Saturday, March 17, 2018

On Location

Here I am!

By Vicki Delany

Right now, I’m working on the fifth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop book, in which I’m taking Gemma, Jayne, and the gang to England for a Sherlock Holmes conference.
Sir Arthur Drank Here

At the end of November I went to London for five days to do location research for the book.  I had a great time and saw lots of interesting things to put in the book.  We stayed in South Kensington, close to where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hung out during his time as president of the College of Psychic Studies, and had a couple of drinks in a pub where he was a regular. My books are not about Sherlock Holmes, so I didn’t spend much time at Sherlockian sites, I was there more to walk the streets my characters would walk, look at houses they would visit, travel the tube where they would go, visit museums they, as tourists, would visit, and drink at pubs they would frequent. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

I came home with plenty of ideas and lots of pictures.

In-depth research
More In-depth research

But what about all the things I might have not known I’d want to see when I was there? Such as the inside of a Georgian row house in Kensington or a high end flat in Canary Wharf, or the exact route one would take to get from point A to Point Z with all the points in between.

For that I have the Internet. All that, and so much more, at my fingertips.

Which started me wondering how writers of old (meaning more than ten or fifteen years ago) managed. Sure they had maps and reference books at home or at the library they could refer to, but 

I’m thinking of the small details, the things that add colour and verisimilitude to a book. How much would a row house in Kensington cost? (Answer: twenty to twenty-five million pounds). What’s the view from the fifteenth floor of a flat in Canary Wharf? (Pretty nice).  Where do I transfer if I’m travelling from Harrods to the Tate Modern?

I suspect the writers of old simply didn’t put in as much description and minor fact as we do today. Sir Author Conan Doyle wrote a book set in Canada, and he’d never been here.  

After all, I could always say, this house is worth a lot, rather than specifying the amount, or say they travelled across town rather than giving the names of the stations.

Does it matter? Why am I going to all this trouble (and the expense of a trip) for details that don’t affect the plot or the characterization of my novel?

Gemma's parents live here
Because I think today it does matter. Readers are used to books full of color and background and minor details, they love the sense of ‘being there’ and if they have ‘been there’ they demand that the author get it right. They’ve come to expect it.  Get it wrong about the tube stations and I’ll hear about it, whereas Sir Arthur probably didn’t get letters pointing out the error of his ways.

All of which just makes writing a novel in the 21st century, so much more complex, interesting and, yes, fun.

The Cat of the Baskervilles, the third Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery, is now available. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Return of Good and Evil

Wonder Woman (2017 film).jpg

It's back! The concept of absolute good and evil. It came roaring in with a bang and a whistle thousands of miles per hour.

This summer I saw Wonder Woman and last week I saw Black Panther. Both movies reminded me of old westerns in that there was little doubt as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Or gals, in the case of Wonder Woman. The movies had staggering box office receipts.

Both were based on the eternal struggle of good and evil.

It's high time. Frankly, I'm  just fed up all the leaders who turn out to have feet of clay. Hardly a day goes by without having someone I've admired turn out to be crook or a deviant. I welcome the return of persons with a strong moral compass, a sure sense of right and wrong. Treks to the silver screen are once again providing a glimpse of a world (or worlds) where black and white is stark and heroes are sure-footed.

I understand that what is depicted is not real. And my favorite shows will always be complicated dramas that delve into the human condition. The real world is painful and some have extremely hard lives. But still, I can't imagine being a child today and being inundated with persons with no moral code.

There was a lot to said for the old westerns. I'm referring to the really old westerns when gun play was kept to a minimum, and the villains were likely to be yodeled to death.

Recently I wrote about my dislike of fuzzy endings. I don't like fuzzy heroes either.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Deadlines and James M. Cain

It’s spring break at New England colleges and boarding schools, so I’ve had a week off. And I’ve been hard at it, trying to finish the second draft of a novel that has changed a lot from the first version.

I have a self-imposed deadline –– Saturday of this week –– but may or may not make it. I have surgery scheduled for Tuesday, so, although I’d like to have the draft done by then, I know I’ll have downtime in the coming days to weeks to finish it.

The second draft is a chance to add consistency and clarity. Those are the two most important things for me. It has meant eliminating a plot thread that I found (and still find) interesting, one that might reemerge in later books, but took too much away from the ending of this one to leave as is. It meant developing one character and cutting another in the name of clarity.

I’m reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice right now, for the first time, and I’m marveling at the simple sentences that create a tension coursing through the text. It’s like standing at the base of a roller coaster, looking up to see the twists and turns, but still being frightened when you actually ride it. I’ve read a Cain biography, so I know how the book will end, and I’m still on the edge of my seat.

Which brings me to this second draft. Precision is clarity.

"I said it, and I mean it. I'm not what you think I am, Frank. I want to work and be something, that's all. But you can't do it without love. Do you know that, Frank? Anyway, a woman can't. Well, I've made one mistake. And I've got to be a hell cat, just once, to fix it. But I'm not really a hell cat, Frank."

"They hang you for that."

"Not if you do it right. You're smart, Frank. I never fooled you for a minute. You'll think of a way. Plenty of them have. Don't worry. I'm not the first woman that had to turn hell cat to get out of a mess."

This passage from Postman is in chapter 3 and establishes what is to come. Yet it also establishes Cora for us. She’s ahead of her time, given the women Hemingway and others were writing in the ’30s. She’s driving the murder plot. “Do you know that, Frank? . . . You’re smart, Frank.” At once helpless and complimentary. Precision. Clarity.

If you haven’t read Cain, check him out. He just might help you with your second draft. He’s sure helping me with mine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Kindle In Motion

Since I turned in my book I’ve been doing some reading, including checking out several books in Kindle in Motion format.

You haven’t heard of Kindle in Motion, you say? I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago. Apparently, the e-format has been around since 2016. This Kindle format adds animated book covers, animated gifs, embedded videos (this is also something you can do with the Kindle with A/V format, different from KIM), and custom page backgrounds to an e-book.

The added items can only be viewed on the Fire tablet (that’s what I read my e-books on) or on the Kindle apps on iOS and Android. If you read the book on an e-reader like the Paperwhite, only the text elements will be viewable. If you don’t want to see any of these enhanced elements, you can just turn them off.

I checked out a few titles, some fiction, some nonfiction. The animations and illustrations were very cool but, honestly, I don’t really think they added much to the story in any of the books I read. Maybe I’m just not the right demographic for it. Or maybe it would be good for children’s books. Or I haven’t read the right books.

I didn’t check out the illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (didn’t feel like shelling out the cash for it), but from this clip it looks like they really went to town on the illustrations and animation for it. You can check it out here:

Where I can see it as being useful is in history books about presidents or events that took place in a time where video clips would be available say of inauguration speeches or other such things.

Have you all read any of the few hundred books available in Kindle in Motion format? If so, what did you think of it? Did it enhance the story for you?

In other news, the audio version of the third book in my Aurora Anderson Mystery series, A Palette for Murder, is now out. Like the other two books, it’s unabridged and read by Vanessa Daniels. You can check it out here.

If you're attending Left Coast Crime in Reno, I will be there! I'm on a panel on Friday, March 23rd called Wooden Hearts: Craft Mysteries from 2:45-3:30 pm. It's moderated by Gay Gale. Other panelists are Peggy Ehrhart, Cheryl Hollon, Camille Minichino  If you see me, say hi!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Character appropriation

by Rick Blechta

I’ve been considering and then working on this post for quite a bit of time (for these things), but I’ve seen something recently that really pressed a nerve with me. I also don’t like calling people out, but while this topic has been percolating in my brain, I’ve found that I’m getting more upset about the situation rather than less. I simply cannot remain silent. So here goes…

Like the current trends in movies, publishing is constantly looking for ways to maximize their chances of cashing in to the max on every book they publish. That’s why the movie industry presents us with old TV shows packaged as movies. The idea goes that they have a built-in audience, and unless the movie is particularly awful, fans of those shows will come out to see their favourites (Brady Bunch, anyone?).

In books we see the popular creations of long-dead authors revived in pastiches. To be honest, I’ve found some of these that I’ve read to be very good. However, they come with an element of “sharp practice” to my mind. Would Rex Stout, for instance, be happy about someone using his characters and continuing his series? At its root, doing this is simply a blatant money-grab by the publisher. Find an author willing to do the work, an estate that’s willing to okay it to share in the money made, and the deal with the devil is done. Again, unless the product of this unholy alliance is particularly dreadful, the resulting books should be successful. Readers get their fix of favourite characters and the publishers et al make money. What the original author would think is probably not even a consideration.

But is it right?

I’ve heard of book publishing contracts where the publisher demands the rights to the author’s characters, in other words, they own the characters. If the creating author comes up with a bestseller and then wishes to end the series or move on to something else (or dies), then it is very easy for the publisher to continue on without skipping a beat. To me, that’s just wrong. I’m sure the publisher could justify their demand (“We put all this money into these books and we deserve some protection against the loss of our investment.”), but we’re dealing with something creative here — the creation of a particular writer, not a mass-produced widget to which you can purchase production rights. (The author in this case was told she had to agree to this particular demand or the book deal was off.)

Would we stand for a painter being hired to continue the works of Rembrandt, or a composer to write Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony? That would be the same type of thing.

At this point, I’m not calling out authors like Type M’s Vicki Delany whose Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries (which are, by the way, excellent) make use of the Conan Doyle characters, but they’re used as reference material for characters of her own creation. Vicki is definitely not writing The Extended Series of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries here. Her series is simply an homage to Holmes and Watson.

What got me going on this topic was a book I saw in the catalog of a remainders warehouse from whom we occasionally purchase books or videos. I’m referring to a series created by two authors appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s characters from his play Pygmalion, to whit Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. From the copy provided for this particular book, it’s a cozy mystery involving the characters in question with solving murders at a race track, and is the second in a series.

What is bugging me about this is that a) the book’s two authors are using someone else’s characters (hopefully with permission) and b) using them in a way that the original creator certainly never intended. If I know anything about Shaw — who was a noted polemicist he would be severely put out by this situation and would not have let it happen.

I’m sure the authors are very lovely people and the books are quite fun, but I’m sorry, I feel what they’re doing is wrong and an egregious example of character appropriation. It shouldn’t be happening. We writers should be working to create our own characters, not borrowing them from other writers and using them in ways not intended.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Guest Post - Aimee Hix

Please welcome Aimee Hix to Type M! I met Aimee at Malice Domestic last year where she moderated the panel I was on, Murder and Crafts. She was a great moderator and we had a great time on the panel. You can visit her online at Take it away, Aimee...

A Little Help From My Friends

 by Aimee Hix

In late January, my sweet-faced, gentle Karma had to be put down after a sixteen-month battle with adenocarcinoma. She was twelve years old and my soulmate. Some people may think that’s weird that a middle-aged suburban wife and mother declares a dog her soulmate but she was. She and I got each other in a way no one else did.

Karma was the kind of dog that inspired me to be the person she saw me as. Writing book two in my Willa Pennington PI series was difficult. I had an inner ear infection that wouldn’t clear up and gave me mild vertigo. I sat on my bed, sweet Karma by my side, and wrote every day after my medication had kicked in. We did this for months. January to June until I had a sinus surgery that cleared up the problem.

I did what any sentimental writer would do - I wrote her into the story. I named the dog in the book Fargo as a piece of continuity for my character’s love of Coen Brothers movies but when you read the book you’ll know Karma is the inspiration.

That’s what I do as a writer. I put pieces of the real world, my life and things I see around me into my fictional worlds. I want my stories to reflect reality in a way that makes it easy for the reader to immerse themselves in the world I’ve created. In real life, people have messy family situations; they make bad decisions; they love unwisely. Characters in stories need those too. It’s how you create conflict as a writer, certainly, but most importantly it’s how readers can relate to them. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t live an imperfect life.

In my first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU, Willa Pennington’s life and decisions mirror that of the real world - her family is loving but flawed; she makes bad decisions, some are very bad; she loves unwisely; she has problems with trust; she’s grieving the death of her best friend. All things people can relate to and I know people can relate to them because I’ve done all those things. My life is much more settled than that of a twenty-seven-year-old, single former cop, apprentice PI but I remember having the whole world laid out in front of me and trying to find my way, one foot in front of the other.

I love that Willa is flawed and complicated and snarky and tough. But mostly I love her because she is loyal and good-hearted. She wants to help people and she struggles to see people in a more positive and hopeful light. I do that too. Karma taught me how to do that.

In my sweet Karma’s memory, I chose, perhaps unwisely, to adopt two puppies this past weekend. We stumbled across an adoption fair and we were faced with two sleepy, cuddled up black lab puppies who’d lived most of their short lives in kennels outside. They had been rescued from a high-kill shelter and were looking at a long trip back to NC to their foster. They had been saved so recently they hadn’t even been given names. I just couldn’t not take them home. More heart than brains is probably a good way to describe me. It’s a good way to describe Willa too.

I hope you want to meet her now. I think she’s a good person to know. After WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU she has more adventures. She grows wiser and stronger. She gets a sidekick. And as I write book number three in the series, she may get two more. Because puppies make everything better.

An inability to pass the sight requirements and a deep aversion to federal prison prevented Aimee from lying on her FBI application so she set her deficient eyes on what most Northern Virginians do for work - the non-law enforcement side of the federal government.

After twenty years as a federal contractor, she retired and turned to fictional murder. She is the author of the Willa Pennington PI series set in Fairfax County, Virginia. The first book, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU published January 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Recurring Themes

Barbara's post on Wednesday about the recurring themes in her body of work reminded me of my own endeavor. Over the past several months, I've been re-reading my books. As I've mentioned, my Lizzie Stuart books are being reissued by a publisher. We needed to withdraw the first book after it had been released as an e-book to fix some technical problems. We ended up going back to the manuscript of the book for a better copy. I read the manuscript with printed book in hand.  I've also been re-reading the two Hannah McCabe near-future police procedurals. The plot for the third book have been rattling around in my head. I picked up my pace because the Albany Public Library Foundation informed me that I was a nominee for this year's Albany Literary Legends award. Then I learned I was one of the two recipients.  Since I'm receiving the honor in part because of my two novels set in Albany, I am digging into the books to remind myself of what I wrote.

Here's what I've learned from my immersion in my books and short stories:
 1.  I agree wholeheartedly with William Faulkner's oft-quoted observation ("The past is never dead. It's not even past."). Whether I'm writing the Lizzie Stuart books/short stories set in the recent past or the Hannah Stuart books set in the near future, the plots draw on the histories of places and characters.
2.  The family relationships of my characters are complex. There are absences, losses, and traumas. The dead are still present in the lives of the living. Relatives, living, dead, present, absent, and unknown have shaped the personalities of my protagonists.
3.  My protagonists have strong moral cores. They engage in internal debates and debates with others about questions of right and wrong. They have ethical lines that they will not cross. But they are not always sure that justice will be served by the punishment of someone who is technically guilty.
4. My characters debate social issues. I spent a lot of my time encouraging my students to debate those issues, so it makes sense that would carry over to my writing. 
5. That is also why literature and popular culture runs like a thread through all of my books and short stories -- from titles inspired by children's books to plots inspired by Shakespeare. I teach crime and mass media/popular. I was a double major in Psychology and English. I wouldn't know how to write fiction without a nod at a book or writer or a favorite movie (Hitchcock turns up frequently).
6. Animals. I started college as a Biology major, intending to be a vet. George, the dog in my Lizzie Stuart series, is still a young adult. Hannah McCabe adopted a Great Dane/Dalmatian/mutt in the second book. My third protagonist, Jo Radcliffe, who made her debut in "The Singapore Sling Affair" (EQMM, Nov/Dec 2017) inherited her great-aunt's Maine Coon.
Animals in my books provide companionship, act as sounding boards, and help the humans to connect with each other.
7. My books have romance. I loved romantic suspense when I was a teenager. I think there is a place in crime fiction for relationships. After four books, Lizzie Stuart and John Quinn got engaged. In the sixth book, she will meet his family. In the seventh book, they will wed. If Hannah McCabe is around as long as Lizzie, she may eventually found a mate as well. I like the possibilities for self-discovery inherent in romantic relationships. I also like couples that have little in common, but recognize in each other something that they can admire or a shared value.
8. I don't write cozies. My books have a dark edge that I hadn't really thought about until I started to re-read. Although most of the violence happens off-stage, some of it doesn't. And even the off-stage violence is discussed and the impact is shown. My protagonists and the other characters are traumatized by violence. But my dark edge is relieved by my protagonists' faith in justice (or at least the necessity to seek, if not achieve).

I've discovered that I really do write the stories that I'd like to read. That gives me more confidence about who I am as a writer and what I want to achieve.

Thursday, March 08, 2018


Well, this is embarrassing. I thought I had written my Type M entry and scheduled it to post this morning, but apparently that was somebody else posting at some other venue. Since I only manage to write about one book a year, every book launch is a big circus for me and I have to be very careful not to forget where I am and what I'm supposed to be doing for whom. Therefore I apologize for my tardiness, but better late than never. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

My official book launch party on February 24 at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona went off very nicely, thanks for asking. In fact, the bookstore recorded the whole thing and posted it on their Facebook site. You can check it out by going here and scrolling down to Feb. 24. To tide you over, here is a photo of the evening.

Dennis Palumbo, Priscilla Royal, Donis Casey, Barbara Peters
In more writerly news, a couple of weeks ago my Type M blogmates were discussing a thread on endings, which is a topic near to my heart. I am speaking about the end of a novel, but a few years ago I was thinking about the end of life, and in that vein I read a wonderful book called Being Mortal, Medicine and 
What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. If you’re interested in managing your own demise, I would recommend it.

But even when planning my own induction into the choir invisible, I can’t help but think like a writer. Toward the end of Dr. Gawande’s book, he quotes a study done by Daniel Kahneman, who says something to the effect that it doesn’t matter too much how much pleasure or pain we endure, it’s the ending of the experience we remember. As an example he cites the experience of watching an exciting sports match, when your team, “having performed beautifully for nearly the entire game, blows in the end. We feel that the ending ruins the whole experience…The experiencing self had whole hours of pleasure and just a moment of displeasure, but the remembering self sees no pleasure at all.”

What does that tell you, Mr. or Ms. Writer?

We are told that we must have a gripping beginning to our novel in order to engage the prospective reader as soon as possible. Then we have to keep drawing the reader on, keep him interested as we work our way through the long middle of the story. All excellent advice.

But, by God, the ending better deliver. Because as we all know, a great beginning makes a reader want to read your current book, but a great ending makes her want to read your next book.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Reflections on gender themes

Recently a new prize called The Staunch was created for thrillers and mysteries that do not feature violence against women. It was conceived with the best of intentions by author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless, who was disgusted with the excessive use of graphic violence against women for entertainment or titillation. However, its overly broad guidelines and its choice to look away rather than to confront the very real problems that women face have produced strong reaction among serious, socially-conscious male and female crime writers alike, among them Val McDermid.

Is there an over-reliance on female rape/ murder tropes among crime writers? Is it limited to a certain kind of graphic thriller or is the theme common throughout the genre? Is it more prevalent on TV and screen than in books? Co-incidentally, and before #MeToo, #TimesUp and the launch of this prize, my daughter, actor/ playwright/ producer Dana Fradkin, conceived of and co-wrote a short film titled The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping, which addresses this very issue, using comedy as a way to explore the tired trope of rape as a story driver and motivator. It's still in post-production, but should been on the festival circuit soon. Like many independent projects, its funding is largely through their indiegogo campaign, where more details are available.

 I rarely read or watch stories that feature "rape porn" unless they are powerfully written and have something new and important to say (I feel the same way about excessively violent fights and slaughters of men as well), so it's difficult for me to say whether there is an overabundance of them. However, the controversy around this prize got me thinking about my own views and my own work. There are all kinds of prizes for all kinds of works, and people are entitled to create any prize they want, but if the intent of the prize is to protest how violence against women is handled in creative work, I agree with the naysayers. Perhaps more than any other genre, crime writers explore and lay bare the moral wrongs, social inequities and human struggles of their society. Violence against women is a very real issue that deserves to be looked at head-on, rather than pretending that the problems faced by 50% of the population don't exist.

That said, I began to wonder about my own work. I now have sixteen novels under my belt, so I took stock. Much of our writing is determined by our subconscious preoccupations, and over time, we see the same themes surfacing in book after book by authors. I wondered what my subconscious had to say. How did I portray mothers? Fathers? What motives and themes predominated?

As it turns out, I have never used violence against women as the primary theme or story driver, although it's been a secondary theme in a couple of them, and I have not had a single rape. I've had several books that looked at childhood scars and child abuse, both physical and sexual, but since I'm a child psychologist, that's part of my my canvas. A quick and dirty head count of my books revealed that I had eight male killers, five female, and three where both a men and a woman were implicated. I had ten male victims, three female, and three where both sexes died.

Of all the themes explored in my books, from PTSD to child abuse to love gone awry, the theme of family – misunderstandings and jealousies, revenge and betrayal, old secrets, and protection of family– often lurks at the root. It appears I kill more men than women, and that men are more often the perpetrators. But women take centre stage as agents of violence as well, more often than as victims. "Evil" is rarely evil in my books, but rather a desperate, ill-advised choice at the end of a long, sometimes righteous, struggle. Perhaps it's time I used the powerful but damaged women I seem to create to shine a spotlight on gender-based violence. Who knows?

I'm curious to know whether other writers have done this kind of autopsy on their body of work (mine was admittedly superficial), and detected recurring themes that speak to the issues that fascinate them. I'd love to hear comments on this.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

A little levity for a rather dreary Tuesday

by Rick Blechta

Here in Toronto, it’s one of those rather gray, grim days you can get in March with snow anemically drifting down (soon to melt), a cold wind and the temperature hovering around the freezing mark. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about anything. March can be tough to get through because of the bait and switch tendency of the weather — and this is one of those days.

I was going to post a hard-hitting diatribe — in fact it’s more than half-written — but I just don’t think it’s called for today. Next week.

But I had something really fun in reserve for a situation just like this, a gift from a friend and lord knows where she found it.

So here’s something that might bring a chuckle to any of you facing an equally grim weather day. (I’m talking about you, Aline!) Hope you enjoy it!
  • A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
  • A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
  • An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
  • Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
  • A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
  • Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
  • A question mark walks into a bar?
  • A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
  • Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, "Get out — we don't serve your type."
  • A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
  • A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
  • Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
  • A synonym strolls into a tavern.
  • At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
  • A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
  • Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
  • A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
  • An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
  • The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
  • A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
  • The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Let It Snow - But I'd Rather It Didn't

Britain has been much mocked this week by the Scandinavian countries and - yes! - Canada for the paralysis that occurred when the 'Beast from the East' swept in last week from Siberia.  'Huh!' they all sneered, 'we'd hardly put on our winter boots for a sprinkling like that!'

It's a bit of a sensitive topic, personally, since I found myself stranded in London by twenty-foot snowdrifts on the railway line between there and Edinburgh.  I was lucky in that all it meant was a bonus visit to the grandchildren in Kent and an anxious day of traveling hopefully without knowing whether I would arrive or not. (Eventually, after a ten-hour journey).

I know, I know, you have teams of snowploughs, snow blowers, gritters by the score when winter comes, all poised to rush in whenever a storm is forecast.  And yes, we have too few for a winter like this.  But thanks to our temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream, those expensive teams would stand idle for years at a time.  Here in Edinburgh for the last five years we have never had a covering of snow that lasted for more than half a day. 

So if the mocking countries sudden received ten to twenty times the normal amount of snow, I think you'd have to admit that even they might struggle just a little bit!

But it did get me thinking about snow as a device within the plot of a crime novel.  The weather is always a feature in the books that I write with a rural setting and given that it's our business as writers to see to it that our characters are put in situations that are as difficult and dangerous as possible it might offer useful strands for the plot: the inability to escape from a snowbound cottage; the failure of the power systems; the evidence of sinister footprints...  Lots of possibilities there!

Maybe all that time standing on a station platform watching the departures board to see whether the  'Cancelled' would magically change to 'Edinburgh - Platform 4' wasn't wasted after all!

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Guest Blogger Marilyn Meredith

Type M is happy to welcome Marilyn Meredith as our guest this weekend. Marilyn, also writing as F.M. Meredith, is the author of the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series and the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, as well as other novels. What would you discover if you went back to your earlier work and read with an eye to republication? Marilyn fills us in.

A Series Being Revived
Marilyn Meredith

When my publisher for the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series had several strokes, the publishing company ceased to function. Though the books were still up on Amazon and presumably still being purchased, no royalties were passed on.

Because the publisher is also a friend, making the decision to take my rights back was difficult, but seemed the only wise thing to do. With the original publisher’s okay, Aakenbaaken & Kent published the books that had been contracted already, including #13 in the series, Unresolved.

Once I received my rights back, I approached A & K about republishing the whole series. He agreed and we’ve begun the process.

Because there are so many books in the series, we’re starting at the beginning. This means re-editing, of course. Once we started, we both realized how dated things were, after all the first book, Final Respects, was written in 1980. Most police officers sported mustaches, and smoking still went on in public buildings. When I wrote this, I had no idea it would end up being a series.

One of the first thing the publisher noticed was my too generous sprinkling of ellipses in the book—something I fixed in later books. One of the first things I noted was my overuse of exclamation points.

The second book, Bad Tidings, brought about another surprise. Though the writing holds up, it’s a bit more gory and sexy than I write today. And of course there are no cellphones and there are a couple of times characters use a pay phone. Also reading it again, brought back memories of some happenings that inspired parts of this mystery.

In Fringe Benefits I discovered I’d changed a couple of characters’ hair colors in later books. I’m glad to find out so I can make some fixes. The mustaches have continued, and water beds are introduced.

Smell of Death had something I’ve always wanted to change and that was the color of the shoe on the cover—easier to change the colors of the shoes in the story itself which I’ve now done. This book was a bit harder to edit for me as the subject matter is a bit dark. What was fun to read again was the beginning of a romance that continues in the next book.
Visit Marilyn's blog here.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Little Venues

This week my very good friend Donis Casey wrote about preparing for the launch of her new book Forty Dead Men. This book was released in February and won a rare starred review from Publisher's Weekly.
This very prestigious magazine is read by bookstores and libraries across the county to determine which books to purchase for sale to customers or shelve for library patrons. PW had this to say about Forty Dead Men:
"In Casey's excellent 10th Alafair Tucker mystery (after 2017's The Return of the Raven Mocker), 22-year-old George W. "Gee Dub" Tucker, a WWI vet scarred by his war experiences, returns to the family farm in Boynton, Okla., run by his parents, Alafair and Shaw, with the aid of their large brood of children....Casey expertly nails the extended Tucker family - some 20 people - and combines these convincing characters, a superb sense of time and place, and a solid plot in this marvelously atmospheric historical." (starred review) (Publishers Weekly)

For those of you who are not familiar with this terrific series, it begins with The Old Buzzard Had It Coming in the Oklahoma Farm Country in 1912.
Donis's launch was held at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale Arizona and she was joined by two other Poisoned Pen authors, Dennis Palumbo (Head Wounds) and Priscilla Royal (Wild Justice). It was combined with a tribute to the late Frederick Ramsay.
I participated in a couple of co-interviews with Fred and he was a great writer, a wonderful person, and I felt greatly honored just to set next to him. 
Being interviewed by the famous Barbara Peters (owner of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore and Editor-in Chief at Poisoned Pen Press) is one the most sought after experiences for authors. I was so in awe of her that I could barely remember my own name during my first visit to the store.
If I could have, I would have gone to AZ to applaud Donis's launch. But last year, I went to five libraries in Kansas and four major conferences. 
Looking back, I honestly have to say my favorite experience, the one that was a truly joyful event was speaking at the tiny library in Blue Mound Kansas. Thirty-seven persons attended. Later my nephew argued that there weren't thirty-seven persons in Blue Mound. But there were! And they were glad to see me. Happy that I came bearing books. Happy to buy them. Happy to listen to whatever I had to say.
With my next book, Silent Sacrifices, I'm going to spend more energy seeking out these rewarding little venues.   

Thursday, March 01, 2018

How long is too long?

I wrote my first novel in about 15 months. It wasn’t very good. I rewrote it several times, and despite all that CPR, it still wasn’t very good. But it was finished. When I got my first book contract, I was obligated to produce a book a year. I finished those first few books in about nine months each.

I’m starting a new series, and the time I’ve spent on this book has me thinking I’ve gone back in time. Life is more complicated now. I have three kids, for one thing. I had a health scare this fall that threw a monkey wrench into my pace. But when I’m done this book, I will have nearly two years into it. Not long, maybe, to some. But for a genre writer, who thinks of himself as a series author, two years seems like a long time.

If you write series –– and I love the process of seeing a character develop from book to book –– two years is too long. Publishers want a book a year. I get that. I grew up eager for spring because I knew the next Spenser novel was coming. You can’t create a brand and then run out of the product.

But we’re not making widgets.

So how long is too long to produce a book? The simple answer is as long as it takes. You need to write the best book you can, especially when you’re launching a new series. And once you “have the voice, the next one is easier,” the saying goes. Maybe.

Stephen King, in On Writing, says three months is optimal. I see his point: you need to be close to the text to follow the plot development. I have an encompassing day job, so writing a book in three months isn’t an option. My way around this is to work in 50-page chunks, writing and editing before moving on. If I hit a wall or have to go a few days without writing, I go back and reread the entire book again. This prevents me from losing significant forward momentum.

So how long does it take me to write a novel? Hopefully not two years each time out. But the answer remains as long as it takes.

I’d love to hear from others regarding this question.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It's G&T Time!

Yep, It's gin and tonic time! Although my preferences run to a nice glass of white wine or Maker's Mark bourbon, I'm still declaring it G&T time! I'm celebrating the turning in of my latest book to my publisher.

It's not completely done, of course. I have two edit rounds to go and I have to come up with back of the book copy for it. Plus we have to settle on a title. Designed for Haunting has been my working title for a while now, but I'm not completely satisfied with it. Will have to ponder more.

As you might have guessed, the fourth book in the Aurora Anderson Mystery series is set around Halloween. Rather a fun time of year to write about. Originally, I was going to put in a haunted house, but eventually decided, instead, to have an escape room experience. My fictional town of Vista Beach is in Los Angeles County. There are a lot of escape room companies around here so it seemed appropriate. Are escape rooms a popular thing in other parts of the world as well? I’ve heard of one in Scotland and of the Murdoch Mysteries themed one in Toronto.

The other item I put in was a pumpkin race. Yep, we race pumpkins here in the South Bay. Manhattan Beach has had a pumpkin race since 1990. I based the pumpkin race in my fictional town on it.

The travel channel has a video that describes it pretty well: You'll have to tolerate a 15 second ad first, but the video's pretty fun.

So it's celebration time here. I'm currently on my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the Creative Painting convention where I'm planning on having fun, but also hope to find some inspiration for things to put in the next book.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

At 8:57 P.M. EST,
Type M for Murder



Thanks to all of you who have visited us over the years.

Watching and waiting — and selling

by Rick Blechta

Well, Type M’s stats page tells us our pageview counter is at 999,217. If we have a really good day, it should click over to that magical 1,000,000 either late today or early tomorrow morning.

I’ve been so caught up in talking about Type M to lots of people (mostly on Facebook), that I really don’t have anything cued up other than one topic that’s going to need more research than I have time for today.

To widen our horizons here on this blog, for the first time ever, I’m going to offer something for sale! That’s right, if you live in the Greater Toronto Area you could purchase a fully-equipped Queen-size waterbed from moi for the minuscule price of $50. It even includes 6 under-bed drawers! You can contact me through my Facebook page if you’re interested.

My wife and I have had this waterbed (although we’re on our third mattress) for 37 years, and with our backs getting stiffer, we have to switch to a regular mattress. So with heavy hearts we’re having to let our old bed go.

This is not to say that Type M is about to become a buy-and-sell blog. I just thought that after a million pageviews maybe we should change things up a bit. (My wife and I also really don’t have the space to keep a decommissioned waterbed around for very long and it seems a shame to our old friend to put it out on the sidewalk in front of our house.)

Heck! I’ll even throw in a free copy (signed, of course) of my most recent novel, Roses for a Diva. Such a deal!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Know thyself – and au revoir!

Over a year ago, for reasons that escape me now, I thought it would be a good idea to write two very different novels at the same time, namely a crime fiction and an historic fiction – the crime fiction is the third of The Scottish Lady Detective novels, a series of lighter, less serious reads. The historic fiction is the sequel to The Blue Suitcase, a  serious novel and “not for the bedside table”. In hindsight, I was overly optimistic. I soon struggled moving back and forth between the two very different writing projects. Eventually, overwhelmed by the task I'd set myself, I was unable to focus on either properly and became immobilised. It became clear I was going to have to give up one of the projects (temporarily). I found myself on the horns of a dilemma: which do I give up? An impossible task. I wanted to do both. (Luckily I have a very sympathetic publisher who has been happy to wait while I dithered). Finally, for various reasons, I decided to focus on the historic fiction. What a relief to have made a decision! The most important thing I have learnt over this last year is for me to “know myself”: I now know I am a one book, one genre at a time writer ;)

Focussing on the historic fiction project means that my crime novel project – and writing for the Type M for Murder blog – is very firmly on hold. This means, sadly, that this is my last post for Type M for Murder.

I have enjoyed my time on the blog immensely and feel honoured to have been invited to be part of such an illustrious group of writers. Many thanks for inviting me and for all your comments and for all your the wonderful posts and bring on your next million page views! 


Saturday, February 24, 2018

No Spam Calls in the Future

Futurists like to give us a rosy view of tomorrow, mostly because they're funded by technologists with something big to sell, never mind the negative consequences. On the flip side, novels about the future tend to be bleak and the setting is often quite dystopian. Three of the landmark works about this grim future are 1984, Brave New World, and We. Most of us are familiar with George Orwell's 1984 and its oppressive totalitarian theme. In fact, "Big Brother is watching" is synonymous for government and corporate surveillance. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World takes a lighter, though ultimately just as constrictive view of a future society managed through biological engineering. Individuals are brought into this world through a decanting process that determines their station in life. What we consider natural birth is regarded as obscene. People are kept docile through officially sanctioned casual sex, group think (social media, anyone?) and the drug soma. "Don't give a damn, take a gram."

Both of these books draw quite a bit from an earlier Russian novel, We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, first published in 1920. In this work, people live in glass houses, literally. They are allowed one hour a day "to lower the shades," meaning time for casual sex. Aside from that, there is no notion of privacy. Although Zamyatin intended this story as a critique of Soviet totalitarianism, read today, it's a fantastic satire of how our online lives have taken mastery of our existence. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon--the Internet sees all, it knows all.

Which brings me to another more modern novel, Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan (Now available on Netflix). It too is a dystopian tale, one that disturbed me when I first read it. The salient premise is that in this future, humans are implanted with an electronic "cordial stack," which downloads your consciousness. As long as the cordial stack remains undamaged, your consciousness can be swapped from body to body, what the book calls "re-sleeving." It's an extraordinary inventive piece of science fiction, and Morgan further delves into the premise by thinking through the consequences of swapping bodies. For example, you can testify at your own murder. In his world, the process is quite expensive--the cost equivalent of a house mortgage--so that "re-sleeving" remains the domain of the government and the wealthy. So the rich have the financial means of switching bodies as casually as the rest of us change clothes and thus the ability to be immortal.

On my second reading of Altered Carbon, years later, I stumbled over a detail that emphasized just how difficult it is now for science fiction to remain ahead of science fact, even for a work as trail blazing as this one. When the protagonist used a fob to summon a flying taxi, I thought, why doesn't he use the app on his mobile phone? Then I realized, his phone was simply that, a phone. But many of us seldom make calls on our phones; we mostly communicate via text, email, and instant messenger, something that's not done in this story. Also, Altered Carbon is a mystery so there's a lot of sleuthing about and looking for people. Again, why would that be necessary? We all know we can be tracked by our phones; why couldn't these future people be easily followed by their cordial stacks?

Smart phones represent a technology whose implications we still have a hard time understanding. Besides compromising privacy, they provide a deeply engaging experience that makes their use addictive. One tragic and unintended consequence is how they've facilitated distracted driving so that in the last two years, traffic fatalities have increased because of cell phones.

And I need to mention, that in those very different futures sans cell phones, people are never bothered by telemarketers.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Distracted Characters

The discussion about endings got me thinking about my series arcs and my subplots that sometimes extend beyond the current book. The romances. The deceptions.  The murder that is solved, but the relationships that aren't resolved. I was going to write about that, but then my life intruded.

I've been juggling balls -- symposium in April, classes to teach, SinC chapter, non-profit board, books to write, short story for an anthology -- and my mail has been piling up on my foyer desk. I noticed but didn't feel any urgency about the pink envelope I received. I knew that if my car insurance payment had been credited on the next day, then I would automatically get a notice. I was sure I had made my customary payment by phone because the bill wasn't there in my in-box. And then I got around to paying bills and realized there was no entry for the insurance. And called to make sure I had actually paid. And was told by the customer service person that no, I hadn't and I had missed the grace period. Luckily, I've been with the company for most of my driving life, and he reinstated me in a few minutes. And I -- horrified by the accident I might have had -- signed up for automatic bank withdrawals of my payments.

After I'd hung up, I started thinking about distractions in my characters' lives. I've been thinking about subplots in my historical thriller. But over the course of the eight-month span required in this book (because of real life events), any number of things might distract or obstruct my characters.
Over the course of eight months, they will need to go on with their lives, attending to the ordinary tasks that we are all required to do to avoid having bad things happen. Even when we are organized, sometimes we are required to work late or deal with a difficult person or go to another store to find something. Sometimes we have a dripping faucet or are spattered by a passing car before an important appointment and have to stop to make repairs. 

Thinking about this over a soothing cup of tea, it occurred to me that I should think about my  characters' ordinary days.  What will fall by the wayside when they find themselves immersed in this extraordinary situation?  How will little things left undone create problems? How will things beyond their control distract them from bigger problems.

This is sending me back to my 1939 timelines and notes with each character in mind.  I don't think I'm wasting time thinking this through. As I've mentioned I cannot write a non-stop thriller -- even if I wanted to do that -- but I do need to make sure my characters struggle to get to the finish line.

Of course, I've done this in my series, particularly the first-person Lizzie Stuart books. But I think that here it might be even more important. I can work in setting and a sense of ordinary life without  paragraphs of description.

What about your characters? Distractions as they are sleuthing or plotting mayhem?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Countdown to a Launch

This year's comfy shoes

I love the discussion about fuzzy endings. I think endings are wildly important—more important that we generally believe—and I have a lot to say about that. But that will have to wait for another day. For this coming Saturday, February 24, is the official launch day for my tenth Alafair Tucker Mystery, Forty Dead Men. The big ol' launch party will be held at 2:00 p.m. at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. The most fabulous bookstore EVER for launching a mystery novel, especially since the launch is taking place southern Arizona in the middle of winter, with a forecast temperature of 68º F. I’ll be joined by authors Dennis Palumbo (Head Wounds) and Priscilla Royal (Wild Justice), and Dana Stabenow will join us for for a tribute to the late, much beloved Frederick Ramsay. So if you live anywhere in striking distance of Phoenix, do please come by.

No matter how much lead time I have before the publication of a new book, the release date always seems to sneak up on me, and I have never yet been as prepared as I intended to be. For this book, I'm as ready as I'm going to be, I suppose. I didn't manage to lose five pounds or get a face lift, as I originally planned.

But I do have a spiffy outfit.

Now that I’ve reached the age of invisibility, I’ve decided to cultivate a more Bohemian style. I can no longer be the cutest young thing in the room, but I can be well-dressed, damn it. I usually spend at least a month thinking about the outfit, and trying on a series of ensembles, accessories, jewelry, shoes, and parading them around in front of my patient if somewhat bemused husband as though I were an eight year old girl playing dress-up.

I go to such trouble only for myself. I’m generally a bad shopper, but I enjoy the ritual of preparing for a book launch: hair and makeup—check; smoking outfit—check; mani-pedi—check. One very important thing to keep in mind is to choose comfortable shoes! When the day comes that I tire of the big build up, I intend to take a lesson from the great and beautiful Georgia O’Keefe and look however I look and to hell with everybody. When I go to other author events, it seems that the bigger the names the less concerned they seem to be about their duds. Especially the men. Don and I attended an event for a Very Big Name not long ago, and afterwards Don said to me, "Is he married?"

"I don't know," says I. "Why do you ask?"

He replied, "I was wondering why his wife let him go out looking like that."

"Forty Dead Men is a tragic, bittersweet story of a returning veteran and PTSD. While there’s a mystery, the story actually revolves around Gee Dub. Even if you haven’t read the previous Alafair Tucker mysteries, you can pick up this book. And, if you’re a fan of the Ian Rutledge mysteries, you might want to meet another veteran of World War I." Lesa Holstine, Lesa’s Book Critiques

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Olympics and crime fiction

After reading Charlotte's and Aline's posts on fuzzy endings and playing fair, I got to thinking about what is so compelling about crime novels. I've asked myself this question many times, of course, and use the answers to guide my writing all the time, but this time, because of the Olympics, I'm coming at it from a different angle. Like much of the world, I've been immersed in the Olympics and caught up not only in the sports I always love like figure skating and hockey, but also in those I've barely heard of, like snowboard slopestyle and skeleton (no, not that kind). Suspense, risk, the unknown, the twist, the battle of heroes - the Olympics has it all.

When I give writing workshops, I start off with what I consider the four key elements of any good story:
1. A character worth caring about
2. A question worth answering
3. Three hundred pages of complications (in a novel)
4. An answer that satisfies.

Every word in this list is carefully chosen, and I think if you hit all these points, you have the core of a great story. Which brings me back to the Olympics. Take the first point - a character worth caring about. Almost all the Olympians (except the dopers) are worthy, just by the nature of their long, passionate struggle to get there. But those I cared about the most were those whose struggle had been personalized in some way so that I understood the meaning of that moment for them. Ice dancers Virtue and Moir striving to end their glorious twenty-year career with one final Olympic medal; snowboarder Mark McMorris striving to come back from a catastrophic crash only months earlier that nearly cost him his life. On the sidelines, as readers and watchers, we identify with these characters and care deeply about whether they succeed or fail.

The second point has two key words - worth and answering. The question has to be important and life-challenging enough for us to want to find out the answer. Not only the asking is important, but the answering - a subtle distinction brought into focus with the Olympics example again. It's worth asking whether Mark McMorris will win a medal (or indeed in his case, even get down the course without crashing), but it's not enough. We need to know the answer. It is that drive to know the answer that keeps us glued to the TV through all the other competitors and the endless commercials.

In crime fiction, the question is usually whodunit or whydunit or howdunit. Because crime fiction deals with the most heinous act one human can do to another– with human nature stripped to the bone– that question is almost always worth asking. But even in that, there are some questions that grab the reader more than others, that make us identify and care more deeply. They have to do with character (hero, villain, and victim) and motive, which is why novels that deal with primal human emotions like jealousy, betrayal, and fear are more powerful than greed alone (unless paired with the above).

If Olympic triumph was just about the medal around one's neck or the prize money or the lucrative endorsements, it would be far less compelling to watch, but for all the athletes, I believe it is the personal achievement that is most important. That sense of triumph at overcoming the odds, doing their best, and coming out on top. It is the ultimate goal they've been striving for, of which the medal is just a symbol. You can tell by the tears and smiles at the finish line, by the respect they have for their fellow athletes, by the gratitude they express for their families and colleagues, that this has been a deeply personal journey and a profound personal affirmation.

The three hundred pages of complications refers to the obstacles and detours along the way - the lost competitions, the injuries, the disappointments - each one serving to heighten the suspense and make the quest more personal, meaningful, and uncertain. Will he make it? Can he recover? And on the day of the competition itself, can he beat the incredible score laid down by the athlete just before him? In crime fiction, the obstacles must be meaningful and not mere page-stuffing, serving to deepen the mystery, make alternative solutions more believable, and leave the resolution in doubt.

The fourth point addresses what both Charlotte and Aline raised. Nothing is worse than watching an entire competition, with suspense at its height and the winner about to be revealed, only to have the cable or Wi-Fi die. If a writer has posed a question and tantalized the reader through three hundred pages of ramped-up expectations, trepidation and hope, it is the height of cruelty not to give them an answer. It would be like writing a story about climbing Mount Everest and ending it a hundred feet from the summit. Every story, whether crime fiction or not, deserves an end.

I'm okay with a lot of grey. I don't need all the loose ends tied up, or perfect justice dispensed, or even the bad guys necessarily caught, as long as I know the answer to the question and the writer gives me a compelling reason for letting the bad guy go (as in they're about to meet their nemesis in some other way, or their actions were righteous, etc.) The reader needs to feel satisfied that the solution fits the story. In the case of the Olympics, where winning can hinge on flukes and hundredths of a second, an athlete who gives their all and beats their personal best, even if they don't medal, can leave us deeply happy for and proud of them. As they are of themselves. Mark McMorris got a bronze medal. Gold would have been nice, but what he achieved, coming back from near death, was just a great. Deeply satisfying. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Holy Moley!

by Rick Blechta

I’m sitting here somewhat in shock. Quite possibly by the end of this month our “little blog that could” will welcome its 1,000,000 guest! That is just remarkable and not many blogs reach this kind of pinnacle.

Way back in June 2006 at the (late, great) Bloody Words Convention in Toronto, Vicki Delany, Charles Benoit, Michael Blair, Alex Brett and I sat around in the hotel bar, talking about getting on the blog bandwagon which was gathering steam at that time.

It seemed like a good idea to help us promote ourselves — promotion being as difficult then as it is now. Vicki did the initial spadework, finding the blogger website, choosing a design and look for our creative and writing the first post.

To say the least, readers were scarce for us for the first few years. In a good month we’d get only 1000 or so pageviews which was pretty darned disheartening. More than once we discussed just abandoning the whole thing, but fortunately that never quite happened. Of those original five, only Vicki (who took a brief holiday from Type M at one point) and I remain. Charles still drops by for a guest spot when I can talk him into it.

Our current roster:
  • Barbara arrived in January 2007 (for a brief time before settling in for good in August of 2010).
  • Donis arrived 6 months after Barbara. So she’s an 11-year vet.
  • John first posted in May 2009
  • Frankie Bailey arrived in February of 2011
  • Aline first appeared as Peter’s guest in December 2010 before coming onboard in
  • Charlotte arrived at the end of April in 2011
  • Mario first graced these pages in March 2012
  • Sybil joined us in August 2014
  • And finally our “newbie”, Marianne first darkened our door in September 2017
Some other long-time members of note:
  • Deborah Atkinson — featured in this spot just last week — who came on board with Donis and was with us from July 2007 until August 2010.
  • Hannah Dennison, September 2010 to June 2014
  • Tom Curran, November 2011 to February 2014
  • Peter May, March 2010 to January 2011
This post also has to mention the many guests we’ve hosted over the years (some even became permanent members). Quite often those posts are really interesting and add a lot to the “overall flavor” of Type M. Many thanks to all those who’ve shared their thoughts in our weekend spots over the past 12 years. We all appreciate it a lot!

So here we are. I can scarcely believe our blog has been looked at nearly 1,000,000 times (we’re at 989,352 right now). That is really “some special” as they say in Eastern Canada!

Mostly, though, we all need to say thank you to everyone who has dropped by for a look — and many of you have been watching and reading here for quite a long time. Thanks to all you who’ve commented and joined into what have often developed into some really excellent conversations. (And please feel to weigh in if haven’t yet. We heartily encourage dialogue. It makes the blog that much better — even if we disagree.)

Here’s to the next million!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Playing Fair

I did enjoy Charlotte's post about her dislike of 'fuzzy endings' – where the author hasn't really told you what happened and you have to make up your own mind – as well as the comments about it afterwards.

They seemed to echo something I'd been thinking of writing today – the question of what a detective story ought to be. Perhaps Oscar Wilde's Miss Prism summed it up in her defense of the three-volume novel: 'The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.'

It was Monsignor Ronald Knox who made the first attempt in his tongue-in-cheek '10 Commandments for Detective Fiction.' They included prohibitions like, 'Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable,' 'No undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end,' and 'No Chinaman must figure in the story,' – possibly a dig at the Chinese opium dens that featured in Sherlock Holmes' cases and then became a feature much imitated in the 'penny-dreadful.'

The great thing about having rules is the effect when someone breaks them. When Agatha Christie, in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, transgressed by breaking the first commandment, 'The criminal must be someone mentioned in the first part of the story but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to share,' the shock propelled the book to the top of the best-seller list.

Now, of course, rules have been long superseded. As Butch Cassidy was told, 'There are no rules in a knife fight' and in crime fiction today anything goes. In some of the very best crime novels we know right at the start 'whodunit,' and the suspense is about the why or how.

But I still have an affection for the classic type, and I was wondering how other writers and readers today feel about Knox's commandment no 8: 'The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.'

I've always felt when I was writing a book that I have the intelligent reader at my shoulder. I want to conceal the villain from them so that they don't guess who it is too early and I will do my very best to mislead them, but I like to think that the clues to the answer are there if they want to follow them. I try to play fair but I can go to elaborate lengths with red herrings - I remember rewriting one scene half-a-dozen times so that the clue I ought to give them remained unnoticed. But I couldn't get any satisfaction from the reader who says, 'I didn't guess' if I had actually cheated.

Is this an idea whose time has passed? What do you think?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Recreating Sherlock and Having Fun With It.

By Vicki Delany

Now that I’ve switched my focus from darker, grittier crime novels (standalones like More than Sorrow, the eight novels in the Constable Molly Smith series) to cozies, my only aim as a writer is to have fun with it.

And I’m having a lot of fun with the Sherlock Holmes Bookshops series, in which the third, The Cat of the Baskervilles, came out this week.

There isn’t much hotter in the world of popular culture today than Sherlock Holmes.  The continuing popularity of the original books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the massive number of modern short story collections and pastiche novels; two TV series, several movies.

I’m a writer and I’m also a keen mystery reader. So when I was looking for inspiration for a new series, I thought a bookstore would be fun.  And then the idea popped into my head: A bookstore dedicated to Sherlock Holmes.

When I started to do some research on that, I quickly discovered it’s not such an unfeasible idea.  You could easily stock a store with nothing but Sherlock.  Not only things I mentioned above but all the stuff that goes with it: mugs, tea towels, games, puzzles, action figures, colouring books, cardboard cut-out figures. The list is just about endless. Throw in nonfiction works on Sir Arthur and his contemporaries, maybe a few books set in the “gaslight” era. And, presto, a fully stocked bookstore.

And thus was born the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium.   Because cozy lovers (and me) love food to go with their reading, I put Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room next door, run by her best friend Jayne Wilson.

Every book and every piece of merchandise sold in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium exists in the real world (with one exception as readers of Body on Baker Street will understand).  I haven’t read all the books I mention, and I’m not necessarily recommending them, but I enjoy dropping the names of books into the story as customers browse and shop and ask Gemma for suggestions: something suitable for a middle aged man laid up after falling off the roof; a book for a friend who loves historical mysteries; a YA with a female protagonist; even a hostess present for a hated mother-in-law!

My original intent when I began the series, was that the main character would be a normal cozy character. A nice young woman who owns an interesting bookshop, lives in a pleasant community (in this case, on Cape Cod), and has a circle of friends.

But, by the time I got to page 2, Gemma Doyle had become “sherlockian”.

And that’s been enormous fun to write. Gemma has the amazing memory (for things she wants to remember), and incredible observational skills, and a lightning fast mind.  She is also, shall we say, somewhat lacking on occasion in the finger points of social skills.  Jayne is ever-confused, but loyal.
Sometimes Gemma’s observations don’t go down well with a skeptical police officer:

“It was perfectly obvious,” I said. “I smelled flour, tea, and sugar the moment we came in. Those are normal scents in anyone’s house, but tonight they’re of a strength that indicates they’ve been recently dumped from their containers. Overlaid with the odor of rotting vegetables, by which I assume the fridge door has been left open. I keep meaning to eat that kale because it’s supposed to be healthy, but I really don’t care for it.
“We can also assume that our intruder is a nonsmoker and doesn’t apply perfume or aftershave regularly. Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained for several days, although the forecast did call for some, so they didn’t track mud into the house. The flour! An unforgiveable oversight on my part. You will, of course, want to take casts of footprints that have tracked through the spilled flour and sugar.”
“It didn’t get on the floor,” Estrada said. “But it’s all over the counter.”
“As the front door appears to be untampered with, and I don’t hand spare keys for my house to all and sundry, I’ll assume our intruder came in through the back door. Therefore the kitchen would be the logical first place to search.”
“Enough, Gemma,” Jayne whispered to me.
“I only want to point out the obvious facts.” I’ve been told on more than one occasion that some people don’t understand my attention to detail and thus misunderstand the conclusions I draw from it. I have tried to stop, but I might as well stop thinking. And this didn’t seem like a suitable time in which to stop thinking.
“The back door’s been forced open, yes,” Estrada said. “I’ll admit, that was a good guess.”
I was about to inform her that I never guess, but Jayne elbowed me in the ribs.

                                                                                Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, reimagined as modern young women just trying to get on with life.