Friday, September 29, 2023

Orphan Thoughts and Great Openings, by Josh Stallings

Q: Have you had success taking an old, perhaps previously abandoned, manuscript and breathed in new life before selling it?

A: No… That is true, but maybe I can dig a little deeper. I was talking to my son Jared about his song writing. His current project is a band called Sprinkler Boiz. The process is working with a fellow musician who is creating instrumental tracks. Jared then creates lyrics and vocal tracks and they bounce back and forth until a song emerges. He said he scours his notebooks for orphan lines and thoughts, using them to build a song. It feels like his mind has built a wonderful pile of building blocks for him to play with. 

Back in my typewriter and pen days I saved every scrap of writing in an army surplus sailor’s chest that I dragged with me whenever we moved. Because of the basic disorganized nature of my brain, finding anything of value in ten-thousand scraps was daunting if not impossible. With the advent of computers I saved floppy discs of every draft, thinking I might go back and find gold. Problem was, I saved to obsolete formats.  

I ditched that real and virtual pile of orphan thoughts when we moved to the mountains. And I feel much lighter for it. I have come to see that my taste and world view is ever evolving. No matter how brilliant an idea was (and I doubt they were) I no longer live in that time. 

This isn't to say I don’t sometimes toy with an idea for a long time before it becomes a book. I worked on Tricky off and on for years before I became evolved enough as a person and skilled enough as a writer to turn those thoughts into a book. 

I have a book out on submission right now that I am writing a new opening chapter for. This has led me to think a lot about where a story should start. I cut trailers for a ton of 1980’s action films. They mostly start with a bang, and if they could they tossed into it the hero “saving a cat” so we knew they were good people even if they killed a mountain of nameless baddies. With books, the wisdom is you have less than twenty pages to hook a reader. But what will hook them is nebulous. 

Here is the opening paragraph from Lou Berney’s Dark Ride,

I’m lost, wandering, and somewhat stoned. This parking lot, when you’re in the middle of it, seems much vaster and more expansive than it does from the street. Or do I just seem much less consequential? That’s the question. One for the ages. It’s July, hot as balls. I stare up. The sky, pale and papery, looks like it’s about to burst into flame. How would you describe the sky to someone who has never seen a sky? You’d have to explain how it’s different every day. So many shades of blue, of gray. And we’re not even talking about sunrise or sunset. Plus the clouds! How would you describe clouds?

I’m hooked by the character's voice. I know from the book jacket that it’s a thriller, this character feels absolutely fresh in that context. He’s not a macho man or tough as nails woman, not a smart every-man, not even a petty criminal in over is head. Just a stoned dude who is content to be who he is, who is dragged into a moral dilemma and a dangerous world. 

Another fine opening is from James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss,

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

Now that sets a tone and tells me exactly the kind of writer Crumley is.

Emily St. John Mandel starts Station Eleven this way

No star burns forever. You can say “it’s the end of the world” and mean it, but what gets lost in that kind of careless usage is that the world will eventually literally end. Not “civilization,” whatever that is, but the actual planet.

Apocalyptic, and smart. Speaks of a huge event, but also locks me into the writer’s voice. 

Here is the opening line from my latest WP, 

The worst day of your life never begins on that day. It is the culmination of events. Some good. Some bad. Spend your life as a cop and you’ll recognize the connections between time, actions, and pain. A survivor’s pain is proportionate to how much they loved the victim. On July 21st 1984 Detective Hem Madsen sat in an unmarked police car unaware he was ten days away from the worst day of his life.

Will it make it to the final version of the book, or will it be a darling that needs killing? I guess I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Point is, where we start and how we write that opening sets the reader up for the rest of the book. It gives them an expectation we must fulfill. If it is done correctly it will pull in the readers that will enjoy the book, and might repel those who wouldn’t find it to their liking anyway. 

I personally am sucked in by character, and originality. What pulls you in?

Thursday, September 28, 2023

A Writer Reads, by Catriona

When you’re on vacation (aka holiday), do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

Take a break . . . from reading? As part of a treat-like experience? Um, no. I hear other writers saying they read differently now, or can't read while writing, or have to avoid their own genre, and I'm forced to conclude that either I have a rare talent for compartmentalisation, or I'm dead lucky, or I'm not a real writer.

Let me talk you through my last and next holidays (post-Bouchercon beach trip and Christmas). Because I do read differently from usual when I'm draft-loose and edit-free.

Before I set off for San Diego at the end of August, I had reached the Ws in the alphabet. (I keep trying to sell this alphabetical TBR method; no luck so far). So I packed JOAN IS OKAY by Weike Wang and A FATAL GLOW by Valerie Wilson Wesley. 

JOAN IS OKAY is okay - or maybe a dark comedy about an ICU doctor in New York in 2020 wasn't the best choice for someone getting over COVID. But, by the same token, VWW's latest spooky culinary cosy was perfect.

Then it was off to Ventura with my Bcon haul to read them in sunglasses, smear the pages with Banana Boat and get sand in the bindings. Can you see the organising principle of my holiday reading?

It's not generally applicable, but my "having the same name as me or being Robyn Gigl" rule, led to a week of utter bliss, with three counts of NJ attorney, Erin McCabe, absolutely owning the corruption all around her, and a chaser that Stephen King called "authentically terrifying". (Neil kept asking me, "Are you authentically terrified yet?". The answer was no because I'd read Gabino Iglesias's THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME a while back and the immunity hasn't worn off yet. Great yarn, though, SUNDIAL. By and large, Catrionas can really write­čśë. )

Then I came home and on the weekend between sweeping up all the sand and the Monday of actually going back to work, I couldn't decide whether to pick more special treats or go back to the alphabet.

Reader, I did both. I read my way through the rest of the Ws and thereby luxuriated in three of the best books of the year.

I've been gushing enthusing about Richard Yates and Robin Yeatman online already, so let me tell you about Raynor Winn's LANDLINES. This is her third book about walking long-distance paths in the UK, following THE SALT PATH and THE WILD SILENCE and they are life-changing. They're not just nature books: they're about long-lived love; homelessness - both the experience and the politics; philosophies of medicine and illness; and the climate crisis. On balance, they're hopeful, but never twee.

And now I'm back to the start, back to the As. This is what's coming:

Erin Adams' debut, which leapt off the dealer's table at Bouchercon last year, and a #MeToo inflected . . . I think it's a romcom. We'll see.

And soon it'll be Christmas, when I'm going to pluck the ripest fruit from my TBR in an alphabet-be-damned Bacchanalia of reading joy. I just went through the shelves a minute ago and picked out these:

Bliss! Persephone's re-issue of a handbook to women's novels in Britain, 1914-1939, Juno Dawson's Christmas YA, another diary of running a secondhand bookshop by the grumpmeister himself, Ann Cleeves, Shawn Cosby, the last ever Ruth Galloway, Joanne Harris's menopausal Carrie White, that book I'll be the last person in the world to read, that other book I'll be the last person . . .

Then I stopped. Because my holiday is two weeks long and I was only up to K. 

Of course, K is a landmark letter when you're in the business of trying to save things for a special occasion. I'm determined to do it too. I will read this on the couch, by fairylight and candlelight and firelight, in a house full of food. It won't be easy though. 

There are many criteria when it comes to choosing the books for the best two weeks' reading of the year: must have a celebrity biography, some non-fiction, poetry never hurts (I've been hinting about Ben Lerner's NIGHTLIGHTS pre-birthday), a sure thing or two, a gamble or two . . . But truly, the question of genre never occurs to me.



Wednesday, September 27, 2023

I've got nothing...but there is news!! by Cathy Ace

Have you had success taking an old, perhaps previously abandoned, manuscript and breathed in new life before selling it?

Sorry, but the honest response to this question is: no. Which is a bit of a short answer.

So I’ll explain why…

I don’t write anything at all unless I know the whole story/book will work. I am an “in my head” plotter, so I know the entire story – or have seen the whole film – in my head before I even start to make notes…which means that there aren’t any discarded notes for books in my life, let alone entire manuscripts sitting in a drawer somewhere.

I hope that doesn’t sound pompous, though I fear it might.

What it really means is that I am a lazy writer – in that I don’t write until I KNOW it will work. I cannot bear the thought of “wasted” writing. It’s a product of being a plotter rather than being a “pantster”/”pantser” (you know, I’m one of those people who plot, plot, plot, rather than “writing by the seat of my pants”…never knowing where a story will go). I honestly cannot fathom how anyone writes anything at all without knowing the entire story…though I admire those who can do that.

Nope – for me there’s an outline, a chapter by chapter break-down, then the first draft…then, of course, the editing.

So, no…I have no tales of rediscovered anythings. Sorry, but there it is – a short post this week!


Want to find out how every manuscript I’ve ever produced worked out? Check out the list of my published works at my website:


Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Adjusted for Inflation by Gabriel Valjan

Have you had success taking an old, perhaps previously abandoned, manuscript and breathed in new life before selling it?


A lot has changed in writing mysteries since Poe penned the first detective story in 1841, and the ante to please and entertain readers is high. Publishers seek fresh voices, though murder is as old as Cain and Abel.


Murder is murder, and it’s my trade.


We’ve become desensitized to sex and violence, thanks to cinema and media. It’s hard for Words to compete against Images. What was once implied on the screen or between the pages because of censorship laws is now graphic, so little is left to the imagination. Hammett implied homosexuality with the fragrance, at a time when gay meant fun and frivolous. With the flood of titles in crime fiction, the crimson path from the crime scene to the jail cell has become a variation on a theme.


The HOW to the crime was either clever or brutal, the WHO, diabolical or sadistic, and the WHY, obvious or obscure. The shelves are stocked with clich├ęs, from the cozy amateur with the pet sidekick to the recovering alcoholic with anger management issues. Authors resorted to novelties, such as the story told from the criminal’s point of view (James Cain); a female unreliable narrator (Agatha Christie); a female Nero Wolfe (Gardner’s Bertha Cool); or the aberration of nature, the serial killer (Dorothy B. Hughes). 


Justice denied, however, angers readers.


I’m a harsh critic of my own work, in part because I know all the stories have been told and all the musical notes have been played and rearranged. I struggle to offer something compelling in a crowded field. While I focus on my use of language, I can hear the echoes and ricochets of other authors within my own pages, and especially when I wrote HUSH HUSH, the third Shane Cleary novel.


Writers will say the Beginnings and Endings sing, and the Middle often sags. Critics hail the freshman book and then eviscerate the sophomore. That wasn't the case for me. The first Shane, DIRTY OLD TOWN, was setup and fun. SYMPHONY ROAD introduced a love interest and another character arc. I went into HUSH knowing that I had to develop the romance between Shane and Bonnie, but the original crime I had written was milquetoast. The third time lacked charm. When I read the manuscript, there was no bravura opening to reel in the reader and the story lacked punch. The relationships were solid, but I needed to raise stakes and crank up Conflict.


In the few weeks before the deadline, I scrapped the plot and rewrote the novel. I sharpened the details for setting, so readers who knew the Seventies would experience nostalgia, and those who didn’t, would have a taste of the era. For the centerpiece of a story, I drew inspiration from true crime that had altered the racial landscape of Boston and forever altered jury selection in the United States. Therein I faced an ethical dilemma, and it wasn’t the obvious ones of fidelity or liberty with historical facts. It was the landmine of language.


Without spoiling the story for those who have not read HUSH HUSH, I had to make a decision that risked me being canceled. My revision, while accurate to the decade, prompted visceral reactions. I was told I couldn’t write it like that, which I found ironic. I am circumspect about how I write violence. Honestly, most writers get it wrong. I’ll leave it at that. I lived the Seventies, and I toned down the cynicism and the vitriol between ethnic groups. When I write dialog, I prefer subtext because it is elegant. Sex is funny to write because it is often comical in real life, and humor is the hardest thing to pull off well.


Yet, the wrong word said by the wrong person will bring on the villagers, their torches ablaze; their pitchforks, sharpened.


I opted for restraint and a clever context, and wrote a Foreword.


would be nominated for the Anthony and Shamus awards.


One thing has improved is the private eye, though. He is paid more. Marlowe asked for twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses, and Jim Rockford’s flat fee was $200 day. Adjusted for inflation and aggravation, 


I’m not sure, but it’s onward and forward for Shane Cleary.



Friday, September 22, 2023

Holiday Fiction

By Abir

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?


Holidays are tricky times for our family. Our elder son is autistic and often finds it difficult to adjust to changes in his daily routine, therefore holidays need to be planned with the precision of a military operation. We need to make sure that wherever we go, he has a room or space where he can chill out, without too many sensory pressures upon him; that he has enough of his favourite snacks to help calm him and get him through any rocky patches, and most importantly, make sure there’s a strong wifi connection for his tablet. As a result, we tend to prefer staying in cottages and Airbnb accommodation rather than in hotels. Then there are the activities and the days out, which can’t be too noisy or busy or which might threaten sensory overload.


Having said all that, it does mean that we do spend quite a bit of time on more leisurely activities: playing board games, going for walks and of course, reading.


Reading for me, has evolved over the years. Whereas a decade ago, before I became a writer, I would read for pleasure, for fun, for relaxation; nowadays, a lot of the time I’m reading to prepare for panels I’m chairing at festivals – often three or four books in a short space of time; or reading early copies of books by other writers so that I might provide a quote for the jacket. It means I often have two or three books on the go at any one time. Right now, I’m reading The Night House by Norwegian author, rockstar, economist and all-round legend, Jo Nesb├Ş in preparation for interviewing him next week; I've just finished Past Lying by Val McDermid (due out next month – spoiler: it’s brilliant); and am half way through The Trees by Booker Prize winner, Percival Everett. It was recommended by a friend and it is fantastic.  Too often though. I find myself reading crime novels not for plot or character, but for prose and style, dissecting a book to see how the author has achieved something – essentially to see what I can learn from them, and while this is great, I do feel I’ve lost some of the joy that I used to get from reading crime fiction.


So on holiday, I like to spread my net a bit more broadly. I will, of course, take a crime novel along (if only to help make a dent in my TBR pile), but I’ll also take along some non-fiction – generally history (though I’m period and geography agnostic – anything from ancient Egypt to the Cold War is fine, though I seem to have an aversion to the Tudors). I also like listening to non-fiction audiobooks on the drive (generally science based – I’m fascinated by relativity and space-time and the multiverse theory, but often lose the thread after the first few chapters). My wife prefers music in the car (not my music though) so the audiobook generally goes off pretty quickly.


I sometimes wish I could go back in time to the days when I could read crime fiction for pure pleasure, because it was, and still is, my favourite kind of fiction. Alas, those days are gone, but I can’t complain too much, because these days, I get to write it.


Have a good weekend


From our most recent holiday. This hotel featured in a TV adaptation of a famous crime novel. Any guesses which one?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Read, Write, Revise, or Hatch a Story from James W. Ziskin

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

I mostly read when I’m driving. That is to say I like to listen to audiobooks when I’m in the car. It’s the only multitasking I’m able to do since I usually can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Listening while driving is the exception.

I also listen to audiobooks when I’m cooking, but only if I’m not following a recipe. In that case I need to pay attention to the words, and the audiobook goes in one ear and out the other.

When I’m on vacation, I don’t usually read. Trips are filled with things to do and places to see. Dinners, wine, museums, etc. Not much time or energy left for reading. I always have my iPad with me, so I can download and read at a moment’s notice if the urge strikes me. In fact, I find I prefer reading on an illuminated screen to a paper page. I know that’s sacrilege to many readers. But just wait till your eyesight starts to go and you’ll understand why. Blurriness is one thing, but much of the difficulty I have with reading is light. The brighter the better.

Back to this week’s question. While I may not read a lot on vacation, if it’s a staycation I’m probably writing something. I don’t think of writing as a job that I need to get away from. Sure, it’s hard and tiring, but not something I feel the need to put on hold to recharge my batteries. 

When I finish the first draft of a novel, however, I do want a break from the mad dash of getting to the end. For me, it’s an all-out sprint to get the first draft down on paper (screen). The process is intense and all-consuming, so at the end I need to stop creating for a while. And that’s when I revise. It’s not the same obsession as writing a first draft, and I enjoy it without feeling pressured to finish.

So, no, I don’t read a lot on vacation, but the writing process never stops. Even if I’m in between a book or short story, I still am engaged in thinking about some future project or other. If I’m not reading, writing, or revising, you can bet I’m hatching.




Wednesday, September 20, 2023

It never stops

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

by Dietrich

As much as I love to read crime fiction anytime, I don’t limit myself to it. Any well-written book interests me. There’s always conflict of one kind or another in a book, but for me, it doesn’t have to be crime fiction, per say. Right now, I’m reading The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. It’s been described as a murder mystery wrapped inside a Great American Novel, and that about sums it up. No matter how you describe it, McBride is a writer to read. And another one I’m going to start soon that shows a lot of promise is Colson Whitehead’s Crook Manifesto. It’s set in ’71 Harlem, and I’m looking forward to a darkly funny tale of a city under siege and a searching portrait of the meaning of family.

When I’m on a train or plane en route to some destination, it’s always good to have a book or two along. I love the sway of the train. It’s relaxing and it’s a great place to read as the miles roll away. Once I’m at my destination, the books get tucked in the suitcase, and I’ll get back to them on the homeward leg. 

Vacation is actually the perfect place for an eReader. As much as I prefer the printed page when I’m at home, an eReader is backlit and easier to read in low light, and not to mention it’s almost weightless. A dozen books — no problem.

I also like to have along any device ( a phone, laptop, or MP3 player) that plays music. I always bring tunes along, and when I feel the inspiration to write a few pages early in the morning, or while I’m waiting for a connection, then I’ll usually cut out the white noise around me with music, and I’ll write for a while. Never turning the volume so loud that I might miss that ever important last boarding call. And if I’m driving a long distance, road tunes are pretty much a necessity.

I think the most important thing I can bring along on any vacation is a simple notepad for when those ideas snap into my head. I have to jot them down, or they tend to disappear as quickly as they came. Sometimes one idea leads to the next, and I end up with quite a few useful notes to sort out by the time I get back home.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Vacation Reading!


Terry here, with our question of the week: When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all? 

 Funny this question comes up right now. I’m on vacation in Iceland. Or at least I will be by the time this is posted. I’m actually writing it in advance. The answer to the question is that I read, read, read on vacation. And, as usual, I read most everything. As much as I love several different variations of crime fiction, I don’t read it exclusively. I sometimes need a break. 

For example, in preparation for my trip, a couple of weeks ago I read Iceland’s Nobel Prize-winning author Haldor Laxness’s brilliant book, Independent People. As is true of most Nobel Prize winners, the book was by turns dark, hilarious, frustrating, and deeply affecting. I loved it. Update: Mid-trip, I find myself thinking about the book often, with its descriptions of sheep farming and the brutal life of a farmer in the early twentieth century. 

When I travel in another country, I like to read books set there, so I’ll be tackling two other books by Icelandic authors, Animal Life, by Audur Ava Olafsdaottir; and Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. I find it lends richness to my travels when I read things about the area I’m visiting. Update: At Bouchercon last week, I was astonished to find that I was on a panel with Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson, so I picked up a copy of his thriller, Outside and it’s a great read. I read it on my way to Iceland, in full panic mode the whole time. 

 I also write on vacation. My fourth book, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, was almost entirely written on a tiny iPad keyboard in Africa. Every afternoon, while all the other members of the tour were sleeping, I wrote. Whether I’ll have time to do that in Iceland, I don’t know. But since I just last week wrote “The End” on Samuel Craddock #11, I don’t feel a huge compulsion to write. (By the way, just because I wrote The End doesn’t actually mean it’s finished. I already have major revisions in mind.) 

 That said, I need to get cracking on the second Jessie Madison book, a new series about a member of the FBI dive team. Will I manage to do that while I’m on vacation? Stay tuned. All I know now is that I just got word that the bang-up team at Severn House is working on the cover for the first, which comes out next April. Update: No writing as of halfway through the trip. 

 More Update: On the first week of our trip I’ve gotten lots of recommendations for books about Iceland. Most frequently recommended is, How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island, by Egill Bjarnason. I probably won’t have time to read it on the trip, because every day is crammed with adventure. 

Note the troll guarding the glacier pictured. Icelandic people believe in trolls and elves!

But I don't only read local fiction. The last few nights I’ve been reading a hilarious book, Play the Fool, by Lina Chern, a debut author I heard talk about her book at Bouchercon. (Highly recommended). 

Today at a fascinating museum I snagged another book in English by the Nobel Prize-winning Haldor Laxness, called Under the Glacier. While I was talking to the young man who was in charge at the museum, he told me he enjoys reading Laxness because in Icelandic he writes with no usual punctuation and he refuses to stick to proper spelling. That’s the kind of interesting tidbit you learn when you talk to people about what you’re reading in another country. 

 Finally, our guide promised us that we will go to a bookstore with lots of Icelandic titles translated into English, and that I’ll be able to find more Ragnar Jonasson there. So I guess I’ll be busy reading right on through the trip.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Holiday Reading

When you’re on vacation, do you take a break from reading crime fiction, never mind writing it? Do you read at all?

Brenda at the keyboard.

I have to confess that I'm a crime fiction junkie. While I might detox with a more literary work from time to time, my go-to relaxation fare is always in the crime fiction genre. I always have a book on the go when I'm writing. My favourite thing to do is to write for a while, read a chapter of whatever book I'm currently reading, write some more. Repeat.

But this week's question asks if and what I read on vacation. I can confirm that I always have a book with me when on holiday, and it is invariably crime fiction or thriller. When I flew to Thunder Bay for a week to visit with family this past June, I took along The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. My book club had picked Yellowface by Rebecca Kuang for its next selection, and after I finished reading it, my neighbour lent me The Plot, a book with a similar theme but with more thriller/murder mystery elements. I was half-way through, and so The Plot came along with me on my trip.

I used to enjoy reading Gail Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn mysteries when I travelled. They made for soothing reading, especially at the end of a long day when I was snuggled up in the motel bed. Joanne is a woman-next-door kind of protagonist with a big family and the series is set in Saskatchewan. Joanne solves murders but the family plot line is an important part of every book.

And then you can't beat a thriller by Harlan Coben, Rick Mofina or Linwood Barclay for lounging on a beach or sitting in a deck chair at a cottage. Fast-paced and engrossing all. 

The prerequisites for my vacation selection are that the book holds my interest, is light enough (subject-wise) for me to pick up and put down without losing my place in the story, and is well written. Luckily, the crime fiction selection is varied and plentiful. Other favourite 'holiday relaxation' authors include but are not limited to: Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly, Adrian McKinty, Mary Jane Maffini, Karen Slaughter, Deon Meyer ... and many more too numerous to mention.

All I need now is another holiday with a jaunt to my local bookshop before setting out....


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Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, September 15, 2023

Time to Be Inspired, by Josh Stallings

Q: Are there crime fiction books so good you hold on to them and re-read them? Name a few classics and inspirations.

A: I evolve year to year not only as a writer but also as a reader. That’s true for most of us. As a teenager I attached my identity to the bands I listened to, books I read, movies I dug. It was a way to connect with like minds. I wore tight pants, long scarves, platform shoes, a leather jacket. 6’4” and skinny, I must have looked a sight, but I was a walking billboard to attract my people. 

We listened to Bowie, Velvet Underground, Eno, Queen. We read Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Albee, we did scenes from Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. I read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, but doubt I told anyone. I loved Cotton Comes To Harlem and Superfly. As an adult I find Curtis Mayfield’s classic Superfly soundtrack holds up better than the film. 

At sixteen I moved to LA. I was alone a lot and Raymond Chandler kept me company. I slowly discovered what I personally loved to read. Hard Boiled Crime consumed me for a long time. Here are a few writers that gave me a good grounding in the field:

Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye is my favorite, but you can’t go wrong reading anything he wrote.

Charles Willeford, the Hoke Moseley series is gritty brilliance. Miami Blues is worth more than a few reads.

James Crumley, is the poet laureate of brutally self effacing hard boiled crime. Dancing Bear remains my favorite, and has the best last paragraph of any book I’ve ever read. 

Andrew Vachss, the Burke series introduced me to the possibilities of what a crime family of choice could look like, that and Bullmastiffs. He wrote about the pain of childhood abuse and the need for avenging knights in tarnished armor. Flood is the first in the series and the place to start.

James Lee Burke has published twenty-three Dave Robicheaux books. The first, Neon Rain is amazing, as are all that follow. Dave and Clete Purcel are opposites in some ways, but maybe more, they are two sides of a tarnished and pitted coin. They give Burke a chance to examine morality from two perspectives. Dave who does hard violent things to set the world right, but suffers guilt and spiritual pain for having done them. Clete acts to protect those he loves and if he feels any guilt, he drowns it in whisky. 

If you dig your crime fiction Hard Boiled these five writers will give you a grounding in the sub-genre. They did for me.

My evolution as a reader is taking me farther away from crime fiction. Don’t get me wrong I still read a ton of crime books. Just finished the amazing Naomi Hirahara’s Evergreen. A brilliant, tough LA novel that we all need to read.

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. WOW! She is a bloody master of style and form. The three books are set in the same time and have many crossover characters, but each book feels stylistically entirely different. She has her characters drive the prose. I find writers working in speculative and sci-fi are freer from tropes and reader’s structural expectations; this is exciting as a reader and maybe impossible as a writer. All writing is a high-wire act, but Atwood walked over the Grand Canyon without a net or a wire. Moments in it took my breath away. 

A well written book will entertain. A brilliantly written one inspires.

Which books inspires you? Your list will be different from every other writer or reader’s.

What book am I waiting for today? 

Lou Berney’s A Dark Ride, out 9/19. Lou is one of my favorite authors, his work is full of thrills and chills and buckets of heart. He creates people you will not forget. Where ever he’s going in this new novel, I’m buckled up and ready to go.