Thursday, June 17, 2021

If you liked Babe Ruth, you'll love Madison Baumgartner! by Catriona

 Q: Publishers and agents usually ask you to compare your book to somebody else’s and want to know that you are up to date on what is popular at the moment. How much importance do you place in writing for the market?

Short answer: what Cathy said yesterday.

Slightly longer answer: No really what Cathy said yesterday - even the fact that I write three different sub-genres of crime fiction and have different "comps" for each.

Real answer, since those first two don't constitute a blog . . . 

I can't remember having to come up with comps. I must have (or maybe it's an American thing and so I never did ???) but once you've got a few reviews with pull-quotes that drop names, the critics are doing it for you. So I'm mostly going to be talking about what other people have said, mystifying as that sometimes gets.

But here's a fresh take. I'm reading CHASER right now, which is Dharma Kelleher's series opener about a bounty hunter in Phoenix, AZ. There's a lot to love (53 pages in): Jinx Ballou's "fairy drag mother" Tia Juana; a heart the size of Brasil connected to a potty mouth of the first order; a plot that's new (to me); and the chutzpah of this little exchange as Jinx and a journo talk about the dearth of women in the bounty business - 

Journo: What about that gal up in New Jersey. God, what's her name?

Jinx: I know who you mean. Met her once when one of my fugitives fled to Trenton. ... Not the most professional bounty hunter I've ever worked with, but she gets the job done. Somehow.

I've got to admit I had a chuckle. Nicely done, sister! It's so much better to admit that no one can write a woman bounty hunter without a bit of Plum juice getting on the page. But here's where Cathy's point from yesterday, about relevant and irrelevant similarities, comes into play. The world of Jinx Ballou and the world of Stephanie Plum are a Venn diagram of two circles with one single glancing touch. It would be bonkers to say "For fans of ..."

Now, I have been compared to Janet Evanovich and very nice it was too. I've also been compared to PG Wodehouse (which is the crown jewel for any comic writer) and to . . . Barbara Pym! (Cue such an overwhelming chorus of "Who?" that everyone's papers just blew off their desks). That jacket quote was simultaneously no help at all for marketing and my proudest moment, because for the few people who know who she was I imagine it would be straight to the buy-link.

It might seem odd to treasure being compared to Barbara Pym, when I've also been compared to Agatha Christie and Dan Brown. But I think those comps are akin to what I call "Catriona's baseball lore". For the writer of procedurals who compared my historical detective novel to Dame Agatha, it was code for "old-fashioned but good". I will take that all day long, by the way. When a reviewer said "Dan Brown" I honestly think he meant no more than "this could sell". And I will take that too. It's like when there's a pub quiz question about baseball players. I don't listen to the details; I ask another one of my team, The Vincibles, "living or dead?" and then decide whether my answer is Madison Baumgartner or Babe Ruth. That is the sum total of my knowledge, split neatly in two.

I'm really not complaining that these comps were broadbrush - can't overemphasise that. I really do think Cathy was right to say that the setting and sub-genre are meaningless when we're trying to decide what to spend our book bucks on or pester our library for. I mean, I'd be surprised if anyone who liked my standalones didn't love Alex Marwood, or if anyone who admires Dandy Gilver didn't have a soft-spot for Flavia de Luce, or if anyone who enjoys hanging out at the Last Ditch Motel didn't happily devour Kellye Garrett's Hollywood novels.

BUT notice that these books are not Scottish, or from the 20s, or about fish-out-of-water therapists. Finding an accurate comp is all about the voice, tone, sensibility, and ambiance. I think I can prove it to you too.

I was recently lucky enough to read Leslie Budewitz (writing as Alicia Beckman) 's ARC of BITTEROOT LAKE. Once I'd sent the quote - it's really good, by the way - Leslie emailed to apologise and assure me that she "didn't know". You and me both, I thought, before I asked her "know what?". "Know that I wrote a book so similar to yours," she said, managing not to open with "Duh" or end with "idiot". "Eh?" I said. "Which one?"

Which one. And I meant it too. 

Then I started laughing because I had done exactly the same to Lori Rader Day when I read LITTLE PRETTY THINGS. I got in touch to rend my garments and try to persuade her that I "didn't know". "Know what?"  "Know that I wrote your book." "Which one?"

Because it doesn't matter at all that Bitterook Lake and Go To My Grave are both "about" reunions. It doesn't matter that Little Pretty Things and Scot Free both take place in a motel. As Lori said, I should be grateful I can prove that the Last Ditch predates Schitt's Creek, because that's the real comp - different genre, different medium, different country and all. 



Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Existential angst? by Cathy Ace

Q: Publishers and agents usually ask you to compare your book to somebody else’s and want to know that you are up to date on what is popular at the moment. How much importance do you place in writing for the market?

Okay – three questions here, really – who am I “like”, and what’s popular – two very different questions, with a third, overarching query…

What other author’s works are my books “similar to”? I admit it, I’m HOPELESS at this game! Yes, yes, I know every author believes their work is utterly unique (and it is) but I also understand (because I’m a reader as well as a writer) that it’s helpful to be able to tell someone “if you enjoy ‘that’ then you’ll probably enjoy ‘this’ too”, so I try my best to be helpful (that’s the kind of gal I am!) when called upon to be so.

But…and it’s a big but…I also know as a reader that what appeals to me isn’t necessarily what a book's about, or where it’s set, or even what type of sub-genre it is (procedural, sleuth, spies, thriller etc.) but the VOICE that appeals to me. If I listed my favorite authors here – authors whose works I will read whatever sub-genre they’re writing in (and several of my most favorite authors write across different sub-genres) – you might be perplexed, because they seemingly have nothing in common with each other, except that I enjoy those voices. Indeed, I’m one of those for whom the “helpful” amazon “People who bought this also bought…” section is worse than useless: 100% of those books listed have never ended up in my little cart. Ever.

"As" Agatha Christie
Thus, I’ve relied upon others to help me in this task when I need to undertake it myself. Professional reviewers, as well as non-professional reviewers, and readers, have proposed the following: my Cait Morgan Mysteries will appeal to those who enjoy books by Agatha Christie (Poirot fans), Lyn Hamilton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh, Sue Grafton, and any number of “Golden Age” British traditional mystery authors; my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries will appeal to those who enjoy books by M.C. Beaton, Alexander McCall Smith, Jeanne M. Dams, and Agatha Christie (Marple fans); my book The Wrong Boy will appeal to those who enjoy TV suspense like Broadchurch, Hinterland, and Shetland (based on the books by Ann Cleeves), or books by Gillian Flynn. I’m not going to argue – but will add that – despite the fact I write traditional puzzle-plot mysteries (Cait Morgan), cozier, character-driven tales (WISE women) and psychological suspense (DI Evan Glover) I am thrilled to say many readers enjoy them all when they try them – venturing beyond their initial “reason-for-buying” to discover a new-to-them sub-genre…YAY!

Now, onto the second part of the question – do I know what’s “popular” at the moment? Well, yes, I do, thanks, but that doesn’t mean it’s what I want to/am able to write. Besides, what’s “popular” today (ie. topping the sales charts) might not be what folks want to read by the time my book is published, so I think chasing the ghost of popularity is a fool’s errand…

All of which, I suspect, allows you to work out for yourself that my answer to the final part of this week’s overarching question – do I write for the market? – is, in all honesty, no. I write books I like to read, and hope my “voice” reaches people who enjoy it, across the board. All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing, and hope enough of the market likes what I write that I can afford to keep doing it!  

By the can help with that last bit *wink, wink* - all my books are listed on my website: CATHY ACE CRIME WRITER

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

This Little Idiot Went to Market, This One Stayed Home

Publishers and agents usually ask you to compare your book to somebody else’s and want to know that you are up to date on what is popular at the moment. How much importance do you place in writing for the market?

From Frank

In case anyone feels offended by the title - I'm the idiot in both instances.

This going to be a short one this week, for a couple reasons. Here they are:

  1. I don't have a publisher (except myself) or an agent, so right out of the chute, the first sentence doesn't apply to me, and;

  2. I put virtually zero importance on writing to market.

While I definitely treat my writing career as a business, it is also a creative passion. So I write what I am passionate about, what interests me, and since I can (refer back to #1 for why), what I want to write about. It's less a choice than the only way I can do this.

You can question the marketing wisdom of that, or the business acumen, and you may have a point. Perhaps Probably Certainly, I'm limiting my scope or reach by not paying more attention to trends or not purposefully writing to market. But I am fortunate in that, while I take my writing career seriously, it isn't my primary source of income. Because of this, I can -- quite literally -- afford to proceed under this way of thinking. I may sell fewer books, but I have more fun writing them.

So why am I the idiot in both cases in this title?

I'm actually not.

But I would be if I decided to write to market. 

Not because it's a bad idea. In fact, for many it is a very good idea, and smart people are doing it quite successfully. It just isn't who I am, and I'd be an idiot to go against my nature. I'd be miserable and it would take away the joy of something that's been a big piece of my life since childhood - the love of writing (honestly, treating it like a business already provides enough ammunition for that potential danger!).

Now, I could BS you and say that instead of chasing trends, you should go your own way and create them... and that sounds real cool, doesn't it? And it's true. It can be a bit more of a lottery ticket, but it's definitely true. However, I've already told you my real truth, so this is essentially more of a happy rationalization after the fact, or a lucky additional benefit.

I say - be true to yourself. Do as you will, and I'll do the same. Write to market, or don't. And let's both just be cool with it.


My Ania series is on promotion this week. The first book in the series, Blood on Blood, is free through Thursday, and the remaining three titles in the series are all 99 cents through Saturday.

In Blood on Blood, half-brothers Mick and Jerzy Sawyer are summoned to their father’s prison deathbed, it isn’t for a tearful goodbye. The spiteful old man tells the two estranged brothers about an old diamond heist with outstanding loot, and sets them on a path of cooperation and competition to recover the jewels.

Jerzy is the quintessential career criminal, fresh out of a short bit and looking to get back into the action right away. Mick is the failed cop and tainted hero struggling to get by with a clean life that doesn’t seem to ever pay off. Both men see this score as their ticket out of Chicago.

Throw in the mysterious, blond Ania, and Blood on Blood is hardboiled Hardy Boys meets Cain and Abel. Jerzy and Mick battle each other for all of it — the diamonds, the girl, and survival — and nothing else matters…not even blood.

I wrote these books with Jim Wilsky. We took an approach you don't often see - a dual first person narrative with alternating chapters. In other words, I wrote one character and Jim wrote the other, and we go back and forth between these characters from chapter to chapter. Both are written in the first person, so you get an intimate look at each of them. At the same time, the reader knows more than either character.

The through-thread of this series is the enigmatic femme fatale, Ania. Each book has a different pair of narrators, so you see Ania mostly through their eyes... though you do get a few Ania chapters throughout the series.

If you like hard boiled, this is for you.

If you're reading this outside of the promotion, sorry... but they're quite reasonably priced at $4.99 each, and you can pick up the box set containing all four for just $9.99, and that's a bargain.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Who Doesn't Want to be Popular?

 Q: Publishers and agents usually ask you to compare your book to somebody else’s and want to know that you are up to date on what is popular at the moment. How much importance do you place in writing for the market?


-from Susan


Some agents are more tightly tied to today’s snapshot of what they think will sell to the acquiring editors they are closest to. But if your book is sold to a house, it will take 18 months to get to market anyway, during which the current trend may have changed to something new. Agents come to work to sell books. I get it. But I always admire the book that doesn’t fit into a pre-defined sub-genre, but pushes the margins a bit without confusing me completely. I am guessing those might be harder to sell, but I admire the courage and tenacity of the agents who love the book and won’t give up on it.  


This week’s question is really, how much importance I, as the writer, place in writing for the market. I want to sell my books, too, but I write what I want to write. It helps that what I write hews fairly close to a defined genre that usually sells well. But in the past I have been nudged by an agent or editor closer to the conventional form of that sub-genre than I wanted to be. For my first French village books, I politely resisted a suggestion that I include recipes, for example. The great dishes of Burgundy are well known and if anyone wants to know how to make Boeuf Bourguignon, for example, two clicks on Google and you have three recipes that are actually only slightly varied from each other. Who needs me to steal Julia Child’s recipe and pretend it’s mine?


Of course, I want my books to appeal to readers, to meet their expectations. But for me what is or should be popular in the market all the time is a great story, told well, with characters that come to life, in a setting that those readers want to visit from the comfort of their living room chair. I’m as “up to date” on what’s popular as anyone else, but – heresy – I am not always impressed by the bestsellers on the New York Times lists. Here are a few books of the past few years that I loved that were in the crime fiction genre but definitely pushed out from that, challenged and delighted me. Kudos to the authors, their agents, and their publishers!


WHAT IS TIME TO A PIG – John Straley (Soho)

PLAY THE RED QUEEN – Juris Jurjevics (Soho)

THE TWELVE – Stuart Neville (Penguin/RH UK)

SUICIDE PILOT – Colin Cotterill (Soho)


I notice that these are all men and that most are with Soho, but that’s just coincidence, top of mind today. Remember when this now wildly popular book was new…and who was this unusual young woman anyway?


MAISIE DOBBS – Jacqueline Winspear (Penguin)






Thursday, June 10, 2021

Guest Post: Imran Mahmood


This Friday, I'm delighted to introduce you to my good friend Imran Mahmood. Imran is a practicing barrister with almost 30 years' experience fighting cases in courtrooms across the country. He hails from Liverpool but now lives in London with his wife and daughters. His debut novel You Don't Know Me was longlisted for Theakston crime novel of the year and for the CWA Gold Dagger, and has been adapted for screen for the BBC in association with Netflix. 

When not in court or writing novels or screemplays he can sometimes be found on the Red Hot Chilli Writers' podcast as one of the regular contributors.

His new book, I KNOW WHAT I SAW, is out this week.

Have any experiences from your youth worked their way into your stories? How about other life experiences? Do you consciously select these in your writing or do they suddenly appear on the page?

There are two kinds of writers in my experience. On the one hand there are all those writers we admire like Yann Martel or HG Wells or Mary Shelley who stitch together complete worlds and characters (literally in the case of Mary Shelley) from nothing more than the power of their huge and impressive imaginations. And there are those on the other, poor creatures like me who can't do that – whose imaginations are just children on the shore collecting pebbles. 


The one good thing about falling into the second category is that by the time you hit the half century mark, there are loads of pebbles. There are so many pebbles in my head that if you shook me hard enough and pointed me at your semi-detached I’d give your walls a lovely spar-dashing.


I used to feel self-conscious about using so much from my life in my stories but these days I'm so unabashed about it that you have to be careful about sharing any of your own stories with me. I'm like a magpie – if the story of your morning coffee even catches the light the right way, I’ll have it and re-purpose it as my own. Once I met Meghan Markle for five seconds and I spent the rest of the year telling anyone who’d listen, how awful my life in the Palace was with no-one but Corgis for company – especially when my better half was off discussing colour charts with the rels.


Take my latest novel I KNOW WHAT I SAW. The story follows Xander Shute a formerly wealthy ex-banker who finds himself living on the streets. One literal dark and stormy night he takes shelter in a flat that he believes is unoccupied. He wakes to hear the residents return and then witnesses one of them murdering the other. When he tells the police – they don’t believe him. When they visit the scene, they discover the crime was impossible. 


Now although I haven’t represented this particular murderer in my career and have never committed a similar murder myself (or any murder at all – I promise), I did rely heavily on events from my youth to create Xander. When I was 15, because we didn’t have books at home, I spent a lot of time at the local library. Another person who spent a lot of time there was a man who would later be re-purposed as Xander. He was what we used as kids to call a tramp. He was pretty ripe, dressed head to foot in layers of muddy clothing and had a beard to shame Osama. At first, I thought he was using the library as a place to keep warm – but I was wrong. He was using it to read philosophy and quantum physics. One day when I was revising for my French O’ Level (yup – I'm that old) he sidled up to me and offered to sell me some slim volumes of French Lit. He had an impressive list running from Gide to Maupassant, from Camus to Molière – each one at a knock-down price. I didn’t know how he could turn a profit at those prices and more than that, I was puzzled about where he was keeping them. And I SWEAR– it did not once occur to me that we were in a library and that there was a really easy way he could be solving both of those problems.


The real question, of course, I had was how such an intelligent and obviously educated man had become so destitute. I was genuinely baffled. When I later found out that he was one of the Oxbridge lot I’d heard of (but had never met in real life) I was more than baffled. I was livid. ‘You could be rich,’ I said to him. He smiled and asked me whether my parents would mind if he had a bath in my house. I told him that I wasn’t allowed friends and that it probably wasn’t a good idea but the truth was, I wasn’t sure he’d feel all that comfortable being spoken to in Punjabi as he was thoroughly mistaken for one of those bearded Muslim guys who turned up at the house making dawah (a kind of proselytism if you’re interested). He nodded in understanding, good-naturedly. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I am rich. I'm rich in every way that is important to me. I have good friends. I have my health. And I have freedom. I've done my bit for society. And now I’m choosing to do my bit for me. Nobody is richer than me.’


It was years before I truly understood what he meant. Decades in fact. And ultimately it took the writing of I KNOW WHAT I SAW in order to understand it in the way that I think he meant it. My only wish looking back is that when he’d finished saying what he had said, that I hadn’t said. ‘John Paul Getty. What about him? He’s considerably richer than yow.’



Writing What I’ve Learned from Experience by James W. Ziskin

Have any experiences from your youth worked their way into your stories? How about other life experiences? Do you consciously select these in your writing or do they suddenly appear on the page?

This week’s question is easy. The answer is YES. Of course my experiences from youth and later on seep into my writing. It’s inevitable. And not just for me. I assume all writers mine their past for story ideas, one-liners, characters, and pithy observances.

In my Ellie Stone series, I placed my heroine in a small upstate New York town that closely resembles the place where I grew up. In fact, the fictional New Holland, NY, sits in the exact graphical spot as does my hometown of Amsterdam, NY. Nearby geographical details are the same, but I chose to fictionalize the city in order to give me more creative freedom. I often say that I did it to head off corrections from the local citizenry. “No, Larrabee’s was on the other side of the street;” “The carpet mills left town ten years later;” “Reid Street ran north to south, not east to west!” I knew I could write what I wanted and hide behind the shield of fiction. And the folks in my hometown seem to have accepted that. From what they tell me, they enjoy piecing together clues to identities and locales in my books, almost as much as they like to solve the mysteries. That’s a very good thing. 

One of the most prominent locales in my books is Fiorello’s Home of the Hot Fudge, the ice cream/confectionary/newsstand across the street from Ellie’s apartment on Lincoln Avenue. (Spoiler: that’s the actual location of the shop I based Fiorello’s on.) And I worked in that place during my junior and senior high school days, jerking sodas and scooping ice cream. The place was called Fariello’s, and it was an institution in Amsterdam, having been founded in 1925 by Samuel Fariello and later passed down to his son, Robert, known affectionately as “Fadge.” Sound familiar? If you’ve read any of the Ellie Stone mysteries it should. Fadge, along with Ellie and a magical pug named Little Leon, are the only characters who appear in all seven books.

Yes, I plumbed my youth for one of the most beloved characters in my books, “Fadge Fiorello,” a hot-headed, funny, inveterate gambler, and generous bear of a man. He’s Ellie’s best pal and protector, too. As his real-life namesake, Fadge likes to treat his friends and workers to late-night pizza and beer at New Holland’s various taverns and diners. He also collects music and drives his cars into the ground, through willful neglect and abuse. But he has a great heart. Too bad the real Fadge left us far too soon more than thirty-five years ago. I still think of him often and hope that he would have appreciated my tributes to him in the Ellie Stone books.

But it’s not only the distant past that finds its way into my books. The old saw that a writer must experience life before writing about it rings true, for me at least. I envy the authors who manage to produce beautiful books at a young age, but that was not my path. I had to claw my way to it, acquiring the experiences and wisdom that come with age, before I felt anything I wrote was worthy of publication. I read and read. Wrote and wrote, learning the craft and honing my writing as I went. I’m still learning, of course. And it wasn’t just typing words that did it. I also picked up ideas and perspective along the way. I listened to people—eavesdropped might be a more accurate assessment—and learned to edit myself. I cut words, improved them, polished them. And, like so many writers before me, I appropriated lines I’d heard people say. My funniest lines are probably things I overheard from family and friends. I’m a sponge. Rather, I’m a sponger. But I believe all writers are, or should be.

So, yes, I’ve leaned on past experiences in my work. And I’ll continue to do so as long as I write.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Giving it punch

Image by decrand from Pixabay

Have any experiences from your youth worked their way into your stories? How about other life experiences? Do you consciously select these in your writing or do they suddenly appear on the page?

by Dietrich

When I write about a time when I wasn’t alive, I still draw from personal experience, then I color it from a vivid imagination — whatever it takes to make the story believable. It may only be an aspect from actual experience — childhood, a job, some event, travels — then translated through the eyes of my imagined characters. 

Roald Dahl drew from his early years, the miserable times he had at school when he gazed in a sweet-shop’s window on his way home. These memories were the seeds of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I suppose writing about some life experience can be therapeutic, and I’ve heard one or two authors say it’s a great way to settle an old score without actually going to prison for whatever revenge they might cook up. 

A personal experience can be broadened and become a chapter, even trigger a whole book. What’s important is provoking emotion, getting under a particular character’s skin and telling it from their perspective.

What doesn’t flow from memory, may evolve from observation and careful research. I do a lot of digging, putting myself in the times and places I’m writing about, to the point where I can feel the quaking ground underfoot, or the taste of the horehound candy.

“You have to go where the book leads you . . . It’s a big and powerful machine.” — Stephen King  

I don’t intentionally write about myself, but there may be aspects of my own nature found in some of my characters. It’s funny, readers I’ve met have told me that I’m nothing like the characters in my books. Some even seemed disappointed.

I like to listen to stories about other people’s lives, and sometimes I borrow from them. Like the time someone close to me told me they went to a movie with a friend. When they were leaving there was a police chase that whipped past the theater. As the sirens got close, the chased vehicle tore around a corner, lost control in front of the theater, struck a mailbox, tore off its bumper, and kept going, with the police car in hot pursuit. The friend went and unscrewed the license plate from the crumpled bumper, thinking it would make a great souvenir. I laughed at that, then I got to thinking of what would happen if that guy looked up the owner of the plate and cooked up a little blackmail scheme. Next thing, i was writing it all down, turning it into a story.

Another time, I took my dog for a walk through the neighborhood, which often turned out to be more of a sniff than a walk. And as we slowly moved past lovely lawns and gardens, there was one house where the yellowed grass was a foot tall, the bushes mangy, and the curtains always drawn. In the coming autumn and winter, it was the only house without frost on the roof. Rather than call the cops or knock on the door and ask for samples, I went home and did some research and was amazed by how many grow-ops were suspected to be in the province — at the time it was the largest (and untaxed) industry in the province — and that launched a whole novel. 

So, write what you know can be seen in a broader sense. I don’t have to live it, but I have to make it believable.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Let Me Tell You a Story


Terry Shames here, answering our question of whether our personal experiences of worked their way into our stories, and if it is done consciously or does it happen “by magic.” 

When I was a kid I loved to visit my grandparents. The town I lived in, Lake Jackson, Texas, seemed fussy and constricted. It was a relatively new town, founded in the 1940s, to house the people who would work at the chemical plant in the next town. Except for the hoity-toity houses out at the lake, the houses in town were all of the same type; 3 bedrooms, small lots, all the houses the same size and same general look—it was a company town. 

The town where my grandparents lived was more free-wheeling. Older houses, some on big lots, many of them rambling places with front porches and pillars. They had yards and open fields adjoining them. Great places to run free. A railroad ran through town, which was an endless source of interest. Who came in on the railroad? What was its history? 

There was a lot not to like: The town had once been home to a railroad tie plant, and the air still held the tang of creosote, especially on hot days. The water had a lot of iron in it, so it tasted bad. The soil was red and full of clay that clung to your shoes or feet when it was wet, and began gritty and got into everything during drought times. When it rained, the town flooded. It was hot and humid, there were bugs and snakes. But there was also freedom. Kids could run wild. And we did. 

So, when I chose a place to set my mystery novels, it was natural to go back there, a place that lived in my bones. Jarrett Creek is based on Somerville, Texas. Not just experiences from my youth have made their way into my books, but the entire setting is from my youth. 

 My grandfather was an inveterate storyteller. He once told us about a child who had been rumored to actually be raised in the woods by animals. And he told us he saw the boy once and it was very clear that something strange had happened to him. He was wild-looking, did not speak, and did not move like a human. It was one of the few times I saw my grandfather look rattled. He said it was a very strange experience. That particular story has not made it into my books. But he had a lot of stories, they always lay close to the surface of my imagination, even if they don’t wholly make it into my stories. 

Every single book I’ve written dips into my past for a fragment of a story that intrigued me and that became fodder for my imagination. 

 In A Killing at Cotton Hill, I focused on a boy who was an artist, because when I was a child I was amazed that my Uncle Tom could paint. He was no great artist, but his paintings were good enough for my grandmother to hang them, and to impress me. Because I have a deep appreciation for art, the book expanded from there—but the core was the pictures hanging in my grandparents’ house, painted by my uncle.


 In my second book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, I moved the story of Jack Harbin to the Gulf War, but it actually was born out of the Vietnam War. I knew a guy a few years old than I was who lived in my grandparent’s town. He wasn’t a football star, but I made him one. He was a zany, irreverent, funny guy who went to the Vietnam war and came back physically ruined. He moved to California and no one ever heard any more about him. 

 The story in Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek is based on a town going bankrupt in California, but it features a game-hunting sports club in central Texas. 

A Deadly Affair in Bobtail Ridge grew directly out of a story my mother said my grandmother told her. 

 The character of Nonie Blake is based on someone I knew years ago. Given how people keep secrets in small towns, it wasn’t hard to put her in that setting. 

An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock was based on a story that actually happened in the town of Somerville. I still have the clippings about it. And before I wrote the book, I revisited the event and found out that the man who was convicted of the crime had been exonerated by the Innocence Project.

A Reckoning in the Back Country was not only a way to get back at the doctor who botched surgery on my shoulder, but also a way of exploring the sadness I felt when I ran into a batch of dogs that I knew had been bred for fighting. There was nothing I could do to save them, and it haunted me. 

The last two books (one not yet published) are more current. But I still have stories to tell. There’s the one about my mother's second cousin who was punished by being chased off into the woods by his father—in the rain and cold. He came down with pneumonia and died. And another about a friend whose aunt was trapped in her house with her son. She ran away, but was captured, and begged not to be sent back. The next week she was found dead. 

There are many stories there. These stories are under my skin; in my bones; in my DNA. And I’ll write them.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

When Life Becomes Fiction

Have any experiences from your youth worked their way into your stories? How about other life experiences? Do you consciously select these in your writing or do they suddenly appear on the page?

Brenda Chapman here.

My first series of books are the Jennifer Bannon mysteries for middle grade. Jennifer and her little sister Leslie are based on my own two daughters who were the same approximate ages when I wrote the stories. I also borrowed heavily from my own memories of childhood, particularly in the second book Hiding in Hawk's Creek, which I set in a fictional location that was loosely based on the town where I grew up. My brother still lives in Northwestern Ontario, and after reading the book, he asked me if a certain family knew I'd based some of the plot on them? So far, he's the only one who's noticed, likely a good thing.

We squatted down in the dirt. Sure enough, before five minutes had passed, a huge beaver swam toward the middle of the pond, holding a tree limb in its teeth. The water parted like a triangle in its wake.

I went on to write a teen novel entitled Second Chances. This coming of age book is set in the 1970s and I again relied on memories from my own teen years to fill in the details of the story. It was the era of bell bottoms, sit-ins, love-ins, hitchhiking, Woodstock, communes, and the Vietnam War. I was a bit young to partake in most of it, especially growing up in a mill town of 2000 people in Northwestern Ontario, but these were my formative years, and Second Chances is steeped in my memories.

Elizabeth threw back her head and laughed. It took her a while to catch her breath. "No way. I'd bet money Candy never got within a thousand miles of Joplin or Morrison. Did she really tell you that? Even better, did you believe her?"

I think that in every book I've ever written, something from my past has appeared on the page without conscious thought on my part. Maybe it's a character or their dialogue, perhaps it's the setting. Sometimes, it's as simple as the expression a character uses when they're speaking.  It's often not until the editing stage that I see the connection to my own life.

I went to university in Kingston, Ontario and this became the setting for my Stonechild and Rouleau series. In book one, Cold Mourning, Kala Stonechild moves south from Northwestern Ontario. She's alone in the big city, ungrounded and a fish out of water -- a scene straight out of my own biography. I even move her back north for the last book in the series, Closing Time, which is essentially my love letter to that part of the country.

Bands of orange and pink bled into a cover of indigo cloud with the lake a mirror image of colour. The trees on the distant shore were stark black shapes reflected in the still, pink water.

So, maybe the question isn't whether events from my childhood up to the present enter my books, but how often? Lately, I've been having trouble sleeping and was surprised - but not surprised - to find that my main character has developed insomnia.

My art continues to imitate my life :-)


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Human Mambo by Josh Stallings

 Q: Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? What strengths and/or weaknesses come with this personality type in regards to book publicity and marketing, and how do you mine your strengths?

A: Writing is by its nature an introverted job, long hours spent lost in my thoughts. Some days I only speak to the creatures in my head. People who know me find it odd when I say I used to be shy, comfortable in small groups of friends but crowds freaked me out. The idea of reading in front of actual people caused panic. Echoes of growing up dyslexic, partly fear of being exposed as a fraud, a con-person, and partly I fight to write with honesty and that leaves me feeling vulnerable.

I have learned to let my inner extrovert flag fly. Here are some things that have changed me: 

1) I’m coming up on three decades of sobriety. In that time I’ve done a lot of public speaking, and I’ve learned not to over plan or get too cute with what I say. Just tell my truth. Plus my pal Nino once told me not to worry, most people are too busy looking inward to hear what you say anyway. 

2) As for readings, I once messed up a paragraph and instead of stopping I ad libbed until I found my way back to the text. I figured out I wrote the damn thing, I could do a verbal re-write if I chose. No one noticed, except the audio book narrator who happened to be there and Erika. Flow and performance were more important than exact words.

3) For panels, if I’m moderating I massively over prepare. Early on I was lucky enough to be on a panel moderated by Katrina Niidas Holm, she did serious research. I use her as the benchmark for how much preparation is needed. I always plan too many questions, then never fear of running out. On the day of, I forget all the prep and really try and listen to my fellow writers. And THAT is the key to enjoying being on a panel, listening. Actually that’s the key to everything.

When I find myself getting “self-conscious” in large groups, the answer is to shift my consciousness from self to others. Look for a lost new writer and ask them how they’re doing, and then really listen when they answer. It seems so obvious as I type it out, “Feeling self-conscious? Don’t focus on self.” Yet it’s easy to forget.


The truth is I love people, how we think, how we behave. The human mambo is fascinating. It’s the core of all writing. When I step outside my head, stop looking inward, I get to see the greatest show on earth, us.

I guess the answer is, I’m both. An introvert when writing, or doing any creative work. An extrovert when doing readings and panels and Zoom talks. Both have their place in this wild ride of getting stories out of my head and into yours. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Her name was Sally Canal . . .

 Introvert? I wish! 

If we take the dictionary definition of "introvert" - a shy, reticent person - then they are the lucky ones. Would a shy, reticent person spend the small hours after a book event tossing and turning wondering if they talked too much, shared too much, blabbed stuff they should have kept quiet about . . . ?

Do not draw attention to yourself

They would not. I do. Every time. "Oh my God! Why did I tell that joke?" "Oh my God! Why did I start that story?" "Oh my God, why didn't I just say 'search me', when that weird bloke asked if there was going to be a second independence referendum?"

It's an easy life if you're reserved and silent. (I almost mean that - hear me out.) Once everyone knows you won't pull your weight at a party, you're permanently absolved from ensuring parties are successful. Sweet deal if you can get it.

My best ever introvert impersonation
(with Jessie Chandler)

One time years ago, for reasons that don't matter now, my husband spent the afternoon with a beautiful (and didn't she know it), silent, self-contained woman while I was off doing something else. Now, this was an introvert's introvert. She glided around as if she was on castors, said nothing - like nothing, blinked every so often, flipped her hair in slow-motion every so often and rolled stinky little cigarettes.

When we met up again at the start of the evening, Neil was in a hilariously entertaining bad mood. "I'm exhausted!" he said. "I'm spent! I'm done! I've sweated right through my suit! My head's killing me! I've never worked so hard in my life - and I've spent a summer clearing the sludge out of the cooling tank of a papermill!"

This companion was more fun than you-know-who

Her name is still a by-word in this house for the utter selfishness of (some) introverts, who don't mind everyone else grafting away to keep them entertained. Say her name was Sally Canal, which it wasn't. All I have to do is say "shy" in Neil's hearing and, like Pavlov's dog when the bell goes off, he says "Shy? Or Sally Canal shy?" And then he gets in a bad mood all over again. It might stop being funny one day, but it's been twenty years and I'm laughing as I type this.

So, I'm not that sort of introvert, no. But the other defintion of verts goes like this: an introvert draws strength from solitude and uses it up in company. An extrovert draws strength from company and uses it up on solitude. By that definition, I'm an introvert. To wit: I've been fine this last 14 months, at home alone except for someone who wears earbuds 18 hours a day. I know I could never share a room at a convention, because sometimes I need to walk away from my dearest and most beloved friends and stare at a wall. I am always relieved, never disappointed, when something is cancelled.

So, I think I'm an introvert. One that doesn't mind standing up and talking to hundreds of people. One who can walk into a publisher's party at the Royal Opera House on her own when her agent is stuck at the airport. One who's not afraid of saying - hey my new book just came out in the UK last week and look what Kirkus said about it:


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Coaxing the butterfly out of the chrysalis... by Cathy Ace

Q: Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? 

Interesting question, which I shall try to answer briefly: I’m an ambivert.

Short enough?

What does that mean? It’s a term that’s been around since the 1920s and denotes what the majority of humans are – a mixture of introverted and extroverted behavioral patterns, depending upon circumstances. It’s not a word Jung used (the chap who originally came up with the terms introvert and extrovert) but was coined, I believe, by Conklin. (Can you tell I'm a psychologist? LOL!)

Photo shoot for "thoughtful writer" 

I’m a pretty normal ambivert: many people who know me will have met a socially agile extrovert, happy to interact....dare I say "the life of the party"? Others (only a few) will have met a socially reclusive introvert, with an engaging internal life (and a constant internal monologue, in case you’re interested). In other words, I can pull the butterfly out of hiding when she’s needed but am usually quite happy cogitating inside my chrysalis.

New Year's Eve - Petra, Jordan, 1998

No, it’s not an “act” when you meet me at an event and I’m chatty and interested in other people, (though I do have to steel myself in my hotel room before I leave it to join a throng at a convention, for example, where I know that being “her” is what’s expected of me). The “other”, solitary and thoughtful, me isn’t the “real” me either – both types of behavior are the truth of me, and are what make me whole.

Without the quiet times I’d spin out of control (and I admit that's happened during my life), but, without those social interactions, I might stagnate.

My late father (see flash in reflection) took this of me in Seattle, in 2003

This mixture lends itself well, I believe, to being an author in the twenty-first century, as opposed to being a writer in the pre-internet age. I need my introverted self to be able to go within and create the books I write, then I need my extroverted self to try to earn a living: being a writer is a totally different part of me than being an author is, because an author’s expected to sell books, not just write them.

Dad took this in 1965-ish - maybe he knew I'd head west?

Fortunately for me I initially graduated in psychology, then all my post-grad qualifications were in marketing and marketing communications; I do my best to blend the two skillsets in my career as a writer/author. It’s a constant balancing act, and all any of us can do is try to stay upright as the see-saw wobbles beneath us. Each of us changes as we have new experiences, and the see-saw's been wobbling a lot this past year or so, so all we can now do is try to find a new balance, and keep hanging on!

Tomorrow my 15th novel is published (my 17th book overall), and I am proud of it…proud of what I created and wrote. Now I have to slough off the chrysalis and get the butterfly working, because the fruit of my isolation and cogitation will not “sell itself” (if only!!!!!) so here I am, shifting to extroversion, and asking you, quite bluntly, to PLEASE buy my new book. Which is something my introverted self would never dare do, because it’s rude to ask. Here's a handy dandy link (provided by my butterfly-self): CAIT MORGAN MYSTERIES — CATHY ACE CRIME WRITER

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Intro or Extro?

Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? What strengths and/or weaknesses come with this personality type in regards to book publicity and marketing, and how do you mine your strengths?

From Frank

For years, I actually thought I was an extrovert. I thought this because I liked being around people. I enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with it, especially in smaller groups where you really make a strong connection. But I was also happy and comfortable spending long stretches alone. That sounds more like an introvert. So I started to question which one I truly was.

Then I learned the best definition of the difference I've heard to date. It doesn't have much to do with whether you like being around people or not. It's all about energy. An extrovert draws energy from being with people; being with people drains energy from an introvert. 

Bam. I'm definitely an introvert by this definition.

I like people. I enjoy talking with them, listening to them, being around them. But it doesn't energize me. It exhausts me. 

I know that can sound bad but it really isn't. Listen, I love hockey, too. I enjoy every second of a game, from getting ready in the locker room, to the play on the ice, to the cold beer with teammates afterward. But playing hockey exhausts me, too. So you can be exhausted by something you love without it being a negative.

I suspect most writers are introverts. Yeah, I know - not exactly a risky supposition to make. But I think writing suits us. The creative, emotional and intellectual effort that goes into writing can be exhausting (exhilerating, too!). I think that the added crush of whatever an extrovert feels when s/he is alone for that long would be overwhelming.

That's the strength of being an introvert - we can spend that time alone to create and feel happy and at home during the process. But then comes marketing and publicity, which seem more suited to an extrovert.

When I said I was an introvert, I'm sure that some people who know me a little might call BS. True, I'm not shy in groups, speaking in public doesn't faze me, and I do well at book events and the like. I very much enjoy my time with people. It just exhausts me. Therefore, I think the key to in-person marketing is pacing myself. Have a little down time/alone time to recharge.

Online publicity and marketing, on the other hand, is not an issue for me. We're all a half-step removed in those interactions, and they don't tend to be as draining (or, admittedly, quite as enjoyable... although I have forged some pretty solid friendships through this medium).

Honestly, I wish this was a question the entire panel of ten was answering and not just half of us, because I'd be very curious to hear the self-assessment, experience, and strategies from everyone. So if this is your off week and you feel like dropping a few nuggets in the comments - please do!


Blatant Self-Promotion

My newest book with Lawrence Kelter, No Dibs on Murder, is on sale for 99 cents (Kindle) this week. In fact, all three of my collaborations with Larry are discounted to just a buck - Fallen City and The Last Collar.

While the latter two are gritty procedurals, No Dibs is a dark comedy/mystery. 

Tanner Fritz has it all—he’s good-looking, well-liked, fabulously wealthy, and has a beautiful wife. He’s a veritable well of goodwill and happiness.

So why do his four best friends want him dead?

Each of them believes they have a genuine reason—he stole Marty’s wife, swindled Carson out of a fortune, caused Barry’s traumatic brain injury, and… well, no one is exactly sure why Serena wants to kill him.

The foursome’s grievances quickly escalate into something truly terrifying, planning Tanner’s murder—only to run into a seemingly insurmountable hitch. Who actually gets to do the deed? Who has suffered the most at his hands?

A cacophony of bumbling exploits follow as each tries to off Tanner Fritz, while the other three sabotage those efforts. Sprinkled with site gags and belly laughs to tickle both the cultured and the philistine, No Dibs on Murder pulls no punches… and neither do these harebrained would-be killers.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Typical Gemini: I'm Both

 Q: Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? What strengths and/or weaknesses come with this personality type in regards to book publicity and marketing, and how do you mine your strengths?

-from Susan


I once fantasized about buying a Cape Cod saltbox set deep in the woods around Chatham, of living a solo life surrounded by nature in four seasons, sitting by myself in front of a cozy fire, reading and…what? Knitting? Hardly. Eating crusty home-baked bread? Maybe. But that was when I was enmeshed in a high-energy demanding job that had me on the road (or more often, the air), spending a great deal of time with people I had to listen to and get to know, attending evening and weekend functions. I was newly divorced, my kids were pretty well launched, and my work life demanded I be an extrovert almost 24/7.  It was also before I allowed the tiny voice in my head to utter its secret wish: to write, not just read, mystery novels.


Fast forward twenty years. I’m in the most loving relationship I have ever had, I’ve made the decision to quit my day (and evening and weekend) job and career, and I have a first completed manuscript and am about to pitch an agent. I have a closet full of evening clothes, a lot of airfare points on my credit card, and a lot of commuter miles on my first hybrid car. I want nothing more than to have more quiet time, more thinking time, more writing time. Alone until sweetie comes home every day from his studio. My sons are loving but not dependant on my attention. I don’t have to move to the deep woods for introspection. I just need to change my professional focus, to pivot.


Throughout my adult life, I have had to balance being an extrovert and desiring to be an introvert. When I’m out in the world, I really enjoy seeing people, hearing what they’re up to, and cheering them on. I like eating in restaurants (remember restaurants?), hugging (ditto) friends and family, going to performances (ditto again). Being almost exclusively stuck in my house for fifteen months has tested that part of my introverted self that dreamed of a hidey hole in the deep woods. But that time also gave me the impetus to write a whole new book, work on another book project, and rise to my agent’s positive challenge (more later – fingers crossed, please). So, I guess the introvert in me was supported during the pandemic.


Today, I’m beginning to see friends and family again and hope the local opera company will rev up for an in-person 2022 season. When I have a new book out, I can’t wait to launch it in person, to speak at bookstores and conventions, to share what I’ve learned at writers’ conferences, to visit book clubs and blogs and participate on panels – the extrovert part of me thrives on book promotion. I like people, I like connecting with people. The extrovert will win out, but I’ll have to remind myself to listen to the quiet voice of my introvert reminding me that writing doesn’t happen in those settings. 


A lot of writers I know can say the same thing – we’re both. We have to be, and I’m not complaining!

Extrovert on her rounds after first book published - happy much?