Friday, March 31, 2023

Our Crime Family Reunion, by Josh Stallings

Q: Life - Do you bring non crime writing friends or family with you to conventions? Pros and cons please.

A: The hardest part about going to a big event like a mystery convention are the days before, the flight in, the bus or train or cab from the airport, all those opportunities to worry if the kids on the playground will like me. Or will they discover that I don’t know anything about writing and am just another con artist? Will they ride up and run me out of town with torches and pitchforks? 

Back in the Jurassic period when I was still drinking, these insecurities were why I drank before going to any large social event. As a sober guy I always prefer to go with Erika. She’s socially comfortable. People like her, hell I like her, I mean LIKE- like her - and regardless of the venue she and I are sure to have a good time. 

In the early days I went alone to conventions. The pro of that was I was forced to meet people. Saint Louis or was it Cleveland Bouchercon was my second time at a crime writing convention, but my first time as a writer with a book out to hock. I had my regular worries leading up to the event. Then on the public transit train from the airport I met Chris and Katrina Niidas Holm. We started talking about nothing, just riffing, but I could tell they were my kind of people. At that same convention I met so many writers and reviewers and readers that remain friends to this day. What had felt scary turned out to be a family reunion of a family I didn’t know I had. 

Holm, Ziskin, Calkins, Stallings, and Berney awaiting sentencing.

So in some ways going alone was good for me. Then Erika joined me and that was fantastic. It’s wonderful to look down from a panel and see her there. She fit in seamlessly with this criminal family, in fact I came to see many friends were happier to see her than me. Understandable. I remember once while checking into the hotel Catriona McPherson looked at me, then past me, then back to me, “Where’s Erika?” No hello Josh. No grand to see ya. Nope. Just “Where’s Erika?” That is the wonderful thing about our family, once you’re in, your in. Don’t show up for whatever reason, your absence will not go unremarked upon. 

Erika and me at Niagara Falls

Another wonderful thing about traveling with Erika is we make it a vacation. If it’s just me I feel the need to get there, do the convention and hurry home. With her we took the time to explore Toronto, and made a side trip to Niagara Falls. In New Orleans we saw the sights and ate our way through many great restaurants. 

In recent years personal economics have made traveling to conventions hard for one and impossible for two. Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque last year was both wonderful and strange. I was alone again, and felt oddly cut adrift. Somehow the combination of the COVID years and traveling without Erika left me feeing socially uncomfortable. I did see many good friends, made some wonderful new ones as well. 

My worst day at a crime convention beats the hell out of most days anywhere else.

Regardless of who I travel with, I am going to be surrounded by my family of choice once I arrive. I will go home invigorated about this craft of ours. And that my friends makes it all worthwhile.

I will be at Bouchercon San Diego. I hope to see you all there, even those of you I don’t know yet.  

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Worlds Collide, by Catriona

Life - Do you bring non crime writing friends or family with you to conventions? Pros and cons please.

I usually don't. For all the reasons Cathy outlined yesterday - cost, time, focus - but I'm a complete hypocrite because I love it when other people bring friends and family with them.

Erica Stallings, who is married to Josh Stallings of this parish, and Diane Krueger, spouse of William Kent Krueger, are two of my favourite new friends in (or near?) the American crime-writing community. I've had to train myself not to react to seeing Josh/Kent by saying "Is Erica/Diane here?" but instead to say "Hey! Hiya! How are you? Lovely to see you." pause "Is Erica/Diane here?" (Because I know how it feels: whenever my eldest niece saw me, in her toddlerhood, she'd say "Where Neil?" and start searching.)

And what would writing conventions be without Michael Mueller, the husband of Kristopher Zgorski? Michael is bedded in so deep to the Malice and Left Coast family now, it's always a surprise when Kris asks for a book to be dedicated "To Kristopher" alone. 

Urgh - I know I've got a lovely pic of Kris, Michael and me all gussied up, but can I find it? Here's Michael, Ann Cleeves, Brenda Blethyn and Kris instead. (photo: Kristopher Zgorski)

And then there's the kids: Dash Taylor, Malice VIP and son of Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski, Pauline, daughter of Travis Richardson and Teresa Wong, Sara Henry's son, Z, and Glen Erik Hamilton's daugher, Maddie, who've all been coming to conventions since they were buttons and who now give all of us aunties good practice in *not* saying "Look at the SIZE of you!" when we see them again.

The couple of times I did bring a modest posse to a con it's been lovely, I must say. My parents were at Left Coast Crime, Monterey and I got to thank them in person for this and that during an acceptance speech. And Neil has ended up in the conference hotel a few times too: either because we were on a roadtrip (Bouchercon, Florida) or it was just down the road (Bouchercon, San  Francisco) or because the world shut down and he came to fetch me (Left Coast Crime, San Diego - March 2020.)

My mum and dad and Neil and me, pedalling along the coastal trail after LCC, Monterey

I've been a convention spouse once, as it happens. In 2015, when I had a broken arm and couldn't cook, drive, get my cast protector on (to shower) without help, or fasten my own bra, Neil had a week-long meeting about Tomato-Spotted-Wilt-Virus, down at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on the Monterey peninsula. So I chummed along. It was fantastic: they talked about TSWV all the livelong day, from coffee in the morning until the last embers in the firepit died down too far to roast another marshmallow at night. And I sat there, like Charlie Brown not being troubled by his teacher's voice in the least, looking at the waves and thinking about my work in progress.

Mind you, not everyone tuned it out. The other meeting at Asilomar that week was the Western US Ukulele Society and within hours they were making up songs about sick tomatoes. Happy days.


View from my bedroom window at Asilomar

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Me, myself, and...? by Cathy Ace

Life - Do you bring non crime writing friends or family with you to conventions? Pros and cons please.

Photo taken of me at LCC 2019 by Husband

Usually, no. Being at a festival, convention, or conference is wonderful – but it’s busy!

Panels, get-togethers, informal and/or formal meetings, drinks parties, lunches, dinners etc. It’s all go.

Yes, there are social opportunities between attending panels and get-togethers, but even then, I enjoy that time to be with fellow authors, bloggers, reviewers, and – most importantly – with readers! Thus, I feel it’s better to be there on my own, so that my time is my own, and I’m not having to consider another person. It means I’m 100% “present”.

There’s also the travel aspect: it’s not cheap to attend a convention, so additional flights etc aren’t usually a viable possibility.

With Kristopher Zgorski at Malice Domestic 2019

That said, I have made an exception to this pattern a couple of times, to date.

L to R: Husband, KSue Anderson, a reader I met at LCC Monterey in 2014,
who is now a chum, me, and
photo taken by Jeffrey Siger at LCC Vancouver 2019

First, when Left Coast Crime was held in Vancouver (where I live) in 2019 I was honoured to be the Toastmaster – and, with it being a 90 minute drive away, as opposed to a couple of flights away – my husband joined me to lend support (I was horrifically nervous!). It was his first experience of one of “our” conventions – and even he had to admit that he finally understood why I always get home absolutely knackered after one! The great thing about him being able to attend? He got to meet so many people whose names I bandy about – which is great!

With Dru Ann Love at Bouchercon 2018

Second, when I was Guest of Honor at the Chanticleer Reviews conference in Washington State in 2022 he also joined me: again, a 90 minute drive away, and, again, he was my rock before I made important speeches and presentations.

Bouchercon 2018 - at a dinner organised by Kathy Boone Reel,
with Elly Griffiths
I have loved every convention and festival I have ever attended, and have met and got to know people I’d never have met or got to know if my husband had always been with me…so I think the balance has been just right.

This year I’ll be attending the inaugural (well, it’s the 3rd, but this is the first time it will be in-person) Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival in Aberystwyth, Wales, in April, then CrimeFest in Bristol, England, in May. In August I’ll be in Calgary, Canada at When Words Collide, and then I’ll be at Bouchercon in San Diego, USA at the end of August/beginning of September…so it will be a busy year in terms of festivals, conferences and conventions. And I’ll be flying solo this year – both literally, and figuratively…except that he “might” accompany me to Bouchercon…we’ll see.

Whether I’m alone, or with him, I hope to see some of you at one or more of those events!

You can always keep up with where I'll be, and when, at my website's events page:

And you can keep up with all my books at the same place - my website is updated regularly (yes, even when I'm on the road!):

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Come Together by Gabriel Valjan


Q: Do you bring non-crime writing friends or family with you to conventions? Pros and cons please.


Not so long ago, when I was new to this thing called Writing, I was advised to attend conferences. It was where the cool kids met and played, where authors networked, pitched to agents, and talked about themselves on panels before readers and reviewers. For a few days every year, I’ll answer the siren call and pull myself away from the screen, away from talking to myself and Munchkin the cat. I’m encouraged to do everything that is counter to my personality, to travel someplace exotic and fling myself in front of people I’ve never met.


Oh, a time to be an extrovert.


And like the wild, the ecosystem varies with each Con I attend. Malice Domestic is for fans of cozy mysteries. Bouchercon is for every species of crime fiction, from hard-boiled to noir, to procedural and psychological suspense. Both Crimebake and Maine Crime Wave cater to regional scribes. Malice, with its subdued setting in Maryland, eased me out of the terror of public speaking—somewhat—whereas my first Bouchercon in Toronto was bright lights and loud voices. My God, I couldn’t hear myself think in Toronto.


You may’ve heard the phrase ‘Happy wife, Happy life.’ There’s a related term called ‘Conference Spouse,’ (CS) and I’m fortunate to have survived panels I have moderated or participated in, thanks to Deb Well.


CS Benefits:


·      Since I can’t attend every panel, a CS allows for twice the coverage, and the added benefit of Proof of Life (pics of other authors for social media).

·      No satchel for me, a CS travels with a legit purse for additional books.

·      Expertise by Proxy. My eyes glaze over and I tend to fall asleep and drool like Homer Simpson when it comes to Industry Expert Panels. You know, those Marketing and all those very important How-To and Must-Do discussions.

·      When I’m on a panel, there’s a photog in the audience to capture my likeness for posterity.

o   Addendum: there’s the added benefit of receiving ominous texts to SMILE while I’m on the dais, like Caesar before the Curia.

·      Moderator or Participant, I have a spy embedded in the field for feedback from the audience. Every morsel helps improve future performances or lets me know what I’m doing right.


CS Cons:


·      No cons on a Con partner.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Who, Me?

 Q: Do you bring non crime writing friends or family with you to conventions? Pros and cons please.

- from Susan


Sorry, this particular question doesn’t fit me. My writing friends already go and I love spending time with them at conventions and conferences (see you at California Crime Writers in LA and Bouchercon in San Diego, anyone?). I can’t think of a non-writing friend who’d be interested. My sons have families and even though they write, they aren’t published (yet) as fiction authors and don’t have fans who might show up at a crime fiction con. 


That being the case, I’d like to answer a question a friend asked me over lunch a couple months ago: “Aren’t you afraid someone you used as a character will read your book and feel insulted if you show them in a bad light?” I’ve never had the experience, although that’s not to say I couldn’t have had in a few cases. That depends on a lot of things; 


Has the person read my book? 

Would they see themself?

If they thought it was them, would they interpret the characterization as negative?

Would the person be especially concerned because of their public persona?


One circumstance that helps me here is that my former professional life was conducted among academics and scientists who were the source of endless possible satires and revenge opportunities. Sit in innumerable meetings with the puffed-up dean of a graduate school who is trying to chisel away at your vexing control of a budget resource he believes should be his and you have meat for dialogue involving a puffed-up dean. Watch a conniving scientist running amok with envy at another scientist’s success and you have a character whose jealousy has twisted his thinking so badly he’s tempted to murder a rival. Why I don’t worry: Neither person who inspired those characters would be caught dead reading a murder mystery. So plebian!


A more recent reason I don’t worry is that my latest three mysteries are set in rural France among French villagers. My real life experience is that none of the villagers I got to know spoke – much less read – English. The fact that I was a published author didn’t interest them in the least. Perhaps if I had been a TV star the situation would have been different. But I wasn’t creating them as bad people, only as charming and perhaps eccentric. True, they might not think of themselves as eccentric, so it was probably just as well my American hosts didn’t explain the stories in detail. In one case, however, I was concerned. The utterly charming proprietor of a costume museum would have gasped at the idea I staged a murder there if a visiting American who had stumbled upon my book mentioned it. So, I went to great lengths in the acknowledgements to promote the gem of a museum.


We can’t write with potential complainers looking over our shoulders. That way lies the death of good storytelling. There are laws and protocols that are good guides as to how close a writer can get to a real person, public or private, in a work of fiction. If, for example, a public person is a famous bully, has a distinctive look or writing style (all caps, anyone?) and engages in frivolous lawsuits for anything and everything, I’d stay more than a few feet away, although Carl Hiaasen doesn’t even flinch at the possibility - and hasn’t been the subject of rage tweets for his humor.


Newest book set in France:





Friday, March 24, 2023

Constantly Failing Upwards

by Abir


Which do you find harder to cope with, success or failure? In either event do you have ways to keep the world's view of your work from affecting your work?


Interesting question today. 


Success and failure – those two imposters, but which is easier to live with?


As my colleagues have pointed out earlier in the week, success is always relative. It’s incremental. It’s getting your first agent, then your first book deal; it’s getting long-listed, then shortlisted, then winning awards; it’s your first positive review and your first press coverage; and as you go on, those successes tend to fade from memory as you pursue the next big goal, the next big challenge. The pursuit of success is a Sisyphean task (I spelled that correctly first time – technically a success!), there’s always another hill to climb beyond the summit you’ve just reached. And what’s more, in this business, success can be fickle. The world of publishing is littered with bright shiny debuts bought for princely sums, and fresh-faced authors whose pictures are splashed all across the press but who, a year later, are replaced by another crop of bright young things.


So let me make the case for failure. Failure – to me is actually the process of the pursuit of success. Failure isn’t the end. Failure is the trying; the constant striving; the getting knocked down and getting up again and pushing on. In this sense, failure is my natural state. For most of my life, I’ve tried and I’ve failed. It hasn’t stopped me trying, and it shouldn’t stop anyone else. I trust failure. I know where I am with it. Indeed, I expect it. My problem is with success. I don’t trust that bastard. I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t even know how to celebrate it when it comes along. I’m always scared that I don’t deserve success, that the minute I relax and enjoy it, the fickle gods of fortune will take it away from me. 


Don’t get me wrong – success is nice. It’s better than a kick in the groin, but still, you know where you are with a kick in the groin. Success on the other hand, is like the guy who shakes your hand and steals your watch. Just don’t trust it. Don’t be swayed by it.


But of course, success is important – assuming you recognise it and appreciate it when it comes along, yet I would urge you not to discount failure. Failure is the honest-to-goodness toil, the hard yards you put in every day. Failure is the learning process. Failure is the stout shoulders on which that flash-Harry, success is balanced on. 


So yeah, success is great. Everyone loves it. But success is nothing without failure.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Better than a Poke in the Eye from James W. Ziskin

Which do you find harder to cope with, success or failure? In either event do you have ways to keep the world's view of your work from affecting your work?

Victory, 2017 Macavity Award                                     Defeat, 2017 Edgar Award

Success is easy. At least it should be. I haven’t experienced every shade of success in my writing career. My books and stories have been well-enough received critically, and I’ve been fortunate to have won a few awards, But sales have not made me rich. Even if I’m not in the writing biz to make pots of cash, I wouldn’t mind it if I did.


Failure is another matter. It’s inevitable in this and any other field of endeavor. All star hitters in baseball only get hits a third of the time. That means they fail two out of three at bats. Yet they somehow learn to be happy with that percentage. 


When I was searching for an agent fifteen years ago, I received about forty-five “declinations.” That’s the term my former agent—the one I managed to land out of forty-five—used to refer to rejections. I appreciated his attempts to soften the sting. Or perhaps ennoble it. Anyway, one for forty-five is a pretty poor batting average for a baseball player, but a damn fine one for an aspiring writer. And, of course, it took a few years—and a second book—before my agent was able to sell something for me.


Writers fail much more often than baseball batters. At least when we’re starting out. Just ask a writer how many agents rejected their work before something got accepted. The same is true for publisher rejections. But once you break through, things can get a little easier. After my first novel, I sold six more books to my first publisher until we—the publisher and I—parted brass rags and went our separate ways and I started all over again. Lucky for me, my new agent placed my latest book, Bombay Monsoon, with a new publisher and I am happy to claim that as a success.


Success and failure are opposite sides of the same coin. And sometimes a failure is a success with a wart. Or at least a blemish. I’ve been lucky enough to see my books and stories nominated as finalists for important industry awards twenty-one times. Those nominations were without a doubt successes, even when I didn’t win the day. I managed to sneak off with four of those twenty-one awards. That’s a middle-of-the-road batting average in baseball, but—again—a fantastic haul for a writer. I don’t look at my also rans as failures. That would be the height of petulance. I’m proud of those honors, even if our own Catriona McPherson stuffed the prize-winning hardware into her bulging suitcase on a few of those occasions, thereby denying me bragging rights and you all a victory dance you could never hope to wash from your eyes. Be thankful for small mercies. Congratulations, dearest Catriona.


No, I can’t complain. Rejection and failure are part and parcel of the bargain we’ve signed on for. Neither affects my work. My satisfaction, perhaps, but not my work. A success puts a smile on your face, while a failure leaves a scar. Scars can disfigure or distinguish. I like to think of my declinations, losses, and disappointments as having left marks of character on my face. For me, a black eye is a badge of honor. 


Then again, a victory is better than a poke in the eye, which, of course, can cause a black eye.




Wednesday, March 22, 2023

On circling the drain

Which do you find harder to cope with, success or failure? In either event do you have ways to keep the world's view of your work from affecting your work?

by Dietrich

When success comes knocking and things are going my way, there’s no struggle, it’s all good, and there’s just an open road ahead. Who doesn’t love that feeling?

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way. That open road to acceptance, nominations, awards, and other accolades can sometimes seem dotted with potholes of criticism and rejection — the stuff that wants to shake up any writer’s conviction. And sure, we’ve all been told there’s something to be learned from a flop, how we ought to bounce back, come to terms with life’s ups and down, put things in a better light, garner something from a bad experience, accept that it makes us wiser and better at dealing with it, possibly even avoiding the same pothole the next time around. And like Brenda said, “Failure makes success even sweeter.”

“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.” ― Hunter S. Thompson  

Starting out, I worked at writing something worth putting on a page, and along the way I learned how to deal with self-doubt. Since writing was something I had wanted to do from when I was in my teens, I dared myself to keep at it until I thought I had something worth sending out. The next step was finding somebody willing to publish it, and by then the self-doubt was starting to fade. Although for a moment it wanted to peek over my shoulder when that first review came in, but I managed to ignore it.

“Life's as kind as you let it be.” ― Charles Bukowski

It’s definitely easier to deal with success, and maybe the best thing about that feeling of failing is it isn’t permanent. I really do think it all boils down to a choice in attitude.

Coming June 6th. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Coping with Reality


Terry Here. Our subject this week is whether we find it harder to cope with, success or failure. Also, if the world’s view of our work affects us. 

For years I was embarrassed to say I was trying to get published, because regardless of my hard work, I kept getting rejections. I kept beavering away, first on a yellow pad with a pen, then on a computer keyboard. All my friends knew I was writing mystery novels, and they’d always ask how I was doing with the writing. Early on they would ask with excitement, then as I continued to be unsuccessful at finding a publisher the questions would be more tentative. And finally, they would ask in the same tone of voice you might ask if someone had died. They were right: My hopes and dreams were dying. 

During those years, I kept sending out my manuscripts, and I got one great agent after another—well-known agents, “selling” agents. They show great enthusiasm, I’d get “almosts” from publishers, and then the boom would drop again. Sorry, close but no cigar. Sorry, loved the characters, didn’t like the plot. Love the plot, not the characters. Too bad, we just signed a new author who work is too much like yours. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. 

And as much as I am an upbeat person, generally positive, as the years of writing with no published book to show for it, I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. 

Thank goodness for writer friends who would encourage me, tell me it was a hard business and it was just a matter of time, and I shouldn’t give up. I tried different subjects, eventually writing six books and chapters of others. I guess I coped okay, because I kept writing, but I felt pretty bleak at times. At that time “success” looked like nothing more than getting a novel published. Period. 

 And then I got "the call." A two-book contract with a decent advance. I felt like someone who had been wandering in the desert—or in the woods—or in the wilderness—homeless, and bereft, and suddenly I had come home. I suppose there are people for whom success is a double-edged sword, who feel as if there must have been some mistake and that any minute their contract will be snatched away (oops, sorry, wrong author). But all I felt was enormous relief, excitement, and vindication for my persistence. I felt as if I had finally gotten good news, and that my books would find an audience. 

 What I had not factored in was that the book would be a winner, winning accolades, fans, and awards. It was stunning. After that point, my goal of “success” changed. I felt greedy for the next book to do as well. And it did. And for several years, things zipped along happily. I discovered that I loved public speaking, loved coming up with new ways to market my books, loved getting fan mail, and loved knowing that my books were finding readers. 

 The one odd thing about “success” is that it’s a moving target. From thinking of success as publishing a book, I now think of it as writing something that catches a larger audience. I’m starting a new series, and am eager to see how it goes. And I’ve written a standalone that I hope will gain a larger audience. The one thing I know is that for me, success was much easier to handle than failure. 

The last part of the question is not one I think much about. It doesn’t mean I never think of it, but it doesn’t affect me a lot. Or at least, not until recently. I’m hatching a book in the Samuel Craddock series that has a potentially very serious back story. I’m torn about whether to tackle it or step away. 

 A few years ago A Reckoning in the Back Country dealt with the issue of dog fighting, a horrific subject. I didn’t get terrible backlash, but I did have some readers who said they wouldn’t read it, in spite of the fact that reviewers said it was handled well. I understood their reluctance, because I had the same reluctance when I wrote it. But I felt I had to be true to myself, and that meant dealing with a subject that is “true.” 

 Can I face another such subject? It’s troubling. I’m almost there, and have had conversations with other authors about it. Oddly, the question of "success" is more personal in this case. Can I do justice to a hard subject? Will I feel good about having written it? If the answer is yes, then that will be success. And I'll cope with the fallout. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Those Special Moments

Which do you find harder to cope with, success or failure? In either event do you have ways to keep the world's view of your work from affecting your work?


This is an easy choice. Failure is much harder to cope with than success. Yet even as I acknowledge this, I also must admit that the failures have their own importance in maintaining balance. Ultimately, failures make the successes even sweeter.

We're all told as authors starting out to expect rejection in bucketfuls. Others have been through the tough road to getting published or slogged through the roadblocks to having a book noticed once it's in print. Their warnings are meant to build resilience, to prepare a new writer for the hope-dashing reality of what is to come.

Perhaps, it's necessary to define failure and success, which I believe are constantly shifting. My evolving idea of failure (or success) might not be everyone's. I consider myself successful for having completed and released 24 books, continuing to find the joy in the process of writing, making friends with other writers and readers, being invited to book clubs and libraries, handling myself okay on panels and giving well-received presentations. I've decided that the big pay cheque, or fame of the Louise Penny or Michael Connelly variety is a goal but not my yardstick. 

My first books were a series of four mysteries for the middle grade market. I was with a small Toronto publisher who did what she could to get the books noticed, which wasn't all that much in the big scheme, publicity budgets being what they are. I attended a children's book conference around the time my first book came out and an author got up onto the stage and said, "Don't expect getting a book published to change your life. It won't." Harsh? Certainly, but her words lessened the sting of -- not failure exactly -- but not raging success either. It let me temper my expectations, and still does if truth be told.

Failure is less easy to gauge. It can be a bad review or comment. Being overlooked for awards. Not being invited to a book festival. Being turned down by an agent. We each have our own painful moments, and they always sting. Experience keeps them more in perspective though, maybe even lets you laugh. My recent favourite toss-off, bad review was when someone wrote that the first half of my book was too 'wordy'. I mean, huh?

As for handling success, I've learned to savour and appreciate the moments. Last year when Cold Mourning and Butterfly Kills audiobooks made the top ten library loans in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and some library systems in the U.S. and Canada, even receiving media attention, I knew the hoopla wouldn't last, but boy, I enjoyed it while it did! Not for a moment did this success go to my head; I was simply grateful for the reader support. 

Success is really just a spaced-out series of moments, filled in by hard work and dreaming of the next story. Failure is also fleeting, and neither need define a writer or their work. The trick is to stay grounded, believe in yourself, and keep on keeping on.


Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, March 17, 2023

Five Pieces of Advice and One Anecdote, by Josh Stallings

Q: What is the best advice you received from an agent, editor, publisher, writer, or florist? For bonus credit what was the worst?

Me trying to come up with an answer.

A: “Be furious in your quest for the truth.” As a young writer I gave myself that advice. This quest has led me to understand that truth is personal. Truth depends on one’s perspective. No I’m not saying I believe in “alternate facts”. There are historical and empirical facts, but human truths like the answer to “am I a good person?” Or “am I a complete fraud?” Or “Did my mother love me?” Those truths — the ones a character is made from — are personal and subjective. Villains rarely think they are bad people. Tyrants are sure they do what they do for the good of others. All the really good people I’ve met thought they had hidden monsters inside that must never be let loose. And as a writer it is these human truths I keep struggling to understand and capture.

Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston gave me several pieces of advice, if I wanted the words to rip and roar I needed to, “Write with velocity.” Literally type as fast and powerfully as humanly or dyslexically possible. Our old craftsman home used to sway on its foundation as I pounded words. I discovered that if I was typing at the outer edge of my thinking speed, I had no time to second guess or qualify. It was a way to connect my subconscious directly to my hands, bypassing the critical and logical part of my brain.

Another from Charlie came when I was up for an Anthony. “Awards mean everything, unless you don’t win, and then they don’t mean anything.” No that wasn’t the advice that mattered but it made me smile. What he said after hearing about my award nominations was, “That’s great, but what are you working on now? Awards are for something you did last year. They’re in the rearview mirror.” Keep my eye on the present or I'm guaranteed to crash.

“You will only be as great as you are willing to fail.” - Some Famous Actor. I read it on the wall of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I never do good work from a place of fear. The hard part of any creative’s life is that we will be told many times that we just aren’t good enough or current enough or salable enough. In the face of these slings and arrows we must be bold and have the unmitigated audacity to believe in ourselves.

Ian Ayris

I recently sent Ian Ayris a bleak letter full of why bother, and who cares. Here is his response:

“I fully believe writing is more than books on shelves. Writing is a communication in words of the darkness within, teaching us who we are, giving us the chance to express in words that which we are so fearful to utter aloud. Then when we see it written down, its power over us is diminished and we feel that little more whole for it. And we move on with our torch a little brighter further into the darkness... If we as writers can find the courage to put words to our own darkness, there will be someone who reads those words who will recognize the darkness they have inside them. And their torch will burn a little brighter because of it. They still have the dark path to tread - as do we all - but they will no longer feel so alone. And stuff like that, Josh, that goes well beyond books on shelves. Write your truth, my friend. That is all any of us need to do.” - Ian Ayris


Tell your truth.

Write with velocity.

Keep your eye on the present.

Never fear failure.

Tell your truth. (Yes I said that one twice.)

I’ll leave you with this, 32 years ago when I first got sober I asked my sponsor “If I slay my dragons, what will I write about?”

He laughed and laughed and finally explained, “Slay them? Oh no, at best you may learn to tame them just a little bit.”

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Thursday, March 16, 2023

Guest Post, by Liz Milliron

Catriona writes: It's lovely to welcome back a good friend of the blog, Liz Milliron, who is celebrating the launch of her fourth Homefornt mystery - THE TRUTH WE TELL. I'm a huge fan of this beguiling series about blue-collar hero Betty Ahern in 1940s Buffalo. By day Betty does her bit for the war effort in an aircraft engineering works, by night she sleuths; hence the "Sam Spade meets Rosie the Riveter" log line! 

Just like Betty, Liz is pitching right in today, answering the question of the week, about the best and (for bonus points) worst writing advice.


And now, Liz Milliron

Thanks, Catriona, for having me back on Criminal Minds.

Advice. There’s a saying or a song lyric out there about free advice. Something about it being worth what you paid for it. Unfortunately – fortunately? – there’s a smorgasbord of advice to choose from when you are an author. No matter what point in your career you’re at, someone has an opinion.

My grandfather had a saying about those, too, but this is a G-rated blog.

The best advice I ever received wasn’t actually directed at me, personally. It came from author Jonathan Maberry. He of the Joe Ledger series, some comics, an epic fantasy Kagen the Damned, and a bunch of other things. Yeah, not my genre, right? I met him a couple of times at the Pennwriters conference. Pennwriters is another writing organization I belong to, a multi-genre one for Pennsylvania writers. They have an annual conference which is one of the best for your buck if you are trying to make a career out of this writing gig.

But I digress (slightly).

Jonathan was the keynote speaker several years ago at that conference. In his speech, he said, “Writers do best with their own species.”

Now, if you aren’t a writer, you might think he’s saying we writers aren’t quite human. And since he writes both sci-fi and fantasy, hey, that’s a valid thought. But that isn’t what he meant.

His point is that writers need other writers. In other words, “find your tribe.” If you’re a writer, that means your tribe is, well, other writers (duh). You may have many tribes, but one of them ought to be writers. Otherwise, well, it’s a lonely, lonely world out there as you battle rejections, smaller-than-expected royalty checks, tiny turnouts at events…you get the picture.

But if you have a tribe, there are other people to commiserate with, give pep talks, buy you another drink, whatever you need. Maybe it’s a genre-specific tribe (this is where I give a special shout out to Sisters in Crime, but there are others for crime fiction authors). If you write sci-fi/fantasy, there’s an organization for you. Ditto romance. Same for children’s authors.

Again, you get the picture.

Or maybe it’s a multi-genre group, such as Pennwriters. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

Just get together with your own species.

Bonus points: Worst advice

I’m sorry, Stephen King. I really am. I know he’s adored by legions and his book, On Writing, is a must-have for writers. But I’m going to take umbrage with “Never use adverbs.” Actually, I will expand that to any advice that includes the words never or always.

I’m just not a fan of absolutes because it rarely applies to everyone. Adverbs are a fine piece of language. Just use them wisely, okay? And not everyone has the luxury of writing every day. I have one of those pesky “day jobs” and sometimes I’m too spent. (Although it does a fine job of paying those other pesky things called “bills,” so I won’t complain too much.)

So, I’d have to say the worst advice I ever got is anything that includes an absolute.

Except when it comes to personal hygiene. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom.

Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, set in the scenic Laurel highalnds and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Pennwriters, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and The Historical Novel Society. She is the current vice-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime and is on the National Board as the Education Liaison.  Liz splits her time between Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands, where she lives with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound.

May 1943. Betty Ahern is studying for her private investigator’s license when a new client—Edward Kettle—hires her to clear his name after he was dismissed from his job at the American Shipbuilding Company. When Edward is brutally murdered, the dead man’s sister hires Betty to finish the original job and find the killer. The job hurls Betty back into the world of wartime espionage, but with a twist ... Betty must unravel the mystery, uncovering truths that others would prefer to keep hidden despite threats to her morals her beliefs, and her life.