Thursday, November 30, 2023

"Jim! Jim! What happened to your beautiful hair?" by Catriona

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

It's Catriona here, stepping in with my below-average hair today because I'm on a blog tour for a new book, coming out next Tuesday. It's a Last Ditch Motel Christmas, in which Lexy and the gang hop (geddit?) over to Scotland for the holidays, and encounter many potty-mouthed seasonal Scots, over-refreshed seasonal Scots (those are not necessarily different seasonal Scots) and one mouldering skeleton bricked-up in a cellar.  The reviews so far have been terrific! And isn't it pretty?

buy links and reviews are here

So, it's not actually family commitments that are ramping up for me right now. Except that the last date for getting parcels to Scotland is next Wednesday, and nothing is wrapped, and those US Customs forms are INSANE! The UK ones are a tiny wee sticker with three lines that says "Fill this in if you like" and you can fill it in by writing "Nah". Basically.

On the other hand, I am two days from the 50K finish line of National Novel Writing Month on Last Ditch Motel No.7 - SCOTSZILLA - and I will, oh yes I will, get it to 80K by the 20th of December.

And then page proofs for the next Dandy Gilver arrived. But that's okay, because if I do 20 pages a day I can get it finished by the deadline.

Except, a structural edit of the next standalone just dropped on my desk too. But it's not a big 'un. Just a few cuts and tweaks and clarifications. It'll be fine.

Only, I committed to teaching a workshop next Saturday, and I need to cut it from 90 to 60 minutes. Pah. That's a doddle.

Although, why did I book myself in for a COVID booster? That's two days lost right there while the side effects work through me.

But I've got lots of support, right? HAH! My housemate, and mate actually, has been in Australia for two weeks and is only home for two days before he swans off to Mexico. In those two days, we're decorating the house for Christmas, which starts with going to cut down a couple of trees. Jetlag and a big saw. What could go wrong?

I'm not complaining about any of it. Family I love, multiple publishing deals, getting asked to do workshops, healthcare, three weeks' worth of solitude, and then Christmas? Lucky me. 

It might have looekd like complaining, but it was really just the lead-in to revealing my hoard of Christmas-break reading, I have had it set aside since my birthday haul plugged the gaps in it and I look at it multiple times a day. (Imagine Gollum rubbing his hands and going "My precious" except it's "My preciouses".) 

This is a typical - no dammit! - this is a vintage Christmas reading pile.  I've got the last ever Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths), the next Three Rivers (Ann Cleeves), the fourth Thursday Murder Club (Richard Osman) and HOLLY, by Stephen King. These are the "How the frilly hat did I manage to save them up and not devour them on publication day?" volumes. 

Similar but worse, there's LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY (Bonnie Garmus)  ALL THE SINNERS BLEED (Shawn Cosby) and YELLOW FACE (Rebecca F Kuang). I'm calling this the "How have you not already read this like everyone else?" section. 

I've also got two Christmas books, THE CHRISTMAS APPEAL (Janice Hallett) and STAY ANOTHER DAY (Juno Dawson), and a celebrity memoir, CHAMPION (Sarah Millican). Because I've got to have a celebrity memoir and Barbra Streisand's is too long for the purpose and would use up my entire holiday. (I'm listening to her read it on audio instead).

Also non-fiction, there's A VERY GREAT PROFESSION (Nicola Beauman) which is a book that could be used instead of taking someone's pulse. Briefly, if you don't want to inhale this review of women's writing between the world wars, which was inspired by the library book Celia Johnson is taking back to the library at the start of Brief Encounter, then lie down. You're dead. 

And finally, Shaun Bythell's REMAINDERS OF THE DAY, the diary of the real bookseller (not Lowell) who works in the real bookshop (not Lowland Glen Books) in Wigtown where I set Quiet Neighbors.

Four weeks to go till I can put on elastic-waisted clothes, draw my sherry glass a little closer (in my dreams; I don't drink sherry) and start to turn these pages. I thoroughly recommend all of them to you for your own seasonal reading. Except, actually, maybe if I'm suggesting the perfect books for other people at this time of year I would make one small tweak:


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

That time of year

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

by Dietrich

This time of year doesn’t affect how much I read, but there certainly will be new releases to add to the list. At the moment I’m enjoying Lewis Black’s I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas. It won’t likely put anyone into a festive mood per se, but it’s certainly had people looking over at me as I walk to the store listening to the audiobook, wondering what the hell I’m laughing at. I highly recommend it if you don’t mind a little foul language and you could use a chuckle.

On my stack, I’m rereading an old favorite at the moment, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. Up next, I’ve got The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, then The Help by Kathryn Stockett. And I’ve got ARCs for Gabriel’s The Big Lie and Abir’s Hunted. There’s something special about getting an ARC from a writer whose writing I admire. And I’m sure these two will live up to expectations. 

On the wish list, I’ve got Kurt Vonnegut’s short story collection,  Armageddon in Retrospect; Stephen King’s latest Holly, Michael Connelly’s new one, Resurrection Walk. And I’ve got Aldous Huxley’s Mortal Coils, a collection of short stories from his early period, originally published in 1920.

We all know books make the perfect gift, so, if you’re looking for a novel gift idea (sorry I couldn’t help myself), then you won’t go wrong by perusing the titles from the rest of the talented writers right here at Criminal Minds. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Terry here (busy, busy, busy) Our question this week: It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment? 

 This year my reading time is especially affected by the fact that I’m judging an award for best novel for the Texas Institute of Letters. It doesn’t entail a huge volume of books, but with all my other commitments, it limits my normal reading of crime fiction. Still, it isn’t a burden because most of the books are quite wonderful. A couple I will recommend after the judging is completed and the winners announced. There are a couple of mystery novels and thrillers in the mix. I love seeing that they have been submitted for judging in general fiction. 

 To me, it’s interesting to note that with most fiction, there’s always a mystery at the heart of the story. It may not be a traditional “murder” mystery, but always means that something unrevealed at the beginning happened to change the trajectory of people’s lives. And it often involves nefarious actions. If not murder, something harmful. The revelation is much like the revelation of “whodunnunit.” As with crime fiction, it involves looking at people’s motivations for their actions and an understanding of how they became who they are. Sometimes it's a nature vs nurture question. Was someone born with a propensity for selfishness or meanness, or even evil, or did something occur in their past to influence their behavior? 

 At times I get bogged down in the tropes and formulas of crime fiction. Reading a variety of books gives me a fresh look at the vagaries of human action and interaction. 

 As for how all this will affect my usual reading, I’ve got a stack. And what a stack! Lou Berney’s Dark Ride, Angie Kim’s newest, Happiness Falls (I loved Miracle Creek), Deborah Crombie’s A Killing of Innocents, Deborah Ledford’s Redemption, Matt Coyle’s Odyssey’s End (are we really at the end of this series?), 
Mick Herron’s Spook Street, the Goldberg Boys, Lee (Calico) and Tod (Gangsterland)

I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten around to reading Wanda M. Morris’ Anywhere You Run. And there’s Marty Wingate’s The Garden Plot. I don’t read many cozies, but her reading at Bouchercon was so engaging, I went right out and bought it. (Note to authors: reading your work out loud to an audience can get you new readers!) And then of course Rhys Bowen has a new Lady Georgie out (The Proof of the Pudding), and I have to get that one! 

That’s not to mention how taking time out to read affects my own writing. I have a Samuel Craddock due at the end of December and I just got notes (fabulous notes) from my writer’s group yesterday. I have to get busy on that. And there’s the new project. And work on the Socal SinC/MWA holiday party to wrangle. And...and...and... 

 Maybe as a holiday gift to myself this year, I’ll give myself a few hours to just read what I please! In front of a fire in the fireplace with a cup of tea at hand. Doesn’t that sound grand?

Sunday, November 26, 2023

On My Reading List

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading, and what’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

Brenda starting off the week.

I have a couple of books waiting to be read. 

First up is Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. My book club selected this novel for our meeting at the end of the month with plans to see the movie afterwards. The book is non-fiction and deals with the murders of the Osage people in the U.S. and the birth of the FBI under Hoover.

I also downloaded Adrian McKinty's latest The Detective Up Late, and am excited to dig into this lated Sean Duffy story. If you haven't picked up the series yet, start with In the Cold, Cold Ground -- such a great read!

I'm currently reading a manuscript with a view to giving a recommendation.

Other than these few books, I haven't any others on my list. But I know that I'll be doing some reading over the Christmas holidays. I usually make a few requests since my husband has no idea what I've read already. I've yet to have a look at the latest releases, but will in the next few weeks. I love getting books under the tree.

When my daughters were young, I'd always choose a book to put in their Christmas stocking. My daughter Julia has asked for books again this year, and this pleases me a great deal. Both girls are readers and I'm so happy they have this pleasure in their lives.

Spread the joy and give the gift of books this holiday season. Support your local independent bookshop and help to keep these valuable resources in our communities. 


Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, November 24, 2023

Things I’m Grateful For, by Josh Stallings

Q: Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

A: I understand the question and it makes sense. The problem is I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. This is largely because of sobriety. I came to believe in taking things one day at a time. If I make a commitment to what I’m going to do over the next year, it creates a big opportunity to make myself feel bad. Much can change in a year. I can promise I’m going to write the great American novel, and then someone gets sick and needs me. Or I get sick, or I’m called to do other work. I have goals, mountains I want to climb, both metaphoric and geologic. But a goal is not the same as a resolution. The former feels like a flexible plan, while the latter is an iron clad commitment. 

I feel New Year’s is a time for accounting. Thinking about what I accomplished and where I failed, in a non-judgmental way. Accounting, or in sober speak “doing an inventory” is a way to look at what actually happened and finding what I want to change in the coming year.  

Back to the actual subject of the question, resolutions. If resolutions make me feel shitty about myself, what makes me feel good?

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, that’s a clue. 

Gratitude makes me feel good. 

I am grateful for sobriety. Grateful for some wise questions my sponsor Richard asked me in those early days, questions I still think about and still ask myself.

Would you rather look good or feel good? 

Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy? 

Would you rather get what you want or want what you’ve got?

These seem like simple little questions but they turn out to be complex. Would you rather look good or feel good has many different levels. Looking good doesn’t just mean physically. Would you rather look good to your peers or would you rather have people respect you? Would you rather be on the NY Times best seller list, or would you rather feel good about what you’re doing, is another way to think about the question.

Would you rather be right or happy? This is an interesting question because many of us will argue for something because we believe we are right, not noticing that being right doesn’t bring us joy. I don’t argue to be right anymore with people I love and care about. I’m… well I do actually still fight to be right. Erika is going to edit this. She’ll see what I said and she’ll say bullshit or her version of that. I do argue with people I love but when I do, I realize it doesn’t help. 

Short digression, on my wedding day my grandfather said to me, “Josh, you’ll be happy when you realize she’s right.” At one level I thought it was one of those husband versus wife jokes, but that wasn’t my grandfather’s way. He tended to tell me koans. I turned this one over in my head for years and finally realized that if I approached every conversation with Erika with the perspective that she’s probably right and I’m just not understanding her point, then we were having a conversation as opposed to an argument.

This had much wider applications in my work life. When getting notes I don’t agree with from an editor or agent or trusted friend, I think maybe they’re correct and I’m just not getting it. I say to them, “Pretend I’m an idiot because I may be and tell that to me again in a different way.” I have found that once I actually understand what they’re saying I often agree, and if there are parts that I don’t agree with I can see clearly why and say, “I get what you’re saying, and in this case, here’s what I don’t agree with and why…”  

Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy? I’d rather be happy. Being right doesn’t ever make me happy. It’s sometimes a good thing, sometimes not but it’s not connected to my joy. Being right means making somebody else wrong. That is never gonna bring great piles of happiness.

Would you rather get what you want or want what you’ve got? They have this acronym now, FOMO. Fear of missing out. What I felt forever was at least adjacent to the idea. Whenever I went to a restaurant, I’d study the menu. I'd order my meal, and then I'd look across the table and see somebody who I thought got a better meal. If somebody was more successful than me then they must've stolen my success. 

I had a successful year in movie advertising and I remember clearly there was a moment I was making more money than a poor kid could ever imagine. I was driving to a Porsche dealership to buy a car I couldn't afford to drive to a job I didn't enjoy anymore. Did I want to get to the office quicker? My wife and I have had an agreement that we don't spend more than $100 on nonessentials without checking in with the other one. Having to talk to her about wanting a Porsche kept me from buying the car, good move. 

We were evacuated off our mountain because of a forest fire a couple of years ago. I realized everything that I cared about would fit in our truck, my wife, my sons, dogs. Those were the things I really cared about. Cars, homes, stellar reviews for a book you wrote, they all will eventually fade from memory. I’m happy to want what I have, not get what I want because when it comes to wanting, I can be shallow.

When I started writing this I was thinking about Thanksgiving. It is problematic like so many holidays. We all know too much history to buy into the cultural myths. Michael Horse, a friend, actor, and stand up comedian used to start his act with a riff on Henny Youngman, “Take my land… please.” Then he’d bag on those early indigenous people who welcomed the white land thieves of the Mayflower. If we buy into Thanksgiving as a sharing myth, the beginning of a story of mutual concern and cooperation, we also need to accept that the story ends in the genocide of indigenous people. So around our house we never shared that mythological cluster fuck. We chose to celebrate a day to remember what we are grateful for. 

Here is my gratitude list for today:

I am thankful for my health. 

My eyesight. 

My ability to tell stories. 

My sons Dylan and Jared, both joining us for the meal this year, both healthy, both wonderful men. 

Erika, without whom I would not have those sons or the joy of the life that she and I share together. 

My parents for giving me breath. And for giving me much to push against. They gave me a childhood full of love, and lots to chew on. It has been one of the driving forces of my writing. 

My siblings, both from blood and marriage. I’m a lucky man to have them all . 

I’m thankful for my nieces and nephews, beautiful men and women who keep me tapped into the world and bring me joy. 

My two dogs who remind me, take nothing too seriously, except chew toys, take those very seriously. 

I’m thankful for music. I’m thankful for books. I’m thankful for my fellow Criminal Minds who bring me joy and thoughts and force me to think about the craft of writing. I’m thankful for the world of crime writers and readers who embraced me long before they had any reason to. Before I had any published words, I had friends in this community. Writers who were willing to look at my early work, and help me make it better. I am thankful for libraries and librarians. 

I am thankful for my sobriety. I used to think I’d stop writing if I stopped drinking. My sponsor said to me, “That could happen. But if you want to get sober you have to be willing to give everything up, holding nothing back.” I’m grateful the writing came back. And the work I’ve done in the years post sobriety is so much better than any writing I did pre-sobriety. 

I would’ve written a novel when I was drinking. I would talk about it and think about it and wish I could and then I’d say I can’t do that. I had the useless ability to think any problem to its natural conclusion, failure. Now I have no idea how I can write the next novel. Feels impossible from the start. I’m thankful for bull headed tenacity to just keep writing until I find my way to those glorious words “the end.”

I am thankful for all the readers out there, not just the ones that like my writing. I do like them best because clearly they are the smartest and wisest ones, but honestly, I'm thankful for all readers. We all have very different taste based on what we’ve read before and our worldview, what we’ve lived through, our socio-economic upbringing, all of those factors affect what we want to read. There is no such thing as a bad reader. Reading makes people into critical thinkers, reading allows us to imagine other worlds and other people, to be inside the heads of someone who is not us. It opens our hearts and minds to a bigger world, whether that world is full of wizards and sword fights, or Martian giants, or honorable criminals and heartsick lawyers, or cats that solve crimes. Reading takes us to other places and brings us home, but we don’t return as the same people who left. The journey changes who we are and what we can imagine to be possible.

I’d love to know what you’re grateful for.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

And now that it's all over... by Cathy Ace

Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

Earlier this year, at this very blog, I wrote the following:

Yes, I do have some writing resolutions for 2023:

Write better

Write smarter

Write faster

Not beat myself up if I don’t achieve any of my resolutions (this is an annual resolution I ALWAYS fail at, whatever the others might be!)

How have I done? 

Write better: who knows…only my readers can answer this one. I always try to “write better” in that I always do the very best I can do at the time, and I try to hone my skills by not only writing, but by reading and trying to work out what it is that authors I admire do so well, then emulating that (not copying it, because that just leads to loss of voice, which isn’t good). My post in January said I hoped to write another DI (retired) Evan Glover book – that hasn’t happened, but I have written and published three books this year, which have been the best books I could write while still clinging to a normal life too!

Write smarter: I am still working on this but, yes, I think I’m making progress. As a plotter, I never “just start writing” before I know exactly where a book is going, so I rarely have “wasted writing”, in that I don’t lack direction as I write so am usually making good progress. That said, we all have to admit that sometimes we know we could have written a scene better than we did, so rewrites are inevitable, even if the general content and direction remain the same. What I have learned this year, specifically, is that using Post-it notes when I write a WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery works well, because I am usually juggling several different cases for the four detectives to solve, as well as stories about the duke and duchess at Chellingworth Hall. Sticky notes allow me to shift scenes easily, then – once the entire order is sorted – I stick them to the wall and work through them. This doesn’t work for a Cait Morgan Mystery, where I prefer to use my trusted method of chapter outlines in a notebook.

Write faster: I have always written fast…at least, I have always written first drafts fast. I plan, plot, research, outline, write up character backstories, then write chapter outlines BEFORE I tackle the first draft. Then it (now) takes me about two to three weeks to write the first draft of about 90,000 words, working at my desk for about twelve hours a day. Then I collapse, have a good sleep, and revise, revise, revise…etc. This pattern seems to work for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write faster.

Not beat myself up if I don’t achieve any of my resolutions: I have done well with this one! It’s been a challenging year in some ways: I have lost friends, friends have lost spouses and parents, and my sister and I have sold our family home. It’s been a year when I’ve faced a few issues that have forced me to admit that I’m not, actually, getting any younger and that bodies do, apparently, begin to break down a bit if you don’t maintain them well.

So, yes, maybe reality has chosen to show me that not doing exactly what you’ve planned is just fine, as long as you don’t feel you’ve let others, or yourself, down in any way. And I can honestly say I have done my best to not let my family, friends, or readers down this past year, so I’m good with that!

I hope you've considered reading my books! You can find out about me and my work at my website:


Tuesday, November 21, 2023

SMARTER THAN SOAP by Gabriel Valjan

Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

 S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Attainable

R – Relevant

T – Timely


These letters are an acronym taught to nursing students for setting goals, whether it is for themselves or for patients in the workplace. The Irony with the capital I is there is seldom a place within clinical documentation for it, and no nurse has the time on the floor to create one. There is a lot of talk in school about individualized nursing plans. Talk to any nurse about these plans, and you will hear the laughter of the gods of Bedpan Alley.


SMART as an analogy holds water, though, because nursing is a lot like the writer’s life, except the roles change. Your ‘client’ is the reader, and you are the patient in need of motivation and self-care.


Resolutions are ultimately a form of motivation, if not a Post-it to yourself that you want to accomplish something. The acronym prevents you from setting any unrealistic goals. Put another way, SMART reads like the Five Ws of crime fiction: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and sometimes HOW. Whatever your target, SMART puts structure around it, demanding the concrete, instead of the vague, and time is the master or mistress of us all.


In my opinion, the key is motivation. Is your goal objective, one where you want something to show for it, or subjective, one that achieves a feeling?


Once a upon a time, I desired the external. I wanted an agent. An agent is external to me. Since I’m good at research, I learned how to craft a compelling query, meaning I could write a logline worthy of Don Draper, a succinct synopsis with word count that sets expectations, and craft a brief analysis that identified my target audience.


Numerous rejections later, I concluded that, while I can put the Q in query, I have no idea what the Market wants—and I suspect most agents don’t either. Let’s be honest, talent and turn of phrase are nice, but the world of publishing is Jerry Maguire screaming, “Show me the money!” Art is nice, but green is what pays. And then there is the question of Luck be your lady tonight, or not?


My goals are subjective—what I can control.


I disclosed in the past that I have dealt with a serious illness, so physical fitness is important to me. If I had not been not fit when I dealt with that medical catastrophe, I would’ve died when I was 42. My surgeon could/would testify to that in court. I mention fitness because sitting in a chair, hours on end, is hell on the hip flexors and back. We lean into the screen like trees in some horror film. When fellow writers tell me they don’t have time for the gym, or they hate to work out, or they have the demands of a family, etc., I tell them one thing: pay yourself first because nobody else will. A simple walk will do; it clears your head and might help you solve that nit in your manuscript. If you can spare 30 minutes to watch a sitcom, you can work out. If the sitcom is that important to you, then DVR it.


Mental health. I work on it. I see others in my tribe on social media. They have agents, often the same ones who rejected me. They get killer reviews. They’ve been optioned, courted by Netflix, and I’m here with a cat circling my ankles, determined to kill me because I haven’t fed her, petted her, or given her a treat. My point is that perception is very one-sided. I know that in the abstract, and yet I’ve turned green with envy as the witch in the Wizard of Oz. Mental health, people.


What is the solution when I find myself in the thorn bushes of despair and negativity?


Turn the page and look away from social media. It’s an ongoing project, but I stop and reset.


What do I do?




What is my resolution, the goal? What is my ongoing resolution, year-round?


Be like the Six Million Dollar Man without the six million dollars—be a better writer tomorrow than I was yesterday, and remain a kind person.


I choose to be kind because it’s easier than being Eeyore.


Which reminds of another acronym from the world of nursing: SOAP.


Wash away the negative, and get to work.



Monday, November 20, 2023

This Professional Life

Q: Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

-from Susan

Since I don’t make New Year resolutions per se, I’m a wee bit off the hook. But not entirely because in the first couple of months of 2023, I took a look at my professional activities, standing, and options and made some private promises to myself. I will never have a break out book, I’ve come to realize, so what can I do to keep my standing as a mid-list author? My newest book, released later in the year has been coasting along, selling, yes, but not so well that my publisher is panting with delight. (I’m not sure my publisher pants at all, ever, or what would send them into fits of delight, but so far it’s not my sales.)

I spent a lot of time looking harder at social media – notice I didn’t say understanding it better – and at the disjointed representation of my six books in the marketplace.  Readers can see multiple editions of my books, and an inconsistent showing of the audio versions, and that’s got to be confusing and off-putting. I made a few decisions. First, republish my Dani O’Rourke 3-book series, which got great reviews, wonderful blurbs from authors who actually read the book they blurbed, and pretty good sales before they were allowed by traditional publishers to sag into obscurity. Because I still get readers asking where they can find them and get lovely fan reactions from people who’ve read one or more and are waiting for a new one, I decided to get them back into print with custom illustrated covers that illustrate the character and her specific environments. In 2024, the next step is marketing, and I’m on it. Then, perhaps writing a new one, or at least a short story.

Second, to turn in what I hope is an intriguing second ch√Ęteau mystery to my traditional publisher, one that allowed me to riff on the heroic history of the French in Burgundy, caught between the Nazis and the Vichy government of France in the early 1940s. Done, accepted happily by said publisher, due out March 2024. A nice cover, too, that I'll share when they let me.

Third, to do my very best not to let the treasured friendships with fellow authors lose momentum. I attended Left Coast Crime and the California Crime Writers Conference but had to miss Bouchercon and Malice. A dear friend and outstanding author, Deborah Crombie, is being feted everywhere in 2023, and I caught up with her for CCWC, so that was special. I joined the faculty for an annual mystery writers conference, which hooked me up with a whole handful of authors I admire greatly and see there every year. 

All in all, I think I made solid progress on my professional goals for the year. I didn’t make any promises to keep my desk clear, which is well beyond my talents, or to return to the alpha order on my crime fiction bookshelves, which was permanently screwed up when trade paper, hard cover and mass paperbacks (from an earlier era) created so many exceptions to the A-Z rule. Who’s got the time?

I have a handful of projects around my work already in place for 2024, well before the New Year’s Resolution challenge. I’m holding them close because I don’t want to fall on my face publicly, I guess! But who knows -  2024 is definitely going to be interesting!







Friday, November 17, 2023

A Tricky Business

by Abir


How do you measure “business success”? How “successful” have you been in terms of “business” this year?



Now this is an interesting question. In the five years that I’ve been a member of this august panel, I can’t remember this particular question being asked. And it’s an important question too, because while writing is a passion, if your dream is to make a living from it, then it’s also a business too.


I came to writing, at least serious writing, relatively late. I was thirty nine before I started writing, and forty one when my first novel was published. I came to writing with commitments – a family to provide for, a mortgage to pay, and all the rest. My writing dream, by necessity, was not to have a book published (though of course that was a wonderful, amazing first step), but to be able to make a living from writing. Indeed, in those early days, when people asked me what I did, I would say I was an accountant who dabbled in writing. Over time, as sales rose and my income grew, the way I described my profession changed gradually. Still, the objective remained the same: to reach the point where I could become a full-time writer.


I pretty much reached that position in. 2020, during lockdown. I gave up my job and my clients and focussed on the writing. It had taken five books, growing royalties, a new book deal, a degree of financial planning, and most importantly, a wife who was willing to support me taking an effective pay cut in order to chase my dreams.


Since then, things have been going ok. My financial background helped me to plan our finances, building up a financial buffer against any unforeseen expenses and any delays or drops in royalties. My latest book has, HUNTED, has taken about eighteen months longer to write than I had expected. It’s very different to anything I’ve written before and it took longer to master the arts of writing a bang-up-to-date thriller than I’d anticipated. The delay of course has had a knock-on effect on our finances, be it a delay in milestone payments on the contract from my publishers, or the impact on royalties of not having had a new book released for almost three years now. But it is finished now, it’ll be out in the USA and UK in early May 2024, and it is the best thing I’ve written to date.


So what does the business of writing entail? For me there are different revenue streams. First and foremost, there are the advances I received from my publishers for writing a book. These are generally split between an amount up front, then milestone payments for when I hand in a final draft they’re happy with, and payments when the book is released in hardback and then paperback formats. The next segment of my income comes from royalties – these are my (small) cut of the sales of the books in all formats, which I receive after I’ve earned out the original advance. I’ve been lucky to have earned out on all of my books to date, and as the number of books has grown, so generally have the royalty payments. Then come revenues from the sale of overseas rights – these can range from a few hundred pounds, dollars or euros for small territories, to much larger amounts for languages such as French, German and Japanese. I’m especially fond of the French market, where unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, they insist on charging a decent price for a book rather than giving it away for cents or pence, and which allows a lot more writers to make a living. More countries should be like the French.


Then comes income from teaching and events. I don’t do much teaching – the odd week here and there, and I do it mostly because I enjoy the discipline of it. It’s also great to meet new budding writers and be able to give them the benefits of my rather dubious wisdom. As for events, I do a lot of these, mainly because it’s a great way to meet readers. Generally I receive a few hundred pounds per event, which goes to covering the costs of the day.


In terms of this year, business has been reasonable. As mentioned above, the delay in finishing HUNTED has delayed revenues and also meant that I haven’t had a book out in ages. Still, I’m in the fortunate position of having readers who stick with me and who still buy my books. Yet I’ve not reached that point where I feel comfortable that I can be a full-time writer for the rest of my life. For most of us, you’re only as good as the last thing you wrote, and a lot will depend on what happens over the next few years.


If I have one hope, it’s that you’ll all buy and enjoy HUNTED. The early reviews have been wonderful, with Lee Child describing it as ‘pretty much flawless’. I hope you’ll all agree. Because we writers need readers to keep up us in business.



Thursday, November 16, 2023

Annual Report to the Stockholders from James W. Ziskin

How do you measure “business success”? How “successful” have you been in terms of “business” this year?

I’ve been teaching French in public schools for the past three years. It’s a rewarding, if time-consuming, experience. While I love working with the students and (trying) to inspire a love for language in their hearts, the workload has definitely cut into my writing time. Nevertheless, I managed to publish a short story this year and write a new novel. I consider those two accomplishments successes, especially considering my commitments at school.

I also consider my teaching job a success. Though I’m still learning to be a good teacher, I know my students appreciate my enthusiasm and my somewhat quirky efforts to make French class exciting and fun. Years from now, they will remember the love theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, because I have it cued up and ready to play whenever the word aimer or amour comes up in class. I also encourage a lot of drawing and creativity. (See my whiteboard below.) All of that feels like personal and professional success to me.

But since this is a writing blog, I’ll tell you a little about my writing business successes this year. 

1. Though I haven’t written an Ellie Stone book in three years, there was some business activity on that front this year. The series has been optioned for possible development into a film or series. I’m realistic in my expectations, however, well aware that the odds of it ever making it to Netflix or Prime Video are long. Still, it’s a business win, one that gives me satisfaction. And who knows? Never say never.

2. I was invited to a couple of conferences this past year, and even received honoraria for my trouble. I won’t get rich from the proceeds, but it’s refreshing get paid a little something. Too often, authors find themselves giving their time and expertise away for nothing, in the hopes that the exposure will magically rocket them to fame.  Think of writer conferences. We pay a fee to attend, pay for a hotel, travel, and meals. Yes, we meet great people, find inspiration, and learn lots from other writers. But it’s an expensive exercise. And appearing on a panel at one of these conferences is small compensation. The conferences need authors to attract attendees, after all, yet the authors pay like everyone else, again hoping readers will discover them and buy thousands of books. A couple of years ago, I was invited to participate on a panel for an online conference. Not only was there no honorarium, I was also expected to pay $249 to view any of the conference’s other panels. For an online conference where I was a panelist! I turned them down. No thank you.

3. I mentioned above that I had a short story published this year. “Prisoner of Love” is a fun tale about a murder at a 1954 New Year’s Eve wife-swapping party. It appeared this past May in Down & Out Books’ Get Up Offa That Thing, edited by Gary Phillips. One thing I feel particularly proud of with this story is the that I wrote it with absolutely no dialogue. Not a word. And I wonder if readers noticed that. If anyone out there has read it, let me know if it was obvious or if it slipped under the radar.

The Prank
4. This past summer, I wrote an 85,035-word first draft of a new standalone, tentatively entitled The Prank. It took me thirty-nine days to write those 85K words. That worked out to 2,180 words per day. Why was I writing with such urgency? See above. The day job. 

I knew I could never write a book while school was in session, so I had to make the most of my summer vacation. Deadlines are the best inspiration. As September approached, I wrote faster. It was hard, but I felt I had no choice. Finish it or fail.

I finished. And that, chers amis, is what I call success, even if it never sells.