Friday, August 26, 2011


Hey folks! The Working Stiffs are taking a late summer vacation to rest up and recharge.

We'll be back bright and early on Monday, September 5th.

See you then!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't Be a Bonehead

by Joyce

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day and saw this tweet from an author:
"GAWD I hate the XXX - nothing but legalized thugs and criminals." Except she used the real acronym. Now, my hubby happens to work for the XXX and he's the most honest person you'd ever want to meet. And considering the background check he had to go through before he was hired, and the ultra-strict protocol he must follow daily, he's as far from a criminal as you can get. So are his co-workers. Contrary to public perception, this agency has stringent requirements for its employees (more so than any other agency). They can be fired for minor infractions that would go unnoticed at most other places of employment.

I promptly unfollowed this author. I'll never buy one of her books, either.

She likely has no idea of the consequences of what she tweeted. Obviously, she was frustrated and maybe pissed off, but she should have thought before she tweeted. Maybe I'm the only reader she lost, but in this economy, every sale is important.

I have (I'm sure most of us do) strong opinions about a lot of things, but I keep them to myself. No one (other than family) will know what political party I belong to or which candidates I may support or those I think are total morons. I've unfollowed people on Twitter and stopped reading certain blogs when they get too political, even if I agree with their views. Unless a writer's platform is politics, there is no good reason to mouth off. It's a good way to alienate half of any potential readers. I'm not willing to take that chance.

The whole idea of social media is to be social. The point is to have a conversation. It's not a soapbox. Think of it as a large cocktail party. Would you spout off opinions about something if half the party goers walk away and avoid you for the rest of the evening? What if your boss was there and he had the opposite view? 

What about you? Why have you stopped following blogs or people on Twitter or Facebook? Do you think it's a good idea to keep your views private for the most part?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interview with Kathleen George

The following is an edited version of an interview that Julie Kramer did with Pittsburgh author Kathleen George whose latest book HIDEOUT is available now. 

Kathleen George takes readers into the dark side of Pittsburgh and human nature.

Her latest thriller, HIDEOUT, begins when two teen brothers flee a fatal hit-and-run. Desperate and afraid, Jack and Ryan Rutter hole up in a summer cabin and create a terrifying hostage situation as they try to stay ahead of the police in this psychological character study of bad boys on the run.

You certainly know how to nail a novel, Kathleen. In a starred review, Publisher's Weekly praised HIDEOUT as “a top-notch, emotionally satisfying police procedural." Yet as a university professor of theater, did you ever consider writing your novels as plays or screenplays?

I was totally thrilled, by the way, with that starred review--didn’t think it would ever happen to me.  I’ve been told my novels are already very filmic.  I hope that’s true.  But I haven’t written screenplays or plays—and here I have to explain something.  Even though I teach playwriting and have directed many plays, I am not a playwright.  That form works best from people with actor sensibilities.  Playwriting is a great form of art, a tough form (I think the toughest) and it requires an extroversion that I simply don’t have. I couldn’t go on stage to save my life and I shy away from the kinds of actions that drive plays.  I’m on the directing/writing end of the performing arts.  There is interest from time to time in my novels from film people and I would love to hand one over and keep doing what I’m doing, that is, fiction.  It feels like that’s the form that’s right for me. 

What makes Pittsburgh the perfect setting for a crime series?

Pittsburgh has a lot of “parts.”  There are gorgeous views, more bridges than in Venice, many trees and parks and also very poor areas, boarded up buildings, dark, rough streets. Needless to say there are dramas of class and race in the very makeup of the city.  And in between the extremes there are ethnic neighborhoods that started out as immigrant strongholds and somehow held onto that identity even when mostly taken over by students looking for affordable housing. The people are extremely colorful.  The braying Steelers fans that Tom Hanks made sport of on David Letterman.  World famous doctors:  The grandchildren of immigrants who have come up in the world and who are mainly friendly and unpretentious.  It’s friendly except when a ‘burgher is in a car.  All bets are off for sweetness. The driver simply wants to get home.

Your previous book, THE ODDS, received much acclaim, including an Edgar-nod. Was there ever a time you worried about pulling off a sequel?  

Well, it helps that I have recurring characters.  They seem to have their own lives. I use the same police characters throughout as part of my series—Richard Christie, Artie Dolan, Colleen Greer, John Potocki.  Their personal lives progress as the novels do.  That totally interests me.  But most of the other characters come brand new to each new book.  It’s a different story, a different case.

Most police procedurals start with a murder. HIDEOUT begins with an accident. Talk a little about how you decide how to open your stories. Is it a struggle?  Or does it come in a flash?

I believe each beginning is a matter of what relationships I intend to explore.  I knew I wanted to work on the relationship of the Rutter brothers and to their lives on the borderline of constant danger and addiction.  I also knew I wanted to feature Addie Ward (the character I fell in love with as I worked on this).  She’s a vital 83 year old with a lot of soul and the ability to try to get to know and understand all kinds of people.  That puts her in danger here.  I knew that’s where I was headed and the start was dependent on circumstances that would get me there.

How do you cast your villains?

I just wrote an essay about casting as I write.  I try to flesh out the villains by letting them have pasts, thoughts, second thoughts, wishes, dreams, etc.  I do get “casting” images.  I’ve said many times that Gabrielle Byrne and Robert Downey Junior are models for characters in my books.  Ryan and Jack are so young I don’t have a long list.  I do like the young man in Breaking Bad.  Jesse Pinkman. I think of Ryan and Jack as two sides of him.   (As for casting Addie, I imagine an American Vanessa Redgrave, whoever that is . . . )

Evaluate the usefulness of outlining, from your perspective.

It’s great for other people, not for me.  I would lose interest.  I go to the computer every day not sure what will happen but dying to know. I write as a reader, letting the story unfold with all its warts and surprises.  Sometimes I have to throw away pages but it’s worth it to me to explore.

How did you become so adept at police procedure?

I called the police a lot.  Then I realized just how much I had absorbed and how much was common sense.  I started to get freer about calling my own shots and when I checked with the police on what I had done, I got the nod of approval.  I’ve been extremely lucky.  The police have been supportive and open with me.   Actually the FBI, too, in the early days.  My husband loves to tell people that when I tried certain plots on the FBI consultant, he said I had a fine criminal mind.

Have you ever been arrested?

 No, thank God.  That would be hard on me.  I can write tension but I live a very modest life that’s all about good beds and food and reading.  I visited the Allegheny County Jail for the next novel in the series, that is next year (SIMPLE) and wow, I dropped my fantasy of committing a crime so that I could go to jail and have all the time in the world to read and write—meals made, all that.  When I saw the cell, the mattress, the kidney shaped table, the stool, and the rest of the hard surfaces, when I smelled the smells, I decided that I would have to continue living a too busy life.

You are married to another writer - Hilary Masters  - what are the challenges vs. rewards of such a relationship?

Funny you should ask that now.  We’ve been saying for years that there is no problem.  We’re like a writing colony except there are only two of us.  We don’t show anything until it’s done or well on its way.  But we understand each other; we know what a murmured half-sentence about a morning changing point of view means; we know a bad day is one with no writing and good day is one with several hours spent on a novel. But now, this summer, with both of us with books coming out, we’ve had several of those gritchy exchanges that contain, “No, what I need now is . . . ”  But we’re okay.  The books are almost out.  And soon it will be back to writing and evenings with the lamps on and books in our laps.

To learn more about Kathleen George, visit her website.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chasing Evil, Finding Themes

by Leslie Tentler

Thanks so much for having me back again at Working Stiffs! It’s been a whirlwind month so far. I’ve been busy doing promotional activities for MIDNIGHT FEAR, the second book in the Chasing Evil trilogy that was released on August 1.

MIDNIGHT FEAR introduces Reid Novak, a special agent working for the FBI’s fictional Violent Crimes Unit. There’s also Caitlyn Cahill, a former D.C. socialite who played a prominent role in bringing her serial killer brother to justice two years earlier. An act that is now coming back to haunt her.

All three books in the Chasing Evil trilogy are based on a deliberate, common theme: federal agents handling serial murder investigations. But as I wrote each novel (all three are now completed; the final one will be released in February), I began to recognize a second, underlying trend and one that I hadn’t planned intentionally: The main character in each book comes from a legacy of law enforcement.

To that point:

  • In my debut novel, MIDNIGHT CALLER, Special Agent Trevor Rivette’s father is a disgraced, embittered former New Orleans cop. Trevor himself went into law enforcement due to the powerlessness he felt growing up in his father’s abusive household, and his desire to right his dad’s many wrongs.
  • In my current book, MIDNIGHT FEAR, Reid Novak’s father is a retired D.C. vice detective, and his grandfather was a beat cop. Reid’s father, however, is everything that Trevor’s father was not. Kind and gentle, he continues to play a big role in his son’s life.
  • And in EDGE OF MIDNIGHT, the trilogy’s final (and still to be released) book, Special Agent Eric Macfarlane has ties that are high up within the federal government: His father is an associate attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice. Driven and ambitious, Eric’s father sets the bar high for his only son.

While the father-son dynamic in each story is different, it clearly shapes who the main character in each book has become. When I recognized the similar patterns within these stories, it also got me to thinking about how each of us is shaped by our own parents, as well – their personalities, their interests and dreams for us, as well as their disappointments and regrets.

I give credit for my becoming a writer to my mother, a schoolteacher who was a master raconteur as well as an avid reader. She taught me the escape of a good book from an early age. Especially in the summer, we’d take regular trips to the small bookstore around the corner, and to the public library, then return home with our arms piled high with adventures to be read. I still can’t diagram a sentence to save my life, but I got my ability to write from reading. It’s where I learned how to build a story arc, establish pace and instinctively know if a sentence or paragraph “reads right.” I don’t think my mother ever intended for me to become a writer, however. She just wanted me to share her love of books.

My mother especially loved those big, sweeping historical romances – another interest she passed along to me. In fact, many years ago, my first attempt at writing was an historical romance, set on a Louisiana plantation. But I wasn’t ready then, my writing hadn’t matured enough (nor had my attention span), and I think I made it about five chapters in before ditching the entire effort.

But I kept my desire to write.

At some point, my interests moved away from historical romance and onto contemporary romantic thrillers. I love the elements of danger in those kinds of stories, and the heightened passions that come along with that. While no one really wants that kind of crime or risk in his or her real life, I’d think, it’s exciting to see it play out from the safety of a book.

As a new writer, I feel like I’ve learned so much during the time spent writing the Chasing Evil trilogy. Everything from critical aspects of homicide investigations to the underworld vampire culture in New Orleans. And I also know that I still have so much more to experience and learn.

Enjoy what’s left of summer and read a good book by the water somewhere!

# # #

Novelist Leslie Tentler worked in public relations as a writer and editor for nearly two decades before deciding to pursue her love of writing fiction. Her first manuscript won multiple Romance Writers of America chapter contest awards, including the prestigious Maggie Award of Excellence.

Leslie is a native of Kingsport, Tennessee. Growing up, she was an avid reader, first of Nancy Drew novels and then surreptitiously devouring her mother’s historical romances at probably too young an age. As she got older, her reading interests moved to dark, contemporary romantic thrillers, which she writes today.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Favorite Read?

by C.L. Phillips

The more I write, the more I read.  Usually slightly out of genre if I'm in the midst of a big creative push.  If I'm on the nth draft, I might read an old favorite.  And when I'm determined to work on craft, I read an old master.

My question for you dear reader/writer is this - What are your top three "must have" pure enjoyment reads.  The three books you take on your trip as you circumnavigate the world?  Or the three books you take with you to the in-law's house on that one week family vacation.  Or the three books you take with you when you know life is going to be stressful?

My top three go-to-must-have-will-never-lend titles are:

1)  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
2)  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
3)  The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

As a mystery writer, what I find interesting about my list is that none of these books would be classified as a mystery, yet they all have a huge mystery and intrigue.  And with a slightly different lens, I would consider all of these books magical fantasy. 

Hum....I wonder if my go-to-must-have-will-never-lend book list is trying to tell me something? :)

Please share ...your three titles are??  Inquiring minds want to know. :)

Friday, August 19, 2011


by Pat Gulley

In trying to keep up with my fellow bloggers, I find there isn’t much new out there to talk about when it comes to writing. Well, personal experiences, but I haven’t had too many of those lately. So, I remembered this funny definition with examples and thought we could all have a laugh at something we probably do frequently in our writing but didn’t know there was a long and mouth-bending definition for it. Enjoy!

“A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.”
Some real cuties I thought related to writing and suggested murder and mayhem for mysteries. What do you think?

I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

Some people are like Slinkies ... not really good for anything, but you can't help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.

I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Yes, But Is It Deep?

by Guest blogger Kate Gallison

The women in my book group were yakking about a book the other night, as is our habit, and one of us remarked that the book in question was entertaining but not deep.

Naturally, since everything is about me, I wandered off into a reflection on whether or not my own work had any depth to it. Entertaining? Yes. Deep? Probably not so much. In fact, I'm not sure I would even know depth if I encountered it. I know beautiful writing when I see it, as well as vivid characters, well-crafted dialog, and clever plotting. But, depth? What is that?

In this I'm not very different from the protagonist of my early movie stories. Emily Daggett Weiss has the defects of her qualities, as they used to say in the olden days. She is a gifted visual artist, working in moving pictures. Her eye is for the surface of things. A young beauty herself, she sees and appreciates physical beauty. As a film director, like Alice Guy Blaché, like D. W. Griffith, she can put together a ravishing series of images gorgeous enough to carry an audience away.

But a movie is a two-dimensional illusion. So is Hollywood itself, in many respects. Although Emily is perfectly at home in the glossy world of Hollywood culture, where appearances seem to be everything, she's almost blind to the under-the-surface complexities of human nature.

She married Adam Weiss, a stunningly handsome man, for his beauty. In the course of time he proved to be a skunk, as anyone could have told her. At last he ran off with another woman, sending Emily a telegram to announce that they were "deeply in love."

Well, that's Hollywood for you. But it ain't deep. Do you know any deep books? What are they? Tell me, that I may read and learn.

Born in Philadelphia, Kate Gallison has been at various times a store clerk, a bill collector, a computer programmer, a technical writer, and a museum docent. As Kate Gallison, her writing credits include three private eye novels and five traditional mysteries. Under the name of Irene Fleming, she writes a series about silent movie production in the early twentieth century. The first of these, The Edge of Ruin, came out at the end of April 2010. The critics were pleased with it. The second, The Brink of Fame, will be released in August of 2011.

Kate has three grown sons and a bachelor's degree from Thomas Edison College. She lives in Lambertville, New Jersey, with her librarian husband and their cat. There she divides her time among her family, her writing, and various civic pursuits. She is a member of the Author's Guild, the MWA, Sisters in Crime, and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. She is descended from a convicted Salem witch.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Web Treasures

by C.L. Phillips

After several years of working diligently on writing craft, exploratory reading, and the business of publishing, I though our Working Stiff readers might enjoy joining with me to exchange new Web Treasures.

Specifically, what are the treasured web sites that you read on a regular basis? 

I've discovered many of my now favorite sites after I started engaging with Twitter in July, 2011.  I've found that my twitter friends share some of the best information I've found on the web.  So here's a brief description of my new favorite sites

The Passive Voice - Lawyer and writer (anonymous) blogs about all things writing, writers, publishing, and most important - publishing contracts.  He summarizes other top blogs, netting out the key issue while still providing a link to the original source.  I read this blog before any other.

Book News Daily by Stacy Juba (a mystery and romantic suspense author) - a great paper using the tool that aggregates book reviews from blogs, tools for writers, and industry news.  I caught this first issue from one of Stacy's tweets, and she helped me understand the power of the tool.  This is a fantastic tool for bringing information together for your readers.  Maybe there's a paper in your future.

The #pubwrite Daily brought to you by the people of Twitter's #pubwrite following.  #pubwrite is a twitter hashtag used by writers seeking to participate in a virtual community.  The original premise was that you'd type a #pubwrite on your tweets when you wanted to hang out with other writers and have a virtual drink at a pub.  Writing can be a solitary pursuit, so you can imagine the popularity of a pub where you meet others sharing your struggle and interest and where drinking is optional.  A few of the key folks in #pubwrite collaborated to bring out this Daily paper, and the articles are both useful and entertaining.  And if you haven't monitored the #pubwrite tweet stream, do so.  The people are very open and sharing.

So those are my three new favorites.  What are yours?  Where do you go for a mental break from your writing?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

By Martha Reed

I know I usually take advantage of this blog venue to post something curious or silly but today I’d think it’s time that I stay on topic and give back to the writing community. Last month I had an amazing opportunity to work with five other writers in an intensive manuscript boot camp organized by the very generous Nancy Martin. Let me tell you, it was tough. We read and critiqued 200-250 pages of each other’s work each week plus Nancy gave us helpful handouts to review at the end of each meeting and we discussed these, too.

It was a terrific experience. I’m not the same writer I was a month ago.

What I’d like to do now is to share some of the things I learned.

In the past, when I started writing a new piece, I would just free draft; let my creativity flow and take me wherever it wanted to go. I plan to still do that because, frankly, that’s a lot of fun to let my imagination fly.

The difference now is, and this is what I learned at boot camp, is that I’m going to structure my editing process. Previously, I would re-read my draft mss and remove any duplication or inconsistency. Now, I’m going to sit down with my draft, outline each chapter on an index card and build a chapter outline. Each chapter index card will delineate the character for POV, the emotional issues or conflicts underlying that character, the next step and the motivations for the character making that next step. I’m hoping this will add emotional depth and using an outline should help me trim the process time-wise.

When I first started out, and took formal classes for this sort of thing, I dismissed “plotting” and “outlining” because they seemed too structured, too formal to use. Now I see that they are useful tools when used in their proper place. I wouldn’t want to use them in a draft, that would seem too structured for my style and taste, but I see know that discounting them altogether was a mistake. If you’re going to be a writer, you need to use all the tools at hand.

I can already see the difference using a chapter outline is going to make. When I applied it to my current mss, I was able to strip out some unnecessary characters and sharpen the focus on the narrative question. (We learned about that, too). This is going to help me distill the theme of my story which should help hold the reader’s interest, and keeping the readers turning the pages is exactly what I want to do.

Monday, August 15, 2011


by Gina Sestak

How old were you when you began to write?  When you began to make up stories?

I remember crafting stories from the time I was old enough to print words on a page, but my niece Sam [Samantha] Sestak has gone me one better.  At the age of seventeen, she has self-published a 514-page book, the first in a series.

Here is a brief interview with the author:

How old are you?


You're still in high school?

I'm a senior.  

Do you have any other noteworthy talents besides writing?

I play the snare drum in my high school band.  And I draw.

Yes.  I've seen some of your drawings on your website.  You seem to have a fascination with wolves.  Is that why you included werewolves in your book?

I do like wolves, but the story is more complicated than just another werewolf story.  

Right.  According to the summary on your website:  The Darkness Series, starting with Darkness, Obliged, follows the 17-year-old girl Xylina Ulrica (z-lean-a), through her newfound adventure in a brand new world.  After being chased out of her house by her homicidal cousin and knocked out in a forest, she wakes up in a brand new world, meets a prince, and figures out something about herself that even she didn't know. Thrown into a world at war, the fighting between werewolves, vampires, and dragons, she and her new friends have to help bring peace. But that's just the start of things.

How long did it take you to write Darkness, Obliged?

Two years.

Are you a fan of the Twilight series

Not really.  I prefer real wolves.  My pet husky looks like a wolf herself.

What are your plans for the future?  Will you be going to college to study writing?

Yes and no.  I'm planning to go to college, but I want to study zoology.

Thank you, Sam.  And best of luck for the future.

BTW, I've read Darkness, Obliged and enjoyed it.  You may, too.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beggars Can't Be...Writers?

by Ramona DeFelice Long

It happened twice in two days.

First was a cute little girl outside the Acme. As soon as I spotted her, I swerved sharply to the left and headed for the carts. I did a 180 with my basket but the little minx snuck up behind me.

She rattled a can covered in crayon drawings and said, “Can you donate to my cheerleading camp?”

I know, I know. It’s better to shake a pom-pom than join a flash mob. But it irked me that behind the kid sat Dad, yakking on his cell phone while his daughter accosted strangers for money.  She didn’t offer to wash my car or make me a balloon animal. She just held out the can.

I politely declined--and was rewarded with a look of outrage. Get used to it, I wanted to tell her. In real life, you don’t get stuff just by asking.

The next day, it happened at the drug store. Two adorable little boys, again with the decorated can.

“Soccer camp! We’re going to soccer camp! Can you help us out?”

A watchful Mom watched as I said, “Sorry, boys, not today.” This was a bit misleading, as it implied I’d donate on another day. Not gonna happen. But Mom gave me a smile, which was compounded by the boys’ “Thank you, anyway, ma’am, and have a nice day!” and I was hit with a guilt blast. If they had cried, or called me a name, I’d have felt less like an evil troll. But noooo,  Soccer Boys had to be adorable AND polite.


Call me Ramona Grumpy-Pants, but I can’t bring myself to encourage kids out begging . It’s not because anti-cheerleading/soccer camp. It’s because I think it sends a bad message. Offer me some overpriced wrapping paper. Dangle a box of Thin Mints in front of me. Then we might do business. Set up a lemonade stand, and I’ll empty out my wallet.

But just because you ask? Sorry.

So what does that have to do with writing? Not long ago, I read a blog post. It was a helpful post, and I was ready to show my support by commenting or sharing or following, but then I noticed the Donate button at the bottom.

Donate? To a blogger? There are professional bloggers, but those folks earn income through advertising or subscribers. Not by the casual reader. And not by clicking a direct link to your PayPal account.

Understand, I like free money as much as the next guy. I’ve been the lucky recipient of state fellowships and professional organization grants.  I write posts that--hopefully--aid writers. Doing so cuts into my earning time. As a matter of fact, I’m losing money right now. (Whoosh! There went five dollars.)

Some writers advocate never working for free. Ever. I think this is nonsense. Parents are expected to volunteer at their kids’ schools, and I think the same applies to writers. We have an obligation to give back to the writing community. I’ve done free workshops at schools and book fairs. I mentored a teen book group for two years--I even provided pizza, on my nickel. The last few months, I’ve been facilitating Free Writes at the public library. (Wheee, a tenner just whizzed by!)

Am I special? Not at all. Every writer reading this can come up with their own list of freebies.

However…do I edit for free? Nope. Editing is my primary skill, my income-generator. That I hold near and dear, and I charge for it.

Where does that leave something like blogging? Sometimes my posts are rambling nonsense. (That sentence was worth, what? A nickel? A quarter, tops?) But there are times I share concrete how-to information that, in theory, I could sell. Instead, I post it here, or on my personal blog, or elsewhere where it can be read without charge. I choose to give it away, maybe to promote myself, maybe to hone my writing skills, maybe to make you all like me. I’m not going to ask to be paid for what I choose to do. It feels too much like holding out a can in front of the grocery store.

Am I being grumpy? Is requesting a donation savvy and smart? Am I the only one who finds a DONATE button a bit…distasteful?

What is your opinion? Is requesting a donation online the latest, greatest, literary cash cow, and I am missing out?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The "In" Place to Be

by Joyce

Since all of yinz guys ain't from Pittsburgh n'at, you may not know it's a really happening place right now. No, really. It is.

A lot of movies have been filmed in Pittsburgh: Night of the Living Dead, Hoffa, Sudden Death, Striking Distance, Silence of the Lambs, Wonder Boys. (There's a really exhaustive list on Wikipedia. Way more than I knew about!) Some members of the police department where I used to work played the SWAT team in Silence of the Lambs. That SWAT guy crashing through the window was our lieutenant. They filmed a lot of the movie in our township, too.

None of these movies, however, have garnished the kind of attention as our latest claim to fame. In case you haven't heard, they're filming the next Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises here. There's a lot of coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, if you want to check it out. There's even a Twitter hashtag to follow: #batburgh.

One of the things I find really fascinating is that in the midst of our 90 degree plus heat wave, they've been filming winter scenes. On two of the hottest days of the year they filmed a fight scene on the steps of the Mellon Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and a Gotham City football game at Heinz Field, promptly overtaken by the bad guys. People had to wear winter coats which they promptly stripped off as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. I don't know about you, but thirty seconds in a winter coat in the kind of weather we've been having would have given me heat stroke.

It was just announced yesterday that the Jack Reacher movie will be filmed here, too. Yeah. Tom Cruise. Don't get me started on that one.

And for really geeky people (like me) who watch a lot of PBS (except for the British shows--they put me to sleep), the Antiques Roadshow will be in town this weekend. And I'll be there! A couple of months ago, the local PBS station, WQED, asked for volunteers for the Roadshow. I put in an application, was interviewed, and got the gig. I have to go to training from 4-6 on Friday, then I'll be at the convention center from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm on Saturday. I have no idea what I'll be doing yet--I'll find out on Friday. It'll probably have something to do with corralling about 3000 people, each with two items to be appraised. If you're on Twitter, follow @RoadshowPBS on Saturday. Sometimes they do live tweets.

If I live to tell about, expect a report on my adventure in two weeks. If I'm lucky, one of the two items I'm taking with me will be worth more than $1.98.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Boot Camp Post Mortem

After a little over a month of high intensity writing, rewriting, critiquing, and more rewriting, our summer critique boot camp has ended. It was…challenging.

Yes, I have been known to understate things at times.

We all took our turns hearing stuff about our work that we quite frankly didn’t want to hear. We all took our turns looking dejected and shell shocked. More than once I witnessed fellow Stiff Martha Reed beating her head on the table.

(Don’t feel bad, Martha. I just waited until I got home to beat my head, but it definitely happened)

Personally, I think it was one of the best experiences of my writing career. A game changer. One of those pivotal moments. When we look back, I suspect we will judge our writing progress as “before boot camp” and “after boot camp.”

One of the many, many things I took away from the experience was the knowledge that I CAN write under pressure. I CAN tell family and friends “no” so I can concentrate on an assignment and a deadline.
Of course, I’ve done this before, but not on such a grand scale. Twenty-five to fifty pages PER WEEK? Daunting. But doable.

However, now that it’s over I have to figure out if I can continue that pace. So far the answer would seem to be NO. The problem in my household is that all the stuff I was saying “no” to during boot camp is still there. I just pushed it aside for a while. For five weeks, the only non-writing things I did were cooking and laundry. Doctors’ appointments, Avon business, emails, record keeping, and other assorted tasks that I’m responsible for all got put off. Put off. Not eliminated.

You know how you come home from vacation and have three times more work to do to catch up? That’s me, but without the benefit of the vacation.

So I’m facing my responsibilities this week and next, while trying to save chunks of writing time each day. And I hope that once I catch up, I can get back into that 25 to 50 pages a week routine.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

How Do You Know When You're Ready to Query?

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger, editor Kristen Weber. Welcome!

How do you know when you're ready to query?

It can feel like you've been writing and revising your manuscript forever. But eventually it's time to step away from your computer and start a process that can sometimes seem even more daunting than writing your book - finding an agent.

Before you decide to start offering your manuscript to agents though, you should have had three or four unbiased readers critique it (ideally through all the phases of revision). It's impossible to see your own work for what it really is. It's like walking past the same spot in your house one hundred times before you realize your spouse moved something that was always there - your head will fill in the blanks because you expect to see it. That's why you need to call in fresh eyes to help you. Ideally those readers will be familiar with published books that are similar to yours and can offer constructive comments that aren't formed by their own opinions of what your work should be.  And after you make all of those suggestions, you should still put your manuscript away for a month or so and then come back to it with completely fresh eyes (barring that, you can also change your manuscript's font or the size of the font - sometimes that will make it look different enough and you'll be amazed at what you missed now that you're seeing it in a new way).

After you have the perfect manuscript and a perfect query letter, you can start sending it out. I recommend trying five agents or so first and seeing what kind of reaction you get. You don't want to try every agent you could possibly ever want to go with immediately and then have someone point out a tremendous flaw in your manuscript you might have missed. If you're not getting the kind of responses you want - which could be anything from hearing complete silence back on your query or getting rejections on the full manuscript - it's important that you can make changes and still have plenty of people left to try.

Finding an agent is a numbers game. It might take a lot of no's, but in the end you only need one yes. It's just important to hear what people are saying to you as you submit and be flexible and ready to make changes to your work. And rejection does not mean you should automatically self publish - instead it might mean that you need to call in a professional editor to help you get to the bottom of what is keeping you from publication. And then - even if you decide to self publish after that - at least you'll know you're going out with the very best product possible.

Kristen Weber is currently working as a freelance editor in Los Angeles after over a decade of experience as an in-house editor in New York. Please visit her web site at for more information about the services she offers.