Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Malaprops and Mondegreens, by Jess Lourey


The Far Side cartoon to the left is one of my favorite of all time. It’s an example of a mondegreen, which is a fancy word for a misunderstanding where what you hear makes more sense (to you, anyhow) than what was actually said.

Along those same lines are malapropisms, which are the unintentional misuse of a word. The character of Joey Tribbiani in Friends used many malapropisms. A shining example from the third season: "No, a moo point. Yeah, it's like a cow's opinion. It just doesn't matter. It's moo."

As an English teacher, I’ve seen a lot of malapropisms in my day: students writing didactic essays decrying youth in Asia, heartfelt narratives about how you can’t take family for granite, historical research into the lives of feudal pee-ons. They’re good for a giggle, but they can also be annoying. I have a friend who believes that somewhere a puppy dies whenever someone says, “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes.”

I’m currently outlining Oktoberfest, the sixth installment in my Murder-by-Month series, and I’ve decided to include a modern Mrs. Malaprops in the novel. Care to help me with my research by sharing your favorite malapropisms?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It is hereby resolved...

We're almost at another new year. The start of a new decade, in fact. It's resolution time. Here are mine:
  • Exercise/walk more.
  • (Which may lead to): Eat more healthy foods.
  • Keep in mind that if Anna Wintour of Vogue thinks size 4 is the new zaftig, it's a losing battle anyway.
  • Donate more generously.
  • Write (more) every day.
  • Remember the only resolution that matters: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." That was Plato. Wise man.
Does anyone else even bother with resolutions? I always have. Some years I've made progress. Other years, not so much. The trick, I think, is to keep it vague. That way you do make progress, regardless. (If I said, "Write ten pages every day," I already know it's a recipe for failure. "Write more," though - that I can do.)

Image of Plato taken from

Monday, December 28, 2009

45 Lessons

By Felicia Donovan

45 Lessons

As 2009 winds down and the hustle and bustle of the holidays begins to fade, it is that time of year to reflect on what was, and what is to come.

My good friend, Doreen (a.k.a. "Ethel") sent me this video, "45 Lessons in Life," which seems rather appropriate as we think about what is most important. 

I know I am extremely grateful for all that 2009 brought to my life and wish all of you Joy, Health, Peace, and most of all, Love, in the coming New Year.

45 Lessons in Life

Sunday, December 27, 2009

InkSpot News - December 27, 2009

Keith Raffel is trying to argue that he has some culinary talent in his guest posting over at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.

G.M. Malliet's new release, Death at the Alma Mater, is a featured book for January at the mystery book club at Barnes and Noble online.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December and Time

by Julia Buckley
Forty-five years ago this month my mother gave birth to me. There we are--my mother a glamorous 1960s gal, and me a little bundle in footy pajamas. (Yes, my mother dressed up around the house. Look at those stockings! I wonder if my children will reminisce about my sweats? Or on special occasions, sweats with a racing stripe?)

I was my mother's fifth and last child. My siblings suggest that I was babied all my life, although I never felt that I was. (That will have to be a whole other post--birth order and psychology, or some such thing).

I can't say that babyhood feels like just yesterday. Yet it also feels odd to be an almost 45-year-old person, simply because when you're twenty and thirty, you never think you'll be 45. A similar illusion to thinking you'll never die, I suppose.

30 years after I was born, on this very day in December, I had my first child. As you can see, he was a sweet little fellow, and he still is, under the standard teen veneer of sarcasm and know-it-allness. I asked him how he would like to celebrate his 15th birthday. He is already immersed in one of his early presents: a mini laptop--a no-frills affair that his mom got on sale--which will probably now become the center of his universe. He shrugged and said that he'd like a couple more things to open, and he'd like to go out for dinner. This I can handle. Yet it seems there should be something more to herald this occasion--trumpets or fireworks or something. My baby is fifteen, and before I know it he'll be in college.

I remember my mother having similar moments of prescience. I would catch her, back when I was in high school, watching me as I ate my bowl of cereal, or studying me when I overslept in the morning. "What?" I'd say irritably.

"You look like an angel when you sleep," she'd say.

"Yuck. I drool, and my mouth hangs open."

My mother would sigh, (as I sigh now when my son claims that everything is boring or dumb. "Boring as balls," is his favorite simile, but apparently balls are metaphorically flexible, because his last English test was "as easy as balls." Whatever that means. Mostly he just wants to say "balls.")

"You used to be such a sunshiney person," she would say. What she didn't say was that she hadn't recovered from me hitting the teen years and becoming Dorothy Parker overnight.

"I'm still sunshiney," I told her. "Underneath."

We made it through the teen years, my mother and I, and she considers me sunshiney once again. Now our biggest problem is distance, and her yearning for the time when her children were all around her. I can already feel the pangs of that future fate. It's not so evident yet, except in my son's growing social life--his private phone calls and his not-so-subtle clicking out of Facebook if I happen to wander into the room. (Not that I can't see what he was typing--I am his Facebook friend, after all). :)

Every December brings a revelation--my son becomes a year older, I become a year older, and we move farther and farther from my mother's youth, my youth, the snows of yesteryear. I love December for the celebrations it brings, but December is a reminder, as well, of time's relentless passage.

Still, it is beautiful to me, because it binds my son and me together--the month of our birthdays, always 30 years apart. It will be easy for him to remember no matter what age I am, I tell him. Easy as balls. :)

Happy Birthday to my son Ian, and Merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Take on a 10 Best Mysteries List

Keith here.
Best 10 lists are proliferating everywhere. So I am humbly offering mine. But I’m not restricting myself to 2009. These are my ten favorite mysteries of all time. One caveat: I have not included any books published in the last decade. To get on my favorite list a novel has to age like a good cabernet. Feel free to comment with or without insults aimed at my taste and intelligence. The books are listed in chronological order. They are all still in print. Happy holidays!

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett, 1930: The ur-text of all modern detective fiction. Sam Spade, the main character, might appear to have questionable ethics, but when it comes to justice, he always does the right thing. I’ve heard the story that John Huston got a first draft of his movie screenplay by having his secretary type all the dialogue out of the book while he went out drinking.

Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy Sayers, 1933: What a romp! A duke’s younger brother, always ready with a quip, infiltrates an ad agency – under the alias of Death Bredon! – to find a murderer. Sayers knew her way around interwar advertising. Funnily enough, Sayers herself disliked the novel.

Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler, 1940: Others will chose The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye, but for me this is the one where Chandler hit his stride. The characters of Moose Malloy (“He was a big man, but not much more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck.”) and Velma Valento (“A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”) were never bettered. And Philip Marlowe’s knowing cynicism infuses the book. (“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”)

The Drowning Pool, Ross Macdonald, 1950: Like Chandler, Macdonald hit his stride in the second book in a long-running series. Who better than Southern California’s Lew Archer to delve into a rich family’s secrets and find how they lead to murder?

Time and Again, Jack Finney, 1970: Simon Morley has a mystery to solve in 1882 New York City. One problem: he lives in 1969. How he gets there and what he finds out is compelling reading. The best book ever for Manhattan-philes.

Briarpatch, Ross Thomas, 1984: I myself write books about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. There’s no better example of the genre than this one. Benjamin Dill is just a dull guy until he gets the call that his homicide detective sister is murdered. Tracking down what happens changes him profoundly in a way that even scares the woman who loves him.

Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley, 1990: I’m not sure anyone has ever recreated a place long gone better than Mosley in this book. You feel you’re right there with Easy Rawlins in post-war African-American LA.

Booked to Die, John Dunning, 1992: How can you go wrong with a hero who’s both a book collector and a cop? There's a murder and a beautiful widow. The ending haunts me still.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie King, 1994: What if a 15-year old girl ran into the retired Sherlock Holmes beekeeping on the Sussex Downs? What if she were his intellectual equal? A tour de force.

River of Darkness, Rennie Airth, 1999: I’m no fan of serial killer mysteries, but this one about a psychopath and the quiet, decent cop who tracks him down is about as good as it gets. Airth brings the violence of the World War I battlefield home to a quiet English village.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Inkspot News - December 19, 2009

Patricia Ruocco of the Lisle Library in Illinois has created a (wonderful) Death of a Cozy Writer page at Murder Among Friends - complete with maps, photos of bedsits and King's College Chapel, links to Agatha Christie's Greenway, etc. An illustrated Cozy Writer, in other words. Thank you, Patricia, and may you have a wonderful holiday!

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm a fan of Mystery Scene Magazine

Yes, I'm a fan of Mystery Scene Magazine and have been subscribing for years. For me, its the best way to keep my finger on the pulse of the mystery publishing business and community, and I'm happy to report that the patient is "not dead yet." Far from it! New publishers, new imprints, new series, and new authors spring up all the time, and Mystery Scene is where I often read about them first. When the magazine arrives in the mail, I immediately sit down and read it cover-to-cover.

The latest issue, Number 112, 2009, is no exception. First is the wonderful in-depth article on cover model Sara Paretsky, and her protagonist, V.I. Warshawski. I've admired Sara since joining Sisters in Crime and learning that she was the founder of this worldwide organization to support women crime writers, which earned her Ms. Magazine’s 1987 Woman of the Year award. Modern-day women crime writers like myself can now walk blithely through the doors that pioneers like Sara pounded open for us.

After the cover article, I usually go to the book reviews to find out which books I should add to my growing to-read list. I'm especially heartened that books from my three favorite mystery publishers (two of which publish my books) are often included and well-reviewed in the pages of Mystery Scene: Five Star, Poisoned Pen Press, and Inkspot's own Midnight Ink. It's wonderful that books from mid-sized presses like these, and even smaller presses, are given the same attention by Mystery Scene's reviewers as those from the big New York presses.

Next, I go to the New Books section to read entertaining, and often funny, articles by authors about their new book releases. The articles give behind-the-scenes glimpses into authors' lives, the research we do, how we develop our characters and plot ideas, and early influences in our childhoods that led us into becoming so fascinated with reading and writing mystery books. I've been very lucky that Mystery Scene has accepted two of my own New Books essays, one each for my two Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery books, A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket. Probably because I'm such a eager reader of these essays, I know what the editors are looking for.

And let me digress and praise the editors, Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, for all they do for the mystery community. I, and many others, always look forward to the New Author Breakfasts and Speed-dating Sessions that Kate and Brian host at mystery conferences to acquaint attendees with new talent in the field.

Finally, this latest issue of Mystery Scene has two very special feature articles. First was the "Mystery Lover's Gift Guide" by Kevin Burton Smith. I can tell you that quite a few of his suggestions made it onto MY gift list! And last but certainly not least was Lawrence Block's debut column, "The Murders in Memory Lane". What a fascinating story he had to tell about where a particular book title came from! I'm really looking forward to future columns by him.

The only thing that I don't find in the pages of Mystery Scene to satisfy my cravings for all things mystery is short fiction. I'm a huge fan of the mystery short story form, am a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and have even written and published a few of my own mystery short stories. I've decided that to satisfy my craving for short mystery fiction, I should subscribe to another mystery magazine that features at least one short story a month.

So, here's a challenge to Inkspot readers. What other mystery-related magazine do you read and recommend (and tell me why you like the magazine so much)? I want to put one that includes short mystery fiction on my Christmas gift idea list that I'm giving my husband. Which one do you think he should subscribe to for me? I'll go with whichever magazine gets the most votes.

Let the voting begin!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Makes a Bestseller?

I took a class “How to Write a Bestseller” a few years ago. The instructor had never written a bestseller, but he’d read and analyzed a whole bunch to determine what they had in common. He planned to write his own novel titled—you guessed it—How to Write a Bestseller.

I haven’t seen his book or even his name in print since. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. But I like to think everyone has a little genius in them, and some of the things he said bear repeating. In fact, he may have been repeating the genius of others. I may, therefore, be guilty of the same.

Here’s the “How To” rules I remember:

*The opening chapter lets the reader know immediately where the story is headed.
*The stakes start high and escalate.
*The setting takes us somewhere extraordinary.
*The conflicts are layered.
*The characters are complex with unique voices.
*Two named characters dominate each scene.
*Tension leaps off every page.
*Every chapter ends with an irresistible cliffhanger.
*The story affirms the reader’s values and beliefs.
*The writing is concise, utilizing an economy of words.
*Dialog is more prevalent than narrative or description.
*The writer believes the reader is intelligent (hence no need for a lot of back story or explanations).
*Framing is used within the story.
*Bestsellers start with a “high concept.”

The last bestseller I read was Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. Although the book is from 1995, my book club just selected it for our upcoming meeting. Oprah picked this novel for her book club in 1998. Its film release followed in 2000 although the film rights sold in 1995 (I saw the movie years ago, too—love Natalie Portman). Don’t ask me if Oprah propelled the book onto the bestseller list, because I don’t know for sure. But I don’t think so. She most likely sent it into the stratosphere.

For those of you who don’t know the story, a pregnant seventeen-year-old, Novalee Nation, takes up residence in a Wal-Mart after her boyfriend abandons her there during their move across the country. I won’t bore you with the analysis, but I could check off almost every item on the list after reading the book. In fact, the book was so good, for while I thought it might have been a true story (because, of course, truth is stranger than fiction).

Now I haven’t written a bestseller yet, but I have to admit when I analyze my work, I can’t check off all these items on the list either. I do think about this list when I write, when I read, and when I watch movies, wondering if a bestselling formula really exists.

So, what rules do you keep in mind when you’re writing? And when you think about the bestsellers you’ve read—or viewed on screen—what would you add or subtract from this list?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tacky Light Tours

In our neck of the woods, one can rent a stretch limo and view the best light displays in town. With a television displaying crackling fire and an endless supply of hot chocolate, one could have a three-hour tour for right around $400.

I decided to take the cheap route. I printed a map of the best light displays from, loaded my kids in the car, and turned the radio to a local station playing Christmas music all day long until December 25th.

Most of the houses were fun to look at, but nothing took my breath away until we arrived at our last stop – a mother-son team who had more than 500,000 lights strung between their neighboring houses. The son, who begins hanging lights in September, has some displays (like this traffic signal tree) that I’ve never seen before.

My kids and I got out of the car and walked around, giddy and giggling. Dozens of other families were there and everyone was smiling and pointing at one wonder after another. In that moment, we were all little kids. It was truly magical.

Do you have a tacky light house near you? Do you love them or hate them?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Drunk Writers, by Jess Lourey

Keith Raffel, acclaimed writer of Smasher, is famous for his love of image green tea. He’ll be the first to tell you he has a multi-cup habit, and as I type and drink my red wine, I wonder if “green tea” is a euphemism for something a bit edgier. (Sorry, Keith. It’s all those undergrad psych classes catching up with me. Or the red wine.)

The myth of the drunk writer is long and storied (ha! storied): Truman Capote, while writing In Cold Blood, got so drunk one night image that he fell on the pavement, chipping his teeth and smashing his head open. Jack London tied his first one on at age five. Hemingway swigged tea and gin for breakfast and absinthe for lunch. And don’t forget Edgar Allen Poe, Steinbeck, Lowry, Faulkner, O'Neill , Parker, and Sinclair Lewis.

Are these stories aberrations? Not according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, which in a study found image that 30 percent of writers were alcoholics, compared with 7 percent in the comparison group of nonwriters. The author of Alcohol and the Writer discovered that after bartenders, more writers die of cirrhosis of the liver than people in any other occupation (but maybe he was drinking when he wrote that).

So what gives? Is Freud correct in his assertion that creativity is a response to emotional pain, and artists are simply suffering more than the average folk? Or is it the necessarily lonesome life of the writer that makes us more likely to self-medicate?

I’d like input on this from both drinking and non-drinking writers. And for the record, I have a hard time remembering to blink both eyes simultaneously after a couple glasses of red, forget writing a novel.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Say Cheese!

Cricket McRae

This is the new cover for my fourth Sophie Mae Reynolds Home Crafting Mystery. It will be released in the spring of 2010. My cover designer, Lisa Novak, has done it again. Simple, sensuous, appealing yet with a hint of danger. A knife. Broken glass. Spots of vivid red.

This time around I got to kill someone by bashing them over the head with a bottle of heavy cream. Thank you, Raconteurs, for the song Carolina Drama. Inspiration comes in all forms.

As you can see from the cover, Something Borrowed, Something Bleu features cheese making as the backdrop to the mystery. I started making cheese about fifteen years ago, mostly jack and cheddar. It took months to properly age, and I had to keep an eye on humidity and temperature during that process. When I started writing this book I dove into it again, this time focusing on fresh cheeses like mozzarella, paneer, queso fresco, ricotta and fromage blanc.

I love cheese. Lots of people love cheese, it turns out. And lo and behold, there is a very good reason for this. Sure there are the awesome, often intense, flavors. The textures. The melty goodness. The way it accents pasta, eggs and fruit. But there's also the PEA.

Phenylethylamine, or PEA, is the love drug. The one that makes us feel giddy and goofy, clouds our judgment and in many ways makes us downright stoopid. Some studies have concluded PEA affects the human brain like cocaine. Brain scans of people in the head-over-heels stage of falling in love resemble those of psychotics. It's strong stuff.

Chocolate contains PEA. That's one of the (many) reasons chocolate makes us happy. But get a load of this: Cheese contains more PEA than chocolate. One study I ran across said ten times more.

Yea, baby. That's what I'm talking about.

Oh, oh, catch that buzz.
Cheese is the drug I'm thinkin' of.

And PEA isn't the only drug cheese contains, either. I grew up thinking penicillin came from bread mold. Not so, I eventually learned. Those charcoal blue streaks in bleu cheeses? Yep. Penicillin.

Now, I doubt eating a hunk of bleu cheese would cure an infection, but I'd sure be willing to give it a try.

But wait! There's more!

Cheese made from organic raw milk from grass fed cows contains high amounts of CLAs, or conjugated linoleic acids. These are omega 6 fatty acids vital to health. They're potent anticarginogens, may prevent atherosclerosis, ease inflammation, and even adjust metabolism to increase weight loss. And CLA from animal sources is the easiest for human digestion to access.

That's right. Cheese can be good for your heart and help you lose weight. How crazy is THAT? Plus, it makes you happy, happy, happy..

No wonder we love it!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Inkspot News - December 12, 2009

Beth Groundwater's science fiction thriller novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, will (finally!) be released by Virtual Tales on Tuesday, December 15th in eBook and paperback form. The short blurb is: "What would you do if you were confronted with a 'kill or be-killed' scenario? What if that meant that you had to kill an infant of an alien species to save your own life? And what if the future of the human race depended on your decision?" If you sign up for a trial subscription at Virtual Tales to the first few chapters before the 15th, you'll have an opportunity to purchase the novella at 40% off the list price of $9.95.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who's Going to Tell Carl Hiaasen?

By Deborah Sharp

I'm hiding out from Carl Hiaasen.

I fear that at any moment, the doorbell will chime or my phone will ring and it'll be the famous Miami Herald columnist turned zillion-seller mystery novelist turned author of award-winning kids' books. He'll want to challenge me to a smack-down, which I could not possibly win. Wouldn't even try. Hell, I'll give it up right now. It's over, Hiaasen. I'm throwing in the towel.

Your crown is safe, sir. I am not, nor have I ever been, ''Florida's Funniest Mystery Writer.''

I attribute the whole misunderstanding to over-enthusiasm on the part of the press-release writers from Nova Southeastern University. Either that, or they were smoking some really good dope. They used that Florida's Funniest phrase to tout my recent appearance at the campus near Fort Lauderdale. Even worse, the words weren't buried somewhere deep in the release. They were right in the headline, all the easier for the search engines to find.

Go ahead. Google ''Floridas Funniest Mystery Writer,'' no apostrophe. See who comes up. Hint: It's not Mr. Hiaasen.

I won't deny there are some chuckles and a few belly laughs in my Mace Bauer Mystery series, featuring Mace's wacky mama. But I can think of a quick list of Florida mystery writers who are funnier than me:

1. Hiaasen, of course
2. Bob Morris
3. Tim Dorsey
4. Elaine Viets

I won't go on . . . why humiliate myself further?

So, there it is. I'm Florida's Funniest Mystery Writer. It says so on the Internet. And as any of the Girls Gone Wild can tell you, once something's on the Internet, it never goes away.

Unless, that is, Hiaasen finds me for that smack-down, and he's carrying a golf club. A very big club. I get pounded, and a bunch of new headlines pop up to lower the press release's standing. I can see it now: "Florida's Funniest Mystery Writer Injured. Former Title-Holder Charged.''

How about you, authors? Ever had hype that's hard to live up to? Or, do you subscribe to the ''any publicity is good publicity'' argument? Readers, ever been disappointed by over-hype?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Triple Play

Last week I did something I never thought I would do in a million years. No, scratch that. Two things I never thought I’d do in a million years.

First, I signed contracts with Midnight Ink to write a third mystery series. Now, I know a lot of writers have written three series during their career, but I agreed to write this new series while still cranking out my other two, the Odelia Grey mystery series and the Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series. I agreed to write three books a year.

Three. Tres. Trois. Triplets. A virtual trifecta of murder and mayhem.

And, no, I am not quitting my day job.

I know. I know. I’m nuts. And it’s not like I haven’t been hearing that assessment of my mental state for the past several weeks.

The second oddity in all this is that the new series is a vampire series. Yes, with fangs and everything. While this is the current rage, it was never on my radar until the past year, and even then not fully in the front of my brain until the last couple of months. And while the publishing business is known for moving slower than a glacier, things moved quickly from idea to paper to my agent to submissions, and even faster through the deal and contract phase. It was enough to give a whirling dervish motion sickness.

And now it’s moving even faster. The first book in the series, currently entitled I Could Bite You Forever, is due to my publisher on February 1st. This February 1st – February 1, 2010 not February 1, 2011. I’ve never written a book that fast, but there’s always a first time. Every moment that I am not at my job as a paralegal, I am pounding the keys of the computer, cranking out the pages, trying to write as cleanly and concisely as possible. And you know what? It’s coming together. It definitely helped that I had my research completed before the deal was struck.

Now the burning question everyone is asking: Why? Why would you do that to yourself? Why would you commit to writing three books a year?

Because the books are in my brain and want to come out. Because vampires are hot right now and may not be in a few years. Because in publishing today, the smart writer has more than one iron in the fire.

Because I want to.

I will admit, writing a vampire mystery novel would never have interested me unless I could put a different spin on it. So, folks, meet the Dedhams – an active and attractive retired couple, who just happen to be vampires who solve mysteries. Coming September 2010 to a bookstore near you. And we’re having red velvet cake at the launch party.

A lot of fun things come in 3's - hope that applies to my books.

Gotta run, I see a block of fifteen minutes where I can squeeze in a paragraph or two.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My New Duffy Dombrowski Mystery

by Tom Schreck

Hey Everybody!

My new Duffy Dombrowski Mystery was released on 12/1. If you look for it on the Midnight Ink website you won't find it. It was published by Echelon Press and I happy to report it is already in a second printing.

This time around Duffy suffers a head injury in the ring right around the time that he gets a new schizophrenic ex-GI on his caseload. Karl believes in all of the world's conspiracies. When Karl's wacky illumanti predictions start coming true, Duffy joins him in an effort to thwart them. Their first stop: Notre Dame, on the Michigan game weekend, to stop a Columbine-type massacre. Then it's back to Duffy's old high school for another act of terrorism and, maybe, along the way, there's even a nefarious basset hound puppy mill that the boys need to help out.

If you want to get it signed and support basset hound rescue you can get it from the ABC Basset Rescue group's Slobber Shop where 100% of the profit helps the hounds.

Go to


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What’s Important

Kroyer-- At the Museum--1888 I was busily writing at home last week when my husband called me up and asked if I wanted to meet him for lunch. I hopped in the car and drove the 25 minutes over to his office to pick him up.

Usually when we have lunch, we eat at a sandwich shop or get some Chinese food…nothing fancy.

This time, though, my husband was interested in going to the City Tavern—a white tablecloth-type establishment.

It sounded good to me. But then my husband hesitated. “Do we look all right?”

I glanced over at him—blue jeans (he works in IT) and a golf shirt. I looked at myself and I was wearing something such as a person writing at home might wear on a warm day—flip flops, capris, tee shirt. “We’re good!”

I was driving us over to the restaurant and chatting away about my morning when he asked again if I thought we looked okay.

I said something like, “Sure we do!” and continued on my train of thought.

But the third time he said it, we were about to go into the restaurant. I said, “Sweetie, I don’t think they’re going to turn away paying customers. We don’t look that awful.” He seemed so reticent, that I finally realized that even though I rarely care what I look like, it was important to Coleman. He’s a professional person. He might run into people he has a work relationship with.

I peeked in. I saw other people in jeans. One person had flip flops. We were okay.

Just because it wasn’t important to me, didn’t mean it wasn’t important.

I think that’s why it’s vital for me to have first readers (my parents, mainly) before my manuscript goes to my editors. Sometimes there are book elements that I don’t spend a lot of time writing (I always need to fill in more setting). Just because it’s not important to me, though, doesn’t mean it’s not important to a reader.

My mother is a great first reader for me. “I can’t really picture the porch at the barbeque restaurant,” she said.

I could picture it plainly…in my head. But I hadn’t put my vision on paper at all. It was as if, if I could see it, I thought everyone could see it.

A content critique is vital, I think. Sometimes I think I’ve established the relationship between different characters very clearly—but, again, it might have just been clear to me and I didn’t share it with the reader.

And then, like at the restaurant, there are things that I just don’t enjoy developing in a book. But I need to know when readers need more information: on setting, on character description, on backstory. Those are things I don’t incorporate a lot of—but that sometimes are more important to readers than I think.

Do you have a first reader that you give your manuscript to before its submitted?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Introducing Channing Hayes

Today's post will be short and sweet (very sweet!).

MI Mysterys Finest HourI'm thrilled to announce that I'll be writing a new series for Midnight Ink. It features Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, who is now part owner of a comedy club. The first book, THE LAST LAFF (or maybe just LAST LAFF, or maybe something else entirely), is scheduled for publication in March 2011.

Thanks to everyone at Midnight Ink, especially Terri and Brian, for bringing this on board!

Now I'm off to do some research. In other words, it's time to turn on Comedy Central.

Sometimes the life of a writer is a hard one.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Inkspot News - December 5, 2009

G.M. Malliet will be at St. John's Episcopal Church today, signing books from noon to 1:30 pm. The fundraising event, "Christmas Spirit in the Heart of Georgetown," features more than two dozen local authors. Autographed books by Madeleine Albright, first woman Secretary of State, will be available.
Address: 3240 O Street, Washington, DC

Pam W of The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles chose G.M. Malliet's Death and the Lit Chick, the 2nd St. Just mystery, for her December Top 10 List of favorite mysteries. The third book in the series, Death at the Alma Mater, is now available for pre-order. See the review under the "Mystery" category at the latest Publishers Weekly.

Beth Groundwater will be making two appearances in Denver, Colorado next week:

Sunday, December 6th, from 3:00 – 4:00 PM, Beth will participate in a group signing with fellow mystery authors Mike Befeler, Linda Berry, and Patricia Stoltey at Who Else Books? in the Broadway Book Mall at 200 S. Broadway.

Friday, December 11th, Beth will participate with a host of other authors in a fundraiser for the Colorado Humanities and Colorado Center for the Book
at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in the Entertainment and Fashion Pavilion at 500 16 Street. Beth and science fiction author Laura Reeve will sign from 11:00 AM to noon. For more information about this event and to download a voucher that assures a percentage of your purchases goes to the fundraiser, go to the Colorado Humanities website.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Judging a Book

by G.M. Malliet

I was recently tapped to be one of the judges in a writing competition. What an honor. What a responsibility. What a real labor of love - emphasis on labor, emphasis on love.

Many submissions later, and more on the way...Since my own escape from the slush pile is not that far in the past, I’m excited by the quality of what I’m reading, and determined to give everyone a fair shot.

I am also starting to see what agents mean when they say "Don’t give me any excuse, however small."

They are swamped with good-quality manuscripts. I get it now. They are looking for reasons to toss your gorgeous book aside.

Don’t give them a reason.

That means this: No funny fonts. No colored fonts. No odd spacing. Nothing that makes you stand out, in fact (except your exceptional writing and storytelling skills, of course). Boring conformity is what the agent and editor want to see.

I repeat: Don't give them a reason. These people are more jaded than I am. They are more tired after years in the business. Their eyesight is probably bad, and they may be cranky, for any number of unknown reasons. They may not choose to ignore, as I steadfastly do, the things that make it harder to read your manuscript. After all, I'm in this for the short haul, so I can be more diligent, and "holier than them."

They will not be as patient. Trust me on this.

The things it is assumed "everyone" knows about submitting a manuscript - not everyone does. So I’ve recently been compiling my own list of the formatting rules I didn't always know:

* Doublespace the entire manuscript. There is no need to triple or quadruple space between paragraphs – just doublespace.

* Indent each paragraph five spaces. Fewer or more spaces can make it harder to read. Also, don’t use dashes at the beginning of each paragraph. (I don’t know where this formatting style started - is it a European thing?)

* Again, no fancy fonts. Plain old Times New Roman, 12 point, is just fine. By the way, I was taught that a sans serif font, like Arial (apparently the default font for this blog), is harder to read than a font with serifs – those little sticky-outy things (a technical term I learned from Hallie Ephron) like on the letters g and p and m. Supposedly, the eye can track words better when you use letters with sticky-outy things.

* Put your name, the title of your book, and the page number on every page. The exact way you do this probably doesn’t matter. I put, for example, Malliet/Death of a Cozy Writer at the top left of each page, and the page number at the top right of each page. Imagine if you will a busy agent, dealing with dozens of manuscripts on her/his desk. The casual swoop of an arm, and there go your manuscript pages, mixed up now with dozens of other manuscript pages. This is the reason why you should label every page.

* Despite the above, it is not necessary to bind your pages. I have heard that agents/editors prefer pages unbound, except for a rubber band around the middle. Has anyone else here heard the same? (I think a giant, removable clip at the top is fine, too, but that’s just me.)

* By the same token, elaborate packaging isn’t necessary. A manuscript-sized box, such as that provided by the postal service for priority mail, or one of those unrippable bags is fine. One agent (now I can’t remember who) has famously begged people not to pad their manuscript with that plastic popcorn stuff, which tends to explode into every corner of an office.

* Center your chapter headings so the break is obvious. I also bold my chapter headings. Some people (me) begin a new chapter at the center of the page itself. It doesn’t matter, I don’t think, and probably wastes paper.

* Despite what I just said, it is better/more usual not to print on both sides of the page. Yes, I know this is wasteful. You are trying to get published, so the recycling gods will probably forgive you.

* Scene shifts or breaks in a chapter: Everyone does this differently, but use something to clearly indicate this type of break - don’t just quadruple space. I center five asterisks on a line by themselves to indicate that I’m shifting gears slightly, but I’m still in the same chapter. (*****).

* I don’t think a separate title page is necessary, although I’m probably in the minority here. I just put my title, name, Chapter 1, and then I start the story, all on the first page. (I confess that I only started doing this because I couldn't get my word processor to start numbering from the number 1 on the second page of the document file. Bill Gates, are you listening?) However, if you want a separate title page, I would bet most agents would tell you not to bother using a graphic or background image. Personally, I like this look and think it is effective in setting the tone. But we’re talking boring industry standard and getting published - so play it safe.

What have I forgotten?

Typescript image taken from

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Chocolate Martinis - My New Black

by Felicia Donovan

image Growing up, my parents frequently entertained. Their "themed" parties were quite popular among friends and neighbors. As children, we heard phrases like "highball" and "gin and tonic" and knew that these were special drinks that only adults could have.

Well, I'm an adult now. Though I've tried the "hard" stuff, my tastes never ventured beyond a nicely hopped brew or a well-bred glass of wine... Until I discovered chocolate martinis.

This sudden predilection for what I'll call "Kick Ass Hershey's" all began a few weeks ago when my friend and I ventured down to Newburyport, MA for a weekend of shopping. As we perused the assorted shops and their eclectic wares, we stumbled upon a tiny little bar called "Appletinis." The name immediately caught my friend's eye, her devotion to pomegranate martinis being well-known. By that evening, having fortified ourselves from a day of shopping with a good meal, we somehow managed to find ourselves back in front of Appletinis. We ventured in.

Anyone who knows me would affirm that my devotion towards all things chocolate is near religious. In fact, I do believe I saw an icon in a Nestle's bar once though that could also have been the effects of it having been left in the car and melted. Regardless, I'll try just about anything if you wave a cocoa bean in my face first.

My friend and I planted ourselves in our stools and anxiously awaited our "desserts." Yes, if it has enough chocolate in it, the alcohol is negated, thus it qualifies for the "dessert" category. Even Paula Deen knows this.

I ordered a "Milk Chocolate Martini" while my friend ordered a "Peanut Butter Cup Martini," a.k.a. "Reese's On Testosterone."  The server brought over two glasses rimmed in chocolate syrup. I would have paid $10 just to lick the rim at that point. I took a sip. Velvety smoothness married with chocolate and cream filled my mouth. I was in love...

And here's the best part - add a little peppermint and I'm good to go for the holidays. Add a little more cream and I'm boosting my calcium. It just keeps getting better and better...

What floats your cocktail boat? I'd like to know.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


by Julia Buckley
I didn't have much time to do my post today, but I thought I'd share a picture of the Christkindle Market, also known as Christmas Market or Weihnachtsmarkt, in my mother's home town. My aunt and uncle sent me the photo this week, and it captures the charm and beauty of the place where my mother grew up.

This town, Paderborn, was hit hard during World War II, and some of its beautiful monuments were destroyed; but today it still possesses the beauty and elegance that my mother loved as a child.

There is probably a Weihnachtsmarkt near you; here in Chicago there is a lovely one right in the middle of Daley Plaza. When you visit one you get an authentic feel for a German Christmas, which I was lucky enough to experience every year, thanks to my mother's fastidious observation of her traditions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Smasher Launch: A Two-Month Retrospective

Two months ago today was the official publication date of my second novel, Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller. Maybe it’s a good time then to assess how the launch has gone.

In-the-Flesh Appearances: The folks at my publisher, Midnight Ink, suggested I not schedule anything before mid-October to give stores a chance to get the book in stock. So I waited until October 14 for my first event at the Foul Play Bookstore in Westerville, Ohio. All told in the roughly seven weeks since then I have shown up at:

9 bookstore events where I read and spoke
3 library events
2 conferences (Bouchercon in Indianapolis and Men of Mystery in Irvine)
11 “greet-and-signs” where I stand by the front door at bookstores and beg customers to buy my book
3 private events (two at houses and one at a restaurant)
2 drop-by signings at bookstores

That’s a total of 30 events. The 27 events in California ranged from a Silicon Valley kickoff at Kepler’s Books with 106 attendees and 81 books sold to a Southern California library event with four attendees and three books sold. Even at the latter, I had a good time since the witty and sly Ashley Ream was moderating, the good-humored cynic Eric Stone was in the audience, and my fellow panelist was pal Libby Fischer Hellmann. In fact Ashley and Libby were so good, it’s a shame the session wasn’t recorded. At the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood traveling partner Libby Fischer Hellmann and I had a dozen or so people show up in person, but Linda Brown of the store tweeted dozens more in real time. At the nine events I did with Libby, we provided each other support and had a good time discussing and comparing our books and workstyles.

At the 11 greet-and-signs I signed over 400 books. (I have another five of those scheduled before Christmas.) I met lots of interesting people and, judging from emails I’ve received, made some real fans.

The launch at Kepler's. The great Cara Black is providing moral support from the end of the third row back.

The Virtual World: I guest blogged for seven different blogs, all terrific, that I read regularly.

The Rap Sheet
The Well-Read Donkey

Criminal Minds
The Kill Zone
The Outfit
A Million Blogging Monkeys

I have no idea about how effective my postings were in spreading the word, but it was sure fun writing them.

Again in the virtual world, I moderated a discussion on plot versus character for PP Web Con, the first online crime fiction conference, that included four great writers, Kelli Stanley, Rebecca Cantrell, Dave Zeltserman, and Mark de Castrique. Loads of fun there, too.

I was amused by tweets from Silicon Valley luminaries with lots of followers like Chris Shipley and Tim Chou. Apparently, there’s something like a guessing game going on over whom the predatory billionaire in Smasher, Ricky Frankson, is based on. My position is no one, but my protestation are being ignored. Ah well, the online speculation keeps people thinking about the book. At a signing I met Valerie Orsoni, the head of "Le Boot Camp" which has 600,000 members; she tweeted her followers, too.

The book trailer for Smasher has received lots of compliments, but I am , I admit, a little disappointed it hasn’t had more than a total of 600-700 views in its various manifestations.

In 2007 Google had hosted me as a participant in its Authors@Google program for Dot Dead. They posted my appearance on YouTube where it’s had over 1500 views. Apparently, like newspapers and everything else, they’ve cut back, too. No dice this time.

Reviews: The first magazine review of Smasher came from 17-year old Monica Deutsch in Jvibe, a magazine aimed at Jewish teens. Ms. Deutsch called it "intensely suspenseful and captivating." We were off to a good start. The next piece in The Palo Alto Weekly, my hometown paper, was a generous review by fellow Palo Alto crime fiction novelist Lora Roberts. Overall though, one of the most disappointing aspects of launching Smasher was the paucity of reviews in newspapers and magazines. Since Dot Dead, my first book, came out a couple of years ago, the number of places to be reviewed has just shrunk. A great review of Dot Dead in The San Jose Mercury helped turbocharge its early sales. Now The Merc is suffering from journalistic anorexia. Last Sunday the only two book reviews it ran were reprints from other papers. I don’t understand why I can’t get anywhere with The San Francisco Chronicle, but so it goes. As consolation and much more, Joe Hartlaub’s review in and Oline Cogdill’s in Mystery Scene were fabulous, the kind where my wife accuses me of ghost-writing them. Mystery News and especially The Boston Globe were a little less so. Still, I’m grateful to have been reviewed in a major metropolitan daily like The Globe at all, and I made it into Mystery News in the nick of time – lamentably, it was its last issue.

Articles: I got in touch with a friend who is one of the greats of Silicon Valley PR. With her help, I did a press release where I compared my current life as an author to my former one as an entrepreneur. I made lots of calls to journalists. The one to Mike Cassidy at The San Jose Mercury paid off. He came over to the house, I really enjoyed talking to him, and the result was a great piece.

Therese Poletti had worked for the aforementioned Mercury and done a nice story on Dot Dead. We’ve stayed in touch since and she said she wanted to write a piece on Smasher for Marketwatch, a business website owned by Dow Jones. A terrific reporter, she came up with a funny slant on my transition from entrepreneur to writer.

Michael Liedtke, another great guy whom I’d known from my days in the high tech world, included Smasher on his list of 10 tech books that made good holiday gifts. Since Michael works for the AP the story keeps popping up. I saw it first on November 19 on the site of The [Melbourne, Australia] Age. Since then it’s been in The Cape Cod Times, The Seattle Times, The Contra Costa Times, The San Jose Mercury, and -- just 30 minutes ago -- in The [Hagerstown, MD] Herald-Mail. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

There’s no question about the efficacy of these articles. Before Mike and Michael’s pieces ran my Amazon number was around 400,000. After, it ducked below 5,000.

Conclusions: Even as the disappearing act of newspapers plays out, articles and reviews in them can’t be beat as a way to reach readers. I don’t know how effective the virtual tour I did was, but I enjoyed it. Speaking at stores worked best around Palo Alto, my hometown, where I did a fair amount of marketing myself. Otherwise, standing at the entrance to a busy store worked better. I could sell more than 50 books in an afternoon that way and get to recruit readers, many of whom turned into dedicated fans.

Comments (Please): I’d love to hear from other writers and readers about what’s worked and not worked launching books. Feedback please in the comment section!