Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Meet Quinn

by Jenna Bennett

Looks like nobody else is gonna step up today, so I'll just share the excitement.


For the futuristic science fiction space opera romance thingy. Quinn's book.

And the thing is, I can't share it until Friday.

Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, since Friday is my regular day here on the Working Stiffs, but I've booked a guest blogger that day. I'll be hip-deep in packing for my trip to Norway - which starts Monday; I won't be commenting much for the next few weeks - so when friend Jaden Terrell asked if we had a free day, I gave her mine. You'll like her.

But what that means is that I can't unveil my cover here on Friday.

That makes me sorta sad.

However, I'll put it on my own blog, and my Facebook page, and I'll post it on Twitter, and basically, you won't be able to get away from it.

But in the meantime, I thought I'd share just a tiny tidbit, to whet the appetite.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is Quinn:

My husband thinks he looks too wimpy. I think he looks perfect. And my friend Maggie thinks he looks like he's been through hell and back, which describes him pretty accurately.

So what do you think, Stiffs? 

Monday, January 30, 2012


by Gina Sestak
Have you ever found yourself so obsessed by something that it began to take over your life?  As regular readers may suspect, I've been having that experience with Bollywood films.  For well over a year now, I've been watching, studying, talking about, writing about, teaching about, and otherwise going out of my way to share this obsession with anyone polite enough to listen. 
So today, gentle readers, I've decided to explain a little about why I find these films so addictive.  First, a definition:  The word Bollywood was formed by combining the words "Bombay" and "Hollywood."  Although "Bollywood" is sometimes loosely applied to any contemporary Indian film, it is generally limited to those made in the Hindi language by filmmakers based in Mumbai (the city formerly known as Bombay).  There are also several other film-making centers in India. 
Some people consider the term Bollywood pejorative.  It sounds too derivative, they reason, making it seem as if the Indian film industry is nothing more than a South Asian imitation of the California-based original.
In fact, India has been making movies for more than a hundred years.  Films were shown in Bombay as early as 1896 and Indian-made shorts were being produced by 1898.  The first Indian-made feature-length film premiered in 1913.  Modern Indian popular movies are an amalgam of this history and global influences, a vibrant contemporary industry.  India releases more films every year than any other country, including the U.S.
Mention Indian or Bollywood film to most Americans, however, and you are likely to get a blank stare or hear, "Oh, yeah.  I saw that movie, Slumdog Millionaire."
There is some question whether Slumdog Millionaire can even be considered a Bollywood movie, since it was made by a British film company and provoked controversy in India over its depiction of that country.   
Non-Indian Americans tend to shy away from viewing Bollywood films, largely due to common misconceptions:
·         Foreign films are boring.  These words are usually spoken by people who have been dragged to European films by family or friends, or forced to sit through them in high school and/or college.  They remember slow, incomprehensible plots and actors who stare morosely at the audience while white-on-white subtitles occupy the bottom of the screen.  In contrast, Bollywood films have strong plots, enlivened by action, drama and emotion.  You never have to sit in the dark, wondering what the *!& this film is about.  The actors make that clear.  And, because India is a multi-lingual country, most films are crafted to be comprehensible even if you are not conversant with Hindi.  There are subtitles, but you can follow the action without them.
·         Musicals aren't realistic, people don't sing and dance like that in real life.  Who says movies are supposed to be realistic?  No movies are realistic, they are works of art.  Besides, people who disparage musical films are usually the folks who have seen only American musical films, which are almost always based upon musical theater.  There are fundamental differences between stage and screen, and a play written to be performed in a confined space before a live audience often translates poorly to film.  Bollywood movies are written as musicals.  The song and dance sequences make full use of cinema's ability to change location and costume.  These musical sequences are colorful and beautiful, but they also tend to be integral to the plot, betraying the below-the-surface emotions of the characters and introduce elements of the plot, frequently foreshadowing events to come.  Best of all, they are a lot of fun to watch.
·        Films with romantic themes are just fluff.  Romance figures in many Bollywood films, but generally as part of a more complicated plot.   Even when romance is the primary focus, this does not necessarily imply that the film is light-weight or frivolous.  Even in modern times, many Indian marriages are arranged by the couple's parents.  Seen against that backdrop, the opportunity to fall in love and choose one's own mate has profound personal liberty implications.
·         Bollywood films don't know what they want to be; they mix up different genres.   While it is true that action, comedy, drama, romance, and melodrama often mingle in Bollywood films, this is not due to the filmmakers' indecisiveness.  Bollywood films aim to blend these disparate elements into a pleasing whole, a "masala."  "Masala" is a cooking term that refers to a perfect mix of spices.   So, too, a good Bollywood film combines multiple genres into a perfect screen experience.   
·        Bollywood movies are too long.  Bollywood films are typically longer than most American films, ranging from two-and-a-half to four hours in length.  Our experience of time, however, is a relative thing.  Five minutes spent doing something excruciatingly boring may seem like eternity, while a week's fun-filled vacation flashes by in no time.  Because Bollywood films are not boring and are engaging to watch, time passes quickly.  They don't seem unreasonably long.   Further, the length allows for the development of complex plots and sub-plots.  Unlike American films, which typically pit good guys against bad guys in a simplistic conflict, Bollywood films often pit good guys against good guys - characters who are trying to do the right thing but differ on just what that right thing is.  Thus in the 1995 classic Dilwale Dulhenia La Jayenge, Raj loves Simran and wants to marry her, but Raj has made a bad impression on Simran's father, Baldev.  Baldev has promised Simran to his friend's son.  Raj and Baldev each believes that he is in the right; the film revolves around the resolution of this conflict.  As a sub-plot, Simran's mother, an obedient wife who has always deferred to male authority figures, initially persuades Simran to agree to the arranged marriage; she later comes to realize that Raj would be a better match for her daughter and urges the young couple to elope, in defiance of her husband's wishes.   An over-arching theme explores the immigrant experience as Baldev's rose-colored memories of India clash with contemporary reality when he returns home with his London-raised daughters.  The characters grow and develop as they work through these conflicts and reach a satisfying resolution. 
·        Bollywood films are silly.  Yes and no.  While it is true that, to truly enjoy some Bollywood movies, you need a high tolerance for silliness, many of these films have serious themes.  The silliness is often just zany humor that provides comic relief.  For example, in Main Hoon Na the protagonist Major Ram is on a serious mission.  Terrorists have killed his father and are trying to derail a peace initiative with Pakistan.  Major Ram goes undercover as a college student to protect an Indian army general's daughter, while simultaneously attempting to unite his own splintered family.  When he falls for his chemistry professor, however, he reverts to every Bollywood romantic stereotype, breaking into song every time he sees her despite his best efforts to the control himself.  These scenes are hilarious, but they in no way detract from more serious aspects of the film.
·         Bollywood films are too emotional.  One noticeable difference between Bollywood and Hollywood films is the extent of emotion expressed.  Characters in American films tend to shy away from strong emotions other than anger and keep their feelings under wraps.  Bollywood actors milk emotion to the nth degree.  It's refreshing to see people actually showing feelings on screen. 
·         Bollywood films are odd, strange, and alien.  This is often true, but that can be a good thing.  Some aspects of Bollywood film seem unusual to Americans.  Young people greet elders by bending to touch their feet.  Multi-armed idols and elephants appear; apparently rational adults suddenly begin throwing colorful powders on one another.    However, because these are Indian films made primarily for an Indian audience, they give insight into another culture.  The characters come across as real complex human beings, not exotic stereotypes as they might in an American film. 
 Still not convinced?  What more can I do than let these wonderful films speak for themselves?  In this clip from Dilwale Dulhenia La Jayenge, Raj (in white) and Simran (in green) allow their feelings for one another to show, although the occasion is a celebration of Simran's engagement to the guy in black with the silver vest.   Simran's parents enter the dance near the end.  BTW, if you think Simran's voice sounds strange, it's because the song is actually being sung by a woman in her 60s.   Bollywood actors rarely do their own singing; professionals known as playback singers do the vocals and are credited.  This is not a Milli Vanilli situation - there is no deception involved; everybody knows that the actors are lip-syching.  
So, what are you obsessed with?  Care to share?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Never Trust Bad Beginnings

Treat for you today, fellow Stiffs and readers: we have the fabulous Linda Rodriguez here to entertain us! If you don't know Linda, you should definitely follow her on Twitter - @Rodriquez_Linda and buy her book. It won the Malice Domestic contest, which is quite an accomplishment. And can I just say how much I love the cover?

Without further ado, here's Linda:

I have a good friend, a gifted writer, whose year has started off terribly. Her foster father died unexpectedly. Her father-in-law died unexpectedly. One of her best friends ended up in ICU with an aneurysm. Now, her four-year-old has developed pneumonia. We’re checking for any cackling, old-country types who’ve put an evil spell on her! But seriously, it’s made for a grim beginning to her new year—and made her worry what the rest of the year will bring.

I consoled her by telling her how my 2011 began. I was already down because an editor who’d had my novel for a long time rejected it, at the same time suggesting I send it to a national contest. I had pneumonia—which is quite serious for me since lupus has left me with very damaged lungs. Once I got better, just as January ended and I was about to fly to Washington, D.C. for the AWP national conference, we had a blizzard, and I fell on icy steps, breaking my cheekbone and knee and spraining my shoulder and right thumb.

 No D.C. No conference where I meet dear friends who live half a country away. I could hardly feed myself. (You have no idea how necessary your thumb is until you lose its use for a while). It looked to me as if 2011 was going to be a hellish year, just as 2012 is looking that way right now to my friend.

This is what happened in 2011 for me.

1.       I received a substantial research grant from an arts organization that had never before given to a writer.

2.       I spent a wonderful week researching a book with all expenses, including travel, paid.

3.       I learned I was a finalist in that national novel contest that editor had urged me to enter, and I learned that even a finalist would probably get an agent and maybe a publisher.

4.       I learned that I was the winner of the Malice Domestic First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. A $10,000 advance and a publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press. Woo hoo! My year was made right there.

5.       I learned that St. Martin’s Press was going to pay my way to the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda where I would receive the award.

6.       I went to Malice Domestic and had a blast. I met wonderful mystery writers who were so kind to me. My editor, my publisher, and all the St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books staff who were there turned out to be wonderful.

7.       I came home with some directives from the St. Martin’s publicity folks. Get on Twitter was one of them. With trepidation, I did—and now have almost 2,000 followers and many fantastic new friends.

8.       I came home and found myself in demand for paid readings throughout the Midwest (from the poetry book I’d published in 2009).

9.       I started writing the second book in my mystery series.

10.   I was asked to contribute a short story to Kansas City Noir, an anthology in the famed Noir series from Akashic Books.

11.   With a recommendation from my editor, I secured an incredible agent.

12.   I received a beautiful book cover for Every Last Secret from St. Martin’s.

13.   I was keynote speaker at the national conference of an important national arts organization.

14.   My book launch and other events to publicize Every Last Secret when it comes out began to be finalized.

It took most of 2011 for my broken knee to heal, and I will have to have major surgery on it later, but I hardly noticed as all these exciting things continued to happen throughout the year. That year that had such a sour beginning turned into one of the best years of my life.

So I tell my friend to pay no attention to the bad beginning of her 2012. I know she’s got the potential of having a year like the one I just had, and I think she will. My husband and I spent New Year’s Day marveling at the difference between this New Year’s and 2011’s. I think the same thing will happen for my friend next year.

One thing I’ve learned is never trust bad beginnings. A bad beginning doesn’t mean that the year or the book can’t turn out magnificently well.

Thank you all for having me as a guest on Working Stiffs. I hope you’ll all visit me at www.LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com and check out Every Last Secret at your local bookstore or Barnes & Noble or at http://www.amazon.com/Every-Last-Secret-Linda-Rodriguez/dp/1250005450


Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), winner  of the Malice Domestic First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, will be published on 4/24/12. She has also published two books of poetry, Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press) winner of the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and a cookbook, The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican (Adams Media). Rodriguez received the Midwest Voices and Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, KC ArtsFund Inspiration Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships, among others. She is a member of Latino Writers Collective, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Process

by Joyce

Some of you probably know I signed with agent Meredith Barnes a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been revising what used to be called THAT EFFING BOOK. The real title I finally came up with is IN SPITE OF MURDER (or ISoM as Awesome Agent calls it), which could be changed in the future as is known to happen.

More than a few beginning (and maybe not-so-beginning) writers have the impression that once you sign with an agent all you do is hand over your manuscript, the agent sells it as is, and voila—it’s on the bookshelf.

Um. No.

Not by a longshot.

I’m on my sixth revision of this manuscript, and that doesn’t count the revising and editing I did daily while I wrote it. (I always read over what I wrote the day before and fix what I don’t like before I move on.) Right now, I’m about 2/3 through my third agent-inspired revision. I’m sure the process is different for each author and his/her agent, but I thought someone might want to know how it worked for me. Or not. But I’m going to tell you anyway. Cause I’m like that.

My first revision letter from Meredith was four pages long—and this was before she offered representation. I was impressed that she took that much time to show what needed to be fixed and I wasn’t even her client. To say I was excited was an understatement. I actually cried. Hard to believe, I know. When I peeled myself off the ceiling, I got to work. About six weeks later, I sent it off and waited.

I didn’t have to wait long—only two weeks. I guess I did something right, because she offered representation. And sent more revision notes. This revision was more intense than the first. We decided to restructure the book, moving some plot elements from the third quarter of the book to the first quarter, which meant deleting a lot of scenes that no longer made sense and writing new ones in their place. That’s a very simplistic way of saying It was a bitch and the hardest thing I ever did and it almost killed me. It sure made the book a lot better, though.

The revision I’m working on now is more a clean up than anything else. We decided I needed another scene or two with my character’s love interest, and another one with the bad guy. I have a tendency to be a little short on description, so I’m fleshing that out, too.

You may have noticed I said “we decided” up above. The author-agent relationship and the decision of what to revise is very much a team effort. And I’m absolutely ecstatic to be on Meredith’s team.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When Progress Isn't Progress

You lucky readers have caught me in a ranting mood today. As in smoke-coming-out-of-my-ears ranting mood. All over eight dollars and five cents.

When Fish Tales came out, I purchased a box of them to re-sell. You see, the royalties for the sale of the book go to cancer research, so none of us authors made any money on it. However, by purchasing some books at discount through our wonderful local indy bookseller, Mystery Lovers Bookshop, I had the opportunity to sell a few copies, make a couple of bucks (to please my accountant), AND cancer research still gets the royalties.

All well and good. Except that I had to apply for a sales tax license.

No problem. I had a sales tax license years ago when Hubby and I ran a photography studio. I don’t remember any problems with the filing and payment procedure. Fill in the sales numbers, write a check, stick a stamp on the envelope, and mail it in.

Ha. Those were the good old days.

My license was denied. It seems I have to pay the money I’ve collected before I can get a license. Okay. The nasty letter I received said I could do this easily online or by phone. The problem is that they want my license number. The license I don’t have because I have to pay first. But I can’t pay without a number.

You see the conundrum?

I finally managed to file a return online, but the electronic payment refused to go through. I spent hours…literally HOURS…on the phone, being directed from one non-toll-free number to another. Each time I’d get a human, they’d say, “Oh, you have to call this other number.” I believe the process is known as PASSING THE BUCK.

My head was ready to explode. All because I owed eight dollars and five cents.

Did I mention the nasty letter? The one that stated tax liabilities may result in a criminal citation being issued against you???? WTF? For eight dollars and five cents???

Relax. I don’t need anyone to bail me out of jail. On day two of this saga, I finally (only two phone calls later—YAY!) was able to speak to a real person who seemed genuinely interested in resolving my problem and who didn’t treat me like I had the black plague. I wish I’d have caught his name. I’d send him a bottle of wine. Or a chocolate cake. Or both. He looked up my case, told me in very simple terms what the problem was and how to fix it. AND he gave me an address to use to send in my payment. Write a check. Stick a stamp on the envelope. Mail it in.

THIS I can do.

Sometimes progress just isn’t.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


By K.M. Humphreys

Change, as defined in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, is to make different in some particular (among many others).  We change ourselves a lot.  We change the style or color of our hair for a lot of reasons.  We don’t want any gray hairs showing, we want a change of pace, or we want to change our identity.  No matter what the reason, we change our hair all the time.

We change the clothes we wear.  Styles come and go, such as tie-dyes, bell bottoms, leggings, leg warmers – styles change.  What’s 'in' today won’t be 'in' tomorrow.  We change what we wear to keep up with the latest in fashion.

As we get older, everything about us changes.  Our priorities, our weight, where we live, and our jobs are just some of the things that change as we move into each part of our lives.

Change is inevitable.  Sometimes we like change and embrace it.  Sometimes we accept it kicking and screaming.  We can complain all we want, but some changes we can’t keep from happening. 
Some change is positive and some change is negative.  There are times we are going through a positive change in our lives, but we only see the negative aspects of it. 

Change inspires us to produce more change.  If major changes happen where you work that you don’t like, it may inspire you to look elsewhere or encourage you to work harder so you can move up in your job into a position of management so you can have more of a voice in future changes.

This blog post was inspired by recent change in my company.  We recently moved our offices from a suburb to the city.  Everybody’s complaining about having to deal with traffic in the mornings and evenings, having to pay for parking, etc.  At first I was griping with the rest of them.  However, I have recently really stopped to think about it and for me, I think it’s a positive move.  I believe this move could lead to more opportunities for me down the road. 

I know our company has their reasons for the move.  I am now generating my own positive ways to look at this move.  The rest of the group can complain all they want, but I’m going to embrace this move and look for the positives. 

There is change in every aspect of our lives.  Take the positive route and look at change as an inspiration.

Happy Writing!

Monday, January 23, 2012

House Hunters Meets Fiction Writing

by C.L. Phillips

Today I helped one of my friends brainstorm a story line for her newest work-in-progress.  She's written the first eleven pages.  Gripping.  Emotional.  After reading, I wanted to devour the rest of the book.

The problem?  The rest of the book is a twinkle in her mind.  Actually that's an exaggeration.  The rest of the book doesn't exist.  Yet.  And the beautiful eleven pages have been in a desk drawer incubating for seven years.

So we tried something new.  As a brainstorming exercise, we came up with three different story lines, each of which could start from the same inciting incident, thus using the beautiful eleven pages.  Think of it as House Hunters Meets Fiction Writing.

Story A -  Long suffering wife, prodded by her empty nest, inspects her life.  Discovers husband is having an affair, forces a confrontation with husband, and leaves, freeing herself to discover who she really is.

Story B - Long suffering wife, prodded by her empty nest, inspects her life.  Discovers husband is not who she thought he was, and when he's outed by a jealous friend, she sees her husband with all his flaws for the first time as an authentic partner, and together they find a way to be a different kind of family.

Story C - Long suffering wife, prodded by her empty nest, inspects her life. Discover husband has hidden a secret that shatters her image of him.  The secret, an illegitimate child, comes into their lives as a pregnant eighteen year old young woman.  Together the husband and wife resolve their own battles and come together to make their family whole.

I don't know if you can see how the stories are so very different in these brief descriptions, but as we worked though the process (in about twenty minutes), my friend blew past her plotting roadblocks and envision three distinct and very different novels.

Best of all, each story centered around a hidden mystery, a secret locked away for eighteen years, that changed the very character of the opposing lead character, the husband.  We were able to identify more heroic resolutions as we worked through the process.

So, what is the takeaway dear writer/reader?

When sitting down to layout your next novel, take a twenty minute quick walk on the wild side.  Take a page from the House Hunters television show on HGTV.  Look at three different properties, that is three different story lines.  Throw in a couple of wildcards.

As in the television show, my friend was able to throw out one of the options pretty quickly, and was able to focus on the two remaining story lines.  They were very different from what she originally considered.  The process completely removed her writer's block.

Try it, and let me know how it works for you.

Keep writing!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Page to Screen

By Pat Gulley

Movies based on Books, and how well they are interpreted.

I once read that when she first started her Kinsey Millhone series, Sue Grafton said she would never let Hollywood get their mitts on her books. And I was split 50/50 with her on that because 1/ I assumed any sale to Hollywood meant hundreds of thousands of dollars, but 2/ I’d seen so many characters and stories slashed to ribbons on the screen that I felt she was justified.

Well, I’ve learned since that like advances for books, only a few get those big bucks for their work. And I’ve seen enough movies based on books to know that Sue had a major point in rejecting the big and little screen. I’m inclined to wonder why Hollywood buys these books, if they intend to rewrite them, change the characters and make them unrecognizable to fans of the original work, why bother?. It has been suggested that they just want to piggyback on the success of the author and her/his work, and I’m inclined to accept that.

But there are always exceptions.

I recently went to see Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the English version with that cutie pie, Daniel Craig. (I’ve always liked him ever since I first saw him in Minette Walters’ The Ice House, which by the way was a real chop job.) I say English version as I did see the Swedish version too. The Swedish version did cut the book up and just went with the mystery. If you haven’t read the book, the part that captures everyone’s attention is the character of Lisbeth Salander and her story, however it is also an excellent cold case murder mystery (with a major twist), investigated by a journalist and high tech researcher, and a family saga. The part that got the least attention was the main character and his story, Mikael Blomkvist. His story encompasses a lot of political history and corporate intrigue of Sweden, as well as how a journalist and his publication can get sued over stories, and didn’t seem to interest a lot of people. Frankly, having lived through the hippy era, and the number of people running off to that land of ‘seeming’ perfection, I found it very interesting. OTOH, I’d already read, The Laughing Policeman. (I’d also seen the movie, AND wasn’t that the most ghastly interpretation!!!!)

Oh yeah, Mikael. So was I ever pleasantly surprised to see the English version taking up his story, too. Yes, they changed a few bits, but nothing that would harm Stieg’s story. (For those of you who have read the book, no Australia—you know what I mean.) It was a long movie, it had to be to take in this much, but I didn’t find myself anything but engrossed the whole time. It did leave out Salander’s mother and father except for a few comments, but it did include her first advocate. I’m inclined to believe the makers of this film will also do the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire and add in all of Salander’s back story.

I saw it with my Swedish American friend, Barbara, and she actually like this version more, too. We are both very fond of the whole series, and I’m sure we will be watching it again from Netflix.

I honestly believe Ronney Mara deserves every award she is or will be nominated for, as she did a fabulous job, but so did the actress, Noomi Rapace, in the Swedish version. Noomi also did a good job in the Swedish version of The Girl Who Played With Fire, but it too was much abbreviated. The Swedish movie must have been well received in Europe, because while the first movie had subtitles, the second movie was dubbed and you could have it in several languages.

If you have seen any of these, your pros and cons are most welcome. Any good examples you’d like to chime in with? By the way, I mean individual movies, not series like Lord of The Rings.

Oh, and another book coming to the screen that we all have our claws and fangs ready to extend for is One For The Money. Get Ready.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Where Do We Get Our Story Ideas?

By Paula Matter

Burbank, Calif. –  A Los Angeles woman was arrested last week for offering sexual favors in exchange for chicken McNuggets, according to Burbank police.

BOSTON (AP) — Boston police say a woman suspected of robbing a city bank was caught a short time later handing out dollar bills to children at a park.

DENVER. (AP) — Family members are waiting for answers about how a 66-year-old Colorado man's body went unnoticed in a locked movie theater restroom for about five days after he died there.

LONDON (AP) -- It was a daily reminder of the death of her father in a British industrial accident - but a mother of two says she feels relief after she was given the chance to demolish the factory where he was killed.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Portland police say more than a dozen rabbits reported stolen the night before a rabbit-cooking class have been returned by bunny advocates who had been caring for them.

Patients at a New York City hospital are getting billed for tens of millions of dollars because of a computer error.

A loosely formed group of scientists around the world is watching for communication from extraterrestrial life forms.

AP - A jury convicted a man Wednesday of the 1986 killing of a mother of four, a crime for which another man served 20 years in prison before being exonerated by new DNA tests.

A Missouri woman found herself on the wrong end of an arrest after she called police to report a crime. It seems that 47-year-old Suzanne Basham was outraged when her neighborhood crack dealer sold her $40 worth of sugar instead of cocaine.

What could any of y'all do with the above news stories? Any of them inspire you to create? Have you ever written a story based on a newspaper headline or some other source?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Flash Fiction

by C.L. Phillips

I'm experimenting with flash fiction, that is mysteries under five hundred words. I'm struggling to set the hook and land the story.  So I've come to Working Stiffs and my dear friends for advice.

Here's a little something I call THE HOBBY.  What do you think?

Mary Wilson stared through the peep hole in her front door at the clean cut young man standing on her porch. Against her better judgment, she opened the door. “May I help you?”

“Ma'am, sorry to disturb you. I'm selling magazine subscriptions to pay my way through community college? Would you be interested in supporting me?” The young man smiled, his short dull brown hair waving in the wind.

Mary smiled. “Of course, come in. May I get you a glass of iced tea? You must be parched.”

“That would be so nice.” He wiped his shoes on the welcome mat and enteredthe humble bungalow.

“Follow me in the kitchen. Sit here.” Mary pointed at the worn kitchen chair, the paint peeling from years of careful use. “Would you like an apple?” She took the butcher knife from the block, and made quick work of quartering the apple. She poured the glass of iced tea and sat the apple before the young man.

He drank greedily, his thirst obvious. He wiped the back of his hand across his moist lips. “Ma'am, do you know which magazine you would like?” He pushed the catalog toward her. “The ordering information is right there.” He pointed at the fine print on the back of the page.

“Do you have Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine? Or perhaps something with true crime?” Mary fingered the edge of the butcher knife, as her smile started to slip.

“No, but we have People Magazine, Time, and Newsweek. Would you like one of those?” His voice fluttered with a quiver.

Mary gripped the knife. “No, I would not. I. Have. One. Hobby.” She accentuated each word with a sinister pause. “What did you say your name was?”

“Um, I didn't.” He wiggled in his chair, his youthful swagger evaporating. “I'd better be going.” He snatched the catalog from the table, nearly tripping over the cat as he ran to the front door.

Mary fingered the blade and sighed. Oh well, it was for the best.  She cleared the dirty glass from the table, placing it in the sink. As she gazed out the window at her collection of brightly painted wooden crosses, each with a single name painted in black.

She only had one hobby.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Old Lang Syne

by Martha Reed

I’m happy to report that I finished up a new short story yesterday, one that I’ve been working on for yes, five years. I can remember the day I first came up with the idea, walking on the beach in Sanibel with my sister and deciding I’d like to try writing a story set in southwestern Florida because it was so different from my life in southwestern Pennsylvania. For one thing, I have no experience with alligators and I’m okay with that but I took a look around at the Florida retirement lifestyle and thought: what would it be like to live in an older environment (even though our population in Pittsburgh is aging)? There would be advantages like larger parking spaces and well lit street signs but I’ve got enough East Coast in me to want to hurry things along in the check out aisle every once in awhile, and that's rude. So it was a dilemma.

But in those five years since I started the story idea, time has carried me over the 50-year-old yard line, and I think I can bring a better perspective to the story now. My friends and I have started to experience some health issues. It’s been interesting to watch how everyone reacts to them. Some are in flat denial, swallowing ibuprofen or vodka martinis to kill the aches and pains. Others (like me) have gone all Zen, practicing Yoga in an attempt to resurrect our hips, knees, and flexor tendons. But the best part is that I’ve come to appreciate using humor to deflect age because, after all, the joke is on us. We may have gotten older but the definition of mortality hasn't changed.

Which brings me back to my new story, STRANGLER FIG. I have a character in it, 87 years old, who confronts an armed intruder in her home. Scottie is confined to a wheelchair, and at first I was worried that she would sound helpless but when I started noodling around with her character, she turned out to be feisty. A retired Navy nurse, Scottie is tough as nails. She absolutely resisted every attempt I made to tone her down and, in the end, I capitulated. She wanted to confront the intruder and once I stepped out of the way (as the author) she did. It makes for a wonderful story which I believe rings true. I’m sending it out tomorrow to look for a new home. Wish me luck!

PS. In the interest of disclosure I did mean to write old in the headline, not auld. Did you catch that?

Monday, January 16, 2012


by Gina Sestak

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  I hope everyone is celebrating equality and freedom.

On the home front, my last post described how my car was wrecked on the final day of 2011.

Everyone who looked at it said the same thing:  It's totaled.

Well, it's official.  After having the car towed to a collision center and partially dismantled, the insurance company declared the car a total loss and wrote me a check.  I went out on Saturday and bought a new car.

I really liked the Saturn Astra and planned to be driving it for several more years.  I would have bought another Saturn were they still available.  Unfortunately, the near collapse of the American auto industry brought about the end of Saturn.  They just don't make them anymore.

One hold-over from the Saturn is my addiction to On-Star.  I never thought I'd like something like that, but once I tried it, I just couldn't get enough.  In addition to providing driving directions in a voice that issues from your rear view mirror (creepy), it allows you to call in and speak to a live person when those directions fail to work.   That live person will really try to help you, too.  And you can summon emergency assistance anytime you see a wreck by pressing a button.  Besides, it's fun to use.  Whenever it loses track of your car in a tunnel (a common occurrence around here) it will begin to BONG! BONG! BONG! and warn that you've left the planned route.  At first I used to argue.  "How the *$@^%$ could I have left the route?  I'm in a *&$@# tunnel!"  On-Star never argued back.  The calm voice from the mirror would only ask whether I needed directions to get back on route and, when I would answer, "NO!" it would go quiet until the car came through the tunnel exit, then pick up directions where it left off as if nothing had happened.

I love On-Star.

That's why, when I went looking for a replacement car, I wanted one with On-Star pre-installed.

I found it.  Meet my new car, a Sonic hatchback:

And yes, it really is Inferno Orange.  Go figure.  So, if you see something like this coming at you

it just might be me.

So what's all this got to do with writing?  you're probably wondering.  A lot.  Cars are part of life and life, as we know, provides the fodder for all writing.  Plus, it provided me with a topic for this post.

OK, I can't resist inserting another Bollywood car chase clip.  This one's from Don 2, the sequel to the one I inserted the car chase from last time.  This chase takes place in Germany.  The man driving the first car is an international crime boss.  The woman chasing him is an Interpol agent who wants him for personal reasons as well: he murdered her brother and her friend.  Enjoy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Who Do You Love?

by Ramona DeFelice Long

Lately, I’ve been thinking about love.

The first time I fell in love, his name was Charles. He was older, tall and dark-haired, with a nice laugh and lot of patience. Charles was a gentleman. He even wore a uniform.

I showed my devotion to Charles by chasing him around my back yard every Tuesday afternoon, trying to get him to kiss me.

I should probably mention that I was five and Charles was nine, and he was in my back yard on Tuesday afternoons for Cub Scout meetings. (Hence the uniform). My older brother was also a Cub Scout, and my mother was the Den Mother. 

I mention Charles' patience because while the other boys made bird houses out of Popsicle sticks or sanded their cars for the Pinewood Derby, poor Charles was trying to avoid getting bussed by his friend’s besotted little sister. He ran away but he was never mean. He never laughed at me.

My adoration for Charles reached its peak during the scout Pageant, which featured a play about western pioneers getting attacked by Indians. (Sorry, these were back in the politically incorrect days of yore.) I was cast as a pioneer girl. I wore a calico dress and a sunbonnet, and Charles gallantly pulled me around the junior high gym in a garden cart / covered wagon. When the Indians (sorry, again) attacked, the wagons formed a circle, and Charles got down on one knee and protected me by shooting away with a fake wooden rifle.

My youthful infatuation with Charles molded me. It’s tough to forget a brave young man who held back a bunch of marauders. Since the age of five, I’ve been a sucker for the good guys.

The other day, someone in my Facebook group brought up the topic of literary boyfriends. We talked about the fictional men who made our toes curl, and why, and what that said about us. I admitted that the first love of my literary life was Marius from Les Miserables.  I swooned while he mooned over Cosette. I also fell hard for John Ridd of Lorna Doone, Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and OMG, Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch, I would still follow you anywhere.

All good guys. All versions of Charles.

Some of the responses in the group were interesting. I, personally, can't understand why anyone would be attracted to Heathcliff. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, but Edward Rochester? Not telling her he was married? Letting her find out on her wedding day that the crazy lady in the attic was really his wife? Yeah. Like I’d be big enough to get past that in real life.

And yet, I had something of a sick crush on Silas Marner. 

Which proves, the heart wants what the heart wants.

If you had to choose a fictional guy to pull your covered wagon, who would it be? Good guy? Bad boy? Brave war hero? Tortured sociopath? Miser?

What man from the land of books would you chase around the back yard?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Keep On Trucking

I must have been a good guest (or at least not a terrible one), because I’ve been invited back to blog. Thanks, Working Stiffs! (This time, I promise to clean up after myself.)

Last time, I blogged about the stages I go through when I’m about to start a new writing project. Today, I thought I would offer a few suggestions about keeping an existing project moving forward when you’re feeling stuck.

Sometimes, it can be tough.

When a project is new, anything is possible—your optimism is boundless. Remember all that crisp, unspoiled filler paper on the first day of fourth grade, just sitting in your looseleaf notebook, waiting to be turned into a masterpiece? Same kind of thing here, except instead of “What I Did Over Summer Vacation,” you’re determined to pen the Great American Novel.

But after twenty thousand words (insert your own number here), the excitement and enthusiasm may start to wane. The characters aren’t quite what you imagined. The plot seems a little “off.” The dialogue sounds a bit stilted. There’s nothing “Great” about your novel. How can you keep plowing through, once the enthusiasm and excitement erode? (Or worse, plummet like a stone.)

Here are some things I’ve found to be helpful:

Set a quota and stick to it. I’ve said this before, but setting a daily word quota—and sticking to it—almost guarantees you’ll get your project finished. Be disciplined! (I’ve said this before, too, but sometimes I get up in the middle a sentence once I’ve hit my quota.) Don’t worry so much about the quality of the work; you can always fix it up during the revision process!

Try doubling your quota. Sometimes you can simply power your way back on track, especially if you can get into that all-powerful Writing Zone (notice the capital letters).

Skip ahead to a different scene. Sometimes skipping ahead to a different, and possibly more exciting, scene may kickstart things.

Outliners: Change your outline. Maybe your writing has slowed down because, on some level, you know you’re going in the wrong direction. Don’t be a slave to your outline! Modify it as you go along, if it serves the story better. (Pantsers: Maybe you could try changing your pants.)

Try writing in a different location or at a different time of day. Many writers head down to the local coffee shop, bookstore, or library to write. Fewer distractions and more caffeine (assuming you can ignore the stares of the baristas, or all those books on the shelves, calling your name). If you’re a morning writer, try writing at night, and vice versa.

Try a different atmosphere. If you usually write in silence, try writing with a soundtrack (or with kids screaming in the background). If you usually write in an isolated place, try finding a spot right in the middle of some hubbub (train station, shopping mall, Occupy Wall Street gathering).

Talk to some other writers. Most of the writers I know are interesting, engaging people. I find that talking to them re-energizes me and gets me back in the mood to crank out some words. (Yes, I know a few writers are twisted and deranged. They’re also fun to talk with, even if they make you a little nervous.)
Good luck with your next Great American Novel/Edgar winner!

Alan Orloff’s latest book, DEADLY CAMPAIGN, is the second in the Last Laff Mystery series (released this week!). He’s also written KILLER ROUTINE (Last Laff #1) and  DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD (a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist). Writing as Zak Allen, he’s published THE TASTE (horror) and FIRST TIME KILLER (thriller), both ebook originals. For more information visit www.alanorloff.com