Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Double Dose of Magic

I've got a couple of new reads to pimp.

The first is Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo. She's the prolific author of short fiction with a bibliography that includes works in Weird Tales, Asimov, and And Rambo's been nominated for an Endeavor, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award.

Beasts is a clockwork tale rich with fantasy and magic. Soon after young Teo arrives in the city of Tabat, he's pulled into its complex politics and dangerous intrigue. It's a world of amazing chimera-like beasts vying for power in shifting alliances. To survive, he's drawn into the orbit of the gladiator Bella Kanto. Adding a twist to this already complex story is that the weather is determined by the victors in the gladiator arena, and forces are at work to undermine Bella. A beast revolt threatens an already tenuous peace, and Bella learns that she needs Teo as much as he needs her.

Get your copy Beasts of Tabat

Next is the thoroughly entertaining Signal to Noise by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. She describes herself as Canadian by inclination, which should endear her to several here at Type-M. 

Signal may seem like it simply rides familiar coming-of-tropes--alienation, young romance, validation, teen angst--but Moreno-Garcia expertly weaves in magic, humor, and music with character and plot. She gives us the personal odyssey of Mercedes "Meche" Vega, a teenager seeking identity and closure with herself and her family. The references to period music and the vintage (by now anyway) mix-tape technology give this story a wonderfully tactile texture to what is an already compelling and poignant narrative.

Support the cause and order yours Signal to Noise

Friday, April 24, 2015

Been There, Going Where?

Frankie, here. Finally, getting a chance to sit down at the keyboard. This week has been busy, and that brings me to my topic for today's post.

Yesterday, I was a guest lecturer for a series on genre fiction being offered at a local college. The attendees were all adults who were there because they were interested in the topic. I had two hours, and I decided to focus on the evolution of crime fiction and how that overlapped with the evolution of the criminal justice system. I started with our friend Edgar -- Poe, that is -- the "father of the mystery short story". I talked about his contributions to crime fiction as a genre -- from the brilliant, but eccentric, detective and his narrator to "hide in plain sight".  I told them about "The Mystery of Marie Roget," his fictional detective's investigation of the real-life murder of Mary Rogers, "the beautiful cigar girl" using accounts found in the "penny press".

I followed the evolution of crime fiction from Poe to Doyle to the "Golden Age" writers. I used Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder to move from country houses to "mean streets." I paused to discuss the real-life Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray murder case and what James M. Cain did with that case in Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice and how that influenced film noir. I moved on to the birth of police procedurals, and then to the impact of the Civil Rights movement and women's rights movement on crime fiction in the 1960s and after. I ended with the rise of the thriller. Along the way, I talked about crime fiction and theories of crime, the FBI, and modern forensics.

I packed a lot into those two hours. After my whirlwind tour through the evolution of crime fiction, I turned to writers and the changing industry. We've talked about the challenges here on Type-M and they come up during panel discussions at any writers conference. The challenges include finding an agent, finding a publisher, keeping a publisher. With new technology, we have to decide whether to continue with our efforts to traditionally publish or consider self/independent publishing or maybe become a hybrid. We worry about creating our "writer's platform" and then how much time to devote to maintaining it and making sure that all of our parts (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are all working together to ensure we reach a maximum audience. We worry about the time social media takes away from our writing. We think about how diversity and multiculturalism -- now being discussed -- affects us and the characters we create.

My audience was make up of people who read mysteries. They recognized the writers and titles I mentioned. And -- in case you're interested -- when I asked about use of social media, only 3 or 4 people out of an audience of around 50 said they use Twitter. On the other hand, I know some readers have found me on Twitter when a reviewer tweeted a link or a blogger mentioned my guest post. Something to ponder.

But, right now, I've got to run.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kill Your Darlings

Donis here. Two days ago I turned in my latest manuscript to my editor. I feel somewhat like I’ve been through a long trial and am now waiting for the judge to return with her verdict. I’m a little scared. Will I be sentenced to community service or hard labor? I’m not expecting the death penalty, but you never know.

The first draft of the story came in at 91,000 words! That is way long for a traditional mystery, which usually comes in at seventy to eighty thousand words. So before I sent it off, I picked up my literary axe and went to work. I was able to reduce the word count considerably just by removing unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Then I removed repetitive descriptions of people, scenery, action. When I go back over a MS, it’s surprising to see how many times I’ll say the same thing twice. Once you’ve said a character is short and fussy, there’s no need to say it six more times. I sometimes forget that I’ve already mentioned some detail over the course of a long manuscript, and sometimes I think that I repeat details because I want to be sure the reader remembers some thing or another. Don’t do that. It’s always a mistake to underestimate your reader.

Removing the detritus and eliminating repetition was easy enough, but my manuscript was still a weighty tome which needed paring. It was time to kill my darlings.

I had to go through and remove all my beautiful, wordy description, all the lovely banter between characters, and all my clever turns of phrase that were delightful and gorgeous and I loved them so...but they didn’t advance the story. I have to tell you that the pain was acute. But the manuscript is at least twenty pages shorter and much tighter. In my heart of hearts I know it’s better, and I also know it could be tightened even further. I do not want the reader to get bogged down in extraneous detail and forget the direction of the story. Or worse, get bored and quit reading.

But I loved my darlings and I didn’t want them to die. This is why we all need a good editor who will look you right in the eye and tell you the cruel truth.

For me, rewriting is the fun part. After the very first draft, my beginnings seldom match the end. Somewhere in the middle of the writing, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line, didn’t waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. I have gotten caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I have learned to just keep going until the end and repair all the inconsistencies when I’m done.

As I reread the story, it’s interesting to see how it all turned out, to remember what I originally had in mind and see how the tale changed as I moved through it.

My inner lawyer tells me that I’ll probably be given a short period of hard labor. Anyone who’s ever scribbled a page knows that writing is rewriting. At least I’ve never met a literary Mozart, whose first draft is so perfect that it doesn’t need any alteration. It’s the rewriting that makes the book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reflections on the promo game

Barbara here. Several of the recent Type M postings have dealt in some way with all the things we authors have to do AFTER our brilliant piece of prose is released. There have been posts about the adventures of touring, the death of bookstores, the illusion of social media promotion, the art of reading in public, and the way we twist ourselves into pretzels trying to do all these things while writing the next book.

Who knew? I remember walking into my local Chapters when my first book had just come out. This was in 2000, before social media, before the demise of bookstores, before the store's take-over by candles and cards. I stood in the entranceway gazing in awe at the bookcases and bookcases and bookcases of books. I walked past the displays at the front of the store – shelves clamouring 'Hot new fiction', 'Best Picks', 'New releases' – past the seasonal displays and remaindered tables, past the general fiction section, all the way to the huddle of mystery shelves at the back of the store. And there I was, tucked into the middle of the middle row of the middle bookcase, dwarfed by an entire shelf of Dick Francis and Karin Fossum.

Who was ever going to find this book, I thought, let alone choose to buy it over the other tens of thousands of books in this store?

Therein lies the author's conundrum. And I believe it is amplified several-fold nowadays because of the sheer number of books being published. For the self-published author and even those published by smaller presses without the massive promotional and advertising budgets of the big guns,  spreading awareness of their book is a huge challenge. Bombarding social media with blatant and irritating pleas or brags doesn't sell books, and indeed may be counter-productive, but if no one's heard of the book, they won't buy it either. Hence the tightrope that we all try to walk on social media between self-promotion and personal connection, so that we nurture friendships and networks and balance self-promotion with sharing each others' achievements. It takes patience, luck, and above all, a damn good book. Your first book sells your second. Or not.

It's an ever-evolving marketplace, and what worked before may not work tomorrow, but I think the same principles will be at play. Write the best book you possibly can, listen to the advice of editors and beta readers, rewrite it even better, and then once it's published, start reaching out to booksellers, librarians, readers, and fellow authors. As Sybil said, this is challenging and unnatural for writers, who are often shy, but it actually does get easier, and I'd say you're well on your way, Sybil. I found my first panel (also at Bouchercon) terrifying, but eventually I got used to them. My first reading was no doubt abysmal, but I kept doing them. I attended conferences where I barely knew a soul. I did bookstore signings where I felt more like a Walmart greeter showing the way to the restrooms, library readings that two people came to, radio and TV interviews that I suspected no one watched. Over the past fifteen years I have probably attended dozens of book clubs. Love them! A great way to make new friends as well as readers.

I started off this post intending to talk about the secrets to a successful book tour, but as usual I am wandering around in the maze of ideas, in the process discovering that the secrets to book tours apply equally well to all promotional efforts. Here they are:
  1. Travel with another author. Not only do two authors make for a more entertaining event, but it's great to have company and someone to share expenses (and that glass of wine) at the end of the day.
  2. Always be prepared to laugh. It may be all you get out of an event. Look for the adventure, be prepared for the unexpected, and see the humour (and the story possibilities) in all that happens. This is easier if your companion knows how to laugh too.
  3. Never count the money. Promotional efforts are about forging relationships, building trust and readers. If you're thinking about what this trip is costing you, or about how many books you've sold, you'll sink into a deep funk. But if the book is good, the word will be spread.
  4. Be gracious, respectful, and appreciative not only of the librarians and booksellers who have organized the event but also of the readers who came. They owe you nothing; they put themselves out for you, and they all have horror stories of the divas who will never be invited again.
I know other authors who are much better at all this than I am. They keep track of readers who come to events, they use Mail Chimp to generate mailing lists for newsletters, Goodreads to get connected to new readers, and multiple blogs with various authors to spread the word. But I have not yet figured out Mail Chimp or Goodreads, and in the end, I need time to write. That's why I got into this in the first place. And although being friendly and accessible might help sell that first book, the first book sells the second.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thoughts on doing an effective reading

This is a post aimed at all the authors in the audience. But even if you aren’t yet a published writer or never intend to become one, you might find what I have to say interesting and illuminating.

Like many of the promotional things authors are expected to do, one of the most time-honoured is readings. I’ve done many. I’ve also heard other authors do many. Some of us enjoy doing them. Some loathe them. To be honest, most are not very good.

I’ve discussed readings here on Type M before, as have others, but I feel it’s time to hit on it once again. Why? I have to do a reading in two days for the Arthurs Ellis Shortlist Announcement here in Toronto. The participating authors have been given three minutes each. That makes the assignment doubly tough. What can you read in 180 seconds that will make an audience feel compelled to buy your book?

Here are some of my thoughts (in point form) on doing an effective reading:
  • Pick an effective passage. Remember: you’re selling your book here! Action scenes with dialogue are most effective. It helps if you can give some individualization to your characters by changing your voice. Even a little bit can make a difference.
  • You don’t have to read every word you wrote. Leave out long descriptive passages unless they’re really gripping. Sell the sizzle, not the steak! That’s why action scenes are best.
  • Don’t read from your book. Print out the passage in large, easy-to-read type, complete with any edits needed (see above point).
  • Practise your selection beforehand. Very few of us are trained actors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better with practice. Recording yourself is unbelievably helpful here! If you tend to get nervous, do a dry run before an audience of family or friends.
  • Before you read, take a deep breath and gather yourself. Speak to the audience, not to the air. Practising beforehand will make it possible to look up from your material and engage your listeners more effectively. Speaking more slowly will make you more understandable. Again, think about actors and speak strongly and confidently. Even if you aren’t, look as if you’re enjoying this. I guarantee that the better you get at reading, the more you will enjoy it!
Remember: when you’re doing a reading, you are an actor more than an author. Making a positive impression with your reading makes it far easier to sell your book.

As a public service to some very good friends, I’m including in my post this week, the announcement for the 2015 Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award shortlist announcement.

Murder Is Nothing to Have Fun With...Or Is It?
Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award Announces Finalists

(Toronto, ON) April 15, 2015 – The Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award, an annual Canadian award that celebrates traditional, feel-good mysteries is pleased to announce this year’s finalists. The award is for a “mystery book that makes us smile” and includes everything from laugh-out-loud to gentle humour to good old-fashioned stories with little violence or gore.

Congratulations to the five finalists for the 2015 Bony Blithe Award:

Cathy Ace, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair (Touchwood Editions)
Judith Alguire, Many Unpleasant Returns (Signature Editions)
E.C. Bell, Seeing the Light (Tyche Books)
Janet Bolin, Night of the Living Thread (Berkley Prime Crime)
Allan Stratton, The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish (Dundurn Press)

The award will be presented at the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award Bash on Friday, May 29, at The Hot House Restaurant & Bar, 35 Church St., Toronto (Church at Front). The festivities start at 6:30 p.m. in the Library Room. For more information, contact us at

The winner will receive a cheque for $1,000 plus a colourful plaque.

Thank you to all the publishers and authors who submitted their books for this year’s contest. May there be many smiles in your future.

Facebook: Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award
Twitter: @bonyblithe

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Perfect Murder

I have just discovered how to commit the perfect murder. In a spirit of generosity I am now prepared to share the inspiration with any fellow authors who may be looking for just this, or anyone who is merely thinking of bumping off the person who posted that bad review on Amazon.

Recently I went to a hygiene course in connection with some charity work I'm going to be doing. I had thought it would basically be about food handling – hand washing, paper towels, separate boards for raw meat – all the basic things we do anyway.

But it was much wider than that and I have to say the general reaction, having been told how death lurks in every kitchen, no further away than that less than pristine cloth you just wiped the surfaces with, was to consider that giving up eating altogether was the only safe thing to do. One of our number, a young girl who hadn't much kitchen experience, got paler and paler and when the instructor said that leaving meat out to defrost instead of in the fridge could be lethal, wailed, 'But that's what I've done today!'

What got my criminal mind working was having it explained that whenever meat is cut, it acquires a film of bacteria on the surface, which thorough cooking destroys. A rare steak isn't cooked right through but the searing on all cooked surfaces does the job. A rare hamburger, however...

That film of bacteria, once the meat is minced, gets mixed in and spreads right though. Put on the barbecue, the outside is safely seared but the bacteria inside, all cosy and warm from the gentle heat around them, multiply like crazy. My instructor's view was that Russian roulette is safer. It's a question of, 'Maybe not today, but sometime, and for the rest of your – probably very short – life.'

So there we have the plot. The victim: a guy, probably rich, who loves his hamburger rare. The villain, his young, gold-digging wife. The motive: obvious. The weapon: a pound of minced fillet of steak, set by the range in the kitchen for the day. The place: a sunny garden, the fragrance of roasting meat in the air. The time: very shortly afterwards.

A tragic case of food poisoning, a weeping, suddenly very rich widow safe in the knowledge that there will be no forensic evidence to prove she poisoned him. Sure, it could be traced to her kitchen but no one could show that she'd done it deliberately and (at least in Britain) you can't even be prosecuted for low hygiene standards provided it is food that has been prepared and eaten in your own home.

So that's why I'm being uncharacteristically generous with my idea for an ingenious method of poisoning. Normally when I've got a good idea I keep it to myself like a child with a secret stash of candy, but I can't for the life of me think how even the powers of DI 'Big Marge' Fleming could bring that one to justice.

But perhaps you can?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sunday Guest Blogger: Clyde Phillips

It is an honor to bring you Clyde Phillips this week. Clyde is a bestselling crime novelist, the former executive producer of the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Showtime series Dexter, for which he won the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting; and he currently serves as executive producer for the network's acclaimed Nurse Jackie. He also created the television series Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Suddenly Susan, and Get Real (starring Anne Hathaway). In his spare time, he is the author of the Jane Candiotti novels, Fall From Grace, Blindsided, Sacrifice and, most recently, Unthinkable.

I met Clyde via happenstance: his daughter, Claire, a very talented writer in her own right, was in the AP English class I taught. I had no idea who or what he was. One day after class, Claire approached my desk and said, "My dad writes stuff you'd like." She was right. He does. And I do – I like his stuff a lot. Below are Clyde's thoughts on his approach to writing.

by Clyde Phillips

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I get to respond “I’m a writer,” I always feel an immense sense of pride. The follow-up question is usually “What kind of stuff do you write?” Well, the answer to that is: everything.

I’m a television writer in both half hour comedy and one hour drama. I’ve written several feature screenplays. And I’ve published four best-selling crime novels. So, then the question inevitably comes, “what’s the difference in your approach to writing in each of these media?”

The answer is simple: there is no difference.

I’m a storyteller; and it’s my responsibility to tell that story in the most authentic and entertaining way possible.

Each time I start to write a script or a book, my initial task is always the same. Outline, outline, outline. That’s the real heavy lifting. I’ll often sit with a writing assistant (an aspiring writer who gets the benefit of my experience while I get the benefit of someone taking notes) for weeks or months and bounce ideas around. Snippets of dialogue. Character traits (especially flaws). Action. Plot. When the outline is done – and an outline certainly isn’t a binding contract. I often stray from it if and when a better idea comes along – then the fun begins. The actual writing of the piece.

An outline for a half-hour comedy is usually about seven pages. For a one-hour drama, it’s ten to fifteen pages. And for a novel (at least for me) it can be up to one hundred pages. Seriously.

But that hard outlining is like intense training for game day.

Once the outline is ready (or nearly so), I let it sit and percolate for a few days (if I don’t have a deadline); waiting for some internal magic to bubble up. It invariably does. And then I grab that magic (a character’s secret, a crucial and unexpected plot twist) and weave it into the outline.

And then the anxiety floats away and a sense of calm washes over me.

And then I write.