Friday, May 30, 2008

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!

I love to go out to breakfast at a little diner near home. It's got all the classic style, fry cook visible from the counter, eggs, bacon, pancakes and sausage sizzling continuously. Hash browns or home fries, big buttermilk biscuits. Mmmm, heart death. I love it. But owing to the fact that eating there is equivalent to mainlining cholesterol, I limit my visits to about once a month. Last Saturday was that day, and I arrived to duly absorb my 11,000 calories with anticipation.

And the place was closed. In the intervening month, the old fry cook had sold out and a new joint was opening. Alarums! They weren't quite ready, but said I should come back later. Or the next day.

Anxious, I fled to the French place down the street, where I had a perfectly good breakfast of eggs with tomato, cheese, and pesto. Turned out that's where our very own Jess Lourey had breakfast too, in town with Dana Fredsti for a signing, though I wouldn't know that until an hour later when we met up at Murder by the Book. But I digress. As I am wont to do.

So the next day my wife and I headed back to the new restaurant, filled with trepidation. I ordered my usual, chicken-fried steak, eggs over medium, potatoes and toast. Coffee with cream.

Everything was . . . different. I don't want to say bad, because if I were to analyze it objectively, I think the meal was nicely done. The sausage gravy was a different color, and the chicken-fried steak patty a different shape. The potatoes weren't my accustomed deep-fried and golden brown, but kinda fancified. The eggs were eggs.

But it was different, and I, um, well. I didn't like it. I think if I'd discovered it fresh, no clue what came before and no experience of the previous fare, I probably would have enjoyed it. Probably would have decided, "once a month in this joint would be nice. Not too much, but enough." But, no. It's different. Weird. I don't like it.

And then it hit me. Holy shit, I'm a serial eater. I like what I like and I don't want some fancy-pants restauranteur coming along and throwing the culinary equivalent of a standalone at me, or, heaven forbid, try to get me going on a new breakfast series. I want my old breakfast back, tried and true. Patty properly shaped, gravy properly hued, potatoes properly fried.

But I can't have it. The author has moved on, made a choice that was better for him, no matter how I feel about it. Crap, now what am I going to do?


As I type this, I'm imagining where I will be when my legions of fans finally get to read it (Hi, Mom!) Where I may be is standing in the security line at the Portland International Airport. Or maybe the plane has taken off, or maybe even landed in Los Angeles already. Maybe I've arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center, maybe I have my badge and am standing in amazement at Book Expo America. Maybe it's evening already and I'm drinking. Wherever I am, I will have left my computer behind. I figure it will be a busy weekend and in all likelihood the laptop lid would remain closed, so I'm just leaving the sucker home. That means I won't be able to check in on discussions here until Monday, but I will. In the meantime, have a great weekend. I suspect I will.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Twenty Years: The Mystery of Longevity and the Power of the Personal Essay

by Julia Buckley
My husband and I were married twenty years ago today, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. We are rather surprised to find ourselves at this milestone, since we like to think of ourselves as still youthful. But time doesn't lie, and neither do our growing children, so here we are.

In honor of the day, I'll tell the rather odd story of how Jeff and I met.

In 1987 I was a junior in college and dating a guy named Bob. My boyfriend and I had been having some rough times, mainly because I think we were realizing we weren't "meant to be," if you believe in that sort of thing. So it was only partly surprising when Bob, who attended ISU, called me in Indiana and said that the formal dance he'd agreed to attend with me--the one for which I'd already purchased expensive tickets and persuaded my mom to alter an old prom dress--was something he could not now attend. He had to work, he told me.

In a cold voice I told Bob that would be just fine. And then I plotted my revenge. I would find a guy--any guy--to go to that dance with me, and I would have fun. I was thinking, at that point, of just going to a random store and approaching all males with my dance proposition, but then I had a brainstorm. My brother, eight years my elder, worked in Chicago in a big glamorous office building (or so I thought at age 20). He had often told me tales of his humorous co-workers. Surely one of them could be persuaded to go out with a cute college girl?

So I called my big brother and told him of my idea. He sounded skeptical. "Uh--I don't really know," he said. "I guess I could ask Jeff Buckley."

"Sure! He sounds great," I said.

"He's very funny," my brother assured me. This, I assumed, was a euphemism for ugly, but I didn't care. I told Bill to go ahead and extend the invitation.

I called that evening to find out the result. "Is he going?" I asked.

"Uh--he might. He has a list of demands."

Pause. "A list of demands? Like . . . a terrorist?"

"You have to know Jeff's sense of humor," he said. And then he read me the demands, which Jeff had scrawled on a piece of paper in his terrible handwriting while he was supposed to be working. To be honest with you, I can't remember them all, but one of them was "You must refer to me as 'Bronco' for the entire evening" and another was "write a five-paragraph essay entitled 'Why I must be accompanied by Jeff.'"

I actually thought this was pretty funny, and I was an English major, so I tossed off the essay in no time and had it ready when Bill and Jeff arrived on the dance day (there was no e-mail then, and I didn't have time to mail it).

Jeff told me later that it was a longshot that he showed up at all; he regretted telling Bill he'd go out with his little sister (he'd been told I was funny, which he assumed was a euphemism for ugly), and was going to call in sick. However, he had so much respect for my brother (and still does) that he didn't want to disappoint him. So he made the one hour drive to my parents' house in the suburbs, then another hour-long drive, with Bill, to Valparaiso University, where we met in our cumbersome formal clothes. I have attached a photo which chronicles forever the awkwardness of our meeting (and the exchange of the essay). (It also shows that on my dorm room wall I had, inexplicably, a poster for CATS and a picture of the "Hey Vern" guy. Go figure.)

Anyway, Jeff and I hit it off quite well, and when he decided to kiss me later that same night, he prefaced it by saying, "Let's get this awkward moment out of the way." That made everything seem pretty inevitable, which I guess it was.

I never did call him Bronco, though. Maybe after forty years.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fill in the Blank

Cricket McRae

The other night I indulged in something I rarely do: checking out the special features on a DVD. I’d just watched The Bourne Ultimatum, and though I generally find the behind-the-scenes information strips a lot of the magic out of a movie, I was curious about which scenes had been edited out. It quickly became clear that all the bits they’d removed, though well enough written and acted, over-explained what was going on. They told more than they needed to. Including them would have slowed the pace, but wouldn’t have added much in the way of real information.
Show, Don’t Tell. The old maxim holds even truer for novelists than for screen writers. Readers fill in blanks and make interpretations and judgments, but they also have to add sensory data, including the visual and auditory information inherent in the cinematic experience. The danger of an author telling and not showing is far greater for the simple reason that we’re painting our stories with little black squiggles … and nothing else.

We ask readers to take those squiggles and translate them into whole worlds, people, events, meaning, for heaven’s sake. I mean, that’s crazy, when you think about it. Is it any wonder that sometimes we overdo it, attempting to make it easier for those marks on paper to convey the effect we desire? To communicate our vision complete with subtlety and layers of surprise and emotion?

But a writer’s job isn’t to tell the whole story. For one thing, we can’t, and the more we try, the more we kill something vital between writer and reader. The writer’s job is to show (and sometimes tell) enough of the story for the reader to fill in the rest by himself. Our readers’ imaginations are fabulous and amazing, but perhaps more importantly, inevitable – and that makes their imaginations an essential part of our story process.

When I was in high school I was taken with a passage from Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent:

“A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers. Everyone takes what he wants or can from it and thus changes it to his measure. Some pick out parts and reject the rest, some strain the story through their mesh of prejudices, some paint it with their own delight. A story must have some points of contact with the reader to make him feel at home with it. Only then can he accept wonder.”

That quote has stayed with me ever since. Story as a synthesis of writer and reader. It’s mysterious, maybe a little unpredictable, and sometime disconcerting.

And so very, very magical.

Monday, May 26, 2008

An Alternative to Blowing Up Your Local Library

When I checked the online catalog of the Palo Alto Library soon after publication of Dot Dead, I saw that 80 or so people had reserved it. Here's what I said to myself about that: "Go without a few lattes, you pennypinchers, and buy the damn thing – it’s only $13.95."

I lost the argument with my wife, so, I did abandon any notion of blowing up the local branch. Still, as supportive as I am of reading, it does strike me as unfair to authors that libraries buy one copy of their book and let dozens read it. In addition to the unfairness, it’s no way to support writers.

Legislators in 40 other countries have figured out the answer – something called Public Lending Rights. In the UK each time a book is checked out of the library, the author receives a little more than a dime (no, doesn’t apply to Americans). You’d think that might bankrupt Her Majesty’s Treasury? No, the PLR are not designed to make sure that J.K. Rowling gets even richer. Authors are limited to payments of 6,600 pounds per year. Not a lot, but that $13,000 (at current exchange rates) could really make a difference to authors just starting out. And on top of that it’s fair to authors.

Now the U.S. runs a huge deficit and adding billions to it would make little sense. No fear. Guess how much our cousins across the Atlantic spend on their program? In 2006 the entire shebang cost 7.6M pounds. What would we spend here? $50M? $75M?

So let’s get this straight. Libraries buy. The national government pays writers a small sum each time a book is checked out. Writers make a little extra money from people reading their books. (Writers making money? Call the police!) A literary terrorist is discouraged from throwing a Molotov cocktail through an open window of their local lending library. A great idea? I think so. And not that expensive either, especially considering the benefits.

Why not write your senators and representatives about it? I’m going to. And crazy as it seems, I think I’ll bring it up with the boards of the author organizations I belong to: MWA, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Keys to . . . the Future

by Nina Wright

I’m ready to go. Again.

Last week I flew to the Lone Star State. This week my destination is the Sunshine State.

Sound like fun? Not entirely. This is all business travel, all the time. Of course I promote my books wherever I go; however, my reason for traveling is pure survival: I need a new day job, so in order to get one, I’m going where the jobs are.

Where the jobs aren’t is here in my corner of Ohio. Sadly, we have the foreclosures to prove it. My lovely oak-lined street has become a depressing place to take an evening stroll because so many homes are now abandoned. This is what you’d call a “nice neighborhood”—situated near a large park and a major university. Unfortunately, people can’t afford to live here because they can’t find jobs here anymore. We're hearing the old joke way too often: "Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights?"

The up side of my situation is that I’m going to have a new series of adventures, probably in a part of the country where I’ve never lived before. And I'm sure it will inspire me to write something completely different because that's what happens every time I move.

The down side is that I have to move. Again. But after moving four times in the past five years, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’m ruthless when it comes to deciding what I can live without, a practice that has made me bolder at cutting the flab from my fiction.

Although I'm starting this adventure alone, my fiancĂ© plans to join me. He has a house to sell, and he needs a new job, too. We didn't foresee the problems that make this move necessary; they've complicated our lives. Nonetheless, he's proud of me for being resilient, and I'm proud of him for being adaptable. Many of our friends haven’t changed jobs or homes in twenty years or more. They can’t imagine psyching themselves for interviews and new careers in faraway places.

This much I know: even when you don’t think you have choices, you always have choices. For starters, you choose how to look at every moment of your life. And you focus on the fact that things get better. They do, they do.

Plus, it's all grist for fiction.

Tomorrow I’ll be in the air before the sun comes up. Even if the power goes out as I’m leaving my apartment—which happened last week—I’ll be able to get my automatic garage door open and my car out; I’ve learned how to handle that small emergency. Even if I lose my keys in the parking lot of one airport and don’t discover they’re gone until many hours and miles later when I’m in another airport—which also happened last week—I won’t worry. People find keys, and they turn them in.

Even if nobody found my missing keys, I would have keys again.

Please tell us about your "keys"--your survival strategies, recoveries, or contingency plans. We all got 'em, or we don't get far. My father taught me that lesson long ago. It's still working for him, I might add: today he turns 96!

Happy birthday, Dad, and happy travels, everybody!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You don't know what you don't know

Like many writers, I have a love/hate relationship with research. I love to do it, but I can get lost in it. Especially internet research. As a kid, I read anything in front of me. The milk carton, the tag on the pillow, street signs (But how do the deer know where to cross?). Anything with words. The cereal box was the best, with its trivia questions and fun facts.

Along comes this thing known as the internet. A giant, infinite cereal box. With all kinds of fun facts. It's hard to stop reading.

This past weekend I got in the other kind of research. The walking and talking kind. I went down to Asilomar State Park, in Pacific Grove, California where I am setting my third book in the quilting series. Surf, sand, historically important architecture. What a hardship.

I was determined to talk to a California State Park Ranger. I'm shy about approaching people. I think they don't want to talk to me, or I'll ask a really dumb question and prove how ignorant I am. In this case, I was a wee bit embarrassed to tell them I'm planning to use their beautiful facility as a setting for a murder or two.

The rangers put me at ease right away, and told me all kinds of things I didn't know I didn't know.

What I knew: Asilomar had been built by architect Julia Morgan at the behest of Phoebe Hearst and the YWCA.
What I didn't know: The YWCA duped college women to work as maids and janitors.

What I knew: Deer have fawns in the springtime.
What I didn't know: A doe will attack you if you're walking your dog anywhere near her fawn.

What I knew: The Pacific Ocean is deep.
What I didn't know: The Monterey Canyon is ten thousand feet deep and a body that goes in might never be seen again.

What I knew: A famous Rocky Mountain singer went down in his airplane off the shoreline.
What I didn't know: He fell through the propeller so little pieces of him washed up on shore and were eaten by birds and gulls.

I learned plenty of not-so sinister facts, too, but these are the fun facts that spoke to the mystery writer in me.

What have you found out in your research that you didn't know you didn't know?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Dirty Little Blurb Secret, by Jess Lourey

secretMay Day, the first in my Murder-by-Month mysteries, hit the shelves in March of 2006. Two months before that, the reviews started coming in. You need to know that I’m a small-town gal from Minnesota. My life goals in early 2006 were not that different than the dreams I had when I graduated high school in 1988—find a boyfriend, become a published writer, and travel the world. I had knocked the big one off that list—my book was about to be published—and I was high on life. Who could pop my bubble? Kirkus Reviews, that’s who.

Here’s their review of May Day, sent to me by my publicist:

“Lourey's debut has a likable heroine and a surfeit of sass...”

I had to look up surfeit, and it means "a lot." So that's good. See the ellipses above, though? You'll see those in many blurbs on book covers. That's where the author or his/her publicist took out words such as, "...but I'd sooner chew my own foot off than read another one of her books." (I suppose some publishers might also put ellipses in their author’s reviews because there’s just not enough room to include ALL the good stuff. Whatever.)

With some urging (“You sure you want to see it? We won’t be putting the whole thing on the book cover anyway.”), my publicist revealed to me the unellipsesed version of my very first review: "Lourey's debut has a likable heroine and a surfeit of sass, but the projected series needs to find its mystery footing."

Pinch. Spank. Slap.

No one wants a “but” in the review of their first novel, especially when they also don’t have a boyfriend and have only been as far from Minnesota as Jamaica about a decade earlier, where they accidentally smoked so much ganja that they might as well have been in their own bathtub for all that they moved that week.

I still cringe when I think back to that May Day review, which isn’t often, fortunately, because it's more interesting to poke fun at others than to scrutinize myself. In that spirit, I’ve developed the “Reinvent the Review” game. The rules are simple:booklooking

  1. Go to your bookshelf and pull a book by your favorite author.
  2. Look at the front cover, inside front cover, and back cover until you find a blurb with ellipses in it.
  3. Replace the ellipses with whatever your wicked imagination tells you might have been there.

Below, I’ve demonstrated how this game works. Remember: italics=official ellipses replaced by my imagination. (I'll show you the "before" in the first one so you have a model):

  • Sue Grafton, F Is for Fugitive
    San Francisco Chronicle

"Exceptionally entertaining…An offbeat sense of humor and a feisty sense of justice.”


"Exceptionally entertaining except for the part where Jim is unmasked as the killer, which was just dumb. An offbeat sense of humor and a feisty sense of justice.”

  • Nancy Martin, Have Your Cake and Kill Him, Too
    Publishers Weekly

“Readers nowadays want comedy and a blend of fashion-forward romance. They could get it from this book, or check out something from Steve Martin for some witty suspense and Martin's wicked tongue-in-cheek satire.”

  • Janet Evanovich, Hot Six
    Dallas Morning News

"An appealing detective, a love interest, a little danger, and a lot of laughs would have been great, but instead she wrote this. I would have even settled for a classic screwball detective story."

  • William Kent Kruger, Purgatory Ridge
    Publishers Weekly Review

"Krueger's page-turner opens with a bang yet left me constantly smelling hard boiled eggs as I read. The plot comes full circle as credibly flawed central characters find resolution and that smell of eggs becomes overwhelming. Krueger prolongs suspense to the very end."

  • Elaine Viets, Shop Till You Drop
    Reviewed by Charlaine Harris

“I loved this book for balancing my wobbly table at the airport restaurant, where I was about to embark on a vacation that turned out to be tons of fun! If you have any uneven furniture, this book has it all.”

  • Carl Hiaasen, Skin Tight
    The New York Times Book Review

"This novel is Carl Hiaasen's latest dangerous weapon--Uzi satire in 9-millimeter bursts aimed at those classic baddies, vanity and greed. I wish I liked funny and terrifying bad guys because if I did, I'd like this book. No one has ever designed funnier, more terrifying bad guys."

Ah. That was cathartic. Thank you for playing the “Reinvent the Review” game with me. I’d like to remind you that no changes were made to the above reviews except to replace their God-given ellipses with my own silliness, and no authors were harmed in the playing of this game.

(On a side note, I heart the writing of the above authors, and my recommendation of it is ellipses-free.)

My west coast tour kicks off this Wednesday, May 21, with a signing in California, followed by an Oregon and a couple Washington signings. Check my website for more detail, and if you're in the area, stop by and say hey. The first three people to pick up a book at each stop get a free Nut Goodie, flown in fresh from Minnesota.

Oh, and here's the Kirkus Reviews blurb for just-released August Moon; care to speculate what goes in place of the ellipses? "Another amusing tale set in the town full of over-the-top zanies..."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Old Friends on My Shelf

In looking for something snappy and reasonably intelligient to blog about, I began digging through my collection of books on writing. I know I've talked about this before, but every time I go back to these books, I'm surprised and pleased.
This time it was like reacquainting myself with a group of old friends. An hour or so later I sat cross legged on the floor of my office. I'd visited with Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Annie Lamott, Don Maass, Sue Grafton, Nancy Pickard, and finally found myself wonderfully surprised by a little book called Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See.
There's something about reading another writer's advice, OK, reading another writer's paragraphs about procrastination, blinding insecurity and the fervent desire to throttle the bejesus out of her critics--there's something about this that does my heart good. And if I get a little craft advice along the way, I can use it!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Glamour of It All

Tom Schreck

Author of TKO

TKO, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery has been released and you know what that means--that's right, the excitement and high style of a tour to support the promotion.

That started last night for me and here's some quick notes from the road.

* It's nice landing your own means of transportation at the Hamburg NY airport. It's not easy to land a 2001 Lincoln Town Car with duct tape on the front bumper at an airport.

* I'm on the two-day trek to Southfield Mi for the famous Michigan Basset Hound Waddle. The main picnic where I am the feature author was moved indoors to the ballroom. 500 hounds in a ballroom. The bid to have your dog named in my third book is now the top or near the top item in the auction. I'm not sure if Sotheby's is running the auction.

* My three dogs Roxie, Wilbur and Riley are on the trip in the same car. An hour from home Roxie takes a leak on the back seat. Riley insists on laying his head on my thigh which gives me a cramp. Wilbur has gas.

* I start cursing at the GPS because it keeps telling me to "Keep Left". I want to get to the hotel.

* We are staying at the the Five Star "Red Roof Inn". The woman at the desk looks like she's a professional wrestler. There are lots of teenagers hanging out of the rooms.

* We have an exquisite dinner of Domino's Pizza and I drink five beers faster than I ever have in my life. I decide that my prescription for "occasional anxiety" is needed and I pour myself an Evan Williams Bourbon ($10.99 per quart) that wouldn't fit in a Hellman's mayonaise jar.

* Riley and Roxie get in a fight at 12:30 am over a synthetic bone I bought to calm them.

* At 2:46 I awake to find Roxy not eating the $5.46 Pedigree "Busy Bone". She is eating my leather wallet. I repeatedly yell the word "Fuck!" while Wilbur has a barking fit.

* At 5:16am Riley again threatens Roxy's life.

* At 6:55am I take the dog's for a walk. For some reason the other guests of the hotel don't seem very friendly. They all seem to give me a dirty look and mutter "asshole" when I walk by with the three hounds. When my wife lets me back in the room I think I hear her mutter the same thing. Though when I ask what she said she says "nothing."

* 7:42 and time to write the blog to stay in contact with my millions of fans. My wife is in the shower and Roxy is trying to join her. I'm guessing after last night Roxie has a better shot than I do.

* Soon you will read about an incident at the Canadian border involving 3 hounds, a woman and a raving lunatic having a fit.

Ahh...the big time life of an author.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Money for Nothing

by G.M. Malliet

An author with a book due out begins to divide the world into two categories of people.

The first category will say, when you tell them about your book, "That's great! When and where can I buy it?" One friend of mine was actually sensitive enough to ask, "Where should I buy it so you get the bigger royalty? Online or in the stores?" These people are going straight to author's heaven.

The second category of person (and this is rare, fortunately) will say, when you tell them you have a book coming out: "That's great! When do I get my free copy?" While you are tempted to think they're kidding - they must be kidding - they're not.

Now, think about it. Would you ask me to paint your house for free? Alter your jacket? Wash your dog? But writing a book also involves actual labor, possibly spanning many years.

I'm still working on a snappy comeback to this. After all, I think this request for a free book has everything to do with ignorance of the writing biz and nothing to do with greed. I think the request is even meant to be flattering ("I am curious to read your book, just not curious enough to pay for it" may be the subtext). But the fact is, I would rather take $14 out of my purse and set fire to it than give my work away - to treat it as something of no value.

The belief that authors receive all the free copies of their books they want may play into this. But MI authors get only ten copies of their books, and mine are long since ear-marked for people who, like, saved me from drowning. I got ONE free copy from the publisher of an anthology in which my short story appeared.

It's a simple equation: Books cost money. Selling books is how authors pay the bills. Please don't ever ask an author for a free copy of his/her book.

And don't even think about asking to borrow the book so you can read it.

Thank you. The rant has ended; go in peace.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Do We Have to Read This Crap Anyway?

Okay, confession time. I was a closet geek in high school. Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t so much in the closet as I might think. Sure, I played baseball all through high school and I even played football for one year before I realized that football is the modern equivalent of the gladiatorial games – and I wasn’t the lion. So I had my cool clique to hang out with. I wasn’t the kind of nerd that did extra credit trigonometry problems nor was I on the chess team or the kid with the clichĂ©d pocket protector. But I was a kid that loved to read.

Hey, I was 16 – it wasn’t cool to “read” anything that wasn’t glossy and had half clothed to mostly unclothed women in it. But I did. And I liked it. And I don’t think anyone at my high school but Mr. Macmillan knew how much I like it. He could tell. He could see the signs. All of us in the literature cult know the signs. I bet some of you in the audience know the signs.

And although I haven’t reread many of those novels we read back in Advanced Literature, I do remember them. I remember the feeling they gave me. The feeling of power. Of understanding human nature just a little bit better – at a time in life when all of human nature and motivation was a snake ball to me. I still haven’t figured out why Lisa Ackerman hated me. But I’ve gotten over it...
Anyway, the books were my friends – closet friends – but good friends nonetheless. They got me through some weird times and I’m thankful for their service – then and now. Because just as they taught me lessons back then, they teach me lessons today. Like I said, I haven’t reread most of the classics, but they’ve stuck with me as I pull together stories and ideas and themes and plots and all the other building materials that make up a novel.

So 20 some odd years later I say, “Here’s to you good and noble friends! Thank you for being there – then and now!”

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Times, they are a changin'

Somebody asked me recently about how Joe and I research our books. The person thought it had to be so tedious and boring. I started to think about that because research is probably one of the highpoints of writing the kinds of novels we do. It is amazing how one thing leads to another, then chains another thought and suddenly out of nowhere there is a miraculous connection and the storyline gets tighter and tighter. We have often thought that there have been so many omens and coincidences in our writing and research that it is more than we can ignore. Some kind of woo-woo factor.

I also started thinking about how much things have changed. When I first started writing historical fiction ages ago, under the name Lynn Armistead McKee, there was no information highway—Internet. I would spend hours and hours in the library thumbing through sources, some I couldn’t even check out. Then I’d come home with a bundle of books (2 trips to the car) that I would spend days going through. Now, with a couple of keystrokes I have the world at my door. I look at my grandkids, the little ones, and they will think I have gone completely senile when I mention Wolfman Jack, or church key, bop, pink elephant sale, cake walk, Maypole dance. When they hear that I am related to Dolly, they will shudder at the thought their grandma has a cloned sheep in the family—which means grandpa had to be doing what? It was Dolly Madison to which I was proudly referring. Then I think about my generation and when we were hip teens. A browser was the same as a grazer, and the first handheld calculators cost a pretty penny (now they come free on computers and almost free as accessories to planners, etc.). If someone said “cell” I thought of things like cell membrane and nucleus. Now, it’s just a common communication device. Years ago texting, beeper, online, internet, DVR, memory stick, digital, and Amber alert meant nothing to me. Wow, how times change.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

InkSpot News - 10 May 2008

Jess Lourey is currently on a virtual blog tour promoting August Moon, the just-released fourth book in her Lefty-nominated Murder-by-Month series. Check out her website ( for links to the tour and to learn about about August Moon and the Murder-by-Month series.

Tom Schreck's second Duffy Dombrowski Mystery, "TKO" has been released and is available at all the usual places. "On the Ropes", the first in the series was a finalist for Best First Mystery by Crimespree
Magazine and at the Love is Murder Convention where it was also nominated as Best Suspense Mystery.

Tom is featured on the cover of Crimespree this month along with fellow fighter and mystery writer Mike Black.

Tom is the guest author at the world famous Michigan Basset Waddle next weekend May 16-17 in Southfield Mi where thousands of bassets and their human food slaves will gather. Tom wants everyone to know that he was chosen over James Patterson and Stephen King. Tom will be signing books(and giving the proceeds to basset rescue) and is auctioning off a chance to name a character(dog or human) in his third Duffy mystery "Out Cold."

Friends of Mystery wants to know what your favorite mysteries are. Between now and August 1, 2008 Friends of Mystery is collecting and compiling fan favorites in the categories of cozy, hardboiled and thriller published in 2007/2008, as well as favorite author and all-time favorite mystery. To share your favorites, use My Favorite Mystery online form, or or mail your favorites to FOM, P.O. Box 8251, Portland, Oregon 97207.

Results will be published in the September 2008 Blood-Letter, the newsletter of Friends of Mystery.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thanks, Mom

by Felicia Donovan


As we celebrate the goodness and giving spirit of mothers all over this weekend, I'd like to take a moment to thank my mother, Sharon, for many things.

I was not the easiest child to raise, being the baby of the lot. I learned to tell tales early on, so it's no coincidence that I ended up being a writer. In fact, some of my more memorable "tales" somehow manage to resurface with regularity at family gatherings.

There was the time I deliberately bit my own hand in an attempt to frame one of my sisters. My mother, a devout mystery fan, quickly deduced that the bite mark had two missing teeth. I just happened to be the only one with missing teeth at the time. Caught...

When I cleverly scribbled my sister's name on the furniture, Mom wondered why my sister would use a color crayon she knew she hated but I loved. Caught again...

Mom always said she had to raise each of us differently because we were all so unique - something I only came to appreciate once I became a mom.

Most of all, I remember my mother with children perched on each knee, snuggled in arms and tucked beside her as she read to us. She imbued a love of reading in all of us. As adults, we still can't get enough books.

My early attempts at writing were feeble, but you would have thought I'd written a Pulitzer the way my mother gushed over them. She, too, was a writer and I remember her excitement at seeing her name in print in a magazine for the first time.

Like my main character's mother in THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY, my mom has an incredibly strong outlook on life. She treated not one, but two bouts of cancer as a minor inconvenience and an interruption to her plans to get to Foxwoods. No big deal. If luck be a lady, it's my mom. She's won grand prizes and free cars, but I feel like I'm the luckiest of all.

This weekend, as we celebrate all the Mom's out there, remember the very special women who've made a difference in your life. Sometimes they're not always biologically related, but if you know of a special lady who's always been there for you, take the time to thank her. I know I just did. Love you, Mom.

What Scent Defines You?

Last night I watched an unusual and captivating movie called Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. I love historical mysteries and as this movie was based on Patrick Suskind's Das Parfum, I thought this might be right up my alley. With the exception of one scene I could have done without, it was. Try to imagine a combination of Les Miserables and a Hannibal Lecterish physiological, serial killer-type thriller (without Dr. Lecter’s penchant for eating people). I was especially impressed with the camera work, which brought both the noxious and luxurious scents of 18th century Paris. And I love the costumes of that time period too! Now, I only recommend this film if you can handle a mixture of the seductive, disturbing, and extremely creepy.

Regardless of the fact that I had already stayed up way past my bedtime, I started thinking about the individuality of scent. From our perfumes to our lotions to our shampoo, we like very distinct smells. Even the candles we light can vary dependent on the season or our mood. We also tend to change our favorite scents from time to time. For example, I wore Anais Anias for years and then, without any reason, decided that it wasn’t the smell I wanted to define me.

So let’s trade the perfumes, colognes, and lotions that we’ve used for years. The olfactory hints that remind others of us. What does your pillowcase smell like? Your clothes? Your hair? The center of your wrist? Here are my favorites:

  • Perfume – Happy by Clinique (it really buoys my spirit and smells fresh, light, and festive)
  • Lotion – Moisturizers with a hint of aloe
  • Cleaning Products – Lemon or orange scented dish soap and air fresheners
  • Flowers – Gardenias. I just melt over the smell!
  • Food – An apple crisp cooking in the oven during autumn
  • CandleAny of the triple fragrances by Virginia Candle Company. If you enjoy layers of scent, check out this website!

How about you? What scents would you fill in?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Survey Says!

By Joe Moore

Do you (or could you) support yourself on your current writing income?

money1 I belong to an organization called Novelists, Inc. Membership qualifications require at least two books published by a traditional, royalty-paying publisher. NINC conducted a survey of 100 randomly chosen members. All 100 respondents had published a median of sixteen novels apiece in multiple genres with women's fiction/romance (93%), mystery/thriller (24%), and young adult (12%) being the top three. Nine percent of the authors have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, 19% on the USA Today bestseller list, and 32% on Waldens list. Of the 100 authors surveyed, 10% had a PhD or doctoral degree, 27% a master's, and 35% a bachelor's. Ninety-six percent were female.

It would be easy to assume that all 100 highly educated, highly successful authors were doing well from their writer's income. Right?

One of the 9 questions they were asked was the one above: Do you (or could you) support yourself on your current writing income?

Here’s what they said:

22% -- Yes

9% -- Probably yes

17% -- Probably no

52% -- No

So 31% of the surveyed authors revealed that they were able to support themselves with their writing income. Sixty-nine percent could not. And these are best-selling authors with a median average of 16 books in print.

Are you surprised? Do you make enough money from writing to support yourself and your family? It takes most authors at least a year to write a commercial novel. Is giving up your sleep, TV, family, social life, and everything else you sacrifice as a writer really worth it? Most importantly, if you can’t make a living at it, why do it?

Personally, I love to write. I would do it whether I got paid or not. Would you?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Helen MacInnes Should be Ludlum's Espionage Movie Successor

by Julia Buckley
I watched my video of The Bourne Ultimatum today, and it was great. I was contemplating the whole Bourne trilogy--a fantastic cinematic experience based on the exciting Robert Ludlum novels. While the movies are only loosely tied to the books, both the original Ludlum mysteries and the movies were huge successes and made Jason Bourne a name to be remembered. (All twenty-one of Ludlum's novels were New York Times bestsellers).

I'm wondering, then, how long it can be before some young Hollywood babe--male or female--will be snatched up to star in a flick based on a novel by Helen MacInnes. As far as I'm concerned, MacInnes hasn't gotten the credit she deserves for her contributions to the world of literature in general and mystery in particular. Officially her genre is "suspense," or perhaps sometimes she falls into the category of "espionage," but wherever you slot her, MacInnes is a great read.

I should note that four of MacInnes' novels WERE made into films, but not since the sixties. Her books adapted for films were: Above Suspicion, Assignment in Brittany, The Venetian Affair, and The Salzburg Connection. They even sound a bit like Ludlum titles, don't they? But MacInnes, who began writing in 1939, pre-dates Ludlum, who only began publishing his books in 1971 with The Scarlatti Inheritance.

MacInnes was born in Glasgow in 1907 and educated there, but eventually moved to New York with her husband Gilbert Highet, and she died there in 1985. She had degrees in French and German, but was working as a librarian when she met Highet.

Like the Bourne stories, MacInnes' tales bring the reader along with a character who is smart, tough, but always in jeopardy. Also like Ludlum's books, MacInnes' tales take her reader all over the world at a sometimes dizzying pace, and it's a terrific ride.

I started reading MacInnes when I was a teenager, and I had soon moved through all of her titles, my favorites being The Salzburg Connection, Neither Five Nor Three, The Venetian Affair, Decision at Delphi, Double Image, Snare of the Hunter. You can't really go wrong when picking up a Helen MacInnes. She is required reading in this field, and were she writing today, she would be as much of a franchise as Ludlum's books have become.
As evidence of her great plots, here's some flyleaf copy for The Venetian Affair that I found on "New York drama critic Bill Fenner arrives in Paris, only to discover that his coat has accidentally been switched with another---and that he is therefore now $100,000 richer. But when the American Embassy refers him to NATO and the CIA, what started as a simple mistake becomes something far more complicated and deadly. For when Fenner hears of a Communist plot to assassinate DeGaulle, he is also informed that the key to stopping it lies in his own past..."(© Fawcett Crest)

Isn't that great? Doesn't that sound very Bourne-like? It certainly makes me wonder if Ms. MacInnes at any point influenced the great Robert Ludlum.

I would just like to have my own moment of hubris here and say that when the inevitable MacInnes movie comes out, I predicted it here--Julia Buckley, 2008. And if anyone out there making the movie is looking for extras, sign me up. :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Only If You Don’t Know Where to Shop

by Joanna Campbell Slan (and posted for her by Keith Raffel)

Okay, maybe my new book Paper, Scissors, Death wasn’t a hit at Malice Domestic—after all it doesn’t debut until September—but my zebra-striped shoes sure were.

Which just shows to go you that money can too buy happiness. Even The New York Times agrees. In an article on April 16, 2008, David Leonhardt wrote that in 1974 an economist named Richard Esterlin came up with a theory in which he argued that economic growth didn’t necessarily lead to more satisfaction.

Esterlin must have been some kind of fool.

And he’s since been proven WRONG by the Brookings Institute. (I knew I liked those people.) Two researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers discovered that money indeed tends to bring happiness, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.

See, I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and let me tell you this unequivocally: Rich is a whole heck of a lot more fun.

When I was a teen, we went on welfare. My sisters and I learned a very important lesson: Do not put anything in the charity food drive that you wouldn’t eat yourself. Those beets and lima beans we ditched two years before showed up at our front door along with a frozen turkey and a smug-looking vestry member assigned to distribute baskets to the needy. And boy, oh, boy, were we ever needy. We had a whopping $50 in the bank, no car, and no prospects. The bank called every day threatening to evict us. We had no means of support because my dad had run off with—and I’m not kidding—Vicki LaFever. Would I make something like that up? (If I made it up, I would have called her Vicki LaSlut, but not LaFever. Sheesh.)

Let me tell you something else about being on welfare. Food stamps don’t cover toilet articles much less the, um, monthly needs you have in a house with three girls. It was pretty bleak. That was the summer I first failed at a job. I became an Avon lady. Okay, when you are 18 and you are trying to sell wrinkle cream women thirty years older than you, you just have to have a whole lot more moxie than I have…and as you all know by now, I’ve got moxie to spare.

See…that’s how you get moxie. You decide that “with God as my witness, neither me nor my kin will ever go hungry again.” (Nod to Scarlett.)

And I did. I made that promise and I’ve kept it.

So in case you’re wondering, I’ll spell it out for you: 1.) riding in a limo is much more fun than taking the city bus ANYWHERE 2.) yes, it’s a real mink—they were suicidal and I had them made into a coat so they wouldn’t die in vain and 3.) you can’t afford me.

Trust me on this. I’ve done the research.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

InkSpot News - 3 May 2008

Friends of Mystery wants to know what your favorite mysteries are. Between now and August 1, 2008 Friends of Mystery is collecting and compiling fan favorites in the categories of cozy, hardboiled and thriller published in 2007/2008, as well as favorite author and all-time favorite mystery. To share your favorites, use My Favorite Mystery online form, or or mail your favorites to FOM, P.O. Box 8251, Portland, Oregon 97207.

Results will be published in the September 2008 Blood-Letter, the newsletter of Friends of Mystery.

Friends of Mystery is a non-profit literary/educational organization headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Its purpose is to promote educational study in all realms related to mystery. Members are interested in fiction, true crime, how mysteries are solved, and many other aspects of knowledge that can be included in the term mystery.

Friday, May 2, 2008

It's the little things...

As some may have noticed, I often wear a tan vest. It's an outdoorsy thing with lots of pockets and zipper and snaps, and typically gets me asked if I'm fisherman or a hunter. Alas, no, I explain -- I just like all the pockets, and wouldn't know a fishing pole from a thirty-aught-six if you goosed me with one. Or the other.

Anyway, this vest is handy because it's got a pocket for my phone, and another for business cards, and another for a notepad, and another for jelly beans, and . . . well, you get the idea. One of the pockets holds my iPod, which I own in order to prove how "hip" and "with it" and "now" I am. Groovy, man. That said, I do also use my iPod for listening to stuff, but I have this problem. Whenever I want to use it, I reach into my cool vest pocket and fish out the tangle of ear bud wires. And they're ALWAYS tangled. It doesn't matter how carefully I wrapped them them, or how long they've been in my pocket. They're always a freaking mess. Plus, once I get done untangling them, the buds ALWAYS end up situated with my left in my right hand and the right bud in my left hand.

Now, sure, this probably seems like a little thing. But, come on, shouldn't random chance provide me with the buds properly oriented about half the time, post tangle? Is that too much to ask? (Here is where I shake my fist dramatically at the heavens. And then a bird poops on me.)

In the big scheme of things, this is nothing. But this is the kind of thing I'll write down in my little notebook and, who knows, maybe in some future story some character will get so frustrated by his iPod Ear Bud Misalignment Syndrome that he wigs out and commits acts of dramatic, plot-advancing mayhem. Or maybe not. I have tons of these. Small details which may illuminate character. Sometimes they make it into a story, more often not. Still, they're one of the fun things about being a writer. In a way, they make me a kind of collector. Here are some other items from my collection of weirdnesses, pulled right from the notebook as is. (Not all of these are MY weirdnesses; use of the word "my" could be anyone. Really.)

  • The song "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult stuck in my head for over a month.

  • That cowlick . . . Never. Settles. Down.

  • Even my missing finger likes Starbucks.

  • Woman with wavy, dark hair, highlighted in red, wearing a black leather biker jacket, while capri pants, and carrying a purple parasol on a sunny day.

  • Green velour floor-length cloak, hood, leather clogs peeking out from underneath, in line at the hotdog stand.

  • Bald head as knobby as a blackberry. (The fruit, not the electronic device.)

So let's hear about weirdnesses from your collection. And I don't assume for a minute that only writers make note of such idiosyncratic elements of human minutiae. We've all seen 'em. Hell, we all have 'em! So let's have some fun.

(Oh, any by the way: yes, I actually can tell a fishing pole from a rifle. I ain't THAT daft.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Just Call Me Bozo

By Sue Ann Jaffarian
Usually, it’s Tom Schreck who writes about punches to the head, but today it’s my turn.

Remember those old Bozo the Clown punching bags? They were inflatable, made of thick vinyl, and weighted at the bottom. You could knock it down and it would come back for more. Hit it again and over it would go, only to merrily spring back in your face. Punch the silly thing over and over, and over and over it will return to take another blow. No matter how hard you try, you can’t wipe that silly grin off its face.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of becoming a Bozo.

You see, it’s like this: Life is not for sissies. Middle-age is not for sissies. The business of writing is definitely not for sissies. Just when you’re on a roll, really cooking with your manuscript, along comes a crisis. It can come from anywhere, be anything. It can be a family situation, a work issue, a personal condition, or a publisher problem. It can even be an artistic roadblock. But whatever it is, it tends to rob us of valuable time and creativity. The days tick by. The deadline looms. The computer keys are silent.

As Bozo, you’d simply take the blows to the head. With each one, you’d go down, wobble a bit, and magically spring back, idiotic smirk in place, ready to continue.

Just short of a sharp, pointy object, nothing can stop Bozo.

He is my hero.

Not a Bozo fan? Or maybe you have a clown phobia? Well, try this on instead.

There’s a scene near the end of the movie The Truman Show where Jim Carrey as Truman is in a sailboat trying to escape Seahaven. Christof, the producer, is hell bent on stopping him. He throws all kinds of manufactured rain, high waves and lightening at Truman, but the young man is persistent in his quest. At one point, battered and nearly drowned, yet spirit intact, Truman yells: “Is that the best you can do?”

Truman Burbank and Bozo the Clown – true role models for the modern writer.