NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Monday, February 27, 2017

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but...

The job of a good book cover is to make you pick up the book and flip it over to read the back cover. Or click on it to read the blurb. It does that by attracting the eye and providing the right “symbols” to clue you into the book’s genre. If you see a good-looking man and woman on the cover, you would be forgiven for assuming that the book’s a romance. If the man and woman are scantily clad and posed provocatively, it’s probably safe to assume the story contains hot and heavy sex scenes.

As an indie writer, I create almost all my covers. I (usually) enjoy the challenge and I can’t afford to hire a graphic designer for each cover. I mean, really, it would be embarrassing if the graphic designer earned more money on the story than I did.

I know, however, that a bad cover can spell disaster. I also know that “good” and “bad” are subjective. For example, the cover for The Mount by Carol Emshwiller. I had never heard of Ms. Emshwiller when I received her book as part of a goodie bag at a World Fantasy Convention. I looked at it among the 20 or so other books I received and was turned off by the cover. Still, I brought it home. It sat in my bookshelf for years. Every once in a while, I pulled it down and read the cover blurb and then put it back. I just couldn’t get past that ugly (to me—someone else might really like it) cover. Finally, desperate for something, anything, to read, I started reading it.

Well, hot damn. It was a great story—I could NOT put it down. But that cover had put me off so much that I didn’t get to the story for years. That cover failed to do what it was supposed to do, as far as I’m concerned.

While cover art is subjective, a good graphic designer can create a cover that has great appeal. But what if you’re an amateur, like me? You study the genre you’re aiming for. What do those covers look like? What elements do they have in common? Any colours that predominate? Then, trial and error.

When Carina published my first Mendenhall Mystery, The Shoeless Kid, they used the wonderful John Kicksee as the artist. To say I was blown away by the cover is an understatement. When I decided to continue the series as an indie writer, I knew I wanted to carry on John’s vision. I knew I needed elements of mystery, without going too dark, but I also wanted to carry through the style of title and byline that John had used on Shoeless. What I ended up with was not as gorgeous as John’s original cover, but at least the covers look like they belong in the same series:

    

Every once in a while, however, imagination fails me and I can spend weeks (if not months) on a single cover, trying to get it right. “Bloodhound” was published as part of the Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen anthology. I wanted to put the individual story up for sale, but it needed a cover. Do you think I could find an appropriate image? It was like pulling teeth. The story revolves around a young man who was injured at Antwerp, during World War II. The injury left him with asnomia, or the loss of his sense of smell. Once back home, a series of events reverses the effect, and then some.

I fooled around with ideas for weeks, trying and rejecting, with kind friends looking the trial covers over and reacting with “no” to “hell, no!” Here are two of the “best” that got the “uh, no” reaction:

         

And here’s what I finally ended up with. It may not be perfect, but at some point you have to say, enough, and move on:

What about you? Do you create your own covers? How do you go about it? Any tips…?



Friday, February 24, 2017

Guest Author Gilian Baker: Prepare for a great day of writing


Welcome to an occasional series of guest bloggers.
Today our visitor is GILIAN BAKER.
We hope you enjoy these posts as well as our usual fare!
~~~from the Not Your Usual Suspects team~~~



Being Gilian: How I Mentally Prepare
for a Great Day of Writing

For writers, having the right mindset is a big part of the process of writing anything worth reading. I can easily stress myself out about needing to produce a magnificent chapter, especially when deadlines are looming. When I’m in that freaked out, “gotta-get-it-done” space, the Muses are nowhere to be found—just when I need them most. Today I wanted to share with you a few of the tricks I use to mentally prepare for a great day of writing—for being Gilian.

Meditate—I’ve been meditating for many years now, and I like to do it first thing in the morning. It centers me and helps me keep focused on the moment I’m living in instead of the future full of deadlines I’m worried about. Meditating in the morning sets the tone for my whole day.

Streamline my day—As I mentioned in the intro, when I’m super busy, it’s a challenge for me to get into my creative space. I personally need quiet time to ponder and sketch out ideas before, during and after writing. So, when I’m preparing for a day full of writing fiction, I clear my schedule as much as possible. Trying to squeeze it into a full day never works for me.

Write in the morning—Since I’m a morning person, I almost always write during that time. By the late afternoon, my creative spirit has dwindled, but in the morning I feel fresh and ready to create. I believe one of the most important things for writers to understand about themselves is when their creative time is and then to use it faithfully.

Journal—It’s typical for me to stop and jot down ideas that pop into my head about other scene as I write. Or if I come to a place in the story where I’m not sure what direction I should take, I’ll journal out my ideas to see which one feels right. It’s just another way I avoid forcing the words to come. When I’m writing, I always have my book journal and favorite fountain pen handy.

Reread the last chapter—Being a writer is kind of like being an actor. I find I need to get into character to write fiction. Rereading the last chapter or two often helps me prepare for the role I need to play that day.

Drink out a special mug—After I’d chosen my pen name and was elbow deep into writing Blogging is Murder, my mom bought me a mug with a big ‘G’ on it. I only drink out of it when I’m Gilian—when I’m writing a book.

Listen to different music—I personally can’t listen to music with lyrics when I work, but I do enjoy having soothing music playing in the background. I’m fond of chanting, Native American flute music and other “new age” type music. I have a special playlist that I play only when I’m being Gilian.

Use special aromatherapy scents—Our olfactory system triggers memories quickly, so I like to use a special blend of refreshing essential oils in a diffuser while I write. This prompts the memories of past successful writing sessions and keeps me creative for hours without fatigue.


Sit in my writing chair—I made room in my home office for my chair-and-a-half and ottoman. I feel more creative when I’m not sitting at my desk where “work” happens. My writing chair is positioned right across from the window, so I can look outside when I stop typing to ponder what comes next.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About Gilian Baker
Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

Blogging is Murder Synopsis

Though she was certainly born with all the traits of a world-class private detective, blogger Jade Blackwell believed she would do nothing more than solve the murders in her latest favorite cozy mystery book.

Set in mountainous south-eastern Wyoming, Jade Blackwell lives in a log home in the quaint village of Aspen Falls with her husband, Christian and daughter Penelope (Ellie). She left her life as a tenured college English professor at the University of Wyoming four years ago, sick of the bureaucracy, mounds of essays to grade and apathetic students. She turns to blogging and ghostwriting as her new career.

Jade’s promising career as a blogger halts abruptly when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. When the hacker is found dead in her home, Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer, Gabriel Langdon, to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she feels living in the Rocky Mountain hamlet she calls home.

An exciting thrill ride from the first page, to the last. Read Gilian Baker’s Blogging is Murder, the first book in the Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series!


Contact Gilian Baker directly at mailto:Gilianbakerauthor@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Returning to the scene of the crime

Way back in 2006, I turned to crime (writing, that is, as opposed to romance) and my first crime novel, Into the Shadows, was published by Constable & Robinson. As far as I was concerned, it was a standalone but my publisher thought otherwise so I wrote four more books in the series, the last one appearing early in 2011. I then forgot all about the characters in those books and wrote eight Dylan Scott mysteries. 

However, my lovely, lovely readers (oh, how I’ve cursed them :o), kept asking about another in the series and I, foolishly, thought “Why not?”

Why not? I can give you a million reasons. 

Getting back to the characters I’d left behind in 2011 was difficult enough. I really struggled to live with them again. But in my wisdom, I also decided to bring back a character who featured in the very first book and I hadn’t thought about that particular character since 2006. A lot of stories have come to life since then. 

If it hadn’t been for the fact that I’d promised my readers another book in the series, I would have given up. Getting each word onto the page was like having fingernails removed without anaesthetic. I know some books write themselves while others are, um, difficult, but this was ridiculous. It was my worst nightmare and it took forever.

However - drum roll here - I finally finished it. Yes, The Final Echoes is written. Oh, the relief. Do I like it now? No, but I never like my books. Will my readers like it? I’ll soon find out. It’s available to pre-order from Amazon (at a bargain price :o)) and will be flying out into the big wide world on March 4th.




Forensic psychologist Jill Kennedy had planned to spend the evening before her wedding day with her family enjoying a big drink. Or preferably three big drinks. However, all is not well in the sleepy Lancashire village of Kelton Bridge. A young schoolgirl is missing and the girl’s stepfather, a man from Jill’s past, is under suspicion.
     Jill’s future husband, Detective Chief Inspector Max Trentham, is on leave, all set to spend the next fortnight enjoying a honeymoon in Venice, and Jill isn’t happy leaving the investigation to Detective Inspector Clinton. 
     Besides, who can relax when a child is missing?
     Jill certainly can’t, especially when it becomes clear that her own life is in danger…

---


The first chapter of The Final Echoes is available to read here.


Me? I’m off to lie in a darkened room while I wait to hear what people think of it…

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Power of The Blurb

My son (as a child!) used to call them Blubs - my hubby calls them The Waffle. Both are referring to the Blurb on the marketing of a book.

It's just a brief summary isn't it? Guidance as to what the book's about?




Don't underestimate The Power of the Blurb!

It's the part of writing a lot of us hate - how do we squeeze all that book into 200-odd words and why the hell should we? - and I've helped out a few fellow authors recently. It's as much a struggle for me, believe me, but I'm starting to enjoy it :). And whether you publish with an agent or not, with a traditional publisher, independent, or self-publish, you'll always be asked for input on a blurb.
After all, you're the one who knows the book best!

In selling a book, the cover initially catches the eye, but I believe the blurb reels the reader in. Examine your own buying habits!
I'll be drawn by a cover, then will look immediately at the blurb. I need to know it's not a book about a genre I don't like (though the blurb may tempt me to try).
Then - thanks to Amazon's "read inside" option - I'll read a sample to judge whether I'll like the style. Again, the Blurb links in with this. A bland blurb (try saying that after 6 glasses of new year prosecco) probably won't persuade me that this is a fresh new telling of one of the main tropes of fictionlandia.

For example, do you think...

Janette woke up at six, washed and brushed her teeth, then took the No. 65 to work in the local supermarket. At around 11 o'clock while she was stacking tins of beans in Aisle No. 32, she saw a young man watching her. She thought he was really handsome, but then he suddenly grabbed her arm and started pulling her out of the store behind him.

... could be better as? ....

Janette's life was routine and, sad to say, quite ordinary, until the day she was snatched against her will from Aisle 32 of the local supermarket, by possibly the most attractive young man she'd ever met in her life - at least, he would have been, if he wasn't pointing a gun at her head.

I often write the blurb at an early stage of a book. It's a different animal from a synopsis, but it helps me lock in the feel and voice of the characters. Here are some of the basic rules I follow, but of course it's all up to your own style.

Keep the sentences snappy - you don't want your reader to be confused before they've even started.
Mention only the main characters, for the same reason.
Use words that are emotive, exciting, dramatic.
Find a few key words (only) for each of the main characters, and also the theme. Evocative words, rather than description.

I use three paragraphs usually, in this pattern -
(1) About Character #1 / about the tension in his/her life
(2) About Character #2 / about the tension in his/her life
(3) What they face together, and a sentence to sum up the story in its entirety.

Your blurb should address:
The genre (romantic suspense / romance / crime / paranormal etc)
Your main characters / protagonists
The overall mood of the book (hard-boiled / sweet / erotic / thrilling)

Spoilers?? Definitely not! We've all read blurbs/ reviews and seen movie trailers that show so much, you don't feel you need to see the the whole thing.
Intrigue the reader, if you can, though try not to manufacture melodrama. Will self-employed accountant and author Clare ever manage to escape the rabid werewolf and paddle up the Amazon in time to save the world?

Don't lie! How annoying is it when you buy what appears to be a thriller but the drama is wrapped up in 3 chapters and the rest is steady plodding?
However, look on it as a sales pitch in itself - as a mini story.
Use it to showcase your style, with a thrilling race against time rather than a trip to her auntie's.
If your character is snarky, reflect that in the blurb. If s/he's under pressure, use a clipped tone.

Good luck, and good blurbing! (yes, it's a word, I just invented it :) )

~Clare London~
www.clarelondon.com


And to show off (!), I finish with the blurb for my Feb novella release...

How the Other Half Lives by Clare London
Compulsive neat freak meets chaotic slob: Can their living space survive the conflict?

Martin Harrison keeps himself to himself and his Central London flat as neat as a new pin. Maybe he should loosen up and enjoy more of a social life, but in his mind, that’s tantamount to opening the floodgates to emotional chaos. He agrees, however, to join the flat-sitting scheme in his building and look after another tenant’s flat in exchange for a similar watch over his when he’s travelling for his work.

A floor away in the same building, Russ McNeely is happy with his life as a freelance cook and a self-confessed domestic slob. He also joins the flat-sitting scheme, both to be neighbourly and to help keep his flat in order, as Russ also travels for his work.

For a while, the very dissimilar men never meet. Martin is horrified at the mess at Russ’s flat, while Russ finds Martin’s minimalist style creepy. But in a spirit of generosity, each of them starts to help the other out by rearranging things in their own inimitable way.

Until the day a hiccup in the schedule brings them face-to-face at last.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Vinyl Memories


The ancient Greeks, who knew more than a little about the creative process, claimed Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, as the mother of the nine Muses. While all of the arts depend on memory, it is most vital for writers.
Mnemosyne by Rossetti
Writers are in the business of resurrecting memory. Those bits and pieces of the past are the raw material for our stories. But a writer's memory is not just a recollection of facts, but the emotions and reality of a lost place and time.

In my experience, memory, especially early memory, exists as a half-remembered dream, just beyond the reach of consciousness. However, there are moments when the past returns with the force of typhoon. That's how it was with Proust's narrator when his madeleine dipped in tea brought forth a deluge of memory that resulted in his weighty tome Remembrance of Things Past:
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.”
Which brings me to last December and my own Proustian moment.

It started when I suggested--not for the first time--that my husband "do something about your records." I'd just read Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and was eager to start throwing crap away, beginning with the cache of mildewed LPs that had been moldering in our closet for decades. Every year or so I suggest that I could take them to the Goodwill or Salvation Army, but to no avail. This time was no different.

"It's good music," he said.

"Sure, but they're just taking up space." No reaction, so I added. "It'd be different if you could play them,"

"That's not a bad idea. I was thinking about getting a turntable."

Oh, great, I thought and forgot about it until a few weeks later when a package arrived.

"Looks like your record player," I said.

"It's a turntable," my husband corrected.

"Whatever," I said as my husband lovingly extract the machine. I grudgingly admitted to myself that there was something to be said for simplicity and in no time at all the record player--sorry, turntable--was set up and ready to go.

"Which record are you going to play first?" I felt a frisson of excitement, trying to remember the last time I'd heard an actual record.

"I have to clean the records first."

"Shouldn't you at least try it out, just to make sure the thing works?" I'm not the patient one in the family.

My husband returned with  an album by Bach. I recognized the cover--it had been a big hit back in the seventies--or was it the sixties? At any rate, the record hadn't been played since the eighties when compact discs took over the world, seemingly overnight. However, when the stylus touched the vinyl, there was a startlingly loud pop, then a hiss. I deflated. The music was obscured by decades of dust and benign neglect, which in the end was just as destructive as outright malice.

"Well, everything works," my husband said, quickly pulling back the needle. "Once the records are cleaned, you'll see the difference."

"Whatever."

Cleaning the records proved to be a bit of a project and so I'd forgotten about my husband's new toy until a night in late January when he pulled another record from the stack, a tribute album to the amazing composer Kurt Weill.
Lost in the Stars:
The Music of Kurt Weill

This time there were no pops or hisses, just Weill's haunting music, at turns melancholic and ebullient, and sounding as clear  as the day the vinyl was pressed. There was a open and full resonance, a richness that--at least to my ear--was lacking in digital music.

 Sort of like the difference between cream and skim milk.

It was then that I remembered how much records had meant to me, all of coming back in glorious Technicolor and surround sound. I recalled the lazy afternoons spinning my collection of 45s in my bedroom with my best friend; the Christmas I found the Beatles' White Album under the tree and drove my mother crazy by playing it 24-7; or my senior year in high school when I discovered Beethoven. So many memories . . .

The Beatles' White Album
So how does this relate to my writing?

For some years, I've kicked around the idea for a mystery set in 1960's Baltimore, with the protagonist being a girl of twelve or maybe thirteen years of ago. But I've kept this idea on the back burner because I wasn't sure if I could recreate enough of that era to make it believable. Now I think I can do a fair job of it, and just might give a go.

After all, Proust was inspired to write seven volumes from a cookie and a cup of tea. Surely I can wring one novel from an old record or two.

Anyhow, that's the plan.

I'd love to hear about any Proustian moments of  your own!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Books Under the Bed


by Janis Patterson

Every writer has them… not literally under the bed, of course, physically lurking amongst the dust bunnies and out of season sweater boxes. I’m talking about the carcasses of partially finished stories that were pushed aside for some reason or another, or just didn’t work out, or weren’t in the right time for that story to be written.
I know that I have more than my share. I like to work on several stories at once when I’m doing my own spec stuff while anything with a contract and guaranteed payment gets full and unbroken attention. But… sometimes what seems to have been such a promising potential has shriveled and died on a distanced re-reading. On the other hand, some seem to have improved, like brandy that is fully aged. Still others, though, make me wonder that I ever dared take up a pen.
I’m primarily of Scottish ancestry, and we are a thrifty people who save what is useful. I know that when I have put aside some, especially one I love, for the exigencies of paying work, I think ‘I’ll come back to this when I need to write and don’t have any good ideas.’ The only problem with that is there are already too many good ideas (to say nothing of bad/unworkable ones!) flying toward me. I must admit, I don’t understand the people (especially those who call themselves writers) who wonder how to get ideas. The world is brimful of them – a five minute walk anywhere should garner you more ideas, mostly workable, than you could use in a couple of months. They pile up like flood-carried driftwood against a bridge, just waiting for attention. Sometimes they wrap around together and create new ideas… ooops. Better remember to keep this column family-friendly.
I doubt if anyone today keeps many if any partial books under their physical bed, but they do accumulate on hard drives everywhere. I have a re-writeable CD or two just brimming with ideas, notes, chapters, whatever on any number of books. If I were to write all of them – pretending here that all are worth rewriting – without adding anything new I estimate I would be working at least until I was 170-something years old. That idea is just plain daunting.
 I hope this post doesn’t make you think that I’m one of those wanna-be writers who writes all the time yet never really produces anything. No, I’m a working professional and turn out at least two and more usually three complete and finished books a year. It’s just that sometimes I take wrong turns, or overreach myself, or am lured away by the siren song of a lucrative contract. There are just so many ideas, and so little time…

Perhaps I should be buried with my laptop… but only if there’s a strong internet connection. And there’s an idea… what if a famous (I wish!) self publishing author whose books continue to show up regularly at the ebook venues but no one alive can be found to be putting them up and what if…. NO! I can’t. I won’t! Someone – please stop me before I plot again!

(By the way, A KILLING AT EL KAB, a Janis Patterson mystery, and CURSE OF THE EXILE, a Janis Susan May Scottish Victorian Gothic Romance, are on sale for only $1.99 each at most major ebook outlets through 18 February)

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Quintessential Josh Lanyon Writing Play List

I can't believe it's almost Valentine's Day! This year is hurtling past -- along with my deadlines.


In case you don't know me or my work, I happen to write Male/Male Mystery and Suspense -- Male/Male is by definition romantic fiction (everything you need to know is in that little slash mark) and while my stories are always heavy on murder and mayhem (because what's romance without tripping over a dead body now and again?) they are also always about what it means to be in love and build a relationship with someone -- even when the odds are against you surviving the next 48 hours.


This year I'm sharing my Quintessential Writing Play List with you. Most of these songs have worked their way onto various book playlists, but some are just songs that get me energized and thinking and, most importantly for writing romance, feeling.


And since I'm putting this together, I'd like to invite my fellow NYUS authors to share their own writing playlists.






The Quintessential Josh Lanyon Playlist

At Last - Etta James
Collide - Howie Day
Rain - Patty Griffin
Runaway Trains - Tom Petty
Ever the Same - Rob Thomas
Chemical - Joseph Arthur
From Where You Are - Lifehouse



Suit - Boom! Bap! Pow!
Strangers in a Car - Marc Cohn
Counting Stars - OneRepublic
Crash and Burn - Lifehouse
Every Time We Say Goodbye - Sarah Vaughn
Try - Pink
I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You - Marc Cohn
Halfway Gone - Lifehouse
Starlight - Muse
Need You Now - Lady Antebellum
Enough to Let Me Go - Switchfoot
Come With Me Now - Kongos
Still - Matt Nathanson
If I Didn't Know Any Better - Alison Krauss
Gone, Gone, Gone - Phillip Phillips
When You Come Back Down - Nickel Creek
Runaway Train - Soul Asylum
In a Big Country - Big Country
What Led Me to This Town - the Jayhawks
Boom Boom - The Animals
Could Not Ask for More - Edwin McCain



Where I Come From - Lifehouse
I Will Wait for You - Mumford & Sons
Stranger on the Shore - Acker Bilk

Friday, February 10, 2017

Black Act

Researching for a new book, I’ve again become aware of the difference between the way the law was administered in the eighteenth century compared to today. Today, the laws are as precise as possible, leaving small margins to

be amended by case law. Back then, the interpretation was the thing.
After the Glorious Revolution had settled down, and the great constitutional realities settled down a bit, it was time to reform criminal law. In 1723, an Act of Parliament came into force. It was generally known as the Waltham Black Act. Several others after reinforced and amended the Act, but this is the way most criminals were treated for the next hundred years. The system it instituted was called the Bloody Code.
It meant you could be sentenced to death for stealing a penny loaf. Thefts were assessed in value, and the thief punished accordingly. Two hundred offences were listed, and their corresponding punishments. Basically, death for almost everything. The Waltham Acts were mainly concerned with offences against property, but other acts took care of the rest.
Death could be commuted to transportation, at the judge’s discretion. The aim was deterrence. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as a deterrent, but they didn’t have today’s psychologies to help explain why.

After the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, social unrest rose. What made it worse was that Britain wasn’t at war with anybody, so unemployed soldiers added to the newly poor. Poaching increased and the Act was originally intended to counter that. However, the other crimes outlined in the Act weren’t all connected with poaching. You could be arrested and hanged for firing a weapon in a house, as long as it could be shown you were aiming at somebody.
The people who were never short of a job were the hangmen. They were kept busy. As well as the capital crime of murder and manslaughter, not covered by the Act, and treasonable offences like piracy, there was a lot that would cause a person to have his or her neck stretched.
But there were also ways to avoid that fate. One was Benefit of Clergy. For a first offence, the accused could be released with a warning if they could read a passage from the Bible. That proved their literacy, and the authorities were keen to promote literacy. That policy, at least, was a success, because at the end of the century the vast majority of society could read and write. However, whether the Benefit of Clergy helped is open to doubt. For one thing, they always chose the same passage, so all the perpetrator had to do was to memorize it. And people used it more than once. The courts were very busy, and the prisoner up before the bench might have been there before. It benefited what we might call professoinal criminals more than the poor, starving urchin stealing a few apples.
The courts had a considerable degree of discretion, and in time, they learned to use it. If a widow with children came up before a compassionate magistrate, she might find that the value of whatever she had stolen was downgraded, deliberately undervalued so the courts could release her or give her a lenient sentence. A boy who’d been condemned before, or a man known to consort with theives, would find himself, for the same offence, sent to Australia or to Newgate Prison to await the next hanging day.
Jails were not meant to hold prisoners for long. They were places of transit, where someone would be sent to serve a short sentence, or to await transportation or hanging. The stars of the underworld at this time were the highwaymen. Most were caught and hanged before their thirtieth birthday, so it was a short career. But they made a splash at their hangings, wearing their best clothes and making a bravura speech from the scaffold, to the cheers of the crowd gathered to watch the event.
There were exceptions. Debtor’s prisons (debt wasn’t part of the Black Act) could hold their prisoners for years while they paid off their debts, for instance, and the system was clogged, so people could spend much time in jail. Conditions were primitive, with people sleeping on floors and eating foul food.
The system we’re familiar with today only really started in the early nineteenth century. Back then it was a lot more vicious - but hardly black and white!




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Readers and Writers Conferences

With the Romance Writers of America’s conference registration opening on Tuesday, February 7, I thought it was past time I take a look at my 2017 conference schedule.

One thing I’ve noticed these last two or three years is how my interest in conferences has changed since the very first one I attended back in 1999. As my experience as a writer, and reader, evolves so too does the focus of what I'm looking for in a conference. Now I have to say that doesn’t apply to all conferences equally.

Let me explain…

I’ve attended the RWA National conference every year since 2002. My guess is, as long as I write (and have the funds) I will continue to go to this particular conference. Why? Because it is my reward. My opportunity to get my writing batteries recharged. It’s a vacation with fellow writers. It’s exposure to what’s going on in the industry from professionals and amateurs to pundits and beginners. And it’s fun!

As a reader, I get to listen to the writers I admire. Pick up books from writers I haven't read before. See what the traditional publishers are pushing in the near future, and what the indie writers are uploading right now. While I’ve attended RT in the past, and it was certainly fun, I find the RWA venue more my style.

Local conferences fill niche interests for me. When I was looking for an editor and agent, I enjoyed the smaller, more intimate opportunities offered by the local and regional conferences. Now I look for specific speakers or workshop subjects I’m interested in when deciding on where to go.

I just discovered the Writers Police Academy in 2015 and really enjoyed the more hands-on opportunities offered by that particular brand of conference. Where else do you get to do blood tests, practice shoot, don't shoot scenarios, and try on firefighting gear? I'm really hoping to try out the police drivers course this year!

My plans for 2017? RWA in Orlando, practically in my backyard, and a return trip to Green Bay, WI for another Writers Police Academy. For the fall I might go to Georgia or New Jersey, both offering excellent conferences—it will just depend on speakers and workshops—and what particular area in my personal growth as a writer I want to explore.


But it might be fun to try something different this year. Do you have any favorites as a writer or reader? Any recommendations you care to pass on? 

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