Monday, February 28, 2022

Reading as learning

 Q: Craft: Apart from studying books/courses about how to write, many writers hone their craft by reading the work of others. Can you share any insights you’ve gleaned this way? What about tricks or tips you’ve picked up from other forms of storytelling, like TV or movies? Any examples of how such insights have influenced your work?

-from Susan

It’s impossible not to notice when a writer does something really well, and if you’re a writer too, a little “ding” sounds somewhere in your brain. Sometimes, it calls for a quick note to self, sometimes a Post-It so you can go back to it before you lose the thought. It might be a way one writer gracefully handles a change of point of view, segueing so seamlessly that you never had to jump out of the story to step from one perspective to another. It might be language, a writer whose vocabulary stretches elegantly but who never seems to be showing off and thereby pointing the reader to himself and away from the story. 

It’s also hard to avoid noticing the how not to write examples. A sentence studded with so many adjectives you can’t plow through to the message. A writer who overworks foreshadowing to the point where you want to scream. (I have more tolerance than many for a degree of it, used sparingly, than lots of writers and teachers. I don’t use it myself, though, because it’s like the color orange – a little bit goes a very long way.)  

Something I learned from reading David Sedaris: The best humor is self-deprecating.

Something I learned from Jane Austen: You can signal a lot about a person’s foibles with a well-placed bit of action or dialogue that is so ordinary as to be overlooked and yet wrong.

Something I learned from Terry Shames: When you describe a place, use all your senses to pull the reader into your vision, and don’t forget to let the reader smell the sun-baked dust. 


Friday, February 25, 2022


by Abir

This is not a political blog and I do not wish this to be a political post, but in light of the developments over the last 48 hours, I felt the need to stray from this week’s topic.


Yesterday, a sovereign European nation was invaded. Its people are fighting and dying for their freedom. In this moment, my thoughts go out to the people of Ukraine and to all those caught up in this terrible situation.


I visited Kyiv three years ago. I stayed in Maidan Square, the heart of the city and scene of the protests in 2014 which led to the fall of a Russian leaning government in favour of a more democratic one.


I sat in a park with Ukrainian writers and Russian writers and we drank wine and vodka and I marvelled at the thought that when I was growing up, such a meeting would have been impossible.


Today it feels like the Iron Curtain is falling once more. I’ve written to my friends there, but what use are my words when they are sheltering in basements or trying frantically to contact relatives. It all feels rather hopeless.


I am not sure what more to do, and so I watch the news and update my internet feed and try to concentrate on work.


I’ve seen emails and Facebook messages, well-meaning missives from well-meaning people, asking ‘What is the role of the writer at a time like this?’ and ‘What you can do to help’ and I find myself alternating between thinking it’s all quite pompous to assume we can do anything, and the position that anything we can do is better than nothing. 


I see others adding the Ukrainian flag to their Facebook profiles or similar things and I recoil. To me, that isn’t standing in solidarity – you can’t stand in solidarity while sitting in your bedroom – that’s virtue signalling. And yet, what am I doing that is any more constructive? 


True solidarity is that shown by the thousands of Russians who came out in defiance of their government last night to denounce the war. It is the one thing that gives me hope. They are risking so much to stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters across the border. I see them and I am awed and ashamed at my own inaction.


There are lessons to be learned of course. Geopolitical ones; ones about unity; about the need to decouple our economies from those who would wish to subvert our democratic values; about being better prepared; but what are the personal ones? I’m still at a loss. Maybe the role of the writer is to talk about these lessons we need to learn? Maybe it’s to issue a call to arms? Maybe it’s to document the plight of those involved? Maybe it’s to pen searing critiques of Putin and his cronies? I guess it’s all of these and more. 


I’m under no illusions that the effect of any of these will be more than marginal at best, but I am just as certain that even though military aggression might succeed in the short term, in the long run it cannot defeat a people’s wish to be free. We saw it when Soviet tanks rolled into East Germany in 1952, in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The will of the people may be suppressed temporarily, but it cannot be extinguished completely.


And at times like these, I remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi.


“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”


Kyiv in happier times

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Please Blurb Me! from James W. Ziskin

 As authors we’re often put in an enviable position – we get to read books ahead of publication because we’re asked to provide comments for other authors to use as blurbs, or as early reviews. Do you approach “early reading” differently than the way you read already published books on your TBR pile?

I’ve written blurbs for more than thirty books in the past couple of years. I’ve done it gladly. It’s important to give back to the community that has done the same for me. So many generous writers do this incredible favor for authors trying to forge a career. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to make the request. I’m always hesitant to ask fellow writers to read a book of mine and provide a couple of lines to praise it. It’s hard, but I’ve done it. And I like to think I’ve balanced the scales by helping others.

But how do I approach books when I’m asked for a blurb? Do I write a stellar notice no matter what? Actually, I’ve been lucky. The books I’ve blurbed in recent years have not disappointed. But even if they had, I’d try to see the good and concentrate on that. I certainly understand that my opinions are subjective. If I’m not thrilled by a book, other readers surely will be. So I focus on the positive and try to note something readers will enjoy. And I try to concentrate on that. Because no book will appeal to everyone. 

It’s actually a privilege to read books before everyone else. I appreciate it and feel extremely lucky. Sometimes, believe it or not, I’m miffed when I’m NOT asked to blurb a cool book. Did I offend that person? Am I not important enough? (Just kidding.)

When authors approach me for a blurb, I request a Word Doc. That way I can listen to the book using Word’s Read Aloud feature when I’m driving. The quality is quite good. And it allows me to consume more fiction than I might normally do.

As for when a book has already been published, I agree with Nick (see yesterday’s post.) If I don’t like a book, I do not leave negative reviews. I say nothing. My mother always said, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” What’s the point? I’m not some great arbiter. Why should people care about my opinion? One of the sharpest daggers I ever felt in my writing career was when a well-known author chose to post a one-star rating for my first book on Goodreads. No comment. Nothing but one star. For a book that, while not perfect, was well received and didn’t deserve—in my opinion—the lowest rating possible on Goodreads.. I wouldn’t post a one-star rating for any honest book ever.

My TBR pile is perpetually high. I want to read everything, but that’s not possible. Instead, I try to wheedle it down, all the while respecting the tremendous effort and talent that went into each book.



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Guest Post by Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski is the author of eleven novels. His work has also appeared in The Washington PostMcSweeney’sThuglitShotgun HoneyNorth American Review, and Carrier Pigeon, among other venues. He lives in New York City, and he’s sitting in, answering this week’s question:

As authors we’re often put in an enviable position – we get to read books ahead of publication because we’re asked to provide comments for other authors to use as blurbs, or as early reviews. Do you approach “early reading” differently than the way you read already published books on your TBR pile?

I do, and it depends on how early I’m reading a particular book or manuscript. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to receive a book before it’s settled into its final form — when the author and editor are still tweaking certain scenes or adjusting the plot’s flow. In those circumstances, I’m usually asked to act as a beta reader, and I’m more than happy to offer suggestions about how to refine the manuscript.

Obviously, you’re really forgiving about books at that stage, because they’re very much a work in progress. Even if there are rough spots, you grind through (and take notes). You offer constructive criticism. You stay as positive as possible. 

With most of the pre-publication books I read, though, it’s later in the process, and it’s because the author or publisher wants a blurb and/or early review. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never been asked to blurb or review a book that I found unreadable. That being said, if I’m not wholly engaged by the text — and sometimes that’s my fault, if there’s a lot going on in my life at the moment, or a towering stack of reading to get through — I sometimes resort to skimming a bit more than I usually would.

When I read books that’ve been published, the game changes. Years ago, I was more willing to keep reading books I didn’t find all that compelling, or even outright hated. There was something about not finishing a book that felt like defeat. But, as I’ve grown older and more viscerally aware of the hours of my life ticking by, though, I’ve gotten much harsher about whether I finish a book or not  — if I’m not gripped, I generally close it after 50 pages or so. If the book comes off as a pastiche of something better (a continual issue in crime fiction and horror, especially), I might not make it past page three.

If I don’t like a published book, I don’t leave a negative review — there’s just not enough time. If the book comes up during a discussion with someone, I might warn them away from it, but I’m under no delusions that posting something negative will make a difference amidst the tide of Goodreads and Amazon reviews. Plus, I know how much work goes into the creation of a book, and I don’t want to broadcast something that’ll potentially give a long-suffering author an apocalyptically bad day, just because the writing wasn’t quite to my taste. 

Being able to read books early isn’t a privilege I take lightly. I’m appreciative of every chance I get to blurb or review something before it hits bookshelves. With a published work, though, I’m often a lot more stringent about whether I stick with it — even if I end up keeping my opinions to myself. 


Thank you to Nick Kolakowski for dropping in. And be sure to check out his latest: “Love & Bullets: Megabomb Edition.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

What Do You Think?


Terry here. 

This week we’re talking about providing advance blurbs and reviews. As authors we often get to read books ahead of publication because we’re asked to provide comments for other authors to use as blurbs, or as early reviews. 

I always feel that it’s an honor to be asked to read a manuscript in preparation for its publication. It means the author or editor trusts me to give an honest appraisal of the work. It also means the author or editor thinks that my opinion matters to other readers. So to that extent I do approach it differently, because reading a book that’s already published leaves my opinion out of the equation. I might give a review of a published book or tout it on social media if I find I really like it, but the author doesn’t expect or depend on my opinion. 

 Reading a pre-published book is usually time sensitive. The publisher wants endorsements, but often you’re given little time to read and comment. 
So, I usually get right to it and try to read it quickly. With a published book, I can take my sweet time. 

 If the author is a friend, even a casual friend, I will probably read the book with a more positive attitude going into it. That doesn’t mean I’ll say I like it if I don’t; it just means that I’m pre-disposed to like it. 

Early on in my career, I was so flattered to be asked to read for a blurb for early review that I didn’t pay enough attention to the type of book I was being asked to read. Once or twice I found myself reading with little enthusiasm,

yet feeling that I had to follow through since I had said I would. 

 And a couple of times I had to reluctantly tell the author that I couldn’t give a blurb. WHAT? Yes, it was very hard. The first time it happened, I had happily said yes and the more I read of the book, the more reluctant I was to praise it. I asked the advice of a more seasoned writer. He said I absolutely should not put my name on a book I didn’t fully endorse. He said I should tell the author, “You want someone to blurb this book who is very enthusiastic, and I just don’t have that level of enthusiasm.” Happily, the author in question took it with aplomb. And also happily, the book was a great success with a lot of buzz. 

 That taught me a good lesson. Just because I don’t have enthusiasm for a book doesn’t mean others won’t—my word is not the “great blessing,” it’s merely one opinion. That freed me up for having less ego involvement. It also taught me another lesson. Now, when I’m asked to blurb a book whose author I’m unfamiliar with, I always reply that I’m busy, but I’ll try to get to it, and will let them know soon if I can’t. Then I immediately start reading to find out if the writing/subject/characters engage me enough to continue. It’s rare that I have to say no. I don’t have to think a book is the best thing ever read in order to give it an endorsement. I simply have to think it’s a good read. 

I hope anyone reading this doesn’t automatically assume it means if I say I don’t have time, that it means I didn’t like their book. Sometimes I really don’t have time! 

And one more lesson. I shouldn’t try to blurb a book that isn’t the type of book I generally read or write. I read widely, but I’m sometimes asked to read a book that puzzles me why my endorsement would matter. I remember one book in particular that was sent to me. I started reading and realized it was a hard-core noir/thriller.

After a couple of chapters I wondered why the author thought my name in a blurb on the cover would entice a reader. If they knew my work, they knew I didn’t write anything like this, and it might confuse a potential reader. But I thought the book was well-written. So I asked an author I knew who wrote that type of book if he would be willing to take a look at it. He said he would. I wrote the author who was asking for a blurb and told him that I thought he would be better served by having the other author endorse it. He was thrilled. Everyone was happy!

BULLETIN: Last time I posted, I alluded to coming news. I’m excited to announce that I just signed a two-book contract for Samuel Craddock # 9 and # 10 with Severn House. Murder at the Jubilee Rally will be out October 3! Think motorcycles!

 Cheers! Terry

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The First Read

As authors we’re often put in an enviable position – we get to read books ahead of publication because we’re asked to provide comments for other authors to use as blurbs, or as early reviews. Do you approach “early reading” differently than the way you read already published books on your TBR pile?

Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

First, let me say that I know how difficult it is for an author to ask another author to read an unpublished manuscript with a view to giving a recommendation. Everyone is so busy and it feels like an imposition to even ask. The other piece is that what if the author doesn't like your book? How devastating would that be!

So, for those brave souls who get up the courage to request an author read their work, trust that your book will be read respectfully and with a positive mindset. I've been asked several times over the years to give an advance blurb and always have moved the manuscript to the top of my reading pile. I read with a view to enjoying the story rather than to criticizing it.

I've learned over the years that my taste is not always the same as other readers', and this tempers my opinion if I'm not completely entranced. Some books on the bestseller or award lists are not my cup of tea. The enjoyment of a book is subjective. Sure, the writing needs to be good, but even this can be debated. I can name some bestsellers that other authors and reviewers found to be substandard. 

I guess where I'm heading with this blog is to say that writing is difficult, selling books is difficult, and rejection is difficult. These obstacles are balanced by the supportive and generous writing community that works to lift each other up. If writing a positive review or blurb helps another writer to gain a toehold in the market, then I'm happy to do so. I'm also grateful when an author I admire takes time away from their own work and does the same for me.

My latest book, Blind Date, a Hunter and Tate Mystery is due for release March 1st, and I mustered my courage to ask a few fellow authors for a review. I've been blessed with their words and copy a couple of lines below in case you're in the market to start reading a new series.

Blind Date is an absolute page turner and a promising debut for Ella Tate: blogger,
crime reporter and scrappy fighter with a heart as big as a punching bag. This is Brenda Chapman at her best. - Tim Wynne-Jones

When I settled back with Blind Date by acclaimed author Brenda Chapman, I only meant to read the opening chapters, but I ended up reading late into the night. It was that good. - Dietrich Kalteis

This riveting read offers edge-of-your-seat tension as you fear for the complex characters. Prepare to be up all night. - Mary Jane Maffini

Blind Date is a captivating thriller, well-paced, and full of unique characters and twists and turns. - Karen Grose


Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, February 18, 2022

Walking the Line, by Josh Stallings

 Q: Life: Sitting around all day isn’t good for us – we all know that. Sitting around all day (writing) is what we authors are expected to do. How do you find a healthy balance so that your body is able to sustain the work your mind needs to undertake? And what are you up to in 2022 that this will help you achieve?

A: I have said, “Writing problems are solved with a keyboard in my hand.” Buuut, that’s not true, part of my job is thinking. I often wake from a dream and scribble down a solution, (pro tip, Fisher Space Pens are great for writing upside down.) While walking snatches of dialogue or plot ideas bubble up, I record on my phone. Regardless of my dictation method if I don’t type these up relatively quickly my brain figures I’m not interested and turns its attention away from my writing and onto more important things, like what’s for lunch.

Walking is proven to help the creative mind.      

In a 2014 study Stanford University researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person's creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found. The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.

I originally read this study seven years ago. I believe it to be true. And yet… 

I have spent most of my adult life in rooms of one kind or another either editing film or writing. In the early days, film was a physical job. I grabbed metal reels with 1000 ft of 35mm film on them off a rack and fed them onto a Moviola or Kem and then hand rewound them, 30 or 40 times a day. Running six tracks of 35mm sound through a synchronizer got my heart pounding. 

But that was before non-linear editing made me trade in my grease-pencil and razor-blade for a keyboard and mouse. Since that time I have tried and failed to find ways to accomplish  exercise and meet deadlines. When working in the CNN Hollywood building, I tried marching up and down all fourteen floors twice a day. That usually lasted a day and then the studio needed a cut FAST and I strapped into my chair and got it done. This makes me sound like I have a great work ethic, I may or may not but the truth is, I have failed to maintain an exercise routine because I am ultimately more interested in solving creative problems than moving my body. Even though I know moving helps solve them. 

The solution to this problem came in October 2017. It arrived in a fuzzy form called Buster. He is a terrier, at this moment he is sleeping on the day bed in my office. Every day at ten am he gets me out of my chair to take him for a long hike or walk. He does this again at three pm. He is a terrier, this need repeating for the terrier deprived out there. If he doesn’t get enough exercise and the mental stimulation that only sniffing the forest will deliver, he will find other ways to entertain himself. Destructive ways. 

Buster has taught me, it takes less time to go for a nice long walk than it would to clean up the consequences of not going for a walk. 

A few months ago Ernie the Adventure Poodle joined our tribe. Buster has taught him to rock climb and scrabble up mountains. Unlike Buster, Ernie is always happily surprised we are going on yet another walk, in that regard he is an easy going lad. We are all lucky Buster remains a task master.

As for 2022, I have a new book out on submission and I’m in the midst of two new manuscripts. To finish them this year I’ll need all the pep Buster can beat into me.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Jack’s a dull boy

Sitting around all day isn’t good for us – we all know that. Sitting around all day (writing) is what we authors are expected to do. How do you find a healthy balance so that your body is able to sustain the work your mind needs to undertake? And what are you up to in 2022 that this will help you achieve?

by Dietrich

It used to be, I’d get fixed on a part of a story, and I’d get on a writing roll, burning the candle down and refusing to get out of my chair till the muse left for the day, or night. Back then, it was all too easy to get single-minded about it, working on a story and munching Kettle Chips and KitKats. Fueled by early morning coffee and late night ethanol. 

I guess it’s all fun and games till the jeans don’t fit anymore. But, before I needed to let the belt out that extra notch, I realized it was time to swap the KitKats for kale. And high time to find some balance.

Keeping to a routine is a good thing, but changing it up once in a while is even better. My nature is to write early every morning, and I usually do it seven days a week, but once in a while circumstances dictate that I have to switch it up to later in the day.  

Outside of writing, I try to stay open to other activities, preferably finding something else to do that doesn’t involve a chair.   

None of the rest of my pastimes have ever felt as strong as the desire to write, so I try to pay heed to that and make time for everything else in my life. Again, I try to find a balance. 

I’ve always been a big reader, and I love to experiment with different art forms, mostly dabbling in art, photography and playing guitar. But, there’s also getting out for long walks, rolling out the yoga mat, and paying regular visits to the gym. 

The last part of the question asks what I’m planning for this year. Well, aside from finishing the work in progress, I’ve got some ideas for the one after that, which I’ll likely start toward the end of the year. I’m also looking forward to taking part in the TIFA summer crime fiction in Toronto, and there’s a book launch for my next one, Nobody from Somewhere, which comes out in June. And hopefully there will be a few other live events as well. 

On the personal side, I’ve booked a fishing getaway with my son, something the two of us don’t do often enough. And as Covid restrictions relax, there’s a long overdue trip to Europe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Say hello to my little friend... by Cathy Ace

Life: Sitting around all day isn’t good for us – we all know that. Sitting around all day (writing) is what we authors are expected to do. How do you find a healthy balance so that your body is able to sustain the work your mind needs to undertake? And what are you up to in 2022 that this will help you achieve?

I’m pretty positive that I’ve not found a healthy balance at all. Why am I so sure? Well, for Christmas 2020 I was given one of those watches that connects to your phone…and takes over your life. I’ve been wearing it ever since, and I think I’ve given it a bit of a complex. It’s constantly buzzing at me, telling me to get up and stretch – or run ten miles or something…it’s all the same to me – and all I can say is I’m quite proud of myself that I haven’t thrown it out of a window yet (that still might happen).

Say hello to my little friend FYI: I can't swim or ride a bicycle, so...

I do my best to accommodate its demands – but it really, really, REALLY annoys me that it seems to think I’ve been sitting about on my backside all day when I’ve been up and down ladders painting, or cleaning windows, or tending to plants in the garden, for example, just because I wear the watch on my left wrist, but am right handed…so all my vigor doesn’t register (other than by indicating a heart rate that suggests I should lie down with a cup of tea and a biscuit).

Recently, it’s acquired the ability to tell me how “stressed” I am. If I look at the records it keeps, I can see when I was having a tough time coming up with the right words to convey a specific turn of events in my WIP because – so I now know – that’s INCREDIBY stressful. Oh – and my sleep records? Let’s not talk about them – it gets terribly confused that I work until 2am, then, it seems, rerun what I’ve written while I sleep (I have lost any confidence I might have had in whomever comes up with the required amount of “deep sleep” one needs on a nightly basis – if they were right, I’d probably be dead!).

Having shared with you my only “relationship problems”, I’ll now add that I am coming to the end of an “enforced” period of low activity – because my main exercise is working in the garden, and that’s not something that gets much attention through the winter months. However, I’ll be back out there soon pruning, planting, weeding and – eventually – mowing and watering, so that should shut up my little wrist-companion for some months.

According to my watch I'm just sitting around here

And…what have I been doing with all this time on my hands? Decorating the house, and writing. On 7th April 2022 the 12th Cait Morgan Mystery will be published: The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes finds Cait and Bud in Arizona, visiting a desert retreat…that turns out to be the headquarters of a cult, with some pretty odd beliefs about sudden deaths. I hope folks will enjoy a spin on the traditional “who-dunit” for what is something of a “how- and why-dunit” – and this time I’ve given Cait a particularly challenging adversary…a charismatic cult leader who’s truly enthralled her followers! It’s a head-to-head in the dangerous Sonoran Desert, folks, and I hope you enjoy it. Later in 2022 there WILL be another Cait Morgan Mystery, but I cannot say too much about it at this time, though it’s all plotted in my head (because that’s what my brain thinks is a good idea, when I am editing another book, of course).


If you haven’t joined Cait on all of her first eleven adventures, now’s a good time to catch up – oh, and she’ll be reacquainting herself with a chum from book #2 (The Corpse with the Golden Nose) in book #12…so you could always re-read that one to get back in the mood (that’s the one where each chapter title is what Cait drinks in the chapter – it’s a real drink-along book…LOL!).

This is the book where Cait first met the followers of the Faceting for Life movement

I’m off to threaten some hydrangeas with my secateurs now – which my watch will be oblivious to – but at least you know. 😊

Find out all about me (well, within reason) at:

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

I Sit and Ponder

Sitting around all day isn’t good for us – we all know that. Sitting around all day (writing) is what we authors are expected to do. How do you find a healthy balance so that your body is able to sustain the work your mind needs to undertake? And what are you up to in 2022 that this will help you achieve?

From Frank

The shortest answer is that I should do yoga more often.

When I am practicing yoga, I wonder why in the heck I ever don't practice it. But inevitably, I slide away from being consistent and have to bring myself back to the habit. Luckily, there are plenty of instructional options available (Yoga with Adrienne is my favorite).

I do try to get up periodically and move around, even if it is simply to go refill my coffee cup or get a snack.

I go to the gym three days a week for strength training. Sometimes I walk there and back, which is almost 3.5 miles. Regardless of whether I walk to the gym or not, I try to walk on off days. My distances vary, depending on how I'm feeling that day, how long I've walked the day before, the weather, etc. But the very act of getting out and locomoting helps a lot.

All of this has helped. But honestly, if I can do more in 2022, I will. Eating better is certainly a goal. If I can find a reputable place to try out tai chi and/or aikido. I'd like to. I've practiced various martial arts over my lifetime and have been itching to get back involved these past several years. Problem is, I don't exactly live in a place with a plethora of good options. And many martials arts are not a good fit for where I am in my life right now (and some are outright charlatans, unfortunately).

I used to play hockey a couple of times a week, year-round. When I moved to central Oregon, the possibilities to play dwindled down to once a week, from late November to early March. With Covid-19, the league stopped playing for a year, then instituted so many safeguards that it just wasn't going to be a fun experience, so I've not skated in a couple of years now. I get the need for the safety precautions. I just don't want to deal with arriving at the rink fully dressed in my gear, not having access to a locker room, playing (and sweating), and then driving home in my full gear, stinky as hell.

So outside of going to the gym and walking/running, we mostly come back to yoga. Something I can do in my living room. Something that can be done in short snatches throughout the day.

Yeah, I should really do that more often.


BSP:  My book makes a lousy Valentine's Day gift but a good read. 

(I mean, 4.3 score on over 300 ratings on Amazon isn't bad).

Monday, February 14, 2022

Me and My Screen

 Q: Sitting around all day isn’t good for us – we all know that. Sitting around all day (writing) is what we authors are expected to do. How do you find a healthy balance so that your body is able to sustain the work your mind needs to undertake? And what are you up to in 2022 that this will help you achieve?

-from Susan


Step one: Understand that sitting in front of a computer all day isn’t good for me.


Step two: Implement a plan to run downstairs every couple of hours and eat something. Food helps me sustain the work my mind needs to undertake, right?


Step three: Stop kidding myself. 


Step four: Jump up and put in a load of laundry. Feed cats. Go out to the deck with cats. Think about how healthy a walk would be if I didn’t have 400 words to write to meet today’s goal.


Step five: Take only one, small cookie upstairs and sit in front of computer.


I sincerely want 2022 to be better than 2021. I registered for Left Coast Crime, and I’ll do a lot of walking in the hotel. The weather’s good, so I’ll make a bet with myself that I will walk every other day. I won’t bet the house.


Honestly, I love walking in my ‘hood, I love gardening, I love my cats. I’m not as screen-obsessed as my grandkids. But I am too easily transfixed by bright screens promising stimulation, entertainment, escape. Maybe I need an AA type program? Is there one?



Friday, February 11, 2022

What's New For '22?

by Abir

We seem to have moved from “unprecedented times” to “a constantly fluid situation”. What did you learn in 2021 about the “new normal” of the business of being an author that you’re going to use to help your future career, and please tell us what you’re planning for 2022.



Friday again, thank goodness, and here we all are, crawling to the finish line of another working week. Except in the new normal, the working week has become blurred. We’re working odd hours in our pyjamas, eating second breakfasts at 10am and doing Zoom calls with Australia in the middle of the night.


So what did I learn from last year? I’m tempted to say, ‘not much,’ except for the fact that human beings are infinitely adaptable. With remarkable speed, we’ve accepted things we never thought we ever would (e.g. being masked in public; being tracked by government apps; vaccine passes to enter venues). Things which a few years ago would have been considered breaches of our civil liberties, we now accept as the cost of staying safe.


In terms of the business of being an author, 2021 was the year we all learned how to function again. After the shock of 2020, when I, like a lot of authors, found it difficult to put pen to paper, ’21 was the year we got our mojo back. Bookshops reopened, people were reading more and there was a voracious demand for new work. We learned how to reach new audiences on the other side of the globe while sitting in our boxer shorts in the comfort of our own homes. We learnt the dark arts of the Instagram video and the Facebook Live session, and we dabbled with other forms of social media marketing which no grown man with any self-respect has any business trying. (Yeah, I’m talking Tic Toc).


’21 was also the year physical book festivals restarted, and two of the key moments for me were the Theakston’s Crime Festival in Harrogate in July and Bloody Scotland in September. Just meeting people, just seeing friends I hadn’t seen in eighteen months was cathartic, and the alcohol helped too.


2021 also saw our podcast, The Red Hot Chilli Writers, which I present with my good friend and also best enemy, Vaseem Khan. Our audience numbers shot up as more and more of the biggest stars from the crime writing world and further afield came on as guests – everyone from Dean Koontz and Lee Child to Ann Cleeves, Val McDermid and Richard Osman. This year looks like it’s going to be even bigger, with guests like Adele Parks and David Baldacci already lined up.


So, what’s new for ’22?

2022, I hope, will be the year we work smarter, not harder. I hope we take the best innovations from Lockdown: the technology for reaching wider audiences and marry it with the best of the physical world – i.e. more book events, and I’m pleased to say, it’s already shaping up to be a bumper year.


From my own perspective, 2022 is going to be a year of change. I’m branching out, writing my first standalone novel (due out in 2023). It’s my first non-historical novel and the first novel I’ve written in the third person. I’m also writing a bit of non-fiction in the form of a true-crime-novella (more on that soon), and exploring an opportunity to do a documentary with a real live rock star – now that should be fun. In between, I’ll be turning up like a bad penny at a range of book festivals from Scotland to Sardinia and doing Zoom events at stupid o’clock everywhere from America to New Zealand. 


What a time to be alive, eh?!


Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

I Don’t Have a Ouija Board from James W. Ziskin

We seem to have moved from “unprecedented times” to “a constantly fluid situation”. What did you learn in 2021 about the “new normal” of the business of being an author that you’re going to use to help your future career, and please tell us what you’re planning for 2022.

Good question this week. What did I learn about the “new normal” in publishing? I learned that we roll with punches. It’s a cliché, I know, but apt. We all figured out how to Zoom. And how to Crowdcast. We learned how to light ourselves to our best advantage. (Well, perhaps not everyone.) And, for the most part, we all managed to remember to unmute our microphones when it was our turn.

I’m not sure how publishing changed in 2021. It’s a mystery to me. I can only say that there’s no use complaining about it, unless you’re prepared to change the industry. And I believe you’d be better off whistling in the wind. The buggy whip industry resisted the scourge of the horseless carriage and, of course, lost. Dylan Thomas—to his credit—raged against the dying of the light, for all the good it did him. Time marches on. Nothing stays the same. Battles are lost, for better or worse.

If I want to write, I see no other choice but to join the game and play by the rules as they stand. I may not be happy about it, but I know the score. I don’t think it was any easier in Dickens’s day, either. Or Chaucer’s. Writing, creating, and soldiering on are what count most. The rest will sort itself out. The universe finds its equilibrium, and I don’t have a Ouija board or a crystal ball. I have a book to write.

So what’s in store for me in 2022? I have a new book in a new series coming out at the end of the year. Bombay Monsoon (Oceanview) launches on December 6. It’s a story I hope will resonate with today’s readers, especially in light of recent political crises. But it’s also a story of love and betrayal, seduction and choices. Here’s the teaser:

The year is 1975. Danny Jacobs is an ambitious, young American journalist who’s just arrived in Bombay for a new assignment. He’s soon caught up in the chaos of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s domestic “Emergency.”

Willy Smets is Danny’s enigmatic expat neighbor. He’s a charming man, but with suspicious connections. As a monsoon drenches Bombay, Danny 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 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.

Democracy is fragile and the lines of loyalty and betrayal often cross and cannot be untangled.