Friday, October 28, 2016

Never Say Never

If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?

by Paul D. Marks

A long time ago an agent asked me if I had a “big book” in me? I told him yes, because what else are you supposed to say? They want to hear yes and you don’t want to turn them off, so you tell them what they want to hear. But the fact of the matter is it was true anyway. I did have an idea for a big book in me. And not only an idea but I had even made notes and a timeline and character chart on a huge piece of paper, something I don’t normally do as a “pantster”.

It’s not a crime book, though there may be some crimes in it. And it is a “big” book in the sense that it spans several decades of the 20th century. It’s also still something I would love to do because I love history and I love the concept.

I don’t want to talk about the specific plot here, but imagine Bleak House meets Ragtime. Okay that’s not really it. But something sort of like that.

The big book is about intertwined families, relationships and the march of history in a fictional context—that sounds pretty ‘big,’ doesn’t it?—going on down through the decades and yes, there might be some crime in it, but it wouldn’t be a crime novel per se. I suppose you could say it was mainstream, maybe even literary. I read all kinds of things, well a lot of different things, and I enjoy the mainstream and literary genres, which sometimes overlap, so I guess that’s what you could call the “big book”. And that’s one of the things I might write if not a crime novel.

Things I probably wouldn’t write would be sci-fi, romance, YA or fantasy. But I also thought I’d never write horror and around Halloween I’ll have my second horror story—The Long Night—coming out in the Simple Things anthology, edited by Franklin E. Wales. My first horror tale—Finders Keepers—appeared in Journals of Horror–Found Fiction, edited by Terry M. West, last Halloween. As I say, I never thought I’d write horror stories but was asked by Terry to do something for Journals of Horror, with no guarantee that it would get in. I saw it as a challenge. And luckily it got in! It was fun to do but really stretched my writing chops. I’ve also written some humor/satire fiction and mainstream/literary, as well as crime. For example, a story called Terminal Island was published in the literary journal Weber: The Contemporary West. Another mainstream/literary story, Endless Vacation, received recognition from Glimmer Train and The Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition. But writing horror was really a stretch. So when Frank came to me and asked me to do another one I thought, “I can do this…maybe.” Would lightning strike twice? It did. But it truly is a challenge writing outside of your comfortable genre. And I guess I’m just comfortable with gunshots, stabbings, exsanguination, petechiae eyes and death by a sickly sweet green liquid disguised as Gatorade, a.k.a. anti-freeze. But I am getting more comfortable with the horror genre.

Here's the Simple Things book trailer:

So, who knows, maybe one day I will write a sci-fi or romance or YA book. Never say never. What about you?


If you’re in SoCal, I hope you’ll join Laurie Stevens, Connie Archer, Elizabeth Harris and me for Halloween Highjinks...or Lojinks tomorrow (10/29/16), 1:30pm at the Platt Library in Woodland Hills: 23600 Victory Boulevard, Woodland Hills, CA  91367. We’ll be reading from our spooky works, talking writing and having a swell time. And there might even be some Halloween candy. And it’s free and open to the public.

For more info click this link:

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

More fun with sharp knives.

If you've ever seen the film WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, you might remember the scene around the family dinner table where the conversation goes something like this:

"I didn't say Guy Lombardo was Spanish."
"John Wayne was six foot three."
"These mashed potatoes are so creamy."

Well, it's my mother's birthday today (she's in her very very very late seventies (eighty-two)) and we were just eating birthday cake, sorting out the edge bits for a new jigsaw puzzle and discussing whatI'd write if I didn't write crime. Here's the consensus:

"Scottish fiction. What did Sayers write?"
"Remember there was coffee in it too. That's extra liquid."
"Anne Tyler's not crime."
"Some of them just have a tiny wee straight bit."
"Teenage stories for children."
"Eighteen hairpin bends.* And what was the other thing I had to look up?"
"Oh yes, Dragnet."
"That was crime."

(*On Lombard Street, in San Francisco)

My family are not going to be any sort of help at all, clearly. So I'm on my own. If I was banish-ed (it needs three syllables) from MWA, SinC, and CWA and had to write something else, it would be . . . a cookery book.

The sort of cookery book I love doesn't have a recipe per page with a list of ingredients and a pithy set of instructions; it has the history of the dish; alternatives and additions; perhaps a planting plan for growing ingredients in the garden; and - most important of all - it tells you why you're doing things.

If a recipe says "be careful not to . . . whatever" I want to know why. Will it be tough? Will it break with tradition? Will it fail to rise? Will it taste bad? Will it look funny? Not all of these things matter much to me.

I like nothing better than a chatty cook book that can sit on the kitchen table for weeks to be read over solitary lunches. Even if I only ever make one or two of the recipes, I'll have learned something about food or a bit of kitchen wisdom, or at least have been entertained.

If I could write such a book - called maybe LOW EFFORT, FLASHY RESULTS - I'd be happy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

All I want to do is have some fun (ie: crime) by Cathy Ace

“If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?”

Out in Canada 18 October, USA November 1
My initial reaction to this question is “I haven’t a clue!” Pardon the crime-related pun, but, to me, it’s unavoidable…crime fiction is one of the few constants in my life, and I would find it difficult to step away from. One thing I do believe is that whatever one chooses to write, it should be something one reads…with breadth and depth of reading allowing one an insight into the field.

So…what do I read? Other than crime fiction (and non-fiction), I read biographies, auto-biographies (lots of “researchy” books when I need to) and I have shelves and shelves full of books about movies and the history of the movie industry, art and the history of art, architecture and the history of architecture, music and….you get the idea. I like human-created stuff. Oh, and I have a lot of books about food and gardening too. I also have half a room full of what people refer to as “The Classics” – though why they do that I don’t know because it makes them sound crusty and distant, and a well-written tale about human truths is as fresh the first time you read it – no matter the year – as the day it was written.  I enjoy reading poetry. I also love it when I have the chance to settle down with Shakespeare and speak aloud his magical words to my attentive dogs, because that – for me – is by far the best way to read Shakespeare…out loud, and with emotion,  feeling the rhythm of his words in your mouth. I’ve even read the entire Bible and the Nag Hammadi scriptures. Twice.  

Paperback out in Canada & USA November 1st
But as for writing something other than crime fiction? I have no idea what that would be. You see, even if I were tempted into historic or mythological territory, there’d still have to be a crime at the heart of the story for me to find it satisfying to write. The crime might not be murder – indeed, several of my books do not feature a murder at all – but there are so many other types of crimes to choose from it seems a pity to not do so. The basic storytelling backbone of good vs evil (and "playing" with those essentials) implies “evil” must be present, and usually that shows itself in the manner society would view as “a crime”. So…all that being said, I’m at a loss!

Cathy Ace writes the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS was published in paperback on October 18th in Canada, and will be available on November 1st in the USA...order NOW!!!) and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and will be available on November 1st in the US/Canada). Please excuse the highly promotional nature of this post...but with two books being available to readers within such a small window, I owe it to myself and my publishers to do the best I can for the books by presenting them to readers whenever I can :-)

Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dear Reader,

Q: If you woke up one day not wanting to write another crime novel, what would you write instead?

-from Susan

Persuasion…oh, wait, that’s already been written.

One of my favorite relatively recent novels is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’ve read it twice, a copy sits on the TBR pile, and I admire the late, lamented Mary Ann Shaffer and her still-with-us niece, the children’s author Annie Barrows, almost beyond reckoning. If I were to venture beyond the mystery genre, that’s the direction I’d go in.

Why? It’s set in a fascinating place I liked learning about. It’s set in a massively significant historical period but with such an intimate perspective about that time. It IS a mystery because we don’t know for a very long time what happened to the absent heroine of the story. The story’s in epistolary form – letters – that show us what we need to know about the writers, bit by charming bit. A cast of eccentrics who reveal both their flaws and their goodness as the tale progresses. A tragedy, a thriller, a love story wrapped up as sweetly as a packet of love letters in ribbon. But not treacly, not with much ‘telling’ except in the voices of the cast, who reveal their biases and affections in their distinctive points of view. Honestly, the novel has, for me at least, a thousand virtues.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Of Course, It’s Funny; It’s Always About Us.

Can you name a writer or a work that made you Laugh Out Loud? (no inner chuckles)

Paul here, I’m out washing my hair, out of town, on the lam, in hiding, so D.J. Adamson is filling in for me this week. D.J. has a terrific blog and newsletter and a new mystery, Suppose, the second in her Lillian Dove Mystery series. She’s also the author of the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy. She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter that interviews and reviews authors go to Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.

So take it away D.J.!

Of Course, It’s Funny; It’s Always About Us.

by D.J. Adamson

“It’s the best book ever,” I told the conductor when, traveling on the train to Santa Barbara for a business appointment, he stopped at my seat and asked quietly, “Are you all right?”

I was blubbering like a baby.

Two weeks later, he stopped again. “Best book?”  This time, I was laughing and hooting.

It’s what truly makes a book memorable, isn’t it? The ability of the author to hook into human emotions and not let go. I remember which novel that made me literally sob for its last 150 pages: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina. The novel that embarrassingly caused other passengers to think I’d lost my mind: Heller’s Catch-22.

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"

Heller’s use of satire and black comedy to create a statement on the war was hilariously memorable and poignant.

Authors like Stephen King use humor to ease suspense and tension. Some of King’s comedy is horrifically funny…”Here’s Johnny.”  Others use black comedy to take a tragic situation and make a comment about the human response to it:  Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five; Adam’s Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces.

In my own work, I use sarcasm as a humorous means to get my character’s point across, (also to amplify her pent up resentments). I use comedic behavior as a method to demonstrate our continual attempt to “get it.”

I am thinking of my latest Lillian Dove novel Suppose.  Lillian returns to Davenport, Iowa, a city from her dark past, and she spots a dumpster diver she remembers. Now after her sobriety and creating a new reality for herself, she sees herself as having a higher, unique awareness.

My first thought was that it was crazy Ben or a man I’d named Crazy Ben. He was walking the same route with his shopping cart full of ripped, black trash bags and dirty, smaller white grocery bags, holding found treasures. You’d think I’d feel sorry for him. Especially since my life had changed so vastly. I was sober. Getting ahead in life. 

I’d once admired how he always seemed to know where he was going. Sure footed, he’d walked the same route day after day, safe in his routine. Sure of his path. But since my path had taken me elsewhere, I could now understand how a person can get on the gerbil wheel of going nowhere fast. Running to beat hell, around and around and around, only to end up in the same place.

I slowed. Hold it. Where was his cart? The rusty-wired cart with the squeaky wheels? It was never more than ten feet away in case someone came by, saw the value of his valuables, and decided to make them his own. Had he been robbed? The thought melted away my arrogance. It’s hard to come up with an answer, why me and not him? A toss of life’s dice? If I wouldn’t have quit drinking, it could easily be me pushing around the cart, hoping for enough recycle to buy a drink to warm my blood, or finding leftover food so I wouldn’t have to spend any money on nutritional sustenance. 

I pulled over. I should give him a little money. 

When I parked, I checked to see where Ben was and found him straightening up from the trash, his hands full of empty cans. He turned toward me as if he could sense he was being spied upon.

 I was wrong. It wasn’t Ben. What happened to Ben?

Did that make a difference? It wasn’t my Crazy Ben, but it was a Ben nevertheless.  I pulled a twenty out of my billfold and walked over.

As I came closer, he hurried and dumped his cans into a black, trash sack I now saw setting on the other side of the trash can. 

“Here.” I held out the bill.
“Go away,” he yelled.
“No, you don’t understand. This is a gift.”
“Get away from me. I’m not doing no harm.”
“Of course you aren’t.” Poor soul. “Take this. Get a warm meal.”
“I don’t need your money. Get away from me.” 

He snorted a lungful of air through his nose, leaned back, and aimed at huge, blob of spit. If I wouldn’t have moved faster, I’d have been wearing it.

He inhaled another mouthful. 
I raced back to the car. 
What was I doing back here? Why had I come? People don’t change.

She realizes by coming back, she, too, is running in that gerbil wheel. Around, around, around, still trying to “get it” even after five years sober.

Okay, so I am not a Heller, King, or Vonnegut. But I am working to use comedy as a tool for offering a comedic response to the perceptions we make. Especially when we think that somehow we have risen “above” the masses who just haven’t “got it.”

"Catch-22...says you've always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to."
"But Twenty-seventh Air Force says I can go home with forty missions."
"But they don't say you have to go home. And regulations do say you have to obey every order. That's the catch. Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you'd still have to fly them, or you'd be guilty of disobeying an order of his. And then the Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters would really jump on you."


Thanks, Diann!


Paul here again. If you’re in L.A. I hope you can come to SoCal MWA’s event: Demystifying Writing Software: James Scott Bell, Sharon Goldstein and Tom Sawyer discuss Scrivener, Storybase, Final Draft and Word Tips and Tricks, Saturday October 22, 2016. 2pm. Studio City Library, 12511 Moorpark Street, Studio City, CA  91604. I'll be introducing, so if you have any questions, drop me a line.

Check out Akashic's St. Louis Noir anthology with my short story Deserted Cities of the Heart.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Snorting and Cathy Ace

“Can you name a writer or a work that made you Laugh Out Loud? (No inner chuckles)”


Before I answer this question I should stipulate one thing: I’m much more of an “inner chuckler” than a “laugh out loud-er”, so I’m going to allow snorts to count as laughs for this discussion. I hope that's okay with everyone :-)

I’m delighted to be able to tell you that one of my co-bloggers here writes books that make me grin, chuckle silently and snort aloud a good deal: Catriona MacPherson’s Dandy Gilver books are beautifully written in a style that’s so easy to read it belies the skill she employs on every page. She delivers the preposterous with a side-helping of the mind-boggling, and all the time keeps me – the reader – smiling contentedly as I wait for the next barbed comment or wry observation. All her Dandy Gilver books are a joy to read, and I suggest you try them, if you haven’t already done so. (There’s a new one due soon!)

If you’re not familiar with Catriona MacPherson’s Dandy, maybe you’ve heard of Douglas Adams’ Slartibartfast or Marvin (the paranoid android)? Just two of the bizarre characters in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they wriggled their way into my life back in 1978 when they first appeared in the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name, then became manifest on the page. I’ll admit I enjoyed the BBC TV series of the first two of the Hitchhiker books, and even the movie they made (where Slartibartfast’s workshop was finally realized in much the way I’d imagined it). Pretty much anything Douglas Adams wrote makes me snort a lot – including Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. 

I hope my picks give you as much to smile about as they do me. 

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and will be available in November in the US/Canada), and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS will be published in paperback in October in Canada, November in the USA). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   

Monday, October 10, 2016

Stop, You're Killing Me!

Q: "Can you name a writer or a work that made you Laugh Out Loud? (no inner chuckles)"

-from Susan

Pretty much anything by Dave Barry.
Pretty much anything by David Sedaris.
Bits of Mark Twain.
Some snappy lines in Nora Ephron’s Heartbreak and also in some of her essay collections.

Within the mystery genre, Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness books have some laugh out loud situations, as do Cindy Sample’s Dying for a … series. Years ago, I remember laughing out loud at some of the nuttier situations in Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder caper books. John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories, at least at first. After the twenty-seventh, even “she who must be obeyed” got a little shop worn. And, to my own surprise, I guffawed at a couple of comically awful moments in Johnny Shaw’s Plaster City. Surprise because there’s so much violence in the very scenes I was laughing at – how could that be? Maybe because Johnny Shaw’s just a great storyteller, as all these writers are.

There are probably others, but these snap to mind. Can’t wait to hear what my fellow Minds have to recommend.