Today is Perfect

“If only I’d known” is the topic for this month. Every Mysterista has posted something spot on. Here’s maybe a slightly different slant…

If only I’d known

how loved I would be for the last four decades by an amazing man, I wouldn’t have stewed and fretted and lost sleep over Steve Smith. Or Dennis Peacock. Or (OMG, I can’t remember his first name!). Did you spend hours and hours thinking about a love that really wasn’t?

If only I’d known

wisdom would come to me when I was ready to receive it, I wouldn’t have read any self-help books. They only served to frustrate me. Probably stunted my emotional growth in the bargain. Do you agree?

If only I’d known

I’d eventually find my passion, I wouldn’t have looked wistfully at the bright-eyed energy of others who seemed to be living out their dreams. For me, working a job and paying bills was satisfying on one end, but it put me in a full set of blinders on the other. When those blinders began to slip is when dissatisfaction slipped in. But that dissatisfaction provided my incentive to search. Know what I’m talking about?

So now, what I know is simply to trust. Don’t stew or fret. Don’t be frustrated or wistful. Walk without blinders and receive whatever appears. What I am to know will come to me when the time is right.

Today is perfect.

And truthfully, I don’t want to know what tomorrow brings. I’ll just trust it will be right for me, even if it presents a challenge.


It’s all better with friends.


There’s No Rush

When I first started writing, I was in a big hurry. My dream was to be published—to be able to go into a bookstore and find my book on its hallowed shelves.

In order to achieve this goal, I constantly pushed myself to finish at least one chapter per week, to finish editing my manuscript by a given date, to send out a certain amount of query letters, whatever it might be.

It felt like if I slowed down at all, I would be standing in the way of my dream.

I remember specifically worrying that by taking too long 1. There wouldn’t be any agents or editors accepting submissions and 2. The subject matter of my novel would be out of fashion by the time I finished.

Since then, I’ve learned this: there’s no rush.

There will always be fabulous agents and editors excited to discover new work, and, worst case scenario, if your novel happens to be about a vampire/werewolf love triangle or girls on trains, put it in a drawer and wait for the trend to come round again. Someday that thing will sell!

slothBut the most important thing I’ve learned is that the publishing industry moves very slowly.

Writing a manuscript can take years (I’m a slow writer), querying literary agents can take months if not years, working with said agent to revise a manuscript can take months, querying editors on that project can take months if not years, and then editing that project and releasing it into the wild can take months if not years.

And let me just say that waiting is the hardest part. There’s nothing quite like picturing an editor from your favorite press considering whether or not to take on your title, i.e., make your wildest dream come true.

The point is, every step of the way takes time. There’s no reason to rush through your manuscript when the rest of the process is going to take a while. It’s better to take the time necessary to make a novel shine—let it marinate for an extra month (or six!) before hopping into revisions, spend an extra week polishing one pesky scene, take a couple hours to ensure the voice is just right in a single paragraph.

Most writers are familiar with the advice to write every day. I don’t necessarily agree with this. Yes, continue making forward progress, but cut yourself a little bit of slack.

If you work hard and stick with it, your manuscript will be finished eventually, and it will be all the better for relaxing and taking extra time. Besides, writing is supposed to be fun!

Interview: C.T. Collier

Planted coverWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

I love this question! Coast of Maine, brilliant sunshine to start, changing throughout the day—misty, foggy, windy, stormy. I’m out with a friend and our cameras, stopping only to warm up over hot soup.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

Pure White Linen is my go to fragrance every morning. It’s a promise to make very day feel like a walk in a summer garden.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Mystery author William G. Tapply’s Brady Coyne series had so many elements I enjoyed—Boston harbor, fly-fishing, puzzling plots, satisfying solutions, a pinch of romance. I was not fortunate enough to take one of his classes on mystery writing before he passed, but I have his excellent book The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing the Modern Whodunit.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Often, yes, especially if there’s noise I need to block. Classical music keeps me calm and productive, and both my sleuths, Kyle and Lyssa, groove on Classical.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

A delicious dark chocolate peanut-butter truffle. Kyle loves the luxurious allure of dark chocolate, but Lyssa only likes it when it’s paired with peanut butter.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Most of us have turned up an assortment of odd things in our backyards. My own experience, discovering bits of junk while creating a woodland garden, got me thinking about what would happen if my garden had turned up a gun. Hmmm. A gun wouldn’t have gotten there by mistake, would it? So . . . what’s the story?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Having been a terrible eater until 15 years ago, as well as a Type A personality, I make sure my protagonists eat nutritious delicious meals. Even better, they cook together! They frequently have long talks outdoors while exercising, and most of them enjoy stress-busting activities, like Yoga or photography or a hot game of pick-up basketball. Finally, my villains are likely to be secretive, self-serving, and working hard for their own gain.

Tell us about your main character.

You’ve probably guessed from the series name, The Penningtons Investigate, my mysteries have two main characters, Kyle (38) and Lyssa (28). Although both have PhD’s, aside from that, they’re more different than alike. Kyle is a wealthy luxury-loving Brit who runs his own computer-network security company out of London. Lyssa, would rather sew a skirt than buy one, and she earned her way through University of Texas Austin by getting scholarships and working at part-time jobs.
The two met when Lyssa was on a post-doc fellowship in London making a TV series about financial literacy for women. Once she gets a college teaching job in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York (to be close to her only family, her sister), they split their time between the Finger Lakes and the UK. Where do the mysteries take place? The books in The Penningtons Investigate all involve murders associated with Lyssa’s workplace, Tompkins College in Tompkins Falls, NY.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Kyle is brainy like Steve Jobs, looks like star Ewan MacGregor, and is committed to the great outdoors like John Muir.

Lyssa is a ringer for Hallmark Channel’s Sarah Rafferty; her career was inspired by Women’s Hall of Famer Muriel Siebert; and, back in her drinking days, she could hold her own with Amy Schumer.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

What a great idea! I’d invite three women authors: Louise Penny, Agatha Christie, and Josephine Tey. And three men: William G. Tapply. Robert B. Parker, and Peter Lovesey.

What’s next for you?

Getting the second book in The Penningtons Investigate ready for publication. Fingers crossed for publication of Stuck this April!


C. T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting is entirely fictional: Tompkins College is no college and every college, and Tompkins Falls is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY (AKA Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life).

Facebook: kate.collier.315
Twitter: @TompkinsFalls

I Just Didn’t Get It

Picture it: San Francisco, 1977. My best friend and I had just graduated from college with degrees in broadcasting. She got a job at a little start-up cable company as a production assistant where they were making “made-for-TV” movies. I didn’t get it. What was cable TV?

At the time, television was broadcasted through the air by three major networks. For free. These networks all aired talk shows in the morning, soap operas until mid-afternoon, some game shows and re-runs of Gilligan’s Island and Dark Shadows until dinner, news, prime-time dramas and comedies but it was mostly cop shows (Kojak and Streets of San Francisco were big), more news and then more talk shows and the went off the air around 1 AM. If the networks wanted to air a made-for-TV movie, they made it themselves and it was usually horrible.  It didn’t happen much.

Who was going to pay for some independent production company to make movies? How was this company going to sell their movies? I didn’t get it. So, I got a job at a little sound recording company while my best friend kept working at HBO.

While I was at the little sound recording company, a couple of young guys — both named Steve — in jeans, pressed shirts and very white tennis shoes came in to talk to the boss about a job. My boss said they were going to be rich. The chief engineer told me they had invented a computer people could have in their homes.

At the time, all I knew about computers was that they were huge machines with big rolls of fat tape spinning through them and that NASA’s computers were so big, they took up an entire room.

“Why would I want a computer in my house,” I asked the engineer. “To get information,” he said. “I can go to the library for information,” I said. “I don’t get it.”

And that was my brush with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the creators of Apple.

Then I decided my career in media wasn’t going anywhere, so I went to law school. While I was in law school, my brother-in-law asked me to hurry up and finish so I could come work for him at his little start-up gaming company in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “Woo-hoo,” I thought to myself sarcastically. I’d been to Lake Geneva. It was over a hundred miles from urban anywhere. And it had this odd little anomaly: there was absolutely no one else there my age. There were lots of people older than me and there were lots of children and sarcastic teenagers, but I didn’t see anyone I’d want to hang out with other than the family. So, I passed.

What was the name of my brother-in-law’s game, you ask?

Dungeons & Dragons.



$64,000,000 Questions

If Only I’d Known…

My mom wasn’t always right.  If she had been (may she rest in peace), then I wouldn’t have had to hide my writing notebook from her when I was a teenager.  She thought that writing mysteries wasn’t challenging enough, but boy, was she wrong!

And speaking of challenges…

If we mystery lovers really wished we would’ve known the things we do not know, then what would happen to the mystery in our books?

If we mystery lovers knew on page one whodunnit, would we read on?

If Only I’d Known…

How to read faster.  Speed reading was the only subject I ever failed in high school.  I was given a machine with a bar of light that swept down the page of my book.  But the story swept me away, instead, and I failed to notice the bar of light waiting for me to catch up.

If I had learned to read faster, how many more books could I have read by now?

If Only I’d Known…

Memory doesn’t last forever.  Back in my twenties, I didn’t even keep a calendar, because I remembered everything.  No need for a journal when every day was fresh in my mind.  No need to keep elaborate spread sheets on characters and plot threads.  {{shudders}}

 So, when did spoiler alerts transform into gentle reminders?

If Only I’d Known…

When to end a book.  If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have cycled through draft after draft of books.  Some of them changed their endings; some of them had no endings and got pitched into the bottom drawer.  Maybe I would’ve saved years of time.

How many more books could I have written by now?

If Only I’d Known…

The secret handshake.  I would’a become a bestselling author!

But then…would I have been able to write the books I really want to write?

That’s another $64,000,000 question!  What are some of yours?

Interview: Susan Bickford

Welcome Susan Bickford, author of A Short Time to Die.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

short_time_to_dieI roll out of bed easily, wide awake and ready at dawn or a bit earlier. I check email and do a bit of free writing and I actually have time for my stretching routine before I head out to my favorite aqua and swim combination class down the street at the local pool. After class, some of us have breakfast and coffee around the corner from the pool.

This day is completely open—no meetings, no errands, no cleaning. I head to the fabulous Mountain View public library, directly after coffee. There are wonderful work spaces upstairs that remind me of college. I write until lunch on my iPad using a separate keyboard.

I work in several one hour intervals in the afternoon so that I can relax and not write at night. I’m an introvert and I am thrilled that my evening is completely free for a change. If it’s cold, I make a fire, enjoy some wine with dinner. Because I was so productive during the day, I can watch something streaming or perhaps actually read a book.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I love bright highlight colors, but red is my favorite by a long shot. I like a fragrance-free zone in my house and on me personally, although scent from flowers is OK if it doesn’t permeate the whole place. What I like about food is something that surprises me—something new I hadn’t thought of before or that is easy to make if I’m eating at home.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Like most writers, I was always an avid reader. In my tweens, I discovered two books that were seminal: Cherokee Boy, by Alexander Key, and The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. Cherokee Boy is the story of a band of children and teens who escape from the Trail of Tears forced march and work their way back to their homeland. The combination of injustice, sorrow, and the adventure of the journey was magical to me. The Martian Chronicles were the first adult-type stories I read and many of them stick with me, even today.

After that came all the usual suspects, of course. When I started reading genre fiction seriously, I was captivated by Ross MacDonald and Dashell Hammet, but it wasn’t until I read Sue Grafton that I thought, “This is something I want to do.”

Once I finally started writing I was taken with Daniel Woodrell. Best known for Winter’s Bone, he coined the phrase country noir and his stories are all set in a very vivid location with some overlapping aspects but are not a series.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No. I can tolerate just about any kind of background noise when I’m freewriting or doing a first draft, but it cannot impose in any significant way. When I do revisions I must have absolute silence.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Something with a very high percentage of cacao – 85+% – laced with interesting chunks of salt or an unusual flavor. It should break off in brittle snaps along irregular lines.

A Short Time to Die is dark with sharp edges but rich with hidden secrets and delights.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I tend to be obsessed with women and girls who overcome adversity. I tie this back to an incident when two of my freshman homeroom classmates were brutally murdered when I was a freshman in high school. The murderer(s) was never caught.

Those girls—Kathy and George Ann—were from rather dysfunctional family situations and an isolated, disadvantaged area, and I have always believed that their murders were downplayed because of that. In addition, many blamed them for their fates. I keep creating young women who need to escape and live to make their own mistakes or successes.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

First and foremost, moral ambiguity. What kind of choices do we make when there is no clear good or bad? Of course I love creating choices that I personally would never make.

I like to portray the conflict from the victim’s perspective, what I woud call the inside-out, rather than the outside-in from the perspective of a private detective or a cop. In A Short Time to Die, I ended up having both, with the result that Marly, the protagonist, knows things the cops will never find out, and the cops figure out things that Marly doesn’t know, but only the reader has the full story.

I also believe that there is a primitive side of humanity that is instinctively cruel. Perhaps this is what our ancestors needed to identify the weakest in a herd of animals and identify which ones to kill for food but in the present day this leads to sad abuses of those who are vulnerable.

However, on the other side of the coin, we have empathy combined with the ability to create narratives and transform ourselves. Empathy is our higher power that gives us the ability to feel the pain of others and reach out.

Tell us about your main character.

There are two protagonists. When the book opens, Marly Shaw is a senior in high school, living in a very isolated village in Central New York. Her step-father’s family controls all the local crime in the surrounding area and are a vicious, murderous bunch. Marly is smart and focused on figuring out how to get away, but she is emotionally bound to help her mother, sister, and her sister’s children. She eventually makes her escape but she never feels safe … with good reason.

Vanessa Alba is the child of Colombian immigrants and a big success story for her family as a Detective for the Santa Clara County (California) Sheriff’s Department. She would like to build a family of her own, but she lives with her aging parents, partially for financial reasons—housing in Silicon Valley is so expensive—and to help manage parents’ medical needs. Meanwhile, she needs to figure out why a couple of bodies turned up in the Santa Cruz Mountains—bodies of known criminals from a very small town in Central New York.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

For Marly, I would first pick Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone, who is tough and grounded, followed by Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. Kinsey is fiercely independent and has a very keen and subtle sense of humor. Last, I would choose Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. Like Elinor, Marly has a beautiful, flighty sister, prone to bad decisions, and is the calm, sensible anchor for her rather dysfunctional family.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I would definitely incude Daniel Woodrell, Ross MacDonald, and Sue Grafton. I would probably also invite Ray Bradbury because I understand that he was a self-taught writer, and Val McDermid because I love her dark writing. The sixth guest might have to be a mystery, but I would be tempted to invite someone very different like Phillip Pullman or Neil Gaiman.

What’s next for you?

I just turned in Dread of Winter, which should be out in 2018. It is not a series, but it is set in the same fabricated location in Central New York as A Short Time to Die, with some overlapping spots and characters.


In A Short Time to Die, Marly and her friend Elaine must escape their town of Charon Springs to save their lives. Dread of Winter is about the women who choose to stay and fight.

Susan A. BickfordSusan Alice Bickford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up
in Central New York. Her passion for technology pulled her to Silicon
Valley, where she became an executive at a leading technology company.
She now works as an independent consultant and author. She splits her
time between Silicon Valley and Vermont.
@bixxib (Twitter) (author page) (personal page)

Wild ride

March’s theme is: If Only I’d Known. Well, if only I’d known I was signing with an agent this month, I might’ve invested in some Xanax.

I’m not sure how much civilians know about acquiring a literary agent, but it’s a big deal for authors looking to get a traditional publishing deal. In fact, it’s pretty much the only way for a writer to get their book onto a shelf in a bookstore.

Writers, or as least I did, think that writing the book is the hardest part. But then querying agents becomes the hardest part. And then it’s waiting for a publishing house to buy your book that’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. And then once your book is out in the wild, well, you get my drift. You clear a hurdle, there’s another one ahead. This is a tough business and yet, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Self-publishing has its merits, but I find that YA indie authors struggle to get teens to read their ebooks. Despite their attachments to their phones, teens are more likely to read books. Paper bound books. Adults love ebooks. We have credit cards and Amazon accounts. But teens love bookstores and libraries. They love borrowing books from friends. They like to browse actual shelves. They don’t have money and are often gifted books for birthdays and holidays. For that reason, if I want to be a YA author (and I do), and I want teens to read my work (and I do), then I need to reach them where they are — on the shelves. And I need a Big 5 house to make that happen.

It’s been a wild ride. In less than a week, I signed with a wonderful agent and my manuscript is on submission. Perhaps soon, I’ll be able to update this post with good news. Or perhaps not. That’s the thing about publishing. It’s really about timing, a smidge of talent, and a whole lot of luck.