Writing When You Just Don’t Have The Time


A while back I saw an article in the book section of the Huffington Post called “Finding Time to Write During a Busy Holiday Schedule.

I am finishing one major project and starting another, while preparing for speaking engagements and conferences in early 2015 where I will (hopefully) promote Well Read, Then Dead.

And yet the holiday season is upon us, what is a writer to do? Well, my least favorite line in the HuffPo article is: “Also, give yourself a little slack this time of year.” My personal experience is that with just a little slack, I become Terrie the Slacker and am hard pressed to get back on track. However the article does suggest that we writers take “inventory of any free time”and use it.

Now, that is something I can do—even without a laptop. It is almost a joke among the staff of my medical practitioners that I write, edit and sometimes research in their waiting rooms. I also have been found working in the laundry room of my apartment complex, in the shoe store while the sales person checks to see if they have the SAS sneakers in my size, in the tire shop while my car is being serviced, and in my car on line waiting to collect one or another grandkid from school. And one memorable moment I got caught short on the check-out line in the supermarket. The people ahead of me were quicker than I realized, and by the time they got to me, I hadn’t put a single item on the conveyor belt, but I did edit three pages, so I was happy even if no one behind me was.

And you? How do you find time to write when life tries to take over?


Do You Like Crime Novel Prologues?

Considering prologues in novels, this image that opens Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais looks so wonderful and important, how could any reader distrust its quality?

In a recent guest post at Writer’s Digest, Jeff Gerke trots right across one of my personal landmines, The Prologue Beginning, demonstrated with an example that rekindles my rage every time I recall it:

Game of Thrones (the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin’s novels) begins with a prologue showing less-than-minor characters discovering a new danger in the land.

YES! And some of us rubes were interested, too. Do you know how long adherents to that “story promise” had to wait to get back to The Others?! Aaaaaarrrrgh. (Yes, I’ve read 4 and then some in the cycle. I refuse to finish reading the last one extant until their creator finishes his part. If GRRM can leave me hanging, seemingly conscienceless, well, right back atcha buddy.) And this illustrates one of my principle problems with many prologues: their disconnection from the essential story being told. At worst, they’re a bit of optional or even misleading set dressing, and let’s be frank, in crime novels, our especial concern, there are dangerous temptations. For example, the scary dream sequence. You know, something like this:

…The blood was her own!

Dr. Gina, the extremely intelligent but also incredibly sexy profiler, found herself awake again, the sweat from another nightmare sticking her tissue-thin shirt to her enviable corpus. She had survived [name of the supergenius serial killer about-to-escape from prison], and the scars had healed so well they’d barely needed Photoshop on her recent Person of the Year cover. So why was she so afraid?

Then again, there’s always the lure of the serial killer’s internal monologue:

It was always the same. Always different and yet new. Always in italics and with gender-obscuring pronouns or lack of same. The headaches again! No, Mommy, I won’t let you down this time!

I’m picking on the serial killer tales a bit, but I’ve read a lot of them and feel entitled. (Doesn’t mean I’ve given up, however. As I once heard an acquiring editor for sff say: I never wanted to read another dragon story, and then I read this one, and knew I needed at least one more. Yep. That’s how they get you.) Here’s the more illuminating stuff Mr. Gerke had to say about the anti-prologuers, a position into which I fear I may have hardened like an insect in amber, needing the chisel of a great new story to set me free.

As you probably know, we’re in disputed territory when we talk about prologues. Many fiction experts tell writers never to write a prologue, while others (like me) say prologues are great.

The Anti-Prologuers argue that: 1) No one reads prologues; 2) Prologues are just dumping grounds for backstory; and 3) Prologues prevent you from getting to the main action of the story.

The Pro-Prologuers (Pro-Loguers?) contend that: 1) 95 percent of fiction readers do read prologues; 2) Any portion of a book that is a dumping ground for backstory should be cut—not because it has the word prologue at the top but because telling instead of showing is lazy writing; and 3) Prologues allow you to set the right tone for your novel without having your protagonist onstage doing something heroic.

In the post, also discusses 3 more approaches: the Hero Action Beginning, the In Media Res Beginning, and the Frame Device, which you can go read more about. They’re all excerpted from his book Write Your Novel in a Month. But for my our purposes here in CrimeTown, do you have a strong opinion on prologues, pro or con? Naturally, any of yours are excepted from any objection of mine, and I’ll give bonus points for directing me to any other great recent crime prologues I’ve missed that will make me eat my words!

Leading image via the University of Adelaide.


I have discovered sprinting. Nope, not the running on a track kind.


I’m not a big exercise lover, and even if I were, some ortho issues would insure it would not be running in any form.

And not the long-distance phone kind either. Sprint

It’s a writing sprint.Yes,it’s a new form of an old idea.

I become a Facebook friend, as one does, with someone I do not know but who is a friend of a friend. And somehow I started seeing messages about this sprint group. I finally broke down and asked.

At 7:00 AM the members “show up” on Facebook, and “sign in” and then write nonstop for an hour. That’s the whole deal. That’s the sprint.

Of course it is voluntary, a kind of club with no officers or dues. Of course it is kind of a mind game. Saying it in “public”, as Facebook is in a sense, becomes the commitment. The idea is that we accomplish some writing before the day interferes. And half asleep (at least I am then!) we let it flow. No fussing about perfect sentences, no obsessing about structure or pacing.

Many mornings I oversleep altogether as I tend to be a nightowl. So I sign in at 8 or 9, and put in my hour. Some weeks life interferes every day, especially if I am traveling, and it is impossible to get in that morning hour.

Nevertheless, and much to my surprise, it’s working for me. Back in the days when I was trying to write and had a demanding job and children, I always scoffed at the standard advice to get up an hour earlier to write. I was ALREADY getting up an hour before I wanted to! (See above under nightowl)


Now, many days I wake up, head straight for the computer and put in an hour before I even have my morning tea. On a good day- a good day would be one where I actually know what happens next in the WIP – I can knock off four or five pages. On a bad day –when I have no clue whatever about the next scenes – I stare at the screen for an hour. However, even on those days, often the next scene unfolds in my mind later. The early morning screen-staring was not a waste of time, no matter how it felt.

Ultimately, the whole point comes down to this: you can’t revise what you haven’t written. Anyone care to join me at 7:00 AM? I’d be happy to share the information.
It is working for me. I couldn’t be more surprised.


New Webzine in Town

Jack Hardway’s Crime Magazine, a newly launched webzine, is well worth a visit for fans and writers of short crime fiction and of noir in various formats. The first issue features six short stories by names you’ll recognize, such as Stephen Rogers and Kaye George, and others you’ll be glad to discover, including a fine noir short by Hardway himself.

Jack Hardway is the alias of writer and editor Dan Persinger, who’s developed a multimedia webzine that makes good use of the rich resources of the Internet. The noir theme prevails, from the graphics and music to the following offerings, available with a click of the mouse: The Big Combo, a film noir gem from 1955 starring Richard Conte, Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace; “Sorry, Wrong Number,” the 1945 rebroadcast of the raBlackWingsHasMyAngeldio play starring Agnes Moorehead; and Elliott Chaze’s widely praised novel Black Wings Has My Angel, newly edited and with an introduction by Jack. Can’t wait to read it; in fact, it’s already on my Nook. On that subject, I know from using Project Gutenberg that Amazon puts obstacles in the way of downloading a freebie from another source, so if anyone knows how to circumvent them, please share.

Happy holidays all. It feels like Santa’s already been here.

Writers please note: Click here for submission requirements to Jack Hardway’s Crime Magazine.

Read Me a Bedtime Story

audiblebooksI was very pleased to see the recent post by Clare Toohey about the rise in listening to audible books. I’ve been an avid listener for many years now. With the right narrator, a books comes alive and you become engrossed in the story quickly. Likewise, a narrator that doesn’t grasp the tone of the book can make listening like hear fingernails on a chalk board.

Still, audible books are wonderful for listening while driving, doing a workout, walking, and any number of activities. In fact, they’ve replaced the radio in my life.

One of the thing I’ve found I enjoy the most is listening to a book before I go to sleep. As most children know, there’s something very soothing about listening to a comforting voice reading a story. It’s just a minor difference that my stories usually revolve around a murder or the actions of a supernatural creature.

There are those who don’t care for it. My daughter-in-law says she just can’t keep up with all the characters when listening. My daughter, however, finds the snarls of Atlanta traffic the perfect place to listen to a book.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, sales have risen in recent years. With the easy access to listening with smart phones, they’re becoming more popular.

What’s your view on audible books? Do you have a favorite you listen to over and over? I’ve been revisiting Nora Roberts’ books this way, and I love the werewolf back Patricia Briggs writes about.

I’ve heard it’s also another good source of income for a writer. More good news!


More Giveaways


Today I am being interviewed by Anna over at Cozy Mystery Book Reviews.  We talk about food,movies, music, shopping and, of course, books.

Since it is the season of giving of course there are prizes. Hop on over, make a  comment and you just may win a Well Read, Then Dead tee shirt.


And if you visit Lisa K’s Book Reviews there may be a free copy of our Sisters in Crime Chapter Anthology, Murder New York Style: Family Matters in your future. Take a look. It is easy to enter.

Good luck to you all.


Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress

I’ve always had a secret desire to be a spy. (I think I may have confessed that here once or twice.) But since that profession didn’t readily present itself when I was ready to choose a career, I had to settle for reading about them.

John LeCarré, Eric Ambler, Len Deighten, Ian Fleming, all captured my young imagination with their daredevil characters and exotic settings. But no one more so than Helen MacInnis.

A Sunday New York Times Book Review Critic’s Take article “Spies Like Her” brought it all back to me. As the writer, Sarah Weinman, suggests Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress, was ahead of her time, writing about such events as Israel bombing Gaza and the Russians invading a part of the Ukraine years before the recent events.

She was married to Gilbert Highet, a classics scholar who was also a MI6 British intelligence agent. And, it was generally thought she might have used classified information in creating some of her 21 books. In fact, according to a biography of the writer on Wikopedia, her third novel, Assignment in Brittany was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French Resistance against the Nazis.

Her novels took me all over the globe and painted a vivid picture of a world very different from mine filled with more intrigue and adventure than a girl from the Bronx could expect. A world I would love to have been a part of, and I like to think, that I’ve captured in my own writing.

I checked my bookshelf before writing this and found two of her novels, Agent In Place and Message from Malaga, both of which I plan to reread as soon as possible.

51lvZbTY-QL._AA160_Agent In Place
When the idealist is duped to reveal sensitive information, when the ‘agent in place’ is forced into the open, disaster strikes.
The NATO Memorandum, classified Top Secret, is the lethal prize sought by Soviet Intelligence in the deadly game that continues relentlessly beneath the dubious veneer of détente. A cryptic telephone call to a Russian ‘sleeper’ in Washington, a mugging-murder of an unidentifiable man in New York’s Central Park, an anonymous Memorandum—and Helen MacInnes’s new adventure is launched.

51hZgAgV7kL._AA160_Message From Malaga
Sunny Spain, sudden death!
Ian Ferrier, on vacation from the U.S. Space agency, would not have believed his reunion with a trusted friend would lead to murder, or that he would hold the key to expose a vicious conspiracy for assassination, or that he would be plunged into a desperate pursuit in which he was as much the hunted as the hunter. Yet that is the opening of this spellbinding tale set in the deceptively serene and vividly picturesque cities of Malaga and Granada.



Short Crime Serials: Back to the Future?

Radio-Serial-Broadcast.comMy Sunday Bouchercon panel was a great one, and I moderated a group of short fiction writers, including John Shepphird, Steve Steinbock, Jay Stringer, Brian Thornton, and Michael Sears (who co-writes as Michael Stanley).

For being in the last timeslot when panels were held, and as most people begin leaving on Sunday, our last-chance saloon was well-attended (!). Our audience had enough short story pros to have overthrown the dais and done a wonderful panel themselves, but they kindly didn’t.

Two of the questions I asked were about serialized short fiction and audio versions of short stories, both interesting forms that I’d think could find some traction in the electronic market. I also specifically asked whether we needed to do audio serials with cliffhangers in the old style, like The Shadow, or whether there was a modern way to approach it that could build that suspense without feeling kitschy or retro–not that I’m against either of those things, oh, not at all. But not every story is best served by that level of overt theatricality.

The panel’s views were mixed as they didn’t all listen to audiobooks, but all knew people who were avid listeners and had heard that audiobooks were growing in popularity. There seemed to be some sense that yes, this venue for short crime could/should work, but had it yet? And what was working? And who could afford to experiment enough to figure it out?

One answer may include Jeffrey Deaver and Audible.com, owned by Amazon. Deaver is no slouch as a short fiction author, and in this recent New York Times article (“An Art Form Rises: Audio Without the Book” by Alexandra Alter), a recent new project is discussed:

… a globe-spanning mystery about a grizzled war crimes investigator, isn’t available in bookstores. It won’t be printed at all. The story was conceived, written and produced as an original audio drama for Audible, the audiobook producer and retailer. If Mr. Deaver’s readers want the story, they’ll have to listen to it.

“The Starling Project,” which came out in mid-November, will test the appetite for an emerging art form that blends the immersive charm of old-time radio drama with digital technology. It’s also the latest sign that audiobooks, which have long been regarded as a quaint backwater of the publishing industry and an appendage to print, are coming into their own as a creative medium.

Below, you can listen to a seven-minute sample of the project, which stars Alfred Molina.

Read the whole article for for interesting new projects on the horizon and the surprising breakout of a true-crime, episodic podcast called “Serial,” which examines the 1999 murder of a girl in Maryland and has been streamed or downloaded more than 5 million times since October–wow!

Hearing about such vibrant and interesting new markets for crime stories is music to my ears, but what do you think?

Leading image from Shadow Cabaret, who has loads of great info and images from old serials!

One Author’s Attempt to Create an Online Presence – Part III


Remember when the only way to contact someone directly was to call them on the phone or maybe stop by their house? I long for the days where my social world was limited by the cord attached to my phone or the number of doorbells I could ring.

Now, it’s up to me to master the myriad of social media options which seem to pop-up faster than a game of Whac-A-Mole. Moreover, I’ve got to integrate my social media connections in such a way that readers develop a consistent image of who I am as an author.

Does that sound like a pile garbage? Well, I hope so because my main character, CeCe Prentice, is a dumpster diver and I have to find a way to translate her wacky love of re-purposing discarded items across the social media landscape.

Jann Mirichandi, at Westchester Marketing Café, forwarded me a helpful social media exercise that I might be able to apply to my work. The exercise highlights the unique strength of each media option. Here’s Jann’s example using donuts.

FACEBOOK:           I like donuts

TWITTER:               I’m eating #donuts

INSTAGRAM:        Here is a Polaroid-esque photo of donuts

YOUTUBE:              Here I am eating donuts

LINKEDIN:             My skills include eating donuts

PINTEREST:           Here is a recipe for donuts

Perfect! Let’s see if it works for my book, Drawing Conclusions, a soft-boiled mystery featuring my dumpster-diving protagonist whose alternative lifestyle proves instrumental in solving a murder.

FACEBOOK:           I like garbage

TWITTER:               I’m eating #garbage

INSTAGRAM:        Here is a Polaroid-esque photo of garbage

YOUTUBE:              Here I am eating garbage

LINKEDIN:             My skills include eating garbage

PINTEREST:           Here is a recipe for garbage

Hmmm, I’m not sure this is what I envisioned for my social media strategy. However, I’m still intrigued by the concept of integrating social media in a way that optimizes each media’s strength.

Perplexed by this exercise, but eager to solve this social media mystery, I started to think about visual elements related to my books that are appealing as opposed to offensive. No one wants to see someone eating garbage, but I still love Jann’s example and I want it to work for me.

Should I take pictures of dumpsters and rate them on cleanliness? Maybe I could decorate my garbage cans on holidays and post to Instagram? Am I talented enough to create garbage art? Is it legal to search through strangers’ garbage for clues to a crime they never committed?

Before I get ahead of myself, I quickly realized my effort has to be easy to execute and easy to replicate. The social media world expects updates regularly! As it turns out, I’m not in a position to drive around town searching for dumpsters, nor am I capable of creating garbage art or crafting with garbage.

I do, however, welcome new ideas on how to present the topic of recycling in a fun, friendly, and visually appealing way. I’d like readers to say, “Verne. Her main character is the MacGyver of garbage, a green heroine whose resourcefulness helps solve the crime.”

All comments welcome!