Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I'm thrilled to be a part of it.

By R.J. Harlick

Why do you thinking the crime writing community is so mutually supportive? Other groups of writers aren’t always like this.

It is a very supportive community, isn’t it? Not only the writers, but the fans too. And I’m thrilled and honoured to be a part of it.

Before I’d even published my first mystery, I was invited to become a part of this thriving community through the joining of Capital Crime Writers, a local Ottawa crime writing association. It had been started by a group of aspiring writers known locally as the Ladies Killing Circle, as a way to mutually help each other along the path to publication. To aid members with their research, experts in the various fields related to crime solving were invited to speak at monthly meetings. I was asked  to join one of several critiquing groups within the association, which proved a lifesaver in helping me improve my manuscript sufficiently to catch the eye of a publisher.  

I even found my publisher through this association. A couple of members had finally achieved that seemingly impossible goal of publication.  At one of the launches I found myself talking to the publisher and decided now was as good a time as any to mention my manuscript and the rest is history.  These two authors by the way are Mary Jane Maffini and Barbara Fradkin, who both have gone on to become highly acclaimed and well-established mystery writers.

This mutual support has continued. Since those early days, Ottawa has become a hotbed of crime writing with a good dozen well regarded published crime writers, including Rick Mofina, Brenda Chapman and CB Forrest. We attend each others launches, buy each others books and generally hang out together exchanging writing stories and publisher woes.

But as we well know the crime writing community is much broader than the local communities. It includes the nationally based crime writing associations, CWC in Canada, MWA in the U.S. and CWA in Britain.  And I mustn’t forget the mystery conferences, which I love going to, particularly those that take place in exciting locations like Hawaii, Santa Fe and the like.

I’m not sure I can come up with any reasons for this mutual support amongst mystery authors. Perhaps we get rid of all our antipathy and jealousies by killing each other off in our books, so that we can afford to be nice to each other. Or it could be that crime writers are naturally nice and caring people….yeah right. 

I suspect though it is in part because we have all gone down the long, hard road to publication, so are quite ready to help other writers along this path. Though this could apply to any writer, I think we stay within our own community because we speak the same language, have the same writing issues and are dealing with the same pool of publishers. 

Writing, as we all know too well, is a lonely business.  We spend much of our time by ourselves plunking away at our computers, lost in the world of our characters.  When we finally come up for air to seek other company we naturally gravitate towards our own kind, other crime writers. And since we are immersed in the nefarious world of murder and all its gory trappings, maybe we just want to do something positive like helping each other.

Since I have little experience with writers from other genres, I am not sure if this mutual support is only a crime writer thing.  But I recently attended a writers’ conference in Calgary, When Words Collide, that was multi-genre. I noticed the same degree of camaraderie amongst the sci-fi writers, the fantasy writers and the romance writers. So perhaps it isn’t unique to the crime writing community.

Monday, August 18, 2014

We're all in this together

Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive? Other groups of writers aren't always like this.

by Meredith Cole

After spending 10 years in the competitive world of television and independent film, I was surprised and pleased to discover that the mystery community was so supportive. Everyone (despite their dark and rather violent books) was so nice! Authors I had only just met introduced me around and made sure I felt welcomed at my first Malice and my first Bouchercon. I felt like I had found "my tribe." And I remember one writer telling me, that there were only a few authors who were jerks and everyone knew who they were. But I certainly didn't meet them at my first few cons.

I've heard that the romance community isn't like that, and that the literary community is almost the exact opposite. I'm not exactly sure why, but here are a few theories I've heard:
  1. We kill people on the page and get all our aggression out that way, so we have no need (and no desire) to be mean to the people around us. (Perhaps this works inversely for romance writers...)
  2. Mystery writers are all readers, so we love a great new book (and a great writer) just as much as all the fans. In fact, it's very hard to tell writers and fans apart at some conferences.
  3. We feel marginalized by the intelligentsia (you write... mysteries?!! [gasp]), so we huddle together for support against a common enemy.
  4. With mysteries regularly hitting a healthy number of spots on bestseller lists, there is plenty of largesse to go around--so we are not really in competition with one another.
  5. We have only a limited number of conferences, and so we all seem to run into each other at one of them at some point and meet each other. I think I'm actually the most shocked when I realize that there is a mystery writer that I haven't met yet...
The strength of the mystery community is really most apparent when there is a tragedy. Last week we lost the talented author Jeremiah Healy. All over my Facebook page, authors and fans were mourning the author and the man. Despite his life long struggle with depression, he was an outgoing man who made many friends and helped many authors when they were starting out in this business. He will be missed.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Let It Bleed

Did you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?

by Paul D. Marks

Every minute of every effing day!

The end.

Well, the end of the first part.

The Other Part:

I think every writer—at least this version of EveryWriter—has doubts about our decision to be a writer. It’s like those Facebook memes that go around: This is what my friends think I do as a writer. But what we really do is toil in the salt mines of our minds. I’m not saying it’s the down and dirty work of toiling in real salt mines. But it’s also not as easy as some people think.

Like Red Smith said, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

That’s all there is to it.

My writing life has been all over the map. From op-ed pieces to radio scripts and script doctoring to short stories and novels. And though it’s always been a roller coaster, I was always glad to have the opportunity to express myself and be creative. Despite the idiots one sometimes has to deal with.

I like the writing—not so much the biz side of it.

So let’s talk about the...

...Doubts and Reasons to Quit:

1) No one really understands what you do. I made my living rewriting other people’s scripts and optioning my own spec scripts to various people. One of the hardest parts of my film work was that, as a rewriter, there was no screen credit, so my dad could never figure out what I did for a living—and certainly didn’t understand how it all worked. Couldn’t take his friends to Westwood and show them my name on the silver screen. That was frustrating, but not as frustrating as dealing with some of the personalities. But did that (no screen credit) make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell, no. I just started writing short stories and novels. You get credit there...most of the time.

clip_image0042) No one respects what you do: I once had a producer threaten to send his friends in the Mossad to get me when we argued about a script I was working on for him. I was warned about him before I started, but I thought I’m a brave soul, I’ll give it a shot. He’d hired me to write a script based on his idea—then hated everything I came up with, even though it was exactly what we’d talked about, but it wasn’t him, his writing, in every nuance. Hell, he should have written the damn thing himself... But he couldn’t and wouldn’t. No he’d rather just threaten me. So, of course, I sat up every night with night vision goggles, a CAR-15 (it was a while ago), flame thrower, a couple-a cruise missiles (Tom Cruise Missiles ‘cause he could protect the hell out of me) and an AWACs circling overhead, and lay in wait for them to swarm the hill behind my house. A .50 cal would have been better than the CAR-15, but since they never came I guess it didn’t matter. Maybe they’re still on their way and I seem to have misplaced the CAR-15. But did the Mossad threat make me doubt my decision to be a writer, hell no. I just bought myself a new Kevlar vest.  : )

3) Everyone thinks they can do it better: And then there was the Golden Turkey Leg. I had a spec script that dealt peripherally with Voodoo, but it wasn’t “supernatural”. Another producer wanted to make it more mystical, scary, more Voodoo-ey, sci-fi, sleazy, seedy, make-Ed-Wood-look-like-a-genius-bad, and to that end he wanted me to add something about some golden object that was magical and mystical and for want of a better word I called it “the golden turkey leg”—well, not to his face. He also wanted me to bring a character back from the dead—now that’s Voodoo...ey—turning a pretty good thriller into a grade Z schlockfest horror story that would even make Roger Corman at his cheapest cringe. Then, as if it couldn’t get any weirder, he knew the “perfect” guy to do the theme song: Michael Bolton. And when I say he “knew” Michael Bolton I mean he really did; they were buds or something. And no offense to anyone who likes him, but he’s just not my taste. Give me Ian Gillan and Joey Ramone. So maybe I’m glad that that one never got out of development hell. And he wanted Armand Assante (whose name he kept mispronouncing as “Assant,” leaving off the “ay” at the end) to play the lead. He would have been great for the part when he was younger, but I had nightmares about the producer approaching him, mispronouncing his name, and the actor being so offended he would refuse the part. Then to top it all off, my wife and I were at a toy show in Pasadena (one of my hobbies is collecting old toys) and we ran into said producer, who’s there with his wife and kid, maybe around six or seven years old, selling old dolls. So, he asks me to look after said kid, who at least was a sweet said kid, so he and his wife can walk around the toy show, unfettered. The worst part is he wasn’t even selling the kind of toys I was looking for. So in addition to working on screenplays, I’m also a great babysitter, I just don’t cook or do windows, except Microsoft Windows. And another one bites the dust, another one that never made it to the silver screen, but at least I got paid. But I plan to turn them all into novels someday. They’re already “outlined,” as the screenplays are sort of like outlines. Were this producer’s ideas better? Well, if you like Golden Turkey Legs, I suppose so. But did that make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell no, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Reasons to Stay:

Because you can’t do anything else, literally, despite the BS. So you just open that vein and let it bleed.

Or as the Clash said, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—“If I go there will be trouble, And if I stay it will be double.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

They call her the switherer.

Nope. Not once, not ever, have I doubted or regretted my decision to become a writer.

And that's from someone who makes Hamlet look impulsive, someone who could second-guess for her planet; someone who could squarely be called the Anti-Piaf (theme song goes like this: "Ouiiiii, le tout de le touuuuut! Ouiiiii, je regret-uh le touuuuut . . .)

I have trouble making decisions.

But since I resigned from my job, sharpened my pencil, and wrote "book 1, chapter 1, page 1" in January 2001, I've never wanted to do anything else.

In all my wildest daydreams, I'm still a writer - in a tropical paradise, or with a castle that a long-lost relative bequeathed to me, or of an Oscar-winning movie script that I got to co-adapt, along with Emma Thompson, from my own novel - but always a writer.

Every other decision is hard to make and harder to stick with.  I find it impossible to decide where to eat out, which film to see or what holiday cottage or hotel room to book.

The household of which I'm a member has put in place some rules for deciding.

1. How two people decide where to eat.
Person A* suggests five places.
Person B narrows it down to three.
Person A says the name of one out of the three.
Persons A and B eat there.
*A and B are alternating roles.
(Or they live in a Scottish town where "five places to eat" is just crazy talk)

2. How two people decide what film to see.
Persons A and B meet for coffee in walking distance of all three cinemas in town.
When the coffee is drunk, Person A or B looks to see which film at least one of them wants to see starts next.
Persons A and B go to see that film. And if they've just missed one, they meet a wee bit earlier the next day.
(Or they live in a Scottish town where "three cinemas in walking distance" . . .)

3. How two people choose a holiday cottage/hotel.
Person A picks three desirable features. e.g. quiet, walk to beach, warm sea.
Person B picks three desirable features. e.g. pretty, good seafood, within budget.
Person A looks on internet until a cottage/hotel with all six features is located.
Person A books that cottage/hotel.
Person A* stops looking on internet.
*Person A is me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Questioning Everything

by Clare O'Donohue

Q: Do you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?

That's actually - at least for me - a bigger question than it seems.

I never doubted my decision to be a writer any more than I doubted my decision to be left handed, to have blue eyes, or to be overly sarcastic. None of it was a choice, especially that last one. Writing is something I love doing, and I know that's true because I was doing it long before anyone paid me for my work.

Luckily, though, they've been paying me for a while now. I wrote as a newspaper reporter before becoming a TV producer and writer. I've written magazine articles and corporate press releases. Nearly every job I've held since college has had "writer" in the title. So I've been calling myself a writer for more than twenty years, but always throwing in the qualifier of "I write TV true crime shows" or something - because I assume no one ever thinks those shows are actually written by anyone.*

Now, have I ever doubted I could write novels? Absolutely. I'm working on number nine now and I have no idea if I can finish it. A few years back I had the good fortune of being in the room when Mary Higgins Clark gave a speech about how, as she writes, she wonders if this book will be the one that gets the better of her. That gave me a lot of comfort.

Have I ever doubted that I could get them published? Yes. I wrote the first one only because I was absolutely convinced it would never be published. If I thought for a minute I was writing for a larger audience that myself I never would have done it. That book, The Lover's Knot, was published. And that led me to the last question.

Have I ever doubted I could make this my full time career? Yes, and every day. It is the dream to try and figure out how to write full time while still being able to eat. I know it's possible for some and I hope some day it will be possible for me.

 * My apologies for being late on this. I am knee deep in yet another true crime show script.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top 10 Signs That You're Really a Writer

Question of the Week: Did you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?

My Answer: Sure, I used to doubt that decision every time I ran into a snag and wanted to toss my manuscript into a volcano, and maybe jump in after it.

Now, though, I refer to this handy checklist of TOP TEN SIGNS THAT YOU'RE REALLY A WRITER. Miraculously, I always come out shining.

You know you're a writer if...

  1. You deconstruct movies when you watch them, analyzing plot, character, dialogue, and you KNOW how you would do it better.
  2. You view “real jobs” as time fillers before your true calling emerges.
  3. You eavesdrop on strangers' conversations, and you consider it character study.
  4. You daydream, possibly in dialogue.
  5. You automatically proofread menus, ticket stubs, cereal boxes. Usually you find at least one error.
  6. You like alcohol or other forms of escapism a little too much.
  7. You prefer Scrabble to Monopoly.
  8. You love, love, love to read.
  9. You enjoyed writing when you were young.
  10. You officially don't like people but you find them secretly fascinating

***Note: This list is an amalgamation/condensation of others I found on the internet when doing research for a recent speech I gave.

***Note 2: This list is not scientific. If you think you're a writer, and nothing on this list applies to you, feel free to write a book anyway.

***Note 3: If you want to be a writer but you're currently a model citizen, don't feel that you have to take up drinking, misanthropy and eavesdropping.

Monday, August 11, 2014

To Write or Not to Write

Question: Did you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?”

“So, did you ever have any doubts about the wisdom of turning your back on a regular, automatic deposit into your bank account that represented your seniority and expertise in your career in favor of no income, no experience, and absolutely no recognition in a field made up of mostly striving, ill paid, and under-valued creative types?”

What a silly question – of course not!

Did I ever have doubts about the timing of my leap into the unknown? Sure. Did I worry that I might run out of savings? You bet – did and do. Did I fear that, as someone who had never published a word of fiction, I might fail to break into the market? Every time I let myself go down that road. But I started with one comforting fact: I was a writer already.

Writers may not be born, but I do think they’re shaped by childhoods spent reading, fantasizing, listening, playing a lot of “what if?” games and practicing every chance they get. By the time I started looking for a real job, I was already a writer, a shameless hunter for opportunities to see my work in print. Grade school was easy – there wasn’t much competition for someone as determined as I was to be highlighted on the blackboard, in mimeographed sheets, in writing assignments, where I was always singled out for praise suitable for a 10-year old: “Excellent imagination!”

High school may have ramped up the stakes, but I was editor of the yearbook, feature editor of the newspaper, an occasional Voice of the Teenager columnist for the local newspaper. I was like a vampire looking for fresh blood.

When I began to work for money, I wrote for throw-away newspapers, then for real newspapers, then for national magazines. Then, I became an editor. I wrote op-eds and celebrity interviews, covered city council meetings, and did features on alternative medicine and the craze for home brewed beer, and the local horse racing industry. I could – and can – write 600-1,200 words about ANYTHING.

Today, the questions I hear from writers aren’t so much about whether or not they have the talent and drive to become published – after all, they are my tribe, have the same backgrounds as I do – it’s whether or not they can make a decent living from it, can feed kids and put them through college, can pay the PG&E bill. That’s a serious question in today’s rapidly changing marketplace for books, and the answer for most of us is not encouraging. Like the music industry, this corner of the creative world is being fragmented into slices of “product,” with a large proportion of shoppers who demand ever-increasing bargains and are prepared to sacrifice quality for price, deeper satisfaction for the momentary sensory hit.

I’m still a newcomer with two books out, plus one purchased and in production, and a brand new one out to beta readers before going to my agent. Others on Criminal Minds are major successes and have found large and appreciative audiences for their terrific work. Some teach, some work in related writing industries. A few excellent writers I know have supporting spouses so the financial question isn’t a biggie, but lots of other deal with logistical anxieties on a daily basis.

The real question, from where I sit, isn’t about doubting one’s ambition, drive, or ability to “be a writer.” The real question is “Can I structure a life that allows me to use my talents as a writer?” And the real answer is, yes, you can. Never doubt that you can build your hunger to write into your life. Then, see where it takes you.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bad to the Bone

By Art Taylor

This week's question—"What’s the worst thing you ever wrote?"—is an easy one: EVERYTHING I've ever written has struck me, at some point along the way, as the worst thing I've ever done. So right now, the simple answer would be my draft-in-progress of "Provenance," a third outing for Del and Louise, the characters from my 2010 story "Rearview Mirror." Despite some moderately adequate scenes, those characters have suddenly turned into paper masks of themselves, the story is uneventful and unengaging, the plot is equal parts outlandishly unrealistic and sloggishly boring, and most mornings I dread even looking at it.

But even saying all that, I have some small faith that it will eventually get better.... especially since I had some of those exact same concerns about "Rearview Mirror" itself when I was first writing it, and then those concerns doubled, even tripled in the middle of writing the second Del and Louise story, "Commission."

"Rearview Miror" ultimately earned me a Derringer, and Ellery Queen recently accepted "Commission" for publication sometime next spring. That doesn't mean I was wrong about how bad those stories were in various drafts along the way. But maybe faith and work sometimes have their rewards.

I should add that it's not just "along the way" that this feeling sneaks in; even after something is published, I'm always hesitant to reread it, since it's certain that all I'll see are the slips and stumbles. To some degree, that's just the life of the writer, I know—as Debbie Ohi so deftly outlined it here:

4 Stages Of Writing, by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

...and that in mind, maybe my response here doesn't entirely answer the question as it was intended—so just for the heck of it, I'm also going to go with a second, more specific, but not unrelated answer: The worst thing I ever wrote was the first draft of my story "Mrs. Marple and the Hit-and-Run."

How did I know it was one of the worst things I've ever written? Well, I finished it—finished it, done! triumphant!—just in time for a reading I'd been invited to deliver and figured I should test it out on a couple of people ahead of time... and oh, those poor people. I still cringe picturing how their attention wandered, their eyes grew heavy, one of them briefly drifted off... and reading it aloud, even I felt like drifting off. I could hear how awkward and unnecessary so much of it was, and I could see how many pages were still left to suffer through, a story that clocked in two words shy of 10,000, a story that I thought was rich and meaningful and.... And finally I just threw in the towel on reading the whole thing aloud—and threw the manuscript aside as well.

Wanna see for yourself how bloated it is? Here's the original draft, available for the first time ever, and if you click through, all I can say is "Happy napping"!

But—returning to that theme here—several years later (um, 8 to be exact), I went back and did a pretty savage revision of that abominable first draft, cutting away 75% of the original story. The published version, which appeared here in Prick of the Spindle, was less than 2,500 words in its final form, and I'll dare say it not only remains one of my own personal favorites but also stands out for me as a real turning point in my understanding of how to write at all.

So I guess maybe my first answer was really the right answer after all.

IN OTHER NEWS: As Meredith and Alan have pointed out in their posts earlier this week, we all had a great time at the inaugural Washington, DC Noir at the Bar—but unlike them, I'm not posting the YouTube video. As with re-reading my work, one of the last things I want to do is revisit myself standing up at the microphone—especially reading a story so thoroughly abridged that it may have made no sense to anyone in the audience. (I was counting on them all having had a couple of drinks by my spot in the line-up.) The story itself, "The Odds Are Against Us," will be out soon in the November issue of Ellery Queen, so just stay tuned for that instead.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

No Threat to Society

by Alan

What’s the worst thing I ever wrote?

Hmm. The worst thing? Hard to settle on just one; there are so many contenders.

I mean, seriously? Bad writing? I’m an engineer. They practically taught us to write in desiccated techno-speak. It seemed the worse I wrote, the better my grade.

Of course, writing is so subjective—one person’s dreck might be another person’s cup o’ tea. And when evaluating, do first drafts count? What about poetry? (The best/worst of my poetry couldn’t hold a candle to Tracy’s example yesterday.) What about stuff I wrote in grade school? Or college? (Did I mention I’m an engineer?)

You see, not such an easy question to answer.

Here’s what I can say:

My first attempt at a novel currently resides in an asbestos-lined vault, buried deep in my backyard, where it poses no threat to society. (I guess that answers the question, huh?) The prose is terrible and there are more plot holes than plot. (It wasn’t all bad. I liked the font I used.) Let’s stipulate that it’s best if we let that one continue to rest in peace.

A few years ago, I went back and took a look at my second attempt at a novel. The prose was horrid in this one, too, but I liked the story and the characters and the structure. So I decided to resurrect it from the depths of my hard drive.

I opened two windows on my laptop, a blank Word document in one and the manuscript in the other. I then proceeded to re-write every single sentence in the book, revising as I went along. After more revision, I can honestly say that it doesn’t stink!

I could go on with more examples of less-than-stellar work, but then I might run the risk of making this blog post the worst thing I’ve ever written.

And there’s only so much room in my subterranean vault.


I had a lot of fun hanging with fellow Criminal Minds Art and Meredith (and the other writers, too) at the recent DC Noir at the Bar. Here’s a video of me reading:



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Tracy Kiely

What is the worst thing I ever wrote?

How much time do you have?

That much?  Goodie. Let me back up a little and give you some history.
When I was little, I had very specific ideas as to what I wanted to be when I grew up. 
And no, being a writer was not my first choice.
I wanted to be a tap dancer.
My parents watched a lot of Gene Kelly movies.  A lot. In the privacy of my bedroom, I would try to recreate scenes from Singing in the Rain.  Not the ones with Debbie Reynolds, the ones that Gene danced.

Seriously, look how high that man could jump. 
A few years later, I discovered The Beach Boys. Specifically, I discovered Dennis Wilson. The drummer. My nine-year-old heart fell hard. I loved him. I loved everything about him. He surfed. He sang. He was soooo cute. He had really cool hair. (Side note: In those days, fan magazines like TigerBeat left out distressing details such as crushing substance abusive issues and rampant womanizing.) Anyway, as a treat my parents took me to one of their concerts. I think it was the Brian is Back! Tour of 1977 because Brian ran out on stage at one point, jumped over a couple of amps, and the crowd roared with approval. Anyway, halfway through the concert Dennis came out and sang a solo – something about being a ladies’ man – I really couldn’t tell you because I was trying to get him to notice me. Yes, the gawky kid with a million freckles and even more cow licks, who was not only sitting on the upper level but on the upper level with her parents was desperately trying to will Dennis Wilson to see me and …Wave? Smile? Blow a kiss? I have no idea. People, I was nine. Cut me a break.
You gotta admit it. Cute.
 I suppose it’s not too big of a spoiler alert to mention that he did none of the above. But, a new goal was realized that night (besides not trying to attract the attention of cute boys while sitting with my parents).
No, I was going to become a drummer.
Now, it was also around this time that my very proper grandmother took my father aside and informed him that it was imperative that I learn the social graces expected of a proper young lady. In fact, this skill was so important to my future success that she offered to fund these classes. Over dinner one night, she generously explained all of this to me. All I had to do was decide what skills I would be pursuing. As my grandmother gave me a smile of encouragement, I gleefully and without hesitation, announced that I wanted to learn to play the drums and take dance.
“Ballet?” my grandmother whispered hopefully.
“Tap,” I answered.
Now might be a good time to mention that we lived in a small house.
My mother pursed her lips together. The muscle in my father’s jaw bunched.
My grandmother made a small “O” with her mouth.
I think it stayed there for several minutes.
Nothing more was ever said about drums or tap.
However, writing starting being a big topic around the house. “You have such a way with words, Tracy,” my mother would say. “I bet you’d make a good writer.” “Someone who writes well will always be in demand,” advised my father.
Oddly, we didn’t see a whole lot of my grandmother that month.
So, anyway, the idea of writing began to take hold. In school, we started a unit on poetry. At the end of it, we were instructed to create our own poem. This poem would be displayed in the class and then sent home with us – no doubt so that our parents could frame it.
I worked on that poem like nobody’s business. And you know what? I began to think my parents were right because this poem kicked ass. 
This poem would not only get an A and get framed, but would probably be entered into some national contest and perhaps then it would catch the attention of The Beach Boys, specifically Dennis, who would search me out as a lyricist.
The final poem? Well, you decide.

The Rain 
The rain falls down upon the ground.
Will it ever stop?
I’ll get the mop.

And in case you’re wondering, Dennis Wilson did not call to invite me to co-write some songs. However, my grandmother – the other one who liked to sing songs with filthy lyrics – loved it. She even framed it.
I’ve gone on to write much more crap, and no doubt will write even more, but that’s the one that stands out the most. I guess like the St. Pauli Girl ad claims, you always remember your first.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Even Hemingway had his duds

By R.J. Harlick

My apologies for my tardiness in getting this up this morning, but I got caught up in a minor crisis. A skunk, and a rather large one at that, has managed to get his head stuck inside a small plastic bottle. The poor thing has been wandering rather drunkenly along the sidewalk and road. Needless to say no one was keen on getting close to him to remove the bottle. He’s now found refuge in a back yard, while we wait for the animal rescue people to arrive.

So onto my blog

What’s the worst thing you ever wrote? (Or maybe the "least best.")

Gosh, me? Write something bad, something I’m not especially proud of, something I’ve stuffed away in a drawer never to be read by any eyes, not even my own? How could that happen?

Maybe way back in Elementary School, when I tried writing my first mystery. It was a tad tedious, if I recall correctly. Too intent on detailing every step my protagonist took in solving the mystery, I had it limp to an awkward close. I think I managed to put my class to sleep while I read it out loud. But I tell you I was rather proud of myself at the time. It was, after all, my very first mystery story.

I will say that I’m not especially proud of my first attempt at writing a mystery novel, though at the time I thought it was about to be the next Great Canadian novel. I was so confident, after all I’d managed to finish the bloody thing something I wasn’t sure I could do at the outset, that I sent it out to all the big publishers and agents. It, of course, was summarily rejected, many, many months later. Fortunately, though the story remained essentially the same, the words were rewritten many times over until the resulting published novel bore no semblance to that very first draft. But you know what? I didn’t throw it out. I still have a copy of that first draft of Death’s Golden Whisper hidden away somewhere in my basement. I don’t know why I am keeping it. I don’t dare read it. But I guess I feel it is part of my journey in becoming a writer.  

As Meredith said in yesterday’s post, “no one ever sat down on their first try and wrote something brilliant”, not even Ernest Hemingway who admitted in an interview by George Plimpton that he rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms, thirty-nine times.

Before I sign off, I just want to mention to those of you living in the fabulous city of Vancouver that I will be out your way next week promoting my latest Meg Harris mystery, Silver Totem of Shame. I am doing a number of library and bookstore events. For details check my blog. I would love to see some of you there.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Taking the bad with the good

by Meredith Cole

Bad writing? Moi? Well, I firmly believe that no writer should ever be afraid or ashamed of terrible writing. Writing terribly is how we all learn and grow. No one ever sat down and wrote something brilliant on their first try. Really. And I’ve never heard of any true writing protégés (kids who sat down and wrote some classic) like I have heard of music protégés (Mozart, for instance). I think that’s because writing takes both skill and maturity. Not only do you need to learn all the grammar rules, but you also have to develop a wide vocabulary and come up with great ideas. Altogether it’s a lot to imagine that one kid can do at age five without some help.

Anyway, here’s a video of me reading last week at “Noir at the Bar” in DC. I’m reading from a new story called “The End of the Trail.” It was delightful to hang out with other Criminal Minds, Alan Orloff and Art Taylor! 

Friday, August 1, 2014


What’s in a name? Do you give careful thought to the names of your characters or do you draw them out of a hat?

By Paul D. Marks

As Art can attest, it’s hard to come on Fridays since people have sometimes stolen your thunder earlier in the week. My post was called The Name Game, but now it’s redux – great minds and all of that.

I do give careful thought to my characters' names. Neither the first nor last name is chosen at random. Sometimes characters are named after friends or enemies or in homage to someone or something. Sometimes I want a “plain Jane” type of name and sometimes I want something more symbolic or allegorical. Sometimes the name just comes to me. Other times I’ll look in baby naming books or other research sources to help me figure out an appropriate name.

Even when the characters have simple names like “Johnny Jones” from one of my current works-in-progress, the name was still given a fair amount of thought. On the one hand, it’s a common, clichéd name. But that’s how it’s meant, as we don’t know the character’s real name and this is simply how the narrator refers to him. It could just as easily have been John Doe, Joe Smith, Bill Johnson or any of a hundred other common names.

Naming characters is sort of like naming children or pets. You visualize the kid’s first day of school and how the teacher will call role and mispronounce the name or what cruel nicknames the other kids will twist it into. And then pick a name you hope the kid will live up to and won’t get teased about too much. Actually this is how I ended up naming my character Duke in White Heat. Duke’s relationship with his dad is not the greatest father-son relationship. His father cruelly named him “Marion,” after John Wayne’s real first name. Not a nice thing to do to a boy and maybe that’s one of the reasons they don’t get along and certainly why Duke chose that as a nickname.

Also, when naming pets, I like to pick names that are unique and mean something to me and my wife. Something that captures their personality, but that also won’t be too hard or too embarrassing to yell out when calling them to come. You don’t want to be yelling “Here Mr. Snuggles” when your neighbor walks by. So our Rottweiler was called Bogie. And our black cats Curley and Moe. Our mostly Rottweiler, but who looked nothing like one, was Audie, after Audie Murphy. and our German Shepherd is Pepper, full name Sgt. Pepper, after the Beatles album.

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There are several “rules” I try to follow when naming characters:

They shouldn’t be too hard to pronounce – you don’t want readers stumbling over them.
Don’t try too hard to be unique – like soap opera characters that always have names like Raven Snow or Chastity Chamberfield, unless going for humor or irony.

clip_image006Names can be symbolic, foreshadow or can be ironic. In my story 51-50, the cop character, Cleaver, is purposely named after Ward Cleaver, the all-American father on Leave it to Beaver. I wanted to play against the all-American image of Ward Cleaver with a tough cop about to lose his sanity.

Names can be revenge for someone you don’t like – but be careful when doing this and disguise it well.

Names can be an homage. In my short story Free Fall, the femme fatale is named Gloria, after film noir icon and femme fatale Gloria Grahame. In Broken Windows, the sequel to White Heat and not yet published, there is a character named Chandler – a woman cop – but we all know who that name pays homage to. And in my story L.A. Late @ Night and my noir story Born Under a Bad Sign, there is a cop named Larry Darrell – which pays homage to Somerset Maugham’s character in The Razor’s Edge. Not that he’s much like Maugham’s Larry Darrell, but still.

Names can give insight into the character – who they are and where they’re from – sometimes the story behind the name can give you a little extra info about the character – for example Michael Connelly’s Harry “Hieronymus” Bosch – a unique name and an interesting story behind it.

Sometimes names should break stereo types: In White Heat there is an African-American character named Warren. Someone who read the book said Warren wasn’t a black name. But I named the character after a black Marine friend I’d had. Just because a character is black or Hispanic, or any other ethnicity, doesn’t mean they have to have an ethnic-sounding name.

And character names often change in later drafts. Sometimes I just use “placeholder” names until after I get to know the characters better. Then, if I think of the perfect name later on, I can use search and replace to change it later.

Names are important and can be fun. Like the old song, The Name Game (written by Shirley Ellis – and ): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jfVpizj1Uk

The name game!
Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley
Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln
Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

Come on everybody!
I say now let's play a game
I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name
The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn't there
But a B or an F or an M will appear
And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo
And then I say the name again with an F very plain and a fee fy and a mo
And then I say the name again with an M this time
And there isn't any name that I can't rhyme.