The Occult & Popular Social Movements

Today I’ll be in Glasgow to attend a day-long workshop on a topic of interest for several things I’m working on at present including the serial. You can see the full program here. It’s been coordinated by Popular Occulture in Britain, 1875-1947. I expect I will write about it afterward, as usual.

If you need entertainment in the mean time, check out my latest History Witch column.

Bouchercon: Rally in Raleigh

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My amended badge

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My roomie — I’d never meet anyone if it weren’t for Debi meeting everyone!

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Oh, and Absolutely Kate, too — ask her about her Lawrence Block story at your peril…

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After considerable postal delays, my beautiful pledge pins arrived by FedEx (thanks again, Lys Guillorn for making them!)

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They knew the kind of glasses to serve drinks in.

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I love all the oak designs in Raleigh.

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Les Edgerton, decorated with a lipstick heart that melted in the Noir at the Bar heat.

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A long shot of the oak street light.

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Animated conversations everywhere: when the bar got too crowded we moved out into the lobby.

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The fabulous Mollie Cox Bryan was my other roomie. Not near enough time to chat even with my roommates! That’s Bouchercon.

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The big event! Fun reading as we each had just a bit of time.

I have never signed so many books! Whoohoo!

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We teased Rick Ollerman of Stark House endlessly about looking at kitten pictures. He may not have actually been looking at kitten pictures.

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It’s hard to top Les’ stories but Debi rises to the challenge.

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Kate’s still marveling at Rick’s kitten obsession.

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Or maybe at Debi getting him to unbutton an extra button or two. But she couldn’t get him to dance on the table. This time…

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The bar got in on the crime theme.

Shenanigans at the Twisted Mango

Satan's Sorority Promo Next up: after the con, the kitties…

Writing to Music (SinC Blog Hop)

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Music is my drug, my balm, my mood enhancer: assuaging a bad mood (though sometimes wallowing in it for a while) or extending a good one usually to the point of dancing and singing.

Music is my haka. If you’ve ever experienced New Zealand’s All Blacks perform theirs as a pre-game ritual, you know the power of it. They chant, grunt, and move as one in aggressive postures, slapping their chests and thighs while contorting their faces into grimaces pulled to intimidate their opponents.

It often works.

The right music does the same thing for me. It calls forth my warrior: who are my opponents? The blank page, my lizard brain, the weight of apathy every creator faces. And on my team? The muses, my ambition, the sheer joy of creation.

‘Listening to music while writing’ needn’t always be that. I just need it to get me to that sweet spot, what Poppy Brite calls, ‘falling through the hole in the page” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies as “flow”. We all know the state: it’s the drug whose lure keeps us writing in the face of failure, rejection or the worst of them all, the blank wall of indifference. It’s the Wonderland that catches us as we fall—timeless, boundless, rich with possibility. The mundane world falls away and your only concern is the struggle to type or scribble fast enough to capture the wonders unspooling before you.

You are immersed, excited, alive in a way this vegetable world cannot match. You realise genius is not a quality, but an activity, one you have to work to earn. Music helps you get there because it bypasses the lizard, the logic and the doubt. Just dance: the trance, the movement, the beat—they all conspire to lift. Try to imagine any celebration without music. Like drinking or other mind-altering chemicals, it suppresses the inhibitions and allows us to play, but it leaves us coherent enough to remember it all. It’s joy in motion.

Trust no one who refuses to dance.

For a long-term project, music can provide the path back to the same muses who got you started. Instead of a jumble of disconnected parts, you can have a cohesive whole. The monkey mind, who leaps eagerly for the next shiny thing, can be wooed back to the path you’ve selected with the right kind of music.

We can lure the needed muse with the proper music, like a mouse to cheese. I have a double CD set of German techno music that I never listen to (or even dance to) but play whenever I have a loathsome project (which may well have begun life as a delightful assignment that has since become burdensome because of deadlines or an evaporation of inspiration or the lure of other projects). The physical effects are immediate: an increased heart rate, alertness, adrenaline. Combined with pomodoros it’s an unbeatable technique for that last sprint to the finish line.

Since turning to crime I have found that the muse muttering in my ear is usually The Fall. I don’t know why, but the lyrics of Mark E. Smith coupled with the hypnotic music has fueled so much of my writing in that genre that I have begun to suspect that I am possessed. The bard of Salford may have captured me to use as a mystical conduit for his writing ambitions. I hear a song and I know a story; I see a line of lyric and the world unfolds before me. I manufactured a drug—mandrake anthrax—but Smith had already created it, so I can take no credit except in the theft. The music provides a deep well I drink from regularly. I feel a tug of superstitious fear even writing of this—muses are notoriously shy and inclined to disappear when too much light catches their shadows—but then I have blathered on at length via social media about my obsession, so it ought not matter that much to name it now.

I will make burnt offerings just in case.

Then again, I am also promiscuous as all artists must be with their muses. I have crime stories that sprang from other bands: most recently White Rabbit but also “Losing My Religion” and “Kiss Like a Fist” (which is wrong anyway, it’s “with” but that’s not how it came out of my head as opposed to Florence’s). It’s a wide tradition. There are countless books titled from songs (Norwegian Wood, Exit Music, You Must Remember This, Crazy for You) and the favour has been returned with bands taking their names from books (The Doors, Steely Dan, The Velvet Underground, Veruca Salt, and of course, The Fall). All arts intertwine at some point.

Music: a drug, a lifeline, a cheering section, a haka. Freud hated music, but Nietzsche wrote that, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I know without music I would still be staring at the blank page, despairing and lost. The beat goes on.

Follow along with the Sisters in Crime September Blog Hop and meet new authors.

I tag my Mavens of Mayhem colleague, Frankie Y. Bailey, who shares my love of Alice in Wonderland-themed crime: check out her novel The Red Queen Dies.

My Inspirations playlist: Songs that Spawned Stories.

[An early version of this originally appeared thanks to Frank Duffy’s invitation at the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, May 2013. A longer version exists at Medium.]

A Winner and Other News

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Dundee Sprite

There were too many good (and bad!) jokes to choose from so I used the random number generator to choose the winner of the White Rabbit joke contest. The winner is:

Tess Makovesky

Hope you enjoy: I’ll send you an email to get your details. I hope folks will consider picking up the book if they didn’t win it. The Kindle version has gone live now, too.


NEWS — AKA Things I may have neglected to mention:

  • A new episode in the serial, Airships & Alchemy, Spill the Wine — we’re getting closer to the big race.
  • A new section of Hávamál up at Witches & Pagans. Get your viking wisdom!
  • Wednesday is Walpurgisnacht, the night of bonfires when witches fly to the mountains for their celebrations. I have a story set on that night which you can read for free.
  • I am off to Switzerland on Walpurgisnacht (draw your own conclusions on the timing). I will meet up with the Rev and her husband and Miss Maudie. It’s research you know, as Chastity Flame spent her formative childhood years there. I’m sure there will be tales to tell.
  • It looks like I will be attending the Leicester Comicon in June. I’ll have to see if I can knock together something Jane Quiet-related just for that, though I’m currently busy as a one-armed paper-hanger and ignoring my to-do list’s primary edict, ‘NO NEW PROJECTS!’ >_<
  • Which reminds me: did I mention my proposal for The Fall’s EXTRICATE making the first cut over at 33-1/3? Not sure how much of a chance it has for the final cut, but hey —
  • Meanwhile, I’m trying to finish going through the galleys for Extricate/Throw the Bones by Graham Wynd, which is always a challenge. I’m the worst at copyediting, so I’m glad we have such a fab team at Fox Spirit. They make me look good!
  • Speaking of the skulk, I’ve just about got the Drag Noir table of contents set. I had no idea what I would get, and it was hard to choose, but I am very happy with the results.

Bouncing Back from Bouchercon

Yes, it always takes a while to recover from a conference: luckily I had a visit to Brigadoon to ease me into it. The net effect of a big conference like Bouchercon is to remind me that I am a very tiny minnow swimming in an enormous ocean. On the bad days, that’s discouraging. On the good days, it brings out my competitiveness. So it goes. I got to meet a lot of folks I’ve known online forever and hang with some folks I don’t see much.

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Absolutely*Kate shows her amazement that we had to wait over an hour to get our drinks at City Beer Hall.

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The passing of the seal of office: awww! Outgoing SinC pres Hank Phillippi Ryan gives the seal to Laura DiSilverio.

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At last we meet! The fabulous Mollie Cox Bryan looking great.

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The Empire Plaza was a strange place to hold the con: the lack of a bar at a writers convention meant people didn’t hang around.

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There’s a wind tunnel under the edge of the Egg when it’s blowing. Small children were carried off by it.

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Luring people into the Weird Noir Carnival: we gave away copies of the book and the official Noir Carnival three card monty-ready deck.

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Jan Kozlowski reads from “Corkscrewed” in WEIRD NOIR

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Chris Irvin reads from “The Things We Leave Behind” in NOIR CARNIVAL

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Heather Graham wrangled a bunch of would-be rock star writers together for a big party at Red Square. A fun night out!

There’s more — once I can clear out the Dropbox enough to get the rest of the photos downloaded, like the Noir at the Bar reading. I was really glad to meet up with folks like Les Edgerton, Thomas Pluck, Vince Zandri, Helen Smith, Terrence McCauley and Rita, to see the mighty Joe Lansdale — and of course Debi and Jan were great to hang out with, especially in the quieter moments. Best panel, hands down — bad girls (of course). Ooh, and there should be a group photo of the Mavens of Mayhem dressed in the QoE‘s logo.

Perhaps someone took pictures of my panel…oh, wait. There is this one just after, but it’s missing Les.


Bouchercon Begins


Programming Schedule/Authors Choice Schedule

Close to the Borderline: Pulp fiction, baby!

Les Edgerton, Frank DeBlase, Jack Getze, K. A. Laity, Howard Owen, Josh Stallings
Thu 1:20-2:15 – Room 3

Sisters in Crime Breakfast
Fri 7:30 AM – 74 State

Weird Noir Carnival: Fox Spirit Books
K. A. Laity, Jan Kozlowski & Chris L. Irvin
Fri 1:30-2:00 – Room 5

Remember: This is just the *I have to be there* events. I haven’t looked through the schedule and I know a lot of pals are on panels, so I will sort that. In general I’ll probably be found at most panels labeled “noir” or ones featuring my fave writers. Please let me know where you’ll be or if you see something I won’t want to miss, point it out to me! There’s so much going on. When in doubt, look for Chastity Flame!

Chas 3 X 3 PC web

Bloody Scotland: Bloody Good

I was glad to have the chance to go to Bloody Scotland‘s second iteration, if only for a day, even though that included the dread “rail replacement service” (oh noes!). Fortunately it was a fairly painless process and I met another woman who had been to the conference last year, so we chatted and had a coffee when we got to Stirling while we waited for her friend to arrive and then all walked over to the first venue.

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Denise Mina and Louise Welsh started things off on a high note; two fascinating writers who happen to be friends – very different in their styles and working methods, but both agreeing that crime novels are very political, whether their authors intend it or not.

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Here’s Agnieszka getting her book signed by Mina; I had a chance to tell Mina how much I’d loved her run on HELLBLAZER, too. She’s just a terrific writer and absolutely forthright in her opinions, which is wonderful.

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Rob Roy brandishes his sword to keep the rabble at bay.

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Chalk outlines helped mark the way between the venues; this one was in front of the library which was a simply gorgeous building.

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The Stirling Highland Hotel hosted many events. We lunched just down the hill from it.

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The historic Old Town Coffee House has an illustrious history — and delicious omlettes!

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It was such a delight meeting Agnieszka after knowing her online for so long. We had a chance to chat about all kinds of things including the conference in Gdansk next year (more news on that when it’s firmed up).

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The distinctive poster could be found all around the festival area.

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The spies and espionage panel with Charles Cumming and Chris Morgan Jones was interesting, but I have to admit it made me feel like I went to the wrong sort of schools for the genre…

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The view from the Highland Hotel — they have their own Whisky Shop, too, but I didn’t have time to go browsing. Pity: they have free tastings!

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Some gorgeous buildings in the old town, the Old Jail and the Church of the Holy Rude waylay you on the road to the castle.

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Of course I was drawn to the old cemetery.

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There’s even a pyramid.

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Virgin martyrs under glass.

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And just across the way, the castle — alas, this is as close as I got to it. Will have to go back.

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I think this could be the cover for my next gothic novel.

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The view off into the hills was superb.

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I like the clash of old and new.

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The tangibility of heartache.

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Back when advertising was a little more subtle.

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I dawdled so long in the cemetery that I had to sit waaaaay in the back of the auditorium for Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride. Didn’t matter: they were hilarious of course.

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The big draw of the day had to be Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, though all the Scandinavians were riding a huge wave of reader excitement.

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The last panel I caught was with the lovely Zoë Sharp and Julia Crouch, each of whom were prompted to read a short passage from their latest pulse-pounding tales by criminologist panel chair, David Wilson. He really tried to probe into the psychology of the works — and the audience. Some of the people put on the spot seemed more than a tad uncomfortable, but the two writers showed great aplomb.

I came away with new ideas, more to read and some lovely photos. If you enjoy crime writing, you’ll definitely want to add it to your to do list. The location alone should be enough to tempt you; the fine slate of writers they gathered is quite amazing.

Bons mots:

  • Denise Mina talking about the toll writing takes physically, imagining her hands were going to look like Keith Richards’ one day.
  • Louise Welsh describing the power of storytelling via her Welsh grandmother, who stopped by a friend as they went about town, told their day in such a way that she hadn’t realised just how exciting it had been.
  • Mina reiterating, “Never feel guilty about reading. If you’re not enjoying it, stop.” She called crime a “low art” which allowed you to sneak in all kinds of things, but admitted that more people were eschewing the distinctions of high and low, all the better.
  • Julia Crouch talking about writers being “magpies” putting things into our “novel nests” (love that of course).
  • Stuart MacBride suggesting Aberdeen’s motto could be “At least we’re not Dundee” and Val McDermid saying “And you wonder why they won’t give you an honorary degree” (she has one).
  • The milk story o_o

If all has gone according to plan, I am on my way to NY and Bouchercon. Wish me well! I’ll doubtless check in where I can along the journey.