Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sanctum Sanctorum by James W. Ziskin

Show us where you work! Please share a photo of your work/writing space, and tell us why it looks the way it does!

From Jim

My dear friend Hallie Ephron told me that brown furniture is out these days. I must have missed that memo. I love old things, as you’ll see in these photos of my workspace, which I call Jim’s Landing.

This is where I write.

This is where I used to write.

Starbucks (Photo removed)

To the right of my desk is a bookcase. Its larger twin was too big to make it up the stairs when we moved. It’s in the basement for now. I keep a few treasures here for inspiration or excuses to waste time. 

For example, there’s this masterpiece—Show Cats—that I drew for my grandmother when I was six. Note, too, the autorickshaws. Lots of fun to play with. The shiny box on the left is a 19th century travel desk. Kind of the laptop of its day.

I keep some of my favorite books on the top shelf. And a photo to remind me how old I am.

A couple of awards and Mom. The T. S. Eliot was a gift from someone very special when I won the Macavity.

Next shelf. Doré, my favorite bookend—the other one was lost decades ago—and me with my dad.

Last one. My Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition. A little worn but precious.

Then there’s this wall. I gaze at these when the writing is slow or I get a bad review.

And another wall. Two photos of my grandfather (1910 undefeated University of Illinois football team) and my mom’s class picture 1936.

Good luck to all the Edgar nominees!

And that’s it! This was the easiest blog piece ever. Stay safe!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The space between the words

Show us where you work! Please share a photo of your work/writing space, and tell us why it looks the way it does!

by Dietrich

Show us where you work. Okay, here’s a shot I took out the window during one of our rare Vancouver snowstorms this past January. The window faces southwest which is ideal since I work mainly during the early part of the day. So, facing that direction allows in the light without getting all the glare.

My writing space is my getaway spot. The room’s separate from the rest of the place, tucked away and it’s free of distraction and it’s relatively quiet being on the edge of a greenbelt, especially considering we live in the city. Having spent years in the real world of kids and pets and white noise all around, that kind of quiet hasn’t always been possible, and so I learned to adapt.

The main thing has always been to get my head into those fictitious places where my characters live and do heinous things to each other. Other than that I just need a computer. And it’s comforting to have a shelf lined with much-loved books along with those I plan to read. Oh, and music, lots of music, I’ve got to have that.

Sometimes an idea comes when I’m not at my desk, so I often carry a little pad when I’m out, so if I need to make a quick note, I won’t forget an idea or detail later. Yes, I know, an actual notepad does seem behind the times these days of electronic devices, but it’s how I roll. And when I’m traveling I bring a legal pad so I can write on trains, planes, in airport waiting areas, on beaches, in parks, even sitting on a rock in a river. There’s something about writing in longhand that I like. 

I’ve scrawled entire chapters and short stories like that, and with all kinds of noise and movement going on. And when I really get into it, I just tune out everything else and I manage to stay focused. There’s actually no better way to let the miles roll by when traveling. And sometimes it does seem like a mess when I finally reread my own scrawl back at home and type it into my computer, lots of scratched-out lines and illegible words, and margin notes, arrows and doodles.

So, it boils down to being able to write anytime I’m inspired, but if I had to describe my absolute ideal writing space it would include a hammock and shady palms along a quiet stretch of sandy beach, with blue Pacific waves lapping up on the shore, where the only interruption would be when the waiter comes at noon and sets down the tray. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A Cluttered Desk is a Sign of...

Terry here: We’re showing our readers our workplaces and telling why it looks the way it does!
Here’s the way I’d like my desk to look: It's a jigsaw puzzle!

And here’s the way it really looks: At least it's how it looked a couple of weeks ago.

Every few weeks I tidy up my workspace. It feels wonderful. For a short time. Two hours later it’s exactly the way it was before I cleaned it. It appears that I am more comfortable with clutter:

A Cluttered Desk is a Sign of Genius
A Cluttered Desk is a Sign of a Cluttered Mind.

Which is it? Who knows?

So, why is my desk cluttered? It’s because when I’m concentrating on my writing, if something comes up that needs to be dealt with, I jot down notes about it, and fling the note to the side. And fling the next note to the side. And the next…you get the picture.
I currently have a pile of notes about ten deep. The pile includes minutes I took for two meetings. I wrote up the notes of one and sent them out…so why are the  notes still sitting on my desk? Again, who knows?

In addition, among the notes there’s an old grocery list, various notes for movies and TV shows people have recommended I watch.
There’s also, a list of books I want to buy from my bookseller, another list of Edgar nominees that I’d like to read, notes for some stocks I was looking up, and about a dozen pieces of paper with notes for things to “fix for my current work in progress.

There’s a stack of notebooks full of notes that I am looking to look at “someday.”
Books: There’s a copy of my second book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, which I took down from the shelf for god-knows-what reason, and it’s still there. There’s a copy of Robert Fagles’ translation of The Aeneid, which I intend to read during quarantine. I’ve read the forward. It was interesting. There’s a book I started reading, The Silent Second, by Adam Walker Phillips, which I think will be entertaining, but had to put aside to read something I needed to blurb.  There’s a copy of Down & Out Magazine vol 2, edited by Rick Ollerman. And a copy of Christmas Trifle, by Heather Haven. I have no idea why either of these last two books are on my desk. But even after writing this down, I haven’t put them away. I’m gong to read them…someday.

There’s a stack of magazines with articles I intend to read for research. There’s a book of Sudoku puzzles, an empty box of tissues, a hand brace, an empty tin that held CBD gummies, a jar of hand cream, an extra pair of glasses, an African Violet that was given to me by a book club that I spoke to last December—and it still has one lonely flower. There’s a paperweight, with no paper under it.

And then there is the prize that I unearthed. I don’t know where it came from, but I have  a mystery story written by my son in grade school. I don’t know what grade it was from, but it’s entitled, “Mystery of the Circus. At the top he has written a note that says, “Louis—clown, Mo—trapeze artist. In the story it seems that the clown has gone missing. They track the “robbers” who stole him to a building. He’s tied up in a “dark room with lots of bats and cobwebs.” Luckily, he’s only tied up with “string around his neck,” so they untie him and take him back—and the circus goes on. A work of genius if you ask me.

I'd love to think that at some point I'll change my ways and have a neat and tidy desk, but I think I'm giving on least for now.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Room of My Own by Brenda Chapman

Show us where you work! Please share a photo of your work/writing space, and tell us why it looks the way it does!

I began writing in the living room of our storey and a half,with the television often on and my daughters, who were quite young at the time, playing in the same room. We debated moving to a larger house or putting on an addition. None of us wanted to leave our  neighbourhood so we opted for the addition. My husband Ted said that it would include an office just for me so that I'd have a place to write. This was a generous vote of confidence since I hadn't had anything published yet and no guarantee that I ever would have.

The room is long and narrow with windows at either end. My desk looks out over our front yard where we used to have a pine tree and three mature balsam. Unfortunately, the balsam trees got sick over the years and we've lost all three. We're planning to plant a Japanese maple (or two) this spring and I look forward to the more woodsy view again.

As most construction goes, our three-month project turned into a year but when all was said and done, I had a place to call my own. Our good friend Ken who is a carpenter by trade custom built my desk and the mantel above the gas fireplace, which warms me on the cold winter days. Ted made two built-in bookcases that go on either side of the fireplace. At the opposite end of the room is a reading nook with two leather chairs. Ted and I often sit here before supper and have a drink and discuss our day. It's also where I spend most of my reading time.

Books everywhere ...

As we planned the construction, I wanted a door that led directly into our backyard, and this was built beside the window, which is above one of the chairs. When the weather permits, I open the door and let the breeze and fresh air in. Often, I go outside onto the back deck with my laptop to write or with a book to read.

From the very beginning, I felt comfortable in this space and and have never felt the need to go into a coffee shop or somewhere else to write. My office is a peaceful spot and a good place to daydream.

My daughter's dog George is particularly fond of my reading chair and waits there for me to sit with him on the days he comes to visit :-)

Friday, April 24, 2020

You Say Clutter, I Say Curated Collection

Show us where you work! Please share a photo of your work/writing space, and tell us why it looks the way it does!

by Paul D. Marks

Not a current pic, but pretty close to what it is today. (The main changes
are that neither animal, Curley/cat, Pepper/dog, are with us anymore.)
I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours. And I have to admit I do like looking at other writers’ offices. Some are neat, some not so much. Some are big, some small. But whatever they’re like it’s always interesting to see where other writers create their magic.

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. My office is a mess, my desk is cluttered. I could have cleaned it up for the photo but why try to pretend it’s (I’m) something it’s not.

I am a note writer (yellow stickies were invented for me!), 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 their “treasures”:

The Collyer Bros. apartment. Uh, even we're not this bad ;-)

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.

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. Fields’ desk is a mountain of 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.

My Hopper flips the bird pic, from Easy Rider.

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.

The pix that my brother took.

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.

I’d love to see pictures of your offices. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can leave them here in the comments. But you can on my Facebook page. Go to my timeline and the post that announces this blog and put pix of your office in the comments if you want to:  -- or on my Twitter feed: @PaulDMarks


And now for the usual BSP:

Frank Zafiro grilled me for the Wrong Place, Write Crime podcast. I survived...and so did he. Hope you'll want to check it out. (And thanks for having me, Frank!)

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books – The Blues Don't Care:

 “Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40s’ L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. He is one helluva writer.”
                                                               —Michael Sears, author of the Jason Stafford series

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The sensible workspace of a serious author, by Catriona

I caught a break here.

My blog duties flew out of my head what with one thing an another and Cathy "not in charge" Ace just jogged my memory.

Ordinarily it would be a big ask to pull a post together in minutes, but this week . . . pictorial blog! Of something that's right here!

So.  Here is a snapshot of my workspace today.

Lots and lots (and lots) of crime fiction, some awards (coughs modestly), and just a glimpse of 1970s Mabel Lucie Atwell prints.

Because this is the angle where the kitsch is almost invisible. Turn the camera the other way and you'll find:

my treasured Moninet clown painting. Dumpster-dived for me by Eileen Rendahl, who had to keep it in the garage until she handed it over because it was too creepy to have in the house. Flanking the picture are a sweet little drum major doll whose eyes follow you all round the room and, the favourite of Jess Lourey whenever she comes to stay, Grandma Shelley. (Quote from Jessie: don't put that shell doll in my room. Quote from me: I don't need to put her in your room; she knows the way.)

Not usually, but at the moment, there's also a sewing station in here:

where I'm turning Neil's extensive collection of knackered t-shirts into face masks, very slowly, since I don't own a sewing machine. It took me just under an episode of 8 out of 10 cats Does Countdown to make one at first but now I can turn those babies out in an episode of Pointless.

God bless Britbox.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Murder is served... by Cathy Ace

See below for what the numbers mean!

As requested, here I am in my workspace. Yes, I realize this looks very much like a dinner table, and that's because it is. I've written my last three books at this table, rather than in my office. Why? Well, I've written them between autumn and spring, and the view's much better at that time of year from the dinner table than from my office window. But, come May, the angle of the sun means I'm better off being in my office, until about October. 

That said, (and, unusually for me) I finished the first draft of this book while I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, which was a challenge (so many distractions!) but it gave me the perfect opportunity to do a bit of fact-checking with a couple of Jamaican chums I've known for years (yes, when you spend as much time as I do on a ship you get to know people for years...I first met Ansel in 2012 and have spent months on ships with him since then, and met Nicholas in 2016). This was where I was when I was working on those final chapters. Ansel and Nicholas were generous with their time, and let me double-check critical things like, "Does it still take forever to drive from the north coast to Kingston?" (it does) and "Does your mum put butter in her bammy, or not?" (You might have to read the book to find out what this means - and, no, it's not naughty!)

So, writing, by the numbers?

1. We have a small collection of Pacific Northwest art. These prints, woven, and carved items have been gathered together over time, and are all displayed on one wall, which happens to be behind me when I write. I admire the abilities of the artists who have created these pieces, all of whom reside/resided within a couple of hundred miles of my home. 

2. Copy of Admiral Sir Henry Morgan by Terry Breverton (pub. Wales Books). I'm working on final edits of The Corpse with the Crystal Skull (Cait Morgan Mysteries #9) which features the famed Panamanian treasure of Captain Henry Morgan. He's always fascinated me, and I got to weave a few threads about him into this new book, which is set in Jamaica and mixes treasure hunting with Fleming/Bond lore! It's been great fun to write, and the research has allowed me to reread all the Bond books and novellas and everything I can lay my hands on about Morgan, as well as write about Jamaican food and drink, which has made me crave it!

3. and 4. Draft #1 to draft #2, then draft #3 to draft #4 of The Corpse with the Crystal Skull. Lumpy, not pretty, but it's all a part of the process! 

5. Copy of Cait Morgan Mystery #8, The Corpse with the Ruby Lips, which I need to match for formatting. Now that I am indie-publishing this series, I decided to match what the original traditional publisher used for formatting the cover and interior, so the volume is close at hand for reference. 

6. My Filofax, lying on one of a set of table mats that mean a great deal to me. First up, yes, I do still have, and use, a Filofax. This is the one I used in the 1990s. It's lost one of its brass corner protectors, but does the job it needs to well enough despite that damage. During these weird times I am trying to stick to my normal working routine, but I'm also trying to reach one In Real Life Friend each day on the phone, for a check-in and catch-up. All their numbers are in my Filofax, and, yes, some have been there since the early 1990s. 

The table mats? They are sturdy and do the job they're meant to do extremely well. I picked them out in a little shop in St. Paul de Vence, not far from Nice, on a trip to the area in 2001. In the autumn of 2001 now-Husband and I got engaged in Amsterdam, had a celebratory dinner there with Dutch friends, then flew to Nice for a party with French friends, (sidebar lunch in Monte Carlo with some extra friends), then had another dinner with some British friends just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, before flying back to Canada to celebrate with family here. (Yes, I've always traveled a LOT!) Every day I touch these table mats and vividly recall the sights and sounds of the south of France, which I miss desperately...but at least it's always in my heart and at my fingertips :-) 

This is the view when I look up from my laptop and out of the window - taken 20th April. 

I've always believed I am the luckiest person alive...and being able to write this blog just confirms that for me. These are difficult times for everyone. Some, like me, have it so, SO easy. I get to sit here, writing, creating, connecting, and being supported by family and friends. I don't have to be out there risking my life every day in a frontline or support role. I don't have to wonder when I'll get to feel the grass beneath my feet again, or experience the joy of truly fresh air. I am the luckiest person alive. And I never, ever take that for granted. 

Stay safe, Cathy x

Want to find out more about my work? CLICK HERE to get to my website. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Can't Explain It, But....

Show us where you work! Please share a photo of your work/writing space, and tell us why it looks the way it does! 

-From Frank

Ah, I just can't.

I'm not trying to be a party pooper (did you read that in your best Arnold-ese as paw-tee poop-uh? Cause that's how I wrote it). Really, I'm not. And it doesn't have anything to do with my study being a cluttered mess, either. Well, okay, it's about ten percent that. But it's ninety percent this weird privacy thing that I don't know I can entirely explain.

Here's my best go at it.

Writing is a private endeavor at its outset that becomes a very public thing at the end of the journey. And as writers, we can be private people but in a very real way, we have a public persona, too (some - many! - do better at this than me). A lot of our lives is pretty open to public view, and that's the choice we make when it comes to being a writer.

I'm cool with it. I have a website. I do interviews. I write on this blog. I go to conferences and do bookstore events. I was even on TV a couple of times. On my website, I have a whole page chronicling things like this. So I'm down with being open about a lot of things.

So why do I balk at this simple request?

I'm not entirely sure. I spent twenty years as a cop, and that is a pretty public job. But it is also one in which I jealously guarded privacy, too. The reason for that was safety, plain and simple. You take enough bad people to jail, and the odds go up that one of them is going to want to get some kind of revenge at some point. Maybe it's just an egg thrown at your house, a broken window, or a slashed tire. But there's always the potential for more, and I had a family to protect.

Around the same time I started to become a little bit known as a writer, my police profile was increasing, too. I was a leader at the command level for my department, so that meant talking on camera to the media, giving print interviews, and testifying to city council at public and closed sessions. As a police leader, I was a public figure. As a writer, I was certainly trying to be. All of this made me guard my privacy, at least where I could, even more zealously.

But that's the past. Now I'm retired, and have been for seven years. I live six hours away from the mean streets I served on. And like most writers struggling to get noticed in an increasingly crowded field, I'd love to raise my profile as a writer. So why not just snaps some damn pics and post them and be done with it?

Like I said, I'm not one hundred percent sure. But my workspace is one of the only places in the world that is wholly mine, and for some reason, I like keeping it mostly private. I'm okay with Richie and Wiley joining me, and even Pasta, the cattiest of cats. Kristi, too - she has a desk in here, though it is rarely used. 

Wiley and Richie, valiantly standing in for workspace pics
Pasta, about to extend his middle claw at me.

It doesn't make intellectual sense, I know. I've done readings from this location, so it's not like it's a top secret lair. So it's weird, but when I saw the question for this week, my immediate and visceral reaction was, "Nope. Can't do it." I suppose it is fair to say it was an emotional response, not a thinking one.

So, there it is. Old habits die hard, I guess. Or get warped into some kind of odd psychological morass of a swamp that I should probably apologize for dragging you through.

But hey, you asked.


But Still With the Blatant Self-Promotion? 

Ah, yes. After all that talk of privacy, I'm still pimping the product?

Yep. I have to. 

So I will show how hypocritically selective I am when it comes to privacy. Here it is - my latest book, In the Cut, the second in my SpoCompton series, is now available from Down and Out Books. You can read about it if you click the link.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Cluttered Office, Cluttered Mind? Say It Isn't So.

Q: Show us where you work! Please share a photo of your work/writing space, and tell us why it looks the way it does!

-from Susan

I have two options. I can stand in the doorway and show you the good side. It might – although it shouldn’t – impress you. Bookshelves on three walls, floor to ceiling, reading chair, desk, lateral file cabinets. Dedicated to writing, thinking, research. Here’s that:

The other option strips away the façade. Piles of crap (mostly work related) on every surface, papers all over the desk, held down (sometimes) by coffee cups or plates from croissant-eating, necessary for writing. When not held down, they often slide into the wastebasket that sits, helpfully, right next to the edge of the desk. I once lost a check for $155.20 that way. Dust everywhere, although that’s hard to photograph. Indentations on the upholstered chair that are filled with cat hair. Boxes sitting just out of camera view filled with things I can’t figure out where to store, much less if I should store them at all. I think I won’t post pictures, but you get the idea. 

I find it depressing some days. When I had jobs away from home, I really, truly knew where everything was in my cluttered office. Plus I had assistants and staff who saved me from my worst habits with their sense of order and knowledge. Plus, they had the power to shame me into staying on top of everything. Here, not so much. 

The determination to conquer the mess seizes me now and then. I clean off the desk, throw massive amounts of paper away. Dust the newly visible surfaces, and pat myself on the back. Within a week, ten days at the most, you wouldn’t know I’d done a thing. How can this be? Does clutter reproduce like rabbits at night? 

Maybe photos of my fellow Minds’ work space this week with inspire or shame me into a frenzy of office cleaning. Or maybe not.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I Can't Go For That (No, no, no can do)

By Abir

We all have favourite sub-genres in crime fiction, but do you venture beyond them in your personal (ie. not research) reading? If so, what do you read that’s not necessarily your usual cup of tea, and why?

When it comes to books, there are a few things that I don’t care for. Here is a short list:
·      Romantic fiction;
·      Books about animals;
·      Cosy crime;
·      Psychological crime;
·      Gothic;
·      Horror;
·      Gothic horror;
·      Gothic Horror Romantic fiction with animals ;
·      Science Fiction;
·      Fan fiction;
·      Fiction about the science of fans;
·      Biographies;
·      Autobiographies;
·      Books about sports;
·      Books written before 1900, (start of 20th century, not seven pm.);
·      Self Help books;
·      Get rich quick books; and
·      Anything with ghosts, vampires (both Dracula and Buffy), elves, goblins or ‘Fifty Shades’ in the title.

In terms of what I do like:
·      Crime fiction (except those sub categories mentioned above);
·      Literary fiction (at least the stuff that isn't purely navel gazing);
·      History;
·      Politics (though not the sort of polarizing stuff that seems to be so popular in the USA – what is that all about? – but more the current affairs type stuff);
·      Dystopian fiction; and
·      Anything by Yuval Noah Harari.

Having said that, there are books in most of those categories on the first list which I’ve read and which I’ve genuinely enjoyed. This is surprising because I’ve got to the age where I’ve become grumpy and crotchety (is that a word?) and I like staying in my comfort zone, and yet, when I venture, kicking and screaming outside it, generally on a recommendation from my wife, I’ve found some really wonderful books.

Take ‘cosy crime’ for example – I don’t read much of it, but I’ll make an exception for Alexander McCall Smith, especially his Best Ladies Detective Agency Series, but also for Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh series, set in Mumbai and featuring detective Ashwin Chopra (retired) and a baby elephant called Ganesh that he’s lumbered with on the day of his retirement. These books are heart-warming and witty, but also provide a great insight into life in the modern, bustling Indian metropolis. There’s nothing quite like them out there, and if cosy is your cup of tea, I’d heartily recommend them. (Disclaimer: I know Vaseem. As a friend he is particularly useless, but as a writer, he's fantastic.)

The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series by Vaseem Khan


I’ve found, in particular that I have a soft spot for the biographies of flawed politicians, men of power brought low by one fatal character defect – often arrogance or hubris. As such I’ve spent many days reading about Nixon in the US, and Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken in the UK, both high-flying cabinet ministers, both caught committing perjury in libel trials they brought against the press. What I find particularly fascinating is how these people react to their respective downfalls. Nixon, of course, never really came to terms with his guilt. Archer served his time, never went back to politics but continued writing bestsellers. The most interesting is Jonathan Aitken, who seems to have had a Damascene conversion and come out of prison a better, more self-aware man, who these days campaigns for prison reform. His writing is also a pleasure to read.

Talking of pleasure, I also have guilty pleasure which I’m a bit reticent to admit. Contrary to what I’ve written above, I do have a soft spot for bit of Star Trek fan fiction. There, I've said it. Now let's move on.

Books it seems can broaden horizons and tastes, and everybody’s individual tastes should be respected. The same, though is not true of music. I can’t believe James Ziskin hates country and western music. The opera thing, I can understand, but this? This is all types of wrong.

James. Please reconsider.