Sunday, August 30, 2020

Marketing Roadblocks in the Time of Covid

 This year has thrown us plenty of curveballs. Have you (and your publisher) adapted new ways to market your books?

Brenda Chapman blogging today.

It's safe to say that 2020 has proven to be a challenging time for authors in figuring out how best to market our books. A I wrote previously on this blogspot, my book Closing Time was released as the pandemic was shutting down shops and restaurants and people were going into lockdown. My publicist began working from home and her hours were cut. We tried a few virtual events but they were last minute and not well publicized. All the in-person events and media that I had lined up, including the launch, were cancelled or postponed. 

Not all was terrible, however. One of the nicest moments from this time was when my daughter Julia, whom I'd asked to introduce me at the launch, recorded her remarks and posted them on YouTube. (You can view her video here.)

My other daughter Lisa posted about the new book on Instagram and got almost 700 likes and comments.

My publicist and I had planned to do a big promotion since Closing Time is the last book in the seven-book Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series. This never happened because of Covid. Since then, she has moved on to another job, emphasizing once again, the upheaval in the publishing industry. 

I will therefore take this opportunity to share the Closing Time cover blurb:

Secrets abound at a northern Ontario lodge when a teenage employee is murdered.

It’s late summer and a restless Officer Kala Stonechild has taken her foster niece, Dawn, on a canoe trip at Pine Hollow Lodge in the wilderness north of Sault Ste. Marie. But the getaway turns deadly when a teenage girl goes missing on her way home from an evening shift at the lodge’s restaurant.

After the girl’s body is found between the lodge and the nearby town of Searchmont, Stonechild reluctantly agrees to help with the investigation. She’s teamed with Clark Harrison, an officer she worked with during her last posting in northwestern Ontario. As the investigation heats up, Stonechild’s past threatens the close bonds she’s forged back home. Will she return to her life in Kingston, or will the rekindling of an old relationship lure her away for good?

And a few reviews to entice you ...

Complex and filled with menace, Brenda Chapman’s tale of sex, lies, and betrayal will keep you up at night. (Barbara Fradkin, author of the Amanda Doucette mysteries)

Series fans who have followed the evolving relationship between Stonechild and Rouleau will be just as interested in what fate has in store for the duo as in unraveling the fair-play plot. New readers will want to go back to the beginning. (Publishers Weekly)

Another nice thing has been how many readers have messaged me or posted about Closing Time and the series. Many have told me that they're recommending the series to their friends and bookclubs and perhaps this is the best news to come out of this time. Word of mouth is powerful and hard to quantify and has to grow organically. I think readers are realizing how hard authors are having it during this time and helping us any way they can. (If any of you past sharers are reading this post, a heartfelt thank you.)

Here are snippets from a few of my favourite reviews on Goodreads:

A moment of silence please, as I mourn the passing of one of my favourite series. I’ve enjoyed every one of these books & feel like I’m saying good-bye to old friends….friends with lives waaay more exciting than mine. -- Sandy

Just last year, around May or so, I happened upon Cold Mourning in a bookstore and started what became the most delightful journey through a new series. Despite only having known the books for a year, I've read this series through multiple times, loving the characters and their dynamics more each time I do. -- Natasha

Thanks Brenda for writing a great series. I enjoyed these characters and seeing the develop with each book. All great things must come to an end. You leave us wanting more. -- Peter


Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, August 28, 2020

I Don’t Recommend Books…But Try These

Do you recommend books to your fans? Do you recommend books like yours, or books you enjoy? Have you noticed your book tastes changing during quarantine?

Guest Post by Jonathan Brown
Jonathan Brown

I’m (Paul) taking a break today. Filling in for me is my friend Jonathan Brown. Jonathan writes the Lou Crasher series of books. He’s also the author of two historical fiction books: A Boxing Trainer’s Journey about Angelo Dundee (released 2019). Also: Character Is What Counts about Vince Lombardi (coming late 2021). And he’s currently writing a stand-alone Western about a Black wrangler falsely accused of being a horse thief. His book Don’t Shoot the Drummer drops in November 2020. He and his wife live in Los Angeles.

Take it away, Jonathan:

I Don’t Recommend Books…But Try These

I have a newsletter that I send out to those that are current, or soon to be, (hopefully) fans. In each issue I list the last three books that I’ve read. When I got into the crime writing game the books I read were primarily crime fiction. Somewhere along the way I began to miss books outside the genre. I’ve always been a variety/change-it-up guy. At first I worried about losing crime-reading fans by posting current affairs, biographies, historical books and so on.

Then I thought, ya know what? Ah, they probably don’t care. By sharing all the different things I read, well, they’re getting a clearer picture of the real me. I was especially worried about sharing the political books I read—what if my readers don’t share my political views? At that point I didn’t care because again, I is who I is. Besides, what they’d come to notice is I read left, right and center because after all, we learn by reading, listening and digesting from all sides. And for those that are curious, I’m an independent as in, independent thought. And I wish more people would exercise and implement independent thought instead of following the leader of a tribe.

And now, I step down from the soapbox. I don’t recommend books to readers, I just share what I read. Among close friends and family sure, but to strangers—who am I to recommend anything?

As far as reading habits during the pandemic I’d say my choices have certainly expanded. I always look for balance in all aspects of my life: balance in yoga poses, martial arts strikes, musical choices, shows I stream, my relationship with my wife and so on. Pre-pandemic I read mostly crime fiction. The reasons being: A. there are a ton of writers whose books I want to read. B. I interview crime writers on my blog and I have a policy of reading at least one of their books before I interview them. (

The lockdown, for me anyway, has caused me take a deeper look at the big picture. What is the (pardon the overused phrase) new normal going to look like? How are we treating each other during these stressful times? Are we wearing masks in an attempt to stay safe and protect others, or are we not buying-in, and letting the good times roll? These questions and more have raised my curiosity level, thus, I’m picking up books from all sorts of spectrums and universes.

Here’s a short journey to one of my reads. My wife and I watched Mrs. America on Hulu starring Kate Blanchett. I was particularly impressed with the character and real life activist/politician, Shirley Chisholm. I needed more Mrs. Chisholm than the show had given me. So, I hopped onto Amazon and ordered her book, Unbought & Unbossed, published in 1970. Due to COVID times and perhaps increased demand, the book took over a month to get to me. I received delay after delay emails from Amazon. Finally, the book arrived and, wow, what a powerful lady! I highly recommend this book…even though, as stated earlier, I don’t recommend books. (wink, wink).

The other two titles pictured below are books I enjoyed. Although, with Mary Trump’s book, Too Much And Never Enough, maybe the word ‘enjoyed’ isn’t the best word choice. Let’s say it was well written and incredibly…heavy! Breath was much more than just a book about, well, breath. It even got me exploring the Vim Hoff breathing method—and why not? When in quarantine: breathe, baby, breathe!

And now the slick part:

I absolutely recommend, no, require that you read Don’t Shoot The Drummer (releases date November 2020, Down And Out Books), because it’s got my name on it. O.K. That’s it. Don’t ask me for any more recommendations because it’s just not something I do. Stay safe.


Thank you, Jonathan. And now to the usual BSP and stuff:

I want to thank Colman Keane of Col’s Criminal Library in England for this great review of The Blues Don’t Care. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full review:

“A compelling 40s set LA murder mystery, concerning itself with questions of race and identity against the back-drop of the second World War.

I don't think I've encountered such an interesting protagonist for a long while in my reading. Bobby Saxon is a pianist trying to get a start in the music business. There's more to Bobby though than meets the eye.... he's conflicted, confused, secretive, naive, brave, talented and desperate.”

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Monday-Friday Reads (+ the weekend) by Catriona

 Reading:  Do you recommend books to your fans? Do you recommend books like yours, or books you enjoy? Have you noticed your book tastes changing during quarantine?

Just a bit. I post about book mail as I open the parcels, bookshop hauls when I've been on a raid downtown, what I'm reading on #Fridayreads, what I'm going to read on #TBRThursday, and occasionally an actual review. (They're hard).

There are only two "rules". I won't say a bad word about a living writer. And it's always what I happen to be reading, never filtered through what I write. (Although it would be a weird writer who had no crossover at all, I suppose.)

Sometimes I seek help to decide what to read next. Earlier this week the question was: Little Comfort or a bit more comfort? when I was swithering between Edwin Hill's debut and V.M. Burns' latest (except probably not latest, because Valerie makes me look like J.D.Salinger when it comes to output).

Look closely and you'll see a bookmark, revealing that I plumped for Little Comfort, on the grounds that after a powercut, inside a heatwave, inside a wildfire, inside a pandemic . . . I should save Read Herring Hunt in case things got worse. 

Speaking of the fire . . . (we're fine, by the way) . . . I'm already curating my Christmas reading pile: the heap of bankers and treats that are going to see me through the two-weeks on the couch in late December. So far:

My one rule for Christmas used to be "I don't know these people so I don't have to tag them on Twitter them after", and Maggie O'Farrell and Kiley Reid are in that bucket. I've scrapped the rule overall though (I know too many writers) and am hoarding Elly Griffiths and Francine Toon because they're going to be ah-maze-ING. 

My TBR at Christmas pile still needs a lot of work. I want some non-fiction, including a celebrity memoir. Last year saw a bumper haul:

Raynor Winn's book was the account of walking the south-west coast path through Somerset, Cornwall, and Devon in England, in response to becoming homeless in middle age. And more Maggie O'Farrell. Plus the latest installment of Paul O'Grady's autiobiography. (I don't care, in case anyone's wondering. The easiest quickfire question in the Bouchercon toastmaster interview I just taped with Jess Lourey was "Name your guilty pleasure". Because I feel no guilt about any pleasure. Bollocks to that.) I was sold on this delight when the first volume came out: it's called At My Mother's Knee, and Other Low Joints. Who could resist it? Also, if Mr O'G was told at any point to be a bit diplomatic about what he wrote, the advice didn't take.

Are you wondering why I said "Speaking of the fire"? The four books in the TBRAC pile are sitting in my study right now. But they spent six days in the car until this morning. When the LNU Complex looked a bit close for comfort, I decided if I was going to have to evacuate and leave my house to its fate, I was cracking into my treats and not saving them. 

Yesterday I told my mum that on the phone and she started laughing. When I was four, she reminded me, I decided I was leaving home - too many big bossy sisters, maybe; we couldn't remember - and going along the road to live with my Godmother, Aunty Doreen. And I packed . . . my slippers and some books. Not much has changed. I didn't make it to my aunty's, as it turned out. Because when I mentioned, over my shoulder, that I'd be round for tea on Saturday, my mum said au contraire. You're either out or you're in, was the message.This was a blow. Saturday tea meant sandwiches, scones and cake, in the livingroom, with Dr Who. I gave it some thought, put my slippers on and re-shelved the books. My four-year-old brain wasn't up to arguing that I lived at my mum and dad's house and went to Aunty Doreen's for tea all the time, so what was the problem? Ah well.

Man, this blog has wandered off-topic! Has my reading changed in the pandemic? I'm reading more, and reading more new-to-me stuff after Crowdcast events, or Noirs at Bars. The impetus in hitting the buy button has been to support the indie bookshop, but it hasn't been a sacrifice. I've only given up on one book this entire year and that was one I thought was a dead-cert: set in Edinburgh, in the forties, concerning women learning to run their big houses without maids. (And I'm only saying that much because the writer is dead.) 

I suppose I did re-read The Stand, and also:

Hanna Jameson's terrific The Last, which is basically The Night Manager meets And Then There Were None meets The Day of The Triffids.

What has had an impact on my reading this year isn't the pandemic, but the murder of George Floyd and the justice-seeking activism that followed (plus the backlash, cherry-picking, trolling, gaslighting, bad-faith claims of innocence and the whole disgraceful mess (I've had it with both-sides-ism. Can you tell?)). Partly to be armed with clear arguments to shovel away muck online, partly to make sure I understood what I thought I did and to learn more, and partly to support the authors and some black-owned bookshops, I've ended up reading this lot:

Well, actually, I had read White Fragility already, last Christmas. 

Austin Channing Brown, Robin D'Angelo, Ibram X Kendi, and Layla Saad have all got urgent things to say to white people (to this one anyway) and I'm glad to have read them. But to finish with an actual recommendation: I still haven't read book on racism in America and beyond that's as powerful and inarguable as Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy. It sets out the facts and explains the consequences with clarity, boundless courage, admirable toughness, and deep compassion and love for the victims of injustice. 


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

NOT one size fits Cathy Ace

Reading:  Do you recommend books to your fans? Do you recommend books like yours, or books you enjoy? Have you noticed your book tastes changing during quarantine?

My answer to the first two parts of this week’s question is: If I’m asked, yes, but I’ll usually enquire about who else they enjoy reading before making any recommendations at all. You see, I used to enjoy reading books like the ones I write (surprise!) but my tastes nowadays (the past several years, not just since lockdown) are pretty dark in general, so I might revert to “the classics” to help out someone looking for a traditional read (like my Cait Morgan books), a cozier read (like my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries) or a tale of psychological suspense (like The Wrong Boy). That being said, I know I have recommended books by every fellow blogger here at 7 Criminal Minds…and I’m not saying that to suck up to them, but because it’s true, and I’m so proud to be one of our number 😊

I’ll also ask someone requesting book recommendations about what they enjoy watching on TV; many people love the on-screen representations of Rumpole, Morse, Vera, Dalziel & Pascoe, Frost, Agatha Raisin, Jack Irish, Jack Taylor, Dr. Tony Hill, Adam Dalgleish etc. but have never read the original books upon which the characters and stories are based, so I encourage them to consider that path…and maybe thereby find a “new” author to read. I’m also happy to talk about what I’m reading at the time, though I will allow them the “out” of that not necessarily being their cup of tea.

Have recently read/reread (almost) EVERY book by each of these authors!

Just because I’m in quarantine it doesn’t mean my tastes have changed, it’s just that they might not be what some folks think they would be: I revel in dark, twisted, and gritty books; profanity laden is fine by me, too. I also like to laugh out loud, but the humor needs to be as dark, sneaky and unforgiving as a ninja’s heart. I tend to not read many historical novels; old and contemporary-in-its-day, yes, but not historical. Never have, so that’s not changed. These days I’m reading nothing but crime fiction (and dipping into reference books, as needed, for research purposes), but I’ve noticed (thanks to writing this!) that, since June, everything I’ve read has been written by someone who is Welsh, Irish, Scottish or English…nothing by an American or a Canadian at all…and they’ve all been set in the UK. I have no idea why, though I suspect it’s because by the end of this year I’ll have missed three trips to see my mother and sister in Wales, and friends in England, (with no idea of when I’ll get there again) so I’m probably pining for Britain/Britspeak. Maybe that’s it.

Have recently read/reread EVERY book by each of these authors - and have The Chain up next

What has changed during quarantine is the way I read, rather than what I read – I am binge reading many/all the books in a series, or many/most/all books by one author…possibly because I know I have the luxury of time to be able to do that. I tend to only read between writing books (I hardly read at all when I’m writing) and I’m between books right now, which is nice (plotting and researching the next one though 😊).

That said, my TBR pile is lurking in the corner and I’ve either got to dust it or read my way through it, soon…and I hate dusting 😉

NOTE: you might not have heard that Bloody Scotland will be a virtual festival this year - and it's FREE! If my mentions of Val McDermid, Adrian McKinty and Stuart MacBride have whetted your appetite, you might want to at least check out the schedule, and maybe even register to "attend". 

Two of our 7 Criminal Minds, Catriona McPherson and Abir Mukherjee, are speakers - so that's a fantastic incentive to sign up, right there!  

Here's a link to take you to the appropriate place: 


Blatant Self Promotion? Sure, I'm game. 

Please, please, please consider reading my books. Please? Thanks!

CLICK HERE to get right through to my website, where you can find out more about me and my work 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Recommending to Fans

Reading:  Do you recommend books to your fans? Do you recommend books like yours, or books you enjoy? Have you noticed your book tastes changing during quarantine?

From Frank

Do you recommend books to your fans? Absolutely! Sometimes it is the result of a reader asking about other books like mine, but most of the time it is something I do without prompting. This happens most frequently in social media.

I'm not great at SM. There are some masters out there that I really admire, who initiate things with great observations. JJ Hensley is one. Jim Thomsen is another. Asa Maria Bradley is a rock star in my opinion, finding that perfect balance between self-promotion, life sharing, and promoting others in an interesting and entertaining way.

Me, I mostly counterpunch. That's a fancy way to say I'm not half bad at answering those compelling questions others put out or commenting on their brilliant post. But most of my own posts in social media are centered around writing news about myself. I have always seen the medium as a way to keep up with friends on a personal level and to make readers aware of my work on a professional one. This is most certainly a weak point in my public persona, and if we were to rate all of the 7 Criminal Minds bloggers on this skill, I'd likely come in last.

But I do use my social media space to recommend other books, too.

Do you recommend books like yours, or books you enjoy? Whether or not it is a book like mine or one I like is usually context-specific, and tailored to the intended recipient. It is a joy to be able to trumpet a friend's book or a classic that I love.

Have you noticed your book tastes changing during quarantine? Not a bit.

To be honest, "quarantine" hasn't been a huge lifestyle change for me. I am retired from law enforcement and writing full time. My days before Covid-19 were spent at home at the keyboard. That hasn't changed. Of course, I've dealt with the same limitations everyone else has - going out to restaurants or movies, traveling to see family, that sort of thing - but my day-to-day hasn't really changed much. My wife is a teacher, so she's home during the summer, and that's how it has felt since March. That's really the only substantial day-to-day difference - I used to have the house to myself all day and now I don't.

Can't complain, to be honest. As housemates go, Kristi is A-Okay.

The quarantine period has actually been a rather prolific one for me, as the below self-promotion will attest...

So... how about that blatant self-promotion?

Two to talk about! 

First up, my sixth River City novel, Place of Wrath of Tears, is out now. 

What's this one about? Well, it takes place in 2001 and...

It is the nightmare of every community – a school shooting.

When a disturbed teenager masterminds this terrible event, everyone in River City is plunged into the darkness that surrounds it. The students and teachers try to survive, and the men and women of RCPD try to save them. But when things go horribly wrong, everyone seems to be looking elsewhere for someone to blame.

Officer Katie MacLeod is among many who discover that the nightmare doesn’t end when the shooting stops.

Second, we're less than a month away from the third book in the Charlie-316 arc, Badge Heavy (out 9/14). I write this series, published by Down and Out Books with Colin Conway, and we are racing toward the finale in Code Four (November 2020).

Whereas the previous entry, Never the Crime, focused on some higher level city politics, Badge Heavy drops down to focus largely on the squad level. It follows the Anti-Crime Team as it runs and guns, trying to crush crime in Spokane. However, everyone on the team and behind the scenes has an agenda, and that leads to an explosive ending...

Badge Heavy is available for pre-order now.

Monday, August 24, 2020

My personal library these days

Q: Do you recommend books to your fans? Do you recommend books like yours, or books you enjoy? Have you noticed your book tastes changing during quarantine?

-from Susan

My readers rarely ask me for recommendations unless I’m teaching, which I can’t do this year, alas, because we’re sheltering in place. But to friends, I am much more likely to recommend books outside of the crime fiction genre – new and especially exciting fiction, socially relevant non-fiction, fiction by international authors, history books that have opened my eyes to evaluate both that part of history I have lived through or periods that were covered less than well in previous times. Here are a few I can offer today:

I can honestly say that I have recommended books by all of my current and past Criminal Minds blog peers at times, though, because I know the integrity, talent, and experienced perspectives they bring to their writing, which makes it so good. Canada, Texas, upstate New York, Scotland, Chicago, India, L.A….so much that’s fresh, distinctive, and atmospheric. 

My tastes may have changed a bit, less because of the pandemic than because #BlackLivesMatter and I have a lot to learn. Also, because this is a time to go back and relish the voices that first – long before the hashtag – waked me to the power and glory of the American Black experience and the tortured history of being Black in America. 

At least there’s time to read (and cook) these days. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

The New (Ab)normal


From Abir

Who, or what, is keeping you relatively sane these days? Are you able to stay motivated? How?

So 2020’s not exactly turning out as expected. 


And it all started off so promisingly. You may remember one of my new year’s resolutions was to lose weight and get fit. I’d developed what we in the trade call ‘crime writer’s backside’ which is a real medical condition stemming from too much sitting down and typing while eating a ridiculous number of biscuits. 

This was affecting my self-esteem, as well as the stitching on the seat of my pants, and so, after watching an advert on a TVs hopping channel, I bought myself a FITT Cube – basically a whole home gym which is reduced to the size of a small box. 

2020 was going to be the year that I gave up being a lazy sod and got my act together. It started well too. Jan and Feb were  good months. I  got into a routine: 


6.00am – Get up

6.15am – Make coffee for wife and me. (She prepares pretty much every other drink or meal during the day, but I like to make this first one. It keeps me in credit, so to speak.)

6.20am – Take coffee upstairs to wife – leave it on her bedside table and let it go cold, cos she won’t get up before 7am. 

6.23am – Drink my own coffee and bask in the glow of my moral superiority at being able to wake up before my wife.

6.30am – Start exercise routine on the FITT cube with gusto.

6.33am – Experience a feeling not dissimilar to the onset of a heart attack. Decide to tone it down a notch.

6.55am – Finish exercise routine and stagger upstairs for a shower.

7.15am – Warm up wife’s coffee in microwave.

7.18am – Get the kids out of bed and ready for school.

8.20am – Kiss wife goodbye as she goes off to work. Her coffee remains undrunk on the bedside table. It has an odd film over the top of it.

8.40am – Mad panic, looking for kids’ shoes, hats, assorted missing text books, homework etc.

8.45am – Give up search and just hustle the kids out of the house barefoot and semi-clad and off to school.

8.55am – Deposit kids at school. Breathe sigh of relief.

9.00am – Head to supermarket to pick up healthy lunch (sushi, cashew nuts (for when I’m peckish) and Kefir (yoghurt drink which is supposedly good for you but tastes like camel sweat.)

9.20am – Home and a cup of green tea. 

9.30am – Settle down to writing.

12 noon – Lunch (see above)

1.00pm – Writing session 2

3.30pm – Cashew nuts (see above)

4.00pm – Kids come home. All hell breaks loose. I hide in my room dealing with e mails  while the nanny looks after them.

6.00pm – Wife comes home and I rush down the stairs to greet her like a lonely puppy.

Working Day is now over.


It was going well too. I was writing two books – the first draft of book 5 in the Sam Wyndham series, and a completely new idea for a stand-alone thriller, and I was making decent progress on both. More importantly, I was shifting the pounds. My crime writer’s backside was returning to the size and shape of a normal person’s rear and, with a bit of breathing in, I even managed to reach the third notch on my belt – a feat last achieved in mid 2017. Things were looking good for old Mukherjee.


Then came March and lockdown and everything went out of the window. 


I barely wrote a word the whole month. I blame the kids, the general worry around COVID, and the fact that my wife decided that if I so much as looked out of the window I’d probably catch the disease.


My timetable for completing the new Wyndham book suffered. April arrived and I still had about thirty thousand words to write. I had hoped to finish it by the end of the month, but that wasn’t going to happen. I worried about how I was going to break the news to my editor. Fortunately, she called me first to say they were pushing back all my launch dates by a few months, and suddenly I had a reprieve.


That helped me get back on the wagon. I worked out a new routine which involved starting to write earlier in the morning and finishing at lunch time, helping with the kids' homeschooling in the afternoon, and then having another writing session late in the evening. With this new routine in place, I found April and May to be amongst the most productive writing months I’ve ever had. By mid-June, I’d finished the first draft of the Wyndham book and the first fifteen thousand words of the stand alone thriller. I sent the former to my editor and the latter to my agent.


The rest of the month passed in a sun-lit haze with very little writing but a lot of Zoom calls and online crime festivals.


July was pretty similar. I spent the first week waiting for feedback on both projects. My agent came back to say he was happy with the beginning of the thriller and would discuss it with a few people. I took this as a sign to do very little for the rest of the month. 


August – my editor came back with her comments on the Wyndham book. There’s work to be done, but I figure I can manage it by mid Sept. I decide to take the final two weeks in August off. As there’s no point in an overseas holiday this year, we have been spending this week doing day trips to places around the South of England. Next week will be more of the same. Then, at the start of September, the kids will go back to school. My wife and I will rejoice and I will get back to writing and using the FITT cube cos the backside is growing again. A few weeks to do the edits on the Wyndham book and then it’s full steam ahead with the stand alone thriller.


All things considered, 2020 has been relatively okay so far. I’m acutely aware of how lucky both I and my wife have been to keep our jobs in such a difficult time. We’ve spent more time together as a family and it’s been generally wonderful. My writing has been a bit stop-start, but I’ve met my obligations and hopefully laid the groundwork for the next few books.


If there’s one thing I’ve missed, it’s been seeing friends and family and the festivals and events that are the highlight of my writing year. Hopefully we’ll all be through this soon, and thing will be back to normal next year, by which time I’ll have used the FITT cube so much that you won’t even recognise me.


Have a good weekend, and stay safe.




Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Staying Sane and Productive until the Sun Is over the Yardarm by James W. Ziskin

 Who, or what, is keeping you relatively sane these days? Are you able to stay motivated? How?

From Jim

I’ve managed to stay motivated and productive during the five months I’ve been in stir. I wrote a short story and a 115,000-word novel. Not bad. You can read about that in my recent posts. But how did I do it? Not sure. Maybe you can help me figure it out by studying my activities. I’ve listed them below in reverse order of frequency/quantity:

6. Walking. It’s been quite hot in the Boston area over the past few weeks. Nevertheless, I try to get out for a walk from time to time. There are some lakes and parks where we walk in the evening. 

5. Reading. I’ve been using the Read Aloud function in Word to listen to friends’ manuscripts while I’m cooking. Two birds...

4. Watching Shetland. After watching all the seasons, I think I can tell where the producers left the Ann Cleeves books behind and began writing new adventures for Jimmy, Tosh, and the gang. A very different feel to the stories. 

3. Cooking. Trying new things. Invariably I over- or under-salt what I’m making, but some things turn out okay. Highlights from last week’s menu included grilled cauliflower with cumin and turmeric, white bean and asparagus salad, and penne with beef ragù al forno. (Loosely translated, that’s ground beef and tomato sauce casserole.)

 Then there was garlic yogurt baked chicken, sautéed green beans with crispy chickpeas, rosemary pork chops, and sautéed cabbage with garlic and lemon.

2. Revising my work in progress. I’ve reached the fifth revision of A Monsoon Season (tentative title). I won’t show it to anyone until I’ve edited it at least five times. There’s so much that’s changed in the book, mostly error corrections and polishing, but fact-checking and character improvements, too. This past week, I’ve been doing lots of research on the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and Hindi film music of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. How’s that for an unlikely pairing? Most of the research is for me, so I can feel more comfortable with my characters and story. It won’t necessarily show up in the book, but I need to know it because I’m the “creator.” Fun fact: I say “Hindi film” music, because the term “Bollywood” wasn’t coined until the 1980s, and my book takes place in ’75. Catriona McPherson, if you’re reading this, #Google Ngram Viewer. 

Soon I’ll be sending A Monsoon Season to beta readers for their feedback. Then I’ll do four more revisions before I can even think of “abandoning” the book to my agent to shop around.

Here’s my ever-evolving list of revisions and the goals I’ve assigned to each. Of course I often stray from this plan, but it’s a helpful guide.

Jim’s Revision Schedule
  • Revision 1: General. Read through, fix grammar, missing words, plot changes, and holes.
  • Revision 2: Similar to Revision 1 with attention to plot holes, obvious errors, and trimming fat
  • Revision 3: Audio review (with Word’s Read Aloud function) to catch missing words, double words, echo words, typos, etc. This step is particularly effective for finding missing words. While our eyes might glide right over them without noticing, Word reads everything that’s there...and what is NOT there, too.
  • Revision 4: Audio review (in Word). Same as above, but still effective for finding plot holes and more missing/double words.
  • Revision 5: Fact check, anachronism check, cull adverbs, polish style, search for “appear,“ “look,“ “seem,“ “just,” and “*-ly.” Decide their fate. Do they stay or go?
  • Revision 6: Review editor/agent/beta reader feedback. Incorporate where necessary.
  • Revision 7: Historical details confirmation, polish, trim, flesh out missing details of character, family, etc.
  • Revision 8: Read through. Polish And trim where needed.
  • Revision 9: Audio review in Word. This step has replaced my old “robot read,” where I read every word, syllable by syllable, to find missing words. Word does it better.

1. Drinking. 

    A. Soda water. My favorite non-alcoholic drink.

    B. Wine (with meals). Mostly Chianti. 

    C. Dewar’s White Label, in case you ever get asked a trivia question about me. 

Signing off now. The sun is over the yardarm.

Living in a bubble

Who, or what, is keeping you relatively sane these days? Are you able to stay motivated? How?

by Dietrich

I live in uninformed bliss, in a bubble you might say. I don’t read or watch the news. Let’s face it, there’s never much that’s uplifting in those headlines, and there’s just not much that I need to know. Besides, there’s always somebody around that’s willing to bring me up to speed on all the doom and gloom. “Hey, did you hear about …”

I stay motivated by keeping my head down and writing more than ever these days. When I do come up for air, I make it fresh air, and it’s amazing how good I feel after going for a long walk through the woods or along the water’s edge.

I read a lot and I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately; great words are such a motivation for a writer. And it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, as long as I think it’s good. And I love taking in art that feels uplifting. I could spend a week at the McMichael Gallery north of Toronto and just stare at those amazing works by The Group of Seven. And music puts a bounce in my step, like the new albums by Neil Young and Billy Gibbons – stuff that makes the toes start tapping – ever see a writer dance? God, what a sight – cover the mirrors.

I try not to take anything too seriously. I accept that sometimes stuff happens. And I try to roll with it, and not in it. Laughing is a good way to keep sane, and I like to catch shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I grew up laughing along with National Lampoon, Mad Magazine, Monty Python, the Goons, and French and Saunders. And I always love catching some good stand-up. Lately it’s been Brits like Josh Widdicombe, Sarah Millican, Greg Davies, Joe Lycett, Gina Yashere, Alan Carr, James Acaster – God, what do they put in their water over there?

Oh, and I’m pretty thrilled about the new book too, Cradle of the Deep, coming out this fall, November 3rd to be exact. You can check it out here. And the audiobook for it is being recorded this week, and I was given a chance to listen to the auditions, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what Vancouver actor Keith McKecknie does with the telling; he’s got the perfect voice for the story, and he just nails the rhythm of the words. 

With this COVID thing, it doesn’t look like I’ll be traveling down the coast to California this fall, and it looks like most of the promotion for the new book will likely end up on line. But, that’s okay, it’ll give me more time to start working on the next one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Staying (Relatively) Sane

 Terry here writing about :


Life:  Who, or what, is keeping you relatively sane these days? Are you able to stay motivated? How?


The operative word is “relatively.” I usually am in pretty good form, but there are “those days.” I have a long list of what gets me through the best and worst of days: Books (both reading and writing). Friends and relatives ( on the phone, in FaceTime, in Zoom or other on-line meetings, on social media, in my backyard, and in the case of my husband-friend, in my house). My two funny, eccentric terriers, Lucy and Sparky. Jigsaw puzzles. 

Jigsaw puzzle that makes me want to be snorkeling

Crossword puzzles. Sudoku. Ken-ken. Exercise—hikes, bikes, and elliptical trainer). Driving down to the bay and having a walk there. Walking with a friend. Cleaning places in my house that haven’t been cleaned in years. Tending to my garden (which consists of two tomato plants, a zucchini and some herbs.)  


These don’t take the place of travel, though, which I find stimulating. I miss it. Looking at photos or videos doesn’t make a great substitute. Which is why since my husband and I decided to rent a beach house in Malibu for a few weeks, starting mid-September. I have been giddy with excitement.


As for staying motived, I’ve always been highly-motivated. I write pretty much every day and have more projects in mind than I ever imagine finishing. When lockdown started, I was determined to keep my focus and remain productive. Ha! Apparently my version of remaining production was not the same as my brain’s idea: I wrote every day and finished my ninth Samuel Craddock novel. The first half was written pre-lockdown, and the second post- lockdown. I started reading through it to begin edits, and was shocked. I found that the second half—written after  lockdown—sounded like it was written by a crazy person. The book meandered off in odd directions, I had redundant scenes, I repeated whole paragraphs in different places, I left out crucial and obvious clues and suspects. It was a mess.


I got to work and revised it, and although I still wasn’t happy with it I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around what needed to be done, so I turned it over to my writers’ group. They all had the same response—this is a terrible book. Okay, they didn’t put it exactly that way, but I got the message. And it motivated me. Big time. I don’t recommend writing a terrible book and having it critiqued as being the best motivator, but in this case it’s exactly what I needed. I tore the guts out of the middle of the book, chopped, then chopped some more and by some miracle started to get back in the groove. I’m cautiously optimistic that it now reads more like a real Craddock novel instead of something written by a lunatic.


Above, I said that reading is keeping me sane, and I’m so grateful that so many of the authors I admire are writing terrific books. Timothy Hallinan’s Street Music, is a poignant close-out of his top-notch Poke Rafferty series. I hardly need to mention S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, because the buzz has been non-stop, for good reason. Not only is it a compelling read, but Cosby’s prose is luscious. I read all the 2020 Edgar nominated books in Best Novel, Best Debut, and Best Paperback categories and was blown away by this, year’s crop. I highly recommend them. And then I’ve had the pleasure of reading some advance reader copies to provide blurbs and am so thrilled with some of them. In particular, The Last Tea Bowl Thief, by Jonelle Patrick, is amazing. I had reservations before I started it because the name of it seemed odd, and it was a subject I wasn’t particularly interested in—Japanese art, culture and history. It goes to show that a skilled author can make a subject come alive. And by the end, the name of the book seems perfect. I can’t wait for it to come out in October.


I hope everyone else is managing their sanity reasonably well. I’ll be glad to hear what people have to say about it.