Thursday, September 16, 2021

We Are Not A-muse-d

 by Abir

Do you have a muse? Or a happy place that gives you inspiration? An ideal reader, perhaps. What gets you inspired to write?

Interesting question this week.


I’ve always thought of muses as something that poets, playwrights and painters have. A beautiful, vivacious creature who breathes life into the soul of the flinty, shrivelled up husk of an artiste. Crime fiction writers – now we’re cut from a different stone; granite or maybe obsidian. We’re tough, no-nonsense types. We like our drinks neat and our crosswords cryptic. Our creativity comes not from the spark of another individual, but from the wellspring within (and sometimes from prescription meds from the drug store). And indeed who actually want to be a muse to a crime writer? Can there be anything worse than being the muse to a bunch of semi-literate drunks, inspiring them to greater, more gruesome and more ingenious ways of murdering people in novels? I think not.


Alas, I do not have a muse, which is just as well because I couldn’t afford one anyway. If I were to have a muse, they’d be an unpaid intern and have to work part time as an au pair for the kids. I’ve could try advertising the position: 


but since Brexit, when all the hard-working foreigners left, it’s been difficult enough to find a competent plumber round here let alone an intellectual inspiration/domestic help, so it’s probably a forlorn hope.


Moving swiftly on. Do I have a happy place that gives me inspiration? I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I seem to have all my best ideas while sitting in the sauna at the gym. Only the sauna, mind; not the steam room. I don’t know what it is about the sauna. Maybe it’s the dry heat, or the temperature being just right (I find the steam room less than conducive to creativity as it’s so hot in there, that after three minutes my shorts feel like they’re on fire). I’m not even joking about this. Ideas and plot twists do come to me in the sauna. Alas, I haven’t been in a sauna since before lockdown so don’t expect any good ideas from me before I renew my gym membership.


On a more mundane note, I prefer to write where there’s light. Up in the top floor of our house, in our loft conversion suits me best. I don’t know why that should be, but light tends to help my creativity. I’ve tried working in the basement but it’s not the same, and besides there are spiders down there, some as large as a small dog.


Do I have an ideal reader? Well yes, in the sense that my ideal reader buys everything I’ve ever written – in hardback, paperback, e book and audio – but in the sense of: do I write for a particular person – then no. My wife is my first reader, but I don’t write the books for her. I guess I write them for me. Isn’t that what all writers do? We are, after all, just a bunch of egotistical maniacs.


So what is my inspiration to write? I guess I have to agree with my learned colleague Mr. Jim Ziskin – it’s just an urge to put pen to paper; to make sense of the narrative that flows within my head, sometimes rushing like a damn deluge, at other times little more than a trickle, but always there, whispering. Sometimes it’s just a particular line or phrase, half of which I’ll forget before I even reach for a pen to write them down; at other times it’s grand ideas: the scope of whole novels, stretching like a landscape painting before me. I’ll do my best to sketch the details of these grand visions but what I note down are always pale imitations of what I saw in my head.


I’ve never suffered from writers block. What I have suffered from is nerves; a lack of self-belief; a fear that I was not - am not – up to the task of writing. Those black moods can last days. When they come on, I find the best thing to do is not to fight them. I just try and do other stuff (and believe me, there’s always other stuff - a mountain of it that I’ve been too lazy to do – like paying bills, responding to e mails and writing this blog). Maybe I’m just kidding myself and it’s all just procrastination, but sooner or later, the clouds will lift and I’ll be able to write again, doing what I love, and what I’m lucky enough to do for a living. 


And that’s how I see writing. It’s a job: one that can be incredibly frustrating at times and incredibly rewarding at others. Crime fiction writers on the whole, are, I think, not the type to be precious about what we do. We just get on with it. We don't need muses, and while I suppose a muse would be nice, an au pair or a housekeeper would be better.

Sing, O Muse from James W. Ziskin

Do you have a muse? Or a happy place that gives you inspiration? An ideal reader, perhaps. What gets you inspired to write?

It’s so easy to put off writing. I often find myself tempted to watch a TV show or read a book. Or take in a football game. Writing’s hard work, after all. Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? 

Deadlines, that’s why.

1. Deadlines are one of my most powerful muses. When you don’t have the luxury to procrastinate, you get it done. This is why I don’t believe in writer’s block. The decision not to write is either laziness or distraction. I’m certainly guilty of those two from time to time, but not when I’m on a deadline. 

2. Another muse? My drive to create. I want to write books. I want to write stories. And while it’s true that sometimes I’m burnt out and don’t feel like writing, it’s not as if I couldn’t get into the spirit of things if I actually applied myself. With me, inspiration usually comes after ten or fifteen minutes of staring at the screen. Sure, I may begin in fits and starts with each new writing session, but soon enough, things get moving. This is why it’s so important to park yourself in your chair and give it time. I used to undo my belt and strap myself into the chair with it. That way I had to surrender and admit my failure if I got up to do something other than writing.

I no longer do that, mostly because my current chair has nothing I can strap myself to. Ulysses used this technique to avoid succumbing to the sirens’ call. It works. Try it.

3. Another of my muses is atmosphere. This doesn’t work everyday or for every project. But, sometimes, creating the proper mood can help me get going. I find weather particularly inspiring. When writing Bombay Monsoon (December 2022, Oceanview)—a book set during monsoon season in India—I listened to hours and hours of rain videos on YouTube as I wrote. You’ll find so many weather sounds there to help you set the mood. Maybe you’ve got a hankering for rain on a tent? On a tin roof? Lots of thunder and lightning? Or perhaps you’re writing a locked-room mystery in a ski lodge. There are plenty of blizzards to be had. Crashing waves, too, howling winds, or just crickets. No problem. Everything’s available at the click of a mouse.

(Helpful hint: these videos might help with your insomnia too. I fall asleep most nights listening to rain or blizzards on YouTube.)

4. I also find great inspiration to write in tracking my word counts. Using spreadsheets, I record my progress everyday. This practice pressures me to produce even when I’m tired and not in the mood. Again, no such thing as writer’s block. It’s a choice not to write, just as it’s a choice not to work out. I hate to work out, but it’s not a block. It’s a preference to avoid unpleasant/difficult work. And that’s why I’m not a bodybuilder; I’m a writer.

5. Scotch. Yes, I enjoy a beverage or two when I write. It relaxes me. Of course there might be negative effects in the morning, but we’re talking about inspiration, not bitter, crushing regrets. However, I don’t drink when I’m editing. Creating can be sloppy and slurred, but editing needs to be tight and coherent.

6. Time. How much time do any of us have have left? I’m far from finished, but there’s no infinite store of minutes and seconds I can tap into to accomplish everything I’d like to do. So I work hard at creating the best work I can as quickly as I can.

7. Sleep. I find ideas when I’m unconscious. If only I could remember them all. And some of those that I do recall from the dead of night don’t always sound so great in the morning… Still, it counts as inspiration.

8. Reading. No, I don’t steal ideas from other writers, but sometimes something I read suggests an idea to me. And from there I take the baton and run. Read. Read and write. They go hand in hand, and one inspires the other.

8. One last muse? Greed. Maybe the next book will be the big one. Maybe its success will satisfy my dreams of success, both critical and financial, and I’ll spend my golden years in a villa on Lake Como. Maybe people will remember me as a good writer, and my heirs can feast on the proceeds of my labors. From beyond the grave I’ll resent them, lazy bloodsuckers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Between the Pages

Image by Yuri B
Do you have a muse? Or a happy place that gives you inspiration? An ideal reader, perhaps. What gets you inspired to write?

by Dietrich

Getting up in the morning, I fix a coffee and show up in my writing space. The muse rolls in around the time I sit at my desk and dial up the creative. I put on music that works with the rhythm of whatever I’m going to be writing.

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” 

― Hunter S. Thompson 

I begin where I left off the day before, and I find the cadence, that point where my words hit the beat of the action, and I let them flow. The zone’s that place where there’s no pressure, where nothing distracts me, and there’s no awareness of the passing of time. There’s no quota of words that I need to chase, no endpoint or deadline I need to meet. Some days I write a whole chapter or more; other days I only write a couple of pages, but as long as they’re good pages, then I’m happy with that.

“Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.” 

— Stephen King

Maybe early morning’s not every writer’s best time. Some people actually sleep, and some don’t like coffee; still others might find my music awful, or any music an absolute distraction. For me, it just matters that I show up, and when I do the muse shows up too.

Reading good books inspires me too, and I usually have a tower of them waiting, and when I’m in a situation where I can’t read, I listen to audiobooks, all kinds of fiction and nonfiction — as long as I think its good. 

When I lived in Toronto, I once drove home after work and was passed on the 401 by a man in a car alone. He had a book propped up on his steering wheel, switching his focus from the road and the printed page. Now that’s multi-tasking, or maybe his muse had the wheel. I hope that guy’s still around and has discovered the joy of audiobooks too. 

Another thing — when somebody writes a comment or sends me a note, and lets me know that they get what I’m writing, that’s also a boost of inspiration. And you can’t beat a good family support system — that goes a long way.

Armed with all of that I give it my best — sometimes it’s only for a couple of hours, sometimes it’s a dawn-till-dusk thing before the muse and I go our separate ways. Then I’ll take a walk in the woods or along the water’s edge, forgetting about the story for a while, letting the batteries recharge. I’m not sure where the muse goes, but I do know it’ll be back around the time I sit at my desk the next day.

“If you wait for inspiration to write you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” 

— Dan Poynter

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Writing in Chaos

Terry here: This week's question is about muses and happy places to write, and writing inspirations. I’m not sure I’ve ever drawn such a blank when facing a blog subject. Probably because my writing life is in a shambles. An explanation is in order: August 1, we moved from Berkeley to Los Angeles (yeah, I know, everybody we tell that to is dumbfounded). 

But we didn’t move into a permanent house; we moved into a temporary rental until we can find a house to buy. For various reasons it was a TEMPORARY temporary, a two bedroom, two bath house of about 1100 square feet, for six weeks. No desk. No way to get away from “anyone else’s (ahem)” rantings. 

And that’s even if I had the time to write. Instead, every day we are riding around, looking at different areas of LA to see what suits us best. We also have to decide what kind of fantasy life we’re willing to entertain. Are we willing to downsize drastically in order to be near the water? Do we want a traditional house, like we’ve had for years, or do we want to go all-out modern? Are we willing to buy something that needs work?
There’s more. A week after we moved into our rental, our dog Lucy got gravely ill. She spent three days in the hospital and came home dazed and gaunt and in need of lots of special care. The muse fled, except to weep with me at night. There’s a happy ending, though. Even though Lucy has cancer, her overall health has improved and she’s like her old self.
There’s nothing like having a sick dog to make you long for the comfort of your old home. 

 That doesn’t mean I don’t write at all, but these are stolen moments— I sneak in an hour here and fifteen minutes there. As any writer will tell you, that is not the ideal writing life. Muse? S/he is missing in action, horrified by the chaos. That said, I do have moments when I feel itchy not writing, and that’s because my muse is goosing me, via my characters. “Hey,” one will say, “where are you? I have something to tell you.” Or something like that. Whatever it is, I start feeling restless and need to get my brain in the groove with whatever I’m working on. 

 My most successful character collaboration has been with Samuel Craddock as muse. He isn’t much like my grandfather in temperament, but he does have my grandfather’s sense of humor, his feeling of responsibility, and his motivation. When I sit down to write about Craddock, I feel as if I’m seeing through his eyes—or peeking over his shoulder while he goes about his business. I’m close to him in the same way I was with my grandfather. It’s a little like magic. It usually seems easy and straightforward. In fact, the people who populate Jarrett Creek come to me with ease, including their names. I almost feel guilty when I sit down to write a Craddock book because I see the scenes, actions and interactions so clearly. 

 Alas, that isn’t the case for other characters. I struggle to hear their voices, to know their backgrounds, to “see” what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. I suspect a lot of writers go through this.
I’ve tried the techniques touted by writing coaches—writing biographies, selecting stories for the characters, thinking about their backgrounds. But somehow that always feels inorganic to me. Phony. in the end, the only thing that seems to work is to put them in a setting and watch them go about their business. And then edit, again and again until I begin to get into their skin. 

 How does this tie into the original question? Only in that, for me, except for Samuel Craddock and his gang, there isn’t a particular muse. Or, these days, a happy place, or a particular inspiration. In the best of times It’s all grinding hard work to discover who my characters are. Even as they call to me, when I sit down with them, they often play peekaboo. I’d love to have someone or something I could use as a touchstone, but that hasn’t happened lately. I’m ready to find my happy spot.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Finding Inspiration

Do you have a muse? Or a happy place that gives you inspiration? An ideal reader, perhaps. What gets you inspired to write?

Brenda Chapman at the keyboard today.

Where do I get my inspiration to write? I believe my friends and family (particularly my husband) would also like to know where I get the inspiration to write about crime, but that's a different question altogether :-) 

I've had this love for reading and stories ever since I can remember. I could spend hours straight immersed in a book, or play with dolls or cutouts by myself with no need for live playmates once my imagination got going. While I outgrew the dolls, writing kind of serves the same purpose. Making up stories, inventing characters with full lives, dreaming up places ... I'm doing much the same as I did with my Barbies, only now with words on paper.

I have original Barbie and Midge dolls but they aren't in mint condition, sadly.

I haven't a muse per se although I am inspired by all the crime fiction writers who manage to capture me with their stories, poetry and literature. The list of crime writers whom I admire is long and wide, but there are a couple whose work I aspire to emulate (or perhaps more accurately to learn from) albeit in my own unique way: Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Liza Marklund, Adrian McKinty, Giles Blunt and Michael Connolly. All brilliant storytellers, which is what this is all about, in my opinion.

And locations that give me inspiration - most places in my orbit are fodder for my stories. My husband and I were in St. Catharines recently, which is in the heart of Niagara wine country in Southern Ontario. We went on a couple of walks on the nature trails and I remember thinking, this would be a great place to include in a story. I penned a short story last week set in this very location.

Walking in the woods in St. Catharines

Other locations are uplifting and help to centre me. I particularly find bodies of water both soothing and inspiring at the same time. My garden and other gardens are also a source of calm and pleasure. I write most often somewhere in my home, be it my office, my backyard or my front veranda. 

Nothing like a beach to get one centred - this is Lake Ontario near Cobourg, ON

A nook in my office where I do a lot of reading, thinking & writing

Spring peonies in my garden

What keeps me inspired to keep writing? Apart from the joy from creating stories out of words, I have to say that messages from readers keep me going on some of the less assured days. Here are a few snippets from recent emails I received through my website - and I'm still amazed by the kindness of strangers who take the time to write to me:

It has been ages since I've found an author whose stories I enjoy reading as much as yours. 

 I love the depth of your characters! I am constantly guessing who did it and I wanted to thank you for writing such a good book!

hi..have listened to a couple of your them!  

wanted to touch base with you and say thanks for writing those books.  They have given me hours of reading pleasure.

How can I not be motivated by such feedback?! This week's question has been an invitation to consider why I write, and I'm thankful to have had this brief time of introspection.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, September 10, 2021

Will We Be Making Lanyards? By Josh Stallings

 Q: You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…

One of my favorite writing experiences was in the creation of All The Wild Children, a Noir Memoir. It was a writing process for me like none I’d had before or since. 

It started in a two hour long summer camp class I taught on killing the inner critic and freeing the creative self. It involved a technique called word vomit, and learning to write faster than you can think. 

Me and three women who participated in the class decided we wanted to keep meeting every week. They were from vastly different disciplines, a professor of Spanish literature, a feminist art film maker, and a professional puppeteer. They were all brilliant.

Sundays we’d meet at one of our homes and do automatic writing / word vomit for 2 to 5 minutes, then find a title in that sea of nonsense. Place that title at the top of a page and for the next 20 to 25 minutes we’d write without stopping or revising. Writing so fast that it felt like running down a hill, gravity threatening to topple you at any moment. Then, pens up, we’d snack or sip and read our work to each other. It was amazing that when writing at speed we each had such clear and individual voices. 

I wound up writing thematic memoir pieces. One was called DRUGS, another was called Baby Boy Crazy. The title informed what poured out. As a young man my mother gave me her copy of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio. I love it, it was linked short stories telling the tale of a town, an American Midwestern Under Milkwood if you will. I started to see I could write an entire memoir of linked essays, each written in a twenty minute time span. 

Spoiler alert: All the Wild Children was up for an Anthony Award. It convinced my agent to sign me. The micro press that published it went out of business. It is out of print and many years later we still haven’t found it a home. BUT, I’m so damn glad I wrote it.

Honesty is my brand. So let me fess up, I first wrote this piece eyebrow arched as a cynical joke where I invited characters from my books to spend the weekend. Erika read it, and called it a “a very clever piece of marketing” not a compliment. She then asked me if I had a real answer to the question. After hemming and hawing I started thinking about what a helpful writers retreat would look like to me.

I love conventions, hanging out with my writing and reading family. I come away tank full and feeling alive to the work we do. The down side is, I spend my time talking and thinking about what I already wrote, or pitching what I intend to write. Past tense, future tense, no present. I want something with the connection to fellow travelers, but with less time in a bar, zero focus on the business end, and lots of creation going on.

An idea is forming…

Location: for this retreat it will be Cedar Dell Word Farm, Home of Hand Curated Sentences Since 2016, better known as our home in Idyllwild. Spring would be best, the adventurous could camp on one of the three decks. Food would be home made soups and chili and bread. Meals that involve serving from large communal bowls. I’d keep cool water and ice tea on tap. BYOB for the night time.

Invitees: a mix of writers, artists, musicians - hell anyone with a creative bent. Price of admission would be that each participant had to share one golden tool they use to access their creativity. And each would be required on Sunday night to share a piece, a poem, a story, a song.Doesn’t matter the form, only that it can’t have existed Thursday when they drove up the mountain. 

The schedule: wake early, the sun and our dogs insist on that. Then massive amounts of rich coffee, I insist on that, or tea or juice - dealer's choice. Then a hearty breakfast, cause we gonna be working. 

Next comes word vomit warm up, where we each find the title for our day. Then hike or sit by a creek or study the light play on the rock faces surrounding our valley. The point would be contemplation and revving the creative motor, get those tires smoking like a dragster before launch. 

Lunch, we eat and drink a lot a mile up. Then disperse and CREATE until dinner. The nights are for sharing our deepest creative secrets. And laughter. And maybe even lanyard making. In honor of Catriona and Erika there will be NO burning of marshmallows.

Then we drift off to sleep, wake and do it again. Sunday afternoon would be show and tell party time. We would sing and dance or howl and rumble until the stars fade and Orion slips away to hunt again another night.

Damn it. I’ve never been to a writing retreat, in fact I was kinda snarky about the whole idea. Now I really want to throw one.

“Wait” you say, “Who got murdered?” 

No one. But, I could murder the hell out of a plate of Erika’s turkey molĂ©. 

Come up to Cedar Dell Word Farm, where creation is the plata of the realm.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Calm and Colesterol - Catriona's dream retreat

Q: You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…

I've never been on a writers' retreat. This is because my actual life is more like a retreat than any retreat I've seen: I live in the country, in a house empty all day*, with a quiet study to work in, multiple comfortable reading nooks, and a usually-willing cook who arrives in the evening.

*pre-COVID. Now my house has an epidemiologist, solely responsible for the rise of Zoom, in it all day. But he still cooks.

North end of back porch

Also I don't want to read bits out at night round a campfire while people scorch marshamallows - deliberately! - or have to think of things to say about anyone else's first drafts while mine is struggling to be born.

BUT - setting aside all the curmudgenosity for the purposes of the question ...

I'm taking a week off writing to run the retreat. We're in Scotland, in a castle, in May, with light nights, balmy (for Scotland) weather, and the perfume of gorse (= coconut) and meadowsweet (= gardenia) wafting in past the stone mullions when we open the windows. None of us mind bats.

Present are: 

  • my sisters - the one with only three kids at home now and the one with one kid, her husband, and two babies at home now, while they build a house. The three of us have a floor of the tower to share. They're both pretending to be writing something. Or maybe one of them is writing something. Please God, not a memoir.
  • Big Starry Writer who speaks with bombast and total sincerity about his own genius, providing fodder for much giggling when he sweeps off to his turret to extrude another tortured paragraph.
  • Beginning Writer who only needs a laptop and some peace
  • Prolific Short Story Writer who's trying to decide which to put into a collection and in what order. They don't mind discussing how that's done. I've always wanted to know.
  • ditto Poet. I've always wanted to know how that's done too.
  • Ann Cleeves.

I'm catering and there are no vegetarians or other restricted diets. Huge pots of thick soup, huge pots of glacially simmered casserole, home-made bread, fry-ups in the morning, huge pots of porridge to soak up the colesterol from the fry-ups, Arbroath smokies, russet apples, Persian pomegranates (Hang on, it's not May anymore. Enh.), HobNobs, clotted cream on the rhubarb crumbles, After Eights.

Flat soup is failed soup

Drink. I don't but I lay in plenty decent red and white, and a collection of spirits to stand on a tray in the drawing room so people can stalk in and angrily pour themselves a tot, during altercations. I love that. 

The results? Well, Beginning Writer bangs out 40K good words. Poet selects poetry, Short Story Writer selects short stories, Ann Cleeves thinks up a ninth Jimmy Perez plot, and my sisters sleep the sleep of the dead every night and don't touch a dishcloth.

Speaking of dead . . . Big Starry Writer, obviously, plunges to his rest off the battlements one midnight, while the six of us are all together in the great hall, full of casserole and crumble, finishing the After Eights, and the doors are locked against all other possible suspects. 

The polis decide he fell. He lost his balance swiping at a bat. But then Beginning Writer's first novel is published, and the other five of us notice some striking similarities . . . 


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Clue - Do by Cathy Ace

You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…

Oh, what fun...I think. 

I'll admit I've never been on a writers' retreat...I'm not really a "retreat" sort of person, because, frankly, anything that takes me away from the company of my husband is something I consider very carefully, and I'm not convinced that trying to write anywhere but my known, home environment would go well for me.

Confession: the first advance I was ever paid (to write a marketing communications textbook, in 1994) was immediately spent on renting an apartment in Nice for three months, where I didn't even manage to finish the first chapter (too many distractions!). 

So...a retreat? Hmm...maybe not my thing.

That said - if "writers' retreat" is code for long weekend partying with people you want to spend time with, and then there's a murder mystery to solve, too...I'm your gal. Oh, and Husband will be coming along...just so we're clear about that up front.

Those who know me won't be surprised that my chosen venue would be a cruise ship...touring the Hawaiian Islands, please. This means the food and drink won't be my responsibility at all, as there's always anything and everything anyone could fancy available 24/7 on a ship, though I'd warn them to make sure the champagne list was comprehensive, and well stocked...because, well...champagne! 

Now then  -who shall I invite? Ack...there are so many people I would want to be there...but what if I leave someone out? This could be a nightmare, so I'm going to neatly sidestep that issue by only inviting...dead people!

First up - Agatha Christie, of course. Not only could she give us all surfing lessons (yes, she used to surf) but we could have fascinating chats about her time in Jordan and Egypt; I've visited the house she shared with her husband in the Jordanian wonder that is Petra, and have also been into the suite she stayed in at The Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt. 

Next - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, because I would want to talk to him about his fascination with spiritualism, and learn more about how he plotted his Holmes works. I'd also love to ask him how he feels about all the works that now exists based upon his characters...I have a feeling his answers would be interesting.

Also - William Shakespeare. Probably not a surprise, and wouldn't it be wonderful for all the other guests to be able to quiz him about the way he used language? I think everyone there would be grateful to have the chance to thank him for his work - and I have a feeling he'd be amazed to discover the impact he's had not just upon the field of drama, around the world - but on the English language we use today. Also - he's a bit of a whizz when it comes to anything involving buckets of blood - so handy to have around if the ship ends up littered with corpses.

If I could persuade him, I'd risk inviting Georges Simenon. I realize we might not see much of him, because he'd probably be off  bonking anything that would let him, but I feel I could learn a great deal from him about the writing process, given half a chance.

If prising Simenon off any willing female takes some of our time, we might also have to spend a bit more dragging Dylan Thomas away from the bar - though maybe that's where we'd all be in any case  because whatever ship you're on, the best bar (in my experience) is always outside, on the top deck, at the stern - you get fresh air, drinks, and the wonderful wake to enjoy! (Bonus points for everyone having to give up caring what their hair looks like, because of the wind.) NB: I know Thomas isn't very murdery, but that's okay too.

To balance the male count here, I'm also going to invite Ruth Rendell and PD James, because - well, come on.. two fascinating women, who wrote genre-defining books, and both knew their way around the halls of power, the media, and publishing - lots of discussions to be had there. 

And, to round out this group - though I am desperately sorry either of them are available - I'm inviting Sue Grafton and MC Beaton. Two unforgettable women who created two unforgettable women - Kinsey Millhone and Agatha Raisin, respectively. When it comes to knowing how to give a protagonist longevity, they have a massive amount of experience between them.

This gives me five women, and four men - all of whom, bar one, are British! Gobsmacked? No, me neither. But that's not fair - so I gave Husband one pick, too, using my rules, and he opted for Robert B. Parker, who would be a fabulous addition to the group because...well, you know...loads of books, successful series across sub-genres, and Westerns too (all of which Husband likes). 

Since they're all dead, none of them can be murdered...there'll be no distractions, and we can all have a good old knees-up, BUT...I would make sure the cinema showed the movies "CLUE" and "MURDER BY DEATH" so we could all have a good laugh (and I'd also give all my guests the opportunity to watch any and all screen versions of their work they fancied - so we could all talk about that, too!) 

Sounds like my sort of party...for days.  

Wanna come??? 

 And maybe bring a book??

BSP: On Sunday Dru Ann Love will be revealing the cover of my 11th Cait Morgan Mystery, THE CORPSE WITH THE GRANITE HEART. Don't miss out! Sign up for my newsletter here, and get a private preview!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Collaboration Retreat

Q: You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…

From Frank

Now, this is interesting. Who to invite? There are so many possibilities...

But what if I only invited authors who I've collaborated with? Now, I've gotten along famously with all of them but would they get along with each other? And did we actually get along or do they harbor secret grudges against me?

Let's find out.

The invitations go out in order of our working together. Colin Conway from Spokane first (Some Degree of Murder). Then Jim Wilsky, from Texas (Blood on Blood). Next is B.R. Paulson (Bonnie) from Post Falls, Idaho (The Trade Off). After much cajoling from me, Eric Beetner from southern Cal is next (The Backlist). Then Lawrence Kelter from New York (now North Carolina) joined the fray (The Last Collar).

A great group. An eclectic group. A prolific group. Not only do each of these writers have a lot of work in their own right, they collectively make up almost half of my catalog as well. Sixteen of my thirty-four books, as of this post, to be precise.

So what happens when we all gather on a writer's retreat?

Well, we can't. Covid-19, right? So it has to be a virtual gathering. And what better vehicle than Zoom No, wait... that'd be too tough to show here. 

I know, a Facebook group! Yes, that's it!

Click on this link and see how it went! Or view the below pics - whichever you prefer.


Dear 7 Criminal Minds Blog Reader:

While we ponder the fate of Mr. Zafiro, you might check out his latest offering, a Stanley Melvin PI novella from PI Tales...


Monday, September 6, 2021

Writers On Retreat

 Q: You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…


- from Susan


Hey, this is a whole book in the making. I used to fantasize about a murder on a college campus. Anyone who’s worked in higher ed will immediately understand. I did one, the third Dani O’Rourke, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, and it was somewhat cathartic. But doing one so close to my metaphoric home requires a disclaimer: None of these writers is in the least bit like any of my criminal minds colleagues. Trust me.



I found a house at Stinson Beach here in Marin that only costs a medium sized fortune for a week, which will be split evenly among the five of us even though I get the largest single bedroom, the one with the en suite bathroom. I invited a handful of writers whose work I love [here, you may think of yourselves], but they were all busy, so I scrounged around for the B-Listers, all of whom had to have sufficient resources to qualify. 


Barnaby Ogden – He authored some killer menus for a trendy place in Sonoma County and a weekend visitor from Hollywood who ate at the restaurant said, “Hey, man, you’re a natural born writer.”


Regina LeBlanc – She has a BA in Comp Lit, an MFA in Creative Writing, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference, all between 1995-2005. She is working on a novel, her first, about a forty-year old single woman afflicted with writers’ block.


David ( The Man) Manley – His first career was as a professional wrestler, but it ended when he hit his head in the ring. He wants to write a memoir of his experience in the tawdry world of wrestling, but is having trouble concentrating.


Vince Patroccini – He recently left his book critic’s role at a major newspaper when it let all of its cultural reporters and columnists go, knows everything that’s wrong with contemporary fiction and has decided he’s ready to write his own, infinitely better novel.


I shopped at the best organic food store around, and picked up a case of Napa and Sonoma wines. I made lovely snack food for Friday night, put out three bottles of wine, and waited. 


Barnaby arrived first with a second case of wine he pilfered from the restaurant where he works. David swaggered in next and I had to tell him there was no smoking in the house and he’d have to take his cigar onto the beach as far as he could walk. Regina came with a roller bag filled with partial manuscripts she hoped we’d look at. The last to arrive was Vince, who looked like a critic with his pointy nose that could have been a weapon and pursed lips that said the world was sour. He looked around and made a huffing noise. By the end of the evening, they had polished off a half case of Barnaby’s wine plus the three bottles I had put out. 


I was up early Saturday, ready for a bracing walk on the foggy beach. No one else was up, so I left a note suggesting we meet for lunch and then talk about our hopes for the weekend. There were notes from everyone placed neatly on the counter when I got back. 


“This place is too dull, it’s foggy as hell, and the only bar in town isn’t open til 4. I’m out of here.  Send me my refund, David (The Man) Manley.”


“I’m so sorry. I realize that I’m just not ready for critiques, and I need to work more. If you do this next year, I’ll be in much better shape. Sorry, Regina. P.S. Please send refund, but I’ll help pay for the wine I drank.”


“Well, cutie, it looks like everyone’s bailing, and my boss just texted to say he needs me on the door tonight. Keep the wine and power on! Yeah, refund my share, please.”


“You lied. You said there would be writers, not these fools. By the way, I tried to read one of your novels, but it was trash, facile, and I guessed who the murderer was on page 2. If you don’t refund my money immediately, I shall write to the New York Times to expose you as a fraud. And, no, I will not pay for the wine, which that idiot stole from his employer. (I may write to them as well.) Vincent Patroccini, Critic at Large.”


So, if anyone dies at this retreat, it will be yours truly, who can’t afford to rent this seaside mansion for even a week and can’t possibly consume all the organic beets and quinoa…unless my Criminal Minds pals would like to come?




Friday, September 3, 2021

I was the future once

 The buzz of your first novel has long worn off, you’re no longer the hot new thing — now what?


By Abir



I must say, I love this week’s question. A lot of the time it’s too easy just to keep looking forward, blinkers on, peering towards some distant point on the horizon, assuming that when you reach it, then and only then will you be a success. This week’s question, well it forces me to take stock.


My first novel, A Rising Man, was published in 2016. It’s 2021 now, and my fifth novel, The Shadows of Men is out in a few months. Five years; five novels. And yet it’s been so much more than that. It’s been a journey that’s changed my life. Five years ago I was an accountant who was pretending to be a writer. Today…well I still have trouble calling myself a writer, but I’m getting more comfortable with it. At least I’ve stopped calling myself an accountant.

The one that started everything


The thing I remember most about the launch of that first novel is thinking that all I was experiencing – the publicity, the reviews, the sales, the nominations and awards – well that was all normal. I assumed there’d be the same media interest with subsequent books. As a result, I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I should have. Don’t get me wrong, I was amazed and thrilled that people were actually interested in my writing, but with all the events and festivals and interviews, I don’t think I took the time to stop and appreciate just how fortunate I was, and to just enjoy the moment.


The difficult, second novel

Before long, my second book, A Necessary Evil, was published but this time with much less fanfare. Of course that was fair enough. There was a whole new crop of debut authors coming along, each of them younger, better looking and, worst of all, more talented than I was, and they all deserved their time in the spotlight. As for that second book, the reviews were still good, the awards still came, but there was less press and publicity and the sales were down. 

All told, they were about half those of the first book.  This worried me. I didn’t feel the book was any worse than the first one – in fact I thought it was slightly less bad. So why were the sales dropping? I asked my agent, a man called Sam Copeland, the smartest, funniest, handsomest man in publishing*, and he told me not to worry…well not to worry just yet. He told me it was pretty normal for sales of a second novel to be well down on the first one, especially in a series. The real test was what would happen with book three. If it continued the downward trajectory, then it might be time to think about writing something else.


So I kept going. I wrote that third book, and it was the first book I’d written that I actually felt good about. Smoke and Ashes came out in the summer of 2018 to good reviews and strong hardback sales. The test though would be paperback and e-book volumes. I worried about it all through the winter and into the early spring of 2019. But I also started to do something about it too. I became more proactive – working the contacts I’d made in the press and the book industry, reaching out to stores and festivals – and then D-day came: the paperback launch. Waterstones, the Barnes and Noble of the UK, chose it as their Thriller of the Month, which meant it was displayed prominently in all of their shop windows throughout the country. This had an amazing impact. After two months, like for like sales were way ahead of what they’d been for book 2. Indeed, total sales were already catching up with those of the previous book. Something else was happening too. Sales of A Rising Man, the first in the series, had stopped declining and had begun to rise again. It seemed many of the people who’d read Smoke and Ashes were now going back to the start of the series and reading the others.

The turning point


My relief was palpable. Sales of the series were firming up. There was now a sizeable readership who’d taken my characters Sam Wyndham, Suren Banerjee and Annie Grant to their hearts. They were buying each book in the series. At the same time, new readers were discovering the books. As an accountant, I was starting to see trends. About 50% to 60% of new readers of A Rising Man were going on to read other books in the series. If they bought books one and two, it looked like there was over a 90% chance that they’d go on to buy the other books in the series too. We seemed to be reaching a level where the series was sustainable. My publishers saw the pattern too and backed me with bigger advances and bigger marketing budgets. The launch of book four in the series, Death in the East, in November 2019 was accompanied by my first book tour, and hardback sales were the highest of any of the books to date. Then came COVID, which put a stop to most of the marketing plans for the paperback, but sales were still strong. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the launch of the new one in November.


So looking back, what are the lessons I’ve learned? Firstly, like my colleagues from earlier this week, I’ve learned that the key is to keep going. There’s no time to rest on your laurels; just keep your head down and get on with the next one.


The second is that publishing is a fickle business, and so much of it is dictated by luck. If Waterstones hadn’t chosen Smoke and Ashes as their thriller of the month, who knows what might have happened to sales of the series? Maybe that downward trajectory would have continued and I’d have been forced to write something else. But luck is often the result of hard work (not mine though!). I was fortunate in that I had a brilliant team at my publishers who not only honed the book, selected the right artwork, provided targeted publicity and crucially had the right relationships with Waterstones and other retailers.


As it stands, the series is on a firm footing and readership is growing. That’s allowed me to step back from my day job and focus on writing. As Terry wrote on Tuesday, there’s pressure now for a break-out novel and so, for the first time, I’m writing a standalone. It’s a very different beast and writing it feels in many ways like going back to square one and re-learning how to write. It’s a challenge, but a good one.


And so, here we are: five years on and with the scars to prove it. I’m not the future anymore. I’m not sure I ever really was, but I’ve found my footing. With the help and guidance of so many good people and the love of the wonderful readers, I’m building a career which I hope will be sustainable enough to provide a living for me and my family. And in the end, what more could I ask from being allowed to follow my dream.


Have a great weekend.


*I am contractually obliged to write that. It saves me 2% on his fees. Seems worth it.

The new one, out worldwide on November 11th 2021