Friday, April 20, 2018

Teacher's Pet

by Paul D. Marks

It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when? (Bonus points if it ties into a wedding, class reunion, or holiday gathering.)

Before I get to this week’s question, I’d like to share some terrific news:

Derringer Nominations are out. And I’m blown away by all the nominations and recognition for several of the stories in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and me. I want to thank the judges and the Short Mystery Fiction Society! I also want to congratulate all the finalists.

I’m thrilled that my story Windward has been nominated for a Derringer in the Best Novelette category.

I also especially want to congratulate the other nominees from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes: Matt Coyle for The #2 Pencil (Best Long Story category); Robert Randisi for Kill My Wife, Please (Best Novelette), Andrew McAleer for King’s Quarter (Best Novelette).  ---  And also from this anthology: Art Taylor’s A Necessary Ingredient is nominated for an Agatha. John Floyd’s Gun Work and my story Windward have both been chosen by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler for inclusion in The Best American Mysteries of 2018. – And I want to thank all of the authors who contributed stories to Coast to Coast.

I’m truly amazed and honored for such a great showing from a terrific book:

So, like I said, mind blowing. And I’m thrilled to be part of it on various levels. And it’s very gratifying to see all the hard work of both the writers and editors paying off. Take my breath away!

Click here to see all Derringers Finalists.


And now to this week’s question:

A friend once said to me you’re never a prophet in your own land, referencing the biblical quote. I think he was referring to certain members of my family who, no matter what I did or achieved, never seemed happy for me. Even when I had early writing successes, exciting and happy moments for me, they were not impressed and just wanted to focus the attention back on themselves instead of congratulating me. I think boiled down to its basic element my friend was saying familiarity breeds contempt.

One of the people I would have most wanted to impress, an uncle, died too F-ing soon—before I had much visible success. So F him for dying before I could shove it in his face. At least I’m not bitter. Nope, I have many fond memories of this guy.

Outside of certain family members, that uncle and some others (long story), I think most people in my early life thought reasonably well of me and expected me to make something of myself more than becoming a serial killer, though of course I guess I serially kill people in my writing. But there’s less blood that way and you don’t have to spend all that money on Rubbermaid containers, bleach and the always-necessary duct tape.

I did have one interesting experience, though it may not quite fit the parameters of the question, but close. So I’ll tell it as a little story:

She stood, towering over me, the paragon of wisdom, imparter of knowledge, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Morrison (name changed to protect the sanctity of student-teacher confidentiality). She knew everything there was to know, especially how to finger-paint and build with blocks. And she knew where the milk and cookies were, where the sleepy-time mats were and when it was nap time. One of the things that happened in that early-on class is I met the guy—we’ll call him Buster—who many years later became my writing partner in Hollywood for a time.

As my first teacher, Mrs. Morrison made a lasting impression. However, after accomplishing the consummate feat of graduating from kindergarten and moving upward (in grade) and outward (into the main building from the kindergarten corner), I didn't see her much anymore.

Many years later, after losing touch with both Buster and Mrs. Morrison, I ran into Buster again and we decided to become writing partners. Since Mrs. Morrison was the first major thing we had in common we even borrowed her last name for our pseudonyms when we needed them. Well, Buster and I eventually broke up for a variety of reasons and, man, it was like a nasty divorce. We had to have a lawyer divide the babies, but that’s another tawdry story. Anyway:

Flash forward: I'm taking a novel writing class at UCLA Extension (many years ago at this point). One of the women in the class asks me if I'd like to join her writers' group. Sounds interesting, I say, and check it out a few nights later. There are several women “of a certain age” in the room and me. One of them stands out. She has a vaguely familiar look about her. When I'm introduced to her as Emily Morrison I'm astonished to find myself sitting across the room from my kindergarten teacher—Mrs. Morrison. I stare and stare at her throughout the group's session. What must she think of my staring? Do I have eyes for her? Am I some kind of swain waiting for the right moment to make my move? When it's over I go up to her and ask if she taught kindergarten at XYZ Elementary School, where all the teachers are strong, the principal’s good-looking, and all the children are above average. Natch! When she says "yes," I know I'd better watch my "Ps" and "Qs," literally.  And I wait for milk and cookie time.

She didn't remember me, but she did remember my writing partner, Buster, whose family lived across the street from the school. So, of course, she asked me a lot about him, as well as myself. And at the next class I brought my kindergarten class pic and showed her me—that sort of jogged her memory and she sort of remembered. And she did admit to me that she wondered why I had been staring at her that first session. She did think I was interested. It was pretty funny really.

As I got to know her, I learned about all kinds of “backstage” machinations at the elementary school back in the day, things I never would have guessed and some of which are pretty sordid.

But the high point of my connecting again with Mrs. Morrison is when she made me a collage with photos of our kindergarten class and a note saying I was her favorite student of all time. So I guess I went from being unremembered to fave student ;-) . Now that’s somethin’!

Here’s a pic of me from my kindergarten class picture. And also of Mrs. “Morrison.” I’m sorry about the quality. My external hard drive crashed and I can’t access most of my photos so I had to cop this from something else and, unfortunately, it’s the best I can do right now.


Check out my website:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

All in the Family

"Life: It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when?"  

by Catriona

Topical. My excuse for blogging so late today is that one of my sisters, one of my nieces and one of my great-nephews* are staying with me on a holiday. The time got away from us all.

On the plus side, I just shouted the question to my sister to get the start of an answer. She shouted back thusly:

"Is it an acknowledgement if I say 'Where did it come from and how come you got it all?'?" 
Me: "Hmmm. Not really."
Sister: "Tough. I'm going to sit in the sun and read."

But here's the thing. She's reading Scot Free. So whether she likes it or not, I'm getting validation in spades.

My friends and family reading my books and forgetting I wrote them does it for me every time.

The next best thing probably came from my English teachers. Mrs McVeigh from primary six came to a book launch and said she wasn't the least bit surprised. And the man I've had to learn to call "Stuart" (aka Mr Campbell from high school) even asked my advice about pitching a book he had written. It got published, of course. Because it was brilliant. See here. If his query had been written on a pizza-box lid, in crayon, it would have been published. 

And since things come in threes, I need to mention the fact that my oldest friend - Catherine, this means you - always asks for a time-of-day rating when I hand over a new standalone.  "Can I read this in bed at night?" she'll say. "Yep," I usually claim. "Maybe not in a thunderstorm or if Olivier's not there." Then some time later I get a phone call reporting nightmares. That's acknowledgement, right? 

I'll say it right here: Catherine, you can read Scot Free at night, in a power cut, by the light of one guttering candle, as the wind howls around the house and twigs scrape at the window. Cx

*Great-Aunt Catriona. I feel old.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Fiddler and the Scribbler... by Cathy Ace

Life: It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when?

WOW - thinking about this reminds me how many people I have lost touch with over the years, but also allows me to realise I have kept some people in my life for a very long time. I still connect with a girl I was in primary school with who's now a Member of Parliament in the UK, for example, and a guy from the same part of my life who's incredibly active in Swansea's arts-scene.  I have good friends who knew me when I was a teenager, and connecting with them (often through Facebook on an ongoing basis, but then in "real life" when I can) allows me to enjoy their achievements, which, quite honestly, is more comfortable for me than them commenting upon my writing career. 

I'll also share with you the fact that when my "middle school" (attended from age 11-13) honoured me by adding me to their list of "Past pupils who have achieved great things" in 2002 for my success in the fields of marketing and business, I was just about as chuffed as it's possible to be. I visited the school to present them with a special carving made by an artist close to my then-new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Manselton School - my "alma mater" - in 2002 (my head's in the back row!)

As for people who've "unexpectedly" acknowledged me???

Here I go, "sharing" again...I pretty much grew up on the stage in Wales; I was carried on as a baby for a scene in some play or other at the YMCA in Swansea in 1960, and I’ve never gone longer than a couple of months without giving some sort of performance since then. Leichner stage make-up is in my blood, I think. These days I tend to speak my own words on platforms and podiums, rather than those of a playwright on a stage with wings, backdrops and curtains, but it’s the same thing. Mum and Dad were also on the stage for more than a century, between them, (they met at rehearsals for a musical, in much the same way as my husband and I met at rehearsals for a scout and guide "Gang Show"), and back in 1971 I was one of Tevye’s children in the Swansea Amateur Operatic Society’s performance of Fiddler on the Roof - in which my mum, dad and sister all also performed. The titular Fiddler was played by a talented teen from Gowerton School (the same school my dad attended...yes, it's a small world) – named Mark Thomas. 

Mark played violin in the West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra, and became lead violin with them; I was in the West Glamorgan Youth Choir, Chamber Choir and Theatre group, so Mark and I attended residential courses for rehearsals for years (yes, it was all a bit like FAME!), and he also attended University College Cardiff (studying music) a couple of years ahead of me. At one point he lived in a student accommodation flat just below my own. When I moved to London, he was living there, earning his way as a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was co-leader of the Royal Ballet Orchestra. I attended lots of his performances.

Composer Mark Thomas
Years passed, and paths diverged. He’s ended up having a wildly successful career in music, as a movie and TV composer; he’s won a BAFTA, been nominated many times since, and has been nominated for an Emmy, as well as having his music performed in festivals around the world. He's talented, and works hard.

Last year, during one of my trips back to Wales, a group of us who all came through the West Glamorgan youth arts programmes for schools got together for a drink (or two!). I hadn't seen a couple of them for about twenty years. It was great fun to catch up – and Mark kept introducing me to people around us as though I’m some incredibly successful author, dropping into the conversation the fact I've had twelve books published and that my work's been on BBC Radio 4…which all felt sort of weird, but lovely too. Maybe as someone who earns a living in the arts he understands how difficult it is to catch a break, and then to have the chance to follow through.

It all felt a bit strange, especially since we Welsh know the greatest compliment anyone can be paid is that "s/he hasn't forgotten where s/he came from"...which basically means it's absolutely NOT okay to talk about yourself as though you've ever achieved anything - because that would be boasting, which is a mortal sin for a Welsh person (and which is why all the self-promotion we need to do as authors comes to me with a great big dollop of guilt on the side).

It also had a super spin-off: he and another old friend of mine from "West Glam" days, Griff Harries, have created a performance piece called The Armistice Suite – which will be seen around Wales this year, commemorating the Armistice a hundred years ago, and taking a look at the First World War through Welsh eyes. I was delighted when they asked me to read through the piece and give an author! WOOT. 

Tidy (as we say in Swansea!).

Keep an eye out for The Armistice Suite:

You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her BRAND NEW website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Kudos from ghosts - by RM Greenaway

THE QUESTION:  It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when? (Bonus points if it ties into a wedding, class reunion, or holiday gathering.)

Well, I get no bonus points on this one, but I do earn some for good effort.

My parents, who were living in a suite we built for them downstairs, both died a few years apart before I got published. They knew I had been scribbling away for years and was making clumsy efforts to make it to print, and I would have loved to have shared the news with them.

I imagine the celebrations we would have had, sitting around the dinner table, raising glasses of beer/wine/scotch (or my dad's odd favourite, vermouth, which, yes, I'm sure took a few years off his life.) 

It would be totally unexpected if either of them spoke up now to say how impressed they are. I'd in fact preferred they didn't. But I'll allow myself to feel they're still here in less spectral ways, raising a toast to me whenever I achieve a new milestone.

When I first got published in 2016, I considered keeping this startling fact a secret from my two worlds, the day-job (I'm a court reporter) and extended family, as I was sure few would actually like my novels, and the end result would be a lot of embarrassment and awkward silences.

But that has not been the case. Realizing I had no choice but announce it, I did, and friends and family (and some lawyers, and the fellow at the car shop) far and wide have expressed generous congratulations, and some bewilderment too, I think, because I'm a bit of a mouse who's never had much to say at gatherings. That is something I regret, by the way. In my next life I want to be gregarious, if that's not asking too much.

Some of those closer to home remain cautious, I think, about my strange new night-job. But I can't blame them. Like me, they think it's not quite real, and they worry that it will lead to my heart being broken. Come to think of it, I no longer have that fear. I do want to get better and go further, but am also pleased enough with what I've achieved that if life dialled back to normal (humdrum), I'd feel I've exceeded expectations.  

Folk I knew way back when? I don't know many folk from way back when, but it was maybe grade 8 when my English teacher Ms. Podborski gave me a glowing 'A' for some short story I submitted, which was one of my first happy kudos moments (and my last, for a long time). She did have to diplomatically suggest using "exclaimed" instead of "ejaculated", though. I guess I was reading a lot of dated work back then, when the term was less, um, specific.

Boy, I'd love it if I could tell Ms. Podborkski all that has transpired since!

So in the end, I have no unexpected acknowledgement stories to share, except with spirits and memories. But that's okay. It really is.

I do have publication news to share though: My third in series CREEP will be released any day now -- officially speaking, April 21. Yes!! 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Casting Call: Old Friends

Q:  It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when?

- from Susan

Note to self: Acquire some people who knew me way back when.

Honestly, other than my two wonderful siblings and an ex-husband, I don’t have connections with people who knew me ‘way back when.’ We moved a lot when I was growing up. I was active but reserved in high school and since my father was the most visible TV newsman in the city, other kids respected my self-protective bubble. College was bifurcated for me and when I went back fulltime, I sometimes had my quiet toddler in class with me. Never went to a class reunion, moved far away right after high school, and, because I was married with a family, never hung out with other students campus. Gee, I sound like a great candidate for the CIA, don’t I?

I had a couple of women friends I met when I worked at Mills College in the 1980s, older than me and mentors before we became good friends, who were really my anchors, the kind of women friends I think some people make in their youth and stay friends with forever. After I left the non-profit world, they were almost as excited as I was when I got an agent and sold my first book. I thanked them in the first couple of books, and am so glad I did. They have both since died and I miss them and the kind of support they gave. Neither were writers so there was never the slightest whiff of competition or envy, and in its place a pride in my getting to that point in my new career. I envy people who have those kinds of friendships going back to childhood or college. I wish Helen and Doris were alive today.

My sister and brother may know be best and they are are proud, but say they’re not surprised that I’ve made it since I have been the writing-est person they’ve known since childhood. My sons are proud and inspired – both are writing fiction now, and they’re talented! My grandkids are almost proprietarily connected to Grandmom’s newest books, and very present in the room at my book signings when they’re in town. Charming and sweet. My fellow authors, including the wonderful Sisters in Crime members, are always there to cheer me on, as I cheer them.

So, I’ve missed some of the unexpected accolades, some of the special relationships that add weight to the acknowledgement of a career success. Truth is, most people who have known me at all know that I’m a born writer. Which is a good thing, given that I’m not a born mathematician, singer, artist, carpenter, or waitress – all talents I admire and skills I don’t possess in any measure.

Friday, April 13, 2018

You're Expected To Know

I'm watching my plans for the weekend activities around my work get lost in the coming blizzard to the Upper Midwest. All of a sudden I realize I've reached the point where I have to keep a schedule with apparatus and not just memory recall. Now I'm sitting at my computer wondering how the hell I got here.

Back in the day when I accepted I just simply wasn't a road comic, it was back to Chicago to find a good day slave that'd pay well and perhaps provide me some advancement. This was shortly before information technology would explode in business leaving folks like me who otherwise didn't qualify for a job bagging French fries to really make some serious scratch. Eventually, despite no college degree, and with negligible experience, I wound up an analyst and then consultant with pre-Enron Arthur Andersen. When I rose to the rank of senior, I stepped into an entirely new world of professional accountability. I remember a funny moment when a few of us who were green to the Big Five professional services world were in a client discovery meeting. This was when everyone had a grand e-business idea. We're all slinging ideas at the wall hoping one would stick. A big shot asks if anyone understands the nuances of a particular content market and one eager beaver spoke up. After a few probing questions, Big Shot asks for some information, in particular, figuring Eager Beaver would have it as he spoke up.

Actually, I don't know.

My Ace Rom, who had been in Andersen since high school and made them hire me, pulled his chin into his neck and exhaled slowly. Other, more experienced attendees looked away. Eager Beaver bristled and wondered what he may have done wrong. Big Shot continues leading the discovery. Once the meeting is over and we all file out of the conference room, I ask Rom what happened.

When you work at the firm, you're expected to know.

Yeah, but he didn't know.

Remember the fast shuffle?

That thing we'd do when we'd ride the CTA bus without
fare, pretend to search our pockets as the driver pulled 
off, then hop off once we got to our stop?

Anyone asks you for information, especially in front 
of a client, and you don't know, you don't say so. You 
fast shuffle. That is if you want to work on any real 
project at all. Fast shuffle, then become an expert in
 a hurry.

I thought that was oppressive and unreasonable, so I bickered in protest.

You're paid to know, Danny. Saying you don't 
know is saying you're looking for a new job.

Now, as I had finally lifted myself out of poverty, I wasn't tryin' to do that, at all. And sure, it wasn't the first time I gave myself a crash course in something I had no idea about. So fine, I accepted the challenge and, in time, I'd adapted rather successfully. I began to consult on projects beyond dotcoms. After it was all over, I relocated to Los Angeles (for good) and used those talents to consult independently in fields as diverse as music, fashion apparel, charity, education, and hospitality. After a while, I'd grow tired of ramping up quickly to gain usable expertise in a field only to not need it again. Ever. Still, it was what I was good at, in an odd way.

Once this writing thing took off, I told myself to be as a babe in the woods and try not to dig deeply into the nuances of the big picture. "Resist the urge to research the industry," I said. "You can do this without becoming some casual expert in publishing, Danny." Within a few months, I could tell you the problems with POD as opposed to print runs and compared quality assurance patterns between CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Shortly thereafter, I was searching for correlations between reviews and paid advertising in trade publications. Then there was the competitor analysis I performed to choose my cover art. By the time I was walking the floor at BEA 2017, I was totally down the rabbit hole. I think back on my time in consulting and I ponder the first paragraph of the introduction to Kurt Vonnegut's MOTHER NIGHT. "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." I have to decide if I'm pretending to be an author or a business professional. I know everyone tells me these are the times one must be both, but I know some folks who are holding up their end just as writers and their publishers treat them accordingly and they still have color in their cheeks after a Bouchercon or a Murder & Mayhem. I'd like to keep the color in my cheeks. Yes, yes, I came into the author game fully understanding what lay ahead in terms of marketing and promotion. Most folks put it plainly. "Your publisher isn't going to do anything for you or your book." Right, right. I was with a smaller press for A NEGRO AND AN OFAY and I surmised I'd be working harder to get value out of the arrangement. My respected friend and colleague Eryk Pruitt summed it up best when he told me, "You won't find anyone with a major house who doesn't have the same complaints you might."

I was used to Pay to Play coming from Hollywood. It's just something you have to do until you get your weight up. Token payment short stories in small-press anthologies are the equivalent of mid-day showcases for comedians who need to get noticed. Hawking my own book is no different than starting a comedy night to ensure I can get stage time. I may not wear many hats anymore, but I own a lot. Book the venue. Pass out flyers. Canvas other shows. Nearly get into fights for poaching another comedian's audience. Sell tickets. Take them at the door. Run backstage and change clothes. Host the show. Find places in the program to fit your own material. Close out the show. Pay the comedians. Deal with the bar tab. With any bread left, do it all over again. "This time," I told myself. "I'll accept the responsibility of making the most of my debut." I dig this writing thing. I want to keep doing it. I'll only get one debut my entire career. Best to pour it on, come what may.

Once it caught on, the invitations arrived one after another. A seat on a panel at this conference. Moderating a panel at that one. College visits, which are always rewarding, and rather hard work. Then there are the Noir at the Bar events which are in my wheelhouse as a stand-up veteran. I had to cart my own books to those, but the format and performance aspect was too great to pass up. A good review in a trade publication deserves my personal thanks. A not so good review means be even more gracious. So much face time. Perhaps once, scarcity of presence worked for artists, but I doubt it does any longer. Folks want their books the way their other entertainment is delivered: On demand, and with a healthy dose of personal access. Consumers pull content and those who make it to them. I'm a far better road author than I was a road comic. Perhaps the difference is in the audiences.

In the matter of books and giveaways, that old maxim holds true: no one respects free. My only unfair review came from a reader who received a free ebook for participating in a giveaway. She yielded only one star. Her screed read as if she wouldn't have given it that but the website functionality didn't offer her the choice to leave negative stars. In the end, she thought she'd like it, so she put in far more effort to get the ebook for free than the $8.99 would've cost her, read halfway through the first chapter, decided it wasn't for her because the language required different comprehension, and took to social media to let the world know she didn't see why others liked it so much. Basically, my star average on this particular site took a hit because she felt the need to log in and confess she's a quitter. I give out free books all the time, but generally to earnest readers who already have money in hand. If I can't see the whites of your eyes, I'm far less willing. That jab reminded me of that hard lesson. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, respects free. Unless they do. And you have to connect with them to determine so.

Running around, making myself broke and exhausted, was for me to learn the ropes, make genuine friends, support others, and use my book to access places and people I had yet to experience in life. Now that I've done it, I have new eyes to see forward. An important lesson is to maintain the strictest balance in all things book marketing. For publishers who do absolutely nothing, it's best to do nothing. Every one of us from time to time contributes to a project that is bare bones. Sometimes its the theme, or the editor, or even the publisher who makes it worthwhile. I needed to get my crime fiction weight up, especially when early reviews were so positive. I learned in the scant space of a few months that no amount of effort on my part is going to convince a publisher my book or my contribution to a collection of short stories is worth it. I made myself broke and tired with A NEGRO AND AN OFAY and I received great reviews and awareness because of it. The sales haven't been a sob story, either.

Then Three Rooms Press came out with THE OBAMA INHERITANCE in which I contributed an eight-thousand-word story, one of fifteen. With less effort than it took for me to say yes, I was in every review outlet my debut novel wasn't. Three Rooms spent time and money and sweat marketing that one, and it showed. I'm done with "Let's see how it goes." Skin in the game gets my attention from here on out. I know, going back to my Arthur Andersen experiences, spending money doesn't fix inherent issues. In fact, it turns them into major problems. Be that as it may, a publisher who isn't trying to spend anything is really a publisher who isn't trying to do anything, no matter how excited they are in conversation. Great sales aren't going to stimulate interest on their part, either. Get all the sales on your own nickel and sweat and that's what you'll be doing for the interim, if not in perpetuity.

I won't fall all over myself to get readers to write Amazon reviews for two very clear reasons. My publisher needs to do that, and folks are scared to death to be labeled racist, sexist, or elitist. I have plenty of readers who generally communicate their impressions about the books they consume on Goodreads or Amazon or their own blogs. They come up to me and tell me all the time they dig my work. That's enough for me. It's socially dangerous to accidentally miscommunicate one's impressions of race or class or gender issues, and as I'm enjoying a creative period where I often leverage all three to background my stories, a smile and a kind word must be enough. Besides, they already paid for the book. If they're not already inspired, who am I to ask them to help my sales numbers and make me look good? Bravo to others who do it. I'm still a bit new for that.

I've also learned that, while Amazon will make us money, it's bookstores and libraries that make us famous, and that makes us worthwhile as artists to those who consume art. It's nasty. It's exhausting. And it's reality. As long as I've been on this path, I have yet to say, "It should be about the quality of the writing." That's because it sounds too much like, "It should be about who is funnier," and I'll only break my own heart once. The flipside of this is important to understand, and that's fame can't be purchased, no matter how simple social media makes reaching thousands with a few clicks and a credit card. Fame can be a rush in the beginning but it evens out into a responsibility which becomes a burden if poorly maintained. Feed that beast good works, goodwill and, only occasionally, money.

I've also accepted I was under the false impression that no one would care about my work and my career more than I do. That was a constant refrain of mine which I'm rather certain is a product of my inner blue-collar guilt. There are people in the world who get my art, get why I make it, and work as hard, if not harder, sharing it with as many people as possible. I'm going to hold on to those folks, be as good to them as they are to me, and embrace others who seem willing to do the same. Love and inspiration can't be purchased with money, and it can't be replaced by money, but have no money and see how much love and inspiration comes.

It's all a tangle, but I've learned the good things always are.


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Buy Me!

Authors are increasingly expected to shoulder the time and expense of book marketing and promotion. When was/is enough finally enough? Where do you draw the line and why?

From Jim

I’m not sure where to draw the line. You can only control so much of the promotional side of the business. For me, the most important aspect is selling yourself. We’ve got to get out there in front of readers. And the best place to find new readers is at writers conferences. Follow these simple guidelines and you too can win yourself lots of fans.

At the Conference

If you’re lucky enough to be assigned to a panel, remember that the microphone is to be shared.The same does not apply for awards.

Don’t drink from the water glasses on the table. If the organizers have provided bottled water, you may drink it provided you’ve opened it yourself.

Avoid talking politics. Stick to safe topics such as religion or which of your fellow panelists is a hack.

Resist the urge to be funny. You’re not. At least not on purpose.

Wear pants. Someone might inadvertently lift the table skirt. I’m not falling for that one again. (Bill Fitzhugh knows what I’m talking about...)

Don’t snort when the author to your right mispronounces Gillian Flynn’s name.

Don’t forget to remind the audience that the villain is the hero of his own story. This is a sine qua non on every panel.

Face-to-Face Interaction

At conferences, panels, signings, and even in the bar, assume everyone is looking at you. That means no picking of noses, scratching of rears, or staring of daggers across a crowded room at that writer whose success you so begrudge.

Smile. People like happy people. But if smiling’s not your thing, don’t force it. You’ll end up creeping people out. And definitely don’t smile if you’re a drooler. Come to think of it, forget about smiling altogether. Just assume a neutral expression.

Talk. Nobody ever sold books by keeping silent. That said, don’t monopolize the conversation, the microphone, or the oxygen. A conversation requires a give and take, a back and forth between two people. Otherwise it’s a versation.

Ask. Ask questions of the person whose ear you’ve been chewing off about your magnum opus. Everyone likes to feel included (read drone on about themselves, too). Whether it’s a potential reader or a fellow writer, give them the floor from time to time and catch your breath.

And finally, listen. Listen to what that person twaddling at you is saying. You can communicate your interest, genuine or feigned, in a variety of ways.

Focus your eyes on her. And—this should go without saying—I mean her face, guys.

Throw in a well-timed cock of the head. This creates the illusion that you are intelligent and weighing the merits of your interlocutor’s thesis. Even though you’re not.

Utter an occasional “really?” or “you don’t say.” Your long-winded interlocutor will appreciate these verbal fillers. They demonstrate that you are indeed still conscious but not threatening to turn the subject back to yourself.

And, most important, resist the urge to look around for someone better to tell about your book. Unless you spot Lawrence Block or someone like that. Then it’s okay to ditch.

I can’t tell you how other authors do it, but follow these rules and I promise you’ll be on your way to the New York Times bestseller list. Guaranteed. (Individual results may vary.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Making money and spending time

Authors are increasingly expected to shoulder the time and expense of book marketing and promotion. When was/is enough finally enough? Where do you draw the line and why?

by Dietrich Kalteis

The way I see it, promotion is part of effective marketing. Along with the marketing efforts that my publisher puts in, there are the promotional things I do: speaking engagements, writer events, interviews, podcasts, book launches and tours. Updating my website, writing blogs, soliciting reviews and keeping a presence on social media are all part of it. I haven’t tried book marketing services so I won’t talk about them. And I haven’t tried building a list for newsletters, but I think it could be a good way to update and inform readers. Paul D. Marks has a good one that he sends out regularly.

Attending crime fiction conventions and festivals can be costly, but what a great way to network with writers and readers alike. It’s always fun chatting with readers of the genre, and what a fun and supportive bunch those who write about the most heinous things can be. 

Sometimes it’s hit or miss, and the efforts to promote a book don’t pay off like expected. I’ve taken part in some successful book events with great turnouts, but it’s often hard to predict the outcome. Last year I traveled with a carload of author buddies to a reading engagement several hours away, and when we arrived there were more authors than audience. Okay, we didn’t sign a lot of books that day, but we had a great road trip and a lot of fun, and if there’s ever a chance to do it again, sign me up. 

While some things should be obvious — begging readers and stalking agents is out. And nobody needs to tell me to avoid those marketing gimmicks like websites where, for just a few dollars, somebody will sing praises about my book while hula hooping in pasties and a G-string. Other things may be less obvious, like checking that a book’s metadata is right. It’s what internet search engines use to list entries. 

Where do I draw the line on marketing and promotion? That’s easy. It’s not just about making money, but of spending time. If too much of my focus is on marketing and promoting then who’s writing the books? So, while I do my bit, I avoid becoming distracted by anything that keeps me from writing. And that’s the best effort of all, writing a book worth marketing and promoting, earning some good reviews, building a body of work and gaining an audience. 

And while we’re on the subject of marketing and promotion, I’ll mention the German version of The Deadbeat Club, called Shootout, will be out on May 7th through Suhrkamp, translated by Susanna Mende. Also, my sixth novel Poughkeepsie Shuffle will be released September 11th by ECW Press. Then I’ve got a short story called “Bottom Dollar” in Vancouver Noir, a crime anthology by Akashic Books, edited by Sam Wiebe and coming November 1st. Oh, and if you’re in the Vancouver area, our next Noir at the Bar has a great lineup of authors and is set for May 2nd.