Saturday, December 21, 2013

See You In 2014!

The Criminal Minds blog will be on vacation from December 21st through January 5th.

See you back here on January 6, 2014, with a couple of new faces, fun new questions and lively discussions.

We thank you for your continued support and wish you and yours a lovely holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thanks For The Memories

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

Today is my last official post here at Criminal Minds. My first post was on November 21, 2010 and was called Going With My Gut on the topic of book covers.

I want to thank you all, bloggers and readers, for welcoming me, especially Kelly Stanley who invited me to join the crew. It has been a blast and I will miss it, but it's time to move on and explore new possibilities.

For the time being, my blogging will be limited to my personal blog - BABBLE 'n BLOG - which has suffered since I started with CM, and to whatever guest posts present themselves.

Just Released
I'll be writing, continuing to churn out books at a fairly fast pace. It's what I do and I need to focus more on that considering the books on the horizon yet to be penned. I just had a book released and I have two others being released in early spring, and two novels due to publishers in 2014. So have no worries, I won't be lazing about.

Speaking of which, this is the first time in years when I don't have a book due the first of January. I'm almost giddy from not having a deadline looming over my holidays like a Grinch.  I really get to go to all the parties? I can actually go on vacation in December and NOT write unless I want to?  I can get drunk on New Year's Eve instead of proofreading a manuscript?  The mind staggers at the possibilities!

Thanks for the memories, ghosts of Criminal Minds past, present, and even future. I have loved being a part of this wonderful blog.

Speaking of ghosts of Criminal Minds future, my Friday spot will not remain empty. Beginning in January, my good friend and Shamus winning author Paul Marks will be taking my place. Please give him a warm welcome, and a bit of shit from time-to-time.

Coming out in 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Here comes my favourite time of the year!

And this is my favourite way to lead into it.  I'm about 5,000 words off finishing a first draft and tomorrow, Friday, I'll be writing THE END, spell-checking it, search-and-destroying my old friends "oft he" 'is aid" and "butt he" then printing it out and dancing around the room.

Then it's Christmas.

We'll go and cut down a Christmas tree - in a place where they let you do that - decorate it, fill the house with food and drink and then comes one of my most beloved Christmas traditions.  Shopping!  But with a twist.

When Neil and I were penniless students - back in the early Mesolithic age - we had jobs on the Christmas post.  We got paid on Christmas Eve (it was eighty pounds each one year) and then went to buy presents, paper and ribbon for our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and one or two little nephews and nieces. 

Then we counted up what was left, split it and went to buy a present for each other.

These days we have no grandparents anymore but we've got sixteen nephews and nieces, some quite big, and a great-nephew and -niece too.  Yikes.  Great-aunt Catriona. 

And because life has been kind we don't need to count the remaining change before we buy a present for each other.  We don't need to but we carry on anyway.  Sentimental tradition or Scottish stinginess?  Who can say.

We save change in a pot all year, count it on the 23rd of December, exchange it for notes, split them and hit the streets.  The rules are that you can't overspend by a penny and you've got get something from an ironmongers (hardware store), something from a charity shop (Thrift Store) something useful and at least one complete surprise. 

I might buy a CA Megamillions lottery ticket tonight.  The rollover is up to 400M and think of the good you could do with all that.  But even if I'm a billionaire on the 23rd of December this year, I'll be skulking around the hardware store in Davis, looking for bargains, not wafting about Tiffany's in San Francisco commissioning cufflinks.  And I'll still spray my Thanksgiving pumpkins gold and make them work through another holiday too. 

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a Happy  New Year when it comes. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


by Clare O'Donohue

I decided we should take this free-for-all December to get to know each other better. Here's 10 things about me. Tell me something about you I might not know....

1. I meditate every day.

2. I just finished listening to "Lost" by Chris Young (and sang along- badly)

3. I order more courses from The Great Courses then I can possibly watch in this lifetime. My latest purchase is "How to Look At and Understand Great Art." I've downloaded classes on cooking, physics, music appreciation, ancient history... I'm a sucker for easy-to-digest learning.

4. If I could play a musical instrument, it would be the violin aka the fiddle. I just like how it sounds and how versatile it is, and that - unlike a piano - you can take it with you easily, and  - unlike a guitar - it isn't the preferred instrument of every lonely teenage male in America. Sadly, I have a tin ear when it comes to music.

5. I plan trips I don't take. I love to travel but I travel so much for work that it's hard to find the time or money just to vacation. Sometimes I end up making a list of cool sights in places like Stockholm or Santiago but never actually get there. That changes in 2014.

6. My favorite TV shows are all over the place - Justified, Suits, The Middle. I already miss Breaking Bad, can't wait for the final season of Mad Men. The Sons of Anarchy season finale blew me away.

7. I've had a life long crush on Dean Martin. This is so well known among my loved ones that on the night he died, I received several condolence calls.

8. My major in college was International Studies with a minor in Economics.

9. My favorite meal is a diner breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast. Throw in some hot tea and an Irish sausage and I'm in heaven.

10. Favorite Christmas movie? It's a tie between Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck & Dennis Morgan.

Okay... your turn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happy Holiday Reading

As usual (always?) I have a bunch of books on the go right now. What's completely unusual: 3 of these books have me HOOKED. If you find yourself looking for something to read, let me recommend:

DRUNK MOM by Jowita Bydlowska

While not the most sympathetic protagonist (she's drunk all the time; she has an infant), the writing is honest, bold, and hilarious. (Dark humor.) It's a memoir (meaning it's a true story of the author's first year as a parent), and extremely well-written. The kind of book where you're planning to meet someone for lunch and you show up a bit early on purpose so you can catch a few minutes of reading before they arrive.


I always find Kim Moritsugu's writing addictive. Something about her voice and her characters feels both familiar and fresh to me. I've never been able to put down one of her novels. 

This is my favorite yet. It's about a perfect housewife who decides to have an affair, so she starts an exclusive dinner club as a creative way to meet men. The cast of characters is delicious, and the book reads like a smart, sarcastic soap opera. (Like Gossip Girl for grown-ups.)

It's not out for release until May 2014, so I'm stoked to have an advance copy. It's available on NetGalley free right now—if you have an account, snag a copy.


I'm only a few pages into this novel, and already I've found one of my favorite lines in literature ever:

Most folks think of hell as some far-off pit of fire and brimstone, but the truth is it's all around them, a hair's breadth from the world that they can see -- always pressing, testing, threatening to break through.”

I've heard lots about Chris' writing from friends in the crime community, and now I know they're right: this guy is a master craftsman. I'm excited to keep reading this book.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lists and lists

This is the free-for-all month at Criminal Minds, in which we are all invited to go over the edge and expose our innermost thoughts, intellectual liabilities, and sentimental behaviors. This is not hard for me to do. I enter into it lightly and without the hesitations a more sensible person might have. You are about to get my five least favorite and five fav “things” as of today. Feel free to chime in with your own. Or, skip my blabbing and use your time to wrap presents and drink eggnog.

Susan’s LEAST favorites

#5 Coffee drinks that try to mix mint, pumpkin or other totally unsuited tastes with coffee flavor. Admittedly, I have never tried one, but really…

#4 Large cocktail parties. When I was oh so young and living in New York, I thought they were heaven and aspired to be invited to them every weekend. Now, I invent dying aunts and deadlines to avoid them.

#3 Cheesy Christmas displays in stores, you know the kind: plastic ball ornaments with “Bud Light” written in snowflake script circling the spheres, or tinselly garlands that spell out “Frank’s Auto Supply”?

#2 The fact that we are destroying the precious, almost miraculous climate balance that makes Earth not just habitable, but stunningly wondrous, and all so each of us (me included) can drive to around by ourselves in our own cars and eat grapes in January.

#1 Politicians who gets elected to anything at all and then are totally beholden to those who got them elected and those who may help get them re-elected so they can begin raising money the next day to get re-elected yet again. What a system.

Susan's MOST favorite (and so much nicer to think about)

#5 The writing community, my agent, my friends in Criminal Minds, LadyKillers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. My peeps, I love you all.

#4 Nelson Mandela, a giant who walked among us. So funny to read criticism of him this week for not ridding the new South Africa of crony corruption and not bringing it to first world economic status in his four years as president. Hello? He walked the walk of reconciliation and negotiated the very existence of the new South Africa, where there is room for everyone to live free. It’s up to the other 47 million South Africans to pull the load now.

#3 Chocolate. Seriously, how could there be a list of favorites that didn’t include chocolate? I liked elegant French chocolates that look like tiny tiles best until I tasted the elegant Berkeley chocolates Terry brought to my last launch party. Bettina swears her native Switzerland makes the best, and Frank gives chocolate tasting parties where we get to sample African and South American varieties. For me, the darker the better, the smoother the better, and the most available the best!

#2 The women in my life who have shown me how to be a better person in their own quite different ways. Some are with us, some are no longer present. You are my guides, you live in my heart, and I love you dearly: Candida, Sister Samuel, Helen, Doris, Ethel, Alice.

#1 My family. Honestly, that’s not a politically correct nod, it’s the truth. Love my sons, my like-a-son, and their talented wives and fiancĂ©es, and the four grandkids who light up my life with smiles, hugs, and invitations to squeeze under the bunk bed to play pirates.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Bad Azz Claus

Not quite a holiday classic, the following is an encore and slight reworking of a piece I wrote a few years ago – but apropos for this wintry season.
With Los Angeles experiencing a cold snap, the Holidays and all the bog savings sales on television, the pop-ups on my computer and ad slicks dropping out of the daily paper, Christmas is surely upon us faster than Miley Cyrus next twerking in public. For even I, a purveyor of crime and nefarious doings, hope for peace on Earth and goodwill toward all…and Santa Claus in a line-up.  As a writer of hardboiled fictive fare, I can’t help myself but always wonder about what lies beneath the smile and twinkle in the eye.  What sort of serpentine thoughts lay coiled in a corner of a given person’s brain?  Do they take a journey now and then to the dark side?  If by some crazy set of circumstances I got the gig to write, oh let’s say a bio-pic of a Sister Teresa-like woman, I’d have to show her doubling down at the craps fade line after washing lepers to show how she blows off steam.  She gets in deep to a loan shark and in a pivotal scene, rips off the charity funds for the orphans.
I blame my warped yule outlook on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  This was an epic I saw as a kid about the Martian leader kidnapping Santa Claus and a couple of Earth kids to bring Xmas cheer to the children of Mars who lack, you know, Xmas cheer.  According to the cast list on, Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian leader’s kids, Girmar. You remember Pia don’t you?  If not, I suggest renting The Butterfly based on the James M. Cain novel.  In this flick, Ms. Zadora plays the scheming daughter of a lonely desert rat who returns all growed up with a butterfly tattoo to have an incestuous thing with pops.  A dodge really so she can get her mitts on the silver in the mine he’s been guarding for years. 
Anyway, back to the Claus.  In the remake of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, ol’ St. Nick is gonna have to man up.  I’m thinking not live action this time but the story is told in elegant, retro stop motion puppetry like the Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The Martian leader again sends his minions – and you have to have a lead goon with a memorable quirk like a robot hand or some such as Rudolph, the red-Nosed Reindeer (with a laser ray emitted from his nose, natch) will have a showdown with this brigand.  But the plot isn’t about kidnapping Santa but about retrieving this special toy his elves have made that’s harmless on our world, but a deadly weapon on Mars.

The henchmen get in a shootout with the elves, who of course use super soakers filled with mace, and some of the flying reindeer while Santa and Mrs. Claus (an older, but nonetheless sexy, brainy woman who is the backbone of the operation, handling inventory, toy recalls and the like) happen to be away from the workshop saving a polar bear and her children trapped on an ice floe.  Indeed the couple are lamenting the effects of global warming when they hear the commotion from not too far away.  By the time they get back to the workshop, the Martian goons have departed with the toy, though a few of them lay bleeding green blood into the white snow.  And Blitzen, poor, brave, Blitzen, is mortally wounded and dies in Santa’s arms.
This time it’s personal, Santa vows, shaking his fist to the heavens.  Not only is there the ticking clock of why the hero must achieve his goal in a set time or her can’t making his pending rounds, but he has to avenge Blitzen and save the Martian innocents.  The elves work triple time and construct specialized weaponry for Kris Kringle including devices like iPods that emit bright  pulsing light (Mars is a gloomy planet and the Martians are light-sensitive) and kung fu grip gloves.  The remaining reindeer are outfitted with oxygen helmets and space suits, and with the missus riding shotgun hefting her special edition GI Joe pulse rifle, it’s on to set things right on Mars.
From 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast, credited for first depicting an American version of Santa Claus, Frank Castle, the killing machine known as the Punisher in comics who has donned Santa’s gala garb so as to inflict his mayhem on unsuspecting mobsters, old school illustrations with the Claus selling Pepsi or Lucky Strike cigarettes (my dad’s brand), to my man David Walker's Badazz Mofo Productions, Black Santa’s Revenge: He Knows When You’ve Been Naughty, Santa is a man for all seasons and tastes.
Time to get your nog on.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Blinders On!

by Alan

Last week, I finished the first draft of a new novel. It’s a slightly different genre than most of my books, and I had a fun time writing it. However, it looks a lot like most of my first drafts.

That is to say (depending on my mood): putrid, puerile, bad, awful, mediocre, stilted, too short, too long, infantile, off-the-wall, brilliant, boring, too fast paced, nonsensical, unsalvageable, too slow-paced, and/or hideous. I followed Ann Lamott’s priceless advice and gave myself permission to write a $#!^^y first draft. I’m proud to say that I succeeded!

My method:

When I write a first draft, I plow through, from beginning to end. I don’t go back and edit what I’ve written along the way. If I change a character’s name halfway through, I don’t go back and change it. If I add a subplot or change a location or introduce a new character altogether, I don’t go back and fix things up. If I don’t know the name of something (or if I forget the name of a character), I put in XXXX and keep on typing, knowing I’ll take care of it later. Ever forward.

My rationale:

This strategy was borne of laziness. I don’t want to spend time editing and revising something that’s going to get cut in the second draft. So I put on my blinders, sit down, and pound out the best story I can (I do outline, which keeps me somewhat on track). As I go along, I note all the changes I’ve made so I can go back and fix things. Once I’ve finished, I can step back and take an objective look at the entire hot mess. Invariably, it needs a lot of work.

But I guess that’s what the revision process is for.

How about you, writers? Do you fix/edit/revise as you go? Or do you wait until everything’s done and go back and fix it then, once you see the big picture?


Top Ten Best Things About A First Draft

10. You can test-drive a few adverbs without getting yelled at.
9. It actually sounds better when read aloud with an Inspector Clouseau accent.
8. It provides amusement for your critique partners.
7. You can use lame jokes, stereotypes, bad grammar, and stilted dialogue, knowing (hoping?) they'll disappear during the revision process.
6. It's a good way to use up scratch paper.
5. You don't have to show it to your agent, editor, or spouse.
4. Your dog/cat/gerbil thinks it's terrific, no matter how many words are misspelled.
3. It makes good kindling.
2. It helps support the market for red pens.

And the number one best thing about a first draft:

1. There's only one place to go from there: Up.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Murder Most Merry

By Tracy Kiely

So, my Christmas present came early this year. It was a charming little thing called “A Root Canal Without Dental Insurance.” While I sat there in the dentist’s chair, trying to answer social questions through an awkward system of hand gestures and grunts that would no doubt lead to my immediate imprisonment in certain countries, I began to think of murder. Not for my dentist. No, he was a nice man, even if he did feel compelled to fish out the calcium deposits that were nestled amid my nerves and show them to me one by one. He seemed particularly impressed with my roots. It seems they are extremely long. Longer than his instruments could reach without, as he so appealingly put it, “breaking off in your mouth.”  We both agreed this would be a bad thing and something to avoid. But amidst the grunts, drilling, and show and tell, my mind, perhaps encouraged by our talk of “bad things,” wandered to murder. 
And, it being the Christmas Season, I began to think of things that really piss me off this time of year. They are – in no particular order – as follows:

o   People who send out their Christmas cards the day after Thanksgiving.  Thanks! I’ve barely had time to clean up the turkey mess and here you are wishing me joy for Christmas. Except you’re not. You’re rubbing it in my face that I’m already a holiday behind. Feliz Navidad" my ass.

o   People whose cards look like catalog covers for children’s clothing rather than holiday greetings. Just. Stop. It.

o   Mall Santas on a smoke break. Thanks, Mall Santa! You’ve horrified my ten-year-old son. Don’t you know that nowadays they teach kids that smoking is right up there with crack?  Next time, why don’t you just wrap a tourniquet around your arm, whip out a syringe, and be done with it? 

o   People who regift. “Why, thank you! This ceramic angel with the giant eyes holding a puppy is just what I’ve always wanted! And bonus! Not only is it unique, but educational. Who knew that angels could suffer from Graves Disease?”

o   People who get far too creative with their Elf on a Shelf. “Hey, Mom! Timmy’s elf was hiding in his cereal box with a little carton of milk and a spoon! Why does mine only move around on my bookshelf?” Now my son thinks his elf – much like his tooth fairy – is a slacker who may have a substance abuse problem.

o   People who get all their shopping done in June. And then tell everyone they know what they’ve done. Congratulations, Dante has a special circle in hell for you. And, just like you, he generated it long before you needed it.

o   People who are under the age of ninety and wear Christmas sweaters.

o   People who are under the age of ninety and give Christmas sweaters.

o   Offices that – for their Holiday party – rent out a local bar/restaurant, black out the windows with paper, and then issue a mandate that no spouses/significant others can come. (Husband used to work for firm that did this. People would stumble out of the party too full of the holiday “spirit” to speak.)

o   Lawn decorations that aim for both the secular and the religious. We once were neighbors with a family that positioned their Nativity scene in such a way that the baby Jesus always appeared to be moments away from being trampled to death by Santa and his charging reindeer.

So, it may be that once my mouth-drugs wear off, so too will my Grinch spirit.  But, I doubt it. In the meantime, please share with me your top holiday peeves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and wrap my post root canal x-rays.  Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Revising my way to a finished book

by Meredith Cole

We had freezing rain on Sunday here in Virginia and there was major panic from my fellow locals. They all ran out and bought extra milk, bread, water, batteries and toilet paper. And what did I do? I stayed home and revised my book (making sure my laptop was fully charged--just in case we lost power) because I am a writer and that's what writers do.

Revisions always take way longer than I think they will. For a first draft I usually give myself a word count goal and I feel elated as I watch the number of words pile up every day. But when I get to the end, it's time to take a cold hard look at what I've written. And most of it has to go.

I just finished teaching a novel writing class, and I always try to be honest with my students. "How many revisions do you do?" they ask me. And I realize that I have no idea. Does a partial rewrite of the first 30 pages count? Does going through to make sure some detail got changed throughout the book count? But if you're talking full revisions where I go through and try to make each detail as strong and true as possible, I would guess at least 9 times. But it could be more...

Revising does not sound like fun to most people, and my many of my novel writing students' eyes glaze over at the thought. Even some professional writers hate revising passionately. But I love to dig deep and see my story get better and better.

So bring on the bad winter weather (just leave on the heat and electricity, please). I will use it as an excuse to stay home and get my next book polished. And hopefully I'll have my book all finished soon. At least this draft.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Characters Who Lie

Today we welcome author L. J. Sellers as our guest.

Every once in a while, a crime fiction book goes viral and crosses over into mainstream reading, selling millions of copies. Last year it was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A well-known reviewer claimed that “part of its success, I believe, is this current vogue for the unreliable narrator and also the unlikable protagonist. This book has both these factors in spades.”
Those features typically are more common in mainstream fiction than in mysteries and thrillers, but the trend is growing in crime fiction too, and readers are often divided on whether it works for them.
As a reader, I don’t connect well with unlikable main characters, but I can occasionally enjoy unreliable narrators because they add uncertainty, creepiness, and distrust to whole the story. Yet as a writer, I haven’t tried that structure and maybe never will. My connection with readers feels too important to abuse. And by nature, I’m painfully honest. So the idea of lying—directly—to my readers is foreign to me.
However, I’ve recently discovered that I love writing from the perspective of a protagonist who practices deception with others in the story. When I was researching Crimes of Memory, my eighth Detective Jackson story, an FBI agent I interviewed mentioned a real case involving the eco-terrorist group Earth Liberation Front and how the bureau used an undercover agent to break the case and arrest nearly all the members.
I knew immediately I needed to add that element to my story for realism. So I created Agent Jamie Dallas, a young woman who specializes in undercover work—and has to lie, cheat, steal files, seduce targets, and put on performances to accomplish her goals. Once I got inside her head and wrote her part, I had so much fun, I knew she had to have her own series.
The Trigger, launching January 1, is the first book featuring Agent Dallas as the main character. But even though she lies to, and spies on, the people in the prepper community she infiltrates, she doesn’t lie to readers. She doesn’t hold back either. She’s not only reliable, she kicks ass on occasion too. All of it, deception included, is for the sake and safety of her country, but Dallas loves her work in a special way.
Readers who recently encountered the agent in Crimes of Memory say Dallas stole the show. So it’s fair to say she’s likable, even though she’s a chameleon on the job. But you can decide for yourself.
If you buy a copy on January 1 and forward the Amazon receipt to, you’ll be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. Even if you miss the grand prize, I’m giving away ten $50 gift certificates too. And to celebrate the new series, the ebook will be priced at $.99 on launch day. You can see more details at my website. (
What about you? Do you like unreliable narrators? What about characters who lie for a good cause?  

L.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery series—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner—as well as provocative standalone thrillers. Her novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and her Jackson books are the highest-rated crime fiction on Amazon. L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where most of her novels are set and is an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
You can keep up with L. J. at one of the following places:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Bug of Revelation!

The last couple of days, I've been what we Scots call awfy no weel.  Felt a bit plain on Monday and then woke up on Tuesday morning thinking: what's that noise?  It sounded like a portion of over-thick, under-blended soup boiling hard in the bottom of a high-sided pot.  Turned out it was me, breathing.   When I sat up, I started coughing; when I stood up, I started shivering; when I moved , my eyes went all FX - making lines that streamed out behind things that don't usually have lines streaming out behind them.

So I took a day off work.  Actually two.  And taking two days off work when you're a self-employed writer is not like taking a day off from an office, shop, factory or farm.

On the upside, you don't have to ask anyone or fill in any forms.  On the downside, nobody does your work for you while you're ill; it's all still there when you're better.  (But what a great idea - substitute writers!)

On the unexpected side was how quickly I came to believe I'd found my new calling.  The undergardener brought me story discs (Stephen King, Alexander McCall Smith, Kate Atkinson and Patricia Cornwell), DVDs (Midsomer Murders), a bunch of flowers and a box of lotion-soft hankies.


There was coffee, soup, ice-cream, ibuprofen and pillows and by lunchtime yesterday I had decided I was never getting up, getting dressed or going outside ever again. Bed is bliss - soft, warm, comforting; there are fifteen seasons of Midsomer Murders - soft, warm, comforting -  available to download or stream (and since I fell asleep for big chunks of every episode anyway, I would literally never run out of new bits to watch); jammies are better than all other clothes in every way - soft, warm, comforting - no waistbands or buttons, no need for earrings.

This was my new life.  Probably the undergardener would take some persuading, but even if he refused to keep bringing me supplies of ice-cream and story discs, I could order everything online.   I had plenty of time to cancel Left Coast Crime, Malice and Bouchercon.  I wouldn't even suffer financially for a while - my next two books are written and it'd be a year before anyone even noticed I'd become a recluse.

Okay, I'd probably end up as one of those people who, when they die, contractors come and remove one of the walls of their house and winch them out with a crane, but it was so soft and warm and comforting. 

And I had all the zeal of the convert.  I laughed at my former self - cycling, walking up and down hills for no reason at all, gardening instead of just keeping the curtains closed, cooking things when there's perfectly good food already made for you in the supermarkets, turning pages and swiveling my eyes when there are stories on CDs and DVDs that let you just slump.  Yep, this was it.  This was the future.

Then about five o'clock today the rot set in.  I was asleep when the phone binged to say I had a text.  It was the undergardener and he was bringing home a Chinese carry-out.  I put the phone down, paused Midsomer Murders and, before I knew what had happened, I was in the kitchen, putting plates in the oven to warm, setting out napkins and chopsticks, filling the dishwasher, sorting out the junk mail for recycling.

So my new life as a happy slob looks to be over, only two days after it began.   I'm better.  It wasn't even proper flu.  Tomorrow - waistband, buttons, earrings and swiveling eyes.  But it was fun while it lasted and I've still got the cough to remember it by. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


by Clare O'Donohue

This month we're writing whatever we want... and naturally this felt exciting. No, that's not it. Free-ing. Nope, wrong again. Filled with dread and panic. Yep. That's what I felt when I saw this as the "topic".

Why? Cause it's the blank page. Writers face the blank page every day and are filled with the same fear. Some are so overwhelmed by it that they head to Facebook for comfort and let the day, the month, the year, slip by without ever writing a word.

Sure, a blank page doesn't seem all that terrifying up against, say, a charging lion. But it is. Especially when you consider the odds of a lion coming toward me, teeth bared, are slim, while the blank page on my computer screen is daily and on-going.

If I were a wise person I would note that life is like that too - the first day of school, a new job, a new relationship, moving to a new city... all blank pages that are teeth-baring lions. And once we face them, they usually turn out to have all the terror of purring kittens.

So I look right at my blank page and kill its creamy white nothingness.

I put words on a page, sometimes coherent, sometimes rambling. I don't worry about writing a masterpiece, or even a good book. It's just a first draft. Time for worry about "good" later. For now I turn words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and pages, and chapters, and the first draft of books.

You can deal with a charging lion by turning to run (in fact, if you encounter an ACTUAL charging lion, running is probably not the worst idea) or you can deal with it by facing it head on - killing the blank scary page, one word at a time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

High Times at City Hall

Toronto's mayor smokes crack. Kind of reads like fiction, right?
I live on the west coast, but Toronto is my hometown, so I couldn't help but be drawn into following the roller coaster saga that has been Rob Ford's mayoral career.
The left wing press has been hating on Ford since before he was elected. And fair enough: he's right wing. He's also easy to demonize because he makes outrageous statements and alienates people he doesn't like.
But I liked Ford's policy.
When we lived in Toronto, my husband owned a bar. At the time, we had a left wing mayor, a left and corrupt premier of the province, and a leftish prime minister of Canada. During the same period, Toronto was rated the worst city in North America in which to own a business because of the high taxes and overregulation from all levels of government.
So even though we were already in Vancouver when Ford was elected, I was happy for Toronto when he won. He ran on a platform he adhered to (strange, right?), and from what I could see (and hear from my friends and family back home) he tightened Toronto's way-too-loose budget and saved taxpayers money.
Good stuff.
Then he was caught smoking crack.
Like anyone else, I look for the benefit of the doubt when it comes to someone I like. So Toronto's liberal downtown core pounced on Ford and wanted him out. I ignored their protests because they already hated Ford.
I saw him as a modern day Winston Churchill, someone who drank too much and spoke his mind too freely to be accepted by the politically correct set. But since I'm not a member of that set, I continued to like him as mayor.
And then I started writing Rob Ford fan fiction, free on Wattpad. [Click here to go there.]
I wanted to explore who he could be if the entire benefit of the doubt swings his way. I know that's unlikely. The more research I do into him reveals darker layers and less doubt to place him on the good side of.
But that's fine. It's fiction. It's fun. And I enjoyed the hell out of watching The Sopranos even though Tony's a cold-blooded killer.
My friend John McFetridge has a different take on Ford. His is kind of Sopranos-meets-The Wire, and his writing kicks ass. [Click here to read HIS Ford fanfic.]

Kind of fun when our polite, boring city gets international attention. Even if it's for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Writing, reading, murder, and mayhem

“Criminal minds – writing, reading, murder, and mayhem.” Great holiday subjects, yes?

We’ve been given free rein this month, which means a totally blank canvas and, for me, a totally empty brain. I thought I’d look at our happy blog catch phrase for inspiration.

“Writing” – I’m struggling with revisions for my third Dani O’Rourke, in part because my delightful publishers informed me cutting the brakes in a car is so clichĂ©. I’ve now asked four guys what they’d do if they had to disable a car they didn’t know well, a modern car with electronics and disc brakes and power locks. “Cut the brakes” was the answer times four, even though with independent braking systems, not all braking power would be cut. It would still be an accident waiting to happen on a hill. This is the kind of not-fun work that writers do, the situations that make us run screaming from the computer. It means pushing back with the editors or reimagining an entire plot in the story. Is it too early in the day for spiked eggnog?

“Reading” – I made the mistake of starting the Illiad (Fagles’ translation) and The Judgment of Paris (Ross King on the birth of Impressionism) in late October, thinking such a steady diet of crime fiction needed to be broken up. Now, my pride won’t let me quit either of those, but Sara Paretsky’s personally signed latest V.I. story, Critical Mass, demands my attention, as do the latest by Dennis Lehane, Michael Stanley, Hallie Ephron, and Sara Henry (among way too many others). But until I get said revisions off my desk, reading from my TBR pile is out of the question. Is it too early in the day for more spiked eggnog?

“Murder” – I would never, never think about murdering anyone except in my books, but I’ll bet I’m not the first writer who has wondered just a teensy bit about the way recalcitrant editors might suffer and perish. (Just kidding, editors…) I live in the San Francisco area and our local paper leads with local murders, of which there are far too many. Real ones, where families suffer and the police flounder, and witnesses are silent, and it’s all far too dreary and tragic to read about every day. It definitely isn’t too early for bourbon laced with a little eggnog.

“Mayhem” – “actions that hurt people and destroy things : a scene or situation that involves a lot of violence” (Merriam-Webster) . Creating mayhem in a story is surprisingly enjoyable, and I wonder why that is? Maybe because I would never allow myself to throw china, deliberately hit the car in front of me, smash down a door. Imagining it concretely enough to write a believable scene is both a challenge and a release, and I was deeply gratified when the violent climax of my first book for a thumbs up from the editors and readers. That’s something for me to remember as I go back to my current problem and try to figure out what mayhem I can create that will satisfy me, and my editors, today. No more eggnog until I’m done.

 - Susan