Report From the Writing Trenches, August 2017

I’m really back! Not that last week wasn’t a real post, but now I’m really and truly back into blogging. And since it’s been a while since a real update, I’d like to catch everyone up. So what’s been going on with me in the last two and a half months and what’s coming up?

FBI K-9s #3—This has been 95% of my summer so far. I’d gotten the writing started in May, but my mother had a bad accident and the month of May involved a lot of time at the hospital. Once she was out at the end of May, that was my chance to really dive into this latest novel. As usual, I set personal daily/weekly word counts and tried really hard to stick to it. The original goal was to do 9,000 words per week (1,000 for each work day, 2,000 for each weekend day plus past chapter editing) and to have it all done by the end of July in about 9 weeks. I came super close, only missing that goal by a week. Though, to be fair, the first draft ended up being longer than I’d set as the goal, so maybe it all comes out in the wash after all. I’m happy to announce that I completed the first draft last Monday. Ann had a crazy 3 or 4 weeks, trying to stay up to date with my writing all while packing her house and moving her 5 dogs and herself from Texas to North Carolina, but once she arrived, she jumped right back into the 8 or so chapters she was behind. By the time I’d finished the last 3 chapters, she was back in time with me. Now we’re doing side-by-side first round edits. This round is the most important because this pass is about story and both of us tackling it separately is crucial. This way we can independently look at the story we outlined together and see if something isn’t working, and, if so, come up with suggested ways to tackle it. After that, I estimate 2 more rounds for writing/language/word choice and then for cleanup. Our critique team is expecting the manuscript in early September and then they’ll have their chance to tear it apart. This is the 8th book with us for most of them, so they are good at this, let me assure you. They pull no punches and that’s exactly what we and the book need.

LONE WOLF in mass market format—LONE WOLF, book #1 in the FBI K-9s, is coming out in mass market paperback format on August 29th, so we’re back into new marketing of that book with Kensington, who, as usual, is doing a great job! This copy of the book will also include a sneak peak at #2 in the series, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE in hardcover format—The second book in the FBI K-9s series will launch on September 26th. I’m really looking forward to this one as this book is a particular favourite of mine. More mystery than LONE WOLF, this story continues to examine the bond between Meg and her black Lab Hawk, as well as exploring her relationships with her sister Cara, Washington Post reporter Clay McCord, and DCFEM firefighter/paramedic Lt. Todd Webb, all against a backdrop of a serial killer who is kidnapping and killing women to get Meg’s attention in a sick game.

To remind you of where we are in the series at this point, this is the back cover copy of the book:

In this powerful K-9 crime thriller, FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her trusted search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, must race against the clock before a diabolical killer strikes again…

Somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, a woman lies helpless in a box. Beneath the earth. Barely breathing. Buried alive. In Quantico, the FBI receives a coded message from the woman’s abductor. He wants to play a game with them: decipher the clues, find the grave, save the girl. The FBI’s top cryptanalysts crack the code, and Special Agent Meg Jennings and her K-9 partner, Hawk, scramble to follow a trail of false leads to the scene of the crime. By the time they solve the puzzle, it’s too late. But the killer’s game is far from over…

Soon another message arrives. Another victim is taken, and the deadly pattern is repeated—again and again. Each kidnapping triggers another desperate race against time, each with the possibility of another senseless death. That’s when Meg decides to try something drastic. Break the Bureau’s protocol. Bring in her brilliant sister, Cara, a genius at word games, to decipher the kidnapper’s twisted clues. Meg knows she’s risking her career to do it, but she’s determined not to let one more person die under her and Hawk’s watch. If the plan fails, it could bite them in the end. And if it leads to the killer, it could bury them forever…

Our street team, early readers and a number of bloggers already have their copies, and we’re starting to see some great early buzz starting. This is the fun part. After all the hard work, now is the time where we get to share our creation and hear readers’ thoughts on all that sweat and hairpulling. ;)

Launch of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE—Once again, I will be hosted by Ian Elliot of A Different Drummer Books here in Burlington on September 30th for the launch party. If you are local to the area, please stop by because I’d love to see you and sign your copy of the new book!

Word on the Street Toronto—This event isn’t definite, but I’ve applied to take part in it and hopefully will be chosen as part of the panel of Crime Writers of Canada authors attending. WOTS is a free event taking place in Halifax, Lethbridge, Toronto and Saskatoon to celebrate reading and to advocate literacy. I’ve taken part in it twice before in 2014 and 2015 and this year it will once again be at Harbourfront Center, right on the lake in Toronto. Taking place on Sunday, September 24, 2017, the event runs from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm and is great fun for readers of all ages and genres.

Bouchercon 2017: Passport to Murder—Bouchercon is the biggest North American fan mystery conference and, conveniently, this year it’s in Toronto! I previously attended Bouchercon in 2013 in Albany and was fortunate enough to be on their forensics panel. This year I will be appearing in several events. Right at the beginning of the conference, I will be involved in Author Speed Dating on Thursday, October 12 from 8 – 10am. Speed dating is exactly what it sounds like, except in this case, you’re not looking for an actual date. Instead, you sit for 2 minutes at 22 tables of 8 new and interested readers to tell them about your series. Should be great, chaotic fun, but I suspect I’ll need a nap afterwards. And then I’m thrilled to be part of a panel on Saturday, October 14 from 10 – 11am in the Sheraton B room. The panel is entitled ‘The Critters of Crime: K-9s, cats and cows, and their role in mysteries’ followed by a half hour signing in the book/deal room (Osgoode Room). Joining me are fabulous authors Margaret Mizushima, Eileen F. Watkins, Kelly Oliver, and Janet Finsilver, so it should be a super panel. I’m looking forward to seeing old readers, meeting new readers, catching up with author friends, and making some new ones!

So that’s what’s going on with me. Next week, I’ll be back to my regular blogging content. See you then!

Have You Registered For Bloody Words 2014 Yet?

Once a year, Canada welcomes mystery and crime fiction writers and readers from all over the world for our annual conference, Bloody Words. This year’s conference is rapidly approaching and will take place in Toronto from June 6–8. This year’s theme is ‘The Dance Macabre’, celebrating historical mysteries, but the conference isn’t solely about historicals—we’ll also celebrate everything from cozies to noir. This year’s guest of honour is well-known Canadian author Vicki Delany, the international guest of honour is Michael Jecks, master of the medieval murder mystery, and the Master of Ceremonies is the hilarious Melody Campbell.


I’m already registered and looking forward to it, but why should you consider going?

  • Attendees: This conference isn’t just for writers, but for readers as well. I remember going to my first Bloody Words in 2010, and being pleasantly surprised at the number of readers attending. They sat in on lectures on craft and forensics, attended the banquet, went to readings, and had a chance to meet new authors and reacquaint themselves with old favourites.
  • Panels and sessions: For the writers in the group, the sessions are many and varied. There’s great information for the beginner on how to outline, write, edit or pitch, and for more experienced authors, there are sessions on career management or how to maintain a series.
  • Agent and editor pitch sessions: Do you have a new manuscript you want to get into an agent’s or editor’s hands? No better way to be able to really talk about your book than one-on-one. Sign up for a pitch session here. Also, as an aside, pitch sessions aren’t the only way to talk to agents about your book. At my first conference, I was chatting with an agent before the banquet and she requested the full manuscript simply based on that conversation. So there are many opportunities to meet with industry professionals.
  • Loot bags: Because who doesn’t love free stuff?
  • Sunday morning workshops: Want to get into the real nitty gritty of writing a gripping novel? These extended sessions taught by knowledgeable writers are a great way to really dive into your craft.
  • Manuscript evaluations: You can sign up to have your manuscript evaluated by an editor or published author who will give detailed feedback on how to strengthen your story. But hurry, the deadline for manuscript evaluation submissions is April 1st! See more details here.
  • Books with Legs: If you want to have a great laugh and to watch me prance down a catwalk wearing a funny hat and a placard of A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH, this is your chance. This Friday night event will be a fantastic (and no doubt hilarious) way to see attending authors highlight some of the best new fiction from the first half of 2014. Fashion show commentator Caro Soles will host the event and keep the audience in stiches.
  • The banquet: This year everyone is invited to come dressed as their favourite mystery character, historical or contemporary. Now… where did I put my deerstalker cap?
  • The dealers room: Want to pick up the newest book from that author you just saw on a terrific panel? The dealers room will be carrying books from attending authors as well as other reading-related items.
  • The convenient location: Bloody Words is located this year at the Hyatt Regency on King Street in Toronto, right in the middle of the theater district. There’s a special conference room rate if you book before May 5th, so treat yourself to come a day or two early to see the city and catch a show before the conference fun begins.

Don’t miss out—Register for Bloody Words 2014 today!

Want to find out more? Follow @bloodywords2014 on Twitter, like Bloody Words 2014 on Facebook and always stay up to date at!

Its giveaway time again! Stop by Goodreads until Monday night at 11:59pm for the chance to win a signed ARC of A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH. Enter here!

Dr. William Bass, Creator of The Body Farm

It was a pleasure this past weekend to meet a living legend in the field of forensic anthropology ― Dr. William Bass. Dr. Bass is half of the writing partnership of Jefferson Bass (with Jon Jefferson), but in the world of science, his claim to fame is as the creator of the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropological Research Facility, better known as 'The Body Farm'.

Even though he has supposedly been ‘retired’ for 16 years, Dr. Bass is still an active part of the University of Tennessee (UT) and the research center he created. He’s very proud of his time at UT and stated that, as of that day, he’d been there 40 years, 1 month and 6 days. He started 'The Body Farm' in 1980 to increase scientific understanding of what happens to the human body following death with the direct intent of assisting in crime scene investigation. Over the years, he and his students have studied as many variables as possible ― outdoor surface vs. burial decomposition, indoor decomposition, insect infestation/maturation as an indicator of time since death, carnivore scavenging, chemical substances produced during decomposition, the effect of trauma on decomposition, race determination through computer analysis and much more. What started as a little known facility with only a few donations per year is now a major center for scientific investigation with more than 100 cadaver donations annually. After decomposition, all remains are finally stored at UT in what is now the world’s largest skeletal collection, the William M. Bass Skeletal Collection.

Dr. Bass was the speaker for the opening session of Killer Nashville with a talk entitled ‘Bones Do Talk’. A very spry 83 (today is, in fact, his 83rd birthday), he was an immensely entertaining speaker, sharing his own personal stories from a varied and colourful career in academia and while assisting law enforcement. To illustrate his teachings, he brought along a box of ‘friends’ ― skeletal specimens from past cases. It was an interactive lecture, with members of the audience assisting with his case-by-case analyses. He led us through blunt force trauma slayings as well as piecing together a death scene and cause of death from a skull with three apparent bullet defects (the fourth defect was hidden as the bullet exited through the eye socket).

He also included interesting facts on bone growth from infancy to adulthood, comparing a newborn femur to an adult femur to illustrate the process of growth ending in epiphyseal fusion to seal with growing ends of the bone to the shaft.

From a personal standpoint, Dr. Bass has been my scientific companion through my writing career. I have binders full of his papers (and those of his students) that have been instrumental in allowing me to create crime fiction grounded in scientific truth. So, it was the highlight of the conference for me to sit through one of his lectures and a personal thrill to make his acquaintance. He’s a very friendly and gracious Southern gentleman who shows no sign of slowing down, no matter what his age. Clearly, he loves what he does and knows what a difference it makes, and will continue to do what he can to expand upon our knowledge and to bring the missing home.