Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hope for the Future

by Tracy Kiely

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work…I want to achieve it through not dying.” - Woody Allen

When I decided to write a mystery, I did it because I loved the genre, and because it was something that I always wanted to do. (Okay, there may have been a voice in my head saying something along the lines of, “For the love of God, quit yakking about it, and just DO it, for Pete’s sake.” Except I used more colorful adjectives, and I didn’t say “Pete.”)
At first, my only goal was to finish it. From there the goal morphed into getting an agent and then getting published. Then came the goal of good reviews and a great ranking on Amazon. (Okay, there may have been another goal involving Ophra holding up my book for the millions of her loyal fans to run out and buy, but I’m pretty sure tequila was involved with that one, and therefore I’m not wholly responsible for its content. (Tequila! The source of most of life’s worst decisions! Now in Cherrytacular!)
Anyway, all those morphing goals made me forget what I initially wanted; to write a mystery that was good enough to get published. I did that and to be honest, most of the other goals really were out of my hands. And besides, there are so many examples of books/movies/plays that were initially considered abject failures, only to be revered as sheer brilliance decades later. While today almost everyone knows Moby Dick’s opening line of “Call me Ishmael” the book was not well received and, in fact marked the downfall of Melville’s career. The reverse is also true. Hitchcock’s Frenzy was a darling of the critics when it was released in 1972. Today, many view it as coarse and misogynistic, containing none of the sophisticated grace of his early work.
So, what is it that I hope for my books long after I’m gone?
To answer this, I must first tell you about one of my favorite I Love Lucy episode; the one where Lucy decides that she is going to write the Great American Novel. Ricky, Fred and Ethel, of course, all think the book is horrible, but Lucy is convinced it’s pure genius. However, when the publisher writes to offer her a contract, Ricky is forced to literally eat his hat. Lucy’s joy is dashed when she meets with the publisher and he confesses that his secretary mixed up his correspondence.  Lucy’s manuscript was rejected. Feeling sorry for the mistake, he promises to shop it around. Within weeks, he calls with good news; he’s found someone who wants to publish the book. Of course, the kicker for Lucy is that the publisher wants it to be a kind of manual of How Not to Write a Book.
So to answer your question: What do I hope?
Well, as I am quite sure that I will never be on an English teacher’s reading list for reasons that I would be proud of, I merely hope that I don’t land on one the way Lucy did.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Survive the test of time?

By R.J. Harlick

When you have a book published, maybe several, what are your thoughts, for the future? Is the book something you hope will be found and read, in 50 years? Or do you know, going in, that you may become out of print, a thing of history...or forgotten? What is your hope?

Future? What’s that? My words would live on? I wish….

No, not really. I write for the moment, for the fun of it, for the thrill experienced when I complete the first draft, when the last polishing has been done on words I thought couldn’t be polished anymore, when I finally hold these words bound under a bright new cover, when I personalize and sign the title page for a fan or a new reader, when I receive a glowing letter from a fan or read a favourable review.

I enjoy creating my own fictional world, creating plots with twists that keep my readers guessing until the very end, creating characters that take on lives of their own and creating places that come alive in my readers’ minds.

With my words, I hope to transport my readers to another world, to give them a respite from their busy lives, to introduce them to cultures and places that may not be their own and to acquaint them with the things that aren’t always right in this world.

But I can’t say that I have ever given thought to my words living on into the future. After all, they are mysteries, meant to be enjoyed for the moment. I doubt they will even be in print ten years from now, let alone fifty. Mind you the electronic versions will no doubt still lurk in the bottomless electronic black hole. But with the thousands of new ebooks being added everyday, I doubt anyone would be able to find them.

I think the most I could hope for is that fifty years from now, someone stumbles across a copy lost in the back library shelves or buried away in storage, pulls it out, cracks open the brittle cover and finds themselves transported into Meg’s world.

Before I sign off, I just want to say how much I am enjoying writing for Criminal Minds. I was rather leery at first, not being one to keep even my own blog up-to-date. But I am finding this question format suits me. It makes me explore aspects of my writing I’ve never given thought about before. Thanks, guys, for inviting me to join you. You rock.

As a last note, my latest Meg Harris mystery, Silver Totem of Shame, is now out on bookstore shelves in Canada and the U.S. and available at all ebook stores.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dreams of Immortality

When you have a book published, maybe several, what are your thoughts, for the future? Is the book something you hope will be found and read, in 50 years? Or do you know, going in, that you may become out of print, a thing of history...or forgotten? What is your hope?

by Meredith Cole

Does any writer hope to have their books languish, forgotten and dusty, on the book shelves of the future? Don't we all want to be remembered? We know we can't all be classics, those rare books that "transcend" genre and time, and enter the summer reading lists of rising juniors for years to come... But I'm sure we would all hate to imagine ourselves as one of those writers, despite being on a bestseller list and winning awards, are considered years later to be old fashioned and are eventually recycled by libraries for lack of interest.

I start a book, not hoping for immortality, but hoping to communicate what I want to say. There's a story burning inside of me and I want to get it down on paper. My first hope is to get it finished (which is not easy) and have it read by others. I can't control what people will say about it or think about it now or in future centuries--I can only polish it up and make it as good as I can.

As with any new technology, I've heard great fear and hope expressed about ebooks. But maybe there will be no need for anything to ever go out of print if there's room for all of us in the vast Internet library in the sky. We can all be rediscovered in the years to come and have that magical moment where a reader is once again sucked into our story and is left wanting more. And that, I admit, is great to imagine.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Clean Well Lighted Place

Where does the writing muse strike you? Anywhere or do you have a favorite place to write?

by Paul D. Marks

The muse can strike anywhere. Anything and everything can spark ideas, either ideas for new stories or ideas for scenes or bits for something I'm already working on. I can be walking the dogs or driving or at the beach. Watching a movie, having a conversation with someone. The muses are everywhere, you just have to be tuned into them.

One of the places that they strike often is in the shower. For some reason that frees up my mind. To that end, I keep a diver's slate in the shower to write down notes so I don't forget things by the time I get out.

But muses or not, what you really have to do is just sit down at your keyboard, start typing, stream of consciousness if nothing else, and let it bleed. Even if it's not initially useable it will help get the juices flowing and free up the mind. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
But getting ideas and thinking about new works or works in progress come anywhere and everywhere. There's a FB meme attributed to Eugene Ionesco that says "A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing," and it's very true.

My favorite place to write these days is in my home office. Not very romantic, but it's got everything I need close at hand. Probably more than I need. I know some people say you shouldn't have a TV or phone in your office, but I do. But I can turn them off. And I have a nice view. Pictures on the wall that inspire me. Mostly album covers and movie lobby cards, some other things. And, of course, my picture of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird from Easy Rider. When I was younger I had a full-sized poster of that shot, now it's just a little 8x10. Oh how we change as we get older. 

I also have access to diet Cherry Pepsi and Waiwera water. And I used to like to scarf down Red Vines while I wrote, but that is, unfortunately, a thing of the past.

One of my assistants, in his usual place, where he can do his
best job editing my work.
When I was younger, I had dreams of sitting on the Left Bank, sipping Absinthe and writing. But, as I may have mentioned before, when I did try drinking and writing all I wanted to do was play. So no writing got done. And when I was a student I would wonder about people who could study or work in libraries. I always wanted to flirt and goof off. And every movement around me distracted me. Same for writing in parks and other such places. So none of that for me. No, the best place and, therefore, my favorite place to write is definitely my home office. Plus I have my assistants to help out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I was told there'd be a muse.

Yeah, I've heard of this "Muse". I've heard that she comes along like the sandman or the blue fairy and brings something with her that makes writing happen.

So I'm returning my writer's pack to the manufacturer because I've checked everywhere, turned it upside down and shaken it hard.  No Muse.

What I've got is a bum to put in the chair and ten fingers to put on the keyboard.  Okay, eight fingers - who types on a QWERTY keyboard with their thumbs? Actually, now I'm watching myself type - it's four.

Put it another way: The Muse strikes me in my office at 9am Monday to Friday for ten weeks until the first draft is done. Or if she doesn't - if houseguests or holidays turn up in her place, or some crummy bit of life gets badly in the way - then she strikes me seven days a week, morning, noon and night, in my office, kitchen, sitting up in bed, in coffeeshops, on planes, in convention hotels while my friends are down in the bar laughing and enjoying life . . . you get the picture.

Sometimes, though, just sometimes, I know what people are talking about. Sometimes, bum in chair and four fingers flying, I can feel the story unfurling in front of me like a bolt of silk. I see all the connections, all the strands to be woven together, all the little hooks and twists to be caught on. Characters tell me their secrets, settings reveal all their hidden corners and writing is a joy.

When that happens I write my guts out, making the most of it, and walk away - crawl away more like - thinking that I've cracked this book lark at last. The next day, I bounce back to my desk and . . . it's a day like today was. Who are these people? What's happening? Why are they in a florist's shop? How can this be my life?

So I wrote my 2000 words and it'll be better tomorrow. Because, even if it's like shovelling concrete while it sets, I'm nearer the end. Museless as ever.

The Hardest Writing is Showering

by Clare O'Donohue

This week's question: Where does the writing muse strike you?

I've said this before but it's very true for me - sometimes writing is like molding soft clay with my fingers, and other times it's like carving granite with a spoon. When it's easy, the words come faster than I can type, the characters surprise me, and the whole process feels like I'm merely the typist, transcribing the movie playing in my head.

It's amazing. Almost magical.

But when it's not... well... it's performance art. It's me, suddenly aware that the tub needs a good scrubbing, or I haven't alphabetized my spices, or ever watched all 456 episodes of Law & Order in sequence. It's Facebook binges, and internet shopping, and repeatedly re-reading the last few chapters I've written in the hopes that something sparks me (which it doesn't.)

It's the episode of the Dyke Van Dyke Show where Rob decides to finish his book but can't even get started. When his wife, Laura, asks why he isn't writing, he explains that every moment in a writer's life is writing... “Pacing is writing; brushing your teeth; the hardest writing is showering.” And she points out that the one thing that isn't writing is explaining writing.

Eight books in and writing is still hard work. And the hardest part is that each book has its own weird challenges. Some, including my latest in the Someday series, The Double Wedding Ring, are difficult to start. No scene, no characters, jumped out at me, and I just kept staring at the blank screen with no idea where to go. Others, like Life Without Parole, were half way through before I hit the wall. I was flying along and then, WHAM. Nothing. Just staring for a long while, before finally, slowly a trickle of an idea turned into the rest of the book.

Missing Persons, the first Kate Conway book, came out of me so fast it quite literally hurt. I could not write fast enough to keep up with where that book went, and I described it (forgive me) as vomit writing. Every time I would walk away from the computer another idea would hit and I'd go back with more to spill out. I'd even wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep until I put a scene on paper. It was exhausting and it was really cool. But I'm not sure I want that experience again.

Why was the muse so insistent with that book, and so absent with others? I don't know. Every writer in the world will tell you that the best way to write a book is to put your butt in a chair. If you wait for it to be "right" you'll never get past the dedication. And that's true.

But why some days it's easier than others? Where that the inspiration come from? I don't have a clue. If I did, I would bottle it and keep it close for the next staring-at-the-screen day. In the meantime, I have to go see what Jack McCoy and the gang are doing in season 11...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top 5 Writing and Inspiration Locales

This week's question: Where does the writing muse strike you?
My answer: A Top 10 list. Why not? OK actually it's two Top 5 lists.

  1. Mornings at home alone, looking out the window
  2. Airport waiting lounges
  3. Coffee shops as long as (a) there's good coffee and (b) I'm not seated next to a narcissist who talks too loud
  4. Planes and trains in motion
  5. Hotel bars (only through the first glass of wine, then my brain is mush)

Key ingredients: stimulation and the luxury of solitary thought. (i.e., people and traffic are ok as long as they don't demand my focused attention)

  1. Boating
  2. Driving
  3. Elliptical
  4. Hiking
  5. Snowboarding
Key ingredients: action—a job that wakes up the physical part of my brain without putting pressure on it intellectually. (I would add housework but I'd be lying.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Where Are You, Sharon Stone?

Where does the writing muse strike you?

Where, indeed. In fact, some days the questions really are “Where the hell is the muse? What does she look like? Have I done something to offend her?”

In my former professional life, I was used to writing because I had to, because someone was waiting for the result, that someone most frequently being the president of whatever university I was working for or with. No muse required, just my experience, ideas, and a degree of persuasive language. I was paid for this. Before those days, I was a reporter and that was easier still without a muse. The paper went to press on a certain day or hour. No fooling around.

My first book was written with no contract, no editor, no agent, only my excitement and the self-issued challenge: Write the damn book or stop talking about it. I was the muse. It worked. The second was under contract and I was thrilled to be looking at a series. The story’s genesis was close to my interests and passions, and the muse stayed with me even if some days were hard, when the words didn’t come smoothly. I finished the third in the series a while ago, also under contract, but after some disheartening glitches in distribution for the second, my internal cheerleader seemed to throw up her hands, and start taking too many vacation days. It was a slog to get through revisions. Is it something about the third book in general that’s harder? I’d love to know what my Criminal Minds colleagues think.

So where does the muse strike? When she deigns to drop in these days (I always picture her as Sharon Stone, Albert Brooks’ goddess, the charming one who liked little blue Tiffany’s boxes and take out food), it’s completely unpredictable. I might already be at the keyboard writing a scene, or I might be driving to San Francisco, or vacuum cleaning or gardening…she keeps me on my toes and I make sure I always have a way to jot down the idea she slips me before it drifts off. I’m trying out a new series idea, working on a stand-alone, and preparing the third Dani O’Rourke for publication later this year. It’s good, but there’s a lot less magic and calling forth mythic helpers these days.

I am looking forward to being inspired by other Criminal Minds authors who are still experiencing the excitement, the sprinkling of magic dust from their muses. Maybe I can wangle an introduction to their Sharon Stone for a few weeks!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Mentored by the Master

By Art Taylor

Stanley Ellin was the first author who popped to mind when I read this week's question: "If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?" But then, he's also the author who pops to mind most often when I'm talking about some aspect of short story writing in the mystery genre.

A couple of weeks back, at the Books Alive! conference hosted by the Washington Independent Review of Books, I was on a panel with Donna Andrews, Laura Lippman, and Brad Parks, and one of the attendees asked about the requirements and rules of mystery fiction—which prompted an eager discussion about how the breadth and diversity of the genre ultimately means that there aren't any, "except," someone quipped, "that you have to have a crime, of course." which I replied, "Well, actually.... I've just taught two Stanley Ellin stories in my short story class at Mason, and neither of them features a crime, and one of them won the Edgar for Best Short Story, so....."

Ellin is a master of the short story for a variety of reasons: the crispness of his characterization, the tightness of both his plotting and his prose, the relentlessness of his suspense, and then that combination of cold scrutiny, sly humor, and wicked irony. A careful, methodical craftsman (his short stories were published at the rate of about one per year for almost his entire career), he steeped himself in tradition, as he explained in the introduction to The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete Mystery Tales, 1948-1978:

Stanley Ellin, 1916-1986
So it was that even before adolescence I was deep into popular magazine writers who... now stand propped up as literary monuments on academia's lawns. I read Hemingway, Faulkner, and Scott Fitzgerald hot off the press. Ring Lardner, who still eludes the monument-makers, I worshipped. Simultaneously, there were explorations of the volumes in the family bookcase, among them collections of Mark Twain, Kipling, Poe, Stevenson, and de Maupassant....
Poe bred the blackest fantasies in me. De Maupassant's stories made me uneasy. I knew that something highly interesting was going on between the lines but couldn't quite fathom what it was. I also knew intuitively, even in my extreme youth, that here was a writer who reduced stories to their absolute essence. And that the ending of each story, however unpredictable, was, when I thought of it, as inevitable as doom.
The true magic again.

But at the same time that he was inspired and influenced by these past masters—incorporating that "true magic" into his own carefully polished tales—he was also innovative and even subtly revolutionary in his own way. Perhaps his best known stories include one that never clearly states the dire trouble beneath its surface, another whose ending leaves you perched on the edge of what happens next, and a circular tale whose ending is just another beginning. 

Writers don't always make the best teachers, of course. The imaginative mind—creating, constructing—might not always be the best one to define, describe, organize and pass along "how to" advice. As Ellin himself discovered (see that paragraph above again), the writer learns first by reading. But at the same time, I'd have loved the chance to meet Ellin, to talk about his approach, to try to learn something, anything, there at the feet of the master.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Man of Many Books

by Alan

If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?

Hemingway? Too gruff.

Edgar Allan Poe? Too creepy.

Faulkner? Too wordy.

Norman Mailer? Too drunk.

Tom Wolfe? Too alive.

I think I’d choose Robert B. Parker. He’s one of the authors that inspired me to become a writer myself, and I’ve read every one of his (many) books, some multiple times. RobertBParker
He’s written four series, in two different genres (mystery and western). He’s written standalones. He was prolific; it seemed like he wrote at least a book a year for fifty years. I love his characters. I love his dialogue. I love the moral dilemmas he created for his characters. (His plots were, uh, utilitarian, for the most part, simply canvasses to paint on. But nobody’s perfect.)

Bob and I would have some fun…

We’d talk shop, down on the banks of the Charles in springtime, watching the college crew teams practice on the river. We’d stroll through Back Bay, discussing characterization and the role of the macho sidekick. We would enjoy a meal at the Chart House as we watched the planes descend toward Logan, deep in conversation about multiple book story arcs.

And he’d impress upon me the importance of researching the setting where a story takes place, insisting on hands-on experiential learning. We’d work out together at the local gym. Take in a new exhibit at the Museum of Science.

Catch a game or three at Fenway.

Yeah, I definitely could get into this whole being mentored thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's all in the storytelling.

By R.J. Harlick

If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?

This is such a difficult question for I have read and admired over the years so many authors who are no longer with us, from the American greats like Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, to the British greats like Thomas Hardy, the Bronte Sisters and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I could even list a few Russians, like Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekov and of course a few Canadians, like Carol Shields, Robertson Davies or Hugh MacLennan. But as much as I’ve admired these authors, I’m not sure if I would want to be mentored by them.

The author who I would’ve loved as a mentor is a modern day writer who passed away recently, 2001 to be exact. Dorothy Dunnett is her name. She’s a Scottish author who wrote both mysteries and historical fiction. Her mystery series staring Johnson Johnson consists of seven books. He is a widowed portrait painter who lives on a sailboat and also doubles as a British secret service agent. But while the books were fun, they weren’t exceptional, unlike her historical fiction.

She wrote two series, the Lymond Chronicles set in 16th century Europe during the time of Mary Queen of Scots and the House of Niccola set in 15th century Europe and Africa. I fell in love with the Lymond Chronicles and swear I’ve reread them at least 4 times, which is not exactly a light undertaking. The series consists of 6 hefty volumes with each book a good 500 pages or more. The stories are so intricate and complex that I learn something new with each successive reading.

You are probably wondering why I have picked a writer of historical fiction rather than a mystery writer. The answer is simple. For me the most important part of writing be it crime fiction, science fiction, romance or literary fiction, is the storytelling. The success of any work of creative fiction rests or falls on the storytelling.

Dorothy Dunnett was a master storyteller. She conjured up a world that keeps the reader fully engaged until the very end of the last volume. She packed more life into a single sentence than most writers do in a chapter. She contrived plots within plots within plots. Her stories have more twists than most mysteries and she sure keeps you guessing until the very end.

Her characters are all finely drawn people in their own right, be they minor ones or the main characters that move from book to book. Given the number that prance in and out of the six volumes this is no mean feat. The protagonist, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish noble, can only be called an anti-hero. There is a lot to admire about the man, but there is a lot to dislike about him. He can be aggravatingly frustrating. Nonetheless Dunnett was able to create a protagonist that keeps the reader coming back for more.

I need only close my eyes to conjure up the many settings she created through her vivid descriptions and character/setting interactions, from the hills of Scotland, to the castles of the Loire Valley and then onto the Kremlin and steppes of Russia with a side trip to Malta and lastly the Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Empire.

While I make no attempt to emulate her writing style, I have endeavoured to learn from her by reading her books. So I suppose in a way she has served as a mentor. If I could be a tenth of the writer she was I would be satisfied. And if I have enticed you to try out an author new to you, go for it.

By the way, my new Meg Harris mystery, Silver Totem of Shame is now out as an ebook through all ebook sellers. The trade paper back will be out shortly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ghost of Mysteries Past

If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?

By Meredith Cole

I can think of a lot of living authors who I'd love to have mentor me--and many who have graciously helped me along the way. But I got a bit stuck on the dead author example. I had a vision of a ghost rising up from the grave with advice or something. Spooky stuff.

Anyhow, an author who is no longer with us mentoring me? My first thought was Dorothy Sayers. I
love her witty, intelligent mysteries. I return to her books again and again, enjoying the plots and the characters. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane have a truly modern relationship, and both characters are complex and unique. I love that she was also an academic, translating Dante, and a playwright.

I'm not sure what I would expect from Dorothy Sayers as my mentor, though. Career advice? Back when she was publishing there were no ebooks, and there were probably tons of smaller publishers. There was no amazon. and probably her books were hand sold lovingly by independent booksellers. Today publishing is completely different.

But stories never really change. Styles might get tweaked, and certain trends come and go, but I'm sure her advice on story telling would still be valuable. And if not, she would at least go on my list of people I'd love to have dinner with! And while I'm at it, I'd invite Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to the party, too. And then I'd just sit back and listen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Best of Times – The Worst of Times – The Same Time

What is your best experience at a mystery convention? Your worst?

By Paul D. Marks

Coming on as the cleanup hitter on Fridays has its challenges in that sometimes people who come before and answer the questions earlier in the week beat you to the punch.  As happened this week with the title of my blog and Clare's, which I'd already written before seeing hers.  All I can say is great minds think alike...

Hope this isn't too egotistical, but since you asked:

It was the best of times...

Well, I have to say my best experience at a mystery convention was at Bouchercon last September (2013) in Albany, New York. Every year the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards banquet is held in the same location as Bouchercon. And since I was nominated for a Shamus, my wife, Amy, and I decided to go to the convention.

Now Albany is about the last place I ever thought I would want to go. But being troopers, we made reservations for the convention, hotel and plane and were soon on our way.

Albany stoop
Albany architecture
We were in Albany about 2-3 days before the Shamus banquet, and besides attending Bouchercon and being on a panel (which was fun), meeting new people and hooking up with old friends, we took some time to explore Albany. And even before I knew if I'd won or lost the award, I told Amy how much I liked Albany. It was a typical, quaint-ish New England town, despite the fact that it's the state capital of New York.

We had dinner at Jack’s Oyster House, where the likes of both presidents Roosevelt ate, along with Hillary Clinton, JFK, jr. many governors of NY and gangster Legs Diamond, though not all at the same time, of course. Also William Kennedy, the renowned novelist from Albany.

And, Albany is always the place the folks on Law & Order dread going when they have to appear before the state supreme court.

Paul D. Marks , New York State Capitol, Albany
New York State Capital

The people of Albany were friendly and since the convention was in September the weather was very pleasant. Not sure I'd want to be there during the humidity of summer or the snows of hardcore winter.

The fact that I did win the award was the icing on the cake and made me like Albany even more. So it was the best of times.


It was the worst of times....

My worst convention experience: The Shamus Banquet in Albany, NY.

Why? In the weeks leading up to the trip, on the plane, in the hotel, in the couple days before the banquet, I was as cool as cool can be. Not nervous, not uptight. Didn't know if I'd win or lose the award. But either way, I was fine.

So we go to the Shamus banquet on Friday night, and we're sitting at our table, talking with Alison Gaylin, another nominee (and winner) in a different category, her husband and the other people at the table. And everything is ducky. I'm still cool as the proverbial cucumber.

The awards begin. My category comes name is announced. I get up from our table, in the back of the room, and walk to the front and up onto the stage. By the time it comes for me to give my little acceptance speech I'm a wreck – in just that short walk, the nerves finally kicked in. I had a little speech all worked out, even written, and I blew everything, mumbling and stumbling over my words.

Felt like a fool. I'm pretty good at speaking, don't get nervous, have things to say, but this was so out of the ordinary, I just wiped out.

Afterwards I was talking to Hank Phillippi Ryan, though I'm not sure she would remember. I said I felt like a fool and she said the best thing anyone could say: "All they'll remember is that you won."

Sounds good to me. The worst of times...but still the best.

Paul D Marks w/ Shamus Award
With my Shamus Award ( and the old White Heat cover)


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Best and Worst

I've been lucky. Four Bouchercons, three Left Coast Crimes and two Malices and I've escaped fire, flood and food poisoning so far.

In fact, it's much easier to think of potential best times than worst ones. San Francisco Bouchercon, where I checked in so late that the standard rooms were full and I got kicked upstairs to a suite with a balcony and a view of the bay?  Taking a trolleybus back to the hotel from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Cleveland Bouchercon? The room party, post-Agatha banquet at Malice - thinking the last time I laughed this helplessly I got sent out of the classroom to consider my options . . .

But one memory has bubbled up from where it lives deep inside me, causing me to shiver sometimes still.

Only the thing is that this bad time was also a pretty great one. (He knew what he was talking about, that Dickens.)

The scene is Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, October 2012. DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS got nominated for a Macavity award by Mystery Readers Journal. Yay! But I glanced at the shortlist and decided I didn't need to worry about an acceptance speech. Boo! But then I won. Yay/Boo!

On the one hand, I was chuffed to bits. I'd never won an award before and up on the stage, there were John Connelly and Janet Rudolph, and all my friends were cheering and I was in the same building as Jimi Hendrix's guitars, for crying out loud.

On the other hand, I took the mic, looked out across a sea of faces and swiftly rethought my "don't need to prepare a speech" thing. I froze like a surprise ice-age. I didn't thank anyone. Not my editor, agent, kind reviewers, friends who were still cheering. Wait - I did thank Janet Rudolph. But I thanked her for having such pretty hair.

I slunk off-stage to be greeted with supportive denials all-round. "You were fine; it was sweet; the acoustics are terrible anyway - no one could hear you." I swallowed it and got on with the party.

Only, the next morning, there was another best and worst moment. I met Mary Higgins Clark at breakfast time. And she said congratulations! Then she lowered her voice and went on "Boy, you *were* surprised, weren't you?" and twinkled in a very kindly, but still telling me straight that I'd made a chump of myself, sort of way.

So, in conclusion: here is my most serious piece of writing advice to anyone who hasn't been nominated for an award yet. When you are - even if the other people on the shortlist are Jane Austen, Albert Einstein and God - write some names on your hand.

You'll feel silly if people see you scrubbing them off in the toilets after you don't win, but it could be worse (and better) too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


by Clare O'Donohue

My first convention was Bouchercon, San Francisco. Shout-out to Robin Spano! I guess we were newbies at the same one. Like Robin, I was deer-in-a-headlights overwhelmed. Which is the same as everyone at their first mystery convention - especially if it's Bouchercon. It's big and full of people who all seem to know one another. The new person standing on the edge unsure of how to join in.

Luckily for me, for everyone, who goes to Bouchercon, no one is alone for long. My first convention friends were our own Catriona McPherson and Ellen Crosby, who were fellow panelists early on Friday. After that, I met a few more people, and then a few more people. And now Bouchercon feels like home. I can't pick a favorite so I'll say all of them have been my best convention experiences.

My worst? That's easy and has absolutely nothing to do with the convention itself. It was Malice Domestic several years ago. After several amazing Bouchercons, I was spreading my wings and trying to hit all the conventions. Problem was, I was also working a lot, tired, and not feeling myself. It was my first Malice and I didn't want to miss it. so I went  - and arrived knowing I didn't have the energy for a full weekend of activities. I did my panel, said hello to a few friends, and retreated to my room. When I got home my doctor determined I was anemic. Lesson learned. I was taking on more than I could handle and not paying attention to my body.

This year I'm going back to Malice, but feeling healthy and ready to hang out. If you're there (and especially if you're a newbie) come over and say hi.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bouchercon and Why it Rocks

The best, for me, is Bouchercon. It's big (over 1500 people) and bustles with positive energy. Conversations with booksellers, readers, librarians, and other authors wait around every corner. Even when I'm feeling shy and introverted, all I have to do is keep a (small) smile on my face and either a stranger will start chatting to me or oh look, there's a crowd I know walking toward me.

My favorite Bouchercon was St. Louis (2011), maybe because I lucked out with a Thursday morning panel that was lively and fun (where I sat beside and met Criminal Mind Alan Orloff for the first time) and resulted in a lineup in the book room so long that I had to send my husband back to our hotel room to reload three booksellers with extra stock my publisher had sent me.

But I think what I love is more general than fleeting moments of success. It's the warmth in the air, the like minds that populate the panels and the hallways and the bar. I've made hard and lasting friendships at Bouchercon.

When I was super shy at my first B'Con (San Francisco, 2010), I wandered into the hospitality room and stuck close to the buffet. Total wallflower move, but Hilary Davidson beamed at me and started chatting, and I'm glad she did, because she's become not only a great partner in events and touring, but a true friend. (She's actually the reason I'm here on 7 Criminal Minds; I took her place when she left a few months ago.)

Also in San Francisco, I found myself watching Nora McFarland and Sandra Brannan on a panel. They both seemed kind and smart, so I struck up a conversation afterwards. Turned out, we'd all had our first books published a week or two before the conference, and we all felt like deer in headlights in the big scary world of publishing. Our five minute conversation gave me courage to go out and meet more strangers, and made me two friends for life.

It's always very exciting for me when a stranger (or even a non-relative) tells me they've read and enjoyed my work. So imagine my delight in Cleveland (2012), when Michigan librarian Kathy Fannon approached me, tongue-tied because she was so thrilled to meet. Kathy has also become a friend outside the book world. When she was in Vancouver for American Thanksgiving, her daughter (who lives here) invited my husband and me to join their family holiday celebration, and we had a blast.

I could keep going with stories like this for pages and pages. Instead, let me just recommend Bouchercon to anyone who's curious. My advice, if you're shy like me: Go with an open mind, talk with anyone you see, and let the good times come to you.

Disclaimer: I have never been to Left Coast Crime. It's on my hit list for the future though, because I hear from Susan Shea (yesterday's 7CM panelist) and others that it's like a mini-Bouchercon, with even more warmth (if that's possible).

The worst—ah, who cares? I just won't go to those again. (You know who you are...)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Happy Times

Best and worst experiences at conventions? That’s easy, too easy, really. For this assignment, I’ve chosen two “conventions” (authors + fans + others in the publishing industry).

The bad news first: Last year, I had a new book out with a new publisher. I splurged for Malice Domestic in Washington, D.C. for the first time, thinking it was a perfect launching event. Oh, was I wrong. In spite of registering early and getting my photo and bio in early, I was left out of the printed program. And the booksellers couldn’t get my book even though it was the very week THE KING’S JAR launched. I was on a couple of panels, but otherwise had no obvious connection to the convention. I had depressing fantasies of people at the bar whispering, “Who is that woman and how did she get in?” So there I was, feeling like a total fraud, invisible in the large crowd of authors, apologizing, explaining, trying to be a good sport and not to whine…Disaster all around! Should I have brought books? Maybe, but my publisher had promised to make them available. Carting books across country isn’t easy. I had thought I was blessedly free of that.

Having gotten that bad memory out of the way, the best was this year’s Left Coast Crime. The committee that worked for two years on it made it a sparkling success; the attendees were happy and engaged; the bookseller had both of my books. Best of all, I couldn’t go 10 feet without bumping into someone I knew, someone who wanted to say hello, or suggest we share a coffee break, or inquire about my book while telling me their latest success. I heard this from scores of friends: It felt like the best reunion of pals you could wish for. My agent was there with plans for my next book, and the Amazon team (my first book is now with them because the initial publisher sold its entire back list to Amazon) took their authors out for a wonderful, laugh-filled dinner. The perfect weather in Monterey just underscored the positive mood.  If that wasn’t enough, a Criminal Minds pal, Catriona McPherson, won an award for her latest Dandy Gilver book and a half dozen of the other finalists in different categories were Sisters in Crime and/or Mystery Writers of America chapter members and friends.

Good memories trump bad ones, and this convention set me up for a spring and summer of refreshed writing.