Monday, July 15, 2019

Being Schooled in Writing

Question: Were you formally trained as a writer? i.e., an MFA or college curriculum? Can you teach writing? Does it matter if you went to school for it?

Brenda Chapman here.
Like many writers, I've made a career of reading from a very young age. The reason I open with this is because I believe that reading widely is an education that every author can access, no matter income or formal schooling.

When it came time for me to go to university, I chose a field that seemed to be the only things I was really proficient at - reading and writing - and so entered the English literature program at Lakehead University. While I took courses in Renaissance drama, American literature and the like, my interest in poetry rose to the surface. I studied British and Canadian poetry mainly, and particularly enjoyed the earlier Canadian poets and T.S. Eliot. In third year, I took a creative writing course, taught by an American poet. The course lasted the entire year and focused on poetry and short story writing. I loved every minute of it. In fact, I loved that course more than any of the other literature courses, which probably was a sign of where my true interests lay.

After getting my B.A., I still didn't know what career I should choose, or even what was available for someone with a B.A. in English lit. I'd worked a lot with kids in summer camps and teachers' college seemed like a logical next step, so off I went to Queen's faculty of education in Kingston, Ontario. This led to my work at an alternative school in Ottawa with the focus on special education, a field I worked in for almost fifteen years. During this time, I took courses toward my Honours English degree, ending up one credit short, only because I began working full-time in the government and started writing books. I keep meaning to get back for that one credit, but haven't gotten around to checking out what I need to enroll.

During my teaching years, I tutored some high school students in grammar and so I had to relearn a lot of the concepts from my school years. I spent a lot of time pouring over grammar books and figuring out how to teach the lessons. This came in useful in my government writing and editing jobs, where I continued to expand my knowledge. A solid grounding in grammar is key to good writing, and I'd advise all beginning writers to crack open the grammar books.

My one regret is that way back when I was in high school and looking at options for university, I was not aware of the creative writing degree. In hindsight, this would have been my first choice. 

I've taught writing workshops, mainly to children, and I'll be teaching a workshop for new adult writers on point of view in August. The teaching degree combined with my years in education give me some degree of comfort in tackling these assignments. This said, I'm not interested in teaching at a college or university, either part- or full-time. The odd workshop suits me fine.

Looking back, my writing education is a mix of formal schooling and learning by doing and reading. However, no matter what challenge I've taken on, I've never strayed far from that first passion for the written word!


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, July 12, 2019

More Books in Heaven and Earth

Do you read the kind of books that you write or do you tend to read books that are the opposite or different – and why?

by Paul D. Marks

These days I’m lucky to find the time to read anything. I don’t know where the time goes, but it goes. A lot of it is spent on writing and related tasks. Writing is a major time suck, but a good one. I also get asked to read a lot of books to blurb or for similar reasons, so that limits the amount of totally discretionary reading I have time for, though I’m trying to take a break from that so I have more time for pleasure reading, not that some of those books aren’t pleasurable. Plus, writing short stories I try to read as many of them as possible, too.

As to what I read, I read everything, though not as much of anything as I used to. Leisure time seems at a premium.

First, since the question asks in part “Do you read the kind of books that you write?” let’s start with what I write. I write various kinds of (mostly) crime fiction, from noir to traditional-hardboiled and even satire, with a crime-y bent. Nothing like having an audience laugh hard and hearty when you’re reading a story that you hope and pray is funny and find out others think it is, too. One of my best memories of this was reading a section of my story Continental Tilt to an audience and having them laugh uproariously. That was a good feeling.

I even write a series, the Ghosts of Bunker Hill stories, that has a paranormal element to it. So I’m all over the place. I’ve also written some mainstream, dare I say literary fiction, such as my story Terminal Island, published in Weber: The Contemporary West, and Endless Vacation, which garnered honorable mentions at both Glimmer Train and the Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition.

Before I get to directly responding to the question, let me turn it around and say that I write books and stories that I like and that I would want to read. So now that I’ve talked about what I write, let me talk about what I read.

I do read mostly in my genre these days, though not necessarily only the types of books that I write. But I like to read outside the genre too. I like to read mainstream fiction and non-fiction. I don’t like to mention names of people I know because inevitably someone is left out and feelings get hurt so let me mention some well-known faves in the genre: Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Michael Connelly, Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, Carol O’Connell, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, David Goodis and others.

On the other hand, I also read out of the genre. And, as I’ve also mentioned before my favorite book is far from a mystery-thriller type of book. It’s The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here. Other faves outside the genre include The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati), Monte Walsh (Jack Schaefer), Journey to the End of the Night (Louis-Ferdinand Celine), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Milan Kundera), World’s Fair (E.L. Doctorow), Paint it Black (Janet Fitch), Bright Lights, Big City (Jay McInerney) and so many others, like Jonathan Franzen, Anne Tyler and John Irving.

I also like to read non-fiction. I recently read High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel. I’m fascinated by the blacklist, red scare and that whole era and this book hit that nail square on. I go through phases where I’ll read a lot about one particular subject. For example, a long time ago I read several books on the French and Russian revolutions and the Spanish Civil War. I’ve always loved history. My tastes run the gamut from reading about Los Angeles history and historical landmarks to Coney Island on the “other” coast. And I love reading rock history, especially the Beatles. Sometimes I’ll read about the history of the movie business—hell, I even made it into a book about the biz: MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot.

One of my current interests is in World War I, not so much the war itself but the aftermath and lasting effects and cultural changes that sprang from it.

And I would like to give John D. Macdonald a try again. I’ve read a couple of his books a long time ago and I’m afraid to say I wasn’t enthralled. But I’m up for another go.

So I read a wide variety of things. And even if I read a lot of different things from what I write, I think it influences my writing. My characters don't live in a one dimensional world of murder and crime, so I don't want to either. Like Shakespeare said there are more things in heaven and Earth.... Like pizza.

So, what about you—do you read the kind of books that you write or something else?


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Past is Prologue is out in the new July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Available now at bookstores and newstands as well as online at: Hope you'll check it out.

Also, check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus Award-winning novel, White Heat.

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shall I compare thee to a police procedural? by Catriona

Reading: Do you read the kind of books that you write or do you tend to read books that are the opposite or different – and why?

I'm following Cathy's lead from yesterday - it's always a good idea - and starting by saying what I write: a series of presposterous 1930s detective novels (I truly think that should be an official genre); contemporary domestic noir psychological suspense thriller standalones (I don't know what to call them so I just use all the words and hope for the best (a good way to sum them up is "we meet a woman on the worst day of her life and follow her downhill from there")); and what was going to be a trilogy of comic mysteries, until a publisher offered a contract for book four. 

But is that what I read?

I inhale Lori Rader Day, Alex Marwood, Clare Mackintosh and Ruth Ware, who all write contemporary domestic noir psychological suspense thriller standalones too. Hey! I've just thought of a better way to describe them: "where's she off to now" books. Because of the covers - 

Where's she off to now?

In fact, I'm so greedy for these books that if I have to wait till publication day instead of scoring an ARC, I feel like I missed the party.

I also read a lot of books I would write if I could but know that they are completely beyond me. In the crime genre, I'm a huge fan of Steve Cavanagh's series of Eddie Flynn legal thrillers. I also revere and adore PJ Tracy's Monkeewrench series, police procedurals with a good dash of technological wizardry thrown in. I'd embarrass myself if I ever tried anything like that.

Maybe the biggest mismatch between my reading and my writing is that I love poetry - from Shakespeare's sonnets onwards - but am utterly prosaic. I cannot get poems to come out of me however many I stuff in and no matter how closely I study them on the way. Some of my favourite poets, like Kathleen Jamie, Carol Ann Duffy, and Vicki Feaver, write linguistically and structurally quite simple free verse and you'd think it wouldn't be that big a leap but I've tried and it's hopeless.

Considering that I've written fifteen historical novels, I don't actually read many of them. Some exceptions are The Underground Railroad (wow), Vicki Thompson's Counterfeit Lady series, Hilary Mantel's Tudor trilogy (never thought I'd have a crush on Thomas Cromwell, but Mantel's a great writer and here we are) and Flavia de Luce

But then I never conceived of the Dandy Gilver novels as historicals. I wanted to set myself back then and write as though they were contemporary, rather than looking back from here. And if I'm allowed that bit of fancy footwork then I do read a lot of similar stuff, because I'm a devoted fan of Persephone Books. They have published 132 and counting forgotten gems from - mostly - between WW1 and WW2. Pretty well all fiction, predominantly by women, and all with the same beautiful soft dove-grey jackets and exuberant end-papers. 

The Persephone shop, in London
If you decide to check them out and find yourself ordering all 132, plus overseas shipping, feel free to blame me.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

One of these things is not like the other... by Cathy Ace

Reading: Do you read the kind of books that you write or do you tend to read books that are the opposite or different – and why?

Another interesting question. It's made me stop and think about two things – “What type of books do I write?” and “What type of books do I read?”

Funny thing – I wonder if my answer to the first question will tally with what those who read my work think!

So, here goes. Part One – what do I write?

My Cait Morgan Mysteries are traditional mysteries, in that they are all closed circle mysteries, classic “whodunits” with a recurring pair of not-so-amateur sleuths (a professor of criminal psychology and retired homicide detective) but with a different location (different country!) for each book, so new characters/suspects etc each time. When I planned them, I wanted to upend some of the expectations those who had read Agatha Christie might have, in that I enjoyed the way the Poirot PI novels moved from place to place, with new suspects each time, but also enjoyed the sleuthing aspect of Miss Marple (and the Marples where she’s in an exotic locale vs St Mary Mead). 

So – contemporary, not historical, not with a PI but a sleuth well-versed in crime and criminality, with an ever-changing stage and cast in exotic locations. 

I would never have chosen to call these books “cozy” and I still don’t think they are; the use of the word “cozy” to describe the books, and the use of the word “eccentric” to describe Cait Morgan, were choices made by my publisher. My thoughts? They are traditional, not cozy…in that they are complex puzzle plots, tackling some darker themes, which are plot-driven rather than character-driven. Also, I don't think Cait is eccentric - she's just...Cait.

The inspiration for my Poirot/Marple style mash-up!
My WISE Enquiries Agency books are character-driven, and much cozier – though they feature four professional private investigators, rather than sleuths. Another sign of me wanting to turn expectations on their head – usually PIs are rather less softly-boiled than mine. They run their business (after the first book) out of a converted barn at a Welsh stately home. There are cats, dogs, cakes, much tea is drunk and the cases are a bit batty and quintessentially British. As are the four main characters – one of whom is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English – hence WISE. The recurring location of the stately home itself – Chellingworth Hall, where the eighteenth Duke, Henry, is in residence, along with his Dowager Duchess mother Althea…who likes to “help” the WISE women – and the local village of Anwen-by-Wye allow for a recurring cast of characters to become familiar to the reader…much more like a St Mary Mead set-up, but with PIs not a sleuth. Each book features several cases for the team to solve – sometimes the cases becoming, or even already being, interconnected.
Not much gun play in Anwen-by-Wye
My most recent book, The Wrong Boy, is a novel of psychological suspense, set in a Welsh clifftop village, where the discovery of human remains in the locale affects the villagers in unexpected ways – not least of all the three generations of women who run the local pub, whose stories and histories entangle retired Detective Inspector Evan Glover and his psychotherapist wife Betty in unimagined ways. It’s a dark, haunting, and ultimately tragic book.
Young love...what could possibly go wrong? Inspiration for "The Wrong Boy"

Part Two - What do I read? Waiting on my Kindle: Lee Child, Martina Cole, Alexandra Sokoloff, Margaret Millar, Val McDermid, Craig Robertson, Ruth Rendell, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Catriona McPherson, Alan Hunter, Harlen Coben, Steve Martini, Ian Rankin, Luke Jennings, Mick Herron, Lynda La Plante, Robert Crais, Elly Griffiths, Linwood Barclay, Peter Robinson, Barbara Nadel, Len Deighton, John le Carre and Georges Simenon. 

The “coziest” there would be Sue Grafton and Elly Griffiths, I’d say, with a range of gritty, dark, blackly/bleakly-funny tales, with legal, PI and police procedurals, plus a few full-on thrillers, rounding out the list. 

Nothing much like what I write. But that’s what I hope to be enjoying during July, when I am away from my desk for three weeks, with a couple of long flights and some time at my mum’s when I can lie in bed, reading in my childhood room once again – feeling the thrill of the words on the page creating worlds beyond Swansea…

The world outside my childhood bedroom window

As for the worlds I have created since I left the view above...maybe you'd like to find out more about them, or me. You can do that by clicking here. Maybe you'll even consider reading some of my books!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Read What Ya Write?

Do you read the kind of books that you write or do you tend to read books that are the opposite or different – and why?

From Frank

I answered a similar question to this last month in this post. But this question has a distinction, in that it is much broader -- reading habits in general, as opposed to when one is writing.

Drive by Dan Pink
On Deck non-fiction
I like to have a few books going at many as four or more. There are the bedside books, which I read at night. There's the audiobook on my phone, for listening to in the car or while doing yard work or working out. And there's the Kindle book that I read on my phone when I find myself in a place with down time (waiting in line somewhere, for instance).

The bedside books usually include a non-fiction title and a fiction title. My non-fiction title is still the biography of Augustus -- I haven't made much progress on that. But next up after that is Daniel Pink's Drive.

Came highly recommended
The fiction title isn't a title so much as a stack. Library books bump to the top of the pile due to their expiration date, and that pushes owned titles back down. So there are usually a few in progress titles, including our own James Ziskin's Ellie Stone book, which I've been pleasantly plinking away at in between the onslaught of library books coming available (Lori Radar-Day's Under a Dark Sky is the current one).

Now, to be fair, I'm writing this post well in advance of the publication date, since Kristi and I are vacationing in Ireland from July 1-12. So I'm sure that both Lori and Jim's book will be finished by the time you read this, and I'll be onto another library entry and whatever is next in my owned stack on the bedside. I'm hoping for Blake Crouch's Recursion from the library, and there are a couple of acquisitions from Left Coast Crime vying to be up next on the owned side.

A Dirty Job
Read by Fisher Stevens
Read by Titus Welliver
Audiobooks are awesome, and though they compete with podcasts for my listening pleasure, they get at least equal standing. I've listened to entire series (serie?) via audiobook only, including The Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell (the Netflix series The Last Kingdom is based on these books). I recently finished Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job (narrated by Fisher Stevens) this way (Chris came on my podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime, and was fantastic), and as of this writing, I'm digging me some Harry Bosch (Two Kinds of Truth, narrated by Titus Welliver). I don't tend to listen to non-fiction much on audio -- I guess podcasts fill that void. I listen to some history podcasts, hockey podcasts, and whatever you want to classify Malcolm Gladwell as -- journalism? History? Human Interest?  Whatever it is, I enjoy the heck out of his work.

Shades of Elmore Leonard
Kindle on the phone is opportunity-driven. I have a few dozen books on there for those times when I'm waiting around for something and don't have a book with me. I started reading Matt Phillips' Countdown this way, for example (Matt was also on the podcast recently). I have a few Joe Konrath titles, and a Joe Clifford. And you can never, ever go wrong with an Eric Beetner title. The thing about all of these titles is that I read them in fits and starts, so it's a different kind of experience than a read through with a physical book. That makes someone like Beetner perfect, because the action is generally so non-stop that it's easy to jump back into the story after being away for a while.

Looking back over this, I see that I am fiction-heavy, and that many are in my genre, or even in the sub-genres that I write in. Why is that?

I think it is two-pronged. First off, I like these kinds of books. They interest me, and a pleasure to read. Ther's probably a reason I write crime fiction beyond just my career in law enforcement. I like the scope of human drama that seems to be examined so closely in much of this genre. So I read a bunch of it. That's probably ninety percent of the reason why. The other ten percent is putting a writer's eye on what my colleagues are doing. Trying to learn from them, and admiring the work they've done. And being insanely jealous at how good they are.

Reading (or listening) outside the genre is good, too, though. It feels like a complete break. Or nearly complete. If it's a book that isn't crime fiction, there's still a part of me paying attention to the craft.  It's unavoidable. But it's easier to put that aside when the story is dissimilar from what I write.

I'm a firm believer that you should read what you like to read. Part of the reason some people never develop a love of reading is because they were forced to read things they didn't enjoy. Now, I'm all for stretching and expanding your horizons, don't get me wrong. But reading is a pleasure, and you should read what you want.

Speaking of which....


Blatant self-promotion, brought to you by me:

You Can Get It Now!
My novel, Charlie-316, is less than a month old! You can get this police procedural in paperback or digital format from Down and Out Books.

In it, my co-author Colin Conway and I dive into the explosive aftermath of a controversial police shooting in Spokane, Washington, where everyone has an agenda and nothing is what it seems to be.

Eric Beetner said that Charlie-316 "Crackles with authenticity and ripped-from-the-headlines urgency."

Trust Eric.

And make me smile -- give Charlie-316 a read.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Yummy, yummy books!

Q: Do you read the kind of books that you write or do you tend to read books that are the opposite or different – and why?

-from Susan

I’m a book omnivore. July is only a few days old but I have already read or am reading one mystery, one historical fiction, one current ecological non-fiction, one geological history non-fiction. Competing for the top spot when one opens are a police procedural set in Ireland, a police procedural set in India, a how-to book on writing crime fiction, and a non-fiction book related to the manuscript I’m working on.

As with food, I believe in a balanced diet. Too much of any genre is like too much chocolate and, yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as too much chocolate. Some books are escapist in nature, some help me laugh at the mess the world is in, some sober me up fast about the state our world is in, and some help me make sense of it. 

I enjoy reading the work of fellow crime fiction writers, sometimes because I know the writers and sometimes because the buzz says these are outstanding novels. I may agree at times with the buzz, but not always. Some of my favorite crime fiction novels don’t seem able to crack the popularity code, but I admire them as much or more than the blockbuster winners. Wish I knew what the magic sauce was that lifts one adept book onto the New York Timesbestseller list while leaving another to languish in the weeds.

Other fiction pleases me but only when it keeps a story and character arc promise. Some current fiction seems to dribble off after I’ve read one hundred thousand words, and that drives me nuts. I retreat to nineteenth century classics when that happens, but venture back to my own time when something promises to be a real story, not just egocentric author indulgence.

Natural history and physical science topics are high on my list and books that are written well capture and hold my interest easily. But everyone’s list is going to be different and I hope to glean a few recommendations from other Criminal Minds this week. One thing I’m sure of – we’re all book junkies!

Here are a handful of books I’ve read recently:

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson
Straight Man, Richard Russo
The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?,Frans De Waal
A Necessary Evil,Abir Mukherjee
Mariana, Monica Dickens
Falter, Bill McKibben
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
The Devil’s Cave, Martin Walker
The Home Front and Beyond, Sarah Hartmann
We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter

Friday, July 5, 2019

How to be Excel-lent

By Abir

What’s the most valuable business skill that you’ve used in your writing career. Can be anything from contract negotiation to typing to computer programming, like HTML and making your own website, or anything else?

That’s a tough question. My day-job was as an accountant, and it’s fair to say not all of the skills I learnt at the accounting coal-face are readily transferrable to the cloistered, hallowed world of writing. Don’t get me wrong. I wish they were. I mean, I spent a lot of time studying the likes of International Financial Reporting Standard 5: Non-current Assets held for Sale and Discontinued Operations, and International Accounting Standard 29: Financial Reporting in Hyperinflationary Economies, and would love to make more use of that knowledge, but every time I try to include them in a novel, my editor (a notorious accounting-phobe) always cuts those hundred and eight pages out.

Nevertheless I do have my revenge. I once responded to a seven page editorial letter with a thirty slide PowerPoint presentation complete with star fades and animation. (I’m not even making that up). She told me I was the first author who’d ever done that. I found this surprising as I felt it increased the efficiency of the entire editorial process by almost two per cent. Despite her subsequent protestations to the contrary, I think she was secretly in awe of my fly PowerPoint skillz.

My PowerPoint slides bring all the boys to the yard

Then there are contracts. I have many flaws but being a lawyer isn’t one of them. Still, in my time, I’ve learned to read a contract pretty thoroughly. So much so, that when I received my first draft contract from my publishers, I went back to my agent with a list of questions longer than the contract itself. The subsequent conversation with my agent went something like this:

Agent: ‘Wow, Abir. I’ve never had an author respond with so many questions on a contract before.’
Me:     ‘Well, you have told me in the past that I’m not like all the others…that I’m special…’
Agent: ‘90% of the questions were stupid.’
Me:     ‘You told me there are no stupid questions.’
Agent: ‘True. But I said nothing about stupid people.’
Me:     ‘How much do I pay you again?’

This is Eddie, my agent, or Mr. Fifteen per cent, as he likes to be called

There’s also that wonderous productivity tool, that prince among software packages – Excel. 

No. I'm serious. 

You may ask what use a financial modelling software app is in the world of writing, but it’s applications are myriad: I use it to keep track of the wholesale changes which require to be made to my work during the editing process; I use it when I’m plotting out my storylines; I’m also going to use it as an integral part of the erotic novel set in the steamy world of accountancy that I one day plan to write, entitled ‘Love Between the Spreadsheets’. I think it’s a sure-fire hit, though Eddie (another committed accountancy-phobe – what is it with these people?) is skeptical. 

This actor, whose name I can't remember, will definitely be in the film version of my accountancy-based bonk-buster

Most of all though, I use Excel to work out just how much of a state of penury I’ve landed in having given up accountancy and followed the bright, shiny path of writing (and let me tell you, friends, that’s not a pretty spreadsheet at all).

And yet, despite all the red numbers on my spreadsheets; despite the great swathes of knowledge on accounting standards that is going to waste; despite the huge under-appreciation of my accountancy-related talents from the likes of agent and editor, I really wouldn’t want to go back to the old day job. 

I’m not mad.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Answer the Bell

What’s the most valuable business skill that you’ve used in your writing career. Can be anything from contract negotiation to typing to computer programming, like HTML and making your own website, or anything else?

Happy Fourth of July

From Jim

Before I embarked on my writing career, I worked for many years in academia and in Hollywood post-production. Putting to one side the everyday skills one acquires in business, such as typing, pencil-sharpening, and water-cooler banter, I’d say that the most valuable thing I learned in my past career was a strong work ethic. Early on in my professional  life, I learned that honest toil, while not necessarily a guarantee, tended to pay off, both for the company and for me. Over the course of eight years with one company, I never took a sick day. Eight years. Some years there was a certificate to acknowledge perfect attendance, but most times there was nothing. It didn’t matter to me at the time. The streak became an all-consuming, self-sustaining inspiration of its own.

And that attitude has carried over to my writing career. Who cares if I call in sick now? No one but me. I answer to myself and to my own expectations. But that’s just the point. Whom better to work your butt off for than yourself? I don’t get perfect attendance certificates now, but I do get to look at my books lined up on a shelf. Each one represents a year’s work. A year of writing even when I didn’t feel up to it. A year of of doubt, but also a year of hope and determination. A year of refusing to call in sick, even when I was hung over. Or actually sick. One of my favorite mantras is that you have to answer the bell. If you want to play, you have to deal with the consequences of your actions. Never more so than when you’re your own boss.

My point here is that while writing is a creative process, it’s also a business. At least if you’re trying to make a go of it. The two are not necessarily in opposition. For me writing is the greatest job I could ever imagine doing. But at the same time, it’s hard. It’s work. It’s a job. Why do it at all unless you’re trying to produce something of value? You might just as well as watch TV. Take it easy and relax.

Speaking only for me, I’d much rather work my butt off for myself, my own career, and my own books than for some company. But I recognize that much of this work ethic was acquired through the toil and sweat that I gave to previous employers along the way. You can’t simply switch on the work ethic gene when it suits your purpose. You must be willing to to show others and yourself that showing up—every day—is the first step to success. One book at a time.

Don’t dangle your participles

What’s the most valuable business skill that you’ve used in your writing career. Can be anything from contract negotiation to typing to computer programming, like HTML and making your own website, or anything else?

by Dietrich

Financial management, people skills, sales, marketing, communication, project management, public speaking, delegation, problem solving, networking. I’m not an expert at any of those things, but I’ve learned at least a little along the way. 

When I was submitting short stories to publications some years back, a kind editor sent back a note, that while the story was pretty good, my grammar was shit. I thought about it, cursed a while, then I realized the editor was right. So, I got my hands on a tall stack of textbooks to sharpen my language skills, and I studied those texts till my eyes blurred. And now I often I break grammar rules for the sake of style — but knowing where to put the bullets, laundry marks and what-nots has sure helped in all kinds of correspondence. In this day of texts, tweets and dashed-off emails, you might think it hardly matters — and while I wouldn’t go toe to toe with my copy editor and argue the finer points of grammar, like whether I should have just used an n or m dash — I think adding some polish to a submission or business-related letter can go a long way.

“If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” — Elmore Leonard

Writing for the most part is a solo effort, and it keeps me inside my head for a good part of the day, so public speaking wasn’t something that came naturally. In fact, the first time out I was petrified, but once I got up to the microphone I really enjoyed it. And now, I look forward to any chance to take part in panels, readings and interviews. It’s a great way to network and meet with fellow authors and readers alike.

Having run a business for a long time taught me to be a good juggler, and not to procrastinate and put anything off, knowing that it would mean another potential ball in the air. And although those closest to me could argue about my organizational skills, I usually know which pile I put something in. Sometimes it just takes an extra minute to find whatever it is I’m looking for. And along the way, I learned to keep an updated calendar and organize receipts to keep tax time from becoming a total horror show.

So, basically I think I’ve got enough business skills to scrape by, at least enough for somebody who just wants to play with words.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

One Hundred Words Per Minute

This week we are posting about the most valuable business skill that we’ve used in our writing career.
Here’s my take on it.

It may sound odd, but I wasn’t sure what “business skill” meant. “Business” is a vague word that can take on a lot of meanings. The word business connotes busy-ness. People “go about their business,” and it means they are doing the things they normally do, which may be nothing more than going to the grocery store or picking up the kids from school. “None of your business” means don’t get involved with other people’s lives. 

In the case of writers, our “busy-ness” is focused on writing. I looked up skills for business on the internet and found  this list of Essential Skills:

·       Financial management.
·       Marketing, Sale, and customer service
·       Communication and negotiation.
·       Leadership.
·       Project management and planning.
·       Delegation and time management.
·       Problem solving.
·       Networking.

It strikes me that the skills that help us succeed in our writing career are basically the same skills needed to succeed in everyday life. We have to manage our money, communicate, negotiate (with ourselves and others), provide leadership (leading ourselves to our desk to get to work), manage our time, solve plot problems, etc.. When we publish, we have to learn the arcane business of marketing and sales, we have to network, which involves not only marketing our own books, but supporting fellow authors in their efforts.

 And the same thing applies to “advanced” skills in the list below.

·       Complex problem solving.
·       Critical thinking.
·       Creativity.
·       People management.
·       Coordinating with others.
·       Emotional intelligence.
·       Judgement and decision making.

Service orientation.

Which of these things has been most helpful to me? None of the above. When I was in grade school, I taught myself to type. Who knows why? It was a whim. I had seen my mother type since I was a child—she was a fast, accurate typist whose skills were essential in the World War II years when she worked in a munitions plant. When my father was in college when I was a toddler, my mother typed his papers. I remember going to sleep to the sound of the typewriter. So maybe it was admiration for her that drove me. But whatever the reason I had for learning to type, I’m not sure I ever had a more useful skill. I worked my way through college typing, and in college typed all my papers. in writing it has been a key skill. I’ve always been a fast typist, so when people say that I write fast, I sometimes think that’s because I can type as fast as I think.

When I lost the use of my right hand for a time a few years ago, I wondered how I was ever going to write my next book. Turned out that if you type over 100 words per minute, typing with one hand still gets you 50 words per minute. My fifth book was written entirely with my left hand.

As I writer, of course I value creativity, time management, marketing, critical thinking, networking, and all the rest. It’s important that I have computer skills, that I am able to give talks that have substance and humor, that I can update my website, that I can navigate the internet for research, that I can participate in multiple social media sites. It’s valuable to be able to delegate jobs that I can give someone else to do, like recently hiring someone to read all my books and put together a Bible of characters. I have to be able to make a judgement about whether an idea I have for a story is going to be viable. When the times comes, I have to be able to edit effectively. I have to communicate about my books, from pitching the initial idea to my publisher to talking to readers about them.

There’s hardly a business skill that isn’t useful, but for my money, the time I took to teach myself to type all those years ago tops the list.

Terry Shames
A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary
The Samuel Craddock Series