I have a special bookcase in my office that contains four shelves and glass doors. It’s where I keep old editions of books purchased when I lived in England in 1979. I also keep signed copies of books from authors I’ve met over the years. Some I know fairly well. Others I meet briefly at mystery conferences ages ago and now don’t remember their faces.
This week, I decided to tackle that special collection. It’s been a perplexing challenge at times. I’ve found myself placing some of the books on the pile that won’t be moving with me. A few hours later, I put a handful back into the bookcase. There are books I didn’t think I’d part with a couple of days ago, but I’ve now changed my mind.
I’m looking at two criteria for discarding all of my books, signed or not. First, do these stories still resonate with me in some way and, second, is the print still readable for my aging eyes? Some of the older paperbacks have an incredibly small font size.
As you’ll see from the photo, I’m giving away my set of Crime and Punishment: A Pictorial Encyclopedia on Aberrant Behavior. The content isn’t extensive and was purchased about the time I enrolled in the criminology program at college. There are lots of gruesome photographs in it, though, including the Lizzie Borden crime scene, among others.
This bookcase contains books that will not be moving with me. The top shelf contains signed copies of mysteries/thrillers and half of the shelf below contain signed copies of other genres and nonfiction.
Among my unsigned collection, I’m keeping The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico, Rebecca, Brideshead Revisited, three of Maya Angelou’s books, all of Sue Grafton’s, and P.D. James’ books, a short story collection by Raymond Carver, and several others. It’s comforting to know that I still have many great books on hand 😊
On the promotion front, I was thrilled to be interviewed by the wonderful mystery author and artist, Joanna Van Der Flugt. We caught up after sixteen months, and the theme of our talk was transition. Joanna also went through a major move last year and she too is a mystery author who’s delving into other genres. If you’re interested in this hour-long broadcast you can find it HERE.
It’s been a pleasure to host prehistoric fiction author Jacqui Murray in the past, and I’m thrilled that she’s back with the release of her latest novel, Natural Selection, which is book #3 in her Dawn of Humanity series. I’m currently reading the first in this trilogy, Born in a TreacherousTime and enjoying it immensely.
Here’s a quick summary of Natural Selection:
In this conclusion to Lucy’s journey, she and her tribe leave their good home to rescue former-tribe members captured by the enemy. Lucy’s tribe includes a mix of species–a Canis, a Homotherium, and different iterations of early man. In this book, more join and some die, but that is the nature of prehistoric life, where survival depends on a combination of our developing intellect and our inexhaustible will to live. Each species brings unique skills to this task. Based on true events.
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!
The Canis’ packmates were all dead, each crumpled in a smeared puddle of blood, Upright killing sticks embedded where they should never be. His body shook, but he remembered his training. The killers’ scent filled the air. If they saw him—heard him—they would come for him, too, and he must survive. He was the last of his pack.
He padded quietly through the bodies, paused at his mate, broken, eyes open, tongue out, pup under her chest, his head crushed. A moan slipped from his muzzle and spread around him. He swallowed what remained in his mouth. Without a pack, silence was his only protection. He knew to be quiet, but today, now, failed.
To his horror, a departing Upright looked back, face covered in Canis blood, meaty shreds dripping from his mouth, the body of a dead pup slung over his shoulder. The Canis sank into the brittle grass and froze. The Upright scanned the massacre, saw the Canis’ lifeless body, thought him dead like the rest of the decimated pack. Satisfied, he turned away and rushed after his departing tribe. The Canis waited until the Upright was out of sight before cautiously rising and backing away from the onslaught, eyes on the vanished predators in case they changed their minds.
He had planned to descend into the gully behind him. Sun’s shadows were already covering it in darkness which would hide him for the night, but he had gauged his position wrong. Suddenly, earth disappeared beneath his huge paws. He tried to scrabble to solid ground, but his weight and size worked against him and he tumbled down the steep slope. The loose gravel made gripping impossible, but he dug his claws in anyway, whining once when his shoulder slammed into a rock, and again when his head bounced off a tree stump. Pain tore through his ear as flesh ripped, dangling in shreds as it slapped the ground. He kept his legs as close as possible to his body and head tucked, thankful this hill ended in a flat field, not a river.
Or a cliff.
When it finally leveled out, he scrambled to his paws, managed to ignore the white-hot spikes shrieking through his head as he spread his legs wide. Blood wafted across his muzzle. He didn’t realize it was his until the tart globs dripped down his face and plopped to the ground beneath his quaking chest. The injured animal odor, raw flesh and fresh blood, drew predators. In a pack, his mate would purge it by licking the wound. She would pronounce him Ragged-ear, the survivor.
Ragged-ear is a strong name. A good one.
He panted, tail sweeping side to side, and his indomitable spirit re-emerged.
Except, maybe, the female called White-streak. She often traveled alone, even when told not to. If she was away during the raid, she may have escaped. He would find her. Together, they would start over.
Ragged-ear shook, dislodging the grit and twigs from his now-grungy fur. That done, he sniffed out White-streak’s odor, discovered she had also descended here. His injuries forced him to limp and blood dripping from his tattered ear obstructed his sight. He stumbled trying to leap over a crack and fell into the fissure. Fire shot through his shoulder, exploded up his neck and down his chest. Normally, that jump was easy. He clambered up its crumbling far wall, breaking several of his yellowed claws.
All of that he ignored because it didn’t matter to his goal.
Daylight came and went as he followed White-streak, out of a forest onto dry savannah that was nothing like his homeland.
Why did she go here?
He embraced the tenderness that pulsed throughout his usually-limber body. It kept him angry and that made him vicious. He picked his way across streams stepping carefully on smooth stones, their damp surfaces slippery from the recent heavy rain, ignoring whoever hammered with a sharp rock inside his head. His thinking was fuzzy, but he didn’t slow. Survival was more important than comfort, or rest.
Ragged-ear stopped abruptly, nose up, sniffing. What had alerted him? Chest pounding, breathing shallow, he studied the forest that blocked his path, seeking anything that shouldn’t be there.
But the throbbing in his head made him miss Megantereon.
Ragged-ear padded forward, slowly, toward the first tree, leaving only the lightest of trails, the voice of Mother in his head.
Yes, your fur color matches the dry stalks, but the grass sways when you move. That gives away your location so always pay attention.
His hackles stiffened and he snarled, out of instinct, not because he saw Megantereon. Its shadowy hiding place was too dark for Ragged-ear’s still-fuzzy thinking. The She-cat should have waited for Ragged-ear to come closer, but she was hungry, or eager, or some other reason, and sprang. Her distance gave the Canis time to back pedal, protecting his soft underbelly from her attack. Ragged-ear was expert at escaping, but his stomach spasmed and he lurched to a stop with a yowl of pain. Megantereon’s next leap would land her on Ragged-ear, but to the Canis’ surprise, the She-cat staggered to a stop, and then howled.
While she had been stalking Ragged-ear, a giant Snake had been stalking her. When she prepared her death leap, Snake dropped to her back and began to wrap itself around her chest. With massive coils the size of Megantereon’s leg, trying to squirm away did no good.
Ragged-ear tried to run, but his legs buckled. Megantereon didn’t care because she now fought a rival that always won. The She-cat’s wails grew softer and then silent. Ragged-ear tasted her death as he dragged himself into a hole at the base of an old tree, as far as possible from scavengers who would be drawn to the feast.
He awoke with Sun’s light, tried to stand, but his legs again folded. Ragged-ear remained in the hole, eyes closed, curled around himself to protect his vulnerable stomach, his tail tickling his nose, comforting.
He survived the Upright’s assault because they deemed him dead. He would not allow them to be right.
Sun came and went. Ragged-ear consumed anything he could find, even eggs, offal, and long-dead carcasses his pack normally avoided. His legs improved until he could chase rats, fat round ground birds, and moles, a welcome addition to his diet. Sometimes, he vomited what he ate and swallowed it again. The day came he once again set out after what remained of his pack, his pace more sluggish than prior to the attack, but quick enough for safety.
Ragged-ear picked up the female’s scent again and tracked her to another den. He slept there for the night and repeated his hunt the next day and the next. When he couldn’t find her trace, instinct drove him and memories of the dying howls of his pack, from the adults who trusted their Alpha Ragged-ear to protect them to the whelps who didn’t understand the presence of evil in their bright world.
Everywhere he traveled, when he crossed paths with an Upright, it was their final battle.
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 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.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you all enjoyed a restful and/or fun break from your busy routines. It was a happy day at our house, and I’m so relieved that the weather cooperated so my family could be here. The icicles melted and the snow is nearly gone, however, certain areas of the Lower Mainland are now in flood watch.
For the writers among you, did you use whatever down time you had to catch up on writing, editing, or reading? I have much of this week, though other activities will prevail over the next three days.
Are you excited about the arrival of 2023? Do you have some special plans or goals? As most of you know, we’re moving some time in the spring, so the only firm writing goal right now is to finally recruit beta readers for my urban fantasy novel. My current draft is focused on reducing the word count. So far, I’ve gone from 122,000 words to 108,000 without about 100 pages left to edit. With luck, this round will be done by the end of January.
Great news! We have now officially purchased the house I mentioned in last week’s blog. 2023 will be another hectic year but in a different way. As we won’t actually be moving until some time in the spring, I’ll be spending Jan. and Feb. sorting, recycling, and packing. As advised by a good friend, we also have the option of hiring help to do this, which we might do. I’ll still keep writing, but will put in far fewer hours. It’ll be a welcome break from the physical activity.
As also mentioned last week, A Gold Satin Murder is now on sale for $.99 until Dec. 31st. 25 authors are offering their completed crime novels or novellas at discounted prices on a variety of platforms. Please check the link HERE
For some time now, writers have been told that to help acquire a publisher or an agent, they should have a strong social media presence. Earlier this week, a writing colleague, who recently attending a local writers’ summit, learned that this might not be the case anymore. Apparently, lots of Facebook and Twitter followers isn’t as important to publishers as it was a couple of years ago. The reason given for the change of attitude is that readers aren’t as engaged with social media as they once were.
There might be something to that. Perhaps it’s due to Covid fatigue, where we had to sit in front of screens much more frequently to connect with friends and family or do our jobs. Perhaps it’s the rise of hate-filled rhetoric or misinformation out there. I suspect it’s a combination of all of the above and possibly more.
Personally, I haven’t changed my social media habits, but I will if things become too intense. I stick with writing communities, yet don’t join any Goodreads or Linkedin groups. Nor do I keep apps on my phone. With all the controversy surrounding Twitter lately, a number of writing colleagues have left and moved to Hive and Mastodon, neither of which I’ve investigated yet.
So, here’s what I’d like to know. Are you less engaged on social media than you were two or three years ago? Do you find it less valuable for connecting or promoting your books? Have you thought about leaving entirely? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Last week, I tested positive for Covid and have been living a sequestered life and resting a lot. I picked it up from my husband before his symptoms appeared. The moment he started feeling unwell at work, he masked up, left work, and segregated himself from my son and me once he came home. He ate and slept in a separate room. Used a different bathroom, but it was already too late. My son, who put on his mask the moment his dad got home, tested positive a couple of days later, and my turn came the next day.
My symptoms were nothing more than a head cold, accompanied by a low-grade fever on day one and a headache. Low energy was the only persistent symptom, but I’m a hundred percent better and count myself lucky. As it happened, I’d had my fourth vaccine two weeks earlier, which could be why my symptoms were so mild.
Because I wasn’t bed-ridden and had no problem concentrating, I continued on with some of my writing tasks, as I usually do when mildly ill. Of course, the editing process was slower, but the psychological benefit of creativity was so good that I believe it helped me heal physically.
Balancing work and rest with illnesses and other disruptions is a reality that writers face all the time. It’s also something they frequently need to refine with age. It’s perfectly okay to slow down, as I’ve been doing, but at this time in my life, it’s not okay to throw in the towel and sit in front of a TV all day. In fact, I hope that never happens.
The real downside to illness is that I haven’t see my grandkids for a while and miss them terribly. But that will soon change! Stay safe and healthy, everyone. It’s going to be a bumpy winter.
Two weeks have flown by since my last blog, but as you from the previous post, life’s been a whirlwind. Our sunny fall weather has officially become a drought, but as you’ll see from the photo, my hubby’s managed to find some beautiful fall leaves. While he’s been experimenting with photography, I’ve been focusing on editing, which is both calming and challenging.
A few days ago, I learned about an intriguing writing contest called the Unchartered Novel Excerpt contest. This contest was recommended by a writing colleague whose agent is the judge. You can submit anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 words of your work in progress and the key is to choose something exciting to attract attention. It took some thinking as I have several big moments in this 122,000-word manuscript.
I wound up choosing two consecutive scenes that contain action, dialogue, and address the heart of the story. I’ve been working on this section a great deal and will be submitting the piece this week, I hope. If you’re interested in learning more about the contest, and I apologize for the late date, click HERE. They aren’t just looking for fantasy, but mysteries and horror as well. There’s also a good FAQ you can read on the home page for more information. I’ll do a little more research before I hit the submit button.
Research for my urban fantasy has been the other focus lately. Although I’ve read plenty of novels in this genre and books on Wicca and magic, I now find myself needing to read more on shamanism. One of the key characters in my fantasy is a shaman of mixed ethnic backgrounds, however, his shamanic training came from North American Indigenous cultures, and therein lies the problem.
After reading a number of articles about the need for sensitivity and the reluctance of publishers to touch anything even remotely Indigenous, particularly here in Canada, I’m reworking the character and focusing on Celtic shamanism, which is my ethnic background.
I found an amazing book on the topic that speaks to me on a level I hadn’t anticipated at all, but that’s something to reflect on later. At the moment, I’m looking at the issue from a writing/researching perspective and have compiled pages of notes. This particular character doesn’t have a lot of scenes, but the ones he does have are crucial and will necessitate some rewriting in the next draft.
The more I work on this book, the more I learn, and the more things need to be changed. Have you found that the longer you work on a project and the more research you do, the extra number of drafts you create? This whole process would be so much easier if I were writing a novella.
I was listening to the great novelist John Irving on CBC Radio this weekend. He’s 80 years old now and is about to release his latest novel. Wow! The interviewer asked him if he has another novel in the works, and he replied that he does, but it’ll be much shorter. He doesn’t have the time and energy for months of research anymore. I can totally relate to that!
Autumn’s always a busy time for writers with conferences, workshops, book launches, courses, readings, and many other events. When you’re launching a book during this period, the activity really ramps up. It’s why I feel a bit like an autumn leaf that’s been swept up on the wind and swooshed from place to place.
To be clear, I enjoyed wonderful experiences in September by meeting writing friends and colleagues, most of whom I haven’t seen in over 4 years. Spending time with them was restorative for the soul. Below is a photo of one of four events that took place last week. It was a joint launch/reading with writing colleague A.J. Devlin, who’s just launched his third mystery, Five Moves of Doom. He’s created a great character in former pro wrestler turned private investigator, in ‘Hammerhead’ Jed. If you’re looking for great whodunits with a lot of humor, check out A.J.’s website HERE.
Writing-related tasks continue for A Gold Satin Murder. I’m currently updating back and front matter in all of the Casey Holland ebooks. I’m also taking part in a query letter workshop through the Creative Academy focusing on my urban fantasy, which is proving to be a great experience. Query letters and a book synopsis require many drafts for me, for most writers actually, but I’ve decided to search for a traditional publisher and both are an essential tools in the process.
Today, I’m taking it easy as I had my vaccine booster yesterday and have a very sore arm and a bit of fatique today. Also, here in Canada, Thanksgiving is this weekend and I’m hosting the family dinner. I can’t wait for family time. I see my granddaughters once a week, and little Abby looks different on every occasion. I’ll share pictures next week.
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.
I’m back to babysitting this week, so things are a little slower on the writing front, however, I wanted to share info about the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference coming up next week.
It’s a virtual event and for a $25 fee you can attend interviews with Ian Rankin, Rick Mofina, Maureen Jennings and many others. There will also be several panel discussions over this four-day event on a variety of topics for mystery readers and writers. For more info about the program and registration, please check out the link HERE.
I’m not affiliated with the conference and won’t be able to participate this year, but a number of my colleagues are taking part, and I’m excited for them. I will be taking part in a conference in mid-August, but I’ll save that info for a later date.
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