Friday, March 27, 2020

The Publishing Times They Are A Changin’

What change in the publishing landscape over the past decade and a half has impacted you the most?

by Paul D. Marks

There’s a lot of things one could say here: social media, Netflix et al, because they take time from people reading. Smart phones and other things that have shortened our attention span and added to our need for things in short, fast, adrenalin-inducing bites. All of these have affected publishing, even if they’re not directly publishing. But if I had to pick one thing it would be Amazon—on several levels.

When Amazon started they were mainly a book seller. Then, if I remember correctly, they expanded into CDs and videos. Now, of course, they sell everything. You could probably buy a submarine on there if you wanted to. But they still sell books. And they’ve changed how books are published and sold.

And then there’s the Kindle (and like-minded devices). Instant gratification: you don’t even need a bookstore anymore. Other people do it too, Nook, Kobo, et al, but Amazon seems to have gotten the ball rolling. You can order any time of day or night and your book magically appears. And while I have a Kindle app on my tablet and do read books on it occasionally, I still prefer hardcover or paperback books. Call me Ishmael, uh, I mean call me old-fashioned. But in this coronavirus time of house arrest, er, sheltering in place it’s nice to know you can download a book that’s never been touched or breathed on by anyone else….

That said, these devices, along with being able to order books so easily on line and have them arrive in a couple of days, led the way to the demise of many brick and mortar bookstores, though I keep hearing that bookstores and paper books are making a comeback just like vinyl.

Amazon also made self-publishing a real thing and that has definitely changed the publishing landscape. Now there are more authors than you can throw a book at. And self-publishing has pluses and minuses, like most everything else. It’s given a lot more opportunity to a lot more people and it’s also opened up publishing to people who maybe should really be thinking of another line of work. I use it to self-publish single previously published stories. And it works pretty well.

Amazon also gives us an opportunity to push our books like never before. And to see “instant” ratings. To get reviews by customers and give them. Which can also be frustrating when we want to respond to a bad review, especially one that might not have anything to do with the actual content of a book, but we bite our tongues.

There are also the scammers who manage to find a way to manipulate the numbers and get their books at the top of the list. Or the sock puppeteers who post fake reviews to get more attention or take attention away from their rivals. But I think—I hope—these seem to be happening less and less.
As a writer, I think Amazon opened the floodgates to a huge variety of books that the old traditional publishing world would never have allowed through the gates. Some good, some bad, but overall better for writers and readers to have more choices. Also, older and more obscure books stay in print forever and are easier to get.

I know some people have complaints about Amazon and some are valid. But overall I think Amazon has been a boon to publishing, and especially to writers. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


And now for the usual BSP:

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

"The Blues Don’t Care is a fun, atmospheric look at 1940s Los Angeles that almost perfectly captures the tone of all those old black and white gangster movies of the day. Bobby Saxon is such a fan of those films himself that he uses them as training films in his quest to make himself into a detective capable of solving a murder the police have little interest in solving for themselves. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it makes him crazily reckless. And that’s exactly why The Blues Don’t Care is so much fun. (Well, that and one other thing about Bobby you’re going to have to learn for yourself – trust me.)" Sam Sattler, Book Chase

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

I've already MADE lemonade! By Catriona

This week's question is "What changes in publishing in the last fifteen years have had the biggest impact on your writing career?"

And I. Just. Can't.

I'm sorry. It's a good question and I'm sure lots of people are interested in the answer. I just can't.

Ten days into curve-flattening isolation, if I let myself think back over the landscape of either publishing, or my career, or - God knows - both at once, I'll cry.

So in the pursuit of what we have nobly re-cast as self-care - the same thing that used to be called flaking out - I'm going to talk about lemons instead. The rest of this blog is brought to you by the philosophy "What's life if we can't still rant about basically nothing?"

Because the other day, I posted this pic on Facebook

in a bit of a panic about how to use up the lemons I was currently harvesting from the two lemon trees (kinda; see below) in my garden. It's not normally a problem because I can give them ot friends and leave them at the road end for strangers. This year I'm not seeing friends and I don't want to encourage carloads of people to stop and cough on fruit.

After I posted the pic, two things happened. A friend, a dear friend, a real-life friend, mentioned lemon curd. Also a sister, a real sister, my sister, mentioned marmalade. Now, the Paddington reference made me smile but at the same time my eyes rolled, my teeth gnashed and my fists clenched.

My recipe for lemon curd uses only eight lemons and twelve - twelve - eggs. Also, if I bought enough sugar to make marmalade from my lemon harvest, I'd - quite properly - be set upon for hoarding by the other shoppers. It was like being told about zucchini bread in July, when courgettes you could cross the Atlantic in  are flumping up the path toward the house in the dead of night.

To be fair, I had hidden the true extent of the problem. As well as that bowl in the kitchen there was also a wheelbarrow outside, too heavy to lug up the step:

And here's the tree all these lemons came from, after I picked them:

Plus the other lemon tree I haven't got to yet (kinda; see below).

Why didn't I post all these pics? Because I thought someone might ask "Why'dya plant too many citrus trees?" And than I'd lose my mind.

Because I didn't. If I had planted four citrus trees on the terrace in my garden I would now have a navel, a Seville, a tangerine and a proper yellow lemon tree instead of what I've got which is a navel, a Meyer lemon tree, whose fruit is distinguished by being "so sweet" - that's a direct quote from a pal - when everyone knows the raison d'etre of a lemon is to be SOUR. Sorry. Okay, so a navel, a Meyer lemon, a Meyer lemon/tangerine splice for God's sake, and - I kid you not - a pomelo.

A what, you ask.


I think whoever built this house put in the trees before they sold it to the first owner and they were using up whatever stock they'd bought from the wholesale tree nursery. There's no other explanation. Pomelo! Jesus wept. Google "pomelo". You find this:

Can you eat a pomelo?
What does a pomelo taste like?
What is the benefit of pomelo?

Now Google "orange". You find:

"Is it okay to eat an orange every day?"

Something no one ever asked about a pomelo in the history of the world.


Take care, everyone.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Being Frank and... by Cathy Ace

What change in the publishing landscape over the past decade and a half has impacted you the most?

First of all, if you didn’t read Frank’s piece yesterday…do that, because he said what I would have said, but better than I would have said it. He talked about self-publishing and the access to e-books…then mentioned the perennial problem of getting readers to find out about and choose to read your books, but – as Frank wisely observed – that’s a blog for another day.

So, moving forward – and bearing in mind that in the “current situation” (my chosen euphemism for being quarantined due to the global pandemic) my answer might change within the next two hours – I think a huge change has been the shift in accessibility to Print On Demand,both for traditional and indie/self-publishers. E-books are e-books, and print is print, and the way the two options get themselves into the hands of readers is very different (NB: Yes, I know that these are extraordinary times and that the new normal isn’t anything close to normal at all, so bear with me?).

Well, here’s the thing: my Canadian traditional publisher and my British traditional publisher both shifted my books onto a Print On Demand (POD) footing long before I stopped signing contracts with them. They took the business decision that they didn’t want their money tied up in boxes and boxes of books sitting in warehouses. Fair enough. But that meant that certain booksellers wouldn’t stock those titles because – no matter if it’s a traditional publisher using POD or an independent/self publisher using POD – bookstores won’t pay upfront for books to put on their shelves without knowing they can return them to the distributor if they remain unsold, and both my publishers had a “non returnable” clause with their POD provider. When I signed with those publishers, this wasn’t the case. But the contracts I had signed with them allowed them to do this. So, there I was, being published by two traditional publishing houses, neither of which could get my books onto bookshelves in bricks and mortar bookstores any better than I could by setting up my own publishing company and taking up the same contracts for my new books with POD providers that those publishers had.

So that’s what I did. I’m no worse off than I was. 

And now the blatant self promotion…PLEASE consider trying my books while you’re holed up? My Cait Morgan Mysteries offer traditional puzzle mysteries for the armchair traveler, with each book being set in a different country; my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries feature a quartet of softly-boiled female PIs who run their business out of a Welsh stately home; my amazon #1 bestseller The Wrong Boy is a tale of psychological suspense set in a clifftop village in Wales. You can find out more about my books by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Biggest Publishing Change - Two Truths and a Lie

What change in the publishing landscape over the past decade and a half has impacted you the most?

- From Frank

It's a good thing I'm going early in the week, because the easy answer is either still out there or at least not yet beaten to death. Because I'm going to lie to you about it. Ready?

Self-publishing is the biggest change, hands down.

Whether it is a good change or not depends on where you sit, I suppose. But it has been a massive change, fueled of course by the other big change - the advent of ebooks. The former couldn't have happened without the latter.

My first several books were published by very small presses. Unfortunately, they kept going under (or getting out of the fiction business). It happened three separate times, which led me to begin to wonder if it was me

Maybe it was - who knows? But that's a separate story.

What I do know is that around 2011, I had the digital rights to all of my books, and it was starting to look like ebooks were real and self-publishing could work. Since my publisher at the time (the third one, who hadn't contracted out of fiction yet) didn't care about ebooks, I took the plunge and published my River City books myself. Then I went further and published all of the books and short story collections I had ready to go at the time. That included producing a paperback version for each, which was a process I've gotten much better at over time... yeah, my first attempt at those River City short story collections were rough.

The ebooks did well. In fact, for a while there, they did extraodinarily well. I actually first started to consider retiring from law enforcement on the basis of those sales numbers during the latter half of 2012. Of course, sales returned to earth within a year, but the experience of having total control over my own work was one I reveled in.

The discussions of self/independent publishing versus traditional publishing are legion, and I won't rehash them here. Each has its advantages and disadvantages that tend to mirror each other. Proponents and detractors of both have valid points (though they tend to accentuate the positives of their own stance and the negatives of the other, I've noticed).

Because there are advantages to each route, I've ultimately adopted a hybrid approach. Some of my work (River City series and Stefan Kopriva mysteries) I publish myself. Other work (Charlie-316, for example) is published by Down and Out Books. As much as I can, I focus on those positives of each approach and mitigate the negatives (or simply accept them). You could say I'm trying to eat my cake and have it, too.

But I told you I was going to lie to you at the beginning of this post, didn't I? And I did. Self-publishing and ebooks are certainly monumental changes in the publishing world. This is true. But they are perhaps not the biggest change. I think a case can be made that the biggest change for all authors has been a shift in the nature of our greatest challenge.

See, it used to be that the hardest thing was access. Getting past the gatekeepers. Can I get an agent to represent me or a publisher to want to publish my work? That was the challenge, one that most of those who "failed" did not manage to overcome. Failure for those writers was an unpublished manuscript in a bottom drawer, or God forbid, long forgotten in a box in the garage or attic.

But now? Access is not a problem. Between traditional and independent publishing options, a writer can be published, one way or the other. S/he can write a great book and it can be produced professionally, with great editing, attractive formatting and a eye-catching cover. It's not the biggest challenge anymore. 

What is?

Being read.

With so many books out there, being discovered by readers is the bigger challenge to break out. How do you get eyes on your book so that readers will get hooked on your work?

Failure for writers now comes not in the form of an unpublished book in the bottom drawer but as an unread book, languishing on Amazon with two reviews and six digital sales a year.

How big a change is that? Or is it a distinction without a difference? 

Truthfully, that's a whole different blog post. So is the question of how to overcome that challenge (something all of my colleagues here could weigh in on with some considerable knowledge). If we suppose the book itself is great and packaged that way, too, then the answer is marketing, right? And I hate marketing. It honestly feels like I'm screaming at a rock concert while everyone else is screaming, too. I can barely hear them, and who is hearing me?

But I said I'd leave that for some other post, didn't I? I think I've answered this one - the biggest change in publishing? To my mind, that the author's greatest challenge has gone from being access to publication to access to readers' eyeballs and interest.

Your mileage may vary, of course.


Blatant Self-Promotion? 

How can I do that after I just said how much I dislike marketing? But it's necessary, isn't it?  

Let's go with the minimalist approach, then.

My latest book is In the Cut. You can read about it if you click the link.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Climbing the Mountain

Q: What change in the publishing landscape over the past decade and a half has impacted you the most?

- from Susan

My first novel, MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT, was published in 2010, almost two years after I got an agent and 20 months after she sold it in a two-book deal. So, I don’t have the longer history that would speak to the question from experience. It’s been crazy from my Day One. What I’ve experienced:

Small imprints or publishers may surprise you with a “by the way” email that says they’ve sold their entire catalog (including your book) to another publisher with no input from you. Oh, and they get whatever financial payment is in the deal, nadato you. Oh, and furthermore, that second book you were under contract to produce and were just about to send in? The new publisher may say “No thanks, we’re not honoring your contract with them.”

The above has an addendum: We are holding you to the terms of the contract that says if your book is available anywhere in any form, it’s still “in print” and you can’t get the rights back. Note that “any form” means an e-book, not just paper, and e-books can live online forever.

But wait! You can in some cases get the rights back, and I have been fortunate to land more than once during one of these handoffs with publishing companies or imprints that have been gracious. I’ve had the good fortune of playing it forward a couple of times, having a new publisher take me on because I could give them the rights for the previous books. In fact, I just got the rights back from the last publisher of the Dani series by asking for them – at no cost to me – when the publisher did the above transfer of its catalog.

…which leads me to another wrinkle in the new world of publishing. Now what? Do I want to self-publish? Go with another small outfit if they’ll have me? It’s a lot of work to self-publish successfully and to gain attention for my books among the hundreds of thousands of similarly available electronic and POD (print on demand) offerings that cover Amazon like falling snow.

So, the consolidation and fracturing of traditional publishers, the outdated contracts that freeze our book assets, the flowering of self-published books, and more are the changes that have been happening and that I’ve been feeling. But there’s another: the demise of traditional editor-led acquisitions at the big houses that are now dominated by sales, marketing and accounting decision makers. In the halcyon days before my time, so I’ve heard, an editor could find and champion an author, help her build a career, stay with her as her audience and “voice” matured. No longer. You have to arrive, usually via an agent, fully formed, replete with a social media platform, and your own commitment to marketing. And if you don’t become a bestseller immediately – and stay a bestseller book after book – you get dropped because you didn’t feed that bottom line well enough.

I hope I don’t sound bitter because I’m not. We’re all in the same boat, good writers and bad, competing for whatever kind of success and professional satisfaction we can find in a landscape that changes seemingly every day. We do what we can, we share strategies, we flock to the newest grand idea and when we’ve drowned it with our enthusiasm, we surf to the next one. 

It’s a rocky, vertiginous, dry-as-a-desert landscape at times. But writers will write, continue to search for audiences, and figure out how to make it work for themselves. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pride, satisfaction, thankfulness

by Abir

What moment of personal accomplishment within the writing realm made you most proud?

Hi folks. 

What a week it’s been. The world has changed utterly since last Friday. S*!t just got real, as you North Americans say. I hope you’re all keeping well and taking care of your loved ones, and that the financial repercussions aren’t too severe.

As for me and my family, we’ve been gradually battening down the hatches. Our younger son has his last day of school today after which the monster will be in the house till what feels like the end of time. Our elder boy is on the autism spectrum and attends a specialist school, so he’ll still be going, if only for three days a week. Still, that’s a small blessing as his routine means a lot to him.

Right. On to today’s topic.

Like my fellow writers on this blog, I’m a wee bit uncomfortable with the word ‘proud’. Pride in one’s achievements is all well and good, but I think I’ll reserve it for when the race is run and I’m sitting in my slippers at the age of a hundred and six, drinking cocoa and looking back on my life. For now I’m just a relatively inexperienced author, very much still learning the trade.

I’m also a bit of a fatalist and I’ve learned that whenever I think some goal has been reached, something will happen to pull the rug from out under my feet. So reflecting on achievements feels like jinxing things.

That’s not to say I don’t feel a sense of satisfaction at certain things. I’ll allow myself that, but those things are quite limited. Most of all I feel satisfaction for having written the four novels that have been published to date. Five years ago, I was given a wonderful opportunity by my publishers and I’m glad that, in some way, I’ve been able to repay their faith in my writing. As for the success or otherwise of the books, that’s really down to the wonderful readers. 

I also feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I receive letters or e-mails from people telling me that they’ve enjoyed my books, that they’ve helped them connect with the history of their parents or grandparents, or that the books have been a comfort to them through difficult times. We all like to think we can make a difference to the world, even in a small way, and if my books can bring a little joy into people’s lives, I can’t really ask for anything more.

I feel some satisfaction that, in the space of five years, I’ve been able to transition from my day job to a position where I’m writing almost full time, though this may be temporary and who knows what’ll happen in the next few months. 

And that’s probably it. It’s a short list I know, but really my overriding feelings are gratitude and thankfulness. It might sound twee, but I’m grateful for the opportunities that writing has given me – the chance to see the world, to visit places I’d never have imagined I’d see. I’m grateful that writing books has given me a platform to talk to people all over the world about issues that I think are important. I’m thankful that I’ve been given the chance to write – to indulge my passion and call it my job, and most of all, I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made, all the wonderful, warm hearted people it’s been a privilege to meet along the way.

Writing has given me a life I never thought was possible, and I’m thankful for every single day of it.

Stay safe, friends. x

Thursday, March 19, 2020

All Glove, No Bat from James W. Ziskin

From Jim

What moment of personal accomplishment within the writing realm made you most proud?

A happy topic this week. And a tricky one. We have been asked to brag about our writing accomplishments, which is fun. In doing so, however, we run the risk of coming across as smug or self-satisfied if we handle it clumsily. So, with humility as my guiding principle, here I go...

I will boast about the thirteen award nominations I’ve received over the past six years—five Anthonys, four Leftys, two Macavitys, one Barry, and an Edgar. Never mind that those nominations only yielded two wins, a batting average of .154. If I were a baseball player, they’d say I was all glove and no bat. But who cares? No one remembers who won those awards.

Well...actually, I do. And I’ll bet Terry Shames remembers, too, since she was nominated along with me on several of those occasions. Most often, it was Louise Penny or Lou Berney who carried the day. Three times each, in fact. Furthermore, two Anthony awards I had my eye on are sitting somewhere in Lori Rader-Day’s house with her name on them. And then there’s our own Catriona McPherson. She won the first time I was nominated for an Anthony in 2015. And, of course, Rhys Bowen, Adrian McKinty, and William Kent Krueger all took home hardware I had hoped to display on a shelf in my office. Pretty good company to be in. I am tremendously proud to have been nominated with such talented authors, and there’s no shame in having lost out to them. Not only are they gifted writers, they are—most of them, at least—wonderful people. (Just kidding. They’re all jerks. Every last one of ’em!) 😉

Yes, I’m truly proud of my awards and nominations, especially the Anthony and Macavity awards I somehow won for HEART OF STONE. But none of those is the achievement that gave me the greatest thrill of my writing career. That was an e-mail I received from my agent in November of 2012, informing me that he’d received an offer on my first book, STYX & STONE. It was a magical moment I’ll never forget. I had wanted to be a writer since I wrote an awful World War I novel at the age of twelve. After that, I wrote six more books, each one a little less horrible than the last, until It finally happened. For me, overnight success took forty years, from 1972 to 2012. And good thing it did. I needed that time, those life experiences, those failed novels, in order to improve my writing. I shudder to think what might have been if one of those crappy books had actually been published. And, of course, I could have quit along the way. Forty years is a long time for any endeavor. Just ask Moses. And though I frittered away many years writing nothing at all, I never lost the itch to write novels.

My advice to aspiring authors, as always, is don’t give up on your writing dreams. I still have many more that I hope come true. You should, too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

High Points

What moment of personal accomplishment within the writing realm made you most proud?

by Dietrich

I don’t like to think of it as pride, because that means a fall could come next. Let’s call it a high point. And as far as writing goes, the first of these came when I found myself in a position to leave the nine-to-five grind behind and finally follow a dream – to write full-time. It took a long time to get there, but it felt pretty good when it did.

I strapped myself in and started writing every day, and after a while there came the next high point; a screenplay I co-wrote with my talented wife ended up as a finalist in a writing contest. And that sure charged up the confidence. Then I tried some short stories and I was thrilled when the first was accepted for publication. And so, I just kept cranking them out, one short after another. I was doing what I loved, and I was thrilled with each one that found a home. 

Eventually I felt ready and I started working on what became my first novel, Ride the Lightning. And I enjoyed every inch of the way: writing, rewriting and editing. Finally I sent it off to a handful of agents and publishers, and I sat back and crossed my fingers. 

Maybe the biggest ‘writing moment’ came when I got that first YES from my publisher, ECW Press. Signing that deal took care of any self doubt that might have been left in the shadows, and more than ever I felt I was on the right track. That same novel won an IPPY award a few months after its pub date, and that felt pretty amazing as well.

Now I’m working on my tenth novel, and I still enjoy every step of the process. I enjoy working with my publisher, editors, copy editors, designers and publicity people. And I’m always thrilled seeing the cover comps and finally holding an ARC. 

And getting positive reviews after a book comes out can be right up there among the high points too. And so is getting positive feedback from fellow writers and comments from readers. And what author doesn’t like when someone comes up with a copy of their book at a reading event and asks them to sign it.

At the start, one aspect that was a challenge for me was that first public appearance, and not being sure what to expect from it. As it turned out, I discovered I’m quite the ham, and once I got started I didn’t want to shut up. Since the first time, I’ve jumped at the chance to take part in reading events, selecting an excerpt and sharing it with an audience. And the same goes for speaking on writers’ panels and giving interviews.

Those have been some of the high points along the way. I feel truly fortunate to do what I love every day, and here’s to plenty more high points to come.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Personal Accomplishments, Writing and Other

What moment of personal accomplishment within the writing realm made you most proud? Outside of writing?

Terry Shames here:

Is there ever a feeling like seeing your first book in print? Mind you, this was not my “first” book. I wrote six novels and about twenty pieces of novels before I got the call that rocked my world: An editor loved my book and wanted to publish it. He was even willing to give me money for it! And then Carolyn Hart, an author I had long admired when she was asked at Malice Domestic what novel she had read recently that she loved, named A Killing at Cotton Hill. And then the book was nominated for numerous awards, including the Strand Critics award for Best First Novel. And it won the Macavity Award for best first. One, long, thrilling year of pride. My books have been nominated several times since then and won another award, but nothing quite compares to climbing onto the merry-go-round and having the pony I’m riding take off running.

But I have to back up. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened because I finally took to heart the advice I had heard again and again to write a novel the “no one else could write.” At a workshop, Sophie Littlefield gave writers the advice to dig deep inside and find our story. A month later I sat myself down and took a critical look at the books I had written. Here’s what I discovered: they all seemed to be an echo of other books I’d read. They weren’t bad. Or as two different editors said, “Love the writing and the characters, but not the story.” And “Love the writing and the story, but not the characters.” I know now that when you get two opposing viewpoints from seasoned editors, there is something wrong at the core. And that something was not telling “my” stories. So although I am proud of producing A Killing at Cotton Hill and all the other Samuel Craddock novels, I’m proudest of finally taking the advice seriously and running with it.

As for my life outside of writing, I would say that raising my son has to be right up there. He was a tough kid to raise and my husband and I sometimes got advice from professionals that scared us: His anxiety would always make him a difficult person. We finally got some advice that worked from a therapist who laughed at all the other advice. He taught my husband and me the proper way to deal with a kid who was anxious. My son is now a fabulous person who has his own business, is kind and thoughtful, has friends who adore him, and is good to his mother! I recently told him that the fact that not one of his employees had quit in the five years he has had the business was some kind of record. He modestly said, No it was the nature of the business. But I know that isn’t true. I know they stay because they trust him. They know he works as hard as they do, or harder, and that he has their interest at heart.

But that took a village. It wasn’t my actual, personal accomplishment. So what is my personal accomplishment that I was proudest of? I think it has to be when I learned to water start my windsurfer. That means instead of standing on the board and pulling up the sail by brute strength, you lie in the water and position the sail so that the wind pulls you up onto to board. Voila!

Everyone else was playing on their boards all summer while I was struggling to figure out this new technique. I had seen someone else do it and  I was determined to learn it for myself. When I did, other sailors kept asking me how I did it. I was so proud. Never having been the least bit athletic, I was especially pleased to do something that took athleticism and perseverance. The sad thing is that someone developed a really easy way to teach people to do it, and I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had waited a bit. But as a completely klutzy non-athlete, I felt really proud that I had persevered and taught myself a new technique.

So the two accomplishments are oddly at opposite ends of the spectrum. In one, I finally listened to good advice. In the other, I found the way for myself. But in the end, it’s perseverance that made the difference both professionally and personally.

On a personal note, I want to wish everybody a safe and secure time in the next few weeks. We are facing a crisis that I could never have imagine no matter how much science fiction I read. Now it feels like we've been plopped into the middle of one of those novels with no clear idea what will happen next. Be kind to each other and kind to yourselves.


Monday, March 16, 2020

The Shining Moments by Brenda Chapman

What moment of personal accomplishment within the writing realm made you most proud? Outside of writing?

There have been a few moments of pride in my writing journey.

The first would be when Canadian Living, a national magazine, printed my short story True North” way back in August 2001. This was my first submission, the first time I signed a contract, and the first time I saw my name in print in a bona fide magazine. Such elation!

This was followed a few years later by the acceptance of my middle grade book Running Scared, a book I wrote for my two daughters. The book launch at my local pub was a crowded, happy affair. Over a hundred people came out to raise a glass, and I can't think of a time in this writing career when I've felt such complete and utter joy.

Since then, I've had a total of twenty-two books published and holding each one in my hands for the first time has been a moment filled with pride and satisfaction. Each has taken a great deal of work and care not only by me but also by everyone who worked on it, from editors to marketing to publicity. Each book has been a collaboration and I'm proud of the professional relationships and friends I've made.

There have been smaller but no less impactful moments that stay with me.

The one I keep coming back to is when the father of a grade five boy named Chris asked me to visit his son's class to talk about Running Scared. They'd recently moved to Ottawa and Chris was having trouble fitting in. "You'd be doing me a big favour," his dad said. I drove to his school one afternoon and Chris's teacher sent him to the office to escort me to the classroom. My talk went over well. The kids were enthusiastic and lined up to get my autograph afterwards. Chris gave me a card and small gift and thanked me in front of his classmates. He smiled the entire way back to the office and said before he left me, "That was the best day of my whole life."

Hard to top that moment - and turns out Chris was the one who did me a favour in the end.

Every email or interaction with a reader who tells me they love my books and speak about the characters as if they're real people builds on that bit of pride. I mean, why else are we writing except to move or entertain readers? I love that people want to share their thoughts about the books and their enthusiasm for the stories with me. I even enjoy their attempts to have me steer the storyline in a particular direction for the next book.

Last year, my daughter Lisa introduced me at the launch of TurningSecrets. She spoke with such assurance and so movingly about the impact I'd had on her growing up and the pride she had in me, that I, in turn, was overwhelmed with pride in her. I mean, how many moms get to experience that? I liked it so much that I've asked my youngest daughter Julia to introduce me for the Closing Time launch :-)


This brings me to other moments of personal pride outside of writing. The top one would be watching my daughters create happy, successful lives and loving relationships. Giving them the self-confidence and tools to make their way in this world and to be strong and independent women is probably their dad's and my greatest achievement.

Lisa and Julia

Speaking of the next launch, Closing Time, book 7 in the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series, will be available at the end of March. The last in the series!


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Friday, March 13, 2020

The Beat of a Different Drum

What book(s) surprised you by the impact it had on you?

by Paul D. Marks

There’s been many books over the years that have had an impact on me one way or another.
And I know that a lot of people were influenced by Catcher in the Rye, but I didn’t read it till I was an adult. Others were inspired by Tolkien, but I’ve never read him. Sorry, I’m just not into fantasy. Music had and still has a great influence on me, as does Edward Hopper’s art, but that isn’t the question.

So, if I was going to pick a crime novel it would probably be Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, even though it’s not my favorite Chandler. That would be The Long Goodbye. But if we’re talking about a book—of any genre—that truly surprised, maybe more than any other, it wouldn’t be a crime novel. And, in fact, this question did actually bring up a lot of “stuff” for me, because the book that I’m going to talk about is The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. If I have to pick one book that really surprised me with the impact it had on me this is it. As with a lot of books, I had seen the movie with Tyrone Power first and I liked it a lot. I related a lot to his character. So I figured I’d read the book.

The Razor’s Edge is the story of Larry Darrell, a World War I vet who’s traumatized and disillusioned by the war, and looking for meaning in its aftermath. Larry’s struggle for meaning in a seeming meaningless and insane world struck a chord with me. As did the things he gave up to achieve some kind of meaning and inner peace (I’m still working on the last thing in particular…).

After high school I couldn’t wait to get out of the house, unlike kids these days. I did some interesting things that are maybe better left for another time. But eventually you have to settle down and figure out what you’re going to do with your life and find some kind of equilibrium. For Larry the answer, at least somewhat, can be found in Eastern religion. And though the story is very personal to me, I didn’t do what Larry does in terms of going to India and meeting with a guru, or even getting into Eastern religion, that’s not my style. But his struggle for meaning and purpose certainly resonated with me. I’m still searching because like Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Though the unexamined life is probably a lot more fun than the examined one.

Larry wants to “loaf,” take things slowly, stop and smell the roses, not something I’m good at. But, like Larry, I certainly didn’t go the approved path that my parents would have preferred and I think they might have thought I was loafing sometimes ’cause they didn’t understand the life of an “artist”. I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious.

I always had this fantasy of being an expat on the Left Bank like Hemingway and the Lost Generation after World War I. Instead I went to bars in Hollywood and West L.A. and hung with other writers there. I don’t think it was quite the same. But what I did do was dedicate myself to being a writer and trying to have some success at it. As we all know that comes with many ups and downs and rejections and it’s the few and far between who are the overnight successes. But most of us toil in obscurity and do it because we can do nothing else. And if we’re lucky we do achieve some level of success.

There’s been two movies, that I’m aware of, based on this book. They are the 1946 Tyrone Power version and the 1984 Bill Murray version. I like the former better, though the latter is growing on me. And, as an aside, I remember seeing Bill Murray on the Warner Brothers lot, though it was probably called The Burbank Studios at the time, the day after it opened, reading the reviews in the paper.

Somerset Maugham

So to bring this full circle: I think The Razor’s Edge helped me achieve a level of some sort of sanity and peace, though not always. Ask people who knew me when I was younger and they’ll tell you about all the fights, verbal and physical, they saw me get into (and I ain’t a big guy). My wife has also helped calm me, but I still have my moments. But the Razor’s Edge surprised in the sense of how much I related to it. How much I related to the character of Larry and what Maugham was writing about. It really spoke to me and helped give me a better perspective on life. Now, if I could just keep that in mind more of the time…

What about you? What book/s surprised you and why?


And now for the usual BSP:

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

“There are all the essential elements for an engrossing read: good guys, bad guys, gangsters and crooked policemen, and through it all, an extremely well written sense of believable realism.”
            —Discovering Diamonds Reviews, Independent Reviews of the Best in Historical Fiction (

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