Thursday, July 31, 2008

Guilt to Go

By Deborah Sharp

Peace and love from the mellow environs of Northern California. My husband and I are vacationing out here, about as far as we can get from Florida's summer swelter. And now that I'm a bonafide mystery writer, I'm feeling guilty that I haven't written word one this week on Book 3, ''Mama Gets Hitched.''

Is it just me, or does everyone else feel like taking a vacation is slacking off?

Early in my transition from journalism to fiction-writing, I remember listening to an important author at a mystery convention: ''Writing is like breathing,'' he said, importantly. ''If I couldn't write, I'd die.''

I was duly impressed. But even then I wondered if that wasn't a bit of hooey. I mean, suppose this writer was the lone survivor of a ship wreck. Luckily for him, his deserted island has ample food and water. But, darn it, not a single sheet of paper or writing utensil to be found. Would he really
die without the ability to scribble out the plot points of his latest novel?

It's funny, I never felt guilty about taking time off when I was a plain ol' journalist. I knew as soon as I got back, there'd be plenty of new stories to cover. Then again, I always keep a journal. So maybe some small observation about the Northern California lifestyle will make it into my next book.

How does ''Mama Tries Tofu'' sound?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Lure of Vanity Plates

The state of Virginia is replete with vanity plates. Why? For one thing, they only cost $10. And in my area, with everyone driving the same four cars (minivan, Suburban, Lexus SUV, or Volvo wagon) we’re all striving for some way to stand out.

I’m being serious about that. I once exited the grocery store in search of my white Ford minivan and couldn’t see it amid the rest of the minivans. Only the little skull I’d stuck on the antennae helped me to recall which row I’d parked in. That piece of flare, along with a rear window covered by Sheriff’s Department, State Police, and State Trooper Beneficiary Fund Supporter stickers, allowed me to finally dump an armload of cat food and diapers into my van and not the identical van parked in the neighboring space.

At the time, my vanity plate read LV2EBAY. I used to sell folk art paintings on eBay, but hadn’t changed my plate since I gave up that low-paying career because I couldn’t think of a replacement. A few months ago, I ordered a plate reading PB WRTR, assuming everyone would understand that meant paperback writer. I was wrong. People asked me if I was a pub writer, a published writer, or a Panera Bread writer (which makes sense since I write from one of their cafes five out of seven days). Still, it annoyed me that my plate was a failure, so I changed it again to MYS WRTR. Should be obvious right? MYS is the library abbreviation for mystery, but I’ve gotten plenty of interesting interpretations about my new plate as well.

I’m the type of person that pays attention to vanity plates. I know all the specialized plates in my neighborhood and could tell you where WINEAUX the Merlot drinker lives, where SCALPD the Redkins fan goes to the gym, and where 22BUSY drops her kids off at school. When you drive to the same locations every day like I do, you tend to notice vanity plates.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of Richmonders have plates paying homage to their favorite scriptures. For fun, I’ve been keeping a record of these and have already looked up over a dozen biblical passages. Some of them are very profound, but others have my scratching my head as to why they merit a spot on the back of the car.

If you’ve got a vanity plate, tell us what it says or what your ideal one would say. If you’ve seen any funny ones, share those too.

(Incidentally, I tried to convince my anesthesiologist hubby that he should get DR SLPY or N2BATE on his plate but he told me vanity plates were for pansies

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

To series or not to series?

By Joe Moore

731 On October 1, THE 731 LEGACY, the fourth (and possibly last) installment in our Cotten Stone series hits the selves. My co-author Lynn Sholes and I have started working on a new standalone that could develop into a series if the literary gods smile down on us. But in taking on the task of a new set of main characters—something we haven’t done in almost 10 years—it got me to thinking about the pros and cons of writing a series as opposed to a standalone.

I think the biggest advantage is that we know our main characters really well having lived with them through four books. We’ve watched them act, react, and grow. Dealing with a character that we're familiar with presents less challenges that starting from scratch with a new main protagonist. So we can concentrate more on plot. In keeping our series protag fresh in each book, we always ask, “What does she need to learn that she doesn’t already know?” The answer to that question is our challenge for new character development in the next book in the series.

Of course, with a new series main character, we have to learn all the idiosyncrasies and motivational forces as we go through the development process. Rather than springing off the starting line, we must first crawl, then learn to walk all over again.

Another downside to a series is backstory. How much do we have to retell with each new book? Where do we draw the line between bringing the new reader up to speed that may have started reading in mid-series and boring the established fan who has already read the previous books and just wants us to get on with the new story?

There are many other advantages and disadvantages. So for the series authors out there, are you happy to keep the story going through multiple books or would your like to cleanse your creative palate and take a chance now and then by writing a standalone?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Travis, Spenser and Duffy

by Tom Schreck
Author of TKO, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery

“You Duff?” The voice came from the deck of this big ass boat. “Come on aboard.” The tall beefy guy said. I wouldn’t exactly call it a friendly greeting. It was more along the lines of cordial.

I had to climb this four rung latter to get on the deck, which wasn’t easy because Al my 85 pound basset hound was with me. “Busted Flush” was inscribed on the side of the boat. Another guy appeared on the deck. He was wearing Ray Bands and a Red Sox hat. I was going to have to really try to like him.

I struggled to hand the Red Sox guy Al and he hoisted him up but got slobbered pretty bad across his shirt. It was one of those with the little guy riding a horse.

“I’m Travis McGee and this is Spenser,” the first guy said.
“You really do have pale grey eyes, don’t you?” I said to Travis.
“Well, yeah,” he said. He seemed a little embarrassed.
“I didn’t think anyone in real life had grey eyes,” I said.
“Have a seat kid, we got to talk to you,” Spenser said.
“Can I get you a drink? I’m having a Boodles and Spenser is having a Catamount. I also have some Tuborg,” Travis said.

“Uh, I never heard of any of that shit. You gotta Schlitz?” Travis hung his head and looked up at Spenser who winced and sighed.
“That’s what we got to talk to you about,” Spenser said.
“We’ve read the reviews son. They’re calling you the new Travis or the New Spenser and, well, we like you but, uh…” Travis trailed off.

“We have our concerns.” Spenser said.
I didn’t know what they were talking about. I took a hit off the Tuborg and almost barfed.

“Damn, this shit is skunky as hell,” I said. I looked over at Al who was licking his nutbag right next to Spenser.

“Son, if they’re going to compare you to us there’s some things we liked to see changed,” Travis said. He sipped his gin and tonic out of a rocks glass that looked like it weighed 12 pounds.

“Change?’ I said.
“Yeah, change,” Spenser said. I might’ve been mistaken but it seemed like he was trying to act tough.

“Let’s start with the Schlitz. It’s not…uh…classy enough. Why don’t you drink something expensive and esoteric. Get a nice microbrew that no one’s ever heard of,” Travis said.
“I think those beers take like piss,’ I said.

“Alright, alright—let’s get off beer. How about the women in your life? There always dysfunctional and screwed up. Why not get a really thin, arrogant, intellectual psychologist gal who thinks its cool to barely eat anything?” Spenser said.

I just starred at him.
“Or nurse wounded bird type women back to health while sailing in the Caribbean. It helps if they have names like Bunny, Pogo or Tucky,” McGee said.

“What fuckin’ planet are you guys livin’ on?” I said. “Who has a boat like this and where do you find ‘wounded bird –women,’ sheesh.”

“The other thing is your fights. You lose as often as you win—we never get in fights and lose unless someone does something dirty or underhanded,” Travis said.

“I’m a mediocre boxer not a superhero,” I said.
“I fought Jersey Joe Walcott when I boxed,” Spenser said a little too quickly. I knew from reading books that Walcott’s last fight was in 1953.

“Yeah, well, in real life mediocre fighters don’t get to fight hall of famers,” I said.

The Spenser guy didn’t like that and tried to stare me down. Al barked at him and Spenser kind of jumped a little but tried to cover it.

“Your dog is a problem,” Travis said. Al did that tornado thing to clear his slobber and a loogey landed on Spenser’s loafers.

“You see that—those are Brooks Brothers and they cost $350 and the dog slobbered on them.”

I smiled and wished Al had slobbered on the “B” on his hat.

“I have a German Shorthaired pointer who is refined. She doesn’t do everything she’s told but she’s, you know…” Spenser struggled for the right word.

“Cute?” I said. Spenser frowned but he knew it was the right word. No one ever accused Al of being cute.

“Look son, it’s just that if you catch on we’re afraid people will, uh, you know, see us as maybe a little unrealistic and overblown. We’re worried,” Travis said.

“Why don’t you listen to jazz. You know, make obtuse references to Coltrane and Miles and how great jazz is,” Spenser said. Now he was sort of pleading.

“I only know people who pretend to listen to jazz because they think its cool. I never actually hear anyone listen to jazz,” I said. “Besides I like Elvis.” I said.

“Elvis was--” Spenser was about to say something I wasn’t going to like. I stood up and held my hand up signifying I had had enough. Spenser took a step toward me.

I didn’t back up.

“Fellas…come on!” Travis said.

“Don’t ever say anything about Elvis,” I said. I was almost nose-to-nose with Spenser.

“I told you I fought Walcott, didn’t I?” Spenser said as menacing as he could.

“Yeah, you did.” I kind of laughed a little. “By my calculations that would make you 70 at the youngest,” I said.

Spenser’s shoulders slumped.

“Yeah, you’re right,’ he said. He looked down at the slobber that had gathered on the tassel of his loafer.

I decided it was time for me to go.

“It was nice meeting you guys and thanks for the beer. I don’t mind comparisons but I got my show to run just like you guys did,” I said.

The two of them just looked at each other. McGee shrugged while Spenser sat back hard in his deck chair.

‘The kid’s got some balls, I’ll give ‘em that,” I heard Travis say as I was leaving.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Inkspot News, July 26, 2008

In the absence of breaking news from the Midnight Inkers, as a public service I am providing this photo of Jon Hamm to stare at.
(Photo from the AMC web site.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Now I See Dead People

By Sue Ann Jaffarian
In about 3 weeks I will be submitting my manuscript for The Ghost of Granny Apples to Midnight Ink. This is the first book in my new Granny Apples series, a humorous mystery series populated by ghosts. And I’m a bit nervous. You see, for the first time, I’m swimming in uncharted waters. I’m putting down the Thin Mints and the paralegal certificate and stepping out of my writing comfort zone.

The Granny Apples series features two main protagonists. One is a tall, thin, well-to-do, blond divorcee, with a teenage daughter and ties to Hollywood. The other is the ghost of a pioneer woman who was hung in 1899. The book also leaves my familiar urban sprawl of Orange and Los Angeles Counties for the tiny town of Julian, California, a former gold rush town in the mountains of San Diego County that today is a tourist destination. I even abandoned my usual first person voice and wrote it in third.

Talk about writing what you DON’T know.

I’ll admit, for the first half of this book I struggled. Not only did I have to come up with a good and believable plot (about ghosts, no less), but the book required a lot of time-intensive research. I now know more about the various theories on ghosts than I ever wanted to know. But don’t worry, I have no plans for showing up on future episodes of Ghost Hunters or even Ghost Whisperer.

On top of that, I had to put myself into the head of a woman who’s nothing like me. She shops Saks. I shop Target. She’s naturally thin. I’m naturally fluffy. She doesn’t swear. I – well, you get the picture. Let’s just say, I probably have more in common with the 100-year-old ghost. It wasn't easy, not by a long shot. Many a day I sat at my computer wondering what in the hell I’d gotten myself into, and how was I ever going to come up with two more books for the series.

Okay, so that was the first half of the manuscript. Now I’m nearing the finish line, and writing about Emma Whitecastle and the ghost called Granny Apples has become as natural as craving a pint of Cherry Garcia. More importantly, I’m having a blast doing it, and can’t wait to start the second book in the series, The Ghost of the Tacky Trophy Wife.

So the next time you’re tempted to get your butt out of your particular comfort zone, just do it! You’ll be glad you did. It means seeing writing in a whole new light with endless possibilities. Like winning the Golden Ticket to the Willy Wonka factory (the Gene Wilder one, not the creepy Johnny Depp one). In fact, as soon as The Ghost of Granny Apples is off to my publisher, I’m going to totally tear apart, then reconstruct, the non-mystery novel I’ve been working on for several years. And wait until I get my hands on the next Odelia Grey manuscript. Look out!

Somebody stop me before I hurt myself.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Batman and Mad Men

“The best men are not consistent in good—why should the worst men be consistent in evil?”

The Lady in White by Wilke Collins

On Monday, my husband David, son Michael, and I played hookey and went to the 11:30 a.m. showing of Batman. We expected to have the place to ourselves.

The theatre was packed. And we soon saw why.

OH MY GOSH. Heath Ledger’s Joker is one creepy bad guy. The small facial tics, the darting eyes, the uncertain voice chilled me. I watched audience members sink down into the stadium chairs the way you do when your body says, “Run!” But your mind says, “You have to see what happens next.” I found it nearly impossible to reconcile the Heath Ledger in this, The Dark Knight, with the one who charmed me in A Knight’s Tale. (Ironic titling, eh?)

The Joker’s backstory was both believable and cleverly delivered. He was at his most horrifying when he forced characters to make heinous choices in the name of love.

When the movie ended, we walked out of the theatre stunned. I think Ledger deserves an Oscar. (I also wonder if a part of the portrayal seeped deep into his psyche and corroded his sense of well-being.) Check this out

That evening, David and I continued our marathon watching of Mad Men. The central protagonist there—“Don Draper”--moves between being a total jerk and an honest observer of himself and of human nature. Other characters—especially “Roger Sterling”, “Joanie” and “Peter Campbell”—also move from despicable to sympathetic. Each character is true to his/her internal rules, his/her internal world view. In fact, EVERY character in the show is a bit of a sh*t, in his or her own way, which is one reason I think the show has won so many fans.

This has given me a lot to think. Anne Perry says that your hero will only jump as high as your villain makes him. I want my heroes to set new Olympic high jump records.

For my writer friends: What do you consider when you write a villain? How do you make your villains believable? Complex?

For our readers: What makes for a good villain? Have you seen Mad Men? How do the characters strike you? If you haven't, check out the link below

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Feed Yourself

Cricket McRae

I had coffee with some local Sisters in Crime the other morning, and Knitting Mystery maven Maggie Sefton was telling us about her upcoming trip to Florence. She said she’d been running ragged lately, and needed to refill her well.

My thought was only a quietly resounding aaaaaaaaah. Sounds lovely. Juggling my new writing, the already contracted writing, the marketing, and real life – well, it’s good, it’s hard, and it’s a lot like everyone else’s life, where you have to balance fourteen things at any given time, and you love them all.

Sometimes I forget to recharge, and I was grateful to Maggie for the reminder. We pour ourselves into our work. We give pieces of our psyche, our experience, our love to our creative children. We can’t do it forever. We simply must recharge in order to continue to do make art. Julia Cameron talks about this in The Artist’s Way.

There is something decadent about feeding our souls. And we all do it in different ways. So yesterday I went to the flea market, where, for a mere twenty-four dollars I picked up six cookbooks published before 1975, which I will pour over at my leisure, a pair of Ray Ban knockoffs, a pair of Thinsulate gloves, a tiny pair of silver-framed reading glasses, and a stained glass light bulb for the lamp in the corner of my bedroom.

Then I came home and made a caprese salad with tomato and basil from my backyard and homemade mozzarella, topped with truffled olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I ate it slowly, mindfully – and it nourished not only my body but my mind.

Not a trip to Florence, but good enough for now.

How do you recharge?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Pain of Lost Things

by Julia Buckley
Did you ever find a product that you really loved, that really worked for you, and then it was discontinued? My husband and I both have scents that were once our signature perfumes--his was a Crabtree and Evelyn Cologne that I bought him when we were married; mine was a Laura Ashley perfume that I simply loved. Both were aromatherapy of the highest order. Neither is now available, even on Ebay. I did find one tiny bottle of my husband's lost cologne somewhere in England--just a few ounces for two hundred and fifty dollars. Too much of an indulgence, I'm afraid, and yet I was tempted to claim that last bottle as if it were the Holy Grail.

In addition, there was a Swedish shampoo I used in the 70s I would love to have again, but it's gone the way of the Dodo. I miss one vacuum cleaner that used to do a really professional job, and a computer printer that was cheaper than my current one but WAY better, and now is considered out of date, so one cannot find it--or cartridges for it--anywhere. And how about those food items we used to love that simply didn't sell well, and therefore disappeared from the shelves? Does anyone still long for the Quisp Cereal of their childhood?

I'm not sure why lost things are so compelling, why I feel almost hurt by their unavailability. I suppose, as with a lot of things, that they are blended in with my nostalgia for times past. Jeff's cologne brings back images of our honeymoon; mine elicits memories of my early career.

They say that smell is the sense most connected to memory, and perhaps that's another reason why the loss of those aromas rankles.

Am I alone in this, or are there things you miss that you can no longer get?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cheap Trips

Good morning! Keith Raffel here.

Last Wednesday’s Journal ran a story headlined “Postcards from the Hedge: Faking a Vacation at Home.” The gist was that people can’t afford to take vacations given the state of the economy and the cost of fuel. So they’re sitting at home on “staycations,” setting up tents in their living rooms. You can even hire a guy to come in and place fresh soaps in your bathroom everyday for a “faux-hotel” experience. That costs about $30 per night.

I want to put forward an idea on how to go practically anywhere for the same price or less.

At the Los Angeles Times Book Fair last year, I sat in a booth with the amazing Cara Black, author of the best-selling Aimée Leduc mysteries. Each is set in a different arrondissement of Paris. Cara called out to passersby like a fishmonger, “Do you want to go to Paris for $14?” Many did and wise they were. Cara’s books transported them there for a few thousand dollars less than climbing on a jet plane and paying for the Plaza Athenée.

If you’re reluctant to spend too many dollars on gas or jet fuel that fills the pockets of the world’s the bad guys, I suggest buying a ticket to wonderful cities for the price of a book. Start reading on page one and you’ve already arrived. That’s not only cheaper, it’s faster than any other way to get there. And with the price of your ticket comes an expert guide.

Each of the books below has a palpable sense of place – the setting itself is a main character. The ten vacation locales below were the first that popped into my mind. Add your favorites in the comments, please! I’ve been to Jerusalem and to New York already this summer and am not getting on another plane. But I am standing by to travel by Air Fiction. Give me and others suggestions to satisfy our wanderlust.

New York City: Jack Finney lays out his method for free travel in and around NYC in Time and Again.

Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is not available in the U.S. yet, but if you’re hankering for a summer trip to cool Sweden, order this book from the U.K.

Tokyo: Barry Eisler spends months making sure he gets every detail of Tokyo just right in his John Rain books.

Oxford: I lived in Oxford for two years and no one gets it better than the late Michael Dibdin in Dirty Tricks. Wait.... Dorothy Sayers gives Dibdin a run for his money in Gaudy Night.

Moscow: Martin Cruz Smith plops you right into Red Square in, of course, Red Square.

London: I lived in London for a month or so just around the corner from Baker Street. I could feel the presence of the great detective. Whenever I want to go back, I just pick up a Sherlock Holmes story.

Australian Outback: Adrian Hyland reminds us that the Outback is not a pretty place in his Diamond Dove.

Chicago: So many choices for a guide but who better than Stuart Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman?

Los Angeles: When reading Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, I became an African-American in Watts.

San Francisco: If you prefer the 1930’s, let Dashiell Hammett by your guide in The Maltese Falcon. If you’d rather go today, engross yourself in Stealing the Dragon by Mr. Hammett’s twenty-first century heir, Tim Maleeny.

P.S. If you want to read about my five days at ThrillerFest last week hanging out with fellow Inksters Joe, Lynn, Mark, Tim, and others, click here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Inkspot News - July 19, 2008

Felicia Donovan will be signing copies of her latest release, SPUN TALES - A BLACK WIDOW AGENCY MYSTERY, on Tuesday, July 22nd at 7 PM at the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH. More information can be found at

G.M. Malliet will be part of a group reading and signing for the Chesapeake Crimes 3 anthology at the Martha Washington Library, Alexandria, VA on July 23 from 7-9 PM. She will also be signing her mystery novel, Death of a Cozy Writer.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Brand Me

I can't pinpoint the moment I stopped being a person and became a brand. But I think it was the first time I signed an email with instead of my actual name.

When I decided to leave USA Today to become a mystery writer, I didn't realize I'd also become something I never planned: A saleswoman. My product? Myself.

Pretty weird considering my only sales experience was pushing Girl Scout cookies in 5th grade.

But now that I am a brand, I'm all about marketing. "Positioning'' myself and my upcoming novel. Breaking out of the pack of some 276,000 other new book titles released this year. And, oh yeah, always remembering to repeat the name of the book (See above. Can't miss it)

I've learned:

* To keep my new business cards in a pocket instead of buried in my purse, should anyone show the slightest interest . . . and even if they don't.

* To forget my mom's oft-repeated advice: ''Never toot your own horn, honey.''

* To ignore the cringe I feel when I see my humongous photo on my website.

''My picture's WAY too big,'' I protested to the guy who helped design the site.
''It can't be too big,'' the web guy said. ''You're the brand.''

Just like Paris Hilton, Tide detergent and the George Foreman grill.

I knew I'd gone to the dark side when I seriously considered repainting my Miata in a mock-up of my book's cover. I could become a mobile ad, I figured, kind of like the Roto-Rooter man in his red-and-blue van. Of course, I wouldn't actually kill anyone. The hand dangling from my turquoise trunk could be a dummy's.

Now tell me again about self-promotion . . . how fine is that line before shameless?

I'll be out on the circuit this fall with Mama Does Time. I hope y'all will say hi. I'll be the one slipping my card into your palm as we're introduced.

''Nice to meet you,'' I'll say with a saleswoman's smile. ''I'm''

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Almost Out of the Bag

by Julia Buckley

I’ve been working on a new mystery for months. And months. First it was just a little something I was trying out. I’d go back to it now and then, but I wasn’t very enthused. I brought it to my writing group, which is usually pretty critical, and I expected them to blast it out of the water.

Except they didn’t. They liked it, and they wanted more. Nothing feeds enthusiasm like a compliment. I went back to it and, through their eyes, realized that this wasn’t that bad a beginning. So I continued. I brought it back to the group the next month. Ten thousand words had turned to twenty thousand. They liked it even more. And suddenly, my pace increased. By the time summer vacation rolled around I had thirty thousand words and lots of ideas.

Today I wrote for hours; my sons would occasionally leave their own pursuits to come and stand behind me, saying not “When will it be finished, Mom?” but “When will you be off the computer?”

“I don’t know,” I muttered, waving them away. They went, grumbling. I wrote until I had reached the climax—now all that’s left to create is the denouement, and then the draft will be complete.

So hurrah! Right? Except as you all know, I have a big long journey ahead. I have to revise. I have to get a manuscript that I like and then send that to my agent, and SHE has to like it. Otherwise it sort of dies right there. She might like it but want more revisions. Or, in my dream scenario, she’ll say “This is great. Let’s send it out.” And then two giant publishers get into a huge bidding war over my book, which they are already envisioning as a movie.

Oh—sorry. Did I say all that out loud?

But here is the reality I understand: finishing a book is a beginning, not an ending. And a part of me will really miss that creative process that escalated the tension for both me and my characters, who are now my friends. I love them and I wish them well—preferably a long life in a series of books that actually see publication.

But as a mystery lover I know this best of all: what will make it is a mystery, and I’m about to take my manuscript into a world of shadows.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I've Got a Secret

I was listening to a teaser soundbite on NPR this morning, and the wonderful New Orleans mystery author Julie Smith spoke about the comment she often hears from readers who learn she resides in the city where her novels are based. They tell her the high crime rate in New Orleans must provide plenty of material for her novels. She said that they don't understand what mysteries are really about. It's not the crime, it's the secrets. I turned off my clock radio and said to the murky air of pre-dawn, well, late dawn, in my bedroom:
Ain't it the truth.
How many secrets do we have in a mystery? There's obviously the secrets kept or attempted to be kept by the antagonist, crook, criminal, villains, or miscellaneous dastardly deed do-ers. And in my opinion, if a writer is worth her salt, there are the secrets kept by the protagonist, amateur or professional sleuth or all around good guy. And if a writer is really, really good-- I mean really good: everybody's got a secret. And those secrets get reeled out and revealed s-l-o-w-l-y, maybe over the arc of a whole series. For some fodder for the secret mill, try the link below or buy Frank Warren's books from his PostSecret Project--a blog that collected thousands of anonymous postcards over a period of years from people confessing their secrets from the mundane to the deeply disturbing. What's your secret? What are your characters' secrets? How do they intersect?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Inkspot News - July 12, 2008

Jess Lourey and G.M. Malliet both have articles published in this month's Mystery Scene Magazine. A review of Death of a Cozy Writer also appears in the online edition.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Sexual Predators & Anonymous Comments

by Felicia Donovan


Something's been bugging me for a while and I think it's finally time I got it off my chest. Don't read on if you're squeamish. This is not cozy, by any means, and I apologize in advance for any offensive material...

Not too long ago, I was reading a post on another blog from a group of women all in justice fields either as police officers, prosecutors, investigative reporters or attorneys. This particular post was by a veteran police officer about the lack of sufficient laws against sexual predators.

Anyone who works in law enforcement is too well acquainted with the insidious threat these sex offenders pose. Having reviewed many sexual assault cases against children; having read the interviews with victims so young your heart sinks; having sat over the shoulder of undercover investigators posing as children on the Internet to lure sexual offenders out only to see one "live cam" after another pop-up with nasty things on it; having worked closely with detectives whose job it is to track and register them; having bumped elbows with these people as they come into the station to re-register -- I have some pretty strong feelings about this topic. I posted the following comment, which I've edited down for length purposes only, but you'll get the gist:


" hit the nail on the head when you said that there is no "rehabilitation" for sex offenders. The predilection towards children is horribly strong and the rate of recidivism is so high because they WILL reoffend at any cost... The bottom line is that these mutants have one goal in mind - to rape a child. That is not the same, as you pointed out, as the hormonal teenage boy who likes a girl in a lower grade. Sexual offenders seek out the youngest, most pre-pubescent child they can for the sole purpose of getting off from raping and molesting little ones - the younger, the better. Let anyone who thinks these creatures have any rights read or witness the interviews with 5-year old Betty telling how "Uncle Billy put his pee-pee in my mouth."


I signed my name to it because I feel strongly that if you're going to express your opinion in a public venue, you should have the courage to stand by your words. Apparently, I'm in the minority on that.

No sooner had I posted my comment, than the first of several "Anonymous" posters commented back. The first one said they were "appalled at the lynch mob menatality [sic] of this blog." That brought out another "Anonymous" poster who came up with, "Sex Offenders are the other form of terrorist according to the government, because you don’t know who they are or where they are." Huh?

There were several posters who had the courage to at least use a profile, but many did not. Accusations flew, people retorted, the blog author held her ground, but few signed their names.

I'm not sure what bothered me more, the fact that someone actually tried to defend the rights of sex offenders, or the fact that so many people didn't have the courage to identify themselves. Am I the only one that thinks people who can't even sign their names to their public opinions are just plain chicken-shit?

Feel free to comment, but please, stand up, be a big person and put your name to it. I signed mine...


by G.M. Malliet

I wish the photo on the left were clearer. You will have to take my word that it's a photo of bookshop window in Rennes, France, where my husband and I vacationed recently. Now, there's something strange about these French books. If you could look closely, you'd see that many of them are translations from American books, with a few British authors thrown in.

Not only that, but the vast majority of these books in translation are mysteries.

It was the same in every store I walked into where books were sold. Now, what's with that? Is the publishing world suddenly in disrepair in France? Do they not have someone, anyone who could write a mystery novel in French? Do they think American crime is more interesting, or do they just prefer to believe there is no crime in France? I asked several people, and they could only tell me American crime novels were very popular. It's what the French like to read, especially on holiday.

The French may boast of their wine, but Americans, apparently, have cornered the market in fine crime.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pace yourself....

Thrillerfest is coming up this weekend and I find myself on a panel regarding pacing. That is, pacing in a novel; not the kind you do around your desk waiting for the muse to visit you so you can finish that problematic chapter.

The talented Rick Mofina is the moderator for our panel and he asked each of us to come up with a question or two about pacing. So I sat back in my chair and realized, I know nothing about pacing!

Geez, maybe I should call in sick or something. What the hell is pacing anyway? I’m pretty new to this whole writing thing – not sure what I can contribute here. Then I realized that my reaction is the typical reaction for most writers when they are asked to be on a panel. They freak out. Their brain goes numb. They become deer frozen in the headlights.

So after breathing into a paper sack for five minutes, I’m calm enough to realize I do know something about pacing. But I don’t know how to describe it. Back to the paper bag, and after another six minutes, I’m calmed enough to realize I do know how to describe it.

Pacing is what pulls you through the book.

Wow. That’s good Mark. Sufficiently vague to sound like you know what you are talking about.

See, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Us writers really don’t know what we are talking about most of the time. We tell stories for a living for pities sake. We make shit up. You gonna believe a guy that makes shit up for a living? Alright then, if you come to our panel, be prepared for some more obscure crap like the line above. Because in the end, writers are better at writing than explaining how they write. If we were better at explaining ourselves than writing, then we’d be politicians. Write your own punchline.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Get Away from Hell

After about three days of badgering, I persuaded my husband to take a canoe trip down the Peace River as a quick day get away. It would be refreshing, exciting, adventurous, and relaxing. We had done it years ago, but in November, not slap dab in the middle of summer. We’ve been having a drought in Florida, though the rains seem to be returning recently, so the river was 22 inches low, great for fossil hunting. We got up early and made the 3 hour drive to Arcadia and checked in at the Canoe Outpost. One couple was running late so that held up the bus trip to our drop off point for about a half and hour. The bus ride was only 10 minutes (the road runs straighter than the river) but there was no AC on the bus. If any of you have been to Disney in Orlando during the middle of summer, then you feel my pain. The windows were open, but only the breath of hell blew through them. Finally arriving we stacked our gear in the canoe. The most humiliating point was when it was time for us to get in. The rule is that the heaviest person sits in the rear and the lighter in the front. It makes for more efficient movement through the water. Well, my spouse is a little skinny runt (who can eat anything, anytime, and does) who weighs the same now as he did in high school (only 14% body fat) and of course I have left those high school numbers far behind. Just before stepping in the canoe I looked at him and said, “In the back, right?” That was such a humbling moment. One other thing I forgot to mention is that the person in the rear also steers the canoe. For a man, the right to steer the canoe is kind of like being in charge of the TV remote. “No way,” he said, and then proceeded to shift the heaviest gear toward the rear of the canoe—with everyone watching.
Finally we launched and paddled down the river. The group of canoeists rapidly dispersed, some spinning circles trying to get the hang of it, others speeding along, and then some lollygagging. Everyone met up again at the first sandbar searching for shark’s teeth. By now I was a more than warm and had been pouring our drinking water on my head and chest, so I was anxious side to flop out into the water. In a little while, discouraged by the lack of any great finds, we were off again. Then, a little later we hit the jackpot. Near the bank we noticed a scattering of bones in about a foot of water. My husband got out and was holding the back of the canoe while graceful me climbed out of the front. Kind of. Unfortunately, I got out on the deeper side. My left leg made contact with the bottom, but my right leg was still in the canoe. The front of the canoe (do you call it a bow in a canoe?) began to swing away from me. Now my legs were drifting apart—painfully. I found that I couldn’t lift my right leg high enough to clear the canoe, and the shoe on my left foot was stuck in the mud. I couldn’t get back in, and I couldn’t get out. Eventually I just fell back hoping that my right foot didn’t get hung up or I’d be dangling upside down. I’d have laughed if the muscles and tendons inside my thighs hadn’t been on fire! Needless to say, I was quite a sight, and my hubby hasn’t stopped laughing or telling the story yet. My inside thigh muscles haven’t recovered from doing the spilt yet, and my butt bones are bruised from sitting on the metal seat all day. We did manage to pick up quite a few dugong ribs and some long bones of small mammals, but that was it. By the time we paddled to the outpost I was fried, sore, and incredibly humbled.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Back Home, 5 1/2 Books, Bad PR, Jim, Denise, David, and Two Birthdays

Keith here with a warning: you are about to enter a rambling zone.

I arrived back home from Israel with #4, my 9-year old boy, on Monday after a 28 hour door-to-door trip. Never been to Israel before. So much to draw from in my next book. We were on the frontlines at the Lebanese border where a Hezbollah observation site squatted a few hundred yards away. We floated in the Dead Sea, danced in the mystical city of Safed, rafted down the "mighty" Jordan River (little more than a dribble of a stream), dug up 2000-year old pottery, teared up at the gallows where the British hung Jews who fought for independence, and prayed at the Western Wall.
In an uncharacteristic burst of optimism, I brought nine books with me. I did manage to read five-and-a-half of them. Before leaving, I'd found the tattered copy of Leon Uris's novel on Israel's fight for independence, Exodus, that I read when I was 11. It held up better than expected. Of course, reading about the break from the Acre jail after having just visited it made the book that much more compelling. Also, Steve Berry's charming wife Liz convinced me that The Alexandria Link was perfect reading for a Holy Land trip. She was right, but having checked out the Israel Museum and its Dead Sea Scrolls, count me skeptical about its premise that the First Temple was located on the Arabian Coast. But a terrific story nonetheless.

One thing the visit brought home to me was the terrible job Israel does on PR. I toured the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem where the Israeli Government allows Muslim authorities to protect the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Omar. The ruins of the Jewish first and second temples are below the Moslem sites and Israel does no excavation there lest these Muslim holy sites be disturbed. By way of contrast, when Jordan controlled the Old City, all synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were destroyed, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, all Jews were expelled, and Jews were not allowed to visit its holy sites even though Jordan had agreed in the 1949 armistice agreement to allow them to do so. And what credit does Israel for its policy of accommodation to other religions? Zero. Of course, Israel's treatment of West Bank Arabs is far from perfect, but there are advocacy groups and aggressive media coverage that hold the government accountable. (Can you think of an equivalent in neighboring countires to Israel's Rabbis for Human Rights, a modern analogue to the prophets of the Bible?) Two days after we left Jerusalem, right where we'd been, an Arab terrorist rammed a piece of equipment into a bus, killed three people, hurt 40 more, and was shot dead. The BBC headline? Nothing about the attack. Instead: "Israel Bulldozer Driver Shot Dead." Yes, Israel has a PR problem.

Enough ranting. On the airplane Jim Rollins' Sandstorm helped while away the hours. Then yesterday afternoon the talented, fun-loving, and caprine obsessive Michelle Gagnon emailed me that Jim would be at M is for Mystery along with Denise Hamilton in just a few hours. Jim discussed his latest Sigma Force thriller, The Last Oracle, and his novelization of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Denise's latest is a standalone set in Chandleresque post-war LA. Inspiration for her book was the disappearance of starlet Jean Spangler, a case that also provided inspiration for Megan Abbott's terrific The Song Is You. Can't wait to read Denise's take. After the talking and signing were done, I repaired to an Indian restaurant with Jim, Denise, Michelle (who signed two copies of her just-out Boneyard for me), old friend and Macavity nominee Tim Maleeny, the wonderful and charming Cara Black, and more. All of us save Cara will be at ThrillerFest in NYC next week.

One more thing: I had a great time interviewing the insightful David Hewson about The Garden of Evil, the "best yet" in his critically acclaimed Nic Costa series. You can read the interview here.

Tomorrow is the birthday of our country, which is turning 232, and of my #2, who is turning 16. Much celebrating to do, much to be thankful for! Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

To Mac or Not to Mac?

Oh, my friends, it’s that time. I need a new computer. Mine is four years old and has so many bugs that I’m tempted to call the Ortho man instead of the Geek Squad. I no longer have the use of spell check on emails (which is a HUGE drag even if it has improved my spelling). Whenever I open an Adobe document my computer freezes or totally crashes and I can’t load any games onto it anymore (which is good for writing, bad for mental health). The memory space remaining is so small that it can hold a novella, but not a novel.

As we are getting a new roof in two weeks, I certainly hadn’t budgeted for a new computer. In fact, we’re having the roof in lieu of a vacation (can’t afford both) so I’m already feeling a bit sour. Still, the idea of a shiny new iMac is very appealing, but I haven’t owned an Apple since college and am a little nervous.

Sure, I love the commercials. I love the small size of the hard drive. I love the slick screen. But am I smart enough, hip enough, or able to deal with change in the manner that will be required for me to “defect” from the world of Microsoft to the land of juicy apples? And what about the new operating system - I'm finishing a book this week and editing another, so I could start a fresh book on the Mac, but will it be so different it will take days of precious writing time just to figure out iWorks.

Please lend me your wisdom, oh venerable Mac users out there. I’m going this weekend to one store or the other. Should I go to the Apple store? Should I? What do you love about your iMac, iPro, iWhatever! I value your comments! iHelp!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Survey Says III

By Joe Moore

In Survey Says I, I summarized a member's survey taken by Novelist, Inc. on how many writers with bestsellers and multiple books published could make a living writing. The answer was, not many. In Survey Says II, I covered some of the highlights of a Zogby International/Random House poll on how and where readers shop. With that one we found out among other things that word-of-mouth is the best advertising and cover art really does count as one of the first reasons table browsers pick up a book (or don't).

survey1 In this third installment, I want to discuss the recent Sisters In Crime Publishers Summit that took place in NYC. It was conducted by four SinC members as they spent a week this past May touring the offices of agents, publishers, book buyers, and other publishing professionals asking them to give their impression on the state of the industry.

The entire 4-part post can be read by clicking here.

Although there was a mountain of fantastic insight and wisdom in the article, I will hit the high points that impressed me the most.

HarperCollins. The team heard that paranormal including urban fantasy was selling well. Thrillers are HOT, HOT, HOT. Books are selling better in the big chains than the indies. Mysteries are slipping. Cozies are sliding, too.

Writers House Literary Agency. Franchise writers like Patterson, Clancy, Cussler, are what everyone is looking for because they turn out more books per year. Blurbs are REALLY important. Great covers are a must. The sagging economy is contributing to the demise of the midlist.

Penquin. Thrillers are HOT. Readers like series. Fast writers who produce multiple books per year are what many publishers are looking for. Collaboration with your publisher and publicist is the key to expanding your market and creating your niche.

Soho Press. For them, mysteries are big and growing. They love authors who take an active role in promotion.

Barnes & Noble (corporate). Paranormal is huge right now. They are committed to series. Packaging is crucial. It’s all about the cover art. Times are tough for hardcovers. Trade paperbacks are doing well.

Mira Books. Mystery print runs are smaller than suspense/thriller. They’re having great success with big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart.

Folio Literary Management. Covers are king. They recommend using social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to connect with new readers.

I found the SinC Publishers Summit to be encouraging if for no other reason than I write thrillers and they seem to be selling well right now. But the publishing industry, just like the tide, is constantly changing. What’s hot today could be chilly next year. But the basics never change: write the best book you can as fast as you can, work with your publisher to help brand yourself, realize you need a killer cover that tells a potential reader exactly what kind of book yours is in a millisecond, go out and get blurbs from the biggest names in your genre, and take an active role in helping to sell your product.