Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Luck of the Draw

As there's more and more consolidation in the world of publishing, how do you view—generally, and for you personally—big publisher vs small publisher vs self-publishing now? Have your views changed since you were first published? 

by Dietrich

The ink was drying on my first novel when I sent a submission to ECW Press in Toronto. Jack David said he’d take a look, and a few weeks later he wrote back that he wanted to publish it, asking if I could do it two more times. After I stopped pinching myself I signed the contract, and then I did just that, I wrote two more. Then I kept on writing, and ECW kept on publishing, and it’s been a great relationship right from the post. ECW’s a medium Canadian house with an awesome staff who are professional, yet they’re like a family, and they always get the job done with a smile. And I couldn’t ask for more than that.

That’s been my only experience, so I can’t say much about big or small versus self-publishing. I’ve heard stories from other writers who’ve had mixed experiences, some sweet and some sour. And I know authors who self-publish and they’ve been happy going that way. 

There was a time when self-publishing may have been considered a poor choice. Some thought that going the way of the vanity press as exploitation and even saw it as a career killer. Of course, there are authors like Margaret Atwood who proved that self-publishing can work when she put out her award-winning book of poems, Double Persephone. And Lisa Genova originally self-published her novel Still Alice after many rejections from commercial publishing houses. And who hasn’t seen a copy of Irma S. Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking in somebody’s kitchen—another one that started out as self-published, going on to sell over eighteen million copies. These days whether a book is author or publisher subsidized, it’s generally accepted that it’s what’s between the covers that counts. 

Whichever way an author goes, the aim is getting their books in the hands of as many readers as possible. And that’s where we enter luck-of-the-draw territory, no matter who publishes the book. It’s tough to predict a best-seller. And no matter which course is taken—big house, little house, your own house—one thing is sure, a good editing team is needed, along with professional graphics, solid marketing, promotion, and solid sales efforts to make it happen. Oh, and luck, plenty of luck.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Publish or Perish the Thought

Terry Shames here: This week our question is about publishing: As there's more and more consolidation in the world of publishing, how do you view - generally, and for you personally - big publisher vs small publisher vs self-publishing now? Have your views changed since you were first published? 

 When I first started looking for an agent about 100 years ago give or take, the only way to get published was to either find an agent, who would find you a publisher, or find the rare publisher who would read your work without an agent, and accept it . Period. There were obscure self-published books, but they were rare and often sank quickly from the public interest. 

 To say that publishing has changed is the understatement of the century. When I was looking for an agent for my first Samuel Craddock novel, back in 2011, there were many more self-published books, but they still had the taint of “not good enough for a real publisher.” Still, I decided that I was tired of not being published, so if I couldn’t find an agent I would go ahead and self-publish. I did find an agent and a publisher. I didn’t get the attention of a big publisher, but was very happy with my “small” publishing house, coming out with my first book in 2013. 

 In the mere seven years since A Killing at Cotton Hill, the industry has gone through a sea change that has me on the cusp for future publishing. I have an agent I admire who is professional and knows the market. But I’ve also parted ways with my publisher. Now I feel stranded out here in Neverland, not knowing what the future holds. The siren song of self-publishing is loud. BUT. It would mean learning a whole new way of getting a book out. I would have to research whether I wanted to stick to e-publishing or have print on demand books as well. It would mean deciding if I truly wanted to be on my own, or if I wanted to band with other like-minded authors to form our own publishing company. I would have to decide important details like book covers and print type. 

 I would also have to find an editor I trusted to get the book in final shape for publishing. Yes, I would pay for an editor, something large publishers seem less and less willing to do. These days even the most reputable publishing company produces books full of errors that an editor would have caught. Being willing to pay for one and to edit the final product with a careful eye, would put me, as an independent publisher, above a lot of “professional” houses. 

 I’ve also kicked around the idea of going hybrid: getting a publisher for some books, and self-publishing others. The one thing that wouldn’t change either way is having to promote and market the books. It used to be, even as recently as twenty years ago, that publishers were responsible for marketing and promotion. But more and more, authors are on their own. A few “major” authors will get the royal treatment—paid book tours, arranged by the publishing house; intense publicity; and wide distribution. But as an author with a small publisher I’ve always arranged and paid for my own tours. And with a few exceptions I’ve paid for my own publicity.

Distribution is a different matter altogether. If you don’t go with a “traditional” publisher, getting your books to bookstores is difficult. Since more and more people read on e-readers, this is less of an impediment than it used to be, but if you love seeing your books in brick and mortar bookstores, with a few exceptions, self-publishing won’t get you that. However, through venues like BookBub, social media, and other promotion sites, the savvy writer can find plenty of ways to independently appeal to readers. 

 Do I want to take the plunge? I’m thinking. And thinking. I remember a few years ago running into a young woman who had just published her first book (not a mystery). She had no experience of thinking that going through a publishing house was the “only way” to go. She said, “Why would I want to wait months to find an agent, then more months for the agent to find a publisher, then more months (or years) until the books came out? And pay everybody along the line. I can do all that myself—and keep the money!” I must admit that her logic made sense. Will I do the same? Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Changing Publishing Landscape

As there's more and more consolidation in the world of publishing, how do you view  - generally, and for you personally - big publisher vs small publisher vs self-publishing now? Have your views changed since you were first published? 

Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

When I first looked for a publisher, way back at the start of the 2000s, self-publishing was considered the last avenue for serious writers. The unspoken and sometimes spoken implication was that self-published works were of lesser quality, the author unable to find a publisher because their manuscript was inferior.

Times have certainly changed. More and more, I pick up a book and the author has chosen to self-publish or has made their own publishing imprint. From what I can gather, the author behind such an imprint is the only one published under their logo. I know a few authors going this route.

I recently heard of another option called hybrid publishing. If I understand correctly, an author pays a publisher to produce their work (editing, layout, printing etc.) in exchange for distribution, some publicity, and other support. I'm thinking that the beauty of this and self- (now called Indie-) publishing is that the author keeps all their rights -- a huge incentive. I've yet to investigate Amazon as a publisher and hope someone else can enlighten us this week :-)

In any event, the average reader doesn't care who published what if the subject matter and writing attract them. Independent book cover designers are so good now that it is often difficult to differentiate a publishing company's cover from an Indie or hybrid book. I'm sometimes surprised to learn of an author who self-publishes since I believed them to be with a publisher based on the quality of their product.

The goal used to be to get a book picked up by one of the large publishers and I believe this still brings a great deal of status with booksellers and people in the book industry, including reviewers. To accomplish this, one needs an agent, a task in and of itself. A large publisher has money to put into advances, marketing and publicity not to mention great distribution. A trade off is that the big publishers will drop an author if sales are down and best-selling authors are expected to keep producing a quality product, usually once a year, and be available for lots of public appearances (when there is no Covid).

I went with the last option: small to mid-size Canadian publishers. My first series of Jennifer Bannon mysteries for middle grade were picked up by a very small independent publishing house in Toronto (Napoleon/RendezVous Crime)  that was eventually bought by a larger, mid-sized publisher (Dundurn). I was really happy to start with Napoleon because the publisher and editor were interested in developing their authors and gave a ton of guidance and support. I've written for a couple of other Canadian publishers (Orca and Grass Roots Press) and all were good experiences although I've come to realize that these smaller houses don't have the resources to create best-sellers. They don't have the money to invest in marketing and publicity is mostly up to the author. They do have decent distribution, however, and newspaper reviewers will review their books (they often do not review Indies).

All in all, the publishing industry is changing and authors are opening their own doors. I know a few authors who've told me they can't be bothered finding an agent and waiting for a contract with a publisher. They are happy self-publishing now and controlling the timing. Indie authors are now accepted in writing organizations (they weren't when I started) and are garnering much more respect in the industry.

Since I'm deeply into another manuscript that I'm aiming to have as a series, I'm investigating all these publishing options with an open mind. The times they are a changing as the song goes, and the book industry is no exception. The trick will be to stay ahead of the curve and figure out what works best for me at this stage in my life and career.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, March 26, 2021

Guest Post: Stephanie Gayle, Vice-President Sisters in Crime

I was asked to write a piece about Sisters in Crime (SinC) because, in part, March is Women’s History Month and SinC was founded to address the disparity in opportunities and book reviews women crime authors received in comparison to their male peers. I could’ve written a piece about how much our organization has done, and changed, and grown, and what great initiatives we have planned. We’re doing good work, work I’m very proud of, but I can’t write about it now. Because I’m too angry. My hands keep clenching into fists.

Last week’s murders of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were women of Asian descent, is still on my mind. The brutal shooting of Breonna Taylor is something I think of, often. These are real crimes committed in the real world against real women. Weaponized misogyny. And the responses to them by the police and the media beggar reason at times. The extension of sympathy to the killers, the “othering” of the victims, the rush to provide excuses for these terrible actions: it is too much to bear. And it keeps happening.

Reading fiction transports you to the interior of another person’s mind, feelings, and world. The reader ‘feels’ what the character feels. This creation of empathy is fascinating, and one of fiction’s most magical powers.

I often see calls to read fiction by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) creators in the wake of events such as the Atlanta murders. There is usually an associated uptick in calls for queries from BIPOC creators. I don’t how that strikes BIPOC writers. It seems like the world’s worst consolation prize, to me. Here, for your suffering, a chance at scaling the very white walls of publishing, for a limited time only.

Women’s History Month, like Black History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Month, is a time to celebrate the rich cultural history of a group of people who have been disregarded, excluded, and forgotten. I understand why some folks do not embrace the idea of relegating such a celebration to one month (especially one that happens to be the shortest of the year). I think, this year, my real trouble is that history involves looking backward. Lately, the rearview mirror is affording me few treasures.

So, I am setting my gaze ahead. And I am trying to figure out how best to uplift those demeaned, degraded, and devalued in our lives and in our fiction. And it is hard when those people are my friends. Because I know they are suffering, reliving past traumas with each fresh racist and sexist incident. If I feel paralyzed to write a jaunty blog post, what must they be feeling? They are expected to endure and to create in a hostile world that routinely silences them.

When we reckon what we have lost it is simple, but not easy, to count lives, to calculate families harmed. What is more complicated is to calculate the works that might have been, the rich stories that might have existed, if the world had been a place where all people could create and be heard and valued at the same rate.

I hope Sisters in Crime can help more writers tell their stories, can welcome people of all identities into our community, to share their visions of what justice means. But I’ll be honest. Hope is hard to nurture when your hands are clenched into fists.

Bio: Stephanie Gayle is the Vice President of the national board of Sisters in Crime. She wrote the Thomas Lynch mystery series, which starts with Idyll Threats. She co-created the Boston reading series Craft on Draft. A graduate of Smith College, Stephanie works at MIT doing finance stuff for "people too smart to do basic math."

If you'd like to find out more about Sisters in Crime: click here to connect to Sisters in Crime website

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Fully Interlocking Pieces, by Catriona

Reading: Last year, about a month into “Lockdown Life”, the internet was a-buzz with ways to “pass the time”; reading was high on that list, for many people. Have you read more/more widely/differently/less during the past 12 months? Please tell us a bit about what, and why?

When Cathy Ace was redecorating her house (useful) as a way to pass the time, I was doing the jigsaw puzzles (less useful) that I'd been avoiding because they looked too hard, while Coronation Street (essential) burbled away on Britbox beside me. This one was a killer:

But that's not the question.

Have I read more? I think so. I've certainly been keeping better reading notes than ever. In 2019 and years preceding, I started out jotting down my reading in my diary. Jan, Feb, March . . . all fine. Then spring, the beach, Edgars, Malice, Edinburgh, Bouchercon, houseguests . . . and all of a sudden I hadn't written anything down for months and the books were shelved all over the house, or left behind in Scotland, loaned out, donated . . . gone. 

Last year and this year, I wrote all the titles down in the notebook, on my desk, in my house, where I was too. I also started posting them on my website under "News and Events" because, seriously, what I was reading was about the only news I had to post, back in the spring when the screamer at the top of every website page was "Whatever it was, it's cancelled".

(Yesterday, on the phone to my mum I said - not sarcastically - "Oh, you'll never guess where I've been today? To the corner of the track to take cuttings from that fig tree growing in the drainage ditch." Man, life's going to feel fizzy when we're back to normal, isn't it?)

Have I read more widely? I thi-ink so. Looking at early 2019 before it all fell apart in a giddy whirl of travel, and comparing 2020, I see Stephen King, Elly Griffiths, Ovidia Yu, Ann Cleeves, Colson Whitehead, Hilary Mantel (no website; there's fame!), as well as people I'm on a panel with, people I'm on a shortlist with, Edgar nominees, Booker winners ... all of which suggests no change.

But then, as "Whatever it was it's cancelled" turned into "Whatever it was, it's virtual" and I started attending events - especially Noirs at the Bar - all over the country, the buy links began to sing to me and I definitely clicked on books I might not have come across before, both books featured in the event and staff picks at the particular bookshop involved.

For example, I don't read many short stories (or write many either), but after hearing Jessica Laine's teaser of "The Sundowner" and Richie Narvaez's Oscar-worthy performance (you couldn't call it a reading) of "Bobo" during a N@B I bought and devoured Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas, which sent me off in search of further short stories by the contributors, and I ended up reading more short stories last year than in all the other years of reading put together.

Also, one of the staff picks one night was In the Dream House, a haunting memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. Now, I do read memoirs quite often, but usually (inevitably?) they're memoirs of people I've heard of. I would never have found this lyrical, brutal account of domestic abuse without that online event and the staff member of the supporting bookshop who picked it. It's like the memoir that launched a thousand domestic noir novels. And it's a memoir with a plot twist! How often do you get that?

Have I read differently? Yes, definitely. For a reason that makes no sense at all - not options paralysis, not creeping rigidity, not because I realised I'd bought the same book twice - I decided to put my TBR shelves into alphabetical order and read from A-Z. Except when I'm blurbing, or it's a new Tracy Clark/ Kristen Lepionka/Harlan Coben. (We've all got our 'drop everything' authors; these are some of mine.) Thus I finally read Alafair Burke's The Better Sister, which I've had since it was an ARC,and Brian Allen Carr's Opioid, Indiana and Michael Connelly's Late Show . . . all books I'd owned for at least a couple of years. I'm up as far as Tori Eldridge now, so I've finally made the acquaintance of Lily Wong.

And if you must know why I went ABC all of a sudden, it's because I noticed Neil's TBR shelves one day, while doing yoga in our bedroom, and had to unwind from eagle pose and put both feet on the ground. We have been together a while now. Next month is our silver wedding anniversary. People, he colour-codes his books and I never knew. When I mocked him*, he hit back with "Well, how do you sort yours then?" When I opened my mouth to deliver my zinger of a reply I realised I had nothing. 

*We've both been working at home for 53 weeks. It's going really well. 

Neil in distance: Quite well. 

Me: Pretty well. 

NiD: Somehwhat well.

Me: Fairly well.

NiD: I've got a Zoom now.

Me: (whispering) I win.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

50 shades of cream and yellow... by Cathy Ace

 Reading: Last year, about a month into “Lockdown Life”, the internet was a-buzz with ways to “pass the time”; reading was high on that list, for many people. Have you read more/more widely/differently/less during the past 12 months? Please tell us a bit about what, and why?

I have to admit that – about a year ago – I was working through the publishing process for a book that came out in June and I wasn’t really tuned into what was going on in terms of, “Help me out, I’m bored”. At least, that’s what I thought…until I checked my Facebook news feed and noted that I’d been sharing a LOT of “now available online” tours of art galleries, recordings of concerts, on-stage plays etc., visits to wonderful locations around the world, and lots of ways to entertain and educate children at home.

At The Louvre, "a few years ago"


All of which made me stop for a moment and wonder – have we all changed so much in the past year that our expectations of what’s available, online, free will never be the same again? At this blogsite we’ve all considered how our own reading, writing, and interactions have changed because travel to other places isn’t available. Am I alone in thinking many of the changes we’ve made to our lives will remain permanent?

I’ve mentioned (probably many times) that I find it difficult to read when I’m writing, so it was last summer, at home (!) that I first experienced how my reading patterns/preferences might have changed because I was in lockdown…but, you see, I wasn’t really living a lifestyle so very different to my normal one. It wasn’t until the autumn kicked in, and there were no more afternoons reading in the sun on the back deck, that I noticed a change. And that’s because I often spend the autumn, and winter, away from home – which means that’s when my reading patterns changed. No days spent lolling about with my Kindle on a ship in the Caribbean or somewhere in the Pacific; no long flights across continents or oceans to attend conventions or visit family; no periods of time when it wasn’t all go…because we’d decided to decorate, since we were here anyway. And the garden got much more attention than it usually does.

My reading spot, on board a ship, for a couple of months each year. Not recently, nor soon, I suspect!

So – and please don’t hate me…you know I use this blog as something of a confessional! – I have read a great deal less than I would normally have done during this past year, but the house is looking lovely, and I have watched a LOT of streamed TV and movies from around the world - which is almost like reading, when they are well written/well adapted from books...but it's best I don't go there, because there's so much "poor" stuff that seems to get financed that I might start loosing it!

During decorating...

The title of this piece, by the way, is in reference to the process I went through to choose the final paint colors for the walls in our sitting/dining room and TV room/kitchen.

Done! (Not purple, but black, sofas...colours all off!)

"I cannot talk about cream or yellow paint any longer!" was a phrase my husband called into use on "several" occasions. In the end, the yellow you see is an exact match to a bit of un-faded yellow we managed to find, so it's exactly the same color we originally used almost 20 years ago, and the cream is every so slightly brighter (more yellow in it...but I won't bore you with the details) in the other area.

As soon as I get this book (Cait Morgan #10) written (pre-order link at my website: CAIT MORGAN MYSTERIES — CATHY ACE CRIME WRITER ), and out into the world, it’ll be time to tackle the entryway and stairs. The color I chose for that area is a BIG change from the previous color...a yellow that's just a few shades off what we've used upstairs, but it reads more biscuit-y when the different light hits it downstairs...oh heck...I'm off again LOL!

Cover art just revealed...coming June 3rd

Oh, and the garden will be needing attention again.

I wonder how my reading will fare this year, LOL!!

 I don’t know what’s happened to my brain, but this is how I have been dealing with lockdown. And my TBR piles are multiplying like crazy. Maybe this year I can find a different balance…who knows!

What about you – have you read more/less/differently?

Want to catch up with Cait's nine adventures before the tenth comes out? Please do!


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Reading in the Year of Covid

Last year, about a month into “Lockdown Life”, the internet was a-buzz with ways to “pass the time”; reading was high on that list, for many people. Have you read more/more widely/differently/less during the past 12 months? Please tell us a bit about what, and why?

From Frank

My reading habits have not changed with Covid-19.

I have kept to the same formula for years now. I have a physical book on my nightstand, a digital one on my Kindle, and an audio one on my phone, and I read each in its appropriate time.

I'd say my time spent doing each has remained pretty steady, with the exception of audio. Over the past several months, I've started walking a lot more and longer, so podcasts and audiobooks have garnered a greater share of my attention.

Not much has changed due to Covid. In fact, even my daily life was affected far less than many of you. Simply put, I had become something of a hermit long before the virus hit.

Aside from monthly trips to Spokane to visit family, my biggest sojourn from the study was to the grocery store, the gym, or to take walks or bike rides. Most of my social life outside of my wife was interviewing authors for my podcast, going to two conferences a year, and doom-scrolling Twitter.

Once quarantine happened, the monthly trips became quarterly and then were suspended. I stopped going to the gym (boo!). I was still able to do outdoor stuff, though. I kept up the podcast (over 100 episodes now), but the conferences got canceled. Doom-scrolling became worse and I started to skirt Twitter.

Like everyone, I've watched more Netflix (and associated streamers) than usual. And if you pick good things to watch, it's almost like reading. And by good, I mean well-written, with good storytelling. These kinds of shows or films are not as common as you might think. It amazes me some of the crap that gets made while I look at some of the unadapted work out there that is absolutely golden.


Why is there not an Ellie Stone series on Netflix? Or The Last Ditch Motel on Amazon Prime? Samuel Craddock on Hulu? Charlie-316 on HBO? (I could go on, and that's just with people from this blog!).

Come on, Hollywood. Enough with reality TV. Let's tell some worthy stories.

Oh, wait, this post was supposed to be about reading in the year of Covid. Sorry. I got distracted. Even mildly outraged.

Reading in the last year? Yeah, for me... pretty much the same.

How about you?

If you want to try something a little different, my short story collection, Sugar Got Low, has an eclectic mix of stories in it. 

Like what? 

Well...  a tale of a pair of grifters... a prequel story to the well-regarded Ania series... several trips back to River City, and one to La Sombra, Texas... a Walter Mitty homage set in San Francisco... 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, the dark but inspiring title story of perseverance that was only made possible because of a misunderstood lyric.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Reading For the Edgars

 Q: Last year, about a month into “Lockdown Life”, the internet was a-buzz with ways to “pass the time”; reading was high on that list, for many people. Have you read more/more widely/differently/less during the past 12 months? Please tell us a bit about what, and why?

-from Susan


Boy, was it different! More. More widely. Differently. I chaired the Edgar Awards jury for Best Novel for the 2021 awards (Nominees already announced on the MWA site; winner to be announced with a flourish Thursday, April 29 by zoom.)


That meant starting in late January 2020 an ocean of brand new, beautiful, hard back novels showed up on my front porch in pouches and boxes every week, plus another number as files to transfer to Kindle. More than 420 in all. It meant I and the rest of the team read and read and read and read…all the way until the early date in December that was the submission deadline. 

In January 2020, I could unroll my yoga mat in the guest room and do my exercises. By the end of March, there was no room for spreading my arms to the side or over my head. By the end of September, I had to create a pathway to get from the A-C cartons to the T-Zs. One blessing: There was no space to set up the ironing board. Who needed ironed clothes in 2020 anyway?


In December 2019, when I was asked to do this, I felt so honored. By August 2020, I realized I was probably the 20th person to be asked and the first not to understand exactly what this job would be like! But on December 10, 2020, when our dedicated, awesome team of crime novelists met for the final time on zoom, debated with passion about the books that thrilled us, and voted on six, I felt overwhelmingly glad to have had this chance.


I learned so much in this Year of Reading Madly. What gets me into a book. What lets me down after a good start. What pulls me out of the story fatally. What I personally want to read (and write). What smacks of writing to a fad or a formula. What defies trends and shines with originality (and at times bravery on the part of author and publisher). What I love even when others aren’t as impressed. What other readers love and what they see in a book that I didn’t respond to. 


Most of all, I realized that I will only be happy writing the book my heart insists I write, and that somewhere there may be an editor who is tuned the same way and will want to put it into print as the publishers large and small of these 400-plus books did. 


The MWA rules for Edgar judges prohibit us from reviewing or comparing the books with others beyond listing the six finalists and the one we chose as the winner in our category. That has had me biting my tongue all year and even now as I write this. That’s been tough since I love talking books with other writers. So a big reading year, a quiet sharing one. But I can say, read the nominees in the Best Novel category! Winners all!

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (Penguin Random House – Random House)

Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney (Poisoned Pen Press)

Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Penguin Random House - Pamela Dorman Books) 

These Women by Ivy Pochoda (HarperCollins Publishers - Ecco) 

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey (Soho Press – Soho Crime)

The Distant Dead by Heather Young (HarperCollins Publishers - William Morrow) 



Friday, March 19, 2021

Of Mullets and Microphones

by Abir

How has “Lockdown Life” affected your writing? Have you written more? Developed/honed new writing skills? If so, please tell us about it. Or have you found yourself off-track, lacking motivation, or otherwise sidelining your writing? If the latter, how have you handled that?




Friday again


This week, we are talking the effects of Lockdown on writing life.


Let’s look at the first part of the question:


Have you written more: 

Ha ha ha ha ha.

Ha ha ha ha!

That’s very funny.


I have eaten more, though. A lot more. And spent far too much time reacquainting myself with some of Scotland’s famous glens: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie to name a few.


In terms  of writing, like James yesterday, my writing also fell off a cliff last March and recovered somewhat in April, but my productivity didn’t really improve till May. Like James, I too keep a spreadsheet on Excel, but mine are better cos I also do graphs. (Making graphs is a great distraction from having to actually write stuff and the pretty colours make me feel good.)

Spreadsheeting like a boss, Ziskin!

Lockdown hasn’t been all bad, though. There have been positive aspects:


I’ve learned to cut my own hair.

Back last June, I went on Amazon and bought the cheapest hair clippers and grooming kit I could find, then watched a few You Tube videos on how to cut one’s own hair. For some reason the videos seemed mainly to be posted by men with mullets in rural Kentucky. I can only assume that cutting one’s own hair is part of the culture there. My first couple of attempts weren’t brilliant. It turns out that buying the cheapest clippers was not a good idea. For some reason they were stuck on a setting I can only imagine was called ‘gouge’ rather than ‘cut’ because it would take a hold of a clump of hair and attempt to rip it out rather than trim it. I can’t be 100% sure if that’s accurate because the instructions aren’t in English. Anyway, my wife said I looked like a survivor of a Russian gulag and I had to wear a hat for most of the summer. But the thing is, I persevered. I got better at it, and now my haircuts are perfectly decent – at least from the front. At the back it still looks like a bomb-site, but I can’t see that, so it’s ok.


Like the rest of us, I’ve been keeping in contact with the outside world through Zoom. That quickly went from being something to use to keep in touch with friends to becoming a vital tool for the business of marketing. Zoom has let me talk to audiences in parts of the world I’d probably never get to go to, at least not without crossing borders illegally.  So vital is Zoom these days that I decided to add a bit of professionalism to the whole thing. I spent £200 on a hi-tech microphone which I can get to work almost 50% of the time and which makes me sound like the love child of James Earl Jones and a vacuum cleaner. A friend of mine also bought me a professional web-cam which basically shows up every wrinkle on my face, even in low light, so I hate it. But it’s on a wire and I quickly realised I could hold it up behind me and use it to look at the back of my head on the computer screen. I shall therefore use it the next time I cut my hair.


Somebody suggested I get a ring light – apparently that’s a special light you use to illuminate your face on Zoom calls – but rather than waste money, I’ve managed to achieve the same effect simply by shining two table lamps directly at my face from different angles. It causes my pupils to contract and my eyes to water and makes me feel like I’m being interrogated by the Gestapo, but it does somehow make the wrinkles on my face look less like the Grand Canyon, so that’s good.


I’ll end with something a bit more positive. Lockdown has brought our family closer. Having more time to spend with my wife and kids has been a real blessing. I didn’t think it would be this nice. In the past, there’s never been enough hours in the day, what with writing and travelling. I’ve been guilty of focussing on work, sometimes to the detriment of family life. This year has been different. My motivation for work has been lower, but I’ve watched my boys grow up and my relationship with my wife has gotten stronger. The key now, I suppose, is keeping those good things after lockdown ends.


Have a great weekend, and stay safe.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

L’appétit vient en mangeant by James W. Ziskin

How has “Lockdown Life” affected your writing? Have you written more? Developed/honed new writing skills? If so, please tell us about it. Or have you found yourself off-track, lacking motivation, or otherwise sidelining your writing? If the latter, how have you handled that?

(DISCLAIMER. I wrote a similar post to this one a few months ago. I’ve used some of the same graphics and descriptions for this week’s question.)

I wouldn’t say I developed any new writing skills during the past twelve months, but I may have honed some of them. The French say that appetite comes with eating. L’appétit vient en mangeant. In a similar vein, I believe good writing comes with more writing.

Early on in the lockdown last year, I wrote a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement,” for the anthology, In League with Sherlock Holmes. Thanks to a miracle of good fortune, that story has been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Edgar Award for best short story.

But one short story isn’t much production for an entire year, especially when you consider that I was sitting at home having groceries and other supplies delivered to our door. 

Once I’d finished my short story, I realized I wasn’t making any progress on my new book. I won’t say it was a revelation. More of a growing awareness that became impossible to ignore. So I decided to get moving or risk wasting the one good thing the lockdown provided: time. There was nothing else pressing for me to do, aside from some household chores, cooking, laundry. I had no excuses to avoid writing. 

The novel I was writing was Bombay Monsoon, which I describe as “Graham Greene meets Gatsby on the Subcontinent.” It’s 1975. Danny Jacobs, an ambitious, young American journalist, arrives in Bombay for a new assignment and gets caught up in the chaos of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency.” His enigmatic expat neighbor, Willy Smets, is helpful and friendly, but the man’s secretive business dealings trouble Danny. The reporter falls hard for Sushmita, Smets’s beguiling and clever lover, and the infatuation is mutual.

The Emergency, a virtual coup by the prime minister, is only the first twist in the high-stakes drama of Danny’s new life in India. The assassination of a police officer by a Marxist extremist, as well as Danny’s obsession with the beautiful and inscrutable Sushmita, conspire to put his career—and life—in jeopardy. And, of course, the temptations of Willy Smets’s seductive personality sit squarely at the heart of the matter. 

Here’s how the book came to be. I began writing it in March, I set up my usual spreadsheet to track my progress. I’ve found that the spreadsheet is the best tool to shame me into writing more, into meeting daily goals, into putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward day by day to finish a novel. And here it is.

But I got off to a terrible start. See all those zeroes in the Words column? There was no excuse for this. My lethargic effort hit rock bottom when my daily word average dropped to 172 words per day. My spreadsheet told me I had to make a change.

And I did.

April turned out to be a very good month. Only one day without any writing. The spreadsheet compelled me to produce. Slowly, my daily production improved, and that improvement spurred me on to write more. Soon, I was writing more than a thousand words a day, then two thousand. My cumulative daily average rose from the low point of 172 words per day to 660. I managed 30,516 words in thirty days in April. Better, but not good enough for someone with nothing but time on his hands.

Then came May. I wanted to have the first draft done by June 1st, and a thousand or two words per day wasn’t going to get me there. Studying the numbers on my spreadsheet, I willed myself to do better.

Two thousand words per day became the norm. Then 3,000 or more. A bad day was 1,500. My daily average soared. Suddenly, thanks to my spreadsheet and the growing numbers I entered there, I was inspired to write more, even when I was tired and ready to turn in. I reached 4,145 words in one day on May 16th. More than 3,600 the next day. The words started piling up and the end of the first draft was in sight.

I missed my self-imposed deadline of June 1st, but only by three days. In May, I wrote 73,572 words. That’s enough for an entire novel. By the time June arrived, I’d improved my daily word count average from a low of 172 words to 1,300.

There was still plenty of work left to do on the book, and I used the next few months to revise eight or nine times before I felt it was ready. Remember, you can’t revise what you haven’t written. So a first draft is the sine qua non in the life of a book.

As for motivation, I don’t believe in writer’s block. At least not for me. I know when I’m not writing, it’s out of laziness. It’s because the prospect of 400 plus blank pages is daunting. It’s hard work and, like Dorothy Parker, I love having written but writing itself? Not so much. It’s a slog. A marathon, even when you’re sprinting. But I’ve found tracking every word every day is one of the best ways to fuel your motivation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Write and wrong

How has “Lockdown Life” affected your writing? Have you written more? Developed/honed new writing skills? If so, please tell us about it. Or have you found yourself off-track, lacking motivation, or otherwise sidelining your writing? If the latter, how have you handled that?

by Dietrich

There’s always enough time to write, lockdown or no lockdown. The trick is keeping uplifted so I’ll sit down and do it. I never miss a day of writing, some longer than others, but as long as I show up, then I’m happy with that. It keeps the rhythm going, and basically I see it as an opportunity to play. I like to experiment with my approach, trying to bring something new to it, and that keeps it new and fresh. And often when I’m not at my desk typing, I’m dreaming up ideas, something to work on the next day.

I have a novel coming out later this year called Under an Outlaw Moon. It’s based on the real-life story of a pair of bank-robbers back in the thirties. And I have a couple more complete and with my publisher. Right now I’m playing around with a couple of shorter pieces, so writing has stayed steady. 

I’m drawn to anything that inspires me to keep it going. Art and music have a way of inviting the muse, and good books do that for sure, and I read plenty of them. Recently, I picked up Emily Schultz’s awesome nail-biter Little Threats, Michael Punke’s The Revenant, Kris Calvin’s new one All that Fall, and I started into Tim Dorsey’s excellent Storm Serge series. It’s crime fiction with dark twists of humor. Reed Farrel Coleman’s The Bitterest Pill was also an entertaining read; it’s #18 in the late-great Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series, and Reed does a nice job of keeping that series alive. There have been some biographies that have given me a lift too: Miles by Miles Davis, and Rod by Rod Stewart, and Anger is an Energy by John Lydon. And I reread Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. All those turning pages have helped keep me motivated and on track.

“I just really allowed my muse to be my guide and I just go with whatever I'm feeling.” — K.D. Lang

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Covid Writing


This week’s question is about how lockdown life has affected our writing. I wish I had an answer for that. 

It always seems like I’m struggling as a writer, so when I’ve been writing in the past year and can’t seem to get words down the way I want them to sound, I don’t know if it’s “same old, same old,” or due to being locked down. I do know that I wrote an entire Samuel Craddock book that I was finished with around August, and that this was the result:

     1) I didn’t like it. 

    2) My writer’s groups didn’t like it. 

    3) My agent didn’t like it. 

 When I say I didn’t like it, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like the characters or the story. Instead of trying to dismantle it and figure out what was wrong, and rewrite it, I decided to throw it out. There was one character I liked and wanted to explore, so I kept her, but other than that, gone! I’ve never done that before, and I don’t regret it.

 Was the terrible book the result of Covid angst, or was it just my turn to write a bad book? Who knows? But mid-August, I knew I had to write a better book, or say goodbye to Samuel Craddock. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I started writing a different book, and this one “took.” I turned it into my agent a couple of weeks ago, and we’re both happy. 

 Meanwhile, I finished another book I had been working on, this one a stand-alone, and I’m happy with it, too. We’ll see what my agent says. All in all, I guess this means that lockdown didn’t particularly hurt my output. 

 What it did hurt, though, was my patience. I find myself impatient to get a book out there. I’m used to publishing a book a year, and I didn’t like not having a book come out last year. I do have two short stories coming out this year, but they were written pre-Covid, and their publication was delayed because of lockdown. Since it takes me almost as much time to write two short stories as it does to write a novel, I suppose I should be happy with that. But I’m not. 

 I envy those writers who don’t seem to have missed a step. Those who continue to publish book after book. It makes me wonder if I’m a “real” story-teller. They seem to let nothing get in the way of the stories that pour out of them. To balance that, there are writers I know who are good story-tellers, who say they have been unable to write at all during this time. Cold comfort. 

 One thing I have been doing, though, is reading a lot more. Last year I read every one of the Edgar award nominees for Best Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Debut. I also read many of the Anthony Award nominees. I don’t know if it was a record year, or if I was simply able to concentrate more on the fiction, but the books were fantastic. I’m trying to do the same this year, plus trying to catch up on the breathtaking number of books in my to-be-read pile(s). 

 I think one of the things that feeds my ability to write is getting out and partaking of everyday life. Without it, I have to conjure up things that I experienced in the past, and look to my imagination. Not an entirely bad thing, but it feels less organic. I’m looking forward to a time when lockdown doesn’t keep me so inward. I can’t wait!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Year of Writing in Lockdown

How has “Lockdown Life” affected your writing? Have you written more? Developed/honed new writing skills? If so, please tell us about it. Or have you found yourself off-track, lacking motivation, or otherwise sidelining your writing? If the latter, how have you handled that?

Brenda Chapman here.

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the W.H.O. pandemic declaration, this is a good time to reflect on the state of my writing career.

Have I written more? The answer is yes, but whether I've written anything worth reading is another matter. I completed a manuscript last summer that I was hoping would be a thriller, but in the end, it turned out closer to a psychological suspense. I got input from readers and an agent, but in the end, never got any offers to represent or to publish it. I've set the manuscript aside for now and may or may not get back to it. I was experimenting with tense and genre so maybe I'll chalk this one up to growing pains. I went for a walk this week with my friend who'd read through the manuscript twice and said she really likes the story, one positive voice that might have me looking at it again and giving it an overhaul.

Since then, I've been working on another in the police procedural vein and am almost through the first draft. I've been writing more consistently lately and even managed 6,000 words last week. I stalled with the plot for a while but managed to come up with solutions. I'm going to spend the next while editing and pulling it together before running the manuscript past some readers. Still a long way to go.

I've done other work related to writing since the start of the pandemic. I decided it was time to volunteer my time for something and so agreed to be Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) representative for my Ottawa/Eastern Ontario region. This has involved a lot of Zoom meetings since I also joined their marketing working group, and I've been interviewing authors from this region for posting on Youtube.

I've also discovered the fascinating world of webinars. In addition to CWC, I'm a member of Capital Crime Writers and the Writing Union of Canada, and recently joined Sisters in Crime. All of them have lined up some interesting guest speakers with varied subject-matter related to writing. This past week, I sat in on talks about taxes and writing, psychopathic killers, showing and not telling, and an author interview with our very own Catriona McPherson. The presentations originated from all over North America and were there for the cost of a yearly membership. They are a way to stay connected and to stay motivated.

Another aspect of writing is reading, and I've been doing a lot of that. Reading good writing and even not so good writing helps with my own craft. I belong to a book club that chooses widely and we recently read The Push by Ashley Audrain, and are now reading Trevor Noah's Born a Crime. My own list now has me reading a book by another author from this blog, Deitrich Kalteis's Triggerfish, a riveting story in the thriller noir genre in the style of Elmore Leonard. An eclectic variety of subject-matter and writing styles to keep my interest.

They say when a door closes, a window opens somewhere. I'd say the pandemic closed a lot of doors this past year, but we learned to prop open windows and find new ways of doing things (usually involving Zoom)! I'm eager to get back out in the world, but I haven't been bored at home. My writing, the writing community, and all the various learning opportunities have kept me chugging along nicely. 

For those of you new to my Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series, the first is Cold Mourning and a good place to start discovering Officer Kala Stonechild and Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau. I recently completed Closing TIme, book seven and last in the series, so you can follow the lives of my main characters from start to finish.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Business as Unusual

 Business: How have you changed the way you promote and support your work, and generally go about the business of being an author, since “Lockdown Life” began a year ago? Anything you’ve learned that will remain in place as we move forward?

Abir here.


So earlier this week Piers Morgan resigned. You know Piers Morgan – loud-mouthed, opinionated, British journalist cum rent-a-gob who got sacked from his job as editor of a newspaper for printing fake photos, and sacked from CNN for nobody watching his show. Well he resigned this week from a British breakfast TV show (shortly before his bosses were probably going to sack him). Anyway, the reason I bring up dear Piers is because his Twitter profile reads:

‘One day you're cock of the walk, the next a feather duster’

Those aren’t Piers’ own words but a quote from Margot Barber, but they do sum up how I feel about this week’s question.

My last novel came out in November 2019. My publishers, god bless ‘em, had pulled out all the stops: lunch at a fancy London restaurant for the distinguished members of the press, radio and newspaper interviews, and a national book tour (seven cities in eight days with a trip to Milan in the middle to launch the Italian version of an earlier book). It seemed as though my career was going places!


And then, a few short months later, lockdown hit and the world went into hibernation. Now I should point out, that I and my family have been extremely lucky. None of us have caught covid, not even my mum who insisted on flying back from India two days before all flights were banned. In hindsight it was probably the right decision, but her rationale for taking the risk: ‘I’m Indian. We have so many diseases there that I have natural immunity,’ just  sounded bonkers.


But I digress. While the family has been fine, the writing and all things related to it, have suffered. For the first month of lockdown, I didn’t manage to write a word, and it wasn’t until mid-April that I got back into some sort of a routine. Even then, the writing process was slower, more hap-hazard and more bitty. But what really suffered was the marketing side of things.


I’m one of those writers who finds the writing less fun than the meeting people at festivals. I love everything about them, from the panels to the pub crawls. I tend to draw energy from them, and in turn, they’ve been a great avenue for me to meet new readers around the world.


And then all that stopped. Instead of Barcelona, I was consigned to my basement. Instead of Atlanta, I was stuck writing in my attic. That came as a huge blow, and while a number of events went online and we could reach newer audiences in ever more exotic time zones, it has never felt quite the same to me.


What’s more, lockdown has played havoc with the publishing schedules. The paperback of my fourth book, which was launched with such fanfare in November 2019 was pushed back from April 2020 to August and lacked most of the marketing events I was hoping to do. And while I was much luckier than the debut novelists launching their careers in this strange new environment, it still seemed like some of the momentum we’d generated had dissipated.


It’s also affected the timing of the launch of my next book, The Shadows of Men. We were hoping to launch this in the spring of this year. The date was then shifted to July, and then shifted again to November of this year. It feels like the right move, especially if life is returning to some semblance of normality by then, but it’ll have meant I’ll have gone 24 months without launching  a new book.


I’m trying to make up for it in other ways. There have been the online festivals of course, but I’ve also done events for corporate entities. And I’ve recently hired a team to revamp my social media footprint (their words, not mine. I don’t really know what this means, but they are millennials and I am old, so I am deferring to their younger judgement). I should have a new website by next month, and I shall be issuing my newsletter more regularly than once in two years. They have also tried to explain to me the purpose and benefits of having an Instagram account but as far as I can tell, it’s basically just pictures of cats and peoples’ dinners.


So there you have it. Pre lockdown, I was going places. I had class. I could have been a contender. And then, bang, crash, wallop, all the fun things that helped me build a career – such as compromising journalists with alcohol, and ramming my opinions down the throats of a room full of people at festivals, went out the window. I have become the proverbial feather duster.


But I’m not too down-hearted. I believe we’re going to get through this and rebound stronger. And when that happens, I’ll have my trusty team of tech-savy, twenty-somethings to tell me exactly which pictures to post on Instagram to guarantee my next book is a best-seller!


That might sound like a naïve strategy, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes, even the strangest of notions can prove to be correct. Remember my mum’s justification for why covid wouldn’t touch her? Well it turns out that real scientists think she might have been right. (I hate it when that happens).



Thank you for reading, and wishing you all a safe and peaceful weekend.


PS. Just over a week ago, we lost Paul. I never knew him, other than through his writing and this blog, but from what I’ve read and heard from the others, he must have been a wonderful man. His passing is a loss to all of us.