Friday, April 29, 2022

Santa Monster by Josh Stallings

Q: Share memories of being read to. Or stories you read to those close to you. Have you written stories for friends or family, not for publication?

A: I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that loved stories. My mother read us Peter Pan and our father read us Winnie the Pooh. He also read us Catch 22, which might have landed better with my older brother and sister than us younger kids, but that story is for another therapy session. Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales was a holiday standard at our home. After the divorce Pops would entertain his wild brood by dropping a poster board on the floor, give us colored pens and have us work together mapping out a fantastical world. The older kids had read Tolkien, I hadn’t, I just thought making up worlds was cool. Who knew I’d be doing that the rest of my life?

When I became a dad I was lucky to parent with Erika, a life long reader she already had a collection of children's books and we made sure our boys had the bottom shelf of a bookcase just for them. I read to the boys most nights. Introduced them to some of my favorites. When they discovered I could make up stories they started asking for two picture books (one for each of them), one of my talking stories and a song. The bedtime routine stretched to 20 minutes or more, but they slept peacefully after that so it was worth it. 

My ability to make stuff up served me well as a dad. When three year old Jared asked me, “If Santa gives good kids presents, what about bad ones?” 

“Bad kids get visited by Santa Monster.” I said, keeping my eye on the car ahead of us I failed to see his face. In a non-Christian home navigating Christmas’ complex and contradictory rituals is tough, (Easter? Forget about it.) Jared didn’t ask any follow up questions so I figured I’d handled the good vs bad kids question pretty well.


Two days later a babysitter took Jared to the mall to see Santa. She brought back a picture of our son screaming in terror from his perch on jolly old St. Nick’s lap. Erika was rightfully angry, she explained to the babysitter that we didn’t force our children to sit on people’s laps. I thought I was off the hook until the sitter went home and the boys were happily watching Ninja Turtles, that’s when Erika gave me “the look.” I told her about Santa Monster. “Jared isn’t developmentally able to get your humor, or understand sarcasm.” She explained. “He takes what you tell him literally and believes it.” 

“That’s his mistake,” I almost said, but she was the only one of us with any early childhood education, so I just mumbled, “I’ll fix it…” 

This was one day before Christmas Eve. Santas would be triggering and unavoidable. What do I do? I didn’t want to say, “Sorry kid, you shouldn’t trust me.” I wanted Jared to grow up in a world where he could trust his father. I wanted this to be a funny story we joked about with his psychiatrist thirty-five years down the road.

My fall back plan: I stayed up all night writing and drawing a children's book staring baby Dracula and Franky, a baby Frankenstein, (yes I know Frankenstein was the doctor not the monster, but that seemed a bit complicated for a children's tale written at midnight the night before the book was due). In my story two sweet monster children tried to find out what they could expect for Christmas. Being monsters and thus bad by definition, would they get lumps of coal? If so what did one do with coal? What was coal? These monsters lived in LA and had never seen coal. Drac and Franky tried to stay up all Christmas Eve night, as they were drifting off to sleep they dreamed they saw a zombie looking monster in a red suit. The next morning under their tree they found a bicycle and a skateboard left for them by Santa Monster with a note wishing them a Merry Monster Christmas. (This is roughly the story, I wrote it forever ago so I may have gotten some details wrong.)

The book did its job. It helped Jared to not be afraid of Santa Monster, and to understand that all children deserve presents.

What I didn’t say was; Santa as seen by the predominant culture in the USA is one judgy bastard. What kinda guy spends his time spying on kids to see who he thinks is good or bad? Kinda Creepy, dude. And if we follow that logic, was the kid in school who’s folks could afford a radio controlled car to put under his tree better than me because I got a bike my dad built from found spare parts? If that’s true, if wealthy kids according to Santa are better than poor kids, then I say he’s the monster, not Zombie Santa.

SAFETY NOTE: If any precocious children stumble across this post, have your folks contact me and I’ll start working on “Santa Monster 2 Rudolph’s Revenge.”  



In other news...

Episode 2 of Dumpsterfireside Chats the podcast where Chantelle Aimée Osman and me try to makes sense of life, publishing, writing, and the crazy state of earth 2022 can be found here-


* Photo Credit Mark Lowrie

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Are you sitting comfortably? by Catriona

Life: Share memories of being read to.

That's not an inappropriate enquiry about colonic health, by the way. That's how Daphne Oxenford used to start "Listen With Mother" on BBC radio when I was wee. Next she'd say "Then I'll begin". After that, we were off! To the 100 Aker Wood, to Narnia, to Toad Hall, to tea with a tiger . . . to heaven.

That was mid-afternoon, just before Woman's Hour. A bit later, towards evening, Jackanory aired on the telly. In its 3,500 episodes (thank you, Wikipedia) it had the likes of Alan Rickman, Judi Dench and John Hurt sitting in that armchair reading stories to children.

Jackanory favourite (yes, of course I've still got it)

But still, the best thing of all was when Mummy came upstairs to read to us at bedtime. I have no memory of what she read, except that she didn't much care for Beatrix Potter so it was never those. (Huh! These days, she's got an actual collection of Jemima Puddleduck memorabilia. I'm just saying.)

I prefer her later, darker period (and yes, I've still got it)

I do remember, at the age of seven, agitating for fair treatment under the law when my poor mum - bringing up four of us, washing our clothes, cooking three meals a day, ironing every stitch everyone wore - suggested that, since I could read myself now (I could; my big sisters taught me), maybe she could put her feet up downstairs and have a cup of tea instead. I was outraged. I shared a room with my next sister up, see? And so she got to hear *my* story! Meaning that she was still getting a bedtime story at the age of nine! And yet I was being cut off two years younger? If I'd had a union rep I'd have been right on the phone to them. 

What I was reading under my own steam (yes I've ...)

That might have been when I decided to run away from home and live with my Godmother, Aunty Doreen, who always had time to sit and read. (Because her kids were grown up and we only visited her on a Sunday.) I packed my bag of essentials - storybooks and a pair of slippers - and said my goodbyes. Then my mum pointed out that I'd need a nightie and my toothbrush and my school clothes because if I ran away from home it was for keepsies. That hadn't occurred to me. I unpacked my slippers and reshelved my books. 

Running away plans also greatly hampered by stories about family (yes)

At some point, I graduated to goodnight kisses without any more drama. I'd even put a finger in my book to keep my place while I ripped my imagination away from mythical places like "Boston" and offered my cheek for the salutation. Kids, eh?

Hands-down favourite book I read and re-read to myself (y)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Thinking about Mum... by Cathy Ace

Life: Share memories of being read to. Or stories you read to those close to you. Have you written stories for friends or family, not for publication?

Great question…and great timing. I dare say I am not alone in having memories of both my parents reading to me when I was a small child; the delight of seeing familiar pictures and hearing familiar words being read aloud will endure. The photo at the end of this blog explains why this is great timing...

My favourite book when I was small was Little John Little (photo is of the copy I was read almost sixty years ago, which is still on my bookshelf) which I recall as a jolly tale with jolly pictures, and the evidence in the photo bears out these recollections.

I am still utterly convinced that this is how squirrels really live

My other favourite was the version of Andersen’s Fairy Tales given to me by my Godmother. The stories were read to me, but – for those unfamiliar with the original Andersen tales – let’s just say they were sanitized a little when I was very young, so it wasn’t until I could read them myself that I saw all the pictures and read all the stories. The illustrations are fabulous, and certainly not all of the “chocolate box” variety!

This rather chilling picture accompanies the tale entitled The Nightingale.


This one illustrates The Little Mermaid.


Nowadays I get the chance to read to three of my six grandchildren every Wednesday morning (grandparenting day, when we do the school run). Their favourites are fairy tales too, though these are versions written for today…so much more palatable, though I’m pleased to say that the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk still bellows about “the blood of an Englishman”, which I recall used to draw hoots from the audience in Swansea’s Grand Theatre during pantomime season!

I haven’t written stories that are not for publication, though my mother is still my first reader. As you are reading this, the woman who first introduced me to the joy of reading will be awaiting my arrival at home, in Wales. The photo shows the last time I held her hand…there’ll be a lot more of this over the coming weeks.

When I'm in Wales, we'll also get the chance to celebrate the fact that my book The Corpse with the Iron Will has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada's Awards of Excellence Howard Engel Award for Best Crime Novel set in Canada.

I know that Mothers' Day is on the horizon in North America, but I missed being in Wales with Mum for Mothering Sunday, so we'll make up for that too. If Mum hadn't helped make me a reader, I wouldn't have become a writer...thanks, Mum xx

Monday, April 25, 2022

Life: Share memories of being read to. Or stories you read to those close to you. Have you written stories for friends or family, not for publication?

    Story time. 

    It was my favorite time of the evening. Me, my young son Jake--him in his dinosaur-print pajamas, me in my MSU sweats--a good book shared under a diffused yellow light. The last good, pure, wondrous act of the day. Never mind what kind of workday I may have had. Story time made up for (almost) all of the swamp-donkey steaming crap I may have slogged through in the ad biz, randomly created by empty-suit account executives struggling to turn 2 + 3 into 5; capricious creative directors smelling like illegal pharmacies and shame, and clients made flop-sweat-googly-eyed paranoid by their accountant lords. I did what I had to do, knives out and head on swivel, to get to this halcyon moment of the day. 

    “Two chapters tonight, dad. Please? Please!” 

    “Maybe,” I say already knowing I will. “We’ll see.” 

    And off we went, my arm around his narrow young shoulders, reading everything from five-page toddler board books to the extensive Dr. Seuss catalogue, Mary Pope Osbourne’s Magic Tree House series, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s Spiderwick Chronicles and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Of course, a few of the classics made their appearances—Charlotte's Web, The Little Prince, Corduroy, Where the Wild Things Are

    Often, I would read ahead, so I could create just the right voices for characters. Just the right timing for the drama or comedy, suspense and surprise. When we got to Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, my world was turned upside down. 

    “I’d like to read this on my own, Dad,” Jake said. 

    “Oh—uh—yeah, okay,” I said. “Sounds good, buddy. Don’t stay up too late. Love ya.” 

    “Love you, too.” And off he went on his own reading adventure . . . 

    . . . without me. 

    Without my meticulously-created, thoroughly rehearsed character voices. 

    Without my exactingly timed melodramatic pauses. 

    Without my multitude of theatrical movements and gesticulations. 

    And thus, story time faded away as he grew, leaving me inconsolably sad, forlorn and, yes, embittered; people without children could continue fulfilling their lives without ever knowing the crushing disappointment of being sent to early pasture by a child. They would never know the abysmal hurt of raising a child to be an avid reader—a learner—only to be replaced by that which they so strongly advocated. 

    Fortunately, before I could exact revenge on my young son by explicitly proclaiming Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays “Mom’s Right Day” (already implied) and every other Sunday “Broccoli-and-Brussels-Sprouts Dinner Day”, he invited me to his room to read comics. We would each read our own comic, but we would be together reading our individual comics. (I had secretly spirited hordes of comics into the house for our shared reading pleasure and under the guise of “Spider-Man is how daddy came to appreciate classics like Homer’s Illiad.” Once discovered by my devote Catholic wife, she thusly proclaimed my comic hoarding as, and I quote, “God**** insane f****** bull****!” (My counter-claim remains presented to yet unargued before the international court at The Hague.) 

    Jake, who currently towers over me at 6’5”, now reads books about 15th century German philosophy, Korea’s north/south governmental divide, video game industry sociopolitical influence and, for whatever bizarrely lunatic reason, Paul Auster—none of which holds even the slightest of interest for me. He tries to explain the profundity of each to me and seems not to notice my head lolling on my neck or my eyes slowly rolling to the back of my head. 

    Of course, thinking back to days of reading to my son, I’ve had time—years!—to realize the importance of story time in the development of my own writing: Occasionally reading something I’ve written out loud. Narrative or dialogue. Sometimes reading your own writing aloud reveals the line or paragraph or page’s strengths or weaknesses, promise or shortcoming. The cadence and arrangement—the individual notes, bars and measures—of the music in your unique voice. 

    (On a side note, I have never written a story for any one person in particular for fear that such a story might later be entered as evidence in a stalking trial.)

Time to Read

 Q: : Share memories of being read to. Or stories you read to those close to you. Have you written stories for friends or family, not for publication?

- from Susan


Funny, I’m sure I was read to, but when I was really small, my father was in Europe as a WWII radio correspondent and my mother was a radio producer in New York. My rather sent back at least one disc of him talking to me but the disc and my memory of what he said are lost. I can hear my mother’s attractive voice, but she’s gone and I can’t ask her if she read to me. I’ve been a ferocious reader since about five, so I’m pretty sure someone read to me, in any case!


Skip to my being a parent when, yes, I read and read to my sons when they were small  – Winnie the Pooh, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Mary Poppins  – you name it, all the great ones. When they were reading themselves, they quickly moved on to stories I didn’t read – Treasure Island, others I can’t recall and fantasy fiction for the most part. They are, to this day, ferocious readers who read to their kids when they were younger, long after the boys could read on their own.


But here the links break down because their children are digital adopters and while they read voraciously through middle school, the habit pretty much dissolved after that when cell phones, iPads, and YouTube stepped in. I did score one notable success a few years ago with a gift of The Martian, by Andy Weir, for my grandson who was already interested in engineering. 


Tim Rose, my late artist partner, and I did create a book for all of our grandkids once. It was based on a true event, the time our cat brought a live mouse into the house via her mouth and set it down for me. I picked up the mouse and it was fine, thank you. Sat there in my palm cleaning its whiskers while the cat looked on curiously from a foot away! 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Resurrecting the Dead

by Abir

 “But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal and copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric? A meme you saw (after fact checking I hope)?



One of the things about being ‘the Friday guy’ on this blog is that all the clever, pertinent answers to the week’s questions have been provided by my illustrious colleagues already, leaving me, in the graveyard shift, to either come up with a new, not so good way of phrasing pretty much the same thing, or else going off on a tangent and talking about something else.


So let’s dispense with the bits that I have little more to add:


Song lyrics and quotes – listen to my colleagues. They know what they’re talking about. To be honest, Terry’s suggestion on Tuesday that you make up your own song lyrics is brilliant. I’d never thought of that before, but I might try it in future.


Memes – I’ve never used them in my books, possibly because I’m old and un-cool and have no idea what ‘the youth’ are talking about at the best of times. Putting a meme in a book would just highlight my ignorance of pretty much everything that has occurred in popular culture since the turn of the millennium.


That brings us to historical figures. Now on that part of the question, I do have a few things to say. 


Firstly, if you’re dealing with past events, especially if it’s around crime: say you’re fictionalising an account which might have featured a real-life criminal, it’s important to remember that victims or relatives might still be alive today. Even if your account is fictional, it’s important to tread carefully and respectfully. I know authors who’ve fictionalised true stories and changed details that they'd have preferred to have kept unaltered simply to protect the relatives of victims. I think that is the right approach.


As for me, to date I’ve never dealt with such subject matter, but I have included real people in my books. My Wyndham and Banerjee series is set in 1920s India, when the British were in charge, and I’ve introduced a number of real-life historical figures into the plots, people such as the Indian freedom fighters Chittaranjan Das and Subhash Chandra Bose, as well as Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, who’d later go on to be a rubbish king and would abdicate and run off to France with Mrs Wallis Simpson.


History is generally written in broad strokes. We know the big details, we hardly ever know the smaller, more intimate stuff. For me, one of the joys of writing historical fiction is that you get to play in these dark, forgotten spaces between the recorded facts. I like to place my heroes, Sam Wyndham and Suren Banerjee in the slipstream of big historical events, interacting with real people. 


But like Starfleet officers, I obey the temporal prime directive. I don’t alter the past. I’m not interested in changing the outcome of World War 2 or of helping JFK get out of Dallas without a scratch. My job, or the job of Sam and Suren, is to help highlight forgotten history to readers who might not know much about the period of British rule in India. I’ll never change recorded facts, only show another side to the story.


And, if by chance, I write something controversial, it does help that you can’t libel the dead.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Copyright Is Not the Right to Copy by James W. Ziskin

Our question this week is about legal and copyright issues: “But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal / copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric?

Bombay Monsoon, copyright 2022 James W. Ziskin

Where do I go for legal/copyright advice? To the public domain, of course! No angry authors or songwriters waiting to sue (rightly so, by the way) for infringement of intellectual property. The fact that my books all take place in the past makes this strategy a little easier. But books and songs from the 1960s and 1970s—when my books are set—are still under copyright, so it’s not as if everything is free to use. How I envy authors who write about the 19th century and before. Anything goes.

In my books, I’ve occasionally cited song titles, but I’ve stayed away from quoting them directly. In Turn to Stone, which takes place in the late summer of 1963, for example, I mentioned several Italian pop songs from the late 1950s and early 1960s. I even had one of my characters singing the songs to Ellie, but no more than a couple of words appeared in the text. And I made liberal use of the lyrics from other songs that are out of copyright, including the Italian hymn of the partigiani, “Bella ciao.” No issues there.

For Turn to Stone, I borrowed from Boccaccio’s Decameron. But not only is that work out of copyright, it never was copyrighted in the first place! No such thing in the 14th century when it was written. I used the setting of that collection to frame my own novel, and inserted modified versions of a couple of the stories to provide clues to the mystery.

I had lots of fun with a couple of Beatles songs in Turn to Stone as well, but I didn’t quote the lyrics directly. I named the songs, of course: “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” and “From Me to You.” Mariangela, the fourteen-year-old daughter of the victim in the story, introduces Ellie to the Fab Four via those three songs. She exacts a promise from Ellie to make sure America discovers the Beatles, who in September 1963, were still a couple of months away from stardom in the US. I’ll leave it to readers (and common sense) to decide whether Ellie is responsible for the Beatles’ success in America.

In previous Ellie Stone books, I’ve included lots of classical music, though most of those pieces have no lyrics. In Heart of Stone, however, there’s an important clue revealed in Puccini’s aria “Mi chiamano Mimi,” but, again, copyright is no longer an issue.

Finally, have I ever inserted historical figures in my books? Not really. I mention famous people from the times, but I’ve never felt comfortable putting words into the mouths of real people. With one exception. In Cast the First Stone, set in 1962 Hollywood, William Hopper—he of Paul Drake fame on the Perry Mason Show—makes a quick cameo appearance. His one line to Ellie is, “Hiya, beautiful.”

Or is it two exceptions? There was the appearance of Jaipur and Ridan, the two Thoroughbreds who dueled in the 1962 Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs. Those two champions ran to glory in A Stone’s Throw, as you can read in my last post (April 7, 2022). That thrilling contest was the greatest in the 150-year history of the race. And if we’re mentioning the two horses, I should also include Bill Shoemaker, who rode the winner and appeared in the winner circle.

So, my advice to writers is to avoid the risks of running afoul of copyright laws. Invent your own songs and poems to cite in your work. Or quote works that are already in the public domain. Copyright is not, after all, the right to copy.


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Better safe than sorry

“But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal and copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric? A meme you saw (after fact checking I hope)?

by Dietrich

A few years back, I wrote Zero Avenue, a story which centers around a female punk rocker trying to break into the punk music scene during the late seventies. I wanted to use lines from song lyrics in the chapter titles, having never bumped into copyright issues up until that time. My publisher and editor shook their heads, cautioned me, and set me straight.

Looking it up, I found out there’s a no-number-of-words rule, meaning permission is needed for as little as one lyric line. And there’s no percentage or minimum word count, so even a partial line might be considered copyright infringement. If the material is protected under copyright then even substantial similarity means it’s best to get permission. And it’s interesting to note that while lyrics are protected by copyright, song titles aren’t. I was also surprised to find out the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” are trademark protected.

So, for Zero Avenue, I was free to mention song titles, but my character, Frankie del Rey couldn’t sing any actual song lyrics, but she was free hum along, or being punk, she could bang her head against a wall or table to the beat of the music.

Do I need permission to use quotes? I tune in to the way people speak and exchange with each other, and I often jot interesting expressions or exchanges down — not something I’m likely to get into hot water over. If it’s a quote by a famous person, and if it’s used in a positive way, along with proper attribution, then it’s probably alright.

As I understand it there are limitations to copyright.: After a copyright holder’s death, the work falls into public domain and is from then on no longer protected by any intellectual property laws. The public owns these works, and anyone can use them without having to seek permission.

Have you ever used public or historical figures in stories? As a matter of fact I have, and although there may be a few gray areas here, a public figure’s right to privacy expires after they die, so it’s okay to mention or use them in fictional settings.

In order to avoid confusing fictional characters with living people, there’s often a disclaimer along with works of fiction, something like: The characters in this book are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. 

Copyright and memes: Since a meme is a derivative work, the meme’s creator isn’t likely the legal copyright holder of the original work in the first place. But, I’m way over my head here, so it would be best to ask a copyright lawyer about it.

Being far from an expert on the subject of copyright, I live by one simple rule: When in doubt, I seek any necessary permission or professional advice from a lawyer specializing in copyright law, because it’s far better to be in my studio writing than in a courtroom trying to explain things to a judge. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Who Said That?


Our question this week is about legal and copyright issues: “But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal / copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric? 

 In my third book, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, I had a famous country and western singer, Angel Bright, as a character.
You've probably never heard of her. Why? Because I made her up. I also wanted to use lyrics from a famous country and western song in the book but I didn’t want to deal with what I had heard were stringent legal issues regarding song lyrics. So I made up two songs for her: “I Just Called to Say Remember When,” and “Too Late to Come Home.” I even made up the tunes to go with them. I’ve always thought I should have the songs recorded, but never got around to it. But the point is, I could use the lyrics any way I wanted to, because I made them up myself. 

Here's a sample from "Too Late to Come Home": 
 "It’s Laura and Annie and Susie, 
Not to mention your old flame Jeanette. 
As far as I can tell you’re not planning to leave me, 
But you’re not done two-timing me yet." 

 And here's the chorus from "I Just Called to Say Remember When": 

 "Remember when you held me ever so tight? 
Remember when you and I lit up the night?
Remember when we were much more than just friends?
I just called to say remember when." 

 Maybe these lyrics won't stop the traffic, but for my purposes they worked fine. I’m sure some authors have important reasons to use real lyrics and real quotes, but I always think “made up” works better. Then, you don’t have to worry about using someone else’s creativity or being liable for money you didn’t intend to spend. 

 An author friend wanted to use words from a famous poem in the intro to his book. I understood why he wanted to use it. It melded perfectly with the sinister character he was using. He ended up paying several hundred dollars for the right to use the poem. He’s a good writer, and I wonder if he could just as well be served by writing a poem himself. 

 Here’s a question I have, though. Suppose you want to date your story by referring to a well-known band from the past like The Beatles. Would it be legal to refer to a song by them that they didn't really record? Something you have made up, and that you quote from? Like, “We were listening to The Beatles’ famous song ‘Arty Farty.’ I always loved the part where they sang, ‘If you want to sound smart, Pretend you know about art.’” 

 The Author’s Guild has a legal team that will give members advice about such matters. And I have friends who are entertainment lawyers who might even give me free advice, but whom I’d be willing to pay if particularly copyrighted material was important to me. 

Free "advice” about using song lyrics or copyrighted material is pretty easy to come by, but I wouldn’t use the advice from googling or from hearsay. Nor would I just go ahead and use it without worrying about whether what I was doing was legal. Because if you do run afoul of legal rights to material, it can be expensive. 

 There’s another realm in which you can get in trouble if you aren’t careful, and that’s use of photos. I use images from a photo app, for which I pay a subscription that seems expensive to me. But I always worry that if I use supposedly “free” photos, someone may pounce on my usage and demand payment. There are people who constantly troll websites and blogs for photographs that should have been paid for before usage. There are limits to usage demands, but the laws are obscure, and I don’t want to tussle with someone who has legitimate rights to their creative output. I am willing to pay to be sure I have the right to us it. And I actually prefer to use my own photographs when I can, because then I know I’m not infringing on anyone else’s creative output. For example, why would I use someone's else photo of an elephant, when I can use my own?

 Or as a more pertinent example, I knew I'd be wanting some photos of motorcycles when my book set at a motorcycle rally comes out next fall. So, I started taking random photos of motorcycles.
As for using historical or prominent figures, I do know that most usage of prominent figures is allowable, unless you are deliberately libeling them. So I would freely use the name of a governor or president or other prominent current or historical figures. But unless it was vital to the story, again I see no reason not to make it up. 

 So bottom line, when it comes to using lyrics or quotes or even photos, I mostly I make it up.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Legalities

“But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal / copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric? A meme you saw (after fact checking I hope)?

Brenda Chapman here.

This week's question brings up an important issue that I wasn't aware of when I started writing. Many times, I've wanted to use a song lyric in my story, or a quote at the start of the book to emphasize a theme or to enhance a passage. I discovered early on, however, that using more than six words (or is it nine) from someone else's work cannot be done without permission and likely reimbursement to the creator or the work. I recall another author telling me they'd paid $250.00 to use a song lyric, having contacted the composer and settling on this price.

The reason the rule is in place is to protect every writer's work so that it cannot be copied or used without permission while they're alive and for fifty years (I could be wrong on the exact length of time) after their death, something I've come to appreciate. Writers, composers and other creators should be fairly compensated, but too often we are not. 

I used to think though, that using a line of song or a line from a book would help to promote that song or composer or writer as long as they were given credit. While I still think this is true, I also respect the need to pay for the use of someone else's work.

The only advice I've gotten thus far on copyright has come from my publisher and editor as well as other authors. To date I haven't used public or historical figures in my work except for a passing reference, such as, he has 'Mick Jagger lips' or something similar. I'm quite certain this doesn't need the legal department's approval.

I use quotes at the start of my books in line with the theme, but only select from authors long, long gone - Shakespeare, for example. Work now considered in the pubic domaine.

I would add an annoying and downright illegal activity taking place amongst the unscrupulous, who copy an entire book and put it up for 'free' on the internet. The reasons include getting somebody's credit card information (they usually charge a small 'fee') or infecting their computer with malware, so readers are well advised not to click on these sites and to pay for their books from reputable sellers. 

Speaking of legitimate booksellers, here's a terrific review by a local paper for my latest release, Blind Date: A Hunter and Tate Mystery, available around the world on Amazon.


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Friday, April 15, 2022

Do You Get Tense When Dealing with POV? by Josh Stallings

Q:  Do you have tricks for writing multi protagonist stories?

A: Confession, I am a self taught writer. My dyslexia and contrarian personality made the odds of getting into a good writing program, or surviving had I conned my way in, down somewhere below zero. 

As a result, I panic  when I hear things like 1st person? Wait, I know that one, 1st person is like voice-over in classic detective movies and books. 

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” - Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely. 1st person, got it. 

2nd person? Two people speaking in their heads at once? Nope. Um…(I check my Garner’s Modern English Usage… not under POV, or point of view… sends me to viewpoint… doesn’t help… Google…Got it.) 2nd person speaks to the reader as if describing them as the protagonist, “You walk into a room and pick up a pen…” never used it… yet.

3rd person, I have heard this called “God’s eye view,” but which god? Odin’s raven eye? Thor’s? Freja’s? Maybe better to leave theology out of it and just say it’s a POV that allows you to see beyond your character’s brain. “Josh sits typing, wondering if he has made this all more complicated than it needs to be.”

To write a novel I need to discover a small hand full of things. Two biggies are; why this book, what in it calls to me loud enough to sustain a year or more of work? And what technically is in it that I haven’t tried before? This second part is what I want to talk about. Think about a writing career as an extended graduate school. 

In the first Moses McGuire book (Beautiful, Naked & Dead) it was easy, what I had never done was write a novel so I did that. Being a fan of Chandler and Crumley I naturally wrote in first person past tense. “I have found that a barrel in your mouth forces you to pause, take a moment, ask that all important question.”

With the second Moses book (Out There Bad) I wanted a mysterious hunter character. To differentiate their voice from Moses’ I wrote them in 1st person present tense,“Down a fresh alley. Deeper into the labyrinth. Broken hollow-faced girls stare out of the shadows. Olive skin, brown eyes. Broken. I must keep on point. Solve what I came to solve. Fight for all and you will win none. Simple math.”

In the third and final Moses book (One More Body) I mixed 1st person for Moses and 3rd person for other character’s story lines. When writing a young woman who had been trafficked it was important to be in her skin, but with the slight distance that 3rd person gives. This got me to the key learning. Even in 3rd person, it needs to have a clear POV.

Young Americans was written in 3rd person past tense but it was told from Sam and Jay’s POV. Whether it changes chapter to chapter, or paragraph to paragraph isn’t important, but without a POV it feels unmoored. Even though I’m not speaking in Sam’s voice, I insure that the “narrator” doesn’t use language she wouldn’t. In that way I guess I write in a hybrid of 1st and 3rd person. 

Fine… Why the hell does POV matter? In Tricky I wrote in 3rd person, but tightly from Detective Madsen’s POV. I am not comfortable writing from an intellectually disabled person’s POV, particularly a character I’m basing on my son Dylan. He is bright and wonderful and can do many things brilliantly, but he wouldn’t be suited to read and comment on my work. He couldn’t tell me if I got it wrong. I know how he behaves but not how it feels to be in his head. The difference between writing Cisco as seen from Madsen’s POV and writing Cisco from his own POV is huge. Besides the ethical questions, it also creates suspense by not letting the reader know if Cisco is intellectually disabled or a brilliant killer who is faking it. 

My big takeaway - Everything we write has a POV, intended or not. It is important for me to decide A) Who is the protagonist or key character of any section? B) How close do I want the reader to be to this person’s inner thoughts?

A great way to play with this is to write a scene from one character’s POV then write the same scene from another character’s POV. I’m always amazed by the difference a POV shift makes. And the great thing about being a writer is, we get to decide which we like and delete the one we don’t before anyone sees it. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Another voice in the chorus, by Catriona

It sounds - from the title of my post - as if I might be answering the question. I'm not. Because today is UK publication day of a new book for me. And it's a book that's closer to my heart than any other has been since . . . oh probably The Child Garden. I'll tell you why.

I've written about Scotland in the Dandy Gilver series and had more fun than I can believe. I've written a character quite like me in the Lexy Campbell Last Ditch series and, again, enjoyed every word of it. And then I've written Opal, Jess, Keiko, Gloria, Jude, Ali, Donna, Finnie and Tash in the standalones. 


The books set in Scotland are about a posh English lady. The books about a lippy Scottish girl take place in California, and the standalone crew?  They're from all over the shop and their stories are their own.

Now, though: a working-class woman, a book set in Scotand, and a historical backdrop (i.e. my spiritual home). Let me introduce . . . drumroll . . . Helen Crowther. You can call her Nelly:

She is a wife, a daughter, a sister and an upstart and she lives in the tenements of Edinburgh. She is just about to wriggle free from the rigid respectability of her parents, Greet and Mack; the scorn of her annoying wee sister, Teenie; the control of her overbearing benefator, Mrs Sinclair; and even the sad puzzle of her new husband, Sandy. 

It's July, 1948, and Helen's going to work, not in the bottling hall of the Fountainbridge brewery, or in the kitchens of a big house in the suburbs, but as a welfare officer in a doctor's surgery, while the brand-new National Heath Service swings into action throughout the UK.

There was a rousing slogan for this initiative in Britain. But when I was looking for a title for the book - The Upstart? not crimey enough; A Fountain Filled with Blood? Julia Spencer-Fleming has written it; From the Cradle? Too similar to too many other things - it never occurred to me that no one else had used this slogan as a title for fiction before. It's so perfect. And now it's mine!

To be cared for "from the cradle to the grave, in place of fear" was a big change for the people of Britain when they were still recovering from the ravages of WWII.  Actually, the two things were closely related. It was the shocking state of conscripts' health - undernourished, poxy, weak and short of teeth - that made War Office doctors start to agitate for action once the fighting was done.

And speaking of big changes (segues are hard!) a new job as a medical welfare officer is a huge step for Helen. She's terrified, but determined to help. When I set out to write her, I was also slightly terrified but determined to follow this story wherever it took me. Strange as it sounds, I was relieved when my mystery-fiction muse kicked in and Helen found a body in chapter three.

What a heartbreak. Just as Helen begins to organise wheelchairs, spectacles, nit powder and maternity care for the poorest of Edinburgh's people, she discovers that an apparently healthy young girl, wearing only a hospital gown, has died alone right outside her door. And in this city of lawyers, bankers, and bishops, no one is willing to risk a scandal in the name of justice. So, Helen now has another job to do.

I'm proud of In Place of Fear. There, I said it. The research drew on a lot of my time working in the local studies department of Edinburgh City Libraries, augmented by phoning home and saying "Hey, Mum, when you were wee . . .?" about fifty times. The writing took more drafts than I've ever ploughed through before, until the war, the city, the factories, the shops, the trams, the doctors, the patients, the family, and the plot all started thrumming along together. The elevator pitch took everything I've got too. It's a book full of warmth with quite a few laughs, but I managed to make it sound solemn somehow!  So I gave up trying to describe it on its own terms and went down the time-honoured route of the comp. 

In Place of Fear: "Modern Sherlock meets Call the Midwife". (In Edinburgh.) I hope you give it a go. 

Buy links are here


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Here's looking at you, kid... by Cathy Ace

Craft: POV. Do you have tricks for writing multi protagonist stories? Multi POV stories? 

This is an interesting one! I write in different ways across the range of my books, so here goes…

My Cait Morgan Mysteries are all told in the first person, from Cait’s point of view (POV). Why? Well, a couple of reasons. The first novel I ever wrote was the first Cait Morgan Mystery (The Corpse with the Silver Tongue) and it felt completely natural to me to write the entire book from Cait’s POV, because Cait is quite similar to me in many ways, and I felt it was the most direct way to connect the reader to the character who is telling her story. The other reason is a bit more sneaky (contrived?); I wanted to subvert the tradition of all those hard-boiled private eye books being written from the PI’s POV, and use it in what is a series of traditional, golden-age-inspired mysteries. I did diverge from Cait’s POV for a short part of the 8th book in the series (The Corpse with the Ruby Lips), when Cait is (no spoilers) let’s say “indisposed” and therefore unable to tell her side of the story. At that point I used the third person, observational POV, allowing the story to progress for the reader, despite Cait not being capable of being the storyteller. Hopefully, using this first person POV really does make the reader feel as though they are not just beside Cait, but actually inside her head as they read…and letters I get from readers suggest that at least some do. Click here for more information about the Cait Morgan Mysteries

My WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries are written in the third person, but each chapter adopts a different character’s POV. I do my best to use the sort of vocabulary and syntax that character would use in their heads…which is always fun to do. This is a series featuring four professional private eyes, so – again – I wanted to subvert the traditional way that PI books are written by using various POVs. With this style of writing I find it’s important to tell the reader quickly, at the start of each chapter, whose POV they are reading, and – in these books – I did that within the text, rather than in the chapter heading. Click here for link to amazon

In The Wrong Boy I challenged myself to use a specific POV for each chapter. I signaled this by telling the reader in the chapter heading who it was they were “with” at that time, and allowed the story to progress across a range of characters…with only the reader knowing the full story. Why? Well, The Wrong Boy is a tale of psychological suspense, but I’d read a lot of that type of book as part of my preparation and had become rather annoyed by how many “unreliable narrators” were out there. Thus, I used a bit of a sneaky device for telling the story…everyone who tells their story is equally reliable/unreliable as they are all telling the reader their truth – but, as in real life – we all only ever know a part of what’s going on at any given time. I wanted the reader to be the one who pieces everything together right up to the end of the book, where they are the only person with a full knowledge of what’s happened, and why. Apparently, it worked well. Click here for more information about THE WRONG BOY

But back to Cait, and Bud, and their latest trip to the desert…the 12th Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes, was published last week, and it’s already doing very well (thank you to everyone who’s chosen to spend some more time with Cait and Bud!) and the first review is in! 

Crime Fiction Lover says: “In The Corpse with the Turquoise Toes, Ace has crafted another taut puzzle for Cait and Bud to solve. Alongside the murder mystery itself, the highly atmospheric story weaves together contemporary concerns, Native American mythology, international cuisine, thwarted romance and cult-based craziness, leaving the daring detective duo with plenty of avenues to follow in their quest for the truth.” WOOT! Full review here

Monday, April 11, 2022

A Tale of Three POVs

 Q: Do you have tricks for writing multi protagonist stories? Multi POV stories? 

- from Susan

No tricks. It’s what we’ve all heard, observed, and admired when it works. Basically, each character with a voice and a unique perspective needs to be as distinct from every other POV as you can make her, him, or them. Each POV character has a responsibility to the story that goes beyond mere dialogue or personal tic. Each POV advances the story by action, voice, and distraction. Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you have three distinct point of view characters in a crime fiction novel.

Character #1 will represent the “normal” persona, someone the reader may identify with. The character seems to view the world through a lens not unlike the readers, is angry or sad when the reader might be, likes and dislikes the same food, work situation, or cultural touch points. When Character #1 is telling the story, the reader believes them*. Character #1 acts and moves the plot along according to their values, professional or social position, and day to day logic. This character uses language in one way, probably linguistically clear, and perhaps echoing the way the reader talks.

Character #2 will seem less transparent, may have bad habits like lying, losing their temper, or living like a slob. They may be defensive, mean to other people, be stubborn, and drink too much. It’s apparent Character #2 is biased, careless, and may lead the reader astray. In fact, Character #2 is themself often going off at tangents, making things happen in the plot without seeming to plan that. This character may speak in non-sentences, may offer non sequitors, swear or otherwise cloud their narratives.

Character #3 is perhaps a child, or some other innocent, who looks at what is happening and reports it in literal, undigested ways, without the ability to synthesize and without an understanding of nuance. And yet, character #3, moving along a line, may be the one who generates the twists and turns, sets up crises, and acts as a magnet for trouble without being self-aware. This character speaks differently from the others, in simpler syntax, perhaps, or in dreamy similes.

Readers are led to trust Character #1, distrust Character #2, and fear for the safety of Character #3. 

But – the big aha – characters and their points of view serve the plot. So, after leading the reader along, the author may twist the true meaning of the points of view the reader accepted. The reader’s led to believe Character #1, even to like them, but Character #1 turns out to be a corrupt person who uses their persona to mislead the reader and the other characters, killing with impunity. Character #2, who could be the villain because the author disguises their strengths behind a wall of distraction, trusts their instincts, doesn’t accept what’s presented, and discovers the false nature of Character #1. And character #3? Their simple understanding of right and wrong allows them to report faithfully to the reader what’s really happening in front of them, even though the reader didn’t give them credit for the reporting until the end.

Different personas, different postures to the world, different language, different habits, different points of view, all of which are catnip to the author. 

*This post is an experiment about the proposed language changes that eliminate gender. I found it awkward at times – what do you think?