Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays from Inkspot!

We Inkspotters are having a little year-end R&R. Hope you're having fun, too.

Back on Monday, January 3. See you then!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Tea Set

This fall I was asked to lead a workshop at a women's weekend spiritual retreat. Since I don't bead, meditate, or do sacred dancing, but I do know how to string words together, I decided to teach a class on writing the spiritual devotional. I'd never written one, but I studied a bunch and realized they followed a fairly standard pattern of a verse or quote, followed by a short personal story, and finally a few questions or take-away points as the conclusion.

I wasn't sure how the whole thing would go over. Would the women want to write? If they did, would they enjoy it? Would anyone be brave enough to share their work with others? After giving a brief introduction, I read a few examples, handed them pencils and notebooks, and sat back to watch.

My "students" turned out to be star pupils, diligently writing their devotionals and then offering to read them as well. I wish I could convey how moving they were! Many brought us to tears, but all of them brought us closer together. Someone volunteered to compile the pages into a little booklet. Once again, the power of the written word had triumphed.

My devotional is appropriate to the season, and so I share it with you here. Happy Holidays!

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. Proverbs 23:12.

Before my daughter's second Christmas, I purchased a little tea set at a local store. I could hardly wait to see her open it, help her set up the flowered cups and saucers, and show her and her doll how to pour "tea." It was still in the back of the car when my mother called and told me she'd found a wonderful gift for Lexi --- a tea set.

I groaned and headed back to the store. On the way I passed my church, a steepled white Congregational in the center of town. Pull in, a small voice told me. And so I did.

The parking lot was quiet. I glanced to the side door of the building and saw a lone woman shivering in the December cold. I put down my window and asked her if she needed help.

"Yes," she said. "I heard there were some toys here?"

I took her into the building where we found the small pile of donated toys. She looked through them and sighed, shaking her head. Impulsively I asked her what she wanted. "I have a little girl at home," she said. "I was hoping for a tea set."

When I handed her the box from the back of my car, a look of surprised joy spread across her face. It was the best Christmas gift I have ever received.

Lord, the whispers of your Spirit work through me. During this busy season, help me to listen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keyed Up Birthday Memories

Today is my birthday.

The day I was born, Harry S. Truman was President, though Eisenhower was poised to take over the nation’s reins a few weeks later. The #1 hit song was I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and the Los Angeles Rams lost the NFL National Conference Championship to the Detroit Lions. Gasoline averaged $.28/gallon.

The day before I was born, my mother was Christmas shopping.

As she told it, she started having labor pains while finishing up her holiday shopping. After all, it was the last weekend before Christmas. Did she tell my father when she went into labor? No. Not. My. Mother. Worried the shopping wouldn’t get done if she left it up to my father (which was a valid concern), she continued on, grabbing a display table every now and then when a contraction hit. The determined and head-strong woman made it home, wrapped and tagged all the gifts and, knowing her, finished her baking, before finally telling Dad it might be time to head for the hospital. I was born late the next morning.

Like every other human on the planet, I have memories of specific milestones in my life. Events not told to me by my parents. I recall walking to the bus stop on my first day of school, holding tight to my lunchbox while my brother held my other hand. I remember my father teaching me to ride a bike. (The man didn’t believe in training wheels. He put me on a hill and when I started pedaling, he let go. Trust me on this. I still have 35mm movies of it.) There was my first bra. My first kiss. My first novel.

But the vivid memory that’s been visiting me this week has been of learning to type, brought about, no doubt, by the recent purchase of a fancy new laptop. Typing. I do it everyday. Often several hours a day. It’s as second nature to me as breathing and just as easy. And the skill has kept food on my table for many years.

I learned to type my freshman year at Whittier High School. I was fourteen. If you do the math, that’s 44 years of typing and my fingers are still going strong. It was in a class filled with the clatter of manual keys smashing against hard platens. When we got to the end of each line, bells would ring. The clatter would stop, replaced by the loud rasping sound of teenage hands yanking the heavy carriage back to the beginning with the help of a slender but sturdy metal arm. The clatter would begin again. And again. And again. There were no delete or undo buttons. No copy and paste features. And definitely no spell check. Not even correction tape. Errors were forever and we were graded on speed and accuracy. And don't get me started on changing the messy &$#@# ribbons.

My typing style is still very aggressive and very fast. I hit the keys hard, often wearing the letters off the keyboard. I blame this on learning to type on heavy machines with stiff keys. It’s also a good thing I learned to touch-type, considering those blank keys. But except for the sound of my fingers hitting the letters, my computer is silent. There’s no bell. No metal against metal return of the carriage. No jamming of keys. The words flow from my brain, down my arms and spurt out through the tips of my ten fingers onto the page like magic. Any malfunction can be solidly blamed on my thought process, not my digits.

Nostalgia is fun and gasoline returning to $.28 a gallon sounds grand, but I wouldn’t want to type my novels on an old Royal or Remington. And I’m sure glad I wasn’t born in the middle of a department store (Thanks, Mom!).

Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm not crying--my eyes are tired. Really.

What a perfect Christmas card photo this would be: Rudolph-themed stuffed animals, ornaments from several generations decorating the tree, adorable cat nestled in the tree skirt… wait. The cat definitely has a look which says: “Back away from me now and I won’t sharpen my claws on your camera.” That look is why I’ve never tried to dress up my cats in adorable holiday-themed sweaters and hats. I prefer to keep my skin intact.

It will surprise no one that I’m not a “fluffy bunny sweetness and light” person. Yet at Christmas this strange hidden side of me appears, causing me to watch cute holiday cartoons. I have been known get all sniffly at certain holiday movies. I even sport a pair of reindeer antlers complete with lights.

Since I still have to function as a normal human, I’ll cut myself off before the sentiment incapacitates me. For instance, I haven’t watched It’s a Wonderful Life in about ten years, because I blubber like an idiot at the same scene every time. Every time! You know the one: Where George Bailey runs back onto the bridge after seeing how Mary’s life turned out. He starts praying “I want to live again” and it starts to snow, signaling us that everything’s back to normal. I could keep the Kleenex company in business on that movie alone.

I even used to cry at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We haven’t yet watched it this year, so I can’t say for sure I’ve become a hardened character regarding the moment the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes.

So—tell me I’m not alone here! What holiday screenwriting is so brilliant that it makes you cry every time? What favorite book is so well written that you love it but won’t reread it unless you’re alone in the house and have a stack of tissues ready? I’ve listed my major two, and I’ll add the movie Scrooged. Guess which places. Yep. The scene where the adult Bill Murray sees his mother and the scene at the end where he asks Karen Allen to come back to him.

As for books: One of my “needs Kleenex” reads is Patricia Wentworth’s Nothing Venture. The other one is The Brother’s Keeper by Tracy Groot, at whose keyboard I grovel. I've memorized whole passages from these books without even trying. The former pushes all my "romantic gal" buttons. Trust me on the latter: My groveling is well deserved.

Okay, it’s your turn. I’ve got plenty of boxes of tissues ready. Let the blubbering begin!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Travel Can Make You Grateful

My husband and I recently returned from an absolutely amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip that checked off the top item on his Bucket List. We took a two and a half week trip to Cambodia and Myanmar to photograph the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples in the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia and the plains of Bagan in Myanmar (Burma). We also saw the sights in the cities of Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar and photographed people engaging in day-to-day activities in the markets, fishing and farming villages, shipyards and monasteries and nunneries.

Once my husband processes the thousands of photos we took, I'll blog about the trip on my personal blog, probably after the holidays. However, in keeping with the theme of gratitude, thankfulness, and grace of recent Inkspot posts this holiday season, I wanted to talk about one experience I had on the trip that really touched me.

We took a break from touring temples in the Angkor Wat area one day to visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This center exists to tell the history of war and landmines in Cambodia, to show how landmines are removed, and to tell the unique story of Aki Ra, a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who after the war began clearing landmines and caring for dozens of wounded, handicapped, orphaned and destitute children affected by landmines. He was chosen by CNN as one of their Top Ten Heros for 2010. The center is also a place where these children live and receive medical care and an education. I hope you'll go to the website to read more about the center.

We were lucky that William Morse was at the center that day and offered to give our group a personalized tour. William and his wife are Americans who now live in Siem Reap and work at the center. She is an experienced teacher who teaches the young children at the center, and he is a project manager, fundraiser, and organizer for the American charity, Landmine Relief Fund, that channels money to Aki Ra's Self Help Demining nonprofit organization. I hope you'll read about these two organizations at their websites, too. While there are many NGO's (non-government organizations) working in Cambodia to clear minefields, only Aki Ra's organization is entirely run by native Cambodians and works with people living in small, low-priority farming villages to clear their croplands of dangerous mines.

By giving up their cushy life in the US to live in Cambodia and help landmine victims, William and his wife are inspirational examples. But even more so is Aki Ra, who survived the trauma of being forced by the Khmer Rouge to become a child soldier and is now helping people affected by the war. And the courage of the children is inspirational. While we didn't meet them, we saw pictures of their smiling faces as they learned how to live with missing limbs or other disabilities.

Compared to them, I couldn't help but feel gratitude for my health, my safety, and my relative wealth. I hope you, too, will read this and be grateful for your blessings, and maybe decide to share some of those blessings. You may have your own favorite causes to support, but if you're moved to support the causes I mentioned, there are at least three ways you can contribute:

- Support the museum operation and care and education of the children
- Support the museum's outreach fund that constructs rural schools
- Support the clearing of landmines in rural Cambodian villages

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays!!

It’s that time of year again. Carols on the airwaves. Snow blanketing the ground. Ad circulars cramming the mailbox. Bell ringing at the malls. Lights and sparkle almost everywhere.

It’s no mystery why my first novel is set in December. Christmas is my favorite time of year. In our region, Mother Nature set the stage perfectly by dumping nine inches of snow on December 5th.

Our family holiday traditions started the weekend after Thanksgiving with the trimming of the tree (clear lights only), the assembly of Santa’s Express (all aboard!!), the arrangement of the Dickens Village, the draping of the mantel, and the wreathing of the house. We got out the collections we add to each year: my daughter’s snowmen and my son’s nutcrackers. Then we wandered over to George Eastman’s house for the annual gingerbread, Christmas tree, and wreath display before stopping at the local chocolate shop for turtles and sponge candy.

A week later we assembled our own gingerbread village. Somehow Grandpa turned the bakery into an outhouse. Gotta watch him every minute!

We made candy and cake bon bons; some for gifts, others, well, they’re inexplicably missing already. Then we made cutouts. Grandpa finally comprehends sugar cookies are merely vehicles—showcases, in fact—for frosting.

We became angels for two children we’ll likely never meet and spent hours trying to select the right clothes and toys for them. Can pink and purple be wrong for little girls?

A few Christmas cards are going out this weekend. They were going to include a family portrait. Of course, it helps to schedule a sitting. Instead, they’re glittery snowmen. The snowmen are better looking anyway.

After hosting Thanksgiving for both sides of our family for the twentieth year, we’re looking forward to Christmas Eve at my brother’s and Christmas dinner at my in-laws. We’d love to avoid the stomach flu that plagued us last year.

A couple things are missing this holiday season that can never be replaced. This is our eighth Christmas without my mom, and she is forever going to be missed. And we’re missing young children who believe—which sadly means we’re missing some of the Christmas magic.

We have yet to establish a New Year’s Eve tradition. Some years we party. Others, we go to the movies. Sometimes we just stay home.

So, any special holiday traditions you’d like to share?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TIS THE SEASON (To Be Thankful)

Darrell James

The holiday season has a way of making us turn introspective and take time to ponder all the wonderful blessings in our lives. People are the blessings.

This season will usher in the year of my debut novel, something that I have worked long and hard for. Not alone, I understand. I have been ferried to this place and time in my life on the wings of many, many others. The people who touch my life.

I suppose I first have to offer praise to my mother and father. They were humble folks from the hills of Kentucky who entered life with little more than grit and determination, and a hope and dream of a better life for themselves and for their children. I was the last of seven children to be born, spread out over twenty-two years. I’ve always felt that I received the greater benefit of our parents wisdom and maturity. They were expectant grandparents by the time I came along.

(Father Roy, Mother Minnie, oldest Sister Crystal )

Though their limited education didn’t allow them to outline a path to success, I was always told that I could do, AND BE, anything I wanted. I just had to be willing to work for it.

WORK was the defining value they taught. And LEARNING. We were encouraged to read from a very early age. With few books in the house, I recall stealing my older sister’s school library books. I grew up absorbed in such classic tales as Little Women, Gone With The Wind, The Great Gatsby…

I cherish my siblings. While they were all older, they always made time for nurturing their younger brother. How can you go wrong with four extra mothers. They are the ones I have always primarily worked to please and make proud.

I have also been blessed with a wonderful loving daughter and two totally fabulous grandchildren. These are both of college age (yes college). One has recently graduated.

Then above all, I am thankful for my mate. My wife, my lover, Diana, has not only been my guiding star but the sun ray that warms my path. We’ve shared many adventures over the past twenty-seven years. And on the day I declared that I was going to become a published author, she took my hand and joined me in my quest, creating PRme Promotions as my publicist. These days she not only works to promote me, but represents a number of our author friends in the mystery community. I would be lost without her. I’m guessing a few others might say the same.


As I have said, this holiday season passing will usher in the year of my debut novel. And while I have been blessed with the best family in the world, I would be remiss not to give recognition to the many people who have influenced me and helped me along the way. Generous and caring friends who have mentored and supported me unselfishly—many within our own writer community—too numerous to name. But to all of you (you know who you are) I give my thanks and commit my friendship in return. I hold you all in loving regard.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I have my village. It’s a wonderful village. And this holiday season I’m using this post to publicly say thanks.

Have a Happy Holiday Season and A Wonderful New Year, All.

I know I will.

(Midnight Ink will publish the first in Darrell’s Del Shannon series of mysteries in September 2011.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

National What Day???

Are you ready for the big day? No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about a national holiday coming up in just two days. December 16th is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. What? You never heard of it? To tell the truth, neither did I until the other day when I was flipping through the pages of a women’s magazine.

So I decided to do a bit of detective work. After all, I write mysteries. I should be able to find out who came up with the idea of a Chocolate Covered Anything Day and who declared it a national holiday. I struck out, though. After extensive Googling, all I could find is that no one seems to know who started the holiday or who nationalized it.

Finding no answers, I did what any mystery writer worth her Milk Duds would do -- I made up a plausible scenario:

Hard times had fallen on the Willie Whatsit’s Chocolate Factory. Sales were down. Stocks were plummeting. All because some upstart had opened up a jelly bean pizza operation across the street. People were stuffing themselves full with jelly bean pizzas, to the point that no one had room for chocolate any more.

So Willie Whatsit locked his marketing people in the conference room with nothing but a white board, their brown bag lunches, and a chocolate fondue. He told them they’d have to stay there until they came up with a way to make people put down their jelly bean pizzas and gobble up chocolate once again.

There they were, seven morose men and women, nibbling away on their sandwiches while trying to save both their jobs and the company. No one had a clue how to make chocolate more appealing to the masses. After all, how can you compete with jelly bean pizzas?

“We might as well give up now and trudge over to the unemployment office,” said Neville Bottomworth, the most morose of the morose marketers.

“You have mayo on the side of your mouth,” said Helen Harrowsmith, tossing a napkin toward Neville.

But Helen was no all-star when it came to pitching napkins, and Neville had to reach across the table to retrieve the napkin. That’s when it happened. A slice of bacon fell from his BLT -- right into the fondue pot!

Not knowing whether Willie Whatsit would give them a dinner break, Neville wasn’t about to forego his bacon, chocolate-covered though it now was. He fished the slice out of the fondue pot and popped it in his mouth.

“Eww,” said Helen.

“No, it’s really not bad,” said Neville.

With that, Orville Tessmacher dipped a corner of his bologna sandwich in the melted chocolate and took a bite. One by one the others followed, dipping a bagel, a pickle, a potato chip, even a forkful of Ramen noodles into the melted chocolate.

“By George, we’ve got it!” shouted Neville.

Thus was born Chocolate Covered Anythings. And since Willie Whatsit was good friends with Congressman Calvin Crudrupp, a generous donation to the congressman’s upcoming campaign secured a congressional act, declaring December 16
th as National Chocolate Covered Anything Day.

Hey, it could’ve happened like that!

And since I know you’re all probably dying for some chocolate covered bacon, here’s a recipe:

Chocolate-Covered Bacon


8 slices thick cut bacon

1 bag semisweet chocolate chips
4 ounces white chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Place the bacon on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 20 minutes.

3. Let bacon cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the extra fat.

4. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring until smooth and completely melted.

5. Using tongs, dip the bacon into the melted chocolate, coating all sides. Place on wax paper covered cookie sheet.

6. Melt white chocolate in microwave. Drizzle over bacon.

7. Refrigerate bacon until chocolate is hard.

Monday, December 13, 2010


by Kathleen Ernst

Back in October, I had two launch parties to celebrate the release of Old World Murder.  One took place at Old World Wisconsin, the historic site that provides the setting for the book.  I used to work there.  I’m very comfortable hanging around people wearing period clothing.

OWW Launch1

I also had a wonderful time at launch party held at Booked for Murder, a terrific independent bookstore in Madison, WI.  I signed a goodly number of books, and a good time was had by all.


One person who came had already read the book—on her electronic reader.  She brought it to the store and surreptitiously showed it to me.  “I thought you might like to see how Old World Murder looks as an eBook,” she said.  I’d never seen any of my books on an electronic reader before.

More recently, I spent two days at a book table as part of a Norwegian Christmas weekend at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.  In addition to signing Old World Murder, I signed copies of The Runaway Friend (my only book for young readers which has a Scandinavian theme).  One mom happily bought a copy of The Runaway Friend for her daughter, and said she’d look for Old World Murder for her Kindle.

 OWM Nook

I’ve since seen what Old World Murder looks like on both the Nook and Kindle.  (The color version above is on a Nook.)  Having the ability to adjust font size has made reading possible and fun again for lots of people.  Traveling with a single well-loaded reader is much nicer than lugging ten books along.  And saving paper is a good thing.

Still, I worry about the toll eBooks take on bookstores.  And I hope that readers who enjoy downloads will still be interested in coming to book talks and programs.  For me, meeting readers in person is the most fun part of what I do!  And there will always be something magical about personally inscribing a book for someone.

Technology is catching up with me in other ways, too.  I recently participated in my first long-distance book program.  A school district in Kentucky had chosen my latest kids’ mystery, Clues in the Shadows, for their book group.  The program ended with a visit from the author—that would be me!—through the miracle of technology.  Fifty young readers and their parents gathered at a public library, and I connected with them via Skype.

I’d been asked to talk about my writing for twenty minutes, followed by another twenty minutes of Q & A.  The sound system on their end cut in and out, and the facilitator made an adjustment that meant I couldn’t hear anything from their end during my opening remarks.  I’m used to having a conversation with kids, not to talking nonstop, so it felt awkward to me.  But the kids seemed delighted.

I know that many authors have been using Skype for years to connect with book clubs and other groups.  I haven’t sought it out because I’m always worried that the technology will fritz.  Still, it’s a great way to engage with readers long distance.  I’m sure I’ll do more programs this way.

And yes, I now own an eReader.

So, how about you?  Have you embraced new technologies as a reader and/or writer?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sadness and Grace

I've had a hectic two weeks. It's nearing the end of the semester at the two-year college where I teach. I call this period "HowdIgettaD Days?" I also am trying to finish up November Hunt at the same time edits for October Fest are coming in on top of preparing for a 26-credit teaching load next semester (I did it to myself). Unless you're Sue Ann Jaffarian, this is a lot of work for one person.

As a result, I had only a brief moment to read the headlines before getting to work this past Tuesday. The article that caught my eye was titled, "Elizabeth Edwards Doctors Stop Treatment." Before I read the article, I had only the tabloid snapshot of Ms. Edwards' life: married a hot young attorney, suffered through the death of her 16 year-old son in a car accident, goes on to have two more kids later in life, hot now-older attorney makes presidential bid, wife is diagnosed with breast cancer, wife fights breast cancer, husband cheats on wife and fathers child with mistress. That all this could happen to such an apparently decent human being strikes fear in everything that's important to me as a woman and a mother. It's a tragic story.

That's what I thought before I read the article, anyways. After I read it, I was in awe of this person who, despite every reason to kick life in the head and bubble with anger, had chosen to define herself by her love for her family and her dedication to her community (which includes me and you, by the way. Google it.). She used considerable energy and money to fight against poverty and for health care. She recognized the tabloid view the public had of her, accepted what she couldn't change, and got about her business of making the world a better place.

I was unusually affected when I read, later that same day, that she had died. I don't want to be someone like Elizabeth Edwards. I'm too selfish. But I am glad there were and are people like her, and they inspire me to effect change in some small way. I'm worried I'll continue to be overwhelmed by my responsibilities and let this inspiration pass, however. Please, share with me the ways that you or others you know volunteer/donate/commit time/make a small sacrifice in your life and take responsibility for being a member of a global community.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Morning Pages

Cricket McRae

morning pages 1 It’s still dark outside, and the morning star – which is really the planet Venus – precedes the sunrise. It’s very close to earth right now, a bright, shiny beacon hanging at the end of night. I stepped outside to take a look while the kettle heated on the stove, breathing in the crisp air and listening to the deer – or perhaps raccoons – rustle through the dry grass on the other side of the fence.

Back inside, I brewed a pot of Earl Grey. I am the only one awake in the house, save for a purring orange cat. We’re both curled up in a blanket on the sofa while flames dance in the fireplace, and the scent of honey rises from my cup of tea. The computer screen is the brightest thing in the room.

Soon I will put aside the computer and write in my morning page notebook. Remember morning pages? Julia Cameron introduced them in The Artist’s Way, but Dorothea Brande suggested the same thing in Becoming a Writer back in 1934 (still one of the best books out there for beginning writers or anyone who is having trouble sustaining a writing project). The idea is to get up in the morning – every morning – and write without stopping until you hit three pages. The devilish editor on your shoulder doesn’t have time to engage, you develop a habit of writing every single day, and I, at least, find the process ferrets out a surprising number of truths.

Morning pages can be a kind of self-therapy. At the same time, they can lull you into thinking you’ve written for the day. It’s also possible they could sap some of your writing energy, much as I’ve heard some people say blogging siphons off a portion of their creative mojo. How it affects you really depends on how you view the process.

For a year or more in the mid-nineties I faithfully wrote my morning pages as Cameron describes. But over time, I’ve tweaked them to suit my own needs. Doing them first thing in the morning still works very well, but I don’t do them every day. Or even every week. And though on occasion I just want to brain dump or need to work out a problem that requires what I refer to as “thinking on paper,” more often I try to focus morning pages on something in particular. As a result, they’ve turned into a stepping stone that then propels me into my other writing.

Today I plan to write a scene in which a woman encounters a girl she thought she knew in a place she’d never expect to find her. I need to know how that feels – for both of them. I want to think about how this meeting sets the tone for their relationship throughout the rest of the story. It would be a good idea to play with how a recurring theme in the story can flicker through this scene. And finally, I simply don’t know enough about the girl and her background. Focused free writing will help me find these things out.

Sometimes it's a better thing to simply sit down and write. To allow that magical thing to come out of nowhere and flavor or twist what you’ve planned to put on the page. Or even not to plan at all. But this is a brand new character for me, and an important one. In this story, I’m working in a different fictional world than the one I’m used to.

Being able to write about the upcoming scene will afford back story that right this moment I’m unaware of. It’s the same kind of magic, finding the answers to questions and, more than likely, finding more questions to ask. It’s an aspect of getting to know the story that’s invisible to the reader – not simply research, plotting, or character development, but all those and more.

Do you use free writing as a tool either in your writing or in your life? Do you find journaling useful?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Get Yer News Right Here!!!

By Deborah Sharp

I was reading the newspaper this morning ...

I'll pause here while you grab a bottle of milk from the ice-box and crank up the Victrola. Okay? All cozy in our time warp?

Right. The newspaper. You remember, that quaint artifact from the last century? I still read it most mornings, though it is vexing to turn the pages with my dinosaur claws. When I read in a public spot like Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, I'm usually the only customer in the place perusing the paper old-school. That pains me, as a former newspaper reporter.

Full disclosure: This morning, with temperatures hovering in the un-Florida-like 30s, I was tempted to get on my fancy computer and get my news virtually. The cold snap is so unusual that officials had to put out press releases telling clueless Floridians what to wear: Dress in layers, and don a hat that covers the ears. I manned up, trading flip-flops for wool socks and closed-toe shoes, and hastened down the driveway. There were the three papers we subscribe to, faithfully delivered as always. (Often faithfully delivered into a puddle, but that's another post).

Maybe newspaper ink doesn't course through my veins anymore, but newsprint still stains my hands.

Everyone but me knows that printed newspapers have already lost the battle against newer technology. I'm like one of those old Japanese soldiers from World War II, marooned on a deserted island; still believing I'm fighting a war that's already been decided. I'm rooting for the newspapers.

My husband, Kerry Sanders, has to be up on the national news as a reporter for NBC. So we get the New York Times in addition to our two local papers, the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald. Yes, they're all skinnier than they used to be, and still shrinking. And, increasingly, the Herald and Sentinel run the same stories, thanks to a resource-sharing partnership that would have been unthinkable in the competitive environment that existed when I cut my news-gathering teeth.

Still, there's something about paging through actual pages, seeing headlines and photos as they're meant to be seen -- not postage-stamp sized on my I-phone or zoomed in and running off the screen of my laptop. Best of all, the paper still costs less than a cup of coffee. When I'm done reading it, I can use it to mulch my garden, line my trash can, or pack fragile contents into boxes.

Try that with your I-pads and Kindles, Internet hipsters!

So, all hail the venerable newspaper. I'm going to get back to mine later today, right after I light the wood stove and finish churning some butter.

How about you? Do you still read an honest-to-God newspaper? Do you get your news from online sources? From TV? Are you on strike against the news in general, until the world makes some better news?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The End

What kind of relief do you feel when you finally type (or at least think) those two words when you reach the end of your first draft? I just typed those eight tiny but very meaningful letters last night at 9:38pm when I finished the first draft of the second book in my Shay O'Hanlon Caper series. It's these kind of small but momentous moments that keep me writing. This is actually the fourth manuscript I've completed, and every time I wrap one up, I pause and marvel for just a moment that the damn thing is actually done. Now the work really begins, but I'm looking more forward to this step than I ever have, because now at least I have a better idea about where I'm trying to go.

What are your favorite parts of the writing process? Do you live to fill the page with your characters and their dialogue? Or are you someone who struggles to get those first words out but blossom like a virtuoso when it's time to revise? I know some authors hate revisions, and some people love them. I'm still stuck on Alan's soundboard analogy, and I'm actually excited to begin the dissection and rebuilding of my latest cauldron of mumbo jumbo.

Regardless of how it comes together, as writers we love the process in what ever form it takes, and the end result is a huge thrill and a big 'ol relief.

Jessie Chandler
Bingo Barge Murder

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Inkspot News - December 4, 2010

G.M. Malliet will be part of a multiple-author event at Loews Hotel, Annapolis, on Dec. 5. Valet parking available!
Read Between The Wines
@ Read Between the Wines
126 West St, Annapolis, MD

Authors appearing:

Donna Andrews  *  Charlie Boyle  *  Anna Hart and Cherlynn Conetsco  *  Kimbra Cutlip  *  Jon Franklin
Thomas Kaufman  *  Richard LaMotte  *  G.M. Malliet  *  Lisa McCue  *  Ellen Nibali
Sarah Pekkanen  *  Cynthia Polansky  *  Lucia St.Clair Robson  *  Daniel Stashower  *  Marcia Talley

Tickets:  $25 in advance (by Dec 3rd) or $30 at the door
Proceeds benefit the artistic excellence and educational outreach programs of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.



On Sunday, December 5 at 1:00 p.m., SISTERS IN CRIME/LOS ANGELES will host a "New Voices" Holiday Event at the South Pasadena Public Library

The monthly gathering of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles starts an hour earlier than usual in December, to allow extra time to celebrate New Voices: A Showcase of Emerging Writers. The day's readers will be up-and-coming authors Deborah Kinley, reading from "Are You American?"; Edward Arno, reading from "Coronation Souvenir;" Donna May, reading from "Lucy Who;" and Travis Richardson. Vinnie Armstrong will play holiday carols on the piano, and magician Gerry Schiller will astound the crowd with feats of legerdemain. Attendees should bring a potluck dish to share. Guests are welcome.

The group will be collecting non-perishable food items for this year's designated charity, the food shelf at Hill Avenue Grace Lutheran Church (; 73 N. Hill Ave., Pasadena. The food shelf serves anyone in the community in need. Donations of cash and checks are also welcome any time. For information on the mystery writers'organization, visit It all happens at the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room, 1115 El Centro St., South Pasadena; parking is free, call 626-403-7340 for directions.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I like to stay organized, but sometimes everything happens at once…and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.Deadlines and holidays are usually not a great combination…and that’s what I’ve been handling the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we’ve also had painters over the past week to do interior painting. Oh, and the hot water heater wasn’t working. And two burners on the stove went out right before Thanksgiving…

Then I suddenly had an onslaught of emails, some promo stuff that needed to be done, and a bunch of stuff that came up with the kids.

So…what to do? It’s no good prioritizing what’s most important. It’s all important.

What I do when it all happens at once:

Empty my mind of everything I can think of that I need to do. If I don’t do this, my mind keeps whirring (especially at night.) Everything goes on the master list. This list is not prioritized in any way. ‘Make reservation at the dog’s kennel’ is right over ‘email agent about due dates for new series.’

Break down the big tasks into specific tasks. I have a couple of interviews to give, guest blog posts to write, guests to schedule on my blog, Twitter to update, etc. It helps to see everything written out instead of having something on my to-do list that says “Promote Book".”

Prioritize the tasks and assign days for each to be completed. I get my day planner out for this part. This goes hand in hand with the prioritization of the steps.

Delegate. No one can write our book or promote it for us. But there are people around us that can take care of other important tasks for us. My family has helped me out with cleaning, laundry, and errand-running. I’ve had a couple of friends invite my daughter over for playdates recently, too.

I’m feeling back on track and it’s mostly due to having an organized plan of attack. And having some help in the trenches. :)

How do you stay on top of everything when it all happens at once?

Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams
Mystery Writing is Murder

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Literary Quote of the Day, Tweet, Tweet!

Keith here.

I’ve been having a great old time on Twitter. Each weekday morning I tweet a Literary Quote of the Day (LQOD). I find the quotes in books on my shelves at home and in resources online.

Sometimes I post one that makes me laugh aloud. Like this one from Norman Mailer: “It's not a good idea to put your wife into a novel – not your latest wife anyway.” Or this one from Benjamin Disraeli, author of Henrietta Temple, Coningsby, and Tancred, which I posted on Thanksgiving Day: “I feel a very unusual sensation – if it's not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.” And finally, literary agent H.N. Swanson says, “Whenever I am asked what kind of writing is the most lucrative, I have to say ransom notes.”

Others include a gem of advice like this one from literary agent Donald Maass: “If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”

I like being reminded that there’s more to being a writer than just tapping away on my laptop keys. As Stephen King says, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Mr. King then gives me permission to read and count it as work! Disappointment is part of the job as 19th century author Christian N. Bovee’s witticism conveys: “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this.”

Some get into the craft of writing like yesterday’s tweet, a quote from Mark Twain: “Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Occasionally there's a quote that reminds me what a crazy profession I’m in. As E.L. Doctorow diagnoses, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” And Philip Roth complains, “I write fiction and I'm told it's autobiography, I write autobiography and I'm told it's fiction.” Larry Vincent, mystery writer and radiologist, observes, “The instant my first book was accepted for publication, I switched from being delusional to being tenacious.”

Why do I post a daily lit quote? Is it because I just plain like looking for them? That's some of it. And part of the explanation must be the hope that fellow tweeters are amused, too.

If you’d like to get your Lit Quote of the Day, you can follow WriterKeith on Twitter. Please let me know what you think.


P.S. Today is the first day of Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates dispelling the darkness. I’m for that. Happy Hanukkah everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fiddle Away

sound board

Recently, I “finished” a revision of my WIP (is one ever really finished with a revision?), and the following analogy popped into my head.


We’ll call it the “Sound Mixer And Revision/Transformation,” or S.M.A.R.T., analogy. (By the way, did you know they eliminated the analogy portion of the SAT? I say bring it back, society is too easy on kids today. How are they going to succeed in life if they don’t know how a thistle is related to a frying pan?)

This past summer, I took my son to a Peter Frampton/Yes concert (I fought off the urge to don flared jeans and volumize my hair). We sat a few rows behind the sound guy, who was working two enormous soundboards—each with dozens of sliders and dials and switches. He fiddled with them all, a virtuoso of the knobs, until the optimum sound reached the ears of everyone in the venue.

That’s how I envision the revision process.

Imagine a giant soundboard in front of you, the writer. Instead of it being labeled with different mics and speakers and pick-ups, it’s got the names of all your characters and scene settings (if it becomes obvious I don’t know what I’m talking about with regard to sound dynamics—or the writing process, for that matter—just work with me here, folks. It’s only an analogy!).

You’ve completed a draft of the manuscript, but it’s rough around the edges (and by “rough,” I mean putrid). You need to go in and adjust some of the “volume” levels. A little more Character A and her derring-do. A little less Character B and his annoying drawl. Less description in scene 9 (Exactly how many sentences does it take to say the meadow is lovely?) Ease up on the dialog in scene 32. More tension in scenes 4, 5, and 22. Crank those dials!

It’s your opus—do what you need to. Keep fiddling until you’ve created your masterpiece.

Then sit back and listen for the feedback. That’s what the sound engineers do.

How do you envision the revision process?



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Thousand Words

by G.M. Malliet

The other day on a writers' listserve the question was asked: Does a writer really need an author photo for the jacket of his/her book? As I recall, the poser of the question (no pun intended) was reluctant to provide her publisher with a photo--either out of modesty or privacy concerns, not because she had two heads or something. I didn't participate in the discussion because, frankly, my immediate thought was, Yes, of course an author needs a photo! It wasn't until I thought about it later, though, that I wondered if that were really true.

I have bought hundreds of books without knowing or caring what the author looked like.  I tend to buy books based on reviews, and the occasional recommendation of a friend with similar tastes to mine. Unless its a self-help book (Lose ten pounds and ten years!) what the author looks like seems hugely irrelevant.

Having picked up a book while bookstore browsing, I will probably idly flip to the photo on the back. I don't recall ever buying a book on the basis of the photo, however. I may have been turned off if I'm wavering over the purchase and the author looks just a tad too pleased with him/herself, or certifiable, or vaguely illiterate.

I had a lot of fun with author photos in my second book, Death and the Lit Chick, so I may just be asking for it here in asking you to help me decide on mine. But my new editor has asked for a black-and-white for my first book in a new series, and I'm just plain tired of the color photo I've been using. (What was I thinking, with the pearls, anyway? Yikes!) This time, I didnt want to go for a studio portrait. I just wanted to be, well, myself, wearing pretty much what I wear when I write. No pearls.

This posing business is all much trickier than it appears. First requirement, I would say, is that the author somehow look like a writer rather than a professional ice skater, for example. Many authors fulfill this need by holding a pen or sitting at a computer, although I would maintain that holding a Starbucks cup would be more authentic. Second, the photo should be appropriate for the type of writing the person does--a children's author should probably not scowl, for example. A thriller writer should look thrilling.

And again, while the photo may not cause someone to buy a novel, it should not actively discourage a sale, either. This is someone in whose company youre going to be spending at least a few hours, after all.

Here are the results of my photo shoot. Please cast your vote for 1, 2, 3, or 4 below.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My First Mystery in the Days of Mail

by Julia Buckley
Back when I was a kid--maybe first or second grade--my parents entered me in a children's book-of- the-month club. Of course this was long before e-mail or even computers, so it was when the notion of mail was still almost glamorous, even exotic, to a child who had no correspondents. I looked forward to that brown package every month with great excitement, and when it arrived and I opened it, there was always some great new book inside, with crisp pages and new-smelling ink.

I was reminiscing today about those earliest books--the first ones I read alone. I think the one pictured here--BIG MAX--may have been my first mystery.

Big Max was a wonderful book: the tale of a detective who traveled by umbrella and was hired to solve a case for the King of Pooka Pooka, who had lost his beloved elephant.

I can still remember the joy of getting BIG MAX and reading it again and again, but also the thrill of mystery. I'm not sure if I figured out the ending or not, but I know it was satisfying, even to my seven-year-old self. Eventually I moved on to such sophisticated fare as Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, and after that I read single-title suspense novels by authors like Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt.

Big Max is still in print and available to a whole new generation of children (and perhaps future mystery lovers). Thank you, Kin Platt, for my first mystery reading experience.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Inkspot News - November 27, 2010

G.M. Malliet will be part of a multiple-author event at Loews Hotel, Annapolis, on Dec. 5. Valet parking available!
Read Between The Wines
@ Read Between the Wines
126 West St, Annapolis, MD

Authors appearing:

Donna Andrews  *  Charlie Boyle  *  Anna Hart and Cherlynn Conetsco  *  Kimbra Cutlip  *  Jon Franklin
Thomas Kaufman  *  Richard LaMotte  *  G.M. Malliet  *  Lisa McCue  *  Ellen Nibali
Sarah Pekkanen  *  Cynthia Polansky  *  Lucia St.Clair Robson  *  Daniel Stashower  *  Marcia Talley

Tickets:  $25 in advance (by Dec 3rd) or $30 at the door
Proceeds benefit the artistic excellence and educational outreach programs of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A long time ago the Pilgrims sailed,
To find a brand new land.
They wanted to worship God themselves,
Not by the King's command.

So begins an eight-verse epic poem written by yours truly in November of 1971. I was a fifth grader at Norfolk Elementary School in Massachusetts, steeped so deeply in the lore and legend of the Mayflower, Squanto and Governor Bradford that I felt as if I, too, had planted my shiny black-buckled shoe upon the famous Plymouth Rock.

Growing up in the Bay State it was hard to avoid the Pilgrims. The wide-brimmed hat sported by Pilgrim men (called a capotain) was on signage for our highways, the state flower bore the same name as the Pilgrims' sturdy ship, and Plimouth Plantation, the living history museum replicating a 1627 English village and Wampanoag settlement, was the default class trip for hordes of school children, including those of us from Norfolk Elementary.
It's not surprising that a young girl who feverishly penned poems, short stories, soap operas, and magazine advice columns should turn her attention to the most famous immigrants of all.

What is surprising is what happened after I wrote the poem.
I recall the noisy auditorium of the school, the kids antsy to go home for Thanksgiving break, and me, wearing a plaid dress no doubt, ushered by my teacher up to the front of the assembly. Did I read the poem slowly, emphasizing the dramatic moment when the Pilgrims nearly starved? Or did I hurry through the verses, eager to get back to my seat?

Here is what I do remember: knowing deep in my core that I am a writer. It's a feeling as solid as Plymouth Rock itself, one that reviews, contracts, and sales figures can't touch, and for that I am grateful.

Today I'm taking a little detour with my daughter before joining the rest of my family for the holiday. A pilgrimage, if you will, down the coast to Plymouth. Having been born and raised in Maine, my kids missed out on the whole Pilgrim-related indoctrination.

Fortunately it's a heck of a long ride. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Revealing The Woman Behind the Curtain

Recently I was incensed by an ignorant blog posting written by Maura Kelly on behalf of Marie Claire magazine. In fact, I was so enraged, it moved me to write a very personal piece on Babble ‘n Blog, my personal blog. The piece was extremely well received.

A short time later, I re-posted several political items from Facebook friends to my Facebook wall. The last re-post was a very short political statement with a very funny picture and statement. All postings triggered several lively discussions. While most of the people commenting on the last post agreed it was humorous, one reader cautioned me to remember that my readers might not believe what I do. That comment also started a lively discussion wherein the consensus was that we all are allowed to believe what we believe and to say what we believe, as long as we are respectful of one another.

But here is the million dollar question:  How much information about ourselves should we, as published authors, put out there?  Of course, we all know better than to post our telephone numbers and home addresses, but what about our personal beliefs?  Will letting readers in on our real selves cause them to flee from our work in droves?  Maybe. After all,  I’ve never viewed Mel Gibson the same since his drunken bigoted tirade, let alone recent accounts of abuse. Others will still flock to his movies.

But I’m not talking about drunken, abusive behavior here, or criminal activities.  I’m talking about basic viewpoints like political affiliations, religious beliefs and social attachments.  Would a reader of any of my series really stop reading my work because I’m a Democrat, a defender of gay rights, and voted in favor of the legalization of pot in California?  Who knows.  It’s not like I’m saying child porn should be distributed on newsstands, but to some folks, I might as well be.

The invasion of social media into our daily lives has allowed authors to be in touch more intimately with their readers, and vise versa.  Many of my readers have written to say they love getting to know me through the shared details of my life. But maybe all this personal information has also shattered images readers have established through the reading of our books.  If we allow it, they get to pull back the curtain and see us as we really are – not wizards at all, but everyday people with everyday lives, loves and heartbreaks, and opinions. 

But when is it too much information?  For some, any glimpse into their personal lives is too much to reveal. While others gladly share a lot. I found it interesting that my sharing the scars of childhood was celebrated, while sharing who I voted for was not.  They are all important pieces of me.

I’ve always been someone who has worn my emotions on my sleeve. I’m not good at facades. They take too much energy to maintain. 

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holidays, Food, and Character Traits

Thanksgiving’s in a few days, for Americans. It’s like the "om nom nom" starter’s pistol for the season that lasts through the beginning of January. This is why I finally joined a gym.

I’m a pretty good cook, and I like working in the kitchen. I’ve been saying for years that the first Thanksgiving after my maternal grandmother passed, her spirit touched my hands and gave me her gravy-making skills. Watching that smooth, rich, brown gravy come together exactly as planned was a beautiful moment.

Some of my characters are good cooks. In my first (trunked awaiting rewrite) book, the horror plot was relieved by lots of good cooking. In my Falcone and Driscoll series, not as much, although I do manage to work in how to make homemade Sicilian pizza.

Other hobbies of mine, like knitting and playing musical instruments, aren’t as universal as cooking and eating. After all, Patricia Wentworth created the best detective-who-knits in Miss Silver. Is there a musician detective? I don’t recall one.

I’ve learned a few things as my characters have informed me of their talents and quirks. I know the techniques of cello playing, how to research someone’s ancestry, online RPGs, navel piercing, and all-natural foods.

Have you ever been so interested in a book’s MC that you wanted to learn to do what they do? In my own case, I got so irritated at Miss Silver’s continual “knitting in the Continental manner” that I taught myself that method. (I knit a lot faster now, and two-color knitting is a breeze.) Have you ever researched something for a book and ended up incorporating the skill into your real life?

I’ll be happy to share my recipes with anyone. And then we can head to the gym together.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Darrell James

A few weeks ago, Jimmy Kimmel—on Jimmy Kimmel Live, national television— proclaimed November 17th as NATIONAL UN-FRIEND DAY (NUD) His cause: "to put and end to the foolishness of social networking.” The subsequent campaign that he mounted would have rivaled that of any modern day political incumbent, rallying the support of celebrities and garnering widespread support across university campuses.

Together, on one glorious day, with surgical precision, the aim was to set about, cutting loose all the people, who in a weak and delirious moment of un-sobriety, we so casually and carelessly Friended on Facebook. Stomp out the OMGs, the LOLs. Rid ourselves of Farmville and Mafia War requests (which, well, kind of makes his point.)…

Still, the man was serious (or sort of), because that’s the kind of guy he is. He even went so far as to have War create a music video to underscore his message.

Now, I know that Jimmy has a lot of things to juggle, what with the joke telling and all. So I’m sure that it was a simple oversight on his behalf that he selected November 17th, my BIRTHDAY, as his day of social reckoning. (BTW, Jimmy: I’m still waiting for the card.)

So, as the NUD campaign gained momentum, I began to wonder…

How will it effect my Big Day? Will I wake up on my birthday, expecting well wishes from friends and family, only to find that I am suddenly alone in the cyber universe, adrift, without having a clue who baked brownies today or whose cat is now wearing shoes made of Dixie Cups. OMG, LOL!

As the days ticked down toward, and past, the Ides of November, I began to sweat.

I did I tell you!

For Jimmy had masterfully manipulated the power of the media. And support for NUD had reached viral frenzy…

When the big day finally arrived, I awoke early, grabbed a cup of coffee, and fired up Facebook.

To my joy and wondrous surprise (something like Christmas) not only had I NOT lost any of my Facebook Friends, but there were two welcome requests for Friendship waiting. And, the birthday wishes had already begun rolling in.

Now, it’s my custom (call it my creed) that if someone writes me a personal message on Facebook, I always respond with a personal reply. Well, the birthday wishes kept coming, and so did a few more requests for Friendship (that I happily accepted). Family, writer friends, reader friends, and those who I have found or have found me through the marvel of modern technology. They poured in from across the country, from Canada, from Italy, from Germany, and as far away as Queensland Australia. And before the day was over I had responded to more than 140 birthday greetings. All Friends.

I tuned in to Jimmy Live that evening (which BTW: isn’t really ‘live” at all….just sayin’). He was still claiming victory, even showing a tote board to display the grand tally of Unfriended.

Well, perhaps, somewhere in the distant cyberspace, there are those souls who have been banished to “Un-Friend Land”. My heart goes out to them. To you, huddled masses, misfortunates of cyber-warfare, I say: “Come over to my Facebook page. There’s always room for one more, or two more, or however many more of you there might be…Come! (At least until I hit my 5000 friend limit.)

As for you Mr. Jimmy (the Kimmel, who doesn’t even have a Facebook page) when your heart finally thaws and you find yourself alone on your cyber iceberg, with only a few discarded Farmville and Mafia War friends to drink with, take out a page. Send me a request. I’ll welcome you in. Because… well… because that’s the kind of guy I am… I got Friends!

Thanks for all the birthday wishes, Facebook Buddies!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bells and Buzz

For years I worked in human resources, and one of my biggest challenges was getting managers to complete their employees’ performance reviews in a timely and effective manner. While emphasizing the positives, managers had to include “Here's what you could do better.” Hard message to deliver when almost everybody thinks they’re giving their all and wants the bigger raise tied to the performance rating.

Of course, performance ratings should be tied to objective, measurable goals. One time I joined a company that used a very subjective essay style of performance appraisals. In an appraisal for a dentist, I read one sentence summing up her skills and three sentences about the wonderful kuchen she baked for the department. Geez Louise. I had to laugh, but we changed the company’s rating methodology pretty darn quick.

Training for performance reviews always included the instructions that any employee who was meeting expectations should be rated a “3.” In fact, most ratings should be a “3.” Remember the bell curve in statistics? Any manager who rated their employees all fives or even all fours was not doing their job—and, yeah, I was the one who got to tell them that.

But now I’m an author, and I’m looking at all my ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a little harder to be happy with a “3” even though I should be. Ratings affect sales. Sales might be higher if everyone rated my books “5” or even “4.” Now I prefer the fives, appreciate the fours, welcome the threes, and tolerate a couple twos.

I’m happy people are taking the time to rate my book. It creates buzz, or at least the beginnings of the “b” sound. Ratings mean I have readers. Readers are good. Readers who publish ratings are even better. Readers who publish reviews are the most interesting. Of course, they’re a little like the kuchen—very subjective. But then writing is subjective: to tastes, to trends, to popularity, etc.

So I’m going with the old adage: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Ratings and reviews are publicity. Therefore, I love them, regardless.

And I’m going to love my bell curve, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hurrah for Book Clubs!

I belong to a neighborhood book club of ten or so women who meet once a month over wine and snacks to discuss a book we've all read. We tend to focus on literary and women's fiction, with an occasional nonfiction book thrown in. I decided to join the book club so I would be forced to read books outside of my default genre--mysteries. Being a member has caused me to read many books I never would have selected on my own, and most of them I've enjoyed.

We tend to pick books that address a controversial topic so we have something meaty to discuss. And my group has a diversity of opinions, so the discussions can get interesting, though they're always polite. For example, this month we read Zeitoun by Dave Eggars, our nonfiction book for the year. This book created a lively discussion, as it's about the horrible effects on one family of the inept, illegal, and irresponsible response of Homeland Security to Hurricane Katrina. Many of us couldn't believe that it happened in the USA, and many feared it would happen again. Pretty scary stuff!

Some other interesting books we discussed this year included Still Alice, a fictionalized account of a university professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer's, Mudbound, a story about prejudice and cruelty in the 1940s Mississippi Delta area, and Tallgrass, about the effects of a nearby World War II Japanese-American internment camp on a nearby small Colorado town. It's not all heavy reading, though. We usually try to pick a small, light book for December and one of the summer months. One was The Mighty Queens of Freeville by advice columnist Amy Dickinson.

What really focuses and deepens our discussions of many of the books we read are the discussion questions we obtain from Reading Group Guides or the book authors' websites. That's why I always provide discussion questions for my own books on my website (go here to see those for my upcoming March release, Deadly Currents). I try to make my discussion questions open-ended so they draw the members into talking about the issue as it relates to their own lives, not just the book.

Meeting with book clubs to discuss my own books is my favorite kind of event. I've visited with many book clubs in person in Colorado and via speakerphone for long-distance groups. The in-person visits have the added benefit of a glass of wine or coffee and food, but all of the group visits have been immensely fun. I always come away with a list of suggested books to read to take to my own book club. If you'd like me to visit your book club, contact me at my website.

How many of you Inkspot readers are in book clubs? How often do you meet and how do you select the books you're going to read and discuss together? Got any interesting stories of having an author visit your book club or if you're an author, of visiting a book club?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. Have you thought about what you have to be thankful for over the past year? I certainly have. It was just a year ago that editor Terri Bischoff offered to buy what has become my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. In only seven weeks ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in the series, will be on bookstore shelves.

Prior to last November, I’d been wallowing in a huge vat of self-pity and wasn’t feeling the least bit grateful to anyone. I’d made a professional decision several years ago that I still don’t regret making, but I never expected the impact of that decision to mean that it would be nearly two and a half years between the release of my last novel and the sale of my next novel.

In those two and a half years I had several near sales, each of which fell through due to circumstances beyond my control. An editor can’t buy a book, no matter how much she loves it, if her publisher folds the line where the book would have gone. I was beginning to think I’d seriously offended the Karma gods in some way.

So when Terri made her offer, I refused to let myself get excited. I held my breath. For a long time. Not until I had those signed contracts in my hands did I allow myself to get excited. Or even tell anyone about the sales.

So I’m extremely grateful to Terri for buying my books. I’m also extremely grateful to the rest of the Midnight Ink staff who had a hand in ushering my manuscript to printed book.

Two months ago I received my edits for ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN. It was now time to decide to whom to dedicate the book. I’d dedicated my first book to my husband and children. My second book was in memory of my grandparents. For my third book I knew immediately to whom I’d write the dedication.

In 2000 I began a critiquing relationship with a group of women. Over the next seven years I developed a very strong friendship with one woman in particular from that group. In all that time we never met in person; an ocean separated us. She lived in Germany where her husband ran one of the American schools. But thanks to the Internet we’d become as close as sisters. Until Karen entered my life, I never had a friend who was so much like me in so many ways. We shared many of the same life experiences, the same talents, the same likes and dislikes. We thought so much alike that it seemed we had to have been twins separated at birth.

In September of 2007 Karen and her husband were moving back to the states, and we were making plans to meet in person for the first time. However, right before Labor Day, Karen died quite suddenly. I not only lost a fabulous critique partner, I lost an amazing friend. I felt cheated. My grief overwhelmed me. Eventually, I realized that I’d been blessed to have nearly eight years of this extraordinary woman’s intellect, humor, and compassion. Many people will live their entire lives without being touched by someone like Karen.

So as I look ahead to Thanksgiving this year, I know I’m thankful for many things, the least of which is the friendship I had with Karen Davenport.

The dedication in ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN reads: In memory of Karen Davenport, amazing critique partner, friend, and Anastasia’s biggest fan.