Friday, February 16, 2018


Good morning!

This morning I'm sharing a snippet from The Magician Murders, Book Three in The Art of Murder series. This book goes live March 27th, come hell or high water.

The book is still available at the preorder price on Kobo, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. If you follow this blog regularly you know Amazon is not currently permitting me to do preorders, which means no preorder price on Amazon. :-(  Way to go, Zon!

So personally, I suggest you preorder from one of the other sites--it's not hard to send your Kindle an epub file. OR maybe the convenience of Amazon is worth paying a bit more?

Here's the Blurb:

Nothing up his sleeves. Nothing but murder...

Jason West, hot shot special agent with the FBI's Art Crime Team, is recuperating from a recent hit-and-run accident at the Wyoming home of BAU Chief Sam Kennedy when he's asked to consult on the theft of a priceless collection of vintage magic posters.

But before Jason can say "presto change-o," the owner of the art collection turns up murdered in a National Forest.

When the dead man is revealed to be the Kubla Khanjurer, a much-hated part-time magician accused of revealing the highly guarded secrets of professional illusionists, it seems clear this is a simple revenge killing--until Jason realizes an earlier suspicious death at the trendy magic club Top Hat White Rabbit might be part of the same larger and more sinister pattern.

And here's the Excerpt:

Chapter One

Rain flicked against the apartment windows in random, off-beat splash and dissolve.

It was sort of soothing, and Jason had not had much sleep the night before, but he could not afford to drift off in the middle of a conference call with his boss.

“If the legendary West charm has failed to convince Ursula Martin to file charges against Fletcher-Durrand, maybe Uncle Sam should take a swing at her,” Karan Kapszukiewicz was saying.
Kapszukiewicz was chief of the Major Theft Unit of the Criminal Investigative Division. She oversaw the Art Crime Team agents from her Washington DC office, which was where she was calling Jason from. Jason was on his cell phone, lying on Sam’s sofa in Sam’s apartment in Stafford, Virginia. The apartment was not far from the training academy where Jason was attending routine in-service refresher training.

“Respectfully, I don’t think that’s the approach we want to take with Martin,” Jason replied. “I think there’s still a good chance she’ll ultimately come through for us, but not if we push her. Her situation is complicated.”

“Isn’t everybody’s?”

Jason waited politely.

Karan sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that, so…okay. I’ll let you make the call. she’s your complainant. Or was.”

Jason winced. The collapse two months ago of charges against the Fletcher-Durrand art gallery was still painful. He had worked his ass off building a prosecutable case of fraud, grand larceny and forgery—only to have the rug yanked out from under him when his original complainants had agreed to settle out of court with the Durrands.

There had been a hell of a lot more to it than that, of course, but the bottom line was the US Attorney’s Office would not be filing charges against Fletcher-Durrand at this time. Especially since the Durrand most wanted by law enforcement and everyone else seemed to have vanished off the face of the planet.

Not that Jason was so naïve as to imagine hard work and determination alone ensured the successful prosecution of every case—luck always played a role, and his luck had definitely been out. At least as far as the Durrands were concerned. In other ways…

His gaze traveled to a large Granville Redmond painting of California poppies beneath stormy skies, hanging on the opposite wall. 

In other ways, his luck had been very much in, which was how he came to be lying on BAU Chief Sam Kennedy’s sofa waiting for Sam to get home. Two months ago, he’d feared his relationship with Sam had run its blink-and-you-missed-it course, but against the odds, here he was.

“All right,” Karan said more briskly, her attention already moving on to bigger or more winnable cases. “Keep me posted.”

“Will do.”

She was clearly about to ring off, but Jason being one of her protégés, Karan asked suddenly, “How’s training? You’re still at Quantico?”

“Yeah. I fly out tomorrow night. Training is…training.”

“Always,” Karan agreed gravely. “Okay. Have a good flight home.” She did hang up then. Her timing was perfect. Jason heard Sam’s key in the front door lock.

He clicked off his cell and rose as the front door swung open. The scent of April showers and faded, but still slightly jarring, aftershave wafted in.


Sam was a big man and he filled the door frame. Instantly, the quiet, slightly dusty rooms felt alive again. Occupied. The stale, centrally heated air seemed to break apart as though before a gust of pure, cold oxygen.

 “Hi.” Sam looked tired. He always looked tired these days. His short blond hair was wet and dark, the broad shoulders of his tan trench coat splattered with rain drops. He was not exactly handsome—high cheekbones, long nose—hard mouth—but all the pieces fit perfectly in a face that exuded strength, intelligence, and yes, a certain amount of ruthlessness. His blue eyes looked gray—but they warmed at the sight of Jason coming towards him. He dropped his briefcase and took Jason into his arms, kissing him with full and flattering attention.

Sam even tasted tired—too many cups of coffee, too many breath mints, too many conversations about violent death. Jason kissed him back with all his heart, trying to compensate with a sincere welcome home for what had probably been a shitty day.

Not that Sam found a day of murder, rape and abduction as depressing as Jason would. Sam wouldn’t be so very good at his job, if he did.

As always, the softness of Sam’s lips came as surprise. For a guy who was rumored to have a heart of stone, he sure knew his way around a kiss.

They parted lips reluctantly. Sam studied him. “Good day?”

“It is now.”

Sam smiled faintly, glancing around the room, noting Jason’s coffee cup and the files and photos scattered across the coffee table. “This looks industrious.” His pale brows drew together. “It’s hot as hell in here.”

Jason grimaced. “Sorry. I turned the heat up. I was freezing when I got in.”

Sam snorted, nodding at Jason’s jeans and red MOMA t-shirt. “You could always try putting on a sweatshirt. Or even a pair of socks.”

“True, I guess.”

Sam grinned. “You California boys.”

“Known a lot of us, have you?” Jason was rueful. At forty-six, Sam had twelve years and a whole hell of a lot of experience on him.

“Only one worth remembering.” Sam pulled him back in for another, though briefer, kiss.

Jason smiled beneath the pressure of Sam’s firm mouth.

When Sam let Jason go, he said, “Sorry I’m late. Any idea where you want to eat tonight?” He absently tugged at his tie, probably a good indicator of what he’d prefer. Jason too, for that matter.
“We don’t have to go out. Why don’t we eat in?”

Sam considered him. “You’ve only got another day here.”

“I didn’t come for the night life. Well.” Jason winked, but that was just in play. He suspected it was going to be a low-key night. Sam pushed himself too hard. There wasn’t any good reason for it because the world was never going to run out of homicidal maniacs. There was no finish line in this race. “Anyway, it’s not like I don’t get to eat out enough.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth tugged in acknowledgment. “Yeah. But you must’ve noticed there’s nothing to eat in this place.”

Jason shrugged. Sam’s fridge reflected the state of his own—the state of anyone whose job kept them on the road most of the time.

“I did notice. Not a problem. I’ll run out and pick us something up.”

Sam opened his mouth, presumably to object, and Jason said, “You look beat, Sam. Let me take care of dinner.”

“Why, thank you.” There was the faintest edge to Sam’s tone.

He didn’t like being reminded he wasn’t Superman. Jason had learned that over the past ten months. Sam worked hard and played—when he did play, which was rarely—harder. He had the energy and focus of guys half his age, but part of that was sheer willpower.

“You know what I mean.”

Sam grimaced. “I do, unfortunately.”

“So? You must have a favorite Chinese restaurant.” Jason was smiling because he didn’t take Sam’s flickers of irritation all that seriously—and because the first meal they’d shared had been Chinese food.

Ah, memories. They’d pretty much detested each other back then. Which had made the sexual tension that flared instantly between them all the more—and mutually—exasperating.

“Sure. But…”

Sam didn’t finish the thought. Weariness vying with his sense of obligation. Their relationship was such—the nature of their jobs was such—that there was not a lot of time for dating as most of the world understood it.

Jason got it. Anyone in law enforcement got it. But Sam still suffered these occasional bouts of guilt. Or whatever. Sam’s obsession with the job was always going to be a challenge to their relationship. Initially, Jason had figured it had to do with losing Ethan, but for all he knew, Sam had always been like this.

And maybe that single-minded drive had been an issue between Sam and Ethan too. Ethan had been Sam’s boyhood love. They’d grown up together, planned to spend their lives together, but Ethan had been murdered while they were still in college. That was about all Jason knew because Sam was not informative on the topic of Ethan.

“Take out and staying in is actually what I’d prefer,” Jason said.

“Yeah?” Sam scanned his face, then relaxed. “Well, if that’s the case. The China King restaurant on Hope Road is pretty good. Tell me what you want—”

“Nope. You tell me what you want. I’ve been sitting around here for a couple of hours. I need to stretch my legs anyway.”

Sam hesitated. “You sure you don’t mind?”

Jason half closed his eyes, consulting his memory of that first night in Kingsfield. “Hot and sour soup, shrimp with lobster sauce…what else? Steamed rice or fried?”

“Steamed. Good memory,”

“You need it in my line of work.” Jason wiggled his eyebrows, as though he was involved in some nefarious occupation and not just another cop with a fancy title. He hunted around for his shoes, locating them beneath the coffee table. His leather jacket was draped over the autumn colored accent chair in the corner of the room.

He was pretty sure Sam had taken this “apartment home” furnished, because the décor had a definite vibe. Comfortable, attractive, generic. Other than the four paintings by Granville Redmond that decorated his living room, office and bedroom walls, the place could have doubled as a very nice hotel suite.

“Hope Road, you said?” He checked his wallet.

“Go north on US-1. It’s less than a mile.” Sam was shrugging out of his raincoat, preparing to get comfortable, and Jason smiled inwardly.

“Got it. I’ll be back in a few.”


Jason glanced back. “Mm?”

Sam grinned. “Don’t forget the fortune cookies.”

“Roger that.” Jason touched a finger to his temple in mock salute and stepped outside.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Look Before You Leap

I was reading another of those despairing I'mgivingupwritingforever posts on FaceBook the other morning.

One of the interesting things about attending the Bouchercon Mystery conference in Toronto last fall was the startling realization that traditional publishing is continuing along happily oblivious to the, er, "revolution" happening over here in indie publishing.

Yep, they're still producing hundreds of thousands of books and earning millions of dollars over there in mainstream. They're not worried about the revolution.  I spoke to dozens of people who didn't even know what Kindle Unlimited was!

I'm serious.

And, believe it or not, that's the good news.

Now before anyone goes on defense, I have a KU membership and I like browsing new books and new authors for what-feels-like free. As a consumer I totally get the appeal of KU. As an author I see it has its uses, like any tool. But there's a reason I rarely use it. Actually several reasons. But that's a post for March, when I have the final numbers of my latest KU experiment.

This isn't a Bash KU post. It's a stop thinking you're out of options post to aspiring (and perspiring) authors. Because I too started thinking I was running out of options last year when I saw that the lists--any and all bestseller lists on Amazon--were dominated by Kindle Unlimited titles.  I too felt that surge of panic.

Ohmygodwe'reallbeingforcedintoKU. No one will see my book if I'm not in KU!!!!! ETC.

And then the recent panic when Amazon appeared to be in the process of lowering royalty rates by twenty percent (which is coming--trust me on this one).

You know what hurt my earnings last year? Not writing much.

I've lost count of the number of posts I've read on social media by genuinely desperate authors teetering on the edge of breakdown who've got themselves locked into the tiger trap of Kindle Unlimited and see no way out. Most of these posters seem unaware that traditional or legacy publishing even exists--and the ones who acknowledge its existence usually comment as to how it's some outlandish, impossible goal or how nobody makes money in traditional publishing anymore.

It's nonsense.

If anything, a traditional publishing career is more accessible than ever before. One thing traditional publishing has learned is take note of indie success stories. And as for the complaints about the lack of earning potential? Uh...this from writers earning less than half a cent a page?! :-D

Bitter brew
Here are some facts and figures for you:

Bureau of Labor Statistics  (please note that 61K figure is based on all kinds of writing work, not just authors of fiction)

An older but interesting article that leads to other older but interesting articles

The Author's Guild disturbing 2015 report

Digging deeper into those numbers

The fact of the matter is the earning pyramid in indie publishing works pretty much like it does in traditional publishing. We have a few big earners at the tip top of every genre, then a narrow strata of authors making a decent living, and then the millions of everybody elses who earn a few thousand a year at best. Less than 12K, according to statistics.

In fact, I'm speculating authors in legacy publishing earn more overall because A-That's not saying much, B-Less than half a cent a page C-The virtual invisibility of most indie authors, new or old, whether in KU or not, and D-There are just so many more indie authors competing with each other without any real tools to do so. (Yes, it's speculation, but that's certainly the way the data trends--and it confirms what I hear from other authors.)

I'm afraid what some of these despairing authors are really saying when they dismiss the very idea of traditional publishing is they don't want to take the time to learn their craft (hence bitter remarks about "gatekeepers"). They want to start earning money Right Now.

The problem is, most of these authors--hell, most authors, period--don't, aren't, and won't earn any real money (i.e., a living wage). Particularly not if they're in Kindle Unlimited. You need millions and millions of page reads to earn money in KU. That means you have to write a lot. A LOT. And by A LOT I mean MORE THAN THAT. Hence the burnout. I mean, if those of us not in KU periodically dance with burnout...

For those people who see writing as a get-rich-quick scheme, well, whatever. This post isn't for you. But for those aspiring authors who do actually really want to have long and creatively satisfying writing careers, who care about writing, love writing, have something to say and can't wait to say it... you have loads and loads of options. Maybe you don't see that right now, but you do. Truly, there has never been a better time to be a writer.

Okay, and yes, in some ways there has never been a tougher time to be a writer. The amount of
competition--not just with other indie writers--heck, not even with writers still living!--the pressure to constantly produce, the distractions of social media... Yes, these (and other things) are challenging. But writing has always been a tough gig, and we now have tools and support and avenues for success that never existed before.

And one of those avenues is still traditional publishing.

Don't instantly dismiss the idea before you've really evaluated it. Traditional publishing remains one of the best--if not THE best--place to learn your craft (as well as other author basics).  I'm not saying it's for everyone--but then, a writing career per se is not for everyone. If you're desperate enough to consider giving up writing (your supposed "passion") -- Goodbye, Cruel World!!-- aren't you desperate enough to at least consider trying an alternate route?

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Amazing Story Generator

A few years ago a reader sent me a copy of THE AMAZING STORY GENERATOR.

This is a book--a tool?--that "Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts" for writers having trouble coming up with ideas. Now, in my experience, ideas are not a problem for writers (and by "writers" I don't mean those people who decide to create books as a get-rich-scheme--those folks actually do have trouble coming up with ideas, judging by the bizarre comments in some of the groups I belong to). FOLLOW THRU is the challenge for the rest of us.

Right? Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's the work--work--of writing the book we'd all love to find a short cut for. :-D But I digress.

Anyway, I was idly flipping through this book (Mix-and-Match-Creative-Writing-Prompts!) and I started to think about the very nature of storytelling. Why are some ideas so compelling--and some ideas so...not?

Why are some ideas so universal, so timeless that they become tropes? I mean, I understand why falling in love and trying to build lasting relationships is timeless and universal. Most of us at some point in our lives fall in love and attempt to build lasting relationships. But amnesia, marriages-of-convenience, solving a murder, anything to do with cowboys or firemen or policemen? Why are those so enduring?

The way the AMAZING STORY GENERATOR works is it takes three different elements which can be combined to create "unique" story ideas.

For example, if you just go with the first three panels you get:

Upon winning the lottery
A reformed hit man
Meets the ghost of Ernest Hemingway

I don't know about you, but for me this was a Wah Wah Wah Fail Sound Effect.

So close and far. I mean, yes, it worked for Woody Allen, but it's a hard sell for most romance readers.

A few more page flips and we've got...

Upon winning the lottery
A reformed hit man
Assumes a new identity

Okay, workable, right? Not my kind of story idea, but I can see others turning this into a workable, even winning idea.

Some of these are just weird.

Upon winning the lottery
A sassy nun
steals a baby

WTH. I do not like nuns stealing babies or playing the lottery. Just saying.

Honestly, I find the whole "winning the lottery" trope SO boring. So flip a few pages...

Ugh... post-apocalyptic worlds (kill me first) suffering from amnesia (okay, I do like amnesia) while dog sitting (where's my sad trombone?) hoping to impress an old flame (oh! okay...)

Hoping to impress an old flame

A sassy nun (NO!!!!) a gold prospector (Thar's gold in them hills...REALLY?) a clown in training (hahahahaha NO) a computer hacker (sigh...okay)

Hoping to impress an old flame
A computer hacker
steals a baby

WHAT??? No. NO.

Discovers who really killed JFK (Spoiler alert, it was the CIA, MOVE ON) Makes a deal with the Devil (BO-RING) Receives a very important phone call (Huh? That's not a hook, that's an inciting incident) Discovers plans for an impending alien invasion (so...more baby stuff...) Develops the ability to fly (WTH -- how would this aid in your romance?) Accidentally runs over the family dog (sad trombone...wait...if it's a certain kind of black comedy...maybe...not in this story though) GROWS AN EXTRA ARM (...the better to grope you, darling...) Refuses to leave the bathtub (I. Give. Up.)

Clearly the third part of the equation is the tricky part.

I flipped through the entire book and all the options were equally bizarre: Stumbles upon the fountain of youth, is elected Mayor of Chicago, Inadvertently starts World War III, Burns down house (hmm...again, black comedy MAYBE) creates a family of robots...finds a 17th Century Treasure map (I love that idea, but does it work with the first part of the premise? IMHO no)

I think it would be REALLY fun to put one of these together for romance writers. Just imagine.

First piece of the premise: An embittered cop...A disgraced journalist...A retired fireman...A suicidal grad student...A widowed rancher... 

Second part of the premise: And his estranged former partner...Discovers a plot to...Is trapped in an isolated cabin with...Learns a trusted friend is...


Third piece of the premise...

No, wait. I'll leave that to you. :-D

You choose the first two pieces and come up with the third part of the equation.

Generate your Amazing ROMANCE Story idea in the comment section below.

I mean, could you possibly do worse than:

After too many cups of coffee
A Shakespearean scholar
Slowly transforms into a centaur


Friday, January 26, 2018

Taking it to the People

Hey, I didn't know they had laptops back then!!
Of all public figures and benefactors of mankind, no one is loved by history more than the literary patron. The patron creates 'literature through altruism,' something not even the greatest genius can do with a pen. 
Roman Payne

A couple of years back I did a post on writers using Patreon. Or, more exactly, I asked readers what they thought about writers using Patreon. My own feelings were mixed. Okay, honestly? My own feelings were biased. Though logic told me reader patronage was probably the wave of the future, I just couldn't help feeling that professional writers ought to be able to support themselves off their writing. Wasn't it an admission of failure to have to ask for sponsorship?

Some 50+ reader comments opened my eyes. Not only was reader patronage a tiny bit of a safety net for what has always been a precarious profession, developing, nurturing a community of your most invested fans offered the chance to build an incredible resource.

Since then, I've watched with interest as other authors moved to the Patreon model. Some were more successful than others, but that's true of everything in life. A lot of my initial concerns: the pressure of creating tons of new stuff on a tight schedule, undue influence from a select group of readers, other readers feeling left out or cheated don't seem to be issues for most of the successful artists I follow.

There are some really interesting--in fact, inspirational--Patreon accounts here -- though they're not writers:

There seems to be a danger with really successful Patreon writers starting to focus all their energy on their Patreon accounts, and I don't want to do that. I don't want to deny my regular readers all the things I typically give them either (the Advent Calendar, for example) and regular book releases across all publishing platforms.

There are also a lot of completely ignored or all but abandoned Patreon writer accounts--writers may be one of the smallest creator groups on Patreon--so that's not encouraging.

But yes, you guessed it. I'm starting a Patreon account.


(I can hear you all the way over here.)

I'll be happy to explain.

Partly it's about breaking the stranglehold Amazon has on nearly all of us these days. Currently seventy percent of all books are sold through Amazon. That's...worrying. On a personal level, eighty percent of my sales currently come from Amazon or an Amazon-owned affiliate like Audible or Createspace. This total dependency is both frightening and frustrating--for a lot of reasons. Amazon controls everything: visibility, pricing, distribution, who is permitted to review my work, and whether or not I'm allowed to do preorders. They control my royalty rate; if I'm willing to be exclusive to Amazon, I get a higher rate on many foreign distributors. If I refuse to give exclusive rights (and I do), I pay for it with lessened visibility and lower royalties.

Amazon controls both my creative output and how I'm allowed to interact with my customer base.

It gets worse.

Remember how when Amazon swallowed up Audible and dropped the royalty rate from 50-90% to a flat 40%? Well, a few weeks ago Amazon "mistakenly" posted a revised royalty schedule for authors that indicated some authors would be seeing a twenty percent reduction in the royalties they're paid monthly. This unplanned reveal on Amazon's part brought home to me how really vulnerable my position as a freelance artist is. I didn't sleep that night. Or even the following night--despite reassurances from Amazon that the posted royalty rates were just a mistake (that was a whole lot of website coding to have happened by mistake).

Make no mistake, Amazon is about to change the publishing paradigm yet again--and I don't believe this change will be driven by doing what's best for authors or literature.

But my decision to set up a Patreon account isn't just about Amazon. The main reason is to give myself some breathing room. Again and again the pressure to produce something ANYTHING by a certain date has resulted in juggling projects or paring down the original scope of a work or not writing things at all because I know they won't be as lucrative as something else. This publishing environment is NOT conducive to producing the best work. It's also not conducive to a healthy and creative life.
Healthy and creative life in progress

I'm fortunate in that I actually am able to earn my living through my writing--I don't forget that for a moment--but it's not a steady income and there's absolutely no safety net for those periods when I'm ill or running behind schedule. I'm afraid to commit to hiring a full-time assistant. I don't dare take extra time for long-dreamed-of projects like a video series on writing male/male mystery. I can't do anything but write...and when I fall behind in the writing (which has been the situation for the last two years) I feel paralyzed, overwhelmed... sometimes even unable to write.

My goal in setting up a Patreon account is to take back control of my creative life. I've tried to come up with a lot of hopefully very cool rewards for every level of patronage--stuff that would be fun for you but also useful for me in crafting stories or in my marketing campaigns--but the real return on your investment is more and better books from me.

I believe we share the same ultimate goal.

To find out more, check out my Patreon page here.

Friday, January 19, 2018


As I mentioned on Goodreads, I'm having a HELL of a time writing this story.

Partly the problem is my ongoing panic over running behind schedule and missing deadlines. I am so sick and tired of this situation (and you're probably tired of hearing about it). The truth is I don't write as fast as I used to. I can't because, frankly, there's just so much more to deal with now from a business and marketing standpoint. Plus, where I once used to feel energized and competitive in the face of insurmountable obstacles (like two books due in one month) I now just feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Having to plow through the work is not conducive to the best work--even if I could do it, I won't. Which means...missing more deadlines, which adds to the stress (not to mention financial pressure).

And so on and so forth.

The other problem with this project is I wrote THE GHOST WORE YELLOW SOCKS a very long time ago. And I'd started the manuscript several years before that, so it hasn't been easy to recapture the characters and the mood. I've rewritten the first three chapters four times now. I'm finally happy with what I've got--I'm confident most fans of the first book will be too--but it took some time. Time, frankly, that should have been spent on the first chapters of The Magician Murders.


Which is my lengthy and convoluted way of getting to my point, which is THE GHOST HAD AN EARLY CHECK-OUT is running behind but it is coming. I don't even want to discuss release dates at this point.

That said, here's the first chapter (unedited and unexpurgated) ;-)

Chapter One

A scream split the hot summer afternoon.

Perry, precariously perched on the twisted limb of a dying oak tree, lost his balance, dropped his sketchpad, and nearly followed its fluttering descent into the tall, yellowing grass growing on the other side of the chain-link fence that was supposed to keep people like himself from trespassing on the grounds of the former Angel’s Rest hotel.

“Help! Help!”

The voice was thin and hoarse, sexless. There was no sign of anyone, but the cries bounced off the chipped gargoyles, crumbling stairs and broken fountains, echoed off the pointed towers and mansard rooftops of the eight-story building. 

Recovering his balance, Perry scooted along the thick branch until he was safely over the barbed top of the fence, and then jumped down into the waist-high weeds and grass.


Heart pounding, Perry ran toward the voice—or at least where he guessed the voice was coming from. He still couldn’t see anyone.

This back section of the property had never been landscaped. Thirsty scrub oaks, bramble bushes, webs of potentially ankle-snapping weeds covered a couple of sunbaked acres.

When he reached the wall of towering—mostly dead—hedges, he covered his mouth and nose with the crook of his arm and shoved his way through, trying not to inhale dust or pollen.

Small, sharp dead leaves whispered as they scratched his bare skin, crumbling against his clothes. He scraped through and found himself in the ruins of the actual hotel garden.

Which meant he was…where in relation to the voice?

Without his leafy vantage point, he had no clue. Rusted lanterns hung from dead tree branches. A couple of short stone staircases led nowhere. An ornate, but oxidized, iron patio chair was shoved into the hedge, and a little farther on, an overturned patio table, lay on its back, four legs sticking straight up out of the tall weeds like a dead animal. A black and white check cement square was carpeted in dead branches and debris. A giant gameboard? More likely an outdoors dance floor.

Too bad there was no time to get some of this derelict grandeur down on paper…

Finally, he spotted an overgrown path leading through a pair of dead Japanese cedars--so ossified they looked like wood carvings--and jogged on toward the hotel.

The voice had fallen silent.

Perry slowed to an uneasy stop, listening. His breathing was the loudest sound in the artificial glade. Should he go on? You couldn’t—shouldn’t--ignore a cry for help, but maybe the emergency was over?

Or maybe the emergency had gotten so much worse, whoever had been yelling was now unconscious.
Far overhead, the tops of the trees made a distant rustling sound, though there was no breeze down here in the petrified forest.  He could see broken beer bottles along the path, dead cigarette butts, and something that appeared to be a used condom.


The hotel would be a magnet for vagrants and delinquents alike. His heart was still pounding in that adrenaline rush, and he was breathing hard, but it was simply normal exertion. He was uneasy, of course, but there was no reason he couldn’t go on. He was not the one in distress.

One thing for sure. Nick would not hesitate one instant to offer help to someone in need—although he also would not be crazy about Perry charging into potential trouble.

Perry continued down the path. Actually, it was more of a trail, and it abruptly ended at the top of terraced hillside. There didn’t seem to be another way down, so he just plowed through the dead brush, trying not to lose his footing amidst the loose earth and broken stones.

At last—well, it felt like at last, but it was actually probably no more than two or three minutes—he reached the bottom of the first of three wide, shallow flights of steps leading to the back entrance of the hotel.

 Now what?

Aside from his own footfalls and raspy breathing, it was eerily silent.

He began to feel a little foolish.

Had he misunderstood those cries? Maybe he’d been fooled by the noise of a bunch of kids roughhousing. Maybe what he’d heard had been the rantings of a crazy homeless person. There was a lot of that in LA.

Maybe there had been real trouble, but the situation was now resolved.

He’d been sketching Angel’s Rest for the past week—ever since he’d seen photos of it during his friend Dorians’s exhibition the previous Saturday—so he knew that technically there were several tenants (or maybe just squatters) in the old hotel. In which case maybe someone had already rushed to the rescue.

Then again, maybe someone was dying while he stood here trying to make his mind up.

“Just do it,” Perry muttered, and started up the steps toward the hotel.

The back entrance to the building had to be up there somewhere. The pool was over to the left behind another wall of dying hedges, but it was nearly empty and if someone had fallen off the side of that, they would probably be dead. The conservatory, vines growing out the top and broken glass winking in the sun, was to the right behind still more hedges. That was another potential deathtrap, but he’d never seen anyone out there either. In fact, he had never seen anyone outside the hotel at all. The only reason he knew the place was inhabited because of the scattered lights that went on at dusk and the occasional scent of cooking food on the breeze.

Halfway up the first flight, a scrape of sound—footsteps on pavement--reached him. Perry raised his head as three figures crested the top. He froze. His breath caught. His heart seemed to tumble through his empty chest as he stared in disbelief.

Three figures. They wore long black capes and skeleton masks. They carried swords.


It was…unexpected.

Okay, fucking terrifying. Skeleton men carrying swords was definitely an unexpected and unnerving sight.

His thoughts were jumbled. Was someone filming a movie? Pretty much everywhere you went in LA someone was filming something. Was this a trial run for Halloween? Were they bank robbers? He had some experience of bank robbers, so the thought wasn’t as random as it might seem.

Was he dreaming?

No. He could feel the sun beating down on his head, smell the dust and pollen rising from the cement. Perspiration trickled slowly down his spine to his tailbone. His heart banged against his ribs. His breathing was too fast and getting shallow. He was definitely not dreaming.

The fact that it was broad daylight made it worse somehow. Surreal. The blaze of sunlight lancing off pale stone, the dark fireball shadows thrown by the towering palm trees, the tall black and white figures sweeping down the stairs toward him…

It should have been a dream. If felt like a dream.

Hey!” Perry shouted. He was a little surprised by his own ferocity. Mostly that was him trying to get past his own apprehension with a show of force. Plus, he had to say something.

The skeleton men were also running and did not notice Perry until he yelled. By then they were almost on top of him. They didn’t speak, but he had an impression of surprised alarm. Being an artist, he automatically paid attention to movement, to body language, to facial expressions. Well, there was no facial expression on those grinning, gaping skeleton faces, but three different sets of body language revealed varying degrees of shock. One of the skeletons veered left, the other veered right. 

The middle skeleton who was a few steps behind the other two, raised his sword and charged straight at Perry.

No. This is not happening. This cannot be happening…

But the point of that sword was headed straight for his chest.

For a stricken instant, Perry couldn’t seem to process, but getting skewered for trespassing was not something he wanted to explain to Nick, and the thought galvanized him. Instinctively, he dived and tackled the other around his legs.

The skeleton man pitched forward, his hand locking on the collar of Perry’s t-shirt, dragging Perry with him. Perry ducked his head protectively against his shoulder, still trying to hang onto his assailant.

Hard muscles bunched beneath his hands. The other grunted but did not speak as they bumped their way down the steps, turning over and over. As they rolled, Perry got flashes of blue sky, sparkling bits of broken limestone step, a razor burned throat, dead leaves, clouds, scuffed army boots…
He could smell BO and cigarettes and musty wool.

The sword clattered noisily in front of them. It sounded like wood.

He’d heard Nick talk about how time seemed to both speed up and move in slow motion when you were in a fight, and that was exactly how it felt. He had time to register the little details of sight, smell, sound, but they went past in a confused rush, like a racing freight train.

Nick had been right about something else too. He was already exhausted. His heart clamored in his chest, his lungs burned, his muscles shook. Punches thumped down on his shoulder and back, but that pain felt more distant than his own instant and immediate physical distress.

What the fuck was he going to do with this asshole once they reached the bottom?

The skeleton man tried to knee Perry in the groin, tried to bang his head against the steps. Perry, his hands otherwise engaged, tried to head butt him. His forehead collided with the other guys’s chin.


Bad decision.  It seemed pretty straightforward when demonstrated by Nick, but was not so simple in execution. Slamming his forehead into the other’s masked face made him see stars--while having no visible effect on his assailant.

But it also knocked some sense into Perry.

He did not want to land at the feet of the other two skeleton men. That would not be a good plan.
He let go of the skeleton man’s cape and costume, and tried to stop his own rolling descent, which…momentum was not his friend. He did manage to shove the guy off and come to a stop. Shakily, he started to pick himself up, watching warily as the other tumbled the rest of the way to the foot of the steps.

Perry’s arms wobbled and he was having difficulty catching his breath. That was fatigue not asthma, although with the number of stressors he was experiencing, that situation might change any minute.
He had worse problems. His sprawled foe crawled around on his knees, scrabbling for his fallen sword.

Perry’s stomach did an unhappy flop. Really? More? He was not ready for round two.

As the skeleton’s hand closed around the hilt, he was dragged to his feet by his cohorts, one of whom panted, “Forget it, man. Leave him.”

It seemed touch and go, but then the skeleton man jabbed his hand at Perry. Even without words, the message was clearly, You’re dead!

Before he could make good on the threat, he was hustled away and the three took off running, disappearing into the overgrown jungle of dead rosebushes and run-amuck ornamental grasses.
For a few shocked moments Perry stared after them, not moving, simply trying to catch his breath. What the hell had just happened?

At the sound of low moans coming from the top of the stairs, he pushed upright and limped hurriedly up the stairs.

There was an arched entrance at the top of the steps. The archway led into the ruins of a walled garden. Dead vines hung like draperies. In the center of the courtyard was a cracked and dirty fountain. Curved benches ringed it. On the far side of the yard were tall Palladian style doors which must open into what would once have been the hotel foyer.

An elderly man slumped against the base of the fountain, clutching his midriff and quietly groaning. He wore blue jeans and a white shirt. His hair was silver and shoulder-length. His beard was also silver and worn van dyke style.

Perry stumbled forward, expecting to see blood gushing from beneath the clasped hands. “Are you all right?” he gulped. “Did they get you?”

The old man’s eyes shot open and he partially sat up. To Perry’s relief there did not appear to be any sign of gore on his hands or clothes.

“Who are you?” The voice sounded much stronger than the moans indicated. “Where did you come from?”

“Perry Foster. I heard you yelling for help.”


“Are you badly hurt?” Perry asked. “Do you need an ambulance?”

The old man was staring at him as though Perry was an apparition. He had very blue eyes. Not the deep marine blue of Nick. A pale, glittery blue like gemstones. With that high, elegant bone structure he had probably been very, very handsome in his youth. He was still striking even as he gawked wide-eyed at Perry.

“Did you see them?” he demanded.

“Yes. I saw them. Do you want me to call someone? Should I call the police?”

“You saw them?”

They would have been hard to miss, wouldn’t they?

“Yes,” Perry said. “We ran into each other on the stairs.”

Still clutching his midsection, the old man struggled to stand. Perry went to his aid. A bony hand fastened on his shoulder and the old man peered into his eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked again. 

“Perry,” Perry repeated. “Perry Foster.”

“Do I know you?”

“Well, no.”

The old man continued to peer at him. “Perry, you said?”

“Perry Foster.”

“And you say you saw them. What did you see?”

Old though he was, he had a beautiful, deep voice. A commanding voice. A trained voice?

Perry answered obediently, “I saw three figures—male. At least, I’m sure two of them were male--dressed up in skeleton costumes and capes. They had swords.” He recalled the clatter of the sword bouncing down the steps. “Wooden swords, I think.”

“Oh, thank God.” The old man shut his eyes and swayed. “Thank. God.”

“Here, you better sit down.” Perry helped him to one of the marble benches. He was tall, taller than Perry, but willowy. All at once he seemed very frail.

The old man rested his face in his hands and shook his head. He raised his head. “You don’t understand.” He shook his head again. Tears shimmered in his eyes. He covered his face.

Perry looked around for help, but there was no sign of anyone. He waited for a couple of moments while the old guy tried to compose himself.

“Is there someone inside?” Perry asked finally. “Is there someone I can get for you?”

“No, no.” The old man raised his head. He wiped his eyes without self-consciousness. “How did you get here, Perry? Where did you come from?”

Oh, that. Perry grimaced. The moment of truth. “Well, you see… I’ve been sketching Angel’s Rest. The building.”

There was no comprehension on the face in front of him—and why would there be?

Perry persisted. “Maybe I should have asked permission. I didn’t really think about it until now. There’s an oak tree in the back on the other side of the property line. The branches grow over the fence, and I was sitting up there.”

The old man frowned. “What do you mean you were sketching the building? Why?”

“Because it’s…beautiful. The bones of the structure, I mean. The architecture.”

Instead of replying, the old man once more dropped his head to his hands.

Perry glanced back at the tall, dark windows of the hotel. Why was no one coming out? How was it possible that no one had heard any of this commotion?

The man raised his head, and glared at Perry with unexpectedly hard blue eyes.

“If you’re an artist, where are your paints or pencils? Where is your easel or your sketchbook?”

The sudden suspicion was startling. Why would he lie about sketching the property? He could have come up with all kinds of fake excuses for being on the grounds, after all, if that’s what the old guy was hinting at.

Perry said, “I dropped my gear when you yelled.”

“I see. Then it will still be where you left it.” The distrust was still there, bright and shining.

“Yes. It should still be lying there in the grass.” Then again, the way things were going? Perry added, “I hope.”

“Show me.”

Perry stepped back warily as his rescuee rose. “Okay, but wouldn’t it make more sense to call the police?”

The old man gave a short, bitter laugh. “Would it? No. Show me where you left your things when you raced to my rescue.”

Not like Perry was looking for a big thank you, but the hint of sarcasm in “when you raced to my rescue” was strange and troubling. So too was the other’s obvious paranoia. An already very weird situation seemed to be getting weirder by the minute.

“Sure.” Perry turned to lead the way. He was suddenly, painfully conscious of his own bumps and bruises. He hadn’t fallen far, but it had been a hard landing. He’d banged his elbow, his knee, his shoulder. He was very lucky he hadn’t broken anything.

They walked down the three flights of steps in silence, but when Perry started toward the terraced hillside, the old man said, “What are you doing? There’s a walkway right here.”

Sure enough, beneath the dead leaves and pine needles, a brick walk wound through the black iron pick-up sticks of what had once been an ornate gate. Perry hadn’t noticed the walkway in his earlier haste.

“Oh. Right. Okay.” He changed course obligingly. The old man gave him a sideways look.

“I suppose you think I’m ungrateful?”

“Well, I guess you’re pretty shaken up.” He felt pretty shaken himself, and he hadn’t been the target of that attack.

The old man made an unappeased sound. “I have to wonder. How would you happen to be here at just the right moment to see them? Hm? That timing is a little too convenient.”

Perry tried to read his face, tried to make sense of the open disbelief. Not just disbelief. Antipathy. Like the old guy thought he was…what? What was he implying? That Perry had been with the skeleton men? That he was part of a gang of Halloween-costumed hooligans who went around beating up old people?

“I’ve been here all week,” Perry said.

“All week? You’ve been trespassing all week?”  

Old people could be cranky, that was a fact. Perry tried to hang onto his patience. “If I was trespassing on your property, it was only today when I heard you yelling.”

“Yet how could you hear anything from this distance?”

This was getting kind of ridiculous. “I guess the breeze was blowing in the right direction.”

The old man made an unconvinced noise.

Well, he could think what he liked. He seemed as unhurt as he was ungrateful, so really Perry’s responsibility—assuming he had any in this situation—was at an end. He’d grab his gear and show this old coot that he was exactly what he said he was, and then climb back over the fence and head home. He had plenty of sketches of Angel’s Rest by now. He could paint from those. Or find another project. He wouldn’t be returning here again, that was for sure.

The brick path took them past the checkerboard dance floor and up the path with the broken bottles and trash. The old man made a sound of disgust as he noted the discarded condom.

“Kind of a weird place for romance,” Perry offered. It was not his nature to hang onto irritation.


Though he was also limping, Perry’s companion didn’t really move like an old person. He was old though. Seventy at least. Perry had spent a lot of time with elderly people, both when he worked at the library in Fox Run and when he’d lived on the Alston Estate. He was used to their quirks and general crankiness, and the last of his exasperation faded.

“Have you lived here a long time?” he asked.

The old man gave him look of disbelief and declined to answer.

Perry sighed.

They didn’t speak again until they trudged across the barren back of the property and reached the oak tree. Perry hunted through the dry grass and found his sketch pad. He brushed the foxtails out of the pages and handed it over to his companion. He pointed up into the overhanging branches.

“You can see my backpack up there. Leaning against that Y in the trunk.”

The old man, flipping brusquely through the pages of Perry’s sketch book, did not look up. “My God.” He paused at a sketch of a raven perched on the sill of one of the tower windows. “Where did you learn to draw like this?”

“Art classes and stuff.”

He did look up then. “No.” Pale blue eyes met Perry’s solemnly. “This is…this is a gift. This isn’t training.”

“Well, a lot of it’s training.”

He continued to stare as though seeing Perry clearly for the first time. “It’s a gift from the gods,” he pronounced.

Oh-kay, that was a little dramatic.

“Yeah, but I don’t really…” Believe in the gods? Believe in talent without training? Believe you’re entirely sane, Mr. Angel’s Rest?

“It’s the Muse,” insisted Mr. Angel’s Rest. “It’s fire from heaven.”

Fire from heaven? What did that even mean? This oldster would have been right at home on the Alston Estate with little old Miss Dembecki and creepy Mr. Teagle.

Perry said politely, “I guess some of it’s aptitude.”

The good news was he no longer seemed to be suspected of being in league with the skeleton men.
As though reading his thoughts, the old man flipped closed the sketch book and offered his hand. “I’m Horace Daly. I want to thank you for what you did for me earlier, and I’m sorry I wasn’t more…gracious.”

“That’s okay,” Perry began. He was hoping Horace wasn’t planning on keeping his sketchbook. “Do y—”

“No, it’s really not,” Horace said earnestly. “But it’s difficult to explain without sounding completely mad.”

Mad? Horace Daly seemed to have quite the dramatic turn of phrase. But then he was living in a mostly abandoned hotel and had just been attacked by three guys in skeleton costumes, so maybe drama was his default?

  Perry opened his mouth to, well, he wasn’t sure what. Ask if Horace needed help getting back home? Ask if Horace wanted to file a police report perhaps? Because really that’s what they should be doing right now. Phoning the cops. The longer they waited the less chance they had of—

Who was he kidding? They had zero chance of catching Horace’s attackers at this point.

Horace was still watching him with that blazing-eyed intensity. When he stared like that, he almost… sort of…looked familiar.

Had he seen Horace before? Where? Why did he have the weird inkling it had been in church? Perry hadn’t been to church since he’d left his parents’ home nearly two years ago--and he was pretty sure Horace was no Presbyterian. 

Horace, still following his own thoughts, pronounced in that grand, grave manner, “You see, Perry, someone is trying to kill me.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

What Are You Afraid Of?

For Christmas this year the SO bought me a book titled Around the Writer's Block (Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance*).

I was a little resistant to the very idea of this book, largely because of the words WRITER'S BLOCK. I have little patience with the concept of Writer's Block. IMHO usually what people call writer's block is one of three things: burnout (which is very different--and very real), real life getting in the way of creative endeavors, for example a death in the family (which is inevitable and happens to us all now and then) OR you've hit a wall in your writing and you need to delete everything up to that point and start again.

But the term Writer's Resistance* (the * standing for Writer's Block, Procrastination, Paralysis, Perfectionism, Postponing, Distractions, Self-Sabotage, Excessive Criticism, Overscheduling, and Endlessly Delaying Your Writing) now THAT struck a chord.

Chord as in the opening notes to Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium... when all those voices begin to form that angelic whirlpool of sound and you feel a kind of epiphany...

Because, aside from Writer's Block (as I define it), every other symptom listed above is true of me. Writer Resistance has definitely become a thing in my life, and I'm trying to understand why. And I'm willing to listen to other people's ideas. Rosanne Bane's book is full of them. Ideas, I mean, though I'm only a few pages in.

Already I recognize behaviors in myself (and others) that Bane lays at the door of fear. Now FEAR in writing is another concept I have little patience for. THERE IS NO CRYING IN BASEBALL. But I see now that's because I typically assume what people mean by being "too afraid to write" is fear of success (which is apparently a thing) and fear of failure (which, again, zero patience here). It's not that I'm not sympathetic to fear of failure, but if you're going to leave your bedroom every morning, the possibility of failure exists. And if you refuse to leave your bedroom, you have nothing worth saying to anyone else anyway.

Harsh, I know. But true. It is the fear to leave one's bedroom that results in so many truly terrible romance novels written by people who know nothing about other humans or their interactions. But that's a post for another day.

Anyway, as I began to read the opening pages of Bane's book, I couldn't help noticing (and wincing) over some of her observations. Like how fear manifests itself in different ways depending on the personality type. Writing horrible reviews of your peers. Getting into online brawls over political and social issues with people who basically agree with you. Obsessing over other authors' perceived success. Okay, that's not me, but I see those behaviors in others. And I kind of always sort of put it down to fear, well, frustration, but it's nice to have confirmation from an objective source.

Losing files. Starting other projects in the middle of your current project. Deciding NOW is the moment you must reorganize your desktop. Missing deadlines, having accidents... WAIT. WHAT?

Having accidents.

Yeah. Things began to get very interesting.

Because Bane is focused on science (or at least psychology) the book has a more practical focus, which appeals to me. My tendency is to get mad at myself for not performing. When I can't deliver what I have promised (often over-promised) I begin to call myself names: lazy, undisciplined, etc. It never occurred to me maybe something else was going on there.

I also realized that my idea of "fear" is not realistic. Fear does not come in one size and one color.

There are plenty of reasons to be resistant to writing. First of all, that extended mental focus is exhausting. Imagine being an accountant during tax season--only tax season never ends. Now you've got an inkling of the focus required for writing fiction.

And hanging onto that focus for twenty even more challenging. By now I've used up all my original ideas and themes. Not that I don't have more ideas, but yeah, there will inevitably be a sameness to my work. For me and for readers. Now, granted, that sameness goes to branding, and if you like what I do, it's not a problem, it's a selling point. If you don't like what I do, the fact that I continue to do it is irrelevant anyway.

Writing is physically hard on the body too. I'm always battling carpal tunnel and writer's butt. And more serious stuff like sitting being the new smoking.

Writing doesn't pay as well as it used to.  You can take a look here (okay, that's the Irish, but still look here and here and here. To add to which, authors do not have the security of a fixed income. Nor a retirement plan. Nor, in most cases, health insurance.

Any creative endeavor is going to generate resistance and negativity from some quarters. Not everyone is going to like what you do. Not everyone is going to get what you do. Even the people who do get you will not always like what you do. That's art. Any art. The difference now days versus being a writer in days gone by, is you can receive the negative response even before you've begun the creation. At Goodreads, for example, the moment you announce a title, you can expect to receive a couple of hostile "ratings." These are people who are worked up about the very idea of you producing something new. :-D  You can laugh about it (which I usually do) but it doesn't change the fact that there is a lot more awareness and feedback than writers in the past had to deal with. That immediacy has an influence. If people are excited, there is pressure. If people are hostile, there is pressure. There is a lot of pressure now days for writers.

So there are reasons to be resistant to writing. Writing is work, and work--even when you love the work--can be draining. We've all had to call in sick now and again even when we weren't officially contagious. Right?

When I began to analyze the whole concept that I might unconsciously be resistant to writing, might even occasionally be unknowingly sabotaging myself--and that there might be sensible reasons for that (despite my love for writing and the creative process) resistance I began to see my way through what has become a kind of forest of challenges and obstacles.

I don't pretend that I'm out of the woods, but I do see the sunlight filtering through the canopy of leaves. I also see how this resistance could be true of many aspects in someone's life, which makes me wonder how many of us deal with unconscious fear -- call it resistance -- getting in the way of doing the things we most love and want to do.

What about you? What are you afraid of? What keeps you from doing the things you long to do?


Friday, January 5, 2018

Lessons from 2017

Yes, a crazy burst of inspiration led to this story
Isn't it crazy how long ago 2017 sounds? :-D

I'm really excited about this brand new shiny New Year. My goal is a healthier and more productive year, and I think that's a reasonably realistic goal.

By the standards of when I began writing (back in year one), last year was a reasonably productive year. I wrote two novels (The Monet Murders and Murder Takes the High Road) and three short stories ("Plenty of Fish," "Halloween is Murder," "The Boy Next Door").  I put together a couple of print collections (If Only in My Dreams and the two Boy Meets Body collections) a couple of audio books (The Monet Murders, the Point Blank box set) and a slew of translations and box sets. I experimented with Kindle Unlimited (which I will blog on, but let's cut to the chase--HELL NO). I hosted a fan/writer retreat on Catalina Island, I attended Bouchercon mystery conference, visited the SO's homeland (Canada, but really Montreal), got a puppy. And that's just the stuff I remember off the top of my head. Once upon a time, yes, that would have been considered a busy and productive year!

Oh. And I started a number of projects I didn't complete by the end of the year: Blind Side (ARGH), The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out, Seance on a Summer's Night.  Ouch.

Ouch. Ouch. OUCH.

There was ill health and depression (my own and the SO's) and other adventures.

It was not the year I planned on. But that's life, right?

And it's possible that this will not be the year I'm planning either. GULP.

The thing is, I can't really apologize for life (and my brain) being what it is. I won't deny that the angry emails and comments did affect me (not in an encouraging or productive way) with the end result that I've come to the conclusion that I'm not a machine--or a data entry clerk--and the nature of creativity is such that sometimes inspiration and creative impulse--or lack therein--supersede schedules and best laid plans. I'm sorry I didn't produce the stories I'd hoped to produce on schedule, but unfortunately that is not how creativity works. Ill health and depression and stress take a toll. For those who don't get that, there is really nothing more to say.

But it took me a while to get to the place where I could say that with confidence. For a lot of my life I was a people-pleaser. Someone who worked very hard to make everything okay for everyone else, even when that wasn't realistic or healthy for me. And, if I'm honest, I'm still prone to people-pleasing. :-)  Which is fine, so long as it isn't coming at the price of my own creativity and mental health.

I've been a writer--or at least a storyteller--since before I could read. Seriously. As a little kid coloring in my coloring books I regaled the other little kids with stories about what we were coloring. I never viewed writing as a get-rich scheme, and while I understand that it has indeed become that for some, it has never been that for me. Do I earn a living at this? Yes. Is it a comfortable living? Some years it is more comfortable than others--it is always precarious and there is no retirement plan. (If you think that doesn't matter, your spouse is the breadwinner in your family unit.)

I did not become a writer so that I could end up more stressed out and harassed than when I was a corporate overlord--except without the steady paycheck. :-D That's one of the conclusions I came to this year.  I do believe in discipline and commitment and staying on schedule, but the creative life has to allow for deviations, for inspiration, for lack of inspiration. That's another conclusion I came to this year. I'm not driven by market or what's selling or where there's an opening or blah-blah-blah. I write what I am moved to write. It's an awkward thing. I can't just crank out the words like there's no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow and I will still be writing and living with the consequences of that tomorrow. I've been a professional writer since I was sixteen. I'm in it for the long haul, as I've already proved. A lot of what I knew is gone forever. But a lot of what I believe in remains true--and will always remain true--craft matters and heart trumps algorithm. You show respect to the reader by delivering the best book that is in you--and that respect is repaid in reader loyalty.
Yes, there will probably be surprises

My plan for 2018 is still to deliver the stories I was unable to deliver in 2017. Blind Side, The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out, In Other Words Murder-- and the non-fiction Mr and Mrs Murder. To that end I've accepted ZERO contracts with any publisher. The Magician Murders will proceed as planned. The only other scheduled stories are The Haunted Heart: Spring and Slay Ride (and those are not due until the fall of 2018) . That's the plan and while there may be delays or the occasional surprise story, I intend to stick to it to the best of my ability. I read some, frankly, idiotic comments last year about my willful discarding of deadlines. The reality is those long-anticipated books will bring in the most cash for me, so of course I want to do them. I like money as much as the next person--and I need it as much as the next person. But I'm not going to half-ass those stories--or any stories--and I'm not going to force them at the expense of my mental or physical health.

Speaking of which, that's another of the big lessons from 2017. I plan to focus on health in 2018. Writers tend to be...unhealthy. We sit on our asses in our own little world and that creates fat butts and fat brains. I want to maintain the fitness I gained the hard way in 2017.  Both the physical fitness and the mental fitness.

Other plans for 2018? There will be a new website. Mine has become...cumbersome. If I can possibly get in, I'm thinking of going to GRL this year.  And finally, I will never again schedule any projects to be written during the holidays. REMIND ME OF THAT ONE. I HAVE A TENDENCY TO FORGET THAT RULE.

Stuff will happen. That's what I love about every new year.

What did you learn from 2017? What new strategies will you implement in 2018?