Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat, with Jess Lourey

samhainHalloween is one my favorite holidays because I love a good masquerade. The holiday originates from the old Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"). The Celts believed that the new year occurred on November 1, when the summer harvest was over and the cold winter was settling in. The night before the new year, October 31, the boundary between the living world and the dead became blurred, allowing the dead to walk the earth and the living to access a wider range of their powers.

When Christianity hit the land of the Celts in the 800s, the Church piggybacked on a lot of their rituals and altered them slightly so they became church-sanctioned. The Celts' new year became All Saints Day or All-hallowmas (from Middle English "Alholowmesse," meaning "All Saints' Day"), and the night before became All Hallow's Eve. From that came what we now know as Halloween, where our little demons and ghouls walk the earth and collect candy to appease their souls.

Whee! In honor of the roots of Halloween, I offer you a trick and a treat. First, the trick, and I warn you that it's a really scary puzzle and you shouldn't do it if you have a heart condition. You need the sound turned on to hear the directions, and the link will take you to a new site where the maze is located in the center middle of the page (I don't have copyright clearance to post it here).

Now for the treat. A librarian just informed me of the HowDunit series, bodytraumawhich I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of but if you are a mystery writer, appears to behowdunit indispensible. The series was initially published by Writer's Digest and is a series of books written for crime fiction writers. There's a book on poisons, a book on crime scene investigation, a writer's guide to weapons, a writer's guide to private investigating, and my personal favorite: Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries, featuring such gems as, "What the Glasgow Coma Scale is, and why it's important," and, "The Dirty Dozen: dreadful-but survivable-chest injuries." How have I been writing mysteries this long without this information?

Oh, and here's one more treat. A friend of mine got a Wonder Woman wonder womancostume for Halloween when she was 10 years old, which would have been about 30 years ago. She'd don the red, white, and blue swimsuit, the white pleather go-go boots, the gold circlet on her head and the bullet-repelling bracelets, and strap on her golden lariat and wear it for days after Halloween had come and gone. She slept in this costume, and she got so good with the golden lariat that she actually roped one of her much-older sisters. My friend, Heidi-cum-Wonder Woman, said to her sister, "You must be honest with me as you are now ensnared in the Lasso of Truth." And her sister said, "You're a dork." See? The lasso worked.

Happy Halloween! What tricks or treats would you like to share?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guest Blogger Donna Andrews On: "If You're not Using That"

I love hanging around with fellow writers. Nothing more fun than comparing working methods or swapping industry gossip. But I try to make sure I also spend a fair amount of time with non-writers. (I almost said "real people," and then changed it to "normal people" before settling on "non-writers.") If I’m with a bunch of writers and something interesting happens, we all look at each other, and sooner or later one of us will ask the inevitable question: "Are you going to use that? Because if you’re not . . . " Much easier with non-writers, who aren't going to fight with you over a choice bit of book fodder.

We writers all mine our own lives and the lives of those around us for material. Sometimes we play the "what if" game. What if that noise in the night wasn't merely the cat? What if the skeleton we found wasn't a cow’s bones but the remains of a murder victim? What if that horrible person at work turned up dead one day—shortly after one of our noisiest clashes?

Other times we use an event just because it just works for a character. I did something like this in Six Geese a-Slaying—the tenth book in my Meg Langslow series, in which Meg finds herself in charge of her county’s annual holiday parade. In one scene, Meg’s nephew, Eric, not quite thirteen, confesses to Meg something he’s done that he’s feeling guilty about. When I began writing the scene between Meg and Eric, I realized I could put one of my most vivid Christmas memories to fictional use.

I don’t know how old I was. And I can no longer remember what toy I wanted so badly that when I woke up on Christmas morning, well before dawn, I didn’t think I could stand the wait to go downstairs. And that was the longstanding rule-- we kids had to wait upstairs in our rooms until our parents woke up, so we could all walk into the living room together to see what Santa had brought.

I couldn’t wait. I crept furtively downstairs and into the living room to see if Santa had gotten it right.

Horrors! Not only was the object of my desire missing from under the tree—so were all the other presents. No toys, no books, not even any clothes. The stockings hung by the chimney in limp, mute testimony to how bad my brother and I had been. Because clearly we must have done something pretty awful to get absolutely nothing for Christmas. Mom and Dad hadn’t noticed, apparently. And I was a little puzzled myself—my conscience was no heavier than usual. I could think of a few minor transgressions, but nothing big enough to warrant this. But Santa knew all—and no doubt once our parents got a look at the emptiness under the tree, they’d start an interrogation that would bring all our sins to light.

I slunk upstairs and crawled back into bed. No doubt my parents were greatly puzzled a few hours later when I proved so hard to rouse. And when I finally saw the bounty around the tree, they probably mistook my intense relief for the usual excitement.

I figured out later that I must have gotten up so early that Santa hadn’t yet finished his rounds. I was lucky I hadn’t interrupted him in the act of putting the tangerines and Hershey’s kisses in my stocking. And apparently he’d forgiven my minor trespass of sneaking down early. Perhaps he knew that I would never, ever do it again.

Strange to say, that has always been a favorite Christmas memory. And while I was writing Six Geese a-Slaying, I realized it was also the perfect memory for Eric to have, one that he can share with Meg before confessing that this Christmas he—but that would be a spoiler!

Now if I can just find a plot in which I can use the story about Dad and the beehive . . .

Donna's latest, Six Geese A-Slaying, was just released October 28th. Run out a buy a copy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Writer's Notebooks

Recently I've been teaching adults. One is a creative writing course at the local community college and the other is teachers in an online course in teaching writing. Both address keeping a writer's notebook. Now me, I am totally right brained and random abstract. I could never, and would never want the ghastly job of being an accountant. I need something to keep the right brain revved up, and accounting just wouldn't do it. Besides math is a four letter word. Anyway, forever I kept notes on scraps of paper whenever I noticed something I didn't want to forget and thought I might one day work a small portion into my writing somehow. Sometimes it was just the way another writer skewered something, other times it might be a memory that was jogged, and observation, a thread that lead me somewhere in thought, a new idea. But those golden nuggets were spread between the bottom of my purse, a desk drawer, a pocket, the kitchen counter--in other words they were pretty useless because I didn't keep track of them. And then I was at a writing seminar and this writer displayed her writer's notebook. I can remember the slap I gave to my forehead thinking, wow, what a concept! How lame is that? I'd never thought of it. Immediately I purchased a big ole spiral notebook that I tried to drag around with me everywhere, but found that didn't work in the middle of the grocery store. So next, I purchased a smaller steno pad. After two entries in that and trying to cram it in my purse I realized that was futile as well. Then I saw this beautiful journal in Barnes & Noble and just knew that if I had that, I would collect all kinds of wonderful notes and artifacts that would spark my writing and hurtle me toward bestsellerdom. I have pages of notes, taped-in magazine and newspaper articles, pictures, wonderful stuff that may someday trickle into a story. Trouble is, I do a lot of my best thinking while driving. I'd try to scribble something down on the seat beside me while doing 60 mph, and some of you are thinking right now, oh my god, I was on the road with her! After enough near misses, I bought a little bitty personal recorder and that has worked out better. Once I'm home I can transcribe whatever I said into it into my lovely Barnes & Noble journal. I have to be careful not to abuse my tiny personal recorder and fill it up with reminders to pick up my prescription, don't forget to stop and get bread, take the clothes to the cleaner, send the tax collector a check, etc. Otherwise I don't have room for my writerly notes. And of course I can't forget to transcribe my verbal recordings of writing wisdom or record over them. But sometimes, right brain takes control and I do just that. In the long run, my notebook is indespensible. It is where I collect my life and return to repeadedtly to fuel my right brain. Anybody else keep a writer's notebook?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Party Animal!

By Deborah Sharp

I am SO grateful for good friends, who've been helping me celebrate the launch of my mystery series deubt, ''Mama Does Time.'' The last week-and-a-half has been a whirl of signings and parties ... which feels pretty strange for a homebody like me. My husband barely recognizes this new social animal. When we met at a party, way back when, I was reading a book in a corner.

These days, I'm front and center. Which still makes me cringe a little. But, ever the observer, I have had the chance to chronicle some things that never happened at a party before I became a mystery writer. For example:

* * * Guests always used to bring wine. This weekend, someone brought me a severed hand. Nicely wrapped in turquoise gift paper with gaily colored ribbons. Uhm, thanks?

* * * As one of Florida's famously violent thunderstorms threatened, I fretted the party would be ruined. Said a friend: ''Don't worry. You can use if for the opening of a story: It was a dark and stormy night . . . ''

* * * Someone gave me a big bill to buy a book, forcing me to do math. It wasn't pretty. Good thing we're still wearing sandals this time of year in Florida, which allowed for enumeration on toes in addition to fingers.

And, when the counting got really complicated, the severed hand came in handy.

Groan! A party animal and a punster? Who is this person?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One Love

What a difference a year makes.  Last year at this time, this was where I found myself.  At a beach bar with the welcoming name of One Love, plopped on the white sandy beaches on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.  It's a ramshackle joint made of flotsam and good vibes and it looks surprisingly like my home office, what with all the carefree attention to detail.  I don't have a blender in my office, but now that I think about it....

Anyway, as the temps start to dip up here in the great white north, increasingly I find myself hitting the slideshow button on my newly acquired Mac and smiling at the images that float by. I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  The Caribbean is in my soul.  It gives me life.  Just knowing the islands are down there waiting patiently for my next arrival allows me to get up to face another frosty morning.  In my heart I know that someday those frosty mornings will be replaced  by bright blue skies and warm smiles from Raquel and Seddy and their beautiful children.  It's their spirit, a spirit of the Caribbean, that I carry with me and that spirit is a fire warm enough to keep me going.

Okay then, tell me your "One Love".....

Tess Gerritsen on Writing, Archaeology and Donkeys

by Felicia Donovan

imageI'll never forget meeting best selling author, Tess Gerritsen, for the first time. She was on tour for THE BONE GARDEN. I watched with fascination as this petite and delicate former physician proceeded to describe Early American and mostly barbaric, methods of amputating limbs in all it's goriest detail to the assembled crowd. My kind of gal...

Tess (and if you're a real fan, you'll know that's not her real first name), graciously agreed to an interview for InkSpot amidst a whirlwind tour for her latest bestseller, THE KEEPSAKE.

FD: You began your writing career in the romance thriller genre. What made you switch and do you ever miss writing them?

TG: I wrote HARVEST simply because I had a great idea for a book that didn't fit into the romance genre, and I wanted to write it. I certainly never expected to make such a successful career as a thriller writer. But then, I've never planned out my career -- I just followed my instincts and wrote the books I wanted to write. After the success of HARVEST, I realized that I could carve out a much better living as a thriller writer than I ever could as a romance writer. Yes, I do sometimes miss writing romance, but also manage to work some romantic themes into the stories. So I haven't veered that far from the genre.

image FD: Can you tell us about your latest, THE KEEPSAKE and what kind of research you did for it?

TG: It was inspired by my long interest in archaeology. I was an anthropology major in college, and have always had a special fascination with Egyptology -- in particular, with the science of mummies. As part of my research, I was able to watch the CT scan of a mummy, and I thought: what if a museum discovers a shocking surprise when it scans a mummy in the collection -- a bullet in its leg? Suddenly, it's not an ancient artifact but a modern murder victim. And the killer is someone who has obscure archaeological knowledge, which he uses to preserve his victims.

FD: What's the most memorable moment you've had on book tour?

TG: It happened when I was on book tour for THE SURGEON, about a killer who slices open his victims and removes their organs while imagethey're alive and conscious. An ordinary-looking man came up to get his book signed, and he whispered into my ear: "Thank you for writing this book. You allowed me to enjoy my fantasies." And then he simply walked out of the store. I always wondered what happened to him .. . and what his fantasies may have led to.

FD: At times, you've ventured away from Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli. Do you ever feel pressured to write for your fans rather than write for yourself?

TG: Yes, that's certainly a pressure that weighs on me. Whenever I veer away from what my fans expect, I find that many of them don't necessarily appreciate my efforts. However, I also pick up quite a few new fans when I write something completely new and unexpected. GRAVITY (my book about the space program) pulled in many male fans who are still reading me. And THE BONE GARDEN (a stand-alone historical) also brought me many new readers.

FD: You recently acquired an Amazon Kindle. Can you share your thoughts on e-books? Where do you see them in the future of publishing?

TG: I think they'll be a growing segment of book sales, in particular sales of novels. I've found the Kindle easy to read and convenient for travel. But I must admit that when I'm home and have the choice, I'll always reach for a real book.

FD: How are the donkeys?

imageI have four of them (Spock, Scotty, Cassiopeia and Perseus). And they're doing very well, thank you. Donkeys are sweet, congenial animals, and they get along very well with everyone.

Many thanks to Tess for being so accommodating despite her very hectic schedule!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

November is NaNo Month!

Nine days from today an estimated 100,000 participants will start out on the novel writing journey of a lifetime. Yes, it's NaNoWriMo time again:
By November 30th last year, more than 15,000 participants had crossed the finish line and completed a 50,000 word rough draft of a novel (of sorts) in thirty days. The remaining eighty-some thousand walked away with a kernel of an idea, a partial draft, a great experience, new friends, or like me, simply used the collective energy to further their own writing goals in their own way.
I like the excitement and camaraderie (or maybe just the misery with company) of all those intrepid fiction kamikazes barreling into the great unknown.
NaNo tends not to be for the published writer, it's more of an exploration, although, several published authors I know participate in some form or another and some participants have worked their NaNo drafts into their first commercially viable published novel--Lani Diane Rich comes to mind.

As if NaNoWrimo wasn't cool enough, self-described as "a global, uproariously fun endeavor, where participants exchange advice and writing tips on the NaNoWriMo website and in real life, with group write-ins held in coffeeshops, living rooms, and libraries all around the world, there's this:
The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program also takes place in November, offering a similarly exhilarating prose adventure for 12-and-under authors and those taking part in NaNoWriMo as part of a K-12 classroom. In addition to motivation-raising goodies for the young writers, NaNoWriMo provides teachers, youth librarians, and homeschooling parents with resources and curriculum to help get kids and teens excited about writing. In 2007, over 18,000 students took part in National Novel Writing Month's Young Writers Program.
Script Frenzy brings the hands-on, inclusive approach of NaNoWriMo to the world of screenplays, stage plays, and TV scripts. Either individually or as part of a writing team, Script Frenzy participants first learn the basics of scriptwriting, including structure and formatting, before rolling up their sleeves and writing their own 100-page blockbuster (or art-house masterpiece) in the month of April. Script Frenzy launched in 2007 and had over 7,000 participants its first year.
In Script Frenzy's
Young Writers Program, kids and teens spend March taking part in a fun, four-week online boot camp to help get them up to speed on plot, characters, and scriptwriting conventions. After a month of learning and practicing, they'll try their hand at writing their own movie, play, TV show, or comic book script.

Guest authors are always welcomed. Check out the programs. Maybe offer yourself up to blog or speak. Maybe just participate or lurk.
The enthusiasm and joy of these fledgling writers may be just what you need on a dark and stormy November night.
Susan Goodwill

Susan Goodwill writes the Kate London Mystery Series published by Midnight Ink

Brigadoom in March 2007

Little Shop of Murders 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Was your working title etched in stone?

By Joe Moore

Book titles are critical. It’s that first impression when a potential reader glances down at the new fiction table in the local bookstore. And even if you’ve got a great title, you hope the publisher’s art department doesn’t somehow screw it up with the cover art. I’ve seen books with good titles that were almost impossible to read from a distance. And others where the design was so busy, it gave me a headache.

etched When Lynn Sholes and I decided to collaborate on our first book, we used CORPUS CHRISTI for the working title during the three years it took to write. Since it was a thriller about cloning Christ, we thought using the Latin for Body of Christ was cleaver. But when we sent it off to our agent, she pointed out the error of our ways. Could be a travel guide to a city in Texas. Could be a novelization of a Broadway play running at the same time. So we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, a brilliant title that no one could pronounce or spell. Our publisher wisely changed it to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY which has stuck in all the foreign translations except German.

Book 2 had the working title of THE THIRD SECRET. Steve Berry released a thriller by the same name so our agent changed the title to THE LAST SECRET. So far, it has worked for the foreign publishers that have translated it, although we haven’t seen the German version yet.

Book 3 had a working title of INDIGO RUBY for the year it took to write. The title had a great deal of meaning for at least two people: Lynn and myself. Again, the publisher stepped in and wisely renamed it THE HADES PROJECT which is exactly what the book is about. Clever.

BLACK NEEDLES was what we called number 4 which was the name we gave the deadly retrovirus that formed the threat of the book. Cool title, but it really didn’t tell the reader anything about the story. Could be a book about a knitting club for witches. So the publisher finally settled on THE 731 LEGACY. The book involves the Japanese WWII biological warfare division called Unit 731 and how its legacy propels the story. OK, we agree that was a wise decision and makes sense.

The working title to our next one is THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. We'll see if that makes it to print.

Sometimes it’s better to leave the titles to the marketing and sales department and just stick to writing the story.

So why are titles important? Paul McCartney’s working title of the Beatles classic “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs.”

Have all your working titles made it to the cover of your book? If not, were you happy with the final version?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Howling at the Moon

I’m wired. Too keyed up to sleep. I think I’m supposed to post today, but I’m not sure. I’m too tired to check my notes. Tired? I’m exhausted. I’ve had a long, productive weekend, which was capped off by an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Last Thursday, I set out mid-morning from St. Louis to drive to Kingsport, Tennessee. After navigating through the mountains in the dark and the rain, I stopped and spent the night in Knoxville.

Friday morning, I visited Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, and three independent scrapbook stores nearby.

At 7:30 Friday night, I gave a humorous keynote to a small dinner audience to kick off the Kingsport Times Women’s Expo. We all had fun—which was my intent. Minnie Pearl once said that laughter is God’s hand on the shoulder of a weary world, and lately the world has been plum tuckered out.

Saturday, I spent all day, pitching and selling my book to Expo attendees.

Sunday (which is today, as I’m writing this in advance of posting), I woke up at 7 a.m. and met Karen Travis, a naturalist, for a private tour of Bays Mountain Nature Preserve.

We hopped into my car and wound our way up to the mountain top. I parked, and we walked over to the lake, fringed with trees in shades of dark green, brown and red. The crisp fog roiled across the top of the glassy water like tumbleweed, alternately exposing and veiling the foliage. The scene had a dream-like quality, but the smell of damp, spicy leaves told me it was real.

Inside the nature observatory, I took my time looking at the salamander, frogs, turtles, albino corn snake, rat snake, and timber rattler on exhibition. Then Karen let me into the room where two opossums, a big male and a smaller female, were sleeping in cat carriers. She coaxed them out, and I fed them grapes, holding the treats carefully so my fingers didn’t become snacks. Karen took horsemeat out of the freezer (which I observed would be a great place to kill someone), and we went outdoors. She fed a trio of otters, their sleek coats gleaming as they undulated in the morning light. Next, she gave snacks of horsemeat to three bobcats, eerily large versions of their housecat cousins.

The pack of ten grey wolves was our real reason for coming to the mountain so early. As we started up the path, Karen froze and whispered, “Listen.” From the distance, we heard howls. “They can smell up to two miles away,” she explained. “They know we are here.”

Karen had served as a “den” mother to the young wolf pups, helping socialize them, so she is accepted as part of the pack. She hung back as I went ahead along the trail. When I was close enough to the wolf enclosure to see them clearly through the double fence, she howled. The wolves all howled back—calling her home. The unearthly calls went on and on, first one wolf singing out, then another chiming in. The echoes bounced along the mountain itself and seemed to travel through time. Mesmerized by the chorus, I stood in the half-fog, my fingers pressed against the wire fence, as I stared into ten unblinking pairs of pale eyes.

Karen howled again. Once more, the pack members threw back their heads, their black noses tipping toward the sky, their throats exposing long lines of fur, and their voices calling to her, their pack-mate, each wolf singing with its own unique tonal quality, each one beckoning her to rejoin the group.

Afterwards, I drove eleven hours from eastern Tennessee to St. Louis. I stopped in Lebanon, Tennessee, at Sherlock’s, an independent bookseller, where I apologized for my casual jeans and hoodie. “I spent the morning looking at wolves and listening to them howl,” I said before I realized how odd it might sound.

The bookseller just smiled.

It is, after all, only two more weeks until Halloween

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Inkspot News - October 18, 2008

G.M. Malliet's debut Death of a Cozy Writer made the bestseller list at Hard Bean Coffee & Booksellers in Annapolis, Maryland.

Tomorrow, she is the guest speaker as the Virginia Writers Club returns from summer break to meet at the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library, 7584 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA. Non-members welcome.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Winter is Coming

Summer ended in my northern Colorado town not with a whimper but a bang. Nighttime temperatures dropped, and then one morning we awoke to find each blade of grass finely limned with frost and the rooftops glittering in the sunlight as if the wind had scattered broken glass in its wake. The tender plants in the vegetable garden -- zucchini, peppers, eggplant, cucumber -- withered and twisted in instant defeat. But others, planted in August, relish the cool weather. Crisp Swiss chard leaves, tiny and tender on bright, multi-colored stems give the spinach some serious competition for our plates. Spicy mustard greens combine with baby lettuce leaves, new radishes, purple carrots and scallions to create a salad reminiscent of spring. But the sound of dry, yellowing cottonwood leaves scratching together in the mildest breeze belies any notion of impending summer.

The sweaters are back in the closet, returned from their summer hiatus in the guest bedroom. Flannel sheets and down comforters warm the beds. Menus veer toward soups and chilis and the house smells of fresh baked bread. Evenings are spent in front of the fire for all nine innings as the championship teams hammer their way -- or not -- to the World Series. On the arm of the sofa, a half-completed hat in chunky red wool perches on a pair of circular knitting needles.

Green tomatoes cover the window sills. Those that don't ripen quickly will go into cake, chutney, or spicy green tomato catsup. The big freezer in the garage is packed with local produce and a quarter of grass fed Charolais beef from a rancher down the road. The pantry shelves hold neat rows of pickles -- beans, watermelon rind, cucumbers and asparagus -- and bright yellow chutney, dark raspberry jam, jalapeƱo pickled carrots and purple sauerkraut. On the top shelf, a few bottles from my first attempt at making wine, strong enough to make your eyes water. Bunches of herbs hang from the ceiling to dry. The weekly vegetable delivery from our winter CSA share begins at the end of the month.

There will still be plenty to do: cleaning up and putting away the yard, getting a few more bulbs in, carving pumpkins to light the front porch for the costumed trick-or-treaters to come.

But for now, my desk beckons.

I've indulged in fresh notebooks and another cluster of my favorite pens. I've purged and archived computer files, defragged and backed up. Books for research sit ready on the shelf. On my clean desk, three new writing projects await my attention. At this point it's my choice which one I go with first.

Fall has arrived, as full of promise as any spring. And winter is coming.

Winter: my favorite time for writing. The anticipation is delicious.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Scary Clowns and Fictional Reality

by Julia Buckley
A man wearing clown make-up and holding balloons attempts to lure children into his van with missing windows. No, this isn't Steven King's latest brainchild--it's an item from my local news, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times and all of the local television news stations. For those of us who aren't fond of clowns (and for Chicagoans who saw the two faces of John Gacy), this is much too horrifying an image.

It just so happened, though, that this morning was the first time this school year that neither my husband nor I could walk the boys to school. And when I got to work, I realized that I had forgotten to warn the boys not to get into a van with a clown. As if my boys needed to be told that--it's an image from a nightmare. This guy must not be psychologically savvy if he thinks clowns are appealing to kids these days.

Still, when I got home I learned from my husband that the boys had not called him as promised, so I called the school to make sure they had arrived. They had. Relieved, I went about my business until it was time to pick them up.

Once we were home and safely tucked indoors, our new pumpkin lights blazing in the windows, I got a call from my neighbor, Laura. Her daughter Jenny, a sixth grader, had been given permission to walk home and had not arrived when expected. Laura wanted to know if one of my boys would watch her four-year-old while she searched the streets for her daughter.

Images of the clown loomed. "Sure," I said. "He'll be right over." My oldest son went to watch the little guy while his panicked mother drove away.

"My sister is lost," said little Jonah. He stayed by his phone, dialing random and plentiful numbers, my son reported, and then told the buzzing at the other end that his sister hadn't come home. My son let him keep doing it, since it seemed to give him the illusion of control.

Meanwhile, back at my house, a feeling of dread began to creep over me; I thought Laura would be gone for a few minutes, but half an hour went by and she hadn't returned. My son sat at their house, reading his homework. Little Jonah made his emergency phone calls to no one.

Finally, finally, they came home. Jenny had decided to join a new club after school; then she forgot that she said she'd walk home, and was sitting in the school waiting to be picked up.

Meanwhile Laura died a little inside. She said she almost crashed her car on several occasions while she scanned the sidewalk for a sign of Jenny. She experienced that special fear that is always present in a corner of mothers' hearts--and it's kept alive by people who dress as clowns and try to lure children with balloons. Or people who ask if children would like to see a puppy. Or those who say that they have candy, if a child will just follow them.

Children today, thank goodness, understand that they cannot trust any random person, especially not strangers offering presents. And it's not that likely that anything will happen. And yet . . .

Last year the people who sold us our house (and who still live in town) had a terrible experience. Their six-year-old daughter was playing in their fenced back yard. Her mother was in the house and occasionally looked out the window (don't we all do that?)

The little girl, in her sandbox, was approached by a man who looked over the fence. He asked if she'd like to see a puppy. She said yes. He said, "Don't worry, your mom said it was okay." He lifted her over the fence and put her into his car, where he had installed a child seat. He strapped her in and drove away. It all took about one minute.

How often can a story like this have a happy ending? But this one is almost happy. The man drove the little girl from our suburb into Chicago. There, for some reason, he told her to get out of the car. He instructed her to go to a nearby mail carrier and tell him that she was lost. And he drove away.

By the time the girl's parents were contacted, they had been frantically searching for her for two hours. She was returned to them, frightened but unharmed.

I can only imagine the nightmares that mother must have when she thinks about the fact that someone had her child--someone with evil intentions. What had made him let her go? Had someone seen him? Someone who could have identified him later? Had he suffered a twinge of conscience? (I find that option unlikely). Had she made noise and persuaded him that his abduction would not go smoothly?

In any case the girl was returned to her family.

But it reminded me, once again, that there are many people who wear masks--and the one in the clown make-up is the easiest to spot. More frightening are the masks of friendliness that convince innocent children that nothing bad would ever happen.

(art link here)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Random Bouchercon

What I did, thought and learned at Bouchercon...

Laura Caldwell, though very nice, may not be the friend I thought she least not as Facebook is concerned.

Karen Syed is my new best friend and is energetic, excited and a marketing wizard. She can promise my hugs to anyone if it sells books. The fact that she had two basset hounds only sweetens the deal.

It's not a good idea to get lost in Baltimore. The third time you walk around the block you might as well paint "Victim" on your forehead

If you have bourbon in your room Joe Konrath will like you.

Henry Perez's book "Killing Red" will be the book everyone is talking about next spring. When Henry gets hungry he won't wait for you.

I'm happy to hang on Jane Cleland's arm at St. Martin's cocktail events.

Bob Ward is a cool guy not just because he wrote for Miami Vice and Hill St. Blues but because he was the writer who interviewed Reggie Jackson when he said he was the one who "stirred the drink." That, and the fact that he thought Duffy would be a good TV series and asked to see "TKO" and "On the Ropes."

Having Ken Bruen refer to me as a good friend and asking me how my "dear mum" and "beautiful wife" were were worth the 6 hour drive.

Sean Chercover wins awards every 3 hours. I'd hate him but he's a wonderful guy who blurbed "TKO"...even though he beat me twice for awards.

I found out that fellow Notre Dame alum Tasha Alexander cares even less about Irish football than I do.

Lee Child throws a good party.

Lucy's Irish Pub--Site of Lee's Bash

My old agent Joe Veltre is a good guy.

It's fun to talk to Otto Penzler about boxing...or for that matter, anything.

The Berkeley cocktail party was fun and I noticed that by tipping the bartender he would continue to give me beer long after the bar had closed.

I think Jennifer Jordan is amazingly insightful and I liked serving her beer.

Maleeny is some sort of voodoo electric babe magnet. They come to him in droves just to fawn over his MacAvity nomination.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bouchercon 2008

by G.M. Malliet

I've only been to Bouchercon a few times, but each time is completely wonderful, in completely different ways. In Toronto, I (by chance) had a drink at the bar with Ian Rankin. This time, in Baltimore, I had a drink (by design) with Laura Lippman. For a chance to name drop forevermore, it doesn't get much better than that in the mystery world.

Alas, I did not get to have a drink with Mr. Lawrence Block, who was quickly swallowed up by the huge crowd. His signing line stretched about half a mile.

This Bouchercon started out badly, however, and throughout there was a theme of firetrucks and sirens and general mayhem. The worst example: My husband and I had barely arrived at noon on Friday when he took a bad tumble down the short flight of stairs leading to the lobby. He landed on his chin, the EMTs were called, and he was taken to Mercy Hospital, where it took seven stitches by their wonderfully efficient staff to sew him back up. He is fine now--thank you to all who have asked--and there was no underlying reason he fell. (This being a mystery conference, I did have to wonder: Did he fall, or was he pushed? Several people came to grief on those slippy stairs, we heard later, but Bob won the award for falls: nosedive category.)

This being Bouchercon, wouldn't you know: As I chatted later with the EMT technician who helped take care of my husband, she mentioned that she is writing a book based on her life. I hope she remembers to email me. Hers would make a terrific story.

So. After the visit to emergency, things could only get better, right? And they did. I ended up going to very few panels because I kept getting caught up in fascinating conversations in the hallways. Thanks to an introduction from author Ellen Crosby, I met and had a long, wide-ranging talk with Genie and Rebecca of Books & Crannies, a beautiful bookstore in the hunt and wine country of Middleburg, VA. And author Wilfred Bereswill was instrumental in pointing out Bill Cameron, whom I finally got to meet, and in describing Tom Schreck so well I could also spot him (he told me you stood out because you were really ugly, Tom. He lied).

Felicia Donovan and Tim Maleeny were, like Laurence Block, swallowed by the crowd. Next time, guys!

The second emergency of the weekend came on Sunday morning at 8:30, just as the panel I was on (First-time Novelists) was starting. Moderator Chris Grabenstein had literally just opened his mouth to start the introductions when the fire alarms went off, and we were told to evacuate. Resourcefully, Chris simply restarted the panel outdoors. (We were soon able to return to the room, which is good: It is challenging having a panel with firetrucks roaring about in the background.) Panelists (see photo) were Howard Shrier, me (futzing with my gear), Peggy Ehrhart, Scott Sherman, and Meredith Cole. (That's Chris's back--sorry, Chris!)

Now code-named The Fire-Drill Panel, it was a panel no one will soon forget.

I have one more photo to share with you. This is Meredith Cole, my fellow panelist, with Laura Lippman. I won the charity auction for the chance of a drink with Laura. She had just won her two Anthony awards (best novel and best short story) and she was graciousness itself. We spoke of the mysterious ways of Barnes and Noble, among other things.

AND: Laura agreed to an interview here at InkSpot before the end of the year, so watch this space!

I could go on forever, and I have a few more photos which I hope to be able to provide a link to soon. Now I throw it open to the floor for discussion: Wasn't it a fabulous Bouchercon? And who's coming next year, to Indianapolis?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

News from Bouchercon

by Felicia Donovan


I've just returned from Bouchercon 2008, held this year in Baltimore, MD.

For me, it was a very special trip because I went with my sisters and it's been many years since we traveled together.

Among the many highlights was getting to visit with many fellow authors including Donna Andrews. Here we are at the Sisters in Crime Luncheon where DonnaAwe chatted about technology and writing. Donna posed with her upcoming Donna2

holiday book, SIX GEESE A-SLAYING. Love the title!

One of the nicest parts of Bouchercon for me was getting to meet new/old friends, many of whom I've known only "virtually," including former Midnight Ink author Tim Maleeny Jill-Timwho was nominated for the Macavity Award for "Best First Novel," seen here with our agent, Jill Grosjean. In case you're wondering, indeed, that's a black widow spider emblazoned on my shirt. THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY did not win the Barry Award, nor did Tim win the Macavity, though Tim was well-prepared to celebrate.

I did take a break from the conference to enjoy the beautiful sights of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.DSC01484 Here's a photo of the famous Dragon Peddle Boats.

Overall, it was a great conference with many bestselling authors in attendance. The "Belle of Baltimore," Laura Lippman, was this year's honoree and delivered a compelling address about her hometown and how some areas are very safe, while others have some of the highest homicide rates. She pleaded for understanding of the hotel workers' plight, some of whom were picketing outside and begged the crowd to be thankful and generous of their hard work.

Bouchercon 2008 will be set in Indianapolis. If there's anywhere near the turnout that this conference had, place your reservation early!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Inkspot News - October 11, 2008

Many Midnight Inkers are currently at Bouchercon in Baltimore. Please check back next week for photos and updates.

G.M. Malliet's Death of a Cozy Writer just made #2 on Creatures 'n Crooks (Richmond, VA) list of bestselling mysteries.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Eat Your Hearts Out on Yom Kippur

Keith here.

Let me generate some envy among my friends and fellow Inkspotters. While you are heading to Baltimore for four days of schmoozing, drinking, and carousing at Bouchercon, the world’s largest crime fiction conference, I am getting ready to spend a day meditating and praying and fasting. Eat (don’t say that word to me tomorrow) your hearts out.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starts this evening and the fasting that goes with it is supposed to encourage introspection, I guess. The rules are tough in one respect – no liquid or food from sundown tonight till darkness tomorrow – but reasonable in another: the young, elderly, nursing, pregnant, or sick are absolved from fasting. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a tea addict. The hot green liquid fuels my writing engine. Part of being an addict is craving. The other part is a physical reaction when your addiction goes unsatisfied. I qualify on that score, too. If I don’t have tea, I end up with a whopper of a headache. An iron band closes around my forehead, while the top of my head is used as an anvil by an invisible blacksmith. Several years ago a rabbi-friend told me that God doesn’t want me writhing in agony during services. So once or twice tomorrow, I’ll swallow a couple of Excedrin, a dry cocktail of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine.

Living amidst the riches of Silicon Valley requires a level head and good balance. (One daughter had her locker next to a classmate’s whose father made more than $250M in salary and bonus in a single year.) Otherwise, one would spend all his time bursting with envy. An underestimated factor in garnering Silicon Valley wealth is luck. There used to be an eTrade billboard on 101 that said, “Someone will win the lottery. It just won’t be you.” Exactly. In the middle of a wall in my office, I have a piece of framed parchment with a quote from the ancient sage Ben Zoma. In Hebrew it asks, “Who is rich? The person who rejoices in what he has.” I keep trying to remember that as I watch my savings evaporate. I have my family, friends, colleagues, writing, and more – despite the confounded stock market, I need to rejoice more. A worthy resolution for year 5769 on the Jewish calendar, don’t you think?

May you all be sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

3 Weeks

My life has been lived in three week increments.

I didn't realize this until I got the notice that "Stealing God's Thunder" was overdue. But I'd just taken it out. Oh wait, that was three weeks ago. Already.

I remember so clearly deciding on that book. It was a spur of the moment decision. Something to listen to the in the car during NPR pledge breaks. How could 21 days have passed so quickly?

I’ve been visiting libraries for fifty years.

I remember the wonder of the rooms filled with books and the thrill of the bookmobile. And walking home with the unbearable burdern of new books to read, barely able to contain my excitement. Books that were mine to keep for three whole weeks. Forever.

My local branch library is closing for six weeks to prepare to move into their new digs. My first thought was: How would I live? It’s not like I don’t own books, or have more than enough reading to get through that period of drought. I do write there on occasion but it's not like there isn't a Starbucks on every corner. But still...

Then I figured it out. Six weeks - that's just one take out period plus a renewal. No time at all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Janet Evanovich Interview, by Jess Lourey

oneforthemoneyThanks to Janet Evanovich, I write humorous mysteries. (At least I hope they're funny.) About seven years ago, I was having no luck getting my embarrassingly autobiographical "fiction" published, and I needed something to distract me. A friend suggested I read One for the Money. Couldn't put it down. What a person likes to read is personal, but I consider that book one of the top ten best mysteries ever written. It hit all the right notes--suspense, humor, sex, food. When I found out there were more in the series, I devoured them. When I was at the end, and she wasn't writing fast enough, I decided to try my hand at it, and so, the Murder-by-Month series was born.

So yeah. She's one of my idols. And on a whim, I recently emailed her and asked if she would agree to a brief interview, made up of five questions only a Stephanie Plum geek could love. Imagine my surprise when she graciously answered them! Here is the interview:

JESS: You are famous for your dedication to your fans, touring when it is no longer a career necessity. What keeps you going back on the road?

JANET: It's a way of staying in touch with my readers. And I love room service.

JESS: Ha! That room service never seems to find me in the basement of the Motel 8, but it's probably for the best. I don't know what they'd bring, but I'm pretty sure it'd have a hair in it. OK, next question. Tess Gerritsen tells a story of having one of the big dogs reviewing her first book. The review said, essentially, "This book will only appeal to readers who move their lips." Do you have any mortifying interview/review anecdotes that could make us mere mortal writers feel better about ourselves?

JANET: First, let me say that I've been known to move my lips while reading. Second, stop reading the reviews and interviews and use that time tojanet evanovich improve a couple sentences in chapter three. Third, just about everything I do is mortifying's a way of life.

JESS: Hallelujah! Back in your pre-published days, you wrote a few novels that would be categorized as literary, or mainstream, fiction. Ever think about dusting those off, revising them using your hard-won writing skills, and publishing them?

JANET: Nope. They wouldn't meet reader expectation in their present form and the editing would be so time consuming it wouldn't be cost effective.

JESS: And I certainly don't want to pull you away from creating more Stephanie Plum adventures! OK, Mark Twain once said, "I prefer having written to writing." (He also said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society," but that's beside the point). How about for you? Do you enjoy the act of writing, or is it still a challenge, albeit a grand one?

JANET: I prefer writing to having written. I love the process, the isolation, the unique world I go into every morning. Once the book is off my desk it belongs to someone else. The only really good part to having written is that someone sends me a check which allows me to go on writing.

JESS: That is a nice perk! OK, here's the big one, the one many of your fans are dying to know. If you were single and Joe Morelli and Ranger both came to life, whom would you choose? (Morelli would come with a lifetime supply of Cheetos; Ranger w/limitless grocery store birthday cake with crusty buttercream frosting.)

JANET: That's an easy one ...birthday cake.

Ha ha! Thank you to the lovely, ever-funny, and talented Janet Evanovich for her time! In celebration of funny mysteries everywhere, I'm sending out a free copy of August Moon to the three people who write the the best (as judged by me, using entirely arbitrary and shifting criteria) comment to this post. Here's some prompts: Whose your favorite character in the Stephanie Plum novels? Who do you think is the best actor to play Stephanie Plum, Grandma Mazur, Ranger, Joe Morelli, Lulu, Vinnie, etc. in a movie version of the series? Would you pick the Cheetos or the birthday cake? What writer(s) inspire you?

Happy fall, and thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Inkspot News - October 4, 2008

Be sure to visit Inkspot on Monday, October 6 to read Jess Lourey's interview with Janet Evanovich, who once and for all answers the question, "Who would YOU choose: Ranger or Joe?"

Starting this coming Thursday and throughout the weekend, you can meet several Midnight Ink authors at Bouchercon in Baltimore:

Thursday, 3:00 PM, Tim Maleeny - LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER

Friday, 10/10 @ 10 AM, Felicia Donovan: STOP I'M ALREADY DEAD: Keeping a series interesting. Felicia is also a nominee for the Barry Award, to be presented Thursday night. The Barry is awarded by Deadly Pleasures magazine for excellence in crime fiction.

Friday, 10/10 @ 3 PM, Tom Schreck will be moderating I COULD'VE LIED.

Saturday, 11:30 AM, Tom Schreck - MURDER WHAT FUN

Saturday, 3:00 PM, Tim Maleeny - KUNG FU FIGHTING

Sunday, 10/12 @ 8:30 AM, G.M. Malliet - BEGINNINGS: First-Time Novelists

The fourth book in the supper club series, Stiffs & Swines, has been released! See J.B. Stanley's web site for details.

Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore will be signing their new Cotten Stone thriller, THE 731 LEGACY, at:

700 University Drive
Coral Springs, FL
Saturday, October 11, 2:00 - 4:00 PM

This week marks the official launch for Deborah Sharp's series debut, MAMA DOES TIME. On Tuesday evening, Oct., 7, she'll be the first guest in an interactive teleconference series, ''Author Talks.'' For more info, or to sign up to participate:

Don't miss the Midnight Ink ad in the latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine, along with an article by Midnight Ink author C.S. Challinor, and a nice review for Deborah Sharp. Also, see great reviews for Joanna Slan and Jess Lourey in this month's Crimespree (pdf).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Entertainment in Tough Times

Anyone who follows the news, lives in a mortgaged home, or buys gas for his or her car knows we are in bumpy financial times. Bailout, TARP, Financial Rescue or not, we have a long road of tight financial times ahead.
So, this got me wondering, what kind of entertainment was popular during that toughest of economic times in recent history, the Great Depression? Now, I'm no historian, but I did some digging and was struck by a few interesting facts. First, two types of story telling seemed to flourish, the writing that took you deep into the heart of the problem, Tobacco Road, The Grapes of Wrath, for example, and the stories that took you away from it all to another place and time, like Gone with the Wind.
In my opinion, the hardest of stuggles forged some of the best creativity the world has ever seen. Aside from those mentioned above, the Depression brought us Dr. Seuss’s first book, Robert Frost’s poetry gained in popularity and won three of his Pulitzer Prizes, and in movies, the Depression delivered the fantastic Wizard of Oz as well as the wonderful animation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Games invented during the Great Depression included Monopoly and Scrabble. Early on, we sent in the clowns with the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Mae West, and WC Fields. As the era drew to a close, we moved to the highly stylized big screen musicals, Hollywood’s escapist answer to the beginnings of censorship restrictions.

In our tough times today, we see the strong advent of video games. A clear form of escapism. What else do you see that may be a creative reaction to tough economic times, either then or now? Escapist or not? Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sign of the Times

by G.M. Malliet

This sign appeared Tuesday on the remaining Olsson's bookstores in my area. Hard to imagine sadder news for book lovers and writers, not to mention all the people who counted on the store's success for their livelihoods.

Olsson's was in business for 36 years. If you don't live in the DC area, you may not have heard of it, but it was an institution here. It was where you went when you had an hour to kill and didn't quite know where else to go. In Alexandria, there was a coffee shop upstairs with a gorgeous view over the Potomac, and you were free to sit there and dream or scribble in your notebook uninterrupted. It was not uncommon to find people asleep up there in one of the easy chairs. No one bothered them. It was that kind of place.

A small chain to begin with, Olsson's had recently dwindled to five stores. Even when they filed for bankruptcy protection in July, we figured they'd weather the storm. But no. They'd been Amazoned and iTuned, as the Washington Post said. They're not the first and sadly, they won't be the last. But they were really great about supporting this newbie author and I want the staff there to know: I will miss you guys. Thank you.

Amazon is convenient, but it doesn't have a river view.