Monday, April 24, 2017

The Bad Side of A Good Neighborhood

by Janis Patterson

I’m angry. And I’m scared.

I live in a good neighborhood. The lawns are maintained, the houses are nice and so are most of the people, but by no stretch of the imagination is it considered a rich neighborhood. I grew up in this house and, after my parents passed away and left it to me, The Husband and I moved in. It’s bigger than the house we had, and light years closer to his work.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it is – partially. I love the house and the neighborhood, but over the years this area has become a target for all kinds of miscreants. We have a weekly email notification of crimes and every week there are several worthy of police reports – all in a neighborhood barely half a mile square.

Anything left outside is apparently fair game for burglars; cars are routinely broken into for what might be inside them and we are warned to keep our cars either in garages or behind locked gates. For a while one gang of crooks was brazen enough to jack up the cars and steal the wheels!

Nor are houses safe. Reports of break-ins come in waves, as one gang or another smashes their way in to take whatever they can. Most have no qualms about hurting anyone - human or animal - who gets in their way, either. During the long years The Husband was deployed overseas to war zones and I was alone in the house I tried not to let him know that our neighborhood was becoming a war zone in itself. I kept several handguns around and made no secret of the fact I would happily and without reservation blow away any intruder. Sometimes having the reputation of the Neighborhood Crazy Lady is a good thing. We also have an alarm system that is set most of the time, whether we are home or not.

When we first moved here the very idea of that seemed ridiculous. In my late mother’s day she didn’t even lock the doors half the time and had no problems at all. This was a nice neighborhood, and crime like that didn’t happen in a nice neighborhood.

No more. Besides burgling houses and yards the crooks have expanded operations, now openly attacking primarily women alone and the elderly in gas stations and grocery store parking lots – in the daytime, no less. No one has died yet, but I am so afraid eventually it will happen.

So far The Husband and I have been very fortunate – our house has been left alone and we have been unmolested as we go about our business. Hopefully it will always be so. Unfortunately, far too many of our neighbors have not been so lucky. I am so alarmed by these events that I have put my wedding ring (along with my few other pieces of good jewelry) in the safe – my beautiful, beloved wedding ring that was bought both as an investment and a symbol of love. The other day I bought a cheap cubic zirconia ring to wear in its stead; it’s pretty, it looks quite real, and I would have no qualms about giving it to a robber, but it infuriates me that there is a climate in this world which makes it unsafe for me to wear and enjoy my own property without fear.

For those of us who write crime for a living it is very uncomfortable to have real life so closely mirror our fiction in so many ways except one. In our books justice is always served; in real life it seems to be a hit and miss proposition. This is in no way a criticism of the police; they are understaffed and underpaid and all too often not given the respect they deserve. They simply cannot be everywhere, and the criminals depend on that.

It makes me livid that there is a far too prevalent mindset which believes simply because this lowlife scum wants something they can just take it with impunity. This must be changed. There must be consequences, and decent people must reclaim the right to feel safe again.

I don’t mean this as a political post slanted to either side; my politics are my own, and not to be aired in this space. This is a justice post. We work; we pay our taxes; we obey the laws; we deserve to feel safe, to be able to enjoy that which we have legally purchased. Crime is fine, when it is confined to fiction, where it will be dealt with according to the law. Real crime has no place on our streets or in our homes.

And as mystery writers, we have the responsibility and duty to our fellow man to entertain - not to instruct. We should never write anything that some enterprising crook can translate to real life with criminal consequences. For that reason we must not put in complete instructions on anything. It's okay to play with 'mysterious untraceable poisons'  - but not give instructions on how to make it. Want a ballistically clean bullet that cannot be matched? Fine - invent a gun with sketchy details accurate enough to convince the reader but not enough to teach a criminal. (In case you wondered, there is a way to make a ballistically clean bullet - and I have been sworn to secrecy as to how it's done, so don't ask.)

In real life thank God an increasing number of states have the Castle Act which gives people the right to protect themselves, others and their property. As for me, I will always stand my ground.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Five *New* TV Crime Show Cliché I'm Already Tired Of (And I Bet You Are Too!)

Does not play well with others
Like all genre fiction, crime fiction is riddled with clichés, some of which are fun and generally beloved (by writers, anyway) and some of which are just...overused.

For example, one of the most treasured (i.e. dusty) old school crime fiction clichés is that anyone--but particularly law enforcement personnel--due to retire in the foreseeable future is doomed. As in probably deader than a door nail before the end of their next shift.  Or--this was enormously popular for a while--the coroner who eats lunch in the morgue. Who cares about forensic evidence; I'm hungry!!

Anyway, here are my current all-right-all-ready!! crime show eye rolls:

1 - The Detective Chats With the Corpse - And I quote: "I'm really sorry this happened to you." Yeah, I realize that steely internal resolve is perhaps not cinematic, but what is with these Q&A sessions between detectives and victims? It's just...embarrassing to all concerned.

Uncle Sam wants YOU!
2 - The FBI Takes Over the Case - And naturally everyone hates them for it. Not least because these FBI agents are such total stone-face assholes and clearly up to no good. But come on! The FBI isn't working for a foreign power (so far) and they don't just swoop in and take over an investigation except in very--VERY--rare circumstances. Plus FBI resources are actually a really useful thing to have for your task force!

3 - This Time it's Personal - Okay, this is not new, which is probably one reason I'm so tired of it. For the love of God, can someone just work a case that doesn't directly tie back to their own misspent past? I mean, what happened to making a crime interesting and involving without it having to be personal?  IT'S NOT PERSONAL. Or shouldn't be.

Jeez, dude, she was on stakeout all night! 
4 - The Detective Has a Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Home Life - In fairness, working in law enforcement does put strain on a marriage, but come on. You'd think detectives would be better at noticing psychotic behaviors in a potential mate. Does he never wonder about that cache of explosives in the back of the closet? And even if the boyfriend/girlfriend is not a terrorist, and it's just the normal run-of-the-mill horrible TV/film marriage, do the problems have to be SO dramatic? How about the more normal stuff that happens? People grow apart and move on. Does it always have to lead to an affair with the protag's partner followed by descent into alcoholism and someone having a tragic car crash?  Can't anybody know...act like a grown-up?

5 - Terrorists - Yes, they're a real and present danger, yes they're out there, yes terrorism is the new arsenic, but sometimes it's nice just to have a simple murder with no world wide implications. Sometimes murder is not part of a vast global conspiracy--in fact, mostly murder is not part of a vast global conspiracy--and that's OK.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Evolving Readers and Writers

I will be moving into a new house this summer so I’m sorting through all the things I’ve accumulated since my last move—including my book collections. Since I enjoy physical books as much (and sometimes more) as eBooks, my shelves are overflowing. Yes, it’s time to winnow down both my fiction and non-fiction books.

I’m clearing a shelf at a time, alternating between fiction and non-fiction. My criteria? For non-fiction it usually revolves around research books for past, current, and future books I wrote, am writing, or will write in the near future. History books, medical books, and books on writing. Some have lost their relevance as I’ve changed my writing focus and some contained only a small section related to what I was researching or I found a better, more up-to-date source.

For fiction, do I enjoy reading the book a second (third or tenth) time? If not, why not? I’ve learned that what I enjoy today as a reader is not the same as it was ten or fifteen years ago—and in some instances, not even two or three years ago. Why? What’s changed?

I’ve changed. And it made me think about how my writing has changed—it’s evolved as I’ve learned more about the craft of writing. As I’ve learned better ways of developing a compelling story, my voice has emerged and become stronger, more me. So why wouldn’t my choice in reading material evolve too?

My fiction reading has become a little more eclectic. I’ve branched out into fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, steampunk, and rediscovered science fiction. Romance, especially romantic suspense, is still my go-to sources when I want a feel-good read. Still not a fan of cozy mysteries (but I’ve enjoyed a few), women’s fiction (yes, I’ve enjoyed some of these too), or horror. But I used to turn my nose up at historical novels and now enjoy a number of different historical authors.

And I have some authors I can read their books over and over again. I can still get lost in the worlds they’ve created—like visiting old friends and talking about shared adventures. Sometimes a good story is timeless. And those books will always find a home on one of my shelves.

All of which gives me hope. I’ll never run out of things to read. I’ll never run out of new authors to “discover.” And I really hope it means I’ll never run out of evolving readers who will discover my old and new books. New readers who find their taste in reading material has evolved and changed just as mine has done.

As for the books I no longer want or need, they are going to the library to find new readers, to be shelved or sold for money to buy new authors and research books so the cycle can continue. 

What about you? Do you periodically clear your shelves of books no longer needed or wanted? Do you have favorite books you love to revisit over and over?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Arrhhh, me hearties!

Arrhhh, me hearties! There's been a recent upset in my community about book piracy, so I thought I'd blog about it today. The lovely Janis Patterson has also blogged about it in bygone times at NYUS, but hey - it hasn't gone away! so I thought we could revisit.

All my books are out in ebook formats, and in many cases, that's their only exposure. That means, in essence, they're just a file - you know, like the pdf file of an instruction booklet, or a sheet of notes students share from a lesson, or even a favourite recipe. Eminently easy to prepare, copy and email wherever and to whomever you like. That's the blessed joy of modern technology, right?

Apart from the content, of course. That's far less easy or swift to prepare! If it's yours to do with as you like, that's fine. If it's someone else's... then there are rights to consider. Like any commodity, there should be fair exchange of value. An author puts a hell of a lot of time, effort and imagination into their product, and the fair value for offering that to the world should always be considered. We don't just write "book" 60,000 times and call it a novel *heh*. And, to be honest, most of our books are already sold at way below minimum wage, if you calculate the Book Maths i.e. hours spent plotting and writing + hairs pulled out + coffee drunk vs. actual retail selling $.

So what happened this week, Clare? you ask. I'm not talking about the reasonable matter of sharing an ebook with a book club friend, or receiving a free copy as a prize, gift, or in request for a review.

It was a rather unfortunate incident of a reader/blogger receiving an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of a brand new book, in return for a featured, honest review - and then it turning up on a book piracy site before the book had even been published. In other words, the source copy could only have come from the ARC. *sigh*. The facts are still being investigated, but we've all felt a sense of betrayal, and all the more so for it being close to home. The author feels the rug has pulled out from under her feet, our promotional agencies are distressed because they work closely with trustworthy and supportive review sites, and genuine readers are angry that another reader has made a mockery of the relationship with a favourite author. To say nothing of the loss of income to the author.

I've been pirated since I first published - and still am - and have lost the energy to post takedown notices every time. Luckily, my publisher is more tireless in chasing pirates. And there are all kinds of arguments not to sweat the small stuff on piracy - that the pirating readers wouldn't have bought the book in the first place, that the pirated copy doesn't really represent lost sales.

But when it's perpetrated on a copy that hasn't even been paid for in the first place? Even more upsetting.

Many authors are now suggesting security measures for handing out ARCs, if any authors do this direct. For example (and with a grateful nod to a fellow author Chris McHart whose newsletter covered this topic recently):
- know your reviewer. Ask them what and where they've reviewed, including their link at Amazon. If they're genuine, they'll appreciate a proper relationship with you.
- use a site like Instafreebie to issue copies. These are then individually watermarked so you can maybe trace a source document.
- reward those reviewers and readers who are consistently trustworthy and professional. Better to have 20 reliable reviewers than 50 dodgy ones!

Apologies, this post had ended up much longer than expected. I must feel strongly about it *hohoYeahYouBetIdo*.

Clare London

Friday, April 7, 2017

Wicked Florida

I've always said that Florida is the ideal home base for a mystery writers--there are just so many interesting ways to plan a murder. 

This point was reinforced last year when I attended a fun exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History called Wicked Plants, based on the amazing book by Amy Stewart. While perusing some of Mother Nature's nastier botanical creations, I couldn't help notice that many of the plants could be found in my home state of Florida--a few are even in my garden.

Along with the usual suspects such as deadly nightshade and water hemlock, I discovered a wonderful new villain called the rosary pea, so-named for its beautiful, but highly toxic seeds that resemble rosary beads. Rosary peas have long been used in jewelry making, but many a careless person has died after pricking a finger while handling one of the seeds.

Rosary Peas
This immediately put my writer's imagination in gear. Under the right circumstances, the little rosary pea would make a clever murder weapon. All a crafty killer had to do is slip a few rosary peas, which had been carefully pricked to release the toxin, into the bead box of an annoying jewelry maker. Pretty darn close to a perfect crime, don't you think?

Inspired, I created a little video about not only the  wicked plants, but all the reptiles and critters that make up the darker side of the Sunshine State, the place I call  Wicked Florida.

Some of the creatures/poison plants are Florida natives, but many--like the rosary pea--are invasive, hitchhikers from all over the globe who've made their home in Florida and now thrive. So far I've used three of the wicked species from the video in my novels, though I've not yet been able to work a snake into one of my murderous plots, which is regrettable because snakes are such a vital part of the wild Florida that I love.

Last December, this pretty garter snake came in
through the doggie door and make itself comfortable in the guest bedroom.
The guest was not amused.
Although I'd come with several scenarios--one involving a pet python--none quite passed the credibility test. Sure, there's a suspension of disbelief in fiction, but there's a limit as to how far it will stretch before breaking.

So imagine my surprise when last month one of my discarded plot points became reality when a deadly cobra escaped its cage in a quiet Ocala neighborhood!

I followed the case closely, providing updates on my Facebook page. On April 1, I posted this video, which details the twists and turns of the harrowing case of the Ocala Cobra.

So the next time a seemingly impossible plot occurs to me, I'm going with it.

After all, I live in Wicked Florida. Do come and visit.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Making Monsters

As romantic suspense authors we are familiar with crafting monsters. In my last romantic suspense book, DUSK, my villain was a young man who murdered a couple on a remote road in South Africa. Twenty years later he went after their daughter. Monsters are the nature of the beast in this genre. Romance doesn’t come easily for the protagonists of a romantic suspense novel. They have to overcome such nefarious characters to reach their happy ever after.

Well, in addition to romantic suspense, I am the author of a young-adult science fiction series. In the last installment of the BEYOND series, which will be released next month, I had to truly create a monster. The Dallek. It's not so easy crafting a real monster, but that is why I enjoy this brief diversion into Science Fiction. I have a blank slate. This creature lives in a chasm high up in the mountains of an alien planet, and I can make him into anything I want. Suffice to say, the end result isn't too pretty. You wouldn't keep one in your house as a pet.

As a writer, is it a challenge to create your monsters–be they real, or some rogue beast on an alien planet? 

As a reader, does the monster in the book make the plot that much more beguiling?

And yes, if we're going to talk about monsters, you know I have to throw in a picture of the creature that stalks my home. She is a beast. If you don't believe me, look at her puppy training certificate. This was Level 1. The trainer suggested Level 43 for her!! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hawaiian Adventures, A blizzard & An Alias

I go to a lot of writers' events. What can I say? I'm a total book and industry junkie. I'm also a severe introvert - until I'm surrounded by my people, and then I'm just plain excited. So, when I heard this year's Left Coast Crime Conference was planned for Honolulu, I signed up and started packing!

Left Coast Crime is an annual Author-Reader convention held at a different location on the West Coast each year. I live in Ohio, so I'd never given it much thought until I saw that location. HONOLULU! Well, I'm so glad I went!

It was the experience of a lifetime. From driving to Toronto at night in an East Coast blizzard, to missing our first plane, being stranded at the Toronto airport, then again overnight at the Chicago airport, then finally arriving on our should-have-been 18-hour trip a whopping 42-hours later. It was an adventure. I called it other things along the way as well, but adventure also works.

We left in a dangerous winter blizzard, white knuckling the desolate highway through New York and Canada, but we arrived in paradise.

Totally worth it.

The view from my room was amazing. The hotel, Hilton Hawaiian Village, was amazing. Everything was jaw-dropping gorgeous.

Then, I got to the conference. Surrounded by books and readers and authors, oh my! And for the first time ever....I was Julie Chase in the flesh. I write under two pen names now, plus my actual name-name, but I'm very open about the fact that I am those other names. The names were a publisher request that I rolled along with. Regardless, I'd never gone around introducing myself as someone else before. It was....odd. But I met lots of other authors who do it too. They do it for all sorts of reasons and do it well. So, I'll figure it out eventually. Heck, I barely answer to my own name most days.... I'm a mess. Let's get back to the trip.

Thanks to the blessed blizzard, I'd missed the Author Speed Dating and a panel where I would have promoted Julie Chase's debut novel, Cat Got Your Diamonds,  BUT I was there to moderate my Saturday panel and meet my new author friends in person.

I also walked to a local hotel and had breakfast with another author, Maia Chance, and four readers who'd signed up for an Author-Reader Connection. Honestly, we all just felt like old friends. Books do that to people. You know? Then, I co-hosted a table with Marla Cooper during the Lefty Awards Banquet, which was lovely.

When the conference ended, I stayed on for another couple of days and got away from the resort a bit. I ate with locals, my husband had this bizarre surfer breakfast called a Loco Moco which consisted of a hamburger patty on brown rice, topped with 2 eggs and served in gravy. I laugh every time I remember his face when the thing arrived. I mostly stuck with pineapple and banana everything, and it was all perfect.

From there, we walked the streets. Took a dinner cruise. I ate a lobster for the first time. That was an adventure all by itself. We went whale watching, visited Pearl Harbor and toured the North Shore. I also ate a ton of shave ice.

I have to say, whether you're a reader or a writer, I hope you will one day get the chance to leave your cares behind and travel to a destination conference like this. Thanks to these kinds of events, I've been all over my home state, to Nashville, New Orleans, Chicago, Kentucky and many places I would never have made it otherwise. I've also made friends to last a lifetime. I've learned more about the books and authors I love, and explored new towns. I'm shoring up an admirable pile of life experiences to share with my children one day and my readers as soon as possible.

Oh! An added bonus with these conferences it that the hotels are always heavily discounted, saving you lots of money, and for the writers out there,,,,you can write it all off on your taxes. Huzzah! Business Trip! Ain't writing grand?

I have two more big trips this year. I will be in Orlando for the RWA conference in July, and in Toronto for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, this October. Will I see any of you there? Where will your bookish life take you?

Friday, March 31, 2017



What would you say is the single thing that makes life most interesting?

Okay, I agree, this is a level one-oh-one question. The answer’s obvious: People, naturally. People you meet in real life and people you meet in fiction. And as a writer, you know they’re not the separate entities they seem at first mention. For isn’t it true that every created character has been inspired by an actual person?

The protagonist in my Listed and Lethal Series, for example, real estate agent Honey Ingersoll, is patterned after not one but several real life women: A gorgeous natural blonde I envied all through high school who, like Honey, never cracked a book but had so much going for her, it didn’t matter. Then there was the outstanding student I once taught who worked nights so she could go to class days. It was a tough slog, but “nevertheless, she persisted.” Honey doesn’t strive for a college degree; she doesn’t even have a library card. But she sure knows the meaning of persistence. And I remember an elderly lady who once said, “I wish I sounded smarter when I talked.” Like Honey, she was bright as a diamond but didn’t realize it. The list could go on, but I know you’ve had much the same experience each time you struggle to create a memorable person.

Anyway, taking all this stuff, the looks, the struggles, the regrets, the perseverance, the chutzpah of gals I once knew, I mixed them together, squeezed them like modeling clay and ended up with Honey Ingersoll:

After Momma died, I left my daddy’s double-wide and rode into Eureka Falls, Arkansas, on the back of Billy Tubbs’ Harley. After Billy gave me a black eye just because he could, I walked right out and took a job with Saxby Winthrop, the town’s biggest Realtor. I learned a lot under Saxby, including a lot about the real estate business. I even learned to lower my skirt hems and my big hair, and to ditch my tube tops and cherry-flavored gum.  According to Sheriff Matt Rameros, what I’m doing is reinventing myself and that while it’s fun to watch, he doesn’t think I should change a bit. Now isn’t that the sweetest thing y’all ever heard tell of? I mean, isn’t that simply lovely of him?

            While I never knew a Honey Ingersoll before I sat down to write, I know her well now, and she’s great company--witty, honest, full of common sense yet always ready to face a challenge. No doubt if I was ever marooned on a desert island with no people around, I’d go nuts. Unless a notepad and a pen washed up on shore. How about you? Do you also find people, both on paper and otherwise, endlessly fascinating?

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Conference Crash

Most of us go to a conference every now and then, if not regularly. We pack, sort what we need, anticipate seeing old (or making new) friends and in general hope we haven’t forgotten anything important once we’re there.

This past weekend I attended the Cal Dreamin’ Conference in Southern California. (Brea, to be exact. It’s worth noting that this conference is not every year, but every OTHER year.) I remember the first time I attended, which also happened to be its inaugural year. Truly, it was one of the best conferences I’d ever attended. Unfortunately, I missed its second year due to a scheduling conflict. I was happy to be back and not only give my new workshop on body language, but also participate in Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Event, California Readin’. There’s nothing like getting hundreds of readers together with some of their favorite authors. It makes for lots of laughing, story-telling and general fun. I’ll admit to enjoying another aspect of the event. My sister and good friend were able to come and it was fun to share a few hours with them while wearing my work shoes (so to speak). They’ve known me before I began writing, so it was a chance for them to see me in my author world. (Oops, I digressed.)

Back to the conference. I think this conference will always be one of my favorites, not only because it’s local (and I don’t have to deal with an airport/airplane), but because of the quality of the event. It might be relatively new and on the smaller side, but it’s definitely mighty. The workshops were plentiful and excellent with top-notch speakers and authors alike.

Here’s a shot of some of my favorite authors in my local chapter, and next is the table (at the reader event) I co-hosted with RITA nominated author, HelenKay Dimon.

Has anyone here participated in a Barbara Vey Reader event? They are something else. I've never seen so many voracious readers in one place. Although it's not hard to see why the event attracts so many people. The authors are very generous in their swag and appreciation of the readers. 

As usual, I arrived home wiped out and also invigorated, ready to tackle my WIP with new insight and high hopes for a miracle that I can actually finish this book. Haha.

So I’m curious, what kind of conference do you prefer? Bigger ones like the RWA National and RT or the smaller regional ones that might be a little more low key? Any local conferences you can recommend for the rest of us? Let me know! 

Have a happy Monday!
(And P.S. Work has me out of cell phone range until tonight when I get home, but I will be responding to all comments as usual. Thank you!)