Wednesday, February 3, 2016


I have been using the month of January to catch up on various half-finished projects. So far I’ve polished and sent off to the final beta reader the seventh Mellingam/Joe Silva book (which I had expected to send to Five Star/Gale, Cengage before they ended their mystery line). I’ve prepared the third Anita Ray mystery for a trade paperback edition, and I’ve begun the final work on a collection of mostly previously published Anita Ray short stories, which included writing three additional stories to balance the collection. All of this feels important but it’s mostly scut work for the real task at hand.

Well over a year ago I started a novel that I hope will be the beginning of a new series. The protagonist and setting sort of arrived, and I followed them into the story. Now I’m thinking about the second book, but not very hard. I have an idea and I’ve been letting it grow, like an onion, a layer now and then. When an idea pops into my head (Oh, she could do this!) I make a note and forget it. I’ve been pushing away the story because I’m not ready to write it, but I know it’s there.

An article in The New Yorker covers the importance of daydreaming in solving problems, and every writer I know accepts the virtues of letting the mind wander. To distract myself from diving into a story too soon, when it will feel constructed and lifeless, I’ve been sorting through books for my local library’s annual book sale. My mass of photographs, which isn’t well organized enough to be called a collection, is an equally good distraction, and so far I haven’t been able to get rid of any of them. But I will.

When I arrive at an appointment early and have to wait, I engage in one of my favorite practices, mallalorking. I love that word. The Urban Dictionary offers this definition: “Acting out restlessness before a journey. It’s a Newfoundland term so most of the people you hear saying it live in the really cold parts of the US.” I never thought the term required a cold setting; it works equally well in July.

Mallalorking is that physical restlessness while the body has nothing to concentrate on except the lack of a focus. There is no train to get on, to landscape to watch through the window, no passengers to study. It is an imposed physical boredom that we know is finite. Mallalorking is also the recess between books, the time before a long period of concentration and tight focus when my unconscious has been solving a problem and gathering the many details of the solution.

Despite my productivity in January, I have really been mallalorking. During this period I’ve recalled a few incidents from the 1970s that stay in my mind and call for further research. I can feel the story growing, the characters taking shape and the surprises that are awaiting. I believe that each novel is a journey that the writer undertakes, a process of discovery and learning. The impetus is almost physical, to get out the door and onto the road, and cannot be denied. I’m delaying the point of departure to make sure I have all the materials at the ready, because once I start, there is no stopping. There will be no more mallalorking.

For the article on daydreaming, go to

For the definition of “mallalorking,” go to

Thursday, January 28, 2016

From Editor to Designer

The process of writing and publishing a novel has a lot of highs and lows on the highway to launch day. But one of the most exciting, the one that makes the whole thing seem real, is the writer's first look at the new cover. Good or bad, the cover is a jolt of excitement. We may mutter about the colors or praise the choice of images, or wonder if the title is too large or our name too small. But none of this matters, because it is always thrilling to see our book with a real cover.

I have been very fortunate in the covers designed for the Anita Ray series. Five Star not only chose beautiful designs but also allowed me to make comments on the first one, Under the Eye of Kali. The cover was a perfect fit for the story. The same was true for the mass market paperback edition from Harlequin Worldwide.

This raised the stakes when I decided to publish a trade paperback through Create Space. All of a sudden I was lost. Fortunately, I found an excellent graphic designer, Kathleen Valentine, who solved my problems.

Kathleen came up with a template that I can use for the entire series, making changes only in the main photographic image, color scheme, and titles. I've used this template for the first two Anita Ray novels, Under the Eye of Kali and The Wrath of Shiva, and liked the results for both. I'm now working on the third book in the series, For the Love of Parvati.

I found two photographs that worked perfectly for the first two books, so I've been scanning my photographs from my last several visits to India.

The challenge becomes choosing the best image to indicate the story or setting. In the third Anita Ray, For the Love of Parvati, the story takes place in the foothills of Kerala, in an old mansion, during the monsoon, and involves a new maidservant, the family scion, who is in trouble with his employers, and a daughter visiting her mother. Someone seems to be stalking the household, and the police have been searching the area for a presumed terrorist. Secrets abound, of course. A family servant has gone missing, and Anita finds the body of a man washed up by the flooding river.

I don't have any photographs of the monsoon in the hills, but I have a few images of old mansions. I've narrowed the choice down to three. My final choice will depend in part on how well the image accommodates the title and author name.  

I never thought about book covers when I was taking photographs in Kerala, but I've since found myself reframing an image that might serve later. I'll make a final choice in the next week or so, and then I can move on to uploading text and cover for ebooks and paperbacks.

If the choice were up to you, which one would you pick?

To purchase one of the Anita Ray novels, click on the links below.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The End of Five Star Mystery Line

The volatility and unpredictability of the publishing world hit home last week for Five Star/Gale, Cengage authors. Our publisher has decided to drop the mystery line and focus on the Western and Frontier Fiction lines, though it will publish all those titles already contracted. I read through the list and found my name there, as I expected. Five Star will publish the fourth in the Anita Ray series, When Krishna Calls, and the fifth novel will sit unfinished on my desk a little longer, but I will finish it.

Five Star/Gale, Cengage appended a list of publishers of mystery fiction, to help authors find a new home for their work. This was considerate and I hope it will prove useful.

The ending of the mystery line hasn't upset me as much as I thought it would. My heart goes out to the other writers who have seen their first book pushed aside for months, contract talks silenced, and future books left in the slush pile. If I were at an earlier stage in my career, I would be devastated at least for a while, but too much has happened recently to let this drag me down.

For the last few years I've considered myself fortunate to be published with Five Star. They have a good reputation for their fiction lines, treat the writers fairly (at least they've always treated me well), and are easy to work with. But complacency is dangerous, and the jolt from Corporate probably means now is the time to try something new.

Perhaps the reason I'm so calm about the changes at Five Star is my perspective. Last year, in late 2015, Harlequin Worldwide Mystery accepted For the Love of Parvati, the third Anita Ray mystery, for the mass market paperback line, and then asked to see the second, The Wrath of Shiva, which they promptly accepted also. I didn't tell them they'd turned the book down two years earlier. But that was then, and this is now. New editor, new tastes, new policy. I signed the contract and received the first payment.

In February 2015, almost exactly a year ago, I sent Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine a short story. They accepted it yesterday. I had been thinking about withdrawing it, to save the editor the trouble of rejecting it. I wrote The Strand to withdraw a short story they'd had for almost two years and the editor said he never saw it and would I send it again? I did.

Well over a year ago an agent asked me about what I was working on, we talked, and one thing led to another, which in the end turned into a new novel. It's different from anything else I've tried, though it is a mystery. I like it, she likes it, and we hope someone else will like it. Who knows? But it is ready to go out into the world and find a home.

The day before I received the email from Five Star announcing the end of the mystery line I had sent a query about the seventh Mellingham/Joe Silva mystery. At the moment the novel is homeless, but I'm sure I can figure out something.

Five Star was founded by Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg, to provide an opportunity to writers who were dropped by their publishers in the 1990s, when publishing went through a period of upheaval. Scribner went from 24 mysteries a year to 12, more stand-alones than series. Lots of well-published, talented writers were looking for a home for at least a few books, and Ed and Marty stepped up. Since then, the publishing world has changed even more, and the opportunities are now in self-publishing and the numerous small presses popping up all over the map. Writers have to be savvier and more astute in business practices, but the opportunities are there, just different.

I don't try to make sense of the publishing world. I write, I submit, I write some more. Change is inevitable, and it's been a fact of my professional life from the beginning. In 1985 I signed a contract with G.K. Hall, and the next day it was taken over by Macmillan.

I will miss Five Star in the years to come, especially the editors I've worked with. I have no idea what the future holds, but I invite the writers whose careers have been temporarily disrupted to consider this an opportunity to try something new and perhaps better. In any event, take the long view. There is always more to come.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Writer and the Contract

Over the last year the Authors Guild has been discussing with its membership what constitutes a fair book contract. This sounds ideal, but bringing it to fruition with the major publishers, the Big Five as they are now known, could be an impossible ideal. As part of their strategy, the Authors Guild sent an open letter to publishers urging them to amend their contracts to be fairer to writers. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a successful writer in several genres, has taken a look at this letter and offered a commentary. You can read it (see the link below), and I urge you to do so, but I have a few suggestions also. 

The Authors Guild program to improve contracts for writers seems to depend on publishers offering more generous terms, but in fact it depends on writers becoming better business men and women. It is axiomatic that a new writer will be so thrilled to get a contract for a first book that he or she will accept almost anything that is offered. Reputable publishers won't take even more advantage of this, since they already hold most of the cards anyway, but writers need to be aware of what they are getting and what they are giving away. This post is not about specific clauses, and how they should be written. I'm not an attorney and cannot and will not give advice. But I urge writers to be aware of what they agreeing to or even discussing.

The writer is licensing rights to his or her book. You're not giving it away or selling it; you're licensing it.  Learn what this means and what the limitations are. How long does the publisher have before it has to publish or return the manuscript; when is the book out of print? What formats will the publisher use? Is the publisher publishing the manuscript as a hardcover, ebook, serial? Ask questions if you don't know what something means.

I always keep the copyright in my name, and if the publisher doesn't register the book with the Library of Congress, I do it myself. It costs $35 and an hour of my time, but it's worth it. 

Learn the difference between the various sub rights. Some publishers begin by asking for everything, but if you ask in return, they will hand over the sub rights that don't matter to them. If you want the trade paperback rights, ask for them. If you want mass market paperback rights, ask for them. The publisher might say no, but you won't know what you can get if you don't ask. Of course you want to keep all the movie rights, translation rights, and other rights because you're an optimist and the publisher will just sit on them forever.

Some writers insist on cover approval, but this isn't always possible to get. The more successful you are, the greater the likelihood that you'll get to see the cover and make suggestions. Some publishers ask for ideas, but that doesn't mean the designer will follow them. I've been fortunate with Five Star/Gale, Cengage. They showed me the cover of my first Anita Ray mystery, Under the Eye of Kali, and followed my suggestions. Their covers have been perfect for each novel in the series, which means they are reading the detailed synopses I include with the manuscript.

In previous years the Authors Guild published a small guide to a fair contract, which I encountered in the 1990s. When a partner and I set up The Larcom Press, we went forward as writers who wanted to be fair to other writers. We accepted the first novel of a nonfiction writer who negotiated the contract like a professional agent. She was so precise in her requests, referencing the AG guide several times, that her agent called me and said he was going to let her conduct the negotiations. Working with Leslie Wheeler was an education, and her book, Murder at Plymouth Plantation, a success.

The rapid changes in the publishing industry mean that writers have greater leverage in negotiating contracts but they also have greater responsibility in understanding the industry and its terms. Anyone who wants to be a professional writer should learn to read a contract carefully, and be ready to refuse clauses that are unreasonable or patently unfair. Many publishers are reasonable, and writers must now do their part in the negotiations.

To read the letter to publishers, go here:

To read another writer's response to the AG letter, click on the link below.