Sunday, November 29, 2009

Are you unbalanced?

All writers start off as readers, and most of the authors I know will admit that they were addicted to buying books long before they ever thought of writing one. As someone confessed to me recently, "I buy three books for every one I read...I can't help it." Clearly there are worse vices to have, but one of the great ironies of becoming a writer is that you have less time to devote to the reading, the very act that inspired you to write in the first place. And once you start meeting other authors, including those who inspired you to write in the first place, the size of your collection of books can rival the library at Alexandria.

Lately I've been living on airplanes, flying back and forth between San Francisco and New York on a weekly basis. And the dilemma I always face is the temptation to read the entire flight, when I know that time in the air (away from phones and kids) is prime writing time, if only I can resist the urge to grab one of the 3 paperbacks stashed in my carry-on bag. Sure, I still read whenever I can, and most of my writing time in the early days came from stealing hours away from other activities and hobbies. But as a writer your reading is more directed, often driven by your latest research, or just catching up with friends' books.

Unlike many of my fellow scribes I haven't found the discipline to achieve a consistent balance between what I want to do and what I should be doing, so I've become a binge writer. I'll get sucked into a book like Keith Raffel's latest breakneck thriller, Smasher, and not write consistently for days, then after I finish I'll clear the decks and write nonstop for a week, barely sleeping. (I can tell when self-editing which prose was written first thing in the morning and which came from some self-induced sleep derived psychosis.) Then I'll take a day off, and next thing you know, a book is in my hands and days vanish like smoke.

I admire and envy those writers who bang out a consistent word count each day, but I'm not one of them. I guess I'm just not balanced, but anyone who's read my books already knows that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Inkspot News - November 28, 2009

Beth Groundwater's News:

Sniplits has chosen Beth's holiday story, "Biscuit Connection," as one of their featured audio short stories this week. For just 88 cents, you can listen to this touching story about a modern-day Scrooge who learns the true meaning of Christmas from an unlikely source.

On Monday, November 30th, from 4:00 - 4:30 pm MOUNTAIN STANDARD TIME, Beth will be interviewed by Sylvia Dickey Smith on her blog talk radio show, Murder She Writes. Please listen in, either live during the show or afterward.

On Tuesday, December 1st, from 1:00 - 2:30 pm, Beth will discuss her writing with the public and the members of the Rockrimmon Fiction Book Club at the Rockrimmon Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District, 832 Village Center Drive, in Colorado Springs.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dipping My Toes in the NaNoWriMo Waters

By now, most folks who have any connection with the fiction writing community have heard of National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November. The goal of each participant in NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word first draft of a fiction novel during November. Participants record their daily writing totals at the website and form support groups to keep each other moving toward that lofty goal. By now, I'm seeing some "NaNoWriMo Winner" logos popping up on Facebook pages of writing friends, meaning they've met their 50,000 word goal. Congratulations to all the winners and kudos for your hard work!

I've resisted participating in NaNoWriMo the past because, let's be honest here, I'm a slow writer. I follow an outline and write one scene at a time, at most, in each 2-3 hour session I spend at the computer when I'm working on a rough draft. I need time in between each session to let the two-sentence or so description of the next scene in my outline percolate in my mind until the characters involved are ready to start talking to each other. Sometimes I can fit two sessions in a day, but many days, only one. This kind of writing routine does not lend itself to producing high daily page counts.

To encourage writers like me in Southern Colorado to participate in the annual November fiction-writing frenzy, Pikes Peak Writers this year set up a NaNoTryMo program, where members are encouraged to set realistic goals on their current works-in-progress and provide mutual support in TRYING to reach those goals. I set a goal of adding 20,000 words to my Evil Eddies manuscript, the second Mandy Tanner river ranger mystery that will be published by Midnight Ink. I already had about 20,000 words written, and if I met my goal, I'd be about two thirds of the way through the rough draft. I tend to write a lean first draft and add more words, mostly description, scene setting, and narration, as I go back and edit.

I'm working with a small group of local writers I know, and we're reporting our page count progress to each other in emails, along with encouragement. I'm in awe of the progress my partners are making on their works. Two are approaching the actual 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal, while I'm struggling, sitting at about 16,000 words added so far this month with three days to go. Yes, I've had a lot of distractions (this week I'm skiing in Breckenridge with my hubby, for instance), but I've got to admit the procrastination is all my fault. So, today I'm staying inside and off the slope and sitting at my computer. Hopefully my characters will cooperate and start arguing with each other so I can record their disagreements.

Please wish me luck, because I'm looking forward to attending PPW's NaNoTryMo celebration party on November 30th, and I'd sure like to be able to report that I met the modest goal I set for myself!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Few Fun Facts About Thanksgiving

I can’t believe another year has passed by so fast, and the holidays are upon us once again!

First, let me say I am thankful, as always, for my family and friends and the well-being bestowed on all of us. I’m also thankful my husband enjoys cooking turkey and making stuffing. I’ve never had my hand in any bird’s “cavity,” but we’ve put a Thanksgiving feast on the table for his family and mine for seventeen years now. Better yet, both sides of the family get along…as long as the conversation doesn’t wander into religion or politics.

In honor of the holiday, I wandered over to to check out a few fun facts about Thanksgiving. Here’s the remix of what I read:

In 1621 the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is now commonly thought of as the first Thanksgiving. They may have eaten wild turkey but also cod, eel, clams and lobster. They did not eat sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie, as these items were not common at the time.

Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey would be a better national symbol for the United States than the bald eagle. He thought the turkey was “a much more respectable Bird" and "a true original Native of America."

Abraham Lincoln was not the first American president to proclaim a national day for thanksgiving. George Washington, John Adams and James Madison all issued proclamations urging Americans to observe days of thanksgiving.

In 1863 Lincoln did, however, declare the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. But in 1939, Franklin Roosevelt decreed the holiday should always be celebrated on the fourth (instead of the occasional fifth) Thursday of the month in order to extend the holiday shopping season by one week. Great controversy broke out, and it took Congress two years to pass a resolution making the fourth Thursday a legal national holiday. [Some things never change]

Minnesota is the top turkey-producing state in America.

The cranberry is one of only three fruits—the others are the blueberry and the Concord grape—that are entirely native to North American soil, according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association.

Three towns in the U.S. take their name from the traditional Thanksgiving bird: Turkey, Texas; Turkey Creek, Louisiana; and Turkey, North Carolina.

The first Thanksgiving NFL football game was broadcasted in 1934: the Detroit Lions versus the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit stadium.

Snoopy has appeared as a giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade more times than any other character in history. As the Flying Ace, Snoopy made his sixth appearance in the 2006 parade.

My son, a great fan of Snoopy the Flying Ace, is celebrating his birthday today on Thanksgiving. [Okay, that’s not on but maybe it should be] Happy birthday to my teenager! Love you lots!!

So what’s your favorite Thanksgiving food, fact, or memory? And Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Gobble, gobble :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why I Write Mysteries, by Jess Lourey

My story starts out the same--loved Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Hardy Boys as a kid, was always drawn to puzzles--but takes a sharp turn toward a cliff after that. You see, I never intended to be a mystery writer. In fact, around age 15, I stopped reading mysteries in favor of sci fi and fantasy. Then came college, and a Master's degree in English, and I couldn't break up with genre fiction fast enough.

I still devoured novels, but they were of the John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy variety. I took a few detours through Carlos Castaneda and Tom Robbins, but otherwise it was the classics, books that some elite "they" had signed off on, The Canon of Dead White Guys Born in a Previous Century. Lots of good stuff, none of it mysteries, which were, in my mind, the fluff of the fiction world, second only to romances. How soon we lose our roots.

Then came 2001, the year I lost my husband and my world became unmoored. I had a difficult time focusing on anything for any length of time, forget reading. But my aunt shoved a Tony Hillerman book in my hand, maybe so she wouldn't have to see me wandering aimlessly, maybe as a kindness to redirect my looping mind. I couldn't step out of my loss and into the story at first, but I read the words out of habit. Soon, though, I was completely immersed in this other world, and I can't describe to you the relief not thinking about myself for those few hours gave me.

It would be a stretch to credit my recovery from that dark pit to mystery novels, but they played their part. I swung from Hillerman to William Kent Krueger to Sue Grafton to Laura Lippman, and each one gave me relief and justice. I was feeling human again by the time I got to Janet Evanovich, and it was when I found myself laughing out loud at someone else's story that I realized I wanted to write funny mysteries, too.

And so I do. And that's why I write mysteries.

My thanks to those of you out there who write and read these fabulous books.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Neatness Doesn't Always Count

Cricket McRae
Yesterday I cooked.

I made beer-cheese soup. Brown the sausage, drain. Brown carrots, onion, celery. Add chicken stock. Simmer. Add grated raw milk cheddar dredged in flour, salt, pepper, Worchestershire, dry mustard, sausage and a bottle of Sierra Nevada pale ale.

Kind of made a mess.

I made bread. Easy peasy if you use the method in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I highly recommend. But I mixed enough starter to last for two weeks. In a bucket. With my hands.


Then there was the butter. Call me weird, but I like cultured butter but I don't like to pay eight dollars a pound for it at Whole Foods. So I mix piima culture into a jar of local cream and two days later let the standing mixer beat it to death until I get butter. And buttermilk. The real stuff. Salad dressings, pancakes ... mmmm.

Simple, but it can get a little messy.

This weekend I worked on a new writing project. First draft stuff. Notes all over my desk, stacks of books with post-its poking out, character's names changing from page to page, a notebook full of clustered plot ideas.

A real mess.

Lengthy descriptions here, not enough detail there, so many adverbs I'm surprised they didn't spill off the computer screen. Too many of the qualifying words that are my weakness -- just, only, sometimes, quite.

Blech. Such a mess.

This weekend I cleaned the kitchen. Wiped down the counters and the cupboards, scrubbed the sink, swept and mopped the floor. I did the dishes and scoured pans and shined up the appliances.

And this weekend I edited some work I wrote last week. Trimmed words, clarified dialog, rearranged awkward grammar, added sensory detail, eliminated an entire scene and sketched out a new one.

Last night I ended up with good food, and hopefully good prose. And watched the Broncos game, recorded from earlier in the day. Which was a real mess.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Inkspot News - November 22, 2009

Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press put Keith Raffel's new book, Smasher, on his list of holiday gift recommendations. Click here to read.

And Mike Cassidy of The San Jose Mercury News wrote about Raffel and Smasher on the front page of the business section. (See image to right.) Click here to read.
(Hope this posting counts as news!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh, Behave!

By Deborah Sharp

I had a lovely Author's Tea last night in Okeechobee, the small, countrified Florida town that's the real-life inspiration for my books' fictional setting. Pretty china teapots and a hand-crocheted tablecloth transformed a meeting room at the public library into a parlor. My friend and fellow author Jan Day generously promoted me on her home turf. And the readers couldn't have been warmer, or more welcoming.

Which makes the contrast with another event earlier in the week all the more jarring. A friend who runs a bookstore has a theory: The number of candy wrappers she spots on the floor always predicts the level of rudeness in the crowd. Let's just say I waded through a sea of wrappers at this earlier event, held in the much more urban setting of South Florida, where I live.

A woman in the front row smacked and popped her gum so exuberantly, I feared I'd have to stop talking to pick bubblegum-pink flecks off my face. Someone else took a cell phone call in the middle of my presentation. One brazen old gal cut to the front of the signing line, and then kept pushing books at me from her cronies near the back. I was prepared to shove the line-cutter back to her rightful spot when an annoyed cut-ee did it for me. We were lucky, I guess, the police weren't called.

Where are people's manners?

And it's not just readers. I've also seen plenty of authors behaving badly. One Florida writer I know got drunk at a signing and tumbled off the podium. At the crowded, confusing Miami Book Fair, another author snapped at a fairgoer who spotted our official-looking table and innocently asked for directions:

''We're here to sign books, not help you find your way.''

She could have just pointed out the Book Fair volunteer standing three feet away who could have provided assistance. And how about those panel-hog authors at conventions? On they drone, as eyes glaze over in the audience and their fellow panelists drum their fingers on the table and seethe.

Why don't people behave?

Yeah, I know public venting isn't polite, either. But I have a final rant before I open the floor to comments. I'm the first to say booksellers deserve a special place in heaven, and I've met some truly wonderful ones in the year since my first Mace Bauer Mystery came out. Except for the one I met recently who acted like I was too insignificant an author and Midnight Ink was too obscure a publisher for this store to possibly carry my books. When I suggested she might want to see one of our catalogs, she said, ''I'm not bored. I don't have to comb through catalogs and search out new books to sell in my store.''

Really? Isn't that your job?

Okay, enough. What's your favorite example of an author, reader or bookseller behaving badly? Names can be withheld to protect the ill-mannered .... or not.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stay-Cation on My Mind

Tomorrow night at 6:00 I begin my stay-cation. A stay-cation is when you take vacation days but stay home instead of traveling. I can’t wait! Counting weekends, I will have nine full days to do whatever the hell I want – well, within reason. You see, I do have a book deadline coming up in under two months. But in theory, I will have nine days that are all mine.

Mine. Mine. All mine.

Be still my heart.

I’m making a list and checking it twice. (Sorry, Santa.)
Clean and organize closet – check
Read a book – check
Lunch with friends – check
Visit the Getty Museum – check
Shampoo carpet – check
Attend Drag Queen Bingo - check
Write until my fingers are bleeding stumps – double check.

Hah! to cruises. Hah! to warm sandy beaches. Hah! to theme parks. I’m vacationing at the corner of Palms and Overland on the west side of Los Angeles. And the exhaust fumes from street traffic and planes on their way to LAX are complimentary. Such a deal.

In this crazy economy, stay-cations have become quite a popular. Are you planning a stay-cation? If so, what’s on your must-do list?

I'll be posting updates on my activities on my personal blog, Babble 'n Blog.

BTW – Drag Queen Bingo is really research for a new book. Honest!

By Sue Ann Jaffarian
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In the Limo with Deaver

Last weekend I was the emcee at "Murder and Mayhem in Muskego."

It's a one day conference thrown by Penny Halle, the world's coolest librarian and Jon and Ruth Jordan, the publishers of Crimespree magazine.

It's the one weekend a year I feel like a rock star.

They put you up in the Iron House Hotel--one of the top boutique hotels in the country according to Budget Travel. They transport you by limo to the library and they wine and dine you.

The fans at the library are the most attentive readers in the world. It's my third trip and it's very hard to return to regular life when I get home.

I hung out with Jeffrey Deaver, who is a very cool and regular guy. I got to talk to my new buddy, Jamie Frevletti about pending movie deals, sang Sinatra songs with Laura Lippman, Joe Konrath, Blake Crouch and Marcus Sakey. I moderated a panel with a group of women, including Joanna Campbell Slan, who abused a nice way.Spent a lot of time with blogger extraordinaire and every mystery writer's best friend, Jen Forbus.

Monday morning came around and I had to go to the day job.

There was no limo and no NYT bestseller to ride with.

It was tough to take.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tips and Tricks for the Forgetful Writer

Femme la Fentre--Virgilio-Guidi-1891-1984

I’ve always been forgetful, but this month has taken my little problem to a new low.

I forgot my parent/teacher conference at my daughter’s school.

I took my daughter to a Christmas play practice…and then realized (after her part had been assigned and she’d practiced for an hour) that we’ll be out of town the day that the play runs.

I bought a decongestant for my husband at the drugstore, then couldn’t find it. He and I searched my car, the den, our bedroom, and much of the rest of the house before we found his decongestant—in the freezer.

And…I published a post on the Midnight Ink blog yesterday when I knew my posting day was the 17th. It was on my calendar and everything as the 17th. But I posted on the 16th.

Wow. What’s going on?

I think one big component to my problem is email and the way I’m processing it.And then what I'm doing (or not doing) with the important emails afterward--how I'm reminding myself to take action.

I'm juggling lots of different types of messages: emails from readers (which I love getting), emailed requests for interviews, review copies, signed books for charity auctions, blurb requests for upcoming books from other authors, and emails from the publisher’s publicity person---this is for the book I'm promoting.

Emails regarding revision requests, emails to obtain blurbs on my upcoming book, submitting lists to publishers regarding review opportunities for ARCs, lining up appearances—this is for the upcoming book.

And then, of course, there’s the writing for the next book, which should always be in the hopper. And some emailing to editors and agent regarding that project.

My email inbox was a disaster area. Chit-chatting stuff alongside mail from my agent. The three list-servs I’m on had emails all over the place in my inbox.


The last couple of days, I’ve been working on imposing method to the madness.

Folders for my inbox…set up with mail rules upon delivery: listservs in one folder, agent/editor mail in another, interview stuff in another. I use Gmail for work, which technically doesn’t have folders—it has labels. But you can label one email several different ways, which is nice.

Using my phone for big reminders: My daughter’s parent-teacher conference? It totally needed a phone reminder. I can set up my phone to send me a text or to make an alarm to remind me of something important.

A “Big Picture” calendar: I think one problem I’m facing is that I’m not grasping the relationship between my days. That sounds nutty, but basically I think that just because something is on my day planner, I’m not really realizing that day’s relationship to the current day. There’s nothing wrong with using a page-a-day calendar—unless you don’t know what day it is. Which I, apparently, don’t. Now I’m using both—the daily one and the big picture calendar. I need a sticker with the words “You Are Here” on it to put on today’s date.

Starring or flagging important emails: This is something I’ve always done, but it’s worth a mention to those of y’all who don’t and end up with nutty inboxes. In Gmail, you can put a star next to an important email so you can find it later. In Outlook, you flag it. You can even choose different colored flags. Later, you can sort your emails so you only see the ones that require action.

As far as putting drugstore items in the freezer? I haven’t figured out a fix for that one, yet. I guess I’ll just have to include it in my places to look when I’ve lost something.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Travels with Keith

Our guest blogger today is Award-winning author Libby Fischer Hellmann . Publishers Weekly said Libby's novel, DOUBLEBACK, just out last month, "skillfully juggles disparate threads of bank fraud, extortion, drugs and illegal immigration." Below she writes of the highs and lows of traveling on book tour with Inkspotter Keith Raffel. You can read his side of the story over at the blog of a collective of terrific Chicago crime writers called The Outfit.

Libby and Keith signing at the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. An hour or two after this photo was taken, the two road warriors were cruising up I-5 on their way to Palo Alto.

You really get to know someone when you travel with them, and doing half a dozen signings with Keith Raffel in California last week did the trick. Keith was promoting his second novel, SMASHER; I was promoting my sixth novel, DOUBLEBACK. They are very different books, but we were able to make it work by talking about research, our writing processes, and craft. Along the way, I learned more about Keith than he probably wants you to know… but I’m willing to tell the world. So, forthwith, are the Top Ten Things I Learned About Keith.

10. “You can take the man out of the Valley, but…” Keith approaches everything like an entrepreneur. Writing a book for him is a team effort that requires a story (plot and characters), a research and development team (himself and readers), a marketing team (agent and publicity mavens), and a distribution arm (publisher). It works.

9. Keith has extraordinary children. I was able to meet 3 of his 4 kids, and I was bowled over. Each one is a bright, articulate individual with different talaents. Well done, Teri and Keith.

8. Teri, Keith’s wife, is a superwoman. She’s able to keep a house with 4 kids running smoothly, is cheerful, funny, considerate, and even-tempered. Most important, she makes time for herself -- she went out walking with her friends in the morning. How does she balance everything? I’m jealous.

7. Crime is no stranger to Palo Alto, Keith’s home. A stolen car was abandoned right in front of Keith’s house the night after Halloween. (See photo at left.) Keith was a regular Sherlock Holmes, casing the car (looking for dead bodies and clues to the crime, no doubt) before he called the cops. Turned out to be teenagers on a joyride, much to his chagrin.

6. Keith doesn’t use a GPS to get around. He prints out maps from Google or Mapquest, which makes things a little hairy when you’re driving down the freeway at 70 mph and have to check the directions.

5. Keith writes in a coffee shop but has to wear noise-reducing headphones so he’s not distracted. Bose, I think.

4. Keith’s son, Harry, is reading James Rollins. Which wouldn’t be so unusual except that he’s only 10 years old.

3. Keith bought the UK versions of the Stieg Larsson books, which means he already owns and has read THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET”S NEST. But you’ll have to get in line… he already let me borrow it.

2. Keith likes to skip shaving every once in a while. He likes the scruffy look.

1. Keith drinks at least a dozen cups of green tea during the course of his writing sessions. While we were touring, we found out that green tea can put an individual into an altered state. Really. I figure that explains it.

Thanks, Keith. I had a blast. And I didn’t have to drive!

On Marriage and Series

American Gothic--Grant Wood--1930 My husband and I started dating when I was a freshman in college. This will be exactly 20 years ago December 7th and means that I’ve known him longer than I haven’t known him.

You’d think there wouldn’t be too many surprises left, but there actually are. Oh, we have our set-in-stone-patterns most days, but sometimes we shake it up a little. And I think we’re hitting our midlife crises, so we’ve become somewhat more unpredictable lately (my husband has rediscovered his enjoyment of scuba diving.)

But even with some surprises along the way, I can frequently guess what my husband will think, do, or say about a given situation. He does the same for me. It’s very comfortable in many ways. I like the ability to read someone’s mind.

With series, you get to know the protagonist similarly well over a series of books and years. If I met Adam Dalgliesh in the street, I’m pretty sure I’d recognize him. PD James has made sure of that.

Reasons to write series:

For one thing, I enjoy reading series. I’m going into a book with some knowledge. I know the sleuth, I know the sleuth’s personality. I know the sleuth’s sidekick. I know some of the internal conflict. Just bring on the new victim, suspects, and murderer.

It’s easier for me to write. My setting usually stays the same. The constants I mentioned above (regarding sleuth and sidekick) are the same. I even have recurring characters in my books. I’m starting with a bunch of ‘knowns’ to build on. When you’re starting with Book One, you’re making everything up as you go along.

From a purely commercial standpoint, I make more money writing series. And I’m building up a name for myself (on the bookshelves) in the industry.

Challenges in series writing:

Making sure you don’t bore your returning readers by providing too much back story. Making sure you don’t confuse your new readers by not providing enough back story.

Some people don’t enjoy reading series, preferring stand-alones and a fresh story each time.

Not getting bored with your protagonist. And not boring others with him or her. Like a marriage, you really get to know your main character. This can be a good thing….or not. Try to keep it fresh—either by providing your protagonist with new challenges or new characters to interact with.

Things to check:

Is your protagonist likeable? If not, is he or she at least interesting to hang out with? Otherwise your reader might not want to stick around.

Is your protagonist growing as a character? I think marriages get boring when there’s no growth or change. Same goes for books.

Are you a series reader or writer? If you don’t like reading series, do you enjoy writing them?

Friday, November 13, 2009


If you're a writer, you probably have a work-in-progress (WIP). Heck, if you're a writer, you probably have a dozen WIPs.

After you've completed a first draft, and after putting it aside for a suitable "percolation period," it's time to get busy with the initial round of revisions. (I know many writers edit as they go. If I tried that, I'd never get past the first chapter!)

In other words, it's time to make sausage. sausages

Here's a tiny glimpse into the beginning stage of my sausage-making operation. Sometimes I change the order of the steps or omit a few, but eventually I grind and slice and dice and squish everything together into one tasty hunk of novelwurst.

I begin at the computer, where I...

Spell check. I do this multiple times throughout the process. I don't know about you, but a gremlin lives in my laptop and likes nothing more than to jack with me by adding typos and misspellings when I'm not looking.

Examine/eradicate/change my crutch words. Using WORD's Find and Replace feature, I search for all the words I typically overuse: that, just, maybe, sometimes, pretty, little, smile, nod, exopthalmos (just seeing if you were still with me), etc. I don't get rid of every instance, but I delete a lot of excess verbiage (especially those pesky "that"s that keep cropping up). Sometimes I also search on -ly words (bad adverbs! bad!).

Insert/adjust chapter breaks. Some are "cliff-hangers," some are logical scene endings, and others are based entirely on writer's whim. I re-jigger them so I don't end up with any 2-page chapters or 42-page chapters.

Tidy up transitions. My goal is to get the reader from one scene to the next smoooooothly and (relatively) unconfused.

Pretty-up ugly prose. Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Fill in those ominous XXXs. While writing the draft, I insert an XXX "placeholder" whenever I need a particular name (person, place, thing) but don't know it. Now is when I actually do the research to fill in the blanks.

Work out/refine timeline (see earlier post on A Million Blogging Monkeys). I get a calendar from whatever year/month the story takes place and map out the timeline. This way I can avoid having my characters undertake 36 hours of stuff in a single afternoon--and other embarrassing goofs.


What's next? After I complete all of the above (on the computer), I print out the manuscript and do a hardcopy edit. My eye seems to catch different things when I read on paper. (Plus I like scratching stuff out with a big 'ol red pen.)

Then it's on to read for story flow and character development (I'll leave those details for a future post).


How about you? For those who don't edit as you go, is your process anything like mine, or is it something totally different?

How do you make your sausage?



Thursday, November 12, 2009


G.M. Malliet

There are occasions we can never forget. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK are among the occasions that come to mind.

Occasions where you not only remember where you were, you can never forget where you were, what you were doing, when you heard the news.

But there is a happy occasion that comes to mind, also: the day the Berlin Wall fell, twenty years ago on November 9. The day we woke up, most of us with nothing more pressing on our minds than what to have for breakfast, and saw the amazing images of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Of people cavorting on top of the much-hated, nearly 100-mile-long concrete edifice.

The day communism collapsed in Europe, seemingly overnight.

One day you’d be shot for trying to cross the border (and many did die trying), the next day a giant Oktoberfest was in progress.

No one could believe it. Freedom was as “easy”—and as difficult—as that.

The escape attempts, whether successful and unsuccessful, were heartbreaking. How desperate do you have to be to make a break for freedom with your family in a homemade hot air balloon? To spend months digging a secret tunnel, with the hundreds of occasions for betrayal and discovery? To make a mad and almost certainly suicidal dash across the “death strip”?

By coincidence (having forgotten the 20th anniversary of this event was upon us) my husband and I visited the Newseum for the first time last week, where as it turns out, part of the Berlin Wall is on exhibit. This, combined with a display of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, many of atrocities too painful to witness, and the 9-11 exhibit (ditto), provides a powerful one-two-three punch. I would urge everyone visiting Washington, D.C., to take in the Newseum, but bring a handkerchief. The exhibits are among the most potent reminders of the freedoms it is so easy to take for granted—beginning with that writers’ favorite, the freedom of the press.

My turn at this blog is a day late for Veterans Day, but let this serve as a very small tribute to those whose sacrifices let us live without walls, real or imagined.

Berlin wall photo from

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Diary of an Envious Author

by Felicia Donovan

Diary My nine-year old friend, Alex, recently loaned me his copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I've watched this series climb up the bookselling charts to hit the number one spot both in adult and children's categories and was ever so curious about it.

An hour and exactly 224 pages later (a quick read, I assure you), I understood why. Author Jeff Kinney has managed to capture the developmentally immature, mischievous antics of socially-challenged Greg Heffley, an angst-driven adolescent who makes life anything but mundane. The stick-like figure cartoons lend hilarity in their sardonic simplicity.  It's not often that I find myself chuckling out loud while reading, but when skinny Greg tries to dupe teens out of money, he preemptively asks his out-of-shape friend, Rowley, to teach him some karate moves, "But Rowley said he's a gold belt in karate and he wasn't going to teach his moves to a 'no belt."

Once again, I'm kicking myself in the tooshie for not having thought of writing it first. Angst? You want angst? How about my nightmare of being the fourth child in a line of straight "A" smarties - all of whom had the same teachers. "You are related, aren't you?" Mrs. Allgrove asked as she studied me over her bifocals, mystified that unlike my siblings before me, I couldn't tell a polygon from a polliwog.

Sarcastic whit? Did you not hear that I was President of the Club? Read the t-shirt and buy a clue.

Adolescent hi-jinx? I'll journal my little heart out about skipping classes to go to the beach and thinking we would get caught and be thrown in jail or worse - sent home to face our mothers.

Another great series I coulda, shoulda, woulda written -- if only I'd thought of it first. Hats off to you Jeff Kinney. That's okay, I have an idea for another book about what to and not to eat. My working title is Eat This, Get Fat. It's got bestseller written all over it, don't you think?

New Technology, Not Better Technology

by Julia Buckley
We have gone through a lot of telephones in my family. Home phones tend to be expensive these days, but they are cheaply made (cell phones are a different category, and they're for another blog post). I'm talking about the landline--the good old house phone which, in our case, has always been mounted on the wall.

But the last few phones we had were so light and insubstantial that if we tried to travel while talking--travel,say, across the room--the phone got yanked out of its moorings and clattered onto the floor. Our most recent phone fell and clattered so often that I indulged in some insane moments, yelling at it while it lay in all its cheapness on our hard wood floor.

These events gave rise to a wave of nostalgia, and I indulged in memories of my 1960s and 70s era rotary-dial phones: big, heavy, substantial and ever reliable, these phones were soon phased out for the newer models, because lighter is better, right?

I was not convinced. I've blogged before about planned obsolescence, and my phone experience put me on that soapbox once again.

This time, though, I followed my nostalgia to Ebay, where I found the lovely rotary model in the photo. I purchased it for ten dollars, and it now sits regally on my desk. It works, by the way, and every time I dial it I thrill to the sound of the dialing disk as it slides back into place.

What if I'm on the phone, but I want to wheel my chair over to the other desk--the one where I pay the bills? No problem. This jumbo telephone isn't going anywhere--and it has nice little rubber feet that help to hold it in place.

So I say hurrah for Ebay and for the chance to reclaim some of the value that has been lost in the age of expediency. I highly recommend my rotary dial, and if you call me, you can bet I'll answer you on that one, and not the little cheapie on the wall.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Support Your Local Library!

In these tough economic times, more and more stresses are being placed on local libraries, while at the same time many of them are facing budget cuts. People who can't afford to buy as many books are checking more of them out of the library. People who have lost their jobs are using library computers and reference materials to search for new jobs. Also, libraries are serving as community centers, providing meeting rooms to organizations and low-cost or free reading or educational programs for children and adults.

How can you support your local library and assure the services they provide your community continue? I'll list a few ideas, and I'd like to encourage InkSpot readers to submit more ideas in comments. Libraries everywhere need our help and encouragement.

1. Donate used books that you no longer want to your local Friends of the Library organization or to whatever entity at your library runs a used bookstore, with profits going to buy new materials for the library shelves.

2. If a library tax measure is up for a vote in your community, support it any way you can, with a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, a sign in your yard, a contribution to the campaign, personal e-mails to your friends encouraging them to support the measure, etc.

3. Include your library or the Friends of the Library organization in your year-end giving plan. Most libraries have an associated nonprofit organization, or are one themselves, to which you can make a tax-deductible donation. Alternatively, if your library has a donation "wish list" of physical items, maybe you have a file cabinet, printer, bean bag chair or some other item that you no longer need and the library could use.

4. Volunteer a few hours a week in your library to shelve books, read to children, decorate a bulletin board, make database entries, or do whatever needs to be done. As library funding shrinks, so does the staffing, and volunteers can help fill some of the gaps.

5. Serve on a library committee to plan special events such as local author signing days or an all-city-reads program. And, you can even bake cookies or provide other refreshments for such an event. I serve on the committee for the Pikes Peak Library District's annual Mountain of Authors program, which aims to connect local authors with potential readers in the community. My connections with fellow local authors are useful in planning programs and inviting speakers. If you're an author, this is an area where you can really contribute.

6. Another area where a writer can contribute is in encouraging teen writers. If your local library doesn't have a teen writing critique group, start one. If they do, offer to talk to the group about writing or writing business how-tos. I've given presentations to the teen writing group at my library branch about tools for character development, how to write a query letter, markets for teen-written short stories and poetry, and other topics. I find working with enthusiastic teen writers to be a lot of fun!

7. Avid readers can volunteer to run a book club at your local libraries, possibly focusing on a particular genre or a theme, such as "world travelers" . I've discussed my mystery books with general and mystery-oriented book clubs at various Pikes Peak Library branches, and while some are managed by librarians, others are run by volunteer organizers.

8. Join your local Friends of the Library organization and volunteer for their projects, many of which might be included in the above list. Or, serve on the Library Board as a community liaison.

9. If you're an author, donate a copy of one of your books to the library and volunteer to put on a reading or discussion program by yourself or with other local authors.

10. USE your library! Get a library card and check out books, movies, and other materials and talk to your friends and neighbors about how useful the library is to you.

I'm sure InkSpot readers can come up with lots of other ways to support your local libraries, so chime in, folks!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Do You …Or Will You…Do?

How many social or business events have you attended where someone asked, “So what do you do?” Most people respond by talking about their job and maybe segue into their hobbies. Years ago, my answer would have been, “I’m the Human Resources Director at… or I work in Marketing at …” For seven years, I said, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” During those years, depending on how exciting my day was, I might also have answered, “I’m the laundry frau.” I doubt many children aspire to be that. I know I didn’t.

But now I’ve published my first novel, and I can say, “I’m a writer.” I never said that until I signed my publishing contract. I feared if I did people would ask if my book was finished yet or when it was going to be published and I would feel pressure. Since I wrote for my own entertainment, I didn’t want any pressure. I didn’t want to feel like I was failing in some way when I was so excited about all the words I put on paper. I didn’t want to feel like the woman who says, “We’re trying to have a baby” because, let’s face it, it’s the kind of goal either ultimately achieved—or not.

Last month, I left my family (something I hate to do) to attend Bouchercon for four days and promote For Better, For Murder. Socializing was different there. Most people could tell from the bookmarks sticking out of my name badge that I was a writer—okay, author. No one started a conversation by asking what I do or about my interests. Readers, librarians, writers, and authors abounded. Popular authors drew crowds.

During my last hour of the conference, I realized one of my preferred authors, Harlan Coben, was standing behind me, talking with some readers. When I got home, I checked out his web site and his list of appearances. He spent March in Begium, France, and New York. April in California, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, D.C., West Virginia, Florida, and Scotland. May in England. My first thought was the man’s an international sensation and a real star. Then I wondered, did he have to be away from his wife and kids for all that time? Then I read the statement at the top of his appearance list: “Any requests should be directed to Harlan's publicity people—Harlan does not choose where he goes.” And I thought, are you saying Harlan’s given up control of his life?

Days later I read an online story about Kenny Rogers. A man paid him $4 million dollars to sing “The Gambler” at his birthday party. Who wouldn’t accept that gig? According to the story, Kenny sang it twelve times. When the man asked a thirteenth time, Kenny drew the line. Me, I would have folded after three to four requests.

So what would you give up to be an international sensation and a real star? And where would you draw the line?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is H1N1 Worthy of the Hype?

I feel qualified to answer this question because as this is being posted, I am on Day 4 of this flu. In many ways, it’s like any other flu. There’s a fever, sore throat (that soon develops into a nasty, wet cough) and muscle aches.

After the first two days, it doesn’t feel as severe as it did during those initial 24 hours, but it also doesn’t seem to let up. I had Mono once in high school and this flu reminds me of Mono because I’m tired all the time. If I fold a load of laundry I have to rest afterward. If I write a paragraph I have to rest afterward. This blog post will set me back days!

My son also has H1N1. (That's him dressed as Swine Flu Indiana Jones) He was diagnosed on Halloween and the doc said, “No trick-or-treating for him.” Yeah right. I could not do that to the kid. He’s a six-year-old boy. Running around taking handouts of free candy is his idea of heaven. How could I deny him? I didn’t. I made him wear a mask, had my husband ring the doorbell and collect the candy, and refused to let him near another human being. Did he still have fun? Heck, yes! He got 80 pieces of candy and told me it was the best Halloween ever!

I think the media has spun this illness beyond the bounds of reality. I know adults and children alike have lost their lives from this flu and that others have had some major scares (the children of two friends had fevers reaching 104 degrees. That’s scary!), but is this flu really worse than other strains? Does the fear do us any good?

Perhaps I’ll answer my own question by saying that our public school phoned last week with a recorded message detailing exactly how our children should be washing their hands (warm water and soap – can you imagine?). I had my son listen. Afterwards, he went into the bathroom and followed the recording’s steps. When he emerged, he proclaimed, “Now when I pick my nose my boogies taste like lemon.”

And that’s how he got H1N1! Anyone out there had it? Do you think it’s worth the hype?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween Sluts

Let me take this blog down a notch, away from writing and toward the gutter. Halloween was this past Saturday. Love Halloween, always have. Is there a connection between enjoying a holiday based around subterfuge and disguise and being a mystery writer? I dunno. Let’s say there is, and that I was the first one to point it out.

But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I’m the mother of a bright, beautiful, funny, clever 11-year-old girl, and when we went costume shopping, all the costumes were some version of “Halloween Slut”: naughty nurse, candy corn concubine, wanton witch. Want to portray a strong, interesting character? Too bad. You’re a girl. Strap on the fishnets and get to work.

My daughter bucked it all and made her own Penelope costume, based on the pig-nosed girl character in the movie. She was warm, and she got to smile a lot because she didn’t have to worry about her belly hanging out or her skirt being too short. But can’t we as a culture do better? Can we boycott the short, tight, mono-boob-creating female costumes and embrace creativity on this of all holidays?

By the way, I was an elven warrior, and I meant it. Tell me what your favorite costume was this year so we can carry those warm thoughts with us right up until next Halloween.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Where of a Story

Cricket McRae
One of the definitions of cozy mysteries is that they are set in small towns, or at the very least communities small enough to limit the number of characters. Think retirement homes or resorts.

My books, whether I like it or not, are classified as cozies. I insist on calling them contemporary cozies so I don't feel guilty about the occasional bad language or sexual reference. I also address issues like suicide, depression and alcoholism, which once caused a potential blurber to offer me his (polite) refusal rather than the hoped for pithy cover endorsement.

Now, I'm not interested in addressing the whole question of whether "cozy" is a negative appellation or how to define the subgenre. That's been covered ad infinitum on other blogs, DorothyL, etc., and I don't need to add to that particular fray. In fact, this is the last time you will read the word cozy in this post.

Thank God.

Because today I'm thinking about how setting affects story. And here's why: My books are set in the small town of Cadyville, Washington, which is based on the real town of Snohomish, Washington. But my protagonist is originally from the town I now live in which is located in northern Colorado. Well, a fictionalized version of that town. And in the fourth in the series, Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, I bring Sophie Mae back home for a visit.

I thought it would be easy. After all, I live here. How hard could it be?

Pretty darned hard, it turned out.

In the triumvirate of character, plot and setting, setting generally comes in last despite its importance. You can't have a story without a plot, or without characters to enact that plot. Can you have a [good] story without setting? I won't say absolutely no, but it would be quite rare.

Think about the movie Deliverance. Not for too long because I don't want you to get creeped out and move on to the next blog on your list. Could that movie be as effective if it were set in an English village? Or Miami? What about Lord of the Flies set in a sleepy mid western town?

Maybe. Dropping character and plot into an unlikely setting is a way to shake things up or make a point. Romeo and Juliet has been told in countless ways in different settings. And with different characters, for that matter. Hamlet as well. But The Tempest requires the original setting. Midsummer's Night Dream does, too.

I've always enjoyed weaving setting into a story. Description adds depth and atmosphere and evokes the senses, and I love finding just the right telling details. Perhaps writing a series allowed me to get lazy, though. Not in terms of describing setting, but in terms of having to define that setting over and over. The house, the weather, the town of Cadyville -- all are so thoroughly ingrained in my psyche by now that I no longer create details, I merely share them. Of course there are new and different settings in each book, but the basics have remained the same for the first three.

As a reader, consistency of setting is comforting. I'm instantly grounded. Plop me down in Nero Wolfe's brownstone, and I can find my way around. Take Jessica Fletcher out of Cabot Cove and start jetting her around the world, and the show jumps the shark. (Yes. I watched Murder She Wrote. It was about a mystery writer, and I'm not apologizing.)

So it was tricky, getting that sense of the familiar in an unfamiliar place to work in Something Borrowed, Something Bleu. I think I pulled it off, but time will tell. Or rather, my readers will, when it comes out next spring.

What role does setting play in your writing -- and reading?