Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Writing isn't all we do. What is your second favourite activity?

... I love to take a photograph...

I too love gardening, but I've had to let go of that dream. I've figured out that weeds are smarter than me, resistance is futile, and the last tomato I grew, final tally, cost me $18. I still love my garden and get pleasure out of working at it, and still think it's beautiful -- IMHO -- but in an arid, windblown way that I'm sure my neighbours frown at.

With gardening out of the question, film-making would be another pursuit. I've made a lot of home videos, and they're exceptionally good -- again IMHO -- but to take it anywhere would be a 110% commitment, I think, whereas I only have about 15% to spare.

These days, photography and travel, as a unit, is my second favourite thing to do. I dabble, but accept that it's a side passion. I do think sometimes how sweet it would be to not care about writing, and boot my make-belief world to heck and focus on the view finder. I'd buy a caravan and travel the world looking for the shot. 

Would I escape self-doubt then?

Probably not. Taking pictures is like writing, or maybe any art form — there's the battle with the critic in the head that says: "Fool! The world does not need another photograph. No matter how spiffy your pic may be, just go on line and scroll through those peerless super-high-res wonder-shots: the planet as tapestry taken from the sky, a close-up of a rare Phantasmal poison-arrow frog, mid-leap, tongue grabbing an equally rare Eucharatid wasp (do not fact-check, I made up the names)— or how about raw photojournalistic captures from the very eye of the war zone? These matter. Your stupid picture of a tree does not."

There's no escape from self-doubt, so I've decided to give my inner critic a room of her own. She can nag, but I accept that she can be a real dumbass a lot of the time. My pictures and stories do matter. I believe this is so, because I am an audience too, and I've noticed that there are plenty of low-res, unprofessional photographs that speak to me louder than the most exquisite rare-killer-frog shots. Same with writing.  Not that my writing is low-res, but that's the gist. 

Writing can be a lonely pursuit, but there will be an audience that connects with your characters, story, style, tempo, and the message you may be wanting to get across -- so what I advise is, keep on keeping on! Do your best, enjoy as much of the journey as you can, and always write from the bottom of your heart.
What was the question? 

Oh, second favourite activity. For now, writing is my number one love, and photography is number two, and if the experts are wrong about only living once, maybe I'll get to try my hand at film-making next time around!!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Writers are readers too, right?

Q: Writing isn’t all that we do, is it? What’s your second favorite activity?

- from Susan Shea

A: I’d love to bluff by saying running half marathons, or baking my own bread, but the truth is much more mundane. I love to work in my unruly, uncooperative garden, talking to the tomatoes (“ripen, for heaven’s sake”), reveling in the scents of herbs, roses, and pineapple sage, and dreaming about the perfect garden that my imagination and the gardening magazines tell me I should have.

I find that gardening is an activity that keeps me firmly in the present moment. No worrying about how well book sales are going or if my editor will love the new manuscript. Not having internal conversations with people I talked to last week, debating a point I forgot to mention. No Trump. It’s very zen.

Reading is a close second, although there’s a small voice in my head that persists in telling me I shouldn’t be wasting time sitting and reading when I could be, oh, I don’t know, folding laundry or washing the car. I admit I postpone reading a good book at times because I am going to get to the laundry. Funny thing is, I drift over to the computer instead and get hung up on the latest political insanity, kitten and puppy photos posted by my FB friends, a bit of research for the manuscript in progress. The towels are still in the dryer when I realize it’s dinnertime.

All that procrastination makes it clear I should just get on with it and write, take an hour off to deadhead roses, and make a list of chores that I can check off tomorrow for permission to read after I’ve washed the car. Yeah, right.

The reading that’s tempting me right now:

·      Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay (3/4 read and I’m loving it)
·      Tim Hallinan’s The Hot Countries, which I keep holding up as a reward for finishing other work
·      Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders
·      Cara Black’s Murder in Saint-Germain (she and I are doing events together this summer since we both write crime fiction set in France)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Noir at the Salad Bar

by Alan

You probably have favorite sub-genres in crime fiction, but do you venture beyond them in your personal reading, like, for example, from urban noir to village cozy?

I like reading all types of crime fiction; sub-genre doesn’t matter so much as long as the story is good.

I also like to read cookbooks (I probably have about 400 on my shelves. Which is weird, because I rarely cook from a recipe.).

If only there was a way I could read a crime fiction/cooking mash-up.

If only…

If only…


NOIR AT THE SALAD BAR was released this week from Level Best Books! And I’m *stoqued* that I’ve got a story in it, “Togas and Toques.”

Come on, you’ve got to read this anthology for the title alone!

Here’s the Amazon description:

Noir at the Salad Bar, Culinary Tales with a Bite is a crime fiction anthology featuring gastronomic mysteries. Inside are dark and varied tales with a common theme of food and drink. The contributing writers represent a mix of bestselling authors, brand new voices, and seasoned professionals from the crime writing community. Bon Appétit!

The contributing authors and stories are:
  • “The Lobster Tank” by E.A. Aymar
  • “Smoked” by Michael Bracken
  • “Harvey House Homicide” by Joyce Ann Brown
  • “A Murder of Crows” by Mara Buck
  • “The Hearts of Men” by Karen Cantwell
  • “With Great Relish” by John R. Clark
  • “Buena Vista Sandwich Club” by Frank Collia
  • “Cole Slaughter” by Sheila Connolly
  • “Black Coffee in Bed” by Sharon Daynard
  • “Petunia at the Tip Top” by Jenny Drummey
  • “Consuming Passion” by Martin Edwards
  • “Sleeping Beauty” by Gerald Elias
  • “The Sandman” by John M Floyd
  • “Bases Looted” by Jason Half
  • “Candy” by Isobel Horsburgh
  • “Beef Stew” by E L Johnson
  • “The Curse of the Apertured Apiculturist” by Larry Lefkowitz
  • “A Murder in Montreux” by Michael Allan Mallory
  • “Deadly Dinner” by LD Masterson
  • “Antipastdead” by Lorraine Sharma Nelson
  • “Togas and Toques” by Alan Orloff
  • “Grab-N-Go” by A.B Polomski
  • “Ragbones and the Case of the Christmas Goose” by Rima Perlstein Riedel
  • “Death at the Hands of Le Fée Verte” by Verena Rose
  • “Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody” by Barbara Ross
  • “Family Business” by Harriette Sackler
  • “Humble Pie” by Shawn Reilly Simmons
  • “Fed Up” by Louise Taylor
  • “Playing Games” by Elaine Togneri
  • “My Life in Killer Recipes” by Leslie Wheeler

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

All over the Map

by Dietrich Kalteis

You probably have favorite sub-genres in crime fiction, but do you venture beyond them in your personal reading, like, for example, from urban noir to village cozy?

The first thing that draws me into any book is the writer’s voice. And I could read just about anything in any genre if it was written by one of the greats like Bukowski, Burroughs, Hemingway, Kesey, Orwell, Salinger, Steinbeck, Thompson, Twain and more. I’m not even sure how many times I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird.

Oscar Wilde said, “You are what you read.” If a book doesn’t light me up, I set it aside within a few chapters. Reading somewhere between forty to sixty books a year, I know I can’t read them all, so I want to make every one memorable.

I lean toward reading crime fiction — make mine gritty with some levity on the side. And it’s amazing how many sub-genres there are about as many as Baskin Robbins has ice cream flavors — everything from the locked-room mystery, whodunit, cozy, spoof, caper, historical, hardboiled, police procedural, forensic, legal thriller, psychological thriller and spy story. Then there are regional divisions: Nordic noir, Emerald noir, tartan noir, Euro noir, Mediterranean noir, and so on.

At times I like to let my mind travel and go for a book in a foreign setting, someplace I’ve never been, or in a time gone by. Other times I like to read something set closer to home, so I go for something written by a Canadian author, and there are a lot of really good ones out there, some right on this blog.

Whatever the sub-genre and no matter where the story is set, some voices just resonate for me: Elmore Leonard, Don Winslow, George V Higgins, Robert Crais, Carl Hiaasen, James Crumley, Charles Willeford, George Pelecanos, James Lee Burke, James Ellroy are among my favorites. And while I do have favorites, it’s always a pleasure to discover a talented author I’ve never read before. 

The mood I’m in at any particular time also weighs on what I choose to read. When I feel like a quick read, I might go for something by Robert B. Parker or Richard Stark. And when I feel like something deeper I might pull a James Lee Burke or Cormac McCarthy off the shelf. And when I don’t mind scaring the hell out of myself, I read Stephen King who may be the king of horror, but he’s also written some terrific crime novels like Misery, Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch, and Joyland.

Sometimes picking up a book and reading a few chapters is the best way to get to sleep, although if it’s a really good book, it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll just stay up a while longer and keep on reading.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

As long as it's a series

By R.J. Harlick

You probably have favorite sub-genres in crime fiction, but do you venture beyond them in your personal reading, like, for example, from urban noir to village cozy

I’m afraid I can’t keep up with the myriad of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that pigeonhole crime fiction into ever smaller categories. I’ve never understood this need to classify mysteries beyond the broad categories of traditional mystery, thriller, cozy, police procedural and amateur sleuth. I once saw a list someone had put together of the various sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of crime fiction. There had to be at least thirty categories. To what end? The only purpose it seemed to serve was to create endless discussion on which books belonged in which categories with little agreement amongst the parties involved.

I read what I like to read regardless of sub-genre or sub-sub-genre.  My key requirements are that the book be well written, that the characters have depth, be engaging and as varied as real people, that the setting has enough colour to draw me into its world and that the story be a well-drawn and credible story with sufficient complexity to keep me guessing until the very end.

While I don’t mind some violence, I do not like violence for violence sake. In my reading life, I have only tossed two books into the garbage. One involved cannibalism with no obvious reason other than to shock the reader and the other was an endless tirade of violence, each scene becoming more graphic, again with no real purpose other than to shock.  

I tend to stay away from serial killer mysteries, primarily because if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. That’s not to say that I haven’t read some very fine serial killer mysteries, such as the ones by Jo Nesbo.  I’m not a big fan of psychotic killers.  I prefer the villains to be ordinary people, like you or me, who, for whatever cataclysmic reason, have been driven to commit the ultimate sin.

I’m a big fan of series. I like to sink my teeth into a good character and go with that protagonist from book to book until the author runs out of steam, often unfortunately before the last book. I find that the later books of many a best selling author are sometimes not as good as the earlier ones. A series helps my decision making process. Deciding on a next book is easy with a series. Whereas with standalones I am back to the dilemma of what to choose for the next book. For that reason, I rarely read standalones. Put it down to laziness. If an author writes both standalones and series, I will always pick the series.

I like to learn something through my reading, so I will often select a book because it is of a culture or place I know little about.  And at the risk of receiving squawks and raspberries from many of my friends, I will admit I am no big fan of cozies. They are too facile for my taste. Sorry guys.

To give you an idea of the crime fiction I like to read, here is a partial list. Anne Cleeves’ Shetland series and Vera Standhope series, Camila Lackberg’s Hedstrom and Falck series, Barbara Fradkin’s Inspector Green series, Giles Blunt’s Cardinal series, Brenda Chapman’s Stonechild and Rouleau series, Eliot Pattison’s Tibet series, Vicki Cameron’s Molly Smith series, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid and James series. I’ve also enjoyed John McFetridge’s Montreal series and Howard Shrier’s Jonah Geller series.

I wouldn’t be remiss in adding that I like to write the kind of mysteries I like to read. Next up Purple Palette for Murder available now for pre-order. Check out my website, www.rjharlick.ca, to find out more about the Meg Harris mystery series.