Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Editorial Squabbles

Editorial Disagreements Terry here, answering our weekly discussion question: Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war? 

I once had an author friend who cried when her editor revised her entire manuscript to reflect a different voice. It was a show of hubris that I’ve never heard repeated. But I have heard of changing carefully crafted prose to fit “correct” usage. 

 Imagine changing a cockney’s use of “bruver” to “brother.” Or a hillbilly high-school dropout’s “We ain’t laid eyes on him,” to “We haven’t seen him.” 

 The editor’s job is to intrude as little as possible, while finding discrepancies in the intention of the writer. It’s a hard job to take that fine line between intention and a mistake, and sometimes editors are bound to cross that line. 

 I write about small-town Texas, and not every one of my characters is going to use language the way a professional editor thinks it ought to be used. 

Happily, I’ve never had war with my editors, but I have had “explanation” times. That is, times when I had to explain what something meant when either geographical or colloquial expressions, or age got into the mix. 

 I once used the expression, “If you think you’re going to do that, you’ve got another think coming.” It’s an expression I’ve used for years. But my editor asked if I meant “you’ve got another THING coming.” No, that makes no sense. What the expression means is, “think again.” 

It seemed obvious to me, but I reasoned that either it’s a Texas expression and my New York editor never heard it, or my young New York editor never heard it. Happily, I ran across the expression in the book I’m currently reading, set in present-day London, so apparently it’s at least used in Texas and London. 

 After a few books, my publisher assigned me a different editor, and I was horrified to see that in the first couple of pages she had taken a brisk editorial hand, changing the tone of the writing. I protested and she hastily told me that she had been hesitant and that she only did it for a couple of pages to see if the changes were acceptable. When I explained my position, she had no problem backing off (and the book got a PW starred review, so it wasn’t the worse for my insistence). 

 It isn’t always an editor who gives me grief. My agent recently flagged the term “country and western” and changed it to “country western.” I’ll go to the mat on that one. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Texas it’s “country and western.” She also corrected my spelling of “futher” to “further.” Yes, I know the correct spelling, but I also know that the man who said “futher” would pronounce it that way. I regret the loss of this “sound” in his speech, but I don’t know if it’s worth fighting over, because for sure when the book gets to an editor, he or she will flag it again. 

 Words matter. We hear that a lot these days, but I mean it in the subtle sense. The reason any of the editorial touch is worth discussing is because it matters in the “sound” a writer intends. In my case, the small-town Texas sound. I remember once sitting in a car while my daddy (yes, it’s daddy), was talking to the owner of a gas station. He got back in the car, laughing. He said he had just heard one repairman say to another, “Look at this little bitty old tack I found in the tire.” He said it was such a “Texan” thing to use all those extra words, “little bitty old” instead of simply, “little.” Happily, my father never tried to learn Italian. Italians often use five words when one would do fine. 

 It’s the lucky writer who has an editor who gets the intention of the words. I’ve read books that I thought could have used a heavier editorial hand, but only for catching grammatical errors in narration, repetition, or long-winded narration that didn’t serve the book.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate ...

Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war?

Brenda Chapman starting off another week at 7 Criminal Minds.

Whether for good or ill, I'm not a fighter when it comes to editorial battles. This doesn't mean that I don't voice my opinion and quote from the grammar book when I have a point to make. However, I'll bow to a good argument and always accept my publisher's adherence to their style guide. The editors are the experts after all.

The strange thing is that I once had an editorial job in the government. I was the one making sure government documents followed the style guide. Rewriting sentences so that they were clear and easy to read. Checking spelling and grammar. I even edited the internal weekly newsletter for the Department of Justice when my colleague took a six-week holiday.

Yet somehow, I still send in my (what I believe to be) completed manuscript, only to discover all kinds of sentence structure errors. Punctuation and grammar slip-ups. Inconsistencies. Illogical plot points. I've learned to stay humble.

I've come to believe that it takes a village of proof readers and editors to make a manuscript book-worthy to a standard fit for publication. For one thing, as every writer knows, you can read and reread a piece of writing so many times that your brain skips over small errors, seeing what it knows should be there. It's also easy to mix up details over a 90,000-word story, and the editor will be on the lookout for these inconsistencies. 

All this to say, the editor or proofreader not only looks at the manuscript in minutiae but also as a whole. This includes in the context of the uniformity and standards for all the other books released by the same publisher. I always keep this in mind when reviewing the editor's suggested changes. 

Now as to the analogy about choosing to lose a battle to win a larger war, I've never actually looked at my work with any of the editors in this way. I choose to think we're battling on the same side to make the books as good a product as it can be. If there is a war, it's against those pesky typos and other errors that always seem to unexplainably slip in, possibly because some edits are not always accepted in the final product. Too many versions being circulated perhaps.

In any event, my hat is off to anyone who takes on an editing role, which involves an intricate set of knowledge and skill, honed with every project in a constantly evolving industry. I'm always glad to have the editors on my team, even if I sometimes disagree with the placement of a comma or two.

website: Brendachapman.ca

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, January 15, 2021

An Attitude of Gratitude

How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision?

by Paul D. Marks

Only the best doctors for me.
Before I get to today’s question:

I’ve been on forced hiatus for a couple of months now. I want to thank Cathy Ace for helping find replacement posters to fill my slots in that time and to also thank the various replacement posters. 

Towards the very end of October I wasn’t feeling well. Could barely stand up. Long story short, my wife and general practitioner “forced” me to go the ER. ER found cancer and said if I hadn’t come in when I did I probably would have been dead by the following weekend. Guess it’s a good thing I let Amy jam me into the car and down to the hospital.

I was in the hospital off and on for several weeks. It was torture in more ways than one. My body reacted strongly to the first dose of chemo. That is, the chemo worked—maybe too well. And threw off all of my other labs and numbers. It was and – to some extent—still is a mess. But I’m home—mostly—these days. With some return hospital visits scheduled. And following up with chemo and other treatments.

There’s a lot to deal with and I’m shorthanding this greatly. It’s going to be a long, tough road, but at least it finally looks like a little light at the end of the tunnel.

And I want to thank everyone who sent notes or commented/liked on my much rarer Facebook posts these days with updates.

Now to today’s question:

I tend to write often about things I know to one degree or another. So, in my first two Duke Rogers novels (set in the 1990s), White Heat and Broken Windows, I really just thank the folks at my publisher Down & Out Books. And I don’t think there were any acknowledgements in my stand-alone Vortex.

For my most recent novel, The Blues Don’t Care, that came out this past June, and which is set in the 1940s on the L.A. homefront during World War II, I had a few more acknowledgments. 

One of those was the actual city of L.A. itself. L.A. is such a part of me, such a part of who I am, for better or worse. And I definitely have a love-hate relationship with it. Although World War II was before my time, the city still had that Raymond Chandler ambience when I was a kid. It hadn’t turned to all steel and glass yet and the Powers That Be hadn’t destroyed the Bunker Hill neighborhood (which I would go exploring in) or much of the rest of its past. So I remember the city being that Chandler or John Fante city from back then. And that certainly informed The Blues Don’t Care. Click here to see an article I did on this for Sleuthsayers. 

And I love the movies and music from the 1930s and 40s. That helped greatly with research. As did books and the internet and all the other usual sources.

But the thing that helped me the most on this particular book was first person research with people who were there. My mom, a native Angelino, and her friends, also born here, helped greatly with memories of the war time period that you won’t necessarily find in books. Little tidbits that hopefully give the story a greater sense of verisimilitude. They were invaluable and were acknowledged.

Another first person source was my friend Clyde Williams (click here to see my piece on him over at SleuthSayers). Clyde and I became fast friends while working on a video that he was doing the voice over on. Clyde was a cowboy, a Viet Nam vet, served on an honor guard for President Kennedy. He was also an African-American artist whose work was exhibited at the famous Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, where many famous black artists, musicians, politicians, etc., stayed when they couldn’t stay in white hotels. And though his time, too, was after World War II, he soaked up that ambience and history like a sponge. A good portion of Blues Don’t Care takes place at the Dunbar and Clyde’s insight was invaluable.

So these are the people I give acknowledgment to in this book. People who could particularly help with insight that maybe isn’t so easily found in the usual places.

There’s no particular formula for deciding who should get acknowledgments. It’s what seems right and fair.

And I must say that I am given acknowledgment in one of our fellow Criminal Minds, Jim Ziskin’s book Cast The First Stone. I was really glad to be able to help Jim out with some first-hand L.A, history. and it’s really a kick to be mentioned there. 

So that’s my take on it. I hope to be back more regularly in the future though there might be some occasions when medical issues keep me from posting. But hopefully not or at least not much.


And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don’t Care has been chosen by the terrific and well-respected crime magazine, Suspense, as The Best of 2020 Historical Fiction Novel. I’m grateful to the fans, staff and contributors of Suspense for this terrific honor, which came totally out of the blue. And, besides infusions of platelets, as you can imagine I needed an infusion of good news right now… 

And not only did Blues win a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine, but Coast to Coast: Noir, the third volume in our Coast to Coast crime stories series that I co-edit with Andrew McAleer, also won a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine in the Anthology category. So I’m thrilled about both of these awards:

And Blues Don’t Care was also on two other best of/favorites of 2020 lists:

DeathBecomesHer, Crime Fiction Lover: Top Five Books of 2020 


Aubrey Nye Hamilton, Happiness is a Warm Book:  Favorite Books of 2020

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Awkward stalkers and how to outwit them. by Catriona

 How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision? 

The early dedications were easy: Mum and Dad in book one, my husband in book two, then my sisters, my mother-in-law, my three dearest friends, by which time I had moved to the US and restocked with scads more dearest friends and was in no danger of running out. Then came the years on the Sisters in Crime board, the deepening friendships across the mystery community (when we "only" saw each other three times a year. Only. Ha.) and to cut a long story short, as I edit, polish and launch books 29-31, I've still got lots of people I want to honour. 

                                                           Coming to the UK on 21st Jan

The only regrets I've got - and I'm not even sure that's the right word; source of sadness might be a better way to express it - are that twice I've had to dedicate a book to someone's memory. F died at the age of sixteen a few years ago. I could never have foreseen his death; no one could. And my dear father-in-law was gone long before I had a book published. He was all-in from the start, too - telling me he wanted a good seat at the awards (I couldn't even have named an award then) and joking about Hemingway's life choices. Oh, Jack.

As for awkward moments, I'm having one right now. But a happy one. (More of this below). 

To turn to acknowledgements for a while . . .

Sometimes there's a very specific reason to thank a very specific person: an academic called Lee.E.Gray wrote an insanely detailed and unexpectedly riveting monograph on 19th century elevator technology, which saved the plot of AN UNSUITABLE DAY FOR A MURDER; Donald and Ishbel Ferguson of Applecross fed me tea and buns and taught me the local dialect of Gaelic for A STEP SO GRAVE; the Rizzo family let me move into their house and stay there for five months while I wrote THE DAY SHE DIED; Leslie Budewitz was the VP during my stint as SinC president, and without her I would have been a Catriona-shaped hole in the wall, a la Wile. E.Coyote, rather than the author of a couple of books that year, same as ever.

But usually, I hold the acknowledgements down to: everyone at the agency by name; everyone at the publishers, who worked on my book, by name; 'my friends and family in the US and UK'; and Neil. 

For my second book, I decided to name this family I was thanking. They were Jean and Jim, and also Amy, Audrey, Callum, Claire, Fraser, Greig, Harris, Iain, Lewis, Mathew, Megan, Ross, Sheila, Tom, and Wendy.

I had the cluelessness to give that list a 'here goes' and a 'phew'.

You see, if I were to do the same thing now, fifteen years on, the list would be:

Jean and Jim, and also Amy Jane, Amy Jenna, Andrew, Angus, Arthur, Audrey, Brian, Brodie, Bogusia, Caitlin, Callum, Catriona, Claire, Colin, Daisy, Donovan, Eilidh, Euan, Fraser, Gillian, Gordon, Greig, Harris, Iain, India, Innes, Isla, Jackson, Jason, Lewis, Lydia, Maisie, Mathew, Megan, Michael, Mollie, Nan, Rory, Ross, Ruby, Sheila (still), Suzanne, Tom, and Wendy. And counting, I hope and trust.

And the friends? If I named them? Well, that would make the family list look sparse.

So. 'All my friends and family' it is.

Now back to that dedication-related awkwardness mentioned above. One of the lovely things about this job/community is that an avid mystery fan becomes an attendee at a convention, catches your panel, and becomes a reader, then a writer of an email, then a Facebook pal, then a fellow late-bedder/early riser to share rants with on Brexit and election nights, and eventually starts to call herself - tongue-in-cheek -  a stalker. And so you plot your revenge. 

But long before your author copies of the UK version of the book in question arrive for you to sign and send off again, this sleekit besom announces that she's ordered said book from the Book Depository and is expecting it imminently. (To be fair, I do my fair share of BD ordering too.)

So, I've had to resort to this to stay at the helm of the surprise, while an advance order of THE MIRROR DANCE arrives on the east coast before my author copies have a chance of getting over here to the west:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

For You... by Cathy Ace

How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision?

Possibly my most cryptic Dedication...explained below...
It might seem a little late, but – since this is my first post of the year – I’m going to take this chance to wish you and yours a healthy and peaceful 2021!

That done, I’ll now confess something: I had to open each book I’ve written to “remind myself” to whom they’d been dedicated! Now that I’ve “refreshed my memory” I’ll share something else with you – I wouldn’t change a single dedication.

I’ve never found it difficult to decide to whom I should dedicate a book, though I admit to some repeat mentions (albeit cryptically…see below).

Like many authors, I suspect, I took the opportunity of my first novel being traditionally published to dedicate the book to EVERYONE I wanted to mention – just in case I never had a second book published!

THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE was the first Cait Morgan Mystery, and it saw the light of day in March 2012. That feels like a long, long time ago (but, there again, a week last Tuesday feels like a long, long time ago, too, so there’s really no telling, these days, is there!?) and, since then, I’ve had another thirteen novels published. I suppose – with hindsight – I could have waited to thank everyone, but hindsight isn’t as useful as foresight, and I’ve never been blessed with much of that!

By the time THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE was published in 2013 I was Gramma to three, so it seemed only fair to dedicate the book to them. The book is set in British Columbia's wine country, and I wanted to focus on my family in Canada for that book. I remember it was touch and go as to whether grandson #1 (grandchild #3) would get a mention, because he was a bit slow in arriving and his parents were a little unsure about a name...but Trevor made it, by the skin of his then-non-existent teeth.

THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB is set on the Pacific coast of Mexico; I've visited various parts of Jalisco state many, many times with my husband. Puerto Vallarta is smashing, as is Mismaloya, and we once had a long break there in a lovely town called Bucerias (which gets a few mentions in the book, though I created fictional towns and resorts to be able to tell a tale that didn't reflect poorly on real locations/places/people). So why not dedicate the book to the man who saved me from a scorpion in a swimming pool there? True story: my husband dived right in (I'm a Brit, and don't have either an American or Canadian editor looking over my shoulder as I write this blog, so I'll stick with the British English "dived", and eschew the North American "dove" on this occasion, thank you!) and scooped up the scorpion...I was already splashing about at the shallow end. To be honest, I didn't realize at the time how very brave he was being - I stupidly thought a scorpion would drown, but - apparently - they can last up to 48 hours under water, and the pool guy came every day, and I'm pretty sure he'd have scooped it out with the net-thingy if he'd seen it...so I reckon the poor creature was still alive as it was unceremoniously launched into flight over a high stone wall by Brave Hero Husband!

This one is more than a "mere" dedication; I made a conscious decision to name the titular corpse in THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR after Mum, because...well, it's complicated. The process was something like this: I needed a first name for the "corpse" that would work for a woman born in the early 1940s. Shirley was a good fit; the character's mother's name was Heidi, and she liked the way Shirley Temple played Heidi in the movie, so Shirley it was when she had a daughter in 1942. All well and good, then. However...my mum isn't anything like the Shirley in the book, and it felt a bit weird to keep writing about "her" - but I got over it, because I have honestly rarely thought of my mother as "Shirley"...she's "Mum" and that's that. So, yes, this dedication was an obvious one!

Cait Morgan's quite a lot like me (no, we're not the same as each other, but there are many similarities!) so, when I introduced Cait's sister into this book, you'll understand it was more than likely I'd look to my own sister, Sue, for some inspiration for Cait's sister, Sian. In THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES Cait and Bud are due to get married in a fairytale castle on a cliff in Cait's native Wales. Of course Cait's sister flies in from her home in Perth, Australia, for the occasion, but it's not quite the "homecoming" either sister expects! Anyone who follows my sister's blog posts ( CLICK HERE TO REACH FRUSTRATEDNOMAD blog ) knows she's not only nuts about classical music, but also incredibly knowledgeable too, and I'll tell you that it's she who taught me that it's always "yarn" unless you're referring to a specific type of yarn, and introduced me to Ravelry. Thanks, Sis xx

By the time THE CORPSE WITH THE DIAMOND HAND came out I had two more grandchildren, so of course they deserved a mention, and - to be honest - dedicating the book to them and using the acknowledgements to thank the dozens of people I have known on cruise ships, and in Hawaii, who helped with this book allowed me to avoid making any tough choices.

Husband got another dedication in THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE...because he deserved it! By the time this book was published I was also writing another series for another publisher, and was Chair of Crime Writers of Canada. Writing three books a year is a LOT, and the additional hours each week I dedicated to CWC led to me being strapped for time when it came to me and Husband being together. We got engaged when we were in Amsterdam - it being one of the best places in the world to buy diamonds, of course! - and celebrated there with Dutch friends; I'd spent a great deal of time over the years in Amsterdam (Nissan have their European HQ there, and they were a client of mine, in my previous life as a marketer) and we both had wonderful memories of the city from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and then the 2000s...so it was a super spot to cement our commitment to a future together (then we headed to Nice, France, where we celebrated with friends and stayed at the apartment that's the initial crime scene in THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE!).

I didn't expect to have more grandchildren, but when #6 arrived how could I not give him his own dedication? THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS features a dysfunctional family; I'm delighted that Oliver was born to the most lovingly-functioning family I've ever known!

I finished this book's editing, and therefore wrote the dedication, in June 2020. Gemma and Kevin had then been allowing Husband and I to stay safe at home for months - delivering groceries, meds etc. etc. to our door, so we didn't have to mix at all - so who on earth else would I dedicate THE CORPSE WITH THE CRYSTAL SKULL to? Husband and I had been on a cruise ship in the Caribbean as I'd been finishing the manuscript - set on the Caribbean island of Jamaica - and I'd been planning to dedicate it to the Jamaicans who'd been helping me with local insights...but, while I mentioned them in the acknowledgements, I had to admit the book would never have seen the light of day had daughter and son-in-law not done what they did for us, so it's for them xx

I'm working on Cait Morgan Mystery #10 right now. It's title is THE CORPSE WITH THE IRON WILL and, while it's NOT a pandemic-set book, the location is (almost literally) in Cait's own back garden, halfway up a remote mountain in British Columbia. The theme revolves around "stewardship", and the filmic influence this time (you know I always have one of those for each book, right?) is "It's A Wonderful Life". I'm really enjoying the characters, and the plot's a doozy...lots and lots of twists and turns! As for the dedication? Hmm...I've got a good idea for that, but it might be more of an "In Memory Of..." than "Dedicated To..." because I'm calling upon the inspiration of real people who have lived in the area, but who aren't around any longer, for this book, as well as insights from those who still live here, and who know a great deal more than I do about things like foraging and beekeeping...but that's more than I should say right now. I promise I'll tell you what I can, when I can (then I'll bang on about the launch date ad nauseum, no doubt!!! LOL!!!).

Want to read the books above, or some of my other works? http://www.cathyace.com/

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

This one is for...

How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision?

From Frank

There are really two possible reasons to dedicate a book to someone. Or rules. Let's call them rules.

Rule Number One is because someone lent themselves to the book's completion. An editor or friend who got the story over the hump, or helped flesh out a character, or discover the secret that lies at the heart of every good book. Sometimes these assists are too monumental for just the acknowledgements.

For example, The Last Horseman took off in my head because of a conversation I had with Steve Wohl about the frustrating failures of the criminal justice system when it came to career bad guys. His joking solution led to me asking what would happen if a vigilante group formed and operated in Spokane. Then the more interesting question came - what if that group deteriorated and ended, leaving a single man to bear the burden?

So when it came time to dedicate that one, Steve was the obvious choice. He was there at conception.  

Another example of this is my most recent River City novel, Place of Wrath and Tears. As you can read in the afterword, Spokane Police Officer Zac Dahle had a lot to do with that book coming to fruition. He brought a critical character and a significant storyline to the table. His contributions made the book immensely richer. I should have dedicated the book to him. I mean, he did way more than Steve, and Steve got a dedication.

But I didn't.

Because of Rule Number Two.

Rule Number Two says you dedicate a book to someone who is meaningful to you, regardless of any relationship to work itself. In the case of Place of Wrath and Tears, this is what happened. My grand-daughter Harriet was born while I was working on this book. Like the previous River City novel, The Menace of the Years, which I dedicated to her brother, Linus (or An Unlikely Phoenix, which was dedicated to their brother, Malcolm), I dedicated the newest one to Hattie. 

Why? Because rule number two is a powerful one. It should probably be called rule number one, in fact.

Actually, forget I said "rules." It's your book - do what you want.

To address the other part of the question... I've never had an awkward moment when deciding whether to include someone or not. Zac's a dad himself, so he had no problem understanding the reason PoWaT was dedicated to Hattie. Besides, I acknowledged his contributions at length in the afterword.

There are more than a few people who are secretly "in the queue" for a dedication when it's the right time and the right book. How will I know? I'll know.

There haven't been any of awkward moments due to a dedication, but in one case, an homage caused one. 

I named a sympathetic character in The Last Horseman after my step-mom, Gail. It was a minor character, but very likable. Then, as the story evolved, it turned out Gail got killed (sorry for the spoiler). The development was a late first-draft change or probably a second draft revision, if I remember right. By that time, the homage wasn't even something I thought of - the character of Gail had her own identity by then. So it wasn't until my Gail read the book and then asked me about it a little hesitantly that I realized the way it could be taken. I mean, you hear writers all the time say they exact revenge on people by killing them in their novels.

Anyway, I explained, and Gail understood. But I dodged a bullet there. And Gail got a rule number two dedication later - At Their Own Game.

Sometimes a dedication comes as a combination of both rules. My wife, Kristi, could easily qualify for this on virtually ever book I've written in the last twelve years. She's only received two dedications, though - one from Frank Zafiro and one from Frank Scalise. This is largely because I've sort of instituted a former champion rule where she's concerned. 

Otherwise she'd be the Wayne Gretzky of book dedication records.

You never know how people will react to a book dedication, or if they will at all. But that's okay. Because regardless of the wording, a dedication is to someone but it is, on some level, for the author, too.


Blatant self-promotion, you ask? Why, certainly!

My short story collection, Sugar Got Low will be out on 1/18/21. It's already available for pre-order.

SUGAR GOT LOW contains a tale of grifters, a prequel story to the well-regarded Ania series, several trips back to River City and one to La Sombra, Texas. Enjoy a Walter Mitty homage set in San Francisco and a deadly day in Roman Britain, the heartbreaking story of a junkie and the suspenseful one of a murderer in a black car. And at the end of it all, you’ll experience the dark but inspiring title story of perseverance that was only made possible because of a misunderstood lyric.

Four-time Derringer finalist Frank Zafiro weaves a lucky thirteen tales drawn from throughout his career with one thing in common – characters you may love or hate, but will certainly feel.

Also, if you dig audio, I released my short collection, The Cleaner in that format about a month ago. I took the daring (perhaps foolish) route of producing and narrating it myself. Is it any good? You can be the judge. 

Kristi helped me out by narrating a pair of flash fiction stories that are included, though. I could have dedicated the book to her for that, but I didn't. It was dedicated to Teresa O'Halloran, also know as La Bruja Vieja, my high school Spanish teacher (and champion).

Monday, January 11, 2021

I Want to Thank.....



Q: How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision?


-from Susan


I looked forward to writing the dedication to my first book because I wanted so much to thank my partner Tim, who died only a few months before I found an agent. He had been so supportive, such a cheerleader and believer in my ability to get a novel in print. Less than two weeks before he died, he said, in front of a bunch of friends, “You have to get an agent before I die.” I huffed a bit and said it wasn’t that easy to find an agent, you know, lots of people send out scores of query letters before getting a nibble. I was a wee bit defensive. Since he was a professional artist who knew far better and for far longer than I just how hard it is to be visible and successful in a crowded arts field, I should have shut up and thanked him. Since I hadn’t done that when it would have mattered, my dedicating MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT “For Tim forever” was both an apology and a thank you.


Since then, he’s always been part of a dedication, and I’ve been able to send messages to the people I love – sons, grandkids, sister – all of whom have given me much more credit as a successful author than I deserve, and have boosted my ego enormously. For my first French mystery, LOVE & DEATH IN BURGUNDY, the dedication had to include the couple whose lives as American transplants inspired the story. So far, only five books in print. Not enough opportunity to get to a “can I leave this person out?” dilemma, but I am running out of family. 


Acknowledgements can be more awkward. If you thank writers who have made your book much better than it might have been, do you thank the ones who tried but didn’t help at all, maybe even threw you off course, all with a sincere desire to help? Will they look for their names and be hurt if they don’t see them? If a topic expert made herself available but it wasn’t at all fruitful for the manuscript, or you deliberately wrote something opposite of what she recommended, will she be afraid her peers might blame her for your misrepresenting it, or be embarrassed because she told everyone to look for your book? What if you parted awkwardly from one agent and got another during the writing process? Who to send prose flowers to?


I choose to err on the side of being grateful to anyone who so much as looked my way, didn’t throw mud at me, answered my phone call or my email, spent any time at all trying to help, as long as it’s not more than a page of names. I recently read an Acknowledgements section by an author that went on for three pages. I suspect she named every person working in the mailroom at her publisher’s company. The reverse is equally striking. The Acknowledgements for another book I read this year was a brusque, two-line note to his agent and his long-suffering (his term, not mine) wife. Period. 


Our voices and our personalities come through in our dedications and acknowledgements, don’t they? And getting to thank people in print is probably the most fun short of autographing copies of your book that you’ll have in the whole process.


P.S. I always read the acknowledgements. Do you?


Friday, January 8, 2021

A Time and Place For Everything

by Abir 

If you could set a book you haven’t written yet anywhere in the world, at any time in history, among societies other than your own, where would you choose and why?

A Happy New Year to you all from a wintry, locked-down England. We enter the new year in a state of high tension on both sides of the Atlantic, with the virus seemingly raging out of control once more, but this time there's tangible hope on the horizon, because he'll be gone in thirteen days. Still, it's a good time to for a bit of escapism, a time to lose yourself in a book set as far away from the here and now as possible.

This week's question had me scratching my head, mainly because this is really what my writing career has been all about. My first series of books - the Wyndham and Banerjee series are all set in the Raj-era India of the 1920s. They follow two detectives, Captain Sam Wyndham, a jaded British ex Scotland Yard officer and survivor of the trenches of World War One, and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, a quick-witted young officer and the first Indian detective enrolled into the ranks of the Imperial Police Force in Calcutta. Suren has to suffer some of the ignominies of being the only non white officer in the department, and the fact that  his skin colour means he'll only ever rise so far, despite his brilliance. The books highlight what I believe to be the truth of this period in history, stripping away the rose-tinted perspective which we British tend to apply to the Raj, but also giving the lie to much of the way Indians perceive their own history of this period. Earlier this week, one of my colleagues wrote: 'Write what you know' - and this is good advice. I feel I can write about this period because I am a product of both cultures. I am British, but of Indian origin. I can understand both sides of the story, and so my job is to bring that perspective, that understanding of human nature, out in my novels.

The Wyndham & Banerjee series, books 1 to 4, US editions

I've been fortunate. Back in 2013, when I told my father that I wanted to write novels highlighting the time of the British in India, he asked me whether anyone would want to read the truth about this period. He didn't live to see the first book published, but he'd have been pleasantly surprised and gratified to know that yes, people are interested in this time and place. The books have been bestsellers, now translated into fifteen languages, and have won awards in several countries. I will keep writing them as long as people remain interested in Sam and Suren's adventures and providing I've still got something interesting to say.

UK editions 

At the same time, I want to write about other things - other times and places. As I've mentioned here before, I'm currently writing a novel set mainly in the USA, in the current day (actually a few years in the future) exploring the issues of radicalisation and political polarisation and the impacts of that on family. It's a big departure and a million miles away from Raj era India, but I'm feeling the same buzz about writing it that I felt when I was writing that first Wyndham and Banerjee novel, A Rising Man. It feels fresh and new (at least to me!), and the message it contains feels urgent. 

What might I write in the future? Well they say that those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it - and I think this is very true. I think some of the best historical novels are those which hold up the past as a mirror for our own time and place, highlighting issues that affect us today. The things that keep me awake at night right now are issues such as political extremism, and the fracturing of common values of what constitutes society and decency. I'm also vexed by the attacks on the institutions of liberal democracy by the forces of populism (not just in America or Britain - the same thing is happening in Europe and India). I might wright a book addressing these issues, but I'd need to research the right time and place which would serve as my allegorical equivalent. Maybe the last days of the Roman republic before Caesar seized power, who knows? But that's the great thing about fiction. Our canvas is the entirety of time and space - the real and the imagined. Nothing is out of bounds if your imagination and your prose are up to the challenge!

Have a great weekend, and stay safe.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear? from James W. Ziskin

If you could set a book you haven’t written yet anywhere in the world, at any time in history, among societies other than your own, where would you choose and why?

This week’s question is a fun one for me, maybe because I already write historical fiction. My Ellie Stone series is set in the early 1960s. Through seven novels, Ellie has solved murders from New York City to upstate New York to Hollywood to Florence, Italy. And my next novel is set in 1975 India. I also recently had a great experience and learned a lot by writing a Holmes-Watson pastiche for Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger’s new anthology, In League with Sherlock Holmes. That story is set in Victorian London.

So I’m happy to play along with this week’s topic. In reverse chronological order, here are some ideas I’d like to explore:

World War II

When I was in graduate school, I wrote a huge historical novel (800 pages) set in Paris during the German occupation. I did lots of the research and the writing while I was living and working in Paris in 1985-86. It was not a horrible book—better than the two books I’d written before—but it wasn’t any good either. I still have one hard copy of it collecting dust in our storage room, as well as three-quarters of it in digital format. Somewhere along the way, part of the book—written on a Kaypro steamer trunk of a computer, running the CP/M operating system—was lost. It’s never seen the light of day, and for good reason. But maybe I’ll revisit WWII at some point.

World War I

The first book I ever wrote was a World War I novel. It was terrible. In my defense, I should add that I was twelve years old at the time. I wrote it on a portable blue-and-white Royal typewriter, hunting and pecking with two fingers into the wee hours of the morning, keeping my parents awake as I did. I was a night owl back then, even at twelve. I still have two copies of that book, but I can’t bring myself to look at it, let alone allow anyone else to read it. I’d like to take a better stab at that period one day.

The Raj

I’ve spent nearly four years living, working, and visiting India. In fact, over the past twenty-four years, I’ve made fifty-seven trips to India. It’s my second home. A place I love for all its beauty and—yes—its warts. (Much like this country.) While in lockdown last year, I made the most of my time by beginning and finishing a thriller set in 1975 Bombay during the Emergency. I’m hoping to find a publisher for that book, which is almost ready to go out on submission through my agent. 

One book about India has given me the itch to write more. I’m planning a series to expand on the characters in my latest, but I’d also like to tackle something a little older: the Raj. That period, from the mid-1800s to 1947 and Independence, has always fascinated me. Maybe something set in Simla, the summer capital in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the British administration repaired each year to escape the heat of Delhi. And there were plenty of shenanigans going on there. Officers and wives jumping from one bed to another. Lots of material for a good yarn.

The Battle of Lexington and Concord

Since moving to the Boston area a couple of years ago, I’ve had the chance to visit many historical sites, including the Old North Church, Bunker Hill, and Lexington and Concord. Paul Revere even rode his horse through Medford—passing not a hundred yards from my house—on his way to warn the colonists of the British garrison’s movements. Walking the same Lexington-Concord Battle Road the British soldiers did in 1775, I felt a tremendous sympathy for those poor slobs, conscripts all, who had to march twenty miles from Boston to Concord and twenty miles back again. And what did they get for their trouble? A bunch of rowdy rebels taking potshots at them from behind rocks and trees the whole way. I want to write a book about that day—April 19, 1775—from different points of view, some American, some British, some men, and some women.

Renaissance Italy (Florence)

The ruthless politics and wonders of Renaissance Florence, with cameos by Savonarola and Lorenzo de’ Medici...

Ancient Rome

Many years ago when I visited Pompeii, I became haunted—and inspired—by the tragedy of the destruction and eventual unearthing of that doomed city. From the brothels to the “Cave Canem” (Beware of Dog) mosaics in front of houses to the amphitheaters and the shells of bodies frozen in ash, Pompeii inspired a terrible yet irresistible attraction for me. At the time of that trip, I joked with my wife that I would write a children’s book about the eruption of 79 AD, a terrifying parable to teach a lesson in duty and the importance of obedience. The idea was that one fine day the young, rebellious son of a fisherman decides to take his father’s boat out for a joyride with a friend. As fate would have it, the naughty boys are having a grand old time, sailing around the Gulf of Naples, on the very day the volcano blows its stack. The boy’s father, mother, and sister run to the docks to escape certain death in their boat. But, alas, it is gone and they all die. The disobedient son and his friend watch from a distance as their city and families are buried in ash.

What? Yeah, it’s a dark tale, but I still want to write it.


Ever since I read Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, I’ve wanted to write a book set in prehistoric times. Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of a story of a man who is the Leonardo of his era. Not the artistic Leonardo, but the engineer. The inventor. He constructs brilliant defense systems and weaponry to protect his cave and its inhabitants from their enemies. The clan is so appreciative that they revere him, give him the prized chamber in the cave, and offer him his choice of mates. 

Okay, that’s as far back as I’ll go. Maybe someday I’ll manage to put these ideas on paper. Until then, I’ll keep my regular, contemporary appointment with you here.


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Close to home


Image by Pixajopari

If you could set a book you haven’t written yet anywhere in the world, at any time in history, among societies other than your own, where would you choose and why?

by Dietrich

I come up with an idea for a story, then I dream up the characters. After that comes place and time, and that boils down to what suits that particular story. 

There are times in history that are of interest to me, and I’d likely lean that way. I’ve set a couple of stories on the Great Plains during the dustbowl era back in the 1930s. The isolation and hard times suited Call Down the Thunder and a new one I’ve got coming from ECW Press later this year. 

House of Blazes was set during the earthquake and fire that ravaged San Francisco after the turn of the last century. And the force of nature added both an unexpected pace and character-feel to the story. 

There was Zero Avenue, about an up-and-coming female guitar player. She has the chops, along with an edge, and to match the attitude I set it during the heyday of Vancouver’s early punk scene in the late 70s. 

Poughkeepsie Shuffle was set between New York state and Toronto in the mid-80s, a time when I called the latter city home.

When choosing a setting, I ask myself if I can I work the dialogue for that particular time and place. I rely heavily on dialogue, using patois and local parlance, and if I came up with a story where my characters had to say something like “Dash my wig, that’s a fly-ass stagecoach,” I might feel headed for trouble. Having been around a while, I’ve heard plenty of slang expressions come and go, so if I’m setting a story at a time when folks were burning rubber, flipping their wigs, busting a gut or talking to the hand, then I’m good to go. Outside of my own experiences, I do as much research as needed. The aim is always to be accurate, but I have to keep the modern-day reader in mind too, so sometimes a bit of word-bending is involved, a mix of the old and new.

There’s that old bit of advice, “Write what you know.” What that means to me is if I’m writing about something that I haven’t experienced firsthand, then I dig up facts until all the senses are in line and I feel like I’ve been there. It also means a lot of on-line research, and triple-checking facts. And it means traveling, flipping through reference books, making calls and reaching out. After all that, I’ll be compiling and sifting, then whittling it all down, dropping in enough of what I researched so the reader hardly notices the facts and just slips into the story like they’re living it.

Back to the question, I do have a couple of ideas for a western in the back of my mind. I haven’t tried that genre yet, and I’ve always been fascinated by those times. I’m also playing with a story set during a time when I was growing up, when Cronkite was bringing the Vietnam War into our living rooms in glorious black and white. And I’ve got another idea for one about a struggling blues musician. At this point, the ideas keep coming and I’m getting them written down, and for me, that’s the greatest place of all to be. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Where, When ...and Who

Terry Shames here. This week we are answering the question: If you could set a book you haven’t written yet anywhere in the world, at any time in history, among societies other than your own, where would you choose and why? 

 So many places, so many times--and so little time! What comes to my mind first is to write an alternate history—sci fi of a certain kind. But honestly, although I’ve always thought it would be fun to write science fiction (the first book I ever wrote was sci-fi), I’m not sure I have the imagination for it. 

But there may be a historical novel in my future: Years ago I began doing research for a book set in the early eighteenth century, beginning just before the turn of the century in Paris, ending sometime around 1730 in Louisiana. I did exhaustive research into the time period, eventually going to Paris to do research. What I found was fascinating. I got to handle and read actual, huge leather-bound logs of names of people deported from France for a wide variety of reasons, and sent to Louisiana. In current parlance, I went down the rabbit hole and stayed there for months. 

Meanwhile, I wrote scenes for the book, worked on the timeline, the plot, and the settings. The trip to Paris changed everything. It made me stop working. Why? I’ll go back to the old adage that you should write what you know. Which has been amended often to, write what you are passionate enough about to find out. What I discovered is that I could research until I felt like I knew every detail of the Paris and the Louisiana of the early 18th century.
I have a wealth of knowledge in my head and extensive notes about everything the young Frenchwoman would have endured both in France and in America; the people she would have been surrounded by; the physical conditions she left; the physical conditions she found in America. I understood what the voyage would have been like, the kinds of challenges she would have faced when arriving. I understood the geography of early 18th Century Louisiana (I even got to sit down and study, in New Orleans, the first hand-drawn map ever produced of the area around New Orleans.)
But the research couldn’t fill the hole of not “knowing” what it would be like to be the young Frenchwoman who would be the protagonist of the book. I can imagine what it’s like to be a young woman, but don’t know how to be French. I lack the deep understanding of what it means to be a woman brought up in 18th Century Paris—her bone-deep beliefs, her fears, her expectations. I don’t know what her everyday thoughts would have been. I don’t know what would have shocked her that wouldn’t shock me. I don’t know what would shock me that she would have thought commonplace. 

Lately I keep coming back to the story, wondering if finally, after all these years, I think I was asking something of myself that isn’t necessary. After all, other people write historical fiction about times and heroines they know nothing about. Why shouldn’t I be able to do it? So I’m the clearing the decks and preparing to drag out all that old research. I even wrote a first chapter to see how that would feel. I’ll have to bone up on my French. I used to read French fairly well (including going to the law library at UC Berkeley and reading up on French law of the period—in French), and many of resources were in French, so if I need to refer to them, I’ll have to revive my skills. And I’ll have to really dig deep to try to imagine what this young woman would have been like. I see her in mind, but I have to feel her in my bones. 

It’s intriguing. And if I find after poking into again that I’m not up to the task, there’s always frontier Texas. I write books in the voice of a man, so frontier Texas should be a piece of cake, right?

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Time Travelling

If you could set a book you haven’t written yet anywhere in the world, at any time in history, among societies other than your own, where would you choose and why?

Happy New Year! Brenda Chapman here with the first blogpost of 2021. Let's hope this year is better than last, and the pandemic draws to an end. We're currently in lockdown in Ottawa but this feels like a better place with the vaccines being rolled out and hopes high for life to return closer to normal soon.

This month's question is a thought-provoker. It's also nice to dream outside our reality for a bit!

I studied history in university (my minor) and could see delving into another era as the setting for a book. I enjoy stories set in Britain during the Victorian and Romantic periods. I also find the Renaissance in Italy a fascinating period. The time when the Medicis ruled Florence. Art, science and culture flourished with people such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo creating their masterpieces.

However, if choosing one era in which to set a book, I'd choose the Roaring Twenties in Paris as the backdrop for a story. Those were the days of the Lost Generation (a phrase Gertrude Stein coined for the American expat artists living in Paris) when Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein frequented the cafes and jazz clubs .

This was the period of affluence between World War I and the 1929 stock market crash, and Paris was the centre for writers and artists, including Picasso, Matisse, and Salvador Dali. Hemingway later famously wrote: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast." Fitzgerald wrote: "The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American."  

This was a vibrant period filled with booze (a great deal of booze), parties, cabarets, dance halls and flappers. Called The Roaring Twenties in the U.S., in France these years became known as Les Années Folles (the crazy years). People were ready to party and optimism was high.

Oddly enough, this week a medical guest on CNN said that he believes in a year or so once the pandemic is under control, well see another period mirroring the Roaring Twenties with people spending some of the money they've saved up, partying and congregating in bars and sports venues. We might actually live through our own crazy years :-)

My husband and I had planned a visit to France last September that included several days in Paris. I'd like to visit some of the cafes and bars where Hemingway and the others gathered if we're able to go this fall. Who knows, maybe a story will come out of this trip down memory lane sometime in the future.


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