Friday, June 28, 2019

All Summer Long

Here comes the summer! Are summers a distinct stretch of the year for you? What's this one got in store?

by Paul D. Marks

Every now and then we hear our song,
We've been having fun all summer long.
—All Summer Long by Brian Wilson & Mike Love
—Performed by the Beach Boys

When I was younger summer was more of a distinct time for me. We’d load up the Woody—okay so it wasn’t a classic Woody, but it was a station wagon with fake wood sides—and go on a Surfin’ Safari,  Surfin’ USA, from “…Del Mar, Ventura County line, Santa Cruz and Trestle, Australia's Narrabeen, All over Manhattan, And down Doheny Way, inside, outside, USA,”* just to Catch a Wave. And I’ve got some great stories, especially about Doheny, but they’re probably for another time.

As California boys we’d be on the lookout for California Girls—“I wish they all could be California girls.”* And I met a Surfer Girl under The Warmth of the Sun at the beach one time and that turned into a three year or so relationship. Do You Wanna Dance, I asked her. And we did, Dance, Dance, Dance. But when I took her In My Room my parents walked in—the less said about that the better… I guess you could say we were Shut Down. Don’t Worry Baby, I told her, but that was the end of our Fun, Fun, Fun…at least for a time. I don’t know if there really were any Heroes and Villains then, but ultimately I grew up and then there were Good Vibrations.

We definitely had fun All Summer Long. But eventually, we went our separate ways and she told me to just Sail On, Sailor. Which I did.

But Wouldn’t It Be Nice if we could relive some of those youthful, exuberant and nostalgic times? I just wish I had more pix of them and could find the ones I do have—in a box somewhere.

But that was then and this is now:

Those carefree summers are gone with the wind. These days summer is more like Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind than the Beach Boys:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana's that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” —Red Wind by Raymond Chandler.

Speaking of carving knives and the like, as I’m writing this the Sunday before it’s due up, a news story broke about a place called Neptune’s Net. A beachy dive on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. A hang for bikers and surfers and others, if you dare. A place I love and have been to a lot. A place I took Amy when we met and since. And even a place I took my dad, who’s very opinionated about food, but who likes clam chowder and amazingly liked this place. So this story about a knifing there really bums me: 

I even wrote about it in my novel Vortex:

Jess and I sped north on PCH, hoping Bryan and Carlos would assume we were going to be heading north all the way. We ripped past Zuma, flying up the coast. Turned into Neptune’s Net, a seafood dive favored by bikers, surfers and tourists. I didn’t think we quite fit any of those categories. The Mustang was camouflaged in the parking lot among all the other cars. We watched Bryan’s red Camaro zip past Neptune’s. We waited two or three minutes, then pulled out of the lot, cutting across traffic, turning left on PCH. Heading south now and lucky no ChiPs were there to light us up. Hopefully Bryan and Carlos were still heading north, thinking they’d catch up to us sooner or later.

But back to the question:

Aside from the weather, of course, these days summer is largely the same for me as any other season, killing people, mystery, noir, the thrills and chills of writing. I wish there were more chills. It gets hot here. And since I work at home there’s not much difference in terms of my daily routines. I walk the dogs. I do some social media. Might do some stuff around the house. And, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even get some writing in.

And, depending on how hot it is, the AC goes on, though I’d always prefer fresh air. But if I had my druthers—if I could ever figure out what druthers are—I’d prefer ocean air.

We’ve done a bit of traveling lately so I don’t think there’s much travel on the sked, except for Amy’s family reunion. It’s been a rough year or so for her as she lost both her parents, so maybe we can recuperate a little this summer. I think we started doing that with our anniversary this month. Also, one of our dogs is getting older and that’s starting to concern us, so I think we want to spend as much time with her as possible.

The thing we do worry about here in summer is fire . We live in a “wilderness” area, at least we pay an extra tax for fire services because of that. And we’ve had to evacuate two or three times and came close another couple of times. Let me tell you, it’s no fun. Rounding up the dogs wasn’t a problem, but you try rounding up two cats while sirens are screaming up and down the canyon.

The flames licking the hill across the canyon road.

The funny thing is the one time we actually saw flames on the hill next to us we didn’t have to evacuate. But we did during the Station Fire, which was huge. It turned the whole sky orange.

Anyway, these days as a writer I like a certain amount of consistency. Maybe it's not for everyone but that’s how I roll. So I like my routine for the most part and try to get as much done as possible. Those days of surfing, sailing and diving are mostly in the past now. But it’s nice to revisit them sometimes.
How ’bout you? What’s your summer shaping up like? Or should I say, what’re you doing All Summer Long?

*Surfin’ USA by Brian Wilson and Chuck Berry
*California Girls by Brian Wilson and Mike Love


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Past is Prologue is out in the new July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Available now at bookstores and newstands as well as online at: Hope you'll check it out.

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Tale of Two Summers ... by Catriona

Life: Here comes the summer! Are summers a distinct stretch of the year for you? What's this one got in store?

I really do have two summers. The first one, June and July, is at home in California, where the temperature climbs into triple digits, the grass turns yellow and crunchy, the watermelon is 10c a pound at the farm stand and I frantically try to get two books edited and handed over to my agent.

I love this summer. It's sunny every day - and that still feels like a miracle to a Scot, even after nine years. The fourth of July happens, with fireworks when it's not even raining. My anniversary is mid-summer day and we usually go up to Oregon and see something at the Shakespeare Festival. And even when it's stinking hot in the daytime, at night the Bay breeze rolls up the valley bringing cool air along with the sunset, so that we can lie on the still-warm ground and look up at the stars. Living in the sticks means we can see the Milky Way. Not too shabby

Of course, by the time August rolls around and there's going to be no rain for another two months, Summer No.1 begins to pall.

Garden pond, with wee cow sulking 
But that's when I get really lucky and embark on Summer No. 2.

That summer is at home in Scotland, in the cool drizzle with the odd nice day. I bomb around in my tiny hire car, changing gear on single-track roads throughout the most desolate bits of Scotland, researching book settings, with BBC R4 for company. I eat every example of meat encased in pastry that the resourceful Scots have ever invented, plus a fair few fish suppers too. And I get to see my old friends, friends I've had for twenty, thirty, forty years, not to mention parents, sisters, nieces and nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and sometimes (like this year) a bump 'n' scan pic.

This year I've got two new publishers to meet, a book to launch, and my favourite city in the whole world (sorry, New York) to soak into my pores, all the way to my bones, for another year.

Edinburgh in the summer is a wee bit insane. "The Festival" - actually three contemporaneous festivals: the official festival, the Fringe Festival, and (most importantly) THE BOOK FESTIVAL YAYYYYY - is the largest arts jamboree in the world. It affects parking. It affects everything. Earlier today, I booked a table for lunch on the 27th of August at 1pm, and got the message in bold red "we need this table back by 2.30". I love it!

Come September, things calm down a bit. But not a lot. Because September is when Bloody Scotland kicks off in Stirling. This year, I'm on a panel with Vaseem Khan and Lynne Truss. Details and tickets here. As well as that, I'll be seeing old pals, making new ones, I bet, and taking part in a torchlight procession. The good kind.

And then it's back home to California, where the sun will still be shining.

Hey - if you need a blast of summer and you live in Sacramento, check this out later today. I'll be at Capital Books with Cindy Sample and Kristi Abbott (Eileen Rendahl), two of the sunniest sorts you'll ever meet, talking summer reading.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

In the summertime... by Cathy Ace

Life: Here comes the summer! Are summers a distinct stretch of the year for you? What's this one got in store?

Summer? Love it! Normally it’s the time when, as a gardener, I get to enjoy the fruits of my labours – visually speaking – by sitting on the back deck, writing, and enjoying the view, or sitting indoors at my desk – looking out to enjoy the view. 

Where I write in the summer (taken July 2018)

 This year I’ll have to wait a while to indulge in those particular delights, because I’ll be away for three weeks in July, so my “summer schedule” won’t get started until the end of that month. 

But…living in the Pacific Northwest our summers are supposed to be temperate, not scorchers. The past few years, however, have been searingly hot, with almost no rain – not good when you live in the middle of a rainforest and all your water comes from a well, not the city. No rain means the evergreen trees we’re surrounded by suffer and, essentially, become ominous pillars of kindling; the ornamental trees, and other garden plants we’ve grown from cuttings or seeds, which thrive in sunny and damp vs baking and dry conditions, need extra care and attention; the water we rely upon from our well dries up and we have to get it brought in by tanker. 

Some of the ornamental trees we've planted, with the natural evergreens behind them - as you can see, it gets dry here
It’s not good when you’re entire life is set up for a climate that no longer exists – but we’re keenly aware that we have it better than many…we've never (yet!) suffered a forest or grass fire, flooding, or drought situations that cannot be alleviated by phoning to order a delivery of potable water (which we have pumped into holding tanks above ground, which then gravity-feed into our well, FYI). 
A delivery of water - they fill our tanks from their tanker!

So the idyll isn’t quite as idyllic as it used to be when weather patterns were more “normal”. But the principle is the same. Generally speaking I’d live outdoors all the time, if I could. Since we have a dog, there’s usually a door open all the time when it’s not freezing or snowing…I like being cold and bundled up – quite often there’s no heating on in the house until about 4pm even in the depths of winter. 

Recently added honeysuckle...taken June 2019
So the summer allows me to have all the doors and windows open, or to be out on the deck…or tending to the five acres which need all that attention. JOY! 

Now for the Blatant Self Promotion - as you enjoy YOUR summer, why not try one of my books? You can find out more about me, and them, by clicking here. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Summertime Shift

Q: Here comes the summer! Are summers a distinct stretch of the year for you? What's this one got in store?

From Frank

My wife is a teacher, so my summertime projects are purposefully scaled back when compared to the rest of the year. I don't stop, but I try not to be quite as compulsive. I also go on hiatus with my podcast, Wrong Place, Write Crime. This gives me more time to spend with Kristi. She likes to be active during the summer, including some traveling, and I want to be available for that.

We'll take the kayaks up to the lake frequently, for example. And because I definitely need it, we're getting back into the gym routine.

I'm pretty sure she'll have a house project she wants to tear into, although the still unfinished kitchen cabinets may be enough to satisfy that itch for her. Here's hoping, because home improvement is essentially my idea of hell. Seriously, if certain religions are right and I end up standing before a horned tormentor one day, he's going to laugh manaically while he shows me around a fixer-upper and says, "It's all yours."

Anyway, the biggest event for us this summer will be our twelve-day trip to Ireland in July. We're even flying Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline. We start in Dublin, and go from there, hitting Galway and Dingle.

And since going to Ireland can qualify as research, I suspect there's going to be an Irish-centered book or story that finds its way into the writer pipeline in the not-too-distant future.... Of course, I said the same thing regarding my 2013 trip to Italia, and those three projects are still struggling to work their way up the queue. But at least they're in line, right?

If I give a character an Irish accent, do you suppose that will cut it?

So if anyone has any slick tips about what to do while in Eire, better shoot 'em to me quickly. We leave July 1!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Summer forever!

Q: Here comes the summer! Are summers a distinct stretch of the year for you? What's this one got in store?

- from Susan

What I wish: Three weeks in the sweet cottage we’ve rented before in Hanalei, or invitations to stay again with friends in Provence and Camargue, or a week at my old stomping grounds on the seashore of Cape Cod.

What I have planned: Nada. I do live in a glorious place as long as there are no deadly wildfires or earthquakes, but, still, a real vacation would be a pleasure.

What I wish: a book due to a publisher with a hard deadline, or a writing retreat with friends lined up, or a meaty writers conference.

What I have planned: waiting for a call from my agent about a new possible series, working on a spec novel outside my genre, and a faculty slot at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, including a workshop assignment to share with Hallie Ephron.

What I wish: Longer days forever, a soft ice-cream store within walking distance, more time with grandkids, and summer parties.

What I have planned: a few SF area mini-adventures, driving to get soft ice-cream made with Strauss (local organic and environmentally avant-garde dairy) milk, offering bribes to get my grandkids to do stuff with me.

Summers are a thing. I love summers.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Kill 'Em. Then Bury 'Em.

by Abir

"Kill your darlings" is classic writing advice. What do you do with the bodies afterwards?

It’s never easy, taking a hatchet to your prose. You’ve spent hours, days, weeks crafting these wonderful words, and then someone: an editor, a first-reader, or often just that little voice in your head, tells you that they’ve got to go: that no one needs quite so much detail about the inner workings of a carburettor, or the Calcutta sewer system, or the inside of a grand piano. That you need to sacrifice them on the altar of pace, or relevance, or some other minor deity of writing. And so you think about it, reticent at first – after all these are fine words, they deserve to be shared with the world - but then, finally and with a heavy heart, you pick up that red pen or hover over the delete key.

Instead of deleting them, though, you have an idea. 

‘Maybe I can use these in the future? Surely the world deserves to read them? With a bit of judicious editing, maybe they could come back into my next magnum opus.’

And so you do it. You cut the words and place them in a new document, called ‘Darlings’, because you think that’s clever, and you save the file somewhere in the darkness of your hard drive and backed up to the nothingness of ‘the Cloud’,whose actual physical dimensions and geographical location you’re still not really sure of, in the knowledge that one day, you’ll reopen it and those wonderful words will once again see daylight and taste fresh air, as beautiful then as the day you banished them to their folder.

But here’s the thing. The weeks and months pass. You write something new, then something else, and all the time your writing is improving. Then comes that happy day when you’re in the middle of book six or ten: the victim’s just been crushed under the weight of his own hubris and a grand piano, and you think, ‘Wait! Didn’t I once cut a page of amazing paragraphs on the inner workings of a Steinway?’You remember the words being pretty damn great (and a page of great paragraphs is a bonus five hundred extra words towards your daily word count. You might be able to knock off early today!), so you open the file marked Darlings and dig out the bit about the guts of a grand piano and you read them.

And. They’re. Rubbish.

The fact is, you’ve moved on. Your style’s evolved and your writing has improved. What seemed great a few years ago, now seems staid, possibly hackneyed. And remember there was a reason someone told you to cut them in the first place. Maybe it was clunky, or maybe it was just extraneous. Either way, you can now write a far better paragraph of what went through your victim’s head as his hopes, dreams and body were crushed by a one tonne piano than you did two years back. 

So do that. 

Write it new. Write it fresh. You won’t regret it. Because the thing about your darlings is they were probably never really darlings to begin with. If they were, you’d have shown them off to the world.

So my advice:

Kill your darlings, then bury them in the garden and move on. 
You’ll write something better.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

You Always Hurt the One You Love

"Kill your darlings" is classic writing advice. What do you do with the bodies afterwards?

What if you advised songwriters to throw out the prettiest strains they’ve written?

Or painters? That’s a beautiful portrait! Cut it to shreds!

Architects? What a magnificent building. Now blow it up.

Chefs? This meal is delicious. Throw it into the trash please.

Some of Faulkner’s darlings:

No one expects other creative types to discard their flashes of brilliance, so why are writers expected to do so? Because, for some reason, we love to dictate rules in the writing biz. I’ve given my thoughts on rules in the past on this blog (viz. and ), so I won’t do it again. But I will say that I ignore this rule about killing your darlings as well.

Of course I occasionally delete a passage that has turned out a shade too purple, but that’s not because it was brilliant. It’s because it was too much. And I’m not saying that I churn out gems with every couple of keystrokes, but I do care—very deeply—about language, its building blocks, syntax, and rhythm. I don’t believe the story is the only important element in fiction. Characters and words matter to me, at least in my own writing.

I sometimes stare at a word for hours (hyperbole), thinking it’s not quite right. I’ll mark it and come back to it later until it’s right. And, yes, I’ll even consult a thesaurus from time to time, not because I want to use a twenty-five-cent word when a nickel’s worth will do. Neither is it because I don’t know the word I’m grasping for. Rather, it’s because I can’t remember it. I also forget where I left my keys. So, the proscription against using a thesaurus is another rule I break with frequency and relish.

As for what I do with the text I’ve deleted, it’s never really lost. Since I save my work with a new name every two or three days, there’s always always a trail of past versions. Today, in fact, I realized I’d deleted a necessary passage somewhere along the way in my next book, TURN TO STONE. So I went back through many of the eighty-plus versions of the manuscript until I found it. And it’s back in the book just in time for final edits.

So my short answer to today’s topic is, no, I don’t often kill my darlings. But when I do, I save them in my progressively named digital filing system for emergency rescue. Oh, and I don’t like people telling writers how to write in their own voice. But you knew that already.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The cutting room floor

"Kill your darlings" is classic writing advice. What do you do with the bodies afterwards?

by Dietrich

If they have to go, they have to go, so you could bury them, or you could keep them on ice. 

It can be hard to take out a part of the story, especially if I like it, but sometimes it just doesn’t fit for some reason, so it has got to go. I’ve kept files, paragraphs and chapters I’ve cut, character names and titles I’ve changed,  hoping to use one of these darling in the future, but I don’t think I ever have. Eventually, I’ve just let them go, and I’ve become content that new ideas are always on the way.
It’s not as hard to chop a limp character, a weak or forced passage, heavy backstory, a secondary plot line that isn’t pulling its weight, or a scene that isn’t going in the overall direction of the story. Elmore Leonard explained it perfectly by saying he just left out all the boring parts.

“I'm all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” — Truman Capote

As well as killing darlings, I try to be relentless about chopping repetition, trimming phrases and pulling unnecessary descriptors out by the roots. I’m all for vivid description, but that line can be crossed in a hurry. I generally like my prose to be lean so it maintains a good pace, meaning I have to be careful with the balance of details. Having said that, there are times when it’s good to slow the pace in spots, let it linger before it speeds up again.

“The road to hell is paved with adjectives.” — Stephen King

When I was researching for my historical novel, House of Blazes, there were so many darlings that I found in memoirs and archives, but I had to set so many of them aside, or it would have just bogged the overall pace of the story. The trick is to select the details that evoke the best mental images for the reader.

After writing for a while, I like to think I’ve come to know when something’s not working as well as it should. Call it instinct. And if I miss something while I ‘m writing that draft, hopefully I’ll catch it on the second or third pass. And if I can’t see the forest for the trees, I have sharp-eyed editors who will likely point out anything that isn’t working and needs to go. 

A beta or writing group can be a good test for some pre-published work, unless the writer is of the type who’d sit and wonder how so many intelligent readers couldn’t get something so blindingly brilliant. If more than one person gives me the same suggestion, then it’s absolutely worth another look.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Goodbye My Darlings

"Kill your darlings" is classic writing advice. What do you do with the bodies afterwards? 


Killing my darlings means not just wrenching characters out of manuscripts unceremoniously, but also slashing Golden Words.

In my current WIP, my opening scene featured five women having lunch together; my protagonist, Julie, and four other women. In my mind, the four “extras” were distinctive women with different looks, different personalities, and different backgrounds. In the first draft I included little vignettes of biography for each of them. Two of them had children, one was divorced and frantically looking for a new husband, one was having a long-term affair, etc. But as the draft advanced, I realized that there wasn’t enough action from these women to warrant five of them. One had to go. I liked Robin, but she got the boot. She was too damn nice and really didn’t have anything to do with the plot. All the others had a role. I took Robin’s lines and gave them to one of the others, and I don’t miss her one bit.

That isn’t to say that Robin didn’t serve a purpose. The purpose she served, though, was in helping me learn who my main character was. She was a foil for my getting to know Julie. Robin and Julie had in-person interchanges and conversations on the phone that helped me learn Julies likes and dislikes, her fears and longings. The problem was that Robin didn’t serve to move the story along. Each of the remaining women in the opening scene had a pivotal role. Robin had to go.

The same thing happens with Golden Words. These are words that sound wonderful when I write them. They are artistic, elegant, heartfelt, literary, poignant…or some combination. 

Sometimes they are repetitions of things I’ve already said, but are so meaty that they demand repeating. Even if they are repetitive, they seem essential until I read the manuscript again, and I realize I already said that, maybe more than twice. The decision I have to make is not just which passage sounds best, but where it fits best into the scheme of the book, and which version is best suited to the tone of the story.

You have to learn how characters and language are suited to the story you are writing. If you are writing noir or romance (which I have argued in the past are closely related), you can get away with lyrical passages.

 If you’re writing police procedurals, thrillers, or cozies, beware lyrical language. If you are writing thrillers, the daffy muffin lady may have a place in your book, but probably not, unless she’s a hapless victim. And assassins probably won’t do very well in your cozy, nor will someone who curses a lot and is fond of bashing people around.

So the question is, what do you do with these darlings when you cut them? Early in my writing career, I used to save them to a separate file, thinking I’d use them one day. Such beautiful language! Such a lovely character! Such a moving love scene! Such a thrilling fight scene! How could I let those be lost to posterity? Did I ever use them? Not really. Sometimes I found that a paragraph contained information that I could use elsewhere in the book I was writing. But only for the book I was working on at the present.

As it turned out, I found that if I tried to mine those passages for other books, I didn’t remember why I was so in love with them. I realized that each book has its own distinctive flavor, its own characters and language suited particularly to that book. Trying to slot a character or language from another book simply doesn’t work for me. Notice the last two words: “for me.” It’s possible those things work for other writers.

I don’t save the darlings anymore except when I know they may be useful later in the same book. But I have never used them for a new book, even a book in the series I write. I remember hearing Joan Didion say that a writer should put everything she knows into every book, not to hold anything back. She said you may worry that you won’t have anything left to say in the next book, but you will. I think what she meant was that each book has its own life and that you discover that life when you are writing it. Even if you were to use a character you had cut from another book, the character would have a different function in the new book and would deserve a fresh perspective.

In other words, kill your darlings, and leave them dead!