Saturday, February 27, 2010

Inkspot News -- Saturday, Feb. 27

Midnight Ink Authors Deborah Sharp and Joanna Campbell Slan are appearing at Sleuthfest 2010 in southern Florida this weekend. Be sure to stop by and say Hi if you're in the neighborhood!

G.M. Malliet was interviewed yesterday at Beth Groundwater's blog. Please stop by with questions, however unusual. [Oh, wait, Deb Sharp already did that!-GMM]

Friday, February 26, 2010

On Debuts and Cliches

“Write what you know.” It’s one of those clichés every writer hears in the early stages of learning the craft.

I agree with it—to an extent. I know about religion, classic horror, acting, and medieval lit. The first novel I ever wrote dealt with religion and horror. Then an agent who passed on that book challenged me to write a crime story starring an ex-nun. Nah, I thought—I’m a horror writer. But the idea clung to my subconscious, and I decided to learn about private investigators, health food, MMORPGs, and the minds of stalkers.

You may be asking: How is getting into the mind of a stalker is a positive thing? It is when it’s the mind of the villain in my debut mystery. If I’d clung to my self-label of “horror writer” I wouldn’t be looking forward to my first mystery on a bookstore shelf next spring.

Yet without my writing roots I wouldn’t be here either, because folks seem to be fascinated by nuns. We’re like an alternate species of human. Yep—I used to be a nun. Habit, veil, the whole shebang. (Sorry to disappoint: The convent’s nothing like Sister Act. And speaking of clichés, yes, I played the guitar; yes, I sang at Folk Masses; and yes, I taught middle school kids to sing and dance.) In my debut mystery, my ex-nun main character is re-acclimating to the world. That’s writing what I know—you should’ve seen me trying to walk in high heels for the first time in years. She’s also foiling a Bible-obsessed stalker, which combines what I know and what I had to learn—I’ve certainly never stalked anyone! Although if Gerard Butler moved in down the street…

Where was I? Oh, yes. Clichés. Nuns themselves may be cliché, although I certainly wasn’t. As in, I was in trouble pretty much every week for all my years in the convent. At first all I thought the only use I could make of those years were good was cocktail party conversation for the rest of my life. Yet what I thought was a colossal waste turned out to be a crucial ingredient to a mystery series.

Were I to go back to teaching English, this is where I’d start: Everything you know, everything you’ve experienced—good and bad—can be used to make your writing better. I’m living proof.

Oops. A cliché. I’d better go back to daydreaming about Gerard Butler moving into my neighborhood. And writing my next book

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When Book Events Go Bust

Last Thursday, I drove up to Denver for a group book signing with two other Colorado mystery authors, Mike Befeler and Linda Berry. We were scheduled to be at the Mont Blanc boutique in the Cherry Creek Mall, an upscale shopping mall, from 5:30 - 7:30 pm, and the event was well publicized by the store, us authors, and the organizer of the event, Anne Randolph, who sent out notices to fans and students of her Soup Kitchen Writing courses.

Due to a perfect storm of unforseen circumstances, though, we had a poor turnout and only one book was sold. What were the circumstances? First was a real storm, a snowstorm that dumped a couple of inches of slush on Denver's streets late in the afternoon, making driving treacherous and being outdoors cold, wet, and miserable. Second was President Obama's visit to Denver that afternoon and evening to campaign for Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Local police and security personnel closed random streets and portions of the I-25 highway running through the middle of the city at random times to mask the actual route that was taken by Obama's motorcade.

These two factors slowed traffic to a crawl on the highway and snarled the surface streets. Even though I gave myself an extra half hour to get there, I arrived late at the signing. And, anyone else who might have planned to come probably gave up in teeth-grinding frustration. I would have if I wasn't one of the authors! The normally bustling mall was deserted, with solitary footsteps echoing in empty hallways. The Mont Blanc boutique had a grand total of one customer who did not come in for the signing, and after looking at some wallets, he didn't buy anything.

Could we have predicted that these circumstances would occur and that this event would go sour when we made the arrangements months ago? Of course not. Could we have done anything differently to make it more successful? No. Every author has tales to tell about book events gone bust, for a variety of unforseen reasons. We three authors now have another "try to top this" story to add to our repertoire of disaster stories.

However, I wouldn't call this event a failure. Why? Because of all the publicity for the event, our names were trotted out in public. People who may not have heard of us now have. Others who had heard of us and thought about coming to the event but didn't or couldn't, may buy one of our books somewhere else. Other offers to sign may come to us from other businesses. One positive that I do know about is that Anne Randolph will share her table at the upcoming Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) College with me, so I can sell my books there. We're both presenters at the college. I'm sure more positives will come out of this event down the road, and I'm sure I won't even know what they all are.

What are your tales of book events gone bust? I'd love to hear from readers, location hosts, and authors!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lucky Cats or Cat’s Meow?

Authors are often asked for writing advice, but so far only a couple people have asked for mine. Good thing, because until this week, I didn’t have any unique advice. But I just returned from a vacation in Disney World, where dreams come true, and here’s my advice for aspiring writers:

Buy a Lucky Cat.

Three years ago I purchased my first Lucky Cat at the Japan Pavilion in Disney World’s EPCOT Center. The Lucky Cat has a history of more than 500 years in Japan, where people love them as mascots of good fortune and happiness. The painted, wooden cats are often placed at the entrance to a home or in store windows, and they come in ten colors, all with different associated good fortune, and are about an inch tall. In 2007 I selected the white cat, which brings good luck and happiness, hoping to find an agent for my debut novel, For Better, For Murder. I brought the cat home and placed it in a window near our front door. My agent called a few months later and subsequently sold my book—and its sequel.

Last week I returned to the Japan Pavilion and purchased the black cat, which protects from illness and evil spirits, and the gold cat, which makes dreams come true and brings good luck in wealth. When I arrived home from vacation, I learned For Better, For Murder was a 2009 Agatha Award Finalist for Best First Novel.

Now, normally I’m not into lucky talismans or magic or any sort of folderol, but I see a connection. What writer doesn’t dream of getting an agent or writing an award worthy book? That’s twice now I’ve visited Disney World, where dreams come true, and purchased Lucky Cats, only to have my dreams come true.

Yes, a trip to Disney was part of the connection too, but my vacation was the reason I missed two phone calls attempting to notify me of the Agatha nomination. And I’ve visited Disney other times. So I’m thinking the cats alone will do the trick. Plus, aren’t cats often associated with traditional or cozy mystery novels? See, another connection! Hey, right or wrong, I believe in my Lucky Cats.

More importantly, many thanks to the people who nominated my book for an Agatha. They made this dream come true, and to me, they will always be the cat’s meow!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


By Darrell James

Watching the young Olympians this past couple of weeks made me ponder the idea of talent. Is it God-given or simply the product of hard work and dedication?

I’ve always envied those who say they knew at an early age exactly what they wanted to be. Gifted individuals who seemingly recognize at birth some inherent talent. I always believed such kids came stamped with a capital “T” somewhere on their body. Talent, to my understanding, was something you either had or didn’t have. And there was clearly no T-endorsement anywhere on my person.

Still, I dreamed.

Early on, I dreamed of playing baseball. How awe inspiring my heroes of the day… Ted Williams, later Pete Rose, Johnny Bench. How vivid the dream of taking the field in uniform, acquiring fame and fortune doing the one thing I most loved. Baseball.

I was a pretty damned good actually. And fast. I could flash between bases, stop on a dime and give you eight-and-a-half cents change. I played through high school and into college. But I soon learned that being “pretty good” was something less than being talented. It gets a beer bought for you after the game, it doesn’t land you a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. So I moved beyond my dreams of the playing field and on to a search for my one true talent.

Inspired by such song artists of the era… Jim Croce, James Taylor… I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play. After a few years of practicing alone, I formed a group with two other like-dreamers and we hit the road. We played dive bars and American Legion posts. In our enthusiasm, I don’t think any of us realized how truly “untalented” we were.

Over the next two decades, I tried body building (with the dream of being on the cover of Muscle & Fitness). I road motorcycles cross country. I sailed the Caribbean. I took up acting and threw myself into community theatre…

An acting class at the local college had us write a monologue that we were to perform on the last day of class. The fictional character I wrote (not my performance) got rave reviews from the instructor and from fellow classmates. Something stirred inside me that day, something larger than life, and powerful. I had discovered the magic of words.

Infused with this newly discovered talent, I declared myself a writer and set out, as I had so many times before, to prove I had something to show. (Or maybe show I had something to prove.)

That was 1995. (I know this because I still have the envelope labeled “1995 Writing Receipts” that, in my naiveté, I was going to write-off against the wheelbarrow loads of money that I would make that very first year as a writer.)

In fact, it took eight long years of diligent, hard work and practice, before I got even my first short story published in Futures Magazine. It took another seven years, and twenty-three more published stories, to land my first book contract, a three-book deal with Midnight Ink. Had I found my God-given talent at last?

Some tell me so: “You’re a gifted writer! A real talent for writing! A master storyteller!!!” Maybe.

I do know that writing and story telling is the one thing that I will do for the rest of my life.

So, what made the difference? Is true talent divined? Or is it developed? Is it in our DNA at birth? Or is it the product of hard work and practice? Is it necessarily both?

Perhaps, if I had stayed as dedicated to any of the previous endeavors, as I have to a career as a mystery writer, I would have found the “talent” for those too. Or maybe it just took a lifetime of searching to find what was already inherently there?

A Zen saying says: “Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”

I don’t know. All I know is that a lucky few people recognize a talent at an early age. Some, like me, take decades to discover it. Sadly, others never will.

What I do know is that it takes being a dreamer. A cockeyed optimist who is willing to throw labels and practiced-reason to the wind, and try. And, perhaps, if lucky, talent rears it’s beautiful little head along the way.

What’s your take on it. Is talent God-given? Or the result of dedication and hard work?

You tell me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where Do You People Get Off? by Jess Lourey

I can see the allure of the writing life—spend all day in your pajamas clicking out words which make scenes which make books that people can’t put down, bothering to shower only when you have to go out to cash those big royalty checks. What they don’t tell you about (besides the lie to all of that) are the angry reader emails.

I’ve gotten a handful in my three-year writing career, fewer than five but more than I need. Here’s an excerpt from the most recent one, which I received while on vacation with my boyfriend this past weekend: image

“I just read September Fair, and it started out strong but then got stupid…why is it always the business owner who is the murderer? And your language? ‘FU’--yuck! And one of your characters had multiple sex partners!!!”

First, don’t be worried that I’ve given away the ending by sharing this slam. There is more than one small business owner in the novel, the small business owner(s) didn’t do it, and no small business owner in any of my previous books was the killer. But that’s the danger—dissecting these slams and all the ways they’re wrong and might be right, feeling that icky green anger burble up from my stomach caused by someone disliking my writing enough to seek out my email address and tell me how terrible I am--it’s the trap that lures me in every time.

I’d previously received a different slam for September Fair, telling me that while the book was fine, this reader was sick of “you image people” telling her what to eat and what not to eat, and she wanted to know where “you people” got off controlling her life. In the novel, there is an animal rights activist who talks about how meat and dairy products are produced, and it is pretty gross, but I’m fine with my readers eating whatever they enjoy. And I sent her an email letting her know that. (Read here to find out why that wasn’t a good idea.)

I get that some people aren’t going to like my books, either my writing style or the content, and I understand that a certain imagepercentage of the population feels compelled to use their personal opinions as weapons, but I still don’t know how to distance myself from the pain of random, oddly personal reader criticism (which, for the record, I separate from valid and constructive criticism of my writing, which is a blessing I’ve learned to appreciate). Any suggestions? If not, any war stories to add company to my misery?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Inkspot News - February 20, 2010

Lisa Bork's FOR BETTER, FOR MURDER has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Congratulations, Lisa!

Keith Raffel is interviewed on Press:Here this Sunday, February 21 at 9AM (on the Bay Area's KNTV, cable channel 3). He discusses the suitability of Silicon Valley as a setting for mysteries and the factual basis of the characters in his bestselling SMASHER with NBC's Scott McGrew, NPR's Laura Sydell, and BBC's Maggie Shiels. To read Keith's comments on the interview and view the video clip, click here.

G.M. Malliet will visit Beth Groundwater's blog on Friday, February 26th. Come see what G.M.'s answers are to Beth's interview questions and feel free to ask your own in comments! G.M. is also interviewed by Oline H. Cogdill in the current issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Characters Kill

A lot of real people kill for really stupid reasons. I mean, Darwin Awards dumb. The only way you get away with that in fiction is to make it so funny that the stupidity feeds the humor and makes it all worthwhile. In real life it's never worthwhile.

Serial killer books and many thrillers make use of antagonists who are raving lunatics. This works because the reader knows from the beginning that the bad guy is nuts. After all, if you pick up a book that has the words "serial killer" on the back cover, you know he (or she, though rarely) is crazy. Unpredictable. Scary. Few aren't certifiable. This is why Jeff Lindsay, the creator of Dexter, is a genius. His serial killer is his protagonist. He's broken, he knows he's broken, and he deals with it in a way we almost approve of. Plus, we can relate. Being broken in some way, however small, and having to deal with it is a universal experience.

Other motivators for fictional killers:

Self-defense is a good one, and can apply to either the protagonist or the antagonist. It's understandable, even in a character we loathe. Still, the protagonist deserves a strong opponent, and one who kills out of self-defense is off the hook legally. So this one usually needs a plot or character twist to make a truly interesting story.

Protection of another is even better in the sympathy/empathy department. What mother couldn't relate to a fictional mother protecting her child at any cost? (Well, there are some, but I wouldn't want to have them over for dinner.)

Those are almost laudable reasons to kill unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist. I wonder how many murder mystery readers are pacifists? Probably more than expected.

A few more:

Greed. For money, but could be for anything the character really wants. This covers envy, too.

Fear. This one is HUGE. Look at all the killing it's caused in real life in the name of defense. Cripes, don't get me started. But on a smaller scale we could be talking about anything from murdering a blackmailer to shooting a stranger cutting through the backyard.

Love. Either killing someone because it would benefit the loved one (in a way that falls beyond the scope of protection of another, mentioned above) or love-turned-to-hate, which gets kind of close to the whole being crazy thing. Jealousy would probably fall under this category, too.

Addiction. People do some scary -- and sad -- stuff because of addiction. Characters can, too.

As a profession. Mercenaries, hit men, etc. fit in here.

Anger. Revenge. Crimes of passion. Religious beliefs. Most of these are somewhat related to the motives above, except perhaps the last one. But I know there must be a ton of other motivations for our characters to kill. Any favorites? Can you think of any unusual ones you've either written or encountered in others' books?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

True Lies

By Deborah Sharp

I'm usually not big on Internet games: Farmville on Facebook? Ee-ii-ee-ii-NO. Forward a chain email and watch the good fortune roll in? Yeah, sure. What rock star am I really? Uhm, none of them?

But every once in a while I get sucked in. Lesa Holstein's "Bald-Faced Liar'' (oops, make that Creative Writer) Award was like that. You can read how she started it here.

Several of my fellow Midnight Ink authors also played along. (Thanks ... I think ... to Sue Ann Jaffarian for the nomination. )

I won't rehash all the ins and outs, the rules and regs. Part of the fun is including at least one true thing, and then watching to see whether readers can tease out truth from fantasy.

If you're interested, you can read how I played the game at Ask Mama . That's the advice-column blog I write in the voice of the fictional Mama character from my Mace Bauer Mystery series (Did I mention the series is set in a made-up town?) So, it's a fake advice column written by a woman who doesn't really exist, responding to letters she doesn't actually get.

Guess I deserve that Bald-Faced Liar award after all.

Anyway, the game has been bouncing around the blogosphere, and quite a few authors have joined in. I thought at first it was because we make up things as our job. But then I read some of the whoppers that non-novelists have created. My conclusion: Everybody likes a little lying now and then.

Given the freedom to make yourself as exciting or outrageous as you could possibly be, what lies would you tell?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the Pink. I mean, Blue.

I’ve always known that most of my readers would be women, so when I started receiving e-mails from men letting me know how much they enjoyed my books, I was rather surprised.

The very first e-mail I received from a male fan was shortly after Too Big To Miss came out. Attached to the e-mail were nude photos of the man. And I know it was him because I’d met him at a signing, though he was fully clothed at the time. Still, the face was the same. Okay, okay, I’ll admit it, I was a bit flattered and the photos were impressive. When I wrote back, I thanked him for writing and mentioned a word or two about the photos being inappropriate. He replied, apologized and still remains a loyal reader.

After that, many of the letters from male readers regarding my Odelia Grey series seemed to fall into two main categories: 1) those men who loved larger women and enjoyed reading about them, and 2) men who were extremely prejudiced against large women but who found Odelia attractive, in spite of their personal prejudices.

I remember one man who admitted that the only reason he’d picked up one of my Odelia Grey novels was because his wife was always laughing when she read them. He wrote to tell me how much he enjoyed the book and how he’d never look at a large women the same again. (BTW, if you’re out there and reading this blog, I’m holding you to that promise.)

As time went on and the series blossomed, more men wrote simply to let me know how much they enjoyed the series. Their praise had nothing to do with Odelia's size, but with the book itself. YAY!

When Ghost à la Mode, the first book in my Ghost of Granny Apples series, was released last September, I was surprised by the number of men who read it and wrote to me about it. Again, I figured most, if not all, of my readers would be women. Seems a lot of men enjoy fun ghost mysteries. Who knew? In fact, while the fan mail from women regarding Odelia Grey far outweighs (no pun intended; well, okay, just a little pun) the fan mail I receive from men on that series, on the Ghost of Granny Apples series, I’d say the fan mail women-to-men ratio is close to even.

Recently, I heard from a man who said he’d read Ghost à la Mode on a plane trip to Vegas. He enjoyed it so much that he purchased my entire Odelia Grey series. Gotta love that kind of reader! And that kind of cross-marketing!

Last week I spent 5 hours updating my newsletter address list and answering e-mails from readers that had accumulated while I was on my marathon to complete Murder In Vein. And it again struck me odd (but in a great way) how many notes I'm now receiving from male readers. It makes me wonder if I’ll get the same response to my new vampire mystery series. I sure hope so, and since that plot isn’t romance-driven like a lot of current vampire fiction, there’s a good shot it could happen.

My conclusion: Real Men Read!

This Saturday, February 20th, 2 pm. Launch Party for Corpse on the Cob at the Mystery Bookstore, 1036-C Broxton, Los Angeles, CA - Everyone's invited!

Sue Ann Jaffarian

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bouncers, Bar Rooms and Beers

Tom Schreck is the author OUT COLD and the other Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

When I got out of college the first job I got was as a doorman at a popular bar. I say “doorman” for two reasons. The first reason: real “bouncers” don’t call themselves “bouncers”. The “work the door”. Identifying yourself as a bouncer is akin to saying you are a badass.

The second reason; the place I worked the door wasn’t exactly Patrick Swayze’s Roadhouse. it was a popular Friday night hangout with bands, state workers and lots of twenty and thirty somethings getting out of work.

I had gotten my black belt in college and thought this would be career track I’d be qualified for.

Here’s what I learned:

1. The best way to stop trouble in a bar is to prevent it. A dress code helps, so does the absence of low brow drink specials like 5 cent beers or “Kamikaze nights”.

2. A guy working the door should ask patrons to take the hunting knives off their belt, leave their motorcycle helmet ( a great weapon) and anything else with him at the door.

3. You should not act like a bad ass. You should act like a pleasant greeter and concierge. You should be assertive and clear but not aggressive.

4. The key to addressing problem behavior is to give respect. You don’t want to give the patron reason to escalate.

5. When you have to throw someone out for being drunk and stupid you blame it on the bar manager. You approach the offending parties and say. “Fellas, hey, the manager tells me you guys gotta go. It’s not my call. He can be kind of a prick about and if you don’t he’ll call the cops.”

6. When you walk to the door with someone you’re throwing out keep a hand by your face. Fix your hair, scratch your nose, rub your chin–whatever. You want a hand in position to block a sucker punch.

7. If you have to wear a tie, wear a clip on. You don’t want something tied around your neck and dangling in a fight.

8. A bar fight will start like this. Two or more men will begin to get loud. Cursing will ensue. Inevitably, someone will start to shove, followed by wide swinging punches or attempts to tackle. You want to intervene before or during the shove if you can’t get their during the argument. Once someone has gotten between the two combatants everything will escalate. The two know there won’t be a fight so they will thrash around and act like they are out of control. This is a macho ego thing.

(Note:If you want to hurt someone, nothing beats the sucker punch. Don’t get loud, don’t start with shouting and build into something. Simply walk up and punch the guy in the face when he doesn’t expect it. That’s efficient.)

9. Bartenders and rookie doormen often make the problem worse by jumping over the bar, knocking over tables and pushing non-offending patrons. They are caught up in the macho scene and want to get their 15 seconds of badassdom.

It makes the matter worse.

10. If a patron tries to hit you it will probably be underwhelming. The general public isn’t good at fighting. Usually, the punches will come in wide loops and, with very little training at all you, will be able to get inside it. Most people don’t know that the best punches travel about 12 inches in a straight line.

Here’s an important point: You have no legal standing to hit someone as a doorman.

One of my last nights on the door this American Princess came up to me and said, “This guy at the bar is, like, really, bothering me and he, like, won’t stop. Can you do something? Oh, and, like, he’s got a gun.”

I was making minimum wage and decided it was time to explore another career path.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Alexander Deineka---Young woman-- 1934 You wouldn’t think those three inches of snow we got Friday would make such a mess of the roads. The brine and the melting, muddy snow was tossed up on my car from cars and trucks and sent me off to the car wash Sunday.

As I do any time I’m waiting for longer than 5 minutes, I pulled out my notebook and started writing, right there in the car wash waiting room. I even had a handy dandy note to myself at the top of the page, to remind me where I needed to pick up the story.

A couple of minutes later, someone plopped down in the seat next to me. This was a little annoying to me, since the car wash waiting room had plenty of extra seats. But I’ve gotten really disciplined, so I kept writing without even looking up.

“Hi babe,” said this really odd voice. I leaned way over to the right, away from the weird man and continued writing (although I was pretty sure I was writing complete crap by now.)

“Come here often?” asked the strange voice. “Whatcha writin’?”

I drew in a deep breath and looked up, scowling in a most discouraging, icy, and—I hoped—unattractive way.

And saw my husband grinning at me.

I could have wrung his neck. He’d done a great job disguising his voice and wasn’t supposed to be there—but he was getting his car inspected next door (North Carolina has annual emissions and equipment testing) and had seen me drive in, so he’d walked over.

We had a nice little conversation…although, technically, he was keeping me from my goal. My plan was to get some work done in the 15-20 minutes that it took to wash and vacuum my car. It was a very small hiccup in my plan to fit writing in on a chaotic Sunday, but I had been thwarted. In the nicest possible way, of course.

I realized, later, that I’ve written a lot of little hiccups in my plots, too. It doesn’t always have to be Lex Luthor armed with Kryptonite to temporarily keep a protagonist from their goal and create a little stress. Yes, I have a killer on the rampage, throwing up all kinds of roadblocks and determined to keep my sleuth from finding out his identity. But there are other small obstacles for discovering the truth.

It can be an ordinary or trivial thing that takes the day on a new path:

An unexpected visit by a well-meaning friend.

A long phone call.

Car trouble.

Power outage.

Computers that aren’t working.

Characters who discourage or doubt our protagonist’s abilities.

A broken alarm clock.

Poor health.

Lies our protagonist believes are truths (my suspects lie to my sleuth all the time.)

These are little bumps in the road…but they make believable conflicts that can put our protagonist at the wrong place at the wrong time, send them off in an unproductive direction, or temporarily keep them from their goal.

You still have the main conflict going on in the background. We still need the Lex Luthors in the story. But it’s great to work in extra bits of conflict, delays, and distractions, too.

And the nice thing is that readers won’t even think our storyline hiccups farfetched.

Because our days are full of distractions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

InkSpot News - February 13, 2010

Deborah Sharp tries to top whoppers spun by her fellow authors in the Creative Writer (aka, Bald Faced Liar) Award. Did she REALLY take a Hot Bod title? Check out truth and fiction at her blog .

Beth Groundwater responds to Sue Ann Jaffarian and Keith Raffel's nominations for the "Creative Writer" blog award at her blog. Guess what's true or false about her!

On Thursday, February 18, from 5:30 - 7:30 PM, Beth Groundwater will join fellow Colorado authors Mike Befeler, Linda Berry, and Anne Randolph in a group book signing at the Montblanc Boutique, Cherry Creek Mall, 3000 East 1st Avenue #181, Denver, CO 80206. Beth will sign copies of her Claire Hanover gift basket designer mysteries, A Real Basket Case and To Hell in a Handbasket, and her science fiction novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative.

Keith Raffel will be chatting with readers and signing books at Kepler's in Menlo Park, CA today, Saturday, February 13, from 10 to 1. What better gift for your Valentine than Dot Dead or Smasher? And after you have determined how well Beth lies on her blog, check out Keith's blog and see how much worse he does.

G.M. Malliet is interviewed by Oline H. Cogdill in the upcoming issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Repeat After Me: Change is Good

First, a big thanks to Rosemary Harris for a terrific guest blog yesterday. I wonder how well she’d write in a blizzard? After reading her blog, I have no doubt she’d do pretty well.

DSCF1009  Second, a snow update from the D.C. suburbs: Shoveled snow for seven consecutive days. Measured 27 inches over the weekend, another 6 or 8 or 10 inches on Tues/Wed (I lost track). Damage report: one broken snow shovel, trunks of two small trees snapped, power out for two hours overnight (we were lucky), minor muscle aches and pains. The kids have been off school since last Friday, and, miraculously, no one has been strangled. All in all, we weathered the storm just fine. Of course, I made awful use of my snowbound time, once again failing to do my taxes, clean the basement, and learn how to juggle. On the plus side, I did dabble in a new genre, snow fiction.

(Whining Disclaimer: Yes, I know that for many of you living in the wilds of Colorado or Minnesota or Canada, three feet of snow is no big deal. But the Nation's Capital is not used to it, nor are its residents prepared for it. We're equipped to handle inaugurations and partisan muckraking and political scandals. And panda bears. Not snow.)

Now, today's blog entry:

I'm still a relative newbie in the world of publishing, but even I can sense a tidal wave of change in the offing.

Just a sampling:

Consolidation. Book retailers have been consolidating (and shutting down). Hardly a week goes by without another independent store closing its doors. Of course, financial troubles aren't limited to the independents (Hello Borders).

Industry layoffs. The big New York houses started downsizing in earnest when the economy went south. How they will recover remains to be seen.

Tales of the shrinking midlist. If you believe the (thousands of) publishing blogs, it's still a dandy time to be a best-seller, but pickings are slim for everyone else.

Going digital. If you've cruised the blogosphere lately, you know what's been garnering the most attention--the potential onslaught of ebooks. How will their increasing market share affect every aspect of the business, from authors to publishers to distributors to readers? Which devices will survive? The Kindle? The Nook? The iPad? Something we haven't even seen yet? What pricing model will win out? What about piracy? How will lower barriers to entry (for ebook authors/publishers) change the landscape? Who will become top dog in the ebook world? Amazon? Barnes & Noble? Apple? And where is Google in all this?

Lots of questions. Lots of predictions. (Predictions are like, uh, noses. Everybody's got one.) Few real answers. The only constant is change.

So what can we do about it all?

Much of the change is beyond our control, so we might as well relax. We need to stay current. Adapt the best we can to shifting conditions. Position ourselves to take advantage of whatever may come. Trite advice? Sure. Nebulous? Absolutely.

But we can control one thing--the most important thing. We're writers. We provide the content. We need to write damn good books. I believe if we can do that, we'll be in a good position to figure out the rest. No need to panic.

We'll be okay.

Now, get writing.


Are you an embracer of change, or does all this talk of gloom and doom send you into the bedroom, where you can pull the blankets up over your head and wait out the storm, hoping it will just blow over? You can tell the truth, we're all friends here.



Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guest Blogger Rosemary Harris

We are so happy to have Rosemary Harris as our guest blogger today.

Rosemary was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now splits her time between Manhattan’s East Side and Fairfield County, Connecticut. After several careers in book retailing (Waldenbooks), direct marketing (Crown Publishers, American Express), and television (Disney/ABC Video, WNET, New York’s public television station), she traded in her pumps for a pair of plastic garden clogs to indulge in her favorite pastime.

During one long snowy winter when she couldn't be in her garden, a s
mall item in the New York Times about a mummified body piqued her interest. Subsequent research led her to a new passion - writing - and her research led to her first book, Pushing Up Daisies.

When she’s not writing or gardening, she tries to find ti
me for kayaking and hiking; at last count she’s visited over 70 national parks, monuments, and recreation areas, but her favorites are Yosemite and Canyonlands.

Here is Rosemary's take on having a room of one's own - wherever one happens to be. At the moment, her "office" is in a glamorous spot far away from the snow:

I have a pretty nice office. ["Editor's" note: See the fantastic photo here under "Rosemary Off Duty":
] I was a marketing consultant before I started writing mysteries so I was used to business machines and army issue file cabinets cluttering up my home before most of my writing friends. Now that I am “officially” a writer – whatever that means - I appropriated more space in my house so that I could have a quiet, peaceful setting in which to write. An inspirational setting, if you will. (Plant tongue firmly in cheek here.) That inspirational setting is now filled with a telescope, a vintage linen collection, bird and garden prints, funky lamps from the forties and fifties and stacks of mysteries purchased at the various bookstores, libraries and conventions I’ve attended. Is it any wonder my fabulous office is sometimes a little distracting?

Most of the writers I know are on a hamster-like one book a year treadmill. We write, we promote, we write. Occasionally we fritter away our time on non-essentials like friends, family, social and community obligations. Finding the time and an inspirational place to write can be challenging.

Last week, I was kayaking and camping in the Virgin Islands. I wrote in a tent on Peter Island and a shack on Jost
van Dyke. In the past I’ve written in a mud hut in central Tanzania (where my husband and I were building a library) and a tented cabin in Yosemite Valley.

It may help that my preferred method of writing is longhand, with a pencil on a yellow legal pad. That’s what I’m doing now flight’s been cancelled and I’m still on an island…it’s just not Manhattan. All around me people are drinking pina coladas and painkillers, reading The Help and perhaps wondering who the crazy lady with the pencil sharpener is. No. They’re probably not. Maybe one day one of them will read one of my books – my money is on the Joanne Fluke fan not the person reading the 800-page biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, but
you never know. The idea of someone working on a beautiful beach like this is probably as foreign to them as…well, that chain-smoking guy in the too-small Speedo is to me.

But it is what we do. I’ve met hundreds of mystery writers in the past two years since my debut novel, Pushing Up Daisies, was released. Whether it’s the possibility of that first contract, the excitement of a new series or the potential of a breakout book, we are the hardest working group of people I’ve ever encountered. And I’ve worked in television, video and book publishing. It’s one of the things that we all have in common – other than loving Lee Child and Carolyn Hart and perhaps wanting to win an Edgar.

So whether you’re working on the umpteenth draft of your query letter or the twelfth revision of your third book, we’re all in the same boat. Right now mine’s a fiberglass kayak.


Rosemary Harris

Rosemary's latest release is The Big Dirt Nap (pb) much of which was written at Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar and Campground on Jost van Dyke (pictured above).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chilly Disney World, Here We Come

by Felicia Donovan


It has been many years since I ventured to the Magic Kingdom, but off I go in a few days along with my best friend and her family. escape from the cold New England weather that has hovered around a high of twenty degrees for many days. Visions of shorts, sandals and t-shirts crept into my head as I began the arduous task of planning what to pack...until I checked the weather reports.

What? Sixty degrees with an evening low of forty and clouds? My friend's extended family is already in Florida and quickly issued this caution - pack the kids' winter coats and gloves. Seriously?

Just a few years ago I was in Orlando in March and my own children opted out of some of the Disney attractions to linger in the luxurious hotel pool because it was so warm.

Okay, Mickey, Belle, Ariel, Cinderella and the lot of you. I've heard Disney can make it snow at Christmastime, so how about using some of that good ol' Disney magic and cranking it up another ten degrees? Not that I'm complaining, mind you, because friends assure me you don't want to be there when it's ninety, but a pleasant and sunny seventy degrees would be a nice change from what we're experiencing in the Northeast.

I'm open for advice on what to pack given the conditions if any of you experienced Disney fans want to share. And yes, that's me in the picture with my Mickey ears having just returned from a visit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Looking to the Elements

Since Valentine's Day weekend is approaching, I'm sure we're all being inundated with media reminders and cultural conditioning. What our behaviors should be, how we should treat our lovers, where we should take them, what we should buy them. After a while it's easy to tune it all out.

One thing that caught my attention was this quiz, which comes from a book called Elemental Love Styles by Craig Martin. In it, Martin asserts that we can't know what sort of relationship we have until we know what sort of lovers we are. He represents love styles with the elements: fire, water, earth, air.

After taking the quiz (which, like many personality quizzes, is difficult to answer because more than one answer could be true of me), I was told that I am WATER.

"You are finished!

You are undoubtedly Water.

Your element is Water: You are imaginative, dreamy, artistic, and highly intuitive.

Famous Waters: Cinderella, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.

You love: following your moods wherever they lead.

You crave: validation and protection.

If you're single
: Find someone who appreciates your sensitivity. Don't waste time with anyone who shrugs off your emotions as craziness.

If you're in a relationship
: You know what your partner wants before he or she even asks. Don't overwhelm your mate when you feel worried or anxious.

Sex is: both emotional ecstasy and sensory pleasure.

If you love a Water: Give her imagination free rein. She wants to be understood, so listen."

While I admire the element of water, I found that few of these statements actually applied to me, other than that I do get anxious when I'm worried, and I do (like everyone, I assume) want to be understood.

Still, it's fun to take a quiz like this because it focuses one on the inner self for a short amount of time.

So go ahead--take the advice of Martha Stewart's better living blog and determine your elemental love style--then share it with us, and with your significant other.

Have a great Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Still Busy

Keith here.

My last, Smasher, came out in October. The plan was to focus on a "tour" with three dozen events that would go on until December. (Here's a retrospective of October and November.) But to my surprise, things are still hopping. Let's look at the last nine days.

Last Saturday I was down at the splendiferous Cerritos Library in SoCal for "Murder on the Menu" where Padmini Prabhakar of the Cerritos Library corralled fifteen of us crime fiction writers to speak to an enthusiastic lunchtime crowd of hundreds. Patty Smiley moderated a motley crew consisting of Dianne Emley, Stephen Jay Schwartz, April Smith, and me. Dianne, Stephen, and April were all terrific - witty and insightful. Patty kept us on our toes.

That's me between the witty and charming crime fiction aces Patty Smiley (l) and April Smith (r).

I always love hanging out with fellow writers. Great, as always, to see fellow InkSpotter Sue Ann Jaffarian who has been typing so hard she has two inch thick calluses on the pads of her fingers, along with old acquaintances Eric Stone, Bob Levinson, et al.

It turns out that two of Daughter #2's favorite authors of all time were going to be at the Cerritos Library with me. So I brought her along, and she had the chance to chat with Susan Kandel (Dial H for Hitchcock) and Joanne Fluke (Plum Pudding Murder). They were both friendly, attentive, and everything she could have hoped for. She also became a fan (as did I) of Hannah Dennison. #2 hardly needed the airplane to fly back home. But we had to hurry. I was signing books that evening at the Feast of Jewish Learning in Los Altos Hills. Amazingly, the logistics worked out and we made it.

The crew at Mystery on the Menu. My panel is seated. From left, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Dianne Emley, Patty Smiley, me, and April Smith. On the far left standing that's Susan Kandel, next to her is Eric Stone, Sue Ann Jaffarian is standing between April and me , and on the far right is Padmini Prabhakar, the woman in charge.

Sunday, the next day, I was doing a greet-and-sign at Kepler's where, mirabile dictu, Smasher is again the #1 paperback fiction bestseller.

Tuesday night I hit M is for Mystery to watch the fabulous Kelli Stanley launch her City of Dragons in front of a raucous audience of fans who were slinging back the sake and potstickers. The book is picking up great reviews everywhere and is a February Indie Next List pick. Can't wait to read it. (I also accused the store of not having any Smashers in stock. Pam, the buyer and one of my favorite booksellers in the world, took me to the shelf. She pointed. There they were, right where they should have been. Pam in turn accused me of not being able to spell my own last name. I pled not guilty to that charge. But I did confess to not knowing my ABCs. It will take me a long time to get out of probation on that one.)

That's Edgar nominee Sophie Littlefield and Juliet Blackwell on either side of the effervescent Kelli Stanley at M is for Mystery Tuesday night.

After Kelli's wing-ding and a good night sleep, I ended up back at M is for Mystery fourteen hours after I'd left it. How's that? Pal Carol Fitzgerald, the chief honcho of and all-around book maven, was in town for a BEA meeting. I'd consented to be her chauffeur/tour guide. We swung back up to M and then to Books Inc in Palo Alto. On the way back to my car after a sushi lunch, we met a woman who was walking out of the beauty parlor where she'd been reading my Dot Dead. She asked me for an autograph. Carol couldn't stop laughing. I had a great time. Here's Carol's take on our adventures.

With the terrific Carol Fitzgerald of at Books Inc in Palo Alto.

No rest for the wicked. This week is for writing and taxes except Wednesday when I'm teaching three classes at Los Altos High School during their Writers' Week. Next Saturday back at Kepler's for greeting and signing.

Speaking of signing, I'm signing off. So long.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Launch Meeting

The photo is of me with some buddies starting out on a whitewater rafting trip. I'm in front wearing the blue helmet. I firmly believe in wearing a helmet while rafting, skiing, biking, and engaging in any other sport where head injury is a risk. Do I look excited and happy?

Recently Midnight Ink staff had the "launch meeting" for the first book in my new series with the press. A fitting name for a book featuring whitewater river rafting, I must say! Anyway, Terri Bischoff, the acquisition editor, met with other staff, including the art department, and some sales/marketing/publicity folks, I think. They decided that "Wicked Whitewater, the first in the Mandy Tanner whitewater river ranger series, written by Beth Groundwater" had too many "waters" in it. After repeatedly asking Terri if Beth Groundwater was really my name :) , they decided to pick a new book title and series blurb.

I later explained to Terri that Groundwater became my last name when I married my husband, who has a Scottish family history. It is a more common name in northern Scotland than in the USA, and family legend is that it came about because the family made its living farming on the "ground" and fishing from the "water". So, yes, it's my real name!

As a result of the launch meeting, the first book in my series will be titled Deadly Currents and the series blurb is the "Rocky Mountain Adventures mystery series". After discussing the changes with Terri, I realized they made sense. The more general series blurb will allow me to take Mandy into other adventure sports besides whitewater rafting and onto whitewater rivers in the Rocky Mountains outside of Colorado as the series continues.

Another big part of the meeting was discussing the concept for the cover art. Terri wanted a picture of a cataraft to appear on the cover, which is the type of boat the river rangers use to patrol the upper Arkansas River in Colorado. To see a photo of what one looks like, go here. I suggested a picture that represents the opening scene of the book, a whitewater raft spilling over a class 4/5 rapid and dumping its passengers. The art department said both of these concepts may be too difficult to represent. They suggested a scenic landscape shot of a whitewater river, but I've told Terri that it should be of a really hairy rapid and not of placid water. The art department plans to mock up at least two covers, so we'll see what they come up with.

This is just a peek at what goes on behind the scenes in the book publishing business...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Statistically Reading

I’ve seen the abysmal statistics regarding the number of people who read books. I say abysmal because the statistics always indicate the majority of us do not read books, especially men.

Recently, however, I saw a statistic suggesting the majority of us would like to write a book. Go figure.

I don’t doubt the statistics. At a craft fair in December, I sold thirty-four copies of my novel and the author I accompanied sold almost fifty books. But during the seven hour sale, a frequent response from potential customers to our offering was a wrinkling of the nose and the statement “I don’t read.”

As one of my friends commented, who admits they don’t read? It’s tantamount to confessing “I’ve stopped learning.”

Now some people at the fair said “I only read non-fiction” or “I only read the newspaper” (a dying breed). But they read.

Some said “I don’t have time to read.” Those are the ones I wanted to ask if they watched television, and, if so, what shows they watched. Lately I can’t find any shows more enticing than a book.

I’m married to a man who doesn’t read books. He reads magazines, articles on the Internet, and educational publications. Our son now reads books only as required for school assignments. Once in a while, he admits he enjoyed one. I hold an internal celebration when that happens. Our daughter, on the other hand, seems like she’ll be a lifelong book reader. Picture me cheering wildly.

It’s not nurture. We both read to our children. We encouraged purchasing books, trips to the library, and bedtime reading for years. Of course, the kids see me reading books, demonstrating the desired behavior regularly. So I’m thinking it must be nature.

I wish the statisticians were wrong, but even my husband has considered writing non-fiction books. So why is writing more attractive than reading? Is it the allure of the glamorous lifestyle?