Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Pros and Pitfalls of Modern Publishing Solutions

Along with writer Ursula Wong, we gave a talk on The Pros and Pitfalls of Modern Publishing Solutions at the Thayer Memorial Library in Lancaster, MA today.

It was hosted by the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative, a a creative writers organization that brings writers together to encourage, enrich, and develop a writing community that is an integral part of the cultural life of central Massachusetts.

We had a good crowd of interested folk, and spoke for two hours on the different methods of modern publishing, and what one can expect from each. It's a grounding in the terms and ways of doing things, so a writer can make a better-informed decision as to what path to take.

Thanks to the Library, and to Hollis Shore and Paula Castner for putting the event together and making it happen.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Perfecting Your Author Presentation" with Hank Phillippi Ryan

A select group was recently privileged to attend a workshop given by Hank Phillippi Ryan, and arranged through the New England chapter of the Sisters in Crime.

The class focused on Perfecting Your Author Presentation, and the first part was authors reading a short excerpt, and getting feedback on how to improve technique.
We learned a great deal of useful information on what to do and what not to do when making a public appearance or giving an interview. Valuable things to know! Well worth the day.

Here's Judy Copek getting advice, with husband Hans looking on.

This is Connie Johnson Hambley taking a turn.

Then there were mock interviews, where Hank role-played scenarios where things go wrong, and the interviewee had to maintain composure and keep plugging away. Here's Connie again, in the role of interviewee.

 Having survived the ordeal, she poses with her tormentor...

Ursula Wong was the other interviewee, and proved unflappable under fire

 Julie Hennrikus helped out on one interview

Authors at the back of the room

Left is Lisa Haselton, who put the event together. Many thanks for a spectacular time.

Authors took copious notes

And our group photo

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Interview With Kate Flora

Today we're taking a look at the work of Kate Flora, a long-time, award-winning writer.

More than a quarter of a century into her writing career, Kate Flora has discovered that she’s a literary adventuress. What began as writing a version of “Nancy Drew Comes of Age” in her “strong woman, amateur PI” Thea Kozak mysteries has since sprawled in many directions.

Attorney Kate Clark Flora’s fascination with people’s criminal tendencies began in the Maine attorney general’s office. Deadbeat dads, people who hurt their kids, and employers’ acts of discrimination aroused her curiosity about human behavior. Her true crime, Finding Amy, co-written with Portland, Maine Deputy Chief Joseph Loughlin, was an Edgar finalist. Death Dealer was an Anthony and Agatha finalist and won the Public Safety Writers Association 2015 award for nonfiction. The gritty police procedurals in her star-reviewed Joe Burgess series have twice won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Her books also include seven Thea Kozak mysteries. Flora has also published 20 crime stories and was a Derringer finalist. Her latest nonfiction work, as co-writer, is retired Maine game warden Roger Guay’s memoir of hunters, poachers, search and rescue, and cadaver dogs: A Good Man with a Dog: A Game Warden’s 25 years in the Maine Woods. Her latest fiction is Led Astray, the fifth book in her Joe Burgess police procedural series. (I just ordered my copy, so be sure to pick yours up now.)

Let's find out more about Kate and her work.

Q: Do you have a favorite of your books?
(I've been asked this, and respond that it's like asking a parent which child they love best.)

A: I think an author’s favorite book is always the one she is currently working on. That’s the book that dwells in your mind, that you spend all your time with. Those are the people whose voices and lives and fates and challenges are a part of every day. Otherwise, it would be like playing favorites, and I love all fifteen of my children. Right now, that book is a serial killer book that’s temporarily on hold while I meet a nonfiction deadline, called Gutted, which is a non-series book.

Q: You write a lot of dark material. How do you keep the negatives from overwhelming you in the months of writing it?

A: Good question. I do sometimes get overwhelmed by the darkness when I am writing true crime. But since I am writing about the unsung courage and persistence of police officers and other public safety personnel, the dark is offset by the honor of getting to tell their stories. In the fiction, I guess the answer is that I love spending time with my imaginary friends, and they tend to use dark cop humor to leaven the tales… for me and for my readers.

Q: Can you talk about how the writing and publishing has changed from when you started?

A: Well, I’ve been doing this I sold my first back in 1992 or 3, and back then, what we now call Indie publishing was called vanity publishing, and wasn’t something one would consider. I’ve seen the consolidation of large publishers, narrowing the field of opportunity. I’ve seen the collapse of the paperback distribution system. I’ve been published by large publishers and small ones. I’ve have great contracts, mediocre contracts, and lousy ones. I’ve been dropped, had my series revived. Changed series. Segued into nonfiction. I’m now a lot more relaxed about status and success and am content to write without panicking about having a publisher.

As for the writing? I’ve gotten better. It’s a wheel, though. I learn. Forget. Relearn, hopefully at a higher level. I think I’m just learning how to drive and then realize I’m pretty good at turning corners. I’m embracing the value of taking chances, which is what led to Level Best Books, crime story publishing, starting to write police procedurals, and writing short stories. Then on to true crime, memoir, and other collaborative nonfiction projects. I’m at the point where I’m getting comfortable with the idea that the road isn’t straight, it’s a journey, and I’m curious about what will come along next.

Q: For any of your books or series, how did they come to be? Envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.
A: In the beginning (setting aside the three practice books in the drawer) I had a story idea for the first Thea Kozak mystery, Chosen for Death, and needed a protagonist. I had no idea I was starting a series, nor how Thea’s life would unfold as the books progressed. One of the oddest things about writing a series is that I started her back in the 1990’s and I’m still writing her today. She’s aged only slightly; I’m afraid I’ve put on some mileage.

The Joe Burgess books began when my New York publisher dropped the Thea Kozak series. When I looked around to see what to do next, I realized that I’d been spending a lot of time with the cops, and was curious about whether I could write a trio of middle-aged male cops. I love writing about Burgess, and Kyle, and Perry, and watching how they balance the demands of their careers with their personal lives.

What is most fascinating to me, in a way, how my detour (segue?) into the world of true crime benefitted from my skills at writing fiction, and how all the things I’ve learned about the real world of police officers informs the way I write cops in fiction.

Q: Do you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it goes, or do you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A: I’m neither an outliner nor a pantser. I’m a cooker. I start with an event, or a character is a situation, and then begin to puzzle out who they are, why they are there, and from there, on to the crime scene, the suspects, planning the clues that will be disclosed, and knowing the ending. I won’t know everything when I start, but after a few months (or years) of going around bumping into furniture as I plan, I sit down to write the book.

Q: What do you feel are your main theme(s)?

A: I always feel like this is a question we should ask our loyal readers, Dale. But I would say that one of the fundamentals of most crime fiction is the restoration of order to the world and getting justice for victims. I am also interested in the ripple effects of crime and how people around the victim are affected. I’m also writing stories that champion the little people, and my main characters tend to be people (whether this is Thea or Joe Burgess) who are protectors of the helpless. Thea describes herself as a “human tow truck” who has to stop and help people who are broken down along the highway of life. Burgess’s calling is to serve and protect.

Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading your books?

A: Years ago, someone asked me what one of my books was “about.” Until then, on a conscious level, I hadn’t thought about the takeaway. Now that is much more clear. Many readers who have read the third Burgess, Redemption (which won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction) say it has made them see the homeless in a different light. It’s about a Vietnam veteran who has never been okay since he returned, though the people around him are always hoping for recovery, who ends up a murder victim, ending forever their hopes that Reggie will be okay.

In the nonfiction, which is often written looking over the cop’s shoulder in an investigation, I am opening a window into the cop’s reality, and what really happens in an investigation. I hope it helps people see the police in a different light.

Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?
A: Strong engaging characters who matter to the reader, and a plot that moves fast, with lots of twists and turns. And good writing, of course.

Q: Do you read about crimes and go "That one- that's my book!" What's your selection process as to what's next?
A: Every book is different. Because I write series books, I’m always attuned to what is going on in the private school world for Thea’s books and in the police world for Joe Burgess. Interestingly enough, the plot of the new Burgess involves a shooter luring police officers into a trap. I wrote it well before the current spate of police shootings, but it is very timely.

I already have the plots for Burgess (sex trafficking) and Thea (a student who delivers a baby and claims never to have been pregnant) and for a handful of stand-alone books. From headlines, I tend to find myself thinking about short stories. This morning, for instance, I read a blog post title about tattoos, and suddenly had a story opening where a man who is a sexual predator wakes from a dose of his own rohypnol to find “Rapist” tattooed on his forehead. No idea where the story will go, but I am very intrigued.

Q: You write lovingly about Maine. What do you love about it?
A: So much! I love people’s basic decency to each other, and their tolerance. I love the landscape. Our farm, growing up, was on top of a hill where we could watch the sun come up over the woods and fields and watch it set behind the hills. At the bottom of our hill, there was a lake, and we could sit outside on summer nights and listen to the loons, lie in the back yard and watch the northern lights, and sled down hill in winter. We were farmers, and so of course, there’s that connection to the land. Summers were about weeding the garden and harvesting food, and summer evenings were spent around the table, processing food for canning and for the freezer.

Q: If you had to live elsewhere and do something other than writing, what would that be?
A: If I had to live somewhere else, I’d love to be in San Francisco, but that city has become impossibly expensive and overrun with young folks who have too much money. So now I’m rethinking this and don’t have an answer yet. Perhaps somewhere where I can swim in the sea more of the year than the Maine ocean allows.

As for doing something other than writing? Honestly, I can’t imagine that. I have at least six years worth of stories stacked up in my brain, and so thinking about alternatives is far in the future. In the short term? Spend more time in the garden. More time reading. More time playing in the kitchen with my much-neglected cookbooks. And of course, there are the “someday I’ll” things on the list—photography, tap dancing, and singing lessons. I dance like a woman with three left feet and sing like a crow, but so what?

Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?
A: Oh, now Dale… no one writes quite like I do, though plenty of people write good cops. I love Robert Crais’s Joe Pike. I’d like to be able to plot like Elizabeth George. Write suspense like Jeff Deaver. Sometimes, it would be fun to be as cold as Minette Walters or P.D. James. And I admire Tana French’s psychologizing. Early influences were romantic suspense (does one dare admit this?) in particular Mary Stewart, whose descriptions still stun me, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt.

Q: Do you have favorite TV shows or movies?
A: I tend to like “B’ movies, and girl movies, like Pretty Woman or Miss Congeniality or Moonstruck. Love Bull Durham and The Princess Bride. I think The Wire is great, loved Deadwood, the first season of True Detective, and drool over Timothy Olyphant in Justified.

Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?
A: I don’t write issue books, but obviously my books are “about” something. Damaged veterans, neglected children, Agent Orange, hanging targets on cops, doctors who want to play god, the sometimes disappointed dreams of adoptees who search for their birth parents, crooked bankers, dysfunctional families, corrupt managers. I could go on and on. Sometimes part of the goal is taking people into worlds they don’t ordinarily inhabit, making them see the world of the deaf and their culture, or seeing the homeless differently.

Q: Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A: I actually “see” my scenes as I am writing them, and when I’m deeply immersed in a book, I even dream the story, so that is a cinematic experience for me. Back when I was a wide-eyed newbie, I was talking with Tony Hillerman about having one’s book made into a movie, and he said you have to accept that it’s going to be someone else’s vision of your story, and just walk away from it.

As we know, cinema is a shorthand version of the story, one that actually works best interpreting a short story or novella (think A River Runs Through It) so obviously, much of the pace and nuance of a long book would be lost/different in a cinematic interpretation. Like everyone else, though, I do have some fun trying to cast my stories.

Q: Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A: Write better. Then write better than that. Tell the stories that have been waiting for me to be “old enough” to tell them. Embrace obsession from time to time. Spend more time playing with multiple points of view. Write a book that isn’t a crime story.

Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A: Like many another, I love the freshness of new storytelling, and have had to learn to embrace rewrite. I still tend to do 3-6 edits of a story. Usually, when it goes to the publisher, I’m at the point where there are maybe 3 or 4 words I’m not happy with, and I’ve changed them, then changed them back.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule?

A: Sometimes. Usually it is a fixed number of pages or words, and I like to do the original work in the morning. In the good old days, I used to write for nine months and promote for three. That was an excellent schedule. Now promotion never stops, and the balance is much harder. Once I did NaNoWriMo, and that kind of free writing, with high word counts and no time for revision, was fascinating. I found I was writing things I’d never imagined for my characters. It was almost as though the words flowed onto the page without reflection, and the result was sometimes surprisingly good.

Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?
A: My daily prayer is for someone to please send me a strong, tough, involved editor. Lately, those prayers haven’t been answered. I do sometimes hire a private editor to give me feedback on a story, because I believe 100% in a gatekeeper function. For my one suspense book, Steal Away, written as Katharine Clark, I had a wonderful editor, Leona Nevler. Alas, she died before I could write a second book for her.

Q: Some writers are intimidated speaking before a crowd. You make it look easy, so how do you do it?

A: You think that looks easy? Boy, do I have you fooled. If it looks easy, that’s because I’ve been doing it for many, many years, and because I’m fascinated by writing (and by my amazing luck in getting to be a writer) so I like to share that with readers. I also love to teach writing, and I think audiences often have a lot of questions about process that help to make speaking into a conversation. All that being said, I always have that moment of terror just before I start, wondering if this will be the time I’m totally brain dead.

Q: What's the best speaking/reading event you've ever done?

A: Well, I did one the other day at the Kennebunkport Library that was great. The most surprising was years ago when I was asked to be part of a writer’s series—at a library in a town whose name I now forget—but Jack Beatty invited me. I thought it would be some small event with a dozen people or so… and I arrived to find the room packed with hundreds of people and a TV crew to film it. So that was pretty amazing.

But the all time best? Hands down it was the night I got to interview Tony Hillerman about his autobiography as part of the Concord Author Festival. I was already a huge Hillerman fan, so this was the treat of a lifetime. Two arm chairs, Hillerman’s charm, a huge audience, TV cameras, and I had so much fun. When we got to the point in the program where the audience passed in questions, one of them was: What is the name of the woman who is interviewing Mr. Hillerman? I was so into showcasing him that I totally forgot to introduce myself.

Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A: Hard question. I no longer read and edit people’s manuscripts for them like I used to. I just don’t have the time. If I’m not overwhelmed, and I know the person and feel they are serious about their writing, I will sometimes offer to read 50 pages. I can tell most of what I need to know in 50 pages. Sometimes I suggest books, classes like the ones I teach at Grub Street, and joining Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, because writing is a lonely business and this is a great way to get support. And I always urge eager and impatient writers not to jump the gun, but take the time to send in the best, most unrejectable book possible. Because it’s still a very harsh and competitive world out there.

Q: What's the next step in your writing world? And do you have more series planned?

A: Right now, I’m finishing up another co-writing project. When that’s done, I’m about eight chapters into a new book, new character. Not something I’m planning to make into a series. And I have three books that need to be revised that I’d like to spend some time with. And then, as I mentioned, there’s another Thea and another Joe Burgess in holding patterns in my brain, waiting for me to find time for them. Then I’d like to put some of my short stories together in an anthology, and I have a novella, Be My Little Sugar, that needs some tweaking and then I hope to put it together with the first novella in that series, Girls’ Night Out, add a third story about this women’s book group taking revenge on men behaving badly, and make that a book.

Whew! Right? And that’s just some of the things that are clamoring for my attention.

Q: What's the oddest thing a fan has ever said to you?

A: There are many, but here are two:

May I ask you a personal question?
Me: You can ask.
Is Thea’s mother based on your mother?
Me: (shocked and considering) No. My mother is my hero. But I think she is based on my two grandmothers.

This isn’t a question, but a comment:

Man in the audience: My wife has given me permission to go out with Thea.

And of course, the two things people say all the time that really push my buttons:

I’ve always wanted to write, but I tried it once and it was hard.

I’ve always wanted to write a book, and someday, when I have a free weekend, I’m going to write one.

I tried that. It took me 4 ½ months, writing ten hours a day and seven days a week. And then I had a 485 page book that I had to cut by a hundred pages.

Q: What's the strangest thing you've seen in the writing world? In the world at large?

A: Well, here’s something I saw once that I now use as a writing prompt for my students.
I’d just dropped my son off at work, and was driving down a road in Waltham that runs along a reservoir and then becomes a one-way street into Lincoln, MA. No sidewalks. No houses, just a couple of uphill roads leading to business complexes. So the car in front of me slows and comes to a stop. Beyond it, I can see a man with a backpack heading toward the car. I can’t go around because there’s traffic coming the other way. So I stop and wait. The car in front of me is an older Cadillac with a woman driving. The guy with the backpack walks up to the car, steps up on the bumper, walks up the hood, up the windshield, across the room, and down the trunk, and continues walking away. Never slowing his pace. The woman opens her door and tries to talk to him, but he ignores her.

And then I tell my students to write what happened before that led up to this event.

Yup. It really happened.

Once I saw a pig running madly down I-93.

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A: There’s really nothing that much fun about me. I just work all the time. Oh… how about this? I was runner-up for Maine Blueberry Queen. And because of my love of blueberries, for my 55th birthday, my husband bought me an 18-acre blueberry field.

Q: Any other information you'd like to impart?

A: Anyone reading this is sick to death of me by now. But advice to aspiring writers?

Keep your seat in the seat.

You can edit a bad draft, but you can’t edit a blank page.

And only you get to decide that you’re a writer, so own that right, and get to work.

Q: Last word?

A: Buy my books.   :-)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

New Orleans Sights and Food

The world mystery conference, Bouchercon, was a few weeks ago, and took us to New Orleans. That was my third trip to that city, and I loved it more than ever. There is so much to see and do- and I'm not talking about Bourbon Street, a foul, cut-rate Potterville for drunken morons who want a taste of ersatz SIN.

No, the real New Orleans is the people who live there and love the history and culture. Everyone was so nice, and eager to share the good things of their city. They always ask, "where Y'all from?"

And the FOOD! So good, and we sampled so many of the native tastes. First lunch, shortly after arrival: catfish, jambalaya, gumbo, Po-Boy. Then we strolled down Royal Street, admiring the architecture and decorative railings.

And there are lovely courtyards, hidden down alleyways, opening to secret worlds.


There's a company that makes old-style lights, and NO has lots of these in restaurants and on the streets.

Have to admit, it was hot and swampy-muggy. We weren't used to it, with our Northern blood. Don't know how anyone could stand it year round- and some don't have air-conditioning! Most stores do, though, and you get blasted with refreshing cold air walking through every door. My wife had to refresh herself by sampling the pralines available in so many places, until she found the best.

Of course we walked to Jackson Square

And saw the magnificent interior of the church

Then we stopped by the world-famous Cafe Du Monde, for their tasty beignets and some iced cafe au lait, just the thing on a hot day.

And across the way, saw some jesters:

We took a pedicab back to the hotel, and skipped supper- still too full. We got drinks and headed to the pool deck on the hotel roof, for a beautiful panorama and sunset.

On our first full day, we went to the World War II Museum- one of the best museums in the country. All the details of the war (from the U.S. viewpoint), and so many stories of bravery and sacrifice. All citizens of this country, from schoolkids to the older folk, should go through these exhibits and understand what price was paid so that they might have a measure of freedom.

Then to the St. Lawrence for lunch: tomato bisque soup, then red snapper-like fish and awesome fried chicken, with the NO ubiquitous dish of bread pudding for dessert.

Then it was time for our cruise on the Creole Queen paddlewheeler, which tools up the Mississippi to Chalmette Plantation, where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. Few know that if the British had won that battle, they would have kept New Orleans, controlled trade on the river, and history would have changed for us. The boat featured a knowledgeable tour guide, and we had a lovely breeze to cool us.

 And saw more jesters...

And a cool fountain

After we'd done that, we walked through the downtown casino to watch others throw away their money. Guess they don't have to work too hard for it.

Then I went to register for the conference, and saw Ray Daniel, a friendly face from up our way. We ate at the Olde N'awlins Cookery: the ever-present beans & rice, etoufee, gumbo, and garlic bread. That did us in for the day.

Next day, we took the cemetery tour, and saw the tombs of Marie LeVeau, and of Nic Cage (yeah, he's  not quite dead, but his tomb is ready)

We hit Killer Po-Boys for lunch, with terrific sandwiches. The back to Jackson Square for a little shopping, and took a carriage tour through the French Quarter. At the end of that, we did happy hour at Vacherie, where a couple of inexpensive drinks and appetizers were enough for dinner. And that was enough for another day.

After that, it was all conference for me, which you can read about in the previous post. But my wife got to the Mardi Gras Museum, where they make and store the floats for the huge celebration.

Had a special free night of shrimp and grits at the conference, which again served as dinner. So we did a load of tourist stuff, had a wonderful time, and still made it worthwhile for me as a writer, meeting so many other great writers, and learning more about the publishing world.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 Bouchercon writeup Part One

Hello all- though I've been back for a week, am just getting caught up on all that was put on hold by leaving for Bouchercon, the worldwide mystery conference in New Orleans.

It was my second Bouchercon, and my third time in New Orleans, and it's tough to say which I liked more- the conference, or the city itself. New Orleans appears to have bounced back since Katrina and then the massive oil spill that blew out their fishing industry and devastated the Louisiana coastline, among others.

I'll do a second post with a food report and pictures from all the sightseeing, but for now I'll talk about the cool people I met.

Got to meet the superstar mystery writer, Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski series. She also helped to start the Sisters in Crime organization, whose mission is to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers. Yes, I'm a member, and got to thank her for the supportive organization and for her work in the mystery field.

The organization had a huge meeting and breakfast, and I met some of the hard-working women who make things run- Leslie Budewitz, the outgoing President, and officers Molly Weston and Diane Vallere.

Saw lots of familiar faces as well, most happily the Wicked Cozys, with whom we had a delightful luncheon. Most of the gang were there (sadly minus Jessie Crockett): Barbara Ross, Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Sherry Novinger Harris, and Julie Hennrikus. Barbara Ross will be appearing on this blog with an interview soon, so stay tuned for that.

And happily met the new slate of editors at Level Best Books, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler, and Kimberly Gray. This foursome now publish the yearly anthology of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories in New England. My story will be appearing in the Windward collection this year (the third year in a row I've been selected for this prestigious anthology).

And I got to chat with a fearsome foursome of writers I met at the 2013 Bouchercon. Had a nice talk with Josh Stallings and Neliza Drew, and got to sit with Tom Pluck and Holly West for a bit longer.
For an interview with Tom Pluck, see here. Tom and I both have stories in the Nightfalls anthology.

Tom and Holly are also two of the writers at the cool mystery-writer blog Do Some Damage. Then I met another member of that crew, Scott Dennis Parker, and got his book All Chickens Must Die. Awesome title, and a good mystery homage to the pulp PI stories of the forties.

Here's a group of Maineiacs that just happened to be attending the same panel- all Maine mystery writers. L to R is Paul Doiron, Bruce Robert Coffin, moi, Richard Cass, and Barbara Ross.

Bruce, a retired Portland police officer, has just released his debut novel, Among the Shadows.
I'm almost done reading it, and it's a fantastic first novel- get it now.
To find out more about Bruce, read the recent interview.

Met up with another top writer from my previous Bouchercon, Dana King. Yup, he had an interview here as well. Yeah, I meet the most interesting people.

As proof, ran into Sheila Connolly, who has three popular series out- and she's another Sister in Crime.

Another three-series writer and SinC member, Leigh Perry/Toni Kelner, was met in passing.
(Her interview here)

And I marched in the fun parade with Cheryl Hollon, another SinC member. (Her interview here)

As is Ray Daniel, another great writer from our area.
(His interview here)

In cool news, saw another Maine writer, Chris Holm, pick up an Anthony Award for Best Novel, for his latest work, The Killing Kind.

Met many more writers as well: Walter Gragg, Sarah Smith, Sarah Chen, Marty Wingate, Ann Kellett, Rochelle Staab, Janet Finsilver, Sheyna Galyan, Kwei Quartey, Cindy Brown, Angie Gleason, Lisa Brackmann, C.L. Shore.

And others: Andrew Case, an attorney, Heather Malone, a fun Real Estate seller, and David Cook, a Forensic Research specialist who lives in New Orleans.

These are only a fraction of the attendees, of course. Sadly missing were two people I really wanted to talk to: Debbi Mack and Todd Robinson. Todd is editor of the recently-deceased ThugLit magazine, and my story "Forever Amber" is the last story accepted for that great publication.

Debbi Mack writes the Sam McRae mystery series, and also has put together a boxed set of mystery fiction, with my first Zack Taylor novel, A Memory of Grief, included. There's a cool trailer if you scroll down on this site.

And of course the wonderful Hank Phillipi Ryan was at the conference, and again at the airport. She introduced me to Joseph Finder, another best-selling writer. And then Dave Zeltserman sits down near us, and I meet him, and we chat about how well the Patriots and the Red Sox are doing, as well as Dave himself. His book Small Crimes (next on my TBR pile) is being made into a movie, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister for you Game of Thrones fans) playing a major role. Awesome stuff. He's read the screenplay, and it looks to be a good telling of his book, according to the author himself.

And almost got away with not talking to author Pete Morin. Caught him at Logan airport, after trying to see him all conference. 

So many memories crowded into a few days. Bouchercon is a great place for panels on crime writing, and talking to the writers themselves, and for doing business with all the ins and outs of writing and publishing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interview With Debut Author Bruce Robert Coffin

Hello All- I'm still recovering from my trip to Bouchercon, the world mystery convention for mystery crime writers and fans, held this year in New Orleans. (Hint: it was AWESOME!!!)
When I get the pics sorted out, I'll have the writeup- look for that in a few days. Maybe I'll be caught up by then.

While you wait for that, here's a treat. Today marks the print release of author Bruce Robert Coffin's debut novel, Among the Shadows.

Bruce was a police officer in Portland, Maine (setting for my Zack Taylor novels) for 27 years. He's had a fascinating life, and is now turning his experiences into fiction, and this is his launch. I've got my copy, so be sure to get yours.
Let's find out more about him and his work...

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. My first attempt at writing a novel was a several-year process. I wrote 20,000 words in first person before deciding I didn’t like the caged in feeling of that point of view. I started again in third person making it to about 40,000 but then realized I was no longer in love with my plot. I never imagined I was so fickle. Finally I came up with a story idea that I really liked. The finished 72,000 word manuscript was called Death Watch. I thought it was pretty good, at least for a first novel. Then I attended a three day writer’s conference where I listened to editors and agents describe all of the things one shouldn’t do when writing a novel. Realizing I had done most of them, I was pretty discouraged. But as the conference went on, I was bombarded with ideas that would make the entire novel better. My muse was singing. On the drive home I recorded two hours of my thoughts on the brand-new novel. There were so many changes, I basically threw Death Watch away and started again. It took five months to write the rough first draft and another seven rewriting and editing. The 96,000 word result of my decision is Among the Shadows.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. I think it’s a classic tale of good verses evil with a twist. It’s a tale of right verses wrong, and perception verses reality. It is the story of a man trying to right a wrong in spite of overwhelming odds. One man trying to break free from his father’s shadow while another hides in it.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. I think the lessons are important. Ethics and integrity are always under siege, maybe more so today. It’s kind of the cross we bear as flawed beings. John Byron is a good man and a diligent investigator, but he struggles like all of us. He carries demons around with him. Some of those demons are a result of twenty years on the job, and some are his own creation. But he fights hard to try and right the wrongs of others and to take care of his people.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. Ha! Great question. Ask a thousand writers and you’ll likely get a thousand different responses. I think the plot is important, as is the pacing, especially in the mystery/thriller genre. But the most important aspect for me is the characters. Do we care about them? Do we want them to succeed? I think pitting an unrelenting protagonist against an unrelenting antagonist is the struggle that will always make for great reading. It’s timeless in its simplicity, yet people never seem to get enough.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Similar themes? Probably. There are many good mystery writers out there. What I hope I’ve brought to the page is good storytelling. Good storytelling combined with the voice of someone who knows what it’s like to be a cop. How we think. How we act. How we feel. What we struggle with. How we cope. What motivates us to keep going. I want the reader to feel those things, too.

As for my influences? People ask me that all the time now. It's funny, up until the last couple of years I never had time to read much of anything except Stephen King novels. Believe me I’m making up for it now, but the 24/7 nature of my previous work didn’t allow for endless hours of reading. People expect me to give them the name of a writer whose style I’ve fashioned my writing after and are disappointed when I don't. The truth is other than the occasional stray book by Bill Bryson or David Sedaris, most of my reading was King. I’ve read all of his books but I don’t think I write anything like him, and certainly not in his genre. But he’s definitely had the biggest influence on me as a reader. And let’s be honest, what writer doesn’t aspire to be as well known as Mr. King?

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. At its heart I think it’s entertainment. But I also think good storytelling should make us think, make us feel something. Stories are always about people first. Human beings are capable of so much, both good and bad. I think great fiction allows all of us the chance to experience the best and the worst that life has to offer, without leaving the safety of our chairs.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. Keep on trucking. That’s my goal. Write another book. Write a better book. I love the art of writing, of storytelling. I want what most writers want, to bring great stories to the masses. I’ve had success in both in my professional and my personal life. I hope, with a little luck, and a lot of hard work, to be able to carry that success into my writing life.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I tend to write fairly quick, at least when it’s going well. I usually begin a writing session by editing what I wrote previously, unless the muse is screaming in my ear. I don’t know about other writers but my editing never stops. Seems like every time I read a section I make changes. Fellow crime writer Kate Flora once told me that the time to stop editing is when you find yourself changing things back to the way they were. I’ve found that to be pretty good advice. As far as tiring of the book goes, no. If I’m happy with the story I’ve written, I won’t tire of it. I may well be tired of making changes to it, but not the book itself.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. Nick Amphlett, my editor at HarperCollins, is very good. Patrice Silverstein, my copyeditor, was ridiculously good. Also, my agent, Paula Munier, is a very accomplished editor as well. Every editor has their strong points. They make suggestions on how to make a scene stronger or to clarify voice in the story. They will usually pick up on things the writer missed. When I read my own work I may only see what I meant to say, but that’s not always what’s on the page. A fresh set of eyes will always catch things I missed.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?
A. That’s a tough question. I guess it depends on the writer’s skill level and motivation. Most writers are looking for publication, and she can be one elusive creature. There are far better writers than I who’ve yet to find a home for their books. If you really want to be published, my advice is simple. Never. Give. Up. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep improving your work. Be as stubborn as I am. I remember being told that it would be next to impossible to land a book deal, especially with a major publisher. “You might want to consider self-publishing,” someone else said. I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like that, when someone tells me something can’t be done, I move the shift lever into high gear. Lee Childs once said if you like what you’ve written, odds are that there are literally hundreds of people who will also like it. The trick is writing something that thousands of people will like, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. That’s what publishers like.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?
A. I can definitely see it as an audio book. Part of my editing process was to play parts of it back on a PDF reader (although, the computerized voice was a little off-putting). Film would be awesome! Getting to see the characters who have resided for so long inside my head actually come to life on the screen would be fabulous. Although, transitioning from one medium to another is always tricky. The one thing missing from novels that go to film is the inner thought. The conflict, worry, and fears, inhabiting the characters in the book, don’t translate well to film, unless spoke in dialogue. Often movie makers will add a narrative voice between scenes as a way of getting those inner thoughts across to us. The television adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser does this quite well by using Robert Urich’s voice to take us in and out of scenes and to let us know what Spenser is thinking.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. Hmm. That’s a tough one. I guess time and readers will ultimately decide that for me. My goal is to keep writing good fiction, even beyond the three books that I’ve signed on for. I have so much more in store for John Byron. And I have many other ideas for novels and short stories, just waiting to be written. I’m constantly writing ideas down, whenever and wherever they come to me. I’ve written notes on napkins, in notebooks, on my phone, even on my hand (a habit left over from my time as a police officer). Hopefully, I’ll keep writing until I’ve drawn my last breath, or until I no longer have anything to say.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. In addition to writing, I’m also a professional artist. Back in 2008, I was commissioned by the New England Chapter of the FBI National Academy to paint a portrait to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the FBI. Working alongside a FBI historian, to get the history right, I began work on a portrait of Special Agent Edwin C. Shanahan. Shanahan, the first agent ever killed in the line of duty, died in 1925 when he was shot while attempting to apprehend a car thief in Chicago. The painting took me a year to complete. I presented it to Boston’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) during the 2008 FBINA New England Christmas Party. The large oil portrait is still displayed in a conference room within the Boston Field Office.

Q. Where can folks purchase your novel?

A. Among the Shadows is published by HarperCollins under their mystery imprint, Witness Impulse. It is available in both digital and trade paperback versions through the Witness Impulse site, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sherman’s books, etc.

Web page:
Twitter: @coffin_bruce
Facebook: Bruce Robert Coffin Author

Monday, September 12, 2016

Interview With Author Jeff Deck

Hey, campers, today's treat is a new author, Jeff Deck one of the gang in the New England Horror Writers.

His supernatural thriller book: The Psuedo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, just came out in paperback (and is also available as an ebook).

Here's from the description. Gotta say, that's a definite grabber, certainly makes you want to read it:

My name is Mark Huntley. All I really wanted to do was drink cheap beer and blog about my dead-end life. Then I stumbled across a secret war between two sinister alien forces. If I try to stop the war, I may get my friends and loved ones killed. If I don't try, the human race is toast. Oh yeah, and a demonic weapon inside me is probably driving me insane.
If I'm already dead when you find this, you need to carry on the fight. 

So here is more about Jeff, as he answers some questions on his work and life.

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. I was feeling bruised in the late summer of 2004. Earlier that year, I'd poured a lot of energy into supporting the progressive presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, only to see it evaporate seemingly overnight for the stupidest reason (the candidate making a weird sound into a microphone). Then I fell in love, or at least lust, with a woman who was married -- newly married, practically. We crossed boundaries we shouldn't have. Then, after helping to wreck her marriage, I broke things off with her because, oh, you know, the relationship just felt wrong.

In short, I was 24 and didn't know what the fuck I was doing. But I sure had a lot of Feelings that needed to come out. As fall approached, I wanted to channel those feelings into a writing project. Blogs were still a fairly novel concept at that point, so I decided to use a blog to tell a story -- a raw, first-person story, one that started out as barely fictionalized. The main character, Mark Huntley, had a low-level job like me. He'd had a relationship with a married woman, like I did. His eyes were giving him persistent trouble, too, just like mine were at the time (I had a real fear that mine were deteriorating rapidly, for some reason). Only as the story went on did I slowly introduce a supernatural element, as the blog diverged further into dramatic fiction.

I kept the blog going for about three months, with only a few friends following it. Then I put the story aside, and didn't revisit it for ten years.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. As I recall, I had little idea where the story was ultimately going -- just that it would end up having a strong supernatural/horror element to the plot. (Much like many of my favorite books did; I think this might have been right after I first read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, in fact.) I started by building a tense, somewhat paranoid atmosphere through Mark's narration and then followed the most likely story that seemed to be unfurling.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. I didn't have a theme in mind when I was first writing it. I'll probably leave it to the English teachers to decide what the theme of Mark Huntley is "supposed" to be. But looking back, the story focuses a lot on the effort to reclaim even a little bit of agency in the face of overwhelmingly powerful forces. That's a theme that should still be relevant this election year, as it was in 2004.

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. There's dignity in trying to do the right thing. Even if the odds are that you 1) won't make a damn difference and/or 2) will meet a bloody, savage end with your body subsequently stuffed into a Dumpster.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. Memorable characters, a compelling storytelling style, fast and rising action -- as long as you can hit two out of the three, you should be good.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. Stephen King looms the largest over this story. Though now that I think about it, House of Leaves was probably a big influence as well, in terms of having a kind of meta-textual approach to the story. I've felt the pull of horror for a long time now; I was reading books like It in junior high.

I think for me, supernatural and horror stories offer the greatest dramatic potential. Despite all the gradations that may be introduced along the way, the genre comes down to a story of light vs darkness. The light is a tiny, wavering candle -- and the darkness is vast and frightening.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. For me, at least, entertainment is the main goal of storytelling. I've tried writing "message" stories in the past, and it just didn't work. Nobody likes a preachy main character. The protagonist in my other novel, Player Choice, skates a lot closer to that line, and I think as a result he is less likable.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. My immediate goal is to help The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley kick ass and gain a lot of new readers. After all I've put into it, I'd like to see the book succeed in a big way. The next goal is to get a supernatural mystery novel series off the ground, that will be called The Shadow Over Portsmouth (more on that below).

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. The publisher is me. And I only give the story a rubber stamp after I've edited it to my satisfaction -- usually this takes a while. I fantasize about becoming a truly prolific writer -- releasing a (smaller) novel every few months -- but I'm not sure I can let go enough for that to happen. I'm not sure I could let the stories get out the door without a thorough edit, and that takes . . . a while.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. I got burned by an editor for Player Choice -- a lot of money for little return -- so after that, I opted to rely on trusted beta readers for feedback for Mark Huntley. I might give a professional editor another shot with the Shadow Over Portsmouth series. Then again, I've been an editor myself in several different jobs, so I might just hire myself again and call it satisfactory (a fool for my client). I certainly don't give myself an easy time.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. Usually when this happens, I try to identify what the writer's goal is: improving their craft? Landing a big-name publisher? Getting their work out there, period? Often a beginning writer needs to reflect a little on what they actually want. If it's exposure, plain and simple, then get your writing out there on whatever platform you can find -- it's never too early to start building an audience. If it's landing a Big Five publisher, then that's a different mountain to climb (one whose peak you might never reach). But it does share the theme of audience-building.

Sometimes we as writers neglect to give as much thought to our actual path to success as we do our fictional worlds. Which is fine if you're happy with obscurity . . . but if you're burning to have a bunch of people read your work, as most of us are, then you need to start achieving small platform-building goals now that will snowball into a genuine audience later on.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. I would love to get an audiobook version of The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley made -- and will probably do so through ACX once I have some more time. Since the book is composed of first-person blog entries, it would be the perfect fit for an audiobook narrator. (Though it may not end up conforming to the voice for Mark that I hear in my head.) One thing I love about being an indie author is that if I decide I need an audiobook version, I can just go ahead and do that -- I don't need Random House's approval or anyone else's.

Q. What have you learned on your writing journey so far?

A. Every journey begins with a single step?

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. My next book will be the first in a supernatural mystery series that I'm calling (for now) The Shadow Over Portsmouth. Starring a gay Indian-American ex-cop trying to figure out who killed her girlfriend. Like Mark Huntley, the story will be grounded in a real place. In this case, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Where a number of doors to other worlds and dimensions seem to be opening, with mostly terrifying results . . .

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. Keith Olbermann defamed me on live television.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. Drop me a line at if you'd like to discuss supernatural thrillers, horror, 2004 politics, and/or where these topics intersect.


Web page:

Where to buy on Amazon