Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Resolutions

By Wilfred Bereswill

Yes we're still on a holiday break here at the Working Stiffs, but i began thinking of some New Year Resolutions and wanted to capture some for posterity sake.  You see, it was a New Year resolution that started my writing career.  I made a resolution to start my first novel on New Year's eve 2003.  During Christmas break 2004 I wrote the first chapter of A Reason For Dying.  Yeah, I know, nothing like procrastination.  On that New Year's eve, I made a resolution to finish the novel.  On May 6, 2005, I did. In 2008 it was published.

So, in the spirit of keeping those resolutions, I'd like to ask what writerly resolutions you are going to make tonight.  Even if you come here late, go ahead and record them so I can throw them in your face next December.

For me:

I will start and finish a third novel.  At this time, I plan on it being a stand-alone Suspence with a female Asian Police Detective named Mei Ma Gi (or English name, Maggie Mae).

I will also start and finish a short story in the same theme as one I should soon be receiving a contract for.

Since my oldest daughter has set her wedding date for July 10, 2010, I will be at least 15 pounds lighter than I am right now for the wedding.

That's it.  Your turn.  Don't be afraid.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Working Stiffs are taking a well-needed Christmas vacation this year. We'd like to thank all our readers and the guest bloggers who have visited us since our launch in 2006. (Wow--has it really been that long?) If you're a new visitor, take this time to read through our archives (there are over 950 posts!) and get to know us a little better.

We will be back completely refreshed and ready for the new year on Monday, January 4th.

See you then!

The Working Stiffs--Will, Gina, Martha, Pat R., Annette, Joyce, Paula, Jennie, Pat G., and Sherry

And here's a little extra something from the Pittsburghers in the group:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Christmas Pizza

by Annette Dashofy

In keeping with Martha’s bout of nostalgia, yesterday, I’ve decided to continue our trip down Memory Lane.

I’ve been thinking about the Christmases of my youth. Mostly what I’ve been thinking is that I don’t remember all that much about the gifts. And our traditions have changed over the years.

We never did lights outside the house. I remember a set of big red plastic bells with lights in them that Mom used to hang in the windows. And there was a fuzzy plastic set of reindeer that sat on the windowsill in front of a plastic sleigh. A plastic Santa dressed in felt stood nearby. I bet if I dug around in Mom’s attic, I’d find they’re all still up there. Somewhere.

We had one of those silver aluminum trees. I think they’re back in style now. Retro. I remember the year we traded up to a fake green tree with bottle-brush limbs. We’d finally stepped out of the dark ages.

I was never, EVER allowed to open a gift before Christmas morning. And then, I was permitted to open ONE before breakfast. The rest had to wait until after we’d eaten.

I really don’t remember a lot of the gifts I received as a kid. I have pictures of me with a doll, sitting in a child-sized rocking chair. I remember the chair. Not the doll. The gift I have the clearest memories of was a Hot Wheels track with a loop and couple of cars to go with it. Hot Wheels. Yes, I was a tom-boy. I also remember receiving a Magnus chord organ a few years later. I got really good at playing by number. Never did catch on to the whole musical notes concept, though.

After opening gifts and eating lunch, my mom and dad and I would load up gifts for my brother’s family and head to his place. He’s older than I, and married when I was five, so I grew up with my nephews and nieces. Christmas at his house has always been big and grand. And frequently noisy.

A dozen or so years ago, my mom started a new tradition of the Christmas Pizza. My husband and I would head over to their house after opening our own gifts. We’d exchange gifts with my folks and then Mom would fix lunch: The Christmas Pizza. Then we’d all drive to my brother’s for the rest of the celebration. The pizza thing got lost in recent years when my dad’s health turned bad. We spent several Christmas lunches at the nursing home with him. This year, my mom announced she wants to reinstate the Christmas Pizza tradition. For the record, I never turn down pizza.

Christmases here are smaller and quieter now. We don’t have kids, so decorating is kept to a minimum. But I admit I’m looking forward to that Christmas Pizza. Then we’ll all drive to my nephew’s house, which is about the only residence large enough to accommodate the growing family for the big, grand (and very noisy) half of our day.

So tell us about your Christmas memories. Do you have traditions that you stick to year to year? Do you recall treasured gifts from your childhood? Did you open your gifts on Christmas eve or have to wait for Christmas morning? And do you have a Christmas Pizza tradition in your family?

Let’s reminisce.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Memories

By Martha Reed

In case you’re not from around these parts you may have missed yesterday’s big snowfall. We’ve had a mild December so far with one bad day of ice but there’s nothing like one bad day of zero degrees to remind you of just how warm forty degrees can feel. Yesterday, however, was one long day of falling snow and since I’ve done my Christmas shopping I settled in and decided to spend the day home (an extreme rarity any day) working on Chapter 24 and watching the kids tear up the snow in the ballfield next door. The under 12 crowd went sledding while the older boys divided into two camps: one for flag football and the other for hockey. Those kids were at it all day long and it reminded me of the energy of my youth.

For a short period of time in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, I lived an ideal childhood. We had a neighborhood full of young kids my age and we all lived around a small lake which provided endless entertainment opportunities – some of which our parents knew nothing about. Oh, I’m sure they knew we went skating once the ice was pronounced sound enough by a group of Dads and of course we went swimming as soon as possible once the ice melted and the water warmed up. But I’m pretty sure they never knew of our pre-spring season game where we rode our bikes across the ice to see which one of us would be the first to fall through the softened ice and I often wonder why our parents never asked us why we came home sopping wet on occasion or why my sister’s Banana Bike went missing until it was warm enough for us kids to send one of the Streeter boys down with a rope so we could haul my sister’s bike back to the surface.

The adventure that scares me now to think of it is that we went sledding on the lake’s spillway – the one place where the ice was never solid but boy! That hill was steep and you could really fly. I remember six of us kids piled onto the Rudolph brothers’ wooden toboggan and we took off downhill and with our combined weight the momentum carried us right out onto the middle of the pack ice before we all tumbled off and lay scattered across the pond. As we lay there, dazed and breathless, the ice slowly sank beneath our weight as it flooded with freezing cold lake water. It was truly a team effort to work our way out of that mess since each one of us had to crawl very slowly for shore completely aware that with each tiny movement we made we impacted the kid next to us on the ice. Somehow we all worked our way safely to shore, soaking wet but laughing and delighted with our success and with such a sense of satisfaction that we had tried something crazy fun, gotten into serious trouble over it and overcome the very real danger. I don’t know that kids these days will ever know that feeling of satisfaction since we’ve become such an indoor species lately with this newest generation and besides, if I saw any kids these days lining up to pull a stunt like that I would have to stop them!

Which got me thinking: what is your favorite winter memory?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Colon Cancer Awareness

Wilfred Bereswill

Colon Cancer accounts for 9% of all cancer deaths in the United States. In men is the second leading cause of cancer deaths and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in women, behind lung and breast cancer.

Why am I spouting statistics about colon cancer? You see in October of 1981 my father died of colon cancer. He was 56 at the time, only two years older than I am now. I miss my father tremendously and feel like he was taken away from me way too soon. I don’t want my daughters to feel the same way about me in the years to come. So tomorrow, instead of answering your comments, I’m being proactive and having my third colonoscopy.

Yes, I know it’s not a pretty word or thought, but I’m doing it for me, my wonderful wife and especially my three daughters. If you’ve ever gone through this procedure, you would know that today, for me, is the toughest part of the ordeal. Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up get in the car with my wife and then be put into a nice sleep while unmentionables happen. But, it is for the good.

You see, I was living in Kansas City at the time my father, Wilfred Bereswill Sr., was diagnosed with colon cancer. He was an ironworker by trade and tough as nails. He worked his heart out to make a good life for my sister and I and I remember he worried daily about getting laid off and providing for the family. I think the only riff I had with my father was that he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and I decided to go to college instead. It took him a while to understand and support my decision, but once I graduated, I know he was proud of me. Just a year after I graduated, he was diagnosed and four months later, he died.

He went into the hospital for exploratory surgery and they removed a section of his colon to prolong his life, but it had spread too far and he was given two months to live. Shortly after he was released from the hospital, he put my Mother in their orange 1977 Ford Pinto and he made the drive across Missouri to see the house I had built in Olathe, Kansas. That was one of the last times he left his house.

I made the 5 hour trip every weekend I could to spend time with him. I can’t describe how it felt to watch this once proud and strong man that I looked up to wither and die. The last weekend I saw him was in late September. I remember trying to shave his face because he was too weak to do it himself. When I took his razor and shaving cream back to the bathroom, I cried. Sometime during the following week, I received a call from my mom. They called it Cachexia; the extreme loss of body mass commonly seen in cancer patients. I called it one of the unhappiest days of my life. I lost my father.
I can only remember two things during the days that followed. Hugging my cousin, Buddy, who had lost his Dad, my father’s brother, to lung cancer the year before, and my friend Patty Guempel who had lost her father to a heart attack several years before. I’ve tried hard to remember the funeral home, the gravesite in Jefferson Barracks Memorial Cemetery, but for the life of me, I must have blocked it all out.

I’m bound and determined not to let my daughters go through that feeling for a long time. I’ll try to check in when I become coherent enough to fire up my laptop.

If you have a history of colon cancer in your family, do yourself and the people you love a favor and get regular colonoscopy screenings.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mysteries, mysteries, where forth are thou, mysteries.

By Pat Gulley

Don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but TV is a wasteland of no mysteries. So much so that when one comes on it’s like a starving person staring at a crust of bread, devouring it and then wondering where it went and barely remembering what it tasted like.

Okay, PBS does its best, but BBC America and A&E have totally given up. I categorically refuse to watch Top Gear because it had the audacity to replace Mystery Monday. I mean, Blue Murder and The Murdoch Mysteries are sitting out there waiting to be presented to the American public. And why not a few reruns, I’m missing Cadfael, The Last Detective, Midsomer Murders, Hetty Wainthropp, Rosemary & Thyme and even as far back as Murder Most English. Or even a few of those funny old Tommy and Tuppence things.

So I’m forced to scour the Netflix Files, and I did find the newer Canadian version of The Murdoch Mysteries. I ordered Season one and was quite pleased. Canadian production about a Canadian detective plying his trade in Victorian Toronto Canada. Wow! And I enjoyed it very much. Each episode had a bit of forensic investigation and how it came into use: finger ‘marks’ and distinguishing between animal and human blood, and even references to other sciences like astronomy. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a character in two of them, one about spiritualism and the other where he was searching out cures for consumption. His wife died of that disease. The one about Victoria’s grandson, Albert, was interesting with the IRA trying to kill him during his philanderings, but I’d have thought reference to his once being suspected of being Jack The Ripper would have made for a better story. My favorite was about Martians, crop circles and lights in the sky.

Pleased, I went on line to see more about the series, and wouldn’t you know it found a site with a review of it claiming that the previous series was better! (?) So searching I went, and yes, there was another Canadian production done in 2004. I guess I’ve got to trudge back to Netflix, order it and compare. Done.

Of course, I sort of wondered where the story came from and sure enough, it came from a series of books by Maureen Jennings, The Murdoch Mysteries. And according to the review claiming the earlier series was better, the author thought the actor from the first series, Peter Outerbridge, was perfect for the roll of her main character Detective William Murdoch. So, I’ll probably have to compare Peter’s performance and interpretation of Murdoch to Yannick Bisson’s.

Yes, that’s me staring off into space wondering if I should seek out the books too. Nah! I’ve got lots of books to read and a huge list waiting to be ordered. What I do not have is some good TV or movie fare to entertain me. I’ve watched reruns of my favorite shows, and I am interested in SF too, but if you have any good suggestions, I’m listening.

A question might be: is there any mystery series you love so much you watch and re-watch forever? Don’t suggest anything Agatha Christie, because they are all on my re-watch list, and I like to take down the books while watching them to see what the TV writers and producers think they could do better than how she wrote it. Oh, and I do watch Castle.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

12 Months of Writing a Novel

By Paula Matter, short story writer

On the first month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

How hard can that be?

On the second month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the third month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the fourth month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the fifth month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

I neeeeed help now                                                  

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the sixth month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

How do others do it?                                            

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the seventh month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

There must be some secret                                  

How do others do it?

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the eight month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

Kept my butt in my chair

There must be some secret                                          

How do others do it?

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the ninth month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

Pulling out my hair

Kept my butt in my chair                                       

There must be some secret

How do others do it?

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the tenth month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

Hired Kristen Weber

Pulling out my hair                                              

Kept my butt in my chair

There must be some secret

How do others do it?

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the eleventh month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

Think I’m gonna make it

Hired Kristen Weber                                          

Pulling out my hair

Kept my butt in my chair

There must be some secret

How do others do it?

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

How hard can that be?

On the twelfth month of this year, I think I’ll write a book

I learned how to spell twelfth

Think I’m gonna make it

Hired Kristen Weber

Pulling out my hair

Kept my butt in my chair

There must be some secret

How do others do it?

I neeeeeeeed help now

What was I thinking?

Can’t wait to quit my day job

Characters are forming

And now I know how hard it can be!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Are You the Next Sherlock Holmes?

How good are you at mystery trivia? My gift to you this holiday season is an opportunty to test your skills -- and win a "Sherlock Holmes" movie gift package if they're as good as you think. (UPDATE--We have 5 winners, but you can still play -- I've posted the answers in the comments section)

A publicist for the film -- which stars Robert Downey Jr. as the legendary detective and Jude Law as his trusted ally Watson --  contacted my New England Sisters in Crime Chapter last week  to see if we'd be interested in distributing a few goodies connected with the movie to our members at the holiday party. She even offered the fun quiz below as entertainment.

It was such a hit I thought you would enjoy it, too -- and it might help jumpstart any creative brain cells that have been "mysteriously" fogged by too much holiday sugar.

The publicist is offering to send a "Sherlock Holmes" movie gift pack to the first five people who send 10 correct answers to And yes, I realize you probably could track down the answers with your favorite search engine, but would that truly prove your expertise in the mystery genre?
(UPDATE-- The mystery trivia winners were Mack Lundy, Helen Sandoval, Stephanie Hanville, Marco Connelli and Rick Helms)
The game is on (and don't forget that "Sherlock Holmes" opens on Christmas Day)!

1. Many mystery buffs grew up reading the adventures of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and other teen sleuths. What was Nancy’s first case?

A.  The Hidden Staircase                         B.  The Password to Larkspur Lane

C.  The Secret of the Old Clock              D.  The Message in the Hollow Oak

2. Who is the author of the classic mysteries featuring Father Brown as the detective-hero?
A.   Ellis Peters                                         B.  G.K. Chesterton
          C.   Hilaire Belloc                                     D.  Emile Gaboriau

3. What detective did Denzel Washington portray in the 1995 film "Devil in a Blue Dress"?

A.   Lovejoy                                             B.   Mike Hammer

C.   Hoke Moseley                                   D.   Easy Rawlins

4. The feature film "Heavenly Creatures" is based on an actual crime committed by a popular mystery writer during the 1950s while she was in her teens. Who is she?

A.   Anne Perry                                          B.   Martha Grimes

C.   Mary Higgins Clark                             D.   Alafair Burke
5. The best friend and frequent partner of Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based private investigator Spenser is named for an animal. Who is he?
A.   Ferret                                                 B.   Hawk

C.   Tiger                                                  D.   Snake
6. What pen name did Agatha Christie write romance novels under?

A.   Theresa Neele                                      B.   Mary Westmacott

C.   Clarissa Christie                                   D.   Agatha Miller
7. Edgar Allen Poe’s first editor position was at which magazine?
A.   New York Evening Mirror                 B.   Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine
C.   Southern Literary Messenger             D.   Graham’s Magazine
8. What was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s profession before writing?

A.   Physician                                          B.   Professor

C.   Banker                                             D.   Priest

9. In Sherlock Holmes, what is Dr. Watson’s middle inital?

A.   J.                                                     B.   H.

C.   P.                                                    D.   M.
10. What is the name of the ship that the Maltese Falcon is delivered on?

A.   La Nina                                           B.   La Palermo

C.   La Paca                                           D.   La Paloma

Send your answers to and the first five to get them all right will recieve the "Sherlock Holmes" gift pack -- T-shirt, keychain, iPod skin and mini poster. CONTEST IS CLOSED...ANSWERS IN COMMENT SECTION
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Murder in the past -- and present

By Pat Remick

The entry in the official 1886 Death Ledger reveals the facts in stark black and white:

Margaret Blute: DOD: December 25, 1886; 34 years old 10 months and 28 days; Birthplace: Portsmouth, NH; Father: William Quinn; Mother: Johanna Crowley; Father's Birthplace: Ireland; Mother's Birthplace: Ireland
Cause of Death: Kicking and Bruising
What the ledger does not reveal, however, is the name of Margaret Blute's murderer: her husband, Patrick--my great-great grandfather.

I first learned about this tragic piece of family history in August and as a result, this holiday season will not pass without my remembering that one of my ancestors brutally killed another, apparently in a drunken rage, on a Christmas Day 123 years ago.

When I asked my father why he never shared this information with me, he said he did not know about it but  this was hardly the sort of information most families spoke about easily. His half-sister apparently discovered the details while doing genealogical research. She handed me copies of the newspaper reports while I was at her house in search of old family photos this summer. They are difficult to read, and yet also strangely fascinating.

“Christmas Revelry Ends in Murder” proclaims one headline under the heading “Shocking Tragedy.” According to the reports, the “pair have had a reputation of living unhappily together, owing to strong drink.” Patrick Blute, 42, was described as a strongly built teamster and “valued employee of the Eldredge Brewing Co.” Margaret, 35, weighed about 125 pounds and her body showed scars of “old healed-up wounds.” The newspapers contain different accounts of her death, though most indicate she died of her injuries after being beaten and thrown down the stairs. According to one witness, Patrick Blute calmly admitted he had been beating his wife for years and told the marshal: “I don't care what you do with me, I just as soon you'd take me down to the wharf and throw me overboard.”

I also know they had four children, ages 2 to 12. One of them was Julia Blute, my great-grandmother who died a year after I was born. I wonder today who raised her after her mother was murdered and her father sentenced to prison. There is no one alive to tell us. But we do know her father's fate from
this news report:

“Patrick Blute, who on the night of Christmas day, 1886, murdered his wife by kicking her to death in the most brutal manner in their miserable home at the Creek, and was sentenced to state prison for 20 years for the crime, died in prison on Friday morning. Blute recently petitioned the governor and council for a pardon, on the grounds he was dying of consumption, could not live but a few weeks at the longest, and wished to spare his children the disgrace of having their father die in the penitentiary. His request was very properly refused by the governor and council; his sentence in the first place was ridiculously disproportioned to his offence (sic), and if his innocent children are to bear any disgrace, it was his crime and not its punishment which brought it upon them.”
I am still shocked by these revelations, but as a mystery writer I am also intrigued. The people involved in this sad tale are too far removed to seem real. But I cannot deny that they once walked the same streets I do or that their DNA is inside me. And I cannot help but think about them whenever I drive by the location where the murder occurred, though the tenement was replaced by a commerical enterprise years ago.

It also seems ironic that their grandson became the chief of police of their community and now my child—their great-great-great grandson—also is a police officer. However, another of their descendants, my cousin, was fatally stabbed 10 years ago less than a quarter-mile from where their tenement once stood.

I am still trying to process all of this. It reminds me again how truth is often stranger than fiction. I also believe these developments cannot help but change my view as a writer of murder and its aftermath – and forever remind me that horible things do happen to real people even on what may be for some the most blessed of holidays.

Monday, December 14, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Is anybody else having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year?

I started watching It's a Wonderful Life yesterday, but had to turn it off.  Jimmy Stewart was just so annoying!   And I couldn't stand Mary.   "Let the savings and loan fail!" I wanted to yell.  Not the proper Christmas spirit.

I tried to get into the right mood.  Really.  I made some donations, but I'm not feeling all that charitable.  As I wrote the checks, I found myself hoping that the charities would not respond by calling to ask for more or by sending me unwanted calendars, cards or odd small blankets.

I've tried listening to Christmas carols, but even my favorite CD hasn't done the trick.  What is that favorite CD? you may ask.  Well, it's non-traditional, a compilation called It's a Cow Christmas.

It is not just moo-ing, either; it includes the carols cattle would sing if they were Christian and spoke English:  The Hallemoojah Chorus, Angus We Have Heard on High, God Rest Ye Merry Cattlemen, We Wish You a Dairy Christmas and my very favorite, Deck the Stalls With Oats and Barley (moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, 'Tis the season for cow parties . . . )

I haven't gotten my card list out yet, nor purchased Christmas stamps.

I have three big red-and-green boxes full of decorations sitting in my living room.  I haven't even opened them.    I usually have that all done by now, but even thoughts of my favorite nativity scenes aren't making me want to take them out of their boxes.

What are those favorite nativity scenes? you may ask.  Well, two are music boxes.  One has the Holy Family in a snow globe, rotating clockwise to the tune of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem while the three wise men rotate around them counter-clockwise, riding on a donkey, a camel, and an elephant(!).  Another is a matchbox, from which slides a wee little Holy Family surrounded by a train track on which a train runs to the tune of Silent Night.  Then there's the tiny statues I bought in Riviera Maya; everyone (Holy Family, angels, etc.) look very Mexican; they have cute miniscule sheep.   Another cardboard nativity scenes with all kinds of angels and animals, etc. pops up out of a very large book.  I have yet to unpack even one of them.

How about you?

Are you in the mood for Christmas?  Do you have your favorite decorations up?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's Try This Again

by Joyce

I had another blog post mostly written, but when I went to finish it last night, I decided I hated it. It was about how writing is like Advent, with all the waiting and hoping, and it was a bunch of crap. Here's what it said: 

"No one panic. I'm not going to get all religious on you.

Well, maybe a little.

For anyone who's not a good Catholic girl like myself (stop laughing!), Advent is the four weeks before Christmas where Christians anticipate the birth of Jesus. It's a period of reflection and waiting. Of pondering new beginnings. A period of hope.

I was sitting in church the other day and it struck me that writing is a lot like Advent. Although we spend most of our time working on our current projects, we also spend an awful lot of time waiting. We wait for responses to queries. We wait for word on our requested manuscripts. We wait for the latest edits. We wait for...  Well, you get the picture.

We also do a lot of reflection. Man, that last chapter really sucked. Wow, did I really write that sentence? That was pretty damned good! Some of us do a lot of praying, too. Please, please, please, let that agent love my manuscript! Please let the advance be enough to buy the new car. (Hey, miracles can happen.)"

See what I mean? So, now I don't have anything to write about. Which makes me wonder. Is it possible to run out of words? Run out of things to write? I have no problem coming up with ideas for stories and books. But real life or blog posts? The well may be dry.

Sure I could write about Harlequin's lame-brain idea to suck newbie writers of their life savings. Or Tiger Woods. Or numerous other things I see in the news. It's all been done. Done to death, I might add.

I could write about writing (like my abandoned blog post) but that's been covered, too. And much more eloquently than I could ever do. So, now you're stuck with this rambling mess. Heh.

So, I pose this question to my fellow Working Stiffs and any other bloggers out there. What do you do when you run out of things to say? Or am I the only one this happens to?

On another note, I want to give a big CONGRATULATIONS to our good friends at MYSTERY LOVERS BOOKSHOP, winners of the 2010 Raven Award. Congratulations Mary Alice and Richard!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Tale of Two Police Stories

by Annette Dashofy

It’s happened again. A Pittsburgh area community is burying a police officer killed in the line of duty.

Michael Crawshaw, a Penn Hills police officer was gunned down while sitting in his vehicle waiting for backup to arrive in response to a 911 call from Danyal Morton. Morton reported that a gunman had entered his house. That gunman, Ronald Robinson, killed Morton and then walked outside and opened fire on Officer Crawshaw with an AK-47.

Here in Washington County, roughly 30 some miles from Pittsburgh, we have a different news story unfolding with regards to our local police. A few weeks back, a 49 year old Washington man died after being tased by police. Lots of folks around here read only that part of the story and rage against the police department, calling for disciplinary actions and the outlawing of tasers. But read further and you learn that this man, although suffering from a seizure, was not only combative, but was trying to walk into traffic, putting himself and innocent motorists in jeopardy. He refused orders to sit down. He charged and even bit the officers. He was tased more than once and continued to fight for several minutes AFTER being tased and before collapsing.

Are all tasing incidents handled properly? Of course not. This one, however, was by the book.

I’m not writing this to get into an argument about whether tasers should continue to be a tool for police officers. Those who believe they should be illegal will not change their minds because of anything I can say.

My only point is that being a cop is dangerous and largely thankless work. Sometimes an officer does everything by the book and the public comes down on them, shouting claims of brutality.

Sometimes an officer does everything by the book and ends up dead.

I’m proud of my Washington County community as a whole, because the letters to the editor in the local paper have been overwhelmingly supportive of the police handing this particular call. It’s dreadful that a man died in this case. But the police were trying to do their job.

And Michael Crawshaw was trying to do his.

Rest in Peace, Officer Crawshaw. Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Story Heaven

By Martha Reed

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. - William Feather

I’m delighted to report that I sat my butt in a chair pretty much the whole weekend and actually finished Chapter 23 of my new novel. This is momentous because Chapter 23 is pivotal to the emotional development of one of my characters and generally I do everything in my power to avoid working on anything in the emotional vein up to and including packing a suitcase and fleeing to the beaches in Florida. However, I also have the fever in my veins that comes from being forty pages away from finishing a 300 page work and I hope those of you out there who have experienced this moment understand why I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night to scribble new insights and plot twists and why I’ve taken to talking to myself during my day job. Thankfully, I have an understanding boss and I’ve successfully trained my family to ignore me.

It seems pretty amazing to me that I’ve accomplished this thing not once but twice and the best lesson I’ve culled from this repeat experience is that I’ve learned to trust my story a whole lot more and in ways I never did the first time. My understanding of the characters is more solid, too, and if I go out on a limb and write something far fetched I now know enough to put on my editorial hat and reel it back in right away versus spending a month or two on a chapter that I’d later kill. I also know that I’m lucky to have this storytelling gift and I do feel quite a bit like Rapunzel, spinning words (and gold) out of thin air.

Which makes me think of all the great folks I’ve met over the past fifteen years who didn’t make the jump. For one reason or another, usually involving family/children or a difficult work situation, I’ve seen my share of writer’s groups bite the dust. My favorite group met for more than a decade before it quietly faded away and I still wonder what happened to those stories that didn’t get born: Jim’s prescient and apocalyptic vision of the future including advances in science like stem cell research that is going on even as I write this down; Joan’s amazing autobiography of her life as an American woman living inside Iran during the downfall of the Shah and the Rise of Fundamentalist Islam and wouldn’t that still be timely; Betsy’s transmogrified experience as a Peace Corp volunteer in Gabon and the subsequent dislocation of her ‘normal’ life upon her return to western ‘civilization’. If it’s true that we are all recycling the same stories over and over, where do the stories that don’t make it go?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sorry Gang

by Wilfred Bereswill

I apologize to the Stiffs and readers.  I had an unbelievable weekend.  My oldest daughter got engaged to an amazing guy Friday night and my business trip to Raliegh North Carolina has gotten in the way. 

I hope to see you in a couple of weeks with a scintillating read.

Please feel free to chat amongst yourselves.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Do The Twist!

by Jennie Bentley

Q: How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: Two: One to screw it almost all the way in and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

Last year, my panel at the Killer Nashville mystery conference was on beginnings and endings. As someone once said, “A great first sentence will make someone buy your book. A great last sentence will make them buy your next book.”

No arguing with that. We all know how important the perfect beginning is. Personally, if my first sentence isn’t perfect, I can’t move on. It’s what sets the tone for the whole book for me, and if I don’t have that, I can’t get the rest right.

Equally important, of course, is ending on the right note, with that little zinger as you finish up. Something that makes the reader think, “Oh, darn, I wish there was more!” and then go out looking for something else you’ve written.

Twists, though, are a different animal than beginnings and endings.

And I’m not talking about the obvious twist that all good mysteries should have: the one where the person you pegged for the murderer isn’t the murderer after all, it’s someone else. That twist sort of goes without saying. No, this is the other twist, the one no one sees coming. And it isn’t always related to the mystery.

That particular Killer Nashville was in August 2008, a few months after the fantastic Julia Spencer-Fleming had published ALL MORTAL FLESH, book five in her award winning series about Reverend Clare Fergusson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne. If you haven’t read Julia’s books, you need to get yourself to a bookstore today, and max out the credit card if you have to. I’d suggest the library, but just do yourself a favor and go directly to the bookstore: once you’ve read these, you’ll want to own them.

Anyway, for purposes of our beginnings and endings panel, ALL MORTAL FLESH became the example of a perfectly executed surprise twist.

I'm gonna put in a spoiler space here, just in case some of you haven’t read the series. If you haven’t, you’re gonna wanna stop reading right


A little background: the Reverend and the Police Chief met in the first book in the series, called IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, and very quietly, very subtly, very unnoticeably fell in love. (No, I didn’t see it coming.) This happened in spite of the fact that he had a wife and wasn’t about to cheat on her. By the time ALL MORTAL FLESH came out, they’d been dancing around this fact for four books. At the end of the previous book, Russ had told Clare he was going to tell his wife Linda the truth, and at the beginning of ALL MORTAL FLESH, he has moved in with his mother while Linda is staying in their shared house. And then Linda is found murdered, and both Clare and Russ come under suspicion. Of course, we know it isn’t either of them, but the state police don’t, and things get difficult. Then it turns out that Linda isn’t dead after all, it’s someone else, and everything seems fine. Or not fine exactly, seeing as Russ and Clare are still in love with one another, but at least Linda isn’t dead. She shows up, having spent the week in St. Barts, and she and Russ decide to give their marriage another try. Until Clare gets into trouble and Russ leaves Linda to go help her. Linda gets pissed, naturally, and gets in the car with her sister Debbie. Russ and Clare save the day, kill the bad guy, etc., Russ tells her he’s committed to trying again with Linda, blah blah blah... and they start driving back to town, only to discover that Debbie’s car has driven off the road and wrapped itself around a telephone pole, and Linda is dead, for real this time.


And that’s the surprise twist. It spurred some strong feelings, let me tell you. A lot of people were pretty seriously angry. When you read the book, if you haven't already, you'll understand why.

The moderator at my panel back then asked whether we thought a twist at the end of a book is necessary. The general consensus was that it isn’t, but it sure can’t hurt. I’ve never managed to pull off a twist quite like that one, though, and I doubt I ever will.

So what do you think? Is a twist at the end of a book necessary? Have you ever used one? Know any good ones that someone else has used? And if you’ve read ALL MORTAL FLESH, what did you think of that particular twist?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Bumper stickers & Flair

By Paula Matter

I had a hard time coming up with a post today.

I did have a few ideas, but they didn't pan out. Copyright issues and all that. One bordered on plagiarism.

No excuses. Not good ones anyway. And I won't bore you with the two valid ones I do have.

I went to good ole Facebook looking to see if I could get what I wanted there, and I did find something. Worthwhile? No. Related to writing? No. Fun? In my opinion, yes. are a few of my favorite bumper stickers/photos if Blogger will allow me to do what I want.

What are some of your favorite bumper stickers? Are there some you like, but wouldn't dare have on your car?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Back to the Beginning

by Annette Dashofy

Monday, over at my Writing, etc blog, I wrote about the next phase in the creation of my latest wip. Having finished the first draft a while ago, and having allowed it to simmer untouched for a few weeks, I’m now embarking on the second draft.

Hubby’s been away at hunting camp since Sunday (someday I may blog about being a vegetarian, Bambi-loving yoga instructor happily married to a certified gun-toting hunter, but not today), leaving me home alone with my cat and my manuscript. To alleviate the guilt of “doing nothing,” I spent my first day of solitude cleaning house. Then, on day two, I gathered together a printed out hard copy of my entire first draft, a stack of sticky notes, a legal pad, and a couple of brightly colored gel pens.

I prefer to do my edits in colored ink so they jump out at me. I tend to overlook black ink scribbles for some reason.

Anyhow, with my supplies surrounding me, I stretched out on my couch, snuggled under an afghan. Skye kitty thought this looked like fun and made her bed on my legs.

Sometimes being a writer is a rough life.

I read the thing straight through. Beginning to end. I made notes on the pages. I made notes on the legal pad. There were a couple of minor holes in the plot. And there was one major one, but I already knew about it.

Over all, I’m pleased with what I’ve got. I think it works.

Now, I’m left at square one. The worst part of the whole thing is the first two or three chapters. I need a whole new beginning. I’ve known this since I wrote the original one, hoping all this time that a more suitable opening would become evident to me once I finished the draft.

It hasn’t.

So today, as you’re reading this blog, I’ll be fretting over how to start my story. Again. Ramona, if you’re reading this, your recent poll has been enlightening. And terrifying. However, it really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. You have to grab the reader at word one.

I fear it may take me as long to write chapter one as it took me to write the entire first draft! So while I’m fussing and fuming over an opening line and an opening sentence, how about offering me some inspiration. Do you have a favorite opening line? Post it as a comment and tell me why it grabbed you.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I’m pleased to be a guest today on Working Stiffs, which is a great name for this blog not only because of that whole, you know, Pittsburgh thing – I’ve heard something about steel being produced in the region? – but because it tackles one of the prevalent misconceptions about crime writers:

Nobody thinks we work for a living.

I base this on conversations with friends and neighbors, who seem to believe that crime writers basically sit around the house in their underwear all day, munching on snack food while thinking of creative ways to kill people.

And it’s totally inaccurate. I, for one, almost always wear pants.

But, seriously, I’d submit that one of the most important – if underappreciated – attributes a writer can have is, quite simply, a blue-collar, working-stiff kind of stubbornness.

Not talent (though it helps). Not genius (that helps, too). But steel-city toughness.

It’s about sitting down and writing when you’d really rather be giving yourself paper cuts. It’s about having the perseverance to work and rework a scene, a paragraph, or even a single sentence dozens of times. It’s about banging your head against the computer screen repeatedly until you either pass out or get it right. It’s about ignoring rejection letters from agents and publishers and having the will to stick with it.

And that’s good news for all the folks out there harboring the dream of becoming an author. Because none of what I’ve just described is some gift from the heavens, bestowed on a select few. It’s something that just about anyone with a reasonable grasp of the English language can achieve.

Even a dumb former sportswriter like me. If you’ll forgive a self-serving anecdote, I often think of a time when my wife was in graduate school, studying to be a school psychologist.

Part of her program was learning how to administer intelligence tests and I was her test dummy (and I do mean dummy). There was one test where you were timed on how quickly you could complete a series of problems. You got full credit for doing a problem within a minute and partial credit for doing it in two minutes. You got no credit for anything beyond two minutes. But – and this was the catch – my wife wasn’t allowed to tell me that, nor could she tell me to stop working and move onto the next question.

I did the first couple questions in the allotted time, but really started struggling as the tasks got more complex. By the last question – the hardest – my poor wife had to sit there for 25 minutes until I finally worked it out, even though the final 23 minutes were a total waste of her time.

But, see, that’s what’s great about this business: No one can tell you when to stop working, and you still get full credit no matter how long it takes you. So you don’t necessarily have to be the smartest guy in the room. You just have to be tenacious.

I’m certainly thankful that’s the case. I was a career journalist – first in sports, then in news – who started writing fiction nine years ago. And for a long time all I had to show for it was a pile of manuscript pages and some polite-but-firm rejection letters.

Now – alert: more self-serving stuff on the way – I’m celebrating the release of my debut, FACES OF THE GONE. It’s a monument to determination as much as anything, and I don’t pretend I’m alone among authors in feeling that way. If there’s a common theme among the many wonderful writers I’ve met over the last year, it’s simply that they kept writing until they got published. They worked at it, and they worked hard. Because this really is hard work – or at least it is if you’re doing it right.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go munch on snack food.

To learn more about Brad Parks or FACES OF THE GONE, visit To be pelted with monthly fits of nonsense from his small army of underpaid interns, sign up for his newsletter ( To be subjected to such drivel on a more regular basis, become a fan of the Brad Parks Books on Facebook ( or follow him on Twitter (