Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mason and Poirot and Holmes, oh my!


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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: If you don't know Jon Land, it's probably because you can't catch up with him. The man is ridiculously crazily everywhere--he's talented, generous, prolific and a terrific out-of-the ballpark teacher. If you ever get a chance to take a class, or read his books--just...do it.

And now, he's undertaken a a task of the heart. Undertaken a project that brings tears to our eyes--we miss our dear Donald Bain and Renee Paley Bain so much. And Jon has accepted the challenge and the true honor of taking over their Jessica Fletcher books. 

SO. Take a deep breath.  Remember. And give Jon a standing ovation.

How much do you love Jessica Fletcher? Of course.  But what other sleuths have captured our mystery loving hearts?

The fabulous Jon has some candidates.


TOP TEN POP CULTURE SLEUTHS OF ALL TIME
 by Jon Land


To celebrate the publication of A DATE WITH MURDER, my first effort writing as Jessica Fletcher in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series,  let's talk about sleuths we love.  Here's my list of my choices for Top Ten sleuths in pop culture history.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal creation has been a pop culture phenomena ever since Basil Rathbone played him in those great black and white movies co-starring Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. The 18 books and dozens of short stories featuring Holmes had been wildly popular for nearly a century prior to that and adaptations, most recently starring both Robert Downey Jr. (film) and Benedict Cumberbatch (TV), continue to draw large audiences. The quintessential detective born of the equally quintessential series.

HERCULE POIROT: David Suchet made for a perfect Poirot on the PBS series but these Agatha Christie classic mysteries (encompassing 33 books) have spawned several films, including two versions of Murder on the Orient Express. Poirot is considered by many to be the first and last word when it comes to detective fiction. His final adventure, Curtain, which featured Poirot’s demise, wasn’t published until after Christie herself died in keeping with her wishes.

JESSICA FLETCHER: Okay, I’m a little prejudiced. But my first effort in the book series was number forty-seven overall. The series owes its existence, of course, to the fabulously successful television show starring Angela Lansbury in the title role. It ran for a dozen years, all but one of them among the top ten rated shows, spawned four TV movies, and is still enjoying a successful run in syndication on Hallmark Mysteries. Prejudiced or not, it’s safe to say that Jessica is America’s premier sleuth with a near 100% name recognition value.

PHILLIP MARLOWE & SAM SPADE: The classic creations of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett respectively pretty much invented the hardboiled detective tale in both books and film. Who can forget Humphrey Bogart chewing up the scenery as Spade in The Maltese Falcon or as Marlowe in The Big Sleep. Practically every modern-day mystery writer, from Robert Crais to Robert Parker, claim Chandler and Hammett as their forebears and primary influences—with good reason, since the deadpan narratives and steamy dialogue hold up to this day in both books and film.

PERRY MASON:  Enjoy legal thrillers? They owe their existence to this splendid series of eighty books penned by Earl Stanley Gardner and a television show by the same name starring Raymond Burr in the title role that ran for a decade. The episodes, and the books, continue to hold up and the notion of a sleuthing lawyer and his entourage spawned the likes of John Grisham and Scott Turow, not to mention films like The Verdict and The Lincoln Lawyer (film and books by Michael Connelly).

COLUMBO:  What can I say about the rumpled detective famously played by Peter Falk that basically redefined the television mystery? It wasn’t a whodunit so much as how’s-he-gonna-catch ‘em, and Columbo never disappointed. The series invited the audience to play along, searching for the elusive seminal clue that would help the wrinkled trench coat wearer solve the crime in the final reveal. Episodes ran in various forms for an astounding 30+ years. In not a single one did Columbo ever draw his gun or lose his zeal.

SPENSER: Robert Parker deserves much of the credit for resurrecting the hardboiled private eye in the person of Spenser (not first name), a tough guy with a heart of gold and one of fiction’s greatest sidekicks ever in Hawk. In all, 47 books have been published in the series with Ace Atkins taking the reins after Parker’s sudden death in 2010. The series spawned two different television adaptions, featuring Robert Urich and then Joe Montegna, that both made great use of the unique Boston backdrop.

KINSEY MILLHONE: Prior to her death in 2017, Sue Grafton never did get to “Z” in her famed Alphabet Series. Unlike the entries that preceded her on this list, Kinsey never successfully made it to the big or little screen either. But that doesn’t stop her from arguably becoming detective fiction’s finest heroine ever. The light tone and familial backdrops made us feel comfortable in her presence, whether she’s running a bake sale, improving her marksmanship, or solving a murder.

DAVE ROBICHEAUX: The brilliant series featuring this Cajun detective has won numerous awards and have led many to proclaim author James Lee Burke justifiably America’s greatest novelist. The rich tones, textures, and Burke’s brilliantly lyrical voice makes you savor every page, never wanting to flip the last one. And having Robicheaux’s best friend and protector Clete Purcell along for the ride just adds icing to the cake. Both Alec Baldwin and Tommy Lee Jones took their turn playing Robicheaux, but the language and atmosphere of the books didn’t transfer well onto the screen. Still in all, the series helped establish mysteries as worthy of being called literature.

AUGUSTE DUPIN: Edgar Allan Poe’s forerunner of Sherlock Holmes (on which Arthur Conan Doyle admitted he based Sherlock Holmes) rightfully led to him being proclaimed the father of the modern detective novel. Although Dupin’s appearances are limited most famously to Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter, the form and structure of the mystery tale was established forever. Unlike Poe’s more horror-oriented tales, adaptations never caught on, even though none other than Bela Lagosi top-lined a 1932 version of Morgue, though not in the role of Dupin.

I’m already starting to think of some of the names I left off this list. How about you? Who would you add?

HANK: Ooh, a toughie.  Harriet Vane? Morse?  What do you think, Reds and readers? And a copy of Jon's first--and Jessica Fletcher's forty-somethingth--new book to one lucky commenter!

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Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor.
Jon often bases his novels and scripts on extensive travel and research as well as a twenty-five year career in martial arts.  He is an associate member of the US Special Forces and frequently volunteers in schools to help young people learn to enjoy the process of writing.
Jon is the Vice-President of marketing of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and is often asked to speak on topics regarding writing and research.
In addition to writing suspense/thrillers John is also a screenwriter with his first film credit coming in 2005.
Jon works with many industry professionals and has garnered the respect and friendship of many author-colleagues.  He loves storytelling in all its forms.
Jon currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and loves hearing from his readers and aspiring writers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Christine Carbo: Mystery in the Majesty of Glacier National Park

INGRID THOFT

One of the many fantastic things about books is their ability to transport readers to unfamiliar and exotic places.  Christine Carbo, the author of the Glacier Park Mystery Series, is a master of immersing readers in the beautiful, but often unforgiving, landscape of Montana.  I'm thrilled that Christine is joining us today to discuss her latest book, "A Sharp Solitude."  The novel features FBI agent Ali Page as she treads on the edge of a murder investigation in which her daughter's father is the main suspect.  The intersection of her professional life and personal life make for mighty high stakes and a propulsive read.

INGRID THOFT: "A Sharp Solitude" the fourth in your Glacier Mystery series, features FBI investigator Ali Page, for the first time as a point-of-view character.  What made you decide to let Ali be the star of the show this time?

CHRISTINE CARBO: I had a lot of fun writing Ali as a side-character and decided to explore her more in my fourth novel. I plucked her from book three, "The Weight of Night," à la Tana French, and made her the protagonist in "A Sharp Solitude" – a formula I’ve been following throughout the series so far. So yes, this is the first book where we are in her head. Ali is a pistol in "The Weight of Night" where she is introduced as one of the resident local agents called in to take over a case involving a missing boy from one of Glacier Park’s campgrounds during fire season. She comes across as gruff and a bit irate in this book. In "A Sharp Solitude," I dialed her back a little, perhaps because I developed her situation as a mother in addition to being a professional FBI agent, but I still explore issues surrounding her anger and develop her tenacity. She had a less than ideal childhood and carries that with her as she strives to protect her daughter from the kind of difficulties she has as a child. Her father was an addict, abusive to her mother, and spent time in jail for selling drugs.

IPT: Montana, and in particular, Glacier National Park, is essentially another character in the book.  All of your books are so atmospheric and capture the isolation and majesty of their setting.  How did you decide to set your books in Montana, and how did you find your way there from Florida?
CC:  Thank you very much. I love to hear that because I enjoy including the dramatic landscape of where I live into my novels. Of course, too much setting can be a drawback, so I’m always working on finding the right balance. When I decided that I wanted to write crime fiction, I realized that I particularly loved the ones steeped in a strong sense of place: Denise Mina’s Glascow; Elizabeth George’s mysterious English countryside; Tana French’s Dublin; Dennis Lehane’s Boston, John Connelly’s Maine… the list goes on. At first I thought, I just live in Cowtown, USA with no sexy, dynamic, bustling cities around me. As a naïve new writer, I thought, how was I supposed to write what I knew so that it was captivating? (Of course, we all know that what makes a story fascinating is so much more than simply it’s setting!).

However, at the time, it dawned on me that I lived only a half hour from a place that people from all over the nation and the world come to visit. And that place—Glacier National Park—is not only stunning, it’s haunting at times. Plus, some of the local areas around Glacier are economically depressed and tend to have their share of crime. Automatically, when I began to think of Glacier, the awe and fear-inspiring grizzly came to mind, and I began to ponder what would happen if my main character had issues with bears and the very park he needed to conduct an investigation in. Hence, my first book, "The Wild Inside," is as much about whether the protagonist will find some emotional peace as it is about who committed the crime. My second book, "Mortal Fall," featuring a secondary character from the first book, again à la Tana French, also takes place in Glacier. The park, in essence, remains a strong secondary character in "Mortal Fall" and "The Weight of Night." The crime in "A Sharp Solitude" actually takes place right outside of Glacier near its border, so it has a different jurisdiction, but the setting is still extremely dramatic, stark, and isolated.

I came to the mountains when my family moved from Gainesville, Florida to Kalispell, Montana when I was still in middle school. My father left a position as Chief of Neuropathology at the University of Florida simply because he and my mother wanted to move to the mountains. In fact, I often find myself exploring the idea of how one finds the west as a place for personal reinvention, and I think this stems from relocating at a fairly formative age. At first, I hated leaving the beaches and my friends, but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Montana. As Steinbeck says in "Travels with Charlie," “I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love…” However, the mountains are so much more than just a place for adventure—for skiing, hiking, biking, snow-mobiling, and in most of my stories, I try to reflect the ways in which human crime might butt up against the wild.

IPT:  "A Sharp Solitude” couldn’t be more timely in that gun violence is a recurring theme.  What made you hone in on that particular issue?

CC:  I read several articles about tragic gun accidents that had stuck with me, and there were several that took place in my native state of Florida, which spurred on some intense political debates during the 90’s on whether parents should be held criminally liable for crimes committed with their firearm by their children. The incident I wrote about was of course fictional, but I was inspired to write about such accidents anyway in spite of what a divisive topic it has become in our nation. The tragedy at the high school in Santa Fe has shone a spotlight back onto negligent storage laws since the suspect used his father’s weapon. However, in Texas, the suspect’s father will probably be immune from prosecution under the law because Texas law defines a child as 16 or younger, and the suspect is 17.

Additionally, separate from the gun issue, I have always been interested in how disasters and trauma that happen purely by accident can affect children for their entire lives. I also dealt with this topic in "The Weight of Night," how one child’s tragedy and trauma affected her family, her town, and of course, herself. Additionally, I knew someone when I was in high school who died by an accidental gunshot while on a hunting trip in Montana, and that has always stayed with me.

But as far as the national gun debate, I tried to remain neutral about the topic for several reasons. I don’t believe very many readers enjoy it when a writer gets preachy in a novel, so I wanted to stay away from getting too political. At times, I worried I was copping out as a writer, but I believe I stayed true to my characters. My other main character, Reeve, is neutral. In a way, for him to remain impartial is a coping mechanism. He has emotional baggage and he finds that staying clear of the topic is the only way for him to proceed—a form of detachment, yet survival for him, even if others believe it is a cop out.

IPT:  What has surprised you most about being a published author?

CC:  Definitely how supportive and generous the entire community of people who write, read, sell, promote, and loan books is. When I first got published, I was so green at the business. I felt like a tiny spider casting filament around with no place for it to stick. But as I started to go to writers’ and readers’ conferences and visit bookstores and libraries, it became apparent that there is a strong, supportive web in place. I remember being so excited to get a blurb from one of your Jungle Reds, Deb Crombie, for my first book. I didn’t even know Deb then, but she was very generous to help a debut writer like me out, and I always try to do the same for new writers no matter how busy I am.

Even though publishing is an incredibly challenging, tough business, it is also very encouraging and highly rewarding no matter what level of success your books achieve because readers, other authors, booksellers, librarians, bloggers, reviewers, and many, many more in the industry are so amazingly big-hearted. Being your guest on this successful and engaging blog is simply another reflection of how the writing community is so helpful and generous!

IPT:  Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain, something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance?  Non-fiction?  Cookbook?

CC:  I’m pretty happy writing suspense for now, but you never know. I did write two non-genre books years ago in my twenties. I consider them my training-wheel books, and I never seriously tried to publish them. Readers sometimes ask me if I’ll go back to them to update them and try to publish them, and I usually answer that so far, I haven’t had the desire. But you never know what the future holds. I figure there are more than enough sub-genres within crime-fiction to keep me exploring new ways of approaching suspense for a long time to come. So far, psychological procedurals have worked well for me, and I love to write them and tinker with their structure. In fact, I like to think of "A Sharp Solitude" as police procedural meets domestic suspense meets the wild. I can imagine trying an entirely different type of suspense novel at some point.

IPT: I think that's a perfect description of "A Sharp Solitude," and I'm sure it's going to resonate with a whole range of readers.  


Christine is joining us today to answer your questions, and she's also giving away a copy of "A Sharp Solitude."  Just comment to enter.



“A Sharp Solitude” 
A gripping new Glacier Park mystery by the acclaimed author of "The Wild Inside" – perfect for fans of C.J. Box and Nevada Barr.

In the darkening days of autumn, a journalist’s body is found near the Canadian border. The victim was last seen with a man named Reeve Landon, the secretive subject of an article she’d been writing. Now Reeve is the prime suspect.

FBI investigator Ali Paige is not assigned the case, but Reeve is an ex-boyfriend, the father of her child. If she can find out what really happened, she might be able to save her daughter from the pain of abandonment. Meanwhile, a reckless and paranoid Reeve ventures deep into in the woods, assuming his karmic punishment has finally arrived. As the clock ticks and the noose tightens around Reeve’s neck, Ali isn’t sure how far she’ll go to find the truth. And what if truth isn’t something she wants to know?

Propulsive and suspenseful, evoking the breathtaking beauty of Glacier National Park, A Sharp Solitude demonstrates that people can’t outrun their demons, even in the vast, wild terrain of Northwest Montana.

Christine Carbo is the author of the Glacier Mystery Series, an ensemble series set in and around Glacier National Park. Her books include "The Wild Inside," "Mortal Fall," "The Weight of Night," and her latest, "A Sharp Solitude."   Carbo is a recipient of the Womens' National Book Association Pinckley Prize, the Silver Falchion Award, and the High Plains Book Award. A Florida native, she and her family live in Whitefish, Montana. Find out more at ChristineCarbo.com.




A New Way to Publish--an interview with Adam Jack Gomilin

Rhys: I met Adam a few weeks ago when he asked if I'd blurb a historical novel for one of his writers. I had never heard of Inkshares and I tend to avoid self-published books, but he took me to lunch and I was captivated by his enthusiasm, and by such a new concept in publishing! Also the book was REALLY GOOD.
So I had to invite him to Jungle Reds. 

Welcome Adam!
 I know a lot of our readers are going to be interested in meeting you because you bring such a different approach to publishing. I confess until I met you I had never heard of Inkshares. Can you tell us exactly what it is and how it works?

ADAM: Absolutely.  We founded the company with a very simple mission: to surface and develop the most important stories and storytellers.  Inkshares.com is a platform on which authors can post manuscripts (usually just a partial) outside of the literary-agent paradigm.  What we’ve built is a  community of authors and readers that helps us select what we publish.  There’s more than ten thousand authors on the platform, and I would say that we’re the most “serious” author community on the internet.  In addition to the ten-thousand authors, there are over one hundred thousand readers that peruse the partial manuscripts.  Sometimes we see hundreds or thousands of readers pre-ordering a particular book; that was the case, for instance, with Katie McKenna’s How to Get Run Over by a Truck, which after we published it hit #3 on Amazon.  Other times it’s other authors saying “Hey, have you read this? This person is really talented,” which was the case with our forthcoming mystery title A Gentleman’s Murder.

We set out to prove that the internet and community can create works equal or superior to those produced by the major houses.  In the last three years, we’ve put books on the front page of the New York Times and USA Today, earned starred reviews from every trade publication, won a litany of literary awards, put books in the global top ten on Amazon, and sold film and tv rights for north of a million dollars.

RHYS: Is your background in publishing? What made you want to start a publishing venture?

ADAM: My background is not in publishing.  I went to law school and practiced federal white-collar litigation.  But  I’ve always been a reader and a writer at heart.  I grew up in a house where you could spill all the milk you wanted as long as it didn’t get on a book.  And I was lucky enough while in law school to be represented as a screenwriter. 

The original idea for Inkshares was actually not mine, but that of my co-founder, Thad Woodman.  Thad was really focused on marrying the social filter of crowdfunding, which was just taking off in Kickstarter, with the backbone of traditional publishing in terms of editorial, design, distribution, marketing, etc.  The original idea was essentially “Kickstarter meets Random House.”  When I met Thad, after having spent some time in Los Angeles as a budding screenwriter, I was focused on the book not only as the backbone of publishing—of course—but as the foundation of TV and film.  So as we discussed it, I was really focused on not just surfacing great stories but building a system that would be able to advocate for authors in foreign markets and in television and film.  I loved representing people as an attorney, but this was always where my heart was—to be able to develop, represent, and launch new author voices.

RHYS : How is this different from traditional publishing and self-publishing? How do you know you’re getting a quality product?

ADAM:I always tell this story about how when we started out, people referred to us as a self-publisher.  Then after a year, they called us a “hybrid publisher.”  People ask “what do they call you now?” to which I smile and respond "Inkshares.”

I think to answer your question properly we need to look at the publishing landscape today.  On one side, you have traditional publishing, which is highly curated but also like a slowly sinking cruise liner.  People are spending less time reading and what they are reading is becoming more and more concentrated across a smaller number of titles. Not only is “traditional” reading becoming more and more concentrated, margins are falling, and the tools that brought about success years ago—end caps at B&N—don’t work anymore.  The result is that we see consolidation in an attempt to reduce costs and gain margin while taking risks becomes less and less possible.  Traditional publishing is going to continue to make some of the most important books in the world for a long time still.  But the model is failing, and I think everyone in the industry acknowledges this. 

On the other end of the spectrum you have self-publishing: Amazon will probably pay more money to authors out of its Kindle Unlimited program than Harper Collins will out of its entire catalog.  Wattpad is also an amazing service, one where anyone can upload a manuscript for free and where anyone can read for free; that’s great, and theoretically means that great works won’t sit faded, dusty, and unread because an editor or agent never responded to a query letter.  But what these companies lack is curation or any real development—i.e. what made publishing great.  In terms of curation, people don’t want to choose from two million titles; they want a company to take a stance and say “read this.”   And in terms of development, it’s really a myth that an author sits down in a room and writes the next great novel.  Can it happen?  Sure.  But the truth is that most authors require a tremendous amount of shepherding to get to a final product that can break out.  Writing a novel is about making choices, page after page, and a seasoned editorial and production team is critical to success.  So while self-publishing is great and will also continue to produce sensations, it faces core deficiencies in lack of curation and development.
I think when you look at it this way, we’re really much more like the traditional publishers of yesteryear which had really strong developmental arms.  The critical differences are really that we have a strong digital presence and that we’re able to use technology to better curate and develop stories.  And in terms of curation, we have a very “producorial” mindset where we’re consistently asking ourselves “what makes this special?” in the same ways that film producers ask “why will people go to a theater and see this?”  Combined with our ability to aggressively shepherd books into television and film, I think this is what separates us from both traditional and self-publishing. 

RHYS: What successes have you had so far?

ADAM:A lot!  Last year we published a science fiction book called The Punch Escrow which garnered three starred reviews, major national press, and sold to Lionsgate for film with the producers of The Hunger Games.  Scott Thomas won the American Library Association’s horror book of the year with his debut novel Kill Creek, was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker, and was selected by Barnes and Noble as the “horror debut of 2017.”  Katie McKenna’s How to Get Run Over by a Truck reached #3 on Amazon and Not Afraid of the Fall was a sensation on Good Morning America and occupied the #1 spot in travel on Amazon this past summer.  Beyond the book world, I’m also really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in terms of television and film rights.  These worlds—publishing and tv-film—have never been more linked.  I don’t think there’s another publisher consistently generating the types of aggressive deals for their authors like we do
.  
RHYS: Where do you see yourself going in the future? Do you think you’ll become the model for more publishing houses?

ADAM:Great question!  I think it’s really unlikely that the tanker-sized publishers in Penguin Random House or Harper Collins will be able to turn the ship around and create the type of technological infrastructure that defines Inkshares.  We’ve seen a lot of the major houses spend millions and millions of dollars on digital platforms that failed.  The truth about most of the major houses is that they’re really last-mile distribution apparatuses.  
For us, I think it’s really about staying the course.  We started four years ago with no real experience in publishing or platform.  Last year we published some of the most celebrated debut novels, sold some of the most valuable tv and film rights, and were the top two most-read articles in The Bookseller magazine.  I guess when people ask us “what’s next?” the answer is “more of this.”

RHYS: So what is the first step to get started with an Inkshares experience?
ADAM: There’s a big button on Inkshares.com that says “Publish With Us.”  If you click it, it takes you through a guided onboarding process that helps you articulate what your book is about.  It helps you get a page together and give you tips on how to meet other authors and readers on the platform.  In fact, you can click right here!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Why We Teach

RHYS BOWEN: As you are reading this I'm sitting outside an old farmhouse in Tuscany, amid the olive groves and vineyards and I am teaching a writing workshop I've called Novel In A Week. No, I don't expect them to write a novel in a week. The aim is to take an idea they have for a novel, an idea they haven't dared to tackle, or to take a stalled novel and give them the tools to structure it, to give them the bones to build upon so that they can go home and say "Now I see where I have to go."

Too often a beginning novelist has a brilliant idea but gets bogged down  in the middle of exposition and gives up in despair. So I'm looking forward to helping a group of writers turn their dreams into reality.

Someone at Malice asked me why I teach. Aren't my books now bestsellers? The answer is yes. I don't need the money, and in fact a lot the teaching I do hardly pays for my transportation. I teach because I enjoy sharing what I've learned. I guess it must be in the blood. I had a great aunt who was a teacher, my mother became a school principal, my aunt was a teacher and two of my children have been teachers. I have also run a pre-school and taught college--the broadest spectrum of teaching.
Of these I found the college writing classes I taught were challenging, stimulating and really beneficial to me. When I had to stop and think why a particular aspect of a story worked or did not work it gave me insights into my own writing.

Now I find that every time I teach a course I learn something. I am energized and can approach my own writing with enthusiasm. And I find it exciting when I see a new writer who has great potential. I've been on the faculty at the Book Passage writers conference for several years and at least two of my protegees have been published. One is my now good friend Susan Shea! I read her first three chapters and told her that her book actually began on page 19! She sold it!

So, dear Reds and Readers, how about you? I know Hallie and Hank teach all the time. How about the rest of you? Do you teach and if so why? Any experiences to share?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I taught for several semesters at the University of Southern Maine's creative writing MFA program, called the Stonecoast Program (after a spectacular Victorian-era stone house that has sadly been sold off.) And I've taught a number of quick two-hour seminars. I very much enjoy it, for much the same reason as you describe, Rhys - it helps me focus on the underpinnings of my own work when I have to dissect it (and other fiction) for my students.

There's also a great joy in helping someone find his or her voice and seeing them become a better writer. I believe there are some aspects to fiction writing that can't be taught, per se - for instance, you either have a writer's imagination, or you don't. But there is an enormous amount of technique and clarification that can be passed down, and we're all the better for participating in that process.

LUCY BURDETTE: Darn, I wish I was going to Tuscany! I have 2 books that are stalled, and that sounds like heaven. I don't teach as much as some of you others, but I agree, it always helps me see things in a new way. And it's so much fun to watch someone take a leap forward after getting feedback on their work. I have some very clear memories of classes and workshops I took as I was learning to write. Some of them nearly discouraged me completely, while others provided just the fuel and excitement I needed to forge ahead. I try to do the latter, always!

HALLIE EPHRON: As I write this I'm teaching at Pennwriters. There are two writers here whom Lucy and I taught at our own writing retreat (Ramona Defelice Long and Kimberly Kurth Gray. And other writers I've met at Crime Bake and Writers Digest conferences. And it's always a thrill to hear about their success. Teaching is FUN. And I never get teacher's block.

INGRID THOFT: I love teaching and find that it is a wonderful counterpoint to my own writing.  I think it’s essential for writers to, every so often, get up from their desks and interact with other readers and writers.  My goal when teaching is to get people reengaged with their work if the spark is gone and to also give them practical tools to get the story onto the page.  In December, I volunteered with a second/third grade class to help them write bedtime stories—in my pajamas!  It was a hoot and so gratifying to see kids excited about stories and language.  I’m inspired by the passion and enthusiasm of my students, whether they’re in elementary school or retired or somewhere in between.

JENN McKINLAY: I've taught workshops, mostly, at libraries and senior centers, and a few conferences. Usually, I am trying to kick start the people who want to write a book but don't know where to start. I find I'm mostly teaching them how to get out of their own way. Don't get hung up on selling the book before you write the book, don't sweat the font size. I like to say, "'I love your Fifty Shades of Girl with a Twilight Tattoo, but I'm passing on it because you used the wrong font,' said no editor ever." LOL. The hardest thing about deciding to be a writer is that you have to actually get your butt in the chair and write the book. It's always very rewarding to see students who get it. It reaffirms my own work ethic every time.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It is the joy of my life. And yes, I do it often, and with much delight.  When I think of how much I had to learn, and keep learning every day, and how many things I wish someone had told me..ah. And sometimes you see it, you know? That spark of recognition of the bit of advice or guidance that connects, and maybe changes a life--or a book at least. It is incredibly gratifying. Paula Munier and I just taught an intense, intensive and totally immersive weekend seminar on Cape Cod for WritersDigest. It was exhausting and exhilarating, and none of our lives will ever be the same. My goal is to have a "student" be at their computer, one day after the class--and say to themself: "Oh! That's what Hank meant!" And I always learn something when I teach.  SO rewarding.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:: I don't teach as much as some of you. I do enjoy it, but I enjoy being a student even more. My favorite part of going to writers conferences is the opportunity to listen to other writers and absorb their insights. I always come back full of ideas that I want to apply to my own books. I would absolutely LOVE to be in Rhys's class in Tuscany right now. I'm sure I would work out all my plot problems while eating delicious Italian food--and that it would be cooler than Texas.  Rhys, your students are so lucky!


RHYS: I was always told Those who can do, those who can't teach..Clearly this is not the case. Here we are.. eight well known, well respected writers and teaching is something we enjoy and look forward to. So do share your experiences: for the writers among us, do you enjoy teaching or have you taken workshops that have been an inspiration, changed the way you think about your writing?

Who teaches other subjects? What does it mean to you?

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Boo! (Did You Look?)



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:Yeah, I'm not sure about this. I know there are more things on heaven and earth than are found in my philosophy, but...

On the other hand, some times I know things, and figure out things, that there's no way for me to know or figure out. And have you ever seen the Wim Wenders movie Wings of Desire? I ask you. Does that make sense or what?  (I am haunted by it, in the best way.)

On the other hand, there's coincidence.  And you know, physics.

So you know Susan Boyer. Yeah, trust me. This is gonna be good. And at the end, we have questions.

All the Ghosts In Charleston


I’m often asked if I believe in ghosts. One of my secondary characters, Colleen, is a guardian spirit. She’ll tell you in a skinny minute that she’s not a ghost, nor is she an angel. The distinction between a guardian spirit and a ghost, says Colleen, is that guardian spirits have passed on the next world and been sent back with a mission. Ghosts are spirits unable to move on from this world after their bodies expire. Angels are whole nother creatures.

But Colleen tells me there are enough ghosts in Charleston, South Carolina to populate a small city, and I believe her. It makes sense to me that people would have a hard time leaving Charleston. And there’s so much history there. The notion of spirits from all different eras existing in the same place has captured my imagination. I did quite a lot of research on these incorporeal beings for my new book.

Most of the resident spirits are well behaved, quietly going about their business trying to resolve whatever issue holds them in this world. Others have achieved rock star status. People pay money to go on tours just hoping to catch a glimpse of them.

I’ve never actually seen one of the more famous apparitions, but it’s not for lack of trying. I take my time in the ladies room on the second floor at Poogan’s Porch trying to meet Zoe Saint Amand, one of the two sisters who lived in the Victorian house in the French Quarter before it became the landmark restaurant. I’ve heard the stories of her appearing there. But then, it’s also said that she walks right in the front door and sits at a table like any customer would do. Zoe died in 1954.

I’d love to meet Zoe Saint Amand, or perhaps Nettie Dickerson, the beautiful courtesan who haunts The Dock Street Theatre—in her day, (her body gave up the ghost in 1843 as a result of a lightning strike) the building was the bawdy Planters’ Hotel. 

But I’ll tell you right now, I have no interest in laying eyes on the headless torso who occupies room eight at the Battery Carriage House Inn. (There are several theories about who this gentleman is, or was rather. The one that makes the most sense to me is that he was a Confederate soldier.)

Several famed specters hang out at the Unitarian Graveyard, and I spent many recent afternoons wandering its paths. I also went at night during one of the ghost tours. Sadly, the spirits were quiet that evening, but it was plenty eerie.


HANK:  What about you Reds and readers? Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?  
And we hope you have a lovely ghost-free holiday weekend...unless they're invited!  (What are your plans?)




Susan M. Boyer writes the USA TODAY Bestselling Liz Talbot mystery series. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and garnered several other awards and nominations. Lowcountry Bookshop, the seventh Liz Talbot mystery, will be released May 29. Susan loves beaches, Southern food, and small towns where everyone knows everyone and everyone has crazy relatives. You’ll find all of the above in her novels. 



Private Investigator Liz Talbot is back in the seventh installment of Susan M. Boyer’s USA TODAY bestselling mystery series, Lowcountry Bookshop.






The Charleston streets are flooded by the combination of an epic downpour and King Tide. Late at night, Phillip Drayton is struck by a car and killed In front of his home along the historic Battery. When the police arrived, Poppy Oliver is on the scene. Is she a good Samaritan or his abused wife’s accomplice? A wealthy, anonymous benefactor hires Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews to prove Poppy’s innocence.

From a risqué exclusive club in an old plantation, to an upscale resale shop in the historic King Street shopping district, to a charming bookshop along the waterfront, Liz tracks a group of women who band together to help victims of domestic violence. In her most challenging case yet, Liz fears that even though she may find a killer, justice will be elusive.



Charlestown By Flickr: Spencer Means - https://www.flickr.com/photos/hunky_punk/7022019791/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33514905

spectre: Photo courtesy: Copyright: katalinks / 123RF Stock Photo