R.E. Donald

author of the Hunter Rayne Highway Mysteries series

Leave a comment

Memorable first lines of mystery novels – what’s your favorite?

As a reader, you love a book that grabs your interest from the first line and doesn’t let go.  We’ve all seen the classic first lines from classic novels, like Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

But I read – and write – mysteries.  There’s nothing like a good mystery to pique my interest.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a master at creating great first lines for his stories, lines that introduce a mystery and make you want to read on.  Here is one I consider his best.

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.  A Scandal in Bohemia

Here are a few more opening sentences I found interesting:

The lady was extraordinarily naked.  Eight Black Horses by Ed McBain

Theodore is in the ground.  The Alienist by Caleb Carr

“What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this Morgue?”  The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers

How about you?  Submit some of your favorites below, and be sure to include the book title and author’s name.

1 Comment

A Celebration of Ebooks at the Global Ebook Awards

I pulled into my driveway just six blocks north of the 49th parallel a little before midnight last night, my head still spinning from the 2012 Global Ebook Awards on Saturday night, along with the rest of my 48 hour visit to beautiful Santa Barbara, California.  I had a wonderful time with my sister from Palm Springs, enjoying the sights and shops of the town, and I brought back with me a small stack of other attendees’ business cards and website addresses to go through, the names of new books to download and read, and the good wishes of numerous new acquaintances to recall.

The striking cover for Ice on the Grapevine was designed by Hunter|Johnsen of La Quinta

My mystery novel, Ice on the Grapevine, may not have been announced as a winner, but I feel like a winner all the same, just to have been there as a finalist in Mystery Fiction for the 2012 Global Ebook Award.  You could feel the excitement in the rooms of the University Club of Santa Barbara (I say ‘rooms’, because the tables overflowed around corners to fit the enthusiastic crowd) both during and after the awards were announced.  From the time writers started to get to know one another at the outdoor reception under the sunny Santa Barbara skies until the end of the evening, it was an unreserved celebration of the success of ebooks and independent publishing.

The emcee Bill Frank announced a list of finalists who had travelled the farthest to attend, and I was delighted to be among them and receive a bottle of California wine.  (Unfortunately, due to airline carry-on baggage restrictions, I had to give it away, but I was grateful for the recognition all the same.)  There were several fellow Canadians representing different book categories in attendance, and we managed to connect at the airport on Sunday and to share experiences on the flight to San Francisco.

The list of winners is available on the website and Facebook page of the Global Ebook Awards.  I’m looking forward to seeing more reviews from the judges who selected Ice on the Grapevine as a finalist.  The judging rules asked that reviews not be posted until after the awards ceremony to prevent one judge’s review from influencing others.  The reviews, along with Dan Poynter’s coaching and the PR opportunities the Awards afforded, made entering a book for an Award a very worthwhile decision.  As Dan pointed out during his brief speech, each book submitted was screened before being accepted as a nominee so the standards were high.

Among the highlights of the evening for me were meeting the very personable Jim Cox of the highly respected Midwest Book Review and ebook guru Dan Poynter of Para Publishing.  Jim gave a very well-attended seminar on how to get ebooks reviewed prior to the awards, and Dan is the founder of the Global Ebook Awards and a larger-than-life figure in the world of digital publishing.  The Awards are in only their second year, and if their success this year is any indicator, will no doubt be bigger and better in 2013.

It was also a pleasure to hear the enthusiastic comments of Marilu Henner, who was signing print books at The Book Den prior to the event, and public relations professional Barbara Gaughen (pronounced “gone”), who both spoke at the ceremony.  They both had encouragement and worthwhile advice for the finalists and winners alike.

Getting a chance to meet some talented and creative people, listening to the enthusiasm and sharing in the positive energy of the organizers as well as the other attendees, I’ve got to say that I never for one moment felt like an “ALSO RAN”, but I did and still do feel like an “ALSO WON”.  Congratulations to the organizers, finalists and the winners!  Hope to see everyone again next year.

Ruth gets a chance to chat with Dan Poynter

Ruth enjoyed talking to Jim Cox of the Midwest Book Review

Ruth and her sister Chris enjoying Beluga martinis at The Wine Cask in Santa Barbara


What about the Global Ebook Awards?

As I get ready for my weekend in Santa Barbara and my attendance at the 2012 Global Ebook Awards ceremony (any old excuse for a trip to Southern California and a fun weekend on the coast, right?), I can’t help but think about what has brought me to this point and what getting here means, not just to me, but to readers.  Where is “here”? you ask.

Ice on the Grapevine, the second novel in the Hunter Rayne highway mystery series, was  selected by judges as a finalist for the 2012 Global Ebook Award in Mystery Fiction.  It is one of five mystery novels shortlisted for the award from the original fifteen nominees that were accepted, out of I don’t know how many submissions.  The winners are being announced at the awards ceremony at the University Club in Santa Barbara, California on August 18th.  I’m delighted that my novel is a finalist, but what do readers think?

“Is it like an Edgar Award?”   Well known and respected, the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards have been around since 1946, the days of Anthony Boucher and radio dramas.   They are open to publishers on the MWA “approved” list only, which lets out most small independent publishers and all self-published authors like myself.  There’s no mention of a category for ebooks.

“Is it like an Agatha Award?”  The Agatha Award nominees are first nominated and then selected by registered attendees at the Malice Domestic Convention, and are for mysteries in the Agatha Christie tradition.  There are probably hundreds of mysteries nominated before the five approved nominees in each category are announced in February prior to the May convention.  The main requirement is that there be no explicit sex or gratuitous violence.  I’m not sure if ebooks qualify, and I don’t expect either of my books to make the list, not because they’re not good enough, but because they’re not well publicized or widely distributed.

There are many other awards for crime fiction, some regional (like the Arthur Ellis Awards in Canada) and others, like the Agathas, restricted to a certain category of crime fiction.  There’s a great site that lists most awards, Mystery Book Awards on the Omnimystery site (great place to visit if you’re a mystery fan!).

Unlike most of the awards listed, the Global Ebook Awards were just introduced in 2011, and are for books in digital format.  They cover both fiction and non-fiction books in a wide range of categories, and consider nominations from all publishers, including self-publishers.

Most of the readers I’ve mentioned the Global Ebook Awards to are very excited for me, and don’t ask questions about how long the Awards have been in existence, or how did my novel qualify, or how the awards are regarded by the traditional publishing industry.  “An award’s an award,” a local woman said to me today as I started to explain that it wasn’t as big a deal as she might think.  “I think that’s awesome!”

And she’s right.  I am proud to be a finalist, and I’m going to be thrilled to shake hands with ebook guru Dan Poynter, and Midwest Book Review’s  Editor-in-Chief, Jim Cox, and to meet the other authors who have entered this brave new world of ebook publishing, self-published or not.  Whether or not books have been approved by literary agents and editors at traditional publishing companies, readers know what they like, and so far they’ve been liking my mysteries, at least well enough to get me on a plane to Santa Barbara.

Wish me luck!


The first two novels in the Hunter Rayne highway mystery series were released as ebooks by independent Canadian publisher Proud Horse Publishing  (established primarily to publish the Hunter Rayne mystery series) in the fall of 2011, and are now available in print editions direct from the publisher.  In the near future, print editions will be made available for wider distribution.  The series has been receiving very good reviews from readers on various ebook review sites over the past several months.

The series features a former homicide detective who reluctantly resigned from a successful career with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and took to the highways as a long  haul truck driver in the hopes that the solitude of the road would help him heal from the pain of personal tragedy.  A strong supporting cast includes his irascible female dispatcher, Elspeth Watson, who is as tough a boss as they come but is always ready to volunteer Hunter’s help when a fellow trucker is in trouble.  The author’s many years of experience in the transportation industry help to keep the situations and characters engaging and realistic.

The novels are traditional ‘whodunits’ with complex plots, multiple suspects and – for most readers – a surprise ending.  They feature realistic subplots involving the recurring characters and have more than one fan impatiently waiting for the next novel in the series.

I am working on the third Hunter Rayne highway mystery, set primarily in the resort community of Whistler, BC, known around the world as the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Leave a comment

Elvis Presley was a truck driver. Some truckers rock!

The new mystery series – the Hunter Rayne highway mysteries – features a long-haul truck driver as the ‘semi-professional’ detective.  Thanks to recent reader Steve for the following comment:

Never thought I would enjoy a truck driver based mystery, but I sure did.

I wasn’t surprised.  When I chose to write about a trucker, I knew that some readers would hesitate to pick up a book featuring a truck driver.  Why would that be?  Seems there’s a perception out there, especially among women, that a book with trucks in it must be a book for boys.  What!?

Hey!  Truckers are real people, too.  Truckers can be men or women, young or old, with interesting lives, interesting loves, strong emotions, and fascinating hobbies.  Truck drivers can be talented, attractive (wasn’t Elvis?), complicated people.  Some truck drivers of today are a lot like the cowboys of yesteryear – hard working, solitary individuals with interesting pasts and complex relationships, which can add up to a touch of romance.

Elvis Presley drove a truck before he became famous.  You might be interested to know that several other famous people were truck drivers at some point early in their careers.  Take for instance, Liam Neeson, the actor.  A hunk, or what?  And Chevy Chase, a very funny man.  For those of us who were around to appreciate their best  years, how about Charles Bronson and Sean Connery?  And Richard Pryor.  And Rock Hudson.  Who wouldn’t want to read about truck drivers like those guys?

But famous truck drivers weren’t all actors and singers.  How’s this for murder mystery fans?  Another man who drove a truck before he came famous was Peter Sutcliffe.  Who was he, you ask.  Peter Sutcliffe was – mwah-hah-hah – the Yorkshire Ripper.

Another reader recently commented:

 … the whole time I was reading this book I thought R.E. Donald was male. For a guy, he did an excellent job of getting the female characters right. The introspectives and actions of all characters give readers a full understanding of their motives. That was unexpected from a male author in a mystery involving truck drivers.  I’m sorry, Ruth E. Donald, for presuming you were a man. It’s a compliment to you that I read the book with such interest that I didn’t read “about the author” first.

Thank you, Goodreads readers Steve and Ginney, for the compliments.  They were reading my first Hunter Rayne highway mystery Slow Curve on the Coquihalla.  Another Goodreads reader, Pat, had this to say about the second novel Ice on the Grapevine (ahem!  a finalist for the 2012 Global Ebook Award for Mysteries) :

The plot and situations were intriguing, and kept me guessing to the end. I found the characters very believable, especially the women. There even were traces of humor and romance. I’m curious to see how Hunter and the other characters develop as the series progresses…. R.E. Donald is definitely an author to revisit.

Thank you, Pat.  Comments like yours keep me happily writing more.  It’s nice to know that more readers are discovering that a truck driver can make an intriguing hero.

So please keep in mind, mystery lovers, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.  Take a closer look at the person behind the wheel next time you pass a big rig on the highway.  He – or she – might just be famous one day.


Note:  Both novels are currently featured as Giveaways on Goodreads.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Slow Curve on the Coquihalla by R.E. Donald

Slow Curve on the Coquihalla

by R.E. Donald

Giveaway ends August 31, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ice on the Grapevine by R.E. Donald

Ice on the Grapevine

by R.E. Donald

Giveaway ends September 15, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Leave a comment

On the road with a mystery trucker – one woman’s story

Why would a woman who loves mystery novels want to write about a truck driver?  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It began back in 1994.  I wanted to write a mystery series with a male protaganist, similar to the mysteries I loved to read, but I wanted a unique character.  I enjoy reading about moody L.A. homicide detectives, brilliant Scotland Yard detectives and smart aleck private eyes, but I felt that I couldn’t do a character in those professions justice, and other writers had already created series that I couldn’t compete with around similar characters.

Write what you know, they say.  Well, by 1994 I’d spent around twenty years working in the transportation industry, so I figured I had a good handle on that.  My husband had once done undercover work for the police and had used a truck driver as his cover.  Interesting how truck drivers can show up just about anywhere without raising suspicion, I thought.  And another plus about a truck driver, he wouldn’t be limited to one geographical area, which would certainly provide a variety of locales for murder.  (At the time, I was concerned that the entire population of Cabot Cove would be killed off to keep Jessica Fletcher busy in Murder, She Wrote.)

That’s how I first decided on the main character in my Hunter Rayne highway mystery series.  He’s a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective who resigned from the force after over twenty years of exemplary service after the sudden death of his colleague and best friend, and a painful divorce that caught him by surprise.  He’s hoping that the solitude of life on the road will help him to heal from what he considers his personal failures.

As much as Hunter tries to keep his new life simple and uncomplicated, circumstances, with the help of his boss, Elspeth Watson, conspire to get him involved in murder investigations even in his civilian life.   As a boy, his heroes were cowboy crusaders like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, and he just can’t seem to let go of what motivated him to become a law officer in the first place, that need to see the guilty party captured and justice done.

My books aren’t thrillers or full of heart pounding suspense, but they will keep you guessing.  Does the idea of a trucker turn off some women mystery readers?  Maybe so.  But I must be doing something right.  My second novel Ice on the Grapevine is a finalist for the 2012 Global Ebook Award in the mystery category.  Both novels are now available in print editions as well as ebooks.  They’re available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites, or from Proud Horse Publishing, or you can ask your local bookstore to order them.  Just quote the ISBN numbers.

This is what some of my readers have been saying:

“Those were the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time!! As soon as I finished the first one I bought the second and felt empty when I finished it! The characters were awesome and so there that I somehow think they are in my life and I should be bumping into them at IGA or Gibson’s Building Supplies!”  Judi H., Roberts Creek, B.C.

“… this book caught my attention from the very first pages and it only got better. …I recommend this book to anyone who has a love for a good mystery. I usually figure out who the guilty party is when I read a book but this time it was a surprise. I think that Hunter Rayne would make a great TV detective, driving around the country in his rig visiting different states and helping to solve crimes. He is that interesting of a character.”  See full PRG review of Ice on the Grapevine by Linda Tonis.

“The Hero to me is the heart of the story and having only just discovered a second book in this series I’m anxious to read more.” See reviews for Slow Curve on the Coquihalla on Amazon.

“Great trucking detail, hardboiled characters, no-nonsense dialogue, and a surprise ending.”

“One of the fine traditional mysteries that keep who-done-it on everyone’s favorite reading lists.”

“Whodunit addicts will not be disappointed.”

See full reviews for Ice on the Grapevine on Amazon.

Check out my interview on Laurie Hanan’s Mondays are Murder blog.


The first mystery in the series is Slow Curve on the Coquihalla.  When a well respected truck driver, the owner of a family trucking business, is found dead in his truck down a steep embankment along the mountainous Coquihalla highway in British Columbia, his distraught daughter wants to know how and why his truck left the road on an easy uphill curve.  Her resemblance to his own daughter compels Hunter Rayne, a fellow trucker and former homicide detective, to help her find answers.

As he uncovers signs of illegal cross border activity originating in a Seattle warehouse, Hunter recruits an old friend, an outlaw biker, to infiltrate what appears to be  an international smuggling ring. But while Hunter follows up clues and waits for critical information from his old friend, the wily biker starts to play his own angles.

Finally, putting all the pieces together, there in the dark on the same uphill curve on the Coquihalla highway, Hunter risks it all to confront the murderer.

The ISBN for Slow Curve on the Coquihalla is 978-0988111806.

The second mystery in the series, the one shortlisted for the 2012 Global Ebook Award in mysteries, is Ice on the Grapevine.  The story opens on a July morning with the discovery of a frozen corpse at a brake check just south of the Grapevine Pass in L.A. County. Hunter, who is in southern California making a delivery, is persuaded by his irascible dispatcher, Elspeth Watson, to help clear two fellow truck drivers who are arrested for the murder. His job is made more difficult by the fact that the suspects, a newlywed couple, won’t speak up in their own defence.

The circumstantial evidence is strong, and a rookie detective from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is eager to score a win.  The investigation crosses the Canada-U.S. border when the victim is identified as a second rate musician from Vancouver, and it turns out there were more than a few desperate people happy to see him dead, including the accused couple.  Hunter has to use all his investigative skills to uncover the truth.

The ISBN for Ice on the Grapevine is 978-0988111813.

I’m working on the third novel in the series, which will be set primarily in the resort community of Whistler, B.C., which was the location of the 2010 Winter Olympic games.

I hope you enjoy reading about my truck driver hero as much as I enjoy writing about him!

1 Comment

Thanks to a Kindle, Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay, my novel’s a finalist for a Global Ebook Award

One year ago almost to the day, my life began to change in a wonderful way.  It wasn’t a bad life, especially from the outside looking in, but I had lost my enthusiasm somehow.  It felt like all I had to look forward to was getting older, which wasn’t something I felt good about, but it was inevitable so I didn’t think there was anything I could do to change it.  Then, on a whim (at least I had a few of those left!), I ordered a Kindle.

I’ve always loved to read, and I especially love to read mysteries – the whodunit kind.  Sometimes I’ll read a non-mystery book recommended by a friend, but if I’m searching out a book to read for escape and enjoyment, it will always be a murder mystery.  I think it’s the puzzle that attracts me, but why murder?  I don’t know.  I like to watch true crime on TV and I like a novel where the characters seem real to me, as if their stories could one day be told on Dateline or 48 Hours Mysteries.

So it was totally out of character for me, that summer day in 2011 when I turned on my Kindle, that the very first book I purchased on it was Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.  It’s a self-help book, so even if I didn’t consciously think anything could help, I must have had a kernel of hope that growing old wasn’t all I had left to do.  The book had loads of great reviews but the deciding factor was that it was only $0.99 that day.  I not only downloaded it, I read through it twice over the next couple of weeks, doing all the excercises to one extent or another.

That book changed my life.  I know it sounds trite, but it did.  Louise Hay led me to Wayne Dyer’s Excuses BegoneI started to look at myself differently, and to look at my life differently, and it started me on the road to publishing my first two mystery novels, written over ten years ago, rewritten, revised and polished several times, and waiting patiently for the ‘some day’ that a publisher would accept them and they would be published.  That ‘some day’ was no longer beyond my control.  Louise and Wayne gave me the push that I needed, and Amazon’s Kindle gave me the ability to make my novels available to readers.

When the comments and reviews started coming in, I knew I was on the right path.  I might never make a lot of money, nor be interviewed on TV, nor have a novel on the New York Times bestseller list, but I kept hearing from readers who enjoyed my novels and were asking me when they could expect the next one.  That gave me a reason to keep writing, and getting back to writing added an exciting new dimension to my life.

One year down the road, I now have print editions of my first two novels being released in the coming months, and my third novel is well underway and I expect to release the first digital edition of Sea to Sky this fall.  Ideas for future novels are percolating in my mind, and I expect to release a new one each year.  And … TA DA!  My second novel, Ice on the Grapevine, has been selected by the judges as a finalist for a 2012 Global Ebook Award in the mystery category.  Win or no win, I’ll be there in Santa Barbara on August 18th to celebrate my own accomplishments of the past year, along with those of other writers who are travelling the same road.

From a sales perspective, my Hunter Rayne highway mystery series is not an overnight success.  From a personal perspective, that’s exactly what I experienced: my life changed successfully almost overnight.   So, thanks, Louise!  Thanks, Wayne!  Thanks, Amazon!  Thanks, Smashwords!  And above all, thank you, readers!

1 Comment

Ice on the Grapevine is a finalist in the mystery category of the Global Ebook Awards!

Ice on the Grapevine, the second novel in the Hunter Rayne highway mystery series, has been selected by judges as a finalist in the mystery category of the 2012 Global Ebook Awards.  The winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony at the University Club in Santa Barbara, California on August 18th.

The first two novels in the Hunter Rayne highway mystery series were released as ebooks by independent Canadian publisher Proud Horse Publishing in the fall of 2011, and will soon be available in print editions.  They have both been receiving very good reviews from readers on various ebook review sites over the past several months.

The series features a former homicide detective who reluctantly resigned from a successful career with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and took to the highways as a long  haul truck driver in the hopes that the solitude of the road would help him heal from the pain of personal tragedy.  A strong supporting cast includes his irascible female dispatcher, Elspeth Watson, who is as tough a boss as they come but is always ready to volunteer Hunter’s help when a fellow trucker is in trouble.  The author’s many years of experience in the transportation industry help to keep the situations and characters engaging and realistic.

The novels are traditional ‘whodunits’ with complex plots, multiple suspects and – for most readers – a surprise ending.  They feature realistic subplots involving the recurring characters and have more than one fan impatiently waiting for the next novel in the series.

R.E. Donald is working on the third Hunter Rayne highway mystery, set primarily in the resort community of Whistler, BC, known around the world as the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.


The art of the book review: should good reviewers turn pro?

The publishing industry is in a state of flux.  Self-publishing is on the rise, especially in digital format, and many good fiction writers, as well as not so good writers, are choosing to bypass the traditional publishing gatekeepers, meaning  literary agents and the editors in publishing houses.  Discerning readers may choose to ignore the thousands of new titles that haven’t been vetted by publishing professionals, but in doing so, they may be denying themselves access to good books.  Where is this leading?

First let me say that I have never worked in the industry.  I am not an expert.  I may have made a living in other industries during my life, but I have always been a reader.  Since last September, I am also a self-published mystery writer.  I am enjoying the adventure of self-publishing, and am intrigued by the changes taking place in the industry.

I recently joined a number of writers from around the globe at the online launch party for the Alliance of Independent Authors, a new organization founded by author Orna Ross in the U.K.  There were some interesting and useful discussions during the launch, and the organization is already making strides in the support of independent authors, but one discussion that surprised me somewhat was a very forceful objection to paid reviews.  It was considered somehow unethical for any reviewing agency, such as Kirkus or Publishers Weekly, to charge independent authors for reviewing their books.

As someone new to publishing, I found this puzzling.  I absolutely agree that it would be unethical –it would eventually be fatal to a professional reviewer’s career – to write glowing reviews about bad books because they were paid to do so.   I assume that eventually a dishonest reviewer would lose all credibility with readers.   (Granted that beauty is in the eye of the beholder;  I’ve recently been struggling through a print novel by a well known mystery author that has 17 five-star reviews and 18 one-star reviews on Amazon.  Were they all reading the same book?)

However, as the industry changes, I can’t see why reviewers shouldn’t step into the roles previously held by agents and publishers.  Isn’t it a service to readers to indentify the best of the independently published books?   Isn’t a good reviewer’s time and expertise worth money?  As writers expect their own time and effort in writing a work of fiction should bring them some financial rewards, shouldn’t a reviewer performing a service for readers also be allowed to seek compensation for his or her work?  Have you ever struggled to finish reading a novel that was boring, confusing, annoying, unpleasant or just difficult to read?

Guess what?  Reading a book you don’t enjoy is a lot like WORK!  Then writing a well-considered honest review on top of that?  Shouldn’t that be worth something?

I guess part of the question is who should be paying for this service by professional reviewers?  I would assume that Kirkus and Publishers Weekly are supported primarily by advertising dollars from publishers.  They are, after all, businesses with staff to pay and overhead costs to cover.  The reviewers might not be paid directly by the publishers for each review, but the publishers are still the ones who put bread on their tables, albeit indirectly.  The other businesses in the supply chain also support them financially, either through subscriptions or by supporting the publishers by buying their books.  It only makes sense that they are willing to review traditionally published books over indies, and that they charge upwards of $350 for reviewing an independently published work.  (They do agree to not publish poor reviews of indie books.)

I started to speculate on what that could mean for reviewers in the future.  I suspect the average reader will still be happy to share their opinions on books they’ve read via non-professional reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or other online book retailers.  They might also post reviews on personal blog sites.  Readers will want to find a reviewer they can trust.  To have access to good reviews from a reviewer who shares their taste in fiction, they might be happy to pay a small monthly or annual fee to subscribe to those reviews.  Independent authors who feel that they have a novel that will appeal to those readers won’t object to paying for that reviewer’s time to read and review their novel.  I suspect that the author would have the option of withholding a poor review from publication.  They also have the option of seeking out a reviewer whose tastes run more to their own, or reworking the manuscript to improve it based on the reviewer’s comments.

How much does a professional editor cost?  I believe the going rate is around $0.03 per word, although it varies tremendously.  That means a writer might have to pay $3000.00 or more to have a 100,000 word novel professionally edited.  What if a writer could pay a competent reviewer to read that book and write a comprehensive review?  Did the plot work?  How was the pacing?  Were the characters well developed and likeable?  Were there spelling, grammatical and typographical errors that made it hard to read?  It might not be as detailed as an edit, but it could certainly help an author improve the book.

What would a reviewer’s time be worth?  How long does it take to read a 100,000 word novel?  Let’s say the reviewer can read relatively quickly – not just skim – at a rate of 400 words per minute.  That would require over four hours of continuous reading.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty difficult feat for me.  Most likely, it would take the better part of a day.  How long would it take to write a competent, well-considered review?  What’s an educated self-employed professional’s time worth?  I’d say that $35 an hour is on the low side.  It would seem that $350 is cheap for a solicited professional review.  And what about covering the reviewer’s expenses to publish and distribute that review?

As a writer, I feel a tremendous debt of gratitude to those readers who have taken the time to read and honestly review my novels.  I’m sure there are many readers who haven’t gotten past the first few pages, and that’s fine, too.  Why?  Because there are hundreds of novels by established and popular authors, let alone by self-published authors, which I haven’t wanted to read.   Most of the time, it’s because the story is just not to my personal taste.  I’ve never even started reading a Stephen King novel.  I understand that he is an excellent writer, but I don’t enjoy horror.  I love Dean Koontz’s writing, but I don’t want to read about his villains.  I’ve never read a Harry Potter book either because fantasy just doesn’t appeal to me.

Will professional reviewing lead to abuse?  Of course.  It’s quite possible – you see it already in friend reviews, or fellow writer reviews, and in some of the published professional reviews – for a reviewer to say only nice things about a book to please the author who has asked for the review, and conveniently leave out the negatives – but market forces usually prevail.    I can see that readers will eventually settle on reviewers whose opinions they can trust.  The buyer will still, as always, have to beware.

Is there a bright financial future for a new breed of independent professional reviewers?  Just sayin’.

What do you think?


Mystery of mysteries

What’s the mystery?  I want to know just what makes a mystery qualify to be described as a “traditional mystery”.   I always thought that the term traditional applied to a mystery novel that existed primarily to pit the author’s skill at sprinkling subtle clues against the reader’s skill at solving the puzzle of “who done it” before the story’s protaganist did.  That’s the kind of mystery I like to read the best – not something with a lot of fear and violence, like a thriller or suspense novel might have, but a story that presents an intellectual challenge.  Who did it?  No cheating!  No clairvoyance or lucky guesses on the part of the sleuth!  The clues have to be there for the reader, albeit well hidden within the story.

I think I can identify a cozy, I used to think I had a good handle on what makes a hard boiled mystery, it’s easy to identify a thriller or suspense novel.  But just what can be called a traditional mystery?  Is it a whodunnit?  A locked room style of murder mystery?  Does it have to be set in England?  What do you call a mystery that’s not hard boiled, not a thriller, not a cozy and not a suspense novel?  Just a plain old mystery?

In an effort to enlighten myself, I turned up some of the following:

Author Lea Wait writes: “traditional mysteries, also known as cozies, in the Agatha Christie tradition where, it is often said, “more tea is spilled than blood,” have been popular for decades, and are still selling. Their readers and authors are predominantly – but not exclusively – women.”

According to Travis Casey, “There’s two basic kinds of mysteries — what I like to think of as ‘traditional’ and ‘mystery-suspense’. ”

In connection with the Agatha Award given each year by Malice Domestic, the traditional mystery is defined as one that contains no explicit sex, contains no gore or gratuitous violence, usually features an amateur detective, and takes place in a confined setting and contains characters who know one another.  It seems that novels featuring police officers or private investigators can also qualify for the award, but “hard-boiled” detective novels do not.


However they’re classified, it’s easy to see that what makes a good mystery for one reader may be precisely the thing that makes it not such a good mystery for another reader.  Some readers like blood and guts, or psychotic villains stalking the hero – others not so much.  Check out the reviews on Amazon for any given mystery novel.  A novel that receives five stars from most readers gets panned by others.  The beauty of a good mystery is obviously in the eye of the beholder.

Take Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote for example.  Michael Connelly is one of my favorite writers, and that Harry Bosch novel was one of my favorites.  Reviews range from “gripping, forceful novel. … I defy you to put Connelly’s book down for more than a few hours, if at all” to ” This book is not fast paced at all. I found it very boring.”  Were both reviewers reading the same book?

All of this is academic, ultimately.  Because I am first and foremost a reader, and I am writing to suit readers like myself.  I know I’m not alone.  I like my characters and situations realistic, I like my characters to have lives outside of the mystery plot, and I look forward to changes in their lives in subsequent novels.  One of my readers did use the term hard boiled about my series, but I suspect that’s because there’s a bit of swearing and sex involved.  (Well, some of them are truckers.  What do you expect?)

I’d be interested to know how you (I must assume that anyone reading this post is a mystery reader like myself) would classify the novels in my Hunter Rayne highway mystery series.  Traditional, cozy, hard boiled?   If you have read either of my novels, please let me know what you think!


The death of the English language: a murder mystery

Just like everyone else, I studied English grammar and usage in school.  I was taught that using the word ain’t would brand me as a hillbilly (not such an awful thing, after all) and when to use who and whom.  I’m sure it gave me great delight to correct other students who were using lay and lie incorrectly.  I still take pains to make sure I use the words right, although not quite as religiously as in the past.

You see, I also studied English literature, starting with Beowulf and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, moving along past the works of Shakespeare and Donne, Dryden and Swift.  Only snippets of each, mind you, but the message was clear.  “Ek gret effect men write in place lite; Th’ entente is al, and nat the lettres space” was perfectly good English in 1400 AD, while “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man” was well said in 1614.

And I studied Latin for at least a year in high school, which is so long ago now that I don’t remember exactly if it was for one year or two, but I do remember that the energetic vice-principal, Mr. Todd, taught the class and that he was a very entertaining speaker.  I learned, of course, that Latin is a dead language.  It is no longer living, because it is not being used outside of academia and the church.  Because it’s no longer living, it doesn’t change, or perhaps the other way around.

Then in university, I studied several other languages: French, Russian, German and Serbo-Croatian.  I also took what was called Slavonic Studies as part of the Russian major program.  One of the courses was in linguistics, and that was very enlightening indeed.  The course traced some of the European languages back to their roots, and illustrated the connections between them depending on who conquered whom (ha!) or which peoples migrated where.  Germanic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French, Greek, Scandanavian, Turkish, Hungarian – a whole smorgasbord of languages and dialects in close proximity, sharing words and expressions and sentence construction over centuries.

Studying linguistics in general made me want to explore the evolution of English spelling and grammar.  It made me wonder if English could possibly have stopped changing when they published my high school English textbook in the 1960’s, or if it stopped changing when I graduated from university in the 1970’s, or if it stopped changing in 1984, or perhaps at the end of the millenium.  The only conclusion that I can come to is that it hasn’t stopped changing at all.  It’s still a living language.  English isn’t dead!

So what does that mean?  Obviously common usage has dictated the rules of grammar, and not the other way around.  Words – their spelling and their use – and grammar, the way sentences are constructed, changed over the centuries as they began being used differently.  Ergo, common usage trumps a rule.  As a writer, and a speaker, and an ordinary everday English speaking person, I feel tremendously empowered by that thought.  Here we are, on Facebook and Twitter and in ebooks and blogs, shaping the English language of the future by the way we use it today.

I know, I know.  That’s no excuse to get sloppy with my spelling and grammar.  As Hemingway once lamented, “all our words from loose using have lost their edge”.   So I’ll do my best not to annoy the academics by murdering the English language in my writings and speech, whilst bearing in mind that changes in usage are the very thing that’s keeping it alive.

(Did I say that correctly?)