Sunday, May 31, 2009

Printers Row - Chicago

by Wilfred Bereswill

Since Annette Dashofy had so much fun organizing and babysitting the PennWriters Conference, I thought I’d stick with the theme. While writers conferences are in full swing, there have been many that have been cancelled or delayed due to the economy. Last week, over at The Outfit, a blog of Chicago Writers, Barb D’Amato wrote about the seeming demise of mystery conferences in particular. So is it all about the economy, or is it something else? Is The Internet and its virtual world making it easier to stay home and get your fill of authors teaching about writing? Personally, I think it’s a little of both.

I’ve gone to a number of conferences both pre and post publication. I can tell you that since I’ve been published, conferences have become more fun and relaxed. Even with the pressure of being on panels, I’ve been much more relaxed at the last couple of conferences I’ve been to. You see, I’ve always been comfortable speaking to groups from my business life, but sitting in front of an agent or publisher is like getting called into the boss’s office and him saying, “Close the door and have a seat.” The stomach does a flip and food that you’ve just eaten seems insistent on making a return visit.

The most memorable of panels I’ve served on was at Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, IN. last year. I had the pleasure of working with the Barb Diamato and Austin Camacho. We decided on going almost completely unstructured, coaching the attendees to write a flash fiction mystery. We got off to a rousing start and, while it took a little time, the group really got into it. I think if we had another hour, we would have had an awesome story. It started with a man driving his big rig down the highway, when... SPLAT! Something falls out of the sky and hits the big truck. The plot was actually intriguing enough, I thought about pursuing it afterward.

Back to the economy. I’m really hoping the economy doesn’t affect Printers Row this coming weekend. I’m heading up to Chicago for my first literary festival where I’ll be signing at Big Sleep Books tent on Saturday afternoon and maybe again on Sunday afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the fabulous authors I’ve come to know up there and a few I’ve yet to meet: Tasha Alexander, Laura Bradford, Andrew Grant, Barb D’Amato, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Joe Konrath, Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Jeffery Deaver and Sara Paretsky. I’m sure I’m missing a few, but if nothing else, I plan on having a good time and I hope if you’re in the Chicago area, you’ll come by and see me.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Burning questions

By Pat Remick

Can a cake catch on fire and if so, does it emit deadly gases?

After my recent Pistachio Cake mishap, I consider it important to know the answers to these questions. They could determine whether I almost killed my kid, I’m exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms and/or suffering from Baby Boomer Attention Deficit Disorder.

Husband No. 1 and I were driving back from a Saturday morning trip to the Library when my cell phone rang. No. 1 son had walked into the house from an errand and was greeted by the oven timer buzzing at full blast (though not enough to awaken No. 2 son upstairs).

“Oh my God,” I gulped. “I forgot I’d put the Pistachio Cake in the oven. Is it on fire?”

Husband No. 1’s eyes were the size of saucers. He had that “do I need to call 911” expression (due no doubt to my history of “visits” from fire apparatus with sirens blaring).

After being assured by my son that no flames were coming from the oven and there was no need for a fourth visit from firefighters, I asked how the cake looked. Long pause. “Well-done,” he finally replied.

I disconnected the call in a panic. Not about the cake, mind you, but that I’d spent time making it, put it in the oven and then, well, completely forgot about it. Could I blame my excitement over the news that the reportedly hilarious mystery novel “The Spellman Files” (Think Part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry) by Lisa Lutz was available for borrowing from the Library? Probably not.

“Ohmigod, I wonder if I should be tested for Alzheimer’s or ADD,” I moaned. “What if I’d burned down the house and killed our son?”

“I don’t think cakes can catch on fire,” Husband No. 1 replied.

“But what about deadly gases? I could have killed him.”

“I’ve never heard of anyone dying from cake fumes or pistachio gases,” he said, his eyes now back to normal size. “But maybe now you’ll stop complaining about me forgetting things.”

Unlikely. However, I am happy to report the cake was only slightly darker than usual and tasted as wonderful as always. I love this cake. It's easy to make and it can be used as a breakfast item or a dessert. It's the only Bundt cake I've ever made that doesn't stick to the pan. It freezes so well no one can tell you made it a week earlier. And now I know it doesn’t catch on fire easily. This could be important in the future.

PS: Before I could relate this tale to my friend, she announced she was very concerned about her own memory because just the other day she’d left the hot soapy water running to fill her laundry room sink, got distracted by a question and 30 minutes later discovered a river running through her house, into the basement and seeping into her carpeted closet. I thanked her very much for sharing her story.

Do you suppose getting distracted and forgetting so easily is contagious?

In the meantime, here's the recipe for the apparently indestructible Pistachio Cake:

1 pkg. butter cake mix (if unavailable, use yellow cake mix)
1 box instant pistachio pudding mix
1/2 c. oil
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
½ tsp butter flavoring
1 cup sour cream (fat-free is OK)
(a few drops of green food coloring if darker color desired)
For topping:½ c chopped nuts (sliced almonds, walnuts, whatever),3 TB sugar,1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or spray) 10-inch Bundt pan. Blend all cake ingredients well. Mix 1 minute on low speed, scrape side, another 2 minutes on high. Make topping separately.To assemble: Put half the topping in bottom of pan, then half the cake ingredients, rest of topping and rest of cake. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes (toothpick test) AND DO NOT GO TO THE LIBRARY WHILE THIS IS COOKING, cool on rack 10-15 minutes, check sides. If ready, flip out, or wait another 10 minutes.

Friday, May 29, 2009


This arrived in my Facebook inbox today, and I thought I'd share, since I know some of you out there write short stories. I can't do it myself - can't seem to think small enough - but every time one of these crosses my field of vision I try to convince myself to try again:

Your Chance To Have a Mystery/Crime Story Published

We are accepting entries for a short story contest in the mystery/crime genre.

Create a new story, rewrite an old one, or include a chapter from your novel. (5000 words maximum)

Deadline for entries is July 1, 2009 (midnight et)

Second Wind Management will choose the top three entries, which will be posted on the website (on or around July 7th) so readers can vote for their favorite.

The winner will be published in the upcoming mystery/crime anthology from Second Wind Publishing. The winner will also be awarded three free copies of the book.

Here's the link for more information:

Let the writing begin!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Whole Lot of Nothing

by Joyce

I'm getting ready to head to Virginia to visit number one son, so yinz guys are on your own today. He's going to show us around DC and give us a private tour of the Capitol building. I'll report back--hopefully with lots of photos.

In the meantime, feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Real Job

by Annette Dashofy

For several weeks, I’ve been hearing “once the conference is over, you’re not going to know what to do with yourself.”

Ah, if only.

I knew what I wanted to do with myself. WRITE. But over the last couple of months, I’ve been putting off certain unpleasant tasks by claiming I didn’t have time. Things like dental appointments. Annual check ups. And not just for me. For my mom and my hubby, too. You see, since I don’t have a “real job,” I’m the family chauffeur.

The June page of my calendar is crammed with notations. None of it’s fun. And I haven’t made ALL the appointments yet. Skye is due for a trip to the vet. (Don’t tell her!) But they’re now overflowing into July!

This is NOT how I planned to spend my summer!

Last night I sat down with my appointment book and did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I scheduled writing time. Blocks of it.

“No, I can’t schedule my gum graft on that day. I have to work.” They understand “work.” And if I plan to attain my goal of writing as a career—complete with income—I must look at it as work that cannot be brushed aside for every little thing. It must become a “real job.”

Martha’s post yesterday started me thinking. I really do need a deadline. Since it’s self-imposed, we’ll call it a goal on steroids. And I’m pronouncing it here for everyone to see.

I will complete my first draft by mid August.

Furthermore, I will revise and edit and rewrite until I have a completed, finished manuscript by Thanksgiving.

Feel free to hold me to it. Ask me: Hey, Annette, how’s the writing going?

I know my critique buddy, Paula, will have no problems with this. She starts nagging when I’m one day late with a promised chapter! Keep it up, girlfriend!

Does anyone else out there want to put it all on the line and set a goal/deadline for themselves? Post it here! Misery loves company.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

By Martha Reed

I love three day weekends. I can get so much more accomplished with that extra 24 hours. If I really stay focused a three day weekend can seem like it has two Saturdays in it. I particularly needed this one since I played hookey last weekend to attend the PennWriters Conference and then had to scramble all week long to find a clean shirt since I neglected to do my laundry. It’s really pathetic how structured my life is and how quickly it falls apart once I get off schedule. Of course, the grass was knee-high, too, but at least I can blame that on the rain.

Yesterday I finished one project that has been hanging over my head for a solid year: I’ve been working on a painting called One Last Dip. You see, my niece is a water baby and always has been and one of her favorite things to do is jump in the lake just at sunset/bedtime and then run up and get under the covers while she’s still cool from the dip. She has to run because of the mosquitoes which in Muskoka can form a swarm right out of The African Queen. I’ve never tried painting on canvas this size before although I have painted wall murals for friends but this one felt different and I knew it when I conceived the idea. I was walking with a friend of mine down a road a couple of summers ago and I kept flashing on pieces of images – the way the sunlight reflected on ripples in the lake or the way the colors got wavy closer to the shore or the clear summer sky as blue as an old china plate – and I turned to Christine and said, “I think I have a painting coming out of me.” Well, thank goodness Christine is a long-time good friend and she knows enough to put up with my nonsense because she just replied: “Go for it” instead of dialing 911 and asking them to send the men with the nets.

Anyway, I put in a good couple of hours yesterday and got ‘er done. Here is One Last Dip:

I also know I’m never really done because I'm a lucky devil and there’s always something else waiting in the wings or coming down the pike. Now, of course, my nephew wants a painting, too. His painting will be called Stunt and it’s going to feature himself coming off an inner tube in the middle of the lake at about thirty five miles an hour. The perspective is going to be a challenge, all I see right now in my mind’s eye is flying hands and feet but I’ve been enjoying the challenges coming at me lately, so let’s bring it on.

Which finally brings me to my topic for today: Slow and Steady Wins the Race. I know I’m slow with my creativity – it amazes me that a writer can pop out a short story in a day or a novel in a matter of weeks. I know myself and also know that I have to think things through and I probably over think everything, too. But that’s the way I’m put together and that’s the way I get it done and why does it matter how long it takes to finish a project as long as it gets done? Even if your creative project takes a decade you’re still ahead of the person who never got started or even tried.

The other hurdle is for those folks who put things off because they can’t decide where to start. Getting started doesn’t even really matter either as long as you don’t put the brush or pen down until you’re done.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Come Fly With Me!

Working Stiffs welcomes the wonderful Kelli Stanley as our guest today!

by Kelli Stanley

In the inimitable words of Frank Sinatra, I’m calling on all working stiffs to “come fly with me” and celebrate!What, you may rightly ask, has triggered this exuberance? Am I enjoying an early cocktail? Had one too many pieces of dark chocolate? Crazy?

No on the first two, and I’m not significantly more insane than I used to be. I’m celebrating a number of things with today’s post, and specifically a common, computerized, ugly little thing called a … barcode. (No, I don’t mean the kind that says you always tip the mixologist.)

Today I received the ISBN number for my next book, CITY OF DRAGONS. And this, my friends, is a small symbol of a dream come true. Here—I’ll start at the beginning.

Way back when (it seems a lot longer than two and a half years ago)—January 17, 2007, to be exact—I opened my email and found that NOX DORMIENDA was accepted for publication. I’ve loved every minute of the journey with Five Star, the small publisher that took a big risk on an odd historical noir with a Latin title.

Since publication in July of last year, NOX had the amazing honor of winning the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award this March and is currently nominated for a Macavity (Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery). I never thought this would happen or could happen. I am blessed beyond my ability to describe it.

And … here’s the “come fly with me” part … the Italian rights have been sold. My “Roman noir”, set in first-century Roman Britain, will actually be available for sale (as a mass-market paperback) in Rome!

So what does this have to do with a barcode? Well, here’s the dream come true part: I sold a two-book series to Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s back in January. Y’ see, my life goal—my driving desire, my obsession, if you will—is to be able to write full-time. Not live luxuriously, of course—but to survive with a modest income from writing fiction. I’ve got a lot of books inside of me—contemporary stand-alones, series, thrillers—waiting to come out.

I work pretty much around the clock, hoping to attain this someday. And because I didn’t want to get typed as a solely “Roman” writer—and because I knew I had little chance of getting NOX and its sequels picked up by a major publisher—I pursued another love of my writing life and created CITY OF DRAGONS … a dark novel of 1940 San Francisco.

The protagonist is Miranda Corbie—a femme fatale in the hero’s role. She’s a PI. A former Spanish Civil War nurse. And an ex-escort.

The novel opens in Chinatown, with a murder no one wants solved. A Japanese-American teenager is shot to death during a festival for Chinese war relief. The Sino-Japanese War is still raging, three years after the Rape of Nanking. So chalk up the murder to racial hatred, the cops say. Let it ride.

Miranda doesn’t. And that’s CITY OF DRAGONS. It’s coming out next February, hopefully in time for Chinese New Year and the 80th Anniversary of the publication of The Maltese Falcon.

Because I’ve been lucky enough to sell CITY OF DRAGONS and its sequel to a major publisher, I now have an actual shot at—eventually—attaining my end game goal: to write full-time.I’ve got a long way to go, of course … but in between all the late nights and missed phone calls and skipped TV shows—the thrown-together meals and the computer eye strain that is all part of being a working writer and a working stiff—I celebrate. And today, I’m celebrating my barcode, because that makes it all the more real … and all the more possible.

So … couple of questions for you, and I hope you’ll help me throw an online party, right here and now! One, if you could sell foreign rights anywhere in the world (and with all money being equal)—what language would you want your book in and why?

And two—what “little” things represent big things in your experience? ISBNs?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pennwriters Conference Recap

By Paula Matter

Knowing Annette would probably post about the conference, I hesitated at first in doing this. But, I had such great photos, I couldn't resist.

The reason I have great photos is because I had my husband's digital camera. To me, it's just another camera. After several people exclaimed what a good camera it was, I admit I became nervous. And paranoid. I didn't let that sucker out of my sight.

I wanted to use his camera 'cause I could easily (!) upload photos for today's post. I ended up taking fifty-seven photos with this wonderful little camera. And, no, I won't be posting all of them.

I arrived about 3:45 on Friday and immediately ran into a few of my favorite people: Annette in the hallway; then David Wilson, Terry Friedman, and Lucienne Diver in the bar. Colleen Lindsay soon joined us and much laughter ensued.

Lucienne Diver

Colleen Lindsay

Lisa Scottoline was the Friday night keynote and she was fabulous! My only complaint was when I woke up Saturday morning, the Patty Duke show theme song was running through my head. Lisa had led us in a sing-a-long the night before. She had us in the palm of her hand, she was that good.

Timons Esaias as the Saturday lunch keynote was brilliant. One piece of advice from him: Instead of facing a blank page, at the very top of that page type: "This is no longer a blank page." I laughed, then saw how helpful that could be.

Timons Esaias

Our bookseller for the weekend was the phenomenal Mary Alice Gorman, owner of the Mystery Lover's Bookshop.

Buyers and browsers at the bookseller tables

Author and really nice guy Brian Butko

Standing is Susan Meier
Denise Myers, Nancy Schiller, Jamie Saloff

VP Carol Silvis and Nancy Schiller

Annette at 4:30 PM Saturday
Still looking good!
All in all, a truly great weekend. Annette and her volunteer staff did a fantastic job.
Oh, I did have one problem and that happened on Saturday. I read the back of the program book and saw my name listed. Apparently, I was the keeper of Annette's sanity. Can anyone who knows me see the irony in that?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Pennwriters Conference Photo Album

by Annette Dashofy

If you've been following my Diary of a Conference Coordinator over on my Writing, etc blog, you're probably sick of hearing about it. So I thought I'd let a few pictures tell the tale today.

C.J. Lyons wowed the crowd with two workshops Friday.

The big event was the keynote dinner Friday night. I rarely get all dressed up so it was a prime photo op. Here I am with fellow Working Stiff, Martha Reed.

A high school prom had kept us entertained the previous night and since it was now our turn to be all decked out, I highjacked Mike Silvestri to be my pretend prom date.

Lisa Scottoline was a hit, as I knew she would be. Here she is signing her book for my friend and critique buddy, Mary Jane Roth.

I love this picture.

Jackie Werth sells tickets for the basket raffle.

Sandy Stephen and Martha Reed hanging out in the hotel bar...

...along with Kathy Shoop and Sylvia Foil.

Saturday morning began with breakfast and the annual Pennwriters general meeting.

Tim Esaias gave a funny and inspirational keynote speech at Saturday's lunch.

New Working Stiff, Paula Matter, Mike Crawmer and I hang out in the Hospitality Suite.

Nate Hardy talks about marketing in a Saturday workshop.

Here are several shots from Saturday night's Beach Party.

Just some of the wonderful baskets we raffled off during Sunday's closing ceremonies:

Here are two tired and relieved Pennwriters: President Lisa Kastner and me.

It was a wonderful weekend. Everything went better than I could have dreamed.

And, no, I'm never doing it again!

Special thanks to Doris Dumrauf, Colette Garmer, and Lorraine Henderson for helping provide the pictures.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Steal that book?

By Pat Remick

When '60s activist Abbie Hoffman wrote the cult classic “Steal This Book,” his intent was to inspire people to challenge the status quo. I don't think he meant for people to go out and literally steal books – or their plots.

But I wonder if that's going on with authors today who use characters and plots from literature as foundations for their own work. Did they “Steal This Book” or are they merely "borrowing”?

Either way, it doesn't seem to bother some publishers. My local bookstore recently hosted an event featuring major publishing house representatives who offered reading recommendations. They not only talked about books with exotic locations and unusual characters, as you might expect, but also gushed over four novels based on literature created by someone else.

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!” apparently is a big hit. It's described as an expanded version of "Pride & Prejudice -- only with zombies -- that's supposedly written in classic Jane Austen style by a guy named Seth Grahame-Smith.

In “The Heroines," Eileen Favorite writes about what it would be like if fictional heroines like Scarlett O’Hara and Madame Bovary attended a literary retreat in Illinois. According to the description, this “lively, fresh and enormously entertaining novel gives readers a chance to experience their favorite heroines all over again, or introduces these fictional women so beguilingly that further acquaintance will likely follow.”

Does this mean it's OK to “borrow” these characters for fun and profit if the reader then goes back to the original works? I’m not sure their creators -- the long-deceased authors like Margaret Mitchell and Gustav Flaubert -- will get much satisfaction from that.

In "Finn,” author John Clinch “re-imagines” Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn from the viewpoint of Huck’s degenerate father. And the lead novella in “Dictation: A Quartet” is about what might happen if female secretaries taking dictation from writers Henry James and Joseph Conrad meet and decide to make their own marks on those authors’ works.

"Fan fiction" is used to describe stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, but it generally isn't offered for sale by major publishers. These books seem to be more "metafiction” – a new term used for parallel novels "with the same period as a previous work, and many of the same characters, but told from a different perspective.”

Metafiction has been especially profitable for Gegory Maguire. He’s written three novels based on L. Frank Baum's “The Wizard of Oz” -- "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” on which the Broadway musical is based; “Son of a Witch,” and “A Lion Among Men.” From Cinderella, he created “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” while his “Mirror Mirror” is based on the story of Snow White.

This all has me wondering if I'm wasting my time creating a setting and original characters for my mystery novel-in-progress. It might be easier to just sprinkle a little imagination over someone else's creations.

First, I should pick an exotic location. Not many U.S. novels are based in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan so that might work and I like how the word sounds. But what classic literature should I "borrow" from? The Bible? What about “Cat in the Hat”? My mother thinks “Grapes of Wrath” might work. Maybe I could even add a character named John Steinbeck....

What do you think about the idea of "metafiction"?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bits & Bobs

by Wilfred Bereswill

I intended to write an insightful blog today, but then life intervened and this is what I got done. A stream of consciousness on Sunday night. So, what happened to get in the way? Well, all my daughters are back home for one. My College daughter finisher her second year and came home Friday. My oldest daughter’s new boyfriend came up to St. Louis for the weekend (more on him later.) I coached my youngest daughter on parallel parking and driving for her driver’s license test. We had a get-together with our friends on Saturday night and I just finished grilling a fabulous dinner for the extended family.

First of all, last week one of the fine authors over at First Offenders, Lori Armstrong, raved about J. J. Abrams. Of course J.J. is the director of Lost as well as a number of other great series. Last weekend I saw the much anticipate (by me) Star Trek Movie. Taking an interesting approach, the movie centered on The Beginnings, with a young Kirk, Spock and crew. Knowing JJ Abrams interesting approach to things and the mystery of Lost, I wondered what he would do with it.

Of course it’s subjective, but Abrams hit a home run. A Barry Bonds bash out of the yard. And he didn’t need steroids to do it. Somehow he held true to the entire theme that is Star Trek. Witty. Funny. Groundbreaking. Let’s not forget, some of us witnessed the first interracial kiss on TV between Kirk and Uhura in "Plato's Stepchildren", which first aired on November 22, 1968.
I don’t want to give away anything, but, go see this one. If you know the slightest bit about the old series, you will find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting for the next young version of a crew member to be introduced.

These young actors must have spent countless hours watching the old series to get the mannerisms down pat. BUT, with all that, I have a bit of a special connection with the movie. Almost, anyway. Last year I went to Los Angeles on business with Anheuser-Busch. I spent a week at the brewery in Van Nuys and when I was talking to the Safety Manager there, a great guy by the name of Guy Stancil, he showed me a binder with the Star Trek font. As it turns out, many of the shots of the interior of the ship were filmed at the brewery. The shiny stainless steel fermentation tanks became the engine room. And a scene where young Scotty is beamed into a coolant line was filmed in the utilities building with the orange painted ammonia refrigerant lines. One scene I’m not entirely sure of was a scene when old Spock and Young Kirk enter a Star Base on an ice planet. They enter a double door walk through a long tiled hallway. I had a strange feeling of déjà vu. I think the scene was shot in the abandoned Bosari Cellars. It was the original fermentation area that featured open-top fermentation tubs.

And in a stroke of genius, they hit the "reset" button on the series by setting up an alternate reality which make it different and unique from the original series. You just have to see the movie to understand.

Anyway, see the movie. I give it two thumbs up.

This weekend I noticed some people have rhythm and some don’t. I was playing Rock Band with some of the guys I golf with and it was quite obvious that we are not all created equal in the rhythm department. I remember the scene at the start of Steve Martin’s, The Jerk.

Some people have it and others… Well, not so much.

On to the boyfriend. My oldest daughter, Kelly, the Speech Language Pathologist just started seeing a new guy. He made his second visit up from Carbondale, IL where he is in a doctorate program for behavioral therapy. My wife and other daughters say he’s cute. I noticed he’s incredibly talented. He plays both the guitar and the piano, and does so very well. He also sings very good. So far I can say he seems like a great guy.

On a side note, I also got back into the work in progress, A Reason For Terror. It’s been de-railed a bit for the new job and all the other things that have been going on. This weekend’s word count, 2,000. It’s a start and I’m up to 86,000 words overall. I’m giving myself 3 weeks to finish it and with the season finales almost done, I should be able to accomplish it.

So, what did this weekend hold for you? Anything fun?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Investment Clubs and Clubs in General

Do you invest in the stock market? I know, at the moment, even if you do or did, you may be wishing you hadn’t. That’s because 401Ks and IRAs are fluctuating so dramatically, we almost don’t want to touch them for fear they will fall even further, or worse, skip up then drop back like a stone.
Some people are rather good at investing and can do it all by themselves, while others either not being very good at it and/or knowing nothing about it have brokers manage for them. And if you did want to do it yourself, how would you learn? Buy a book? Right, that always works. Have you ever heard of a stock club? For the past twelve years, I’ve belonged to one that I helped form. It started out as travel agents and comic book writers and/or their wives. An odd mix, but that’s what we were. We still have travel agents, one Graphic Novel writer’s wife (don’t call them comic books anymore), but the rest are not. We meet once a month, and are part of the national organization of NAIC: National Association of Investment Clubs.
We pay a yearly fee to belong, which gets each of us a monthly magazine, and we can purchase software and do most of our accounting, taxes, and investigations of stocks on line. The national organization provides guidelines, which allowed us to write our own bi-laws and set up our minimum and maximum monthly investment amounts. We each received a handbook on the way the organization felt we should go about studying stocks and what we should take into consideration before buying. We elected a permanent treasurer, and rotated our chairperson and secretary. We have a different foodie each month, though we always meet at my house for the meetings except for our picnic in the summer and our Christmas party.
Besides a very friendly group of women getting together to study and learn about stocks, we have a rather fun time. Once we started buying stock, we each had to take a stock to watch and keep up with their business progress and future prospects. We are all expected to have ideas about what stocks to invest in, and NAIC has two charts we can complete to show whether they would be a good, not so good, or bad investment. We all vote to buy and/or sell, and sometimes we vote to buy only when the stock has reached a certain price. We do the same with selling. We haven’t done too badly, even now during our country’s present financial dilemma. If we are down, it is because people leave the club and we have to cash them out. It wasn’t such a problem in the beginning, there wasn’t much invested, but now that the club is older and the investments are bigger, one big investor leaving will demand that we sell stocks we’d prefer to hold on to.
It’s surprising how much fun a learning less can be. I remember when I was younger, clubs were the rage. Even schools organized clubs and set aside times for them to meet, and the more successful ones scheduled activities after school. Doesn’t seem like there’s much of that anymore. I’m talking about the local stuff that may take you out once or twice a month, not the on line groups. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my on line groups, but I try to go to conventions and conferences to meet those people in person.
So, do you belong to a local club of any kind? Are you much of a joiner? Were you ever? Does that sort of thing appeal to you?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is This Justice?

by Joyce

I've been following the case of John Demjanjuk off and on for the past month or so. For those who don't know, Demjanjuk was deported to Germany this week after the US Supreme Court refused his family's request to block his deportation. He is to be tried as an accessory to the murders of 29,000 Jews and other prisoners at the Sobibor concentration camp during World War II.

Demjanjuk was born in the Ukraine and for years he has insisted that he was a prisoner of war and was never a camp guard. He emigrated to the US in 1951 and eventually settled in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio where he was employed as an auto worker. Efforts to prosecute Demjanjuk first began in 1977. In 1986, he was deported to Israel where he was convicted of being "Ivan the Terrible," a guard at Treblinka. His conviction was overturned in 1993 when someone else was identified as Ivan.

After he was identified as being a guard at Sobibor, he was again ordered to be deported, and last month Germany stated he would be tried for being an accessory to the deaths of 29,000 people.

When I first heard about the deportation and saw the photos and video of immigration agents removing him from his home in a wheelchair, part of me thought, what's the point? The man is 89 years old, in very poor health, and most likely won't be alive for many more years. Even if he was a guard at Sobibor, as a Ukrainian, how much choice could he have had? Was it likely that he would have been executed too?

The other part of me wants to see justice done, even sixty-five years later. And the evidence does seem to be against him. There are Nazi-era documents, including photographs that appear to identify Demjanjuk as a Nazi guard. One of the founders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Marvin Hier, feels that he should be punished. He also states that Demjanjuk will most likely be the last person to stand trial for Nazi war crimes.

So, what do you think? Should Demjanjuk be tried for sending 29,000 people to their deaths in the gas chamber? Or at 89 years old, should he be left alone to live out the remainder of his days? Perhaps a trial is the best way to once and for all, get to the truth. It may finally answer the question: Was he or wasn't he?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Conference Coordinator Meltdown

by Annette Dashofy

Too much caffeine, not enough sleep, and a last minute schedule shuffle all add up to conference coordinator meltdown.

Truthfully, that sounds worse than it is.

Let’s back up. Over at my Writing, etc. blog, I’ve been posting daily about the behind-the-scenes “adventures” of a conference coordinator. Namely, me. And since I’m beyond exhausted, I’m continuing the tale here rather than think up something else. To catch you up, on Monday, one of my speakers cancelled due to a family emergency. It wasn’t anything she could help. She’s a caregiver to a chronically ill father-in-law. I understand this. I know how it goes. You can’t stop living your life or making plans, but you always know at some point you may have to drop everything.

Such is the case with Bobbi Carducci. Send her some prayers and supportive energy. She needs it right now.

Anyhow, I spent much of the day Monday scrambling to fill the void and by Monday night, I had a plan, but no definite replies from those I’d asked to help.

Along comes Tuesday morning. I open my email to find messages from all those I’d contacted the previous day. And everyone agreed with my plan.


Next, the schedule had to be revised. The hotel needed to be contacted to make meeting room changes. My team members had to do some scrambling, too. A conference is a bit like a house of cards. Maybe not that fragile, but everything is connected. When one thing gets moved around, it affects several committees’ plans. I gave Vickie a gift by freeing up an agent for more appointments, but I created more work for Sheryl by moving workshops around and adding a new one after she had all her moderators lined up.

Anyhow, my dear friend John Lamb is picking up the slack and doing an additional workshop on publicity and Nate Hardy has earned a hug by agreeing to move his workshop to a different timeslot. Thankfully Vickie was able to move his agent appointment so free him up to do this.

Like I said, everything is connected.

So with the conference back on course, why am I ready to melt down?

I don’t mean “meltdown” as in nuclear. I mean it more like water on the wicked witch. I’m tired. I need a nap. I’m feeling a little mushy around the edges.

After all, this thing begins TOMORROW! Ack! Yep, the Thursday Fiction Intensive kicks off at 9AM tomorrow morning. Not only am I not packed, I haven’t even picked up my dress for the keynote dinner from the dry cleaners yet. I also need to pick up the programs at the printers. Of course, the programs are WRONG because of the schedule re-do. Oh, well.

I hope to see some of you there. But if I’m snoozing in a corner, DO NOT WAKE ME.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Now Comes the Fun Part

By Martha Reed

A wonderful thing happened on Saturday morning around 11AM. I finished my manuscript.

Completely. Finito. Ad infinitum. Can I get a hallelujah?

The best part of finishing it was the realization as I sat there, in my chair at my kitchen table, stunned that I was done, that I had really finished writing my second novel. The true beauty of that moment was that I could finally – after fifteen years of concerted effort – relax. You see, there had always been this niggling doubt in the back of my mind after I finished the first one that I might not be able to do it again. I can lay that doubt, at least, to rest. I did it once. I did it twice. I can do it again.

The best part is, so can you.

I’m not writing this blog to brag about it but I'm in hope that my experience might offer encouragement to someone out there who is struggling through their manuscript now. I’ve been there. It’s tough, no doubt about it. There will come a time when you get half way in at 50,000 words and look at a blank new chapter heading and think: ‘this whole thing is crap and I’ve wasted years of my life’.

Persevere. Please.

Even if you write crap, and more crap, and then edit the crap, you will one day get to a place where one sentence doesn’t really look all that bad. This may lead you to a paragraph and that paragraph may introduce a new character to you and your future readers and that character may be the voice you’ve been looking for. It won’t come easy, and if it does, you’re probably not being completely honest with yourself. Writing is hard; it makes you dig deep because, honey, that’s where the gold is.

How’s that for a voice?

And now for the best part. I get to go shopping for an agent. I love shopping, and this time, I know exactly what I’m looking for – I should – I’ve been researching the idea for as long as I’ve been writing the manuscript. And I have to admit, looking back on it, which is a very nice place to be, that I’m glad it took so long for me to learn the craft because it knocked all the crap out of me, too, as far as my expectations go. I’ve got my head on straight, my eyes on the prize, and I’m ready to play.

Deal me in, boys. I’ve got product. And it's good.

Monday, May 11, 2009


by Gina Sestak

No, this post isn't about hens, although raising chicks might be appropriate for the day after Mothers Day. This post is about building a story layer by layer, much like we build composite images in Photoshop.

You start with a blank page:

You choose a locale.

[OK, this is where imagination comes in, since blogger won't cooperate. Imagine the scene without the person shown below. Has anybody else been having computer problems lately? Mine keeps going kerflooey and now it won't upload images that I uploaded last night and that disappeared. Now it thinks that there's "an error on the page." What page?]

You insert your protagonist, a character you know well:

And, if it's a cozy, her cat.

You inject something menacing.

And then you begin to write:

See, wasn't that easy?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Givin’ It Away

by Lisa Curry

I’m not generally a fan of reality TV. I’ve never watched a single episode of Survivor or American Idol. Give me Law & Order or Medium. I like my TV scripted in advance by real writers, rather than scripted after the fact by creative editors.

My better half, however, is a TV head, and as I’m always telling him, there’s no underestimating what he’ll watch – including the most recent VH1 train wreck of a show, Daisy of Love, a spin-off from their previous train wreck of a show, Rock of Love, in which middle-aged rocker (and Western Pennsylvania native) Brett Michaels tried repeatedly to find true love among the skankiest group of fake-boobed young women I’ve ever seen. Daisy, one of his rejects, is now seeking her own true love among the freakiest bunch of overly pierced and tattooed young men I’ve ever seen.

As must be obvious from my familiarity with these shows, I sometimes get sucked into watching against my will and better judgment. And as with a train wreck, once you look, it’s really hard to look away.

(In Mr. Curry’s defense, I will say that we only watched about 15 minutes of one episode of Daisy of Love. It was too awful even for him.)

The one reality show my husband turned me on to that I truly like (and don’t feel dirty after watching) is the Biggest Loser. Even though I’m the original anti-fitness queen and could stand to gain five or ten pounds myself, I love watching unhealthy, obese people transform themselves into toned, fit, and much, much slimmer people. It’s amazing and inspiring, and I almost never miss an episode.

This week – the last week before the season finale – the four remaining Biggest Loser contenders ran a full marathon. Well, two of them ran. The other two had leg injuries, so they walked. But still, all four finished all 26.2 miles, including the middle-aged man with knee problems who weighed 469 pounds at the start of the season.

Their prize for finishing the marathon was a check for $10,000 for each of them to give to their favorite charity.

At the end of the show, my husband asked, “If somebody gave you $10,000 to give to charity, who would you give it to?”

I really didn’t know. I said maybe I’d surprise one of those fund-raising telemarketers who’s always calling me asking for money for SADD or the Veteran’s Fund or research for one of a myriad of deadly diseases by saying, “Yes, I’ll make a donation. I’ve got $10,000 for you,” instead of, “Not right now, but try me later,” or, “Okay, I guess I can give you $25.”

I feel sorry for telemarketers. I can’t think of a job I’d want less, unless maybe it’s prostitute. But it’s almost a toss-up.

My husband said he’d never give $10,000 to a pain-in-the-ass telemarketer. He’d give it to the West Deer Dog Shelter, where we adopted our beloved pound mutt, Brandy. (She’s the one who got lost when I took her to the vet’s a couple months ago and ended up living like a wild dog in a brush-filled ravine for five days while we searched and searched for her. Thanks to the kindness of strangers who saw our lost-dog flyers and called us, she’s happily home again, currently stinking up the house because she went out this evening and rolled in something nasty – and fecal, judging by the odor.)

But that’s a nice idea, actually. I’m sure $10,000 would be a tremendous help to any animal shelter, especially a small one like West Deer.

Although I don’t have $10,000 to give them, I think I’ll send them a check for a more modest amount I can afford, just because I’m thankful we managed to get the smelly dog they entrusted us with back home safely in the end. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Now I want to know: If someone gave you $10,000 to donate to charity, which organization would you give it to and why?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Commitments, Customers, and Characters

by Paula Matter

Now that I'm an official Working Stiff and will be posting every other Thursday, I've begun thinking: How in the world will I come up with something to write twice a month? Something worth reading anyway.

I now have a deadline and have committed myself to doing this. And since, quite frankly, I'm frightened of Annette and Joyce, I'd better come up with something. (They both know I kid).

Working Stiffs?

Okay. I work. In the mornings I'm stiff. Who the hell (am I allowed to swear here?) am I kidding? I get stiff a lot faster and more often nowadays. I have a job where I'm allowed frequent breaks due to a physical condition. I don't because I'm more stiff upon standing. It's easier to just get through the day and pay for it later.

So that covers the Stiff part. What about the Working part?

I work in the catering department of a local college. Y'know those waiters and waitresses dressed up like penguins in their black and white outfits at banquets? That's what I do.

I've been in the food and beverage industry (that sounds much better than I've been a waitress slash bartender) for over thirty years. I've come in contact with a lot of people (customers, cooks, managers, chefs, hostesses) during this time. Most of been great.

The others wind up in my stories. Not always as victims. Sometimes they're the villains. After a bad night, they might be both.

How about you? Where do your characters come from? Has a reader ever thought s/he was in your story or novel?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Schmoozing at the Festival of Mystery

by Annette Dashofy

I love books and I love author events. The Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA puts over 40 authors and their books in one venue for an evening of schmoozing. It doesn’t get any better.

Someday, I hope to be sitting behind one of those tables with my novels piled in front of me. For now, I go to help out anyway I can.

And to schmooze.

Okay, so I bought some books, too. But the joy is seeing old friends from near and far.

In the “near” category is Pittsburgh’s (and Working Stiffs) own Kathryn Miller Haines looking oh so cute.

Other Pittsburgh mystery writers in attendance were Nancy Martin, Kathleen George, Lila Shaara, and Heather Terrell. Working Stiffs Joyce Tremel, Martha Reed, and Paula Matter were all spotted with armloads of books, too.

I didn’t do a very good job of getting photos during the Festival. My job this year was manning the ticket sales with Kathy Sweeney (of The Lipstick Chronicles fame). We had a blast.

Did I mention the bags of books? The first people through the doors receive a free bag of books. Folks began lining up at 1PM in a driving rain. The doors didn’t open until 4PM. It looked like the lines of fans waiting to buy tickets for Bruce Springsteen. Kathy and I agreed it gives us hope for humanity. The bags of books were gone in under nine minutes.

When the Festival finally wound down around 8PM, we adjourned to the annual pizza party back at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop. And I finally managed to snap some pictures.

Okay, rule number one: never take pictures when people are eating.

Our hosts for the event were Richard and Mary Alice, owners of Mystery Lovers. I can’t imagine the workload they deal with putting the Festival together each year.

Here I am with my dear friend John J. Lamb, author of the Teddy Bear Collectors Mystery Series. We share an agent and John was one of the first people I asked to present a workshop at the Pennwriters Conference when I accepted the coordinator job. He accepted without hesitation. So we’ll see more of him next week.

And here I am with my fellow Guppies (Great Un Published. However, it appears that I am the only one in this group without a published novel). Left to right: Sheila Connolly (who also writes as Sarah Atwell), Lorraine Bartlett (who also writes as Lorna Barrett), Meredith Cole, and yours truly.

My final task of the evening was escorting Toni Kelner to the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott (which next weekend will be home to the Pennwriters Conference). I hadn’t met Toni before the Festival, but we had a lovely conversation in the car and I think it’s fair to say I have a new friend in the writing community.

Actually, I think it’s fair to say I have SEVERAL new friends in the writing community.

Thanks, Mary Alice and Richard, for giving readers and writers a chance to mingle.

And schmooze.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On the road again...

by Kathy Miller Haines

So I’ve been spending the past few weeks piggy backing book events on other trips I had to take. I’m not a good traveler, but the husband came with me for some of my journeys (adding music related tasks to our schedule to make it useful for both of us), which makes life much, much more pleasant (he’s an awesome co-traveler, especially when his wife manages to leave directions for everywhere they're supposed to drive to on the airplane).

Our first stop, Minneapolis and the awesome Once Upon a Crime. I can’t say enough about owners Pat and Gary, or their charming shop in one of the coolest neighborhoods I’ve been in for a while (if you go, make time for breakfast at the French Meadow, which we found it by accident because of a wrong turn directed by moi). Pat and Gary literally know every customer by name and have made it a point not to have a computer in their store so they know their inventory like the back of their hand. Plus they welcome dogs (like many great independent mystery stores). I also got to finally meet the lovely Harley Jane Kozak who I kept missing in Pittsburgh, but who was popping by to sign stock on the same day I was there.

Next stop: New York for a panel for the Edgar's week symposium on how former and current actors have taken theatrical techniques (such as improvisational comedy) and turned them into mystery writing tools. I’m still shaking that I got a chance to participate in this awesome panel, with the remarkable Chris Grabenstein, Cordelia Frances Biddle and Julia Pomeroy, the highlight of which was doing an improv demonstration with Chris. Afterwards, I ran around the city, meeting up with all those amazing folks who make Rosie possible and ending the day with a much too quick dinner with my best friend.

Last night was perhaps my favorite event of all, and not just because it was here, a mere fifteen minutes from my house: The Festival of Mystery. If you haven’t been to Mary Alice and Richard’s amazing marathon of writers before, it’s worth the trip. Every year there’s someone new that I’m dying to meet (or watch from afar because I’m too nervous to introduce myself). This year’s fantastic event was no exception.

This weekend, I’m spending Mother’s day in Michigan, where I’ll be on a special panel at Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor (boy, am I pumping up the alliteration or what?) with Tasha Alexander and Carrie Bebris. The last time I was in Ann Arbor was for the Kerrytown Book Festival, but somehow I managed to skip actually going to Aunt Agatha’s because…well…I’m a moron.

And then, I’m done. Which is fortunate, because in addition to launching Winter in June next month, I need a little downtime to celebrate this good news (from yesterday’s Publisher’s Lunch):

Kathryn Miller Haines's HOMEFRONT, featuring a 15 year-old whose mother has died and father has returned from the war an injured and different man; now not only does she have to deal with a new school and a whole new life, she must also figure out a way to help her father's fledgling detective agency, to Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook Press, in a two-book deal, for publication in early 2011.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Swine Flu H1N1

by Wilfred Bereswill

Since you can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about the swine flu, I thought I’d blog a bit about the flu bug. As you may or may not know, A Reason For Dying, my first book is about a natural viral outbreak that’s mistaken for an act of terrorism. The sequel, A Reason For Terror is about the bird flu (H5N1).

So what is it about birds and pigs and flu that causes this connection? Well, birds and pigs are susceptible to human viruses. Also, flu strains tend to mutate in birds and pigs and then transfer to humans.

Another question to ask is why some strains of flu seem to be bad and some fizzle out with nary a cough and a sneeze. Flu strains constantly change. That’s why we can’t wipe them out like we have some other viruses. They are the smallest form of life and they are survivalist. Some strains just don’t do that much damage to the human anatomy and others don’t survive as long outside the body making them not as communicable. Many new flu strains seem to originate in Asia and one school of thought it is the way family farms are structured contribute to mutating flu strains.

Small farms in Asia are constrained for space. Chicken pens are suspended off the ground and the area beneath is used to raise pigs. The perfect environment for growing and culturing mutating flu strains. The birds (remember they are susceptible to human strains of flu) defecate and the pigs who live beneath them are exposed to the feces which can be contaminated with flu. The strain can mutate in the pigs and when they defecate, the farmers remove it and toss it in ponds which act as a nutrient for algae that carp (grass eating fish) eat.

However, ducks living in the ponds are then exposed to the viruses infected pig feces and the strain can mutate once again. Ducks are raised for food and during the processing, humans catch the flu and things go round and round.

It will be interesting to see how bad this particular strain winds up being and if all the hoopla is for naught.

The Blue Flu, The Spanish Lady, The Great Influenza… These were all names used for the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. It had more casualties than World War I. It is thought that the flu actually started, not in Spain as the name implies, but in 1917 in Kansas. Camp Funston at Fort Reilly. There were many reported cases of flu in troops that were preparing for the war.

The flu, went across the ocean with our troops, probably mutated there where it killed millions of people and then came back across the ocean with our troops to Camp Devens near Boston Mass.

This flu, seemed to target young healthy people rather than the old and young. Meaning that the troops that had survived the horrors of the war, returned to find themselves dying by an enemy that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. In fact, it probably couldn’t be seen by any instrument in use at the time.

The flu ravaged the United States in 1919 and by the time the pandemic was over, a hundred million were dead.

Be careful out there, and don’t fool around with Mother Nature. I know I certainly need to since I have 2 days left this year if I’m sick. So, are you concerned about the flu? Or are you thinking all the hype is nothing to worry about?

Now to leave you with something happy. I found this little video and wanted to share.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Bit of Stuff

by Jennie Bentley

It’s a strange time, with some seriously weird stuff happening.

Last time I blogged, or maybe the time before, I talked about being without a publishing contract. That’s at least a month, maybe two months ago. I’m still without another publishing contract. I’m not really worried about it, per se, but it’s a strange feeling. I’m writing, but it’s writing on spec, without any guarantee that anyone, including my agent, will like what I’m doing, and I thought I was past that point...

However, some fun stuff has been happening, and since I’m not feeling particularly pithy today, I figured I’d just natter on about what’s been happening in my life lately.

Last weekend, I attended the Southern Kentucky Book Fest, which was fun. I got to hang out with people like Janis Ian and Kevin Clash AKA Elmo the furry red monster. Pictures here. I’m in the background on a few of these, but since I tend to avoid cameras, you won’t really see me.

Here’s a picture I knew was taken, of me and my agent-sib Molly Harper. Molly lives in Paducah, and wrote Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, which is a snarky and funny novel about a librarian-turned-vampire after a drunk-hunting accident. I don't generally enjoy vampire fiction, but I'm having a good time with this one. Here’s the link.

Since we’re on the subject of books I’ve read lately, I promised a friend I’d do a plug for her latest. I’ve talked about Diana Killian before: she’s a dear friend of mine, and another Berkley author—Diana writes the yoga mysteries, of which Corpse Pose was the first, and she came to Oakmont for the Festival of Mystery at Mystery Lovers Bookstore last year. Some of you may have met her then. She also writes another series of books, called the Poetic Death series. Pocket put out the first three books and then discontinued the series, and I was seriously bummed about that, because I really liked them. They have everything I enjoy: beautiful setting in the Lake District of England, American schoolteacher researching the ‘bad boy’ poets, hot love-interest with an interestingly checkered past... antiques, books, and a Harley-riding librarian.

Anyway, Perseverance Books picked up the series, and Poetic Death #4 came out in April. It’s called Docketful of Poesy, and of course I was on it like white on rice. I enjoyed every minute of reading it; my only gripe is that some things were tied up so neatly at the end that now I’m worried that there won’t be a Poetic Death #5...

As an aside, Diana has invited me to become a Good Girl, so starting this month, I’ll be on the Good Girls Kill For Money Club every other Monday. This coming Monday is Diana’s; the week after is mine. Stop by and say hi!

And before I sign off, a little bit of good news. We can all use some of that, right? Well, while Berkley may not be beating down my door with offers for more DIY-books—but they will be; soon!—another publishing company has shown interest in the first book I wrote, A Cutthroat Business. This is the one in which the new-minted Realtor stumbles over the body of her nemesis and competitor in an empty house. There’s a Harley in this book, as well, although the guy riding it isn’t a librarian. Far from it.

Things have gone far enough that we have an actual contract in hand, so we’re negotiating. If all goes well, A Cutthroat Business will hit stores sometime in 2010; the negotiations haven’t gone far enough yet that I know exactly when. But keep your fingers crossed for me, and I'll keep you updated!

That’s about it, I guess. Anyone else have any good news to share?