Friday, September 30, 2011

One for the Money

Doesn't look like anyone else is going to share today, so I will. Namely, the trailer for the movie based on Janet Evanovich's first Stephanie Plum novel, One for the Money.

And I'm also going to eat some crow because - yes - Pittsburgh makes a fine substitute for Trenton, and Katherine Heigl makes a fine Stephanie Plum. In addition, Jason O'Mara makes a hell of a Joe Morelli, dontcha think? Wish y'all were closer so we could have a movie date in January!

So what do you think, fellow Stiffs and readers?


Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Few Links

by Joyce

I'm short on time this week so I'm just going to post some links for your reading pleasure.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette--someone dug up a 100 year old grave.

Also from the P-G--man arrested for DUI after hitting a police car 3 times.

One more from the P-G--Tom Cruise in town to film the Reacher movie. (Despite doubts that he can pull this role off, they do make a cute family.)

Since we're writers, these might come in handy--How to build a list of readers for a book launch and what readers want to see in your author website.

That's it for now. Does anyone have any interesting links to share? Feel free to post them in the comments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Over the River...or not

There’s an odd tradition around the Pittsburgh area. Resistance to crossing a river.

Considering our city sits at the point where the Allegheny River joins the Monongahela River to give birth to the Ohio, and considering the city boasts more bridges than Venice, this is truly a strange problem.

People from the south won’t venture even a mile to the north if it means crossing a bridge. Residents of the North Hills won’t set foot on the South Side because it’s across the river. Or worse, it could mean crossing TWO bridges.

This makes planning events challenging.

Recently, a long-time local resident of one of the southern suburbs was trying to explain this conundrum to a woman who had flown in from North Carolina to put together a symposium in Pittsburgh. “Well,” my local friend said, “you can’t have it in the South Hills because people in the North Hills won’t attend. They’ll have to cross a river.”

The poor lady from North Carolina was flabbergasted. She was willing to fly all this way for the event, but Pittsburghers wouldn’t drive two miles...if they had to drive over a bridge.

My local friend and I tried to explain as best we could. But to be honest, I don’t get it either. I live west of the city, and I drive into and around downtown, the North Hills, the East End, the West End, the South Hills and the South Side (two different places, different side of the mountain) with no qualms. I cross big bridges and little rickety ones. No problem.

My parents were cityphobic. It wasn’t the bridge (at least I don’t think it was) so much as it was traffic patterns. In Pittsburgh, if you make a wrong turn, you’re screwed. We don’t have city blocks. We have triangles. And lots of one-way streets. And quite a few streets that end because someone at some point planted a building there. But the same street will pick up again a few blocks away. Or should I say, a few triangles away.

Even my GPS short circuits in Pittsburgh.

This cityphobia was the reason I became so proficient at driving over the bridges and into the city. If I wanted to do anything in town, I had to drive.

Now my husband has joined the bandwagon. He refuses to cross a bridge. So if I want to take advantage of all the goodies Pittsburgh has to offer, I have to drive.

Can someone in the city explain to me exactly WHY people here won’t cross a bridge? And for those of you who live elsewhere, does your town have any such quirk regarding travel?  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cross-genres : Is everything a mystery?

by C.L. Phillips

After a summer of voracious reading, one question is keeping me awake at night.

"Does a mystery lie at the heart of every novel?"

Or just the novels that  I've read and loved?  Whether it is a fantasy novel like Christian Cantrell's Containment, or  Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, or Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, they all have a mystery locked inside the science fiction, fantasy, or young adult wrapper.

Isn't it the mystery that keeps the reader turning the page?  Does mystery cut across all genres?  And if it does, why do we limit ourselves to the narrow definition of mysteries, and the sub-genres of cozy, crime fiction, thriller, suspense, and all the others?

Help....what does a mystery mean to you?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Traveling, Writing and Writing about Traveling

by Pat Gulley

It surprises me how many people, upon hearing that my novel is about a travel agent, wants to know what exotic destination I am writing about. No, a travel agent, not a tour escort. Sure, I know some agents escort their groups, but if it is a land tour they pick up an over all escort from the tour wholesaler or the bus driver is the guide. And even then, in places that have several interesting sites, they have a local guide come on board.

I just got back from Alaska with my kids, and couldn't help 'networking' and met a few people with a group from the Midwest. Ninety people, and yes they had a 'host' with them from the bank that put the group together. No agent, as the bank had a touring and travel department. (It raised an eyebrow for me as most of those departments in companies in my hometown were eliminated decades ago.) So, of course, I had to go meet this person with the title “host”. Took me back years. She was there to see to it that they all got on and off the ship--with luggage, to the included shore excursions, and to make sure that 'thank you cocktail party' went as planned. Needless to say, she was running around the ship a lot taking care of complaints and changes. We met in the shore excursion line, and she got waited on before me and I left her there still arranging. And she did all this while fielding calls from home concerning the next tour the bank was offering a few weeks later to Vermont. Those participants were worried about the weather. And I must admit, I wonder if that tour went considering how hard the hurricanes hit Vermont.

Now, I was on the Princess Sapphire, a huge ship, and I didn’t find one travel agent. Okay, they could have been hiding or keeping a low profile, especially if this was vacation time for them. You’d be shocked how you are questioned once someone finds out you are in the business. But I have cruised and found ‘agents’ acting as hosts.

My book, Downsized To Death, is about a working travel agent and she never leads tours or groups. So, when as I caught sight of that host throughout the rest of the cruise dealing with her ‘charges’, it occurred to me, as a mystery writer, how I could take this situation and write a murder mystery. I didn’t come up with much, I mean, it’s been done to death, all those tours and cruises and someone gets murdered and someone or the escort dives in and discovers the killer. And I don’t even read those things because they inevitably annoy me to no end with all the incorrect things they put in as procedure. I know, most readers don’t know or care about these things, but I do! I once read a story about a shop keeper who booked all the rooms in a small hotel for a group and said she didn’t have to pay until they checked out. ?????? So, even though it was pleasurable thinking about murdering some of those ‘charges’ that the ‘hard working’ host had to deal with, it’s a bust idea, because, as I’ve said, it has been done to death.

PS: all puns intended.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

By Paula Matter

Show of hands. How many of you immediately know what I’m referring to with the title? Ah ha. I see all of those hands. Y’all are smart, but I already knew that.

For the few of you who didn’t raise your hand, that’s okay. Actually, not doing so probably makes you smarter. It tells me that you’re not on Facebook.

Or you’re on Facebook, but aren’t bothered by the recent changes. More power to you. The rest of us are annoyed as hell.

I’d like to be able to finish that sentence with ‘and we’re not gonna take it anymore.’ But we will. Because we did when other changes were made.

Remember when we were left in the dark on who was friends with each other? Yeah, so do I. A lot of people complained and then we kinda just got used to it.

I’m at a loss to come up with the many other changes Facebook has implemented over the years. Guess that tells me I’ll get used to these changes as well.

But for now, this song keeps playing in my head. . .

So. Are you on Facebook? Do you mind the changes? Do you remember any of the other changes? What would you like to see gone? Added? Not messed with?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gary Provost Tool

by C.L. Phillips

Last year I purchased the audio tapes from Gary Provost's workshop.  After listening to the tapes (and no, I'm not saying how many times), I came up with this template to help me analyze novels.

Inciting Incident
POV Character's Goal
Strategy (used by POV Character)
Bleakest Moment
Learns a lesson
Decision Point
Emotional Hole

I've turned this into a little table (in MS-Word), and now use it to both summarize and plan future work.  I thought I'd throw it out here for discussion.  Perhaps you have something similar that you use, or maybe this can be of use to you.

Here's a completed table for a novel that many of us know, the Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

Inciting Incident 

Fernando Valenzuela calls.  He has a franchise case for Mickey.

POV Character's Goal

A big financial score; get the case that will set him up for life.


1.  Get the case and charge A list fees.
2.  Convince the accused (Roulet) to go to trial (drives bigger fees).
3. Add false publicity pressure to drive Roulet to make a decision
4.  Have investigator (Levin) check out the story and the victim
5.  See Levin's dead body to stengthen his resolve and stick to his plan (exact words)


A cheating ADA.  A know it all family lawyer (potentially blocking his fees).  The client (Roulet).  A lying jailhouse snitch.  Jesus Menendez (the price of sellout, good vs. evil), the ultimate villain and killer (no spoiler here but you know who she is)


Financial security (at first)
Life of potentially innocent man
Stakes raised when Mickey realizes Roulet has killed before and Jesus is innocent.
Stakes raised when Roulet threatens Mick's daughter
Stakes raised when Levin is killed
Stakes raised when Mickey is accused of killing Levin 

Bleakest Moment

When Jesus refuses to shake Mickey's hand (and the words "lowest point in life personally and professionally" are used in book).

Learns a lesson

Mickey changes internally; cares about guilt and innocence

Decision Point 

Mickey decides he's willing to do whatever it takes to get Roulet to save his family; may cost him is license or worse.

Emotional hole

Mickey wants to be a good father; have a family but his divorce cost him that chance.  Will he have another?

Hope this is something that helps someone else as much as it has helped me. I've used this guide as a cheat sheet when talking to agents about my own novel.  I use the words inciting incident, goal, strategy, conflict, stakes, bleakest moment, lesson, decision point and emotional hole to communicate the key points of my novel quickly and accurately.

May your novel find its readers.  May your marketing efforts bring those readers to you easily, and may this idea take both your writing and your marketing to a new level.

Please share other ideas and tools that you use.  What other tools make communicating your story effortless?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Workshop Tools and Lessons Learned

By Martha Reed

I like to think of September as the time to take a look at my years’ work and assess where it’s going. Now that the kids are back in school, it’s time to dust off my manuscripts and to decide which one is next in line to polish up and send out the door.

I worked on my Nantucket novel the month of July, participating in Nancy Martin’s fabulous manuscript boot camp. Unfortunately for me, I learned so much I’m no longer happy with what I’ve written. I’ve decided to rework it pretty heavily again before I send it out.

Which brings up a question I heard at the annual Sisters in Crime Pittsburgh picnic: When do you know that the story is done?

I can only answer from experience. I said that you know when you’re done when you can’t think of anything that would make the story better. Short stories seem easier because it’s easier to work within the 5,000 word parameter. A novel length work is harder because you’ve got 60,000 to 125,000 words. That can be a two-edged sword: that word length offers tremendous flexibility but you also have more play for the story to seriously fall off the rails.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Workshops. I take every workshop I can find, online and in person because you never know what you will learn. As long as you’re learning something it may make the story you’re working on better. I learned that at boot camp, again, and I’ll report here in comments what I learned during the five days of workshops offered at Bouchercon in St. Louis last week

Which brings me to today’s question: as a writer, what was the most helpful thing you ever learned?

Monday, September 19, 2011


by Gina Sestak

I don't think I'm going to be doing a lot of writing this week.  In fact, I expect to be spending most of the time I'm not at work or in a class just trying to clear out one room in my house.  You know what a house is, right?  It's a roof and four walls that contains your stuff and that's my problem.  Too much stuff.

I don't think I'm a hoarder.  Not exactly.  There are no animal carcasses or feces in the mess, just old clothes and old furniture and lots and lots and lots of books.   Way too many books.  Things that used to belong to dead people.  Things friends left behind when they moved on.  I have an Irish harp a college housemate made himself, then left behind.  It has so many strings I've never been able to get them all in tune at once.  Two statues that belonged to the grandmother of a friend who moved away.   Afghans crocheted by my own grandmother, packed in a cedar chest that used to be my Mom's.  Tons of things my ex- left when he moved.  Paintings done by my mother.  My grandmother's piano and dressers.  The rocking chair my brother and I bought for my mother many years ago.  The terrariums I used to keep my pet mice in, back when I used to have pet mice.  Family pictures.  Outdated technology, non-working tvs and printers and toaster ovens.  Two broken coffee tables and at least a dozen broken lamps.  Big boxes of Christmas ornaments that rarely get put up.  Old shoes.   Cassette tapes that I haven't listened to in years.  And shelves.  A lot of shelves, most of them full of books.

Then there are the unpublished manuscripts, multiple versions piled all over everything, and a half a dozen copies of the one hardback book I co-authored that managed to get published.  The magazines I used to edit.  Things friends have written.  Other magazines.  Hundreds of magazines.  Paper and pens.  Games.  Notebooks, references, materials from conferences, keepsakes from travels.  Gifts - the ones I want to keep, the ones I haven't given yet, and wrapping paper for the latter.  Ribbon.  Odd calendars and weird little blankets and flimsy rosaries sent by charities I've donated to.   Two old guitars, both out of tune.  Couches and tables and chairs.  Camping supplies and a sleeping bag.  Extra coat hangers.  Cat food and litter boxes.  VCR tapes and dvds.  CDs.  Exercise equipment.  Food.  Extra sheets; an entire extra bed to put them on.  Old towels.  Coat rack.  Coats and jackets.  Plants and long-vacated planters.  Garden tools and potting soil.  Boxes things arrived in.  

It's taken years for everything to build up.  Even a house fire in 1994 didn't help much.  The stuff came back, a little worse for having been smoked and watered before being cleaned by the professional restoration company.   These folks even washed and returned the jars I had set aside to be recycled!

I'm working on the stuff now because my best friend from college will be moving in with me next weekend.  She's been living out of state for decades, but now she's been on unemployment for awhile down South and found a job up here.   She needs a room, and I am happy to oblige.  I just need to figure out what to do with all the stuff . . .

What do you do with all the stuff?

Friday, September 16, 2011


by Ramona and Annette

In the Harry Potter series, Harry is bequeathed a cloak that makes him invisible, which he uses to sneak into a forbidden part of the library. In real life, you don’t need a cloak to be invisible. All you have to do is be a middle-aged woman. There are beaucoup self-help books and articles in psychology and women’s magazines about battling the “invisible years.” 

I have a simpler solution. Join Facebook.

A year ago, a man hadn’t hit on me in…well, we don’t need details, do we? Let’s just call it a while. But after I joined Facebook, I was suddenly irresistible.

First came a message from Georgo, who couldn’t control his emotions after my picture caught his eye; Fred wrote from his business trip to Africa to call me captivating; Nifty Wilson wanted to build an “enviable” family with me; Austin Mike had a lonely heart only I could mend; Alexandro just had to point out my great hair. 

Once the thrill of being inundated with compliments wore off, I noticed a few things. Like, the high level of illiteracy. Didn’t they see I was a writer/editor? Ditto on fact checking. I’m looking at you, Ralph Bricks, an engineer on the high seas…of London. Terry Lynne had an email address of LolliPopLynne. Can you say sucker, anyone?

Several fellas needed a new mom for their young sons because their wives had died tragically, and they’d tell me all about it when we Chatted. Right. I’m up for that fun conversation. One old guy invited me to go camping. Me. Camping.

Finally came this gem: “I have the feeling that in to day’s world, neither race, or nationality nor religion will any longer posse a barrier to male/female relationships.” Posse? This guy wanted to round me up or something?

I shared my disdain for these lonely losers on my Wall and guess what? I was not alone in my sudden  irresistibility. Our very own Annette had her own set of sad sacks with poor grammar skills. And, surprise, some of hers were mine!

And so was born the Outlaws of Love.

(Annette jumping in here) When I saw that message Ramona received about the “posse” I couldn’t resist and told her “you’re just an outlaw of love.” Well, the name stuck. 

Yes, I’ve had my share of propositions from the illiterate men of Facebook. Not only can’t they spell or understand proper punctuation, some of them can’t read either. Like Russ Jean (where do they get these names?) who started by calling me a Diva, then proceeded to write: “Believe me i can hardly believe you're single. I mean, you are too good to be single.” That’s probably because I’m NOT, and my marital status is clearly displayed for anyone to see.  

As for those names. None quite match good ol’ Nifty Wilson, the two-timing jerk who propositioned both Ramona and me on the same day, but one of my personal favorites is Jack Daniel. I wonder what he was drinking when he went in search of a pseudonym for his love letters! A lot of the guys have first and last names that could easily be switched around: Don Terry, Adams Walter, and the previously mentioned Russ Jean to name a few. Not sure what’s going on with that.

Before I turn this blog back over to Ramona, I have to share a small portion of one very long, very poorly written Outlaw of Love letter: “i saw your profile and read through it with a deep thought of life,after reading through your profile I got attracted to you and thought it nice to let you know that someone like me out here care to know you and even meet with you if the future says well.”

All grammatical errors are his, not mine.

Ramona, back to you…

Lots of women on Facebook get these pathetic propositions. Why do the Men of Facebook send these messages? Because some women Friend them. Chat with them. Open up part of their personal lives, innocently, because it’s online and it’s not like meeting face to face in a bar, right?

We’ve all been told of the dangers of getting too personal online, but we’re also constantly hammered about using social networking to build a reader base.  How do you do both, safely?

Some things are blatant. I mean, who still falls for the Nigerian Letter scam? If a guy wants to meet in Chat or needs your email address so you can raise his motherless kid and be an “enviable” family, you know that means RUN.

What bugged me about the Outlaws of Love was not the BS, but the commonality with Annette. Not that I mind sharing these yahoos, mind you, but how did they find us? Did Nifty and his boys target us through some writing connection?

A common warning is never to Friend someone who has no connection to you. But the Security and Exchange Commission has posted a warning about scammers who target members of groups by dropping the names of other group members when introducing themselves. It’s called Affinity Fraud.

None of my messages ever mentioned a mutual name, but I work in the mystery writing field, so I’m inclined to suspect some Friend trolling involved here. So beware. The need to up your Friend numbers or to draw in possible new readers should not outweigh your common sense. 

Remember what your mama told you: Never trust a guy with a bad line--or an outlaw.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Very Short Post

by Joyce

I'm about 3/4 of the way through a revision right now. I've pretty much been spending every waking minute on it, even when I'm not sitting at my laptop. When I started it over a month ago, I thought I'd be done in two weeks.

Yeah. Right. You can stop laughing now.

I don't know about you, but literally everything I do takes longer than I think it will. I usually have some kind of to do list going that never gets completed. Something always gets transferred to the next list. Anyone else have that problem?

Anyway, I'm having fun rewriting some things, adding some scenes, and deleting others. It's probably good I like my characters as much as I do.

So, forgive the short post today, but I've got to get back to work. The revision awaits.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Into the Fire...

A note from Annette: Please welcome my dear friend, guest blogger Meredith Mileti to Working Stiffs. She doesn't write crime fiction, but she writes deliciously about food and life.  

I’ve spent the last several months working on promotion for my first novel, which debuted last week.  It is entitled Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses. It has been an incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking time for me, a whirlwind, a dream come true.  Somebody pinch me. 

The protagonist of Aftertaste is a high-powered and ambitious New York City chef. I had to do a fair amount of research to write about a professional chef and the world of high-end restaurants, but the food descriptions came easily to me.  I love to cook.  And eat.  In fact, I spend an obscene amount of time thinking about food.  If I told you exactly how much time, you’d be shocked.

A few weeks ago I got an email from the dining critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  She wanted to interview me about Aftertaste and my interest in food.  I’ve long been an admirer of hers, and in truth had often fantasized about having dinner with her, so of course, I jumped right on it.   Not to mention what wonderful publicity it would be!  “Absolutely, I’d love it,” I wrote back. She responded that she hoped I might be persuaded to invite her to dinner. Oh, and would I mind if she brought a photographer along to snap a few photos of me in my kitchen as I prepared the food?    

Now, my unusually competent protagonist may be a professional chef, amazingly successful and lauded in food magazines from Gourmet to Bon Appetit, but the real-life me is just an incredibly enthusiastic eater and home cook.

What had I done?  I’d just invited the notoriously tough dining critic into my home, and I’d agreed to cook her dinner?  What was I thinking? 

I marshaled all the resources I had, armed myself with a stack of cookbooks, and made copious notes as I set out to construct the perfect meal.  It had to be five courses.  Why?  Because I’d just written a novel called Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses.  How could I serve her anything less??  Why couldn’t I have written a novel entitled Aftertaste: Local Take-out Favorites?  Not to mention that at least a couple of the dishes had to be from the book. (I’d included one recipe from each course.) And I couldn’t even cheat and prepare everything in advance because she wanted to watch me do it, so I had the added pressure of needing to cook while being interviewed and photographed! Oy vey.  

For the record.  I am not a multi-tasker.  In fact, I am a consummate uni-tasker.  Also, as a former Girl Scout, I believe in being prepared, so I made the entire menu the day before –the culinary equivalent of a dress rehearsal.  The day arrived.  All systems were go.  The table was set, the loaf of homemade bread cooling on the rack. 

The critic arrived with the photographer.  I smiled and cooked and came up with what I hoped were reasonably coherent responses to her questions whilst managing not to overcook either the pasta or the swordfish.  I was in the home stretch.  Everything had gone perfectly and according to plan. The photographer had packed up her camera and we were sitting around my dining room table, enjoying the last of the desert (a warm polenta cake with homemade lemon mascarpone gelato and fresh blackberry sauce) and chatting about my journey as a writer and a cook while waiting for the espresso to brew.

Suddenly, right in the middle of my recounting what I hoped was an amusing anecdote about my foray into recipe testing for the book, I sensed that I’d lost their attention. I saw them exchange a stricken look. Was it something I said?  Confirmation that perhaps I really am as uninteresting as I suspect? 

 “Ah,” the critic said, gesturing behind me into the kitchen.  “Are those flames coming from the coffee pot?”

Yes, in fact they were. Flames shot up from the handle, blackening the hood.  
We rushed in.  The kitchen quickly filled with smoke and the noxious fumes from the melting plastic of the handle.  I shut off the gas and was attempting to remove the still blazing pot when my husband doused the entire mess with the pot of pasta water I’d left cooling on the stove. 

There was no espresso.  In fact, there will be no espresso in my house until I replace the coffeemaker AND have the stove repaired.

Both the critic and the photographer were extremely good-natured and charming about the whole mess.  Still, it didn’t keep me from several sleepless nights as I waited for the article to be published.   To my immense relief, the article omitted all mention of my espresso flambĂ©. Now, no one need ever know.
Since producing her first batch of gluey brownies from her Easy-Bake oven, Meredith Mileti has loved cooking for her family and friends. She is an adventurous and eclectic diner, and appreciates any well-cooked meal, whether from a lobster shack in Bar Harbor, a friggitoria in Naples, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or an undiscovered little gem in her Pittsburgh neighborhood. Aftertaste is her first novel.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One Month!

by Guest blogger, Steve Ulfelder

A week ago, I sent the second Conway Sax novel to my editor for the third and final time. This as-yet-untitled follow-on to Purgatory Chasm will be released in May 2012 by Minotaur Books, and its backstory is action-packed.

Long story short: In October 2010, the wise folks at Minotaur asked for a second Conway book – but gave me only 6 months to write it. I made the deadline, but my editor had some excellent ideas that necessitated a heavy rewrite. The 6-month project finally wrapped at 11 months. The results were worth the work, as I’m very pleased with Conway2, but boy was I put through the wringer.

On October 3, I plan to get cracking on Conway3. Thus, I’ve got one month off. Which is plenty, by the way. I know myself, and by late this month I’ll be getting antsy, ready to light into the next book.

The problem is that this schedule gives me only a month to read mysteries. I learned long ago, you see, that if I read crime books while writing one, various authors’ voices creep into my own. And the more I admire a writer, the truer this is. I can look at my previous books and say, Hey, there’s a James Ellroy sentence! And there’s a Travis McGee scene! And that bit of dialog is pure Spenser!

Solution: While writing, I need to read nonfiction. This is not a hardship; I love biography and history. I’ve got Daniel Okrent’s history of prohibition lined up as my first October read, and after that comes Ron Chernow’s Washington biography.

But all I’ve got is a month to catch up on all the latest great crime fiction. I’ve already slammed through the latest by Dennis Lehane, Steve Hamilton, Laura Lippman, and Bill Cameron. But how am I supposed to get to Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, Tim Hallinan, Zoe Sharp, another Steve Hamilton, a Daniel Woodrow trilogy …

You get the picture. It’s not fair.

Here’s my question: Do others suffer from the same malady I do? Are you able to read mysteries while you’re writing them?


Monday, September 12, 2011

What's on your Kindle?

by C.L. Phillips

Time for a confession.  My dear sweet family gave me a Kindle for Christmas 2010 and Jeff Bezos's hand has been in my wallet ever since.

The first step in any addiction is to admit you are powerless, unable to solve your own problem, that you need help.  Okay, I confess.  I need help.  Why?

I have 99 items on my Kindle, all full length books, and I've read every single one of them.  Twice.  And I want to buy more.  NOW.

Ever since gas creeped up to $4 per gallon, I've told myself, "It's cheaper to buy a book on Kindle than it is to drive the Beast to the library."  Or , "It's an indie author, it's only ninety-nine cents."

I remember with absolute clarity the year I placed my credit cards in a ziplock bag filled with water and stowed it in the freezer for six months.  Am I going to have to do the same thing with my Kindle?  Will it survive?

On the plus side, I've rediscovered the joy of reading at a level I didn't think possible as an adult.  As a small child, my mother took me to the library each week, "because the books are free here".  Gotta love those Scots-Irish parents.

Excuse me while I oil the bicycle chain and put my kindle in the freezer.

May you find your addictions as pleasurable, thrifty and healthy as my Kindle addiction.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


by Joyce

I originally posted this on my blog on the Fifth anniversary of the event that changed many lives. I thought it was appropriate to post it again.

Just like previous generations remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, or when President Kennedy was assassinated, this generation will remember where they were when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center five years ago.

I was only six when President Kennedy was killed. I remember the nuns at school crying and sending us home early. I remember the television being on constantly and playing "funeral" with my younger sister and my cousins, using our toy box as a coffin. Being so young, it didn't make a great impression on me.

September 11, 2001 was different. In many ways, this event was more horrific than both Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination. We were attacked on our own soil. It wasn't a military attack. It was a cowardly attack on innocent civilians.

I was at work entering police reports into the computer. The phone rang and when I answered it, the wife of one of the police officers told me to turn on the television, that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. In the squad room, the TV was already on, and we watched the events unfold. At the time, most of us thought that it was an accident--that a plane had malfunctioned somehow and hit the tower. No one even considered that it might be deliberate, until we watched a second plane hit the other tower, then the Pentagon and Shanksville.

I don't remember what I thought at the time, other than that things would never be the same. Even in our suburban police department, we took extensive precautions. We locked down the building, installing a temporary phone outside for visitors to call to gain entry to the building. We remained in this lock-down mode for days. Keys to the police cars had always been left in the cars--after all, who would steal a car from a police parking lot? Not any more. We had to worry about terrorists taking the cars and using them as bombs. Even now, the keys are kept in a lock box inside the station.

There were numerous other precautions taken, investigations done, and assistance given by our department to federal agencies involved in preventing more attacks. Before 9/11, our police department had only been concerned about DUIs, drugs, domestics, and traffic violators.
That all changed in one day.

We'd lost our innocence.

After five years, though, complacency has returned. No one thinks about the attacks anymore. I know it's not good to dwell on the tragedy, but we shouldn't forget. For a time, people changed. They cared about each other. They went out of their way to help others. If anything good came out of 9/11, it was that. Maybe with this fifth anniversary, people will not only remember the tragedy, but remember how we all felt afterward. How we were better people for helping our fellow man.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11/2001? Please share. I'd like to hear your story.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The 3 Rs

by Bente

I’ve been talking to a friend about goals lately.

Specifically, word goals.

She’s a brand new writer, who hasn’t completed a full manuscript yet. And a few days ago she emailed me to ask whether I thought October 31st would be a reasonable deadline to aim for, for a new, completed manuscript. This happened the middle week of August, so basically, she was looking at two and a half months to write a brand new book, beginning to end.

I told her it depends. How many words would her book have? How much time can she devote to it per day? How fast does she type?

For me personally, a new book in two and a half months isn’t a goal I’d set myself.

That’s not to say I can’t do it. I can. I’ve written 90K books in two months before. If someone were to tell me, right now, that they’d pay me $50,000 if I could turn in a complete novel two months from today, I could do it no problem. I might kill myself in the doing, from the sheer stress of knowing I had to finish on time, but I’d manage. I can easily write 90,000 words in two months. I’ve done it before, so I know it’s possible. That doesn’t mean I’ll choose to put myself under that kind of stress. I’d rather give myself three months, and aim for 1,000 words per day—knowing it’s a rare day that I don’t write more—and be done early.

There are people out there whose goal is 365,000 words per year. One thousand words per day. Every day. Christmas, July 4th, their birthday, the day their kid starts school, the day they come down with the stomach flu and can’t drag themselves away from the porcelain ring long enough to answer the phone.

Not me. I know I need downtime. There’s gonna be days when I won’t write. There might be a week or two when I don’t crack open the computer because I’m on vacation or because I finished a book and I’m not ready to start the next yet.

Or—since writing isn’t just about adding words to the manuscript—there’ll be days when I’m revising. Lots of days when I’m revising. Days when I don’t add a single word to the count. Days when I take them away instead. Days when I do copy edits or when I proof read. Days when I’m at a conference doing a workshop and a signing. Days when I just don’t want to write; I want to read instead.

If my goal is 1K/day, I’m going to have to make up for those days. If I spend a week revising, suddenly I’m behind my goal by 7,000 words. In just a week. And when you’re behind 7,000 words, it can be hard to catch up.

And so we come to the three Rs.
  • Reasonable.
  • Realistic.
  • Right.

Set a goal for yourself, by all means. Goals are great. Most of us are motivated by goals. If you’re not, then feel free to ignore this post.

Just make sure your goal is Reasonable and Realistic. Make it a goal you have the ability to meet. If it’s so far out of your reach that there’s no way you can possibly get there, you’ve missed Realistic by a wide margin. And if it’s so simple you could do it in your sleep, it’s not a really goal at all, and so not at all Reasonable. And finally, don’t choose to write three books a year because someone else does. Your goal is your goal, and it has to be Right for you, no one else.

So what about you? Do you have word goals? Or deadlines? Self-imposed or otherwise?

FYI, the ebook of Close to Home, Cutthroat Business mystery #4, is now available through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Anyone who wants a freebie review copy can email me for a Smashwords coupon code.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Cozy, My Ass

By Paula Matter

None of us Working Stiffs are old enough to have watched Gone with the Wind when it was released in 1939, but I’m sure we all know of the controversy this scene caused:
Frankly, my dears, GWTW was not the first film to’ve used profanity. That honor goes to the British version of the 1938 film, Pygmalion. The things we learn in the name of research.

Nowadays, swearing seems to have become the norm in books, films, and television. Recently I watched the TV show In Plain Sight and one character referred to another as an asshole. Ah. Should I have written that as a$$hole? Or maybe a**hole? Is anyone offended by my original choice?

I started thinking about the use of profanity in books after I picked up a cozy mystery to read the other day. At least I thought it was a cozy because of the cover, and the title. I had certain expectations when I curled up with this book. I knew immediately I was wrong.

I also had no problem with the swear words. If you know me at all, you know I don’t shy away from cussing. I hear you laughing, Annette.

Anyway, there are times I want to read a lighter mystery. I love dark, intense hard-boiled fiction, but when I’m in the mood for it. I like cozier, small town setting, amateur sleuth stories when I’m in the mood for them.

I know what I’m in for when I pick up a Miss Marple. Ditto Jack Reacher. Could you imagine if Miss Marple told the vicar to fuck off? What if Jack Reacher joined a knitting club?

Now, if Reacher later used those knitting needles, well. . .

Expectations. What are some of yours when reading? Do you find swearing offensive? What’s your favorite cuss word, or its derivative?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Your Favorite Book Store

by C.L. Phillips

We're back from our annual pilgrimage to higher elevation and cool air.  People do that when they live in Texas.  Native Texans will do anything to get out of the heat, including drive seventeen hours to their favorite book store.

Like the Marfa Book Company in Marfa, Texas.  Marfa lies in the Davis Mountain region of West Texas at 4685 feet of elevation.  That elevation doesn't sound like much until you've experienced ten weeks of hundred degree plus heat in sunny Austin.  In August, you'll climb on your mother's back if you think it will give you cooler air.  Doesn't matter how old your mother is.

But back to the Marfa Book Company.  Imagine a dust blown little town with less than 2,000 people.  Now, put a minimalistic uber-quality bookstore with the style, content, and coffee bar to rival the best shops in Manhattan, San Francisco or London.  Give it a wonderful set of owners, and you have the oasis that is the Marfa Book Company.

And only two blocks from the Dairy Queen.  If you're from Texas, you'll know why that little detail is so important.  A book store doesn't make a town.  The Dairy Queen does.  But when you have the Marfa Book Company within walking distance of the Dairy Queen, now you're talking.

But to put it another way, it's worth the drive.

Another favorite bookstore escape lies in downtown Denver, conveniently located between hotter-than-hell-Texas and the cool elevations of the Rocky Mountains.  The Tattered Cover located in LoDo is another of my favorite retreats.  I confess I go to Denver for two things, the Tattered Cover and the chicken enchiladas at the Cherry Creek Grill.  I'll even give up two or three hours on the way to the mountains for this escape.  Of course, several years ago, I could go to the Tattered Cover and walk to the Cherry Creek Grill, but that was before a store consolidation plan transformed my favorite book store in the world into an urban chic furniture store.  At the old Tattered Cover, I heard Doris Kerns Goodwin speak of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet of rivals.  Her talk started my journey into all things historical, and for that I remain ever faithful and grateful to both she and the Tattered Cover.

Where is your favorite book store?  What makes it special to you?  Where is your reading oasis?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Summer Dreaming

By Martha Reed

As I’ve said before, there’s nothing better than a three-day weekend. That extra day helps me get all my chores done; it’s like having an extra Saturday to do the things I want to do, and mostly what I want to do is to find a comfortable spot and read.

My to-be-read pile is usually stacked about fifteen books high. I get a lot of books passed to me by friends and folks at work who have found something interesting and want to share. It’s a very friendly communal thing and I enjoy the insight into the person who is giving the book to me – after I’ve read what they liked I feel like I know about them a little bit better, too.

I also like the range of topics that get handed to me because normally, when I’m picking out my own good reads, I tend to fall into the same pattern: mystery, biography, archaeology. Getting something unexpected from someone else opens up a whole new world. Free gifting is how I got to explore Dana Stabenow’s Alaska and Julia Spencer-Fleming’s small town Millers Kill. A friend of mine at work just turned me on to Randy Wayne White’s Sanibel series and that’s the one that’s got me in trouble because now I want to move to Florida.

I know I’m in trouble when instead of taking a brisk walk to PCN Park at lunchtime I decide to surf Trulia looking for homes with pools in Ft. Myers. I’m really in trouble when I start to fantasize about working on my latest manuscript from the deck of a houseboat or two-bedroom beachfront condo. But then, when I investigate the lives of other authors, I see that some of them are doing just that: living the dream and I wonder: why not me?

What is your dream location? If you could pick the ‘perfect’ setting for crafting your work, where would you set up your laptop?

Monday, September 05, 2011


by Gina Sestak

No, I'm not completely crazy.  I'm just acknowledging the fact that, for the first few decades of our lives, we are trained to believe that the year begins on the first day of school.  Right around Labor Day.

I'm a grown-up now, I know.   I run on adult time.  I celebrate on January 1.  I think about the year as coinciding with the date.   Still, a part of me can't help getting excited and looking forward to new things each time September rolls around.

And so, I'd like to take this opportunity to assess the year so far.  How am I doing with those five non-resolutions I proposed to follow in my January post?

In case you've forgotten, here they are:

1.   Watch movies.  I love movies in general, but I've developed an unquenchable addiction to Bollywood films in general and those starring Shah Rukh Khan in particular.   He's the world's greatest actor, and that's no lie.

I haven't changed my opinion of Mr. Khan one bit.  In fact, now that I've completed another acting for the camera class at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, I'm more impressed with him than ever.
Watch this trailer for My Name is Khan, a film in which he plays a Muslim immigrant with Asperger's Syndrome, coping with life in the US after 9/11.  It's a film I recommend to everyone, particularly at this time of the year:

My fondness for Hindi films has developed into a full-blown addiction - if you don't believe me, see below for proof.

But now, back to the non-resolutions:

2.   Dance.  Folk dancing is a long-time passion (maybe one reason I like Bollywood so much).  I'm clumsy by nature, but once I get into the flow, the music carries me.  And it's such a treat to be moving in unison with other people for a change, in contrast to my usual sense of being a square peg in a round world.

I had been folk dancing almost every week up until three weeks ago, when I injured my left leg somehow.  I'm not sure exactly what went wrong, but the pain's well-nigh unbearable.  I'm getting treatment and it feels much better now than it did last week, so I'm hopeful.  Still, I didn't bother signing up for the mid-September dance camp I usually go to.  Bummer.

3.   Learn.  I bit the bullet and registered for two more courses at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  As I've mentioned in past posts, Filmmakers' classes tend to be labor intensive, requiring many hours of outside work.  And the Acting for the Camera course I took last semester turned out to be one of the most terrifying things I've ever done, stripping down self image and exposing all the flaws, not only in surface appearance but in my very way of being in the world.  So I signed up for the follow up class, and for a short writing course on Screenplay Character Development.  I figure that can't hurt. 

Those classes are over now and, yes, that Advanced Acting for the Camera class was pretty scary.  For the first time in a few years, though, I haven't registered for a Pittsburgh Filmmakers class this semester.  I am auditing an undergraduate film class at Pitt - Bollywood and Indian Cinema.  [See what I mean about addiction?  Can't get enough of it.]  I'm also taking a short course on Favorite Foreign Films through Pitt's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, although I have it on good authority that no Bollywood films will be included.  [My good authority is Dave Shifren, the instructor, who's not as enthralled with Indian cinema as I am.]  Oh, and Nancy Martin's on-line course on Subtext.  This is in addition to the cd-based Hindi lessons I've been doing for a half-hour every morning for the past few months.  I really want to be able to enjoy the films without being so dependent on the subtitles!

4.   Write.  The other day, when I mentioned the screenplays, etc. I've been working on, a friend said, "You have so much self-discipline!"  I had to correct her.  It would take more discipline than I possess to make myself stop writing.  I did more collaborative writing last year, on three of the screenplays, and that's a special kind of fun, even when nobody provides a special cake.  [See my December 20, 2010 post for details.]  Maybe that's one of the things I like about filmmaking - it takes a village to make a movie, and just being part of such a creative process is incredibly energizing.

I've started working on another screenplay with Michael Lies of Alcyone Pictures, as well as continuing to revise some of my unpublished manuscripts.  

5.   Try things I've never done before.  To that end, I'm pitching a class to a Pitt program on a subject near and dear to my heart - more on that later, once I find out if it flies or not. 

I pitched the class and taught it through Pitt's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  The subject?  You can probably guess.  It was  King of Bollywood: The Films of Shah Rukh Khan.  Need I say more?

How has your year been progressing?  Have you been keeping resolutions?  Developing addictions?   Are you ready for the school year to begin?  Inquiring minds want to know.