Showing posts with label Steve Steinbock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Steinbock. Show all posts

14 February 2017

Do You Do Artist Dates?

by Melissa Yi

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore
something that interests you.” Julia Cameron

An artist date is permission to play. Every week, you are supposed to explore something that makes you smile.

When I first heard about them, I was excited, but I circled around the idea cautiously, like an animal scenting something new. What is this thing called play? Am I allowed to indulge in it, or do I have to spend every waking moment working as a doctor, a writer, and a mother?

For me, because I live in the country, one of the barriers is physically getting to something that interests me. It takes me an hour to drive to Montreal, 1.5 hours to drive to Ottawa, and more if there’s snow or traffic.

And yet, it’s almost always worth it.

I think this is why writers love conferences. You go from isolation to a collective army of smart, funny people who love the same things you do (reading, writing, and Riesling). You can get some of the same vibe online, but it’s not as fun as in person.

Steve Steinbock & Melissa Yi at Bloody Words 2014
“It’s Brigadoon!” said Steve Steinbock, of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, who suggested I come to Bloody Words, the former Canadian crime conference.

“Huh? What’s Brigadoon?”

He explained that it’s a town that materializes out of nowhere, and then it’s gone. “Brigadoon!”


“Brigadoon,” I repeated, still a bit confused, but enjoying his enthusiasm.

Another barrier for me is that I hate spending money. I went to Left Coast Crime last year, felt guilty about spending money, and quizzed other authors in attendance if they felt guilty, too. The answer: no, with the unspoken corollary of "Why are you wasting your time here worrying about it?" Stacy Allen was kind enough to answer in detail. She said something to the effect of, “You have a gift. Everyone here has a gift. It’s a crime not to use it.”
With thanks to Lisa de Nikolits for the photo!

I just spent a long, long weekend in Toronto. The main goal was speaking at OLA, the Ontario Library Association superconference, through Crime Writers of Canada, on the Friday. I spent my two minutes explaining the genesis of Stockholm Syndrome (chasing after an escaped prisoner, as I explained in my interview with CBC Radio's Robyn Bresnahan here), connected with new readers, learned of literary conferences in Renfrew and Kingston, met James Wigmore, an author who’s a retired forensic toxicologist, and Judy Penz Sheluk invited me to post on her blog.

I stayed extra-long so that I could sing in a mass choir with MILCK, my favourite new singer--a brave, talented, risk-taker whom I'd like to emulate in many ways.

How about you? Do you do artist dates? Do you spend money on your art, and on your writing career?

14 February 2015

The Charmed Life of a Book Reviewer

by Steve Steinbock

When Melodie Campbell asked me to fill in , I was delighted. Earlier in the week I settled on the idea of writing a column to three men, all whom I met at my first Bouchercon in 1994, all who were greats in the Mystery world, and all who died before their time.

The article was long, serious, and three-quarters written. I still hope to use, maybe in a future visit to Sleuthsayers. But it was too somber for a fill-in for Melodie. I know can't be as funny as Melodie Campbell, but I don't want to write something that will make people (me especially) cry.

This is my son threatening me with a shovel if I don't
put away my phone. And yes, my house really is pink. 
This is my last winter in Maine. This summer I will migrate West returning to my roots. I'll miss Maine, but I won't miss it's winters. The last two have been brutal. I've only made a dent in cleaning away the snow from last storm, and another one is threatening to drop 18 to 24 more inches this weekend. I'm listening now to the plop-plop of water dripping into a bucket in my hallway from a hole in the roof. On Wednesday my son and I got up on the roof with shovels, a hatchet, and a blow-torch to try to remove enough ice to allow for the melted snow to flow down the shingles rather than be trapped beneath them. We obviously didn't do enough.

This analogy might be a stretch, but snow is a bit like books. It's lovely when it arrives. But when it piles up so high you can't see past it, it's easy to get buried under it. I do love books. Don't get me wrong. But like ice cream, more than a gallon in one sitting will give you a belly ache.

I receive about thirty books a week. That's ten dozen each month. I have a process for dealing with them, and sometimes it works. The packages arrive at my doorstep, dropped off by an annoyed postman. I bring them in and set them on the kitchen counter. I let them thaw there for a few hours before opening.

Opening packages of books can be risky. The other day my son offered to help. He picked up a padded envelope and started to open it. "Careful," I said. "That one is filled with dryer lint." He sneered at me like I was making a dumb joke. "No, really," I said. He opening it anyway, and was surprised to learn how environmentally safe packaging can be harmful to the environment. You know the kind of package I'm talking about. There's a layer of soft paper material, really the consistency of dryer lint but a lot dustier. The envelopes have a pull tab on the side, but they never work, and there is virtually no way of opening the thing without getting clumps of thick, gray dust all over your clothes, your floor, and the book itself. (I often have to take the book outside and spray the pages with canned air to get the stuff off. Environmentally friendly?)

Yesterday another of those envelopes arrived. This time, the assistant in the publisher's publicity department was thoughtful enough to cover the envelope with packaging tape, covering everything including the red pull-tab. Now it was impossible to get the damn thing open without using a hatchet and blow torch, and then a shovel to deal with all the dryer lint that eventually came out. On top of that, I got two serious paper cuts getting it open, and am now typing with two bandaged fingers.

Once the books are out of the package, I carry them to my office where, in a perfect world, I would put them on a bookcase devoted to review books. At the moment, that bookcase is full, and three teetering towers of books are lined up beside it. Before it reaches this point, I'm supposed to go through the shelves and wean out the books that I'm never likely to get to, including the dozen or so that I really wanted to read but are now over a year old. Those books go in a box that eventually I will take to a hospital or library, or hand out as party favors. I have three full boxes of these right now, which is pretty good.

When I pick the books to review, they go on a separate shelf beside my desk. I cover twelve books in my Jury Box column for each issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

There are a variety of reasons why I select the books I do. When a new title by Christopher Fowler or Alan Bradley arrives, it goes instantly on that shelf. I might choose a book because something about the title or the cover grabs my attention. Sometimes when I look at all the review books on my bookcase, a cluster of titles with a certain theme will jump out - historical mysteries, international mysteries, paranormal mysteries, etc. - and this will be the basis of a monthly column. I recently did one on mysteries featuring magicians, and each year for our February "Sherlock Holmes" issue, I collect all the titles with Sherlockian themes. Sometimes a book will come to my attention because of a note from a publicist or the author, or because I just met the author at a conference. Often, the books just jump off the shelf on their own accord and demand to be read.

I love what I do, despite the pileups, paper-cuts, and dryer lint. Without sounding too kitschy, it is a charmed life. I've been lucky every step of my career as a reviewer. The opportunities have always presented themselves at just the right moment. Maybe in some future visit to SleuthSayers, I'll tell my story of how I got into reviewing and eventually found myself as the book critic for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

But for now, I have more snow to shovel.

17 September 2014

Three Years Later...

Three years ago this web site and blog went live with John Floyd’s column “Plots and Plans”. Readers who have been with SleuthSayers from the beginning know it was spearheaded by former members of Criminal Brief, an influential web log devoted to mystery short fiction. CB, as it was affectionately known, had run its course. In 4½ years, it had covered a broad range of topics and insight in the realm of crime-writing. In the same month that Criminal Brief closed shop, September 2011, Leigh, Rob, John, and Deborah - as well as Janice Law, who had just joined CB seven months earlier - launched SleuthSayers. And what a great three years it has been.

Today we celebrate the third anniversary by bringing back all of the regular weekly columnists from Criminal Brief to provide brief updates of what they've done and where they've been during these three years. Let me say I’m glad to be back among old friends once again. So now I welcome to the stage Deborah, John, Melodie, Janice, Rob, Leigh, and Angela. It also seems fitting - we couldn't have it any other way - that Criminal Brief founder James Lincoln Warren will have the final word.

Thank you. And Happy SleuthSayers Anniversary!
— Steve Steinbock


Deborah Elliott-Upton
Deborah Elliott-Upton.  Criminal Brief arrived at a pivotal time of my life. I had finished teaching a series of writer’s workshops and longed for a new challenge. A weekly blog fit perfectly. I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow CB writers, some were new acquaintances, amid some I’d known for a while.  This allowed enough familiarity to be comfortable, enough new to make me strive to do my best. I think we learned from each other as much as we shared our knowledge and experiences with the readership.

My favorite columns to write for Criminal Brief during the four years were one on Nick Carter (great time researching that one!) and two that complimented the other: “Good Bad Guys” and “Bad Good Guys.” Of course, I have fond memories of my very first experience with CB with “Take a Seat” – my entrance to the blogging arena.

When James decided Criminal Brief should end, many of us immediately signed on as SleuthSayers. We met some new writers as columnists and also reached many new readers, too. Personally, I was most grateful for those that traveled with us from old to new blogs.

Taking a sabbatical from SleuthSayers, I went back to school, majoring in psychology. After all these years, I am still curious about what makes people tick and why they do or say or act like they do. These differences make life much more interesting. I plan to never stop learning and I can’t stop writing; both are addictions. I am so happy to be among people who feel as I do.

John Floyd
John M. Floyd.  There’s nothing special going on in my world, which is exactly the way I like it. I still teach fiction-writing classes in the Continuing Education department of a local college, I still carry out my wife’s every order (well, almost every order), and I still read or watch all the mystery/suspense books and movies I can get into my hands or my Netflix queue. In the summers I mow our yard once a week whether it needs it or not, and in the winters I spend a lot of time wishing we lived even further south. Since retiring, most of my traveling has been to visit our children or my mother, or to attend the occasional (but not often enough) Bouchercon.

On the writing/publishing front, I have two novels currently out with an agent who (bless his soul) remains excited and encouraging about them both, but--as always--most of my time is spent writing short stories. Over the past year I've been fortunate enough to place stories at AHMM, The Strand, Woman's World, and The Saturday Evening Post, and unfortunate enough to add a lot of entries to my stunningly long list of rejections. At the moment I have new stories upcoming at both AHMM and EQMM, and my fifth book will be released next month. This one is another collection of shorts, appropriately titled Fifty Mysteries.

Melodie Johnson Howe
Melodie Johnson Howe.  I miss blogging and my blogging buds. But I have been busy, busy. My new Diana Poole novel, City of Mirrors, has been received with raves and I have a contract for the second in the series. I’m writing away and pop my head up to go to Bouchercon, and speaking engagements. City of Mirrors has come out in the UK in e-book, so you Brits out there take a look at it.

I’m looking forward to the Bewitched Fanfare later this month. They will be showing ‘Generation Zap’, the episode I starred in. I will be interviewed afterwards. Who knew there was a Bewitched Fanfare?! It’s in L.A. at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. This should be fun. My long ago acting career is alive!

We have a new puppy called Satchmo in honor of Louis Armstrong. The attendant at the vet thought Satchmo was named after an action hero. I told her he was. Which reminds me of a black standard poodle we had called Madame Bovary. And people kept calling her Ovary. But I digress.

We have a great granddaughter, Addison, who just turned one. Beyond adorable. Bones and I will be married for 50 years in March. What’s in a number? Many years of living, adjusting, talking, laughing, arguing, passion, and always love and respect.

I must leave now to get my roots blonded. I find it’s good for the soul and creativity.

Janice Law Trecker
Janice Law.  Since Criminal Brief shut down, I spent a year writing bi-weekly blogs for Sleuthsayers and discovered that I do not have an endless supply of clever ideas and interesting activities. The SS gang has been kind about allowing me an occasional space.

I have published the three volumes of my trilogy featuring Francis Bacon, painter, as the detective, which is not as impressive as it might sound given that I sent The Fires of London to my then agent in 2006 and did not find a publisher until Otto Penzler accepted it for mysteriouspress.com in 2011. Because I had ignored the hint that the publishing world was uninterested in both me and Francis, I already had the second novel, Prisoner of the Riviera, written by this time. The publishing mills grind exceedingly slowly in my case.

I have also published a volume of short stories – don’t ask me how long Blood in the Water looked for a publisher – and thanks to a suggestion by Rob Lopresti, there have been numerous outings for Madame Selina and her assistant, Nip, in AHMM. I think it is about time Nip acquired a legitimate trade or profession and Madame retired to Newport or Saratoga.

Lately, I have been trying to market some novels close to my heart but apparently not to the demands of the market. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time painting, with quite happy results.

Robert Lopresti
Robert Lopresti.  What have I done in the last three years? Gotten much more than three years older, I think. Sold ten stories, more or less. Won two awards.

The future looks exciting. My first collection of short stories will be self-published quite soon. A new novel will be out next year. (Can't tell you about it yet, but I wrote a lot about it in the first year of SleuthSayers.) And, speaking of blogs, I have a new one starting next year. No, I won't be leaving SS, but I hope a lot of you will enjoy it. Read all about it here on January 7. In fact, I hope all you good folks will keep reading what we turn out here. You make it all worthwhile.

Leigh Lundin
Leigh Lundin.  In comparison with my colleagues, I submit very little but work a lot. I know, I know; I actually have to send things in!

The problem with ADD is that too many things interest me. Not long ago, I helped edit math textbooks and wrote a few chapters for one. More recently I’ve been editing novels of new authors who’ve turned their backs on the self-pub short-cuts and want to present at a professional level.

A couple of stories are wending their way to editors’ desks and I’ve been working on a couple of novel-length projects. Well, one's a novel and one isn't, but more on that later.

In the meantime, SleuthSayers keeps me occupied, albeit with considerable help from my cohorts, especially Rob. And did I mention I spent the better part of a year in South Africa? And would love to again?

Steve Steinbock
Steve Steinbock.  For a fuller disclosure of what I've been up to since the days of Criminal Brief, take a look at my recent guest post here on Sleuthsayers. The short version: Last year I attended a large number of mystery conventions and events - Bouchercon, Bloody Words, The Edgars, and Malice Domestic - as well as, on a lark, a Dark Shadows gathering in Tarrytown, New York. I continue to write my regular Jury Box colum in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

On the personal side, my youngest child just began his senior year of high school. After he graduates, I plan to relocate to Washington State, just a few hours from Sleuthsayer and former Criminal Briefer Robert Lopresti. I spent most of this past summer in the desert region of Eastern Washington as well as in Seattle. I also took my son on a college exploratory trip to California, where we were able to catch up with old friends James Lincoln Warren, Melodie Johnson Howe, and Murder She Wrote and Columbo creator William Link.

Angela Zeman
Angela Zeman.  Hello! It’s been forever since I’ve checked in on SleuthSayers, thanks, Leigh for the invitation. When browsing your blogs, I detected that nobody here has been idle. (Elementary, heh heh.)

Life is good. I'm still attached to the amazing Barry Zeman, who Leigh thinks would make an ideal Mickey Spillane.

Since appearing in the Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Prosecution Rests, I've continued to write and developed a high-end web site. Most of you know that for several years, disk/back issues have disrupted my writing and my life. But tah-dah, it’s over. Well, I’ve had to stop leaping tall buildings. But I’m content with short hops. So, friends, to all directly concerned with my production (you know who you are) whatever I promised you… it’s going to arrive late. But I’m on it, no worries.

Oh yes, I'm 30,000 words into a thriller with a touch of horror. I'm so excited to be writing again!

James Lincoln Warren
James Lincoln Warren.  By 2006, I had tried at least twice (two-and-a-half times, if you count my short-lived Diction City Police Department attempt) to establish a presence on the internet as an author with his own blog. Can you say crash and burn? Running a personal web log takes a hell of a lot of work and a monstrous amount of discipline—that, or a pathological graphomania, and I’m a slow writer. Frankly, it isn’t possible to keep such a website completely current, and since new posts were generally erratic, it was also hard to keep it fresh. A blog really needs to be updated every day.

Several of my novelist friends had solved the necessary-update-every-day problem by joining rotating blogs, i.e., they shared the same blog, but each author posted on a regular schedule once a week. So I thought, why not a rotating blog for short story writers?

I pitched the idea to Rob Lopresti, who was enthusiastic, and after both of us had worked in putting together a regular list of contributors, Criminal Brief was launched on May 7, 2007. It was a resounding success.

The “Mystery Short Story Web Log Project” lasted for four and a half years. It was a very different website from SleuthSayers in a couple of ways. First, it had an extremely specific goal, to wit, promoting the crime short story, although other peripherally related topics were tolerated. Secondly, I was the editor and ultimate authority regarding what could be posted. (This latter condition caused some friction now and again.)

But toward the end, its content had gotten so broad that it was no longer even remotely sticking to the topic. Since it had pretty much become a non-paying full-time job for me, this made me unhappy. I was working very hard on something I did not really have a passion for.

Was CB still relevant to its primary purpose? The answer was clearly no. But then I realized that CB had actually accomplished its purpose. I wasn’t willing to let what had been so lovingly been crafted turn into just another author blog, not that I have any objection to such blogs, but the reason Rob and I had founded CB in the first place was because we wanted something unique. Regretfully, I decided to shut it down. That pretty much made everybody unhappy.

So I suggested to the others that if they wanted to continue to write posts, that they establish a new blog among themselves with a broader mandate. The indefatigable Leigh Lundin picked up the gauntlet, and three of the seven authors from CB joined him, which I thought was absolutely grand, and the SleuthSayers shortly thereafter began to pronounce their auguries. Look at them now!

SleuthSayers is a much bigger project than CB ever was. From the short story acorn has grown a mighty oak of crime fiction contributors. Here’s Criminal Brief’s swan song. That will tell you what I think we achieved, and explain my pride in the project. One thing at the time I didn’t suspect was what would happen to that acorn, though—I only left it on the ground. The SleuthSayers themselves are the ones who nurtured, pruned, and watered it into what it is now, and they’re the ones who should be justifiably proud of their accomplishments.

01 August 2014

What I'm Working on Now

by Steven Steinbock

After a very long absence from the Blogosphere, it's good to be back among friends especially on a Friday, my original day on Criminal Brief.

There's been a game of tag circulating among author blogs. Variously titled: “What I'm Working On” or “My Writing Process,” a blogger answers four questions about current projects and writing process, and then “tags” another author to answer the same questions.

I recently was tagged by Melissa Yuan-Innes, an Ontario-based ER physician with a growing list of novels, short stories, and essay collections. (Her stuff ranges from science fiction and paranormal to romance to crime and medicine).

If that isn't enough, she teaches Yoga and has two small kids. Her latest novel is Terminally Ill, and she's finishing up The Goa Yoga School Murders. Her story 'Om' is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. You can read her blog here.

Melissa was tagged by Rob Brunet (pictured with me at left), whose first novel Stinking Rich is being published in September by Down & Out Books. Rob is  being touted as Canada’s answer to Carl Hiassen. I befriended Rob two years ago at Bloody Words and talked him into coming to Bouchercon 2013 in Albany. Rob’s story, “The Hunt,” will be appearing soon in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. You can read his blog here.

When Melissa tagged me, I thought, “How fun!” Then I thought, “But I don't have a blog! And I don't write fiction. My old blog, The Vorpal Blade, began collecting cobwebs in 2007 when we launched Criminal Brief. In 2011, I began my regular column in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Then a few months later Criminal Brief disbanded and I saw it as a chance to take a break from blogtivity.

I'm grateful to my old blog-mates Leigh, John, Rob, and Janice (and Velma, of course) for allowing me to guest-post on SleuthSayers. I hope to be back here again soon.

And speaking of Sleuthsayers, I hereby tag my friend and the newest member of the Sleuthsayers team, Melodie Campbell, to pick up with her own answers.

On to the questions…

What Am I Working On?

Like I said a few paragraphs up, I'm not a fiction writer. My last published fiction was a story in EQMM about five years ago. But right now I have a lot of different irons in the fire. My column in EQMM has me reviewing around ten books a month. I teach Jewish studies courses, and I'm a contributing editor at AudioFile Magazine, for which I also write reviews, interviews, and occasional feature stories.

Earlier this month McFarland Books published a volume of essays about detective fiction in honor of Douglas Greene's 70th birthday, for which I wrote the foreword and one of the chapters. (For those who don't know him, Doug is a retired English history professor, the owner/creator of Crippen and Landru Publishers, and an authority on John Dickson Carr, locked-room mysteries, and everything else in classical detective fiction). I've also put together a collection of Edward D. Hoch's non-mystery short stories (mostly horror, science fiction, and alternative history) which will be published by Wildside Press.

Two years ago, I finished a novel featuring a young New England rabbi and his bad-ass outlaw side-kick/guardian. I plan to do some more editing on it, as well as playing around with follow-up story lines for a sequel. I also have some ideas floating around for a series of short stories featuring a First Century BCE Pharisaic sleuth.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In The Same Genre?

The Judaic content. In the 1960s Harry Kemelman wrote a popular series featuring a rural New England rabbi as his sleuth. They''re good books, but few people read them today. I think it's in part because the hero, Rabbi Small, isn't all that endearing to modern sensibilities. With my hero, “Rabbi Jake Lurie,” I've tried to create a fully three-dimensional character. He's self-conscious and idealistic. He wrestles with religion, morality, and politics. He falls in love every time he turns around. His best friend and self-appointed guardian is a gruff, bad-ass outlaw. Lou Santelli is to Jake what Hawk is to Spenser, what Pike is to Elvis Cole, and what Falstaff is to Prince Hal. He's bawdy, vengeful, and dangerous. And he's taken the young rabbi under his wings.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

It comes down to those two tired adages: write what you know, and write what you like to read. I used to be a Jewish educator. No matter how hard I've tried to leave it for a life a crime, I still am. I know the ins and outs, the good, the bad, and the ugly of synagogue life. I enjoy good plots and interesting, believable and complex characters. That's why I write what I do.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I have a process? I'm not self-disciplined and I have a non-linear brain. In order for me to get anything done, I have to have a loose plot and a deadline.

I use a ton of note cards, whether I'm planning a story, a non-fiction article, or even a classroom lesson. I put a stack of blank cards in front of me and I write down ideas, one per card. These can include characters, themes and motifs, scenes or images, problems the characters may face, locations, whatever. Once there are a couple dozen of these cards, I can toss them in the air and see where they land. I can pick two at random and come up with a scene that combines them. I can spread them out like Tarot cards.

The more I look at them and play around with them, the story takes hold and details start taking shape. In the end, I end up with something like directions and landmarks on a road trip. I don't have to follow the directions, but whenever I'm writing and am stuck with what to do next, looking at this map helps.

Not long ago I had a group of characters and a setting, but no story. I enlisted my characters for help. I began writing a scene in which my two main characters were sitting in a café having a conversation about me and the story I was trying to write. These two guys who I thought I'd invented are tossing around story ideas, debating the merits of each. They came up with things I wouldn't have thought of. Did it help my story? No. Not directly. But it got me writing and kept my characters alive.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.