Wednesday, November 30, 2016

That time of year …

Being a creature of habit, I sit at my desk most mornings and start writing, and I go until noon. At one time or another I’ve tried to write through distractions: airport terminals, flights, trains and buses, coffee shops, crowded rooms, but I usually end up having to rewrite most of it. So I’ve learned, when real life comes knocking at the door, I put the work aside and roll out the welcome mat. Everybody deserves a break, right? And visiting with family and partying with friends at this time of year is something I like to do. Taking a break from the routine for a few days allows me to return to the work with fresh eyes. And besides, you never know when a family member or friend might slip into the eggnog and say or do something interesting that could work its way into a story – and they often do.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thankful and Grateful

Thanksgiving Week in the USA, and a good time for all of us - wherever we might be from, or live now - to take stock. What are you most thankful for in your writing career?

by Paul D. Marks

I’m glad this said what are you most thankful for in your writing career. ’Cause I’m grateful for a lot of things in my career. And, for the most part, I don’t mind talking about them. But if this had been a more personal question I might have begged off since I like to keep those things close to the vest. Especially as, at the moment, I’ve had some issues that are pissing me off mightily. The whole last week/ten days has been one lousy thing after another, though none related to writing. And you tend not to feel real grateful when that happens. So this is a good exercise in helping to put things in perspective.

And I blew it, reading the question wrong, thinking it said what are you “grateful” for instead of what are you “thankful” for. But I’ll just leave it as is even though I could make a global change. It amounts to the same thing and I do feel a little foolish since it is, after all, Thanks-giving, not Grateful-giving.

As Cathy mentioned earlier in the week, it takes a village to raise a writer. It’s a rough road for most of us and unlikely that you just wake up one day with your finished book/story and everything goes well. It happens. It happened to a friend of mine at USC, who was walking through the cinema department one day when he got a call on the loudspeaker. He went to the office. They told him that Steven Spielberg was on the phone. Yeah, right, he thought, someone’s pulling my leg. But the only person pulling on him was Steven Spielberg, who’d seen his student film and wanted to produce my friend’s first feature. And the rest, as they say, is history. But that is the exception to the rule. Most of us work and struggle and play starving artist at least for a time. And when we do make it it’s often because there were people along the way who helped us and kept us from falling or making the mistakes they did.

So, what am I grateful for:

I’m grateful that I have/had the perseverance that it takes and that I didn’t give up.

I’m grateful for all the people along the way who took a chance on me and/or helped one way or another.

By Vojtech Sazel (Own work (Original text: self-made))
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’m grateful for computers, even as I curse them and Microsoft and Dell and the rest. I still love the technology, at least when it works. My long-ago writing partner was the first person I knew who got a personal computer, ancient technology by today’s standards. I went to his house one day, saw him move a paragraph from page 10 of a script to page 65. Wow! Coming from the world of IBM Selectrics and literally cutting and pasting pages or parts of them when we wanted to move them and then xeroxing the Scotch-taped page, that was a miracle. After that, I was the second person I knew to have a PC. Yup, high tech, 2 floppy drives and no hard drive… A Leading Edge, similar to the one in the pic here since that’s not my pic.

I’m grateful for Facebook. I’ve met a lot friends there, some of whom I’ve met in person, others I haven’t yet but hope to. And a lot of them have been very helpful in various ways and I hope I’ve returned the favors.

I’m grateful for my first paid writing gig, which just happened to be about John Lennon for one of the LA  newspapers. If you know me, you know how much I love the Beatles. So it was an honor of sorts to have my first paid writing be for something about one of them. But that was the silver lining to the dark cloud, because the article was on the one year anniversary of John’s death.

I’m grateful to have won the Shamus Award (and some others) and to have been nominated and short-listed for the Anthony and Macavity and to have come in #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll one year. Wow! That’s enough to make your head spin.

I’m grateful people actually read and liked White Heat and Vortex and my short stories.

I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made.

I’m grateful for Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, where I’ve also made friends and learned a hell of a lot.

I’m grateful for my writers’ assistants, Egg and Little Egg. Bogey and Audie. Curley and Moe. And now Pepper and Buster. See the pic of Super Assistant Curley. He used to help me write, tapping away at the keyboard. Sometimes I liked what he wrote better than what I was doing.

I’m grateful to have grown up in the film noir country of L.A. and to have been exposed to all kinds of movies and writing and art in my life that I could then use in my writing to give it more life (I hope). And I’m grateful for the highs and lows and in-betweens of my life, which also have given me things to write about and draw on. I’m grateful for the adventures of one kind or another that I’ve had, some good, some not so good, but all good fodder for writing.

I’m grateful for my friend Nancy, who I’ve not seen in decades, but who taught me that grateful is spelled like that and not like this: greatful. And who, when she worked at MGM, gave me a secret insider’s history of the studio that’s never been published to my knowledge and that impressed the hell out of the authors of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot when I showed it to them, as they’d heard of it but had never seen it.

I’m grateful for this place, Criminal Minds, where I can answer questions and spout opinions, express my weird sense of humor and even do some BSP. And grateful for my fellow Minds. I’m grateful to have been asked to join by Sue Ann Jaffarian and the other folks here at the time. And grateful to still be here. Grateful also to have been asked to blog at SleuthSayers by Rob Lopresti and Leigh Lundin. Another place for me to spout off ;) .

I’m grateful for rain in L.A. – now send more!

And last but not least, I’m grateful, not greatful, for my wife, Amy, who’s stood by me through thick and thin, ups and downs, both professional and personal. And certainly we’ve had our own ups and downs but we’ve always stuck together and stuck by each other. She’s my biggest fan and my best friend.

And I could go on even though when I first saw this question I wondered what the hell I would say, but it turns out when you—when I—stop and think about it I have a lot to be grateful for.

What are you grateful for in your writing life?

So, as this is the day after Thanksgiving, I hope you all had a good one!


And now for something not quite completely different: My story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” is in the brand new, hot off the presses December 2016 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Get ’em while you can. And if you like the story, maybe you’ll remember it for the Ellery Queen Readers Award (the ballot for which is at the end of this issue), and others. Thanks.

Oh, and that is, of course, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, not that “other” one on the East Coast. And more on this in a future blog.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Try a little thankfulness

Thankfulness isn't the emotion frothing away on the top of the cauldron right now, let me tell you. But keeping focussed on my writing career makes the question easier to answer. Writing is solitary; publishing is anything but and I don't think I'd be a published author without this lot:

5. I'm thankful for all the other writers, readers, bloggers, editors, reviewers, booksellers and librarians in Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, The Crimewriters' Association, The Society of Authors, and on Facebook and Twitter and at Bouchercon and Left Coast and Malice and Harrogate and Bloody Scotland and The Wigtown Book Festival and The Edinburgh Book Festival. Whoever said that writing was solitary was an imbecile, actually.

4. Especially Terri Bischoff.

3. I'm thankful for J.K.Rowling. The extraordinary explosion of Harry Potter catapulted UK publishing into a new world of optimism (and cash) just exactly when I started trying to make my living as a writer. She changed publishing and I caught the wave. The Cormoran Strike novels make me happy every time I think about them too. Roll on book 4!

2. I'm thankful for my agent, Lisa Moylett. She took me on eleven years ago and has stuck with me through thick and thin (and thinner and thinner). She knows everyone, loves screwing a better deal out of a no-discussion boilerplate agreement, genuinely loves books. She always reads everything at the speed of light and speaks her mind; she's always ready to chat about books we love for hours on end; she listens to my mad rants and heartfelt pleas and can tell which are which. She makes everything more fun and less scary.

1. Finally, I'm thankful for Neil McRoberts. My husband - like Cathy's (see yesterday) - supported my decision to pack in being a university lecturer and try my hand at writing despite what that did for the family coffers in the first couple of years. He doubled down on it after the 2008 recession when my income - so briefly healthy - dwindled to a speck you could cough out of existence. Also, he's listened to more middle-of-the-night panics than I can remember delivering. Cheers, pal.

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends. Happy random Thursday in November, everyone else.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thank You Cathy Ace

“Thanksgiving Week in the USA, and a good time for all of us - wherever we might be from, or live now - to take stock. What are you most thankful for in your writing career?”

Happy Thanksgiving to all my chums in the USA, or those of you celebrating it around the world. I hope you enjoy whatever your traditions for this time of the year might be. We celebrate
Thanksgiving here, in Canada, in October, where it’s viewed as more of a “harvest” celebration. That being said, when the entire family is gathered around the table, we do the whole “I am thankful for…” thing, and I like it, so that’s what I decided I would do here. They say “It takes a village to raise a child” and it also takes a village for an author to write, get published, and keep doing that time and time again. So, since it seems unlikely I’ll ever get the chance they have at the Oscars to do the whole list of “Thank You’s”, I’ll take the chance to do it here, now.

My first ever published short story, Dear George
I am thankful for: the encouragement of Mum and Dad, without which I’d never have become a reader, so certainly not a writer; Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres for finding my short story Dear George and producing it for BBC Radio 4, which allowed me to enjoy the pride of my family when it aired, and encouraged me to write more; Ruth Linka who was the publisher at TouchWood Editions who invited me to submit what turned out to be the manuscript for my first novel, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue. proud with my first novel at Swansea library in Wales
You’d think that would be it, but you’d be wrong. When you’re focused on getting your first book published, that date – the release of your first “child” into the world – seems to be your only goal; what you realise the day afterwards is that it’s just the beginning. Since I was first published I have received words of wisdom from many fellow authors, several of whom are fellow bloggers here, and some of whom I have met at various conferences around the world. Thank you to all of them. I have worked with different publishers (thank you Taryn Boyd at TouchWood Editions and Edwin Buckhalter at Severn House Publishers) and editors (thank you Frances Thorsen and Anna Telfer) and have also met bloggers and reviewers (sometimes in person, often only on the Internet) who have provided so much support and encouragement it’s almost unbelievable. Without my mum and my sister reading everything I wrote, almost as I wrote it, I might never have finished even my first book – their patience is fantastic.

But, the thing I am most grateful for? Ultimately, that’s the support of my husband – my partner on this strange journey. He knew that my giving up my “day job” teaching at University so I could write full-time would mean he’d retire later than he’d hoped, but he encouraged me to take the step, and “go for it”. He puts up with the fact that I get horribly stressed when things aren’t going well with my writing, and lets me talk through problems which make no real sense to him because he doesn’t read my work until it’s published. He’s my proudest champion, my rock. And, when I am up to my ears in self-doubt, or in tears because I stupidly read a review on amazon/Goodreads, and it’s not a good one, he helps me regain my grasp on perspective, and reality. Without his backing, I couldn’t possibly have managed to get eleven books written and published within the last four and a half years, because I wouldn’t have had the time or emotional fortitude it takes to write and promote them without his support. Thank you, my darling husband xx. (Not allowed to use photos of him...he doesn't like it.)

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, will be 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:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Some Things to be Thankful For

Q: "Thanksgiving Week in the USA, and a good time for all of us - wherever we might be from, or live now - to take stock. What are you most thankful for in your writing career?"

-from Susan

Right now, there is some irony in the notion of thanksgiving for many of us. We worry about the future, about our friends, about those we choose to ally ourselves with, about the nation. Trying to turn my attention away from these legitimate fears requires some discipline. But, if I focus:

1.     I’m thankful that I have a career writing crime fiction. It’s at least my third career and was only a dream 10 years ago. Three books so far, a fourth coming out in May!

2.     The new book is the first in a contract with a major publisher – something I dreamed of and that excites me. St. Martin’s Minotaur feels like a good fit for me and my editor there has been wonderful.

3.     I was so lucky to find an agent early in the game. I know it’s a high hill to climb and I don’t know if I would have been strong or brave enough to keep at it if I had received scores of numbing rejections in the process.

4.     Reviewers and readers like my books. I don’t have as many fans as some of my fellow Minds have, and I haven’t won the awards they have. But neither have my novels fallen completely into the high weeds. I do get the occasional personal note from a reader who loves the Dani series, and that’s as good as a healthy portion of cranberry sauce!

5.     I have become part of a community of people – crime fiction writers – who are so generous, supportive, talented and honorable that I feel grateful every day. People have befriended me, have given me help, and reminded me to pass it on.

So, lots to be grateful for on this front. And for the other? The same advice published writers gave me early on fits well: “Never give up!”


BSP: All Three Dani O'Rourke mysteries available for holiday shopping.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Four books for the crime/mystery fan

by Dietrich Kalteis

First off, I’d like to say thanks to the group for inviting me to join in. I’ve been checking out 
7 Criminal Minds for some time, and I’m honored to be included alongside such a talented bunch, most of whom I know personally, and the rest I’m looking forward to getting to know here. 
And I’ll be here every other Wednesday.

To answer this week’s question, I went over the novels I read over this past year, and here are four favorites I’d like to recommend for the crime/mystery readers on your list.

The first one’s Don Winslow’s thriller The Cartel. A sequel to The Power of the Dog, this one’s a hard-hitting, epic tale set amid the Mexican drug war raging north and south of the border. One of the best novels of the year. 

Dead is Dead by John Lansing is a real page turner and the third installment in the Jack Bertolino series after Blond Cargo and The Devil’s Necktie. It’s perfect for the crime or mystery fan who appreciates pace and terrific subplots that weave into a smart and complex tale with characters that are pop-off-the page real. Lansing gives us the kind of book that’s hard to put down.
One to Count Cadence was James Crumley’s first novel, first published in ninety-four. It’s a quirky anti-war story about Sergeant Krummel and his crew of drunken misfits who mostly raise hell in an effort to combat boredom on their base in the Philippines. When they’re all shipped to Vietnam, they face some real hell. It’s powerful, heart-felt and funny, and well worth a read.
A Little More Free by John McFetridge is the second in his Montreal series. An engaging story that offers an authentic recreation of events from Montreal’s past. With his easy style, McFetridge takes the reader on a journey that brushes up against murder and real-life incidents like the infamous Blue Bird Cafe fire and the robbery at the Museum of Fine Art. And cleverly woven throughout the story are the games of the ’72 Canada-U.S.S.R Hockey Summit which add to the novel’s realism.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Book 'Em

This is the time of year when thoughts turn to gift-giving. Could you suggest four books that would be ideal for "x" type of person - you get to define "x", or a book for each of four different types of person...again, your choice of types.

by Paul D. Marks

Before I get to this week’s question, I just want to salute all of our veterans today, Veterans Day, and every day. And Happy Birthday to the USMC: Semper fi, even for those who weren’t/aren’t Marines.

Now to the question at hand, which I think I misunderstood. So I listed a lot more books than I probably should have. But you know what they say, you can't have too many books, so:

I guess we all have various types of people in our lives. So I’ve picked out four types rather than four specific people. And since it is appropriate to have the right book for the right type of person here goes:

For that friend who likes to lurk in dark corners, wearing a fedora and trenchcoat (watch that trenchcoat…): how ’bout American Noir from Library of America. Two volumes of pretty good noir. Volume 1) Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s & 40s: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy, Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson, The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich.  Volume 2) Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Pick-Up by Charles Willeford, Down There by David Goodis, The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes. — I’ve actually given this to a couple of people (hope you liked it if you’re reading this post) and I have it myself. Though the version I have was before this cool version in a slipcover. I bought each volume individually. But I wish I’d waited ‘cause l love the double volume and the artwork on the slipcover.

For the narcissist in your life: Well, let’s see. How ’bout we start with Toxic Parents, co-written by pal Craig Faustus Buck, with Susan Forward. Or The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family by Eleanor Payson, or Narcissists
Exposed, 75 Things Narcissists Don't Want You to Know by Drew Keys. Books on narcissism also work for friends who talk too much about themselves, agents and editors who don’t respond (yeah, sure, they’re just busy). And nieces and nephews who never send thank you notes. Hell, they’re good for almost everyone.

For the jerks who give you bad reviews: Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin and Gloria Kamen, Etiquette For Dummies by Sue Fox, Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition by Peggy Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post, Daniel Post Senning, or any one of a million other etiquette books. And don’t forget what your mother said, if you can’t say something nice about someone keep your damn mouth shut. These also work for the jerks who talk on their cells in restaurants, elevators, doctor’s offices. But a .45 works even better.

For the crazy ex: HowDunit – The Book of Poisons, by Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon, Strangling Your Husband Is Not an Option: A Practical Guide to Dramatically Improving Your Marriage, by Merrilee Browne Boyack, How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (The Oatmeal) by The Oatmeal and Matthew Inman. This one might work for people too, I’m not sure. I also didn’t know that oatmeal could write, but hey, anything’s possible. So, try it, with your oatmeal. And, of course, there’s this:


And for you, my friends: Well, it depends on who you are, of course, but here’s some of my favorite books and authors that I would give to people I actually like: Pretty much anything by Chandler or Ross Macdonald, James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz). Pretty much anything by Carol O’Connell, though I do love her Mallory character. Down There/Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis. The double Noir volume mentioned above. The Poet by Michael Connelly, Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn. (I liked this one so much when I first read it I tried to buy the movie rights to it. Unfortunately, they were already taken. Too bad nobody’s done anything with it.) Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books. And getting away from the mystery/thriller genre: Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer, The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, Chronicles Vol 1 by Bob Dylan (Hey, Bob, when the hell is Vol 2 coming out?), Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years by Mark Lewisohn, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. (The greatest revenge story of all time…and I love revenge.). Paint it Black by Janet Fitch, Ask the Dust by John Fante. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Neon Noir by Woody Haut. And The Razor’s Edge, by Somerset Maugham, my favorite book of all time, because I relate to it on so many levels. — I’d give any of these to any of you because I think they’re all good and you might enjoy them.

And oh so many more.

And for anyone with taste, high and especially low: White Heat, Vortex, LA Late @ Night and various magazines and anthologies where my stories reside.

*Disclaimer: I haven’t read all the books mentioned here, especially those in the narcissists, crazy ex and jerk graphs. So I don’t vouch for them. But I do vouch for the titles of those books – I like them. That’s why I chose them. Though, on the other hand, I have read some of them…


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

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Holding The Line

"At this time of year our thoughts turn to gift-giving. Which four books would you buy for a person of type X?"

I wrote a blog full of Steinbeck, Kafka, Morrison, Atwood, Heller and angry despair yesterday, after the heartbreak of Tuesday night. I couldn't see my way clear to thinking about suitable Christmas presents for Auntie Morag or Wee Hamish.

Then last night, I realised that three books I had already bought and stashed away in the spare room for my real nieces and nephews this Christmas are essential stories.

1. The Day The Crayons Quit. by Drew Daywalt. (Ages 3-7) A great empathy primer and an introduction to the power of organised labour to bring about change.

2. Mother Bruce, by Ryan T Higgins. (Ages 5-8) An unconventional family (Mummy is a male bear and the kids are geese) full of love and laughter. Genuine out-loud laughs.

3. The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin. (Ages 0-3) A parent's wish for a new life - full of love, unbounded dreams and deep kindness.

4. I'm going to add Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which I'll be tucking in a stocking or two this December. If you haven't read it, it's a brilliant, clarifying and readable account of contemporary American justice, with a lightbulb-moment analogy I won't spoil.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Four (or more) for four by Cathy Ace

“This is the time of year when thoughts turn to gift-giving. Could you suggest four books that would be ideal for "x" type of person - you get to define "x" - or a book for each of four different types of person…again, your choice of types.”

I’m choosing the “four different types of person” option for this question, and, who knows, maybe you know some folks like the ones I’m describing.

For my husband
: he’s a huge Elmore Leonard fan, though he also enjoys Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books too (hey, we all have our guilty pleasures) and he doesn’t get much of a chance to read novels, so, when he does, he likes to kick back and enjoy the adventure. As luck would have it, there’s a new Lee Child book available: Night School takes his character, Jack Reacher, back to 1996 when he’s still in the forces. For anyone who enjoys a lone-wolf scenario, Jack Reacher has to be their go-to character, and Lee Child their go-to writer. His style is easy to read and sucks you in from the beginning. This gift would earn me a couple of cooked breakfasts, I’m sure. (In order to ensure I get cooked breakfasts for a whole week, all I’ll need to do is also buy him Ian Rankin’s new Rebus book, Even Dogs in the Wild, and  Linwood Barclay’s most recent release, The Twenty Three).

For my mum
: she’s a lover of traditional mysteries, an avid library-user, and reads a few books each week. Of course I’m her favourite author (allow me that, at least?) but, otherwise, I know she prefers British, rather than non-British, settings; despite the fact she’s visited me in Vancouver, Canada many times, she tells me she cannot envisage the settings in “American cozies” and finds the dialogue somewhat confusing, too.  She’s read everything Agatha Christie wrote - several times - and she’s the reason I love Christie and Marsh. That being said, she’s okay with books by those authors written at that time, but doesn’t like historicals – she’s particularly averse to anything set in the 1950s or 1960s; she doesn’t care for books that “try to be funny”, but enjoys them when they are light; she gets annoyed with “young things” (she’s in her eighties) traipsing about falling over clues; she seems to prefer main characters who are female (though she doesn’t admit it); she hates anything that smacks of romance. So…tough to choose for.  A “picky” reader. For her I’m going to get the books featuring Miss Silver by Patricia Wentworth. When mum and I went to The Mysterious Bookshop in New York last year, she found an old Miss Silver Mystery, was gifted it by the lovely people who run the store, and enjoyed it very much. I’ll stick with those for mum. She’ll lap them up, and will appreciate the fact I have hunted about for them on her behalf. 

Grandsons and granddaughters: (I’m counting this as two different types of person….though, being six people, they are really six different types of person, however young). I have three grandsons – aged zero to four, and three granddaughters – aged two to seven, so I’m going for something that can be read aloud to them, to begin with, so they can enjoy a brotherly and/or sisterly experience, and which they can then enjoy as they read alone for years to come. I travel a great deal, and always have....I would like all my grandchildren to understand how travel and exploration can help them learn, and broaden their horizons, so a set of books featuring Dora and Diego would be just the ticket.

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, will be 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: