Summer’s here and many fun events are returning to British Columbia. I’ve just finished facilitating an 11-week long spring session of the creative writing program offered in our city. The group was small, but I’d still been a little worried about exposure to Covid. Hospitalization rate were still fairly high in April but have been going down since then. Happily, the rec center gave us a large room in a quiet part of the building, so we felt safe. One of my students came down with Covid and was away for one week, but no one else was impacted.
As I write this, my daughter’s place of employment currently has about ten percent of their staff sick with Covid, after having been encouraged to return to work. As you can imagine, those who work in a common area are the ones who are sick. Those who have their own offices are so far staying healthy. Still, ten percent is a lot.
The cautionary tales I’ve been hearing from medical experts tells me that it’s probably still a good idea to wear my mask in public indoor places. Like many of you, I’m also eager to get back to socializing, especially when it comes to writing events. I turned down two invitations to indoor book launches this spring. I had no idea how many people would attend, how large the venue was, or whether the room was well ventilated. Generally, I don’t feel particularly anxious about most things, when you’re babysitting a two-year-old most weekdays it seems wise to be cautious.
Having said that, I’m attending two outdoor events this week. One is a BBQ with my old employer at Simon Fraser University. Since 97% of the university’s population is vaccinated, I figure it should be okay, although I’ll keep my hand sanitizer close by.
I’m also a vendor at an outdoor mini-craft fair at the TownShip7 Winery this Sunday. This is one of my favourite venues, as the event has musical entertainment and the artisans will be spread apart. Wine tasting, bookselling, and music in a vineyard is a wonderful way to spend the day. The event is also fundraising for the Osteoporosis Society. I know that some of you live in the Lower Mainland, so if you have some time and enjoy wine tasting, this is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy what will be a bright, sunny day.
I’ll be participating in another Art on the Vine event in late August and also selling books at a local Farmer’s Market on Thursday July 14th. So, yes, I’m socializing more, but honestly, I’ll be taking precautions.
For those of you who are looking for more free crime fiction reads, I’m taking part in another BookFunnel offering until the end of June. This is the Women Solve Crime Mystery Giveaway and a good number of the 30+ offerings are cozies, which make great beach reads. The link HERE.
How about you? Are you over Covid anxiety and attending events this summer, or are you still a little anxious?
I’ve been catching up on reading these past few weeks. So far, I’ve read 20 books this year, which is five books behind my normal schedule. But whenever I’m staying over at my daughter’s for babysitting duties, the evenings are spent catching up on blogs, newsletters, and books.
The eclectic mix of genres have been truly enjoyable reads. Two of the crime fiction authors, J.T. Siemens and Winona Kent, were guest bloggers earlier this spring, but I want to mention them again as they’re excellent writers who deserve more attention.
To Those Who Killed Me by J.T. Siemens, is a gritty, noir mystery that reveals the darker side of Vancouver. J.T.’s Instagram account shows interesting black-and-white photos of some of the actual venues mentioned in his book. The photos beautifully capture the book’s noir feel.
Ticket to Ride by Winona Kent is a delightful amateur sleuth-based mystery set in England, featuring musician and new private detective Jason Davey. I love Winona’s descriptions and the way she incorporates family dynamics into her stories. There’s a lot of heart in her books as well as terrific storytelling.
Silver Bells by C.J. Hunt, is a heartwarming Christmas romance. It’s also a novella that you can read quickly. The romantic scenes are nicely written and the book’s contemporary concepts about a single dad trying to run his business and a woman who’s sold her startup company and is rethinking career options are relatable topics.
Given all the cold, rainy weather in my area last month, it seemed only natural to read another Christmas novella. Crimson Frost by J.P. McLean is a suspenseful supernatural story. Given that the protagonist is only 19, it likely falls into the YA category, but this is a riveting story for all ages at any time of year. Grief, turbulence, and the supernatural elements added to the enjoyment for me.
The Library of Legends by Janie Chang is an amazing historical fiction novel set in China in 1937. The Japanese have invaded the country and the university students are forced to flee by undertaking a 1,000 mile trek to safety in the country’s interior. What struck me was the exceptional writing and the way Janie incorporates mythical fantasy with reality. The story is based on her father’s real-life experience. Absolutely riveting.
Last but not least, is the romantic suspense story Lure by W.L. Hawkin. To me, this book raises the bar by incorporating exquisite writing with real-life tragedy centered around missing Indigenous women, a topic that has a troubling, longstanding history here in British Columbia. Wendy adds layers to the story by adding a mystery whodunit and a haunting, spiritual component. It’s one of those stories that’s stayed with me.
That’s it so far. I’ve read a number of nonfiction titles related to writing but I hope to explore many other topics this year.
Before I launch into today’s topics, I want to say that Canadian Independent Bookstore Day last Saturday was a great success for our local store, Western Sky Books. This was their best event ever, and it was heartwarming to see supporters come out in droves. It was great fun to see a number of writers I hadn’t seen in person in more than two years, and one author I hadn’t seen in a decade!
So, here we are in May, one of my favorite months of the year. The weather’s warming slowly although there’s still a fair bit of rain and cloud hovering over BC’s lower mainland these days. Flowers are blooming, albeit slower than last year. Since I was married in mid-May nearly 34 years ago and our family always celebrates Mother’s Day, it’s a special month.
This weekend, I’m offering great deals on most of the titles in my 6-book Casey Holland series this weekend, which ends on May 9th. You can find the link to the entire series with just one click HERE. By clicking on that page, you’ll see that the combined price for all the books is under $10.
I’m also taking part in two BookFunnel events offering free mystery ebooks all month. One is the Leading Ladies of Mystery giveaway featuring female lead characters. The link is HERE.
The other offer focuses on mystery and suspense titles, with either male or female protagonists, which you can find HERE.
So, please take advantage of these opportunities. Summer’s coming and it’s time to load up your devices with new books as you prepare for holidays or at least a little more downtime. Couldn’t we all use some R & R and escapes into great fiction?
This week, I’m delighted to introduce you Vancouver mystery author, J.T. Siemens, who’s just released his first thriller, To Those Who Killed Me. How’s that for a great title? Jeremy kindly sent me a copy of his book, which I read and absolutely loved. This is a gritty, hard-boiled novel that depicts the darker side of Vancouver in a realistic, heartbreaking way. Check out the book blurb:
Disgraced ex-cop Sloane Donovan has relied on her job as a personal trainer to keep her mental illness and PTSD in check—until she finds a close friend dead, apparently by her own hand. Obsessive demons triggered, and doubtful of the official narrative, she teams up with Wayne Capson, a law-bending P.I., to find out who really killed her friend. The search leads Sloane from Vancouver’s wealthiest enclaves to the street’s darkest corners, questioning and tracking millionaires, predators, sex workers, and even former law enforcement colleagues—as she uncovers a shadowy web of deceit. J.T. Siemens’s To Those Who Killed Me is a debut that provides a heavy dose of hardboiled suspense and introduces a fiery new heroine in crime fiction.
In many of the mysteries I’ve read over recent years, the majority of male authors choose to write about male protagonists, but Jeremy hasn’t. So, the question is:
Why did you choose a female protagonist?
Answer: The character of Sloane Donovan came out of a short story I wrote a while back, in which a woman discovers her friend’s body hanging in the woods. It was well received, and I was fascinated with the character enough to want to explore her further in the form of a crime novel. In the fitness industry where I worked at the time, some of my colleagues were kickass, athletically dynamic women, who could probably clean the clocks of most men. Aspects of Sloane’s physicality come from some of those women. Sloane also has bipolar disorder, and has an on-again/off-again relationship with her meds, which makes her unpredictable, as well as someone who frequently steps outside of conventional means to achieve her ends. I was also fascinated to explore how someone’s mental illness, while initially perceived as a liability, might actually be an asset when it comes to getting the job done. As a result, Sloane uses methods in To Those Who Killed Me that a man simply could not get away with. Those elements make for a fun character to write, and hopefully an exciting one to read.
J.T. Siemens moved to Vancouver to become a personal trainer, but feels fortunate to have discovered his true love: writing crime fiction. After studying screenwriting at Capilano University, he followed it up with creative writing at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. To Those Who Killed Me, his first book in the Sloane Donovan series, was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Unhanged Award, and will be published by NeWest Press in spring of 2022. His short fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly, Down in the Dirt, and CC&D.
For more information about Jeremy, check out his website at jtsiemens.ca
To order the book, please check out any of the following links:
Things are moving along at a fast clip (finally) with edits on my 7th Casey Holland mystery, tentatively titled, Man in a Gold Satin Thong. If the title piques your curiosity or makes you smile, then I’m on the right track. Although there’s a murder in this story, this 24,000 word novella explores a lighter aspect of Casey’s security work than in the previous novels.
I’ve been fortunate to find two beta readers, but I’m looking for two more, especially those who are fans of amateur sleuth mysteries. It’s not necessary to be familiar with the series as each book works as a stand alone. Hopefully, the story says enough of Casey’s professional and personal life to not leave new readers confused.
For those of you who are uncertain about the role of a beta reader, it’s basically to read the manuscript to provide an overall impression of the book, and to point out where there might be some confusion, repetition, or a lag in the pace. In other words, it’s not a line by line edit, looking for typos, grammatical glitches, and so forth.
The book will be available in PDF format this week, and I’ll provide a short list of questions to use as a guide, but I’ll certainly welcome all comments. I’m hoping to have feedback back within three weeks, so I can get cracking on the changes. My goal is to publish the book this year, but that will depend on beta readers responses and later, my editor, plus the jacket designer’s schedule.
We live in unsettling times, not just because of the pandemic and climate change devastation, although they certainly play key roles. Lately, much has been written about the uncertainty and new challenges facing the publishing industry. By publishing industry, I mean indie and traditionally published authors, publishing houses of all sizes, distributors, and bookstores.
An article from IG Wealth Management, which focuses on the situation here in Canada, reports that supply shortages in paper, ink, and glue have hampered the ability to make books. Also, what used to take weeks to produce and ship now takes months and at a much higher cost.
One result of the shortages is that successful books which have sold out aren’t getting their second print runs. Nor are new releases being shipped in time for the Christmas market. Transportation challenges, which you’re likely aware of, further diminish the prospect of full shelves.
This means that bookstores, distributors, publishers, and authors are not going to make the money they would have under normal conditions. If you’d like to know more from the perspective of well-known Canadian publisher, Dundurn Press, please read the important article HERE.
As a geographically large country with a small publishing community stretched thousands of miles apart, distribution has long been a challenge for Canadian bookstores, but as this article clearly shows, things have become much worse and aren’t likely to improve quickly.
Another article from Friesen Press, which addresses some American issues, also stresses the lack of supplies, right down to printing plates. As stated in this article, paper production was becoming a major problem before COVID, as a significant number of paper mills have shut down in the U.S. over the last 5 to 10 years. Things have now reached a point where paper is being rationed to publishers. You can read more HERE.
The last print run I did was just over a year ago, when I had 100 copies printed of The Opposite of Dark locally. There were no issues with shortages at that time, but I wonder if this is still the case.
These challenges now force publishers, large and small, to be even more careful about releasing new books and assessing print-run size. What hasn’t been said yet, but which I sense from anecdotal information, is that publishers, and perhaps agents, are far less likely to take on new authors right now.
Of course, I know of a number of Canadian mystery authors who are releasing their latest titles this fall, but they signed their contracts a while ago and their publishers likely know how many books they can reasonably expect to sell in various formats.
A new author trying to break into the market is a huge uncertainty. Think about it. Even if publishers come across a fantastic author with a surefire blockbuster, how will they print enough copies to meet the demand? And what will they have to charge for those books to break even?
Some of you might think, well ebooks and audible books can step up, and I agree. But based on articles I’ve read (and I’m sure some of you have seen them) over the past couple of years, print still sells, especially at Christmas. It’ll be interesting to see what the stats show for 2021 and 2022.
Writers have had to endure a variety of challenges for many decades, but we keep creating and find ways to adapt under changing conditions. We might not have enough paper, ink, glue, or truck drivers, but we have plenty of ideas about how we can pivot and perhaps even help make things better.
Thanks to author Julie Ferguson, for forwarding me the IG Wealth Management and giving me the idea for this important topic.
I’m delighted to announce that prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray has just released the second book in her Dawn of Humanity series, Laws of Nature. Jacqui writes about time periods that few authors tackle, and she does it beautifully. Have a look at today’s quick Q & A for insights on the time period Jacqui explores:
What is Lucy’s relationship with animals?
Lucy and her kind considered animals the alpha in their environs. They believed them like themselves—able to plan, make tools, and evaluate circumstances—and treated as respected equals, maybe even superior because of their strength and dominance. Because of this attitude, animals and man thrived together.
Prehistoric fiction sounds boring.
Not at all. I used to call the Man vs. Nature trilogies “prehistoric thrillers” because the stories share many traits found in that genre—flawed super-heroes, death-defying events, a small group entrusted to save the world despite impossible circumstances. If you like thrillers, you’ll like these prehistoric fiction trilogies. The stories aren’t about grunting cavemen who beat their enemies with clubs. It’s about the evolution of what makes us human—culture, art, body adornments, religion, decision-making, problem-solving, and more. The trilogy, Dawn of Humanity, and this story specifically deal with the nascence of those characteristics. Without claws, sharp teeth, and thick skin, we relied on our developing big brains to outsmart enemies. That’s what I focus on.
And, unless you define “boring” as spending most of their daylight searching for food, fighting for their lives, and sleeping, their lives weren’t boring either. Those “needs”—the lowest in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—consumed most of their time but not all. They possessed curious minds (which arguably, Boah’s pre-Homo genus and Ump’s proto-wolf kind lacked), asked questions, wondered why, and made decisions based on thoughtful consideration rather than instinct. Both Lucy’s and Xha’s kinds are hundreds of thousands of years from discovering the beauty of art, music, poetry, and abstract concepts but because their brains were evolving the ability to handle those advanced concepts, I show how some of them might have begun.
Here’s the book’s summary:
In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.
Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.
A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.
If you’re looking for free mystery and suspense novels, I have one more BookFunnel promotion I’m taking part in this summer. This one ends on August 1st and there are nearly seventy authors participating. My Casey Holland mysteries, Deadly Accusations (#2) and Beneath the Bleak NewMoon (#3) are also free, but only through BookFunnel’s newsletter campaign till Aug. 1. You can find the whole roster of books HERE.
I’m not sure that writers truly ever stop writing, even while on holiday, but I sort of managed it. I didn’t look at my urban fantasy for eight days, which became kind of difficult after four or five days. The thing is, when your mind is relaxed and all is quiet, ideas pop up.
This is how I found myself working on characters and an outline for the paranormal mystery I’ve mentioned in the past. It was great fun exploring ‘what-if’ concepts and creating characters. It was even more fun coming up with ideas for monsters. I’m trying to stay away from old familiars like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, at least with this book. Creating monsters is a whole new challenge in my writing life, but I’ve read a couple of good books on the topic.
Speaking of reading, I read a terrific how-to book called Mastering YourMystery by Cheryl Bradshaw. She goes through the basics of writing a crime novel, but takes it further in the second half of the book by offering helpful advice on marketing, publishing, and promotion. I especially liked that she went the extra mile to provide a list of awards and competitions to submit to, and a list of sites to help promote your work. Although I’ve read my share of how-to books, I always find that reading these books sparks ideas for current projects.
Last, but definitely not least, I spent a great deal of time with little Ellie, who’ll soon be one year old. Last week, she learned to crawl up a couple of steps and had her first ‘swim’ in the lake with her mom and dad. I’m always amazed by the astonishing changes during a child’s first year of life, and can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.
Summer’s well underway here in the Vancouver area with temperatures soaring as high as 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this week. As near as I recall, Vancouver hasn’t experienced this in the 60+ years I’ve lived in the west coast.
I have a basement office, which helps, as does the fan by my feet. The oven stays off these days, which is fine because I have a few slow cooker recipes that’ll get us through. I can edit in the morning, but by two in the afternoon, I started to wilt, although that’s fairly normal for me, anyway. Temperatures are easing slowly, thank goodness, as the city’s experienced a high number of heat-related deaths.
Meanwhile, my hubby and son are starting a two-week vacation tomorrow, so we’re taking time off to spend with family. I had my second vaccine on Sunday, a Moderna this time; the first was Pfizer. There were fewer side effects the second time around, which is good news. There’s nothing like having a mild fever during a major heat wave. I’m looking forward to visiting with friends again and entering a store without a mask, which will be optional (depending on the situation) as of July 1st in our province.
I’ll check my emails, but basically, I just want to take it easy, enjoy some downtime, and read books. What I’ve learned from vacations is that when your mind is relaxed and the to-do list is empty, story ideas tend to pop up, so I’ll keep a notebook nearby. Earlier this year, I began compiling notes for a new series I’m really excited about, but I haven’t opened the file folder in over three months. Perhaps, it’s time. We’ll see.
I’ll be back at it in a couple of weeks, revved up and ready to go!