Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Smile Like The Grinch by Gabriel Valjan


Gift ideas for book lovers.


It’s that special time of year, when we give gifts to friends and family. The holidays can be stressful, and finding a meaningful gift takes thought and time. I remember the yellow 9-volume boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series I received one Christmas, and Roger Jean Segalat’s cool as chrome hardcover How Things Work, another Yule season.


We Minds have spent a calendar year talking about books, our own and those of others, so I thought I’d do something different. It’s not that I don’t have books to recommend, but I feel that both the Agatha Eligible Titles List for Malice Domestic  and soon-to-be-published Anthony Award Titles for Bouchercon Nasville lists will give readers ample opportunity to satisfy their bibliophilic lust for traditional mystery, suspense, and thrillers.


I’ll gamble and say that a large subset of our readers are Writers, Wannabee Writers, and recent veterans of last month’s NaNoWriMo. They have had the taste, and they’re hooked. You’ve read all the motivation books. Hello, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. You’re self-motivated, so this one is for you.


Now, this list may look as if it belongs to Craft at Criminal Minds, but it’s not. This post goes beyond anything under the broad umbrella of Crime Fiction. These books recommendations will make you a better writer, no matter what you write.




Friends won’t critique like they should, whereas the keyboard warrior at the Slush Pile will Stick, Stab and Slash you and leave you bleeding out on the floor. If you possess a wry sense of humor like I do, you’ll laugh when they spell your name wrong and their rejection letter contains multitudes…of grammar mistakes. Beta-readers are Hit or Miss, so EDIT THYSELF. There’s no better resource than Dave King’s Self-Editing. Dog-ear this little puppy because you’ll remember what you teach yourself, and you will never forget it.



Classical English Style.

Classical English Metaphor.

Classical English Rhetoric.


The Ward Farnsworth titles are a trifecta. In my experience, writers are first readers, and they often have a mental library of desired effects. ‘I remember so-and-so did something similar I want to do in [TITLE]’ and they’ll use that sample as a crutch to whatever they are trying to accomplish in their latest project. Other times, you know the effect, but don’t know the name for it. Presto, Farnsworth provides oodles of examples minus the academic analysis. You see the passage, read it, and understand it on your own terms.



A note about his Metaphors book. Mystery writers are wont to exhibit the dangerous influence of Raymond Chandler; they’ll write similes that don’t work, and many have a poor understanding of metaphors and other poetic devices. Sense of perspective, Chandler was educated in the old style, which meant Greek, Latin, and French. His was an education system that died in the United States by 1950. Ray couldn’t avoid rhetoric any more than a Latin student could avoid Caesar or Cicero. Hence, the Farnsworth trio; they go hand-in-hand like Jack and Jill up the hill.


This next suggestion, The Art of Styling Sentences, is a slim edition of rhetoric-light, but I see it as an antidote to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I have nothing against Strunk and White, but view their slim book in context (first published in 1918). Like a Smith and Wesson revolver, Elements of Style was aimed at the bloated prose of nineteenth century writers. It championed clarity and direct communication. Be Minimalist as Frederick Barthelme or Maximalist as Zadie Smith, your choice. Styling Sentences will provide you with a blueprint.


Last but not least, a reference book. Sort of.


20 Master Plots is what it sounds like, a summary of twenty universal plots, which you can mix and match, to your dark heart’s content. Check the checklist. The value of the book is that it serves as a memo to yourself, especially when you are stuck or have somehow derailed the creative train.



I suspect this isn’t what you expected, but perhaps you smiled like the Grinch.




Monday, December 4, 2023

We've Always Got Books

 Books for givers and readers 

-from Susan


Every year, we Minds offer our personally curated lists of books we especially recommend and this year’s no different. I want to start by pointing readers to the new books by my colleagues here. Hard-boiled, police procedurals, cozies, amateur sleuths of all kinds, international settings, humor…You could fill a lot of stockings just with these wonderful books! I’m going to choose a few outside of our group’s creative work, even out of 2023 new releases, and to an extent outside of crime fiction, although there are crimes in all of these. Why? Because at the end of the year, I close my eyes and conjure up the characters and stories that resonate most strongly with me and that I passionately want everyone to read. My passions may not align with yours but each of these has enriched my life, expanded my thinking, or made me laugh out loud. So, here goes.


THE NIGHT WATCHMAN, Louise Erdrich (2020) There are a growing number of fine Native American writers inviting readers to know more about their communities and culture, but I thank Erdrich, who has been awarded the National Book Critics Award (twice), and who won the Pulitzer Prize for this moving, inspirational novel. I breathed with the characters who live tough lives within a strong and nourishing culture. At every moment, I was rooting for their successes, sharing their joy and sorrow. This is not a depressing book, I hasten to add. The fictional members of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, Erdrich’s own, are not ever to be pitied and they do surmount the obstacles set in their path. Superb.


EVERGREEN, Naomi Hirahara (2023) Naomi herself is a perfect delight, and the first book in what looks like a series, Clark and Division (2021), stormed the crime fiction world. The new book continues the story of gentle but determined Aki Ito and her quest to re-integrate into a post WWII America that had incarcerated her family in an internment camp and that’s still hostile to Japanese Americans. It’s a viewpoint, like Erdich’s, that we don’t get to experience often enough.


A KILLING OF INNOCENTS, Deborah Crombie (2023) paired with her A Bitter Feast (2019). I added the previous novel in this long-running, masterful series because anyone who reads about Duncan and Gemma, his now wife, and their expanding, endearing family, must want to spend more time with them. Actually, if for some reason you haven’t read Deb’s books before (gasp), I encourage you to go right back to the first one! Deb lives in Texas and writes so convincingly about England that people who don’t know her invariably think she must be British.


LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, Bonnie Garmus (2022) I’m talking about the book. I haven’t watched the series but you won’t really get to know Six Thirty, for one thing, unless you read this very funny, very serious book. There’s crime in it for sure, the kind of crime professional women will understand and empathize with from the get go. Love, tragedy, and insipid daytime TV somehow come together to produce a chemical reaction in which the whole is greater than the parts.


TOM LAKE, Ann Patchett (2023) We live in hard times, in a world of chaos and confusion, and worse. If you ever feel you need a break, need to spend time with people who find peace in the ordinary rhythms of life beyond the headlines, read this novel by the talented and graceful writer, Ann Patchett. It’s not escapist literature, it’s more an oasis within which we can be reminded that there are ways to live good lives, productive lives, kind lives. The protagonist has seen and edged up to drama and turmoil, but like the character of Emily in “Our Town” she has played, she remains grounded. 


So, that’s my list, among so many good books I read this year. I wish each of you fabulous reading experiences in 2024 and hope you’ll be buying books (ours included) for everyone on your holiday gift list! 



Friday, December 1, 2023

Top of the TBR Pile

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?



Good morning!


Hard to believe we’re already into December. All my wonderful plans for 2023, all the great tasks I’d hoped to accomplish, all the books I’d hoped to write, pretty much all lie discarded at the side of the road, ditched, displaced by all the mundane things which needed to be done, just to pay the bills and look after the family. Still, I’m sure next year will be different. Next year I will accomplish all my goals, all of them, including the ones I’ve been putting off since 1997.


As we approach the Christmas holidays (I’m not a Christian, but I’ll be damned if I’m calling them the winter holidays. Everyone is free to call it what they like, but I grew up calling it Christmas, we put up a tree, give presents, have Christmas dinner – not turkey, because being of Indian origin, I have standards when it comes to cuisine and I’m not eating anything that dry or bland, even if it is in honour of your Lord and Saviour.) In short, I find nothing wrong in calling it Christmas and I will always call it Christmas.


But I digress. As we approach the winter holidays, I’m in mind to take stock of what’s been achieved during the year. I’ve finally finished my stand-alone thriller, HUNTED, which has taken the best part of three years to write. Initial reviews from the likes of Lee Child, Mick Herron and Ruth Ware have been wonderful, and I’m excited for you all to read it. 

I’ve made good progress on the next Wyndham and Banerjee novel (number six in the series). I’m currently 55 thousand words into the first draft and, with a fair wind (nothing to do with the Christmas sprouts), should have another 10 or 15 thousand by the time I stop for the holidays. For the first time in a long time, I feel I’m back on course with my writing. I’m still way behind though, but it’s the thought that counts.


As for reading, I’m hoping Christmas gives me a chance to read more. Last Christmas our house was basically a hotel. We had guests from all over the world staying with us through December and January, with a good fifteen people on Christmas Day. This year, quite rightly, my wife has threatened to divorce me if we do something similar, so we have pared it down to a small family Christmas - just the four of us on Christmas Day and no guests. And just as well, because my To Be Read pile is massive right now.


Loads and loads and loads of books.


Here are some of them, a mix of writers new to me and those whom I admire.


Already tipped as one of the books of next year, ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK by Chris Whittaker is being praised by so many people I know and trust. It’s described as “A missing persons mystery, a serial killer thriller, and an epic love story - with a unique twist on each...” 

I’m a bit in awe of Chris. What he does so well is mix tension and emotion, and this is being touted as his best work to date.


Anna Mazzola is the queen of Gothic historical fiction. Her last book, THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS, was one of my favourite books of 2023. I’m hoping THE BOOK OF SECRETS is just as good. “Months after the plague has ravaged Rome, men are still dying in unnatural numbers, and rumour has it that their corpses do not decay as they should. The Papal authorities commission prosecutor Stefano Bracchi to investigate, telling him he will need considerable mettle to reach the truth.” If you like gothic mysteries, you should be reading her work.


THE LAST MURDER AT THE END OF THE WORLD is the new mind-bending mystery from Stu Turton (author of THE SEVEN (and a half) DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE). Basically. You have to “solve the murder to save what’s left of the world”. I can’t decide if Stu is mad or an actual bona fide genius. It could be both.


If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s how a writer as brilliant and accomplished as Imran Mahmood is not better known or more widely read. FINDING SOPHIE is a domestic suspense thriller about the disappearance of Sophie King and its impact on her parents, Harry and Zara. . Early reviews have left people in tears at its eloquence and its insight. I think this one is going to make me cry.


And last but by no means least. A new author for me, Natalie Marlow and her new book, THE RED HOLLOW. Set in 1934, “Deep in a hamlet in the Warwickshire countryside, Red Hollow Hall is a male-only sanitorium run by the charismatic psychiatrist Dr Moon. However, all is not well, and Dr Moon's patients are leaving Red Hollow in droves.” I didn’t get a chance to read Natalie’s breakout debut, NEEDLESS ALLEY, but it got rave reviews from the press and from authors who are the best in the business. So I’m looking forward to this one. 


So that’s it. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever had five books of such high calibre waiting to be read in such a short period of time. If 2024 has more such books in store, then it’s going to be a vintage year.


Happy reading.


Thursday, November 30, 2023

"Jim! Jim! What happened to your beautiful hair?" by Catriona

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

It's Catriona here, stepping in with my below-average hair today because I'm on a blog tour for a new book, coming out next Tuesday. It's a Last Ditch Motel Christmas, in which Lexy and the gang hop (geddit?) over to Scotland for the holidays, and encounter many potty-mouthed seasonal Scots, over-refreshed seasonal Scots (those are not necessarily different seasonal Scots) and one mouldering skeleton bricked-up in a cellar.  The reviews so far have been terrific! And isn't it pretty?

buy links and reviews are here

So, it's not actually family commitments that are ramping up for me right now. Except that the last date for getting parcels to Scotland is next Wednesday, and nothing is wrapped, and those US Customs forms are INSANE! The UK ones are a tiny wee sticker with three lines that says "Fill this in if you like" and you can fill it in by writing "Nah". Basically.

On the other hand, I am two days from the 50K finish line of National Novel Writing Month on Last Ditch Motel No.7 - SCOTSZILLA - and I will, oh yes I will, get it to 80K by the 20th of December.

And then page proofs for the next Dandy Gilver arrived. But that's okay, because if I do 20 pages a day I can get it finished by the deadline.

Except, a structural edit of the next standalone just dropped on my desk too. But it's not a big 'un. Just a few cuts and tweaks and clarifications. It'll be fine.

Only, I committed to teaching a workshop next Saturday, and I need to cut it from 90 to 60 minutes. Pah. That's a doddle.

Although, why did I book myself in for a COVID booster? That's two days lost right there while the side effects work through me.

But I've got lots of support, right? HAH! My housemate, and mate actually, has been in Australia for two weeks and is only home for two days before he swans off to Mexico. In those two days, we're decorating the house for Christmas, which starts with going to cut down a couple of trees. Jetlag and a big saw. What could go wrong?

I'm not complaining about any of it. Family I love, multiple publishing deals, getting asked to do workshops, healthcare, three weeks' worth of solitude, and then Christmas? Lucky me. 

It might have looekd like complaining, but it was really just the lead-in to revealing my hoard of Christmas-break reading, I have had it set aside since my birthday haul plugged the gaps in it and I look at it multiple times a day. (Imagine Gollum rubbing his hands and going "My precious" except it's "My preciouses".) 

This is a typical - no dammit! - this is a vintage Christmas reading pile.  I've got the last ever Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths), the next Three Rivers (Ann Cleeves), the fourth Thursday Murder Club (Richard Osman) and HOLLY, by Stephen King. These are the "How the frilly hat did I manage to save them up and not devour them on publication day?" volumes. 

Similar but worse, there's LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY (Bonnie Garmus)  ALL THE SINNERS BLEED (Shawn Cosby) and YELLOW FACE (Rebecca F Kuang). I'm calling this the "How have you not already read this like everyone else?" section. 

I've also got two Christmas books, THE CHRISTMAS APPEAL (Janice Hallett) and STAY ANOTHER DAY (Juno Dawson), and a celebrity memoir, CHAMPION (Sarah Millican). Because I've got to have a celebrity memoir and Barbra Streisand's is too long for the purpose and would use up my entire holiday. (I'm listening to her read it on audio instead).

Also non-fiction, there's A VERY GREAT PROFESSION (Nicola Beauman) which is a book that could be used instead of taking someone's pulse. Briefly, if you don't want to inhale this review of women's writing between the world wars, which was inspired by the library book Celia Johnson is taking back to the library at the start of Brief Encounter, then lie down. You're dead. 

And finally, Shaun Bythell's REMAINDERS OF THE DAY, the diary of the real bookseller (not Lowell) who works in the real bookshop (not Lowland Glen Books) in Wigtown where I set Quiet Neighbors.

Four weeks to go till I can put on elastic-waisted clothes, draw my sherry glass a little closer (in my dreams; I don't drink sherry) and start to turn these pages. I thoroughly recommend all of them to you for your own seasonal reading. Except, actually, maybe if I'm suggesting the perfect books for other people at this time of year I would make one small tweak:


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

That time of year

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

by Dietrich

This time of year doesn’t affect how much I read, but there certainly will be new releases to add to the list. At the moment I’m enjoying Lewis Black’s I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas. It won’t likely put anyone into a festive mood per se, but it’s certainly had people looking over at me as I walk to the store listening to the audiobook, wondering what the hell I’m laughing at. I highly recommend it if you don’t mind a little foul language and you could use a chuckle.

On my stack, I’m rereading an old favorite at the moment, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. Up next, I’ve got The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, then The Help by Kathryn Stockett. And I’ve got ARCs for Gabriel’s The Big Lie and Abir’s Hunted. There’s something special about getting an ARC from a writer whose writing I admire. And I’m sure these two will live up to expectations. 

On the wish list, I’ve got Kurt Vonnegut’s short story collection,  Armageddon in Retrospect; Stephen King’s latest Holly, Michael Connelly’s new one, Resurrection Walk. And I’ve got Aldous Huxley’s Mortal Coils, a collection of short stories from his early period, originally published in 1920.

We all know books make the perfect gift, so, if you’re looking for a novel gift idea (sorry I couldn’t help myself), then you won’t go wrong by perusing the titles from the rest of the talented writers right here at Criminal Minds. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Terry here (busy, busy, busy) Our question this week: It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment? 

 This year my reading time is especially affected by the fact that I’m judging an award for best novel for the Texas Institute of Letters. It doesn’t entail a huge volume of books, but with all my other commitments, it limits my normal reading of crime fiction. Still, it isn’t a burden because most of the books are quite wonderful. A couple I will recommend after the judging is completed and the winners announced. There are a couple of mystery novels and thrillers in the mix. I love seeing that they have been submitted for judging in general fiction. 

 To me, it’s interesting to note that with most fiction, there’s always a mystery at the heart of the story. It may not be a traditional “murder” mystery, but always means that something unrevealed at the beginning happened to change the trajectory of people’s lives. And it often involves nefarious actions. If not murder, something harmful. The revelation is much like the revelation of “whodunnunit.” As with crime fiction, it involves looking at people’s motivations for their actions and an understanding of how they became who they are. Sometimes it's a nature vs nurture question. Was someone born with a propensity for selfishness or meanness, or even evil, or did something occur in their past to influence their behavior? 

 At times I get bogged down in the tropes and formulas of crime fiction. Reading a variety of books gives me a fresh look at the vagaries of human action and interaction. 

 As for how all this will affect my usual reading, I’ve got a stack. And what a stack! Lou Berney’s Dark Ride, Angie Kim’s newest, Happiness Falls (I loved Miracle Creek), Deborah Crombie’s A Killing of Innocents, Deborah Ledford’s Redemption, Matt Coyle’s Odyssey’s End (are we really at the end of this series?), 
Mick Herron’s Spook Street, the Goldberg Boys, Lee (Calico) and Tod (Gangsterland)

I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten around to reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere You Run. And there’s Marty Wingate’s The Garden Plot. I don’t read many cozies, but her reading at Bouchercon was so engaging, I went right out and bought it. (Note to authors: reading your work out loud to an audience can get you new readers!) And then of course Rhys Bowen has a new Lady Georgie out (The Proof of the Pudding), and I have to get that one! 

That’s not to mention how taking time out to read affects my own writing. I have a Samuel Craddock due at the end of December and I just got notes (fabulous notes) from my writer’s group yesterday. I have to get busy on that. And there’s the new project. And work on the Socal SinC/MWA holiday party to wrangle. And...and...and... 

 Maybe as a holiday gift to myself this year, I’ll give myself a few hours to just read what I please! In front of a fire in the fireplace with a cup of tea at hand. Doesn’t that sound grand?

Sunday, November 26, 2023

On My Reading List

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading, and what’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

Brenda starting off the week.

I have a couple of books waiting to be read. 

First up is Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. My book club selected this novel for our meeting at the end of the month with plans to see the movie afterwards. The book is non-fiction and deals with the murders of the Osage people in the U.S. and the birth of the FBI under Hoover.

I also downloaded Adrian McKinty's latest The Detective Up Late, and am excited to dig into this lated Sean Duffy story. If you haven't picked up the series yet, start with In the Cold, Cold Ground -- such a great read!

I'm currently reading a manuscript with a view to giving a recommendation.

Other than these few books, I haven't any others on my list. But I know that I'll be doing some reading over the Christmas holidays. I usually make a few requests since my husband has no idea what I've read already. I've yet to have a look at the latest releases, but will in the next few weeks. I love getting books under the tree.

When my daughters were young, I'd always choose a book to put in their Christmas stocking. My daughter Julia has asked for books again this year, and this pleases me a great deal. Both girls are readers and I'm so happy they have this pleasure in their lives.

Spread the joy and give the gift of books this holiday season. Support your local independent bookshop and help to keep these valuable resources in our communities. 

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, November 24, 2023

Things I’m Grateful For, by Josh Stallings

Q: Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

A: I understand the question and it makes sense. The problem is I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. This is largely because of sobriety. I came to believe in taking things one day at a time. If I make a commitment to what I’m going to do over the next year, it creates a big opportunity to make myself feel bad. Much can change in a year. I can promise I’m going to write the great American novel, and then someone gets sick and needs me. Or I get sick, or I’m called to do other work. I have goals, mountains I want to climb, both metaphoric and geologic. But a goal is not the same as a resolution. The former feels like a flexible plan, while the latter is an iron clad commitment. 

I feel New Year’s is a time for accounting. Thinking about what I accomplished and where I failed, in a non-judgmental way. Accounting, or in sober speak “doing an inventory” is a way to look at what actually happened and finding what I want to change in the coming year.  

Back to the actual subject of the question, resolutions. If resolutions make me feel shitty about myself, what makes me feel good?

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, that’s a clue. 

Gratitude makes me feel good. 

I am grateful for sobriety. Grateful for some wise questions my sponsor Richard asked me in those early days, questions I still think about and still ask myself.

Would you rather look good or feel good? 

Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy? 

Would you rather get what you want or want what you’ve got?

These seem like simple little questions but they turn out to be complex. Would you rather look good or feel good has many different levels. Looking good doesn’t just mean physically. Would you rather look good to your peers or would you rather have people respect you? Would you rather be on the NY Times best seller list, or would you rather feel good about what you’re doing, is another way to think about the question.

Would you rather be right or happy? This is an interesting question because many of us will argue for something because we believe we are right, not noticing that being right doesn’t bring us joy. I don’t argue to be right anymore with people I love and care about. I’m… well I do actually still fight to be right. Erika is going to edit this. She’ll see what I said and she’ll say bullshit or her version of that. I do argue with people I love but when I do, I realize it doesn’t help. 

Short digression, on my wedding day my grandfather said to me, “Josh, you’ll be happy when you realize she’s right.” At one level I thought it was one of those husband versus wife jokes, but that wasn’t my grandfather’s way. He tended to tell me koans. I turned this one over in my head for years and finally realized that if I approached every conversation with Erika with the perspective that she’s probably right and I’m just not understanding her point, then we were having a conversation as opposed to an argument.

This had much wider applications in my work life. When getting notes I don’t agree with from an editor or agent or trusted friend, I think maybe they’re correct and I’m just not getting it. I say to them, “Pretend I’m an idiot because I may be and tell that to me again in a different way.” I have found that once I actually understand what they’re saying I often agree, and if there are parts that I don’t agree with I can see clearly why and say, “I get what you’re saying, and in this case, here’s what I don’t agree with and why…”  

Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy? I’d rather be happy. Being right doesn’t ever make me happy. It’s sometimes a good thing, sometimes not but it’s not connected to my joy. Being right means making somebody else wrong. That is never gonna bring great piles of happiness.

Would you rather get what you want or want what you’ve got? They have this acronym now, FOMO. Fear of missing out. What I felt forever was at least adjacent to the idea. Whenever I went to a restaurant, I’d study the menu. I'd order my meal, and then I'd look across the table and see somebody who I thought got a better meal. If somebody was more successful than me then they must've stolen my success. 

I had a successful year in movie advertising and I remember clearly there was a moment I was making more money than a poor kid could ever imagine. I was driving to a Porsche dealership to buy a car I couldn't afford to drive to a job I didn't enjoy anymore. Did I want to get to the office quicker? My wife and I have had an agreement that we don't spend more than $100 on nonessentials without checking in with the other one. Having to talk to her about wanting a Porsche kept me from buying the car, good move. 

We were evacuated off our mountain because of a forest fire a couple of years ago. I realized everything that I cared about would fit in our truck, my wife, my sons, dogs. Those were the things I really cared about. Cars, homes, stellar reviews for a book you wrote, they all will eventually fade from memory. I’m happy to want what I have, not get what I want because when it comes to wanting, I can be shallow.

When I started writing this I was thinking about Thanksgiving. It is problematic like so many holidays. We all know too much history to buy into the cultural myths. Michael Horse, a friend, actor, and stand up comedian used to start his act with a riff on Henny Youngman, “Take my land… please.” Then he’d bag on those early indigenous people who welcomed the white land thieves of the Mayflower. If we buy into Thanksgiving as a sharing myth, the beginning of a story of mutual concern and cooperation, we also need to accept that the story ends in the genocide of indigenous people. So around our house we never shared that mythological cluster fuck. We chose to celebrate a day to remember what we are grateful for. 

Here is my gratitude list for today:

I am thankful for my health. 

My eyesight. 

My ability to tell stories. 

My sons Dylan and Jared, both joining us for the meal this year, both healthy, both wonderful men. 

Erika, without whom I would not have those sons or the joy of the life that she and I share together. 

My parents for giving me breath. And for giving me much to push against. They gave me a childhood full of love, and lots to chew on. It has been one of the driving forces of my writing. 

My siblings, both from blood and marriage. I’m a lucky man to have them all . 

I’m thankful for my nieces and nephews, beautiful men and women who keep me tapped into the world and bring me joy. 

My two dogs who remind me, take nothing too seriously, except chew toys, take those very seriously. 

I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for books. I’m thankful for my fellow Criminal Minds who bring me joy and thoughts and force me to think about the craft of writing. I’m thankful for the world of crime writers and readers who embraced me long before they had any reason to. Before I had any published words, I had friends in this community. Writers who were willing to look at my early work, and help me make it better. I am thankful for libraries and librarians. 

I am thankful for my sobriety. I used to think I’d stop writing if I stopped drinking. My sponsor said to me, “That could happen. But if you want to get sober you have to be willing to give everything up, holding nothing back.” I’m grateful the writing came back. And the work I’ve done in the years post sobriety is so much better than any writing I did pre-sobriety. 

I would’ve written a novel when I was drinking. I would talk about it and think about it and wish I could and then I’d say I can’t do that. I had the useless ability to think any problem to its natural conclusion, failure. Now I have no idea how I can write the next novel. Feels impossible from the start. I’m thankful for bull headed tenacity to just keep writing until I find my way to those glorious words “the end.”

I am thankful for all the readers out there, not just the ones that like my writing. I do like them best because clearly they are the smartest and wisest ones, but honestly, I'm thankful for all readers. We all have very different taste based on what we’ve read before and our worldview, what we’ve lived through, our socio-economic upbringing, all of those factors affect what we want to read. There is no such thing as a bad reader. Reading makes people into critical thinkers, reading allows us to imagine other worlds and other people, to be inside the heads of someone who is not us. It opens our hearts and minds to a bigger world, whether that world is full of wizards and sword fights, or Martian giants, or honorable criminals and heartsick lawyers, or cats that solve crimes. Reading takes us to other places and brings us home, but we don’t return as the same people who left. The journey changes who we are and what we can imagine to be possible.

I’d love to know what you’re grateful for.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

And now that it's all over... by Cathy Ace

Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

Earlier this year, at this very blog, I wrote the following:

Yes, I do have some writing resolutions for 2023:

Write better

Write smarter

Write faster

Not beat myself up if I don’t achieve any of my resolutions (this is an annual resolution I ALWAYS fail at, whatever the others might be!)

How have I done? 

Write better: who knows…only my readers can answer this one. I always try to “write better” in that I always do the very best I can do at the time, and I try to hone my skills by not only writing, but by reading and trying to work out what it is that authors I admire do so well, then emulating that (not copying it, because that just leads to loss of voice, which isn’t good). My post in January said I hoped to write another DI (retired) Evan Glover book – that hasn’t happened, but I have written and published three books this year, which have been the best books I could write while still clinging to a normal life too!

Write smarter: I am still working on this but, yes, I think I’m making progress. As a plotter, I never “just start writing” before I know exactly where a book is going, so I rarely have “wasted writing”, in that I don’t lack direction as I write so am usually making good progress. That said, we all have to admit that sometimes we know we could have written a scene better than we did, so rewrites are inevitable, even if the general content and direction remain the same. What I have learned this year, specifically, is that using Post-it notes when I write a WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery works well, because I am usually juggling several different cases for the four detectives to solve, as well as stories about the duke and duchess at Chellingworth Hall. Sticky notes allow me to shift scenes easily, then – once the entire order is sorted – I stick them to the wall and work through them. This doesn’t work for a Cait Morgan Mystery, where I prefer to use my trusted method of chapter outlines in a notebook.

Write faster: I have always written fast…at least, I have always written first drafts fast. I plan, plot, research, outline, write up character backstories, then write chapter outlines BEFORE I tackle the first draft. Then it (now) takes me about two to three weeks to write the first draft of about 90,000 words, working at my desk for about twelve hours a day. Then I collapse, have a good sleep, and revise, revise, revise…etc. This pattern seems to work for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write faster.

Not beat myself up if I don’t achieve any of my resolutions: I have done well with this one! It’s been a challenging year in some ways: I have lost friends, friends have lost spouses and parents, and my sister and I have sold our family home. It’s been a year when I’ve faced a few issues that have forced me to admit that I’m not, actually, getting any younger and that bodies do, apparently, begin to break down a bit if you don’t maintain them well.

So, yes, maybe reality has chosen to show me that not doing exactly what you’ve planned is just fine, as long as you don’t feel you’ve let others, or yourself, down in any way. And I can honestly say I have done my best to not let my family, friends, or readers down this past year, so I’m good with that!

I hope you've considered reading my books! You can find out about me and my work at my website: https://www.cathyace.com/