Friday, April 30, 2010

Do Me a Favor?

By Deborah Sharp

I just spent the last four hours creating wedding favors to tout the fictional fete in MAMA GETS HITCHED. Crazy, right? Favors for a bride who doesn't really exist, to mark a wedding that will never really happen.

Funny thing is, I am the anti-crafter; the opposite of a creative do-it-yourself type. I didn't even do favors for my OWN wedding (although I do remember peeling lots of shrimp.) Now, here I am stuffing little bags and tying colorful ribbons to hand out at the Malice Domestic conference as keepsakes -- or at least reminders. The idea: That the mystery readers who attend will find the little bags so clever they'll be dying to read the next Mama book. It comes out July 1, by the way. Early birds can order it here.

I don't know why I think this will work. My desk is chock-a-block with freebies handed out by my fellow authors at various conferences: Note pads, seed packets, pens, pencils, calendars, bookmarks, chocolates (Okay, the chocolates are actually gone), paperweights, magnets, lapel pins, bumper stickers, postcards. I can't honestly say I've ever bought a book because someone handed me a cool promo item. I buy a book for the same reasons everyone else does: Because the cover grabbed me, and the first line hooked me; because someone I trust recommended it; or because I know and like the author. All the free pens in the world won't change that.

Of course, none of this means chocolate won't sway me. Go ahead, try me.

I wrote this for our blog ahead of time, knowing I'd be at Malice today and too busy to post. About now, I'm likely handing out my little bags as I make the circuit with Sue Ann Jaffarian, my friend and fellow Midnight Ink author. We're paired up for a Friday morning event called Malice Go Round. It's like speed-dating for authors. Readers fill tables for eight inside a giant hall. Forty authors get two minutes a piece at each table to pitch and woo.

Maybe I should have brought chocolates.

How about you? Do you think promo items move books? Readers, what's the coolest promo you've ever gotten? Authors, what's the best thing you've handed out?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tastes Change

Brussels sprouts1 Over time, tastes change.

When I was newly married, my lovely bride and I found this little pottery shop in the "historical" section of the town where we lived. They produced all types of stuff, but we fell in love with a very distinctive artist who produced very distinctive work (mostly bowls and vases). The pieces came in different shades of green and gray, and no two were alike. Like I said, distinctive. We bought a couple bowls for us, and we gave bowls and vases to several couples as wedding presents.

Recently, I came upon one of these bowls hidden away in a credenza, and I realized that, in this case, "distinctive" means "hideous." So I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to those couples who we "honored" with such great gifts. Of course, I have to apologize publicly, because they are no longer speaking to us.

Tastes in reading change, too. When I was a teenager, I read almost exclusively science fiction. Then I segued into horror, devouring everything that Dean Koontz and Stephen King churned out (and that was a lot!). Recently, though, I tried to re-read an early Koontz book and couldn't get past page 10. Too much exposition, too much description. The words hadn't changed, but my tastes sure had.

My tastes in mystery/crime fiction also have changed. I started out reading Agatha Christie. Then, when I lived in Boston, I got turned on to Robert B. Parker. And Kellerman and Sandford and Child and Connelly and Grisham and so on. But I haven't picked up all the latest books by these great authors. Why not? I'm not sure if just need a break from their series/styles, or if my tastes are changing yet again.

Don't even get me started about my own work (although it might not be accurate to say my tastes have changed. More likely, it's my writing that's changed). Have you ever written something you thought was good, then pulled it out of a drawer years later, only to cringe at every other word? This happened with my second completed manuscript. I'd written it, but didn't really query it (I was very excited about the next thing I was working on). About a year ago, I retrieved it and gave it a quick scan. I still liked the story and the protagonist's dilemma (a lot). I still liked the characters (a lot). But the prose? Wretched (a lot).

The remedy? I opened the old manuscript in one window on my computer, and a blank document in another. Then I rewrote every single sentence from scratch. Now I like the total package.

How have your reading tastes changed? How have any other tastes changed?

(Not all tastes change. I never liked Brussels sprouts as a kid, and I still don't.)



The Malice Domestic mystery convention begins tomorrow, and I'm very excited. I can't wait to meet some of my fellow MI authors, as well as readers of this blog, as well as other mystery lovers. If you see me, please come up and say hello!

And, speaking of "tastes," if you sit at my table during Saturday morning's New Author Breakfast, you can get a taste of my homemade chocolate babka (see my post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen today for the recipe!).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What You Can't Do Any More

Tom Schreck writes the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries including his latest OUT COLD. His Ebook with JA Konrath has been in the Top 100 of Police Procedurals on Kindle for over two months.

He blogs every day at

Some things you can only do in college and in college bars. You get four years–all right you get five maybe six years–or the average time it takes to complete a four year degree.

After that period of time you can’t:

1. Do shots of things called Kamikazis, Sex on the Beach or anything with the same flavor of a pastry. No cinnamon, mint, strawberry or banana shots. If you’re going to do shots of alcohol, do it quietly, perhaps as some sort of bonding ritual by clinking glases or saluting. Don’t sing your Frat anthem, school fight song or something cute by Billy Joel.

2. Play air guitar, do that weird Grateful Dead dance, sway like Axl Rose or pump your fist like Springsteen doing “Born In the USA.” By the way it looked stupid in college too.

3. I’m proud of your tattoos and happy for you but unless they are in a spot that can be seen in a normal social I don’t want to see them. Don’t lift up your shirt or pull down your pants to show me that really cool tribal thing.

4. Scream at the TV. I know the Red Sox are losing. I know you can’t believe Youk struck out or Papplebon blew the save. I know the Giants aren’t going to cover the spread. If you want to yell get a TV in your basement.

5. Play drinking games. No Quarters, Beer Pong or any other really cool wacky thing you learned about Freshmen year.

6. Brag about how wasted you are or were last night. You didn’t complete a triathalon–you drank too much. It’s not an honor, it gives you no rank and alcoholism isn’t really all that cool.

7. Harass the waitress. Okay, you think she’s hot and maybe she’s returned a flirt or two. That’s it. Don’t drape yourself on her, stalk her all night or embarrass her in front of her co-workers. She has to be nice to you.

8. Quote movie lines. I liked Animal House and Caddy Shack and I’m sure Hangover was really funny but please don’t do recreations from movies or recite lines and think it’s impressive.

9. Take a leak in the parking lot. The world is not your urinal and being drunk doesn’t give you permission.

10. Throw up. After college drinking to the point of vomiting isn’t called partying any more. it is called chemical dependence and you need to go to detox.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Changing Roles

Mother and Child-- by Elizabeth Bourse 1860-1938 So we’re replacing the downstairs carpeting.

And we have a few really massive pieces of furniture.

The carpet company said it would move one of the biggest ones, but the rest were up to us.

My husband and I moved a few piddly things out of the room and closets, then we approached the (very large) sofa. My husband said, “Can you take one end?”

I did. And I couldn’t budge it. Not with my arms, hip, legs—the thing just refused to move.

My husband called out for our 13 year old son. “Honey,” I whispered to him as our son was thumping down the stairs, “there’s no way he can…”

And I watched as he and my husband moved the sofa right into another room. Followed by two other pieces I couldn’t budge.

It was the end of an era. My son is definitely stronger than I am. Much stronger. Yes, I’d noticed he’d gotten taller, yes, he’s beefed up a bit. Yes, his clothing budget is through the roof because he’s growing out of everything. But somehow, in my head, mamas are stronger than their children.

It was a very odd feeling. I felt proud of him. But I felt old and wimpy, too.

One of my protagonists, Myrtle Clover, gets a similar feeling quite a bit. Her son is trying to farm her out to a retirement home and she’s pushing back with plenty of resentment. This adds a little extra conflict to my stories as well as propels the plot—Myrtle’s son is a police chief and she gets involved in his cases to needle him.

What if you’ve got a character who suddenly retires when they’re used to being in charge in an office? Does this mean she’s suddenly redirecting her efforts to another area of her life (one where people maybe aren’t appreciative of it?)

These changing roles don’t have to be age-related.

Stress also comes when a character is suddenly thrust into a leadership role when they’re not used to taking one on.

Or a character who is very active could be forced to take more of a backseat role—like Jimmy Stewart’s character (laid up with a broken leg) in the Hitchcock movie Rear Window. His frustration and boredom drove the plot early in the film.

Maybe you’ve got a really outgoing character who is used to speaking his mind. He decides to run for office…and wins. Now he’s got to watch what he says.

I think these type of scenarios—where our characters change roles in life—can serve a couple of different purposes. For one they serve as additional conflict for the character to deal with. For another, they can help to propel the plot—particularly if the character is frustrated in some way.

Are any of your characters playing new and unfamiliar roles in your book?

Monday, April 26, 2010


Today I’d also like to pass along information about a worthy cause where you can feel good about helping others and get something in return. For the past 6 years NY Times bestselling author Brenda Novak has run an online auction to raise funds for juvenile diabetes. To date the auction has raised over three-quarters of a million dollars. The goal this year is to reach a million dollars. This year’s auction kicks off on May 1st and runs through the entire month.

You have to check out the amazing amount of goods and services that have been donated for this year’s auction. There’s something for everyone. You can bid on everything from a carton of books to a Hawaiian vacation for two that includes airfare, a 6 night stay, and $500 towards a rental car. Got a hankering for a Donna Karan suit once worn by Barbra Streisand? It’s yours if you post the winning bid. Are you an aspiring author? You can bid on manuscript critiques by editors, agents, and bestselling authors. Love jewelry? This auction has plenty to offer. Plus gift baskets galore, an iPad, Coach purses, celebrity autographs, and much more. To see the complete list of offerings go to: .

Also, in my post last month I mentioned the character blog I planned to start up later this spring. Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers will launch on May 17th and feature “posts” by Anastasia Pollack, my crafts editor protagonist, and the other “editors” at American Woman magazine, the fictitious magazine where they all work. I’ve had a tremendous response from other mystery authors who will be guest blogging on Book Club Fridays. Many will be offering a free book to a lucky comment poster. I hope you’ll stop by frequently. You can find Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers at beginning Monday, May 17th.

Lois Winston (beginning 5/17)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Inkspot News - April 24, 2010

Join several Midnight Ink authors at the Malice Domestic conference in Arlington, VA. Panels run from April 30 to May 2.

Special note: MInker Lisa Bork is a nominee for an Agatha for Best First Novel.

MInkers in order of appearance:

Friday, April 30 @ 10:00 a.m. - Malice-Go-Round with authors Beth Groundwater, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Deborah Sharp, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Jennifer Stanley

Saturday, May 1 @ 9:00 a.m. - Beth Groundwater and Deborah Sharp on the panel: "Into the Wild: Mysteries Set in the Great Outdoors"

Saturday, May 1 @ 10:20 a.m. - Sue Ann Jaffarian on the panel: "New to Woo: Traditional Authors Who've Begun Paranormal Series" and Alan Orloff and Kathleen Ernst on the panel: "Culture Clash: Race and Ethnicity in Mysteries"

Saturday, May 1 @ 1:30 p.m. - G.M. Malliet on the panel: "Golden Inspiration: How Golden Age Mysteries Influence Contemporary Authors"

Saturday, May 1 @ 2:50 p.m. - Elizabeth Spann Craig on the panel: "Senior Sleuths versus Middle-Aged Meddlers and Crime-Cracking Kids: How Age Impacts the Story."

Sunday, May 2 @ 9:00 a.m. - Joanna Campbell Slan on the panel: "The Art of Distraction: Using Red Herrings" and Jennifer Stanley on the panel: "No Rug Burns Here: Mysteries with Good Clean Murder"

After the conference, several MInkers will journey to Oakmont, PA for the Mystery Lovers Bookshop's Festival of Mystery on Monday, May 3 at 4:00 p.m. See Beth Groundwater, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Alan Orloff,
Deborah Sharp, and Joanna Campbell Slan there!

For aspiring writers and those looking for refresher courses on the basics, Beginning Writer Workshops is an online series of monthly workshops offer by multi-published authors Dianne Drake and Lois Winston. Beginning May 3rd, Lois will be offering TOP TEN REASONS A MANUSCRIPT IS REJECTED. If you’re interested, learn more at

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Mysterious Mr. Shakespeare

by G.M. Malliet

April 23. On this date, in 1616, William Shakespeare died. The story goes that he stayed out drinking late with friends, caught some sort of cold, and died not long after, having first found the strength to write a will that has puzzled scholars for ages, leaving his wife the "second-best bed."

It is less certain when he was born, record-keeping being a bit spotty back then, but April 23 (1564) is often used as the date for his birth as well. There's a nice symmetry to that idea, because April 23 is St. George's Day in England. (That would be St. George of dragon-slaying fame.)

Shakespeare was only 52 when he died.

He was, of course, arguably the world's greatest playwright, ever, but it is his sonnets that got me hooked, way back in the days of an English course I took in college (we didn't really go into Shakespeare much in high school, for some reason, so I was a very late starter here).

But those sonnets, and the mystery behind them: Wow. I probably shouldn't admit this, but it was the not knowing for whom or why they were written that hooked this aspiring writer at the time--less so, initially, than the words. It was the mystery surrounding these matchless creations that led me to the soaring beauty of the words themselves.

Here are the broad outlines of the questions concerning the provenance of the most debated, discussed, and written-about poems in history:

  • The overriding question is, are the sonnets autobiographical? (Answer: Of course they are. We just don't know which parts are autobiographical. That's why it's called poetic license.)
  • To whom are they addressed? The first 126 sonnets in the sequence are addressed to a young man of a higher social station than the poet. The rest are addressed to a "dark lady" whom the poet desires, then reviles, then really reviles. A couple of the other sonnets--we just don't know. They may not even belong to the sequence.
  • A related question to the above: Who inspired the sonnets, paid for them, or otherwise saw them through the birthing process? This question is impossible to answer (although that has prevented no scholar from trying) since the dedication to the sonnets as they were printed is a large part of what has fueled the centuries-long debate. The dedication reads:



This spawns a whole sub-raft of questions:

  • What's a begetter? (This always makes me think of the old Bill Cosby line, where Noah asks God, after listening to the meticulous instructions for building an ark, "What's a cubit?"
  • Who is Mr. W.H. (Arguments that the initials got reversed here, and Henry Wriothesley (the Earl of Southampton) is the intended begetter, don't entirely convince everyone, including, for what it's worth, me.)
  • Who was T.T.?
  • What's with all the punctuation?
  • WISHETH. THE.WELL-WISHING. ADVENTURER.IN.SETTING.FORTH. (What in the world does this mean?)
  • When were the sonnets written? (We don't know. Maybe in the 1590s. They were published in 1609, and that is all that is certain of the dates.)
  • How does Anne Hathaway fit into all of this?

A large part of this debate, which cannot be separated from the story told by the sonnets, has to do with Shakespeare's sexual orientation. The teacher of the course that got me hooked on the sonnets summed it up this way (I think she was quoting someone): "He was either heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual." You can read the sonnets a million times and come up with no better answer than that.

(I'm not even getting into the discussion of whether Shakespeare was really Shakespeare, but that he was the man from Stratford is the simplest explanation, after all.)

A recently discovered portrait of Henry Wriothesley apparently dressed as a woman has only fueled the debate, which truly never seems to end. That line about the "second-best bed" didn't help matters.

Who the dark lady was, we will probably never know. Finding proof of that would be the holy grail for Shakespearean scholars--or a play written in his own hand.

It really is a mystery.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Birthday, What are We Worth Day?

by Felicia Donovan

earthdayI'm honored to be "up at bat" on such an auspicious day - the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

I never realized that Earth Day has been celebrated for so long. According to Wikipedia, It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, beginning on April 22, 1970. Wow, 1970. I remember (though I was very, very young) that anyone who cared that much about the environment back then was considered a "hippy." Groovy, Man.

Fast forward forty years and we've become a nation where weekly recycling has pretty much become the norm, where we can buy organic sheets, rubberized bark mulch, and head to the market with our reusable bags.

The efforts made since then are staggering considering the facts:

  • In the US 33.4% of solid waste is either recycled or composted.
  • The amount of recycling in 2007 alone saved the energy equivalent of 10.7 billion gallons of gasoline and prevented the release of carbon dioxide of approximately 35 million cars.
  • That's a lot of progress, but here's the fact I like best:

    • Recycling 1 plastic bottle not only saves anywhere from 100 to 1000 years in the landfill, but also saves the environment from the emissions in producing new bottles as well as the oil used to produce that bottle.

    That's one bottle. That I can and do recycle with little effort, even when out in public.

    For me, Earth Day is not so much about the millions conserved and the percentage of reduction in this emission or that resource. For me, Earth Day is more about the little plastic pull-back tab on the creamer bottle that I still need to consciously remind myself to rinse and put in with the rest of the plastic goods. I believe we're all worth that small effort, as are my children, their children and all that are to come.

    What is it worth to you?

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    A Café of One's Own

    I wrote my first book on cross-country flights, at my desk at 5AM, on my bed when sick – practically anywhere. Since then I’ve completed Smasher and two other manuscripts at a café in a hotel a few minutes walk from my house.

    Why? At home, when I try to write, I inevitably find myself sucked into email or some siren of a website. Even when I think I’m doing research in Wikipedia or whatever, I look up and find thirty minutes have gone by without a word written. When at the café, I’m not connected to the Net. (The hotel charges $15 to connect to WiFi, which for all intents and purposes means it’s not available.) If I need to look something up, I just mark my manuscript with an “XX” and fill it in after doing the research at home.

    The café staff could not be more supportive of my authorial endeavors. When I come in, I’m greeted by name, the music is turned down, and my tea is brought to me. When the café changed beverage purveyors to one who did not carry the tea that fueled my writing engine, the manager arranged to continue getting a special stash of the old tea; it sits in solitary splendor with my name on it in the manager’s office. When the screen on my laptop stopped working, the hotel IT guy spent two hours with me trying to fix it. The general manager of the hotel stopped by last week to introduce himself.

    I write there for hours and my teapot is refreshed and refilled. No one seems to mind that I only buy one pot of tea. I wear noise-canceling headphones and look as dorky as can be (see above), but since this is Silicon Valley no one cares. I find the hubbub of quiet music, high tech powwows, and chatting hotel guests to provide a white noise background to write against.

    Two weeks ago I had a birthday lunch there. My sister made sure everyone knew what day it was. The on-duty manager told her, “Of course, he’s having his birthday here. He’s family.”

    I’ve given away a box of signed books to say thank you. I set a scene in Smasher in the café. Ian Michaels is lucky enough to be served by Marissa, who often serves me.

    Although I used to be able to write anywhere, no longer. The words don’t come to me unless I’m in my café floating along on a sea of (my special) green tea. I love the place and the people who work there.

    Do any of you write away from home? Away from the Internet? At a café?

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    Farewell, Old Friend--Hello, Technology

    by Julia Buckley
    My old blackboard, covered with lovely student projects and the detritus of teaching.

    In January I bid adieu to my 90-year-old blackboard. In its place I got the tech-savvy SmartBoard (or 'interactive white board'), which is something of a classroom miracle. Gone are the chalk, the erasers, the heavy layers of dust on the ledge, the gross and sludgy bucket I had to fill each day to wash the board. Don't get me wrong; I loved writing on my chalkboard, and I was one of the rare people who could write a chalk sentence in a straight line.

    Evidence of the chalky ledge.

    But the Smartboard can do so much more that all schools will go to them eventually, as soon as they can afford them. Anything drawn on the Smartboard can be saved, since the board interacts with the classroom computer. So if I write good notes and fear that I won't remember them for a class later in the day, I can save them and bring them up for the next class. I can also e-mail them or save them for a future time.

    I can embed You-Tube and other online videos into my presentations. If I'm teaching a Japanese novel and they've never heard of a samisen? Voila. I tap the screen and there is a lovely Geisha playing her instrument.

    I can project Powerpoint images in my class notes. If I'm talking about Shakespeare and jotting down notes about Elizabethan Drama, I can touch a button on my whiteboard to bring up a visual of the Globe Theatre. Much better than the days when I might have tried to draw it myself (my students would attest that my drawings are . . . amusing).

    Oh, and if a teacher has sloppy handwriting that students can read, she can touch the SmartBoard and turn the written text it into Times New Roman, or the font of her choice. Magic. You should have heard the teachers ooohing and ahhhhing at the product demonstration. We were hooked.

    I loved my old blackboard; it was beautiful, with wood inlay dating to the early 20th Century. Sadly, though, after a few weeks of SmartBoard I doubt I'll ever look back. Such is the fast-moving world.

    And THIS is the Smart Board!

    Sunday, April 18, 2010


    I too will be traveling soon, leaving by ship from Ft. Lauderdale to sail to Spain and Portugal. The problem is the return by plane via Aer Lingus through Dublin whose air space is now covered with ash from the aptly named volcano Eyjafjallajokull. I love sailing across the ocean, the long, lazy days at sea. Stopping at foreign ports to explore crumbling castles and bargaining in bazaars. I once traveled the world as a translator on a hospital ship. More recently I taught writing classes on cruise ships. This trip is just for fun or so I thought until I heard the news and saw those scary pictures of the erupting volcano with the billowing clouds covering half of Europe. So what to do? Cancel now and recoup some of the money? Or take a chance and if I'm stuck, camp out on a beach in the south of Spain for weeks, months or years, communicating with my editors from an Internet Cafe. Isn't there something in our contract about Forces of Nature?

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Happy (and Haunted) Trails to Me

    I’m starting to feel the early tremors of a panic attack. In just two weeks I hit the unfriendly skies for a 10-day trip east. Never mind that I have a book due in two months, or that my desk at the law firm looks like a paper bomb hit it, or that we're in the middle of two huge projects. It’s a trip that has been on my calendar for a long, long time. And even though I’m looking forward to it, I also wish I had another six weeks between now and liftoff. Each day the trip gets closer, my blood pressure goes up with worry that I won’t be ready. It’s the same with every long trip I take.

    This trip will be a combination of book conference, book signings, and a visit to my family. I haven’t seen my family in a couple of years and my niece has had two children since my last visit, the last baby just a month ago. If I postpone visiting any longer, Megan and Catelyn will be in college before they get a chance to spit up on me.

    My trip will start with four days at the Malice Domestic Conference in Arlington, VA, followed by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA. On May 4th, after dumping pals at the Pittsburgh airport, I’ll go solo and point my rental car in the direction of Jim Thorpe, PA. That’s right, there really is a town named after one of the greatest athletes in history. The weird thing is Jim Thorpe wasn’t even from there and probably never in his life step foot in the former coal mining town located at the foot of the Poconos. Seems his widow sold his remains to the town, once known as Mauch Chuck. The town then changed its name, interred ole Jim in the city limits, and gave him a suitable monument.

    Originally, I had planned on simply driving from Pittsburgh to Massachusetts. But since it’s a 9-hour drive, I decided to check a map for a suitable place to stay half way through the trip. As my eye scouted the route, it caught on the name “Jim Thorpe.” Let me stop right here and say that I love maps. I love to see where places are in relation to other places, and odd names always tickle my nose like the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

    The town of Jim Thorpe, it seems, has a very wild, woolly and even haunted past. Of course, this was back in the days when it was named Mauch Chunk. And, yes, I said haunted. Right then and there, I knew this was where I was going to stop. As soon as I read a sketch of the town’s history, my spidey sense told me a future Ghost of Granny Apples book was brewing. In fact, the story started coming alive in my head immediately.

    Mauch Chunk was the setting for some of the Molly McGuire trials of the 1870’s, when Irish miners were charged, convicted and hanged for violence and conspiracy against the mining companies. To some, these were the early union organizers. Back then, they were branded criminals, although there is historical evidence that they may have been in large part railroaded. There’s an old and imposing jail in the town, appropriately named the Old Jail. Several Molly McGuires were hanged in the jail and today there is a replica of the gallows, along with a rumored haunted jail cell in which the hand print of one of the hanged men can still be seen on the wall, in spite of decades of paint and plaster.

    The owner of the Old Jail Museum has promised me a private tour on May 5th. I can’t wait!

    Also of interest in the town is the Harry Packer Mansion, which was used as a model for the Haunted House at Disneyland. The Mansion is now a B&B and is also purported to be haunted. If you’ve ever seen the Haunted House at Disneyland, you can see that it’s a dead ringer (pun intended). I’m staying two nights at the Inn at Jim Thorpe, also supposedly home to things that go bump in the night.

    People always ask me where I get the ideas for my books. I get them from anywhere and everywhere, including while checking out a map for a place to rest my head.

    Okay, just 14 days until the trip. I can do this. I know I can. I just have to remember to breathe.

    Sue Ann Jaffarian

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010


    My niece got married last weekend. She was a radiant, happy, lovely bride. If I look at my own wedding photos, I’m radiant and happy too—it was one of the first milestones in my life.

    In a few days I’ll turn 49. This fact was emphasized by how LOUD the music was at my niece’s wedding and how fast my dancing energy waned. I had unlimited energy at my own wedding, certainly!

    My first milestone occurred on the day I graduated from college. The world was before me: I was young, talented, and barring my student loan debt, no obstacles blocked me from doing anything I wanted to do. Three years later I got married. Now WE could do anything we wanted to do, together. Four years after that I had my first baby: Milestones don’t get much more important or thrilling.

    In 1992, Tom Hanks starred in a movie about the women’s baseball teams during World War Two, called A League of Their Own. At the end, one character gives up her career to be a homemaker and her younger sister continues to play baseball. I watched that movie with a baby in my arms and a preschooler asleep upstairs, and thought: My life is over. It’s a hamster wheel of diapers, laundry, work—lather, rinse, repeat. I’ll never accomplish anything I dreamed of at those milestones.

    That day I chose not to let those dreams slip away. Not to see myself only as mom/homemaker/Day Job grunt. I had dreams once. I had ambition, and energy, and goals. I reread letters from high school and college friends. We were all in theater or music or the arts, and all but one of our group had chosen the life of the audience rather than the one on stage.

    It took many years to make my dream a reality. Being a stubborn broad helped.

    How many of us reached that nadir but didn’t give in? The fact that we’re all on this blog is proof of our stubbornness. What was your milestone? What triggered your compulsion to grab your dreams with both hands and drag them into reality?

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010


    My book club recently discussed A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, a novel about triumphing over poverty and cruelty during 1970s India. It was a tough book to read, because the characters with redeeming qualities suffered horrific tragedies and the not so nice characters seemed to get ahead—and that’s just not the American way.

    The good guy wears the white hat and the bad guy wears the black, and sooner or later the bad guy is going to get his. Then all will be right in the world again. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

    The press seemed to be playing on this expectation over the weekend when the “good man” won and the “bad man” came in fourth at the Masters. This irritated me, because I still think it’s possible to be the number one golfer in the world AND a cheating husband. Is it all the kinks to that swing that upset people the most? Or did the man not meet our expectations?

    This is not to say I don’t hold out hope that the knight in shining armor does exist. I certainly would prefer real people to uphold high moral standards, particularly those in leadership positions. I believe everyone should honor their marriage vows, too. But it makes a story when they don’t.

    My grandmother used to think any guy in a navy suit, white dress shirt, and red tie was okay. She didn’t care to hear about any wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nowadays that seems like all we’re hearing about.

    But I think the bottom line is you really can’t judge a book by its cover or character by one statement, decision, or action. How many books have you read where a character seems to be the good guy—until he becomes the villain? [Think: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd] Is it the “monotony of each day” that causes these characters to step out of character or something else? Does it matter?

    If we write one-sided characters, the “nice” protagonist and the “evil” villain, do we meet the expectations of the majority of readers? If we blur the lines a little, does it make the story more interesting? More gripping? More memorable? Can we take it too far? I think so.

    But in fiction I’m just not sure how far is too far for most readers. Are you?

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    THERE ARE NO RULES (And They Are Strictly Enforced)

    by Darrell James

    Writing fiction for publication is something akin to walking a tightrope… in roller skates! There is often a huge dichotomy between what is wildly creative, and what is commercially viable. Publishers and agents, alike, will tell you that they are all looking for that “fresh new voice” in the industry. They insist that they are seeking that “original new story hook” that grabs them by the you-knows and doesn’t let go. Contrary to this, they want to know “What other work is like the one you’ve written?” and “Where will it fit in?” They are asking: what makes this work safely like the others so we have some comfort level that it will be a success.

    Readers aren’t all together different. They say they want to be newly entertained. But buying patterns suggest that they seek out the same tried-and-true authors, same tried-and-true themes.

    For an aspiring author thinking of writing their first novel, or for the established writer considering their next project, it can be a maddening dilemma. Enough so, for me at times, to have me throw a rope over the shower rod and get it over with. After all, I would be faced with many long months to write what may not be acceptable.

    (Okay, I suppose I could have long-ago offed myself in the fit of this dilemma, but then there’d have been this pesky question of the suicide note: Do I go for a totally original goodbye? Or do I pull up a Word Memo Template and play it safe?).


    The title slogan, “There are no rules (and they’re strictly enforced)”, was passed on to me by a screenwriting mentor I once worked with. Her name is Sharon Cobb. Sharon has written a number of screenplays that were made into movies and worked as a paid writer/consultant on numerous others. “Be creative, yes, but give ‘em what they want!” is the message behind it. It’s just not clear who ’em” is or what “it” is that they want. It applies to the publishing world as well, I believe.

    "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
    --- Somerset Maugham

    I have writer friends who would say, “Agents and editors be damned! I’ll write the story I want to write! I’ll tell it the way I want to tell it!” There’s a word for these defiant but courageous souls. Unfortunately the word is… unpublished.

    Over the past six years, I’ve had close to thirty short stories published in various mystery magazines and book anthologies. My first three novels are now under contract, and already my mind is wandering off toward that next series that fires my imagination.

    While, I’d like to think that I will decide on it purely from imagination and interest, I know that that’s not entirely true. There will always be one eye focused on the readership. Will an agent or editor like what I’m considering? Will the reading public embrace it?

    It may be a sad thing, that so many creative stories are never told. Then again, it may be that creativity is only worthwhile if it accomplishes the end result.

    What about you? As writers, do you sometimes feel you sell your creative soul to the devil just to get published? As readers, do you sometimes yearn for something wildly different?

    Don’t be afraid, tell it like it is… after all, there are no rules!

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Inkspot News - April 10, 2010

    The 4th volume of the Chesapeake Crimes short story collection is having its official launch today from 2 to 5 p.m. 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, "Bookworm," is in this collection of 20 stories, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley. The book also features stories by Donna Andrews, Karen Cantwell, Trish Carrico, Mary Ann Corrigan, Carla Coupe, Meriah Crawford, Barb Goffman, Sasscer Hill, Mary Ellen Hughes, Smita H. Jain, B.V. Lawson, Audrey Liebross, C. Ellett Logan, Debbi Mack, Ann McMillan, Bonner Menking, Helen Schwartz, Shelley Shearer and Lisa M. Tillman. Mystery Loves Company will be on hand to sell books.

    Also today in Colorado Springs, CO, Beth Groundwater will be appearing in the Author Showcase Spotlight at the Pikes Peak Library District's annual free Mountain of Authors program. The event takes place at the East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd., from noon to 6 pm, with panels, featured presenter Margaret Coel, and a reception. Beth will discuss and sign copies of her books, along with other local authors, during the program breaks: 2- 2:30 pm, 3:30 - 4:00 pm, and 5:00 - 5:30 pm. If you're in the area, this is a wonderful event for both readers and writers!

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    Asking for Blurbs Never Gets Easier

    I'm at the point in the publishing schedule for my March, 2011 Midnight Ink release, Deadly Currents, where I'm asking for blurbs from other mystery authors. This was terribly hard for me to do for my first published book, A Real Basket Case, and it hasn't gotten any easier. At least this time, my editor and I are sharing the workload. We brainstormed a dream wish list of Western and/or outdoorsy-oriented mystery authors and divvied up the list between us according to who had the best contacts with each author.

    One wonderful author came through with a stellar blurb, shown below, just this afternoon. (PS. I love her books!) Two other authors have agreed to take a look at the manuscript, so please keep your fingers crossed for me that at least one more likes it!

    "If you’ve wondered what white water river rafting is all about, get ready for a wild plunge into Colorado’s Arkansas River with Mandy Tanner, river ranger extraordinaire and dauntless sleuth. Beth Groundwater gets the mountain town of Salida and its cast of river denizens just right. Hurray for Deadly Currents, a heart-racing debut to a new series with as many twists and turns and unexpected upsets as a ride through the rapids itself."
    ---Margaret Coel, author of The Silent Spirit.

    Asking established authors for blurbs is an imposition on them, a request for a huge chunk of their time to read your manuscript. There's no way I would ask such a large favor of an author that I have had no contact with and done nothing for on my part. The best way to help this process along is to start doing favors for the authors you may want to approach for blurbs in the future. Show up at their signings and buy their books. Post complimentary reviews of their books on bookseller websites and mystery discussion groups. Recommend their books to friends. Do other favors for them, such as putting them in touch with experts they need for their current research project, volunteering to help on their latest MWA or SinC project, etc. That way, you've established a professional networking relationship with them, and asking for a return favor is not such an imposition.

    Also, don't assume or imply that once they read the work, they should think it worthy of a blurb. When I ask established author contacts to blurb my book, I ask them if they would be willing to read the manuscript and IF they like it, to consider giving me a blurb. I ask them at least 6-8 weeks before the blurb is required by my publisher and state the deadline clearly, so they can determine if they have time in their busy schedules to read my manuscript. And timing the request is important, too. If the author is working toward a looming manuscript deadline or is out on the road promoting a new release, it may be best to wait a few weeks before asking. That may mean the blurb doesn't make it into the catalog, but it may make it onto the review galleys/ARCs and the back cover of the published book.

    Thankfully, for A Real Basket Case, four fellow Colorado mystery authors graciously read my manuscript and crafted glowing blurbs: Kathy Brandt, Margaret Coel, Christine Goff, and Maggie Sefton. I think their words of praise definitely helped my sales. I thanked them--in writing--for their efforts and gave them each a small gift basket, put together with advice from my gift basket designer protagonist, Claire Hanover. Many authors give their blurbers an autographed copy of their book once it's published, and that's a fine gift, too.

    I've got my thinking cap on for thank you gifts for my Deadly Currents blurbers. Anyone got any ideas? A miniature whitewater raft full of chocolates? A gift certificate for a whitewater rafting ride near where they live? Smoked salmon and bagels?

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    A Peek Behind the Scenes, by Kathleen Ernst

    The official publication date for Old World Murder is October 1, 2010. And I want to spend the next six months helping to create some buzz.

    When I worked in the historic sites biz, I learned that visitors are fascinated with behind-the-scenes stuff. Where are the collections stored? Why is that farmhouse furnished the way it is? What research led to that program? People pay extra for tours that offer answers to that type of question.

    So as I thought about promoting Old World Murder, I decided to do something similar. I'd make a video or two to help draw readers into my (and my protagonist's) world, and--I hope--intrigue them about the book.

    Now, watching me stare at a computer screen is about as exciting as watching paint dry. But there is, of course, more to creating a book than the actual writing.

    The plot of Old World Murder revolves around a missing antique Norwegian ale bowl. I needed to understand what antique Norwegian ale bowls looked like, and how they were used. That kind of research is the fun stuff! And I thought readers might enjoy it, too.

    I got to see a lot of gorgeous old bowls at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum--some on display, some in storage. My husband Scott and I recently completed a short video about my visit. This is not a book trailer; it's a peek behind the scenes.

    I embedded the video into a blog post that provided additional context. I've also posted it on my website, my Facebook fan page, and on my (brand spankin' new) YouTube channel. I don't pretend to know that making short videos will make a noticeable difference in sales, but it was fun, and I've gotten some positive feedback.

    Have you seen or done any promotional video-based projects, trailers or otherwise? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    The Worst Promotional Ideas Ever, by Jess Lourey

    There are roughly 200,000 books published in the United States each year, and if you’re the author of one or more of those, you know what it’s like to be a dust mote. Those of you who are savvy take imagepromotion into your own hands—setting up interviews and signings, buying trinkets to remind people of your book. I did that with May Day when it came out in 2006. I made a $1500 advance for that book and spent $3500 on t-shirts and book bags with the May Day book cover on them, color-changing pens with my name, ISBN, and my web address on them, postcards that I mailed to every library and independent mystery bookstore in the U.S., and, of course, bookmarks.

    I’ve never read a book because I liked the bookmark or received a pen with the author’s name on it, but that didn’t stop me from salting the world with my paraphernalia. As new authors, we’re told we need to do that, in addition to starting a blog, setting up a blog tour, arranging booksignings, writing articles for publications, appearing on panels at conferences, etc. All this got me to thinking, what’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever heard of an author doing to promote her/his novel?

    I’ve seen authors give away homemade cookies next to the ballot box at a conference for which their book was up for an award, and I understand why they do it. You either draw attention to yourself or get drawn into the literary undertow. I committed my BSP faux pas in 2007. I was registered for Left Coast Crime, the conference at image which the Lefty for best humorous novel is awarded. I considered which promotional items to bring but decided that instead of spending $1 apiece on a pen/bookmark/flashy candy combo, I’d cut to the chase and send any interested registered participant whose email I could easily track down a copy of my latest book. They were my target audience, so why mess around?

    Because it’s tacky to send copies of your books to the people who are the judges for the awards for books (every LCC registrant gets to vote for the Lefty recipient). It looked like a bribe, and I got emails from two people who were deeply offended by my offer, and there were likely others who didn’t bother to tell me. I also got very kind emails and was nominated for a Lefty that year, but I’d never go that route again. I hate the feeling of offending others, accidentally or not.

    My good friend, Chuck Zito, assured me that within a year my move would be christened the Half Lourey (the Full Lourey if you managed to get your image book to everyone at the conference) and everybody would be doing it. I don’t think anyone is. Most authors I’ve met are decent people who don’t want to trod on other’s toes. But there’s always the few out there, and so, I ask you, what’s the worst promotional idea you’ve ever seen? No need to use names, but you can if you want. Oh, and any amazing effective promotional ideas that really work (no changing your name to Stephen Kink)? Our readers wouldn’t mind hearing about those, either.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Beyond the Usual Five

    Cricket McRae
    A few years ago I enrolled in a Certificate Program for Advanced Fiction Writers at the University of Washington. It was one of the best things I've ever done for my writing, and it garnered me a kickass critique group to boot. The year-long program was taught by Marjorie Reynolds, author of The Starlight Drive-In, and now a good friend.

    Marjorie had a bit of thing about smells, though. As in, every time she'd hand one of my pieces back to me, at least one page would have the notation, "smells?" in the margin. It wasn't just me. It happened to everyone. By the end of classes we all had smells in our novels. Lots of them. And flavors and sounds and sights and texture galore.

    Of course, sensory detail in our writing draws the reader in, affords depth to settings and characters and concretizes the story. We knew this, but perhaps didn't employ the full range of senses that we could. And Marjorie was certainly right that smell -- the most primitive of all -- can be the most evocative.

    Later, at a nature-writing workshop, participants brainstormed about other senses that went beyond the usual five. And boy, did we come up with an interesting list. I've been adding to it since then, and often use it as a jumping off point for a particular writing exercise in my own workshops.

    Here are a few additional "senses" that can add atmosphere, attitude, and depth to fiction and nonfiction alike. Most use the usual sensory organs, but not all.
    • Sense of vibration
    • Sense of multitudinousness
    • Sense of enclosure -- can be comfortable or claustrophobic
    • Humidity
    • Feeling of lift/fall (as in an elevator)
    • Dizziness and/or vertigo
    • Speed
    • Gravity
    • Balance
    • Echolocation
    • Sick-building syndrome
    • Flight sensation
    • Air pressure (e.g. ears popping on a plane)
    • Numbness (e.g. the effect of clove oil)
    • Temperature
    • Light and dark
    • Presence of another
    • Sense of being watched
    • Subsonic vibration (e.g. dog whistle)
    • Depth perception
    • Texture (may be felt, seen, heard or all)
    • Feeling like you're still moving after getting out of a car
    • Barometric pressure
    I'd love to learn about more of these secondary senses and add them to my list. Any suggestions?

    Before signing off I want to add that I've waited to announce my new blog, Hearth Cricket, on Inkspot until I had enough posts to give readers a good idea of what it's like. Less practical writing advice, and more musings about writing and the things I write about -- domestic arts, recipes, gardening, local and seasonal eating, fiber art, etc. If that piques your interest, stop on by.

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    Inkspot News - April 3, 2010

    G.M. Malliet is interviewed by Carol Casey in the latest CUA Magazine. The spooky, ghost-haunting-a-monastery photo is by genius photographer Ed Pfueller.

    Alan Orloff has two upcoming radio appearances. On Tuesday, April 6 at 7:38 a.m. Pacific Time, he will be interviewed by Baron Ron Herron on KZSB 1290 AM, Santa Barbara, CA. Also syndicated/rebroadcast on KNRY AM 1240 (Monterey), KNWZ-II (Palm Springs), and 99.7 (Queensland, Australia). Hear it streaming on-line here. On Wednesday, April 7 at 9:45 a.m. Central Time, he will appear on Let's Talk w/Jena O'Connor on KORN 1490 AM, Mitchell SD.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    It's a Long Way to Timaru

    By Deborah Sharp

    I'm in Timaru, on the South Island of New Zealand, where today is already tomorrow.

    Well, actually I'm not in Timaru. My first book is. Some 8,300 miles and many, many time zones from my home in Florida, the Timaru District Library holds a copy of Mama Does Time. This, of course, raises the question of how in the world a library at the other end of the earth came to possess a book about a crazy Southern belle who lands in the slammer when she can't explain a body in the trunk of her turquoise convertible. Someday, I may find out that answer.

    But for now, I'm jazzed at the knowledge that Mama is traveling the world. How do I know this, you might ask?


    At the risk of giving my fellow authors yet one more list to obsess about, I'll explain. WorldCat accesses the catalogs of thousands upon thousands of libraries all over the globe. You can go to the site, plug in the title of your book, and find out where it is -- or isn't -- in the collections of more than 70,000 libraries worldwide.

    Hence, Timaru: Two hours south of Christchurch, known for Caroline Bay and the annual Rose Festival. And now, of course, for ordering the debut novel of the Mace Bauer Mystery series. I know you won't be able to resist looking for your own books on WorldCat. (FYI: Some of you are in more libraries than I am; some are in fewer. Don't plug in Twilight for comparison, unless you have a case of wine handy.)

    Here's the exact web address I used, to get you started:

    Of course, being an insecure author, I immediately began to worry. Why did I find Book One but not Book 2 in Timaru? Didn't they like the first one enough to order Mama Rides Shotgun? Did they have trouble deciphering the Southernisms? How would you say "Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit'' in Kiwi?

    I was somewhat mollified that the number of libraries holding a Mama novel has risen from Book One to Book Two, even though I haven't (yet!) received that important Library Journal review. I also discovered that Mama Rides Shotgun has made its way all the way north from the cattle belt of Florida to the library in Wasilla, Alaska.

    I wonder whether Sarah Palin has a library card? If so, do you think she's had time to check out Shotgun?

    All of this does lead somewhere, y'all. Libraries are hugely important to readers, and to writers. They help expose our work to the world. So here's the question: With so many of them struggling, how have you reached out to help a library?

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Has It Been A Year Already?

    DIAMONDS Final Cover


    I'm usually not a very sentimental guy, but today is a special day for me. (And not because, as my kids might say, the day was named April FOOL'S Day in my honor).

    Today is the one-year "blogiversary" of my first post here on InkSpot.

    Today also is the official release date of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD.


    Boy, have I learned a lot in the past year...

    I used to think promotion was what happened when you did a good job and moved up a rank in your company. Now I know promotion is what you're doing when you should be writing (and when you're not procrastinating).

    I used to think an author came up with his/her own titles. Luckily, I was wrong about that!

    I used to think once you were done writing something, you were done. Now I know that once you're done writing something, you've barely begun.

    I used to think writers were distant and unapproachable. I've come to realize that crime writers are the most generous bunch of twisted psychos around.

    I used to think it would be hard to come up with topics to blog about. Now I know to pull out the ol' "what I learned over the past year" blog when I get stuck.

    Over the past month or so, a lot of new InkSpotters have joined our merry (ok, motley) little crew. Welcome newbies, but buckle your seat belts. You're in for a wild year.

    No Fooling!