Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mystery Influences

Readers often ask me who my favourite mystery authors and/or influences are.  It's actually a pretty short list.

Generally, when it comes to crime fiction, I like North American writers.  British detective novels, with a few exceptions, just aren't my cup of tea.

I love the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker.  I wasn't much of a fan of his others series (Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall). 

I am also a big fan of Lawrence Block, both the Scudder novels and "The Burglar Who..." series.

My overall favourite writer, though, is Janet Evanovich and the "Stephanie Plum" series.  I laugh my head off when I read them, and find them impossible to put down!

Another favourite woman in crime fiction is Sue Grafton.  I've read up to the letter R, I think. 

And that's about it.  Those four are favourites; they grab me with their characters and their plots.  Books by these authors are ones that I keep on my shelf and re-read from time to time.

This doesn't mean I don't read other authors, nor does it mean that I lovelovelove every single thing about every single book by these four.  But, in the end, thses are the writers I'd like to emulate, and these are the books I go back to time and again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Deadly Letters Guest Blogger

Robin Spano is the guest blogger today over at Deadly Letters
We all know that money talks, but does it read as well?
See what Robin has to say about eBooks and pricing. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Blogger: Robin Spano on Motives

I am pleased to have Robin Spano as a guest blogger today!  Robin is a cool chick, a good friend, and the proud author of the Clare Vengel mysteries.  The first book in the series, Dead Politician Society, was published in September by ECW; book two will be out in 2011.  Here's Robin...

Motive – it drives every mystery... 

It drives behind the scenes – a writer has to know it and a reader has to feel it as it pulls the plot along. But it has to be unspoken until the end. Because of this, the moment when the motive is revealed needs to have impact – it's what the reader has been waiting for the whole book. It has to be intense, dramatic, and just right.

So how does a writer create that impact?    

I think it's all in the theme

If a murderer is killing for money, the reveal will feel far more “right” if materialism, greed, or financial security have been explored in the book. If the motive is revenge, there could be discussion among the characters about loving someone so much you'd kill to avenge their death, or being so insanely angry that you wait for your moment to retaliate. If the killer is a cold-blooded psycho, the book could explore mental illness – at least in passing. And if they're killing for politics, you need some political debate.

Writing fast, fun fiction, the last thing I want to do is weigh the plot down with heavy discussions that stop the action. But I know this as a reader: When the final reveal includes a motive whose theme has been explored, the read feels more complete. I close the book feeling satisfied.

Writing Dead Politician Society, my goal was to write a book that I would want to read. I tried to give each suspect's motive ample air time. For every prime suspect – from the bitchy editor of the Star to the womanizing U of T professor – I considered the thoughts that might have passed through their heads if they were the killer. Not just so the reader might suspect them – although of course that was also the goal – but so the reader would understand why they might kill.

The real killer, naturally, has to have the biggest motive. At the revelatory moment, the reader should say Of course!, not No, I really think this other person's motive was way stronger.

I also think it's important for a reader to sympathize with the murderer's motive – even if they are a cold-blooded psycho. That's not to say we don't want them locked up and off the streets in most cases. But we have to see the world, however briefly, from behind the killer's eyes. Their motive needs to make sense to us – and we have to believe that, were circumstances different – maybe if we'd been born into the killer's situation – we, too, might contemplate murder.

My original plan for Dead Politician Society was to have the killer pick off politicians I hated – starting with the mayor of Toronto. But as I wrote, I got more into the characters and having fun with them, and the book became pure fiction – which is probably much better for its entertainment value. Still, if you're into Canadian politics and look closely at the victims, you might see some other people you recognize . . . though of course if I was pressed, I'd say any resemblance was coincidental.

Motive – it drives every mystery.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Awards and Jurors/Judges

There has been a big kerfuffle in the last few weeks over the winner for the Giller prize.  The Giller is one of Canada's biggies in the book world... the winner gets $50,000!

This year's winner is Johanna Skibsrud for her book The Sentamentalists.  More on the kerfuffle in a moment, but some background is necessary first...

There are many different book awards out there, for literature in general (Man Booker, Trillium, Governor General's, etc.) and several for specific genres (like the Nebula award for Sci-Fi, or the Edgar, the Dagger, or the Arthur Ellis for crime fiction).  In 2006 (or was it 2005?), I was a judge for the "Best Novel" category for the Arthur Ellis awards.

The instructions to the three judges (for some reason they (we) were actually called jurors, not judges, whatever...) were pretty simple and straightforward.  For our category, we were to choose the best book overall (from the ~50 books entered that year).  Criteria for best book included quality of writing, plot, dialogue, etc.  Everything to do with judging was related to the book itself, to what was between the pages.  We were not told to consider any external factors in choosing the shortlist (of five books) or in balancing nominees between male and female, or by region (east coast/west coast) or anything like this.

Johanna Skibsrud's publisher is a small Canadian publisher called Gaspereau Press.  They produce the books the old fashioned way, using a hand press or something, and apparently the books are beautifully bound hardcovers.  Quality takes time, and Gaspereau can only crank out a few hundred a week or so. 

Well, naturally, when Skibsrud won the Giller prize, demand for the book shot through the roof!  Everone wanted it, but no one could get it.  All sorts of comments and articles were written up in newspapers and other media about this unknown small publisher and this great new book that no one could read anytime soon.

I saw a few articles that claimed it was irresponsible of the judges to choose a book that was so limited in demand.  This is the real point of my post.  Although I understand the frustration of a hot new book getting this prestigious award and all the attendant publicity... and then not being able to go out and buy it, but still, it seemed ludicrous to me that judges should take heat for choosing a book from a small, independent publisher, and I certainly wouldn't have considered it irresponsible.  As well, I don't think judges should have to do research on who the publishers are of the books that have been entered in the Giller or other awards.  When I was judging the Arthus Ellis awards, I can't recall checking up on any of the publishers, even those publishers with whom I was not familiar.  That wasn't the point in choosing the best book

By the way, Gaspereau has since signed an agreement with a larger publisher to produce paperback copies of The Sentimentalists, and it's now readily available in stores.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

PWELGAS and 7 Deadly Motives

All right, so you know from my last post that PWELGAS is an acronym for the Seven Deadly Sins (or Cardinal Sins).

When it comes to writing mysteries, there are only so many motives... there has to be a good reason for the victim to be killed, or readers will put the book down and not pick it up again.

Reasons for murder in mystery fiction can fall to some of the following:
-serial killer - psychological
-blackmail or some form of self-preservation or to prevent a secret from getting out
-heat of the moment - crime of passion

It strikes me that most of the above - plus the other motives for murder that I have not mentioned here - fall under the Seven Deadly Sins list, or PWELGAS if you will.  Just a reminder, the Seven Deadly Sins are:


I cannot imagine sloth being a motive for murder (but who knows?); however, the remaining six sins all strike me as good motives in one way or another.

My question to you is: do you have a favourite murder motive in crime fiction?  Does murder for one reason over another elicit sympathy for the villain, turn you off, is one motive harder to believe than others?

Let me know your thoughts on motives and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Riggerfrutch and Pwelgas

Years and years ago, I read a neat book called the Canadian Book of Lists.  They've printed several editions over the years, and I cannot recall which year had the entry I'm about to refer to.

The Book of Lists had all kinds of Canadian trivia and top ten this and that.  One that stuck with me was a list called "Ten Uniquely Canadian Words".  One of the words was "riggerfrutch" which - according to the list - was a Canadian swear word, derived from God knows where.  It doesn't seem to have caught on, damn it.

Another word on that list was "pwelgas," and this word is the real topic of this post.  According to the book, PWELGAS is an acronym that has become a word itself (much like "scuba" and "laser" are common words now, but originally came on the scene as acronyms).

PWELGAS is the acronym for the seven deadly sins:

I have never heard of anyone using the word PWELGAS but it strikes me as a handy word for mystery writers.

More on PWELGAS in my next post...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

True Crime

Hey all you crime writers out there!

Do you ever get inspired by real life?  Has a true crime story ever served as a background to one of your mysteries?  I ask this because of a recent story in the local press.  Canadian papers and news programs have had a lot of coverage lately of the Colonel Russell Williams story.  He has confessed to two murders, plus a number of other crimes, including several break-ins.

The story is tuly horrible and some of the newspaper articles this week made my stomach lurch.

I don't think I could ever make up something as vile as this case.  It would be disturbing to write about such heinous crimes.

On the other hand, I have read at least three mysteries in the last while that are clearly based (however loosely) on real stories in the local news.  In one case, the story was great and felt original.  The connection to the real story was loose, and overall it worked. 

In another case, though, the real story was horrible, and was so thinly disguised in this novel, that I had a hard time finishing the book.

What about you?  How do you feel when art imitates life?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wondering about Weapons

When it comes to writing mysteries, do you have a preferred murder weapon?  Do you think readers are turned off by some weapons?  Certainly, some weapons require more research (guns & ballistics for instance), might this dissuade you or will you roll up your sleeves and start researching how to use this weapon convincingly in your book.  Certain weapons yield a bloodier or more gory scene of the crime, such as a stabbing  - would that make the writing more difficult to you?  Do you think some methods are more "female" than "male"? 

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I'd love to hear from people who attended Bouchercon 2010.  I've never been, but hope to go next year (or the year after or ...)

I don't have much experience with Mystery Conventions, but from what I hear, Bouchercon is the best of the best. 

If you've been as either an author or a fan, tell me what it was like, what you learned, who you met and what you enjoyed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Here's another hypothetical question for writers:  How much leeway does your editor have with your book?  Does s/he discuss all changes with you?  Do you give your editor carte blanche?  I assume the process can be slightly different from one publishing house to another, but there are also norms and standards within the industry. 

I know that proofreading is a separate thing - catching typos and inserting missing punctuation is a separate thing, a separate skill set, so I'm not wondering about that side of things.

But when it comes to character development, setting, dialogue and so forth, what sorts of changes would you want to have a say in, versus what sorts of changes would you let slide?  Or, would you just let them do what they want and assume that "Father knows best"? 

Finally, how would you feel if - suppose - the editor made changes but didn't tell you or show you what they were (for example, you did not get a blacklined version or a "tracked changes" version)?  Imagine getting the manuscript back and finding out the word count was significantly different but you didn't know what those added or deleted words were.

In your experiences, what is usual and what is unusual? 

I'd love to learn what your experiences have been like.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Misleading Book Covers

Here's another hypothetical topic for discussion:

Suppose your publisher chose a book cover that was incorrect or didn't match the contents of the book.  Let's say, for example, the cover of a mystery novels depicts a bottle of poison (you know, with the skull and crossbones on the label), but the story does not include the use of poison, nor does it hint at poison, nor is poison included in the plot as a "red herring". 

As factually unsuitable as this hypothetical cover may be, the publisher wants to use it (maybe the marketing department said it was a good choice...?).

Should the author be allowed to veto the choice of the book cover or not?

Looking forward to your replies... Jill

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Question for (aspiring) authors

What would you do or what would you think if your publisher consistently spelled your name incorrectly?  Let's assume it is spelled correctly on the book cover, but it is wrong in other places, for example on publicity materials. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Hey Folks,

I've been away from the blogosphere for a while now.  Self-imposed exile :-)
I will soon get back to posting on a regular basis.

Cheers, Jill

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reviews and Spoilers...

As a first time author, I am thrilled to get reviewed at all (hey! they noticed me!), and I'm even more thrilled about the fact that the reviews have been good!!!  Blood and Groom has been reviewed ten times (that I know of) by various print media (including the Globe & Mail, Quill & Quire, London Free Press, Hamilton Spectator, etc.), and by various online magazines and blogs (Reviewing the Evidence, Bookgasm, etc.)

So what do I have to complain about?  Well...

One or two of the reviews (not on sources listed above) have kind of given away significant clues or spoilers.  Even though the reviews in these instances have been positive, I wonder if a potential reader may be turned off because they've learned too much about whodunit and won't have the sense of suspense one longs for in a mystery.

I have never written a review of a mystery novel.  As I think about it, yes, I imagine that it would be a challenge to write an informative review without giving away key plot points.

For those of you who have written mystery reviews, how do you balance writing an objective and interesting critique without saying too much?

For those of you who read book reviews, has a review ever turned you off by saying too much?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recent Reads: Ladies Under Choke Rye

Ladies And Gentlemen The Bible! -  by Jonathan Goldstein
 My take on it:  Hilarious, though a tad tedious towards the end.  

Under The Volcano: A Novel - by Malcolm Lowry  
My take on it:  Hard work and heavy duty, but brilliantly written and evocative. 

 Choke - by Chuck Palahniuk   
My take on it: OMG - I loved it!  Fast & funny; I wolfed it down! 


Rabbit at Rest - by John Updike   
My take on it:  I love Harry Angstrom.  I've read the whole Rabbit series.   Loved all of them, old friends, neighbours, family.  I know these people.  

The Catcher in the Rye - by JD Salinger
This is a fantastic book and I really enjoyed re-reading it.   Worth another look if you only read it in high school.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wirting and Confidents and Grammer

I may come off as slightly cranky with this post, but I must comment on something I have seen a lot of lately, especially in Cyber Land.

Poor grammar and spelling. 

Spelling poorly (at least in the writings I've noticed recently) is usually the result of lazily depending on spellcheck.  Spellcheck corrects the wrong word for you, so words like inconvenience become incontinence!  Other frequent occurences include confusion between:
  • accept/except
  • advise/advice
  • effect/affect
  • your/you're
  • there/their/they're
  • ... and so on...

The crimes against grammar usually include:
  • run on sentences
  • apostrophe plurals (argghhhh!!!)
  • vague pronoun references
  • misplaced modifiers
  • verb conjugations (especially irregular past participals and perfect tenses)
  • semi-colons and colons used incorrectly (argghhhh!!!)
Studying grammar is about as much fun as watching paint dry, but it's a must!

When I first started creative writing, I had been teaching grammar and composition for so long, I felt confident in my ability to at least write clearly and correctly.  In some ways, that was half the battle right there. 

I realize that online communications are often informal, and are often done on the fly.  Plus, I must confess I've had my share of typos and grammar goofs, but things are rarely perfect.

However, if you want to get published, and maybe someday quit your day job to be a full time writer, it's a good idea to develop good habits and use them 99% of the time. 

I think the point is that you must know what the rules are before you decide when and where to break them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Be Your Own Best Customer!

I actually felt like kind of a dork for this... even though it's basically good...

The last week and a half has been exceptionally busy, with life, work and book events.  Three of the book events I had on the coming schedule (for Monday, Wednesday & Thursday nights), were non-retail venues, i.e. not at bookstores.  On Friday and Saturday before this, I was at the Bloody Words Convention, and on Sunday I did a signing at a Chapters store. 

On Saturday the book vendor at Bloody Words sold out of my book Blood and Groom.  I had a few copies at home, so I rushed back to get them, and Don Longmuir sold all my extra copies as well. 

The book sold out - good right?!?  Yes indeed.  Except...

I can order my own book from the publisher and get a discount, but it takes a few says to get them (even though the distributor's warehouse is here in Toronto, it's wayyyyy the hell on the outskirts of the city).  And just as a rule, I always like to have a few copies of my book on hand.

I realized on Sunday morning that - Oh Crap! - even if I ordered books first thing Monday morning, I wouldn't actually receive them in time for my events on Monday,  Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.

So, on Sunday, while I was doing the bookstore signing, I bought a bunch of copies of my own book!!!  I wonder what the bookstore staff thought of this ("Hey, she's buying her own book just to boost sales... what a loser!")

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Books and Food and Clubs and Wine!

Last night I did a book 'gig' that was quite a bit different from the bookstores and libraries I've been doing over the last while.

I met  Margaret - an avid bookworm - when I was doing a store event several weeks ago.  She told me she's part of a book club, and asked if I'd be interested in being a guest some time.  Of course I said yes, and the 'some time' was last night.

What a fun evening,  and I'm so lucky to have been invited!

The soiree was potluck dinner at Margaret's home. The girls each brought a yummy a dish to share, plus there was plenty of vino... All the right ingredients for a great evening!

So, while sipping a glass of bold red wine, and eating enough delicious food to feed an army (homemade mac n' cheese, grilled asparagus, spinach and brie salad, mango crepes, etc.) , we had a great  talk about Blood and Groom, and about writing and publishing in general.

It felt so good to interact with people like this - so different from the brief encounters at retail outlets, or from the more formal and one-directional library gigs.  These women were wonderful!  They had all read the book, and had specific questions about it (which means they actually really did read it, and I certainly learned from them (male/female?!)).

It's also cool that this book club is in Toronto, which is where Blood and Groom is set.  So, I gave the girls the background gossip on the real places mentioned in the book (and on real places that I've thinly disguised).   Sasha's office really was my office long ago, and I know they all recognized the real "Chadwick's" and the real "Crystal Cove Spa"! 

We also had a great talk on how I named and developed characters (hee hee hee, especially villains), how I started - and finished - writing the novel, and what the whole first time novelist experience has been like. 

It was a fantastic evening, filled with great food, interesting and intelligent people, and I am so glad they invited me to join them!

Thanks Margaret!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bloody Words Convention

So, this weekend I'm off to the tenth annual BLOODY WORDS convention.  This will be my first ever book-writing-mystery-literary convention of any sort.  It happens to be held in Toronto, my city, which is why I'm going.

I am really looking forward to it!  It will be great to mingle with other writers and fans and folks from the publishing world.

Also, I'm on a panel discussion Friday evening" "Bad Girls" in crime fiction (hmmmm... wonder why they picked me???)

Then on Saturday, I'm doing "Book Speed Dating" which sounds like a great promo opportunity.  After that, I'll be at the SIsters in Crime signing table.

So, I am excited about the coming weekend and I'm sure I'll have lots to report afterwards.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

23 Ski-Doo, Groovy and Hip!

Is there an 'E' in groovy? 
The fact I have to ask that indicates just how UN-groovy I am!!!

I'm sure you all know about Urban Dictionary and other online sources for scoping out current slang and idioms.  Also, Urban Dictionary (IMO) is only helpful to check a word you already know, and won't spill out a bunch of suggestions if you're looking for that je ne sais quoi turn of phrase.  So, I've recently tried something different as a way to get tuned into the latest street talk.

Long ago, I created a Facebook fan page for my Sasha Jackson Mysteries.  I have over 1000 fans, and I can get demographic info about them (though no individual info).  Most of my fans (48%) are between 15 and 25 years old, so cooler and hipper (more hip?) than I am by far.

I recently posted a query on the Sasha fan page wall about contemporay slang.  The results were very helpful!  It turns out the word I had planned on using was wrong for the context I had in mind.  But the fans gave me some good suggestions for other common terms to use instead.

Funny to think of using Facebook as a tool to help you in the writing of a novel.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oui, oui, wheeeee!

I went to Montreal, P.Q. this past weekend...

The trip to Montreal was half business, half pleasure.  I met up with a few friends, but the catalyst for the trip was to do some book store signings in a city (any city!) outside of Toronto (most of my book promo events thus far have been in the Toronto area). 

Montreal is a good sized city (one of the three biggest cities in Canada) and it seemed like a good idea to try to build some word of mouth in another urban centre.

BUT... Montreal, or at least the province of Quebec, is French speaking (officially).  Montreal, however, does have a large English and/or bilingual population, so I figured it would probably be okay to try a signing there...

WOW!  It went even better than I had expected, and - ironically- it was even better than some of my Toronto events! 

I signed on Saturday afternoon at Chapters Pointe Claire and on Sunday afternoon at Chapters on Rue Ste. Catherine; I sold 20 and 24 copies of Blood and Groom respectively. 

What blew me away, though, was how incredibly supportive and encouraging the staff at each store were!  The Ste. Catherine staff - in particular Sam, Mathieu, and Ian - were awesome!!!!  They steered people my way, they made sure all the staff on duty were aware of the event and knew about the book.  It was a great feeling, a really positive environment, and I look forward to signing there again someday.  I also have to give a shout out to Craig and the staff at Pointe Claire, they were fantastic as well. 

As for the language issue, well,  it wasn't an issue at all, really.  A few customers were French speakers (or readers) only, but many people were interested in talking with me about the book and no one gave me grief for chatting them up in English.

So all in all, it was a great weekend.  A big, hearty THANK YOU to Chapters Quebec!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Obsolete Furniture... and Books

I remember years ago, every furniture store had a selection of microwave oven stands to choose from. Homes back then did not have a shelf space built into the kitchen to accommodate a microwave oven.  I also remember buying TV stands and stereo stands.  Now TVs are wall mounted, and you no longer need a stand that has a shelf to hold the VCR and space beneath it to store your VHS videos.  Think back too about buying a slim line stand or rack to hold all your CDs once you got rid of all your vinyl (or stuck it up in the attic).

I would hate to see the day when book shelves become obsolete as we give way to electronic books.  I love proudly displaying all my books on a shelf and I love adding to it and crowding the shelf with more and more hardcovers and paperbacks of recent bestsellers and myriad nonfiction works.  I love browsing the bookshelves when I visit someone's home.  I firmly believe a great way to get to know someone is to see what books they have in their collection.

Granted, the e-book revlolution is here and there's no turning back, but I doubt the digitalization of books will ever permeate our society to the same extent that it has in the worlds of music and video.  At least I hope not.  I would hate to see bookshelves become obsolete.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Whodunit on Stage?


I've been away from blogging for a little while; in part that was because I took a fantastic little trip to New York City.  It was fantastic (but then, what's not to love about Manhattan?)  The purpose of my trip was to see some Broadway shows.  I saw "Rock of Ages" which was excellent, and I saw "Memphis" (not bad...) and "American Idiot" (very disappointing).

I kept walking past signs and ads for "ENRON" - yes, a musical about Enron... I wish I had cgone to see it - the reviews have been great.  It sounds loopy enough (and original) that it just may be a great stage performance.  "Addams Family" is being universally panned.

So - now for the point of this blog posting: is there any whodunit that you could visualize on stage (as a musical)?  I know The Mousetrap was on Broadway forever, but it was not a musical (although there may have been versions...)

The only thing that leaps to mind is Poe - I could see his works being put to music and staged. 

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Guest Blogger: Cathy Astolfo on "Letter Lunacy"

Hi Folks,

Today I am very pleased to have Catherine (aw, c'mon, we're all friends here, so let's call her Cathy!) Astolfo as my guest blogger.  Cathy's post captures what I'm sure many (every?) writer feels about the act of writing... the good side of it, and why we do it.  Sure it can drive us crazy, and we have all stumbled over plot development and battled with writers' block, but we still sit down at the computers and write... Here's Cathy's take on why we do it:


I have an obsession. Okay, maybe more than one, but certainly my prime fixation is with letters and forming words.

Ever since I can remember, words have spilled out of me. In Grade Three, I used to write fairy tales for my classmates. The kind of story that, these days, would have caused a social worker to visit my mother. Blood thirsty and violent, just like all the other fairy tales I’d heard, with evil stepmothers and nasty beasts lurking to swallow up naughty children. In Grade Seven, my teacher actually threatened to give me the strap if I didn’t stop “wasting my time writing”. Even though I had my other work all completed (somewhat obsessively).

In secondary school and on to university, the letter lunacy stood me in good stead: I was always overflowing with things to say, especially in writing. Essays and arguments and dissertations all came naturally when I was allowed to paint them on paper. I truly loved getting an essay question on a test. Besides writing in school, and later on in my career, I write every day in my head. While I am driving, walking, exercising, or reading another book, I am contriving situations, describing scenery, or having a conversation with one of my characters. I cook my novels for months ahead of time.

My obsession is secretly all about one thing: the writing, followed by having people read it. I do have to write, just as I have to eat (and drink red wine). I would write whether or not anyone ever saw my collection of letters. But oh, the thrill of hearing someone say “I loved your book”, or “I laughed and I cried…” or “When’s the next book coming out?” cannot be adequately described. Your obsession suddenly becomes legitimate. You are not a lunatic after all.

Mark Twain said, “This (writing) is the love of your life. It's what I want to do when I wake up. Nothing feels so absorbing, so fulfilling.” Now imagine the love of your life getting recognition and appreciation from others. The proverbial icing on the cake, for sure. Running alongside my passion for words, the way my two cats race each other up and down the living-room, is the obsession with getting my books into print. Followed by marketing, publicity, posters, appearances…one addiction just piles on top of the next.

Evelyn Waugh said, “The art of writing, like the art of love, runs all the way from a kind of routine hard to distinguish from piling bricks to a kind of frenzy closely related to delirium tremens.” She is too right! Off I go – sticking to the routine so I can whirl around in a fit of passion.

Catherine (Cathy) Astolfo

The Emily Taylor Mysteries

Email Cathy at:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I “hired” 43 marketing experts!

As many of you know, I am a professor at George Brown College. I teach communications in the Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism. Another building on the same campus is home to the Faculty of Business. I popped by there several weeks ago and had a great chat with Tom Arhontoudis. Tom is the Coordinator for the Marketing Diploma Program. We talked at length about publishing and marketing in general and about Blood and Groom in particular. It was decided that creating marketing plans for Blood and Groom would be the final project for his Marketing students this semester.

I visited the class twice to give background and product info. The students asked a lot of very good questions. They wanted info on what I had done and what I planned to do. They asked particulars about the book and my target audience. Their assignment was two-fold: one, a written report (marketing plan) and two, a presentation.

On Wednesday April 21st, I saw all the presentations (I think there were twelve). WOW! Some of the stuff these guys came up with blew me away! Naturally, some ideas were better than others, a few ideas were good but don’t suit my purposes for the time being (maybe later...), some ideas were too expensive but may be doable down the road.

Keep in mind who these students are: They are all in the fourth semester of a three year Marketing program. I’d say most of the students are between 19 and 25 years of age. They are all pretty tech savvy; they’re up to date on various social media; in many ways, they themselves are my target market; and at a minimum, they represented a lot of word-of-mouth potential.

Some of the ideas were similar to things I’ve already done, although perhaps they offered a twist on it. They had suggestions for blogs that have thousands of daily hits from people in my target market demographic. They suggested creating an app for iPhone. They gave me many great suggestions for web redesign. Plus there were ideas for contests and cross-marekting and events.  And - not surprisingly - they offered several suggestions for Twitter and Facebook, etc.

Some of the coolest ideas were the ones that may seem a little bit out there... but what the hell, anything’s worth a try! Here are some of the highlights from the presentations:

There is a sidewalk artist, Dave Johnston, who does huge sidewalk ‘murals’ outside the Eaton Centre (mall). It might be worthwhile to talk to him about drawing the Blood and Groom cover. It could sure create a buzz.
Dave Johnston

They gave me ideas about “flash mobs”. A “flash mob” (or crowd) is hard to describe if you don’t know what it is. Wikipedia gives a good explanation here: Flash Mob

I had never heard before of Hippopost, but they do direct mailing and it’s free! They snail mail postcards for you – no cost – but the back of each postcard contains an advertisement. Hippo Post

Many of the students suggested doing some surveys to collect more solid info about who my Facebook fans/readers/buyers are. Many of the presentations suggested using Survey Monkey to create a questionnaire. This service is also free. Free Survey

Finally, Tamal, a student with a creative streak, made a new book trailer. I think it’s pretty cool. Have a look here: Very cool book trailer for Blood and Groom CHECK IT OUT!!!

I am glad I spoke to Tom about getting his Marketing students to work on Blood and Groom as their final project. Now that I’m finished teaching for a while, I will have time to start implementing some of these fantastic ideas.

Thanks to Tom A and the Wednesday afternoon Marketing group. You ROCK!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Pick-Up Artist, A Mantra, and I See Dead People

One thing about book events is that you meet lots of people.  This is generally a good thing... except when it's not...

Anybody can wander into a store or a library.  When you're trying to sell books and build an audience, you've got to chat with people.  I have had some neat conversations with aspiring writers, bookworms, poets and mystery fans.  All good, all cool, some more than others.

And then you get the weirdos and time bandits.

Time bandist are easier.  They yak your ears off for 20 minutes and have no intention of buying the book.  Hopefully, though, they will tell  friends or relatives about meeting you and those people will buy the book.  Hopefully...

Okay, so that's the easy part of things... and then...

This weekend, I did three store events.  At the first store event, a well spoken, seemingly friendly man started chatting to me about writing and kept yammering away for a good long while.  It soon became clear that writing was of little interest to him.  He was trying to pick me up!  He wandered off for a while, then came back, feigned interest in my book, asked me to go for a drink, etc. etc. etc.  Wandered away, came back, suggested wine afte rthe signing... Um... no thanks... I don't use book signings as a clever way to meet men.  YIKES!

Then there was this lady who politely talked books with me for a few minutes.  She seemed kind of cool and New Age or Hippie, and seemed genuinely interested in my book, until... She asked if I am spiritual, if I meditate, and whether I have a mantra or not.  I said no.  So she gave me my very own mantra.  It's Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu - sung at a rather high and steady note for about a minute and a half.  I think it means good fortune or go away or  please buy my book or something.  Dunno.

Then there was the lady today who said she is a medium for dead or missing children.  She consulted/communed with/contacted the cover of my book and told me the second book would do much better than the first one.   Uh, okay, thanks, have a nice day...

So, that was my weekend.  Book sales are steady, very encouraging.  Blood and Groom is in a SECOND PRINT RUN!!!  So, I'll contnue to do store and library events and will meet all kinds of people.  Perhaps some of them will be inspirations for future characters!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Book Signing... OMG!!!! What should I wear?!?!?!

So, I am still trudging along with book signings at the big box book stores almost every Saturday and Sunday.  It's fun and busy and I'm learning as I go.  There's one thing I hadn't given much thought to, though, until this morning: What should I wear?

Most of my book events of late have been squeezed in between work/school/social functions or commitments, so I've left home in the mornings dressed to suit all two or three appointments/engagements throughout the day.

Today was an easy day, however.  I had nothing "piggy-backed" on to today's book signing, and as I got ready to go, I found myself befuddled as to what to wear...

Should I look "authorish"?  I think that means something halfway between professorial and librarian.  Or perhaps "authorish" means Boho chic...  For a guy, I picture a tweedy blazer with leather patches on the elbows.

But what should women wear to signings?  The tone of my book is fast and funny, sassy and sexy, so a serious look or a suit doesn't seem to fit.  It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to dress like one of the characters in the book, but that would possibly only be effective with people who have read the book...?

Another thing I wonder about is hair and make-up.  Today I skipped the paint-by-number face and had the hair in a ponytail.  That's very natural and very "me", but I wonder if readers expect an author to look a certain way?

The only thing I am sure of as I go along is that I have greater success if I stand next to the signing table and say hello as people walk by.  They're more likely to chat (and buy!) than if I am seated behind a desk (I guess it seems I'm more approachable this way...).  So, because I stand for most of the time I'm at a signing, I have learned that comfy shoes are essential!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What I Learned At Tonight's Book Event

I did an event tonight with two other authors: Caro Soles and Rick Blechta.  This was my first multi-author event and I was lucky to be paired with two established writers.

Caro Soles has written and edited a number of mysteries, such as A Tangled Boy, Drag Queen in the Court of Death, Blood on the Holly; plus fantasy and other works.

Rick Blechta is the author of several mysteries, including The Lark Ascending, Cemetery of the Nameless, and A Case of You

So, these two know the ropes about events and readings and signings.  I learned a thing or two from a couple of seasoned pros.

1.  When it comes to reading from your own book, you can read any part; you need not begin at page one.

2.  Unless you're good at doing voices, select a passge that doesn't contain a lot of dialogue.

3.  If doing events with other authors, don't be shy about shamelessly promoting them - give them a shout out... it's pay itself back :)

4.  It may be worthwhile to get someone to read with you (i.e. if the passage has a lot of dialogue).

5.  Not all bookstores are created equally.  Authors will tell you - based on their own experiences - which stores do more to promote you and to publicize the event.

6.  When doing a reading, don't be afraid to skip parts.  Some words, sentences or paragraphs sound fine when you read silently, when it's just in your head, but don't work as well with a live audience.

So, there you go.  The bottom line - if you're a new author - is BE A SPONGE!  Soak up all the tidbits and advice established authors offer.  You never know what's going to work, but it's sure nice learning from those with experience.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Signings and Wannabe Writers

I have been doing a number of signings and library events over the last while.  They've all gone pretty well.  It's fun to meet folks, and to talk about the book.  People have generally been interested, enthusiastic, supportive and all around really good. 

However, I have to let loose with a minor ketch...

At almost every event, there is an aspiring writer who has lots of questions.  Now, I am more than happy to share my experiences and to give whatever bits of advice I have, but...

I remember reading a great book on writing ,publishing and editing called:

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published
and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might
- By Pat Walsh

It was a great book and I learned a lot from it.  In it, he (I assume Pat is a he) describes a meeting with a wannabe writer - a friend of a friend situation.  He agreed to meet with the aspiring author.  Turns out, the person only had ideas for a book, but had not actually written anything.

Now, I get it! 

Some girl at the signing I did this weekend monopolized my time for a good 20 minutes.  I am not an expert on how to write or how to get published, but she decided to pick my brain.  (I'm not sure there's much there to pick, but that's another story...)

I was a bit irked - I was in the store to sell books, after all (sold 15, so I guess that's okay).  I am still trying to build a reputation, develop an audience and all that.  I am happy to share my own experiences, but of course every situation and story is different.  Anyhow, this girl kept pushing and badgering me and seemed angry that I wouldn't tell her THE SECRET to getting published.  

Finally, I asked her about her writing.  Turned out (drum roll please) that she had not written anything yet, she just had an idea for a book. 

Now I totally get the Pat Walsh anecdote.

And - I have to say this even if it is cranky - I think it was kind of schmucky of her to gab with me for so long and then not to even buy my book.  Kind of rude, IMO.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recent Reads: Books on Words and Language

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but was unsure what the "angle" would be.  I have long had a fascination with the English language and how and why it is the way it is.  I am intrigued by the changes in it over time, by nuances and subtleties, by its travels around the globe, and by the fact some call it "the Wal-Mart" of languages. 

Part of my interest comes from being a teacher (of grammar, essay writing, English as a Second Language, business communications and so on), but I think these books have helped me more as a writer than as an English teacher. 

I have read several books on English and what it's all about, where it's been, and where it's going.  The five below are some of my absolute faves - the ones I will pick up now and again, and flip through just for fun.

Each is fun and fascinating, all are targeted at a general audience (my interest in language wanes when it becomes academic, and starts to feel like work rather than leisure), there are good bits of humour here and there, and each of the five has a good tone.

Check them out.  They helped me as much as any rule book/thesaurus/writing guide ever did... perhaps more.

Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages, by Mark Abley

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary,
by Simon Winchester
Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language, by Ruth Wajnryb
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, by John Mcwhorter
Mother Tongue, by B. Bryson

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New cover look for Penguin Classics

Penguin has created new covers for eight of the books in their "Classics" series.  The covers feature text, specifically quotes from the novels themselves.

The covers are all done in black & white (Penguin) and red (in support of AIDS awareness).  I think they are stylistically striking, and the colour scheme is eye catching to me.  Have a look at all eight covers here:

Not everyone loves the new covers, though, such as the post at the following link:  

I happen to like them very much.  I think the idea behind them is good, I like the various layouts and fonts, and I think the "spillover" to the red bottom border is great. 

How much do you think covers have to do with sales?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do you ever model characters on real people?

People often ask me about characters and real people.  They want to know if So and SO was based on (insert name of friend, colleague, relative here). 

I wouldn't say any character is based on any one real person.  However, some characters were
inspired or partly inspired by real people.  What I may do is give a character a certain relative's quirks or mannerisms, and a physical description similar to a friend, plus the aptitudes of a colleague.  Often the inspirations will be people I knew long ago, or people I did not know well, such as a teacher from grade school, or the teller I see regularly at the bank. 

As well, when I am trying to flesh out a character - give them a background, hobbies, phobias, experiences and so on - I often think of what people I know have said and done.  In Blood and Groom there is a mention that a character had once one trekking in the Himalayas.  That came out of hearing of an acquaintance's trip, but that's as far as it went.  The character in this case is male - the real person is female, the duration of the trip, time of year and all that were different.  In another situation, a character eats something that I never would, but had heard about from a friend. 

Another thing that I will draw on from people I know is references to pets.  I've never had any (wish I could, but I have allergies, damn...)  So, I may insert my friend's rambunctious puppy or my neighbour's parrot (who sits on her head all the time!).

I think as writers, we sort of observe day-to-day life, and see the story in it, or the appeal of it in creating a character, or a plot line, or a snippet of dialogue.

What do you think?

Monday, March 22, 2010


Some unusual rituals about death:

In ancient Rome, when someone was on their death bed, the eldest male relative would lean in close, inhale and catch the last breath of the dying person.

According to the great Greek historian Herodotus, the Calatians ate their dead. It was thought to be the family’s sacred duty. Queen Artemisia apparently mixed the ashes of her lover with wine and drank it.

In the Scottish highlands the deceased were buried with a small amount of salt and soil placed on their chests. The soil symbolized that the body decays and becomes one with the earth. The salt symbolizes the soul and like the soul does not decay or die.

In Northern Vietnam the deceased are buried in the land on which they lived. They are generally laid to rest in the middle of a rice paddy. After two years, the deceased's family digs up the body, cleans all the bones, and then re-buries the body in the family garden.

Who needs fertility drugs when you have a death shroud? In Madagascar, people dig up their dead relatives for a ceremony called famadihana. They parade the bones around the village and then bury the remains in a new shroud. The old shroud is given to childless newlyweds who place it on their bed.

Thralls were often sacrificed during a Viking funeral so that they could serve their master in the next world.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I couldn't make up this stuff!

I heard about a strange and horrible robbery here in Toronto yesterday.  A couple of jerks walked into a hospital and pretended to be visiting a sick friend.  They wandered into the room of an old and dying woman and stole her jewellery.  Yes, from her death-bed.  They will no doubt get caught (security cameras have their pictures and they've been splashed all over the local press).

So, I looked in to other jaw-dropping crimes and came across a website called Clumsy Crooks .  Sure enough, it has the death-bed heist mentioned, but also some other eye-rolling and head-scratching crimes, like:

  • the dentist who used paper clips instead of stainless steel rods in dental surgery
  • a man who showed up drunk at his DUI hearing
  • a man paying his crack dealer with Monopoly money
  • a woman who called police because of suspiscious noises... that turned out to be her vibrator
  • newlyweds who spent their first night of wedded bliss in jail
If I tried to put  these kinds of stories in a novel, the publisher would probably reject the manuscript and/or readers would find the plot hard to swallow.

Yes, truth really is stranger than fiction!

Friday, March 19, 2010

MIA and trudging along...

Hey there,

I've been MIA the last little while.  A combination of busy as hell at my full-time job (college prof... midterms...yikes) and doing book events (or planning book events) when I can.

Long before I was published, a writer acquaintance said the real work comes after the writing.  She meant all the promo stuff and all the effort that entails.  I'm not complaining, but I now get what she meant! 

The events themselves are usually fun and it's nice to talk to people about my book, about writing and so on.  The only bummer is if an event doesn't draw a crowd... but I guess that will happen at times - despite efforts to publicize the reading or whatever it is.

One thing I hadn't really expected is how hard and how easy it is to arrange an event, whether a library or a retail venue.  In some cases, it's all arranged in minutes via an email or two.  Date, time, place - poof!  Done!  See you soon.  In other cases, it's a series of calls, emails and faxes (who faxes anymore???) and a week or two before things get confirmed (or not).  I wish there were a recipe for this!

The one thing I am finding helpful and very supportive is local media, whether print or televised.  Community papers seem glad to cover events in their neighbourhoods, and local cable channels are eager to meet with you as well.

All in all, this has been one heck of a learning curve!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Invisible PR

Well, the bright side is that I am slowly getting some publicity... the not so bright side is that (for all intents and purposes) the little bit of publicity I have had has mostly been below the radar!

I have now done three interviews for newspapers (local ones, weekly publicatsions), plus I have now done two guest appearances on cable talk shows.

In each case, I have not been able to get a copy of the article or segment!!!  The local papers are local somewhere else (not here in Toronto) and teh  cable shows are a channel I don't  get (and they don't have an online version - ditto online for the print media).

I have emailed or called the various media people and asked if there is any way to get copies, but alas, I have not received anything yet.

It's kind of funny to know there is some publicity out there but I have no way of measuring its reach nor in seeing the final product.

Oh well, as they say: any publicity is good publicity!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nom de Plume

A few people asked me early on if I planned to use a pseudonym.  It never even occurred to me to do so.  I can't see why one would do so, unless an author were writing in completely different genres and trying to appeal to completely different readers.  For example, I know a mystery author who writes whodunits under her own name, but she also writes erotica... using a pen name.  'Nuff said. 

I can also even maybe understand the appeal of a nom de plume if you don't want to essentially compete with yourself, say if you have two series and the release dates are in the same season.  Mind you, this didn't affect Robert B. Parker and the Spenser-Sunny Randall-Jesse Stone novels (but then, hey, he was Robert B. Parker).

What I don't understand is when an author starts to blend the two names, as in the case with Nora Roberts and JD Robb.  I've noticed hardcovers books of hers labelled "Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb" and that seems odd to me.  It may have something to do with the publisher or with contracts or something else I have not considered...

There may also be (initial) resistance from readers who expect an author to, let's say, write gritty police procedurals... and the author may decide to give cozies a try.  I get that, really I do.

I'm wondering about this at the moment because I'm wondering what I might do if and when a new series idea comes to me...

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Library Event.... Zzzzzzzz....

Okay, I have to laugh at this!

I did a reading and Q & A at a library last weekend.  My half-brother Mike happens to work there, so he helped with the arrangements (thanks again!).  And, since this was something of a family event, our Dad came along.

Now, Dad has been supportive of me and the book.  He has bragged to his friends, he bought several copies, he came to the launch party.  Proud Papa to be sure.

I did the reading to a small crowd (only about 10 people besides my dad and Mike).  After the reading, people began asking questions - the usual, how long did it take to write Blood and Groom, was it hard to get published, etc.  Then someone asked "where did you get the ideas?" and I told the truth:  Many of the plot ideas came from Dear Old Dad.  But when I answered I said the following:

"My Dad - the guy who's fast asleep in the back row - gave me a lot of suggestions." 

Dad, clued in at that moment and woke up, startled, looked around, gave a deer in the headlights look to the group, and blushed a little.  Everyone else gave a nervous chuckle. 

So, Dad slept through the library event. about feeling like a forgotten middle child ;) 

Luckily, I found it funny!

Friday, February 26, 2010


I just came across this review on (learned of it via Google Alerts):
It's a fun and well-written review... and it's a very favourable review - here's an excerpt:

"Edmondson has a sharp and sassy style that’s deliberately not patterned noir, but a fresh and contemporary approach perfectly suited to her characters. It’s a remarkable first novel."

A great way to start the weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writing Column from today's Globe and Mail - Russell Smith

This is a neat article on what advice established authors have for aspiring writers.  Lots of it, it seems.  Interestingly (but not surprisingly), much of the advice is contradictory.  Hmmm...  what works for you?

Click The Writing Advice Industry to read the article.

I read a few books on writing when I began my first manuscript.  I came across many valuable tidbits.  I also came across a lot of drek, or at least advice that didn't seem like it would suit my needs/plot/personality (especially being told to write everyday, set aside an hour a day, etc... For me, long chunks of time - ten hours on a Sunday, for example, works best, but I digress...)

What I did find helpful, though, and I mean really helpful, was reading books on how to get published, how to query an agent/publisher, how to prepare a manuscript, and similar topics. 

I think each writer's voice is unique, as is each writer's story.  But we all work within the same industry (a surprisingly small one at that), and learning about the techniques and tricks to get your ms or query noticed was immensely valuable.  It also yeilded results.