Category Archives: Zoë Sharp

Lost For Words

Zoë Sharp

The title for this, my last ever Murderati post, came easily. And then I was stuck.

I’m all out

of clever things

to say

I am genuinely lost for the right words to express how I feel about the end of this era. Part of me is desolate. The friends I’ve made on Murderati have been wonderful and I hope we won’t lose touch but I fear that may happen so easily. Time just seems to disappear. The last time I turned around it was Christmas. Now we’re well into Spring and CrimeFest in Bristol is only weeks away.

Writing for Murderati has been hard in the way that I find all writing hard — because I want to do my best and therefore I sweat and swear over it. I can’t bring myself to do a ‘I couldn’t think of anything so here’s some rehashed old stuff’ type of post. Sometimes I felt I missed the mark entirely but on those occasions when you seemed to like what I’d written it reminded me so strongly why I do this. Not just the blogging but the whole writing thing.

After all, there are far easier ways to make a living.

I’ll never shake that feeling of wonderment when I get kind comments on my writing and my books on Facebook or via email. I hope very much that I’ll continue to hear from everyone — writers and readers and all the friends I’ve made.

But Facebook — and more especially Twitter — is designed for one-liners rather than anything more substantial. Are we losing the longer more thoughtful — and more thought-provoking — blogs to this Brave New sound-bite World? And is that what you prefer?

How many of you still read blogs regularly, or how many of you have graduated to grazing from your Twitter or Facebook feeds?

One of my favourite parts of blogging here has always been choosing a Word of the Week. Well, as I won’t be doing that here any longer I thought I’d leave you with a selection:

Adoxography — the art of skilled writing on an unimportant subject.

Batrachophagous — one who eats frogs.

Charientism — an artfully veiled insult.

Defenestrate — to throw out of a window.

Exsibilation — the collective hisses of a disapproving audience.

Filipendulous — suspended by a single thread.

Gymnophoria — the sensation that someone is mentally undressing you.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian — pertaining to extremely long words.

Inaniloquent — saying foolish things.

Jumentous — smelling like horse urine.

Knismesis­ — light tickling.

Lethologica — the inability to recall a precise word for something.

Mallemaroking — the carousing of seamen aboard Greenland whaling ships.

Nudiustertian — pertaining to the day before yesterday.

Onychophagy  — the habit of biting one’s fingernails.

Petrichor — the smell of rain on dry ground.

Qualtagh — the first person you see after leaving your house.

Recumbentibus — a knockout blow, either verbal or physical.

Skoptsy — the act of self-castration.

Tarantism — an urge to overcome melancholia by dancing.

Ultracrepidarian — one of speaks or offers opinions on matters of which they have no knowledge.

Vigesimation — the act of killing every twentieth person.

Wanweird — an unhappy fate.

Xenobombulate — to malinger.

Yclept — by the name of or called.

Zabernism — the misuse of military authority or bullying.

Thanks to Unusual Words for these. That’s all from me, folks. Thank you all so much. It’s been a blast hasn’t it?

Hope to see you on the Other Side.

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

Zoë Sharp

“I’m sure Zoë will be in a much sunnier frame of mind tomorrow—or pretend she is. So stiff-upper-lip, that woman. Bless her murderous little heart.”

Hmm, thank you to David Corbett for that impossible introduction in his Murderati  blog yesterday. How to respond? If I wail and gnash my teeth, I’m being a wuss. If I carry on like nothing’s happened, I’m conforming to a racial stereotype. Ah well.

The truth is that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the end of such an era as Murderati. This is my hundred-and-fiftieth blog here and for that reason alone it feels slightly momentous. It would seem that only JT Ellison, Pari Noskin Taichert and Alexandra Sokoloff have written more on these pages. I had no idea I’d been quietly scribbling away to such an extent.

Things have certainly changed for me since Ken Bruen first invited me to join the crew here. I hope I’ve grown as a writer—that every book has shown some slight increase in understanding the pursuit of a craft that’s ruled my life since I was about twelve.

I hope I’ve learned even more to value the friendship of other authors—those here and elsewhere. Mainly we connect via the internet. By Facebook and Twitter and goodreads. We email and support each other via Killer Thrillers and The Hardboiled Collective. But getting to sit and talk at conventions both here and in the States is always a pleasure. That’s why the bar at Bouchercon is always so crowded until the wee small hours. It’s not so much the drink as the craic, as they say.

But most of all I love the contact this blog has given me with people who love stories, who become totally wrapped up in the characters’ lives and whose enthusiasm for what we do never fails to give me a boost and a very large cheesy grin.

Like David yesterday, I can’t help taking the loss of Murderati hard. I too feel a personal failing—if only I’d been funnier, more insightful, more heartfelt, less insubstantial, then maybe the decision would not have been made to archive and shelve and preserve this like hold baggage not required on journey.

On the other hand is it better to go out with a bang than fade away? Better to go out on a high rather than jumping the shark? Or—even more silly than that—future-16th-president-of-the-United-States-with-axe-versus-vampire-during-horse-stampede fight from the truly laughable Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

So, this month will indeed be the Long Goodbye from Murderati, but I hope not from the contributors who have had the privilege to take this road, and from all those who have walked with us.

And if all else fails:

This week’s Word of the Week comes courtesy of my Twitter pal Jon Cooper. It’s ultracrepidarian which is a person in the habit of giving opinions, criticism or advice on matters outside his or her expertise. Well, we’re all guilty of that occasionally aren’t we?

Impersonal service

Zoë Sharp

They say the best recommendation is word of mouth—a personal tip from someone you know and whose judgement you trust. But increasingly these days we find ourselves connecting with people in a less personal way as more and more of us take to shopping online.

Global economies are tanking as the rich get richer and the rest of us have to cope as best we can. It all boils down to the price of everything without taking the cost into account. We buy online because they don’t have high street overheads and it’s invariably cheaper, and because the high street is losing out on sales it becomes a sad collection of boarded-up windows, charity shops and bargain basements. Personal service seems to be a thing of the past. Soon we won’t have to speak to another real human being during our daily lives at all.

After all, we can order just about anything including our groceries over the internet. Our books, our music, buy insurance, search for a house. And if we do choose to go out we withdraw money from the cashpoint machine without going into a bank. If we do venture inside we’re being encouraged to use the automated deposit slots instead of waiting for a cashier window to become free.

We drive to the petrol station and pay at the pump instead of needing to go inside the kiosk and interact with the person behind the till. And even if we do they’re behind a reinforced glass screen. One supermarket chain near me will only let you pay at the pump and has no attendants at all.

Speaking of supermarkets there seem to be fewer tills open and more self-service lanes so even if we do decide to shop in person for our vegetables there’s no need to interact with an actual person in order to do so.

I wonder if the standard of salesmanship is partly to blame. The last time I tried shopping for electronics in a bricks-and-mortar store the sales staff could only tell me what was written on the side of the box rather than offering any informed opinions of their own. As I learned to read some years ago it seemed a bit pointless to pay a premium for the privilege of having someone else do it for me.

And when I go into a bookstore I love the insights and enthusiasms of the staff. Sadly, most UK independent bookstores I’ve been into offer no contact with the customers other than a bored, “Thanks,” as I open the door to leave empty-handed and if questioned they know less about the books than I do.

I will always pay extra for good service and solid expertise but not for lacklustre indifference, so I’ve gradually switched to doing more and more of my purchasing online too. The rest of Britain is very much the same. In fact, we in the UK are switching our allegiance online at one of the highest rates in the world. In 2010 we made 13.5% of all our purchases over the internet. By 2016 this is predicted to be 23%.

A survey reported on the BBC Business News last year suggested that while only 25% of us would give up sex for a year to maintain our internet connection instead, 65% would give up alcohol, 76% chocolate and 78% would forego coffee.

So, what do YOU buy online that until recently you would have gone out for to a real store. And why have you made the swap? Would anything make you go back to reality shopping for those items rather than virtual? Is there anything you would NEVER see yourself buying online? And finally, what would YOU give up to keep hold of your internet connection or are you sometimes glad to be without it?

This week’s Word of the Week is floccinaucinihilipilification, meaning the categorizing of something that is useless or trivial.

Who are you talking to?

Zoë Sharp

This week for the first time I came across mention of a guy called Theodore Levitt. And having done so I’m ashamed that I had not heard of him before. He was a German-born American economist and editor of the Harvard Business Review. Among his other achievements Mr Levitt wrote an article called Marketing Myopia in which he raises some fascinating points about business—particularly big business—and why it fails.

Mr Levitt points out that “the history of every dead and dying ‘growth’ industry shows a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay.” At some point every industry can be said to be booming but then it dies away. Usually this is because markets change and the industry fails to adapt, or because they become so fixated on mass-producing and selling their existing product that they no longer concentrate on the wants or needs of those buying that product.

Henry Ford is credited with inventing the first mass-production line for his cars. In fact, his real genius was looking at what his customers—or potential customers—wanted and realising that if he could sell a car for $500 he could sell millions of them. The production line grew out of that need to cut costs in order to sell at such a low price, but the marketing strategy came first.

Mr Levitt examines the railroad industry in the States, which he suggests fell into decline because it saw itself firmly as being in the railroad business instead of in the transportation business. It thought about what it was producing, not what its customers wanted, which was simply to get themselves and their goods from A to B as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Likewise, the petroleum industry is really in the energy business, whether that incorporates gas, nuclear, solar or geothermal energy. To cling to the past will ensure that new giants emerge and eventually kick the old giants to the kerb.

The long and the short of it is if you think of yourself as producing a product rather than satisfying a customer you are eventually doomed to failure.

But the most remarkable thing about all this is that Theodore Levitt wrote Marketing Myopia in 1960. It seems very little has been learned since then.

Three years ago a website called Digital Marketing summarized Mr Levitt’s original piece with the additional comparison of Hollywood and the TV industry. Those Hollywood studios who saw themselves as producing movies and nothing else have floundered. Those who moved into other areas of the entertainment industry seem to have, on the whole, thrived. (And I realise there will always be exceptions to this rule.)

That brings me to authors and books. To me I am not a producer of books I am a teller of stories. How people absorb those stories is almost immaterial—it could be via hardcover, paperback, car stereo, MP3 player, iPod, Kindle, tablet, PC, smartphone or cortical implant—and I can see that happening in my lifetime, I can tell you. At the end of the day it’s the story that matters, not the delivery system.

So, are publishers providers of stories to people who want to read them, or are they producers of books? And are the markets led by what the publishers want to sell to that reading public, or what the reading public wants to buy?

In bookstores in the States I am always amazed by the number of categories and genres into which books are divided up. In the UK it tends to be Crime & Thriller and True Crime. In the USA there are far more to go at, from Cosy to Hardboiled to Noir to PI, Police Procedural to Amateur Sleuth, Woman-in-Jeopardy, Serial Killer, Bodyguard, Vigilante, Investigative Reporter, Slasher/Shocker … the list is endless.

And now of course we have far more crossover with vampire detectives, werewolf private eyes, ghosts, zombies, witches, wizards and otherworldly beings who delve into the life (or undeath) of crime. Your main protagonist is just as likely to be keeping the peace on a distant space station as at a California Hellmouth, or use magic rather than deductive reasoning.

This all leaves me with some interesting questions. Who is leading the market now? With such a wealth and breadth of cross-genres and sub-genres out there, are readers finding more of exactly what they want (even if previously it fell between the cracks of established categories) or less?

Do you feel mainstream crime books are tending to crowd into a mould of what has been previously successful, or are we seeing more imaginative themes being explored? Has the indie/self-publishing revolution given you more choice? Or is it simply harder to find what you’re looking for because of sheer volume?

What do YOU, as a reader, want to read?

This week’s Word of the Week is hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, meaning pertaining to extremely long words.



Zoë Sharp

Confession time. I last worked in an office environment—as in working for somebody else—twenty-five years ago. All I had on my desk back then was an electric typewriter and a landline telephone. The answering machine still had tape cassettes in it. I got to work in the mornings worked all day and went home at five-thirty.

OK, it was not without its occasional moments of drama, like the time I accidently got locked into the building one night and had to climb out of a upper-storey window and then scramble across rooftops to freedom. Or the time, one week into a new job, when the boss said, “Right, we’re off on holiday next week. If the bailiffs arrive while we’re away don’t let them take anything …”

But generally the biggest no-nos were arriving late or sneaking off early. People didn’t even leave their desks to have a smoke. In fact I used to work sandwiched between two people who both chain-smoked and would leave cigarettes burning in their ashtrays while they nipped out on some errand. They didn’t like it when I stubbed them out in their absence. My excuse was if I had to smoke passively while they were around then I was damned if I was going to do it while they weren’t.

My how things have changed. (Eeh, I remember when all this were fields, etc.)

And when I set up in business on my own as a freelance photojournalist back in 1988 my word processor was an Amstrad 9512 that had no internal memory and required the insertion of a Start-of-Day disk to remember what it was in the mornings.

If there was a mouse anywhere near it, it would have looked like this:

I was pretty technologically advanced by owning a computer at all I can tell you! Not to mention my Motorola brick phone. Groovy, man.

Distractions were simpler in those days. They involved staring out of the window:

And game of solitaire meant shuffling the deck before you began:

Early computer games were not exactly Call of Duty:

But now we’re overwhelmed with daily distractions. If it wasn’t for rapidly encroaching deadlines could spend so long getting sidetracked every day I could practically walk like a crab:

But that can sometimes be a good thing, and I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite time-wasting sites:

They Fight Crime!

“He’s a shy zombie photographer trapped in a world he never made. She’s a supernatural French-Canadian bodyguard who inherited a spooky stately manor from her late maiden aunt. They fight crime!”


I’m hopeless at crossword puzzles, but somehow I can’t leave this one alone.

Internet Movie DataBase

Always on my favourites’ list for when I want to know obscure facts. Did you know that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of The Tourist is 6’8¾”?

What is your Pro Wrestling Name?

Mine came out as Full Metal Darkshadow, or the Diva alternative was Titanic Callgirl. How about you?

But just in case wrestling is not your thing, how about your Blues Name? Mine’s Steel Eye Davis.

So help me out here—or sink me deeper—what procrastination aids do you use to while away the help you concentrate while you’re mulling over a storyline?

And please excuse the BSP but the new trade paperback edition of KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, complete with Foreword by Lee Child, is now available. Hurrah!

‘Susie Hollins may have been no great shakes as a karaoke singer, but I didn’t think that was enough reason for anyone to want to kill her.’

“The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant”―Marilyn Stasio, New York Times

This week’s Word of the Week is librocubicularist, which is someone who reads in bed.

And finally, don’t miss out on six free e-books by top authors including Murderatos past and present JD Rhoades and Alexandra Sokoloff, plus CJ Lyons, Karen Dionne, Grant MacKenzie and Keith Raffel. Feb 20-22nd! Get ’em while they’re hot!


Author in Waiting?

Mary Andrea Clarke

The first stage of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger has drawn to a close, with the deadline for entries past and entrants either taking a well earned rest or thinking about their next writing projects.  Over 450 hopeful crime writers have taken up the challenge to send a novel opening and synopsis in the hope of launching a career as a published author.

            This is my first year of running the Competition and it is a very different literary adventure from writing.  The level of enthusiasm has been encouraging, not only from current entrants but previous ones. Several shortlisted authors from previous years contacted us with good news about progress and some kindly agreed to be interviewed in the newsletter.

            Peggy Blair and Annie Hauxwell, shortlisted in 2010 and 2011 respectively, related news of publishing deals.  D J McIntosh credited the Debut Dagger as the spark which initiated her writing success, with her 2007 entry, The Witch of Babylon, on sale in twenty countries.  The 2011 winner, Michelle Rowe, has reported that her entry, What Hidden Lies, is to be published in South Africa in June.  They are not alone in international success.  Adrian Magson, shortlisted in 2001, is the author of three well received crime series and has been described by a British national newspaper as, “a classic crime star in the making”. 

            Two previous entrants came full circle as their careers progressed and other CWA Daggers beckoned.  Diane Janes, shortlisted twice in the Debut Dagger Competition, was one of four authors nominated for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2010.  It was a good year for Debut Dagger authors.  The much coveted CWA Gold Dagger for that year went to Belinda Bauer, for her first novel, Blacklands, which had been highly commended in a previous competition.  Well done, all

            The authors who spoke to me described opportunities the competition had offered.  This was not only through their being shortlisted but also what they had learned in developing their own writing.  Discipline was mentioned more than once, the importance of writing within the rules and to a set word count.  Several authors emphasised the importance of editing, ensuring your work is the best it can possibly be. Hopefully, these tips have been helpful, along with those in the Bulletins sent to subscribers.

            Some have been kind enough to email expressing gratitude to the CWA for the competition.  One entrant, not yet shortlisted, described it as “a fun experience”.

            So what have I got out of it?  Admittedly, it’s slowed down my own writing a little.  However, with all entries in, I take a short breather to get back to my own book and have felt a renewed vigour.  Plot points with which I have struggled have now fallen into place and I’m on a roll as I get into my final chapter.  My bodysnatchers are on the trail and all being well, One Body Too Many will be in print before too long.  In the meantime, Georgiana Grey is still solving crime among the aristocrats and highwayman and will be back next time. 

            For those entrants waiting with bated breath, the initial read through is progressing.  The short list, which will be announced at Crimefest 2013 which runs from 30 May – 2 June.  See for more information.  Hope to see some of the entrants there.  Good luck to all and look forward to seeing some of those names in print.

A Leap on the Dark Side

Zoë Sharp

Since Christmas I’ve been editing a new book that’s a real departure for me. It’s a supernatural thriller rather than straightforward crime, although it starts with the brutal murder of a young girl and charts the effect this has on her parents and those caught up in the events that follow.

If asked to sum it up in a sentence, I would say it’s about a supernatural assassin who you summon with grief but pay with your soul.

A far cry from the close-protection world of my series character, Charlie Fox.

It’s not that I’m intending to move away from the series, far from it. DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten is just out and I’m planning the next instalment. Plus I keep receiving wonderful emails and comments on Facebook and Twitter from people who have either been reading the books from the start, or have only recently stumbled into Charlie’s world and are loving it. I don’t say this in any way to brag, but to express my own humbled delight that so many people actually seem to like what I do. Any writer will tell you this can be a constant source of amazement.

Without readers we are merely talking nonsense in an empty room.

But the new book is substantially different and that worries me just a little. It deals with the supernatural, for a start, with Buddhist philosophy and Catholic doctrine thrown in. It has an ensemble cast—a misfit group who band together to fight against an ancient evil, each for reasons of their own. As mentioned, it starts with murder, and there’s a strong theme of retribution and its consequences. But apart from the fact that it features a strong female protagonist, one who is prepared to make any sacrifice to do what she believes is right, it’s a very different story from anything I’ve written so far.

I’m nearly done with the edits. I’ve made substantial changes from the first draft, which is another departure for me. Normally I would self-edit as I go along and not make sweeping alterations after that. But this time I think—well, I hope, anyway—that it’s lifted the whole of the narrative up a level. I could be right, or hopelessly misguided. At this stage it’s impossible to make any kind of value judgement.

One thing’s for sure, though. For me it’s a total leap in the dark.

So, ’Rati. How willing are you to read something totally different from an author you’ve previously enjoyed, even if it’s maybe not a genre you’ve tried before?

What was the last leap of faith you made? And how did it work out for you?

This week’s Word of the Week is hagiography, which used to mean the biography of saints or venerated persons, but has now come to mean any biography which over-idealises or idolises its subject.

The not-so gentle art of the synopsis

Zoë Sharp

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I find writing a synopsis the most difficult part of being a writer. But it’s also the most vital.

Even if you’re a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer, who sets out with an idea and runs with it until the end, you may still have to produce a synopsis after the event, in order to sell your masterpiece to a publisher.

If you go searching the subject, you’ll find almost too many websites, blog sites and articles to count. I’ve been hunting around and tried to come up with a general consensus of the advice that’s out there. Please feel free to add, contradict or explain your own theories!

If you’re a plotter to begin with, then you will probably already have the original outline you used as the backbone of your story. If you’re anything like me, though, by the time you’ve finished it will be covered in crossings-out and pencil alterations. So, your first job is to produce a clean, accurate outline.

I go through my manuscript as I’m writing and do a summary of each chapter or scene. A few lines, an idea of who’s doing what, and what might be happening behind the scenes to be picked up later. This is more for my own consumption than anyone else’s, however. It will not make the story sound particularly exciting, but it’s extremely useful when it comes to edits, because I can make my alterations to the summary and then transfer them to the manuscript itself.

But, I also write the jacket copy synopsis. This gives me a tight view of the book as a whole, and reminds me of the thrust of the story. The jacket copy synopsis I wrote for DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, is this:

In the sweating heat of Louisiana, former Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, faces her toughest challenge yet.

Professionally, she’s at the top of her game, but her personal life is in ruins. Her lover, bodyguard Sean Meyer, has woken from a gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. It seems that piecing back together the relationship they shared is proving harder for him than relearning the intricacies of the close-protection business.

Working with Sean again was never going to be easy for Charlie, either, but a celebrity fundraising event in aid of still-ravaged areas of New Orleans should have been the ideal opportunity for them both to take things nice and slow.

Until, that is, they find themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone.

When an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation, the motive may be far more complex than simple greed. Somebody has a major score to settle, and Sean is part of the reason. Only trouble is, he doesn’t remember why.

And when Charlie finds herself facing a nightmare from her own past, she realises she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back. This time, she’s got to fight it out on her own.

One thing’s for certain, though. No matter how overwhelming the odds stacked against her, or however hopeless the situation may appear, Charlie is never going to die easy.

A taster, yes, but this is NOT really a description of exactly what happens in the book, so not really a synopsis in its true sense. But at the same time it’s relatively simple, it mentions only two characters by name, so it’s not too confusing, and it gives you a pretty reasonable idea of who, what, where, why, and the conflicts faced by the main character, both physical and emotional. Plus the present-tense gives it an immediacy and impact.

At the beginning I include the detail about Charlie because I never assume people know the character. And I make sure I include the word ‘her’ so people don’t get confused from the start that she’s a woman.

But to take this and turn it into the kind of synopsis I could show to a publisher means a LOT more work.

For me, the main jobs of a synopsis are to get across the following:

The theme.

The basic elements of the plot and what makes it different from other, possibly similar storylines the editor’s seen before. And NEVER say ‘and there’s this great twist ending’ without actually telling them what the ending is. They’re the experts. They’ll decide if it’s great or another cliché they’ve seen a million times before.

The attraction of the protagonist to a jaded reader.

If the subject or setting is topical or different or otherwise interesting.

To show that the writer can put together a good story, and write it in a stylish and gripping way.

So, to this end a synopsis should include the following:

The Hook―why is this book worth reading?

The Characters―what are their motivations, their emotions and the crises that challenge them?

The Story―told in a brief but enthusiastic way, as you’d describe a great movie you just saw to a friend who you’re trying to convince to go and see it. What happens, how the characters react, and what are the after-effects. Not, ‘the bad guys robbed the bank and then the good guys caught them, the end’.

The Climax―the event at which the protagonist overcomes or succumbs.

The Resolution.

But this is not often one linear story. There are different elements that have to be considered and combined. First is the basic story itself:

What’s the incident or action that kicks the whole thing into motion?

What are the main events that put obstacles into the path of the protagonist?

What is the climax to the story?

What is the resolution to the story? Not the same as the climax. The climax could be the big fight scene on a sinking riverboat on the Mississippi. The resolution is what happens once the characters get back to New York and events have had time to hit home.

Then there’s your protagonist’s story:

Who is he/she? What drives them. What do they want―or want to avoid―and what’s preventing them from achieving this?

What situation or incident brings about change in their life?

How are they affected by the events of the book?

What is the ongoing effect on the protagonist’s life at the end?

And, of course, the story of your other characters:

Who is the antagonist―what do they want?

How do they attempt to achieve their goals and what obstacles to they put in the path of the protagonist in order to do so?

Are they changed by the events of the story, or do they bring about change in the protagonist because of their actions?

The relationships within the story:

What are they at the start?

How do they develop or change during the course of the book?

How are they tested, changed or broken by the climax?

How are they different at the end?

And finally, people get hung up on the length of a synopsis. Brief is good, but not if it makes the thing boring. Better to go to two pages and grab somebody than stick to one and send them to sleep. Theme and effects are more important, I feel, than a blow-by-blow of the action. The main events should be enough.

Use readable font size rather than trying to squeeze as much in as possible by going to 6pt. Single or double spacing? I always use 1.5, but that’s personal preference. Some people also advocate putting a character’s name in capitals the first time it appears. Again, this is personal preference, but I would make sure that character is always described the same way throughout. Not by first name, profession, and then surname―too confusing.

 And just in case this has left you eager to put together a brief story of your own, I’m very pleased to mention the Flashbang Flash Fiction Competition 2013. Sponsored by CrimeFest. £2 entry free. 150 words maximum. Deadline March 1st 2013. First prize is two free passes to CrimeFest. Shortlisted and winning stories published online. Full details here.

This week’s Word of the Week is deus ex Meccano, which is a kit of metal bits and pieces which allows you to construct the ending to your book :))

With All Undue Respect

Zoë Sharp

“From what I’ve seen of you, Zoë, you treat people with a respect you somehow do not expect to receive yourself.”

This was said to me a month or so ago by someone I’ve known for a long time, if not closely. I had no idea he’d observed me well enough to form such an opinion one way or another.

My first instinct was denial. Or not quite denial but certainly qualification. Respect is not something that can be expected—not in the present world.

It has to be worked for, earned.

And once you have it, you can’t simply hang it above the fireplace like a dusty stag’s head trophy and expect admiration from all comers. It has to be carefully maintained or the moths will turn it into little more than a memory.

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking of me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”―Jackie Robinson

Respect is a living entity, always shifting, always in motion—much like the stag before someone shot and stuffed it.

One false move, and it’s gone.

I respect someone who has a no-nonsense competence without allowing their ego to enter the equation. It should be possible to be good at what you do without making yourself thoroughly unpleasant in the process.

But it seems to me that modern society will break down not because of some great catastrophe, but because of a series of tiny personal injustices. How many times recently have you experienced the following?

~Watched someone pick up a piece of litter they did not drop?

~Been let out into traffic by someone who had to inconvenience themselves to do so, rather than because they had to stop anyway?

~Been thanked by someone you’ve let out into traffic when you had to inconvenience yourself to do so, rather than because you had to stop anyway?

~Have a door held open?

~Had a car slow down to pass you walking along a wet road so you weren’t splashed?

~Been invited to go ahead by the person before you at the supermarket checkout because they’re shopping for a siege and you have only a few items?

These may seem like trivial examples—and indeed they are—but they are also the niceties of civilisation that make us human.

So, ’Rati, what petty injustices have you witnessed recently, or what random small acts of kindness?

Instead of a Word of the Week, this time round I have a selection of quotations on the subject of respect—or lack of it.

“You should respect each other and refrain from disputes; you should not, like water and oil, repel each other, but should, like milk and water, mingle together.”―Buddha

“They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.”―Mohandas K. Gandhi

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”―Richard Bach

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”―Malcom X

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”―Winston Churchill

“I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”―Rodney Dangerfield

“Men are so willing to respect anything that bores them.”―Marilyn Monroe

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”―Lao Tzu

“I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.”―Edward Gibbon

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”―Voltaire

“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”―Salvador Dali

“I do respect people’s faith, but I don’t respect their manipulation of that faith in order to create fear and control.”―Javier Bardem

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”―Laurence Sterne

“I don’t have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts.”―Martin Ritt

“I respect my limitations, but I don’t use them as an excuse.”―Stephen R. Donaldson

“If you are killed because you are a writer, that’s the maximum expression of respect, you know.”―Mario Vargas Llosa

‘“With the greatest respect,” I said. Always a nice phrase to use when you intend to speak without any.’―Charlie Fox

And on a slight note of BSP, <cough> this week saw the US publication of DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

Zoë Sharp is one of the sharpest, coolest, and most intriguing writers I know. She delivers dramatic, action-packed novels with characters we really care about. And once again, in DIE EASY, Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game.”New York Times best-seller, Harlan Coben



The Wildcard Tuesday New Year Interrogation

Zoë Sharp

The first moon of 2013

Welcome to the first Wildcard Tuesday blog of 2013, and an enormously Happy New Year to you all. For this I asked a few lighthearted questions of fellow ‘Rati past and present, and below are their answers. I hope you find them worthy of a giggle.

(As a small aside, I started off searching for sensible author pix, but what I’ve actually ended up going for are the silliest pix that came up on the first page of a Google Images search on that author’s name.)


Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home, as usual.

What would have been your ideal location?

Home! (Though, I would have liked to have gone to Disneyland right after Christmas … maybe next year!)

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

My husband once gave me an electric grout cleaner. Needless to say, I never used it.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

The absolute best Christmas dinner we’ve had was when I decided to cook prime rib instead of the standard turkey or ham. It was pricey, but oh-so-delicious! I think that was back in 1997 …

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Traveling for Christmas.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

Watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school—and hearing her and the Seraphim Choir sing the National Anthem. They were amazing.

I’m not going to ask about New Year’s resolutions, but do you have one ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Walk daily, meet my deadlines, don’t sweat the small stuff.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Two Lucy Kincaid books from Minotaur/SMP—SILENCED and STALKED; a short story in the anthology LOVE IS MURDER; an indie published novella MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

A Lucy Kincaid novella in March (RECKLESS), and two more book STOLEN and COLD SNAP. Plus a short story for the NINC anthology and maybe another indie novella. If I have time.



Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home alone, if “choose” and “celebrate” are the correct verbs. Mette arrives on the 28th, so things should get merrier at that point.

What would have been your ideal location?

Buenos Aires. Ireland. A beach in Mexico.

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

Best gift I ever “received” was one I gave. As a gag gift I bought my late wife a red flannel union suit with a button seat flap that she absolutely loved. Slept in it all the time. Cozy as hell. Damn, she was happy.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

When I was a kid one of my classmates’ families came over during the holidays and brought cookies that literally made me gag. I picked one up, sniffed it like a cocker spaniel, recoiled, and put it back. My brother started bellowing, “You touched it, you have to eat it.” Unfortunately, King Solomon (my father) agreed. I almost upchucked trying to get it down.

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Oh, let’s not go there.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

A weekend in San Antonio for the wedding of one of Mette’s dearest friends, when I got introduced to the inner circle. Also, the moments when I read the cover quotes I received for THE ART OF CHARACTER. I was incredibly humbled and grateful so many writers I respect said so many kind and generous things.

One ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Make the new book a success, and wrap up the novel I’m working on to my own persnickety satisfaction.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Open Road Media and Mysterious Press re-issued all four of my novels in ebook format in 2012, with a brand new short story collection titled KILLING YOURSELF TO SURVIVE.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

The new book, THE ART OF CHARACTER, comes out on January 29th, 2013 from Penguin.




New Orleans.

Ideal location?

It’s hard to top New Orleans.

Best/worst gift?

Well, there’s this pretty spectacular amethyst necklace…

Best/worst food?

I’ve served many a bad meal to others. For everyone’s sake I stopped trying to cook long ago. Personally I don’t care much what food gets served, but I do remember one Christmas morning in London with blackberry jam on waffles and whisky for breakfast. The blackberry jam ended up all sorts of places and it was all very lovely.  I could do that again.

Christmas From Hell?

It’s hard to narrow that down, actually. Endless scenarios spring to mind. I hate being cold, though, so winter is perilous.

Favourite moment from 2012?

For public consumption, you mean? The general reader response to HUNTRESS MOON has been a real high.

One ambition in 2013?

I’d like to find a really wonderful place to live.

Books this year?

My crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON, a boxed set of three of my supernatural thrillers called HAUNTED, a novella called D-GIRL ON DOOMSDAY in an interconnected anthology with three other dark fantasy female author friends: APOCALYPSE: YEAR ZERO. And I got several backlist titles back and put them out as e books at wonderfully affordable prices: THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, THE HARROWING and THE PRICE.

And for 2013?

The next book in my Huntress series comes out in late January:  BLOOD MOON. My next book in the paranormal Keepers series, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, comes out in May.

I’m selling my house in January and buying another as soon as possible, probably in California.




Every year we have Christmas Day at our home (in Melbourne) and then go down to the Mornington Peninsula (seaside) for most of January. It’s the hottest time of year here in Oz, so it’s great to be near the beach. We stay in a 1970s holiday house my grandparents bought in 1972, and given I spent summers down there as a kid it’s particularly special to now be going down there with my children.

Ideal location?

The Peninsula is pretty good 🙂 Although we’ve always said that one year we’ll do a white/winter Christmas in New York or something.

Best/worst gift ever received?

Best gift I ever received was actually for my birthday this year—my Kindle. I’m a complete convert to the point where I can’t imagine ever reading a ‘real’ book again. I prefer the Kindle reading experience for some reason.

Best meal?

I am biased, but I make a mean Tira Misu. I got the recipe from a chef and it’s divine! And great because you make it a day or two before, so it’s one thing to cross off the food preparation list early.

Christmas From Hell?

Mmm….I guess having to run around. You know, multiple visits. We do that a bit on Christmas Eve, but I enjoy the fact that then on Christmas Day we just kick back. We start with oysters at midday, then it’s prawns (yes, on the BBQ), then an Asian style salmon fillet dish then Tira Misu (at about 4pm). Then a movie!

Favourite moment from 2012?

That’s easy for me—picking up our son, Liam, from Korea and making our family of three a family of four 🙂

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I’ve got a few books I’d like to finish. And hey, a best seller or a lotto win wouldn’t go astray either.

Book(s) this year?

THE MISSING (two short stories), WHEN JUSTICE FAILS (two short true-crime pieces), HELL’S FURY (new book in spy thriller series), and two novels for younger readers that I’ve released under the pen name Pippa Dee—GROUNDED SPIRITS and THE WANDERER.

What’s next?

Probably what I’ve been doing the past few months—juggling motherhood and writing…and feeling like I’m going to crack under the pressure! 




Nashville and Florida.

Ideal location?

A family trip to Italy would have been fun.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

I got engaged during Christmas 1994, so that ranks up there….

Worst meal?

Italy, Cinque Terre, a large full fish the size of a cat, with its baleful eye staring up at me… I swear the thing was still breathing. Ugh! 

Christmas From Hell?

There’s no such thing. I love Christmas.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my DH in his gorgeous new kilt for the first time. *fans self*

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I want to learn how to paint. In oil, large canvas abstracts. 

Book(s) last year?


And for 2013?

Writing, writing and more writing. Deadline January 30!


 MARTYN WAITES (half of Tania Carver)


At my in-laws. The kids wanted to go to see all their cousins. They love a big family get together. As for me, I’m pretty bah humbug about it. I don’t care where I go or what I do or whether I get any presents or not. As long as I get to see Doctor Who, I’m happy.

Ideal location?

Somewhere abroad. Morocco would be good. If they were showing Doctor Who.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of presents. I can’t think of specifics in terms of best or worst, but for me the worst kind of gift is the thoughtless kind that someone has put no effort, time or care into. The best ones are the ones you absolutely want. Even if you don’t know you do until you get them. I was lucky enough to get one of those this Christmas.

Best/worst meal?

At Christmas? It’s all the same. I’m not a fan of Christmas dinner. Or any roast dinner for that matter. I eat it, but that’s because it’s what you do at Christmas. Like getting into water and swimming. The best meal I was ever served was at a Persian restaurant in Birmingham in 1988. It involved chicken and pomegranates and I’ve never tasted anything like it to this day. The restaurant disappeared soon afterwards in a kind of Brigadoon fashion and I sometimes wonder whether I actually went there. As for bad food . . . loads. In fact, it probably outnumbers the good food. That’s why I try to remember the good ones.

Christmas From Hell?

Being forced to spend time with people I hate. That goes for the rest of the year as well. And not seeing Doctor Who.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Well, I wrote about my favourite cultural things on the last Murderati post—Y Niwl and the Hammer films retrospective—so they would be there in a big way. But other than that, it was something very small and personal that I’m afraid I couldn’t share and that I doubt anyone would be particularly interested in.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I do. I can’t say anything about it in case I jinx it, but it will be the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Or at least I hope it will.

Book(s) this year?

CHOKED, the fourth Tania Carver book came out in September in the UK. THE CREEPER, the second one, came out in the States. There have been other editions round the world and I think Russia finally got round to publishing my 2006 novel, THE MERCY SEAT.

And 2013?

Finishing the new Tania, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, which I’m uncharacteristically quite pleased with. Although it could all go horribly wrong. And then there’s the afore(not)mentioned secret project . . .




At the family’s new home in Glassell Park, which we moved into in October.

Ideal location?

At the family’s new home in Aspen, Colorado, which doesn’t exist.

Best/worst gift ever received?

The best was a dictionary.  It was given to me many years ago by a wonderful woman who at the time was my mother-in-law to be.  She knew I was an aspiring writer and gifted me accordingly, which, oddly enough, no one in my immediate family had ever thought to attempt before.  I still own that dictionary, too.

Don’t get me started on the worst gifts I’ve ever received.

Best/worst food?

The best, far and away, is the egg nog my godfather makes over the holidays. It tastes great and man, does it have a kick to it.

Never been given a fruitcake as a gift, and I pray I never am.

Christmas From Hell?

I think I actually experienced it last year.  Attended the worst Catholic midnight Mass possible: cornball music, pointless sermon, and theatre lighting (the service was being video-taped) that would make a mole cover its eyes.  Awful.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The family’s spring break vacation in the Galapagos.  Unbelievable!

One ambition for 2013?

Completion of a manuscript that a conventional publisher buys for a tidy sum.

Book(s) last year?

Didn’t have a book published this year, though my Aaron Gunner novels were re-released as e-books by Mysterious Press/Open Road.

And for the early part of 2013?

Early?  Maybe my first book for middle-graders, which my agent is shopping now.  Later in the year?  With the grace of God, a publication deal for my first Aaron Gunner novel in almost 10 years.




Stayed at home with the wife and kids—enjoyed the beach and the beautiful Southern California weather.  Played Scrabble and hung out in cafés.  Enjoyed a big meal of matzoh ball soup and tofurky.

Ideal location?

Ireland.  Clifton or Dingle, to be precise.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I haven’t paid attention to holiday gifts for a long time.  I think the worst gift I ever got was for my bar mitzvah—it was a belt buckle.  No, actually, perhaps the worst was the beer stein my father gave me for my high school graduation.  This, instead of the car I had my eyes on.

Best/worst item of food?

Probably that tofurky we had last week.

Christmas From Hell?

Again, tofurky takes the price.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my son come back healthy and happy after a two-month hospital stay in Wisconsin.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Main ambition—work to live a creative life, 24/7.

Book(s) this year?

Move along, nothing to see here.

What’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

Move along, nothing to see here either…




The first half I spent in a hot, tropical location with my feet in the water, a beer nearby, and a Kindle in my hand; the second half at home in L.A. with my kids, my parents, and my sister and her kids.

Ideal location?

Nailed it this year.

Best gift ever received?

This year I got the complete set of Calvin & Hobbs from my parents. It was perfect!

Best food?

I made a pretty awesome ham this year that was juicy and delicious. Hmmm, I’m craving leftovers right now!

Christmas From Hell?

Not being able to spend time with my family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

It was a pretty good year all around, so one event…? Going to San Diego for a week with my kids and parents was pretty damn fun!

One ambition for 2013?

Just more of the same … write, travel, and spend time with friends and family.

Book(s) last year?

2012: THE DESTROYED (Quinn #5), PALE HORSE (Project Eden #3), THE COLLECTED (Quinn #6), and ASHES (Project #Eden #4)

And for 2013?

At least four more novels (hopefully five), including a secret collaboration I can’t quite talk about yet.




At home. With family.

Ideal location?

Exactly the same place.

Worst gift you’ve ever received?

An orange pantsuit.  I mean, really. My husband has not bought me anything orange ever since. (I’m guessing it didn’t look like this, then, Tess? ZS)

Best/worst meal?

For Christmas?  Not one bad meal sticks out.  On Christmas, everything tastes wonderful.

Christmas From Hell?

Being stuck in an airport. Far from family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Standing on the Great Wall of China, with my husband and sons.

One ambition, for 2013?

To finally plant a vegetable garden that the deer can’t demolish.

Book(s) out last year?

LAST TO DIE was published this past summer.

And what’s on the cards for 2013?

Early 2013, I am headed to the Amazon River.




At home in peace. No requirements, no expectations. I just let myself be.

Ideal location?

The only other place I can imagine being this calm and relaxed would be Antibes . . .

Best gift?

Probably the best gift I’ve received so far is an essay my younger teen wrote about a difficult incident we shared last year and how it has taught her empathy. Made me cry, it touched my heart so.

Best/worst meal?

The best meal remains one brunch I had in Puerto Rico: fresh flying fish brought in that morning from a catch in Barbados, steamed bread fruit, Barbadian yellow hot sauce, fresh mangos picked minutes before from a tree just steps from where we ate.

Christmas From Hell?

I think it would be one filled with efforts to make it perfect, so many efforts that they’d hit the tipping point and tumble down to the other side of happiness.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The one where I finally realized I’m going to be all right, that the trials of this last year may continue . . . but they’re not going to pull me down into the depths of despair anymore.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?


1. I’d like to e-publish the book that “almost” sold to NYC. It’s the first in a new series and I’d like my character to meet readers and vice versa.

2. To continue to explore my creativity in whatever ways it’s now manifesting, to give myself permission to let it fly.

Book(s) last year?

Nothing in 2012. I’ve been in hibernation for many reasons including the whole copyright issue and the divorce.

And for 2013?

To begin writing again and to enjoy it . . .



As for me, I also spent Christmas this year with my family, which was where I wanted to be.

My ideal would probably have been a ski-in/ski-out chalet somewhere with plenty of snow. Not necessarily for skiing, but definitely for sculpting. I never did get to finish that Sphinx …

As for my ambitions for 2013, to find a life/work balance and to continue to improve my craft.

And books? In 2012 I brought out two e-boxed sets of the first six Charlie Fox novels, plus several short stories, and of course, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

In 2013, DIE EASY is hot off the press in the States. I’m also editing two new projects—a supernatural thriller called CARNIFEX, and a standalone crime thriller called THE BLOOD WHISPERER, as well as working on the first in a new trilogy, the first in what I hope will be a new series, a novella project I can’t say too much about yet, and—of course—Charlie Fox book eleven. That should keep me going for a bit 🙂

So, it only remains for me to wish you all an incredibly Happy New Year, and to thank you for your comments and your feedback during 2012.