Friday, June 30, 2017

Let's Get Away From it All

You’ve won a month-long, all-expenses-paid writing retreat. Where would you go and why?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, it depends what you mean by “retreat.” When I was younger one of my dreams was to take a little boat up and down the Amazon. Go exploring by day, writing at night. Now that I’m older and more into the creature comforts that dream doesn’t quite have the allure it used to.

And like Susan, Hawaii sounds nice. But I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. I even wanted to live there for a time (actually I did live there…sort of…for a time). And while it might be nice to go back I don’t think I’d want to go there for my retreat.

Ireland might be nice. That’s someplace I haven’t been that I’d like to go – I like rainy weather. And I have a good friend from the old days who moved there. She might be able to put me up – and put up with me for a month. Maybe…

Another place I want to go so bad I can taste it, as my mom used to say, is Istanbul. I have this thing about Roman history and would love to go there to see Byzantium history. But I’m not sure it’s the place I would go for a peaceful writer’s retreat.

"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"

There’s always Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, but with my luck The Thing from Another Planet would rear its carrot-topped head and have me for brunch. Until that happened I suppose it would be quiet and peaceful. Though that would probably make it a little too spooky to write.

Superman at the Fortress of Solitude. (Can Jerry Seinfeld be far behind?)

I used to SCUBA dive. And it’s pretty quiet and peaceful under water (unless you’re being eaten by a shark or being shot at from a boat above), but probably a little hard to write a whole novel on a diver’s slate. Though it’s a thought.

I’ve also heard that the Overlook Hotel in Colorado is a good place for a writer to retreat to. Quiet and peaceful in the off season.

The serene writer on retreat at the Overlook Hotel.

If I could time travel like Owen Wilson did in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, there’s a couple places I might go: Shakespeare and Company in Paris, itself. Though with the ghosts of Sylvia Beach and Hemingway it might be a little too spooky to get much writing done there. Still, if I went there I could always say, “We’ll always have Paris.” And Raymond Chandler’s 1940s L.A. Though between Bugsy Siegel, Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen and the bullets flying it might not be the best place to write either.

So, where would I ultimately go? I would book a cabin on a cargo ship/freighter. Many of them carry passengers, but usually only up to twelve. I love the sea. For the most part it would be peaceful and quiet as opposed to a regular cruise ship which is my idea of hell with nowhere to go. I’d bring a laptop and tablet, lots of books and movies. And Amy and the dogs. Now I know in reality you’re not allowed to bring dogs unless you ship them as cargo, but since this is my fantasy I can do whatever I want – and damn it, the dogs are coming!


And now for the usual BSP:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

With thrips and ukuleles, please.

 You’ve won a month-long, all-expenses-paid writing retreat. Where would you go and why?

By Catriona.

I'm not much of a one for writing retreats. My ordinary life is more like a retreat than most retreats I've ever considered. I live in a house in the country. It's empty all day. A man who can cook comes in at six . . .

But in 2015 I did go on an accidental writing retreat for a week and I was at least three weeks off being sick of it when I had to leave.

The man who cooks was committed to a week-long conference on tomato spotted wilt virus and its vector, the dastardly thrips. (SIDEBAR: plant pathology jamborees can get wayyyyy specific. (SIDEBAR TO SIDEBAR: plant-pathology disease-naming is not very creative. Guess what tomato spotted wilt virus does? Also, there's a rot that turn the ends of potatoes rubbery. Guess what it's called.))

The problem was I had a broken arm, couldn't dress myself couldn't cook much, couldn't drive and couldn't bathe without someone to help me put on the waterproof arm-bag. 

So I chummed along. To a retreat at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on the Monterey peninsula. It's a beautiful sprawling 100 acres of pine trees and sand, with buildings designed by Julia Morgan, in the Arts and Crafts style. It was a YWCA until the Great Depression, soldiers' accommodation during WWII, and now it's heaven. 

But those plant pathologists really did talk about TSWV all the time. There was a meeting of the Western Ukulele Confederation also having a get-together at Asilomar just then and within a couple of days they were writing songs about tomato spotted wilt virus. 

So, anyway, if I had to go on a month's writing retreat, that's where I'd go. Or a castle in Scotland. Or a flat in London. Or - ooh-ooh - Hawaii! As things stand, though, Starbucks it is.

(Potato rubbery end rot.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ahoy Cathy Ace

You’ve won a month-long, all-expenses-paid writing retreat. Where would you go and why?

My last cruise - yes, it was great!
You’d think this would be easy, wouldn’t you? No money worries. Anywhere in the world. But where to go? Somewhere I’ve been before, know well and would love to revisit? But would I then really use that time as a writing retreat, or would I be “distracted”? So maybe somewhere I haven’t been before? Same problem – plus the need to explore. 

There are so many fabulous places in the world, but the point of a retreat is to be inward looking, thinking about the writing, inspired to write and ACTUALLY WRITING! I can’t cope with any distractions when I’m writing. Dark, silent rooms (yeah, yeah, with the lights on!) work best for me. 

I’d have to have Internet access, to allow for research. I’d like all my food brought to me, and not have to think at all about keeping my digs clean and tidy – I’d like that done for me, please. And I’d like to be able to join in writing-unrelated society when I want to.

I love the library on a ship
Okay, I’ve got it. A suite on a cruise ship, with all the facilities I could possibly need to not have to interact with people at all when I choose (so my own little plunge pool at least on a sunny deck, please) and a butler to fetch and carry whatever refreshments I desire. And a good library. And fast Internet. And a gym. And lots of places where I can sit and watch the wake in the moonlight, and gaze at the stars.
I’d like lots of days at sea when I can stare at the horizon (almost as good as a writing room at night) and some interesting ports of call with historical interest, galleries, a bit of shopping, you know the sort of thing. Oh, and good weather, please. Yes, that’ll do me, thanks. So maybe a couple of trips from Vancouver to the Hawaiian Islands? That takes about two weeks with lots of sea days (I did it for my honeymoon), so I’d just stay on board and do it twice! I won't even need to change butler. Thanks for the offer…I’ll take it!

My favorite view from a ship!

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 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, June 26, 2017


Q: You’ve won a month-long, all-expenses-paid writing retreat. Where would you go and why?

- from Susan

A: Oh, this is so easy. A specific cottage on the north shore of Kauai, with bare, painted floors, an outdoor shower, and the sounds and sight of the Hanalei River at the edge of the lawn.  The sound of slack key guitar music from the CD, the local farmers market produce and fragrant flowers nourishing me, and the demands of a publisher’s deadline to keep me from simply melting in to the healing atmosphere.

I’ve been there, done that, and finished the first good draft of Love & Death in Burgundy there. Three weeks, but I wouldn’t say no to a full month. In fact, just thinking about it is slowing me down…I can smell the plumaria and taste the papaya.

 Aloha and Mahalo.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Novelizing a popular TV show

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. (Example: Turning I Love Lucy into a serialized thriller series similar to 24.)
by Dietrich Kalteis
I don’t watch much TV nowadays, so I’ll look at some shows I loved when I was a kid. Although writing a modern take on the exploits of Maxwell Smart while changing the genre might not work … well, definitely the shoe phone showing up as an iShoe would need some rethinking. And turning Hollywood Squares into a whodunit where one of the squares goes missing isn’t likely to win a Scribes Award. 
While novelizing an existing series seems a little like working backwards, I can see how it would capitalize on its branding. Also, there have been many popular novels that have spun from TV shows like the different CSI series, Monk, Star Trek, Batman, Superman, 24, Monk, Murder She Wrote, the X-Files and a long list of others. 
Since I write about crime, I’ll stick to that and draw from the many cop shows from back in the day, ones that inspired me to write crime stories in the first place. Shows like The Rockford Files, Baretta, Mannix, Hill Street Blues, Police Story, and Hawaii Five-O.
Barney Miller was one of my favorite cop sitcoms that ran from ’75 to ’82 and took place mostly in a detective squad room, with some hilarious characters, bad coffee and a single jail cell. It was a well-written series, and the only existing novelization I could find was Fish Strikes Out by T.J. Hemming. The book was based on the ABC series Fish, which was a spinoff from the original series, and which starred Abe Vigoda. And writing about the interaction between a bunch of oddball cops and the strange characters that wander into the squad room seems right up my alley. 
The Job was another cop sitcom that ran from 2001–2 that I enjoyed. It starred Denis Leary, playing Mike McNeil, a hard-drinking New York detective with his own unique twist on fighting crime who juggles the chaos of married life and a girlfriend on the side. Alongside an interesting squad of characters, this could work as a novel. 
The Avengers series from the early sixties also came to mind, and I found that several novels have spun from it. John Peel who wrote the original TV series also wrote Too Many Targets, based on the series, and he wrote other novels under several pseudonyms based on Doctor Who, Star Trek and James Bond. The popularity of The Avengers led to a French TV commercial for champagne with Macnee and Thorson reprising their roles. The success of the ad led to a remake of the original series in ’76, running in Canada as The New Avengers. If I novelized it I’d leave the genre alone, but I might set it in modern-day Vancouver. Emma Peel was perfect, and Steed had that umbrella (something he’d need here), although his character could use a bit of a makeover. I’d let him keep the saber in the umbrella, but instead of the Savile Row suit, I’d deck him out in something by Brooks Brothers, take away the gas-guzzling Rolls and give him a Tesla. Then I’d have the pair attempting to bust up a smuggling ring at the ports, throw in some dark humor and sexual tension, while trying to keep that cool jazzy air from the original show.
Columbo, yup loved this, and the original character showed up in a number of novels: The Columbo Collection was a series of stories written by the show’s co-creator William Link. There was even a novel based on the show published in Sweden and another in Japan. The show’s star Peter Falk also contributed to The Cop Cookbook — arresting Recipes from the World's Favorite Cops, Good Guys, and Private Eyes. I haven’t checked it out, but Peter Falk’s recipe ran right alongside ones by Clint Eastwood, Dennis Franz, Angie Dickenson, Tom Sellick, Jack Webb, Tommy Lee Jones, Francis McDormand, James Garner, and more.
A couple more shows that came to mind: The Saint starring Roger Moore, which originally came from a series of books by Leslie Charteris, published between 1929 to 1963. And The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which ran from ’64 to ’68 also inspired two dozen novels. Real Cold War stuff. And I already mentioned Get Smart, which inspired about a dozen novels. 
Social issues were handled more delicately on TV during the seventies, but All in the Family, while not a cop show, tackled them head on. Nothing was off limits, and its anti-hero Archie Bunker was the poster boy for racism and homophobia. A man who was cynical and politically incorrect at every turn while his wife Edith was his polar opposite, a cross between little miss sunshine and the voice of reason. As far as I can tell, this one was never novelized, but it could work.
In recent times, there have been a number of incredible cable series like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Justified, Deadwood, Better Call Saul, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. Of course, Justified sprang from Elmore Leonard’s stories Fire in the Hole, Pronto, Riding the Rap and Raylan. Some very talented creators and writers like Vince Gilligan, David Simon, Ed Burns, George Pelecanos, Graham Yost, David Milch, Alan Ball have given us some great story lines and characters, and I think any of these would translate well into novel form.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Eenie Meenie Miney Moe To Which Convention Do I Go?

There’s only so much time, and there’s only so much money, while the opportunities are plentiful. How do you decide which writing conferences and conventions to attend? (ie, what are your criteria?)

by Paul D. Marks

Funny you should ask, since I spent this weekend at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, CA (Los Angeles). In fact, I’m writing this the night I returned home from the conference – so that’s one I decided to attend. It’s put on by the Los Angeles chapters of both Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America. I’m on the board of the latter and have been on the board of the former (a long time ago). That sort of helps in determining whether or not to go 😉 . However, I would go anyway. This is one hell of a good conference that’s put on every two years by these groups. It’s local – well fairly local for me. And that helps. But one still has to pay for the conference and maybe the hotel.

My Panel at CCWC this past weekend:
The Long and Short of It: Short Stories and Novellas vs. Novels
L to R: S.W. Lauden, Me, William Kent Krueger, Kate Thornton, Travis Richardson

As the question says, there’s only so much time and so much money and tons of conferences and conventions. And, while I might like to attend many conventions/conferences, one necessarily has to limit the ones we go to. If the event is local that certainly makes it easier to decide to attend. No airfare. Though sometimes even for local events I might stay in the hotel where it’s being held. It’s just easier than going back and forth, especially as we live kind of off the beaten path.

Bouchercon, Long Beach

Another thing that might make me want to attend is if I’m nominated for an award. But sometimes you don’t know that by the time you have to register. Sometimes it’s the city where the event is being held that draws you in, besides the event itself. I really wanted to go to Bouchercon in New Orleans. And we’d made reservations but due to the usual “circumstances beyond my control” I had to cancel. It would have been nice to hit Left Coast Crime in Hawaii too. Luckily those are both places I’ve been to a lot so I didn’t feel totally let down not going.

Bouchercon 2015 - Raleigh
L to R: Elaine Helms, Paul D. Marks, Art Taylor, Tara Laskowski, Janet Hutchings, Rick Helms

The Edgar Awards are always in New York and are the Big Kid on the Block of mystery/crime awards, akin to the Oscars in Hollywood. I didn’t know if I’d ever have a chance to go to them, but luckily I did get to go to the last Edgars a few weeks ago since I won the Ellery Queen Readers Award and was EQ’s guest at the Edgars. And I would love to go again…especially if I’m ever nominated 😃.

The quaint house we bought in Albany during the 2013 Bouchercon.
See, you never know what'll come of going to a convention 😉 .
And Bouchercon is the Big Kid of mystery/crime conventions/conferences. I’ve been to a few and really enjoyed them all. Love being able to connect with people I’ve met online, or people I don’t get to see in person that often, and to meet new people. We went to Bouchercons in Raleigh, NC and Albany, NY, two cities we might never have visited if not for the convention. And while we enjoyed Bouchercon we also booked a couple of extra days so we could explore the “neighborhoods,” and enjoyed them both. We’ve been to other Bouchercons as well, but in cities we already “knew.” There’s also the ITW convention, which I’d like to attend someday. And Malice and so many others. It really is hard to choose.

The Food Truck Day Celebration, right outside the Bouchercon hotel in Raleigh.
Who knew?

Even if you’re an introvert, you still might want to check some of these out. Most people are friendly and the writing community is very supportive. It might be uncomfortable at first, but eventually you’ll become part of the flow.

Hanging out at the bar -- a Bouchercon tradition.

My wife, Amy, usually comes with me. It gives us a chance to get away and spend time together. And we always have a good time.

Amy, on our way home from Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA.

Of course, I’d like to attend as many conventions as I could, for the comradery, the networking, fun, adventure, excitement! And the food. But it’s impossible, so it really does come down to where they are, how much they are, how well suited to my writing style they are. Possibly if I have a book coming out that also would motivate me to want to hit the road.

I doubt you’d go wrong attending any of the established conventions/conferences. There’s always something to learn, people to meet and places to explore. Have fun!


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on sale at newsstands. Or click here to buy online. If you like food and you like mysteries, I think you might like this story.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Practical business decisions R us.

Q: There’s only so much time, and there’s only so much money, while the opportunities are plentiful. How do you decide which writing conferences and conventions to attend? (ie, what are your criteria?)

By Catriona

Well, I don't go to conferences, so that's a time-saving and money-saving start right there. Except it's not true. I sometimes go to conferences - events where writers take classes to become better writers - if someone has asked me to teach a session and for some reason I've failed to say no. 

But, every single time, I feel panicked and fraudulent, sure I'll never be able to think up 40 or even 90 minutes worth of stuff to spout that everyone in the class hasn't heard before, put better, by someone who knows what she or he is talking about. 

(Just as I can't come on here every other Thursday and write "What Cathy Ace said" though, I can't stand up in front of a class and say "read Stephen King's On Writing".)

This isn't false modesty. I know I can write. I just don't know much about how to describe how to write. I've got three fiction workshop sessions up my sleeve now - on character, on dialogue and on synopses - and two science-writing classes as well. But each of them came from me saying yes (being married to the person asking, in the case of the science ones), panicking, racking my brain and deciding to offer myself up warts and all as a shining example / dire warning and let the chips fall where they might.

The relief when people don't walk out in droves is always tremendous. 

In short, I'm not much of a conference-goer. 

In teaching mode
Conventions and festivals are another matter.

So, how to decide about Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime, KiIler Nashville, New England Crimebake, Crimefest, Sleuthfest, Harrogate, and Bloody Scotland???

If I was solely based in America, I'd go to the Big One, plus the one that fits my sub-genre best, plus the nearest regional one.

So that's Bouchercon - it's our community's AGM; missing it feels unthinkable.
First Bcon, San Francisco 2010, with Clare O'Donohue and Ellen Crosby

And  . . . Thrillerfest or Malice. How can I not know which one?  Well, Thrillerfest isn't just for thriller-writers. And Malice definitely isn't just for cozy writers. Both are much wider in scope than they get credit for and they overlap in the middle of the genre, coming from opposite ends. I got in the habit of going to Malice because I started out over here with a historical traditional series. If I had started with the standalones, I'd maybe be in the habit of going to Thrillerfest, but Malice is in my blood now. It's the mothership, the tribal homeland.  And I make no apology for being so unbusiness-like, so sentimental. Writing is lonely, and publishing can be cruel. Community matters.

Criminal Minds at Malice 2016
And . . . because I'm on the left coast, Left Coast Crime. I went to LCC when it was in Colorado and when it was in Hawaii. so it's not exactly convenient every year, but it's a lot closer than Malice and   . . . community matters. Left Coast Crime is a hugfest. With occasional ukuleles.

Marla Cooper at Left Coast Crime in Hawaii
That takes care of the US. I'm also back in the old country every summer to launch books, see my agent and UK editors and do research. Bloody Scotland is a tantalisingly long stretch after Harrogate so I can't go to both every year. (It's Bloody Scotland this year.) And Crimefest is at completely the wrong time for me, in terms of writing commitments and book launches. (But I've just looked at the Crimefest website for 2018 and now I'm pining.)
Interviewing MC Beaton at Bloody Scotland 2015
So what's the answer? What are the criteria? Time seems to weigh more than money for me. The rhythm of my year is basically: write for two months, Left Coast, write for two months, Malice, write for two months, summer [Edinburgh, London, research, mum, dad, sisters, new babies, old friends], Bloody Scotland, write a wee bit, Bouchercon, write like mad till Christmas, collapse.

And the other criteria are: family, tribe, mothership, hugs, laughter, love. You're a long time dead.

Monday, June 12, 2017

So Many Choices

Q: There’s only so much time, and there’s only so much money, while the opportunities are plentiful. How do you decide which writing conferences and conventions to attend? (ie, what are your criteria?)

- from Susan

A: This is a good question. Attending an out-of-town event is always pricey, commands time and attention, and might mean you have to skip a day or more of real, paying work. Everyone’s going to have a somewhat different, nuanced answer based on their own circumstances, so filter what Minds say through the lens of your own goals, ambitions, and personal needs.

When I was getting underway, had taken a wonderful class with Judy Greber, aka Gillian Roberts, and had the beginning of what would be the first book in my first series, I went to two annual Book Passage Mystery Writers Conferences in Marin County. Pricey, yes. A serious time commitment, yes. But this was a writers’ event, full of talks, seminar-style classes, craft instruction, and immersion networking opportunities. There were somewhere around 100 students, a faculty with various kinds of expertise, and a lot of serious, pre-published writers. Each time I went, I made three professional goals and stuck with them. The first time, Rhys Bowen read my twenty pages and gave me an invaluable piece of advice and I found a handful of local writers and started a crit group.. The second time, I found an agent. In both cases, I paid a bit extra to have them read my first twenty pages – worth every penny and more!

It was there that I learned about Bouchercon, which is the international, large convention. While a writers; conference is for our kind and is aimed at providing us with tools, a convention includes readers and is pitched to expose our published work to them, as well as being an amazing professional schmoosing opportunity. At the first Bouchercon I attended, before I was published, I felt like a kindergartener on the first day of school. But Judy Greber was there, and she introduced me to Deborah Crombie. The next one I went to was in San Francisco and it helped that I didn’t have to pay for a hotel or airfare – I might have been too shy to go otherwise. But I met some Sisters in Crimes members there, met and chatted with Lee Child and Hank Phillippi Ryan (she was new to the crime fiction community then), and began some new professional friendships.

Someone from the West Coast told me I had to go to Left Coast Crime, another convention, which was terrific but not as intimidating as the size of Bouchercon. There are regional conventions like this all over the country, and I have heard great things about them, too. LCC is my “home” convention, as friendly and mutually supportive as it’s possible to be.

Since my new series is being marketed as a cozy, I am committed to going to “cozy central” Malice Domestic, another convention but aimed primarily at people who read mysteries, vs. thrillers.

 To answer this week’s question as specifically as possible, I recommend deciding first what you want to get from an event. Set some specific goals, not just ‘have fun and meet Louise Penny.” Are you in it to polish your writing with faculty like David Corbett, pick up FBI techniques from George Fong, or be a total fan girl or boy with Charlene Harris? Check the event web sites for past events, see if what they offer is going to get you to your goals. If you’re extroverted, the big cons will be fun. If you’re shy or exposing your writing for close to the first time, think of something small and aimed at writers. Then, go for it and good luck!