Saturday, November 17, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018 – End of Week 2 – Mid-Book Revamps Are Okay

Scott D. Parker

As of today, all NaNoWriMo writers have reached the end of the second full week. And we have reached the halfway point in the month. By the numbers, as of today, all writers should be around 28,000 words in their 50,000-word novels. First of all, if this is where you are, Congrats! You are more than halfway through the month of November and more than halfway through your book. It’s an awesome feeling, isnt’ it? Just wait until you type “The End.” That never gets old, no matter how many books you write.

I experienced an interesting bit of serendipity this week. On my current non-NaNoWriMo novel (started 1 October and aim to finish by 30 November), I hit a snag. I’m halfway through the story and I found myself a bit adrift. Unlike previous books, I’m writing this without an outline. Writing into the dark, as Dean Wesley Smith does. Every now and then, I get backed into a corner and I have to think my way out of it. What that entails for me is to put a halt to writing the current scene and ask myself a few questions about the scene, why I’m even writing it, and where do I think the story is going from there. Naturally, this process puts the kibosh on new words, but it also opens the door to the next scene.

So that’s what I did this week for my current book. A mid-book brainstorming session. Complete with notes on a whiteboard. This book is the sixth Calvin Carter novel. The first will be published in January 2019 and this one won’t be published until November 2019, but I wanted all six complete before I start publishing so I can use the various covers in marketing material. I had a fun opening sequence, but I didn’t know why the mystery men stole the MacGuffin of the story. I knew that was an issue, but I kept writing ahead, confident the true reason would manifest itself. It did, but it took a mid-book reset to do it. Now, I at least know the next quarter of the book.

What is serendipitous about this process in 2018? Well, I encountered the exact same problem in 2015 when I participated in NaNoWriMo 2015. Each week this month, as I prepare for these posts, I revisit my own daily updates from 2015. I reviewed Day 11 through Day 17 of 2015. Guess what I (re)discovered? I hit snags back then, too. Of the seven days back in 2015, five of them involved not only writing but reviewing the scope of that novel. It seemed I was writing scenes that kept affecting subsequent scenes and I just had to keep going. Two things happened back then. One, I had my best day of writing at that point with 3,538 words. Two days later, I experienced my worst at 1,703.

Writing a novel is not a short process. It is long. There will be good days and there will be bad days. The key factor is to keep going. Just keep moving forward. You can do it.

And the theme for this week is simple: if you have to stop or slow down and reassess your novel from the vantage point of the middle, do it. What’ll happen is that you will likely open the floodgates for the rest of the book.

But here’s a more down-to-earth, nuts and bolts piece of advice: If you are truly stuck, finish the scene/chapter you are currently writing. Look no further than that. Just finish this scene, and trust your creative subconscious to help you along. Chances are good you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

So, NaNoWriMo folks, how are y’all doing?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NaNoWriMo, a Wall, and Plowing Through

Photograph by Rob Schreckhise

By David Nemeth

Tuesday night I wrote only 26 words. Twenty-six words is not a lot for one day's work especially when one is participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The issue could be lots of things but 26 words, that's an issue in itself. Over the last couple of weeks, I posted my daily word count and total word count and when I got to 26 words, man, did I want to lie. I so wanted to post fake numbers, maybe add a 1 and 0 in front the 2 and the 6. It wouldn't have looked that bad. No one would be the wiser. But I decided to go with the real number thinking it might motivate me some.

And it did. My work has me consulting at a new company so as I'm ramping up, getting my laptop, badge, software and user accounts, it gave me time to think about what the problems could be. I do have a completed outline, one or two sentences describing the scenes of the book which begins with the death of the protagonist's father and ends a few days later hours after the funeral. As I was writing throughout November, I finally came to a brick wall of 26 words. So as I spent Wednesday downloading software and rebooting almost a dozen times, I realized that the time period was too concentrated. So I added new scenes, edited some old ones, and spread it out over ten days. Will this time expansion work? Who knows? Who cares?  Maybe this change will give me the freedom to continue to keep on writing and finish it, whatever it will be.

Words written on Wednesday: 1,720. Total words: 27,231.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Lover of Crime Fiction

Scott's Note: We have Rick Ollerman visiting this week, talking about an anthology he put together in honor of a guy who meant a lot and contributed a lot to the world of crime fiction.

Gary Shulze was a slender man, thin really, tallish, a bit stooped, with a quiet voice but an intense cast to his face when he listened to a speaker, as though he was capturing every syllable and every phrase, not wanting to miss anything. His laid back exterior belied the honed-edge of his sharp mind which, as everyone who took the time to get past the deceptive outer shell, held a wealth of insight and critical opinion of someone who more than appreciated this world of crime fiction, he loved it.
Gary expressed this love in many ways, first of which was by living in it. He bought the Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis from another long-time crime fiction figure, Steve Stilwell, and ran it alongside his wife, Pat Frovarp. Their dog, Shamus, was part of the staff, as well. Gary had proposed to Pat by uncovering a set of paperback original copies of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels under a glass tabletop in his living room after sliding away the newspaper from on top.
Together they hosted not only some of the most popular writers from across the country but from across the world, as well. John Sandford, William Kent Krueger, Randy Wayne White, and on and on and on were supported by Gary and Pat and the store with every new release, with some authors making Once Upon a Crime the first stop of every new tour. What’s more, they made a point of supporting newer authors, especially if one of them thought the author had talent. Not only would they host a signing but they would hand sell their books to their customers.
In the back was a curated collection of used books called the Annex. Not just a collection of “used books,” these were very good used books: first editions, signed and limited editions, paperback originals, a vast selection of Dell Mapbacks, and vintage hardcovers from the post-War days forward. This was—and is—a large room made labyrinthine room by floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with the type of books any mystery fan could lose themselves in for hours. Or days. Weeks….
In 2011, Pat and Gary were awarded the Mystery Writers of America’s Raven Award, the organization’s recognition for service to the industry outside the area of creative writing. The two of them were thrilled to get the phone call. And no one who knew them could dispute their worthiness.
Gary suffered from leukemia and had several close calls. Bone marrow transfusions kept him going. Help from friends supported him and Pat, and the store, through the tough times and still, this skinny, bearded, wraith of a man would persevere, each time returning to his calling, the bookstore and the industry of crime fiction. He also played the tuba in local bands, the most unlikely of instruments considering the physical attributes of both of them.
Gary Shulze conquered everything, until one day, he just couldn’t. Another transplant wouldn’t work and he continued to grow weaker. Gary and Pat sold the store to new owners, the Abraham family, and something that had seemed so impossible had actually come to pass.
I had done a signing at the store just after the sale. Pat was there, as was Shamus, of course. Pat assured me Gary would be there, that he wouldn’t miss it, but that he might not be able to stay long, or that he might have to spend most of the time in the back. But he didn’t. He arrived shortly before I started looking just like Gary, only thinner, more pale, weak. He sat down and didn’t have to go to the back room. Later we spoke like old times and I didn’t want it to end but we both knew when it was time to go. He was tired. We embraced and Pat and Shamus took him home. Gary left us shortly afterward.
Somebody, I thought, needed to do something to honor the memory of Gary Shulze. When no one seemed to be working on a project, it seemed clear putting together an anthology was up to me. With the help of author Jessie Chandler, I started gathering names and e-mails of people that needed to be in such a book and started firing away. The result is a good-sized multi-themed anthology called Blood Work, a collection of thirty stories featuring wonderful pieces by Reed Farrel Coleman, William Kent Krueger, Duane Swierczynski (with perhaps my favorite story of the past several years), Michael Stanley, Jen Conley, and many others.
I chose three themes not only to make it easier for the authors but to make the stories themselves broader, more disparate. These were books, bookstores, and… tubas. The remarkable thing is how some of the writers used tubas in incredibly savvy ways in which to solve their crimes. Or, like our own Scott Adlerberg, who used one of the themes to write a crime story that could also be classified a horror story, that stayed true to the idea of the book. Of course the strangest things were those few weird instances where some authors attempted to work all three themes into the same story. Interesting stuff.
The overarching goal with the stories, I told everybody, is to write something that would have put that wry, crooked smile on Gary’s face. Do that, and the story is a success. The other thing that makes this collection special? That all monies go directly to a charity that Pat says saved Gary’s life on more than one occasion, the Memorial Blood Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I’d like to tell you that if you want to support all that is right and good in the crime fiction business, take a look at this book. If you’re a fan of different types of crime/mystery short stories, take a look. If you were ever acquainted with Gary and Pat and support what they were about, or consider supporting a worthy, life-saving institution with your book buying dollars, then please take a look.
In the end, if you’re ever able to find your own Gary Shulze and Once Upon a Crime Bookstore, treasure them, both of them, because they can leave your life before you’ll ever be ready to lose them.

You can pick up Blood Work here.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Writers of Color

Crime Writers of Color, started by Kellye Garrett, Gigi Pandian, and Walter Mosley, hosts a wide and varied array of today and tomorrow’s more diverse crime writers. Follow this group and they will keep you up-to-date on new releases, recognitions, awards & other good news from this criminally under-represented cast of writers.

For the growing number of diverse writers, Crime Writers of Color will expand reader-base and further community. You’ll meet other writers and make new friends, after all, most writers need feedback and support. Crime Writers of Color even post day-jobs available within the industry. 

Robin St. Clare, Longtime member, Crime Writers of Color – 

“The group was officially started in early June when Kellye Garrett started a group and invited some writers she knew. There were about 30 of us to start, but it’s really been growing since then as we meet more writers of color in the genre.

I know it’s something that Kellye had been thinking/talking about for a little while—Gigi Pandian was also instrumental in planning and starting the group. The crime genre has been a little slow to diversify. If you go to the major conferences, you’ll see a lot of white faces, but that doesn’t mean writers of color aren’t out there.

The hope was to bring everyone together in a group that could offer support (both emotional and professional) and career boosting to writers at all levels of their career. I know that I have definitely benefited from the advice and perspective of established writers, and I’m really grateful this group exists at a time when I’m trying to break in.

In terms of upcoming events, we’re still a primarily online group at this point. We’ve done some unofficial meet-ups at cons, but nothing on our own yet. The group is still young, so there’s plenty of time to determine exactly what kind of outreach or advocacy we want to be involved in. Right now, I think of it more as a support group.

We would welcome new members! Reach out to anyone who is already a member and we can put you in touch with one of our admins. I know we’re all really happy to see the group continue to grow.”

Robin St. Clare is a pathologist, writer of adult mystery and speculative fiction and was featured author in 2017’s Pitch Wars. She lived in Philadelphia for nine years while completing her medical training before moving to the boonies to work at a community hospital. Her current works include the paranormal/mystery hybrid INTO THE FIRE and the psychological thriller IF A TREE FALLS.

We're excited to present members of the Crime Writers of Color community and their thoughts on diversity in fiction. Thanks to Ed Aymar, Sarah Chen, Shawn Cosby, Mia P. Manansala, and Alex Segura for your participation!

*Tell us about a recent project where Crime Writers of Color showed support and what they did to help you.

Ed Aymar - I did a disservice when I first started working on the other side of writing. I received a lot of support from the International Thriller Writers after my first novel was published, and was so encouraged by the organization that I asked to work with them, and support their efforts of providing research and guidance to other thriller writers. One of the things I did was take over and relaunch The Thrill Begins, their online resource for aspiring and debut writers. I put together a team of weekly contributors to the site, and made sure that I had female representation – my goal, whether in panels or readings or book recommendations, had always been to encourage and highlight female crime fiction writers. I didn’t give as much thought to diversity, and that’s the disservice I spoke of earlier; I should have. It just seemed that there weren’t WOC out there. It was like standing in the middle of Iceland and trying to find people of color. This group is a great resource to that end.

I’m assuming Iceland’s mainly white? I could be wrong. I did no research.

Sarah Chen - They are really supportive on social media. A recent example is when my book was mentioned in a blog post. Members RT’d it and congratulated me. It was nice to feel that support.

Shawn Cosby - The members of the group have been invaluable in helping with writing a query letter, making contact with agents and dealing with insensitive publishers who don't seem receptive to diversity. We try our best to look out for each other.

Mia P. Manansala - I’m doing Nanowrimo in an attempt to finish the first draft of a new story, and it’s really tough and I keep falling behind. However, we have a special subgroup dedicated to daily check-ins, brainstorming sessions, sharing resources, etc. that makes it much easier to push myself on this project.

Alex Segura - CWOC is hugely supportive in not only helping to spread the word - from sharing a link, or plugging your work - but really great as a sounding board. We interact daily, discussing news of the moment and how we can make our community more welcoming to diverse authors like ourselves, but how we can also speak out together. I really value the community CWOC has created, and I try to be active and engaged - and willing to help.

*What do you think Crime Writers of Color can offer other writers, both up and coming and established?

Ed Aymar - Publishing is a unique experience for every writer; it’s also an isolating experience. We write alone, and our successes and failures are generally faced alone. Every writer goes through those hardships, but hardships take a different, harsher, more confusing tone when you’re a writer of color. This group offers a place to find solace and empathy.

And, just as importantly, this group offers connections. Not all avenues in publishing are excited about, or understand the importance of, diversity in fiction. Knowing who to approach with your work is paramount for anyone attempting to traditionally publish. This group can help with that.

Sarah Chen - We offer support, advice, and solidarity. Whether you’re just starting out in mystery writing or a seasoned veteran, that sense of belonging is important. It’s an opportunity for those who may feel underrepresented in publishing to have a voice and a presence. And it’s easier to do that with a group standing with you rather than feeling like you’re out there alone.

Shawn Cosby - I think it offers a safe welcoming space for writers of all successes levels to learn about the craft, gain assistance on navigating the rolling rapids of the publishing industry and exchange ideas with people who are facing the same unique obstacles.

Mia P. Manansala - It’s impossible to overstate how important a sense of community is, no matter where you are in your writing journey. Writing tends to be a very solitary activity, and if you’re a writer of color (particularly one where you don’t have access to other writers and writing groups) it can be a very lonely and isolated experience. It’s hard feeling like you’re the only one out there doing what you do.

I don’t care if you’ve published twenty books or have yet to finish a manuscript, having a safe place to ask questions, give/receive career guidance, discuss craft, or even just vent is invaluable.

Alex Segura - Experience. Guidance. Feedback. There are writers at every stage in CWOC - newbies, rugged veterans, superstars - and they all bring different experiences and suggestions to the show. If you're a new author and you want help when it comes to finding an agent, pitching a publisher or just surviving at a convention, there are many strong and knowledgeable voices on the board that will help, and do so with gusto.

*What do you think they can offer readers and fans of crime fiction?

Ed Aymar - I think diversity is the next great movement in American crime fiction, similar to literary movements like realism or post-modernism. Our society has become increasingly blended, and the books of tomorrow are going to be informed by these new perspectives and voices. CWOC is a place where those voices can easily be found.

Not all readers or critics are going to agree with that sentiment, but it’s already happening in artistic mediums across the board.

Sarah Chen - Broaden your TBR pile! We can introduce readers to new perspectives and allow for a different storytelling experience.

Shawn Cosby - I think the group can introduce readers to fantastic writers they may otherwise not have an opportunity to experience. These writers offer a different perspective that can give readers a great insight into cultures and communities they may not be familiar with.

Mia P. Manansala - Right now, our group is dedicated to helping writers. In the future, we might be able to offer more to readers and fans, but in the meantime, I’ll point you to Frankie Bailey’s excellent list of diverse writers of crime fiction. She’s a CWOC member and was the first African-American president of Sisters in Crime:

Alex Segura - Different voices. Different perspectives. A love for the genre and it's strengths but a fearlessness when it comes to clichés and expectations. If you're looking for a book that honors what comes before but isn't afraid to change things up and add to the chorus as opposed to imitate, you may want to try varying your reading list. It can't hurt.

*What do you hope to see happen with this bright, new spotlight on more diverse writers?

Ed Aymar - The ultimate goal is inclusion, right? To get to the place where diversity in writing is no longer (as Kellye often argues) considered a “trend.” To get to that lofty state of mind where a writer of color can win an award and it’s not considered some sort of political gift, but rather as deserved as it would be when white writers win. To broaden and invigorate readers.

Sarah Chen - Specifically, I’d love to see WOC on all types of panels, not just those about diversity or social issues. Don’t pigeonhole us or assume, oh, she’s Asian, she must write “Asian” stories. It would be wonderful to see more WOC win the top awards, like Kellye did at the Anthonys. The YA community is way ahead of us in terms of embracing stories from writers of various backgrounds. I want us to reach that level and beyond.

Shawn Cosby - I hope that eventually readers and publishers will give writers who are black and brown a chance to show what we bring to the table without the latent condescension that some people have obscuring our talent and ideas.

Mia P. Manansala - As Kellye Garrett put it during her excellent acceptance speech for the 2018 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, I can’t wait for people to stop treating diversity and diverse writers as a trend and accept us as the status quo.

Alex Segura - I hope it provides authors with an opportunity to reach a wider audience, and not be thought of as just a "great writer if you're looking for a different voice." These are great writers, full stop, and we need to give them a chance to be read an experienced, so a brighter spotlight on their work is the first step on that journey.

*Give us one good example of how we can help spread the word on diversity in fiction.

Ed Aymar - If you run a publication or an organization, ensure you have representation in all your efforts. This should be the goal of these organizations, particularly when you’re supporting writers. We read – even if we tend to read the same writers – to discover, in some way, a new experience. Diverse voices are going to bring you that new experience.

Sarah Chen - Read books by authors from diverse backgrounds and recommend them wherever you can. Tweet, write reviews. Ask your library to carry their book.

Shawn Cosby - Buy books by writers of color!

Mia P. Manansala - Don’t only promote/review/invite to speak on panels/interview diverse writers solely on the topic of diversity. Having one panel at a convention for “diverse” writers and another for LGBTQ+ writers and calling it a day isn’t enough. We have thoughts/opinions/expertise in areas that don’t only pertain to our marginalization.

Alex Segura - The first thing any reader can do is take a look at your reading list and your TBR pile - are the authors different, diverse, varied? If not, fix that. Then, if you enjoyed a book, spread the word and pass it on. Let people know when you've enjoyed something great by a writer they may not know, and the momentum will build.

Thank you to our contributors.

Ed Aymar - E.A. Aymar's thrillers include the novel-in-stories The Night of the Flood (in which he served as co-editor and contributor), as well as I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2013) and You're As Good As Dead (2015). His standalone thriller, The Unrepentant, will be published in March of 2019 by Down and Out Books.

Sarah M. Chen - Sarah has worked a variety of odd jobs ranging from script reader to bartender and is now an indie bookseller and private investigator assistant. Sarah's crime fiction has been accepted for publication by All Due Respect, Akashic, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Dead Guns Press and Betty Fedora. Her debut novel with All Due Respect Books, CLEANING UP FINN, is a Lefty and Anthony finalist and IPPY award winner. Visit Sarah at

Shawn Cosby - S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines His story "Slant-Six" was selected as a Distinguished Story in Best American MysteryStories for 2016.. His writing has been called " gritty and heartbreaking " and " dark, thrilling and tragic ". When he isn't crafting tales of murder and mayhem he assists the dedicated staff at J.K.Redmind Funeral home as a mortician's assistant.

Mia P. Manansala - Mia is a writer of geeky stories filled with sarcasm, murder, and the occasional Simpsons reference. She is the winner of the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck - Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She's also a 2017 Pitch Wars alum and 2018 mentor.

Alex Segura - Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Pete Fernandez Miami Mysteries, which include SILENT CITY, DOWN THE DARKEST STREET and the latest, DANGEROUS ENDS. He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed ARCHIE MEETS KISS storyline, the "Occupy Riverdale" story, ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES and the upcoming THE ARCHIES one-shot. He lives in New York with his wife and son. He is a Miami native.