Monday, July 28, 2014

The Great Agent Hunt

The "How Do I Get An Agent?" question is coming at me from all directions this week and I figured I'd better put the answer all in one place so I can just refer people here.

So you've finished your first novel and now you face the dreaded question: What do I do now?

Well, first, MASSIVE CELEBRATING. Most people who try to write a novel never finish at all. You are officially awesome.

And before we talk about HOW,  I'll address the question of WHY you need an agent at all.

If you're planning to go right into indie publishing, great!  You don't need an agent. Skip this step and go straight on to a whole other set of scary issues. :)

But if you're looking for a traditional publishing deal with a traditional publisher, yes, you need an agent. I know, people do it without. Fine - if you're one of those people, I'm not talking to you.

(If you're planning to sell directly to a Harlequin category line, you don't really need an agent at first, either. But you do need the professional savvy of Romance Writers of America. I strongly recommend that you join up.)

But for those of us who DON'T have that kind of business savvy to negotiate our own deals with a multimillion dollar corporation, this is what an agent does.

A good literary agent lives in New York (that's CITY). An agent's job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book - know each editor's taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.

Really. That's what your agent does.

When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously, and you need to have that book submitted to the editor MOST LIKELY TO BUY IT at each house, in the hopes of -

1 - creating an auction and/or pre-empt situation

2. - getting the best possible editor for you and your particular book and the best possible deal out there.

You cannot do these things yourself. An agent can. This is the difference between writing for a living and writing in those spaces between the demands of the day job.

An agent also is or functions as a contracts lawyer (or a good agency will have a department of contracts lawyers) who will, after the sale of a book, negotiate a contract that is far better for the author than the boilerplate (basic contract) - such as retaining rights in other media and other countries, reversion of e rights, and other critical bargaining points.

Writers without representation or with less than ideal representation might realize just how unfavorable the contract is only when it's much too late.

And here's some video of a panel discussion that I did with Dusty Rhoades and Stacey Cochran that goes further into what an agent will do for you and why it's so important to have one. The question I was asked in the beginning of this tape was "Can I sell a book without an agent?"

And continued here:


So that's the why. On to the HOW.  Legendary Putnam editor Neil Nyren has this to say about finding an agent:

"The question I always hear the most at conferences is about how to find the right agent, and I always say, “Homework.” Now that homework is easier to do than ever. Besides such sites as Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery, and the like, every agent in creation has his or her own website where you can find out about their preferences, authors, deals, ways of doing business. Really, people, there’s no excuse for cluelessness anymore."

Amen to that.  If you're not spending - I would say at least a month - doing your research, you're not taking this seriously enough.

I know a lot of authors recommend starting with the lists in Writers’ Market, but the very thought makes me cringe. How are you supposed to know who’s a good agent from reading randomly through that enormous book? Instead, I highly recommend making your own targeted list of agents who represent books in your genre, who have made recent sales, and who other authors you admire are enthusiastic about. We are SO LUCKY to have Google to allow us to do this kind of research instantly, right from our own desks.

I also know that getting an agent is so hard these days that a lot of aspiring authors jump at the first offer of representation. That is a TERRIBLE thing to do. You only have one shot to get your book read and bought by the major publishers and you need the best representation you can find. An agent with “clout” can get you thousands more in advance money, just because of their relationships and who they are. It can easily be the difference between you writing as a hobby - and writing for a living. It’s worth taking the time to do extensive research, and approach the agents you most want to work with first, before you settle for the first thing that comes along.


You knew that was coming, didn't you?

While you are doing this research, I recommend that you build a list of at least 20 agents who you feel would be good representation for both you and your book. Take good notes, because when you query these agents you may want to say things like: "I feel you'll respond to this book because of (these similarities) to your client's excellent book (title).

Here are just a few great resources to consult when you start your agent investigation:

1. The Backspace forums

Backspace is an invaluable resource for all aspiring authors (and published authors, too!) There are public pages, but the real gold is the private forum – it’s a $25 or $30 one time fee to join but invaluable. You can get your questions answered directly by great agents and editors, and get public or private feedback on particular agents or your query letters by other Backspace members.

2. Here's a great site with over 1500 agent listings and software to research agents and keep track of your queries: Querytracker

3. And another:

4. Subscribe to Publishers' Lunch, a free newsletter that you can sign up for on the Publishers' Weekly site, and start a notebook in which you list agents who have sold books in your genre that week and the editors and publishing houses they have sold to.

5. Continue to build your targeted list of agents by going to the library or a bookstore or your own bookshelves and selecting at least 20 popular books in your genre and turning to the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS page. Unless s/he’s a complete and total ungrateful idiot, the author will have thanked her/his agent in the first few lines.

You can also often find your favorite authors’ agents’ names on the authors’ websites, complete with contact info.

6. If you need help finding current, successful books in your genre, ask your local librarians and independent booksellers, who are your best friends.

7. Always check with Writer Beware to make sure that agents you're approaching are legit.

And GalleyCat is a must-read blog for your agent hunt.

8. Go to writing conventions in your genre that agents will be attending, especially if you can sign up for pitch sessions. Meeting agents face to face in these situations is the best way to establish the connection that can lead to signing with an agency. The Shaw Guides provide a comprehensive list of conferences and conventions, nationwide, as does Jacqueline Deval's excellent book PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK - a comprehensive list of conventions in the back. If there’s a particular agent you have targeted, check to see if that agent is participating in pitch sessions at particular conferences It is absolutely worth it to go make the initial contact in person, in a structured setting like this. The personal contact will not only most likely get your submission read, it will give YOU a chance to see if you really want to work with that agent, which is equally important.

9. Go to conventions and hang out in the bar. I particularly recommend Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, the Backspace conference, Romance Writers of America National Conference, and Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. (Thrillerfest's Agentfest, in July, has a massive number of attending agents.) If you've signed up for a pitch session at one of these conferences and an agent has asked to see a partial (or a whole book!) then you are light years ahead of a cold querier. I think for most aspiring authors it's the very best way to speed up the getting an agent process.

Be pleasant and charming, buy an agent a drink. Again, the personal contact will not only likely get your submission read, it will give you that chance to see if you really want to work with that agent.

So now that you have your list, you need to query. It's a specific process, so do your research on how before you send those emails off.


Folio Literary Management has an EXCELLENT blog on all aspects of agenting, publishing, and writing careers.

Check out this post on the perfect query letter:

And then go ahead and delve into the other posts!

More on query letters and Who To Query - from Murderati's Louise Ure.

Lisa Gardner on writing queries and synopses.

San Francisco agent Nathan Bransford, with Curtis Brown, also has an excellent blog on these and other topics - check out his essential links on the right side of the blog.

Here's a free downloadable e book on writing query letters.

Good luck with it!

And I’d love to hear of other good sources people have found so I can keep adding to my lists, so please let me know what I’m missing!

- Alex

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available in all e formats and as pdf files. $2.99 and $3.99


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Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

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Monday, July 21, 2014

An American in Harrogate

This time of the summer I’m almost always at Thrillerfest. It felt weird to miss it, but my brother was getting married that weekend so obviously, priorities!

But I wasn’t conference deprived, far from it. As befits my new transatlantic lifestyle, the weekend after TFest I ended up at what is in many ways the UK equivalent: the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Festival.

I’ve always intended to go to Theakston's Old Peculier (which most people understandably shorten to “Harrogate”), since a good number of my favorite authors are British, and I can always use the UK market exposure, and of course there are the accents. This weekend was the first of many to come, now that the conference is only a four-and-a half-hour train ride away from me.  Craig and I flew back from the wedding in California and had just twenty-four hours layover at home before we took off again (just enough time to reunite with our abandoned cat and promptly leave him again. Anyone know a good feline therapist?).

I don’t know what exactly I expected of  Harrogate, visually speaking, but I was surprised to find a lovely little Georgian-era spa town with elegant stone mansions and Victorian gingerbread flourishes, gorgeous flowering gardens and ubiquitous hanging flower baskets, hilly cobbled streets lined with restaurants, pubs, tea rooms, mouth-watering boutiques... and a startling number of bath houses. The respectable kind, at least so it seems from the outside of them. Which meant that all weekend long I was dying for a Turkish bath, but because of the crazy traveling we were only there for two days of the festival as it was. So the Turkish bath will have to wait for the next trip. As will, alas, the obviously excellent shopping. 

Or maybe missing out on the shopping is a GOOD thing….

To catch you all up on the conference I’ll steal - I mean give an American version of Craig Robertson’s Sixteen Wonderful Things about Harrogate U.K report (which you can read here on Crime Fiction Lover)  and start by focusing on some key differences between Harrogate and some of its U.S. equivalents:

1. -- US: the host cities and hotel venues tend to change for every conference (except for Thrillerfest, which is now permanently housed in the Grand Hyatt in NYC, and Malice Domestic, always just outside Washington, D.C.). The moveable feast aspect allows for people in different regions of this rather large country to get to conferences that might be too expensive to travel longer distances to. You have to learn a new hotel every time, but one huge perk is the local law enforcement line up. Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime are particularly good about putting on law enforcement tracks, where you can learn tons about that state/county/city's particular law enforcement agencies and methods and famous crimes. My favorite aspect of any conference. Except the people, of course!

   --  UK: Harrogate is permanently in the Old Swan Hotel.  (photo right)

(I know, how much more British does it get?).

Of course, everywhere in the U.K. is pretty close to everywhere else, so no reason to move it around. It was very clear attendees love the Old Swan, although there were (of course) lots of complaints. I wonder if I'll ever get used to all the complaining?

2. -- US: Except for a few headliners, authors generally pay to go to U.S. cons, and most authors who pay their conference fees on time are given a panel spot, which means there are a lot more panels on and the quality of those panels varies wildly.

    -- UK: Authors are invited to panels by a programming committee, and they are paid both for the panel and for travel and accommodations. Obviously I’m in favor of this “authors are paid to appear” thing! The paid moderators ("chairs") might go a long way toward eliminating a common and stupefyingly annoying conference problem: the authors who ignore the panel topic and use the forum to relentlessly plug themselves and their books. But I haven't seen enough UK panels to know if that actually works in practice. It seems to me some authors will try to hijack panels no matter what, and it's up to all the authors on the panel to save those offenders from themselves.

3.  -- US: Conference attendees pay for either day passes or a full conference pass and then can attend as many panels/events on that day or days as they can handle.

     -- UK: attendees can buy day passes, or pay for individual tickets to events of their choosing. So you can choose what you attend and how much you want to spend.

4.   -- US: There are lots of panels on at any given hour and people tend to panel-hop, and it’s perfectly acceptable to move in and out of panels, which is kind of great.

      -- UK: There’s usually only one event going on in the one huge double event room (capacity about 500 people). So you can conceivably see the entire program, and the conversation in between events tends to be focused on one event, which is also kind of great.

More specifically about Harrogate:

5. The Old Swan is really quite small compared to big US downtown hotel venues, and the event hall and the bar and the lawn area (which hosts a bar tent and a signing/bookstore tent) are all right up against each other, so despite the impressive 15,000 tickets sold for various events over the weekend, it feels like you’re at one four-day long party of about 400 people.

6. As usual, I didn’t make it to many events, but I absolutely loved the Domestic Noir panel, featuring my new author friends Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch, plus Chris Ewan and Cath Staincliff, chaired by NJ Cooper, who asked great questions like: “If some people are in fact biologically born bad, does that make them less guilty of their crimes?” (Discuss!)  If you ask me, we need more panels like this at every crime conference.

I was also really thrilled (at the spy panel) to learn the backstory of screenwriter Terry Hayes’ huge success with I Am Pilgrim. Hayes is living proof of what I am always telling my ScreenwritingTricks workshops: If you want a better chance at getting a film made, write a book, not a script. And what a lovely thing it always is to see a writer of a certain age making such a brilliant second career. And being so perfectly jolly about it all!

7. There was a quiz, traditionally hosted by the always hilarious Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. To put it in British speak, I am rubbish at quizzes, so I only peeked in. The questions were really, really hard. For all the reading I do, I don’t seem to know much about crime fiction. I did know which director directed the first Columbo episode, though. (Go ahead, guess…)

8. It was really, really wet. I’m told that’s not usual - in fact I was promised sunny days lounging out on the expansive hotel lawn. Hah! Instead it rained like hell half of the time and the other half it was so humid it might as well have been raining. Luckily there was a bar tent up on the lawn (although… those metal poles during a lighting storm? Hmm….) But I’d just had a lot of sun in California, and rain promotes its own kind of intimacy. It was all good.

9. There is much, much, MUCH more smoking in the UK. Some electronic cigarettes but a lot of old fashioned cancer sticks. My lungs were cringing in horror. On the other hand, there was much less pot. At least that I could see (smell).
10. There is more drinking.  I wouldn’t say much, much, MUCH more, but still, it felt like more. But I always feel like a lightweight in a UK drinking crowd. As for the all night partying (which it was), I’m usually up for anything from two a.m. karaoke (Anchorage Bouchercon) to after-midnight absinthe (Romantic Times New Orleans) to drag queen bingo night (Thrillerfest) to a hike through Mayan pyramids on a blazing Caribbean day (Florida Romance Writers’ Cruise With Your Muse), or dressing up as God knows what at Writers for New Orleans or Romantic Times, or a midnight Jacuzzi party (any number of cons in every genre) but after five straight weeks of traveling and accompanying jet lag I was in bed by a reasonable 1:30 a.m. both nights, therefore blissfully unhungover in the mornings. Next year, however, I intend to organize a Turkish bath party (and I have a fair idea of which of my new U.K. friends will be up for it).

11. There were no bloody battles between indie published authors and traditionally published authors (that I saw); in fact I had a very civilized conversation with a Big Five publisher who shall remain nameless, but who was quite open to hearing about why so many authors I know are happier with the way Amazon treats them. I hope all this enmity is on its way to dissipating, because the important thing is that authors now have all kinds of ways to make enough money to keep writing great books.

12. In the UK, they call the readers “punters,” which I know is affectionate… (she says hopefully) but which I still find a little shocking.We’re all readers, aren’t we? Isn’t that the point?

13. Everyone is on Twitter. Everyone. In the US, Facebook is much more popular. But okay, I get it. I'll figure out how to use my Twitter account. Because I really don't have enough to do already. Sigh.

14. Some things are exactly the same. Friday night was the publisher dinners, and I had a fabulous time at a restaurant called the White Hart meeting my new Thomas&Mercer colleagues: authors Helen Smith, Jay Stringer, Louise Voss, Mark Edwards, EM Powell, Mel Sherratt, Rachel Abbott and Daniel Pembry, and our charming T&M hosts Emilie Marmeur, Sana Chebaro and Neil Hart.

15. The main reason I didn’t make it to many events was that just like in the US I kept getting caught up in chats, I knew a lot more people than I expected to, not just Americans like author Laura Lippman and editor Kelley Ragland but quite a few Brits (and Irish) authors and readers I know as regulars to Bouchercons and Thrillerfests and World Fantasies and World Horror Cons, like Sarah Pinborough, David Hewson, Martyn Waites, Mark Billingham, Stuart Neville, Kevin Wignall, Simon Kernick, Russel McLean and Martyn James Lewis. We Americans really should be ashamed that the Brits are so much more willing to travel to the U.S. festivals.

I also realize I’ve met a fair number of terrific UK writers and readers and bloggers during my not very long residence in Scotland, like Helen Fitzgerald and Sergio Casci, Julia Crouch, James Oswald, Chris Carter, Mari Hannah, Rhian Davies, Danny Stewart, Lisa Gray, Graham Smith. And I met a whole slew of wonderful new people who are now part of the ever-growing and forever circle of conference friends.

16, Just as with US conference attendance, it's hard to quantify what good it does for your visibility as an author. I wasn't on a panel (this time!) but even so the networking is gold. You meet bloggers, reviewers, agents, publishers, conference organizers, other authors, and READERS. It certainly will not get you the book sales of an online promotion (far from it!) but personal connections  make for the most loyal readers - readers who are happy to talk you up to other readers. I think there's a ripple effect to attending conferences that pays off in millions of ways that you'll never fully be aware of.  And face time with your publishing people is invaluable.  I always think it's worth it to attend a conference that's nearby (to reduce travel expenses!). 

17. And there's one more thing that's also always golden: the massive creative inspiration. I’ve come away every bit as fired up to write as I am after any U.S. conference. I woke up this morning and wrote five pages on the first book of my new series without even getting out of bed. 

Magic is magic, in any accent.

Next up: I'll be launching the first three books in my Huntress Moon series at Bloody Scotland, September 19-21, and then Bouchercon, Long Beach, November 13-16,

And I can’t wait to see people again on both sides of the pond.

- Alex

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book of Shadows, FREE!

My spooky (and maybe - but maybe not! - supernatural) crime thriller Book of Shadows is free on Kindle today and tomorrow, July 14-15.  (then $3.99)

Click to download your copy:

Amazon US
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Book of Shadows

Homicide detective Adam Garrett is already a rising star in the Boston police department when he and his cynical partner, Carl Landauer, catch a horrifying case that could make their careers: the ritualistic murder of a wealthy college girl that appears to have Satanic elements.

The partners make a quick arrest when all evidence points to another student, a troubled musician in a Goth band who was either dating or stalking the murdered girl. But Garrett's case is turned upside down when beautiful, mysterious Tanith Cabarrus, a practicing witch from nearby Salem, walks into the homicide bureau and insists that the real perpetrator is still at large. Tanith claims to have had psychic visions that the killer has ritually sacrificed other teenagers in his attempts to summon a powerful, ancient demon.

All Garrett's beliefs about the nature of reality will be tested as he is forced to team up with a woman he is fiercely attracted to but cannot trust, in a race to uncover a psychotic killer before he strikes again.

Read the first two chapters

"A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn't-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended." - Lee Child

"Sokoloff successfully melds a classic murder-mystery/whodunit with supernatural occult undertones." - Library Journal

"Compelling, frightening and exceptionally well-written, Book of Shadows is destined to become another hit for acclaimed horror and suspense writer Sokoloff. The incredibly tense plot and mysterious characters will keep readers up late at night, jumping at every sound, and turning the pages until they've devoured the book."
 - Romantic Times Book Reviews

"Fast-paced with strong characterizations, fans will enjoy this superb thriller, as Adam and the audience wonder if The Unseen could be the killer." - Publisher's Weekly

For writers:


I know, I know. People must be wondering by now how authors can possibly make a living if we're always giving books away.

The fact is, giveaways are always part of the marketing process of a book. Drug dealers have known since the beginning of  - drug dealing - that you need to give a little something away at first to get your potential customers hooked.  But once they're hooked, the money just rolls in, a regular income stream.

It's exactly the same way with books, which are after all just another form of addiction. Come on, you know it's true.

Wouldn't you pay full price right now for the newest book by one of your favorite authors?  I know I would. Mo Hayder, Tana French, Nikki French, Lee Child, Mr. King... I'd pay extra to get any one of them NOW.

Well, that's what these giveaways are about. A big giveaway is a great way to hook new readers on one of your books, and like good addicts, those readers will then buy all your other books, and you build your readership.

Now, a lot of people who read this blog have already read most or all of my books, and I am eternally grateful!  I love that these Kindle giveaways let me reward those faithful readers by letting them stock their Kindles with free e versions of books they already have, but want to have in their e library.

But there are other people who come here just for writing advice, but who might actually be tempted by the giveaway to maybe see all of this advice I'm always giving in ACTION, and discover that I'm actually a pretty gripping thriller writer.  And support me as an author without having to lay out even a dime, just by clicking on one of the links and downloading a free book.

Well, I hope so, anyway!

And there are lots and lots of other people out there that these powerhouse Kindle Select giveaways can reach. You can argue against Amazon any way you like, but there is NO OTHER WAY an author can possibly reach 20,000, 50,000 or more potential new readers in two or three days - for free.  It's impossible not to do it.

(But if you're a Nook reader and pissed off about the constant Amazon giveaways, e mail me, Alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com and I'll get you the book in e pub format. I'm not trying to leave anyone out, it's just the reality of the system as it is now.)

Book of Shadows was actually my favorite book that I've ever written - until I finished my last one, of course. But I hope if you haven't read it, you'll give it a try.

So how about others of you?  Are you reaping the benefits of the giveaways?  Want to talk about it?


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Murderati 2.0 (and what I did on my Scottish vacation)

Great news for Murderati fans. We’re back! The fabulous J.T. Ellison and web designer extraordinaire Cissy Hartley figured out a format for us to continue blogging but without the rigid schedule, so that we’re able to post on our own blogs and have them also show up on the Murderati blog. It solves the problem that ultimately shut Murderati down last year: it was taking too much time away from our writing to adhere to a regular schedule.

And I thought for my return post, I’d finally come clean about my last year (both here and on the new Murderati blog.

It’s been a little over a year since my last post on Murderati. So what have I been doing on that Murderati vacation?

Well, of course, yes, I wrote another book. Two books.

Blood Moon, the second in my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series, is available now. I’m very excited to announce that Thomas & Mercer has picked up the series and will be re-releasing Huntress Moon and Blood Moon in the fall, along with Book Three, Cold Moon, in print, eBook and audio. There’s a brand new audiobook of Huntress right now, which I put out myself, with the fantastically talented, multiple Audie nominee R.C. Bray narrating. And I’m working on Book 4 right now, along with another series. More about all that to come.

But there are other things to catch up on first.

Because it was also almost exactly a year ago that I went to Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs, and ended up, um, moving to Scotland.

Yes, when I take a break from something, I really take a break.

I blogged about that Left Coast Crime trip here, but I didn’t exactly tell the whole story.

You all know that at a conference, you can find the writers at the bar. You may not be as aware that the longer you stay in the conference bar, the more likely it is to turn into a hotbed of illicit activity. (Okay, I guess that’s true of any bar…)

So last year at Left Coast Crime I was at the bar talking to Scottish crime writer Craig Robertson…    
and basically we never stopped. I visited him in Scotland, he visited me in California… and suddenly we were redecorating an office together.  (No, we don’t write in it at the same time. He often doesn’t wake up until I’ve finished my entire writing day. Which is useful for productivity…).

I always said if I ever did the love thing again, it would have to be with another writer. It’s just too hard when the person you’re sharing your life with has no idea what is going on in your head. With another crime writer, you know exactly what’s going on in your partner’s head. And it’s seldom pretty. And that’s okay. Because let’s face it, what’s in your own head isn’t very pretty, either. And you can do things like wake the other person up in the middle of the night to ask critical life questions like “What’s the absolute minimum time you can get DNA results back?” and they will not only have the answer but not mind you asking (much). That’s pretty golden.

So we’ve been living together a year now, which is pretty good considering that I moved in with him before we had a first date. And it will make for some interesting new blog material, because I have three new perspectives to write about: living with another thriller writer, and living in another country, and the UK book business.

I’ll start today with the question everyone always asks me:

What’s it like living in Scotland?

And you know how I love my lists, so here’s a short list of answers.

- It’s more like Trainspotting than Brigadoon

Actually, Glasgow is more like Trainspotting, Edinburgh is a bit like Brigadoon. Especially up around the tourist traps near the castle. We live between the two cities, so I get to spend a lot of time in both of them, and it seems to me that Glasgow and Edinburgh have a combative relationship somewhat like the one between L.A. and San Francisco (except that L.A. doesn’t really look outside itself enough to realize that San Francisco has a combative relationship with it…).  Glasgow is the mean streets, very masculine, outgoing, aggressive, and apparently crime-riddled. 


Edinburgh is dreamy and arty and feminine (really one of the more gorgeous cities I’ve ever seen). As a part of the crime writing scene I spend more time in Glasgow, but I like both cities and find the contrasts fascinating. Yes, I’m taking notes…

Speaking of Trainspotting…

- Subtitles would be good

Okay, I know that in my list to the Universe of what I wanted in a partner I suggested that an accent would be nice. English, Irish, Scottish, they’ve all always worked for me. Plus the humor. What I didn’t know was how bloody hard it is to understand a whole country full of them.

Craig is pretty comprehensible when we’re alone. He was a journalist for twenty years and has interviewed people from all kinds of countries, so he’s used to adjusting his accent to whomever he’s speaking with. But get him in a taxi, and he starts talking with the driver… they might as well be speaking Swahili. 

- Separated by a common language

It’s not just the accent. Even when I do manage to decipher that, I am constantly running into words and usage that I’ve never heard of. Everything that we pluralize in the US, the UK singularizes, and vice-versa. It’s the linguistic version of driving on the wrong side of the road, which they also do here. Lots of words get shortened (leccy, brekky, footie) and everything shortened has a “y” or "ie" added. If that all wasn’t short enough, they are constantly dropping “to be” in sentence construction (you hear “needs ironed” or “needs replaced” instead of “needs to be ironed” or “needs to be replaced”).  And of course, everything is “wee.” It’s not “a walk” or “the shop” or “a text.” It’s “a wee walk” and “a wee shop” and “a wee text.” (If you ever hear me saying a “wee” anything, you’ll know I’ve crossed some internal line and there’s no going back.)

Apparently the Scottish people invented the English language. Apparently they invented a whole lot of other things that the English stole. So I have no grounds for any linguistic argument. Plus you really don’t want to get in an argument with anyone Scottish – they seem to have invented that art, too.  So I don’t argue. I just casually mutilate the language with my Californiaisms. Probably I’m not the only one who needs subtitles.

- There are castles

Like this one, which we can see from our street:

In fact, there is history everywhere, and really, really old history. Sights like the above are so common here I often feel as if I'm living on a movie set.  My dreams are pretty surreal, too.

- The weather isn’t as crap as they keep saying it is

Scots like to complain. They especially like to complain about the weather. Maybe I got such a hard sell on how crap the weather was that it seems sunny by comparison (I’m a native Californian - people were betting against me surviving my first winter) or maybe I spend so much of my day inside my own head that I don’t notice the weather, or maybe rain is just good for the kind of writing I do, or maybe Scotland is finally getting the global warming it’s been dreaming of… but I don’t mind the weather at all.  It rains a lot, but there’s also a lot of sun. It’s also clear air all the time, which is wonderful. SMOG is bad. Snow is a major pain and could kill you. Rain is just weather.

- There’s this thing called a pub quiz

Pub quiz is both hilarious and nerve-wracking, like Trivial Pursuit on steroids. Luckily they take place in a pub, so all that Guinness takes the edge right off.

Look, we all know Americans are notoriously, spectacularly bad at geography. And there’s nothing like a pub quiz to make you understand how little you know about the composition of the world. I’m even worse than normal because when I was in primary school, the gifted and talented classes were held during geography hour, so I got lots of art and square dancing, which are pretty useless in the geography portion of a pub quiz. While I occasionally get random American trivia right, I try not to get involved in the tie-breaker final answer kind of thing. But it is hilariously good fun, much more engaging than a night in watching television.

- Don’t even think about mentioning Braveheart

Not being a fan of Mel Gibson’s torture porn, I never saw the movie myself, but apparently it’s about as accurate to Scottish history as Apocalypto is to Mayan history.

The actual story of William Wallace is fascinating and explains a lot about the Scottish character. He was a Scottish landowner who rebelled against incredible persecution under the English and became one of the main leaders in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 1200’s- early 1300’s. (And yes, it all still feels that old over here.)

Here’s the Wallace Monument, which I can see from the bedroom window (Do we think men had anything to do with this design? I wonder…)

- Yes, there are kilts

And I’m in favor of them.

So, I’ve come clean. What have you all been up to this year?

- Alex

As a welcome back to Murderati, I'm giving away a new audiobook of Huntress Moon.  Just comment to be eligible!