Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Paperback Cathy Ace

WILDCARD: This being an “extra” week in our schedule, we’re all taking the chance to talk about what’s on our “Criminal Minds” at the moment. 
For me, that’s paperbacks!
On November 1st the paperback edition of my fourth WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery THE CASE OF THE UNSUITABLE SUITOR is released. The book was first published in the UK as a hardcover in October 2017, then as a hardcover and e-book in Canada and the USA in January 2018. The paperback has been available in the UK for a couple of months, and now it’s finally available in Canada and the USA. 

What does this mean to me – and to you? Well, it’s inevitable that buying a hardcover isn’t for everyone; the format is expensive, and I am a reader as well as an author and realize only too well how we all try to get maximum bang for our hard-earned bucks, even when it comes to book purchasing. 

My well-traveled Kindle!
I like printed books. But I am also practical and, when I travel, I enjoy the freedom of being able to have dozens of books with me on my Kindle. I also have a Kobo reader because that’s how I can access e-books from the Canadian library system, where books are only available in e-pub format, not as .mobis that can be sent to a Kindle. Yes, this means carrying two devices, but needs must. And, yes, I also read on my phone.
When a hardcover is in the market, a publisher will keep the price of the digital version of the book high – that’s because they want eager readers to pay top dollar, quite literally, to be able to read the book as soon as it’s published. 

Both I, and every other author, is delighted when avid readers do this, but we also know there are some for whom this stage of purchasing isn’t a reality. That’s where libraries come in; they can buy a few copies of a hardcover, which will have a longer usage life than a paperback, and those who want to read a book when it’s first published – and are able to access a library – have the chance to do so through that channel.

When the paperback is published it is made available at a lower price point than the hardcover, AND the price of the digital versions of the book usually also drop; that’s because the publisher realizes readers will now be comparing the price of the digital version with that of the paperback, not the hardcover. 

With Mum, at my childhood library in Brynhyfryd in 2018, with a display of some of my hardcovers and paperbacks

So tomorrow’s a Big Day for THE CASE OF THE UNSUITABLE SUITOR; it’s the day when those who haven’t been able to stretch to the hardcover, or the higher initial price of the digital version, will now find lower price points available to allow them to buy the book and read it. Paperbacks and the paperback-phase e-version sales are critical for authors – it’s these sales figures which greatly impact the likelihood of a publisher being prepared to sign a contract for another book in a series. So yes, it’s also a Big Day for me, as an author. 

Mum in Swansea library with my first ever paperback - in 2012

 But I’m not nervous – I keep reminding myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that readers will find my work through word of mouth recommendations, reviews and rating on amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads and Kobo. And that means all I can do is to tell you the book’s now available at more affordable price points, to whet your appetite with a few of the reviews it’s received, and to remind you that it was shortlisted for the 2018 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery. Oh - and beg you for reviews! Please.

Now comes the blatant promotion of this particular book...

“The four women of the WISE Enquiries Agency return in a modern-day British whodunit that’s as charming as it is entertaining…Good fun, with memorable characters, an imaginative plot, and a satisfying ending.” Booklist

“Ace’s amiable fourth mystery featuring the four women of the WISE Enquiries Agency…cozy fans will find plenty to like…” Publishers’ Weekly

“Ace spiffs up the standard village cozy with a set of sleuths worth a second look.” Kirkus Reviews

“I very much enjoyed this novel; the people here felt like old friends I was catching up with after having been apart for a while. And the mystery itself was intriguing – I enjoyed watching the women pick it apart and put the clues together.” Amanda Bishop, Reviewer (Net Galley)

British atmosphere aplenty, croquet, village life, investigations, and intrigue, all balled up in a beautifully presented cozy-plus novel.” Ellie Reads with each book in this series, threaded among the murder and thugs and racing against the next disaster is the witty dialogue and humor that makes reading these books so much fun.K. Reel

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Developing Ideas into Books

Taking an idea from “tickle” to full-fledged story. Terry Shames

We have a “free” week to write about what we want, so I am writing about developing ideas.

Writers know that ideas are thick on the ground. In fact, some of our friends roll their eyes when something odd happens because they know we are thinking, “Hmmm, good idea for a mystery.” But not every idea is a “good” one. I once had a friend say to me, “I have an idea for a book, and I’ll give it to you. I don’t need any credit or anything. I’d just like to see it written.” I asked her to tell me the story. She said, “Well, there’s this man sitting on a plane and he’s thinking about his life.” Okay. And? “That’s it,” she said.

I’m quite certain that she had other vague thoughts about it--how old the man was; why he was musing about his life; whether he was young or old; a bad person reconsidering, or a good person who had made a mistake--but she didn’t know how to articulate them. She didn’t realize that the man had to have a background and some characteristics that made him and his situation interesting. It had to have a plot. The story had to have a reason for telling it. Was it a cautionary tale? A thriller that begins with a man on a plane destined for trouble? Was the plane going to be sabotaged? Was it a story of a man on the verge of great understanding that would leave to change? Was there someone on the plane following him? Would he meet someone that would change his life?

Note the most common characteristic of the questions: Change. In the beginning of a book, there is the “usual” for a character.  Soon something happens to send the character outside the usual—a death, a birth, an accident, meeting someone who sparks a change. The rest of the book is about either getting back to normal, or evolving to a new normal.

The initial job of a writer is to take the germ of an idea and kick it around (either mentally or on paper) to see if it has possibilities. This is often the stage where ideas die. The author can’t think of a compelling event that might interest readers. Or they think of a good plot, but no characters step up to populate the idea. Or the author realizes the idea will require a lot more knowledge and research than she wants to put into it-- she doesn’t feel like it’s her story to tell.

Sometimes the second an idea springs to mind, it’s complete with characters, setting, and plot. It’s rare, but it does happen. Those times are golden. But that’s not the usual. More often, there’s the tickle of an idea that keeps nudging an author, but it takes work to flesh it out. You have to keep thinking, “Who is this person? What does she want? What’s her personality like? What are her relationships? What’s going to happen to kick her out of her “usual?” What will she have to do to either change, or get back to normal? Who will help her, or will she have to go it alone? What’s her attitude during her ordeal? Does it change? Was she weak and at the end of the book she’ll be strong? Will she break under pressure? Does she have other people to consider—elderly parents, children, some other dependent? And these questions are just about the protagonist. You have to ask the same questions about the antagonist. You have to ask questions about the plot. What sets it in motion? How is it going to proceed so that it will maintain interest? How will the plot and characters interact? What will be the resolution—if there is one? And finally, where will all this take place?

Even after the author has fleshed out an idea—plot, characters, setting—he still has to  figure out of a story has “legs.” Is it going to hold readers’ interest? Is it a timeworn plot that he doesn’t have a new slant on? Is it a story worth spending several months to live with? Sometimes the answer is no, even if you think it’s a good idea. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t come alive.

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’m moving forward on the germ of a story that has plagued me for years, and I’m having trouble getting started. Because it’s a domestic thriller, I thought it would be important to plot it out. And that’s where I got stuck. I could not think of a plot to fit the situation that intrigued me. Finally I went to a writer’s workshop recently, where one of the speakers made me realize I could just start writing. So that’s what I’m doing.

“Winging it” may mean I’ll write 100 pages of wasted words that eventually go nowhere. Or it may mean throwing out 100 pages when the plot finally reveals itself. But I’m finding great satisfaction in pushing the main character into situations she isn’t comfortable with and watching her grow into my story. I don’t have an answer ready for who she is and how she will respond, but I’m beginning to learn her. Meanwhile, another couple of characters have started to stretch their limbs, as if they’ve been hibernating in my brain, and saying, “Look at me. Look at what I’m up to.”

Gradually, gradually I’m beginning to feel as if the story will take shape. At some point I’ll have to start answering all my questions, but for now I’m trying not to be impatient, trying to really explore each scene, even though I know I’m writing things that will never make it into the final book. I feel as if I’m reading the book at the same time I’m writing it. Stay tuned. I may hit a wall, but I hope not. I hope eventually I’ll start to feel that familiar excitement when the story begs to be told and I know I can tell it.

Happy Halloween, Everyone 

A Library of Crime Fiction Classics

 - from Susan

We Minds get to go free-form this week. I would like to answer a question I got at a book event recently. The audience member asked, “Can you share three crime fiction books you think newcomers to the genre should read?” Because my brain tends to freeze when I’m put on the spot, and because I have more time to think when I’m writing it down, I’m expanding it to ten books, which is way easier than three and allows me to focus on different kinds of crime fiction. Of course I will leave out your favorites, the ones my fellow Minds and other readers will insist be on any list, so please chime in.

Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky. Perhaps the original psychological thriller. Why would someone commit a crime? What would be his internal rationale? How would he cope with the knowledge he had committed a crime? For a no-holes-barred voyage into the mind of a murderer, this is a classic, disturbing and intense. 

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie, a devilishly clever whodunit that is a showpiece on how to carry off a murder mystery plot that confounds the reader and yet offers carefully placed and disguised clues. And, of course, it features that Belgian detective for the ages, Hercule Poirot.

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett is as good as any to introduce readers to the noir side of modern crime fiction, one in which the protagonist and crime solver is a wounded/jaded person beset by internal demons even as he (mostly) calls on a moral core to right wrongs.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, would be my choice as an introduction to the modern psychological thriller. We see into Tom Ripley’s head as he goes about stealing the identity of a man he likes (loves?) and falls deeper and deeper into his own instability. 

The Hot Rock, by Donald Westlake is the first in his humorous caper series starring a criminal named Dortmunder, who is doomed to perpetual failure in his escapades. I read it decades ago and remember laughing out loud many times. Capers don’t have to be funny, but the sub-genre is one of my favorites. It’s chess with guns, ransom notes, and explosives.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarre, has to be on any list for readers who want to experience the quality in crime fiction. Lots of authors write wonderful spy/espionage stories, but for me this one, with all of the ambiguity and double dealing and cynical governments, is the very best. 

Danny Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings, by our own Minds contributor Catriona McPherson, is a historical murder mystery within the classic mystery series genre. I picked this because seldom have I read a more compelling use of setting from another period in history - Scotland in the 1930s. All of the trappings of the mystery genre are there and intertwine easily in what reads like the gloomiest place on earth. 

I’m cheating for the rest of my list because the closer I get to what’s being published in this new golden age of crime fiction the harder it is to choose among them. There are terrific novels by women featuring women protagonists who may or may not be what are called 'reliable narrators' (something Agatha Christie did way back when). 

There are exciting crime fiction stories by writers of color and LGBTQ authors who are bringing new voices and perspectives into the genre and enriching it greatly. 

There are novels that sit only partway in the genre as they incorporate homicide into larger plots and themes, societal, psychological, political. 

There are the other authors in Criminal Minds, each of whom has her or his special talent and take on crime fiction and does it well. 

So much to read…

And a short bit of BSP: 

The first series, the Dani O'Rourke Mysteries, is in the style of the traditional murder mystery, with a smart amateur detective able to see things the police don't understand.

My second series is a bit more cozy but the novels are really about how people co-exist in small societies when trouble strikes. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Tempus Fugit

If you could time-travel, what era would you go back to and how long would you stay there? 

I have never been a fan of time travel as a plot device. Somehow, I’m sure that the very fabric of the universe would tear apart if one managed to pull it off. Maybe I’m not smart enough. Or maybe I am. Perhaps I have a “natural instinct for science” like another genius who shall remain nameless (and soulless, for that matter). But I do believe time is linear. “Tempus fugit, and won’t come back againibus,” as the old saying goes.

That said, this is a hypothetical question, so I’ll play along. In a sense, I play at this game anyway in my books. The Ellie Stone series is set in the early 1960s, and I enjoy my visits to that time period. If my books are to succeed in transporting readers back to another time and place, they must do the same for me first. That’s my time travel. And I need to convince readers that they are in Ellie Stone’s world of 1960. Otherwise, my books will feel more like an episode from the last season of Happy Days. Were they even trying to make things look like the fifties at that point? Gimme a break. Compare the looks from the first season and the last. 

(Photo removed)

So I try to immerse myself as best I can in the time period when I’m writing Ellie. That means newspapers, books, movies, and television shows. For CAST THE FIRST STONE, for example, I watched several seasons of Perry Mason as research. It was great. The setting of the book was Hollywood 1962, and Perry Mason was filmed in LA at exactly that time. The clothes, cars, and street scenes were just what I was looking for to set the mood in my head.

But what about other time periods? Would I like to live in the time of Jesus?

(Photo removed)

Messiahs turning over tables in temples, Judean kings slaughtering all male children of a certain age, and no room at the inn? No thank you.

What about the Middle Ages? There was plague, no upward mobility, and the clothes surely itched like all getout. Fun to think about, but I’ll pass.

(Photo removed)

The Renaissance wasn’t much better. Insufferable music, more plagues, and hairdos nearly as bad as the ones on Happy Days.

The first half of the twentieth century brought new horrors. Mankind found new ways to inflict massive casualties on itself—from howitzers and tanks to carpet bombing and Agent Orange to good old thermal nuclear warfare. These innovations in no way diminished the nostalgia for the classics like genocide, influenza pandemics, and starvation.

As for the second half of the twentieth century, just listen to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Sorry if that ear worm gets stuck in your head.

None of this is to say that we live in the best of times. But it’s all we’ve got. Except the future. So I’ll concentrate on that for now. I’m thinking ahead to November 6, for example, hoping we’ll take a small step in the correct direction.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Get back

If you could time-travel, what era would you go back to and how long would you stay there? 

by Dietrich &
A science fiction question for a crime writer. If I could get some help on this one, I’d ask Dr. Emmett Brown to rev up that Delorean and drive me through time. There sure are some people I’d like to meet. 

First off, we’d pack along some scotch and coffee and blast back to the late 40s, find Jack Kerouac somewhere on the road when he was laying the groundwork to one of the greatest novels ever written. There’s so much I want to ask about that endless scroll. 

While in the forties, I’d ask Doc to zoom us to New York so I could be there to witness Jackson Pollock drip genius on that canvas he called Full Fathom Five.

Then off to Chicago and a decade later to bump into Vivian Maier walking the streets with her Rolleiflex, taking those incredible shots, the genius of which wasn’t recognized until long after her death.

“If you remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.” While I do remember some, there’s much more I missed, so I’d ask Doc to blast to the time when a Mini Cooper could be had for about sixteen hundred bucks, or a Ford Mustang for just a few hundred more. No Deloreans yet, not until ’81. 

It was a decade of incredible music, and I wouldn’t miss the chance to catch Hendrix liberating that Fender, or Janis belting it out at Monterey Pop, or how about a front row seat at the Royal Albert for Cream’s farewell concert. Then we’d head off to London to set down on that rooftop for the final performance of the Beatles at Apple Corps. Then off to Max Yasgur’s farm to witness Santana soul sacrificing in front of that sea of people.

Forward to the early ‘70s for a talk with Hunter S. Thompson around the time he wrote those opening words: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold …” 

Then spin forward to the mid-seventies to catch the Ramones at CBGB. From there we could practically walk to the Chelsea for tea with Patti Smith. That place could be a one-stop time-travel destination on its own. Time not being a barrier, I’d just go around knocking on doors, meet all kinds of interesting people who stayed there: Mark Twain, O. Henry, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, WIliam S. Burroughs, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Fonda, Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, Bob Dylan, Sid Vicious, Leonard Cohen and Robert Mappelthorpe. I’m sure I missed a few.

And I’m still kicking myself over the time I missed the Cockroaches at the Toronto’s El Mocambo in ‘77. A couple of friends called up and asked if I wanted to go down to the Elmo, a favorite haunt under the neon palms, but hell, I had better things to do. Turned out the Cockroaches were the Stones in disguise, playing their first club dates in fourteen years. The two nights ended up being recorded as Love You Live. It would sure be nice to have some memories to go along with the record.

Lastly, I’d want Doc to zoom to ’79 for Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue at Harvard Square, just nine bucks a ticket. With a backstage pass I’d get to meet Joan Baez, Roger McQuinn, Ramblin’ Jack and T-Bone Burnett, along with Dylan himself.

Well that was fun, but you know, writing and reading fiction lets me do that, choose a setting and travel to different times and places. That kind of escape waits on every page, and when I’m writing I love getting lost in images of earthquakes, western gunfights, bank robberies and long lost music scenes. I also relived some of my own past when I wrote Poughkeepsie Shuffle, set in Toronto during the mid-eighties, bringing a lot of memories back to life, adding some color to that story.