Friday, April 30, 2010

If Hollywood Came Knocking...

by Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

A month or so ago, I threatened to do one of those My Book, The Movie, posts for A Cutthroat Business.

I did one a while back for the DIY series. It was a guest post on a blog that does those things, and I had a ton of fun with it. It’s here, if you want to take a look.
A Cutthroat Business, as some of you might know, is the first book in a new series, featuring a Southern Belle and new-minted Realtor named Savannah Martin, who lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s 27 years old, five feet, eight inches tall, and a respectable size eight, to use her own words. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, and other than that, there’s not much description there.

That’s on purpose. There’s danger in too much description, as we all know. Readers like to make their own mental pictures of the characters, and I’m sure we’ve all seen movies based on books we’ve loved, where the characters haven’t looked at all the way we pictured them in our minds. (Kevin Costner as Robin Hood, anyone?) And I don’t picture my characters as actors or anything else when I write about them; they just look like themselves then. Still, the point of this is to tell you—if a movie was to be made—who I could see playing them. So here we go.

I have no idea who would do a good job playing Savannah. I can’t get a good look at her, since I see the world through her eyes, and since she’s a little insecure and somewhat biased when she describes herself. To my mind, she looks rather like Faith Hill, the country singer. Pretty and blonde, and sexy in a sort of innocent, girl-next-door way. Ladylike, not flashy at all, demure and soft-spoken. The perfect Southern Belle.

Her co-worker Tim looks a lot like Simon Baker from the Mentalist. Tim is flamboyantly gay, and a whole lot of fun to write. Physically, Baker is spot on: the curly, blonde hair, the blue eyes, the perfect teeth... and the attitude. Joyce tells me Baker is happily married with a passel of kids, and looks like the love interest in her WIP, so obviously life would not be imitating art in this case, but that’s sort of what Tim looks like.

Savannah’s high school sweetheart Todd Satterfield, her mother’s choice of second husband for her—Savannah was married to Bradley Ferguson for two years, before he cheated on her and she dumped him—is another blond. Six feet tall, give or take a little, with sort of gray/blue eyes. Pretty much any blandly good-looking guy in a suit would do for Todd; that’s the kind of character that he is.

Rafe, now...

Rafe’s a different story.

He’s Savannah’s love interest, although she spends most of the book denying that she’s interested in him at all. Rafe’s just not the kind of guy a sweet Southern girl should ever get too close to, and Savannah knows it. In fact, if Margaret Anne Martin, Savannah’s sainted mother, could pick the last man on earth she’d want her daughter to become involved with, Rafael Collier would be him. He’s Savannah’s direct opposite—dark where she’s fair, hard where she’s soft, dangerous where she’s sweet—and we all know how opposites attract.

Originally, I pictured Rafe looking something like Derek Jeter. (Yeah, I think Derek Jeter’s cute. Sue me.) That was until I got six pages into the book, where Rafe shows up, and as it turned out, he didn’t look anything like that. Derek Jeter may be many things, but dangerous-looking isn’t one of them. These days, I picture Rafe looking rather a lot like this guy.

That’s Special Agent Derek Morgan on "Criminal Minds," as played by Shemar Moore, for those of you not familiar with the deliciousness. He’s a few years too old—Rafe’s 30—and an inch or so too short, but other than that, he’ll do. Rather nicely, in fact.

So there you have it. The dream cast of A Cutthroat Business. You'll notice that if I can just have Shemar Moore, I don’t really care about anyone else. If you happen to know him, please feel free to pass him a copy of the book. Or better yet, give me his number and I'll take care of it myself.

So tell me, fellow Stiffs and readers, who you see playing in the movie of your book/manuscript. Or if you prefer, who you see playing in mine. And be sure to tune in next Friday, on my regularly scheduled day, when we'll be visited by my fellow Berkley Babe and Good Girl, Laura Bradford AKA Elizabeth Lynn Casey, who'll be telling us about her Southern Sewing Circle mysteries, the second of which - Death Threads - will be released the first Tuesday of May.

Till next time!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Festival of Mystery

by Joyce

Since we don't have a regular blog scheduled for today, I thought I'd use the space to plug the Festival of Mystery, coming up on Monday, May 3rd.

It will be the fifteenth year for the festival, sponsored and organized by Mystery Lovers Bookshop, which is owned by Raven Award winners Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman. This year the festival features approximately 45 mystery, suspense and thriller authors, and hundreds of fans. The event begins at 4 p.m., but the fans begin lining up well before that. The weather was miserable one year--cold and rainy--but several diehards set up outside the doors with lawn chairs and umbrellas before noon! And they buy lots and lots of books.

So, if anyone is in the Pittsburgh area on Monday, May 3rd, don't miss this one-of-a-kind event.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Don't Stiff a Stiff

by Annette Dashofy

Last week I spent a day helping my Avon District Sales Manager at a job fair. While it was my first event of this type, I have worked booths at health fairs in the past, and as I expected, it wasn’t much different. Except, of course, for the focus being on employment.

I had two goals for the day. First, I hoped to sign up some new recruits to my sales team, since that’s my next step in Avon. I help them earn money, and as a result, I earn money. Win win. My second goal was to sell a few products. I had a nice display of fragrances set up and I had a few odds and ends in my bag…stuff left over from visiting customers.

For the most part, it was fun.

Key words there: FOR THE MOST PART.

One gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came bustling through and stopped at our table. Wearing a snazzy, expensive-looking suit, he obviously was not one of the college kids looking for a summer job. He scanned our wares, told us he had two secretaries he wanted to get gifts for, and asked if we had anything. I put on my salesperson smile and launched into a pitch about the great deal I was offering on this fragrance gift set.

He cut me off with a question. “Is it free?”

“Err. Well. No.”

“Don’t you have anything for free?”

My manager and I exchanged puzzled looks. She pointed out that all we had were some samples, but they weren’t much for a “gift.”

I dove into my bag and pulled out a travel sized hand lotion and a couple of lip balms and told him these were the only inexpensive items I had and they cost a dollar each.

That price appealed to the cheapskate…err… “gentleman.”

“Don’t you have another hand lotion?” he asked.

“No. Sorry. I only have one of those.”

“I take all of them,” he said, pointing to the three items in my hand. He pulled some ones from his wallet, stacked them together VERY neatly, and laid them on the table. Then he snatched the three items from me and started to leave.

But you see, I’m a crime writer. I have a suspicious mind. And something didn’t look right about the neatness of that stack of one dollar bills.

I picked them up and fanned them out. And discovered there were only TWO.

Now, if the guy had been at all nice… if he weren’t wearing a super expensive suit while trying to find some cheap trinket for the secretaries who labored for him...I probably would have kept my mouth shut, allowed myself to assume it was an error. But instead…

“Ah, sir,” I called after him. “You only left two dollars.”

He froze in his tracks. Busted. He turned around and sputtered, “Oh, I thought you said these were two for a dollar.”

“No. Everything was a dollar EACH.”

At that point he basically winged one of the lip balms back at me and made his escape.

You will never convince me this chump believed those lip balms were 2 for a dollar. Not only was he a tightwad…he was trying to stiff me out of a buck.

My sales manager and I just shook our heads and agreed we were thrilled that we didn’t work for that guy.

If this sounds like your boss, you have my sympathy. And come see me. I’ll GIVE you something from my Avon stash. Just don’t try to stiff a Stiff!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jack’s House

by Wilfred Bereswill

Since nobody has posted, I thought I'd bring back a story from exactly one year ago.  I hope you enjoy.

So we found out the hard way that you shouldn’t get in the way of Mother Nature. Jack found that out too. Who is Jack, you ask? Jack is a guy that built his dream home in a subdivision on the southern slope of Kiluea. In case you don’t know your volcanos, Kiluea is the active volcano on the Big Island. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are the other two volcanos that make up the rest of the Big Island.

My wife had a quest on this trip. She was determined to see flowing lava. We’ve been close in the past, but never saw the glowing, flowing molten rock. So I decided to book a helicopter tour. Not only a helicopter tour, but since I’m a bit of an adventurist, I booked a tour on a helicopter with no doors. YEP, you sit right there, no doors and the only thing holding you in is a seat belt.

Me, Linda, Joyce (our pilot), Jack

Things were going pretty good. It was windy, cool and wild. We flew straight to the spot where Kiluea is pouring lava into the ocean with great fury. Steam boiled out of the ocean and we even got a glimpse of the RED lava.

After hovering overhead for several minutes, we headed to Jack’s House for a landing and hike. We made a perfect landing on the unused road that was beginning to be devoured by Mother Nature for lack of maintenance. It’s reallly amazing how quickly nature will reclaim it’s hold on things.

Jack’s road.

Jack’s House.

Jack built a home some time ago. It was his dream home. No sooner than he paid it off, Mother Nature made her move. She decided to release her pressure somewhere above the subbdivision where Jack lived. Jack watched helplessly as the lava crept forward, rolling and flowing at a snail’s pace right toward him. Only somebody was watching out for him. A hill just above him diverted the lava around both sides, destroying ever other home in the subdivision, except his. The oasis in the middle of the flow looks alien.

Now things are not all rosy for Jack. The roads are gone. It’s a 3 1/2 mile walk over treacherous razor sharp lava rock to an accessable road. There is no water or electricity. He hauls in gasoline for a small generator to power his television and propane bottles for his stove. But he plans on living there for as long as he can or as long as Mother Nature allows him to share that little patch of earth.

Lava Field

Happy Face in the Lava from where it surrounded trees and solidified before they burst into flames.

So after we walk around Jack’s place and visit the lava field, we jump back in our Hugh’s Helicopter and the rotor starts turning… Then they stop…

Joyce our pilot tries again. They start turning again… And they stop again.

Then Joyce announces that this is her first day flying that helicopter. We reeally didn’t need to hear that.

I offer to go get a pair of jumper cables from Jack, only to realize that Jack didn’t have a car. We all piled out of the broken helicopter and me being the smart ass, ask Jack what’s for dinner.

We didn’t have to wait too long, because Steve, another helicopter pilot came to the rescue and flew us for the rest of the tour. He showed us a Skylight. That’s where a hole in the crusted lava allows you to see the flowing lave underneath.

Skylight as seen from helicopter

Skylight blown up

Another Skylight

Blow up of skylight.. Madam Pele’s evil eye.

Kiluea Caldera

Another shot of the Caldera

The Rift Zone

After the flight, we headed to the “End of the Road.” Highway 130 stops where it is covered in lava from the most recent flow. It is now the viewing area and opens at 5 PM. It’s creepy driving along a road only to see it covered with lava. They have paved a one lane path for about a mile which allows you to park about 1/2 mile from the flow. A 20 minute march along the flow to the sea and you’re about 1/8th mile from the action. At first, as the sun begins to set, you can occaisionally see debris hurling into the air as the 2000 degree molten rock hits the cool water of the ocean, instantly vaporizing it into roiling steam.

But when the sun goes down, is when the action get good and you can see just how powerful Mother Nature is. Red sparks spew into the air setting off the crowd in a series of ohs and ahs. Just like you hear at a fireworks display.

I’ll shut up and you can just enjoy the pictures. Unfortunately, the autofocus of my little camera didn’t work as we lost the sunlight, so some of the pictures aren’t the best.

Monday, April 26, 2010


by Gina Sestak

I've been thinking about acronyms lately.

"What are acronyms?"  you may ask.  "Are they words that are acrimonious?  Or is that just a fancy word for an abbreviation?"

Well, the answers to these last two questions are, "not necessarily" and, "no," respectively.  To answer the first, I turned to my biggest dictionary -- Webster's Third International Dictionary in 3(!) volumes -- and found that an acronym is a word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term.  Clear as mud, right?  Perhaps, an example would help: "laser" is an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation."

An abbreviation, on the other hand, is a shortened form of a written word or phrase used for brevity in place of the whole made commonly by omission of letters from one or more parts of the whole.  FBI is an abbreviation for Federal Bureau of Investigation.  I can't help but suspect, though, that FBI would be an acronym if we could figure out how to pronounce it.

"So, why have you been thinking about these things?" you are probably wondering.

Because . . . they're interesting?  No, you folks would never believe it's only that.  OK, I'll come clean.  A week ago, I participated in a fundraising charity walk for the MS Society.  MS, of course, is an abbreviation for Multiple Sclerosis.
Unless it is followed by a period, in which case it isn't really an abbreviation for anything, but we pronounce it "miz."

When I went to law school many years ago, one of the professors refused to call any female student "Ms." because, he said, the letters "ms" stood for manuscript.  It can also stand for Master of Science.

I got to thinking about acronyms and abbreviations because I participated in the charity walk as a member of a team organized by my sister-in-law-in-law (my brother's wife's sister), whose name is Karen.  Karen insisted on calling us "Karen's Karing Krew" -- KKK for short.   Nobody really wants to walk around Pittsburgh wearing a badge or t-shirt that says "KKK," no matter what you say it stands for.  Yikes.

This brings up an important point.  We assume that everybody knows what laser means, or FBI, or KKK.   But abbreviations can have other meanings.  We can't assume readers will understand exactly what we mean unless we make it clear.   And so I'll say it here:  if anybody ever sees me wearing anything that bears the letters "KKK," you can be sure it stands for Karen's Karing Krew.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite acronym or abbreviation?  Has one ever caused you great embarassment?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Pennwriters Conference

By Laurissa
The Pennwriters Conference is less than a month away! Where did the time go? When I excitedly registered to attend this conference, back in January (on the first day of registration, I might add), I also signed up to meet with an agent to pitch my manuscript. In January, May seemed like the very distant future, and of course my first manuscript would be finished, and I would be ready to start my search for an agent. How na├»ve I was. My first draft isn’t done, and the conference is now less than a month away.

As I was organizing my desk a couple weeks ago, I came across a copy of my Pennwriters Conference registration form, and I noticed for the first time a statement that read, “You should have a completed manuscript before making an appointment,” Ah, I had overlooked or glossed over the crucial word, “before,” when I eagerly scheduled my agent appointment. Apparently the conference organizers already knew what I’m just now learning, and that is the best intentions to complete a manuscript by a certain date aren’t always met. Of course, as soon as I realized this, I cancelled my scheduled appointment.

Which leads me to my question: as a writer and a first-time writing conference attendee, what can I do, both in advance of the conference and while I’m there, to help make the conference, a great learning experience and a worthwhile endeavor for me? Especially as a writer who hasn’t yet completed her first draft? I’ve posed a similar question to my local Sisters in Crime chapter, and have been given the following advice: to not be shy or insecure, be prepared to answer the question, “What do you write?”, bring business cards, and ask questions during workshops (thanks, Ramona!).

Any additional thoughts or suggestions for me? Also, what have been some of your memorable or favorite conferences? What made them stand out?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ask the Working Stiffs

by Joyce

Since I'm having an incredibly busy week, and I don't have a topic prepared, I declare today "Ask the Working Stiffs Day."

Ask me, or any of the other Stiffs anything you want--preferably writing related, or in any of our areas of expertise (we do have some expertise in something, don't we?) and we'll do our best to answer. Just don't ask me anything involving math. Unless you want the wrong answer, of course.

Have at it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Out of Work Working Stiff

By Annette Dashofy

One of the best bits of advice I ever received as a writer was to marry someone with good health insurance.

Excellent advice.

But then the economy tanked. Last week, my supportive husband—he of the steady employment and decent health insurance—had his job phased out from under him.

It came as no surprise. We smelled hints of impending doom as early as last fall. This was followed by the stench of major lay-offs around the holidays. When the ax finally fell, it was almost a relief.

But that relief was short-lived. We’ve launched into what I can only term as the five stages of grief. Over the weekend, it was easy to live in denial. He went fishing. I visited some friends. It was all stuff we’d already planned to do. But when Monday rolled around and he had nowhere to go…

I’d have to say we’ve reached the anger phase. After being at that job for 32 years, the idea of pounding the pavement, filling out applications, and creating a resume are daunting. Not to mention giving up all the hard-earned vacation and sick days he’d accumulated.

“Get that book published,” he tells me.

I’m trying. I’m trying!

In the meantime, I’m selling Avon. (Mother’s Day is coming. We’ve got some great gift ideas at reasonable prices!)

Sorry. I slip into sales mode without warning these days. It will be great practice for when I have a book to sell. (Please, God.)

Is desperation one of the stages of grief? I don’t think so. Maybe it should be.

I suspect this is the hardest part of it. We don’t know yet how much we’ll be collecting in unemployment compensation. And we don’t know how much we’ll have to pay for that health insurance. I’m still researching new plans and coverages. It’s scary.

Yet in the midst of it all, I’m trying to hammer out my third draft of my wip with the goal of having it ready to pitch at the Pennwriters Conference in less than a month. Nothing like a little bit of distraction when you need to focus on perfecting a 90,000 word manuscript.

So misery loves company. Anyone care to share your employment/unemployment stories? I’m especially looking for those that provide hope. But if you want to vent, rant, or whine, hey, have at it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Death of Reading is Greatly Exaggerated

By Martha Reed

I’ve been doing a lot of market research lately trying to gaze into the great crystal ball and foresee the future of publishing: what will the winning media be? E-Books? Digital Print on Demand? Trade paperbacks? Twitter? Everyone seems to be overlooking a key element: the quality of the writing. If the medium is the message and the message sells, does it really matter how the message is delivered? Of course, there are human jobs on the line but that’s happened with every technological advance since we harnessed fire.

I got a little depressed with all the doom and gloom and wailing over lost readership and then I read a hopeful article by Jim Fiscus for ESPN The Magazine. His point is so well made I’m going to reproduce it here: Even though he’s discussing writing for magazines, I think he makes the case for overall readership as well. Enjoy!

We surf the Internet.
We swim in magazines.

The Internet is exhilarating. Magazines are enveloping. The Internet grabs you. Magazines embrace you. The Internet is impulsive. Magazines are immersive. And both media are growing.

Barely noticed amidst the thunderous Internet clamor is the simple fact that magazine readership has risen over the past five years. Even in the age of the Internet, even among the groups one would assume are more singularly hooked on digital media, the appeal of magazines is growing.

Think of it this way: during the 12-year life of Google, magazine readership actually increased 11 percent.

What is proves, once again, is that a new medium doesn’t necessarily displace an existing one. Just as movies didn’t kill radio. Just at TV didn’t kill movies. An established medium can continue to flourish so long as it continues to offer a unique experience. (Italics, mine.) And, as reader loyalty and growth demonstrate, magazines do.

Which is why people aren’t giving up swimming, just because they also enjoy surfing.

-       Jim Fiscus for ESPN The Magazine

Which made me wonder: what is the unique experience I offer my readers? With that thought in mind, I’m going back now to finish my manuscript!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


by Wilfred Bereswill

This weekend has been one of going from one activity to another.  We are just about to leave to spend the evening in a luxury suite at Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Mets.  If it's anything like last night's 20 inning marathon, I'll be getting back late.  So I'm resorting to putting our readers to work.  Over at the Killzone Blog, they have been critiquing first pages.  It's been quite interesting to watch.  

While I have made it clear on several occasions that I'm not a fan of critique groups, I'm giving our readers a chance to take a crack at the first pages of a work in progress.  It's a Thriller and in the pages that follow, an explosion rocks an Atlantic City casino.

So, if you're game, let's get to work.  Tell me what you think, how I can improve things, or what you like about these first pages.  

He wanted it all to be over; the war in Iraq, the terrorism, the death, the killing. But it wasn’t going to stop. Not anytime soon.

Explosions rocked a large market in Iraq disrupting a diplomatic visit by two senior House of Representative  Congressional leaders. The in-country reporter glanced nervously over his shoulder as he searched for something to say. The scene played out on the plasma television above the bar, caught on tape by CNN cameras. Details on the forty-something U.S. soldiers killed that day scrolled along the bottom of the screen. The image changed. Visiting Representatives Jackson and Levey, draped in body armor, were being rushed from the scene by a tight knot of amour-clad soldiers.

Pete Robinson teetered on the bar stool contemplating the grizzly scene. Those political idiots were probably second-guessing their decision to parade around Iraq in support of the President and his claims that things were improving. The more he thought about the war, the more he drank, and the more he drank, the angrier he got. He’d been perched on the bar stool for the last two hours. He was hammered and pissed-off. Just nuke the bastards.

The scene above changed again. This time images of innocent Iraqi citizens filled the screen. The ones that were caught in the middle, casualties of evil mixed with stupidity. Bodies littered the sidewalk while crimson trails flowed from the wounded, leaking life onto the dirty streets. Smokey dust rolled from beneath the collapsed roof. Women wailed over the bodies of their young. Children should be playing hide and seek, not cowering in the corners of their hovels shaking in fear for their lives.

Pete lowered his gaze to stare through the bottom of his empty glass as if expecting answers to magically appear in the melted cubes and amber film. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels stood guard like a lone sentry--taunting him--begging for attention. It had only been two months, yet the feeling was becoming all too familiar. The soldiers fighting the battles were little more than children themselves. The lucky parents were left behind--hoping and praying. The unlucky parents mourned their loss. Worse still were those like Pete Robinson.

The electric buzz of the casino, with its rowdy shouts from the craps tables and the monotonous melodies of slot machines seemed to bend around his ears; unheard. Cigarette smoke permeated his hair and clothing, choking his throat and lungs without notice. Spying the bartender from the corner of a bloodshot eye, Pete made a halfhearted wave.

“Bring me another.” His lips barely stumbled over the words.

“I’m sorry sir, but I think you’ve had enough.” The bartender looked ridiculous with his wavy blond hair and puffy sleeved, gold-sparkle blouse. He laid a slip of paper on the counter. “That’ll be forty-five dollars. Would you like to keep that on your Visa card?”

“Who the hell do you think you are? My mother?”

Sparkle-boy backed up a step; eyes wide as if his eyelids were pinned to his forehead.

“Maybe I have had enough, but it’s not your damn call to make.” A steely gaze sent the bartender another half-step back. “Leave it on the damn Visa.” His stare lowered to the glass once again as he rolled his wrist to swirl the ice around the bottom.

Long stubble had erupted high on his cheeks that snagged his callused palms. He wondered how he must look to the outside world. “Screw it.” He just didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore. For too many years he cared and what did it get him? Trouble and misery is what.

Sparkle-boy appeared again. Trying to stay at arm’s length, he slipped a plastic tray in front of him and stepped back. “Please sign the top copy. I’m sorry sir... I mean about cutting you off. I have to follow the rules. I can’t--”

“Just shut the hell up.”

The bartender’s mouth clapped shut as he scurried off. Pete slashed a line through the space for gratuities and mumbled, “There you go asshole. Don’t spend it all in one place.” Standing on slightly wobbly legs with a hand on the back of the barstool for balance, he glanced around, finally noticing the hustle and bustle of the Silver Star Casino, Atlantic City’s newest resort. Adorned in silver walls and massive gold pillars, the main casino was an immense study of ostentatious gaudiness and glitz. Four stories overhead, the ceiling twinkled like the night sky in Montana. A huge star dominated the center of the sky, courtesy of a hidden holograph projector. It hung magically, suspended in midair, pulsing eerie emerald and amber hues from the center. Surrounding the holograph, thick crystalline rods and sharp-pointed stars suspended by fiber optic cables twinkled vibrant amethyst, cobalt and cherry. The ten million dollar special effect that had stretched the imaginations and budget of its designers went wasted on Pete Robinson.

It was too early to go back to the empty cave he called home and he didn’t feel like finding another watering hole. There had to be another bar in this damn place. He wandered through the maze of video poker and slot machines with their chintzy, simulated sounds of days gone by when real coins tumbled into dented, tin pots stirring gamblers into a frenzy; knowing their turn was next. Having to squeeze between rows of fat-assed old ladies slapping buttons, pulling handles and puffing out cigarette smoke like chimneys did little to settle his nerves. He turned and staggered past the long row of gaming tables, where scantily clad waitresses ducked around him to force-feed cheap drinks to the idiots wasting their hard-earned dollars. 

Another dead end.

“What the...” He looked up to find himself in front of the crowded poker room. People closed around the chrome railing separating the poker room from the main casino floor--many wearing military uniforms--jockeying for a view. Cutting off his egress. Above the poker room hung a large banner. Welcome Men and Women of the United States Armed Forces. An amplified screech pierced his alcohol-soaked brain like a sizzling ice pick.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the newest gem in Atlantic City, the Silver Star Hotel and Casino would like to welcome all of you to the first U.S. Armed Forces million-dollar Texas Hold’em Championship. It’s Silver Star’s way of thanking the men and women of the armed forces for the sacrifices they make to ensure our freedom.”

“Horseshit.” Something in him wanted those within shouting distance to hear. In a crescendo, he finished. “Only if you come back in one piece.”

A commotion in the far corner of the poker parlor caught his attention. A small knot of marines were embroiled in a shoving match with a group of sailors. Much like law enforcement, the various branches of the military seemed unable to work and play together. With this bunch, the testosterone level was off the charts. As casino security and military police moved in, he decided to push his way the hell out of there. No sense in being involved in an all out brawl if things escalated.

Being a full head taller than most, with broad shoulders and a massive chest, Pete Robinson pretty much intimidated even the roughest men. Unkempt gray hair and a scraggly beard contrasted with his neatly pressed oxford shirt and dress pants. Twenty-one years in the Secret Service had forged some habits that would never die. Those shoved from his path cowered rather than retaliated. The snootful of whiskey only enhanced his sour mood.

Finally clear of the sea of uniforms, Pete looked again for an exit sign. These damned casinos never post clocks or exit signs. They’d be happy if you never found your way out--at least not until you lost every dollar you own. Then they’d toss your ass on the street while saying, “Thank you sir, come again.” God help them if a fire broke out.

He spied a golden, luminescent sign for the hotel lobby, aimed his large frame in the direction of the arrow and lurched forward. Clearing the Keno Lounge, he spotted an oversize revolving door and dodged a petite girl in a nice suit.

“Excuse me sir.” The lyrical voice floating from behind shook him.

“Danni?” He turned around and stared at the young brunette holding a clipboard with customer surveys. She looked a bit like Danni, shoulder length dark hair, large bright eyes and a sweet smile that stretched wide between her ears displaying a mouth full of perfect, bleached teeth. The neat business suit was accented with a neck scarf emblazoned with the Silver Star logo.

“Uh, no, my name is Lisa and I’d really appreciate it, if you could answer some questions for this survey. It will only take a minute and I can give you a coupon for twenty-dollars off the magic show in the Silver Star Theater.” Her liquid brown eyes were full of life and her lips turned to a pout as he looked away.

He needed out. He needed out in a bad way.

Turning back to the lobby, he slammed into a rail-thin man half a head shorter than he was. The man’s forehead smashed into Pete’s nose causing a burst of pain and a blinding white flash. He barely made out a silhouette of flailing arms as a backpack slipped off the man’s shoulder and hit the marble floor with a dull thud.

Pete staggered back a step reaching for his throbbing nose and mumbled, “What the hell...”
The thin man, sporting a dark fleece pullover with the hood tightened around his face, turned his head slightly toward Pete. His features, shadowed by the hood, were oddly dark.

“Bloody wanker!” The pack was snatched from the floor and thin man disappeared in a hurry into the casino.

“Sir, are you all right? The nerve of some people!” Lisa, the survey girl, cocked her head to one side and accentuated her cuteness by jabbing her fists into the recesses of a tiny waistline. “Oh my God, your nose is bleeding. Let me take you to first aid.”

That voice, it sounded so much like Danni, he thought. Light and airy with an innocence that... His eyes began to burn. He needed to get away. Now! As he spun away from her, shouts emerged from the casino behind him. A low rumble ensued, followed by a deafening roar.
The rush of a blast furnace smashed into Pete’s back, hurling him forward; head first into the curved entryway. Safety glass buckled, sending shards into his scalp and forehead before his knees buckled under his two hundred forty pounds. He fell backward bouncing his head off the marble floor--a dull thud echoing through his brain. The lights in the ceiling spread into shimmering beams as his eyes lost focus. Everything began to fade as the screams and cries for help drifted away.

The fight for consciousness came by instinct, shaking cobwebs from his clouded head, spraying blood that coated his short, graying hair to the floor around him. His senses overloaded; pain radiated behind his eyes, his ears rang from the concussion of the shockwave and the distant whimpers of distress, his nose stung with the pungent scent of burnt flesh, and his eyes burned from the cloud of dust billowing from the casino floor. After two failed attempts to roll to his knees, he made a final lunge, body screaming in pain. Teetering on his knees, balance not fully intact, he fell forward and slapped his palms against the floor to catch himself, plunging them into shattered glass that coated the marble like road salt. His lips peeled back exposing yellowing teeth as pain shot through his arms. He struggled to his feet while blood dripped down the wrinkles in his forehead. His hands glistened from the razor-sharp bits of embedded glass. The fresh pain helped to push the alcoholic veil from his brain.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Afters After Getting Published--And a few other things.

By Patricia Gulley

My traditional mystery, Downsized To Death, came out April 1, and I am now in the midst of the hard part—promoting and marketing it. Not being published with a large New York publisher or even a small, fairly well know publisher, I have to do my own publicity and marketing. I started as soon as I knew my publication date, but was put off in many respects because there were no advance copies to send to reviewers. And then I found out that most reviewers would not do a review without a paper copy and wouldn’t do a review unless they received an ARC three months prior to publication. That was followed by the last let-down of not willing to review books that weren’t on the approved MWA list.

What’s a Girl To Do?

Well, I’m scouring the list of reviewers on Amazon that claim to be independent reviewers and/or do it for reading sites. Not much luck so far, you have to submit a request to most sites and wait for a reviewer to ask for your book. Others tell you to send a book and one of their reviewers will get to it. I’m sure that means, ‘hope someone wants to read it’. Other sites will simply list your name, book title and website.

Next is mentioning it on every list you belong to (which requires joining several more organizations and lists—and obviously reading them) to leave a BSP.

After that, comes the out-of-pocket expense of finding places to buy advertising. Yes, there are several of those and of course there are postcards and bookmarks and mailing them or finding places to distribute them. Bookstores are iffy, but libraries work and conventions and some conferences have goodie tables. That means planning to go to several cons, or finding people going to cons you can’t attend and getting them to take your bookmarks for you. That’s a nice little ‘bartering’ service I feel we should all volunteer to do. And, of course, there is trying to get interviewed on other blogs.

Then, because of my publisher’s way of doing things, comes the long wait to see my book on Amazon where there are several things to do that are very useful. Get an author’s page, get readers reviews from a few friends and get tags. Tagging is another ‘bartering’ service author friends should participate in.

I’m sure there are a few hundred more things I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m a little brain dead at the moment, so all suggestions are welcome.

Oh, and about that ‘best writing advice I’d ever received’? Well, it was simply “Ignore all Advice” given by a creative writing teacher, who said that after you’d taken as many classes as possible and sat down to write, let it all pour out, ignoring everything you’ve learned until the rewrite. Convoluted, I know, but since I believe in the ‘vomit’ approach—getting it all out and never rewrite until it is done—it seemed like good advice to me.

All comments welcome.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pressing the flesh

By Rosemary Harris 

It doesn’t matter if your book is on paper, on an electronic device or on a microchip implanted inside someone’s brain, without readers writers are nowhere. And finding them, or more accurately helping them find you can be done - and not always in high-tech ways.

I didn’t realize when I got my book deal four years ago that the less glamorous (insert tongue firmly in cheek) part of being a published writer would be the months spent giving myself a crash course in promotion and publicity.

Lest you think this is turning into yet another rant against the Jennifers, Heathers and Sarahs who populate the major publishing houses, it’s not. Witness the emails I get on weekends and after eight p.m., the hundred and fifty books a year an art director I know works on. There are just thousands of books being published every month. How does a writer stand out even in his own publishing house? How do we find our readers? Our champions?

If I’d written a book on potty training I’d be home free. There’s a built-in platform and potential readers are easy to find online, in magazines, in groups, even on maternity store mailing lists. Affinity groups. The same is true for Civil War buffs, Red Sox fans and men named Ralph who think the world is going to end in 2012. Direct marketing companies have been using lists for decades. The technology may have changed and paper labels may be replaced with keystrokes, but the idea is the same.

Fiction writers have a harder time of it. It pains me to write this, but no one needs our books. Unless we are JK Rowling or Nora Roberts no one is waiting for our books. (I am always waiting for the next Carl Hiaasen and I do have a lovely reader, Cynthia in Ann Arbor, MI who is anxiously awaiting my next book, but these I fear, are exceptions.) For the most part genre fiction writers have to beat the bushes to find readers. Social networking has revolutionized this activity and I don’t need to repeat what others have said about websites, blogs, facebook and twitter, although I would be truly scared if anyone other than my husband wanted to hear from me more than three or four times a day, and some days he’s only good for two or three tweets from my direction.

So, after forty-odd years of avoiding groups (bad Brownie experience) I’ve become a joiner. And I don’t just send a check. I show up. Virtual pals are great and I’ve had some nifty conversations online about defunct ice cream parlors in Brooklyn, or whether beer really attracts slugs, but nothing beats pressing the flesh.

I’ll be attending no fewer than five conferences - Empire State Book Festival, Murder 203, RT (formerly Romantic Times) Convention, Malice Domestic, Festival of Mystery – and doing ten signings in the three weeks following the release of Dead Head (April 2010, Minotaur Books).

A favorite event last year was at a diner. It was the brainchild of a librarian from Connecticut. Her mystery group had read my first book and wanted to see the inspiration for Babe’s Paradise Diner where much of the action in my series takes place. Not a traditional signing venue but I met more readers there than I would have standing all day long in a big box store. (Not that anyone’s asked me. Feel free to ask me.) I’ve also done events at garden shows, arboretums, high schools, state fairs, a submarine festival, jazz clubs and rib joints. Okay, the submarine festival was a bust, but on paper it should have worked.

I will be driving to most of my destinations and doing drop-ins along the way. Some authors cringe at the prospect of “doing the driveby” as another writer calls it. Last year I dropped in on 103 Barnes & Noble stores and dozens of Borders. Only once did I get the stony “and you are?” stare. Every other time employees have been helpful, interested and engaged. Of course it’s all about putting a face to a name, and hoping that your brief conversation at the information desk will turn into sales and the neat stack of bookmarks you leave behind will find their way into readers’ hands.

Our publishers didn’t adopt us. They give us a shot, but it’s up to us to keep the ball rolling by writing better books and when we’re not doing that, talking about them.

To that end…DEAD HEAD is the story of a suburban woman revealed to be a fugitive from the law who’s been in hiding for decades. Amateur sleuth Paula Holliday is hired by the woman’s distraught family to find out who dropped the dime and who still wants her dead after all these years.

"Fast, funny dialogue, clever description and a good mystery make Harris' latest a very strong, entertaining cozy. With excitement and a surprise ending, this one's a winner." 4 stars! Romantic Times

Rosemary Harris is the author of the Dirty Business mystery series from Minotaur Books. Her debut novel Pushing Up Daisies was nominated both an Agatha and an Anthony for Best First Novel. She is past president of SINC New England and currently vp of MWA’s New York Chapter. Visit her at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No Usable Signal

by Annette Dashofy

Let me begin with a statement of total disclosure. I do not have cable. Nor do I have satellite. Yes, I am among the dinosaurs. I use an antenna to pick up network television.

I do, however, own a pretty nice TV. Flat screen, HD, not huge, but fairly large. Hubby and I bought it a little over a year ago as our Christmas gift to each other when our old set died. So you can imagine our displeasure when it started freezing up on us. Not the usual digital hiccup where the picture pixilates and dissolves because a plane is flying over. No, this time the picture would freeze and then go to the dreaded blue screen. When we changed channels, they were all blue screen pasted with the words NO USABLE SIGNAL.

This was annoying. I’d turn the set off and wait. Fifteen to thirty minutes later, when I’d turn it back on, voila! We had our picture back. Not five minutes. Not ten. It had to be at least fifteen.

Then on Sunday, just as the final two teams were speeding to the pit stop of this week’s episode of The Amazing Race, it did it again. NO USABLE SIGNAL. Hubby screamed at the TV. He stared at the blue screen for almost a half hour. Nothing. I resigned myself to the knowledge I could find out who was eliminated from the race on the computer the next morning. Hubby demanded to know what the (bleep) was wrong with the (bleep bleep) TV.

All this led me to ponder… Do we really NEED a TV? We’re extremely short on job security around here these days, so I wasn’t keen on buying a new television when the old one was just barely out of warranty. And is there such a thing as a television repair man these days?

Twice in the years we’ve been married, we went extended periods with no television. Most recently was when our last set died and I spent some time shopping around before purchasing the current one. It was only a week or so. But back in the early 90s, when once again we were faced with a dead TV, we decided to do without. For months. Honestly, I kind of enjoyed it. We listened to the radio. We played cards and board games.

I read!

I remember listening to President Bill Clinton’s inauguration on the radio. My memories of that non-visual event are far sharper and clearer than many I’ve watched.

Eventually we did purchase a new television. I caught up on the lost months of soap operas in about ten minutes. And I can tell you I only truly missed one show: CBS Sunday Morning.

So I’d like you all to take a few minutes and think about it. Could you manage to go without your television for a week? A month? Longer? And what shows would you miss (especially if you weren’t able to watch them on your computer either)?

By the way, Hubby climbed up on our roof and cleaned the crud off the wires and connections to the antenna, and so far we’ve had no more bouts of NO USABLE SIGNAL.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cold, hard reality

By Pat Remick

My knees felt weak as I grasped the cold, heavy metal weapon and adrenaline surged through my body. I didn't know if the angry trucker reaching into his pocket would pull out his driver's license -- or a gun.

My brain exploded into overdrive. Should I shoot or wait -- and pray? Was my life in enough danger that it would justify taking his? What if I missed? Or what if I guessed wrong -- and the trucker didn't intend to hurt anyone. It might take just a single shot to create a widow and leave his children fatherless because of my mistake. My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating.

And this was only a simulation. The trucker was just an actor in a video on a large screen. My gun was real, but it had been adapted to fire a laser beam instead of bullets. A guy sitting at a computer could change the scenario depending on how I reacted to what I saw in front of me and it was all part of the Citizens Police Academy's fascinating eight-week, behind-the-scenes look at police work.

Although the suspects in the simulation videos couldn't shoot at me, the experience provided a small glimpse into the split-second decisions my police officer son -- and other law enforcement officers -- must make every day. It also gave me a new appreciation of the potential ramifications of each of those decisions -- and a clearer understanding of the courage it must take for any law officer, including those patrolling in tiny, quiet towns, to approach a vehicle after pulling it over, not knowing if the person inside has a gun and a reason to use it. 

Although I've learned so much, I'm beginning to fear the Citizens Police Academy experience is going to destroy every last one of my comforting trips into the Land of Denial where, when I get most unnerved about my eldest son's chosen profession, I pretend he really did get that engineering degree and enjoys working in that profession in Washington, DC.

However, some of our recent conversations have made that delusion difficult. When you ask how work is going and your child reports he was in a high-speed chase one day and climbing onto roofs to look for burglars the next, it's hard to make yourself believe he's talking calculators and math. And this week I had to ask a question that probably doesn't occur to most parents, whether their children are engineers or not, and it was all because of a video we watched at the Citizens Police Academy. What I had to know was: "Can you can load and shoot a gun with one hand?"

He assured me he's been trained in that skill. Fortunately, most law enforcement officers have been, especially after the 1986 FBI shootout with bank robbers in Miami depicted in the video illustrated how critical that talent can be when your shooting arm has been disabled by gunfire and the bad guys are advancing with every intention of killing you.

I don't think they teach that in engineering school.

Monday, April 12, 2010


by Gina Sestak

I've mentioned before that I'm taking a class in advanced screen writing at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  Last week's assignment involved an exercise that might prove useful to any writer, no matter what you're trying to produce.

The exercise is this:  Write 25 pages.  Now.

Sounds a bit impossible, doesn't it?  I mean, it's daunting to look at that blank screen staring back at you.

How can you fill it even once?  

There is only one way.  Sit down and write.
Keep on writing.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It doesn't even have to be good.  There will be time for revisions later, time to correct those spelling errors and shuffle those scenes.  For now, the idea is to get into the creative flow.  The words will come.  The ideas will come.  Trust me.

Friday, April 09, 2010


by Bente Gallagher (yes, I'm Jennie Bentley too...)

Looks like we have a free day today, with no posts. Let me remedy that.

I've got a new book coming in June, the first in a new series. This is actually the book that started it all, the one that caused an editor at Berkley Prime Crime to offer me the opportunity to write the DIY series. It's a case of writing what you know: as a brand new real estate agent in Nashville, Tennessee, going into empty houses with strangers every day of my life, I got to thinking about what might be lurking inside some of these houses. Escaped convicts, crazed axe-murderers, homeless junkies, dead bodies...

That's how A Cutthroat Business was born. Here's the elevator pitch:

Everyone has warned new-minted Realtor® and Southern Belle Savannah Martin that real estate is a cutthroat business. But Savannah doesn't take the warning seriously... until an early morning phone call sends her to an empty house on the other side of town, where she finds herself standing over the butchered body of a competitor, face to face with the boy her mother always warned her about. Now Savannah must figure out who killed real estate queen Brenda Puckett, make a success of her new career, and avoid being killed - or kissed - by Rafe Collier, all before the money in her savings account runs out and she has to go back to selling make-up at the mall. 

Library Journal, bless their little hearts, say that "The hilarious dialog and the tension between Savannah and Rafe will delight fans of chick-lit mysteries and romantic suspense." 

Check it out:


Forewarned is forearmed, they say, and in justice to — well, everyone! — I guess I must admit that I was forewarned. It’s just that when people told me that real estate is a cutthroat business, I didn’t think they meant it literally.

My name is Savannah Martin, and I sell houses. Or I should say that I try, because I’m brand new at my job, and truth be told, haven’t sold so much as a lean-to yet. I should have realized, when the call came in about 101 Potsdam Street, that it was too good to be true.

It was about 8:45 in the morning on the first Saturday in August, and I was at work. As usual. For the past six weeks I’d been on call pretty much 24/7 — not exactly what I’d had in mind when I looked forward to setting my own hours — and I haunted the office like the proverbial ghoul.

I guess I should also mention that I didn’t actually have anything else to do. I used to work at the make-up counter at the mall, but when I got my real estate license, I quit my job and started living off my savings in the hope that my dwindling bank balance would give me the incentive I needed to succeed. So far it hadn’t worked, and if something didn’t change soon, I’d have to crawl to Dillard’s to beg for my old job back. And that was assuming it was still available, with the way the economy was going these days.

But that was why, when the phone rang, I snatched it up on the very first ring, and had to take a couple of steadying breaths before I put the receiver to my ear. “Good morning. Thank you for calling Walker Lamont Realty. Savannah Martin speaking. How may I help you?”

“Savannah Martin?” a male voice repeated.

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

I waited for him to comment, but instead he just continued chummily, like we were old friends, “See, Savannah, it’s like this. I was supposed to be meeting Miz Puckett at eight, to see 101 Potsdam Street, but I’ve sat here for 45 minutes, and I ain’t seen hide or hair of her.”

“I haven’t seen her this morning, either,” I answered, my heart starting to beat faster. Someone was interested in buying 101 Potsdam? And my colleague and competitor Brenda Puckett had dropped the ball...? “Though it isn’t like her to be late.” Much more like her to be early, so she could feel superior when you merely showed up on time. “Are you able to wait while I try to call her?”

My caller said he was, and I put him on hold before dialing Brenda’s cell phone, and when there was no answer, her home number. There was no answer there either. I got back on the line. “Sir? I’m sorry, I can’t get in touch with her. But if... that is... I mean...”

My tongue tripped over itself in its eagerness to offer help. The caller didn’t say anything, but I could sense amusement through the line. I gritted my teeth and tried again. “If you’d still like to see the house, I’d be happy to come out and open the door for you...?”

I held my breath. The Italianate Victorian and surrounding two acres were listed for almost a quarter million USD, a fairly high price for Nashville, Tennessee. The commission would pay my rent and keep me in gasoline and Ramen noodles for the rest of the year, at least.

“You sure you can spare the time, darlin’?”

I assured him, with all the sincerity I could muster, that there was nothing I’d rather do than be of service to him. He chuckled, but didn’t comment. Even so, the ripeness of the chuckle brought a blush to my cheeks. I ignored it, promising him I’d be there in fifteen minutes, and then I wasted the first thirty seconds of that time doing a (premature) victory dance before I grabbed my purse and headed out the door. If I was going to get from the office to Potsdam Street in the fourteen and a half minutes left to me, I would have to get my tail in gear and keep my foot glued to the gas pedal the whole way.

So there you have it. The first couple pages of A Cutthroat Business, for your delectation. Whatcha think?