Category Archives: Zoë Sharp

The mental lightbulb

Zoë Sharp

Well, the disruption of Christmas is just about all over. I say that without any edge to the words. But for the past three days I’ve had the house filled with strangers—strangers I just happen to know well.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love my family, but I’ve been living away from them now for far longer than I ever lived with them. As an individual I have grown to fill the expanded corners of my own existence in such a way that we somehow no longer quite fit together as the close family unit we once were. I daresay they feel much the same way about me.

And yet, this Christmas, I have appreciated my family more than ever.

But I know that Thursday—the day after St Stephen’s Day, or Boxing Day—marks a return to normality. And that brings with it more questions than answers.

Because I’m not sure I know what classifies as normality any longer.

It was only when I flicked through a favourite book before loaning it to a friend that I realised what probably lay behind this recent feeling of malaise.

The book is THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE by Don Winslow, one of the writers I admire most and a master of present-tense narrative. The passage in question comes at the start of chapter four:

All Frank’s days are busy, what with four businesses, and ex-wife and a girlfriend to manage. The key to pulling it off is to stick to a routine, or at least try to.

He has tried—without conspicuous success—to explain this simple management technique to the kid Abe. “If you have a routine,” he has lectured, “you can always deviate from it if something comes up. But if you don’t have a routine, then everything is stuff that comes up. Get it?”

“Got it.”

But he doesn’t get it, Frank knows, because he doesn’t do it.

And I realised—doh—that I don’t actually have a proper routine.

For years I wrote fiction in the cracks of the day-job, but my day-job also did not involve any kind of set routine. As an example, few years ago I did two particular photoshoots on consecutive days. The first took place on a bitterly cold disused airforce base just outside Warrington in the northwest of the UK where the temperature was minus ten degrees. The next was on the sands of Daytona Beach in Florida in baking hundred-degrees-plus heat.

The unexpected nature of the job was one of the things I loved most about it. Through my photography work I met millionaires and criminals, the titled, the notorious, the hilarious, and the downright insane. But I never quite knew, from one day to the next, what it would bring. I suspect that was one of the reasons I clung to the day-job long after I could probably have let it go.

Now I am free to put all my effort into writing. And it’s tougher than I thought it would be.

Which brings me back to having a routine.

I need to create some more defined structure to my day. After all, I love writing. It’s all I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I have more ideas and plots and stories than I know what to do with, but if I don’t develop some organised method of working I’m going to burn myself to a frazzle inside a year.

Not only that, but I suspect I would soon start to resent the demands of the very job I always dreamed of.

So, taking the advice of Don Winslow’s retired hitman, Frank ‘Machine’ Machianno, I need to get myself a workable routine. One that fits in all the essential daily elements, including some time for simple domestic tasks—like doing laundry, keeping my accounts updated, and going to the supermarket—with all the other Stuff that’s an inevitable part of a modern writer’s life, like social media and marketing.

Oh, and a bit of time for writing, too.

And quite honestly, ‘Rati, I’m open to suggestions.

Do you have a daily routine or is it more loosely based than that? What are essentials for you—what do you try to do every day without fail, even if all other good intentions fall apart?

A couple of other points I’d like to mention today. The first is an appeal by Mary Andrea Clarke who is in charge of the CWA Debut Dagger competition. If you’ve never heard of the Debut Dagger and you are an as-yet unpublished author, it’s a brilliant way to get the start of your crime in front of top editors and agents. Past winners and shortlisted authors have gone on to great success.

Mary has asked for writers to provide for the next bulletin, one writing tip, and one criminal thought for the Holiday season. Suggestions welcome!

As well, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning that both the trade paperback edition and the US hardcover edition of DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten are now available to order. Thank you to everyone who’s said such wonderful things about this latest outing for Charlie—fighting it out with the bad guys in New Orleans.

This is my last Murderati post of 2012, so I wish you all health, luck and happiness for the coming New Year, and I’ll be back on Jan 1st with a Wildcard round-up.

A cautionary seasonal tale

Zoë Sharp

I lay no claims to the following, but when it was sent to me earlier this week by my friend Shell, it seemed wholly appropriate in light of the season of over-indulgence that is almost upon us, and I couldn’t resist sharing it.

In the beginning God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, with green, yellow and red vegetables of all kinds so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then using God’s bountiful gifts, Satan created Dairy Ice Cream and Magnums.

And Satan said, “You want hot fudge with that?”

And Man said, “Yes!”

And Woman said, “I’ll have one too—with chocolate chips.”

And lo they gained 10 pounds.

And God created the healthy yoghurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair.

And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them.

And Woman went from size 12 to size 14.

So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.”

And Satan presented Blue Cheese dressing and garlic croutons on the side.

And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said, “I have sent you healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.”

And Satan brought forth deep-fried coconut king prawns, butter-dipped lobster chunks and chicken-fried steak, so big it needed its own platter.

And Man’s cholesterol went through the roof.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition.

Then Satan peeled off the healthy skin and sliced the starchy centre into chips and deep fried them in animal fats, adding copious quantities of salt.

And Man put on more pounds.

God then brought forth running shoes so that his Children might lose those extra pounds.

And Satan came forth with a cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels.

And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretch jogging suits.

Then God gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.

And Satan created McDonalds and the 99p double cheeseburger.

Then Satan said, “You want fries with that?”

And Man replied, “Yes, and Super Size ’em.”

And Satan said, “It is good.”

And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed and created quadruple by-pass surgery.

And then Satan chuckled and created the National Health Service.


So, ‘Rati, care to share your most—and least—healthy food temptations over the coming holidays? Is there something so calorific that you only dare have it at this time of year when all bets are off? Or how do you dutifully keep yourself on the dietary track until the New Year?

This week’s Words of the Week are several Daft Definitions:

impeccable: bird-proof

microbe: tiny dressing gown

pandemonium: black and white musical instrument that won’t breed in captivity

Please feel free to add more of your own!

And finally, as this is indeed the season of indulgence, how about a few small treats that will not add to your waistline—a book or two?

I’m sure I did more than enough utterly shameless self-promotion in my last Murderati blog but if I might add to that a small mention of the new US e-edition of THIRD STRIKE: Charlie Fox book seven, just out complete with an excerpt of the next book, FOURTH DAY, and also a taster for PD Martin’s excellent HELL’S FURY.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Catching up

Zoë Sharp

I hope you’ll all forgive me this week if I do a little catching up with myself. It’s been a busy few months and I wanted to let you know that I haven’t been entirely idle during that time.

This year is passing so quickly, and the final month of the year is just about upon us. I’ve no idea what happened to most of it—it sped by in something of a blur.

Still, the latest in the Charlie Fox series—DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten—is out there in digital form, complete with a guest excerpt from the first in a new series by bestselling author Joel Goldman—STONE COLD. The US/Canadian edition of DIE EASY is due in January.

‘Sean didn’t remember finding out that I wasn’t to blame for ruining both our careers—that I’d nearly died for him. He certainly didn’t know that I’d killed for him.’

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 sure—no matter how overwhelming the odds stacked against her, Charlie Fox is never going to die easy …

I’ve also just put together the first three Charlie Fox crime thrillers into a special e-boxed set—A TRIPLE SHOT of Charlie Fox, so you get KILLER INSTINCT, RIOT ACT and HARD KNOCKS, complete with a bonus standalone short story, Last Right.

And, following on from that, I’ve put together the second three books—FIRST DROP, ROAD KILL and SECOND SHOT—into another e-boxed set called ANOTHER ROUND of Charlie Fox, which also comes with a bonus standalone short, Tell Me.

And, of course, both Last Right and Tell Me are now available as individual downloads, alongside another standalone short story, The Night Butterflies.

On top of that, I’ve reverted US rights to SECOND SHOT: Charlie Fox book six, and that’s now out with a guest excerpt from LOST RIVER by highly acclaimed British crime writer, Stephen Booth.

‘Take it from me, getting yourself shot hurts like hell.’

When the latest assignment of ex-Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, ends in a bloody shoot-out in a frozen New England forest she’s left fighting for her life, with her client dead.

Simone had just become a lottery millionairess but she never lived long enough to enjoy her new-found riches. Charlie was just supposed to be keeping Simone’s troublesome ex-boyfriend at bay and helping track down the father Simone had never really known. 

But Simone’s former SAS father has secrets in his past that are coming back and haunt him. Did Simone’s money tempt him into engineering her death? And what happens now to Simone’s baby daughter, Ella?

With Simone gone, Ella’s safety is Charlie’s main concern. She’s determined, despite her injuries, not to let anything happen to the child. Even if this time Charlie’s in no state to protect anyone―least of all herself.

Is that enough for now? Well … no, actually.

 I’m currently working on edits for a standalone crime thriller, THE BLOOD WHISPERER. No links up for that yet, but I can let you have a sneak peek at the cover and the jacket copy.

They took everything she had, but not everything she was …

Six years ago, London crime-scene investigator Kelly Jacks woke next to the butchered body of a man with the knife in her hands and no memory of what happened.

She trusted the evidence to prove her innocent.

It didn’t.

Now released after serving five years for involuntary manslaughter, Kelly must try to piece her life back together. Shunned by former colleagues and friends, the only work she can get is with the crime-scene cleaning firm run by her old mentor.

But old habits die hard.

Sent to eradicate all trace of the apparent suicide of Matthew Lytton’s wife at their country home, she draws unwelcome parallels with the past. The police are satisfied, but Kelly isn’t so sure. She wants to trust Matthew, but is he out to find the truth or to silence the one person who can expose a more deadly plan?

Kelly quickly finds herself plunged into the nightmare of being branded a killer once again. On the run from police, Russian thugs and local gangsters, she is fast running out of options.

But Kelly acquired a whole set of new survival skills on the inside. Now she must use everything she knows to evade capture and stay alive long enough to clear her name.

Right, I think that’s enough for now, so I’m going to shut up … in a moment.

Before I go, however, I’d just like to thank my wonderful webmaster for the total revamp of my site. If you haven’t had a look, I’d value your opinion. Just click on my name at the top of this blog.

Also, I need to give much kudos to my extremely talented cover designer, Jane Hudson at NuDesign, who’s come up with all these stunning new images.

My grateful thanks go to our Alexandra Sokoloff for her wonderful mention on her last blog. I’d already done my Next Big Thing blog, so here’s my take on it.

A big thank you to Cheryll Rawling for a wonderful interview on her excellent blog site, CrimeWarp.

Tomorrow is also my last day as Author of the Month on Thanks to Graham Smith for that one!

And don’t forget David Corbett’s upcoming writing courses—Character Spines & Story Lines at Book Passage this weekend, and his online course in January. It would, as they say, be a crime to miss them.

This week’s Word of the Week is gormless, a lovely word that has certain lights-on-nobody-at-home connotations. It actually comes from an old English dialect noun gaum meaning attention or understanding, and also a dolt, but can also function as a verb meaning to behave stupidly. The most common spelling in modern times is gormless. I love the idea that one can have gorm—it’s a bit like using ruth instead of always ruthless, or to be ept instead of always inept.


Slips of the Ear ― Homonyms, Oronyms, Homographs and Mondegreens

Zoë Sharp

I like unintentional humour, and a good deal of amusement can be had from slips of the ear ― words misheard, misinterpreted or simply misunderstood. I’d no idea, though, until I started looking into the subject, how many different words there were to describe this phenomenon, so I thought I’d share some trivia with you.

First up is a Homonym, which is when two or more words have the same sound or spelling, but differ in meaning, from the Greek ‘same name’.

A nice example comes from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND:

“Mine is a long and sad tale!” said the Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing.

“It is a long tail, certainly,”’ said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; “but why do you call it sad?”

Homonyms are closely related to Homographs and Homophones.

A Homograph is one word that is spelled exactly the same as another, but which not only has a different meaning, but often a different derivation as well. A Homograph can also be a Hetronym, from the Greek ‘other named’. A good example is the word ‘sewer’, meaning both a place for sewage, and someone who sews. The derivation of the former is from the Latin, meaning related to water, but the derivation of the latter is from the Sanskrit meaning thread or string.

Occasionally, Homographs are spelled identically, but pronounced differently according to the meaning, hence:

“When I tear my fingernail, I shed a tear.”

Whereas Homophones are two words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings. Such as:

“I shed a tear as I watched him climb onto the top tier of the podium.”

Although, come to think of it, both Homographs and Homophones could fall into the overall category of Homonyms.

Confused? Stick around.

Then we get to Oronyms, which is apparently a word invented by Gyles Brandreth, and quite frankly I wouldn’t put it past him. An Oronym is a sequence of words that sound the same as another, with endless comic possibilities. The brain hears speech not as individual words but as an overall flow which it has to try to interpret, and what with accents and mispronunciation and slang, it’s hardly surprising that occasionally we get it wrong.

“The stuffy nose can lead to problems.”

“The stuff he knows can lead to problems.”

Actually, by far the best example I can give of Oronyms at work is the Four Candles sketch by the Two Ronnies.

Many words are easily confused, and among the most common are:

Accept – to receive or take in

Except – other than

Lead – metal

Led – past tense of to lead someone or something in a given direction

Rein – means of controlling a horse

Reign – the rule of a monarch

Principal – the head of a school, person being protected by a bodyguard

Principle – a rule or guideline

Androgynous – having both male and female characteristics

Androgenous – having only male offspring

When it comes to song lyrics, the human ear has even more fun and misinterpreting words. The mishearing of words in a song is so common that American writer Sylvia Wright coined a term for it taken directly from her own experiences when as a child she misheard the words of the ballad ‘The Bonny Earl O’Moray’:

“Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’Moray

And Lady Mondegreen”

The last line should actually have been ‘And laid him on the green’ but for years Ms Wright believed that the unknown Lady Mondegreen had met a similar fate as the Earl O’Moray and came up with the name Mondegreen to describe it.

Since then, of course, the practice has been rife, with one of my favourites being the Kenny Rogers song, ‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille’. For years I heard this as:

“You picked a fine time to leave me, loose heel.

Four hundred children and a croc in the fields”

Instead of the far more mundane:

“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille

Four hungry children and a crop in the fields”

Personally, I think I prefer the first version.

The Jimi Hendrix song, ‘Purple Haze’ contains the line:

“Excuse me while I kiss the sky”

Which was so often misheard as:

“Excuse me while I kiss this guy”

that he actually sang the alternative version in concert.

I think my latest favourite has to be the modified lyrics to the new Bond theme, ‘Skyfall’. Instead of:

“Let the sky fall, when it crumbles

We will stand tall

And face it all together”

Let’s have a rousing chorus of:

“Make a trifle, make a crumble

Build my cake tall

And we’ll eat it all together”

All it needs is cake. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better? So, ‘Rati, what are you favourite examples of any of the above? Let’s hear ’em!

No Word of the Week this week. I think you’ve had quite enough.

Where are we going? – Q&A with Libby Fischer Hellmann

Zoë Sharp

I first met the talented Libby Fischer Hellmann at Sleuthfest in Florida ― my very first US mystery convention back in 2004. She made this Brit abroad feel very welcome, and we’ve remained friends ever since. An award-winning author, Libby has penned the Ellie Foreman and the Georgia Davis PI series mystery novels, as well as a number of highly acclaimed standalones. The latest of these is A BITTER VEIL, a gripping literary thriller set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution. Libby herself has been at the forefront of another revolution ― the brave new ebook world, and I was delighted to catch up with her and chat about what’s going on.

Zoë Sharp: Hi Libby. It was great to see you over in the UK earlier this summer at Bloody Scotland in Stirling, to have you to stay in the Lakes, and―just to top that off―to have you guesting here on Murderati. Welcome!

(pic l-r – ZS, Stephen Gallagher, Libby)

Libby Fischer Hellmann: My pleasure, Zoe… It was a wonderful trip. The only problem (as you know) is that I’ve been on a “lamb bender” for the past month or so. It was all those sheep in your neck of the woods. You cook a mean one, btw.

ZS: LOL. Perhaps we should point out that I did Libby a slow-cooked lamb dish (as detailed in THE KILLER COOKBOOK, as it happens). So, let’s get away from any sheep jokes that might have been on the horizon and get down to the nitty gritty. The publishing industry is in a state of flux at the moment and it would seem there’s never been a better ― or more scary ― time to be an author. What do you see as happening, and where do we go from here?

LFH: The problem with making any proclamations is that by the time I figure out what’s going on and am prepared to talk about it, the market shifts under our feet. I’d say there have been seismic changes every six months or so. The most recent, of course, is the fact that Amazon is (finally) limiting its support of free books. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slowly removed their free book program altogether, except for books that they “sanction”. And that, of course, will have serious repercussions for indie authors.

ZS: Do you foresee Amazon retaining the lion’s share of the ebook market, or are there any real contenders at the moment? What do the other formats need to do to keep up?

LFH: It’s always foolish to predict, but I think Amazon will retain its market share. It will be interesting to see what happens now that Kobo, and from what I hear, iBooks, will be more aggressive. Remember, though, that Amazon has perfected its ability to drill down on individual customers: what they’ve bought, what they like, and what they might be interested in (which, curiously, is not unlike the extraordinary ground game the Obama campaign was able to create with Democratic voters). This is something most retailers (and candidates) still don’t know how to do. For that reason, I don’t expect a major change in Amazon’s position. They’re smart, they’re nimble, and they know their customers better than any company, probably, in history. 

ZS: We talked a little about the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) by On Demand Books, which was a new one on me. What’s it all about?

LFH: I LOVE this idea and I hope it succeeds. As a reader, you would walk into any bookstore with one of these machines, request ANY book that’s been published, push a few buttons, and five minutes later walk out with a trade paperback version of that book. Who wouldn’t want the ease and convenience of that? I hope it’s going to be a major factor in the survival of independent bookstores. But, as you already suspect, it might not be limited to bookstores. Think grocery stores, department stores, drugstores, even Wal-mart. It will all depend on how much profit the store gets to keep.

ZS:  The advent of the indie-publishing scene has enabled authors to branch out, both from their existing series and genres. But is there increasing pressure for authors to up their volume levels, perhaps at the expense of quality?

LFH: Yup. I also think there’s a limit to how many books by one author can—or should—succeed. I remember when authors were first “encouraged” to write two books a year rather than one. I kept wondering why an author or publisher would want to water down the anticipation of readers – publishing one book a year, or even one book every two years, is almost an “event” – something readers look forward to and celebrate. Why clutter the market? The danger is that an author’s work will be treated as “product” rather than a damn good novel.

ZS: You’ve written two successful series ― one with amateur sleuth, video producer Ellie Foreman, and one with former-cop turned PI, Georgia Davis. How do you balance that with the standalones you’ve written recently?

LFH: It’s all about the challenge. I keep wanting to expand my horizons (literally as well as metaphorically, thus Iran and Cuba)… so I try to stretch by writing different types of stories. It’s also refreshing to go away from my characters, although when I come back, it takes a while to get back into their heads.

ZS: You’ve always been very active in social media, and you even have your own App! How much time do you devote to the marketing side of the writing business, and where do you see this going? Have we exhausted the possibilities of Facebook and Twitter?

LFH: I spend way too much time online. Especially since the kids are out of the house. It’s sad, really. That’s why I started the “Get A Life, Libby” project back in January (and came to visit you!!)—it was an effort to wean me from social media.  I wish I could say I’ve been cured, but unfortunately, here I am… again.

I do think Facebook has “matured” since its inception, and I’m not sanguine about its usefulness going forward, given that every company and corporation now has a FB page (and a social media manager.) The best news I’ve heard (and it’s only anecdotal so I don’t know if it’s true) is that businesses who have invested, particularly in Facebook, are not pleased with their progress/results. If that is true, maybe they will declutter FB, go away, and leave it to us “regular folk.”

Twitter always was more business-oriented, so I don’t see much change happening there. The unfortunate part of Twitter is that when there are critical events, like Sandy or the election, the stream of tweets is so fast there’s absolutely no way to keep up with it. But I do think it’s a cool way to touch base with like-minded people. 

ZS: I know you’ve just released one of your Georgia Davis novels in Spanish translation as INOCENCIA FÁCIL, which you organized yourself. How did this come about?

LFH: I had already had translations of five short stories into Italian done when I went to BEA last summer. There I met author Tina Folsom, who has managed translations of her romances into Spanish, French, and German. She basically led me by the hand, and I am thrilled with the results. But it’s not cheap. Nor for the faint-hearted. No matter how meticulously the final product is edited, someone somewhere will tell you the translation has errors.

ZS: And any predictions for the future of the publishing industry?

LFH: How much are you offering? 🙂

ZS: Damn, and here was I hoping to sneak that one past you ― should have known better. So, what’s next for you?

LFH:  I’ve finished what my publisher calls the third in my “Revolution Trilogy”: a story about Cuba and the rise of a female Mafia head. It starts during the Cuban revolution, jumps to Cuba’s Special Period in the ‘90s, and then to the present in Chicago. It should be out sometime next year. The working title is GOODBYE, CHE.

Now, I’m back to a new Georgia Davis PI novel.

I’m also part of a group of 12 authors ― we call ourselves the Top Suspense Group — and our members include Lee Goldberg, Max Allan Collins, Dave Zeltserman, Joel Goldman, Ed Gorman, Bill Crider, Vicki Hendricks, Harry Shannon, Naomi Hirahara, Paul Levine, and Stephen Gallagher. We’ve banded together to promote our individual ebooks as well as several anthologies we’ve released as a group. Our latest is WRITING CRIME FICTION, which includes essays by each of us on a separate aspect of writing. We’re pretty pumped about it.

ZS: Thanks for joining us on Murderati, Libby. Looks like you have some exciting projects in the pipeline. And the new book sounds fascinating. I love the idea of a trilogy of standalones linked by a theme like revolutions. Hope it does great things for you!

And congratulations on A BITTER VEIL being nominated for Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers’ Association. The winner will be announced on December 1st. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

So, ‘Rati, what questions do you have for Libby? It’s a great opportunity to interact with an author who’s embraced the new technology side of storytelling and is always at its leading edge.

Eating the elephant

Zoë Sharp

Ever get the feeling that a job always expands to fill the time available for the task? In fact, in most cases it expands to overflow the time available, and ends with some desperate floundering to make up for lost time, or giving up because the whole task seems simply too large to tackle.

Sometimes you have to accept that eating the elephant has to be done one bite at a time.

The subject of goals—setting them and achieving them—is very much on my mind today. For one thing, this month is NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. For those of you unaware of this program, it promotes the writing of a 50,000-word novel (or a 50k part of a novel) during November. And it certainly works, with millions of collective words written by the participants every year.

But why does it work?

  1. Safety in numbers. Knowing that there are others facing the same challenge acts to spur you on both to compete and to complete your work. The herd instinct, where being left behind means being picked off by the predators, and also the companionship of knowing that you may have chosen to travel a difficult road, but at least you are not alone on your journey. Some people can really benefit from that online community of support and encouragement, like joining an exercise class as opposed to working out at home.
  2. Making it real. As soon as you write down a dream, it becomes more solid and more of a reality. Successful people tend to write down their aim and then plan ways to achieve it. Without that planning, it may remain an unfulfilled dream forever. The hazy dream of one day “writing a novel” suddenly starts to take shape.
  3. Timing. At first glance, the prospect of writing 50,000 words in a month may seem very daunting, and it IS a big commitment in time and effort. But being held in early winter, with the days still shortening on their way down towards the winter solstice, makes the prospect of sitting inside in the warm creating stories seem all the more attractive. Not too close to Christmas, but not pushed into the New Year either, when other resolutions may get in the way.
  4. Bite-size chunks. Perhaps there’s a reason why NaNo takes place in a 30-day month like November instead of February. Those two extra days (and I’m not counting leap years) make a huge difference to the task at hand. If you break down those 50k words into a daily target, it’s the difference between facing a little over 1650 words a day, or nearly 1800. Even if you have a full-time job, breaking that target down further into, say 500 words first thing in the morning, another 400 in the lunch hour, then 750 in the evening, is not out of reach. You just have to want it enough.
  5. Finite time scale. Yes, this might involve getting up an hour earlier, and maybe staying up that little bit later. It may involve giving up your lunch break from a relaxing hour with friends to a snatched sandwich with your eyes glued to the page or screen, but it’s not forever. It’s one month out of twelve to achieve something you may have wanted to do for years.

In case you were wondering, no, I won’t be taking part in NaNo this year, although I think it’s a great idea. That’s not a cop-out, I promise. As I go into November, I have my own elephant to eat, although I may well have my own NoWriMo (note the lack of ‘National’). Instead of being able to work on my new project, I’m working on edits and re-writes, which is not so much about getting words on the page as swapping the existing words for the RIGHT words. And that is a slower process altogether.

But I still need to set out my goals between now and the end of the year, with realistic deadlines attached to each stage. Writing them down in order of priority helps me organise what I should be working on first. Urgent jobs tend not to be the most important, and important jobs are often not the most urgent—until the deadline looms, that is.

I need to work out WHY do I want to achieve these goals? Keeping in mind the benefits and advantages will act as a motivational factor. I work much better for the carrot rather than the stick, so looking at the plus-side of getting it done is far less de-motivating than worrying about the consequences of NOT getting it done.

What are the actual steps I need to take to achieve my goal? In particular, what’s the first step? Do I need to make changes to my lifestyle in order to achieve them? At the moment I’m doing edits, so I’ve gone through my editor’s notes and listed the main problem areas, then printed out my summary of the book to see where I can make the necessary changes. Facing the whole book as a lump seemed like an overwhelming task. Breaking it down into containable steps makes it far easier.

Setting intermediate deadlines is my next step. OK, I have a chunk of stuff that needs to be done before the end of the year, but getting the edits on the first book out of the way this month is not unrealistic. (I hope.) That’s my contingency deadline. If I can get it done inside three weeks, so much the better, because that gives me extra time to work on the next set of edits. But already I’m trying to squeeze myself into a more pressurised situation. I have no idea why I do that, when I know it may lead to disappointment.

The final thing will be to look back honestly at how it’s gone. If I achieved all I set out to do, great. Rinse and repeat. But if I didn’t get it done, why not? Unexpected interference? Well, life is full of unexpected problems and surprises. I should be used to that by now and allow for it when I’m setting my original deadline for the job.

Meanwhile, just to prove that I do occasionally get things done, I’m very pleased to announce that the latest series novel, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, is now out for Kindle everywhere except the US and Canada, with a print edition coming soon. Included is a bonus excerpt from Joel Goldman’s new thriller series, STONE COLD.

DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten

‘Sean didn’t remember finding out that I wasn’t to blame for ruining both our careers – that I’d nearly died for him. He certainly didn’t know that I’d killed for him.’

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 sure—no matter how overwhelming the odds stacked against her, Charlie Fox is never going to die easy …

‘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 bestselling author, Harlan Coben

‘To sum up DIE EASY, I would have to say that I have waited a year for a great book, only for a brilliant one to be delivered with all the style and panache you would expect from Sharp and Fox. An exceptional novel.’ Graham Smith, five-star review

You can read the opening chapter here.

And also, I’ve brought out as an individual standalone short story The Night Butterflies, which first appeared in ACTION: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol1. This is the story of a retired ‘insurance’ man, Tommy Renshaw who is enjoying his dream retirement on the north side of Bali, until a figure from his past arrives to remind him you can never outrun the past. You can only hope to outlive it.

This week’s Word of the Week is hamartia, meaning the flaw or defect in the character of the hero which leads to his downfall, originally (and especially) in Greek tragedy, from the Greek hamartia, failure, error of judgement, sin, and also hamartiology, the section of theology dealing with sin.

Escaping to another place

Zoë Sharp

Most of us read to be transported to another place. As a child it was a place of excitement and welcome. I think most children go through a phase of feeling that we don’t quite fit in with our families, and that we might even be some kind of cuckoo, deposited in another nest to be raised, and that sooner or later our ‘real’ family will arrive to claim us.

No? Ah, just me then …

In times of stress or unhappiness, the world presented by a good book can be a place to step into, to be enveloped and even comforted. It offers some kind of order out of chaos. You open a crime thriller in particular knowing there will be satisfying resolution. That the murder will be solved, the mystery unravelled, the disaster averted, and the bad guys will get their just desserts. However horrific the crime, the hero will prevail and there will be justice done.

It’s hardly surprising then, that crime thrillers are popular reading among people faced with senseless violence on a daily basis. It is their safe haven and their escape.

This is why I am devoting today’s blog to an appeal for books for our service men and women in the front line. Last Christmas, the Historical Writers’ Association launched their Books For Heroes appeal in the UK, but there’s a similar one going in the States.

Last year’s donations when down extremely well, although apparently the helicopter making the delivery to service personnel in Afghanistan came under fire and had to jettison boxes to make an emergency exit, then go back for them later with mine sweepers.

And you thought you were a serious book lover …

I know it seems very early to be talking about Christmas, but don’t forget that we’re not talking about getting them to people in the least hospitable places where even UPS won’t deliver. And they need to be as-new books. The kind of thing you wouldn’t mind giving or receiving as a Christmas present rather than something that’s about to be donated to the nearest charity store.

Paperbacks only are appreciated, rather than hardcovers, because when you’re airlifting cargo, weight is a serious consideration. I hope you’ll seek out the appeal in your area, or your country, and make the time to donate a book or two. Those that don’t go overseas to service personnel on the front line are likely to end up in the hospitals or rehab centres for the returning injured.

Whether you agree with the war or not, the people who are out there serving their country and the rest of us deserve some small sign of our appreciation and consideration, especially as Christmas approaches. What better way than to give them the freedom of a book?

So, fellow ‘Rati, do you have a favourite book that’s seen you through a difficult time? Care to share?

This week’s Word of the Week is monger, usually used in combination with another word, meaning a dealer and—except in a few instances, such as ironmonger— a person who trafficks in a petty or discreditable way, or in unpleasant subjects, such as warmonger, or gossipmonger. From the Latin mango -onis, a furbisher or slave-dealer, from the Greek manganeuein, to use trickery.

PS More news on the new Charlie Fox book very soon, I promise!

Never leave home without …

Zoë Sharp

Travelling these days is not a simple business. Airline regulations and heightened security have made sure of that. Ever-restricted luggage allowances have compounded things. Gone are the days when I could travel with my Swiss Army knife and a full bottle of water. But there are still things—beyond the obvious like passport and credit cards—I never leave home without.

The first of these is eyedrops. Something about air conditioning on planes and in hotels makes my eyes resemble a pair of fried tomatoes. As a teetotaller, looking like I’ve had a very heavy night on the beer is not the best thing for me, so I always travel with a (tiny, of course) bottle of Visine.

A square scarf. Not what you might immediately think of, but it has so many uses. Not only does it keep my neck warm when the plane ventilation system seems uncannily accurate at squirting icy air down the back of it, but it’s also useful for keeping the sun off slightly scorched shoulders, and would even double as a sling. Should that occasion ever arise, I realise things will have already gone Horribly Wrong. But you have to bear it in mind.

A rubber doorstop. I know, you were expecting me to say lip gloss and moisturiser, but you should know me better by now. Some hotels have locks on the doors that are disengaged by a housekeeping master key, without an independent bolt arrangement as well. Not that I’m casting aspersions on any housekeeping personnel, of course, but on anyone with nefarious intent who happens to get their sticky mitts on that master key. A doorstop, kicked firmly under your side of the door will keep just about anyone out unless they’re prepared to make a hell of a lot of noise in the process.

A flashlight. I used to carry one of those little Maglites, but since I swapped to a new smartphone, one of the features is a three-brightness flashlight app. I’ve been in hotels where the power’s gone out, and also in a ladies’ restroom when some joker thought it would be fun to turn off the lights on the way out, despite knowing there was somebody else inside. I stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of Tokyo where there was a flashlight clipped to the wall in case of earthquake.

An empty metal water bottle. Again, this sounds like a weird one, but since they stopped you being able to carry a bottle of water through airport security—and also since people keep telling me that plastic water bottles are really not good for you—I’ve carried an empty container when I travel. Get through security and fill it from a water fountain and you’re done. It also clips to a belt or slides into a bag and I know it’s not going to leak.

Breath mints. Travelling seems to do something to your mouth, and talking a lot does a whole lot more. As conventions are all about travelling and talking while standing close to people, I usually take a pack of Extra Strong mints with me. Just sayin’…

And the final item—the key on the chain? Well I’m not going to tell you what that’s for, on the grounds that I may incriminate myself!

So, ‘Rati, what do you never leave home without?

As I write this I’m in Cleveland Ohio for the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, and I have all of these items with me, as you can see. The only one not pictured is the flashlight app, because that smartphone also means I don’t need to carry a pocket camera. (Don’t you just love technology?) If you’re attending Bouchercon, please come and say “Hi!”

This week’s Word of the Week is a total blank, so help me out here, would you? What’s your favourite word of the moment?


The consequences of violence

Zoë Sharp

The violent events of this week in Manchester, which led to the deaths of two female police officers, have once again raised the debate in the UK about the routine arming of the British police.

At the moment, most branches of the police in the UK do not carry firearms and most, it would seem, prefer it that way. The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has issued a statement saying he’s not in favour, that it distances the police from the community, and that officers lost to firearms incidents in other countries often do not get a chance to draw their weapons in any case.

In other words, if criminals know the police are armed, they tend to shoot first and ask questions later.

If you look at the figures provided by the National Police Memorial Day organisation (NPMD this year is September 30th), since 1945 a total of 256 police officers have been shot and killed in the UK and 21 have been stabbed to death. None of these deaths happened in Wales; four were shot and two stabbed in Scotland; 51 shot and 19 stabbed in England. But in Northern Ireland, where the police service IS routinely armed, 201 officers were shot dead.

In real life, I can see the advantages of allowing officers better means to protect themselves and the public, and equally I can see that arming the UK police as a matter of course is probably not the answer.

In fiction, though, it’s another matter.

One of the reasons I took Charlie Fox to work as a bodyguard in the States is that she is able to carry—and use—a gun, but I did not do this lightly. Yes, she has been forced to use a firearm in anger on numerous occasions. That ability to act with extreme violence when the need arises—both armed and unarmed—is part of the fabric of the character. She comes from a military background rather than from the police, and she’s working in an atmosphere where her opponents are likely both to be carrying and to be prepared to use all kinds of available weaponry against her.

More than that, she knows that when someone prepares to attack a target who has close-protection personnel the first rule is to take out the bodyguard. Her fast reactions, and her willingness to use whatever means necessary to defend her principal, is at the heart of her job. In FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine, I even have her throwing a horse at somebody. She is nothing if not inventive …

But although I was once accused of having a somewhat casual attitude to violence in my books, I feel I don’t treat the subject in a cavalier fashion. Violence has consequences, and that’s the way it should be. When Charlie gets injured, it damn well hurts. And it continues to hurt long after the event.

A broken sternum in one book still troubles her in the next. And when she is shot twice halfway through SECOND SHOT: Charlie Fox book six (and I’m not giving away too much there—the clue is kinda in the title) not only does she spend the rest of that book severely handicapped by her injuries, they have serious repercussions into the story that follows. I did not want her to take a round in the shoulder and leap up crying, “It’s just a flesh wound!” before beating the bad guys into the floor.

But at the same time I was aware that she was becoming reliant on having a gun to hand. So for the latest instalment, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book seven, she wasn’t going to have that luxury. This is my tribute to the Bruce Willis movie, Die Hard, which is one of my all-time favourites—mainly because of Alan Rickman’s inspired performance as the bad guy. So, I put Charlie into a situation where she is unarmed, cut off from support, and trying to make life hard for the bad guys while working out a way to rescue the hostages.

Although I had a ball writing it, all the time I was trying to keep the reader aware that violence has consequences. Not everybody will survive. Those that do will carry the reminders for a long time afterwards. This is not quite real life, but it’s not a cartoon either.

I know there’s been a trend in recent years for ultra-violent crime fiction—stuff that’s almost gore-porn. I want to make you feel it, but not to the point where you squirm. For me this is escapist entertainment, maybe with just a little hint of an underlying message.

So, where do you stand on violence in fiction, fellow ‘Rati? Should it be toned down, ramped up, or don’t you care if it fits with the story?

This week’s Word of the Week is verbivore, meaning someone who has an enjoyment of words and wordplay. From the Latin verbum meaning word, and vorax from voro meaning devour. It was coined in the 1980s by Richard Lederer, following along the same lines as carnivore and herbivore.

By the time my next ‘Rati blog comes around I shall be at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Cleveland Ohio. I hope to see many of you there. If you spot me before I spot you, please come and say “Hi!”. I’m on a panel at 11:30am on Friday morning—‘I Am Woman Hear Me Roar’ on protagonists that are kicking butt and taking names—moderated by Nora McFarland, with Sara J Henry, Jennifer McAndrews, Meg Gardiner and Taylor Stevens. Should be fun!

And finally, a little gentle BSP, if I may be so bold. I was honoured to be asked to contribute to the excellent MAKING STORY: Twenty-one Writers on How They Plot, available on both Amazon UK and Editor Timothy Hallinan has done a wonderful job of pulling all this disparate information together, and it should prove an invaluable resource.

More bang for your buck

Zoë Sharp

September marks the end of the first year of my Great e-Book Experiment. I can hardly believe that only twelve months ago I had none of the backlist Charlie Fox books out there in digital format. Now I have five of the books and a short story e-thology out on Kindle, and am just about to launch into all the other e-pub formats, plus my first foray into printed editions.

It’s been a hell of a year.

For me as a writer, the real joy has been to see Charlie’s story available again right from the beginning. So many readers wanted to start at book one, and I could see their enthusiasm waning when they discovered that only collector’s first editions were available, often at mind-boggling prices.

The first e-book I put together was FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection. It was a huge, huge learning curve, during which I have many people to thank for putting up with my innumerable stupid questions. In many ways, it still IS a steep learning curve, but more on that later.

A short story anthology — which in e-book form I refer to as an e-thology in an attempt to bring the word into common usage! — was very different proposition from the first of the books themselves, however.

One of the things that immediately struck me was the layout. A traditional book often has a pre-title page (with just the book’s title on it), then the title page itself, copyright page, list of the author’s previous publications, a dedication, acknowledgements, maybe even the author biog. Only THEN do you reach the story itself.

With an e-book, where a prospective reader might well download a sample first before deciding to buy, those intro pages all eat into the sample. So I put the dedication on the title page, shifted the copyright, acknowledgements, and an extended author biog to the back of the book, but instead added a short synopsis — what would be the jacket copy on a printed book — so the reader is reminded of the story as soon as they open the file.

In addition, some brilliant writers were generous enough to do swap excerpts with me — Brett Battles, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Timothy Hallinan, and Libby Fischer Hellmann. I put a taster of one of their books in the back of one of mine, and they did the same for me. Plus, of course, an excerpt from the next book in the Charlie Fox series, just to whet your appetite for more.

And in KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, I was also able to include the amazing Foreword by Lee Child, and my own Afterword, as well as two previously deleted scenes that I felt helped to fill out Charlie’s back story for what was to come. There’s also a short biog of the character, and the jacket copy for the other books in the series with suitable links.

In October, the next book in the series will be ready to go. Called DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, it sees Charlie facing her toughest challenge.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, a celebrity fundraising event should have been the ideal opportunity for Charlie to piece together her working relationship with Sean, who has woken from his gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. But the simple security job turns into a nightmare when an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation. Charlie is forced to improvise as never before, and this time she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back.

I’m already putting together the extras for the e-book version. And my question is, what else would you like to see in an e-book that there isn’t the space or opportunity to include in a printed book?

I’ve always loved the extras available on a DVD, and an e-book is now the literary equivalent. So, would you like insights from the author about the writing process, or asides about continuing characters giving you a little of their back story, or research notes that didn’t make the final cut? In DIE EASY, for example, I did an enormous amount of research about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, but only a fraction of that made it into — or was relevant to — the actual story. Would you like a bonus article on that?

I’m open to suggestions and fascinated to know what you all think! And I hope you’ll forgive for continuing to ask stupid questions — it’s how we learn 🙂

This week’s Word of the Week is epeolatry, meaning the worship of words. It comes from the Greek epos meaning word, and –latry meaning to worship.

I’m away this week, doing some very serious and labour-intensive research on a boat in the Mediterranean, but I’ll try to get to comments as soon as I can!