Wednesday, January 16, 2019

From a blank page

Real life happens around us while we play in the imaginary ones we create. How do you keep yourself in the writing zone and out of the ruts? Are there tricks to staying focused, especially at this time of year?

by Dietrich

I hope everyone had a terrific Holiday and New Year. For me, it’s time to get my head back into the writing, and the key is to just sit down and start the next story, allowing myself to get inspired as themes and plots take shape and as characters develop and new ones come to mind. I love delving into their worlds and seeing the story take shape and where it will lead. And I never have much trouble blocking out the real world and slipping into my imagination. And if sitting down isn’t enough, I’ll shut the door, turn off the phone, disconnect the computer from the internet, turn up the music, do whatever it takes.

And I’ll do it every day at more or less the same time until I’m finished, which will likely be close to this time next year. That’s the routine: I get up early each morning and start writing until noon. Although I do often think about parts of the story when I’m not writing, so I’m often jotting down notes to use the next day.

I’ve found the best way for me is not to set goals like how many pages I need to get done each day or week. And I don’t usually use an outline or follow a calendar, and I don’t have a set word count that I aim for. Some days I’ll crank out a lot of pages, and other days it will be less. The important thing is what goes on those pages. Is it any good? Then once I’ve got a first draft complete, I’ll take another pass and take out or change anything doesn’t work, and I’ll tighten it up. And I’ll take several days between drafts, so that I come back to it with fresh eyes.

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway 

I don’t always do it, but taking a break between stories like I just did over the Holidays is a good idea. I finished one novel and completed edits on the one coming out later this year, so it was the perfect time to take a break. The trouble is I usually have the next one floating around in my mind long before I’ve finished the last one, and I want to start playing with it, gathering the bits, and once that happens I just want to see where it will take me …

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Treating it like a job

By R.J. Harlick

Real life happens around us while we play in the imaginary ones we create. How do you keep yourself in the writing zone and out of the ruts? Are there tricks to staying focused, especially at this time of year?  

Over the years I’ve developed various techniques for immersing myself into Meg’s world.  The most important technique from day one has been to treat writing like a job by establishing set times for writing. Once breakfast is finished, I change into my comfy writing clothes, and head to my computer to begin the day’s writing.  

In the beginning I devoted five days a week to writing, just like a regular job and usually finished by 4:00 or so. But over time I gradually reduced this time to four days and finally to three days, but a longer day. I found I needed the free days to re-charge my batteries, otherwise I would just be spinning my wheels and getting nowhere with my writing.  From the outset, I decided I would not write in the evenings or on weekends. And have pretty much stuck to this unless I am way behind on a deadline.  Fortunately for me my publisher only imposed a deadline with my last couple of books. 

I also established a set place for writing. Initially it was my home office, again treating it like
a job. But eventually I decided I wanted a more comfortable spot, so moved to the living room chesterfield with a much better view. I decided a good view with sun pouring through the windows was a good lubricant for my writing.  In the summer the screened-in porch at our country cabin becomes my writing venue. I love feeling the soft breezes and watching the birds flit about and the squirrels play, while I’m pondering what Meg will do next.  Besides I am looking at the forests Meg enjoys. 

I discovered that I was the kind of writer who needs complete quiet and solitude. No writing in coffee shops for me or playing music.  I become so immersed in my writing that any interruption has me crawling very reluctantly back to the real world and causes me to lose my train of thought. So, for the past couple of books, I’ve done the majority of the writing of the first draft at my cabin, hence the three days a week, with just my dogs and me.  Once I am into the editing, I no longer need this solitude. 

I also have a few routines I follow to get me into my writing and I hate to say it but it involves checking Facebook, email, the latest news and anything else I can do on the internet. I usually futz around with this for thirty minutes to an hour. Delaying tactics I know, but once I get it out of my system, I am ready to plunge into Meg’s world.

When I am in Meg’s world, I have no difficulties focusing on the writing. I give almost no thought to anything else going on in my life. But there are times when I am not able to ignore what’s happening in the real world, so I take a break from the writing.  I also have another rule. I never take my writing on a vacation. I leave it at home.

Breaks have proven to be very beneficial for me. Though I may not be pounding away at my computer, I am still thinking about the story. Often distance from the immediate writing, helps me resolve any problems I might be having. It allows me to see the story and not just the words.

When I am in Meg’s world, I am Meg and all the other characters in my story. I am speaking their words, thinking their thoughts, seeing their sights and preforming their actions. I liken it to being an actor, except it is all in my mind. And I tell you, I am having a great time. I love creating imaginary worlds with nothing but words.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Zoning In - by Brenda Chapman

Question: Real life happens around us while we play in the imaginary ones we create. How do you keep yourself in the writing zone and out of the ruts? Are there tricks to staying focused, especially at this time of year?  

Happy New Year, everyone! After a few weeks of entertaining, overeating and sleeping in, this week's question is most appropriate. 

The most effective way that I've found to keep my writing schedule on track is to have a minimum daily word count of 500 words that I adhere to as much as possible. I don't stress over those days when I can't get to the computer or have absolutely no desire to write, finding that a day or two away makes me come back refreshed and ready to go. Most days, once I get started writing, I easily slip into the zone so the trick is to sit down and focus.

This past holiday, I had a January 1st deadline for a manuscript that I'd been writing most of the year. Planning ahead led me to complete the first draft in November giving me the month of December to edit. I had the last version on my laptop so that I could easily work from anywhere in the house. I finished the third complete edit and submitted the manuscript on December 30th without missing any of the social gatherings that went on throughout the last two weeks of December. I simply fit in the editing work when I had time.

So, my tricks for staying in the writing zone are as follows:

1.  Work to a deadline, whether actual or self-imposed.
2.  Have a daily minimum word count that you exceed whenever possible.
3.  Work toward a writing routine but be flexible.
4.  Let your partner/family know that you have work to do that day - saying so aloud helps to firm up resolve and keeps them from asking you to do other things during writing time.
5.  Take breaks and do something active. I like to work out or go for a walk before I sit down at my desk.
6.  Read - I usually have a good book on the go and spend some breaks reading a page or chapter.
7.  Talk writing with other authors. Go to conferences and book events and stay inspired.
8.  Accept that your writing has value and don't be afraid to make it a priority in your life. 
9.  Take time to enjoy the fruits of your labour. 

Twitter: brendaAchapman
Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, January 11, 2019

Can You Judge a Book by its Cover?

What makes a great book cover? Is it the title or the graphics? Do you have favorites that you think work?

by Paul D. Marks

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but its cover might just be what draws you into it in the first place. The thing that makes you pluck it off the shelf and crack that cover to see if it’s something you might want to read. So, covers are definitely important.

As to what makes a good book cover, the title or graphics, I think it’s both. An intriguing title makes me want to read something as do mysterious or evocative pictures and graphics. It’s a symbiotic thing, each element works in conjunction with the others to create a whole that, if it’s done well, will grab my attention.

I think the best way to explain is to show this is by comparing different covers of the same book. As many of you know, I like classic crime fiction from the 20th century (that sounds really weird) so let’s take some of those covers and look at them. I’m using some of the books I mentioned in my December 14, 2018 post of year-end book recommendations:
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And I will tell you up front that the pictures pretty much go in the order that they attract me. So on single rows the ones towards the right end are the ones I like better. On double rows the bottom (and more to the right side) are the ones I like better. What attracts me to them? It’s hard to say. It’s an image that evokes some kind of reaction in me. Sometimes it could simply be that the cover that I first read the book under is if not the one I like best at least towards that end. But, I’m not a purist. I don’t necessarily have to go for the original cover or the first cover I saw on a book and often don’t as you’ll see.

So, after you’ve checked out my choices, let us know what you think.


I don’t really like any of the covers on the top row. The woman in the second from right pic reminds me of Kim Novak in Vertigo, which isn’t a bad thing if it’s a Vertigo cover. On the bottom row I like them better as they go from left to right. Though the last two on the right are pretty much tied for my faves.



My favorite Ross Macdonald book is The Chill. Here’s a selection of covers from it. Which one/s do you like? Which one/s suck you in and make you want to at least check the book out without knowing anything else about it.


Another book I like a lot is Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn. Here’s a sampling of covers for that. Again, which ones do you like?


The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham is my favorite book of all time. I like the last cover because of its ethereal feel.


L.A. Confidential might be James Ellroy’s best known book, probably because of the movie based on it. I like the original cover and I also like the last shot, which is from the movie.


Down There, a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player, is my favorite David Goodis book. Goodis has been called the “poet of the losers” by Geoffrey O’Brien. And, while I like the original cover (2nd to last), I really like the Black Lizard cover (last). I do, however, like the original title, Down There, better than Shoot the Piano Player, which came about because that’s the name of the Truffaut movie based on the book. And I have to say I absolutely hate the cover on the left and I don’t much like the movie either.


I don’t read a lot of westerns. But I really like Monte Walsh, the story of a man who’s basically outlived his time. And I really like the last cover here. It’s so evocative of a man alone in the West. A man riding into the sunset.


Except for the last cover, the Black Lizard cover, I don’t like any of these other covers. They’re just so cheesy, but not good cheesy.


The book that introduced Easy Rawlins and I’ve been hooked from day one. I really don’t like any of the covers on the top row, though I can tolerate the last two. But the first two just don’t do it for me. All four on the bottom row are fine, but I like them from left to right, the last being my fave, which also happens to be the original cover.


I really like this book for a lot of different reasons, but that’s for another post as this is about covers. I like all these covers, except the first one. But my two faves would be the last two on the bottom row.


Another favorite book. If you’re into L.A. at all you have to read this – and maybe its sequels. I like all these covers in descending order except for the first, which I don’t like at all. And though the building in the last one is hardly what Bandini would have lived in in Bunker Hill in the 1930s, the whole ambience of it works for me. And I think the palm tree seals the deal.


Okay, I couldn’t resist. And I gotta be honest, I like both of these covers. But ultimately it’s what’s in between them that counts for all of these books.

So, what do you think? What are the ones that speak to you from above? And in general. And why?


And now for the usual BSP:

Dave Congalton of KVEC Radio interviewed me. Check out the podcast here. My part comes in at 20 minutes, 30 seconds into the recording.


And Broken Windows has been getting some great reviews. Here's a small sampling:

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element: 

"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:

"This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:

"Broken Windows is extraordinary."

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

It could be worse . . . except when it couldn't.


It's nearly eleven o'clock in the morning on the west coast and I've just realised I haven't blogged on my allotted day. What a typical start to a new year.

So here's a word-light, pic-heavy look at some book jackets. Forgive me.

I do pay attention to book jackets. I like a waxy or sugar-almond finish - not shiny - and I've got a soft-spot for a jacket where the design is almost all in the font. Like this recent addition to my TBR pile:

Isn't it lovely? It's about an agony aunt during WWII, so I've got premise envy as well as jacket hankering.

Another recent purchase was a new copy of a book I've owned for decades. They re-issued it and, just like that, Georgette Heyer's Footsteps in The Dark has gone from being one of the ugliest volumes in my collection to one of the prettiest.

Another great improvement - in my opinion - came with the recent re-issue of Dorothy L Sayers. Her books had a hard time in the seventies (like architecture, home furnishings and hair-dos) but Hodder's recent re-vamp is gorgeous.

Sometimes, I've pondered the different covers of my own books in different countries, wondering what it is that leads British and American publishers to such distinct looks:

Is that the same woman? Dunno. I like her boots, though. On the whole, no matter what I think, I go along with the jacket the art department comes up with. They know best what works, what sells, what those boots say to readers. Once, early on, I said of a jacket that I liked the colours but really didn't think anything else was related to the story. Guess what happened. They changed the colours and kept the rest.

And once quite recently, I actually put my foot down. Well, my agent put her foot down. Consider the following:

It's the Turkish edition of The Child Garden. And this is the jacket we agreed to once we'd lifted our feet again. It's not my favourite ever. The two heads on top of one another and the moon above seem oddly placed and I've no idea who those two women are. But it was a joy to behold after the first suggestion. Now, I don't know anything about the Turkish book world, or Turkish aesthetics in general, but I knew what I thought when I saw this:

If anyone's read The Child Garden and can tell me who that is, I'd still love to know.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Cover ART! by Cathy Ace

Business: What makes a great book cover? Is it the title or the graphics? Do you have favorites that you think work?

I honestly think the title, the subject/type of book, the artwork and the typography have to work as one to do the best job possible. But this – as you know – is my confessional, so I am taking today as my chance to sing the praises of my favourite cover artist of all time – Tom Adams. And I'll be honest - for me, the typography is "in its place" on the covers he created, as opposed to being a part of the artwork as such - and I know there are many, many wonderful covers out there...but I just want to share his work with you all!

L to R: David Curran, Jake Kerridge, Tom Adams.
His artwork is renowned and will be on my bookshelves forever, because he illustrated the Agatha Christie covers for over 20 years, and created the covers I read when I came to know her work. I was fortunate enough to meet him at CrimeFest in 2017 – and am the proud owner of a signed copy of the book commissioned to celebrate his work. It’s hard to believe – as you look at the detail in the work below – that he’s an illustrator, not a photographer. 

His hyper-realistic technique, matched with his surreal approach appealed to me then, and now. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

 To see more of his work, here's his website:

I'd be honoured if you'd consider reading my work:

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION! This is the cover of my new book - which is launched TODAY

Please check it out  and please consider ordering it through your local library, or your local bookstore, or via an online retailer? 
It's available as a hardcover, trade paperback or an e-book.
To read some lovely blurbs from fellow 7 Criminal Minds bloggers CLICK HERE


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Pssst. Want to See What's Inside?

Terry Shames, here weighing in on what makes a good book cover.

We all want our books to be read, and the first look that people get is the cover. Here are a few tips about good book covers:
When my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, came out in 2013, I was puzzled by the cover. It had a photo of an old car on the front. There was nothing about cars in the book. Worried, I took the photo to my local bookstore. The bookseller took one look at it and said, “With this cover, this book is going to fly off the shelves.” She said it gave the flavor of the book, and that's what was important. She was right, which led me to understand that I knew nothing about book covers.


Tip one: Unless you are experienced in cover design, or really have a strong opinion about the cover your publisher has come up with, trust the pros. And if you are the publisher, get some opinions about the look of the covers you’re considering. Author Hank Phillipi Ryan always gives her Facebook community a choice of covers to vote on. It not only drums up interest, but gives her a chance to figure out the cover that readers find most appealing. Trusting your publisher doesn’t mean you have to accept a cover you really don’t like, or that you shouldn’t at least try to have input. James Ziskin’s last cover for A Stone’s Throw was brilliant—and he came up with it himself. Luckily, his publisher agreed. But of course that isn’t always the case. You may have to compromise.


Tip two: Covers should be consistent for a series. After my first book came out, my publisher, Seventh Street Books, stuck to the basic “look” of the cover, with blues and greens. Readers told me they had only to glance at my covers to know it was one of my books.

That said, when I wrote a prequel, the cover designer changed the look significantly. That was to emphasize that it wasn’t chronological in the series. And now, my eighth book, A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary is coming out with a completely different look. Why? Because after books seven, A Reckoning in the Back Country, was so dark, I decided to write one that was lighter. It was instantly put it in the “cozy” category, which was fine by me, as that’s what I was aiming for.

Which brings me to tip #3: Don’t be afraid to change up the established “look” in order to signal that a book departs  from its usual fare. Also, just because a cover “look” should be consistent doesn’t mean it can’t get stale and need a new interpretation.

Tip # 4: Be specific about the contents of the book. If you’ve written a cozy, having a cover with a gun and a body covered in blood probably isn’t the best way to advertise what’s between the covers. Romance novels almost always signal their contents by their covers. If you see a young woman looking lovingly into the eyes of a handsome man on the cover, you probably won’t expect to settle down to read a fast-paced thriller.

Tip # 5: The cover isn’t everything. I once read a Goodreads discussion about what drew people to books. I assumed it would be word-of-mouth, author name, or even title name. But the overwhelming reason given for selecting a book was its cover. That isn’t true for me. I generally choose a book by author, but sometimes I’m simply browsing and looking for a new “voice.” After reading the discussion, I started paying attention to the kinds of books I selected when I was browsing. I noticed that when I chose a book , the name of the book was more important than the cover, but  I was more likely to a pick up cover with a brooding element--gloom, or a shadowy figure.

 Tip #6: There will always be a bit of mystery to the process. Even the best covers won’t appeal to everyone. And some covers that don’t look particularly exciting, may do quite well.I had a chance to be an Edgar judge last year, and was interested to see how covers differed—and how many of them were the same. It was fascinating to find that there were a lot of the same “look” in covers. I wondered if there are fads. A few of the books I thought were among my best Edgar reads had covers I probably would have bypassed if I had been choosing at random. These were books with generic “scenery”—a picture of a mountain or an ocean or a woods.

I’ve observed that the fourth book in my series, with a cow on the cover, will be picked up more often than any other in a display of my books. I’ve never figured out why. These are urban people. What appeals to them about a cow? Not only that, some people see the cow as looking malevolent; others as neutral.

At the moment I am on an anthology committee and we have to choose a cover. It’s interesting to see what grabs one committee member’s attention over another’s. I tend to like strong geometrics, while another prefers a human element. So it’s tricky to declare that one kind of cover is “greater” than another.

Tip #7: One last tip. When you are James Patterson or Louise Penny, it probably doesn’t matter what your cover looks like. I looked at the covers of some huge best-selling authors and noticed that inevitably, the most notable element of the cover was the author's name in BIG letters. So if you really want to have covers that sell, become a best seller!