Monday, 25 April 2016

Spring Reading Season Begins!

Photo by David Koren
It's that time again. Time to shake off the winter rust, get a handle on the nerves, and get out there reading.

This week I had an opportunity to appear at the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award shortlist event at Chapters Rideau in Ottawa. Along with a stellar group of mystery authors including Mary Jane Maffini and Linda Wiken, I helped celebrate the announcement of the short lists for this year's awards. It was a lot of fun, and thanks go out to Linda for all her hard work.

Yesterday I was back at it again, appearing at the 2016 edition of the Navan Fine Arts Festival with Lynn L. Clark. Located at the curling club in this town on the eastern edge of Ottawa, it was an opportunity for us to try a new venue. We were pleased with the results. We both did short readings by the fireplace and chatted with interested readers. Thanks go out to Anne Warburton for all her hard work and support at this event, to the Navan Lions Club, and everyone else involved in making this event a reality.

I should mention that this festival included a very interesting event that other communities might like to try as well. Called the Chair Project, it was a goodwill contest in which families were encouraged to donate wooden chairs. The idea was for children to decorate the chairs in whatever way struck their fancy, donate the chairs to the event, and have a chance to be declared the winner in various categories (Cuteness, Amazingness, etc.). There were three age groups, and a surprising number of chairs entered into the contest. The chairs will be set out around the town during the summer for people to sit in and admire. I thought it was a great idea!

Watch this spot as spring rolls into summer for more updates on our travelling road show!

Monday, 11 April 2016


Spring is slow to arrive in our neck of the woods these days, so it was with a mixture of pleasure and relief that I took a couple of hours yesterday to attend the semi-annual vinyl record show and sale at St. Anthony's Hall in Ottawa.

Now, I've blogged before about being an avid collector of vinyl records, an addiction that goes back to my teens, when we haunted Moondance Records in Peterborough scoping out the latest arrivals. I must stress, too, that I don't collect these things for their value, although I'm aware that vinyl has caught on again and prices have shot through the roof. I collect them because I love them, and I love the music.

As I was walking into the hall, I passed some guy on a cellphone explaining that the record he was thinking of investing in was an original pressing, and the dealer was asking only $99 for it. Well, once I was inside I discovered the prices on most of the stock matched what this guy had found. For me, that would have blown my entire budget. And besides, I've always been something of a bottom feeder, not only for budgetary reasons but also for the challenge. I love finding hidden gems for bargain prices. Who doesn't?

Some of the discoveries not currently in my collection that I pounced on for under $5 included Last of the Red Hot Burritos by The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bare Wires by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, vibraphonist Fred Raulston's Open Stream, and The Best of Buzzy Linhart, one of those two-record sets issued by Kama Sutra Records in the mid-Seventies. Somehow Buzzy's records  never made it to Peterborough that I ever noticed, but that's what this is all about--filling the holes and catching up with the past!

Oh yes, and my favourite grab of the day--Garden of Joy by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, pictured above. The cover was a little worn, so the guy ignored the $2 sticker and threw it in for free.

How great is that???

Monday, 28 March 2016

An Updated Video Teaser for SORROW LAKE

Click on the link below to view the video!
Our last snowfall of the year a few weeks ago gave us an opportunity to re-shoot some of the video sequences for the SORROW LAKE teaser. So we took a few days and now have uploaded a new version to YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

You may not be aware of it, but the terms "book trailer" and "book teaser" are actually registered trademarks owned by a company who produces these book marketing tools. We refer to ours as a video teaser in the hopes that we will not be chased down and prosecuted like dirty, thieving dogs.

It's important to mention again, on this note, that the music used in the video, "Atmospheric Peds," by Themusicase, is provided by agreement with Cyberlink, and additional photos are used under licence with Thinkstock.

There, I think that covers all the bases. Now, on to the video:


Monday, 7 March 2016

5 Tips on Writing a Synopsis

It's done, it's done!!!
Now that the revised manuscript of The Long Road into Darkness, the first Tom Faust Crime Novel, is finished in its present form and is in the hands of my primary beta reader (Lynn) for feedback, the time has come to work on supporting documents for the manuscript. First and foremost is a synopsis.

Like many authors, I hate writing synopses. It feels so wrong to be forced to condense a 260-page manuscript down to a single descriptive page. I'm supposed to cover what took me a year to write in a few breezy paragraphs??

Naturally, I spent the morning today researching the subject. There are many articles and blog posts online that offer advice and guidance on how to write an effective synopsis, and I've gone through them to distill for your reading pleasure five important tips on how to succeed in this gawdawful, onerous task.

5. Remember Your Objective.
A synopsis is a tool you will use to inform a literary agent or publisher about your manuscript. As such, it must answer all their most important questions--what's it about, where is it set, who is it about, and why should I be interested?

As The Literary Consultancy suggests (link below), if you find the job of writing a synopsis distasteful, "think not of yourself, but of the reader, and treat the project as a ... challenge and [an] opportunity to show your work off in its essential form."

4.  Stick to the Basics.
Keep it short. A single-page synopsis is best, about five hundred words or so. While book readers use their leisure time to read your work, agents and acquiring editors do not--don't expect them to be happy slogging through five pages when one will do the trick.

Use an active, third-person voice and present tense. Review each word in your draft synopsis and try to find a simpler, punchier alternative.

Avoid back story, avoid dialogue, and don't format your synopsis into separate sections. KISS - Keep It Short and Simple.

3. Cover Your Entire Story Arc.
Describe in a few clear, concise paragraphs how your story unfolds. Use the rule of three: explain how your story begins, how it gets complicated, and how it ends. Cover the primary plot, of course, and briefly allude to subplot, depending on how important it is, where space permits. Agents and editors want to see that your story hangs together and isn't disjointed or incomplete.

While you're busy with this, work in a brief allusion to where (and when?) it's set.

A last word on the ending of your story. Many bloggers suggest withholding your ending in order to entice or tease an editor. I've been given to understand, in no uncertain terms, that this is a bad, bad idea. Spell it out without holding back, otherwise they may suspect you don't have confidence in it, or worse, that you haven't actually written it yet.

2. Demonstrate Character Development.
At this point you've probably already written five hundred words (or more), but keep in mind that agents and acquiring editors will be focusing on your protagonist and your other primary characters. Give them a strong sense of who they are and how your protagonist develops over the course of your novel. Book readers crave compelling characters--demonstrate that you have them!

1. Hook 'Em, Danno.
Our number one tip takes you right back to the opening paragraph of your synopsis. Plot summary can be rather dry and boring, no matter how great your manuscript may read, so make a special effort right up front to hook the person reading your synopsis. You want them to read the entire thing, since you've slaved and slaved over it, but agents and editors are like everyone else--if you don't grab their attention in the first few sentences, they're likely to move on to something else.

If you've written a crisp, attention-getting synopsis, you'll achieve your overall goal: you'll leave them anxious and impatient to read the entire story!

For more information:

Now it's time for me to get busy and write mine. Agggghhhhhh!!!

Monday, 22 February 2016

What's the Hardest Part of the Writing Process?

I once participated in an author panel discussion in which we were asked to name the part of the writing process we found most difficult. Some of my colleagues explained why they found revision and editing to be the most challenging phase, while someone else talked about getting a new idea started as being particularly difficult for them.

My answer then, and now, is that I find writing the first draft of a new novel to be much more difficult than any other part of the writing process.

This may sound surprising to those of you who know that I spend at least the first two weeks of a new project writing a detailed outline of the story I'm about to begin. As I've explained before, it's essential for me when writing a crime novel to know up front exactly how the investigation will unfold, what evidence will be unearthed, and--most importantly--how the story will end. Only when I have a complete understanding of the plot, the main characters (including suspects) and the basic themes, do I consider it safe to begin actually telling the story. When I write the first draft, I need to know when I get up in the morning where I am in the story and what I need to accomplish that day.

And yet, with all this advance preparation, the first draft is harder than revision, editing, or marketing?

It's a question of confidence. Writing a first draft is like walking a very long and very high tightrope. You know your destination--that roof on the other side of the street--and you have the rope beneath your feet, in a straight line, that you only need to follow to safety. And yet ... I'm not sure I'll make it. Is the story idea strong enough? Are the characters working or are they too flat? Should I switch to first person? Do I even like this guy I'm writing about???

I mention all this now because yesterday I just completed the first draft of my new manuscript The Long Road into Darkness. Featuring Tom Faust, a recently-retired homicide investigator, it tells the story of an unsolved murder of a family in central Ontario and how it comes back to haunt Tom, the lead investigator at the time, seventeen years later.

It has taken me six months to complete this draft, working about four hours a day, pretty much every day. It's a long, long haul filled with self-doubt and stress. And yes, a couple of switches in point of view and a few tweaks to the outline to improve the story as it unfolded.

Now, I feel an enormous sense of relief. The story's been told. It has held together, the characters have worked more or less the way I want them to, and the themes are there.

Now comes the fun part. Now I'll go back to the beginning and run through the whole thing again. Tighten the prose, rewrite passages that aren't working properly, maybe even beef up a few scenes to bring out more clearly what I'm trying to say.

The pressure's off, you see. The story now exists. Now I get to play with it, and to make sure it sings.

Monday, 15 February 2016

What Am I Doing (Right Now)?

The last two weeks have been a blur as I've been working non-stop to finish my current manuscript. Its working title, for those who like to know such things, is The Long Road Into Darkness. It features a new character, Tom Faust, and a new setting in central Ontario. (Tom's a former colleague of Ellie March, who is mentioned once or twice in the story.) Watch for more news about it in the coming weeks.

Needless to say, the excitement about Sorrow Lake's nomination as a finalist for the upcoming Hammett Prize still hasn't worn off. I'm very proud of the novel and very gratified to see it receive a measure of critical acceptance.

I came across this article the other day concerning the judging process followed by the Hammett Prize reading committee. Published last year in LancasterOnline, it features the chairman of last year's committee and provides very interesting insight into the reading and selection process. I was very surprised to see that they considered almost two hundred novels last year. For Sorrow Lake to have made it to the final five this year from such a large field is a humbling honour, indeed!

Read the article here.

Back to work now! Faust is getting restless........

Monday, 1 February 2016


SORROW LAKE has been shortlisted for the 2015 HAMMETT PRIZE for best crime novel in the US and Canada!

The announcement was made this past week by the International Association of Crime Writers, whose North American branch awards this prize for "literary excellence in the field of crime writing."

The winner will be announced in October at the NoirCon literary conference in Philadelphia, which runs from October 26-30, 2016.

Past winners of the prize include Stephen King, Richard Lange, George Pelecanos, Margaret Atwood, and Martin Cruz Smith.

Other finalists for the 2015 award include:

The Stranger, by Harlan Coben
The Whites: A Novel, by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt
The Do-Right, by Lisa Sandlin
The Organ Broker: A Novel, by Stu Strumwasser

I'm very pleased and gratified that the reading committee selected SORROW LAKE as a finalist for this prize. And take heart--BURN COUNTRY, the second novel in the series, will be ready for publication in the spring!

In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed for SORROW LAKE, the "little crime novel that could!"

Read the IAWC press release here