Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Late to the Party

....but glad to be invited.

Hello blog readers! I am Frank Zafiro.

I have to admit, I was sorely tempted to write only 'SSIA', and call it a post. A bold move, I know, but in the end, not one that would endear me to most of you right out of the chute. So this is a more traditional introduction to your newest every-other-Tuesday member of Criminal Minds.

The first thing I tell most people is that I am a retired cop, having served on the Spokane Police Department for twenty years. I either did or commanded most every job within the agency during my career, and retired as a captain. My inclusion on this blog began in much the same way as most patrol stories did back when I was on the job....

There I was...on routine patrol...when all of a sudden....

In this case, the sudden part was an email invite from James Ziskin, who you already know well. Honestly, I was honored to be asked to be a part of this group, and hope to carry my own mud well enough to validate Jim vouching for me.

So who am I and what do I write? 

Retired cop, one-tour in the Army, national instructor for police leadership, hockey guy...well, there's a bit of a start. I'm a hybrid author, meaning that some of my books are published by a publisher and some I publish independently. Also, I love playing guitar, but man I wish I was good at it. 

One thing I am kind of good at is being fairly prolific.  And collaborations. I'm hell at those.

Start with prolific...

(Okay, this is going to sound a little brag-ish, but remember... some people write one book and win a ton of awards and sell millions of copies...I've done neither of those things)

Like a lot of writers, I started (and continue) with short stories. I've been fortunate to see dozens of my stories published in various venues and anthologies. I was three times a finalist for a Derringer Award, and alas, thrice a bridesmaid. 

Novels came next. About ninety percent are crime fiction, and most are in one series or another. The River City series is an ensemble police procedural. The Stefan Kopriva mysteries are ex-cop, sorta PI novels in the first person. The Bricks and Cam Job series is dark humor and hitmen (complete withe the Eric Beetner gross out scene in all three installments). The Ania series is hard boiled, just like my co-author, Jim Wilsky. The SpoCompton series is dark and from the criminal perspective. And the Charlie-316 series is another procedural, with more of an emphasis on character and action than your stand entry in that sub-genre.

Bricks & Cam Job #1
River City #1
Stefan Kopriva #1

Charlie-316 #1

There are a few stand alones, but that mode seems to be in the pleasant minority for me.

At today's count, I have 26 published novels, and should see at least three more added to that number by year's end. 2020 is shaping up to be a bumper crop, as well.

Twenty-six is good number, right? I mean, I've been at this since 2006 (first novel published), so that's like two a year. A pretty good pace. How'd I do that, you ask?

I cheated.

Now, cheated might be a strong word. But I did collaborate on eleven of those twenty-six novels (and one of the three forthcoming this year) with five different authors. That means for those eleven, I only wrote half a novel. But I still get to take credit for a full novel, because thems the rules.

Whose rules?

I don't know. I made the rule up. But it seems fair, doesn't it?

I won't go into a lot more detail right now, because I recognize that a part of the blog's attraction is for readers to get to know the writers in more depth. I'm certain I'll share some juicy tidbits as we go along. So I'll close out with a few interesting facts about me (that they are facts is indisputable -- you may vote on the interesting part, though).

* My first book was published in 2006 -- Under a Raging Moon, the first in my River City series.

Took 30 years to figure it out,
but here we are.
* I learned Czech during my military stint -- fifteen months at the Presidio of Monterey. The grammar was torture, but the landscape gorgeous.

* I finally married the girl I fell in love with when I was just ten....thirty years later.

* I started playing hockey at age 29. You're only ever going to get so good when you start that late, and so I am a career C leaguer in the beer league (If you care, A league is the best, D league is usually for beginners). Love the Philadephia Flyers, and my hometown Spokane Chiefs.

* I've been playing guitar for years, and it doesn't sound like it. But over the past year and a half, I've actually improved more than in the previous decade, so there's that. And that girl I mentioned before will always listen to me play, so there's that, too.

* I grew up in Spokane, WA, and now live in central Oregon. Many of my books are set in the Lilac City, though...or a thinly veiled version of it. Have yet to pen anything set in my new digs, but we'll see.

* I'm currently writing three books at once - the third book in the Charlie-316 series with Colin Conway, River City #6 (Place of Wrath and Tears), and an stand alone with Lawrence Kelter from an idea that's been brewing in my head for about six or seven years, called Unforgivable.

* My undergraduate degree is in History, and my Masters is in (big surprise) Administration of Justice. History because a) a Crim J degree is worthless to a working cop and b) mostly because I love History -- it's the story of people from always. Admin of Justice because a) the city had tuition reimbursement for approved degrees, and b) there is no b...

* Three kids (Boy, girl, boy, all adult now), two dogs (Richie and Wiley), and a meowy cat named Pasta.

Honestly, there's not much more I can say after the Pasta reveal, so I'll see you on my first real Tuesday, in May. Thanks for having me, folks.

My final appearance at the now unfortunately shuttered Seattle Mystery Bookshop.
Photo credit:  Jim Thomsen

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Personal Tour Guide

Q: When it comes to creating a sense of place in your work, how do you do it? (Research and real places? Invention and fictional ones?) What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t?

-from Susan

The places that resonate most for me are the ones I can create most successfully. They're places I love, have explored, can see, taste, smell, hear. I may fictionalize them but they're not made up and don't rely on Google Earth or tourist brochures to live in my head. 

My characters demand the right worlds in which to move and carry out their roles. So, if my characters are to come alive, so must the places they carry out my (and their) plans.

San Francisco - for decades I have lived in or close to the city

Santa Fe - one of my favorite places and one I have stayed in in each of the four seasons

Manhattan (we New Yorkers differentiate among the five boroughs) - my hometown and a constant shot of adrenalin for me and my creations

New England - spent a lot of time there, but also my novel set there (Mixed Up with Murder) is on a college campus and I spent a couple of decades working in higher education

Burgundy - the small, pastoral towns became home for some friends, and I spent delightful times with them there
The municipal center (le mairie) in the town of Avallon, where much of DRESSED FOR DEATH  takes place

What's more problematic but not fatal is going back in time. Sure, I've spent time on Long Island but I wasn't there in December 1941. That's the challenge I'm facing right now in writing my first historical, and that's where research plays a big role. I'm having to resist the lovely rabbit hole of research and more research and more research, all of it fascinating but, uh, Susan, you do want to write this thing, don't you?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Becoming Brand New

By Abir

If you could be really good at one part of the business side of your career, what would it be? (Being a better speaker? Being better at organizing your events? Being a promotion god?)

It’s funny. In all the time you spend before becoming a published author: in writing your manuscripts; contacting agents; fielding rejections; finally getting signed by one; getting rejected by a bunch of publishers; and then, ultimately comes that blessed day when somebody agrees to publish your first novel. You think you’ve made it. You’ve achieved the greatest ambition of your life. 

But then someone whispers in your ear. 

This is just the start. Now you’ve got to go and sell your books.’

Sell the books? I thought that was the publisher’s job. Turns out it isn’t. Not really. It’s yours. And suddenly you realise that there’s a lot more to writing than…err…writing.

As Jim, Brenda and Dietrich have mentioned, there’s a whole world of promotional activity which an author needs to do, just to get the word out: from TV, radio, blogs and press interviews; through speaking on panels at festivals; to giving away freebies. Some authors are brilliant at it…and some of us (i.e. me,) find it incredibly tough to balance it all and fit it in around the writing. 

But it’s got to be done, and so I do it.

If this sounds like I’m complaining, I apologise, because the truth is, I actually love the marketing side of things: going to festivals; visiting new places; meeting new people; having a room full of them listening politely while I talk nonsense on stage for forty five minutes (I insist the doors are locked so they can’t escape) - for me it’s my dream job!

I’ve been incredibly lucky. In the space of a few years, I’ve developed a loyal readership who’ve invested in my characters, Sam and Surrender-not, but I’m acutely aware that there’s a long way to go. 

There’s also a problem. My name.

I suffer from what is known in the business as ‘Funny Name Syndrome’. (OK, I just made the term up, but the condition is real.) You see, it turns out that a significant number of readers (in the UK at least, though I suspect also further afield) are put off by a name they can’t pronounce. What’s more, a friend of mine carried out some audience testing on a range of potential pen-names, and found that those which performed worst with his target audience of British and American readers were Asian names. As you can imagine, this made me want to bomb things. (Not really).

The fact is, if I want to sell enough books to make a career in writing (and enough money to provide for my family), I’m going to need every sale I can get, and having people being put off the by name on the cover is hardly a good starting point.

Now, there’s no point in dwelling on what the causes of Funny Name Syndrome might be. I think it’s far better to work out how to counter-act it.

The obvious way would be to adopt a pen-name. Plenty of authors do it, and for a variety of reasons. I could choose a nice, inoffensive British name like Reginald Thoroughgood, or a punchy American name, like Lance Strongarm, and maybe I should, but to me that seems a bit of a cop-out. My parents named me Abir Mukherjee and I’ve stuck with that name for forty five years in the face of more mispronunciations and misspellings than I’ve had hot dinners. (Once, after carefully spelling my name out over the phone: ABIR MUKHERJEE, I received a fax back from the person addressed to ARCHIE MURCHIE). Me and my name have gone through a lot together and I don’t fancy changing it now.

So, what’s the alternative? Well, there is one … sort of. It’s a bit chicken and egg, but it turns out that Funny Name Syndrome can be overcome by becoming better known. In the UK there’s a young woman of Bangladeshi origin called Nadiya Hussain. A few years ago, she was just another ethnic minority woman, living with her family in East London. Then she won the first series of a TV show called The Great British Bake-Off and shot to a degree of national fame. But Ms Hussain didn’t rest on her laurels. She was smart, got herself a PR team and diversified. Since then, she’s presented documentaries, published a series of novels (ghost-written) and now has a range of clothes. In the space of five years, she’s gone from quiet home-maker to national-treasure. In short, she built a brand that inoculated her against the ravages of Funny Name Syndrome.

So what does that mean for me? Don’t’ worry, I’m not going to release a clothing brand or a range of perfumes (though Eau de Mukherjee has a certain ring to it), but I do feel I need to widen my name recognition, and to do that, I think I might need to build a brand which is wider than simply writing mystery novels. That’s going to entail a range of things – I’ve revamped my website, I’m starting a podcast next month with some other writers, I’m hoping to do more press articles, and most interestingly, I’m exploring the possibility of doing TV documentary work about the British Raj, alongside a proper historian. A lot of these things are at an early stage and I’ve no idea if they’ll work, but I’m going to enjoy the journey. And if it doesn’t work out…I’m going to go on The Great British Bake-Off and burn a lot of cakes.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

You’re Getting Very Sleepy...

If you could be really good at one part of the business side of your career, what would it be? (Being a better speaker? Being better at organizing your events? Being a promotion god?)

From Jim

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Writers write, but they also have to excel at promotion. Speaking, signing events, giveaways, etc. If we wanted to do those things we wouldn’t have become writers in the first place.

I suppose every profession requires some element of promotion. Just look at all those ambulance-chasing lawyers on the sides of buses. But somehow advertising strikes me as different. If all we writers needed to do was pay for ads, we’d complain a lot less. But in our business, promotion demands a creative, low-budget scramble to sell ourselves, our brands, and our books. That can take the form of anything from auctioning off character names in future books—usually the dead prostitute—to giving away recipes and bookmarks and die-cast Volkswagen vans.

I did that for my fifth Ellie Stone book, CAST THE FIRST STONE. And guess what. They were a HIT. Everyone wanted one. But guess what else. They were expensive. About ten bucks each, and I must have given away thirty of them. Limited editions. That may not be a lot of money to a predatory lawyer grinning a creepy grin at you from the side of a bus, but, let me tell you, to a writer it stings.

Then I gave away a couple of models of Ellie Stone’s car, a 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer.

I’ve also given away books and magnets and airline whisky bottles. I’ve read excepts, signed books, written blogs and short stories, had luncheons, and closed down every bar at every conference there is. All fun and exhausting. And expensive. And humbling.

Promotion poses other challenges for writers. Most of us claim to be introverts. I wouldn’t call myself that, but I confess to feeling uncomfortable asking people to buy my books. The trick, say the experts, is to sell yourself not your books. If only someone wanted to buy me. I’m available at popular prices. But I believe what writers are supposed to do is build a brand that intrigues readers enough to make them want to read our books. Talk about everything EXCEPT your books. Easy, right?

And that’s what I wish I were better at. Coming up with ideas that attract readers to my books. If only promotion were as simple as writing the damn book in the first place. Sure it’s torture and—at times—soul-crushing and lonely and thankless to sit there and tap out 100,000 words. But at least it’s a thing I can do. I know it’s hard as all get out to write a book—even a bad one—but if I put in the time and effort, I end up with a book every time. It’s not the same story when trying to promote that book.  

Yet promotion is necessary, so we throw ideas—and our heads—against the wall, hoping one of them will stick. Not our heads; that would probably mean there’s blood. Few ideas produce the desired results. You’d think creative types like writers would be wizzes at this, but no. Svengalis and cult leaders are really good this kind of thing. Writers, generally, are not. 

So my answer is I’d like be better at hypnosis. Then I could compel readers to buy and love my books. Let’s give it a try.

You’re getting very sleeeepy...

(Photo removed)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Taking care of business

If you could be really good at one part of the business side of your career, what would it be? (Being a better speaker? Being better at organizing your events? Being a promotion god?)

by Dietrich

I try to stay open to ways of improving on the business side of things. When some new way comes along I may want to try it or find out more, but sometimes it just comes down to a question of balancing time for all the other things, like the writing.

It’s good to get out there and participate in reading events, and it’s important to get the rhythm of what I’m going to read. So, I usually read the chapter aloud a few times ahead of time, that way I won’t stumble over my own words. The idea is to sound like I’m telling it rather than just reading it off the page. I’ve heard Canadian author William Deverell a number of times, and he’s a master at engaging an audience and telling the story instead of just reading it off the page. 

As far as promoting myself, I wish I knew the secret, if there is one. I think the best way is to just write the best book I can and gain readers that way, ones who hopefully will like the book enough to look forward to the next one and recommend my books to friends in person and online.

When a new book comes out, there’s the book launch, interviews, a book tour and/or a blog tour, usually all of these. And my publisher ECW Press plays a large part here, making arrangements and connections, as well as getting the ARCs out for potential reviews.

It’s a good idea to sound like I know what my book is about. When somebody asks, I’ve got a short synopsis in my head, a kind of elevator pitch. There’s nothing worse than standing like a deer in headlights when someone asks, “So, what’s your book about?” And the first word out of my mouth is, “Uhh …”

For promotional items, I keep it simple and go with bookmarks for each new title. I pass them out at events, books stores and conferences. Who doesn’t love a bookmark? I’ve considered other kinds of loot, but let’s face it, I can’t bribe somebody to read my book. At every writers’ conference there’s a table scattered end to end with authors’ promotional items from bookmarks, pens, buttons, notepads, pamphlets, business cards and more. Does any of it work, especially when you consider the cost? 

I post upcoming events and any news on my social media pages, as well on my website. The trick is to update the website like clockwork, like every week or more or anytime I have something new to add. And I write here and at my own blog, Off the Cuff.

Networking through writing organizations and taking part in festivals and conferences is a great way to promote and meet others in the business of writing. Conferences and festivals also attract many readers, plus they offer a chance to catch up with friends I’ve made along the way, ones I don’t get to see often enough.
As well as other writing events, I organize Noir at the Bar here in Vancouver, including the one for Left Coast Crime here this past March. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and would like to come and check it out, the next one happens here on May 1st.

And speaking of self promotion …
Coming October 15, 2019
Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on. The land’s gone dry, barren and worthless. And the bankers, greedy and hungry, make life even more impossible, squeezing farmers out of their homes. The couple can wither along with the land, or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the other farmers. But Sonny comes up with a way for them to stay on their land and prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery.

Monday, April 22, 2019

On the Road to Super Stardom. by Brenda Chapman

Question: If you could be really good at one part of the business side of your career, what would it be? (Being a better speaker? Being better at organizing your events? Being a promotion god?)

Nobody warns you going into this business that once published, you must teach yourself to become a marketing genius, an accomplished guest speaker, the Bill Gates of social media, an event planner the Kardashians would hire, and a rival to used car salesmen across the nation. They don't reveal that you'll need to develop a back so slippery that rejection rolls off it like ball bearings, and a skin so thick it rivals a rhino's leathery hide.

The entire road to success is pockmarked with pools of quicksand waiting to slurp the less committed into their vortexes ... or maybe it's simply the most determined and pig-headed among us who sink up to our necks, claw our way out, and keep coming back for more.

Take the speaking engagements.  Those nerve-wracking, exhilarating, stomach-clenching events that put you on centre stage in every imaginable situation. The chairs might be nearly empty, the acoustics terrible, the room hot as Hades, the set up uncomfortable. The person in charge of getting you a bottle of water might have forgotten and blamed it on cutbacks. You could be trying to speak in a busy conference room with people talking and coming and going. You might realize waiting for your turn to speak that what you've prepared will not do at all. Yet, you still have to put on a show that captures the audience's attention and keeps them from drifting out the door. (I won't  mention the lack of financial recompense for the hours spent preparing said presentations.)

Then, there's social media. How much time does an author labour to create an online presence? Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Goodreads, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn ... the cornucopia of platforms is enough to make your eye twitch ... and suck up half your writing time. The trick is to constantly create content, to be engaging and informative - to promote your books without being pushy or without revealing too much of yourself ... or at least anything you'll regret sharing later on. All of this posting takes untold time unless you're one of the marketing geniuses who makes enough money to hire an assistant, or have sired/given birth to a teenager with time on their hands (and a need to eat).

How about the media appearances? The work that goes into the pitch to get on the radio or television or get interviewed in the paper is a challenge most authors never anticipated taking on. Then the anxiety once you realize that you've actually got to appear on live tv to talk intelligently about a book you wrote three years ago.

And then the bookstore signings. This is where the rubber really hits the road. Being a salesperson on the front lines. Who among us envisioned standing for three hours in a store trying to capture the attention of shoppers who've never heard of you? Handing out bookmarks as people look the other way. Trying to say the right thing to interest the disinterested. Smiling when asked where the washrooms are? 

And this brings me back to this week's question: what part of all this unexpected career would I like to improve upon? 

I'd be lying if I didn't say I could continue to develop my skills in every single area ... I mean, who can honestly say they've mastered the art of the sale ... except for maybe The Donald. But then again, I feel as if I've been through a lot of the fires and come out the other side already, stronger for the experiences ... and still excited to be writing (without the need to hide my tax returns) and oddly eager to keep getting out there with my wares.

I can also attest to the wonderful time I've had meeting new as well as devoted readers and wonderful bookstore owners and staff, getting to know other authors in the same boat, travelling to new cities, working with editors and publishers, seeing my words in print, on bookshelves, in bookstores ... The hard truth is that I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing. 

So, yes, there's always room for improvement both on the writing and the marketing fronts, but when all is said and done, this writing gig is one helluva ride and I wouldn't give back one minute of it, even if the odd time the seats were empty and the kid running the bookstore signing forgot I was coming.

Coming in May! Books 6 in the Stonechild & Rouleau police procedural series - Find out more here.

Website: brendachapman.ca
Twitter: brendaAchapman
Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Road to Writing Riches – HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!

How often do you step back and take stock of where you are in your writing life and where you want to go? Is this a New Year’s only thing, or do you do it more often?

by Paul D. Marks

My wife, Amy, tells me I’m constantly taking stock of things. Probably more in where I want to go than where I am. Where I want to go is to the top of the New York Times best seller list. Of course, I have no idea how to get there. Unless you have a big publisher who puts a big push behind you there really isn’t a roadmap that seems to work.

I’m always reevaluating where I’m at and where I want to be. Trying to figure out ways to get there. Some people seem to turn out three or even more books a year. I can’t do that. I write fairly slowly after the early drafts, trying to hone everything to the way I want it.

And, as Susan said earlier in the week, there’s really no point comparing yourself to other more successful authors. So it’s best to compete with yourself. Try to make each story/novel better than the one before. Build your readership slowly. You just have to do what you do and do it the best you can. The publishing industry is kinda screwy in some ways. Unlike becoming an accountant or lawyer, there’s no direct path to success. Everyone has to figure out their own road, often by trial and error.

I had an unfortunate experience after my first novel, White Heat, came out. It sold a lot of copies. And it won a Shamus Award. And I got what I thought was a good agent out of it, someone with clients on the NY Times Best Seller lists. And that turned out be a bad situation because she got sick and didn’t really do anything with my next book, Broken Windows, the sequel to White Heat. So it languished with her for a few years. I couldn’t do anything with it and I couldn’t get out of the contract. So it sat, and I did other things, short stories, my novel Vortex. But I was very frustrated not being able to get out Broken Windows on the successful tails of White Heat.

I was finally able to extricate myself from that contract and Broken Windows came out five years after the first book in the series. And I think that was a problem. It had lost the momentum of the readership of White Heat and the Shamus. So in a sense I’m starting over.

In doing that, I’ve tried to get another agent. When people ask who my agent is they’re in disbelief when I tell them I don’t have one, I can’t get one. A couple of them have offered to help me in various ways. And really tried hard to help me land an agent. But nothing worked. I still don’t have one. And I keep trying to figure out why I can’t get one. My writing has won several awards, a story has been included in The Best American Mysteries of 2018 anthology, and I’ve been nominated for a lot of others. So it baffles me that agents won’t even respond to my queries. To bring this full circle, that is definitely something I’m taking stock of or reevaluating.

Luckily Broken Windows found a publisher. As did another stand-alone that’s coming out in 2020, The Blues Don’t Care, a World War II homefront mystery with a very unusual leading character. I really like this book. I really thought this book would open doors for me. I really thought I’d get an agent for it. But it didn’t.

And it frustrates me—and that’s me being nice about it. What I really wanted to say is it pisses me off, but my wife talked me out of that.

And this isn’t an ego thing, or at least not mostly one. If my writing had been universally rejected, if it hadn’t won awards, etc., I would slink back into my cave with my tail between my legs. But it has done all of that. And White Heat sold more copies than a lot of “successful” books. So I don’t get it.

Some people have suggested ideas as to why this might be, and they might be right, though I won’t go into them here. But regardless of the reason/s, it is frustrating. So I guess I should take stock of the agent situation again, though I’ve done that several times and I’m really not sure where to take it now…

What about you? What are you reevaluating in your writing career?

And now for the usual BSP:

My short story House of the Rising Sun and lots of other great stories are in Switchblade - Issue 9, which is scheduled for release on Amazon (Kindle version) on April 19th: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QW5GVZF. The paperback version to follow in May.

The Anthonys. Since Anthony voting is still in progress, I hope you'll consider voting for Broken Windows in the Best Paperback Original Department.

The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. It's still available in bookstores and on newstands until April 23rd:

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Taking Stock and Paying Dividends

How often do you step back and take stock of where you are in your writing life and where you want to go? Is this a New Year’s only thing, or do you do it more often? 

From Jim

Filling in for Catriona this week. Returning her favor from last week when she was celebrating the launch of her latest Last Ditch mystery featuring Lexy Campbell, SCOT & SODA. Here I am enjoying Catriona’s magnum opus with my highbrow, bookish face. Actually, I should be laughing in this photo. The book is hilarious!

Okay, now that I’ve settled the ill-advised wager I made with her about how to pronounce her own name, I’ll move on to this week’s topic.

We all spend a lot of time thinking about our writing careers, how to promote better, hone our skills, or find that great “high-concept” idea that is a sure winner. But do we make resolutions to accomplish those goals? I don’t know about others, but I do it to some degree when I start a new book. I resolve to write something different, if only to change the structure, the solution, or the setting. But that’s nothing unusual.

At the beginning of this year, I took stock of my career and decided I needed to do something I’d been thinking about for a while: write something new. I have no intention of abandoning my Ellie Stone books, at least not until I’ve exhausted all the possible Stone titles. But I’ve resolved to write a thriller of sorts. Not a techno thriller, a psychological thriller, or even a domestic thriller. I’d be behind the curve if I did, chasing a bus that’s long since driven away. Rather, I am writing a book in a more traditional vein. An old-fashioned thriller that leaves the super tough/smart guys to those who are good at writing that kind of thing. The same for the unreliable narrators and drunks on trains. I enjoy those books but don’t feel I could write a good one. 

So, yes, I’m writing a throwback. Stranger in a strange land. Expats in exotic locales, set in the mid-seventies. Regular folks caught up in irregular activities. But no microfilm or super villains. Bad guys, of course, just not the of the evil genius variety.

Last year, in 2018, I decided to write some short stories for the first time in thirty-five years. It wasn’t exactly a resolution, but more of an idea that came to me when Eric Beetner asked me contribute a story to the UNLOADED 2 anthology (Down & Out Books). All profits go to promote sensible and reasoned debate on guns in America. The result was “Pan Paniscus,” a cautionary tale about racism, privilege, the value we give to some lives but not others, and a young bonobo named Bingo who’s escaped from the zoo.

I also wrote a story, “Who Is Stuart Bridge?” for Mysti Berry’s labor of love, LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE. This volume was also for a good cause: fighting voter suppression. All proceeds go to the ACLU.

Next up was good pal Brian Thornton’s brainchild DIE BEHIND THE WHEEL—due out June 24, 2019 from Down & Out Books—a crime fiction anthology inspired by the music of Steely Dan. My contribution was “Who Killed Harley Quinn?” You’ll have to read it to figure out which Steely Dan song inspired me.

And, finally, I was fortunate enough to land a story, “A Bed of Roses,” in Strand magazine. And my name is on the cover!

So I learned that taking stock and making resolutions can be a great motivator and send your writing to places you never thought you’d reach.This year I resolve to write that thriller

Reading the runes by Cathy Ace

How often do you step back and take stock of where you are in your writing life and where you want to go? Is this a New Year’s only thing, or do you do it more often? 

I’ll be honest and admit that while I had two traditional publishers, and contracts I’d signed lined up for me, I didn’t really have the time to step back and wonder if I was moving in the right direction as a writer. Of course I always wrote the best book I could, and I still want the next one – and the next one – to be even “better”. 

When I did wonder about direction, back in 2017, I thought I’d have a chat with my agent. She had no guidance for me, no input at all – said it was my decision. (No, she’s no longer my agent!) 

Then 2018 was a Big Year for me – putting all my eggs into one self-carried basket by setting up an incorporated company and self-publishing a novel early in 2019. 

I’m thrilled it’s become an amazon #1 bestseller, and the reviews and blurbs have been fabulous; I’ve also been able to support it in the marketplace in ways a traditional publisher would never have done (at least, my two publishers never did) and I know sales numbers have been better because I’ve been in control of pricing in a way I never was – and still am not, nor will I ever be, for my twelve traditionally published titles. But it’s a lot of work, of a type I never thought I’d be able to (or even want to) master. The learning curve has been steep – with perilous chasms. I hope I don’t forget everything I learned before I get to use all that knowledge again!

The coveted orange badge - for a #1 bestseller!

Now? I’m working hard on my next novel of psychological suspense, and – at the moment – it’s something I’m also planning to indie-publish. But if an agent runs towards me promising a bumper international auction and the undivided attention of all the world’s biggest houses, I might change my mind!

“Am I doing the right thing?” is a question I’m constantly asking myself.

The publishing industry continues to evolve, and not always in what appears to be a terribly constructive manner. With Midnight Ink being shuttered, Seventh Street Books under new ownership and Poisoned Pen Press also having a new owner, the landscape in publishing terms is in a fair amount of turmoil, with many authors feeling the chill of “limbo” as they wait to hear firm news about their forthcoming (already submitted) titles, and beyond. Finding a publisher has never been easy – now it seems more daunting than ever, even if you’re not harboring secret wishes about a Big House wanting you to become one of their marquee authors (congratulations to all those who manage this, and strength to your writing arms!). 

True, there are any number of small, independent houses, which offer editing, cover design and access to distribution – but they operate in a fragmented way, it seems, and I’ve had my fingers burned this way before…both my traditional publishers now rely on Print On Demand services – and, frankly, I can do that for myself, without the cut in the percentage of income, thank you very much. Do I really want 25% of 70% of the sale price of an e-book, when I can get 70% all to myself, if only I’m prepared to spend a day mastering set-up and formatting? It sounds great…but…what about not being able to get onto bookstore shelves without a sales team? Well, it turns out any house only gets a book onto shelves for about 6 weeks, and then there are the dreaded returns, which can see “sales” figures slashed, if the book doesn’t…well, sell! 

I’m fortunate in that I have been traditionally published, and have managed to garner reviews for organs such as Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, The Globe and Mail etc. Beyond blog reviews -  for which I am always incredibly grateful - I have also received a review in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine since I “went indie”, and I am hoping it won’t be too long before other mainstream reviewers begin to recognize there are some excellent indie-published titles which deserve their attention. But I don’t have a crystal ball, so who the heck knows!

Thus, I live in a constant state of uncertainty about whether I’m doing things the best way, but I do seem to have decided that I have to take my fate in my own hands. And that a novel of psychological suspense is going to be my next book. And that I might write a ninth Cait Morgan Mystery after that. Very soon after that…The Corpse with the Crystal Skull is calling me…but I cannot answer until I’ve got this twisted tale of deceit and (possibly) revenge out of my head. I promise to keep you updated with how my plans are going. 

NEWS UPDATE: I'm delighted to be able to tell you that my first indie-published novel, THE WRONG BOY, has won the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) Bronze medal for Best Regional E-Book - Fiction...for the e-book on any fictional subject that best represents the region in which it is set. I am THRILLED because one of the other challenges when you are self-published is that your work is not eligible for most award competitions...so this is a great feather in my cap - WOOT!

 Please consider reading my books? You can click here to reach my website, where they are all listed, blurbed and reviewed!