Saturday, December 31, 2011

Imitating Michael, Here’s My 12 Resolutions for 2012

1. Be like Kim. Did I mention Ms. Kardasian is getting 600 grand just to be at a nightclub in Vegas for New Year’s Eve? Damn. This at a time when at least one bookstore, I’ve heard, will start charging mid-listers for the privilege of doing a book signing. Damn.

2. No more Fight Club. Seeing double way too much – though not on my checks. See Number One.

3. Don’t cry about missing Fight Club. No, really, don’t cry.

4. Write the Herman Cain Story, to star Danny Glover in the title role and a robot or bleached scarecrow, as Ann Coulter.

5. I would say what Mike said in his second resolution, only with the crowd I run with, that might get misinterpreted quite easily...if you catch my meaning.

6. Not that there’s anything wrong with Number Six in its reference.

7. Knock back a little Jack and play some Hubert Sumlin, David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Clarence Clemmons -- and light a candle for Etta James.

8. Pray that Nic Cage does Drive Angry II and not get more hair extensions to do Season of the Witch II.

9. Won’t be envious of Kim.

10. Read all of B. Traven’s works.

11. More gym, less fries.

12. Be happy, happy, joy, joy.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dream a Little Dream

When do my resolutions become my revolution? I think that 2011 was my year for baby steps. Every year, in the tradition of Monk in an OCD crisis, I start a new journal on New Year's Eve complete with written resolutions in all the alphabetically organized BIG categories: Creative, Financial, Personal, Physical and Spiritual. I'm just better with a checklist I can cross off things on as the year progresses.

Last year, my resolutions numbered 61. They included a recommitment to myself as a writer and an artist. I'll be honest and confess the touchier-feelier the resolution, the more likely I am to be spending the following New Year's Eve rewriting the resolutions I didn't quite get done into the next year. But this year is different. This year I was positively scary in my willingness to take the leap of faith required of every writer who longs for people to read her work. I moved. I changed jobs. I reinvented my life. It hasn't been easy. It wasn't without hiccups and seismic shifts and it isn't over. My resolutions merged and melded and became my revolution. Maybe even my revelation.

The thing is, once you take that step off the cliff, you've got a long time to imagine splatting at the bottom. A long, long time. I honestly don't know how Wile E. Coyote has managed to stay sane facing the dropping of the ball in Times Square. But here I am, spending what is my Thanksgiving thinking not only of the amazing, horrifying, challenging (good and bad) things I'm thankful for in 2011, but looking forward to my next Turkey Day and what might be. To hold myself accountable, and to be able to rely on my friends to kick my butt if it comes to that (which it always does) here are my resolutions for my revolution in 2012:

Creative: 1. Finish new thriller and send to someone, anyone who might read it. 2. Finish my screenplay. 3. Take a class with other writer's who make me want to get better. 4. Support the writer's who have made me as good as I am. 5. Submit a short story to the MWA anthology.

Financial: 5. Budget for Thrillerfest. 6. Buy a round (or 10) for our first Criminal Minds panel. 7. Write full-time at least through April 1.

Personal: 8. Meet Shane Gericke. 9. Maui. 10. French Rosetta Stone.

Physical: 11. Run a mudder. 12. Danskin triathlon with Susan. 13. Bikram yoga. 14. Splits.

Spiritual: 15. Attend a Quaker community meeting without fidgeting. 16. Ask more people what they believe and listen with my heart as well as my head. 17. Community service with the homeless.

So there are only 17 this year. More importantly, they are mostly dream bigger, continue on goals. My resolutions, an inch at a time, have become the revolution, the evolution of me. It's fitting that I'm drafting my new plan on a day I am so thankful for all of you. I wouldn't have had the courage to set my bar this high without you and I certainly wouldn't have come this far in your absence. Sharing the list, inviting our blog readers to share our success and insisting that all of you know you are an integral part of the people we are, on the first day of the year and the last, I know my 2012 will be filled with opportunity and adventure.

What're your resolutions? How can I support you as you've always done me?

Thank you for...well, everything. I look forward to being amazed by all of you in 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

12 Resolutions for 2012

This year, I resolve

  1. To pay my taxes without complaining
  2. To eat something I never would have imagined putting in my mouth
  3. To save a dolphin even if it doesn’t want to be saved
  4. To break a board with my head
  5. To listen, watch, and learn
  6. To grow another inch taller
  7. To be inconsistent when it suits my purposes
  8. To forgive others
  9. To forgive myself
  10. To walk the dog and feed the fish
  11. To speak my mind
  12. To know when to shut the hell up
Michael is the author of the Joe Kozmarski novels, including A Bad Night's Sleep, which January Magazine has called one of the the best crime novels of 2011.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Readers' choice

Last year, my New Years Resolution was to limit the number of fictional animals that my fictional characters fictionally injured, and so, in 2011, over the course of 2.5 novels, not one fictional animal was harmed. I hope to continue this trend.

However, this leaves me with a bit of a conundrum.

I don't know what my New Years Resolution for 2012 should be.

I want it to be related to my writing. I really like the idea of forcing myself to change bad habits. And so I want to open it up to you. What bad habit should I correct for 2012?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Those $#*@ Resolutions

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

Every year, people make New Year's Resolutions. Every year, most of them are broken before the end of January.

Some of my recent past resolutions:

Lose weight - didn't happen.
Balance my check book faithfully - didn't happen, though I have been better about it in the past few months.
Work out regularly - lasted 2 months, a new personal record.
Read more - I'm seriously trying to make this happen, hoping my new Kindle will help.
Clean out my bedroom closet - like losing weight, this made the resolutions list several years with about the same progress.

Considering my track record, I wasn't going to make any resolutions this year, but that ship sailed when I read this week's question. So here is my one and only New Year's Resolution for 2012.

[drum roll, please]

I hereby resolve to curtail my swearing, particularly my use of the F-bomb.

I may write mysteries with few to no swear words, but truth be told, I can and do swear like a drunken sailor with Turrets. Funny thing is, I don't recall swearing much until I hit my late 30's-early 40's. After that it was Potty-Mouth Is In The House, especially when I'm pissed off.  Oops, sorry. I mean, especially when I am angered.  Then again it's not January yet, is it?

So between now and January 1, don't be surprised if all the curse words I've learned in my life bubble out of me like lava under pressure. I'll just be getting them all out before my resolution hears the starting gun.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Reflecting on an Amazing Year

I love this time of year, not only because of Christmas, but because it's a great time to reflect on the past 12 months. By any standard, 2011 has been a wonderful one for me. Some of the highlights:

Edgar Week in New York City. This event draws so many great people to town — and just about everyone comes to the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street for the release of the latest MWA anthology. That's me with Reed Farrel Coleman, Ben LeRoy, and Ruth Jordan. It doesn't get better than this!

Attending Mayhem at BookHampton with Cara Hoffman, Linda Fairstein, and Karen Bergreen. This only happened because the amazing Ms. Fairstein is unfailingly generous towards other writers, and always seems to be looking for a new way to help them out.

Another first: I've attended Book Expo America before, but never as an author with a book to sign. My signing slot was at the Mystery Writers of America table with Megan Abbott early on the first day of the event. That was wonderful. Even better: Jen Forbus came by to see us!

Being nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award by the Crime Writers of Canada meant so much to me. Here I am at the award dinner in Victoria, B.C., with my friends Deryn Collier and Robin Spano. We had a blast at the Bloody Words conference afterwards.

ThrillerFest Debut Author Breakfast: It starts early, but it's worth getting up for. It was an honor to be part of the 2010/11 "class," which meant I was onstage with amazing writers such as Ethan Cross Jennifer Hillier, and Alma Katsu (in photograph with me) as well as Daniel Palmer, Todd Ritter, Sandra Brannan, Lynn Sheene, Taylor Stevens, and Allison Leotta. (A big thank you to Library Journal's Barbara Hoffert for covering the event.)

Reading "Necessary Evil" — my story from D*CKED: Dark Fiction Inspired by Dick Cheney — at St. Louis' Noir at the Bar was fantastic...

But being photobombed by Scott Phillips was priceless! (With Jedidiah Ayres and Glenn Gray.)

Bouchercon in St. Louis got off to an incredible start: I won the Crimespree Award for Best First Mystery for The Damage Done and Kelli Stanley won the Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery Award for City of Dragons!

You never know who you might meet at the Bouchercon bar... (With Kent Gowran, Daniel Woodrell, Melissa McBride, Johnny Shaw, Keith Rawson, Greg Bardsley, Cameron Ashley, and Matthew McBride. If you look closely at the left, you'll spot Frank Bill, too!)

At my first Bouchercon (San Francisco in 2010), Elyse Dinh had the genius idea to suggest a "Charlie's Angels"-style shot with Brad Parks, Christine McCann, Lauren O'Brien, and me. Now we've made it an annual tradition!

What I love best about Bouchercon: hanging out with friends. I got to meet Sabrina Ogden and Kent Gowran for the first time, and to see Neliza Drew again.

Also finally got to meet Chris F. Holm (author of Dead Harvest, coming out soon!) and his wife, Kat Niidas Holm (here with Brad Parks and Lauren O'Brien).

Being on a panel — moderated by my hero, Laura Lippman! — with Duane Swierczynski, Bill Loehfelm, and Bryan Gruley.

Winning the Anthony Award for Best First Novel for The Damage Done!

It was such an honor to be invited to speak at the first-ever QuebeCrime conference in Quebec City. Not only did I get to be on a panel with Lawrence Block, Daniel Woodrell, Andrew Pyper, John Brady, and Craig McDonald, I got to be locked up in an 1813 jail (er, "gaol") with Mr. Woodrell.

At Murder and Mayhem in Muskego. Not sure that it's legal to have this much fun in one weekend, but maybe there are special rules in Milwaukee (or, at least, in Castle Crimespree). I had the good luck to be on the "Anytime, Anywhere" panel with Megan Abbott, Sean Chercover, Jen Forbus, and Martyn Waites.

I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who made this year such a special one for me. I'm looking forward to 2012 for many reasons: the release of The Next One to Fall on Valentine's Day is the biggest (the pre-order contest is open now), but I'm also excited about the book tour and conferences (Left Coast Crime, Murder 203, Bloody Words, and Bouchercon). And the paperback release of The Damage Done is just days away — it comes out on January 3rd.

Wishing everyone all the best for the holiday season and the new year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ray Day

By Reece Hirsch

If I could propose a new national holiday I think it would be July 23 – Raymond Chandler’s birthday. There were great hard-boiled writers before Chandler like Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, but Chandler formulated a way of writing crime fiction and a way of looking at American life that changed everything that came after. At least it did for me, anyway.

I know that the writing was so sharply stylized that it lends itself to easy parody, but how can you argue with sentences like these:

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

“The girl gave him a look that ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.”

“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”

And, of course, there is the wonderful opening paragraph of the short story Red Wind:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

And who was wiser about writing good genre fiction than Chandler in this quote from the introduction to the short story collection Trouble Is My Business:

“The emotional basis of the standard detective story was and had always been that murder will out and justice will be done. Its technical basis was the relative insignificance of everything except the final denouement. What led up to that was more or less passage work. The denouement would justify everything. The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story on the other hand was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one which made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing.”

In my writing, I gradually came around to the same conclusion that a good plot was one that made good scenes, but wish I’d read that passage sooner. It might have saved me some false starts.

Chandler was a master of good scenes (which admittedly did not always add up to thoroughly coherent plots), heightened by that inimitable style. As Chandler said, “The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the single most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.” And Chandler is as durable as they come.

I’m proposing the Chandler holiday in honor of the work, not the man, who by all accounts was a pretty difficult individual. If you’d like proof that sublime art can be produced by collaborators who hate each others guts, read the sections of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets devoted to Chandler’s working relationship with Billy Wilder on the screenplay of Double Indemnity. At one point in the writing, Chandler stalked out of the room, off the Paramount lot, and went home. Shortly after, he declared that he wanted off the project. Chandler was only convinced to return after a kind of settlement agreement was struck involving a list of grievances against Wilder that Chandler had been scribbling on a yellow legal pad throughout the writing process.

John Houseman, then a producer at Paramount, said the settlement went into considerable detail: “Mr. Wilder was at no time to swish under Mr. Chandler’s nose or to point in his direction the thin, leather-handled malacca cane which Mr. Wilder was in the habit of waving around while they worked.” Wilder remembered that one of the demands was, “I can’t work with a man who wears a hat in the office. I feel he is about to leave momentarily.”

So on July 23, when those wicked Santa Ana's are blowing, remember the great Chandler. And when you celebrate, have a whiskey because, as the man himself once observed, there are no bad whiskeys, only some that aren’t as good as others. Happy holidays.

Do you have a favorite Chandlerism?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Day of Gratitude and Forgiveness

by Meredith Cole

Christmas is supposed to be a day of giving, but unfortunately it appears to have turned into a day of greed for way too many people. We're encouraged to spend more money then we have on stuff no one really needs. And the holiday has even become for some a symbol of our differences.

So if I had to start over and create a brand new holiday, I would create a Day of Gratitude and Forgiveness. This sounds heavier than it is, but bear with me. I think I might have found something that not even Hallmark can mess up.

Be Grateful:
On this holiday, you are encouraged to write to people you are grateful to. In your handwritten letter, you detail the many wonderful things they have done for you and how important they are in your life. Some excellent people to include would be your teachers, parents, friends and mentors. They all would love to hear how important they are in your life!

It would become unacceptable to carry a grudge past this day. Not just a grudge against your neighbor for running over your snow shovel, or your ex for ruining your holiday plans--but whole countries would be pressured to move on and forgive each other. No holding onto anger over incidents that date back to the Middle Ages. So Serbs and Croatians, Pakistanis and Indians, Palestinians and Israelis--it's time to forgive and move on. You'll be amazed how powerful you feel. And you'll be way less likely to die in an act of terrorism.

There's a wonderful story in The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy about a Christmas truce during World War I. All the soldiers came out of the trenches and greeted their enemies, sang carols and exchanged gifts. For one day, they were friends and not enemies. But with my new invented holiday, that magic would continue all year round.

Peace! And I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, whatever it may be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And the winner is...Sinter Klaas!

Rebecca here, but just for a minute, because today I am thrilled to be hosting the very talented Leighton Gage. Leighton Gage lives in Brazil and writes crime novels about that country’s federal police. His latest, A Vine in the Blood has been starred by Publisher’s Weekly and dubbed “irresistible” by the Toronto Globe and Mail.The New York Times used exactly the same word to describe his previous book, Every Bitter Thing. After reading it, I can see why. His characters are fun and quirky and his dialogue reminds me of Elmore Leonard's (very high praise indeed!).

For more on Leighton Gage and his books, do visit him on the web at

Without further ado, here’s his contribution on the theme for this week, "Create your own holiday."

When I was a kid, I measured the success of a holiday almost exclusively by the acquisition of stuff. And that drive for the acquisition of stuff was so strong that even now, more than half-a-century on, I can still clearly remember those Christmases where I got (or didn’t get) some particular item I was hoping for.

Then I grew up. And the balance shifted to giving, not receiving.

But giving and receiving remain key elements for my evaluation of a holiday. Another key element is the aspect of sharing, i.e. experiencing the event with others.

Not just with my family, but with the world at large.

Sharing gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. It makes me feel part of something bigger.

A story, myth, or legend also goes a long way, for me, toward making a holiday special. Even if the story isn’t true. If you’ve ever had joy of the Easter Bunny, or Santa, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

And, oh yeah, special foods. What would Thanksgiving be without turkey?

Give me all of those elements rolled into one and you’ve got my ideal holiday. And ya know what? I don’t have to create it, because the Dutch and the Flemish already have it. It’s called Sinterklaas, and they celebrate it on the 6th of December.

Here’s the story: Back in the third century AD a chap by the name of Nicolaos (that’s our spelling, he wrote it Νικόλαος) was born in a Greek colony called Patara on the Southern Coast of what is now Turkey.

He adopted Christianity, suffered for his faith under the Emperor Diocletian, became a bishop and died on the 6th of December in the year 343.

Flash forward 50 years of so. He was canonized.

Flash forward another 350 years. His remains were transferred to Bari, in present-day Italy.

And placed in this tomb.

Got all that?I hope so, because now it gets complicated.

Bari, in 1442, became a part of the Spanish Empire. Which is why today, half a millennium later, Low Country kids continue to believe that the Sint, as Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of children is affectionately called, comes to visit them from Spain.

Not from Turkey, where he was born. Not from Italy, where his bones lie. But from Spain. And it also explains why they believe he has Moorish servants.Because, back then, lots of people in Spain did.

What it doesn’t explain is why the Netherlands, an overwhelmingly Protestant country, would want to venerate a Catholic saint.

The answer is – they don’t.

In the course of the last half-millennium, the day of Nicolaos’s death has morphed into a secular rather than a religious holiday, even in Northern Belgium, which is largely Catholic, and despite the fact that the Sint appears in the guise of a bishop.

Here’s how he’s portrayed. He brings his horse with him, and he comes by boat. (He’s also the patron saint of sailors.)

In the Low Countries, his journey northward is played up in the newspapers and on television. Journalists interview him, giving him a chance to make critical remarks about how naughty the government and the politicians have been – and what he intends to do about it. But it’s done in a way that goes over the kids’ heads. So they take it all seriously.

They start putting out their shoes, not for one night, but for several. And into them, they put some hay, or a carrot, for the Sint’s horse. The excitement builds.

Very different, as you can see, from Santa Claus. No North Pole, no sleigh, no elves, no reindeer, no stockings. Instead it’s Spain, a boat, Moorish servants, a horse and shoes.

If you’ve been naughty, the Sint could leave your folks a switch to beat you with. And, if you’re really naughty, you could get stuffed into a sack by one of his Moorish servants and carried off to Spain, never to see your parents again.

The people of the Low Countries have been perpetuating these stories, virtually unchanged, for about five hundred years. Have a look at this early seventeenth-century painting from the Dutch painter Jan Steen.

Can you spot who’s been naughty and who’s been nice?

When the Sint finally arrives, he rides his horse through the towns, continuing his mission of rewarding the nice. His Moorish servants, called “Black Petes”, fling sweets to the kids in the crowd.

It’s seldom that you see a black person playing a Black Pete.
Black Petes aren’t supposed to be people with dark skins. They’re supposed to be white people with their faces blackened.
Because that’s how they’ve always looked, and portraying them any other way dilutes their character.

There are lots of other customs connected with Sinterklaas.
One is the writing of silly poems to accompany presents. The poems follow a traditional style and contain hints about what might be within the wrapping. But they’re usually more than that. In them, comments, sometimes rather sharp ones, are generally made about the personality or comportment of the recipient.

The whole family gets presents, and the whole family competes to write the best (worst) poems.

Black Petes also have the task of visiting the homes of the children.
And, when the kids are least expecting it, hands (some families have black gloves squirreled away for this purpose) have a way of appearing through doorways…

… and deluging them with a shower of pepernoten (ginger biscuits).
You’d think the kids would chase them down to the source, wouldn’t you?
But Black Petes are scary – so they don’t.

Then there are the other traditional foods: hot chocolate, and speculaas (gingerbread).

Sometimes filled with marzipan.

And chocolate letters fashioned with the first letter of the recipient’s name.

Best part of it all?
The Low Country folks celebrate Christmas too, so we won’t have to trade one for the other.

What do you think?
Interested in helping me to adopt Sinterklaas?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day of Electronic Darkness

On this day there is no email, no text messges, no blogs, no twitter, no electronics of any kind.

You just sit home and read books on paper and have face to face conversations with living people.

This day used to be celebrated every day in most of the 20th century.

And I'm bringing it back.


Enjoy it!

Monday, December 19, 2011


For the past several months, ABC World News has featured an ongoing series called Made in America. One of the points made is that according to economists they spoke with, if everyone in America spent just $64 on goods made in America, it would create 200,000 new jobs. Given that the average person will spend $700 this year on Christmas and Hanukkah presents, it should be relatively easy to budget $64 for gifts made in America. The show even has a map on their website for finding goods made in America by state.

I propose that we create a National Buy a Novel Day to be held in December. This day would encourage people to buy novels as gifts. Most books sold in America are written (and illustrated) by Americans. Many are published by small and medium presses headquartered in America. Those publishers that are now part of worldwide conglomerates still have offices in America and employ thousands of Americans. Although some publishers are outsourcing their printing and even their copyediting overseas, for the most part, books are still printed in America.

Think about all the people whose livelihoods depends on book publishing. Not only the editors, cover artists, publicists, marketers, and salespeople who work for the publisher, but the clerks and secretaries and switchboard operators. The accountants and bookkeepers. The cleaning staff. The people who work in nearby businesses that these people frequent during their lunch hour.

Then there are the people who work for the printers, the bindery, the warehouse. The truckers who ship the books. The booksellers who sell the books. Librarians. The journalists who review the books.

If everyone in America spent just $64 on books this holiday season, we’d create 200,000 jobs in publishing and publishing related industries. How cool would that be? So cross off those must-have tchotchkes you were going to buy as gifts. They’ll go the way of the Furby and Pet Rock by the end of January anyway. Join the National Buy a Novel movement and buy books instead. Starving authors everywhere will thank you, and so will a lot of other people.

Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How I Learned to Write

If I may quote loosely Stephen King in his great book, On Writing. There are bad writers, competent writers, good writers, and great writers. You can’t make a great writer out of a good writer and you can’t make a competent writer out of a bad writer.

But you can make a good writer out of a competent writer.

And the way to do that, King suggests, is to learn the craft.

King also says, that to be a writer you have to do two things: you have to write and you have to read.

I’ll echo Rebecca here and say that perhaps the first thing a beginning or wanna-be writer must to is to read.

I have always been a reader, from a family of readers. When my children were small I decided one year to write them an individual Christmas story, with them as the characters. I did so, and was very pleased with my efforts so I thought I’d try my hand at writing for children.

I went to the local community college and signed up for a writing course. I also went to a meeting of a national children’s authors group. I decided almost instantly I didn’t want to write for children – mainly because I didn’t like the community. Mostly women who said things like “When we were posted to Paris I decided to write a book to keep me busy.” (Caveat: I am sure there are very nice children’s writers – I’ve met some of them – I just didn’t meet them that day). However, I was liking this writing thing and liking the course I was taking, so I decided to try an adult book. I read mysteries most of all, so that seemed like a logical fit.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I continued to take courses at community college (a shout out here to two of my best teachers: Sylvia McNicoll and Lynda Simmonds.)

Taking courses is learning the craft of the business. You wouldn’t try to be a doctor without learning what’s a normal body temperature or how to wield a stethoscope, would you? A good writing course will teach you about stuff like using effective dialogue (remember: good dialogue must appear completely natural, while not being at all natural), how to show-not-tell (critically important) as well as some grammar basics (think it doesn’t matter, it does). A good course will also give you feedback on your writing, from the teacher and from your classmates as well as give you contact you might enjoy having and teach you a bit about the publishing industry and how it works.

And, most of all, I continued to read.

I was totally dismayed a while ago when I was on a panel at a conference talking about what we read, to find that I was the only panellist who reads crime novels.
How can you write if you don’t know what people these days want to read?
How can you write something you wouldn’t read yourself?

But more than that, reading is sort of like keeping your skills up to date. Read: see what works, see what doesn’t work. How does the book create tension? What’s interesting about these characters?

The third thing I did was to join my local writing community. Sisters in Crime at first and then Crime Writers of Canada. Writing is a community and its important to be a part of it (one of the best things about being a writer as well.)

Speaking of reading: I have a new book coming out in April titled A Winter Kill, that’s something different. It’s a Rapid Reads book from Orca Publishers. It’s a short, fast read (about 15,000 words) specifically aimed at reluctant readers. It’s an adult book, with adult language and adult themes for those who can’t read well or who don’t have time to read much. Above is a peek at the cover.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Edgar wins the Edgar

Once upon a daytime dreary,
While I pondered weak and weary,
The pages blank as driven snow causing me teary,
Came a rapping, tapping at my chamber door,
Must be the bill collector, merely this and
nothing more.

I ducked out the rear to ease my fear,
To trod my way to the local tavern,
Mayhaps to partake of grog in the darkened cavern,
In this way settled, yet another attempt to test my mettle,
Pen in hand again, alone with no friends,
Deep in my mind turning,
All my soul within me burning,
Came the stranger from my chamber door,

Harken he decried, no debt arranger am I,
‘Tis good news I bring on gentle wing,
For I impart you word of joy to buoy you from folly,
As known you prone not to be jolly,

But as the father of the detective tale,
There was no way we’d send the news by mail,
For your works have been true,
And no one deserves this mighty award more than you,
Henceforth you shall bore anonymity

Friday, December 16, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock Presented

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

We’ve all done it. With a hairbrush microphone in front of a mirror audience, we’ve practiced our moment in the sun. We’ve dreamed of the day when our peers, our audience, our potential readers and the financially helpful media shine their light upon us as masters of our craft. If you’re like me, you’ve imagined even the unimaginable – an Olympic gold medal (completely uncoordinated), the Oscar for Best Actress (I’d rather be under a bus than on stage) or a Presidential Medal of Honor (fast approaching middle-aged and too pragmatic to play hero). Writers are, by our very nature, not spotlight people. We write the scripts for the front-and-centers even when they themselves are writers. Even if we aren’t there in person, we can scribe the self-deprecating humor, the genuine astonishment, the revelatory acceptance if only for someone else.

Winner for the Edgar for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery and Suspense – Alfred Hitchcock.

Good evening and welcome to our program. I could pretend to be surprised by my selection for lifetime achievement even in so august company. But I’m not. You see, this was like doing a who-done-it and making Charles Laughton the butler. I wouldn’t have been asked if I wasn’t going to win.

I became a writer at the age of five. I was sent along with a note to the chief of police, who read the note and promptly put me into a cell and locked the door for five minutes; and then let me out, saying, "That's what we do to naughty little boys, you see." What effect that had on me at the time I can't remember, but they say psychiatrically if you can discover the origins of this or that, it releases everything. Where was I to go from there? So I went where my world took me, to this moment, I suppose and as I am here, I will share what I have learned from my journey with the writers in this room.

Your story is all around you but it’s not easy. It will not come to you in whole cloth. You must reach out and take it. You mustn't let the characters take themselves where they want to go. They must come where you want to go. So it's really an inverted process. It is a bastard form of story-telling. But the kernel of them is there always. You look at your adoring uncle long enough, and you find something. I certainly did.

You must always remember that real people, the ones that fill your pages or your screen, are three-dimensional. You can't root for a hero who doesn't want to be a hero. So it's a negative thing. It comes under the heading that all villains are not black and all heroes are not white. There are grays everywhere. It’s that contrast that makes character work. For example, look at Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He’s the hero, right? He has risen to the challenge of exposing the killer. Well, the poor man. It's the climax of peeping tomism, isn't it? "Why did you do it?" he says. "If you hadn't been a peeping tom, I would have gotten away with it." Stewart can't answer. What can he say? He's caught. Caught with his plaster down. That’s a guy an audience can relate to because haven’t we all been caught with our plaster down a time or two or ten?

The stories that work, well, they reflect the audience, don’t they? Their values, their imagination, their sense of disbelief. When I came to America, the first thing I had to learn was that the audience were more questioning. I'll put it another way. Less avant-garde. In the first Man Who Knew Too Much, the characters jump around from one place to another--you're in a chapel, and you've got old ladies with guns--and one didn't care. One said, "An old lady with a gun, that's be amusing." There was more underlying humor, at least for me, and less logic. If the idea appealed to one, however outrageous it was, do it! They wouldn't go for that in America.

As writers, you have to remember your readers. They will travel the road you’ve laid before them if you place the stones honestly. I’m not just speaking of factual or scientific accuracy. I’m talking about good, old fashioned pragmatism. Always assume your readers are figuring out what they themselves would do in the shoes of your hero. Give them a chance to play along. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, the hero had to be on the run not only from the criminals but also from the police. Why? The audience will wonder, "Why doesn't he go for the police?" Well, the police are after him, so he can't go to them, can he? Suddenly, the hero makes sense to the audience.

There’s no way to pretty up the circumstances, either. In The Man Who Knew Too Much I used a very famous incident, called the Sydney Street Siege. There were anarchists holed up in a house there, and they had to bring the soldiers out because the police couldn't handle it. Winston Churchill went down and directed operations. I had great difficulty getting that one on the screen because the censor wouldn't pass it. He called it a black spot on English police history. He said, "You can't have the soldiers." And I said, "Well, then we will have to have the police do the shooting." "No, you can't do that. The police don't carry firearms in England. If you want to do those Chicago things, we won't allow it here." Finally the censor relented and said I could do it if I had the police go to the local gunsmith and take out mixed guns and show that they're not familiar with the weapons. Silly. I ignored it, and I had a truck come up with a load of rifles. I knew the audience wouldn’t believe the lie no matter how politically correct. In many ways, you could say I have achieved in my lifetime by assuming there isn’t a dummy in the room.

I have also reached this position, not just as a storyteller, but as a working writer. A businessperson, if you will. I adapted as opportunities presented themselves. I had no intention of becoming a film director, you know. It was quite a surprise to me. Sir Michael Balcon is really the man responsible for Hitchcock. At the time, I had been a script writer, and when I finished that job I became the art director or production designer. And I did that for several pictures, until one day Balcon said that the director (I worked with the same director all the time) didn't want me any more. I don't know what the reason was, some political reason. And it was then that Balcon said, "How would you like to become a director?" With that I became a director.

But all was not sweetness and light. Success was not a given. I may be receiving a lifetime achievement award now but let’s not forget too quickly that I’m the one who made Waltzes in Vienna in 1933. I was at my lowest ebb. A musical, and they really couldn't afford the music. An Alfred Hitchcock musical, no less. But I survived. I perservered. I put one word and then another on another page. When your batteries run dry, when you are out creatively, you have to go on. Perhaps that is my greatest achievement and my legacy. In Sabotage, ironically, the bomb should never have gone off. I know that now. Given another chance, and an unwillingness to cower before bad reviews, editorial purgatory or financial expectations unmet, I would choose otherwise. I would write a different story. And I would discover, that in learning, evolving, I am telling a better story. I may not know it then. I may only know it in retrospect. But if I am patient, and relentless in my craft, one day those decriers will come to me, as they may come to you if you endure, and offer their mea culpas for having lost faith in the art that is your storytelling. They may become your Gary Coopers who, having rejected the Robert Donat role in Foreign Correpondent, come to you and say "Well, I should have done that, shouldn't I?"

And so should you. Thank you very much.

And thank you for reading.


P.S. The quotations used here come from an interview Alfred Hitchcock gave to Peter Bogdanovich in 1963 just prior to the release of the Oscar-winning Marnie. The interview became part of an interactive exhibit by the Museum of Metropolitan Art in 1999 and can be found at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Edgar's Eyes

William Shakespeare accepts an Edgar for Hamlet . . .
My Edgar’s eyes are nothing like the sun;
The sky is far more fair than his coat’s blue;
If lips be red, why then he must have none;
If hair be soft, his must be made of glue.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in his cheeks;
And caterpillar eyebrows, like his, might
Be elsewhere found on circus sideshow freaks. 
In many velvet paintings there’s more art
Than issues from poor Edgar’s poor sad face – 
A bobble head shows more of mind and heart;
A mug like his ne’er graced a Grecian vase.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my Edgar as rare
     As any prize belied with false compare.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Miss Austen Accepts

by Tracy Kiely

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of the Edgar Award would never find the experience a tedious waste of an evening. In fact, my feelings as I stand here tonight are quite the opposite. I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!

I don’t know how to begin to thank you for this honor. This experience has pierced my soul. I sat here tonight awaiting the announcement of the judges, half in agony, half in hope. And while, I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress, I am nevertheless grateful to those of you who saw more in my little bit of ivory.

I know there are those who regard my books as light and frivolous; a kind of literary Indian Muslin. But to those critics I say this; let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest. For me, three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.

Thank you again. I will treasure this award forever.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If ee cummings ever won the Edgar

by Josh

having not lost
(having been lost)
i cant help but
help take my compass please
let it point its blame elsewho
'cause meandpoe are southing

(psst - here's a secret he told me so
the carrionpigeons always find a way)

Thank you for your.

Monday, December 12, 2011

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

I have many favorite authors. Some I read. Some I consider good friends. Some fall into both categories. But, truth be told, my favorite author is me.  Not to sound arrogant, but if we can’t love ourselves and our own work, how can we expect others to love it enough to actually pay for it. So, while the question of the week is to write your favorite author's Edgar acceptance speech, with your indulgence, here is my Edgar acceptance speech.
Picture a short, fat middle-aged woman dressed in a lovely black lace dress and wobbling around in uncomfortable shoes because, let’s be frank, Crocs doesn’t yet make a style for formal wear.  Her newly grown out gray hair is perfectly spiked, and for a change she is wearing lipstick and mascara (but only because her manager threatened her with bodily harm if she didn’t).  In her hands she clutches an ugly bust of a man with black painted hair and moustache and a deathly white face. Sue Ann Jaffarian has just won the Edgar, mystery writing’s most coveted prize. It doesn’t matter which category.
In the background Kelly Clarkson croons A Moment Like This.
For a moment like this,
Some people wait a lifetime…
On stage I’m blubbering like a kid whose favorite doll just fell in the mud. I stand before the microphone, sniff back the tears and open my mouth. Nothing comes out but the rasp of mucous. More tears fall. My mascara is running down my face like roots from hell-trees.
Oh, I can't believe it's happening to me.
Some people wait a lifetime,
For a moment like this
The crowd quiets, waiting for me to pull myself together and say a quick word of thanks so they can return to their cocktails. I want a drink, too. Desperately.  I clutch the statuette so hard, the microphone picks up a pronounced crack.
“Damn,” I say with wet and swollen words. “I think I broke Edgar’s neck.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lessons From Holly Golightly

By Hilary Davidson

"Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot." — Holly Golightly in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's

I can't pinpoint the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer; it feels as if the desire to write has always been in my mind. And I don't really know how I learned to be a writer, either; somewhere, somehow, after reading countless books, the lessons must have sunk in, when I wasn't looking.

What I am aware of, every day, is the fact that there have been some amazing people who've given me confidence. I know I wouldn't have become a writer without them.

My Mom: I dedicated my first novel, The Damage Done, to my mother, because she's the person who has encouraged me more than anyone else in the world. When I was a (greedy) child, I used to come home from school with lists of books I wanted to order through the Scholastic Book Club; my mother never said no. She taught me to read, took me to libraries, and told me I could do anything I wanted. She's usually my first reader for books and short stories, too. When I say that she encourages me, that doesn't mean she gives me unalloyed approval; she tells me when things don't make sense and points out awkward phrasings that act like "speed bumps" in my writing. Mom, you are awesome.

My Dad: I remember a conversation my father had with me when I was 12: he told me that the only difference between me and a professional writer is that the pro would outline. Sadly, I still haven't learned to successfully outline, but that hasn't stopped my dad from being one of my biggest cheerleaders. He occasionally gets jealous that my mom gets to read my books before he does, but he understands that his tendency to charge up to total strangers, tell them about his daughter the writer and occasionally blurt out major plot points is at the root of this issue. Dad, you are awesome.

My Grandmother: You may have read about my amazing grandmother before. She's the person responsible for my love of mystery and noir. She bought me boatloads of books and introduced me to the films of Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Baby Face, et al). She also gave me a wealth of wonderful sayings, including the one I live by: "If you're going to sin, sin big." I miss her every day.

My Grade Four & Five Teacher, Mrs. McIsaac: She once gave me a book — Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick — inscribed with the words, "To Hilary — I expect to read a book by you one day." She let me start my own newspaper (using the school's photocopier, of course), helped me produce a play I wrote, and encouraged me to enter short-story and poetry contests, a few of which I actually won. (If I ever get famous, Scholastic will undoubtedly release my classic prize-winning story "Ametafear's Tomb." Wait for it!)

My Grade Six Teacher, Mrs. Lampert: All I can say is that Bonnie Tyler-lookalike Mrs. Lampert believed that I could do absolutely anything. She was an incredible inspiration, and she had impeccable taste — she's the person who introduced me to Lois Duncan's books, which were a huge inspiration.

My High School English Teacher, Mr. Baker: It would be hard to underestimate Mr. Baker's influence on me. It's only because of him that I get the beauty of Elizabethan English, and I'm positive that his crazy, in-class "Don't Stop Writing" exercises — in which we had to keep writing, no matter what, even though Mr. Baker was literally standing on his head to distract us — help me keep my focus when I'm writing today. I got to see him at a reunion just before The Damage Done came out, and his reaction to my book deal was classic Mr. Baker: "You're being published by Macmillan? Holy shit!"

My Husband: Can't leave him out. Other people get to read the books; he gets to live with the crazy. And that's why my second book, The Next One to Fall (coming in February 2012), is dedicated this way: "For my husband, Dan — my first, my last, my everything."

* * *

Congrats to the winners of the GoodReads Giveaway for The Next One to Fall — your advance reading copies are in the mail. This week, I'll be launching the pre-order contest (here's a preview of one of the prizes). My book tour is taking shape, with dates in New York, Houston, Austin, Scottsdale, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, and other cities already planned. And if you're interested in reading the first chapter of the new book, you're in luck — Chapter One is on the Macmillan site!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Writing Lessons: The Early Years

By Reece Hirsch

I learned how to write by writing badly and often. Here’s a core sample taken from the early years of my writing life, along with the lessons learned.

  1. The Historian. Around age seven or so, my parents bought me a typewriter and I embarked on my first ambitious writing project. I was fascinated by the early explorers of the Americas, so I began writing a history of adventurers like Cortez, Vasco da Gama and Erik the Red. I was extremely focused in my research, which consisted of combining and rewording entries from the red-bound Junior Encyclopedia Britannica. Lesson learned: the pages just fly by when you’re plagiarizing.

  1. The Middle School Muckraker. In middle school, I was an editor and contributor to a profoundly juvenile, and borderline libelous, underground newspaper. The newspaper came to an end when I was busted by one of the gym coaches for selling it for a nickel a copy on the playground. Lesson learned: the First Amendment does not offer much protection for an obnoxious 11-year-old satirist.

  1. The Journalist. In the Eighties, I was a journalist in Atlanta, including editing and publishing a free arts and entertainment magazine and working as associate editor of a business magazine. Like a lot of journalists, I was dreaming of writing fiction on the side. I was a disciple of the so-called New Journalism of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and Hunter Thompson that combined reporting with the writerly flourishes of fiction. Lesson learned: journalism helped teach me to be concise in my writing and to recognize when the writerly flourishes were getting in the way of telling a story.
  1. The Screenwriter. In the early Nineties when I lived in Los Angeles, I tried my hand at screenwriting. I had a couple of scripts optioned, but none produced. Lesson learned: Screenwriting is a collaborative art form, but it is the author of an original screenplay who gets collaborated upon. I resolved that the next time I seriously committed myself to writing, it would be a novel.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The birth of a writer

Are writers born or made? I can't claim that I actually emerged from the womb in an inner city Chicago hospital telling stories. At least not right away. I was too busy figuring out how this crazy world works. But here's what I do know--I started writing before I actually could write.

Impossible you say? Let me explain.

Every writer should have a mother like mine. An academic and historian, she was working on her dissertation when I was in the womb. Some of that must have seeped into my brain. She was always writing and reading, and so of course I wanted to as well. Before I could really write, I would do curly cues on the page that I thought looked like cursive and announce that they were stories. I would then proceed to read them aloud (editing them on the fly, as necessary). I also dictated stories (fiction and non-fiction) and songs to my willing secretary, otherwise known as Mom.

Here's one of my songs (written at age 4):

Alexander the Great
He's the best in the state
He's the king, he's the king, he's the king.
He jumps on the bed and and he stands on his head
He's the king, he's the king, he's the king.

Pretty snazzy, huh? I still know the tune, too. If you buy me a drink at Malice or the Edgars, I might even sing it for you.

My mother was my first audience. She made me want to share what I wrote with others (not always so appreciative, but hey, developing writing skills takes time).  And so my writing career began, and I hope my writing continues to bring myself (and readers) pleasure for the rest of my life.