Grousable Books Newsletter: September 15

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Named after mystery writer and critic Anthony Boucher, Bouchercon is the a huge convention of mystery writers and readers. This was my first time, and it was fantastic. Mystery folks are the friendliest and nicest people. Why? I think it’s because all our bad attitudes end up in our books (don’t like someone? kill ’em in print). Could also be a deep sense of justice that doesn’t want other people treated unjustly. 

I had the honor of presenting on a panel about historical mysteries, but although I saw someone taking photos I have no idea where they ended up. So instead here’s a pic of what I got for free or bought in the book room:

stack of books

Everyone (approximately 1500 in attendance) was welcoming to newbies like myself. Famous authors mingled easily with the lesser-knowns, and there was a genuine feeling of support. I got so many ideas!

But just in case you think it was all roses, know also that I:

  • missed all my meals the first day and ate pretzels for dinner, 
  • locked both my keys in my hotel room on the second day,
  • dealt with an uncooperative hotel toilet, 
  • had my blouse slip down and partly expose me at a cocktail party, and
  • left five copies of Murder at an Exhibition at the consignment counter and when I returned they had been stolen.

Then I came home and washed my brand new cloth sunhat and shrunk it to doll size. 

About historical fiction

Inspired by the historical writing methods authors discussed at Bouchercon, I jumped back into journalism this fortnight with an article on Medium. Authors write historical fiction using various processes and sporting various ambitions. Most are somehow aligned with the past, but this isn’t true of everyone. In fact, it was reading so much bad historical fiction that led me to write my own.

To my mind, there are two approaches to historical fiction. One is to focus on a story first, a story that could take place at any time, and just use the past as a colorful setting. I feel this does human history a disservice. Yes, there are stories with universal themes that could take place whenever. But the past is much more than a setting.

In 1953 L. P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” I much prefer Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Bouchercon panel

“Where Do You Start: How Writers Get Their Ideas and Do Their Research” panel: Marcia Talley, Ann Parker, Claire Boyles, Anne Louise Bannon, Gary Bush

Mining the past, using it to discover people, themes, and quotidian concerns gives a historical novel a purpose. The setting, the time and place, becomes a character. Its personality is driven by the story the author chooses to tell. To the people living at that time, they didn’t think they were historical — they are in the present. They would be concerned with the politics, fashions, and ideas of the day the same as we are in the now. They may “do things differently”, but their loves, ambitions, and hatreds are the same motivations. There is no need to hammer away at a “connection” between past and present; it is always there.

Possum report

All the other possums seem to have moved on except Cassie and little Petunia. But there may be more. One eats exactly half of a tomato, as if leaving the other half for me. It’s done so neatly that I’m tempted to leave out a slice of mozzarella cheese and bit of basil to balance their meal.

tomato neatly eaten in half

We have a couple of raccoons who come through the backyard like hoodlums, strutting like in Saturday Night Fever and looking at me through the glass door as if to say, “yeah? wanna make something of it?” I don’t, and they move on. Little flocks of birds come through and stop at the feeder, the Thai basil fights to stay upright after the recent storm, the delphiniums struggle to bloom again, and the zinnias make small segments of the garden look like Disneyland’s It’s a Small World landscaping.

garden flowers

I stuck a grape vine trimming into water and it took, and it’s time to plant sweet peas.

A marvelous bookstore

Verbatim Books in North Park San Diego has been great to work with. They are one of the few bookstores in the area that takes consignment from local authors. They shelve my books, and are happy to have me replace them when they sell. 

Verbatim Books

Of course, since they have so many used books, including some delicious old cloth-bound goodies, I spend money every time I go in. Oh look — the Diana Gabaldon novel about the bees! that Julian Barnes I always wanted to read! a book on Civil War captains published in 1913! My royalties are spent before I get out the door. The folks who run this consignment thing are smart

Rest of September special: 20% off e-books at my shop

What’s up for deals in September? Bouchercon kept me busy, and the free short stories are no longer available, but I’m still on for Authors Selling Direct, where you can buy A Heart Purloined from my Grousable Bookshop.

And just to sweeten the deal, here’s a coupon code for all my books only for my newsletter readers.

For 20% off, use coupon code “september” through the end of the month at my store. It even applies to the Tommy Jones Mystery trilogy!


Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time!