Monday, October 31, 2016

Taking a bow and exiting screen left

It was just about 6 years ago that I got an email from Kelli Stanley asking if I'd like to join the 7 Criminal Minds blog. My time on the Debutante Ball had just ended, and it seemed like a perfect next step for me. A way to ensure that I kept blogging and promoting my mystery novels. Back then, the rest of the crew on the blog consisted of Jeanne Holmes, Gabriella Herkert, Kelli Stanley, Sophie Littlefield, Shane Gericke, Rebecca Cantrell, Michael Wiley, Tim Maleeny, CJ Lyons, Joshua Corin, Graham Brown, and Bill Cameron. Am I missing someone in there? Probably.

One by one, each of those original writers moved on and other fabulous writers took their places. And I had fun blogging with each and every one. Through all the changes, one thing always remained constant. The quality of the writing and the fellowship among all of us here. When I've met other "Minds" at conferences for the first time, I've felt like I already knew them. And that has been wonderful.

These past few years I've really struggled with finding quality time to write. Between family, work, house, etc., there doesn't seem enough hours in the day to do everything I want and need to do. And find the time to finish my book. Something had to give.

So now it's time for me to move on from the blog as well and give another writer a chance to blog with this fun group. Happily we've found one that we know our fans will love: Terry Shames. She'll be starting in two weeks, and I know she'll be a great addition to the blog as it continues for (I hope) many years to come!

From now on, you can find me at my website. And, someday soon when I get that book done, I hope to come back here to promote it. As we always say, once a Criminal Mind, always a Criminal Mind!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Never Say Never

If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?

by Paul D. Marks

A long time ago an agent asked me if I had a “big book” in me? I told him yes, because what else are you supposed to say? They want to hear yes and you don’t want to turn them off, so you tell them what they want to hear. But the fact of the matter is it was true anyway. I did have an idea for a big book in me. And not only an idea but I had even made notes and a timeline and character chart on a huge piece of paper, something I don’t normally do as a “pantster”.

It’s not a crime book, though there may be some crimes in it. And it is a “big” book in the sense that it spans several decades of the 20th century. It’s also still something I would love to do because I love history and I love the concept.

I don’t want to talk about the specific plot here, but imagine Bleak House meets Ragtime. Okay that’s not really it. But something sort of like that.

The big book is about intertwined families, relationships and the march of history in a fictional context—that sounds pretty ‘big,’ doesn’t it?—going on down through the decades and yes, there might be some crime in it, but it wouldn’t be a crime novel per se. I suppose you could say it was mainstream, maybe even literary. I read all kinds of things, well a lot of different things, and I enjoy the mainstream and literary genres, which sometimes overlap, so I guess that’s what you could call the “big book”. And that’s one of the things I might write if not a crime novel.

Things I probably wouldn’t write would be sci-fi, romance, YA or fantasy. But I also thought I’d never write horror and around Halloween I’ll have my second horror story—The Long Night—coming out in the Simple Things anthology, edited by Franklin E. Wales. My first horror tale—Finders Keepers—appeared in Journals of Horror–Found Fiction, edited by Terry M. West, last Halloween. As I say, I never thought I’d write horror stories but was asked by Terry to do something for Journals of Horror, with no guarantee that it would get in. I saw it as a challenge. And luckily it got in! It was fun to do but really stretched my writing chops. I’ve also written some humor/satire fiction and mainstream/literary, as well as crime. For example, a story called Terminal Island was published in the literary journal Weber: The Contemporary West. Another mainstream/literary story, Endless Vacation, received recognition from Glimmer Train and The Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition. But writing horror was really a stretch. So when Frank came to me and asked me to do another one I thought, “I can do this…maybe.” Would lightning strike twice? It did. But it truly is a challenge writing outside of your comfortable genre. And I guess I’m just comfortable with gunshots, stabbings, exsanguination, petechiae eyes and death by a sickly sweet green liquid disguised as Gatorade, a.k.a. anti-freeze. But I am getting more comfortable with the horror genre.

Here's the Simple Things book trailer:

So, who knows, maybe one day I will write a sci-fi or romance or YA book. Never say never. What about you?


If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll join Laurie Stevens, Connie Archer, Elizabeth Harris and me for Halloween Highjinks...or Lojinks tomorrow (10/29/16), 1:30pm at the Platt Library in Woodland Hills: 23600 Victory Boulevard, Woodland Hills, CA  91367. We’ll be reading from our spooky works, talking writing and having a swell time. And there might even be some Halloween candy. And it’s free and open to the public.

For more info click this link:

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

More fun with sharp knives.

If you've ever seen the film WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, you might remember the scene around the family dinner table where the conversation goes something like this:

"I didn't say Guy Lombardo was Spanish."
"John Wayne was six foot three."
"These mashed potatoes are so creamy."

Well, it's my mother's birthday today (she's in her very very very late seventies (eighty-two)) and we were just eating birthday cake, sorting out the edge bits for a new jigsaw puzzle and discussing whatI'd write if I didn't write crime. Here's the consensus:

"Scottish fiction. What did Sayers write?"
"Remember there was coffee in it too. That's extra liquid."
"Anne Tyler's not crime."
"Some of them just have a tiny wee straight bit."
"Teenage stories for children."
"Eighteen hairpin bends.* And what was the other thing I had to look up?"
"Oh yes, Dragnet."
"That was crime."

(*On Lombard Street, in San Francisco)

My family are not going to be any sort of help at all, clearly. So I'm on my own. If I was banish-ed (it needs three syllables) from MWA, SinC, and CWA and had to write something else, it would be . . . a cookery book.

The sort of cookery book I love doesn't have a recipe per page with a list of ingredients and a pithy set of instructions; it has the history of the dish; alternatives and additions; perhaps a planting plan for growing ingredients in the garden; and - most important of all - it tells you why you're doing things.

If a recipe says "be careful not to . . . whatever" I want to know why. Will it be tough? Will it break with tradition? Will it fail to rise? Will it taste bad? Will it look funny? Not all of these things matter much to me.

I like nothing better than a chatty cook book that can sit on the kitchen table for weeks to be read over solitary lunches. Even if I only ever make one or two of the recipes, I'll have learned something about food or a bit of kitchen wisdom, or at least have been entertained.

If I could write such a book - called maybe LOW EFFORT, FLASHY RESULTS - I'd be happy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

All I want to do is have some fun (ie: crime) by Cathy Ace

“If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?”

Out in Canada 18 October, USA November 1
My initial reaction to this question is “I haven’t a clue!” Pardon the crime-related pun, but, to me, it’s unavoidable…crime fiction is one of the few constants in my life, and I would find it difficult to step away from. One thing I do believe is that whatever one chooses to write, it should be something one reads…with breadth and depth of reading allowing one an insight into the field.

So…what do I read? Other than crime fiction (and non-fiction), I read biographies, auto-biographies (lots of “researchy” books when I need to) and I have shelves and shelves full of books about movies and the history of the movie industry, art and the history of art, architecture and the history of architecture, music and….you get the idea. I like human-created stuff. Oh, and I have a lot of books about food and gardening too. I also have half a room full of what people refer to as “The Classics” – though why they do that I don’t know because it makes them sound crusty and distant, and a well-written tale about human truths is as fresh the first time you read it – no matter the year – as the day it was written.  I enjoy reading poetry. I also love it when I have the chance to settle down with Shakespeare and speak aloud his magical words to my attentive dogs, because that – for me – is by far the best way to read Shakespeare…out loud, and with emotion,  feeling the rhythm of his words in your mouth. I’ve even read the entire Bible and the Nag Hammadi scriptures. Twice.  

Paperback out in Canada & USA November 1st
But as for writing something other than crime fiction? I have no idea what that would be. You see, even if I were tempted into historic or mythological territory, there’d still have to be a crime at the heart of the story for me to find it satisfying to write. The crime might not be murder – indeed, several of my books do not feature a murder at all – but there are so many other types of crimes to choose from it seems a pity to not do so. The basic storytelling backbone of good vs evil (and "playing" with those essentials) implies “evil” must be present, and usually that shows itself in the manner society would view as “a crime”. So…all that being said, I’m at a loss!

Cathy Ace writes the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS was published in paperback on October 18th in Canada, and will be available on November 1st in the USA...order NOW!!!) and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and will be available on November 1st in the US/Canada). Please excuse the highly promotional nature of this post...but with two books being available to readers within such a small window, I owe it to myself and my publishers to do the best I can for the books by presenting them to readers whenever I can :-)

Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Changing direction

If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?
Who thought up this dumb question? Oh, I did.

I didn't think it through so well, because as was said yesterday, most stories are built on crime of some kind or other. A better question would be: If you decided to write something completely different, what would you write? 

I am quite hooked on the character-driven police procedural I'm writing, with its denizens I've gotten to know so well, so I don't think I'll wake up any day soon wanting to abandon it/them. But if that happened by some freak chance, maybe because I'm inspired by the picturesque moodiness of Algernon Blackwood and really would like to be free of the constraints of the genre, if that did happen, I'd write an offbeat road story, verging on dystopian, set in northern BC. The entire western coastline has crumbled into the sea, the solar-powered highways are glitchy, cell signals come and go at the whim of madcap winds, and stranded communities are succumbing to pre-industrial squalor. Something along those lines, anyway. Or possibly a comic play, but that will take another lifetime of learning.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Dear Reader,

Q: If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?

-from Susan

Persuasion…oh, wait, that’s already been written.

One of my favorite relatively recent novels is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’ve read it twice, a copy sits on the TBR pile, and I admire the late, lamented Mary Ann Shaffer and her still-with-us niece, the children’s author Annie Barrows, almost beyond reckoning. If I were to venture beyond the mystery genre, that’s the direction I’d go in.

Why? It’s set in a fascinating place I liked learning about. It’s set in a massively significant historical period but with such an intimate perspective about that time. It IS a mystery because we don’t know for a very long time what happened to the absent heroine of the story. The story’s in epistolary form – letters – that show us what we need to know about the writers, bit by charming bit. A cast of eccentrics who reveal both their flaws and their goodness as the tale progresses. A tragedy, a thriller, a love story wrapped up as sweetly as a packet of love letters in ribbon. But not treacly, not with much ‘telling’ except in the voices of the cast, who reveal their biases and affections in their distinctive points of view. Honestly, the novel has, for me at least, a thousand virtues.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stress Takes Its Toll

By Art Taylor

This week's question—"How does moderate stress affect your desire/ability to write? Not minor stress like burnt toast, or major stress like your house just fell down a sinkhole, but a fight with a loved one, a fender-bender at the mall, financial woes?"—arrives on my desktop right at the center of the semester, so I'd add a few other examples of "moderate stress," including grading essays and mid-term exams (20 a day til they're done!), calculating and posting mid-term grades, trying to figure out the reading lists for next semester's classes (book orders due soon!), and then a small horde of other academic responsibilities nagging at me from various directions. Even fun opportunities like the talk on short stories I'm delivering this weekend for the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the North Carolina Writers' Network Fall Conference session on a similar topic require advance preparation to be figured into an often busy schedule—prep work resulting in its own stress, even with the knowledge that the end result will be tremendous fun. 

So where does one find the time and energy and peace of mind (I started to type "piece" of mind, which might be true too!) to write in the midst of all that? 

Well, in many cases, I don't. 

Despite the "Write First!!!" reminder on my to-do list, during the academic year best intentions don't regularly (or maybe it's more accurate to say "best intentions rarely") get carried through into action. Writing is catch-as-catch-can some weeks and frequently rough sketches or even just notes instead of finely honed prose—with the promise to myself that it will get finely honed after I've finished grading this stack of exams and that group of papers and reading the next book for the next class and finishing the blog post here and.....

Tomorrow, right? And tomorrow and tomorrow and....

I finished the list in that last big paragraph with "blog post" for a specific reason. I've been contributing to Criminal Minds every other Friday for nearly three years now (my first post was January 24, 2014), and for just over a year now, I've also been contributing on the other Friday to the blog SleuthSayers (my first post there, a guest post, was September 5, 2015), and while both these communities have been wonderful and these blogs have been nearly unmatched as opportunities for connecting with fellow writers and readers, I also know that every Thursday lately, I've been finding myself struggling to fit in time to write my post—and writing the post (the deadline looms!) has seemed to join the list of things regularly supplanting writing my own fiction. 

When an opportunity begins to look like just another item on the to-do list... well maybe it's time to pass along that opportunity to someone else. 

Danny Gardner
On that note, I'm pleased to introduce Danny Gardner, a fine writer and fine friend who's going to be stepping into my Friday slot here at Criminal Minds beginning November 4. 

Danny is the author of A Negro and an Ofay, a debut novel coming out next May from Down and Out Books, and his work has also appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, and Literary Orphans Journal, with another story forthcoming in Just to Watch Him Die, a Johnny Cash-inspired anthology to be published this winter by Gutter Books.

In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction, Danny has also had success as an actor and comedian, and as a director and screenwriter—which makes a good fit for the first question he'll be tackling here at Criminal Minds a couple of weeks from today: "If you got to write, direct, cast your own film, what would be the style/mood/atmosphere of your finished product?" I'll personally be interested to hear his answer to this, both in the context of the work he's already done in film and television and with an eye toward the fiction he's producing now. 

Needless to say, I'd suggest you check out his response too.

In the meantime, as I'm thanking Danny for taking over my half of the Friday posts here, I also want to give tremendous thanks to my blogmates here, who've always offered—both on the blog and off— thoughtful conversation and new perspectives, support and enthusiasm, and most importantly of all friendship. Meredith, Susan, R.J., Rae, Tracy, Cathy, Catriona, Alan and Paul—and further back, Clare and Robin—it's been a pleasure to spend time in your company... and I'll be coming back regularly to add to the conversation in the comments section, so you're not done with me yet! 

And of course greatest thanks to everyone who's followed me here and read and commented themselves. Thank you for spending time with me, and with all of us, each week. :-) 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

My Usual Answer: BICFOK!

by Alan

How does moderate stress affect your desire/ability to write? Not minor stress like burnt toast, or major stress like your house just fell down a sinkhole, but a fight with a loved one, a fender-bender at the mall, financial woes?

me with ax 1I like to think I’m a pretty chill guy. (Not sure that’s always the case, but I like to think that. Remember, writers are delusional.) I try not to let stress, or any other distractions for that matter, get in the way of my writing.

I think my “daily quota” writing strategy helps in that regard because I know that once I hit my word count, I’m then free to attend to any pressing needs (like shopping or vacuuming or mowing the lawn or playing golf or writing blog posts).

I try to practice what I tell my workshop students: BICFOK!

Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard.

If I can BICFOK for as long as it takes to hit my quota, then I’m good.

(And exercise helps with the stress, too.)

(Just ignore the man with the ax.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What, Me Worry?

By Tracy Kiely

I am a procrastinator. I would say that I’ve always been one, but it was a trait that was slow in the making. (Give yourself ten points if you got that.)  I’ve always attempted to kid myself that this trait doesn’t adversely affect my work. I will calm myself with pithy platitudes such as, “I work best under pressure,” and “People don’t really care if there are spelling errors,” and “Nobody will care if it’s a little late."
None of these, of course, are true.
Once in a blue moon, I will manage to produce something quite good in a short amount of time. More often than not, however, I produce something that one could reasonably assume was pounded out on an old typewriter by a semi-literate monkey. This is when stress hits. (Well, to be fair, I have several trigger points for stress, such as the holidays, speaking in public, shopping for bathing suits, and having the sex talk with my kids.)
When I am stressed, any “humor” I might normally weave into my work evaporates with a small puff of smoke. I go into frantic “INEEDTOHITMYDEADLINE” mode, and the results are never pretty. Crying is usually involved, as well as desperate bartering with any and all higher powers that if they get help me out of this jam, I will never let deadlines slide again. Now, of course, those higher powers have heard all this before so they now merely roll their eyes and go back to doing whatever higher power entities do (which I like to imagine involves shuffle board).
This process can be best summed up with the following chart:
This pretty much sums up my process
I’m not sure why I put myself through this torture. I could have two weeks to do write a blog, essay, make a stinking phone call, and I will wait until the very last minute. I have no justification for this. Once my task is complete, I can almost feel my “humor” quietly and shyly return, like a skittish puppy that was frightened off by a loud noise. It is only then that I can take another look at whatever I’ve written and make it better. (Case in point, I will most likely post this blog and then “edit” it three or four times during day.)

So, for me anyway, while stress gets the blood flowing and the mind racing, the results are not always creative or even coherent. But, I’ve decided to be better about this. In fact, it’s my number one New Year’s Resolution. For the year 2020.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


By R.J. Harlick

How does moderate stress affect your desire/ability to write?

Stress can be a lubricant for writers. Some thrive on it. They believe that when the walls are closing in, the kids clamoring for attention, the boss demanding the report, they produce their best material in the few hours they squeeze in for their writing.  I greatly admire those writers that can juggle family and work, while producing bestselling novels on the side.

When I was gainfully employed in the high tech industry, stress was the norm. I thrived on it. There was nothing like a looming deadline and the fear of losing business to kick me into high gear to get the job done and produce a winner. It helped me avoid distractions and focus on the job at hand.  It sharpened my mind.

So too at university. I usually waited until a few days before to study for the exam or write the essay. I was rather good at making my essays appear as if I knew more about the topic than I actually did. Perhaps this is where my penchant for creative writing sprang from.

But now that I am writing fiction my need for stress is gone. I like my world to be calm and orderly with few distractions. It opens my mind, giving me a tremendous sense of creative freedom. The words flow, the ideas flow.  But the minute stress enters, be it a looming deadline or nagging commitment, my mind clamps shut and I can only squeak out the words.  

It is likely the reason I am more productive at my log cabin surrounded by the serenity of an endless forest, where the only distractions are birds flitting in and out of the feeders, the occasional deer wandering past and my dogs bugging me for their walks.

The one time I did face major stress, when my husband was in the hospital with a serious illness, the creative juices shut down completely. My mind was solely focused on him. I didn’t go near my writing for three months, not until I knew with certainty that he would fully recover.

Mind you, at the moment I am facing a looming deadline. I have to send my manuscript for Purple Palette for Murder, the next Meg Harris mystery, into my publisher by the end of November.  It’s going to be close. But I’m in the revision stage when the creative juices don’t need to work so hard. So I can handle a moderate amount of stress. But I do use a little help.