Friday, January 17, 2020

House of Plots

When it comes to your writing, what is the most important element to you: plot, theme or something else?

by Paul D. Marks

Pease, porridge, plot. Pease, porridge, theme. Pease and porridge in the plot, nine days old. Some like it plot, Some like it theme. Some like it character right on the beam. Okay, I’m a little off the beam here…. But down to business:

Putting the cart before the horse, the bottom line is that everything needs to work together symbiotically, plot, theme, dialogue, pace, character and all the other things that I’m forgetting to mention here. It’s like a house, you can have a foundation without the structure on top, but it wouldn’t be much fun living there. And you can have the structure, minus the foundation. But you might wake up one day with everything having fallen all around you. You need it all. And one doesn’t work without the other. But back to writing, and since we’re writing mysteries/thrillers here, there’s two main elements, character and plot.

You need to have an exciting plot that moves forward, has some twists, turns and surprises. But you also need good and interesting characters or no one will care what happens to them. Theme tends to spring from these things as you write, at least it does for me. I don’t generally set out to write some theme, but because I’m me I have certain things that resonate with me and they tend to come out in my characters and writing. These include outcasts, people who are damaged, often dealing with or “recovering” from some physical or psychic wound. Others are dinosaurs (people who time has passed by one way or another), fish out of water, etc.

Things like dialogue, description, the business characters do while they’re talking, etc., are like the accoutrements in your house: wooden floors, paintings on the wall, sculptures and landscaping. They’re nice, but they’re on the surface. And, while they’re important, they won’t really matter if you don’t have a good foundation of character.

I once had a producer talk to me about the story vs. the plot. We were talking about a script and she kept saying “that’s the plot, but what’s the story?” I didn’t quite get what she was talking about. Aren’t plot and story the same thing? But then I finally got it: Plot is the chronological events that form the screenplay. Story is the underlying meaning, the human element—maybe what we’d call the B Story. In essence, story is what happens, to paraphrase John Lennon, while you're busy making other plans.

To use an example we all know, Casablanca: The plot of Casablanca is—Rick helps his ex-girlfriend and her husband get away from the Nazis. The Story is—a man struggles with his own selfish desires over the greater good of mankind; he ultimately becomes a better human being.  And this can be applied to prose stories as well.

Sometimes I get an idea for a character and have to come up with a story to build around that character. Other times I have an idea for a plot or situation or just a snapshot of a scene that intrigues me and things build out from there.

But the thing I like best are the characters, who they are and how they interact with each other. Their struggles with others and with themselves. What their motivations are. What they want and what they’ll do to get it. Of course, you don’t want to hit the nail too on the head with any of this, but it does come out in the wash, so to speak.

I also like flawed characters, like Duke Rogers, the P.I. in White Heat. Or his partner Jack, who is very unPC. He’s a tough character. But I like to say that Jack might say the wrong things but he pretty much does the right thing. And people of all political persuasions seem to like him. And Duke is battered from growing up with an abusive father and that affects the actions he takes.

Ray Hood in Dead Man’s Curve (Last Exit to Murder anthology) is a man who’s lost his focus, his dreams and his purpose, and is desperately trying to get them back. The question is, how far will he go to get all of that back? When I submitted that story to the anthology editors I was worried they might cut out certain things that were more character-related than plot or moving the plot forward bits. They didn’t. Which made me very happy but also I think adds to the texture of the story and is really the most interesting part for me.

Winger, the Weegee-like photog in Poison Heart (from the Deadly Ink anthology), is so desperate for recognition that he finds pleasure in doing photo recreations of grisly murder scenes...until it all gets out of hand and becomes too real.

Darrell Wood in Howling at the Moon (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014,) is jaded by war and life in general. He’s lost touch with his roots, causing him to question his priorities. He also shares a collective memory with his native American ancestors and that shapes his actions in the story.

In Windward (Best American Mysteries of 2018 anthology and winner of the Macavity Award for Best Short Story), P.I. Jack Lassen has retreated from the world to some extent and into in his bunker. He does come out to do his job, but he’s given up doing some of the things he loved, like surfing. And, though he takes pride in doing his job and doing it well and by the rules, maybe breaking some of those rules can get back some of his mojo back.

In my novella Vortex, Zach Tanner is physically wounded by war and mentally changed by it. This sends him on a collision course with the past and decisions he made that he deeply regrets now. That affects how he moves forward.

In my upcoming mystery-thriller The Blues Don’t Care (Down & Out, June 2020), Bobby Saxon has a lot to overcome. Not only is he the only white musician in an all-black swing band during World War II, he also has to deal with a society that’s not ready to accept him…in more ways than one. More to come on this.

All of these characters have to overcome their issues to survive and come out on the other side...if they can.

Another is the theme I’m drawn to of memory and the past and how those things affect the characters in the present.

Howard Hamm in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series that’s been appearing Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (the latest of which is Fade-Out on Bunker Hill, from the March/April, 2019 EQMM) is a very modern man, but his best friend, Kevin, who’s murdered in the first story, is immersed in the past and lived in one of the old Victorian mansions that had been moved from the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles to another neighborhood when Bunker Hill was being redeveloped. After Kevin’s murder, Howard begins to see the past and Kevin’s obsession with old-timey things in a different light. And many of the mysteries revolve around conflicts that start in the past and find a way into the present.

Bringing it back ‘round to the beginning, all of the elements really need to work together. I might have a preference for playing up character over plot or theme/action/description/dialogue, but you still need all the elements for a story to stand up on its own. And if you overlook any one element the story will not have the connection you want it to have with your readers.


And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release. (See book cover above.)


On a different level, I hope you’ll check out my recent post at SleuthSayers: More Stars Than There Are In Heaven: My interview with Steven Bingen, one of the authors of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. Today at SleuthSayers.

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Done

When it comes to your writing, what is the most important element to you: plot, theme or something else?

By Catriona

What a great question. (Do the readers of this blog know that behind the scenes we Minds take turns to come up with a month's questions at a time?) Well done to whoever dreamed up this one.

For me, it's definitely not "theme". I know that for sure. I don't think I need to know if there's a theme or not, or what it might be. Sometimes I stumble over it in the course of writing but most often I find out what I've been exploring by reading the reviews. When a critic I admire states with great confidence "This is a novel about the corrosive nature of secrets", I'm not going to argue.

And I know it's not "plot" that drives me. But unlike "theme" I also know that I need to deliver a plot to the reader - one that I'm in charge of; one that works. So when I'm writing a first draft, I find myself scribbling notes like "What's going to happen?" and sometimes even "Blah blah blah yeah but what's going to happen?"

I just made myself laugh out loud because I looked at the notebook open on my desk and saw this: 

(The rest of the notes on this page - Anchorage guy / Bran's slips resolved / Diego! Tin ships. Cropper - are to help me believe I won't forget what clues I'm sowing before I get around to harvesting them later on. Safe to say, I'm a bit less of a planner than Cathy.)

I did wonder if "character" is the most important element in my writing. But that doesn't capture how I feel about it. To make that claim would seem like saying my hobby is respiration. What I mean is that character is so absolutely elemental, so taken for granted, that I can't imagine what a book would feel like if characters were (somehow) kicked down the ladder a bit so something else could take over. 

Wait though: I know what happens to a film franchise when character goes from everything to basically nothing. Consider Die Hard (1988). Everyone in that film had a believable character, from John and Gruber, through Argyle the driver and Sgt Powell, all the way to the most minor parts like the slimy reporter and the coked-up executive. Now consider A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). There's John and one bad guy eats a lot of carrots. That's it.  

"Setting" might be the answer I'd go for if this was the short round. In the Dandy Giver series, the setting comes first. I work out where in Scotland I'm going to send her and then what institution or other milieu within that setting she's going to have to grapple with. In the standalones, which are more psychological, it's still very important to me to have a solid sense of where exactly the story takes place and how the setting works: what do the people do for fun in the evening; how many of the neighbours get their shopping delivered; are there buses?; what's the weather like?. 

There are different treats and challenges depending on whether the protagonist belongs in this setting - I love to write about someone's connection to a landscape and society - or has arrived here like a fish out of water to find out about it along with the reader. Some of the most fun I have with my current work is to conjure California in the eyes of a Scottish immigrant so that both US and UK readers will find things to recognise and (I hope) laugh about.

Aha! I've just thought of my final answer. The most important element to me in writing is . . . "voice". That's the thing that makes my writing mine, the thing I get most fierce about when the copy-editors come in. I don't know if it's of tremendous importance to all readers. Maybe they put up with my annoying fictional voice in some book or other to get to the plot, or immerse themselves in the setting, or reacquaint themselves with a character.

I do know it matters to some. People who've met me say they can hear me speak when they read my books and they're usually framing that as a positive thing. I've never heard someone say they can't come to my panel because they'll never get my voice out of their head and it'll ruin their reading. 

Yep, voice it is. 

What an informative blog this has been to write - thank you! Cx

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Elemental balance by Cathy Ace

When it comes to your writing, what is the most important element to you: plot, theme or something else?

This is one of those questions I always find it difficult to answer…because I could go on, and on, and on about it! I’m deep into a WIP at the moment (a new Cait Morgan Mystery); for those of you who are regulars here, you’ll know I am a detailed outliner, so – before I sat down to hit the keyboard to create the first draft – I had already worked on this title for some time. So, I suppose I’m as well placed as I’ll ever be to give a succinct response.

But I still can't because...

I always have/need a theme.

I always have/need a specific and general location.

I always have/need a thorough understanding of not just the physical reality, but also the psychological profile, personal and family histories of all my characters, as well as a comprehensive understanding of how all my characters interrelate.

I always have/need a precisely timed and planned story, with all the little plot points worked out to the minute.

I always have/need a detailed chapter by chapter outline.

Each element is critical. Each carries equal weight. Each has to be right. They all have to fit together to form a book with the right DNA.

The plot couldn’t work anywhere but the place I have set it. 

The story wouldn’t exist without the characters involved. 

The thematic framework is both created by and affects (and effects) the story and the nature of the setting.

This book? It all began with…Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson, Captain Morgan (the person, not the rum), pirates, an enigmatic skull carved from rock crystal, Jamaica, Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye, and a vision of an eccentric Englishman who likes to sing God Save the Queen from the top of a tower at sunset and sunrise every day. Is that a theme? An idea for a plot? Just a handful of characters? Too much gin whilst on a Caribbean cruise? I honestly cannot say. 

What I can say for sure is that the ninth Cait Morgan Mystery – THE CORPSE WITH THE CRYSTAL SKULL – will be published later this year. I dare say you’ll hear a lot more about it in the months between now and then, because I am hoping it will appeal to all those who have read at least some/one of the first eight books. I am thoroughly enjoying spending time with Cait and Bud again – and hope you do the same. Yes, I know this post has morphed into a bit of Blatant Self Promotion, but I am the only person who can do that, and I feel I have to speak up 😊

If you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll be the first to see the cover, when it’s revealed: click here to get to my website where you can find out about my work, and sign up for my newsletters.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Most Important Thing...

When it comes to your writing, what is the most important element to you: plot, theme or something else?

-from Frank
It's difficult to say what is most important. For one thing, different elements appeal to different people. For another, plot, character, theme, language, tone, setting...all of these are like ingredients in a cake. People don't look at a cake and say, "Is flour the most important thing?" They ask if it is fluffy or delicious (unless they're bakers, I suppose). It takes all of the ingredients working in tandem to create the finished product, and if one is missing or neglected, the 'taste' is off, right?

[After all of that metaphor work, I have a confession to make -- I don't like cake. I'm a pie guy].

That said, if you put a gun to my head, I would choose character. I think without character, you have nothing. Well, not nothing. You've got something, but it is isn't worth nearly as much, and it probably falls flat.

[That doesn't mean something can't be successful without it. I mean, I thought the lead professor from the plot-heavy novel The Da Vinci Code was about as cardboard as they come, but people bought the hell out of that book.]

In my own work, I almost always start with the character. Who is he? What does she do? What happens to him? How does she handle it? Everything else usually seems to evolve from there. The answer to these questions gives me the story which leads to the plot, and somewhere along the line, I discover the theme (or more aptly put, it discovers me).

Characters are what people remember. Right now, I'm not necessarily thinking of what happened to Ellie Stone in Los Angeles in Jim's novel, Cast the First Stone. I'm remembering Ellie herself, at least at first. Who she is, and why I like her. Ellie is why I'll go back and read the rest of the books. I think this is true with many readers. Everything matters, but character matters most. I mean this in an artistic sense, but I think it is often true in a commercial sense as well.

Available for Pre-Order!
In the rare instance when the character doesn't come first for me, it can be a struggle. I had what I believe was a great idea for a story when I first conceived of my newest novel, In The Cut  (Down and Out Books, available Jan 27! Get it for 40% off while on pre-order!).

I labored over the intracacies of the plot in order to make every turn and twist work within the context of the story and all its characters, but I was always missing one thing -- I didn't know who Boone, the main character, truly was. He performed admirably in service to the plot, and I finished a couple of drafts with him playing that role. As I prepared to send the book to the publisher, though, I found myself strangely hesitant.

I loved this idea when I had it. I loved the idea as I crafted what I knew was a good story. There were at least two twists most people wouldn't see coming, and I knew I'd been fair with those twists, too. So why didn't I feel satisfied?

It was my wife Kristi that pointed out the problem to me in more specific detail. With incisive criticism, she pointed to the flaws in Boone's motivation, his thought process, and perhaps most importantly, in my belief of who he was. She was pretty sure I had pegged him wrong.

Uh-oh. She was right. I didn't have a handle on the most important thing - character. And the main character, at that. The supporting class felt solid, but not Boone.

So I did a deep dive. Why did I feel this way about him? Who was Boone? How did he feel about everything and everyone inside that novel? Why did he feel that way? Why did he make the choices he made?

All of these are questions that get answered up front most of the time, at least for me. So it was an odd place to be, not having concrete answers for a protagonist while sitting on a complete novel, story-wise.

I thought about it a lot (no sauna at the gym, Abir, but thanks to Kristi's insistence, we've got a hot tub at the house). I asked Kristi what she thought, since she was instrumental in pointing out that I had a problem. She had some great insight into what should be foremost on Boone's mind, and why. I also consulted one of my writer friends, Colin Conway, and got an additional perspective. Then, between conversations with both of them and some time with a pen, a yellow note pad, and my own mind, I found Boone. Who he was slowly became revealed to me.

My attitude about In the Cut changed immediately, once I knew who Boone was. The revisions to accomodate his true self were fun, easy, and fast...because they felt right. Who he was didn't change the plot, it only changed how he responded to things -- what he thought, felt, and how he did things. In a couple places, it changed what he did, but the impact on the plot itself was fairly minimal. The change to how Boone was portrayed was considerable.

When I sent the book to the publisher, I did so with some measure of pride and confidence.

I think if you'd asked me the question a year ago or ten years ago, my answer would still have been that character is the most important thing. But writing In the Cut reaffirmed my belief.

For me, character is the most important element, and always will be.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Character Made Me Do It

Q: When it comes to your writing, what is the most important element to you: plot, theme or something else?

-from Susan

For me, definitely character. I think the plot is defined by the main characters’ attitudes, biases, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. The protagonist and the villain, in particular, drive the plot forward by how they view and act on the crime. I write mysteries so it’s the protagonist who will be introduced first. Who is she? Why does she think she has a role in solving this crime? Is she going to tackle it directly with bravery or at least bravado? Is she going to sidle up to the problem quietly and diffidently? Can she handle the danger? If not, how will she find allies and what will they do? All of that and more dictate the shape and momentum of the plot. 

There are writers who rely on complex plots that carry all the characters along as if in a fast-moving stream. The plot acts on them. Works for some, but I couldn’t do it. 

My themes seem to come out of the story gradually. In one series, I realized I was returning to the same idea, one that bothers me in real life: The effects that ridiculous amounts of money, illegal acts that require that money be laundered, and the commodification of art have had on the art world. I don’t like it and I find I can use my Dani O’Rourke novels to show a few of the ways it has perverted the art market, hurt artists, and invited in crime. 

I expect that my novels don’t always move as fast as some readers would like. I have chosen to let my characters come at their amateur sleuthing at their own pace and in their own ways. They do get to the end having brought justice to killers and crooks, though, and that satisfies me.

Friday, January 10, 2020

2020 Vision

What are your New Year’s resolutions? 

Right then. Here we are. 2020 and all that. I remember looking forward to the millennium. That was twenty years ago now. The last two decades have gone by stupidly fast. Granted I was probably asleep for fifty per cent of the intervening period but still, no one told me 2020 was going to turn up like a guest who’s three hours early for a party. It didn’t even bring a bottle of wine.

Right, so, resolutions

I have a confession. I love ‘em. Absolutely adore them.

To me the New Year and the resolutions that go with it, are the chronological ‘reset’ switch that offers me the chance to be less lazy, less unhealthy, more organised, less useless and generally live my life as less of a bum and more in the fashion that I should have done in 2019…and 2018… and, well you get the idea.

Yes, I know. Yes…I did say that last year, yes, and the year before and… just hear me out. This year is going to be different. Yes. Yes it will. It’s a new decade after all. New Decade, New Mukherjee. That’s going to be my slogan (at least for most of January).

‘So’, you’re probably not asking. ‘What’s on the list of resolutions, Mukherjee?’

Well here you go.

Resolution Number 1: Health
“Health is Wealth” my old dad used to say. But then he died. Still he made it to the ripe old age of 89, which is a damn good innings for a man born in Calcutta in the 1920s where the average life expectancy was slightly behind that of a Mayfly. 

Taking care of your health is just one of the many lessons he imparted to me and of which I’ve done very little about, especially since becoming a writer. In the old days, I’d go to work and try to fit in the gym two or three mornings or evenings a week. Then I started writing and most of my gym time was sacrificed to sitting in front of a lap top typing bad sentences which need very heavy editing. In the process, I have developed what is commonly known as Crime Writer’s Ass, and no, I’m not going to illustrate it with a photo.

By now, knowing me as you do, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that during this period of physical regression, I kept my gym membership. I kept paying £112 per month for a facility I used on average twice a year. In my defence, I would say that it is a really beautiful gym (they even filmed a scene from the James Bond film, Skyfall in there), and that most of my plot ideas were formed in the sauna or the jacuzzis in that gym. Still. In a seminal moment of taking control of my finances,

Told you it was a nice gym. James Bond swam in this pool

I finally cancelled my membership last July. But that left me with the issue of how to pretend to get fit now. Well, as usual, watching TV provided me with the answer, namely the FITT Cube! The FITT Cube (with two, count ‘em, TWO ‘T’s) is a revolutionary fitness device combining over a hundred different exercises into a box (or “cube”) which you can store beneath your desk or, as I do, next to the fridge. 
Ladies and Gentlemen! I give you - the FITT Cube!

The people in the advert looked super handsome and toned, so I decided to purchase one. It cost the same as one month’s gym membership, so I’m actually saving money. I’ve used it three times since the new year and bits of my body are close to falling off. I shall nevertheless persevere at least till February when I shall forget all about it, but for now I feel much fitttter already.

This is how I expect to look by next week, though probably slightly browner

Resolution Number Two: Work
This is the year I resolve to become a full time writer. I resolved that last year too, but it never really happened. Over the last few years, I have been cutting back on my non-writing workload. I decided to go part-time about three years back. When I told my colleagues of my decision, they replied, “We thought you went part time years ago…” I will kill them all in a novel one day.

But this year, I intend to do it, to stop the day-job completely…or at least I did till yesterday when I agreed to do some work for a client. That’s the thing about being a writer. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a publishing contact, it can be months or years before you see much cash and it’s very hard to say ‘no’ to someone offering you money in the meantime.

Resolution Number Three: Family
I am not going to spend my weekends writing. I am going to devote that time to my wife and kids. That’ll probably mean I miss my deadlines to an even greater extent than I already do, but out of everything, this one’s the most important. For the last five years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time at weekends stuck in libraries or in my room, while my wife has raised our kids. It’s been tough on her, and it makes me feel guilty. So this year, and for the years going forward, my weekend will be free of writing (other than maybe that last-month mad-dash before my publishers threaten to sue me for breach of contract).

Resolution Number Four: Writing
I’ve been lucky. Really lucky. Five years ago, I hadn’t had a single thing published. Now I have four novels, with a fifth in progress. They’ve all featured my detectives Sam Wyndham and Surendranath ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee, and while I love writing them, I’d like to write something different, something contemporary, as well. So in 2020, once I’ve finished book five in the series, I’m going to try my hand at something very different. I’m going to go from 1920s India to present day USA. I’ve got an idea for a novel, though I might need to visit America for a few months of research – so if anyone’s got a spare couch I could crash on, do let me know! Then I just need to write it and hope someone publishes it.

So that’s it. Sensible resolutions for a better me. I’m going to get fit, spend more time with those I love, try to give up non-writing work, and write the quintessential American novel. And if that fails, I’ll just become the world’s unfittest FITT cube instructor.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

I Hereby Resolve...

From Jim

Upon the first of Jan-u-ary each and every year
I choose a comfy cushioned chair on which to park my rear
Then taking pencil, pen, or plume I think with all my might
About my life, my hopes, my dreams and then begin to write

I make a note of all my flaws, my missteps, and my sins
And number them from one to ten and sort them into bins:
A catalogue of wishes, goals, and changes to achieve,
To lose some weight, to write more books, and royalties receive!

But not all thoughts are for myself, I also have a heart
So I resolve to do some good, pitch in, and play my part,
To be a better person and to help human-i-ty,
Or maybe just be satisfied to keep my san-i-ty

For all in all you must admit that things are not so good
At home, abroad, in Baltimore, and in your neighborhood
With guns and hate and politics and fears we cannot quell
It often seems we’re on a highway heading straight to hell 

But then I reason as I sit here in my pensive pose
Some things I can control and fix, so why not start with those?
My wrath, my sloth, and moods most foul are faults I could improve
Why not correct them right away? Cast out, erase, remove?

While in the past I must admit that my resolve was frail
This time my pledge is resolute; I don’t intend to fail
I vow to change, to grow, to thrive, and forge myself anew
And through hard work and sweat and blood I’ll make my dreams come true

But just in case my will is weak and my plans gang ag-ley
I’ll save this verse for twelve months more until next New Year’s Day
Then with high hopes and best intents I’ll shout for all to hear
The very same prom-is-es that I made and broke this year

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

On the horizon …

What are your new year’s resolutions? (Give us both writing and others if you have them)

by Dietrich

I’m not in the habit of making resolutions for the new year. I’m not into predictions, and once again I didn’t take part in the icy Polar Bear Swim to celebrate the new year. Nothing wrong with any of that, and I suppose if I did make resolutions, I‘d likely break them all anyway. But, I do make plans, and I do have plenty to look forward to in the coming year. 

Over the coming weeks I’ll be working with my editor and tackling final edits for my upcoming book. This one’s called Cradle of the Deep, a crime novel set on the west coast, starting in Vancouver and ending up in Alaska. It’s set in present-time and involves a couple running away from the woman’s gangster ex. It will be out in the fall. 

I’ve got another standalone project that I’m halfway through. It’s set here in Vancouver in present time as well, and involves a runaway teen, an old man, a pair of casino thieves, and one killer motor home. I’m not absolutely sure of the title yet so I won’t mention it here. This one will become my tenth and should be out the following year.

Being an avid reader, I’m excited about new books by some of my favorite authors, as well as some who I’ve been meaning to read. And there are classics by long-time favorites that I’d like to catch up on, and some others that I’d like to reread. So, the stack of books is forever growing.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, there’s always something exciting coming our way. There are plenty of concerts and shows scheduled, as well as our wine and craft beer festivals, the international film festival, a jazz festival, a folk festival, the Celebration of Light fireworks, Bard on the Beach, and lots more.

There are writer events and festivals that I’ll be attending, and for our local crime fiction fans, I’ll be organizing two Noir at the Bar events at the usual haunt, the Shebeen down in Gastown, one on May 6th, and the other on November 4th. Both promise an exciting line-up of authors reading from their latest works.

And here at Criminal Minds, I’m looking forward to answering questions along with our fine family of authors. 

And over on my blog Off the Cuff, I’ll be chatting with some prominent authors about what they’re working on. You can find it at:

As I play music when I write, I’m constantly adding new albums to the collection, and there are some great ones coming out, and that’s something else I have to look forward to. 

Then there are new films being released, as well as some series that I’ve become addicted to: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Schitt’s Creek, White Gold, and Better Call Saul, all of which are getting set for new seasons. 

Aside from all that, I’m planning to do some traveling. My wife and I migrate like geese in the fall, heading to California every year. On top of that, I’m looking forward to flying to Germany later this year.

There you have it: no resolutions, but some plans and plenty to look forward to. And for everybody out there, I wish you all the very best for the coming year.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

I Resolve, Among Other Things

I don’t wait for New Year’s to make resolutions. I make them all year long. Here’s a typical list:

This week I, Terry Shames, do firmly resolve to: clean up my desk, 

weed out 100 emails a day, reorganize my word files into reasonable folders, delete old files, lose two pounds by cutting out wine and sweets, work on my taxes, read two books, write a thousand words a day, work out every day, clean out my closet, write a couple of blog posts, clean out my freezer, clean out the garage, have a dinner party, take a load of stuff to the thrift store, reorganize the junk drawer, weed out a bunch of books I know I’ll never read, iron the clothes that have been sitting un-ironed for months, clean out the closet that never, ever gets opened, buy new shades for the room no one ever goes into, find a handyman to refit windows that won’t close and to replace the window pane that was broken last summer, make an appointment with a contractor to redo the second bathroom, make an appointment with the painter to tear out the piece of ceiling where the bathtub leaked into the kitchen and replace and paint it, write the 1-page bio I’ve been putting off, write an article for the Sisters in Crime newsletter, organize my photos that I’ve been meaning to organize since 2015, 

get out my knitting that I abandoned in 2012 and see if I can take up where I left off, make a date for lunch with someone I’ve been meaning to see, read at least 5 New Yorkers in the pile of 25 or so that are lying unread, find out why my dog Lucy has been licking her front paw, water the plants, take my stack of unframed art into the framer, buy my sister a birthday gift, order the spices I like from the spice shop, get somebody in to haul away a bunch of stuff from the basement, refresh my website, sew the three-inch seam on my husband’s shorts, get back to painting,  and……

So far, of that list from last week I’ve watered the plants, written the bio, and weeded out 100 emails. Oh, and I also changed two light bulbs. You may not think that’s much, but one has been out for two years, and the other one for five. Rather than change the light bulb in the spare bedroom, I dragged a lamp into the room. Oh, yeah, and after our visiting dog left, Lucy stopped licking her paw so I can call that an accomplishment, right? 

Some people might say those don’t count as resolutions, but why not? Why are they any less resolve-worthy than the lofty ones like losing weight or going to the gym or being nicer to everyone or promoting world peach? It’s all the stuff of life. Small wins that count in everyday life. Like when my husband was sick this week, and he was moping because we were out of his favorite peanut butter, so in rush hour traffic I drove to an odd little store several miles away that is the only one that carries his peanut butter. That’s a win. It should go in the “I resolve to do nice things” column.

You want lofty New Year’s Resolutions? Here you go:

This year I resolve to : Stay healthy,
 laugh a lot, 

work to overthrow the government, spend more time with friends, 

see the beauty around me, 

write my next Samuel Craddock novel, 

and edit those books that I have written first drafts for, but never touched again. Let’s see how successful I am. Note: in the “Stay Health” column, in order to entice myself to finish this post, I gave myself a cookie. Okay, two cookies.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Hope you have success with all that you hold dear.