Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Next Great Writer's Conference ....


It’s your first writer’s conference after the Covid-19 crisis has been contained – what are the first three things you do after checking in to the hotel?

Brenda Chapman here.

It's difficult to believe in attending another writer's conference in person as the pandemic drags on into its second year. I've just begun rebooking our holiday to France for the second time because this September is not looking like a healthy time yet to travel overseas. But a girl can dream of better days.

I've been to several conferences over the years, sometimes flying and other times driving to the destination hotel. Usually, I'm there with other crime writers from Ottawa, with one of them being my roommate. So let's assume that this is a typical conference and we arrive and check in together.

The first thing we usually do is go for a walk around the hotel to orient ourselves and then take a walk around the neighbourhood to check out restaurants and shops and get the lay of the land. Upon returning to the hotel, we go to check in at the conference and pick up our name tag, program and free books. Often, we meet up with old friends from previous conferences or from Ottawa. This usually leads to meeting up in the hotel bar for a drink followed by supper somewhere nearby. And this takes me to three things :-)

So rather than try to describe all the wonderful times I've had and places I've visited and people I've met, I'll post a few photos to give you some of the highlights (going backwards in the timeline). If you've never been to a writer/reader conference, plan to put one on your bucket list when we're able to travel again. Be sure to look me up and say hello if I'm also there. 

Always a panel! This was a great one. We met in the bar the night before & are still in touch to this day - Vancouver Bouchercon 2019 - Corey Fayman, me, Barbara Nickless, Catherine Maiorisi

And always opportunities to meet & mingle with readers & other authors.

I was on a panel with Ann Cleeves at Left Coast Crime in Monterey & we met up again at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix - having lunch at a pub. (Note: The conferences are all about eating out with friends, old and new and gathering in the hotel bar at the end of the day) (or during the day :-)

With my regular Ottawa crew - Linda Wiken, me, Robin Harlick &Mary Jane Maffini - Cleveland Bouchercon 2012

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a wine & cheese evening - I'd love to go back for a longer tour - so much to see! Cleveland Bouchercon, 2012.
With Anthony Bidulka, Robin Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini & Linda Wiken

On the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Victoria Bloody Words 2011

Katherine Hobbs & Darlene Cole travelled with me to many conferences - Vancouver 2011

One of the best road trip conferences was to Murder in Muncie with my good friend Mary Jane Maffini. We stayed with Shelley Costa in Chagrin Falls outside Cleveland coming & going. Here we are having breakfast in a diner on our way home. 

You meet some great writers at these conferences! With Denise Mina, Bloody Words, Ottawa, 2009.

With Louise Penny, Bloody Words, Ottawa 2009

Getting together with the 7 Criminal Minds bloggers at Bouchercon in Vancouver, 2019 - first time meeting this lovely gang (with a few missing)!

I have so many photos and memories from all the conferences I've been to since my first book was released in 2004. Looking back through the photos, I realize how many terrific, interesting people I've met through these gatherings, many good friends today. Let's hope we can soon get back on the road again.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Biz in "Show Biz"

How much scrutiny do you or an attorney give a contract, and have you ever realized after you signed that you left something on the table?

by Paul D. Marks

My topic here will be a little broader. My focus will be writing for “show biz” as well as prose fiction.

When most people embark on this adventure of writing they have stars in their eyes. Maybe they think about the immortality that being an author will bring them. Maybe about financial reward. What they often don’t think about is that the word is Show Biz and Biz stands for business. So the short answer to this weeks’ question is a definite yes.

Just as you scrutinize your manuscript, again and again, to make sure everything makes sense and all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed, you should scrutinize your contract. And, just like with your manuscript, you will probably miss something and wish you would have caught it before signing.

And just like the doctor who shouldn’t be his own patient, you probably shouldn’t be your own lawyer even if you have a law degree. It’s always best to have a pair of fresh, hard, cold eyes go over the contract.

Most contracts are filled with boilerplate and it’s often relatively easy to negotiate and change certain things to your favor. Most publishers, especially small and medium ones, are open to negotiation. And it’s all about compromise: “which hill do I want to die on”.

Clearly, you want to keep certain things for yourself. One of things for me is to retain the rights to the character. And I would recommend that to you too.

Another thing is, if you do business with certain publishers and/or periodicals over time they will have their contracts customized for you. In fact, I just received a contract today from a major magazine and on looking it over quickly, I see that they have certain things already lined out that are standard in my contract so we don’t have to renegotiate them every time.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t read the contract over to make sure everything is the way its supposed to be.

So my recommendation is to go over everything with a fine tooth comb, then go over it again.        


And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don’t Care has been chosen by the terrific and well-respected crime magazine, Suspense, as The Best of 2020 Historical Fiction Novel. I’m grateful to the fans, staff and contributors of Suspense for this terrific honor, which came totally out of the blue. And, besides infusions of platelets, as you can imagine I needed an infusion of good news right now… 

And not only did Blues win a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine, but Coast to Coast: Noir, the third volume in our Coast to Coast crime stories series that I co-edit with Andrew McAleer, also won a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine in the Anthology category. So I’m thrilled about both of these awards:
And Blues Don’t Care was also on two other best of/favorites of 2020 lists:

DeathBecomesHer, Crime Fiction Lover: Top Five Books of 2020 


Aubrey Nye Hamilton, Happiness is a Warm BookFavorite Books of 2020

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, January 28, 2021

"It's a beautiful conservatory" by Catriona

How much scrutiny do you or an attorney give a contract, and have you ever realized after you signed that you left something on the table?

The other night - Burns Night as it happened - I did an online fundraiser for the Anaheim Public Library foundation. And now I know what a Zoom quilt of Orange County residents' faces look like when they get 18thC Scots poetry coming at them. (Politely  bewildered.)

Anyway, one of the questions from the chat bar was "What does your agent do?". After I had wittered on for a bit about the sainted Lisa Moylett (I stay in her house when I'm in London), the blessed Zoe Apostolides (editor extraordinaire), and the hallowed Elena Langtry (social media maven), I nailed the answer with: "They read the contracts. They look at things I would find outrageous and know that they're standard. They see things I would never notice and know that they're outrageous". 

                                        Lisa and me in Bryant park, NYC, Edgars Week, 2017

(By the way: sainted, blessed and hallowed? I've been bingeing on
Derry Girls and Sister Michael is now narrating my thoughts. Fine by me; my last hard binge left me with Jonathan Van Ness. Yass, queen!)

Usually, Lisa says something like "I've got the contract, darling. Just one or two odds and ends to smooth over before you sign." and I never know what goes on over phone, email, or lunch in London, before the point that I print it out and apply the Bic to the last page.

The only time we've ever had extensive discussion was when we (the bit of us that's Lisa, not the bit of us that's me) were negotiating with the BBC on an option for Dandy Gilver. Because there was a clause in the contract that stuck in my craw.

They wanted to be allowed to write novelisations of episodes based that were on characters rather than adapted from original novels. Yeek. That would mean that there would be my books about Dandy and Alec, the television series - inevitably divergent, and other books by other people too.

Sgt Lewis in the Morse books is the same age as Morse, while Kevin Whately on the telly was much younger than John Thaw. And Vera's Joe stayed on in the Ann Cleeves series, while the actor who played him left the telly version to be replaced by more than one new sergeant. So maybe  . . . say . . . the actor playing Grant got a better offer and left the Dandy Gilver show. So Telly Dandy got a new maid. And then someone wrote up a "new maid" episode and that book was on the shelf at Barnes and Noble beside my book? Krrr-ack! Space/Time riven asunder, right?

                                                                    The book that got the telly love

I couldn't deal with it. Two things helped.

I remembered the wise words of Lucy Brett (wife of Simon), when he was unhappy about a telly adaptation. She said they should spend the money on one big thing - they went for a conservatory - and then when Simon felt irritated by the changes he could go and stand in it and remind himself that he'd made a good call.

The other thing that got me as far as signing was Lisa pointing out that only the most incredibly successful shows spawn novelisations - Downtown Abbey, Sherlock, Castle - and if the stars ever aligned so perfectly for me, then so many wonderful things and horrendous things would already have happened that I'd be as tough as a boiled boot and long past caring. 

Reader, the stars did not align. The option lapsed. In the years since, I've become that tough old boiled boot anyway. Next time, I wouldn't bat an eye.

Dandy Gilver 15, out in the UK now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

You don't know what you don't know... by Cathy Ace

How much scrutiny do you or an attorney give a contract, and have you ever realized after you signed that you left something on the table?

First contract signed, July 2011 (snail is a memento!)
Ah…contracts. Every author’s favorite topic, yes? Probably not. It’s what we dream of as an unpublished author – the day The Contract arrives in the mail and you know you’re on the road to being a multi-millionaire best-seller.
Okay, moving on…

Like most authors, I’ll never forget the day my first contract arrived in the snail-mail. It was May 11th 2011. I remember this because it would have been my late father’s 84th birthday, and he would have been so proud. As it was, it was Mum who glowed with pride, and wept a bucket of tears that day, along with me and my sister, because we were all happy, but all missed Dad’s presence as a part of that overall experience. At the time I didn’t have an agent, so, of course, the question was…what should I do about the contract’s content – should I just sign it as it was and be happy about it, or not?

Luckily for me I live in “Hollywood North” (ie: near Vancouver, BC) so we have a lot of entertainment lawyers in the area; I got in touch with one who was recommended to me because he had experience in authorial matters, and I paid him a one-off fee to look over the contract and advise me on its content, because I didn't know what I didn't know! I made certain points about it (eg: there was a clause that said I would give first-refusal rights to the publisher for my next novel, but I didn’t want to do that, so they removed that clause etc. etc.) and he made certain observations, until we ended up with a form of words I could live with, and the publisher agreed.

After writing four books for that publisher in the Cait Morgan series I managed to find myself an agent, who then negotiated my contract with the publishers of my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. By this time I was more confident, and was able to say up-front what I would and wouldn’t be happy to sign, and the contract process moved swiftly. But (yes, there’s often a “but” with these tales!) the publisher was purchased by a bigger house and came up with a new standard contract – and I wasn’t at all happy with it. Now, to be fair, most publishers have what they call a “boilerplate” contract, which the agent, their author and the publisher then use as the basis for negotiations. In this new boilerplate, the publisher was asking for the rights to my work up to term of copyright (70 years after my death…this is a UK company) not the 10 year license they had in the original contract, and they wanted mass-market rights too, but with no bigger advance. I wasn’t happy to sign that contract. My agent said I should. I fired my agent, and walked away from the publisher by not signing the contract.

Since then, I have set up a corporation to all publishing for myself, and that’s going really rather well. The contracts I sign now are with editors, photographers (for cover art), and distributors/sellers both online and for print.

However, I have recently signed contracts for TV options for the standalone The Wrong Boy, and for the Cait Morgan Mysteries: the company with whom I signed provided me with a draft contract which I again had checked over one a one-off basis, and the terms were then repeated for the second deal. To date (and given the lack of any real movement on this front due to the pandemic) I am happy with the amount of creative/directional/casting input I have for these projects and am very much enjoying learning about the roles people play in this “new universe”. I dare say it’ll be many years before I find out if I left anything on the table in this arena, but I think we’re good!

If you'd like to read some of my books, please check out my website: CLICK HERE

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Devil in the Details

How much scrutiny do you or an attorney give a contract, and have you ever realized after you signed that you left something on the table?

From Frank

I used to be a cop. Some of you may know that. And some of you may also be aware of this little known fact - cops are a suspicious lot. No, really, it's true.

So, all sarcasm aside, it baffles me how absolutely trusting and dum-de-dum I've been about contracts for most of my writing career.

Sure, I've perused them. I made sure I wasn't giving away ancillary rights like TV and film, and I paid attention to the reversion of rights, and the length of the contract, and how it might be severed with or without cause. I mean, that's the crux of it, right?

Actually, no. And if you don't believe me, go to a conference. You won't have far to go to find a writer with a contract horror story to tell. And most of them probably start with how trusting they were.

Dum-de-dum, dee-do.

I've been fortunate thus far. Even when business relationships didn't work out, my dealings with the publisher has been cordial. I've tended to come out mostly intact despite several "divorces." But I left some royalties on the table, and things could have gone far, far worse.

If I were smart, I'd learn lessons from my colleagues, or even from some of my literary or musical heroes. I mean, the music industry is flush with stories of young artists signing predatory contracts and then hitting it big and suddenly realizing they don't own their songs and are getting paltry returns. It happened to Springsteen, it happened to Mellencamp.

It didn't happen to me. Maybe the stakes were always low enough? Can't say. 

But I can say that I have paid far more attention to my contracts over the past four or five years, and will in the future.


Blatant Self-Promotion (no contract required):

My short story collection, Sugar Got Low was released this month. You can get a digital copy here.

SUGAR GOT LOW contains a tale of grifters, a prequel story to the well-regarded Ania series, several trips back to River City and one to La Sombra, Texas. Enjoy a Walter Mitty homage set in San Francisco and a deadly day in Roman Britain, the heartbreaking story of a junkie and the suspenseful one of a murderer in a black car. And at the end of it all, you’ll experience the dark but inspiring title story of perseverance that was only made possible because of a misunderstood lyric.

Four-time Derringer finalist Frank Zafiro weaves a lucky thirteen tales drawn from throughout his career with one thing in common – characters you may love or hate, but will certainly feel.

Also, if you dig audio, I released my short collection, The Cleaner in that format about a month ago. I took the daring (perhaps foolish) route of producing and narrating it myself. Is it any good? You can be the judge. 

My wife, Kristi helped me out by narrating a pair of flash fiction stories that are included, though, so it can't be all bad.

Except for the fact that she worked without a contract...

Monday, January 25, 2021

Reading the fine print

 Q: How much scrutiny do you or an attorney give a contract, and have you ever realized after you signed that you left something on the table?


-from Susan


This question pinches a bit. Because I’ve been published by different entities, I’ve had a handful of different contracts to review. I’ve gone from the excited newcomer (“Yes! Yes! Yes to everything and thankyouthankyou!”) to “What do you mean they keep foreign rights?”


In every case, my agent had her company’s lawyer “take a look” at the contract, but in no way did that help me. Why? Because the lawyer’s advice always was that there wasn’t anything that could be done. This was, I was assured, the best deal I could get. The unspoken judgment I took away was that I was not “big” enough, nor so desired by the publisher that there was negotiating room. The results over the years have been that I only got one-time payments for the sales of special rights (large print, mass paper, audio) so no royalties from those editions, of which there were many. No payment the time my first book and all rights were sold by one publishing house to Amazon. No ability to entertain interest for film/TV rights unless my agent’s film agents handled everything, for double fees. 


Our professional organizations feature articles by attorneys, and I urge writers to read the articles and push for a contract review. It can’t hurt. For now, in this rapidly changing publishing landscape, maybe the best contract detail to aim for is the right to get back your rights within a reasonable period without having to pay for them if the publisher doesn’t intend to keep you in active promotion and sales mode.


Last year, the publisher of one series left the business and I had a one-time, no negotiating allowed right to either have my series handed over to yet another small publisher or get back the rights and decide what if anything to do to re-publish since the series would disappear in a puff of smoke. I reviewed the new publisher’s site and decided the series would disappear anyway, so I took back the rights. 


Publishing can be a cruel, cruel world. It’s set up for the corporations to make money, not for authors unless they are the shining stars who can make money for the corporations. One can argue that it’s the authors’ jobs to shine brightly enough. But the contracts we sign don’t guarantee that the publishers will do anything beyond printing (or posting) the book and, in some cases, making an effort to distribute it or at least have it available if we succeed in doing the marketing to generate sales. 


I sound like Eeyore, and I'm sorry. Please read my fellow Minds this week. They doubtless have more upbeat and more useful information to share! 


"Not since my first visit to Louise Penny’s Three Pines, have I encountered a more beguiling fictional world than Susan Shea’s Reigny-Sur-Canne. With an engaging cast, the rare realistic depiction of a good, modern marriage, a sideways look at a budding mystery-writer, and a real head-scratcher of a murder plot, DRESSED FOR DEATH IN BURGUNDY is a box of delights!”– Catriona McPherson, Anthony and Agatha Award winning author

Friday, January 22, 2021

Correcting the Errors...

 By Abir

Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war?

Friday again eh? Welcome to the end of the week.

This week's question is an interesting one: Who wins the war over edits between me and the copy-editor? 

Like Brenda, who answered this question earlier this week, my answer is simple: It's not a war,  it's a collaboration. When I started out writing, I took the view that I was a novice working with a bunch of professionals. Therefore it was beholden upon me to take their advice unless I had a damn good reason not to. They, after all, had decades of experience in their roles, while I was just a re-sprayed accountant.

Even now, five books in, I'd say I still take on 95% of the edits and suggestions made by copy-editors and others. The exceptions tend to be in areas where I think I have specific experience - generally issues of Indian culture and certain turns of phrases used in Indian English. 

As for grammar and punctuation - seriously - I'm not going to die in a ditch over a semi-colon (especially as I'm still a bit foggy over what the hell they're for). I mean; life's too short for that.

Talking of short. I'm pretty much done here, but I realise I'm not going to get away with only writing four paragraphs for this week's blog. My fellow writers would run me out of town assuming we were allowed out of lockdown. So let me take a leaf out of Dietrich's book and tell you something that's inspired me this week.

Again it's a poem, and again it's related to the peaceful transfer of power which thankfully occurred earlier this week in the USA. I watched most of the inauguration: was wowed by Michelle Obama's jump suit; by Lady Gaga's brooch; and even tried ordering Bernie Sanders' mitten online. But the person who stood out for me was the 22 year old poet, Amanda Gorman who recited her poem entitled 'The Hill We Climb'.

For those of you who haven't seen it, I'd recommend watching the whole thing (see below), but for me, the key passage was this:

"We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, 

 would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,"

I found that those two simple lines helped to make sense, helped to put into words, the feeling I have had, and I expect many others have had too, when faced with those who've shouted in our faces:

"This is MY country, not yours."

The impotence I've felt on being on the receiving end of those words; the inability I've had to understand it. Suddenly, in those two lines, Ms Gorman gave vent not only to my frustrations, my anger, but also helped me understand the rationale behind why these people say it.

Those people, two weeks ago, who stormed the Capitol in Washington shouting "This is OUR country. This is OUR house" were scared, angry at the way their world is changing. Angry that the privileges they considered their birthright, were being eroded. They would rather shatter their country, than share those privileges equally with those of us, despite being equal citizens of our respective nations, who've never had it. 

Ms. Gorman issued a rallying cry for unity and perseverance, one that didn't gloss over what happened a fortnight ago, but one which might show us a way forward. Let us hope we can correct the errors together.

PS: In case you missed it, I and my podcast partner, Vaseem Khan, interviewed our very own Criminal Minds legend, Frank Zafiro on our Red Hot Chilli Writers Podcast earlier this week. You can listen here: Red Hot Chilli Writers

Thursday, January 21, 2021

I Hereby Resolve II from James W. Ziskin

Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war?

This is a question that calls for a short answer, at least from me. While we writers would love to have the last word, we also would hate to go it alone. I am so grateful for the input from the editor who has curated my seven Ellie Stones mysteries: Dan Mayer. He has razor-sharp instincts when it comes to selecting books to publish, and then he shepherds the books safely to market. The proof of his talent is the catalogue of writers he has edited in just the past eight years. Take a look at some of the folks he discovered, including our own Terry Shames:

Dan has never told me to change anything in my books. What he does is ask questions. He makes clear that some things aren’t working for him, or he doesn’t get it. That’s when I know I have fallen short. But Dan always leaves it to me to decide and to come up with the solutions. And I almost always listen because he’s almost always right. I check my ego at the door. I’m the writer, he’s the editor.

Now, as yesterday was a glorious day of new beginnings—and the dawn of the new year was only three weeks ago—I want to go off topic and re-post the poem I shared here almost exactly one year ago. I plan on re-posting this every year until someone names me poet laureate. Happy New Year.

I Hereby Resolve

Upon the first of Jan-u-ary each and every year
I choose a comfy cushioned chair on which to park my rear
Then taking pencil, pen, or plume I think with all my might
About my life, my hopes, my dreams and then begin to write

I make a note of all my flaws, my missteps, and my sins
And number them from one to ten and sort them into bins:
A catalogue of wishes, goals, and changes to achieve,
To lose some weight, to write more books, and royalties receive!

But not all thoughts are for myself, I also have a heart
So I resolve to do some good, pitch in, and play my part,
To be a better person and to help human-i-ty,
Or maybe just be satisfied to keep my san-i-ty

For all in all you must admit that things are not so good
At home, abroad, in Baltimore, and in your neighborhood
With guns and hate and politics and fears we cannot quell
It often seems we’re on a highway heading straight to hell 

But then I reason as I sit here in my pensive pose
Some things I can control and fix, so why not start with those?
My wrath, my sloth, and moods most foul are faults I could improve
Why not correct them right away? Cast out, erase, remove?

While in the past I must admit that my resolve was frail
This time my pledge is resolute; I don’t intend to fail
I vow to change, to grow, to thrive, and forge myself anew
And through hard work and sweat and blood I’ll make my dreams come true

But just in case my will is weak and my plans gang ag-ley
I’ll save this verse for twelve months more until next New Year’s Day
Then with high hopes and best intents I’ll shout for all to hear
The very same prom-is-es that I made and broke this year

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

That time Tom dropped by

This week’s guest is author Tom Pitts, answering the question: Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war?

Tom’s a friend who grew up in Canada and now lives in San Francisco. He’s the author of the novels Coldwater, 101, American Static, and Hustle, as well as the novellas Knuckleball and Piggyback, and numerous short stories. If you haven’t read his stuff, you should. You can find him here

by Tom Pitts

When I began writing, I’d go to the mat on some of these issues. I’d usually claim the correction would upset the rhythm of the line. Goes to rhythm, your Honor. It’s my song and I’ll sing it however I want, damn it. Nowadays, I’m a lot more open to input. Defer to those who know better. That’s a lesson I think we learn in all aspects of life, not just craft. I’ll roll with Bob Dylan on this one: I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

I mean, there’s always room for interpretation. Editors will often go to great lengths to not repeat words, but some of my background is in songwriting and lyrics and sometimes repetition is vital to drive home an image or feeling. But I have to stand back and take a hard look at any suggestion. When an editor offers a change, you must be objective, take yourself out of the creative position. You have to become the reader, the publisher, the future. 

Always? Hell no. Especially if it’s colloquial and in speech. And my characters certainly aren’t the most eloquent in the world. 

What we’re talking about here is copy-editing mostly, not the story-bending feedback that causes dreaded rewrites. And with indie-publishing, it’ll usually be the author, not the publisher who gets the last word. So take this responsibility seriously. Those cocky choices you make as you click your way through the manuscript will stay just as they are in the published work, long after you’ve grown up and learned that you’re not always right. Besides, how long do you want to argue if it’s “till” or “‘til”? Sometimes you just gotta go with “until,” you know?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Editorial Squabbles

Editorial Disagreements Terry here, answering our weekly discussion question: Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war? 

I once had an author friend who cried when her editor revised her entire manuscript to reflect a different voice. It was a show of hubris that I’ve never heard repeated. But I have heard of changing carefully crafted prose to fit “correct” usage. 

 Imagine changing a cockney’s use of “bruver” to “brother.” Or a hillbilly high-school dropout’s “We ain’t laid eyes on him,” to “We haven’t seen him.” 

 The editor’s job is to intrude as little as possible, while finding discrepancies in the intention of the writer. It’s a hard job to take that fine line between intention and a mistake, and sometimes editors are bound to cross that line. 

 I write about small-town Texas, and not every one of my characters is going to use language the way a professional editor thinks it ought to be used. 

Happily, I’ve never had war with my editors, but I have had “explanation” times. That is, times when I had to explain what something meant when either geographical or colloquial expressions, or age got into the mix. 

 I once used the expression, “If you think you’re going to do that, you’ve got another think coming.” It’s an expression I’ve used for years. But my editor asked if I meant “you’ve got another THING coming.” No, that makes no sense. What the expression means is, “think again.” 

It seemed obvious to me, but I reasoned that either it’s a Texas expression and my New York editor never heard it, or my young New York editor never heard it. Happily, I ran across the expression in the book I’m currently reading, set in present-day London, so apparently it’s at least used in Texas and London. 

 After a few books, my publisher assigned me a different editor, and I was horrified to see that in the first couple of pages she had taken a brisk editorial hand, changing the tone of the writing. I protested and she hastily told me that she had been hesitant and that she only did it for a couple of pages to see if the changes were acceptable. When I explained my position, she had no problem backing off (and the book got a PW starred review, so it wasn’t the worse for my insistence). 

 It isn’t always an editor who gives me grief. My agent recently flagged the term “country and western” and changed it to “country western.” I’ll go to the mat on that one. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Texas it’s “country and western.” She also corrected my spelling of “futher” to “further.” Yes, I know the correct spelling, but I also know that the man who said “futher” would pronounce it that way. I regret the loss of this “sound” in his speech, but I don’t know if it’s worth fighting over, because for sure when the book gets to an editor, he or she will flag it again. 

 Words matter. We hear that a lot these days, but I mean it in the subtle sense. The reason any of the editorial touch is worth discussing is because it matters in the “sound” a writer intends. In my case, the small-town Texas sound. I remember once sitting in a car while my daddy (yes, it’s daddy), was talking to the owner of a gas station. He got back in the car, laughing. He said he had just heard one repairman say to another, “Look at this little bitty old tack I found in the tire.” He said it was such a “Texan” thing to use all those extra words, “little bitty old” instead of simply, “little.” Happily, my father never tried to learn Italian. Italians often use five words when one would do fine. 

 It’s the lucky writer who has an editor who gets the intention of the words. I’ve read books that I thought could have used a heavier editorial hand, but only for catching grammatical errors in narration, repetition, or long-winded narration that didn’t serve the book.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate ...

Who wins when you and your copy editor or proofreader disagree about a word, a spelling, a term of slang, etc? Do you sometimes choose to lose a battle in order to win a larger war?

Brenda Chapman starting off another week at 7 Criminal Minds.

Whether for good or ill, I'm not a fighter when it comes to editorial battles. This doesn't mean that I don't voice my opinion and quote from the grammar book when I have a point to make. However, I'll bow to a good argument and always accept my publisher's adherence to their style guide. The editors are the experts after all.

The strange thing is that I once had an editorial job in the government. I was the one making sure government documents followed the style guide. Rewriting sentences so that they were clear and easy to read. Checking spelling and grammar. I even edited the internal weekly newsletter for the Department of Justice when my colleague took a six-week holiday.

Yet somehow, I still send in my (what I believe to be) completed manuscript, only to discover all kinds of sentence structure errors. Punctuation and grammar slip-ups. Inconsistencies. Illogical plot points. I've learned to stay humble.

I've come to believe that it takes a village of proof readers and editors to make a manuscript book-worthy to a standard fit for publication. For one thing, as every writer knows, you can read and reread a piece of writing so many times that your brain skips over small errors, seeing what it knows should be there. It's also easy to mix up details over a 90,000-word story, and the editor will be on the lookout for these inconsistencies. 

All this to say, the editor or proofreader not only looks at the manuscript in minutiae but also as a whole. This includes in the context of the uniformity and standards for all the other books released by the same publisher. I always keep this in mind when reviewing the editor's suggested changes. 

Now as to the analogy about choosing to lose a battle to win a larger war, I've never actually looked at my work with any of the editors in this way. I choose to think we're battling on the same side to make the books as good a product as it can be. If there is a war, it's against those pesky typos and other errors that always seem to unexplainably slip in, possibly because some edits are not always accepted in the final product. Too many versions being circulated perhaps.

In any event, my hat is off to anyone who takes on an editing role, which involves an intricate set of knowledge and skill, honed with every project in a constantly evolving industry. I'm always glad to have the editors on my team, even if I sometimes disagree with the placement of a comma or two.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, January 15, 2021

An Attitude of Gratitude

How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision?

by Paul D. Marks

Only the best doctors for me.
Before I get to today’s question:

I’ve been on forced hiatus for a couple of months now. I want to thank Cathy Ace for helping find replacement posters to fill my slots in that time and to also thank the various replacement posters. 

Towards the very end of October I wasn’t feeling well. Could barely stand up. Long story short, my wife and general practitioner “forced” me to go the ER. ER found cancer and said if I hadn’t come in when I did I probably would have been dead by the following weekend. Guess it’s a good thing I let Amy jam me into the car and down to the hospital.

I was in the hospital off and on for several weeks. It was torture in more ways than one. My body reacted strongly to the first dose of chemo. That is, the chemo worked—maybe too well. And threw off all of my other labs and numbers. It was and – to some extent—still is a mess. But I’m home—mostly—these days. With some return hospital visits scheduled. And following up with chemo and other treatments.

There’s a lot to deal with and I’m shorthanding this greatly. It’s going to be a long, tough road, but at least it finally looks like a little light at the end of the tunnel.

And I want to thank everyone who sent notes or commented/liked on my much rarer Facebook posts these days with updates.

Now to today’s question:

I tend to write often about things I know to one degree or another. So, in my first two Duke Rogers novels (set in the 1990s), White Heat and Broken Windows, I really just thank the folks at my publisher Down & Out Books. And I don’t think there were any acknowledgements in my stand-alone Vortex.

For my most recent novel, The Blues Don’t Care, that came out this past June, and which is set in the 1940s on the L.A. homefront during World War II, I had a few more acknowledgments. 

One of those was the actual city of L.A. itself. L.A. is such a part of me, such a part of who I am, for better or worse. And I definitely have a love-hate relationship with it. Although World War II was before my time, the city still had that Raymond Chandler ambience when I was a kid. It hadn’t turned to all steel and glass yet and the Powers That Be hadn’t destroyed the Bunker Hill neighborhood (which I would go exploring in) or much of the rest of its past. So I remember the city being that Chandler or John Fante city from back then. And that certainly informed The Blues Don’t Care. Click here to see an article I did on this for Sleuthsayers. 

And I love the movies and music from the 1930s and 40s. That helped greatly with research. As did books and the internet and all the other usual sources.

But the thing that helped me the most on this particular book was first person research with people who were there. My mom, a native Angelino, and her friends, also born here, helped greatly with memories of the war time period that you won’t necessarily find in books. Little tidbits that hopefully give the story a greater sense of verisimilitude. They were invaluable and were acknowledged.

Another first person source was my friend Clyde Williams (click here to see my piece on him over at SleuthSayers). Clyde and I became fast friends while working on a video that he was doing the voice over on. Clyde was a cowboy, a Viet Nam vet, served on an honor guard for President Kennedy. He was also an African-American artist whose work was exhibited at the famous Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, where many famous black artists, musicians, politicians, etc., stayed when they couldn’t stay in white hotels. And though his time, too, was after World War II, he soaked up that ambience and history like a sponge. A good portion of Blues Don’t Care takes place at the Dunbar and Clyde’s insight was invaluable.

So these are the people I give acknowledgment to in this book. People who could particularly help with insight that maybe isn’t so easily found in the usual places.

There’s no particular formula for deciding who should get acknowledgments. It’s what seems right and fair.

And I must say that I am given acknowledgment in one of our fellow Criminal Minds, Jim Ziskin’s book Cast The First Stone. I was really glad to be able to help Jim out with some first-hand L.A, history. and it’s really a kick to be mentioned there. 

So that’s my take on it. I hope to be back more regularly in the future though there might be some occasions when medical issues keep me from posting. But hopefully not or at least not much.


And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don’t Care has been chosen by the terrific and well-respected crime magazine, Suspense, as The Best of 2020 Historical Fiction Novel. I’m grateful to the fans, staff and contributors of Suspense for this terrific honor, which came totally out of the blue. And, besides infusions of platelets, as you can imagine I needed an infusion of good news right now… 

And not only did Blues win a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine, but Coast to Coast: Noir, the third volume in our Coast to Coast crime stories series that I co-edit with Andrew McAleer, also won a Best of 2020 Award from Suspense Magazine in the Anthology category. So I’m thrilled about both of these awards:

And Blues Don’t Care was also on two other best of/favorites of 2020 lists:

DeathBecomesHer, Crime Fiction Lover: Top Five Books of 2020 


Aubrey Nye Hamilton, Happiness is a Warm Book:  Favorite Books of 2020

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Awkward stalkers and how to outwit them. by Catriona

 How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision? 

The early dedications were easy: Mum and Dad in book one, my husband in book two, then my sisters, my mother-in-law, my three dearest friends, by which time I had moved to the US and restocked with scads more dearest friends and was in no danger of running out. Then came the years on the Sisters in Crime board, the deepening friendships across the mystery community (when we "only" saw each other three times a year. Only. Ha.) and to cut a long story short, as I edit, polish and launch books 29-31, I've still got lots of people I want to honour. 

                                                           Coming to the UK on 21st Jan

The only regrets I've got - and I'm not even sure that's the right word; source of sadness might be a better way to express it - are that twice I've had to dedicate a book to someone's memory. F died at the age of sixteen a few years ago. I could never have foreseen his death; no one could. And my dear father-in-law was gone long before I had a book published. He was all-in from the start, too - telling me he wanted a good seat at the awards (I couldn't even have named an award then) and joking about Hemingway's life choices. Oh, Jack.

As for awkward moments, I'm having one right now. But a happy one. (More of this below). 

To turn to acknowledgements for a while . . .

Sometimes there's a very specific reason to thank a very specific person: an academic called Lee.E.Gray wrote an insanely detailed and unexpectedly riveting monograph on 19th century elevator technology, which saved the plot of AN UNSUITABLE DAY FOR A MURDER; Donald and Ishbel Ferguson of Applecross fed me tea and buns and taught me the local dialect of Gaelic for A STEP SO GRAVE; the Rizzo family let me move into their house and stay there for five months while I wrote THE DAY SHE DIED; Leslie Budewitz was the VP during my stint as SinC president, and without her I would have been a Catriona-shaped hole in the wall, a la Wile. E.Coyote, rather than the author of a couple of books that year, same as ever.

But usually, I hold the acknowledgements down to: everyone at the agency by name; everyone at the publishers, who worked on my book, by name; 'my friends and family in the US and UK'; and Neil. 

For my second book, I decided to name this family I was thanking. They were Jean and Jim, and also Amy, Audrey, Callum, Claire, Fraser, Greig, Harris, Iain, Lewis, Mathew, Megan, Ross, Sheila, Tom, and Wendy.

I had the cluelessness to give that list a 'here goes' and a 'phew'.

You see, if I were to do the same thing now, fifteen years on, the list would be:

Jean and Jim, and also Amy Jane, Amy Jenna, Andrew, Angus, Arthur, Audrey, Brian, Brodie, Bogusia, Caitlin, Callum, Catriona, Claire, Colin, Daisy, Donovan, Eilidh, Euan, Fraser, Gillian, Gordon, Greig, Harris, Iain, India, Innes, Isla, Jackson, Jason, Lewis, Lydia, Maisie, Mathew, Megan, Michael, Mollie, Nan, Rory, Ross, Ruby, Sheila (still), Suzanne, Tom, and Wendy. And counting, I hope and trust.

And the friends? If I named them? Well, that would make the family list look sparse.

So. 'All my friends and family' it is.

Now back to that dedication-related awkwardness mentioned above. One of the lovely things about this job/community is that an avid mystery fan becomes an attendee at a convention, catches your panel, and becomes a reader, then a writer of an email, then a Facebook pal, then a fellow late-bedder/early riser to share rants with on Brexit and election nights, and eventually starts to call herself - tongue-in-cheek -  a stalker. And so you plot your revenge. 

But long before your author copies of the UK version of the book in question arrive for you to sign and send off again, this sleekit besom announces that she's ordered said book from the Book Depository and is expecting it imminently. (To be fair, I do my fair share of BD ordering too.)

So, I've had to resort to this to stay at the helm of the surprise, while an advance order of THE MIRROR DANCE arrives on the east coast before my author copies have a chance of getting over here to the west: