Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

"What song title best describes your writing life? And why." by Catriona

Well, it's not that Ian Dury hit now, is it? "Post-it Notes and Cups of Tea" would never have been released as an A-side.

Mind you, "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" is a contender for the editing part of the job. "Stet for rhythm" is my most frequent margin note when a copy-editor tries to bend towards the formal, conservative English style some copy editors seem to prefer.

"Once I Had a Secret Leeerrrrrve" describes the decades of wanting to be a writer but thinking it was a pipe-dream.

"Imagination (ooh ooh ooh oo-oo ooh!)" isn't as apposite as I thought it might be. "Keep On Keepin On" is more to the point on any given day.

"Baby's Got Back" is a horribly accurate account of what happens to one's physique from keeping on keeping the bum in the chair as long as you need, though.

If I had to pick just one, it wouldn't be "Why does it always rain on me?" despite the frequent pity-parties about the state of publishing and the incivility of anonymous reviewers. It would be my favourite (uncool) song.  (And I'm so uncool I made a clanger about who sang it!) Because we've all got bigger things to worry about these days and, for me, writing it's still the best job in the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sinatra, Bowie, Curry, Joel & Cathy Ace

If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? And why?

Okay, I admit it – there’ve been some challenging questions to respond to on this blog since I joined, but this particular one has had me scratching my head in an entirely different way. The reason? Most of the “songs” I know only really apply insofar as one tiny part of the lyrics apply to one part of my writing life, so here goes….

My writing process/life is a mixture of extremely organized (outlining, research etc.) and chaotic (I rebel against any sort of routine). So there’s always a tension there. Also, the longer I write, and the more books I write, so my overall feelings about my writing life shift.

I honestly believe that the first book an author writes is probably the closest to their heart; when I wrote “The Corpse with the Silver Tongue” (my first Cait Morgan Mystery) it had been rattling around inside my head for years, so it was the close to “the book you are desperate to write”. As I was writing that book, and throughout the time when it was my only book in the marketplace, I suppose the song that best described my emotions about my writing life would be “My Way”. 

Then I learned more about editing with a publisher, the business of publishing, the way in which the marketplace demanded “labels” for an author’s work and my perspective shifted. By book #3, The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb, I felt that Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel” was more appropriate, as I felt I had to fight to write a book that was traditional, rather than “Cozy” with a capital “C”, and thus I included a mysterious serial killer in the background story, as well as introducing the specter of Mexican drug smuggling. By book #4, the Corpse with the Platinum Hair, I was back to Sinatra again, having gained acceptance for a setting in Las Vegas, with which I won Canada's national prize for best light mystery, the Bony Blithe Award - it seemed as though "Luck Be a Lady" was working out for me.
Finally, I set a book in Wales, The Corpse with the Sapphire Eyes, insert sound track of “Going Home” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show here. I liked that feeling, so sought out a way to write a series set there. 

Next, I had to build a relationship with a new publisher at my Canadian publishing house, as well as with a new agent and a totally new publisher in the UK for that proposed second series of books – the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries.  It was a busy, challenging year where I felt I was “Running on Ice” a la Billy Joel. 

By 2016, I hoped I’d found my feet again, but it was now far from “My Way” and much more like Joplin's wailing “Piece of My Heart” as I finally came to terms with the schedule required to write three books a year, launch three books a year, and be an active (hopefully effective) Chair of Crime Writers of Canada.

Now, in 2017? It’s early days yet: I just sent a manuscript to my agent and it will be with my publisher by the end of February – this will be the fourth in the Wise Enquiries Agency series, and I have eight Cait Morgan books in the market. I’m looking forward to re-editing my originally self-published first two volumes of short stories and novella later this year…so am I about to channel Ol’ Blue Eyes again? I don’t know…but even if I do, I've learned enough over the past five years to know it won’t be “My Way” but much more likely to be “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” than anything else! Wish me luck, folks, and here’s hoping I’ll be waving not drowning. 

Cathy's next book, THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK (book #3 in the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries) will be published in Canada and the USA on March 1st: the ladies of the WISE Enquiries Agency are called in to investigate some strange shenanigans at a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. As the WISE women try to unravel this puzzle from their base at stately Chellingworth Hall, they then get embroiled in another when they come across a valuable book of miniatures which seems to be the work of a local famous artist, murdered by her own brother. Are the cases linked and why do both mysteries lead to a nearby old folks’ home? The WISE women are on the case – and nothing will get in their way . . . Or will it?

“Like” Cathy Ace – Author on Facebook and sign up for Cathy’s newsletter before March 1st to stand a chance of entering for a special offer on this book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What a Difference...

THE QUESTION:  If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? And why?


What pops to mind is "WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES"

I've written before about serendipity, the day I met my mentor, the late great Holley Rubinsky, which led to meeting my other mentor and friend, author Deryn Collier.

What a difference a day made.

These two mentors believed in me and put me back on my writerly feet. So I braced myself for another loss and entered the Arthur Ellis awards, the big Canadian crime writer's contest hosted by the CWC -- Crime Writers of Canada. The day I heard who won the unpublished writers' award (the Unhanged) I was too boondoggled to actually soak up the thrill, yet I knew I had turned a big corner.

What a difference a day made.

When I'm writing these days, there are many days when my theme song is "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," as I sit miserable in the conviction that Book Two (coming in March!!) now that it's beyond the point of no return ("No more changes," my publisher shouts at me over the phone) is dung, and that all those people who have told me how much they loved Book One will just be staggered at how awful this one is in comparison. But then I get a note from an ARC reader who loves it...

Oh, what a difference a note makes.

Darkness falls. For added inspiration, I am playing the song on YouTube. What a beautiful voice has Dinah Washington. Next up on the list, I can't help but notice, she's belting out Drinking Again. I will not let that become my theme song, even if Nobody Loves Me, and I find myself Way Down in the Hole. Truth is, however much I tell myself I Don't Care, in fact -- maybe this is what it all boils down to -- I Wanna Be Loved. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Singing to Myself

If your writing process/life could be summarized as the title of a song – what song would it be? And why?

-from Susan

Not only is this the hardest question I’ve ever been asked on 7CriminalMinds, but it begs the question of how I can begin to summarize my writing processes. Catch me on Wednesday and my process, my writing life, is apt to be 180 degrees different than it will be on Sunday.  Meet me for coffee on Tuesday and I’m floating. See me at an event on Friday and it’s doom, doom, doom.

And to make the assignment even harder, I don’t have a wide range of popular music to draw on or the memory bank for song names. I was in agony trying to wrest something – anything – to answer the question. I knew “Mahler’s Fifth Symphony” wasn’t going to cut it, or the prayer to Isis and Osiris from The Magic Flute…so here’s the best I could do:

The dorky song “High Hopes,” sung by Doris Day in that strangely chipper voice. Something about ants, I recall, but the idea was that you keep on and you can conquer most everything, which in my case includes sloth, the desire to rewrite endlessly, and plot holes I keep falling into.

“Pick Yourself Up” written in the 1930s and sung in one of those charming if effete musicals Fred Astaire did so well. The only lyrics I recall are “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and…” Sorry, it fades after that, but it is a good idea for a writer, right?

Here’s my best song candidate: “Hotel California,” by the mighty Eagles. Why? This line, which I do remember “…this could be Heaven or this could be Hell” and if that doesn’t describe the overall writing life for me, I am stumped as to the best candidate.

I wait eagerly to see how much better the rest of the week’s answers are!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Shades and Striations

My desire to broaden the reach of mystery/crime fiction as it relates (or doesn't) to race, class, and identity in America is plain. While this may have engendered eye rolls from more than a few folks prior to November 8, 2016, a subtle nod toward diversity can now be considered a radical act. Yet I'm not throwin' bombs. I'm tossin' books.

My first suggestion comes from the late, great Chester Himes, whose work, along with his amazing life, demands to be considered a national treasure on a scale beyond the Chandlers, Hammetts, and Ellroys. Described by the autobiographer James Sallis as "a novelist in whom autobiography and fiction are inextricably and often maddeningly intertwined," Chester Himes dared to write hardboiled fiction that, in his own words, "was (meant) to force white Americans to confront the horror and brutalisation of the black ghettos." Whereas historically, African American characters are used as foil and fodder in the genre, Chester Himes shows us that other America by centering his plots with blackness. I hear often that my work does the same, and to welcoming effect. I'm not the first. I'm standing upon the shoulders of this black giant.

If only to lead folks to all of his mighty works, I suggest the final book in what is known as the Harlem cycle, or Harlem Detective series: Blind Man with a Pistol.

New York is sweltering in the summer heat, and Harlem is close to the boiling point. To Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, at times it seems as if the whole world has gone mad. Trying, as always, to keep some kind of peace—their legendary nickel-plated Colts very much in evidence—Coffin Ed and Grave Digger find themselves pursuing two completely different cases through a maze of knifings, beatings, and riots that threaten to tear Harlem apart.

I'd wager you'd go back and start at his For Love Of Emmabelle a.k.a. A Rage In Harlem and continue all the way through. In our genre, black America is often treated as underbelly or nether-region that is navigated by choice, or desire. In this work, Chester Himes gave us not an African America, but the actual America, not in another shade or hue, but in stark white light-level reality.

"Blink once, you're robbed," Coffin Ed advised the white man slumming in Harlem.
"Blink twice, you're dead," Grave Digger added dryly.

Though our nation is a cluster of cultures that only blur into a mélange when pureed by our mastication of consumer experience, the twin halves of the American identity is interminably black and white. Yet along the equator of daily life, through the miasma of this abject oversimplicity, we are able to journey through several distinct cultural realities. Worlds upon worlds exist alongside the influences of white supremacy and black resistance. We just have to, say, ponder who cooks our tacos and chow mein. We have to consider going deeper, beyond the weekend excursions and staycations and treat our car windows as the looking glass where we see other beings so similar and yet most unlike ourselves.

My frequently expressed dictum for writing in our genre is crime touches us all. It is the grand equalizer of the American experience. Henry Chang's Detective Yu series boldly reclaims Asian American crime themes from Earl Derr Biggers and rekindles the complexities of the Chinese people in America to stirring effect. I read Chinatown Beat and, though I identify as African American, I was at home in its protagonist Jack Yu's internal and external conflicts. There is deep American commonality in these books.

NYPD detective Jack Yu must investigate the rape of a grade-school girl on the fringes of Chinatown, where he grew up and has just been stationed. Meanwhile, would-be gangster Johnny Wong is carrying on with Mona, the gorgeous mistress of his employer, Uncle Four, head of the local branch of the Hip Ching tong and a powerful underworld figure in both New York and Hong Kong. As Yu digs deeper into his case, he finds evidence of a connection between the rapist and the local gangsters.

Henry Chang may not be from your neighborhood, but he understands his neighborhood, and 'hood recognize 'hood, y'all.


Most folks know I have a love for heroes. I prefer a good hardboiled mystery or thriller that puts a protagonist at odds with a con, conspiracy or overall oppressive force that wants to chew up the little guy and gal with impunity. Elliot Caprice, the protagonist of my novel, A Negro and an Ofay (May 2017, Down & Out Books), is, to his continual frustration, bound by a singular personal ethic: "It's wrong, and it happened in front of me. That makes it my business." We write what we know. I know heroes. Even anti-heroes are still heroes.

Though I don't reach for caper stories and criminal tales, in which the con is the thing, and the plan is to get away with it, they often fall in my lap, and I enjoy them all the same. Except I didn't enjoy Vern E. Smith's brilliant—and sole—crime novel, The Jones Men, nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author in 1975. I couldn't stand it, as it was the psychological equivalent to being locked in a room with all my friends and family members who came up on both sides of the American hypocrisy of narcotics: pushers and users. There's less mystery in the plot, though plenty can be found in the motivations and activities of the characters, and especially within the notion that any of them will succeed.

An all-out drug war explodes in 1970s Detroit when a young Vietnam veteran decides to rip off heroin kingpin Willis McDaniel. In the chaos, rival outfits, the Mafia, and even junkies themselves try to step in to fill the void while one lone assassin tries to hunt them all down—and one determined cop tries to stop it all.

Mississippi-born Vern Smith (1946) was a journalist covering Detroit for Newsweek during the siege of drugs and violence that claimed the city's identity from the prosperity of the automotive boon and its Motown soundtrack. In its pages, he draws a perfect picture of the collusion of all the players in the drug game. Though the reader may pick a side, the work is bereft of heroism, and it plays in the modern mind as a tragedy on the scale of Sysiphus. Though Smith would go on to continue a distinguished career as a journalist covering such seminal events as Hank Aaron's usurping of Babe Ruth's home run record and the Atlanta child murders that had the entire nation captivated in 1980, he never again wrote a novel. The Jones Men is a hole-in-one in the final round of the US Open. It's the goddamned Hope Diamond of crime fiction novels. Yet Vern E. Smith, though he serves America still, has no Wikipedia entry for himself or his novel. Check out Eric Beetner's excellent article on the book at The Criminal Element and track down a copy. If you find it at a flea market or Goodwill, it's the crime fiction equivalent of a rare Rembrandt on markdown. Just don't expect to feel cozy while reading it.


I've yet to be asked to cease asserting my themes and ideas, so I've resolved to keep going and make certain I offer up jewels and gems of literary brilliance that help bring those unlike us into focus and, as a consequence of our illumination, bring us together on and off the page. I appreciate your patience.

Though I'm gonna do it anyhow.

- dg

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Black and Blue and Indigo

by Alan

What 3 mystery books are “must reads” for those who have never read mysteries before?

So many great books to recommend! So many potential “must reads”! How can one possibly choose?

By narrowing things down using my Book-Sort-O-Matic Machine (patent pending)!

I hauled it out of deep storage, replaced the flux capacitor, and programmed the following criteria:

1) Book written by an author who is either an Edgar Award winner or MWA Grand Master.

2) Book itself either won, or was nominated for, a prestigious mystery-writing award.

3) Book features a detective (police or PI).

4) Book has a color in the title.

5) I read the book and enjoyed it.


Three choices popped out!

Black EchoThe Black Echo – Michael Connelly.

Winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1993, this is the first in the Harry Bosch series.






Blue Edge


The Blue Edge of Midnight – Jonathon King

Featuring ex-cop Max Freeman, this won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2003.





indigoslam_largeIndigo Slam – Robert Crais

This is the seventh novel in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series (nominated for a Shamus Award in 1998).






What’s your favorite mystery with a color in the title?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hard to put down

by Dietrich Kalteis

Here are three mysteries I’ve read over the past few months, ones that I’d recommend to someone who’s never read one.

First up is Sucker Punch by Canadian writer Marc Strange. It’s the first Joe Grundy mystery in a two book series, published by Dundurn Press in 2007. It was Strange’s first mystery and was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best first mystery right out of the gate. Its storyline follows ex-boxer Grundy whose claim to fame is he was once KOd by Evander Holyfield. Now, he’s the security chief at a swank downtown Vancouver hotel. When a guy who just inherited millions checks into the hotel and announces that he’s going to give it all away, then starts passing out hundred dollar tips, Grundy guesses trouble’s on its way. And when the rich guy ends up dead and a large amount of his cash is missing from his hotel room, Grundy sets out to discover who did it. This story gives readers the right mix of plot, pace, interesting characters, told and just the right touch of humor. 

You can’t read Sucker Punch without following it up with the sequel Body Blows, released in 2009 and winner of an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best original paperback. Another great mystery. And if you like Marc Strange’s writing as much as I do, there are two more written before his death in 2012. Follow Me Down (2010) and Woman Chased By Crows (2012) make up the Orwell Brennan series, published by ECW Press, and they’re every bit as good as the Joe Grundy stories. 

At End of Day was the last novel by George V. Higgins. His career as a prosecutor served him well, getting to know the lowlife crooks of Boston’s underbelly. This one was published in 2000, and the storyline follows a couple of long-time Boston gangsters, McKeach and Cistaro who rat out the Italian mob to the FBI. The trouble is they’re used to agents who look the other way to the crimes that they’ve committed themselves. When a new guy takes over the Organized Crime Unit, they’re not sure if they can trust this guy. In typical Higgins’ fashion, the story is told mostly in dialog. Taking the place of narrative and action, his street lingo is so strong and right on the button that it works as well as it did for his early classics from the seventies like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Digger’s Game and Coogan’s Trade.

“So I go in, way outta my way, and, this and that, and say to him, ‘What’s goin’ on? You know? ‘What gives?’ Like, ‘Where’s my fuckin’ money? And he acts like , well, I dunno, like it’’s a big surprise or something, I might be somewhat concerned. He’s onna phone when I go in, talkin’ to some fuckin’ broad, and he’s the one now pissed at me—I’m comin’ in with no appointment—like I’m interruptin’ him. Just what am I doin’ there?
“Well, geez, I mean, what’m I supposed to do? He’s three weeks late. He owes us thirteen thousand bucks and change, plus the nienety underneath. I’m gonna write it off this week and next, ‘til things turn around for him? Who the fuck are these people …”

The Second Girl by David Swinson is another book to add to your reading list. Swinson’s former career as a police detective goes a long way to add authenticity to his writing, and he’s got a great understanding of the workings of police departments as well as how the darker side thinks. The Second Girl’s a solid mix of fast pace and believable characters. The protagonist, Frank Marr has his finger on the pulse of crime in Washington, D.C. A decorated and retired police detective turned private investigator, Marr’s the best in the game; the only problem is he’s also a long-time drug addict whose equally good at hiding his secret. When he accidentally stumbles on a kidnapped teenager in the home of a local drug gang he planned to rob, he finds himself in the spotlight when asked to investigate the disappearance of another girl, possibly connected to the first. The trouble is trying to keep his own secret when he finds himself constantly under the spotlight. The Second Girl is a great start to the Frank Marr series, and the next offering is Crime Song which will be available from Mulholland Books this May.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

You can't go wrong with a classic British mystery

By R.J. Harlick

What three mystery books would you recommend to someone as must reads who’s never read a mystery before? 

A tough question. There are so many fabulous mystery books that have been written over the years, it makes for a difficult choice. Since it is February 14, I could look at mysteries that have a hot steamy romance. Though, that isn’t usually a crime novel’s strength.

I developed my love for mysteries by devouring Agatha Christie as a child before moving onto other British authors like Dorothy Sayers, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter and the like, so I might as well look at British crime writers for my suggestions.

A person new to mysteries could start with one of the forerunners of today’s modern mystery, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Written in 1859, it is considered an early example of detective fiction with the protagonist, Walter Hartright, taking on the role of an amateur sleuth. The action starts with Walter encountering a mysterious woman in white who appears to be in some distress. He later learns that she escaped from an asylum. The plot swirls around switched identities and an inheritance while drawing attention to the lack of legal rights women had at the time. A fabulous book. The Moonstone, also written by Wilkie Collins is another fine example of an early mystery.
Agatha Christie was truly the master, or should I say mistress, of the puzzle mystery. I don’t think I have read one book of hers that I have been able to guess whodunit. For me the Christie book that stands out the most in its ability to fool the reader is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It is masterful in its ability to hide the truth which, by the way, is in plain sight, if only the reader were perceptive enough. A person couldn’t go wrong in trying to test their wits with this book.

There was a time, when I took a break from mysteries, preferring to make my way through the literary greats. The discovery of the P.D. James’ series with poetry-writing detective Adam Dalgliesh brought me back into the mystery fold. Beautifully written with a strong sense of the British countryside, each book deftly explores the psychological motives behind murder. I’m not sure I could recommend any one book of the fourteen in the series. They are all good. So perhaps the best place to start, as with any series, is with the first one, Cover Her Face.

I mustn't forget what day it is. Hope you celebrate it appropriately.