Monday, November 30, 2020

Buy My Book

 Q: Snake Oil – Marketing your novels – what has worked brilliantly for you and what has been a miserable, terrible waste of time and effort?


-from Susan


Brilliant? Nothing. I remain stubbornly on the cusp of mid-list authors. 


Things I’ve enjoyed and that I saw have actual check-in-hand benefits are launch parties at my local bookstore. My friends show up and they buy lots of books. It’s a real party and lovely. I sell enough on those individual days and the few days after to put my new book on the County’s bestseller list for that week. 


The next best marketing is doing bookstore events with another author, preferably one much more popular than I am. Cara Black, who also writes books set in France, has been such a generous person to share book events with me since my Burgundy series debuted. She’s well known, has fans everywhere, and we like each others’ books and stories, so we seem top partner well. Terry Shames and I did a handful, and we worked well together too. It requires both authors to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and to have read each other’s books. The audience senses the camaraderie and the mood is upbeat. It sells book that day and maybe gains new readers from the other’s fans.


I’ve done many, many guest blogs, but I can’t say it leads to book sales. Sometimes, there are no comments from blog readers, so I feel like I’m speaking at one of those nightmare events we’ve all heard about – the one where you’re parked behind a table waiting to sign books and no one comes. Recently Frank Zafiro invited me to be a guest on his podcast. I bet that’s good marketing for him, but I don’t know if it will motivate anyone to look me up. (Thanks, Frank. It was fun and you are so good at it!) 


Panels at conventions are okay, and I relish riffing with other writers, some of whom are new to me. But I personally think they’re overrated as marketing tools, in part because there are literally dozens of other panels with scores of other eager authors, and unless you have the charisma of Catriona McPherson, it’s hard to make much of an impression.


I have received wonderful professional (not paid for!) reviews for all of my books, and even got a review in the New York Times. Did any of them help sales of build buzz that would be a marketing help? If there was buzz, it was low level and it never pushed me forward much. Maybe you have to win awards like Catriona, Terry, Abir Mukherjee, Paul Marks, and Jim Ziskin do to get liftoff? 


Yes, I have a web site. But I don’t have a newsletter and I‘m hearing that I must create one. I'm usually on Facebook but took a break late in this national election cycle. I have a personal page and an author page. I do get comments on the latter, and I use it sparingly for book giveaways. But how good a marketing tool is it? I don’t know. What I really need to do is put time into my Amazon visibility, create a new edition of the Dani O’Rourke series, which was and still is selling, and figure out how to make the most of the Amazon marketing tricks. 


Sorry I can offer much  – we need to know what Cathy Ace does because SHE knows book marketing!

My marketing effort for today:

“Shea launches a cozy series that richly details life in a small French village. The outlandish antics of the eccentric locals add to the humor. Suggest to fans of Rhys Bowen’s early “Evan Evans” series for the humor, the characters, and the charming setting.” –Library Journal

Friday, November 27, 2020

No Accounting For Taste

Mending your ways — If you had to stop your life of crime (writing) what other types of books would you like to write?

By Abir 

Morning. Welcome to Friday – the end of the working week is in sight. But what if next week my work were to change – what if the powers that be suddenly outlaw the writing of crime fiction because, I don’t know, some crime fiction writer somewhere has stumbled upon the truth, that Trump is right and that the US election was stolen by a combination of dead Venezuelans and big farmers. 

So that puts me out of a job. On the bright side, I’ve been paid advances for several things I haven’t handed in yet, so technically I’m ahead, and I don’t care what the publishers might say, I’m keeping the money. 

 It still leaves me with the problem of what I do after I’ve spent that cash (so basically any time after next Tuesday) - what kind of writing should I pursue? Because let’s face it, I’m too old, too incompetent and too lazy to get a proper job. 

My books are historical crime fiction, so I guess I could try straight historical fiction – get rid of the crimey bit – but I’m not sure what I’d write about. As Proust once said, ‘What is the past without dead bodies?’ 

Just take my word for it. He definitely said it. 

I could, I suppose, do a Jane Austen – write about intelligent women and boorish men in the regency period, but the problem is, having read a truck load of Austen at school, if I ever have cause to stumble on the regency period again in my life, I will be forced to punch it in the face. 

I could do straight non-fiction history, and this is appealing, at least on the surface. And then I remember that this would involve serious research and rob me of my favourite historical tool – just making stuff up. So writing proper historical stuff would probably end in me getting sued by, I don’t know, the relatives and descendants of Marcel Proust. 

Let’s get back to fiction. I reckon I could try my hand at a bit of science fiction. I’d probably start with Star Trek fan fiction – maybe something set in the period when Captain Picard still had hair – but then, the thing about Trekkies is they’re more fanatical about the Star Trek timeline (official Star Trek cannon) than historians are about real history. You make one mistake, like having Mr Spock’s ear’s pointing the downwards and you’ll have a million nerds threatening you in grammatically correct Klingon from their mothers’ basements. 

So where does that leave us? Literary fiction? I’d love this. I could easily write you six thousand pages about my hero Kabir, an extremely talented yet misunderstood writer, and the angst he faces dealing with a modern world which is stacked against him – why is the coffee from the Nespresso machine never ever hot enough? Why does the BBC keep rejecting his insightful ideas for gritty TV dramas set in Guildford (aren’t they supposed to be all over the ethnic market these days? Isn’t he ethnic enough for the BBC?), and why does no one, not even his wife - especially not his wife - appreciate his genius? Actually – I’m pretty up for writing that. I’d send a synopsis to my agent Sam, but as you know, he’s told me never to contact him again. 

Then there is romantic fiction. This is appealing. Because if there’s one angle the romantic fiction market hasn’t covered and is definitely crying out for, it’s probably romance written by middle-aged, middle class accountants. Think about it. According to figures I just made up, one in every eighteen people on the planet is an accountant. And yet, when was the last time you saw an accountant as the hero in a sci fi novel, or a crime novel, or a romance novel? I’ll tell you when – never. And yet, aren’t we accountants people too? If you cut us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge by messing up your taxes? So why are accountants so poorly reflected in our literature? We all need to see ourselves represented in stories, and so, I say to you, things must change! No longer should accountants be merely side characters, victims, pathetic bean counters to the evil villains. No! Accountants must take their rightful place in the pantheon of our literary culture. So I suggest this. If crime fiction is now illegal, I shall take up the cause of writing accountancy based fiction, regardless of genre. Here are some ideas: 

Title: Love Between the Spreadsheets (Romantic Bodice Ripper) 
The tale of two star crossed twenty-somethings, who despite their love for one another can never be together because she’s a chartered accountant and he’s a cost accountant, and society says such a gulf can never be bridged. 

Day of the Audit (Science Fiction with Big Screen Blockbuster potential) 
It’s the year 2120. A fateful day for humanity. Aliens from the star system IAS-23 arrive on earth. They are an advanced society where accounting records are the most highly prized of all documents. They are shocked by the backwardness of earth, where it seems that lawyers, despite being villainous and evil, claim all of the glory, while robbing those of a financial bent of their rightful place in society. 

Blessed be the Book-Keepers (Dystopian Epic) 
I got nothing so far – just the title, but I’m picturing something like the Handmaid’s Tale but with more accountants. Trust me. This is going to make me a millionaire. 

I’m also open to other ideas. If you have any, please leave them in the comments and I might even steal one or two of them. 

Have a great weekend, stay safe, and be kinder to your accountant friends. 


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Know What You Don’t Know from James W. Ziskin

Today I’m going off topic in order to write about the release of a short story of mine next week. But, so as not to neglect this week’s question altogether, I will give a brief answer.

If you had to stop your life of crime (writing) what other types of books would you like to write?

Answer: Books written by Stephen King.

Now back to today’s post.

On Tuesday, December 1, 2020, a new anthology, IN LEAGUE WITH SHERLOCK HOLMES, comes out. My story, “The Twenty-five-year Engagement” is one of fifteen in this new collection, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. The contributors make up a murderers’ row of writers, some from the world of crime fiction, others from horror and science fiction. All have written intriguing stories inspired by the Sherlock Holmes canon. My humble offering differs from the other fourteen, in that I was the only one foolish enough to submit a story featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson themselves. Somehow I must have missed the memo. I sincerely hope I do not end regretting my choice, what with all the Sherlockians, fans, experts, and scholars out there who might well find nits to pick in my contribution. My attempts to head off potential gotchas led me to undertake some thorough research. That process is the subject of my post this week. 

In the past, I’ve touched on the research process for this story, as well as my Ellie Stone books, which are set in the early 1960s. In the case of “The Twenty-five-year Engagement,” however, I was plunging into a very different world. A challenging, mostly unknown (to me) world. My story takes place in November, sometime in the early 1880s. Watson describes the period only as “during the time of my early acquaintance with Mr. Holmes.” 

Time period aside, another complicating factor for me was the setting of my story: London. I knew that if I got details wrong,  a foreign place would pose potential risks for authenticity. So, faced with three daunting challenges—satisfying the Conan Doyle faithful, getting the period details right, and making sure the language came across as authentic for late-nineteenth-century London—I leaned heavily on four main resources in my research. I consulted countless other references, as well, but those tended to be one-offs, useful for individual details. The four listed below were the lifesavers for me.

First, and most important, I relied on the Sherlock Holmes canon itself. I re-read the whole thing, the four novels and all the stories. That took about a month, and it put me in the proper frame of mind to make a stab at a Holmes story. The themes and characters felt new again.

Second. A companion resource to the original works, and one I would recommend to anyone writing a period piece or pastiche of Holmes, is the Sherlock Holmes Concordance. It’s online and free. Google it. A simple search will tell you if the word or phrase you’re considering using ever appeared in the books or stories. The last thing you want to do is insert an anachronism—linguistic or historical—in your story. The concordance is a powerful tool to check the language usage of Holmes’s time. But even if Conan Doyle didn’t use the word you’re after, it still might have been in currency at the time. That leads me to the third resource.

Ngram Viewer allows users to search for terms used in works published from 1500 to 2019. Not every work is included, of course, just those that have been digitized using optical character recognition (OCR). Still, Ngram Viewer’s text corpora include millions of books, magazines, and other printed materials. And in several languages: English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and even Simplified Chinese.

For my story, I used Ngram Viewer to research terms that I could not find in the Sherlock Holmes Concordance. I forced myself to look up every word and phrase I was using, even when I thought it was surely a term in use in late-nineteenth-century England. I discovered several anachronistic words and phrases in my story. Words I’d been sure were in use at the time. Yet they were not. One example was “soldiered on.” It sounded old-timey to me. Surely people used it in London in the 1880s. Only they didn’t. The term dates to mid-nineteenth century America and only gained traction in England around the time of the First World War. The Great War, if we’re speaking British. That was far too late for my story, so I removed it.

Here’s a fascinating piece of information that I discovered via Ngram. From the 1880s, it provided information that added a great moment to my story.

And the “proverb” at the bottom? It was actually Jesus who said it.

“And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Acts 9:5 (KJV)

Ngram Viewer can provide writers with the confidence that certain words were in currency at different times in history. Some searches take longer than others, of course. To see just how powerful Ngram Viewer can be, take a look at the advanced usage information. .

This fourth resource is essential. Fresh eyes are always useful. I consulted British readers to assure that my dialogue and narration sounded authentic. There were some useful suggestions, which I gladly accepted. It is with great reluctance that I thank author Mark Pryor, who, despite being smug, witless, and cheap, helped me greatly on this story. I kid, of course. Mark isn’t cheap.

I also relied on some of my tried and beta true readers who pointed out flaws in the story. For example, which action a violinist would perform first, rosining the bow or tuning the instrument? (It’s rosining, as I discovered.) One of my toughest readers went so far as to consult the concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic on a violin question he had. Turned out I was on safe ground. Whew.

Then my brother Joe showed me a gaping hole in the plot that no one else had noticed. I fixed it.

And, of course, my medical experts lent a hand on the subject of gonorrheal arthritis among the criminal classes. You’ll have to read the story...

Researching and writing “The Twenty-five-year Engagement” reminded me that my favorite bit of advice still holds true. “Know what you don’t know.” Question everything. Each word, phrase, paragraph. Every bit of research. It’s the simplest rule I can think of, and—yet—it’s without a doubt the hardest to learn. I’ve failed to follow that advice countless times, but I keep trying. And it will serve you well in any endeavor. Not just researching historical fiction.

IN LEAGUE WITH SHERLOCK HOLMES features stories by Maria Alexander, Robin Burcell, David Corbett, Martin Edwards, Tess Garritsen, Derek Haas, Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds, Naomi Hirahara, Joe Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale, Lisa Morton, Brad Parks, Kwei Quartey, James Lincoln Warren, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and James W. Ziskin. It is edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. 

Available in hardcover, e-copy, and audiobook everywhere December 1, 2020.

Happy Thanksgiving! The game is afoot.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Play on Words

Mending your ways — If you had to stop your life of crime (writing) what other types of books would you like to write?

by Dietrich

I’ve written crime novels set in modern times, and I’ve written others as historical novels, but by the time I was done, blood had been shed between the pages and they were still labeled as crime novels. I’ve been in book stores and libraries and seen my books shelved under thrillers, the kind of stories where there’s usually the dread of some future crime or disaster. And other times they’ve been filed under mysteries, the kind of stories where the hero is working backwards to solve a crime. 

The thing with thrillers and mysteries is they each offer seemingly countless sub-genres running the gamut from hardboiled to soft-boiled with everything in between. And although it adds some confusion to the mix, I do love reading a good one, no matter how it’s branded.

There are fiction genres I probably won’t ever write: fantasy, horror, erotica, romance, science fiction — although there may be the odd glimpse of some or all in my writing. And I won’t likely ever try a combination of them — no space opera, paranormal romance, or a cozy political thriller in the wings.

There are some novels that defy absolute genre labels, like Already Dead by Charlie Huston. It reads like a hardboiled mystery, but it’s got vampires. What shelf does that go on? And there’s Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem, which serves up a hardboiled mystery set in a sci-fi world. Or how about Stephen King’s 11 22 63, which is a kind of supernatural, alternate history, science fiction, love story. And what of the great classic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Originally interpreted as a comic novel, it was later seen as a social commentary, and even later as a tragedy.

So, outside of the crime/historical/mystery/suspense genre, what else would I write? Well, I do love the music scene, and I’ve thought about writing another story like Zero Avenue, a crime novel set during the punk music scene of the seventies, that’s right, a punk crime novel.

And I love a good bare-all biography of rock stars and enjoy reading about the countless tales of debauchery and madness from the world of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll. There are countless tales of Keith Moon thoroughly trashing so many hotel suites that Holiday Inn banned him worldwide; James Brown aiming a shotgun at someone for using his toilet; Black Sabbath’s Tony Ionni lighting drummer Bill Ward on fire; and front man Ozzy getting arrested for peeing on a famous landmark, while wearing Sharon’s dress. Slash from Guns N’ Roses ran naked through a country club, smashing through a window and grabbing a waitress as a shield, sure the alien from the movie Predator was chasing after him. And don’t get me started on the antics of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. I don’t know what it is exactly, but there is something about that kind of craziness that appeals to my writing side.

Another genre that interests me is the western. I read many novels by Zane Grey and Louis L’ Amour when I was growing up, and it’s hard to forget stories like Riders of the Purple Sage, Hondo, or how about Jack Schaefer’s Shane. Writing a western presents a common-man story with a background of remoteness, rawness and extremes. I touched on the genre when I wrote House of Blazes, set in 1906. I’ve alway loved the western stories Elmore Leonard wrote early in his career, as well as other classics like True Grit by Charles Portis, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty, and Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy. Even McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men reads like a modern-day western.

I’ve written a lot of short stories early on, and I might return to that someday. And I also wrote a few screenplays, and I liked writing in present time and allowing dialogue to move the scenes. And it would be fun to take one of my novels and turn it into a screenplay.

The way of art is to let it evolve by continually experimenting with new approaches. It’s what keeps it interesting and new. So far, I’ve been writing mainly crime and historical crime fiction, but down the road, who knows …

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What Then?

Mending your ways – If you had to stop your life of crime (writing) what other types of books would you like to write? If I had the imagination, I would love to have been a science fiction writer. In fact, the first book I ever wrote was a science fiction book. I still like it! It was called The UFO Conspiracy, and it explained where UFOs came from. Alas, by the time I finished writing it, I was onto something else, and never tried to have it published. And I realized that no matter how much science fiction I read—and I read a lot—my mind just doesn’t work that way. I remember reading Patrick Lee’s The Breach and I kept thinking, “How did he think of that? What part of his brain came up with that amazing idea?” I read Justin’s Cronin’s The Passage—same thing. Hugh Lowey’s Wool--same thing. Ursula LeGuin’s books—same. These writers are able to make a leap of imagination that simply eludes me.
I first thought that one day I would write a mainstream novel that would take the world by storm. But once I got hooked on writing crime fiction, I never looked back. In fact, I wonder what I thought I would write about? Mary Karr wrote my biography in The Liar’s Club, so that was out. (My sister actually called me and said, “Did we know her?”) But I do have a couple of books on the back burner that would be different from what I write now. Both historical novels, one set in France and Louisiana in the early 18th Century, the other in Mexico City in the early 20th Century. I’ve done a lot of research on the first one, and even have several chapters written. But the second one would require an enormous amount of research. It actually would be a thriller, so not so different from the big umbrella of “mystery.” It may forever remain a pipe dream, though. Meanwhile, I read almost everything. I pick up books from science to science fiction; from historical westerns to contemporary westerns; from mainstream to literary; from humor to disaster stories. I love to hear about my writing friends’ projects, and I often wonder what set them on the road to the particular piece of fiction (or non-fiction) they ended up with. With some, it’s easy. I understand where Catriona McPherson gets her Dandy Gilver stories and her Scotch And… books. I understand why Michael Connelly sets his stories squarely in Los Angeles. But what intrigued John Billheimer enough to write a book entitled Hitchcock and the Censors? Whatever it was, it compelled him to write an Edgar award-winning book. What tweaked James Ziskin’s imagination so thoroughly that he wrote an entire series from the viewpoint of a young girl in the 1960’s? An Edgar-nominated series. A deeper question for me would be, what if I didn’t write at all? What would I do? I took up painting for a while and enjoyed it.
I wouldn’t mind throwing myself into that again. I promised myself I would make a quilt. Maybe I would actually do it. But I would never be able to enjoy a life that didn’t involve creativity. Creation. Creating something out of nothing except my idea of “what might be.”

Monday, November 23, 2020

Ending My Life of Crime (Fiction)

 Mending your ways – If you had to stop your life of crime (writing) what other types of books would you like to write?

A very late Brenda Chapman here answering this week's question. The weeks are flying by so quickly that I'm losing track!

I tried once to write a novel that was not a murder mystery. I didn't make it through the first chapter without a body showing up. So I'd only likely succeed in being forced to stop writing crime fiction with the removal of my computer.

It would be interesting to write a literary novel. One with a unique voice that would get shortlisted for all the awards... Giller, Booker ... all the prestigious ones. I'm not certain what the topic would be or even how to pull off the story, but it would be a good challenge.

I started my career writing short stories. Granted they were mysteries, but I sometimes think about trying my hand at writing a short story that isn't a crime story. I know I could do this because my first published work was an article in Canadian Living magazine that was about my daughters growing up in a large city as opposed to a small town where I was raised. I worried they were losing out on an appreciation for nature and the land. That story garnered me my first contract and payment ($300) and came out in 2001. I have the article framed on the wall next to my desk.

Now the reason I've lost track of time is that I'm working on a video project. I'm the Crime Writers of Canada Director for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario this year. With Covid and shut downs, there isn't much I can do for the author members in my region so I came up with the idea of interviewing those that want to be interviewed and posting the videos on the CWC site. You can check them out on this Youtube channel, starting with Vicki Delany's interview. Vicki is a cozy mystery writer of some reknown. Vicki actually interviews me in the second video which will be out this Thursday (Nov. 26). I have several more lined up and each involves some research, and of course, the taping.

Have a good week, everyone.

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, November 20, 2020

Guest Post: Festive Mayhem – By Carolyn Marie Wilkins

Please welcome our guest today, Carolyn Wilkins. Carolyn is an author, a healer, a psychic medium, a musician and a professor at Berklee College of Music Online. 

“Write what you know” is a common injunction given to aspiring authors. Unfortunately, this statement has also been used to justify the erroneous belief that crime writers of color are only capable of addressing a narrow range of what are perceived to be “ethnic” issues such as inner-city crime, gang violence or drugs. The fact is that authors of color have produced a rich tapestry of work featuring characters from every corner of the globe. Festive Mayhem, a holiday-themed collection of crime fiction by nine writers of color, is the latest addition to this growing body of diverse voices.

My story in this collection is called The New Year’s Hex. It features the feisty Carrie McFarland, a psychic African-American teenager living in Klan-controlled Southern Indiana in 1920. When a blood-soaked voodoo doll turns up at a fancy political fundraiser for the town’s notoriously corrupt ward boss, Carrie is blamed. When she takes matters into her own hands in order to clear her name, things go from bad to worse. Until, of course, order is eventually restored.

Writing The New Year’s Hex was a ton of fun. It provided me the opportunity to delve into the African American folklore of this period, and challenged me to explore my own beliefs about hoodoo, hexes and mediumship. 

As a professional psychic medium, I know this stuff is real. I regularly attend seances, predict the future using Tarot cards, and talk to the dead. I believe that the Spirit World, far from being a scary and ghoulish netherworld, is simply another facet of existence – a dimension hidden from our mundane awareness where our deceased loved ones exist, ready, willing and eager to communicate with us.

Do you believe in hexes? Have you ever seen a ghost or had a paranormal encounter? Drop me a comment in the box below. 

Meanwhile, here is some more information about the stories in this collection:

Nine crime writers of color have teamed up to offer you the gift of escape this holiday season. From Christmas crime capers to Thanksgiving thrillers, historical hard-boiled to contemporary cozies, mystery fans of all genres will find something to love in this limited-time collection of exclusive, never-before-published seasonal short stories.

What you'll find inside:

·         "The New Year's Hex" by Carolyn Marie Wilkins. Carrie McFarland finds her New Year's plans derailed when a psychic vision pulls the 1920s African American amateur sleuth into someone's evil scheme.

·         "Pipe Dreams" by S.G. Wong. In this hard-boiled Crescent City short story, infatuation and passion drive Minnie Chen straight into danger as she tries to best the City's most glamorous private detective in a reimagined 1930s-era Chinese Los Angeles.

·         "A Christmas Tip" by Elizabeth Wilkerson. A surprise Christmas bonus becomes too tempting for Philadelphia nursing assistant Brianna Byers to resist—even if accepting requires some skillful skirting of the law.

·         "The Stranger in the House" by Stella Oni. This London House Mystery prequel stars Elizabeth Ojo, a Nigerian housekeeper at a posh guest house, who finds her Christmas intersecting with that of a mysterious resident in trouble.

·         "What Lies Inside" by Kia Dennis. A tormented university professor falls deeper and deeper into a destructive obsession in this harrowing tale of love and longing.

·         "A Deadly First" by Delia C. Pitts. Thanksgiving takes a fatal turn when New York private eye SJ Rook finds himself thrust into his first murder case in this darkly atmospheric tale of noir.

·         "The Holiday Murder Mélange" by Myra Jolivet. This Sarah Doucette Jean-Louis short story follows the Creole P.I. around the San Francisco Bay Area on her quest to figure out who killed a man outside of her office.

·         "Those Holiday Blues" by Jennifer J. Chow. Jasmine, aka "Jazz," can't escape the tragic past when an old boyfriend asks to meet on the anniversary of his mother's death.

·         "Holiday Holdup" by Paige Sleuth. In this Cozy Cat Caper Mystery Short, Imogene Little gets tangled up in a Christmas Eve bank robbery orchestrated by none other than Santa Claus himself.

Here's a link to the book

Carolyn Wilkins is an author, a healer, a psychic medium, a musician and a professor at Berklee College of Music Online. A Reiki Master since 1996, Carolyn has spent more than twenty years engaged in the study of spirituality, energy and healing. She has studied at the Arthur Findlay College of Psychic Arts in Stansted, England, and is a member of renowned English medium Mavis Pitilla’s Boston Mentorship Program.

As a musician, Carolyn has performed in the Pittsburgh Symphony and represented her country as a Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department. She is also the author of five books –Damn Near White and They Raised Me Up (published by the University of Missouri Press) Melody for Murder, Mojo for Murder and Death at a Séance (Pen-L Publishing), and Tips for Singing (Hal Leonard Press).

In addition to her private practice in healing and mediumship, Carolyn is the host of Carolyn’s Psychic Playroom, a New Age Talk Show, on Cambridge Community Television. Her new online class Magical Communication: How To Talk To Your Ancestors is now available on

To find out more about Carolyn, visit her website:

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Guillermo Del Toro did it . . . by Catriona

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

Too easy.

I have actually pitched the worst idea ever. Below is a straight copy/paste from a file called "Additional series":

Idea 1    Doris Day meets X-Files.
Genre    urban fantasy / mystery
Time      1950
Place     California
Tone      medium-boiled/funny
Protag   tba
Like       Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, Dana Cameron’s Fangborn

Book  1. Protag comes to town on trail of deserting spouse and learns the secret while searching for husband

Book 2. Small-town vs. big threat. Progress threatens the secret.           

Book 3. Protag discovers own history while protecting secret and outcome of Bk 2

So what's wrong with this pitch? Where do I start? You can't say "protagonist TBA". And you can't refer to "the secret" multiple times without saying what it is. The worst of that is I knew what the secret was; I just didn't tell the publisher I was pitching to. I kept it, if you like, secret. Also, "progress" is hopelessly vague. I meant a new factory and subdivisions to house its workers bankrolled by a philanthropist. Why didn't I say so? No clue. I also knew what the mysterious protagonist's own history was. But I wasn't willing to share.

If I had my time over again, I'd have said this:

Idea 1    Doris Day meets the X-Files
Genre    urban fantasy / mystery
Time      1950
Place     Smalltown, USA. A snug and settled little town near a flooded valley which has been recently been dammed. Most people work at the water purification centre.
Tone     Schlock horror under a veneer of cozy
Protag   Della Marr. Doris Day-esque sunny character with a secret.
Like      Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, Dana Cameron’s Fangborn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Book  1. Della comes to town searching for her runaway husband. She settles into an apparently cosy town, but after a spate of killings, she discovers its secret - the flooded lake is home to aquatic aliens - and must decide whether to join the effort to protect them or blow the story. Discovering her pregnancy, she decides on a quiet life.

Book 2. The idyllic image projected by the town attracts a philanthropic entrepreneur whose operation threatens to uncover the secret of the lake. When the entrepreneur is killed, unwelcome national attention is focussed on the town. Ongoing sub-plot involving Della's attempts to find her deserted spouse. A small-town single mother in 1951 is not an easy row to hoe. 

Book 3. The lake people are no longer happy to live constrained by the dam. The town is split between a trusting desire to go public and a paranoid desire to quash the uprising by any means. When a young lake female is killed the town splits into warring factions. Della discovers that her husband is not human. He lives in the lake and their daughter wants to go and live her aquatic life too.

This is a better pitch, because it's got more information in it. (Although wth is the name of the town, right?) Unfortunately the extra information only makes it clearer that the idea itself smells like the love child of Roquefort and halitosis. I think I kept it short to save my blushes. 

By the way, the other idea I pitched at the same time - the one that got accepted - was "Scottish marriage counsellor in California, lives in a motel, solves crimes with misfit sidekicks".  But I had my moments with that too. When I pitched it to a Hollywood person - Lifetime, I think. Maybe Hallmark? - his only response was that it was "real specific". I still don't know whether that was a bouquet or a brickbat.

Maybe my easiest-ever sell was "Gently-born lady detective (1922) rackets about Scotland on cases with shell-shocked sidekick. Dalmatians, butlers, etc". Book fourteen mined from that rich seam comes out in the US next week. As pitches go it's "real unspecific". Maybe that's why it's still afloat. 

If you can bring yourself to read anything written by someone who once pitched Della Marr, there are buy links here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Off pitch by Cathy Ace

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

This is a really difficult question to answer.


Two reasons:

a) I really don’t want to offend anyone by coming up with an idea they’ve already had/written/had published, and


Let’s kick off with the fact I’m well aware that just because I think something is a terrible idea it doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with me. Indeed, I’ve started-but-not-finished a few traditionally published novels where I’m still convinced the author, their agent, their publisher, and their editors were in some sort of conspiracy to confound or befuddle me, and make me wonder if my world-view is completely off-kilter. 

Also, I usually read notes about a book before buying it, so there are even more I haven’t purchased because I just couldn’t come to terms with the premise. 

It’s a wonderful thing that we human beings all have different tastes and preferences, and approach reading differently…and that means there’ll be hundreds of thousands of books available to me that just aren’t my cup of tea – but others will find, and maybe fall in love with, them…and that’s just fantastic.

So, is it even fair of me to say that this idea, or that premise, is terrible? No, for me, that’s not a step I’m prepared to take. 

Am I a wimp who’s terrified that people will hate me if I make fun of a certain premise? Yes, probably. But that’s who I am. 

So, I respectfully decline to come up with a pitch for a “bad idea”. So (added bonus) no synopsis required - YAY!

PS: there have been a number of what I believe to be “good book ideas” that have been poorly written (those would include the ones I started because I liked the "idea" but never finished because they weren't written in a way that appealed to me), so never give up if you believe you have a good idea…just write the story the best way you can, and that plot might just turn out to be just the one that many readers find, and fall for!

I hope you like the idea of my books - find out about them by CLICKING HERE

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Pitch It

Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

-From Frank

Okay, so there's this ex-cop named Nick Slade who got thrown off the force in disgrace, but we don't know if he did what they say he did or not. Is he clean or dirty, right? You don't know! And he doesn't fight getting thrown off because he figures he deserves it, because the thing they're accusing him of is being responsible for his partner's death. I mean, the guy was twenty minutes from retirement when he died, so it was pretty horrible and sad.

So Nick become a PI, but he doesn't get many cases because he drinks too much and never shaves or bathes but one day this gorgeous, sultry woman with a secret comes into his office and wants to hire him. And instead of being repulsed by his poor hygiene and booze-addled brain, she seems turned on by him. Not only that, but she says she knows who killed his partner! What a good twist, huh? So he takes the case and...

Ehhhh... you get the idea.

Title? The Night Never Stops.

Author's Note: I've written more than thirty novels, most of them crime fiction. From the above partial synopsis, I am guilty of committing the following sins: 

 1) killing a cop a few months from retirement (it was my first book, so cut me some slack), 

 2) having a cop leave the force (he resigned) over a terrible mistake (he did it) and having a drinking problem long after, and

 3) having a femme fatale very much in the style of Kathleen Turner in Body Heat.

So basically, I may be a cliched mess.

Who came up with this question, anyway?!


A reminder: My novel, CODE FOUR, written with Colin Conway, is out next week on 11/23!

This is the final book in the Charlie-316 arc.

The last two years have been tumultuous ones for the Spokane Police Department. On the surface, the agency has suffered from scandal and police officer deaths. Underneath, a secret and deadly game of cat and mouse has played out.

Now the Department of Justice has sent investigators to determine if federal intervention is needed. Their presence disrupts everyone’s agenda and threatens to expose dark secrets. Goals shift from winning situations to simply surviving.

Not everyone will.

In this tense and explosive final installment of the Tyler Garrett saga, everyone’s true nature is laid bare. Garrett scrambles to maintain what he has built. Chief Baumgartner tries to protect his department. Captain Farrell’s plans crumble around him, and Officer Ray Zielinski’s career is at risk. Meanwhile, DOJ supervisor Édelie Durand diligently follows the facts where they lead. And through it all, the unflappable Detective Clint keeps his eyes firmly on the prize—Officer Tyler Garrett.

Monday, November 16, 2020


 Q: Pitch (im)perfect – This week, you’re pitching the worst idea for a crime, mystery or thriller novel that you can think of – give us your synopsis.

-from a desperately determined Susan 

So, okay, picture this: POTUS and chief advisor, his former golf caddy, go up against deep state…oh, that’s been done? 

Okay, how about Clarisse Starling fights off a deadly virus to protect ailing POTUS stranded in motorcade…oh, you’ve heard that one too? Is someone stealing my material?

Listen to this. Guaranteed to sell a million copies: A troubled female FBI agent and lousy mother who’s in recovery from drugs and alcohol and divorce from her abusive but endearing husband, a former cop who’s gone over to the dark side, is assigned to a missing kid case. And, wait for it, the missing kid is hers! And the bad guy who’s following her in a black SUV with tinted windows and putting sand in her car’s gas pipe every night may just be her ex! And the head of the FBI has the hots for her, and pushes her to move to Langley so they can see each other more often when he can get away from his sick (but not never going to die) wife. Oh, and she has an emotionally damaged dog named Wolf who loves her but wants to rip the throats of everyone else out and plays a big role in the climax. I’m thinking Jennifer Lopez for the lead. 

Killer title: LAST WIFE TO DIE

SO, what do you think?






Friday, November 13, 2020

It's all about the Pina Coladas...and the Museum of Jellyfish


Give us some of your funniest and most memorable stories from traveling to book festivals





It’s Friday again! Hope you’re all keeping well.


I’ve said it on here before, but book festivals and travelling to events are probably my favourite thing about being a writer – far more enjoyable than the actual writing, and one of the hardest things about the last year has been the enforced cancellation, or mass migration of these festivals online. They’ve still been fun, and the fact that they’re online means they’re accessible by many more people across the world, but really, they’re a pale substitute for the real thing.


For starters, I miss seeing new places, be it small towns and out of the way villages in the UK that I’d never otherwise have visited, or events overseas, sitting in my slippers on a zoom call in my basement is not quite the same.


Then there’s the people. Writers, by the nature of our work, are pretty solitary creatures. We beaver away for months on end over the autumn and winter, in our attics and studies, crafting our words and then, like butterflies, we emerge into the world, bleary eyed in the warmer months, ready to go to festivals and meet friends whom we haven’t seen for so long. The festivals offer a kind of release; a therapy; where we can get together, discuss our craft over several too many drinks and bitch about the latest young hotshot debut who’s just been given a seven figure advance.


I have quite a few wonderful stories of my time at festivals, though some of them are covered by non disclosure agreements – it seems that what goes on in Wigtown, stays in Wigtown – you know what I mean. Anyway here are some of my favourite memories from the last few years of travelling the globe in search of people who might just be crazy enough to buy my books.


·      Kiev, Ukraine – Going to the museum of Jellyfish and then having dinner and being offered a plate of 5 different types of lard.

At the world famous Museum of Jellyfish

·      Kiev, Ukraine – Attending the book festival and ending up in a scrum of reporters beside the president of Ukraine who’d just lost the election days before. 

Me and the soon to be outgoing president of Ukraine - Count all the Books!

·      St Petersburg, USA – My first ever Bouchercon – I hung around mainly with a lot of my British author pals, spending a lot of time going from bar to bar. These authors were hard men who like hard drinks. But I saw the whole thing as a holiday and kept ordering Pina coladas. In the end they were all drinking them.

Bouchercon 2019 - Loads of Americans wondering who the hell I am

·      Milan, Italy – Being asked if it was true that British people put pineapple on their pizzas. I blamed Americans.

·      Italy – Being surprised by my publishers and taken to Venice for two days


·      Spain – More pina coladas, trying to convince Booker Prize shortlistee, Graham Macrae Burnett that the drink he really wanted was a pina colada

·      Bengal, India – Ending up in a village in the jungle and playing Take That songs to the bemused villagers

·      Belfast, Northern Ireland – Ending up in a bar and being accosted by the Golden Girls

They wanted to adopt me

·      Kolkata, India – Having my face appear on a cake alongside Val McDermid

This was a first



So. Now it seems there’s a vaccine on it’s way. Hopefully we can get back to festivalling again soon. Cos I miss my pina coladas.