Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Winner is...

by Wilfred Bereswill

In case you weren't watching, the USA Hockey team just tied the gold medal game against Canada with 30 seconds left in the game.  We're going into overtime.

But it's time to announce the winner of The Working Stiffs Flash Fiction February Contest.

It was very difficult to choose.  I did consider input from the rest of the Working Stiffs who commented privately to me.




Congratulations, Evelyn.  Please email your information to me at wbereswill@wbereswill,com,  If you'd like your copy of A REASON FOR DYING personalized let me know.  I will take a week or so for me to get it mailed since I'm getting ready to leave for Portland, OR for the week.

And here is Evelyn's story.

"If you have to die, February is the best month for it."

Mac Sullivan, private detective, and best friend of the man cleaning the trocar, raised a skeptical brow. "O'Herlihy's running a big casket sale?"

Jeff O'Herlihy tossed his rubber gloves in a hazard receptacle. "I was thinking more about death being an acceptable excuse for failing to buy a Valentine's gift for one's wife."

"You forgot–"

"Not me." Jeff pointed towards the body he'd just prepped. "Cops say his wife didn't fully appreciate the lukewarm six-pack and package of beef jerky."

"Jerky isn't cheap. No excuse for the warm beer though." Mac stopped holding up the doorway and took a few steps into the room. "She supposed to have carved the heart?"

He looked again at the crude design scraped into the dead man's chest. Definitely a heart design, even if the point skewed to the right.

"That's their working theory. Her prints were on the murder weapon. She hasn't admitted anything."

"The woman I saw upstairs, filling out the forms?"

"Yep. She's out on bail, but the cops say it's an open and shut case."

Mac shook his head. "More open I'd say. The wife's a lefty."

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Golden Years?

Hi Everyone!

I’d like to introduce myself; I’m Laurie, and I’m pleased to join the Working Stiffs as a contributor. I also would like to thank the Working Stiffs for welcoming me.

This is a metamorphosis of sorts . . . last year on this exact same Friday morning in February, I went to work and turned in my inventory -- complete with credentials, weapon, raid gear, handcuffs, vest and laptop. It was by far one of the oddest days I have ever experienced. After working at the same post of duty as a criminal investigator since the age of twenty-two, I would not return after I left at the end of the day.

Who knew then that one year later, I would be in the process of writing the first draft of a traditional mystery, and here with the Working Stiffs?

When I woke up that February morning a year ago, it wasn’t what I previously imagined my last day of work to feel like. I wasn’t giddy as I had imagined I would be -- doing cartwheels, jumping up and down, or hooting and hollering. No, instead I was strangely quiet. To say that the day was surreal is an understatement.

Over the years, I had seen other agents clean out their desks, turn in their gear and retire to the land of “sunshine and lollipops.” At least, I thought they did. Now one year later, and strange as it might sound, I don’t know if it has yet sunk in. I am retired? Really? No, that can’t be right, I think, as I shake my head. In fact, I still get excited for a brief moment at the thought of an upcoming legal holiday and a day off work . . . until I remind myself that I am retired and a legal holiday is now like any other day.

Perhaps it is because I didn’t give myself the time to just sit back and enjoy the “sunny and relaxing” days of retirement, which, by the way, is somewhat hard to do in March in northeastern Ohio. No, instead I immediately started writing lists and planning what to do next. I quickly tired of people asking me how I was spending my time after retirement: “Did I have a new job?” I felt uneasy that for the first time in my life, I was doing…nothing.

First off, I was too young (in my mind) to be retired. When contemplating retirement and weighing the pros and cons, I hadn’t considered this con. I didn’t know then that merely saying I was retired would somehow make me feel older. “Retirees” receive discounts on their cups of coffee and movie admissions and young people gently hold open their doors. Chronologically, I don’t qualify for any of those amenities. However, merely stating that I was a retiree made me feel as though I should.

To sum this all up (before I make myself feel any older), on this, my one-year retirement anniversary, it feels a little bit like a divorce. A year later, I’m still adjusting to the separation, but I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. I’m learning its okay to sometimes “just be,” and retirement doesn’t need to signify age. Instead it’s a wonderful opportunity to revisit childhood ambitions, previously not pursued.

I have always harbored a desire to write and since my retirement, that’s what I’ve been doing. However, since I haven’t had anything published, I feel a little awkward saying I’m a writer and when asked, I say I’m retired.

The next time someone asks me “what I do,” I would like to instead say -- I’m, you guessed it …writing.

What do you think? Can I say I’m a writer even though I’m new to writing?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Your Chance to Blow Stuff Up

Friend of the Working Stiffs, Lee Lofland stops by to tell us about an event that no crime writer should miss:  the Writer's Police Academy.

What is the Writer's Police Academy?

The Writers' Police Academy was an idea that came to me as a result of stumbling through bad police information in books written by some of my favorite authors.

I really wanted writers to have the opportunity to experience first-hand what's it's like to be a police officer, not just sit in a hotel meeting room that's that far too hot, or way too cold, and listen to a bunch of us retired cops talking about the good old days when we arrested every Joe Billy Bob that came down out of the hills on Saturday night to whoop it up. I wanted writers to see and feel things that activate their senses, not just read that when an officer sits, the flesh on his side is sometimes pinched between their Kevlar vest and gun belt. Talented people who create stories should actually see the flash of a concussion grenade and feel the heat from a burning building. They need to hear the yelling and screaming as SWAT officers kick in a door when they enter a building searching for an armed murder suspect. That's how stories come alive, from experience, not from watching Barney Miller reruns, and Castle.

Attendees of the Writers' Police Academy will be doing all those things—facing old ladies with guns, seeing burning buildings, arresting bad guys and taking them down, smelling the after-effects of explosions, seeing the effects of pepperspray and Tasers, and more. Never before has there been anything like this. We're very fortunate to have the opportunity to offer this event, especially at a real, working police/fire/EMS academy. And the classes and workshops are taught by actual police academy instructors!

I've been fortunate to have the assistance of a fantastic planning committee—Susan Greene, Nancy Kattenfeld, Lynette Hampton, and Mari Freeman, members of SinC, MWA, RWA, and local romance writers chapters. We wouldn't be able to pull this off without them.

Arranging this mega-event has been a ton of hard, hard, work, because not only do we have the usual logistics to work out, we also have the added worries of lining up real police officers, academy instructors, actual police equipment, canines, bomb experts, jail cells, police cars, weapons, lab equipment...well, you get the idea. And these people DO NOT work regular hours! This event is the real deal, not a watered down citizens police academy.

What can attendees expect to get out of the weekend?

Easy answer. Lots! I've based the majority of workshops and classes on questions and requests I've read on many blogs, writers loops and groups—the things writers want to learn. See, I've been listening to you guys! It's going to be a fast-paced weekend, but an extremely fun weekend. And the best part of the Writers' Police Academy is that it's a hands-on event. Attendees will actually be learning police techniques, such as handcuffing and fingerprinting. We'll also be spending time in an actual crime lab, investigating and reconstructing a real automobile accident, learning how to take down and arrest bad guys, extinguishing fires, conducting building searches, performing searches in real jail cells, investigating homicides, learning about weapons, training on real firearms interactive simulators...oh, the list goes on, and on. We'll also have exhibits and demos set up by local law enforcement agencies, and those officers will be on hand to answer questions about their booths.

We have an excellent staff on board for this years' event, a staff with many years of public safety instruction under their belt. In addition to our regular instructors, ATF Special Agent Rick McMahan, former CHP officer Verna Dreisbach, Rick Helms, and me, we are pleased to introduce the staff of the Guilford Technical Community College police and fire academy:

GTCC Instructors

Eric Holloman, Criminal Justice Department Chair - Accident Reconstruction

Susan Pons, Assoicate Professor Criminal Justice - Crime Lab (fingerprint and impression evidence)

Mike MacIntosh - Bomb and HazMat Expert

Jerry Coble, Ass't Fire Marshall for Guilford County - Arson Investigation/Basic Firefighting

Jerry Cooper - FATS Training/Taser Demo

Deputy Catherine Netter - Jail searches

Bob Walters, BLET Coordinator; Lt. Randy Shepherd; Deputy Vic Maynard - Police Equipment and Tools

Guilford County Sheriff's Department - Defensive Tactics, Handcuffing, and Arrest Techniques

Bill Lanning, Associate Professor in Criminal Justice - Criminal Psychology

- Oh, we're leaving no stone unturned. We've also lined up a special musical guest to entertain us during the Friday night reception, after which I'll be presenting a night owl presentation that'll take you through a very chilling homicide case, complete with crime scene photos and actual statements from the murderer. I'm very close to this case and have been to the scenes and interviewed all the key players. There's even a paranormal aspect to this case that truly unbelievable!

Tell us about your keynote speaker.

What's not to tell. Jeffery Deaver is one of the all time masters of mystery and suspense. We're fortunate to have him with us as our keynote speaker for the Saturday night banquet. He's not only a wonderful speaker, he's a superb writing teacher. His messages always inspire everyone to write to the outer edges of their capabilities.

What about other speakers/teachers, etc.?

I've already listed a few of the other instructors, and we'll be adding a few more top experts as the event draws near. However, I must mention our very special guest, author and NYC senior medical examiner Jonathan Hayes. Jonathan is one of the most entertaining and knowledgeable experts around. He'll be captivating us with an extraordinary presentation on autopsy in the main auditorium on Friday afternoon. Jonathan will also be presenting other workshops throughout the event.

How can writers sign up?

It's easy. Visit our website at and follow the simple registration instructions. We've extended the low early registration rate due to many request to wait until after royalty and tax checks arrive.

Anything else we need to know?

Yes. If you can only attend one event this year, the Writers' Police Academy should be it. Writers conferences come and go—they're fun and I love them, but they're the same old, same old. But you may never have this opportunity again. There's not another place in the world where writers can train like real police officers. We've put all our energy into making this event special. We want everyone to learn and have tons of fun while doing so.

This will be an action-packed weekend. In fact, we're starting Saturday off with a BANG (literally). Do yourself a favor, and be there. We'll need help putting out that fire!

The Writers' Police Academy (remember, this isn't a conference) will be held at the Public Safety Academy on the campus of Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., which is just outside of Greensboro, and very near Mayberry and Mt. Pilot. The event kicks off on Friday September 24, 2010 and ends Sunday at noon after a fun de-briefing session.

By the way, the Mayberry Days celebration takes place the same weekend—I planned it that way—so if you'd like to drive on over while you're in the area, you can see Thelma Lou, The Darlings, Otis, Floyd, Karen Knotts (Don Knotts' daughter), the old Mayberry Jail and sheriff's car, the Andy Griffith Museum, and more. You can even participate in the apple peeling contest or enjoy a pork chop sandwich in the diner while the Mayberry patrol car zips by on the street outside. You might even see Otis stumble by on his way to the courthouse. Oh, there are mule-powered wagon tours of the town, too. It's a real hoot!
We're also hosting, as part of the academy, The Don Knotts Silver Bullet Writing Contest and the Krispy Kreme Golden Donut Award for best short fiction.

The Don Knotts Silver Bullet novel contest is named after, of course, Don Knotts from the Andy Griffith Show. Don's daughter, Karen, is a good friend of my blog, The Graveyard Shift. She once wrote a wonderful article for the blog about her famous dad, and even supplied us with a couple of never-before-seen photographs.

Karen has graciously offered to let us use her father's name in connection with the contest, which is open to everyone and anyone. The Silver Bullet award will be presented for the best manuscript presented to our panel of judges—literary agent Kimberly Cameron of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, literary agent Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen Pomada Literary Agency, publisher Benjamin LeRoy of Tyrus Books, and Poison Pen Press acquisitions editor, Annette S. Rogers. The winner will not only receive the physical award, they'll also be afforded the opportunity to submit their entire manuscript for possible representation by one of the agents, or for publication by the publishers. Of course, the winning manuscript must be worthy of publication for the publishers to accept it.
The Krispy Kreme Golden Donut contest is a short story contest. Writers can submit a story about a common theme ( a photo by photographer Sunday Kaminski) similar to the monthly contest seen in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. There's a reason for that particular rule, and we'll tell all a bit later. (Sunday Kaminski's work has been featured in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and quite frequently on my blog). Details for both contests can be found on the WPA website.
And.. The profits from the academy will be going to The Criminal Justice Foundation of Guilford Technical Community College (Public Safety). The foundation is in place to help fund basic and in-service training needs for police officers. The money we donate to the foundation will be used for equipment, teaching supplies, and other necessary items that simply aren't available through normal state funding. Times are tough for education, especially when it comes to training law enforcement officers. And this particular group of police instructors have a special connection to writers. Many of them are the experts who've answered police-related questions, either directly or through me, or they've provided some bit of information for my book and blog.

I would like to take time to thank our sponsors, if I may.

Writers Digest

The Oak Ridge Boys

TNT's hit show Southland

Singer/recording artist Joe Bonsall, The Oak Ridge Boys

Author Deborah LeBlanc

Just Write Sites

They've all been wonderful and quite generous with their contributions, and with donations for the academy attendees. In fact, The Oak Ridge Boys have donated a really nice raffle basket containing several of their CD's, signed books, and other neat items. Joe Bonsall (the voice on Elvira) and the Oak Ridge Boys' manager/agent Kathy Harris have been simply wonderful. We've been in almost daily contact since they first signed on. What a great group of people!

Writers Digest has gone all out with their generous offerings. One of the items they've donated for the raffle is a complete set of the new Howdunit series, which includes Poisons (Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon), Police Procedure and Investigation (my book), and Forensics (D.P. Lyle). The new Weapons book may be out by that time as well. Just Write Sites designed, hosts, and maintains our fabulous website (they also take care of my website and blog), and author Deborah LeBlanc dug really, really deep into her bank account.

For details and updates, please visit the Writers' Police Academy website at

Or, visit The Graveyard Shift at for more of the same.

If anyone has questions they can contact me at
See you in September!

(portions of this interview are a reprint from Murderati)

Thanks, Lee!

An Age Old Debate

by Annette Dashofy

The debate rages on. Everyone has an opinion and believes theirs is the right one. There is little compromise.

Am I talking about the health care debate? Republican vs. democrat?

No. I’m talking Mac vs. PC.

I own two computers: one a desktop; the other a laptop. Both are Compaq and both get along with each other. That makes life a little easier for me when I move files from the desktop in my office to the laptop for travel. Unfortunately, both are five years old. More and more, I’m becoming aware of their age. Technology marches on and has left my machines in the dust.

So, I’m window shopping. Not necessarily Window shopping, though. A few months back I wandered into an Apple store in a local mall. The sales guy was great and answered all my stupid questions. The laptops were shiny and pretty. The desktops were sleek and compact.

I was convinced. I wanted a Mac. I’d have to save longer to afford one, but you get what you pay for. Right???

But I’ve heard good things about Windows 7 and have played with the display models at Wal-Mart. Slick. And familiar. I knew what buttons to click to do what I wanted it to do.

I was convinced. I could afford BOTH a new desktop and a new laptop for what I’d pay for one of them if I went with Mac.

Oh, but friends of mine who have a Mac told me they’d never ever go back to a PC. The Mac is far superior.

Okay. Maybe I should rethink this.

My cousin, who is my techie expert, told me NOOOOO. Stay with a PC. He gave me a list of specifics to get in a new computer.

He’s my techie expert. I have to go with what he says. If I don’t, who will answer my barrage of emailed questions?

And now another friend has started raving about her Mac…


So I bring my debate to the Stiffs and our back bloggers. What do you use? Mac? PC? How about Windows 7? And do you use a laptop or a desktop? Or both? What advice can you give a technologically challenged computer shopper? I need to be able to write and keep my financial records and work with my photographs. I don’t do games. I don’t design clothes or make movies.

Advice, folks. I need good, solid advice. HELP!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Short Stories and the Slush Pile

Came across this in a twitter link this morning, and since we're discussing short stories this month, I thought I'd share it. Enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2010


by Gina Sestak

Regular readers know by now that we Working Stiffs have declared February to be the month of short fiction.  It is, after all, the shortest month.

I have mixed feelings about short fiction myself.  In earlier times, writers were often paid by the word, so maybe things did get a bit out of hand.  I mean, why write "sunset" when you could cover an entire page with descriptions of the blazing glory of vermilion skies and even the elusive green flash?  Writers have to make a living.

We may be going too far in the other directions, though.  According to the Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins, "short" derives from the Indo-European root "*sker-", meaning to "cut off," which is also the source of our word "shear."  The trick to writing short seems to be the ability to pare away unnecessary verbiage without cutting off so much that the story is left short, flat and meaningless.

It's easy to write, "Jacob fell," but readers are left wondering why he fell, where he fell, whether he fell from a tree or from grace, etc.  We need to keep enough detail to convey not only that information but to set a mood and make us care enough to want to read about Jacob in the first place.  Otherwise, fiction becomes just as incomprehensible as real life.

So what do you think?

[By the way, you know the longest word in the English language, right?  It's "smiles" because there's a mile between the first and last letter. :-)]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sunshine in St. Lou

By Willy B

So, it's Saturday and the sun came out in St. Lou.

So, I put the top down on the Volvo

And took it for a nice long walk,

and let the breeze blow through my hair,

Got some odd stares,

But had a great time.  I forgot how nice it felt.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I’m Getting Published

By Patricia Gulley

I think. Do I actually have the contract, sign sealed and delivered, in my hand? No. But I have had several emails from editors and art director talking like it’s a done deal. I even have a publishing date of April 1. So, I’m going ahead and announcing it.

I’M E-PUBLISHED and, yes, there will be a paper POD book, Print on Demand, not Publish on Demand.

The title is DOWNSIZED TO DEATH and is about the branch manager of a nationwide travel company facing downsizing and office closure. If that isn’t stressful enough, her state supervisor is murdered, the agent in her office fired by that supervisor is missing, and the company fears bad publicity over an ex-employee going postal. What’s a woman to do? Find the killer? Isn’t that the cop’s job? No! Find the missing agent and prove her innocent-see head office, no postal ex-employee. Like it can be that easy!

So, I’ve been editing and fixing, and have started looking for reviews. Boy is that daunting for eBooks. I know it is hard enough for new authors with traditionally published books, especially if the publishing house doesn’t search those reviewers out for you. It’s an experience. Then get on Facebook—Yeeeee Uck. Was that an experience best left untalked about. Does that thing work? Does Twitter or My Space? And I’ve found an ad place that doesn’t sound to difficult or expensive.

So here I am, fellow stiffs, a soon to be published author. Somehow I thought it would feel different. Not yet. What do you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When Theme and Setting Intertwine

We at Working Stiffs are thrilled to have the fabulous Nancy Martin visit today! Thanks, Nancy, for joining us!

By Nancy Martin  

A while back, the NY Times said that all mysteries told pretty much the same story. What set one apart from another is the setting.

Do I agree with this opinion? Not entirely, but I like to read about a setting so vivid that it’s becomes a character in the book—one that has an impact on the story and in the end helps illuminate the theme of the book.

With that in mind, let me tell you about winter in Pittsburgh.

First of all, we’ve had enough snow this year that my husband broke down and looked at airfare to San Juan. (He looked, that’s all—didn’t buy!) He snapped when the pile where we toss the snow from the driveway buried the nearby birdfeeder.

The snow is bad enough, but now comes (cue Darth Vadar music) pothole season.

Pittsburgh has more miles of bad road and bridge decks than most cities in the world. Our roads climb steep, icy hills and dead-end at weed-infested vacant lots into which dirty piles of snow are repeatedly plowed. Our valiant road crews spread tons of salt and cinders that eat away at asphalt and concrete so that potholes get a foothold early and then spread like virulent cancer. If you take your eyes off the street for a second--blam!—you can hit a crater the size of your sofa. The guys in the garage laugh as they hoist your car up to look at the damage underneath, but they’re careful to make sure you’re safe when you pull out onto the street again.

Two years ago, it was cheerful laughter in just such a workplace—combined with the pride those tire guys took in their jobs--that got me thinking.

People in Pittsburgh take their work seriously. Hot steel mills aren’t so distant in our past that we can’t put just as much muscle and sweat and commitment into the work we do now. And yet we’re soft-hearted enough to help me with my alignment and Mrs. Donatelli carry her groceries across the icy supermarket parking lot.

Years before we moved here, my husband and I drove our minivan to the city to see a traveling Broadway musical. We had our two tween daughters in the vehicle---all dressed up in their white tights and mary janes. But they had wanted to wear their dress-up coats over their outfits, not warm jackets. We hit a pothole on the highway and immediately knew we had a flat tire. With the wind whipping icy snow against the windshield, we pulled over. As cars whipped by and my husband—dressed in a suit--pulled the jack from the van, I dialed AAA on my cell phone and chivvied the kids out into the snow so the vehicle wouldn’t be too heavy to jack up.

A minute later, a guy wearing a couple of sweatshirts and grease-stained overalls pulled over and insisted on changing the tire for us. While he worked, two more strangers stopped and asked if we needed help. To me, that’s Pittsburgh. Guys who will stop and change a tire in a blizzard for a family of dingalings who didn’t bring their warm coats.

I try to communicate that good-natured, workingclass heroism in my new book, OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION. (Due in stores—egad!—in two weeks!) I’d been struggling for years to figure out what kind of story might best be set in Pittsburgh. I thought long and hard about the social issues I could capture using this setting. What kind of characters would best illustrate the values this city embodies? I came up with tough-talking, hard-working Roxy Abruzzo who runs a salvage business out of her Monster Truck, but also helps friends in trouble—particularly friends who can’t go to the police for justice. She takes the reader on the kind of tour of Pittsburgh that the guidebooks don’t feature.

Does the setting fit the themes of Roxy’s story? I’ll be interested to see if you think I pulled it off. Come back and let me know.

Meanwhile, tell me about other books in which the theme and setting are intertwined. I’m thinking specifically of Richard Price’s LUSH LIFE, a book that captures New York so accurately you feel as if you’re peeling back the layers of the neighborhood just as the characters slowly reveal one nuance after another. And Denise Mina’s Glasgow is vivid in her book THE DEAD HOUR, a story in which the protagonist’s hard won successes at work and in life seem ideally set in that tough city.

What about you? Any books with vivid settings come to mind?

Visit Nancy's wonderful Web site:

Go here to read an excerpt of OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION:

To order an autographed copy of OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION:

Nancy Martin is the author of nearly 50 popular fiction novels, including the award-winning and bestselling Blackbird Sisters Mystery Series. Nancy serves on the board of Sisters in Crime, and was awarded the 2009 Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award for mystery writing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Researching Snow

by Annette Dashofy

My current WIP is set in mid January. In the snow. And the cold. As I’ve been shoveling my driveway (frequently!) in recent weeks, I keep telling myself that it’s research. The stinging pain in my toes as the cold seeps through the Gortex lining of my boots; the shiver as the snow I brush from my car finds its way down my collar and under my clothes; the bite of the wind on my face. It’s all finding its way into my story.

Note to self: Set future stories in the summer!

A manuscript I wrote several years back (the one that resides in a dark drawer in some undisclosed location) was set in Las Vegas. I’d never been there—still haven’t—but I collected photos and descriptions of the place. I researched it to the point that I held up my end of a conversation about the city with someone who frequented it. I worked on that story in the middle of winter, too. When I headed off to write, I’d say, “I’m going to Las Vegas,” and everyone knew what I meant.

It was nice. I could fool myself into thinking I was there. Warm. Sunshine. (Wistful sigh)

This month has definitely provided a wealth of material for anyone writing about winter. From the three feet of snow to the three foot icicles. Not to mention power outages. I’ve often bragged about my skills at “roughing it.” But roughing it in your own living room isn’t all its cracked up to be.

We were lucky. Our electric only went out for 11 hours. Others around us were without power for over a week. I’m surprised the murder rate hasn’t skyrocketed. Or maybe it has and the bodies are simply buried beneath the snow.

I stopped at a local station for gas. I felt dwarfed—my little Saturn parked amidst a half a dozen monster-sized pickups, all loaded with red gasoline containers. And not a smile on any of the faces of the drivers. At Wal-Mart, the weary shoppers were attired in bulky camo and Carhartts. The women wore no makeup and sported hair that hadn’t seen a shower in days.

Glum. The local population is glum.

And ask me about my Valentine’s Day. Okay, I’ll tell you. I held the aluminum extension ladder while my darling husband knocked down icicles and chiseled ice blocks out of our gutters. While I was holding the ladder, the ice was flying and falling and thunking into me head. My shoulders. My back. OUCH. At one point, I yelled up to Darling Husband and said, “You know…some girls get taken out to dinner on Valentine’s Day.” He grunted and kept on chiseling.

Yes, life is a bit challenging here in southwestern Pennsylvania at the moment. And I can’t even escape into my writing, because it’s more of the same. Snow covers the clues and wipes out the evidence. Eventually, in my story, the snow melts and reveals a clue or two. I’m hoping that it will eventually melt here, too, and reveal everyone’s good humor. I know it’s there somewhere.

So what is the environment of your WIP like? Does it take you somewhere sunny? Or are you, like me, unable to escape the wintery beast even in your prose?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

God is in the Details

By Martha Reed

The subject of my blog today might sound a little obvious but I come from a society where people do not carry handguns in their day-to-day living. When I lived in Texas I did occasionally see a locked gun cabinet as part of someone’s living room furniture and I did fire a shotgun once at a wide open field just to see what recoil felt like but it occurred to me while I was writing Chapter 25 this morning that my main character, Sarah Jarad, lived with a man who carried a gun as part of his everyday business accoutrement because John Jarad is a police Lieutenant.

This concept stumped me for two good long cups of coffee this morning because I had to consider a whole new train of thought: what would it be like to live with someone who went to work armed? What type of rules would Sarah and John agree on about carrying a semi-automatic weapon into their household? Does Sarah even allow the gun in the house? If not, is John comfortable about leaving his gun locked up outside in the lockbox of his truck every night?

This gun revelation caused all kinds of kerfluffle in my manuscript this morning mostly because I had to spend a couple of hours researching my knowledge of a ‘gun’. Oh, sure, I knew what a gun was but I had never had to define it down to specificity before. I knew about Colt .45s because of the beer and Dirty Harry’s .44 Make My Day Magnum but every detail I really knew about guns I had learned from television. Never before had I considered the very real and important details like make or model, caliber, drift & drop, trigger pull, handgrips or manageable recoil.

This research opened up a whole new world to me this morning and thank goodness for the internet because doing this much research ten years ago would have taken me a month. Now not only can I surf through police blogs to read the passionate arguments for and against each type I can also visit YouTube and more than likely find a video of someone demonstrating each exact make and model.

The upshot is that once I realized which gun John would carry (do you want to know?) it allowed me to go back through my manuscript and tighten it up in places I would never have considered before I understood how important this gun detail was. I realize now that John would be comfortable with carrying a gun, he would practice with his, and after reading through all those blogs I came to realize that gun collectors are fascinated by the mechanics of their particular piece of weaponry. This opened up a whole other line of conversation between the officers at the station and when I was done editing it in I sat still in amazement at how this one detail added so much color to the whole story.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-80) was quoted as saying ‘Le bon Dieu est dans le detail’ (God is in the details). I think he was on to something. How much of writing is in taking the proper amount of time to really think things all the way through? Have you read anything lately that offered a detail in it so perfectly in tune with the story that you were left with the detail even when the reading was through? I did. Recently I finished Phil Rickman’s The Cure of Souls (a Merrily Watkins Mystery) and I know I’ll never look at the color yellow the same way again. How about you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Future of Short


I am sorry about the shortened blog, but round 2 of a nasty sinus infection has flared up and kept me prisoner in the house all weekend and drained my energy. 

First a gentle reminder to post your 200-word short story that starts with the sentence, “If you have to die, February is the best month for it.”  On the line is a signed copy of A Reason For Dying. 

I was hoping to talk about what I see as a bit of a resurgence in short story markets.  With self-publishing routes such as Smashwords, and digital formats like Kindle, E-Reader and now the iPad, I can see the potential for easy downloads and quick reads.  Once you set up an account on Amazon or iTunes, purchasing is as simple as a single click.  I know several publishers, like Echelon Press, are beginning to venture into the world of short stories and recently our friends over at The Kill Zone put out a collection of short stories called Fresh Kills.

MP3 format (digital music) changed the music industry.  Not only did it make music portable, but it allowed us to buy a single song for about a buck instead of investing in a whole album that cost a whole lot more and never listening to half of the music you paid for.  It also opened up the industry to rampant piracy. 

A digital short story is kind of like buying that single song.  The stories are a fraction of the cost of a novel, the read is quick and can be purchased in a click.  By the way, as authors, we will be battling piracy.  Thousands upon thousands of books are out there already on P2P file sharing systems and I’m betting the authors don’t even know about it.  I had a friend do an experiment.  I asked her to search and find a specific book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  It didn’t take her long to have an MS Word document in hand with the entire book.  Before I deleted it, I checked the quality.  It was a flawless copy of 736 pages. 

So as we move into the digital age of publishing, we may as well take all of the advantages, because we will be fighting the dark side that goes along with it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Flash Fiction Contest

We moved this post to the top to encourage more entries to our contest. Two readers have posted their stories in the comments and both are awesome! Please read below and enter your own stories. (Note that the first contest to guess the Working Stiff is over.)

We Working Stiffs have a little surprise for you in February. We're calling this month February Shorts, or Flash Fiction February if you prefer alliteration. Either way, we think it'll be lots of fun!

In addition to fantastic guest bloggers Hank Phillippi Ryan on Thursday, February 4th, and Nancy Martin on Thursday, February 18th, we'll be blogging about shorts. No, not the ones you wear! (Although knowing this gang, that's not entirely out of the realm of possibility.) Since February is the shortest month, we thought we'd have some short story themed posts throughout the month.

And that's not all.

We have not one, but TWO contests. Jennie Bentley and Wilfred Bereswill have generously offered to donate a book to the winner. One winner will get Jennie's book, the other will get Will's.

The first contest will be on Friday February 5th. On Jennie's post that day, there will be 200 word stories that begin, "If you have to die, February is the best month for it." The catch? The stories will be anonymous. You won't know who wrote them! Your job will be to figure out which Stiff wrote what story. The reader who gets the most right, wins a book! In case of a tie, Jennie will pick the winner at random from those who tied.

We also have a second contest. Using the same opening sentence, "If you have to die, February is the best month for it," post your own 200 word story in the Comments. (Stories may be less than 200 words, but any that are over will be disqualified.) We'll gather them throughout the month, and Working Stiffs will pick a winner.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Love is in the Air...

by Jennie Bentley

Happy upcoming Valentine's Day, y'all!

Looks like we don't have a scheduled blogger today, so I'm gonna hijack the blog for a minute to ask a question.

I recently sent the manuscript for DIY-4 to my editor. It'll be released sometime in late 2010, just in case you wanted to know. At least I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a release this year.

Before I sent it to the publisher, of course, it got vetted by my agent, who reads and critiques all my manuscripts.

Her comment on this one? "It's very smoochy. Have you ever considered writing straight romance?"

Um... yeah. I considered writing straight romance once. It's about eleven years ago now, before I started giving birth and any semblance of romance left my life. I even won my local RWA chapter's annual contest one year, with a manuscript called "A Fine Romance." (Yes, like the song. LOVE the song!)

Romance is the biggest selling slice of genre fiction out there. It had more than 13% market share at last count. And yes, I do read romance. Paranormal and contemporary, mostly. A little bit historical. Besides that, I like a good love story in everything I read and write. Love makes the world go round.

So in honor of Valentine's Day, let's all share our favorite fictional love stories. Who makes you melt, personally? Scarlett and Rhett? Russ and Clare? Ron and Hermione? Lord Peter and Harriet? Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet?

Have a lovely, romantic day, everyone!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


by Joyce

I've come to the conclusion that I'm a fuddy-duddy (how do you spell that, anyway?). I like things to be a certain way, to be done at a certain time, etc. When something comes up to screw all that up, I can't seem to get anything done.

I've been rolling right along with my WIP, sticking pretty close to my goal of writing an average of four pages a day, or about 20 pages a week. But there has been so much distraction this week, that I've only written five pages in four days. You would think that with almost three feet of snow piled up and nowhere to go, that I'd have the whole frickin' book finished.

Part of the problem is that I'm used to being home alone during the day. Just me and the cat. Peace and quiet. Lots of writing time with no interruptions. This week I've had more than my share of interruptions. Number one son is home from DC for a few days, which is turning into all week because the district is shut down. Number two son, who works at the University of Pittsburgh has been home because Pitt is closed. And to top it off, hubby was home on Wednesday because of the snow. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my family dearly, but they ARE a distraction. It's hard to concentrate on a scene when someone wants to know how to work the washer or can't find anything to eat even though the refrigerator is full.

I've found the best thing to do is just "go with the flow," although I hate that cliche. On Tuesday night, we even went out to dinner and came home and played a board game. I didn't think about the WIP once. On Wednesday, I did squeeze in some writing while the "boys" were out shoveling snow off the driveway.

So maybe I'm not such a fuddy-duddy after all.

How do you deal with distractions and interruptions? Go with the flow? Or go crazy?

Reminder: Don't forget to enter our 200 word flash fiction contest running until the end of the month.  Go here for details and to post your story!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Plotting a Conference

(A note from Annette) Some of you may recall that last year this time I was up to my eyeballs coordinating the 2009 Pennwriters Conference. Today, I’m pleased to introduce guest blogger, Ayleen Stellhorn who is this year’s conference coordinator and does it with much more grace and serenity (externally, at least!) than I could muster. 

Freelancer Ayleen Stellhorn writes for local and regional publications and edits books and magazine articles for the hobby and craft market. A member of Pennwriters, she is coordinating their 23rd Annual Conference, May 14-16, at the Eden Resort in Lancaster, PA.

I recently took down all the 3x5 cards mapping out my current WIP and replaced them with index cards for the 2010 Pennwriters Conference. Funny how my Act I, Act II, and Act III column heads were so easily replaced by Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tags. And all those chapter/scene designations down the left edge? They’re now one-hour time slots for workshops.

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about a roadmap — granted mine’s a really big, extremely anal-retentive roadmap — that helps me stay on track and think clearer when it comes to making my way from A to Z.

I tried using Excel to plot out the conference. It didn’t work. Having to navigate to the correct file and then scroll down to see all the pieces was too frustrating and time consuming. There’s just no easy way to capture a 4x6-foot piece of wall on a 17x12-inch computer screen.

May as well face it… I like being able to see the whole picture in one glance. I blame my first boss. One wall of her office was filled with a matrix that let us see an entire year’s worth of magazine issues and articles at one time. Want to know who’s writing the beginning carving article for the July issue? Just look at the wall.

When I moved on to be a book editor, I applied the same principle to my spring and fall lists. Want to know who’s authoring the scroll saw pattern book next fall? Just look at the wall. No tinkering with computer screens or file folders necessary.

So now the 2010 conference schedule is up on the wall. Does the agent/editor class I need to switch to time slot 9:15 to 10:15 on Friday morning conflict with the how-to class during that same time? I just look at the wall.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to take the wall with me when I head to Lancaster for the conference the spring.

To learn more about the 2010 Pennwriters Conference, visit, check out their Facebook page at Pennwriters Annual Writers Conference, or e-mail Friday’s keynote is best-selling author James Rollins. Visiting agents and editors are Janet Reid, Jenny Bent, Jennifer Jackson, Miriam Kriss, Alex Glass, Barbara Lalicki, Leis Pederson, and David Pomerico.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Brief Announcement...

Breaking in on Pat's day just for a moment to post the winners of Hank Phillippi Ryan's books.

The winners of any TIME book of their choice:

And the winner of PRIME TIME FACE TIME and AIR TIME and a tote bag!
Dana King

You can can email Hank directly through “contact” in her website and send her your mailing addresses.

Congratulations!!! Now back to your regularly scheduled blog...

It can take a long time to write short

By Pat Remick

As you know, short fiction is our theme this month and after spending a month working on two short stories, I have to echo Wilfred Bereswell’s earlier post that creating a short story can constitute some of the hardest writing you’ll ever do.

I've been rising early to write before work (and believe me, spending your first 1.5 hours awake thinking about murder sets an interesting tone for a workday) and devoting several hours on weekends. It hasn't been easy and the task has consumed me, because when I'm not at my desk, I think about the stories and where they should go next – or where they shouldn’t have gone before.

Telling a story, developing characters the reader will care about, and creating a sense of place are essential elements that require words – and sometimes lots of ‘em. So if there’s a tight limit, such as 3,500 words for one of my stories, finishing a first draft still means many more hours of work ahead to pare it down without losing the essence – or important details. This process of “killing your darlings” -- deleting words or phrases that took hours, and sometimes days or weeks, to craft – is excruciatingl.

My friend Kathleen, who delights in writing very short stories, often brags that if she were to divide the meager payment she receives for publication in an anthology by the number of words written, she’s the highest paid author per-word in that book. Last year, however, her 246-word story was not enough to maintain that distinction because someone else wrote a piece that was only 64 words long.

Think about it – an entire story in 64 words. That’s shorter than most conversations. It’s also fewer words than are being allowed in the flash fiction challenges here. Fortunately, I suspect flash fiction readers have lower expectations about what such a short story has to contain in so few words to be credible, which helps, but all the elements still need to be there.

As you probably know, there are those who contend powerful stories can be told in even fewer words. According to writing legend, Ernest Hemingway once wrote one in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

I've seen writing challenges urging participants to duplicate this feat, including asking them to describe their lives in just six words. Smith Magazine has been publishing collections of these six-word memoirs over the past few years. The latest version is "It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure.”

Being someone who often writes far too many words, I especially admire the ability of these writers to sum up their lives in so few of them. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Well, I thought it was funny” – Stephen Colbert

“At least I never voted Republican” – Tony Kushner

“I picked passion. Now I'm poor. -- Kathleen E. Whitlock

“So would you believe me anyway?” -- James Frey

If you had to sum up your life in six words, what would they be?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Drumroll, please....

by Jennie Bentley

The results are in for the first part of the Flash Fiction contest, better known as The Guessing Game. The other part, where you, gentle readers, post your own 200 word stories, starting with the sentence, “If you have to die, February is the best month for it,” in the comments section of a certain post you’ll find if you look to the right of this... that’s still ongoing. At the end of February, Wilfred Bereswill is graciously giving away a copy of his book, “A Reason for Dying,” to the guest story determined to be the best of the bunch.

This time around, the prize is one of my DIY books: “Fatal Fixer-Upper,” “Spackled and Spooked,” or “Plaster and Poison,” or an advanced reader copy of “A Cutthroat Business,” first in the Savannah Martin real estate mysteries.

You know, I had no idea when we started this that it would be so hard to match stiffs to stories. I figured everyone would get at least me and Will and John Lutz matched correctly, since our work is readily available even if you’re not familiar with it already. Imagine my surprise when no one – and I do mean no one – guessed that I wrote #2.

Yes, folks, the male POV 3rd person science fiction piece is mine. I figured if I wrote first person female like I always do, you’d know right off the bat that I wrote it. So I decided to be devious. Even so, to me, it still screams in my voice, loud and clear. The sentence structure, the rhythm, the flow... Yet even Will – whom all of you; every single person – thought had written it, told me that he if he didn’t know which entry was his, he’d have thought he wrote mine.

I’m going to take that as a huge compliment, y’all. Little old girly-girl me wrote male POV well enough to fool everybody!

Here’s the actual rundown of who wrote what:

1. Will
2. Jennie
3. Joyce
4. Gina
5. John Lutz
6. Pat R.

Nobody got’em all right. A few of you got a few. The person with the most matches, interestingly enough, was someone who doesn’t know any of us: Kris the Cajun Book Lady! Congratulations, Kris. Email me or DM me with your address and your choice of reading material, and I’ll get a book in the mail to you!

Thanks for playing, everyone! And don’t forget to post your 200 word Flash Fic pieces in the appropriate place for a chance to win “A Reason for Dying.”

Friday, February 05, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday!!!

by Jennie Bentley

It's time! It's time!

OK, everybody, the flash fiction contest is here. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to match the entries below - six of them - with the appropriate writer. Five Working Stiffs and one guest author have contributed. In alphabetical order:

Jennie Bentley
Wilfred Bereswill
Pat Remick
Gina Sestak
Joyce Tremel

and - drumroll please - best selling author John Lutz!

(Thanks, Will, for inviting John! Thanks, John, for being a good sport!)

Without further ado, here they are:


If you have to die, February is the best month for it.  The days are short, the weather is miserable and cabin fever has firmly taken root. Even the holiday cheer has soured. February seems to amplify the hopelessness of it all.

I never asked for this. All the responsibility, all the work, the finances, the constant bitching. I slave all day and most evenings. And for what? Her clothes, her makeup, her daily latt├ęs at Starbucks and the martini parties. Even her gym membership.  I wish the hell I had time for a gym membership.

She complains every night about being alone. She says I should spend more time with her.  But the truth is she doesn’t give a damn about me, just my bank account. I’m the one that’s alone and now she wants a divorce?  I can’t take it any more. It scares me to do this but it’s my only way out.

“I’m so sorry it had to end this way, but I’ll be sure to toast you with an Apple Martini tonight. Here’s your note. Don’t drop it and don’t forget your gun.  Sleep well you cheap bastard.”


If you have to die, February is the best month for it.

And Quinn Conlan was ready. After a year, three months, and sixteen days in the prison camp on Marica-3, he was more than ready. He’d die today, this hour, this very minute, if it would get him out of another session with the camp medical team.

They were the best in the galaxy. Both when it came to bringing a prisoner to death’s door and to making sure he didn’t walk through it.

And they’d be back. Soon. But maybe this time they wouldn’t revive him afterwards.

A man could dream, right?

Or not. Dreams are dangerous things.

Back on Earth, it was Valentine’s Day. Flowers, candy, sappy cards. Even in 3045, people celebrated a guy who’d been dead almost three centuries.

Someone else was bringing Josie flowers this year. Buying her candy. They’d told him that. Quinn didn’t know whether it was true or just another form of torture, but he’d decided to believe it. Without Josie, he had one less reason to stay alive.

He was ready, dammit. You hearing this, God? It was February. If he had to die anyway, might as well be now.


“If you have to die, February is the best month for it,” Clara said.

“Oh, I know just what you mean,” Marie said. “It’s such a dreary month.” She took a sip of her Earl Grey, made a face, and added more sugar. “Do you know in what month I’d hate to die?”

Clara poured a cup for herself and added only cream. “No, dear.” She didn’t indulge in sweets the way Marie did.

“May. It’s such a lovely month.” Marie finished her tea and closed her eyes. “I can almost feel the sun on my face.”

Clara took the afghan from the back of the sofa and tucked it around her sister. It wouldn’t do for Marie to take a chill. She’d taken good care of her all these years. Mother would have been so proud at how she’d given up everything for Marie. Even given up Lester. But that was years ago. And now Lester was back. A widower!

Marie’s eyes fluttered open. “I’m so tired today. I think I’ll take a little nap.” She closed her eyes again.

Clara smiled and sipped her tea. It would be a nice, long nap. Yes, February was the best month.


"If you have to die, February is the best month for it," I remarked.

"Oh, yeah?  Who says?"  I looked over at my husband, bloated and belligerent, his mean little bleary eyes splotched with broken blood vessels, and wondered what I'd ever seen in him.

I slid the gun out of my pocket and picked up a pillow to muffle the sound of the shot.  "There's one way to find out."



If you have to die, February is the best month for it. It’s hard to defend that statement. My wife, May, was difficult to convince. But her critically ill mother, June, will have legally adopted little April on the first of March. So another heir, or I should say heiress, will have been created. May is driving now to deliver a very special and deadly sponge cake to her mother, thus creating, shall we say, a larger piece of the inheritance pie. No one will suspect foul play, least of all the doddering coroner in our small town. I knew May would come around to my way of thinking; her entire family is greedy. It’s in their blood, even though they pretend otherwise. I’m going to celebrate now by eating several more of the chocolates just delivered here to the house. They’re delicious, though they taste a little funny. The card that came with them reads “For May and August, with all my love forever.” It’s signed by May’s sister, Jan.


"If you have to die, February is the best month for it," Sheila is saying, “As long as it doesn’t ruin Valentine’s Day, we’ll be able to remember the anniversary because there’s nothing else going on. I hate February.”

Katie shushes her. “Mom, that’s awful. What if Nana hears you?”

Katie is my favorite granddaughter. Unfortunately, she lives in the same house as my least favorite daughter-in-law. Thank goodness Katie takes after my darling Bill. I miss him so much.

“She can’t hear us,” Sheila insists.

“But I heard on NPR about a study that said people in comas are more aware of their surroundings than doctors thought. Maybe Nana knows we’re here.” Katie sounds hopeful.

“Honey, she’s brain dead and she wouldn’t want to live this way. We have to let her go.”

“First Dad, and now Nana,” Katie sobs. “I’m sorry, but I miss them both so much.”

I will miss her, too. But what I am most sorry about is that I didn’t see Sheila add the white powder to my tea or Bill’s evening cocktail – and that I can’t tell anyone what I overheard when she called her lover from this room. What a bitch.

# # #

So there you have it. Six authors. Six stories. Who do you think wrote which story?

Leave a comment with your guesses, and I'll tally them up at the end of the weekend and let you know Monday what's what. Winner is the reader who matches all six - or the most - correctly. If we have a tie, I'll draw a winner. At random, I promise.

Oh, yeah; almost forgot the prize!

Since I believe Will is giving a copy of his book, "A Reason for Dying," to the reader who writes the best 200 word flash fic story beginning with the words "If you have to die, February is the best month for it," during the month of February, I guess the winner of this little shindig will get a book of mine. I can offer a choice between the three books in the DIY home renovation series: "Fatal Fixer-Upper," "Spackled and Spooked," and the brand new "Plaster and Poison" (although if you want that one, you'll have to wait; it won't be available for a month). Or, alternatively, the winner can choose an advance reader copy of "A Cutthroat Business," the first book in my new series, about a real estate agent in Nashville, which will be released in June.

Let the games begin!  

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Let's Twist Again

GIVEAWAY! The choice of any one of Hank’s Charlie McNally series—to five lucky commenters! And one grand prize winner get the first three books--plus a terrific limited edition black canvas tote bag.

by Guest Blogger Hank Phillippi Ryan

Here’s the scene you’ve got to imagine. Me, and my dear husband, side by side on the couch. (He looks a bit like Donald Sutherland, if that helps. Not scary-spooky Donald Sutherland, but nice Donald.) We have wine. Some little snacks. And a movie.

Jonathan clicks the remote to ‘play’. The mystery thriller—you pick the movie--whirrs into life. Opening credits, big opening scene, setting the stage and introducing the characters. About five minutes in, a woman enters the plot.

“Dead,” I say.

Jonathan pushes pause. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I say, taking the remote and pushing play. “I’m just saying, she’s toast.”

Four minutes later: KABLAM. Jonathan takes a sip of wine. “Anyone could have predicted that,” he says. “Plus, you guessed.”

I shrug.

Soon after, someone who is someone’s friend/lover/teacher/husband/neighborhood cop arrives into our plot. “I like him for it,” I say. “Guilty Guilty Guilty.”

Jonathan, who I might add is a criminal defense attorney and more used to real-life murder than any of us, is not happy. Pauses the video again. “Can’t you just watch the movie? Can’t you just wait and see what happens?”

I push play. Of course, the answer is no. For the rest of the movie, I—mostly—keep my suspicions and guessing to myself. Unless I just can’t stand it.

“I’m…,” the almost-heroine says.

“Pregnant!” I yell.

“Pregnant,” she says.

“Ha!” I say, raising a victory fist. “The twist.”

Jonathan’s face is some combination of annoyed, impressed and affectionate. He’s married an investigative reporter turned mystery writer, and we can’t stand not to predict what’s going to happen. Or think of a way that it could happen better. Or happen more interestingly.

It may have started with Perry Mason. When I was a little girl, with a lawyer for a step-father, when Perry was on, there were rules. Like: total and absolute silence. My little sister and I were not allowed to ask things like—who’s that guy? What’s embezzlement? Why is she crying? If we wanted to watch Perry on our 17 inch Philco (or whatever it was) we had to be very, very quiet.

Even my dad was quiet. But my 12-year-old brain began to figure things out. Like—the pattern. Of course, you had a head start with Perry. His client, except for that one famous time (what was the name of the case he lost? Anyone?) was not guilty. And the most obvious second choice didn’t do it either. The twist was--it was always the third person, kind of the guy who was not in the forefront until about two-thirds of the way in. And soon, I could always guess. And I was always right. Of course, I was never allowed to say it out loud.

((“Foreshadowing!” I say, all grown up now and on my own couch. “See the river in the background? Someone’s going to drown.”))

Figuring out Nancy Drew was a snap, even though I loved her. Sherlock Holmes? Yeah, even Arthur Conan Doyle had a pattern. I realized that after devouring every Holmes story I could find. It was kind of—a rhythm you could tap in to and figure out the end. Like Law and Order, right? They’re fun to watch. But get the rhythm, and you get the bad guy. (Tum TUM)

And when I read now, I still can’t just let go and let the author take me away. I do try. Try not to think ahead, nail the foreshadowing, find the clues, figure out whodunit before the author tells me. I always, always fail. (But that’s also why I don’t read mysteries while I’m writing. I can’t. I only want my story in my head. I don’t want to be trying to solve someone else’s puzzle.)

Of course, I don’t always guess the bad guy. And it doesn’t really matter. If I do, that’s okay. If the author has written a careful, fair and clever book, I give them props for that.

When I don’t, though, that’s just great. I go back through; looking for the clues I missed, seeing if it was fair. And when it is, when I’m fooled and deceived and misled, that’s the best.

But know what I’m wondering now? Is it fair to promise a “twist ending”? If I’m told there’s going to be a twist, I read the whole book differently. Looking for the twist. Which is somewhat distracting. Isn’t it twistier not to say so? All my promo material for Prime Time promises a twist ending. Which it does have. And people say they never guessed it. But I wonder—should I have left it a surprise? Or does promising a twist make it more of a challenge?

And DRIVE TIME…well, at first. I had a big twist ending. Then I took it out. Then I put it back. Then I…well, you’ll just have to read it and see.

What do you think? Do you try to solve the puzzle as you read or watch? Or can you just—relax and get carried away? And if there’s a twist, do you want to know?

Suzanne Brockmann says: “I love this series!” Sue Grafton says: "This is first-class entertainment." And Library Journal just gave DRIVE TIME a starred review, saying in part “Placing Ryan in the same league as Lisa Scottoline…her latest book catapults the reader into the fast lane and doesn’t relent until the story careens to a stop. New readers will speed to get her earlier books, and diehard fans will hope for another installment.”

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a radio reporter, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone Magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, a DAPHNE nominee, a TOP PICK and an RT Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. FACE TIME (August 2009) and AIR TIME (Sept. 2009) are IMBA bestsellers. DRIVE TIME came February 1 from MIRA Books, to a starred review from Library Journal. Hank is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America, and the New England Board of Sisters in Crime.

Her website is

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Ode to February

By Annette Dashofy

Good ol’ Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday. No big surprise there. And I’m not going to launch into my usual round of curses on groundhogs, because it never works. We’re going to have to face it. Shadow or not, we still have six weeks of crappy weather ahead of us.

Around here, folks start getting a glazed look in their eyes in February. I think the main reason someone decided to plunk Valentine’s Day smack in the middle of the month was so we wouldn’t all go postal on each other. Instead, we bribe those closest to us (and therefore, those who are the most annoyed with us) with gifts of chocolate and flowers and trinkets. Just a little something to tide us over to blue skies and sunshine.

I’m sure the sun comes out somewhere in February, but not in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here, the gray clouds roll in shortly after Thanksgiving and stay until May.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But not much.

Worse, though, than the clouds in February, is the dirt. February is a dirty month. January’s snow has melted into grungy gray mounds along the highways. Cars are all the same color: Road Salt. No use washing them. It rains or snows (or both) most days, so they’ll just get slopped up again.

And of course, there are the potholes. It must be February. The potholes are in bloom! My husband recently informed me that my car is in desperate need of an alignment. I laughed. Why in the world would I want to spend the money on that NOW? It would be undone two miles down the road with the first crater I smacked into.

Alignments and car washes have to wait until spring. Which is still six weeks away.

There are only two good things about February as far as I can tell.
1.) It means we survived January.
2.) It’s the shortest month.

Bring on March!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Digital Media Wars - The Saga Continues

By Martha Reed

Amazon has done it again and in the interest of public service I’m going to post the topic in an effort to raise awareness of the on-going situation.

Last Saturday, the Buy Buttons on Amazon for all of MacMillan’s books including Kindle editions were removed. Going forward MacMillan editions can only be bought through third-party sellers. This Amazon change came in response to MacMillan’s efforts to reset ebook pricing above the wholesale price of $9.99 and move it to a higher agency selling model ($14.99 and $12.99) for ebooks published simultaneously with new hardcover releases.

Kindle users were appalled when MacMillan book selections they had already downloaded to their Wish Lists plus MacMillan sample chapters vanished off their Kindles without prior notice.

Eric Simonoff, co-head of William Morris Endeavor books said: “The current model of Amazon selling Kindle editions as a loss-leader is fair for publishers and authors in the short-term but as we have told Amazon we don’t believe it is sustainable in the long term. Something had to give to prevent the ongoing devaluation of e-books. MacMillan is the first to draw the line in the sand but we expect not the last.”

“Devaluation of ebooks” may translate into simply meaning that the publishing houses want a bigger slice of the digital media pie and cynical me can’t help but wonder how the timing of this Amazon event played out against Apple’s iPad digital reader Kindle-competitor product launch last Wednesday.

Either way, the move by Amazon doesn’t surprise me; they’ve done it before. A few years’ back they used this same strong-arm tactic on independent POD publishers by trying to insist that POD publishers only use Amazon’s specific print media source BookSurge or Amazon would no longer host the publisher’s product line on the Amazon web site. So today we see that same Amazon business strategy shaped to fit the new digital media topic.

Yes, I know the publishing world is in flux. I know the publishing houses are scrambling to develop new business models. What I don't see is any proactive discussion of how this impacts long-term larger readership issues like product quality, the development and attraction of a younger marketplace, changing cultural demographics or even concern over author rights. This discussion is still very much one-sided and I’m not convinced that’s a good place to be.

Addendum: Talk about flux! I've been following this story and yes, MacMillan will be selling their books through iStore (Apple's digital venue) and Amazon caved in to pressure yesterday; going forward publishing houses will be setting digital pricing. More to come, I'm sure!