Sunday, October 30, 2022

Teaching An Old Dog ...

In Murder, She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher pecked out mysteries on an old Royal typewriter in 1984 and ended up tapping them out on her laptop by 1996. What changes in technology had the greatest impact on you in your writing career?

 Brenda starting off the week.

I remember pecking out essays on my old Olivetti typewriter at university. I had a self-imposed limit of three errors before I'd retype an entire page. I used white eraser tape that you slip in over the wrong letter and then hit the same key again. The theory was that the wrong letter would be 'erased' and then you could type the correct letter over top. The problem was that you could always see the indent of the mistake, and could tell that a new letter had been typed over the old. Thus, the need to retype the entire page when it got too messy.

Additionally, if while drafting the essay, I forgot to add an argument or an idea at a logical point, I'd have to sometimes retype a number of pages ... there was no saving work, so only one copy. One time, I left my finished essay in my bag outside the cafeteria (we weren't allowed to bring bags inside), and someone took my work. I had to retype the entire essay from memory.

So, where I'm heading with this post is to say that the invention of computers with the Word software program has been the biggest change in technology to impact my writing. Hands down. I couldn't imagine going back to the days of the typewriter.

Spellchecker, cut and paste, delete, format, track changes .... what's not to love?

When I got my first government job some twenty plus years ago, I had to ask my supervisor how to turn on the computer. I remember asking a coworker how to bold and underline. The Department used WordPerfect at the time, and I was sent on courses -- the instruction was broken up into three levels and they made certain I took every one. Some of the material went beyond what I would ever need to use and I immediately forgot it, much like other information in my life (like changing a tire or using the four remotes my husband has somehow accumulated for our television.) 

Meanwhile, the Help Desk technicians back at my first government job got used to my calls and began greeting me by my first name before I introduced myself. Those were the days they'd make trips to your desk to sort out a problem. One memorable morning I managed to delete an entire drive and one of the techs spent his lunch hour finding and reinstalling it. (My photo was probably used as a dartboard wherever it was they were housed in the building.)

Back in the olden days, even our home computer caused problems on a regular basis. We'd call the helpline (located in another country) and spend a good part of the day working with the tech 'expert' over the phone fixing our issue, usually having misplaced a password or two and frustrated out of our minds. I can't recall when this all stopped, but somewhere along the line, the software programs improved and operational problems disappeared for the most part. The few issues that have arisen get resolved by taking the hard drive in to my nearby Staples. 

My first manuscripts were mailed as hard copies to the publisher and they were returned to me with corrections and comments on the printed pages. Now, everything is done electronically with speed and ease. I'd hate to think how much we'd spend in postage now if we were still relying on hard copies!

I'm thankful every day that I had the opportunity early on to join the computer age, and that I managed to struggle through all the growing pains with all those patient Help Desk technicians who prevented me from destroying the network or heaving my computer out the window. It's exciting to imagine where the technology will go next, and all the doors that will open for writers as a result.


Instagram & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, October 28, 2022

Bad Actors Make Good Writers, by Josh Stallings

 Q: Most writers have had other jobs. What’s one thing you learned in an entirely different professional setting that you’re grateful for?

A: From a young age I wanted to be an actor. Or a bank robber. Or a spy. But mostly an actor. I worked very hard to learn the craft. It never became a job, in that I was never paid to act. But I am deeply grateful for all it taught me.

That’s me on the far right, playing cowboy #2 in a Western staging of a Shakespeare comedy.

At sixteen I graduated high-school and moved from northern California to Los Angeles to study Method Acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. There I learned to build a character from an emotional foundation. 

How to make the unimaginable real: You may not have killed a person, but you have felt rage, so to play it you first needed to take yourself back to a moment of rage and really feel it in your body. The technique to access these emotions is called sense memory. Go back to a memory and tap into what it looked like, smelled like, felt like on your skin. Was it hot, cold? Smell was my quickest way to access a memory. This translates to writing in that any character we write — regardless of how hideous or virtuous — is created with emotions that we have all felt.

“I could never understand the perspective of a mass murderer.” Really. You never stomped on an ant hill? Were never cruel to a sibling just because you wanted to see what it would feel like? Acting freed me to explore these thoughts with a great excuse, “Hey I didn’t write it, I’m just an actor.” 

The Strasberg Theater Institute was where I first read Konstantin Stanislavsky’s “An Actor Prepares.” A short concise course on building a character. Here are a few gems I took from it:

“Doubt is the enemy of creativeness.” 

“On the stage do not run for the sake of running, or suffer for the sake of suffering. Don’t act “in general”, for the sake of action; always act with a purpose.” 

(This I remember as, Don’t just do something, stand there. I’m reminded of this every time I have character nod or smile or steeple their fingers. All fine actions if motivated, but if they’re just moving to remind the reader they’re in the room, I have to drop it and dig deeper. 

Stanislavsky said an actor must know, “Who am I? What will I be? Why am I here? Where am I going?”

As a writer I need an answer to these questions for every character before they enter the page. They all have an unwritten life going on before they step through the door with a gun.

“Don’t spend your time chasing after an inspiration that once chanced your way. It is as unrecoverable as yesterday, as the joys of childhood, as first love. Bend your efforts to creating a new and fresh inspiration for today. There is no reason to suppose that it will be less good than yesterday’s. It may not be as brilliant. But you have the advantage of possessing it today.”

The last one doesn’t apply to character but I keep it around because it sure applies to life. 

I also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art, where I learned even more about preparation and research. Before taking on any role I learned to write the character’s bio. Even if they were a waiter with three lines, I needed to know who they were. To play King Henry VIII I spent weeks reading about the time he lived in, his place in the royal line, his wives and advisors. I needed to really know what he meant with every line he spoke. 

It is rumored that Paddy Chayefsky’s treatment for the film script “Network” was over a thousand pages. The screenplay was only one hundred and twenty pages. That looks like a lot of writing the audience never saw. But it was what Chayefsky needed to do to create the world in “Network.” He did win an Oscar for best original screenplay, so maybe he knew something.

Research, research, research… Then what?

My last theater training came from working at The Colony Theater, in Frog Town, or was it Frog Town adjacent? I worked as an assistant to Terrence Shank, a rather brilliant director. He would rehearse, blocking the actors, running their lines to ensure they understood the dialogue and deeper meanings. And once all this “research” or getting ready to act was done, he would say, “Time to free-fall.” 

FREE-FALL. You know, forget all your research, your outlines, your treatments, your agent’s hopes and dreams for this new book, and just write it. Let the words flow freely. Trust you will remember what is important. 

In the dreamy light of creation your reinventions will be better than what you planned in the cold light of logic.

As for my acting career, it turned out I sucked as an actor. I cared too much what others thought of me to be free on stage. Something I had to get over before my writing was worth a damn.

Acting did teach me how to build a character. Breaking down the works of Shakespeare and Albee and Mamet into emotional beats helped me to internalize classic story structure. All of that made me a better writer. At the Colony Theater I met a stunning brilliant young actor named Erika. And she has made me a better man. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Got here in the end, by Catriona

 LIFE: Most writers have had other jobs. What’s one thing you learned in an entirely different professional setting that you’re grateful for?

I think I learned something from every job I ever had. Let's see:

Saturday shampoo girl at a hairdressers: I earwigged into the most rambunctious, free-wheeling, joyously hedonistic conversations in the staffroom. I think those little playlets still crop up in ensemble scenes in the Last Ditch. So that, and folding towels so they look nice.

Coming Dec 6

Bank clerk: I learned how to count wads of cash very fast. (Still waiting for that to come in handy, but when I hit the jackpot, my fingers will be a blur.) Mostly, I learned that I didn't want to work in a bank.

Pub cleaner: I didn't think I learned anything, but wait.

Library assistant in Fine Art library: Oh! The joy! Expressionism. Conceptual installations. The history of architecture. And the fact that any job where you can sit and read is the job for me.

Library assistant in Local Studies library: Oh! More joy! To find out that, in every city, there is a team of librarians who track down, catalogue and keep EVERYTHING! Facinating little snippets of niche news gathered in niche-specific volumes. Family portraits from the earliest days of photography, unearthed when a local business changed hands and the daguerrotypes in the basement came to light. Victorian playbills. Maps so detailed you can plot individuals families to individual houses two hundred years pre Google Earth. 

(I think I became a crime-writer in the stacks of the Edinburgh Room.)

University Lecturer: Ooft. I loved the preparation and performance of lectures. Didn't mind the small group seminars with a bunch of students. Adored the students themselves, all those apple-cheeked baby radicals with their chaotic personal lives. But I couldn't shake off my imposter syndrome enough to function as a researcher. And I couldn't understand what was going on in any meeting. (Seriously, the Board of Studies was like watching American football for the first time every time. It was explained to me years later: most people were jockeying for tiny advantages and I didn't care enough to find them visible.)

What did I learn? That every cliquey and borderline-bullying group will be full of people congratulating themselves on how lovely they are to everyone (who counts). And that, even if being a writer was a pipe-dream, I had to try because no one should study for nine years and end up in a job that was worse than cleaning a pub.

And finally . . .

Writer! My dream job. The job I do in every daft daydream about every life I could live. The community where I try never to be cliquey and always want to hear if I'm falling short. The place I have never had a day of imposter syndrome. Where I even love the bits that are worse then cleaning a pub (page proofs). Where I get to sit and read and call it working. The job that, on the good days, is even better than sitting reading. I'm home. 


My TBR shelves today

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Pedal to the metal... by Cathy Ace

LIFE: Most writers have had other jobs. What’s one thing you learned in an entirely different professional setting that you’re grateful for?

Honored to be made a Freeman of the City of London, 
in recognition of my career in marketing communications

Oh…a past lives question…lovely! The only job I’ve had for the past nine years has been that of a full-time author. Within that job description lie a host of duties (yes, duties) other than plotting, researching, writing, editing, and polishing books, and those are the bits of this job that are the hardest work for this author. They steal time from the “truly writerly” parts of the job, which makes me dislike them. Oh to be able to focus 100% of my time and effort on JUST those fun parts of being an author, but, no, other things are required…even moreso, now that I self-publish my work.

I don’t know how much laboring through the night shift on the packaging line at the Smiths’ Crisps factory (where I specialized in Monster Munch snacks) helped with my writing, but I know I put my months working in the Netherlands as a bulb-peeler to good use in terms of scene-setting in The Corpse with the Garnet Face. There are many other times that my life as a peripatetic trainer of non-marketing managers who needed to move up to become marketing managers, within many organisations across Europe, has stood me in good stead regarding location selection, too, because when you stay in a place over and over again, across many years, you really get to know it well. I worked in Budapest (The Corpse with the Ruby Lips), on cruise ships (The Corpse with the Diamond Hand), and in the south of France (The Corpse with the Silver Tongue).

The real apartment in Nice, France where I set my first novel -
my beloved chum, who I met in 1994 when I was working there, still lives there!

I also lived in London, England (The Corpse with the Granite Heart) for almost two decades, and that was where my time working in marketing communications agencies, as well as running my own, meant I learned how to write to a deadline – whether I was in the mood to do so, or not. Now that’s a really useful skill for an author, because that “muse” so many wax lyrical about can be a pretty elusive character. So, yes, generally learning how to communicate succinctly, and getting something done by the time it needs to be done, were both things I spent twenty years doing – great training.

Of course, the fact that my previous career was in brand building, advertising, and public relations doesn’t hurt, either. Yes, I literally “wrote the book” on marketing communications planning and implementation…twelve of them, to be exact! And what they don’t tell you when you aspire to become an author is that a great deal of time and effort will be expected of you in terms of being the builder and promoter of your own “brand”.

All that being said, if I had to choose one thing that I think is the most important to me nowadays, that I learned during my previous careers in business, then academia, it would be: I know that I am capable of putting in the long hours to get a job done well. If I don’t have a deadline, I won’t start; I need to be pressed for time to be able to turn out what – for me – is my best work…otherwise I just amble about, being half-hearted about something, and that’s NOT the way for me to work efficiently, or effectively. I am – as anyone who knows me will tell you – very much a 200% person!

As incoming Chair of Crime Writers of Canada

This new career has taught me that being an author isn’t all about writing what I fancy when the mood takes me, it’s about having a work schedule which I stick to. Interviews, blog posts, answering emails, making phone calls, doing zoom chats, being at conventions, participating in panels, being a mentor, giving time to various organisations within our community, supporting other writers, connecting with readers and our community through social media, reading works by other writers, keeping up to date with publishing industry news, staying abreast of what’s happening regarding self-publishing platforms, researching cover design trends, constantly monitoring sales and planning and implementing promotional pushes…and so much more. THIS is the working life…then, at night, I get to live the writing life, tapping at my keyboard until the small hours, when the noise of the “work world” has died down for the day, and I KNOW I can do that because of what I KNOW about myself.

It took twenty years across two other careers for me to learn what I’m capable of, and now I get to apply that self-knowledge to my author’s life. How wonderful!

Want to check out my work? Here you go:

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

All In A Day's Work by Gabriel Valjan


Most writers have had other jobs. What’s one thing you learned in an entirely different professional setting that you’re grateful for?


My employment history is eclectic, in that I worked in industries unrelated to my college and graduate school education. There is no rhyme or reason unless I impose a narrative, but each job provided me with an experience that helped me become a better person. I tied what I am grateful for from each position and explain how they helped me with my writing.

Engineering. I was exposed to procedural thinking and numerous tools for solving problems that proved invaluable to plotting. The Ishikawa or fishbone diagram, for example, is the 5Ws from Aristotle.  Aristotle, like my Shane Cleary, asked, Who, What, When, Where, Why, and sometimes How. The difference is that engineers ask Why five times. As a writer of crime fiction, I can’t help but think it’s the nerd version of “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

Registered Nurse. Raymond Carver used the term “the human noise” for life around us in the coda to his short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Nursing is a front row seat to that noise under duress. I learned to write better dialogue because the job taught me register, or how to modulate speech in different circumstances.

Doctors and nurses are educated in ways that make them antagonistic to each other. Doctors cure. Nurses advocate for their patient (always reduced to ‘the client’ in healthcare documentation). When a physician rounds on a floor, she doesn’t want to hear from the nurse that Mrs. Jones isn’t eating because she might be depressed that her children haven’t come to visit her. The nuance here is the word ‘might’ because nurses are legally prohibited from making a diagnosis. Without strategic advocacy, the MD may order a PEG and get nutrition on board. The ethical concern here is subjecting the patient to an unnecessary procedure. I learned that what physicians understand are lab values, because numbers paint the portrait of the patient, so I learned to talk their language first and advocated second.

I learned from nursing that to help others was to sublimate my ego. While every job gave me positive and negative experiences, not everything was material. A writer needs discernmentthe other Editor to decide which details best serve the writing and Imagination to take the personal and make it universal.

Monday, October 24, 2022

A Resume

 Q: Most writers have had other jobs. What’s one thing you learned in an entirely different professional setting that you’re grateful for?

-from Susan


1.     Waitress. I can’t do it and will always have the greatest respect for people who can remember who ordered what, when they ordered it, and how to get it to them without putting my thumb on the portion of the plate their food is on. 

2.     Shelver in academic library: There is at least one book written on every subject and sub-subject, and tiny sub-sub-subject I can imagine. It was enough to scare me away from grad school and the need to find some tiny, tiny sub-subject I could come up with on my own.

3.     Store detective (yes, me, for a blessedly short time): If you have a nasty, racist boss, you have a duty to show him how wrong he is by bringing in every weepy, white teenage girl who has stuffed a pair of cheap earrings in her bag. 

4.     Freelance writer: I could work 60 hours a week for 45 weeks a year and after taxes make only $8,000. This is not a career for someone who needs her own income and had to pay for childcare.

5.     Non-profit executive: The number of entitled employees who had imaginative and fiercely held beliefs about that they were owed in the way of accommodations was always one more than I could deal with at any time. 

6.     Mystery writer: The best, most fun, least remunerative job in the world. Who knew back when the first novel was rolling around in my brain? This, at least, I'm  grateful for. The rest? I'm grateful I have had the good fortune to learn and then move on.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Writers to Watch: Anna Bailey


Let’s do a shout-out to the debut authors. What’s a wonderful book by a first time crime fiction author you’ve read in the last six months?


One of the joys of this job is that you get to discover new talented writers before they become world famous. It’s always great to find a new author, a debut or just someone who’s work is new to you, whose writing is different and fresh. It always leaves me buzzing.


The world of crime fiction is vibrant. Every year, new, remarkable authors appear on the scene, pushing the boundaries of the genre, enhancing it in ways that you couldn’t dream of even ten years ago. I truly believe that crime fiction writing today is in the midst of a golden age in terms of the depth and breadth of stories being published.


Every now and again, though, a writer emerges who stands out, combining a deep, touching narrative with beautiful prose. For me, one such writer is Anna Bailey. Her debut, TALL BONES is simply a masterpiece.


Set in a claustrophobic and remote Colorado town, it’s the story about the disappearance of a teenage girl, Abigail and how her disappearance impacts and fractures the local community.

Abigail’s best friend Emma, compelled by the guilt of leaving her at a party in the woods that night, sets out to find the truth. But as the details of that night unfold, the festering secrets and resentment of both Abigail’s family and the townspeople begin to surface with devastating consequences.


Now the subject matter has been covered before, but what’s remarkable is the insight that Bailey brings to her characters. They are all three dimensional and wonderfully constructed. And then there's the prose - it's up there with some of the greats of the genre. It’s hard to believe that this is a debut. What’s more, Bailey is still only in her mid-twenties.



I must admit, I’m slightly late to the party. Tall Bones came out in the spring of 2021, but I only discovered it this summer, but I’ve been raving about it ever since.


Trust me, folks. This is a book you’ll want to read from a writer whose work, I hope is going to astonish and delight us all for many many years to come.


Thursday, October 20, 2022

Kim Hays: an Exciting New Author to Watch from James W. Ziskin

Let’s do a shout-out to the debut authors. What’s a wonderful book by a first time crime fiction author you’ve read in the last six months?

I haven’t read a lot of debuts recently, but one that truly wowed me was Pesticide by Kim Hays. Hays sets her debut in Bern, Switzerland, and it’s a winner.

From the book jacket:

Bern, Switzerland—known for its narrow cobblestone streets, decorative fountains, and  striking towers. Yet dark currents run through this charming medieval city and beyond, to the idyllic farmlands that surround it.

When a rave on a hot summer night erupts into violent riots, a young man is found the next morning bludgeoned to death with a policeman’s club. Seasoned detective Giuliana Linder is assigned to the case. That same day, an elderly organic farmer turns up dead and drenched with pesticide. Enter Giuliana’s younger—and distractingly attractive—colleague Renzo Donatelli to investigate the second murder. Giuliana’s disappointment that they’re on two different cases is tinged with relief—her home life is complicated enough without the risk of a fling.

But when an unexpected discovery ties the two victims into a single case, Giuliana and Renzo are thrown closer together than ever before. Dangerously close. Will Giuliana be able to handle the threats to her marriage and to her assumptions about the police? If she wants to prevent another murder, she’ll have to put her life on the line—and her principles.

Combining suspense and romance, this debut mystery in the Polizei Bern series offers a distinctive picture of the Swiss. An inventive tale, packed with surprises, it will keep readers guessing until the end.

I liked Pesticide so much I blurbed it. Here’s what I said:

Giuliana Linder and Renzo Donatelli make for one of the sharpest, most compelling police duos you’ll ever read. Their conflicted attraction bristles with true emotional depth and poignancy as they lead a rich ensemble cast through the surprisingly nefarious world of organic politics. A remarkable procedural set in Bern, Kim Hays’s Pesticide is Switzerland’s answer to Scandinavian noir. Fresh and oh so readable, you won’t want to put it down.

But don’t take my word for it. Two wonderful writer friends, Deborah Crombie and Allen Eskens, also loved it:

"Kim Hays brings a sparkling new voice to police procedurals, giving us engaging and realistically drawn detectives who struggle to balance their personal lives with the demands of a gripping investigation. Set against the fascinating backdrop of modern Switzerland, Pesticide will delight crime fiction fans--a standout debut for 2022!" -- Deborah Crombie, New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novels

"Kim Hays hits it out of the park with her debut novel, Pesticide
, giving this twisty police procedural lots of heart by creating characters that the reader truly cares about. It is a must read for mystery lovers, especially those who prefer their intrigue with an international edge." -- Allen Eskens, bestselling and award-winning author of The Stolen Hours and six Max Rupert and Joe Talbot mysteries
Deadly Pleasures also loved it. Follow the link below.

If you’re looking for something new, give Pesticide a chance! Wait, that sounds off. Well, you know what I mean. The second novel in the Linder and Donatelli series, Sons and Brothers, comes out in April 2023. Don’t miss it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Two Vancouver Writers to Watch

Let’s do a shout-out to the debut authors. What’s a wonderful book by a first time crime fiction author you’ve read in the last six months?

by Dietrich

I’ve had the privilege of reading a couple of debut novels recently. And they’re both really good, highly recommended, and both are written by a pair of local Vancouver authors that I’m sure we’re going to hear more from.   

Hero Haters by Ken MacQueen. The first thing that struck me about Ken’s debut novel is the quality of his writing — like he’s been doing it forever. 

Jake Ockham had a dream job, vetting nominees for the Sedgewick Medallion—the nation’s highest civilian award for heroism. His own scarred hands are an indelible reminder of the single mother he failed to pull from a raging house fire; her face haunts him still. Obligations drag him back to his hometown to edit the family newspaper but attempts to embrace small-town life, and the hot new doctor, are thwarted by unknown forces. The heroes Jake vetted go missing and he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances. Aided by resourceful friends, Jake follows a twisted trail to the Dark Web, where a shadowy group is forcing the kidnapped medalists to perform deadly acts of valor to amuse twisted subscribers to its website. To save his heroes, Jake must swallow his fears and become one himself … or die in the attempt. 

You can find out more at Ken’s website.

To Those Who Killed Me by JT Siemens. JT penned this first-time crime novel showing a unique voice and delivering a gritty tale told with a snappy pace.

Disgraced ex-cop Sloane Donovan has relied on her job as a fitness instructor to keep her mental illness and PTSD in check — until she finds a close friend dead, apparently by her own hand. Obsessive demons triggered and doubtful of the official narrative, she teams up with Wayne Capson, a PI willing to bend the law, to find out who really killed her friend. The search leads Sloane from Vancouver's wealthiest enclaves to the street's darkest corners, questioning millionaires, tennis instructors, sex workers, former police colleagues — anyone who might provide answers.

Check out JTs website for the details:

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Shoutout to Debut Authors by Terry Shames


Terry here, and here’s our subject this week: Let’s do a shout-out to the debut authors. What’s a wonderful book by a first time crime fiction author you’ve read in the last six months? 

 Is it just me, or are debut authors getting better? Some of the debut books I’ve read in the past couple of years have blown me away. When I read Please See Us, Caitlin Mullen’s 2021 debut, I noted in my reading list, “Absolutely brilliant. If this is a debut, I shudder to think what some of her future books will be.” I was not surprised that it won the Edgar Award among a field of other amazing debuts that included, the riveting Darling Rose Gold, by Stephanie Wrobel, and the absolutely fabulous Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. I have yet to get to Catherine House, by Elisabeth Thomas, or Murder in Old Bombay, by Nev March. I’m told that both novels are terrific. 

 In the past year, Wanda Morris has gotten a lot of buzz with her debut novel All Her Little Secrets, winning the Macavity Award and a Lefty Award for Best first Novel. The story is riveting, and the writing is top-notch.
I look forward to her second, Any Where You Run, which comes out next week, October 25! And then there’s Arsenic and Adobo, by Mia P. Manansala. Another multiple nominee who won the Anthony Award in 2022. 

 Looking at the last couple of years’ debut novels, I’m struck by how few I manage to read, and how many I want to read. I suppose I’ll get around to them eventually. I’m in the middle of Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full, which I was astonished to find was Mason’s debut novel. It’s so damn good! 

 But here’s the thing I think makes debut novels so spectacular these days. They are highly polished because they have to be to find a publishing home. Agents and/or editors won’t look past page two of a submission that isn’t honed to near-perfection. I’ve read several novels by experienced, published writers that I don’t think would get a full reading from an agent if it were a first submission. 

 I started writing in the days when agents would take on a “pretty good” read, because editors were poised to polish diamonds in the rough. Somewhere around the eighties (or nineties?), publishing changed. There were fewer editors, and they didn’t have the time to carve a good book out of a decent story. It fell to agents to spot the best among their submissions and work with authors to hone them until they could be presented to editors as polished work. Before the eighties, writers could work largely in a vacuum and send off what they hoped would be a “discovery.” 

These days, before a fledgling writers even attempts to find an agent, they will workshop the novel with writers groups, beta readers, manuscript swaps, and even professional editors. They probably don’t all do this. There are probably writers who simply know deep in their bones what makes a good book. I don’t know whether the authors I mentioned above fall into that category or whether they wrote, rewrote, got advice, found readers, rewrote, and found an agent who recognized the quality of the work. And then got hooked up with an editor who made the words golden. 

 I also think another thing that makes debut novels so good is that often the writer has had all those words pent up for years, and finally set them loose! I know these days my novels take a few months to write, and a few more to edit. My first book took exactly two months to write. The words poured out. I think it’s because that book had been sitting in the back of my brain, waiting to be tapped. All I know is that the debut authors I read these days seem like seasoned veterans. 

 One more thing about debut novels. Recently there are a lot more previously-ignored writers breaking what was for so long a hateful, invisible barrier to publishing their work. I don’t want to think there was a conscious decision on the part of publishers to shut out writers of color, and LBGTQ writers. I think it was more a matter of laziness and worry about the bottom line. It was a matter of choosing the familiar, choosing the recognizable subject matter, protagonists and settings. That seems to be changing, and it’s a change that readers will be the better for. Reading about other cultures that exist right alongside my white culture, in my city, can only expand my understanding. I celebrate it! 

I’m reading and appreciating the authors who have so long been ignored in a stifling publishing culture. So here’s to debut authors—of all kinds! May they thrive.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

On the Reading List - A Life of Bliss

Let’s do a shout-out to the debut authors. What’s a wonderful book by a first time crime fiction author you’ve read in the last six months?

Brenda here.

I've read one debut novel during the past six months titled A Life of Bliss, written by retired award-winning journalist Don Butler, who spent 40 years at the Ottawa Citizen, including six years as executive director.

A Life of Bliss is something of an unusual mystery with a quirky protagonist named Bliss Browning. Bliss is a travel editor who hates and fears travel. He's also got few friends and a failed marriage. The only thing that raises him out of a mundane existence is his passion for the opera star Maria Callas. 

Unexpectedly, his home computer email becomes overtaken by 'a ghost' purporting to be Callas speaking to him beyond the grave. She wants him to travel to Greece to undertake a mission on her behalf. Bliss, of course, believes himself to be hallucinating. When his boss decides he's to go on a trip to Africa that Bliss is desperate to avoid, events are set in motion, and the mystery unfolds. 

Butler calls this book "a hilarious and hopeful modern-day fable", and is a book I recommend for its originality, good writing, and well drawn characters. Life of Bliss turns out to be a most entrancing tale and a brilliant debut.


Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, October 14, 2022

Kill your writing bad habits before they kill your writing, by Josh Stallings


Q: Most of us have a writing tic or two, a word we overuse, a tendency to start sentences with the same word, a motion every character makes. Do you have one or a few, and, if so, what do you do to guard against them?

A: My first drafts have more tics than a Swiss watch. As I learn to tame one, another rears up and bites me. An early bad habit was what editor Elizabeth White referred to as Yodaisms. I would flip the beginning and end of sentences. It took me a while to see this, and a while longer to clear out most of them before showing anything to anyone. This is like any bad habit, it requires me to name it, claim it and then kick it to the curb. (For those counting that is the third metaphor in this paragraph. This may be a new tic showing up like an unwanted dinner guest.)

I believe that first-first drafts need to be written in an edit-proof safe space. Pounded or scribbled with wild abandon, letting passion and intuition guide my mind. When this energy flags, I go back to the latest sections and clean up as well as I am able. 

I need energy to write first-first drafts, I can edit when I’m tired and grumpy. 

Another tic I struggle with, meaningless body movements. Head nods, head shakes. Smiles or grins. I used these in place of dialogue tags. Instead of, “Bobby said” I’d do linguistic backflips or clumsy body movement tags. Bob winked. Shane shrugged.

This aversion to dialogue tags started when I read Cormac McCarthy and Charlie Huston. Neither of them even needs quotation marks for you to know who’s speaking. I respect them both as writers, immensely. But I’m me, not them. 

I was hung up on the way a printed page looks. All those he/she/they saids looked cluttered.  

After driving myself mad to kill all tags, I was pleasure reading and discovered that I don’t notice the tags when I read. I went back and looked at James Crumley, an undeniable word stylist and saw - 

“Whiskey flu,” he said, 
and a two goddamned hour whiskey


“No way,” I said, but the old man had me backing up so

that I didn't even believe myself anymore. Not true.”

“Well,” he said…..

 I then checked the king of brevity Hemingway -

“It is very valuable,” said the lieutenant. “It tells you about those priests. You will like it,” he said to me. I smiled at the priest

and he smiled back across the candle-light. “Don't you read it,” he said.

“I will get it for you,” said the lieutenant.

“All thinking men are atheists,” the major said. “I do not believe in the Free Masons however.”

I noticed in most books I love, a bunch of people SAID things. That gave me freedom to keep it simple. 

I believe my primary job as a writer is to deliver a story that is emotionally truthful and told in a way that best makes the page disappear from the reader’s mind. I love the feeling when a book transports me to another world. And hate when either clunky or overly ornate writing takes me out of the story. 

NOTE: What I call overly ornate others call brilliant. There are books for every  palette. And isn’t that what makes reading so wonderful? 

I still find myself trying to write workarounds for dialogue tags. They are always removed by my editors. Which brings me to another conundrum. As a beginning writer I hated to hear, “You must kill off your darlings.” Why would I kill what I find darling? But my experience with multiple editors has been that those amazing paragraphs, those guaranteed Booker prize winners are always the first to go. What I love about them is also what pulls the reader out of the story.

I equate this to film editors. Anne V. Coates cut everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Out of Sight. She was nominated five times for an Oscar. She was a master at knowing the exact right length a shot should be. She cut so perfectly that you never saw her work, you saw the story. She knew, cut too quickly the audience wouldn’t have time to read a shot, hang on it too long they would feel boredom. Either confusion or boredom take a viewer out of the story. The hat trick is knowing how long it takes to read any given shot. Or in our work, how much information a reader needs to get a story point. That is the magic of this craft. Every person’s brain is different. So we write the way we want to read, and hope there are enough readers out there that have similar preferences. 

One of the best ways to kill sloppy writing habits is to have editors you trust kill them for you. And then when approving their changes take note of the ones that keep cropping up. Quiet the internal voice screaming, “Yes but I do that because…” We can’t show up at every reader’s home and explain why we did something. If we could  it would be creepy. Instead it’s best to pull up your non gendered lower body covering…

Name your tic. Claim it. And kick it to the curb.

In order of full transparency I’m leaving space at the bottom for Erika, my partner in crime and first editor, to chime in on what are her favorite of my writing tics…

Erika wrote: “I’ll never tell.”