Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Write of Spring

DSC01819 Every year since 2002, on the first Saturday of spring, Minnesota's premier mystery bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, holds its annual Write of Spring. Pat and Gary, the owners of Once Upon a Crime, bill their store as "informal, low-tech, and happy to provide the best customer service around." The Write of Spring epitomizes this attitude.

Over 60 authors were present, hanging out in one-hour shifts to talk to, meet with, and sign books for fans and aspiring writers. Many of us blur the line between fan and author when we find ourselves standing between the likes of William Kent Krueger and Laura Childs while chatting with Ruth Jordan about the future of the mystery genre. All this in a tiny store no larger than my dining room and kitchen combined, no cover charge, no DSC01820 pretension.

For me, this is what independent bookstores are all about. You have camaraderie, connecting, employees who can give you an exhaustive answer to the question, "If I like this book, what other books would I like?" Once Upon a Crime, whose motto is, "For a Good Crime, Call," also hosts book groups and writing groups as well as putting on weekly signings.

Pat and Gary, who incidentally got married in their store two years as Gary battled leukemia, put as much effort into supporting emerging authors as the bestsellers. I remember setting up my first signing at the store, for May Day, which came out in 2006. My ego was bruised from trying to set up events at larger stores. I expected more of the same from Once Upon a Crime, but Pat's email response to my request read something like this: "May Day was a hoot! You let us know what day and time you want to set up a signing, and we'll make it happen. In the meanwhile, I ordered 40 copies of your book, so stop by and sign stock. Looking forward to meeting you!"

Hunh? She'd not only read my book but had ordered copies of it? If you've dealt with Once UDSC01822pon a Crime, I know you've had a similar experience. They're champs in the mystery field, the unsung underdogs who connect readers directly with writers, and vice versa. And I bet they're not the only ones out there. What's your favorite indie, and why?

(The photos are, starting with the top one and working down: Pat, co-owner of the store, along with a children's book author; a writer of books, Lori L. Lake, and William Kent Krueger--one of the best mystery writers out there; Ellen Hart and Michael Allen Mallory. I apologize for not knowing the names of two of the authors pictured. I'm lame that way.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sorry I ruined your favorite place on earth

My latest quilting mystery, OCEAN WAVES, has been released. The official pub date is April 1st, but Amazon started shipping and MI sent me a shipment, so I began selling books. Saturday, I spoke at the Milpitas Alliance for the Arts Literary Luncheon to a wonderful audience and received the first complaint.

I set the book at a real place, Asilomar, which is a lovely California state park that is popular for retreats and conferences. It's a fabulous piece of real estate along the Pacific Ocean just north of Pebble Beach. Designed as a women's retreat house for the YWCA nearly a hundred years ago, the buildings were designed by Julia Morgan. Many of the original Craftsman style buildings are still being used and their timeless grace and beauty enhance the experience.

California State Rangers give nature tours and everything is done to ensure the ecosystem remains viable. The price of a stay there is reasonable and the food is pretty good. It is, in short, heaven on earth.

Now, my fan says, she's afraid to stay there. I've been on quilting retreats with her. We always have a wonderful time. And she's scared now. Just because of a little ole murder or two? What can I say? Natural and beautiful has its dark side.

Has an author ever scared you? Have you ruined a wonderful sanctuary by setting a murder there?

I've been thinking about setting a book on Alcatraz. That might be the way to go.

Friday, March 27, 2009

And you thought mystery writers were strange...

Only in the world of anime could cuddly animals put the geopolitics of war into perspective. Check out Wikipedia's reference to Apocalypse Meow, which provides the backstory to this unlikely epic and a handy guide to the nationality represented by each species of animal featured in the anime. Maybe the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should start watching cartoons...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Mystery for the Ages

By Deborah Sharp

What's up with Amazon? In a riddle to rival the Great Sphinx of Egypt, my mystery keeps getting paired with books that don't appear to have much in common with Mama Does Time.

I'll admit it: I click on my own book pages at Amazon to see what's shaking. Usually, it's nothing much. New customer reviews? A star from Publishers Weekly? Rankings rocketing into the single digits, biting at the nape of Ms. Stephenie Meyer?

Nope. Nope. And, You've got to be kidding. And, yes, I do check out my Amazon rankings. I know, I know .... they're not supposed to mean anything; it's some arcane formula that has to do with movement of your book and not actual sales figures, yada yada yada. Everybody checks out their numbers. Authors who say they don't are like those Hollywood stars who claim, ''I never read reviews.''

Right. And you don't Google yourself, either.

Anyway ... The Telltale Turtle: A Pet Psychic Mystery by Joyce and Jim Lavene? There's nary a turtle nor a psychic of any sort in Mama Does Time.
A. K. Azern's The Case of the Bouncing Grandma? Ditto and ditto. Negatory on the bouncing. Not a single grandmother.

Now, I'm sure those books are fun reads, and their authors are probably asking, "Who the heck is this Mama, and what does she have to do with my title?'' I am by no means complaining. I'm thrilled that anyone is buying the book, no matter what they choose to buy it with. I'd get a kick, though, to see the PG-rated Mama partnered up on Amazon with some dark, erotic thriller. Or, maybe a couple of physicists, needing a break from reading Quantum Enigma, could mosey on over and become ''Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought'' . . . Mama.

Hey, it could happen. If there's a distortion in the time-space continuum.

I am pleased to report that in Amazon's Inappropriately Capitalized category of What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item, fully 91 percent buy Mama Does Time. (Ninety-one percent of how many? Who knows.)
Of course, I immediately began to worry about the fate of my upcoming Mama Rides Shotgun
Just 48 percent of customers buy this one after viewing. It's not out until July. Are they reluctant to pre-order? Perhaps the anti-gun lobby disapproves of the title? The cover shows a saddle on a horse. Is it equinophobia? Perhaps Amazon's customers don't like Cow Hunter chili.

What does it mean??? Who knows. It's a mystery for the ages.

How about you? What mystifies you about the Great and Powerful Amazon?

Lucky Me

Cricket McRae

The third Sophie Mae Reynolds Home Crafting Mystery, Spin a Wicked Web, came out this month. I feel both thrilled and extraordinarily lucky.

First off, look at that cover. Once again Lisa Novak in the Midnight Ink art department outdid herself. Oh, I know I’m a proud mama and bound to be biased, but so many people comment on all the MI covers that I know I’m not making this stuff up. Other MI authors know what I mean: There’s something almost tactile about the designs, inviting folks to pick them up, handle them.

Then there are the mystery authors who provided cover blurbs. I’m grateful to them for taking the time and for saying such nice things. Just another reminder of what a generous group writers are.

Early reviews are good. Nope, still nothing starred from Kirkus, but they continue to review my books. That’s something! And Booklist and Library Journal continue to recommend the series, which I hope will result in even more library sales.

Reader feedback has been good, too. More email is hitting my inbox than ever, and more people are picking up the first two books, too.

So, of course it’s vital to promote the heck out of Spin. It doesn’t matter that I’m up against a tight deadline on the next Sophie Mae mystery. I mean, what a problem to have, eh?

I’ve scheduled the first dozen signings and more are in the works. My uber-targeted mailing list is receiving postcards. Spinning guilds and book clubs are showing interest. Book trailers populate the web. The list of promotional activities is long, but I’m glad to have it. Much of that list is due to the combined marketing prowess of the authors here on Inkspot. I’ve learned so much from this crew about creative -- and efficient -- book promotion.

Thank you. Seriously, knowledge = sanity. If it weren’t for you, I’d be in a constant state of semi-panic.

I’m really looking forward to Spin a Wicked Web’s virgin reading and signing. It’ll be at The Readers Cove in Fort Collins, Colorado tomorrow, Thursday the 26th, at 6:30 p.m. No booze, but a great deli and terrific coffee shop. Those people at The Readers Cove know what they’re doing.

My full signing schedule, including the Seattle venues, is here.

And this is the book trailer. As predicted, I found animoto to be totally addictive!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Column A

After Beth Groundwater's wonderful post yesterday, I give you a short, simple, writerly tip of the day:

What goes in Column A comes out in Column B.
Several years ago I was cramming to meet a deadline. I had been holed up in my attic writing lair for about three weeks solid when a social obligation arrived out of which I could not wiggle:a long planned dinner with friends. Oddly, they called my significant other the night before and told us to wear sweats. They said they had a surprise.

Oka-a-a-ay. I know these folks, I'm not worried. Maybe a little. But we wore sweats. When we arrived, they served wine, light appetizers and bottled water, and in the other room they had booked a masterful masseuse (pardon my alliteration), and we each took turns for a forty-five minute session. The outcome was that I turned to jelly, went home invigorated, and wrote like the wind for the next two weeks. I finished my deadline on time, and I believe my writing (Column B) improved greatly from stepping away for that massage evening with my friends (Column A).

From The Writer's Life, Insights from The Right to Write by Julia Cameron: One of the mysteries of the writing life is the fact that an investment of interest in column A—say listening to a great piece of music—will pay off obliquely when we set pen to paper on an entirely different topic. Writing is what we make from the broth of our experience. If we lead a rich and varied life, we will have a rich and varied stock of ingredients from which to draw on. If we lead a life that is too narrow, too focused, too oriented toward our goals, we will find our writing lacks flavor, is thin on the nutrients that make it both savory and sustaining. Although we tend to think of it as a linear, writing is a profoundly visual art. Even if we are writing about internal experience, we use images to do it. For this reason, we must consciously and constantly restock our store of images. We do this by focusing on what is around us.

If you are blocked or frustrated today take a minute or twenty for yourself to take a walk, look around. Shut your eyes and listen to music from the viewpoint of one of your characters. Leaf through a magazine and clip items that remind you of your story and your characters. Go to the dollar store and buy one item representative of your protagonist, another representative of your antagonist. Put them on your desk or carry them in your pocket as talismans. Or, get a massage!

Happy writing.
Susan Goodwill
author of The Kate London Mystery Series
Little Shop of Murders: 2008

Monday, March 23, 2009

Planning a Blog Book Tour

Our guest blogger today is Beth Groundwater, author of the 2007 Agatha-nominee for Best First Novel, A Basket Case. Beth is a refreshing voice, a person whose candor shows through in all she does.

I’m in the throes of planning my first blog book tour, and I thought I’d share the process with Inkspot readers for two reasons. First, if you’re a reader, I’ll show you how much effort authors expend putting on an interesting tour and encourage you to participate in your favorite authors’ tours by reading and commenting on their guest blog posts. Secondly, if you’re an author who is curious about blog book tours and considering your own, I hope to give you enough information to decide whether or not to do one and to get you started.

So what is a blog book tour? Instead of traveling hither and yon making personal appearances to promote a new book release, instead an author visits online web logs, or blogs, from the comfort of his or her personal computer at home and posts articles as a guest on those blogs. The Blog Book Tours website at http://blogbooktours.blogspot.com/ has an excellent article from mystery author Liz Zelvin about using cyberschmoozing to plan your tour. Also there is a February 22 post from me about using the Goodreads social networking site for book promotion. Lastly, a helpful guide on planning a blog book tour can be found at: http://quickest.blogbooktourguide.ever.com/.

On that same Blog Book Tours website is a link to join the yahoogroup called blogbooktours, a classroom-type email list hosted by Dani Greer. The class cycles every four months through the topics of setting up your own blog and/or website, being a good tour host, social networking, planning your own tour and more. It’s best to join the group 4-6 months before you need to conduct your own blog book tour. Active participation is a must, so plan on dedicating some time to the group to get the most out of the training.

What can I add to this wealth of information? My own personal experience. I started collecting a list of potential host blogs over a year before planning my own tour. I got this information by noting what blogs posted information about author visits in the mystery fan email and social network communities where I hung out. I also searched for blogs related to my winter sports setting in Breckenridge, Colorado, and to my sleuth’s occupation, gift basket designing. Broadening your search beyond book review, author interview, and book genre blogs is important to capture a wider reader base.

It’s important to be organized and keep a spreadsheet or table of tour dates, links to blog websites, point of contact information for hosts, topic of each visit, and due dates for articles, photos, interview answers or whatever will be posted on each blog. Also, plan far enough ahead so you have time to write your articles. I started requesting guest appearance dates in February so I could spend March and April writing my articles. Most blogs request articles between 500-1000 words, and I am writing sixteen articles and answering two sets of interview questions. I plan to spend the whole month of May promoting the tour and responding to comments.
Promoting the tour is crucial. There’s no reason to go through all the work of writing the articles if you aren’t going to tell people about them. Sure, your hosts will promote your visits, but you also need to list the tour dates on your own website and/or blog, create event notices and update your daily status on your social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, or Goodreads, and send notices to your email groups. And lastly, to keep things fun and interesting, run a contest to give away something to one or more of your tour participants, such as autographed copies of your books, as I’m doing.

Will my blog book tour result in increased sales for my new mystery release, To Hell in a Handbasket? I sure hope so! I don’t know exactly how I will measure the response, but if I can come up with any analysis or lessons learned, Joanna Campbell Slan and I have talked about having me return to her personal blog, http://joannaslan.blogspot.com/ , with a report in July or August. So, stay tuned!

To see the planned stops on my May blog book tour, go to: http://bethgroundwater.com/Book_Blog_Tour.html . Every comment made on every one of my posts to the blogs included on the tour and on my own blog during the month of May at http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/ will qualify as an entry in a contest to win autographed copies of both books in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket. Good luck and let’s have some fun!


Beth Groundwater’s first amateur sleuth novel, A Real Basket Case, was published in hardcover in March, 2007 and was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. The second in the gift basket designer mystery series, To Hell in a Handbasket, will be released in May, 2009. Beth lives in Colorado Springs and enjoys gardening, skiing and traveling with her family. Please visit her website at http://bethgroundwater.com/ and her blog at http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/ .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Inkspot News - March 20, 2009

G.M. Malliet will appear today on a panel at 2 p.m. at the Virginia Festival of the Book, discussing The Scenes of the Crimes. She will also participate in the Crime Waves luncheon at noon.

Joanna Campbell Slan will be teaching a class called "Getting Published" from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at Lewis and Clark Community College, Edwardsville, IL campus. For more information, call the office of Continuing Education at 618-468-2826.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Take Off All Your Clothes - Now Wait 3 Hours and Scream!

I’ve been hypnotized in the name of research and I'm here to tell you it was less threatening than my recent experience: Mystic Tanning.

Mind you, I haven’t been in a tanning salon since I was in high school and I only went then so I’d look good in my prom dress (it was pale pink and so was I). I remember lying in a coffin-like bed for 45 minutes as bulbs cooked my body. I remember being uncomfortable at first, then sweaty, then itchy, then finally falling into a doze.

Not this time.

My character wouldn’t have the 45 minutes to spare and she isn’t found of enclosed spaces, so I opted for the Mystic Tan experience. (Just pretend I’ve put a trademark sign next to every appearance of the words Mystic Tan please).

After asking my babysitter for advice (she’s an experienced tanning pro – always looks as though she just spent the weekend in the Bahamas), so told me I’d have to buy a package of 3 tans, I’d need goggles, and I should buy a tanning accelerator.

“Swim goggles?” I asked dumbly.

Armed with her tanning goggles I asked the young, tan, blond charging my Visa $65 how Mystic Tan worked. “It’s an invisible spray,” she informed me in a bubbly voice. “You just take all your clothes off, step into the booth, and close your eyes. Oh, and don’t breathe it in ‘cause it takes kind of gross.”


I was still recovering from that line while selecting an accelerator. Perhaps that’s why I absentmindedly picked the one called Bronze Goddess or something along those lines. Apparently, this is not a good choice for the Mystic Tan.

Inside the small room with hip-hop music piped in through the wall speakers, I disrobed and slathered myself with accelerator. I put on a hair cap and covered my hands and feet with this other stiff to prevent the skin from turning orange. (Ha!)

I stepped into the booth. A countdown started. I was cold. I felt exposed. I took a deep breath and got blasted by cold air. I was told to turn around. Now cold air was blasting my backside.

All done! I dried off, hurriedly dressed, and drove away.

Four hours later, I was the color of a tangerine. Actually, the bottom of my feet looked more like two orange Starburst candies.

Like I said, I picked the wrong accelerator, but it doesn’t matter, because as soon as my family stops calling my Clementine I’m going to trade in my last two Mystic Tan sessions for something else…maybe therapy!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Defending Clytemnestra

Recently, in a night class, I read the Orestia--three short plays by Aeschylus. Clytemnestra, in Greek legend and in the play Agamemnon, is depicted as a monstrous woman, a woman who would dare to plot the murder of her husband and then carry it out in bloody triumph, even as her husband returns, victorious, from The Trojan War. Therefore, Clytemnestra is painted as an aberration, an unnatural woman.

There’s more to the story, of course: Agamemnon killed his own daughter, sacrificed her to the gods so that his ships, which were stalled, would have fair winds to speed them to the Trojan War. This entire detail is given short shrift in the play; after all, this is ancient Greece, and women are second-class citizens. If a man has to kill a female for the sake of his own glory, then he will have to make that sacrifice.

Ironic, though, that Agamemnon is not depicted as a monster, but a hero, and his wife, who exacts premeditated and bloody revenge for the loss of her child, becomes the only “evil” character. Granted, murder is horrible. But isn’t the Trojan conflict full of murder—men savagely slaughtered on battlefields, ostensibly, in debate over the ownership of a beautiful woman? Still, there doesn’t seem to be much literary defense of Clytemnestra’s motives.

Sure, I don’t suppose I would murder my husband if he killed my child, but then again, who knows? Grief itself is monstrous, and can twist a person in different ways. Certainly I did not see in Clytemnestra the horrifying creature that the men in my class did. In general, the women looked at her and saw someone consumed by loss.

It’s not fair, I suppose, to impose a modern sensibility on an ancient story. Clytemnestra is meant to be seen as a monster, and so I am supposed to look for the things that make her horrifying. I find that I just can’t do it, though, especially when I read The Odyssey, and even in Hades Agamemnon, that great egotist, can’t get over what his wife has done to him, and rails about it to every shade who floats his way, and to Odysseus, the visiting human.

What I am looking for is an Agamemnon who seeks out the dead Iphigenia, his murdered daughter, to ask for her forgiveness. That doesn’t happen, of course, nor does Clytemnestra find solace in anyone’s understanding of her deed. Her son condemns her and kills her himself to avenge his father’s death. That son, Orestes, never mentions his dead sister.

Since history will not condemn Agamemnon, I will not condemn Clytemnestra.

Image: Clytemnestra After the Murder (John Collier, 1850-1939)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gettin' Irish!

From Tom Schreck, author of On the Ropes, TKO and Out Cold, all Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

This week's Fight Club Donnybrook starter....

Irish light heavy Billy Conn had Joe Louis beat through 13 rounds. It would've been the biggest upset ever.

Then Conn got cocky and tried to knock the Brown Bomber out. Louis hit Conn and that was that.

After the fight the reporters asked Conn why he changed strategy and tried to take out the much bigger Louis. He said:

"What's the point of being Irish if you can't be stupid."

He meant being Irish means going with your emotions, throwing logic away and doing what your heart commands. In a fight it can be suicide but I'm guessing that same heart (and stupidity) probably served Conn well other times.

So fight club, when do you get Irish? When do you lead with the heart? And do you wish you didn't? Does it serve you in combat(physical or emotional)? or do the Joe Louises of the world drop you when you were way ahead on points?

Would you change it if you could?

Touch gloves and come out at the bell...

Monday, March 16, 2009


My wife and I have four children, and we sent out birth announcements for each one after they entered the world. But we did not send out pregnancy announcements before the blessed event. It seemed like bad luck – tempting the Evil Eye.

The analogy between the world of children and of books is pretty close. There’s the labor, the waiting, the flurry of activity with the birth, but when it comes to announcements it fails. So I am ready to announce that Midnight Ink is publishing my new book, Smasher. Its due date is October 9, 2009. Kaynahora. Spit. Spit. Spit.

It’s been exciting to hear the enthusiasm for the pending arrival from Bill Krause, publisher of MI, Steven Pomije, the PR manager, Courtney Kish, my PR rep, and Connie Hill, my editor-to-be.

Now comes the planning. I don’t have to paint the nursery walls pink, but I will have to give my website a new coat. And then there are visits to plan so friends and relatives can inspect the newcomer (e.g., at bookstores and conferences). I’ll keep you in the loop.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Apparently, I'm Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader

by Felicia Donovan

I recently had dinner with a good friend when we got on the subject of trivial knowledge. I immediately admitted that this was not one of my strong suits.

"But you would know the basics like state capitals, wouldn't you?" she asked.

"Sure, something like that I'd probably know."

"So you would know the capital of, say, Pennsylvania, right?"

"Oh," I boasted, "everyone knows that. I've even been to Philly once. It's a lovely city."

"It's not Philadelphia."

I scratched my head. "Are you sure?"

"Trust me, it's not."

This conversation really got me thinking. Admittedly, I'm no brainiac, but I happened to have done pretty well throughout public school and college. Somehow along the way, the plethora of facts drilled into us seems to have slipped from my brain. Here's my theory as to why this has happened...

1) Bearing children. For every child you've born, take 4 years of school away. Think I don't know trivia? Well, here's a known fact - as the placenta descends, brain cells attach themselves and out they go. They continue to seep throughout diaper changes, worries about where the kids are, how many tattoos they'll come home with, who they'll come home with and what kind of humans they'll grow up to be. This is not recoverable. That's eight years of my schooling gone. Poof! If you have step children, take a fraction of the time you've known them and deduct school years accordingly.

2) Mortgage payments. If you are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the like, you can retain all the brain cells you want because you don't have to worry about the daily minutiae of life such as how to pay the mortgage payment. You don't stop in the middle of the day to say, did I pay the mortgage payment, how will I pay the next mortgage payment or how come I pay the mortgage payment on time and don't get any stimulus relief? For every moment you've worried, fretted or thought about your mortgage and/or rent payment, deduct a day of school. That's another year at least for me, probably two. Could be more...

3) Juggling multiple jobs. Since many writers also have "day" jobs, our brains cannot be expected to operate at full capacity for the 16 hours of wake time. I consider parenting to be a primary job, so it's okay to "double dip" by deducting yet another year for every job you hold including being a parent.

4) Not consuming alcoholic beverages. I remember years ago some fool came out with a study that said drinking alcoholic beverages causes brain damage. I can prove otherwise. When people gather and drink, they talk. When people talk, there is a tremendous amount of brain activity as the words are processed. Fact. Granted, this is solely one's choice and the lest I offend anyone who chooses not to drink, it's okay. But if you hoist a glass on occasion with friends, credit yourself a few extra days.

By my equation, that's 10 years, at least, of my own public education having slipped through the cracks (it would have been eleven but I've credited myself for knocking back a few with with friends throughout the years). I won't deduct my college years because I paid for them and it's too painful to think it was all for naught. That would mean I might just be smarter than a 2nd grader, but I can't remember what year they taught the state capitals, so even that's up in the air.

As for the capital of Pennsylvania, go look it up yourself. Maybe you'll learn something!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Women's Mystery History

Cricket McRae

March is Women's History Month. I'm more than usually aware of this because I'm part of a Sisters in Crime panel discussion of same at the Briargate Library in Colorado Springs, CO this afternoon. And because it's a Sisters in Crime panel, and at a library, naturally we'll be talking about mysteries.

I thought I knew a fair amount about female mystery writers, but I discovered something new -- to me, at least.

Most of us know about Edgar Allan Poe and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Charles Dickens was arguably influencial to the genre, using many elements of mystery in Bleak House, and he wrote The Mystery of Edwin Drood, though he died before it was finished. Wilkie Collins contributed The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

All well and good, but what about the chicks? Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers are British grand dames of the mystery genre, both considered cozy writers of the Golden Age of mysteries in the 1920s and '30s. Others include Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Our shelves were well populated with their books when I was growing up.

But: before them came Anna Katherine Green. In 1878 she published
The Leavenworth Case -- in America, no less -- in which she introduced Detective Ebenezer Gryce, a New York City police officer. Her father was a criminal lawyer. In fact, a few people have speculated that he inspired her first book and may have even written it.

Now come one. She was a bestselling author and went on to publish 40 or so books. Inspiration I'll buy, but I doubt Daddy had much to do with the writing.

Sounds like quite the up-and-coming feminist, doesn't she? Not so much. Anna was a proper Victorian woman, touting high moral standards and critical of both the feminist movement and women's suffrage. She was married to an actor turned furniture designer and had a daughter and two sons. Yet her writing enabled her to contribute regularly to the family finances until her death in 1935.

And The Leavenworth Case was required reading at Yale Law School.

Wow. That's incredibly cool.

That was in 1878. Now, in 2009, it turns out we still have a need for the Sisters in Crime organization to work on the behalf of women mystery writers. To check and see that we receive as much attention in the media as male authors, as much recognition for our work, and are reviewed on an equal basis.

Wow. That's incredibly uncool.

I mean, it's been 131 years, folks. Sure, there's been a lot of progress. Yes indeedy -- a ton of it, and I am grateful for every smidgeon. But still: 131 years later. I'm just sayin'.

If you're interested in more information about Anna, there's a lot to be had and most if it's fascinating. For a start there's a great article in
Mystery Scene Magazine entitled The Mother of American Mystery, by Michael Mallory which has information about her and her books.

Viva la femme!


Our own Tim Maleeny has just garnered the Lefty Award at Left Coast Crime for his Greasing the Pinata. Bravo!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Slumdog lesson

Spoiler Alert. If you haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire, this post might give some things away. I'll try not to, but just been warned.

I've just seen Slumdog Millionaire. It's good. It's hard to watch. And it reminded me that that in order to have a truly happy ending, one that satisfies and fits the characters, those characters must go to hell and back.

We're nice people. We try to protect the ones we love from harm. Particularly as women, we seemed to be hard wired to make sure everyone is comfortable, fed and watered, with their emotional needs met. And that includes our fictional people. It's hard to put your favorite characters in peril, over and over again. But that is the only thing that will make your book worthy of being printed.

It's not that your protagonist has to have a gun to her head every other page, but the stakes must be high, must be real and must be out of reach. Your character must come this close, only to have her dreams snatched away. Again and again. She must betray and be betrayed, hurt and be hurt, lie and be lied to. It’s watching characters get out of the messes that make fiction interesting.

There were times during Slumdog that I had to put my sweater over my head until the worst on screen was over. Jamal Malik wasn’t so lucky. He had to lose everything in order to get the one thing he wanted. And the audience wanted him to succeed. If we hadn't seen Jamal swim in a cesspool to get to his hero or come this close to being blinded, we wouldn't have cared so much about him.

What trials and tribulations do you put your characters through?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Those Who Can Teach

By Deborah Sharp

I still remember the little-girl crush I had on my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Rowland. She was tall (who isn't to a 7-year-old?) Her slender hands were graceful. And she smelled like gardenias.

One of those annoying teacher's pets in school, I always sat right in front, shushed the other kids, and hung on every word. Even beyond second grade, I loved school. I worshipped my teachers.

All of which made my one-and-only experience in front of a classroom all the more traumatic. In another life, I was a Ph.D. candidate in psychology. I was perfectly happy as a research assistant, until some genius decided I should have some teaching experience, too. Picture this:

Psych 101. A giant auditorium. Rowdy college freshman on game day. At the University of Georgia, a party school where football is EVERYTHING. And me, mousy-voiced and serious, trying to explain Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.

I begged to go back to research. Even cleaning the lab rats' cages was better than trying to teach those football-and-hormone-crazed freshmen. Georgia's team mascot is a bulldog. And believe me, you never forget the sound of an entire auditorium barking.

So here's my problem. I've been asked to teach a session on mystery-writing at the Coral Springs Festival of the Arts. Put aside for a moment the fact that my first mystery hasn't even been out six months. I feel like a fraud, even though my next two Mama books are written and awaiting release. I know teaching is a part of this whole writer's gig, based on how many author friends do panels, seminars, and critiques.

I'm just not sure I'm teacher material. Any tips from the more experienced? Do you lecture or do more interactive, writing exercises? Use notes or speak off the top of your head? Care to share your own top tip for writing mysteries?

Even though the sound of barking haunts my dreams, I think I'll manage. I found some Jungle Gardenia perfume on the Internet. Plus, nobody in south Florida follows Georgia football.

I just hope there are no Florida fans in the class. I couldn't bear to hear a Gator Growl.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Inkspot News - March 7, 2009

Joanna Campbell Slan posted her article "Travels with Joe" about watching Joe (JA) Konrath do stock signings on her personal blog. Go to http://tiny.cc/FrF9P

G.M. Malliet will be appearing on three panels at Left Coast Crime at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Hotel, The Big Island, Hawaii:
--Sunday at 4 pm - Hawaii 5-0 Award finalists (best police procedural)
--Monday at 8 am - Meet the Debutante Authors and Fans of Honor/Continental Breakfast
--Monday at 9 am - Debut Authors Panel I
--Tuesday at 10:15 am - Don't Kill the Cat. Really?

Make a right at Hawaii to find Deborah Sharp , who will be on the program with well-known suspense author Martha Powers on March 14 at the Book and Author Brunch, held by the Ft. Lauderdale Branch of the American Association of University Women. The annual AAUW event begins at 10 am, at the Marriott Fort Lauderdale North.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Are You a Journey or a Destination Person? by Jess Lourey

New-age, find-your-chakra, smell-a-rose philosophy would have us valuing the journey over the destination. If you sense some reluctance there, it's because I'm an impatient person. I'imagem always in a hurry to get somewhere, and when I finally arrive, I scurry off to somewhere else. I WANT to enjoy the journey, but unless I'm on a road trip or reading a book, I'm a seeker by nature, looking forward instead of around.

This is particularly apparent in my writing career. I would rather have a book done and off to my publisher than be writing one. I figured all writers were that way, until I interviewed Janet Evanovich, who told me she enjoys the journey way more than the destination.

Shit. Turns out I'm the weirdo.

Until I started writing Blue Moon. I've had the idea for image this novel in my head for years, but I had no avenue for redemption for the main character, and so no skeleton around which to build the story. Last month, though, her redemption came to me, and the story has literally been writing itself ever since then.

The novel is Minnesota magical realism and is inspired by the strong women in my life and the fascinating research imageof Dr. Bryan Sykes, who compellingly argues in The Seven Daughters of Eve that mitochondrial DNA proves that all human ancestry can be traced back to seven women. We're all related, and there's magic in those genes.

Viva la journey!

And so, do you prefer the journey, or the destination?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How did you start?

Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I'm in the company of authors--that I am an author. Me.

All my life, I've dreamed of "being an author." I grew up talking about writing, loving books. That picture is my mom with her nonfiction book, The Giant Hobby Handbook, published the year before I was born.
Over the years, I've read every book on the subject of writing, subscribed to "Writer's Digest", talked about it, and wrote bits and pieces of stories and oddball poems that I kept in my sock drawer.

As far back as I can remember, I scoured the mystery shelves at my library for the gold sticker that provided this intriguing information: "Agatha Award Nominee."

And now, I call Agatha Nominees like Joanna Campbell Slan and G.M. Malliet my colleagues--my friends. Congratulations to you both.

It's pretty wonderful to hang out here. To be a writer--an author.

Here's how it happened for me:

After all those bits and pieces of writing, I finally started writing every day. I took an inciting incident and a rough mental outline for a mystery and wrote a few chapters, very rough. I'd just turned forty. I guess it was my own weird form of biological clock, but it was that now or never feeling that finally got me moving.

It took a few months after that, maybe a year, but I finally screwed up my courage and joined a local writers' critique group. I pretty much had to. The universe sent me messages until I did. (I stumbled across the same flyer for the same group no less than five times on bulletin boards up to thirty miles apart, then it turned out the group leader was a friend of a friend.)

The workshop gave me a little more nerve, and I moved on to another, more serious, group.

Six months or so later, I took a deep breath and signed up for a ten day intensive novel writers' retreat. I was terrified. I felt like an impostor, but I went. My first trip to that retreat changed my life. I "became" a writer. A year later, on my second trip to the same retreat, I met my agent and signed with her. By now, I had most of my first book written.
My third trip, my first book was completed, and I began work on the sequel while my agent shopped my first book in New York. After a few rejections and a serious rewrite, we sold both books to Midnight Ink.
I've been at it ever since.
The point is this: I was terrified and I felt like a fraud and an impostor, but I went to my first workshop anyway. It was quite literally, the best thing I have ever done for myself. If I hadn't gotten an agent or sold my books, getting serious about writing and getting involved in the writing community would still be the best thing I'd ever done for myself. I have made lifelong friends and begun the career path I never dreamed possible.
How did it happen for you? Or will you make it happen for you?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Agatha's Greatest Mystery Happened Here

Last week was an exciting one for those who love the “traditional” mystery. First of all, it was announced that Dame Agatha Christie’s English holiday home, Greenway, is now open to the public. Secondly, nominations were announced for the “Agatha” awards, which are given to best traditional mysteries. G.M. Malliet’s Death of a Cozy Writer and my Paper, Scissors, Death are both up for Best First Novel.
Dame Agatha Christie is universally recognized as the Queen of the Mystery, and the foremost writer of “traditional” mysteries, sometimes called “cozies.” (Although some take umbrage at that moniker.) The “traditional” mystery adheres to these criteria:

* It shuns gratuitous violence and sex.
* The protagonist is an amateur sleuth.
* The setting is a village or a tightly knit community.
* The story should be “fair play,” which means readers have a fighting chance of figuring out “whodunit.”

This last point seems rather odd when you consider that in real life the greatest mystery of Dame Agatha’s life was never solved, and obviously did NOT adhere to standards of fair play.
On December 3, 1926, Archie Christie quarreled with his wife Agatha in their home Scotswood, on Devenish Avenue in Sunningdale, Berkshire. He announced to her that he wanted a divorce and that he planned to spend the weekend with his lover. That same evening Agatha herself mysteriously disappeared for eleven days. She left behind a note that said she planned to go to Yorkshire BUT her fur coat and driving license were found by a “gypsy boy” at the edge of a quarry. The local police were convinced the great writer had been murdered. A public manhunt ensued. Ponds were dragged and the countryside was scoured. The press was flooded with “sightings” of the great author.

Eventually, Dame Agatha was discovered to have checked into The Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, under the name of Archie’s mistress, Mrs. Teresa Neele. There she had spent the past twelve days taking tea and getting beauty treatments. (And apparently purposefully or at least willfully avoiding reading the papers!)
Various stories have been suggested as explanations for the grand lady’s odd behavior. None are satisfactory. But anyone whose husband announces he has a mistress, he wants a divorce and he's off to spend the weekend with his doxie should probably be cut the proverbial slack, don’t you think?
So now, Greenway—the place where Dame Agatha spent many happy days--is open to the public. But Scotswood—the place where Dame Agatha acted out her own mystery-- is for sale. It has been turned into an apartment building. Scotswood is located about a block or so from Sainsbury. That’s the store I visited twice weekly to buy groceries during the year I lived in Sunningdale.
Yes, Dame Agatha (or her ghost) was my neighbor.

Yes, it's time for blatant self-promotion. I am over a recent and very nasty case of strep throat and would love to be chained to the computer once again, but I have no power (due to Sunday's storm) and am borrowing a friend's laptop to post this. I've never had to write a 5-second blog post before, but that's all the time I've got. 

All I can really think about this week is my new book - how fun the cover is, what more I need to do to promote it, and whether I'll ever stop obsessing over Amazon sales rank numbers (probably not). So I apologize for using this space for what is basically annoucement material, but I'm also going to post some great, high-calorie recipes from The Battered Body in case you're snowbound and have a working oven. 

Good luck to all those without power too!

Finally, I want to thank everyone for following The Flab Five. Without your support, there wouldn't have been a contract for Book 6. Thanks all!

And now, The Battered Body:

There's trouble on the rise when the "Diva of Dough" arrives in Quincy's Gap to make the wedding cake for Milla and Jackson's Christmas Eve nuptials. The famous chef and television personality is Milla's sister, but while her confections are sweet and beautiful, the Diva herself makes enemies faster than you can say "praline pecan bundt cake." When the Diva is done in, her body found covered in cake batter, James and the other supper club members find themselves up to their elbows in suspects.

A cozy "village" mystery, The Battered Body is the fifth book in the warm and wonderful Supper Club Mystery series.

This high-calorie caper includes delicious recipes and here are two of them:

Lucy’s Hot Buttered Rum
1 pound butter
1 pound brown sugar
1 pound powdered sugar
1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 bottle dark rum
Boiling water

To prepare batter: Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugars. Remove from heat and blend in ice cream, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour mixture into container and freeze.
To Serve: Remove batter from freezer. Allow to soften. Place 2 rounded tablespoons of batter in a coffee mug. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum. Add approx. 6 ounces of boiling water (more or less depending on size of mug) and stir until batter is melted. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, or both. Prepare to feel warm and fuzzy all over.

The Diva’s Eggnog Cake
2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs plus enough whole milk to make 3/4 cup
2/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift the cake flour into a large bowl. Add baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Crack eggs directly into a measuring cup and then add enough milk to total 3/4 cup of liquid. Beat egg/milk mixture into dry ingredients. Blend in shortening until mixture is smooth. Beat in remaining 2/3 cup milk and vanilla. Pour batter into three greased and floured 8-inch baking pans (or use cooking spray with flour, such as PAM baking spray). Bake in preheated 350° oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes and then remove from pan to cool completely. Frost with the Diva’s butter rum frosting and garnish with a light sprinkle of nutmeg if desired.

The Diva’s Butter Rum Frosting
3/4 cup butter, melted
3 ½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ - 2 tablespoons dark rum (dependant on taste) or 2 ½ teaspoons rum extract
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Cream butter in a large bowl. Gradually add 1 cup of the sifted confectioners' sugar, beating well. Slowly beat in salt and cream. Beat in the remaining 2 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar ½ cup at a time. Continue to beat until the frosting begins to thicken; whisk in the vanilla and rum extracts, and pumpkin pie spice. Allow to sit for a few minutes before applying to cake.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Daily Mysteries

By Julia Buckley
I’ve been reading lots of mysteries lately and admiring their complex plots. I was thinking today, though, that there are all sorts of little unsolved mysteries in everyday life. I tried to compile some of them here, but I was confronted by another unsolvable puzzle: why can’t we think of any examples when someone asks us to prove our point? :)

Still, I came up with a few:

1. Who are people talking to on their cell phones at 6:30 in the morning? God knows I wouldn’t want someone to call me at that hour.

2. Why do women open their mouths when they put on mascara?

3. Why do portrait photographers make you put your head at an odd angle, as though your neck is broken? Is this just for their personal amusement?

4. Why do birds stop singing when we walk by? Is it because they were talking about us?

5. Why does it take all day to clean a room, but only a few minutes to destroy it?

6. Why do the drivers whose vehicles are burning oil always choose to pull right in front of my car?

7. Why can’t pale people get suntans? (As a pale friend put it, “I have two stages: lobster red and deathly white.”)

8. What do nuns wear under their habits? And do they have hair under their veils? (These were the biggest mysteries of my Catholic-school childhood).

9. Why do kids instinctively open the side of the milk carton that DOESN’T say “Open here?”

10. Why does it only rain when I fail to bring the umbrella?

What are the troublesome mysteries in your daily life?