Monday, February 28, 2011

Beware The Internet Thieves

by Julia Buckley
A couple of years ago someone managed to get my debit card number; they went on a spree and spent 700 dollars before I noticed it online; by then the damage was done and I had to spend weeks on the phone with my bank, begging not to be held accountable for the charges.

This past week my husband and I got calls from two DIFFERENT credit card companies, both asking if we had made large purchases on our cards. We had not. And these thieves were even more insidious, because not only did they have access to the numbers on one of our credit cards, but they apparently found a way to access all of them. Somehow they hacked into something password-protected and got into--what? My credit listing? My bank statements? We're not even sure.

Thanks to this anonymous thief, I have restricted access to my own bank account, my own funds, until this is sorted out. It's for my own protection--I guess.

I suppose if I have to be robbed, I would prefer it to be done online rather than at gunpoint, but either way there is a sense of violation that grows and grows. The problem with the online robbery is that the perpetrator probably steals without any twinge of conscience. Who are they hurting? All they're doing is typing a number. I'll bet it's very easy to rationalize that type of theft, and I'm guessing it will be very difficult to catch them, too--although the person who robbed me two years ago was, in fact, caught.

Either way, the robber can talk him or herself into the idea that they need money, and if other people have it, they can take it. But let's face it: they're not buying groceries with my money--they're buying big-ticket items like televisions and computers.

I love the convenience of internet shopping, but this is my morality tale for the month: beware of the convenience of online theft.

--Change your passwords often, no matter how much of a pain it may be.

--Join a credit-monitoring company like Experian or Equifax.

--Keep an eye on your bank accounts.

Otherwise, the problem will find you sooner or later. Just ask anyone in the fraud department at your credit card company.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Finding My Muse by C. E. Lawrence

Today I'm handing my Saturday post over to author C. E. Lawrence. She's blogging about muses. Hmmm, mine seems to be MIA of late. Let's see what she has to say about the subject. As always, thanks to C. E. for a great post and to our readers for stopping by!

Musing on Muses

Sheila English (don’t you love her name?) suggested to me that I write a blog about “finding my muse.” Good idea, I thought – so I did what I always do when I set out to write: I google. An internet search of the word “Muse” brought 41,400,000 results in 0.18 seconds. They included a rock band, a software company, a magazine, and a modeling agency (who knew?). The definition given by Wickipedia is “in Greek mythology, poetry, and literature . . . the goddesses, spirits, or real persons who inspire the creation of literature and the arts.”

Not to belabor the point, I was pleased to note that all three Muses (later on there were nine or even ten, depending on which version you ascribe to) are female. So a big shout out to the Greeks for giving women some credit – we got wisdom, beauty and poetry, and the men got war, drunkenness, and the underworld. Sorry, guys. To be fair, the muses were as capricious and cruel as any other Greek god – they blinded Thamyris for his hubris in challenging them to a contest. Ouch. Nice work, ladies.

Among other cool things, the muses were responsible for giving artists creative inspiration. The other common meaning of that word, of course, is breath. In ancient Greece people mostly wrote poetry and plays – but according to the Wickipedia article, “They have served as aids to an author of prose, too, sometimes represented as the true speaker, for whom an author is merely a mouthpiece.”

I like that. It takes some of the responsibility of creativity off my shoulders; after all, if I’m just a mouthpiece, then what the heck? That explanation also comes very close to describing the feeling every writer has experienced from time to time when “in the zone” – the odd, disembodied sense of writing down what seems to originate elsewhere. Now, I’m sure my ego is as big as any other author’s, so this isn’t fake humility. Writing a novel isn’t exactly a walk through the park – it’s a dirty, messy business, full of trips and traps and dark nights of despair. But on the good days – and sometimes even on the bad ones – there is something that happens, something I can’t fully explain. It’s spooky and weird and maybe even otherworldly, but I’ve learned to trust it. It is, exactly as the Wickipedia article describes it: a feeling of being simply the channel, or mouthpiece, for something much larger. It happens most often when I’m writing poetry (it’s true – I don’t just write about serial killers), but it also happens when I’m working on my thrillers.

It is as thought the ideas and stories are out there somewhere, and I’m just plucking them out of the air, as it were, to write them down. Maybe this is what Jung was talking about when he came up with his notion of archetypes, and it might be what my New Age friends means when they speak of “channeling” spirits or past lives, or whatever. Of course, I don’t buy into that stuff. I believe in the scientific method, so until someone can prove Seth exists, I’ll continue to regard Shirley McLaine as a brilliant actress, but a bit of a wacko. No offense, Shirley – you were amazing in Being There.

So I am stuck in the uncomfortable position of trying to describe something I can’t fully explain and don’t completely understand. Well, there is the nature of the creative process right there, it seems to me. As writers we are trying to use the most unreliable, earthbound and limited of tools – words – to create the ineffable, immortal and timeless – stories.

Because stories are forever. The Greeks knew that, and so did the Romans, and so did every culture who came after. People seem to have a need to tell each other stories; it’s one of the things I love most about our species. So we dance our tales, or sing them, or, god forbid, write them. We’re forever in search of our Muse, but I have the feeling that she’s out there looking for us, too. After, she needs a mouthpiece. She may be eternal, ethereal, timeless, and all that good stuff, but we’re the ones stuck here on good old terra firma, so if she’s got something to say, she’d better look us up. She can find me in the East Village, listening to public radio, drinking coffee from Porto Rico Imports, and trying to think of devious new ways a serial killer might operate. So ladies, all nine or ten of you are welcome to drop on by anytime – I’ll keep the light on for you.
C.E. Lawrence is the byline of a New York-based suspense writer, performer, and prize-winning playwright whose previous books have been praised as "lively. . ." (Publishers Weekly); "constantly absorbing. . ." (starred Kirkus Review); and "superbly crafted prose" (Boston Herald).

Her latest Lee Campbell thriller, Silent Victim, was published in December. The first book in the series, Silent Screams, was praised by Publishers Weekly as a “dark, intriguing thriller;” the Chronogram called it “a fresh take on the twisted-serial-killer genre, a high-octane, compulsively-readable thriller that gets New York right;” TracyReaderDad called it “an awesome read . . . If you love a good mystery, and a great set of characters, you will love it.” Both books will be available as audio books, and have also been sold to Piper Verlag in Germany.

Friday, February 25, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

If all goes as planned, when you read this I will be in County Cork, Ireland, where my grandfather was born, doing research for a new and yet unnamed mystery series.  I shrewdly set most of the series in a small pub in a small town, so much of this research will consist of sitting in pubs and listening to people talk--how they sound, and what they talk about.  I hope some of them will even talk to me, and if I've very lucky, I'll persuade a pub owner to show me how things work (like how to pull a proper pint of Guinness).

But the problem with traveling these days is keeping in touch with the cyberworld.  I'll be gone for two weeks, and in that time my email inbox will fill to overflowing, and my provider will send me nasty messages and simply jettison anything else that comes in.  Not good.

I remember the first time I left the country.  I was all of 21, and my mother was convinced she'd never see me again.  She made me promise to send her a telegram from the airport to let her know I'd landed safely.  I did, but the country's telegraph workers were on strike at the time, so she got the telegram a couple of weeks later.  (I was a starving student, so placing a phone call was out of the question.)

Fast forward a decade or two, and the Internet had blossomed everywhere.  The trick was to find a place with a terminal you could afford.  I tend to travel to out-of-the-way places, so I can't rely on the generosity of large hotels.  As a result, I have logged on to machines in places like a converted 18th-century gaol (Ireland again) and a couple of public libraries.  About the same time, disposable cell phones made their debut, so you could pick one up in the airport and at least be able to communicate within a country (no, my own won't work in Ireland--I did check).  I gather now that finding a working pay phone anywhere in the world is becoming increasingly unlikely--everyone has a cell phone.  Guess what:  I've "rented" a cell phone from my regular provider, and I don't even have to change the number (which is good because heaven help me if I have to remember one more number for anything).

But that's still not Internet access.  Why does it matter?  Recently one of my colleagues on this blog described how we get an endorphin rush from receiving emails.  Maybe we used to get the same feeling from a personal letter--remember those?--but emails are constant and immediate. We're hooked. 

As writers we follow a lot of loops and blogs.  As a baseline we use them for support--we writers are often solitary souls, and we need someone out there who understands and who will assure us that we aren't crazy, and we'll work out that plot point and make that deadline, and some wonderful publisher will have faith in you and buy it.  And so on.  The problem is, there are a lot of writers, and they're all needy.  So that means a lot of emails, even if you're on digest.

I'll be gone two weeks.  How will I survive without my daily, even hourly, dose of emails?  What important events and announcements will I miss?  Will anyone miss me?  Trust me, I've already checked out the free WiFi location closest to where I'm staying (which is a charming cottage with views, a hot tub, DVD player--but no Internet!), and plan to have some long lunches in their restaurant, trying to keep ahead of the rising tide.

But this is as close to a vacation as I've come in the past five years.  For my husband (who has graciously agreed to accompany me), it's been even longer. We're looking forward to some down time. I've been to Ireland more than once, and I know that the pace of things is simply slower there.  In my experience, outside of the cities it's a very soothing place, perfect for restoring mental equilibrium and regaining a more balanced perspective.

And I'll come back to a thousand emails.  But maybe by then I won't care.

How long can you survive without the Internet?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The art of publishing is alive and well in children’s lit

Elizabeth Zelvin

Having spent the last decade on the ever more precarious rollercoaster of writing for the mystery market, I ventured into a new arena in January: the winter meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). What I found there were not only eager aspiring writers and artists and some impressive superstars, but some aspects of traditional publishing that I haven’t heard much about lately: encouragement and hope.

To be fair, the gathering of 1,200 did not, as far as I could tell, include the midlist writers who are the backbone (along with readers!) of the mystery community. The superstars did the talking, the aspiring got critique, and the unagented got opportunities to leapfrog over the slush pile. But what amazed and pleased me was what I heard from big-house senior editors and publishers who conducted breakout sessions. Sure, they said that these are tough times and that the world of books has changed rapidly and irrevocably, with more change to come. But the news was much better than I’ve come to expect when the subject of breaking into—and staying published in—adult fiction comes up.

For example, one publisher acknowledged that adult fiction is more and more like the movies, something I’ve said myself more than once. Just as a film disappears quickly if it doesn’t earn a huge gross at the box office the first weekend it’s released, so a debut mystery vanishes from bookstore shelves within six weeks if it doesn’t sell like hotcakes. And in the past year, dropped series have become so commonplace that no author, however well established or beloved, is secure.

In contrast, this publisher described the acquisition process by saying that discussion of a manuscript will include calculating how many copies are likely to be sold over a three-year period. Three years! An adult mystery would be long since remaindered, or more likely, pulped, and out of print—except for the Kindle edition—in three years. I know of mystery authors who’ve been dropped by their publishers for lack of sales one week before publication of the second book in a series, one month after publication of the first book, and on the same weekend they received a major award.

Children’s book publishers are not throwing away their Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners. They laud them, and the children’s book community turns to them for inspiration, as I learned by attending the SCBWI event. The keynote speakers talked about writing not only as craft, but as art—and art as essential to actual publication. In adult books, everyone still says, “Write the best book you can,” and a writer does need craft to become a published author. But the bigger the publisher, the more likely that craft, art, award nominations, and even, in some cases, great reviews will prove irrelevant to whether the author remains published beyond the first book.

I went to SCBWI to support my Young Adult manuscript, now in my agent’s hands. But I was fascinated with what I learned about picture books. The text of a picture book is only two hundred words, less than twice the length of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. But like a sonnet, it’s a lot harder to write than it looks. Among the elements considered essential, one author mentioned lyricism, because picture books are meant to be read aloud. She gave a great example: in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, “Let the wild rumpus begin!” (To drive her point home, she compared it to the movie, which changed the line to, “Let the wild rumpus start!) Another essential: text must lend itself to illustration. A crucial picture book element I heard a lot about was “the page turn.” What a challenge: suspense in two hundred words (and thirty-two pages). And for picture books, great artists are essential.

In children’s literature, printed books are not at risk of disappearing any time soon. The impact of the new technology is less on delivery of the books to readers than on spreading the word. As a YA author, I’ll need to know about teen book blogs, getting kids to review my book, and creating an online buzz. In children’s lit, reaching readers is not only a sales strategy, but a mission. On the agenda: turning the next generation into lifelong readers. In the mystery world, we talk about the higher purpose of crime fiction: satisfying the reader in an increasingly chaotic world by restoring order at the end of the book. But wouldn’t it be lovely if we could still use words like mission and purpose when we talked about the publishing business?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dreaming Our Lives Away

Sandra Parshall

How much time do you spend daydreaming?

Probably more than you think. According to a study in which subjects reported what they were thinking about at random intervals, the average person’s mind wanders from the task or subject at hand about 30% of the time. Often people aren’t even aware they’re daydreaming until they realize they’ve read several pages of a book without absorbing any of it or participated in a conversation for five minutes without hearing a word the other person spoke.

Although children are often discouraged from nonproductive fantasizing, daydreaming was a vital part of childhood for a lot of artists and scientists, from Tim Burton to Einstein. And the fantasizing doesn't stop with adulthood. In an article by Josie Glausiusz in Scientific American Mind, psychologist Jonathan Schooler points out what any writer knows instinctively: letting the mind roam can unlock creativity in a way that intense focus might not. Daydreaming is an essential tool for fiction writers, and we may do as much of our creative work when we’re away from the keyboard as when we’re sitting there typing.

Daydreams can also help us get through bad experiences by taking us to a more pleasant time and place. Some motivational coaches teach people to imagine themselves acing an interview or breezing through a dreaded public speaking engagement. That’s a kind of targeted daydreaming that can bolster confidence.

For some people, though, daydreaming can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder and interfere with real life. The Scientific American Mind article describes a young woman who could hardly bear to be away from her fantasy life. When she was socializing with real people, all she wanted to do was go home and settle back into the elaborate world she had created in her daydreams. She isn’t unique. Compulsive daydreamers even have an online forum of their own:

Where do daydreams come from? Scientists believe the human brain has a “dedicated daydreaming network” that is filled with memories and images and is essential to our sense of self. Brain scans have demonstrated which parts of the brain “light up” when the mind wanders or engages in conscious  daydreaming. These are also the areas that become active when we obsess about a bad past experience or worry about awful things that might happen in the future. A number of mental disorders, including schizophrenia, have recently been linked to malfunctions in those brain regions.

While some people may dismiss all daydreaming as a waste of time, you can bet they do quite a bit of it themselves. It’s part of being human. And in most cases, it’s not only beneficial but necessary.

How often do you daydream? Have you ever had a creative breakthrough while letting your mind wander? Have you ever calmed your nerves with an ego-boosting fantasy? Do you think it’s good or bad for children to fantasize?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Sharon Wildwind

Would you help me test a theory?

Get your current work in progress. Better yet get two or three WIPs or maybe include a couple of WFAFs (works finished and forgotten).

Count the number of pages. Divide by 10. Multiply that number by 7. Go to that page. Just to be on the safe side, include 5 pages before and 5 pages after.

For example, one of my books has 357 pages in it. That number divided by 10 = 35.7, which when multiplied by 7 = page 250, so the 5-page before/after range would be pages 245 to 255.

Do you have a dead kitten speech anywhere in your ten-page range?

The Death of My Kitten speech is a term coined by the American playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director, David Mamet. Sometimes instead of kittens, it starts with “When I was young …” or “Years ago …” or “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but …”

In his book, 3 Uses of the Knife: on the Nature and Purpose of Drama, Mamet has a theory that these unneeded narrations occur regularly in plays and films at 7/10ths of the way through the production, which is usually just before or just after the beginning of the third act.

He saw this diversion appearing so consistently that it finally came to him that they were not accidental, but instead reflected either some human need, some dramatic convention, or both.

Unless a woman discovers that she is in labor or a man has a phone call from his night watchman asking if he can give the building access code to the firemen, people don’t usually leave the theater at the beginning of the third act. Similarly, engrossed readers don’t return their book to the library when they still have 3/10th of the book to read.

By that time the covenant has been made between the writer and audience to stick it out to the end, no matter what is coming next. Mamet contends that the other thing the writer and the audience share at this point is fatigue. The stakes are high, emotions invested in the characters, and a successful (read happy) ending seems impossible. What must happen will happen and both the writer and audience suspect they aren’t going to like the inevitable one bit.

At the beginning of the Roman Catholic Mass the priest begins a penitential rite with, “My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves, and to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins.” There are several versions of prayers with which the congregation responds. One of them begins with, “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault … .”

For a good bit of Western European literature/drama, religious ceremonies begat religious plays, which begat Greek and Roman drama, which eventually begat a whole bunch of things including David Mamet’s plays and the books/plays we are writing. Whether or not we subscribe to religious ceremonies, there is still an echo of all of those dramatic conventions inherent in rituals and classic drama coming down to us over thousands of years.

One Greek drama convention was the soliloquy, which strangely enough occurred about 7/10th of the way through a play. It was the point where the actor, speaking for the dramatist, confided in the audience (I paraphrase), “This is a mess, isn’t it? I CONFESS that I’m as much at a loss as you are about how it’s all going to turn out. I’m in the gods’ hands as much as you are. While I would love to give you a big, happy finish, it may not be in my power to do that. I know you’re anxious and a little nervous about the ending, but keep in mind, this is a play. It’s an artificial construct. No matter what horrible things happen to the characters in the last act, you’re safe. That’s about the best I can offer.”

The whole purpose of the soliloquy was briefly to remove the audience from the artificial story, reorient them to real life and reassure them that, pretty soon, they would be going back to that life. It’s like that infinitesimal pause at the top of the roller coaster between the slow, anticipatory climb (Acts I and II) and the heart-stopping plunge (Act III).

I suspect what has happened to that pause to degenerate it into Dead Kitten speeches is that writers have lost track of the original purpose of that 7/10ths pause and instead far too often use it as a place to insert back story that we can’t figure any other way to work in. Maybe we need to try going back to the original purpose.

Did my book have a pause in it on or about page 250? Actually, it did, right on page 250. Two characters took a several paragraph detour to discuss duty and honor, and to speculate about being a little nervous about how everything would work out. Just proves you can write classical drama without having a clue that you were doing it.
Quote for the week:
Huddie Ledbetter, also known as Leadbelly, said: You take a knife, you use it to cut bread, so you’ll have strength to work; you use it to shave, so you’ll look nice for your lover; on discovering her with another, you use it to cut out her lying heart. … So the dramatist, the blues writer in us, seizes upon the knife as both embodying and witnessing the interchange, subtly changing its purpose through the course of the drama. The knife becomes, in effect, congruent to the bass line in music.
~David Mamot, 3 Uses of the Knife: on the Nature and Purpose of Drama

Monday, February 21, 2011

Robot Brains and Techno Fiction

by Julia Buckley

Fiction writers have always had a fascination with robots, computerized villains, futuristic possibilities. It's not just the world of science fiction that explores tales of robots gone wrong or computers who take over; many a fine suspense tale has explored similar territory.

But in real life, we are continually proving that some of these stories aren't necessarily fiction. Take, for example, the recent triumph of Watson, the IBM robot who beat the two human geniuses on JEOPARDY. The previous champs looked like miniscule intellects next to Watson's stored knowledge, which allowed him to dominate the competition. (In case you didn't notice him, he's the third one from the left).

Technology is moving so rapidly beyond the average person's ken that it is potentially frightening; yet when we hear of some great new innovation that's for sale, we tend to blandly accept it--maybe even to put it on our wishlist.

I think a lot about computer technology, not because I understand it, but because I wonder where it will take us in twenty years, fifty years. And where will it take our children?

If Ian Fleming or Isaac Asimov were alive today, I think they'd be fans of this website. It updates the world on all things robotic, including the latest in humanoid androids. (Click on "World's Greatest Android Projects")

My favorite is the New Asimo, who looks a bit like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon--except that on the website he is having breakfast with his--what's the term? Owner? Host? Fleshly companion?

Honda's new android can walk, run, hold your hand, even bring you drinks on a tray. He/She weighs about 119 pounds.

I wonder if the future will bring the sort of social isolation that will make us want to hold hands with our robots. And yet, despite my misgivings about what effect robots will have on the future (I Robot, anyone?), I must admit that if there were ever an affordable robot that would clean my house, I would wait in line overnight to get it. And someday when I'm suffering from empty nest syndrome, maybe Asimo and I can get in shape together.

But the World's Greatest Android Projects looks like a Science Fiction dream come true. And now that it's true, what will it mean?

Photo link here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Canada Calling: Fizbin and Canadian Copyright

The Canadian thriller writer Pamela Callow was scheduled to be our guest this month, but life intervened at the last minute. Pamela will be with us the weekend of March 19-20.

Even people with only a passing acquaintance of Star Trek recognize two words: tribbles — cuddly fluff balls with an inconvenient trait of being born pregnant — and Fizbin — the mind-boggling card game that Captain Kirk invented to escape from mob boss Bela Oxmyx on Sigma Iotia Two.

Bill C-32, currently before the Canadian Parliament, if passed, will restructure Canadian Copyright law. Many Canadian writers and artists are yelling, “Fizbin.”

There is general agreement on two principles: creators and users both have rights, and any copyright legislation should strike a balance for both groups. This is where agreement ends.

The current situation started in 1997, when the Canadian Copyright Act was last amended. A provision fostered the development of collective groups, which could negotiate package deals for their members. Initially, collective groups (representing creators) and institutions such as school boards, libraries, museums and archives (representing users) negotiated voluntary agreements. Some collective groups felt that they were at a disadvantage and took user groups to the Copyright Board of Canada. Mandatory board decisions replaced negotiated agreements. Many of the Board’s decisions favored the creators over the users.

At the same time the Internet and a variety of electronic access devices multiplied like tribbles. Many countries realized that, in the face of the electronic onslaught, their copyright laws were outdated and becoming more so each week.

At the end of December 1996, a few months before before the Canadian Copyright Act passed, Canada was a signatory to two international treaties — the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). Because of the short time period between those treaties and the Copyright Act, terms of those treaties were not included, though the Canadian government promised to add them in a future bill.

In 2005 and 2008 bills were introduced in Parliament to revise Canadian Copyright law, but both bills died on the table, meaning they did not get through the entire approval process before that session of Parliament ended.

Bill C-32 was introduced in June 2010. Some parts of this bill, like finally adding WIPO and WPPT terminology, including photographs as copyrighted material, and increasing formats available to disabled users, are straightforward. Two other provisions are driving people crazy.

Fizbin Rule #1: Electronic locking devices beat everything else laid down in the game.

Actually, that’s not much of a Fizbin rule. Simply stated it means that if a fixation has a locking device on it, it is illegal to copy it every time. Fixation means the physical thing used to hold the content. It might be an electronic book, a DVD, a YouTube video, a record, an MP3 file and on and on. If that thing comes with a digital lock, you have no right to it. End of story.

Arguing the digital lock provision is pretty straight-forward. Are you in favor of digital locks, yes or no? Why or why not? You probably won’t convince any opponent who takes the opposite view, but at least you’re down to arguing one concept and have some hope of getting home in time for supper.

Fizbin rule #2: “Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright.” (Section 29; BILL C-32: An Act to amend the Copyright Act/PROJET DE LOI C-32: Loi modifiant la Loi sur le droit d’auteur)

Parody or satire includes “non-commercial user-generated content.” We’re talking mash-ups here. If someone wants to collect paragraphs, or song clips, or photos to which I hold copyright, and put them together in a montage of his own creation, that’s okay as long as he’s doing it for strictly non-commercial purposes and his finished product doesn’t have an adverse financial or other affect on the original works. Some people disagree.

In that quote from Section 29, the words stirring up the most controversy are research, private study, and education.

Under the current law, if one person studies by herself, that is private study; however, if she’s part of a five-person study group working together on a class project that is public study and she may not copy materials to use in that group. Under the new law, private study will mean groups of any size, as long as they are focused on the same topic.

The term education would be expanded to include not only formal classroom instruction but life skills courses, workshops, seminars, self-study projects, and other means of informal training. It means that people teaching, leading, guiding (whatever word you want to use) can copy or use materials without permission and without paying royalties as long as certain conditions are met.

First condition—digital locks trump everything else on the table: if there is a digital lock on the material, see Fizbin Rule #1.

Second condition—it matters where you teach: the educational institution, library, archive, or museum must be run by the public sector (school board or provincial government) or be non-profit if run by the private sector. However, if the educational institution is private AND for-profit, they must pay royalties on everything.

This means that if a writer taught a writing class as an employee of the University of Calgary, he could copy/use as much as he wanted, without getting permission and without paying royalties, subject to the fair use doctrine. (See below.) But if he taught the same class through his business and made a profit teaching it, he must get written permission and pay royalties on everything he copied/used.

Third condition—fair use, as previously defined by the Canadian Supreme Court—must be considered each time an employee and/or student/user wants to copy/use something: fair use means assessing the character of the use, the size of the use, the amount of use, whether a non-copyrighted equivalent was available, if the material was published or non-published, and the effect of the use on the market of the original work. Yes, we are into prime Fizbin territory here.

Fourth condition—use it and destroy it: the employee and each student/user must destroy the copy 30 days after the final course evaluation has been completed.

Try discussing anything under Fizbin Rule #2 and there is no chance, no way, that you are going to get home in time for supper.

It’s going to be interesting to see what will happen with C-32. I don’t know which would be more trouble, for changes to the current copyright law to die on the table (for the third time) or for the bill finally to be passed.

Whatever happens, Canadian writers will keep on doing what they do best. Writing.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Congratulations to my fellow daughters Sandra Parshall, Sheila Connolly and Liz Zelvin. Sandra has been offered a fifth contract in her wonderful Rachel Goddard mystery series, and both Sheila and Liz have received Agatha nominations for best short story! Way to go, Sisters!


By Sheila Connolly

This week Borders officially filed for bankruptcy, to no one’s great surprise, claiming debts well in access of a billion dollars and owing money to a lot of publishers. They plan to close 200 of their 642 stores. Lo, how the mighty are fallen!

As both writers and readers, we live in interesting times. When I was young (in another millennium), my mother and my grandmother were avid readers, although they leaned toward historical fiction, mainly featuring royalty. But there were always books around the house, including a few that I probably wasn't meant to find, much less read.

My grandmother, widowed and keeping company with a gentleman friend, regarded a stroll to Doubleday's in Manhattan as a pleasant after-dinner excursion, and usually came home with a new hardcover, which she was likely to pass on to my mother. In the suburbs, we made occasional forays to Brentano's at the shiny new mall that opened up in the 1960s. As a less satisfying alternative, the all-purpose store in the middle of town that sold primarily gifts and cards and candy and newspapers, had a couple of racks of paperbacks, right up front in the store. When I was in middle school, Scholastic Books would show up every few weeks and set up racks of books, most of which cost about thirty-five cents, and I still have some of them. So there were always books in my life.

Now we're living in the midst of an electronic revolution, watching the shift from physical books to digital ones. Kindle, Nook and their brethren are multiplying like mushrooms, and their share of the market is growing by leaps and bounds. Publishers are struggling to revise contracts to include language that reflects what they know right now and what they think might happen over the life of the contract. Writers are taking back electronic rights and posting their own books, both out-of-print and never-published, as digital books, and reaping the benefits directly.

We've seen closings of long-treasured and well-respected independent bookstores over the last couple of years, because the owners just couldn't afford to stay open. And now we're seeing the implosion of the giants. Is there any business model for selling books that works? I know I wouldn't want to be a bookseller now, no matter how much I love books.

I have an unusual perspective, because my daughter works at a place that bills itself as the largest independent bookstore in New England. It's a great place, with thousands and thousands of books on shelve 10 feet high, and I'm there a lot. But it's been run by the same family since its founding over 50 years ago, and the current generation just isn't that interested any more. They want to sell the store--but what they're selling is the stock, the name, and the goodwill. The family wants to hold on to ownership of the land and the building (in a prime location), although they would offer any buyer advantageous rates for a long-term lease. It's been on the market since last fall, but so far no takers. Will there be? Should there be? How do you place a value on goodwill in this day and age? They had a sale over the past couple of weeks, and the sizeable parking lot was filled with people jockeying for any open spacesBbut I've also been there on days when it was all but empty. They have a loyal following and great name recognitionBbut is that enough to keep the store in business?

At the same time, libraries are struggling to hold a small slice of municipal budgets, cutting staff, hours, and acquisitions. How can we stand to lose both bookstores and libraries?

Any reader among you knows that reading is an addiction. We can't survive without words in front of us. I've been known to read decades-old magazines I found stuffed under chair cushions in rustic vacation cottages when all else failed. Cereal boxes. Operating manuals. We need our fix, and we need it regularly.

Are pixels on a screen the same? They're still the same words, put together by the same people, only in a form that is infinitely more portable and adjustable. And you'll never run out of books, as long as you're near a computer or a wireless connection. All that is good. But what we lose is the serendipity of browsing: the pleasure of wandering through well-stocked aisles, picking up whatever appeals to us for any number of reasons, leafing through the pages, and deciding to give it a try. Will that change how we all read?

Will Borders survive? It’s not clear at the moment. But its woes have sent a seismic ripple through the publishing and reading world.  Where will you turn for your books now?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Woman Writing in a Male Voice

Elizabeth Zelvin

At the last minute before New Year’s, I added one more book to my list of Best Reads of 2010, which I’d been compiling all year to contribute to the big list on DorothyL. It’s a 2009 book, Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass, and I’d been hearing about it all year from the mystery loving DorothyLers. Some loved it and some found it hard to get into. I enjoyed it thoroughly for a number of reasons. It’s truly original, both the mystery and the most dramatic, life-defining fact about the protagonist are revealed gradually and late in the book, and the setting, an office full of lexicographers, and constant play with words are a delight to any lover of language. I was also impressed with how well Ms. Arsenault created a male protagonist with a distinctive voice.

As someone who ended up with a male protagonist in my mystery series by default (an editor bumped my female protagonist to the role of sidekick) and with another in my historical series by mysterious inspiration (everyone’s heard by now how the guy came knocking on the inside of my head), this interests me. I’m also a great believer in both the importance of voice and how hard it is, if not impossible, to force or fake. So how did Arsenault do it?

I think it helped that the basic fabric of the book is words and their meanings and how they change over time. On one level, the theme is the flexibility of the English language. The more I know about other languages, the more extraordinary I realize this flexibility is. At the fictional dictionary publishers’ in The Broken Teaglass, they track how usage and meaning change and new words become part of the language by collecting and reviewing endless citations from books, periodicals, and wherever words appear. New words or usages that they find repeatedly make it into updates and new editions of the dictionaries.

The citations are a key to the plot, as the quotations in which they appear gradually reveal the mystery. But the choice of words in which these small narratives appeared was completely up to the author, since her dramatic device was the planting of phony keywords meant only to draw attention to the fake citations, ie the narrative. She also had the fun of choosing words that would interest the lexicographer, ie words that were coined within the past fifty years whose meaning and usage are still developing. I think Arsenault’s inclusion of what I’d call “guy words” helped make the male voice convincing.

The most noticeable words are the fifty words or phrases that call the protagonist's attention to the phony citations that reveal the mystery. I’m not saying every one of them would be more commonly used by men than women. But they help create a text in which I was never jerked out of the story by a turn of phrase that made me think I was hearing Emily Arsenault rather than the fictional Billy Webb.

Here are the words that appear in the citations.

advantaged, overachiever, holding pattern, nebbish, editrix, ballpoint, nerd, schlub, paperbound, trash man, riff, hang-up, ponytail, whoopee cushion, off-the-wall, sonic boom, deep-six, eek, macho, pj, unscripted, showtime, blow-dryer, headshrinker, opt out, cop out, button-down, callithump, track record, cornball, lopper, maven, killer, aficionada, cut-and-paste, demythologize, hot ticket, wind down, aw-shucks, epiphanic, plus, billboard, larger-than-life, white knight, ball of wax, warm spot, wrap-up, softbound, subtext, subliterature

In addition, Billy’s job allows him to think about words, and his word choices are even more important to his voice. Here’s Billy introducing himself and his peculiar job in Chapter One:

Imagine...a guy right out of college—a guy who says yup, and watches too much Conan O’Brien. Imagine this guy sitting in a cubicle, shuffling through little bits of magazine articles, hoping for words like boink and tatas to cross his desk and spice up his afternoons.

A couple more passages that say “guy” to me:

I looked through the cits for beat one’s meat and drafted a definition—a simple and elegant cross-reference to masturbate.

A suffix, -aster....I’d had enough of suffixes for the morning. I stuck it back in the box and pulled out the next batch of cits. Asterisk. Grand. I was beginning to feel nostalgic for asswipe.

Billy himself is not crude. He’s a very nice young man. In fact, he’s been sheltered and is somewhat immature. But his being a guy affects the words and concepts that pop up in his mind as he works eight hours a day with language.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A New Voice: Tina Whittle

Interviewed by Sandra Parshall

Tina Whittle’s first mystery, The Dangerous Edge of Things (February, Poisoned Pen Press), moved a Kirkus reviewer to comment, “If you’re wondering who can give Stephanie Plum a run for her money, meet Tai Randolph.” Library Journal called it an exciting debut with “an original, well-constructed plot” and “a cast of unforgettable characters.”

Tina lives in southeast Georgia with her family (one husband, one daughter, one neurotic Maltese and three chickens). In addition to being an author, she is a professional tarot reader. Visit for more information about her writing and to read about her tarot philosophy and practice. 

Q. Tell us about your book and its protagonist.

A. The Dangerous Edge of Things is the story of Teresa Ann “Tai” Randolph, a former tour guide, who moves to Atlanta, begins working at the Confederate-themed gun shop she inherits from her uncle, and finds a murdered corpse at the end of her brother’s driveway. She also meets a sexy guy (Trey Seaver) who frustrates almost as much as he fascinates. And she decides to quit 
Tai represents that stage of life we all go through where you’ve hit the crossroads. You can continue on the path you’ve been following — which in Tai’s case has been many gypsy years of sampling various professions, dabbling at adulthood — or you can take that strange twisty path off to the left. She has several such crossroads to navigate in the book (including some presented by that sexy guy). But she’s smart, and tough, and not afraid of making a fool of herself. Plus she knows when to ask for help. I think she does pretty well solving her first crime, enough to get a taste for it (which is why I’m hard at work on Book #2 in the series).

Q. Why a gun shop? Are you knowledgeable about guns, or did you have to research the subject?

A. I was having a hard time deciding what kind of life change could drag my heroine from the marshes of Savannah to the urban thicket of Atlanta. Then I met Teri Lowery, a wonderful woman who occupies an unusual demographic niche — she’s a politically liberal female gun shop owner. I immediately signed Tai up for an unexpected inheritance.

Here in Georgia, guns and politics intersect in surprising and challenging ways, especially in Atlanta. As I was writing the final draft of The Dangerous Edge of Things, the rules and restrictions regarding concealed carry were changing almost daily. We had politicians threatening to bring their firearms into the pick-up lanes at Hartsfield International Airport, and law enforcement officers vowing to arrest them on the spot. In the quasi-fictional Atlanta of my novel, there‘s Phoenix, the sleek corporate security agency where my character Trey Seaver works, with its well-armed and well-funded agents. And then there‘s Tai’s ramshackle little shop. Two distinct subcultures. I think fiction, especially mysteries, provides a way for us to explore such complexities.

I grew up in rural Georgia with a father and brother who were hunters, and a mother who was a crack shot even if the only game she bagged was mistletoe. Even though I’ve never hunted, I learned to shoot at an early age. Most importantly, I learned to respect firearms and to treat them with care, seriousness, and common sense.

Q. Which comes first for you, the characters or the plot? 

A. I am such a character-driven writer — I can’t imagine creating a plot without knowing my people first, especially since my plotting strategy follows that old adage of put your characters up a tree, throw rocks at them, then get them down. Of course we mystery writers also like to have branches snap and tumble every now and then, just to keep things interesting. But I always begin with character. Each element of the action flows from the choices and decisions of my people, so unless I know their personalities, the plot is just a series of unconnected events.

That said, I always have a general idea of the kind of story I want to tell and the initial complication or crime that will start the narrative rolling. But if I’ve done my character work well, all I have to do is run them up that tree and watch what they do while I throw those rocks.

Q. Poisoned Pen Press editor  Barbara Peters calls Trey Seaver “a character who can rip out your heart.” Where did this emotionally damaged man come from? Was he inspired by someone in real life, or is he entirely a creature of your imagination?

A. A friend described Trey as “sexy, scary and heartbreaking all at the same time.“ He is Tai’s most intriguing complication, and I’ll admit, I find him fascinating too. Unlike Tai, he has no real life counterpart, but he does have a factual inspiration, an article in Scientific American on aphasic stroke victims (people who have lost the ability to speak resulting from stroke damage to certain parts of the brain). This article explained that such people were much more gifted than average at knowing when other people were lying. In fact, their abilities were CIA-caliber, without any special training.

I decided that a person with such abilities would make an interesting detective, even if this one strength came packaged with many challenges. And thus Trey, my fictional character, was born. His injury isn't aphasic, but as I researched the neuroscience that went into figuring him out, I read about real life traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivors dealing with some of the most profound and baffling changes the human body can throw at you. I hope Trey represents the never-say-never spirit that TBI survivors bring to their daily lives.

Q. Is this the first novel you’ve written, or do you have others that weren’t published?

A. The Dangerous Edge of Things is my first traditional mystery novel, but there are three paranormal romances lying under my bed, probably morphing into some zombie-like single entity.

In a strange turn of events, several hundred copies of [one of them], By Blood and By Fire, were printed as demo works by a friend of mine in the printing industry. She needed some unpublished work to show potential clients what her company’s snazzy new printer could do. I consented, only I made her promise she wouldn’t put my real name on it. She didn’t — she credited it to Tai Randolph. So in a sense, my fictional heroine was a published novelist before I was.

When I asked myself the crucial question, though — what did I enjoy reading? — the answer wasn’t paranormal romance. My To-Be-Read stack was a toppling skyscraper of mystery novels. So I signed up for a class in writing crime fiction at my local university.

The first draft of The Dangerous Edge of Things was completed in the summer of 2003. It too spent a lot of time under the bed, being shaped in stages. I owe an immense debt to the Guppies critique group I found through Sisters in Crime and to my cherished writer friends. I especially owe Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen Press, who worked patiently with this newbie writer. She suggested the title — it’s from a poem by Robert Browning — and helped me shape my manuscript into an honest-to-goodness real book. A good editor is a necessity, but a great one is a blessing. And Barbara is one of the greats.

Q. What writers have influenced you most? Which authors are on your must-read list?

A. Since I am influenced by every piece of prose that runs through my head, for good or ill, I make it a point to read only really good stuff now. For crime fiction, Dana Stabenow and Julia Spencer-Fleming are my idols — I love their plots, but it’s their series characters that bring me back time and again.

Q. Who was the first person you told after your novel was accepted for publication?

A. The stupendous news came as an e-mail, so my husband and daughter and I found out almost simultaneously. My husband said he could tell by the look on my face before I said a word. And then the rest of the day was a variation on this theme:

Me: (babbles news)
Friend: SCREAM!

I kept watching for the e-mail that would take it all back, the one where Barbara would apologize for the error, say that she’d had too much cough syrup or something, and then rescind the offer which was obviously meant for some more talented writer. That e-mail never came. And the paranoid worries have mostly vanished. Mostly.

Q. Do you feel ready to become a published writer? What are you looking forward to most?

A. I’ve already experienced a lot of the things I had been gleefully anticipating — the first good review, the first time I introduced myself as a mystery writer, the first time I held a hard copy of my book in my hands. What I’m most looking forward to now is connecting with readers, hearing what they have to say about these characters I’ve created, and sustaining the relationship with my audience as I write Book #2 (and hopefully Book #3, and so on). Writers write because we seek a home in the wide world for our visions and ideas and these crazy people who live in our imagination. Getting to do this for fun and profit is beyond my wildest dreams.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wednesday on the Web

Sharon Wildwind

Wednesday is supposed to be tidy up, post new stuff on my web page day. I got to tell you, it just isn’t happening, and I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about that.

Okay, I know web pages are passé and I should have a social media page, but that’s less likely to happen than updating my web site. I trust my web page provider when he says that he won’t sell, share, or do any of the other things with my information that social media providers brag that they exist to do.

I am so paranoid about putting personal information on social media sites that I almost rate my own code in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s like when I’m in the grocery store and the person in front of me in line doesn’t have their saver’s card, so the clerk asks them their phone number, which they blithely rattle off.

I have this almost uncontrollable urge to grab my cell phone, use the reverse directory to find their home address — I know they aren’t home because they are in the grocery store with me — race to their house; see if they are one of those trusting people who leave spare door keys under flowerpots or over the door sill, let myself in, and leave a note saying “Never give out your phone number in public,” in the middle of their dining room table.

The only thing that stops me is 1) I don’t have a cell phone and 2) Doing that is likely to lead to a more up close and personal relationship with the city police than I care to cultivate.

When someone comes to visit my site, I want them to spend their time looking at my material. I don’t want ME crowded out by photos of followers, blinking ads that they may already be winners for some electronic gadget, dancing hamsters, or an overabundance of advertisements, most of which are for products that I don’t use and certainly don’t endorse other people using.

It’s passé, but my head still hasn’t made the leap from web site to social media, which brings me back to my continuing problem of updating my web site.

My problem is that the dull life I lead isn’t great web site fodder. I write, I exercise, I connect pieces of cloth at my sewing machine or slap other art together at my project table, I go to my day job, I spend time with my significant other, I read, I go to bed.

While each of those activities is fun in its own right, none of them lends itself to exciting web site posts. Personal photos are out — it’s that personal information paranoia again. I don’t have a book tour schedule. I don’t teach on-line classes, though I would if anyone asked me to do so. Respecting copyright means I don’t post anything that someone else has written or photographed. What’s a girl to do?

All that seems to be left are my chance encounters with art, like these two photographs, which were taken about 4 months apart. I have no idea where the blue leaf came from, though I suspect a leaf blew into a bucket of blue paint, was plucked out by the painter and the wind carried it into the gutter. The blue rubber band is as I found it. It had apparently curled itself up into a heart shape, which I thought was a lovely thing for Valentine’s Day.

My friends who are artists have it so easy. They can slap together a short video on how to gesso a canvas or drape a standing collar. Bingo, instant web site content. The best I could come up with for writing would be a short video on how to diagram a sentence.

Yes, I am one of those practitioners of the arcane art of sentence diagramming. The nuns made sure of that. Just in case you’ve never seen a diagrammed sentence, this is what one looks like.Longer, convoluted sentences actually become beautiful designs when diagrammed. On the other hand, protracted sentences by Henry James, a 19th century American author, often resemble a London Underground map.

And once you've diagrammed one sentence on line, you've pretty much exhausted that topic. So I’m open to suggestions. What should I be posting on my web site?

Homework for the week:
1. Diagram the sentence given below.
2. Compare your diagram to the Standard Tube Map of London.
3. See the similarity?

It may be affirmed without delay that she was probably very liable to the sin of self-esteem; she often surveyed with complacency the field of her own nature; she was in the habit of taking for granted, on scanty evidence, that she was right; impulsively, she often admired herself.
~ Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Grandma Got Her Passport

by Julia Buckley
I am the namesake of my grandmother, Julia, and she would have been 110 today. In honor of her birthday and as a Valentine treat, I'd like to share one memory out of a rich tapestry of her life stories.

This particular story is one of my father's favorites. My grandmother came to this country from Hungary as a seventeen-year-old girl. She traveled by ship, alone, to join her father, who had come years earlier. She left her mother and a brother behind, and as it turned out, she never saw them again.

She met a young man who was also Hungarian. They married and divided their time between Chicago and Coloma, Michigan, where her father had a small property. She and her husband had four children, the eldest of whom died of scarlet fever. Her next-oldest son was my father.

When my father and his siblings were grown with families of their own, they tried to encourage my grandmother to go home to Hungary and see her mother. They never managed to persuade her before her mother died. But one year my parents went to Germany in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary; my mother was born in Germany, and they greatly enjoyed their visit to the land where they had met and fallen in love.

When they got home, they spoke so highly of the trip that my grandmother must have finally become convinced that she, too, should return to the land of her birth. She called my father one day and told him she needed him to take her downtown to get a passport.

"Why do you need a passport?" my father asked.

"You seestor buy me a ticket to Europe," his mother replied in her thick accent.

So my father took the day off of work and drove his mother downtown to obtain her passport.

My grandmother had always believed she was a United States citizen, because her father, Imre, was a naturalized citizen who worked on the railroad, and his friends told him that made his children citizens, as well. So for close to sixty years my grandmother had believed this.

When the clerk asked her for evidence of her citizenship, she handed him some ancient paper that had belonged to her father. He stared at it blankly. "I don't know what this is," he told her. She insisted that it was evidence of her American citizenship.

"How else could I vote all these years?" she asked.

"You've been VOTING?" asked the shocked clerk. "I'm not sure you're even a citizen. How did you get to VOTE?"

(She voted in every election, always Democratic, because that was what my grandfather's Union Steward told them to do. My grandfather belonged to the machinist's union and he, too, spent many years working on the railroad).

Now my grandmother, in her flowered dress and little white sweater, gave him her steely expression. He went into the back to consult some higher authority.

When he returned, the news was not good. "Ma'am, we can't find any evidence that you were ever made an American citizen."

My grandmother stomped her foot. She opened her purse, dug into her wallet, and pulled out her Senior Citizen card. "Look!" she yelled. "It says citizen RIGHT THERE! How come you tell me I am not a citizen?"

My grandmother got her passport. You can't argue with logic like that. :)

Happy Birthday, Grandma.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mysterious Sex

Guest Author: Craig Johnson

When I was asked to participate in the Poe’s Deadly Daughters’ blog, the first thing I did was look at a calendar and see what part of the month of February I had free. There was a little time toward the middle of the month where I was home at the ranch, so I contacted Sharon Wildwind to offer the date, wherein she informed me that it was a perfect choice because it was Valentine’s Day. I was completely unaware, and how it is that I’m married and have been able to stay that way for twelve years is still the true mystery.

I’ve heard it said that women have sex to achieve love and that men have love to achieve sex; either way, the two are pretty well entwined.

People always want to know what the most difficult parts of a novel are to write, and when I tell them it’s sex and violence, they’re usually surprised. . .or not. When I was starting out, a lot of mystery authors were pretty free with their advice, and one of the things they told me was that if there was sexual tension between any of my characters, I had to make sure I didn’t let anything “happen” for a good sixteen or seventeen books.

My immediate response to that was, “What kind of women are you dating?” I don’t know any woman that would wait sixteen or seventeen years for something to “happen”. It just didn’t seem realistic, and I figured all it would do is complicate my characters lives, and I’m a firm believer that a series survives on the development and complexity of its characters. Still, it took me three novels before I girded my loins to the point of writing my first sex scene. It was one paragraph long. I remember coming up from the shop where I write with a strange look on my face.

My wife asked, “Is something wrong?”
“I think I just wrote my first sex scene.”
She showed more than the usual interest. “Is it any good?”
“I’m not sure.”

Sex scenes are tricky the same way scenes of violence can be; make a mistake and they immediately become vaudeville, and vaudeville at the precisely wrong time can be really, really embarrassing. I’ve always prescribed to the theory of less-is-more, and I think that holds true with sex (literarily, but maybe not practically), as well. Consequently, I’ve written a few scenes that are after the fact or lead up to the ubiquitous curtains blowing in the window or the proverbial train going through the tunnel. I’ve always been a fan of the drift away from the kiss to the heroine’s one, high-heeled foot being lifted.

I guess I’m old-fashioned and, like Blanche Dubois, have always depended on the kindness of strangers or at least their imaginations. I think you can simply plant the seed of an idea, especially one as powerful as sex or violence, and just let the reader’s imagination do the rest. That’s when I really feel sorry for the television and movie production studios in their attempts to match the custom-fit, mind’s-eye of the reader. I don’t think it can be done.

That or I’m just chicken-shit.

To prove a point, one of the erotic scenes that I’ve gotten the most responses about was a scene where a female highway patrolman has a leather, search glove unsnapped, and my protagonist, Sheriff Walt Longmire, notices the tan line at her wrist. I got a ton of guys emailing me over that one.


Fully grown, upstanding ranchers in my area of northern Wyoming keep asking me who’s going to play Under-sheriff Victoria Moretti in the A&E pilot based on my books. They don’t care who’s going to play Walt or Henry, just Vic.


Men keep emailing me pictures of actresses and models or sometimes even NFL cheerleaders. Somehow, I don’t think the women’s thespian talents are the immediate concern. It’s also tough explaining to my wife.

Women are almost as bad, though; happy to tell me which actor they think would make the perfect Walt or Henry and then staring off into the distance with a dreamy look in their eyes. Generally the female vote is split: Walt is the one they want to marry, but Northern Cheyenne Henry Standing Bear is the one they want to run off with for the weekend.


After the “sex-scene” book came out I was touring in Olympia, Washington, and got to the Q&A portion where a woman was jumping out of her seat. “I want to talk to you about that sex scene in your book?”

I was a little nervous. “Yes, Ma’am?”
“It went on forever.”
I paused. “It’s only one paragraph long.”
The crowd started laughing as she turned bright red.

I couldn’t let it go. “How many times did you read it?”
She came clean. “Oh, a bunch of times.”

I took that as a partial vote of confidence and have started feeling a little more confident in my abilities—but I’m on book seven and I’ve yet to write another explicit one. Maybe book eight, maybe not.

Craig Johnson author of Viking/Penguin’s Walt Longmire series including The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished (the “sex scene” book), Another Man’s Moccasins, The Dark Horse and Junkyard Dogs. The seventh in the series, Hell is Empty will be released by Viking, June 2nd. To learn more about Craig and his book, visit his web site.

Photo credit for Craig's picture © Catherine Henriette.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Elegant Enigmas

by Sheila Connolly

The Boston Globe reports that there is a new exhibit of Edward Gorey's works opening at the Boston Athenaeum this week, entitled "Elegant Enigmas."

Gorey lived much of his later life in a small house in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod, and the house is now a museum–it's one of my local favorites, and I've been there many times (the fact that there's an excellent restaurant and a used bookstore nearby may have something to do with that). Curiously, the Athenaeum exhibit was organized by the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania–another one of my all-time favorite small museums.

The Gorey House is an unprepossessing and shabby little house, filled with items that Gorey collected. A lot of items. They crowd the shelves and windowsills and any other surface available (I wouldn't want to be responsible for dusting there!). I hadn't realized that many of the items in the house appear in various of Gorey's books, and some visitors make a game of looking for them.

I don't know if or when I'll see the exhibit, so I can't comment on the vision that dictated the selection of the things on display. But it was at the Gorey House, surrounded by Gorey's chosen talismans, that I had an epiphany.

Most of you are probably familiar with Gorey's drawing style, which is distinctive and easily recognized. Mystery fans will know the animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! (The animation was done by Derek Lamb.) Others my recognize his whimsical creatures in all sorts of odd places (and there's one living on my refrigerator right now!).

But my lightbulb moment was about style. It didn't happen the first time, or even the second time, I visited the house. But one sunny afternoon, as I was wandering around, making a deliberate effort to look carefully at all the "things," I realized I was looking at all the building blocks of Gorey's visual style. I'm not sure which came first–whether Gorey surrounded himself with possessions he liked, or whether he liked them because they reminded him of his art–but looking around I realized what a single-minded focus Gorey had, and how consistent he was.

I'm not talking about specific motifs or objects that he used or reused. I'm talking about a sense of line and shape and form that links all the bits and pieces together. I won't bore you with art-speak, although in another life I was an art historian, but if I had to summarize the recurring forms, I would call them "round."

Okay, that's vastly oversimplified. But stop and look at his drawings: how many sharp edges do you see? Things flow, things bend and sway. And they're all connected, as though all the people, and even the animals, belong to the same family, tribe, or species.

Which leads me (finally!) to the question, "how do we define style?" Please don't say, "I know it when I see it," even though it's often true. Individuals–visual artists or writers–have a personal style, one that is identifiably theirs. Gorey's work provides a great example: the influences are so clear and open. They flow seamlessly from the little world he created around himself into his sketches. And he take such obvious pleasure in that consistency that it's hard not to like him. You can see what and how he saw.

Artists use line, color, three-dimensional modeling, lighting, to create their work. Writers use words to define character, pacing, conflict, to create theirs. You wouldn't confuse Gorey's art with, say, a Rembrandt sketch, any more than you would confuse Robert Parker's prose with Dickens'.

Gorey didn't ignore the written word, and his delightful sense of whimsey carries over there too. Titles of his works include "The Doubtful Guest," "The Wuggly Ump," "The Epiplectic Bicycle," "The Sopping Thursday," "Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses," "The Unknown Vegetable"–I could go on, but I'll give you the pleasure of looking them up for yourselves. He also had a lot of fun with pseudonyms, which were often anagrams of his own name: Ogdred Weary, Raddory Gewe, Dogear Wryde, or E. G. Deadworry, to name a few.

By the way, his birthday is February 22nd. I don't think he'd mind if we celebrate a little early.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Interview with Charles Todd (Charles & Caroline Todd)

Interviewer: Elizabeth Zelvin

Liz: Let’s start with your new release: please tell us about the latest in your long-running Rutledge series.

C&C: A LONELY DEATH was a complex and interesting book to write. After three ex-soldiers are garroted in a small Sussex village near Hastings, Scotland Yard is called in to find the murderer. But this killer is clever and elusive, always thinking one step ahead. Rutledge must first discover why these men are victims—and then work out who is behind such vicious attacks. All is not what it seems, and before the inquiry is concluded, Rutledge’s personal life and his professional reputation are at stake. It’s exciting and a page-turner. If you haven’t met Rutledge before, this New York Times best seller is a great place to begin.

Liz: You now have a second series. Tell us about Bess Crawford and when the next installment of her story will come out?

Caroline: There are two Bess Crawford books out now—A DUTY TO THE DEAD and AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS. The more we learn about Bess as a character—she’s a young battlefield nurse from an Army family and grew up outside the straitjacket of a Victorian upbringing—the more we find her exciting and interesting to write about. She can drive a motorcar, she knows weapons, and she doesn’t faint at the sight of a corpse. She’s also level-headed, bright, and persistent. Great characteristics for a good sleuth.

Charles: We’ve just turned in A BITTER TRUTH, the third Bess Crawford, and it’s already in production for next summer’s pub date. And we can see about 6 books ahead, which will take her through the Great War and into the peace that follows. It’s going to be fun to write these. It’s possible she could go back to India, where she spent her childhood. And there’s a wedding in Ireland as well to look forward to—but not hers.

Liz: With two successful series, you have to produce a book every six months. Does this mean the two of you are now working as hard as one one-book-a-year author? Kidding aside, how are you managing with such a grueling schedule?

Caroline: Even though we had had Bess in mind for some time, we waited until we could be sure we could successfully handle two books a year without hurting the Rutledge series. And since A MATTER OF JUSTICE hit the NY Times best seller list, THE RED DOOR seemed to be on everyone’s list of best books of 2010, and A LONELY DEATH is back on the best seller list, I think we got it right! It’s a grueling schedule indeed, because it includes touring and interviews and signings, not to mention research. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Charles: We have a good grounding in the history of the period and of the war, and we have a good feeling for England and English settings. This is a tremendous help in working on both series, and so far we haven’t had Bess talking to Hamish or Rutledge nursing the wounded.  Which means we’re still functioning under all the pressure. We enjoy a challenge, and this has certainly been one all the way. But Bess was ready to come forward, and we’re very glad she has. We still have a lot to say about Rutledge and his world, and we’re just finishing the next one, due in January 2012.

Liz: Looking back on Charles’s childhood, would either of you have predicted that one day you’d write novels together?

Caroline: I don’t think it ever occurred to either of us. It happened that Charles loved many of the same things I did—movies, books, history, mysteries. My daughter was more like her engineer Dad, and grew up to be a financial advisor. She has a gift for languages, like her Mom and is a talented musician, like her aunt. Charles loves working with his hands like his Dad, and all three are good golfers. Charles and I enjoy painting. He loves the sea as much as he loves battlefields, and I’m sea sick in a bathtub. It wasn’t until Charles was an adult that his interest in words and writing showed up. If you’d asked me what the future held when he was ten, I’d have said he’d become a lawyer.

Charles: I never intended to work with my mother. What I wound up doing was working with someone I knew well and respected, and someone who found history as intriguing as I did. I think the main thing that has come of this collaboration is getting to know each other as adults. We can argue, we can discuss the books, we can even yell at each other, and it isn’t personal, it’s professional. What’s helpful is that our minds work a lot alike. But it could just as easily have been my sister who inherited that sort of mind. Since she didn’t and I did, I’m here working a 12 hour day, and she’s having a great time telling people how to invest their money.

Liz: Whose idea was it to collaborate? Were there any problems that had to be solved at the beginning?

Caroline: I think I brought it up first, after a visit to a battlefield where we had fun reconstructing the action and talking about what ifs. Charles wasn’t particularly interested just then, and I was busy with other things. But then he found himself on the road with his day job, and that meant time on his hands. Even so, nothing would have happened if we hadn’t both had computers. That made long-distance collaboration possible.

Charles: I was busy with my own life and my family, so another project seemed to be out of the question. But once I was on the road as a corporate troubleshooter, I was glad of something to do in the evenings beside watching TV or running up the phone bills calling home. I think the biggest problem we have is that we can’t work in the same room. I don’t know whether this is because we didn’t start out that way or because we get more done when we are not together. When I’m at home, or Caroline is visiting me, we work in different rooms, on the computer or the phone. My Dad finds that amusing.

Liz: What is your collaborative process like? Did it evolve over time, and if so, how?

C&C: We never had a manual to help us learn how to collaborate. We sort of worked it out along the way. And what made the most sense was, of all things, consensus. We talk out the first chapter, who’s in it, what it has to say, where it will take us. And we write that down. Next we face the second chapter, who’s going to be there, what it has to say, and where it’s going. It’s the way we began, and we discovered that it worked, so we have used that as our method ever since. Remember, we both do research and share it, we both go to England and explore, and we both know our characters well, so it isn’t so surprising that consensus works better than outlining or swapping chapters.

Liz: One of the advantages of collaboration may be that you can take advantage of complementary strengths and minimize weaknesses. What are Charles’s greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer? What are Caroline’s?

Caroline: I think our real strength comes from having so much in common—trips to England, reading the same books, seeing the same films, liking suspense so much. That matters, because we can see eye to eye even when we disagree. I’d have thought that being male and female might have made a difference, that I’d see women better and Charles would see men more clearly. But when it comes to characters, we both seem to visualize them equally well. I expected Charles to write action scenes for the books while I’d work on motives. As it turned out, we both had an equally good grip on action and motive. I do spell better than Charles, while he’s far more computer savvy.

Charles: I think the main gift of collaboration is the way we sort of spur each other on. I think the main weakness may be that we’re so much alike. So it’s what we do when we aren’t collaborating that is important in keeping a fresh eye. Caroline loves to travel. She and my Dad have enjoyed seeing the world together. I like the beach, sitting there watching the waves and an occasional skimmer passing by. The list goes on, and from these differences come threads for storylines that expand a plot or characters we might not have created otherwise. Caroline and I both have a sense of humor, which is important. But we also have a sense of the ridiculous and that keeps us on an even keel. And we’ve always argued over trivia. I love it when I’m right and she’s wrong.

Liz: What impact has your writing partnership had on the rest of the family?

C&C: It’s turned into a family business, actually. John/my Dad has driven us all over England because he’s great at driving on the other side of the road. He takes overview pictures, while we take particular shots. He has been a terrific proofreader, because he’s an engineer. He’s even been known to cook dinner or do the laundry when deadlines start pressing. Linda pitches in wherever she’s needed. Looking after the menagerie while we travel, helping keep Mom’s garden from turning into a jungle when she’s busy, acting as personal shopper. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a family to keep two writers going. What do they get out of it? The pleasure of knowing that we’re doing what we love, just as they are in their own careers.

Liz: Does the collective Charles Todd have a personality independent of the individual Charles’s and Caroline’s? If so, what is he like, and does that question require one answer or two?

Caroline: Yes, I think he does. We both sign as Charles Todd. Not because he’s one of us but because he’s both of us. He’s the creator of Rutledge and Bess Crawford. We represent him, sometimes together and sometimes separately. And it’s easier to have a professional and a personal life that way. For instance, I don’t shop for groceries or spend an afternoon with a friend, as Charles Todd. But the minute I’m on a tour, I switch to the business side of my world.

Charles: We went with Charles Todd on the book jackets because that took up less space than Charles and Caroline Todd. You can spot “Charles Todd” on the shelf from across the room. And Charles takes up less space than Caroline. A marketing decision, for the most part. But it has turned out to be a very smart decision to have one personality rather than two. It also gives us a chance to be ourselves when we aren’t on tour. I like being by myself. I like kicking back and watching a game with a friend. Still, I always have an ear to the ground about the business of the book world. You have to.

Liz: How do you handle promotion? Do you attend the same events or cover twice the ground by appearing separately? Was the fact that Charles Todd is both of you ever kept secret from the public?

C&C: It’s nice to do things together. We can also use the time to talk and work whether in an airport or a hotel dining room. But sometimes we have to tour or appear separately, Whatever works best, especially when we’re really busy. It also means we can get to more places and see more fans. Two things we never expected when all this started. That we’d meet the authors that we’d admired so much. And that we’d meet our own fans and get to hear what they have to say about the books. There was a time when Caroline didn’t travel. She was diagnosed with a heart problem just before we sold TEST. And we weren’t sure she’d be able to travel at all. Touring is tough physically. Luckily her condition was treatable by medication and she’s had a great time ever since. But we played it safe and kept her out of it until we were sure.

Liz: The Rutledge books are very slightly woo-woo, since Rutledge has the dead Hamish’s voice inside his head. What prompted you to include Hamish? Have you ever regretted it? What do you hear from readers about this element in the series?

C&C: Hamish isn’t slightly woo-woo. He’s a manifestation of guilt, an attempt by a tormented man to escape from what he carries on his conscience. As an officer Rutledge had to do what he did there on the Somme, but it doesn’t mean he’s able to live with the fact that he led hundreds of young men to their deaths, that every time he ordered a charge across No Man’s Land, he would see more die. Hamish is all of them—and one man among them. Rutledge isn’t the only returning soldier who talks to his dead buddies. It’s called survivor’s guilt. Shellshock—post-traumatic stress disorder—is something that many soldiers suffer from. And not only soldiers. People can suffer from PSTD after any unbearable trauma. 9/11, Katrina, Haiti, they’re all beyond imagining for the people caught up in them. We couldn’t bring Rutledge back from four years in the trenches without a scratch on him. Yet if he’d been severely wounded, he couldn’t go back to Scotland Yard. The only choice was a wound of the spirit. And that can take many forms, not just a Hamish. Do we regret using PTSD? No. And how do fans respond to it? Hamish has his own fan club. That means people have understood what he represents.

Liz: In the books, it’s indicated that Rutledge doesn’t think Hamish’s presence can be defined as being haunted. I didn’t get it, and now I do. :)

C&C: Rutledge didn’t have access to a psychologist to explain all this to him. He has to find answers himself. He knows full well that Hamish is dead. That he’s buried in France. And yet if Rutledge accepts emotionally that Hamish is dead, then he must face himself as a murderer. At least in his own eyes. It’s a dilemma that tears Rutledge apart. There are many forms of haunting—and not all of them require a spirit dragging chains behind him, like Marley’s ghost. The men who survived PTSD in WWI did so by fighting hard to keep their sanity. Those who failed often went out into the back garden and shot themselves. Every war has produced such victims. They’re coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan too. Not all of them hear voices—shellshock takes many different forms--but Rutledge speaks for every generation of soldiers, in his own way.

Liz: What prompted you to begin a second series? How did you decide on Bess Crawford as the protagonist?

Caroline: We wanted to show the woman’s point of view in the war. And she seemed to be the most interesting way to go about it. We talked about her for a long time, discussing all the possibilities, and I think we hit on the right ones. If you are about to introduce a second series, you must create someone who can hold her own, not find herself in the shadow of the first series. And Bess has a very strong and devoted following already.

Charles: Bess represents many things—she was educated at home, not in a Victorian environment. She learned at an early age what duty was. She was accustomed to weapons, seeing them every day because her father was a soldier. She can drive. And she is still very feminine, in spite of her harsh experiences as a nurse. She’s also very smart, so it’s believable that she can solve murders. Bess is not a modern woman—she wasn’t intended to be, she’s a character of her own times—but readers can relate to her good qualities and appreciate her struggle to do the right thing, because she’s very human and very believable. That was what we were reaching for, that bridge of generations.

Liz: Do you find that gender issues are a factor in your work? For example, does Caroline have more input into Bess’s voice?

C&C: We had strong women in the Rutledge series, so we had no qualms about creating a strong woman for a second series. And we find that writing either sex comes naturally to both of us. Just as it does to other authors, male or female. Sometimes one of us will have stronger insight into a character, but that’s because we see him or her more clearly, not because we’re the same gender. Good writing is a question of craftsmanship and experience and intuition, whether you’re Sue Grafton or Michael Connolly.

Liz: Do you ever write separately? If so, how do your individual voices differ from that of the collective Charles? How important is voice to your writing?

C&C: We’ve done separate things for fun, just playing with them. They never get beyond that stage. But voice is important to any book, and you learn to look for and identify it. It gives life to a character, and makes a series work. If we ever struck out separately, I think the training we’ve had with Rutledge and Bess Crawford would stand us in good stead individually. At the moment, two series and the short stories we write keep us too busy to envisage taking on much more.

Liz: Where do you think the collective Charles will be ten years from now?

C&C: In 1992 we couldn’t have foreseen a collaboration, much less a successful one. In 2002, we couldn’t have dreamed how lucky we’d be with one series, much less two. And here we are, already working on manuscripts that will see the light of day in 2012, and planning to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Great War in 2014! It’s been a remarkable run, truly amazing. So what will the next ten years hold for Charles Todd? We could make a safe prediction, that we’ll still be here with Bess and Rutledge, or someone equally challenging to write about. But who knows? What’s out there in the next ten years could be just as fascinating as what we’re doing now. We might completely reinvent Charles Todd in ways we haven’t even considered yet and surprise ourselves and our fans. That’s what makes life so exciting, you don’t know what’s ahead. Come back in ten years’ time and we’ll find out.