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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pssst....I'm writing.

By R.J. Harlick

At this time of year many of us are getting ready to welcome houseguests. How do you manage working at home when friends and family come to stay?

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date….Yup, I blew it, again. I forgot to write my blog, so here I am rushing at the last moment. Too caught up in the finishing touches of Purple Palette for Murder due tomorrow at my publishers and too caught up in the big celebration. My home team, Ottawa Red Blacks WON the Grey Cup, the first win in 40 years for an Ottawa football team. YAHOO!! I’m heading off to the big celebration parade later this morning. So I’ll have to have my blog done by then.

And using this blog as an excuse I have just said good bye to my husband with our two dogs as they set out for their morning walk on a skating rink. Yup, a skating rink. Freezing rain has left the sidewalk slippery slick. Near impossible to stand up without your feet flying out from under you. Hope they make it back without too many bruises.

Take a few deep breaths. In, out, in, out…..

Okay, here goes. Onto answering this week's question.

I agree with Terry’s take yesterday. There, that was easy. But I do. For some reason family and friends think, just because you are comfortably sitting in a chair plunking away at a computer or staring out the window that you’re not doing anything.  And for some, I suppose writing could be considered not doing anything. So they don’t hesitate to interrupt, to bug you about something inconsequential that could have been asked later and in so doing, totally interrupt your train of thought.

Writing fiction is like reading fiction. You become so totally immersed in the world you’re creating that when someone interrupts you it’s like crawling out of a deep hole into the daylight. Except you don’t want to be in the daylight. You want to be in that magical world you’re creating. And like crawling back down a deep hole, the return isn’t quick. When your conversation is finished, it takes time to find your way back into your magical world to resume your writing. Most people sort of understand plunking away at a keyboard and will sometimes respect it. It’s the staring out the window, that they don’t get. But often that’s when I’m sorting out what Meg should be doing next.

Over time, I’ve managed to train family members to respect my writing time and have delegated time with friends for when I’m not writing. I more or less have set up a writing schedule, which I mostly follow and spend my time with friends outside these hours.

As for visitors staying with me. I give up. I don’t even attempt to write when family or friends are staying. Besides I want to see them, want to chat and catch up with the latest happenings in their lives and enjoy their company.  I view these occasions as a nice break, a holiday from my writing.

There, that was easy. Hope you didn’t mind this free flowing, where ever it takes you blog.

Good, the walkers are back. No falls or mishaps.

Enjoy your day.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Yes and No

Friday a friend called to check up on me, since she knew I had been suffering from a stomach virus. It was a short call, to the point. Before she hung up, she said “Tomorrow my guild show starts and Monday I’ll start to be a friend again.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Except for a few hurried phone calls, she has been MIA. It happens every year in the fall. She’s a ceramicist who does stunningly beautiful work. Her guild has a huge show starting the weekend after Thanksgiving. When she starts working on her pieces for the show, she closes herself off and is unavailable. I understand completely and applaud her for her work ethic.

When someone in the business world says they can’t do something because they have to work, no one bats an eye, but when a creative artist says she has to work, a lot of people pat them on the head and say, “Isn’t that cute!” Or they get huffy because the think the artist is being temperamental. One of my writer friends said a woman she had known years ago asked if she was still doing “that little writing hobby.” My gracious friend simply said yes. What she didn’t say is that her “little hobby” makes her a fine living and earns her the adoration of thousands, if not millions, of fans. What I know about her is that when she’s working on book, she disappears.

I used to find it hard to say no to friends when they wanted to hang out. That changed a dozen years ago when I took a workshop with authors Sophie Littlefield and Cornelia Read. All the participants were trying to break into the publishing world. We had practice pitch sessions, listened to agents, were taught reality by San Francisco cops—the works. But what changed my life was Sophie’s impassioned speech at the wrap-up. The upshot of it was, if you want to be published, you have to get serious.

She told us that she had written several books that she could not find a publisher for. At some point she realized that if she wanted to be successful, she had to get serious. That meant saying no to friends. She recounted the reaction of friends when she turned down a chance for a spa day in Napa because she had to work. They couldn’t believe it. How could she turn down something so enticing?

I heard her loud and clear. Within two months I had begun writing the Samuel Craddock series and I was determined to let nothing interfere. My husband and I had invited people to said with us for a week. I told him that things had changed, that I was delighted to have them with us, but that from 6-9 every morning, I’d be staying in our cabin writing. I won’t say I didn’t ruffle the feathers of our friends. One of them huffed that she didn’t know why I invited them, if was going to spend half my day in my cabin (a bit of hyperbole, to be sure). But she got over it when A Killing at Cotton Hill was published.

What I had done was declare that I was serious, that I meant it when I said I was going to be a successful writer. Now when people visit, I have no trouble telling them that I can’t wait to see them, and they should know that I’ll probably be spending a few hours at my desk most days. Here’s the funny part. People love it when you allow them free time on vacation. They are thrilled to have time to read, or go for a walk, or sleep in. I give myself days off when I have guests, but I keep my determination front and center. In a way, I’m inviting friends and family to participate in the crazy writing life I’ve chosen. Happily, I haven’t lost any friends over it.

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:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


What are you most thankful for in your writing career?
First, I am thankful for the mobile library that brought books to me early on in life (Madeline, Curious George et al).

I am thankful that I really like to write.

And I am thankful I haven't quit writing. Over time I have taken things on: violin, drums, scuba-diving, photography, animation, painting, cooking, woodwork, etc. etc. etc. -- and most recently singing (I'm awful!) -- but always seem to quit just as I'm getting ... conceivably ... almost good at something. So I was afraid it would happen with writing too; that as soon as I felt I had mastered the art, I would lose interest. This has not happened, and I still really like writing, probably because I will NEVER master writing, just as I will never keep a snowflake on my palm, which is its maddening beauty, that it is unmasterable.

I am thankful for flukes (the non-biological type, in this case). I recall Life Before Getting Published. It was a happy, quiet life, but on the writing front it was kind of sad, and occasionally tragic, as I wrote tons and tons, but what good is writing tons if you can't share it? So I decided enough is enough and gave up - completely. Until one day in 2013 I chanced to step into the library and caught the late Holley Rubinsky launching her book of short stories, South of Elfrida, which set off a series of fortunate events which led to a three-book deal!

(Starting with Cold Girl, on sale right now!!
Also I am thankful I am alive in this place and time, which until recently has seemed relatively fabulous. Not so sure this past month, but...

... I am more than ever thankful for my growing circle of artistic and brilliant friends, who I know will band together to fight off the cold shadow that seems to be sliding over us.

* * *
BTW: Am writing this on a biz trip, staying at a gritty roadside motel -- the Flamingo, no less -- it's 3 a.m., had to get up to finish and post this (still can't get the scheduling option to work), but can't sleep anyway. Plus I have a headache. Grateful? Absolutely. Feeling thankful for what I've got: a working automobile, an interesting job, and coming up pretty quick, a couple of ASPIRIN.

Thanks for reading, and happy Thanksgiving!

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.