Welcome Guest Author, A.J. Devlin

This week, I’m delighted to host Canadian mystery author, A.J. Devlin. A.J.’s second mystery, Rolling Thunder, will be released by NeWest Press on May 15th. You’re going to love this book, but here’s A.J. tell you why:

Rolling Thunder“Why roller derby?”

That’s the first question I’m asked when I tell people about Rolling Thunder, the sequel to my debut mystery-comedy novel Cobra Clutch.

The follow up to ex-professional wrestler turned private investigator “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead’s first case definitely stands apart – but there are also significant similarities between both books.

In Cobra Clutch “Hammerhead” Jed reluctantly re-enters the world of independent pro wrestling after his friend and former tag-team partner has his precious pet python and ringside gimmick kidnapped and held for ransom. Indy wrestling seemed like the perfect backdrop to introduce a first-time sleuth whose intimate knowledge of the wrestling biz actually gives him a leg up on the police from time-to-time, and that advantage plays a key role in Jed’s investigation.

Cobra Clutch audiobook coverRolling Thunder picks up just under a year after the events of the first book, and the connective tissue between the two stories is that a lady wrestler Jed encountered during his search for the missing snake has since left the squared circle and joined the hard-hitting, badass, anti-establishment world of women’s flat track roller derby. When the team’s coach goes missing before playoffs and the derby girls decide to hire a PI, Jed’s old acquaintance tells them she knows just the guy for the job.

Both independent wrestling and roller derby might be considered fringe sports by some, but to the grapplers, skaters, and fans nothing could be further from the truth. Both subcultures are rich with intense passion, incredible athleticism, and an absolute love and devotion to their respective, counterculture crafts.

So while “Hammerhead” Jed encounters some familiarities as he delves into the derby world, it was also fun to have him navigate unfamiliar terrain, which in many ways, makes his sophomore sleuthing adventure his most challenging – and dangerous – case yet.

*** Thank you to Debra Purdy Kong for giving me the opportunity to promote Rolling Thunder on her Mystery Deb crime fiction blog. 

You’re very welcome, A.J. Your type of book is exactly what readers need right now. Here’s a little more info about A.J. and his books: 

AJ Devlin author pic final image copyA.J. Devlin grew up in Greater Vancouver before moving to Southern California for six years where he earned a B.F.A. in Screenwriting from Chapman University and a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute. COBRA CLUTCH, the first entry in the “Hammerhead” Jed ex-pro wrestler turned PI mystery-comedy series, was nominated for a 2019 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel. For more information on A.J. and his books, please visit ajdevlin.com.

ROLLING THUNDER will be released by NeWest Press on May 15th and will be available in both print and e-reader formats on Amazon, Indigo, Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Nook Books, other online retailers, as well as local Greater Vancouver independent bookstores Massy Books, Macleod’s Books, The Paper Hound, and Pulp Fiction — who all offer deliveries and curb side drop-off.

As of April 21st the audiobook for COBRA CLUTCH can be found at the following locations: Audible, Kobo, Google, Findaway, Bibliotecha, Hibooks, Scribd, Playster, Downpour, ABC (not connected to the TV channel), Libro FM, Recorded Audio, Hoopla, OverDrive, and Storytel.

ROLLING THUNDER LINKS:

https://www.amazon.ca/Rolling-Thunder-J-Devlin/dp/1988732867

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/rolling-thunder/9781988732862-item.html?ikwid=rolling+thunder&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0#algoliaQueryId=5d973bf158e99be062e1cc3beac6a52c

COBRA CLUTCH AUDIOBOOK LINK

https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/audiobook/cobra-clutch-1

https://play.google.com/store/audiobooks/details/A_J_Devlin_Cobra_Clutch?id=AQAAAEDsYEAgvM&hl=en

 

The World’s Growing Impatience

Social[1]Long before the pandemic began, I habitually browsed through a variety of news sources to find out what was happening in the world. As I do so these days, one question keeps replaying in my head…how long can people reasonably be expected to social isolate before they chuck it in order to visit cherished family and friends, or to salvage what’s left of their business? As you all know, millions of folks are missing out on paychecks, medical procedures, visits with ailing family members, and educational prospects.

Here in British Columbia, talk has started about a slow and careful reopening, although we’re still two weeks away from lifting the state of emergency. Our provincial health officer isn’t ready to provide specific dates about starting elective surgeries or re-opening classrooms. It’s worth noting that B.C.’s lockdown hasn’t been as strict as it is in other provinces, and that many of BC’s closures are self-imposed. Still, I sense that people are starting to become really frustrated and even angry about the lack of work and accessibility to services. Here in the Lower Mainland, we are seeing more vehicles on the road than there was two weeks ago, although what this actually means isn’t clear. Maybe people just want to go for a drive. After all, gas is really cheap right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, self-isolation is easier for some than others, depending on circumstances, but is there a line that some will cross before health experts give the all clear?

The day that line is crossed will be different for everyone. Mother’s Day is coming up, as is the Victoria Day long weekend in about three weeks. If the weather is hot and sunny, what will happen then?

Governments aren’t bottomless pits of financial aid. They will run out of money and things will have to re-open—hopefully in a smart, safe way—long before a vaccine is developed. Will the majority of people be back at work this summer? Will the beaches and parks and malls re-open? If so, will the numbers of people allowed in be restricted, and if so, who will regulate those wide open spaces? It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

I don’t know what my own personal line is, but my daughter will give birth sometime in late July. I haven’t seen her in person since March 8th, and although I would never do anything to jeopardize her health, the urge to go see her will become overwhelming as time passes.

Yes, we’re all in this together, but as I’ve seen on the news this week, there are different interpretations of togetherness. Many of us are still doing our best to stay home, remain patient, and see what unfolds. May should prove to be an interesting month.

Snapshot of Publishing in North America

Author CaptionI’ve been curious to learn how the publishing world has been coping since the pandemic began. It doesn’t seem sufficient to say, “probably not well”, but a recent survey by the Authors Guild answered some of my questions.

Only 940 authors responded to the survey and, as you can imagine, many have seen their incomes drop, mainly by the loss of speaking/performance engagements. The drop wasn’t as high a percentage as I’d assumed it would be. In fact, about 45% of respondents said their income hadn’t changed very much.

Not surprising, although disheartening, is that 52 respondents had their book contracts and/or royalty payments delayed. Most authors with books about to be released are understandably worried about lower sales, yet just over half of them are not doing more marketing than usual. Unfortunately, the survey didn’t indicate why this is so and I’m not sure the question was even asked. You can read the full version HERE.

For my American friends, the survey also includes a link to details about economic relief for authors. It’s important to note that a number of surveyed authors couldn’t work right now because of their own health issues or the health of a family member. You can learn more about the economic relief HERE.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he’s earmarked $500 million to assist the arts, sports, and culture sectors. To date, I’ve heard no further details on who will quality for aid or how the money will be dispersed, but you can read what little information there is HERE.

Obviously, this is by no means a complete look at the writing and publishing world, but just a quick snapshot. I wonder how many small and medium Canadian publishing houses will survive after all this is over. You see, almost all of Canadian publishers are government subsidized in some way and have been for decades. It’s the only way small and mid-sized publishers (and possibly some larger ones) in a large country with a relatively small population have survived. Even with grant money, many established publishers still operate on shoestring budgets. But the government is spending an awful lot of money these days to help out many sectors. While the grants and aid money will be there during the pandemic, what happens down the road after the federal government has depleted its rainy day fund? Will grants eventually be cut so the government can begin to replenish again? Time will tell.

On a personal note, the cancellation of four writing events I was to take part in this spring, plus a large craft fair in June that usually results in $600-$700 in print sales will definitely hurt income. Do I expect to be compensated for that? No, and I learned a long time ago not to depend on writing and marketing events as my only income stream. Still, it’s a downer not to get together with colleagues and readers and discuss books and the biz. But opportunities to get together on Zoom etc. are out there, and book marketing means finding new ways to reach readers.

Meanwhile, I figure it’s best to keep working and looking forward to a less restrictive future. I’m doing whatever writing, editing, and promo work I can from home. When the gates open and we all run out of our houses to gather together again, I plan to be ready!

Art on the Vine-5

Writing About The Pandemic, Or Not

We’re all so immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic that it seems nearly impossible to get through an entire day without hearing something from TV, radio, and social media. And maybe that’s as it should be. I’ve always felt that staying informed is crucial, despite the contradictory statements and misinformation.

0304_n13_covid_19_coronavirus_graphic_generic_file[1]I’ve been reading blogs from people around the world about their personal experiences. It adds a poignancy and depth to the medical stats and political statements we’re bombarded with. I appreciate the candidness of bloggers expressing their hopes and fears, or even when they simply discuss their altered routines.

But, here’s a question I came across from an author this weekend, and it’s made me stop and think. If you’re working on a novel set in 2020,  will you be making reference to the pandemic and, if so, how much reference? Will it become a major part of your plot or will you avoid it altogether? After all, there are certainly people out there who seem happy to pretend that the whole thing’s an overblown hoax, which opens up interesting psychological components in fictional characters.

Writing Clip Art(2)jpgShould you build a plot around the pandemic, or should you mention it in passing? If one of my Casey Holland transit mysteries was set in the spring of 2020, my characters would be working in quite a different way than normal. Bus drivers are not charging fares these days. Passengers must enter from the back and sit within social distancing guidelines. In other words, no full buses allowed. This kind of reality couldn’t be ignored in my work, as social distancing would have to play a role in everything my characters do, whether sharing information on Zoom or writing reports from home. Unless someone was breaking the rules, face-to-face confrontations wouldn’t be happening, yet they are a crucial aspect of mystery/thrillers.

Here’s another issue. If you want to set your book in the spring of 2020, how much detail is too much? How do you keep from slowing your story’s pace with too many unnecessary details? And do you risk losing readers who’ll be sick of hearing about the pandemic and don’t want to read one word about it?

Movies made about OJ Simpson’s murder trial and other real-life murders have never held any appeal for me, if I’ve already lived through those periods of time. I remember wishing the OJ trial would just end so we could all get on with our lives. The same is true for Richard Nixon’s impeachment in the early 70’s.

I’m curious to know if those of you who write contemporary fiction( mainstream or genre) plan to incorporate the pandemic in your work. What about those of you who are children’s authors? Is this a topic you’ll want to address down the road? What do you, as readers and writers, think is the best way to handle the pandemic in fiction?

Great Reads During Self-Isolation

An article in The Guardian this week reported that book sales in England are surging. Until the forced closures, sales in one store apparently went up over 400%! You can find the article HERE.

Given the world’s unusual circumstances, I’m sure the increase in book sales is happening in many countries. Not only are people reading more but they’re tackling longer books and classics like Ulysses . The article stated that other popular titles include The Bell Jar, 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Love In The Time of Cholera. I’m pretty sure you can see the pattern here.

The article also noted that adult nonfiction sales appeared to drop, which suggests that British readers don’t want reality in their reading time, which is understandable. For me, though, nonfiction is an opportunity to learn something new. I just have to be careful of the topics. My last nonfiction read (mentioned in a blog last month), Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, was a grim look at the decline of U.S. on many levels. Based on the news out of the States this month, things are hardly looking up.

After finishing that book, I dived into a fun fantasy, a couple of children’s books, and I’m now reading two of my favorite authors, Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton. Their books are not only master classes in crime writing but are truly entertaining. I’ve been reading both authors, on and off for years, so picking up more of their books is like visiting with old friends, as is Agatha Christie.

BooksI’m reading Grafton’s alphabet series in order and am now up to Q is for Quarry. As you can see from the photo, I have a few more to get me through self-isolation, along with my favorite reading beverage. Few things are better than a good book and a good glass of wine by the fire.

I also just finished Tony Hillerman’s The Sinister Pig. I simply love his novels, but don’t read them in any particular order. Hillerman’s descriptions of the New Mexico landscape are so amazing that I definitely want to visit that state one day.

What books are you turning to for entertainment or for learning these days? What takes you right out of your world and into another filled with entertaining escapism? Share your recommendations, as I’m always looking for more books. One day I’ll have finished Grafton’s and Hillerman’s work and, since both authors have passed away, that will be a sad day, so I must keep searching for great new reads.

Keeping The Routine Alive

skd190324sdcWhen I’m on vacation, one of my favorite activities is to drink my morning coffee outside in the warm sunshine and think about nothing. It’s pure bliss. I have a sundeck at the front of my house, and a patio in back but, even in summer, I don’t use either of them when not on vacation. I’m either editing at the computer, then heading out to the day job, or running errands on the weekend before the traffic gets bad and the stores fill up. And then, of course, there’s the housework.

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to what, if any, routine I’ll have as retirement day approaches. All I’ve really thought about is living a less structured life, where I can do more of the things I want when I want.

Patio, Summer 2019I love the idea of sitting outside weekday mornings this coming summer, coffee mug in hand, and enjoying downtime and taking life easier. As it happens, my current stay-at-home life is giving me a glimpse—probably a somewhat skewed one—as to what retirement could look like.

Aside from being an introvert, one of the other main reasons I’m doing fine with self-isolation is because I’m keeping a routine. I still get up at the same time and after breakfast, head downstairs to my basement office to work on editing before starting the day job. I’m keeping the same hours at the day job and even taking the same break time. All other activities are pretty much carried out along my regular timeline as well.

Without all of the outdoor errands and other excursions, I’ve had time to organize my bookshelves and clear my bulletin boards of outdated papers. This is a project I hadn’t planned to tackle until retirement. It feels great. I’m going through my clothes closet next.

I’ve come to realize that when retirement starts, it’s probably not a good idea to throw my entire routine away. I like being productive and making to-do lists. I just don’t want to fill up every day the way I’ve done these past few years. My retired friends and colleagues assure me that this can happen before I’m even aware of it, so I’ll be mindful of this in the coming weeks.

wine_PNG9456[1]In some ways, retirement won’t feel that different than it does now. On another level, there is a psychological component, a sense of freedom in regaining a large chunk of my day just for me. I picture myself having that coffee on the sundeck, or a glass of wine in the afternoon. Pure bliss.

Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

My Mother’s Favorite Quote

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “Everything happens for a reason”. If she was still with us today, she’d be saying exactly that right about now. I can actually hear her words in my head. I never could argue with Mom on this point, but sometimes I had a hard time figuring out what the reason was whenever a strange or disastrous event happened to friends or family, or when I heard of immense tragedies in other parts of the world.

With the rising number of deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, plus the social isolation, struggling global economy, fear, and uncertainty, I can’t help asking why. It’s in my nature. I do this all the time in real life about many things. The question’s also a crucial component in plotting mystery novels.

tropical-habitat-natural-environment-for-manatee-mammals[1]Scientific theories for the virus’s spread are circulating, along with tons of unscientific ones. Rather than focus on bats and conspiracy theories, I’ve been approaching the question in a more philosophical way (thanks to Mom’s quote) or perhaps an environmental one.

I started realizing that with fewer cruise ships on the water, fewer cars on the road, and fewer aircraft in the sky, maybe we’re giving the environment a wee bit of a much needed break. The Monday night evening news showed images of Venice canals that were actually blue and so clear compared to their usual murky brown state that people could see the bottom. Imagine that!

78[1]About a month ago, I read that emissions in China had decreased by about 25%. Whether this percentage is true or not isn’t as important as the often destructive ways human beings have interacted with animals, oceans, rivers, trees, jungles, and so forth. Did you seen photos of all the garbage left on Mount Everest earlier this year?

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mother Nature has just walloped our bottoms with a warning to behave, or else. We’ve even been sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Lord knows we’d been given plenty of warnings through frequent and severe storms and fires, among other things, and too many of us still weren’t paying attention. Now, the ante has been raised and if we don’t pay attention this time, we’ll receive another beat down that’s going to kill a lot more people than the 7,500+ plus souls so far.

It’s up to each of us to step up game and help heal the planet, or face something much worse. At least, that’s how I interpret Mom’s quote.

Underwater_turtle[1]

Trying Not to Fret Over Literacy Stats

read-652384_960_720[1]I just finished reading a book by American journalist and Princeton University professor, Chris Hedges called Empire of Illusion (The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle), and he has a lot to say about the decline in American literacy, among many other things. The book was published in 2009 and the figures he quotes are a dozen or more years old.

Hedges says: “Functional illiteracy is an epidemic in America.” From there he reports that 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. 50 million read at a 4th or 5th grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population are barely literate, a number that grows by more than 2 million every year. A third of high school grads never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college students don’t, and in 2007, 80% of families in the U.S. did not buy or read a book. Each stat lists a footnote citing sources that include the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better, according to a 2006 CBC documentary, which claimed that 42% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. I went online to look up more current stats and not surprisingly, the numbers vary from source to source, so like most things in life, I take all of this with a grain of salt. Common sense tells me, though, that literacy can certainly be improved, and that people, in general, appear to be reading less due to other entertainment distractions.

The book delves into other topics such as the captivation with the cult of celebrity, how people believe what they’re fed on TV without questioning its authenticity, and keep in mind that Hedges was writing about this a dozen years ago. For many Americans, their reality is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says it, and most of those elements are controlled by corporations.

This troubling information reaches far deeper and is far more important than any desire I have to sell books. Rather, it’s about the decline of language and communication and analytical thinking, and the impact on our culture, economy, education, politics, and quality of life, to name a few.

Readingabook[1]Hedges isn’t the only one who’s concerned. This week, I came across another a more current headline from Publishing Perspectives, stating “UK’s 2020 World Book Day: Reading in Sharp Decline”. You can read the piece HERE.

Throughout the book, I began to wonder what, if any, solutions Hedges has to the problems of literacy and illusion. He doesn’t really, at least nothing concrete, but I know a couple of people who volunteer to help children read in schools and in adult community centers. Helping one another to improve reading skills and create joy in reading seems like a good place to start.

The Writer and Retrograde Mercury

djfgjf-300x218[1]For those of you who read horoscope columns, you’ll probably know that Mercury is retrograde right now. In simple terms, it means that the planet appears to be going backwards, which causes disruptions, mishaps, and communication snafus, among other things. Astrologers tell us that this is a bad time to start new undertakings and buy expensive items like cars and computers.

It also means that this is a great time to finish projects, such as manuscripts. In fact, you’re not supposed to start any new projects because there are bound to be problems and mishaps. Mercury retrograde lasts about four weeks, but the aftermath can last another two, and some say you shouldn’t start anything new about a week before the retrograde period begins.

During my post-publication hangover (see last week’s post), I’ve actually been editing a couple of manuscripts that have been works in progress for a long time. Editing always helps take my mind off of chores, tough situations, and even the small things that niggle at me.

So, after six months, I’ve just finished the 4th draft of my 135,000 word urban fantasy novel. The past four weeks have gone so well that I was able to finish the last two sections more smoothly than I had with the earlier sections.

Whether finishing this draft is due to retrograde Mercury or sheer avoidance of all the marketing and promotion tasks ahead, probably doesn’t matter. Finishing it does. A 135,000 word book with five sections and seventy chapters is not something I can whip through in a couple of months. It’s a slow marathon. I’ve now put the book away for a few weeks before the next go-around.

After completing the draft of a long work, I tend to gravitate towards shorter works to edit. So, last Friday, I started the umpteenth edit of a Casey Holland novella, which I first started five or six years ago. It’s about 25,000 words and twelve chapters, which almost feels like a short story compared to the urban fantasy.

I don’t intentionally build my writing life around astrological cycles, as there are far too many other components in the decision-making process. But I am saying is that Mercury’s retrograde, I finished a long manuscript, and that makes me happy.