Friday, February 29, 2008

Nice problem to have

Since becoming a published author, I have a new category of complaints in my life. They all come under the heading of Nice Problem to Have.

It goes like this. I whine, “I’ve got two books due in the next couple of months.” You: “Nice problem to have.”

Me, “I’m spending all my time answering fan emails.” You: “Nice problem to have.”

I say, “I’m running out of ways to murder people.” You: “Nice problem to have. And please shut up.”

So let me say it first. This post is about a – all together now - “Nice problem to have.”

The Launch party for Wild Goose Chase was held this week. I signed books for two hours straight. This was not a hardship. I loved every minute of it. My fans are sweet and wildly supportive. Proud of me, even. I basked in their smiles and generosity.

But signing books is not the relaxing pastime I’d envisioned when I was daydreaming at the coffee shop, while avoiding writing the middle third of my book. Something happens. A phenomenon that no author, not a fellow Inkspotter or a Sista in Crime or MWA member, warned me about.

Writing on-demand. Dedications. Readers expect you to personalize their book. Be warm, witty. Meaningful, even. At a moment’s notice. With a line of people behind them!

I’d worked out a relevant tagline that would work for 90% of my readers. I’d pre-tested pens. I’d practiced writing my name so it was legible, flowing and distinctive. And then, someone handed me a book, and said, “Write something good. Really good.”

Dedication anxiety set in. My palms began to sweat. My limbic nervous system shut down. The request freezes my brain faster than a Pomegranate Paradise Jamba Juice. My hand moved across the page as if writing, but the tip of the pen hovered six inches above the book as I trolled my now-inaccessible memory. I can’t think of anything interesting to write, and indeed, can’t recall where I know this person from. Oh, we shared a womb? Now I remember you.

And to make matters worse, D.A. (I expect to see an entry in the Dsm any time now) is especially present when you’re writing a dedication to the people who mean a lot in your life. I’d love to write something marvelous. I really would. I want to be sure the person knows how grateful I am for their support, and how much it means to me that they purchased the book. We smile at each other. The book is slid under my hand. Go! I have ten seconds to come with something unique, catchy and funny. Flight or fight response kicks in, and I resist the urge to throw up.

Please forgive me if I signed your book with a dedication that was less than you expected. I meant to say so much more. But it’s hard, people. I’m a writer. That translates to rewriter. I put down words, erase them, start over, find a better way to say that. My critique partners chime in with clarifying language. I get plenty of do-overs. We call them drafts.

Sadly, there’s no delete button on my pen. What I write on a dedication is there for all to see. Forever.

I know, I know. Nice Problem to Have.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Art of the Cover

One thing Midnight Inker's know is that we have the best cover art in the industry. A famous author once told me that the purpose of a cover is to make a potential reader cross a bookstore to get a closer look--to make said p.r. pick up and touch our books. And after that, with the aid of good back cover copy, to send our baby home with our p.r., so they can read, read, read.
And, if you take a second and scan down the beautiful and diverse cover art displayed at the side of this blog, you'll see that our covers do that with a zing and a pop and a, "Pssst, c'mon over here.!"
A lot goes into that zing and pop, though. A committee decides on the concept. The concept is designed (my newest, shown here, was done by Midnight Ink's talented Kevin Brown). Then the design's flawless execution is carried out by an illustrator (Kim Johnson of Lindgren & Smith paints the illustrations for my Kate London Mysteries).
I want to show you what a difference a cover makes. Below you will see the cover art for the first book in the series. BrigaDOOM. To the right is the Concept that Never Happened.

Now, that cover might be great for some books, but Midnight Ink saw that it just wouldn't work for a mystery series dubbed sexy, sassy, and funny.
Like I said, we have the best covers in the industry--
for a reason
Here's to our covers!
--Susan Goodwill

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Saturday at the Boxing Gym

Tom Schreck
Author of “On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery”

I got into boxing because I tried it after I got a black belt in karate--something I thought certified me as a badass--then one day I got in a boxing ring with a guy who got discharged from Coxackie Correctional that week. I wound up in a pile. It didn't go a whole round and my stomach hurt.

I bagged the karate and in my late twenties started to box. I got reasonably competent and at my best I could hang with pretty good amateurs and maybe poor pros. Really good amateurs and average or slightly-less-than-average pros, would kick my ass.

Saturday I was at the gym for about an hour and half and there was a lot going on. There’s always a lot going on in a boxing gym. None of it, or at least very little of it, was spoken.

Here it is in no particular order:

1. I get to the gym and wrap my hands. A quick look around and I see the gym’s new pro fighter, a former champ is working out. There's also the hotshot new kid who got signed by Golden Boy Promotions--DeLaHoya's outfit. Everyone gives both of the pros a wide birth, even the people who don’t know who they are. They’re somebody, you can tell, by the way they move and the way act. Others working out don’t look them in the eye.

2. The big heavyweight with the tattoos is in wearing an "Irish Drinking Team" tee shirt. I sparred an easy round with him a couple of months back. He went easy and I almost threw up I was so tired. He went easy, for him.

3. I'm thinking about doing some sparring today but I'm looking for an excuse not to. I won't use that excuse unless it looks like I'm doing somebody else a favor.

4. I work as a pro fight judge and there's a big fight in the Garden tonight. Everyone's asking me why I'm not working it. I say I didn't get the call.

5. The non-sparring part of the workout starts. It has both fighters and boxercisers and it’s a boxing station-to-station class. Without a word being said everyone knows who the competitive fighters are, who the gym fighters are, who the wannabes are and who's there just for a workout.

6. By luck, I get in the group with the ex-champ and the up and comer, which means I have to try to keep up while making jokes about my age. I'm careful never to claim I could hang with them even in my supposed prime. In the ring with the coach doing pad work, the other two guys' punches snap into the pads with loud cracks while mine seem to thud like I'm wearing sofa cushions and not bag gloves.

7. A guy who was a good pro kick fighter comes in. He's the dad of the hot new boxer. Ten or fifteen years ago we sparred and I knocked him down. He brings it up every time he sees me and in the gym world it's the one thing that defines me. He brings it up to everyone in the gym again today and laughs that he wants to come out of retirement to even the score--I say something about landing a lucky punch and everyone laughs. When we're both 70 I think the interactions will be the same.

8. There's a couple of old ex-football payers doing the workout and looking really uncoordinated. I'm not sure why but that makes me feel good.

9. Word is out that the local pro heavyweight from the gym across town is coming in to spar with the ranked MMA guy from downstate later this afternoon.

10. A guy who I used to work out with 15 years ago comes in with a kid he's training and says to me; "Hey, how about you and I get a rematch?" I think I remember sparring a couple of rounds with him in ’94.

11. The class part ends and the fighters start putting their gear on. I'm farting around hoping to not have to spar. I have to ask someone to take a photo of me in a boxing pose because Crimespree Magazine is going to put me on their cover. So there I am in a gym with a former a champ, an up and coming star, a trainer who was once on the national team, and a bunch of other fighters—and I’m getting my picture taken because I am a writer.

I feel like a total asshole and get it over with as fast as possible.

12. Alex, my usual sparring partner, tells me he forgot his mouthpiece but he still might be willing to spar. No one who fights ever says “I don’t feel like it today” because there’s a part of you that never feels like it. There’s also a part of you that knows how good it feels after its done. Like you’ve done something 99.9% of the world’s population isn’t willing to do. Of course, a lot of people don’t go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and that doesn’t make that important.

I'm relieved that it’s sort of Alex’s fault that we can’t spar today and leave to take my 85 year-old mom out for Japanese food-- a detail I leave out as I leave the gym.

I’m writing this on Sunday at Graney’s Bar with my headphones on. My shoulders are so sore I’m nauseous and the beer isn’t helping. Just the same, I feel a little sharper and a little more aware because I did something important yesterday.

It would’ve been a lot more important if I got to fight but, as you know now, that wasn’t my fault.

It just wouldn’t be right to spar a guy who forgot his mouthpiece.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the winner is...

by G.M. Malliet

Photo grabbed from the Daily Mail

Helen Mirren. Last night, she won the Oscar for best dress, best makeup, and best-looking actress over the age of 25. I was surprised to learn she lives in California. I think to all of us, she will forever be Jane Tennyson, charging around the mean streets of London, and looking decidedly more haggard than she did last night.

On another awards front, yesterday the Telegraph came out with a list of the top 50 mystery writers of all time, and I'm sure they're still regretting it. Because...there were some serious omissions to this list, apart from the fact no Midnight Ink authors made the list. The most glaring omission was P.D. James (I have met Ms. James and she, like Helen Mirren, scores off the chart in the charm category), but there were others. See for yourself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The book was better.....

I read an article the other day in the LA Times about the recent success of turning novels into movies and it got me thinking - always a dangerous thing - about some of my favorite translations. Don’t we all know that Hollywood isn’t always successful turning our favorite works of prose into celluloid winners. But sometimes they get it right. Here are few books turned movie that stand out for me.

No Country for Old Men
I’m a big Cormac McCarthy fan and I think the Coen brothers captured the nihilistic, life-is-one-big-coin-flip theme just right.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?/Blade Runner
If I’m being honest, I’ve never read the book. But BR is one of my favorite movies and I think possibly Harrison Ford’s best work. “It's not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

A Simple Plan
Gee, finding a bundle of money in the woods shouldn’t cause so much trouble – but it does. Proves the power of a simple idea told powerfully.

These aren't in any kind of order - they are just ones that came readily to mind. I could go on but I’ll let you all throw in some of your favorites. And we can be equal opportunity critics here – throw out a few clunkers if you like. Lord knows Hollywood has butchered many a fine novel in their day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Done! Finis! The baby is in the mail! Yes, as Joe reported, THE 731 LEGACY is finished, and I don’t want to see it again for quite a while. I am so close now I wouldn’t know if a character we killed in chapter 3 miraculously showed up in chapter 23. And right now, I just don’t give a flying . . . well, you know. I love my baby, but I’m an exhausted mother of a newborn. No sleep. Round the clock feedings. The spouse wants to help, but can’t breastfeed. I’ve been so busy, so totally consumed by the nurturing that I’ve neglected my friends and now am out of the social loop. Especially out of the loop that involves my friends who have never had children. They just don’t understand what a job being a parent is. Got the baby blues and reacquired my baby fat as I have sat and rocked, and fed, and consoled, and comforted, and fed, THE BABY.
But alas, Grandparents, (the publisher) have taken the sweet, precious child for a few weeks. I worry that the Grandparents don’t know the baby like I do. Don’t know the idiosyncrasies like me. And God knows, they might screw up the formula or the schedule I so patiently and laboriously have established. And NOBODY loves the baby like its mother. But I need the rest and welcome another set of hands and eyes to tend to the baby. I trust that they love it enough to take care of it. Who else could I entrust my baby too?
But the baby will be back soon enough. And I will have had enough of a reprieve to again nurture it with all the vigor it deserves. Hopefully one day it might grow into a respectful adult and be regarded with admiration. Of course my hopes (outrageous, delusional dreams) are that the baby will mature, and when I grow old will pay for my diapers and care. But then who knows how your kids turn out—how they are received and perceived by the rest of the world? You can only give them all you know and then let them fly on their own.
So off the baby went last Friday. I miss it, but am enjoying the rest. The only thing is, I’m not adjusting well. I wander from room to room wondering what I am supposed to be doing. I think I could get used to that in a couple of weeks. But by then, the baby will be back, and I suppose I will also be knocked up again with another. Wonder what the new one will be like.

EAT, BEG, LOVE - More Musings from the House of the Divine Canine

By Felicia Donovan

A dear friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE, which I am devouring for its beautiful and reflective prose. I confess to a twinge of jealousy over the author’s ability to travel on this wonderfully spiritual journey, for I too, have been doing a great deal of self-reflection about my own spirituality of late.

I do not have the ability to travel to the Ashrams of India to study under the loving wisdom of a Guru. I cannot abandon my family for three months to discover the delicacies of Italian pasta, nor would work excuse me to go to Indonesia for four months.

What I have, then, is the House of the Divine Canine – a dwelling that is filled with the spirit of animals who offer me daily glimpses of a holier, more reflective life through their closeness to a more natural world. I share with you some of the spiritual insights I've gained through my observations of this canine world.

The Bow: It begins with the bow, long recognized as a form of supplication and submission to something greater. I watch my dogs bow to each other as an invitation to play; or as a welcoming gesture. It is the human equivalent to the handshake or tip of the hat, simple gestures we have long forgotten to show respect to another person.

The Meal: Unfortunately, our Nation has forgotten how to consume. We remain one of the most obese societies because we forget that food is first and foremost, meant for survival. Look at dogs roaming in the wild and you will rarely ever see an obese dog. Why? Because they eat to survive. They find their food sources and within their own hierarchical structure of alpha, beta, etc; they eat what they can to survive. Is it any wonder that at the same time we are faced with a crisis of obesity amongst humans, we now have the same crisis amongst our domesticated animals?

The Alpha: Dogs understand that there will always be a “top dog” and that this cannot be circumvented. "Alpha" is a title has to be earned. As long as the others respect that title, all is well. When a less dominant dog gets pushy, the alpha pushes right back to reassert itself and all is orderly once again. In the spiritual world, there is almost always a “top dog.” Is it any coincidence that “dog” and “God” are reflections of each other?

The Howl – Is there anything more eerie than the howl of an animal as it reaches deep into its soul and cries out? It is this ability to let go and go deep that we humans have forgotten how to do. I'm not suggesting everyone arch their neck and let out a deep cry, but animals are not shy about their need to cry out and call to others - for help, to make them aware of something, to invite them to gather. It is a part of their social nature. Animals, nor humans, were meant to be solitary creatures.

Finally, I believe my dogs - all animals, in fact, – embody a spirit that transcends what we, as humans, can ever experience and that the animal spirit, in whatever form of divinity it manifests itself as, is ever present. How else can you explain why things are immediately better at the site of a wagging tail or a good lick of the face?

You think I'll ever make it onto Oprah with this dogma?

Friday, February 15, 2008


By Joe Moore

No, I don't mean the day the Allies invaded Normandy. vatican1I'm talking about deadline day. Today happens to be the deadline for my co-author Lynn Sholes and I to turn in the finished manuscript for THE 731 LEGACY, our latest installment in the Cotten Stone series.

It's a strange feeling to click on the email send button and watch your "baby" upload into cyberspace. kremlin1Sort of like watching your son or daughter drive off to college. You take a deep breath as mixed emotions flood your heart. You're glad to be finished but at the same time, there's a feeling of sadness at the thought of ending another long journey.

After all, we've been writing about, talking about, plotting, and scheming about Cotten Stone through 4 books and six years.  So far, we've traveled across most of the continents with her, explored the Secret Archives of the Vatican, dark tunnels below peru1the Kremlin, a lost city among the cloud-shrouded Peruvian Andes, the crumbling Anasazi ruins of New Mexico, Dracula's Castle in Eastern Europe, and the heart of the darkest place on earth: North Korea. Along the way, we also explored the science of quantum mechanics, human cloning, and biological and cyber terrorism.

We've watched Cotten grow from a young rookie news reporter fresh out of college into a world class investigative correspondent for the Satellite News Network. Jim Rollins called her a "female Indiana Jones with a press pass", and Doug Preston said she's "a heroine for the ages."

We've seen her face unspeakable physical, mental, and most of all, spiritual darkness--and survive. newmex1Cotten Stone has become as much a part of my life, and I'm sure Lynn's, as any of my family or friends are. I miss her already.

For me, it's a mixture of relief and emptiness to return to my computer and get ready to start the next journey. So how about you. As a writer, how do you feel the day you send your "baby" off to the publisher?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Mystery of Romance

by Julia Buckley
In honor of the day, I've been thinking about romance. And in honor of our blog, I've been contemplating mystery--and they go together so well, like chocolate and peanut butter. My favorite mysteries, I realized, contain romance. That makes sense, since love can both drive a plot and become a motive for murder. It also allows a detective to better understand the human condition.

For example, this passage from Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Gloria Scott", in which Holmes is able to deduce the misery engendered by a lost love:

"It is simplicity itself. When you bared your arm to draw the fish into the boat, I saw that J.A. had been tattooed in the bend of the elbow. The letters were still legible, but it was perfectly clear, from their blurred appearance, and from the staining of the skin round them, that efforts had been made to obliterate them. It was obvious, then, that those initials had once been very familiar to you, and that you had afterward wished to forget them."

Love itself, then, can become a clue in a mystery, but it can also be an impetus to the story. My favorite Dorothy Sayers novels were those that revolved around the growing romance between Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and for me that romance was more important than any old murder that Peter might solve.

In the novel Have His Carcase, Peter has proposed to Harriet on numerous occasions and has been continuously, gently, refused. He mentions to Harriet that he would love to see her in a claret-colored gown; the color, he believes, will suit her.

Later they are comparing notes about a murder during a dance at a seaside hotel. Harriet feels rather neglected because Peter has stopped proposing to her, and she is, in fact, wearing a wine-colored dress. She also feels self conscious about her dancing. Peter picks up on this and says, most romantically:

"Darling, if you danced like an elderly elephant with arthritis, I would dance the sun and the moon into the sea with you. I have waited a thousand years to see you dance in that frock."

Ah. It's lines like that which really stay with a person, and romances like that which really liven up a good mystery.

What are the greatest of mystery romances?

Well, the list would have to be topped by Peter and Harriet.

Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (Dorothy Sayers)
Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (Arthur Conan-Doyle)
Nick and Nora Charles (Dashiell Hammett)
Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (Agatha Christie)
Adam Dalgliesh and Emma Lavenham (P.D. James)
Lucy Waring and Max Gale (Mary Stewart)

Oh, there are so many great ones. But I'd like to hear about the ones you found to be sigh-inducing romances!

Happy Valentine's Day!

(photo link here)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

As Well He Should: A Valentine's Day Cautionary Tale

There’s nothing sadder than the grocery store at eleven p.m. the night before Valentine’s Day. Grown men throng to the florist’s coolers. They push and shove each other, hoping to find an overlooked bouquet. Men clutter the greeting card area. They reach over each other to pluck up any pink or red card. And then they sprint for the checkout lane, clutching their meager purchases to their chests.

My dear husband has been one of these. One memorable Valentine’s Day he handed me a “rose” that was a dyed carnation and a card with the words “Sorry your cat died” scratched out. Underneath he wrote, “I love you.”

That didn’t cut it.

I’ve been recycled: that is, this is my second marriage. You couldn’t tell it by looking at me but I lost 350 pounds of ugly fat: I divorced him. I ran into him the other day. I had to jump a curb with the car, but I did it.

So, I survived the trauma of divorcing Mr. Wrong went on to marry David, Mr. Right. Mr. Always Right, that is. Every once in a while, I wake up in the middle of the night and look over at the back of David’s sleeping head and wonder, “What awesome power of love and lust brought me to THIS? And why didn’t I guess THIS would have male pattern balding?”

God knows neither of us are perfect. One day my dear spouse was flipping through a magazine. He came upon a photo of Demi Moore after all that surgery for her movie StripTease. (Movie? More like a box office bomb, but no matter…back to my story.)

David tapped a finger to the photo. “You know with a little effort, you could look like THAT.”

I took the magazine away. I flipped to a photo of Bruce Willis, her then-husband. I pointed to his photo. “You know never in your dreams could you look like THIS. And this marries THAT.”

We have a mixed marriage—I’m a Southerner and he’s a Yankee. He’s younger than I am by five years. But he’s also taller and greyer. So that evens out. He’s lovely, really he is, but like most husbands he’s needed a bit of training to reach his full potential.

For example, there was the time he went on a long business trip to California. Since he sells Steinway pianos, his January trade show is a music lovers’ orgy. Our phone call went like THIS—

David: “It’s 75 degrees here. Bono performed at our sales meeting. I was just walking along Rodeo Drive. Guess who I saw? Eric Clapton. He’s playing at our concert tonight. Oh, and Sheryl Crow was in the Gibson booth. How’re things there?”

Joanna: “It’s 10 below zero. We had an ice storm. The power is out. Our garage door is frozen shut. The car is dead. Our son has strep. The dog has diarrhea. Your dad called and wants to know why we never visit him. Snow is on the way.”

David: “Gotta go! Love you!”

Joanna: “As soon as the ice melts, I’m buying a gun.”

Ah, yes. I love that man of mine. And he's really become a wonderful spouse. He's trained a local florist to drop a dozen long stem roses by his store on Valentine’s Day. They set the bouquet on his desk so he can't forget them. (And he knows to COUNT the roses. The year he brought home eleven I burst into tears. "Does this mean you don't totally love me?" I asked. "You only love me eleven roses worth? Not twelve?") He’ll get me a lovely card. We’ll go out to dinner or he’ll make steaks.

Because, he loves me. He really loves me.

As well he should.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rewriting, Rebirth, and Groundhog Day

Groundhogdayposters My wife, two friends, and I celebrated Groundhog Day (which was February 2. What do you mean you missed it?) by going out for burgers and coming back home to watch the eponymic cinema masterpiece starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.

Mark Terry, my fellow Inkspot blogger, asked a couple of weeks ago what advice you would give to your 15-year old self. "Groundhog Day" builds a movie around a similar theme -- what if you could keep repeating your life till you got it right?

Apparently, the film has great appeal to Jews, Christians, and especially Buddhists. A 2003 New York Times article, reports that Angela Zito of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University tells her class that "Groundhog Day perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape."

On top of everything else, the movie resonates for me as a novelist. Writing gives me just the opportunity that Bill Murray gets in "Groundhog Day." I can live in my fictional world and keep going back over and over what's happening till I get it right. Draft 2 is closer than the first draft. Somewhere around Draft 8 I usually get it the way I want it. (See what Cricket McRae thinks of rewriting at her post Rewritosity.) When rewriting, I live in an alternate reality where the premise of "Groundhog Day" comes true. It's all part of the continuing cycle of suffering which we writers try to escape.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Flying Naked

Maybe the title of this post should be "Not Flying at All." Specifically, August Moon is set for a June release. I can say unabashedly that it's the best mystery I've ever written, with a combination of humor and suspense so sharp that I got jumpy writing it. And I can't get myself off the couch to promote it. I'm burnt out. I'm grounded.

I'm not sold on the idea that an author at a small press can ever do enough promotion to make a living, or even break even. I don't mean this to be a dark post; my publisher is great, and they're making their mark in the mystery world. Also, I love writing, and seeing my books on the shelves where strangers can touch them.
And I'm not looking for people to convince me it's worth it, to keep on going. I'm definitely going to do more writing. Lots of it, in fact, because I'll be promoting less. It's just that I'm going to try a new route, one that I didn't have luxury of doing with my first three novels because I was desperate to be published and under the impression that if I did A, B, and C, that I would be successful (and then I realized there was a D, E, F....).

Here's my plan: I'm going to set up signings at the seven bookstores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota that have consistently supported my work, and I'm going to try to get other authors to co-sign, because as Sue Ann wisely points out, it's more fun and more rewarding to tour with other authors. I'll make sure to email those who've signed up for my newsletter to let them know when the new book is out and where they can find me at. I'm also going to send the promo books Midnight Ink gives me to small reviewers and use them as giveaways that will target and grow my audience, and say "yes" to any bookstores or libraries that ask me to speak.

And that's it.

It sounds really humane, doesn't it? (For any blog readers who are unfamiliar with the world of publishing, the rule of thumb is that an author usually spends at least as much time promoting the novel as s/he did writing it.) The thing is, I have a feeling that my sales for August Moon will be comparable to my previous books--around 5000 copies sold. You could argue that it could be much higher if I did more promotion, and you might be right. Meanwhile, I'll be at my computer writing (and feeling a little guilty).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Buddy System

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

With the release of my latest Odelia Grey novel, Thugs and Kisses, comes the inevitable marketing and promotion. This time, however, I’m tackling it a little differently. This time I’m not going it alone. I’m using the buddy system.

It started late last year when Tim Maleeny and I did a joint mailer to 5,000 folks, all hopefully unfamiliar with our work. Overall, we both feel this was a great success and gave us name recognition in markets beyond the mystery community.

Now I’m teaming up with another fellow author, Christa Faust. Christa’s new book, Money Shot, was just released by Hard Case Crime. She is the first woman to be published by Hard Case and her book features Angel Dare, a porn star, beaten, raped and left for dead in the trunk of a car. Not exactly the type of heroine you’d expect to be hooked up with my Odelia Grey, a pushing 50, plump paralegal. Yet, so far, our joint venture has been a success.

Last Saturday Christa and I had a combined launch party, followed by joint readings at the Los Angeles Sisters In Crime meeting on Sunday. Instead of doing a straight reading, we read from each other’s work. The results were fabulous and the audience loved it. Our books, though very different, have many of the same themes running through them and we are capitalizing on that, along with the fact that both of our covers feature naked women. Our tour is called the Naked Ladies Tour.

This coming Friday, we hit the road for Seattle and have several events scheduled. The cross reading was so successful, that we’re planning on doing it in Seattle at an author’s fair sponsored by Barnes and Noble. And we’re thinking of doing other short road trips together in the near future.

I’m also planning on teaming up in 2008 with Kathryn Lilley, a friend and fellow author, whose books also feature a plus size protagonist. In addition to some signings, Kathryn and I are placing joint ads in conference programs and magazines. Our tag line is: “Redefining the Shape of Mystery and Romance.”

Besides the obvious benefits of sharing expenses, teaming up with other authors has the bonus of introducing your work to the readers of the other author. But be warned, just because the other person is a mystery author, it doesn’t mean he/she is the right book buddy for you. It’s rather like dating. Someone may be fabulous, but might not be a match for you.

Tips for finding a good book buddy:

*He/She should have the same commitment level as you. If you are an energetic promoter of your work, you will find it frustrating to be teamed with someone who is low key or lacks the same drive.

*Discuss each project fully before going forward. Make sure you are both onboard with the cost, market targeted, time involved and time of event.

*Be willing to make some compromises. Not all promotions will match the two of you equally. Be willing to trade off a bit on benefits.

*If you are doing personal appearances together, talk over your topics, themes, etc. beforehand. Present a united front to the audience. Play off each other’s strengths, humor, personality.

*Take the time to know your book buddy’s work, so you can discuss it with confidence in a smooth dialogue.

*It is not necessary to choose an author whose book is similar to yours. The idea is to expand your readership, not market to the same people over and over. However, it’s best to stay within the same genre. People looking to buy a mystery may not care about your buddy’s kosher cookbook, and vice versa.

*More is not more. Limit the number of book buddies at an event or in an ad. I think 2 is best, with 3 doable. Any more and it’s a panel and loses its individual appeal.

If you haven’t already, consider teaming up with another author for your next book’s promotion. It’s not only beneficial, it’s a load of fun!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


by Cricket McRae

I’m in rewrite mode on my third Sophie Mae Reynolds Home Crafting Mystery, tentatively titled Spin a Wicked Web. My deadline looms, and I’m tweaking everything from pacing to word choice to sentence rhythm. It’s tedious, exacting, and requires that I alternate between tiny detail and big picture decisions several times each hour.

My vision is blurry from staring at the computer monitor, I have a college ruled binder full of scribbled notes with priority numbers assigned to each one so I don’t forget anything (a holdover from the bug lists of my computer software days), and if it weren’t for the elliptical trainer in the room next to my office, my butt would be the same size as my desk chair.

The desk chair’s pretty big.


I absolutely love it. There’s something about the rewrite process that obsesses and sooths me at the same time.

The first draft? For me it’s all about making footprints on that pristine snowy field. Clomp, clomp, clomp. Not all that pretty, but progress nonetheless. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says you have to be willing to write a shitty first draft. Apparently I’m not only willing, but able.

Rewriting is fun, though. The book feels like a whole different being, full of life and intensely real potential. The first draft is making the clay: dirt and water and hope. Rewriting is fine tuning the details of the sculpture.

Oh, I know. Everyone else writes perfect prose from the get go, polishes minor glitches as they write, and could publish any piece of their book with five seconds notice once they’ve moved on to the next bit.


Okay, maybe not everyone. But I do know people who work very successfully like this. I’m friends with them despite that.

Are you a rewriter, creating and editing mulitple drafts? A perfectionist from page one? What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Artist's Way

I am in the third week of THE ARTIST’S WAY. This 12-week study, developed a decade ago by author, playwright, actress, and screenwriter Julia Cameron, offers a renewed sense of creativity to “blocked artists.” It is, in a word, THERAPY. Intense, a little strange, as self-indulgent as chocolate (actually, the facilitator brought some), maddening (an assignment to give up reading for a week?! Are you serious?! ), scary, and inspiring all at the same time. The goal: to nurture your Artist Child, fill the creative well, and squelch your Internal Censor.

To do all of this, the Artist’s Way uses two basic tools: Morning Pages and Artist's Dates.

Morning pages are 3-handwritten pages that must be done first thing in the morning, free-flow, unedited, just spewing out random thoughts. You never re-read them; you never let anyone else read them. The purpose of the pages is to clear clutter, get rid of the whiny, petty, angry junk that stands between you and your creativity. This is done every single day, no excuses.

Artist's Dates, on the other hand, are treats you give yourself. A block of time once a week that is set aside basically for play. Just you, alone, doing something you wouldn’t ordinarily do, the sillier the better. Like: make a sandcastle, pet a lizard, buy balloons, go ice-skating, take a belly dancing lesson, go to a toy store, go skydiving, visit an aquarium--you get the picture.

The idea is that the Morning Pages get the inhibiting stuff OUT, and the Artists Dates bring creativity IN. It sounds simple, but I’m finding that it isn’t--especially the Artists Dates.
Being an adult pre-disposes us to taking care of the “should” list at the expense of nurturing our creative selves. Juggling writing deadlines, the day-job, and family commitments drains that creative well right down to bottom. We could be spittin’ sand at any given moment.

I’ve taken myself on two dates so far, simple stuff: I played visitor in my little artsy Texas town; popped into a nature store that I was always too rushed to explore, and bought myself a peacock feather. I’d forgotten how amazing those are. Then I stopped into a bakery and treated myself to a thickly frosted Mardi Gras sugar cookie--which I ate while sitting on a swing in a sunny park. Just me, the cookie, the feather, the swing and the sun. No "shoulds" alllowed.

Yesterday’s date took me to a nursery with 11 greenhouses, including: masses of herbs, lemon trees pungent with blossoms, an miniature African Violet hothouse, a cactus Quonset hut, and an orchid room that was staggering in its beauty. When I left, my hands smelled like rosemary and sage, and my senses were on overload.

Next week I’m taking myself to the rodeo. Maybe I’ll dust off those old red boots.

How about you--when was the last time you took yourself on a date?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Watch Out! Writer Lurking

I'm a writer, among other things. And those other things include "unrepentant eavesdropper" and "spy." Yes, I admit it. I listen in. On the bus, walking down the street, at a restaurant for lunch. If I can hear you, I hear you. If you take my meaning. And, yes, I'm paying attention.

The author in me says it's research. Yeah, that's it. Research. And maybe it even is, a little bit. Certainly snippets of overheard conversation have shown up in my writing at various times in my life. For instance, in Lost Dog there's a brief exchange between the main character Peter and a girl outside a coffee shop:

“Darla? Hi…I’m Peter.”
The girl gazed at him from under coal-black bangs and took a sip of her drink. “So? You want a medal?”
Peter felt the dull ache of his wet feet and the chill of rain on his neck. “Wait a minute. Are you—”
“I’m not Darla,” the girl said. “Go hassle someone else, dickhead.”

Technically, I observed that little scene at a pizza place, and, of course, the names are different. But the exact wording is pretty close to what was actually said. I admit I felt bad for the guy, but I also reproduced his embarrassment in print for my own (and hopefully my readers') benefit. Sorry about that, fella.

Now to be sure, when you do your eavesdropping in eateries and drinkeries, most what you hear is boring stuff like, "I'd like a tall latte, please." Or, "A cup of vegetarian chili and a house salad." Yeah, them's some whoppers, no doubt. Will they go for the balsamic vinagrette or maybe bleu cheese dressing? The suspense can be palpable. Still, every now and then even a drink order will make it into my collection of eaves-droplings.

"Decaf soy six-pump sugar-free vanilla latte, extra foam, extra hot." Yes, a real drink order faithfully quoted. As I have Skin Kadash say in my follow-up to Lost Dog, I'd need a tattoo to remember that.

But the real coffee and scones of eavesdropping can be found in those deeply personal conversations which are none of my damn business, but which I can't help but overhear because, let's face it, decibel-control is too often in short supply among the general public. Especially among cell phone users.

Of course, a cell phone means more often than not I'm snooping on only one side of a conversation. In a way, that's almost better than hearing both parties talking. It leaves lots of room for imagination.

"I like the name Oleesia Raylene. . . . Hell, no, I don't know how to spell it. What's that got to do with anything?" (To be fair, I'm guessing at the spelling myself.)

"I realize we haven't met yet or anything, so I won't hold you to your answer, but would you ever consider reversing your vasectomy?"
And then, a little later in the conversation, "I just want to see your picture. . . . No, I don't care if you're dressed or not. Either way." Pause to listen. "That big? Sweet."

That conversational snippet evaluated as an eaves-dropling? Sweet, indeed.

Another good one, also a cell phone call by woman sitting about three feet from me, yet oblivious to my obvious fascination: "When people hear about me, they always think I'm older than I am. Probably because I have so many kids, plus being married so many times. Plus, being a widow. It starts to add up, let me tell you." She listened for a while, then she said, "Oh, sure, 35 is young to be a grandmother. You don't have to tell me."

It's not all cell phone conversations, of course. There are plenty of opportunities to spy on couples and families.

"I'm kinda like that weird kid in that movie. I see the spirits of people and animals."
"Yeah, like dead dogs and shit. I mean, when I see them they're walking around, but they're all misty like."
"No kidding?"
"Yeah. My neighbor's cat hung around for like a year after she had it put to sleep."

"You look like you taste salty."
"What, I look sweaty?"
"No, just salty and delicious. I want to lick you."
"Oh. Well, that's all right then."

(These two left very quickly thereafter...)

The thing I've learned over the years is that I have to not want it. A few days ago, when I decided to write about my shameless spying, I started listening consciously to everyone around me, determined to snag some hot, steaming snippets fresh outa the oven. Nothing. It was, "House coffee, room for cream," for days.

The lesson for us spies is you have to relax and go with the flow. Discover the Zen of snooping. Sooner or later, "The next time I catch him drinking from the orange juice carton I'm gonna put a fork through his eye and set his car on fire," is bound to come along, in one form or another. And if that isn't raw material for a mystery novel, I don't know what is.