Why Continue Publishing?

Radine Trees Nehring wrote an inspired blog http://radine.wordpress.com/  recently about the reasons for poor financial prospects in the mystery writing game. My heart sank as I read it because it mirrors my own experience.

Even Marilyn Meredith, http://fictionforyou.com/ who has a publication list as long as your arm, writes: “Of course there are those few authors at the top who are actually making money with their writing–but I’m not one of them.”

I’m relatively new at writing mysteries, but I’ve been a paid wordsmith for many decades. I have three police procedurals out and another coming in January. I began self-publishing with Createspace in 2011 with, I think, realistic expectations; that is, it would take a long time for my revenues to exceed my expenses. I’m figuring at this rate I will need to keep producing mysteries until I am 127 before I make a profit.

Those expectations were brought front and center in an uncomfortable meeting with my tax accountant this year. He kept pushing me to say yes or no to the question, “Is this a business that you expect to make a profit from?”

I kept dancing away. Realistically, no.  I can read the trades as well as any of you. But I gave him the answer he wanted to hear. Yes, it is a business.  I’m not such a fool that I’m going to discard the tax advantages that go along with a small business. Profit is another matter entirely.

Last night our writer’s group met, here in the mountain village where I live in Central California. Most of the small group were writing, or had written, or were intending to self-publish. I’ve heard their work read over the months and years, and you know what I was thinking.

When I talk about the money I’ve spent on editors, proofreaders, formatters, designers, conferences, web sites, promotion, and the like, I can read their faces. They think that I needed to do that, but they don’t.

Writing is work, hard work, and discouraging at times. Why keep doing this?  I am a widow with a very satisfying social life, but I spend way too much time alone. Sure, I could work in the SPCA Thrift store, and run for the homeowner’s board, or take up quilting.

But writing structures my days. My detectives in the two series that I write are there waiting for me in the morning. They are my companions. I guess I keep going because I want to know what happens next. Their adventures will never be mine, but I get to tag along and enjoy living in worlds I will never know.

Is that so bad?
My latest contribution to the pile: Free 9-9 to 9-12, 2013



Coming Back to Santa Monica

I spent this weekend as a Santa Monica resident for the first time in seven years. Interesting!

Technically my new digs are across the street, the dividing line between Santa Monica and Mar Vista. Coincidentally it’s the same area that I wrote about in my second murder mystery Rip-Off, the airport location of a clusterfuck shootout that shames my hero, Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department.

I’ve been in the city off and on, but as a visitor in these last few years.  Now I have a base.  My dog Lily and will be here from time to time in an effort to develop a plot for my next Dave Mason mystery.

The contrasts of Santa Monica fascinate me. I drive down Broadway and see the dark doorway of the union hall where I used to work. Three homeless men are huddled there. The nights are cold and damp this time of year. Other parts of the country might scoff at temperatures in the 40s as cold, but the tendrils of marine layer fog curl around your bones and pull the heat and spirit right out of you.

A block away skinny young people come and go from the hot clubs and expensive restaurants. I notice the Raw Food restaurant is still there.  Years ago I protested that a small glass of pomegranate juice cost $7.  Now my surprise seems laughable. A mere $7! I can’t locate any of the restaurants I liked then in the evolving urban landscape of a major city. I wonder if it’s true that the quickest way to break your heart is to open a restaurant, right after falling in love with a married man.

Lily and I took a walk on the popular Third Street Promenade during late night shopping hours. The hip and the beautiful, the bemused tourists, the homeless are still there along with the Hare Krishna, a drummer set up in the middle of the street, the Andean bands, and the hopeful homeless guy whaling away on an un-tuned guitar. Yeah, I suppose it’s fun. Lily didn’t like it. We’re used to walking in the forest.

I went to the Church in Ocean Park on Sunday morning. This is an offbeat Methodist congregation long on ethical teachings and short on theology. I like it. It suits me. I’ve known some of these people for 30 years. One of the members gave a dharma talk on the tenets of Buddhism, and the music was exalting. Just as exalting as a 200-voice choir along with full orchestra Holiday Chorale I went to at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall the previous evening.

The capstone of the weekend was a potluck party at the home of one of Santa Monica’s previous mayors, a yearly event at which everybody in her very full life gathers to hash over old local elections, refresh schisms, and work up fresh outrage at the shenanigans of City Hall.

Oh my, seeing all my old political pals was a thump down Memory Lane. My friend Madeleine and I used to turn up at 4 a.m. every two years when the municipal elections came around. We’d collect a packet of door-hangers with the names of the candidates recommended by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights. For nearly a generation SMRR candidates held a majority on City Council.

We’d stumble around in the dark looking for the addresses on the labels, expecting at any moment to be confronted by some guy with a gun ready to shoot somebody fooling with his doorknob at 4 a.m. When we’d found the last address and hung the last door-hanger, we’d treat ourselves to kippers, eggs and onions at Izzy’s Deli on Wilshire Boulevard.

She was worried about her cholesterol levels and it was a meal she only allowed herself once every two years. Kippers, eggs, and onions as the sun rose.

I could order this any time, well, not in rural Kern County where I’ve been living.

But I never do.




I write like a man? Really?

Men who read James Patterson won’t buy my books. I don’t write thrillers in which there’s a maniacal killer and a ticking clock, a lot of car chases, explosions, and everyone is tall, lean, and beautiful.

But there’s lots of hard-boiled murder and mayhem in my books.  One reviewer reported that I wrote like a man.

Hmmph. I’m still thinking about that.

Women who buy cozies aren’t my readership. Cozies are too quiet for me, the world too benign. And there’s only the occasional cat in my books, despite the fact that my SPCA volunteer life revolves around cats. I like my murder to happen in real time and on stage and don’t mind arterial blood spurts.

I don’t write noir in which the world is grim and unchangeable. I believe that people in general are capable of changing their lives down to the cellular level. And they sometimes do.

So is the society we live in.  After all, the king can no longer storm into your house and steal your children out of their beds to serve in his army. Law and order still regulates our lives here in the United States. You might not like which laws, but we generally go along with things.

I’m not interested in writing historical, or suspense romance novels. All these genres have their place and I respect the people who do write them.

So what do I write? I like to write about big subjects that may last a while. In No Dice it’s about the impact casinos have on local communities and bullying. In Rip-Off it’s about organized crime sucking the bottom out of the tax base. I don’t want to say much about the newest one, Payback, because it’s still inching its way through the production process.

I’m also interested in complex human relationships.

My books aren’t timeless because I write to entertain you, and notions about what makes a good read will change. But my hope is still that I might sneak in a new angle of penetration on a subject you haven’t considered before.

And entertain you at the same time.




The Faint Reek of Cat Piss

Just returned from a road trip with my brother Dan who lives in Canada. Some trepidation at spending a long time in a car and a tent with him. It would be the longest time we have ever been alone together in adulthood.

And it went well—an easy, pleasant flow of days from San Francisco to Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Standing at Glacier Point and looking down into Yosemite Valley is staggering. The mind lurches, just as it did in the Planetarium Show in Golden Gate Park when suddenly the IMAX show begins and the bottom drops out from under your seat and the sky soars overhead.

I may have seen one more aquarium than I would have chosen on my own. And I do wish San Francisco didn’t present so many hills to climb, and maybe I got a crick in my neck from gazing up and up and up at the groves of redwoods. Such stillness, the serenity. Ah, and then coming home.

The cats peed everywhere on the carpets to show their displeasure at being left. When my brother and I came in to the hot, closed up house, my nose curled inside out. My first instinct was to shut the door, walk away, and burn the house down.

So yesterday was spent cleaning carpets, pulling up long strands of braided together wet cat hair off the machine. Yuck.

Today the faint sweet reek of cat piss still lingers.My Internet friend, author Diana Hockey and her husband Andrew, are coming to visit and talk about the craft and marketing of mystery writing. They are coming from Australia on a cross-America binge of sight seeing.

To this house! I do love my animals, but this is hard. Fortunately Diana is a judge of pedigree rats and mice and has lived her life with cats. They toured Australia with a mouse circus. I can’t wait to finally meet her.

Try out her police procedural novels The Celibate Mouse and the Naked Room.  Their procedures are the same–but different. You’ll like them.  See http://dianahockley.webs.com/apps/webstore/


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Murder: Knowing Why

Santa Monica: Night

My second murder mystery has been published, titled Rip-Off. People ask why you write one kind of book and not another. Why whodunit murder mysteries in my case? Why not literary family fiction?

I worked decades as an academic researcher at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  We surveyed three and then four-generation families concentrating on the relationships between the generations.  So many stories in those survey booklets. Comments written in the margins and then continued on lined sheets torn from notebooks. Comments that would break your heart, or make your spirit soar that there was such hope, such giving and love still left in the world.

But that wasn’t the way my psyche directed the keyboard when I began to write. I wanted the drama of someone dying and as far as I know that never happened in our study families.  My life is probably like most of yours, pretty normal for the most part. No walk on the wild side, maybe a skitter or two over to the edge when I was young and foolish.

Murder is pretty much the ultimate drama. Everything stops with murder and nothing is the same ever again. Not that homicide is the ultimate cruelty one person can do to another.

People do barbarous, stupid things. Somebody dies over a perceived insult, over five dollars, over a bad grade. Inexplicable stupid reasons. But in a murder mystery it has to come out right. Method, motivation, and opportunity must be clear.

Can you ever really know why somebody dies violently in the everyday world?  In fiction the villain killed the victim because of love, hate, revenge, money, or glory. But we all know it’s more complicated than that. Sometime it feels to me as though it’s a big sloppy world with everyone biting everyone else and nothing really makes sense.  Fortunately I don’t feel that way all the time.

That’s why I so enjoyed writing Rip-Off, my second mystery involving Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department and his activist girlfriend Ginger. I enjoy living in their heads, knowing what happened and telling the why. I’m fascinated by the way organized crime can look so pretty on the surface.

And I really, really enjoyed making all the stories come out right so that the villain(s) were truly, righteously punished.

This blog was first published at http://beverlystowemcclure.blogspot.com/ June 15, 2012


2012? What Lies Ahead?

So it’s New Year’s Day again, is it? I’ve been living in a chocolate fog for the last two weeks and it’s snuck up on me.

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m not hung over, and that’s a very good thing. In fact, I haven’t been hung over for a very long time and that’s an even better thing.

Time to shrug off 2011. Many good things happened. My first mystery, No Dice, was published. It’s sold a modest number of copies. A few good friends died, more friends felt the pinch of the economic vice, and a good few Americans lost their last bit of faith in our government.

My second mystery, Rip-Off, is in the hands of the third proofreader and then ready to launch. Oh, was that a bad day when I opened the first copy of No Dice. Despite careful, careful proofreading it appeared that every time I’d opened the file to correct something, words flew out of sequence, and paragraphs jiggled themselves around. Oh woe.

And I’m almost ready to turn the third one over to a story editor.

All this time and productivity was exacted from my addiction to email, Facebook, and lately Twitter. Did I mention Spider Solitaire?

I make daily resolutions to turn on the timer on the stove and stop frittering around when the buzzer goes off. Do I do it? Sometimes.

Well, it’s 2012 now. In the interest of human perfectibility, I vow to do better this year. Cut back on the things I do that I punish myself for later. Admit it. You all have those.

Be kinder. Watch out for gossiping, stretch a hand out in friendship, and give away more money and things.

I have so much.

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Too Rosy a View of Cops?

Derek Pacifico’s recent Crime Writer’s Homicide School was another sizzler. This is my third session with Sgt Pacifico, a law enforcement trainer for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. I didn’t need to worry about being bored sitting in a dull classroom in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley for three days.

Pacifico is a spell-binding story teller, and for a crime writer it’s a task to keep up with the anecdotes and good stories you want to make notes on.

I worry sometimes that I’m developing a far too positive perspective on law enforcement because I’m only meeting the good cops. I wonder if other crime writer’s watch themselves in fear of writing from a too rosy vantage point.

Last week I did a ride-along with Officer Milosevich of the Santa Monica Police Department where my murder mystery series featuring Detective Dave Mason is based. Over a long shift I learned he taught defensive tactics, and watched him interact with a mentally ill woman who likes to fight. We went on a lot of calls that led to the humdrum non-excitement of an upscale beach city’s ordinary doings.

Much in contrast to the ride-along experience I had in Compton on a hot, August Saturday night a few years ago. I thought I was going to die as we raced from one call to another, lights and siren. An old latino man pulled us over to where he was sitting on the curb to show the officer a bullet wound in the sole of his foot he’d got from running away from a fracas.

At one point in a very long graveyard shift, we were sent to a parking lot behind of one of the projects. A crowd of young black kids watched the cruiser pull in with a lot of jeering and name calling. The officer slid down the window and slowly drove through. The kids moved out of the way, taking their time. Lots of attitude.

There’s no place to dive for cover in the passenger seat of a police cruiser once the shooting starts. My heart had just settled down after he got a call and we humped over the median racing in the opposite direction.

All that happened was him dispensing a lot of “Hi, how are ya’s? How’s it going, buddy?” He called a lot of them by name, people he gets to know as they cycle of in and out of County jail. Maybe he was just showing the flag of law enforcement.

These guys were great and I admire them for their discipline, people skills, and self-control. There’s a lot like them.

But what about the cops I’m not meeting? All I have to do is pick up a newspaper to know they’re out there. Close by, the Bakersfield Police Department seems to shoot first and ask questions later. The Maricopa (a Kern County town near here) Police Department has been investigated for gross incompetence and mismanagement, and Kern County Sheriff’s Department has taken them over. I notice the Seattle Police Department is in trouble.

I’m sure J.A. Jance who writes about a Seattle investigator shakes her head reading that, thinking of all the good cops she knows.

Check out Derek Pacifico’s seminars for yourself at http://www.crimewriters.globaltraininginstitute.com/HOMICIDE_SCHOOL.html