We’re Not Making This Up

Miramichi 018Kate Flora: Of course, as fiction writers, we are making some of it up. You all know that. What many readers don’t realize, though, is how, even in midst of creating fictional characters and fictional crimes, we’re constantly doing research to try and make it realistic.

I was thinking about research and reality this morning as I’m preparing to do a workshop for aspiring crime writers next weekend on guns and violence. As a desk-bound suburban woman well into her middle years, I have to work hard at writing realistic police procedurals featuring male cops. Along the way, I’ve taken a citizen’s police academy and a police taught RAD self-defense class. During the part of our police academy where the students were the cops and the cops played bad guys, I got a ton of insight into a rookie’s first days when I tried to do a traffic stop, caught my baton on the door handle, and slammed face first into my own car window in front of my entire class.

img_0995I’ve attended the Writers’ Police Academy http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com (described as Disneyland for Crime Writers) started by the wonderful Lee Lofland http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ and wish I could go back every year. I’ve hung around with evidence techs apparently instructed to show me the worst pictures they could, just to see how I’d handle it. At a national writer’s conference, I’ve played at being an evidence tech myself, learning to lift fingerprints off a glass.

I’ve done a lot of riding around in police cars, late at night, talking quietly with officers about what they’re seeing, trying to see the streets through their eyes. Had those fascinating conversations as they read the streets and houses like a roadmap of crime and interpersonal violence. The body in that basement, the murdered girlfriend, the killer who ran down that alley and shot himself right there. I’ve sat through traffic stops where I watched the officer’s wary body language, and later debriefed about the process and why it is so important to see the person’s hands. I’ve gone on a stakeout where I spotted the bad guy. Interviewed a witnesses’ husband and got a detail the police didn’t know.

I see police officers and stories about the police through different eyes now.

And then there are the books. In Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine there was img_0997fascinating entomological evidence, which led me M. Lee Goff’s book, A Fly for the Prosecution. Working on a story about an excavation where bones are found led me to a whole host of books about bones and forensic analysis. Trying to make my cops feel authentic was helped by Lee Lofland’s book, Police Procedure and Investigation. Trying to make the crime scenes feel authentic led me D. P. Lyle’s Forensics.

Since we can’t make our bad guys obvious or one-dimensional, understanding human psychology becomes surprisingly important. Yes, much of what we write we know from observing the people around us. Deviants, psychopaths, and sociopaths can be found anytime we drive on the highway or stand in a airport line. But books can be helpful in developing them and understanding how bad guys are shaped by their families and childhoods. There’s no better dark reading than any of the books by FBI profiler John Douglas and cowriter Mark Olshaker.

img_0996I even have two criminalistics textbooks, scored at library yard sales, and my own copy of Vernon Geberth’s Practical Homicide Investigation. That last comes with this story: I decided to preview investigation textbooks, and so I borrowed a copy of this through my local library. When the book arrived, the male librarian was reluctant to give it to me. “Are you sure you want to see this?” he said. “It’s pretty graphic.” I said I did and he reluctantly handed it over. It is pretty graphic. It also have fabulous checklists which help make my fictional investigator better at his job.

Our mystery reading audience can be a pretty tough crowd. And we sometimes have to do some tough work to be sure we meet their standards.

 

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That Old Autumn Feeling

tumblr_maiujcqypo1r3sm6co1_500As writers we sometimes feel blessed — or cursed — with a continuing education. Every day we write we are on some learning curve or other, struggling to remember what happened yesterday in the story, where it’s going, what the research says, and how to put the perfect sentence together. The advent of brisk fall weather reminds us of back-to-school, even though most of us haven’t been to actual school for decades. Autumn is a time of endings, but also beginnings. New pencils, new friends and old, clean reams of paper, spotless notebooks ready to be scribbled in: this is autumn.

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This 9/11 we remember the victims of the terrorist attacks as well as honoring the first responders and those who still suffer physical and psychological trauma from that time.  And here’s to us getting out of the Big Muddy to paraphrase Pete Seeger.


On a happier note, I am glad to be attending this year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans doing a couple of panels, celebrating Down & Out Books’ 5th anniversary, and participating in group signings for anthologies I’m in – The Highway Kind, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, Crime + Music, Occupied Earth and Blood on the Bayou.

Lise McClendon

img_2048Lise is not happy about NOT attending this year’s World Mystery Convention, Bouchercon, in New Orleans. It’s always a blast, a sort of writers high school reunion. So she adds this silly photo from last year’s event in Raleigh, NC, to remember the good times.

Katy and Lise hope there are some big chairs in New Orleans. Because what is a convention without giant seating?! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

This August marked the release of Lise’s newest Bennett Sisters novel, The Things We Said Today. The third full-length novel (there is also a novella) comes two years after the last things-we-said-webone, The Girl in the Empty Dress. To mark the occasion and thank readers she is giving away copies of Blackbird Fly, the first in the series. Click here to get the details. 

The new one finds the five sisters in the Scottish Highlands for the oldest sister’s wedding. But does she even want to get married at the ripe old age of 55? Weather, whisky, and intrigue threaten to shatter the happy day.

Lise also refurbished her website at lisemcclendon.com and would love to hear what you think of it. Also check out how to join her review team. Free books: were two better words ever combined?

J.D. Rhoades

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J.D. (aka Dusty) will also be at Bouchercon in New Orleans this week, September 15-18.  Come by Mardi Gras “D” at 4:30 Thursday for the panel “Telling Lies”, moderated by the extremely funny Johnny Shaw. See if you can separate true stories from lies told by professionals!


He just turned in final edits on a new Jack Keller novel, HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL. Check out the cover!

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Here is the cover for Kate’s soon to be released 5th Joe Burgess police procedural, Led Astray. Watch for it on Amazon.

In other news, A Good Man with a Dog, the memoir Kate co-wrote with a retired Maine game warden, won second place in the 2016 Public Safety Writers Association annual writing contest.

May your pencils be as sharp as your mind! Happy autumn 🍁🍂

I’m Not a Panster, I’m a Cooker

 

Miramichi 018.JPGYou all know how it goes. There is a panel of authors sitting before an audience. The presentation is done and now it’s time for Q&A. Once in a while there’s a question that is delightfully quirky or unpredictable, but most times, along with questions about where we get our ideas, someone will want to know whether the writers outline before they write.

The answers will vary. Some of the writers will be serious outliners, the kind who have a detailed, sixty-page outline before they write word one. They are likely the same folks who carefully keep notebooks about each recurring character. Who give their characters birthdays. Who remember that in book two, Uncle Henry and Aunt Rita were feeling estranged from the main character. Who will have carefully noted when their character’s sister burned down the house or shot the neighbor’s dog. They will have a note on the name of that deceased dog so they won’t use it for another dog later in the series. These people, though I long to emulate them, are just too organized.

Others will work from a shorter outline, possibly the one they submitted to a publisher to Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 12.18.22 PMget another contract. These writers generally know the story they mean to tell, although most will readily admit that the book they end up writing often bears little resemblance to the outline they submitted. Usually, neither the author nor the editors cares when this happens.

Occasionally there are those who admit they start at the end of the book and work backward, making sure that everything that happens leads to that already designed and inevitable ending.

Then there are the pantsers. These are the writers who sit down at the keyboard (formerly Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 12.19.23 PMknown as the typewriter), type Chapter One, and have at it. Many of them will admit that at the end of the writing day or a scene or a chapter, they have no idea what will happen next. For them, much of the joy of writing is in that journey of discovery. It’s in somehow having their creative minds lead them forward into the next chapter. And for pantsers—while they will admit to those moments of despair when they don’t know what to write next and no fluttery little muse is whispering in their ear—this approach generally works.

I am neither an outliner nor a pantser. When I wrote my first mystery—one of the three that reside in a drawer labeled: In the event of my death, burn these—I wrote the pieces I knew. From there, I made an outline of what I needed to write to connect these pieces, and finally, an outline of what needed to still be filled in. I wrote the next in much the same fashion, feeling my way along. Probably following that line that is attributed to many writers including Doctorow that writing is like driving a night. You can only see as far as your headlights but if you keep going, eventually you will get there.

That felt a bit shaky and disorganized, so for the next book, I wrote an outline. Following that outline lasted exactly one chapter. At the end of chapter one, in a book that I had planned to be about real estate and corrupt bankers, a student walks into my protagonist high school teacher’s classroom and says: “You’ve got to help me, Mr. M. I’m in big trouble.” The book became about that trouble.

I’ve lost count, but at book twenty-four or so, I’ve evolved into what I call a cooker. Not meth, thank goodness, but plotting. When an idea comes to me—often only a phrase, or a person in a difficult situation or whatever—I begin the process of wondering. Who is this person? Why is he or she in this situation? What’s in the past that led them here? And once that musing leads to a protagonist and a victim, I wonder about why the victim is dead, what my protagonist’s connection is, and then my mind begins to fill in the details about the crime scene, the clues, the killer, the other suspects, and how it will all be unraveled. I don’t write it down, but I remember it.

During the cooking period, I can get quite lost in my own head. Plot ideas or critiques of what I’ve planned can come flying at me at any time. While driving. In the shower. As I go to sleep and as I’m waking up. During this time, I joke that I should wear a tag like Paddington Bear that reads: Please Look After This Author. Thank You. If Found, Please Return To . . .”

That in-my-head plan can still get knocked awry by a character seizing control—an event that used to scare me but now I embrace. But mostly, I follow the story line I’ve cooked up.

So if I zone out during dinner. If I suddenly get a glazed look in my eyes. If I suddenly whip out my phone and begin typing—please smile indulgently. I’m not being rude. I’m just cooking.

The Writer’s Journey is a Bumpy Ride

Kate Flora, here, on a frigid New England day with temperatures hovering around zero anGood Man with a Dog Cover-2 a wind chill factor predicted to be around minus thirty. Not a good day to be outside tramping around in the snow, but as writers know, bad weather is just another reason to be at our desks. Right now, I’m sitting at mine, doing a form of mental triage as I sort out the months ahead.

Perhaps you’re wondering about that bumpy ride I mentioned? Well, there’s the long story, involving ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner and the ups and downs ever since. And the short one. I’ll tell the short one. When I looked ahead at 2016 from the middle of 2015, I was looking at a very rosy year, a year that was going to carry me from fourteen published books to seventeen. The arrival of each new book is a special moment, and 2016 promised to be full of excitement and the challenge of a whole lot of book promotion for very different books.

What was on the horizon? A book due out in April, A Good Man with a Dog, a retired Maine game warden’s memoir of twenty-five years in the Maine woods that I co-wrote. http://amzn.to/1mz0End A fascinating project. A 2 ½ year process. And finally, a story that surprised both me and co-author Roger Guay. That book, thankfully, is still on track.

And that would have been enough. Except that there was supposed to be another book in May (that is, finally appearing in May after two previous delays). I was looking forward to that book because it was the long-delayed eighth book in my Thea Kozak series, Death Warmed Over. Writing a series with a returning set of characters over many years is like occasional get-togethers with good old friends. When I decided to revisit Thea, after a few years between books, her voice just jumped off the page, she came alive, and it was like getting a chance to catch up with someone I really liked spending time with. Her ironic sense of humor, her world view, and her deep compassion for the little people make her an excellent companion.

2013 Best Crime Writer in Maine
In Maine, you win a literary award and you get a blue balloon!

The book went to my editor a couple years ago and then sat, in limbo, for nine months of silence. Finally, there was a request for revisions, and it went back to the editor’s desk with a plan, first to publish last year, then to publish it this May. It has languished again in limbo ever since and another silence has fallen.

This is not news. Nor a tragedy. In the writing business, we go through this a lot. Books and authors get orphaned. It’s embarrassing to have told readers the book was finally coming, but writers rarely die of embarrassment. It does mean that now I have to find the book a new home or decide to publish it myself.

Which would have been enough. Two books in a year are plenty. Except for the fate of the third book. That one was supposed to publish in November, right on time for our regional mystery conference, The New England Crime Bake. Only, after waiting nine months for a contract, what I got was an e-mail saying the publisher was discontinuing their mystery line. Now my fifth Joe Burgess, And Led Them Thus Astray, is also an orphan.

So here I sit with two books that suddenly have no publishers–and a lot to ponder on. At times like this, after thirty years on this bumpy road, giving up can seem tempting.

I remind myself: In 2014, I had two books published. The non-fiction book, Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice, was an Agatha and Anthony nominee and won the Public Safety Writers Association award for nonfiction. My fourth Joe Burgess won the 2015 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. It was a great year. And now this. If there’s a message from the universe, it is clearly along the lines of “sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down and you have to keep on writing.”

I’m going to listen to that message from the universe. The last time I had a series get

IMG_1973
Accept rejection or be open to what comes next?

dropped, after I got over the initial despair and floundering, I was led into some fascinating adventures. Starting a police procedural series. Saying “yes” to the invitation to help form Level Best Book, a venture into publishing crime story collections that put over a hundred authors in print and led to a project that continues today, though I have long since retired. Deciding to take chances and say “yes” instead of wallowing led me to writing nonfiction, which has been an incredible journey.

Where the bumpy ride will take me next, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I shove self-pity aside and open myself to adventure, it becomes a fascinating journey. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner.

Get Your Jingle On

Happy holidays from the gang here at Thalia Press Authors Co-op!

 

We’ve had a busy year in writing, publishing, and just trying to keep our heads on our shoulders. We hope you’ve met your writing goals, assuming you have some, or have read some great novels this year. We’d love to hear what you’re reading.

And now to some announcements of new and upcoming publications.

BSL AUDIO CoverThe pen name of the author of Beat Slay Love, our collaborative novel, is Thalia Filbert. Thalia (Gary, Kate, Taffy, Katy, and Lise collectively) is excited to announce that the audiobook version of the culinary thriller is now available. It’s free if you’re just joining Audible! Our narrator, Robin Rowan, has a blast with our wily characters, from naughty Hannah to nerdy Jason. Listen to a sample HERE

 • Available at Amazon  Audible and iTunes •

We are giving away a copy to a commenter below, so tell us about your year, your favorite book, or your holiday party.

To keep up with Thalia news please join us HERE


Sarah Shaber has a new book out, Louise’s Chance, in her World War II mystery series. Government girl Louise Pearlie has a new job inside the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services: recruiting German prisoners-of-war for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany. It’s a big chance for her, and Louise hopes she can finally escape her filing and typing duties.

“To a librarian, a well-researched book is a true joy, and Shaber’s Louise Pearlie series is a gem. This newest entry in the series provides a deeper and richer portrait of Louise, as her life progresses through wartime Washington.” –B Brechner, Librarian

New trade paperbacks of older Louise books are now available as well.


 

Be on the lookout for J.D. Rhoades’ new thriller, Ice Chestcoming in February. Dusty read us a bit of this new one at Bouchercon, and we laughed our asses off.

The publisher says: A smart, sexy and hilarious heist novel about a crew of thieves who attempt to steal the world’s most valuable jewels from the world’s most valuable body.

A motley crew of bumbling crooks is scheming to make off with the biggest heist of their careers: five and a half million dollars in precious stones, used to create the world’s most expensive piece of lingerie. But mix the glitz and glamour of the highest of high fashion with a team of crooks that would have trouble stealing a sandwich from a deli, and all bets are off.

“Delivers nonstop entertainment” — Booklist. Available for pre-order now.


 

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Gary Phillips also has a February release. His collection of three novellas, 3 the Hard Way, drops from Down & Out Books. These pulpy, action-heavy, hardcore novellas compiled for the first time in one book.

In The Extractors, one percenter thief McBleak puts it all on the line to take down a greedy man’s gain; extreme athlete Noc Brenner must use all his skills in The Anti-Gravity Steal to prevent the use of a machine capable of wholesale destruction; and in 10 Seconds to Death, Luke Warfield, the Essex Man, part Shaft and part Batman sans the cowl, hunts down the man who killed his foster father and must stop a deadly plan of mass slaughter in his own backyard.  Plus a bonus Essex Man short story.

Check out his Amazon Author page to keep up with this prolific writer.


Lise McClendon has been busy in 2015 getting audiobooks narrated for several of her novels. PLAN X came out earlier in the year and this summer and fall saw the release of The Girl in the Empty Dress and Jump Cut. Working with narrators is a time-consuming but fun experience, getting the names right and hearing the voices of all the characters come to life.

She thanks her generous narrators who worked hard to make these audiobooks happen: Tassoula Kokkoris (Plan X), Denice Stradling (who narrated both Blackbird Fly and The Girl in the Empty Dress), and Kristy Burns (Jump Cut.)

Lise has a few complimentary codes left for all three of these books. Drop her a line at lise at lisemcclendon.com for details.


Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.32.22 AMDog lovers, heads up!

Coming in April is Kate Flora’s new one, a collaboration with a Maine game warden.

A Good Man with a Dog is the story of a warden Roger Guay’s twenty-five years in the Maine woods, much of it with canine companions. Woof!

Rides the Black-and-white Horse

Some years back at a mystery convention in Boulder, Colorado, I performed this tone poem with John Harvey on tambourine, Bill Moody on drums, and a variety of semi-volunteers snapping their fingers to the beat. I wrote this as an homage to the mystery novel. Recently someone quoted snippets of it on twitter with illustrations, and I liked it so much I’ve added a few of my own.

I’m always amused at reactions of people who don’t read mysteries and thrillers, who don’t know the excitement of entering a frightening world of evil or an everyday town where strangers wait their turn to make mayhem. Got the shivers yet?

Here’s how the book sees you the reader.

 

I am a book.

Sheaves pressed from the pulp of oaks and pines
a natural sawdust made dingy from purses, dusty
from shelves.
Steamy and anxious, abused and misused,
kissed and cried over,
smeared, yellowed, and torn,
loved, hated, scorned.

I am a book.

I am a book that remembers,
days when I stood proud in good company
When the children came, I leapt into their arms,
when the women came, they cradled me against their soft breasts,
when the men came, they held me like a lover,
and I smelled the sweet smell of cigars and brandy as we sat together in leather chairs,
next to pool tables, on porch swings, in rocking chairs,
my words hanging in the air like bright gems, dangling,
then forgotten, I crumbled,
dust to dust.

 

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
a book brand-new, sprung from the loins of ancient fathers clothed in tweed,
born of mothers in lands of heather and coal soot.
A family too close to see the blood on its hands,
too dear to suffering, to poison, to cold steel and revenge,
deaf to the screams of mortal wounding,
amused at decay and torment,
a family bred in the dankest swamp of human desires.

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
I am a mystery.

I am intrigue, anxiety, fear,
I tangle in the night with madmen, spend my days cloaked in black,
hiding from myself, from dark angels,
from the evil that lurks within
and the evil we cannot lurk without.

 

I am words of adventure,
of faraway places where no one knows my tongue,
of curious cultures in small, back alleys, mean streets,
the crumbling house in each of us.

I am primordial fear, the great unknown,
I am life everlasting.
I touch you and you shiver, I blow in your ear and you follow me,
down foggy lanes, into places you’ve never seen,
to see things no one should see,
to be someone you could only hope to be.

 

 

I ride the winds of imagination on a black-and-white horse,
to find the truth inside of me,
to cure the ills inside of you,
to take one passenger at a time over that tall mountain,
across that lonely plain to a place you’ve never been
where the world stops for just one minute
and everything is right.

I am a mystery.

-Rides a Black and White Horse”
Lise McClendon