Monday, December 27, 2010

We'll Be Back

The Working Stiffs are taking a much needed break. We'll be back after New Year's!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Boats

by Pat Gulley
Is anyone reading the blog on Christmas Eve? Antsy to see Santa, well here are a few Christmas pictures of the fabulous Christmas boats that make the rounds of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers during the holiday season. Also a picture of my Christmas lights and the partiers in the kitchen below who showed up to watch them. Many thanks to Brian Minor for taking them.
A very happy holdiay season to everyone.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Short days and long To-Do lists

By Tamara Girardi

With Christmas only a few days away, it seems like my list of tasks is growing, and the days are getting shorter. That's not completely true. Days will start getting longer now, but I think I'd need an extra few hours to really see an impact.

Maybe you're like me. Or maybe you're one of those super impressive folks who has everything lined up days, or even weeks in advance. If you are, I salute you (and find you a complete enigma).

If you're not, I'm going to help you out. I'll keep this post short.

This year was a good one. I met some great people at writing conferences and in my PhD program. I have completed more than half of the coursework for my PhD program, revised one manuscript and drafted another. Just this month, I submitted my revised manuscript to several agents, and I'm planning a revision schedule for the other novel.

There is always more to do, and I'll be doing it in 2011. But we rush through days, weeks, and months always looking at what's left on the To-Do list rather than looking at the things we've crossed off. So before we get to those pesky resolutions, take a few minutes to tell me about what you've done this year. What have you accomplished? How have you spent your time? And how will you mark the year 2010 for the future?

Happy holidays to all of you...!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Writing the Immortal Word

By Martha Reed

Being a writer is a strange animal. People look at what you do with a kind of awe but they can’t comprehend what it takes because they don’t actually do it. God bless them, they try to understand the reason I need to go away and be quiet for hours at a time and why I get cranky when I can't. I also think most of them understand that I feel a kind of mystic connection with the writing when it is going well but writing is like any other hyper-specialized knowledge and the only ones who really grasp what I’m doing are the ones who do it, too.

(Which isn’t to say I’m not fully supported by my family and friends, I am. I just can’t explain what I do to them and have it make any sense).

Which leaves me two avenues for support: 1) my fellow writerly friends and 2) completely unknown to me writers who are interviewed and who then are quoted saying something I can agree with.

Thankfully, I have two local groups to support me whenever I need a face-to-face discussion: the Mary Roberts Rinehart chapter of Sisters in Crime, and Pennwriters. If you’re a new writer looking for the path, I recommend that you research either one of these two groups and there are more: Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, or even a local writing and/or critique group. I’m okay with the idea of discussing your writing with anyone as long as you can go into the discussion with an open mind and you’re prepared to walk away if you encounter a group that turns out to be toxic.

The other avenue open to me, writers who are interviewed (and I should include those who write how-to books because I read those, too) crop up in my life with regularity. I have a practice of cutting these interviews out, highlighting in yellow whatever it was that sounded sensible to me at the time and then sticking the articles over my coffeemaker so that I see it at least once a day (for encouragement). I suppose I could post these in the bathroom, too, but I think that sends the wrong message.

Anyway, last month Vanity Fair reporter John Heilpern interviewed Philip Roth. I have to admit I’m still working my way through the 17th and 18th century novelists so I haven’t visited his work yet but he did say some interesting things that I thought I should share:

JH: “Do you find writing difficult?”
Roth: “I find it arduous and un-doable. It’s laden with fear and doubt. It’s never easy – not for me. The ordeal is part of the task and the satisfaction usually comes at the end. You stood up to it, you endured it! You achieved the unachievable – for you. But the next time, I find it impossible all over again.”

Please note this man has written 31 books including Portnoy’s Complaint.

JH: “Don’t you know by now that you can write?”
Roth: “No. Because it isn’t a matter of writing. I’ve written before but I’ve never written this book before. And it poses all kinds of problems I’ve never faced. So I really have to learn all over again how to write a book.”

I read this to mean don’t be discouraged when you hit a tough spot.

In his latest book, Nemesis, a character debates the love of God.

Roth: “Truly, I don’t worry about these things.”
JH: “But you’ve spent an entire book worrying about it.”
Roth.: “The character worries about it! God becomes an issue with him. It wasn’t an issue for me. Because it’s not about me. It’s about this character, and I have to follow the logic of his experience.
JH: It is as if the new novel, like all his novels, exists objectively as an entity separate from its author.

Bingo! That bolded bit was the gold nugget because this has been my experience. As I walk joyously through the bewildering experience of writing new work and then when I finish it I find myself delighted to see that the work holds up on its own merit. My work exists independently of me. 

I think this is why some writers compare their work to the birth of a child: because like children, writing is a practical form of immortality.

Monday, December 20, 2010


by Gina Sestak

Given the date, I probably should be writing about a Christmas theme but, seriously, don't you think there's enough Christmas stuff going on already?  I'm not quite as tired of it as I usually am this time of year, but that's probably just because I'm still procrastinating on the present-buying part.

So instead of obsessing about the approach of Christmas, I'll obsess about the approach of something else:  the December 31, 2010 deadline for entering the 12-minute screenplay contest sponsored by Steeltown Film Factory.

I'm working on an entry which is, as of now, an 8-page long incoherent mess.  Let's reserve judgment on that one.

I'd rather write about a different planned entry.

The critique group I participate in decided to write and submit a screenplay.  While a few of us have written screenplays before, most of us are working on fiction and/or memoirs, so putting together even a short movie is a stretch.  We'd been knocking the idea around for weeks until someone suggested an overnight writing session, which we've been calling a retreat and/or a pajama party.  [Actually, everyone stayed fully clothed in day-garb for the writing sessions.  It wasn't that kind of party.]

Several of us met Friday evening at one member's home and, fueled by Chinese take-out, cake and cookies, worked on the screenplay until 2 a.m., then got up Saturday morning and worked on it some more.   We got a lot done, and the collaboration was amazing.  Ideas flying all over the place.

Plus it was fun.  Did I mention cake?  Take a look at what our hostess provided:

In case you can't tell, the little writers around the cake, sitting on cupcakes, are made of icing and holding tiny books on screenwriting - it's hard to read the titles, but those are real covers on those little booklets (the only inedible part of the arrangement).

Throw in some wonderful home-baked cookies, a smidgen of wine, and coffee as necessary.  What a recipe for creativity!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Cop's 12 Days of Christmas

by Joyce

Since it looks like no one's posting today, I thought I'd rerun a little ditty I wrote back in 2007. Enjoy!

(To be sung to the tune of you-know-what.)

On the first day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, two retail thefts, and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts, and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts, and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, FIVE DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, ten dealers dealing, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, eleven bar fights, ten dealers dealing, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, dispatch gave to me, twelve drunken elves, eleven bar fights, ten dealers dealing, nine hookers “working”, eight verbal domestics, seven car wrecks, six neighbor feuds—five DUIs—four fighting kids, three purse snatchings, two retail thefts and a Peeping Tom in a pear tree.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


By Paula Matter

The good thing about this time of year is I’m still not a year older. I used to hate having a birthday in late December. Not so much anymore. Don’t get me wrong--I’m grateful for every birthday since the alternative sucks. It’s just kind of cool to be the last of my friends to get older each year.

My blog mates* and our regular readers (thank you!) know I’m the youngest of three girls. Being the baby gives me the leeway to be a brat. That’s a secret among us which I’m now sharing. You’re welcome.

Several years ago, my sisters and I stopped exchanging birthday gifts. We faithfully sent each other cards instead. (Here’s where being the bratty baby comes in.) Growing up, because my birthday falls two days after Christmas, I always received an “extra” gift on Christmas morning. (If either of my sisters were writing this, they’d say that my birthday was always celebrated on the actual day, but because I’m such a brat I don’t remember it that way. Funny how our memories differ sometimes.)

I digress.

Up until six or seven years ago, my sisters sent me an extra Christmas gift for me to open on my birthday. Seems they had forgotten we stopped buying birthday presents for each other. Did I remind them? Hell, no. I got away with that for years.

So, along with a New Year coming up, so is my birthday. A day to reflect over the last year. What goals/resolutions have I met? Which have fallen by the wayside, and will I attempt to reach them next year? Only one of you knows that I have indeed met a huge goal I’d set last year. I dunno what the outcome will be (I’m not expecting much), but I finally achieved this one particular goal.

Coinciding with my yearly reflecting, good ole Facebook has a new gadget and I played with it last week. A year of status updates. What fun it was to look at them. I was able to see that I had met some of my less lofty (but still important to me) goals. I saw that some things about myself never change.

How about you? Do you look back at the end of the year? Do you set goals for yourself? Have you met your goals/resolutions? Care to share what they are for next year? What will you do to meet these goals?
*Why isn't this one word? We have classmates, roommates, so why not blogmates? Ha! Take that, spellchecker. Yeah, I'm still a brat.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 7

Drug Investigations and K9s

by Annette Dashofy

The first half of week seven’s class was devoted to drug investigations. Some of what was covered, I blogged about a couple of years ago when I took the Pittsburgh Citizens’ Police Academy. So I’ll simply refer you to Part One and Part Two of that post for details on the different types of drugs out there, rather than repeat myself.

This time around, we were shown some of the different devices used to conceal drugs. Highlighter markers, pens, lipsticks, cigarette lighters. The list goes on and on. What looked like a bottle of water was actually a container for drugs: the top held water and the bottom held water, but the thing came apart and contained drugs in the middle!

As a result, once the police have done a search for drugs, the house is often left in a shambles, because they have to search EVERYWHERE.

Drugs can be a costly proposition. The mandatory drug sentences for possession of cocaine is 1 year for the first offense if in possession of 2 to 10 grams (one gram is about the size of a pouch of sweetener). It’s 3 years for the second offense. For selling, ten to one hundred grams will get you 3 years for your first offense, five years for the second. More than a hundred grams brings a four-year sentence for the first offense, seven for the second.

Heroin is even stiffer. One to five grams earns you a two year stay in prison for the first offense and three years for the second. And it keeps going up from there.

To give you some perspective on the cost of drugs, one ounce of gold is valued at $1,200. One ounce of cocaine is also $1,200. But one ounce of heroin will run you $10,000.

Did you know that crack looks like macadamia nuts? I didn’t!

Here are some of the techniques used by the police in a drug investigation:

Nonconsensual interceptions AKA a wire tap. These are very expensive and very labor intensive, requiring a court order. But if successful it will bring down an entire criminal organization, with their own voices convicting them.

Grand jury: here, the right to remain silent is taken away.

Consensual interception: One person in the conversation has agreed to cooperate. This method bolsters the credibility of informants. An interesting tidbit—we’re all used to seeing the scenes on TV shows and movies where someone is wearing a wire. That technique is all but obsolete now because the “wire” can be a specially designed cell phone. The undercover investigator can simply sit down and place their cell phone on the table... Honestly, these days, who would suspect? Plus the phones are real. The criminal could pick it up and make a call and would never be able to tell the difference.

Search warrants require only a brief investigation to show probable cause. The disadvantage is they provide only a snapshot of the criminal activity.

And lastly, undercover purchases.

The second half of the class was devoted to Trooper Brian Peters and K-9 Officer Iggy.

PA State Police dogs are specialists. There are 16 trained for drug detection, 6 trained for explosive detection, 3 that detect accelerants (arson dogs), and 2 tracking teams.

A big difference between the drug-sniffing dogs and the explosive-sniffing dogs is the drug teams pray they find something. The explosive teams pray they DON’T find anything.

FYI: PA State Police does NOT have any bite dogs.

Most of the dogs used are purchased. They can run from $5,000. to $7,000. Some dogs are donated, but only about 1 of 75 to 100 attempted donations pass the selection test. To be selected, a dog must be 12 to 36 months old. There isn’t really a specific breed, but they must show drive and must past an extensive vet exam including x-rays and bloodwork.

Handlers have lower standards! They must pass a written test and a physical fitness exam. There is an oral interview and supervisor evaluation, plus they must have at least 3 years of field service.

The highlight of the evening was when Officer Iggy showed his stuff by locating a stash of drugs Trooper Peters had hidden in the room. For the dog, it’s all a game. He wants his toy.

And as soon as he locates the drugs, he gets to play with his toy…which in Iggy’s case is a length of rubber pipe.

Hey, whatever makes him happy.

Next time: Tour of the County Jail and Night Court!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"You're Free"

By Pat Remick

During the weekend, I completed my year-long presidency of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime and my lovely parting gifts were accompanied by a card that showed an open pair of handcuffs and the words "You're Free."

While I laughed at this message, it is true. I am now FREE of a job I volunteered for that has consumed vast amounts of time over the past twelve months. Don't get me wrong -- I loved this task because of the friends I've gained, the unforgettable experiences I've enjoyed, and my great delight at seeing many of my ideas come to fruition, thanks to a supportive and hard-working board that oversees our dynamic chapter of almost 200 women and men spread over a six-state region.

MWANE President Margaret McLean and SinCNE President Me
As president, I also had the opportunity to co-chair the 9th annual New England Crime Bake for Mystery Writers and Readers with the president of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America as these groups co-sponsor this amazing event (and profit from it). Crime Bake sold out four months early this year and featured the incredible Charlaine Harris as Guest of Honor and a "nest" (that's Vampire-speak, I've learned) of incredible New England authors led by Dennis Lehane.  Believe me, if it weren't for SinCNE, I would never appear in public in a vampire cape and sunglasses.

The conference, as I noted in a previous posting, required a great deal of time to organize, but was a blast to be part of and an experience for which I will be forever grateful. 

My point here is that serving as President and Co-Chair was memorable, fulfilling and mostly a whole lot of fun. These volunteer positions also were a whole lot of work and consumed a great deal of my time in order to further the cause of my fellow New England authors. Because my first novel is still a Work in Progress, these jobs never were platforms for promoting my books. So what did I gain from these endeavors?

I leave knowing I did the best I could to support my fellow members of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, both within our mystery writing community and outside of it. I made wonderful writing friends and had an opportunity to work with incredible people who also love mysteries. In sum: This past year has been a wonderful experience.

But now, it's time to move on -- and back to where I belong. The closing words of the card thanking me for my hard work and inspiration were: "Now get back to writing!" And that's what I plan to do.

But this has been my dilemma over the past year: The more time I devoted to SinCNE and Crime Bake, the less I had for my own writing. However, my thank you card reminds me that I'm "FREE" to return to it once again, with my life much richer because of my experiences.

I'm sure many of us have faced this conundrum -- wanting to support the writing community but knowing it could interfere with our own writing. Which choice did you make -- and why? 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Black Friday

By Wilfred Bereswill

You've all heard the term Black Friday.  You know, that day when stores hoped to go from the red into the black for the year.  And yes, my wife and I woke at 4:30 AM on Friday and went out to a couple of stores.  As it turns out, we missed most of the crowds, since many of the stores opened at Midnight.

But all that is another topic.  The Black Friday I'm talking about refers to December 12th, 2008.  If you check your calendars, you will indeed verify that December 12th, 2008 was indeed a Friday.  For me and almost 1,400 other employees of the once mighty Anheuser-Busch it will live on as Black Friday.  That is the day the cutthroat businessmen of Inbev decided to cut many United States jobs, including mine.

I remember the day like it was yesterday.  For me, it was a bit of a relief.  For almost a year, we knew we were the targets of a takeover.  The year was an emotional rollercoaster, running the course of highs and lows.  2008 was the year I had my first book, A Reason For Dying published.  I should have been estatic, but the day before my launch party we were told for sure that Inbev was making a run at us.  That news kind of dampened the party.

The worst day in that roller coaster year, surprisingly was the day BEFORE black Friday.  Thursday, December 11th, we arrived to an email that said we would receive an email with an appointment time for the following day.  We were not to come into the office until the appointed time.  Rumors swirled that if you received a 15 minute appointment you were going to be spared.  If you received a 1/2 hour appointment, you were being let go.  My email came at 4 PM.  It was the longest day in my career.  Turns out, there was no length to any of the appointments.  Those who were being spared already knew it and were under strict orders not to say anything.

Friday was a blur.  They shuffled us through a process.first with HR, then with outplacement, then with the head doctors (AKA Employee Assistance Program.)  That afternoon all us Environmental folks gathered at a bar near the brewery and drank to better days.

Last Friday was our 3rd gathering (if you count the original Black Friday.)  Everybody has moved on.  Many have retired permanently, some took early retirement if they could and then found either part time or full time jobs and others like me found other work to finish our careers.

There was a lot of beer consumed (all A-B products and no Inbev crap "Stella") and lots of reminiscing. The mood was much more upbeat proving time goes on.

Friday, December 10, 2010

To Have and To Hold…A Grudge

by Ramona DeFelice Long

Now that two months have gone by, I think it’s safe to say the E word again.

Delaware has a peculiar little post-Election tradition. Peculiar little traditions are not unusual in peculiar little Delaware. We have Punkin Chunkin, which celebrates the art of hurling fruit across a field; on Separation Day, we celebrate chucking our Pennsylvania founders off our turf; and the Lifeguard Olympics celebrates the might of the American summer beach hunk.

In election years, the most anticipated peculiar little tradition is Return Day. A few days after voting, opposing candidates travel down to Georgetown, to ride in a carriage in a parade and then hear the ceremonial reading of the election returns by the Town Crier. After that, the candidates take hold of a hatchet and bury it in a box of sand.

This gesture ends election season and puts to bed the snarky rhetoric of the past months. (“You’re bad, you raised taxes.” “It was part of my job, which you’d understand if you ever had one.” “Oh yeah? Well, you’re a short bald Marxist.” “At least I’m not a witch.” “At least I know what the First Amendment says.” “Uh, actually, you don’t.”) Everyone then goes off to enjoy ox sandwiches with a renewed sense of goodwill and other such falderal and fiddle-dee-dee.

The burying of the hatchet is a symbolic gesture to show that the candidates won’t hold a grudge. That this tradition occurs in early November is apropos, because it’s just before the holiday season, when people traditionally sharpen and polish their family hurts and arguments.

Which brings me to the question: Do you hold grudges?

Grudges are a gift if you are a mystery writer; they offer the option of revenge on paper. It’s an accepted form of literary therapy to take out an old foe in a story. The only caveat is that your grudge can’t recognize himself, so if your foe is a tall blonde dude named Joe, change him to dark-haired fella named Carlton, and feel free to maim or murder him to your heart’s delight.

In real life, it’s not healthy to hang onto hard feelings, but not everyone is endowed with perfect emotional health--including moi. For the longest time, I held one grudge: the college boyfriend who dumped me. As grudges go, that’s probably cliché and boring, but I get along with my family and I liked high school. I clung to my one grudge option because, in part, I think that having an enemy, even a benign one, makes a person more interesting.

After a couple of decades of hating this guy from afar (because I had no idea where he lived, and made no attempt to find out), I received an email from him. He had Googled my whereabouts. Ha! He was all friendly and “Hey, just catching up!” but I am not a rube. I’d clung to my grudge for a loooong time.

So I tested him: (“Are you really you?” “Do you remember our song?” “Does your wife know you’re talking to me?”) He passed the tests. It was him. So I demanded an apology and, darn him, he admitted he’d always felt badly about being a jerk to me. Then he added insult to injury by reporting that his home life was like an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and the thought of him married to a Debra made my grudge wither. How could my one sworn enemy be somebody this pathetic? So I forgave him, which made me officially grudge-free.

This, I soon discovered, left a hole in my life. With my long-distance grudge, I could focus my hostility on someone I never encountered. I didn’t feel guilty because, thanks to his unwise mistreatment of me, he deserved whatever nastiness karma decided to dish out. Without the grudge, I might have to be hostile to people I saw on a daily basis. This did not seem good.

So I started a grudge hunt. It took a while, but over time, I bagged one, and then for good measure, added a second. Yes, I’m proud to announce that there are two people out there that I have chosen—because it is a choice—to despise. Yay me!

I can’t share names, but I can give a few clues. One is personal; one is professional. One is a man, one is a woman. One knows about my dislike; one is clueless. One would be bothered; one would not—would, in fact, probably enjoy the knowledge. One’s offense is slight and possibly petty; the other was born of some pretty serious stuff.

My life feels balanced again. Neither of my grudges deserves the honor of being one of my characters, even a dead one, so I won’t take literary revenge. In fact, I think of them sometimes when I’m working. I’m pretty sure that any success I have would bug them. While bugging my enemies is not what motivates me to be a better editor and writer, it doesn’t hurt.

And so, I win. And they don’t.

Do you hold grudges? If so, does it impact your life in a negative way, or can you tweak your enemies and make them work for you? Can you forgive and forget, or do you stay steamed until death do you part?

Oh, and since we all like videos, here is an appropriate one for the season:

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Conundrum

by Joyce

With every year that passes, I have more trouble buying Christmas gifts for my hubby and sons. You would think that since they're the only ones I have to buy for, it'd be a piece of cake.

Well, you'd be wrong.

Part of the problem is that we're kind of  'no frills' type people. We don't have cable or satellite TV. We don't drive fancy cars. We don't wear fancy clothes. I don't have a closet full of shoes. Sneakers, sandals, black shoes, green shoes, brown clogs, and periwinkle snow boots, if anyone needs to know. The black shoes are about five years old and need to be replaced, but I can't find any I like. For some reason, shoes seem to get uglier every year. If I ever find a pair that meets my requirements (ie very similar to what I'm replacing) I plan to buy multiple pairs so I don't have this problem again. One pair wears out and all I have to do is open another box.

Sorry, this wasn't supposed to be a shoe blog. But now that I mentioned shoes, though, can someone make the radio stations stop playing The Christmas Shoes? I HATE that song! Maybe I worked for a police department too long, but I think the little brat in the song is a con artist. He cons the guy into paying for shoes so he can go out and sell them. Probably to buy crack or something for his mother.

What was I talking about again?

Oh, yeah. Christmas gifts.

This year, the boys asked for clothes and stuff for their apartments. The clothes are no problem. I've been buying their clothes since before they were born. It's the apartment stuff that's hard. They're more into plain and functional. I told younger son I'd get him new bedding--his comforter is shot--and he said he'd rather pick his own. I think he's afraid I'll get one like hubby and I have (which I picked, of course). They make fun of all the pillows I have on the bed. In my defense, there are only two bed pillows, two pillows in shams, and three decorative pillows. I don't see the problem, do you?

Hubby is even worse. He usually ends up getting clothes, too. Several years ago, he turned our garage into a woodshop where he makes furniture as a hobby. When he first started woodworking, it was easy to find some tool he needed. Now it's pretty well stocked as far as tools go and I don't know what to get any more.

The only thing I asked for was a new laptop. Mine is five years old and a real dinosaur. It only has 256 meg RAM. I probably won't know what to do with something that runs faster. I'll actually be able to have two windows open at the same time!

So what about you? Do you find it hard to buy gifts for your family? Do you keep it simple? Or are you all about going overboard?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

True Crime, a Cousin

by Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

Good morning, fellow Stiffs! A treat for you this morning: please welcome my buddy Phyllis Gobbell, here to talk to us about writing True Crime. Her second book, A Season of Darkness, the story of the Marcia Trimble case, is hitting stores today. Here's the Wikipedia page on Marcia, since I guess a lot of you aren't familiar with the story, or may want to refresh your memories.

Without further ado, here's Phyllis: 

In the south, people like to ask, “Who are your relatives?” Just last month I was at a conference in Oxford, Mississippi. The first evening as I left my hotel room, heading for our first meeting, a woman was coming down the hall. We said hello and established that we were both going to the same place. In the second minute we established that she lived in a town just a few miles from where I grew up. In the next two minutes we established that we knew the same people, and in fact we had some of the same relatives. By the time we reached the elevator, we were calling each other “Cousin.”

It occurred to me that “Cousin” is a good way to express how True Crime relates to Crime Fiction. True Crime is not fiction, but if you’re a reader of both genres, you can tell that they come from the same family.

Only in the past five years have I written, or even read, True Crime. I’m not sure why I didn’t choose that particular genre. Maybe I imagined it would read like a series of newspaper accounts. As in any other genre, some writers are better than others. Once I began reading the best writers in True Crime, I was drawn to the writing style.

True Crime makes use of fictional techniques, like scene and dialogue. The first rule of the fiction writer’s handbook about showing instead of telling is a good one for all kinds of writing. There are passages in True Crime that must, by their nature, be expository, but, overall, the story should read a lot like fiction. Like fiction, the characters in True Crime carry the story, and the complexities of plot keep the reader turning pages: not just what happened, but why, and what the impact of the events was on the people involved.

In A Season of Darkness, which I’ve written with Doug Jones, it was a challenge to weave all the threads of thirty-four years, the length of time it took to solve the crime. Early in the book, we introduce several crimes that take place within five miles of Marcia Trimble’s neighborhood, where she was found murdered. We introduce the man who is convicted of one of the brutal rapes and sent to prison. But it’s toward the end of the book that the connection with Marcia Trimble is made. In the meantime investigators pursue another suspect. At the heart of it, the story is a mystery.

I never set out to be a True Crime writer. In fact, I was working on a mystery set in Provence when one of Nashville’s two most notable real-life mysteries came back in the news. Perry March, whose wife, Janet, had disappeared in 1996, was being returned to Nashville from his new life in Mexico. Nearly a decade had passed; Janet had not been found; her body had not been discovered. When Perry was charged with her murder, the question resounded: Can he be found guilty if there is no body? Perry began to “shoot himself in the foot,” so to speak, and as the case took a strange turn, another writer-friend of mine, Mike Glasgow, and I decided to collaborate on a book that became An Unfinished Canvas.

Some might say that a True Crime story practically writes itself because you don’t have to create characters or situations. Yes, the facts and the real people already exist (and I won’t even begin to talk about all the research required) but the telling of the story is the key to a good True Crime. I will just mention one book I came across where more than fifty pages are taken up with actual trial transcripts, and, no, I’m not offering that one as a model. Sometimes I imagine how a passage I’m developing would play out on one of the TV crime shows, like 48 Hours Mystery. A good scene is cinematic, and in True Crime, you can always use that “voiceover” (“In the neighborhood, life would never be normal again.”)

A word about getting True Crime published: Mike Glasgow and I sent queries to three agents regarding the March case and received favorable replies. One agent asked for a book proposal. We worked hard on it and submitted. Then we waited. You know about the waiting.

It happened that 48 Hours Mystery was airing an episode about the March case. Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management in Los Angeles saw the show. I can imagine her asking herself, “Don’t I have a book proposal about that case? I know it’s here, somewhere!” and rummaging through stacks of proposals. She called the next day and said, “I’d like to represent you.”

Mike and I didn’t know we had a True Crime story. We just knew that we had a compelling story about real people and a real crime. That was five years ago. Since then, I’ve been immersed in this genre. It has been intense, sometimes sad, and always tedious, making sure we get it right.

For the next few months I’ll be working on that mystery in Provence.

Thanks to Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley for inviting me to visit Working Stiffs.I appreciate the invitation to blog with all of you crime writers. After all, we are kind of like cousins, part of the same family.

The release date for A Season of Darkness is December 7. Phyllis Gobbell and Doug Jones will be launching their book at Borders/West End in Nashville on December 8 at 7:00.

Monday, December 06, 2010


by Gina Sestak

Good morning, all.  It's my turn to post again, and I completely forgot!

This isn't anything new.  I've been a mush brain for as long as I can remember, but I usually make up for it.  

It's been that kind of a week.  On Friday morning, I got up and took the cat's medication by mistake.  Taffy takes* Tapazole for an overactive thyroid.  I was making coffee, feeding the cats, etc.  I took Taffy's morning dose out of the bottle and, without thinking, put it in my own mouth.  It wasn't until the unfamiliar after-taste hit me that I realized what I had done.  Since my health insurance is through Highmark, I was able to consult Blues on Call.  The nice woman I spoke with assured me that other people have taken their pets' medications, too.  I think she was lying.  She thought the dose was low enough that it wouldn't have any impact, but she referred me to the Poison Control Center just in case.  The person there also said the dose was likely harmless.  Still, I felt like a total flaming idiot.  Have you ever done anything that dumb?

*Anyone who has ever tried to give a cat medication knows that cats don't "take" it.  It's more like shoving a pill down the throat of a squirming furball with claws.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A distinctive voice

by Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley

A few months back, I was doing a signing for A Cutthroat Business, when this woman came up to my table to introduce herself. Turns out she knew I’d be there, and that we’re in the same writers group. I smiled politely, of course, and said I remembered the name—I did, with enough details about her life to prove I was telling the truth—but I didn’t remember the face, although that seemed to be OK, because neither of us make it out to meetings a lot.

I guess I need to mention that I’m a member of an obscene number of writers organizations. There’s Sisters in Crime, local and national, there’s RWA, local and national, there’s the WNBA (B in this case stands for book, not basketball), local and national, the International Thriller Writers, the Author’s Guild, the Friends of the Library... the list just goes on and on. The only one I’m not a member of is MWA, the Mystery Writers of America, and I suffer guilt over that, because I know I should be. Many of these organizations have listservs and email loops that I’m on. Ramona—that was her name—was on one of those with me.

And now she was there, at my signing. She had come out to see me because, and I quote, “I read your emails to the group, and I knew I had to meet you.”

To which my response, naturally, was an incredulous, “Why?!”

And that’s when she said that she could tell, from the email responses and notices to the group, which of the members were published and which were not. She said she could tell by my voice that I was a professional writer.

It struck me as interesting and a little bizarre, but upon consideration, I think I agree with it. My voice is my voice, even in emails. I pretty much always sound like myself, whether I’m writing a chapter in a book, a blog post, or a response to a question on an email loop. Or for that matter whether I’m sitting around talking to someone, since this is also largely how I sound when I open my mouth. My speech patterns, my word choices, my sentence structure—with all those interjections and asides—is very much me.

And that’s the way it should be. According to Ramona—and I agree—the voice comes first, and then the contract. Much like a singer has to develop his or her instrument before getting that record contract or lead role on Broadway, a writer has to develop enough to have an individual, distinct and unique voice before that elusive book contract comes along. It’s the voice that separates the men from the boys. The women from the girls. The amateurs from the professionals.

Oh, sure. There are books out there with fantastic plots, brilliant characters, a truly unique setting and an interesting twist on the tried and true... and ideally all of our books should have at least a few of those. But it’s voice that reaches out and grabs you by the throat. Speaking for myself, I can forgive a lot—a plot where I can figure out the murderer as soon as he comes on the scene in chapter 2, a setting that I’ve read about a hundred and one times before, and a concept that can best be described as same-old, same-old—if the voice is compelling.

This was brought home to me again last weekend, when my local RWA chapter, the Music City Romance Writers, hosted two high-profile New York agents for a mini conference. One of the things the agents did, was do cold reads of first pages, and it was an eye opening experience. Just like when that submission arrives on their desks—or more accurately, in their inboxes—they’d start at the beginning of the first page, out loud, and at some point—often after just a sentence or two—there’d be a mutter of, “I’m out.”

Usually they agreed. Rarely did they give anyone more than a paragraph before it was on to the next submission. The few times they did keep reading, they usually made it all the way to the bottom of the page and then said, “I would have kept going.” 

The reasons for the rejections were the usual ones. Occasionally a weird name or another stumble right up front, occasionally the writing just wasn’t up to snuff, but more often than not, it was just that the voice wasn’t compelling enough.

So here's to voice! And in honor of the season, here's one of my favorites, in a slightly different way:

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 02, 2010


By Paula Matter


Bad Ass Author Marathon?

Big As A Mountain?

Be An Accomplished Mother?

Breaking Away And More?  
Basic Administration & Management?

Bachelor of Arts, Applied  Music?

Nope, none of the above. And it has nothing to do with Chef Emeril Lagasse either.

BAAM stands for Blogging Agent Appreciation Month. (Originally, it was going to be Blogging Agent Appreciation Day, but that didn't turn out so well.)

One day last week I read of an agent who has decided to stop blogging. I thought about it and realized that there have been a few in the last year or so who have stopped.

Thanksgiving may be over, but I'm thankful every day. Some days I have to work at finding something to be thankful for, but I always manage to do so. On this day, the first (only?) day of BAAM, I am thankful for all of the agents who continue to share their insight, opinions, feedback and wisdom. For free, no less.

Below is a list of awesome agents who blog. Seventeen of them! I'm sure there are more and I hope you'll share with the rest of us. For now I'd like to let these 17 know how much I appreciate them for taking the time to blog. Please go visit their site today and thank them if you agree.

You may notice there are a couple of names of people who've left agenting. Doesn't matter, trust me. Their blogs are worth a visit.

This has been flying around the Internet lately, and in case there's someone out there who hasn't see it, take a moment to watch. Then go thank an agent who blogs.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 6

Firearms Safety and MILO

by Annette Dashofy

This was the class we were all looking forward to. A chance to experience the firearms simulator and get a small taste of what police officers face. Before we started, I’d given myself the “It’s Only Make-Believe” speech. Nothing to stress over. Yeah. Right.

During the first part of the class, we were given an Introduction to Firearms Power Point presentation. Here are a few tidbits:

A “handgun” was first used in 1388.

There are three parts to a handgun: the frame, the barrel, and the action.

The thing that holds the bullets in a pistol is called a magazine, NOT a clip.

Semiautomatics were invented in 1895.

For those interested in terminology, there are no “accidental” discharges of weapons, only “negligent discharges.”

Actions can be single, double, or semiautomatic.

In case you’ve wondered what the caliber refers to, a 22 caliber rifle has a bore of 22/100 inch in diameter. Forty-five caliber is .450 and a 357 is .357.

A 99mm. is metric.

A 3030 refers to a .30 caliber round and 30 grains of powder.

A 3006 (thirty ot six) is a .30 caliber rifle plus the year the Army adopted it, which is 1906.

Shotguns are measured in “Gauge” which is the number of small lead balls in a pound.

Confused yet?

Let’s talk ammunition. Most cartridges are centerfire. You can look at the base and see the small primer. A rimfire, found in .22 caliber cartridges, has no noticeable primer.

More on terminology: you don’t load a “bullet” into a gun. You load a “cartridge” into it. The bullet is part of the cartridge along with the case, the primer, and the powder.

Okay, that’s enough of the basics. After we took a short break, the fun began. Everyone in the class was given a chance to use the firearms simulator. It’s a really cool piece of technology. After we took our turns, the computer evaluated our performance and showed where we’d hit when we fired.

The first few students were given simple targets. Plates, pop ups, floating pumpkins which exploded on impact. Eeww. Pumpkin guts!

Then we started getting real scenarios. Bad guys holding hostages, beating the bejeezus out of someone and then turning on the officer (us).

We’d come across bloodied victims and be directed to where the shooter was at the moment.

Once we came face-to-face with the shooter, we had to order him to drop his weapon. Sometimes he complied. Sometimes not. Thankfully, none of us knew how good a shot those bad guys were, because the computer didn’t indicate if we’d been hit.

It’s only make-believe, I kept reminding myself.

Finally it was my turn. In my scenario, I was sent to a bus parking lot. My on-film partner and I had to find two bad guys. My partner told me to take the lead. “Gee, thanks, buddy.” The first bad guy had another officer down, wounded, but alive. I ordered him to drop his weapon. For a moment, he didn’t. My finger tightened on the trigger. But then he complied and set the gun down. Yay!

My partner jumped in to cuff him. Told me he’d take care of this one, and I should go find the second bad guy. I’m thinking I don’t much like my partner at this point.

I found the second bad guy, who was on one of the buses, holding another officer in a head lock. He had his gun at the officer’s temple. The officer was screaming, “Shoot him! Shoot him!”

“It’s only make believe,” I reminded myself. But let me tell you, my heart was thumping on the back of my sternum like big old base drum.

I ordered the guy to put down his weapon. Twice. Meanwhile I’m trying to aim for his head. Don’t hit the officer he’s holding. Don’t shoot wild and possibly hit someone I can’t even see outside the bus. I was wishing I was aiming at one of those pumpkins instead. I was also wishing I’d had a chance to practice on something—anything—to see where the gun shot. On a practice range, I generally miss my first couple of shots, then I’m good. But I didn’t have that luxury in this case.

When the guy didn’t put his gun down, I squeezed off one shot. I think I took his ear off. Maybe part of the side of his skull, too. It was enough to definitely stop the threat. My fellow classmates approved.

I found out later that had I let the scenario run a moment longer, the guy was going to comply. But the instructor admitted it took him a really long time, so my shot was justified.

And I didn’t kill the hostage!

Next time: Drug Investigation and K-9 officers