Friday, November 29, 2019

Writing is a Harsh Mistress

Does your writing ever interfere with your family life? Do the demands of your fiction ever create friction with those closest to you?

by Paul D. Marks

The title of this piece, Writing is a Harsh Mistress, pretty much answers the question. Yes, writing interferes with family life. It interferes with daily life. The demands of my fiction definitely create friction with the reality of my life and sometimes those close to me.

Jack Kerouac and his scroll.
Most people don’t understand both the demands of the writing and the need and desire to write, which is akin to a heroin habit. You must have your fix. And one fix leads to another. And one high demands another. If you have some success, you want more. You want to taste it again.

And there’s always something more to write, something else to write. A great idea for a new story or a terrific bit for that scene you’ve been stuck on.

To be honest, writing is like a black hole. It sucks you in and it’s sometimes hard to see the light outside that hole. And if I could be fed intravenously and not have to sleep I might never get up from my writing chair. I do, however, get up several times in a session to take the dogs out, walk them, play with them, etc. It’s good for them and makes them happy and it’s good for me, too, to get out of the chair. And if I was glued to the chair and the screen, Pepper, when she was younger, would come up and nudge my elbow: time for a walk, daddy. And I would always oblige. She doesn’t do that much anymore, but Buster has kind of taken over those duties. He doesn’t nudge my elbow like she did, but he’ll come and stand and glare at me with those “puppy dog” eyes, telling me it’s time to get moving. (On a side note, it always amazes me that even though dogs can’t talk they sure can communicate to us.)

The result of Pepper getting me up to go for a walk.

When I was working on a typewriter (remember those?) I would often wish that there could be an endless supply of paper (like Jack Kerouac writing on the “endless” scroll for On the Road) so that I wouldn’t have to change paper at the end of every page, because I’d often lose my train of thought in doing that. So when computers came out with their “endless pages” it was a miracle to me. But the downside of that is that I truly can sit here for hours and never get up, never take a break.

Often, friends and family don’t understand the driving need to write, to express ourselves, and that can cause friction. Also in the past, particularly before I had any kind of success and was hungry and desperate, I would sometimes turn down friends who wanted to get together for a movie or dinner since I wanted to write. I wanted to be successful, so I sacrificed other things to that desire. I know that in at least a couple of cases I lost those friendships because of that.

The guitar I don't have time to play.

Other things suffer as well, sometimes doing the dishes or dusting. Well, let them suffer. But what else suffers is that I don’t have much, and often no, time to play guitar. Hobbies suffer: I collect things, toys, Beatles stuff, movie stuff, other things, and I have little to no time to “play” with any of that. A lot is sacrificed to The Writing.

One of my Beatles collectibles.

But I am very lucky to have Amy, my wife, who both understands my need to write and also helps me with it. She’s a damn good editor. And she’s pretty tolerant of my writing mistress. Which is not to say there aren’t times when she wants me to quit for the day or do something else on a particular day. But in the big picture she’s very understanding.


And Happy Belated Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope you had a good one!


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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Another little piece of my Cathy Ace

Life: Does your writing ever interfere with your family life? Do the demands of your fiction ever create friction with those closest to you?

BEAR IN MIND AS YOU READ...I don't mean to moan. I'm just answering the question as honestly as I can. I know authors who (somehow!) manage to write three excellent books each year...they regularly win awards and top the bestseller lists and maintain that all-important media profile publishers want. I honestly don't know how they do it all; I am in awe of them! Strength to their arms...and fingers...and souls. I have rewritten this post several times. But now I have to step away. 

Simply put, the answer to both questions asked is “Yes”.

Also simply put, I know in my heart that the answer to both questions should be “No”.

Oh look, conflict! As a crime writer that should make me happy. It doesn’t.

Here’s the thing…my first novel, the first Cait Morgan Mystery entitled THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, was published in March 2012. By the time it was in print I had already signed a contract to write the second Cait Morgan Mystery, THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE. By the time that came out in March 2013 I had already finished the third in the series and was contracted to write the fourth…and so on, until I had contracts in place to write three novels per year across two series during 2015-2018. I was also Vice Chair of Crime Writers of Canada for 2014-2016, then Chair from 2016-2018. By the time I stepped down to become past-Chair of CWC in May 2018 I had given the organisation and its members the best effort I could muster, had twelve novels published...and was completely exhausted. But lucky to have been given all the opportunities I had been, so that I could do all that I had done.

I hadn’t had a single day when I hadn’t worked (in some way or another) for six years, and that work had become a source of friction when it involved seemingly endless emails, responses to queries or publisher needs etc. during so-called “vacations” or “family time”. And, even when the friction was only in my head, I felt guilty all the time...I constantly felt I wasn't doing enough for anyone. It turned out I was doing nothing at all for myself! I wasn't the healthiest version of myself during the latter part of 2018, so I had to address that. Something had to change...

Something had changed already – my husband had put off retirement for a couple of years so I would have the resources I needed to support my writing career (not just the writing, but all the other work that accompanies it in terms of volunteering my time to be involved with Crime Writers of Canada, attending several conventions each year, doing all the promotional work required etc.). I still think that's incredible. He'd kept going for years, so I could do the same. But he’d finally packed it in for good in March 2018. It was time. That meant he was no longer leaving the house at 5.30am, returning by about 8.30pm, and he and I both realized that my pace of work couldn’t continue as it had because I was the one keeping us apart by continuing to work long hours.

So...change was needed. Because life is about more than work.

BUT...I had a book that I desperately needed to write. It was burning a hole in my soul. It had to come out of me.

So, in early 2018, my husband and I agreed I would make the biggest push ever – I would get the book written (The Wrong Boy), and promote it the best that I could. We incorporated, since I’d decided (after some poor experiences with publishers/agents) that I would self-publish it, and we planned how and when it would be released and promoted. I was lucky – I had money from a personal pension plan I’d set up in the UK back in the 1980s to be able to invest in launching the book and supporting it in the marketplace.

I am happier now that I don’t let work steal me away from my husband as much as it once did. I have also now used the rest of that pension money to buy back all my rights to the Cait Morgan Mysteries (except English print rights) and to be able to support the digital relaunch of that series. Oh, and The Wrong Boy has achieved super sales (even reaching the top 10 on the amazon charts - paid-for sales - in four countries, and #1 in one), and has won a couple of awards...PHEW! 

I know I have another story wriggling around my head that I MUST tell, and I will be doing that, but I have promised us that I won’t aim to publish that book until late 2020, which means we’ll both have some time for us to get used to “being together” without my writing, (or all the other, necessary, work that goes hand-in-hand with that) treading too hard on the toes of our relationship and time with each other and the family. 

It’s taking some getting used to – we’re two workaholics both trying to support each other in recovery. I’ll let you know how it goes a year from now. (I should confess that I am doing my final edits to this piece while Husband takes a nap, as we cruise in the Caribbean...maybe I need help - or a piña colada?)

Meanwhile, if you haven’t considered reading my work, maybe I can beg you to do so? I’ve put a lot into it, and it continues to be my passion. CLICK HERE to get to my website where you can find out all about it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Guess I'm Lucky That Way

Does your writing ever interfere with your family life? Do the demands of your fiction ever create friction with those closest to you?

- From Frank

In a word, no.
Image result for thanksgiving turkey

It's fitting that this question comes during the week of American Thanksgiving, a time we not only overeat but also focus on family. But honestly, writing has never created any friction with my family.

Not everyone is particularly interested, either.

I think if you asked my kids (all grown now), they might rightfully say that I spent time at the keyboard at their expense. I'm sure it happened, and I'm just as sure that I was blind to it at the time. I was engaged in my passion, and they were kids -- what are they going to say? How many kids call their parents out on anything, at least while they're kids? Most times, those conversations happen when they've become adults. 

At Thanksgiving.

Most of my extended famly has been largely ambivalent toward my writing career. I think it is a matter of familiarity breeding amiable contempt. It's the same with any art - "Oh, she can't be a real singer. I know her. He can't be a real writer. I know him."

If you took a poll of, say, my forty closest relatives, I'd guess you'd find maybe five ardent supporters and readers. For the rest, my writing career is "Frankie's little book thing." Maybe they've dabbled, maybe they don't even know my pen name, but they're vaguely aware of the whole thing.

Now, I say that without rancor. They just don't pay attention to it. And to be fair, how "big" am I, even within my own mystery and crime fiction tribe? It's not like they're related to Stephen King. Or Jim Ziskin, for that matter. And to be really fair, how much do I know about their passion? It's a two-way street, so I can't complain.

Those that are engaged really make up for it, though. My Dad and Gail (my awesome maternal figure) are hugely supportive. They have a Zafiro library at the house, and actively promote and loan copies to their circle of friends. They ask about each new project and dive into it when it is published. 

Sure, some of that is putting your kid's drawing on the refrigerator. But they've both gone to great pains to be clear that it is just as much about them sincerely loving the books, regardless of the author. And neither one is shy about telling me what they don't like, or which stories didn't grab them as much. Gail is still famously after me for a passage I wrote about sussing out a woman's age, or for a relationship choice one character made that "was just gross." And my Dad didn't dig A Grifter's Song at all, despite the killer covers.

So if a reviewer is willing to give you a bad review, you gotta believe the good reviews, right?

The answer is, yeah, you do. Even if they're posted on the fridge.

Of my kids, my daughter is the first to really read some of my work. She's going to college while working, so it's a slow go, but she likes discovering the books and having access to the author afterwards. Of course, it helps that a couple of her friends are big fans. Last time she was down to visit, she was pretty proud of contents of the "Zafiro" bookshelf in the study and took a picture for social media bragging rights. ("How many books has YOUR dad written?" - at least, that's what she said when she snapped the pic).

When I read the question for this week, my first thought immediately went to my wife, Kristi. She's the one who would be most likely to be impacted by the time I spend at the keyboard, right? And she did ask me earlier this year to minimize (or even stop) working on the weekends, so that we could spend her time off together (Ironically, I'm writing this on a Saturday, but to be fair, she's sleeping in).  I agreed, of course. I also taper back in the summer, put my podcast on hiatus, and free up more time for us during that season.

But in terms of friction, that's the closest thing. 

Kristi has always been ultra-supportive. She's critical and honest, but also my number one rock. She refuses to believe me when I hand her something and say it probably sucks, and refuses to let me believe something's ever perfect. When I need to bounce ideas around, she great for that. She's given me some great ones, and made others that I hated but that ended up sparking a separate idea that I liked, so that's just as good. She doesn't mad if I don't use her ideas, or get jealous the time I spend writing, or of any heroines I might write about (even the sexy ones). 

If I need to hear it, she tells me that I'm a good writer. And if I need to hear it, she tells me something sucks and needs more work.

In short, she believes. 

Everyone needs that person in their life, and I'd be sad if my writing caused friction in that relationship. So I'm glad I can answer this question with a resounding no.

And I sincerely hope I'm not oblivous to any yeses.


Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

My newest book, At Their Own Game, was just released from Down and Out Books last month. 

This novel is the first in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. The second, In the Cut, comes out in January 2020.

At Their Own Game features Jake Stankovic, a former cop turned fence, who runs a two-man crew. He's doing great until he breaks his own rules and gets in over his head on a deal. Now he has to deal with a pissed off drug dealer, a pissed off police detective, a worried and possibly treacherous crew, as well as a dangerous woman from his past....and he has to find a way to beat them all, at their own game.  

Monday, November 25, 2019


Q: Does your writing ever interfere with your family life? Do the demands of your fiction ever create friction with those closest to you?

- from Susan

Simple answer is no. One reason is since 2008 I have not had live-in family if you exclude cats. That’s the year in which my soul mate and best friend passed away shortly after he told me I needed to find an agent before he died. I found an agent a couple of months later. My sons and grandkids are prouder of my writing accomplishments than I have given them reason to be, I think, and are immensely supportive. I have plenty of time to write, do book events, blog here and attempt everything else I can think of for my career and still spend time with them.  So I’m going to pivot and answer a related question CM didn’t ask:

Q: Does your duty to pay it forward in the writing community ever interfere with your time and energy to write and publish your own books?

Here the answer for me isn’t so simple. I just completed five years as secretary and executive committee member on the national Sisters in Crime board. It’s a task I willingly embraced, enjoyed doing, and that took, at times, threefold what I expected it would. I didn’t do it for career visibility. I did it because Sisters helps so many writers move from the starting gate to publication, all the while standing up for inclusion, high standards of conduct, and service to its 4,000 members throughout the US and Canada. 

Before that, I was the president of the northern California chapter of SinC for two years, and volunteered for years before serving on the regional Mystery Writers of America board. I’ve been a teacher and coach at several writing conferences. I have written articles and spoken at events geared toward fledgling writers. I’ve personally mentored a couple of writers, just as I was mentored by a few extremely generous authors when I was just getting into the game.

All of this takes time, sometimes a lot of time. It’s all volunteer work. And, yes, at times these commitments elbowed away creative time for me. I’ve promised myself more “selfish” time in 2020 to finish at least one of the two books in process and to have more mental energy available when the muse comes to lure me into the zone where writing is pure joy and there’s no other task waiting to pull me away from the computer. 

We shall see.

Meanwhile, the five books I've had published so far, any of which (ahem)
 in print, electronic or audio version would make lovely holiday gifts!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Tokens, mirrors, cell phones and magnificent breasts - Now that I have your attention...

By Abir

Which cliches, plot devices, or characters drive you crazy in the books you read? Let’s hear some pet peeves.

What a week it’s been. My new novel, Death in the East was released in the UK and Europe last Thursday and I’ve spent almost every minute of the intervening week on planes, trains and taxis, running from one event to the other. I’ve been from a rain-soaked Milan to a freezing cold Edinburgh and, it feels, almost everywhere in between.

My new book. Please buy it, cos my kids need shoes.

Right now, I’m sitting in my mum’s apartment in London after spending the night on the Caledonian Sleeper down from Glasgow. It’s the first time I’ve done it, and I feel the word ‘sleeper’ is a bit of a misnomer.

So far, the tour’s been both great and gruelling, and there still a few more days of it to go, but right now I have a few hours to relax: jus enough time to tell you about some of  many, many things that annoy me in books.

I’ve read the posts of my fellow bloggers and found myself laughing and nodding in agreement, and also holding my hand up and owning up to the fact that I’ve been guilty of a lot of the transgressions that they highlight, for which I’m truly sorry.

What can I add to that extensive and accurate list?

Number 1 - Look at me! I'm a straight white writer inserting token minority characters (who are exactly like my straight white characters!) 

The thing that upsets me more than anything else is poorly drawn token characters from minority groups, who often seem to play no real part in the story or are just straight, white characters who’ve been ‘blacked up’ or ‘gay-ed up’ by the writer as a way of signalling how woke they are, without doing their research into the culture which their two-dimensional token character is meant to come from. The most egregious case I recall was that of an author introducing a character as ‘the Hindu’ (despite the character's religion having absolutely nothing to do with the plot - I’ve never seen that writer introduce a character as ‘the Christian’) then a few paragraphs later giving ‘the Hindu’ a Muslim name, and then, on the next page, giving him a Sikh turban! 

I stopped reading at that point. I don’t care how brilliant the plot is, or how praised the author, if they can’t be bothered getting the most basic facts about their characters right, then they don’t deserve my attention. That’s not to say a writer should only write about characters of their own ethnicity, religion or sexuality – far from it – it’s just that when you do it, make sure you do it well and with sensitivity, and don’t fall into lazy, cliched stereotypes.

Man, it felt good to get that off my chest! What’s next on my hit-list? I’ll tell you:

Number 2 - Lead characters who look in the mirror in chapter one and describe themselves for the reader’s benefit

You all know what I’m talking about. 
‘Lance Strongbow looked in the mirror. His blue eyes sparkled and his blond hair tumbled over muscular shoulders…’
Sod off Strongbow, and sod off the author who wrote you. Far too often authors feel they need to describe every detail of their protagonist in the first few pages when actually, most of the time, they should be concentrating on the story. Even when it is necessary to describe the character, the looking in the mirror as though they’ve never noticed themselves before, just p's me off.

Which leads me nicely on to my next pet peeve: 

Number 3 - Breasts

Male authors describing female characters and spending far, far, far too much time describing their heaving, voluptuous, pert, perky, [insert male fantasy adjective here] breasts. What is this fascination with breasts? Actually, that’s rhetorical. I know the fascination, but do we need to lay it so bare on the page? What’s worse is when the male writer puts his female character in front of a mirror and tells us how amazed/proud/saddened she is by her own breasts! I think there’s a special place in literary hell reserved for these authors. At the very least, they deserve a slap.

Right. I’m getting angry now. One more and then I’ll lie down.

I could go for gratuitous sex scenes or gratuitous violence or serial killers who seem to be more creative in their mutilations than Picasso, but my colleagues have already highlighted them. So I suppose I’ll have to go for this:

Number 4: Dead cell phones

The hero or victim’s mobile phone that dies, is left on the sofa, loses coverage at the worst possible moment, generally two minutes before they enter the abandoned building/deep dark forest where axe wielding murderer/serial killer/certified public accountant-gone-rogue is lying in wait. 

Now I understand the issue. So many wonderful literary deaths and ingenious plot twists would be demolished if Jessica Fletcher simply received a call from her colleague telling her ‘Don’t go into the derelict fish processing factory! The mad actuary with the lopsided grin is waiting inside and he’s the one who’s killed half the pensioners in Cabot Cove because their extraordinary longevity has affected the accuracy of his life insurance tables!’ But of course, we need Mrs Fletcher to go into that fish processing factory, which is to say, the story needs it for tension. I just wish we could come up with better and more innovative methods of stopping those pesky phone signals.

Well that was cathartic. I’ve been on the road for seven days straight and I’m cranky, but having a rant has made me feel much better! I’ll just end by saying, please read my new book, Death in the East. I can promise you that the minority characters are well drawn, that the men don’t look in any mirrors and the women don’t comment on the magnificence of their own breasts. It’s set in 1922 and 1905, so there are no pesky cell phones to worry about, and there are not one, but two fiendish locked room murders to solve. Go on! You know you want to!