Category Archives: P.D. Martin

The allure of the short story

Today I’d like to welcome Aussie author Angela Savage to Murderati. This is my second instalment, following on from my interview with Katherine Howell, to introduce some Aussie authors here at Murderati. 

I’ve met Angela a couple of times on the mystery ‘scene’ and ran into her again at Sisters in Crime Australia’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards – Angela won the top honour of the night and I was there as the official presenter. You may also recognise Angela from my ‘photoshoot to kill for’ blog.

Given Angela’s first novel was written after an award-winning short story introducing her main protagonist, and that she’s written extremely successfully in both the short and long form, I asked Angela to blog about the short story and the novel. What attracts her to both forms? Does she approach them with a similar mind-set?

I’ve entered the Sisters in Crime Australia Scarlet Stiletto Awards short story competition twice, once in 1998 and again in 2011.

The first time I was an unpublished writer with an abandoned manuscript burning a hole in my filing cabinet. Short story competitions provided me with focus, opportunities to practice my craft and try something new. The Scarlet Stilettos held the particular appeal of being exclusively for women writers, with stories required to have an active woman protagonist.

In what was my first foray into crime fiction, I submitted a story called ‘The Mole on the Temple’ about an Australian expatriate detective called Jayne who exposes a card scam in Bangkok.

My story won third prize. More valuable than the prize money was the confidence this gave me to persevere with both the crime genre and the main character. Jayne went on to acquire the surname Keeney and became the hero of my first novel Behind the Night Bazaar published in 2006. The second book in the Jayne Keeney PI series The Half-Child followed in 2010 and I’m currently working on the third, working title The Dying Beach.

Funnily enough, Behind the Night Bazaar started life as a short story that just kept growing. I’ve since ‘cannibalised’—to use Raymond Chandler’s word—several of my early short stories for scenes or subplots in my novels.

I’m not the only author to have kick-started my writing career with a prize at the Scarlet Stilettos. So far 15 women, including category winners like me, have gone on to publish novels. But I’m the first established novelist in the 18-year history of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards to return to the scene and take home the coveted Scarlet Stiletto trophy.

So what made me decide to enter the competition again after a 13-year break?

Part of the motivation stems from a crisis I had earlier this year about whether I could call myself an ‘Australian writer’, when everything I’d written was set in Thailand in the 1990s, albeit featuring Australian characters. I challenged myself to set a story closer to home and the result was my winning entry for the 2011 Scarlet Stilettos, ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ set in contemporary Melbourne. The plot, involving a restricted breed dog, became inadvertently topical when a four-year-old-girl was tragically killed in an attack by a pit bull terrier only weeks after I submitted the story to the competition.

As in 1998, the short story form gave me an opportunity to try something new. But this time around I have no desire to develop the characters or plots into a full-length novel.

Pound for pound, I find short stories harder and more time consuming to write than novels. Short stories and novels have different centres of gravity. Both need to hook readers in at the start, but the narratives have different arcs. Short stories are less forgiving. There’s no room for superfluous adjectives or adverbs.

With novels you can loiter a little, while the nuances of the story and characters play out. Short stories have to maintain the pace or they’re dead in the water.

Secretly, like an actor who longs to direct, I’d really like to write songs—to tell a whole story in three or four verses and a haunting refrain.

I’ll just have to keep practising.

 

Angela’s first book, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award as an unpublished manuscript in 2004 and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Book in 2007. Her second novel, The Half-Child was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly in 2011 for Best Fiction. The Half-Child is available in Kindle version on Amazon or in hard copy through Text Publishing.

We’re interested in hearing your thoughts about short stories and novels. Do you read both? Write both?

Angela will be around to answer questions too!

The importance of cake

Sorry we’re a little late to the party today for our Wildcard Tuesday offering. I’m stepping in late-notice with a little Wild Card fun…a princess birthday cake!

Yesterday was my daugther’s 5th birthday. We have a tradition in our family of celebrating birthdays for many days…and her 5th is no exception. So we started off on Sunday with my family coming over to celebrate. Then on the actual day (yesterday) she had ‘Cake in the Park’ with her pre-school friends. And on Sunday (11 December) she’s having a fairy birthday party. Anyway, I decided to use yesterday as the practice run for my Fairy Princess Cake. I spent quite a bit of time researching this – recipes, cake tins (Dolly Varten) and decorating options. 

I will post the recipe below, but first I wanted to show you the many stages of the cake decorating that went on early yesterday morning!

Stage 1: Banana cake baked and cooled (night before)

Stage 2: Stick fairy Barbie into the cake (and also line the plate). Note: I’m afraid some of Barbie’s legs had to go. I know…cruelty to dolls is NOT a good sign! But it was off at the knees for this Fairy Barbie.

Stage 3: Pink cream cheese icing/frosting made.

Stage 4: Fairy Barbie’s dress is iced!

Stage 5: Decorating the dress – with my little helper (still in her pyjamas)

Stage 6: Take a step back and bask in the glory. Especially when your husband laughed – loudly – when you first told him of the task at hand and showed him photos you were aiming to replicate!

Both Grace and I were very happy and her pre-school friends devoured the cake in minutes. I got a taste too and it was yummy! 

 

So, the recipe:
4 oz butter
1 cup sugar  
1 egg 
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp milk  
2 mashed bananas
1 ½ cups flour          
1 ½ tsp baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar.  Add egg and beat well.  Dissolve soda in warm milk and mix in. Add mashed bananas.  Lastly, fold in the flour and baking powder.  Bake (45 mins) in a moderate oven (180C).

I doubled the recipe and cooking time for the Dolly Varten tin. 

This video was extremely helpful:

 

 Have you got any fun cake-making stories? Or disasters? I’m just hoping my cake on Sunday will turn out as good as the practice run!

Too good to be true?

By PD Martin

Before I get into today’s post, I wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to all our North American readers. I know you may be expecting a Thanksgiving-themed post but guess who got Thanksgiving…the Aussie! So I’ve gone with a regular post πŸ™‚ Now, on to ‘Too good to be true’…

While I’ve never been one of those writers who paces for hours to come up with one sentence or spends six months planning out every detail of a book before I start writing, I’ve still always thought of writing as hard work. It is hard work.  

Sure, there’s the fun stuff…writing in your pyjamas, the long commute from bedroom to study, tax-deductible trips to various destinations for research and/or promotion (although you have to be able to afford the flights in the first place), not to mention sitting in a café and writing. And sometimes cake does need to be involved! I don’t think anyone can argue that the above perks of the job are cool…way cool.  But it’s still bum on chair, thinking, creating and writing. And while it’s tempting to get up and procrastinate every time the flow stops, it’s not something I do.

In a post some time ago, I mentioned that I was working on a new book that’s not crime fiction. It’s not even a thriller or remotely related to my past work. I’m still getting my head around what I’d call it, but I think ‘mainstream fiction/drama’ is pretty accurate. The book is about relationships and how people deal with different traumas. I’m also entering another new world, using multiple viewpoints. And some of my subject matter is tense and issues-based…controversial, I guess.

I started writing this book at the beginning of the year, and then it was on hold for months as I took corporate gigs to pay the bills. I started on the project again in October and soon found myself zooming through it. My writing week is often very fragmented as I fit it in around being a full-time mother (to a pre-schooler) and freelance writing gigs. But I’d find I’d have an hour to write…and write 1,000 words. And every Saturday I have four hours to write while my daughter is in classes. The last two Saturdays, I’ve written 5,000 words during each of those four-hour blocks. Two productive sessions, to say the least. 

So, a couple of weeks ago I found myself asking the inevitable question. Is this too good to be true? Can writing really be this ‘easy’? Am I writing dribble that I won’t be able to edit into shape? I’m a write first, edit later kind of girl, so that’s fine. But will my bare bones be barer than usual? Or is it because the subject matter is close to my heart? One of the characters is experiencing something that I went through about eight years ago and I’m finding it easy to tap into that character and the others too for that matter.

I know Gar wrote a post two weeks ago with pretty much the polar opposite sentiment of this one, and I think that highlights the different working processes of writers. But then I’m still left with the question: Too good to be true?

This feeling is compounded by the fact that I came to this project after six months off my own writing altogether, then writing a thriller that I found incredibly hard-going. The writing didn’t seem to come naturally to me and I wasn’t sure if it was the idea/characters or the fact I’d had six months off fiction writing. This new project certainly provides a stark contrast to writing the thriller.

 So now I’m torn between two polar opposites.

  1. I’m writing what I’m “meant” to write. (Although this sounds a little cliché or dramatic…or something.) The flow and ‘ease’ is just an indication of that.
  2. It’s too good to be true.

Obviously the proof will be in the pudding. I’m now 70,000 words into the first draft, so the end is nigh and soon the major, major editing will start. Then I’ll have a better idea of how bare the bare bones are.

In the meantime, I wanted to throw this out to the Rati. Does good writing HAVE to be a hard slog? And if it flows incredibly easy, is that too good to be true?  

The results are in

By PD Martin

A fortnight ago I looked at some gender stats when it came to Aussie awards and book reviews in the US and Aussie media. And then I posed two questions:

 

  1. Do you prefer reading male or female authors (or don’t care)?
  2. Do you prefer reading about a male or female protagonist (or don’t care)?

It’s often suggested that men don’t like reading books by female authors, and I wondered if it was more about the protagonist than the gender of the actual author. Is it easier for a reader to identify with a protagonist if they’re the same gender? I like reading both genders (authors and protagonists) but if push came to shove and I was choosing between two books that appeared ‘equal’ in other respects, I’d probably choose the book with a female heroine. But that’s just me…let’s check out the overall results…

Males
Of 54 votes, 77.78% don’t care if the author is male or female, 12.96% prefer male authors and 9.26% prefer female authors.

Of 51 votes, 74.51% don’t care if the protagonist is male of female, 19.61% prefer reading about male protagonists, and 5.88% prefer reading books with female protagonists.

 

Females
Of the 162 voters, 76.54% don’t care if the author is male or female, 20.99% prefer reading females and 2.47% prefer reading books written by men.

Of the 157 voters, 72.61% don’t care if the protagonist is male or female, 22.93% prefer reading stories with a female protagonist, and 4.46% prefer reading male protagonists.

Analysis
As you can see, the results are actually pretty similar for the males and females who voted in my poll. Although, it’s actually the females who are more ‘sexist’ when it comes to the gender of the authors, with 20.99% preferring female authors versus 12.96% of males preferring male authors.

When it comes to the protagonists, the stats are even more equivalent between men and women. So there goes my theory out the window!!!

You’ll notice we had a lot more females voting (three times as many) than men, but that’s probably in line with the fact that more females read crime fiction (and therefore probably this blog).

Differences in male and female brains
I guess gender differences have always interested me, but they’ve been especially on my radar recently because I’ve been helping out a colleague who’s working on a non-fiction book – and it includes some fascinating info on gender differences.

One study the author found looked at risk. It was a 1999 study published in the Psychological Bulletin, by James Byrnes, David Miller and William Schafer, and it looked at general risk-taking differences between men and women. The study found that men took more risks even if it was quite obviously a bad idea, whereas women avoided risks, even when it was clearly beneficial. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages of both attitudes towards risk.

So could attitude towards risk relate to how authors write male and female protagonists? Are male protagonists more likely to take risks, which draw the readers in and add to a novel’s excitement? Risk, certainly in thriller novels, is an essential element of creating an edge-of-the-seat experience for readers. Having said that, while protagonists do have to take some risks, they also have to be believable. So are risks taken by male characters generally more believable, perhaps because we know at some level that it’s less likely for a woman to take risks. To charge off after the bad guy. To walk down that dark alley to see if she really did hear someone scream? Is that cool risky behaviour, or stupidity if it’s a woman doing it?  

Given my poll showed that most of the Murderati readers like reading both male and female authors and characters, maybe gender differences and risk simply aren’t in the equation for you. I’m kind of going off on a tangent, but this research has got me thinking that maybe risk is another spin to the age-old claim that men prefer reading male authors…do they simply like reading about males taking risks? For me, personally, I don’t think risk-taking attitudes come into it, because I love reading about a kick-ass female character who’s going to jump off buildings and get invovled in shoot-outs to get the bad guy.  

What  about you? Have you ever thought about a character’s risk-taking activities, believability and gender? 

PS I think this is a fairly analytical and intense post for me…bloody David Corbett must be rubbing off on me. And I don’t even follow him in the Murderati line-up any more. 

It’s a man’s world

By PD Martin

Okay, the title of my post might already have some people getting ready to click off. And some of you may be dying to read the rest. But, I’m not about to go off on a feminist rant…well, not exactly. I’m going to present some fascinating facts and ask some questions. That’s it! I’ve even got a cool poll embedded in this post asking if you have a preference for male or female authors or male or female protagonists. 

If you read my last post, you know that earlier this month I took part in SheKilda, a crime convention set up by Sisters in Crime Australia. I compared it to Bouchercon with one key difference – all the authors/panelists were women.

This key difference sparked a few very interesting blogs both pre- and post- SheKilda. It started a few days before the convention, when The Crime Factory’s Andrew Nette looked at the current state of play for female crime writers in Australia and PM Newton also wrote a fascinating blog on the subject, including looking at the VIDA stats that were released in the US earlier this year.

Then things really hotted up post-SheKilda, when Australia’s best-selling female crime writer and ex-model Tara Moss blogged about SheKilda and gender inequity. The blog was interesting, informative and well-written but it was when one of Melbourne’s book reviewers got on and commented that her blog was “privileged whining” that things really hotted up! As you can imagine. You can check out the blog and comments.

So, I wanted to present some of the facts from these blogs in a combined format and to a wider audience – the wonderful Murderati authors and readers. But most importantly, I want to ask WHY? But onto the why in a second.

Awards
Australia’s Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction and true crime have been running for 16 years. During that time, only one woman has won the ‘top prize’ of best fiction book. In fact, it was this gender inequity that lead Sisters in Crime Australia to establish the Davitt awards in 2001. The 2011 winners were in my last post.

Then there’s our Miles Franklin Award (which is actually named after a woman, Stella, who often wrote under the name Miles Franklin). Since 1957, the award has been given to a woman only 13 times, and a woman has won two out of the last 10 awards. In fact, this year a group of women set up the Stella Prize to address this gender imbalance.

So now Australian female writers have the Davitt Awards and the Stella Prize.

Getting reviewed
PM Newton’s blog brought my attention to some US stats released by VIDA earlier this year. No doubt many of you saw them. Basically, they showed a major inequity in terms of the gender of book reviewers and authors reviewed. It seems it’s easier to get your book reviewed if you’re a male author.

VIDA lists examples from different publications. The New York Times Book Review section was the most gender neutral, with 35% of the books reviewed written by women. The fact that this stat was the BEST shows you how bad it is. For the New Yorker, the 2010 stats were that 20% of the books reviewed were written by women.

When these US stats came out, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) interviewed literary editors from The Australian, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald and a quick tally showed a gender bias towards reviewing male authors. For the interview, The Age’s Jason Steger checked “the last couple of weeks” and found 15 of the books reviewed were written by women, versus 23 by men (that’s 39% female authors). This was despite the fact that the gender break-down of book releases is actually 50/50. 

The why?

Now, while I wanted to present the above information to put this post in context, my main question is why? Are males simply writing better books, more worthy of awards and reviews? Publishers and agents will tell you that men prefer reading male authors. In fact, I emailed my publisher to say I liked the ring of ‘PD Martin’ and the fact that it would fit on one line…she was thrilled because she said ‘Lots of guys won’t pick up books written by women.’

But I often wonder if it’s more about the protagonist.  So, let’s get some stats of our own together…

Note: Please make sure you respond to only TWO questions (i.e. females use the first two polls/questions for your responses, males the second two questions).

 

The results should show and update automatically once the votes start coming in. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of my little poll but please also comment below πŸ™‚  And feel free to share the poll. But one final point first…had to do it…

 

It’s a wrap

By PD Martin

On the weekend I attended the ten-yearly (yup, not annual, not bi-annual but once a decade) SheKilda. It was actually the second ever SheKilda, to mark Sisters in Crime Australia’s 20th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the first SheKilda. Happily, they are talking about maybe having another one in five years! I’m going to push for two years.

Anyway, having attended Bouchercon once, I was hoping that SheKilda would follow a similar format and, of course, be as wonderful and successful as the US convention. And I was NOT disappointed. It was an amazing weekend. A time for authors and readers to talk, exchange ideas and, in the case of the authors, complain that our partners don’t understand what we do and how hard we work! 

One of the key differences between SheKilda and Bouchercon is that SheKilda was conceived and produced by Sisters in Crime and so all the authors were women. In terms of the audience, I’d say it was probably about 95% women too, but then again most crime readers are female. What sort of gender break up do you think the Bouchercon audience is? I can’t remember from my visit a few years ago.

SheKilda was set up as a convention rather than a writers festival, with all the sessions and activities centred around the hotel venue (Rydges in Carlton, Melbourne). To my knowledge, this makes SheKilda the only one of its kind in Australia. They even served morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea in a common area near the venues, so we didn’t have to stray too far from the action or pound the pavement in the search of lunch.

The weekend kicked off with the Friday night gala opening. It was a chance for all the authors and attendees to mingle (with free champagne, red wine, white wine and beer – oh, and soft drinks too). There was also some extra yummy finger food! Then it was into one of the rooms for the official opening. MCed masterfully by Sue Turnbull (she’s an amazing interviewer and MC), it kicked off with a traditional welcome from Joy Murphy Wandin, who’s an elder of the Wurundjeri indigenous people. Then it was on to the entertaining (funny) City of Melbourne Councillor Ken Ong, then Mary Delahunty of Writing Australia and then the keynote address from Margie Orford, one of the three international guests for the convention. She gave a stunning speech about the setting for her novels and hometown (Cape Town). Apparently the murder rate there is so high that forensics will only be called if they think the murder might make the TV news. There have even been cases of people travelling to Cape Town to specifically arrange murder – hoping their victim will simply go into the massive pile of unsolved murder cases on some homicide cop’s desk. Margie’s police contact will often have 200 files on his desk.

Saturday kicked off with a joint session with all the international guests, Margie Orford, Shamini Flint and Vanda Symon. It was a great opening to the day’s events and was followed by Tara  Moss launching Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut, a collection of award-winning short stories by women crime writers.

For my other morning session, I attended Drawing the Line: Whatever!, which looked at how the line is drawn between a young adult novel and an adult novel. YA authors Marianne Delacourt, Karen Healey and Nansi Kunze were led by Alison Goodman. It seems violence was one key determiner, but sex was a more important one. For example, editorial notes removing the word “straddled” were discussed!

After lunch, I was on a panel with Narelle Harris, Marianne Delacourt, Alison Goodman and Kim Westwood, chaired by Tara Moss. The panel looked at bending the rules in terms of genre — mixing genres, moving genres, etc.

After my choc-chip cookie at afternoon tea it was time for my second panel of the day, Conquering the World: Heroes Abroad. This panel was chaired by Angela Savage and together with Lindy Cameron, Malla Nunn and LA Larkin we all explored setting our books overseas. Angela’s are set in Thailand, Lindy’s Redback is set in several locations, Malla’s are set in South Africa in the 1950s and Louisa’s first book is set in Zimbabwe and Australia and her second in Antarctica. And then of course mine are set in the US.

Saturday night was the Davitt Awards, which were created to support Aussie female crime writers – who often seem to be overlooked in our other crime awards. The winners that night (from left to right) were:

Best true crime: Colleen Egan 
Best YA crime fiction: Penny Matthews
Best fiction honourable mention: Leigh Redhead
Best fiction: Katherine Howell (who was my guest here in July)

And PM Newton, who’s not in the picture, won the readers’ choice award. 

I kicked off Sunday morning as part of a panel called Brave New World: Or Death of the Book. As you can imagine, we spent the hour talking about ebooks in Australia and around the world. A recent stat for Australia is that the current $35 million ebook market will increase to anything from $150 million to $700 million in the next three years. Big numbers!

After morning tea, I was an audience member for In the Face of Evil: Encounters with the Guilty, where true crime writers Rochelle Jackson, Robin Bowles and Ruth Wykes talked about their interviews and encounters with real-life crooks and murderers. And then I sat in on Them that Really Do it, which featured authors who used their past/present careers in their writing. Katherine Howell (ex-paramedic), YA Erskine (ex-cop), Helene Young (pilot), Kathryn Fox (ex-doctor) and PM Newton (ex-cop) were on the panel.  

 

After lunch was Body in the Pool, which gave the SheKilda attendees an insight into how things would really happen if/when a dead body is found. The body (Ms Manny Quinn) had been on display by the pool all weekend and the experts included someone from the police (actually our ex-assistant commissioner, Sandra Nicholson), bug expert Mel Archer and a forensic pathologist. Timing (real versus that portrayed in crime fiction and crime TV) was also discussed. The facts are: at least 6-8 weeks for the entomology report and 10 weeks for the autopsy report.

It was an amazing, amazing weekend. A chance to talk to other authors, share stories (often complaining about how badly we’re paid!!) and expose ourselves to some great authors who are new to us. I have to confess I didn’t make any purchases, but that was only because I’m sure Santa is bringing me a kindle for Christmas so I’ll wait and purchase the many fabulous books now on my ‘to buy’ list as ebooks! 

Editorial note: I was very organised and wrote this blog on Monday, ready for today’s post. However, since then there has been some discussion/debate regarding the state of crime fiction written by women in this country. In fact, I’ll be blogging about the Sisters side of the convention in a fortnight’s time. 

But my question for now: what authors have you ‘found’ at a convention and then bought their books?

The photo shoot to kill for

By PD Martin

Part of an author’s life is publicity. And, let’s face it, for the most part publicity is fun! You write in a cocoon for many, many months and then you emerge and get to flap your wings and show off all the pretty patterns. Well, it’s kind of like that.

For many authors, I know publicity can be a drag. For the shy, retiring type of author, publicity can be daunting and scary. Then there are the really, really big authors who do world tours and get a few weeks taken out of their writing schedule each year. They’re shepherded from city to city, country to country and plane to plane. I can see that after the first world tour (or maybe the tenth) that might get a little old.

For most of us, the publicity rounds are more sedate. And it depends on your publishing house and publicist too. My five books are released in Australia through Pan Macmillan Australia. They assigned me a fabulous publicist and for the two weeks around the launch of each book I’d block out time for media interviews. Lots were over-the-phone radio interviews, but then also some print stuff with the occasional photo shoot. However, in the US I didn’t have a publicist and so the publicity and media stuff was pretty much non-existent. The other weird thing about publicity is that by the time a book is released, you’re already well into writing the next book. So you have to get your head out of the current WIP and back into your last book.

But that’s not what this blog is about…today I want to talk about the best photo shoot of my career to date. And it’s not to publicise an upcoming novel. Next month, 7-9 October, I’m part of an Australian crime convention called SheKilda. It’s only the second of its kind (the first/last one was 10 years ago) and I’m hoping it’s going to be like Bouchercon for Aussies. It’s being hosted by Sisters in Crime Australia, so it’s only female crime writers (authors, journalists and TV writers) but there are still over 70 authors on 35+ panels. Needless to say, I can’t wait!!!!  I’m using the pun – a killer weekend.

But I’ve digressed again. So, a couple of weeks ago, as part of the publicity for SheKilda, I was asked to take part in an interview with two other Melbourne-based authors, Angela Savage and Leigh Redhead. First I went into city and talked to the journalist over coffee, then the next day we met at the Victorian State Library for the photo shoot. The theme: modern-day Cluedo. The three of us had to pick a colour – my first difficulty. You see, like many Melbournians about 90% of my wardrobe is black. Anyway, I managed to hunt out some purple and so I was Professor Plum (in the library – literally).

The first pose was on a Chesterfield with magnificent lights in the background. Angela Savage lay on the lounge with a dagger, Leigh Redhead had the gun and I had a magnifying glass. The second pose was Leigh lying on the lounge, me lying on the top of it (balance was required, people!) and Angela behind us, looking a little too excited to be holding a rope in her gloved hands. This one made it into the article and I also got a way less slick pic on my little camera.

 

Next we were near an old marble staircase. I was sitting, magnifying glass in hand (I sooo wanted a gun) and Angela and Leigh were behind me, backs against the wall like they were about to kill each other (or maybe me). That one made the front cover of the Melbourne Times Weekly and is also the pic featured in the online version.

Then we did a Charlie’s Angels style pose. Again, I got one on my camera. This was a special moment for me, because I was able to play out one of my childhood fantasies — I was one of Charlie’s Angels! Sad, but true πŸ™‚

I don’t know if you can see it in the pics, but it was a seriously fun shoot. Angela, Leigh and I were like excited school girls – with fake guns, knives, etc. And while most photo shoots take 5-15 minutes, this one went for nearly two hours!

It’s all in the look
When you’re posing for photos, it can be hard to work out what expression to use. Even though we were having fun and getting into it, do you go for sexy? Serious? Smug? Leigh and I joked about the classic crime writer “look”. Crime authors need to refine a little sexy smirk that says: “I know something you don’t know.” And the thing we know? Whodunit. And that’s kind of important in a murder mystery.

Anyway, thought I’d share this fun photo shoot with the Murderati gang! For those of you reading this blog in Australia, please get yourselves to Melbourne 7-9 October! We’ve already got people coming from interstate and of course around Victoria. And tell all your friends about this amazing event. I’d rather not wait another 10 years for the next one, which means this one has to be a HUGE hit πŸ™‚

To the authors out there…what’s been your most fun publicity event/piece? To the readers and aspiring authors…do you think you’d like the PR side of writing?

Making ends meet or selling my soul?

By PD Martin

Like many writers (especially these days) unfortunately I’ve had to take on extra work to supplement my income πŸ™ The reality is, getting money fast means putting creative projects on the back-burner.

For about three years I was lucky enough to only write (well, write and look after my baby and then toddler!). But I only had two balls in the air — writing crime fiction and motherhood. This was quite an achievement, especially in Australia where the average author makes $10,000 a year.

Around book 3 in the Sophie Anderson series, I was interested in trying something different. I wrote the first three chapters of two completely different books and pitched them to my agent. But Sophie was doing well and I was convinced to focus on Sophie. The big break was just around the corner.

And then everything went to **** (insert preferred expletive). Sales of book 4 weren’t quite as good as the first three books. My US agent and both my US and Aussie publishers were a little perplexed. The reviews were excellent and my editors loved Sophie, so why weren’t the sales on the up and up? When book 5 was a similar story it was official…my sales had “levelled off”. No one seemed to know why Sophie hadn’t taken off like they’d expected, but she hadn’t. We started thinking of other options. I talked to my agent about a new series and the two manuscripts I’d started a couple of years earlier came out of the draw.

Around this time I got an offer of a corporate writing gig one-day a week. It was fairly short term (six months) and the hourly rate was incredibly good. In fact, my husband asked me what I estimated my hourly rate would be on one of my books – and trust me, that’s not something you want to think about! So I took the job and decided to take six months off my own writing.

Once the six months were up, I decided to work on the action thriller I’d started years earlier. I made revisions to the proposal and first three chapters before sending it through to my agent. I waited, with that terrible mix of fear and excitement that all authors feel when someone is reading their work.

Three weeks went by and I hadn’t heard back. I thought it was strange but was about to go on a 10-day holiday and decided I’d follow up when I got back. But while I was away I got an email to say that my agent had passed away. I had only met her a couple of times but she seemed like an incredibly strong woman. I thought she’d been in her fifties, but she was in her sixties.

For a while there was uncertainty over what the agency would do and I certainly wasn’t going to hound her husband (who’d taken over the agency even while grieving) or the one assistant. But eventually I had to make the phone call. The agency was still in flux and after chatting to the assistant I decided, given I was starting a new series anyway, it would be a good time to move to another agency.

That was November last year. I queried a few agents and got interest but no offers of representation. One agent suggested that in the current economic climate I might have to finish the book rather than getting an agent and deal on the first three chapters alone. My past sales track record was good, but not great.

I took her advice and wrote like a demon (is that an expression in the US??). By the end of March this year I had completed my action thriller. I started the submission process again, only targeting ‘top-tier’ agencies. Again, I got interest and compliments on my writing but no offer of representation. It seemed action thrillers were mid-list books unless the author was already established – or perhaps if it was such a phenomenally new take on the genre that it was mind-blowing. But mine was/is a well-written (so I’ve been told), darker-styled classic action thriller.

In the meantime, finances were getting very tight and I had to take freelance writing gigs to make ends meet. At times I felt/feel like I’m selling my soul when I’m writing corporate pieces, but at other times I feel like I’m just doing what needs to be done to make ends meet. And let’s face it, I’m extremely lucky. I’ve been doing freelance work (from home, around my daughter’s pre-school classes and activities) and some of the content has been extremely interesting. I haven’t had to put my little girl in day care and go in for a 9-5 (more like 8-6) job. And I’ve actually been writing – just not my stuff. Remember this golden oldie? Don’t know what the Disney version is about…

So, what have I been doing?

For the first half of this year I taught a writing class at Victorian Writers Centre. It was fun and also interesting to revisit some of the basics of character, plot, etc. I re-acquainted myself with my writing books (my favourite is Self-editing for Fiction Writers Renni Browne and Dave King) and discovered some new books too (like Donald Maas’s Writing a Breakout Novel).

I started a new project of my own – something completely different again. If this book gets picked up it will take me into an entirely new genre…I might even get kicked off Murderati! My only problem is I haven’t worked on the book for nearly three months now because I’ve been too busy with the corporate work. Catch 22. Need the money to write, but when I get the jobs I don’t have the time to write!

Anyway, back to my eclectic mix…I’ve got two ghost writing jobs on the go. One book is called Death in a Cult and it looks at a young boy whose death was ruled suicide but there are still questions. I’ve been commissioned by the boy’s grandmother to write the story and she’ll self-publish if the book doesn’t get picked up by a publisher. The other ghost writing job is for a book that looks at the different ways women process information and behave when it comes to finances. Some interesting psychological stuff in there! The proposal and first four chapters are currently with a couple of agents. So, that’s two balls in the air.

In the past two weeks I’ve written a website for financial services companies and a couple of brochures. Couple more balls in the air, and why not add a couple more… I’ve also been commissioned to write four presentations in the next couple of months.

I hope to finish Death in a Cult in the next four weeks and then move back on to my drama book (in between the presentations, the women’s finance book if that gets picked up and any other jobs that come my way!). Will I ever be able to get back to my writing?

 I can’t get an advance until I get a publishing deal. I can’t get a publishing deal until I have an agent. And I can’t get an agent until I finish the book. Maybe I just need to sleep less.

So, how do you juggle your various roles? Have you got too many balls in the air like me?

Now I’m off to check my lottery ticket. If I don’t respond to comments it’s because I’ve won and I’m out celebrating.

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

By PD Martin

This is another instalment in my research series and I’ve just realised I seem to be working backwards. The posts on my research into real-life vampires and cults (part 1 and part 2) all looked at research that happened for Kiss of Death (my fifth book) and today’s post is about Kung Fu’s Ten Killing Hands and dim-mak, which featured in my fourth book. Anyway…get ready to be wowed by the world of Kung Fu!

The Ten Killing Hands
The Ten Killing Hands, developed by Wong Fei Hung in China, are ten kung-fu strikes (or series of strikes) that are meant to either severely disable or kill your opponent, sometimes with one blow. It boils down to ten principles: strike the eyes; stop the breath; break the face; explode the ears; crush the groin; twist the tendons; break the fingers; dislocate the joints; break the elbow, and attack the nerve points. It’s nasty, but effective. And, in the hands of a trained practitioner, deadly.

I’ll give you a little taste. One of the strikes used to break the face is the Double Back-Fist targeted directly below the eyes – the aim is to blind your opponent by shattering their eye sockets so their eyeballs literally collapse over their face structure. Nice, huh?

Dim-mak
While the Ten Killing Hands are fascinating, probably the most interesting research I did was on dim-mak. Dim-mak is often referred to as the death touch, and is based on the premise that striking certain acupoints can cause instant or delayed death.  It sounds like the stuff of fairytales — of legends and movies like Kill Bill — but it’s real. And in fact, Uma Thurman’s Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique in Kill Bill is about five blows, in a specific order, which will stop blood flow to the heart.  And that is dim-mak.

There are multitudes of dimmak acupoints on the body, and strikes to different points cause different physical afflictions.  For example, one of dimmak’s strike points is on the side of a person’s neck. In Kung Fu it’s called Stomach Point 9, but it’s also directly on the carotid artery and vagus nerve. A strike to Stomach Point 9 is said to bring instant or delayed death and there is science behind the claim. The best book I found on this was Death Touch: The Science Behind the Legend of Dim-mak by Dr Michael Kelly. Dr Kelly is an MD who also happened to study Kung Fu and decided he wanted to explore dim-mak from a medical perspective.

The book is amazingly thorough and quite technical in places, talking about how the dim-mak strikes often target bundles and/or peripheral nerves, and attacking these points can cause changes in the autonomic nervous system — which controls important stuff like blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, breathing, and so on. The theory is that direct strikes can fool the nervous system into doing something it wouldn’t normally, like speeding up your heart rate or increasing your blood pressure.

Sometimes the explanation is more simple…back to Stomach Point 9. These days, many people have plaque build-up in their arteries, especially if they’re older, have a genetic predisposition or unhealthy eating habits. So, if you strike someone on their neck with enough force and in a particular manner they can have a heart attack or stroke instantly, or days later when the loosened plaque makes its way to their heart or brain. Plus, a hard strike, even on a healthy person, can cause degradation of the artery that may have lethal effects down the track.

Although other organs are targeted, the heart is often the focal point for dim-mak strikes. The pressure points attack the heart in one of three ways – heart attack, ventricular fibrillation or something called heart concussion. Again, Dr Kelly’s book came in handy! The medical, Latin term for heart concussion is commotio cordis. It’s not a common cause of death, not something you read about much in the newspaper, because it’s rare to have a strike directly to the heart that’s hard enough to cause it. Most reported cases involve sporting accidents, like trauma from a hockey puck, a baseball, a hockey stick, etc. But obviously if a trained Kung Fu practitioner can elicit enough force…

The dim-mak knockout
The dim-mak knockout, also called a pressure-point knockout, is famous in many circles. One, two or three strikes and the person drops to the ground. Many dim-mak experts use these strikes to demonstrate the power of dim-mak in workshops and seminars. According to the medical explanation it’s a vasovagal faint, caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Yin and  yang
Of course, the acupoints aren’t just about dim-mak and martial arts. The more commonly known use of these acupoints comes from Chinese healing — acupressure or acupuncture.  The points are struck to cause pain and death, but they can also be massaged or stimulated with acupuncture for healing purposes. They go hand in hand, for use as a weapon or as a healing tool. Yin and Yang.

Stomach Point 9 also has a healing purpose in Western medicine. The site of the carotid sinus and vagus nerve is an extremely sensitive area and when someone’s suffering from an arrhythmia, doctors will often use ‘vagal maneuvers’ as a treatment. A simple massage along the vagus nerve has been shown to decrease the chances of a fatal ventricular fibrillation.

Now, I’m afraid I do feel it necessary to take this chance for a bit of BSP (blatant self-promotion) in terms of my book trailer for The Killing Hands. But it IS very relevant!

At this point I should also mention that I hold a black belt in Kung Fu. I’m very much out of practice (haven’t trained for about five years) but when I did study it my lessons were tax-deductible. Gotta love an author’s tax deductions! 

So, who out there studies Kung Fu or has heard of dim-mak before? And feel free to share any amazing tax deductions too!

Back to my roots

By PD Martin

Today I want to talk about the amazing feeling of going back to my roots. I’m not talking about my literal roots (i.e. my birth place or the birth place of my family), rather I mean my creative birth place. The time and place when I first decided I wanted to write.  Here’s a hint:

What about now?

Recognise it?

Or now?

Yep, you got it! Paris.

On Monday we arrived back from a three-week holiday. Our main ‘objective’ was my sister-in-law’s wedding in Ireland, but we also had a glorious five-day stopover. It was around March this year when my husband told me that he’d finally found a great deal to Ireland that would save us loads of money…“but do you mind going via Paris?” he said with a grin on his face. Needless to say, I was one happy woman!

So how and why is Paris my creative birth place?

I mentioned in my first Murderati blog that while I was into reading and creative writing in my primary school years, once I got to high school I ended up focusing on science and maths — maths, applied maths, physics and chemistry were my elective subjects. As a complete contrast, my other subject was physical education, with my main project on dancing. You see, I had danced pretty much all my life, and loved it. Anyway, while studying psychology and criminology at university, I was also taking lots of dance classes, around 30 hours a week at one stage, and also did acting and singing lessons. Over the next couple of years dancing petered out and singing took over.  I finished my psychology degree and started studying music. Then I took time off from school and worked a bit before travelling.

I was 21 years old when I took off on the typical Aussie pilgrimage…backpacking around Europe. I went with my boyfriend for four months and it was on this trip that my creative spark burned brightly. My boyfriend at the time was (and still is) a photographer and he was also a gifted artist. So it was natural that we’d hit many of the artistic hotspots, including Paris. What can I say, I fell in love immediately. Was it the incredibly impressive buildings? The many artists who had been born or studied in Paris? The ambience of the place? The history of the place? The answer is, of course, all of these things and so much more. Coming from Australia, all our buildings and architecture is relatively new (like North America). And there’s something about the sense of history that oozes from every inch of Paris (and Europe) that’s inspiring and exhilarating. It drives me to create. And that feeling was there again on this visit. I mean, look at this:

But back to my first visit to Paris…Within a few days in Paris, I wanted to write. I wanted to write my own lyrics for songs, I wanted to write poems, I even wanted to write a book. I tracked down an English bookstore in Paris and bought their one and only book on creative writing. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was quite large (a university text book rather than a mass market paperback) and of course being an English book in a French-speaking country it came with a high price tag. But it was worth it.

A couple of days later, I found myself in the magical Rodin gardens. My boyfriend was drawing the amazing sculptures (like many other budding artists around us) and I was writing in a newly acquired notebook, with my creative writing text book at my side. We spent hours there (twenty years ago!) and so this trip I had to go back to the Rodin museum and gardens.

There didn’t seem to be quite as many people sketching the sculptures as last time, or perhaps my memory has simply amplified the numbers I remember from my first visit. But the whole place still triggered that creative impulse.

 

Then there’s the food. Let’s just say, I ate a LOT of baguettes in five days, some not-so-nice French wine and some gorgeous French wine, loads of cheese (yummy and so much cheaper than here in Oz) and a few treats from gorgeous patisseries. I have a major sweet tooth, and passing shops like this sent my heart racing!

 

From this particular place I tried the Opera cake and it was divine.

The ambience of the restaurant and café culture is stunning, and we also did the pre-requisite visit to the Louvre. To me, every part of Paris is inspiring.

Now I’m back, safe and sound, although still a little jet lagged and with an annoying cold. But who cares…I was in Paris!

I’d like to say I can launch back into my writing, the creative spark burning incredibly brightly. But unfortunately, I’ve got two ghost-writing gigs on the go, and two corporate jobs. But while I’m doing those the subconscious will no doubt be ticking over, ready when I return to my new book again. And then I’ll be channelling Paris!

PS The wedding was fabulous too, and Grace was the perfect flower girl!

PPS I forgot to say…Paris is also where my husband proposed to me, 13 years ago!