I read a lot of UK authors, and I believe most followers of this blog are likely to be from Canada and the USA, so maybe quite a lot of UK authors aren’t well known to the majority of followers. There again, there are probably a lot of Canadian authors about whom the same could be said, so I’ll go to the UK and Canada for my “names you should know” list.

First up, my home now – Canada. In case you don’t know, there’s a great way to find a wide range of Canadian crime writing – just check out the Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) website here: https://www.crimewriterscanada.com/ and sign up for the monthly listing of new releases and events (even virtual ones) here: https://www.crimewriterscanada.com/crime-beat/about-crime-beat


Members of CWC write across all subgenres, so you’re bound to be able to find authors whose work appeals to your preference. When it comes to members you’ll find there, I am guessing everyone knows Louise Penny’s Gamache novels, as well as Linwood Barclay’s or Hilary Davidson’s thrillers, and there’s Peter Robinson’s Banks series, as well as Giles Blunt’s Cardinal books. Want something historical? What about Maureen Jennings’ Murdoch novels? Cozy? Vicki Delany’s output alone could keep you happy. Indeed – you’ll find a host of “well known” authors you might not have known were Canadian, and you’ll probably find a host of “not known to me yet” names who are writing excellent, award-winning books. You could also check out the shortlists and winners for the past thirty-odd years of the Arthur Ellis Awards, which you can also find at the CWC website. Go on…give it a go!

When it comes to the UK, there’s The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA, here: https://thecwa.co.uk/) which also allows you to browse lists of exceptional authors’ works.


There’s also now a writers’ collective called Crime Cymru, which is a group of Welsh crime writers (writing in English – so don’t panic!) you can explore here: http://crime.cymru/


The books on my bedside table for July? 1) I don’t read in bed, so nothing, but 2) because I’m trying to get outside as much as I can at the moment, I’m using my Kindle daily – and I’m working my way through all the Logan McRae books by the Scottish author, Stuart MacBride. I would certainly recommend Stuart’s books to you…but they might not be to your taste – it’s impossible for me to know that, sorry.  To say they are “gritty” would be a significant understatement; the on-page violence is pretty continuous, vividly described, and – because the books are set in Aberdeen vs the USA – most of the violence doesn’t involve gunplay, but a dizzying variety of other weapons. However, I adore the voice of the author, love his characters, and admit I find these books hilarious (I frequently burst out laughing at what is – especially when you have to explain it to someone else – the deepest of dark humour...WITH a "U" because it's exceptionally British humour, too!). These books are not for those wanting a “bit of light reading”, because they tackle topics that are dismal, and only serve to highlight what dreadful creatures human beings can be. I’ve read ten of the twelve he’s written so far, so should finish by the end of the month. You can find out more about the author and his books here: https://www.stuartmacbride.com/books/


As for August’s reading? Hmm…possibly the remainder of the dozen Inspector Ikmen books by Barbara Nadel I haven't read yet and am itching to get to...the range of Turkish/east end of London settings are a draw... and if you don’t know Barbara’s books, give them a go in the “Look Inside” feature on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVFWCZ4/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1



Possibly I’ll be tempted back to the delights of Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond books, which are fabulous; Peter Lovesey has been writing since 1970, but I know there are people discovering his work all the time...if you don't know his name, please check out his work! https://peterlovesey.com/


Whatever you choose to read, happy reading! And, if you haven’t tried my books yet, why not check them out: http://www.cathyace.com/


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What You Should Be Reading

Reading: Please recommend an author who may not be widely known to readers and tell us about them and their book(s). In addition, what books are on your bedside table for June and why did you select them for summer reading?

From Frank

My first answer is going to seem a little self-serving. That's because the author I am recommending who is not widely known and should be is Colin Conway. The reason is might seem self-serving is because Colin and I write a series of procedurals together (see the bottom of this post for more).

But Colin has a growing catalog of other titles out there. There's something for everyone, depending on what kind of mystery you prefer.

If you like procedurals, he's created the 509 series. The number refers to the telephone prefix for all of Eastern Washington, which is where the books are set. While primarily in Spokane, some of the titles include rural areas outside of the city.

The cool thing about the 509 procedurals is that the ensemble cast of police officers rotate through the role of protagonist. So a detective who was a main character in The Side Hustle gives way to a different one in The Long Cold Winter, though that first detective will still show up. This trend continues throughout the series, allowing you to experience different voices and viewpoints while still having familiar places and characters. It works really well, and keeps the series fresh.

The 509 has some short stories included in it as well, and I have it on good authority that several of those are free. So there's zero risk to try out Conway, and see if you like spending time in the 509.

And time you will spend, as there are two yet-to-be announced series that are both very interesting in their own ways scheduled to come out within the next year that will exist within the same setting. I wish I could say more about these books, but that's up to Conway to announce. Suffice it to say that just like each book stands alone, each series always stands on its own two feet, but there are interconnections in the same book universe that will be something readers will enjoy.

If you prefer cozies instead of procedurals, then you're in luck. Conway has written the Cozy Up series with you in mind. To get an idea of what you're in for, try to imagine what would happen if you crossed Sons of Anarchy with Murder She Wrote.

That's what you get in this series - all the drama and danger of the former while adhering to the rules and the setting of the latter.

In Cozy Up to Death, a hulking, tattooed biker enters witness protection. He's sent to a small coastal town in Maine and installed as the new owner of a mystery bookstore. Problem is, the last book he read outside of a motorcycle repair manual was probably something he doesn't remember from high school. That's Beau Smith, or as the people in his new hometown know him, Brody Steele.

Of course, not only does a mystery occur for our hero to solve and a girl to meet, but his past also threatens to catch up to him. This is the formula that continues in Cozy Up to Murder and Cozy Up to Blood, though Conway mixes it up in smart ways to keep it fresh.

Cozy readers will feel at home, as the language and sex content is absolutely tame. There's none of the latter, though there is some romance. As far as language goes, the protagonist doesn't curse, a character trait that makes sense when you learn more about him. There's a touch more violence than in some cozies, but nothing even close to above a PG rating.

And yet, as a reader who prefers darker, hard boiled work, I absolutely love this series. The hard boiled elements are there, just not described in the kinds of vivid detail that subgenre usually employs. Plus, as I read the cozy, I feel like Conway is poking gentle fun at the genre. Of course, after a while, I came to realize that he's also poking some fun the other direction, too. All of that happens against the backdrop of solid, interesting mysteries and the constant tension of his past collapsing in on him.

Colin deserves to be widely read on the strength of these two series alone. If you factor in the two others that are in the pipeline (and the one I'll touch on at the end of this post), there's a good chunk of entertaining reading to be had.

I can promise you this - Conway always delivers.

Who else am I reading? Well, like everyone, S.A. Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland. I got an advance copy of this and burned through it. Tremendous book, and I'm glad a good guy like Shawn is having success. Also, I just finished Tom Pitts' Coldwater, another outstanding book. As for the masters, I'm delving into some of Walter Mosley's catalog that I haven't gotten to yet in advance of interviewing him when my podcast kicks off a new season in September. I'd forgotten how much I loved Easy Rawlins. And on another writer's recommendation, I recently finished a classic from the 1960s, Night of the Generals.

Along with all of this, I am continuing my quest to read books from all of the other authors on this blog. You should, too - there's so many good ones to choose from, and they skip all through the subgenres.
__________________________________________________

Here's the series I mentioned above - the Charlie-316 series. The second book, Never the Crime, is now available.

Never the Crime continues the Tyler Garrett saga, exploring the inner workings of the police department and city hall, and the nature of cover up. This book has self-contained story arcs, and a continuation of the series arc.

The rest of this series will wrap up quickly. In September, Badge Heavy will be released. Then the arc will conclude in November with Code Four.

I wrote this series with Colin Conway, whose great solo work I trumpeted above. I hope you check it out! If you're wondering whether or not you should, let me persuade you with this - our own Jim Ziskin said Wardell Clint was "the most nuanced, fascinating detective I’ve read in a very long time."

Read the arc and find out if Clint gets his man.

Monday, July 27, 2020

At least we have books

Q: Please recommend an author who may not be widely known to readers and tell us about them and their book(s). In addition, what books are on your bedside table for June and why did you select them for summer reading.
- from Susan
I really enjoyed Kate Ross’s four crime fiction novels (she wrote some short stories too). They’re good mysteries set in the time of fops and dandies – great fun. Sadly she died in 1998, so her creative output is limited. Here’s her Wikipedia entry:
Katherine Jean "Kate" Ross (June 21, 1956 – March 12, 1998) was an American mystery author who wrote four books set in Regency-era England about the dandy Julian Kestrel.
The novels in the series are Cut to the Quick (1994), which won the 1994 Gargoyle award for in the category of Best Historical Mystery, A Broken Vessel (1995), Whom the Gods Love (1996) and The Devil in Music (1997), which won the 1997 Agatha Award for in the category of Best Novel. 

Right now, I have a stack of good books that I’m plowing through, but most are not what you think of as summer reading: a couple about how I need to learn about systemic racism, a geology book, a book of essays by a late writer I admired greatly, Ismael Reed’s latest (because he just did a podcast and it reminded me what an iconoclastic thinker he is), and a book about Zen Buddhism. I do have two books by Criminal Minds bloggers on the teetering pile: Cathy Ace’s The Wrong Boy, and Paul Marks’ The Blues Don’t Care(actually not teetering since it’s on my Kindle).


Friday, July 24, 2020

With a Little Help From My Friends

By Abir


Writing is a lonely pursuit but the community is strong and supportive. There are many unsung acts of kindness and generosity going on behind the scenes. Tell us who has mentored you in your writing career or gone above and beyond to help you get a leg up in the business.



Welcome to Friday. I smiled when I saw this week’s topic, because it gives me a chance to say thank you to all the wonderful people who’ve supported my career over the last six years, from the publishing team (editors, publicity, sales) to readers and bloggers and journalists and other writers. 

 

There are a few names that stand out. My first editor, Alison Hennessey, who chose my ridiculously rubbish submission to a crime writing competition and decided it had enough potential to justify offering me a book deal, and my agent, Sam Copeland, who offered to represent me after having read the same rubbish submission and in the knowledge that he wouldn’t see a penny in commissions for at least several years to come. 

 

The camaraderie of the crime fiction writing fraternity is legendary. I’ve always believed in the kindness of strangers, but even so, I was amazed by just how supportive other crime fiction writers were. Established, world famous authors who didn’t need to give me the time of day, went out of their way to give me advice and to help me.

 

Whether it was Ian Rankin turning up in London at an event I was part of and then taking me to the pub afterwards, or Ann Cleeves who’s recommended my books to so many other people, or Lee Child who gave me advice on how to break into the US market, or the countless other writers who have been on this journey and have offered unstinting support and friendship, I feel truly blessed to have found my tribe.


This handsome chap bought me a pint


 

Then there's my writing support group, AA Dhand, Vaseem Khan, Alex Khan, Ayisha Malik and Imran Mahmood, together The Red Hot Chilli Writers, a bunch of British Asian authors who have become some of my closest friends. We were all published around the same time and have been through the highs and lows of the journey together. We even do a podcast together which you can find at redhotchilliwriters.com or on your favourite streaming service. 


I don't know what I'd do without these idiots.





One writer, though, deserves special mention, and that is the Queen of Crime, Val McDermid. Each year, Val reads every debut crime novel published in the UK and chooses four debut authors for her New Blood Panel at the Harrogate Crime Festival. Being chosen for her panel is one of the greatest honours a new writer can have, and back in 2016 I was lucky enough to be one of her four picks. I remember being in the library, working on my second novel, when I received a tweet from her, telling me how much she’d enjoyed A Rising Man. I nearly fell off my chair. It was an amazing feeling. Here was one of the greatest crime fiction authors in the world telling me they’d enjoyed my novel.

 

When, a few months later, I met her at Harrogate, I had one of those strange experiences where I open my mouth and speak without thinking.


“you must come to dinner,” I said to her.


To this day, I’ve no idea why I said that, but she said, “okay, yes.” 


So I told my wife, and she was like “I’m too scared to cook for Val McDermid, and as for you, you’ll probably burn the kitchen down.” 


Faced with this difficult situation, I did what any Asian man would do: I phoned my mum.  We asked mum to do the cooking, and invited Val and her partner, Jo, to mum’s house for a proper Indian meal.


I even bought the T shirt
I even bought the T shirt


 

Mum was happy to oblige, possibly because she thought it was Val Doonican (an old 1970s crooner who was famous in the UK) coming to dinner and not Val McDermid. But the dinner went off swimmingly and Val (or Auntie-ji as I now refer to her) has supported my career every step of the way. I’m honoured to be able to call her my friend.


Writing crime fiction has allowed me to follow my passion, taken me to many new parts of the world and introduced me to so many wonderful people. I will always be thankful for the experience.


Have a good weekend, and stay safe.

 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Imagine Your Parents and Children Are Watching Everything You Do by James W. Ziskin

Writing is a lonely pursuit but the community is strong and supportive. There are many unsung acts of kindness and generosity going on behind the scenes. Tell us who has mentored you in your writing career or gone above and beyond to help you get a leg up in the business.

From Jim

With apologies to Melville: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul,” I take a look at some of the nice things people I like and respect have said about my books. The exercise restores me. It gives me a boost to get back to writing. It puts into perspective the frustrations we all experience in this business. I will be forever grateful to those members of our writing community who have taken the time and made the effort to write something meaningful about my books, leave a review or a rating on Goodreads or Amazon, or simply sit and chat with me about writing.

There are lots wonderful people in this industry—writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers, fans—Whom I could thank. People like Terry Shames, who has welcomed me into her home, toured and signed with me on a coupled of occasions, and even did all the driving. People like the entire 7 Criminal Minds crew. Brenda, Susan, Cathy, Frank, Dietrich, Catriona, Abir, and Paul. They’ve all been supportive, great colleagues, and friends. But today I’m going to limit this thanksathon to those kind souls who read my books and provided me with blurbs.

Writing a blurb isn’t easy. I’d say it’s the third hardest writing task on my list of difficult writing tasks. First, as any writer will tell you, synopses are the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do on a keyboard. And that includes playing Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand. The second hardest thing is writing your novel. And the third is writing a blurb. That is if you make the effort to do it properly. You’ve got to read the book—the whole book—think about its themes, characters, and the writing; then describe in a thoughtful and meaningful way what makes it good or how it will appeal to readers.

That’s why I’m so grateful to the writers who have done that for me.

Thank you

It wasn’t until my third book, STONE COLD DEAD, that I finally had the guts to ask anyone to give me a blurb. In alphabetical order, those generous souls were Cathy Ace, Matt Coyle, Barry Lancet, Catriona McPherson, Lynne Raimondo, and Jeff Siger, great writers all. And, do you know what? They’re also great friends.

My next book, HEART OF STONE, was blurbed by fellow Seventh Street Books authors Allen Eskens, Jennifer Kincheloe, Mark Pryor, Lori Rader-Day, and Larry D. Sweazy. Re-reading their kind words truly gives me reason to be proud.

Pay it forward

During this same time and since, I’ve been asked many times to blurb books by other authors. I do it gladly, even when time is short, because I am part of this community and I want to do what I can to help my fellow scribblers. I don’t know exactly how many blurbs I’ve written for other writers, but it’s a lot more than I’ve solicited for my own books. 

Thank you again

Feeling I had inconvenienced enough writer friends, I didn’t solicit blurbs for CAST THE FIRST STONE or A STONE’S THROW. But for my latest book, TURN TO STONE, I did. So many busy, talented authors took the time to help me out. James R. Benn, Lou Berney, L. A. Chandlar, Deborah Crombie, Hallie Ephron, Tim Hallinan, William Kent Krueger, Cynthia Kuhn, Susan Elia MacNeal, Edith Maxwell, Catriona McPherson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Lori Rader-Day.

Here’s a link to read their thoughtful comments. https://jameswziskin.com/7-turn-to-stone/

And now this...

I’m veering off topic here. Bear with me.

As evidenced above, our crime writing community is filled with lots of great people. But there are also some okay people. And some not-so-okay people. And some real jerks. That’s the case in the world at large. Why wouldn’t it be for us? As a community, we’re currently struggling with serious issues ranging from sexism to harassment to racism (benign, not-so-benign, and not-at-all-benign). Difficult discussions are taking place right now in the major organizations of our industry about how to create safe, welcoming, and beneficial environments for all members, particularly at the annual conferences sponsored by these organizations.

In the course of these discussions, some folks try to listen and learn—even debate—while others take offense when their insensitive words or attitudes are pointed out to them. How many times have we heard people dismiss and explain away an offensive comment as a joke? Or claim that the offended party—typically marginalized groups (people of color, LGBTQ+, women, et al.)—has no reason to be offended? Here’s a tip: if you’re not a member of one those marginalized groups, then what offends them really isn’t your area of expertise. It’s kind of like telling a person suffering from clinical depression not to be sad. Doesn’t help at all. Probably makes things worse. Just listen a bit. Put yourself in their shoes. You’re not perfect, I’m not perfect. Nobody is. We all make mistakes. The important thing is what you do once your mistake is pointed out to you. Double down and make it worse? Or admit that maybe you hadn’t considered all the angles and learn something? About yourself and others.

In closing, I’d like to propose the following ten rules of conduct for our community. These should be observed in virtual and real-life situations. I invite readers to add to the list.

1. Don’t be a jerk.
2. Don’t go to writers conferences looking for sex partners.
3. Don’t touch.
4. Don’t say “All lives matter” when someone says “Black lives matter.” Please. Just don’t.
5. Do listen to women when they say they’ve been harassed/assaulted/groped/made to feel threatened or uncomfortable. While you’re at it, listen to them in normal conversations, too. And resist the urge to interrupt.
6. Do read something that falls outside your ethnic/gender/sexuality/tax bracket comfort zone. You might like it.
7. Do be nice to people.
8. Do be generous with your time and expertise.
9. Do call out bad behavior, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, harassment, and aggression.
10. Do imagine your parents or children (or spouse) are watching everything you do.



Thank you to all the people of good will in our writing community. I hope to see you all again soon. Behave!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Behind the scenes

Writing is a lonely pursuit but the community is strong and supportive. There are many unsung acts of kindness and generosity going on behind the scenes. Tell us who has mentored you in your writing career or gone above and beyond to help you get a leg up in the business.


by Dietrich


Solo maybe, but never lonely.

I first noticed the generosity of the writing community soon after I signed the contract for my first novel. Months before the book was released I traveled to Albany to my first Bouchercon. My publisher Jack David recommended that I check it out, then arranged for me to catch a ride from Toronto with Canadian author John McFetridge, a guy I hadn’t met, but a crime- fiction author who I’d been reading for years, one of Canada’s best in my opinion. Needless to say, I was thrilled to go on that road trip. We got along really well, had a lot of common interests, and I learned a lot about the industry from John on that drive. At the conference, I met a lot of other authors and folks in the business, along with many avid readers. And right out of the gate, I was taken by the sense of community and the level of support writers had for each other. As a matter of fact, a couple of the writers I met there write or have written on this blog.


Two years after that one, publisher Jack piled a van full of ECW authors, John McFetridge among them, and we drove from Toronto to Bouchercon in North Carolina. Over a dozen hours on the road one way, we arrived in the wee hours. During the next few days, I again noticed the camaraderie and support of the writing community.


After the first book came out, I attended many writing events and book launches and festivals. I met a lot of writers, and I picked up some tips by watching pros like William Deverell and Owen Laukkanen entertain audiences at their book launches.


“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” — Ernest Hemingway


After catching the event-bug, I started organizing Noir at the Bar events here in Vancouver. I really didn’t have a clue about what I was doing at first, I just wanted to see it happen, and I was pleased that authors were eager to sign up and even more pleased with the great turnouts that these events have had over the years. And I need to mention the great deal of support from one of my favorite local bookshops, White Dwarf/DeadWrite Books. The owners, Walter and Jill, have been at every event, bringing and selling books for all the authors that have taken part since the first one back in 2014.


A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

— Richard Bach 


Every great writer I’ve ever read over the years has been a mentor. Their words continue to inspire me and make me want to do better. Then there’s Jack and everybody at ECW Press who have worked on one aspect or another of my stories, and there’s Emily Schultz who’s been my editor through eight novels to date, and she’s so good at what she does – a great author too.


“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour


Every writer knows what it takes to put out a finished work, so it’s a good thing writers tend to be supportive of each other – funny way to behave really since we’re all competitors too.