Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Looking for a Popcorn Tree

Today we welcome recently published mystery novelist Norma Huss, who closes out our month of writing inspiration by talking about who and what inspires her. Welcome, Norma!
By Norma Huss
This past winter I looked out my window and saw a popcorn tree. Wow! I had to take a picture.

Well, you know it wasn’t ACTUALLY a popcorn tree. It was a tree with branches completely devoid of leaves, but snow had gathered in so many heavy clumps it reminded me of little popcorn balls. Today, now that I think of it, there has to be a story there somewhere! So, how can I use a popcorn tree?

I’ll go to my inspiration collection, writerly quotes I’ve collected over the years. My very favorite is one I’ve printed up and taped right over my computer. I glance at it every day, and try to do my best to live by this:
“That was the moment I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of the professional which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie
But today, I need more advice, something that gathers my notes and gives me direction. Perhaps this one:
“Keep a notebook, honey, and someday it will keep you.” Mae West
Sorry, not that one. (I could only wish!) Aha! How about the next quote?
“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” Voltaire
Oops, that does SO not go with Mae’s quote. But I have more quotes.
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
VERY useful when one is busy submitting that lovely manuscript to a multitude of agents, but does it help me today? I must dig deeper.
“Always remember, perseverance is as important as talent.” Dean Koontz
“The professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Back
Yes, I am inspired. I can do it. Let me think a bit. How about a children’s story. Maybe a picture book manuscript. Except I’m a mystery writer. But are there picture book mysteries? Could be the first of a collection of “what-is-it?” pictures, you know, the close-up that doesn’t provide enough external clues to.... How about an adult mystery. It could make a good title: Dead Under The Popcorn Tree, or Murder By Popcorn. No, no, that’s really bad! How about.... Is that another quote I hear banging on my door?
“Don’t think! Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things; you simply must do them.” Ray Bradbury
There you go! And guess what? That’s the quote I’ll use. Just plunk a popcorn tree down on the website, and ramble (with quote collection in hand).

Have you ever seen a popcorn tree? How about some other strange and wonderful sight that inspired you? Did you find advice that really helped? I must admit, the first one I quoted here has helped me through many a session of writing that was not going particularly well. Do you have a favorite quote?

A postscript from Norma:
Wings ePress, Inc. published my first novel, a mystery titled Yesterday’s Body, last October—the same month my mother turned 100. Naturally, I dedicated it to her. Although she has never actually given me writing advice, she’s my inspiration. She’s written poetry all her life, mainly as gifts for others to celebrate birthdays and special events. Last year she wrote one (that didn’t quite have the rhyme and rhythm of her earlier ones) for one of the caregivers at her assisted living home. It was all about the dogs the woman brought for a visit, and they published it in their newsletter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The best writing advice Hallie Ephron received

Today Hallie Ephron -- a terrific novelist, writing teacher, reviewer and non-fiction author -- takes a turn at discussing our March theme.
By Hallie Ephron

The best writing advice I ever got came from Arthur Edelstein, a wonderful writing teacher who ran a fiction writing seminar at Radcliffe Seminars. Sadly, Arthur died a few years back but I keep a post-it in my office with two insights. These are so simple but at the they felt like bolts from the blue:
1. Write scenes
2. Kill the narrator
Write scenes? Arthur was the first person to alert me to the fact that scenes (not chapters) are the atomic particles of which novels constructed. A scene is bounded in time and place, though characters can enter and exit. When the scene shifts, the author double spaces. If you keep this in mind, it helps anchor your novel in drama (showing) instead of summary (telling). Chapter breaks can come anywhere, and the author can insert a chapter break in a scene to modulate the pace.

Kill the narrator? Well, not literally. But the point here is that the author’s voice doesn’t belong in (most) modern novels. The voice/viewpoint telling the story shouldn’t be the author but one of the characters, and each scene is narrated start to finish by just one viewpoint character. I know there’s a lot of controversy about this, but I still prefer an anchored viewpoint in each scene.

How do you pick which character narrates if your novel has multiple narrators? Tess Gerritsen gave me some great advice when I asked her how she picks which of her character narrates: “Writers are told to give the point of view to the character who has most to lose in a scene. I would disagree totally. Choose the character who is most uncomfortable, the most off balance.” Great advice.

And finally, following Anne Lamott’s advice from “Bird by Bird,” I long ago gave myself permission to write shitty first drafts.

Hallie Ephron is a writer, book reviewer, and teacher. Her novel "Never Tell a Lie" (1/09, Willliam Morrow) is a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and for the Salt Lake Libraries Readrers Choice Award. It has been optioned for film and has been translated into 7 languages. Hallie is also an award-winning crime fiction book reviewer for "The Boston Globe." Her Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" was nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. She teaches at writing workshops across the country. She is also the author of "The Bibliophile's Devotional" and "1001 Books for Every Mood."

Tomorrow newly published author Norma Huss will share who--and what--inspires her.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Writing Advice: Is there anything new to be said?

Today we're joined by the fabulous Kate Flora -- writing teacher, mystery novelist, non-fiction writer and short story author. Welcome Kate!
By Kate Flora

I can time the beginning of my writing from the birth of my second son. That’s when I put down my pencil and left the law library, and my yellow legal pad, behind. At home with two small boys and no job after years of working, I panicked, thinking, “But I’ve always had a job. What will I do?” I’d always wanted to write. Writing seemed to be something I could fit into the spaces of a mother’s life, between naps, during preschool and play dates, so I bought a computer and sat down to write a mystery. Nine sleepless, crazy months later, I typed “The End” on the last page of a very bad novel, did the happy dance, put it in the drawer, and started another. That was almost twenty-seven years ago. The second book took twice as long and was worse than the first. Undaunted, I started a third.

All three of those books now sit in a drawer somewhere, though I’ve been known to claim that they’re locked in a safe which is encased in cement, wrapped in chains, and at the bottom of an unnamed river. The first book I sold was the fourth book I’d written. By the time it was published, I’d spent ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner. I learned two important things from those ten years, and those practice books: the value of persistence and discipline, and how important it is to believe in your own work. From the next many up and down years—when my career was going smoothly, when it was tanking, and the times in between, I learned the importance of taking chances.

What about persistence and discipline? Well, I’ve been teaching writing for almost as long as I’ve been published—my first book came out in 1994—and for all of that time, and the many wonderful students I’ve had, I’ve also seen one consistent thing: students who just want to sit there and write down the magic rules, so they can then go out and write a best-seller and become fabulously rich. Many aspiring writers don’t want to hear the word “discipline,” and long to believe in the fluttering muse theory of writing. You sit in coffee houses, drink wine, schmooze with friends, take long, meaningful walks, and when the words are ready, they will tell you and you can go and write them down, channeling them like a medium in an ecstatic trance.

There are a lucky few for whom writing is like that. Sadly, for most of us, writing is more like going to work, even, perhaps, like going to the gym. If you do it consistently and regularly, you get better at it. Stronger, more flexible, able to wrench those words and sentences around without back strain or acute pain. There will still be those days when it seems like every sentence is carved from your forearm and nailed to the page, but that’s part of being a writer. And persistence? It takes a long time to write a book even when you’re showing up at your desk every day. Writing a book is like eating a whale. If you eat a little every day, eventually, you’ve eaten the whole whale. But if you don’t show up at your chair, even on the days when you stare at the daunting blank whiteness of the screen for an hour while you grind your teeth or retype “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” until your vision blurs, you won’t be there on the day when it does become like ecstasy. When the words flow, you’re in the zone, you know your characters, and suddenly you’re writing the sentences, the scenes, the dialogue you’ve dreamed of writing.

Are there tricks, strategies to use when the blank screen seems to be winning? A zillion. You can google writing tips and spend the next ten years reading them and taking notes. Or you can, as my mother used to say, “Keep your seat in the seat.” And write. Give yourself a goal, a set number of words you have to write before you can go stand outside and scream. Promise yourself a reward: one first class chocolate when you hit 500 words. Be playful: if your character is about to fall into bed with the guy she’s been hating for the last fifty pages, you might show up at your desk (assuming you write at home and not at the public library) in something sexy or provocative. If your character is confronting the bad guy, you might wear shoes YOU can run in. If you’re feeling like the world isn’t taking you seriously (That painful ‘Are you published?’ question) or you’re not taking yourself seriously, dress for success when you show up at the desk. Choose a type of music or theme song for your character, to play for times when he or she doesn’t seem to be working. Keep a running list of research questions, and when you hit the wall, take a research day and go get yourself some answers. Be kind to yourself—when it’s done well, writing looks effortless. But a lot of effort goes into producing that kind of writing.

And we never did get to the matter of taking chances. Perhaps the next time I visit Working Stiffs?

Kate Flora has earned awards and starred reviews from critics from her mystery and suspense novels, her true crime, and her short fiction. She is the author of eleven books, including series mysteries, a stand-alone suspense novel, and an Edgar-nominated true crime. Flora’s stories have appeared in nine anthologies. She teaches writing for Grub Street in Boston.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when best-selling author and writing instructor Hallie Ephron shares the best writing advice she ever received.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Beginnings

By Laurissa

The month of March is a fickle one: one day, birds are chirping, and the sun is shining; the next, it’s raining or even possibly snowing. There’s no telling what to expect from Mother Nature during this month. While I’m thinking about it, I guess that’s what I love about this month – waking up each morning, anticipating the warmer weather to come, and knowing there’s a chance that today might be that very day.

It’s this idea that today might be that very day, which I find inspiring, not just during the month of March, but every day. How often have we all heard, “today is the first day of the rest of your life?” Or, to put it another way, “it’s never too late for a fresh start” or a “new beginning.” I’m inspired to know that I don’t have to continue doing the same old thing that didn’t work for me in the past; it’s a new day -- I can do things differently…today. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be a new day for a new beginning. Sometimes it can be just a simple decision to change my attitude or thought process, and I’ve created a fresh start. I’m inspired to know it’s never too late to start over or to make a change.

Throughout this month, I’ve been reading the wonderful advice and insight offered by the other Working Stiffs and guest bloggers. I’ve not only read each and every post and the comments made by readers, but I’ve also been taking notes. As a new writer the insight I’ve gained this month from experienced writers has been invaluable. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and writing advice.

I think the idea of starting anew is also what draws me to write. Through writing we have the opportunity to create on each new blank sheet of paper whatever we want to create. We don’t have to write what we wrote yesterday and we don’t have to write short stories because that’s “our thing.” We can fill that blank sheet of paper with whatever words we choose…it’s a new page to be filled however we want to fill it, and that to me, is very inspiring.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't Take It Personally

by Joyce

One of the pitfalls of being a writer is having to deal with rejection. I can't think of any other profession where it's possible to get slammed down on a regular basis. Even actors don't get those dreaded letters in their email or mailbox.

And talk about mood swings! Euphoria when the email arrives--you're sure she's asking for more material, or she wants to know a good time to call because she loves your book. You click and start reading. Bam! Another rejection. You go looking for chocolate or alcohol--or both.

Even bestselling authors have had their share of rejection. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King were rejected numerous times before their first books found a home. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected a whopping 140 times. The list goes on and on. (Google "writer rejections" sometime. You wouldn't believe the number of sites that come up.)

Believe me, I've had my share of rejections. Over the years they've ranged from the typical form rejection to the send-me-your-next-book kind. Some have been helpful and gave me specific advice on what needed to be fixed. Some were just a "No" scribbled across the top of my query letter. Others were downright blunt ("I thought it would be better."). 

There's no doubt that rejections hurt. Even the "good" ones. But no matter what kind of rejection you receive, learn not to take it personally. I know our manuscripts sometimes feel like our babies. We've poured our hearts and souls into them for months, and in many cases, years. Try and remember that what we've written is only a product. Some will like it--others not so much. Some might even hate it. Remember that the agent or editor is rejecting the product, not you. It's not always easy, but it's part of the process.

I'm not sure where the saying came from, but remember--what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Polish up that next query and send it off.

Does anyone have any rejections stories to tell? What is the worst rejection you've received? The best?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calling in the Experts

By Annette Dashofy

On Monday, Gina wrote about critique groups. I love my critique buddies. But reading one chapter at a time has its limitations. Therefore, I have a second line of defense, known as my first readers.

Currently, I’ve completed my second draft, and am now sending that complete manuscript to this select group of “experts” to read and vet the story as a whole.

How do you go about choosing your own first readers? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are writers. But here is a list of who I’ve chosen and why.

A friend who writes in another genre and who also happens to work in the field of psychology. There is a psychological aspect to my story and I want to know that my characters are reacting and responding in an appropriate manner for the circumstances.

A non-writer friend who works in the computer field. Part of my story revolves around an old computer and some data contained within it. I need to know if my technological details are correct. I’ve done the research in advance, but does it work in the context of the story?

A non-writer friend who is an avid reader of all genres. She can tell me if the story works for her as a reader. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Have I answered all the questions and wrapped up all the loose ends to suit her?

Then I have three mystery writer friends who will vet the story from their trained perspective. Did I play fair? Are the necessary clues hidden well enough? Too well? Plus, they will also comment on the same stuff that my non-writer/avid reader does.

I should mention that our own Joyce Tremel is in that last group and I expect her to vet my police secretary character and thread, too. What did I get wrong? What wouldn’t happen that way, even in a fictional department where I have some leeway to make up the rules and procedures? And, yes, what did I get right?

So my last bit of advice for the month is this: find a good critique group, finish the book, and THEN compile a group of experts to be your first readers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Today we welcome the prolific Stephen D. Rodgers, author of more than 600 stories and poems. You can read some of them in his riveting short story collection "Shot to Death" published this month.  Stephen is visiting Working Stiffs as part of his month-long "Blog March."

By Guest Blogger Stephen D. Rodgers

The only guy in the packed bar, Joey took one long look and  then snorted in derision. - UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW

So begins one of the 31 stories contained in SHOT TO DEATH (ISBN 978-0982589908). Within that beginning lurks the ending to the story and everything that happens between the beginning and the end. Or at least it seems that way to me.

And the reason I believe that is yet another story.

Back in 1994, I attended the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. I think I might have been the only person on campus who read and wrote genre fiction. (A shame, really, since there was a fantastic used bookstore in town where I found many genre treasures.)

Anyway, it's fair to say that I was a curiousity.

The benefit to being outside the culture was that I was free to roam. While others were sitting around chatting about shared interests, I was wandering, eavesdropping, gathering information. (Stephen D. Rogers, PI.)

Then one day I slipped into a lecture that wasn't on my schedule and heard thirty seconds of instruction that changed my life. The presenter (I don't recall her name) used the chalkboard to illustrate how the first line of her story created three threads that came together to produce the end.

I slipped out of the room and spent the next two hours walking through the woods, mulling the implications of what she'd said.

And then I returned to my room and wrote.

For a chance to win a signed copy of SHOT TO DEATH, visit and submit your completed entry. Then visit the schedule at to see how you can march along. And then come back here to Working Stiffs to post your comments! Phew.

Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH (ISBN 978-0982589908) and more than 600 stories and poems. He's the head writer at Crime Scene (where viewers solve interactive mysteries) and a popular writing instructor. For more information, visit his website,, where he tries to pull it all together. 

SHOT TO DEATH contains 31 stories of murder and mayhem. "Terse tales of cops and robbers, private eyes and bad guys, with an authentic New England setting."- Linda Barnes, Anthony Award winner and author of the Carlotta Carlyle series.

"Put yourself in the hands of a master as you travel this world of the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared. Rogers is the real deal--real writer, real story teller, real tour guide tothe dark side."- Kate Flora, author of the Edgar-nominated FINDING AMY and the Thea Kozak mysteries

"SHOT TO DEATH provides a riveting reminder that the short story form is the foundation of the mystery/thriller genre. There's something in this assemblage of New England noir to suit every aficionado. Highly recommended!"- Richard Helms, editor and publisher, The Back Alley Webzine

Monday, March 22, 2010

Would You Like a CRITIQUE With That?

by Gina Sestak

OK, now you've got it written.  What do you do with it?  Do you pay some stranger mega-bucks for editing or do you beg your friends and relatives to read this, please?

Perhaps you should join a critique group.

Some critique groups can be brutal, sending aspiring authors whimpering into the night, resolved to never write again.  I've experienced a few of those -- they never make me want to sharpen up my writing skills, just practice some karate on the *!&^# s who've dared to dis my work.  But this post isn't about that kind of group.

The kind of critique groups I am discussing here are those made up of people who read and write, people who are willing and able to provide honest feedback, and to do it in a way that is neither too supportive nor too nasty.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not pretending to be an expert of critique groups.  I have, however, participated in a few over the years:

Intense:  This one met weekly at a private home.  Every one of four to ten participants would bring a chapter -- about 10 pages -- every week.  We would silently read every chapter to ourselves while chatting and eating*, then discuss each and every one -- all in about three hours time.   I found this very helpful with things like flow and logic.  It also had the advantage of getting through a book length manuscript in a few months, which made it easier for the participants to remember who the characters were and where the story left off last time.
* just as an aside, for some reason critique groups seem to double as eating groups.  The group I presently participate in focuses on one writer each week; that writer is expected to email the work to be discussed to everybody else ahead of time, and to show up for the meeting bearing snacks.

Read aloud:  Participants would read each other's work aloud to the group.  If you ever want to know whether or not your sentences make sense, get someone to read them to you!  This group was great for catching grammar goofs.  The group would provide feedback after the reading finished, unless something was so wrong it needed an immediate comment.

Read ahead:  Participants would provide a chapter or set number of pages ahead of time to the other participant.  This was especially helpful for line editing and catching typos.   The group members discuss the work in detail, then provide their written comments as well.

Directed/undirected.  Some groups are peer-to-peer, while others are under the direction of an experienced writer/editor.  I have been in both types, and have developed a slight preference for the directed kind in which the voice of practical expertise is represented.

All of these groups were helpful in one way or another with revision and editing.  Perhaps most of all, though, they provided like-minded people with whom to share the writing experience.

What do you think of critique groups?  Do you participate in one?  Why or why not?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Inspiration For Writing

By Patricia Gulley

Warning: Rated R for Rant

And I just finished reading an article about how happiness, or even just acting happy, can help you avert heart disease, strokes, hardening of the arteries and a whole slew of problems—so consider reading only if you are not at risk.

This was a tough one for me, especially after reading all 18 blogs prior to mine where everyone said everything I’d ever heard or read and felt was good advice.

So, as I sat ‘a thunkin’ and getting no where on a marketing idea I’d hoped would go through and several other things got stopped in there tracks, I got rather angry. And while I was whining and brooding, and generally feeling the world had it in for me, I realized I beat that invisible horse for several minutes before I began to wind down. A brief look around to be sure no one was in the house (well I sure hope so) to catch me acting like a big baby made me feel a drop better, and I went back and tweaked and rewrote in a better mood, and send the stuff off again.

Then it occurred to me! We need that too. We need to get mad about what we aren’t doing or telling ourselves we can’t do because we aren’t inspired or our spirits are low. If we don’t nip it in the bud, it can lead to the belief that we’ve hit a blank wall and will never have another creative idea.

To quote Lula, “Nuh”. (Stephanie Plum’s sidekick.)

So, how to use a good brood, whine, sulk, annoyance, gripe session, funk, pout, crying jag, and willingness to kick senseless anything that suddenly appears in front of us to our advantage.

Trying to be up and inspired every working minute can be as exhausting as trying to be happy with a smile on our face 24/7. (Well, me anyway, I sometimes brood that there really are people capable of that.)

So let’s try getting good and mad, and think all those evil thoughts we know are lurking in the back of our minds. BRING them forward, curse everyone and anyone, and let the anger flow over us. Bath in the fire of that self-righteous assurance that not only do we have The Right, We Are Right! And they ain’t!

Hold on to it, keep it going, red in the face yet—now let it go. There, didn’t that feel great.

Okay, once the embarrassment and total feeling of acting and/or thinking like a bratty kid washes out, you are going to be surprised how cleansed you feel. Yes, and kind of empty. Which is good because you can fill that emptiness with INSPIRATION! Read those previous 18 blogs and fill up. Now get down to writing.

If you disagree with me, I’ll reply after I finish brooding and ranting.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Working Stiffs Welcomes Alan Orloff

Working Stiffs today welcomes guest blogger, Alan Orloff!

Thanks for inviting me today, Paula—I’ve always wanted to be an honorary Working Stiff!

If you're a writer, I'm sure you've been given plenty of writing advice. From other writers, from readers, from writing instructors, from editors, from agents, from your mother, and from the barista serving you latte at the local coffee shop where you toil because it's too freaking noisy with the kids at home.

Any of these "tips" look familiar?

Query agents

Don't query agents

Write in the morning

Write at night

Get Matt Damon to play your protagonist in the movie version (um, okay!)


Don't outline

Listen to your characters

Whatever you do, for Pete's sake, don't listen to your crazy characters! I mean, come on, they're crazy!

I know, confusing.

[Aside: When I found out the theme of this month's blog (best writing advice), I didn't know which morsel of advice to blog about. So I decided to do what I usually do when faced with a complex decision. Leave it to chance. I spun my Wheel O' Advice and it landed on, "Always ask for chopsticks with your take-out Kung Pao." Which, although good advice, didn't have anything to do with writing. So I spun it again, and it landed on GET HELP!]

I don't know about you, but I wasn't born knowing how to write a novel and get it published. I've had to learn what to do every step of the way. So I listened when people told me to get some help.

Some suggestions:

Take a workshop. I started with an Adult Ed writing class, and moved on to a few workshops at a local writing center. An excellent way to learn the nuts and bolts of writing from experts.

Read some writing books. There are plenty of them out there, covering everything under the sun: writing techniques, inspiration, how to get an agent, how to fire an agent. Many are not worth the time, but two of my faves are Stephen King's ON WRITING and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD.

Join a critique group. Not only will you get feedback on your writing, you'll learn a lot (a ton!) by reading and critiquing other writers' work.

Attend a conference. They're great places to learn about both craft and the writing business. If you have a specific question about something, there's bound to be someone there with the answer (mystery writers are the most generous bunch of twisted psychos in the world). It's also a great place to network. You never know, someday those other writers may become part of your support group.

Join a professional organization. A terrific way to learn more about the business of writing. What could be more enlightening that talking with other writers who have already accomplished what you are setting out to?

Writing and publishing are already hard enough. Do yourself a favor and get all the help you can!

Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, will be released in a few short weeks by Midnight Ink. The first book in his new series, KILLER ROUTINE - A Last Laff Mystery, featuring Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, will be out Spring 2011 (also from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's on YOUR bookshelf?

by Annette Dashofy

Last week, I wrote about learning. Today, I’m getting specific. Let’s discuss books on writing. There are a ton of them out there. And I have several shelves in my house devoted to them. Some I use for reference, some I use to check facts. Some I skim through, and others I devour and return to again and again.

Here are some of my favorites.

In the “Devour and Return to again and again” category:

GMC: Goal, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon- I love this book. When a scene isn’t working or a character feels two-dimensional, I refer back to this equation and usually find I’m missing one of these three necessities.

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood – This was recommended to me by a former critique buddy and I’ve recommended it over and over ever since.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – Can’t say enough about this one. I can sit down anytime, anywhere, and open it to any page. I’m immediately drawn in and find myself smiling and nodding in agreement. It may not tell you HOW to write, but it will tell you how to KEEP writing when you’re having a tough day.

In the “Reference and Fact-Checking” category:

Police Procedure and Investigation by Lee Lofland – Too many times I’ve spent hours on phone calls and emails trying to track down a fact only to open this book and find the answer right there. I’ve learned my lesson. Check here FIRST.

Forensics by D.P. Lyle – Another go-to book to save research time.

Deadhouse: Life in a Coroner’s Office by John Temple – Less well known, but great stuff. It’s not a reference book per se, but if you’re writing anything that deals with forensics, morgues and/or autopsies, you really need to read this.

The Crime Writer’s Reference Guide by Martin Roth – The title says it all.

Of course, I have many, many more, but these are my favorites. Now it’s your turn. What books do you keep within easy reach and refer to over and over?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Survived the Confluence Writers Retreat!

By Martha Reed

I belong to the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime and I’m starting to think we have some funky mojo going when it comes to scheduling our events and running into freakish weather.

Last January, during our Hallie Ephron Workshop, a surprise blizzard blew into Pittsburgh exactly one hour before the event was scheduled to begin. An ice storm blasted Western Pennsylvania the day of our Holiday Luncheon this year and just last weekend – after months and months of planning – our Writers Retreat featuring special guest teacher and moderator Ramona Long was situated in Confluence, PA, which if you’ve been watching the news was Ground Zero for the snowmelt flooding on the Yachagheny river on Saturday.

(Of course, if you’re really clever, you’re wondering why a group of reasonably intelligent writers overlooked the meaning behind the word Confluence but we’ll let that one pass.)

What can I tell you? I know I was the last person driving into Confluence on Saturday morning at 8:15 AM before the roads were closed. Some folks expressed a little dismay at my decision but I knew my Sibling crew was still at the Retreat house and there was no way I was going to let them have all the fun without me!

After being reassured the house was safe, we soldiered on with our writing discussions and workshop sessions although I have to admit it was a little tough to focus on the discussion at hand when I could see the water rising in the yard outside – and I mean see it rise in front of my eyes, not just notice that the river was creeping in. There was a square white No Hunting sign posted on a tree on the opposite side of the river and as I worked to develop an effective pitch for my new novel the sign disappeared underwater. It gave me pause for thought. The Retreat house was situated between an active freight line and the river and whenever a train went by - and it went by often - the engineer would point at us and laugh. I wasn’t reassured by his gesture.

But all in all, there was a surprising sense of camaraderie and lots of delicious food, and Ramona led the discussions brilliantly and exercised tough love when necessary and I think we call came out of the weekend feeling invigorated and exhausted all at the same time. The true test of success will be when we schedule our next Retreat – I’m betting that everyone at the Retreat this past weekend will be the first ones to sign on again.

We stopped in Ohiopyle (Guess what that word means!) on our way home to observe the usually reasonable Falls. On Sunday it sounded like Niagara. Have a listen, and try to imagine living next to that much live water for 48 hours. It was awe-some and inspiring and I can’t wait to do it again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Persistence Is Not Stubborn


I was going to title this blog, “Maybe You’re Not Good Enough – YET”.  But I didn’t want people to do a double-take on the URL thinking they might have clicked Janet Reid’s Blog.  Sorry, Janet.  I, for one, like honesty and that’s what you bring to this crazy business. 

This month we are offering the best writing advice we can give.  So why the hell am I talking about not being good enough?  It’s certainly not very uplifting.  But for me, my biggest motivation is rejection.  Plain and simple, it pisses me off when somebody tells me my work is not good enough.  And I don’t mean I get pissed off in a bad way.  It’s in my nature to prove that person wrong.  When I’m challenged, I work harder.

I have always said that all the compliments in the world won’t make your writing better.  It’s constructive criticism that is the most valuable of things.

My motivation for my first novel now resides in a five-inch accordion file in my den.  By now it’s buried under piles of office supplies, my to-be-read pile and a copy of Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear.  But, while I was querying they were front and center and forever present.  They stood there on my desk taunting me.  I heard them saying things like, “You’re not good enough.”  “Give up and go home.” 

I suppose some people listen to those rejections and give up.  Those people will never share their writing beyond some friends and family.  If you aspire to be a writer, you’d better thicken your skin.  This is not a task for those with tender feelings.

On the other hand, going back to the Blog’s title, you need to be willing to listen to criticism and use it.  Submitting the same thing over and over again is just plain stubborn.  Sure, there may be a good business reason why a particular agent might not accept a really great manuscript, but if you get 20 or so form rejections, then you might need to work on it some more. 

Before you learn how to write, you need to learn how to listen.

I’ve said that I don’t care for critique groups.  I’ve been in a few and they have failed miserably.  I received conflicting advice, and made changes that I didn’t believe in.  Bottom line, if you’re in a critique group take advice with a grain of salt.  For me, I sought advice from other established authors that I had met and made friends with.  For Jennie Bentley it was Tasha Alexander and for me it was John Lutz and Bobbi Smith.  Some of the best advice I received came from Bobbie Smith’s freelance editor.  I sent her a good portion of my manuscript and got advice.  Is that cheating?  I don’t think so.  She didn’t do any writing, she merely pointed out some things, some very important things.  And after spending an hour telling me what was bad about my story, I asked her a simple question.  “Do I have 300 pages of crap, or do I have something worth working on?”  Her answer was short and to the point. She said I had a great story.  I just needed to learn how to tell it.

So, what’s the best advice I can give?  Listen and be willing accept constructive criticism.  Be committed to making your work the best it can be.  Also, no matter how good you are or think you are, writing is fairly subjective.  Your work can always be better.  Seek qualified help.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Never, ever give up

Kate Douglas is our guest today. Welcome, Kate! 

Thanks to Joyce for the invitation to blog--I love the topic. Believe me, with a twenty-year history of rejections between my first submission to my first New York contract, I needed all the advice and pithy sayings I could get to keep me going! But here I am, fresh off the release of DemonFire, my first mass market in my new paranormal romance series from Kensington Zebra, awaiting the imminent release (March 30) of the eighteenth book (that's counting novels and anthologies) in my Wolf Tales series, (Sexy Beast VIII-Chanku Spirit) and working on a proposal for a new project I'm planning to have my agent pitch to my editor.

So finally, after a long and frustrating career as an "aspiring" author, I can finally say, "Yep, I are one now. Really!" So, what'd it take to keep this old broad plugging along, writing, revising, submitting, dealing with rejections, rewriting, submitting again, ad nauseum?

It took friends who encouraged me, editors who kept asking me to send something else even as they rejected the stories I HAD sent, and an inborn stubbornness that probably drove my parents nuts but kept me focused on my goal of publication. I'm going to share some of the things that have stuck with me, words of wisdom I've heard from other writers, now published, who understood the frustration of rejection, the joy of writing, and the voices that wouldn't let go of me until I sat down and wrote the words.

Writers write. Sounds pretty simple, but it's so damned true it hurts. Writing isn't merely what we do, it's what we are. So many of us are defined by our words, by the stories we tell. When friends question why we keep at it in the face of rejections, it's impossible to make them understand the truth-writers write. They can't NOT write. They just do it.

My world, my rules. I love this one. Don't let ANYONE tell you there are rules you have to follow when you write your stories. You are the one in charge-you are the one hearing the voices, listening to the muse, writing the words. If you want to write in first person, do it. If your hero doesn't fit the "hero mold," tough shit. Write him the way you see him. One of my books has a food critic with sexual identity issues. When my agent submitted the book to Harlequin, the editor said she loved my kick-ass heroine, but wanted me to tone her down, and the hero would be much better as a cowboy. Huh? I sold Last of the O'Rourkes to an epublisher and it went on to get wonderful reviews and even win a couple of nice awards. My world, my rules, and Seamus O'Rourke was a great food critic-and Kat Malone could easily kick his ass.

Make it work. Get it done. It's all about the book. I actually have this one printed out and hanging on my wall. It's a reminder to keep my priorities in order.

Write your own story. Don't write what you think an editor wants. Don't write what you think the public wants. Do not write the book your critique partners or group thinks you need to write-write the book YOU have to write, and when you write it, own it. Believe in it, be involved in it from the inside out until you know that book, those characters, that setting as if everything about the story is real. If it's not real for you, how can you expect it to be real for your readers?

When I first wrote Wolf Tales in 2005, the series was at the request of Margaret Riley, who was opening up a new epub called Changeling Press. She wanted something hot and unusual to launch her new venture, and asked me to write a series of 12,000 or so word stories that would 'blow their socks off.' Margaret envisioned short books that readers could read on their PDAs or other small electronic devices-so I started writing, one episode at a time, and Wolf Tales was born. In the beginning, there was no real plan, other than to push boundaries and break all the "rules" I could think of. I developed my world of Chanku shapeshifters and their mythology sort of grew with each story I wrote. My agent read the first five stories and passed them on to Audrey LaFehr at Kensington Publishing, who loved the concept but had no line where they would fit.

That's how Kensington's Aphrodisia imprint came about-on the strength of five short stories that belonged to an epublisher. Margaret generously returned my rights and I signed a contract for three novels and three novellas-all those shorts made up the first book, but I had absolutely no idea what was coming next. I still write the stories the same way-no plan, no real idea, just a gut-level knowledge of my characters. This was my story from the beginning, something I wrote for a friend, but also to please myself. All those years of rejection, and yet it was the first project that was written totally without any plan of going after a NY contract that got me that contract.

Go figure. There's a huge lesson in there somewhere.

So here I am, age sixty, grandmother of five, married to the same amazingly patient spouse who had to listen to me moan and groan for YEARS over all those rejections, and I'm gearing up for the release of my eighteenth book in March, my nineteenth in July and the twentieth and twenty-first in September. (Yep, two in one month-I've been busy.) And that's not even counting the epubbed/small press books I sold before I hit New York. So yes, if it happened for me, it can happen for you, but not if you don't follow my final words of "old broad" wisdom.

I saved the most important advice I ever got, for last. Never, ever give up. Keep writing, keep learning your craft, keep at it. If you don't write it, you can't sell it. But even if you never sell a book, you will have left behind a legacy of dreams and the stories that lived in your heart and soul. That, even without the contract, is something most people never even come close to, and for that reason alone, never, ever give up.

Kate Douglas

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Write What You Love

by Joyce

Everyone's heard the old piece of writing advice, only write what you know.

Hogwash. Or if you prefer something stronger, bullshit.

If I sat down to write a book, or short story, or even an article, and only wrote what I know, it would be terribly boring. I'd have to write about a middle-aged woman living in the suburbs with a husband and two grown sons, whose days consist of checking email, reading blogs, writing, cleaning, cooking, and on occasion, cleaning up cat puke. Not exactly a compelling story.

A better piece of advice is to write what you love.

What are your passions? Let's say you love boats and water. Your nearest body of water is a tiny creek a mile away, and owning any kind of boat, let alone a large one would require hitting the Powerball jackpot. But in your daydreams you can feel the warm ocean breeze on your face as you glide over the sparkling turquoise water. You look stunning in your white capris and striped navy and white tank. Or if you're a man, you look just like Tom Selleck in his Magnum days. Personally, I'd look stunning in the capris and Tom would be standing beside me. Or better yet, behind me. His hands touch my shoulders. He turns me around to face him... Oops. Sorry. Got carried away there.

Ahem. Back to my point.

In your real life, the above would never happen. You don't know a thing about boats or boating. If you stick to the only write what you know theory, you shouldn't write it. But if you really think about it, how many successful writers follow that principle? I counted zero. Zero. Most writers incorporate what they know with what they love, or at the very least, things that interest them. After all, anything can be researched.

Do you think Nancy Martin is a bad girl with mobsters for relatives? Wrong. Nancy's a nice, happily married woman, and as far as I know, there are no mobsters in her family. Nancy is a Pittsburgher, so she's combined that real-life setting with her penchant for creating interesting characters and situations.

Do you think Jennie Bentley remodels houses with a hunky guy named Derek? Not that I know of. Unless that's her husband's name. I'm pretty sure she's never found bones buried in her basement, or been locked in a tunnel room with a corpse. Jennie has a background in real estate and combines her knowledge of houses with her vivid imagination.

And what about Wilfred Bereswill? His protagonist is a female. Even though Will looks fabulous in a dress (yes, I had to bring that up again!), he's not a woman. I'm sure his wife will verify this. Will uses his environmental engineering background to come up with fascinating terrorists and worst-case scenarios.

I could go on and on.

Think about your favorite authors. How do they write what they love? How do they combine that with what they know?

How do you do that in your own writing?

Be sure to come back tomorrow when we're joined by guest blogger Kate Douglas, who will be giving us all advice on never giving up. Kate is the author of the paranormal romance, DemonFire, the first in a new series.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Never Stop Learning

by Annette Dashofy

My mother has never been able to figure it out. When I was in school, I was a lazy student. Hated to study. Did my homework on the bus. Made decent grades, but never really worked at it. However, once I graduated and started taking various assorted oddball classes and courses, I suddenly became an honor student. Emergency medical training? I aced it. Adult education computer classes from the community college? 4.0 GPA.

I love workshops and online classes. I adore writing conferences and retreats. Decades after my “formal” education ended, I could happily be a fulltime professional student.

Education is wasted on the young. Or at least it was in my case.

Anyhow, since we’re talking about writing advice, my point is this: never stop learning.

I really believe the more we know, the more we have to learn. When I started writing, I thought it was easy. Okay, you may stop laughing now. I figured out how wrong I was in very short order. Since then, I can’t begin to count how many writing courses and workshops I’ve taken.

And I still have sooo much to learn. That’s why I’ll be trekking to our local Sisters in Crime writers’ retreat this weekend. Trekking? From the looks of the forecast, I may be canoeing in. I don’t care. I’ll be there with pen and notepad and laptop ready to soak in everything I possibly can.

So my advice is to find a writing course or workshop and sign up. There are some really good ones online that won’t break your budget.

(I should mention, I’m currently dealing with an online course curse, but that’s a subject for another blog.)

Look for a writers’ conference. The 2010 Pennwriters Conference is only a few short months away and it’s one of the best. I can say that this year, because unlike last year, I’m not coordinating it. Mwahaha.

And read. I know Gina already mentioned that on Monday, and I totally agree with her. But for the purpose of this blog, I mean read books on craft. There are some great ones out there that cover all aspects of the process.

No matter where you are in your writing career, there’s always something else to learn. Go for it!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The "Three Ps"

We're delighted to welcome today's guest blogger, Sheila Connolly, whose sixth mystery "Red Delicious Death" was released just last week. 

By Guest Blogger Sheila Connolly

Thanks for having me here today!

All the motivational words I live by seem to be "P" words: persistence, perseverance, and patience.

Writing was one of those things I thought I would do someday. Eventually. I had plenty of time, right? I'd always loved reading, so I assumed I knew everything I could ever need to write a book.

The reality was, I had no idea how to set down tens of thousands of words in a way that would make a book. I had no clue about structure or plotting or even word count. So what happened? 9/11, for one thing. That single event made it clear to me that you never know what life is going to throw at you, so you'd better do what you really wanted to–now.

So I wrote a book. I won't tell you it was a good book, but at least I finished it.

I know, you'll hate me, but I never found it hard to write. Once I started, I couldn't stop myself: words just gushed out all over the place. I didn't agonize over every adverb or semicolon; I didn't polish every paragraph before moving on to the next one. Nope, I spewed words. I was having a wonderful time.

Then came the next step–actually selling something. That's a lot harder, both because I had to learn the ropes about agents and submissions–and rejection. In the beginning, when you aren't plugged into all the blogs and loops and websites where writers and agents generously share information, you don't realize just how much rejection there is in this business. I wonder how many aspiring writers just give up, after the first ten or fifty or even hundred soul-numbing rejections?

I didn't, because my love of writing outweighed my fear of rejection. I kept at it, both revising and polishing my first manuscripts and trying out different things. I experimented with romantic suspense and mystery genres; I dabbled in both funny and dark stories; I wrote in first person and third person.

It took almost exactly five years (from September 2001 to September 2006) to sell a book. My first book, Through a Glass, Deadly, written under the name Sarah Atwell, came out in March 2008. The Orchard Mysteries, written as me, came very quickly after that. This month, my sixth book, Red Delicious Death, was published. I've got two more books coming out this year, including the first of a new series, and more under contract after that. It's been a whirlwind!

None of these books has been a best-seller. I haven't appeared on Oprah. I haven't won fabulous awards that give me instant name recognition. Strangers don't stop me on the street and ask for my autograph. No, I write cozy mysteries for people like me, and they sell well enough to satisfy my publisher (I hope!). Readers write me to tell me nice things. I get to go to conferences and hang out with writers I have read and admired for years (and I'm still awe-struck that sometimes they even talk to me!).

And I still love writing. That's what keeps me going, through all the tedious business of promotion and getting your name out there whenever and wherever possible–all the "business" side of writing. Sitting down at my laptop with a new story in my head is the part that makes it all worthwhile, and I hope that never changes.

Sheila Connolly writes the Orchard Mystery series, is launching the Museum Mysteries series this fall, and authors the Glassblowing Mystery series as Sarah Atwell -- all published by Berkley Prime Crime. She was an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel and is VP of the Sisters in Crime-New England chapter. You can learn more about Sheila at, or

Monday, March 08, 2010


by Gina Sestak

This month, we're focusing on the best writing advice we've received.  I have received so much good writing advice that it's hard to know what to repeat here, so I decided to start with the most basic advice to writers:  Read.  Read the kind of book you're working on.  Read other kinds of books.   Read magazine articles.  Read poetry.  Read short stories.  Read the ingredients on the ketchup label.  Read everything.

Reading as a writer differs from reading for pleasure, although it can still be fun.  When we read for pleasure, we want to be entertained.  We ask, "Why did that character do that?" or "What will happen next?"  When we read as writers, we ask, "How did the writer do this -- create the scene, engage my interest, make the character come to life?"  It's a lot like looking at houses.

When we look at houses for pleasure, we may think, "What pretty wallpaper."  When we are considering building a house ourselves, however, we need to know about those things that run behind the walls, the pipes and wires and ducts without which the house would be only a non-functional shell.   We need to know how to use tools.
We need to know how to make a thin brick wall stay upright and where to place the lathes.  We need to become familiar with dry wall and spackle, pvc and switchplates.  We need to learn how to build a firm foundation that will support the structure, and to install a basement that won't leak.  We need to pick the right small things, the nails and bolts and nuts, and to place them just exactly right.

Writing a book is similar.  One page of pretty paper will not be enough.  We have to understand how to intermesh plot and character to form the strong supporting structure, and to allow our characters to change and grow.  We have to learn the arcane rules of grammar and spelling.  We have to broaden our vocabularies so the perfect word will be there when we need it.  We have to understand the tools of our trade, the pen and the paper and the word processing software.  We have to know how to find information on the internet or in the library.  We have to eavesdrop on ordinary conversations to learn how people express themselves.  We have to immerse ourselves in real-life experiences to give our characters authenticity.

We have to build a book the way we would build a house.  Brick by brick and word by word.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The More You Know...

by Jennie Bentley

So we’re talking about writing advice, and about what keeps us motivated to write, this month.

To be honest, motivation’s no problem for me. I have contracts and deadlines, and if I don’t deliver manuscripts on time, I get in trouble. Writing’s my job, and I treat it as such. I try to write every day. Some days I can’t, for whatever reason, but other than that, I go to work. If I don’t write – i.e. actually add words to whatever WIP I’m on – I revise, or research, or proofread, or do something else related.

Of course I didn’t always have contracts and deadlines, and back then, I had to self-motivate. Basically, I wanted to get published bad enough that I found the time and incentive somewhere. Sometimes I got discouraged and didn’t write for a few days, until I got so bottled up that it was down to a choice between going back to writing or suffering spontaneous combustion.

Which brings me to writing advice #1: If you can not write, don’t write.

Note, I didn’t say, ‘can’t.’ If you can’t write, you’re welcome to keep doing it. Unless you improve, you probably won’t get published, but I’m not going to tell you that you can’t keep writing. What I mean is, if you can stop writing, you should consider not writing, because if you don’t love it enough, if you don’t have an absolute need to do it, if you don’t feel like you’re going to explode from the voices talking in your head if you don’t put things down on paper or screen, you may not have what it takes to make it through the process.

Moving past the fact of whether you should be writing or not, let’s just assume you’ve decided you are going to write. Here’s writing advice #2: Write every day.

OR write as often as you can. Like I said, I’m not a stickler. There are times when I can’t write. Stuff interferes: kids and pets get sick, cars crash, snow falls so school gets cancelled, a book is released and I get busy promoting... it’s all part of life. Bottom line, though: if you want to get published, you have to have written a book (or something else, but we’re all book writers here, so let’s just go with that), and the only way to do that, is to keep adding words to the WIP.

1,000 words a day = a manuscript in three months.
500 words a day = a manuscript in six months.
1 page a day = a manuscript in under a year.

I try for 1,000 words a day. Usually I get there, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I write 5,000 or 6,000 words in a day. It all depends.

Moving on to writing advice #3: AIC = ass in chair.

When you’ve decided you’re writing, during the thirty minutes or hour or half a day you’ve set aside for yourself, don’t get distracted from writing. If someone’s bleeding or the house is on fire, obviously you’ll have to stop. But if the words aren’t flowing the way you’d like, stay there in the chair and keep plugging. Write something. Even if you end up revising it later, you’ll feel better if you move forward and meet your goal.

(Side note: I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re stuck, it’s my belief you’ve gone off on a tangent where you don’t need to be, and you’ve written yourself into a corner. Cut back to where you know where you’re going again, and you’ll be fine.)

Writing advice #4: Finish something. The only way you’ll get published – with exceptions, because there are always exceptions – is by having a finished manuscript. Even if you’re an exception, and someone agrees to sign a book by you based on an idea or a proposal, you’ll have to finish the manuscript sooner or later. Of all the people out there who say they want to write a book, the ones who actually finish the manuscript are few and far between. If you finish, you’re already ahead of all the people who didn’t.

As for the best writing advice I personally ever got... well, it wasn’t really a nice and neat piece of advice. The best thing that ever happened to me as a budding writer was meeting the wonderful Tasha Alexander, who’s one of the nicest people in the world, and a brilliant writer to boot. And what she did for me wasn’t give me one facile piece of advice that helped me get through; instead, she talked to me about the publishing industry, and explained how it all works. She listened to my ideas and brainstormed plots with me, she critiqued my manuscript, she read my query letter, she helped me make lists of agents to send it to... she was my mentor, and my inspiration, and my sounding board, as well as my friend.

Writing advice #5: Find yourself a Tasha. Someone who knows more than you do, who can help you navigate the morass.

And while you’re at it, Writing advice #6: Find some friends who are in the same boat you are, so you can encourage one another. Writing is a lonely business, and we can all use all the encouragement we can get.

If you don’t have a mentor, someone who already knows the ropes, you’re gonna have to figure it out on your own. Writing advice #7: Do your homework. There are so many writers and agent blogs out there, so many websites with info on how the publishing industry works, so many organizations you can join, that there’s no excuse for not knowing everything you can possibly know about the business you’re looking to enter. Like the TV commercials say, “The more you know...”

So there you have it. More writing advice than you ever wanted to hear. And now you'll have to excuse me, as I have to get back to work. It's an AIC day for me.

Till next time!

The Bad Kitty Lounge: Open for Business

Working Stiffs is happy to have author Michael Wiley as our guest today.
Welcome, Michael!  One lucky commenter has the chance to win a copy
of Michael's new book. The winner will be
chosen at random tomorrow!

By Guest Blogger Michael Wiley

Two days ago, St. Martin’s Minotaur released my new mystery THE BAD KITTY LOUNGE, and I would like to say that a roar overwhelmed me as a crowd of thousands poured through the lounge doors demanding to know what was happening, who was killing whom, who was lying between whose legs, and what my private detective Joe Kozmarski was doing about it. I would like to say at least that a couple of hundred excited readers flung the door open, startling me as I stood behind the bar. I would even be content to say that the door creaked open once, and a lost reader entered and asked for directions to Michael Connelly’s house.

The truth is, I don’t know how many readers arrived and won’t know with any certainty until hard numbers start to come in sometime in a month or two. I can check Amazon five times a day. I can check Publisher’s Alley, which tracks certain sales in certain markets. But the information from such sites is incomplete and ambiguous. The reality is that I’m standing in the newly opened Bad Kitty Lounge and don’t know how many drinks have been ordered. The feeling is disconcerting.

That said, I love release day. I love the metaphorical possibilities, as if a book has been released from prison, as if its bottled up tension has been released, as if it has obtained balloon-like, gravity-defying freedom. I love these possibilities even as the reality is that some books (not mine, I’m glad to say; not yet) never get beyond the prison walls before being re-incarcerated, being re-bottled, falling like bricks to the ground. The reality, in other words, is that some books don’t sell. But on release day that potential future sadness is all in the unforeseeable distance.

So, I feel like jumping up and down on a sofa like Tom Cruise doing his Katie Holmes spot on Oprah. But instead, I’m here at the Bad Kitty Lounge – maybe alone, maybe with a crowd of readers (I don’t know) – quietly enjoying my surroundings. If others have come, they’ll get to know the people who work here with me. One’s a dead nun. Another’s a retired prostitute. Others include a blues guitarist, a real estate mogul, and a criminal forensics specialist. Good people, all of them – friends who’ve been with me since I wrote the first pages of this book. They like a party, too; they like crowds. They’ll welcome all who come.

Michael Wiley is the PWA award-winning, Shamus-nominated writer of the Joe Kozmarski mysteries THE LAST STRIPTEASE (2007) and THE BAD KITTY LOUNGE (2010). He lives with his family in Jacksonville, Florida. You can see more about Michael and his books on his website: 

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

999 Blogs on the Wall...

by Annette Dashofy

It has been pointed out to me that this is our 999th blog post at Working Stiffs. Depending on how you count them, it could even be our 1000th. But I like 999 better, if only because it gives me a better title.

Either way, it represents the piece of advice I thought I’d share today. And that is: the only definite way to NOT get published is to quit writing.

This whole writing-revising-querying-submitting-getting rejected carousel can be maddening and extremely frustrating. So much so that I’ve seen many extremely talented writers give up and get off the ride.

At my very first writer’s conference, a top agent spoke and offered a tale of how the normal writing career progresses. You start out getting form rejection letters. Lots of them. Then, as you improve your craft, you start getting a few form rejections letters with a bit of handwritten encouragement at the bottom. Next comes the personalized rejections, which gradually get to be nicer and nicer. “I really love your writing, but…” Fill in the blank. The agent said that these incredibly nice rejections can be the most painful, because by then you’ve been at it so long. And if it’s so darned good and you love it so darned much, why don’t you accept the thing???

And at that point many writers throw up their hands in defeat and give up.

Which is just sad.

I admit at the time I heard this agent speak, I was at the beginning of the journey and still held on to the fantasy that I was the next Stephen King. Okay, okay, you can all stop laughing now.

It’s been a rough winter in many ways. I went through a spell of frustration with the direction my writing career was going. Or not going. I finally understood what drove some of those excellent writers to throw in the towel.

But I’m over it now. I reminded myself of that old bit of advice about the one sure way to NOT get published.

So, like Working Stiffs, I’m hanging in there. I’m revising and then revising the revisions. I’m preparing to get back on the querying-submitting-getting rejected merry-go-round ride.

Nine-hundred ninety-nine (or 1,000) and still going strong.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Happy Release Day to Me! Happy Release Day to Me! Happy Release Day to Jennie; Happy Release Day to Me!!!

by Jennie Bentley

Nobody posted anything this morning, and you know what that means, don't you?

It's mine, all mine! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Today is release day for DIY-3, Plaster and Poison. It should be in a store near you at some point today. However, since it's a good day, and since I'm feeling magnanimous and happy - and since I received my author copies early this time! - I'm going to give you a chance to win your very own copy of Plaster and Poison. (Or, if you prefer, Fatal-Fixer Upper, DIY-1 or Spackled and Spooked, DIY-2, if you haven't yet tried the other books in the series and you want to start at the beginning.) All you have to do is leave a comment saying something nice, like "Congratulations, Jennie!" and you're automatically entered.

If you don't win a book here, there's a chance to win one over on Books on the House, that runs all week long. There's a Q&A with me over there too, that's sort of interesting.

Chasing Heroes has a nice little profile of Derek Ellis, who's the love interest in the DIY series, today. He's good with his hands and has powertools, and what more could anyone want?

And finally, the history mystery in Plaster and Poison has a very interesting backstory, one that's frankly somewhat unbelievable; you can read all about it on Fresh Fiction on Thursday; that's when they're posting my story.

I'll be back tonight to announce the winner of today's little drawing. And after that I'll be back on Friday for my regularly scheduled appearance. Right now I'm off to check a few bookstores and catch my baby in the wild. See you later!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Writing Advice from Dan Brown

Note: I'm kicking off our month of "March into Spring and Beyond" as we share favorite writing advice and/or words of inspiration to help us all meet our 2010 writing goals!

By Pat Remick

Because Dan Brown lives in the next town -- yes, I'm referring to the Dan Brown of "The DaVinci Code" fame -- it's not unusual to see him out and about when he's taking a break from writing bestsellers. It was during an unexpected encounter at a local bookstore that my husband seized the opportunity to ask the author about the ending to "Angels Demons," which had been troubling him for some time.

"Could someone actually survive by using a cape as a parachute when they jumped out of a helicopter?" my husband, also a writer, asked after introducing himself.

Brown's response? "Well, first of all, it's a novel.... but yes, it's theoretically possible." 

(This photo was taken outside a private "Angels & Demons" screening he hosted at the Portsmouth (NH) Music Hall. We weren't invited.)

Even though I agree with Husband No. 1 that Robert Langdon's cape escape stretches the limits of believability, I also understand how liberating it can be to make up stories about whatever you want. Writing experts often advise authors to "write what you know." But how interesting are the things Pat Remick and most writers know? Maybe it's better to follow the advice of those who instead say "write what you can imagine." And if someone questions your story, you can always be like Dan Brown and respond, "Well, first of all, it's a novel."

For a former reporter well-schooled in the "get it first, but get it right" school of journalism, writing mostly from imagination does require a giant leap of faith. I admit it's sometimes difficult to ignore my news training when I'm writing fiction, which can result in spending far too much of my writing time researching minutiae for short stories and my novel-in-progress.

Maybe we should all take a lesson from Dan Brown's phenomenal success: If writers can tell a great story, readers are more likely to be forgiving when it comes to the pesky details or nagging doubts about the credibility of a plot.

On the other hand, I often think that if we were to put some of the bizarre/outlandish/improbable things that happen in real life into a novel, editors would most likely reject it on grounds the plot was implausible. The John Edwards affair/downfall is a great example. Who would believe that a man running for president of the United States and whose wife has terminal cancer would be running around with some videographer he supposedly met in a bar? The believability index really plummets when you add in the angle that an Edwards aide and his young family sheltered the candidate's pregnant mistress. "You've got to be kidding" would be the normal response.

But here's how some of the writing experts might explain it: "Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense."

What do you think? Does fiction have to make sense?