Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The Working Stiffs are busy stuffing themselves, but will return soon. Have a happy Thanksgiving--and don't eat too much!

Be sure to come back on Tuesday, December 1st, when we visit with guest blogger, Brad Parks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Annual Gratitude List

by Annette Dashofy

Let’s face it. Some years it’s easier to be grateful than others. With the economy being in a sad state and unemployment raging, a lot of us have to stretch to find the things we’re thankful for. But I think these are the times we need to keep our eye on the good stuff in our lives, if only to maintain our sanity.

I’ll be asking you all to make a list of what you’re grateful for at the end of this blog, so start thinking about it. I’m giving you a head start so you’ll know how to answer the question tomorrow when we sit down to our turkey dinners.

Okay, I’ll begin.

I’m grateful that I did not have to spend a lot of time visiting family and/or friends in the hospital this year, or at funeral homes. That’s a first in a very long time.

I’m grateful that my husband still has his job (knock wood and crossing fingers for 2010)

I’m grateful that my 89-year-old mom is doing fabulously well and still able to live in her own.

I’m grateful that the Pennwriters Conference that I coordinated went off smashingly well, and I’m even more grateful that I don’t ever have to do it again!

I’m grateful that I’ve sold a couple of magazine articles and placed a couple of short stories this year.

I’m grateful for my incredible yoga students.

I’m grateful for a healthy cat, even when her “singing” keeps me up at night.

I’m grateful for food on the table, a roof over my head, and a working furnace on cold days (and functioning whole-house air conditioning in the sweltering summer heat).

I’m grateful for my family, friends, and my writing community. And I’m grateful for my fellow Working Stiffs.

Now it’s your turn. On this day before Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Magnificent Assembly of Liars

By Martha Reed

I found an item listed on eBay recently that I decided I had to have and since I’ve been working like a dog lately I decided to treat myself and actually buy it. It’s a 1931 edition of My Story by Mary Roberts Rinehart and I find myself looking forward to reading it although I usually cast a wary eye on autobiographies because I always wonder about the motivation that made an author want to write one.

My first thought whenever I pick up a fiction author’s autobiography is why would the author even want to publish a book of fact? My follow up question is how much of this material can I trust as fact when I know first hand how the mind of a fiction writer works and editing for content is a major part of it? As I handle the book, I wonder: how much of this can I take as gospel when I know that the author is presenting to the world their unique and personal take on the arbitrary subject of how they lived their life?

I only ask this question because I know they lie.

Dame Agatha Christie skipped an important chapter in her autobiography when she forgot to mention that she disappeared for eleven days in 1926 after her husband Archie asked for a divorce. Her disappearance resulted in a massive national manhunt until Agatha turned up in a Yorkshire hotel claiming to suffer from amnesia. At the time, some folks considered this a publicity stunt while others claim she was trying to set Archie up for her murder as an act of revenge. Sounds like a fiction writer to me!

Dorothy L. Sayers hid an illegitimate son from her family and friends who only learned of John Anthony’s existence after her death in 1957. Imagine the shock of opening the door to a twenty-year old young man who says: “Hello. I’m Dorothy’s son.”

In 1947, Mary Roberts Rinehart was involved in a bizarre personal drama. She was reading in her library when her chef Reyes came in, objecting to her orders. Pulling out a gun, he shot her a point blank range. The gun misfired and Rinehart ran for help. A young man was standing at the door, looking for work. “Young man,” Rinehart reportedly said, “You’ll have to come back later. There is a man here trying to kill me.” Wielding a carving knife in each hand, the enraged chef attacked her again before being subdued by the other servants. Reyes was arrested and hung himself in his cell. Rinehart paid for the funeral.

I leave it to you to imagine his motivation.

Monday, November 23, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Writing can be a solitary pursuit. We sit alone in a room, pounding away at a keyboard, or take long lonely walks to work out plot points. We live inside our own heads, interacting with the fantasies who live there.

But there is another way, an intersctive way. Collaborators bounce ideas off one another. They may exchange text to edit or agree to each write certain sections of a work.

Collaboration is nothing new in the mystery field. Ellery Queen was famously the pseudonym of two men who wrote the fictional detective together.

Product DetailsI've even collaborated myself before, but only on non-fiction. My only published hardcover,  Informed Consent:  A Study of Decision-Making in Psychiatry, was a collaborative effort, written by a six-person team.   It was a full time job for me and two of my co-authors.  The other three held faculty and administrative positions as well.  We worked on it for three years of weekly meetings, first conducting the underlying study, then drafting the manuscript.  We each took responsibility for various chapters, which were then edited together to form a coherent whole.  It was very structured.  I also collaborated with one of my co-authors on a journal article, Legislating Human Rights: The Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act.  That was a little more free-form, but still structured very academically.

This past summer I began working on a film script with another person.  It's based on his idea.  I admit that.  I came on board primarily to help out with dialogue.  And it isn't to a point that I can publicly reveal the story details to a bunch of strangers on the internet.   The process is interesting, though.  We brain-storm about the story line and characters, which really gets ideas flowing.   We exchange written material as email attachments, some of which refuse to open.   We're working on it.

I've found it's easy to maintain enthusiasm when there's someone else invested in the writing process.  And that ideas come fast and furious during those brain-storming sessions.

What about you?  Have you ever co-written anything?  Why or why not?  What was your experience?

Friday, November 20, 2009


by Pat Gulley

Yes, it’s that time of the year when two big cooking (and for some much more) events are upon us. And the newspapers, magazines, blogs and Tweets are full of Quick and Easy and much faster ways to make ‘traditional’ foods. Uh huh! Right. Substituting cheese pie for Cheese Cake, to me, has always been a crime. Sure it can be tasty, but NOT when you are expecting real cheese cake and instead you get premade graham cracker crust and cool whip topping. Oh pie made with canned pumpkin in a pie and that ghastly (to me, to me) of all stuff, evaporated milk.

So let’s hear it for hard recipes, ones that takes a great deal of time and can wear you down to the bone just getting the ingredients prepared. Okay, I’m not going to go off on a tangent and ask you to go out and shoot your own turkey or cure your own ham—though there is the possibility that some of you do that—but I will recommend a fresh turkey over frozen any day. No, no comments on the bird. I’d rather stick with the important part of the menu—Dessert!!!

Okay, so I’ve said enough about cheese cake. Let’s just talk about that old faithful, Pumpkin Pie, which can be reinterpreted with sweet potatoes and a multitude of different squashes.

First let me say this. Remember in the movie Julie and Julia when Julia was trying to get her cookbook published by a New York publisher, and even though all the men were enthusiastic about it, it was still suggested that she get some recipes in there that called for fast box mixes and canned goods? Remember that? They implied that the American Woman could not cope with anything else? Remember that? In the movie and the book, it made me boiling mad. Anyway, that’s what I now think of when a recipe says ‘canned pumpkin’. What’s so hard about using fresh pumpkin? Sure it’s time consuming, so what? Aren’t there a ton of them around after Halloween all going to waste? Sure some get totally ruined by all the candle wax and sitting out in the elements for weeks, but some don’t and if you are not into wasting food, here’s a good way not to. All you have to do is slice the pumpkin up, cut off bad parts, do not peel, and boil until soft in a large pot. Remove softened pieces with a slotted spoon to a colander, and keep adding water to pot for additional pieces until done. When cool, the soft pulp easily comes off the skin with a table spoon. This can be done with any of the three colors of Acorn Squashes—dark green, pumpkin orange and pure white—and they taste great. Just mash the pulp with a potato masher for a richer texture and taste, or, if you must, puree it. All my pumpkin pie eaters prefer fresh and fibrous now and sneer at the canned stuff as much as those frozen pies in the frozen food cases.

And of course you can do the same with sweet potato pie. What’s the secret to the best sweet potato pie in the world???? Use Yams!!!!! And instead of that yucky evaporated milk, use half-and-half. Of course, 2 tablespoons of brandy or rum will do any of these pies a world of good. And if you prefer a touch of tanginess, try using sour cream, or part sour cream and part real milk. I’ve seen a Fanny Farmer recipe that requires buttermilk and lemon juice. I might try that one of these days. I even found one that called for sweetened condensed milk. WOW, was that sweet, you could barely tasted the squash.

All these squashes and potatoes use the same recipe, though when I tried sweetmeat squash, it was really too soft for a normal recipe. You have to adjust the recipe as it does not thicken like the harder squashes. ADD FLOUR!!!!! Not a chance!

You’ll notice that there is no recipe provided, that’s because I have great faith that all of you know where to lay your hands on one, and can improvise like the clever and great improviser I’m sure you are. But if not, email me off list.

I was also going to discuss recipes in general, and how I’ve never met one I wasn’t sure I could make better if I changed it in some way, but maybe another time.

PS, I was watching the cooking channel last night and fresh pumpkin was also suggested, however this cook used the small sugar pumpkins and she baked hers. I guess you can do that instead of boiling. Frankly, it sounds too easy.
So, anyone looking forward to trying hard and time consuming over fast and easy this T-day?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Can I get a “Hell, yeah!”

By Paula Matter

Six weeks tomorrow, a new year will begin. I’ll wait while you go look at your calendar.

See? Hard to believe, huh? I had to count it three times to make sure I had the time right. Six short weeks. I say short because the older I get, the faster time flies. I’ve noticed that happening over the past few years, but this year really flew by.

I’m thinking it’s because I’m getting older. And in less than six weeks, I’ll be even older. About this time every year I look back on any goals I may’ve have met. I’d started the year by wanting to do more with my writing, go more places, attend more events.

2009 was a doozy! Workshops, mystery festivals and library events, three-count-em-three conferences, joining this blog. Plus working with an freelance editor. Diving into revisions, losing revisions, diving back into them. Can I get a “Hell, yeah!”

Probably the most fun goal was entering the Flashwords contest for the Crime Bake conference.

The announcement of this contest couldn’t have come at a better time. Remember I mentioned diving back into revisions after losing them? Well. . . some time lapsed in between and with it all motivation to write. Not only motivation, but the ability seemed lost as well. Then I heard about the contest and it sounded like fun. Just what I needed to get going again.

The gist of the contest: Write a compelling crime story in 150 words or less, using at least ten of the title words from the best-selling “alphabet series” by our Guest of Honor, Sue Grafton!

Early Sunday morning, I learned I was one of the three winners! I asked how many entries had been received, and she assured me it was more than three. Below is my story. I hope you enjoy it!

S Is Not For Stalker

Dear Killer Agent:

It is without judgement or malice I send this quarry. I’m no deadbeat author and can provide evidence by sending you my 225,000 word fiction novel featuring Gumshoe Gary, the first of my Lawless Homicide detective series. Gary’s a fugitive because he has no alibi, and can’t prove he’s innocent in the Case of the Missing Corpse where one of his bullets supposedly ricocheted and killed a trespassing burglar. Now, Gary’s an outlaw swept away in the undertow of murder, larceny and other really bad stuff.

It’s at your peril if you don’t publish this exciting new series. It’ll make us both filthy rich and I’m ready to appear on Oprah. I look forward to meeting you at Crime Bake. I’ll wait in the bar although agents don’t usually frequent bars. I’ll be sitting in silence with a noose around my neck.


Wanna B. Writer

Can you find all of Sue Grafton's titles? What are some of your goals in 2009? In 2010? Time to start thinking about it if you haven't already!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Remodeling the Cave: Conclusion

by Annette Dashofy

Anyone who’s been following my Writing, etc. blog knows of our big remodeling project that culminated this weekend with my office being stripped to the bones.

To summarize, my office AKA my cave was the last room in the house to have the decades old carpeting ripped up and replaced with laminate wood flooring. I love the new floor in the rest of the house, but dreaded the ordeal of moving EVERYTHING out of my domain. I was living in a dreadful state of clutter and definitely needed the incentive to clear out an abundance of junk, but feared I’d lose something important.

Like my manuscript.

I put off the project until all nonfiction deadlines had been met and the first draft of the novel was finished and simmering in my brain prior to revision. Those requirements were met late last week.

I debated showing the horror of the “before” pictures, but here goes.

This is one angle BEFORE.

This is another. Eek.

This is after most of the “stuff had been removed. The computer was disconnected and waiting. Skye kitty is just waiting. It's her cave, too, and she did not approve of all the activity going on.

The floor went down in only a matter of a few hours. Reorganizing and replacing all the contents took days. In fact, it’s still an ongoing process. But here is the ALMOST finished product.

Check out the new floor! And I can see the tops of the desks! Anyone want to take bets on how long that lasts?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Magical Mystery Weekend and Sue Grafton on Writing Groups

By Pat Remick

This past weekend was beyond magical for me as a mystery writer, highlighted by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escort a rock star in the mystery world who is also an inspiration to women writers in this genre -- the incredible Sue Grafton.

Her acceptance of the invitation to be guest of honor at this weekend's 2009 New England Crime Bake conference for mystery writers and fans is credited with helping us sell out for the first time despite tough economic times that led to the cancellation of other mystery conferences.

As many of you know, Sue Grafton's books featuring private investigator Kinsey Milhone have been published in 28 countries, 26 languages and have a readership in the millions. She expects to conclude her alphabet series -- which began with "A is for Alibi" in 1982 and will see its 21st installment,"U is for Undertow, on Dec. 1 --  by 2015 with "Z is for Zero."

You can imagine how thrilled I was to be the Crime Bake organizing committee member assigned to escort her during the weekend conference. But you cannot imagine my embarrassment over what happened just minutes after I proudly informed her that we arranged for an executive car service to transport the two of us from the airport to the conference hotel because we were so pleased to have her as our guest of honor. Instead of the black town car I anticipated would drive up, the vehicle from American Executive Car and Taxi was from the "taxi" side and had seen better days. I was mortified then, but can laugh about it now.

Sue, however, was exceptionally gracious. She also is extremely funny and irreverent (no surprise to her readers) and was extrordinarily generous with her time and advice to the nearly 300 authors and wanna-be writers at Crime Bake. Not only did she sign every book and additional object pushed in front of her, she surprised everyone by offering to critique the first 20 pages of one attendee whose name she selected in a random drawing.

I also became aware of another example of her generosity, though it was far less public. An unpublished writer showed Sue a book she had signed at an event 21 years earlier. The woman told Sue then that she was writing a mystery. Sue offered to review a few pages and added her contact information. The woman never sent them, and finally finished her manuscript recently. "Then I'll read them now," Sue told her Saturday. The woman got in her car and drove home to retrieve them -- and later enjoyed the manuscript review of her life.

It's difficult to convey the energy at Crime Bake, but everyone was excited about the opportunity to meet Sue Grafton and hear her speak, although I suspect that some of what she said during her luncheon address was not easily accepted by many in the audience.

I'm not talking about her urging her listeners to delete adverbs and avoid words like glare and stomp. Or her suggestion that writers refrain from having women characters square their shoulders or blow their bangs up off their faces. I'm also not referring to her belief that the trick of a successful mystery is to fool the reader without making him or her angry. 

I'm talking about the point where she said that perhaps writers should not join writers' groups. Did I just hear a collective gasp out there? I did in the ballroom of the Dedham Hilton.

In her view, writers' groups can make you feel too comfortable. They tell you your work is great, even when it's not. She believes writing involves isolation and creating in a pressure cooker. In her view, joining a group where you share your work also means you give away energy -- energy that would be better put into your manuscript.

It's a point worth considering. I never joined a writing group because I do not think there is enough time for me to be part of such a group, keep up with my everyday life and finish my novel, too. However, I have many writer friends who say their writing groups are what keep them going and they could not continue this difficult endeavor of writing without such support.

What do you think? Do you agree with Sue Grafton's point about writing groups?

To read more about the Crime Bake experience, click here. The photo is the same, as are some of the words, but there are  more details about the weekend. One important element is missing, however: Our very own Working Stiffs blogger Paula Matter won the Crime Bake Flash Fiction Contest! Hopefully she'll share her creation soon. Yay Paula!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Finding an End

Wilfred Bereswill

On Thursday, Joyce blogged about being stuck on a scene.  Well for the past two weeks I've been stuck on THE scene.  In my opinion, one of the most important scene... The ending.

You see, I know how the book ends.  I've known how it will end since I began writing it a year ago.  But like all good trips and books, it's the journey.  I want the last 50 pages or so to be the kind that you have to read in one sitting.  While I'm biased, I think I achieved that with my first story.  But this one isn't there yet.   And I've been stuck there for a couple of weeks.  Roughly 5,000 words to go, I know where it's going and I have a route planned.  Just not the most scenic.

Part of me says, "Just write the damn thing and rewrite it."  Part of me doesn't want to waste the time of writing something that I know won't stick.  You see, unlike some writers, I don't have a lot of time to write.  I need to make the best of it.

So what do you think?  Write and rewrite, or wait until I stumble upon the right path?

On a personal note, I'll be having somebody coming at my lower jaw with a screw gun.  Of course the oral surgeon used much more technical terms during the consult, but in essence, on Wednesday while only under a general anesthetic (Novocain) the doctor will yank a lower front tooth and bury a titanium screw into my jawbone.  Hopefully no bone grafting will be required and I'll walk out a couple of hours later with a temporary cap attached to the titanium in my jaw.  Okay, the technical term is called an implant, but that just doesn't do the whole thing justice.

And of course, dental insurance doesn't really cover the procedure, so I'll be upwards of $4,000 poorer. Seems like a high price to pay for a lot of pain and a few grams of titanium.  Anyway, wish me luck and know that on Wednesday morning I'd rather pay any one of you $4,000 to trade places with me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Wrong Place

by Joyce

For the past few weeks I've been stuck on a certain scene. No matter how many times I rewrote it, something just wasn't right. I even tried putting it on hold and moving on to the next scene, but I couldn't write the next one because I kept thinking about the one I couldn't get to work.

Finally I said, "Screw this. I'll go clean the bathrooms."

I talk to myself. A lot. And I didn't say "screw." I used that other word.

I don't know if it was the Clorox fumes or divine inspiration, but as I scrubbed mildew out of the grout with a toothbrush, I figured out what the problem was.

The setting was wrong.

The part of the scene I had written had witty dialogue, interesting characters, the right amount of tension, and something was revealed that may be important later. The only thing wrong with the scene was the location. I used the same location two or three scenes earlier. Without even thinking about it, I had the characters come back to the same place. In the following scene, I had them somewhere else. When I realized I could make these two scenes into one, I could have smacked myself in the forehead, which would have been really messy holding a toothbrush covered in Clorox and mildew. 

I rewrote the scene keeping all the elements that were working and breezed all the way through to the end of the chapter. At least when I get stuck in the future I'll know to ask myself if my characters are in the right place. And I won't have to clean the bathroom.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? How do you pick the location of certain scenes?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

by Annette Dashofy

This is a wistful week for me. My dad has been on my mind quite a bit. For one thing, today is Veteran’s Day. Dad was an MP in World War II. I don’t know very much about his time in the Army because he never wanted to talk about it. Never wanted to watch war movies. Never wanted to be reminded of that time in his life. In fact, the only time I recall him speaking of it was in hushed tones with my cousin who had served in Vietnam. And then, it was only when the two of them were off in a corner somewhere, alone. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when we were dealing with getting his affairs in order that we discovered he’d been awarded the Bronze Star.

Last week, after the horror at Fort Hood, my mom informed me that Dad had been stationed there for his basic training. Somehow, that news made a dark day feel even darker.

And to further add to my melancholy, this Friday the 13th would have been my dad’s ninetieth birthday. He passed away almost three years ago after being ravaged by Alzheimer’s and ultimately succumbing to pneumonia.

So take a moment today to say thank you to a veteran. Each one is someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, son, or daughter. And each one has a story, whether they want to tell it or not.

Thanks, Dad.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who Is Your Favorite Sleuth?

By Martha Reed

Everyone I talk to who’s a mystery writer has come to it from one of two ways: either through true crime stories or because of the mystery stories they read and at some point decided to write. We all know that Truman Capote blurred the line between true crime and fiction with IN COLD BLOOD and I can promise you that I had a couple of sleepless nights after reading about the Manson Family in HELTER SKELTER but what I wondered about for today’s blog is: who is your favorite sleuth?

Did you start out with Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Stumble across a massive old volume of A. Conan Doyle on your grandfather’s bookshelf as I did and disappear for so long your mother had to come looking for you? The Hound of the Baskervilles changed the way I viewed storytelling forever and to be honest there was a serious period of adolescence when I considered Sherlock Holmes a close personal friend; forget the fact that he was fictional. Mere existence was irrelevant.

But the sleuth who really led me to it was Lord Peter Wimsey and I’m proud to say I stumbled upon him myself. I have an old copy of a collection of Lord Peter short stories that I know was mine – my name and the date 1982 is written on the flyleaf and it kind of freaks me out to think of where I was in time and in my life when I must have purchased this book. I had graduated from college and was starting out, so I know money must have been tight and yet somehow I plunked down $7.95 (plus tax) for this collection. I know I loved it – as I reread some of the stories I still have bits of it memorized and the binding is so broken that I have to hold the book together with both hands or the pages fall into my lap. This book means so much more to me now than it ever could have 27 years ago. Whoever would have guessed I’d be a mystery writer? Yes, all the signs were there but I didn’t know enough to figure out what they meant.

To honor my favorite sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey (and his creator Dorothy L. Sayers) I’d like to insert a little bit of the writing here from one of my favorite short stories The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention. Lord Peter’s horse has picked up an engine bolt in her shoe and he has had to stop and dismount to remove it. He's about to meet the Death Coach of the Burdocks:

“The nut resisted his efforts, and the mare, touched in a tender spot, pulled away, trying to get her foot down. He soothed her with his voice and patted her neck. The torch slipped from his arm. He cursed it impatiently, set down the hoof, and picked up the torch from the edge of the grass, into which it had rolled. As he straightened himself again, he looked along the road and saw.

Up from under the dripping dark of the trees is came, shining with a thin, moony radiance. There was no clatter of hoofs, no rumble of wheels, no ringing of bit or bridle. He saw the white, sleek, shining shoulders with the collar that lay on each, like a faint fiery ring, enclosing nothing. He saw the gleaming reins, their cut ends slipping back and forward unsupported through the ring of the hames. The feet, that never touched the earth, ran swiftly – four times four noiseless hoofs, bearing the pale bodies by like smoke. The driver leaned forward, brandishing his whip. He was faceless and headless, but his whole attitude bespoke desperate haste. The coach was barely visible through the driving rain, but Wimsey saw the dimly spinning wheels and a faint whiteness, still and stiff, at the window. It went past at a gallop – headless driver and headless horse and silent coach. Its passing left a stir, a sound that was less a sound than a vibration – and the wind roared suddenly after it, with a great sheet of water blown up out of the south.
“Good God!” said Wimsey. And then: “How many whiskies did we have?”

To really see how good this writing is, read it aloud and see how melodically it trips across your lips and over your tongue. I swear I can even hear the cadence from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in it but that could be my over-imagination.

To finish up, I’m curious to hear your story. What led you to a life of crime and/or who is your favorite sleuth? And Why?

Monday, November 09, 2009


by Gina Sestak

What's the book about?  That is the question.  We focus on honing our elevator pitch and struggle to cram a complex story into a simple one-page synopsis.   The underlying wisdom seems to say, "Focus the story.  Concentrate on one major plot-line, with one or two subplots.  You don't have to include every possible crime known to humanity in one book."

Makes sense, right?  Well, maybe.

I just finished reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

On it's face, this book is just another twist on the traditional locked room mystery, although in this case it's a locked island.  The amateur detective, disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is hired to find out what happened to a teenaged girl who had disappeared from a small island forty years earlier, at a time when the only bridge was blocked by a fiery truck accident.  

Sounds simple enough, but over the course of 500-some pages, we encounter murder, kidnapping, rape, incest, animal mutilation, torture, arson, homicidal maniacs, burglary, theft, child abuse, attempted murder, abuse of power, serial killers, embezzlement, fraud in government contracts, drug dealing, arms dealing, computer hacking, ill-gotten gains in secret bank accounts, identity theft, drowning, intimidation, fraudulent passports, international intrigue, Nazi-collaborators, corrupt politicians, and financial market manipulation.   It might be easier to list which crimes aren't in this book but I can't think of any.  The story also includes sexual relationships, journalistic ethics, wrongful imprisonment, tattoos, allegations of libel, false information, travel, isolation, disguises, and coping with 35 degree below zero weather.  Oh, and I should mention a multitude of characters, including Blumkvist, his lovers, his friends, his co-workers, his nemesis, his employer (an old man whose dozens of family members and employees also participate in the plot), and, of course, the title character, her boss, her mother, and her acquaintances.

Sounds like a mishmash, but somehow Larsson makes it work.  There is no point at which the story gets too confusing to follow.  So how did he do it?

Memorable characters seem to be one key.  Another is Blumkvist's ability to explain complicated matters in an easy-to-follow manner.  For example, here is Blumkvist's take on the economy.  Although specific to Sweden, where the story is set, it could just as easily apply to the American economy and Wall Street:

"You have to distinguish between two things - the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market.  The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. . . .  The stock exchange is something very different.  There is no economy and no production of goods and services.  There are only fantasies in which people from one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less.  It doesn't have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy."

See what I mean?

So, back to the topic.  Have you ever had the urge to include every possible crime in a book?  Did you squelch it?  If not, how did it work out?

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Last month, I had the opportunity to take part in a few of the events surrounding Barnes & Noble's annual Mystery Month.

Turns out, every Barnes & Noble in possession of a CRM - a customer relations manager - was supposed to host a murder mystery party sometime during Mystery Month. Since I'm buddies with the CRM in my local store, I got invited to be a part of the proceedings at the Barnes & Noble Cool Springs in Franklin, Tennessee.

Here is the cast and crew of our little play, all the suspects in the murder of Barry Underwood, late owner of Underwood Vineyards, whose body has recently been found under the hardwood floor in the wine cellar, after a little help from an earth quake. Barry has been missing for five years, and we're all gathered together to figure out whodunnit.

From the left we have moi, AKA Hedy Shablee, owner of a struggling vineyard (and a part-time counterfitter). Barry and I were old friends, and I knew about a secret tunnel into the winecellar where he was killed. He had figured out about my counterfitting, and I may have killed him to shut him up.

Next to me is Keith Donnelly, author of the Donald Youngblood Mysteries, who played Ralph Rottingrape, manager of Underwood Vineyards. After Barry 'disappeared,' Ralph took over the vineyard as well as Barry's fiancé, now Ralph's wife. Except he's not actually Ralph Rottingrape; the real Ralph died in prison, and his cell mate, Dario Santini, took on his identity.

Next to Keith is B&N CRM Robbie Bryan, AKA Otto van Schnapps, a German traveler in wine. He came to see Barry on the night of the murder, with a briefcase full of money that he left behind at Underwood Vineyards. However, he has been seen carrying the same briefcase since. He is also an art thief, whom Barry was blackmailing. (And let me just mention Robbie's totally kick-ass German accent. Go, dude!)

On the other side of Robbie is the wonderful Elizabeth Terrell (who wrote that marvelous blog post for us awhile back, about her dogs). Beth played Marilyn Merlot, Hollywood starlet, who carried on a flirtation with Barry until he ensured she won the title of Miss Grape, and then poof, she disappeared. On the very same night that Barry died. Coincidence? Or something more sinister?

Then we have Chester Campbell, who played Papa Vito Santini, the 81-year-old Italian vintner who started Underwood Vineyards with shoots from his family's grapevines in Italy, at the behest of the Underwoods some 60 years ago. Papa felt unappreciated by the Underwoods, who treated him like an employee instead of with the respect he felt he deserved. He's very handy with a ring knife, the murder weapon.

And lastly, there's Mary Saums, AKA Tiny Bubbles. Barry's fiancĂ© until he disappeared/died; Ralph's wife now. She really ought to be called Tiny Rottingrape, but who can blame her for keeping her maiden name under the circumstances? She claims she had no reason to want to get rid of Barry, but she was carrying on with Ralph AKA Dario under Barry's nose, and now she's got it all: Dario/Ralph AND Underwood Vineyards.

Feel free to try to guess who the murderer is, although I'm not sure I've given you enough clues. Or maybe I've given you too many. I've got an advanced reader copy of 'A Cutthroat Business' I'd be willing to donate to good cause, anyway, if anyone wants to play. Let's just see how it goes.

And if you haven't ever tried to host a murder mystery party, let me just tell you that it can be tons of fun, especially when the participants are willing to go out on a limb and get into character, maybe even with the addition of some costumes. Something to think about for the holiday season, maybe? There are lots of choices out there in addition to A Taste For Wine and Murder; just follow the link above, for Amazon, and see what you can find.

Until next time, I'm Hedy Shablee. Toodles! 

Words, Glorious Words!

by Paula Matter

One recent morning I couldn't wake up. On my fifth cup of coffee and the caffeine had still not kicked in. Someone suggested I might be drinking decaf by mistake. She said it happened to her–in fine print the word 'decaf' was on the label.

So I checked. I put the coffee can on my kitchen table and read the label.

Nope. Definitely caffeinated. After finishing that fifth cup of coffee, the left side of my brain woke up and had some questions.

How come it's not table and lable? Or, tabel and label? (I'm playing havoc with my spell check here. Hee hee!)

I've been a lover of words since I was a child growing up in Miami. And it wasn't always easy.

My mother was from Boston; my father from New Orleans (Nawlins). Here's a typical conversation in our house...

Dad: "Goils, get your poises and get in the car."

Mom: "I pahked the cah over theah by the yahd."

Huh? Oh! He was telling me and my sisters to get our purses and she was letting him know where she'd parked the car.

Got it. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.

That was years ago and it all came back when I moved north with my Yankee husband. My first dinner at my in-laws home, my mother-in-law said, "Time to red* off the table."

Say what? I sat there for a minute until I figured out it was time to clear the table. I've since learned one can red out closets, attics, basements, etc.

It was raining the day we moved into our home. An elderly neighbor stood watch nearby. As we lugged furniture back and forth, he said, "Youins daresn't move that davenport while it's spittin."

Huh? Aha! We shouldn't move the couch while it's drizzling.

Here's a fun quiz for y'all/youins/youse guys:

I scored a perfect 20 and according to Toni, "Not only are you Southern, but I think you and I are kin."

Hot damn!

*I'm not quite sure I'm spelling it correctly. Anyone out there know?
 Feel like you've read that before? Feels, sounds, looks familiar? Deja vu? Nope. After trying to upload my post twice and having problems, I cheated and used this old post from last summer. It was too late to contact my blog partners, so I did the next best thing.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sentimental Settings

By Annette Dashofy

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about setting. Location, location, location. Some books provide such a rich description of the setting, I feel like I’ve been there. Or make me WANT to go there. Remember Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? I longed to go to Savannah for months after reading that one.

Thanks to Joyce, I’m currently on a Julia Spencer-Fleming kick. I want to write like her when I grow up. She makes me believe I know that rural community of Miller Kill as well as if I’d grown up there.

My current work in progress is set in a fictionalized version of my own rural township. I fictionalized it so I could borrow bits and pieces of neighboring communities and throw them in without being lambasted by the locals. There are a lot of family farms and old coal mining towns. I noticed the names of the kids in the homecoming courts. The last names are the same as the kids I went to school with. There isn’t a lot of emigration. Even less immigration. Everyone knows everything about everybody. Or so they think. Which makes this place the perfect location for my story.

Getting more specific, there is a house that tends to show up in every novel I write. I moved it to West Virginia for the two manuscripts set there, and now it’s back in its original Pennsylvania home. This particular house has been the residence for two of my protagonists.


Totally selfish reasons. I grew up in this house. It was my grandparents’ home and my great-grandparents’ before them. In its day, it was a showplace. And that’s how I wish to remember it. So, I write it like that. In two stories, I had the protagonist refurbishing the house. In my current story, a different protagonist lives in half of the house, sharing it with the elderly owners of the place.

Here’s what it looked like over 80 years ago.

Here's a picture of my brother celebrating Christmas in the house, early 1950s.

And here’s what it looked like back in the 70’s.

That's me in the yellow pants in the last one. And that’s how I want to hold it in my memory. Not the way it looks today.

I intended to slip inside and photograph the room the birthday party pictures were taken in. But I’m a chicken. With holes in the floor and gaps in the ceilings and roof, I chose to stay outside. Especially since I was by myself. No one to rescue me if I ended up in the basement with the house collapsing around me. Trust me. It doesn’t look anything like it used to.

My grandparents’ farmhouse isn’t the only thing I revive from the Great Beyond in my stories. The cats and horses in my manuscripts are all based on those I’ve loved and lost throughout the years. It’s my way of immortalizing them…of keeping them a little closer to my heart. Sometimes I change their names. Sometimes I don’t. I’m not sure WHY I changed their names. They aren’t about to sue me.

Maybe I’ll change them back.

Do any of you use sentimental locations or pets or even long lost loved ones in your works? And how do you choose your setting? Do you pick it because it’s a place you know well or because it fits your story? Or both?

Monday, November 02, 2009

By Pat Remick

There were two "fun" things on my list of 2009 goals: seeing a moose in the wild and meeting author Dennis Lehane. I figured that fulfilling either would be fascinating – and I was correct.

I met goal No. 1 in June when, using the “but it’s my birthday” excuse, I dragged Husband No. 1 and Son No. 2 to northern New Hampshire to find not one, but four, of the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. (Click here for the recap.)

I figured tracking down Dennis Lehane would be more difficult. Although he lives part of the year in the Boston area, which is about 50 miles away, I don't believe he's made many public appearances since the 2008 publication of “The Given Day,” his epic set in Boston around the time of the 1919 policemen’s strike. One presumes that’s because he’s been at his desk writing or in Florida teaching.

Many people are familiar with the films made from three Lehane books: the incredible “Mystic River” with Sean Penn and Tim Robbins; “Gone, Baby, Gone” with Casey Affleck and Morgan Freeman; and the upcoming “Shutter Island” due out in February and starring Leonard DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley.

I am a huge fan of most of Lehane’s work. I was blown away by “Mystic River” and hated “Shutter Island.” But I have never wavered in adoring his gritty mystery series featuring smart-mouthed Boston Private Investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. “Gone, Baby, Gone” is the fourth of five of those books. When he decided to end the deliciously dark string, I was devastated. I blame my grief for not previously reading “The Given Day” or “Coronado,” his short story collection.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was recently to learn that not only will his next book resurrect my favorite series, he was going to sign the new paperback version of “The Given Day” at my local chain bookstore. That night I lined up with about 45 other fans -- plus camera-toting Husband No. 1. To my dismay, store management was so apprehensive about the potential size of the crowd that it downgraded his “reading” to a “signing.” Nonetheless, I was still going to meet Dennis Lehane – and my goal.

When it was finally my turn to bring my book to the desk for his autograph, I told him about my goals to see a moose... to which he interjected “that’s cool” … and to meet him, to which he said, “awwwhhh” as if he were truly touched (although maybe he just thought I was “touched,” as in mentally unbalanced).

In any case, it made it easier to issue an invitation for him to make his first appearance at the annual New England Crime Bake Conference for mystery writers and readers, which I’m on track to co-chair in November 2010. However, our conversation continued longer than the store personnel and fans preferred. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Husband No. 1 snapping photos while the manager seemed to be wavering between calling security and tackling me himself. Apparently the manager didn't understand that I had goals to meet.

I finally moved on after Dennis wrote down his assistant’s contact information. A few days later, she e-mailed that next year’s Crime Bake is on his calendar.

With two months still to go until the end of 2009, I am delighted to have already met my “fun” goals and contemplating the 2010 list. It’s much more enjoyable than dwelling on those pesky objectives I’m still trying to meet – like finishing my novel and cleaning my home office. 

Did you set any “fun” goals for 2009? Did you accomplish them? What motivates you to accomplish the not-so-fun goals?