Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays to All and to All a Good Night!

Made it through another writing year! Are you taking a break or is this prime, quiet, writing time for you?

by Paul D. Marks

A break? Are you kidding? Do writers ever take—or get—a break? There’s blogs to write and stories to flog and novels to finish (I did just finish one). Even when we’re not at a keyboard writing-writing we’re thinking and plotting and figuring out ways to kill you, uh, I mean kill someone in our stories.

Actually, I’m working on several short stories, writing blogs and working on another novel besides the one mentioned above. I like being busy, especially busy with writing. And always hoping for more time to be reading. So there’s two of three Rs accounted for. I’m not so fond of the third R, ’rithmetic, but a .666 batting average ain’t too bad, certain other implications of that number aside.

But yeah, maybe somewhere in there there’s room for a hot toddy (I don’t like eggnog) and some family time and Christmas movies. We’ve already started on those, having watched Miracle on 34th Street and Love Actually. Hey, some things you gotta do.

And since it’s Christmas Eve-Eve, some fave Christmas movies:

Miracle on 34th Street (the original only) (Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn)
The Shop Around the Corner (Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, directed by Ernst Lubitsch)
Christmas in Connecticut (Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall)
A Christmas Story (Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Jean Shepherd)
A Christmas Carol (we usually watch at least one version of this every year, though the favorite for both of us is the Alastair Sim version)
Remember the Night (Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, screenplay by Preston Sturges)
It’s a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, directed by Frank Capra)
Holiday Affair (Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh)

But if you’re looking for something not quite so Christmasy, but not as dark as noir, and not in the crime/gangster genres, give some of these a shot (in no particular order):

They Might Be Giants (George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward)
Soldier in the Rain (Steve McQueen, Jackie Gleason, Tuesday Weld, based on a novel by William Goldman)
A Hard Day’s Night (the Beatles)
The Searchers (John Wayne, Natalie Wood, directed by John Ford)
Shane (Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur)
American Hardcore (no, it’s not porn, it’s about the punk rock movement)
It’s Alive 1974-1996 (The Ramones in concert, though it looks like it’s out of print, still can find it on eBay, but CD is available)
Ruthless People (Bette Midler, Danny DeVito, Judge Reinhold, directed by the Airplane guys)
Uncle Buck (John Candy)
Planes, Trains, Automobiles (John Candy, Steve Martin)
Only the Lonely (John Candy, Ally Sheedy)
Sullivan’s Travels (Veronica Lake, Joel McCrea, directed by Preston Sturges; also The Lady Eve, another Sturges movie)
Sideways (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen)
Ghost World (Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi)
Philadelphia Story (Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart)
His Girl Friday (Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell)
The Gay Divorcee/Top Hat/Swing Time (Fred and Ginger)
Thin Man movies (Bill and Myrna—and TCM is doing a marathon today)
And Now My Love (Toute une vie) (Marthe Keller, André Dussollier, Directed by Claude Lelouch)
Casablanca (my favorite movie, period) (Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt)

If you have kids, some older Disney live-action movies they might not ordinarily see:

In Search of the Castaways (Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, based on a story by Jules Verne)
Old Yeller (good movie, but might make kids sad) (Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Chuck Connors)
The Moon Spinners (Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach)

Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night!


And now for the usual BSP:

I have a couple of appearances in January.

Santa Clarita: The Old Town Newhall Library
Saturday, January 14, 2017, from 10:00 AM-3:00 PM.
24500 Main St, Santa Clarita, CA  91321

Cerritos Library, where I’ll be moderating a panel:
Saturday, January 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
18025 Bloomfield Avenue, Cerritos, CA  90703

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hitting the Couch

"Is this prime, quiet writing time for you or are you taking a break?"

By the time you read this I will be done. I'll have finished the first draft of a book, printed it out (dancing around to . . . haven't decided yet, but probably 'All I want for Christmas is You'), and slammed my office door. With me on the outside.

I'm going to move my pile of Christmas reading - carefully curated and then hoarded all year -  to the coffee-table. I'll light a fire, put the kettle on for the first of many cups of tea and then . . .  plamph! (That's the sound of a writer's bum hitting the couch, in case you didn't know).

More will be added on Christmas Day, if the number of rectangular parcels is anything to go by.

The two weeks until 12th Night when I start up again are the most relaxing of the whole year.

The house is stuffed with food and drink, so when friends come round there's no more to do than select some and spread it on the table. There's a pile of corny old films on DVD. It's California so there are sunny days to go walking and cycling. (It's California, so we also need to cut the grass at least once, though.)

Long Skypes with distant loved ones, sorties to the supermarkets for more feast-fixings, Christmas jigsaw-puzzles on the kitchen table with BBC Radio 4 on i-player. (If the boss lets me. Last night she was in two minds)

One of my favourite Christmas bits is counting up the year's loose change to go present-shopping. Neil and I started this tradition when we were acutely broke and it's stuck. We're constrained to one town, one afternoon (before we meet up for tea), and half the change-pot each. I recommend it for anyone who doesn't actually need more stuff. There's a bookshop, an ironmonger and a charity shop - what more could you want, really?

I hope you all have a wonderful winter break, whatever you're breaking from and breaking to.

See you next year.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Season's Greetings from Cathy Ace

Made it through another writing year! Are you taking a break or is this prime, quiet, writing time for you?

An unusually snowy back deck
This year? I’m at maximum panic point because I have a deadline for a manuscript at the end of January. That means I’m head down, tapping away at the keyboard every chance I have, and trying to do other, family oriented, seasonally required tasks when I take necessary breaks from typing and editing.

No, I’m not crying “boo-hoo”; I realize how fortunate I am to have a book under contract with a deadline attached, but I won’t deny it’s a busy time. The days between Christmas and New Year will be especially good for me because I’ll have the house to myself, and all the preparation, decorating, cooking and baking for a family Christmas will be behind me. 

I think the weather is trying to help me out…it’s unusual for us to have a lot of snow here near Vancouver on British Columbia’s “wet” coast, but the past week has been a white out, with almost a foot of snow becoming frozen solid in temperatures down to about  minus 15 degrees Celsius – again, very unusual. That means that, since we only have one vehicle with snow tyres, I’ve been confined to the house and able to keep my head down. YAY! 

So – the tree is up and decorated, the outside of the house is looking as Christmassy as it ever will, the presents are all ready to be wrapped, and I have the wherewithal to make my usual 100 mince pies. Getting to the down-slope of the manuscript will be a bonus. 
Tree ornaments gathered on my travels

Here’s wishing you and yours the best of the season – and I look forward to connecting with you in 2017, Cathy

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries (#8 The Corpse with the Ruby Lips was released on November 1st) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#2 The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer was published in paperback in the USA & Canada on November 1st, and #3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Doo doo doo

Q:  Are you taking a break or is this prime, quiet writing time for you?

A:  Neither. 

My fault. I have too much to do, and instead of doing it in those valuable windows of opportunity, I endeavour to give myself something more fun to do, like take singing lessons.
As a result, this Christmas I'll be working pretty well all the way through, and when I get the worst of it done, when everyone else is reveling in snow and scotch, how can I possibly write?

My road seems paved with good intentions and to-do lists and New Year's resolutions. Although I love writing, and it's my favourite thing to do, I still put it on the back burner like it's the silliest of hobbies rather than a thing of value. It's the Grinch in me, the realist, the one who says don't bother; it's trite; the world needs bricks and bread, not more cops and robber fiction. Then there's the money factor....I doubt my cops and robbers will ever buy the essentials -- like bricks and bread.

What makes me write? Deadlines. I always manage to meet them, but barely.

Also coffee with my good writer pal. Our enthusiasm builds on itself, makes me restless to get back to that silliest of hobbies and start weaving Dion in and out of his personal catastrophes and inventing characters to subvert his efforts to be good.

Well, hey! I started to write this blog in a crummy mood. I meant to begin and end this post with one word ("neither"), along with the mopey emoji. But instead I've gone rambling on to a realization: I WILL find time to write this Christmas, and I'll love every minute of it, and just the thought of it right now fills me a sort of four-year-old glee, like I've got a day of tobogganing ahead of me.

Soon as I take care of this in-tray!!

Merry Christmas everybody.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Joyeux Noël!

- from Susan

Q: Are you taking a break or is this prime, quiet writing time for you?

A: Considering I just returned from a trip to the town in Burgundy where my second French village mystery takes place, with photos and notes about how the people of the area celebrate Christmas, it’s essential writing time. DRESSED FOR DEATH is due to my editor very soon. (The first, LOVE & DEATH IN BURGUNDY, doesn't come out until May 2 and is set in the heat of summer.)

The French deal with Christmas differently than Americans (or Germans, or Scandinavians, or Mexicans) do. Having rebelled against the close relationship between the state and the Catholic Church in the late 18th century, the country has been trying to decide what, exactly, is the relationship ever since in a long series of laws.

Some French people follow Catholicism and you only have to see the frenzied rush to get into Notre Dame Cathedral on Christmas Day for a High Mass celebrated by a senior French Catholic priest to realize there’s still interest. In the small towns and provincial cities, however, the Church and its rituals are far less appealing. The real town I fictionalized for my series has a church building long since owned by the State but used in a desultory, occasional way for Catholic ceremonies. A traveling priest may visit once a year to do any requested baptisms, marriages, etc. Christmas? No priest, just a ragtag group of mostly elderly residents who sing a bit, listen to one of their group read the Christmas text from the Bible, and try to keep warm in the cold, stone building for an hour or less.

The real celebration is in the food, mais oui! That’s what I was researching. Fancy meats, special pastries, candy, traditional holiday dishes. You’ll have to wait for the book to catch the real flavor of Christmas in Burgundy. In the meantime, Joyeux Noël!

My photo from a well-maintained church in the church city of Vezelay in Burgundy. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Careful What You Wish For

It's a hard question. I'm a writer, and same as any one of us, I'm lousy with books. From the research materials for stuff I'm working on, to the reciprocal purchases I have stacked, and finally, the manuscripts folks ask me to beta read, I'm already digging myself out of a quantum amount of words. When the question of the five books I'd give for the holidays came up, I had to curb my desire to list fifty. I've given plenty of books, sure, but I don't think I've ever received a book as a Christmas gift. I grew up with the largest library in the city across the street from my house. Amazon came along in the 90s. Books I have covered by my lonely. If y'all want to give me something, send me a warm lead on an acquisitions exec at Netflix. My folks over there have long since moved on.

I've never received a gift-wrapped book, per say. Once a lovely lady gave me a box of vintage comics from my lost childhood collection, but book books? I generally only receive them from folks after I've admitted I've never read title-x.

"Oh, my God. Here. Take it and let me know what you think of it."

Yeeeeeah. Lemme g'on 'head and push my to-do list back a couple of months so I can do that. Wanna schedule our discussion now? When are you good in, say, never?

My other issue with this week's question is I have great friends, many of whom follow our blog. They'll read this entry and whatever I mention will show up on my doorstep, in triplicate. Aw man. Decisions, decisions.

Got it. Hook me up with this one:

Rex Stout is responsible for creating, in my opinion, the lushest and most vibrant world in mystery which he forged out of components of New York City that readers thought they already knew. At its center, he placed an orchid-loving, fresh-air hating, agoraphobic epicurean savant of the highest order. Nero Wolfe solved the unsolvable by sending out his ace footman Archie Goodwin with vague instructions to be carried out within loose parameters and discerned the truth from his mistakes. Nero Wolfe was Professor Xavier before there were any X-Men. He was also Alfred before there was a Batman. The mysteries Rex Stout crafted for his genius to solve weren't the most intricate, but they also weren't convoluted. His stories weren't plotted for the sake of plot, but to highlight the personality of the protagonist, the contrasting style of his subordinate, and the cluelessness of the nouveau riche. The capers were the sort of jams in which a member of high society would find themselves unknowingly entangled. As avoidable as an open manhole cover, and just as dangerous. If people didn't walk around with their head up their ass, Rex Stout would've had nothing to write about. That probably goes for the rest of us.

But mysteries are made to be solved, and soon it's back to the witty banter and quirky traits of the great Nero, who only took cases so that he could make enough dough to cover that month's nut, the bulk of which being his elaborate and exotic tastes. Only when I revisited Rex Stout's exquisite creation as an adult did I realize that the function of Nero Wolfe's appetite was to compensate for his existence as a shut-in. He brought pleasures in from the outside world because he was afraid to go out and get them because he'd have to contend with the rest of us. Realizing that made each story even more beautiful. Rex Stout is my avatar. If anything I write manages to come off even half as sublime, I'll probably quit while I'm ahead. If I do, at least I'll be able to cook and eat and drink and brew like Rex did through Nero. May even allow myself to grow just as large as Mr. Wolfe one day.

So if y'all want to put your nickels together and get me something, grab me this joint right here. I write mystery/crime, I cook (my ass off, if I do say so myself) and I like it inside more than out. If I was Nero, Amazon Prime would be my Archie Goodwin.

Best of the season to you all.

- dg

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It’s the Thought That Counts

by Alan

We're getting to the panic-buying days. And nothing makes a better present than a book, right? What book would you most like as a gift? Tell us, and you can share this post with "someone" who needs to know!

When I was a kid, I wasn’t wild about getting books as gifts. Now that I’m an adult older kid, I love it! For those who might want to get me a little somethin-somethin, here are some thoughts:

I’ve never read this (please don’t hate me):

David Copperfield

Or this:

Moby Dick


Or this, either:

Pride and Prejudice

Of course, there’s a reason I haven’t read these books (too difficult for my feeble mind to understand all that old-timey English). This might be easier:

Cliffs Notes Copperfield

Or better yet (I like board books!):

moby dick kids

Self-improvement books are usually a good idea. If results were guaranteed:

Round Ball Straight

Or maybe:

IQ Book

Here’s a book I don’t need anymore:

How to Swim

Maybe this one, to relieve stress:

Adult coloring book

I like cookbooks, but, please, not this one. Doesn’t look too appetizing.

Cooking with Pooh


And on that note, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Right Madness at this time of year …

by Dietrich Kalteis

One of my favorite authors in recent years is James Crumley. A couple of weeks back I recommended some books here on 7 Criminal Minds, and one of them was One to Count Cadence. It was Crumley’s first novel and a great start to a brilliant writing career.

I’ve been working my way through his C.W. Sughrue books, and The Right Madness is the last one in the series. Published in 2005, this was also Crumley’s last novel and the final outing for his character C.W. Sughrue. And while it would be impossible for me to just pick one, The Right Madness is a book that I’d be happy to unwrap as a gift.

The story takes place in Crumley’s fictional Big Sky Country town of Meriwether, and centers on the P.I. after he’s asked by a psychiatrist friend to keep an eye on seven of his patients, who then mysteriously start to get bumped off, leaving Sughrue to solve the mystery in his usual drunken state, told in Crumley’s usual brilliant style.

So, if you're looking for a great read, and if you haven’t read any of his work, put The Right Madness on your own Christmas list, or start with the first one in this series, The Last Good Kiss. Wrap it up and surprise yourself. Then follow it with The Mexican Tree Duck and Bordersnakes. And get to know a great author and some terrific books.

And I do wish everyone a wonderful Holiday Season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A White Christmas

By R.J. Harlick

I awoke this morning to a land of pristine white.  A deep carpet of soft powder has transformed the woods surrounding our log cabin into a winter wonderland of undulating perfection that beckoned us to come out to play. And play we did… or at least our dogs did. My husband and I enjoyed a delightful walk, kicking clouds of fluffy white into the air. Absolutely perfect snow. And it’s still snowing. Hallelujah, we’re going to have a white Christmas.

So when it came time to write my blog, I really wasn’t in the mood to write about which book I wanted for Christmas. Terry did such a thoughtful job of writing about books in her blog yesterday, I felt that I couldn’t add more. And since Christmas was foremost in my mind I decided to write once again about Christmas.

For me, Christmas can only be white. I can remember only a couple of years when it was green and drab and horror of horrors, raining. I tell you, a Christmas without snow is no Christmas at all. I feel sorry for you poor sods living in southern climes, where you have to make do with hanging Christmas ornaments on  palm trees or cacti and reindeers trying to pull Santa’s sled over a sticky lawn. You don’t get to enjoy the fun of frolicking in the snow, skating on a lake of mirror ice, hurtling down a hill on a toboggan, swishing through deep powder on skis or most fun of all, making snow angels in the fluffy white.

For almost thirty years our log cabin has been the centre of our family celebration with my sisters and their families and, in the early years, our mother and my mother-in-law trekking many miles to join in the fun. With every bed in use, even the sofa bed in the living room, our timber walls have been full to bursting with laughter, shouts of joy and non-stop conversation.  We spend a lot of time outside too, because everyone wants to enjoy the snow.

One of the reasons our cabin became the favoured Christmas venue was the guarantee of the fluffy
white stuff. While Toronto and other parts south might be snowless, we could always be assured of snow in the wilds of Quebec. Since my nieces and nephews were babies, they have been coming to the cabin for Christmas to enjoy their playtime in the snow.  There have been many snowball fights, toboggan races down the steepest hill and of course the quintessential hockey game on the frozen lake.

Afterwards, everyone with their rosy cheeks piles into the house to warm up frozen toes and fingers in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot mulled wine or hot chocolate and watch the coloured lights light up the glass ornaments, tinsel and icicles on the Christmas tree, which I might add is always a real one, spruce or balsam, freshly cut by my husband.

Sure the snow has caused problems, like cars getting stuck or not starting, the electricity going out, once for three days, and one year a broken leg, when a toboggan rammed a tree, but hey, that’s part of the experience to be retold at later Christmases.

So regardless of whether your Christmas is white or not, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukah and generally a Happy Holiday. Take care until we meet again in the new year.