Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bar Room Arguments

by Schreck

For centuries, the most inane debates have taken place at the bar.

Why? You gotta do something while you drink.

Here's some of my favorites and the correct positions to take.

Ginger or Mary Ann--Easy, Mary Ann. Ginger is a stuck up beauty queen. Mary Ann is the hot girl-next-store who you know will try harder and has been smoldering her whole life.

Is golf a sport? No, it is not. I don't care if it's hard. Billiards is hard. Darts is hard. I don't care if Tiger can bench his weight. It's something rich guys do to try to be cool. They fail.

Is NASCAR a sport? No, but it's cooler than golf. NASCAR actually grew out of the Prohibition rum runners. That makes it cool. But driving a car fast doesn't make something a sport.

Boxing or MMA? Both. They're different and not a threat to each other. No, they aren't.

Namath or Marino? Namath is one of the coolest guys ever. He's almost as cool as Elvis. Marino does weight loss commercials.

The Beatles or Elvis? Easy. Elvis came first. There were four Beatles. Elvis was the Beatles's hero. Elvis was a black belt. Elvis looked cool in jumpsuits.

Jennifer Anniston or Courtney Cox? This one's too personal for me for obvious reasons.

Boxers or briefs? Briefs. Boxers ride up and fail to give adequate support. Alternative answer: Commando.

Jordan or LeBron? Who cares?

Designated hitter? No. The pitcher should have to bat. "Tough" guys like Roger Clemens wouldn't be so "tough" if they had to stand in the box while some coward through a ball at him.

Clinton or Bush? Easy, Clinton. Bill was an Elvis fan. Bush the first, made fun of him for that. When the Bushs screwed up people died in goofy wars. When Bill screwed up he got a blow job.

And finally...

Yankees or Red Sox? Yankees. Why? Because the Red Sox suck.

Schreck blogs daily at

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Long and the Short of It

When it comes to writing, we all tackle things different ways.  We outline or don’t outline.  We focus mainly on plot or mainly on character.  We revise as we go or wait till we’re done.  We watch our word count closely or worry about it later.

Our process is different, but we all end up with the same result—a finished manuscript.  But how long did we spend on each part of it?  What took us the longest during the process?

So I’m curious—out of the list below, what takes you the longest? Or is there something else that takes longer?  What’s the easiest for you?

Coming up with the original idea
Brainstorming the original idea
Outlining (if you do it)
Organizing the story
Creating individual characters
Character development
The beginning of the book
The ending of the book
Developing the conflicts…internal and external
Revising the first draft
Revising subsequent drafts

For me, character development takes the longest. I think that’s because I change so much of it through the revision process—a character will start out one way, and end up being completely different by the end of the book.  So I have to go back and do quality control.  :)  Also, I have a pretty difficult time with book endings.

The easiest thing for me is coming up with the original idea, followed closely by organizing the book (mine tend to follow a particular format.)

Your turn!

Monday, March 29, 2010


Hello, readers of the InkSpot blog! My name is Lois Winston, and I’m one of the newest Midnight Ink authors. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, will debut in January, but I’m not a debut author. I’ve previously published two other novels, and although one is a humorous women’s fiction and the other a romantic suspense, all of my books have a common thread -- crafts.

This wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to "brand" myself but stemmed from that old adage, write what you know. I know crafts. So when the writing bug bit and I needed to give my characters professions, it was a lot easier to give them professions I knew inside-out than do a ton of research about rocket scientists, belly dancers, or entomologists.

After I sold my first book, I started hearing about platform. It’s a buzz word that’s been around in non-fiction forever but has also crept into fiction over the last few years. Authors are told they need a platform for marketing purposes. Kind of reminds me of that song from the musical Gypsy where the strippers sing about how you’ve got to have a gimmick. We all need some platform or gimmick to make our books stand out from all the other books vying for shelf space and sales. So I thought quite a bit about platform -- or gimmick -- after I sold Talk Gertie To Me.

My background is in design -- crafts design to be specific. You know those needlework and craft projects you see in magazines and in kit form at chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby? I’ve designed many of them. My books often draw upon my design experience. In Talk Gertie To Me one of the two main characters is a kinder, gentler version of Martha Stewart. In Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception my heroine is a needle artist and doll maker.

So when I was thinking in terms of publicity for my books, I thought about my connections in the crafts industry. Was there some way I could use those connections to promote my books? So as each book came out, I sent press releases and copies of the books to industry people I’ve worked with over the years.

The response was overwhelming. My books have been profiled in an industry newsletter that goes out to thousands of retailers, manufacturers, and buyers. One magazine ran a review, along with the cover of Talk Gertie To Me, in their New Products column. My books were used as props at an international trade show and in a manufacturer’s catalog distributed to tens of thousands of retailers, buyers, and consumers worldwide. That catalog page resulted in one book going into a second printing.

Few of us will ever have a book that becomes an Oprah pick or winds up featured in People or excerpted in Cosmo. However, through niche marketing we can generate a good deal of publicity and sales if we learn to think outside the box.

And that brings me back to the series I’ve sold to Midnight Ink. I stuck with what I know best. Anastasia, my amateur sleuth, is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. As you can imagine from the title, a glue gun -- Anastasia’s glue gun, to be exact -- plays a pivotal role in the first book.

Later this spring, I’ll be ramping up my crafts platform by launching a blog, but it won’t be “my” blog; it will be Anastasia’s blog. Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers will feature “posts” by Anastasia and the other “editors” at American Woman magazine, as well as guest mystery authors every Friday. I’ll have simple craft and decorating projects, travel and fashion tips, recipes, and much more. Anastasia, the other “editors,” and I are all very excited about this blog. I hope it will be a fun place where you’ll enjoy hanging out. Look for the launch announcement here at InkSpot later this spring.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

InkSpot News - March 27, 2010

Beth Groundwater is offering a workshop today, 2:40 - 3:30 PM, at the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) College in Denver, CO on "The Dos and Don'ts of Planning and Conducting a Virtual Book Tour." She'll also be available during the conference for one-on-one sessions and to sign and discuss her books.

Also, Beth Groundwater's 2009 Five Star mystery book, To Hell in a Handbasket, is a finalist in the "Mainstream with Romantic Elements" category of the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence Contest. To see the full list of finalist titles in all the categories, go here.

G.M. Malliet will be Julia Buckley's blog guest at Poe's Deadly Daughters on Monday, March 29.

Check out Deborah Sharp's radio commentary on Finding Old Florida ... and stepping in a cow patty. Don't forget to click on little speaker at upper left that says ''Listen Now.''

Alan Orloff will be appearing on Virginia This Morning on Tuesday, March 30, between 9 and 10 a.m. to talk about DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. The show is broadcast on WTVR (CBS6) in Richmond, VA.

Friday, March 26, 2010

That All-Important Bio

by G.M. Malliet

The recently published "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," a collection of tips from world-famous authors. The list was inspired by Elmore Leonard's rules, the most famous of which undoubtedly is "to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. "

Printed out, the advice from all the authors quoted by the Guardian came to sixteen pages. Even so, I read every word, since you never know when you're going to find that one handy tip that will catapult you onto the NYT best-seller list.

Roddy Doyle's advice, as with so much of his writing, made me smile: "Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – 'He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.' But then get back to work."

How did Roddy know? My aim as a writer has always been, once I've finished writing the book, of course, to be able to put something really knock-out glamorous in the bio or biog on the book's cover. I remember being much taken with the bio of Martha Grimes that appeared on many of her books over the years, to the effect that she divides her time between Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, New Mexico. How great is that? That's exactly what I always wanted to do. Then Martha apparently sold the place in Santa Fe, because it disappeared from her bio. To say "she lives near Washington, D.C.," while somewhat interesting, is just not the same. I mean, I could do that.

There's also the awe-inspiring bio: "When not rappelling down a mountain in the Swiss Alps, advising heads of state on foreign policy, or discovering new sources of green energy, Famous Author can be found doing volunteer work in one of the dozens of hospital orphanages he's founded worldwide. A Nobel Prize nominee, he was recently cited by President Sarkozy for service to humanity."

You know the kind of thing. The kind of bio that can't possibly be true and still allow the guy time to write blockbuster novels, but somehow is true.

As long as I'm dreaming, though, I think I would rather go with the lazy bio - the achievable bio, as it were: "She divides her time between Seattle and Provence." Or Aspen and Edinburgh. Costa Rica and the Caribbean? Or Tuscany and...but Roddy's right. If I get back to work now, maybe one day...

*******Breaking News*******
My first book, Death of a Cozy Writer, has been translated into French (Mort d'un écrivain bien installé) - I've just received my copies in the mail. It's also available for pre-order at So I'm undating my bio to say I'm an international author. Still working on the "divides her time" bit.

Image of Provence from

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not A New Career

For over 20 years I worked in Silicon Valley for companies large (IBM, 400,000 employees at the time) and small (UpShot, where we started with three employees). A couple of years ago, I decided to change careers and become a full-time writer.

The joke was on me. I didn’t really change career paths as expected. Instead, I just veered a little. Let me explain.

When you’re coming up with product ideas in the high tech world, you look for a niche that will make your product distinctive and competitive. I did the same thing when I wrote my first two novels. I set them not in New York or even San Francisco but amidst the ambition, greed, and wealth of Silicon Valley where almost no crime fiction had been set before. Silicon Valley crime fiction has become my niche as a writer.

Next, and most important of all, when you’re seeking financing for a high tech company, you need a compelling story, you need to draw the listeners in and have them buy into your dream. You need to expand on that initial elevator pitch, too, with a business plan. Your objective is to get venture capitalists to invest their time, money, and resources into making your story come true. And when you are writing fiction? Your objective is to get a publisher to invest time, money, and resources into turning the story you tell in your manuscript into something tangible, a book.

In telling your story, both investors and publishers are searching for the next blockbuster, for the next Google or the next Da Vinci Code. I’ve had a VC tell me that I had a terrific, useful idea but it was only a $250 million idea, and he was looking for multi-billion ideas. Similarly, I’ve had a manuscript rejected with this comment: “Good as this is, I think it would quickly fall into midlist realm for us here.” Here’s the problem in both cases: No one knows what will make a blockbuster. What investor looked at Facebook when it was a roster for undergrads at Harvard and imagined it with 400 million users? And what about Stieg Larsson’s books? No one, no one had a clue that they would be an international publishing sensation including him. What you want in both cases is to bring a great idea to life. Those who just look around for blockbusters are going to spend too much on what they invest in and miss great stories that end up much bigger than they’d imagined.

I’ll just hit one more too-close-for-comfort-similarity. It’s not enough to build a great software product nor to write a great book. You have to spend your time and ingenuity promoting them. I don’t know what drug Emerson was on when he said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Right. There are so many new products, so many new books that you need to stand out. You need to get word of mouth going. How? Who knows? But I do know it’s as hard standing up at a trade show as it is at a bookstore.

Entrepreneur? Novelist? Loved both careers (or one-and-a-half of them), but maybe I should have stuck with my original dream – playing center field on the Giants.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing Funny is Hard Work

by Julia Buckley
It was once said that writing is hard work, but writing humor is really hard work. Or words to that effect. So what does it take to write humor? Well, I would suggest that the first step is to have a sense of humor. This would be easy for an author to determine. They could just ask a few honest friends: Do you think of me as a funny person? If the answer is no more than once, then an author probably shouldn't attempt humor writing, since they would lack an authentic voice.

But what is funny, and how would a writer know that it would be funny to all people? Read the works of certain classic humor writers and you'd get a sense of this. Read Erma Bombeck, for example. Or P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber. Their humor is timeless, like the humor of the Marx Brothers. Consider some classic examples from the authors just mentioned.

If you're writing a dialogue about a teenage boy having breakfast with his family, and he wants someone to pass the jam, you might write, "Phyllis, please pass the jam."

In the hands of the great PG Wodehouse, this becomes "Jam please, Phyllis, you pig." (From Mike at Wrykyn).

This is still a quote bandied about in my family, even though my brother, who read it aloud to us when he was in the eighth grade, is now 45 years old. Why? Because it's funny.

It's also funny that James Thurber, in "The Night the Bed Fell," focused not on the falling of the bed, but on the eccentricities of everyone in his family, including his odd cousin Briggs Beall, who had a fear that he would stop breathing in his sleep, and kept spirits of camphor next to the bed in case he needed reviving; or his strange aunt, who was so afraid that a burglar would come and chloroform her in the night that she would stack all of her possessions near the door each night and leave a note saying "This is all I have, so please do not use your chloroform, as this is all I have."

Also a family classic, and an American classic, to be read over and over again, because humor is timeless. That's why I still laugh when Groucho Marx says to poor Margaret Dumont: "Do you know why I was having dinner with her? Because she reminds me of you."

And what person couldn't appreciate the simple, but hilarious, wisdom of Erma Bombeck? For example, her take on matrimony: "Marriage has no guarantees. If that's what you're looking for, go live with a car battery."

Reading humor is a good litmus test for whether or not you're cut out to write humor, in my most humble opinion. Another is whether or not you make people laugh on a regular basis. If you do, start jotting down some of those bon mots and see what you create.

This whole article is moot when you consider the idea that funny can't be explained. If you have to explain it, they say, it's not funny anymore. So I guess it would be hard to put into words why the picture above always makes me laugh--but it does. And twelve years later my son doesn't see what makes it so hilarious. :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The "eep" Factor

Back when I was a weird grade-schooler in a dinky inner-city school, I wrote cute little poems that my grandparents loved. Is there a grandchild’s scribble grandparents through the ages haven’t loved? (Rhetorical question #1.) Then I hit high school and created a notebook filled with angsty teenage love poems that I entered into contests. Won a few, too, and somewhere in the basement are a few tarnished vase/bowl/water dish thingys to prove it.

But at the same time, I stopped showing my “real” writing to anyone. That would be the bizarre horror short stories and the scenery-chewing D-R-A-M-A. (Teenage girl, remember? What did you think I’d be writing?) (Rhetorical question #2.) This was the “scardey-cat” factor: What if I show it to my BFF and they hate it? Or worse, laugh?

So my fiction languished in desk drawers for years. (Yes, any whippersnappers reading this post, I mean “before PCs.” Now pull up your pants and get off my lawn.) I took it with me when I went into the convent and kept it with me for the next 20 years. The “cold feet” factor, perhaps.

The stack grew, the plots and pace and storylines improving. No more blue zombies re-fleshing themselves from garden dust—the incinerator got that one years ago. No more drama-laden unrequited love stories. (You’re welcome.)

Until the day I looked at the rut I’d dug for myself: Work, cooking, laundry, cleaning, chauffeuring the kids,. Lather, rinse, repeat. Watching people act now that I didn’t have six weeks to dedicate to a community theater production. Reading books I liked rather than writing one. I’d become a bystander.

Not for long. Also known as the “in a pig’s eye” factor.

Fast-forward several years. MI just had my book launch meeting. They discussed cover designs, suggested some minor edits, confirmed the title. My book is going to be sold on the Net. In bookstores. Bought and read by total strangers. Oh, wow. Did that weird grade-schooler writing cute poems for her grandparents ever dream of this? Maybe.

Unlike some versions of the Cinderella story, no fairy godmother dropped this in my lap. I worked my tail off for this, always hoping, always with a tiny, nagging doubt that it would happen. Yet it has.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Inkspot News - March 20, 2010

The 4th volume of the Chesapeake Crimes short story collection is having its official launch from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 10th. The event will be held at the Southgate Community Center, 12125 Pinecrest Road, Reston, VA. All are welcome to join the party. InkSpotter G.M. Malliet's short story, entitled "Bookworm," is in this collection of 20 stories, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley.

InkSpotter Keith Raffel's author blog, Dot Dead Diary, was named one of the 50 Best Blogs for Crime and Mystery Book Lovers over at Court Reporter. Speaking of Dot Dead Diary, Keith has posted photos and commentary on last week's Left Coast Crime Conference over there. In her interview of Keith on Southern City Mysteries, Michele Emrath gets him to 'fess up on everything from first love to religion. And finally, Keith's appearance on NBC TV's Press:Here was the show's most downloaded videoclip last month. You can watch it here.

Beth Groundwater will be a guest blogger at Mystery Lovers Kitchen on Sunday, March 21st, with two recipes, one for a Mystery Lovers Gift Basket and one for a Whirling Fruit Basket Shooter alcoholic beverage. Also, Beth was interviewed by the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner about her favorite independent bookstores in Colorado Springs. See what stores she recommends.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Author Headshots--You Choose!

My husband is an avid and accomplished amateur photographer, so I use him for my author headshots. It's usually a big production where he gets out all his toys--digital camera, lenses, flash, tripod, remote clicker, white umbrella, light reflectors, and more. And, after the raw photos are taken, he uses his digital toys, including Aperture and Photoshop.

It's been about five years since he took my last headshot, which I display EVERYWHERE--on my books, my website, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. So, for my March 1, 2011 Midnight Ink release, Deadly Currents, I needed a new headshot. My editor asked me to submit two. She wants a regular head-and-shoulders formal headshot and an outdoorsy shot that reflects the occupation of my sleuth, a whitewater river ranger.

I've winnowed down the numerous shots we took to three of each. Now, it's your turn to vote. Choose the first, second or third formal shot and the first, second or third outdoor shot. Or, feel free to tell me we have to go back to the drawing board! After we pick one of each, dear hubby promises he'll go to work in Photoshop and try to get rid of as many wrinkles and flaws as possible. Ain't he sweet!

Here are the formal shots:

Here are the outdoor shots:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing Is Like Losing Weight

As I jogged on the treadmill yesterday, it occurred to me that writing and losing weight are activities with certain similarities.

First, both tolerate few distractions and require family support. For example, when my husband brings home bakery boxes filled with goodies, it’s all over, just like when the kids come in the office and interrupt my train of thought while I’m writing. The deed cannot be undone.

Second, writing and losing weight take significant effort. Writing means hours chained to the desk until fingers cramp and legs don’t straighten and a nap is required. Losing weight means exercising and after fifty minutes on the treadmill plus a half hour of yoga and strength training, my muscles are exhausted and the couch calls. Then there are the mental demands.

Third, once begun, writing and weight loss are addictive. Characters demand attention at all hours of the day and night, and I’m absolutely driven to finish the story. Similarly, I now crave getting on the treadmill—and I’ve never like to jog before. It seems both exercise and writing fire endorphins.

Finally, “sticking to it” delivers the desired results: the feeling of accomplishing something worthwhile, either finishing a book or losing a few inches around the waist.

Of course, some days all the effort in the world doesn’t pay off: the weight clings, food calls, and/or the words are elusive, creating frustration and dissatisfaction. That’s what makes writing and weight loss so challenging.

I don’t know how many copies of my debut novel have sold, but I do know I’ve lost ten pounds since January. It’s too bad authors don’t receive monthly sales reports. Positive results can be very motivating.

So do you see any similarities between weight loss and writing, or am I just lightheaded from exercising and eating less?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


By Darrell James

This years event charity at Left Coast Crime Writer’s Conference was The Los Angeles Library Foundation. One of the most inspirational moments for me, came during the Saturday night banquet, when Penny Mickelbury, the Literacy Coordiator for the Library Foundation, gave a passionate introduction to the problem of illiteracy. It’s been on my mind ever since. In particular:

What would life have been like for me had I not the ability to read?

For starters, there’s the obvious. I would not have enjoyed the benefits of a comfortable living, and an interesting career in automation technology. There would have been no high school diploma, no college degree. I would have likely never owned a home. Maybe never driven a car. And, I’m quite sure, my lovely (and extremely literate) wife Diana would have looked the other way on our first meeting. It chills the mind to think about it.

But, given all these career and social differences, there would have been one other dramatic void in my life… the ability to enjoy a book.

I suspect I was reading at a fairly average age of six or seven maybe. I was the youngest in the family by a gap of quite a few years between me and my older siblings. While they read their books, I thrilled to the adventures of my favorite comic book characters: Superman, Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, even Little Lulu. And, I hungered for more.

My sisters brought home real books. Big, thick, leather-bound tombs that, for me, held unimaginable secrets. I would steal them and covertly slip through the pages. Gone With The Wind, The Great Gatsby, Little Women….

These books… these stories and their characters… live with me today. They come to me as fond recollections, offer solace, peace and sometimes advice. They are part of who I am and what I have become—a writer. I cannot imagine, not of a single moment, a life without books.

The statistics are sobering:

- 774 million people around the world are illiterate in their native languages. Two thirds of these are women.

- In the U.S. alone 30 million people over the age of 16 (14%of the adult population) can’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story or fill out a job application.

The socio-economic impact is massive. Illiteracy can be linked to gender abuse, infant mortality, the spread of social diseases, and crime. More than 60% of all state and federal correctional inmates can barely read or write.

How is it possible—in a world where scientists routinely probe space, calculate the depths of our universe, and bio chemists take us into the micro-molecular world of our own DNA—that society as a whole can be so poorly prepared for life?

My first reaction is anger. Then sadness…

For those told millions will never thrill to Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, or take a journey along Huck Finn’s Mississippi. (How terribly wrong.)

Can anything be done?

I suppose the answer lies in a million points of light (as has been so provocatively stated) But, I believe, as writers and sometimes educators, we have a unique position of influence. Perhaps, even, a unique position of responsibility: to advocate for change at every opportunity.
I for one plan to make the issue a part of every panel discussion and book event I do.
What about you?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tax Tips for Writers, by Jess Lourey

I am not an accountant, and I'm just barely a writer, but I’ve attended informative presentations on this topic, I just met with my accountant, and I'm plagiarizing freely from the very good article called Writers and Taxes from the most recent A View from the Loft. Take my suggestions as just that.

Pre-published Writers

The best tax advice I ever got was to keep track of every penny I spent establishing my writing career, from paper I printed rough drafts on to postage on query letters to receipts for the Nut Goodies I sent with them. Because of my detailed record-keeping, I was able to write all this off at the end of the year, which I did for the three years it took me to get published. I encourage you to make a "receipts and notes" folder in a drawer or filing cabinet, or stuff them in a dedicated manila envelope that you will not lose.

I also devoted a portion of my house (a whole room, actually) to writing. In this room is my computer, a bazillion ripped pieces of paper with story ideas scribbled on them (Sandra Cisneros calls these "buttons," and you sew a story around them), pens, darts to chew on (I'm orally fixated and quit smoking a decade ago), and books I use for research. Because this is a space devoted to my business of writing, I get to write off a portion of all my utilities. Other points a writer (prepublished or published) should consider:

  • Your writing must be a business (you intend to make money off of it) and not a hobby (you do it for personal fulfillment and make occasional money off of it) for losses to be deductible. If your writing is a business, keep detailed records and have a clear and honest plan for turning a profit.
  • Mileage. The standard mileage rate for 2009 is 55 cents per mile. Keep track of all the miles you travel to signings, conferences, and anywhere else related to the business of your writing.
  • IRA. For 2009, you could contribute up to $5000 to an IRA if you’re under the age of 50, $6000 if you’re over the age of 50. If you’re exactly 50, you can spank a cat and call it a day.
  • Withholding. If it looks like you're going to have to pay big for 2010, now is the time to increase your withholding.

Published Writers

Once you have a published book, you’ll have a lot (okay, maybe not a lot) more money going in and out and so set aside a three-ring binder to record your expenses (review copies sent out, the postage paid to send them, promotional materials you bought, etc.) and income (royalties, books sold by you at signings and other events if you go that route, speaker’s fees). You also need to collect sales tax when you sell books yourself, so keep track of that and file a sales tax form for your state at the end of the year.

My accountant also recommended I look into filing to become an LLC, which stands for Limited Liability Company. Basically, I'd be a company of one, but having LLC status would protect me legally from debtors or people who would want to sue me on behalf of my writing. Sounds kind of paranoid--I write fictional mysteries, what's to sue about?--but it also sounds smart. The only cost is the filing fee in your state, and you do your taxes basically the same way, writing off expenses with a schedule C. If you have more questions about tax filing for writers, I encourage you to look for a CPA/attorney in your area who specializes in entertainment. Best of luck.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Go Phish

The other Inkers here and some of our other regular readers already know my Facebook and Gmail accounts were hacked last week. A whiny, poorly written email went out to everyone in my address book saying I'd been mugged in London and needed money.

In fact, you're probably pretty tired of hearing about it. I don't blame you.

Mother necessity is a wonderful taskmaster, though, and after setting things more or less to rights, I did a little research. The first thing I discovered was that I was incredibly lucky.

  • I was online and could respond quickly. When my chat window opened and "I" started chatting with other Facebook folks, I sent out a status update telling everyone to ignore all chat requests and messages from "me" for a while.
  • The scam is well known. Facebook and Google responded very quickly to my reports. Facebook suspended my account before the hackers started sending messages to all my Friends, and only a few people got the weird chat thing.
  • I more or less remembered when I had started my Gmail account. It's one of the things they ask, and if you're way off they won't help you reset your password.
  • The hackers didn't seem interested in actually stealing my identity, just this single-minded phishing scam.
  • My email accounts forward to one another. The hackers put a filter on the hijacked account to hide all responses to the initial phishing email. However, even when I couldn't get into my Gmail account, those emails were being forwarded to another account so I could see everything going on.
  • When I regained control over my Gmail account I checked all the forwarding options and found a new one, to a yahoo account that looked like me -- but wasn't. DELETE.
  • All my financial, banking, paypal and online ordering is done out of totally separate account that has no connection whatsoever to any social networking sites.
  • Everyone was so incredibly nice and supportive.

I also ran across a few things to help avoid hackers in the future -- standard wisdom, things I'd ignored at my own peril, and a few completely new suggestions.

  • First and foremost is have a complicated password, and have a different one for every account. That should go without saying, but it doesn't. Complicated means twelve characters or more, with upper and lower case letters, a number or two, and a symbol or two. Plus -- don't use dictionary words, the names of gods/goddesses or popular fictional characters (sob!). Yes, this makes those passwords really long and ugly and hard to remember. It's worth it.
  • Change your passwords at least every three months. No more twice a year for me.
  • Have a separate email account associated with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites that forward activity to your inbox. This, too is a pain. However, I'm going to pretend that it'll help me compartmentalize online promotion from writing.
  • Of course you should never log into financial accounts from public computers. Key loggers abound for the sole purpose of getting your logins and passwords. But you also shouldn't log into email or social networking sites from Internet kiosks, coffee shop computers and the like.
  • If you see any indication of hanky panky in your email, change your password at once.
  • A lot of phishing scams get your login and password information by asking for it. Never respond to an email asking you to verify login information, or directing you to a site where you can verify login information.
  • Avoid games and apps on Facebook, as they are often gateways for hackers, and spread virally from player to player. Maybe now people will forgive my complete disinterest in Mafia Wars and Snowball Fights.

And yet, despite that disinterest and my refusal to click on links unless I knew what they were, someone weaseled in. It could have been so much worse, but still -- it seems like there should be more we can do.

I'm not alone in this experience. Anybody have stories to share? Suggestions to add to those above?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wedding Wrongs

By Deborah Sharp

I tied the knot 21 years ago, but I still remember the stress of wedding planning. Even so, the nuptial scene seems a lot nuttier today than it was back then.

I've been researching fun ideas to tie-in to this summer's launch of MAMA GETS HITCHED, the third book in my mystery series. It's opened my eyes to all the ways that weddings can go horribly (and, let's face it: amusingly) awry.

Turns out that getting married in modern times is a nightmare, y'all. And just like everything else in life today, the Internet is there to collect and catalog an infinite supply of weddings gone wrong. Etiquette Hell. Cakewrecks. TackyWeddings.

And don't get me started on YouTube. Sure, you'll see those cute, dancing-down-the-aisle clips, with good-looking, high-stepping bridal parties and guests. But those clips are outnumbered by far by bridesmaid catfights, bridezilla meltdowns, and drunken groom swear fests.

Lordy, lordy, people. It's supposed to be a Special Day. A Blessed Union. Can't we all just behave?

Funny thing is, I thought I'd gone over-the-top tacky writing the fifth trip down the aisle for my Mama character: A Gone with the Wind theme at the VFW hall, bridesmaids wearing five pounds of ruffles AND holding parasols, and a ring-bearing Pomeranian in a satin vest and top hat. Turns out I could have gone a WHOLE lot tackier, and still not been as tasteless as the ceremonies captured at
White Trash Weddings.

Looks like Mama will have to trip down the aisle for Sacred Union No. 6, just so I can work into the wedding party a Rottweiler in a Rebel flag neckerchief and bridesmaids wearing camouflage.

How about you? Care to share any details from tacky weddings in your past? Horrible bridesmaid dresses? Drunken toasts by the best man? Tipsy bride nearly taking a tumble off the dock into the New River? (No, wait: That was MY wedding ...)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Writing the Not-So-Cozy

Mayhem, murder, and million dollar properties...throw in a red-hot Realtor dodging danger (and closing deals) on Maine's craggy coast, and you have my first murder mystery, set to launch on April 1st. It's suspenseful -- and scary. But is it a cozy? I ddin't think so, until I read my review in Publishers Weekly.

The good folks at that worthy publication liked A House to Die For (thank you, writing Gods!) and called it "an appealing cozy." Huh? That description surprised me -- I thought I had cooked up a soft-boiled suspense novel. Had I really written a bona-fide cozy? Or penned something in between? Or maybe a merger of the two? And did it really matter?

Traditionally, cozy mysteries feature amateur sleuths, usually in small towns or villages, as well as recurring, generally likeable, characters. Violence occurs offstage, and profanity and explicit sex are taboo. Cozies emphasize strong plots and puzzle solving, and are seen as fun, engaging, reads that often revolve around a theme.

For me, a novice mystery writer, the term "cozy" conjured up a specific image: fluffy slippers, knitted afghans, and steaming cups of cocoa by a fire. To my way of thinking, a cozy did not make you squirm in your comfy position on the couch.

Gentle reader, I was selling this subgenre short. Romance -- suspense-- crime -- noir -- humor -- all can be modifiers for the complex cozy. And mine? I hope you'll read it and share your opinion. In the meantime, thanks for welcoming me to Midnight Ink and Inkspot.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Springsteen, Crime Writer

By Tom Schreck, author of "Out Cold, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery"

(Note the Elvis Pin...)

It was the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.

Johnny 99

The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves.

Thunder Road

Screen door hangin’ off its hinges kept bangin’ me awake all night.

Ain’t nobody can give anybody what they really need anyway

Dry Lightning

They say you gotta stay hungry. Well, I’m just about starving tonight.

Dancing in the Dark

You end up like a dog that’s been kicked too much.

Born in the USA

It’s a town full of losers. I’m pulling out of here to win.

All the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood.

Thunder Road

Sweatin’ out on the street of this runaway American dream…

Born to Run

Great writing doesn’t come over the course of 100,000 word manuscript, it comes word by word and phrase by phrase. To me, when he’s at his best, no one is better than Bruce Springsteen.

I’m not a huge fan of his last 15 or 20 years but through the late eighties his phrasing, economy of words and expression resonated with me.

Take his use of “Screen door.” What does a screen door conjur? Usually, a low income house and a working class culture. If it bangs off the wall it tells us it’s old, wasn’t installed properly or it’s worn out. A screen door banging sets a total scene economically.

How about “All the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood”? “Redemption” and “hood” don’t seem to go together which makes it perfect. For an 18 year-old high school graduate, the promise of something more comes on four wheels. And “Pulling out of here to win” is something you have the opportunity to do.

“It was the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop.” Do you need anything else to describe that setting? I don’t. I picture an intersection in my home town. The corner one block up from Henry Johnson and Clinton appears in my mind every time.

In the nineties Springsteen wrote “It’s a funny world when you find yourself pretending and you’re a rich in a poor man’s shirt” in the song “Better Days.” And maybe for me this is where he stopped connecting with me. The lyrics became more psuedo-spiritual to me and the causes overblown. The “Rising” album which was supposed to heal all of us after the WTC tragedy fell flat with me.

I wanted to be back on the porch, in the car or at that troubled intersection. The day to day nuances of life connect like good noir fiction. The other stuff is probably great for those who relate to it. It’s just isn’t me.

In the meantime, I’m gonna try to stay hungry while I sweat out on the street of my own American dream.

Come join my daily blog at

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thinking it Through

blog31 I was in the beauty parlor, attempting to get beautified (or at least get a trim), when an elderly customer came in and plopped down for her weekly wash and set. “Michelle,” she said to her stylist, “When are you due, honey?”

My own stylist froze. I froze too. Oh, mercy!

Michelle said stiffly to her client, “Whatever do you mean, Mrs. Talmedge?”

“I mean the baby,” bellowed the older lady as she blundered on. “When is your baby due?”

My stylist was now busily brushing my hair and I was pretending not to listen in.

“I’m not having a baby, Mrs. Talmedge. Do I look like I am?”

The lady waved her hands around, finally aware of her error. “Of course not! No! Of course not. Erm—what a pretty dress you have on…”

I wasn’t there long enough to see if Mrs. Talmedge walked out of the salon with a Mohawk.

The whole problem happened when the lady jumped to conclusions and didn’t think things through before she spoke.

Which got me thinking—sometimes I plow ahead when I’m writing and don’t think things through, either.

And I end up in just about as much hot water. Well…except I don’t have to worry about revenge being enacted on my coiffure.

When I don’t think things through while writing:

The character acts out of character. If I’d listened carefully enough, I could have heard my protagonist yelling, “Nooooo! I wouldn’t ever do that!”

My storyline starts sounding a little pat. I haven’t dreamed up any curveballs to throw at the plot. Asking “what if?” helps a lot.

I write myself into plotholes I can see China through. (“Oh wait! No, Judy couldn’t have been Max’s killer! She was already dead by then, herself!”)

Although I’m a big fan of not overthinking the first draft (and I’m not an outliner), if I take special care to notice when these three, bad things are happening, I save myself a lot of grief during revisions.

How much time do you spend thinking it through before you put it on paper?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Strangers (Reading) on a Train

PopTarts A thought hit me the other day, as I was balancing all the promoting and writing and blogging and tweeting activities that have completely taken over my waking hours.

Soon, strangers will be reading my book. Strangers who have paid their hard earned money to buy it and devoted their precious time to read it.

Strangers, as in people I don't know at all. (I'm not including those in the world of publishing--it's their job to read manuscripts. I'm talking about "regular" strangers.)

Of course, on some level, that's been my goal since I started writing. To get published and develop a readership beyond my family and small circle of friends. But I guess I never realized how weird that would feel. My words, my ideas, my stories being read--and judged, on some level--by people I don't know and won't ever meet. They won't have any history with me to color their opinions. No filtering lens of my personality to gaze through.

These strangers won't know, for instance, that I exercise and try to eat right when they read about my characters scarfing Pop-Tarts for breakfast. They won't know how honest I am when they read about my deceitful characters and their underhanded exploits.

All they will know about me is what they infer from my writing. I'll be judged solely on the words before them. Weird.

The next logical question is: what will these strangers think?

On one hand, I could say that I write my stories for me. But, being honest (and pragmatic), I'd also have to say I write for my readers-to-be. I want them to be entertained. I want them to be moved by my words.

I want readers to enjoy my writing.

(Side note: I've already gotten a little feedback. I've been fortunate that DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD has received a couple reviews, from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. And I guess I've been doubly fortunate that both reviews have been complimentary.)

In a few weeks, I'll start to get more feedback from strangers.

I sure hope they like my book.



Friday, March 5, 2010

Death and the Poison Pen

by G.M. Malliet

The subject of mean-spirited reader emails was discussed here recently, along with Amazon "reviews" that barely reach the level of incoherent hissy fit. Coincidentally, a well-known writer just blogged about receiving a nasty email from a reader, and making the mistake of replying, of engaging—just what the emailer may have been hoping for. The exchange got weirder and weirderer, and the author ended up posting the exchange on her blog--but two years later. It bugged her off and on for two years.

In truth I haven’t read the exchange, amusing as it may be, because I am sure it is also utterly depressing to see the contents of the mind of someone who would flail away at an author in this fashion. Even hugely successful authors have feelings. (This happens to be a nice author, too, but that has nothing to do with it. It is a shame to harass someone who is really just trying to make a living writing books, which is akin to opening a lemonade stand hoping to make a killing.)

It got me to thinking, though. Is there anyone out there who would be/could be mean about a long-established master of the mystery genre? An absolute genius? Could they possibly diss my all-time hero, Agatha Christie?

Sure they could! The world is full of all kinds of people, including people who don’t love everything about Dame Agatha.

Here are some reader comments from about some of her books. I have chosen these books more or less at random (they happen to all be set in Devon), but they are acknowledged classics, every single one.

And yet: All these readers gave Agatha one or two stars. When you realize they are talking about the great, the immortal Agatha, you could just weep:

* The ABC Murders: “While the book is not badly constructed and is amusing, it is definitely uninspired.”

* Five Little Pigs: “Though I do not know Agatha Christie's work, but by judging from this book I would think that she was not such a good writer.”

* And Then There Were None: “This book was my first foray into Christie, and will almost certainly be my last.” [NB: This is probably Agatha's best-selling book ever.]

* Evil Under the Sun: “I think that Christie has several novels where the deadline was shortly approaching, or she had just run out of ideas. That's certainly acceptable, but don't bother with a less-than mediocre book!”

* Peril at End House: [Poirot] was excessively demeaning and cruel to Hastings throughout the novel, to such an unreasonable extent that I was mentally urging Hastings to tell Poirot where he could shove his mustaches, and get the heck out of there. [Is this like telling him to put his head up—oh, never mind.]

* The Body in the Library: “….be prepared for a complete disappointment when a potentially great book fails.”

See what I mean? Don’t you feel better knowing how arbitrary this whole “You have a computer, so you too can be a reviewer” thing is?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Take to the Water...

by Felicia Donovan


I grew up on the shores of Long Island. My grandfather, a Naval Captain, practically raised my father on boats. As children, we were exposed to lots of water experiences - fishing on my Dad's boat, building sand castles near the shore, surfing on our makeshift surf boards or just swimming in the chilly Atlantic. The time we spent together as a family on or near the water are some of my most cherished childhood memories.

Now that I'm all grown up, I still find myself at the beach as often as possible, but the chilly New England winters make beach-going a very trying experience. I've done it many times, but the wind sucks the air out of your lungs and no layers can keep warmth in.

I had been sorely missing my water connection until a few weeks ago when I joined a fitness center with an indoor pool. It is the single-most best investment I've ever made. Though the pool fills up with young families on the weekend, it is often completely empty the odd times I go. The pool is kept warm enough to let my muscles gently warm up as I begin my laps. After doing "Penance" for a while, I stop and play - diving, spinning, bobbing up and down and generally frolicking about - just as I did as a child.

As I glide through the water unencumbered, uninhibited, my imagination surfaces. I am, once again, Jacques Cousteau about to discover the sunken treasure ship laden with gold buried at the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of years. I am a World Explorer setting off by sea for foreign lands. I am a dolphin trainer holding onto a fin as I am gently pulled along. I am gleeful, joyous, free...

What does the water bring to you?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Am I Writing Jewish Books?

Keith here. Bear with me while I ramble toward an answer to the title question.

There’s nothing I love more than getting an angry email from a reader that says something like, “Curse you. I had an important meeting at the office this morning and I was wreck. Why? Because I started reading your book at 10 last night and couldn’t put it down. I was up till 3.”

I should feel bad, I know. But I don’t. I wish I got more emails like that. Heck, I’m selfish enough that I’d be willing to see the GNP suffer (just a little blip would be enough) due to the reduced productivity of the millions of American workers reading my books. Well, like Willy Loman, a man “is got to dream,” doesn’t he?

So what am I saying? That my primary motivation in writing is to entertain. When I picture someone reading Dot Dead or Smasher, I see her or him on a beach chair or in an airplane seat. But I do have a more subtle, secondary motivation. Do you remember the big brouhaha a couple of years ago about Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious? In it she explains how to slip vegetables into kids’ meals without them noticing. You know, some puréed cauliflower in the mac-and-cheese or sweet potatoes in the pancakes. Well, I try to sneak some good-for-you “vegetables” in what I write, too. Critics picked up on this. Joe Hartlaub of, for example, wrote: “Dot Dead also deals, quietly but effectively, with spiritual and ethical concerns, infusing them into the narrative without overwhelming it.”

Why am I bringing this all up now? Because J, the Jewish Newsweekly of Northern California, didn’t review Smasher. Why not? Apparently because it wasn't viewed as a Jewish book.

I’m an American, a creature of Silicon Valley. That background infuses my writing. So does my Judaism. When Dot Dead starts, the hero is obsessed by making tens of millions from stock options he's been granted by the start-up where he works. In the course of the narrative, I try to “slip in” the notion that pursuing justice, belonging to a community, and establishing a loving relationship just might also be goals worth striving for. I am contrasting the schizophrenic values I myself have lived with; Ian Michaels first obsession reflects the ethos of Silicon Valley, the second set of goals reflects Jewish values.

This learning process goes on in my second book beginning right with the epigraph drawn from the Talmud: “Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.” Through this book, too, Ian continues to learn the way to a rich life is not through single-minded pursuit of money.

Now Ian is a skeptic with a natural distrust of pat answers. When his wife hovers near death, he doubts the value of the prayers his mother-in-law seems to rely on. When Ian asks what good it would do to seek justice for a long-dead great aunt, a rabbi tells him, “The Torah says, ‘Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.’ It doesn’t say to just pursue justice for the living. Perhaps obtaining justice for the dead makes a better world for the living.” (Elsewhere in the book, Ian even learns that Judaism is pro-sex.)

The choices Ian makes, especially at the end of Smasher, shows the transformation Ian goes through. Like Moses, Ian is a reluctant hero. Even though Ian doesn’t necessarily believe in God, he does the right thing in the end. According to the Jewish Sages it’s far more important what you do than what you believe. He becomes a mensch.

I may write Jewish books then or at least books with Jewish themes, but they are certainly not intended only for Jewish readers. With Jews constituting only 2% of the population of the United States and ¼% of the world population that would restrict readership a little too much. I’ve had evangelical Christians, nuns, Moslems, Buddhists, and Hindus tell me how much they enjoyed what I’ve written. They like learning a little bit about Judaism and, of course, there’s a universality to the journey Ian is on. I doubt any religion would say a single-minded quest for money was more important than justice, community, or family.

So are my books Jewish books? I think so, just as they are American books and Silicon Valley books. But they aren’t meant to be only for Americans, engineers, or Jews. Most of all, I try to write books that will entertain readers of any nationality, religion, or profession.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Detention, Mystery, and the Fear of Authority

by Julia Buckley

Today I got every teacher's most dreaded task: detention duty. No one wants detention because the job is odious. A former dean decided that the students in after-school detention cannot do homework, nor can they sleep. They are to sit in silence for an hour; the philosophy here is that they must be conscious of their time being wasted in the same way that, most likely, they wasted a teacher's time with their shenanigans.

The problem, of course, is that few young people can endure the torture of silence, and at the very least they want to make eye contact and goof around a little. This is not cool to most detention monitors, including me. I am there out of obligation, and I make it clear to the room's occupants up front that I would like to do my work in silence, and those who want to bend the rules will just end up back in the room again--an endless punishment worthy of Tartarus.

I am grateful to say I only have to do this three times a school year, because the reality is that I'm a terrible sheriff, and I don't know how cops can do their jobs. I'm terrible at maintaining a tough facade, and it shouldn't even be difficult. Because, despite the fact that they're in detention, these are the GOOD kids of the world--they came to school late, or talked while announcements were on, or chewed giant pieces of gum. That's what they generally get detention for.

A friend of mine who teaches in a public school in a rather notorious neighborhood had to break up not one, but two fights at his last detention duty, and one of those fights involved a knife, a wound, blood, the police. I listened to his tale, horrified, remembering my resentment that certain students were making eye contact. My thought at the time was How dare they? :)

Detention is a time-honored punishment, but do not throw stones at me when I tell you that I never received one in school. The reason is simple--I had then (and still have now) far too great a fear of authority. If a teacher threatened to give class members a detention for talking too much, I got quiet. I was not a rebel, nor was I disruptive for the sheer joy of it. I liked order; I still do.

I suppose it's not a surprise, then, that I read and write crime fiction. I like mysteries to be solved, perpetrators to be punished, innocents to be spared. Mysteries are orderly, and the genre is structured so that one never has to walk away without a solution to the problem.

My husband laughs at my fear of authority. I see a police car and I slow down. I have done this for twenty years because of an inexplicable terror of being pulled over (I was once, for a non-working brake light. I nearly died of fear). I have no liquor in my car, no drugs, no contraband. I buckle in and buckle my children in; I stop at stop signs and yellow lights. Yet I see a police car and I feel weirdly guilty. Perhaps it's the Catholic upbringing, but somehow I am always able to feel guilty about something.

I reflected on all of this as I walked into detention today, ready to face a room full of malefactors and some residual hostility. Instead, two angelic looking girls sat there in silence. Most of the student body had gone to a big basketball game.

So the three of us sat, I and my caged cherubs, all of us bound by authority in one way or another.

In a stab at rebellion, I let them leave a couple of minutes early. :)

Monday, March 1, 2010


I'm not usually a ditherer. But I must confess to a certain amount of shilly-shallying as I thought about writing my first post for InkSpot. What to say, and how to say it?

Here's the main thing: I am thrilled to join the Midnight Ink authors' club.

I've written fifteen books for the J/YA audience, eight of them mysteries. I already feel at home in the genre, and love hanging out with mystery writers and readers. Still, several people in the biz expressed concern when I mentioned that I was writing an adult mystery. No one seems to mind when an established adult-audience author decides to write a kids' book. Evidently the reverse isn't always accepted as easily.

So I'm doubly grateful to Brian Farrey and everyone at Midnight Ink for picking up Old World Murder. This new series features Chloe Ellefson, curator at a large historic site called Old World Wisconsin. (The photo above show me, working at the same site back in 1982). It's set for publication in October, 2010. And at the risk of sounding unprofessional... yippee!

I'm also grateful to my fellow MI writers, who have extended a warm welcome.

For now, I'll leave it at that. We'll have lots of opportunities to chat. I hope to be around for a long time.

Kathleen Ernst