Friday, October 30, 2020

Big Secret


Tell us about your next book. Your WIP or the one after that.

Abir Mukherjee


Morning. Abir here, which means it must be Friday. The weekend is only hours away!


Just enough time to tell you what I’ve been working on.


So, the last twelve months have been an exciting time chez Mukherjee. It all started with my agent swanning off to New York. Of course I just rolled my eyes and thought, ‘there goes Sam, off on another of his jaunts across the pond'. To be fair, my agent is very glamorous - he tells me so every time I see him. Anyway, this time he called me, trans-atlantically, and this was the word for word conversation approximately:


Me: Hello? 

Agent: Abir! Baby! 

Me: Who is this? 

Agent: It’s me, Sam.

Me: Sam who?

Agent: Sam! Your agent.

Me: You told me never to call you again.

Agent: Yeah, but I’m calling you.

Me: I thought it was reciprocal.

Agent: No. Why would you think that?

Me: Well, after that incident at your Christmas party, with the pop-up edition of the kama sutra and the cardboard cut out of Kim Kardashian, I rather thought…actually never mind. What do you want?

Agent: Well, I was out cruising around Manhattan, doing top, hot-shot international agenting stuff, and I got talking to this American chap in his office, well it was more of a bar, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, long story short, he's an editor at a big publishing house and he said he likes your work.

Me: He said that?

Agent: Well he said it was, salvageable.

Me: Salvageable?

Agent: It's the next best thing to actual admiration. Anyway, he said, if you ever decide to write something more modern, he’d be keen to buy you a cawffeee.

Me: Don’t do the accent, Sam.

Agent: Sorry.

Me: More modern eh? Like you mean the 1940s?

Agent: Moderner.

Me: 1960s, flower power, Burn the Bomb, Ban the bra - that sort of thing?

Agent: Present day.

Me: 2016?

Agent: It’s 2020.

Me: Not in my house. I don’t count the Trump years. You told him that I don’t do modern?

Agent: Sort of.

Me: Sort of?

Agent: I told him you were yesterday’s news. But hey, the offer stands. Write something modern and he’d love to talk, maybe buy you a bagel.

Me: Stop with the New Yorkisms, Sam.

Agent: Okay caio. Taxi!!...


So basically I decided to write something modern, something up to date, something really 2016. Anyway, I wrote a 2 page summary, sent it to Sam, who used it to mop up some tea he’d spilt. It was illegible after that, so he sent it to the guy in the US, who, fortunately liked the stains and  asked for a partial.


I wrote 13,000 words, and then wrote a few more because as we all know, 13,000 is unlucky. I sent them to Sam, who sent them to the American, who said. ‘I like this. 2016 was a good time. I’d like to see more.'


So now I’m writing a modern day novel, set in the UK and the US, and I’m having tremendous difficulty finding all the right words, mainly because you north Americans have mangled the English language. I mean the issues around jam and jelly and jello alone have caused me to almost have a stroke. Anyway, I’m persevering. That book should be out in 2018 (or 2022 if you include the Trump years.) In the meantime, I’ve got another Wyndham and Banerjee book out next year, called The Shadows of Men. It is brilliant. You should buy it, if not for the words, then at least because my kids are growing up fast and they need new shoes.


Cheers and thank you in advance.

Have a great weekend and stay safe.





Thursday, October 29, 2020

A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson

Jim, here. Today, we welcome a guest, Alice Henderson, author of a A SOLITUDE OF WOLVERINES. I read an advance copy of this book a couple of months ago and was transported. Simply thrilling from start to finish. You’re going to hear a lot from Alice in the years to come. She writes about fascinating creatures and places. I guarantee you’ll love A SOLITUDE OF WOLVERINES. Here’s what I wrote about this novel.

"Passionately detailed and exquisitely researched, Alice Henderson's A Solitude of Wolverines is a breathless wild ride of a thriller. Animal biologist Dr. Alex Carter is the ingenious, resourceful heroine. She could build an A-bomb out of firecrackers if you gave her half a chance. Set against the forbidding beauty of Montana's backwoods and mountains, A Solitude of Wolverines sizzles from start to finish with shady characters, dangerous wildlife, and the most enterprising heroine I've met in a long time. Superb." 

Welcome, Alice.

​Many thanks to James Ziskin for inviting me to post a guest blog today on 7 Criminal Minds!

​A Solitude of Wolverines, the first novel in my new thriller series is now out, and the virtual book launch is being held tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific Time through Copperfield's Books.

I find myself in a mixed state of exhilarated, hopeful, and a bit of dreamy disbelief. The novel is the meeting of my two passions in life -- wildlife and writing, and it's long been in the works. I've been a professional writer and a wildlife researcher for years, but it's only recently that I've brought the two worlds together.

​For as long as I can remember, I've felt passionately about helping wildlife. When I was a kid, I did chores and sold crafts to earn money to send to non-profit organizations dedicated to wildlife. I mucked out raccoon cages at the local wildlife rescue center. As I grew older, I studied zoology, biogeography, ecology, and spent more and more time in the field on research projects. Now I do a lot of work with bioacoustics -- placing recorders out in the field to record audible sounds such as wolves, birds, and amphibians, as well as species that communicate ultrasonically like bats. By examining these recordings, I can determine which species are using a piece of land.

​And all the while I've been writing.

​While out in the wilds of Montana a couple summers ago, I was setting up recording equipment in the hopes of capturing some wolf howls on a large protected parcel of land. I realized the remote, rugged landscape would make an excellent setting for a thriller. And I'd long wanted to bring my love and wonder of wildlife to my books. Suddenly the character of Alex Carter came into my mind -- a resourceful, dedicated wildlife biologist who could think and fight her way out of dangerous situations. I saw an opportunity for a series, with each book featuring a different species. Possible titles came into my mind -- titles that used the group name and the animal name. A Parliament of Owls. A Murder of Crows. A Pod of Whales. So many choices! But what species did I want to cover first? So many are in need of attention.
That afternoon in Montana, I'd also set out remote cameras in the hopes of photographing the elusive wolverine. The largest member of the weasel family, these rare creatures, though weighing an average of only 35 pounds, have been known to fight off grizzly bears from kills and take down moose. They roam tirelessly over vast territories, climbing near vertical mountains as if they are flat. But they are in trouble. Climate change, overtrapping, and government-run "predator control" programs have reduced their population to less than 300 in the contiguous U.S., and they have no federal protections at all.
I knew I had to feature wolverines in my first book, and started on it immediately. I set out to discover what their group name was for my title. But wolverines are incredibly solitary, and I soon learned that they have no group name. So I had to create one. Because of their lonesome nature, I decided upon A Solitude of Wolverines, and the book was born.

​Thrillers are my favorite thing to read, and I knew it had to be a thriller. I sought to not only entertain readers with suspenseful scenes and action, but to also inform them about the plight of wolverines. The back of the book lists actions people can take to help, and even citizen science opportunities to go out in the field and track these incredible creatures.

​My hope is that with A Solitude of Wolverines, I've created a special world where suspense and wildlife conservation meet, and where people might be inspired to help.

​Please come by the virtual launch party tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific Time! It's being held through Copperfield's Books, and I'll be in conversation with Mary Ellen Hannibal, author of Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Coming down the pike …

Tell us about your next book. Your WIP or the one after that.

by Dietrich

Perfect time to be asked this question — thanks, Jim. My next one’s called Cradle of the Deep, and it’s set to be released on November 3rd.

Here’s the pitch:

Getting into bed with the wrong guy can get you killed.

Wanting to free herself from her boyfriend, aging gangster “Maddog” Palmieri, Bobbi Ricci concocts a misguided plan with Denny Barrenko, Maddog’s ex-driver, a guy who’s bent on getting even with the gangster for the humiliating way in which he was sacked. 

Helping themselves to the gangster’s secret money stash, along with his Cadillac, Bobbi and Denny slip out of town, expecting to lay low for a while before enjoying the spoils.

Realizing he’s been betrayed, an enraged Maddog calls in stone-cold killer Lee Trane. As Trane picks up their trail, plans quickly change for Bobbi and Denny, who now find themselves on a wild chase of misadventure through northern British Columbia and into Alaska. 

Time is running out for them once they find out that Trane’s been sent to do away with them, or worse, bring them back — either way, Maddog will make them pay.

The novel was born from a short story I wrote a few years earlier about two would-be robbers Bobbi Ricci and Denny Barrenko who separately try to rip off the aging mobster they work for, each planning it for the same night. The story wanted to expand, so I came up with a following scene, and I just let the characters take it from there. It was fun letting them loose, bumbling their way north, deciding how to split the money before they realize they were being hunted.

The next one is done too, and it’s something of a departure, based on real-life bank-robbing newlyweds who topped the FBIs most-wanted list back in the ‘30s. He’s out for kicks and she longs to feel wanted. After pulling a bank robbery to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, they soar to the top J. Edgar’s list, and the ensuing fireworks set them on the run, and it all turns out to be far more kicks and feelings of being wanted that either could have ever anticipated.

I also finished a story set in present-day Vancouver that centers on a teen runaway who ends up in the back seat of what turns out to be the getaway car of a pair of casino robbers. It’s a coming-of-age story with a lot of dysfunctional adults. Centering on greed, desperation and vulnerability, it brushes against the generosity and courage of the innocents and the invisibles of our society. 

Both novels have been signed with ECW Press, and although it’s too soon for release dates, they’ll likely be out subsequently in ’21 and ‘22. 

Currently, I’ve started playing with the first draft of one that’s set during the Vietnam War era, around the time of the Tet offensive. A young man stands before a Seattle judge after being found guilty of car theft for the second time, and he’s given the option of serving time or serving his uncle. And what he decides turns out to be one hell of a life choice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Welcome to Jonelle Patrick

It is with great pleasure that I introduce Jonelle Patrick as my guest today. Jonelle is the author of five novels set in Japan. She also writes the Japanagram monthly newsletter, blogs at Only In Japan ( and posts more than anyone could possibly want to know at The Last Tea Bowl Thief came out October 20, 2020.
I read The Last Tea Bowl Thief and was completed bowled over (pun intended), so I decided for the first time to have a guest in my regular place on Seven Criminal Minds. So, take it away, Jonelle: 

 Thank you for inviting me, Terry. I’m so thrilled to meet readers who love the books written by you and your fellow Criminal Minds—they obviously know a well-written page-turner when they see one! 

 So, most people take one look at me and ask, how the heckin’ heck did a steak ‘n potatoes American whose parents grew up in North Dakota end up writing a book about shifty haiku poets and Japanese tea bowls? I wish I could say that it’s because I trained for years to become a black belt in tea ceremony. The embarrassing truth is that I’m actually super gifted at…shopping. When we first moved to Tokyo in 2003, we thought we’d only be there a year, so we rented everything—right down to the forks and chopsticks—and arrived with all our belongings in five boxes. Two years later, we left with seventy-four. That’s right. Seventy. Four. Because I fell in love with Japanese ceramics, in all shapes and sizes. 

I love Japanese dishes because they make food look really delicious, something I’d never thought about before. And the more I learned, the more I came to love them because Japanese potters are respected as artists—not just craftsmen—and the Japanese believe that making objects that are useful as well as beautiful is actually a higher art than creating stuff that’s only good for looking at. Tea ceremony bowls are a primo example of that—you can’t really judge a tea bowl’s worth until you drink from it. The experience is as much a part of its beauty as what it looks like. 

 Luckily for me, pottery is among the more affordable kinds of art, so as I traveled around the country, I bought some wherever I went. Unluckily for my husband (who somehow imagined all those boxes in the hall closet were empty), I traveled a lot. At first, I planned to buy just one teensy sake cup from each spot. Who knew there were so many great places to visit in one small country? And that there would be so many different kinds, each more beautiful than the last? By the end of two years…well, this is the tray I offer my dinner guests to pick their sake cups from:
Now that you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg (and sensed the scope of the mission creep), I bet you’re scratching your head because you’ve noticed something else: they don’t match. Japanese ceramics can be as different from each other as that mottled brown one is from the green one with the scratchy design. What kind of insane person would buy so many dishes that don’t even go together? But here’s the surprise: even though they come from totally different parts of the country and look nothing alike, they work together in ways that are far more interesting—and beautiful—than dishes that match. 

 And that’s something I think makes good mysteries too. The two women in The Last Tea Bowl Thief are as different as McDonald’s and sushi. One is American, with a stalled PhD dissertation, a less-than-affectionate pet goldfish, and eight years’ experience knowing that not one pair of pants in all of Japan will fit her. The other is a ninth-grade dropout, whose family has sold teacups and ramen bowls to Tokyo restaurants for generations, but whose shop will go under unless she manages to unload some of the things her grandmother hid upstairs and called their “insurance.” 

Not only do Robin and Nori have nothing in common, they’re racing against each other to find a tea bowl made by an artist whose work is so rare that possessing it will set them up for life. The only problem is, neither can get her hands on it without the other. And therein lies the tale. 

This isn’t just the story of a tea bowl that changes peoples’ lives as it’s passed from one fortune-seeker to the next for three centuries, it’s the story of two women from opposite sides of the globe who will both fail unless they find a way to work together. But if there’s one thing I’ve discovered while living in Japan, it’s that despite the fact we speak different languages, eat different food, and they bow instead of shaking hands, people are people, all over the world. We want the same things, dream the same dreams, and commit the same crimes (although we may commit them for different reasons, which is part of what makes international mysteries so intriguing). 

But sometimes our differences don’t push us apart—sometimes they’re like Japanese dishes that don’t seem like they’d go together at all, but in the right combination, they come together for a sublime experience that’s both surprising and satisfying. I hope that’s the kind of mystery you like to read too. If it is, come see me. I’ll let you choose your cup, then we’ve got a lot to talk about!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Writing On

 Tell us about your next book. Your work in progress or the one after that.

Welcome, everyone. It's Brenda Chapman blogging today.

I've spent the last seven years writing my way through two series: the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedurals and the Anna Sweet mystery novellas for adult literacy. I'd finish a Stonechild and then spend three months on an Anna Sweet -- like a palate cleanser, if you will. Oddly enough, the last in both series were published in 2020, leaving me with a sense of freedom but also worry. What should I do next, and will it be any good?

The Anna Sweet novellas

I'd read a few thriller/domestic suspense that I enjoyed and I thought I'd try my hand at writing one in 2019 after submitting my last manuscripts. I've always liked a new writing challenge. Some years back, I started my writing journey with short stories, went on to write a middle grade mystery series, then an older teen coming-of-age standalone, an adult standalone mystery and then the two series, so variety has been my comfort zone. Part of my reason for writing is to entertain myself, and so far, I've managed to keep my own interest.

Anyhow, I spent the bulk of last year writing a thriller that I titled After You Left Me, which I had a great deal of fun writing. I've since come to realize that it might not have the pulsing, one-track focus of a thriller where everything funnels down the tube of rising danger and increasing stakes. Mine is more of a psychological suspense/mystery if I'm honest. I took my time with the editing and had a few readers, including a New York agent who gave me a lot of guidance and who reread the revised draft. He was the one who pointed out that the plot moved too, uh, leisurely to be a thriller.

This year, I've been writing another 'non-thriller' thriller that I think could become a series. I'm about two-thirds of the way through the first draft and have stopped writing to make chapter notes and to collect my thoughts. As with the last manuscript, I set this book in Ottawa and wrote the story in the first person, a choice I'm not convinced about, but one that I'm leaning into for now. I like creating complex, tortured protagonists who don't always follow the rules, and this latest character Rosie is intriguing and one whom I'm enjoying delving into, much like Kala Stonechild is in the last series. In any event, I'm still managing to keep myself amused twenty-four books on :-) 

Store signing for the Stonechild and Rouleau series



Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, October 23, 2020

Sometimes Less is More

How do you handle sex in your books? Or, if you don’t, why not?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, there’s sex and there’s sex. No, I don’t write really steamy sex scenes. If people want that they can go to Fifty Shades of Arousal, romance novels or porn, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t sex in my stories.

I’d say I approach it more obliquely. We know the characters have or have had sex, but we don’t get the play by play like from the Howard Cosell scene at the end of Woody Allen’s Bananas (see link). It’s funny as hell and sort of makes fun of the overly purple sex scenes. 

Click here to see YouTube clip

Just as with violence, I don’t want the sex to be gratuitous. And, believe me, when working in Hollywood plenty of sex and violence were added to scripts strictly to have sex and violence where it wasn’t really needed. Also added were other elements that seemed extraneous. But that’s for another post, I suppose.

I like the sexual relationships in my fiction to reflect on the larger relationship between the characters, as well as being a reflection of their character. In the third Duke Rogers novel I’m currently working on (after White Heat and Broken Windows), a character sleeps with Duke essentially as a way to deal with her own issues of insecurity and doubt. The relationship between her and Duke is tentative and very confusing for Duke, and shows his own ambivalence about relationships. So what they do sexually is less important than conveying the idea that both Duke and his love interest are flawed people with fears and insecurities. And sex is intimated at in other stories and novels of mine. It’s just not explicitly described like in a high school sex ed class.

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

Sex scenes can also often stop the forward momentum of a story, especially if they’re not integral to the plot in general. But in particular, it drives me crazy when the characters are on the run, in grave danger, but they have the time and inclination to stop everything and have sex. I think of movies in this regard. We’ve gone beyond the time when filmmakers and screenwriters added sex because there was an opening up of social mores and the end of the Hollywood Production Code. When all that loosened up filmmakers went bonkers adding sex and violence, much of it gratuitous, just because they could.  They were spreading their wings. I like to think we’ve gotten that out of our systems so that when we do have a sex scene it’s more integral to the plot. But seeing some of today’s movies, I’m not so sure about that…

Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice

I like this exchange from In a Lonely Place, one of my favorite movies, between Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, as they stand in the kitchen. She’s in a robe, all bleary-eyed from having just gotten up. He’s doing his best attempt at making breakfast. They’re not in a bedroom. They’re not having sex. Not even kissing. But as Bogart says, in other words, their little vignette is a good love scene:

Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame

Laurel Gray (Grahame): [referring to a scene in Dix's script] I love the love scene  it's very good.

Dixon Steele (Bogart): Well that's because they're not always telling each other how much in love they are. A good love scene should be about something else besides love. For instance, this one. Me fixing grapefruit. You sitting over there, dopey, half-asleep. Anyone looking at us could tell we're in love.

In the old days, movies had a code, so things were left to the viewer’s imagination. When Rhett carried Scarlett up those stairs, we didn’t have to see the culmination, our imaginations filled in the blanks.

The famous anklet in Double Indemnity

During the code days, you couldn’t show graphic sex, but somehow the filmmakers got the point across. Maybe these bits seem quaint today, but they worked. In both Cain adaptations, Double Indemnity and Postman, sex isn’t even imminent in the scenes where Fred MacMurray and John Garfield first spot Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner, but you know it’s there and you know it’s coming sooner or later.  There’s nothing graphic in these scenes, but they’re still steamy as hell. And I would say the beach scene in From Here to Eternity is one of the great sex scenes of all time, yet there’s no actual sex in it. And the one from Ghost World, in particular, I think is played for laughs, making fun of those earlier tropes.

Double Indemnity: We first meet femme fatale, Barbara Stanwyck, wrapped in a towel. A few minutes later she descends the stairs and we see her sexy little anklet. It’s clear she’s seducing Fred McMurray and we don’t need to be hit over the head with it.  

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Here John Garfield sets eyes on Lana Turner for the first time. Again, we really don’t need everything spelled out here. It’s clear what’s going on without having to get all the details.

From Here to Eternity: Possibly the sexiest scene ever filmed and all they do is kiss.

Ghost World: When they cut to the toy “rocking” horse, the implication is pretty obvious and funny at the same time.

So, I don’t think sex has to be particularly graphic to get the point across or to be, well, sexy. In fact, I would argue that too much detail kills a sex scene and is boring. Sometimes less is more.

But if you just need a sex fix, here’s some songs about sex that might do the trick. (I do like these songs, I admit.) Be warned, some graphic content, but these are not obscure songs. My wife says some people don’t get my sense of humor sometimes and I thought these would just add a light, but sexy note, to this piece 😉. And, while I do like these songs, as I say, I’m also adding them here strictly for prurient interest, he said in jest.


So, if people want to read particularly graphic sex scenes, I guess my stuff isn’t for them, at least up till now. If a story calls for it in the future, maybe. But if you want some good mystery-thriller-suspense, then I hope you’ll check out my works.


And now for the usual BSP:

A great review of Coast to Coast: Noir at Just Reviews:

Each story is filled with sadness, tragedy and each character experiences death in a different way. The titles alone are eerie and will give you the chills. A fabulous collection of well written noir short stories told in different settings with  characters that work in meat packing plants, feed companies, markets and not very lucrative jobs causing their downfalls and falling for the need to complete jobs that most would turn down. A superb collection for readers that want something odd, different and dangerous.

-- Fran Lewis, Just Reviews
And a very nice review of The Blues Don't Care at The Irresponsible Reader:

Marks hits the right notes with his prose and characters, creating a mystery that appeals on many levels. I recommend this for mystery readers looking for the kind of thing they haven’t read before.

--H.C. Newton, The Irresponsible Reader

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Every Title I Thought Up For This Post Was Filthy (I'll put them in the comments.)

Q: How do you handle sex in your books? Or, if you don’t, why not?

by Catriona

On Tuesday, Frank talked about a Left Coast Crime panel where winners and honourable mentions from that year's Bad Sex Awards were read out.

Minds, I was on that panel. And the excerpts were an astonishingly effective vaccination against ever writing a sex scene, let me tell you.

One had a bit about a dog with a penguin its mouth climbing to the top of a sand dune. (Oh God how I wish all but one of the panellists had got together beforehand and agreed to nod with recognition and make the reader of that think he was the weirdo. We missed a trick there.)

Another compared a woman's suntan marks with rings round a boarding-house bathtub (which I think is a great image, actually, but these were supposed to be the thoughts of a man in the throes of passion ...)

And they're not the worst. Google Guardian Books Bad Sex Awards if you like a laugh and aren't planning to eat watermelon, sardines or custard (yes, really) in the near future.

So how do I handle it? Well, I take my cue from the name of the award. I think good sex leads to bad writing - whether it's the insert tab A into slot B kind or the choir of angels on titian clouds of ecstasy kind.

But bad sex is much easier to write well. (Isn't that like life? I'm sure I remember reading some brisk agony aunt - one of the ones with that trademark excruciating lack of bashfulness - say that if all's well it's about 10% of a relationship, but when it goes wrong it shoots up to 90%. Claire Raynor maybe? Or Anna Raeburn? Virginia Ironside? Splendid women all, but if you sat next to them on a bus, you'd leave before your stop.)

I also believe bad sex earns its place in a crime novel more honestly. It can reveal character and you can hide clues in the ensuing storm of embarrassment.     

So I have written a couple of sex scenes. In fact, three. Two and a half. One and two halfs. 

In THE DAY SHE DIED, there's an abandoned effort at sex (Can I get points for not using the term "coitus interruptus"? Not now, I can't.) This shows something about the character of the male participant. Or does it . . .? (You've got to say that when you're talking about the inner workings of a plot. It's in the MWA, CWA, and SinC bylaws.) 

Later in the book, there's another more successful - or at least completed - attempt looked back upon minutes later by the protagonist. This gives some insight into her character. Or does it . . .?

The other thing about "bad sex" scenes is that they can be funny. Of, course the Bad Sex Awards show us that attempts at "good sex" scenes can be coffee-down-the-nose funny, but I mean deliberately. The one complete sex scene I've written in thirty-one novels is played for laughs. 

At the start of the first in the Last Ditch Motel series, Lexy's marriage ends when she witnesses her new husband very much reconciled with his ex-wife. I loved writing that scene. Especially the bit where the lovers are cowering under the covers, after being busted, and Bran (the ex-husband) is writhing in shame, and Lexy asks him if he's trying to wriggle out of a condom, and he says no, and she says "Oh great. Now I'll have to go to a clinic to get checked for skankitis too", and Brandeee (the ex-wife) says "Hey!", and Lexy gets to look down her nose and say "Oh really? I've fallen short of gracious behaviour, have I?" and sweep out. Or does she . . .

You can tell how much I love that scene from the way I just brought it all back to my typing fingers without having to look it up, four years later. 

And if you're wondering where the humour is supposed to be, let me just point out that "Brandeee" isn't really spelled with three "e"s; Lexy just pretends it is because she hates her. So that's the level right there.

In the third strand of writing I do, there is no sex at all. I mean none. The Dandy Gilver series makes Mr Rogers look racy. (UK Blue Peter, basically.) One time, Dandy is dying to get her husband out of her bedroom so she puts a hand to the back of her neck as if she's going to unbutton her dress. He flees.

And in THE TURNING TIDE, the book that's coming out in the US on Nov 10th, Dandy's son can barely manage to tell her that his new wife is pregnant because of what that means has happened, prior to the pregnancy, round about the conception sort of time. "Oh for Heaven's sake!" Dandy says to him. "Where do you think you came from?" One of those things you say - well, I say - that comes out such a lot worse than you thought it was going to.

I'll be reading that scene, and others, live on my Facebook author page on publication day. Click here to get reminders. It's at 5pm pacific and a recording'll be available afterwards if that's awkward for you.

I'm so much looking forward to it. Or am I  . . .? 


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Keep your hand on your ha'penny! by Cathy Ace

 Q: How do you handle sex in your books? Or, if you don’t, why not?

A. The title of this piece might suggest I do write about sex in my books, and that, when I do, my advice to those concerned would be to abstain. But...I don't write about the act of sex at all. 

Across three short works and nine novels, Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson have met, dated, got engaged, married, honeymooned, and now have a happy - if somewhat peripatetic - marriage. I'm certain they also enjoy whatever they consider to be a happy sex life, but they don't discuss it with me because it's their business, not mine, so it doesn't end up being mentioned in the books I write about them. 

Thanks to Free@LastTV for this wonderful photo!

The women who work at the WISE Enquiries Agency? Carol Hill and her husband must have had sex, because she's just had a baby; Mavis MacDonald and her late husband produced children, but she's very much a singleton-widow, so I think not; Annie Parker wouldn't be averse to a sex life, but probably doesn't think there's much chance of one now she's left her beloved London and got stuck in a Welsh village in the back of beyond...though there's always Tudor Evans, who runs the Lamb and Flag pub next to the church, of course; then there's Christine Wilson-Smythe, the looks of her "bad-boy-beau" Alexander very definitely sexually active - but, again, that's her business, not mine, so I don't write about it. 

In the village of Rhosddraig, Wales, where I set The Wrong Boy, there have been sexual liaisons of all sorts taking place over decades...which is why so many people there have secrets, I suppose. Certainly what has gone on behind closed curtains there isn't something I about which I choose to share the details. But that doesn't stop the local tongues from wagging, of course, nor the poison of gossip fulfilling its destructive potential. 

Why no sex? So far I haven't chosen it to be a motivating force in any of my plots, though in The Wrong Boy passion and desire certainly play key roles...but there's no need for the detail of sex acts to be used in that book for the implications of the passions and desires involved to come into play.

Thus, I haven't written a single sex scene yet, and don't foresee me doing it any time soon. So yes, thank you, I'll be keeping my hand on my metaphorical ha'penny for some time, in terms of writing, thank you. 

The Kindle version of my first two WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries are currently available for just $0.99/99p...CLICK HERE to get to more info and purchasing links. 

If you'd like to find out more about how I don't write about sex, please consider visiting my website to find out more about all my characters: CLICK HERE

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Is Dad Reading This?

How do you handle sex in your books? Or, if you don’t, why not?

From Frank

Okay, full disclosure here - this question was posed to the group by Jim Ziskin, whose opinion I know from personal conversation. He essentially told me (and this might've been when he was on my podcast) that the way he likes to handle sex in fiction (and his advice to other writers) is to approach it as if his mother was going to read it.

In my case, it's my dad. But given Dad's attitude toward this subject, I think the end result is the same.

For the most part, I agree with Jim, and for a variety of reasons.

In my own work - with three glaring exceptions - I handle sex with a certain vagueness. If characters have sex on the page, it's handled with a few allusions and left mostly to the reader's imagination.  For one thing, you don't need me to tell you what sex is like, at least not the play-by-play of it. If I can express that a) the characters did it, and b) the tone of the act, be it tender, passionate, dirty, whatever, then that's enough. That accomplishes what I need for the story and for the characters.

So reason number one to tread lightly with sex is readers may not like it (see Jim's mom and my dad as cases in point).

Reason number two is I don't need to be graphic to get my point across. And, in fact, less is probably more in terms of having the intended impact.

Reason three? Sex is hard to write.

At Left Coast Crime, I attended a panel hosted by Holly West that highlighted some of the worst sex prose from the previous year, all of which came from otherwise fine books. Panelists, who were chosen somewhat based upon their own aversion to discussing the topic, had to read the passages to the audience, most of whom howled with laughter. The whole event was pretty hilarious.

You know what my goal is? To never be the passage that gets read.

I can write a fight scene all day long. I can write dialogue like a champ. But writing a sex scene that works is like songwriting - it's more difficult than it appears. (I originally wrote "harder" than it appears, but revised because I know what some of you would do with that). How much detail should be included? How best to describe acts, positions, body parts, not to mention the corresponding emotions? A tall order to do a passable job, much less to excel.

So I go the Jim Ziskin route, for the most part. The 'less is more' Frank Zafiro adaptation of it, anyway. It keeps me from putting off readers, accomplishes what I need for character and story, and I get to avoid a difficult writing challenge.

But I said there were three glaring exceptions, didn't I?

Over the course of my career, I've written three short stories that feature sex pretty heavily. Now, to be fair, in all three instances, sex is an integral element of the tale and the depiction is important. But... sex is very prevalent.

For the record, the stories are "Cassie," "Gently Used," and "Good Shepherd." The latter-most was a Derringer Award finalist the year it was published, so it clearly doesn't stink (I originally wrote "suck" but, well...). It didn't win the award, and I think the subject matter put some voters off (at least one openly complained about it in the forums of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, the organization that awards the Derringer).

I have another interesting reaction story, this one to "Gently Used," but I'll save it for another time. Or ask me at a conference, should we ever get back to those in my lifetime. Might be better told in that medium.

Anyway, I gathered these three stories into a mini-collection called "Good Shepherd." I figured I might as well lean into what these stories are - they're sexy, but with a purpose. Here they are, if you're not in league with Jim's mom or my dad... but don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, October 19, 2020

 Q: How do you handle sex in your books? Or, if you don’t, why not?


-from Susan


A: The same way I do in life, with discretion.  


There was a question like this at a Bouchercon panel this weekend and everyone had pretty much the same response. Unless you write hot romance novels or the male-fantasy versions of thrillers, in which women have orgasms just thinking about the hero…



Friday, October 16, 2020

A Lone Star State

by Abir Mukherjee 

Discuss the worst/funniest/most ridiculous review you’ve ever received on Amazon or Goodreads. This is your chance to defend yourself and blow off some steam, since we know we can’t engage with reviewers.



Man, what a topic! 


It's my kryptonite, 

the stone in my shoe, 

the bane of my life, 

the one-star review, 

as Dolly Parton might have sung, is a right of passage. Like a childhood fear of injections, you dread it, and then you get your first one, and you feel crap, but then realise it ain’t the end of the world. You're still a writer. In fact, you’re now a proper writer, because everyone’s had them. 


Really and truly. Go on Amazon (or Goodreads if you’re a masochist) and type in the names of your five favourite authors (ten if you’re feeling indulgent) and check out their reviews. I bet you every single one of them will have their share of one star reviews. Someone will no doubt read, say The Bridges of Madison County and write ‘Not enough explosions – One Star’ or have a go at Nineteen Eighty-Four, complaining that Orwell was out in his maths by a good thirty-two years. Now one could argue that these things are down to taste, and that’s fine, but as my colleagues have pointed out – that’s not always the case. There are exceptions to the rule, some of which are rooted in mendacity, and some in plain idiocy. Here are a few of them.


-       Reviewer is reviewing a different book by a totally different author – this sometimes happens and it’s understandable. I share the same name (Abir Mukherjee) with another writer (I know, what are the chances?) – but he writes very different books from me. I have had people have a go at me for writing his books, when I didn’t. I’m pretty sure he gets the same from irate readers of my stuff.

-       Reader is complaining about something totally unrelated to the book in question, such as:

o   Book didn’t arrive in time;

o   Book arrived punctually but was damaged in some way;

o   Book never arrived;

o   I never ordered this in the first place and I won’t read it;

o   I didn’t order it, I didn’t receive it, and I wouldn’t read it, but I’m giving it one star because I disagree with the author’s opinion on ABC, XYZ etc.


-       Then there’s the malevolent one star review – one of my mates who’s an extremely successful self-published author (I mean he sells more books in a day than I do in a year) told me of the skull-duggery that apparently goes on in the self-pub world. There’s a school of thought that certain demographics buy certain books based on their Amazon reviews and ratings. ‘If your book is doing well in the Amazon chart, like in the top 50, you might suddenly see a few one-star reviews appearing, almost as if they were planted there.’ I think Amazon’s approach to reviews might have changed recently, but my mate definitely saw this as an issue when we were drunkenly discussing it back in 2018.


Whatever the reason for the one star review, my advice is to not take it to heart – though this is often more difficult than it sounds. We authors are fragile folk, with large, precious egos. One word of criticism can set us back months (now you understand why some literary novels take ten years to write and in the end are just 250 pages of anxious, self absorbed navel gazing). Seriously though, our books generally take a few years of hard work from inception to publication. In a sense they’re like our babies. We bring them into the world after much stress and strain and the next thing you know, Alan77 from Tulsa is going on Goodreads and telling the world how utterly crap and ugly your baby is. (Just p*ss off, Alan).


But of course, a writer cannot tell Alan77 to p*ss off, because that would be wrong. Alan can say whatever the hell he likes, because that’s free speech, but the author cannot respond to Alan’s ridiculous assertions about the book lacking substance and the characters lacking a third or even a second dimension, because to do so, to get down in the dirt with Alan would be career suicide and a first class ticket to the asylum.


The one thing I was told about one-star reviews when I first started out was never to argue or refute or even engage with the reviewers. And it’s damn good advice. Sometimes it’s not even possible to argue with the review. My one star reviews include this cracker:


‘This reads like it was written by a bank manager’ – I don't know what that means.


But for every one of those, fortunately there’s one of these:


‘This book was just the right thickness to correct the wobble on my table – 5 stars’


So it’s swings and roundabouts.


My advice is, try to ignore the one star reviews, and don’t let the five stars go to your head either. It’s the two or three star reviews that you can learn from. They’re the ones that are normally constructive. There are things that I’ve picked up from such reviews and implemented them in my writing and I hope I’m a better writer for them.


So please, don’t take any of this as a reason not to leave reviews. We need the feedback, so do keep sending them in…unless you’re Alan77 from Tulsa. To you sir, I say, p*ss off.