Sunday, February 26, 2017

Business life

Business:: If you could make magically do one thing to make the business end of writing easier for yourself, what would it be?

Terry here, posting a little early because I haven't figured out how to schedule posts (see below) and I have to leave for the airport at 6AM.

I yearn for an assistant to help me with the business side of writing. My ideal assistant would be someone who:

1)   Can handle book-related social media. By that I mean someone who knows what to post about my books, how often, what the best demographic target would be, what would be cost effective, how to word promotion, when to do a giveway or some other promotional idea.
2)   Could put together a book bible for me. A book bible is a list of what characters appear in which books, their physical descriptions, their backgrounds and quirky habits. The bible would include places I’ve mentioned in each book, again with descriptions. That means the assistant would have to read each book, paying close attention.
3)   Could track what promotions work best in terms of sales.
4)   Would put together book tours and panels—and come up with savvy ideas for getting an audience there.
5)   Would run piddly errands for me, like picking up my cleaning or buying vitamins, or paying bills or having my hair done. Oh, wait, that’s something I would have to be there for in person. Not to mention that it’s something I actually enjoy. It may not seem like these are business-related, but they are insofar as they allow me more time to write.
6)   The perfect assistant would keep my computer and phone updated to the latest bells and whistles and teach me how to use them. (And how to do things like schedule these posts).
7)   And finally, how I would love for someone to tidy up my emails—weeding out the ones that say things like, “Yes.” And filing the ones I need to keep in the proper folders.

Several things keep me from hiring this mythical creature:

First, I would have to find someone, and I don’t have a clue how to do that. Then I would have to explain all these tasks. I would have to pay them! I would have to be willing to put tasks off until the assistant comes each week, because I surely couldn’t afford to have someone work for me all day every day.

One of the stickiest problems would be: Where would the assistant work? I can’t give up my computer for them to work on, and even if they had their own computer, some of these tasks could only be done on mine.

So until I figure out all this, the assistant is me! And quite frankly, I don’t think I do these tasks all that well. I’m open to suggestions from anyone who might have solved this problem. Takers anyone?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dazed and Confused, but Too Tough to Die

If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? i.e. Born to be Wild, The Long and Winding Road… And why? 

by Paul D. Marks

Well, I’m not sure if this song would cover the entire process or life of a writer – this writer – summarized in a single song, but at least part of it would be the Beatles’ Paperback Writer*. The song opens with these lyrics, “Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look?” and I always wanted to open a query letter with just those words. Never have, but you never know.

The song goes on to tell the story of someone who wants to be a ‘paperback’ writer. He’s written a story of a dirty man, who has a wife who doesn’t understand. He has a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer. He’s even amenable to the editing process, willing to change the length. And he tempts the editor he’s writing to with the thought that his book could make a million for them overnight. Who doesn’t want that, right? Though we’re told not to do things like that in a query letter. And on top of everything else, the song has a great guitar riff.

But it’s not the only song that comes to mind. At various stages of my life all of these song titles (below) could have described my writing career and writing angst. And, as Cathy said earlier in the week, it’s really just the titles or a line or two that applies. That said, here goes, my writing life in a succession of song titles (in no particular order, that would take too much concentration):

Hooray for Hollywood
Celluloid Heroes
I’ve Seen That Movie Too
Too Tough To Die
Long and Winding Road
Trouble is a Friend
Not Fair
Comfortably Numb
No Expectations
Gimme Shelter
Let it Bleed
Rip This Joint
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Yer Blues
Low Budget
Living on a Thin Line
Stop Your Sobbing
No More Looking Back
Iron Man
Dazed and Confused
Good Times, Bad Times
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
The Loneliest Place on the Map
My Enemies Have Sweet Voices
For No One (when a story gets rejected)
Break on Through
Art Fails
Only the Lonely
The Long and Winding Road
The End

Well, you get the idea. There’s been ups and downs, good times, bad times and I’ve often been dazed and confused. Times I wanted to throw in the towel and times when I felt on top of the world. So, despite all the turbulence, you just have to stick with it, believe in yourself and do it because you must, not because it will “make a million for you overnight”.

And when you’re done with your story, and to bring it full circle with Paperback Writer:

“If you must return it, you can send it here, But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer.”

Paul McCartney performing Paperback Writer

*“Paperback Writer” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney


And now for the usual BSP:

Episode 2 of Writer Types from Eric Beetner and Steve W. Lauden is here, with a bunch of great stuff. Interviews and reviews with Reed Farrell Coleman, Joe Lansdale Jess Lourey, agent Amy Moore-Benson, Kris E Calvin, Danny Gardner, Kate Hackbarth Malmon, Dan Malmon, Erik Arneson, Dana Kaye and……….me. Be there or be y'know. 

Also, I’m over at the ITW Big Thrill—Thriller Roundtable this week talking about “How long does it take you to write a book? Why do some stories flow so much faster than others?” along with Karen Harper, Jean Harrington, David Alexander, Heidi Renee Mason, Winter Austin, Adrian Magson, Susan Fleet, A.J. Kerns and Ronnie Allen. – Please come and join in the discussion.

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at and Down & Out Books.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

"What song title best describes your writing life? And why." by Catriona

Well, it's not that Ian Dury hit now, is it? "Post-it Notes and Cups of Tea" would never have been released as an A-side.

Mind you, "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" is a contender for the editing part of the job. "Stet for rhythm" is my most frequent margin note when a copy-editor tries to bend towards the formal, conservative English style some copy editors seem to prefer.

"Once I Had a Secret Leeerrrrrve" describes the decades of wanting to be a writer but thinking it was a pipe-dream.

"Imagination (ooh ooh ooh oo-oo ooh!)" isn't as apposite as I thought it might be. "Keep On Keepin On" is more to the point on any given day.

"Baby's Got Back" is a horribly accurate account of what happens to one's physique from keeping on keeping the bum in the chair as long as you need, though.

If I had to pick just one, it wouldn't be "Why does it always rain on me?" despite the frequent pity-parties about the state of publishing and the incivility of anonymous reviewers. It would be my favourite (uncool) song.  (And I'm so uncool I made a clanger about who sang it!) Because we've all got bigger things to worry about these days and, for me, writing it's still the best job in the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sinatra, Bowie, Curry, Joel & Cathy Ace

If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? And why?

Okay, I admit it – there’ve been some challenging questions to respond to on this blog since I joined, but this particular one has had me scratching my head in an entirely different way. The reason? Most of the “songs” I know only really apply insofar as one tiny part of the lyrics apply to one part of my writing life, so here goes….

My writing process/life is a mixture of extremely organized (outlining, research etc.) and chaotic (I rebel against any sort of routine). So there’s always a tension there. Also, the longer I write, and the more books I write, so my overall feelings about my writing life shift.

I honestly believe that the first book an author writes is probably the closest to their heart; when I wrote “The Corpse with the Silver Tongue” (my first Cait Morgan Mystery) it had been rattling around inside my head for years, so it was the close to “the book you are desperate to write”. As I was writing that book, and throughout the time when it was my only book in the marketplace, I suppose the song that best described my emotions about my writing life would be “My Way”. 

Then I learned more about editing with a publisher, the business of publishing, the way in which the marketplace demanded “labels” for an author’s work and my perspective shifted. By book #3, The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb, I felt that Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel” was more appropriate, as I felt I had to fight to write a book that was traditional, rather than “Cozy” with a capital “C”, and thus I included a mysterious serial killer in the background story, as well as introducing the specter of Mexican drug smuggling. By book #4, the Corpse with the Platinum Hair, I was back to Sinatra again, having gained acceptance for a setting in Las Vegas, with which I won Canada's national prize for best light mystery, the Bony Blithe Award - it seemed as though "Luck Be a Lady" was working out for me.

Finally, I set a book in Wales, The Corpse with the Sapphire Eyes, insert sound track of “Going Home” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show here. I liked that feeling, so sought out a way to write a series set there. 

Next, I had to build a relationship with a new publisher at my Canadian publishing house, as well as with a new agent and a totally new publisher in the UK for that proposed second series of books – the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries.  It was a busy, challenging year where I felt I was “Running on Ice” a la Billy Joel. 

By 2016, I hoped I’d found my feet again, but it was now far from “My Way” and much more like Joplin's wailing “Piece of My Heart” as I finally came to terms with the schedule required to write three books a year, launch three books a year, and be an active (hopefully effective) Chair of Crime Writers of Canada.

Now, in 2017? It’s early days yet: I just sent a manuscript to my agent and it will be with my publisher by the end of February – this will be the fourth in the Wise Enquiries Agency series, and I have eight Cait Morgan books in the market. I’m looking forward to re-editing my originally self-published first two volumes of short stories and novella later this year…so am I about to channel Ol’ Blue Eyes again? I don’t know…but even if I do, I've learned enough over the past five years to know it won’t be “My Way” but much more likely to be “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” than anything else! Wish me luck, folks, and here’s hoping I’ll be waving not drowning. 

Cathy's next book, THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK (book #3 in the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries) will be published in Canada and the USA on March 1st: the ladies of the WISE Enquiries Agency are called in to investigate some strange shenanigans at a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. As the WISE women try to unravel this puzzle from their base at stately Chellingworth Hall, they then get embroiled in another when they come across a valuable book of miniatures which seems to be the work of a local famous artist, murdered by her own brother. Are the cases linked and why do both mysteries lead to a nearby old folks’ home? The WISE women are on the case – and nothing will get in their way . . . Or will it?

“Like” Cathy Ace – Author on Facebook and sign up for Cathy’s newsletter before March 1st to stand a chance of entering for a special offer on this book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What a Difference...

THE QUESTION:  If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? And why?


What pops to mind is "WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES"

I've written before about serendipity, the day I met my mentor, the late great Holley Rubinsky, which led to meeting my other mentor and friend, author Deryn Collier.

What a difference a day made.

These two mentors believed in me and put me back on my writerly feet. So I braced myself for another loss and entered the Arthur Ellis awards, the big Canadian crime writer's contest hosted by the CWC -- Crime Writers of Canada. The day I heard who won the unpublished writers' award (the Unhanged) I was too boondoggled to actually soak up the thrill, yet I knew I had turned a big corner.

What a difference a day made.

When I'm writing these days, there are many days when my theme song is "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," as I sit miserable in the conviction that Book Two (coming in March!!) now that it's beyond the point of no return ("No more changes," my publisher shouts at me over the phone) is dung, and that all those people who have told me how much they loved Book One will just be staggered at how awful this one is in comparison. But then I get a note from an ARC reader who loves it...

Oh, what a difference a note makes.

Darkness falls. For added inspiration, I am playing the song on YouTube. What a beautiful voice has Dinah Washington. Next up on the list, I can't help but notice, she's belting out Drinking Again. I will not let that become my theme song, even if Nobody Loves Me, and I find myself Way Down in the Hole. Truth is, however much I tell myself I Don't Care, in fact -- maybe this is what it all boils down to -- I Wanna Be Loved. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Singing to Myself

If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? And why?

-from Susan

Not only is this the hardest question I’ve ever been asked on 7CriminalMinds, but it begs the question of how I can begin to summarize my writing processes. Catch me on Wednesday and my process, my writing life, is apt to be 180 degrees different than it will be on Sunday.  Meet me for coffee on Tuesday and I’m floating. See me at an event on Friday and it’s doom, doom, doom.

And to make the assignment even harder, I don’t have a wide range of popular music to draw on or the memory bank for song names. I was in agony trying to wrest something – anything – to answer the question. I knew “Mahler’s Fifth Symphony” wasn’t going to cut it, or the prayer to Isis and Osiris from The Magic Flute…so here’s the best I could do:

The dorky song “High Hopes,” sung by Doris Day in that strangely chipper voice. Something about ants, I recall, but the idea was that you keep on and you can conquer most everything, which in my case includes sloth, the desire to rewrite endlessly, and plot holes I keep falling into.

“Pick Yourself Up” written in the 1930s and sung in one of those charming if effete musicals Fred Astaire did so well. The only lyrics I recall are “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and…” Sorry, it fades after that, but it is a good idea for a writer, right?

Here’s my best song candidate: “Hotel California,” by the mighty Eagles. Why? This line, which I do remember “…this could be Heaven or this could be Hell” and if that doesn’t describe the overall writing life for me, I am stumped as to the best candidate.

I wait eagerly to see how much better the rest of the week’s answers are!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hard to put down

by Dietrich Kalteis

Here are three mysteries I’ve read over the past few months, ones that I’d recommend to someone who’s never read one.

First up is Sucker Punch by Canadian writer Marc Strange. It’s the first Joe Grundy mystery in a two book series, published by Dundurn Press in 2007. It was Strange’s first mystery and was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best first mystery right out of the gate. Its storyline follows ex-boxer Grundy whose claim to fame is he was once KOd by Evander Holyfield. Now, he’s the security chief at a swank downtown Vancouver hotel. When a guy who just inherited millions checks into the hotel and announces that he’s going to give it all away, then starts passing out hundred dollar tips, Grundy guesses trouble’s on its way. And when the rich guy ends up dead and a large amount of his cash is missing from his hotel room, Grundy sets out to discover who did it. This story gives readers the right mix of plot, pace, interesting characters, told and just the right touch of humor. 

You can’t read Sucker Punch without following it up with the sequel Body Blows, released in 2009 and winner of an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best original paperback. Another great mystery. And if you like Marc Strange’s writing as much as I do, there are two more written before his death in 2012. Follow Me Down (2010) and Woman Chased By Crows (2012) make up the Orwell Brennan series, published by ECW Press, and they’re every bit as good as the Joe Grundy stories. 

At End of Day was the last novel by George V. Higgins. His career as a prosecutor served him well, getting to know the lowlife crooks of Boston’s underbelly. This one was published in 2000, and the storyline follows a couple of long-time Boston gangsters, McKeach and Cistaro who rat out the Italian mob to the FBI. The trouble is they’re used to agents who look the other way to the crimes that they’ve committed themselves. When a new guy takes over the Organized Crime Unit, they’re not sure if they can trust this guy. In typical Higgins’ fashion, the story is told mostly in dialog. Taking the place of narrative and action, his street lingo is so strong and right on the button that it works as well as it did for his early classics from the seventies like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Digger’s Game and Coogan’s Trade.

“So I go in, way outta my way, and, this and that, and say to him, ‘What’s goin’ on? You know? ‘What gives?’ Like, ‘Where’s my fuckin’ money? And he acts like , well, I dunno, like it’’s a big surprise or something, I might be somewhat concerned. He’s onna phone when I go in, talkin’ to some fuckin’ broad, and he’s the one now pissed at me—I’m comin’ in with no appointment—like I’m interruptin’ him. Just what am I doin’ there?
“Well, geez, I mean, what’m I supposed to do? He’s three weeks late. He owes us thirteen thousand bucks and change, plus the nienety underneath. I’m gonna write it off this week and next, ‘til things turn around for him? Who the fuck are these people …”

The Second Girl by David Swinson is another book to add to your reading list. Swinson’s former career as a police detective goes a long way to add authenticity to his writing, and he’s got a great understanding of the workings of police departments as well as how the darker side thinks. The Second Girl’s a solid mix of fast pace and believable characters. The protagonist, Frank Marr has his finger on the pulse of crime in Washington, D.C. A decorated and retired police detective turned private investigator, Marr’s the best in the game; the only problem is he’s also a long-time drug addict whose equally good at hiding his secret. When he accidentally stumbles on a kidnapped teenager in the home of a local drug gang he planned to rob, he finds himself in the spotlight when asked to investigate the disappearance of another girl, possibly connected to the first. The trouble is trying to keep his own secret when he finds himself constantly under the spotlight. The Second Girl is a great start to the Frank Marr series, and the next offering is Crime Song which will be available from Mulholland Books this May.

Monday, February 13, 2017

3 Must Reads

Terry Shames answers the question: What 3 mystery books are “must reads” for those who have never read mysteries before?

What a question! Before I would make such a recommendation, I need to know what kinds of books the reader likes to read: Fiction or non-fiction? Does he/she like to learn something when they read, or do they prefer to use reading as an escape? What interests them: history, science, social issues, women’s concerns, art, music? Do they like to read books set in other countries? The list is endless, because there are mystery novels that cover every single topic anyone likes to read about.

That’s why the mystery writers that I admire take very seriously the task of researching background for their books. They work to describe settings and characters so that the reader feels as if they know the place and the people. If they write history, they dig up the little details that make the story fresh. They are careful to use technology properly; they know how weapons really work; they know how people really behave. And in the case of the unknowable, they try to imagine how it might be (I’m thinking of those who successfully write from the viewpoint of an animal. No one actually knows how a dog thinks, but read Spencer Quinn, and he takes a fair shot at knowing the unknowable).

If I were to select three books for the novice mystery reader would I want to suggest a classic or a contemporary book? A “literary” mystery? Would I start them on something cozy and accessible? Would I go for the amazing story or the amazing character? Would I suggest they ease into small-town life, or big city life? Or life on a boat? Would I want them to try something funny, or something serious? Something with a hefty philosophical bent? Something psychological? Or would I go out on a limb and suggest a mystery with a little science fiction thrown in? Should I throw in a little romance? And in this time of fraught politics, would I want to soothe them, or catch them up in a whirlwind of political intrigue?

With all this in mind, I’m going to suggest three books (out of dozens that I would really like to suggest) that I think embody the best of the genre.

The Hot Countries, by Tim Hallinan.  This book goes for broke in every possible way. I’ve never actually been to Bangkok, but in Hallinan’s books I go to Bangkok. I know the back streets, the seedy establishments. I know the way intrigue works there. I know the way people live their everyday lives, and how they respond to extraordinary circumstances. This book has a core of meaning that sent me back to read some passages again and again. It’s a book with heart.

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke. Locke won the Harper Lee Prize for best legal thriller this year with Pleasantville. It was a great book, but I have enormous affection for her first book, Black Water Rising. Another book with heart. Locke has the deepest respect and affection for her characters. It’s set in 1980s Houston, with an African-American anti-hero trying to come to terms with his radical past and to solve a crime he stumbled into. The language and descriptions are unsurpassed.

Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger. The year it came out this novel won every single award and deserved the wins. Beautifully written, an exploration of meaning. A coming of age story. And yet another story with heart.

I commend these books to you. Happy reading!