Friday, May 7, 2021

Why would I write a police protagonist in 2021? By Josh Stallings

Q: We are living in interesting times. How has the social unrest and societal perception shifts changed your work?

A: Epic fantasy writer Tad Williams once said that he maps out these huge multi-volume stories while leaving himself wiggle room for who he will be six years down the road when he’s finishing the last book of the trilogy. 

Leaving room to grow as a human, and letting that affect the work is vital. And complicated.



I write entertainments, fast moving crime novels. But Josh the human is an ever evolving socially conscious man. I was raised in the counter culture, think hippies meet the Quaker peace and freedom movement. I am drawn to subjects that have social relevance, and then I try and forget that and concentrate on story.



More than a few readers have asked me if I was still writing and if I was, why haven’t I published anything for several years? I was writing, just not the part where I type words into sentences. To be able to write Tricky, I needed to discover how I felt about policing in America. That meant lots of research, reading interviews, talking to folks on both sides of the law, and the toughest part, personal reflection and honest inventory of a lifetime of interactions with the police. 


My grandfather was a LA Sheriff for most of his adult life. My father was arrested and jailed for anti-war efforts. I have been arrested. I have known cops. I have known criminals. I lived through the Rampart scandal and the Rodney King uprising. There was a pile to unpack.


This journey led me to some clear ideas on where we got it right, and where we got it wrong. Having done all the research, I tossed it out and wrote the story of Detective Madsen and Cisco, a cop and an intellectually disabled former gang member learning to see each other beyond the labels and preconceptions.



The book was done, sold to Agora, waiting on final edits when George Floyd was murdered. The Black Lives Matter movement is amazing and long overdue. And it led me to question if it was appropriate to write a police hero in these times? 

I don’t write heroes. I write flawed protagonists, doing the best they can with what they’ve got. I am interested in deeply flawed people who are trying to be better. Even in these politically divided times, we need to keep the conversations going.  


Detective Madsen isn’t me, but we share some core values and we are both works in progress. 


Young Americans was set in 1976. The focus of the novel’s action is a heist, but the story speaks to sexual identity and the fluidity of affectional orientation. Things I knew about coming of age in the SF bay area during the ‘70s, and a subject I dug deeper into when teaching sex ed to Unitarian Universalist youth. I know it upset a few people that I was writing about a transgender woman in the 70’s, as if that was anachronistic. It wasn’t. Valentina is based on a woman I was friends with at the time.


Quick diversion: “We kissed like we invented it.” From Elbo’s Mirrorball is the best description of a teenage world view I’ve ever read. 


To write the books I want to write I must keep doing the hard work of confronting my own biases and honestly look at how my privilege formed my world view.


Then toss the personal work out and write a fun yarn.


SHORT ANSWER (The Cliff Notes) Everything around me affects my writing. Everything.



Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Walk on the Mild Side, by Catriona

CRAFT : We are living in interesting times. How have the social unrest and societal perception shifts changed your work? 

Aren't we just? 

I've been rolling those two phrases around my mind for a while, as I was thinking about this blog - the social unrest, societal perception shifts - because there are so many things each one might mean. 

"The social unrest" might mean people taking to the streets of Minneapolis to protest a filmed murder that didn't look like being punished. Or it might mean people taking to the streets of Orange County over being asked to skip a beach trip.

These strike me as two very different categories of outrage. But neither one has changed my writing: I've had a pretty settled view of justice, morality, community and hypocrisy for a while now (thanks, Mum and Dad). 

Of course that view colours the tone of my work. I'm squarely in the camp of "dignity culture", believing that all people - all beings - have intrinsic worth beyond their wealth, status or productivity and I'm not much interested in tales that depend on "honour culture" for their moral force. Which isn't to say I'm uninterested in stories about honour culture: toxic masculinity, corrosive loyalty, respect fixation . . . fun times, right? 

But for today I'm going to concentrate on those societal perception shifts, because I have been on a journey when it comes to how to write about one particular kind of lived experience different from my own.

As a beginning writer I conceived of a story with a mysterious character - a film producer - trying to adopt a child from Russia through unusual channels. She's had a lot of plastic surgery and the Scottish narrator has never met anyone like her.


‘You don’t think I’m up to making an action adventure?’ said Patrice. 

‘Sorry,’ I said. 

‘Don’t be,’ she answered and she smiled. That was a sight to behold. Her top lip curled away from her teeth, which were large, perfect and many in number. It kept going until she got that crease under her nose, like Julie Roberts when she's really grinning, that crease that reminds you your mouth is one of the places your insides begin. Her bottom lip spread out across her chin in a movement unrelated to what was going on above. Nothing else moved a millimetre, but her eyes shone, and some of the carefulness disappeared from her. Somehow, I had passed some test that I didn’t even know I was sitting. Something had changed and it never changed back again. It wasn’t a big change; Patrice never got normal. But from that moment on she got with the rest of us – in normal’s orbit.

Two hundred and fifty pages later, we find out that Patrice is adopting, and is watchful, and has had plastic surgery, because she's trans. I never thought twice about it in 2005. It was a good twist as far as I was concerned. She's a sympathetic character and she gets a happy ending. No problem.

But things change.

Over the years as I met and got to know more trans people, as I read and considered trans characters, I learned that the trans plot twist is annoying at best and depressing at worst, even when there's no hate-as-entertainment in the story. It's up there with 'The professor is Black!' and 'Joe the plumber is Jo the plumber!' and 'He's married to another guy!' and all the other ways people's identities can (but maybe shouldn't) serve as punchlines. 

Patrice bothered me more and more. Look, I know progress isn't a straight shot for anyone but trans rights are particularly fragile and patchy. And they're under current attack, enraging and bonkers though that might be. (Holly Woodlawn hitch-hiked her way across the USA in 1962! And everyone was fine!)

Anyway, a couple of years ago I finally put a note on my website - here - and vowed to do better. 

I'm trying to do better right now. This year, in another book (Last Ditch Motel No. 4) I've got another trans character and although this is a comic novel, his identity is not a punchline. The punchline, after less than a page of set-up, is the assumptions we make, no matter where we're making them from. So, right at the start of the book, Della (a Mexican woman) is talking to Todd (a gay man) about the new, post-divorce, arrival at the motel: 

His ex-wife’s . . .” Della was saying. “I don’t know how much I can say.”

“Unfaithful? Addicted? Abusive?” said Todd.

“She punched him when he caught her making out in a taxi with her coke dealer,” said Della. “So, I think, all three. Only, he’s very religious so it was taking a lot of work to get him ready to leave.”

Todd and I exchanged a look. I said it. “Very religious? How is he with ‘the gays’? Not that we all have to hang out or anything but if he’s going to be a pest . . .”

“Oh, he’s good,” said Della. “I mean, I think. I think he would be good.”

“Why?” said Todd. “Why so breezy, Dells? I’ve never met a man religious enough to make divorce a problem who was ‘good’ with any other kind of fornication. Which is totally what he’d call my long happy marriage where no one makes out in taxis with coke dealers.”

“I don’t want to gossip about him when he’s not here,” Della said. “But believe me, he’ll be okay.”

“Oh really?” said Todd. “Have you ever actually broached the subject? Has it come up? Why would a hardcore Catholic macho-man who’s too embarrassed to admit his wife hits him be such a willing volunteer for the rainbow coalition?”

“He’s Muslim,” Della said. “And trans.”

I think it's different. I hope so. I've still got time to change it. Cx






Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Me, Myself, and...Why? by Cathy Ace

CRAFT: We are living in interesting times. How have social unrest, and societal perception shifts, changed your work?

To be honest, because of what I’m writing at this time, I don’t think it’s made much difference at all. I hope/believe that’s not because I’m insensitive to the turmoil and tragedy that’s being experienced on both the personal and societal level around the globe, but, rather, it’s due to the fact that what I write truly exists independently of current events in the real world. Also, not every story is mine to tell; I have a tough enough time trying to get the voice of a working class Welsh woman who’s migrated to Canada heard (and, yes, you’re right, I could be talking about either Cait Morgan or Cathy Ace with that statement) let alone speak on behalf of others whose stories are equally less listened to/accepted.



At the moment I’m focused on the tenth Cait Morgan Mystery which will be published on June 3rd. No, “focused” is the wrong word…I’m currently completely immersed in the book, as I should be, because it’s a big deal for me. The Cait Morgan Mysteries are traditional, closed circle, puzzle plot mysteries, with a contemporary setting. There’s no gore, sex, or foul language on the page – so already you know I’m not dealing with the real world. There’s also a denouement at the end of each book which allows our professor of criminal psychology/foodie/sleuth to unmask the killer/s with a flourish, allowing us to all settle down to sleep knowing justice has been served, and there will be comeuppances. Again – if there were any doubt in your mind, this should confirm that I write fiction.


My Kindle reader - full of books that are about un-reality

I know the real world doesn’t operate this way, but the worlds I create in my Cait Morgan Mysteries do. That’s not to say I believe my readers don’t understand, or have knowledge about, the way the world really is – no, I believe my readers are intelligent, well-informed people, who gather their insights about the global political and societal issues of the day by methods of their choice; they will each have their own views about what they are experiencing (which will differ enormously, depending on where in the world they live) and what they see happening in the rest of the world.

All of that being said, I will mention one specific topic: the pandemic. Yes, I dared to type that word. A year ago, there was a flurry of commentary/discussion about just how authors would “cope with” the pandemic…not in terms of how we’d manage to survive it with bookstores and libraries closing their doors (though there was a fair amount of terror in that regard) but in terms of how we’d include it in our work, if at all.

My exact view when the pandemic was confirmed

I was sitting on a cruise ship in the Caribbean (yes, I know…lucky me) when the world went into lockdown, and the book I had published in June 2020 reflected that fact only within the Acknowledgements section. Cait Morgan Mystery #10, The Corpse with the Iron Will, has been written since the pandemic was recognized. It doesn’t mention the pandemic, nor will any of the Cait books. But…for the first time ever…Cait Morgan has a murder to solve that’s almost literally on her doorstep, because I wanted to write a book that – while not being a “pandemic” book in any way – allowed me the opportunity to consider the meaning of “home”, “security”, and “community” through the eyes of my characters. I’ve been much more fortunate than most in my experience of the period of March 2020-May 2021, but I know I’m not alone in realizing that the concepts of “home, security, and community” have a different tonal quality in 2021 than in early 2020 – and I think that shift in perception will persist for many, for a long time. So that’s what I’ve tackled in this book, but from the perspective of a Welsh Canadian professor of criminal psychology facing a puzzling death next door, rather than from the perspective of a Welsh Canadian author facing a global pandemic.

You can pre-order THE CORPSE WITH THE IRON WILL now: click here to link to amazon.com        

And you still have a month left to catch up on any of the first nine books you might have missed: click here



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Ride-Along

CRAFT : We are living in interesting times. How has the social unrest and societal perception shifts changed your work?

From Frank

I don't know that it has changed my work, per se. Or if these times are responsible any more than me getting older or more experienced as a writer. But there have been changes.

I use less profanity in my writing than I used to. I don't know if my speech has changed but I do know that I've migrated to a less is more approach to profanity use in my fiction. Now, given that much of what I write is gritty, even dark, stuff, my threshold is probably considerably lower than some authors out there. But I've noticed that people are very accepting of things like profanity, violence, or sex in a book, TV show, or movie if it seems organic to the story. If it's gratuitous, not nearly so much.

And that's cool. It's how it should be. And I'm the same way, believe it or not. Some, if organic, has an impact, and that's the point, right? 

Also, there are a few words that I've come to avoid altogether. I'm sure anyone reading this can surmise what some of these nuclear words are - the 'n' word is the best example. I won't say I never use these words anymore in my writing but I will say that I won't unless it is absolutely critical to the story.  For a while, I'd argue with myself that it was okay to use such terms if was in keeping with the character. But I've migrated away from that stance for the most part. At present, it's gotta be not just a character who has a deep-seated need to say such things, but a story impact need as well. That's a change, because eight or ten years ago, I was pretty casual with characters using slurs. 

That change is partially a response to the same less is more dynamic I mentioned above but mostly in response to my increasing awareness of everything to do with race in our society. It's an awareness level that I think we've all experienced.

Part of this question is about social perceptions. One of the things that has bothered me is how polarized those perceptions seem to be amongst people. For instance, I don't see a conflict in my ability to see the law enforcement profession through the prism of my experience and say that the majority of cops I knew or even interacted with were dedicated, hard-working men and women trying to do the right thing every day... while also saying that I firmly believe we need police reform in this country. 

Unfortunately, this is too nuanced for some. You have to either "back the blue" or call for us "defund the police."  If you don't "take a side," then you're a "coward" who is either "enabling the liberal agenda" or "assisting racist institutions."

Sorry to be crass, but that's bullshit. Some things in life are cut and dried. Most are more complex than that. And dealing with complexity requires a clear and open mind, and it requires people to LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.

I don't mean wait your turn to speak, or listening with the intent of savaging whatever point is being shared, or searching for any piece of the opposing argument that somehow validates your own belief. I mean truly listening.

Because there are points to be raised by all sides of the discussion.

Because a complex and longstanding problem takes a fuller understanding of the dynamics in order to fix it.

Because, you know what? Listening is the human thing to do.

But I don't see much listening going on and that frustrates me. So, since I'm a writer, here's what I'm doing about it.

I'm writing a book.

It's called THE RIDE-ALONG. The premise is simple. There's a good cop who bleeds blue. There's this good citizen, a teacher who is a member of a police reform movement that is gaining traction. She goes on a ride-along with him one night. Sparks fly (not the romantic kind - the argumentative kind) but they find a form of detente early on. And throughout the night, they both learn from each other. They listen.

Now, because this is a novel and because I am who I am, there is more. Things happen after the bulk of the listening takes place. But that's for another discussion.

My point is that since I'm seeing so little of it in the world around me, I decided to write a book about how this kind of listening might actually happen.

I'm in the first draft of this novel but it is moving along well. Whether it sees the light of day or not is anybody's guess. But when the officer in this story is able to share some of the reality of policing with a citizen who never saw it before, it is catharctic. And when that citizen shares a reality with that officer that he's never considered, one that forces him to question his own preconceptions, too? Well, that is is catharctic, as well.

If anyone else ever reads it, maybe it'll be the same way for them.


******************BSP ALERT**********BSP ALERT*************

If this post was too heavy for you and you want to read something less so... well, then this forthcoming anthology maybe isn't for you. But if you're looking for a great lineup of crime writers, a cool premise that loosely connects all of the stories, then The Eviction of Hope is exactly what you want. 

It’s eviction day for The Hope Apartments. The residents have known about it for over a year. It’s too bad they ignored all the warning signs.

More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.

Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.

But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.

Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.

Many stayed until the bitter end.

These are their stories.

My contribution to this Colin Conway-edited anthology is “The Rumor in 411,” a story of loyalty and the power of rumors.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Pandemic, What Pandemic?

 Q: We are living in interesting times. How has the social unrest and societal perception shifts changed your work?

-from Susan

 

I’m old enough to say I have been alive for more than one interesting time, and that whatever’s going on sort of drifts into my work like smoke under a closed door. My protagonists try to see people as individuals, even if a few are individual villains. I’m not above writing a bad cop (MIXED UP WITH MURDER) or a tone-deaf me-firster (LOVE & DEATH IN BURGUNDY). Before I realized I had work to do on my own perceptions, I created a Black woman nicknamed Teeni for my Dani series (MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT). She is smart, well-educated, ambitious, and a work friend of Dani’s. I didn’t do too badly, I guess, because I was invited to speak to a book club of smart, well-educated, ambitious Black women and they thought she was pretty great. 

 

As to today’s horrific, staggering, tragic environment, I have to steel myself to read the daily stories of Black men, women, and children being shot to death by a cadre of uniformed police officers who (unlike most cops, I know) seem to have been transported from earlier, vicious times. I don’t write crime fiction dark enough to permit characters who behave half as ugly as some of the the real life people I read about. 

 

A few of us were talking about whether or not we intended to write this pandemic, even a smidgeon of it, into our current books. I’m not. I’m going to give myself and my readers the luxury of escaping reality for the time they spend with this book. We need a break as a reward for wearing masks, washing hands twenty times a day, and staying six feet away from the people we love the most for over a year.


Check out the American music producer in LOVE & DEATH. 

 

 


Friday, April 30, 2021

Don't Make Me Punch You in the Face

 by Abir Mukherjee

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?



Right.

 

Morning. Friday again. Lots to do, so let’s run through this quickly. 

 

No one has ever written to me saying they don’t like my books. This is understandable because really, life’s too short to go to the trouble of looking up some hack author’s e-mail address and writing them a mail telling them how bad they are. I mean, why would you? I don’t look up Eddie Murphy’s e-mail address and write him a missive saying why did you bother with Coming to America 2, and exactly what happened to you after the eighties? No. I don’t do that because I’m not a nutter and I have better things to do, at least most of the time. 

 

That’s not to say I haven’t had bad reviews (Oh Lord, have I had bad reviews), but that’s fine, cos they are on forums like Goodreads and Amazon and I don’t look at them any more cos one bad review can destroy my confidence for about a week.

 

But I have received some reviews (and these are all real) which I am proud of, including:

 

    “This book reads like it was written by a bank teller.” 1 star


    “Package arrived quickly and in good condition.” 5 stars


    “I didn’t order this and I will not read it.” 1 star

    

    “This book was the perfect thickness to balance the wobbly leg on my table.” 

    5 stars

 

At least they tend to balance out.

 

Occasionally, someone will write a bad review and tag an author on Facebook or Twitter, and in my opinion that’s pretty bad form. It’s been said before, but an author’s book is like their baby. You don’t like it? Fine. But don’t feel the need to tell us about it. How would you like it if an author tagged you on a tweet that said your toddler looked like Alfred Hitchcock had a fight with a frying pan?

 

What readers need to realise is that most writers are borderline crazy – many would be certifiable if they ever left their houses. We are people who spend the day locked up in basements or attics concocting ridiculous lies in our heads which we then try to pass off to people as being believable. Do you really want to pick a fight with the likes of us?

 

Here’s a couple of examples of authors tracking down people who gave them bad reviews:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-34775814#:~:text=An%20author%20tracked%20down%20a,%2C%2018%2C%20at%20her%20work.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic

 

 

Seriously, authors be crazy.

 

But some kinds of authors are more mental than others. If you do fancy taking your life into your own hands and writing an e-mail to an author telling them how one dimensional their characters are, or how you don’t think their hero (let’s call him Wam Syndham) would ever act that way, then here’s a handy guide to which authors are more or less likely to cause you grievous bodily harm or hunt down members of your immediate family.

 

 

Literary fiction authors – because of the zero-sum nature of literary fiction (in that people only buy these books if they’ve won prizes or are praised to the sky by Julian Hamptons-Smythe in the New Yorker or the London Review of Books), your pathetic criticism of their masterpiece means nothing to them (unless you’re a Booker Prize judge or Julian Hamptons-Smythe). They are far too busy bitching about other literary authors in the hope that it’ll improve their own chances of winning an award to care what you might think about them. Just go back to your plebian little life and let them get on with their navel gazing and existential angst.

 

Authors of biographies – These guys have the will-power and perseverance to write a thousand page hardback on the life of Pope Gregory the Ninth. You think your five line, poorly punctuated and grammatically incoherent e-mail is going to phase them? Seriously? These guys will send you a fifteen page reply that will bore you to death.

 

Ghost writers – They really don’t care what you think about a book they wrote for minimum wage for some gormless, illiterate celebrity who gets all the credit for their work. They’re phoning it in while working on their techno-thriller about a sentient toaster that destroys mankind that will make them famous one day.

 

Crime fiction – These are idiots who literally spend their days coming up with new and ingenious and /or gruesomely horrific ways of murdering you and getting away with it. But arrogance and their need for an audience means these authors WILL get caught for murdering you because they want the world to know about their crimes. Seriously, do you really want your life to end up as a plot point? No? Then don’t criticise them.

 

Romantic fiction – The most violent sort of authors. Don’t be fooled by all the love they show on the page, these people are pure nutters who would scratch your eyes out if you even looked at them funny. 

 

Sci-fi authors – ‘Mostly Harmless’

 

 

So there you go. If you really feel like you have nothing better to do than upset an author, make it a sci-fi author, cos they’re the nicest of the lot and probably won’t kill you. But I don’t really need to tell you that, because you’re not the sort of person who would do that in the first place. 


Because you’re lovely.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

If You Can’t Say Something Nice... from James W. Ziskin

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?

Two Stories:

1. The Case of the Nitpicker

I’ve never received an actual e-mail saying the reader didn’t like my books, but I have received critical feedback. One time a reader wrote to me and expressed his admiration for Styx & Stone, the first book in my Ellie Stone series. He noted the things he thought I’d done well and how the subject matter appealed to him. But he also offered a couple of quibbles he had with my research. 

One, he wrote, was that the word “pheromone” was coined in 1959, and, therefore, it was unlikely that Ellie Stone would have used it in January of 1960. He was right, of course. 

The second suggestion he made concerned a fictional LP I’d included in the story. It was a collection of excerpts from Rossini’s William Tell, conducted by Toscanini. My eagle-eyed reader pointed out that Toscanini had only recorded the overture (of course) and one other piece from the opera. That was not enough for an entire LP. Some folks might think it a forgivable error on my part, but I wished I had done better research. My correspondent was absolutely right.

His third point was that he could find no evidence that Van Cliburn had ever recorded Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto, another fictional album in my book. On the whole, however, he pronounced himself satisfied with Styx & Stone and went on to read—and critique—the next six books in the series.

I have continued to correspond with him all along, and we have become good friends, even if we’ve never met in person. We share similar interests and tastes. I even enlisted him as a beta reader for my last two books because—I told him—I’d rather he find the anachronisms and errors in my stories BEFORE they were published rather than AFTER. He’s an immensely thoughtful, educated, and intelligent guy. I’m so glad he wrote to me. I’ll identify him here only as Fred, though I gave him a full acknowledgement in my latest book, Turn to Stone.


2. The Case of the Brutally Frank Critic

My mother taught me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

The second story involves a reader who spoke to me at an author event hosted by a large library in Southern California. Many writers participated in several panels that day, and we all enjoyed lunch at our tables with ten readers each. After the main event and our meal, we writers repaired to the book room, where we waited for readers to mosey past and perhaps buy a book and get it signed. One lady strolled by my table twice, eyeing my books as if debating whether to buy one. On her third pass, she stopped and informed me she’d read my first Ellie Stone mystery, the very same Styx & Stone Fred had written to me about.

“That’s very nice,” I said. “Thank you.”

She fixed her gaze on me for a moment then added, “I didn’t think much of it.”

I probably blanched. But, remembering the solid advice I’d received never to argue with reviewers, I told her I was sorry she hadn’t enjoyed it. What I really wanted to say would have qualified as ungentlemanly.

Having made my day, she moved on, surely to spread more sunshine to the other authors.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

You’ve got hate mail

Image: Robin Olson

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?

by Dietrich


I haven’t had anyone write and tell me they didn’t like my books, although I’m aware they’re out there. But, like most authors, I have received those one-star reviews along with the unkind comments. As far as responding to such a letter, I guess it would depend on its tone. If it’s meant to be constructive, I might write back, but if the letter was rabid and mean, I probably wouldn’t finish reading it. What would be the point of responding with:


Dear stalker,


You had me at talentless boob. And how did you get this email address anyway? No, please don’t answer that. Okay, I understand you don’t like my books, which makes me wonder why you would read them all the way through, or better yet, read more than one. That’s just rhetorical too. But seriously, have you tried another writer, or a different genre, comic books maybe? Again, please don’t answer that either, just think about it, okay?


Stay frosty.

Yours, TB


I think writers are better off not to lash back at unkind comments the way a comedian might handle a heckler.


“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Orc.” — Brendan Dodds


Commenting back would likely just encourage another letter or have the whole correspondence go online and quickly downhill from there. 


"There's loads of problems with social media. People say things they would not say to your face. They're braver. They're anonymous. It's not a real conversation, it's a terrorism. Trolls or hecklers, which is what they are, don't want a conversation. They want you to have as bad a day as they're having.” — Ricky Gervais

 

Like any writer, I’m aware my style is not for everyone. If someone doesn’t like my stories, that’s fine, but it doesn’t require a letter of retaliation on my part. There’s no need to switch the ego to self-righteous mode; it’s better to just get back to whatever I’m working on. Nothing messes with the muse like an ego on fire.


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

How Did You Like It?

 

Terry Shames here, answering our question of the week: 

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different? 

 Since I’ve never had that happen, it’s a strange question to answer. I don’t know what I would do it someone took the trouble to write and say they didn’t like my books. Usually it’s the opposite—I’ve read all your books, now when is the next one coming out? 

Cover of the last Craddock book!



 But that doesn’t mean people don’t like them. I don’t often read my Amazon reviews, but I have seen a couple in which readers gifted me with less than sterling reviews because the books are “slow.” The fact is, they’re right. I write a small-town Texas police procedural. Samuel Craddock is an older protagonist. He’s methodical and thoughtful. 



There isn’t a lot of action, if you don’t count murder as action. I’m more interested in relationships, and how things go so bad for someone that murder seems their only way out. I’m also interested in how gossip and secrets work in a small town. I want to explore social issues in a setting in which people know each other well and a small shift in attitude can affect a lot of people. I’ve addressed issues of hypocrisy, greed, how the past affects the present, family dynamics, violence, and police brutality. I’ve never had anyone write to tell me I shouldn’t do that. 

 I’ve only had one really unhappy review, and I discovered it two years after the book was published. The reviewer thought the events in the book couldn’t possibly be true. I guess he’s never known a woman who was abused by a family member. The odd thing was that with that negative review, I felt as if I’d finally arrived as a full-fledged writer. Bad reviews are part of what we invite when we put our work out there. 

 Although I’ve never had a reader tell me they didn’t like my books, occasionally I get an email in which the writer tells me I’ve gotten something wrong. I had one from a man who wanted me to write more thoroughly about motorcycles. He went on for two pages about what I could have put into the book. But he wasn’t angry or upset, and he seemed to like the book—he just wanted more motorcycles. 



Another reader took umbrage with my description of alfalfa fields, telling me that alfalfa didn’t grow in Texas. I wrote back and thanked him for his correction, telling him that I relied on my daddy’s information. And, in fact, alfalfa does grow in Texas, but I decided not to argue. Yet another reader declared that I couldn’t actually be from Texas, and I actually knew nothing about the state because my characters didn’t use the terms “y’all” or “ain’t.” I didn’t use the terms because in my family the two terms were used ironically rather than in everyday speech. But she was right; those terms are widely used. In my next book, as an homage to her, I had a character who used both. 

 I recently had a talk with a book club whose members had carefully read my first book. They asked some tough questions about motivation and about the psychological life of the characters. A couple of them said they had “problems” with the motivation of one of the characters. I guess that ‘s the closest I’ve gotten to someone saying they didn’t like a book. And I hope it will always be that way.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Cups of Tea

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?

Good Monday morning. Brenda Chapman at the keyboard.

All authors get one-star and negative reviews, but it takes a really disgruntled reader to track down an author's contact information in order to tell them how much they hate their books. I'm  fortunate to never have received an entirely negative email about my books although some have included negative elements. 

The criticism has generally been about the audio tapes for Cold Mourning and Butterfly Kills. Several listeners haven't liked the actress's voice on the tapes. (However, to be fair, others have found her voice to be fine.) Another type of criticism I've received concerns the grammar errors in my books, Since the buck ultimately stops with my publisher, I always send the observations to them so that they can correct the errors in future editions and in the ebooks. 

I'm always appreciative when a reader takes the time to go to my website to track down my email address and send a note to me, no matter the content. I'm delighted when they do this to tell me how much they like my books and my writing. I respond to each and every one and thank the person for their comments. Sometimes I let them know that I'm sharing their email with my publisher if it concerns the grammar or audiotape issues.

I prefer to receive a reader's criticism privately rather than on a social media site, such as Goodreads. Recently, my Stonechild and Rouleau series has been receiving multiple reviews and ratings every day on Goodreads. Most are positive, some are heart-warming, a few are negative or one-star. Some reader reviews don't like my characters swearing. Others aren't fans of any violence (although these are crime fiction so ....) It's amazing to me how the same book can illicit such widely divergent responses. Taste truly is subjective.

Earlier in my writing career, I was thrown by the negative comments, letting the criticism simmer and replay in my head. Some would make me wonder why I was even writing ... why I even got out of bed in the morning. I've learned to weigh the few bad ratings and comments against the multitude of positive and often glowing reviews, to take everything with a grain of salt or honey :-)

Another decision I made early on was never to comment on a public review, no matter how egregious the comment or off-base the observation. I don't respond to any reviews although I do read them! Of course, if someone sends a private message to me, I'll respond to them directly. Usually though, what I say in my head to a negative review on a social media platform is: Please don't read any more of my books. They obviously aren't your cup of tea. Strangely though, some of these readers go on to critique the entire series, book by book.

All this to say, I never take a reader's interest in my writing for granted. Every time someone takes the time to email me or post a review or a rating, I'm inwardly tickled. I'll close with a few lines from reviews that make me smile because why focus on the negative?

"Brilliant murder/mystery fleshed out to perfection." (Bleeding Darkness)

"It is rare that I read a book that makes me feel as though if I don't write my review the second I finish it the wonderfulness of it may escape me. This was one of those." (Butterfly Kills)

"When you turn the last page and are disappointed there is no more - 5 stars!" (Tumbled Graves)

"Excellent case, excellent characters, and I couldn't be happier with the conclusion." (Closing Time)

"Turning Secrets”challenged my preconception of police procedurals and has emerged triumphant. Chapman has, without doubt, taken the genre to a new level."

"It had me until the very end. I had no idea how it would all come together. Great read!" (In Winter's Grip)

I mean who wouldn't feel energized by such praise? Yup, focusing on the positive works for me.

Website (with my contact information if you want to send along your comments :-)  www.brendachapman.ca

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, April 23, 2021

I’m a selfish writer, until I’m not. By Josh Stallings

 Question: Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

Answer: No… Yes… Wait… Maybe?


I read every night before I go to sleep. Sometimes I drift off mid page, and keep reading in my dream unaware that my brain has taken over the book and is writing new chapters. That is the closest I can describe what writing feels like to me. After all the research and muddling about, I crank up some music and set about typing while I read a book that has yet to be written. In that way I write for myself. 


If I had the skillset to write what I thought other readers would like, I’d still have two problems. 

1) Publishing moves slowly. If I started typing the moment a trend is noticeable, I’m still a year or two away from publication and by then the trend would be played out. 

2)  I’m really bad at judging who and why folks choose books. Point in case, when I started out I had a foolish idea that I wrote stories men would like more than women. I was dead wrong. My early books would have never been noticed or read if they had not been championed by three women reviewers — McDroll out of Scotland, Sabrina’s Call Me Kate, and Elizabeth A.White. In early book signings I found many more women than men had embraced my suicidal bouncer. I learned it was a bit sexist on my part to think there is such a thing as male or female fiction. Gender isn’t a genre.




My operating principle is that if I write a book I want to read, one person will dig it. If I write a book I think a bunch of people will like, maybe no one will.


Writing is a personal journey into a world that starts as a glimmer of an idea. I need to love that first thought enough to battle with it until it is molded into something worth reading. At that point, my “perfect” manuscript in hand I begin editing and thinking about marketing, and discovering all those not so perfect parts. I work with my agent and editor/publisher to define who would be the ideal readers for the book. On Tricky, Chantelle Aimée Osman, Editor at Agora Books saw that readers engaged in the neurodiversity conversation might also like Tricky and our handling of neurodiverse characters. With perfect rear-vision I can see that one of the reasons I wrote Tricky was I hadn’t seen anyone like my son in books, so I could say that parents of neurodiverse children were my ideal readers, after the fact. On an early edit my agent Amy Moore-Benson pointed out that my protagonist was using the R-word a lot. She knew this was for effect, but thought we would lose readers. I took some out. After Agora acquired Tricky, Chantelle pointed out that most readers will give a book 20 pages at the max to decide to read or dump it. The R-word would turn off the very readers who might love the book. I did a deeper culling. Once I thought about editing for a reader, who was a dad like me, it became easy to see my blunders. I had always thought of myself as a member of the special needs community, but I’m not. I’m an ally. And that’s very different.  


Circling back to the question, I guess I write for myself. But I edit for readers who share my love of this wild wonderful complicated and very diverse world.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Must love pets (and maybe needles) - a guest post by Annette Dashofy

Catriona writes: This week's question is Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write? But I'm not going to answer it. 

I'm going to answer the question Do you have a particular writer in mind when you choose an outfit for an awards dinner? The answer to that is YES. Annette Dashofy.

(Here we are at Malice Domestic a few years' back, after a lot of dress, shoe, and jewelry planning. Annette was nominated and I wasn't, so I'm being Vanna and she's being FAAAAbulous). 


And now, here to answer the real QotW . . .

Annette writes: Early in my writing career, one of my mentors brought up this subject. She has ONE reader in mind when she crafts a novel. She can tell you this reader’s age, job, and even her name. I tried to do the same thing. I really did. I created such a person, but then I received an email from a reader who was NOTHING like that fabricated “typical” one. My thoughts on the matter shifted. Can I really laser focus on just one person?

In a sense, my typical reader is me. I write the types of books I like to read. But I try to write for someone who is much smarter than I. [CMcP - that cuts me out; I'd have said "smarter than me"] That keeps me on my toes. No slacking. No getting lazy. I can’t let my main characters be stupid. At least not without good reason. My main character returns home to find the door open. Someone has been in her house. She left her phone in her friend’s car, so she can’t call 911. The smart thing would be to get in her vehicle and go for help. Instead, she goes inside. Stupid? Yes. But she’s a veterinarian and her cats are somewhere in that house. She has to rescue her cats. If my reader is an animal lover, and I believe they are, they’ll understand and be right there with her.

From conversations with my readers, I’ve learned many of them are teachers. Many, but definitely not all, are women. Some are nurses or are otherwise part of the medical field. Again, this keeps me on my toes. Since Zoe Chambers is a paramedic and Jessie Cameron (of Death by Equine) is (as previously mentioned) a veterinarian, medicine plays a big part in the stories.

I was an EMT decades ago. And I owned horses for twenty-five years. Our farm vet was awesome, but it could take hours for her to arrive. In the case of an emergency, I did some of my own vetting. If a horse required ongoing treatment, I couldn’t afford to have the vet back for daily shots. So I learned how to inject medications, how to bandage injuries, how to do a wide variety of procedures. But still, times and techniques have changed. I had to do a lot of research. Occasionally, I get something wrong, and oh, do I hear about it. Those are the worst kinds of emails. Those readers’ voices echo in my head as I write.

Let’s see. My typical reader is a nurse who loves dogs. Or a teacher who loves cats. Or a pharmacist who loves horses.

Okay, maybe I don’t have just one. But no matter what profession occupies my reader’s work hours, what I am sure of is they want to be entertained. And that is what I always keep in mind as I write.

Bio: 

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the multi–Agatha Award nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. Her latest release, a standalone, is Death by Equine, about a veterinarian at a second-rate thoroughbred racetrack seeking the truth about her mentor’s mysterious death. Annette is a member of Pennwriters and is the vice president of the Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime Chapter. She and her husband live on ten acres of what was her grandfather’s dairy farm in southwestern Pennsylvania with their very spoiled cat, Kensi.   www.annettedashofy.com