Friday, July 30, 2021

Dancing to Architecture by Josh Stallings

 Q: Do you have hobbies outside of your writing life? Tell about them. Do they feed your writing life? Do they get your mind off your current projects and their attendant frustrations? Do they satisfy a different part of you than is satisfied by your writing?

I used to have hobbies, I tell myself. But I’m not sure that’s true. There are things I do that seem hobby-like but they are almost always extensions of my writing life. For example, learning to shoot various firearms, led me into target shooting, which led me into skeet shooting. As odd as this sounds, target practice brings me a meditative peace.

Motorcycle riding had a similar calming effect. Both activities required me to split my mind. The logical part is fully engaged in safety concerns, but if I “think about” all the formulas involved in hitting a three inch flying clay disc, I am unable to do it. Instead, I intuit when to fire the shotgun. Riding on a race track is the same, to gain even slight mastery you need to both never forget the safety rules and not think about them at all.  


Sadly politics and the people I started to run into at shooting ranges left me more agitated than tranquil. Several horrific accidents convinced me motorcycles were not a real option if I also wanted to be able to walk. 

Exploring locations is another way to calm my brain, ease my worry and solve writing problems. “I’m going out looking for a place to torture McGuire,” I remember telling Erika. “Have fun,” she said, not looking up from her work. I walk my novels. Traveling, alone on a new road, the logical side of my mind is busy with maps and road rules while the creative side is allowed to wander. 

These things have in common learning or discovering something new. This also tracks with how I write. One very personal thing I need to find when writing a new novel is, what am I learning as a writer on this one, what new technique am I gaining for the tool box? It can be as simple as first person vs third person point of view. Or combining the two. I need to both be discovering the story as I write it, and give my craft side something to work on.

Julia Cameron’s “The Artist's Way,” suggested an artist date, a time you take yourself places to fill up the well. I worked as a film editor at a shop a few blocks from the LA County Museum of Art. When I would get stuck on a cut, I’d go look at art. A lunch break spent looking at a huge canvas covered in lily pads really freed my mind. 


A misremembered quote has stuck with me for years, “talking about art is like dancing to (about) architecture.” Dancing to architecture makes as much sense to me, as solving a film editing problem by staring at an oil painting. It is illogical yet it works. What we do in creating anything, takes logical and illogical thinking. It is the intellectual equivalent of rubbing our tummies while scratching our heads. 

In the last few years my drive to produce more writing has collided with my responsibilities of being squished like the tuna and mayo in the generational sandwich. My work ethic drives me worse than any boss I ever had, demanding that I justify my time, my word count, my time management… 

I clearly needed this question asked at this moment. So far I have described what hobbies do for me, and how I convince the taskmaster upstairs that they are work. While cleverly avoiding the question. 

At this moment I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t have any time to let my mind wander/wonder. I have become the worst kind of boss/manager.

My well isn’t dry, but I am starting to pull up as much sand as water.

I’m struggling to find an upbeat end to this essay/post… 

Failing that, here's picture of me painting when creation was a simple act of joy.


I’m talking about neurodiversity, writing Tricky, being a dyslexic film editor and more with Theo Smith at Neurodiversity - Eliminating Kryptonite & Enabling Superheroes Podcast.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

All the News That Fits to Print from James W. Ziskin

Subbing for Catriona this week. She’ll be back next week!

QUESTION: Do you have hobbies outside of your writing life? Tell about them. Do they feed your writing life? Do they get your mind off your current projects and their attendant frustrations? Do they satisfy a different part of you than is satisfied by your writing?

This week’s question reminds me that I lead a boring life. And I wrote a piece quite similar to this in October 2019. Have a look here:


This week’s post is my one hundredth here at 7 Criminal Minds. If you’re a masochist, you can view the links to them all on my website,

To celebrate the 100-post milestone—and since I’m in the driver’s seat—I’ve decided to write on a topic of my own choosing. Some exciting publishing news.

🔘 First, some blatant self-promotion.  I am so honored to have eight industry award nominations this year. An embarrassment of riches, for which I am truly grateful and humbled. Turn to Stone, the seventh Ellie Stone mystery, was named a finalist for the 2021 Sue Grafton Memorial Award, the Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery, the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original, and the Macavity for Best Historical Mystery. The Sue Grafton Award went Rosalie Knecht and the Lefty to our own Catriona McPherson. So deserving. I can’t complain. The Barry and Macavity have yet to be awarded. They will be announced at Bouchercon in August.

And if that weren’t enough, my short story, “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement,” was a finalist for the 2021 Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards for Best Short Story. Congrats to Maaza Mengiste for winning the Edgar, and to Barb Goffman for the Agatha. Wonderful authors and great stories. I was honored to be a finalist alongside them and my fellow nominees. The Anthony and Macavity are still in play, and will be presented at Bouchercon in August.

🔘 Second, I am pleased to announce that I have a new agent. I signed with Kimberley Cameron of Kimberley Cameron and Associates earlier this year. It was a difficult decision to leave my former agent, but it was a very amicable parting of the ways. I will forever be grateful to him for his representation, his advice, and his selling my first seven books. Thank you, Bill.

Over the past few months, Kimberley has been tireless in her efforts to find a good home for my latest book. (Spoiler: it’s not an Ellie Stone mystery, but the first of a new series set in 1975 India during the °Emergency.”) The Emergency was the twenty-month period from June 1975 to March 1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ruled by decree. For all intents and purposes, she was a dictator. In response to the legal challenges to her 1971 election victory, Mrs. Gandhi engineered this virtual coup, using Article 352 of the Indian Constitution as justification for the drastic action. Article 352 provided that, in order to protect the nation from domestic threats or disturbances, the ruling government could suspend due process and curtail civil liberties, including freedom of the press and elections. It also gave Mrs. Gandhi the power to throw her political opponents in jail. And that she did.

That’s the background. Now for the third bit of news.

🔘 Third, I am thrilled to announce that Kimberley has sold Bombay Monsoon to Pat and Bob Gussin at Oceanview Publishing. They have published so many fine writers, including many friends whose work I admire. Matt Coyle, Steve Goble, R. G. Belsky, D. P. Lyle, and Joe Clifford are just a few whom I know personally. There are more still who are Facebook friends and others I don’t know at all.

Bombay Monsoon will come out in December 2022. Here’s the elevator pitch: 

A thriller set in 1975 India, Bombay Monsoon is “Graham Greene meets Gatsby on the Subcontinent.”

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 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 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.

One hundred blog posts. Wow. I can’t believe I’ve wasted so much of your time… 

Until we meet again, Jim

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Come Into My Garden... by Cathy Ace

QUESTION: Do you have hobbies outside of your writing life? Tell about them. Do they feed your writing life? Do they get your mind off your current projects and their attendant frustrations? Do they satisfy a different part of you than is satisfied by your writing?

Hello, my name’s Cathy, and I’m a gardener. I am also alarmingly if this post looks a tad familiar it might be because you received it yesterday, tacked onto the end of Frank's lovely piece. That would be because I scheduled it to post on the wrong date. My apologies to Frank. If you saw this post you go to get on with your day - you're excused. However, if you ignored/didn't see it is! Not exactly my finest ta-daa! moment, but...

Ask anyone who says they’re a gardener if they're ever satisfied with their gardening efforts and their answer will probably be, “No”. There’s always something more to do, something you want to make better, or different, or there’s a plant you wish you hadn’t planted where you did…or, you know, weeds.

Part of the back garden

At this time, I’m a gardener who’s also facing a particular challenge – drought. In our normally damp, and therefore verdant, Pacific Northwest we’ve experienced a terribly dry spring, followed by a phenomenal heat bubble during our usually-wet June, and now a completely dry July. I know we’re incredibly fortunate to not be facing the absolute disaster of wildfires being so close that we’ve had to evacuate, or – much worse – face the loss of absolutely everything, but drought is my challenge right now, so my “gardening” has dwindled to watering, doing my best to rescue plants not able to take 43 degrees of heat in the shade, let alone direct sunlight which isn’t filtered by our “usual” cloud-cover.

Scorched hosta, poor thing

Of course, our well has run dry (it does every year, but usually not until July, however, it was dry early in June this year) so we’re having water trucked in to fill our water tanks aboveground which we then use to feed our well, from where the water comes to the house in the usual manner via filters which remove particulates and a UV filter which further purifies the water, ready for drinking.

The water truck arriving-  YAY!!!

So, my “hobby” this year is my everyday reality, with – to be honest – more stress than pleasure involved. We’re also deciding which shrubs to move in case this weather becomes a more frequent occurrence, as well as deciding which trees to plant to at least offer more shade in the future for shrubs which are currently scorched…all of which means that my hobby isn’t merely a restful distraction from my normal writing routine, but – at the moment – it’s not allowing me to do as much writing as I would like.

Some areas are doing not too badly at all

Normally, I enjoy plotting as I weed or mow; nowadays, I find there’s still a space in my brain for plotting as I water parched plants I’ve tended and loved for the past twenty years, but the space isn’t as large as I’d like, nor is it a particularly happy place.

The bees are grateful we're keeping the buddleia healthy

This has had a surprising impact: I was plotting a book set in Arizona for Cait Morgan’s eleventh outing (to be published in November 2021) but I’ve found that my continuously sweaty reality has made Arizona a less appealing location…so I’ve switched things up to send Cait and Bud to London, UK, next, where they can enjoy a dusting of snow on the Christmas decorations, and indulge in visits to galleries and museums – as well as tackling a particularly puzzling murder, of course!

The humming birds are grateful we're keeping the crocosmia healthy

Re-reading this post I can see I have a hobby that, ultimately, I love but which never allows me to feel total contentment with what I’ve achieved, as well as a writing career about which I feel exactly the same. That probably says a great deal about my personality…I’ll let you decide what that is!

If you'd like to be FIRST to see the cover reveal for the next Cait Morgan Mystery, sign up for my newsletter...on the Homepage of my website:

Also, if you'd like to find out more about the area where I really live, you can see how it inspired my writing in THE CORPSE WITH THE IRON WILL, the 10th Cait Morgan Mystery:

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Outside Hobbies

Do you have hobbies outside of your writing life? Tell about them. Do they feed your writing life? Do they get your mind off your current projects and their attendant frustrations? Do they satisfy a different part of you than is satisfied by your writing?

From Frank

Like most everyone, I have multiple interests. I'm certain some of those interests overlap with those of my panel-mates - reading, for one. In much the same vein, good movies and television. (As a side note that could be a whole other rabbit hole of a blog post, my threshold for giving my time to a book, film, or TV show that isn't excellent has lowered significantly in the last decade. I wonder if it is the same for others, and if the dynamics of why are similar to my own... but I'll save that for when it is my turn to provide the questions again)

For entertainment, I also enjoy playing a variety of different games on my computer. I lean toward the more strategic and thinking styles most of the time but sometimes a romp through a crash/bang shoot 'em up is kinda fun. Role-playing adventures are also high on my list, if the setting is interesting to me.

The pandemic also ushered in playing D&D via Zoom with some family members. It's fun and a nice excuse to socialize.

Martial arts and fitness have come in and out of my life at various times and in various forms. Right now, they manifest in the form of hitting the gym, the heavy bag, and walking/running/biking (and hopefully kayaking soon).

I got my history degree while I was a working cop, taking advantage of the Army College Fund before the benefit expired. I absolutely love history. Much of my reading and podcast intake is centered around this topic. I know some people find it boring but to me it is chock full of exciting stories and fascinating people.

One hobby that I've been at for much longer than I realized is playing the guitar. Now, let's be clear right up front - I am not very good (and probably worse at singing). I simply don't seem to have the instinctual, innate abilities that lend themselves to musical success. In addition to a D-minus singing voice (F if you go above amateur status), I struggle with rhythm. That's sort of an important aspect of music, I've heard.

Seriously, though, it'd be a like a writer who struggles with syntax. Or dialogue. It's crippling if you want to achieve commerical success.

Luckily, I don't. I just want to strum a little. To learn songs I love. Mostly, I play guitar for myself. Sometimes my wife, who is gracious about it. Occasionally, when I visit my daughter, I'll play and we'll sing Springsteen songs together (The Boss is something we've long bonded over). I measure my guitar success by a) being able to make a song sound like a song, b) getting a little better as I go along, and c) having fun while playing it.

There's an additional element to it, though. Playing music is catharctic. It can bring joy but it can also leech out negative emotions. If I'm down, frustrated, angry, or whatever, playing music helps wash those emotions away. Or at least make them easier to cope with in the moment.

Sometimes - often! - writing does the same thing. It's a slower process, though. The only analogy I can think of is cooking. When it comes to catharsis, writing is like a slow cooker or, at best, an oven. Music is using a microwave. I always feel better, even after a song or three.

And there's one last piece, and this may be the most important one. I said I wasn't very good at playing guitar. That is objectively true. But it is also true that I have improved. See, music is one of those rare things in life where I am both naturally not very good at but also still love doing. Most of the time, the reverse is true. If I'm bad at something, I probably don't enjoy doing it. I suspect many people are that way. But playing guitar has been something that I love in spite of a lack of talent, in spite of not having a knack for it. Whereas writing is something I've always felt a natural affinity toward. It came easier, and effort yielded results more quickly. My guitar "success" (defined above) has been hard-won.

Because it has become such an integral part of my life - despite my shortcomings - I can honestly say that the answer to the follow up questions at the top of the page is yes to all three. 

Yes, music feeds my writing life. I have a long-simmering novella that features music heavily. And I included a fictional Concert for Freedom in my alternative history novel, An Unlikely Phoenix, which is set in 2028. (I'll give you one guess which then 79-year-old musician makes an appearance.)

Yes, playing guitar takes my mind off my current WIP and the frustrations it might be causing (along with any life might be causing as well).

And yes, it satisfies a part of me that writing does not (as well as satisfying some of the same needs in a different way).

Anyway, here's "Wonderwall." (*)

*******************TIME FOR SOME [MORE -ed.] BSP!*****************************

My first Stanley Melvin story will be released on August 17, 2021 from PI Tales.

In Hallmarks of the Job, meticulous private investigator Stanley Melvin likes to keep his work grounded in reality, not at all like the classic detective novels he has read incessantly since childhood. But his best friend and annoying neighbor Rudy quickly points out that his routine “cheater” case is rapidly taking on all of the features that Stanley steadfastly insists are mere fictional tropes of the genre.

As you can see, this novella is being paired with a story from Michael Bracken, so I am in good company!

Stanley was a fun character to write. I have a couple more adventures in mind for him down the road, so if it turns out you like him, he'll be back eventually!

(*) I don't know how to play "Wonderwall" and refuse to learn it. I don't know why I'm stubborn about this but whatever. Anyway, here's "Nebraska."

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Non-Writing Writing Life

 Q: Do you have hobbies outside of your writing life? Tell about them. Do they feed your writing life? Do they get your mind off your current projects and their attendant frustrations? Do they satisfy a different part of you than is satisfied by your writing?

-from Susan


Absolutely. There may be writers who live solely for and within their writing, but that doesn’t sound healthy to me. I have grandchildren. I have cats. I have a garden. I also have friends, a love of music and fine art, a sometimes overly confident urge for creative cooking, and a travel itch. Do any or all of these feed my writing? They burn time and energy, and pull my focus away from writing on occasion, but at least a few of them do sort of feed my fiction. 


The only one that ties specifically to writing is travel. I write about places I love because I’ve spent time exploring them in some depth. Yes, I know the joke – you can write off your travel expenses, you lucky authors. My response is usually, ”Against what?”


Like so many young wives in my generation, I fell in love with Julia Child and her French cooking books, which are brilliant. The classic Burgundian dishes I learned to make do show up casually in my French mysteries, so I guess that could count as a positive answer to this week’s question. 


Gardening, I learned about a decade ago, is not merely a hobby to me. I have always had a garden, but the one I had at my last home was not at all satisfactory – all containers, not enough sun for much that I like to grow. A friend gave me a beautiful little illustrated book, in French, about a garden in Provence, and I could not look at a page without starting to cry. I put the book away but it ate at me. I woke up one day and said, “I have to have a garden.” And so I moved, bought a house with sunshine and dirt and have been happy in it for the past nine years. I don’t think it enhances my writing, but it makes me feel whole and it creates time when I’m living in the moment, which may free my subconscious to work on whatever I’m writing.


My interest in art did supply me with some great plot and character ideas for my Dani O’Rourke series along the lines of “art + money = crime.” I think I was a squeak ahead of the mainstream media in connecting the dots between Swiss bank accounts, international drug and stolen money, and the rocketing prices for art at the big auction houses. Small pat on the back. (Detail from Keith Haring painting at DeYoung museum_


The scary things are the weeks in which my writing output is what looks like a hobby. I need deadlines, I need agents tapping their feet impatiently, contracts with delivery dates, revisions in the works. Then, I can complain about the roses that need pruning, the concert I have to skip, the take-out pizza that has to sub for the quiche I planned to make from scratch. 


My hobbies are parts of my personality and integral to my life, just like writing. I need and use them all to live a full life. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Spectacular and Stupendous

By Abir 

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?

Morning! It’s Friday again, but this Friday is different to the eighty odd Fridays before it. This Friday is special, because this Friday I am attending – in person - my first crime fiction festival in over a year. And not just any festival –  I’m at the daddy of them all (at least in UK terms) The Theakston’s Crime Festival in Harrogate.


You may have to forgive me if this post is slightly below my usual standards (and I admit that’s a low bar to start with) but I’m nursing a bit of a hangover this morning, having arrived at the festival at 5pm yesterday and then discovering the bar at 5.02.


In my defence, I should point out that I was in the running for an award last night – the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Alas, despite being somewhat old and very peculiar, I didn’t win. That honour deservedly went to Chris Whittaker for his brilliant book ‘We Begin at the End’, and if you haven’t read it, I do recommend it. It’s fantastic. Anyway, I took not winning as an opportunity to drown my sorrows. Indeed this beautiful tankard they gave me for not winning certainly came in handy.

My prize for not winning. I now have three of these.

I phoned my family this morning and my six year old son told me where I went wrong. ‘You need to use more stupendous and spectacular words, daddy…like stupendous and spectacular.’ Maybe he’s on to something?


It’s wonderful to be back in the company of writers and crime fiction fans again; so many friends that I hadn’t seen for so long. I’m on a couple of panels later today but right now I can’t remember what they’re about. I’m sure it’ll be ok. 


Anyway, on to today’s question. Do I read books outside my usual areas of interest. That’s a tough one. The answer is probably ‘not enough’. Most of the time I’m reading crime fiction, history, politics, historical fiction, science, or a combination of any of the above. These are things I like. And there’s a lot to choose from in those categories. It doesn’t leave time for much else. Having said that, if someone says I should read something, particularly literary fiction, I’ll give it a go. More often than not though, I find that I don’t particularly enjoy them. I tend to get bored by a book unless it speaks to me in some way. I suppose if there’s a common thread to the books I enjoy outside of my areas of interest it’s that they tend to have something to do with India, or are written by Indian or other authors of Indian origin. I love the work of Jhumpa Lahiri and Vikram Seth. Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake’ and Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’ will always make my list of top 10 favourite books of all time. I’m also a huge fan of the works of Neel Mukherjee and Salman Rushdie. There’s something about the writing of these authors, a poetry infused with a culture that I partially understand; something in their writing that appeals to something in my core, my DNA, my bones, that somehow sets them apart.


But my favourite works by even those authors are probably from two decades ago. In more recent times I’ve struggled to find many books outside my interest areas that I’ve truly enjoyed. Maybe that’s just a function of getting old. Maybe I’ve become too set in my ways; too crusty and crotchety. Just like I’m convinced that music peaked in 1986 and that anything released this side of the millennium is strange, scary and basically just noise, maybe the same is true of my literary tastes. Have I become some sort of cultural dinosaur, who knows what he likes and likes what he knows? Probably, but that’s ok, isn’t it? Or should I read more widely? 


I’d be interested in what you all think, so please let me know.


For now I’m off to my first hotel breakfast in eighteen months. Congealed eggs, cold sausages and bacon you could line the soles of your shoes with.  Truly a stupendous and spectacular breakfast if ever there was one.


Stay safe folks and have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Grumbling, but succumbing - a guest post by Linda Lovely

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?

Catriona writes: It is my intense pleasure today to welcome back a good friend of Criminal Minds: Linda Lovely. (Yes, that is her real name. If one were a romance writer, it would be the perfect pseudonym, but as a passionate writer and reader of the crime genre, Linda would surely have become a Linda Beat, or a Linda R. Herring, if she was tinkering. Of course, if Linda had decided to hyphenate when she married her husband, she'd be LInda Lovely-Hooker. But that's a whole other gener entirely.)

Back in the real world, Linda is here on her blog-tour for Neighbors Like These, a murder mystery introducing retired coastguard, Kylee Kane, and featuring some Home Owners' Associations like no others. We hope.

And now . . .  Linda Lovely.

Confession: I’m a
crime fiction addict. I could happily consume a steady diet of mysteries and thrillers day after day. Within this broad category, there’s plenty of variety—humorous cozies, police procedurals, historical mysteries, psychological thrillers, courtroom who-done-its, romantic suspense, and many more.  

More than a decade ago, a local bookstore owner strong-armed me into joining a book club she sponsored. I succumbed, grumbling that I’d successfully resisted being told what to read since my schooldays. Prize-winning literary novels? Historical memoirs? Coming-of-age tomes? Snooze-arama. Give me a crafty killer, an even smarter detective, and after the thrills and suspense, an ending that promises justice can win out. Yet, once a month, I’m coaxed into broadening my genre horizons.

While that local bookstore is gone, the book club it spawned lives on. Some readers have moved away, new readers have joined. Me? I’ve stayed without any coercion. I’ve even recruited newcomers. All these women are my friends. The books we read and discuss together allow us to learn far more about each other’s opinions, travails, accomplishments, fears, and hopes than would be possible in almost any other group setting.

Our book club includes women (yeah, no men have beaten down our doors to join) who’ve lived in all parts of the country, including Hawaii. There’s a twenty-year age range and occupations run the gamut from social worker to flight attendant and librarian to history professor.

I must admit I haven’t liked all of the books we’ve read. Unlike Mr. Boughton’s English class, our book club doesn’t require anyone to finish the month’s selection. That works for me, since I abandoned that compulsion eons ago. I always give a book at least fifty pages. At that point, if I am forcing myself to read on, I stop. Too many books by favorite authors and interesting debuts waiting in my to-be-read piles.

As a writer, I’ve learned something from even the reads I disliked. For instance, I’ve discovered I have an active dislike for novels populated entirely by despicable characters. I need someone to root for. Yet, on the whole, I’ve enjoyed most book club reads, regardless of genre.

Here’s the main reason I’d encourage every author—regardless of genre—to join a book club. It opens your eyes about what avid readers care about and look for in books. I won’t mention the title, but, in last month’s selection, the author switched point-of-view between paragraphs and dropped in lengthy exposition asides. My fellow book club members didn’t notice. I’ve also discovered grammatical errors don’t appear to be a reason for most of these readers to throw a good book across the room.

However, they do notice when descriptions, no matter how beautifully written, drag on, and cause the reader to lose the thread of the plot. Heavy-handed backstory is another no-no. They don’t easily forgive authors who simultaneously introduce so many characters it’s impossible to keep them straight. Character names that start with the same letters or rhyme are another cause-of-confusion pet peeve.

Yet book club members are quite tolerant if an author tells a good STORY—whether it’s a mystery, a memoir, or historical fiction. If an author can deliver that, almost everything else is forgiven. That’s a lesson all writers should remember.  

A journalism major in college, Linda Lovely has spent most of her career working in PR and advertising—an early introduction to penning fiction. With Neighbors Like These is Lovely’s ninth mystery/suspense novel. Whether she’s writing cozy mysteries, historical suspense or contemporary thrillers, her novels share one common element—smart, independent heroines. Humor and romance also sneak into every manuscript. Her work has earned nominations for a number of prestigious awards, ranging from RWA’s Golden Heart for Romantic Suspense to Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery.

Neighbors Like These - out now!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Never not Reading

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?

by Dietrich

A book is more about the quality of the writing than its label or genre. While I read a lot of crime fiction, I won’t say no to something dystopian if its in the caliber of Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. Or historical fiction like The Color Purple by Alice Walker, or Beloved by Toni Morrison. Or classic thrillers like Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle or The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

Some fiction crosses genre lines, like the hardboiled sci-fi thriller Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem. And there’s Stephen King who often slips past the edges of one genre into another while scaring the hell out of us in the most wonderful of ways.

Some books win awards, some become best sellers, some were published over a hundred years ago, some are true stories, some are pure fiction, some are a bit of both, but one thing a book has to have — it’s got to grab me because of its quality and originality. An engaging story that takes hold and won’t let go, one that keeps me thinking about it long after I’ve turned the last page. 

I don’t pick award-winners, nor do I avoid them. Sometimes I pick up a book on a friend’s recommendation, or a critic’s review. Other times I’m intrigued by a title, a familiar author’s name, or a striking cover design, and I stand and peruse a few pages at a favorite book store, and sometimes online, in hopes of finding something that hooks me. Here are a few I’ve read over the past couple of months that did just that for me, all highly recommended:  

The novella Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad, is a classic seafaring tale first published in 1902 — one that has stood the test of time.

The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque, originally published in 1931, is the classic anti-war story, a follow-up to the remarkable All Quiet on the Western Front.

Quichotte, published in 2019, is a literary masterpiece about moral and spiritual decay, another great one from Salman Rushdie.

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, published in 1953, another literary classic about self-searching.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, first published in 2011, is a tight, suspenseful novel written in a timeless style of prose that’s as poetic as it is gritty.

Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh is the fourth in the Hollywood Station Series, and it dishes up some riveting crime fiction.

Mexican Hat by Michael McGarrity, the second in the Kevin Kerney series, has the ex-Santa Fe chief of detectives tackling a tough case. McGarrity has a great voice and a knack for keeping a story moving.


And I’ve also been catching up on the backlist of one of my favorite crime fiction authors, James Lee Burke, a master of the genre. I recently read Cimarron Rose, the first in the Billy Bob Holland series; the third and fourth in the Robicheaux series, Black Cherry Blues, A Morning for Flamingos; as well as the standalone The Lost Get-Back Boogie. All of them are fantastic and told in Burke’s rich literary style.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when I have several promising books on the stack, just waiting to be read. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Everything Under the Sun


Terry Shames answering our question of the week: 

 Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa? 

 The big answer is: I read everything. At any given time, I may be reading a book of mainstream fiction, a mystery novel, and a book of classic fiction. Like now, when I’m reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab, Leaving the Scene, by Dana King, and The Beloved Returns, by Thomas Mann.
This is a perfect time to answer this particular question, because we’re packing up for a major move to Southern California. I’ve been going through my books, giving up a few, remembering many, wishing I had the time to stop what I’m doing and read others, and packing most of them. It proves just how eclectic my reading tastes are. I just packed two books about Louis IV that I read a while back, and doubt I will read again. Why? Because they’re written in French. Why am I keeping them? “Just in case.” 

I’ve had to make agonizing decisions about whether to keep biographies I’ll probably never read. For some reason, biographies often don’t appeal to me. But I’m keeping Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, even though I’ve already read it. I read a few pages again and knew I couldn’t bear to part with it. 

 A few days ago, I ran across a science book I tried to read and got about a third of the way in, and knew I was in way over my head. I sat down with it and started reading again, with the idea that I would probably give away the book, because it’s a HUGE book. It’s called A New Kind Of Science, by Stephen Wolfram. You could make a career out of reading it. But despite the fact that it weighs about five pounds and I know I’ll never get through it, I’m keeping it. 

 I have a whole bookcase of literary fiction that I’ve already read. A few of them I decided had lost their luster and I could part with them. Others, I’ll keep “just in case” I need to dip into them again. Who knows when I might need to read a few lines from William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury? Or revisit John Fowles's The Magus? (which I have copies of both the old and the revised. No, I have two copies of the old one. I’m keeping them.) 

 I like belonging to a book club, because we vote on what we’ll read, and I often read things I would never pick up on my own. I would never have thought to read, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, and would have missed out on one of my favorite books, ever. I would never have thought to read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s the perfect book to be reading while I’m snowed under, because it’s light and intriguing. 

 In addition to the other eclectic reading I do, I always try to read the nominees for the Edgars. This year’s was no exception in being full of wonderful books I might never have picked up. I might not have thought to read The Deep, Deep Snow, by Brian Freedman.
Or Please See Us, by Caitlin Mullin.
The other way I find mysteries to read are recommendations from friends. Even if I don’t usually read a particular type of mystery, I’ll take heed if someone recommends a book. Am I sometimes disappointed? Sure. But most of the time I get to broaden my reading horizons. I’d like to hear from readers? What have you read that surprised you? How do you decide what you’re going to read?

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Casting a Wide Net

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?

Brenda Chapman here. A fun question this week.

I've been a reader of pretty much everything I can get my hands on since I figured out how to sound out words on paper ... and that came with its own challenges. I remember in grade one getting into trouble with my father because he realized I'd memorized a list of words  without actually being able to read any of them. When he asked me to read a word out of order, I had to guess. My father thought I was being lazy and wasn't too impressed with my effort. I wisely decided my six-year-old life would be easier if I made those letters mean something, and I never looked back once the ability to read took hold.

I've belonged to a number of bookclubs since I got married. The first couple of clubs were during the child-rearing years and were more of therapy nights out with lots of food and wine and very little book discussion. In fact, pretty much nobody read the book of the month although at the end of every meeting we'd faithfully select another one. A couple of years ago, I started up a new book club and was fortunate enough to have my friend Kathryn join. She reads widely and has recommended some terrific books. This year, we've read The Push by Ashley Audrain, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and Indians on Vacation by Thomas King. Our next read is Five Little Indians by Michelle Good -- all in all an eclectic mix of topics and writing styles. (The only book in this list that comes close to crime fiction is The Push, an unsettling best-seller about a child psychopath.)

My own books are what a fellow crime fiction writer Barbara Fradkin labels 'medium boiled'. We have similar writing styles and oddly enough live in the same neigbourhood in Ottawa. Our books aren't cozies but they're also not overly gory or focused on the physical murders, and they are definitely not hard boiled -- they fall somewhere in the middle. However, I have several cozy author friends and buy and enjoy their books: Mary Jane Maffini, Linda Wiken, Robin Harlick, and Vicki Delany included. I also enjoy a good thriller by such authors as Rick Mofina, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay and many more too numerous to mention.

A photo of my books sent to me by a reader :-)

At a book event with (l to r) me, Robin Harlick, Barbara Fradkin, 

Linda Wiken & Mary Jane Maffini

Another way I choose books is to go to my local independent bookstore, Perfect Books, and ask for recommendations. This is how I discovered the fabulous Adrian McKinty, and more recently, Jane Harper and Anthony Horowitz. I'm always on the lookout for new authors, and once I find one that I like, I search out their entire collection. I've also bought some bestsellers or award-winning books, usually in the 'literature' category, with mixed success. Some of the subject-matter and writing styles don't appeal to me, proving that not all award-winners are for every reader.

Signing at Perfect Books pre-Covid

As a writer, however, I can appreciate all book genres and try to learn from every bit of writing, whether my cup of tea or not. The category of crime fiction or any fiction for that matter, doesn't matter so much to me as an intriguing story well told. The real problem is finding the time to read as much as I'd like with such a wealth of offerings to choose from.


Instagram & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, July 16, 2021

Don’t Write For Free, by Josh Stallings

Q: “I recently heard a comment that the big publishers are trying to hold onto an old model of publishing that doesn’t work so well anymore. Is this true? Why doesn’t it work, and how could the model be changed?”

A: I self-published books in the early days of that movement. I have been published by a micro publisher, and (currently by) a stellar independent publisher. I have good friends who have been published in every way possible. With my lack of experience with legacy publishing houses, I’ll attack this question from a slightly different angle, looking at the book business as an industry. And more importantly, what do I want in trade for a piece of my hard-won sales dollars. What can I rightfully expect?

(*For a brilliant overview of publishing scroll back to Cathy Ace’s Wednesday post. )  

State of the Books Business:

(This is based on my experience, so odds are I got lots wrong.)

The Times, London, ten or so years ago had an article claiming, in the new publishing economy only the rich or retired would be able to afford writing careers. They foretold the death of the midlist writers, and to some degree they were correct. 

TANGENT ALERT — I remember when Hollywood studios had a couple of big tent pole films a year and the rest were smaller films, dramas and comedies shot on reasonable budgets and thus could make a return on investments. The 1980’s brought us all- mega-hits-all-the-time. As an added bonus we got sequels ad infinitum. It happened (not un-coincidentally) around the same time electronic and beverage corporations started buying up controlling interests in the studios. — END TANGENT

With legacy publishers merging and being bought by media companies, they have taken on a much more corporate approach to business. Thus they, too, are in the blockbuster business, placing a greater weight on  high-concept material than ever before. The all-important tight “elevator” pitch that swept Hollywood is here to stay in publishing.   


Add to this, a seeming anomaly, with more outlets like e-readers, phones and other devices to read a book, the income of most writers has fallen. Even bestselling authors are struggling to make ends meet. Fact is, most crime writers I know have full time jobs to support their lives and write books as a beloved side-hustle. The lucky ones write for TV or film, but those gigs are so all-consuming that it often leaves them with no time to write books. 

The loss of sales looks like a twofold issue: one, people who would never steal a book unless Abby Hoffman told them to (a reference for any old hippies out there,) will happily download an ebook copy without paying. The second thing was Amazon made self-publishing an easy click away. The good news, the gatekeepers couldn’t stop anyone’s books from getting to readers. The bad news: not everyone is at a place in their career where they should be publishing. This freedom flooded the independent book market, making it even harder to make a living at it.

Yes — before anyone yells at me — it’s more complicated and nuanced than this. Some self and independently published books have broken huge, and some midlist writers continue to be published by legacy houses. 

Moving on…

Why do we need publishers? Originally it was because they owned the presses, and the means of warehousing and distribution for crates of big heavy objects. Both no small things. However, print on demand and ebooks have somewhat rendered this argument unsustainable. But that isn’t—or it shouldn’t be—all a publisher offers. 

Here’s breakdown of what I love and need from a publisher:

A really good editor, someone who can see what I was going for, and where I missed the mark. A great editor can take a good book and make it fantastic. “You have twenty pages at the most to hook a reader, and as written, you’ve lost them.” I hated hearing this about TRICKY. But I trusted my editor, and the book is better for it.

A really good copyeditor. I’m dyslexic, so the need for this should be self-explanatory.

Marketing. People whose job it is to see the greater potential of your work in a cultural sense and can exploit this to reach beyond your friends and fellow writers.

Art directors who can come up with an eye catching cover, that both pleases and sells.

There are more but this a good start. All of these jobs you can do, or hire out. But it is both time consuming and expensive. And I have discovered with my novels I spend so long describing the roots and moss, that I lose the forest entirely. 

As for marketing—and movie marketing was my job for a long time—when it comes to my work, again, I can’t see the wider context of it.

Are these tasks worth between 90% and 75% (depending on hard cover, ebook, etc…) of the book’s revenue? Maybe. Is 10% to an agent worth it? 

It’s complicated, they are both artistic and business decisions. Subjectively, do they make the work better? Objectively, do they increase sales enough that my piece of the pie is smaller, but my income greater than what I could generate on my own? Clearly when a book comes out it is all educated guess work. I know my past track record, but every book is different. And sometimes sales fall a bit when striking out into new territory as an author, and the gains may not be seen for a book or two.

I don’t know if publishers paid for travel in the past, but I felt good when starting out if my sales paid for BCon and LCC trips. I remember I was at a bestselling writer’s signing in Carson, or another small So Cal town. I think five readers showed up, including me and my son. When I later asked why travel so far for so few readers, they said to me, “I do it partly for the readers, sure, but mostly to shake hands with the people working for the bookstore.” They were aware that these folks work tirelessly to get our words into readers hands. 

Scott Montgomery at Austin’s Book People has led more people to my books than anyone I can think of. When Scott asks me to travel to Texas for a reading or panel discussion, I do it. I mean it helps I have family in Texas to stay with, but I’d work it out if I didn’t.

Which brings me to a… RANT—Scott has never treated independently published writers (me) differently from the likes of Joe R. Lansdale. He put us together on a panel because he saw something in our work that sparked. And I suspect because he knew that getting me in front of Joe’s readers would help to broaden my readership. 

This is something the crime conventions fail at more that not. My first Bouchercon was Chicago 2005, where all the more independent writers were stuffed into an overfull basement room. This remains true today. Most panels pair best and better selling authors together, while up and coming or marginalized writes are smooshed in the small rooms at times where they have no way to compete for new readers.

There have been notable exceptions, such as LLC in Vancouver. I was on a panel about neurodiversity, it was diverse group of writers and because of it I met readers from all kinds of backgrounds, and tastes. We all read broadly, I have readers who also love cozies, hell, I love a good cozy. Why do the conventions rigidly separate writers as if it was a Borders bookstore? (Yeah I know they went out of business, kinda my point.) 

Why isn’t an author who writes “Small Town Police Procedurals,” put on the social justice panel? I know this means more work for the organizers, but the deal is we writers are paying to be the entertainment (and admittedly to get to hang with our peeps.) From a business standpoint, if these events don’t show an uptick in book sales that at least covers the cost of attendance, we really need to question their validity. — RANT OVER!

Final important note,

I don’t write for the money, in fact I’ve written and hidden away more words than I’ve published. I — like most writers — am driven to write. I do it for the love of the craft. I’ve dug ditches and I’ve driven taxis, and getting to spend my days inside these books is the greatest job I can imagine. And yet…

Because of my racial and gender privilege I was able to stash enough money from film work so that when the chance to write full time came I could jump at it. That’s not true for all, or even many. If we want diverse books, we need to make sure writers are being treated with equity.

Again, we’d write for free, and have, but we shouldn’t have to.