Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Everlasting Present

by Julia Buckley

"I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present." So said the great W. Somerset Maugham, and so we should remember on December 31, a day that fills some people with dread as they contemplate "giving up" things that they don't really want to give up.

The trick is to see the New Year in new ways. For one thing, December 31 is the historical birthday of Henri Matisse, who created the beautiful art borrowed for this blog from here.

It is also the last day to make those big expenditures for 2008 taxes. Want to buy a car? Do it today. :)

Here are the most common resolutions, according to some web research:

--Lose weight
--Manage debt
--Save money
--Get a better job
--Get fit
--Eat right
--Drink less
--Stop smoking
--Reduce stress
--Get a better education
--Volunteer to help others
--Take a trip

Are you making resolutions this year? If so, are any of yours on the list?
Lifecoach Larry Lamott gives advice not about what resolutions to make, but how to keep them. It's an interesting list, the goal of which is to look inward to make the best (and most likely) choices. My favorite is "Be Brave." What a great philosophy for the New Year and all that we want to accomplish! gives advice about how to make a resolution to which you can stick throughout the year. They point out that making resolutions you think others want you to make won't ultimately bring you personal success.

One thing I like to do each year is create my own mantra. Something like Winston Churchill's "Never, never, never quit," but personalized to an individual's situation. This year, because I was trying to exercise more, I would chant my mantra while I walked. That way I was getting exercise, but also feeding positive messages to my brain.

Finally, HealthyMinds gives great advice in pointing out that everyone fails, but that the idea is to get up and keep going. Their number one piece of advice: "Try again." Equally important is "Forgive yourself." (I assume for having to try again).

Yes, I would like to adopt several of the resolutions above, and I think I can be successful if I keep the list small. But when I sneak a piece of chocolate instead of opting for spinach leaves, I'll try again, and forgive the chocolate detour.

May you all have a wonderful New Year's Eve, a successful and enjoyable 2009, and the satisfaction, next December, of resolutions that succeeded past January. :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Getting Punched In The Head

by Tom Schreck
Author of "TKO", "On The Ropes" and "Out Cold"

I like it when things are broken down to their simplest elements.

Mystery characters are always being punched, karate chopped, or whacked in the head. Sometimes they take it and smile, sometimes they go unconscious, sometimes they see flashes of light and sometimes the shot just serves to piss them off.

Here’s what I know about being punched in the head.

- If you get hit high on the head or forehead where the skull is thick it doesn’t hurt much. It might throw off your equilibrium if it was a particularly good shot but it won’t hurt that much.
- Getting pinched right in the center of the ear can hurt a lot. It might really sting the skin of the ear and that sucks, but it also might mess with the inner workings of the ear and that feels like an ice pick in your head.
- A shot to the bridge of the nose will cause a thudding through your head and give you a headache that might last a few days. It will be dull but uncomfortable.
- If the nose breaks there are a variety of experiences. For some people who break their noses often it’s a minor irritation. You’ll hear a distinctive click or crack and then the instant feeling of swelling. Breathing gets harder and your eyes water. For those who don’t experience that often it will be a sharper pain.
- For me the worst is getting hit on the jaw line and not having my teeth clenched. That sends a jarring feeling across the jaw and a piercing feeling inside your ear. It may even feel like there is liquid running in your ear. It will be difficult to bite down for awhile and when you do you will get a sharp feeling in your ear again where the jaw connects to the skull. I’ve never had a broken jaw but I know guys who have and continued to fight. I find that interesting.
- Getting hit on the temple will hurt, make you dizzy and if it’s hard enough might make you throw up. One time I took a shot on the temple and it wobbled me at the time. The more concerning thing to me was four days later when I had to pull the car over because I was getting dizzy.
- Often the worst part s of getting hit is what it does to your neck. Then you get tension headaches for awhile because your neck has trouble supporting your melon. One time a pro fighter hit me with a straight right and I went down. I went down so hard and so fast that I don’t think my neck ever had to brace up against it. I got up and it was almost like on a cartoon. I was giggly, like I was drunk and wobbly. It hurt but not in an unpleasant way. My neck didn’t hurt the next day.
- Getting hit in the face isn’t good for your sinuses. A doctor told me that.
- The reaction to headshots is largely personal. I judged a fight one time with a fighter named Ricardo Mayorga. He’s a former world champion and he’s been in with DelaHoya, Trinidad and other future hall of famers. I saw him drop his guard and deliberately take three punches directly on the face from a seasoned middleweight. Then he smiled at him.

I don’t know how to explain that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hello, Cupcake!

by G.M. Malliet

I am now at what might be my least-favorite stage in getting Book #2 out into the world: going through the proofs.

Just before Christmas, a four-pound package arrived from my editor via UPS. I had been expecting this, and I knew it was no present. It was four pounds of pages of my book, typeset to look exactly as the book will look when it is a "real" book with a cover and so on. My job, should I choose to accept it, is to go through the over three hundred pages of this book, which I feel I have already read a thousand times, looking for errors. No wonder I let the package sit on my desk, lumpy, accusatory, and unopened, until after Christmas. I just couldn't face it.

Why? Because this is the stage where I see all the things I would have done differently. I have a theory that once a book is written, no author wants to revisit it, for just this reason. All you see is what you want to change, but you can't. Once the book is typeset, there's no chance for major surgery.

I will see the book yet again before it goes out. This will be the checking copy, in which I check to see that the small changes I make now have been inserted and haven't screwed up something elsewhere along the line. That I don't mind so much--by then, I suppose I've become fatalistic about the whole thing. Sink or swim, off we go.

So, what's the cupcake photo about? A new cupcake store just opened a few blocks from me. I'm on page 161 now of my four-pound monster, and it's taken me three days to get there. When I get through the whole book, I will be first in line for my reward.

p.s. The photo is from a cupcake store in Utrecht, not here in the US. I pretty much love everything about the Netherlands, and this is just one more reason why.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from Jess Lourey

GM Malliet, mystery writer and author of one of the best books of 2008, recommends creating trailers to promote your books. If she recommended wearing blue mascara and tube socks over your pants, probably we should do that, too. Fortunately, she's only gently nudging us toward the digital era, and out of respect to her bona fides, I have created a trailer for August Moon:

I love how writers share marketing tips. It reminds me of the first time my son Xander sparred at a Tae Kwon Do tournament. He's tall for a six-year-old and as kind as the day is long. His dad died before he was born, and I try to fill the role of both parents. In that spirit, I was coaching him on how to best kick ass (you can decide whether that is normally mom's or dad's job).

"All I know about sparring," I said, "is that as soon as the ref drops her hands to start the match, you get in there with a chinning kick. Catch your opponent off guard and they'll be running for the rest of the match."

So I get him all pumped up. "You can do it!" I tell him. I put in his mouth guard and yank on his shin and forearm pads. I walk him over to the waiting pen, where he nods to the three boys he'll soon be fighting. He indicates for them to lean their heads in close, and when they do, he pulls out his mouth guard and says, "OK guys, all I know about sparring is that as soon as the ref drops her hands..."

That's my boy. He likes winning, but not nearly as much as he likes treating people well. And so generous writers like GM and Joanna Campbell Slan and countless others share their marketing secrets, knowing full well that if we're all doing the same thing, their efforts will have less impact. I guess they just like treating people well. Thank you to all the generous writers out there for your gifts of blurbing, a pat on the back, sharing marketing tips, and all the nice stuff you do to make this a writing community! In the spirit of the season, care to share the best writing or marketing advice you've ever received?

p.s. As a gift to myself, I have just completed and sent September Grace to my agent. Here's the first chapter. I'm pretty dang proud of this one. Now, my kids and I are off to be with friends and family. Happy holidays, and stay warm, full, and generous!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Writing my List, Checking it Twice

Cricket McRae

This is the time of year for list making, so here's one with a writerly bent: ten requirements for a good writing group.

A caveat to begin -- these are MY most important requirements. There are tons of suggestions out there for how run a writing group and what to expect. I've been in a few over the years, without particularly seeking them out. It's pure serendipity that I happen to have the best writing group on the planet (sorry, but it's true, I got 'em). So here's why they're so great.
  1. Keep the group small. Too many people and your work gets lost in the shuffle. It's also hard to keep up with all the other critiques.
  2. Experienced writers. This is merely a case of avoiding the blind leading the blind. Different kinds of experience is a plus. People who can critique everything from commas and sentence structure to overall pacing and character arc are pure heaven.
  3. Send out material before meeting, so the critique periods are spent critiquing and not reading. Some groups meet and read their own work aloud. I think this affects the way a reader would experience the writing, but each to his own.
  4. Pay attention to what works as well as what doesn't. Partly this is because everyone likes kudos, but also because, as inveterate self-editors, we need to know what not to cut or fix.
  5. Be honest. Sometimes it's hard to tell someone there's something wrong with a particular piece of writing, but wouldn't you want to know in their shoes? It's your job to tell them. (And it's their job to tell you, too!) But also remember that it's not your job to convince them. After all, critique is subjective and other group members might not agree. It's always up to the writer to decide what to do with feedback.
  6. Make the group a priority. This means getting your submissions in on time and reviewing the others' work carefully, as well as doing your level best to show up for meetings, even if you have to rearrange other parts of your life to accommodate the group.
  7. Communicate with each other. If you have specific questions about a piece, ask them when you send it out. If it's a first draft and needs to be evaluated from that point of view, let people know to back off the stuff you know you'll polish up later, and give you big picture feedback. If you don't understand someone's comments, ask them to explain.
  8. Meet regularly. Weekly is best -- demanding a fair amount of commitment and time, but not onerous for working writers.
  9. Allow members to use their critique periods for other purposes. By this I mean problem solving (I'm trying to get a certain effect, but it's not working -- any suggestions?), brainstorming ideas, etc. When we're in the middle of a novel, it's no problem putting together a submission, but between one book and the next there is a lull when we're researching and plotting and getting ready to dive in again. A writing group can be useful during those periods, too.
  10. Whole book reviews. After reviewing pieces and parts for each other, when a whole book is done it deserves (and the author deserves) another reading. Seeing it as a whole gives a different perspective.
Oh, and one more rule -- the Golden one. Though it probably goes without saying, this simply covers all the silly stuff that can adversely affect writing groups. Just remember to do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.

So what works for you in your writing groups? Any of my "rules" above that you disagree with? Got some good ones I missed?

Happy Holidays, Merry Solstice, and Good Writing to all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best of the Year

Kirkus Reviews listed Death of a Cozy Writer, written by InkSpot's own G.M. Malliet, as one of the best books of 2008. In its original review Kirkus said Gin's book "combines devices from Christie and Clue to keep you guessing until the dramatic denouement." Congrats, Gin. (Click here to see Kirkus' Best Books of 2008.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas in Cali

I'm an East Coast gal, used to spending my Christmas in cold, snow, ice or any combination of the three. Despite having lived in California for the last dozen years, Christmas always sneaks up on me. I blame it on the lack of weather cues. The weather in my town is perpetually September.

My native Californian friends tell me it's because I don't pay close enough attention. The weather here doesn't grab you by the throat and shake you, it eases its way in. Changes are subtle but they're there.

So I went looking for proof that nature is into Christmas in Cali.

First some fall color. Yes, it's December, but it's never too late for flaming maple trees.

Bird of paradise are always festive. Especially with reindeer.

I found some red and green trees:

Up close you can see those are berries.

Of course, geraniums are festive.

And roses:

And the Christmas bougainvillea, of course:

December 25th arrives whether or not we're ready. Here's hoping you enjoy yours with friends, family and some red and green.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Caffeine is my friend

The week of Thanksgiving I stayed home with my family and, inadvertently, broke the routine I normally keep on days when I head into my office. Two days in I suddenly felt ill, but since I'd been traveling a lot I chalked it up to fighting off the flu or some bug I caught on an airplane. Then by day three the low-grade fever led to chills, which turned into fatigue, which morphed into lassitude, apathy and despair.

I started searching Google for symptoms, always a bad idea for a neurotic writer, only to discover that a search based on anything from a sore throat to a runny nose results in a list of possible diseases so deadly you'll be convinced you have dengue fever just from looking at the screen.

Then someone observed that I wasn't walking around with my usual cup of coffee or glass of iced tea, and it hit me. Without planning to I had stopped drinking caffeine, something I've been doing for more than two decades with a zeal normally associated with drunks or meth addicts. I looked into it, and apparently the crushing headache people associate with caffeine withdrawal is only the beginning. Caffeine, though mild in its effects relative to most stimulants, is considered one of the most addictive substances on earth, and if you've been consuming it in vast quantities for an extended period of time, it becomes so integral to your biochemistry that sudden withdrawal brings all the symptoms of the flu, right down to fever and body aches, followed by depression, apathy and a change in perspective that makes Eeyore look like an optimist.

Who knew?

Some people would have seized the moment and tried to free themselves from the shackles of this nefarious drug. But since I was about ready to jump into the bay, I decided to have a cup of java. I felt better, so I had another. Even better. After three cups my wife declared "Hey, you got your personality back!" The sun was up and so was I, life was good and tomorrow was full of possibilities. I drank so much coffee and tea that my teeth started to vibrate. I didn't sleep all that well that particular night, but for some reason I didn't care. I had the strength of ten men.

Now I should probably slowly and deliberately wean myself off the drug, switch to decaf before I find myself stranded in someplace where coffee, tea or Mountain Dew don't exist. Or calm my nerves before I start twitching like a politician taking a lie detector test. And maybe some day I will.

But for now caffeine is my friend. I'm secretly hoping to get the balance just right, so I can maintain maximum productivity until one day I spontaneously combust. (I could be the first documented case, and we'd finally know the cause.) My doctor said as long as it works for me, not to worry. There are worse vices to have, habits so obsessive they take you away from normal social discourse, your family and friends, until you find yourself alone in a room staring at a blank computer screen like a madman.

Oh wait, I have that habit, too. It's called writing...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Holiday Giving

Tis the season and I am hoping that the publishing industry gets a good chunk of the gift-giving money. Our society has been gluttonous over the years, buying, buying, buying—buying houses we couldn’t really afford, and cars that guzzle gas. And that my friends is how we got into this economic mess. I’m getting close to social security age and I think about how most of my generation raised our kids. We were often first generation college grads and were proud of it. We wanted our kids to grow up with more than we did, to want less, to have more privileges. They had designer jeans (jeans! for heaven’s sake), name brand strollers and backpacks. Their school field trips got more and more expensive. And so we worked harder, stretched ourselves thinner, denied ourselves some things, so we could provide for them like our neighbor provided for their kids. Our kids became the give me-take me-show me-buy me generation because we created them that way. My kids certainly didn’t get everything they wanted, but we made every effort to give them more than we had growing up. But guess what? I think the spending spree is done, both for my generation and for my kids, too. I hear more and more people talk about giving books as gifts. Some families are only giving books this season. My husband and I decided on the same type of gift for all our grandchildren (we have 12 together). The wee ones are getting a book, a cheap tape player, and a tape of grandma and grandpa reading the book. That way we feel we are encouraging them to read, letting them see we value reading, and even though we don't live close, they can spend a few minutes reading with granny and grandpa. I’m hoping that all this buzz about books isn’t just idle talk, and I don’t think it is. I have never heard so much conversation about reading and books as gifts as I have this year. Maybe this is the first inkling that we are going to turn the corner on the economy. I hope so, and I hope it revitalizes the publishing industry. I don’t want a gadget to save the world of publishing. I want it to be that divine feeling of settling on the couch and holding that book, turning it page by page, and becoming immersed in a good story.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Expecting the Worst

By Deborah Sharp

I'm dwelling in Book Cover Nirvana.

Just received the finished illustration from Midnight Ink's art department for my second book, Mama Rides Shotgun. I was worried (what else is new?). I didn't think they could possibly hit a second home run. The first cover -- dead man's hand dangling from Mama's vintage turquoise convertible -- is SO terrific.

I expected to be disappointed. How, I wondered in my pessimist way, would they ever top the fantastic cover for Mama Does Time? I ALWAYS expect the worst. I'm not just a glass-half-empty type. To me, the glass is fully empty, I up-end it to get the last drop, it shatters, and delivers a cut to my lip that will become infected and send me to the hospital, where I'll contract a case of flesh-eating bacteria which will ultimately kill me.

So, yeah, I worried.

Well, the art department proved my pessimism wrong, coming pretty darn close to the first book. Designer Lisa Novak and illustrator Mark Gerber, once again, did a great job. A sherbet-colored scarf and turquoise saddle (How Mama!) Another dangling hand. A scene rife with Florida icons, from alligators and oranges to the state tree, my beloved Sabal palm. (No, folks: Coconut palms DON'T grow in my series' rodeo-and-ranches slice of middle Florida.)

So send up a cheer and pop the champagne. Just be careful not to put out my eye with the cork. The cover may be a success, but there is still so much that could go wrong . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I've noticed something lately - maybe you have too.  Have you noticed that the tabloid's have, for weeks now, been on the Jolie vs. Aniston "feud?" What is all the fuss about?  Am I missing something?  Is it that I'm a guy and I don't care?  Am I supposed to pick sides in this feud?  For me, it's a little like the Mary Ann or Ginger question - you know, from Gilligan's Island?

So I turned to an expert in these matters and asked my wife about this troubling situation.  As a way of an answer she said that she hates Angelina Jolie but likes Jennifer Aniston.  Against my better judgement, I pressed on. "Why," the troubled husband asked?


Now, for you gentlemen out there, this might not sound like a valid answer but I've learned that when "she who must be obeyed" says "because", it means shut up and move on.  Drop the subject because this is a "woman" thing and I'll never understand it.  I'm not programed to understand it because I'm a guy and only another woman would understand why Jolie is detestable and Jennifer Aniston is the victim in this feud.  Does it have something to do with that bloke Brad Pitt?  That's the connection right?  It has to have something to do with that dastardly male, Brad Pitt.  

But what really interests me, as a writer, is the conflict.  Why, after years of being apart, is this poor Jennifer Aniston still linked to this cheesy mustachioed Brad Pitt? The dude hooked up with another woman and has kids with her.  Move on.  Move on Jennifer and move on tabloids.  But there is inherent conflict there, clearly.  Why else would the magazines keep promoting the feud - be it real or imagined?  There clearly must be something sinister that they aren't telling us.  UFO's are involved, I can feel it.  Maybe a Bigfoot or two.  Maybe Jolie tried to sell Aniston a senate seat.  Come on.  One of you must know.  Please tell me because inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Inkspot News - December 13, 2008

G.M. Malliet will appear Dec. 17 at 7 P.M. on a mystery writers' panel with Sisters in Crime authors Donna Andrews, Meriah Crawford, Barb Goffman, Sasscer Hill, and Marcia Talley. There will be refreshments and signings of the authors' books as well as books from the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series. For details, call 703-838-4566 or visit

Friday, December 12, 2008

What Have You Done for Me Lately? by Jess Lourey

I have just been elected to the national board of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Thank you to all of you who voted for me, even if you just checked the box next to my name because there were only as many candidates as there were spots.

mwa Harlan Coben is the current president, and other board members include mystery-writing greats like Lee Child and Reed Farrel Coleman. They're flying us all out to New York in January to rub elbows (lay money on me making an ass of myself) and get oriented.

I don't know what crazy series of events led to my nomination for this position, but now that I'm in, I feel obligated to represent what I know: the small press mystery writers, independent bookstores, and cozy/soft-boiled readers out there. To those of you in those categories, I ask you:

What do you want MWA to do for you? It's a huge organization with some big guns in it, originally founded by amazing mystery writers in 1945 who believed that "Murder doesn't pay--enough" (here's a slightly more detailed history). MWA has brought recognition and respect to the field over the years, but now when I hear mystery writers mention the organization, it's only as a line in their bio. It doesn't have to be that way. Here are some points I'd like to see addressed:

  • Could MWA have more visibility in schools and/or bring mystery reading program to at-risk/low reading score schools? MWA Reads is a wonderful program that's grown dusty; would it be worth it to revive to help promote all the great YA mystery authors out there?mwa_logo
  • Genre diversity. Edgar-nominated novels, while all amazing, are almost without exception dark, urban, and gritty works that feature heterosexual male protagonists. Is it time to broaden what the MWA/standard-bearer considers a great mystery? Can it be soft-boiled or a cozy, take place in a small town, or feature a gay and/or female and/or supernatural protagonist? Or maybe, how are the judges chosen (besides based on their heroic commitment to the field) and what are their guidelines? I don't know the answer, but this is a conversation that I'd like to enter at the national level.
  • How can we link MWA up more actively with book clubs? Create a list of books, organized by sub-genre, that have discussion questions included and whose authors are available for teleconferences, free of charge? Get the list to box stores, independents, libraries, and book club sites?
  • I found this on the MWA website: "MWA also works to educate writers and those who aspire to write regarding their rights and interests, and to make writers and readers aware of matters which may affect crime writing through legislation, publishing industry practices, judicial decisions, or in other ways. " How do we help published writers get better contracts, represent a united front to publishers, get more film and TV options? Is this something we need to pursue more actively?
  • What about health care for members? This came up in the past. Should it be revisited?
  • Recently, the guidelines as to who can be considered an active member (or a published author) were updated, eliminating a wave of small press authors. Should that decision be revisited, and if so, why?

questionsAre any of the above issues important to you? Do you have others that aren't listed up there that I should bring to the board? What would your ideal mystery-writing organization do for you and for the community? If you aren't a member of MWA, why is that? Please start a lively discussion that I can take to NYC, or, if you'd rather your comments remain anonymous, email me at, and I'll forget where I heard them.

p.s. One thing everyone who knows anything about MWA agrees on--Margery Flax does a fantastic job as coordinator/supporter of the organization.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Something in the air?

Maybe it's because I'm a Detroiter, but this year there's a different feel to the holiday season. On a drive through the area last night, my significant other, Bob, commented on the lack of Christmas lights on the houses. Most years it seems that every house has something festive-- something to push back the darkness, something that looks warm and inviting on a frigid wintry night.
Of course, there are the dark and vacant windows peppering even the most affluent streets this year. It's hit everyone in the area in some way or another. I know of at least six lakefront homes in the general vicinity (not my closest vicinity!) that were listed for over a million each before the bottom fell out and the owners were evicted.
In the poorer sections of Detroit, the empty houses are often falling down or boarded up. Mostly they don't even bother with the boards any more.
The middle ground between poor and rich is the hardest hit.
Out here in Oakland County, the foreclosures are more subtle than in Detroit, but still easy to spot: they're the ones with the orange or white stickers on the windows that say "Warning! This house has been winterized. Do not use plumbing!"
On the way home from the mall, I counted over a dozen before I gave up. A columnist I know commented that it feels like the whole city is teetering on a precipice. Well said.

I think when we hit this time of year with its longest night, and even more so, when it feels dark in the day, the thing in our DNA that makes us celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa-- the thing that makes us celebrate hope, comes forth. It searches for the image of light and love wherever it can be found.

I have an orchid plant Bob gave me about five ago last September. Since I have a notorious black thumb, it came with his promise to water it as well.
For the last four years, that little orchid has taken it upon itself to bloom on Christmas eve. And bloom it does, like clockwork. The buds are here again this year, getting fuller by the day. It seems to say, hey, don't give up. Look at me! I'm still here. I'm doing what nature made me to do. I have hope.

I intend to take my cue from that little orchid and do what nature made me to do. I will turn toward the light and bloom. I will celebrate hope and love and Christmas and the season of lights.

Happy holidays everyone.
Susan Goodwill

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Exposing myself is hard work

by Joe Moore

There are more places to expose yourself on the Internet than you can possibly keep up with. For me, it started a long time ago with a website, then another, then a blog, then another, and on and on. Sometimes it feels like a full-time job just to maintain and update all the blogs, forum profiles, and social networking sites where I have my profile and book news posted.

Most are available for public viewing while some are for those who register first. But when a news item or piece of info needs to be added such as a book launch or a signing, it can take hours just to update them all.

Did I change my Facebook status today? Did I post the newest version of the book trailer on YouTube?

Here’s a partial list of where I've exposed myself. As you can see, it can quickly get out of hand.

Kill Zone
Amazon Blog
Personal Website
Book Website
Thriller Website
Mystery Writers of America
Live Journal
Linked In (members only)

How many places do you expose yourself? Is it worth the time needed to keep everything updated? Do these sites generate books sales or just more busy work? Shouldn’t we all be writing rather than posting or updating or checking or commenting or . . .

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Getting Belly-to-Belly This Holiday Season

There’s a rule in sales: Nothing replaces getting belly-to-belly with your customers. And when the economy is tough, that's the best time to find out exactly what your customers (readers) think.

As I approach folks in bookstores or scrapbook stores, I get belly-to-belly with them. I focus carefully on their faces, and I take note of their reactions. Lately, I’ve discovered “hot buttons” in my book that cause readers to want to buy Paper, Scissors, Death.

* Every woman’s nightmare is discovering her husband has been keeping their financial situation a secret. After the death of my protagonist Kiki’s husband, she discovers they are broke and in debt—and women relate to this. I shouldn’t be surprised that readers put themselves in Kiki’s Keds. I remember working at a stock brokerage years ago and seeing widows come in carrying stock certificates, which they thought could be turned in for cash. Sometimes they didn’t have access to the family checking account. Often they had no income of their own. Sometimes they discovered their names weren’t on the deeds to their property. They thought they were provided for, they had been told not to worry, but their worst fears were realized when their husbands died.

* Every woman secretly fears that whatever security and status she has in life will suddenly “go away.” When I tell them that Kiki goes from feeling on top of the social heap to the bottom, they smile. Sad smiles. They understand. I’m currently reading Queen Bees and Wannabes, which chronicles the social lives of teenage girls. Huh, the author could have been talking about grown women. We have cliques. We are NOT team players. We fear the “mean girl.” We are awash in frenemies. There are those on the “inside,” the pals of the Queen Bee, and those on the “outside,” those who are social pariahs. It doesn’t change much after high school. Oh, the real estate changes. We no longer walk the hallways or hang around by our lockers. But the behavior is ingrained.

And here’s another interesting observation: My customers say they are buying the book for “a friend.” But as they reach for their copy, they drop their eyes and add, “But I think I’ll read it first.”

It’s not just about the economy. It’s about who we are. Most women I know do more for others than we do for ourselves. In our culture, you are a "good" woman, a "good" mother, a "good" friend, if you are always available (at least emotionally) and put other people first. A woman is "selfish" if she takes time for herself--or uses family resources for her own enjoyment. Her time is not her own. Her life is not her own. As Virginia Woolf said, we need a room of our own, a sacred spot where we come first...especially during the holidays.

Last year I asked my scrapbooking friends who subscribe to my bi-monthly online magazine how they cope with holiday stress. This year, I've posted their replies on my blog Even as I posted them, I felt a lightening of my load. This year is particularly stressful for all of us. Never in our lifetimes have we seen such economic turmoil. I hope I can have the self-discipline to take care of myself. I hope you'll do the same.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jingle All The Way

I’m sure you all have a radio station similar to Richmond’s Lite 98. They play soft rock, top 40’s, and a few oldies. On Thanksgiving Day, they happily announce that for the next month, they’ll be playing nothing but Christmas music.

This statement is immediately followed by a groan from my other half. He can’t stand the barrage of joyful tunes. I clap and smile. I’m always ready and willing to sing along to a holiday tune.

Still, there are a few I can’t stand. Seriously. I have to change the station or simply turn the radio off. Here they are:

1. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) – I can’t stand this song. I don’t think it’s cute. The voices are annoying, and Alvin’s tardy lead-in to each stanza in maddening. Not only that, but for the rest of the day I’m walking around squeaking, “Me? I want a hula hoop.” It’s like getting the Meow Mix song stuck in your head (sorry if I just did that to you).

2. All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth – Cute idea that goes on way too long.

3. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer – Okay, the first time I heard it I laughed, but that was enough.

Now that I’ve listed my least favorites, I’ve got to try and narrow down my top three. Much, much harder.

1. All-time favorite Christmas Song…drumroll….O Holy Night (I like the Michael Crawford and Clay Aiken versions, but I’ll get teary-eyed to almost any version)

2. The Little Drummer Boy – David Bowie and Bing Crosby

3. Do You Hear What I Hear – Whitney Houston or the Faith Hill version

(For fun, I’d add You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch song, because how many times a year do you get to sing the lyric, “Given the choice between the two of you I’d take the seasick crocodile.” Or “stink, stank, stunk!”

Your turn! Share your favorites and the ones that make you cringe. I promise to listen to any I haven’t heard of before on YouTube.

Jingle all the way…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Inkspot News - December 6, 2008

G.M. Malliet is giving away 3 free copies of her book Death of a Cozy Writer at There are only 4 days left in the giveaway.

Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Nicholas And The Nobility of Tradition

St. Nicholas comes tonight; his feast is December 6th, so it is on the evening of the 5th that little children everywhere (or at least those who descend from Europe, the reputed origin of Nicholas) put out their boots in hopes of receiving gifts from the Sainted Nick. My boys are too old for him, really, but he kindly fills their boots anyway (and those are some jumbo boots these days).

He is the spirit of generosity that heralds the holidays, and he is a part of my tradition. My German mother ushered him into our lives, and we always woke to shoes (one each) full of big brown walnuts and huge red apples, as well as little German chocolates and tiny gifties. In thirty years St. Nick hasn't changed all that much, although some of the wee toys are quite techno and modern.

In the days when my children were small, I labored to make St. Nicholas' Day so special that I sometimes took the day off of work just to be sure I was there when my little boys toddled in and dumped out their boots to examine their treasures.

This year, to show how cruelly time changes things, my eldest son must get up early to take his high school entrance exam. He may even scoff at the notion of putting out his boot at all (but he'll do it on the off chance that something good will go in there). So off he will go, and his brother will have to sit and munch chocolate by himself.

Each year the holidays take a slightly different shape as my children grow up and away from me; and yet I know that the traditions I labored to continue when they were small will be the same traditions that they want to continue, some day, for their own children.

So, despite the fact that my husband has no interest in helping me and my children will probably not shower me with gratitude, I will wait until everyone is sleeping so that I may channel St. Nicholas and put chocolate into shoes in his name. Gee, when you say it like that it seems silly.

That's true of all traditions, though--taken out of context they are quite bizarre. But they are the threads that sew families and peoples together, and I will keep weaving them into the lives of my children.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Free Duffy Audio!

Tom Schreck, Author of "TKO" and the other Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries.

I'm a big fan of audio books and have one going in the car all the time.

I have a producer friend with a studio who offered to mix a short story for me.

I took Peter Koniuto of Red Sun Soundroom in upstate New York up on it. He did a great job--particularly with mixing in some Elvis in in the beginning and the end.

If you've ever had to read your work for recording for any length of time let me tell you it's really hard work. Koniuto made me do two complete read throughs and I was exhausted.

It's also painful to hear your own voice especially when you're trying to create your characters.

With apologies to James Earl Jones here it is "Hounding Duffy" as they say; Read by the author

--and its also on and on Myspace at

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Selexyz Dominicanen

A short post today - one of those "pictures worth a thousand words" posts. These photos are of a bookstore in Maastricht, the Netherlands. I can almost guarantee you've never seen a store like it: heaven for book lovers.

Another bookstore (I believe this was in Utrecht), where Chick Lit and Thrillers (Spanning) are doing well.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bloody Black Friday

by Felicia Donovan

In these financially trying times, it is understandable that everyone wants to get the best deal for their hard-earned money. I happen to have been one of the crazy people who roused myself out of bed at 4AM to be at the major chain retailer by 5AM to scoop up a 6-hour pre-holiday bargain.

Imagine my shock when I rolled into the parking lot by 4:50AM only to discover at least 200 folks, some of whom had been there for over an hour, lined up and wrapped all the way around the parking lot to the back of the store. I joined the surge of folks just arriving and was politely told by a group of employees who had formed a human barricade, to get to the back of the line. No problem. The others were there first. More employees nourished the cold and sleepy crowd with offerings of free hot coffee and fresh donuts. It was calm. People laughed and chatted with each other about what they were there to buy.

At 5AM, the doors opened and the crowd was allowed in slowly. By 5:05, I was in and headed towards the very mobbed electronics department. Still, people were polite. I quickly located my target - a large gift for a family member. Despite everyone trying to grab their desired prize before it ran out, I had no less than four offers of assistance in getting the unweildly gift into my cart.

I snatched up a couple of discounted video games as well, and made my way towards the front of the store to the registers. The crowd politely gave me room to steer the large box around, sometimes backing up to give me right of way. It was crowded. It was crazy, but it was controlled and calm. Extra workers stood at the front of the store helping customers and checking their register receipts. I received even more offers of assistance in getting the item into my car.

Imagine my shock and disbelief when I read the account of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year old seasonal Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, NY. According to news reports, the police had to be called around 3AM because the crowd was out of control. A police officer with a bullhorn pleaded for calm.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 became unruly. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in as a result. The crowd surged forward and Damour was thrown to the tile floor. Fellow Wal-Mart employees desperately tried to get to Damour but could not keep back the surging crowd. Four other people, including a 28-year old woman who was eight-months pregnant, had to be taken to the hospital.

I'm all for finding a bargain and I'll admit I saved a substantial chunk of change by going out on Black Friday, but somewhere we have to draw the line between finding bargains and behaving like a bunch of bulls stampeding in the streets of Pamplona.

What in heaven's name has gotten into people?

Kudos to the employees and shoppers of my local Wal-Mart, the same chain involved in the trampling, who maintained order and acted like decent human beings. There's no bargain, ever, worth the cost of a human life.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Perfect Place

After so much time spent in coffee shops or holed up in my basement office, I was itching for a new writing venue. Someplace quiet, close, with good light and comfortable seating. I wanted a place away from home, where the distractions of renovations and yard work and my own predilection for tinkering in the kitchen constantly tug at my attention. A place where I didn't have to buy something to eat or drink in order to hang out, a place conducive to work, with free wi-fi and plenty of electrical outlets since my laptop battery is on the fritz.

Enter my public library.

Now, I've always loved libraries. I love that people have access to my books, and they are one of my favorite places to speak. And what amazing services public libraries provide! For one, there are databases galore, full of obscure articles and hard-to-find information. And then there are the people, the talented and skilled librarians themselves, who are always helpful as all get out. Need to know why cottonwood trees sometimes make a popping noise that sounds like a rifle shot in the winter? Need to know how many books by an author you reference in a query letter sold last month? Just walk up to the reference desk -- or make a phone call -- and ask.

The other night I discovered the Ask-A-Librarian feature on my local library's website. I type in: How can I get all the email addresses for libraries in Nebraska? Figuring I'd get an answer in the morning, since I was doing the asking at two a.m., I was surprised and delighted to get an instant response, from a live person!

But somehow I'd forgotten how much I adore the atmosphere inside the library: the hushed tones of patrons, the smell of ink on paper, the sound of rustling pages. After a week of daily trips to the desk in the back corner behind the periodicals, between the window and the potted ficus, I'm still giddy about my rediscovery of the library as a perfect place to write.

Thankful, even.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A 3,000 Year-Old Story of Lust, Sex, Murder, and Redemption

Keith here.

You never know where you’re going to find a compelling crime story.

Saturday I was at the synagogue where we were studying the prophet Nathan. He’s not mentioned much in the Bible, but he does pop up in a key role in a famous story of lust and murder. Whether this is true crime or crime fiction I’ll leave up to you and the theologians, but what a story either way!

David, the charismatic King of the Jews, is taking an afternoon stroll on the roof of his palace. He spots a beautiful woman bathing and sends “someone to make enquiries about the woman.” The man reports, “She is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam [and] wife of Uriah the Hittite.” (2 Samuel 11:3)

David sends for her. Bathsheba has just finished her period (yes, the Bible lets us know that). They have sex and she sends word back to the King that “I am pregnant.”

Then David recalls Bathsheba’s husband Uriah from the wars. David asks him how the fighting is going and then tells Uriah to return home. When David finds out Uriah did not go home, he investigates. Because his fellow soldiers are still on the battlefield, Uriah asks, “How can I go home and eat and drink and sleep with my wife?”

David takes the decisive step then. He tells his general to “place Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest; then fall back so that he may be killed.” Uriah is killed in battle. Bathsheba laments over her dead husband. When the period of mourning is over, David marries her. She has her son.

God is displeased with what David had done (no kidding!) and sends the prophet Nathan to the King. Nathan tells a parable of a rich man with many sheep stealing the one lamb of a poor man. David says the rich man should die. Nathan says “That man is you.” Through Nathan, God says to David, “I gave you the House of Israel and Judah.... You have put Uriah the Hittite to the sword; you took his wife and had him killed....” God curses David and says “I will take your wives and give them to another man before your very eyes and he shall sleep with your wives under this very sun.”

Because David owns up to his sin and repents, God shows some mercy. Still David is told his son with Bathsheba will die as punishment.

The story is told in barebones, Dragnet (“Just the facts”) fashion. We need to draw our own conclusions. Why are we told Bathsheba had just finished her period? So that when she becomes pregnant, she and David (and the reader) know it is David’s child. Why did David want Uriah to go back home? So the pregnancy can be attributed to Uriah. Because that scheme doesn’t work, David turns to murder. The loyalty of Uriah to his king is repaid with death.

Now to me, a crime fiction writer, this all seemed reminiscent of a James Cain novel. In his Double Indemnity Phyllis Nirdlinger uses her sex appeal to manipulate an insurance salesman to fix her husband up with an accident policy then murder him so they can collect $100,000. (If you’ve ever seen the movie of Double Indemnity with Barbara Stanwyck twisting that Fred MacMurray around her finger, you’ll understand why the poor sap had no chance.) Couldn’t the story of David and Bathsheba be seen the same way? What was Bathsheba doing in the bath in clear view of the palace anyway? Why not move up in the world and beguile the king and get rid of that husband who was holding her back? David is so bewitched he doesn’t even know that he’s done something wrong till Nathan breaks the spell.

When I spelled out my theory, my friend Sylvia gave a contrasting interpretation. She figured Bathsheba was rousted from her bath by royal procurers and hustled over to the king’s. How could she not accede to the most powerful man in the kingdom? Even if force was not used, David’s sleeping with her was tantamount to rape. To Sylvia the story of David and Bathsheba was a story of male power and oppression. And I had to admit that her theory was as good as mine.

We know what happens to our adulterous couple. They have another son, Solomon, who inherits the throne and builds the Temple in Jerusalem. David is to be the ancestor of the Messiah and for that reason the gospels of Matthew and Luke take time to show that Jesus is descended from him.

So what do we have here? A three thousand year-old story of lust, adultery, murder, and redemption. Not bad, considering the shelf life of even a bestselling crime novel today is measured in weeks and months.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I am addicted to House. In fact, I consider Sunday nights date night with my television because a double-header of House reruns are on USA Network, and Hugh Laurie always puts out. Actually, it's the series' writers who always give me what I need. The show is consistently uncomfortable, intelligent, funny, and original (though I've noticed an over-reliance on chelation in season 4). It's the best detective show on the air, and millions of people, like me, can't get enough.

The genius of the show is the central character, Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie. (My friend Julia Buckley says she has a hard time adjusting to his American accent but we both agree that he is perfectly cast.) His character is eminently unlikable and doesn't care, which makes him fascinating. He doesn't run with the herd yet he manages to succeed, and we all want to know why.

During a recent Sunday House juggernaut, I was flipping stations during a commercial and ended up on the Discovery channel, which, as usual, was covering something really gross. I watched long enough to get the gist and flitted to E!, which was airing The Girls Next Door. One of the ladies was having a problem due to her enhancement surgery. I switched back to House, which was now on, and an idea began niggling at me. There was a thread connecting these three shows. So, I turned back to the Discovery channel, back to The Girls Next Door, back to House, back to the Discovery channel, back to The Girls Next Door, and voila: I had a thrilling idea for a House episode--there'd be the central medical drama thanks to what I'd just seen on Discovery, continued character development in line with the direction of the series, and the humor that holds the show together, inspired by the "issue" I'd caught on The Girls Next Door (thanks, fake boobs). Talk about a strange stew.

As I sketched my ideas, I started to imagine what it would be like to write words that other people act out, to create characters that real people slip into like suits. I'm a novelist, and the words I write are meant to stay on the page, a note from me to you. But to write a script? I was taken with the idea. The television writers I have heard speak and those writers I know whose books were lucky enough to be turned into movies grumble at the experience--too many cooks spoiling your broth--but I thrive on collaboration.

So I've begun a teleplay for the House episode burbling in my head. I own one book on writing teleplays, penned by Lee Goldberg, and in it, he assures me I'd have better luck turning water into wine than selling a teleplay on spec, but that's true of any fiction writing, right? It's not a business venture for the practical.

In that vein, anyone have advice for me on writing teleplays, or the phone number for David Shore, the head writer and showrunner for House?

Friday, November 21, 2008

It takes a village, people

One of the most important page in our books is the acknowledgements. There we pay homage to those who have helped us along the road to being published. Our critique groups. Our agents and editors. Our mothers.

Today, I’d like to acknowledge those who are helping me now. Helping me marketl my books, find a fan base and along the way, create my career as an author. Last weekend, I drove 400 miles down to Southern California to sign books. I’m amazed at the number of people that were required to make it happen.

So thanks go out to:

My friend, ML, who introduced me to her in-laws, Dr. and Dr. G, who put me up for the weekend. The three of them fed me, sheltered and supported me in all ways great and small. Every artist needs a patron and lucky me to find two with a fabulous wine cellar.

The shop owners. Mary at The Fabric Patch in Montclair didn’t know me at all when I called up and suggested she might want to have me sign books in her store. In this economy, heck, in any economy, it takes a leap of faith to spend your inventory dollars on an unknown quantity. Mary took that leap and we sold many copies of WILD GOOSE CHASE and OLD MAID’S PUZZLE.

Joan Bunte of Stamp Your Heart Out in Claremont jumped on the bandwagon early and put me on her schedule before STAMPED OUT was released. She ordered several dozen books. We sold out and had an exciting afternoon, with stampers and writers.

The employees, who set up cookies and snacks and made sure the customers were happy and having a good time. A special shout out to those who'd read the book and were enthusiastically recommending it to all within earshot.

I stopped at several book stores and found copies of my books on hand and gratefully signed them. It was evident everywhere I went that shop owners were being cautious. I thank the book buyers and owners that have my book on their shelves.

The fans, of course. One gentleman had taken three buses and a train to get to a signing. Yet another, Simmy, came just hours after having evacuated from the Chino Hills fire. Safely.

These are some of the people who made that weekend possible. Everytime I do a signing, there are a legion of people working to make that happen. For those past and present events, I say thanks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


As my colleague JB Stanley pointed out a while back, vampires are everywhere. Three (or is it four) of the top ten bestselling books in the country feature vampires. The TV series based on Charlaine Harris' delightful books is the new Sopranos in terms of HBO revenue. Underworld was a great action movie with vampires and werewolves, not to mention Kate Beckinsale in a skintight leather suit. And who doesn't love watching reruns of Buffy?

Crime fiction also has its share of the undead these days. I just read a terrific novel by Mario Acevedo featuring a vampire PI, and the confidence of the writing made me think that perhaps all the fuss about vampires in popular culture isn't because they are a timeless literary archetype, but simply because maybe vampires are real — just go with me on this — and they're not just living and working among us, they're controlling the media.

How else do you explain their longevity, the insane surge in popularity, the diversity of portrayals or the sheer empathy of today's vampire characters? The villains of yesterday's gothic literature are slowly and deliberately winning us over, opening our hearts and minds to the prospect that maybe they're not so bad after all. That way, when they actually reveal themselves, we'll welcome them as old friends instead of monsters thirsting for our blood. We'll take the crosses from around our necks, leave the wooden stakes in the vegetable garden, and invite them into our homes...just as we're bringing millions of them into our homes right now through books and movies and TV shows.

Being undead has some advantages, and changing into bats or wolves must be cool, but if you want real power today you control the media. I can personally think of several people in the publishing business who like fresh blood, and everyone knows Hollywood is full of vampires. And I'm sure there's a TV producer or two filing their incisors even as you read this.

It's just a matter of time before a formal announcement is made, so keep the garlic in the cupboard.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pay No Attention to the Fake Behind the Curtain

By Deborah Sharp

With a whopping month of signings and book appearances under my new-author belt, it seems like a good time to pose the question: When do I stop feeling like a pretender?

Case in point: I appeared last weekend at the mega-huge Miami Book Fair. My panel was stuck in a building that Miami Dade College actually calls "The Garage,'' but that's another story. Even if they told me to speak in a spot they call "The Bathroom,'' I would have been grateful for the invite.

My co-panelists bandied about hilarious anecdotes about Hollywood, and movie options, and musical superstars who call them at home at midnight. I told my story about the constipated reader who told me how he likes to pass time on the toilet with Mama Does Time.

Now, I did get a laugh. And these much-more-experienced authors were perfectly warm and gracious to me. (Okay, maybe one wasn't perfectly warm). Still, I felt like I was at the Book Fair under false pretenses. Like I lifted a pass to this super-exclusive clubhouse when the real owner wasn't looking. I mean, when I lunged for the last lemon poppy seed muffin left on the breakfast bar in the Authors' Hospitality Suite, I reached right past Salman Rushdie.

Salman Rushdie!

I'll admit, I'm not the most self-confident person on the planet. And, yes, I was on Today (thanks, again, to my slightly pushy TV reporter hubby). But the fact I was on that show somehow makes my raging insecurity worse. The expectations are even higher now. And I'm waiting for the moment the curtain is pulled back to reveal this faker pushing buttons and yanking levers, trying to magically create an author's cloak that fits.

So, two questions: Anybody have the name of a good therapist?
And, if it isn't just me, what was your most insecure moment as a newbie author?

Riding with Lady Luck

Those of you that follow this blog know that music plays a significant role in my writing.  And as I finish Under the Skin, my current work, I've found a certain playlist has organically grown up around it.  And at the heart of this playlist is one Tom Waits.

This tune was covered by The Eagles some years later, but I still like the original gravely version from the guy that penned it.  So without further ado, I give you Tom Waits and 'Ol 55.  

So tell us about your playlists.  You've got one, I know you do....

Friday, November 14, 2008

What's With All The Vampires?

All the tweens trick-or-treating in my neighborhood were dressed as Bella and Edward from “Twilight.” The frenzy over the movie release has grown to nearly epic proportions in my local Barnes and Noble and is reminding me of the hullabaloo surrounding the release of a new Harry Potter novel/film.

The difference for me is that I loved the Harry Potter books. I thought they were very well written and absolutely unique. Still, even though I didn’t enjoy “Twilight,” I lift my coffee cup to Stephenie Meyer for coming up with a YA version of hot vamp fiction and for cashing in on it. I prefer to see authors rising to the top over, say, professional athletes out of jail on parole!

Even after Halloween, I’ve been noticing just how “hot” vampire themes are right now. There’s a ton of buzz about the HBO series True Blodd, which is based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. I have recently discovered these books and am tearing through them. Again, I’m thrilled for Charlaine and I think she’s a talented writer. After all, I don’t usually read paranormal fiction, but I adore her characters. They’re like small-town cozy characters with fangs….and paws, and fur, wings, etc.)

So who started this vampire craze? I guess it was Anne Rice. I’ve read all of her books with the exception of one or two that have been in the TBR stack for years, but I think her Interview With the Vampire propelled the undead into the bestseller spotlight. And then the movie - Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst!

What do you think? Are you a fan of the vamps? Of the shows/movies they’ve inspired?

If not, which genre would you like to see make a comeback?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Plot, Place, Character?

In searching for a subject for this morning's blog post, I was glancing through Speaking of Murder—Interviews with Masters of Mystery and Suspense published by Berkley Prime Crime, way back in 1998. I stumbled upon an interview with Elizabeth George where she speaks about her deep "psychic" connection to England. She goes on to say how she starts with the merest kernel of a plot then spends about a week at the location of choice (a spot in the U.K.) to allow the seed to germinate. She often goes back later, as the story develops, to soak up more of the region.

She particularly likes writing about a foreign country because she notices every detail. She goes on to say that when writing about U.S. locations, she doesn’t pick up the same info on her radar. The nuances of every day life, like the type of raincoat a person wears, the food one orders, the newspapers one reads, all are so familiar, the tiny things get lost in the shuffle.

So this started me thinking, how much do you think a sense of place has to do with your story?

I know that most of the authors that post regularly on this blog write series mysteries, so the question of place is often answered in advance. Not always, though. And sometimes, just like similar plots or the same core characters go stale without a new twist, a writer needs to shake things up a bit with their sense of place.

I believe this is why, as a series goes on, we often see characters from a small town take a trip. You see it all the time on TV.

Lucy and Ricky and Ethel and Fred loaded up the car and went to Hollywood. Later in the series, they even bought a country inn. And then, look at "Murder She Wrote." Cabot Cove having beaten out Detroit and Washington, D.C. as the town with the most killings per capita, Jessica Fletcher split for greener (or more bloody) pastures just about every week. But, I think it's safe to say, by that point in the series, the sense of place established by the series traveled with her. Maine in that big black purse, ah-yup.

And take a look at the CSI TV shows, talk about a sense of place! NY, Las Vegas, and Nevada, ne'er the twain shall meet. (Except that one time when Horatio flew to N.Y. He seemed so lost without his shades, but don't get me started!)

When Midnight Ink first considered my book, BrigaDOOM, they asked if I would move the Kate London Mystery Series from the western Michigan coast to Cleveland. Cleveland??
After I finished gasping and got up off the floor, I took a deep breath and explained how inextricably linked a small, blighted town on Lake Michigan's shore was to the characters' sense of self, the stories, and the series in general. The frustrations of an 'almost tourist town' that is unique to that part of Michigan, the feeling of a peninsula, the shortest of summer seasons, the dunes, so many things would change or be lost. I grew up not far from Cleveland, and a person not from Michigan might argue that they are close enough, take it from me, they're not.
Midnight Ink, thankfully, agreed.

So, how strong is the sense of place in what you write? In what you read? What would happen if you moved your protagonist to another town?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just say no

by Joe Moore

731 I was a guest at a recent writer’s event. I got to discuss my new book, THE 731 LEGACY (co-written with Lynn Sholes). Afterwards I took part in a meet-and-greet with the audience. Among the questions, someone asked me: What was the most important advice I could give a new writer? My answer was to realize that you can just say no.

I explained that publishing is a manufacturing industry. But unlike most other industries, publishers don’t manufacture anything. Instead, they have an endless tsunami of writers constantly beating down their doors with pre-manufactured product. Yes, they have to know what the customer is looking for. And yes, they need to edit, package and market it in a professional and appealing manner. But publishers will never run out of product because there will always be writers wanting to be published.

New writers want to be published in the worst way. Unfortunately, their journey to publication can turn over time from excitement and enthusiasm to desperation and fear. You write a book, send out queries, start getting rejections. But you don’t give up. You revise your query, send it out again, and get more rejections. So what happens? You become desperate. You think that maybe you’ll never get published or never find an agent. Never see your precious work on the shelves of Borders or B&N.

Out of fear, you become so desperate that you are ready to take the first offer that comes along. Because when it does and you don’t, you may never get another shot.

Then the call or letter finally comes and someone is willing to issue a contract. What do you do? You jump at it without a moment’s hesitation. You just want to be published. And you finally got an offer. You go for it.

Now, stop and consider this. Did you marry the first person that asked you out? Did you buy the first car you saw for sale? Or the first house?

When that offer to publish finally comes along, ask yourself: Is this publisher perfectly matched to my writing? Will this publisher put in place the appropriate marketing and distribution to get my book to the correct audience? Do they have the expertise? Do they understand the genre? Will I get the quality and personalized service I need? And most important, do they have the ability to help me grow my career as a writer?

Remember that desperation is not a reason to say yes. It’s a reason to stop and realize that you can say no. Because getting married is blissful, but getting a divorce is not. Always remember that you can just say no.

What is the most important advice you can give a new writer?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oh, Say Can You See?

For the past eight weeks I’ve been traveling across the country, watching the odometer on my car flip past 100,000, eating too many Combos (cheddar is my favorite), and sleeping in too many hotels. (Correction: Trying to sleep. I’ve been awakened by folks pounding on the door next to me because “Jennifer” forgot to set her alarm and was about to miss the shuttle, by a smoke alarm, and by a hotel staff who forgot to re-set their clocks to Daylight Savings Time.)

And what have I seen?

A glorious, panoramic vision of our country. From the Appalachian mountains where my vehicle went up and down and round and round like a child’s toy, to the waving wheat-filled plains of Kansas, to the big muddy river defining the state borders, to a huge restaurant in Sikeston MO where they throw hot, yeasty rolls at the diners…this is a land so vast, so great that my heart has ached for the love of it.

Today, being Veterans Day, I pause to give thanks that we are free. My mother’s father fought inWWII—she still owns his service revolver. My other grandfather was one of 704 who survived the bombing of the USS Franklin by the Japanese—I have his handwritten account. My husband’s father served on a base in Germany—we still have a collection of Hummels he bought for his bride. My father served on planes during the Korean conflict—he send home a tiny kimono for me.

Perhaps the most poignant service was one I nearly overlooked. I own a grainy “Brownie” snapshot of my uncle in uniform in Korea. For years I’ve admired how handsome Uncle Dick was, with his profile and features so much like a young Johnny Carson. Then I decided to enlarge the photo and use it on a scrapbook page. That’s when I discovered that the “wall” he was standing in front of was actually a bunker made of sandbags.

Suddenly, I saw that image in a new light. I realized my uncle planned it as a “goodbye” photo, a last image in case he didn’t survive.

Often in life we think we “see”. We believe we know what’s what. Who’s who. How it’s hanging. But a slight shift of perspective can open our eyes.

Let me offer a suggestion: A week ago, voters waited seven hours at the polls here in St. Louis. To honor all our veterans, why not make Election Day a national holiday? When we lived in England, our neighbors were shocked that our country--which touts free and fair elections—does NOT give our citizens the day off. Instead, we make it difficult to cast a ballot. Wouldn’t that be a better way of honoring all those who served our country? Who fought and died to make sure we have the right to choose our leaders?

That’s how I see it.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Used to be when an invitation to a baby shower appeared in the mailbox -- or the inbox -- I'd hie me to the Babies R Us and indulge in tiny socks and stuffed animals and the inevitable pack of onesies for the expectant mother-to-be. Or rather, her progeny. I don't have children, so these infrequent forays were kind of fun, though my selections were safe to the point of blandness because I had little idea of what new mothers and their babies really needed.

Then I was called upon to actually organize a baby shower for a colleague at work. Ugh. So not my thing.

Luckily, this woman was down-to-earth, smart and not given to cute games or silly party themes. What would I want if I were in her practical shoes? Well, that was easy: books.

Everyone who attended the shindig brought brightly wrapped, rectangular packages, and we piled them high on a table. She had a blast opening them, and her new baby was well supplied with reading material until at least the age of five. They ranged from cushy pillow books the infant could sleep with to chapter books Mom and Dad could read to an older child. Many were classics: Mitten the Kitten, Dr. Seuss, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Goodnight Moon (okay that's a relatively recent "classic"), Maurice Sendak.

Since then I always give books when a wee one is on the way, and if I'm visiting a household with children, there's inevitably a book for them in my suitcase. Last Thanksgiving I gave my two-year-old cousin, Peyton, Skippyjon Jones. I was then called upon to read it to him. Conversations around the house stopped and family drifted into the living room where we sat. I admit I may have gotten a little carried away, with my wild gesticulations and bad Mexican accent, but the big grin on Peyton's face was well worth the embarrassment.

Recently, I visited a friend in Nashville who has a ten-year-old son. Artemis Fowl for him this time around. His parents have read to him every night since he was old enough to listen, and now, in addition to baseball and soccer and football and science camp, he reads whenever he can. He's gone through all the Harry Potter books, the Chronicles of Narnia, most of the Hardy Boys mysteries, Michael Chabon's Summerland, and a host of others.

Of course, I also give books to adults. Lots of them. I've been knows to check off my entire Christmas list at the local indie bookstore -- these days it's The Readers Cove. And it's getting to be that time of year again ...

Who do you give books to? And how do you encourage children to read?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Mustache Mystique

Yesterday we went to a fun store in our neighborhood because my son wanted to buy a novelty eraser (all the kids had one, so naturally it had become Graham's obsession).

Once there, we were distracted by all the cool stuff, and Mom, never a frugal shopper, decided to buy our traditional "good report card" treats. Graham got a Futurama T-shirt and Ian an Iron Man.

At the check-out counter, though, as I was about to pay, I felt a little hand on my arm. Graham, eyes glowing, was pointing to an odd display by the register.

"Mustaches!" he said.

Graham has long been a lover of disguises, and I figured a mustache couldn't cost more than about fifty cents (I was very wrong about that). But since they had one that matched his hair color, I couldn't resist.

Now, as I watch my ten-year-old sporting a lip warmer all over the house, I am wondering again at the mystique of the mustache. What is the appeal of this fashion?

In the world of Magnum P.I., the mustache was a macho thing--something that somehow increased Tom Selleck's virility. He looks like a whole different guy without the 'stache, and I can't imagine the show, now, without a mustachioed Magnum.

Remember all of the creepy roles played by Vincent Price? His mustache had an entirely different effect, in that it seemed to highlight the sinister nature of the characters he played. (I don't think he had the mustache in Laura, but in many flicks he did).

And what about the 1970's Mark Spitz? His face on my Wheaties box would not have been recognizable without his telltale mustache--something that I came to connect with Olympian prowess. Today Spitz doesn't sport the mustache, and he looks like an entirely different man. The mustache creates a strong persona that the absence of a mustache somehow diminishes.

Then there are the famous waxed mustachios of the great Hercule Poirot. Hercule is fiction, but he's been brought to life by many actors, including David Suchet (seen here) and the great Peter Ustinov. Poirot's mustache was all about vanity. He saw these carefully tended hairs as a reflection of personal pride and attractiveness.

The mustache is a slippery symbol--it had the effect of creating a memorably handsome Clark Gable, a notoriously evil Fu Manchu, and an affably hunky Burt Reynolds.
Perhaps it is its diversity that makes the mustache a great disguise. One can use it to create an image--better yet, to create a red herring. If one sees the mustache, one won't necessarily see what is underneath it. That can come in very handy for a spy, a criminal, a lothario.
My son's mustache allows him endless fantasies, but it is oddly authentic, as though he is the shortest adult in our family. He also looks more like his father than ever, since his dad does, in fact, have a mustache. I imagine he'll ask for more of these hairy treats in his Christmas stocking. They come in all colors, and that will allow Graham to take on more personas. He can add the mustaches to his growing disguise collection: the false nose, the long beard, the fake glasses. And, of course, the endless array of hats.
Maybe in the future, when my son is in the CIA (let's hope it's the CIA and not the Cat Burglar's association), he'll trace his fascination with disguises to the little brown mustache he bought at the age of ten.
Who's your favorite mustached man?