Saturday, 5 November 2011

Jill Edmondson

Jill Edmondson really knows how to throw a party. Her book launch Thursday night at the Pilot tavern featured yummie food, a toast with some great liqueur and the highlight, she read from the 3rd Sasha Jackson mystery: "The Lies Have It" a tale of fetishists and murder. Well done Jill!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Stuart MacBride's New Book

Stuart MacBride is another in the current crop of witty, gritty Scottish writers that have taken the mystery world by storm. Last week, HarperCollins Canada put on a super event with Mr. MacBride who is on a tour. Guests were seated seminar style in a large room with huge windows and Mr. MacBride was in the front like a lecturer. Cake was served and an amusing cardboard cutout mask of a Stewart McBride-like beard sat at each place.

The publishers generously provided a proof copy of Mr. MacBride’s next book Birthdays for the Dead and bags of Halloween candy. The author himself is delightful. High forehead, glasses, dark ponytail, he was six feet of cheerful charm, fast talking and funny.

Thrilled to get an advance copy of a talented author’s new work, I dove into Birthdays for the Dead as soon as I got home. It’s about a somewhat washed-up police investigator on the track of a serial killer with a taste for 12 year old girls. MacBride has a gift for the telling detail, the feel of a cold foggy night, the smells of a dirty slum, the sound of a lowlife bar. The amusing side he showed in his chats and his personalized book signing, surfaces frequently in the book, especially in the detective Ash Henderson's relationship with the loopy young police psychologist Dr. Alice McDonald. It provides welcome comic relief, an antidote to the noirish, gruesome detail of his blackly comic vision of contemporary Aberdeen and environs.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

McLuhan’s World, Indeed

Much has been sung about the man, who would have been 100 years old this year. His theories have been lauded, bandied about, criticized and dissected.

But in the end, Marshall McLuhan was right: “The medium is the message.” There’s no denying it, for even as I write this, I’m taking part in his theories. And yes, we are a “global village,” and one that is getting smaller by the year, thanks to media technology.

McLuhan predicted an entity like the Web, that all-encompassing, overpowering means of communication and information that forms our everyday life – from work to education and business. The proof is before us, on our phones and our computer screens. It is amorphous and unseen; it is cyberspace, the information superhighway, virtual reality.

McLuhan’s ideas really hit home this week as I started a new media job. I’ve known for years McLuhan was right, but the past few years have seen staggering advances in how we communicate and produce information. I can sit in a Hamilton, Ont. newsroom, in front of a computer, and edit and write headlines for a newspaper that is two thousand miles away. It’s just how things are done now.

The production of hundreds of newspapers across North America has been outsourced to centres such as this, where designers and editors put the flesh on the bones on a newspaper. No longer do you have to sit in a city's newsroom to do the job. It’s all part of the Information Revolution, which is taking us, whether we want it or not, to even higher levels of communication.

Is it bad? As someone who started out in the newspaper business when hot type was still around, I’d say no. I’m no sentimentalist. I think progress is good. Change is good. The transformation of the media world the last twenty years has been fabulous, innovative and creative.

Most importantly? The message – and the global village - is alive and kicking.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Vancouver International Writers Festival

Just finished my final event at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. A brunch with a bunch of great writers, Canadian and Australian. The four days were great but it was so action packed that I haven't had time to post anything. I really don't have time now but will do more when I get back home.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

So Shoot Me

Over on the Crime Writers of Canada National Crime Writing Blog we're writing on the theme of how killing people on paper isn't as easy as it seems. Blame it on CSI, but the average reader is much more savvy about things like blood spatter and gunshot residue. That means if you use these technical terms, you better use them properly.

I ran into a problem when I was using - that is, misusing - prescription drugs. Sure, most people won't know that it's hard to kill someone quickly with drug overdoses. Then a nurse will read your ms and tell you it doesn't work that way. Fortunately the nurse is a friend and she happened to have her outdated copies of her drug bibles. 

Some authors get around the technicalities by letting the cops work it out while their amateur sleuth puzzles out the motives. Others, myself included, do a lot of research. If we're lucky and tenacious, we make friends in the right places. I pick the brains of my friends, my friends' friends and people on the street if I over hear an irresistible tidbit of information. My children pretend they don’t know me, then laugh at me later.

Currently I have an almost pathological need to ask police officers questions. You can always tell when a cop walks into a coffee shop where I'm writing. My eyes light up. I take in visual details and look for an opening to glean a bit more knowledge.

So shoot me.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

That Special Scene

A famous screenwriter and director is quoted in John Brady’s The Craft of the Screenwriter saying that at heart of any movie is a single scene, a scene that is the reason for the whole story. Maybe I watch too many movies but still…do you have a favourite novel? A book where the climax is that one revealing, crucial scene, a scene that resonates, reverberates with the author’s intent? Scenes without which there is no story, no meaning, no reason to read any further? What are they? What makes them compelling? I think it was Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, who said the above but it may have been Robert Towne who wrote Chinatown. Anyway, screenwriters have to reveal character, push the plot forward with very spare dialogue. Not much back-story allowed. As I drive to the finale of my current novel I find myself almost longing for the discipline of screenwriting some days. I must be looking for that extra special scene.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Open with a BANG!

Last week at Sheridan College, I asked my fiction writing students this question:
“How long do you wait when watching a movie or tv show before switching channels?’

Five minutes?  Two minutes?  30 seconds?  The responses varied, but averaged out at one minute.

I told them: “One minute.  That is one page of movie script.  The first page of a novel.  So you are telling me that if the FIRST PAGE of writing doesn’t grab you, you don’t give the book/movie/sitcom a chance?”

Struck dumb, is how they looked.  Yes, audiences are a fickle lot now.  You have to grab them on your first page these days, and better – with your first line!

How to do it?

Start in the middle of something.  Start with action or dialogue.  Do NOT open with the weather, or description of location, or simple back-story.  Start with the meat.

Here’s an example from my novel, Rowena Through the Wall:

“I saw the first one right after class.”

This is a perfect opening line to teach from.  This sentence does many things:

  1. It opens with the protagonist.  “I saw” – from this, we know that the book will be in first person – we are introduced to our protagonist.

In fiction, readers expect the first person they encounter, to be the protagonist.  This is the character they expect to become attached to.  Don’t disappoint them.

  1. It opens with mystery:  “I saw the first one...”
First one of what?  And – it’s the first, so we know there will be more!  Lots of questions to intrigue the reader.

  1. It gives some clue to setting.  “…right after class.” 

In those well-chosen eight words, we have introduced the protagonist, the setting and a mystery.

Other good openers:

“He was a well-dressed burglar, Marge had to admit.” (from “School for Burglars")

Marge is the protagonist; she is watching a burglary in progress.  Talk about opening in the middle of something!  And we have a picture of the burglar in our minds.

“The thing that shocked Emily was how incredibly easy it was to hide a murder.”
(from “Life Without George”)

Emily is the protagonist, and probably a murderer.  Will she get away with it?  Will we want her to get away with it?

All this, from one line.  Open your books with a bang!  Your readers will keep reading.

Melodie's book 'Rowena Through the Wall' hit no. 2 on bestseller list (fantasy, futuristic) in Aug.
Follow Melodie's comic blog on
Twitter: @MelodieCampbell

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Excited About Bouchercon Conference

I leave Monday morning from my mountain village in California for the Bright Lights and Big City Spirit of St. Louis Bouchercon conference.

I learned to my dismay that the hotel I'd chosen--"three blocks from the conference hotel--is actually a mile and a half away. Curses and damnation on these lying reservation call centers. Oh well. I hope it's the worst thing that even happens to me.

I look forward to seeing Janet Costelloe and Karen Dryden-Blake again. We met earlier this year in Santa Fe and liked each other. I absolutely loved Wayne Arthurson's first book set in Edmonton, and if I meet him there, I'll harangue him for the next one.

These big mystery conferences are exciting. You get to see big name writers you've read and admired. You have conversations with new acquaintances about books dear to your heart and you can finish each other's sentences.

More to follow, I'm sure, once all of us are in St. Louis.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Crime Writers Homicide Investigation School

I'm a real straight-arrow so I never meet the "nose-picking, booger-eatin' morons" Sgt Derek Pacifico talked about in his Homicide Investigation school for Crime Writers last weekend in Covina, California.

For a long time I've been collecting "stupid criminal stories", but Derek topped them all. I just never meet AHs (figure it out) who shoot somebody in the face and think they don't die.

A group of us at the California Crime Writers' Conference in June 2011 heard him give a 4-hour presentation on Interview and Interrogation techniques and were spellbound. We wanted more and he dished it up for us.

Pacifico was funny, serious, thoughtful and thought-provoking. As a law enforcement trainer he's travelled the country teaching the same material to cops. He's worked Homicide Detail as well as all the other facets of police work and now is a Sergeant with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office.

He liked us because we wanted to learn and didn't sit there, arms crossed, giving off testosterone fumes, and the attitude of "Yeah, dude, go ahead. Teach me something I don't know." He was honest and forth-coming about what really lies behind the crime scene tape.

We liked him because he's just plain likeable. From video clips we saw he's got a line of jokey, rapport-building bullshit with criminals in the interrogation room that got him a lot of confessions. I can see why.

The case studies were particularly interesting because they provided a reconstruction of what first just looked like confusion--and probably was. We learned the tedium of stringing a scene and blood, bugs and graves. It's not exciting the way it is on TV.

He's talking about setting up a conference of some length just for crime writers bringing in experts he teaches and works with. Where? To be decided.

I can't wait.

Check him out at Global Training Institute. See also Jude McGee's write-up for Ransom Notes.

PS Sorry I can't figure out how to link in this software.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Saved by a quarter hour

It’s been a long hot, humid summer and the crisp fall air can’t come soon enough.

As one of those individuals who suffers in torrid atmospheric conditions – my brain turns to mush – I admit my resolve to finish to my writing project by the autumn has suffered tremendously: from ennui, sluggish holiday recovery, family crises, procrastination and laziness. Should I give it up? It certainly feels like it.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve been carrying a host of characters around in my head, trying to finish this MS for what seems like eons. Life keeps breaking out around me, throwing up challenges and problems, hassles and calamities. I’m getting a bit tired of these make-believe creatures. They clamor to set about and do things, make pronouncements and go off on tangents. And as prepared as I am to bow to their wishes, I’m supposed to be somewhere else - in real time - in fifteen minutes, or half an hour. And so they wait, impatient, and displaying characteristics I have not yet assigned to them.

What to do? Karen Blake-Hall, our fearless writing group leader, is a firm believer in the fifteen-minutes-a-day regime, especially if you’re on the run. But I write in chunks, I say. What on earth could I achieve in fifteen minutes?

Well, Karen, I’m a convert. You can achieve a lot in fifteen minutes. And the best accomplishment is regaining your momentum. It doesn’t take much. Fifteen stretches to a half hour; a half hour is suddenly an hour. And if tomorrow is busy?

Fifteen minutes will do. You stay in touch with your work. You quiet those characters for a bit and seize control once more.

Mired. Stuck. Blocked. Whatever it is, it seems to just take a nudge – fifteen minutes at a time. At least for now.

Bring on the cool air. My head needs clearing.

Killing is Murder

The coming theme of the National Crime Writing Month Blog is "50 Ways to Kill Your Lover".

At the risk of jumping the gun, committing murder on paper isn't as easy as it looks. Here are 7 ways NOT to kill your lover.

  1. Shoot your lover point blank - GSR is a bitch to get out of your clothes.
  2. Shoot your lover at a distance with a hand gun - unless you have practice, chances are you'll miss.
  3. Stab your lover through the heart - again, not as easy as it looks. You have to get past the ribs and actually find the heart.
  4. Stab your lover anywhere without making a mess. While inflicting a mortal wound isn't too difficult. It's much harder to stab without causing a long and noisy death.
  5. Bludgeon your lover anywhere without making a mess. It isn't just that blood splatter. It's the negative images where parts of your body gets in the way of the blood splatter. You can get rid of your clothes, but its hard to get rid of walls.
  6. Strangle, smother, or any other method that requires brute strength unless your murderer is very strong or your victim is very weak or incapacitated. (There's a reason women traditionally use poison except...)
  7. Drug overdose - if you want an instant death. Drugs and ingested poisons take time to work. They're also messy because the body tries to purge the toxins. I found a way around this in my next book, but first I had to be lectured by a medical friend of mine who read an early draft. (More about that when I write for the NCWM blog.)
Of course, any of these obstacles can be overcome which brings us to "How Real Investigation Don't Work Like CSI" - but that's another story.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Honouring A Reading Companion

Like many avid book lovers, I do not often read alone. My life has been rich with cats, from Snooker in Ottawa, to Smudge and Tart through high school, to Manon, Syzygy, and Synergy. Manon passed away last week, but only after being the centre of a number of legendary stories. This is the story of how she spent her twilight days.

My elderly cat, Manon, has decided to spend her remaining days as Manon, Queen of the Balcony.
On the July long weekend, I took her out to soak in the sun. I get direct light from 7-9 a.m. We’ve done this for years.

But this time, when I brought her in, she hopped down, and like a kitten, scooted between my legs to go back out before I could close the door!

It was warm, I was home, and she wasn’t going to have heatstroke as the sun had passed, so I let her stay out. About noon, she started crying by the sliding door.

I went to check on her. She gave me a Look, and moved into Attitude Meowing.

I finally got the message: “Oh, useless Servant, bring me my repast!”

So she ate out there, napped, eliminated, napped. At dusk I brought her in and she vaguely remembered that her previous favourite pastime was sitting on me while I read.

But the next morning, after having her Iam’s with a side of yogurt, she was at the door, donning her Regal Ways. I let her out, and hours later had to drag her in so I could do errands. As soon as I returned, she went back out.

By the Monday night, when I brought her in, she did a sit-in by the screen door, wailing. I had to turn off the AC, and have the maximum screen door in use (with a temp litter box handy) so she could sleep by her Queendom.

Tuesday, I had to go to work. She belligerently threatened to have the SPCA called for animal cruelty if I didn’t let her out for the day.

She’s 19, diagnosed with oral cancer (the vet agreed we’ll just do hospice, with no intervention), so who am I to say she can’t spend her last days how she pleases? She does let me bring her in for the odd hour of reading, and a couple of nights she’s agreed to sleep with me. She is one happily retired kitty!

However, her Queendom and powers of persuasion are expanding. I think she has cowed the Weather Gods, as it has not rained ONE DROP since she took up her new residence. (3 weeks!)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

NaNoWriMo from a writer's viewpoint

I've done NaNo a couple of times. As a writer, I discovered a lot about myself and my story. You discover if you have endurance or not. Yes, endurance, not how long you can run before you succumb to muscle fatigue but how long can you sit in a chair before you become numb from the waist down? 

The next thing you discover is whether you prefer M & M's or Reese's pieces and cola or coffee? Remember you are pushing to write as many words as you can each day so stopping for food slows you down.

The hardest thing for me to discover was that the family could actually operate without Mommy. This is both a  blessing and a curse. It's great that I've raised the kids to be self-sufficient but it hurts my feelings that they are.

So Jill, here are some other questions to ask the authors of your panel.

- M & M's or Reese's Pieces, cola or coffee?
- Are you prepared for your characters to veer off your storyboard and go their own way?
- Food, do you have your freezer full of quick to cook meals?

Have fun and good luck to all participating in this year's NaNo.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Don't Lecture Me! It's all about Entertainment

The other day, an American interviewer challenged me about the purpose of fiction; should it always contain a moral message?  Specifically, should crime fiction?

My instant answer:  No No No!  The purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.

Why?  We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave.  Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets, that expose us to the ‘evil’ of greedy politicians, nasty world despots and out of control celebrities. 

If fiction – and crime fiction in particular – was required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much.  If the good guy always won – if the bad guy always got caught – wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?

Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something?  Of course it can!  Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours.  Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist.  Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.

Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while.  But above all else, entertain me.  Don’t preach at me, even from a distance.  I don’t want it from my fiction.

Just tell me a damn good story, thank you.  Take me out of the real world for a few hours.

That’s the purpose of crime fiction.

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at
Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin Books) is available at,,, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

If you were just beginning...

I'm planning an October panel discussion of published authors, as a prelude to "NaNoWriMo" (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to be as useful as possible to people who are going to begin (many for the first time) writing a novel. The format will be that a moderator will ask the authors 5 or 6 questions, letting each author take a few minutes to reply to each one.

Possible questions:
  • What is your writing schedule?
  • Where do you write and what tools, machinery, music do you have there?
  • How do you begin - story boarding, outlining, character sketches...?

    Think back to when you were beginning. What did you need to know? What was interesting, what was inspiring, what helped?

    What else should I ask?

  • Tuesday, 9 August 2011

    We Are Not Alone...

    The online universe is still expanding. There were many wonderful mystery blogs going strong when Write On Mystery was set up. Indeed, we couldn’t even go with our first three choices for blog name!

    Here is just ONE of the mystery blog lists I came across:

    My first real experience with a mystery blog was with the Ladykillers, top Mystery Book Blog 2010. This is an impressive blog, with author photos, links to websites, appearances, advance promotion of upcoming blog topics, and guest bloggers. Very nice that you don’t have to be a member to comment. They get several responses to most of their entries.

    Another attractive blog,, has been around since 2009. This one focuses on reviews. They have over 400 members, and interviews with the likes of Jan Burke and L. J. Sellers.

    A Canadian contribution to the sub-genre is They use lots of photos, including latest book cover of the blogger.

    The Cozy Mystery List blog comes up often when using Google. It’s a simpler format, focused on the cozy sub-genre of mysteries.

    Using the theory that we are all one big supportive community, I encourage you to check out these blogs, and find more wonderful ones. Post there if you like, and if appropriate plug Write On Mystery.

    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    Defining Success

    How do you define your success?

    Success is defined in the dictionary as: degree or measure of succeding; favourable or desired outcome. As writers we define success as a contracted book but there are more ways for us to count our successes.

    One of the ways I count my success is writing one hundred words a day. They have to be new words so when I do editing I still have to write my hundred words a day. Now you might say that's not much of a challenge but I usually don't stop at a hundred words. I get two or three pages done each day, more on days I don't go to work but if all I get is two pages every day for seven days, then I have fourteen pages or a chapter every week. At the end of the year, I've written fifty-two chapters. Whoo! Whoo! for me.

    Accountability is another way to measure success. Another group has word count Wednesday. Now that means that every Wednesday you post your success. Now many words have you written? Have you entered a contest? Have you submitted to an editor or an agent? In othe words, what have you actually done for your writing career for that week.

    In another writing group we have success bracelets. Now what sister doesn't want a lovely bracelet with each step of her writing career symbolized by a charm? I'm typing this article and looking at the way my charm bracelet reflects the light. It's a wonderful measure of success.

    I hope I've given you some ideas that you can incorporate into defining your success as a writer.

    Series entries

    I just finished the new Sookie Stackhouse short story in Home Improvement: Undead Edition (edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner). The short stories in the Sookie Stackhouse series have been interesting. Some have depicted pivotal events (such as Sookie being informed of her cousin's death), others have seemed as if they might lead to whole new and amazing story lines (such as Sookie sleeping with a shape-changing fairy - which seems to have had no consequences, at least so far...does anyone know what gestation period would be likely?), this story may have introduced a new ongoing character, or added another complication for Sookie if anyone searches her land. If we gained new insight into any character, it may have been J.B.!

    In Dark and Stormy Knights (edited by P.N. Elrod) the new Harry Dresden story by Jim Butcher is fun, introduces a new character who may be a player in the series future, and shows us a side of Harry that we already know, but that we love. I have to say that my favorite short story of the last few years was "The Warrior" by Jim Butcher published in Mean Streets. Lovely entry in the series, character growth for Harry, and a different view of the series (and the world) for the reader!

    The latest Jim Butcher novel, Ghost Story, is an interesting series entry. Some entries in series are game changers, others circle back to the status quo, and some seem like second halves of the story told in the previous book. Ghost Story seemed to me to be the second half of Changes, and the two together are a game changer in the series. Changes raised some disturbing ethical questions about Harry. In Ghost Story some of the questions raised are answered, and the story (the entire series) can move forward in a new direction. Nicely done! This is not the book that one should use as an introduction to the series, but it is essential for those who follow Harry Dresden.

    The series entry I'm anxiously awaiting is the "Ivan" book in the Vorkosigan saga. If anyone is interested in a taste of the Lois McMaster Bujold series, there are links to free "samples" from the series in the Baen Free Library:

    The Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning"

    and one of the prime entry-point books for the Vorkosigan series, The Warrior's Apprentice.

    Monday, 1 August 2011

    Dog days and holidays

    A week by the sea – not a thought spared for writing, even emails – and there’s a curious lightness to my being, a certain liberty from all things cerebral that is enlightening and emancipating.

    A more enterprising would-be writer would count a holiday as a break to really get down to some serious writing. Not me. I’d rather relish the things that live and play outside my head, rather than the characters that inhabit it daily, crying out for dialogue, action, plot.

    So, I’ve come home. They haven’t. They’ve been away, too, God knows where, and at this point I don’t really care. It’s hot, the AC isn’t strong enough, my desk sits in direct sunlight. An added fan brings some relief, yet still my hot brain doesn’t want to write. I’m still on a beach. My toes are in the sand, my head under a straw hat. My heart is still cooling itself in the ocean. I no more want to sweat it out with a passel of words that need re-arranging and rewriting than do the proverbial flight to the moon.

    My characters all live in England. It’s November there, it’s rainy a lot of the time, and there’s angst and a few murders to be solved. They’re all wearing wool suits and good stout shoes and it’s cold. There’s fog, drizzle and each home, office or building they enter and inhabit is damp, moldy, and without central heat. All in all, it’s a world away from our hot summer. A bit of cold damp is highly appealing right now, but how to get there? How to recapture the presence and personalities of those characters that were carefully produced and assembled in my head? I’ve missed their foibles and strengths, curiosity and courage, but I’m reluctant, in these dog days of our brief summer, to plunge into their world again.

    Those experts are right: One must write every single day, otherwise you risk losing your momentum, your flow, your initiative. Seems mine went out with the tide and didn’t return.

    But write I must, heat or no heat. The people in my head seem to be returning, even as I plunk away here at the keyboard, and they’re beginning to hammer at the door to my overheated creativity. They want out again. They want to get back to work. They tell me they were at the seaside, too, walking the beach, dining out, gazing at stars, breathing that energizing sea air. They enjoyed the break from the November rain, they say. Now it’s time to get back to solving those appalling murders. Fun is fun, but justice is far more important, they say. So get over it and get back to it.

    The dog days, at least for now, seem to be over. So are my holidays.

    Sunday, 31 July 2011

    Seat of Pants to Chair for Long Periods of Time

    The question circulated amongst us here of how we keep ourselves motivated to write during the summer. As a Canadian, now living in the mountains in Central California, the end of winter lifts the heart. It's cold and it snows here. That surprises people.

    When summer comes, doors and windows fly open. We move laptops out to the deck and shed clothes until we're down to only one layer.

    Much of the last few months as summer settled in with one nice day after another, I've been working with Jodie Renner, an editor specializing in mystery and thriller fiction, whom I met at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Santa Fe this March.

    We engaged to work with one another over my second murder mystery, Rip-Off, featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department.

    I've worked as a free lance editor over my years of wordsmithing. When anyone hands you their precious manuscript, there is the hope that you will hand it back, gushing, "Oh, it's perfect. I've alerted the awards committee. I wouldn't change a single word. You genius, you."

    I admit it. Me too. And, of course, it wasn't perfect, and she suggested many changes. I bristled at some, sulked for half a day, and then did what she suggested.

    I've kept at it while my friends went swimming, picked cherries, had picnics and parties, organized expeditions driving into Los Angeles to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and the Santa Monica Pier.

    I kept at it even when it felt like picking over the bones of road kill because, first of all, I was paying her. She asked questions that made me think. She was encouraging just enough to drive me through a second and third revision of a chapter. Occasional compliments made me preen with self-satisfaction, until the next page when she wanted to delete a section. I thought of offering her a knife to chisel the words from my breast instead.

    It became a collaboration. So much time is spent alone, seat of pants pressed to chair for long periods of time. I've had a partner, someone who knew my story as well as I did.

    Now our partnership has come to an end, and my manuscript is immeasurably improved. As you all know, it's only the beginning of the next phase.

    And it's still August.

    Wednesday, 27 July 2011

    The difficulty of creation/ease of destruction and grants

    Today on National Public Radio's Morning Edition
    there was a story about the cliff-high Buddha statues in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban. A group funded by the UN is trying to piece them back together. Destroying them took moments, rebuilding them will take years (and skill, and patience, and hard work). Destruction is cheap. I thank God for people who stand against it by creating (and re-creating...)

    Creating is expensive, especially in terms of time and hard work! In response to Janet's challenge I went web-searching for financial support to sustain writers as they work at creation. I have never applied for these grants, so I can't say much about the process.

    For the search I simply went to Google and searched "grants writing .gov". I found that the primary support from the Federal Government for writing is through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts: So I looked for "regrants" on a more local level via Google: "grants writing California" (since I'm in California). There were a few interesting items in the results. One was "Women Arts"

    I ran a new search, replacing "writers" with "literary" to get away from the many grant writing sites, Google: ".gov california grants literary" led me to the California Arts Council Site:

    So, there are grants out there. Go forth and create!

    Tuesday, 26 July 2011

    Mystery Grants

    This year, I’ve become aware of some of the writing grants available for mystery writers.

    Grants do not have to be repaid. They may come from the government, schools or non-profit agencies. They may provide money for publishing, courses, retreats, attending conferences, research, and to support minorities.

    As I’m in Canada, I’ll use two Canadian examples.

    The Canada Council for the Arts is probably the most visible supporter. Many mysteries I’ve seen in the last year have included thanks to this institution. They provide support for the creation, translation, publication and promotion of Canadian literature, the Writing and Publishing Section funds author residencies, literary readings and festivals. They have provided funding regularly to Bloody Words, and on the BW 2010 site, it is shown that they invested over $20 million dollars in writing and publishing in Canada.

    The Toronto Arts Council, is very regionally specific funding. They have Writers grants for individual artists, and Project Grants. They will not invest in publishing, but they do support many aspects of the writing life.

    The paperwork can be a little intimidating, but if this helps you to pursue your dream, I think you can work your way through it quite adeptly.

    Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: post on the blog a brief description, of any writing funding for which mystery writers could be eligible.

    Sunday, 24 July 2011

    Norway and the Truest Sentence You Can Write

    This was supposed to be a lighthearted blog on things that can kick-start our brains for writing: running, movies, crosswords…

    But the world has intruded. The Norway shootings, the Somalia famine, grip us, inspire pity and fear. What if it was my kid at summer camp when the maniac opened up? Or what if I was that hungry mother or father in Somalia dragging myself and my starving little ones hundreds of miles in search of food and a dirty bit of tent to sleep under?

    Fleeing war and famine or right-wing lunatics -- who would have time to daydream characters and situations, plot and setting? Is it even right to be so involved in our little fictional worlds when the real one needs help?

    Let’s look at Prableen Kaur: As a deputy leader of Norway’s Labour party’s youth wing she was trying in her own way to make the world a better place before Friday’s massacre. Instead she ran for her life along with hundreds of other youth persecuted by a madman. But in the middle of the most terrible event that had ever happened to her she prayed, and then, updated her face book and Twitter accounts and after her rescue blogged her first person story. She was reaching out, making contact and telling the truth she saw. That blog will probably form part of the case against the attacker, Anders Breivik when it comes to court. Apart from surviving, it was the most important thing she could do.

    So my question is, is it enough to witness to what’s going on and write the truest sentence that we know as Anne Lamott says in her tough and funny memoir, Bird by Bird? Or should we be actively engaged in making the world a better place? Or both? And if we can only do one of then which should it be?