Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stay-work-ations are best! by Cathy Ace

Summer's almost done! How did you spend your summer vacation? Or did you even take one?

 A bit of the garden in August
I travel a lot. There’s hardly a month in the year when I don’t get handed a series of boarding passes, all of which seem to have me placed in group Z, so I’m in the last little band of stragglers trailing onto the plane without even a glimmer of hope of finding an inch or two in the overhead bins. It’s why I don’t use wheelie-bags, just a tote that I can stuff under the seat in front of me.

Even sat on new deck seats!
The result is that MY summer vacation is to be at home for about six weeks without having to so much as enter an airport. It’s weird, I thought my “former life” – owning and running a business that meant I had to travel the world for nine or ten months of the year – was behind me. But I’ve discovered that this writing life involves a good deal of flitting about the place too…if that’s what you want to, and can, do. I’m lucky I can do it, and have met people at conventions and conferences I know I would keep in touch with even if I never wrote another word, or had another book published. I’m so grateful for that; camaraderie can spring up in all sorts of places. 

Probably the last bouquet from the garden
Thus, as I eye my brand new suitcase (CostCo special offer!) ahead of flying to New Orleans for Bouchercon in less than a couple of weeks, I have about six weeks behind me of “stay-work-cation” that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve had a chance to work in, and enjoy, the garden…as well as working on edits for Cait Morgan Mystery #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS, which will be published in October, and on the edits for the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries #3, which will be published in the UK in November, and in the US and Canada in March 2017. 

With fellow CWC authors at Black Bond Books, Maple Ridge
I also took over as Board Chair for Crime Writers of Canada at the end of May this year, so I’ve been hard at work getting up to speed with all that entails, as well as attending various Board and committee meetings. I also organised and participated in a four-event CAROUSEL OF CRIME for CWC members at Black Bond Bookstores around the Lower Mainland in BC. That was great fun. On September 1st – yes, tomorrow – the CWC Arthur Ellis Awards for excellence in Canadian crime writing open for submissions for the 2017 cycle…for works published in 2016…and that’s been a lot of effort (not just on my part) too. (Photo: L to R - Allan J Emerson, Sam Wiebe, me, Marty Allen, Katherine Prairie, Eileen Cook.)

Gabby & Poppy like having me at home
But it’s good to be at home. For the past couple of years I’ve visited Mum in Wales during August. This year I was in Wales in May and stayed with her before, then again after, the weekend I attended CrimeFest in Bristol. I have to be honest, I’ve missed my summer trip to Wales, but to be here with the dogs and my husband has been super (yes, I thought about the order, there!). 

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER will be available in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and in November in the US/Canada, and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Vacation of My Life

I have never taken a classic vacation, with airports and foreign lands and lying on silky beaches under blue skies drinking mojitos. I would seize the chance if somebody gave me a free ticket, but I've never been well-off enough to do it on my own steam. Or if I did break the piggy bank and just go, I wouldn't enjoy myself, as I'd be too depressed about my broken piggy bank to enjoy those mojitos. So my vacations consist of just-as-pleasant road trips, driving from my small city in the interior of BC to the big city on the coast, and visiting everyone I know down there, or camping at the nearby lakes.

This summer has been like no other, because it's my first year as a published author, and I was invited to so many events and met so many great people, which in a way has knocked me out of orbit and into what has been the vacation of my life. None of it feels quite real ... I'm in Narnia, or Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, or Never-Never Land, or Oz, and expect to land soon, poof, back in Kansas -- whoo-hoo, Toto, that was fun -- back where I belong, quietly tending my garden and minding my own business.

So yes, I have enjoyed this summer's other worldly, non-linear vacation. BUT I also missed out a lot, for the following reason: The trick with any vacation is to be in the moment, something I'm not very good at. Ever since I was small I tended to drift into outer space ... not only in grim situations, like math class, but during good times too. So I wasn't quite present to dance down that possibly-illusory-but-what-the-heck yellow brick road on this 2016 vacation-of-my-life, and so never really did celebrate my accomplishments, except from some distant place. Not good! This is something I'll be working on for next year, for the launch of Book II. I will try to be completely there this time!

Happy Autumn, everybody! Be in the moment :)

Monday, August 29, 2016

What is a vacation?

Q: Summer’s almost done! How did you spend your summer vacation? Or did you even take one?

-from Susan

A: No vacation this year. I have been spending my otherwise vacation funds on professional events: MIXED UP WITH MURDER book tours in February; Malice Domestic (Bethesda, MD) in April; and the upcoming Bouchercon (New Orleans). I will visit a quiet little corner of Burgundy in the dead cold of pre-Christmas to do seasonal research for my second French village mystery, and then Left Coast Crime happens in Hawaii (Oahu) in March and Malice again in Bethesda right before the first French village mystery, LOVE AND DEATH IN BURGUNDY, is released. Please don’t tell me that I can write off all this on my taxes. As my tax guy tells me gently every year, deductions aren’t my problem, revenue to take them against is the issue.

I’ve been working all summer: With my St. Martin’s editors on polishing the first in the new series; with my second publisher on preparing all of the Dani novels for release in sparkling new print and e-book editions; on the first draft of the second St. Martin’s book; and on my Sisters in Crime and other volunteer involvements.

The Dani series - the first, originally published by Avalon, then Amazon's Thomas & Mercer, is coming very soon.

But I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place so vacation-themed that it’s packed with visitors from around the world pretty much all year. You can’t stop for a cappuccino in North Beach without hearing at least six languages being spoken, and parking to look at seductive San Francisco from the viewing area at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge is virtually impossible between the huge tour buses and the hundreds of hopeful cars lined up waiting for parking, never mind a thousand happy bike riders navigating from SF to Sausalito. So I – with friends and family - visit the museums, eat at the latest trendy restaurants, walk Crissy Field to look at boats and sailboarders, and otherwise give thanks I happen to live in a place where ‘staycations’ are as good as the getaways I’m missing. Could be worse.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Where Did Summer (and Summer Reading) Go?

By Art Taylor

Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda has written before about his preferences for winter reading (the long nights perfect for history, as he says in one of the capsule reviews here, and for mystery, as he says here, and for ghost stories too, as he said in a column I can't find to link); for summer, he seems to like an equally wide range, though maybe still with a lean toward genre fiction, as he shows here.

For me, summer is distinct from the other seasons in a different but significant way: During the school year, I'm mostly reading texts for class, while in the summer I mostly have more freedom in my reading.

I should emphasize that word mostly in both cases. During the school year, I'm always sneaking in some reading of my own (often short stories), and as this summer proved, it's sometimes tough to break cleanly from the academic world.

After posting grades at the end of spring semester, the first book I read —and greatly enjoyed—brought me fully back onto the college campus: Cynthia Kuhn's The Semester of Our Discontent. And a collection I picked up next, B.K. Stevens' Her Infinite Variety, featured a great story about adjuncts—more university life! (I actually wrote about both of these books in a column at the Washington Independent Review of Books, along with some other academic mysteries.)

By the second half of the summer, I was already gearing up for the next school year (starting this Monday!)—reading and research specifically into 19th-century detective fiction by women writers for a course called "Women of Mystery" I'll be teaching for the first time. It was great fun to revisit or to read for the first time works by Harriet Prescott Spofford, Mary Fortune, C.L. Pirkis, Anna Katherine Green, and Baroness Orczy, among others. (And if you want links to some free reads by several of these writers, check out my column on this topic, also at the Washington Independent Review of Books.)

Was there anything I read that didn't circle in one way or another back to academia?

Yes. I read Iain Reid's twisty, edgy thriller I'm Thinking of Ending Things (which I wrote about here at my other group blog, SleuthSayers).

I reread Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man (which I also wrote about at SleuthSayers).

And I finally read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (maybe the last person I know to do so, and while I don't have plans to write about anywhere, I will say I really admired least until the final sections).

All these links to other newspapers and magazines and blogs.... Any chance of showing some love to the blog at hand?

Yes, again! Here past the half-year mark, I'm also happy to report that I've stayed completely on track with my chapter-a-day goal to read War and Peace this year—a new year's resolution I wrote about in my first post of 2016 here at Criminal Minds.

As for the other resolutions... well, that's for another post toward the end of the year, I guess.


As usual, a quick bit of news here at column's end. This Sunday, August 28, I'll be joining my wife, Tara Laskowski, and our good friend David Olimpio for this month's edition of the Reston Readings series at Reston's Used Book Shop in Reston, Virginia.

Did I write Reston enough?

The reading starts at 5:30 p.m., and full information is available at the event's Facebook page here. Folks in the DC area, hope to see you there!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Take Me to Your Roomba

by Alan

Summer's almost done! Share a favorite book from your summer reading. And do you seek out different books depending on the season?

To me, summertime is ideal for re-reading. A relaxed time when you can pick up an old favorite and leisurely revisit some favorite characters or return to a cherished place, in time or space.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I tried to reread THE HOBBIT and the LOTR trilogy every summer. (I think I actually managed to devour the whole thing once or twice!) Yes, I still skimmed the overlong descriptions and the passages of poetry (who am I kidding? I skipped the poetry altogether), but I followed Bilbo and Frodo on their adventures. (Talking trees? ENTirely plausible!)

godwulfmanuscriptWhen I got older, I would, during certain summers, set a goal of rereading an entire series, right from the start, in order. Usually, I’d only get a few books in before getting sidetracked by something else (I mean, do you have any idea how many NEW books there are? Just waiting to be read?). I can’t even count how many times I read Robert B. Parker’s first Spenser book, THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT. The fifth book? Not so many.

Of course, re-reading isn’t all sparkly unicorns and freshly-baked chocolate chip muffins. Read this post for a sordid tale.

Don’t be misled; for me, summers weren’t exclusively for re-reading. As a teenager, summertime meant more time to read. No school, no homework, and there was only so much time I could spend outside running around. I read mostly science fiction back then, so I associate summertime reading with space operas and alien invasions and robots becoming sentient and taking over the world (I’m telling you, watch out for the Roomba Revolt!).

What books make you think of summer?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Summer Reads

 By Tracy Kiely
This has been a crazy summer. Normally, I look forward to being able to grab a few books and read them when we head to the beach. But this year, as I think I’ve mentioned to you before, my Muse took her vacation a bit early. And then didn’t return for four months. When she finally dragged her ass back to me, reeking of tequila and stale cigarettes, I could barely tolerate her. But, my deadline called, and so I forgave her. Sort of. The books I’d hoped to read were put aside – I had my own book to write. Vacation time came and I dutifully packed my laptop and yellow memo pad I’d scribbled various “brilliant” Muse inspired notes on. No books were packed. On the ride up, I wrote for a good six hours. I wrote the next day too. Then I did something stupid. I read a review in The Washington Post of Delia Ephron’s latest novel Siracusa. Here’s a segment:

“The story centers on two couples vacationing together in Italy. The four of them take turns telling the story, and their views of events rarely coincide. One couple is playwright Michael and magazine writer Lizzie, who live in Manhattan. The other consists of Finn, who owns a restaurant in Portland, Maine, and wife Taylor, who works for the city government there. They are accompanied by their 10-year-old daughter, Snow, so named because she was born during a blizzard.”

Okay. So, this sounds fun. But wait, there’s more:

“The couples are not close friends, but Lizzie and Finn had a brief affair 14 years earlier, when she was 29, and have kept in touch; this led to the ill-fated vacation that unfolds before us. We learn at the outset that both men, Michael and Finn, are having affairs with women back home. Michael, who has a large ego and a novel he’s struggling to finish, is bored with Lizzie. Lizzie, bright, good-hearted and sexy, is trying to keep their marriage afloat. In Italy, her ex-lover Finn pursues her, but she insists on being faithful to Michael. Neither man likes the other, and the same is true of the two women.”

Right??? Oh, yeah. There’s more. Someone dies. So, yes. I was a gonner. I downloaded the book (oh, damn you Kindle!) and read it cover to cover in maybe 12 hours. I loved it. I told all my friends to read it, so I can talk to someone about it. None of them have so far and it’s a little frustrating.

But now I’m back with my Muse and we are plugging away. The end is in sight. I figure that I’ll be done in time to read my usual autumnal selection.  Barbara Michaels’ Ammie, Come Home.  Set in Georgetown in the late 1960s, it’s a story of a haunted house, a possession, and a tragic murder. Here’s the description from Amazon:
Sooo Good!
“It begins as a lark -- a harmless diversion initiated by Washington, D.C., hostess Ruth Bennett as a means of entertaining her visiting niece, Sara. But the séance conducted in Ruth's elegant Georgetown home calls something back; something unwelcome ... and palpably evil. Suddenly Sara is speaking in a voice not her own, transformed into a miserable, whimpering creature so unlike her normal, sensible self. No tricks or talismans will dispel the malevolence that now plagues the inhabitants of this haunted place -- until a dark history of treachery, lust, and violence is exposed. But the cost might well be the sanity and the lives of the living.”

I’ve read it perhaps twenty times, and it still manages to scares the crap out of me. Barbara Michaels herself said that she’d stay up late into the night when she was writing it, and then would end up scaring herself.  But she is a master spooky storyteller. She hooks you into her supernatural web, slowly building the tension and the story, and, all the while, making it all very believable.
So, if your like a ghost (or two) on Halloween, I would highly recommend this book.
Just make sure you leave the lights on.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Maybe A Double Consonant Will Do It

By R.J. Harlick

Summer's almost done! Share a favorite book from your summer reading. And do you seek out different books depending on the season?

Yup. Summer’s almost done. I have a fire on this morning to keep the autumnal chill at bay. Waaahhh….It’s too early to be reminded that winter is only a few short months away.

Now onto more happy thoughts….books!

I had a couple of interesting and unusual reads this summer, unusual for me that is. Best sellers. Normally I avoid best sellers like the plague. Don’t ask me why. Something in my DNA that says if the rest of the world is gorging on this book, I won’t. Call it perverse or just being a rebel. I suppose it’s all about not wanting to be told that I have to read this book because everyone else is.

Anyways, for the last few years every time I looked at a best seller list. Yup, I will admit I do look at them, but its wishful thinking, really more like faint, faint hope, that one of my books would end up on one of these lists. Anyway, every time I glanced at one of these lists one book seemed to dominate them and never left, not for months. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I kept noticing the title because I like birds. I have several feeders around my cabin that I watch year round and one of the more popular visitors are goldfinches. I love their flick of brilliant yellow in the summer sun and their scurry of activity on a cold winter’s day.

So every time I would see this title mentioned, I would tell myself that I should read it. But I never did….until one day I get an e-message from KOBO offering it for a very good discounted price. Yup. I couldn’t resist. I bought it.

Which is something else that goes against my grain. We authors get little enough as it is for our long hours spent in writing these books, so I normally avoid buying discounted books particularly ebooks, because the poor author will see almost nothing from the transaction, not after all the publisher, book seller and so on and so forth costs are deducted. But with The Goldfinch, I figured Donna Tartt had already made a bundle on this book, so I clicked yes and I bought it.

I loved it. Tartt reeled me in from the first magical page. Fabulous writing. The art angle reeled me in too. I’m a sucker for a good painting. Though there were times when I wanted to yell at Theo for being so bloody stupid and I did, I couldn’t put the book down, all 1000 or so pages of it.

When Kobo sent me a message about another deep discounted, best selling book that I had also noticed on the best seller lists, one whose title had intrigued me, I jumped. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. He has done a good job of reeling me in too. Another fabulously written book.

I marvel at the imagination of both authors to create such intriguing and unusual stories.

I’ve also noticed one other thing about these two best sellers…both authors’ last names end in a double consonant. Now, maybe if I add another ‘k’, one of my books might….

So what about you, what fabulous books have your read this summer?