Monday, June 30, 2008

The Arkansas 11

Tom Schreck
author of TKO

As you all know I got a thing for basset hounds.

A week or so ago one of those bastards that operates a puppy mill in Arkansas called a local basset rescue group, told them he was getting out of the business and they better get over to get the 11 hounds within a week or "he'd take care of them."

Translation: he'd kill them.

The Ozark Mountain Basset Rescue was filled up because, being in Arkansas where puppy mills flourish, they are always filled up with abused and neglected hounds.

This is where the story gets good.

The Ozark Basset Folks called the New York Basset Rescue known as All Bassets Cherished. ABC is made up of committed people who don't mess around--especially when someone's mean to a basset hound. They don't hesitate, they don't ask what it's going to cost, they just act.

In 48 hours they had foster homes for the 11 hounds and a couple ABC members were in a truck headed to Arkansas.

They got the hounds and took them to the vet where they were treated for all sorts of neglect--one little guy had to have an eye removed-- and the bassets were all spayed an neutered.

So far the bills are over $3,000 and they aren't done yet.

The hounds are all safely in New York foster homes where undoubtedly they are sitting on the furniture. They've probably all have stolen something off the kitchen counter.

And I bet not a single one has been scolded yet.

ABC is selling autographed copies of my books and I'm giving the cash (even what the books cost me and the shipping) to the Arkansas 11.

Go to and hit "Donate Now" and send them money. If you feel like it buy my silly books.

What are basset hounds like?

Bassets don't do anything you tell them.
They smell kind of houndy.
They bark too much.
They'll eat your furniture.

and they'll love you unconditionally.

If you pay attention they'll teach you to not focus on material things and to get over your own self absorption.

That's what they are good for. That and they make you laugh like hell.

And as for that puppymill guy back in Arkansas, well, I guess I'm glad he's out of the business.

I'll tell you what though--he doesn't deserve to be called a son-of-a-bitch.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Confessions of a Catastrophic Thinker, by Jess Lourey

I am a catastrophic thinker. I have known this about myself for the past twenty years, but stumbling across Harley Jane Kozak's Lipstick Chronicles post, Blog of Fear, convinced me to come out of the closet. When I admit to being a catastrophic thinker, I'm not saying I'm a worrier, or that I have an overactive imagination. I'm saying I'm crazy. Here's a perfect example, and it happened about three months ago:

I returned from Tae Kwon Do with my kids. We go every Tuesday and Thursday, and every Tuesday and Thursday, we return to our little house in St. Cloud at 8:30 pm. One Thursday in early April, we got home, and there was a potted begonia on our back step. The temperature was hovering around 12 degrees above zero, but that begonia was green and fresh in its brown paper bag. Somebody knew exactly when we were returning home and had timed their flower-leaving accordingly. Five more minutes, and it would have been frozen solid.

My kids thought it was a nice gesture, and I encouraged that. In my head, though, I was thinking: We've recently moved to town. We don't know anyone here. All my friends and family live at least 30 minutes away. No one I know would leave a flower on my back step without a note. Clearly, a serial killer has been tracking me and my babies for weeks, he has learned when we come and go, and he's leaving his calling card--the orange begonia--right before he murders us in our sleep.

That night, I slept on the couch with a knife. It was my chef's knife without the tip, which I had broken off a couple years ago in a pound of frozen ground turkey that wasn't thawing fast enough. It was the sharpest one I had, but that's hardly the point, is it? SOMEBODY LEFT ME A FLOWER AND IT MADE ME SLEEP WITH A KNIFE.

And there's something about having kids that super-revs the powers of catastrophic thinking. I have to travel to conferences and out-of-state signings about five times a year, and I leave my kids, ages 6 and 9, with my parents. Every time I go, I say the same thing to my mom: "Don't forget you're watching them."

And she always says the same thing back. "Don't worry. I raised you, remember?"

I might not be her best reference. I remember how many times she let me walk to the store alone when I was five, or how she encouraged me to miss two weeks of 5th grade because we didn't like the politics of the long-term sub. But I get her point. I survived, and my kids will too.

Still, when my plane leaves the ground or my wheels cross the state line, my catastrophic thinking kicks in. What if one of my children was kidnapped? Would I be able to find them? Could I go on living if I didn't find them? Or if they were in the hospital, how long would it take me to get back to them? What do you even thinking about when you're waiting to get a flight back to your children in a hospital? Should I call and make sure they're okay? Or should I wait until I've been gone five minutes?

Agh. And don't even get me started on public speaking. You know how people say, "It was an honor just to be nominated?" I mean it. I like staying in the audience. I'm pretty sure that if I ever had to stand and speak in front of of a crowd of people I respected, I'd start bleating like a sheep right before my bowels relaxed.

So there you have it. The true confessions of a catastrophic thinker. I imagine there is a medication for it, but I think the same part of my brain that takes these wicked spirals is the part that allows me to love reading and spinning stories. All it takes is a spark, and I can run with it. Also, the superstitious part of me is sure that thinking about all this stuff is protection AGAINST it happening. Sorry, author of the The Secret.

p.s. An old college friend who lived 35 miles away and had heard I'd moved back to town was the one who left the begonia. She was dropping it off on a whim and didn't leave a note because she didn't have a pen. See? All my worrying scared off the serial killer. So what do you worry about?

The Rising Waters

I woke up last night to the sound of rain, and hail, yet again. This has been the wettest summer I can ever remember. Nor have we ever had hail past St. Patrick’s Day until this year. The pea and nickel-sized pellets have been thrown from an angry and wind-tossed sky which hasn’t been clear for more than a few days at a time. That's a picture I took of my finger next to a piece of hail.

The good news is...this is the year my husband got interested in gardening, and our yard is brimming over with flowers. Our lawn is lush and green. The pots on my deck are full of petunias, cock's comb, salvia, coleus, ivy, potato vine, tomatoes, dill, and basil. We've hardly had to water at all.

But others aren't enjoying the wet. Each day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch displays charts of where the Mississippi is bound to overtop the levees. Each morning, I open the paper to photos of people trying to save their belongings from mud and sludge filled homes.

I think back to the glorious road – The River Road – which runs along the Mississippi, forming a border between Missouri and Illinois. My husband and I traveled along it last fall to go eagle spotting. I remember the stone houses in Grafton, perched on cliffs above the mighty, murky river. “What a beautiful place to live,” I told David. “To wake up each morning and see the barges push their way down river! To watch the baseball heads of the bald eagles as they float from treetop nest to catch fish! How cool is this?”

Our house is nearly an hour away from Grafton, west of St. Louis proper, atop a hill in a subdivision called Wild Horse in Chesterfield. The area was named for the ghosts of the mounts of the Hessian soldiers. The legend is that on moonlight nights you can see these brave horses roaming up and down the “valley.” We live here, in the land between the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, and until this spring we called 1993 “the year of the flood.” Back then, a portion of Highway 40, the main east-west corridor through St. Louis, was closed as water streamed over the top. Locals shared a much enjoyed anecdote about the snippy manager of a neighborhood bank who decided to borrow a boat and to try to retrieve items from an uppermost shelf of the vault. He stuck his hand into a nest of frogs and snakes who had swum to shelter. "Served him right," people muttered and laughed. He wasn't well-liked.

That bank never re-opened. Businesses along that route had never considered themselves on a flood plain, discovered too late that they were uninsured for rising waters. Hambys, a restaurant which prided itself on “throwed rolls,” also closed after the deluge. But another, Annie Gunn’s, managed to rebuild bigger and better.

Farther west, along Highway 94, near the Daniel Boone Homestead in Defiance, a skeleton floated to the top of the water and was later found in the mud. The story goes that this was the remains of an Indian, perhaps one of those that Boone met under The Justice Tree, an elm tree, where he worked as syndic or civil and military administrator for the Spanish. Further north, up river, near Cedar City, Missouri, a forgotten mid-nineteenth century cemetery of African Americans was dislodged. The bodies that floated to the surface were a reminder of a church and a people long forgotten.

I wonder, what will the river leave behind this year? It takes and it gives.

After the water dried in 1993, a group of savvy businessmen bought up all the land along the levees a few miles from our house, along Highway 40, and sold parcels to Wal-Mart, Target, I-HOP, Bob Evans, Taco Bell, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Golf Galaxy, Red Lobster, St. Louis Bread Co., the Kemp Auto Museum, Amini’s, and many, many more. Then, they developed what we call “The Valley.” I’ve been told that today this strip of shops is the longest shopping district in the world—and it lies in the shadow of the levees of the Missouri River. Yesterday, the local Suburban Journal announced an addition to the recreational trail, 17 miles long, that runs along those reinforced levees. There will be an asphalt path for walkers and bikers, and benches where we can sit…and wonder when the next “great flood” will come. What it will bring and what it will take away.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not the Hands of a Writer

Cricket McRae
I went for a manicure yesterday. Apparently, I should go more often, because within seconds of sitting down, I detected the distinctive sound of tsking under the nail technician’s breath.

Finally, she asked, “What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

That usually results in a question about what kind of writing I do. Not this time. This time I received a single quirked eyebrow and a look that said, “Sure you are, honey. These are not the hands of a writer.”

Which is true. I have the hands of a gardener. Of a cook. A soap maker. And that’s just the beginning. I’ve kept chickens, made cheese, baked bread (and a lot of other things), canned and pickled and dried a ton of food, made jerky … hell, once I even butchered a deer in my living room when I was a starving college student (not as messy as it sounds, honest). And for the record, I’m not a farm girl.

I know, I know. Nutso. Crazy. Wacky. They’re coming to take me away, ha ha.


Seriously, why does anyone do this stuff? I mean, I canned grape leaves for dolmades last week, for heaven’s sake. I make my own cultured butter.

Frugality. Nostalgia. Uniqueness and/or a gourmet touch. Self-sufficiency. Creativity. Tradition. Stubborn neo-Ludditism. A Martha Stewart complex.

All these apply to me to some degree, except the last one. But mostly? It’s about knowing how things work. About being in on a process from the ground up.

Of course homemade soap is satisfyingly practical: inexpensive, better quality than commercial soap, milder, customized with my scent blends, a source of creativity while at the same time providing sudsy cleansing goodness on a daily basis.

And yes, my great-grandmother saved her bacon grease all year, and each fall she and her neighbor built a fire under an iron tripod in the driveway between their two houses in Sheridan, Wyoming, where they spent the day making the lye soap she used to wash everything from her toes to her clothes.

But I don’t know if she thought about how cool it is that you can mix oil (acid, sort of) and lye (alkaline) and through the chemical process of saponification end up with soap (which is essentially a salt, however weird that may sound). But I do. Think about it, I mean.

Okay, I know not everyone is fascinated by how yeast creates maltose and alcohol as bread rises, or what a mesophilic cheese culture will produce as opposed to a thermophilic one. I know I’m a little odd that way. But you know who is interested is finding out what makes things tick? The protagonist in my home crafting mysteries, Sophie Mae Reynolds, that’s who.

I’m often asked the ubiquitous question, “Is Sophie Mae really you?” I always used to give some variation of the answer, “sort of.” Now I’m starting to wonder whether the qualities that cause me to research natural fiber dyes and actually consider using the traditional mordant to set those dyes (urine, honest-to-God, and no, I’ve not gone down that road), are the same qualities that make her not only run a handmade toiletries business, but also poke her nose into the whys and wherefores of neighbors dying and cases of botulism that make no sense. She’s curious. She wants to know the guts of how something happened.

And you know what else? Between her gardening and chickens and preserving and soap making, I have no doubt Sophie Mae is badly in need of a manicure. Let’s just hope her friendly neighborhood nail tech isn’t a tsker.

What are you nerdy about? What odd fascinations do you have that aren’t exactly cocktail party fodder? Come on, give.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I'm It

For this post, I am going to respond to a meme tag from a friend and fellow writer, Akasha Savage, who blog at Aspirations from the Darkside. First things first, you gotta spend some time at her blog, because she posts her marvelous and eerie short stories and they're not to be missed.

Since the tag has to do with what I might be doing and what I should be doing and what I want to be doing, it seems like an appropriate time to mention what I won't be doing. I'm taking an indefinite break from blogging. It's all in an effort to get a grip on my priorities. I'm working on a new book, and it hasn't been going as well as I like. Too many little random things that come up to interfere with my focus. So I need to strip away everything except the essentials. Family care, which comes first no matter what else is on the list. Day job, which keeps a roof over our heads and bacon on our plates. And writing, which may someday contribute to the whole food-and-shelter thing, and even if it doesn't, it keeps me as sane as I ever am. So everything else goes, at least until I get this next book done and it's time to do the active part of promoting Chasing Smoke.

I will be maintaining my personal blog, primarily as a place to make announcements. I will also drop in to see what the rest of the Inksters are up to and make an occasional smart-assed comment. I've greatly enjoyed being a part of this amazing crowd of writers. Even if I feel like I can't contribute as a blogger myself, I wouldn't miss making a regular stop here for anything.

And so, my answers to Akasha's tag...

What was I doing 10 years ago?
I just started work as creative director for a lawn and garden products company here in the Northwest. Lost Dog was a few spastic chapters old, very different from what it is now, and titled Holes. Later I would change the title primarily because Holes, the beloved young adult novel and—eventually—Disney movie appeared and sorta demanded the title for itself. Imagine the child that accidently bought my Holes thinking it was the more famous Holes.

Five things on my 'to-do' list for today.
1 Produce an email newsletter for a medical products client. Exciting stuff.
2 Make another cup of coffee
3 Find my phone
4 Work on my editorial notes for Chasing Smoke
5 Be an attentive and responsible husband and father.

What I would do if I were a billionaire.
1 Um. Write.
2 Have apartments in Manhattan, Florence, Italy, and some beachy place for writing, living in each according to the season.
3 Go lots of places and hang out with lots of people.
4 Pick out names at random from the phone book, drive by their place and if they're not obviously well-to-do, give them a big stack of money.
5 Pay the heating bill for as many elderly people on a small, fixed income as I possibly can.

Three bad habits I've got.
1 Updating my Facebook status everything three minutes.
2 Buying things I don't need.
3 Buying more things I don't need.

Snacks I enjoy.
1 I'm not a snacky guy, but I do get a hankering for salty things on a fairly regular basis.
2 A little ice cream is good too
3 Bacon. It is too a snack.

The last five books I've read.
1 Nothing To Lose by Lee Child
2 A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander
3 The Deceived by Brett Battles (Officially out TODAY, but which I got to read in its UK form a few weeks ago!)
4 The Judgment of Caesar by Steven Saylor
5 The Clinch Knot by John Galligan

Five jobs I've had.
These are in the order I've had them, starting with my first real job at age 16.
1 Housekeeper.
2 Fast food peon (in various establishments and capacities).
3 Technical writer.
4 Graphic Designer.
5 Um. That's sorta it. I mean, sure, number 2 is actually about 9 different jobs, but they were all basically the same hell. And number 4 has been in a number of different capacities, from graphic production slave to the guy that tells graphic production slaves what their awful deadline is.

Five places I've lived.
I've lived a lot of places, and moved a lot all my life. My good friend since high school, Chris, makes a point of telling me he writes my address in his book in pencil, because he knows it's going to change. Between birth and high school graduation, I had 17 different bedrooms, though to be fair, two of them were in the same house. That said, I've now lived in the same house for seven years, and figure to be here for the foreseeable future. A guy CAN change!

Some of the stops along the way...
1 Cincinnati. Both my birthplace and a stopping point in the late 80s. I happened to be there the day the local sheriff barged into a downtown art gallery to to arrest a number of Robert Mapplethorpe photos.
2 Savannah, Georgia. I was a little kid, and mostly what I remember is the immediate surroundings of the two apartment complexes where I lived. However, Savannah is distinctive in my personal history as the location of a two week stretch when I skipped school and spent the days learning to cook from Graham Kerr and Julia Child on television. But, boy, was I in trouble when my mom found out. Except she liked the food.
3 Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I lived two different places here, 81 Arthur Street and 21 Finch Street. I remember the addresses so distinctly because they sound like something out of a British ghost story. And, in fact, I was convinced we did have a ghost at 21 Finch Street, though years later I came to discover it was actually squirrels in the attic.
4 Dayton, Ohio-ish. It's -ish because I lived in suburbs and rural locations around the general Dayton area from late elementary until I graduated high school.
5 Portland, Oregon. My current home and the place I expect to live for the rest of my life—unless, of course, that billionaire thing above happens.

I wish everyone the best. I'll see you around the blogosphere.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Play Ball!

Sunday, after writing most of the morning, I headed out to a nearby park to cheer on Hooper’s Heroes, the softball team made up of people from the law firm where I toil at a day job. They play in a law firm co-ed league. I go to almost every game. It’s fun, close to home, and gives me a nice break from the weekend writing grind.

Yesterday, as soon as I got there, I was greeted by three of the attorneys with: “Hey, Sue Ann, want to play?”

According to the rules, they must have so many attorneys on the field and so many women (attorneys or otherwise). It seems they were short some estrogen. Guess it didn’t matter that the big E came packaged in a 55 year old, 200++ lb body. It’s nice to know I’m still a girl where it counts – on the playing field.

Okay. Now the last time I played softball was about 8 years ago at a family barbecue. I did okay until I tripped running to first base and landed face first on the base, mangling my glasses. (But I was safe!) Before that, I played on a co-ed league sponsored by a tavern. By the way, before that means at least twenty-five years ago! Add to the mix that Los Angeles is experiencing a record heat wave, and you get the picture. It ain’t pretty and, thankfully, no one took photos.

Wearing work-out shorts and a tee-shirt, I was dressed to play, but on my feet were Crocs. Not the heavy, chunky kind, but the new flats. Hardly athletic foot gear. Still, next thing I knew, Hooper himself was pointing to me and telling the ump I was a paralegal with the firm and playing. Sign her up. As soon as I signed a waiver acknowledging that any injuries were my own dumb-ass fault, someone loaned me a glove.

I started out in right field, where I prayed to the writer/paralegal gods that no one would hit a ball my way. A couple went between me and center field. Hey, he’s younger, let him go for them, though I did make an effort to run in my Crocs. Honest, I did!

By the time we took to the field again, one of our strongest players arrived. Everyone shifted, and I was moved to being catcher. I liked being catcher.

I made it to bat five times, that I can recall. I struck out twice. Got one hit that was promptly caught by an infielder. And walked twice. Both of those times I jogged to first base where another female player took over my running because of my shoes. And, yes, thanks to my proxy runner, I scored a run!

It was a great game and the teams, except for the stumpy, middle-aged paralegal on Hooper’s Heroes, were well matched. We lost by 1 point.

I’m told I’m now on the roster and expected to play in future games.

Oh, yeah, this is so totally going into a future Odelia Grey novel. You know it is!

The lesson here is that everything is grist for the writing mill.

And to always bring your sneakers

Saturday, June 21, 2008

InkSpot News - 21 June 2008

Terri Thayer will be signing Wild Goose Chase at Barnes and Noble in the Pruneyard, Campbell, CA on Wednesday, June 25th at 7pm. Stop by and say hi.

Terri will be signing during Shop Hop By the Bay at Always Quilting in San Mateo. Stop by Friday, June 27th from 1-4pm to get your specially signed copy.

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, June 19, 2008

Wanted: Dead or Alive

I'm not going to tell you how old I am but I was born in 1964. Okay, I just told you how old I am. I'm not very good at keeping secrets anyway. But my age plays a roll in this - so take note.

I was recently in New York City for business and I stayed over to visit with a good buddy of mine that lives out in Brooklyn. He is the same Señor Baño of past post fame so you know what kind of trouble this guy can get me into. I met the guy over 15 years ago on a dive boat in the Caribbean so we've had many adventures together. This one will be added to the list.

So, as I was saying....

It's a glorious summer day in the big city. The sun is bright and hot, the streets are bustling, even the dudes selling fake Gucci gear are smiling and having a good time. So I hop on the Q train and make the 45 minute trip out to Sheepshead Bay, out by Coney Island. I was only accosted once by a gentlemen that took a shine to my boat shoes, but that's pretty mild stuff for NYC - so the day is looking promising. We figure a day at the beach will do us good - both born with a little Caribbean soul in us - so we wander over to Brighton Beach, kick off our shoes and immediatly look for somewhere to get a beer. I look at my watch. Oh, it's only 10:30am. Okay, I can't drink all day anymore - not at my age. See above. So I settle for a Snapple and Señor Baño settles for some weird Russian drink that he can't pronounce but says tastes like a mixture of beets and pineapple juice. He offers me a taste, I graciously decline.

We lounge about like the middle age slugs we are, flinging shells into the sea, watching the pretty Jewish and Russian girls frolick in the sea, remembering past adventures in the torrid zone. There is a nice breeze and we are two guys at leisure - what could make this day better? Ah yes, beer. I look at my watch and it's noon. I smile at Señor Baño and, both being Jimmy Buffett fans, we say in unison, "It's five o'clock somewhere."

So we amble over to the concession stand at Manhattan Beach and get us a couple beers. Well, a couple turn into, well, if I'm being honest, I lost count. Did I say it was a beautiful day? And the Jewish and Russian girls looked particulary fetching that day? Anyway, the stories continue to fly and it's good to catch up my good friend. But the day eventually has to end. So off to the subway we go.

Now Señor Baño makes a fair living and I don't do too bad myself. It's not like we are short of cash or anything. But he really hates to spend more than he has to. So he comes up with a clever idea. He has an unlimited monthly pass for the subway so he'll sneak me in. Why pay $2.00 when you don't have to. For some inexplicable reason, this makes sense to me. So, like conjoined twins, we shuffle through the turnstile together, giggling like we got away with the biggest bank job ever. But as we turn the corner to go to the platform, what do we see?

Yes, you guessed it.

A transit cop.

Officer Castillo to be precise.

And he's smiling and shaking his head.

"Gentlemen, please stand against the wall over here and keep your hands out of your pockets."

And I too have to shake my head, thinking, Combes, you are 43 years old and you are jumping turnstiles. For a lousy two bucks you are gonna get a hefty fine and suffer the embarrassment of all the folks that did pay their fare as they stroll by you, looking sideways at the sun flushed (and beer flushed) dopes against the wall.

Officer Castillo asks us for our ID's and I give him my Wisconsin driver's license. He smiles again, "Wisconsin eh? Welcome to New York City Mr. Combes. You do realize that you need to pay to ride the subway don't you." And I'm instantly back in grammar school, getting caught looking over Billy Furstman's shoulder for the answer on the algebra quiz.

I look over at Señor Baño and he has his wallet out, but it looks like he's stuffed the last five years worth of receipts and cards and crap into the wallet and he can't find his ID. He curses softly under his breath, but Officer Castillo has very good ears. Probably because he hasn't been drinking beer in the sun all day. "Is there a problem sir?"

Señor Baño looks up and says, "Is this really necessary officer?" Officer Castillo cocks his head, not sure he head him right, or not sure he really said that. And I'm thinking, I'm going to jail. I'll be cuffed, hauled off to some Brooklyn jail where I will spend the night with 50 guys that have, well, drunk beer in the sun all day. I shoot my friend "the look." Calm down dude, give him you freaking ID. Don't make this worse.

Okay, my friend is a lifelong New Yorker and has never driven - doesn't own a car and doesn't have a driver's license. So he doesn't have anything with his birthdate on it. And Castillo wants to run us - make sure the beer burping/turnstile jumping dopes aren't wanted for some international art heist or something. And my friend isn't making it any easier as he has a very common last name (which will be withheld because he kill me if I told it to you.) So, Castillo concentrates on me - I'm the guy with the ID and I'm an out of towner and he can tell from my gentle sobbing that I'm truly contrite. "Where are you staying Mr. Combes?"

"A hotel in mid-town officer."

Señor Baño, ever helpful chips in, "He's a good friend of mine. He's from Wisconsin for Christ sake. People from Wisconsin never do anything wrong."

I nod like an idiot to that, trying to convince Officer Castillo that this will never happen again.

"What are you doing out here in Brooklyn Mr. Combes? It's a decent ride out here from mid-town."

Again, my friend, trying to be helpful, says, "I just told you. He's my friend, gez."

I shake my head at my friend, mouth, shut up - now! "Just visiting a friend officer. A day at the beach is all."

Officer Castillo looks at my friend and says, "And apparently a few beers at the beach too huh?"

My friend gives him the "well duh" shrug and Officer Castillo laughs to that. He hands me my ID back and says, go back through and pay the two bucks and have a nice evening.

I'm thinking that's it? He's gonna cut us loose! No jailhouse rape! No dragging a tin cup across the bars! But wait.

"I don't think this was necessary officer." Yeah, it's him again.

Officer Castillo looks at him, then looks at me, and says to me, "You two masterminds get the hell out of my station. Now."

I took the steps three at a time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

David Sedaris, by Jess Lourey

Am I the last person on the planet to discover the pleasures of reading David Sedaris? That'd be about right. I just started using banana clips and eating sun-dried tomatoes. Stumbling across Terence Trent D'Arby and the Flowbee Haircutting System can't be far behind.

It was Wendy, the avatar of my local Barnes & Noble, who slipped me the copy of Sedaris' latest--When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I took it because I love books engulfed almost as much as I like free stuff, but I didn't have high hopes. I avoid over-hyped media on principle. In fact, it would have slipped to the bottom of my TBR pile if I hadn't forgot to unpack it before the next leg of my book tour. It traveled along hidden under my makeup/jewelry/toiletries kit, which smells like the Tropical Sunrise deodorant that melted in there when I accidentally left the whole pile on a table in the sun about a year ago.

So last week I found myself in the basement room of a Moorhead, Minnesota, Motel 8, $55.91 poorer but with a functional remote, one of those teeny, screw-off cap bottles of red wine, and nothing on TV. I cracked open the Sedaris, crabby and reluctant. Soon, though, I was mainlining the book. Halfway through it, I realized I was laughing out loud and imagining myself having a cocktail with the author (he'd like me; he'd really like me). So I've paced myself. I've got about 50 pages to go, but I picked up two more Sedaris' books at the Fargo Barnes & Noble to draw out the relationship.

Sedaris is wry, insightful, and writes about the important stuff (love, pretending to like your neighbors, and smoking), and you can learn that just by reading the back cover of any of his books. What you have to read to believe is just how funny he is. People always ask me if comedy is hard to write. It isn't, at least adequate humor isn't. Pick up any number of brightly-covered mysteries, romances, or chick lit books and you'll see some solid slapstick and deus ex machina with a laugh track. However, I find that adequate comedy writing is like adequate dialogue: it makes you very aware of what you, as a reader, are supposed to do.

laughter Liza walked into the room, and both boyfriends were sitting there, their arms crossed. It was going to be one of those kind of days. A liquid lunch day. (Reader: titter!)

"Stop being so mean to me!" She wailed angrily. (reader: tense up!)

See? No subtlety. Sedaris, however, strikes me as a master of stealth humor. He draws out the joke as he fleshes out his characters with tiny but telling details, and when he comes at you with the punch line, you were so engrossed in the story that you didn't see it coming. Sigh. Dreamy good stuff. Puts me in the mood for writing September Mourn and taking the humor to a whole new level.

Which brings me to my question: when you are writing, do you read in the genre that you are writing, or are you worried it will infect your imagination? Or do you not read at all, preferring instead to grunt and scratch yourself as you peck away? Or, even better, what was the last book you read that was worth the hype (or not)?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Capturing the Uncommon Image

Have you ever noticed that writers see the world differently? I know, the majority of the folks who read this are saying, well, duh! Of course they (we) do!
But here's what I was thinking:
When a really good writer writes, she is able to free herself from the commonplace, to get out of the everyday. The writer sees what most people would consider the mundane with a new lens, one that creates an image that finds the little kernel of magic in the everyday and makes it into a picture that quite possibly remains burned into the synapses of the reader forever.
Maybe that writer sees the beauty, the humanity, the humor. Whatever they see, they are able to pull themselves out, to stand aside and focus that lens, to use their filter to show you the world in a new way.
Today, I'm trying to remember that--to see everything in my world through a different lens.
I think writers do this naturally when they are in the 'zone', but it's kind of interesting to do consciously. Maybe to switch lenses, instead of seeing the beauty, see the disturbance beneath the surface. Instead of the humor, see the pathos.

Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
I like that.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

InkSpot News - 14 June 2008

At the invitation of (Agatha winner for best first novel) Hank Phillippi Ryan, G.M. Malliet is guest blogging June 18 at Jungle Red Writers. Jungle Red is the group blog of authors Jan Brogan, Roberta Isleib, Hallie Ephron, Rosemary Harris, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Jess Lourey will be signing copies of August Moon, the latest in her Lefty-nominated Murder by Month series, on Saturday, 6/14/08, from 12-2 at Victor Lundeen's in Fergus Falls and 4-6 at Book World in Alexandria. She'll also be appearing at Fitger's in Duluth from 6-7:30 on Thursday, June 19, and the Duluth Barnes & Noble from 4-6 on Friday, June 20. Stop by and say hi!

Friday, June 13, 2008



Tom Schreck

A big part of marketing your book is the blurb and the review. You get people to say nice things about your book and then you paste them all over the cover, your website, posters and emails.

I’ve been lucky and have gotten some nice blurbs from reviewers that I didn’t even ask for.

Here’s a few:

Fresh, intense and funny, Schreck’s second mystery packs a knockout punch.

Publisher’s Weekly

Refreshingly Iconoclastic…

(not sure what that means)
It’s better than his first book and I LOVED “On the Ropes!”
Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine

Then you awkwardly ask more successful authors than you to read the book and write something. I am amazed at how generous some writers are with their time. Here’s some of those:

I never wished to be a fictional character before but by God I want to be Duffy.

Edgar nominee, Ken Bruen

Schreck is a contender for the funniest writer in the mystery genre today.

Anthony award nominee, William Kent Krueger

"TKO is fast-paced, authentic, and funny as hell."

Anthony Award nominee, Sean Chercover

“Schreck is a major new talent, and Duffy has my vote for the best new character in mystery fiction.”

JA Konrath, author of Fuzzy Navel

I’m sure glad I bought these guys a lot of drinks at conferences.

I am incredible grateful for the nice things authors and reviewers have said about Duffy. They were very kind.

Having said that there were blurbs that I didn’t get that I wanted and this is how I wished they came out.

Now that’s suspense. I’ve read Schreck and I’ve decided to quit writing because his talent makes me feel so small. The money I’ve made is rightfully his.

James Patterson

Duffy would kick Harry’s wimpy little ass.

JK Rowling

TKO is so good it’s scary.

Stephen King

God, how I’d like to see TKO and On the Ropes in screenplay form. How do I get a hold of Schreck?

Steven Spielberg

I liked it because most of the words were small.

President George W. Bush

Schreck is like, soooo hot.

Jennifer Aniston

I wish I had written Duffy. In fact I might.

James Frey

Duffy is a not just a great mystery. It is a spiritual guide to how to live your life and I think all my viewers should buy three copies of each of Schreck’s books.

Oprah Winfrey

The guy can write but I’ve seen him in the ring and it just frightened me.

Mike Tyson

Duffy Rocks. Red, send that boy an El Dorado.

Elvis Presley

Hey, tomorrow night is the launch party for TKO. It's at Albany's famous dive, The Orchard. Johnny Raab and the Jailhouse Rockers are playing and the drinks are on me. If you want to be able to decipher what I write in your copy get there early. It gets started around 6:30

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's Real

Some time ago, I attended a writers' conference where one of the speakers described the point at which his book became real to him. It seems he was in the habit of going to a local coffeeshop each day to write. The staff got used to him over the months and years, and seemed to regard him as a mildly eccentric but harmless scribbler. He thinks they imagined he was journaling or keeping a diary.

Then one day, he showed up with his published book under his arm. The bound, final, glorious copy of the book he'd written in their shop. He said he wished he'd had a photo of the looks on their faces. He's now a local hero.

My checking copy of Death of a Cozy Writer appeared on my doorstep the other day. A checking copy is actually the finished product, but I was asked to read through it - yet again! - to find any minor mistakes that could be corrected when the book goes into reprint.

Now, I had seen this book in all the various forms: manuscript, advanced reader copies, proof pages. This was the first time I'd seen the whole, real thing, with the actual front and back cover. I have to tell you, there is no thrill like it. Too bad I don't often write in a coffee shop or I'd be there in a flash showing it off.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Well at least the cat understands me....

Well, okay, technically it’s my wife’s cat but I sneak him treats (against doctor’s orders) on occasion because I’m just that kind of guy. No, not the kind that wants bad things to happen to my wife’s cat, but the kind of guy that doesn’t always play by the rules. And he (the cat that is) loves me for it. I’m the first up in the morning and he comes up to me and head butts me in the shin, damn near knocking me over (he’s a Maine Coon – kinda beefy) and he knows what’s in store. A little sliced turkey or roast beef or if I’m making tuna fish sandwiches, an orgasmic hunk of tuna. I can see it in his twinkling eyes. Nirvana time. I’m gonna get treats from the dorky guy that sits for hours at his computer as I watch him, thinking, what a dolt, why doesn’t he just take a nap in the sun?

Okay, the cat doesn’t get the whole writing gig. But he knows how to have fun. I’m usually the last to bed (being a writer means some odd hours) and I fear turning off the lights before retiring. Why? Because the darkness is his friend. He loves to hide behind the sofa and attack me as I walk down the hall to the bedroom. I’m half asleep and this furry missile comes out of the dark and hits me full on, staggering me. I curse softly at him (don’t want to wake my wife – the cat is bad enough) but I have to grin too. He’s a trickster. He’s loves to play. He even loves to play fetch like a puppy. Yep, he loves life. And I love him for it.

So there is a bond between the cat and me. I’m not a cat or dog guy per se – but I do like animals. And like I said, I do love this cat. He gets it. He gets that life should be fun. That no matter how many times you attack the dork as he trundles off to bed, it’s fun. Scaring the crap out of the half-asleep guy is fun. I can imagine him curling up at the foot of the bed thinking, I got him good tonight. And I get turkey in morning. Life is good.

Okay, maybe he doesn’t understand why I write instead of nap, but I think he gets me just as I get him. We are simpatico that way. We get life. Life should be fun. That treats are okay in moderation. That sneak attacks are fun – if no harm is done. That life is good. Yeah, at least the cat understands me.

Risky Business

Joe Moore(my co-writer) and I recently had a conversation about taking risks. That talk reminded me of something. Many moons ago, my daughter was a competitive gymnast and aside from the no pain, no gain slogan, she also had one about taking risks. Unfortunately, in my muddled mind, I can’t recall the exact words, but it was kind of the same message—no pain, no gain. If you don’t go for it, you won’t get it. You can’t win if you don’t play the game. That made good sense when she was competing, but I believe it makes great sense now as far as my writing goes. There is a bit of a rush when you take risk. It gets the adrenalin flowing and returns the thrill to our lives. I want to get better and better at the craft of writing, and I think that means I have to go to the edge and dip my toes in the unknown. Outrageous premises make bestselling books and movies. That’s pretty much the bottom line. So that’s what we are going to go for. I guess that’s what keeps us all writing. Coming up with that new idea, twisting and kneading it into a story, is invigorating. And when it comes alive on the page we understand why we write. So I’m back at it again today.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

InkSpot News - 10 May 2008

Congratulations to InkSpot's own Felicia Donovan for her Barry Award nomination for BLACK WIDOW AGENCY. Felicia joins the nominees in the category of Best Paperback Original. Congratulations, Felicia!

DEATH OF A COZY WRITER, G.M. Malliet's first novel, made its debut five weeks early, and is now available for purchase in stores and online. Her article about how Cozy came by its title will appear in the next issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.

And, last but not least, our very own illustrious, gorgeous, and fabulous MI author Sue Ann Jaffarian will be guest blogging at Cozy Chicks this Saturday, June 7th, on the saucy topic of sex in mysteries. Get ready to take a cool shower!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Killing Cost of Food

I’ve never liked to see food wasted. At home, I often finish things left on my kids’ plates even though I’m well aware that’s a dieting no-no. Lately, I’ve been more and more shocked by the prices at my grocery store and so I really don’t want to see food left on anyone’s plate. Even the cats have to go back into their eating area and finish their dang dish of Whiskas.

This morning I was appalled to see that a bag of cherries was $7.99! Blueberries were $3.99 and so were raspberries and blackberries. Strawberries were 2 for $5.99, but in order to make the big bowl of berry salad I’ve been craving for dinner, I’d need to take out a line of credit. I know that the hike in gas prices has affected farmers and the food industry in general, but I can’t believe what my grocery bills are!

The first thing to get crossed off our shopping list in an effort to save money was bottled water. I’ve never been a fan of the waste their plastic bottles incur, but my other half likes to take them in the car and to the gym, so I bought him a washable water bottle equivalent at Target and now he refills it from the filtered water that our refrigerator dispenses.

For the first time, I’m actively seeking out generic brands for paper products and other hard goods. My foray into eating generic gelatin taught me that some things are worth a few extra pennies, but I’m on the lookout for real savings folks! I’ve done some research on what others are doing and one woman said that she’s buying beans instead of rice or pasta. They’re healthier and a lot less pricey. A consumer mom remarked that she was watering down the orange juice and other fruit juices, saying they’re too thick and sugary anyway. I didn’t think that was a bad idea. Other people are cutting out soda from their diets, claiming that it’s truly an “extra.”

The difficulty I face is that healthy food is expensive food. If we shop the perimeter of the store like we’re supposed to, we pay more for fresh food. I won’t skimp on those items, but I am putting things back in the fridge I might have tossed out this time last year.

What about you? Are you cutting back in the grocery store? Any tips for those of us looking to save a little green?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Survey Says II!

By Joe Moore

Last time around I wrote about a writer’s survey taking by Novelist, Inc. asking 100 bestselling members to comment on whether they could actually make a living as a writer. The results were:

Yes 22%

Probably yes 9%

Probably no 17%

No 52%

Not the most encouraging news, but a fact just the same.

bookstore1 Today I want to bring you some interesting data resulting from a Zogby International/Random House survey covering how and where readers shop, what makes them buy, and their reading and book-buying habits.

The first item I found interesting (and reassuring) was that despite the increasing availability of innovative e-book devices and online accessibility to books, 82% of the respondents said they still prefer to read printed books over new technology. Even though printed books have the greatest appeal among older respondents, it was the overwhelming choice among all age groups. Only 11% said they were comfortable reading books in other formats besides traditional print.

Another interesting stat was that close to half of the people taking the survey go to bookstores knowing pretty much what they’re looking for while almost as many have a specific title in mind. Many said they are always tempted by other books while they’re there.

So what attracts readers? The results said:

48% subject

24% author

11% title

Now here are the points I found most interesting. When questioned about what influences their purchasing choices, 60% said suggestions from friends and family, and nearly half said they were influenced by book reviews. More than half (52%) said they judge a book by its cover and a third said they have purchased a book based on a cover blurb by another author.

The survey contains much more great info but here’s what I got get out of it:

Printed books are going to be with us for a long time.

Word-of-mouth sells books (not advertising).

Book reviews carry a lot of weight.

You better have a great cover.

You better get some great blurbs.

Read the whole survey results article at the Zogby site.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


by Sue Ann Jaffarian

That was the first and only word that escaped my lips when I stepped into the main exhibit hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center to experience my first Book Expo America.

Spread out in front of me was a smorgasbord of nearly every publisher and distributor of every type of item possible. Random House. Simon and Schuster. Ingram. Various university presses. Big publishing houses. Small independents. And everything in between. Amazon was even there demonstrating the Kindle. And sandwiched between the elegant Baker and Taylor booth and the Barron’s booth was Llewellyn, the parent of Midnight Ink.

Llewellyn’s booth was large, modern and classy. As soon as I stepped within its boundaries, I was warmly greeted by its staff as a long-lost favorite family member. It was wonderful to meet many of the folks who play such an important part in the production, sales and promotion of my work. They were friendly, fun and professional. I spent two days in and out of the Llewellyn booth and was sad to say goodbye at the end of the day on Saturday.

On Friday, after wandering the huge South Hall of the Convention Center (itself a wonder), I returned to Llewellyn to rest my weary bones. Even though Llewellyn had not scheduled any author signings in its booth, they had brought a box of Thugs and Kisses for me to sign and give away at the Mystery Writers of America booth on Saturday afternoon. I suggested that they put a few in front of me at one of their tables. Soon folks were flocking to the table to see what we had and to talk to “the author.” However, we couldn’t giveaway many because they were reserved for my signing time at MWA. Then I remembered that Llewellyn had sent me some of my earlier books earmarked for the American Library Association Conference in California the end of June.

On Saturday, armed with half my ALA stash and dressed in overalls covered with moons and stars (seems appropriate for Llewellyn, doesn’t it?), I returned to BEA ready to work. They set me up in front of the Midnight Ink display and for two hours I signed and gave away books, and schmoozed with folks filtering in and out of the booth about my series, Midnight Ink and Llewellyn. With the Llewellyn booth being so centrally located, I was able to connect with so many people, many of whom had already heard of my Odelia Grey series. My book stash exhausted, I met up with friends for a well-earned beer.

Late in the afternoon, I headed to the smaller West Hall and the MWA booth, where I signed and gave away books with pals Kathryn Lilley, Les Klinger and others. At the MWA booth there was actually a line waiting for my books. Okay. Okay. So it wasn't the same type of line enjoyed by Lee Child, William Shatner and Michael Connelly, but it was still a line.

Sounds like fun, huh? It was fun, but I gotta say, any author with any doubt about writing being a serious business, that author should attend BEA.

BEA is not a fan-based conference. Nor is it a writers’ conference. This is an industry convention. Almost every booth was professionally staffed by serious folks in suits. And those folks were busy with meetings, one after another. They met with distributors, foreign publishers, editors, agents and authors. Even the folks dropping by the booths to grab a signed copy of one of my books were book retailers, librarians or reviewers.

It was fun, but make no mistake, it was exhausting work.

And I was THRILLED to be working last weekend.