Saturday, October 31, 2009

Inkspot News - October 31, 2009

Beth Groundwater will appear at the Lake George, Colorado library on Saturday, October 31st from 2:00 – 3:00 pm. The address is 37900 Hwy 24, Lake George, CO 80827.

Martha Cheves reviewed Beth Groundwater's book, To Hell in a Handbasket, at her "A Book and A Dish" blog ( and posted Beth's recipe for yummy Fruitcake Cookies in time for holiday baking.

Friday, October 30, 2009

No, Really. Authors Aren't . . .

By Deborah Sharp

This month marks a year I've been able to officially call myself a published author. Since my mystery series debuted with Mama Does Time (Midnight Ink, Oct. 2008), I've done more than 50 appearances, attended several conferences, and engaged in numerous conversations about writing with the average Joe (and Jane).

As a former reporter, I'd never want to make sweeping pronouncements about how things are always one way or another. But I can safely say most people have no clue what life as an author is really like. So, in the interest of accuracy, here are a few things authors are not (at least not many of the authors I know):

They're not getting rich.

They're not jetting all over the country on book tours paid for by their publishers.

They're not magically channeling a muse, with words flowing from their fingertips without sweat.

They're not eager to read the 600-page manuscript your mom just loves.

They're not eager to edit that same 600-page manuscript.

They're not interested in turning your story into a book. If it's a good one, you should write it.

They're not always able to explain where they get their ideas.

They're not withholding the secret to getting published. It's a combination of skill, perseverance, and dumb luck.

They're not coasting after they finish a book. They're probably promoting the previous one or starting the next.

And the No. 1 thing that authors are not: Ever, EVER tired of hearing nice things about their books.

So, how about you authors? What's your favorite misconception? Readers, what discovery about an author or writing has surprised you?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Notarize My Book?

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

By day I work as a paralegal in a law firm in Los Angeles. Mornings, evenings, and weekends I don my author cape and crank out mysteries. But lately, my two careers have started overlapping. Perhaps this post should really be called “When Worlds Collide.”

It’s wonderful in a weird sort of way. Like the time I called the California Secretary of State’s corporate division and identified myself as Sue Ann Jaffarian, paralegal with XYZ. The woman on the other end paused, then said: “Did you know there’s a writer by that name? Are you related?” When I told her I was both the paralegal and the writer, she told me how a friend had turned her on to my books.

Then there was the time our attorney service, the company that files our corporate documents all over the nation, called me and said when one of them ordered a book from Amazon, one of my books popped up as a recommended purchase. “Is that you?” they asked.

Or the day I called another paralegal at another firm to discuss some documents. I identified myself as I usually do and was met with the usual pause, followed by a skeptical, “You are not.” Yeah, I am. My identity confirmed, the next question was, “Why are you still working?” Um, because I’m addicted to food and shelter?

Please know that situations like these don’t happen every day, but they do happen often enough to warm the cockles of my heart and inform me that people are, indeed, reading my books. At least people involved with the California paralegal community.

I am also a California commissioned Notary, and I must have mentioned that fact somewhere in my travels because recently I received an e-mail asking me to perform a notarization. Since I don’t offer notary services to the general public, the request stymied me. The woman turned out to be an avid reader of my books and really did need a notary. Remembering I was one, she thought it would be cool to have me perform the service and have my signature* on her document, complete with my official seal. I politely declined, informing her that I only provided notary services in the course of my job with the law firm. She was disappointed, but understood.

To me, it was way cooler to be asked, than for her to have me perform the service. Trust me – WAY COOLER. It's something I'll never forget.

When have your worlds collided? Is it a good or a not so good thing?

*By the way, my signature is not the same as my autograph. Just thought I'd clear that up.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Snapshot of Photo, Snap, Shot

In Photo, Snap, Shot (the third book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series), Kiki's daughter Anya stumbles over the body of a dead teacher at school. While Kiki worries for her child's emotional health, Detective Chad Detweiler has a more pressing concern. He fears that Anya might have actually seen the killer, even if she doesn't realize it. Despite all Kiki's carefully constructed plans to avoid Detweiler, the two must work together to solve the crime--and the cost to the detective is higher than Kiki could have ever imagined.

At the root of their investigation is a century old St. Louis tradition, the Veiled Prophet.

There are two theories about the Veiled Prophet and its origins, which date back to 1877. One suggests that the celebration was an attempt at civic boosterism with the good intentions of reviving the St. Louis economy after the damages wrought by the Union army during its occupation of the city. The brothers Slayback looked to their former home of New Orleans for inspiration and for floats and decorations to bring to Missouri. The veneration of young white maidens from prominent families was a central portion of the celebration, but it was also a way for a secret society including the hooded members of the “Order of the Veiled Prophet” to pledge their familial support as the Veiled Prophet, dressed much as one might imagine a Roman god, descended from his lofty throne to choose the Belle of the Ball and present her with a pearl necklace.

Another version reveals a more oppression and unsettling picture of the city, a strike of fifteen hundred workers--mainly African American--paralyzed the city.

In response to this show of strength, business owners of St. Louis countered with their own citizens’ militia parade which was essentially a show of armed power. From this public display came the impetus to create an annual extravaganza designed to make perfectly clear that the elite of the city had the upper hand. Thus the Veiled Prophet was born.

To grasp the import of this happening, you have to imagine the times. There were no television sets, no radios, no color photos, no video cameras, no computers, no cell phones to capture and share images. Indeed, most of life was a hardscrabble, dreary attempt at making ends meet. But at twilight on October 8, 1878, a crowd of thousands gathered by torchlight to watch the waters of the mighty Mississippi River. A cry went up. Rockets exploded. A band began to play. Eyes strained in the fading light to watch a barge make its way slowly to the shore. From that vessel arose a lavishly costumed figure. The Veiled Prophet had arrived to favor St. Louis with his blessing. Once seated on a colorful float, the Prophet and his court were pulled by a phalanx of prancing horses past a cheering throng lining the streets of St. Louis

As part of my research into the event, I purchased a 1946 copy of Life Magazine. Inside is the article "Life Goes to the Veiled Prophet's Ball: St. Louis Society turns out for its biggest event." According to Life, three hundred thousand people lined the streets of St. Louis to witness the parade "but only 12,000, almost all dressed in expensive gowns and formal dress, saw the climax of the affair in the Kiel auditorium, where homage was paid to the Prophet and the year's Queen of Love and Beauty was crowned."

An early image of the Prophet sends chills up the spine. The "regal" figure is robed in flowing white robes and a pointed white cap with slits cut for peep holes. Until the 1980s, this was subsidized with public funds.

Read more about it at

The Prophet still reigns over St. Louis. The year I finished Photo, Snap, Shot, I learned that the sister of one of my son's friends had been crowned Queen of Love and Beautry.

Photo, Snap, Shot will be released in May 2010, in time for National Scrapbooking Day. I'm busy planning my Kiki Lowenstein World Tour which will take me from the DC area to as far west as Iowa, maybe even Colorado. As a result, I'm taking a hiatus from blogging for InkSpot. I invite people who wish to follow my progress to visit me at two other blogs and

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pinning Down Your Best Ideas

Pretty is as Pretty Dies I’ve started work on my next mystery. Beginnings are the favorite part of the process for me. Brainstorming is exciting and at the beginning of the manuscript, the possibilities seem endless.

For this WIP, I’ve gotten quite a few ideas and can see several possible storylines. I’ve got victims, killers, and suspects---far too many of each, actually.

I’m not complaining. I can definitely use more than one victim and probably even more than one murderer. But I need to commit and then use the extras for a future book.

So I’m looking at my scrawled notes. These are some of the things I’m thinking about:

Which potential characters are most charismatic? Which would I have the most fun creating storylines around?

What locations would the bodies naturally be found in, depending on the plot? Which ones tie in my sleuth in the most natural way?

If my sleuth isn’t tied in by her proximity to the crime, is there a character and plotline that would get her connected to the murder?

Which victim makes the most sense—how many people want to get rid of him or her?

Do any clues and red herrings come quickly to mind with the different plot scenarios?

Is there one plot scenario that seems stronger than the others?

If would be nice, actually, if there were a reality show where characters and plots vie for spots in the novel—who gets voted off the show each week? The winners get parts in the book.

How do you nail down which storyline to pursue in your WIP?

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Elizabeth Spann Craig

Monday, October 26, 2009

Road to Publication City

There are many routes to Publication City. Here's one:*

signposts for blog At the beginning of your journey, the road appears daunting, almost impassable. So many other travelers, so many obstacles, so many turns and switchbacks and dark tunnels to negotiate.

You embark and work hard, honing your craft, pouring your story out. Word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, it takes shape. S-l-o-w-l-y. You might take a writing class or workshop; you might join a critique group to help you from getting lost. Whatever works for you.

Be sure to ignore all the stalled and abandoned vehicles on the side of the road. Keep your eyes on the destination ahead.

You press on, undeterred.

Finally, you approach Milepost One - a finished first draft. Traffic is still heavy here, but a good number of the fast starters never made it to this point, for whatever reason. You celebrate this achievement, because frankly, you weren't sure you were going to make it this far, either.

Now you enter the revision leg of the trip, and the road becomes winding and treacherous. Signage is confusing and often contradictory. Which direction should you go? What turns should you make to stay on the right track? Expect to run into dead ends along the way and encounter scores of other writers, all going in various directions, some fast, some slow, many in endless circles. You check in frequently with your critique group to keep from wandering too far afield.

After many weeks (or months or years) traveling Revision Boulevard, you've completed a finished, polished manuscript. Congratulations on reaching Milepost Two! (Go ahead, celebrate again. In fact, take every chance you can to celebrate.) 

The trek continues. Up ahead, you see a gigantic bottleneck--people trying to merge onto the Snare-an-Agent exit. (You can take a detour here to avoid the masses, but be warned: the alternate routes are bumpy and the bridges are often washed out.) You write a query. Then rewrite it. After thirty or so rewrites, you figure it's ready. As you query agents (widely), you inhale exhaust fumes from thousands of others stuck in the same gridlock. Unfortunately, it could take a long time to get your wheels moving again. Some never do.

But your persistence pays off and you sign with an agent at Milepost Three (Yahoo!). She buckles into your passenger seat and directs you into the HOV-Agent lane of Submittal Highway. There aren't as many vehicles, but for some reason, no one is moving very fast.

With a lot of patience and persistence, you are fortunate to reach the all-important Milestone Four: SALE! party hats1

You breathe a big sigh of relief and celebrate.

Next, you abandon your car for a seat on your publisher's train. (Hey, this is my convoluted extended analogy, and if I want to mix cars and trains, I will. Now pipe down, unless you want me to turn this thing around and head back home!) Your editor-conductor tells you to sit back and enjoy the ride--he knows the way and he'll get you to your destination safely. No longer do you have to fret about which way to go. (Save your energy, there are plenty of other things to worry about!)

So you sit back and watch the milestones go by: an editorial letter, a shiny cover, the listing on Amazon. Inclusion in your publisher's catalog. Your bookmarks. Galleys, ARCs, reviews, interviews--the mileposts blur. But it's all good. And since you're no longer driving, you can concentrate on mapping a route to your next destination: Promotionville. Of course, in your spare time, you might want to pull out the laptop and get to work on your next manuscript.

After all, you want to take this crazy trip again, don't you?




*For your enjoyment (and as a change of pace), this post is written in second-person.
**All this talk of mileposts reminds me that today is my birthday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

10 Things From Boucehrcon

1. The insecurity of going to a conference by yourself fades away quickly when you see old friends.

Buddy Marcus Sakey

2. It's a good idea to stay out your room and in the traffic of people even if you're having bouts of introvertism.

3. People you see a handful of times of years can feel just as close (maybe more) than people you see all the time.

4. It is a thrill to give a panel and then come out and see a line of people waiting for you to sign their books.

The Old School Duffy shirt design

5. Giving away Duffy t-shirts and Out Cold beer koozies was a fun idea and not silly like I feared.

My new best friend, reviewer Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

6. Always, always, always bring extra books. I was sold out of sixty books on Friday and kicked myself the rest of the weekend.

7. Whether you're tired at night or not you should stay in the bar as late as possible. More connections are made there than any place else.

8. What a gas it is when people come up to you and say they love your books.

9. Having friends like the Jordans, Joe Konrath and Bob Ward make it easy to meet a ton of other people.

10. I think it is good business to go to Bouchercon but I think I do these things because they're fun. I think it is a gas to hang out with writers. I think it is an even bigger gas when people think that I belong in that fraternity.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Rest for the Wicked

Returned from the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention Sunday night to find myself on the cusp of launch week for Smasher.

So that evening I had to come up with a posting for the marvelous Criminal Minds blog where I'm a guest this week.

Monday morning I spoke to Therese Poletti of MarketWatch who was working on a story about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-thriller-author. (Story here.)

Then came the big event -- the launch of Smasher at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. I had no clue how many people would show, but in a fit of bravado two months ago I'd taken the over on an over/under wager of 100. Of course, by Tuesday afternoon, I was wringing my hands with concern about attendance. I managed to win the bet when 105 friends and readers showed up to listen to me drone on about where the ideas for Smasher came from and why I love being a novelist. (Below is the view from the lectern.)

I worked with Abigail Johnson, one of Silicon Valley's top PR people, to put out a press release (click here) on how being an entrepreneur prepared me for life as a writer.

Yesterday I drove the 100 miles to Davis for a "sign and greet." The manager said she would order 20 books. I showed a false sense of confidence when I told her I could sell more. We bet $1 on my selling 30. Thanks to my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and his boss, I won that bet, too. Whew. (The drive went quickly; I listened to the great Michael Connelly's newest, Nine Dragons.)

Tonight I'm going to be at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland. Two dozen more events in the next month. What an endurance test! I'm excited!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

But Words Will Never Hurt Me?

by Felicia Donovan

"Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but words will never hurt me..."


Growing up, that adage was ingrained in me by my mother to ward off children on the playground who may have had comments about my geeky penny loafers or later on, to assure me that the teens teasing me about being so studious could be disregarded.

I never bought it.

Sticks and stones are an awful way to settle any conflict, but as an adult I've come to realize that words can, indeed, hurt. Words can hurt very badly, in fact. I have many friends who bear the scars of words that cut deeply into their hearts by people who knew them well. Just ask any couple who has every gone through a bad breakup who may have, in the heat of the moment, launched a verbal  assault at their significant other.  I've lost count of how many friends have reiterated, verbatim, the exact words that were hurled at them by their former lovers when tension rose to an untenable point...and they still remember those words years later.

As writers, we understand the value of words. They can bring us to laugh, to cry, to experience joy, to re-experience a wonderful memory - but they can also cut to the core of who we are by those who know us most well. And once they are out, they cannot be taken back.

Consider your words. Whether writing or speaking, consider the value of each word and the impact it has on the other person. Sticks and stones can, indeed, break bones, but words are often what leave the deepest scars and take the longest to heal.

Have words ever hurt you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back from Bouchercon - October 2009

by G.M. Malliet

My apologies for the quality of the photo at left, which looks as if it were taken underwater. I have a few more from Bouchercon over here at Facebook, mostly featuring the lovely display of attending authors' book covers by the wonderful Sisters in Crime of the Indianapolis area.

I am generally too busy at Bouchercon to do more than race around and catch up with as many people as I can, and taking photos doesn't always happen. Running into people like Peter Lovesey, Sue Grafton, and Michael Connelly tends to make you forget you're carrying a camera in the first place--you're just too much in awe. But I did have the presence of mind to take the photo above, which is from the hugely popular agents and editors panel. From left to right are Joshua Bilmes, Michael Pietsch, Keith Kahla (M), Kelley Ragland, and David Hale Smith reporting on the state of the mystery genre.

Their news, I am happy to report, is on the positive side. I'll get to the negative in a minute. But editors Ragland and Pietsch (Minotaur and Little, Brown, respectively) report that, bad economy or no, they're still buying books to feed what seems to be the public's never-ending appetite for entertainment, mysteries in particular. Kahla (St. Martin's Press) and agent David Hale Smith agree--things are looking fine, and good books are still finding a home.

What no one is entirely sure of is the effect eBooks will have on the industry, but as one panelist mentioned, paperbacks were at one time viewed as the End of Publishing As We Know It, and we somehow survived that.

Joshua Bilmes, although agent to Charlaine Harris of the hugely successful Sookie Stackhouse vampire books, admits to being a bit of a pessimist nonetheless. He is more cautious than his colleagues, not only about how eBooks, when they really catch on, will affect profits, but the effect of illegal (or legal) filesharing on profits. If people can download a book for $10 and then share the same book with five or fifty friends, Bilmes wonders how that can fail to hurt the bottom line for authors and publishers. Is it different from or the same as friends in a book club, for example, sharing the same book to save money?

Your views on the pros and cons of the eBook revolution? (I used to think the fact that eBooks can't be signed would save us, until someone recently asked me to sign the cover of their Kindle reader.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lost City: Another Mystery of History

by Julia Buckley

The legend of the lost city of Atlantis is rooted in the writings of Plato. In his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, Plato presents the island of Atlantis as a naval power which ultimately faced a day of terrible battles and simply sank into the sea. It was understood in Plato's time to be entirely fictional, but in the Middle Ages the legend was resurrected by the Humanists and became the subject of discussion and writing. Nowadays, scholars and archeologists tend to place Atlantis, once again, firmly in the realm of the fictional.

However, that doesn't preclude the idea of other lost underwater cities, and Friday's Science Daily reported that scientists have found the oldest submerged town in existence--a town which is remarkably well-preserved, considering that it is 5000 years old. The city, located off the southern coast of Greece, is intact, complete with a large central gathering hall. Mr Elias Spondylis, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Greece, says that “It is a rare find and it is significant because as a submerged site it was never re-occupied and therefore represents a frozen moment of the past.”

This sort of mystery--a mystery of history which must be solved by people donning scuba gear and carefully uncovering what 5000 years had kept hidden--is perhaps the most fascinating of all.

Look at this You-Tube clip of one of the archeologists from the University of Nottingham (with a delightful Scottish accent) explains the features of the site and shares its wonders.

Pretty amazing, eh? What's your favorite mystery of history?

photo link here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beth Groundwater Joins InkSpot!

Since this is my first official post on Inkspot after signing my 2-book contract with Midnight Ink and joining my fellow "Inkers" at this blog, I thought I'd introduce myself and my new mystery series. You can always find out more about me and my writing by checking out my personal website and blog. Also, I'm at Bouchercon this weekend, so if you are, too, come up and say hi! If you comment on this post, I'll reply after I get home.

The photo shows me on July 4th (hence the red, white & blue outfit) in Breckenridge, CO signing the two books in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series published by Five Star Publishing. I love my state, and I enjoy using real Colorado locations in my fiction. A Real Basket Case is set in my hometown of Colorado Springs, To Hell in a Handbasket is set in Breckenridge, and the new Midnight Ink series will be set in Salida, Colorado.

My new Midnight Ink series will be the Mandy Tanner river ranger series. The first book, Wicked Whitewater, is slated to be released in the first quarter of 2011, and the second, which I'm currently drafting and have tentatively titled Evil Eddies, will be released in the first quarter of 2012. Mandy is a 27-year-old seasonal river ranger with the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, the most popular location for whitewater rafting and kayaking in the United States. She's single, struggling to make ends meet, and might just be in love.

River rangers, like Mandy, are usually whitewater rafting guides who take additional training to become rangers, and I met quite a few while researching the series. If they discover a dead body in or near the river while on patrol, they become part of the investigative team with the detectives in the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office, though the Sheriff's Office retains primary responsibility for solving the case. Thus this series will be a hybrid of the amateur sleuth and police procedural genres. I'm a fan of the work of C.J. Box and Nevada Barr, and my hope is that my new series will marry the wilderness settings and ranger/warden lifestyles of those series with the thrill of running roiling rapids.

I was an avid "river rat" in the 1980s, running whitewater rivers in the eastern US in an open-boat canoe stuffed with flotation bags before I settled down to raise a family. I'm still fascinated with flowing water. My husband knows that if we drive alongside a whitewater river, I'll be leaning out the car window, reading the water, assessing if it's deep enough to be run, and if so, what line I would take. I have enjoyed reacquainting myself with the river rat subculture and its updated boating equipment while researching the Mandy Tanner river ranger mystery series. And, of course, I never turn down the chance to take a whitewater rafting trip! I enjoy Colorado's many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and biking as well as whitewater rafting, so sometimes it's hard to sit inside and write.

I'm thrilled to be a part of the Midnight Ink publishing family and an InkSpot blogger. I have a feeling I'm in for wild ride!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Do You Define True Friendship?

My son came home the other day and shared something he’d heard on the bus: “Friendship is like peeing your pants. Everyone can see it, but only you can feel it.”

This peculiar and somewhat amusing statement started me thinking about friendship and looking up different definitions. In my 1976 American Heritage Dictionary, the first definition of a friend is “a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.” The 1977 Webster’s New World Dictionary first defines a friend as “a person whom one knows well and is fond of.” Wikipedia says, “Friendship is the cooperative and supportive relationship between two or more people.” Hmmm. Perhaps friendship is not so easily put into words.

When my children were little and learning about stranger danger, we talked about who were our friends. At that time, I defined a friend as anyone who had been in our home or whose home we had been in. That was simple enough for a child to understand, but after further consideration, not a definition to stand the test of time. Just recall the flap over Obama’s visit to the Ayers’ home and the ramifications during his presidential campaign.

My first childhood friend was Judy. We were in the same grade in elementary school, and we both had curly brown hair. In fact, people often confused us because we looked quite a bit alike. Sadly, Judy’s family eventually moved to the next town. We still got together for a while; then, as often happens, our get-togethers ended. But I still remember her with fondness. Just seeing her picture makes me smile.

Now my dictionaries are dated and definitions may have changed. I wonder how many ways future editions of American Heritage or Webster’s dictionaries will define friends and friendship. Someday, will a friend be defined as a person one exchanges “tweets” with or a person one links to on Face Book? I have a dozen or so “friends” on whom I know nothing more about than what they’ve read or plan to read. At least we all share a mutual interest in reading and

I like to read about different friendships. Mystery series in particular often have friendships—or sidekicks—woven into the stories. Stephanie Plum has Lula; Myron Bolitar has Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win). Even loner Jack Reacher has his band of ex-military police buddies who appear when he calls them. These characters do not always choose the same course of action or share the same beliefs, but they always support and respect one another’s choices and beliefs.

For me, true friendship is an intricate balance of respect, trust, mutual values and interests, shared experiences, loyalty, fondness, and acceptance. That’s the kind of friendship that never moves away. And it doesn’t come along everyday.

How about you? Do you remember your first friend? What fictional characters’ friendships do you enjoy? How do you define true friendship? And don’t tell me it’s the person who buys enough books for you to sell through :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Chapter

After months of writing, it is time for the last chapter. For me, this time is always a mixed bag of emotions. I have been working at a frenzied pace for a month, writing seven days a week. I’ve stared at the computer screen until I’ve seen double, but couldn’t let go of the plot’s building crescendo.

The last chapter is like a descent from a mountain. One should do it slowlyadjust to the feeling of breathing 100 % oxygen again. I can never do this successfully. I race to the end, take a quick breath, and then leap into revisions. This is mostly due to the deadline hanging over my head, but one day I’d like to savor the moment of the last sentence.

The last chapter also means that the book is about to leave the author’s hands. It will be read by a team of people who then share their thoughts and opinions on everything from the title to the plot to the setting. And the author isn’t present.

From there, the editors get to work. They question line after line of writing and as the author answers the questions and makes changes, the book begins to change. Sometimes radically! Usually these changes are for the better, but it’s like sending your Kindergartener on the bus in the morning only to have him return from school that afternoon as a 4th grader. It can be startling.

So this is the week of the last chapter. This week, the book truly belongs to me. I’ve given it the best of me for the last six months. I’ve shaped it and agonized over it and cursed it and laughed at it. These 85,000 words, these characters I love, this product that has filled my days and my thoughts is mine.

At least until Friday at five o’clock.

Have you ever had trouble letting go of something you made?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whose Kids Are Those? by Jess Lourey

Bouchercon 2009, coming this Thursday and lasting through Sunday, marks the end of my September Fair book tour. Those who know me, particularly those who rely on me for love, food, and shelter, refer to my book tours as "Mom's Crabby Time," a period where I’m so busy I forget what my kids look like and what my nice voice sounds like.

Yet despite the personal and financial cost, I continue to go on book tours. Here’s why:

  • I want my series to do well.
  • I value my publisher, Midnight Ink, and I understand the risk they're taking by publishing my novels and what they expect of me in terms of pushing the product.
  • I like to see people who like my books.

But because I have a full-time job, two kids, and a partner who likes it when I occasionally acknowledge him, I now specialize in the "Work Smarter not Harder" style of book touring. It hasn't always been this way. With May Day, published in March 2006 and the first in the series, it was more of a Monica Lewinsky approach, where I was trying to please everyone. Not anymore. And I’d like to share with you the nuggets of efficient book touring I’ve picked up:

  • Choose library engagements rather than bookstore booksignings. Libraries pay and in my experience, draw a larger crowd. And they always let you sell your books.
  • Plan multiple booksignings in a single day. Three in one day, nine in a weekend is my record. I totally gave that weekend over to booksignings, which was exhausting but allowed me to schedule family time the rest of the week. And once you’re in signing mode, I say go for it.
  • Contact local media at least three weeks before each signing. If you don’t have a great publicist like me, do this yourself. I’ve done it before, and they’re almost always grateful for a light news story. Only one signing in my two-month tour was not accompanied by a newspaper article or radio or television interview.
  • Support your indies. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they are the people who will handsell your books. A tiny store in northern Minnesota sold over 40 copies of September Fair the month it came out, and it’s because I connected with the owner. In my experience, booksignings are as much about making friends with the staff as they are about landing a new reader or two.
  • That said, I always hit a couple B & Ns and Borders. It’s easier to get publicity for those, and B & N CRMs are some of my favorite people out there.
  • Put writing on hold while on book tour, and keep the book tour to a limited span. You may disagree with me on this one, but I think writing and promoting run counter to each other, and it’s best to focus on one or the other. That’s why I keep my book tours to two months and turn down almost every request that doesn’t fall in that time period.

That’s about all I know for sure. Let me know if you have any questions about the above, or tips of your own to add. Hope to see you in Bouchercon!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Frost

Cricket McRae
Actually, the frost is white, but it blackens all but the most cold hardy plants. The leaves on the cottonwoods haven't even turned yellow yet, but we've already had snow and temperatures cold enough to delay the Rockies/Phillies playoff series by a day.

The change was somewhat abrupt, but that's the way things go in Colorado. Learn to roll with it, or move.

So green tomatoes are piled in bowls and stacked in baskets to ripen. Beets, potatoes, carrots and leeks hide in the root cellar and braided onions hang in the basement pantry next to jars of pickles and dried herbs and honey. Below them rows of acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash await on shelves. Pots of parsley, rosemary, basil and thyme march down the window sill, adjusting to their sudden move indoors. The big freezer in the garage overflows with beans, broccoli, corn, peppers, chard, tomatoes -- and an eighth of a Charolais cow.

Soup's on the stove. Bread's rising. Deer are pawing through the thin crust of snow in the front yard to get at the fallen apples.

And the urge to write rides under my skin, a constant itch.

Sometimes writing is fun. Sometimes it's a job. You have to show up and do it, and if your muse deigns to ride along, all the better. But there is something about this time of year that affects my creativity in a primitive, visceral way.

In The Midnight Disease, Alice Flaherty examines writing mania. This time of year I feel I've caught hypergraphia like some kind of yearly flu.

Chunks of time are like candy. I play with ideas, wallow in words. In Sue Ann's post last week she related how this intense love of writing stays with her, drives her. It is not always the case for me. Oh, I love it all right, but it does not always sound this siren song.

I wonder what it is about this time of year that hits me so squarely in the creative plexus. Could it be related to all those years of facing back-to-school time? The feeling is familiar. Or perhaps it is an offshoot of my uber-nesting, the stocking up for cold weather. I do, after all, write about colonial home crafts. One activity is bound to feed the other. I can only hope that the stockpile of ideas and projects will get me through the winter.

Does this time of year affect your creativity? Your writing output?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inkspot News - October 10, 2009

Many Midnight Ink authors will be appearing at the Bouchercon mystery conference this coming week in Indianapolis, IN. If you see us there, please say hello. Also, we will be appearing on various panels and at other events as follows (MI authors indicated in boldface type):

Thursday, 9-9:55am
Five crafty authors discuss the hobbies that drove them to murder.
Joanna Campbell Slan (moderator), Sally Goldenbaum, Margaret Grace, Beth Groundwater and Betty Hechtman.

Thursday, 1:30-2:25
What’s special about Southern mysteries.
Cathy Pickens (Moderator), Vicki Lane, T. Lynn Ocean, A. Scott Pearson, Deborah Sharp

Friday, 9:45 am - 11:15 am
A speed-dating event with 24 of the 2009 first novelists who are attending Bouchercon 2009, sponsored by Mystery Scene. Annamaria Alfieri, Allan Ansorge, Judith Borger, Lisa Bork, Rachel Brady, Rebecca Cantrell, Gayle Carline, Kate Carlisle, Connie Dial, Margaret Fenton, John Ford, Jamie Freveletti, Bryan Gilmer, Seth Harwood, Lawrence Kaplan, Tracy Kiely, Vincent McCaffrey, Stuart Neville, Diana Orgain, Stefanie Pintoff, Sharon Potts, Stephen Schwartz and Dennis Tafoya

Friday, 10:30 - 11:25
Why plotting from character makes fiction more plausible and compelling.
Kit Ehrman (M), R.J. Ellory, Jess Lourey, Marcus Sakey, Larry D. Sweazy

Friday, 10:30
Carolyn Hart (Hot Ticket Author), Julie Hyzy (Board Member Host), Joanna Campbell Slan and Beverle Graves Myers (Featured Authors)

Friday, 3:00 – 3:55 pm
The traditional cozy mystery: its place, its rules, its future.
Carolyn Hart (M), Parnell Hall, Ellen Hart, G.M. Malliet, Katherine Hall Page

Saturday, 10:30 am – 11:25 am
Beth Groundwater
Making a killer mystery gift basket.

Saturday, 1:00 - 2:00
Sue Grafton, Beverle Myers, Julie Hyzy, Jess Lourey

Saturday, 1-1:55pm
Joanna Campbell Slan
Make and take a scrapbook page designed especially for Bouchercon!
See it here:

Saturday, 2:30 - 3:25 am
Cricket McRae
Making fizzing bath salts

Sunday, 9:00 to 11:00 am
An opportunity to meet over 70 mystery writers, including Midnight Ink authors, and get signed books, hosted by J.A. Konrath

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Happy Folder

By Deborah Sharp

Who needs the New York Times? Publishers Weekly can go pound sand. And Oprah? Who'd want to sit on that stinkin' couch of yours anyway?

I have something even better than anointment from that Holy Trinity of book arbiters: A Happy Folder.

Recently, I had one of those days when I couldn't write a thing that didn't suck. When I pouted that PW hasn't reviewed my books, even though they've sprinkled their stars upon fellow Inkspot authors. When I pondered hanging up fiction and returning to journalism.

Then I remembered that newspapers are sounding a death rattle, that nobody's hiring, and that friends and former colleagues in the media are losing jobs right and left.

In other words, not a happy day.

Until I got an email from a reader, telling me she loved my book. I thought back to why I left the news biz. I wanted to make people laugh, to bring some levity to a post-9/11 world that felt sad and deadly serious. And here was somebody writing to tell me I'd managed to do just that.

That's when I got the idea of sifting through my emails to create a feel-good folder. I'd fill it only with nice notes from readers. Here's one, from a woman in Birmingham, Ala:

My doctor had been concerned about my rising blood pressure, from stress of constant terrible news on TV. Your book was the perfect antidote: I laughed, felt like I actually knew your very real characters, and was so thoroughly relaxed that my blood pressure went down!

Here's another, from a reader who discovered the Large Print editions of my Mace Bauer Mystery series:

I get migraines from eye strain. It has been a long time since reading was fun for me until your books.

And another one, from a woman who said she's eagerly awaiting Book 3:

I couldn't wait to write and tell you how much I loved your book... funny, clever, LOL, great read ...

After paging through my Happy Folder, the day didn't seem so depressing after all.

PS to Oprah, if you're reading this. I didn't mean it about your couch.

How 'bout you, fellow authors? Do you have a favorite reader e-mail? Readers, have you ever heard from an author that a note from you made his or her day?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Passion of the Pen

Not too long ago I was asked in an interview: “What drove you to pick up that pen for the first time?”

The question struck me odd. Not in its content, but in my reaction to it. You see, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I can’t remember when I didn’t. And over the years, I’ve picked up the pen many times. And I’ve put it down many times. Up and down. Up and down. The seesaw of desire vs. commitment.

The real question is: "What drove me to pick up the pen for the last time and never put it down?"

Because isn’t that what being a writer is all about? Picking up the pen and never putting it down again. You can’t bring the dream of becoming a writer to fruition unless you keep the pen in your hand. Or fingers on the keyboard. Keeping your butt in the chair is tougher than it sounds, but the only way to succeed. And there is a direct correlation to the butt in the chair and the pen in the hand.

Another question I was asked recently during a library event was: “When did the passion to write strike you?”

While these two questions seem a lot alike, they are very different. One is about motivation to take action. The other about the drive to continue.

The passion to write burns in my belly like a greasy, yet yummy, bacon cheeseburger. It drives me to continue, book after book. It convinces me to juggle a day job and other responsibilities, to carve out time, often far into the night, many times before the sun is up, to produce each new novel. And with each book, my passion for writing grows, not diminishes. And the continuing glow of passion births bright and burning new ideas.

The more I write, the more I want to write. The more I want to write, the more ideas I have for new books. It is an addictive love affair that I could never bear to end.

The last time I took up the pen, I mated for life.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. -- Ernest Hemingway

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tips for Authors to Use from the Speaking Platform

Elizabeth did such a terrific job yesterday with this subject that I had to chime in. Speaking is an invaluable skill for an author. Like all skills, the more you know and the more you practice, the better you’ll be.

Here are some of my favorite tips culled from 20+ years on the platform:

1.) Make that glass of water warm. Cold water stresses the vocal chords. This will cause a woman’s voice to sound more strident. So, request lukewarm or warm water. Non-carbonated, please!

2.) When you show up early, take the time to greet people. I usually move through the crowd, shake hands, and say, “Hi, I’m Joanna and I’m your speaker today. Thanks for having me.” You’ll be amazed at the response! It’s hard to do, but once you try this, you’ll realize that you are among friends. Plus, take what you learn and use it from the platform. (See #3.)

3.) Compliment your audience. The best way is by doing your homework as Sue Ann suggested in the Comments yesterday. Know who they are and why they invited you. That said, you also compliment the audience by referencing what you learned about them. So, for example, I might say, “Elizabeth told me earlier that she’s excited about her new book. We’re all happy to have her join our ranks.” By mentioning an audience member I just met, I emotionally “step down” from the platform and join my audience. The technical term is “jumping the footlights.” All great performers do it.

4.) Take charge of your introduction. Don’t leave it to chance. Ask that someone introduce you, and then, offer to write your own intro. I print this up in 16-point type on colored paper and bring it with me in case my introducer needs another copy. In the intro, emphasize your connection with the audience. In August, I spoke to a Business and Professional Women group. I told them how 20+ years ago, I was one of their young careerists. By emphasizing your connection—whether it be your background or whatever—you are predisposing them to like you. After all, you have something in common!

5.) Defer to them. If you know someone in the audience, mention his/her name. Simply say, “I see my friend Alan Orloff out there. Glad you came, Alan.” It sounds infinitely corny, but it’s a surefire way to connect…and that’s the name of the game, connecting. (And your friend will appreciate the nod from the platform. Trust me—you’ll both look good.)

6.) Don’t read from your work verbatim. I learned this watching the great and generous John Lutz, author of Single White Female. Add “he said” and “she said” where appropriate so your piece makes sense to the audience. There’s a world of difference between reading to yourself and reading out loud. They won’t care if you “fudge” a bit by adding place-minders. In fact, they’ll appreciate it because they can relax as they listen.

7.) Remember why you are there. You are there to make friends. Yes, selling books is great. Yes, you are the speaker and their guest. But if something goes wrong, be gracious. If your time gets cut short, be brief-er. Don’t insist on your full allotment of time. If the introducer botches your name or the name of your book, just repeat the correct name and move on. If at the end of the day, people don’t walk away thinking you are a delightful, charming person, you’ve made a mistake by appearing. See, not everyone in the audience will want to buy your book. Not everyone will want to read your work. But if they like you as a person—FIRST—they’ll speak well of you. And that’s more important than anything else that could happen when you get the chance to speak.

8.) And yeah, always, always bring a handout. I like using paper with a full-color border. (Sometimes called “imprintables.”) You can buy it at the Dollar Store or any office supply store. It’s a perfect way to help the audience remember your name and visit your website. Shoot, I have enough trouble remembering my own name. How can I expect them to remember it, too? Instead, I print up something of value to leave behind—key points, funny sayings, whatever. Terry was right about this. (Read the “Comment” section from yesterday.) Here’s a real plus: You can write your notes on the handout, and the audience will think you are speaking verbatim. (Don’t tell on me!)

What more ideas? Visit my website:

And what works for you from the platform?

Joanna Campbell Slan
Photo, Snap, Shot—May 2010

Some Thoughts on Public Speaking

Salle Pleyel--1928--by Andre Devambez Five years ago, public speaking was a dreaded, but necessary, horror for me. You’d have had to shoot me with a tranquilizer dart and prop me up at the lectern to prevent me from looking like I was about to pop out of my skin. If you’d looked up the phrase ‘nervous wreck,’ it would’ve pictured me for illustration.

Nowadays I’m speaking in public so often that the biggest danger is that I look bored. Frequently, I am bored! If you’ve been listening to someone repeatedly give the same spiel, as I’ve listened to myself, then boredom does set in.

This past summer, Helen Ginger did a great series on public speaking at the Blood Red Pencil blog with a lot of wonderful tips.

I have a few tips of my own, learned the hard way.

Bring water. Sometimes the venue organizer will provide it, but more often they’re so busy that they don’t think about it. I’ve had coughing fits before and just had to get up and leave. (I’m sure SWINE FLU!) was going through everyone’s mind.

Bring money. If you’re speaking in a library or to an organization (and are selling books), bring lots of ones and fives. I’ve forgotten to bring money to several of mine and when the people asked if I had change, I said, “No. But what do you have?” Bartering at its finest.

Arrive early. I don’t like surprises and events are very different from each other: with microphones, without mikes, standing, sitting, sharing your time with other writers…it’s just good to know what’s expected of you before your talk starts.

Arriving early also puts me more at ease. If I meet people as they arrive to listen to me, I feel a lot more comfortable talking to them later.

Watch eyes and faces. They’ll let you know if you’re getting too boring. If I signs of sleepiness, I’ll change my talk’s course.

Too short is better than too long. Notice when you’re starting to ramble. This can be a symptom of being too comfortable with public speaking, but there’s also a nervous rambling that happens with newbie public speakers…I did it whenever I lost my train of thought or forgot what the original question was. Now I just wrap up my segment quickly when I feel blah blah blahs coming on.

Have fun. Be funny. Those in attendance are so appreciative if we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

How about everyone else? Any good tips to share?

Elizabeth Spann Craig
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—Aug. 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Inkspot News - October 3, 2009

At The Rap Sheet, Keith Raffel tells "the story behind the story" of his just-released novel, Smasher.

And over at The Big Thrill, Keith discusses Smasher with fellow thriller-writer Mark Terry.


G.M. Malliet is a guest blogger at Murder by 4.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Schoolin’ About Writin’

I never took a creative writing class in high school. In fact, I didn't care much for English class, always opting to do some kind of alternative communication project when available (think videotaped speech, pantomime, or interpretive dance), rather than write a paper. Maybe if they'd called it Language Arts, like they do now, I'd have been more interested.

In college, the only English class I took was a required technical writing course. Why did engineers need to learn how to write anyway?

In graduate business school, we had plenty of writing to do, but itBuzzword Bingo wasn't very creative, unless you thought playing buzzword bingo counted ("searching for synergistic solutions and proactively pursuing paradigms is all well and good, but moving forward at the end of the day..."). Creativity was mostly limited to accounting. (CEO to CFO: "Do you know how much 2 plus 2 is?" CFO: "Sure. Whatever you want it to be, boss.")

It wasn't until many years later that I decided to write fiction. I'd always been a voracious reader, so how hard could writing be?

My first efforts weren't pretty.

But I took a few writing workshops, got into some good critique groups, and, um, read a lot of books about writing.

A few favorites:

On Writing by Stephen King

Write the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

How to Write A Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey (not that James Frey!)

Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

There are tons of other books on the "How To Write" shelves. Some offer step-by-step plans, some put you through "boot camps," and some promise to help you churn out a book in a month or six weeks or ninety days. Whatever works for you.

Me? I usually feel like I'm just winging it.

What's helped you with your writing? Any special books? MFAs? Writer retreats? A six-pack on the back porch every night? 



Thursday, October 1, 2009


I’m lucky. There’s been a wait of less than a year between submission of my second book to the publisher and the publication date. Still, one does get impatient until finally the day arrives. And today it has. It's D-Day! October 1 is the official publication date of Smasher. (Let’s ignore the fact that has been merrily selling it for the past fortnight.) Let’s hit the beach (or maybe ramble a bit).

I received Mystery Scene Magazine yesterday. Idly leafing through it, I came across a review of Smasher. I hadn’t expected it till the next issue. Anyway, it says, “Raffel is writing from the heart.” I think that’s good, especially coming from reviewer extraordinaire Oline Cogdill.

Today The Big Thrill wrote, “Keith Raffel's new thriller, Smasher, has the feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie--a normal guy beset by mysterious conspiracies.” (Read the whole article here.) There's nobody I'd rather be compared to than to Hitchcock. (Thanks to the article's author, Mark Terry, who wrote the Derek Stillwater series.)

I leave in 12 days for Columbus, Ohio for two events and then I’m busing to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Indianapolis where I have two more. On October 20 we kick things off in a big way at my hometown bookstore, Kepler’s. Two weeks later I’m partnering up with Chicago mystery maven Libby Fischer Hellmann for nine appearances both in SoCal and the Bay Area. (Complete schedule here.)

Today, too, is significant because I will be sending my agent the final manuscript of my next opus in a few hours. And in a couple of months, the road show for Smasher will be over, who knows what will have happened to that opus, and I'll be starting another one. As Joni Mitchell wrote and Judy Collins sang, “And the seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on a carousel of time.”