Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book or your career or you, but nobody has?

by Dietrich

Any question beginning with, “So, when you won the Pulitzer …” 

Okay, so I’m not holding my breath on that one, but there are questions I like being asked, probably the same questions any author likes to be asked. 
“Can we pay you to speak at our event?” 
“What are you drinking?” 
“I’ve read all your books. When’s the next one coming out?” 
“How did you ever come up with something so clever?”

Of course, there are those questions that none of us like to be asked:
Do I look fat in this?
Sir, do you know how fast you were going?
Where were you last night?

And there are questions that no author wants to be asked: 
“How come I’ve never heard of you?”
“Were you high when you wrote this?”
“I’ve got a great story idea; would you like to hear it?” Followed by, “Would you like to help me write it?”
“You write a lot of opposite sex characters; what’s up with that?” Followed by that look.
“You just sit around making stuff up. How hard can it be?”
“Did you start writing because you couldn’t find work?”

“Readiness to answer all questions is the infallible sign of stupidity.” – Saul Bellow

I do enjoy talking to people and answering questions about my writing. It’s nice when someone is interested enough to ask about what I’m doing. And there’s nothing like getting some feedback from a reader. And if there’s a question I can answer that might help someone out with their first book or story, then I’m happy to help.

“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy… and I keep it in a jar on my desk.” – Stephen King

When I’m doing the asking, coming up with interview questions for my blog Off the Cuff, I try to come up with questions the authors may not have been asked before. And sometimes it’s interesting to ask a typical question just to get the author’s particular perspective. 

There are interviewers I read and listen to that always have fresh and thoughtful questions. I’ve enjoyed being interviewed by Pam Stack on Authors on the Air. She’s got a casual way about her and always knows the right questions to ask. It’s more like a chat with a friend than an interview. And Eric Beetner and Steve Lauden get it right as well on Writer Types. They seem to have a lot of fun with it. As for blogs, I like Dana King’s insightful interviews and commentary on One Bite at a Time. And there’s Paul D. Brazill’s Punk Noir Magazine that offers a nice mix of interviews, reviews, news, commentary, novel excerpts, poetry, and more.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Writing is Hard

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book or your career or you, but nobody has?
I have had so many odd questions asked of me that it’s hard to believe there are any left.  A few favorites:
1)     Do you write mysteries because you think you aren’t good enough to write mainstream novels? My answer to that was that I thought there was a mystery at the heart of every good novel. But I have a NEW answer! If I had a good enough imagination, I’d be writing science fiction. Every time I read a book of sci-fi, I’m amazed at the kind of imagination it takes to write it.
2)     Is Samuel Craddock ever going to “get any?” Always asked by a middle-aged woman. I finally answered that question. If you don’t know the answer, read the books.
3)     How long did it take you to write (insert name of book)? The answer is that it doesn’t take me long to do the actual writing of a Samuel Craddock novel. I always feel like I fall into it and swim like crazy and then it’s done. But that doesn’t count the years of writing novels that never saw the light of day, learning the craft, getting rejections, etc. Which leads to the answer to today’s question.

Here goes: The question nobody has asked me that I would like to answer is (tada):  “You wrote for a long time before you got published. How come it took you so long? (Subtle question: Are you stupid, or what?)

I wrote six complete books and a few bits of books before I got published. I’m not the only person who wrote that many. In fact, I’ve heard that’s about average. If it’s average, that means some people wrote a lot more than six books before they were published. I know one person who wrote nine—and she is a highly successful author now!

But that was a few years ago. Now, I think it’s probably fewer on average, because if people have trouble getting traditionally published these days, they turn to independent publishing (which used to be called self-publishing). Still, even people I know who published independently and are successful often have a few books “stuck in a desk drawer” never to see the light of day.

That means I’m not the only person who could be asked the question, “what took you so long?” For me, the answer is that I thought all I had to do was write a book that was “good enough.” It turned out that good enough wasn’t good enough. That doesn’t mean I haven’t read books that I don’t think were “good enough.” I have. But the book was good enough to get the attention of an agent, a publisher, or readers.

Every time I realized that the book I was trying to get published was not going to succeed, I felt let down. But each time I wrote one, I leaned something more about writing. I envy those writers who not only know how to tell a story, but seem to have known how to get it onto the page as soon as they sat down to write for the first time.  But I think that’s rare.

My learning process hasn’t stopped just because I’ve published eight novels. 

I’m trying now to write something outside my comfort zone and it’s as if I’m starting for the first time. The story is written. It’s 80,000 words. But just because it has a lot of words doesn’t mean it’s done. I keep having to go back and zero in on character development and plot line. I’ve struggled with the beginning and the back story. The hook has eluded me. How to factor in the back story has eluded me. (Finally I wrote out the back story out in a separate file, which helped me figure out which parts really needed to be in the book, and which could be jettisoned.) I’ve changed the beginning again and again, and I suspect that I will find holes in the story once I start looking at it as closely as I’ve looked at the beginning.

So, in answer to the question: I took me so long because writing is hard. In fact, I’ll quote Philip Roth on this: “Writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare.” Or William Styron: “Let’s face it, writing is hell.”

Monday, July 29, 2019

What Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Question: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book or your career or you, but nobody has?
Happy Monday - Brenda here.
I’ve been running this question around in my mind for the past week and am still at a loss. It feels sometimes as if I’ve told the world at large much too much about myself, my work, my career. I'm basically a private person not comfortable with talking about myself, my feelings or my opinions (except when really worked up about an issue). Over the fifteen or so years since I was first published, it seems that I've answered every question under the sun, be it for blogs, on panels, in interviews. So I could turn this question on its head to be what question do I wish I'd never been asked :-)

But this line of thought is not helpful in answering this week's question. The idea that comes to me is that I wish more people would ask me how they can help to build my readership. I receive many private messages from strangers who've enjoyed a book or the series. I'd like to ask them to post a review but this seems opportunistic and crass somehow. Much better if they ask me how they can help to spread the word (because people will not read what they don't know is out there).

My response would be not only for my books but also for other books, particularly for authors who are not well known but whose books they enjoy. The best way to help authors get known is to post a review on a social media site, such as Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; or on a bookseller site, such as Chapters, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or their local library website.  Even a couple of words or a thumbs up. Tell their book club, friends ... anyone they think would enjoy the read. My understanding is that the book sites give a book more exposure and prominence if it has more than 10 reviews, so success builds on success.

Now, I'd be remiss not to thank all those who've been doing these much appreciated activities without prompting or even recognition. Every so often, I'm delighted by a review or a note from a new reader who tells me that someone recommended the book to them. Word of mouth is still the most powerful and mysterious way of making a bestseller.

So, I've cleverly managed to avoid the spirit of this week's question and I'm most intrigued to hear what my fellow bloggers post on this subject. They will undoubtedly have a more creative answer than I've given. If you have a question that you believe has never been asked of me or any other author, post in the comments below, and see if you can surprise me ... I might even have a good answer for you.

Twitter: brendaAchapman
Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, July 26, 2019

Sparking Oy!

You’ve just read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,”  and you’re getting ready to clean up your writing space/office. What things “spark joy” and what would you get rid of? Do you keep old drafts of stories/novels, e-versions, paper? Copies of your books, others’ books? Knickknacks? Etc.

by Paul D. Marks


Surely you jest.

I look at clean, almost sterile offices and rooms and I envy them. I want to be that way. I vow to be that way. But I will never be that way.

I am a saver, a packrat. Though maybe not as bad as some of those people who have thirty years of newspapers piled up throughout their houses and can barely make their way through the passages between them. Like the infamous Collyer brothers of New York, who died under their piles of “treasures”:

The Collyer brothers "treasures"
We’re always trying to declutter around here. And I admit, I’m the packrat, not Amy. I save everything, well almost everything. I’ve finally stopped saving (most) empty boxes ’cause you never know when they might come in handy. Somehow I’ve survived the withdrawal from that. But it wasn’t easy… I had to go to Boxaholics Anonymous.

I’m not sure why I’m such a packrat or why I might be so sentimental. It might have something to do with my father being killed by a drunk driver when I was about a year old. Somehow he made it through World War II, but the mean streets of L.A., even back then… So maybe that loss makes me want to save things that I can.

On top of that, I collect toys and Beatles stuff and some other things as well. And, of course, there’s books and records and movies and CDs. Though I wish I had more of the other kind of CDs, the kind that count as money.

Here’s the thing about the office. It might be a mess…but I know where things are. When I need something I generally know where to find it. If I put it away in a drawer or file cabinet, well, it’s out of sight, out of mind, out of memory. And it usually takes me forever to find it again. It’s like that scene in The Man on the Flying Trapeze, where W.C. Field’s desk is a mess of a mess, but he knows just where to find every piece of paper. Check out this clip from the movie, but the part where he goes to his desk is 3:49 minutes in:

And I like having things within reach. I still keep certain books (like a slang thesaurus and a guide to baby names) within reach, even though I might reach for them less now that I can look up stuff on the internet. I guess I like to have them there as a security blanket. And hey if the internet goes out I’ll need them.

Specifically as relates to my office, there are things I like: a handful of toy soldiers, my pic of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird from Easy Rider, lobby cards, Beatles (and other) album covers, photos of Keith Richards, Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger that my brother took, and my old Underwood typewriter.

My Underwood Typewriter
I still have several old file cabinets, some pretty big ones, full of old scripts and treatments and nine drafts of this and ten drafts of that. I used to save early drafts of things in the pre-computer days in case there was a legal dispute. But I feel like maybe I should get rid of these drafts. I’m sure I could probably cull some things.

On top of everything else, we closed our storage space a while back, so now we have all those boxes cluttering up the hall. But who has time to go through them? Though we have been through some and I found some really cool stuff, like my sign off the train station at the last remaining MGM backlot, the top of a newel post that I took from a Victorian mansion in Bunker Hill (L.A.) before it was torn down and my Corriganville glass. (See pix)

Train Station Sign off MGM Backlot
Bunker Hill Newel Post
Corriganville Glasses

So, while many things spark ‘oy,’ many others ‘spark joy,’ but as long as there’s no real sparks, I’m good with the clutter.

My one saving grace in this regard are all the articles that have come out recently that talk about people with messy desks being more intelligent. This is a huge relief. And I, therefore, declare my genius.

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.

Also, check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus Award-winning novel, White Heat.

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Good friends and quiet neighbours - by Catriona

Life: You’ve just read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” and you’re getting ready to clean up your writing space/office. What things “spark joy” and what would you get rid of? Do you keep old drafts of stories/novels, e-versions, paper? Copies of your books, others’ books? Knickknacks? Etc.

I love Marie Kondo.

But let me unpack what that means.

 I read the book when it came out, as did many others, and, also like many others, found it to completely bonkers. Thanking your socks? Drying and putting the shampoo away between showers? Shehhh, right.

But watching her on Netflix - twinkly, curious, apparently not a slave to gravity like the rest of us - she is mesmerising. Her voice is one of the voices - like Alan Rickman's and Maya Angelou's - that I'd happily listen to read a long audiobook. In Japanese. And she's so kind. She looks at the chaotic messes of schlumphy mortals  - hot sauce that went off in the 90s, a pile of scratty t-shirts that touches the ceiling, heaps of yellowing paper with ten pizza menus for every one insurance policy - and never judges anyone. She's the antithesis and antidote to those nasty, shaming reality shows that infest our screens. (Dragon's Den is the one I hate most. I've never watched more than ten minutes of it, before shouting "Oh get over yourselves, you crummy little walking cheque-book. Rent a clue for a day and see how it takes you.")

But could she help me with my work space?  Not really.

It's no secret that my decorating style is not minimal. My aesthetic could be summed up as "Far too much is almost enough". Let the following exhibits be entered into the record:

Far too much
is almost enough
But I've a got a dirty clean little secret. While the surfaces in my house might be covered with a deliberate, curated collection of kitschy tchochkes, I'm dead organised when it comes to non-decorative stuff: I keep receipts and other papers, filed in date order, in separate pockets of a filing cabinet, until the tax window is closed, then shred them; I keep the latest manuscript draft until there's a new one, or the book's out, then I recycle it; I've got roughly 85 categories of saved email, but 60 of them are muted so they don't distract me.

Here's an honest snapshot of my "messy" desk - the one I keep stuff on, not the one I work at - a day before I hand in a new book, two weeks before I leave the country on a long trip:

If that's not convincing, behold my linen cupboard:

And you know that inevitable drawer in the kitchen where stuff ends up? Here's mine:

The third category of stuff that I would separate from mid-century treasures I can never have enough of and papers I file and then discard is . . . of course . . . have you guessed yet . . . books. I keep a copy of every edition of my own books (doesn't everyone?) and also every book I either read, or might read, or might moderate a panel containing the author of one day, or can imagine using as an example of how to write (or not write) in a workshop one day. They make my office a lovely place to spend my days and I'm glad that this house allows for so many of them.

For books make such good friends and quiet neighbours (see what I did there?)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Something old, something new... by Cathy Ace

Life: You’ve just read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” and you’re getting ready to clean up your writing space/office. What things “spark joy” and what would you get rid of? Do you keep old drafts of stories/novels, e-versions, paper? Copies of your books, others’ books? Knickknacks? Etc.

OK, I’ll be open here – I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book, nor shall I ever. Tidying up is anathema to me. The photo of my office below was taken when it was tidy (ie: when I’d just finished decorating it!) and I dare not show you what it looks like now. I use the “stratification” method of filing – and I really do know where, in the layers that confront me every day, I have put just what I need. And can always find it…given long enough! So – I am not a “less is more” person. At. All. 

Neat and tidy. The lamp's name is "Constance" - she's a 1970s plaster version of a 1930s gal!
If I were to set about tidying up my office, I know I would end up getting rid of very little – I’d be more likely to move piles around the house, tucking them into corners where they can wait until I need them again. I keep every printed draft of every book, in a labelled bag for each book, in a huge cupboard. I also pop in all the reference materials I collected for that book, as well as odd notes I made etc. They will remain where they are until…well, I’m not sure when, but certainly for years. I still have the first draft copy of the first book I ever wrote – a textbook about marketing communications planning I wrote back in 1994, as well as floppy disks (yes, I KNOW!!) containing all the files for every training course I ever wrote (and there were a LOT of those) and every training manual I ever wrote (ditto) when I ran my training company through the 1980s and 1990s. I even have hard copies of the brochures I wrote when I worked at an advertising and PR agency in the 1980s. It all gives me joy when I come upon it – because that was such a big part of my life at the time.

As for the d├ęcor in my office? The walls are covered with prints, some of which have been hanging on my various walls since the 1970s, and have followed me from Swansea, to Cardiff, to London, to Canada. 

The shelves? Well, I have a collection of mementos I bought myself as each of my novels was published. 

July 2011 (in my tidy office!), with the contract for my 1st book, and my 1st "book memento"...a cast iron snail. You'll have to read The Corpse with the Silver Tongue to find out why that's a good memento for the book!

They all stay…as will the statue of Hotei, the god of happiness, which was a gift I requested for my seventeenth birthday, and was given by my parents. He's joined by a piece of granite from the quarry where they created the obelisk for Queen Hatshepsut that's in the temple complex at Karnak, Luxor...I picked it up and brought it home with me on one of my many trips to Egypt.
Buddhist god, and Egyptian granite
He’ll always be with me, as will the mask of a young Dionysus…given to me by friends when I left Nice after a three-month sojourn in 1994…I don’t know why they thought this would be something close to my heart. LOL!

My little Dionysus, with some of my paternal grandmother's china

The paintings my late-father did of our home, and special places in Wales will also not be moved.

All painted by Dad, of places that mean a great deal to me...the Brecon Beacons (just where we used to camp in tiny little pup-tents), the alley at our house in Swansea and Three Cliffs Bay in Gower, Wales

Nor will the china my paternal grandmother had on her shelves back in the 1930s and 1940s – including the Clarice Cliff coffee service she gave to Mum and Dad (previously loved!) for their wedding in the 1950s, and the Clarice Cliff jug my other grandmother had on her sideboard for decades. 
Both of my late grandmothers had a thing for Clarice Cliff china - thank goodness! Must be where I get it from!
As you can see, I’m certainly not going to end up with a sterile space. I like to be surrounded by mementos from my life, and all the living I have done. They spur me on to dream for the future – because there’s a lot more living yet to come, and new challenges around every corner. 

The paperwork can be stored out of site, to clear my two desks, I suppose, but the rest? Let me look at it, and keep being inspired by it. Thank you. 

If you'd like to find out a bit more about me, and my work, you can do so by clicking here.