Things for writers to do during a blizzard

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I’m in Austin, where it’s a cool and sunny winter day. But two of my kids are under the storm clouds in the photo above. So are tens of millions of other people, but mostly my kids, so: Sweetie, don’t forget your sweater!

Back to my point. If you’re a writer — or you’ve always wanted a chance to get to work on your writing — and you’re snowed in by this storm, here are some activities for you.

  1. Back up your work. On your computer, on an external hard drive or memory stick, on a cloud server that is not in the blizzard zone, and possibly to a site on another continent.
  2. Print your work in progress. Sharpen pencils. Put fresh batteries in the flashlight. Get ready to work on paper if the power goes out.
  3. Write scenes set in a blizzard. Use what’s outside the window as research. Write what you know.
  4. Write scenes set on an equatorial island. Sit around swearing, because if you’d booked that tropical vacation, you could set this scene on Bali and write what you know.
  5. Reread Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”
  6. Spend the day browsing TV Tropes. When else will you have the excuse?
  7. Finally watch Snowpiercer. Wonder if it’s time to build that train to save a remnant of humanity. Then watch again and wonder at how expertly such a crazy dystopian sci fi film is put together.

Hunker down, everybody.

How to treat writers, and readers

Recently I’ve read some articles on supposed do’s and don’ts for readers, telling them how they should treat writers. (Among these: do support authors by writing positive customer reviews; don’t criticize or correct authors when interacting online. Unsurprisingly, these articles tend to be written by writers.) Here’s what I think.

For readers: how to treat writers

DO: Buy books. Borrow books. Check them out of the library. Read them. Share them.

DON’T: Steal an author’s work.

That’s it.

If readers feel inspired to talk about a book, or to leave customer reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, that’s wonderful. Authors truly appreciate it. But for a reader to go that extra mile is a generous gesture, not an obligation.

For writers: how to treat readers

DON’T: Argue with readers over their opinion of your work.

DO: Treat readers with respect. Honor them. Do that by writing the best damn books you can. Learn your craft. Study language and story and your deepest heart. Pour that onto the page. Polish your work until it shines like an exploding star.

Then, if someone tells you they’ve read your work, say thank you.

Everything else falls under the Golden Rule. Readers and writers: treat each other the way you’d like to be treated.

The 2015 Edgar Award nominations

The nominees for the 2015 Edgars have just been announced. I always get excited about the Edgar nominations, because they’re a huge deal for mystery authors, and because, well.

This year I am especially excited by the nominations because I was a judge for the Best Paperback Original. It was an honor and a privilege to read the submissions, and I’m delighted by the strong slate in the category.

Here’s the press release from Mystery Writers of America, announcing the nominees in all categories. (And, in the case of the Grand Master, Raven Award, and Ellery Queen Award, the winners.)

Congratulations to every one of them!

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 206th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the Nominees for the 2015 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2014. The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at our 69th Gala Banquet, Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

BEST NOVEL

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Wolf by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)
The Final Silence by Stuart Neville (Soho Press)
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown)
Coptown by Karin Slaughter (Penguin Randomhouse – Ballantine Books)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman (W.W. Norton)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books)
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
Bad Country by C.B. McKenzie (Minotaur Books – A Thomas Dunne Book)
Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh (Crown Publishers)
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver (Minotaur Books – A Thomas Dunne Book)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani (Penguin Randomhouse – Penguin Books)
Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Barkeep by William Lashner (Amazon Publishing – Thomas and Mercer)
The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson (Llewellyn Worldwide – Midnight Ink)
The Gone Dead Train by Lisa Turner (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

BEST FACT CRIME

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America by Kevin Cook (W.W. Norton)
The Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Other Side: A Memoir by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House Books)
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William Mann (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)
The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation by Harold Schechter (Amazon Publishing – New Harvest)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis by Charles Brownson (McFarland & Company)
James Ellroy: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction by Jim Mancall (Oxford University Press)
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: Classic Film Noir by Robert Miklitsch (University of Illinois Press)
Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law: Exploring the Legal Dimensions of Fiction and Film by Francis M. Nevins (Perfect Crime Books)
Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe by J.W. Ocker (W.W. Norton – Countryman Press)

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Snow Angel” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Doug Allyn (Dell Magazines)
“200 Feet” – Strand Magazine by John Floyd (The Strand)
“What Do You Do?” – Rogues by Gillian Flynn (Penguin Randomhouse Publishing – Ballantine Books)
“Red Eye” – Faceoff by Dennis Lehane vs. Michael Connelly (Simon & Schuster)
“Teddy” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Brian Tobin (Dell Magazines)

BEST JUVENILE

Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Space Case by Stuart Gibbs (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Books)
Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)
Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

BEST YOUNG ADULT

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano (Penguin Young Readers Group – Kathy Dawson Books)
Fake ID by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Amistad)
The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin Young Readers)
The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“The Empty Hearse” – Sherlock, Teleplay by Mark Gatiss (Hartswood Films/Masterpiece)
“Unfinished Business” – Blue Bloods, Teleplay by Siobhan Byrne O’Connor (CBS)
“Episode 1” – Happy Valley, Teleplay by Sally Wainwright (Netflix)
“Dream Baby Dream” – The Killing, Teleplay by Sean Whitesell (Netflix)
“Episode 6” – The Game, Teleplay by Toby Whithouse (BBC America)

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

“Getaway Girl” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine By Zoë Z. Dean (Dell Magazines)

GRAND MASTER

Lois Duncan
James Ellroy

RAVEN AWARDS

Ruth & Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine
Kathryn Kennison, Magna Cum Murder

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Charles Ardai, Editor & Founder, Hard Case Crime

* * * * * *

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER – MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Tuesday, April 28, 2015)

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur Books)
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey (Minotaur Books)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books)
Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller (Minotaur Books)
The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)

Always

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The Burning Mind: Crime Review’s review

Linda Wilson of Britain’s Crime Review offers some thoughtful words about The Burning Mind (aka Phantom Instinct):

BURNING MIND PIC

“The thing I like so much about MG Gardiner’s books is her ability to throw ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances and let them sink or swim. Or, in this case, do a lot of floundering in some very murky waters. Her characterisations is as good as ever, quickly bringing Harper, Aiden and Erika to life, and gradually peeling back some of the protective layers wrapped so tightly around Harper herself. […]

“The Burning Mind gets off to an explosive start and gradually gathers pace to a nail-biting climax that left me refusing to put the book down until I’d got to the end. Gardiner’s action scenes have everything: pace, clarity of description, excitement, sharp dialogue, originality and plenty of twists. If you’ve not read her thrillers before, this one will definitely leave you wanting more.”

Which makes me pretty damn happy.

Editing: knowing what to cut, what to keep, and when to say, “You’re under arrest.”

Over the weekend I read a post on the website Helping Writers Become Authors. Because that’s what writers do on the weekend. We write, and read, and obsessively study the craft of writing. We also spend hours on social media, and watch football, and nap. But mostly we write and read and obsessively work to improve our craft.

Fine. We also catch up on Denzel Washington movies and episodes of Bar Rescue.

Back to my point. The post I read was Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 37: Unnecessary Filler.

How can you spot unnecessary filler when it shows up in your story? The first symptom is always that it’s boring. If there’s no life in the scene — if it’s high point is just two characters exchanging monotone dialogue about a subject readers either already understand or simply don’t care about — that’s a good sign it’s a bad scene.

Another sign of filler is a scene that’s full of social conventions or routine conversations that readers either participate in themselves in their daily lives or are super-familiar with from television and other books. Personal introductions and daily routines are frequent culprits, but so are court-room rhetoric, the Miranda rights, most political speeches, ordering at restaurants, and chatting with grocery clerks.

I nodded and laughed when I read the part about Miranda warnings. As a suspense novelist, I write plenty of scenes where people tangle with the justice system. As a lawyer, I know something about criminal procedure. As an author who has experience editing my work to get rid of the boring bits — lines and paragraphs and endless meandering pages of it — I have learned to show what’s necessary, and trust readers to infer the rest. Books are not transcriptions of every single moment in the characters’ lives. The author’s job is to select what to portray, and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

And while writing The Shadow Tracer, I locked horns with a copyeditor who thought I had forgotten to include necessary information.

(Mild spoilers ahead.)

In the novel, a turning point comes when heroine Sarah Keller is arrested by the FBI. The scene is in Sarah’s point of view, and I designed it so that she doesn’t know who is closing in on her — just that armed figures have risen up in the dusk to swarm her truck. Trying to protect her little girl, Sarah floors it. Then she spots all the cop cars. Outgunned, she stops. A man in a suit appears at her window, pistol raised, and says, “FBI. Don’t move.”

End scene. We next see Sarah handcuffed in the back of an FBI car, being transported to the police station.

I submitted the novel to my editor, who assigned it for copyediting. When I got the manuscript back, the copyeditor had written: “AUTHOR: Does this imply that [Sarah] was arrested? Later on we say she’d been arrested, but we never show that happening. OK as written?”

The copyeditor also questioned later scenes at the police station, asking whether Sarah was actually under arrest — because I had not explicitly included that moment on the page. I thought about it. Had I left the situation too nebulous? To keep readers from being confused, did I need to explain things more thoroughly — for example, by having the FBI agent read Sarah her rights?

I decided: No. All that would have been filler, and would have diminished the impact of the scene.

I replied: “Okay as written. Harker and SWAT went out to arrest her, captured her at gunpoint, and now have her handcuffed in the back of a federal law enforcement agency’s car. In a scene below, Sarah confirms that Harker has arrested her. I don’t think I need to show him actually saying that she’s under arrest.”

My editor agreed. To this day I appreciate that validation.

So, writers: sweep out the filler. Don’t explain just for the sake of explanation, or to up your word count. Trust your readers to fill in the blanks.

Unless, of course, you are actually put in handcuffs by the FBI. In that case, make damn sure they tell you why you’re being arrested, and that they read you your rights.

2015 Events: Houston, Portland, Santa Barbara

I’ve started putting events on my schedule for the first half of 2015. I hope I’ll see some of you there.

Montgomery County Book Festival
Lone Star College — Montgomery
3200 College Park Dr.
Conroe, Texas
Saturday, February 21, 2015
9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
This is a free annual event, open to the public — if you’re in the Houston area, please come.

Left Coast Crime 2015 — Crimelandia
March 12-15
Portland, Oregon
Crime! Writing! Portland! It’s going to be a blast. It also may rain.

Santa Barbara Writers Conference
June 7-12
Santa Barbara, California
This is the big, bad, wonderful writers conference in my hometown, and I am stoked that this year I’ll be taking part.

More details to come.