Monday, August 31, 2009

Title 5

Cricket McRae

Lye in Wait
Heaven Preserve Us
Spin a Wicked Web
Something Borrowed, Something Bleu

Okay, so the titles of my Home Crafting Mysteries are admittedly punny, maybe even a little corny. Hopefully memorable, as well. Each one does manage to touch on the home craft which serves as a backdrop for that particular story of murder and mayhem. I've never had any trouble coming up with titles. Easy peasy.

So it was with a certain amount of dismay that I realized I didn't know what to call the fifth in the series. All the other books were a title in my head first, and much of the story fell out of those few words. They had power. They were the hook on which I hung my tale when I left for the night.

Now I'm working on a another mystery, and it doesn't have a name. Oh sure, there's a working title. I don't hate it, but it doesn't resonate. It also doesn't reveal enough about the home craft behind the mystery. It's ... well, it's pretty bland.

I've thought about having a contest, but hesitate. What if I don't like any of the entries enough to choose one? Is that merely negative thinking? Why is this so important to me? Am I just being a control freak? Because, believe me, that's certainly possible. Oh, yes.

The longer I go without THE TITLE, the better I want it to be. This one needs to be clever, memorable. Punny, but in a good way. (Is there a good way?) If it's going to be this tough to come up with, it should be downright awesome.

Please understand: I'm not under the the illusion that my existing titles are genius. That's not the point. The point is the role they played in my head while I was writing. This one is different. I don't know -- maybe that's a good thing. Maybe I won't find the right title until the book is done. That's what a lot of (most) writers do, isn't it?

How important are titles to you? Do you have one when you start a piece, or does the title come out of the story after you've written it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dishing Out a Little Tough Love

One of the things I love best is helping new and aspiring authors. After all, many published authors gave me helpful advice when I was starting out. But today I’m enforcing tough love.

Recently, someone asked me about promoting and marketing her book. From our conversation, I assumed that her book was done and she was at least in the searching for an agent/publisher phase. Not so. When asked about the book’s status, she told me that she was in the final edits, which she estimated would take her another couple of years.

A couple of years?!!!!! To edit genre fiction? Boggles the mind.

More and more I’m being asked for advice about marketing from folks who have never finished a manuscript. They are putting the cart before the horse. They are getting geared up to play author without first doing the work that makes one an author. And the brutal truth of it is, unless these folks change their ways, they may never be published. Or if they are, will find it difficult, if not downright impossible, to handle the demands of a writing career.

While publishing seems to move at a snail’s pace, in reality it is a face-paced business – for the author. If you write a series, your publisher will expect a complete book a year, or at the very least one every eighteen months. Putter in your kitchen. Putter in your garden. There is no puttering in the business of professional writing.

Tips for puttering writers who are serious about becoming professional novelists:

1) You’ve heard it before, but I’m saying it again - decide on a writing schedule and stick with it. If you are serious about becoming a published author, you will make the time. If you don’t, you need to rethink your commitment to writing. It’s really that simple.

2) Pick up your writing pace. Which is not the same as slapping a book together. Learn to focus your writing so that it is more efficient when it hits the page. Editing is an important part of writing, but you can keep massive edits to a minimum if you organize your plot points and character development better. Use index cards, Post-Its, a white board, computer notes – whatever it takes to keep your manuscript on track. Learn to do this now, not when you’re staring down the double-barrel of a deadline.

3) Make steady progress by setting daily, weekly and/or monthly goals. Tell yourself that you MUST complete so many words or pages in a set amount of time. And hold yourself to those goals. Learn to sacrifice to meet these goals.

4) Put marketing and promotion on the back burner. Don’t waste valuable writing time worried about something you don’t need yet. About the time you start looking for an agent (when your manuscript is done), put together a marketing outline for your book. Your agent may want to use this when approaching publishers.

5) Do not start promoting your book until you have a publisher and a release date. Otherwise you may lose the element of excitement when the book is finally released.

Now go forth and write … and don’t forget to have fun doing it!

Ghost a la Mode, the first Ghost of Granny Apples mystery, is out NOW!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (And Does It Matter?)

"Where do you get your ideas?"

I mean, really, is there any other question so ubiquitous in the life of an author?

That said, it’s also a GREAT question because I know as a reader I often find myself looking up from the page and thinking, “I wonder how the author came up with this?”

After all, since the birth of the Internet we all have access to scads and scads of information. So how can it be that two people might look at the same occurrence or the same news article or the same commentary and then disappear into their offices to write two entirely different books? How can it be that Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse (once called her “Southern Vampire” series) be incredibly different from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight? Which is different from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat? Which is different from Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Which is different from Rosemary Laurey’s Kiss Me Deadly?

Truth to tell, there’s nothing new under the sun. Or, ahem, under the full moon either.

Today I found an old handout from Lou Heckler, one of my favorite speakers. Check him out at It would be difficult to find a more thoughtful, entertaining and erudite platform professional. If you ever get the chance to see him, by all means do. (While you listen, pay careful attention to the structure of his talk. He’s very canny about the order he uses to present and emphasize information. Really, each time he speaks, it’s a master class in the art of giving an effective presentation.) In this particular handout, Lou discussed how “theme” is not the same as “slant.” You see, all those books I mentioned above have vampires as their theme. Each book, however, has a different slant.

Charlaine Harris’s work raises questions about xenophobia, what it means to be human, and whether our prejudices might stem, in part, from our religious beliefs.

Stephenie Meyer’s work takes the form of a romance novel with its extended riff on unfulfilled sexual promise, but she is writing about the trauma of being an awkward teenager.

Anne Rice’s work had a decidedly gothic theme and a religious viewpoint. Their setting—New Orleans—was as vibrant as any character.

Bram Stoker’s work wasn’t the first mention of vampires in literature, but it was probably the great granddaddy of most of what we think about the undead, blood-suckers. Written in epistolary form (diary and newspaper articles provide much of the information), it sprang from the legend of “Vlad the Impaler.” The novel is supposedly a riff on the clash between the new world and the old.

Rosemary Laurey’s work is incredibly romantic and yet very modern. It follows many of the ideals of popular romance novels, but adds in the sort of questions that are part of our zeitgeist.
As I write this, I think of the classes I’ve taught about getting published. Many times students will tell me they fear having their ideas stolen. That’s reasonable. That can happen. But most ideas for books are fungible. It’s the slant, the plotting, and the author’s voice, that make a book unique—and therefore, salable.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tooting Our Own Horn

St. Edward's Crown My daughter is a master of promotion.  She turned eight on Saturday and everyone in the county knew about it. 

For one thing, she wore a glitzy tiara (is there any other kind of tiara, actually?) that was fringed with pink faux fur.  She wore this crown in public during our many shopping expeditions and for at least a week before her birthday. (I figured…well, why not?  I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff.)

Why did she wear it?  So kind ladies and gentlemen would sweetly inquire why she had such a lovely tiara on.  And she would have to explain about her imminent would be rude, after all, not to respond to a grown up.

Not only that, but she had a sign outside her bedroom door that said “Birthday Princess” on it.  The tiara rested on the balcony railing right outside her  door when it wasn’t on her head.  You could see it from the front door downstairs.

In late May she started counting down the days until her birthday.

She’d told so many people about her birthday that she sent out invitations to her party over a month in advance (and didn’t even say who the invite was from…after all, it had been well publicized.)

She’s a natural promoter.

I also think she may  prove to be a foundling.

Promoting is hard for me.  I personally know a writer who had a clever shirt made up after the movie The Sixth Sense came out.  The shirt read: “I Write Dead People.”  I thought it was wonderful, but I’d never be able to get away with it, myself. 

What’s been my salvation?  The internet.  I had an August release only a few weeks before my daughter’s highly publicized birthday.  I did a countdown of sorts online--I’d mention the day of the release and what I was doing to prepare for it.

I’ve connected with readers, writers, and reviewers via Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and my website.  My efforts seem to be going well---folks are reading my book.  I’m getting emails from readers saying they enjoyed the mystery and asking when the next one is coming out.

The face-to-face promoting that my daughter is so awesome at?   I’ll have to work on that one.   

Friday, August 21, 2009


You can tell when people have passion. The glint in their eyes, the bubbling enthusiasm in their voices, the frantic energy in their hand movements when they talk about what excites them. It's the fire inside that drives people toward a goal, often against long odds.

Passion and creativity seem to feed off each other. Go to any art, craft, or hobby show, and you'll see "creators" of all stripes, using a variety of media to produce works that are elegant or complex or just plain awesome.

Almost without exception, they're passionate about what they're doing, about what they've created with their minds and hands and hearts. They have to be, to endure uncomfortable metal folding chairs for hours, often getting weird looks and weirder comments about their objets d'art. And the pay? For most, I'd wager the money they receive doesn't begin to cover the costs of the materials, let alone compensate them for the hours and hours spent on their craft and the basement full of "not-quite-perfects."

Writers are a passionate bunch, too. Passion wordle

I can tell passionate authors from the first page, through their voice. Their passion is what gives the story that extra oomph, that unique sparkle. I know if authors have passion, I'm going to get a good story.

These days, writers also need passion to get their book into the hands of readers. I don't see how writers could spend months--or years--working on a single project, without any assurances that it will get published and read, unless something spurred them on.

This passion was on display at the Virginia Festival of the Book I attended back in March. Held in Charlottesville, the Festival is a great event, bringing scores of authors together with their readers to talk books. There are panels, lectures, how-to sessions, displays, and, of course, book signings.

After lunch, the keynote speaker, Brad Meltzer, set up shop in the lobby to sign books. The line snaked all the way through the lobby and down an adjacent hallway. Close to a hundred eager fans waited patiently for a chance to get their book signed by a famous author.

But it was the action in the back of the lobby that grabbed my attention. This area was reserved for authors to market their own books. I'd wager that no one--outside of a small circle of friends and family--had ever heard of these authors. Many were self-published, some were with small presses, some were with microscopic presses. Their genres ranged from local history to memoir to military strategy to "making better times happen" through chrono-cognitive therapies (technically, probably not a "genre").

There were no lines stretching out the door for these folks.

Instead, these passionate authors-turned-salespeople hustled. They had a product to sell--one they fervently believed in--and they stood beside their little tables, doing whatever they could to attract the browsers. Some shook hands of everyone who passed, some resorted to calling out like carnival barkers, others gave away candy or bookmarks or postcards or Xeroxed pamphlets containing excerpts. All sported broad smiles.

It wouldn't surprise me if Brad Meltzer sold more books during his single signing than any of the other self-pubbed authors sold throughout their book's lifetime.

But I do know this--they share one thing.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great Women and Firsts

by Julia Buckley
Have you ever heard of Emma Jentzer? Me, neither. But I recently found out that Emma was the first woman special agent of the Bureau of Investigation (predecessor to the FBI). The Bureau, formed in 1908, accepted Emma as an agent in 1911 after her husband, the first agent, died. At the time, Emma was a translator at Ellis Island. All in all, a highly accomplished woman!

I learned about Emma in THE BOOK OF WOMEN'S FIRSTS (Read and Witlieb, Random House, 1992), a book filled with accomplishments by women many of us have never heard of, but really should know. Here are some examples:

RUTH CLEVELAND was the first and only president's daughter to have a candy bar named after her (1921). The candy company which made Kandy Kakes decided to change their candy bar's name to Baby Ruth after the daughter of Grover Cleveland and Frances Cleveland. Ruth was born between Cleveland's two terms of office and became a national sensation.

Sadly, Ruth was a sickly child, and died from diptheria at age 12.

was the first woman to reach the rank of Major General in the U.S. Army (1978). That same year she received a doctorate in military science from Norwich University. Clark retired after 36 years in the Army, "the longest army career of any woman."

was "the first premature infant to be placed in an incubator" (1888). McLean weighed only two pounds when she was born in New York City.

was the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (1923). Millay is one of the more famous women in this book, and her collected works contain some of my personal favorites.

(and not Amelia Earhart) was the first woman to fly solo around the world (1964). She retired in 1969 after setting 21 records in aviation.

MARY ANN PATTION was the first woman to navigate a clipper ship (1856). She learned the skills from her husband, a clipper ship captain, who fell into a tuberculosis-related coma on a long journey; Mary Ann, pregnant with their first child, took over and plotted the four-month course home. Her husband never emerged from his coma and did not see the birth of their child. The insurers of the ship gave Mary 1000 dollars for her feat, which was considered cheap of them.

Four years later Mary, too, died of tuberculosis.

DOREEN WILBER was the first woman to win the Olympic Individual Archery Championship (1972).

ESTER VAN DEMAN was the first Roman field archeologist (1901). Deman spent thirty years in Rome and became an "authority on ancient Roman building construction."

MRS. RALPH HENRY VAN DEMAN was the first woman to be an airplane passenger in the United States. Why? Because she walked up to the plane in which Wilbur Wright sat (he was instructing Signal Corps officers) and got in beside him before a test flight. Wright allowed her to stay, and after her four-minute flight, she said, "Now I know why birds sing. It was wonderful. There is no earthly sensation I can compare with it."

Who are the women you admire for being the "First?" Are they historical, or are they members of your friends and family?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Allah King's Statement on Michael Vick

Allah King, famed militant basset hound and companion of human, Duffy Dombrowski, has issued the following statement:

"It's okay with me if Michael Vick plays football. He was charged with a crime and fulfilled his legal requirements.

I, however, do not anticipate ever cheering for the Philadelphia Eagles until the time the NFL offers franchises to the cities of Kabul or Baghdad.

In the meantime it would be okay with me if I never heard about Mr. Vick again.

By why of postscript, Mr. Vick should be grateful that he didn't harm a basset hound. The hound rescue people I know are nuts and playing football would be the least of Michael Vick's worries."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Of Yard Sales & Crazy Tales

by Felicia Donovan


Friends of mine and I decided to clear out our respective "treasures" this past weekend. You know the stuff - eight-track tapes, vinyl albums (which, apparently, are quite vogue these days) and the assorted collection of clutter that ends up in the back of your closet until you decide to move and realize that you a) either bought it again when you couldn't find it or b) could have used it a year ago but it's of no use now.

Our adventures began with the "Early Birds" who somehow missed the signs and ads indicating an 8AM start. At 7:30, they began to show up.

"We haven't even taken off the tarps," I lamented as they strolled up the long driveway.

"We'll help you," they all offered.

"Damn right," I thought to myself. "If you're showing up this early, you'd better have stopped for coffee, too."  I promptly put them to work clearing and helping me setup. That'll teach 'em.

But the most interesting point of the day, by far, was the elderly woman who pulled up my friend's long, curvy driveway lined with other cars along the edge, in her Lincoln Continental. Pulling in - not a problem. Backing out - well, let's just say that's where all the fun began. First of all, when a Lincoln backs up into a Nissan, guess who wins? Fortunately, the Nissan was just pushed a little and no apparent damage was caused. One friend repeatedly banged on the Lincoln's window to alert the driver that she was hitting the Nissan.  At the same time, a couple, who had just arrived for bargains, came charging up the driveway when they saw the Lincoln repeatedly push the Nissan.

"Ma'am!" everyone yelled. "You're hitting that car!"

"I am not!" the driver insisted.

"Three witnesses saw you."

This prompted the driver to finally emerge. She looked around at the small crowd and threw her arms up in the air.

"Well," she said gruffly, "Do they have a problem?"

Undaunted, she proceeded to get back into the driver's seat. One gentleman stepped forward and made a firm offer to back the Lincoln out on her behalf. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The elderly driver finally relented and we watched as the gentleman deftly back the Lincoln out of the long, curvy driveway. The owner jammed her hands onto her waist and in a loud voice said with much indignation, "Well! He could have at least offered to give me a ride!"

With shaking heads, we all watched her walk down the driveway and take control of her car again.

Yard sales. Used comforters, $5. The Monkees on vinyl, $1. Plots for future stories - Priceless.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Keith here.

The pub date for Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller is October 1.

(I learned today that the publisher is going to change the subtitle of my first book, Dot Dead, from “A Silicon Valley Mystery” to “A Silicon Valley Thriller” at its next printing. I guess I really am a thriller writer after all.)

Thank you to the readers of this blog who helped me pick out the author photo for Smasher. (Click here.)

There’s still lots to do.

My new website is under construction and will need lots of copy. I need business cards, postcards, and bookmarks. No press interviews are set up yet. I have some guest blogging appearances to worry about. I have empty days to fill visiting bookstores.

But I do have 16 appearances and signings scheduled in NorCal and SoCal beginning October 20. Best of all, about half of them will be with the award-winning all-around-terrific writer, Libby Fischer Hellman whose Doubleback will be out this October, too. I’ve never been part of this kind of crime fiction Martin-and-Lewis shtick before, but I have watched Theresa Schwegel and Megan Abbott do it twice so I think we’ll be ready.

One of the most fun things I’ve done is commission a book trailer. Talented writer and friend Ben Hess has a day job running Bay Area Picture Company, and he’s done great by Smasher. We’ll post a link to the trailer on my website, on the Midnight Ink site, on Facebook, YouTube, and wherever else we can think of. (Suggestions?) Anyway, he ended up with two versions – a “long” and “short” one. The long one is one minute fifty seconds, but I’m told that watching something that long would exercise the patience of a saint in this day and age, so I think we’ll go with the one shorter by forty seconds everywhere but the website. I've posted them below. Let me know what you think of them both, please.

Amidst all this, I’m trying to finish up my latest manuscript. I shipped off draft #3 to my agent last week and am waiting to see his keen insights in written form. No rest for the wicked.


P.S. Don’t worry about getting the complete schedule of Smasher appearances. You’ll probably hear from me, whether you want to or not.

Longer version

Shorter version

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who Am I To Judge?

I need to read nineteen mysteries and six short stories in three months. Why? Because I registered to attend the Bouchercon Convention in October, where I will have the privilege of voting on the 2009 Anthony Awards. Which means I have to read all of the nominees’ works.

I know some of you are thinking “What, you didn’t read them already?” Four. I’ve read four. Death of a Cozy Writer (already an award-winner—go, Gin!!), State of the Onion, Pushing Up Daisies, and Stalking Susan. I’m humbled, and so behind on 2008.

If you thought, “Well, you don’t have to read all their works”, shame on you! I do have to read them. I will even make a list of criteria and rate each work on a scale of one to five.

I jumped on the Internet to check availability at my local library. The good news is we have a great library; the bad news is two of the critical nonfiction works were not purchased by any of the thirty-four libraries in my county. I’ll have to see if I can remedy this oversight.

I know some of you are thinking “Why aren’t you buying these books?” Did I mention I was flying to the convention?

Seven of the books were available the day I searched the online catalog, and I raced over to check them out. My arm muscles got quite the workout carrying my book bag to the car. For that reason alone, I may deduct points for all books over three hundred and fifty words.

Bless the Internet. I didn’t even have to leave home to see each of the nominated covers. But what rating criteria to use? The most artistically appealing? The cover most related to the book’s content? The cover that entices me to pick up it up, read the blurb on the back, and maybe the first page or two? Hmmm.

I narrowed my decision down to two covers. I belong to the same online mystery group as one of the two authors. Guess which cover I’ll choose.

Nineteen books in three months are roughly six books per month or a book and a half per week. I’m also going to have to read my book club book—all 580 pages of it (not a mystery, no)—during this same time period and the complimentary Rex Stout book the Bouchercon organizers sent as well. Good news is I read fast. Really fast.

I thought about recruiting my children to help select the best children’s/young adult novel. My daughter would be thrilled to help out. Not so much my son. He’s lost to the video game monster, and he has summer reading from school. I will read the books myself and decide, but my daughter will get a kick out of rating the books and comparing our ratings. Maybe I can snag her a signed copy of her favorite at the convention. My kids love autographs…and souvenirs.

I’d say more, but right now I have to read.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Turning Japanese!

Nope, I’m not referring to the 1980’s tune by the Vapors, but of the news that the foreign rights for the first two books in the Supper Club series, Carbs & Cadavers and Fit To Die, were sold to the Japanese.

Why? I have no earthly idea. I am trying really hard to picture a young woman in Tokyo trying to visualize the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, of attempting to decipher Bennett the mailman’s southern drawl, of the appearance or taste of regional food like sweet potato pie or chicken fried

 steak.  Will they enjoy the camaraderie between The Flab Five? Are they as tempted by a cupcake (or green tea ice cream) as my pudgy, loyal, and often self-effacing characters? Or do these readers simply scratch their heads and wonder what the heck my book is about?

I cringe whenever someone posts a new review on one of my books, but boy, I’d love to see what the Japanese Amazon reviews will say about them! And it’s been one of the highlights of my writing career to hold the Japanese copy of Carbs & Cadavers. It’s small, it has adorable illustrations of James peeking around a nutritional chart at the beginning of each chapter, and it’s, well, filled with Japanese characters!

For those of you possessing photos of your foreign language (or large print) book covers, please post them. I’d love to see how other countries have transformed your work!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

September Fair, by Jess Lourey

The fifth book in my Murder-by-Month series has been released (early), and I am days away from having a new website! How much excitement can one gal take?

The Minnesota State Fair—beloved home of 4H September Fairexhibits, Midway rides, and everything on a stick. The festival fun is riding high until the recently crowned Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy, a Battle Lake native, is brutally murdered while her regal likeness is carved in butter. Can Mira James, covering the fair for the Battle Lake Recall, expose a deadly State Fair secret and win a blue ribbon for caging a killer? You’ll have to read September Fair to find out, but the smart money is on “yes.” :)

I am giving away three free copies of September Fair, and YOU could be a lucky winner. To be eligible, in the "Comments" area of this blog, tell me your three favorite State Fair foods/areas/events/rides. The winner will be chosen based on an empirical formula taking the following into account:

  1. How related to me you are (less is better).
  2. Whether or not I can recycle your answers in future interviews.
  3. Poignancy and/or humor.
  4. Last but not least as long as I am drawing breath, spelling and grammar.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who's Telling Your Story?

Cricket McRae

Point of view is one of the most defining choices writers make when they decide how to tell their unique story.

My Home Crafting Mysteries are told from the first person point of view of Sophie Mae Reynolds. I use first person for a variety of reasons. The first is voice. By telling the story through the filter of Sophie Mae, her personality colors the tale. Part of that voice includes Sophie Mae's preconceived notions and areas of naivete, so sometimes she's an unreliable narrator which can add another layer to the mystery. For the most part, though, we can count on her take on things.

Related to voice is accessibility. When you read one of my mysteries, you're getting the story from the protagonist herself, not a close but disassociated observer or some omniscient overlord. This is necessarily limiting, but friendly. It also means that the reader learns what Sophie Mae learns, at the same time. This is particularly useful as the puzzle unfolds and the story marches toward resolution.

Sophie Mae likes to look at all aspects of the problems she confronts. She thinks and rethinks, considers, guesses and makes connections, and, as guests in her fictional brain, we get to go along for the ride. I am hopeful that the reader is making the same connections, wondering the same things, arm in arm with Ms. Reynolds. I find inherent satisfaction in participating in a story that way as a reader.

Lastly, the first person point of view affects my writing style. Sophie Mae's thoughts and opinions poke their way regularly into the narrative without benefit of italics or attribution in a way that -- I'm told -- feels conversational and natural. Her voice drives the story, and she's not shy about letting us know what she thinks. In some ways it also seems to lubricate the pacing.

This sounds like I am an advocate for the first person point of view exclusively. Not so. It has served me well for this series, but that doesn't mean it's right for every situation. I've written books from a close third person pov, and I wouldn't have done it any differently. At present, I'm playing around with a new project told from the point of vew of several different characters. I've considered using first person for all of them, with the subsequent reality shifts, but I'm not really going for An Instance of the Fingerpost or even something like The Poisonwood Bible (both fabulously amazing books). So I think I'll stick with third person and do a bit of head hopping on a chapter by chapter basis. Except for the diary of a dying woman, which will have to be in first person.

I don't know if this thing is a mystery (except I believe most stories, wherever they end up on the book store shelf, are mysteries), or something more literary mainstream with a pinch of magical realism. Whatever it is, it's been dancing around in the back of my mind for years now, and I'm letting it out to play while at the same time plotting and writing Home Crafting Mystery #5. That separation may be another reason I chose to change the pov for this standalone. I think Sue Ann said at one time that she is able to work on two series in part because the pov is different in each one (?), and that makes a lot of sense to me.

How does pov influence your writing? Do you think first person pov is easier? As a reader, do you have a preference for first or third person pov? Have you ever seen second person pov used successfully?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Inkspot News - August 9, 2009

G.M. Malliet's third book in the St. Just mystery series, Death at the Alma Mater, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. In this story, DCI St. Just investigates murder at St. Michael's College, Cambridge.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"Cash for Clunkers" or "Cash for Suckers?"

by Felicia Donovan

Portland art car - duct tape style by green earrings.I felt somewhat vindicated back in February 2008 as I slipped the final car payment into the envelope, gave it a good lick and mailed it off.  Free at last, free at last. A few weeks later, the vehicle title arrived in the mail to prove it was officially mine.

My van, with its 70K plus miles, was still doing duty after many years of porting me through New England blizzards and ice storms to get to the Police Department where I worked. Nobody ever calls a Snow Day when you work in Public Safety and my van has done a good job of getting me there even when the going was tough. 

"I'll drive it into the ground," I thought.  I rubbed my hands together gleefully as I tried to estimate just how many years I could be without a monthly car payment.  So what's all the hoopla about "Cash for Clunkers?"

First of all, if it's running and it's drivable, it's not really a "clunker." I know a clunker when I see one. The hub caps are all gone, the windshield is sealed in place with bathroom caulk, the foam padding from the seat cushions juts out all over the place and flies through the air when the windows are down, and there's more duct tape than metal. I haven't seen any program cars that look like that. The mere fact that you can drive it onto the car lot proves it's not really a "clunker." What was Washington thinking?

Secondly, somebody's got to figure out what this program is all about. Do they really want to clean up the environment and make it healthier for us all by putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road? How about issuing a law banning cigarettes first? I betcha that will do more for my health and my children's health than trading a car in that gets 5 more miles to the gallon. No disrespect to the President, but if you want to set a really good example for the American public, quit the sticks.

How about instead of trading in my 2003 van for a 2010 car that gets a few more miles to the gallon and paying me $4500 in the process, I get to trade in my house with its leaky walls and windows for a new one? There's a housing glut out there, in case you haven't noticed. Not only will I be improving the environment with my nice new R-Factor insulation, I won't be contributing to the coffers of the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia trying to keep it heated in the winter. I'll even stimulate the economy by committing to shopping locally to buy furniture to fill my new rooms.

While I can't claim to be a true-blood Yankee, I've lived in New England for over twenty-five years so that old adage swirls in my head wherever I go. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And if it ain't broke, why get rid of it and take on the burden of a monthly payment? Doesn't that increase our debt and isn't that how we got into trouble in the first place?

When the Government decides to let me have the new car but not burden me with payments every month, I'll reconsider. Meanwhile, I'll keep my trusty old van with the dented bumper and scratches and drive it into the ground payment-free. Sure, I could get a few more miles to the gallon, but is that any reason to toss it aside? Besides, I've got a few dents and scratches myself and I'd like to think I'm not ready for the junk pile because of it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Launch of A Bad Day

Keith here.

Last night at M is for Mystery, a full house of writers, friends, and fans watched Sophie Littlefield launch her first published book, A Bad Day for Sorry. At Thrillerfest last month, Sophie’d told me she was worried about being nervous, and so arranged to be accompanied by two other authors on her maiden voyage. If Sophie was nervous, the audience either couldn’t tell or didn’t mind. She more than held her own with eloquent veterans Steve Hockensmith and Jilliane Hoffman. (She won whoops of approval from the audience when she read an excerpt from A Bad Day about her heroine's ruminations on lesbianism in women’s prisons.)

Sophie had written novels before A Bad Day that she hadn’t sold. Her reaction? She got pissed off and that anger, she told us, drives the plot of the book. In it she tells the story of 50 year-old Stella Hardesty who’s dispatched her abusive hubby with a wrench. She’s now providing comparable correctional services in rural Missouri on behalf of other women whose men are not behaving. (What writer hasn't dreamt of taking a little vengeance on those who have abused him or her?)

When asked last night if prospective agents had pressured her to make her hero younger, Sophie said no, but she did get advice to clean up her language and make Stella prettier. But Sophie stuck to her guns; she even made sure that Stella’s knees on the cover of the book were roughed up.

Three vacationers from Melfort, Saskatchewan, a town of 5,000, came along for a drink with a bunch of us afterwards. Apparently, they always try to find an author appearance at a mystery bookstore when traveling. God bless them. Whatever’s in the water up north needs to be piped down here.

I have a little extra incentive now to finish the next draft of my manuscript by Friday. After I ship it off to my agent, I'll reward myself this weekend by reading A Bad Day for Sorry (and, if as I expect, it goes down fast, I'll consume pal Marcus Sakey's newest, The Amateurs, for dessert). Can't wait. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Tale to Be Told

We bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told.

Last week we buried my mother, Joanna Evans Funk Campbell. This is her story:
My mother was part of a prestigious old Southern family, the Middleton-Manigaults. The Middletons signed the Declaration of Independence. The Manigaults loaned George Washington a half a million dollars to finance the Revolutionary War. In my grandmother's house was a spindly, uncomfortable white wooden chair where Lafayette sat and discussed strategy for the conflict. You can't go anywhere in Charleston SC without seeing a name connected to the Middleton-Manigaults. For example, they owned part of Kiawah Island. They owned the breath-taking Middleton Gardens, they built the Manigault House, and their plantation Brookgreen is legendary for its beauty.
Mom was justifiably proud of her family history, and she made sure that each of us three girls, her three children, had scrapbooks with family photos and lore in them. She found the world a fascinating place and she loved pointing out historical tidbits or scenic wonders. In fact, my sisters and I still laugh about the way she'd drive us through the mountains around Chattanooga with one hand on the steering wheel and the other pointing to the mist over the valleys. "Oh, look, girls," she'd drawl.
We, meantime, screamed back, "Watch the road! We're all going to die!"
Mom was, at her heart, a teacher, an instructor who enjoyed passing on her knowledge. After dancing with the Atlanta (Georgia) Civic Ballet and the New York City Ballet, she ran a ballet studio. Her method for teaching students to do "grand jetes" (big leaps) was simplicity itself: she drew an oval on the floor, added wonky "fishes", and said, "Now jump over the puddle and don't let the fishies bite your toes."
When I asked her why she didn't continue her career in New York City, she shared a litany of reasons. She had seen how the other dancers starved themselves, and she wasn't interested in that. A partner had knocked her foot out from under her during a "pas de deux" (dance for two), and her ankle was seriously compromised. She'd watched another dancer finish a piece, step off stage, untie her satin ribbons, and dump blood from her toe shoes. But most compelling, Mom wanted a family.
So she had us. Me (Joanna Ward or "Jonie"), Jane, and Margaret.
She also had a crappy marriage with an abusive alcoholic, my dad. When he left us, we all went on welfare. Then Mom embarked on a second career. She went back to school and got a degree in nutrition, which allowed her to work in the food service industry.
For the past 20 years, she lived in Florida with my sisters. Three years ago, she survived a bout of cancer of the larynx. In January of this year, a scan showed two masses, one in each lung. Mom clung to the idea that chemo would again save her life. But on July 17, a hospice nurse, Sally Lippert, came to assess her situation. Mom had been struggling, but once a performer, always a performer--she'd done a great job of hiding how sick she was.
When Sally asked Mom in private, "Do you know why I'm here?", my very proper Southern belle of a mother said, "Yes, and it sucks."
On July 19, Mom slipped into a coma. My sisters and I cared for her in Margaret's home. With the help of hospice, we administered morphine regularly, cleaned her, and kept her comfortable.
It broke my heart to see her beautiful legs--as shown in the photo above--so bowed and distorted. The cancer had infiltrated her bones.
On July 26, my mother died.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Character Perspectives

Portrait of a Woman--1900--Olga Boznańska They walk purposefully toward me in the grocery stores. Their hair is gray or white. They sometimes use the shopping cart to aid their walking. They nearly always start off with a determined, “Honey?” when they talk to me.

I know what they want as soon as I see them. Why? It happens all the time.

I’m tall. They want me to reach something at the back of the top shelf. This item is usually on sale, they have an additional .75 cent off coupon (which will be doubled at the register) and the product has already had a tremendous run on it.

How does a simple thing like height change your perspective on things? I think everything about ourselves—if we’re attractive or not, our geographic location on earth, our level of education—colors our mindset and gives us insights, or possibly even prejudices, that others don’t share.

The first time I saw a picture of Michelle Obama, she stood alone with no frame of reference beside her. I knew immediately that she was tall, though. She wore flats with her dress. She rolled her shoulders in a sort of slump.

I don’t use character questionnaire sheets when developing my characters, but there are many of them online and I understand they can prove useful.

But I do want a handle on my character’s unique perspective on the world. What background, physical attributes, or upbringing contributed to his or her viewpoints? What insights does this perspective provide this character (especially useful to me in crafting a sleuth who relies on intuition to solve a case.)

How do your characters view the world?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Inkspot News -- Aug. 1, 2009

Deborah Sharp will be tying up her pony at the NBC Today Show, Tues., Aug. 4. Sometime between 9 and 10 am, she's scheduled to chat about MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN, the second book in her funny, Southern-flavored mystery series. The book is set on a six-day, cross-state horseback ride. Deborah (insanely) did the trail ride for research. Oline Cogdill, Sun-Sentinel mystery columnist, blogs about the Today show spot here.