Monday, November 23, 2020

Ending My Life of Crime (Fiction)

 Mending your ways – If you had to stop your life of crime (writing) what other types of books would you like to write?

A very late Brenda Chapman here answering this week's question. The weeks are flying by so quickly that I'm losing track!

I tried once to write a novel that was not a murder mystery. I didn't make it through the first chapter without a body showing up. So I'd only likely succeed in being forced to stop writing crime fiction with the removal of my computer.

It would be interesting to write a literary novel. One with a unique voice that would get shortlisted for all the awards... Giller, Booker ... all the prestigious ones. I'm not certain what the topic would be or even how to pull off the story, but it would be a good challenge.

I started my career writing short stories. Granted they were mysteries, but I sometimes think about trying my hand at writing a short story that isn't a crime story. I know I could do this because my first published work was an article in Canadian Living magazine that was about my daughters growing up in a large city as opposed to a small town where I was raised. I worried they were losing out on an appreciation for nature and the land. That story garnered me my first contract and payment ($300) and came out in 2001. I have the article framed on the wall next to my desk.

Now the reason I've lost track of time is that I'm working on a video project. I'm the Crime Writers of Canada Director for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario this year. With Covid and shut downs, there isn't much I can do for the author members in my region so I came up with the idea of interviewing those that want to be interviewed and posting the videos on the CWC site. You can check them out on this Youtube channel, starting with Vicki Delany's interview. Vicki is a cozy mystery writer of some reknown. Vicki actually interviews me in the second video which will be out this Thursday (Nov. 26). I have several more lined up and each involves some research, and of course, the taping.

Have a good week, everyone.

www.brendachapman.ca

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, November 20, 2020

Guest Post: Festive Mayhem – By Carolyn Marie Wilkins

Please welcome our guest today, Carolyn Wilkins. Carolyn is an author, a healer, a psychic medium, a musician and a professor at Berklee College of Music Online. 

“Write what you know” is a common injunction given to aspiring authors. Unfortunately, this statement has also been used to justify the erroneous belief that crime writers of color are only capable of addressing a narrow range of what are perceived to be “ethnic” issues such as inner-city crime, gang violence or drugs. The fact is that authors of color have produced a rich tapestry of work featuring characters from every corner of the globe. Festive Mayhem, a holiday-themed collection of crime fiction by nine writers of color, is the latest addition to this growing body of diverse voices.

My story in this collection is called The New Year’s Hex. It features the feisty Carrie McFarland, a psychic African-American teenager living in Klan-controlled Southern Indiana in 1920. When a blood-soaked voodoo doll turns up at a fancy political fundraiser for the town’s notoriously corrupt ward boss, Carrie is blamed. When she takes matters into her own hands in order to clear her name, things go from bad to worse. Until, of course, order is eventually restored.

Writing The New Year’s Hex was a ton of fun. It provided me the opportunity to delve into the African American folklore of this period, and challenged me to explore my own beliefs about hoodoo, hexes and mediumship. 

As a professional psychic medium, I know this stuff is real. I regularly attend seances, predict the future using Tarot cards, and talk to the dead. I believe that the Spirit World, far from being a scary and ghoulish netherworld, is simply another facet of existence – a dimension hidden from our mundane awareness where our deceased loved ones exist, ready, willing and eager to communicate with us.

Do you believe in hexes? Have you ever seen a ghost or had a paranormal encounter? Drop me a comment in the box below. 



Meanwhile, here is some more information about the stories in this collection:

Nine crime writers of color have teamed up to offer you the gift of escape this holiday season. From Christmas crime capers to Thanksgiving thrillers, historical hard-boiled to contemporary cozies, mystery fans of all genres will find something to love in this limited-time collection of exclusive, never-before-published seasonal short stories.

What you'll find inside:

·         "The New Year's Hex" by Carolyn Marie Wilkins. Carrie McFarland finds her New Year's plans derailed when a psychic vision pulls the 1920s African American amateur sleuth into someone's evil scheme.

·         "Pipe Dreams" by S.G. Wong. In this hard-boiled Crescent City short story, infatuation and passion drive Minnie Chen straight into danger as she tries to best the City's most glamorous private detective in a reimagined 1930s-era Chinese Los Angeles.

·         "A Christmas Tip" by Elizabeth Wilkerson. A surprise Christmas bonus becomes too tempting for Philadelphia nursing assistant Brianna Byers to resist—even if accepting requires some skillful skirting of the law.

·         "The Stranger in the House" by Stella Oni. This London House Mystery prequel stars Elizabeth Ojo, a Nigerian housekeeper at a posh guest house, who finds her Christmas intersecting with that of a mysterious resident in trouble.

·         "What Lies Inside" by Kia Dennis. A tormented university professor falls deeper and deeper into a destructive obsession in this harrowing tale of love and longing.

·         "A Deadly First" by Delia C. Pitts. Thanksgiving takes a fatal turn when New York private eye SJ Rook finds himself thrust into his first murder case in this darkly atmospheric tale of noir.

·         "The Holiday Murder Mélange" by Myra Jolivet. This Sarah Doucette Jean-Louis short story follows the Creole P.I. around the San Francisco Bay Area on her quest to figure out who killed a man outside of her office.

·         "Those Holiday Blues" by Jennifer J. Chow. Jasmine, aka "Jazz," can't escape the tragic past when an old boyfriend asks to meet on the anniversary of his mother's death.

·         "Holiday Holdup" by Paige Sleuth. In this Cozy Cat Caper Mystery Short, Imogene Little gets tangled up in a Christmas Eve bank robbery orchestrated by none other than Santa Claus himself.

Here's a link to the bookhttps://www.amazon.com/Festive-Mayhem-Stories-Holiday-Suspense-ebook/dp/B08F3HLH67/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=festive+mayhem&qid=1605724497&sr=8-1




Carolyn Wilkins is an author, a healer, a psychic medium, a musician and a professor at Berklee College of Music Online. A Reiki Master since 1996, Carolyn has spent more than twenty years engaged in the study of spirituality, energy and healing. She has studied at the Arthur Findlay College of Psychic Arts in Stansted, England, and is a member of renowned English medium Mavis Pitilla’s Boston Mentorship Program.

As a musician, Carolyn has performed in the Pittsburgh Symphony and represented her country as a Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department. She is also the author of five books –Damn Near White and They Raised Me Up (published by the University of Missouri Press) Melody for Murder, Mojo for Murder and Death at a Séance (Pen-L Publishing), and Tips for Singing (Hal Leonard Press).

In addition to her private practice in healing and mediumship, Carolyn is the host of Carolyn’s Psychic Playroom, a New Age Talk Show, on Cambridge Community Television. Her new online class Magical Communication: How To Talk To Your Ancestors is now available on Udemy.com.

To find out more about Carolyn, visit her website: https://www.carolynwilkins.com/

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Guillermo Del Toro did it . . . by Catriona

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

Too easy.

I have actually pitched the worst idea ever. Below is a straight copy/paste from a file called "Additional series":

Idea 1    Doris Day meets X-Files.
Genre    urban fantasy / mystery
Time      1950
Place     California
Tone      medium-boiled/funny
Protag   tba
Like       Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, Dana Cameron’s Fangborn

Book  1. Protag comes to town on trail of deserting spouse and learns the secret while searching for husband

Book 2. Small-town vs. big threat. Progress threatens the secret.           

Book 3. Protag discovers own history while protecting secret and outcome of Bk 2


So what's wrong with this pitch? Where do I start? You can't say "protagonist TBA". And you can't refer to "the secret" multiple times without saying what it is. The worst of that is I knew what the secret was; I just didn't tell the publisher I was pitching to. I kept it, if you like, secret. Also, "progress" is hopelessly vague. I meant a new factory and subdivisions to house its workers bankrolled by a philanthropist. Why didn't I say so? No clue. I also knew what the mysterious protagonist's own history was. But I wasn't willing to share.


If I had my time over again, I'd have said this:


Idea 1    Doris Day meets the X-Files
Genre    urban fantasy / mystery
Time      1950
Place     Smalltown, USA. A snug and settled little town near a flooded valley which has been recently been dammed. Most people work at the water purification centre.
Tone     Schlock horror under a veneer of cozy
Protag   Della Marr. Doris Day-esque sunny character with a secret.
Like      Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, Dana Cameron’s Fangborn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Book  1. Della comes to town searching for her runaway husband. She settles into an apparently cosy town, but after a spate of killings, she discovers its secret - the flooded lake is home to aquatic aliens - and must decide whether to join the effort to protect them or blow the story. Discovering her pregnancy, she decides on a quiet life.


Book 2. The idyllic image projected by the town attracts a philanthropic entrepreneur whose operation threatens to uncover the secret of the lake. When the entrepreneur is killed, unwelcome national attention is focussed on the town. Ongoing sub-plot involving Della's attempts to find her deserted spouse. A small-town single mother in 1951 is not an easy row to hoe. 


Book 3. The lake people are no longer happy to live constrained by the dam. The town is split between a trusting desire to go public and a paranoid desire to quash the uprising by any means. When a young lake female is killed the town splits into warring factions. Della discovers that her husband is not human. He lives in the lake and their daughter wants to go and live her aquatic life too.


This is a better pitch, because it's got more information in it. (Although wth is the name of the town, right?) Unfortunately the extra information only makes it clearer that the idea itself smells like the love child of Roquefort and halitosis. I think I kept it short to save my blushes. 


By the way, the other idea I pitched at the same time - the one that got accepted - was "Scottish marriage counsellor in California, lives in a motel, solves crimes with misfit sidekicks".  But I had my moments with that too. When I pitched it to a Hollywood person - Lifetime, I think. Maybe Hallmark? - his only response was that it was "real specific". I still don't know whether that was a bouquet or a brickbat.

Maybe my easiest-ever sell was "Gently-born lady detective (1922) rackets about Scotland on cases with shell-shocked sidekick. Dalmatians, butlers, etc". Book fourteen mined from that rich seam comes out in the US next week. As pitches go it's "real unspecific". Maybe that's why it's still afloat. 



If you can bring yourself to read anything written by someone who once pitched Della Marr, there are buy links here.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Off pitch by Cathy Ace

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

This is a really difficult question to answer.

Why?

Two reasons:

a) I really don’t want to offend anyone by coming up with an idea they’ve already had/written/had published, and

b) I HATE WRITING SYNOPSES!!!!!!!!!! 

Let’s kick off with the fact I’m well aware that just because I think something is a terrible idea it doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with me. Indeed, I’ve started-but-not-finished a few traditionally published novels where I’m still convinced the author, their agent, their publisher, and their editors were in some sort of conspiracy to confound or befuddle me, and make me wonder if my world-view is completely off-kilter. 

Also, I usually read notes about a book before buying it, so there are even more I haven’t purchased because I just couldn’t come to terms with the premise. 

It’s a wonderful thing that we human beings all have different tastes and preferences, and approach reading differently…and that means there’ll be hundreds of thousands of books available to me that just aren’t my cup of tea – but others will find, and maybe fall in love with, them…and that’s just fantastic.

So, is it even fair of me to say that this idea, or that premise, is terrible? No, for me, that’s not a step I’m prepared to take. 

Am I a wimp who’s terrified that people will hate me if I make fun of a certain premise? Yes, probably. But that’s who I am. 

So, I respectfully decline to come up with a pitch for a “bad idea”. So (added bonus) no synopsis required - YAY!

PS: there have been a number of what I believe to be “good book ideas” that have been poorly written (those would include the ones I started because I liked the "idea" but never finished because they weren't written in a way that appealed to me), so never give up if you believe you have a good idea…just write the story the best way you can, and that plot might just turn out to be just the one that many readers find, and fall for!

I hope you like the idea of my books - find out about them by CLICKING HERE



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Pitch It

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

-From Frank

Okay, so there's this ex-cop named Nick Slade who got thrown off the force in disgrace, but we don't know if he did what they say he did or not. Is he clean or dirty, right? You don't know! And he doesn't fight getting thrown off because he figures he deserves it, because the thing they're accusing him of is being responsible for his partner's death. I mean, the guy was twenty minutes from retirement when he died, so it was pretty horrible and sad.

So Nick become a PI, but he doesn't get many cases because he drinks too much and never shaves or bathes but one day this gorgeous, sultry woman with a secret comes into his office and wants to hire him. And instead of being repulsed by his poor hygiene and booze-addled brain, she seems turned on by him. Not only that, but she says she knows who killed his partner! What a good twist, huh? So he takes the case and...

Ehhhh... you get the idea.

Title? The Night Never Stops.


Author's Note: I've written more than thirty novels, most of them crime fiction. From the above partial synopsis, I am guilty of committing the following sins: 

 1) killing a cop a few months from retirement (it was my first book, so cut me some slack), 

 2) having a cop leave the force (he resigned) over a terrible mistake (he did it) and having a drinking problem long after, and

 3) having a femme fatale very much in the style of Kathleen Turner in Body Heat.

So basically, I may be a cliched mess.

Who came up with this question, anyway?!


********************************************************

A reminder: My novel, CODE FOUR, written with Colin Conway, is out next week on 11/23!


This is the final book in the Charlie-316 arc.

The last two years have been tumultuous ones for the Spokane Police Department. On the surface, the agency has suffered from scandal and police officer deaths. Underneath, a secret and deadly game of cat and mouse has played out.

Now the Department of Justice has sent investigators to determine if federal intervention is needed. Their presence disrupts everyone’s agenda and threatens to expose dark secrets. Goals shift from winning situations to simply surviving.

Not everyone will.

In this tense and explosive final installment of the Tyler Garrett saga, everyone’s true nature is laid bare. Garrett scrambles to maintain what he has built. Chief Baumgartner tries to protect his department. Captain Farrell’s plans crumble around him, and Officer Ray Zielinski’s career is at risk. Meanwhile, DOJ supervisor Édelie Durand diligently follows the facts where they lead. And through it all, the unflappable Detective Clint keeps his eyes firmly on the prize—Officer Tyler Garrett.

Monday, November 16, 2020

LAST WIFE TO DIE

 Q: Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

-from a desperately determined Susan 



So, okay, picture this: POTUS and chief advisor, his former golf caddy, go up against deep state…oh, that’s been done? 




Okay, how about Clarisse Starling fights off a deadly virus to protect ailing POTUS stranded in motorcade…oh, you’ve heard that one too? Is someone stealing my material?




Listen to this. Guaranteed to sell a million copies: A troubled female FBI agent and lousy mother who’s in recovery from drugs and alcohol and divorce from her abusive but endearing husband, a former cop who’s gone over to the dark side, is assigned to a missing kid case. And, wait for it, the missing kid is hers! And the bad guy who’s following her in a black SUV with tinted windows and putting sand in her car’s gas pipe every night may just be her ex! And the head of the FBI has the hots for her, and pushes her to move to Langley so they can see each other more often when he can get away from his sick (but not never going to die) wife. Oh, and she has an emotionally damaged dog named Wolf who loves her but wants to rip the throats of everyone else out and plays a big role in the climax. I’m thinking Jennifer Lopez for the lead. 


Killer title: LAST WIFE TO DIE


SO, what do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

It's all about the Pina Coladas...and the Museum of Jellyfish

 


Give us some of your funniest and most memorable stories from traveling to book festivals

 

 

Hello!

 

It’s Friday again! Hope you’re all keeping well.

 

I’ve said it on here before, but book festivals and travelling to events are probably my favourite thing about being a writer – far more enjoyable than the actual writing, and one of the hardest things about the last year has been the enforced cancellation, or mass migration of these festivals online. They’ve still been fun, and the fact that they’re online means they’re accessible by many more people across the world, but really, they’re a pale substitute for the real thing.

 

For starters, I miss seeing new places, be it small towns and out of the way villages in the UK that I’d never otherwise have visited, or events overseas, sitting in my slippers on a zoom call in my basement is not quite the same.

 

Then there’s the people. Writers, by the nature of our work, are pretty solitary creatures. We beaver away for months on end over the autumn and winter, in our attics and studies, crafting our words and then, like butterflies, we emerge into the world, bleary eyed in the warmer months, ready to go to festivals and meet friends whom we haven’t seen for so long. The festivals offer a kind of release; a therapy; where we can get together, discuss our craft over several too many drinks and bitch about the latest young hotshot debut who’s just been given a seven figure advance.

 

I have quite a few wonderful stories of my time at festivals, though some of them are covered by non disclosure agreements – it seems that what goes on in Wigtown, stays in Wigtown – you know what I mean. Anyway here are some of my favourite memories from the last few years of travelling the globe in search of people who might just be crazy enough to buy my books.

 

·      Kiev, Ukraine – Going to the museum of Jellyfish and then having dinner and being offered a plate of 5 different types of lard.

At the world famous Museum of Jellyfish

·      Kiev, Ukraine – Attending the book festival and ending up in a scrum of reporters beside the president of Ukraine who’d just lost the election days before. 


Me and the soon to be outgoing president of Ukraine - Count all the Books!


·      St Petersburg, USA – My first ever Bouchercon – I hung around mainly with a lot of my British author pals, spending a lot of time going from bar to bar. These authors were hard men who like hard drinks. But I saw the whole thing as a holiday and kept ordering Pina coladas. In the end they were all drinking them.


Bouchercon 2019 - Loads of Americans wondering who the hell I am


·      Milan, Italy – Being asked if it was true that British people put pineapple on their pizzas. I blamed Americans.


·      Italy – Being surprised by my publishers and taken to Venice for two days


Manchester

·      Spain – More pina coladas, trying to convince Booker Prize shortlistee, Graham Macrae Burnett that the drink he really wanted was a pina colada



·      Bengal, India – Ending up in a village in the jungle and playing Take That songs to the bemused villagers


·      Belfast, Northern Ireland – Ending up in a bar and being accosted by the Golden Girls

They wanted to adopt me


·      Kolkata, India – Having my face appear on a cake alongside Val McDermid

This was a first

 

 

So. Now it seems there’s a vaccine on it’s way. Hopefully we can get back to festivalling again soon. Cos I miss my pina coladas.


Cheers

 

 








Thursday, November 12, 2020

We’ll Always Have Albany from James W. Ziskin

 Give us some of your funniest and most memorable stories from traveling to book festivals

This week’s topic takes me back to my very first writers conference. It was September 2013, and I was attending Bouchercon in Albany, NY. My debut novel, Styx & Stone, was set to be released three weeks later, and I knew nobody, except fellow author Lynne Raimondo. Our editor, Dan Mayer, had introduced us via e-mail, and Lynne provided me with my first blurb. She and I met for dinner in a restaurant not too far from the Empire State Plaza,  and we became great friends. We’ve remained close ever since.

Many people in the mystery and crime writing community recall Albany with disdain. But not me. I loved it. Maybe because I grew up about thirty miles from there. The setting was familiar and a bit nostalgic. I remembered class field trips to the brand-new museum at the Empire State Plaza when I was a kid. If I’m honest, I must admit that the place hadn’t changed since the late sixties when I’d first visited. Nothing had been updated.

The Empire State Plaza was the brainchild of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. He was reportedly moved to action after Princess Beatrix, the future queen of the Netherlands, visited Albany in 1959. The governor was embarrassed by the squalor of the state capital. The project to transform downtown Albany took more than ten years to complete, and included razing about a hundred acres of Albany’s South End to make room for the Empire State Plaza and the Egg. (If anyone is interested, I included a brief tour of the South End neighborhood in A Stone’s Throw, my sixth Ellie Stone mystery. The year is 1962.)


At Bouchercon 2013, most complaints from the attendees had to do with the lack of a centralized location. There was no hotel large enough in the area to accommodate the throngs of writers and readers, so people were scattered. The venue itself left something to be desired. The panels were held in windowless rooms below street level, deep inside the Empire State Plaza. It felt as if we were in a bunker. And since the bulk of the conference took place on the weekend, when the usual state workers were off, there were few options for food at the site.

But by far the loudest grumbling from the attendees was that there was no convenient bar where the faithful could gather to socialize. As anyone who’s ever attended Bouchercon—or other writers conferences, for that matter—knows, the bar is the place to meet, even if you don’t drink. So it’s natural that people came away from Albany feeling somewhat deprived of the social side of the event.

I happened to have been staying with relatives about twenty minutes away, so, for once, I was not parking myself in the bar, since I was driving back and forth to the conference. As I mentioned above, I knew no one anyway. So I wasn’t complaining. I was having an amazing time. It reminded me of my first few days as a freshman in college. I was uninitiated and naive, but loving every minute.

I may not have known anyone when I arrived, but I did by the time I left Albany. Wonderful people. The very first writer I met was Barry Lancet. We hit it off immediately, perhaps because we were newbies. I also met Sara J. Henry and Michael Sears the first day. And my dear, dear friend and fellow 7 Criminal Mind, Cathy Ace.


With Cathy Ace at Monterey

My editor at Seventh Street Books, Dan Mayer, made sure that his authors all got to know each other at Albany. That’s when I first met my fellow 7 Criminal Mind Terry Shames. She’s one of my favorite writers, and we’re fast friends to this day. We all had a great lunch together (if you don’t count Mark Pryor’s presence...) Just kidding. He’s a great guy and a fabulous writer.


L-R Lynne Raimondo, Mark Pryor, me, and Terry Shames in Albany


My editor, Dan Mayer, also introduced me to Louise Penny in Albany. She was with her dear husband, Michael, who has since passed away. Louise was so gracious, and when I saw her again at Bouchercon Toronto in 2017, she said she remembered meeting me in Albany. I was thrilled. Here I am with Louise and the oh-so-talented Art Taylor in Toronto. We were celebrating our Macavity Award wins.

L-R, me, Louise Penny, and Art Taylor, Bouchercon Toronto 2017

I may not have funny stories from my first writers conference, but I can say that it was a life-changing experience for me. I found so much inspiration and so many new friends. Since 2013, I’ve become a regular at the major conferences. I look forward to the day when we can all meet again in person.



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Hitting the road

Give us some of your funniest and most memorable stories from traveling to book festivals.


by Dietrich


I walked into a bank yesterday, wearing a hat, dark glasses and a mask, with a withdrawal slip in my hand. It felt like I was in a scene from one of my own stories. A year ago walking in like that might have had a different outcome.


After months of masks, lockdowns, and elbow bumps, I think even a bad trip would be a good one. Next time I get a chance to travel, the getting there will likely feel as good as the being there.


Traveling to book festivals — it’s where I met most of the criminal minds here, all but Abir. And with a little luck, we’ll run into each other at a festival down the road. I first met Cathy, along with alumnus Robin Spano at the first Bouchercon I attended. And I met Paul, Catriona and former mind Danny Gardner at the next couple of Bouchercons. I first met Brenda at Ottawa’s Prose in the Park, Susan and Terry at a reading event at Copperfield’s in Santa Rosa, then again at Left Coast Crime here in Vancouver, where I also met Frank and Jim.


After I signed my first novel, my publisher, Jack David, arranged a road trip from Toronto down to that Bouchercon in Albany. I mentioned to him that John McFetridge was one of my favorite Canadian authors, also signed to ECW. So, Jack arranged for the two of us to take a road trip from Toronto through New York state. The day before John and I left I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning, something to do with expired anchovies on a pizza. I almost tapped out, but I was determined to go, and I’m sure glad I did.

ECW crowd at Bouchercon, Raleigh, NC — L to R: John Jantunen, me,
John McFetridge, Jack David, David Whellams, Anne Emery, and Bob Kroll
I ended up on another road trip with John — to another Bouchercon — this time heading to Raleigh, North Carolina. Behind the wheel of the extended van was our fearless leader, publisher Jack, whose only fear was all we would talk about on the twelve-hour drive was how to increase book sales. Also on the trip were John Jantunen and Sam Wiebe. We started out early one morning and arrived in the wee hours of the following one, a lot more than the estimated twelve hours. But, once we got there, a good time was had by all.


There have been many memorable festivals and they’ve all been great fun, and I’ve met many interesting writers as well as many avid readers.

My first reading event was at a pub in Toronto, and I practiced a chapter on the long flight, until I could read it smoothly. It was a violent scene with a lot of foul-mouthed dialogue, and just as I got on the small stage, I noticed a woman with a couple of very young children in the front row. After wondering who brings little kids to a crime-fiction event, I read the scene, taking out all the f-words and downplaying the violence, and my scene sounded flat and lifeless.  


Another time, I was invited to read at a festival back east, and I chose a funny, but steamy scene from a novel I had just finished. As I stepped to the mic, I realized there were a lot of people my grandmother’s age in the crowd, and a steamy scene might not be the best choice. But, this time, I was committed and I read it word for word — and it turned out they loved it, and I ended up signing a lot of copies. 


Over the past few years, I’ve traveled to various events in California, often by rail. And I’ve picked up some interesting bits that I’ve used in my stories, like the time the train stopped for a smoke break, and I watched out the window as two guys stepped away from the other smokers, one guy pulling out a small pipe, the other getting the rock ready, The one with the pipe thought it was a good idea to slip a nylon jacket over both their heads while the second guy flicked his lighter — what could possibly go wrong. And there was the time a big drunk fellow got on the train during a late night stop. He got in the wrong seat, and despite the coaxing of the offended passengers and the conductors, he refused to take his assigned seat, saying there was no force on Earth that could make him do it. As we pulled into the next stop, two members of the local police force got on the train, I got out my notepad and started writing the scene.  


Writing conferences and festivals are the social highlight for most writers, and it’s great getting together, seeing some old friends and making some new ones, along with the many readers who attend. And I’m sure looking forward to that happening again — and doing it without keeping a safe distance, the masks and elbow bumps.    

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

And Then There's the One About

Terry Shames here, talking about some of my most memorable stories from traveling to book festivals, conferences, and conventions. I have many wonderful memories from book events, but I only remember one about the actual travel. I was in the Phoenix Airport on the way to the Tucson Book Festival, going through the TSA line and a TSA agent looked at me, her eyes widened and she said, “You’re Terry Shames! I love your books.” And she threw her arms around me (no, not to cart me off to jail.) I can honestly say I’m the only person I know who was ever hugged with joy by a TSA person. Bouchercon is the biggest writer/fan convention in the mystery world. My first, ever Bouchercon was in 1986, in Baltimore. I was persuaded to go with two author friends, who told me that it would be a bang-up weekend. It’s still right up there with one of the most amazing conferences of my life, for three reasons: One, I was just dipping my toe into writing a mystery and every writer I met was incredibly encouraging and kind. They gave me agent advice, writing advice, and talked to me as if I was “one of them.” I now know that this is the way mystery authors are, but at the time I was stunned and gratified.
Two, I knew very few people, and one night they were all off at parties with their publishers. I went into a restaurant alone and as I was looking around, someone waved to me and said, “You’re here with Bouchercon, right?” I said yes I was, and Mary Higgins Clark said, “Come join us.” And had the waiter pull up a chair next to her. I was dazzled at the time, and I still am. Three, my writer friends were off to join some kind of splinter group that was having a first meeting to see if there was any interest in a group that would support women in the mystery field. They wanted to know if I cared to come along. Sure. A few years ago I had the great pleasure of being the president of our local chapter of this little splinter group—Sisters in Crime. I will never forget seeing Sara Paretsky standing at the front of the room delivering her passionate message.
Here's Sarah with some of the Sisters in Crime National Presidents at one of the Bouchercons. In short, I knew I had found my tribe. The fact that it took many more years to get published seems irrelevant now. Of all the other wonderful experiences through the years, sitting at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach waiting to hear the name of the winner of the Macavity Award for Best First Novel was a standout. Hearing my name called, and having Charlaine Harris, who was sitting a few chairs down, and whom I did not know at all, coming charging over to throw her arms around me to congratulate me, and William Kent Kruger on the other side with a beaming high five. And seeing dear Janet Rudolph’s grin light up the podium when she handed me the award. Of course that sticks with me!
So many of the events blur in my memory, but the blur is positive. I love going to panels and hearing the wit and wisdom of writers/agents/publishers I admire.
I love hanging out at the bar to get the latest gossip. I love having a chance to catch up with writers I see only once or twice a year.
There are really too many to recount, but I’ll close by giving kudos to Capitol Crimes of Sacramento for their outstanding Bouchercon this year. The team had worked incredibly hard for two years to make Bouchercon a wonderful conference. When Covid forced them go on-line, instead of whining and moping through a skeleton of the convention, the team made it into an entirely new and inspiring event. Many people were dazzled by their amazing innovation in handing out the Anthony Awards. It was truly almost as good as being there in person.