Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stay-work-ations are best! by Cathy Ace

Summer's almost done! How did you spend your summer vacation? Or did you even take one?

 A bit of the garden in August
I travel a lot. There’s hardly a month in the year when I don’t get handed a series of boarding passes, all of which seem to have me placed in group Z, so I’m in the last little band of stragglers trailing onto the plane without even a glimmer of hope of finding an inch or two in the overhead bins. It’s why I don’t use wheelie-bags, just a tote that I can stuff under the seat in front of me.

Even sat on new deck seats!
The result is that MY summer vacation is to be at home for about six weeks without having to so much as enter an airport. It’s weird, I thought my “former life” – owning and running a business that meant I had to travel the world for nine or ten months of the year – was behind me. But I’ve discovered that this writing life involves a good deal of flitting about the place too…if that’s what you want to, and can, do. I’m lucky I can do it, and have met people at conventions and conferences I know I would keep in touch with even if I never wrote another word, or had another book published. I’m so grateful for that; camaraderie can spring up in all sorts of places. 

Probably the last bouquet from the garden
Thus, as I eye my brand new suitcase (CostCo special offer!) ahead of flying to New Orleans for Bouchercon in less than a couple of weeks, I have about six weeks behind me of “stay-work-cation” that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve had a chance to work in, and enjoy, the garden…as well as working on edits for Cait Morgan Mystery #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS, which will be published in October, and on the edits for the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries #3, which will be published in the UK in November, and in the US and Canada in March 2017. 

With fellow CWC authors at Black Bond Books, Maple Ridge
I also took over as Board Chair for Crime Writers of Canada at the end of May this year, so I’ve been hard at work getting up to speed with all that entails, as well as attending various Board and committee meetings. I also organised and participated in a four-event CAROUSEL OF CRIME for CWC members at Black Bond Bookstores around the Lower Mainland in BC. That was great fun. On September 1st – yes, tomorrow – the CWC Arthur Ellis Awards for excellence in Canadian crime writing open for submissions for the 2017 cycle…for works published in 2016…and that’s been a lot of effort (not just on my part) too. (Photo: L to R - Allan J Emerson, Sam Wiebe, me, Marty Allen, Katherine Prairie, Eileen Cook.)

Gabby & Poppy like having me at home
But it’s good to be at home. For the past couple of years I’ve visited Mum in Wales during August. This year I was in Wales in May and stayed with her before, then again after, the weekend I attended CrimeFest in Bristol. I have to be honest, I’ve missed my summer trip to Wales, but to be here with the dogs and my husband has been super (yes, I thought about the order, there!). 

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER will be available in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and in November in the US/Canada, and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   

Monday, August 29, 2016

What is a vacation?

Q: Summer’s almost done! How did you spend your summer vacation? Or did you even take one?

-from Susan

A: No vacation this year. I have been spending my otherwise vacation funds on professional events: MIXED UP WITH MURDER book tours in February; Malice Domestic (Bethesda, MD) in April; and the upcoming Bouchercon (New Orleans). I will visit a quiet little corner of Burgundy in the dead cold of pre-Christmas to do seasonal research for my second French village mystery, and then Left Coast Crime happens in Hawaii (Oahu) in March and Malice again in Bethesda right before the first French village mystery, LOVE AND DEATH IN BURGUNDY, is released. Please don’t tell me that I can write off all this on my taxes. As my tax guy tells me gently every year, deductions aren’t my problem, revenue to take them against is the issue.

I’ve been working all summer: With my St. Martin’s editors on polishing the first in the new series; with my second publisher on preparing all of the Dani novels for release in sparkling new print and e-book editions; on the first draft of the second St. Martin’s book; and on my Sisters in Crime and other volunteer involvements.

The Dani series - the first, originally published by Avalon, then Amazon's Thomas & Mercer, is coming very soon.

But I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place so vacation-themed that it’s packed with visitors from around the world pretty much all year. You can’t stop for a cappuccino in North Beach without hearing at least six languages being spoken, and parking to look at seductive San Francisco from the viewing area at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge is virtually impossible between the huge tour buses and the hundreds of hopeful cars lined up waiting for parking, never mind a thousand happy bike riders navigating from SF to Sausalito. So I – with friends and family - visit the museums, eat at the latest trendy restaurants, walk Crissy Field to look at boats and sailboarders, and otherwise give thanks I happen to live in a place where ‘staycations’ are as good as the getaways I’m missing. Could be worse.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Writing Tics: The ‘Comfort Food’ of Writing

Do you have any writing tics (habits or problems which you repeat in your prose)? How do you deal with them?

by Paul D. Marks

“Go to hell,” I said with a Jack Nicholson grin. I jammed outta there, jumping in the car, slamming my foot down on the gas. The blood spread across my shirt like a Rorschach blot. I smiled. Shot out of there like a bat out of hell (hey, I made that one up, didn’t I?).

The above graph is from nothing I’ve written before today. But it could be a taken-to-extreme example of my writing tics. I do have certain words or expressions I fall back on, the “comfort food” of writing.

My characters tend to grin and smile. Not only guns shoot, but people shoot out of places, shoot here or there. They jam here and slam there and jump all over the place. So I definitely repeat certain words or phrases. Sometimes intentionally (hey, that’s my style, man), sometimes not so intentionally. And I do use Word’s Navigation feature (I think that’s what it’s called) to see how many times I might use a particular word or phrase. And I often cut them or rephrase them. And I also often start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ but that is a stylistic choice. A voice choice, if you will, as I think it makes my narrators sound more natural and casual, which I like.

I also tend to use the word just maybe just a little too much. But it’s just because I just like the justness of it. Now, even I think that’s just too much of a good thing.

Even Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, says “I'm trying to wean myself off my very Gen X abuse of the word 'literally. Gone Girl contains at least 33 uses of the word, which is 32 more times than any single novel needs.” This is where using Word’s Navigation feature can really come in handy and help you weed out those overused words.

And sometimes my characters use clich├ęs—like ‘bat out of hell’—but that’s the way people talk. I also set things off in dashes a lot, so sometimes I try to cut down on that. If you read something of mine with a lot of that—well, you should see the earlier drafts. I use run on sentences, so I sometimes change them to two shorter sentences. And from the opposite side, I sometimes combine two short, choppy sentences into one sentence.

But I try to do better. I really do. I try to change things so they’re not so repetitive. I look things up in the thesaurus. Uh oh!

Stephen King says, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” I find that sophomoric—and yes I got sophomoric from the thesaurus when I really wanted to say absurd. But it’s not a word I would generally use. The thesaurus is a great help, despite what Mr. King says. And how many of us eschew them? Of course—I also tend to use ‘of course’ a lot—you don’t want to get those hundred dollar words when a two dollar word will do. But the thesaurus is extremely useful in helping you see things a little differently and pick just the right word for the job.

As I said, my characters smile or grin a lot. Sometimes it’s good to break that up with a different way of saying it. The thesaurus helps. And what’s wrong with that? Sometimes you just need something to help you get out of the rut of using the same words all the time. It’s not to use highfalutin words, but to the find the right word to express what you want to say. Sometimes your brain just needs a reminder of what other words are out there, begging to be a star for a moment.

One person’s tic is another person’s style. But you have to be conscious of what you’re doing and don’t overdo favorite things or lean on too many crutches. So, I do try to look for those weaknesses and repetition in my writing. And remember, it can all be fixed in the editing/rewriting.


I just heard that my story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” will be coming out in the December issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, last issue of Ellery Queen’s 75th anniversary year. Totally jazzed about that! – Bunker Hill (Los Angeles) was LA’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. Lots of film noirs were shot there (Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Kiss Me, Deadly and many others). It’s where John Fante lived when he wrote “Ask the Dust.” It got run down after WWI and became housing for poor people. And in the late 1960s it was all torn down and redeveloped. The fabulous Victorian houses were either destroyed or moved. They even flattened the hills. You can see the contrast of the old and new in the pic below. The insert is a Newell post that I copped from one of the Victorian homes on Bunker Hill before it was to be moved or torn down. It’s an artifact from Bunker Hill and the logo for my Bunker Hill stories and a prized possession.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Witch and A Sherriff walk into A Blog

Catriona writes: you have to try quite hard to find a mystery writer who's dull, selfish or nasty. They are a pretty stand-up bunch overall. But even among such rich pickings a few shine extra bright. And two of the shiniest buttons in the American crimewriting box are my guests here at Casa Criminal today. Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker are stopping off on their mammoth blog tour to chew the fat and offer competition prizes and giveaways. 

And now: Jessie and Shannon.

Hey, thanks for reading. There’s a lot of other things you could be doing right now, and Shannon Baker and I appreciate that you’re hanging out with us today on Criminal Minds, a squatter’s home for some of our favorite writers!

Jess Lourey
Shannon and I are 11 stops into a 25-stop blog tour, an idea that seemed genius when we realized our next books both release on September 6. Shannon’s is Stripped Bare. It’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife and is about a woman sheriff in the Nebraska Sandhills. Shannon’s writing is wry, darkly funny, with setting as beautiful and immersive as an O’Keefe painting. She can drop you into a story like no one I’ve ever read. My book is Salem’s Cipher, a breakneck thriller about a race to save the first viable U.S. female presidential candidate from assassination. Both books are available for preorder, but that’s not what we want to talk about today.


[But I want to a little bit. I’ve read the first three chapters of both books in manuscript form and am panting for the rest – CMcP]

We want to swap conference stories. What you’re about to read is a copy of what your ears would stumble on if you were seated next to Shannon and me at a bar, her drinking microbrew and me whiskey, as we share the good, the bad, and the funny of our combined 20 years in the writing business. With Bouchercon just around the corner, it seems like a good time to air this dirty laundry.

Shannon, what’s the worst panel you’ve ever been on?

Shannon Baker

Shannon: The very first panel I’d ever been on at a big conference. The moderator asked one question and went down the line to create the world’s most boring panel. But that’s not the bad part. At the last minute a self-pubbed first-timer was added to the line-up. She had some sad personal story, which I don’t remember, but what I do remember is her bursting into tears and sobbing up there on the podium. You can ask my kids about my compassion quotient and they’ll verify it is in the negative numbers. While I struggled with whether to pat her on the back or tell her to get over it, the rest of the room sat in uncomfortable silence. It wasn’t all bad, though. It was the panel where I met Terry Shames, whose first book hadn’t yet been released. You can ask her about the panel experience. It wasn’t pretty. Top that, Lourey…

Don’t throw down that gauntlet, Baker. My worst panel is hands down the Malice Domestic where the author next to me slipped into a diabetic coma. I didn’t realize this at the time, but the precursor to a diabetic coma looks very much like the person is drunk. When this writer started slurring her words and repeating how much she loved animals, we all assumed she had knocked back a few before the panel. Oy. The ambulance was there within 5 minutes of us realizing what was going on, and I shared a signing table with her the next day (she looked great!), but that was the most uncomfortable Writing Funny panel I’ve ever participated in. 

Shannon here: Near death vs. emotional breakdown. You win.

Jess: YES. I like to win. Shannon, for you, what are some conference no-nos? For me, it’s writers who hog the panel time, or who try to sell books like a Shaklee salesman with a habit. Other than that, I don’t think there’s much you can do wrong at a conference. We’re all there to have a good time, a whole bunch of goofy shut-ins who get to hang out with their tribe a couple weekends a year if we’re lucky.

Shannon here. Damn it, Jess. This addresses my most embarrassing moment(s). I like to drink. I am not an amateur. But for some reason, I had not one, but two back-to-back disasters at conferences. I don’t know if it was the excitement, that I’d forgotten to eat, or a bad combination. Sure, too much to drink, but not way more than what I’ve handled previously. Anyway, horrendous hangovers are not a way to get the most from a conference or to impress people. This leads to my steadfast Two-Drink rule. Listen to my words, children.

Jess: This is good advice. Shannon, do you bring any swag to give away? My first conference, Madison Bouchercon in 2006, I hauled along a gross of bookmarks splashed with the cover for May Day, my first mystery, as well as mood pens (they changed color when you touched them). My favorite swag was a flashlight with a B & E kit hidden inside of it. I handed that out with June Bug.

Here’s the thing, though. I have never picked up a piece of someone else’s swag and thought to myself, “I must buy any book associated with this.” Do you swag?

Shannon here. I have business cards to hand out and, because I feel like I should, I have bookmarks. But I’m with you. I’ve never bought a book based on swag, even though my favorite signing pen is another writer’s swag. I bought her book, not because of the pen, but because it’s good. I’ve enjoyed good swag, though. Hank Phillippi Ryan gave away lip balm and I scored a really cool pen light from Gin Malliet.

Jess: I have some of that Ryan chapstick! It’s the best. I always hope that when I use it, I’ll turn elegant and gorgeous, like her. Still trying…All right, let’s close with our best conference tip. Shannon?

Shannon: If you can, take a power nap in the afternoon so you can stay up late with the cool kids.

Jess here. Mine is to stay hydrated. I recommend red wine.

Join us tomorrow as we slide on over to Stuff and Nonsense and talk about our protagonists’ sidekicks. In the meanwhile, post your favorite conference story or advice or leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Salem’s Cipher or a copy of Stripped Bare.

To add more fun to the mix:
If you order Salem's Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner's home!
If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.

You’re welcome to preorder both to enter both contests.

Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at, or find Jess on Facebook or Twitter.
Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare will release in hardcover September 2016.  Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Tic-ked Cathy Ace" said every editor I ever had

Do you have any writing tics (habits or problems which you repeat in your prose)? How do you deal with them?

Yes, I do. And. But. Very. But. That. But. And. Very. That. There you go – out of my system now.
Some things are true writing tics, some I see as habits of speech my characters use – there’s a difference. 

The tics are things I search for – hunting them down and getting rid of them when I can. But I still enjoy starting the odd sentence with “But”. And I reserve the right to do so (and to begin a sentence with the word “And”!)  Beyond that I do seem to develop a couple of tics with each different manuscript, and my editors tend to spot them – thank goodness, because I honestly don’t even know they are there. I read past them as I comb through the manuscript – or else I’m too distracted by all the Ands, Buts, Verys and That’s.

Beyond that, we all have tics when we speak – a turn of phrase, a favourite saying – and they work just fine in real life, but they can grate on the page. Thus, I try to use a character’s speaking tics in a spare manner, though I admit it’s not always easy and I often need an editor to reel me back in.

None of us is perfect – I know I’m not, and I also know I’m always learning. I doubt I’ll ever learn enough to become a totally tic-free writer, though. But I’ll try. And try. Very hard. There, that’s that. (Editor keels over, weeping.)

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER will be available in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and in November in the US/Canada, and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at