Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Plot to Hang the Message On

Question of the Week: Is there a novel that you're afraid to write?

My Answer: No, but there a couple of novels that I have to write later, because they're still mulling and I'm not sure how to get them out into a story that's compelling to read.

The first is a thriller I've just trashed (OK, shelved) that has some themes I'm stoked to explore—intellectual supremacy, eugenics, a twisted female mentorship relationship (think Damages), all tied up into a fast-paced international thriller. But after working on this story for two years, I realized that I hadn't found its core. I was poking at it from several angles and hadn't really nailed the hook or the plot line. So I'm putting it away until it screams at me to reopen it. I'm pretty sure it will one day, but I'm also pretty sure that's not today.

The second is a novel that compels readers to take action against climate change. My fear is of writing a story that's too preachy or pessimistic, not entertaining or enjoyable to read. Right now, I think the most pressing, immediate problem the world faces is that the politicians and CEOs making important decisions on behalf of us voters aren't interested in reality. They're greedy and lining their pockets, and they listen to the voices that tell them they have nothing to worry about regarding fossil fuels. In my real life, I volunteer with a local group called Save Howe Sound, where we're currently fighting against LNG (liquefied natural gas that comes from fracking). I would love to bring this fight into fiction, and as quickly as possible, But I want to make this a compulsively addictive read, and I'm still searching for the right plot to hang the message on.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Pursuit of Truth in Writing

It’s a pleasure to introduce Criminal Minds readers to a friend and fellow author who has a new book out. Holly West is the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Harlequin’s Carina Press will publish the latest book in the series, Mistress of Lies, on September 29. She lives, reads, and writes in Los Angeles with her husband, Mick, and dog, Stella.

I can’t remember where I first met Holly West, but, knowing her, it was wherever the fun was at the time. I can remember where I first met Stella. She was curled up next to Holly, staring at me with big, round eyes, a worry line above her cute little nose. Holly’s saga of hard work before her first two Mistress books were published pales next to Stella’s recent trauma, when she had most of her little teeth extracted to treat an infected jaw. Okay, maybe I’m getting too involved with Holly’s and Mick’s dog. Onward, Holly:

By Holly West

As a guest to this blog, Susan Shea assured me that I wasn’t required to answer the Question of the Week. But when she told me the topic—“Is there a novel that you’re afraid to write?”—I decided it was something I wanted to address since my current work-in-progress is just this type of book.

It’s no secret that writers use experiences in their own lives as a basis for some of their stories. My Mistress of Fortune series is set in 17th century London—seemingly a million miles away from my life in present-day Los Angeles—and I still found inspiration for the books in my everyday experiences. For instance, the plot of Mistress of Lies, which will be published on September 29, involves the goldsmith profession, a craft I studied for many years. My amateur sleuth, Isabel Wilde, lives in a house at the intersection of Drury Lane and Aldwych, very near to where the Waldorf Hilton now stands and where my husband and I have stayed many times. And Madame Laverne, a seamstress who appears in Mistress of Fortune, is named after a dear friend who passed away a few years ago.

All that said, the experiences I used in the Mistress of Fortune series are but small references to my real life. My new work-in-progress (as yet unnamed) is a whole other matter. It’s set in both Los Angeles and a fictional town called Gold Valley that’s based on the community I grew up in and some aspects of it autobiographical (albeit loosely).

It’s the story of an alcoholic actress who, after hitting rock bottom, checks herself into rehab and a counseling session triggers a repressed memory about her mother’s unsolved murder that occurred twenty-five years earlier. Convinced she actually witnessed the killing, she returns to her hometown—a haven of secrets, lies, and corruption—to learn the truth about her mother’s death.

Thankfully, I have no personal experience with murder. But I do have plenty of experience with dysfunction—in my case, it’s the severe depression of a close family member that’s never been properly treated. At its core, this is a novel about a deeply troubled family that can’t face its own demons and the tragic consequences of their denial of the truth. It is multi-generational and seeks to answer a key question: Is it ever possible for younger generations to heal past wounds by looking truth in the eye and facing it, head on?

When you’re writing about something that’s important to you, it feels like there’s a lot at stake. I want to be true to my story without hurting anyone who might recognize themselves within its pages. It is, after all, fiction, and while it might have some basis in truth, it is a highly dramatized version of people, relationships and events. Furthermore, the issues I want to tackle are complicated and sometimes difficult to articulate. Not only do I fear that telling the story might be hurtful, I feel doubt about my own ability to tell it properly. Am I really ready, as a writer, to do such a story justice?

I try not to spend much time worrying about it, however. If I’d given into the doubt that sometimes overwhelmed me as I wrote the Mistress of Fortune novels, they wouldn’t exist. I powered through, even when I had no idea what I was doing. And that’s just how I intend to proceed with this current project.

Friday, September 19, 2014

SinC Blog Hop! Plus This Week's Question Too!

By Art Taylor

Meredith Cole tagged me earlier this week for the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up, a blog hop that I'm happy to be a part of! (And Paul D. Marks, I'm tagging you next, buddy.)

All the potential questions for the challenge are terrific, but I'm gonna zero in on this one: "Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?"—especially because of an article I saw trending on Facebook recently about how moderate noise (coffee shop chatter particularly) enhances creativity; this may not be the exact article, but it's similar subject matter.

I can't write in silence, and more than that, even without the study to back me up, I've always believed that a little bit of music helps to unlock something in my head and get both the imagination working and the keyboard click-clacking away. I usually listen to jazz, because anything with words to it messes up my own words (I'm highly susceptible to earworms, sadly), and most times I just put on Pandora and pull up my John Coltrane station and take whatever comes up. Right now, for example, I'm listening to Carmell Jones' "What Is This Thing Called Love?"—and no complaints there!

But a couple of years ago, at an event at The Writer's Center, Ann Hagedorn, author of Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919, talked about her own writing process and mentioned that she listened to the same piece of music when she was writing a book—a different piece for each of her books as I recall, but in any case, the point was that whenever the music came on, it was a trigger of sorts that eased her into the project and into the writing day. I'm paraphrasing and perhaps not representing exactly what she said, but the idea did stick with me, and since then, whenever I'm working on longer projects (those failed novels or longer short stories), I've picked a single piece of music that I hoped matched the mood of that specific piece. For example, in the midst of working on a grittier darker piece, I spent several months listening each morning to Bob Belden's Black Dahlia—and that jolt that starts it up sure calls you to attention! For another piece, one set further in the past and drawing on some of my own childhood memories, I ended up playing Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth over and over and over again (and it holds up to repeated plays, that's for sure). It was a fascinating idea to have that same trigger music—and then to write for the length of the CD to make sure I did my daily dose—and while I haven't continued it faithfully, I'm sure it's a trend I'll come back to.

As for this week's Criminal Minds question—"What's your best research story?"—I can't let it pass without responding, because I've got a good one (though do need to mention a little bit of a spoiler alert ahead).

Back in 2007 (a key part of this story) when I was writing the first draft of "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants," I needed a little background on making ricin. Since I work at George Mason University, I naturally reached out via email to one of the faculty members here, a botanist, for some advice—and was very quickly told, "We should talk by phone about this."

After we did—and she offered some great help—she revealed that she had done some work for the government in chemical and biological weapons and felt that we'd be better not to email about it, since our correspondence had likely already been flagged and monitored.

Right, I thought. Like the government is paying any attention to random emails. Ha ha!

Little did I know....

Thursday, September 18, 2014


by Alan

What’s your best research story?

Here’s my best (scariest) research story:

Many local law enforcement jurisdictions hold their own Citizen Academies (or some version of one—make a few calls, you’ll be surprised). I attended one put on by the Herndon (VA) Police Department, where everyone involved was absolutely great—friendly, informative, generous. We met every Wednesday night for 12 weeks, and the sessions encompassed a wide range of police activities.

Undercover narc cops spoke to us about the seamy underbelly of the drug world, regaling us with some amazing stories and showing us what different drugs looked like, up close and personal. Gang specialists told us about dealing with different gangs and how to spot gang activity. We watched a K9 unit demonstrate “take-down” techniques, and we hit the streets to work the LIDAR gun (sorry Mrs. Peterson, but I clocked you going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone).

We went to the evidence lab and learned how to expose fingerprints with superglue fumes, we observed the lie detector in use (excuse me, the polygraph), and we got to fire live weapons on the firing range. A word of warning: Don’t mess with me—I put all five rounds in the inner circle, and it was the first time I’d ever even touched a real gun. Okay, I think it was from five yards away, but still...

Another highlight was our visit to the County Detention Center (aka, the jail). Talk about an eye-popping experience! We toured the whole thing—intake, processing, fingerprinting, breathalyzers, the holding cells, regular cells (pods, I think they were called), as well as the “special” cells. Fascinating, and mighty depressing. Talk about getting scared straight!

While all those experiences were terrific, the topper was my ride-along with a police officer.

I’ll take you back to that Saturday night on the mean streets of Herndon...

We’d been cruising for about two hours or so, checking out the normal trouble spots, and we’d gotten the usual calls. Excessive noise at a sketchy apartment complex, some possible gang activity near the 7-Eleven, a D-and-D (that’s drunk and disorderly, for all you, uh, rookies) at a local bar. Just your typical shift. Then the radio crackled to life again (police radios always “crackle to life”).

There was a report of several people running through the Community Center’s parking lot with rifles. “Hold on,” the officer beside me said. “This could get hairy.” She flipped on the siren and we went roaring through town, cars parting to let us through. Screeching into the Community Center parking lot, we pulled up alongside a couple other cruisers, both empty, one with a door still flung open. Someone had left in a hurry.

The officer barked at me, “Stay here. Don’t get out of the car.”

I forced a nod, mouth too dry to talk. Of course, she didn't have to worry. I had no intention of following her into the night with a bunch of armed goons on the loose. I slid down in my seat, until I could barely see over the dashboard.

She grabbed her shotgun out of the lockdown and raced off, leaving me all alone.

All alone.

My heart raced. What if the guys with guns doubled back and found me, by myself, a sitting duck in a patrol car? Would I become the unfortunate reason future ride-alongs had to be eliminated? I glanced around, hoping for reinforcements. Nope, just me and the empty police cars. I’d realized it before, but it hit home a lot harder in that moment. We don’t pay law enforcement personnel nearly enough.

Luckily, the situation had a non-violent resolution. It turned out that the people running through the parking lot were teenagers wielding air rifles. No one got hurt. But, man, how easily could something have gone terribly, irrevocably wrong? In the dark, those air rifles were indistinguishable from real rifles. Some poor Ride Along 600x960teenager’s head easily could have been blown off.

I heartily recommend going on a ride-along. Just make sure to wear two pairs of underwear on ride-along night.

That experience made its way into one of my books, a suspense novel appropriately titled RIDE-ALONG. (If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy, I’m giving one away at Goodreads. But hurry, today is the last day!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When Research is Fun

By Tracy Kiely

Before we start, I want to remind everyone that I write cozies. COZIES. For those who need a refresher on the definition let me be of assistance. Cozies are stories about well-mannered, well-dressed people having witty conversations… while they sip cocktails and stand over a body.
It sounds more callous than it is.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky to be able to attend several writer panels featuring some really great thriller writers. I discovered that research for thriller writers is waaaay cooler than research for cozy writers. Thriller writers get to learn about really cool stuff, like how bombs work, how spies communicate, how to quickly die your hair in a public bathroom, or which streets in Paris are the best for trying to lose a tail.  My research tends to be…umm… nothing at all like that. The raciest thing I every looked into was how to easily poison lemonade.  (For those of you who are curious, when Lilies of the Valley are placed in a vase of water, the water becomes sweet and toxic.  If this water were then added to an already sweeten drink – let’s say lemonade – it becomes both refreshing and deadly.)
Yeah. It doesn’t produce the same room gasp as learning how to forge a passport or disable a bomb. (Fun fact: apparently the timer mechanism on most bombs is NOT made from a giant red digital clock. Who knew?)
So, back to my books. My first series, featuring Elizabeth Parker, incorporates many of the themes and character traits in Jane Austen’s novels. Research for these books generally included me re-reading the books and re-watching the BBC’s adaptions.
Grueling work, but it’s for the craft.
I also read up on Austen, her life and the social mores of the times. Despite its somewhat sexist title, the book What Jane Austen ate and Charles Dickenson Knew, was one of the more fascinating reads. It highlighted some aspects of Pride and Prejudice that I’d missed. For instance, I learned that the dances usually lasted around a half and hour, which accounts for why Lizzy was so upset at having to dance the first two with her odious cousin, Mr. Collins. I also learned that height was a sign of vitality/sexuality which explains why Lydia is described as being the tallest of all the Bennett girls despite being the youngest. I also learned that men’s shirts were very long. They would tie one side into a knot and jam it down their pants to enhance their, ah, silhouette.
I know, right?
My new series is a modern-day update of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. My characters, Nicole and Nigel Martini, live in a LA where Nigel runs a movie preservation company. For the second book in the series I wanted them to uncover the truth behind an old Hollywood scandal. So, I read up on some of the more famous ones.
Did you know George Reeves – TV’s Superman – died under very strange circumstances?  The official story is that he shot and killed himself during a drunken party at his house. But there are many inconsistencies in the stories of those who where there – most especially from his volatile girlfriend, Leonore Lemmon.  In addition, the evidence creates more questions than answers. Reeves purportedly shot himself in the head while lying down on his bed. However, there were no fingerprints found on the gun. There was no gunpowder on the wound. A spent shell was found under his body. Lastly, the gun was found at his feet, not by his head. Add to all of this the fact that the police weren’t called for almost an hour after his death and you have yourself quite an interesting mystery.
Now, did I use any of this for my story? No. But, it was fun reading and all in the name of research.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Leave the computer behind.

By R.J. Harlick

What’s your best research story?

As a crime writer, I’ve goggled some rather nefarious websites, all in the interests of research of course. You know, sites for exotic poisons that kill instantaneously, getting rid of bodies without leaving a trace, the ins and outs of bondage sex and the like. I figure I have lit up a number of police alert systems and wouldn’t be the least surprised if some day I get the knock on the door. But hey, it’s all in writing the realistic crime novel, eh?

But as intriguing as these sites can be, I’ve had more fun and learned more by leaving my computer behind and getting out into the world I want to write about. Since I don’t write a police procedural I’ve never done a ride along with the police. The closest I’ve come was during a research trip to Baffin Island when I found myself with an RCMP constable who had to check prisoners in at a courthouse pending their court appearance. But none were up for murder and most were for drunk and disorderly with one accused of break and enter. Hardly the hardened criminals many of us write about. In fact I found them a rather sad lot.

Perhaps one of my more memorable research experiences is one that had nothing to do with crime or criminals. It happened while I was waiting for a flight in the Iqaluit airport on Baffin Island. In the far north the fuselage of small passenger planes are often divided to transport both passengers and cargo. I was watching them load the cargo into the plane I would be flying in, when a forklift drove up with an unusually large and long rectangular box.

Up until then, the boxes had been your standard square carton in which most goods are shipped, so I was curious to see how they would load this one onto the conveyor belt. But they managed with little fuss likely because they’d done it many times before. I got on the plane and didn’t give it another thought until we landed in Pangnirtung.

I wended my way through a surprisingly large throng of people waiting in the tiny airport. All of a sudden they began keening. It sent chills up my spine. The minute I heard this heartrending sound, I knew what the long rectangular box was all about. It was a coffin.

Though very tragic for those intimately involved, as an observer and writer, I didn’t hesitate to include a similar coffin scene in the book that eventually became Arctic Blue Death. I also learned the value of getting away from my computer and going into the field to do my research, because you never know when you might come upon something that will inspire your story.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A few of my favorite things about writing

The SinC Blog hop continues on 7 Criminal Minds! Instead of answering our question of the week, I'm going to answer a Sisters in Crime blog hop question.

What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?

If you were to ask anyone who is not a writer what they think is our favorite part of the writing process they would probably say "getting published." Although getting published is nice, if is definitely not my favorite part. In fact, if that was my favorite part I would probably have given up a long time ago (like at age 15). Getting published usually happens when I have already shifted my attention to my next book, and so my book in published form seems a little unfamiliar--like something I've read before but don't really feel very close to anymore.

The best part of the writing process is usually the one that I am not doing at this very moment. When I'm in first draft mode, I think, "I can't wait to edit this book! That will be so much easier." When I'm in editing mode, I think, "if only I were in first draft mode! I could write whatever I wanted instead of dealing with this huge first draft mess..."

Really the best part of writing is the times when I'm in "the zone." I have a million ideas for how to make my book better or I know exactly what is going to happen next and I can't type it fast enough. At those moments, I feel talented, creative and productive. I know that being a writer is what I was meant to do.

If you're looking for inspiration for the writing journey, look no further than the new Sisters in Crime anthology WRITES OF PASSAGE! Edited by Hank Phillipi Ryan, contributors include Laurie King, Margaret Maron, Nancy Martin--and from our very own Criminal Minds Catriona McPherson, Clare O'Donohue and me!

And I tag Art Taylor to continue the SinC Blog hop!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fiction is the Lie

Was there a point before you were published when you thought of giving up? If so, how did you get over it and keep going?

By Paul D. Marks

I still think of giving up, but I don’t do it.

Part of the reason we’re writers is ‘cause we’re persistent. Lots of people want to be writers, give up to easily or just don’t’ find time to do it. It’s a passion – it’s not like a hobby that you give up when you don’t have the time. And it’s a passion that you have to do every day like eating.

You write because you have to. Yes, it’s nice to get published. And even paid. But if that’s why one writes you’re in the wrong biz.

It’s kind of like “Ol’ Man River,” tired of livin’, but scared of dyin’. But the river keeps rolling along. As do we. Because there’s nothing else we can possibly do. Sure we might have families, other jobs, other obligations, but we find the time to write because it’s in our blood and in our bones.

We write because we have something to say, some interpretation of life that we want to share. Or maybe we just want to entertain. In “Sullivan’s Travels,” the classic Preston Sturges film, Joel McCrea plays a movie director who makes silly trifles like “Ants in Your Plants of 1939”. But he wants to make a serious film about people struggling, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”. Not knowing anything about the downtrodden he has the studio
costume department outfit him like a hobo and he takes off, entourage not far behind. To cut to the chase, so to speak, and through a series of misadventures he finds himself on a real chain gang. And there, watching the prisoners laugh at a Mickey Mouse cartoon he realizes that people just want to laugh and be entertained. And I think that’s what we want to do, entertain. It can be serious entertainment or light entertainment. But ultimately that is the bottom line – we are entertainers.

And how do I get over those doubts about continuing, I wake up the next day, sit at the typewriter (in the “early” days) and type. And if it really is in your blood you just get over it. Just like you do after you break up with the “love of your life.” Sure, h/she’s the one that got away. And you still think about her on occasion. But it’s yesterday. Today is working on that new chapter or character or funny bit or whatever. You just do it.

All of this because ultimately, as Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Doomed and happy to be so.

by Catriona

"Was there ever a time before you were published when you thought of calling it quits?"

Clare's answer yesterday was spot-on. Writing the first book, pre-agent, pre-deal, pre-anyone actually believing you've got a prayer isn't quitting time. It's the good old days. No deadline, no publicity, no helpful frenemies forwarding bad reviews. Before a writer is published everything in bathed in a golden glow.

Is it pessimistic to think of The Future as the end of hope and every achievement as another door slammed shut?  Possibly. Accurate, though. On a yearly scale, each book is perfect before you write it and then you make it worse and worse until it's finished and the only reason you carry on is to be done with it and get to the next perfect book-to-be. On a career-sized scale, each milestone takes you further away from the fork where you might have chosen the path that swerved the headache du jour.

How I wish I was completely kidding. (How I hope that at least one person reading this is going to know what I mean. (How I fear that some friends might stage an intervention.))

But I sort of mean it. Not for nothing is my favourite bit from Radio Days that bit when Julie Kavner says to little Seth Green: "Our lives are ruined already. You have a chance to grow up and be someone."

RADIO DAYS, Julie Kavner, Seth Green, Michael Tucker, 1987

By the way, if anyone wants to start an argument about whether the argument about whether the Atlantic or the Pacific is a better ocean is a better bit, go for it.

Anyway, if it's so terrible to combine writing book X with dodging reviews of book Y, promoting book Z, and not counting how little time there is left in the year to write book What Comes After Z, perhaps the question should be: "Was there ever a time after you were published that you thought of calling it quits?"

And in this case the answer is  . . . still no. It took me such a long time to work out that writing was for me and the other jobs I did were so unspeakable (except the one where I worked in a local history library, which was really just research for writing) I've never doubted for a minute that I'm doing the work I was meant to do.

Do I wish I'd worked it out a bit quicker? Nah. I think the only way to get to wherever you are is the way you came, on this wrong path, starting at the fork of regret. That's a sort of sunny side, right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I QUIT.... or maybe not

by Clare O'Donohue

Q: Was there a point before you were published when you thought of giving up? If so, how did you get over it and keep going?

I laughed when I saw the word "before" in this question. Before I was published I never thought about giving up. Not once.
I wrote my first book because I wanted to know if I could write a book. That was my main goal. I wanted to publish it too, of course. I got discouraged by each rejection, and slightly excited by each offer from an agent to read the first 50 pages. I tried not to care too much, and I also tried to take it seriously. I didn't want to be one of those people who called her book, "my baby". I wanted writing novels to be my job. I wanted to be professional.  
My friends & family fell into two groups - those who thought I was silly, indulgent, or na├»ve. And those who kept telling me "You'll be rich and famous." Actually, neither group was all that helpful and sometimes I wished I hadn't said a word about writing a book.
I didn't have a long hard road to publishing, so maybe that's why I didn't get to the "give up" stage. At least not before my first novel came out.
Since I've been published, on the other hand, I have often thought of quitting. A full time job that requires a lot of travel plus writing (and marketing) my books has been exhausting. There's a lot of weird passive-aggressiveness in publishing, and the pay rate is somewhere in the pennies per hour.
I don't know what I thought being a published author would look like, since I really didn't think about it at all. But whatever it was supposed to be, it often isn't. If I had gotten into this to be rich, or famous, I'd be long gone by now. Being a writer is hard, published or not. And not writing would definitely free up my evenings and weekends.
But I don't quit. And here's why.
1) I like being in the middle of a book, figuring out what will happen next. With each novel I get a teeny bit better at it. I will never be a master, but I am curious how far my talents, discipline, and efforts will take me.
2) New characters keep popping in my head. Characters that sit and wait for their turn to become words on a page. They may be imaginary, but they have rights. If they want to be in books, then they should be in books.  
3) The writers and readers that have become my friends in the six years since my first book came out. To stay in the club I must keep writing. And I very much want to stay in this club.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Blog Hop Invasion

A Sisters in Crime blog hop has invaded 7 Criminal Minds. Catriona McPherson brought the virus in, RJ Harlick caught it, then passed it to me. Now it's my turn hijack our weekly question. To participate, I have to:

(a) ignore our regularly scheduled weekly question
(b) choose a question from the list below & answer it here today
(b) tag another Criminal Mind to take the next turn

The Question Choices:

1. Which authors have inspired you?
2. Which male authors write great women characters?
3. If someone said, "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men," how would you respond?
4. What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?
5. Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?
6. What books are on your nightstand right now?
7. If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business? 

Catriona tackled 3 and cracked me up, RJ took on 4 and gave me lots of food for thought. I choose 6. What books are on your nightstand right now?

While it was tempting to go grab a bunch of friends' books and strategically place them, I opted for random honesty on this one. I have started some but finished none of the books on my bedside table. They're here because they're the books I'm most excited to read right now.

From top to bottom, I have:
Heinrich Boll's Group Portrait With Ladyloaned to me by a family friend who thinks that if I read this, it could improve my writing to make it more to his liking

An instructional DVD called “Yamuna Foot Fitness” about how to use foot wakers effectively

5000 Dead Ducks, by CD Evans and LM Shyba – loaned to me by a friend after she read Dead Politician Society and said it reminded her of this satire she'd read about “lust and revolution in the Alberta oil sands.”

So Long, Mariannea biography of Marianne Ihlen, the muse behind the Leonard Cohen song. I bought this book for two terrible reasons: I love the song and I love the cover. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson – I've heard it's great and want to read it.

Open Secret by Deryn Collier – I got about halfway through this gripping mystery before I got called away to read books to blurb with deadlines. I'm very excited to get back into this book when I can.

The Blondes by Emily Schultz – A thriller about evil blondes in New York City. And maybe they take over the world; I'm not sure. I already love Emily's writing so I know I'm going to love this when its READ NOW turn comes up.

Murder One by Robert Dugoni – Friends keep recommending Robert Dugoni. Eventually I'll give him a try.

Who's next in this blog hop?

Now I tag Meredith Cole  the coolest person I've never met in real life, and one more writer whose work intrigues me and I have yet to read it  to take this ball and run with it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

We Interrupt This Program....

By Art Taylor

Choice? Calling? This week's question has given me lots to reflect on in terms of my own writing life—taking me initially back to those elementary school writing contests and how excited I felt about them at the time, staying up late with one of my dad's yellow legal pads to write what I thought of as an epic poem. "If I Were an Ace" jumped through several imaginative adventures, each stanza more daring and dangerous than the last, and the whole thing pumped me up so much that I could barely write it fast enough: scribbling furiously, marking out words and replacing them with others in the margin, finally going to bed satisfied with what I'd written only to find my mind racing and retracing, and then there I was jumping back up with a new phrase or two and an extra twist and—

OK, despite my best efforts to stay on track with this week's question, I have to stop and share yesterday's big news: The good folks at Henery Press, an organization I've long admired and respected, have recently sealed the deal to publish my first book, On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, due out in September 2015! I can't express how thrilled I am with the project here—not just the publishing news itself but also the chance to spend more time with a couple of characters I dearly love. Del and Louise first appeared in my story "Rearview Mirror," published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine back in 2010, and the story went on to win a Derringer Award for Best Novelette the following year. I was flattered by the award then; I continue to be touched whenever folks (including Janet Hutchings, my editor at EQMM) tell me that this story remains their favorite of mine; and I'm excited about the prospect that these characters and their adventures will have a longer life ahead in book form. Just hope that others will enjoy it as well!

I promise to hold up on the BSPs for a while as well, but did want to take the news here as an opportunity to reflect back on the question at hand—especially with a deadline now to to finish the last of the stories for Del and Louise. On its best days, writing seems a calling: The imagination conjures up stories, images, characters, situations, details, words, phrases, and it's a rush twice over—first to catch up with all of whatever's spinning out in your head and second to write it down on the page before it gets away. That's the way I felt as a kid, writing just because it felt good and fun. But some days, obviously, stuff doesn't go like that—and it's those days, when the page is blank and the imagination seems to be running dry, when writing becomes a choice: the choice to sit down and push ahead despite everything seemingly working in just the opposite direction against you.

I may have shared this anecdote before, but it's a good one. At a writing conference down in NC many years ago, a woman in the audience stood up and asked Angela Davis-Gardner something along the lines of "What do you do when the muse just doesn't strike?" I was certain that Angela was going to smack her down somehow—writing is hard! it's not about the muse! etc. etc.—but she didn't, and the answer she gave has always stuck with me.

"Sometimes the muse just doesn't come," she said, shrugging. "We all have days like that. But every day I sit down at my desk to work, so the muse will know just where to find me."

And with that in mind, I'm logging out here, and getting back to work. :-)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hello? Anybody There?

by Alan

Do you feel like being a writer is a career choice or a calling?

I’ve been and done many things before becoming a writer. Engineer, product planner, marketing manager, entrepreneur. In fact, writing fiction never even crossed my mind until relatively recently (ten years ago).

I disliked writing in high school (Although I loved to read, I didn’t love reading all those boring, assigned books written by dead guys for class. I stuck to my science fiction, much to the consternation of my father, the former English teacher.)

I disliked writing in college. I studied engineering, so I didn’t really have to write much. And certainly nothing creative, unless you consider the analysis of a system’s vibration profile creative (truth: writing a grocery list is more creative).

I disliked writing in grad school. Although I more writing was required there, I managed to fill my papers with technical jargon and buzzwords. We even had a roommate competition where we came up with a list of buzzwords we had to use in each assignment. Which kept us amused, if not the professors.

So if being a writer is a calling for me, the phone rang pretty late.

Actually, in my case, writing was an absolute choice. More evidence: Some writers say they HAVE to write. That if they miss a day of writing, they feel bad. Not me. I can go whole weeks, nay months, without writing, and I wouldn’t feel any different. (Now, if I were to go a whole week without eating, then I would feel bad. Maybe my true calling is eating.)

This question brings up something I struggle with from time to time: my identity. When people ask me what I “do,” I (still) have a hard time saying writer. Yes, I’ve published six books (three traditionally,  three self-pubbed. Note the library “shelfie” with fellow Criminal Mind Clare’s books). Yes, I’m involved with writing organizations and attend writing conferences. Yes, I teach writing workshops (some start this month, sign up HERE). But I still hesitate before I claim to be a writer.

Maybe I’ll just tell people I’m an eater and ask for directions to the nearest buffet.



My book, RIDE-ALONG, is now available as a trade paperback. Enter the Goodreads Giveaway HERE for a chance to win your very own signed copy!