Thursday, December 21, 2017

’Tis the Season

We are in the middle of the holiday “season.” What do you like about the holidays, and what drives you crazy?

By Jim

Let’s talk holidays.

It should be obvious that the word “holiday” derives from “holy day.” But its meaning and, indeed, significance have changed over the centuries. Holidays traditionally marked sacred dates in the calendar. Some dates were designated as feast days, times of joy and celebration, while others mandated contemplation and fasting. Only the -e- separates a feast from a fast, though the words are unrelated from an etymological point of view. “Feast” comes to English from the bon vivant Old French, while “fast” has sober Germanic origins. The faithful observed religious feasts, rites, and ceremonies as part of their covenant with God. Only much later on did “holiday” acquire the meaning of “vacation” or “day off.” Personal days, mental health days, and three-day weekends are recent phenomena not observed by the ancients.

The annual cycle of holy days divides the year into regular, manageable chunks to organize worship and maximize adherence to the religious principles of the faith. Since the ancients, religious rites have followed the seasons, which make up the solar year. Pagans, polytheists, and monotheists alike all marked their calendars with festivals and observances tied and tailored to each season. Many ancient holidays are mirrored by modern counterparts, an indication that what’s old is new again.

The vernal equinox, a time for festivals of renewal and rebirth, is the holiest period in the Christian calendar. Observances of the Annunciation, Good Friday, and Easter all fall close to the vernal equinox. At the same time, Jews commemorate the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt — Passover. Easter and Passover are “moveable feasts” whose occurrences depend on calculations based on the lunar calendar, an echo of the ancient rituals inherited from our good friends the pagans. (How much do you want to bet that there’s a caterer in your phone book called “A Moveable Feast”?) The word “Easter” derives from the Old English name for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre. Romance languages take the name from the Greek word for Passover, “Pascha.” In both cases, Easter is called by a name previously associated with an earlier, non-Christian tradition.

By the way, English takes the names of three of its four seasons from Old English: spring, summer, and winter. Autumn, however, has Latin origins via Old French. It’s somewhat unusual to have such an unbalanced paradigm, but language change sometimes takes seemingly arbitrary paths. “Fall,” the common American alternative for “autumn,” is all that’s left of the poetic “fall of the leaves.”

Close detour and back to the equinoxes:

The autumnal equinox, which takes place around September 21, is a period of many ancient and modern religious festivals. In the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox inspired harvest celebrations. Canada and the United States mark the harvest with the Thanksgiving holiday, though not on the same day. Canadians pause to give thanks on the second Monday in October, while Americans wait until the fourth Thursday of November to enjoy their turkey and football.
Though more widely celebrated in Europe than in America, Michaelmas (September 29) is a Christian holiday honoring the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. This is a great example of why you always want your name listed first in any joint enterprise. As the days grow shorter with autumn’s approach, the archangel Michael, patron saint of warriors, is seen as a protector against the dark. Note, also, the change in pronunciation of “Michael” when “mas” is tacked onto the end (Mĭk’əl-məs vs Mīk’ əl). Just as Christ (krīst) changes to Christmas (krĭs-məs). The stress change, caused by the addition of another syllable, creates a shift in the vowel sound. Think of the second -o- in photo and photography.

The secular world also has its celebrations, designed to ease the burden on working people at regular intervals. May Day honors workers throughout much of the world except the United States, where hard work is recognized on Labor Day in early September. Americans honor the dead on Memorial Day, which falls at the end of May and marks the unofficial start of summer. Europeans, on the other hand, observe All Souls’ Day on November 2 and All Saints’ or Hallows’ Day on November 1. The night before All Saints’ Day is Halloween. “Halloween” is built on “hallow” or holy/saintly and “e’en” for evening. The use of “e’en” for “evening” may appear at first to be a misnomer, since Halloween is actually the “eve” of All Hallows’ Day, not “the evening of.” But the original meaning of the “eve” we know today was indeed “evening.” “Evening,” by the way, was once a present participle, not a noun, and had the literal meaning of “becoming eve.” Along the same lines, “morning” meant “becoming morn.”

Imagine a couple watching the setting sun:

Man: How beautiful you are as the day is evening.
Woman: Yes, but will you still love me when the night is morning?

“Eve,” with the meaning of “night before,” dates from the late 13th century.

But I suspect this post was supposed to be about the end-of-year holiday season. Let’s see. There’s Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s. I like those. The television commercials, however, drive me crazy. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Break out the ugly Christmas sweater

We are in the middle of the holiday “season.” What do you like about the holidays, and what drives you crazy?

by Dietrich Kalteis

Stick the antlers on the dog, mix up that Christmas punch, jingle the bells and call your friends and neighbors. Who doesn’t love a good Yuletide party? It’s the time to eat too much, drink too much, and break out the ugly Christmas sweater.

For me, it’s the time of year that brings back some great childhood memories, of trimming the tree, the presents that go under it, and all the magic that fills the house. It’s time for Rudolph, Frosty and Scrooge. And those classic films of Charlie Brown dealing with it, the Muppets saving it, and the Grinch stealing it.

 It’s a time to read some Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen. And it’s time for those favorite treats. And a house filled with the aroma of Christmas cake and mince meat and roast goose.

And it’s a time for goodwill too. A time to give generously, drop off some cans and packages to the Food Bank, and time to donate to some favorite charities.

A time for classic carols by Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and the Chipmunks. Or something more contemporary like Nick Lowe singing “Christmas at the Airport”, Bob Dylan’s “Must be Santa” and the Ramones “Merry Christmas Baby”. 

Yeah, all of that’s Christmas.

And then there’s ringing in the New Year. Counting it down, blowing noise makers and topping that glass with some good champagne.

What drives me crazy about it? Christmas sales starting before Halloween. Black Friday sales, pre-Christmas Specials, and Boxing day week. Feeling a day late as I rush from store to store in mid-December searching for that elusive gift. And trying to find a parking spot at the mall is like threading a needle without one’s glasses on. And what could be worse than navigating through a crowded airport? Or the dreaded dollar-short feeling when January’s overstuffed charge-card bill gets squeezed through the mail slot. 

But as Christmas Eve closes in, who cares about all that? It’s time to deck the halls and pop that top pants’ button, join in the festivities and gather around the tree.

So, however you celebrate the season, I wish everyone peace and all the best for the coming year.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ho Ho Ho and a Bit of Humbug

Happy Holidays....I think.

Terry Shames here, writing about what I love about the holidays and what drives me crazy. Short answer: everything does both.

I heard an interesting factoid a few days ago. Before Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, only the “lower classes” celebrated Christmas--with gifts and good cheer. The “upper classes” pretty much ignored it. I’d love to know more about that subject, but it seems to be the perfect metaphor for the oddities of the holidays. “Class” aside, some people go “all out,” others barely bother. Some people decorate and have parties, others go about their business.


That said, it’s the trappings of the holidays that I have a love-hate relationship with:

I love eggnog and fruitcake….except that I struggle with my weight, always have. So indulging either of these comes with a healthy dose of guilt.

I love the smell of Christmas trees….except that I’m allergic to them, so if I bring one inside it means weepy eyes and runny nose.

I love Christmas music…except when it starts November 1. By the time Christmas rolls around, I’m sick of most of it. Not the old carols. I don’t mind that. But how many times do you have to hear “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” before murderous thoughts arise?

I actually like giving presents to people…except that I’m always nervous that I chose something that isn’t good enough—not thoughtful enough, or unique or….whatever it is that would make it perfect. Neither my husband nor my son likes getting presents. It makes them nervous. Maybe because they don’t like giving them either. Go figure! From the time my son was old enough to talk, he hated surprises, and only began to enjoy gift occasions when I told him exactly what he was going to get and how the gifts would be wrapped. From then on he could deal with it.

There is one thing I truly dislike at this time of year--the phony “war on Christmas” hype. It is the essence of fake news—and the less said about that the better.

I love getting people’s holiday letters. Yes, I read them, look at the pictures, and am happy to know what they are up to. No, I’ve never written a holiday letter.

I love holiday parties—for about thirty minutes. Then I’m ready to go home. What I like most about them is getting dressed. I’m a writer. I usually wear funky clothes. So it’s fun to dress up. But when I stand up too long, my feet hurt. My most fun at a party is if I get into a conversation with someone I don’t usually see much of and we sit down and talk. But that’s rare. Usually people are standing around talking about God-knows-what, and I’m not good at small talk.

I don’t like sappy Christmas movies. Except for Love, Actually. That was pretty good, but I see no reason to watch it again.

And finally, I like New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. But not New Year’s Eve parties. I like staying at home, or maybe having friends over for dinner. I like to be home well before midnight.

What I most about the holidays is making New Year’s resolutions. I like to think about last year’s resolutions and contemplate new ones. It seems like a fresh start. So, in the spirit of fresh starts, Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever you celebrate and however you celebrate—or if you celebrate—I hope it’s exactly what you want it to be.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Elaine Ash, Editor & More, On Publishing

by Paul D. Marks

Since this will be my last post before the holidays, I want to wish everyone a terrific Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!

Today I’d like to welcome Elaine Ash, editor, writer and friend. Elaine was born and grew up in eastern Canada, but calls L.A. home these days. Under the pen name “Anonymous-9,” her crime fiction is included in numerous “Best of” lists every year. It’s won consecutive Readers’ Choice Awards from the House of Crime and Mystery, as well as Best Short Story on the Web, 2009 from Spinetingler Magazine. Anonymous-9 was invented as a blind for her hard-hitting, experimental short stories. Her work has been praised by T. Jefferson Parker, Ray Garton, Johnny Shaw, Douglas Lindsay, Josh Stallings, Robert Randisi and many others.

But Elaine also edits fiction writers, from established authors to emerging talent. As the former editor-at-large for Beat to a Pulp webzine, Elaine worked directly with writers of all genres to develop stories for publication. Some of those writers went on to fame and fortune such as recent Edgar nominee Patti Abbott (Polis), Jay Stringer (Thomas and Mercer), Chris F. Holm (Mulholland), S.W Lauden (Rare Bird), Kieran Shea (Titan), Hilary Davidson (Macmillan) Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur, Delacorte) and more.

Today, she works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals. She also ghostwrites and edits for industry clients.

Organizations book her for speaking and teaching engagements, such as West Coast Writers Conferences, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, Sisters in Crime, the Mystery Writers of America, the Coffee House Writers’ Group, and more.

Elaine has a new book out called BESTSELLER METRICS. It’s a different approach to writing novels and one definitely worth checking out. But today she’s the perfect person to respond to our question of the week. Take it away, Elaine:

Q: Business—If you were in charge, what big change would you make to the publishing business?

A: I would change the query process. Crafting a great query letter is a specialized skill. Most novelists need help writing a synopsis—they're long distance runners, not sprinters. After creating a full-length novel, the novelist might find it unfair that everything balances upon the fate of a one-page missive. But, that’s the way getting an agent currently works. Until we find a better way, mastery of the query is necessary.

There is a bright spot: The way you summarize your story in a query can translate well to in-person conversations. It focuses the mind on information pros want. Countless writers catch the attention of agents and publishers at conventions or writers’ gatherings with a quick verbal version of a query. This is commonly known as the “elevator pitch” and it’s a 30-seconds-or-less overview of your story, genre, word count and writer’s bio told in short.

Here’s the query synopsis for THE BIG CRESCENDO, a humorous private eye novel by Jonathan Brown:

—Synopsis — When Lou Crasher falls head-over-cymbals for a femme-fatale customer at The Practice Joint, a low-rent studio on the wrong side of  Hollywood, he’s soon embroiled in a musical equipment theft ring. Lou is forced to go undercover armed with only his quick wit and deadly dialogue. Clues lead to a missing colonial snare drum once owned by none other than Frederick Douglass—the African American social reformer and  abolitionist. But this precious artifact is now owned by a degenerate Beverly Hills music producer with a hardcore coke habit, forcing Lou to get funky with druggies and dealers. Good thing Lou can throw a drum stick as straight as a Bowie knife—he’ll need to watch his own back while dealing with local police, who are none too trusting of this amateur sleuth.

(Tip of the hat to Mr. Dan Kelly who added secret wordsmith sauce.)

Here’s the same synopsis translated into a more casual, conversational elevator pitch:

Lou Crasher is a journeyman rock drummer and an amateur P.I. His day job is working at a rehearsal space in Hollywood called the L.A. Practice Space. When the place gets robbed, Lou agrees to get the gear back for one of the musicians, Angela, because she happens to be a dime-piece knockout.
His thought is: get the gear—get the girl.

The trail leads him to a theft ring, which later takes him to a very rare snare drum once owned by Frederick Douglass, but currently owned by a big time coke-head Hollywood music producer. As Lou falls hard for Angela he bumps up against a dangerous drug dealer, the cops get involved, and there’s a dangerous little pissant bent on taking Lou out of the picture for good!

 See how that works better for casual conversation face-to-face?

There’s a lot of information out there on crafting a query, but not so much on pitching in a live situation. The key is to be practiced and ready. Be prepared to mention the word count, the genre, and a few writerly accomplishments without fumbling for information on the spot. You want to appear practiced and smooth.

When your query letter grabs agents, most will google your name. This instantly reveals if you have a social media presence, a blog post or two, and if you have a website. The more presence you have online, the more weight it lends the query.

Be mindful of your attitude as you compose. You’re ready to tell the world about your story, so be positive and confident. Seriously, get in the mood; watch a comedy, even have your mother tell you how wonderful you are. Whatever it takes, get a good state of mind going. Your energy and positivity will translate to the letter.

Agents and publishers really do want to hear from you. Their businesses depend upon you, the creator of fresh material. If cramming it all into one page causes stress, remember that a query is nothing more than a taste and a tease. It’s meant to pique interest, not tell the whole story or relay your entire history as a writer. A few highlights will suffice.

If the prospect of querying still fills you with dread, all is not lost. You can outsource the whole shebang to someone like me, who will synopsize your story, whip up a letter, source the right agents and handle correspondence.

For a free pdf copy of my query guidelines and samples, please go to and use the contact form to make a request. A free copy will be sent to you.

Thank you for stopping by Elaine!

And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my website:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"It's a compliment, really!"

"If you were in charge, what one change would you make to the world of publishing?"

by Catriona

Easy! I'd make the penalties so horrendous that people were too scared to . . . or just tweak people's brains so they didn't want to . . . or maybe do something technologically so far beyond me that I can't even imagine it that meant no one was able to . . . have you guessed yet? . . . pirate e-books.

It's weird, but even people who're not Zen Buddhists most of the time, people who believe in possessions as a concept and disapprove of theft like they disapprove of assault, somehow have a blind spot when it comes to pirated books.

I've heard:

  • It's flattering. You should be grateful they want to read your books at all.
  • Maybe they'll read one for free and then buy the rest.
  • Everyone in sales gives out samples of merchandise.

And usually I've bitten my lip and not said:

  • No it's not. Buying them would be flattering. And there's no way to tell if the pirated books are read.
  • Or maybe they'll read one free one and then another free one and then another. 
  • But that doesn't mean they welcome shoplifters. 
If we could stop pirated books, writers would be paid more fairly for their work and more people would be able to keep writing and the literary landscape as a whole would benefit. Like music would be the winner if people would stop downloading illicit album files. (Are they still called albums?) And everyone in the film community from directors to corn-poppers would be well served if YouTube went down in flames, and don't get me started about the plight of photographers and . . .

Just this morning, fellow writer and pal Dean James outed "Open Library", a website that not only provides thousands of books, including thirteen of his and two of mine, free to download, but also has a Wikipedia style pop-up on the homepage saying  'please donate money to Open Library so we can keep stealing'.  Words fail me. And it's uncool to make words fail writers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Changing (or using?) the Cathy Ace

If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

The entire business seems to be in a constant state of flux, so it’s hard to pick on just one aspect to change. I wouldn’t change the people – who are usually delightful – nor would I change their enthusiasm and passion for books, which seem all-pervasive. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 question really – because I think it would be hard to change one thing without everything else changing too.

Since it is the way it is – at the moment – maybe the best thing to do is to tell you how I as an author choose to use the system that’s available. new book!
I have just re-self-published a collection of novellas and short stories I first self-published ten years ago. I have spent the past six months rewriting them, working with an editor to polish them, have dropped some I originally included in the collection, and have inserted some new ones. It’s been a fascinating process which has allowed me to go back to where I "began" and apply what I’ve learned in the past five years of working with two different “traditional publishers” on two different series of books. 

I have set up a new corporation to facilitate my works

I have also worked through the process of formatting and setting up a manuscript for both e- and print versions, and working with designers directly to get a cover I want, as well as choosing typefaces etc for the whole book. It’s been a blast!  And now – this week – there’s an e-book up on amazon, and a print book too…actually in my hand. It’s amazing.

Now my readers can find out how my characters (Cait Morgan, Bud Anderson, the WISE women) all met and set up together in the first place. It’s been a weird feeling for me to do this because – having written all these “genesis” stories ten years ago – I always knew my characters’ backstories, even though they were a mystery (or something alluded to) for my readers.

By self-publishing, what I have learned is that – unless you’re a big name with big five publisher – you stand pretty much the same chance of getting the word out about your work to those who might read it as you do with a small publisher. But I believe the book is doing well only because I have the twelve books published traditionally behind me, with the Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Globe and Mail etc. reviews to go with them.

So maybe I wouldn’t change the way the business works, but I am hoping that using the way the business works in a different way will prove fruitful for me. Fingers crossed! Oh, and if you fancy giving a book as a gift, you could do worse than my anthology MURDER KEEPS NO CALENDAR which contains the first three Cait Morgan Mysteries ever, the first WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery ever, introduces you to DI Evan Glover of the Glamorgan Police Service, and several standalone tales of murder, and dark deeds! The links are below. Thanks!

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries.  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, December 11, 2017

Memo from the corner office

Q: If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

- from Susan

I'd go backward in time, to the era when publishers felt it was their job to encourage, nourish, and support promising writers. Instead of pouring all their support into the few proven successes who bring in the most bucks, publishers would be delighted to help authors who wrote well, worked hard, had fresh ideas, and ambition to write The Best Damn Book of the Year.

No more using the star power of one author who is in his or her literary dotage by having junior authors take on the work for less pay as long as they were willing to drown their own styles and ambitions.

I'd go back to glamorous cocktail parties to launch books, budgets for author tours, budgets for ads in the New York Times for mid-list players, and in-house PR staff to court newspaper and magazines reviews for "our exciting new talent."

The people in charge of a company would be the taste-makers with taste, not those who count beans instead of reading. The point of publishing would be bringing wonderful writing to the world while making some money, instead of making as much money as possible by bringing only the most likely to make money to print.

This is why I am not in charge of a publishing company in the 21st century.

...and on that note, happy holidays to you all. May you find a corner of this unhappy world in which to enjoy a peaceful respite with family, friends, and a damn good book!