Monday, November 11, 2019

Cleaning House

Q: Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?
-from Susan
 Sadly, my revision process is as messy as my creation process and is not a template for fellow writers. But, working under the umbrella of “Do what I say, not what I do,” I will share a few craft processes I strive to use.
Be ready to “kill your darlings.” Seriously, I know it’s hard and may hurt deeply, but there are – I guarantee – brilliant sentences and strikingly original descriptions that do not belong in your manuscript. Sniff them out on your own or ask a trusted colleague to read, but when the time comes, cut them brutally. Here’s the corollary: Do not throw them away. Put them in a separate file for future use in a different book or just to admire them now and then.
Connect the dots. Make sure the plot makes sense in the order you’ve laid it out, unless you want a lot of one-star reviews that include phrases like “I threw the book across the room.” (Most but not all publishing houses have smart developmental editors who will make sure you follow this maxim, but too many self-published books that haven’t undergone rigorous editing will leave even the most patient readers saying, “Huh?” on page 150.) One way of making sure your story is unfolding well is by using real or virtual index cards just for plot points. Does the bloody glove found under a bush appear before the snow that you claim obscured it has fallen on the moor?
Who are these people? Did the characters we’re supposed to love lie down and die of boredom in chapter three? Is the villain drooling at people in chapter two so that any sane reader already knows he is the killer and the reader doesn’t have to read the rest of your brilliant book? And who is the total stranger who wandered into the last chapter to solve the mystery by baring clues you didn’t bother to slip in sooner?
Details, details.Do you have enough or too many? Are your descriptions supporting the story or distracting from it? (See Criminal Minds two weeks ago for more on this subject.) If you’re Abir Mukherjee, you have to bring early 20thcentury India to life (he does). If you’re Terry Shames, it’s present day Texas (she does it proud)…Read the books of all of my Criminal Minds colleagues to see how they use specific details brilliantly in the right places and don’t waste space pushing them into the wrong spots in their narratives. 
Getting from the first draft to the one that’s polished enough to send to an agent or editor is hard work. One final bit of advice: Never give up!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Networking? Really?

Bouchercon has just concluded. Networking is a vital component of our business, never more so than at a conference. How do you approach it?

Sitting on the other side of the pond, it’s not easy to make the annual pilgrimage to Bouchercon. In fact my only visit to date was St Petersburg last year. And what an eye-opener it was. Americans always do things bigger, louder, brasher, funner (yes, ‘funner’ is a word,…yes…yes it is. Trust me, Shakespeare used it.).

Shut up, Shakespeare

From the huge venues, to the wonderful readers, to the aircraft hangar of a bookstore to the packed schedules starting at before 9am, (okay, maybe not the early starts, which are, frankly, a touch uncivilised. I didn’t give up a day job I was no good at just to have to get up and attend panels before 9am). But everything else about it shouts BIG AMERICAN STUFF!

Americans. On their way to Bouchercon.

And the networking is no exception. Loads of people, all wanting to hear about your work or wanting to tell you about theirs – it’s great, but it can also be exhausting, especially when cultural differences come into the mix. Here in jolly old England, we tend to have a natural reticence to talk too vociferously or too positively about our own work. There’s a tendency towards self-deprecation. When asked about my books, I generally tend to look a bit sheepish and say something like”

‘Well, they’re ok, I suppose. Some people like them. I hope they’re improving (the books, not the people). I can’t actually read the first one without cringing.’ 

But you North Americans aren’t generally hamstrung by our ridiculous old world ways. I wish I were American. Then I could say something like: 

‘My books? Lemme tell you about ‘em! They’re great! So great. They’ve won awards. So many awards. The best awards. More awards than you can fit in your fanny pack. And the words?! Such beautiful words. Words like you’ve never seen…like ‘funner’ for instance. And the plots? You should see my plots! They’re the best plots, believe me. I was talking to my good friend Kim Jong Un. Yeah, he’s a friend of mine, and he said to me, “Abir. Your plots, man. They’re genius. Even that first novel, the one everyone laughs at and you sue people for mentioning, it’s brilliant.”

Make Abir Great Again (please)

Okay, I joke, but I think there’s a marked difference in how British and American authors talk about their work, with our Canadian friends somewhere in between. 

All this is my way of telling you that I find networking, especially in America, pretty difficult. It takes me out of my comfort zone and can be draining. I remember being exhausted at the end of each day at Bouchercon last year, just getting to my room and collapsing. That’s not to say I didn’t love it. On the contrary, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a festival.

My own views on networking are similar to Dietrich’s. I like to think of events like Bouchercon as a fun trip away from the grind of writing. They’re a chance to connect with like-minded souls from across the world and they remind me of how lucky I am to be able to do what I love for a living. I don’t think of meeting with readers and writers as networking, but rather as a perk of the job. For me, networking is much more meeting with publishers and agents and producers and TV execs and such people whose teeth are remarkably straight and whose smiles can blind you at forty paces. I don’t enjoy them as much, but I regard them as business and I treat them with the professionalism the deserve. I prepare for them – reading up on the person I’ll be meeting. Are they on Linkedin? Have they written anything in the press? What am I going to pitch to them? Should I add star-wipes to my powerpoint presentation to them? Okay maybe not the last one. That to me is networking. Spending time with authors and readers on the other hand, is a pleasure. 

And it’s funner.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Talk to Me

From Jim

I’ve just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Bouchercon, the world’s largest crime-writers and -readers conference. This year it was held in Dallas and welcomed 1,700 enthusiasts. I’ve been recuperating for three days, totally knocked out and sick. Bouchercon is not for the faint of heart, but I loved every minute of it!

Conferences present a great opportunity to network, meet other writers, and—more important—readers. I take full advantage of that opportunity by stopping to speak to anyone and everyone I can. In the corridors, panel rooms, restaurants, and the bar, you’ll find me chatting with someone. And that’s because I love doing it. It’s not a chore for me. I truly enjoy meeting these people and hearing what they’re reading or writing.

The key to my networking is this: I don’t have a strategy beyond simply doing what comes naturally. Listening and talking. Some folks like to talk more than listen, and that’s fine too. Others are shy and prefer to listen. I try to introduce them to all and get them to engage. I’ve met hundreds of writers and readers this way and am always glad to see them at subsequent conferences. My glad-handing has earned me the nickname “The Mayor” from a couple of writer friends. But I’m not running for anything. I’m just enjoying myself.

With Jan Grape

This year, I flew directly from India to Dallas for the conference. It didn't matter that I was sick, jet-lagged, and exhausted, I dived right into the spirit of things and hit the bar to seek out old and new friends alike. I got to thank some friends for blurbing my upcoming release, TURN TO STONE, and gladly accept a couple of requests to blurb others’ books as well. I look forward to reading the latest mysteries before they’re released if I can fit them into my writing schedule. That’s part of networking, too. We have to be ready to pay it forward and backward in our community. It’s important to lend support whenever you can.

Another way of supporting is to attend the panels you’re interested in. In the best of all worlds, your friends’ panels are also interesting, because it’s extra important to attend those. And ask questions during the Q & A portion. But make sure you’re asking questions and not pontificating about your own work. Be generous to those who are having their brief moment in the spotlight.

Terry Shames, Helen Smith, Jamie Mason,
 Amy Reade, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden.
 Missing from photo and conference Susan C. Shea  :-(

Buy books if you can! It’s not always possible due to finances, of course, but writers understand that. They appreciate a purchase and a request for a signature, but also they’re thrilled to be told something nice about their work as well. For that reason, I try to remember to leave a brief review on Amazon and Goodreads for the books I’ve read. And it’s nice to give a round of applause when something good happens!

Kellye Garrett, Lori Rader-Day, me, and Holly West 

But I suppose my best advice for networking is to be a good friend. A friend will listen and share and laugh and commiserate if necessary. This isn’t always like networking in a business environment, though there’s some of that as well. But we’re generally not networking with publishers and agents at conferences. More often it’s readers and writers. And we don’t need to treat them like prospective clients or sales opportunities. Treat them as friends and you’ll be rewarded in kind. And buy them a drink once in a while, alcoholic or not. Most of the networking will take place in the bar.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Networking or not working?

by Dietrich

What an appropriate and timely question by Jim as Bouchercon happened this past week in Dallas. Just coming off a book tour for my latest, I’m sorry that I missed the conference this year. From the photos and comments I’ve seen so far it looked like a good one. Guess I’ll have to content myself with having attended Left Coast Crime held here in Vancouver earlier this year. Great panels, a lot of readers and writers, and best of all, the organizers let me put together the Noir at the Bar which turned out to be a total blast. Like all the conferences I’ve attended it was awesome, although I’m still kicking myself for missing out on the Criminal Minds lunch which included eight of our own Criminal Minds as well a few alumnus.
LCC Noir at the Bar Blake Crouch, Hilary Davidson, Rob Hart, Sam Wiebe, Frank Zafiro, SJ Rozan, Thomas Pluck, Kellye Garrett, Vicki Delany, Lisa Brackmann, Robin Burcell and me.
Now, to the question: As far as networking, I admit I never think of going to a conference in those terms. For me, it’s a party, a chance to connect with some old friends and maybe meet some new ones. 

Once checked in, I start running into people wearing those lanyards in the halls, restaurants, cafes, on the street, at the various panel discussions, and at the ever popular watering holes. So, if attending a conference is networking, then I guess, like a lot of other writers and readers attending, I’ve been working and putting in some serious overtime.

Writers, readers, agents, editors and publishers: throw a scotch on the rocks at the conference bar and you’re bound to hit one. So, if you’re new or just introverted and haven’t been yet, but you want to connect with writers and readers or get in front of somebody on the publishing side of things, there’s no better way to do it. And if you’re just there to party, that’s hard to beat, too.

One tip, if you’re new to it and you’ve got a book out, have an elevator pitch ready. There’s nothing worse (personal experience) than being asked what your book’s about, and standing there going “uh, well, uh …” looking like a deer in the headlights.

Sure, there are other ways to network: social media, writer events, reading groups, associations like Mystery Writers of America, Crime Writers of Canada, Thriller Writers of America. And there are writers’ festivals and events available in just about every city.

Okay, so I didn’t get to Bouchercon this year, but as I mentioned, I did just return from what’s turned into an annual book tour down the coast to California, filled with reading events, a Noir at the Bar, and a two-day writers’ workshop. And I guess as well as catching up with old friends and making some new ones, each event was a new opportunity to network. I even got to ride in a police car – in the front seat this time, doing some research for a story I’ve got percolating. 

And now that I’m back on home turf, I should mention the next Noir at the Bar here in Vancouver is tonight at our usual haunt, the Shebeen Whiskey House. If you’re in town, you can see from the poster, we’ve got an excellent line-up of authors eager to network and read from their latest; it’s going to be one you don’t want to miss.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Painless Networking

This week we’re talking about Bouchercon, the huge mystery conference that just concluded in Dallas. The question is about networking and how we approach it. But before I get to that question, I want to say that leaving the conference this time I ran into several people who said they were always sad and let-down when it was over. I said that I’d like to live at Bouchercon. I’d like to be able to do my writing all day and then when I was tired and ready to go into the world, I’d like to go downstairs and all the attendees would be there, ready to mingle with, to laugh with, to compare notes, to have a drink with, to commiserate with. Writers, readers, editors, publishers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers… I miss you today. I miss the ones who were there, and those who were unable to attend for whatever reason. You are my tribe.
Norcal MWA members reading through the play "The Ghost Town Mortuary" written by Anthony Boucher and performed in honor of Bouchercon's fiftieth anniversary.

Bar scene. Yes, people do go to the bar.

Anthony-nominated pals Lori Rader-day and James Ziskin. One of them won!

On to the question: Networking implies chatting up people who either can help you or you can help them. It’s a “business” word. But I think of it as much more. It’s the way people relate in any way to my life as a writer.

I approach networking at a conference by talking to every single person I meet and trying to make them either a potential sounding board as a writer, someone whose writing I may enjoy reading, someone who may be able to answer a burning question related to the publishing field or a potential reader.

I am blessed (or cursed) with being relentlessly social. I rarely meet someone I can’t have a conversation with. The biggest way to grow your network is to talk to people about their interests, their jobs, their passions. This is true of every conference you go to.

I have developed questions that are sure to draw out people at conferences:

1)    Are you a writer, a fan, or related to publishing in some other way? The related questions branch off from there.

2)    If you’re a reader (yay! A reader!) , what do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? If the answer is that they like to read someone whose novels are like mine, I may trot out my bookmark and tell them a little (and I mean a little) about my books. If they like books that don’t seem like mine, I will try to think of an author they might enjoy reading.

3)    If you’re a writer, there are endless questions beyond “what do you write?” If you’re a thriller writer, how do you push your characters to the edge? If you’re a cozy writer, how do you manage to think up ways to get your characters in hot water and get them out without resorting to calling the police? Police procedurals, do you have police background? If not, how do you do research? If so, do you draw on real cases? As a writer, what’s your process? Do you write fast, slow, do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants? Are you traditionally published? Are you satisfied with that? Small or large press? If you could choose any publisher, who would it be and why? Do you publish independently? What’s your biggest challenge? Do you feel successful? What’s your worse fear?

4)    If you’re a reviewer, do you work exclusively for one source, or are you independent? How do you choose what you review? How long have you been a reviewer? What do you do if you don’t like a book? Do you refuse to review it, give a lukewarm review, pan it? Has an author ever gotten angry? Corrected you? What do you do about that?

5)    If you’re a publisher, what kind of books does your company focus on? How many titles per year? Do you love it? What made you go into publishing? What’s your biggest challenge?

6)    If you’re an editor, are you an acquiring editor, developmental editor, copyeditor? Do you work for a publishing company or are you independent? What rocks your world in a manuscript? What’s your favorite book you’ve edited? What does an author do that drives you crazy?

7)    If you’re a librarian, where do you work? Are mysteries your favorite books? What else do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Does your library do book events? Are you open to the idea of a panel of mystery authors? Do you know about Sisters in Crime’s “We Love Libraries” program?

8)    Are you a bookseller? What’s hot these days? What are you recommending? Any frustrations you’re having, like getting books? How is your business being affected by ebooks? By on-line sales? Do like having authors come for events? What are the special challenges of that?

You rarely get through even a few of these questions before you become deeply involved in the details. There are so many people at Bouchercon that it seems you barely get started before it’s time to rush off to a panel, a meeting, a lunch, or to crash in your bedroom getting a second wind.

If you are pressed for time, or just want a quick connection with someone, the short question to kick-start a conversation with anyone is, “What are you (writing, reading, reviewing, considering) at the moment that you are excited about?”

There are a lot of people who look lost at a conference with 1700 attendees, and you are sure to connect with some of them, especially if you have a few of those questions ready.

Photo of a an old friend, Tim Maleeny, who is back in the writing life after a hiatus, and the reading world will be better for it. 

And I end with a photo of dear Bill Crider, who was honored at Bouchercon with a special short story contest and a memorial cocktail party: 


Monday, November 4, 2019

Making Connections by Brenda

Bouchercon has just concluded. Networking is a vital component of our business, never more so than at a conference. How do you approach it?

The first book conference I attended was called Bloody Words, at that time Canada’s national conference) and it was being held in my home city Ottawa. I had my first middle grade book mystery in the publication queue but was entirely new to the book business. I was conflicted about going to this event where I knew nobody … or so I thought … until I met two other women from my circle of acquaintances who invited me to join them to sit in on panels and the banquet.  All my worries about not fitting in did not come to pass.

Since then, I've been to many more Bloody Words (now defunct), several Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes and one Murder in Muncie. I've never had a bad experience because the attendees at these conferences, both readers and those in the business, have always been friendly and open to chatting with strangers. I've also been fortunate to be one of the Canadian contingent. Although we're usually small in numbers at the American conferences, we gather for meals with newly made friends always welcome. My fellow Canadian authors have generously introduced me to other authors, reviewers and publishers, something I return whenever I can.
Cleveland Bouchercon with some of the Canadian contingent - me, Anthony Bidulka, R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini & Linda Wiken

Signing up for a panel or reading or even sitting at the Crime Writers of Canada desk for a time slot or two is a great way to network. It's a good idea to have a bookmark with contact information or a business card to hand out after making a connection. The same people tend to go to many of the conferences and staying in touch through Facebook or Twitter keeps relationships going and can provide opportunities for cross-promotion.

Monterey Left Coast Crime panel with Ann Cleeves, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, me &  Kathy Bennett

It's also a good idea to arrange to meet up before arriving at the conference since once activities get rolling, free time becomes limited. In the case of Left Coast Crime in Vancouver this past spring, some of the gang from 7 Criminal Minds prearranged to meet up for a photo with many of us going for lunch afterwards.

Susan, Terry, Jim, Cathy, me, Catriona &  Danny

Over all, my networking approach is to take every opportunity to meet new people and to socialize -- particularly in the bar, which as anyone who goes to these events knows, is the hub of the networking machine. I've also gone on some group excursions, which is a great way to meet readers and to see new parts of the country.

Monterey Left Coast Crime - on the bus sightseeing tour driving up the Big Sur

All in all, book conferences have allowed me to see some fabulous cities that I never would have visited and been a vehicle to meet many interesting readers and authors, a lot of whom I'm still in contact with. I look forward to the next conference where we can reconnect although I haven't signed up for any at this point in time.

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor
Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, November 1, 2019

Power Outage

by Paul D. Marks

If I don’t answer this week’s question, it’s because Southern California Edison has cut our power in a preventative measure to hopefully prevent fires. It happened earlier this week and might happen again. And even if we have power today/Friday, if they keep cutting the power all week I won’t be able to work on my blog post. But I would refer you to Susan and Frank and Cathy and Catriona, who all did great posts earlier in the week.

In the meantime, here’s some pictures of my dogs, and I hope to be back next time.




Buster and Pepper playing tug 'o war

Buster and Pepper


And now for the usual BSP:

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