Thursday, May 26, 2022

Whose book is it anyway? by Catriona

How much air time do you give to secondary characters? Have any threatened to take over a book? Choose one of yours that you particularly enjoy and share them with us, including a snippet of text that gives us their flavour.

This question made me laugh a hollow laugh. When I embarked on the Last Ditch Motel series, one of the boons - so I thought - was that there would be a different selection of transient minor characters in every book. You know, because it was set in a motel. 

That plan went ever so slightly wrong. In Scot Free, I put a pair of doctors in the next-door room to my heroine, Lexy Campbell. They were staying for a few nights while their house was tented for bugs. But I fell in love with them and didn't want them to go away at the end of the book. So I gave Todd a bad case of cleptoparasitosis (a fear of bugs, including imaginary bugs) and made them permanent residents of the motel because it's the only place safe enough for them to live in.

Lexy meets Todd thus:

a young man in Hello Kitty shorty pyjamas shoved past me, leapt across the floor, and dove into my bed

“Emm,” I said.

“Can I stay here?” he said. He had the covers clutched to his chin, a chiseled chin with perfect stubble and a dimple you could have filled with melted chocolate and dipped marshmallows in.

“Emm,” I said.

“I saw the bed was slept in so I knew someone was here,” he said. “Can I use your phone?”

“Are you in some kind of trouble?” I said.

“I’m Todd,” he said. “I live next door. In two fourteen. But I just got up and went into the bathroom and there is a s-p-i-d-e-r the size of Godzilla’s grandpa in the shower. So if I could just stay here and use your phone to call Roger – my hubs; he’s at work – to come and kill it, that would be a really big help to me.”

“Or,” I said, “I could go and kill the sp- it for you.”

He had pulled the covers up to his eyes when I started to say the word, but he let it drop again. “For

 reals?” he said. “It is bigger than my first apartment.”

I might have been able to resist Todd enough to send him back to his house for the start of Scot and Soda but when I added Roger the two of them together were too much for me: 

            "Well, for God’s sake, Lexy," said Todd. "Pour us a glass of Chablis and tell us all!”

“I haven’t got any Chablis.”

“He’s probably filled your refrigerator,” Roger said. “As you see, Todd doesn’t really do boundaries.”

“As you see, Roger tends to over-psychologize everyday life,” Todd shot back.

“My apologies,” said Roger. “As you’ll soon find out, Todd likes to take care of people.”

“As you’ll sooner find out, Roger is troubled by normal amounts of everyday kindness.”

“Normal?” said Roger. “What about when you fostered those hedgehogs?”

“What about it? The PETA website linked to my Facebook post.”

“Todd, you bought a stroller!”

And that's not all. Why is the Last Ditch Motel the only safe palce for Todd and Roger to live? Well, because of another pair of transient motel guests who morphed into permanent residents so they could be in every book. I had put a germaphobe and her long-suffering wife into Scot Free, for plot reasons. With a flick of the wrist, I made the long-suffering wife into the motel owner - because it's always funny to me when someone monumentally grumpy works in a customer-facing job. Here's Noleen, perhaps my absolute favourite character, still bitching and moaning in the motel reception, in Scot on the Rocks:

She was facing away from me, wearing a sweatshirt I hadn’t seen before – it read nobody asked you – upending the stationery drawer over a black bin bag. Elastic bands, bulldog clips and pens cascaded down. I think I saw some postage stamps go in there.

“Wow,” I said. “Are you going paperless?”

“I’m starting over,” she said, turning. The front of the sweatshirt said Shut up. Blunt, even for Noleen. “I’m going to OfficePro after Della gets here to tag me and buying just what I need and nothing else. None of this . . .” she stirred the very dregs of the drawer contents then tipped it higher to shoot the lot into the bin bag.

“Is that foreign currency?” I said. “Because it looks like quarters. Nolly, you’re binning money.”

“I’m letting go,” she said. “And I’m going to start locking this drawer so no one can put hairbands and thumb tacks in it when I’m not looking.”

“No one . . .” I began. “Okay. But you know what I think?”

“Don’t want to,” she said. “Don’t want your opinions stinking up my head any more than I want random strangers’ Canadian change stinking up my drawer.”

And once Noleen was the owner, Kathi the germaphobe automatically became permanent too. I added a laundromat to one end of the horseshoe of rooms and made her its manager. The perfect job for someone who likes everything spick and span. I also added a cousin in Costa Rica who supplies the insecticide that keeps the Last Ditch bug-free. (It's illegal in California, this insecticide. In fact, it's so good it's illegal in Nevada too.) Here's Kathi in Scot Mist, which takes place in March 2020, doing what she does best - panicking:

Kathi jabbed a finger at me before she spoke. “Disneyland is closed. The federal government has offered a tax-filing extension. A. Tax. Filing. Extension. Lexy, they’ve admitted that the only sure thing is death.”

“I don’t know what the Brit equivalent would be,” Noleen chipped in.

“Me neither,” I said. “Taking down the Bake Off tent?”

“I swear to God if you crack one single joke,” said Kathi. Her jaw was clenched so tight she sounded like Sean Connery. Doing a surprisingly good American accent.

“I’m not joking!” I said. “We haven’t got a Disneyland to close.”

“Look,” Kathi said. “I don’t know how many people are sick,” I did and, from the way she shifted her feet, I think Noleen did too. “But they’re not all from Wuhan and they’re not all on that floating petri dish down in the docks. Some of them are in the city and some of them must be leaving the city and this is a motel ninety minutes from the city and so it closes today.”


“So help me, Betty White, if you tell me not to worry . . ."

So there it is. My four transients from the first book are all still there. And it was more or less "in for a penny" that made me give up and turn the other guests into permanent residents too. Dylan, the college kid, was supposed to be there for a weekend because he was being bullied in his dorm. Della and little Diego were staying a while till she could find a flat. In next year's Scot in a Trap (Book five of the planned trilogy (I might have a general lack of control, it occurs to me)),  not only are the three of them still checked in but SPOILER Della and Dylan are married and now there are four, after baby Hiro was born on Thanskgiving Day:

‘Okay!’ Della said, putting her hands on the arms of her chair and pulling herself upright in it. ‘Ahhhhh. Ooooh. Owwwiiieeee.’

Everyone around the table winced in sympathy, except Hiro who was yelling at her own fists as they waved in front of her face. And also except Diego, who was motoring through a towering bowlful of pie and ice cream as if he was being paid by the slice. ‘What’s wrong, Mama?’ he said, pausing with a spoon half way to his mouth. ‘Brain freeze?’

‘My vulva tore a little when I was pushing Hiro out,’ said Della. ‘It’s tender.’

A huge thought bubble formed above everyone’s heads overshadowing the accompanying silence.

‘Things are so much better than they used to be,’ I said, eventually. ‘As a therapist, a woman, and a buttoned-up Brit, I thoroughly approve of no-nonsense openness.’

‘Speak for yourself,’ said Noleen. ‘That’s just weird. Vulva? No way Diego knows what a vulva is.’

‘It’s the folds of skin around-’ Diego got out, before Noleen managed to stop him.

‘Mommy was right on the edge of needing stitches,’ Todd said, as if Diego – or any of us – needed more detail. ‘But Uncle Roger said she could give it a day and then take another look. What do you think, Dell?’

‘The ice-pack helped,’ Della said. ‘Oh, Lexy. I need to replace your ice-pack. Remind me if you remember.’

Like I’d forget.

‘Anyway,’ Della said, ‘I want to talk to you about three things. We need to have a memorial for that guy who died.’

‘We do?’ said Noleen.

‘I do,’ said Della.

‘Someone died?’ Diego said, with his eyes like saucers.

‘This’ll be good,’ said Noleen. ‘What the vulva equivalent when it comes to sudden death?’

‘He did,’ Della said. ‘He went to Heaven to live with Jesus, and we need to honor his memory so that his spirit is at rest.’

‘Phew,’ said Noleen. ‘No death vulva. Fine by me.’

I can hardly remember these people as minor characters in a single book now. They are Lexy's logical family, to quote Armistead Maupin, and she loves them all as much as I do.  Cx


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Oh what a tangled web... by Cathy Ace

How much air time do you give to secondary characters? Have any threatened to take over a book? Choose one of yours that you particularly enjoy and share them with us, including a snippet of text that gives us their flavour.

Oh, this is a good one…and something I was asked about on a panel in which I participated at CrimeFest in Bristol, UK a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I’ve been “on the road again”, and it was a blast! Anyway, I won’t go on and on about how wonderful it was to spend time with my tribe (though there are some photos to show how fun it was!) because I could chatter on all day…so…to the question!

"Long running series" panel: Caro Ramsey, Peter Guttridge, Kate Ellis, Andrew Child, me

I always planned the Cait Morgan books as a series where each story would take place in a different setting, with only Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson being in every book, but, even though I’m writing fiction, I aim for relatable circumstances that allow readers to happily inhabit the worlds I’m creating…so there are folks who pop up more than once.

Jack and Sheila White are a case in point: Jack was something of a mentor to Bud during his early days with the Vancouver Police Department, and the two men built a friendship based upon mutual respect that lasted beyond their retirements. The Whites also have acreage where Marty, Cait and Bud’s tabby black Lab, can stay when they are off on their mystery-solving jaunts (which is handy!). Thus, Jack and Sheila have appeared briefly in several of the books, and they finally took center stage in The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, when they stayed with Cait and Bud at a private resort in Jamaica…which is where we find out a good deal more about their backgrounds.

With Barry Ryan, of  Free@LastTV, the company
producing the Cait Morgan Mysteries TV series

Another recurring character is John Silver. Yes, he’s tall…which leads to the inevitable nickname…and he’s also quite mysterious when we first meet him: he arrives in Amsterdam in The Corpse with the Garnet Face as a “facilitator” with links to international intelligence-gathering services, and his presence allows us to discover more about Bud’s links with similar organizations. But I didn’t want John Silver to end up being no more than a cypher…a cut-out character who allows the plot to move forward by mysteriously revealing key background details about suspects…so I allowed him to also be the person upon whom Bud relied when Cait completely disappeared in Budapest, in The Corpse with the Ruby Lips; this time it’s Bud taking the lead, with John in support. In The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, John joins the house party in Jamaica as a guest, bringing with him his newly-acquired girlfriend, and we discover that maybe his overall judgement isn’t quite what his secret-squirrel job might lead us to believe it should be! Then, in The Corpse with the Granite Heart, I’m sorry to say I left poor John Silver completely undone…and questioning his entire future. I do have a plan for John, but won’t say here what it is…but the fact that he and Jack White are about the only people Bud trusts 100% (as well as Cait, of course) means he’ll be back, but maybe not in the way readers might expect.

I’ve enjoyed illuminating John Silver, and allowing the light cast upon him to reflect onto Bud, allowing his character to be revealed more and more too, which I think adds dimensions to one of my leads it would otherwise be difficult to communicate: judging a person by the friends they choose works well in fiction, as it does in life.

As requested, here’s a passage where John Silver is playing a central role. The set up? Taken from The Corpse with the Crystal Skull, Cait and Bud, Jack and Sheila White, and John Silver are “enjoying breakfast”, when John’s questionably youthful plus-one, Lottie, has openly “accused” John, Bud, and Jack of visiting Jamaica to carry out some sort of secret operation…including investigating the death of the man who owned the resort where they are staying – Freddie Burkinshaw.

Sheila and I exchanged a glance as Lottie’s comments hung in the heavy air, then we looked at our respective husbands. They, in turn, were glaring at John, who’d puffed out his cheeks, snapped his napkin onto the table, and pushed away his plate.

He said, “Right-ho, this obviously needs to be addressed. Lottie dear, you don’t know anything about any operations that Bud, Jack, or I may, or may not, have been party to. Cait and Sheila are married to two wonderful men who’ve put in their years for Canadian law enforcement and have both now retired from that life. I, as you know, have a desk job. Yes, I work in Whitehall, and, yes, I have to travel within my role, on occasion. But I can guarantee you that – if I ever had been involved in that sort of undertaking – I would now be well past the age when I would be called upon to carry out any ‘secret squirrel’ work, as you so quaintly described it. I know that Rusty, Sir Roger Rustingham, is professionally involved with a particular branch of British security in a senior role, but he does have friends and acquaintances from other areas of his life too. I got to know him when we worked together on a couple of charity committees. Where I also met your father, I might add. It’s all totally innocent, and above board.”

“Well, that’s a pity,” replied Lottie with a wry smile, “because when I spoke to Daddy on the phone earlier today he said he’d known of Freddie Burkinshaw, and had always wondered if he’d been dispatched to Jamaica to ‘keep an eye on a few local chaps’. Apparently, Freddie arrived here just around the time independence was granted, and was pretty close with Ian Fleming – and we all know what sort of a war he had, and what he got up to after it, don’t we, children?” She rose, and swooshed her chiffon scarf around her firm, young throat. “I’m off for a shower now. It’s so dreadfully humid. The rain’s stopped at last, I see. Thank you for a delicious…egg thingy, Cait, Bud. See you in a bit, John. Maybe someone will be kind enough to let me know what sort of place we’re dining at tonight, when you’ve made the arrangements, so I can dress accordingly. Bye-ee.”

And she was gone. Leaving us all a bit flummoxed, and – in my case anyway – fixated on the fact that I’d just heard several potential reasons why someone might want Freddie Burkinshaw dead. It seemed he might not have been the innocent octogenarian without an enemy in the world we’d all thought him to be, after all.

BSP: find out all about John Silver - and Cait and Bud - here:

Monday, May 23, 2022

A Man Walks into a Bar...

 Q: How much air time do you give to secondary characters? Have any threatened to take over a book? Choose one of yours that you particularly enjoy and share them with us, including a snippet of text that gives us their flavor.


-from Susan


Oh, boy, have they! A spunky teenage girl in the first French village mystery, LOVE & DEATH IN BURGUNDY, with whom I fell in love and ended up following around delightedly. She became, in a way, the warm heart of the story, the focus of way too much attention from some other characters, and key to the riddle of the mysterious death. By the (fictional) time of the second book, she had, alas, morphed into more of a typical, albeit French, teenager, so had a presence but not the same role.


But the best book-crasher I ever met was a character in all three Dani O’Rourke mysteries who wasn’t even supposed to be there at all. Richard Argetter III, Dickie to all and sundry, was a part of Dani’s off-the-page backstory, her ex-husband. I promise you when I wrote these words on page 8 of MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT, the first book in the series, I had no idea how they got there: 


    “Hello, cupcake. Fancy meeting you here.”

     Damn and double damn. Dickie Argetter III, my ex, charming, millionaire about town, unfaithful husband, source of many of my insecurities, the burr under my saddle. 

    “What are you doing here?” I blurted as I spun around.


That last could have been me, and maybe I did mumble it aloud. Where did Dickie come from in my imagination? How did I know he had $450 million dollars inherited from his father, a pied a terre in Paris, and more than one Porsche? I promise I didn’t know – much less marry and divorce – someone like him. The man literally wormed his way into the room Dani was entering after someone fell from a museum window during a gala event, declaring his intention of helping her, somehow. 


Through three books, Dickie tried to regain her love, and for three books Dani tried to shake him off. Dickie, it turned out – who knew? not the author! – that he was not such a bad guy, that he was truly repentant for running off with a Victoria’s Secret underwear model, and that he only wanted what was best for her. Dickie was perennially upbeat, perhaps to a fault.


I had to lay that series aside to begin the one a new publisher wanted, but I’ve always wondered if Dickie’s persistence overcame Dani’s resistance. Most of the books are still available one way or another on Amazon. They all had more than one publisher and exist in several formats in print, e-book and audio. Next year, I will re-publish the Dani series independently. I’m thinking I may have to go back and write a new mystery so I can open the door and see if Dickie walks through again. I miss him. 

                                 MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT
                                          THE KING'S JAR
                                 MIXED UP WITH MURDER


Friday, May 20, 2022

The Road Not Taken

By Abir 

Who sparked your younger self to love writing?


I grew up in a house full of books, in a family full of story tellers. Our shelves were stacked high with books – in English, but just as much in Bengali. As a kid I’d stare at the curious Bengali type-face, with its pointed, angular letters dangling precariously from the top of a line rather than sitting, self-satisfied above it like the letters of the Latin script.


Bengali is a culture rich in stories – everything from folk-tales and fairy tales to existentialism and Nobel prize winning poetry. As a young child, my mother would tell me the tales of Oodho and Boodho and recite the nonsense poems of Shukumar Ray, side by side with stories of Hansel and Gretel and English nursery rhymes.


As I grew older and began to read books and comics (mainly comics), that tradition of duality continued; the superhero stories of Batman and Superman melding seamlessly with the tales of fantastical Hindu gods like Hanuman the monkey god and mythological Indian heroes from the Ramayana. At the time I took them for granted – a universe of stories more diverse than Stan Lee or DC could ever come up with.


Stories are in my blood. They are the legacy bequeathed to me by my dual heritage.


As I reached my teenage years though, as I tried to figure out who I was, my reading changed. I shunned the Bengali influences and looked West. I read only English, and only books by white authors. It was a mistake, of course. I did it as a way of fitting in. At that point in my life, at that time in the eighties, it didn’t pay dividends to be an Indian kid in Scotland, and so I embraced the western side of my dual heritage; and in doing so, I lost out on so much. There is a richness, an alternative perspective, a joyous, fullness to Bengali and other Indian literature which I missed out on, and that hole in my experience still exists.


What took its place? The classics (the western ones that is) – Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Hardy – at school; and thrillers – Forsyth, Ludlum, Archer – at home. I read 1984 in 1984, at the age of ten, and didn’t much understand it, but I’d try again, at the age of fifteen, and would fall in love with it. I’ve read it thirty or forty times since.


Then came the seminal moment. At sixteen, my mate Jamie gave me a copy of Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park. I’d never read anything like it, and in a sense all my writing so far has mirrored the themes of that book: politics; ethics; and above all good men, good people compromised, upholding a corrupt and evil system. That book sparked my love of crime fiction. It started me on the journey that led to Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler and William McIllvaney and Ian Rankin and Val McDermid...and to Bengali detective fiction - to Byomkesh and Feluda . It would lead, eventually, to my own writing – of the trials of British rule in India – a journey that would bring me full circle – to Bengal and the literature of my parents. The literature that I closed myself off from and which now, in turn, feels closed off to me. 


I try to make up for it by reading the translations of the Bengali classics - the books of Tagore and Bankim Chandra, of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and Michael Madusadhan Dutta, but it’s not the same; and so instead I reach for the works of Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri and Arundhati Roy – sublime Indian writers, writing in English. It gives me an isight into what I’m missing, but only partially – like a glimpse through a quarter-open door.


I wish I could read the literature of my parents in the original Bengali, but I can’t. Not only is reading the script now beyond me, but the language – the formal Bengali in which they wrote – is too complex. I’ve tried listening to passages, but most of it passes over my head – a familiar language that I’ve allowed to become foreign. Every so often though, I’ll hear a phrase or a sentence, and, like the clouds parting to reveal sun and sky, I’ll make sense of it and savour the richness of language, of thought and writing so different from our western literature. And then the clouds will close again, leaving me to rue the road not taken.

A recent article on Rabindranath Tagore - the most famous literary son of Bengal:



Thursday, May 19, 2022

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants from James W. Ziskin

Who sparked your younger self to love writing?

(Disclaimer: Some of the following was published five years ago. I’ve added to it and updated it now.)

The answer to this week’s question is easy:

Reading (and by extension, my mother)

I began my journey to writing by reading my mother's childhood books. Picture books, poetry, adventure stories, and tales of far-off places. I remember the muddy brown-and-white lithograph bookplates, picturing a young girl in a wood and bearing the mysterious inscription "Ex libris Elizabeth W***." (Her last name is what my middle initial stands for. And that name—like Rumpelstiltskin’s—shall remain a secret.) Mom’s books spanned a remarkable breadth of variety and genres and sparked my love of reading.

One Christmas, when she was seven, her parents gave her a beautifully illustrated translation of the Decameron. When I was a young boy, the language seemed old and dusty to me, and I never paid any attention to the book until I was studying Italian literature in grad school. That's when I discovered just how ribald and downright filthy many of Boccaccio's stories are. If you don’t believe me, try Googling “Putting the devil back in hell” for one modest example. Clearly, my grandparents hadn't done their due diligence when selecting an appropriate book for their seven-year-old daughter. Years later—in January 2020, in fact—I used the Decameron as inspiration for my seventh Ellie Stone mystery, Turn to Stone. That book earned me a Barry and a Macavity award, as well as nominations for the Sue Grafton Memorial and Lefty Historical awards.

Long before I published my first novel, I studied languages (French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Hindi, with some Latin on the side). Over the years, my reading habits have changed, matured, and taken detours. And my journey has played an essential and formative role in my own writing. Here is a partial list of titles that plotted the road map I have followed:

My youngest days

Highlights Magazine. "Goofus and Gallant." I was Team Goofus
Alfred Noyes's “The Highwayman”
The King's Stilts. My favorite Seuss 
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf 
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton 
Beatrix Potter 
James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man” 
Grimm’s Fairy Tales

At school 

7th grade: Great Expectations. It took two semesters for our class to finish it. 
8th grade: Ivanhoe and Ethan Frome. Inspired choices for easily bored teens. 
9th grade: As You Like It. They told us it was a comedy. Good thing, because we couldn’t tell.

Early Teens

Murder on the Orient Express, my first Agatha Christie. 
Archie comics. I could never choose between Betty and Veronica.

Mid teens

The Carpetbaggers. The cover. 
Flashman in the Great Game by George MacDonald Fraser. Again, the cover.

Late teens

Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim
Hamlet: Borrowed it from school. Never returned it, thus validating Polonius’s advice.
Williams: Sweet Bird of Youth, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire 
Orwell and Huxley. Perhaps now would be a good time to re-visit these two…

My twenties

Longfellow: Evangeline. My favorite epic poem. 
Twain: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer 
Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea 
Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph 
Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men 
García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera 
Roald Dahl

Grad school

Zola: The Rougon-Macquart series
Flaubert: Madame Bovary 
Stendhal: Le rouge et le noir
Svevo: La coscienza di Zeno


P. G. Wodehouse: All of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves 
Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited 
Graham Greene: All of it. Every last word.

Favorite book about nineteenth-century whaling: Moby-Dick

I suppose I could cite all the authors above as mentors. Their works inspired in me a love of reading. But the writers listed below showed me my calling and pointed the way.

Poe: “The Raven,” “The Tell-tale Heart,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue” 
Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles 
Wouk: Winds of War, The Cain Mutiny 
Forsyth: Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File
Sayers: Have His Carcase, anything else with Harriet Vane 
Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder of the Orient Express, etc. 
Chandler: The Big Sleep 
Eco: The Name of the Rose 
Hammett: The Thin Man 
Cain: The Postman always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity 
Francis: Whip Hand 
Paretsky: Indemnity Only 
Grafton: my ABCs
Block: Eight Million Ways to Die, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Stoking the burner

Who sparked your younger self to love writing?

by Dietrich

It wasn’t a who, but a what. The love of writing came from the love of listening to stories at an early age. There were the bedtime fairy tales my mother read to me when I was a kid, a lot of Grimm’s tales in German. Later on, my kindergarten teacher, Miss Mitchell, read to the class at story time — stories that sparked my imagination before I could read on my own. Funny, I still remember a lot of those tales in vivid detail. 

Once I could read on my own, there were authors who stoked that love of books: Rudyard Kipling, James Fenimore Cooper, Roald Dahl, Dr. Suess, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carol.

In my teens, I read my way through the Hardy Boys, trading those hardcovers with friends at school. Then came the classics written by Mark Twain, S.E. Hinton, William Golding, Herman Melville, Mary Shelley, Harper Lee, Jack London, George Orwell, JD. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allan Poe, and many more. 

I went through a western phase of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour before I bumped into the crime novels of Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, and George V. Higgins. These were some of the writers who inspired me to do more than just read. Still in my teens, I wrote a rough draft of a novel in longhand. Getting discouraged and distracted, I finally gave up on it, but in the back of my mind, I thought someday I was going to write a book like the crime novels I’d come to love.

I’ve never lost the love to read, and I still find inspiration in great novels. I just finished an ARC of Dana King’s latest crime novel, White Out, and it’s uplifting to read something so well-written by one of my writer pals. I also loved the new one by Don Winslow, City on Fire. Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen had me laughing cover to cover. These novels are top notch and highly recommended.

Outside the crime genre, I recently read Dragon Teeth, a tale set in the Wild West by Michael Crichton; Hero Found is a true story by Bruce Henderson, about the only POW who ever escaped a prison camp in the Laotian Jungles during the Vietnam War.  The Willow Wren is the latest by fellow ECW writer Philipp Schott, a tale of his own father’s survival in Nazi Germany, another great read. Irish Thunder by Bob Halloran is a biography about the life and times of famed and troubled boxer, Mickey Ward. And I just finished Beloved by Toni Morrison, an epic tale of a woman born into slavery, living with a past she can’t seem to escape. These are the kind of books that keep sparking my imagination and continue to inspire me to keep on writing. 

Coming June 7th. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Stoking the Fire


May 16 - Terry Shames here, telling who spurred my younger self to love writing; what I would tell them if I could meet them again; and who mentors me now. 

 I don’t think it was so much a “who” as a “what,” that sparked my interest in writing. The “what” was reading. When I was five, before I started school I begged my dad to teach me to read. I still remember him sitting down with me and working with me to make sense of those squiggly lines. Here’s the amazing part. At the time, he was going to college full time and working full time to support his family—my mother, my sister, and me. How did he muster the energy to teach me to read? It still amazes me.
It led to my love of reading, which had me devouring books. My mother took me to the library and I thought of it as a magical place. Then, in grade school, we had a bookmobile that came each week. The librarian let me check out extra books because I finished reading the ones I’d checked out before the next bookmobile visit. 

 Reading spurred me to want to write. I still remember in fifth grade reading a science fiction story, The Asbestos Man, and thinking that I would like to write a story like that. 

 Then, in seventh grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Kelly, instructed the class to write a short story about anything we wanted to write. I wrote a story sparked by a popular song. The next week, she said she had received many wonderful stories but that there was one in particular she thought the class would like and she was going to read it to us. I knew it was my story—and it was.
I suppose if I meet Mrs. Kelly again I would tell her how deeply satisfying it was to me that she chose my story to read to the class and that from then on I was determined to be a writer. 

These days, I don’t know that I have a particular mentor, but I love to attend panels, in person or virtually, and always feel as if I get something from other writers about the craft of writing, and sometimes even about the creative act. There’s something about the passion for writing that seems to spur writers to share their passion with others. Whether it’s William Kent Krueger, earnestly talking about his process and urging other writers to do their best; Jess Lowry giving her excellent classes, Shawn Cosby sharing his deeply personal understanding of where his writing comes from; Kelli Stanley, Charlaine Harris, Elizabeth George, Jeffrey Deavers….and countless others, who spend time to organize and present talks on how they do their craft—how they create, write, rewrite, edit, and produce works we all enjoy reading. It takes time and energy from their work, and yet they willingly share their passion and their knowledge. Those are my mentors.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

It Takes a Village

Who sparked your younger self to love writing? What would you tell them if you could meet them again? Is there anyone you consider a mentor now? 

Brenda Chapman here.

I love this question! 

My younger self was inspired by every book read to me, and every book that I read once I acquired the skill. This really was where I learned my love of language and stories, where my imagination flourished.

But there were also teachers who nurtured my creative side, the most memorable being Mr. Nestor Trach, who taught me in grades six, seven and eight (his wife Dora also taught me in grade three) (small towns!) I grew up in the era of rigid education - desks aligned in rows, strict obedience or the strap threatened, an emphasis on the basics, which meant a lot of math and science, spelling bees, cursive writing ... and my happy spots ... reading, and creative writing (only on Friday afternoons). 

Mr. Trach had a box full of photos he cut out of magazines and mounted on thin cardboard. We got to select a photo and write a story about it. I waited all week for him to bring that box out. There were other writing assignments. I'm not sure if it was Mr. Trach who assigned writing a log as if we were stranded on a desert island or another teacher, but I like to think it was him. I still remember creating that other world and imagining myself living there. He encouraged us to dream and fostered our creativity, even in a school system that didn't allow for a great deal of fun or free time in the classroom.

In high school, I had the same English teacher for four years named Mr. Kruger. He was young, anti-establishment, once arriving with his tie cut in half to protest being forced to wear one. He was also a very good teacher and I learned a lot from him, including a passion for literature. I do recall, however, that he liked to slip into his lessons that men were the superior half of the species - I'm quite certain he didn't believe this - and perhaps it was to get the girls to try harder. What he did get us girls to do one morning was walk out en masse after one of his comments, and that was the end of the jabs. He married a cop and followed her to a new city for her job in later years, I telling action if there ever was one.

I also had a university English professor whom I found to be interesting, smart as all get out, and a terrific teacher. He also reminded me of a short Clint Eastwood (from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly days), and I made sure to enrol for one of his classes every term :-)  I sent a Christmas card and note to him every year until his passing a couple of years ago.

As for a current mentor, I've had three in this writing business. The first writer to take me under her wing was Alex Brett, who sadly has stopped writing after two solid mysteries. She gave me so much good advice, and we had many chats over coffee about the business. Mary Jane Maffini has also been a wonderful friend and support, hosting two of my book launches and taking a road trip with me to Muncie, Indiana for a book conference. This past year, Judy Penz-Sheluk has also kindly taken me under her wing to shepherd me through the publishing process, giving me hours of her time.

Many others have left a mark on my life and my writing career, and I am grateful for each and every one of them being part of my journey.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, May 13, 2022

Climbing the Unclimbable by Josh Stallings

 This week’s question was about the publishing business, how it’s changed since your first release, where did we see it would be in the next ten years. Luckily writers smarter than me have spoken eloquently to this earlier in the week. 

I’m going to share with you how the publishing industry effects my work and what I’ve done to survive and maybe even thrive. 

New Writer: How do you write a novel?

Me: I don’t know. I can’t. It is an impossible task.

New Writer: No. I meant what software do you use?

Me: Started with MS Word. Moved to Nisus, now I use Scrivener. None have made it any more possible to write a novel. Fact is the only software necessary is between your ears and still it is an impossible task.

(New Writer walks away shaking his head at my mad gibberish.) 

I have five published novels, been up for some awards, gotten some wonderful reviews. And none of that makes the task any easier. Every novel is a new journey with all new pitfalls and discoveries. 

Right now my sixth novel is still a MS (manuscript) out on submission - meaning my agent is shopping it to editors at publishing houses. The upside, an absolute dream list of editors asked to read it. Editors who have worked with some of my favorite writers. Downside: at this moment in publishing history a few factors like a world wide pandemic, fears of inflation / recession, employees reassessing career goals and leaving, have all built up to leave things a bit higgledy piggledy, in an end of days kinda way. One of the results is, it’s taking longer than usual for editors to get to reading new books. No fault of theirs. These are tough days, and nights for all.


This is the best book I have written, bigger and stronger in many ways. Deep in some hidden place I had hoped we’d send it out and a few weeks later I’d be popping the Martinelli's sparkling cider to celebrate a sale. 

I try to not take the silence personally. But it effects me personally. What I need to be doing is working on my next book. It was meant to be a sequel to the one we haven’t heard back about, so that’s out. I need a new idea. Yet every idea is met by self doubt screaming “you aren’t good enough to write that book.” It takes massive hubris to stare at a blank page and say, “Oh yeah I can build a world here and people it with compelling characters. No problemo.” And while I wait to hear back I find myself running short on hubris.

Two sides of the same mad man.

And then I’m talking to my friend Chantelle, she acquired and edited my last book, Tricky. I float two or three ideas past her. I have a basic idea that I keep trying to plug into books that I think will sell better. “Instead of LA, it is LA but post apocalyptic LA vegans vs carnivores… Or, it’s about my father but instead of an artist in the rainforest, he’s a talking Raccoon…. Or, it’s all those things and it takes place in France…”

Chantelle says nothing but I can hear these pitches sinking over the phone. I don’t mind, none were good enough to fight for. After I’m done making a fool of myself, she said something like, “The best books come from the author’s original point of inspiration. Maybe you should go back to your original idea. Maybe write that. Write the thing you wanted to write.” 

Damned if Chantelle wasn’t right. 

I sat down the next day and the story flowed out. I have stridently said I don’t work from an outline. I will have to amend that to I don’t work from an outline, unless I do. This thing came flying out, beginning middle and end. Lots to flesh out as I write it, but I can see the structure clearly. And for once I know what the book is about. Good news is my agent and a few of my most trusted confidants agree I’m onto something good.

Today I’ll let inspiration and intuition guide my hand. There is no guarantee of tomorrow so I must type as if these are my last words. Write as fiercely honest as I am capable. And tell my inner critic to fuck the hell off. 


I’m three chapters in now. The book is flowing. I feel electric. And I know I am heading for that dreadful moment where I realize I’m not up to writing the book I see in my head. The moment where I see my complete failure crashing down around me. Been there before. Every book has that moment inherent in the journey. I just push through it.

Last night I was reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley In Search of America. In a passage where he’s studying a map getting ready for this epic journey he realizes he’s taken on too much, it will be too long, too difficult…

“How in hell I’d got myself mixed up in a project that couldn’t be carried out. It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.”

If Steinbeck could eliminate the possibility of ever finishing and still keep typing, then so can I. So can you. The wall only beats us if we stop running our forehead into it.

The future of publishing is yet to be written. But I know what I’ll be doing… typing out my truth best I can. Climbing unclimbable mountains one word at a time.  


Photos (my face) by Barry Samson, (type Writer) by Nino Gabaldon