Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Everlasting Present

by Julia Buckley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Getting Punched In The Head

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know how to explain that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hello, Cupcake!

by G.M. Malliet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from Jess Lourey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Writing my List, Checking it Twice

Cricket McRae

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best of the Year

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas in Cali

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

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

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

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

Bird of paradise are always festive. Especially with reindeer.

I found some red and green trees:

Up close you can see those are berries.

Of course, geraniums are festive.

And roses:

And the Christmas bougainvillea, of course:

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Caffeine is my friend

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

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

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

Who knew?

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Holiday Giving

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Expecting the Worst

By Deborah Sharp

I'm dwelling in Book Cover Nirvana.

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

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

So, yeah, I worried.

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

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

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


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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Inkspot News - December 13, 2008

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

What Have You Done for Me Lately? by Jess Lourey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Something in the air?

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays everyone.
Susan Goodwill

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Exposing myself is hard work

by Joe Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Getting Belly-to-Belly This Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jingle All The Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jingle all the way…

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Inkspot News - December 6, 2008

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

Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Nicholas And The Nobility of Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Free Duffy Audio!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--and its also on and on Myspace at

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Selexyz Dominicanen

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

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