Welcome Guest Author, Winona Kent

I’m delighted to host Canadian crime-writing friend and colleague Winona Kent today. She’s just released a new mystery that music fans will especially love, called Lost Time, which you can learn more about on her website at  http://www.winonakent.com/losttime.html

Also, the first two chapters are available at http://www.winonakent.com/losttime-chapters.html

Winona’s prepared a fascinating piece for this blog about an intriguing connection between her life and that of her fictional character, Jason Davey. Now, in Winona’s words:

I’m terrified of lightning – and so is Jason Davey, the main character in my new mystery Lost Time.

Jason has good reason to be afraid – his father was killed on a golf course by a rogue lightning strike. There are a couple of thunderstorms in Lost Time and I have no trouble at all describing Jason’s terror when they happen – one jolts him out of his sleep, and the other strikes when he’s sheltering in the back of a police car. Here’s a spoiler: the police car gets a direct hit.

My fear of lightning comes from growing up in Saskatchewan, which has some of the most spectacular thunderstorms in the world. Our back yard was home to the biggest tree in the neighbourhood, an 80-foot-high balsam poplar. When the storms blew over (usually in the middle of the night) I’d bury myself under the sheets and blankets and, nearly-suffocating, I’d count the seconds between the immense flashes of white light and the inevitable crashes of thunder. My biggest fear was that our tree would be struck and that the electricity would travel through its massive root system and come up into our house and kill me. Or the charge would jump from the tree to my bedroom window and explode through the glass and kill me. Or the lightning would splinter the tree and it would crash down on our roof and onto my bed and kill me.

I have actually been in a building that got a direct hit and I noted two interesting things. One, there was absolutely no thunder. Just an immense flash. People across the street heard the deafening boom. But not us. And two, at the moment the lightning struck, I was sitting at my computer and the computer blinked off and I felt like I’d been punched hard in the chest.

Jason experiences much the same phenomena in Lost Time. And the result has an incredibly profound effect on him.

In all the years I lived in Saskatchewan, our tree was never hit. It was a majestic specimen – a bit messy, with its sticky buds and its red hanging catkin flowers – but we loved it. It survived the storms and lived on after my dad died and my mum moved away to Vancouver to be with us. Its end came when the new owners of our house decided the back yard would look better without a big messy tree blocking their view of the sky. But then again…who knows…perhaps they, too, were terrified of lightning strikes in the middle of the night…

Winona Kent

Amazon Links: (this is Canadian but the ebook and paperback is available on all Amazon sites)

Winona’s website: http://www.winonakent.com
Social media:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/winonakentauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/winonakent
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/winonakent

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.

Pondering the Pros and Cons of Blog Tours

KEEP-CALM-BLOG-ON[1]I have a confession to make. With seven published full-length books and two novellas, I’ve never taken part in a blog tour. I have nothing against them as they seem like a good way to promote one’s book. But with two part-time jobs, family responsibilities, and several writing projects on the go, I never felt I had the time or energy to prepare a dozen or more blogs.

I have written guest blogs before and answered interview questions, but I can do this only half a dozen times before I run out of steam. Honestly, I’m not even sure how to come up with ideas for twenty or more blogs. I have maybe two topics in the works and one completed blog, but that won’t be enough.

I follow over seventy blogs and a number of them host guest authors who are on blog tours, but very few focus on crime fiction. I read some of the guest blogs, but not all of them. It depends on whether I know the author and what the topic is, and how much time I have for reading blogs on any given day.

So, I could use your advice. Are blog tours a good way to spend your time and energy?

If your answer is yes, then do you have tips on how to find guest blogging opportunities that would especially interest mystery readers? I know there are services that arrange blog tours for authors, but again I know little about them or their price range. So, any input would be appreciated!

Keeping Up With Those Reading Lists!

Holidays-Card[1].png

Before sharing my favorite reads in 2019, I wanted to tell you that this will be my last blog until after Christmas. I and my family will be celebrating on the 24th and 25th, so I’ll probably be searching for the nearest gym on the 26th.

Also, production of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, The Blade Man, is nearly complete! The cover reveal will be on my January 8th blog. The designer’s done a fantastic job and I’ll be very happy to share it. The manuscript is formatted for the book printer, but I still have to get going on the ebook versions and set up pre-orders. The book will be officially launched on February 12th, but more on that in a few weeks.

As you many of you already know, this is the time of year when lists of recommended books are everywhere. There’s too many to name, so I’m just mentioning a small sampling that’s peaked my interest.

In my quest to read more nonfiction, I was interested to learn that investor Warren Buffet has a recommended reading list (see link HERE) as does Bill Gates (HERE). BookBub’s poll (HERE) has also come up with best books of the entire decade.

If that isn’t enough, Lithub presents a compilation of best reads taken from 37 different lists involving 749 books (HERE). Given how many books were published this year, I find it hard to believe that only 749 are noteworthy, but all lists are subjective, which leads five of my favorites of the 52 books I read this year. I was lucky to find many great reads this year, this time around I’ve chosen books that were compelling and thought-provoking. My top five are:

. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

. The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner (historical mystery)

. Becoming by Michelle Obama

. The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch (historical mystery)

. Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones (urban fantasy)

I kind of surprised myself with the historical mysteries. I chose these perhaps because I would find it extremely difficult to write a historical mystery, and am in awe of those who do it well. Having said that, If I had to review my list again tomorrow, I’d probably change it for different titles. That’s how subjective lists are.

Anyway, here’s to more great reads in 2020, and Happy Holidays everyone!!

Christmas Craft Fair Season Wind-Up

Coquitlam Christmas craft fair, 2019 (2)Following up on last week’s blog about changing writing patterns in December, I’ve spent most of the past six weeks selling my books at various Christmas craft fairs. Happily, it turned out to be a terrific season that exceeded expectations. Expectations are always risky, as the success of any fair is always a gamble. But it’s nearly impossible not to have hopes after investing time and money, not to mention thousands of hours, in one’s writing career.

My first fair was a single-day event at a high school back on Nov. 2nd. The second one was a two-day event a week later. The third was a three-day event over an hour’s drive from home. My booth was next to two booths both selling mustard, which surprisingly brought a fair number of customers to my table. The biggest and busiest show was the three-day Coquitlam Christmas craft fair this past weekend, which is only ten minutes from home.

One of the most satisfying aspects was the repeat customers who’d bought a book the previous year and who came back to buy more. The feedback was exceedingly kind and I couldn’t be more grateful.

If there’s any takeaway from selling at local markets it’s that building an audience and creating word-of-mouth buzz takes time and patience. Still, there are always people who stop to look at the books and say, “I’ve never heard of you.” Some will buy a book while others will walk away. It’s a lot like book signings in that respect, and like book signings, craft fairs create plenty of people-watching opportunities.

I’ve been at the writing/publishing biz long enough to offer tips to those just starting out, and there’s usually a shopper who wants advice about hiring someone to write their story. Others want to know if they should self-publish or look for a publisher. As you can imagine, I’ve had some fairly deep or thought-provoking conversations.

After a total of nine full days of book selling, I’m ready to stop for 2019. It’s always a challenge to spend hours at a table when there are so many other pre-Christmas tasks and errands waiting for me. There’s always the anxiety of wondering if this craft fair will be profitable or a loss (some fair fees are quite steep). Still, there’ve been far more pros than cons over the years, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.

Christmas Craft Fair Season is Almost Here!

I love craft fairs. I’ve been shopping at them for over thirty years and now often participate as a vendor to sell my mystery novels. I’ve met many wonderful people through these events, both customers and vendors, and I have to say that it’s one of my favorite times of the year.

This year, I’m participating in four events, starting this weekend with the smallest, and working up to the largest event in December:

Terry Fox Secondary Christmas Craft Fair

Saturday, Nov. 2, 10:00 – 4:00 pm

1260 Riverwood Gate, Port Coquitlam, BC

Mission Arts Councail Craft FairMission Arts Council Christmas Craft Market

Saturday, Nov. 9, 10:00 – 5:00 pm

Sunday, Nov. 10, 10:00 – 4:00 pm

Heritage Park Centre-Clark Theatre

33700 Prentis Avenue, Mission, BC

 

 

 

2019 Chilliwack Christmas Craft Market.pngChilliwack Community Arts Council, Christmas Craft Fair

Friday, Nov. 15, from 12:00- 8:00 pm

Saturday, Nov. 16, from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Sunday, Nov. 17, from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Chilliwack Heritage Park

4414- Luckakuck Way, Chilliwack, BC

 

Coquitlam Christmas Craft Fair

Friday, Dec. 6, 4:00 – 9:00 pm

Saturday, Dec. 7, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Sunday, Dec. 8, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Poirier Sports Centre, Poirier Street, Coquitlam, BC

All of these fairs charge fees to vendors, and some of the fees are becoming uncomfortably steep, so it’s always a gamble, but I have to say that I do have fun.

I’ve also just learned that I’ve been invited to take part in:

Writers in our Midst, night of author readings

Tues., Nov. 19th at Port Moody Library from 7 – 8:30 pm

100 Newport Drive, Port Moody, BC.

This wonderful program of readers is sponsored also by the Gallery Bistro and Timbercrest Publishing. If you live in BC’s Lower Mainland or Fraser Valley, and have time to drop by to any of these great events, come by and say hi!

So Many Head-Spinning Images

As I wrote the first draft of this week’s blog on Monday, the TV was filled with images of two mass-shootings. This is Wednesday and the images are still capturing attention here in Canada and around the world, I expect, as they should. While I try to stick to writing-related things on my blog, it’s sometimes impossible not to acknowledge tragedy in its many forms. My heart hurts for all those who are suffering right now.

The world of fiction is not only my passion and my profession, but let’s face it, it’s also escapism from real-life frustration, sadness, and tragedy. When you’re a professional writer, escapism and reality, however, have a funny way of merging.

self-publishing[1]Now that the production process of The Blade Man is underway, I find myself becoming immersed in pre-production issues. Aside from the final edits, which are almost finished, I’ve been in touch with my jacket designer, who wisely requires clients to complete a detailed 4-page form about cover specifics. It’s a crucial part of the production process that takes a fair bit of time. My form isn’t due until mid-November, so I’m glad I’m starting now. This will give me many weekends to work on it a little bit at a time.

One of the things I’ve started to look at are the stock images offered on a couple of sites that my designer uses. Because my mystery series focuses on my protagonist’s work on buses, the covers typically portray a public transport theme. Today, I’m discovering that there are thousands of bus images out there, nearly 6,000 on Shutterstock alone, yet most of them don’t fit my needs for The Blade Man’s cover.

There are school buses, double-decker buses, blue buses, damaged buses, bus interiors with smiling faces, empty buses, and so on. It’s mind boggling, but as I search, ideas and visions for what I’d like to see are starting to form.

Book production is a journey. There are a number of steps and decisions to make. The process reminds me of when we renovated our kitchen a few years back. The initial ideas and decisions were fun, but as more was required of us and the process was well underway, our mindset slowly became, come on, let’s make a final decision already, without blowing the budget. I want this thing finished!

Productions of any kind require patience, perseverance, some creativity, and serious budgeting. So, back to the image browsing, to see what I can come up with.

Well, It Was Almost a Balanced Week

It’s always a struggle for writers to juggle family life and day jobs with their creative lives. In fact, most of us don’t spend nearly as much writing/editing time as we’d like for numerous reasons, although this past week I came close.

I’m one of those weird folks who actually likes Mondays because that’s when I’m at my most energetic. Mondays means that I can get a fair bit of writing and editing done before and after the day job. On a really good day, I’ll then put in a half hour on the treadmill while catching up on reading. Yeah, I’ve been a multi-tasker for years.

By Wednesday afternoon, my energy level seriously fades. Thursday’s often a struggle to write, and Friday’s almost a complete write-off when it comes to stamina and concentration. Usually I can squeeze a little more writing time in on the weekends, but this past weekend was different.

Shower prep-2A few weeks ago, I volunteered our house for my daughter’s bridal shower. Given that this is summer, I figured we’d have a dozen guests at most. My task was to clean the house and provide platters for the food that the bridesmaids were bringing. I spent most of Saturday and early Sunday, cleaning the two bathrooms, tidying, dusting, etc. while my hubby and son swept the patio, cleaned the outdoor table, moved the BBQs out of the way and arranged furniture.

Bridal shower, group photoOnce the bridesmaids arrived, I watched in awe as they brewed jugs of different flavored teas, laid out food, decorated, and arranged flowers with an efficiency that had me in awe. As you’ll see from the photo, my twelve guest estimate pretty much doubled in size. (I’m in the blue dress in the front row, my daughter to the left, and my sister on the right.)

The shower was great fun and the bridesmaids were just as efficient with the cleanup and take-down as they were in setting things up. By the time every had left by 4:30, though, I was exhausted. My plans to do a little more editing that evening fizzled away.

Still, a good week of editing, followed by awesome family time, could be considered a balanced week. The only problem was that none of us felt rested by Monday morning. That’s okay, I have major rest and relaxation planned for this upcoming long weekend.

CakeBy the way, the delicious lemon cake in the photo was hand made by one of the bridesmaids. She brought fresh flowers to decorate the cake with! She also made a cheesecake with blueberry sauce, and earl grey cookies, which were amazing. As her wedding gift, she’s making the wedding cake, along with cupcakes. Now that I’m totally in wedding mode, I can’t wait for the big event in September.

 

The Tough Financial Road For Writers

Types_of_Freelance_Writing_Services[1].jpgI learned a long time ago that when it came to writing and income, I’d be taking more risk than I wanted in trying to earn a living from writing and publishing fiction. When I started getting paid for my published short fiction, the average paycheck was about $100, which meant I’d have to write and publish far more stories than I could possible manage.

After sharing my paltry income experience with a writers’ group back in the early 90’s, one of them loudly announced that she didn’t want to hear it. I learned then that not all writers want the truth about writing income. Since that time, I’ve read of, or even met, writers who wrote fiction as a means of earning needed retirement income. I worried for them. In fact, I worry for anyone who is depending on writing income, especially given the latest stats to come from the Authors Guild 2018 Author Income Survey. In a nutshell, the survey shows that writers’ incomes are dropping significantly. Keep in mind that this is one survey, but I’ve read of similar results from UK, Australian, and the occasional Canadian survey as well.

If you don’t want to know what the Guild report says, then stop reading here. I don’t mind. If you want to read the entire report (it’s interesting), you can find it HERE.

I want to focus on three highlights: 1) the median income for American writers in 2017, was $6,080, down 42% from 2009. 2) book earning incomes fell by 21% to $3,100. 3) on average, self-published authors earned 58% less money than traditionally published authors. A number of reasons are cited for these circumstances. Like many of us, the authors who took part in this survey supplemented their income through teaching, speaking engagements, and writing reviews.

I can certainly attest to the significant decline in ebooks sales for indie authors. In 2008 when I published Fatal Encryption, readers were trying their new e-readers and Kindles, and authors were buying one another’s books and reviewing them regularly, which Amazon eventually frowned upon. I used to sell paper copies on Amazon too until they decided to allow secondhand booksellers to sell my books at a cheaper price. It was either learn from this and adapt, or quit. I’ve chosen to adapt.

After reading the Authors Guild Report, I want to mention two things. One is that most authors (of course there are obvious exceptions) haven’t made a decent living from their work for well over a century. You can find references to what your predecessors have endured going back to Charles Dickens’ time and earlier.

My second point is that the desire—if not urge— to create won’t stop writers from expressing themselves in whatever form they choose, despite low income potential, nor should it. Dream big. A decent income does happen for some authors. It might not be easy and could take years of work, but nothing worthwhile comes easily, but then you already knew that, right?