Saturday, September 24, 2016

Winding down summer 2016 with a new book

Last month I was in Albuquerque for Bubonicon 48. The event was originally known as the New Mexico Science-Fiction/Fantasy Convention. The name Buboncicon came from novelist Robert E Vardeman noticing that Egypt was not letting anyone from New Mexico into that country because the Land of Enchantment does have a problem with bubonic plague. As if Egypt is such a pristine environment? So the con was renamed Bubonicon and a rat was chosen as the mascot.

In other news, a book I co-authored has been released, Forgotten Letters. Although I'm known for tales about sketchy detective-vampires, I've always wanted to write a novel about World War Two. So in collaboration with Kirk Raeber, a physician and Navy vet from San Diego, we penned what I think is an awesome story about love, loss, and redemption set against the backdrop of the biggest violent clash in history. The estranged lovers are American and Japanese, but what makes our story different is that the romance is not about the internment camps in the US. Rather the American finds himself reuniting with his lost love in wartime Japan. And there's Shiba Inus.

Here's the back cover copy:

A trove of forgotten letters reveals a love that defied a world war.

 In 1924, eight-year old Robert Campbell accompanies his missionary parents to Japan where he befriends a young Makiko Asakawa. Robert enjoys his life there, but the dark tides of war are rising, and it won't be long before foreigners are forced to leave Japan.

Torn from the people Robert has come to think of as family, he stays in contact by exchanging letters with Makiko, letters that soon show their relationship is blossoming into something much more than friendship.

The outbreak of total war sweeps all before it, and when correspondence ends with no explanation, Robert fears the worst. He will do anything to find Makiko, even launch himself headfirst into a conflict that is consuming the world. Turmoil and tragedy threaten his every step, but no risk is too great to prove that love conquers all.

Wish us luck.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Libraries and the World

I'm been reading the wonderful stories my colleagues shared about the libraries that played such important roles in their childhoods and development as writers. I've been debating whether I would share my early library memories. But I think they're worth sharing.

I loved the public library in my hometown, Danville, Virginia. When I was a child and teenager, the library was housed in the Sutherlin Mansion on Main Street. That section of the street was known as "Millionaires' Row" and is now in the Historic Register. The Sutherlin Mansion was unique in the role it had played in American Civil War history. During his retreat from Richmond, Jefferson Davis stayed there. Danville is known as "the last capitol of the Confederacy." Today, the Sutherlin Mansion is the home of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History.The public library moved to a modern building up the hill from the courthouse.

I don't remember the first time I went to the old library in the Sutherlin Mansion. This is rather odd because during the Civil Rights movement, integration of the library became an issue. But I was young enough during that era not to be able to drive myself into town. We lived about five miles outside the city limits, in what was then called "country" (before the city expanded outward when the mall was built). There was no way for children to get into town unless adults took them. So I missed much of the discussion about the public library. I got my books from the school library.

I don't remember when I went to the public library and got my card. I do remember being a teenager and browsing through all of the books in the adult section. I remember discovering books that I loved. I checked The Day Must Dawn by Agnes Sligh Turnbull out every few months. And then there was Mary Stewart's My Brother Michael. And all the books with titles that intrigued about subjects that seemed fascinating. I love nonfiction as much as fiction.

What I remember about visiting the library was that the librarians sometimes looked at what I was checking out and offered smiling observations. What I remember is that they seemed pleased that I was leaving with my arms full of books.

What I remember is that a library that was of the time and place in which it existed became one of my "good places" where I could go and discover other worlds. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead

I was very sorry to hear that Michael Whitehead, husband of the wonderful Louise Penny, has passed away after a long decline.

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting the Louise  and Michael at my local public library several years ago. I sat next to Michael and we had a lovely and funny conversation about what it's like to be a writer’s spouse. He had on his usual bow tie and treated me as though he'd known me for ages.

If you don’t know Louise’s work (and if you are a regular mystery reader, I can’t imagine that you don’t), please go forth and familiarize yourself tout suite. I had read them all, and loved them all, so I went to see her, just as I’ve gone to see many many authors.

Now, I’ve been very impressed by how a number of authors handle themselves at events, but I must say that Louise blew me away. She is a true human being in the best sense. Even if I had never read one of her books, after listening to her, I would have given myself whiplash in my rush to buy them all. I’ve done many events myself, and do not consider myself an amateur at the game. However, I learned quite a bit from Ms. Penny on how to make a crowd love you.

Allow me to share :The moment she walked in the door, she went around the room, big smile on her face, shaking hands with and speaking to every attendee.

When she shook my hand, I said, “I’m Donis Casey…” intending to introduce myself since we have mutual acquaintances, but lo and behold, she knew my name! “Oh!” she exclaimed, “Let me give you a hug” Her pleasure appeared so genuine that I would now take a bullet for her.

When she spoke, her joy in her craft and love of her characters and setting washed over the audience. To tell the truth, when she was finished, I felt a desperate desire to regain that feeling, which is easy to lose in the everyday struggle of life. I vowed to rediscover the pleasure of storytelling, and to remember why I chose to become a writer in the first place.

However appealing and lovable a person Louise is, the bottom line is that she writes great books, full of heart and warmth, and true human frailty as well as strength, ugliness as well as beauty.

If you want to be a successful author, you have to write wonderful books. Its quite a bonus to be a wonderful person as well.

And so I offer her my dearest sympathy for her loss, and my gratitude for all the joy she has brought me and all her readers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Launch parties

Barbara here. This blog is all about promotion, including blatant self-promotion, which is shortened to BSP in social media parlance and which can be a tricky line to tread. Inundate Facebook with too much "My book is out! Buy my book! See review of my book!" and you risk people either hiding your posts, unfriending you, or perhaps more kindly, simply scrolling on by. Hit Twitter with too many tweets and retweets and likes about your newly released darling, and people will roll their eyes and label you another desperate, "in-your-face" writer.

All of this hype can backfire, turning off the very readers you are hoping to reach, and yet without social media promotion, many a book sails off the publisher's production line, hits a few bookstore shelves, and sinks like a stone, because no one has heard of it. Professional review sites, publishers' promotion budgets, newspaper book pages, and radio appearances – all these promotional tools are shrinking at a time when the number of published books is exploding. Unless you are an international best selling author, who ironically doesn’t really need the media attention he or she receives, much of the effort to get the word out will fall to you.

With social media and other promotion, the key is moderation. Sometimes less is more, with as much give as take. Connect with people, listen and comment, encourage others, form relationships.

For me, that's where the launch party comes in. A lot has changed since I published my first Inspector Green novel in 2000. Social media like Facebook and Twitter were non-existent. Many of my friends and potential readers didn't even have email (except possibly a work email account). At that time I was so excited to celebrate my first book that I wanted to invite almost everyone I had ever known to my launch. I painstakingly printed out cards and address labels using Word software, licked envelopes and stamps, and mailed out hundreds of invitations. Quite a few people came to the launch, but many more were alerted to the book's existence and went out to buy it.

With subsequent books over the years, I have gradually phased out the printed invitations and I now rely exclusively on email and on social media event invitations. I know other authors have become much more media savvy, using newsletter sign-ups from their website to broadcast their news and using Mail Chimp or other email services to organize their mailings. I love to write, but I don't have a twelve year-old handy to keep me up to date with the latest tech advances.

But I do love a good party. I think it's one of the most enjoyable ways to get the word out and to share my excitement with others. Whether they come or not, they learn about the book. But I am not one of those writers who invites friends from California to my launch in Ottawa. If you do that, the whole thing loses its personal touch. So in addition to social media announcements, I keep track of emails from readers and friends, and individually invite those who live within a reasonable distance to the launch. To others who I know are interested, I send a personal note announcing the book. It's time consuming, but as I said, I love a party.

Which brings me to the crux of this post. My launch parties! FIRE IN THE STARS, the first in my brand new Amanda Doucette series, has been on the shelves a couple of weeks now, and I have lined up two launches. The first is in Ottawa, September 28 at 7 pm, at Mother McGinty's Stage in the Heart and Crown Pub, 67 Clarence Street in the Byward Market. Parking is not as horrendous as you might think; there's a parking garage across the street.

The second is in Toronto, October 13 at 5:30 - 7:30 pm, where else but at Sleuth of Baker Street, 907 Millwood Drive. Because it's way more fun, I am sharing both these launches with my good friend Linda Wiken, who is launching her first brand new Dinner Club mystery, TOASTING UP TROUBLE. At both launches there will be nibblies, drinks, book talk, and readings. A great opportunity to stock up for those long winter nights, or for early holiday gifts.

For those of you who live within a reasonable drive of Toronto or Ottawa, please come on down and help us celebrate the joy of seeing a book launched on its way. It's all free, and you get to share the night with other book and mystery lovers. Which is one of the unexpected delights of the book launch experience.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My library reminiscences

by Rick Blechta

I hope you’ve enjoyed Sybil’s and now Aline’s memories about libraries as much as I have. Judging by the number of people who’ve read them, it seems there’s a real interest — so here goes mine!

I grew up in a small(ish) town in Westchester County, which is just north of the Bronx in New York City. Mamaroneck is right on the Long Island Sound and has a very large pleasure boat harbour. In days past, it was locally nicknamed Clam Town because of the large tidal mud flats. As the 20th Century went on, that mud became more polluted, and when I was growing up, a put-down we often used was, “You smell like low tide.” But I digress…

The Mamaroneck Library adult reading room as it is today.
Mamaroneck has a lovely library, carefully added on to over the years, but it retains its original reading room which has large murals depicting local history all around it. The children’s library was in the basement, and I spent a lot of time there, not just selecting adventure books to sign out, but doing research for school.

It was run by a short, slender, but very imposing woman named Miss Bauman. All us kids were terrified of her because she ruled the room with (as we viewed it) an iron fist. If you took a book off the shelf, you’d better darn well sign it out or put it back in the correct spot. No leaving of books on her tables! Near silence was the word of the day, too. Only low whispering was allowed.

When I had the temerity of a ten-year-old to question why the adults left books on their tables upstairs, she snapped, “I don’t care what they do upstairs. You children need to be taught how to be tidy!” (Or words to that effect.)

What we didn’t realize at the time is that she was teaching us any number of useful things: how to use a card catalogue, how the Dewey Decimal System worked, why it was important to put things back where they belong so that they can be found easily again because they’re where they’re supposed to be. I could go on. I only realized later that she was patience personified when she was showing us “library things” and only became short when we didn’t follow her (sensible) rules.

Miss Bauman in 1971.
I’ve talked to a number of other friends who I remember from those library days. Our memories are the same: a velvet hand in an iron glove. But Miss Bauman is remembered fondly by us all  — especially me.

You see, a dozen years later, she became my brother’s de facto mother-in-law. Miriam (as I now knew her, although I couldn’t always break the “Miss Bauman” habit) brought up two of her nieces, one of whom my brother wed. She and I would often laugh about things that had happened in that basement room. Her memory of me was as “someone I always had to shush.”

I still love libraries. When I was on the road as a musician in my 20s, I would search out the library in whatever town we were playing in for the week and spend my days there, either reading books I found or something I’d brought from home. It was a lot more pleasant than sitting in a hotel room watching TV or sitting in the hotel bar drinking all day (or worse).

We have a beautiful and grand law library here in Toronto (in Osgoode Hall) and it’s generally empty. It’s also open to the public (when it’s not filled with lawyers studying for bar exams), something that’s not generally known. I wrote a large portion of my about-to-be-released novella, Rundown, there. In fact, Osgoode Hall is even in the book.

So thank you, Miss Bauman, for showing me the ropes and making me a life-long library aficionado.


Completely off topic but still very interesting: Miriam Bauman started off in the ’30s as a teacher/librarian in one of the local grade schools. She often told the story of taking her class out onto the field to watch the Hindenburg float majestically overhead on May 6, 1937, only a few hours before her fateful crash in New Jersey.

Interesting sidebar #2: My very good childhood friend (also my brother’s best man), Len Tallevi is now the president of the Mamaroneck Library’s Board of Trustees.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to lawyer Henry Gluch for introducing me to the Osgoode Hall Law Library.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Happy Library Memories

I read Sybil's affectionate post about the library she had gone to as a child murmuring 'Yes! Yes!' to myself. Libraries played a hugely important part in my young life and have gone on doing so ever since.

My parents were great readers and the house was full of books, so my parents hadn't really bothered to take me to the library. I only discovered it when I was walking home with a friend who was carrying some books and she explained what she was doing.

I was frankly incredulous. 'You mean – you just go and they give you books? You don't have to pay or anything? I went in with her and met dear Mr Doig, the librarian. He explained you had to have a card signed by your mum to get permission but then yes, indeed, you could just take them.

I almost snatched the card from him, ran all the way home, extracted the signature from my amused mother, and ran all the way back. His eyes twinkled when he saw this hot and breathless child and he was a good friend to me afterwards. For instance, you were only allowed to take out three books a day but if it was a Saturday, or the holidays, he let me take out another three if I'd finished the first ones by lunchtime.

Indeed, so much did I appreciate it that I decided I might like to be a librarian. I think I had the idea that this just meant you got to read all the best books first and I hadn't understood the sheer sweat of organising the ticket system in those days before electronic registration. Then there were the wretched readers who would keep putting books back in the wrong place... No, I decided after work experience, being a librarian was not for me.

I did get a liberal education, though. In those days there was censorship and what were termed 'blue' books were not put on the open shelves. (Here I'm not talking about Fifty Shades stuff, you understand; I remember Peyton Place was one of them). They were, however, kept in the office where we had our coffee breaks, and sometimes some of us returned quite late...

Then the day came when someone actually asked to see the 'blue' books. A frisson went around the library desk and the Chief Librarian was summoned - a snippety little lady with steel-rimmed spectacles. She gave the man a look of disgust, said, 'Follow me,' led him to the room, and gestured to the shelf without looking at it. 'There you are.'

There was a puzzled silence before the man said, 'I don't see them. You know, the Blue Books – the government reports.' Somewhat red-faced, she made a quick recovery. 'Oh! I'm so sorry, they must have been moved. We'll look in the reference library.' She was awfully nice to him after that.

So even though the job wasn't for me, I still love libraries and visit a lot of them to give talks. They're absolutely the nicest audiences – not surprising, really, because they are the real book-lovers.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Guest Post: Ellen Byron

Please welcome Ellen Byron, fellow member of Sisters in Crime/LA, to Type M. Her first book, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for gobs of awards. Her second book, Body on the Bayou, just came out. Here she tells us what led her down a murderous path. Take it away, Ellen...


by Ellen Byron
I’ve worked with a lot of strong personalities in my television writing career. Actors, directors, executives, other writers. Most have been hilarious and wonderful. Three drove me to fantasies of murder.

The first was a fellow writer on a popular sitcom that will remain nameless. He was arrogant, yet threatened by other writers’ talent – especially women writers, because he also happened to be sexist. He talked about his co-workers behind their backs, and in a business where perception is everything, his badmouthing cost people jobs. I wanted to KILL him. Being a relatively sane person, that was out of the question. So instead, I took a mystery writing class so I could kill him off on paper.

I signed up for a UCLA Writers’ Extension class taught by the inimitable Jerrilyn Farmer, and decided to write a mystery that took place during a sitcom production season. (Hmm, wonder where I got that idea?) The victim was the writer I despised, of course. I wrote a chapter, read it in class, and awaited acclaim. Instead, I got a tepid response. Then the other students shared their work. I was the only professional writer in the class – and my work was the least interesting. I wanted to hear a second chapter of everyone’s book but my own.

I didn’t try writing a mystery again for twelve years.

And that’s where the other two awful co-workers come in.

I returned to TV and worked on a variety of sitcoms with great writing staffs. Then I landed on a show where two of the guys at the top were, in different ways, the unpleasant equal of Despised Writer #1. Both were dismissive, cold, superior, and judgmental. If I told you my fantasies of their demise, you’d consider having me committed. There was only one way to rid myself of the vitriol I felt toward them…try writing another mystery.

This time I created a completely different world from television. My protagonist was a school psychologist at L.A.’s ritziest private school. And I didn’t make my bosses the murder victims. I made them repugnant suspects. That manuscript didn’t sell, but it did win a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished authors and eventually landed me a book agent.

My third mystery, Plantation Shudders, is a one-eighty from both previous mystery attempts. It’s a cozy set in a charming fictional Louisiana village, and even comes with recipes. But vestiges of the Hollywood writers I wanted to kill can be found in the quirky Southern characters who inhabit my Cajun Country Mystery series. Despised Writers #1, 2, and 3 would never recognize themselves, but I got great pleasure from poisoning them with my pen.

I’ve expanded my murderous literary reach to rid friends of people who’ve wronged them. Need a personal enemy killed or arrested? Let me fire up my computer. While many of my life experiences have found their way into my plays and screenplays, writing mysteries fulfills me in a different and devious way. It’s reassuring to know that if I ever experience a horrible co-worker or boss again, or if anyone I care about has someone evil in the life, I am quite capable of murder. At least on the page.

Ellen's debut novel, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. The second book in her Cajun Country Mystery Series, Body on the Bayou, offers “everything a cozy reader could want,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots; she’s written over 200 national magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland.