Mysterious Matters

I’m not sure if the launch of any new blog, including this one, qualifies as an achievement or an embarrassment. After all, at last count there were more than 150 million bloggers toiling away. Does the world really need another one?

But I do want to stay in touch with those who have shown interest and support—and who may be curious about the future of Mantra for Murder. And curious as well about trends in publishing and agenting, about writing, book competitions, the art of crafting book proposals, options in self-publishing, and even more daunting topics such as the future of the book.

So this blog will be a grab bag of ideas and topics, all related in one way or another to books in general and mystery novels in particular (including mine). One regular feature will be the Critic’s Corner which—by mid-October—will also be accessible through

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll join in the conversation through the “contact” link on this site.


At the Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference last May, keynote speaker and best-selling author Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian) noted that she had spent ten years researching, writing and refining her novel. Ten years! I was more appalled than impressed—until I realized that my own journey into fiction writing had begun nearly five years earlier.

The Happy Part

For nearly two decades, Mantra for Murder was a title in search of a plot. All I had to show for my efforts was a dog-eared file overflowing with character sketches, failed outlines and pages of abandoned first lines, first paragraphs and first chapters. Somehow, nothing jelled.

Then came the 2004 presidential election, a.k.a. Black Tuesday. And by Wednesday morning, I had my plot. In a weird way, it was as if the book took off at a gallop and was daring me to catch up.

There were setbacks along the way, among them a so-called “buzz expert” at one Ann Arbor Book Festival who was offended by Paul (my favorite character, who happens to be gay), who rolled his eyes at the politically flavored plot, and who assured me in bombastic tones that the novel would fail. It took me six months to stop believing him and start believing in myself again. But in May of 2008, I had the soul-satisfying pleasure of writing the last paragraph of the last chapter.

That’s the happy part. Before I knew about the dire state of the U.S. publishing industry, the gate-keeping system of literary agents, the tremendous commercial expectations placed on writers and their work, and the shape-shifting tendencies of “the book.”

The Mysterious (and Maddening) Part

Timing, they say, is everything. And in the case of Mantra for Murder, my timing was very bad indeed. In fact, it couldn’t have been much worse.

When a former vice-president of Borders Books, a friend of a friend, agreed to make a few phone calls to publishing contacts on my behalf, he came away shocked and amazed. Every conversation, he said, was the same conversation. The new strategy: trimmed lists, a focus on name-brand authors and sequels, and a virtual moratorium on new, untested writers.

What that man learned from his publisher friends underscores the fact that the very future of the book as we know it is in jeopardy—from forces economic, technological and cultural.

For years, reading for pleasure has been in decline. Which is bad enough. But suddenly Kindle® and its relatives are challenging—and to a large degree replacing—paper-and-ink. Suddenly books are being uploaded, downloaded, shared, forwarded. Suddenly on-line readers are being asked to judge which manuscripts deserve hard covers and shelf space. Suddenly tens of thousands of desperate writers are self-publishing. Suddenly literary agents are refusing even to consider new writers and those who do are going out of business. Suddenly bookstores are folding and fading, giving way to cyber sellers. Suddenly established authors are admitting that the most successful writers are of necessity the most successful marketers.

Suddenly the industry is in free fall.

In Pursuit of “The Book”

And there are so many related questions: What makes a book, a book? What will books be in the future? And where will they be? In bookstores? In cyberspace? On web sites?

I don’t have answers. But I do have trusted guides. One of them is Karl Pohrt, former owner of Shaman Drum Bookstore and an expert way-finder in exploring the future of the book. In recent years, Karl has moved from guarded optimism ( through profound loss ( into a state of open-minded, open-ended dialogue and discovery as he explores “the culture of bookishness” for (

More than merely smart, Karl is wise. And experienced in the ways of the book world. If his ideas provoke any thoughts on your part, I’d love to hear them. And if you know of other worthy thinkers on the subject, let me know who they are.

For more information about Mantra for Murder
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