When the good old days are anything but.

by Michelle Gagnon

Jimmy Savile

I hadn’t been paying much attention to the Jimmy Savile pedophile scandal–after all, living on this side of the pond, I had no idea who he was. It was just another of those stories that popped up on Twitter occasionally–I was vaguely aware that a deceased former BBC star had been accused of child abuse, years after the incidents took place. But that was about all I knew.

Until one afternoon, I followed a link and read an interview with an alleged former victim. While discussing the abuse she suffered, the woman said, “You have to understand, this happened in the 80s. It was a different time.”

A small part of me instantly bridled at that–after all, I came of age in the 80s, and it was hardly the horse and buggy era. We were well aware that the world wasn’t always a safe place for children. When Adam Walsh was murdered, the entire nation was riveted- and I received a stern lecture from my parents on stranger danger. When a flasher propositioned two girls at my bus stop, the entire East Greenwich police department staked it out for over a week.

But then I remembered my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. X. I won‘t use his real name, because although he’s most likely retired by now, he’s probably still alive and well. Mr. X was one of the more popular teachers in school- he was charismatic and funny.

And, in retrospect, clearly a pedophile.

His M.O. involved choosing one boy in class–my year, it was a sweet kid named Chris. Chris was one of the only kids I knew at the time whose parents were divorced–in Rhode Island, that was still a rarity. Chris lived with his mother, who just happened to be in a community drama group with Mr. X.

It started with Mr. X making inappropriate remarks about Chris’s mother–discussing how sexy she’d looked at rehearsal the night before, or how he couldn’t wait to “stick his tongue down her throat” onstage. We all found this hilarious, to our great discredit. (Chris, although those comments clearly made him uncomfortable, always did his best to laugh along with the rest of the class).

This behavior escalated. Poor Chris would be openly mocked in front of the class. Mr. X would challenge his manhood, usually by mimicking him in a squeaky voice. And if Chris protested, he would take him over his knee and spank him, or make him sit on his lap. And this all transpired in full view of twenty-nine other kids, in the middle of what was supposed to be a safe environment for us- school.

Looking back, I’m utterly mortified that none of us found this behavior odd. We all thought of it as a delightful, entertaining part of Mr. X’s teaching style. And I doubt that Chris ever told his mother what was going on–we were at that age where when your parents asked how school was, you said, “fine,” and went to your room.

Last year, I discovered that a fellow crime writer had grown up in my hometown and attended the same school- including Mr. X’s class, a decade after me. And apparently, ten years later, Mr. X was still up to his old tricks: honing in on one boy and treating him in an entirely inappropriate manner.

As more stories emerge from the Savile scandal, not to mention the horror stories about Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State football program, I’m forced to acknowledge that the 1980s weren’t the enlightened era I thought they were. The awareness of what constitutes sexual abuse was far less clear back then than it is today. I like to think that my daughter will never have to experience anything akin to what Chris suffered in Mr. X’s class– but that if she ever did something like that, she’d know to speak up about it.

The Reinvention of the Library

By Joe Moore

Dylan said, “The times they are a changin’.”, and it’s true in so many areas of our lives. An obvious example is analyzing the demographics of the recent presidential election and realizing that 20th Century political strategies don’t work in the 21st Century. But beyond politics, there are many other changes taking place, particularly in the publishing industry with the rapid growth of electronic books.

BranchPhotoNOSo in this age of digital publishing, how will the community library adapt and survive?

Some, like the ones in my South Florida region are reinventing themselves with a solid plan for keeping their doors open. Libraries still have millions of books to lend, but what some are doing, and all need to consider, is to turn themselves into active community centers. They need to expand book-lending into a wide variety of community services and functions from helping with job searches to offering classes in a wide variety of activities for all ages. Getting bodies in the door and becoming places to socialize are the keys.

BranchPhotoNO1In my community of Coral Springs, among teaching dance and cooking lessons, and how to use Craig’s List, the library system offers a smart phone app that helps patrons learn more than 30 languages.

Because of the expanded features, local libraries are defying dire predictions of death in the digital age and are now busier than any time in their history. Statistics show that fewer than half of the library’s transactions involve the checking out of a printed book. Patrons are downloading e-BranchPhotoNO2books, audiobooks and music through the library’s online sites.

The use of the library’s cybercafés and free WiFi is exploding. Now patrons can borrow DVDs, e-book readers and iPads. Their popularity is evident with long waiting lists for each. There is an abundance of online classes including foreign language courses and arts and crafts.

The goal as stated by so many library managers is to let the public know that they’re about more than just books. The main library in the county has a first-floor lounge with 56 computers available for their patrons, many struggling with the economy. With many out of work, they no longer have Internet access. That’s where the library comes in. Advice and classes in resume writing, interview techniques and how to search want ads are basic features of the reinvented library.

The times are changing for the better with libraries becoming less of a dusty, silent reading room to an active, busy community hub; a fun and useful place for everyone.

How about the libraries in your community. Are they adapting or struggling? And even more interesting, when was the last time you visited your local library.


THE BLADE, coming February, 2013 from Sholes & Moore
"Full-throttle thriller writing." — David Morrell
"Sholes & Moore deliver razor-edge suspense." — Lisa Gardner

Grabbing the Zebra, and Other Survival Tactics for Writers

Earlier this week, a dear writer friend shared her most important survival instinct with me.

My friend–I’ll call her “Jane”–is the creator of a popular children’s sitcom, and an uber-successful writer. She also happens to be deathly afraid of animals. Especially wild animals.

Jane’s fear of the wild is regularly put to the test during production season, mostly because her show’s cast includes a 7-foot Asian Water Monitor Lizard. Although Mr. Lizard looks like a refugee from Jurassic Park, he’s usually a docile fellow. (But, as Jane notes, “His handlers make sure to feed him before he goes onstage.” Hungry 7-foot Asian Water Monitor Lizards get cranky, evidently.)

In addition to the lizard, last week Jane’s show featured a zebra: It was a cute but extremely nervous zebra. (Sharing walkons with a dinosaur probably didn’t help the zebra’s stage fright). 
Jane was onstage typing up some production notes when  the zebra’s handlers let him stretch his legs nearby. Somehow the animal managed to slip his rope, whereupon he bolted. And of course, he bolted straight toward Jane.
Jane kept her head. She pushed Save. Only then did she add, “Would someone grab that zebra?” 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen–even under the most extreme duress, my courageous writer friend remembered to Save Her Work.
So that’s Jane’s most valuable tip for the week. What about yours? What’s your most important habit as a writer, the one that has gotten you through thick and thin? We want to know!

Moving time!

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Well, it’s officially moving time and for the second time in two years the Langley-Hawthorne’s are moving continents. Moving from one side of the world to the other is one of the most stressful things you can do, yet we’ve decided to do it twice in as many years! Next thing you know we’ll be moving to somewhere like Singapore. We’re joking, of course, but if we were to do something like that, we’d seriously have to consider somewhere like Piermont Grand as a living space. One move at a time though, I guess! This time we’re headed from Melbourne, Australia to Denver, Colorado and I can tell you that moving (especially when combined with the end of the school year, my twins’ 8th birthday as well as Christmas) can be rather stressful! I wish we had hired a queens moving company to make the move easier, but if we move again, we’re definitely going to look into it! The stress hasn’t been fun at all! Although, a perk of moving is it can be a great opportunity to review how much you are paying for bills and maybe even look online for things like the best broadband deals to see if you save some money by switching. But as we hang on in there, I’ve been enjoying seeing all the ‘top 10 lists’ that inevitably emerge at this time of year.

It felt strange, however, watching a recent countdown of the ‘Top 10 Australian books to read before you die‘, not because I hadn’t read most of them (I had – forced to at school!) but because I realized how disconnected I feel to many of these so called ‘classics’. Even the more recent books, like top-ranked Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, failed to resonate with me and I had to wonder why. Was it because I was just too dim-witted to ‘get’ these books or did it run deeper than that? Am I just not Australian enough to appreciate them?

So have any of you felt the same level of disconnection from your own country’s ‘must read’ lists? If you had a ‘top 10 books to read before you die‘, what book would be at the top? Do you feel a level of kinship to your own country’s writers and books or does that rarely enter into the equation for you?

10 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing

This writing life has enough gremlins—rejection, bad reviews, economic uncertainty, short actors playing your 6’5” hero in a movie version—that a writer shouldn’t be adding his own. Here are the top ten to watch out for. Maybe you have some to add to the list: 

1. Thinking about your career more than about your writing
Guess what? No matter where you are in your writing career you can always find a reason to be unhappy about it. You’re unagented and you want to get an agent. You’re unpublished and you want to be published. You’re published and you want to be read. You’re read but not read in the numbers you hoped. You’ve gone indie and your books aren’t selling enough to buy you a monthly mocha.
You can always find something to be unhappy about. What you ought to do is write more. When you’re into your story and you’re pounding the keys and you’re imagining the scene and you’re feeling the characters, you’re not camping out in the untamed country of unfulfilled expectations.
It’s fine to plan. In fact, I’ve written a paper to help you do that. But once the planning is done, get to work.
2. The comparison trap
I’ve written a whole post on this one. What good is it going to do you to look at somebody else’s success and hit the table and cry out for justice? Writing is not just. It just is. You do your work the best you can and you let the results happen, because you can’t manipulate them. You can’t touch them, you can’t change them, you can’t fix them. You can only give it your best shot each time out.
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” – Epictetus
3. Ranking Obsession
Another thing you can’t control is your ranking on Amazon or the various and sundry bestseller lists. Or sure, there are things writers do to try and “game the system.” The paid reviews scandal was one of the more egregious examples of this.  But in the end, the game playing is not worth the knot in the stomach.
Don’t worry about rankings and lists. Worry about your word count, plot and characters. If you do the latter well, the former will take care of itself.
4. Envy
Another useless emotion. But it seems to be a part of most writers’ lives. Ann Lamott and Elizabeth Berg both lost friendships over it. Envy has even driven authors to set up sock puppet identities not merely to hand themselves good reviews, but to leave negative reviews for their rivals’ books.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30). Try to have a heart at peace by getting back to your story while, at the same time, developing the next one. 
5. Trying to be the next James Patterson. . .
. . . or J. K. Rowling, or Michael Connelly. Wait a second. We already have those. And they are the best at being who they are.
Become the leading brand of you, not the generic brand of someone else sitting on the shelf at the 99¢ store.
This is not to say don’t write in the same genre or try to do some of the good things other writers do. We can certainly learn from those we admire.
But when we write, we have a picture in our heads, a sort of writer self-image. And if we imagine our books being treated like Connelly’s books, or we see ourselves in LA Magazine interviewed like Connelly, we’ll just end up writing like a second-rate Connelly.
Do that and you stifle the thing that has the chance to set you apart—your own voice. 
6. “I’m not good enough to make it.”
That’s not the issue. The issue is: do you want to write? Do you really?  Do you want it so much that if you don’t write you’re going to feel diminished in some way, and for the rest of your life?
You should feel like you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Writing is what you must do, even if you hold a full time job. Even if you chase a passel of kids around the house. You find your time and you keep writing. Keep looking to improve. You can improve. I’ve got hundreds of letters from people who have validated this point.
7. Fear
Fear of failing. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of what your writing might say about you. We are actually wired for fear. It’s a survival mechanism.
So it has a good side so long as it is not allowed to go on. In fact, when you fear something in your writing it may be a sign that this is the place you need to go. This is where the fresh material may be. You need to go there, and assess it later.
8. Hanging on to discouragement
When my son was first pitching Little League baseball, he’d get upset when someone got a key hit or homer off him. This would affect the rest of his performance. So I gave him a rule. I told him he could say “Dang it!” once, and hit his glove with his fist. This became the “one Dang It rule.” It helped settle him down and he went to a great season and a victory in the championship game.
When discouragement comes to you, writer friend (and it will), go ahead and feel it. Say “Dang it!” (or, if you’re alone, exercise your freedom of speech as you see fit). But time yourself. Give yourself permission to feel bad for thirty minutes. After that, go to the keyboard and start writing again.
9. Loving the feeling of being a writer more than writing
The most important thing a writers does, said the late Robert B. Parker, is produce. Don’t fall into the trap of writing a few words in a journal, lingering over the wonderful vibrations of being alive with the tulips of creativity budding within your brain, and leaving it at that.
You’ve got to get some sweat equity going in this game. I don’t mean you have to crank it out like some pulp writer behind in his rent (though I like this model myself). But you do have to have some sort of quota, even if it is a small one. Writing only when you feel like it is not the mark of a professional.
10. Letting negative people get to you
Illegitimi non carborundum.
Next time that know-it-all says you haven’t got the stuff to be a writer, smile and repeat this Latin phrase. And as he looks at you puzzled, turn your back, get to your computer, and proceed to prove him wrong.
And plan to make 2013 the most productive year of your writing life. 

Now THIS Is How You Sell Your Book!

It has not been the greatest of weeks. Everyone in my family who is still residing at the homestead (me, my wife, and our fifteen year old daughter) caught the flu. Yes, it even happened to me, my mutant healing factor notwithstanding. My wife teaches elementary school, and my daughter…well, don’t ask your high school aged child what goes on in the school lunchroom. You’ll lose your appetite; it’s a target-rich environment for disease. Anyway, this flu is not fun; it starts with a couple of days of upper respiratory difficulties, followed by two or more days of lower g.i. distress to really make life interesting,  lethargy, and mental confusion (today it took me almost thirty seconds to decide that I did not want to put a soda can into the paper recycling bin). It might be time to re-examine my commitment to the maxim that “was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker,” at least when it comes to flu shots.

There was one bright spot on the week, however, provided by author David MacKinnon. David, an Irish expatriate living in Amsterdam, this year published a new novel entitled LEPER TANGO, which is in equal parts dark and hilarious. It’s not a crime novel; it’s more like a literary version of the movie Bad Lieutenant except that involves an attorney instead of a cop and it’s so funny it will bring you to tears, even as a part of you is horrified by what you behold. As an added bonus, it is also wonderfully written; I bookmarked more of it than perhaps any other novel that I read this year. I happened to review LEPER TANGO for bookreporter.com; that came to David’s attention, and in due course he very graciously contacted me and asked for permission to use 1) some quotes from my review and 2) my likeness in some promotional material. I of course was happy and honored that he should do so. A short time later, I received a copy of the proposed promotional poster which will soon be appearing in bookstores all over Amsterdam, Scandinavia, and…who knows? I present it herewith, for your inspection (please note that while I couldn’t quite get it centered, the effectiveness of the marketability shines through):

Can sales but not help but rise through the stratosphere? Move over, 50 SHADES OF GREY! And would I devour LEPER TANGO whole again?  Maybe not this week, but after I feel better…absolutely!
Merry Christmas!  And since we are getting toward the new year as well…what would you like to see 2013 bring to you? Or for you? I already got my wish…a new Louis Kincaid e-novella titled “Claw Back,” coming in January and, in February, the new full length Kincaid thriller HEART OF ICE, both by favorite author and blog mate P.J. Parrish. Thank you, Kris and Kelly!

White Elephant Christmas Gifts for Crime Fiction Buffs

By Jordan Dane

This post doesn’t have anything to do with writing or books, but I could seriously use your help, TKZ. You are all so creative and imaginative. My family is starting a new Christmas tradition. We’re doing a white elephant gift exchange. I know the best stuff is the tacky re-gifts that you may already have around your house. There is this horrid wooden Man of La Mancha statue that we got from someone when we were first married. (A nameless but not forgotten someone.) That eye sore has made it through countless moves and the wooden lance Don Q came with has broken and left him defenseless against his windmills. But since we can’t find him now, I need other ideas.
Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen that might appeal to crime fiction readers and writers:

Anything Dexter

Finger Soaps

A Thumb Drive


When this bath mat gets wet, it bleeds. A must have.
Armed and Loaded

A murderous knife holder for your kitchen


This is the coolest mug ever!

This has nothing to do with crime fiction, except that it might inspire murderous thoughts. Here’s what’s at the top of my list, except that it’s an import from Germany and I can’t wait for the shipping:

Is there a best? Really?

I’ve heard other suggestions to spice up the gift exchange. Some people have recommended parlor games to play or they suggest conducting a contest for the ugliest Christmas sweater. Here is a top contender for ugly sweater, etc.

This guy is really committed–or he should be.

Do you have any other ideas on fun things to do, along with the White Elephant ticky-tacky gift exchange? Please help me out, TKZ.

Holiday Frenzy

The holidays are approaching and along with them comes the frenzy of gift buying, writing greeting cards, shopping online, planning family dinners, and attending parties. Who can write with such distractions? It used to be, when I wrote one book a year for Kensington, that I could program in time off during this season. But since my current deadlines are self-imposed, this doesn’t hold true anymore.

My goal is to submit my next mystery within the next two weeks. I am going through my second round of self-edits now and am two-thirds of the way through. Then I have to comply with the publisher’s formatting guidelines, make sure I have the front and back end material, and complete the ancillary forms that have to be sent with the manuscript.

All this while roofers are banging overhead to replace our tile roof. My friend had a broken roof too and she told me to check out https://austinroofingcompany.org/roof-repair/ to get it repaired. I’m so glad it’s finally getting fixed!! Oh, and it’s also our anniversary this month. So as you can see, it’s hard for me to concentrate on work-related issues. I’ve had to vacate my home office when the roofing guys start banging over my head and plaster drifts down from the ceiling.

If I ever finish this project and send it in, I plan to take a few weeks off just to get caught up on mail, to enjoy seasonal events, and to start on tax records. That’s the beauty of setting your own deadlines. You can take time off when necessary.

Do you figure in a break during this season or do you plow ahead? That’s assuming your editor doesn’t send you page proofs or edits with one week to turn them around. And do you do anything special for your fans during the holidays?