Friday, January 27, 2017

My Fabulous Writing Life – Or the Wonder of Me, Part Deux

Now that we’ve told you all about our writing journey, here are some insights into our writing life, and how we live it.

by Paul D. Marks

Before I get to the question, I want to congratulate Catriona and Art (Criminal Minds Emeritus) on their Agatha noms. Good luck! And now to the question at hand:

Ah, the glamorous life of a writer. TV interviews. Being invited to speak on cruises going around the Greek islands and getting the royal suite. Being invited to be Jennifer Lawrence’s boy-toy and accompany her to the Academy Awards (look for me on Feb 26th). And, of course, you’re immune to every disease under the sun. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Ok, time to change the channel. I think the most basic insight is just do it. Put yourself in a chair, face the blank screen and start typing. Even if it’s just stream-of-consciousness and most of it won’t be used. I look at that like the finger warming exercises a pianist does. Playing scales. And, of course, don’t give up. A writer writes – how’s that for original?

Some of this may be repetetive of earlier posts, but since we’re re-introing ourselves, I figure why not and I’m lazy. So here’s a little refresher from a couple of previous posts on my fabulous writing life or the Wonder of Me, Part Deux:

Do you do anything to get in the mood to write? Do you need anything special beside you?

Well, if I was Hemingway, I’d drink heavily.

If I was William S. Burroughs, I’d shoot up.

If I was J.K. Rowling, I’d run to the nearest café for a caffeine fix and a dose of writing.

But since I’m me, I don’t do any of those things.

I don’t have any set routines that I go through before writing each day, but I do tend to goof off, uh, procrastinate, on the internet or Facebook. No, make that I do research on the internet.

And research is always fun.  It helps get me in the mood and I can pretend I’m working.

Sometimes I’ll walk the dog. Or weed, not do weed, but weed the yard. Don’t ask me how that helps get me in the mood.  But it has to be done. Besides, killing weeds gets me in the mood to kill the badguys in my stories.

In the good old days, I might skydive or SCUBA dive.  Anything with ‘dive’ in its name, including the Maldives – though I know it’s pronounced Maldeevz. Or take a trip to Paris, Perris, California, or Parris Island, but not that one with the Eiffel Tower. I just can’t swim that far. (Insert SCUBA photo here. Amy wanted me to put a diving pic here.  Unfortunately, those are buried away in one of many boxes somewhere – unlabeled, of course.  And shoved in corners everywhere.  But someday they’ll be gotten out and scanned.  Unless Amy wants to spend four months going through them right now 😏.  And if you saw our garage and closets you’d know that four months is underestimating.)  So, this is as close as I could come for now:

And depending on what I’m working on, I might listen to music.  That’s probably the most serious answer here and what I really do more than anything. The music often has the same tone and mood as the story. So if I’m working on a dark story I might listen to the Doors or Leonard Cohen. If I’m working on something set around the time of World War II, in the 30s and 40s, I’ll listen to swing music. Sometimes I just listen to baroque, my sort of all-purpose go-to music—which seems to fit any mood, at least for me.  So here’s something to get you in the mood.  I could have gone with the Andrews Sisters, but couldn’t find a live version:

Where does the writing muse strike you?  Anywhere or do you have a favorite place to write?

The muse can strike anywhere. Anything and everything can spark ideas, either ideas for new stories or ideas for scenes or bits for something I'm already working on.  I can be walking the dogs or driving or at the beach. Watching a movie, having a conversation with someone. The muses are everywhere, you just have to be tuned into them.

One of the places that they strike often is in the shower.  For some reason that frees up my mind.  To that end, I keep a diver's slate in the shower to write down notes so I don't forget things by the time I get out.

But getting ideas and thinking about new works or works-in-progress come anywhere and everywhere.  There's a FB meme attributed to Eugene Ionesco that says "A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing," and it's very true.

My favorite place to write these days is in my home office. Not very romantic, but it's got everything I need close at hand. Probably more than I need. I know some people say you shouldn't have a TV or phone in your office, but I do.  But I can turn them off.  And I have a nice view. Pictures on the wall that inspire me.  Mostly album covers and movie lobby cards, some other things.  And, of course, my picture of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird from Easy Rider.  When I was younger I had a full-sized poster of that shot, now it's just a little 8x10.  Oh how we change as we get older.

Now that I think about it though, who is Hopper flipping the bird to?—I’m the only one here.

I also have access to diet Cherry Pepsi and Waiwara water.  And I used to like to scarf down Red Vines while I wrote, but that is, unfortunately, a thing of the past.

Plus I have my assistants to help out:

When I was younger, I had dreams of sitting on the Left Bank, sipping Absinthe and writing. But, as I may have mentioned before, when I did try drinking and writing all I wanted to do was play. So no writing got done. And when I was a student I would wonder about people who could study or work in libraries.  I always wanted to flirt and goof off. And every movement around me distracted me. Same for writing in parks and other such places.  So none of that for me. No, the best place and, therefore, my favorite place to write is definitely my home office.

Well, that’s about it for now and I’ve got to start getting ready for my date with Jennifer. The tailors are waiting and the valet is….well, he’s drunk, but don’t tell anyone.


Releasing Monday January 30th, 2017: Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, that I co-edited with Andrew McAleer. Here’s what people are already saying:

“High fives all around!” —MWA Grand Master Bill Pronzini. 

“Tough, taut and terrific!” —Hank Phillippi Ryan. 

“A bang-up read of PI fiction from a gallery of impressive authors. Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is compelling, fun, and full of surprises. A treat.” —Shamus Award-winning author John Shepphird

Available at and Down & Books


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ganging Agley

"Now we've told you about our writing journeys, here are some insights into our writing lives."

by Catriona

Here is my official writing life:

I write three books a year. For thirty weeks a year, I write 2K words a day (Mon-Fri) until the 100K first draft is done. Then for nine weeks a year (3 x 3) I research the book I've just written. For nine weeks a year (3 x 3) I edit the researched book. I take two weeks off on holiday in the summer and two weeks off at Christmas.

I check email, deal with social media and cross-post blogs before 7 am. Then I go off-line and write/research/edit till lunch. Healthy lunch, quick email check and a brisk walk, then I write/research/edit/re-edit/proof-read/write cover copy till five. I make dinner. Neil comes home. We eat at six. We do the dishes. We work till nine. I write blogs and blurbs, answer emails, read books to moderate, interview and review. All screens go off at nine.

Here is my real writing life:

If I take today to do all the page proofs it'll be off my desk and off my mind and I can get back to the work in progress tomorrow. Then if I write 3K words a day (including on the plane and at Left Coast), I'll only be two weeks late. So if I keep writing that while I research the one before it, I can catch up by cancelling weekends. NO MORE BLURBS! (Oh wait, except that one sounds like fun. I want to read that book. If I'm blurbing it I can call it working). And I need to edit thirty pages a day of the UK version of that one to get it done, so I don't need to take it to Malice. NO MODERATING THIS YEAR! (Oh wait, I forgot to say that in time. Never mind, this panel looks like fun. I'll read all their books in the evening, using the time I've freed up because I dropped everything to proofread in a oney.) Aw man, I'm reading a Guardian article about Trump. How did that happen? Better go to the coffeeshop and say no to the Wi-Fi code. Ooooh, Twentieth Century Women is on at the Varsity. That's what I need: to look at Annette Bening's beautiful face and clear my mind. And a burrito. Email Neil and float the idea of a pictures and Dos Coyotes night. (Oh wait. Neil's in Florida. I knew that. (But that means I can sit up in bed and write without disturbing him.)) Aw man, it's after midnight and my laptop battery has five minutes left. How many words have I written? Five thousand? Is there any chance they're worth the keystrokes they took? I'll fix it in the edit. When am I editing this? Which book is this?? When did he go to Florida???

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"My Way" (someone had to use that, right?) by Cathy Ace

Now we’ve told you all about our writing journey, here are some insights into our writing life, and how we live it.

Fresh & happy, my first book 2012
I truly believe that, when it comes to “living the writing life” we’re all like Ol’ Blue Eyes, doing it our way. And that’s as it should be. There’s no right or wrong way, just my own way - the way that works for me, now. And what I’ve learned is that the way it works for me changes over time – it has to, because I hate and fight against routine of any sort. Always have. Always will. I seek out new challenges, adore the battle to comprehend them, do my best to master them, then…I find uncharted territory more appealing.

First novel? I danced around the living room when a publisher asked me to submit a manuscript. They invited me to do so in June. They wanted it by the end of the year. I phoned them in October to check if “by the end of the year” might, in fact, mean before Christmas. They said yes. I started to write the book. I emailed it to them on December 21st (I checked my email records). I finally received news that they were going to publish it on May 11th (that I remember, it would have been my late-father’s birthday). For that book I wrote for about an hour and a half every day, printed out, edited, made amendments, then wrote for another hour and a half – repeat. Eventually a book came out at the end. 

Then the “hard work” set in. When I realized I was about to become a writer – a published author – I read about writers who produced a daily word count, and were writing every day. I panicked. I felt utterly inadequate. I can’t write every day of the year, I’d just write nonsense. I can’t write to a word count, same reason. Me? I write when I have a deadline. And it seems my psyche needs that deadline to be galloping toward me at an alarming pace for it to spur me to action. 

Currently I’m working on what will be my twelfth traditionally published novel (I’ve self-published two other books) as well as two short stories which seem to flit in and out of my “got to do it” mentality; because I have two series of books each with a different publisher – one in Canada, one in the UK – I have to show them I am supporting my work in the marketplace but, for one series, I have different launch dates for the UK vs the USA/Canada so promotional effort is staggered for different series/markets; I’m Chair of Crime Writers of Canada; I write for two different blogs, and run three/four blog tours per year.
Luckily, I have always thought a seventeen-hour work-day is normal. I’m also fortunate that I married a fellow workaholic. We each understand the other. I’m blessed with high energy levels (and drink a fair amount of coffee) and am stubborn/determined (delete according to specific situation). 

So – for me, when it comes to “the writing life” this is how it goes: I’m always thinking of future tales to tell; usually I am plotting at least one book; research at the keyboard/on location is ongoing for one book; I’m plotting and outlining one book; I am writing a book; I am editing a book; I am re-editing a book; I am promoting at least one book – all these things are now happening simultaneously, for the three books per year I tend to have published, so they, inevitably, overlap. The toughest thing is that I am usually facing a deadline JUST when a book is coming out. It sucks!

 The “sitting at the keyboard writing the first draft of a book” is the part that – for me at least – means “writing”, and is the most fun; it comes after the thinking, plotting, planning and research for that book. That part of “writing” is something I get to do and enjoy for about four weeks at a stretch, three times a year, when I am writing in full flow, and loving it. (The process, not necessarily the output.) I do this sort of writing for three, four or five hours at a time, forcing myself to leave my seat to stretch, usually when everyone has gone to bed and there’s no reasonable expectation for me to be replying to emails, or responding to Facebook posts, or Tweeting like a madwoman.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s 11.24pm and I have a deadline for a manuscript in 11 days. Needless to say, it’s nowhere near finished. It’s going to be a WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery (title to be decided in conjunction with my publisher, though I know what I’d like it to be) wherein, for their fourth outing, the WISE women are juggling various “cases” including malevolent moles, an unsuitable suitor, disappearing domestics, a vengeful vandal, purloined potcheen and…oh no, that’s enough for you to be going on with. I’m sure it will all come together at the end – it does in my outline. Speaking of which, back to 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 (#3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th and will be released in the USA & Canada on March 1st).  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, January 23, 2017

My Writing Life, or La Dolce Vita

“Now we’ve told you all about our writing journey, here are some insights into our writing life, and how we live it.”

- from Susan

Reading last week’s Minds authors makes it clear(er) to me that I’m not going to be anyone’s role model on how to construct a writing life. I have no brilliant insights, only a few basic tools I use to hack my way through the underbrush that tangles my writing life. 

Motivation is important. For me, there’s nothing quite as motivating as a contract for a book. I wrote the first Dani O’Rourke mystery on spec, no agent, no publisher. It took awhile and more rewriting, polishing, and playing around with the manuscript than a good writer wants to do. The next two in the series were under contract, moved along smartly, and only went off the rails a few times.

Another motivation for me is love – love of the idea, the characters, the vision I have. The first book in the new series was inspired by the realties a couple I know well faced when they transplanted themselves from northern California to a rural town in Burgundy to live out a romantic dream. I visited them a few times and the stories they told, the frustrations, the discoveries, and the quirkiness of their neighbors demanded storytelling. I didn’t think at first it would be a mystery, but my agent persuaded me to steer it that way. No contract, but she was confident it would sell. I just finished the draft of the second, spurred on by the two-book contract I got and my pleasure at diving again into the fictional community I created for the first book.

After motivation come work habits. Here’s where I’m sketchy. For months, I will write every day, sometimes with Annie Lamott’s “butt in chair” as my only discipline. On the luckiest days I’m in that zone of writing excitement where I can’t peel myself away to eat. Unfortunately, I can’t predict or create that spirit arbitrarily. Things happen that break the daily habit and the more days that go by without writing, the more days are likely to go by. This is bad. If you treat going to the gym the same way, you know that it begins to feel like the activity is a mountain too high. All I can do is go back to square one, to Lamott’s stern command, and peck away until the mental muscles get back in shape.

One of the two orange reasons I am easily distracted:

The third important part of my writing life after motivation and work habits is my writing community. I get so much from my work with Sisters in Crime, with my participation at the big conventions and the smaller writers’ conferences. I am revved up going to someone’s launch party, sharing coffee with an author friend, or a panel with two others. I listen to their successes, their struggles, their frequently funny descriptions of interactions with agents, editors, bookstores, and their fans. I am comforted to know they face hurdles in their writing lives, maybe not the same ones I do but equally significant ones. It makes me feel there’s hope for me yet.

If you’re newly on the path to publication, there’s hope for you too – never give up! Truthfully, for all the setbacks, it is la dolce vita.

So, this is book one in the Dani series, newly re-released along with the other two:

And, this is book one of the new series, officially out May 2:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Write on

by Dietrich Kalteis

Early every morning I switch on my computer, and fueled by coffee, I get into whatever story I’m working on, and I go until noon. Mornings are best for me, that’s when I’ve got more energy and focus. Working on my seventh novel now, I’ve got it down to a routine that works for me, and I’m even getting a little better at staying off social media while I’m supposed to be writing. Outside of my morning routine, I carry a notepad with me and jot down ideas that come to me during the rest of the day, and I save these bits until the next morning. 

Aside from coffee, I need music when I write. After trying to find a quiet space to write in my house, I realized how intrusive white noise can be: kids, TV, phones, doorbells, traffic going by, cats and dogs. So, I put on my earbuds and tried music to cut out the distractions. My first guess was it would fill my head with more distraction, but somehow it worked. So now every morning, I line up some tunes that more or less go with what I’m writing, and I start typing away, getting into the rhythm of it. Weird maybe, but I know I’m not alone. I’ve had chats on the subject on another blog with writing friends who do the same thing. Some like jazz or classical music, Sam Wiebe favors jazz without lyrics. Danny Gardner finds one tune that puts him in the groove, then he puts it on repeat while he writes. Hey, whatever works. I set my sixth novel Zero Avenue amid the early punk scene here in Vancouver, and to set the mood that’s what I listened to pretty much right through to the final draft. D.O.A, Subhumans and Modernettes. Author Les Edgerton agreed on the music part, but felt if he listened to punk for nine months straight he’d start hearing the voices. Luckily for me, there were no side effects – so far. Right now, I’m working on a story that’s set during the dustbowl of the late thirties, so the music’s lighter and kind of folky.

When I write I don’t have a word count that I try to hit everyday. Sometimes I only get a few pages done, but if they’re good pages, then I’m happy with that. I like to pen the first draft in longhand before typing it into the computer. And I’ve never used a story outline; I start with a single idea for a scene, and I develop it along with the characters and build subsequent scenes from there and see where it takes me. I tighten it up as I work through to the next draft. When I’m done, I write a kind of timetable and check the sequence to make sure it all makes sense, so it’s a little like working backwards, writing a kind of outline after the story’s done.

Anything relating to my writing, like blogs, marketing and planning events, gets relegated to afternoons or evenings. And I do enjoy getting together with my writer friends at events, writing festivals and conferences. I’ve organized some local events, and this is the fourth year I’ve put together Vancouver’s Noir at the Bar. Writing fiction is a solo effort (with imaginary friends), so I rarely pass up a chance to come out of the cave and get together with other writers who have their own imaginary friends. 

One thing about the whole writing experience, I can’t believe it’s been over eight years since I started writing full time. And time sure seems to have flown since I got that first short story accepted, but here I am, feeling lucky to be writing every day.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Wonder of Me ; )

It’s a New Year – and we Criminal Minds are taking the chance to (re)introduce ourselves. First up – how we’ve arrived where we are in our writing career.

by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a wordaholic. I write ’em. I read ’em. I horde ’em. I find secret hiding places for them. How the hell did I get in this fix?

I started young. At first I didn’t mainline. I just read a few words here and there, cat, dog, see Spot run. Then I began to string more and more words together, until I could read a whole book. Sure, it might have been a little Golden Book, but a book. These were my ‘gateway’ books to other, longer and harder books.

As Bob Dylan said, “I started out on burgundy, But soon hit the harder stuff.”

And since I already did my Adventures in La La Land post both here and at SleuthSayers ( ), which introduced a lot of my influences this will focus more on my writing history. So here’s the wonder of me (not totally in chronological order):

I’m a multi-generation L.A. native. Being from L.A. definitely influenced my writing and probably my career choices as well. It was a good city to grow up in........the city of Raymond Chandler’s “mean streets,” Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer and Cain’s Double Indemnity. In fact, I grew up in a Spanish-style house very much like the one that Barbara Stanwyck lives in in the movie version of Double Indemnity. A film noir town for a film noir kid.

I was born in the heart of Hollywood, literally. And, even though no one in my family was in the film biz, it must have been destiny, providence, fate, kismet that I ended up a script doctor (Hey, mom, I’m a doctor…), even though my initial “goal” was to be a rock star. But as someone who did make it as a rock star said, ““Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

As a kid I loved reading and watching movies. My first venture into “writing” was when I would pretend my army men were on a film set instead of a battlefield and use TinkerToys as Klieg Lights. So I was creating scenarios, making my little men talk, move and go through plots of one sort or another. Eventually I lost the men and started doing pretty much the same thing on a typewriter and now a computer, making characters talk, move and go through the paces of plots of one sort or another.

My long and winding road to becoming a professional writer started with writing songs for that rock superstardom that was sure to come. Yeah, they were classics. (Well, some weren’t so bad.)

My first paid writing gig was for a piece on John Lennon for one of the L.A. papers. What a thrill to see my name in lights, or at least on newsprint and, of course, to get a check. Wow!

While still doing that, I was also trying to break into Hollywood, so I could see just how far Sammy really could run. I would try almost anything to get noticed and have people read my scripts. I’d send letters to everyone. The bigger they were, generally speaking, the nicer they were. Gene Kelly invited me to his house to drop off a script. And when I got there he invited me in for a chat. Cary Grant called me—twice. (And you ought to hear where I was the second time he called, that story can be found on my website.) Burt Reynolds asked to take a look at a script. I got invited to pitch to the biggest producers of the day. And more. And eventually I started getting work as a script doctor, no credit, no glory, but fun, at least for a time. So a fun time was had by all, except for the screaming matches or the producer threatening to send his friends in the Mossad after me after an argument. Y’know, fun, like Day of the Locusts. Fun.

At one point, I shot a film on the last surviving MGM backlot, giving me the distinction, dubious though it might be, of being the last person to have shot a film on any of the fabled MGM backlots before they bit the dust to make way for condos. According to Steven Bingen, one of the authors of the well-received book MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot: “That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his [Paul D. Marks’] name on it.”

And after several years, I went back to grad school at USC, where, even though I was a cinema major I took an advanced short story class from T. Coraghessan Boyle. Today, after donations from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and others, the cinema department at SC just about rivals any major studio with top of the line equipment and modern buildings. When I went there the soundstage was an old army cavalry barn and the editing rooms were the former horse stalls. I think we could still hear the ghosts of the horses. Things being what they were, I never did finish my degree. Sometimes I actually think about going back and doing that.

So after years of optioning scripts that paid well but didn’t get produced, doing rewrites, with my dad never being able to figure out what I did for a living, I guess I became one of the disenchanted, plus I wanted more autonomy. Didn’t want everyone and their chef and gardener sticking their two cents in, saying how something should be done, so I started writing short stories and novels (ah, those glorious rejection slips, but they did make nice targets).

The transition from screenwriting to prose was a difficult one. Screenplays are great for structure, not so hot for description. And people said my first stories and novels read like screenplays. It took a while for me to be able to do description and interior character thoughts. (See the piece I did for Ellery Queen Magazine’s Something is Going to Happen site for more on the differences between novels, stories and screenplays: )
So I honed my craft and one of those early novels, maybe my first, hard to remember now, was even accepted for publication at a major publisher. Of all things, it was about a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood and as absurd as much of it was, little of it was made up. But then the sky fell in. The whole editorial department at that publisher was swept out and new brooms sweeping clean and all of that, the new editors dumped me and my novel. So the experience was like something out of a Hollywood movie…minus the happy ending. And by the time all this happened the humor in the novel was dated as it had a lot of topical satire, so it couldn’t go to another publisher right away and, in fact, went on my shelf. But you know what they say about satire anyway, it closes Saturday night. Still, some day I’ll resurrect this tale.

Eventually, I started placing short stories here and there and slowly started reaching some of my prose writing goals and winning writing awards along the way, which is a great honor and thrill.
One of my goals was finally reached when my story Howling at the Moon was published in Ellery Queen and it was short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards, as well as coming in # 7 in the Ellery Queen Reader’s Award Poll, I also reached another writing milestone when my story Deserted Cities of the Heart was published in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir last year.

And sappy as it sounds, I hope this is just the beginning of the journey. So there you have it, the wonder of me.


And now for the usual BSP:

Coming on January 30th from Down & Out Books:
Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea 
A collection of 15 Private Eye stories from some of the best mystery and noir writers from across the country. Available for pre-order now on Amazon:

And I have a couple of appearances in January.

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

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


Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Dozy Daisy Dreamboat" grows up

The garret I starved in.
Miss Shaughnessy - my primary one teacher (and how's that for a name five-year-olds have to learn to spell?) - dubbed me "Dozy Daisy Dreamboat" because I spent more time looking out the window and making up stories than I did trying to . . . do whatever the rest of them were doing. I wouldn't know.

And she was right. My Godmother, Aunty Doreen, lived opposite the school and said she used to see me, chin in hands, leaning on the windowsill, totally oblivious  to everything in the classroom behind me.

On parents' night, my report was "over-imaginative and too full of nonsense".

Again, fair comment. I made up many stories when I was a wee girl. Some I wrote down, but most I just doled out to my family: I've gone blind! There's a snake in my bed! And the worst: A strange man followed me home! (Sorry, Mum. Sorry, Dad.)

I remember the day it stopped. I was fourteen and a careers adviser visited the school. She asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a writer. She said: "Don't be daft. You're a clever girl. You could stay on and go to university, get a good job."

So I stayed on at school, did an MA and a PhD and got a good job, as a university lecturer. My degrees weren't even in English literature. I did one year and reckoned I'd never enjoy reading another novel as long as I lived unless I switched courses. That year of literature even made me hate Jane Austen (for a while).

Twenty years in all I spent not writing, unless you count essays, a thesis and lectures. The last five of them were utterly miserable. I worked in a School of English with an atmosphere like dementors' breath, teaching linguistics, watching more students fail to find any joy in studying literature.

Then one night, in a cinema carpark, moaning to my pal about how much I hated my job, it all came back. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to leave school. I didn't care if it was daft. I wanted to rip off my grey cardigan and reveal the spangly costume of Dozy Daisy Dreamboat.

So I resigned, we sold our house and moved to a dilapidated farmhouse with a peppercorn rent (see above) and I got stuck in.

Book one went in a drawer after forty rejections. Book 2 was the first in a series about a 1920s detective, channelling the golden-age authors I've always loved. Skipping ahead a bit, I'm expecting the page proofs any day now for the twelfth in the series. It's in development for television and there's a radio adaptation in the works.

As well as those twelve novels in the series, I've written five contemporary standalones in the psychological thriller/suspense sub-genre. I'm currently working on number seven and emailing back and forth about jacket copy for number six.

All my books are set in Scotland (except one foray a hundred miles over the border, to Yorkshire) but I've just finished the first in a trilogy that take place in the US. We're currently discussing titles, taglines and jackets. It's probably going to be SCOT FREE: a Last Ditch Mystery "the lighter side of the dark underbelly of the American dream". But it's probably not going to have an image of a woman floating in a pool dreaming of a Highland Cow standing in a loch.

My sharpie sketch of a possible jacket

That was the other big swerve in my life so far. In 2010 at the age of forty four, I left Scotland and moved to Davis, CA. It was always the plan, when I gave up academia, that I'd chum along if my husband got a job somewhere. Could have been Aberystwyth, or Wagenigen. Turned out it was California. Heigh-ho.

I have no regrets about the twenty years, nor even about the five years of crying in my office in between lectures, because nothing makes you surer you're finally in a round hole than the memory of spending decades in a square hole, picking out splinters and dabbing yourself with rubbing alcohol.

Besides, I think the only way to get where I am is the way I came. And there's nowhere else I'd rather be. Dozy forever!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Confessions of a mystery Cathy Ace

“How we’ve arrived where we are in our writing career.”

It’s good to start the year with a bit of contemplation about where one is in life, and this blog’s going to give me a chance to do that in terms of my “writing career”. In fact, I’ve found it a useful thing to do, as I’m at something of a turning point in said “career”. 

I’ve always written – as many people have. I just didn’t write fiction. Not for a living in any case. I wrote for my clients. Yes, I’m one of those people who made their living in marketing, advertising and public relations, turning out articles about cable ladders and stationery, electrophoresis equipment and software programs. I wrote copy for ads about jewelry and oil rig builders, bus advertising systems and real estate developers. I was extremely fortunate that I had the chance to write for a living for twenty years. Always to deadlines, always on behalf of clients. My career was in the broadest range of marketing communications, and I even had nine post-graduate and management textbooks published on various topics in the field while I was running my own marketing and marketing communications management training company.

As for writing fiction…well, it's what I've always read. I’d entered a short story competition entitled “Murder and be published” for a British women’s magazine called “Company” back in 1988 and was fortunate to be one of the winners whose work was, indeed, published. That short story, “Dear George”, was then picked up to appear in another anthology entitled “Thrillers” edited by John Foster and containing other tales by well-known authors like Ruth Rendell, Margery Allingham and Peter Lovesey (I was the only writer in there I hadn’t heard of!). The book was put on the syllabus for all 16 year-old English Language students in the UK – I was gobsmacked and delighted. I had also just set up my own business (this was in 1989) so I’m afraid that was it for me as far as fiction was concerned – I had to be content to be a “one shot wonder”.

In 2007 I received an email out of the blue from the wonderful British actor, Martin Jarvis. I was delighted that he and his equally talented wife, Rosalind Ayres, had discovered said short story and wanted to produce it for a BBC Radio 4 series entitled “Murder She Thought”, featuring short stories by “new” female mystery authors. By this time I had migrated from the UK to Canada, had sold my business, and was “giving back” as a marketing lecturer at Simon Fraser University, having been imported to Canada by the University of British Columbia to teach marketing on their MBA course. One of the proudest moments of my life was listening to Alex Kingston (yes – Dr. Corday from ER or, as I prefer to think of her, River Song from Doctor Who) perform my short story on the radio; I sat in Canada listening, while my mum and my sister listened in Wales. It was epic. Tears were involved. 

My father’s death, and the realization we aren’t immortal, allowed the idea of writing fiction to worm its way into my bereaved brain. I already had one short story which began (in the form of a diary) on January 1st, why not take that and run with it? So I wrote eleven more tales of murder to build a book entitled “Murder: Month by Month” with each of the twelve stories pivoting on one month of the year. I self-published it. Mum was beyond proud. Then I stretched myself and produced a collection of four novella entitled (you guessed it) “Murder: Season by Season”. 

With two self-published volumes to my name, and some encouraging sales figures, I approached a Vancouver Island publisher with my two books and a ransom note, begging them to “release my characters”. They asked for a novel manuscript featuring Cait Morgan (one of the recurring characters in my two self-published volumes), and that was published (after a tortuous period of time when I learned how long things take in the world of publishing) in March 2012 as the first Cait Morgan Mystery, “The Corpse with the Silver Tongue”. 

Since then I’ve had seven more Cait books published, have found myself an agent, and now have had three books published in a second series – the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries feature four soft-boiled female private investigators who run their business out of a Welsh stately home. Book four in this series is what I’m working on right now, and it’s due to my publisher by the end of February 2017.

After that? Well, you’ll have to wait and see…this blog post is supposed to be about how we got to where we are today, not to take the chance to gaze into a crystal ball…stay tuned.