Friday, May 29, 2020

It's a Hard Lock Life

"Describe your lockdown life. Has it had any unexpected sweet spots in it? And what are you most looking forward to doing again afterwards?”

By Abir

Friday again eh? I could have sworn it was Wednesday. 

Topic of the week is lockdown – specifically lockdown life. 

I’m not going to lie, compared to millions of others, my lockdown life has been relatively easy. We’ve had no family members come down with the virus, not even my mum who a) thinks she’s invincible and b) being Indian doesn’t believe in the concept of personal space, let alone social distancing.

Rather than run through my daily routine though, cos it's dull, I’m going to simply give you some of the ways in which my life has changed.

1. I am a prisoner in my own home (other than when I’m not)

Right so my wife has decided, based on the flimsiest of evidence, that I am more at risk of getting the virus and dying than anyone else in the family. Why? Because:
 a) the virus is racist (it hates BAME people more than whitey);
 b) I’m no longer a spring chicken (I disagree); and 
 c) because getting ill and dying is just the sort of thing I’d do to upset her. 

I objected to the above and, it's fair to say we had a full and frank discussion and then she decided she was right. This means I’m not allowed to go to the shops other than the big Tesco, and then only by car, and only to pick up groceries which have been pre-ordered on line. I am supposed to wear a mask whenever I leave the house, but this has proved difficult because the first time I wore one my glasses steamed up and I almost crashed the car.

I’m also allowed to go to the park, but only under strict supervision. I used to look forward to these daily outings, but then the weather got warmer and my hay fever started and now I’m constantly sneezing and I don’t know if it’s covid or a cold or a reaction to the pollen and it's frankly easier just to sit at home.

What this means is that car journeys are precious – whether it’s to Tesco or, a once a week trip to the car wash  - the car is sparkling, by the way. It’s now covered in enough wax to make a dozen candles. It hasn’t needed a wash for over a month but I still go to get it cleaned, just to get out of the house.

A rather strange side effect has been that I now make an effort to look smart for these trips. I wear cologne to go to the supermarket (even though I don't even get out of the car) and even considered wearing a suit to the car wash last Wednesday. I’m not even making that up. 

That leads me on to my next observation:

I’m Buying more stuff

One of the curious things about lockdown is that my credit card bills had started to decrease in scale. I mean, they were still stupidly big, but suddenly less big than before, possibly because I was saving on travel costs and pretentious London restaurants where they charge you £100 just for the supercilious attitude (theirs, not mine). I was of course pleasantly surprised by this sudden upturn in my finances, and, for several moments contemplated a sun-lit, debt-free future. I then went online and proceeded to buy loads of crap from Apple and Amazon that I don’t need but which seem to fill some gaping hole in my spiritual and emotional existence which Covid seems to have caused. And indeed, for a few days, the new shiny things made everything feel better.

It’s not just the shiny things though. There’s the panic buying too. Remember back in March where we all thought we were about to run out of toilet paper? Well I didn’t panic. I just looked on smugly as the world went mad and shook my head at all the idiots out there. Then I went to the shop and couldn’t find any toilet paper. I came back home and after several stiff cups of tea to steady my nerves, I succumbed to peer pressure and went online and bought enough toilet roll for a family of ten. Most of it is still in storage. I'm using it to insulate my loft. 

I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but alas, it's not. In a moment of what I thought was sheer genius, I bought this:

Don't judge me

It’s a portable travel bidet. 

That’s right, you heard me. 


Don’t be fooled by the picture on the box. It’s not just for cleaning babies’ bottoms. It has an adult setting too. I’ve not used it, only read the instructions, but it’s comforting to know that should there be a second spike, me and my portable travel bidet will be ready for it.

Anything else I want to tell you? 


Spending time with the kids isn’t actually so bad

I’ll admit it. I was worried about spending quality time with the kids. Don’t judge me. You haven’t met my kids. Seriously, it’s like living with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

No. I’m joking. They're more mature than that, but I was worried about how home-schooling and all the extra changes to our schedules would affect my work routine. After a few dodgy weeks at the start of March though, things have been going pretty well. Luckily my wife is basically Superwoman. She educates them, entertains them, feeds them (and me), all while doing a full-time job, fielding work calls and Zoom meetings from the dining table. I’ve helped out a bit, mainly in the Nintendo department, educating my five year old in the intricacies of Super Mario and Luigi’s Mansion. I even bought the new game, Animal Crossing, which everyone under the age of 35 seems to be raving about. It sounded idyllic. You get to make a home on a desert island, spending your days fishing and building your dream home, but after playing it for a few days, I realised it was basically just an education in unfettered capitalism, where you, the player are in perpetual indentured servitude to a racoon-type character called Mr Nook. I’m not kidding. The only way to progress in the game is to take out bigger and bigger loans to buy more and more stuff so that you can show to other players on other islands.

I have banned the kids from playing it and we’ve all gone back to Super Mario, who as a plumber, I feel better represents my political philosophy (though I admit I have trouble with his infatuation for a character called Peach, who is a princess). This seems to be a betrayal of his working class roots and a significant setback in the class struggle, but hey, it’s lockdown. I’ll cut him a little slack.

Finally, Haircuts

So I finally took the plunge, bought a set of hair clippers and persuaded my wife to cut my hair. I was worried. After all, there are so many stories doing the rounds of wives who've cut their husbands ears off or chopped their heads off, while attempting a simple short back and sides. But the truth is, after watching a few youtube videos, she did a fantastic job, at least from the front. I can't see what she's done to the back.

So I'm thinking, after lockdown is over, I'm never going back to the barbers again. That £7 a month saving is really going to come in handy in paying down my credit card.

Take care folks, and stay safe.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sixty-seventeen Days of Quarantine from James W. Ziskin

"Describe your lockdown life. Has it had any unexpected sweet spots in it? And what are you most looking forward to doing again afterwards?”

From Jim

The origin of the word quarantine comes to us from the Italian peninsula, from Venice to be specific. The modern Standard Italian word is quarantena, which literally means "about forty." During the 14th century, it was used by the Venetians to define the number of days arriving ships were required to remain isolated before their crews and passengers could come ashore. Forty days. This period of isolation was prompted by the Black Death that ravaged Europe from 1347-1350, wiping out, according to new estimates, anywhere between one third and half of the population. The Venetian policy of quarantena mitigated the spread of the disease in that maritime republic. But remember that Italy was not unified as sovereign nation until 1861. Prior to that, the peninsula was a jigsaw puzzle of kingdoms, duchies, grand duchies, and republics. So Venice protected itself, while Messina in Sicily failed to quarantine ships arriving from plague-ravaged areas in the Near and Far East. Other European port cities suffered the same fate as Messina, and once the plague had taken hold, it spread rapidly throughout the continent through trade, mostly via merchant ships.

Today, quarantine has come to mean any period of isolation intended to prevent the spread of disease. It doesn't have to be forty days. In fact, my own isolation experience this year is approaching eighty days. And since this week's question is about our own lockdown lives, I think it's appropriate to borrow another word that is currently gaining traction in Italy.

Ottantena. Built on the same model as quarantena, it means "about eighty." But now Italians are using it to describe an eighty-day quarantine. I suppose novantena (ninety days) will be next. One shudders to think what the French would call an ottantena and novantena. Quatre-vingtaine (four twentyish) and quatre-vingt-dizaine (four twenty-tenish)?

I believe this partially answers the question of how I've been spending my time during the lockdown: thinking about etymology and marvelously complicated French numbers. Unlike the French, the Belgians and Swiss have simplified seventy through ninety-nine by adopting numbers derived from Latin roots, septante, huitante, and nonante (seventy, eighty, and ninety). while the French say quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (four twenties-nineteen) for ninety-nine, the Belgians and Swiss say nonante-neuf. Damn, I love language.

But enough of my musings on numbers and quarantines, I have experienced a few unexpected sweet spots in the past seventy-seven days. That's soixante-dix-sept (sixty-seventeen) if you live in France. Septante-sept if you live in Belgium or Switzerland. Sorry. I promise I'm done with the French numbers.

My biggest news over the past two and half months is that I found myself in a zone, writing-wise. In April, I wrote 30,000 words of my new novel. Then, in May, I really hit my stride, and have logged 69,000 words and counting. It's been the most productive period in my writing life. No other time comes close. I'm planning to finish the first draft by June 1. Of course, that's when the painstaking work of revision will begin. I typically do eight to ten new versions of a book.

This new novel, tentatively entitled Monsoon Summer, is a throwback thriller set in 1975 India, during the Emergency. Danny Jacobs, a young American journalist, arrives in Bombay for a new assignment and gets caught up in the chaos of the Emergency. His enigmatic expat neighbor, Willy Smets, is helpful and friendly. But Danny is smitten by Sushmita, Smets’s enchanting and clever Indian lover.

I describe it as Gatsby Meets Graham Greene on the Subcontinent. And, by the way, it is not an Ellie Stone book. If I can wrestle it into shape and--provided it isn't a boring hot mess--I hope to sell it before the next pandemic hits.

Stay safe and read more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My lockdown life

"Describe your lockdown life. Has it had any unexpected sweet spots in it? And what are you most looking forward to doing again afterwards?”

by Dietrich

Well, for a writer who sits at a desk at home and spends a lot of time in a make-believe world, not that much has changed on that note. Probably the greatest challenge these days is staying positive and keeping focused. 

Of course, outside of my little writing world, so much is different right now: no hugs, no handshakes, no contact. And praying for the health and safety of all those around us. Wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance is the order of the day. While many businesses are closed, the ones that aren’t generally require customers to stand in line on marked spots several feet from the next spot, all to get into a place that only allows a handful of people at a time.

What am I most looking forward to doing after lockdown? Well, I’m looking forward to hugs and handshakes, and no more masks and line-ups. Then I’d like to pick up on some travel plans that I was getting my head around before ‘lockdown.’ First off, I’d like to get in a fall trip down the coast to California, something that’s become an annual thing for my wife and me. I’m also looking forward to walking into some of my favorite indie book stores and sticking my nose into some new arrivals. And I’m sure looking forward to going on some very long walks. 

I had to pull the plug on a Noir at the Bar event here in Vancouver earlier this month. We had a great line-up set and everything was in place, and it was the first time that there hasn’t been a spring noir event in Vancouver in seven years. I do have a fall event in the works, and I’m certainly looking forward to that.

I’m also thinking of new ways to promote my upcoming book Cradle of the Deep, which comes out at the beginning of November. At this point I don’t know how much will be blog tour versus actual tour. I love taking part in book readings and events, so I’ve got my fingers crossed. If it isn’t possible, then I’ll have to find some different ways to promote it via social media, blogs, podcasts and through my website. 

Have there been some sweet spots? Well, I have found more time for reading (except for the news), and I’ve been listening to more Audiobooks. I’ve also caught up on a few series and some films I’ve wanted to watch.

So, while I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to keep writing through these times, it sure will be nice for all of us when times take a turn and this pandemic and lockdown are behind us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Way Things Are

Terry here with a description of my lockdown life, and whether it has had any unexpected sweet spots in it… And what I am most looking forward to doing again afterwards.

I’ve always known I was a loner. Not to say I don’t love people, and love to be around them, but my go-to position has always been to be alone. I frequently go on long walks, and hardly ever go with anyone else. I hiked with a group for a few years, and that was fun, but I don’t mind a bit hiking/walking alone. I don’t mind going to a restaurant alone. I’m not sure I would like being totally alone in lockdown, but I have a husband and we have a student living with us.

Here's a photo I took on a recent walk:

I get up at the same time as I used to, around six o’clock, and follow the same pattern—tea, check emails, read the newspaper on-line, rant on Facebook, work out, then get down to whatever business I’ve organized. In that past that meant writing, but I have been too distracted to do much writing.

The biggest change in my routine is that I only go to the grocery store every two weeks or so. And when I do go, it takes two to three hours between buying the groceries and wiping them down with disinfectant. Of course now, we’re being told surfaces probably don’t hold the virus anyway, but I take the news with a skeptical eye. Better safe than sorry, and all that.

I don’t write nearly as much as usual because I feel restless and unmotivated. Fortunately, once I make myself sit down and work, I do get engaged. And I sigh for the poor, lonesome manuscript that I turned in to my agent at the end of February—just before everything fell apart.

Here's one thing I'm doing that I don't need much focus for: 

Cooking is not a problem. I’ve always liked to cook. So far, we haven’t gotten any take-out, although I’m thinking one day I might just have to get a little Thai food.. I heard that people should be getting take-out food to help restaurants, and I do want to help restaurants, so I donate to East Bay Feed ER, which supports 78 local restaurants and has served 22,000 meals to 18 care sites. It was founded in our area by author Ayelet Waldman and has been a great success.

Some things that seem to bother a lot of people don’t give me much trouble. Like hair! When my hair started sticking out at odd angles, I snipped off the odd angle parts—which worked okay. Now if I could just get my husband to let me snip off his growing mullet, I’d be set. On the other hand, there's the pedicure I need, but am not getting anytime soon. 

I do miss getting dressed up to go places, so I decided to dress up for Zoom meetings. And I miss hugging people. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to do that again safely unless everyone is wearing Hazmat suits, which sort of defeats the purpose. Or if that elusive vaccine gets developed. I’m not holding my breath.

Dressed up to be in a play a few year ago. Yep, that's me.

As for unexpected sweet spots, for some reason my husband and I laugh a lot more now and are much kinder to each other. I think it’s because there’s no outside pressure to be anywhere on time, or to do anything on time. There’s no packing for trips (boo-hoo) or having to race to get somewhere, or trying to decide what restaurant to go to or if we want to go out.

Which is ironic, because what I most look forward to is travel. 

At the same time, I’m gearing for never being able to travel again. As people of “a certain age,” my husband and I know we are in the danger zone. The thought of getting on an airplane gives me the shivers. But it doesn’t mean we can’t go anywhere. We live in a gorgeous area, with shorelines and beaches and hills. And there are national parks within driving distance. Once we figure out where to stay that’s safe, we can at least travel around here.

In fact, we are thinking of driving to Los Angeles to visit our son and his girlfriend. They have had to be extra-careful because his girlfriend has health issues that put her at particular risk. Which means we can trust that we can be with them safely. More irony.

But the bottom line is that I have a good life, with a beautiful house, a lovely backyard, great hiking trails nearby and the San Francisco Bay to drive to and walk along the shoreline when I need to get out. I live among people who mostly take the virus seriously. And with the ability to see people on-line when I talk to them, the pain of being apart is lessened.

I trust that before too long I’ll be back to writing several hours a day. The way things are now is starting to seem normal. There’s no way to know what happens next…but then, there never has been.

Sunset in the Bahamas, where we were last fall, and were supposed to be in April. Peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Life in the Age of Covid

Describe your lockdown life. Has it had any unexpected sweet spots in it? And what are you most looking forward to doing again afterwards?

Brenda Chapman blogging today.

When Ottawa first closed down for the pandemic, we were still experiencing cold and snowy weather. Staying inside the house was not onerous since who wanted to be out in that dreary mess anyhow? My husband Ted and I hunkered down. Our two daughters wouldn’t let us do any grocery shopping because the virus was worse for older people and Ted has a condition that could spell trouble. The girls' partners and friends took alternate weeks filling our fridge. It was a time of deep unease.

Luckily, Ted and I are both self-motivated people. For the first six weeks at home, I'd spend the days writing, baking, cleaning, reading while Ted built stuff in his basement workshop. We'd meet in my office for happy hour every day around four o'clock for wine and music. Ted had taken to choosing three albums every morning from his music collection, all starting with a letter of the alphabet. A variation of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Malone series if you will. He'd post the day's selection on Facebook and friends made a game of guessing the next day's albums. Twenty-six days in and there was no sign of social distancing ending as we'd believed would happen. One day shortly after, the daily happy hour died a natural death.

Under the 'T'

The days flew by but they were also endless in a way hard to explain. I started to miss seeing people. There were the odd down days when the anxiety and terrible news got to me. Luckily, these days were few and far between and Ted and I always pulled each other up when we needed it the most.

Around week three, I learned how to operate Zoom and we began having meetings with friends and family. My book club has had two monthly meetings by video. The cold and snow continued to keep us indoors. By week six of social isolation, I'd had enough of relying on others for our food and set out to the store. I now make the trek once a week and this takes more organization than I'd like. The last few summers, I'd bike to the store every few days for food but now I take the car to load up with enough produce for an entire week. I've also discovered the joys of online shopping. Those first weeks, I had meat delivered from our local butcher. I also had (and still have) wine delivered from a winery in Niagara. I ordered books from an independent bookstore and had them dropped off at our front door.

Two weeks ago, the snow stopped for good, and last week not long after Mother's Day, temperatures climbed and garden centres opened. Since then, we've spent most of our days outside, getting the gardens ready, cleaning up the yard, having morning coffee on the deck. I've made several trips to buy plants, usually dissatisfied with the lack of choice but finding enough to keep me going. Our neighbors now visit but at a distance. We take turns in each other's yards, bringing our own drinks and lawn chairs. We discuss our gardens and what we're having for supper. My daughter drops by once or twice a week and we social distance in the back yard. I chat with my other daughter by phone and we've made plans to walk her dog. We don't feel so isolated even though we keep six feet apart from everybody.

Life has gotten very simple.

When this isolation phase is over, the things I'm going to most enjoy doing include hugging my daughters and their families and my friends. It'll be so good not to have to keep apart. I'll also like shopping without worrying about staying away from people or taking too long to make selections. I also look forward to eating supper in a restaurant, sharing a meal with friends, walking to our local pub to sit in the sun on the rooftop patio.

Our curling season was cut short and we're hoping to be back on the ice in the fall although this seems doubtful. Our daughters curl competitively and we often go to watch them in different cities and towns or on television throughout the winter. I usually follow baseball and golf so it'll be great when these are back. Travel is something else I'm looking forward to resuming. We had a month-long trip to France lined up that I've postponed a year and hope it's safe by then. If not, we'll wait until it is.This September, if we can travel within the province, we'll drive to Niagara to visit friends.

As for the book events, I virtually launched Closing Time in March but was unable to attend any signings or events so I'll be happy when I'm able to do some publicity and meet readers. While it'll be too late to hold a physical launch, the band I had lined up wants to have a party and I know it won't take much arm-twisting to get out a crowd. 

I suppose the biggest take away from this time of Covid-19 is how much we take for granted in our everyday lives -- our health, the ability to go where we like, the opportunities to get together with family and friends. The pandemic has also brought out a greater sense of community and a deeper respect and gratitude for front line workers, many of whom are putting their own lives in danger to care for the sick and dying. It's also helped to ease pollution as factories shut down and fewer of us are driving or taking transit. The number of people out walking and riding their bikes is unprecedented. Kids are spending more quality time with their parents and dogs are being walked more than ever before. Neighbors are checking in on neighbors and people are making a point of saying hello to strangers who might be spending this time alone.

We truly are all in this together even though we have to stay six feet apart ... for now. Yet I long for the day when a vaccine is readily available and hugging is back on the table.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, May 22, 2020

I’ve Still Never Seen the End of Gravity’s Rainbow

Do you finish every book you start? Why (not)? And how do you decide when to give up?

by Paul D. Marks


And ditto for movies.

I used to feel not only compelled but obligated to finish any book I started. (Okay, a little compulsive I know.) But as I’ve gotten older that just doesn’t work anymore. Life is too short. There’s too many books and too little time. I won’t even say there’s too many good books, because I won’t claim that every book I finish—and even like—is a “good” book. It might just be something I enjoy. A guilty pleasure.

I read a variety of things, non-fiction and fiction and various genres within that. These days I don’t often read a non-fiction book cover to cover like I used to. I bounce around, sometimes looking at the table of contents or the index for subjects I might find particularly interesting. And sometimes I just open to a page and start reading.

Fiction is, of course, different. You really have to read it from head to tail if you want to get the full flavor and depth of it. I’ll usually give a book about 80-100 pages. But I have to admit that I might read beyond that even if I’m not enjoying the book because hope springs eternal. And I guess I still have that expectation that it will get better. Unfortunately on some books I’ll read all 400 pages until hope turns to despair.

For movies I’ll give them about a half hour. That should take me to the end of Act I, give or take. If it doesn’t grab me by then: Hasta la vista, baby.

However, when I’ve been a judge for various competitions I have felt obligated to read every story from stem to stern. And I’ve pretty much succeeded at that, though it can be extremely time-consuming. But I have to admit there was one contest story that I just couldn’t finish. Because it wasn’t a “story” but more of a political diatribe disguised as a story and the characters were just mouthpieces for the author. But one clunker out of the tons I’ve read for various contests isn’t a bad batting average.

There is one very well-known book that I have still been unable to finish. Three times. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I really want to read this book and I really want to like it. But I can’t seem to get past page 100. But maybe the fourth time (if there is one) will be the charm. Or maybe I should just read Gravity’s Rambo instead (and no, I didn’t make up that cover).

Sometimes I’ve started a book and for one reason or another just couldn’t get into it. Picked it up later and wow, what have I been missing.

A book doesn’t have to be a fast-paced rip-roaring page turner either. One of my favorite books is The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, about a soldier who is stationed at a remote outpost and spends his life hoping and waiting for the glory of battle. Though that’s really just what it’s about on the surface. Now, I admit this book is a slow read, so you’d think I would have stopped at some point. But I just loved it and it’s well worth the slowness in my opinion.

On another note, I don’t always finish novels or stories I start writing, but I guess that’s for another time.


And now for the usual BSP:

My short story "Fade-Out On Bunker Hill" came in 2nd place in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Poll. In lieu of the pre-Edgars cocktail party, we had a virtual awards ceremony. You can see the whole thing (including my bookshelves) on YouTube. I want to thank Janet Hutchings and Jackie Sherbow of Ellery Queen and, of course, everyone who voted for it!

I'm very happy to see that LA Jazz Scene features an excerpt from The Blues Don't Care on their current home page. Check it out if you have a minute.

The book drops June 1st and can be ordered at Down & Out Books, Amazon, B&N, iTunes and other places.  And I'm also running a GoodReads Giveaway. Enter to win 1 of 5 signed print copies.

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Hand-selling minus the hands. by Catriona

Reading: "Do you finish every book you start? Why (not)? And how do you decide when to give up?"

One teeny tiny silver lining from living so quietly (this is week 10 of my lockdown) is that my annual reading list is still intact. 

I always start when I'm taking down the Christmas tree the morning after twelfth night, shelving the books I read on the couch over the holidays, and moving the diary I get in my stocking onto my desk. "This year," I tell myself. "I'll keep notes of everything I read, so that when it's nomination time again I'm all set."

It usually starts to fray because of travel (i.e. by the end of April) and is in tatters by the end of the summer. But 2020 isn't like other years.

To save you zooming in, that's 37 books:

  • 24 crime fiction (3 because I was blurbing them; 11 because I was on panels or shortlists with the authors; 10 just because)
  • 5 memoirs
  • 3 'literary fiction' (I think:- Colson Whitehead; Ann Patchett; Hilary Mantel)
  • 2 horror (well, Stephen King) 
  • 2 Scottish escapism (well, Jenny Colgan)
  • 1 romance! (because I realised I had opinions about the genre and hadn't read any of it for decades. 

And so far this year I haven't abandoned anything I've started. Last year, I gave up on two before the end of January (when my reading list was still functioning).

One was a much-hyped and expansively blurbed debut mystery - no one I know; no one who's going to read this blog - that was so over-written it should have come with a free packet of Tums.

The other was the US edition of a UK author's London-set novel that had been translated so that these English characters were swanning about talking of highways, vacations, deductibles rather than motorways, holidays, and excess. That's one sure fire way to make me close a book:- bad editing. 

And it really is bad editing. I've edited eight and counting contemporary UK-set novels for an American market and there's always a way around the problem of pants, fannies, and fags that doesn't make your British characters inauthentic. Always! 

Really glaring research errors sometimes make me give up on a book. If the author clearly doesn't have a grip on the world they're writing about I feel the same way as when a taxi driver won't stop scrolling through his texts and keep his eyes on the road. I can't realx and enjoy the journey.

Then there's the problem of finding out an author is a horrible person. I don't mean a flawed human, a holder of alien political views, a sloppy drunk, philandering spouse, or tax cheat. I mean a really awful stinky shameful wrong 'un. Basically, if I'd move away from them on a bus I don't want to spend 300+ pages in their world. 

But even if a book is full of errors, shoddily edited and written by a sociopath, I give it 100 pages - out of respect for the time it took, how hard it is to get published, even the carbon used up in making the object I'm holding (never mind that I want to shred it and stamp on the bits). 

Which brings me to the last reason I close a book and move on. If I'm still checking what page I'm on, on page 100, it's over between that book and me. 

Looking at my TBR pile right now, I don't see anything that looks touch and go. Maybe this year I won't abandon a single one.  Certainly my recent book mail is looking good and also looking pretty typical:

  • A mystery by an old friend (Jessie Chandler)
  • A missing series entry by a new-ish friend (Alexia Gordon)
  • The latest by a co-nominee for this year's MHCl (Carol Goodman).
  • And the obligatory new Stephen King.

Then there's this new category of book purchase that only just started ten weeks ago.  Don't you miss browsing? I do. And I had a hunch that booksellers probably miss hand-selling just as much. So when I'm ordering form an indie I get what I'm after and a wild-card. Hannah Jameson's THE LAST is a wild card from Devin at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis. And she's the one who first put Kristen Lepionka in my hands, so expectations are high . . .

Happy reading and/or guilt-free giving up,


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Be careful what you wish Cathy Ace

Reading: "Do you finish every book you start? Why (not)? And how do you decide when to give up?"

I’ll be honest and just say this up front: I often don’t read for months at a time. I know, I’m a writer I SHOULD read more, but I just can’t do it when I'm writing, or even editing. Not because I'm afraid I’ll “lose my voice” and start to adopt another author’s style, it’s just that I can’t seem to cope with more than one fictional reality in my head at a time. So, there are long periods when all I read is whatever it is I need to by way of research for my own work. Judge me as you will. Personally, I miss reading, but I have tried to do it as a break from my writing and I don’t enjoy it. At all. 

That said, when I do read, I read voraciously, and there will never be enough time for me to read every book I want to. I am laughably (tragically?) behind when it comes to my To Be Read pile (mountains!) and when it comes to the books I’ve got lined up on my Kindle? Don’t get me started!

My much-loved, and somewhat overworked Kindle

However, I am thoughtful about the books I buy – you can only spend money once, apparently, so I choose to spend it wisely. I usually go to amazon and “Look Inside” the work of any new-to-me author I’m thinking of trying, and there’s enough there to let me know if the book/s are likely to be “my cup of tea”. However I might, thereafter, choose to purchase the book in question, that process helps me avoid spending money on books that are likely to disappoint. Which means there are very few books I buy that I don’t finish. Which is good, because life’s too short to spend time wading through a book I’m not enjoying…and there’s that thing about only being able to spend money once. 

One caveat is this: I know myself well enough to be aware that different types of books appeal to me at different times, due to my mood or general headspace…so there are books I just don’t feel in the mood for at any given time, whereas they might appeal on another day. So if I’ve poo-pooed the idea of an author’s work at one point, I might still go back to the “Look Inside” to give it a go again. And, to be fair, there are some authors whose work appeals to me at all times, because I enjoy their “voice” whatever mood I’m in. There are too many of them to list here, and just because I enjoy them doesn’t mean you would, so I won’t list them right now.

All in all, I try to avoid spending my pennies on books that won’t engage me when I give them the chance…but when I am engaged, I’m likely to buy an entire backlist just so I can start at the beginning and work my way through. When I can. And this summer? I have a wonderful library to chomp my way through, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

In case my voice generally appeals to you, maybe you’d like to think about pre-ordering my 9th Cait Morgan Mystery, THE CORPSE WITH THE CRYSTAL SKULL, which will be launched on 29th June? Here’s a link to a spot where you can find out about all my books: CLICK HERE

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Finish Your Vegetables!

Reading: "Do you finish every book you start? Why (not)? And how do you decide when to give up?"

-From Frank
This is a great question. I'm really curious to see the other answers to this one.

My answer is almost always YES. I've never started a book in any meaningful way (beyond just a few stray paragraphs) and not finished. But that's more a testament to my process than anything. I usually don't start something until I know I'm fully ready to go on it. A book or story might marinade inside my head for months or years getting to that point, but once I actually start writing it, I almost always finish it.

A quasi-exception, though, is my forthcoming River City novel, Place of Wrath and Tears. I had originally envisioned this as book #5 in the series. The central idea was in place by 2009, while I was still working on #4. My first draft of the book dates back to 2014, just six months after I retired. But it stalled.

It wasn't so much for creative reasons as personal ones. While I loved my career and am proud of it, the difficult, principle-based decision I made to retire when I did left me with some emotional scars. As a result, River City, which is a very thinly veiled Spokane, was not someplace I wanted to be. Really, it wasn't a place I could be, at least not inside of the police department.

So the book languished while I wrote other stories. Those are all stories I'm proud of, and was excited to explore. But at the same time, readers frequently asked me when the next River City novel was coming out. I lied and said, "soon." Maybe "lied" is a strong word, because I knew I would return to River City. I just didn't know how long it would take.

I dipped my toes in the water with some anti-hero works set in Spokane. I even wrote the third Stefan Kopriva novel in 2015 (Friend of the Departed), which is set in River City.

Eventually, around 2017, I felt ready to rejoin the RCPD, as it were. But in the meantime, another problem had occurred. I realized that before I could get to Place of Wrath and Tears, there was another entire book that had to happen in the timeline. This became The Menace of the Years, book #5. 

Finally, in early 2019, after finishing #5 and writing Charlie-316 with Colin Conway, I picked up the 48K words I'd written on Place of Wrath and Tears, and dove in. It was a bear, too, if I'm being honest. There are other reasons for that, enough to fill another complete blog post, so I won't go into them here. But at least these were challenges within the process of finishing, not something that kept me from actually sitting down to write the damn thing.

Because there were times that I thought I might not finish it. And given that River City is my flagship series, and that it references specific years and dates throughout, and that the events within this book are referenced elsewhere in the canon....well, it wasn't like I could just skip it entirely. There isn't enough retro in ret-conning to fix that. So I guess that's my answer to the second part of the question - when to give up.

The answer, for me, is never.

Final point of irony here. Or maybe it's a natural outgrowth of the experience of writing this one. But when I came to realize the theme of this book, it turned out to be a fitting one.



Blatant Self-Promotion Brought to You By Me

My newest novel, Never the Crime, the second book in the Charlie-316 series, will be released on June 22. 

This book continues the saga of Officer Tyler Garrett, as he moves past the events of Charlie-316

Detective Wardell Clint is still trying to crack the biggest case of his career. 

Meanwhile, a series of city hall scandals draw in different members of the police department, forcing some difficult ethical decisions. Before all is said and done, people will learn that it is never the crime that does you in, but the cover up that follows. Will anyone come through unscathed?

Available for pre-order now. And check out the trailer: