Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nothing to say...

by Jennie Bentley

We were supposed to have another guest blog here today, but my friend Beth, for whatever reason, didn't get one to me yesterday. I guess it's up to me to save the day.


The thing is, I don't really have anything to say. Nothing pithy or pertinent, anyway.

I think Beth may have decided to talk about Killer Nashville, our local mystery/crime writers conference taking place here in Tennessee August 15-17. She's the conference coordinator - you'd enjoy swapping war stories, Annette, and I'm sure you, at least, can understand why a guest blog might slip her mind a month or so before the conference is set to go off.

She's working on the panel topics right now, and sent me a list of them a week or so ago. The only two I feel supremely confident talking about, is Animal Mysteries - there are two cats in the DIY-series - and the Relationships in Mysteries panel. (It has another, more euphonious name, but I can't remember what it is.) The relationship-panel replaces the sex-panel, and I'm sort of sad to see the sex-panel go, since it's always good for some entertainment. Especially at 8:00 in the morning, which is when they usually schedule it. Then again, if it was still the sex-panel, I couldn't be on it, since I don't get to write sex, and unlike last year's panelists, I'm not sure I could talk about BDSM at 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning, anyway.

Another interesting one is the social commentary panel. I think that might have been suggested by Liz Zelvin, whom I know is attending. Liz writes about recovery, i.e. alcoholism, which is one of those social commentary things.

The thing about social commentary, is that you have to be careful how you put it. My first book, A Cutthroat Business - the one that has finally found a home and will be coming to a store near you in June 2010; yay! - has some social commentary. Unfortunately, it's the kind of social commentary that some people find hard-to-swallow, which I think is part of the reason why that particular book was so hard to sell. Racial prejudice is ugly stuff, and only OK to tackle as long as it's the bad guys who suffer from it; but give the heroine's family reservations about the fact that she's getting involved with someone of a different race, and suddenly you're in deep s***.

I think the most fun panel I've ever been on, was last year's Humor in Mysteries panel. We got to tell jokes and talk about people like Terry Pratchett and Janet Evanovich and Donna Andrews and Carl Hiaasen. There's no humor panel this year. I guess maybe not enough funny people are attending the conference this year. Sobering thought.

Let's get interactive. What's the most fun/interesting/challenging/amazing panel you've ever been part of, or attended, and why? The schedule isn't set in stone yet; and I'm sure Beth can always use another suggestions.

Till next time!

Monday, June 29, 2009


by Myra McEntire

Today’s post is about connections. We are all surrounded by one big worldwide web - wait. That analogy is already taken. Crap. Thanks, Al Gore.

So much for originality on my first guest blog.

Back to connections. Last August, I attended a writer’s conference, Killer Nashville, where I met Jennie Bentley. *waves to JB*

I also met Tracy Barrett, president of the Midsouth Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Tracy’s wise advice prompted me to join SCBWI, which led me to the Midsouth listserv, a fount of writing information. On that listserv I met Kimberly Pauley, who is the author of Sucks to Be Me, as well as the book goddess over at Young Adult Books Central. Now I review for YABC – books in my genre that I get FOR FREE in the MAIL!

I heart brown paper packages tied up with string.

Yippee for you, you might say. What a nice little serendipitous circle.

Question. What if you want to make connections but can’t attend a conference? What if you want to communicate with other writers but you’re shy, or just don’t … like people? Face to face, I mean.

Have you ever considered social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook? I know, I know, you don’t need followers or friends. You refuse to drink the virtual KoolAid. You think Twitter is for twits and Facebook is for fruit loops.

Not. True.

Check out this article in The Tennessean about Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson. He believes social media can put a human face on a company. I believe it can put a public face on a writer.

Writers aren’t pop stars. (Although, I personally fancy myself to be a rock star.) You don't see James Patterson or even Stephenie Meyer starring in Coke commercials or hosting Saturday Night Live. Media attention can be a hard thing for a writer to garner.

Allowing a reader a personal glimpse into your life and your writing process – as well as into your personality – pulls that reader closer to you. And your work.

Conversely, no man is an island. Twitter and Facebook connect you not only to readers, but to other writing professionals. On your terms. And in your time. Because when your characters stop talking to you, finding another human in that worldwide web who "gets it" can be a priceless lifeline.

Twitter allowed me to vicariously experience a Donald Maass workshop as Fine Print Literary agent Colleen Lindsay tweeted her notes to her followers. I wrote the notes down and applied them to my manuscript. I still feel like I should send her money.

This past weekend, I happened to see a certain book I’d reviewed on the shelf at a bookstore. I love this writer’s work and wanted others to love it, too, which led me to put the book into a couple of teenager’s hands after I sort of chased them down the YA aisle. I didn’t follow them to the checkout stand. Exactly. But they bought the books.

I tweeted about the incident, very generally. When I woke up the next morning, Sarah Rees Brennan - the author I referenced - was following me on Twitter. How good do you think the review I give her book is going to be? Not just because the work deserves it (and it does), but because she added a personal touch.

Don’t underestimate the personalized face social media outlets can give you as a professional. Even if joining up makes you feel like a twit. Try it. You might like it.

Your readers might, too.

Myra McEntire is a writer of Young Adult paranormal romance and blogs about duck minions, Edward on a Stick and toddlers that refuse to wear pants at writingfinally.blogspot.com. She is represented by Holly Root at Waxman Literary Agency. Her Twitter handle is @MyraMcEntire, if you'd like to drop by and say howdy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Slow down and look around…

By Pat Remick

As I was driving out of my neighborhood recently, I spotted a police car parked alongside the road a short distance ahead. I quickly pumped my brakes to meet the 20 mph speed limit. I was relieved to escape without sirens or flashing lights following me.

But it did seem like an odd location to monitor speeders. Maybe a second patrol car would be waiting when I turned onto the main roadway, hoping to catch those who believed they were in the clear and had resumed driving faster than they should. So I drove slowly (OK, the speed limit) down that road, too.

When I rounded the curve, I saw a large deer sprint across the road a few yards ahead. But I almost didn’t see the tiny fawn struggling to keep up with it. The baby was only a few feet tall and still had its camouflage spots. Had I been driving my usual speed, I might have killed that beautiful animal.

This realization was frightening -- and a gift. It was another reminder of how important it is to slow down and appreciate the world around us. Twice in the previous week I'd noticed new things along my regular routes – a tiny cemetery tucked between two houses along a busy thoroughfare one day and lovely gardens hugging a fence near another home a few days later.

Has this ever happened to you -- noticing something for the first time even though you've walked or driven past it many times before? Think about the routes you travel in a normal day or week. Do you see – I mean really see – the buildings and views along the way? Is it possible you’re missing things in your world? This week, try slowing down to take a closer look. You might be surprised at what you find.

PS: When I drove back into the neighborhood two hours later, the police car had not moved. Given the limited number of patrol cars in my community, it's unusual for a cruiser to be parked at one location so long. Suspecting that something major was going on, I pulled alongside the patrol car to ask. The officer didn't acknowledge me. I looked closer. Still no response. Imagine my surprise when I finally realized it was a mannequin behind the wheel. Maybe I'd have noticed if I'd slowed down and looked around in the first place.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Every Story Paints a Picture

by Joyce

I'm going to be away from my computer today, and probably most of the weekend, so I thought I'd try something different today.

We're all going to write a short story!

Here's how it works: I'll write the first section, then each person who comments adds a little more to the story. Make it as long or as short as you like--just remember it's a short and not a novel. And hopefully, the last person to comment this evening will kindly put an end to it. Be sure to check back often to read all the additions to the story. Feel free to add to it as many times as you'd like.

Okay, here goes.

A long honk of a car horn made Angie slam on her brakes.

"You stupid bitch! Watch where you're going!"

Angie pulled to the side of the road and turned off the engine. She gripped the steering wheel tighter to make her hands stop shaking. She needed to get it together. If she got caught running a red light, it would be all over. Everything she worked so hard to put into motion would be gone in an instant. She breathed deeply and told herself there was nothing to worry about. That everything would be all right. Nothing was going to go wrong.

As soon as her heart rate returned to normal, Angie started up the car again and pulled back onto the road. I'm not going to let him win, she thought. Not this time.

Okay--your turn guys. Don't disappoint me!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Joys of Aging

By Annette Dashofy

As you are reading this, my hubby is either about to have, is having, or has just had his first colonoscopy. My hubby also hates, hates, HATES when I include him in my blogs or worse yet, blog ABOUT him, so we’ll leave him out of it from here on. Instead, we’ll just discuss the joys of getting older.


As we age, there are certain “milestone” birthdays that trigger doctors’ test-giving endorphins. At thirty-five, I was told I had to have a base-line mammogram. After forty, I had to get one every year. Lately, it’s become every six months and other, newer, more accurate tests have been added to the curriculum. This month, I had a magnified mammogram, a BSGI test (mammogram with radiation) and I’m having a needle biopsy to remove some calcification which no one thinks are anything, but they don’t belong there. Oh, joy.

Did you catch the keyword there? Needle?

Why are there always needles?

Still I’d rather have all this done than go through the prep for a colonoscopy. We won’t go into details. You can probably figure it out.

Apparently the fiftieth birthday is the one where the medical profession has designated as time to screen your colon. Guess which birthday the person in the first paragraph (who shall remain nameless and not mentioned in any form online) recently passed. Actually, he put it off a year, so add one year to that BIG birthday.

I, on the other hand, intend to remain 49 for several more years. Not because I’m vain. But because I don’t want the doctors to get that gleeful look in their eyes as they pull out the prescription pad to order that twenty-gallon drum of toxic sludge that does horrific things to your body.

No, no. I am NOT turning 50 this summer. Absolutely not. Where would you get such an idea? All of my earlier medical charts must have my year of birth wrong.

And if they don’t buy that, well, they’ll have to catch me first. I’m pretty fast for an old broad.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stepping Up To The Plate

By Martha Reed

A friend of mine asked me the other day just how many projects I volunteered for. Counting the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, and some work at my church, and the other odds and ends I probably volunteer to do something about twice a month. She thought this was extraordinary and asked me what I got out of it all and the best I could come up with was that: 1) it keeps me busy and out of trouble, 2) I get to meet all kinds of interesting new people, 3) I feel better about myself, and 4) sometimes I even run across someone who would make a great character or a situation that fits a plot. The bottom line is it beats the heck out of sitting around staring at the tube.

That made me think of how I came to volunteer. I think I knew instinctively from an early age to offer help without expecting a reward mostly because it was expected of me. Maybe I didn’t get the carrot but I never needed the stick, either. Plus, I learned that volunteering was one way to make sure you always got included in all the fun stuff - indispensability is a powerful tool.

It also helped that I have a very curious mind because curiosity overcomes a lot of situations I might otherwise skip out off because of caution or shyness. I have followed my curiosity down into the holds of ships, into a stall at a Texas State Fair occupied by a very regal and pedigreed stallion, into a Pow-Wow in the middle of Oklahoma. Curiosity has helped me peer into the La Brea tar pits, discover a natural Etruscan spring and wade through some scratchy New England cranberry bogs. When someone asks me if I want to go explore, I volunteer a “Why not?”

My point is this: I want to encourage everyone to think about volunteering at some point this week. Just do one thing and see where it leads you. Don’t be shy. You don’t even have to know the person you’re helping. Just open yourself up to the opportunity and follow it out. More importantly, take a deep breath and volunteer to lead somewhere. I work for some tremendous organizations and everyone helps out but for some reason people hesitate when it comes to stepping forward and taking on a leadership position. Why is this? Is it because we’ve been trained to stay safely in the middle of the herd and that if you lead you might make a mistake? I really don’t know why this is, but my friend and I agree that we see it over and over where the same six people do the same six things. How do we grow the audience participation?

Of course, I do know one way that works, especially in the ‘Burgh. Win the Stanley Cup and all kinds of people show up!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Play Time!

by Annette Dashofy

Gina was supposed to blog today, but has been under the weather, so I'm jumping in to fill the void. I thought we'd spend Monday playing a word game. We all love words, right? Just like we hate those word verifications we have to deal with when commenting. Except today, we're going to have fun with them.

Here's the deal. Click on post a comment and tell us what your word verification is. Then make up a definition for it. We've all done this from time to time anyway. We might create a new language out of it. If we were sci-fi/fantasy writers instead of crime writers, we might REALLY get some use out of it. However, in our case, we might just get a few laughs.

Ready? Set? GO!

Friday, June 19, 2009

PRINT ON DEMAND converted to the more practical SHOES ON DEMAND!

by Pat Gulley

POD, SHMEE OD! It may be a thoughtful consideration for authors, but if it were applied to shoes, I think it would be the # 1 bestselling purchasing tool of all times!!!

Where as I am of the opinion that Print On Demand is a good thing for publishing, I think it is simply the idea of the century for shoes. Yes, I’ve got my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, however I am also firmly committed to seeing to it that this idea goes with us to Mars and beyond. Not the Moon. The Moon promises to live up to its name for its inhabitants, and I don’t see much promise except for hovel living there.

Back on track, have you ever seen a pair of shoes on a rack, ran over, hand outstretched while groping for your credit card with the other, only to stop dead once its in your hands and groan loudly? That fabulous toe had the heel from hell! Or, on a sale rack where all shoes are jammed on haphazardly, to see a heel with a toe designed to reduce you to crutches after two steps.

Now think for a moment about Shoes On Demand. A machine is invented that can sew together…say…six designs--on the spot or within fifteen minutes. The original design can be on the shelf for those who absolutely must have a designer creation, however, someone who wouldn’t wear that heel, toe or backless number on or for any occasion, can take a code number over to a machine, pick a style more suited to his/her foot, check the size in a foot reader, slip in a credit card and BAM! Go off and check for more shoes while that pair of shoes is being made.

Now I ask you? Isn’t this a fabulous way to get the inventors out their to come up with this ‘create’ on demand machine that will be an innovation for about a week before adapters will have it converted to every kind of variation imaginable. Purses comes to mind instantly. I mean, heck you guys!!!! This would be the prototype of the Star Trek food processor that we know is going to have to be developed long before we invent warp drive. (I know, I know, all that human waste turning into your morning wake-me-upper doesn’t sound appetizing to most people, but hey! This is space travelers, the folks who will think of a hamburger as an ancient art form of cannibalistic savagery practiced into the 21st century by their ancestors.

Back on track, as a major shoe lover, I find the older I get the less I can find anything to put on my feet unless I’m pretty darn lucky. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying on every shoe I find that interests me and almost coming to tears over the fact that I couldn’t walk ten feet in them, or more importantly, haven’t got a dang place to wear them. (Retirement has sure ruined a lot of things!) So to take that cute design and material and tweak it a bit (or a lot) into something I could really wear, well, that’s something special. So I have no place to wear it, when has that ever stopped anyone from buying a pair of shoes. Shock of shock, a year or two later BAM! There’s that possible occasion and an opportunity not missed.

Am I daydreaming too much?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Inquiring Minds and Police Scanners

by Annette Dashofy

It’s been thirty years since I bought my first police scanner. I bought it used. It had ten channels and I had to buy a crystal for each of those channels according to which departments I wanted to listen to. I had our local police, fire and ambulance services, as well as a weather channel.

My excuse for needing it was that I was working as an EMT and they would hail me over the scanner on those nights I was “on call.” Or if I was off duty, but there was a call close to home, I could rush out to assist the responding crew.

Eventually, I left the EMS. In time, many of the departments changed frequencies or the crystals wore out (do electronic crystals wear out?) Anyway, I was down to one or two functioning frequencies. But I clung to that scanner. Anytime I heard sirens, I’d turn on the scanner to find out what was going on.

I’m nosy. I get it from my mom.

I can’t recall when I parted with the old scanner. I think I sold it for a couple of bucks at one of our yard sales years ago.

And when I’d hear sirens, I’d curse myself for getting rid of it.

When I started my current work in progress, in which my protagonist is a paramedic/deputy coroner working on a rural ambulance and another major character is the rural township’s chief of police, I began to long for my old scanner.

I wandered into Radio Shack several months back and discovered that scanners do still exist. And no more crystals! They have a thousand channels and frequencies and you can program whichever ones you want right into the unit.

I think I paid twenty bucks for my old one (second hand, remember.) The new ones cost a bit more than that. So I started saving my pennies.

Then my hubby asked me what I wanted for an anniversary gift this year. I didn’t hesitate. MY SCANNER!

We ordered it online and it arrived last week by Fed Ex. I expected to have to do lots of programming, but it was all done for me. Just plug it in and listen to all the fascinating calls being handled by our local police, fire, and medical services.

Last night, I heard a dispatcher sending a police officer to respond to an address where two stray cats were damaging someone’s pond.

Most of it is like that. It brings back memories. I responded to hundreds of calls over the years I spent working on the ambulance. I remember about a dozen of them.

But this new scanner has offered me some insight into my own personality and quirks. For instance: I have come to the conclusion that I am a voyeur. Beyond just nosy. And I’m not proud of it.

I like knowing what’s going on. Inquiring minds and all that. So while I may claim I have this scanner to make my writing more authentic, the truth of the matter is I’m curious as hell about which of my neighbors is calling the cops to report a missing Shih Tzu with a blue collar.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Larger Than Life Character

By Pat Remick

Sometimes in this life we’re fortunate to meet people with such interesting histories, personalities and idiosyncrasies that any fiction writer creating such characters would be told they were too over the top to be believable.

A. Preston McGraw was one of those people.

When I learned recently that “Mac” had died in a Texas nursing home at the age of 94, it brought back a lot of memories of a newsman who not only covered history, he became part of it.

The story goes that Mac was assigned to cover Lee Harvey Oswald’s graveside service in Dallas, which ironically took place on the same day that the man he assassinated, President John F. Kennedy, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The only people at Oswald’s burial were reporters, federal agents, police officers, and five members of the Oswald family.

The funeral director said Oswald couldn’t be buried unless some folks stepped forward to be pallbearers. Mac said he felt sorry for the family and figured that if he volunteered, he might get better access to the family – and better quotes for his story. That didn’t happen, but Mac did earn a place in history.

I first met Mac when I joined United Press International, then the world’s second-largest wire service, in the news agency’s Dallas bureau decades ago. He was in his ‘60s then, nearing retirement as he worked the radio side, writing news briefs to be read aloud by broadcasters in a nine-state region of the Southwest. I knew immediately that the man was a character.

He called just about everyone “sport” and when he answered the telephone, he spoke in such a slow southern drawl that he stretched out the initials U-P-I longer than it took to spell the words in their entirety—two or three times. His laugh, really more of a very loud cackle, was unforgettable and when it roared through the newsroom, we knew a hilarious story was coming.

Mac especially loved weird and unusual news stories and none was stranger than the tale of Leroy Laffoon. No one who heard Mac tell the story ever forgot it. If you read it in a novel, you might not find it believable. But I assure you, the story is true.

Here it is in its briefest version: Leroy Laffoon returned to his house trailer outside Fort Worth, Texas, to find it ransacked and his dog dead. Leroy suspected the culprits were two prostitutes who lived in another trailer and hated his dog. He decided to get even. He put the dog’s body in the freezer for an undetermined amount of time. Then he tracked down the whores and beat them to death with the frozen dog.

Mac loved the story. So did every reporter he ever told about this unusual, but oddly satisfying, type of justice. People rarely asked whether Leroy was convicted of the murders (he was) because they were so intrigued by the crime.

When news spread that Mac had gone to the big newsroom in the sky, versions of the Leroy Laffoon story were recounted once again in Mac’s name by his former colleagues across the country and around the world.

He would have loved that.

What larger-than-life characters have you met?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life With A Small Press

by Wilfred Bereswill

I want to talk about a subject that I’ve avoided like the plague; some of the disadvantages of contracting with a small press. Now I’ll say up front that my publisher, Hilliard and Harris is a small press and they’ve been good to me. I’ll just use a phrase that I use a lot to describe the situation, “It is what it is.”

What I want to chat about are things that I did not know about before signing my contract. Would they have stopped me from signing that contract? Probably not, considering how euphoric I was that I had been accepted for publication. For the record, I did chat with a few of the H&H authors that I knew and they had good things to say. In addition, I want to be clear that I’m not picking on H&H, because a number of small presses have the same or similar policies. So here are the issues you need to consider:

Returns. Or lack of returns really. This all starts with the way our book sales work. I’m speaking in generalities here so I’m sure there are exceptions. Most large book stores basically order books with the understanding that they are returnable. But there are a number of considerations with returns. First, there’s stripping. That’s the process of the bookstore ripping off the front cover and returning just the cover to avoid excess shipping charges. They throw away the coverless books. Believe it or not, that’s the most common type of return. If the shop does return the whole book, the condition of the book upon return may render it unsalable. Also, the cost to ship, unpack, restock, etc. makes it cheaper to just go the stripping route.

Because of the cost of returns, some small presses don’t allow returns through the distributors, like H&H. By the way, H&H does take returns if the books are ordered directly from the publisher, but the big chains don't want to order from anybody but the big distributors. I honestly can’t say that I blame them, but, if you don’t conform to the industry standard, you’re screwed. So what that means to the author is that you are now in a deep rut. Chains like Barnes & Noble won’t order your book. Books-A-Million won’t bring it in either. I found that by working with Borders stores individually, you can convince them to buy a few copies, but I’m telling you, it’s a lot of work to talk to each store manager and beg. Oh, by the way, I don’t patronize Barns and Noble anymore. I let my club card lapse and I won’t buy a book there either. Call it sour grapes, but a writers group I belonged to, The St. Louis Writers Guild has meetings at B&N stores twice a month. I’ve been a regular patron at a particular store for years. When I approached the manager about a signing, she insisted she couldn’t order my book due to corporat policy. Even when I was the featured speaker for the group, they wouldn't order in any books. I was forced to sell a few copies out of the trunk of my car to the members who wanted to buy it after the talk. You reap what you sow.

Indies will shy away from non-returnable books too. Several Indies in St. Louis have copies of A Reason For Dying, but for the BIG Indie in town I had to put books there on consignment. Meaning I had to buy the books and sign a contract. If they sell in six months, then they will reimburse my cost, not a penny more and no shipping.

So, that pretty much leaves internet sales, Amazon, B&N, BAM, Borders, and a lot of others have my book on their website, but not in their stores. Then you can find it on foreign sites like Booky.fi or even this AMAZON JP. I’m fairly positive my best sales are through Amazon.

And then there’s POD. Print on demand. Many people link POD with self publishing and vanity presses. It is NOT the same. In fact there was a discussion on Sisters in Crime Yahoo Group about the subject. A lot of people ask me what my print run is. That’s when I get this sheepish look on my face and say that my book is print on demand. Of course, the next statement is usually “OH, you’re self published.” That’s not true. POD is simply a technology that allows books to be printed quickly and delivered as needed. My books are printed by Lightning Source which I believe is affiliated with Ingram, the national distributor. I’ve never had any trouble getting books delivered. Ingram always keeps a enough in stock to supply the, albeit smallish, demand.

I’m telling you that the quality of my books, both paperback and hardback are top notch. No bad bindings, no bad covers, no errors besides what was my fault, never had a complaint.

So how does this affect you as an author?

Besides the common misconception of the association of POD with self publishing, if your publisher uses POD, you are not eligible to join Mystery Writers of America or International Thriller Writers as full members. You are ineligible for awards and programs those orgainzations offer. I believe it is incredibly unfair, but that’s the way it is. Rmember... It is what it is...

In my case, my small press did not send out ARCs (advance reader copies) for review. So, I was not able to get reviews printed in my book. I had to solicit and find authors to blurb me with only the MS Word copy of my manuscript. For me, it was uncomfortable enough asking several authors that I didn't particularly know that well to blurb my book. Add that I didn't have ARCs to send them, well, it didn't help the comfort factor. I owe the extraordinary author John Lutz my heart-felt thanks for helping a new author. John is an awesome writer and you should run out and buy one of his books. You won't regret it.

So to wrap this up, before you sign a contract with a small press, know what you’re getting into. There have been many instances of authors starting their careers with small presses and going on to sign with the big guys. There are instances where, despite self-publishing, authors have gone on to bigger and better things. Trust me, I know it’s tempting to sign that first offer, but take the time to understand the publisher and do what’s best for you and your aspirations as a writer.

Friday, June 12, 2009

by Wilfred Bereswill

Well it seems like we have an open day, so I'm going to fly by the seat of my pants and see what comes of it.

Last weekend I attended the Printers Row Literary Festival in downtown Chicago. And by attending, I mean that I wasn't part of the official program, but I did have an hour slot to sign books at Big Sleep Books tent.

Friday night I packed my books, two of my daughters (the third daughter is attending a destination wedding in La Playa, Mexico) and my beautiful wife in the Family Truckster and hit the road. The drive was fairly routine and in-route I used my Blackberry to find a hotel on the outskirts of the City. Of course things were going along too smoothly and 2 1/2 miles before our exit we came to a grinding halt. Yep we could see the hotel, but we were stuck in 45 minutes of traffic for construction lane closures on the overpass of our exit.

We should have figured that was an omen.

Next morning we woke up bright and early, reloaded the Family Truckster and headed downtown. Everything seemed fairly routine, except the $30 we had to lay down for 8 hours of parking. I loaded and drug my box of 25 books (long story, but I had to supply my own books and I'll talk about that on my Monday blog) only to find out that the tent I was signing at had no room to store them. So I drag them back 6 blocks to the car and split with my family so they could go to the Shedd Aquarium. I decided to walk around to see if I could score more signing time with other booksellers. No luck of course, the schedules were set and I had my time from 5 PM to 6 PM that evening.

Through the weekend I did get to chat with a number of authors; Julie Hyzy, Barb D'Amato, Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Laura Bradford, Joe Konrath, Tasha Alexander, Andrew Grant (Lee Child's brother) and a number of others who's names fail me. I always enjoy talking to other authors.

So, now the forshadowing comes into play. I decided to go have lunch with my family and listen to their adventures at the aquarium. They want to go to Navy Pier and walk along Michigan Ave and the Magnificent Mile, so we decided to go back to the car, leave our $30 pariking spot early and check into our hotel, about 1 1/2 miles away. The Residence Inn is right off the Chicago River and is a nice place. But I had to plunk down another $44 for parking (plus tip). Okay, it doesn't take a math major to calculate the $74 in parking and I'm not going to make this trip pay for itself.

The young lady behind the desk tried to convince us to pay for an upgraded room so we can stay on a "high" floor for the view. Against the kid's wishes I politley declined and we headed to our 3rd floor room. Opening the door, we were hit with an unmistakable aroma. The odor of pot, weed, or whatever it's called today. It smelled like someone had just lit up a doobie before we came in. So our next room was on the 23rd floor in the corner with an expansive view.

Remember I'm signing at 5 PM and at 3 PM the predicted cold front moves through, the temperature plummets from the 60s to the 40s and the skys open up. The cold and rain drove a lot of the crowds away while I walked the 1 1/2 miles back to the tent, dodging raindrops with my tiny travel umbrella. Being the grateful author, I dried off the table and chair, sat down with a handful of books, a stack of bookmarks, twirling my pen and watched the few people that remained.

I like watching people. I especially like watching how they react to an event. They know I'm sitting there to sell my books. The guilt kicks in and people handle it in different ways. I watch their eyes. The eyes will tell you what you need to know. Some try desparately not to make eye contact. Others want to look so badly, but they don't want to get trapped into buying a book they might not like. Others don't give a hoot and still others don't feel guilty at all and come right up to chat.

I like the last group. Honestly I know times are bad and I know my trade paperbacks are expensive. I enjoy just chatting. I did well some books and I was invited back by the bookseller to fill in a slot from 11 AM to noon on Sunday. Guess what? It rained from 9 AM until about 10:30 AM. Didn't sell a book the second go around, but that's okay. I got to people watch again and chat with some nice folks.

The ride back was uneventful On Monday I'm going to talk about life with a small publisher. See you then.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Capitol Time

by Joyce

A couple of weeks ago, hubby and I went to visit our firstborn who lives in Virginia. He works at the US Capitol, and on Saturday afternoon he gave us a personal tour of the building. I took lots of pictures, so I thought I'd give everyone a little mini-tour.

The first photo shows the view of the Capitol as we approached from the Capitol South Metro station.

Next, is the view from the other side of the building.

This is the inside of the new Visitor's Center, which opened in December 2008.

Inside the Rotunda.

Old Supreme Court Chamber. This was used by the Supreme Court from 1810 until 1860.

The Brumidi Corridors on the first floor of the Senate Wing.

The view from the top of the Old Post Office.

The riverfront in Alexandria.

If you've never been to our nation's capital, I highly recommend it. It's extremely easy to get around the city (I love the Metro!), the people are friendly, the buildings are really cool, and for history geeks like me, there's plenty to do. Make those reservations now!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Different Point of View

by Annette Dashofy

A couple of weeks ago I stated here for the entire world to see what my writing goals are for the summer. Several of you joined me in my goal setting. Since Will and Elizabeth (why am I suddenly thinking of Pirates of the Caribbean?) both picked the end of June as their personal deadlines, I thought I’d use today’s blog to check on everyone’s progress. Or lack thereof. Consider it a gentle nudge to get you back on track if you’ve completely lost focus.

When I set my goal (a more modest one: first draft by August 16) I figured a chapter a week would do it. Happily, I’m keeping to that pace…no small thanks to all the rain we got last week when I was on vacation. Not only did I finish a chapter, I made it almost halfway through THIS week’s chapter.

That’s a good thing, because I haven’t written a word yet this week. Leastways, nothing toward my goal.

Instead, I’m plotting murder. Fictional, of course. I know who gets killed and who does it. What I’m less sure of is all the details. When? Where? How? It happens off stage, but I’ve found the best way to handle these major scenes is to write them out. Not a word of it will end up in the finished product or even the first draft. But it’ll reveal things that my protagonists will find when they discover the crime.

Plus, this little unseen scene is FUN to write. It’s in the POV of one of the characters who doesn’t get a voice elsewhere, so I have a chance to get inside his head. He’s pretty smarmy, so it’s an interesting place to be. I’ve already learned tidbits about him that will be included in earlier scenes during the re-write.

This is a trick I stumbled on by accident and then had reinforced during a writing workshop I took recently. Write the backstory to the crime in the antagonist’s POV and in the victim’s POV. Go back as far as they know each other (don’t write a whole other book…no one else is going to see it, so feel free to tell rather than show) and take it right up to the murder. Usually I’ll then go back and fill in the times of the events as they unfold.

My question to everyone today is does anyone else do this kind of thing? Do you have any similar tricks you use to keep your facts straight?

And how are you doing with your word count? Especially Will and Elizabeth. Tick tock.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Righteous Underdog

By Martha Reed

Sometimes I have to invent my characters and sometimes they are handed to me on a platter. That’s what happened this past weekend and boy! Do I like this new character. Right now I'm calling her Miss Soze. And how will I use her? Heaven help us, I don’t know but I do know when I do use her I know there will be plenty of fireworks.

You’ll need some back story: Personally, I don’t do anything bad anymore. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t take anything stronger than 400m Ibuprofen. I’m boring. Mostly I work hard, pay my taxes, make sure the kids get fed something nutritious and try to get them to bed with a storybook at a decent hour. When I do let myself have a 2PM latte I am cutting loose and living large. Yippee! Caffeine and Ibuprofen, my two remaining vices. Yea, how the mighty have fallen.

So anyway, I was invited to a cabin at Moraine State Park last weekend and I was glad to go. Nice relaxing weekend, long walk in the woods, blueberry pancakes, a good book in the rocking chair out on the porch. Ahhh! Just what the doctor ordered. I headed up on Saturday and met the rest of the party on the South Shore dock. They had rented a pontoon boat and it looked like the Redneck Yacht Club out there on the water – a pontoon boat full of men, women and children, loose Tivas, fishing gear and empty juice boxes. Yippee! A real boatload of desperados, yessir.

We toodled around for an hour of so, letting the kids fish in some of the coves. Just before we turned for the marina and home, I picked up one of the rods and gave the line a toss, or three. That’s my recollection and I stand by it, that I cast the line no more than three times. That’s when a lake patrol boat swooped down on us and two Fish and Wildlife game wardens tied up and the bigger warden pointed right at me. Me? Are you serious? What did I do? Well, evidently, casting the line constitutes fishing without a license and that earned me a citation, my first in this fair Commonwealth. It ain’t a vacation if you don’t get a citation. Truthfully, needing a fishing license never even entered my mind because I don’t fish. And, as a friend of mine added, I wasn’t really fishing because I knew I wouldn’t catch anything but that excuse didn’t float plus ignorance of the law is no excuse and I do know that and I’m not offering this blog as an excuse, only as an explanation. So there it is, no license for me and a $112 fine off a Hello Kitty fishing pole and a beat worm. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should be ashamed. What a racket.

So you’re asking, how does all this fit into a blog about writing? I’ll tell you. It’s simple. It gets me exactly where I want to be. A very wise woman once told me to ‘use everything you feel’ and I thought of her words stewing in my own juice all the way back to the cabin. “Use Everything You Feel’. I explored what I was feeling and mostly it came down to anger over the injustice of the situation. That great bully had absolutely no interest in looking at the larger picture of what was actually going on in the boat, all he saw was a $$$ fine and a boatload full of city slickers. His attitude and lack of compassion for the situation still makes me mad and worst of all, he scared the kids.

So we got to the cabin and I put the kids to bed and went out to the porch and sat in the rocking chair and took a good hard look at all the emotional upset I was feeling. I decided to try to connect it to an archetypical character and boy, do I have one right at hand: Miss Soze, The Righteous Underdog and she’s pissed. I can’t wait to meet her. I'm hoping for one heck of a story.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Land of Denial

By Pat Remick

At what age is a child too old to be ordered home by his mother?

That question has been nagging me since a recent conversation with No. 1 Son, now just a few months shy of Police Academy graduation. (Again, I blame myself for this. If I had let him have a toy gun as a child, we might not be having discussions that make me incredibly grateful for my hairdresser and the miracles of hair dye.)

Intellectually, I know he is at the academy to learn how to become a big city police officer. But my stomach ache first began when he announced he couldn't train on the street until he got his bulletproof vest, which had to be custom made. I told myself: That’s good. They’re going to make sure he’s safe. In the meantime, no one is shooting at him and he’s getting paid.

The Kevlar vest arrived. He now wears it as part of his daily uniform so it will become as comfortable and routine as wearing underwear. It's also led to training opportunities outside the academy. One of the first calls he observed was a domestic incident and when someone smelled PCP, dozens of squad cars and a helicopter descended on the scene. Very exciting. And, no one was shooting at him.

Recently he was issued his gun, a Glock, that’s “mine until I leave the force or shoot someone.”

Shoot someone? My days in the Land of Denial (LOD is a very happy place, by the way) did not include the possibility that he might actually have to shoot someone ELSE to “stop a threat” (they don't say "shoot to kill"). I had briefly considered that people might shoot at HIM, but then I thought about that specially made protective vest and all the money that's being spent on training to keep him safe. All was well in the LOD -- until the “shoot someone” comment.

I gulped. “Well, I hope that never happens.” It was time to change the subject. “So, what comes next in your training?” High-speed driving, he replied. Hmm. That shouldn’t be much of a problem given his driving record with the State of New Hampshire. OK, I can deal with that.

“But we still have to get hit with the asp, be tasered and go in the gas chamber.”

Asp and taser I'd heard before. But gas chamber? Double gulps. Big-time stomach pain. When I found my voice again, I said, “Get in the car and come home.” He laughed. Then I asked why he had to go into a gas chamber.

“We have to be pepper-sprayed.”

The barricades around the LOD were crumbling. “Why?”

“We have to be pepper-sprayed, tasered and hit with the asp so we know what it’s like and we’ll be less likely to use them unless we really have to.”

“Pack up your stuff. I’m coming to get you. I can be there by morning.”

He laughed again. But I wasn't joking. Then I thought about it. I suppose any policeman risking encounters with armed gang-bangers, psychotic criminals or trigger-happy idiots isn’t afraid of a little pepper spray. It’ll be just a little, right?

Land of Denial, here I come – and this time, I think I’ll stay a while.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Location, Location, Location!

by Jennie Bentley

As you read this, I’m on my way to sunny Saint Augustine, one of my favorite places in the whole world.

Saint Augustine is the oldest town in the US, founded in August 1565, forty-two years before Jamestown and fifty-five years before the pilgrims settled on Plymouth Rock. There’s so much history there—from the first free community of ex-slaves in the country, Fort Mose, and the Castillo de San Marco, to the Fountain of Youth and the Spanish Quarter. And that’s without even mentioning the ghosts. Or the beaches. Or the birds and dolphins and manatees. Or alligators.

I’ve always thought it would make a great setting for a series of books. I even went so far as to pitch a ghost story/mystery idea to my agent once. She picked another idea she wanted me to work on instead, but I haven’t forgotten about it. While I’m waiting for the time to be right, I’m enjoying Nancy Haddock’s vampire series, set in Saint Augustine. If you haven’t yet tried La Vida Vampire and the sequel, Last Vampire Standing, get thee to a bookshop. I intend to get Nancy to autograph me a copy while I’m on vacation, since she lives there.

Setting has always been a very important part of a book to me, both books I like to read and books I write. My favorite books aren’t set just anywhere, they’re set somewhere specific. If the locale changed, the book wouldn’t be the same. That’s the way it ought to be, I think. The setting becomes almost like a character, playing its own part in the story.

I’m partial to ‘real’ settings, with ‘real’ history attached to them. In the first book I wrote, A Cutthroat Business, the setting is East Nashville. I live here, and I wanted to write about what I know. I changed some of the street names, since I don’t want anyone to come knocking on my door to complain, but I know exactly where things are. Savannah’s apartment is on the corner of Fifth and Main, and I know what she’s looking at when she looks out her window in the morning. The decrepit house in the book—the one where the body is found—is based on this one, called the Ambrose House, in Historic East End. (I’ve been looking at for long enough to know what it looked like before someone sunk a million dollars into fixing it up. It's an events venue, and if it weren't so danged expensive, I might just have my release party there...)

Waterfield, Maine, on the other hand—the setting for the DIY-books—is a fictional place. It’s located about 45 minutes up the road from Portland, on the coast, but it doesn’t exist. It’s more a conglomerate of every small town I’ve ever seen, with the landscape I grew up with. Dark pine trees and white birches, a craggy coast dotted with rocky islands, and a Main Street made up of turn-of-the-last-century Victorian commercial buildings. Waterfield’s history is the history of downeast Maine, and if Waterfield was located somewhere else, the series would be different.

While I enjoy reading about ‘real’ settings, though, some of the best locales out there are the fantasy kind. And I mean that literally. The Harry Potter books, with their alternate universe, away from prying muggle eyes. Tamora Pierce’s Pebbled Sea and the countries surrounding it, steeped in ambient magic. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, taking place on planets like Barrayar and Komarr and Beta Colony and Jackson’s Whole. Or if sci-fi doesn’t count—the earth is mentioned once or twice, so it’s not technically fantasy, I guess—Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. (Flat, carried on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle, inhabited by dwarves and trolls, vampires and werewolves. And people. Strange people.)

So what about you? Do you care about setting? If you write, do you make setting an integral part of your work, or could your book be set anywhere and not really miss much by it? (That’s just fine, and works well for some types of books.) As a reader, does it matter to you where the book is set, or is one place pretty much like another? Do you have a favorite locale? Or a favorite author you think nails the setting for his/her books?

I’ll only be around in the morning today, so play nicely amongst yourselves, please, but I’ll check back over the weekend, in case there are any questions I have to answer.

Till next time!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Well, at least I don't Twitter

by Paula Matter

Not that there's anything wrong with Twitter. I simply don't need another time sink. (Or should that be time suck?)

The older I get, the easier I'm distracted. For example: I typed that sentence, then Googled 'Fibromyalgia + Distraction.' Yep, I was right–I can blame it on my fibromyalgia. If I look hard enough, I can generally blame a lot on this condition.

Anyway, back to getting distracted. In order to get focused, say when I'm writing, I follow a daily routine to prepare my mind for the work ahead.

My usual routine:

Solitaire, Hearts, Free Cell. In that order and only one game allowed. (Anal with a capital A.)

One puzzle here http://www.jigzone.com/puzzle A little flexibility here if there are some really interesting puzzles.

Check e-mail.

Read favorite blogs. Too many to list. I have stopped reading all of the comments. Hell, Nathan Bransford's blog alone would take an hour or more to read. And I don't comment on very many of the ones I read.

Yahoo! Groups/listserves. I read them online and skim quickly.

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ Quick in and out. I'm down to three times a day.

By then I'm on my third cup of coffee and ready to begin work.

As soon as I check e-mail. Oh! Someone responded to my status on Facebook. A quick look. Reply. May as well check what others are doing. Oh, interesting link.

And on and on and on...

Since I know I'm not alone (please!) here's a fun quiz:


I scored 64. How'd you do?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Forensics Workshop

By Annette Dashofy

During my final Citizen’s Police Academy class, we were asked to fill out evaluation sheets. On it was a space for what we thought could be improved. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, but when pressed, I noted that I wished there had been someone from the coroner’s office to discuss forensics.

Last Wednesday, I got my wish. Sort of. It wasn’t with the CPA, but I was able to attend a workshop at an area library with Dr. Edward Strimlan, chief forensic investigator with the Allegheny County Medical Examiners Office. He spoke in a high speed fashion (I’m still not sure if that’s just his style or if he was trying to cram three hours worth of material into an hour and a half, which he did), heavy on the dark humor.

He explained that “forensics” is the application of science to law. And he quickly debunked the CSI shows, noting that DNA cannot be processed in one hour, that no one works in this business wearing high heels and professional makeup, not to mention that upon entering a crime scene, one of the first things he does is turn ON the lights.

He showed a slide from one of the TV crime dramas showing those familiar cubbies, one of which was open and a body was on the pull-out slab. Silhouettes of corpses’ feet could be seen through the translucent glass doors of the other cubbies. He asked what was wrong with this picture. A few suggestions were offered from the crowd. I raised my hand and questioned why there were lights on inside the coolers. This has always bugged me. Dr. Strimlan agreed and pondered if the bodies were reading in there. But the big “what’s wrong with this picture” was actually the individual cubbies themselves. He said the real cooler is one big room holding a bunch of gurneys with bodies. No private rooms at the real morgue.

When the ME investigators first arrive on a scene they photograph everything from every angle from aerial to the most minute detail. They photograph how the body was found. They even take photographs during the autopsy.

Some of the labs at the ME’s office include toxiocology, trace (hair, fibers, etc), serology (blood), DNA, fingerprints, and ballistics. They have a support staff to deal with odentology (teeth and bite marks), neurology, anthropology, entomology, and engineering (to deal with things like circumstance of a structural collapse). For these experts, they draw from local universities. Dr. Strimlan responded to one audience member’s query regarding the authenticity of the show Bones by stating that no one finds that many bones to make keeping an anthropologist on staff realistic. They would just go to the anthropology department at one of the local universities and borrow a professor.

It’s the job of the ME’s office to determine the cause and manner of death. The manner of death can be natural (in which case just about any doctor could sign off on the death certificate), homicide, suicide, accident, pending, or undetermined.

Another bit of news to me is the fact that the OFFICIAL time of death is listed as when the body was found, regardless of how long it might have been there.

At some point during the presentation, I realized I’d heard of this Ed Strimlan before. He figures prominently in the book DEADHOUSE: Life in the Coroner’s Office, which is a fascinating true look at the Allegheny Coroner’s Office. I highly recommend this book for anyone writing about such things or if you want to get an idea of what that life is really like.

The presentation was not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, as he offered some very real photographs of bodies from crime scenes and asked us to determine if the death shown was natural or suspicious. Let me just say, decomposition can make a natural death look VERY much like the victim had been beaten or worse.

I’m glad I went. I jotted a ton of notes to use in my current work in progress. And this workshop definitely filled the one void in the Citizen’s Police Academy course.

I’m afraid I won’t be available to answer questions today. I’m away on vacation. If I get a chance, I may stop at the library to use their Internet and check in. Otherwise, feel free to discuss murder and mayhem on your own.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Calling all YA and Middle Grade Readers!

by Kathy Miller Haines

As I get ready to embark on my new series, young adult mysteries set in World War II, I’m trying to read as much as I can in the genre. I know the young adult and middle grade books that stuck with me as a child: things like Blubber, Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret (and heck the entire Judy Blume canon), Bridge to Terabithia, and all of Lois Duncan’s creepy suspense novels like Stranger with My Face and Killing Mr. Griffin. I’m not as well acquainted with books that were published before the eighties, although I have started reading as much as I can based on bookseller, parent, and librarian recommendations. So far I’ve discovered wonderful things like Chris Grabenstein’s Crossroads, Peter Abraham’s delightful Echo Falls mysteries, Judy Blundell’s award-winning What I Saw and How I Lied, and the wonderful Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (not YA, but the narrator is eleven). I need more recommendations though. What were your favorite middle grade and YA books when you were growing up? What about now? I’m specifically looking for mysteries and historicals, though any recommendations (except fantasy) would be appreciated. And I'd love to know why these books were important to you. For me, nine times out of ten, it's the voice that sells me -- all the writers I read as a preteen and teen managed to strike a chord with my hormonally out-of-whack self. They spoke to me.

And now for some BSP: On Friday, June 12th at 7:00 PM, the marvelous Kathleen George and I will be launching books together at a joint party at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, please join us for this exciting double event! If you can’t come, please consider ordering signed copies of Kathleen’s new Richard Christie novel, The Odds, and my latest Rosie Winter mystery, Winter in June.