Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Calling all creative types... by Cathy Ace

Reading - We live in a world of TVs at the gas station, split screens, crawl lines, sound notifications, personal message alerts and a thousand other pipes feeding information direct to our over-stimulated brains. What's the place of books in all of that clamour? Do you worry about the future of reading?

This is an interesting question, because I get the chance to answer it as both a reader, and an author. 

First of all, as a reader I know that books play an important and unique role in my life – yes, I enjoy watching TV, movies, and following the news etc, but books? They take me to a different place than anything I can watch on a screen, or listen to as I drive. They transport me to the worlds the author has sketched, which I then complete for myself. 

Some of my favourite reads

For me, that’s the main difference between books and any other form of entertainment – I get to participate…I am part of the creative process as I read. Yes, I know that listening to a play on the radio (which I often do, thanks to BBC Radio 4, a radio station I still listen to avidly, despite the fact I no longer live in the UK) means I am still using my imagination to complete the experience, but the voices of the actors mean I have more input into their character than simply the words on the page and my involvement…something also true of listening to books, vs reading them. Not bad, but different.

I also very much enjoy watching TV and movie versions of works by authors I love to read. Again - a different experience entirely. 

Love the Vera books - and love Vera on TV...but different experiences

Bearing this is mind, I have to assume that other readers become equally involved in bringing my work to life for themselves – so I believe each reader’s experience of my written work will differ slightly. And THAT’S what breaks through the clamour…the fact that readers choose to focus on my words and my characters and my worlds for themselves…not allowing other distractions to intervene. 

It’s also why I don’t worry about the future of reading; I believe every thinking person will always want to read, as opposed to enjoying other forms of entertainment. And I don’t believe that human beings will cease to want to think for themselves, nor stop enjoying being part of the creative process – by reading.

I'd be honoured if you'd consider reading my work - you can find out about it, and me, here:


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Place of Books

Terry Shames answering our question of the week:  We live in a world of TVs at the gas station, split screens, crawl lines, sound notifications, personal message alerts and a thousand other pipes feeding information direct to our over-stimulated brains. What's the place of books in all of that clamour? Do you worry about the future of reading?

“Information direct to our over-stimulated brains.” For me, the key word is, “information.”  The kind of information we get from most media—TV, radio, print, message alerts, social media—consists of reports on “what’s happening, what just happened, or what is about to happen.”  I admit I’m hooked on the immediacy of it. It’s almost like a drug. But this has only been  true in the last few years, since politics has become a blood sport. I’m not going to do a political post, but I’ll leave it at that—I’m alarmed and I’ve become obsessed with “what’s happening.”

I read the paper version of the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as on-line versions of the Washington Post, the Atlantic Monthly, and read the on-line versions of the New Yorker. In addition, I read a lot of on-line media such as, Medium, and various things I get directed to from others.

I also read non-fiction books. It used to be I read a lot of science, but these days it’s mostly political. And still, it seems endless. The amount of “what’s happening” information can overwhelm me.

Reading fiction books gives me a different kind of information than the other media affords. It doesn’t tell me “what’s happening.” Instead, helps me make sense of what’s happening. It helps me understand people and the world. The best fiction reveals who people are on the inside, how they feel, how they act and react to life. It shows me how they became who they are. Good crime fiction it tells me what might happen if…

Good fiction also can be a respite from the busy-ness of the information world. I can read books that take me to quiet places, to places of serenity and joy. There are books that make me laugh out loud (thank you, David Sedaris). Good books introduce me to people and ideas I may never have a chance to know in everyday life. They can help me make sense of people and ideas I don’t understand. They can soothe, and entertain, and alarm. It’s hard for me to imagine a world without books.

I remember years ago going into the beautifully decorated penthouse condo of a very wealthy and successful man. He had art on the walls, sleek modern furniture, an enviable kitchen. But I was puzzled, because the place felt somehow empty, as if no one really lived there. Something was missing.  I realized it was books. There was not one book in the place. I couldn’t even begin to fathom that. He was generous and friendly, enjoyed travel, and had a good sense of humor. But his conversation was mostly about the getting and spending of money—not particularly satisfying as conversation. The woman who was dating him soon grew tired of him. “He doesn’t read. He doesn’t have any ideas,” she remarked.

By contrast, the first time I went to my husband’s house, I was thrilled because he had books everywhere. He had as many books as I did. He and I both still read everything we can get our hands on. And yes, there are books stacked everywhere in our house.

I don’t know if I can say anything definitive about the future of books. I suppose I should worry about the future of reading, but when I’m on an airplane or in the subway, or in public places, I often see people absorbed in books. I have no idea whether it’s more or fewer than it used to be, but I do think books still have a solid place in the world.

There’s one more personal anecdote I can share. Recently I told my 31-year-old son that I was going to a reading by Lisa Brackmann for her new book. He said, “Oh, she’s that writer whose books I like.” He doesn’t have much time for reading since he works non-stop—but he knows a writer whose books he appreciates. I take heart in that.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Guest Blogger Rick Homan

I'm happy to welcome guest blogger, Sisters in Crime Norcal member, and debut author Rick Homan. 

Rick's a generous writer, an enthusiastic SinC attendee, and has worked hard on the three novels he's unveiling. He is a member of the writing community at The Mechanics’ Institute Library. He is also  a member of the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime. Prior to taking up the craft of crime fiction, he performed as an actor and guitarist in San Francisco and in Philadelphia. He was a professor of theater arts for thirty years. He writes the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries. Dark Mural and Dark Exhibit were published as e-books in September. Dark Picasso will be published in winter, 2019. As someone who likes - and writes - art-related mysteries, I'm excited to see a colleague tackling the subject from his own perspective. And I love the cover! - Susan

A Sleuth is Born: The Nicole Tang Noonan Mysteries

By Rick Homan

I was a professor for thirty years, so of course the amateur sleuth in my debut novel, Dark Mural, is a professor. “Write what you know” is a call for authenticity; it’s also a way to avoid months of research. Why should I go out of my way to make my sleuth an optometrist?
Beyond that, I think a professor is a likely choice for an amateur sleuth. Throughout my career, when tracking down facts to challenge the common understanding of a historical event or the conventional interpretation of a play (my field was theater history), I often felt, “The game is afoot.” Scholars and sleuths have a lot in common. 
During my academic career I unlocked a few scholarly secrets, but none of them rewrote the history of my university, and none of them ever solved a murder. So the plot of Dark Muralinvolves some wish fulfillment. 
My sleuth, Nicole Tang Noonan, is an art historian from San Francisco, who gets her first teaching job at a small college in rural Ohio. In the oldest building on campus, a Civil-War-era chapel, she finds a mural that depictss the college’s origins in the religious communes of the 1800s. At the very least, she thinks, this discovery could yield a publication in an academic journal. 
Throughout the novel, she forges ahead with her study of the mural, digging ever deeper into its history and symbolism, until she unlocks a dark secret, which turns out to be the key to identifying the murderer.
Of course, I couldn’t just have her show up and solve the crime. Along the way, she had to suffer. Since she is the daughter of a Chinese-American mother and an Irish-American father, her appearance is unusual: an Asian woman with freckles. She finds out on the first page that someone doesn’t like seeing strange-looking people on campus or in town.
Also, she faces the bane of academics everywhere, colleagues who long ago made up their minds and stopped listening. Her innocent questions and comments regarding her courses and her department are not appreciated. 
Worst of all, the murder victim is one of her students, and another becomes the prime suspect. When the local sheriff narrows his investigation too quickly in Nicole’s opinion, she decides to investigate on her own. She does so partly to spare the student if he is innocent, but mostly to make sure the real murderer is caught.
Throughout the outlining, writing and rewriting of Dark Mural, I admit I was pleased with the elegance of its premise: a historian solves a crime by studying history. But, as we say in show-biz, what are you going to do for an encore? I couldn’t have Nicole discover something about the history of her college in every book. 
For the second Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, Dark Exhibit, (published simultaneously with the first), Nicole again solves the crime by looking at art, but this time she studies the paintings of a contemporary artist that include symbolic references to what is going on in the world today. I won’t tell you what she discovers, but, I promise you, the book was researched and outlined before the 2016 presidential election. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Create Alone, but Write In Partnership

Very few writers are great at absolutely everything from the outset. How did you respond to the opening hand you were dealt? Do you play to your strengths and avoid the rest. If you try to improve, how?

Readers get a bad rap. We consider them jerks when they don't dig our stuff and let us know about it, but tell me this: how happy would you be if the book you've been dying to read for so long arrives with difficulties in the experience, and it could be two years in the publishing pipeline before they get another book from you? Another two years to wait for a book from you. Anxiously. They're surrounded by walls, waiting for us to reach through them with our words.

You wouldn't stand in McDonald's that long. Amazon gotta get that book to your reader in two days. Your publisher has to go from ARCS in 4mos to warehoused books in regional shipping locations. Someone from a pack/ship supplier is fulfilling an order with a book riddled in errors, but off it goes to its destination and your bond with the reader is set, poor copy editing 'n all.

Damn, I really wish I learned that literary point of view is NOT like a shot list in a Scorsese movie before my books were in Ingram warehouses in four different regions.

This is my frame of reference as I enter into my new career as an author and brand manager for Bronzeville Books, a bespoke publisher of ethnically, culturally, and socially relevant works based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Frankfurt, Germany. I heard from fellow authors, agents, publishers, managers, and television producers about all the strengths of my first novel, so dense and packed with extraneous narrative one could only term it as a singularity that created a universe.

Wait…Capriceverse? Elliotverse? Hm...its set in Chicago. Windyverse?? Accepting suggestions, I'm saying. I may have a verse (if Alverne Ball has anything to do with it, we will.) I have to name this -verse.

Anyhow, everyone loves me and what I'm doing, apparently enough to forgive huge flaws in the reading experience. Thankfully, readers were less kind, and alas, far more genuine.

I know that books are more than something to read, and there is a standard of quality that must be matched from edition to edition. Some of y'all see books. We see products. Sometimes you read them. Sometimes you wear them. Sometimes you share them. And sometimes readers will tell you what they want. I wouldn't suggest to our publishing leadership we should write what readers want over the artist's desire to manifest their art.

But a typo is a typo. And a dialogue tag is supposed to look like a dialogue tag and not stage direction. And point of view orients the reader and I maybe don't need to write my tracking shots and explosions like a report from set.

In Bronzeville, that little stretch of the publishing ghetto we're scrubbing up so we can sell you authenticity at 15% less than the standard cover price, our readers guide us on what they want in their reading experience. If what's on the page is tip-top, perhaps you'll forgive the radical attitude and revolutionary content.

And if not, you can't say I didn't fix my wretched issues with POV.


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Write like a Monkey on Steroids

Very few writers are great at absolutely everything from the outset. How did you respond to the opening hand you were dealt? Do you play to your strengths and avoid the rest. If you try to improve, how?

Typed by Jim
I don’t know how others play to their strengths in their writing. I only know there’s always room for improvement.

Truman Capote supposedly remarked that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was “typing,” not “writing.” No matter where you fall on the merits of Kerouac’s work, it’s an interesting take on the way we think about literary invention. Capote skewered Kerouac brilliantly with an affront akin to equating Vermeer with Sherwin-Williams. And while the sense of “writing” as literary or musical copposition is indeed one of the common definitions of the word (number 1b in Merriam-Webster), let’s not forget that “writing” has many other meanings, including “penmanship.” (If you’re keeping track, “handwriting” is definition number 1a for writing in MW.) Having good penmanship does not necessarily make you a good writer. It simply means you’re a good writer.
Most languages are written from left to right, which prevents most writers (righters) from smudging the ink that trails behind the hand as it crosses the page. Typing, on the other hand, is agnostic in its handedness. But hand- or typewritten, the resulting literary worth is in the words and ideas, not the method of making marks on paper.
Technically a chimp, not a monkey
The Infinite Monkey Theory postulates that, given enough time, a working typewriter, and a lot of paper, a hypothetical monkey typing at random will “almost surely” produce Hamlet eventually. Can the same be said of a monkey writing with pencil and paper? Perhaps, but it would probably take longer, and that opens the penmanship can of worms again.

All of this is not to say that Kerouac wrote like a monkey, just that the word “writing” or “to write” has more to it than literary connotations. So should Kerouac have been offended by Capote’s snub? Of course he should have been. If he wasn’t, he wasn’t paying attention. Language is so supple, so versatile, so trenchant that, when wielded by an expert, it can cut with a surgeon’s precision. At the same time, it can soothe or inflame, bludgeon or caress. Language is difficult to master, at least with the skill of a William Shakespeare, a Truman Capote, or a clever monkey. But when a writer tames its whimsy and masters its power, we are enriched and inspired. And those who aspire to enrich and inspire with the written word are known as “writers,” whether they achieve celebrity or fail at the outset. What drives us “to write” is not the tapping on the keys or the smudging of the ink (more the lefties than the righties), it’s the struggle to find the word—the right word—that fits the bill and tells a story that might change the world. That’s why we soldier on, learning, not playing exclusively to our strengths but forcing ourselves to reach deeper, until we finally find the voice, the story, and the magic. And when we think that our writing is so profound, so unique that we have indeed changed the world, let us be humble and remember that any monkey, given enough time, can achieve the same result.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

When words come easy

Very few writers are great at absolutely everything from the outset. How did you respond to the opening hand you were dealt? Do you play to your strengths and avoid the rest. If you try to improve, how?

by Dietrich

I wasn’t sure which way to go, so I began writing short stories when I started out, trying different genres, developing my style and voice. I didn’t know anything about strengths or weaknesses, I just knew I wanted to write. 

Writing short stories taught me about pacing, the economy of words, and getting to the point of the story. I also found writing dialogue worked for me, keeping it tight, yet letting it flow and sound easy. The trick was to make it sound realistic and unique for each character while allowing the action to happen around them.  

Dialogue pretty much drives my stories. It works when it reveals more than what the characters’ actual words are saying, showing something more about their true nature and agenda. Dialogue also gives the reader an idea of the characters’ physicality, along with the scene around them, helping to keep the narrative trim and the story moving.

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.” – Elmore Leonard

Photo by kind permission of Rick McGinnis, 
Elmore Leonard & George V. Higgins, Toronto, Oct. 1990 

Letting my characters loose on the page leaves them to their own shortfalls, to deal with the chaos that comes from making terrible decisions. It feels right when I’m just following their actions and not interfering by putting my own feelings or principles into the mix and trying to make some neat package out of it.

I like to tell a story without plotting it out beforehand. Relying on instinct  allows for happy accidents, the kind of ideas that come along that I never would have come up with ahead of time. Hooks for the ending of scenes and chapters come naturally as well, something that gives the reader a reason to keep turning pages. 

While I’ve got some writing habits, I try not to have too many rules. I tell a story in my head and connect the story dots as I type. There’s a rhythm to it when it’s working. And by the time I’ve got a first draft, I let it sit until I’m ready for the next round. Then I start back at the beginning, stripping out anything that isn’t working, smoothing out rough spots, and adding anything new that comes along.

Reading a lot helps me to be a better writer. Great books not only entertain, they keep me sharp and inspire my own writing, letting me raise my own benchmark. Elmore Leonard claimed he loved how George V Higgins let his characters' voices dictate the style of writing, how he moved the story almost entirely with dialogue. Here’s a bit from Higgins'  The Friends of Eddie Coyle. A few words that tell us so much about the character.

“I was in Sunday School when I was a kid and this nun says to me, stick out your hand, and the first few times I do it she whacks me right across the knuckles with a steel-edged ruler. It was just like that. So one day I says, when she tells me ‘Put out your hand,’ I say, ‘No.’ And she whaps me right across the face with that ruler.”