Wednesday, October 31, 2007


October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Lest I be accused of writing about something non-writing related for once, I thought, in the spirit of Halloween, I would talk—briefly!!!—about villains. And who better than Frankenstein’s monster (or is Dr. Victor Frankenstein the real villain?), Count Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

After all, these are three villains who have clearly stood the test of time. Archetypes, after all.

What makes them last in our psyche, why are they such delicious villains? And how—if we can at all—apply them to our own bad guys?

Frankenstein’s monster probably represents the monster from beyond. In espionage fiction he may be the enemy terrorist, the leader of the country we’re fighting. And yeah, sometimes they’re created by us. Look at an in-depth history of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, who created these monsters, anyway? Well, let’s not get too political or heavy here. Just ask yourself this question though: Is there humanity in this monster?

Count Dracula, or the vampire. We’re really talking evil here, the devil, Satan. The legendary Count Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was the son of Count Dracu (nicknamed The Devil, for being such a charmer; Dracula, then, translates as Son of the Devil). Dracula’s a personification of evil and rarely seems all that human. He does, however, often come off as sexy and charismatic, larger than life.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You know what we have here? We have the werewolf. We have the serial killer. We have the every day, ordinary suburban guy who hides the evil inside, but sometimes it comes out to play. Why yes, little Jeffery seemed like such a nice man, quiet, unassuming. Until we find out he’s got body parts in his freezer.

There’s a fourth category: the ghost.

I’ve never quite gotten over an exchange in Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” where one of the characters has problems understanding what the woman is saying. Did she say: “I see a ghost”? Did she say, “I am a ghost” or did she say “You are a ghost.”? Part of the house of mirrors in “Ghost Story” is that ghosts are reflections of those seeing them, perhaps vanity incarnate.

I’ll let you do the dissembling. Who are you favorite villains in fiction and which of these four archetypes do you think they fall under. Anybody want to start with Hannibal Lechter? Is he a vampire or is he a werewolf?

Happy Haunting!
Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ya Gotta Have Sass

by Nina Wright

Now and then I tend toward the blunt and cynical.Example: On a recent occasion when I may have been more...ahem...emotional than usual, my significant other, whom I fondly call Coach, asked why I was being "such a girl." In response, I asked why he was being such an a--hole. He calmly observed that I sound like the character I write.

"Which one?" I demanded.

Whiskey Mattimoe is hardly the girliest of girls, but she does have a mouth on her. Since she runs a real estate agency, however, she can't afford to piss everyone off. My teen protagonist Easter Hutton is more likely to let flip responses fly.

"Pick one," Coach said. "They all say what you want to say."

I started to protest, then reconsidered. Before long we were engaged in a lively discussion. Allow me to summarize:

* Esprit de l’escalier. French for “staircase wit.” In everyday life, that’s the sparkling remark you wish you had thought of when you needed it but were too slow-witted to produce. In writing, it’s the power to give your characters the verbal snap and crackle you lack. Or not. Sometimes we make them mis-speak for humor, humanity, or plot activation. Both Whiskey and Easter frequently open mouth and insert foot.

* Author-Protagonist Identity Fusion. No, this is not a new listing in the DSM-IV, although perhaps it should be. Authors, especially authors of series fiction, grow weary of being asked if they are their protagonists. Sue Grafton has admitted that she conceived Kinsey Milhone as a younger, braver, fitter version of herself. That’s partially true of me and Whiskey: she’s taller, braver, more athletic, and certainly more affluent than I am. But in all fairness, she lacks my brains and sophistication. Faraway friends with whom I used to spend lots of face time insist that reading the series is the next best thing to hanging out with me. I can only imagine that’s because Whiskey has a few of my questionable charms. Frankly, it’s the differences between us that keep me intrigued. My teen protagonist Easter Hutton is nearly the complete opposite of the sunny sixteen-year-old I used to be. That’s what makes her fun to write. I get to relive teen angst as a dark personality in a high-risk, paranormally charged world.

* Author Personality Projection/Adjustment. Again, not a disorder. I contend that we infuse every character we write with pieces of ourselves, often neatly twisted. Although I’m inspired by real-world folks and frequently borrow dialogue or other details, I’m the final filter. Confession: my villain may be more like me, or more like what I fear, than my protagonist.

* Author’s Voice. Finding our own is hard work for most of us. Reshaping it as needed for the various books (and genres) we choose to write may be even tougher. My signature voice, though distinctly different for Whiskey vs. Easter, is breezy, irreverent and direct, not unlike the way I talk. (There. I admitted it.) Yet that’s hardly the way I’ve always written. Back in grad school I believed that my future lay in writing literary novels. Oh, the poetry I churned out. I was the sensitive, articulate type. What happened, besides waking up to the reality of commerce? I dropped all pretense and wrote my essence. But I’d like to believe that I could still find the voice needed to write that literary or gothic novel. Without going back to grad school.

Although I aspire to weightier pieces, I swear sass beats class for readability and sheer entertainment. What’s your Author Voice? How did you find it? Where do your characters come from? Happy writing and Happy Halloween from this occasionally rude writer.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Clutter or creativity?

So, what happened?

A few Christmases ago, this was the question posed by a concerned relative while standing in my messy office. Her hand swept over the theatre-shaped cardboard collage with its montage of magazine cutouts, plastic squirt guns, and stuffed latex gloves. It swung past the big bulletin board and over quotes by Thoreau, notes from authors, and photos of Sarah Paretsky, Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, and Ray Bradbury, not to mention scraps of paper with dangling notes-to-self. From beneath her crumpled brow, she peered at the grease board with its hand drawn map of Mudd Lake, the imaginary Michigan town that is home to my Kate London Mystery Series.
And speaking of the Kate London Mysteries, did I mention the reams and reams of paper, a.k.a. work-in-progress, that littered the surfaces?
What? What's the problem?

Then I got what she meant.
My office used to be somewhat, err---neat----at least she thought so.
A light went on behind her eyes.

Ohhh. The book!

Now, I've always been a messy worker—I shoved papers off camera to shoot the above photo for a curious reporter. I wanted her to at least see I had a desk, but in the past, I made big efforts to hide the major clutter.

Not so, any more. A book-in-progress is not something that likes to be shoved into a closet. Collages don’t fare well in the dark, and creative notes seem to like dangling at odd angles to grab your attention.

My fictional writing seems to need a physical space—I need the visuals around me to work—not that I can't do so at Starbucks or the library, but home base requires the stuff of a writer—the nest if you will.

So, what happened? Creativity? Or maybe I just got tired of hiding it all in the closet.
What does your writing space look like? Are you a neatnik? A clutter-lover? Somewhere in between?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Oooh ....those librarians...

Tom Schreck, author of "On The Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery"
In On The Ropes Duffy has a minor obsession with librarian Debra Speakwell.

Her shoulder length red hair, her constant need to moisturize her page-worn fingers and that confident mastery of the Dewey Decimal system...

Man, talk about hot.

I love librarians.

I love the glasses they wear and the way their eyes search behind them finding exactly what you want, what you're looking for. Those eyes, those glasses looking out and gathering what you need.

Oh my...

It's not just the glasses or the hair tied neatly in a bun --man, that smoldering look, that control, that, that, that....that way they hold a single finger to their pursed lips and exhale "Shhhh..."

I think it's their total sense of control that gets to me. Their books, on their shelves in that special order that only they really understand.

They have the information you want. They know how to get it and if you ask in the right way--they'll help you.

But it's the way they lend a hand. Quietly, never rushed--librarians take their time, they do it right, they do it thoroughly and when they're done, well, perhaps a half smile, a nod and that knowing look letting you understand that they are the only ones for this kind of work.

I spent last weekend at the New York Library Association Convention and in two weeks I'm hosting a panel at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego--a library sponsored event.

I also found out this morning that some library way out in Portland, Oregon just ordered six copies of On The Ropes.

It's not just the glasses.

Writing on the road

When I first started writing novels I had a set routine, a specific time when I would pound away at the keyboard in hopes of getting something memorable on the page. The ritual of sitting down at the same time in the same place brought a certain discipline to the process of writing that I desperately needed. For the first book writing time was every night after my wife went to sleep, from ten to two in the morning, which suited my nocturnal nature. Then we had our first daughter who was also a night owl and my schedule had to change, so I wrote the second novel every morning from six to eight, sitting in a local restaurant, pancakes on one side of the table and laptop on the other.

But with two kids at home and in the midst of a tour to promote the new novel, any sense of discipline I once possessed has gone straight to hell. I’ve had to train myself to write on the road, to pick up the narrative thread wherever it left off, even if that was somewhere three time zones ago. Lately I’ve been doing most of my writing on airplanes or in hotel rooms. Tonight I’m in a hotel just north of San Diego, tomorrow it will be Chicago, and then on Saturday it’s a quick tour through Wisconsin before heading east to Ohio. I thought that staying focused on the road would be damn near impossible, and it took a while to get the hang of it, but in some ways the constant state of change has been a great catalyst for unexpected plot twists and random bits of dialogue that would never have occurred to me if I were sitting in my office at home.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ready for My Closeup

by G.M. Malliet

My most recent stop on the publishing trail was having my author photo professionally taken. I had been getting by for a few years with rather hazy digital vacation snaps taken by my husband. It was explained to me by Midnight Ink that for their catalog, I'd need a headshot taken by a real photographer. They sent a sheet of rather daunting and specific instructions ("Please do not lay your head in your hands on a table" - I wasn't entirely sure what that meant but I vowed to keep my head off any tables), and off I went on my quest for the perfect photographer.

I had never had my photo done professionally before and I faced the whole thing with a certain amount of dread. There were high school and college graduation photos, but those were more assembly-line productions. Then there were my wedding photos, which were largely a matter of capturing everyone on film before they were too drunk to stand. This would be the real thing with various costume changes and a stylist(!).

But it all turned out to be a fun experience which I would highly recommend to anyone. Any excuse will do - birthday or anniversary or whatever. You will probably find you really, really like being fussed over like Oprah for two hours.

I got many good recommendations for photographers from the various writers' listserves I belong to, but I went with Michael Collins, who has a studio near Annapolis. His stylist/makeup artist, Laural Hargadon, also works for national and regional beauty pageants. Just imagine. Just. Imagine. I can think of a few more pressure-cooker jobs, but not many. I must have seemed relatively low-maintenance, since I was not, merciful God, facing a swimsuit competition.

For weeks before my appointment, I studied various author photos on the backs of book covers to figure out what kind of "look" I wanted to aim for. I found an awful lot of mystery authors in raincoats and/or fedoras and/or leather jackets, and I'm still not sure what that is about. It would be a great topic for someone's master's thesis. These authors looked dark and sinister and intriguing but since my books are more satiric than anything, figuring out what a satiric author of traditional mysteries might wear was the biggest challenge. A deerstalker hat? In the end, I packed half of what I owned into a suitcase and set off, hoping for the best. (This was where Laural came in handy, in helping me choose.)

Anyway, don't hesitate...the whole process is a hoot. And you, too, can be Diva for a Day.

p.s. For those in the Mid-Atlantic region, the Dying to Write conference still has openings. Registration information here:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Research sucks...

Photo Credit Don Reiland

...but somebody's got to do it.
Yeah, okay, that might not be exactly accurate. See, I write about a guy that lives in the Caribbean so I need, on occasion, to travel to said Caribbean to do a bit of "research." Yeah, that's the typical response I get. That bobbing of the head; that grin and wink. But please, if my accountant calls, go with the story eh?
I'm off to sail the British Virgin Islands with a couple buddies. These first few months as a newly minted author have been quite a whirlwind. I could use a bit of time to off gas. And for me, research is one of my favorite things about writing. I've got a license to learn. Tell someone you are a novelist and you've got a couple questions about what they do, you are more than likely to get a positive reaction. This research thing has introduced me to a bunch of very interesting and intelligent people - people I would have never met otherwise. Hell, I wouldn't have had the reason to.
So you see, that's why I HAVE to go the Caribbean. I have to do research; I have to make my stories as real as possible. It just so happens that a lot of my stories take place in a beach bar in the Caribbean.....

One fan at a time

There’s nothing better than a booksigning when a stranger comes in with your books (previously bought and read) and tells you how much they enjoyed them and can’t wait for the next. We had that happen last weekend. A lady walked into the signing and wanted us to sign her books. She was so excited, raving about how she was hooked from the first page in every book. She was thrilled to meet us and just had to tell us how wonderful our books are. Well, if we didn’t sell a single book, that lady made it all worthwhile. (Luckily we did sell some and picked up some new readers). Most of the time I don’t think you get a good return for the time spent at a signing, unless of course you are a NYT bestseller and readers are lined up to meet you. Otherwise the time would probably be better spent writing. But last weekend reminded me that you build your readership one reader at a time. That lady has me back at the keyboard today and happy to be here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fictional Body Count Too Low in World Technology Capital

Keith Raffel here with a rant.

What’s wrong with Silicon Valley as a setting for a mystery anyway?

Everything from TV’s Law and Order to Mickey Spillane’s pulp fiction plays out on the mean streets of New York. Georges Simenon made Paris a hotbed of fictional homicide, a tradition followed today in my friend Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc mysteries and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Since Raymond Chandler put pen to paper, Los Angeles has garnered more than its fair share of fictional crime-solving. And a half hour drive north of the Valley, San Francisco has been the setting for the very best of the mystery genre since the 1930 publication of The Maltese Falcon and the subsequent movie version that made Humphrey Bogart a star.

Hey, you writers of crime fiction! What about Silicon Valley? Commute traffic these days flows from San Francisco to the Valley, not the other way around. A feud among board members of a Palo Alto computer giant begets corporate espionage. Soaring stock prices engender financial shenanigans like the backdating of stock options. The high value attached to small devices leads to warehouse robberies by armed gangs. The engine that drives the Valley is fueled in no small part by greed, envy, and gluttony – to name only three of the Deadly Sins.

And yet, on a recent list of the ten best-selling mysteries and thrillers, four are set in New York, two in Paris, and one in L.A. Isn’t it time for a change? With the perfect ingredients for a mystery just lying here, why do so many authors persist in setting their mysteries in the old standbys, while virtually none take advantage of the seething turmoil of the Valley?

Technology as the background for a compelling story can lead to bestsellerdom as Joseph Finder and Michael Crichton have proven. If Silicon Valley is the center of world technology, why is it not the hub of high tech mysteries and thrillers? Of course, behind the Valley’s high tech image lurks very human motives and emotions – the Valley’s position at the center of world technology is based in no small part on disloyalty and betrayal. If young technologists could not break away from companies run by an older generation of entrepreneurs to start up their own firms, Silicon Valley would still be known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight and covered by orchards rather than tilt-up buildings.

The neglect of the Valley as a setting cannot be that business is the wrong background for a mystery. The Enron trial played out in compelling drama on the nation’s finance pages. Financial meltdowns are all too familiar to Valley denizens. Using the dot com implosion as background could give a mystery writer a chance to show the mighty made humble – always a popular theme – or show how a fallen icon can rise again – an equally popular storyline. And the mixture of technical talent from India, China, Israel, and dozens of other countries here in the Valley can add interest and conflict to any story.

Sure, we in the Valley are not quite so cocky as we were in 1999, but mystery writers have shown themselves to be more than adept in setting books among dissolution and decline. The late Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen mysteries take place amidst the corruption of modern-day Italy, and Stuart Kaminsky’s series about Moscow Police Inspector Rostnikov begins during the last days of the Soviet state.

Everyone knows sex sells, and I don’t think that sex – whether premarital, marital, or extramarital – is a missing ingredient in Valley life. It is true that, in pursuit of an IPO, sex drives may be sublimated and the opposite sex neglected. But when the programmer looks up from his PC, when the biotech researcher looks up from her microscope, birds and bees can take wing.

No market is perfect. We all recall stocks that scarcely moved for years before moving into the stratosphere. Buying low and getting in on the bottom floor is what investors want to do. Writers have an opportunity to buy into Silicon Valley as a setting for their crime fiction now, well before it is overrun by fictional detectives like New York, Paris, L.A., or San Francisco. The drive to succeed, the billions at stake can fuel murderous fires. I for one believe it’s time for mystery and thriller writers to start setting their books in this world of money, technology, and, of course, insane real estate prices. Maybe the process has started already with my fellow techie Mark Coggins’s Augustus Riordan series and Hooked by Matt Richtel, but maybe not –the action even in these books center more around San Francisco than the Valley.

So, just how long will we have to wait until the fictional body count in the world’s technology capital climbs to the levels reached by the world capitals of finance and culture?

Note: A version of this posting, called "More Dead Bodies, Please," ran in the Palo Alto Weekly.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Write Like a Dog

Having spent my entire lifetime in the company and casual study of canines, I realize that their behaviors offer many wise pieces of advice that all writers can use:

Dig Deeply: That’s my lab in the picture again, caught in a moment of uncontrollable exploration, but that precious last morsel could very well be down at the bottom of the bag. Writers need to be able to dig deep, too, whether it’s to the depths of our creative souls or our motivation. Just because the bag looks and feels empty doesn’t mean there isn’t another gem down there. Keep digging.

Sniff the Air Frequently: Why does my middle dog continue to dig the hole that I have filled in three times already? Because her keen sense of smell tells her that the chipmunk’s tunnel lies beneath. A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times stronger than humans. They have a wider field of peripheral vision and can perceive sounds in a frequency range we cannot. Dogs use their senses to survive. Writers can too. The observations writers make and their awareness of what is going on around them can be critical to developing a realistic, well-described story.

Bark Less, Communicate More: In the natural world, dogs generally don’t bark unless they have a reason to do so. When they do, it’s to communicate something – an alert or to signify who is the alpha dog. Dogs are naturally economical in their communication. Writers should be, too. If the words aren’t necessary, don’t put them down.

Eat, Play, Rest: Oh, to have a dog’s life! My dogs have mastered happiness from this standpoint. Writers live full lives, but there is much to be said for frolicking around with the other dogs and taking naps when the opportunity arises.

Never Pass Up a Bowl of Food: My yellow lab has never passed up a meal in his life. The writing life is fraught with difficult times, so if a free meal is offered, say thanks and take it. If you’re blessed enough to have a full bowl, offer it to the next dog in line.

Sit, Stay: A well-trained dog can sit and stay for quite a long time because that's the task they have at hand. Like I said…writers can learn a lot from dogs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Time is Out of Joint

by Julia Buckley
There’s a famous line spoken by Hamlet in one of his soliloquies: “Time is out of joint; oh curséd spite that ever I was born to set it right!”

It’s an apt metaphor, I think, for the fall we’ve been having, which puts me on edge, makes me uneasy in its unnaturalness. For one thing, all of our trees are still green. (The tree pictured here is in my front yard; the photo was taken today). In autumns past, this was already the peak color weekend, and vast drifts of leaves were blowing around yards and gathering at car fenders.

Today the foliage is still on the trees, as though summer still hadn’t heard that it was supposed to leave town. Added to that, the weather has been unpleasantly warm. I like my Octobers cold; I’m conditioned to need that bitter weather because it’s a part of the cycle of the Midwest; cold autumns go with football, warm-up food like stew and chili, cozy blankets and heaters. Jack-o-lanterns weren’t meant to be lit while flowers bloom and bugs still buzz past our ears. (That's my Red Riding Hood Mandevilla, still blooming happily on my front porch). Pumpkins should contrast with gray skies; they endure chilled rains with seasonal stoicism.

If these changed temps (which are supposed to bring severe storms later in the week, when they clash with a cold front) are an indicator of global warming, then I am fearful not only as an autumn-lover, but as a writer. What will fall be in the future? How will we write it then? Will the seasons blend into one another until there is little beauty left in the distinctions? Will we have to write about autumnal splendor in retrospect, as something we have lost?

Yesterday, on top of this weather oddity, we lost our electricity for five hours. My husband and I were distinctly irritable, and we agreed that the unseasonable weather had been bad enough, but to be deprived of light and all modern conveniences at the same time made it feel that, indeed, time was out of joint.

Things will get better, of course. It will be colder next week, although we may have missed our chance for fall color. The leaves may drop green and wither quickly. Time, currently out of joint, will tell if this is a trend or a warning.

But I’m concerned. Look how things turned out for Hamlet.

Was it everything you dreamed of?

By Joe Moore
When your first book was published, was the experience everything you dreamed it would be? For me, it was quite different than what I expected. The first time I walked into a national chain bookstore and saw my shinny new novel on the new release table, it was a rush. I was proud. I felt like I was on top of the world. I couldn't wait to see customers gathering it up in their arms and rushing home to read it. Then I stood back and watched as people picked up my book, glanced at the back cover copy, and put it down with no more interest than in choosing one tomato over another at the supermarket.

That book cost me 3 years of my life and they passed judgment on it within 5 seconds.

Reality quickly set in. Not everyone will want to read my book. Not everyone will like it if they do read it. And I found out rather fast that once a book is published, the real work begins.

Today, I'm writing (with co-author, Lynn Sholes) my fourth novel due for release next fall. My books have won awards and I've been published in over 21 countries. And yet, every day I face the reality that the true test of my success is what the customer does when they stand over that literary produce bin and pick the ripest tomato. It's about as scary as it can get.

As a full-time writer, I have the best job in the world. I would not trade it for anything. But a word to anyone dreaming of publishing their first book: be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

So, when your first book came out, was it everything you dreamed of? And if you're still working at getting published, what are you dreaming it will be like?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Author's Work Is Never Done...Misconceptions and a New Website

Last week I learned the team at Midnight Ink decided to change the name of my first Kiki Lowenstein book. They proposed Paper, Scissors, Dead.

I took all of two seconds to decide…WOW!!! I love it!

The new title is much, much better than the old one was. This title positions the book perfectly because it’s more fun—and Kiki is all about fun. Plus, the new title makes it instantly clear the book is a mystery. I think Barbara Moore, my acquiring editor, was a little concerned about my reaction. But honestly, she shouldn’t have been. I’m thrilled. (And since Simon & Schuster changed the title of my first book, Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience, the action didn’t come as a big surprise. I was aware that title changes are part of the marketing process.)

My author friends have fallen totally in love with Paper, Scissors, Dead. One said, “Boy, I’m impressed. The people at Midnight Ink really know what they’re doing.” Yeah, they do.

I’m sure my scrapbooking friends will love the new title, too.

But a few of my “civilian” friends were stunned. “You mean you don’t pick the title?”

The fact most authors don’t choose their book titles is one of the biggest misconceptions folks have about our work. I found myself thinking about other mistaken notions. Here’s a list of common misconceptions:

1. Authors pick their own titles.
2. Authors choose what goes on their covers.
3. You have to know somebody to get your book published.
4. All you need is an agent, and your book will get published.
5. Once your book is published, everyone will want to buy it.
6. The publisher will set up signings and send you on a book tour.
7. Getting your book published will make you rich and famous.
8. Authors sit around and write all day long.
9. You must have blocks of uninterrupted time to write a book.
10. Any fool can write a book, the hard part is coming up with a great idea.

I’m curious, how many of these have you heard? Do you have any to add to my list?

PS--Regarding #8. I've been spending a lot of time working on my new website. Please take a look and tell me what you think: The original art above is part of the website.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

InkSpot News - October 13, 2007

Candy Calvert is interviewed by Connie Payne of "Once Upon a Romance"

Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore will sign their new thriller, THE HADES PROJECT at Poe House Books in Crystal River, FL on Saturday, October 20 from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM. THE HADES PROJECT is the third in their award-winning Cotten Stone series and is currently being translated into Portuguese, Greek, French, and 6 other languages.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"No, This One Has Hamsters," by Jess Lourey

I was at a booksigning last Sunday when I was approached by a familiar character to most authors: the earnest teenager, bright-eyed and immune to social cues, who must tell you every detail about the novel they just wrote or they’ll die.

The teen who approached me last week was named Michael. He locked eyes on me at the signing table, walked straight toward me (unimpeded, you’ll note, by anyone waiting in line to get their copy of Knee High by the Fourth of July signed), and said, “I want to tell you about my novel.”

“Great! You write. That’s very exciting. Do you want a handout on getting published?”

“The novel is called Unlikely Heroes. The main character is just a regular Joe, and then he realizes he’s a wizard. His parent’s died, you know, and his mean aunt and uncle took him in and never told him the truth about his parents…he gets a magical stone but has to figure out its powers…he breaks a friend of the family out of prison but doesn’t know if he can trust him…he fights a terrible wizard with his two friends, a girl and a boy…”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yeh. But I don’t want to interrupt him because he’s really passionate about his writing, and that’s something. But then, seven minutes into his “synopsis” and after he has actually turned two people away from the signing table with his intensity, he tells me that the main character has a scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt. I have to stop him.

“This sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series.”

“No, no! It’s totally different. My main characters are all hamsters.”

Right? Is there a reply to that? Here’s how we Minnesotans respond to those sort of statements. “I think I need to go get a drink of water.”

“But I’ve only described the book to you through page 7.”

I wish I could make this stuff up. I extricated myself from the conversation. I like to think I gave him a little optimism and direction without misleading him. Then, I went on to sign 10 more books in two hours. Beautiful. The glamorous life of an author.

p.s. If you're in the area, check out the Twin Cities Book Festival this Saturday. Lots of great authors, books, and bibliophiles. I'll be at the Resort to Murder table from 11-1, signing copies of Knee High by the Fourth of July at the Midnight Ink table from 2-4, and on a panel as a guest of the Minnesota Crime Wave from 4-5.

From Page to Silver Screen- Lost in Translation?

Now that summer is over, I can look back and say that it was one of the weakest summers for great movies. I had minor surgery a few weeks ago and therefore had some down time, so I started thinking about which books have translated beautifully to the movie screen. I think this weekend may call for a trip to Blockbuster, since I’m going to be all alone with my children while my husband jets off to San Francisco. Lucky dog.

Here’s a brief list:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Jack Nicholson, must we say more?)

The Harry Potter Books


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (only in the hands of the capable Peter Jackson could these movies have appeased Tolkien fans)

Dune ­– I know some of Herbert’s readers would disagree, but I’ve always liked the film

Dracula ­– I like the one with Gary Oldman

The Majority of Jane Austen novels – yep, I’m one of those girls who turns to Pride & Prejudice when I’m in a funk

The Great Train Robbery – Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, and Alan Webb – perfect!)

Maltese Falcon

Last of the Mohicans (with Daniel Day Lewis)

Lots of kids books, including Wizard of Oz, Black Stallion, Anne of Green Gables, Watership Down, and The Secret Garden to name a few.

A few books that have never shone on the big screen:

Great Expectations (sorry Gwyneth and Ethan)

Frankenstein – Even with the fabulous duo of DeNiro and Brannaugh, I thought this film fell short

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Great Gatsby - I’ve always had an issue with one of the actors as being miscast

Movies I wish they’d make:

Anything by Wilkie Collins

Some updated John Steinbeck films

Anything by the MI Writers!

What would you add to these lists? What should I get for this weekend’s entertainment?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No Toys for Tots is a Crime!

When author and publisher Tony Burton approached me earlier this year about participating in a holiday-themed anthology, he had a hook I couldn’t resist – all the profits from the anthology would be donated to TOYS FOR TOTS. I think it took me just a bit more than a nano-second to say yes and join 14 other authors in donating my time and a short story for this wonderful and favorite cause.

My contribution to the recently released Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters is "Ho Ho Homicide," an Odelia Grey short story. Other stories include those by award-winning authors Thomas H. Cook, Chris Grabenstein, and Earl Staggs.

This anthology is the perfect gift for the crime fiction lovers on your list and, remember, every book sold translates into a toy for a tot.

Carols and Crimes, Gifts and Grifters can be purchased from or directly from Wolfmont Publishing.

Monday, October 8, 2007

We’ve been through the same debate over awards. But I’d like to go a few verbal rounds with those among you who feel that inequalities against women no longer exist in the mystery field. Times have changed, right? Sisters in Crime had a place in our past fight for equity, and that’s where it belongs, in history. Thank you, Sara, and those who followed in your footsteps, but we really don’t need your services any longer.
Yeh, right. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I’m so pissed off!
The latest example:

When my local library selects books to add to the collection, they, like most libraries, use two publications EXCLUSIVELY. I won’t mention names. Okay. Yes, I will. Library Journal and Booklist. I’m part of the monitoring project for SINC. Booklist is my quarterly target. Four times every year I tally up a count – the number of women mystery authors reviewed vs the number of men.

I’m not happy about the results. Not happy at all.
You guys out there are getting the reviews. Twice as many, at least. Last quarterly count was 102 to 50.

So I asked myself why? Are there that many more men writing mystery? Nope. In fact, take a gander at the list of Bouchercon attending authors. Way more women.

Then what? I know. Maybe Booklist doesn’t review paperbacks. I’m pretty sure more women write mass market than men although I’ve never seen statistics. Is that the problem? After careful analysis, I’ve deduced that booklist certainly does review paperbacks.

Could it be that the mystery reviewers prefers suspense and thrillers over cozies? Sure, women write suspense and thrillers, too. Those are the women who are getting most of the female reviews. If my guess is correct, and the reviewers for this massively used publication really favor certain sub-genres (not cozies) over others, then women are in real trouble because that’s where a lot of us have been categorized. How are we supposed to get our books into libraries if booklist won’t review our non-suspense, non-thriller mysteries? Who are these people behind the reviews? And where can I find them?

I’d like to have a word.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

InkSpot News - October 6, 2007

On the Ropes author Tom Schreck is off in Vegas this weekend as one of the judges for the Barrera vs Pacquaio bout. You can catch it on Pay-Per-View if you want to shell out the $59. Also, Tom auctioned a chance at naming a character in his upcoming release TKO:Round Two at the Catie Hoch Foundation Gala. The winner gets to get murdered and the winning bidder Joe Snow won the opportunity for $1300. Congrats joe! Now prepare yourself to get killed...


THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY author Felicia Donovan will be signing copies of her book on Tuesday, October 23rd, 7PM at the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Travel Profile

Today's post will be short--because jet lag is still sapping my brain, calling me to bed at Texas dusk and waking me up . . . at the time of Cairo's call to morning prayer. The laundry's done, the suitcases (over limit, causing us to schlep two bags from terminal to terminal, terminally) stowed, and the 400 digital photos uploaded to the computer. And after 4 days (and regular hikes around the neighborhood), my knees, back and neck are finally forgetting the 18 hour flight back from Athens . . . grueling, but SO worth it for a 12-day cruise adventure that dreams are made of, and included:
1) A hike up to the Acropolis in Athens to see the Parthenon
2) Touring Haiga Sofia (first Christian church) AND the Blue Mosque in Instanbul--drinking Turkish coffee in the Grand Bazaar
3)Cruising through the Dardanelles toward the Black Sea
4) Tasting local wines in Varna, Bulgaria
5) Drinking vodka, eating caviar before the symphony in Odessa, Ukraine--and a first introduction to "non-Western" plumbing (gad! What do you do in heels and a long skirt?)
6) Military monuments, bullet-riddled churches in Sevastopol, Ukraine
7) Castles from the Crusades in Kusadasi Turkey, the ruins (2500 BC) in Ephesus
8) Blue, blue sea in Rhodes, Greece
9) The feral cats of Cyprus--originally imported by Constantine's wife to rid the island of snakes
10) Egypt, Egypt, Egypt: a cruise down the Nile, a *camel ride*, and the goosebumpy first glimpse of the pyramids.
Amazing fodder for storytelling. Memories to last a lifetime.
Me and the Sphinx--who'd have thunk it?
What's your dream trip? Have you taken it?
* I climbed aboard the camel--in the shadow of the pyramids--in honor of my mother, Betty Lou, a woman with an insatiable sense of adventure, a killer wit, and the bluest eyes you've ever seen. She died (after a long struggle with Alzheimers) the day before we were scheduled to fly to Europe. She'd have been furious if I cancelled. I did my best to see it all through her eyes.
Bon Voyage and Godspeed, Mom*

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Puppy Love Noir

As he later remembered it, the air under the bridge was always ten degrees cooler than the day above, summer spring, winter fall. Didn't matter. The creek ran mostly shallow, water flowing over round stones like fossilized teeth, though an eddy around the center piling had dug out a deep pool which collected branches, pop cans, and plastic bags tangled in a slick of foam. A bank of wet gravel and sand sloped down on the north side of the creek, too damp to sit on but open and flat: a blank canvas.

After school most days he would ride his bike down to the creek, four miles past blank, staring houses that all looked the same. The sheltered bank was a place to be alone, to mope and to long. She lived just a quarter mile away in a subdivision hidden from view by a line of trees on the creek's edge. He could sense her house over there beyond boiling clouds of gnats which rose off the water when the heat pressed down in the afternoon. He knew she came down to the bridge too. He'd seen her once from far up the road, climbing up from below, gone by the time he arrived. He thought of it as her place too. Maybe they'd even run into each other some day. An accidental meeting in a shared refuge. The start of something perfect.

As the year wore on, the bridge served more and more as his place of sanctuary, a safe place to conjure. She'd appear in his thoughts and they'd talk about the trivially significant. Somehow she always wanted to discuss whatever was on his mind. His insights always impressed her. He was earnest and wise and she adored him for it. Then there were the days he arrived at the bridge to find her already there, beset by hooligans. Aimless drifters with black, rotted teeth. Maybe there'd be a bit of rope on the bridge and he'd swing down from above. One day he'd wield a sword, the next double-fisted .45s — or more often only his own limbs. Kick one backwards, arms windmilling, into the eddy. Send another flying onto the rocks with a well-timed upper cut. An eighth grade boy against men, but faced with his fury they'd flee, bleeding and bruised. Then she'd fall into his arms in relief and gratitude. Her hero, swinging down on his rope to save the day. No wonder their passion took root in the sandy lee of the bridge across from an eddy full of trash, alone though he was.

Spring gave way to summer and school let out, cutting him off from the one place he could count on seeing her in the flesh. He found himself spending more and more time under the bridge, anxious and adrift in fantasy. The shape of her face began to merge with the reflections of light off the water, and in response she teased him in his mind that he should declare his feelings for her in some lasting way, a way that anyone could see. So he waded into the shallow water and gathered creek-rounded boulders as big as his head. He placed them on the damp, sandy bank in the shape of his desire, "I love you," spelled out in stone. He left them, validated by a syllogism of dreams, convinced that these stones would be the thing that would bring her to him at last. He returned each day after he finished his chores, indifferent to his friends, and talked his long talks with his beloved. Saved her life again and again. Then one Saturday he couldn't go, pinned down by some pointless to-do of his mother's, family picnic or some crap. But Sunday he biked out to the bridge again. Four long miles through dead air dense with vapor.

She'd been there. She'd seen the stones, knew them as hers. He didn't even have to name her name. She saw the shapes of the words, and she responded. Fossilized teeth jagged in the sand. "Stop," they now read. "Please..."

Bill Cameron

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Persistence of Memory

October 3, 2007
Is your story in the words?

“Have you visited your father recently?”

“No,” I said.

“You really should get over there and see him. He’s not doing very well. The doctor’s not giving him very much to be optimistic about.”

”Ah. I see. Okay.”

Then we talked of other things. She said, “John Roberts came by the other day. He asked me if I was done with school yet. I told him I had finished three years. He told me he was looking for teachers and he’d give me the books, I could look at them, and decide whether or not I wanted to take over the class for two weeks. Substituting, you know? I’m nervous about it. I’m not sure if I’m ready for it.”

“What grade would you teach?” I asked.

“There was an elementary class and a high school class available. I think I’d like to teach high school.”

“Why high school?”

“I don’t know. Nicer, I guess.”

“They’re more independent?”

“Mmmm, maybe.”

And later, she said, “My sister visited yesterday?”


“Yeah. Still lights up a room. She’s always been that way.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I can see that. When was this?”


Or is your story between the lines?

“Have you visited your father recently?” I leaned back in the chair. Dad died five years ago this month. He had cancer.

“No,” I said.

“You really should get over there and see him. He’s not doing very well. The doctor’s not giving him very much to be optimistic about.”

”Ah. I see. Okay.”

Then we talked of other things. She said, “John Roberts came by the other day. He asked me if I was done with school yet. I told him I had finished three years. He told me he was looking for teachers and he’d give me the books, I could look at them, and decide whether or not I wanted to take over the class for two weeks. Substituting, you know? I’m nervous about it. I’m not sure if I’m ready for it.”

Interesting, I thought. My mother never went to college. She wanted to, but her father got ill and they just couldn’t afford it. She was born in 1927. She spent years working as a secretary at an elementary school. She’s now eighty years old.

“What grade would you teach?” I asked.

“There was an elementary class and a high school class available. I think I’d like to teach high school.”

“Why high school?”

“I don’t know. Nicer, I guess.”

“They’re more independent?”

“Mmmm, maybe.”

And later, she said, “My sister visited yesterday?”

“Oh?” Mom had two sisters. One died at the age of ten from a brain tumor. But I’m sure she’s talking about Rosemary, my aunt, the one who passed away from a massive stroke in June.

“Yeah. Still lights up a room. She’s always been that way.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I can see that. When was this?”


I had this conversation with my mother yesterday (Tuesday) at the dementia unit at the nursing home where she lives.

Have you ever wondered if your memories are true? Have you ever wondered if, as a novelist, some day the memories you have will be fabrications from your books? Or books you’ve read?

Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Morphing Felines

by Nina Wright

Meet Flannery Florida Wright, my monkey in a cat suit. Sure, she looks relaxed, but that’s because she’s resting after wreaking havoc. Flan is a Devon Rex, a breed known for its athleticism and sociability, cat-fancier euphemisms for hyper-activity and neediness. Our nicknames for Flan include “Alien,” “Flying Squirrel,” “Heat-Seeking Missile,”and “Waxhead” (don’t ask).

As you may know, I write a mystery series starring an Afghan hound and featuring the following canine crew: a golden retriever, a German shepherd, a Rott Hound (Rottweiler-bloodhound mix), and a shitzapoo (technically, a shih poo). Every dog I love or ever have loved lives on in Abra and her peers. However, I also live with and write about cats. See the cover of Whiskey and Tonic! (Give yourself a pat on the head if you can spot Flannery in Bunky Hurter's delightful art.) To date, four of my many felines have wandered, slightly disguised, onto the pages of my books.

Flannery has inspired two fictional felines: Yoda in Whiskey and Tonic and Ruby Tiger in my middle-grade work-in-progress, The Fine Art of Following Cats. I gave Flan a sex change for Yoda and a red-fur makeover for Ruby Tiger, who is actually a blend of Flan and a stunning Abyssinian I once owned. Also featured in The Fine Art is a cat based on Lola Felina, a fluffy all-white beauty who found me on a hike through the backwoods of West Virginia. Lola’s extraordinarily sensitive nose and communicative twitchy tail inspired Fiona Whiffer, cat detective.

Rocco the “serial-killer cat” in my teen novel, Homefree, is based on Oreo, an insanely fearless tuxedo cat who slew pheasants, ground hogs, and young foxes on my farm in Michigan. When we moved to Florida, he bit the heads off snakes. Minus a few teeth, part of an ear and the tip of his tongue (don’t ask), Oreo has now settled into urban retirement.

Something tells me I'm not finished writing about Flannery (who looked like this when I chose her from the litter). Here's how one cat fancier lovingly describes Devons: "Pixie-like with a cheeky face, turned-up nose, and large pointy ears....Respond well to training and often learn to perform simple tricks like fetching, begging, and opening cupboard doors....Will follow you, talking in chirps and trills; you'll never again go to the bathroom alone....Can arrange themselves around your neck like a suede scarf....Are astonishing leapers who amaze their owners by landing on book cases, refrigerators, and the tops of open doors."

All true, except that no one had to teach Flannery to fetch, beg, or open cupboards. As for the part about Devons jumping, they prefer to jump onto people, specifically backs and heads. Hence the "suede scarf" reference. If Flannery can’t access your back, she may, without warning, leap onto your chest. Or she may scale you like a mountain, using her claws as crampons. When that happens, even devout animal lovers scream. I do my best to warn visitors. Anyone with a heart condition or anxiety disorder is immediately placed in a Flannery-free zone. No wonder I’m contemplating a Devon Rex as a murder weapon. In a future mystery, I mean.

Then again, I may switch genres. One of my imaginative friends suggested that if aliens wanted to invade earth, they'd probably come in the bodies of cats, who are innocuous and ubiquitous. Following that argument, aliens would need to design a feline so that it contained certain technical components. Devons might fit the ticket; the breed can practically fly, their coats require no maintenance, and their ears could double as satellite dishes. And aliens probably wouldn't realize how odd Devons look.

If Flannery's leaps don't unnerve my guests, her relentless close-range gaze does. I don't joke about her as a potential alien, recording and beaming images to the Mother Ship. I’m saving those notions for future fiction. But I no longer let Flan follow me into the bathroom....

Monday, October 1, 2007

Across the Universe

Mark Combes post of a week or so ago, with its quote from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Song of Myself, led me to click on his link "barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world."
And suddenly I met my uncle.
My forty-three year old uncle died a few years before I was born, a freak infection in a root canal, as I recall from the stories. My Uncle Vernon was my mother's older brother and her idol. He was also my father's best friend; both men were rebels with broad intellects and a deep restlessness in their souls.
The one small fact I know about Vernon is that Leaves of Grass happened to be his all-time favorite book. My mother treasured his tattered copy and reread it often.
In reading the excerpt from the link, I heard not only Whitman's barbaric yawp, but that of my long dead uncle, as well as echoes of my mom and dad, both also gone.
In The War, Ken Burns latest mini-series, thanks to a forbidden journal hidden in the leaves of his New Testament, soldier Eugene Sledge reaches across time and the abyss of war to tell us, no, to make us FEEL what it means to fight a war.
But even the lightest of stories tells a story of the human heart. And each of us who writes offers up a piece of her own heart to the universe in hopes of making a connection across time and space.

Okay, enough coffee cup philosophy, back to my drag queen with the exploding wig…
And big congrats to our Macavity Award winner, Tim Maleeny!