Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Of endings, and beginnings... by Cathy Ace

Birthday lunch in Wales with my mum and sister,
at one of my/our favourite spots:
Bracelet Bay, Mumbles
It’s the last day of August: September looms, with thoughts of mellow fruitfulness, the whiff of wood smoke in the cooling air, and the promise of a new academic year. I loved the start of the school year because it meant opening a new exercise book, with its unblemished pillowy pages just waiting to be written upon…all that potential…a wonderful time.

This year? I’m just back from a three-week visit to my family home in Wales, which is why I’ve been much less active than usual on social media; I've tried to keep liking and sharing posts made by others, but haven't really added much myself. Please indulge me as I share some memories, and thoughts?

I’m fortunate that my mother is still alive, and was even more fortunate to be able to be in Wales to celebrate her 88th birthday with her earlier this month...but, this time, things were a bit different…this time, her birthday celebration began with me and my sister collecting her from her new home, a residential care home. Yes, that step has now been taken. My sister has been brilliant throughout the whole transition; everything’s fallen to her over recent months, and she’s more than risen to the challenges.

So, today, I’m taking the chance offered here to celebrate new beginnings; Mum’s in a wonderful place, perched on a cliff overlooking the stunning Gower coast. Dylan Thomas's best friend lived there, and they wrote poetry there together...what a heritage and what a location (see photo!) - we know how fortunate she is to be there with wonderful, truly caring, staff. She moved there after an extended stay in hospital; it really was the only option, going forward, where we knew she'd be safe, with the 24 hour support she needs.

My sister has moved back into the family home, so there's been a great deal of upheaval for her. The photo on the left shows the view from my old bedroom window, which is now my sister's office - and it's where I was when I joined the panel at When Words Collide a few weeks ago. Believe me when I tell you that was a bit of a surreal experience.

It’s been a time of sometimes chaotic change; ultimately a chance to assess, purge, reset, and start over, for both of them. The photo on the right shows the Rag and Bone Man in our street. A presence in my life since childhood, he drives slowly along the streets (it used to be a horse-drawn cart) calling "Rag bone, rag bone, any old iron" a sound which jolted me back through five or six decades (I was brought back to this house as an infant - Mum lived here for 65 years). Thanks to him, the local charity shops and dumps, my sister's experience living "back at home" should be a bit less cluttered!

There have been tears, compromises, and – finally – the opportunity to live a slightly different life for both Mum and my sister. Like opening a new exercise book at the beginning of a new year, they both now have an opportunity to write whatever they choose on their blank pages.

I was happy to be able to spend time with them both, and happy to spend time at "home" in Swansea. And I took the chance to indulge in some uniquely "Swansea" experiences - most of which I repeat whenever I am able to get there!

A trip to Rhossili

The Kardomah Cafe, which hasn't changed a bit
 (literally) since the 1950s

Joe's in Mumbles for ice cream; faggots, peas and chips for lunch at The Worms Head pub in Rhossilli; a trip to the Kardomah cafe (another link to Dylan Thomas, who was famously one of "The Kardomah Boys") which still has "proper" waitresses, and serves a magnificent "Shoppers' Grill" in a cocoon where the decor hasn't changed a jot since the 1950s.

Swansea market

I had a couple of trips to Swansea market where the cockles and laverbread are always fresh and tempting - and where I ran into my old chum (and first boyfriend) Mal Pope (we should have got a photo!); and I tucked into a couple of Swansea Pies, because they are the BEST in the world.

The only other pie I've ever eaten that came close was at a
tiny place in Katoomba, Australia!

I also allowed myself to enjoy custard slices, chips with curry sauce from my favourite chip shop, and lots of time just chilling with my sister...and, of course, I was able to visit Mum every day in her delightful room by the sea, where she's really settled in...enjoying quizzes, art classes, visits by a hairdresser, manicurist, chiropodist...and more!

Yes - I took the chance to indulge, in many ways, folks...including THREE (yes, I admit it!) trips to Joe's Ice Cream Parlour for chocolate sundaes! They're celebrating their 100th birthday this year, and I have been going there for more than 60 of those 100 years, so feel I have contributed more than a little to their continuing success...and they have contributed more than a little to my continuing growth in girth!

But it all made me think about what I want to do going forward. What do I want to appear on my blank pages? How exactly do I want to live my life? How can I balance the need to tell stories, with family time?

I wrote my most recent book, The Case of the Disgraced Duke, while Mum was in hospital for an extended period, and I told her every day, when I spoke to her on the phone, about how it was progressing…promising her a “new book to read, very soon”. I was so pleased to be able to hand her a copy of that book in her new home, and she’s just finished it (yes, she’s enjoyed it very much!).

I know that, going forward, I shall continue to write because I need to carry on telling my stories…and I shall do my best to write as many books as possible for Mum to read. My time in Swansea reinforced my love for it, and I was able to get a chance to visit extended family, meet a few chums, take Mum to visit the graves of her parents, and my dad, at the cemetery...and just see how things are changing in what Dylan Thomas called a "lovely, ugly town" - because they are, constantly.

"Glad" to be home (yes, pun intended...LOL!)
My return to my home in Canada was wonderful: my husband greeting me at the airport; the chatter as he drove me along familiar highways and rural roads - he's also from Swansea, so totally understands my NEED to enjoy foods and places from my life before coming to Canada; wandering our acreage together, marveling at how my he's managed to keep everything alive through searing 37 degree heat, and a drought. 

It's been quite a month! On August 1st my latest book was published, and I have watched (at something of a distance) as it's become the best-selling of all my books, ever! 

THANK YOU to everyone who's read it (and if you haven't...yet...why not??? LOL!) and here's to a new academic year - still The New Year for me, in many ways - when we all get the chance to, Janus-like, look back and forward. 

If you want to read the 5th WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery for free - just ask your local library to get it for you. If you're able to put your hand in your pocket for your own copy, you can read it electronically, in paperback, or as a hard cover. All the details are at my website:



Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Case of the Accidental Writer by Gabriel Valjan

  I call myself an accidental writer because I’m not one of those authors who wrote their first novel with crayons. Personal circumstances forced my fingers to tickle the keyboard. There were signs, though, that I was destined for a love affair with words. Elements were there. As an only child, I read books to combat loneliness. I read above my age group. I excelled at what was then calledin the SeventiesLanguage Arts. A teacher infected me with the addiction to mysteries when she supplied me with Agatha Christie novels from her personal library. I returned to her like Oliver Twist and wanted more. 


I would earn excellent grades, enough to warrant acceptance to a prestigious secondary school. Delbarton offered a rigorous and demanding liberal arts education, such that I missed most of the early Eighties. No Miami Vice, no LA Law, or Cheers for me. I read and read and read more. Reading and writing became like breathing and drinking water for me: essential to life.


I majored in biology at USC but decided I would become a professor of literature, specifically medieval literature. I went so far as to obtain a master’s degree in Medieval Studies at Leeds University. Alas, mounting student debt and deciding whether to stay abroad or return to NYU to complete my doctorate killed that dream. I would earn my keep doing legal and medical research, work as a systems engineer, and then as a nurse. The common thread to my successes in those disparate fields was an ability to communicate complex ideas in emails, presentations, and technical documentation. A researcher, like an editor, has to sort what is crucial from what is irrelevant. An engineer analyzes why something doesn’t work and offers a solution. A nurse is a detective who fields conflicting data. They ‘read’ people. My employment history was a lesson in foreshadowing.


I’m hard of hearing due to an adverse reaction to antibiotics as a child. It affected how I interact with people. I am cautious and reserved by nature. I learned how to read lips, how to interpret body language. I experience words as colors. Years of observing people and hearing words on the page inside my head helped me with dialogue. Because of the auditory deficit, I’m sensitive to the musicality inherent in language. You will find instances of alliteration, assonance, similes, and other poetic strategies throughout my writing. I play with language, often in subtle ways. The poet in me turns the phrase. I’m told that I have an eccentric sense of humor.


It wasn’t until I’d had cancer in 2010 that I began writing in earnest. I had dabbled in writing short stories every weekend from September 2009 to February 2010. My second publication, “Back in the Day,” was a finalist for the 2010 Fish Prize in Ireland. While dealing with the fallout from radiation (pun intended), I turned to writing novels. I wrote to outrun depression and mortality. The more I experienced physical adversity, the more my mind worked to create an escape into words and images. Writing provided endorphins. My first novel appeared in 2012. I was 42 years old.  When my second novel arrived later that same year, the cumulative physical damage to my health compelled me to leave the work force.


I’m a storyteller, not an author. I love to write. I don’t do daily word counts. I don’t outline or use special software. I don’t experience Writer’s Block. I sit down and write the scene that is inside my head. I do it until it is down on the page, and I take a knife to it later. I murder my own words. I had taught myself to edit from reading Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Decades of turning the pages have taught me plotting. As for ‘influences,’ I have been influenced by everyone I have read, consciously or otherwise because I opened myself to the music of life and allowed the language of the tribe to merge and mutate my DNA.


I write historical and crime fiction because the Past speaks to me and because I have found ‘literary fiction’ wanting, static and stagnant. Nothing happens for pages, and there seldom seem to be any stakes. I prefer movement and momentum. I write forward, leaning into the action. Crime is a game. It’s the human sport of survival. Someone commits a crime for whatever reason, and there’s a universal need for justice. Clio, the muse of History, is always present, always vigilant and reminding us that we are not as civilized as we think we are.


And these words to close the Case of the Accidental Writer:


To understand me, know this: all my novels concern themselves with friendships, the faith we have in others we trust because the world is a dark and unforgiving place. I’m not explicit with violence because I’ve witnessed awful things in my own life. In terms of style, I’ve been compared to Robert B. Parker, but I think it’s because I write about Boston in the Seventies. I try to write in a manner that appears simple but isn’t. I’d much prefer the fluidity and the smooth carriage return of James M. Cain. I respect my readers and consider their time spent with me a gift. Profanity happens on occasion between the pages, but be assured if it is said, it’ll count for maximum impact. The mystery is the pretense, but Love is the Grail. Kindness is the antidote to cruelty. To render how I see the world, I’ll paraphrase C.S. Lewis who wrote that the modern person looks at the stars overhead and feels alienated in the dark night, whereas there was a time when a person gazed at the heavens and felt awe to be alive and a part of a wondrous universe. I am that person.

Monday, August 29, 2022

"Hold the front page!"

Q: Tell us about your revision process. Tools, processes, checks, beta readers, schedules, and anything else that helps you polish your work.


-from Susan


Tomorrow, I hit send and off goes the revised manuscript for MURDER VISITS A FRENCH VILLAGE to the editor who gave me notes on the first version that have made this one better. I admit to the jitters. So, how does this process work for me?


Tools: Here, I’m weak, but with encouragement from friends like fellow Minds author Jim Ziskin, I am about to seriously update my Word program and get some of the tools he’s described, like a voice that will reads the manuscript back to me. That necessary task leaves me scratchy-voiced and crabby when I have to do it myself. Plus, I’m sure I slide over errors because, as with reading one’s own 275-page document online or on paper, I know what should be there, right?


Processes: I have always followed the advice my first agent gave me to submit only the very best draft you are capable of writing. Never, never say, ”Oh well, I’ll correct that or improve it when it comes back after the editor reads it.” That means I kind of obsess about what I’m writing and look carefully for lapses like time passed, action locations, lost clues. During the revision process, I keep sticky notes – many sticky notes – on the computer, reminding me of small bits I realize at four a.m. that I may not have addressed and that the editor might miss.


Checks: See above. Invest in sticky notes.


Beta readers: I don’t do that at revision stage because now I have an editor who gives me the broad suggestions, points out slow patches or character deficiencies – the kinds of things I would ask a beta reader of the first draft to tell me.


Schedules: If you’re a published author reading this, you know the deal. I get my first, intensely polished manuscript in by the deadline in my contract. A month later, the editor’s notes come back to me with a month’s deadline to get them back to her if I want to stay on schedule for the pub date. On the second pass, she probably only looks at a couple of key points she raised, then passes it to the copy editor, who’s probably jamming to get other manuscripts finished. Meanwhile the cover debate starts… 


Polishing: That never ends until the editor slaps my hand away and says time’s up. There’s always a slightly better way to write something to make it more distinctive, clearer, more forceful, more humorous, more, more, more…. 

If you’re self-published, my respectful suggestion is you need just as many steps, just as many eyes, as writers within traditional publishing do. We all want the world to see us at our very best, or at least the very best we can be on publication day. In the meantime, we pray to the gods of all writers that we won't find a typo the instant we open the ARC!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Guest Author - Vaseem Khan

This Friday, we're joined by my friend and guest author, Vaseem Khan, author of the Persis Wadia series of historical crime fiction novels set in 1950s India. His latest, The Lost Man of Bombay, is out this month.

Do you draw inspiration from rejection or encouragement? Who is your biggest champion? In order to improve, do we need cheerleaders? Or doubters?


I have a friend who has made it his life’s mission to post inspiring WhatsApp posts every morning to our group of about 60. “Belief is the little place within your spirit where magic grows.” “When you find no solution to a problem it’s because there is no problem, only a truth to be accepted.” 

That one was the final straw. 

I edited the quote and posted it back: “When you find no solution to a problem it’s probably because you’re too thick or lazy to solve it.” 

Needless to say, puncturing my friend’s zen bubble didn’t go down too well. He considers himself the spiritual cheerleader of our group and his brand of relentless optimism certainly appeals to some.

I’m a bit more of a pragmatist.

They say that finance and politics attract a disproportionate number of narcissists. Authors, in my opinion, are drawn from a wider gene pool. I’ve met shy, self-effacing types so contorted with self-doubt that they can barely stand straight; I’ve met the kind who’d make Boris Johnson seem as humble as a vicar. Because of this I believe we all have different needs. Some of us need a good kick in the derrière to get us going. Others need a cuddle and an arm around the shoulder. Still others are self-starters, the sort of person who runs ultra-marathons through Death Valley (because normal marathons are for wimps, obviously).

Such people rarely suffer from doubt. Unfortunately, having zero self-doubt means you’re also unlikely to take any lessons from failure. We’ll talk about that in a second. 

They say you have to hit 10,000 balls to become good at tennis. Well, that’s bollocks for a start. If your hand-eye co-ordination is shit you can hit as many balls as you like and you still won’t get anywhere near Wimbledon. In fact, most of those balls will probably end up in your own face. I know of what I speak. I’ve spent my life trying to play cricket. I’m an average player in a very amateur league. The only elite skills I and my teammates possess are the ability to eat massive post-match buffets. There are certain genetic gifts that need to be in place to make it as a professional sportsperson. 

But the principle is sound. Practise does make better, if not perfect. Write a million words, and see if I’m wrong.

And writing relies far less on some sort of ineffable genetic talent – you only have to look at some of the authors that become successful to be left scratching your heads. No one is born with the ‘gift’. You learn it, and you earn it.

Let’s talk about rejection. 

I wrote my first novel aged 17 – a Terry Pratchett-style fantasy – and sent it in to agents, expecting the commencement of a life of fame and riches. There was one small problem. The book was crap. 

I wrote 6 more novels over the next 23 years, across multiple genres, blanket-bombing agents each time I finished one and garnering enough rejection letters to wallpaper Buckingham Palace. How’s that for rejection? (It’s like being punched in the face repeatedly by the very people you want to love you the most.)

Was I inspired by all this negativity? Well, once I’d stopped blubbing and dragged myself up off the floor, surprisingly, yes. Here’s the truth… if you really REALLY want to be a writer, then two things must already be true: (1) Deep down you believe that you are a writer (2) You are consumed by a never-ending cascade of ideas for books. 

And that really is all the raw material you need.

For me, the rejections forced me to analyse my work with brutal honesty. The writing wasn’t good enough. The characters weren’t well drawn enough. The plots were contrived or just not the sort of thing anyone wanted to read. I needed to be better.

In my thirties, I decided to make a list of 100 of the greatest novels ever written – culled from prize lists, The Times and The Telegraph round-ups, etc – and then read them while making copious notes. It took 5 years but it was better than any writing class I could have taken. I learnt about plot, character, and rhythm. My prose improved by an order of magnitude. It was as if these great writers – from Hemingway to Attwood to Rushdie – were acting as my personal tutors, whispering in my ear: You’ve got the right stuff. You can make it. Keep going.

Did it work?

Yes. Over the years, the responses from agents changed from ‘go throw yourself under a bus, you talentless hack’ to ‘we like your writing, but the book doesn’t suit our current list. Send us the next thing you write.’ Those tiny crumbs of comfort – like the occasional sliver of frozen human buttock for a man stranded in the Andes after a plane crash (this happened, look it up) – were enough. 

All of this happened in a vacuum. For 23 years, I had no actual cheerleaders or champions. 

I am a British Asian. In my extended family community, you could count the number of people who read fiction on one hand. (To be fair, back then, most couldn’t read. Or count.) My dad worked as a labourer in an industrial bakery, achieving the giddy heights of Foreman no. 12 before he hit the ‘brown ceiling’. I loved him, but he never understood my desire to write. Telling him I wanted to be an author was akin to me telling him I wanted to become a bareback rodeo rider or a nun. He was infused with the immigrant dream of his children using the ladder of education to find a better life. He’d happily pay for textbooks but the idea of forking over the little cash we had for stuff that some “white person had made up” made a little vein throb at his temple. 

It was my mother who took me to the library every week so I could take out four books with those little blue cards they gave you back then.

I suppose, in a way, my parents were my cheerleaders – because without that mixture of a solid education and access to books I’d have had about as much chance of becoming a writer as Putin has of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. (Today my biggest cheerleaders are my young nephews and nieces. They love googling me. The idea of me being on the Internet makes them think I’m a celebrity on a par with Beyoncé and Mr Tumble.)

Anyway… Rejection is hard. Rejection implies that we’re not good enough, that we’re lacking in some department. (I’m reminded of that lurid joke about the ultimate rejection: when you’re, ahem, pleasuring yourself and your hand falls asleep…) 

The good news is that you can, as the saying goes, fail forwards.  

At the age of 40, I was finally published with The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, about a late-middle-aged Indian policeman who is forced into early retirement and has to solve one last murder – all while inheriting a baby elephant. The series is set in modern India, aimed at fans of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books, though mine are a little darker in tone. They reflect the ten years I lived in India, and my desire to showcase a changing, modern country. The book went on to become a bestseller, published in 16 languages and was picked by the Sunday Times as one of the 40 best crime novels published between 2015-2020.

After five books in that series, I decided to explore the roots of this modern India, and so I asked my publishers if I could write a historical crime series, partly inspired by Abir Mukherjee’s brilliant Wyndham and Bannerjee novels looking at India during the Raj. (And, no, I haven’t been forced to say this in exchange for Abir passing over his slot this week.)

Thankfully, they said yes. That’s the sort of championing that does wonders for any author. When those who matter agree to trust your instincts and your ability, and allow you to express yourself. (I should note that, before they agreed, they also shot down another idea I’d had, an idea so bad even now I melt into a puddle of shame each time I think of it. So doubt, too, has its uses.)

Midnight at Malabar House is set in 1950s Bombay. Persis Wadia, India’s first female police detective, is consigned to Malabar House, Bombay’s smallest police station, with a gang of fellow ‘undesirables’. And then the murder of a prominent British diplomat falls into her lap… The book is more than a crime novel. It explores India at a turbulent time, just a few years after Independence, Gandhi’s assassination, and the horrors of Partition. Persis is operating in a paternalistic environment, in an era when few women were given license to pursue careers. She is forced to work with Archie Blackfinch – an English forensic scientist from the London Metropolitan Police. But this is post-Raj era India. An Englishman and a headstrong Indian women…? The books allow me to explore the changing relationship with India’s colonisers after the colonial era, a conversation I think we’re still having today.

Midnight at Malabar House won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger and was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

A week ago, the third book in the series, The Lost Man of Bombay, came out. (This is the bit where I encourage you to buy a copy…)

In this one a dead white man is found in the Himalayas with only a notebook containing cryptic clues. Meanwhile, in Bombay, more Europeans are being murdered… The reviews have been great so far with The Times saying… "Hugely entertaining… If only all period procedurals were as good as this." 

What I will say is that the book has hands-down one of the best covers of the year! Go on. Treat yourself.

So… who are my biggest cheerleaders? That’s easy. My readers.

Here are just a couple of comments from reader emails in the past week. I recently discovered your Inspector Chopra series… such delightful books! Please keep writing this series - it is uplifting and gives me hope in humanity.” … “Thanks for making the world a more bearable place with your writing and characters.”

Only the coldest cockles would fail to be warmed by such praise.

To summarise: rejection and doubt are part of the process. Learn to accept them when they arrive, and to use them. I’ll also say this: take advantage of the wonders of modern technology to access author communities, online or in real life. Only fellow writers can understand your pain. We share a grisly esprit de corps, comparing war stories as we send another book out to meet the machine guns of literary No Man’s Land. When good news comes along, we clap each other on the back, and hope it’s our turn next. We’re a bit like the Amish – we’re clannish, even if we don’t build as many barns together as I’d like.

Writer friends are your hidden champions. They’re the ones lifting you off the canvas the next time the industry slugs you in the face.

It remains only to say that I wish you incredible success with all your endeavours, writing or otherwise!






Thursday, August 25, 2022

Blurb: “There were no misspellings” from James W. Ziskin

Blurbs. We all need them. We all write them. Give us some phony/funny suggestions for boilerplate blurbs.

A dear friend of mine who passed away late last year was a world-renowned scholar. A true giant in academic circles. And he’d been a damn good baseball player in his youth, too. He once told me a doctoral student of his asked him for a letter of recommendation. As the student had not impressed him, he felt annoyed by the request. He agreed to write the letter all the same and provided the following succinct assessment:

“Mr. X was a student of mine. He was always on time for class.” 

And that was it. Not one negative word, yet it was the most devastating recommendation I could ever imagine. 

The moral of the story? 

Be careful who you ask to blurb your book.

A blurb equivalent to the recommendation above might read, “I read this book. There were no misspellings.” —World Famous Author

Writers are, on the whole, a generous bunch

But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily willing to recommend something they didn’t like. Some will, of course. Many will not. I have friends—good friends whom I respect—who won’t give a five-star rating on Goodreads unless the book in question is “literature.” Even for a friend’s book. I’ve wondered before—in this very forum, in fact—what do those people tell their kids when they bring home a finger painting from school. And don’t get me started on the Goodreads readers who review angry. Why so much hate for one book? You’ll read again. Climb down from your high horse and realize that not every book is for every reader. A one-star rating should be reserved for your own kid’s finger painting when hung next to a Rembrandt.

I believe it’s okay to give friends encouragement, and a positive blurb costs little. I’m not suggesting you rave about a book you thought was bad. But as Terry mentioned earlier this week, there’s usually something positive you can find in the book. Maybe it’s the descriptions. Or the author’s ear for dialogue. Or even the characters. So far I’ve been lucky. The books I’ve been asked to blurb have been wonderful. My praise has been sincere.

It’s hard to ask for a blurb, I know. 

You’re asking someone to spend about ten hours reading your book, and then a couple more thinking of something pithy to say about it. It’s a big ask. But you can do it. Just be sure to acknowledge that what you’re asking is something of an imposition. Also, try to personalize your request. If you’ve met the author before—maybe even had a nice conversation over a drink—mention it. If you enjoyed what that author said on a panel, mention that too. And offer to thank the blurber in a modest way. Read a book or two of theirs and give it a review online. I always send a signed copy of my book to my blurbers as a thank-you as soon as it comes out. And, if I run into them in a conference bar, I’ll stand them a drink if they have the time, energy, and inclination.

Empathize and sympathize

All this to say that I empathize and sympathize with writers who are asking for a blurb. They’ve likely worked for years on their books. In our community, we’ve all experienced the dread of approaching an author, hat in hand, to ask for a line or two of praise to grace our book covers. Me? I’ve asked and I’ve received. And I’ve been asked and I’ve jolly well blurbed. The big-name authors who agree to read and blurb are paying back the same favor someone else once did for them. If less-famous/successful writers are lucky, one day they’ll have the same chance to pay it back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Swinging the world by the tail

Do you draw inspiration from rejection or encouragement? Who is your biggest champion? In order to improve, do we need cheerleaders? Or doubters?

by Dietrich

When I started calling myself a writer, I accepted that if I was going to put my stories out there, there would be both acceptance and rejection, hopefully more of the former. But, since rejection was inevitable, I considered that how big a slap to the face I would allow it to be. And since I had decided I was in it for the long run, I thought it best to adapt a thriving outlook.

At the first Bouchercon I attended in Albany, I stood at the bar with a couple of writers who were discussing rejection. Since I was new at the game, they both assured me I would face it sooner or later, but that I’d be in good company since there wasn’t a published author, alive or dead, who hadn’t faced rejection and bad reviews at one time or another.

I sure appreciated the advice, and hoped anytime rejection showed its twisted face, there might be the odd nugget of constructive criticism too.

Since that time, I’ve seen thumbs go up and thumbs go down, and I’ve heard a lot more on the subject. And anytime I’ve personally felt the sting, I’ve reminded myself I was in good company.

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” — Stephen King

“Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas

I looked at the flip-side and rejoiced any time a reader got you.” — Susan Sontag

Rudyard Kipling received a rejection slip from a publisher telling him he just didn’t know how to use the English language. Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching. John Le Carré was advised he had no future in writing. And Jack Kerouac's work was dismissed as pornographic. So, instead of feeling the sting, I’ve tried to consider its source, even adapted a what-do-they-know attitude. But most of all, I’ve seen myself in the good company of writers who I admire.

The question also asks if we need cheerleaders or doubters, and I’ll take cheerleaders any day. There’s nothing like the nod of encouragement, and I truly appreciate all the support of family members, close friends, fellow writers, and most of all, the readers.

As for doubters, I can’t see much benefit there. I know they’re out there, but the worse doubter of the bunch can be the self, and that son of a bitch needs to be kept locked up in the basement. 

So, I’ve learned to keep on the sunny side, getting to do what I love to do, staying open to sources of inspiration, like reading a good book, or listening to some great music, looking at art, or even being out in nature — anything that might invite in the muse and keep me in the game for the long run.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Truth in Blurbing


Terry here. We are discussing blurbs, those tantalizing bits of recommendations on the cover of a book. Authors feel like they need them; and authors are asked to write them. Here’s my take on the reality of blurbs. 

 Early on in my writing career I made the mistake of eagerly saying I’d be happy to write a recommendation in the form of a "blurb" for someone’s book, and then found myself stuck when I really disliked the book. I mean REALLY disliked it. 

I ended up writing a half-hearted blurb, but I was never happy about it. And I worried each time I was asked to provide a recommendation that the same thing would happen.

Finally a well-known author told me sternly that I should never blurb a book I couldn’t recommend. He said the reply should be, “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to blurb the book. You want a blurb from someone who is really enthusiastic.” So I devised the brilliant idea of saying, “I’m very busy, but I’ll try to get to it.” Then, I’ll read a bit of the book, and if it truly is not for me, I will say that my time pressures simply don’t allow it. That worked fine until one author said, “Oh, you didn’t like it, huh?” 

Once or twice I’ve been asked to blurb a book that I couldn’t figure out why I had been asked, since the books I write were nothing like the book in question. I wondered why the author thought that my recommendation would hold any weight with a prospective reader. In one case, I told the author that their book would be much better off with another author I knew, and I connected the two authors. It was a marriage made in “mayhem” heaven, since they both wrote hard-boiled books. 

It would seem that you could always find something to like in a book—the characters, the plot, the setting, good pacing, beautiful sentences. Alas, I have found this isn’t always true. I was once asked to write a blurb for an author I liked personally, but when I read the book I was stymied. I really could find nothing to appreciate and felt like I couldn’t recommend the book to people. I fudged by writing a smooth, short synopsis of the book, as in, “This book explores how a cop discovers whodunnit by following all the clues.” 

 I’m sure some people really read blurbs and decide whether they should read a book based on the recommendations of other authors or reviewers. But when I read some blurbs, I have to laugh because they are truly generic. 

Here are a few real blurbs, with proposed translations. Next time you read a blurb and wonder what it actually means, here is my take on what it means. 

The characters are fascinating. Translation: The perpetrator was smart, and the detective was an idiot. 

The plot is ingenious Translation: I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on.

Dynamic! Translation: I really couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on.

Lyrical descriptions. Translation: The book is SO slow. 

Beautiful setting. Translation: It reads like a travelogue and nothing much happens.

A real page turner. Translation: There’s absolutely no depth to the characters.

Classic. Translation: Old-fashioned, passe, full of clichés. 

An astonishing novel. Translation: It’s astonishing that anyone would publish this.

Easy to follow plotting: Translation: Will put you to sleep. 

I couldn’t put it down: Translation: Because if I put it down, I’d never pick it up again. 

Well-researched. Translation: Too many picky details. 

Cinematic! Translation: Let’s hope a screen-writer can make something out of this mess. 

Hard-edged but sympathetic hero. Translation: The hero is a psychopath, but he loves his dog. 

 Authors: Next time you are asked to blurb a book, I suggest that you go for “truth-in-blurbing” and use the translations above.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

It's Not You, It's the Market

Do you draw inspiration from rejection or encouragement? Who is your biggest champion? In order to improve, do we need cheerleaders? Or doubters?

Brenda here.

Rejection. Such an emotionally charged word that brings out the insecurity in all of us. One of the first things an aspiring author is told is to expect a lot of rejection -- to learn to put the countless rejection letters and 'just not right for our list' lines into a box and duct tape the lid shut. 

But can rejection have a good side?

If this was the script for a Hallmark Christmas movie, I'd say yes, but for real life -- I'm not convinced. I could have done without all the times I've been turned down, be it from publishing houses, agents, book festivals ... as I'm positive many other writers could have skipped this part of the business too. Rejection might build a tougher hide, but it also brings a certain cynicism and weariness. I've known many first- and second-book authors to drop out of the business altogether rather than keep facing the obstacles and hurdles.

Has my writing improved because of rejection? Maybe. I evaluate every comment, whether good or bad, assess the source, and decide if the criticism is valid. This holds for every part of my life :-) 

I don't draw inspiration from rejection, but I've learned not to give it too much credence either. I'd much rather focus on the positive comments and good reviews, hard as it is to put the negative out of my mind. I enjoy receiving words of encouragement through direct messages from strangers who have taken the time to go to my website and find my contact information so that they can tell me how much they've enjoyed my writing. Even more welcome from a marketing perspective are the positive Goodreads or other book site reviews because these reach the reading audience and potential new readers. And, of course, the importance of encouragement from my friends and family cannot be measured. All writers need and cherish 'cheerleaders'. Below are but a sampling of photos sent to me from readers or with readers!

Summer reading
Blind Date in the French countryside
One of my cheerleaders is 2-time world champion curler Marilyn Bodogh
A reader in my favourite book club
Trooper, president of my corgi fan club
 Helping make a hospital stay easier

As for my biggest champion, it would be difficult to pick only one. My husband and daughters, certainly, but I've had friends support me every step of my writing journey. I've also been fortunate enough to gather new readers who are vocal in their praise and do all they can to promote my books with their friends or on social media. There is even a book club in Ottawa who've adopted me as 'their favourite author'. I'd be remiss not to celebrate and cherish these people in my life. I know for a fact I wouldn't be where I am without each and every one of them.

Yeah, positive energy and encouragement beat rejection hands down, every single time.


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Friday, August 19, 2022

Dreaming Alone, by Josh Stallings

 Q: How do you beat procrastination? Do you use writing prompts? Tricks to get your motor running and word count climbing?

A: “Blue crazy fall creampuff dreaming alone car carcass oh here we go too long blinking stop light off pleasure timing clod hopper clinging to face long sea turtle love killing Aperol kicking ballerina sad time green supper oh damn vomit comixs fritz can go bigger than ever.”


A: That is word-vomit. This was a two minute version but I usually do six minutes of writing gibberish. It’s harder that it seems, the brain keeps trying to stack words in order, to make sense. When I feel that happening I toss in another non sequitur. The point for me is to shut down the logical (editor) side of my brain. Allow the intuitive side to write the first drafts. When I get stuck, it is almost always that my logic brain has run an idea to its inevitable failure. My brain is really good at that. Sadly, it can’t help my writer’s brain. 

To train the writer’s brain to take over, I will next pull a title or two from the pile of “word-vomit.”

My picks: "Dreaming Alone" “Sea Turtle Love” or “Killing Aperol.” I’d write my favorite title at the top of the page, it’s like a writing prompt that my subconscious comes up with. Next I set a timer for twenty minutes and write or type as fast as I can. No stopping to correct or fix. Full tilt word boogie. I give my mind the freedom to roar and roam without worrying about getting it right. I used this process exclusively to write All The Wild Children. Really, that Anthony nominated memoir was the product of weekly word vomit sessions. Yes it took some editing, everything takes some editing, but the meat of All The Wild Children was written in twenty minute bursts.

The thing I love to do, the thing that keeps me sane, is writing. And when I need it most I avoid doing it. Why? That’s not rhetorical, really I want to know why? If you know why I avoid a task that gives me so much pleasure, drop it in the comments.

Charley Huston used to say, he’d think about an idea, research it, hold himself from starting to write until “wheels were smoking,” then pull off the brakes and let it fly. He talked a lot about writing with velocity. I interpret that as writing so fast and hard that your logic brain can’t keep up.

I believe my best ideas come when I am careening around the corners in a smoking four wheel drift, pounding keys and shaking the house. Everything I do is to get to that state.

That said, I have also learned that if I’m avoiding writing it could mean somewhere in the book I’ve lost the thread. I need to walk and think. Re-read and try to see where I lost it. If all else fails I use word-vomit to hit a mental re-set. Often half way through my wild typing of nonsense I hit a meditative state. Fingers type and I start to see images. I mentally note them and let them flow through me. The images often become a starting point for the chapter.

To get ready to write I build playlists for every book. Music I blast while writing. I write in Scrivener, it helps to organize my research. I collect folders full of photographs that tell me something about the world I’m writing. I collect newspaper articles. A folder labeled “Characters” has bios on folks in the story, and a collection of names I may want to use some where. What I read in the early part of the writing matters. For the book that’s on submission I only read books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For the book I’m working on now I’m reading John Steinbeck exclusively. I don’t know why only Steinbeck, just a hunch that it is what’s required to write this book.    

All of this is to build a world that is complete and will pull me into it.  

Here are some inspirational statements I’ve taped up on my office walls at different times:

“If not now, when.”

“These may be your last words.”

“Write fiercely.”

“Type bravely.”

“Above all, tell the truth.”

“You will fail, so what.”

I guess these are more confrontational than inspirational. None of them are easy. Writing isn’t easy. It’s amazing. It forces us to take deep inner journeys. It allows us to daydream and call it a job. And some days it is just hard work. But what worth doing isn’t hard from time to time? (Don’t answer, that one was rhetorical.)