Friday, October 31, 2008



Well, it’s here. Do you love it? I was never a fan. Not as a kid or an adult. As a kid I always felt pressure to have a better costume than I did. I know, woe is me.

Anyone who grew up in the seventies or before has suffered at the hands of parents who didn’t give a damn what the cool costume was a given year. And I know, that means we were forced into situations where creativeness could develop, etc. etc. But sometimes it was just pure embarrassment when for some reason your creativity did not show itself.

As an adult, I never understood the appeal of grown-ups dressing up in costume. I know, I know, boring. I am, that’s true. My husband and I did our best to devise non-costumes when we were invited to parties. Our favorite was to go as Pitt fans as many a party fell on football Saturday.
But, I have to say, now that I have kids, I’m seeing the spooky holiday through a different lens.
I’ve not poisoned my children with my negative attitude toward the creepy, dark fun of Halloween.

They’ve coaxed, no pushed me into decorating inside and out, and it’s been fun to see them plan costumes. My favorite they’ve worn so far were good old fashioned ghosts, fashioned from sheets. As I watch them traipse down the sidewalk, out into the street tonight, dressed as a black cat and a combination skeleton/vampire who boasts a Clone Wars firearm, I’ll wonder how they’ll remember Halloween, whether someday they’ll dread it. And, I sincerely hope they always think it’s fun, that they always find fun in everything they do.

How about you? What are your best/worst Halloween memories?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Virtual Crime

by Joyce

I should probably quit reading newspapers, but then I’d never have any blog topics. I read an article last week that stated a woman in Japan was arrested for virtually killing her husband. She didn’t kill her real husband, she killed his online gaming personality. My first thought was, huh? I read further and found out that she was arrested for illegally accessing the man’s computer and stealing his password. Wait—it gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). They weren’t married in real life—only in the game. When her virtual husband divorced her virtual self, she killed him.

This just sounds so bizarre to me. I know there are all kinds of virtual gaming sites out there, but I didn’t realize people took it so seriously. I did some more research and found out that there’s a game called Second Life which has over six million registered users. Real businesses are even getting involved. IBM has set up a virtual office. Reuters has opened a virtual agency, and former presidential candidate John Edwards even had a virtual campaign headquarters.

Not too long ago, police in Belgium investigated a virtual rape that allegedly occurred in the game. Police in Germany investigated an incident where a virtual adult had sex with a virtual child. Although no real act took place, the incident violated Germany’s child pornography laws. Although these are virtual crimes, players take the events so seriously that they are suffering from real trauma. One woman whose character was attacked in the virtual world suffered from real life post traumatic stress disorder.

Crimes such as theft are more common. Virtual thieves are making off with virtual money and property. On occasion, real crimes such as stealing credit card or social security numbers occur and authorities take these very seriously. The FBI has been called on several occasions (they’ve even created their own characters and checked out the site).

This all made me wonder if this virtual world is really any different than the worlds we create in our books. Haven’t we all heard of readers who take books so seriously they believe the characters are real? That’s our goal, isn’t it—to create virtual worlds for readers to enter to escape from real life for awhile?

What do you think of these virtual games? Have you ever played one? Or do you prefer your virtual world in the pages of a book?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Making of a Writers Conference

By Annette Dashofy

As the first snowflakes fall in Pennsylvania, I’m already nervously anticipating next spring. Specifically, mid May.

As everyone probably knows already, I am coordinator of the 2009 Pennwriters Conference. I still can’t say with any degree of certainty whether I’d have accepted the job had I known how much work it was going to be. And it isn’t so much the work. It’s the rejection. I’m a writer. I’m used to rejection. But I can accumulate enough of it with my manuscripts. Do I really need more of it from agents and editors that I invite to attend the conference?

Apparently, YES.

But I’m starting to breathe a little. The line-up looks good. So far. There is still much to be done. However, I thought since I had no idea what was really involved, unless you’ve tackled something like this, you probably don’t either. Therefore, as a public service to anyone thinking of organizing a writer’s conference, I am going to report on what it takes and what goes on behind the scenes.

Of the utmost importance is having a team. This is where having contacts, friends, and a good network come in handy. My first task as conference coordinator was finding a major-name keynote speaker. In 2008, we had Joyce Carol Oates. Nothing like having big shoes to fill! But with the support and assistance of Mary Alice Gorman from Mystery Lovers Bookshop, I was able to speak with Lisa Scottoline and she agreed to take the role.

After that BIG ONE, the next few were easy. I knew who I wanted for Saturday’s luncheon keynote: Tim Esaias, local, award-winning writer with poetry and speculative fiction published in more languages than I can count. He accepted my pleading invitation.

Next, I started using my connections in the mystery world. I asked John Lamb and CJ Lyons to be special guest speakers and both agreed immediately.

At some point, I realized that I was compiling my dream conference. And I was going to be too busy to enjoy it!

I had my top four speakers lined up. Since all four of my first choices said yes, I guess I became a little spoiled. My attempts to acquire agents and editors to attend brought me crashing to earth. As I mentioned above, rejection became the norm. However, four wonderful agents eventually agreed to come. Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency came on board followed by Uwe Stender of TriadaUS, Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Agency, and Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident. Editors were even tougher. Jane Friedman of Writers Digest and Matt Holliday, editor of Pennsylvania Magazine both agreed to come. But editors of novel-length fiction were an even bigger challenge.

Back in June, in the midst of the agent/editor hunt, another matter required attention. On the Thursday before the conference, Pennwriters will hold two day-long intensives: one for fiction writers and one for nonfiction. I called for help from Pennwriters president, Lisa Kastner, and the 2008 and 2010 conference coordinator, Ayleen Stellhorn. Working together, we came up with the wonderful Marta Perry to lead the fiction intensive and the always popular Mary Jo Rulnick to again teach the nonfiction one.

Weeks and months passed. I’d begun this process shortly after the New Year. Planning had started in earnest after the 2008 conference in May. Here it was…October…and I still was stuck on agents and editors! Needing a break, I switched gears for a week and focused on the workshops. I’m still a long way from having those ready to go, but I’ve found authors and teachers much easier to deal with and willing to help.

Still, I want the agent/editor issue settled. I want to be able to put my full attention on the workshops without wondering who might be willing to give up a weekend and come listen to pitches. I called in favors. I begged other authors to ask their editors to come. Finally, Esi Sogah from Avon said YES.

Of course, like good writing, conference planning contains twists and complications. One day recently, I received an email from Alyssa Eisner Henkin saying she needed to back out. Later that same day, another message popped into my inbox from Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint Literary stating an interest in coming.

Which brings us to the end of October. I am waiting to hear back from a handful of editors. I’d like to bring in one more agent, but if I can’t find anyone else, I think the four I’ve got are great!

I have a fantastic team of committee heads. We’ve had two extremely productive meetings. We have set a menu and planned a beach party (in theme only…no sand) for Saturday night. I have no fears about things like registration, the basket auction, the author’s tea and book signing, the hospitality suite, brochures, or read and critique sessions. Those departments are all in excellent hands.

While I’m pleased with the progress we’ve all made up to this point, there is soooo much to do. We want to open registration online on January second. That leaves TWO MONTHS to have the conference largely in hand.

Stick around. I’ll continue to post occasionally about my progress, the set-backs, the victories, and the stumbling blocks.

The 2009 Pennwriters Conference: A Writer’s Tool Chest will be held at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott, May 15-17, 2009.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Cornwall Witches

By Martha Reed

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because even if you take it seriously it still comes out like fun. No one is responsible for planning a big meal or get-together. If you don’t have the money to shop for presents you can still enjoy the heck out of it by digging through your closet and coming up with something creative to wear that can be even more rewarding than buying an outfit straight off eBay. You can loosen up and be politically incorrect and carve the face of a presidential candidate onto a pumpkin. It’s a holiday that hasn’t been sanitized; it’s still slightly suspect, slightly pagan, and the woo-woo factor is still there. Ghosts, goblins, witches, Darth Vader, Batman’s Joker – all the creatures of the night get to come out and play.

Now I’m not usually one for woo-woo but a story popped up in the latest issue of Archaeology Magazine ( that gave me the creeps. In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I should share an excerpt with you.

Macabre evidence of age-old spells surfaces in an archaeologist's front yard
By Kate Ravilious

Archaeologist Jacqui Wood holds a fragment of a cauldron unearthed from a buried spring-fed pool near her home. This and other artifacts she has found point to a long history of ritual and witchcraft. (Photo by Manuel Cohen)

Over the centuries, many in the British Isles have appealed to witches in times of need -- to cure a toothache, concoct a love potion, or curse a neighbor. Witchcraft, the rituals of a number of pagan belief systems, was thought to offer control of the world through rites and incantations. Common as it has been over the past several centuries, the practice is secretive and there are few written records. It tends to be passed down through families and never revealed to outsiders. But archaeologist Jacqui Wood has unearthed evidence of more than 40 witchy rituals beneath her own front yard, bringing to light an unknown branch of witchcraft possibly still practiced today.

Wood's home is in the hamlet of Saveock Water in Cornwall, a county tucked in the far southwest corner of the country. For thousands of years people have raised crops and livestock in its fertile valleys, and its coastline of dramatic cliffs, secluded coves, and pounding surf was once a haunt for smugglers. Cornwall is a place time forgot; steeped in folklore, myth, and legend; and purported to be inhabited by pixies, fairies, and elves. So it should come as no surprise that it has also been home to the dark arts.

When I visit Saveock Water it is raining, which adds to its unearthly atmosphere. Wood, a warm lady with sparkling hazel eyes, greets me in her cozy white-washed barn while rain hammers on the roof. She moved to Saveock Water 15 years ago because it was an ideal location for her work in experimental archaeology, replicating ancient techniques, including those used in farming or metallurgy. Since then she has carried out her experiments, such as growing ancient crop varieties, unaware of what lay under her fields. In the late 1990s, Wood decided to do some metalwork research by re-creating an ancient kind of furnace. "I dug down into the ground to construct a shelter close to the furnace and I discovered a clay floor," she says.

Wood was excited but busy with other projects and left the find undisturbed for a few years. In 2001, she gathered some archaeology students to explore it further. "It was a nightmare to dig because the field is covered in a soft rush grass with a dense web of roots, and the soil is heavy and laden with water," says Wood.

While digging a hole for another project, Wood discovered a late Mesolithic clay platform in her field. She found that small pits had been dug into the platform at a later date, and contained bizarre collections of items including swan skins, pebbles, and bird claws. (Manuel Cohen)

As the group peeled off layers of turf, they discovered the clay floor was an extensive man-made platform -- probably a foundation for a group of ancient dwellings. During a break in the rain, Wood takes me out to have a look. What used to be a half-acre marshy field is now a slippery clay surface, covered with small plastic crates protecting finds. Based on flint fragments embedded in the clay, a Danish specialist dated the site to the late Mesolithic, around 8,500 years ago.

But as Wood and her team excavated the platform over the next few seasons, unusual features began to emerge. They came across strange rectangular holes, about 15 by 10 inches, in the clay. "At first we thought they must be postholes or something," says Wood. But the first of the holes, about 6 inches deep, was lined with white feathers. The pits cut through the clay platform, so Wood knew that they had to date to a later time, but only an expensive radiocarbon test could pin it down. "We guessed it might have been a bird-plucking pit, a common farming practice at the turn of the 19th century," says Wood.

But that couldn't be the case -- Wood found that the feathers were still attached to the skin, which had been laid in the pit with the feathers facing inward. A bird expert from the local zoo confirmed they came from a swan. On top of the swan skin, Wood found a pile of pebbles and a number of claws from different birds. She later learned that the stones came from a coastal region 15 miles away, though no one knows why they were brought from so far. Someone had gone to considerable trouble to gather the contents of this pit. That season, Wood and her colleagues found eight pits, two of which contained odd collections of bird parts, and six of which had been emptied, but with a few telltale feathers and stones left behind.

"Over the last 30 years I've been quick to dismiss ritual as an explanation for unusual archaeological finds," says Wood. "It usually means that the archaeologists can't think of anything better. So now it seems especially ironic that I end up with a site absolutely full of ritual."

By that time Wood was convinced that only witchcraft could explain her unusual finds, but no one had ever heard of anything like this. Radiocarbon tests revealed the swan skins dated to around a.d. 1640, the time of civil war in England and a very dangerous period to be practicing witchcraft. "Any sort of pagan worship was classified as witchcraft at that time, and punishable by death," says Wood. "If caught, they would have been burned at the stake." To make things worse, swans were royal symbols and property of the crown, so killing a swan was doubly risky.

And yet witchcraft remained popular, says Marion Gibson of Exeter University, a specialist on 16th- and 17th-century paganism. "Every village would have had people thought to be skilled in magic in one way or another and people in the area would go to them for their specialist services, just as we might go to a lawyer or plumber today."

Wood leads me to one of the pits and pulls the plastic lid off. I get a sense of the shock she must have felt when she found them. Swan feathers line the pit and muddy, wrinkled egg membranes sit on top. A shiver runs down my spine as I imagine someone coming here in the dead of night, digging a hole, and carefully placing these offerings in it. What made them desperate enough to risk death if caught?

Two spring-fed pools on Wood's land were places of ritual offering. Visitors seeking good fortune deposited everything from scraps of cloth, to straightpins, hair, heather branches, and nail clippings. (Manuel Cohen)

One explanation is that some of the pits contained offerings to St. Bridget (or Bride) of Ireland, the patron saint of babies and infants, who may be associated with the pagan goddess Brigid. "My theory is that maybe if you got married and didn't become pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St. Bride in a feather pit," says Wood. Women who then became pregnant might have had to empty their pits and burn the contents, she postulates.

Wood and her colleagues had further spooky discoveries ahead. Not far from the three pits, they uncovered the remains of a spring-fed pool, carefully lined with white quartz, and containing 128 textile scraps, six medieval straight pins, shoe parts, heather branches (associated with luck), fingernail clippings, human hair, and -- it doesn't get more witch-like -- part of a cauldron.

"Two of the pieces of fabric contained wool and silk, indicating they originally belonged to someone of high status," says Wood. Others were coarser and may have come from those of lower status. Looking at the textile fragments stored in little plastic boxes in Wood's barn, it is hard to believe they are 350 years old -- the vivid blues, golden yellows, and vibrant greens were preserved by the moist environment.

Further excavation uncovered a stone-lined drain and a second pool that only fills in winter. Wood realized that the pools were much older than their contents, and that this site may have been special to people for thousands of years. Based on stratigraphic evidence, she believes the quartz-lined pools are 6,000 years old. "The white quartz would have made the pools glow in the moonlight, and we think they may have been very special, a place of ritual for people in those times," she speculates.

If the pools do date back that far, they retained their sacred status throughout the ages, as by the 17th century people were using them as a place of offering, throwing in personal fragments (such as fabric and hair) for good fortune. However, the practice stopped in the late 17th century, when the crown paid locals to fill in the pools (along with other "holy" wells in Cornwall) to prevent pagan rituals.

Wood's 2008 field season brought more unusual discoveries. "We have been uncovering some extraordinary animal pits," says Wood. One was lined with the skin of a black cat and contained 22 eggs, all with chicks close to hatching, in addition to cat claws, teeth, and whiskers. Another held a dog skin, dog teeth, and a baked pig jaw. The week prior to my arrival, Wood's students uncovered a pit that contained a mysterious seven-inch iron disk with a swan skin on one side and animal fur on the other.

The biggest shock of all came from the radiocarbon dates for these pits. The cat pit dated to the 18th century, while the dog pit dated to the 1950s. "And I doubt it just suddenly stopped in the 1950s," says Wood. "It is plausible that it could still be continuing now."

Woo-woo. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2008


by Gina Sestak

Last weekend I attended my 40th high school reunion.

The word "reunion" implies a reconnection, a coming together of things that were separated from one another. I never felt connected in high school, though, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

I attended Sacred Heart, an all-girl Catholic high school in Pittsburgh's Shady Side neighborhood. It was considered the academic high school of the diocesan school system and required an entrance exam for admittance. I went there with high hopes. They were soon dashed.

I wasn't bullied by the other students who, by and large, were normal decent kids. I was bullied by the nuns.

I'd had trouble with the nuns all through grade school, but those nuns had been Franciscans. Sacred Heart was staffed by Sisters of Charity. I thought they might be different. Nicer. They weren't.

Anyone who hasn't attended Catholic school or been under the control of nuns might think that the sisters are sweet holy women, devoted to God and community service. Based on experience in the Catholic school system, I always thought that their primary requirement for teaching sisters was a profound hatred for children.

Only one of my former teachers came to the reunion, the French teacher Sister Patrice. I hadn't had any specific problems with her, so I didn't have to repress the desire for confrontation. That's one of the harder parts. While you're going through these things, it seems normal. Then when you get older and realize how young and vulnerable children and teens are, you get angry.

I didn't really fit in with most of the other students, who by and large seemed to come from middle class families with parents who wanted them to get an education. I ate lunch with a group of girls who didn't quite fit in either. Only one of them came to the reunion.

Surprisingly, the reunion wasn't bad. We ate and danced at Station Square on Saturday night, then went to mass at the old church on Sunday morning and ate lunch in the grade school cafeteria. The school itself no longer exists, merged years ago with Cathedral High to form Oakland Catholic.

What about you, dear readers? Did you enjoy your high school years? Have you been to any reunions lately?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Do Readers Want?

by Joyce

There's been an interesting discussion on the mystery list Dorothy L this week on what readers want to see less of and more of in mysteries. Although it was just a small sampling of mystery readers (some of them were also writers), it was very enlightening.

As writers, we're constantly bombarded with advice. The problem is much of it is conflicting. One expert will tell us that readers want books about serial killers. Another will tell us we have to have a dead body on the first page. Yet another will tell us our protagonists must not only have problems, they must be flawed--no one wants to read about an ordinary person.

Here are the things that some readers would be happy to never see again in a book:

Alcoholic protagonists, especially cops.
Flawed characters.
Serial killers.
A body on the first page.
Prologues in the serial killer's point of view.
Thoughtful and insightful FBI agents.
Idiot FBI agents/cops.
Making the killer too bizarre.
Cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.

Hmm. A lot to think about.

I have to agree with a couple of these items. I don't like the current trend of the extremely flawed protagonist. Some are so screwed up, even their mothers wouldn't like them. If I don't have sympathy for a character, I don't want to read about them.

The other one I agree with is the tiresome, bizarre killer. When a writer tries to make his character the most evil person who ever walked the face of the earth, he loses me. Killers should be complicated. A killer who is an ordinary person until something or someone pushed them over the edge is much scarier to me than the boogeyman. This "ordinary" killer could be anyone.

The item on the list that surprised me is that some readers don't want cliffhangers at the end of chapters. I don't think I've ever read a book that didn't have some kind of hook at the end of most chapters. We don't want the reader to put the book down, so we try to make sure they don't. Makes sense to me. But one person on the list hinted that using cliffhangers was taking the easy way out. Just write a good book and she'll keep reading. Ouch.

But come to think of it--isn't that our job? To write a good book? We'll never make everyone happy, so the best advice is just to write the best book we can.

So what do you think? Do you agree with what these readers said? What would you be happy to never see in a book again? And, while we're at it, what would you like to see more of in books?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Authors with Influence

By Annette Dashofy

Last week, one of my critique buddies posed a question to me. She asked me what author has most influenced me. Or something to that effect.

I’ve given it some thought and I still can’t narrow it down.

For one thing, I have one list of authors who influenced me as a READER and another who influenced me as a WRITER..

Looking back, my favorite authors were an eclectic bunch. I loved F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. I also loved Zane Gray westerns. At some point, I discovered Phyllis Whitney and Mary Higgins Clark and that was the big transition for me into suspense and crime fiction.

When I try to determine which author most influences me as a writer, narrowing it down is impossible! Laura Lippman, Lisa Scottoline, MJ Rose are high up on the list. And of course, Nancy Martin! But Robert Parker is on the list, too, along with Daphne Du Maurier and Jodi Piccoult. Most recently, I’ve become captivated with the writing style of Chris Grabenstein.
And to prove that my tastes remain eclectic, I’m deeply enamored with the wordsmithing of Tom Robbins and Hunter S. Thompson.

I guess, if pressured to pick just ONE author who has, over the years, had the deepest influence on me I would have to choose…drum roll, please…

Walter Farley.

As a kid, I checked out every single one of his books from the library. If the library didn’t have one, I saved my pennies and bought it. Just a few years ago, I stumbled across a paperback version of The Black Stallion at a flea market and snatched it up. I’ve even suggested that my own veterinary mysteries might appeal to grown-ups who read Walter Farley as a kid. So far, that claim hasn’t gotten me a publishing contract, but I steadfastly maintain that it’s true.

So now that I’ve pondered and deliberated and come up with ONE author who has most influenced me, it’s your turn. And if you can’t narrow it down to one, I’ll accept lists. What author has most influenced YOU? As a reader or a writer. Or both.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hidden Gem, and It’s Right Here

by Mike Crawmer

Research can be work, or it can be fun. For me, seeing how other people live is both work and fun. Pittsburgh has more than its share of neighborhood house tours, and I’ve been to most of them. But nothing beats touring a home that has been called “one of the finest private estates in America.”

If you’re thinking Fallingwater, sorry, that’s not it. This estate—which I visited last week in a rare tour—is north of Pittsburgh, on a forested hill in the small mill city of Butler (who knew?). The homes of the nouveau riche and the landed gentry feature in my WIP. Since I’m not a part of either of those two groups, I figured this tour would fill in for my lack of knowledge and imagination when it comes to describing how the wealthy live.

It did more than that. It left me awe-struck.

Consider this: The caretakers, a middle-aged couple who tend to the mansion’s dust and plumbing and such, live on the estate in their own 10,000-square-foot, pink marble “house.”

The main house—a sprawling mass of limestone, leaded glass windows, peaked roofs and lead (yes, lead!) gutters and downspouts—was built for a local oil and gas producer at the outset of the Great Depression for $1 million. Its current owner—whose other homes are in Monaco, Salzburg, and New York City—added a $20-million underground extension sometime in the ‘80s. This addition features a 24-seat theater, a library with a Gothic arched ceiling, and separate rooms for part of his vast photography and music collections. And let’s not forget the fireplace in one sitting room that the original owners salvaged from the former home (palace? castle?) of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife.

Other interesting details: A butler’s pantry as big as my living room with a walk-in silver safe. Two Tiffany stained glass windows in the photography room. One of only four exact replicas of the Eros statue from Piccadilly Circus, London, perched high atop an column at one end of the vast, impeccably manicured pool terrace. Exquisite hand-made wrought iron railings, sconces, and fire screens throughout. A wood-paneled room where a flick of a hidden switch opens the panels to reveal a secondary library. A long, narrow English oak table that can seat 44 for dinner. Immodest marble and bronze statues of Greek and Roman gods, goddesses, nymphs and satyrs throughout (no fig leaves here).

And, yet, despite the exquisite workmanship, the romantic Tudor-style ceilings and the crystal (we guessed Lalique) chandeliers in the powder rooms, the mansion felt like a home, not a showplace. It was warm, welcoming, even cozy. It was a house to be lived in—even if the owner (whose personal wealth is estimated $650 million) only stops by for brief visits in the spring and fall.

I don’t aspire to a home like this (though I wouldn’t mind spending a week or two there). But I would like one of the characters in my WIP to live in one. Now that I’ve seen how the top one half of one half of one percent of the population live, I think I can describe it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Knowing When To Say When

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger Krista Davis today!

by Krista Davis

When my agent called with the good news of my sale, many of my writing friends were genuinely overjoyed for me. After all, I had worked toward that goal for many years. I wasn’t a newcomer who got lucky with a first manuscript. I had been through the drill with three agents, many manuscripts, plenty of rejections, and wrenching self-doubts.

But after the sale, all sorts of exciting things happened -- discussions about titles and covers and marketing. I got to say “my agent” and “my editor” in sentences that weren’t just imaginary. And there soon came a point when I wondered how much I could really say to my friends who were trying so hard to be published. Did they grit their teeth every time I mentioned the book? Was I rubbing salt in their unpublished wounds?

I had heard my share of complaints from authors before I was under contract. After all, a contract doesn’t mean life will be perfect. It’s another step forward, a major step, but sometimes things don’t work out the way one hopes. I remember all too well the reaction of the unpublished to the whining of the published. How dare a published author complain? After all, she won the brass ring.

On a listserv the other day, someone introduced herself and mentioned that she didn’t “crow about her writing.” I have no way of knowing if that little barb was aimed at me. I hope not. But even if it was, I’m not offended. It prompted me to sit back and consider my posts. I would hate to be the annoying one. It reminded me of a new author who bombarded other writers with announcements every time her book burped. Making matters worse, she cross-posted so extensively that we found identical announcements in our mailboxes five and six times since we belonged to a lot of the same groups. I’ve tried very hard not to pummel my friends with posts about me, me, me.

Now reviews have begun to come in. Some wonderful, some delightful, some okay. None too terrible -- so far -- knock wood. I’m also getting fun feedback about the book. And where do I go to share my news? To my friends who aren’t writers. Ironically, while they’re very happy for me, their enthusiasm is often followed by the question “and what does that mean exactly?”

I worry that my old pals think I’m being oddly silent. But will they think I’m complaining if I express disappointment about something? Is it crowing to share good news? Do they cringe when they read the words “my editor”? When does an author cross the line? How much do the not-yet-published want to hear about a friend’s book when they’re mired in a search for agents who seem as elusive as Bigfoot?

It’s a tough call to know when your not-yet-published buddies have had about enough of you and your books. My critique partners have instructions to clobber me if I become annoying. I hope they do.

Krista Davis is the author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries. The first in the series, THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME, has just been released by Berkley.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Looking Back and Ahead

by Wilfred Bereswill

Last time I blogged, I talked about the way the week was shaping up and how busy I would be. Well, I survived and reality is crashing back around me. Now it's time to reflect back and share some highlights.

On October 6th, authors Jo Hiestand, Paul Hornung and I presented a Community College Continuing Education class titled “How To Map A Murder.” The class was really small, but it was fun. The cool thing was when Paul, a detective, talked about the CSI effect on writing and in the courts. He also mentioned that most violent crimes are impulsive, not pre-meditated and many are crimes of passion. Something like 99% of murders are committed by somebody the victim knew which is why there is a huge push to identify the victim.

Wednesday I participated on a panel at the St. Charles County McClay Branch Library. The panel was sponsored by the St. Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime and titled “Chill Me, Thrill Me.” With me, there was Eileen Dreyer, Eleanor Sullivan, Angie Fox and Joanna Slan. Eileen was crowned "Queen of Clues" and is always a hoot. She had plenty of stories to wow the crowd on her own. Oh, I failed to mention that this was a costumed event where the participants got prizes for guessing the characters we portrayed. I was going to be Hannibal Lecture, but I couldn’t figure out how to drive in the straight jacket. See if you can guess who I decided on.

Then came Bouchercon. Fueled by 3 hours sleep and a Starbucks' Venti Triple Caramel Macchiato I crossed the bridge from the Radisson where I had just checked in and who do I meet first? Our own lovely Annette Dashofy. She led me over to meet the equally lovely Joyce Tremel. I was off to a fabulous start. Okay, so I grab a few cups of coffee and go to a few panels to get the flavor of things all the while knowing I’ll be up on stage at 3:00 PM without REALLY knowing the types of questions that would be asked on my panel. My FIRST panel at a conference. I kept reassuring myself that this was no big deal, I’ve been in more intimidating situations. Like late last year I presented a talk on the Environment in front of 300 Chinese using simultaneous translators. But who was I kidding? This was 10 times more intimidating.

So, an hour before my panel, I ran off to the Green room to talk to our moderator and fellow panelists. No moderator! The delightful Caroline Todd had gotten diverted elsewhere. But I got to meet my partners in crime, Stuart MacBride, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Andy Straka, and Stephen Booth.

That's me on the far right!

The crowd was much bigger than I imagined; about 150 or so. I saw a few friendly faces in the crowd, (Joyce and Annette) but, as normal with me, everything became a blur and my mind went on autopilot. I remember Yrsa, who is from Iceland, saying that she is not the typical writer and the only Civil Engineer she knows that writes mysteries. Well, as fate would have it, I’m a Civil Engineer by degree. I think I managed to answer all the questions in a semi-intelligent sounding manner. I think I even got a few laughs. (I honestly can't remember. Zoned out. Or in.)

Anyway, I survived and went off to the dreaded signing room. Dreaded because that’s where it becomes abundantly clear where you are on the food chain. It is the proverbial measuring stick. I had to push my way through the crowd (were they all here for me?) to get to my station. The crowd was for Laura Lippman and Laurie King. I had been warned about this phenomena by my dear friend Laura Bradford. I think she was worried about my mental well-being. Bless her heart.

My apologies to Laura Lippman, but I did guilt a few people in your line to buy my book. They thought they might be blocking my line. I let them believe that.

I already dropped all the names of the fabulous famous authors I had a chance to chat with on my own blog, so I’ll forgo that here (Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Laura Lippman, Lawrence Block, Barry Eisler, etc.). Okay, I couldn't resist.

There was one quote during a panel that I thought was hilarious. The panel was about P.I.’s and my friend John Lutz was on the panel. The question was, Do you use 1st person or 3rd person, and why? Well the first author used 1st and explained how he was able to get more intimate and really just type from his head. The second said he used both in the same story, not unlike James Patterson.

Then it came to John. He said, “John uses 3rd person and now John will tell you why.” There was a delay as that sunk in before a rousing laugh. John went on to explain that 1st person tends to be linear and he likes the freedom of giving the reader information to build suspense that he couldn't give if using 1st person.

I had the chance to sit and chat with several agents, Janet Reid, Scott Miller and Lucienne Diver. My thanks to them for the good and honest advice.

I have to tell you, I went through a range of emotions. I talked about this on my own blog. Walking into the bookstore at Bouchercon, I had one dealer, Big Sleep Books, carrying A Reason For Dying. I was the little fish in a REALLY BIG pond. But I’ve got to say, the mystery writing community is one of a kind. They are generous and caring and I’m proud to be part of it. My thanks are heaped on the pile for Jon & Ruth Jordon and Judy Bobalik. It was an unbelievable experience.

My shout out to the following:

Murderati, The Good Girls Kill For Money Club, The First Offenders, The Graveyard Shift, The Little Blog Of Murder, Cozy Chicks , and The Outfit. I enjoyed meeting many of you and look forward to meeting the rest.

Next Friday I’m off to Magna Cum Murder, sponsored by Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. After Bouchercon, it will feel like a family gathering, which will be a nice change of pace. By the way, Jim Huang, owner of The Mystery Company in Carmel, IN is organizing Magna and will be organizing Bouchercon in Indy next year.

I’ll be out on the golf course today taking my frustrations out on a little dimpled ball. I’ll be checking in early afternoon.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

by Joyce

Two seemingly unrelated stories hit the news in the Pittsburgh area this week. One is about a church that's not a church, and the other is about a dance studio that really is a dance studio. But ultimately, they're both about sex.

I can hear you all now: "Ooh, she said the "S" word!"

In North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, a man and his wife applied for a permit for a variance to operate a church on their property. This church, named the Church of Spiritual Humanism, held services on Saturday nights--after midnight--and no one under age was permitted to attend. Right off the bat, that seems a little odd to me. It must have sounded that way to the neighbors, too, because they began filing complaints against the property owners. Last night, the commissioners rejected the application for a variance. They decided the applicants were operating a business in an area zoned residential.

How did they come to this conclusion? When neighbors began finding condoms along the side of the roadway, they suspected that the so-called Church of Spiritual Humanism, was really a sex club. After further investigation, they found a website that listed the Swingers Palace at the same address as the church. The church also charged a $50 fee to attend services and checked ID at the door to make sure everyone was over 21.
John Ondrik, who was ordained online for $90, says he "offers a more private, more hands-on" service. I'll just bet he does!

In the other story, Stephanie Babines, sued Adams Township in Butler County because they denied her an occupancy permit to open a dance studio because she offered pole dancing. They determined it was a sex-related business because of that. Yesterday, Adams Township officials changed their minds. In addition to pole dancing, Ms. Babine's studio will offer striptease, Stiletto Strut, hoop aerobics, power lap dancing, and an abdominal workout called SeXXXercise. Participants must remain fully clothed, and there are to be no spectators.

Maybe it's just me, but this sounds really weird. I know pole dancing is supposed to be the latest thing, but those other things??? I just can't imagine anyone signing up for something called SeXXXercise.

How about you? Were the right decisions made in each of these cases? Would you sign up for any of those classes? Or teach one?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

While I was Gone...

by Annette Dashofy

Nothing exciting ever happens around here…until I go away.

This phenomenon began years ago when we still had horses. Hubby and I took off for the day and went to the Amish country. We had a lovely day. But when we returned home, we learned of what had transpired during our absence. My dad had opened the gate to get something out of the tractor shed and all three of our horses got out. What makes this especially terrifying is the fact we live on a major truck route. Two lanes of country road with semi-tractor trailers barreling along it. Apparently it had taken both of my elderly parents and my cousins who lived next door at the time AND the guests they had for dinner to wrangle the beasts and return them to their pasture.

My pulse still goes up just thinking about it.

Another time, while I was away for the day visiting a friend, two cars collided head-on in front of my parents’ house. One of the cars ended up in their driveway on FIRE. The flames scorched their maple tree. Neither the tree nor the driver (a friend of my parents no less) survived.

After that one, my mom told me I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere ever again. She couldn’t take the stress.

Last week and weekend, I was in Baltimore for Bouchercon. In case you’ve missed them, click here and here to see pictures. Sunday morning, I made my daily phone call to my mom to make sure she was okay. She was fine, but breathless, as she told me about the police that had pulled a car over in front of my house (I live two doors away…within spying distance). The cops put the two occupants of the car in the back seat of the cruiser and had the car towed.

It was probably nothing more than a vehicle breakdown. But my crime writer’s imagination conjured up drunken driving and drug busts. I still haven’t found out the details.

And then, yesterday morning I went to the local post office to buy a book of stamps and was greeted by a wanted poster on the door complete with an artist’s rendition of a man’s eyes peering through a sky mask. I paused to read and learned that the day I left for Baltimore, one of our township’s post offices had been robbed. I rushed home and did some Googling to find this. Imagine! An armed robber holding up a post office no more than five miles from my house!

And I missed it!


As far as I know, no one has been arrested. The likeness in the artist’s sketch could have been ANYBODY. I’m locking my doors, even during the day. Usually, the only interlopers we have coming onto our porch are raccoons and possums. Now there’s a guy with federal charges hanging over his head on the loose.

Yes, my crime writer’s imagination kicked in with the possibility that the two events were linked. Could the robber have been nabbed right at the end of my driveway?

Unlikely. According to my spy AKA Mom, no weapons were drawn and no handcuffs were involved.

But then again, Mom is having eye surgery in a couple weeks. Maybe she didn’t see everything that was going on. Hmmm…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


By Martha Reed

Recently, at work, I’ve been asked to learn some new graphic design software. One of the neat features of this application is a graphics toolbar with icons that represent different features of the program. The scissors icon obviously cuts and pastes. A magnifying glass is the zoom. There’s even a magic wand that lets you erase mistakes without having to start over from scratch. Which made me wonder, on this beautiful October day: if writers have a toolbar, which tools are you using? I can list some of mine:

Drafting – This icon probably looks like an old fashioned Olivetti typewriter or a surfer on a board in front of a hungry shark depending on where you are in relation to your publisher’s deadline.

Outlining – This is a remarkable tool, and I just learned how to use it properly from a mini-SinC PGH workshop hosted by Nancy Martin. This is not the outlining you learned in high school! Outlining can actually enhance what you already know or suspect about your story and it doesn’t create an unnecessary constraint which was my original fear and why I wouldn’t use it. I’ve discovered that if you’re not outlining as some part of the process you’re probably wasting a lot of time. Find a resource and learn this tool. A couple of years ago Vicky Thompson presented a workshop and her entire discussion was outlining. I should have listened then, but you learn what you need to know when you need to know it. This icon should be a body chalked on a sidewalk.

The 3 R’s (Research, Research, Research) – Hopefully, as a writer, you were gifted with a curious mind. Writers also need to develop fearlessness so they can ask impertinent questions. Luckily, our professional reputation precedes us and most people are pretty tolerant. If not, I fall back on using my imitation of the village idiot and sometimes that gets me through the tough spots like when I have to ask the Ontario Park Police what it’s like to find a body floating in the water and they ask: Why? This icon is an open book.

Foreshadowing – Although this tool sounds gothic, it actually underlines drama. Dropping small bits of foreshadowing in your story enhances the eventual big payoff. Done properly, the reader will realize: ‘Oh, crap! I should have seen that one coming’. I see this icon as something spooky like the image of a ghost or a tombstone and I think using this tool is why Laura Lippman cleaned house with What The Dead Know at award ceremonies this year.

Verisimilitude – Oddly enough, even though this word sounds like a wand curse from one of the Harry Potter’s it actually means ‘the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood or probability’. This is important because it keeps our loyal readers from hurling our latest book against the distant wall. I also call this tool: Plausibility. If the story isn’t plausible the reader will lose faith and the author will end up cursed. Since vampires are so popular right now, let’s make this icon a stake and a hammer.

Are there any tools I’ve missed for our Writer’s Toolbar? I’m always willing to learn and that icon is a mule.

Monday, October 13, 2008


by Gina Sestak

In 1994, my house burned down. I've been thinking about that lately, not because of any incendiary leanings, but because my old insurance carrier, AIG, has been in the news. Being in a fire is something that I wouldn't wish on anyone but, as a writer, the experience provides a wealth of material. One of my unsold manuscripts, Risen From Flames, involves a fire and I was able to use so many of the sensory/tactile memories not only of the fire itself but afterwards: the smell of damp burnt carpeting, the crunch of fallen plaster under foot.

I always thought I knew what to do in an emergency, but I hadn't reckoned on the brain-addling effects of smoke inhalation or how disorienting it can be in the dark when all electric power has gone out and a thick cloud of smoke is billowing through the halls. I forgot the basic rules of fire safety, so let me repeat the most important one here now: When the building you are in is on fire, GET OUT.

The fire started sometime during the night. My ex-husband, Terry, had lost his lease and was staying in my guest room. He came into my bedroom around 3 a.m. and said, "Gina, wake up, the house is on fire." He was still listed as beneficiary on my life insurance at the time. Those eight little words cost him $40,000.

Once awake, I heard the smoke alarm. I think I must have been inhaling toxic fumes to have remained asleep. The smoke alarm was hanging right outside my bedroom door and blaring very loud. I got up and looked into the room where Terry had been sleeping. Mid-way through, there was a solid wall of flame.

"We have to put this out," I said.

"We can't put this out," Terry responded.

It didn't occur to me that he might be right, or that I had a fire extinguisher on the first floor -- assuming that fires were most likely to start in the kitchen or furnace area, I kept in hanging near the cellar stairs. Instead, I went into the bathroom and filled a tiny waste basket with water from the sink, then went to throw it at the fire. The water disappeared into the fire. It didn't even turn visibly to steam. I realized then that he was right. We couldn't put this out.

Terry had been waiting nervously in the hallway while I did this, perhaps wondering whether to leave me there or drag me out. We went downstairs and I sent him to wake the neighbors. We were in the end house of a four-unit row. No one slept in the house next door, which functioned as a doctor's office in daylight hours, but a couple with a baby occupied the next house down. It was important that they be warned. I, meanwhile, went to call the fire department, from the room directly under the room that was on fire. Fire safety rule number two: Things cave in when they burn. DO NOT STAND UNDER THE BURNING ROOM. A smart person would have gone with Terry to the neighbors, and asked them to call 911.

The 911 operator told me to get out of the house.

City paramedics took Terry and me to the hospital. We had inhaled a lot of smoke and he was burned. The mattress he'd been sleeping on caught fire; that probably saved our lives because he woke up when his hand began to burn.

The house wasn't a total loss. Saying it burnt down is an exaggeration. Between the flames and the fire hoses, though, it was essentially gutted. The brick walls made it through okay and some of the floors survived, but there was a point when you could stand in my kitchen on the first floor and look up through what had been the second floor and attic to the underside of the roof. AIG came through. The house was rebuilt from the walls in and all my damaged furniture, etc. was replaced. No one was hurt. Even the pets (about a dozen mice) survived.

So, in retrospect, the fire was an interesting experience.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday at Bouchercon

by Annette

Click here for Saturday's pictures of Bouchercon.

More from Bouchercon

by Annette

Here are some pictures from Friday at Bouchercon. First thing this morning, Joyce and I attended Lee Lofland's panel:

Here's a shot of Joyce, Paula Matter, and Rebecca Drake:

Joyce and I took a walk down to the Inner Harbor this afternoon. Baltimore can be very gritty and dangerous, but some areas are absolutely breathtaking. The Inner Harbor is one of those places

Felicia Donovan with Joyce:

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Big 4-5

by Lisa Curry

Yesterday, October 9, was my 45th birthday.

I didn’t like turning 40. I didn’t like turning 44, either. In fact, I believe that last year at this time, I wrote what I titled, “Bad Birthday Blog.”

But to my surprise, I’ve found that I like being 45. I like it very much, for reasons I can’t quite explain.

Being overloaded with projects to the point that I’ve had to work the past two weekends, I couldn’t take the day off work. And because my sons had midget football practice and a school open house in the evening, I couldn’t do anything after work to celebrate. My husband is making a cash contribution to my new-washer-and-dryer fund for my birthday, so I didn’t have a gift to open, either.

Despite being just another day in that sense, my birthday had its share of special moments. My co-workers surprised me with two cakes and a peach pie for a birthday dessert after lunch. I had a piece of all three. My husband gave me a birthday card that made me laugh. And my firstborn made me a card with the number “45” handwritten all over the front of it in multi-colored magic marker, because the Hallmark store didn’t offer a single card especially for someone who’s 45 – a fact which seemed to surprise him.

All day long, I kept thinking about being 45 and smiling. It seemed like a milestone, like a significant birthday. Like I’d achieved a whole new level of grownupness. Although I must confess, when I said that to one of the co-workers who bought me a cake, he replied, “Lisa, let us not confuse age with maturity,” which made me laugh. Then he added, “And by the way, I don’t think ‘grownupness’ is a real word.”

Well, of course it’s not, but that’s how I feel. I’ve reached an age at which I think maybe, finally, I know who I am and what I want. And what I want is what I have – a good job doing work I love with people I truly enjoy, a terrific husband who makes me laugh every day, and two kids who are smart, good-looking, athletic, and haven’t quite yet reached the stage of odious adolescence. What more could I ask for?

I’d venture to say that 45 is my favorite age so far.

What’s yours, and why?

Thursday, October 09, 2008


by Joyce

Working Stiffs is taking the day off. We'll try to post photos later if we get a chance.

Annette and I are taking a break before dinner. Here are photos of some of today's activities so far!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What's Boredom?

By Annette Dashofy

Depending on what time of day you’re reading this, I’m either on my way to Baltimore or just about to head out the door. As I’m writing, however, it’s Tuesday evening. And I’m almost ready.

I’ve been buzzing around all day trying to remember what I’ve forgotten. I always forget SOMETHING. Usually, it’s something minor. Usually.

As I’ve been struggling to get everything done that needs to be done, I keep remembering something that someone said to me recently. They mentioned that they were bored.

Bored? What’s that?

I can’t remember the last time I was bored. My to-do list prevents even the hint of boredom. I wish I had time to be bored, but I’d only use that time to catch up on my writing. Or reading. Even when our electricity was out for three days thanks to Hurricane Ike, I never ran out of stuff to do. I couldn’t work on my computer, but I could jot down plot notes. I couldn’t run the vacuum, but I could dust (I LOVE Swiffers!). And, of course, I read. It was bliss.

I suppose there may be a case to be made that I overload my plate because I suffer a fear of boredom.


I made a point to not over schedule my time at Bouchercon so I could stay open to spontaneous invitations and whims of fancy. But I have no fear of being bored.

So, I’m curious. Do you get bored? If so, please explain to me how that works. Of course, Joyce and I are on the road, leaving you all to talk amongst yourselves. But I’ll check in once I…well…check in.

Look out, Baltimore! Here we come!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why I Live in the Past

By Kathryn Miller Haines

Last month I was on a panel for female historical fiction writers at the fabulous Kerrytown book festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During the Q&A a gentleman in the audience, festooned with buttons for the upcoming election, rose with clipboard in hand and began the longest preamble since the U.S. Constitution. As we stared at him glassy eyed, a little worried that he was going to ask us if we were registered to vote, he finally came to his point: why, he wanted to know, did we write about historical crime when one of the worst crimes in history was currently being perpetuated on us by the U.S. Government?

We blinked in response, uncertain if we’d heard him correctly.

Gradually, though, we came back to ourselves and one by one we sidestepped a debate about U.S. policies and began a lively discussion about why we set our fiction in bygone times.

While it might seem on the surface that we’re trying to avoid confronting contemporary problems, oftentimes those of us who write historical fiction do so as a way of working out present events. It’s impossible to write about a past war without thinking about the one we’re currently going through, just like it’s hard to separate the discussion of one political administration without – often subconsciously -- comparing it with one we’ve experienced first hand. The same goes for crime. By exploring historical crime, we’re trying to work out why people kill, regardless of the era. Perhaps if we can identify what makes them tick ten, twenty, two-hundred years ago, we can figure out the reasons behind similar behaviors today.

There’s also something very reassuring about venturing into history. By looking at past events we can see that we have, as a people, survived countless similar struggles and that means the odds are good that we’ll make it through whatever it is we’re going through now.

For me there’s another reason I’m fascinated by the past. We tend to mythologize history and those who participated in it. We convince ourselves that the lives they lived were more interesting and important than ours. We believe that they were morally superior and that we were born into an era that doesn’t value life in quite the same way. I’m interested in stripping away that notion by showing people as they really were and demonstrating that crime, cowardice, corruption and all the other things we think of as modern ailments have been around as long as man (and woman) kind have.

So what about you -- why do you write or read historical fiction?


While everyone else is at Bouchercon, I'm off to Texas this weekend for a mini-book tour. If you're in Houston, San Antonio, or Austin, please stop by:

  • Friday, October 10th at 6:00 I'll be signing and discussing The Winter of Her Discontent at Murder by the Book in Houston, TX.
  • Saturday, October 11th, at 11:00 am at the Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Bldg, I'll be signing books as part of the Trinity University Alumni booksigning in San Antonio, TX.
  • Saturday, October 11th, at 6:00PM I'll be at Remember the Alibi in San Antonio, Texas, reading, talking, and signing.
  • Sunday, October 12th, at 4:30PM I'll be at BookWoman in Austin, Texas, reading, talking, and signing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Week in the Life of A Working Stiff

I think I need my brain checked. Somehow, after 50, the memory just ain’t what it used to be. I liken my brain to a hard drive. A full hard drive, with no open sectors. And if I need to store something, then something else has to be erased. I have no control over what gets evicted. No little dialog box asking me if I’m sure I want to delete this file. POOF! Whatever happens to be there vanishes without a trace. When I was taking Chinese language lessons, I feared I was forgetting an English word for every Chinese word I learned.

So, last week, I volunteered to fill in for today. I should have looked at my calendar. So, here is what happens when you finally get published. And remember, this is in addition to my more-than fulltime job as an Environmental Engineer.

All this past weekend I worked on putting together a proposal for A Reason For Terror. Although I’m thrilled an agent asked for it, a damn good agent on top of that, the timing could have been better. I went through the first three chapters again with a fine tooth comb, making sure it was as perfect as it could be. Then I went about pulling together a synopsis. If you’ve never done one then you don’t know how agonizing the process is.

Tonight I am co-teaching a class for the St. Louis Community College Continuing Education program. It’s a two-hour program called, How To Map A Murder. First we’re going to do an interactive exercise plotting the ALMOST perfect murder. One of the authors is a police detective, so as I lead the class through the who, what, when, where, and how, he will be punching holes in the plot, citing all those things that can go wrong with a murder plot. Then we’ll talk about scene setting, building suspense and characters. Then finally our detective will do a little thing on CSI falsehoods.

Tuesday is a night to prepare for Bouchercon and my panel assignment. Plus I have to throw my clothes in a suitcase. Yes, ladies, I always take about 15 minutes to pack and that includes just one pair of shoes (the one’s I wear on the plane.) I’m also preparing for...

Wednesday night: I’m appearing on a mystery panel at the St. Charles County McClay Branch Library. This is the annual Sisters in Crime (St. Louis) Halloween panel. It features Eileen Dreyer, Eleanor Sullivan, Jo Hiestand, JoAnna Slan, Angie Fox and yours’ truly.

Thursday I leave for Bouchercon and have the pleasure of appearing on my first writers conference panel. If you happen to be attending Bouchercon, the panel is at 3:00 PM on Thursday. DREAM POLICE (Cheap Trick) Law enforcement in novels, fact vs. fiction. Caroline Todd(M), Wilfred Bereswill, Stephen Booth, Stuart MacBride, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Andy Straka

At this point I have no clue what the questions will be and my nervousness exists on multiple levels. I’ll follow that up in the book room, signing my book. Hopefully, with all the other notable authors, I’ll sell one or two copies. Laura Lippman will be signing at the same time, so I’m hoping people get tired of waiting in her line and feel sorry for me.

Of course I’ll be wandering the halls of the Sheraton in Baltimore in awe of the whole affair. Hopefully the rest of the weekend I’ll be able to relax a little, but I doubt it. I return home late Sunday night and get ready to return to my boring life as an Environmental Engineer. Because, after a week off, I leave for Muncie, Indiana and Magna Cum Murder.

This, by far, will be my most challenging week as an author yet. AND I CAN”T WAIT. Oh, did I mention I’m on a deadline to have the first draft of my second novel, A Reason For Terror done by Halloween?

So, aspiring authors, be careful what you wish for. What’s in store for you this week? Any challenges?

Friday, October 03, 2008

People Are Talking...

by Jennie Bentley

With a month to go until FATAL FIXER-UPPER hits stores everywhere—OK, a month and a day, but what’s 24 hours among friends?—word has started to get around.

Yesterday, for instance, I went to my local Barnes and Noble and bought their entire stock of Romantic Times Book Review magazines. (It’s not as bad as it sounds. They only had two, and I’m not sure what to do with the second. If it comes to that, I’m not entirely sure what to do with the first.)

The reason, of course, is that there’s a review in there. A review of my book. A—no kidding—4 ½ star review. Which is as good as it gets, from Romantic Times. (All right, so one of the stars could have been gold, but still, 4 ½ stars for a debut book is pretty darned impressive. Or so I’ve been told.) I counted (pitiful, I know) and of the seven 4 ½ star reviews of mysteries and thrillers in the November issue, the other six went to—wait for it—Michael Connolly, Jeffery Deaver, Reginald Hill, David Morrell, M.J. Rose and J.D. Robb. Some pretty exalted company there.

You can read the whole thing HERE, if you want. Don’t feel you have to, though. And just FYI, 4 ½ stars translates to FANTASTIC – Keeper, in their ratings guide. Yay, me!

So I’m pretty psyched right now. And what made it even sweeter, was that it came on the heels of another review, one that was 180 degrees the opposite. That one was from one of the Big Four—Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal—and boy, did the anonymous reviewer hate my book. Enough that the attack felt almost personal. Kind of along the lines of, “whose high school boyfriend did I steal to receive this kind of treatment?”

In the interest of total disclosure, you can read it on this page, down toward the bottom, among the mass market paperback reviews. If you don’t care to—and I don’t blame you; I wish I hadn’t—let me just share that my favorite sentence was, in describing my protagonist, “she’s about as bright as her boyfriend’s crowbar.”


Funny thing is, they both read the same book. But where one thought the “first-rate” mystery was “unusually strong,” the other thought it had “no substance.” And where one mentioned the “bang-up, frightening surprise ending”, the other saw “predictable anticlimactic peril.” Where one thought the heroine was intelligent, the other thought she was dumb as a post. I could go on, but what would be the point?

So who’s right?

Hell, I don’t know. I’d like to think that one of them ‘got’ the book, and the other didn’t. Of course, I’m not exactly unbiased...

Do I care, though?

No, not really. I’d hate to think that someone would chose not to read the book based on the crappy review, when they might actually like it if they just gave it a try. On the other hand, I think I’d hate even more for someone to buy the book as a result of the glowing review, and then be disappointed. If you start at the bottom, there’s no way to go but up, but once you’ve disappointed someone, it’s awfully hard to get that trust back.

Anyway, that’s the view from Jennie’s Planet. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, on reviews, trust, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lots of Nothing

by Joyce

I know this is hard to believe for a writer, but I have no topic for today. I thought of doing a rant on the ridiculously long election process and how I haven't heard one commercial yet that says anything even close to the truth about any candidate, but I vowed a long time ago that I'd stay away from anything political. I won't even read blogs that get political. As soon as I see anything about politics or the election, I click away. The way I figure it, no matter which candidate a writer supports, as soon as they make that public, they've essentially lost half their potential readership. And since I don't have even have a readership yet, I'm keeping my mouth shut.

Instead, lets have some fun. I want everyone here who is a writer to speak up and tell everyone a little bit about what they've been working on. If you're just a reader, tell us about what you're reading right now.

I'm working on a funny mystery. My two previous manuscripts were more serious and a bit on the dark side, so this is a really different venture for me. My protagonist is a five foot ten inch tall redhead with big hair. She works as a police secretary/dispatcher in a small southern town. I'm only about 50 pages into it, but I'm having a blast.

Okay, who's next?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Better Late Than Never?

by Annette Dashofy

The population of the world can be divided into two camps. A.)The people who always arrive early and B.)The people who always arrive late.

Is there any wonder why the crime rate is so high? Why wars rage? Why the financial institutions are crumbling? It’s because the person who was early had to wait for the person who was late and went totally postal.

Okay, so maybe some people are always on time, but that is such a small window, I’m willing to bet even those punctual humans lean more to one side or the other.

As for me, I am one of the anal early arrivers. It’s an inherited trait I got from my dad. I certainly didn’t get it from my mom. She’s more of a punctual-leaning-toward-late person. Drove my dad crazy for over sixty years.

Before the late arrivers get in an uproar, let me say, you’ll get your chance to defend yourself in the comment section.

I’m not sure what I did in a previous life, but I seem to be karmically doomed to be surrounded by those who hold no strong attachment to a clock. I arrive someplace ten minutes early. The person (or people) I’m meeting arrives fifteen minutes late. Whenever possible, I arrange these meetings in bookstores so I can at least browse while waiting. Plus, I carry a book in my purse.

So why am I always early? My excuse is that I live so far out in the countryside and it takes me so long to get to places, if I were to encounter traffic or have a flat tire, I’d be late. I’d rather arrive a little early and wait than drive like I was at the Indy 500 in a panicked effort to get there in time.

The idea of being late gives me hives and heart palpitations. Why? Because I don’t want to make someone ELSE wait for me. If they’re fifteen minutes early and I’m ten minutes early, fine. If they’re on time and I’m five minutes late, I feel like I’ve disrespected them.

I guess that’s what irks me about my late friends. (And they are friends and will remain friends. I haven’t stopped liking someone just because they make me wait.) I feel like THEY feel their time is more valuable than mine. I imagine they think I won’t mind sitting on my hands while they finish a few more chores or run an extra errand.

You may say that this is really my problem and my perception of the situation, not theirs. And you’d be right. I’m trying hard to chill out. And I don’t mind if someone is late once in a while. It happens. Even to the early birds like me.

I’m attempting to just accept things the way they are. I know you’re not going to arrive for our 10:30AM meeting until 11AM, so I’m permitting myself to run late, too. Just do NOT get pissed off if you get there first. Welcome to my world!

Okay, here’s your chance. Are you an early bird like me? Or are you one of those who get there when you get there? Do your friends who are always early drive you as nuts as my friends who are always late drive me?

And to our psychoanalytical readers, WHY are some people hardwired to run late and others to run early? Really. I want to know!