Friday, May 28, 2010

Banging the Keys

Cricket McRae

The other day I saw a book called Bang the Keys by Jill Dearman in the library at the Northern Colorado Writers' studio. It was in my hand before I realized I'd picked it up.

Okay, allow me to backtrack. Northern Colorado Writers is the dream child of Kerrie Flanagan. The stated goal of the organization is "to encourage and support writers of all levels and genres on their journey to writing success." Currently there are almost 200 members who take part in classes, workshops, critique groups, retreats and the annual NCW Conference.

But my favorite thing of all? The studio. Kerrie rented a good-sized office space and lots of people chipped in to paint, decorate, and furnish it. Coffee and tea are always available, as are snacks, a microwave, wi-fi, a house laptop, a printer and copier. There's a classroom space, a library and all sorts of places to sit and write. And finally there is the quiet room where talk is verboten, with the teal recliner where I sit for hours and hours and bang the keys to exhaustion. It's a place where writers can go to the office, talk publishing, writing, and promotion, and then settle down and work. Pretty darn awesome, if you ask me. Kudos to Kerrie for taking the leap and making it work.

Anyway, Bang the Keys is directed more at people who are starting a project or trying to make that leap from wanting to be a writer to actually, you know, writing. It looks pretty well put together and is no doubt inspiring, but I tucked it back on the shelf after a quick perusal.

What really caught my eyes was the title. See, I Bang Keys. Meaning, I type really hard. People at the library glare at me. My guy complains I type too loudly, especially when he's trying to sleep. Fast (Don't all novelists type quickly? I mean, what other choice is there?) and hard enough to wear the numbers off my keyboard.

The space bar on my laptop is worn like the dipping steps of a medieval castle. The "M" and "N" are gone, and the "E" is well on its way.

I blame my father's old Olympia typewriter.

After all, that's the machine I learned to type on. Sure, the high school had IBM Selectrics, but at home was the Olympia in its gunmetal gray case. I would sit in front of the television and watch reruns of Star Trek while banging out the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog over and over and over, trying to build up speed. Typing out bits of dialog from the TV, trying to keep up, whacking at the stiff keys like I was killing snakes.

Don't ask me why. I don't know. I was driven by little alphabet demons.

Still am, apparently.

One of the guys in my writing group says he's the same way. He learned how to type on an old, obstinate typewriter, and now he beats his laptop damn near to death. So there are at least two of us.

Any others?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Konnichiwa, Y'all

By Deborah Sharp

Tom Schreck stole my thunder a couple of days ago, with that great cover he posted of his book, "On the Ropes,'' in German. Kudos, Herr Schreck!

Nonetheless, I'm still tootin' my horn over my big news: Mama's going to the land of Sumo wrestlers and sushi, y'all! Midnight Ink sold the foreign rights for a Japanese edition of Mama Does Time, the first book in my Mace Bauer Mystery series.

I can't wait to see how the translators handle the Southern-fried language and colloquialisms from ''Mama and them.'' Not that I'd know the difference if they erred, understand. I'm just wondering how they'll handle phrases like: ''Honey, you're wound so tight only dogs can hear you fart.''

Or, "I'm fixin' to knock his teeth down his throat just so I can watch him spit them out single-file.''

Yeah, that's right. I write literature. (To that, you might say: ''Now, don't pee down my back and tell me it's raining!'')

Anyhoo, as Mama would say, now I can call myself an ''Internationally Published Author.'' How cool is that? Actually, ''International Best Selling Author'' would be even cooler, but all things in good time, right?

I'm really grateful to Midnight Ink's crack foreign rights team for making this sale to Hayakawa, a terrific mystery publisher in Japan. Arigato, y'all! I'm going to sign off here with Sayonara . . . You just knew I would, didn't you?

But first, a couple of questions for the veteran authors out there: What's been the most unusual, exotic, unlikely foreign edition of one of your books? Do you hear from readers in far-flung countries?

Readers, if you could magically speak any foreign language, and could read one of your favorite books in another tongue, what book and language would you choose? Feel free to say, ''Why, that upcoming classic, Mama Gets Hitched, in Finnish!''

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Website and Blog Musts

blog73 An author, or aspiring author, website or blog plays a lot of important roles.

We can entice new readers, sell books, and generally offer a professional image of ourselves to people in the industry or readers.

Also—we can give people a way to contact us. These people could be agents, editors, journalists, book bloggers…or other people who would like to get in touch with us.

Over the last week, I’ve noticed that while many people have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds linked in their sidebar, they don’t have a “contact me” with an email address.

And sometimes, you just don’t want to get in touch with someone on a Facebook wall where their 1200 friends can read your message. Or maybe you don’t want to sign into your Facebook account and go through several steps to email the person’s Facebook inbox (if they’re even on Facebook.) And you don’t want to tweet your message to them, where you have to think in terms of 140 characters.

You want to send an email (says Elizabeth, with some degree of frustration.)

Believe me, I know that if you post an email address that you can get spammed like crazy. I’d be a rich, rich woman right now if all those Nigerian lottery spams were telling me the truth.

But still, y’all—an email address. You can get one for free if you’d like a separate one from your family account. I’m using Gmail, which I’ve been happy with so far. Yahoo and Hotmail both offer free emails.

You can download free “contact me” widgets (which offer a form service) for both Blogger and WordPress. Just Google “contact me widget.”

Or, if you like, you can type this into your sidebar: “Contact Me at elizabethspanncraig (at)” People know that they’ll put an @ symbol in the place of the “at".” Or they should know that, anyway. And the spammer spiders won’t pick up on it as an email address.

What other things should go on our blogs or websites?

The Book Publicity blog recommends (for published authors) your publishing house, agent and publicist info, contact info, and press kit.

The Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room blog recommends that we have a domain name that makes sense, buy links, buzz words, clear headers, and organized pages.

I’d say book covers, bio, interviews, headshots, list of appearances, news on upcoming releases, and review snippets.

And an email address. :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Achtung Baby!

Tom Schreck, author of The Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

Here's the German cover of ON THE ROPES.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When Did You Know?

stack-of-sharpened-pencils When I was a teenager and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I often shrugged (I was a big shrugger back then). Maybe an inventor. Or an engineer. Or maybe I'd like to own my own business. (This is in contrast to my brother who wanted to be a bear when he grew up. In his defense, he was only about four years old when he said it.) Beyond those generalities, though, I didn't have much of a clue. And I have to admit, those were merely vague ideas. A lot of things interested me, but I couldn't really pinpoint any one that I wanted to devote my career to.

So I went to college and majored in mechanical engineering, figuring that would keep me on track for any of my career choices (besides, I was always good with math and science). Four years later, I had my degree and took a job in manufacturing, as an engineer on the management track.

Ho hum. The jobs were mostly boring; a smattering of interesting things here and there kept them from being full-out terrible. But after a few years of moving around the country, supervising assembly workers in factories, I'd had enough.

So I went to business school. I could still become an inventor and I could still start my own business.

Two years later, MBA in hand, I found myself back in the working world, toiling at jobs that were mostly boring, scintillating parts few and far between. Ho ho hum.

So I quit and started my own newsletter company, writing and editing environmental newsletters (called, strangely enough, Environmental Newsletters, Inc.). That held my interest for eight years or so, but with the coming of the Internet, my business model was changing fast. I could tell that charging for information, with so much free stuff coming on-line, was going to be a tough sell.

So I sold the business, and now, years later, I find myself writing fiction.

If you told me I'd be writing fiction when I was in high school, I would have looked at you funny (right before I snorted milk out my nose). Writing? I hated English class. I hated reading all those "classic" books. I hated discussing themes and character motivations and just about anything else writing-related. Sure, I liked reading science fiction novels, but that was about it.

I always envied those people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives, professionally, since high school. They always sounded so positive, so confident, in their choices. How could they know what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives? I barely knew what I wanted for lunch.

I guess life is just one big story with plenty of surprising twists.

Just like my books, I hope.

What about you, writers? When did you know you wanted to write when you grew up?



Friday, May 21, 2010


Recently I was discussing TV watching habits with a group of fellow authors. Some never watch TV, some seldom watch, some occasionally watch, and others are so addicted that they watch even while writing. Those of us who park ourselves in front of the TV do so for a variety of reasons: relaxation, escapism, addiction (Dancing with the Stars fell into that category for many,) and research.

I heard that groan! Yes, I know authors should never use TV for research because TV is notorious for playing footloose and fancy-free with facts. Just ask anyone who works in a forensics lab. What happens on CSI is about as far from the truth as it gets. However, there’s definitive research that deals with facts, and then there’s structural research that deals with the art of plot and characterization. TV is bad for the first, great for the second.

I’ll admit, when it comes to certain shows, I’m a Tvholic. I get hooked on one or two new shows each season. Right now my DVR is set to record the following in no particular order of importance:

· Lost

· House

· Bones

· Castle

· Desperate Housewives

· Law & Order SVU

· The Good Wife

· In Plain Sight

· Burn Notice

When I looked at this list, I noticed it was quite telling for not only what was included but what wasn’t. Not a single sit-com or reality show. I find that sit-coms are mostly stale jokes and predictable situations. Or the premise is a one-trick pony that starts out great but after a few episodes, the show brings yawns of boredom and finds me reaching for the remote.

As for reality TV shows, I find them exploitative, voyeuristic, an insult to my intelligence, and yet another way writers get the shaft.

About a year or two ago, I read about a new reality TV show in production. All the contestants were terminally ill. Even though the story appeared in a major daily newspaper and not The Onion, I hope the information was someone’s idea of a sick joke and not an actual show in production. I never heard anything more about it, so if it was an actual show, someone had the good sense to cancel it before it aired.

Did you know that the reason there are so many reality programs on TV is because they’re so cheap to produce? No Writers Guild members to pay for quality scripts. No Actors Guild members to pay for performances. I boycott shows that prevent hardworking, talented professionals from making a decent living. It’s my small way of sticking it to “the man.”

But getting back to my list of favorite programs, even though they include everything from evening soap operas to fantasies to cop shows, they all have one or more elements in common. They are, not surprisingly, the same elements that make for good books: great hooks, intricately structured plot arcs, engaging voices, and complex characters.

Many people believe TV watching is a waste of time, that it stifles creativity and kills brain cells. I rationalize my TV habit by studying the shows I watch in much the same way I study how my favorite authors write page-turning novels. That’s the cool thing about being an author. Watching TV helps me do my job better. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Race Against Time

A Race Against Time, or: Extreme Writing
by G.M. Malliet

So, what does a volcano and Italy have to do with writing? This week, everything.

I'm set to vacation for about two weeks in Italy soon, and there never was a greater motivator to get my current manuscript in some kind of readable shape (so I have a hope of recognizing it when I see it again). I've in fact been planning the book around this trip for months, working up to the day on the calendar where I can take a break and start packing. The plan is to resume work, refreshed, and with a new perspective, on my return.

There is a sense of panic inherent in this method of working, and in taking such a large break, but an early, "fake" deadline also works wonders in getting a writer like me off the dime.

They tell me that volcano in Eyjafjallajökull (yes, I had to look that up) might erupt again and ground air traffic, but a little thing like a volcano is not going to stop me now from getting to Italy.


About two weeks ago, I stopped meandering and following every bypath in the manuscript to see where it led. Instead, I began reading through the whole manuscript as fast as I could (which for me is not fast, but still). The point of this is to step back and see as much of the entire story at once as possible. To note the potholes, the incongruities, the laughable inconsistencies and redundancies, but not to get completely bogged down in fixing them right now. To simply make a mark by the places I need to revisit.

When I come back from my trip, I'll go in for the closeup view again. But reading the book now the way a reader will read it--not pausing every ten seconds but plowing straight through--is invaluable, like a movie director pulling back for the wide shot. (Before I'm done, I'll also read through the whole thing again at a medium speed, then again at a snail's pace. Before I'm done, I may feel I never want to read this book again, in fact.)

Almost there now. Nothing is going to stand between me and the reward of Italy I've promised myself as I read and edit, read and edit.

Volcano? What volcano?

Video of volcano:
Photo of Tuscany:
Photo of volcano:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Houses, Books & Other Never Ending Projects

by Felicia Donovan


I need a new roof over my head. Literally. The roof on my house is the original and in dire need of replacement. It's a "now or wetter" situation.  Thus, I have spent the last week in the company of contractors getting estimates and learning "roof lingo."

"Do you want me to quote you three-tab or architectural?"

"You need to balance the air-flow, fifty-fifty."

"I was shocked to see there already was a cricket." (I have crickets on my roof? Not to worry, it's a built-up part of the chimney to aid in water diversion.)

"We're talking trim boards, drip edges and ice shields."

It was supposed to be a simple roof.

Who knew there were so many intricacies to putting on a new roof? On the other hand, it has given me a new appreciation for the quality and workmanship that goes into a roof. I can drive around my neighborhood and name the type of tile and color (not "black" but "charcoal black").  That's what being educated will get you.

Equally so, most people think that when you sit down to write a book, you go from "Chapter One" to "The End" effortlessly. Unless you've attempted a novel or two, most have no idea how difficult a process it can be as we attempt to layer and intertwine characters, plot, settings and themes.

It also occurred to me after listening to an hour-long sales pitch by one contractor that left me feeling more like I was being recruited into a cult, that this house project is very much like my latest book. What started off as a simple tale, now has multiple layers. The plot has peaks and valleys that seem to go off in directions I never expected. I've measured and cut, mostly cut. For all I know, there may even be a few "crickets" thrown in here and there.  A character is nailed down and off they fly into a completely different direction.  Measure twice, cut once. As writers, we're prone to cut six times until we get it right. See what I mean?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Magpie Factor: What's in a World--Er, I mean Word?

by Julia Buckley
At this time of year I am awash in student writing. Some of it bodes well for the future of the human race. Some, well . . . :)

A trend I notice in student reading and writing these days is that students will glance at the first three or so letters and then just assume they know the word. Therefore, they are often wrong.

Allow me to share some examples. One youngster, writing about the fate of King Oedipus and the plague sent by the angry Apollo because of a murder that was never punished, wrote about it with great confidence: "Until Oedipus finds the murderer of the former king, he won't be able to do anything about the plaque on the people of Thebes."

That wonderful spell-check that students rely upon so heavily will not find an error like this, and so Oedipus' weighty problem is reduced to an issue of dental hygiene.

Another student, in a direct quote, changed "I thought those were contraband here," to "I thought those were condemned here." Same thing, right? I mean, there are at least four similar letters.

One young lady referred to her younger sibling as "my little bother." While my older son would suggest this is an accurate synonym for "brother," I would suggest that these small errors--Freudian slips though they may be--make a significant difference in the message, and should therefore be found in proofreading.

Proofreading? What's that? Ah--and now we get to the true "plaque" of writing in the classroom--the surprising disinterest students have in the products they turn in. From my perspective, my written words are a reflection of me, and I must make sure they are just right. From many a student's perspective, it's just an assignment, and when it flies out of the printer they put it directly into their folders, never bothering to determine whether or not, upon second or third reading, it makes sense.

One student, sharing insights into the weighty Crime and Punishment, wrote of the manipulative pawnbroker, and the fact that "her costumers were fed up with the way she treated them." Thus, the mean, dirty, rat-like Alena Ivanovna was transformed in my mind's eye into a Cher of 19th Century Russia, with her own Vegas-like routine that required lots of costume changes.

Perhaps grading papers in large quantities makes me a bit punchy about the errors within them. Perhaps it is a cruel and unusual punishment to have to read, literally, hundreds of papers in one month. Perhaps I long to breathe outside air or have some sort of life of my own.

So I continue to hold tiny grudges when I find seemingly preventable errors. My all-time favorite story involves a young man who wrote his final paper on Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Some slip of the fingers had him spelling it "Magpie." Of course spell check didn't spare him from my wrath, especially when it turned out that EVERY reference to Maggie was spelled "Magpie." Magpie was a victim, Magpie never had a chance in a Darwinistic sense, Magpie's beauty was a detriment to her.

When confronted, he had not a leg to stand on, since errors of this magnitude are the equivalent of wearing a sign that reads, "I didn't read even one line of my paper before I turned it in."

In my vengefulness, I circled every Magpie.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Love Letter To My Readers

People often ask me not just the HOW but the WHY when it comes to my writing three series. The how is easy. I simply get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other and try to stay focused. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. But I keep my eye on the balls I'm juggling at all times. If I don’t, surely one of them will come crashing down and break my nose.

The why is different and has multiple answers:

a) I love it.
b) It's my dream.
c) I’m insane.
d) I’m building a career, not simply publishing a book.
e) Breach of contract can be ugly.
f) All of the above.

Of course, the answer is f – all of the above.

But now I have to add another option: Because I love my readers.

At the recent Malice Domestic conference, I often hung out talking to the people I consider the true VIPs at these conferences – readers.

Okay. I did spend some time in the bar huddled with my fellow Midnight Inkers, and there are some incriminating photos of me with a sinful Irish coffee, but most of my days were spent interacting with the folks who plunk down their hard earned money for books.

The thing is, readers often know a lot about me. They know I have two spoiled cats, live in Los Angeles, work for a law firm, etc. Many not only read my books, but take the time to get to know who I am via Facebook and Twitter. During this trip, I sought out readers and asked them about them. For instance, I discovered Linda works for the CIA; Dru Ann reads at least 4-5 books a week; Elaine collects rubber duckies; Nikki is a trainer and started a book club.

Over the years, many readers, like Bill and Sharon and Shirley and Doug, have become good friends. During the couple of days I was in Massachusetts last week, I got together with Stacia for breakfast and Cyn (and her energetic young son Mal) for shopping and chat. Becoming friends with readers is one of the best perks of being an author.

Like most writers, I spend a stupendous amount of time alone in front of a computer. It’s easy to lose my sense of balance and reality when living inside my head as much as I live outside of it. Connecting in person with readers is a way to come back to earth. I’m not just writing books that my publisher sends off into a black hole with the hope that they will sell. I’m writing books that find their way into real homes and lives.

So this blog posting is for you, dear readers and friends. Thank you for reading my books. Thank you for taking time out from your busy lives to attend my talks and my signings. Thank you, Lisa and Robin, for driving in the pouring rain last Saturday to meet me at Barnes and Noble.

No matter how ambitious I am regarding my writing career, I am nothing without all of you.

Well, nothing except a crazy, post-menopausal woman who obsesses on her cats, talks to ghosts and vampires, and makes up stuff on a daily basis.

If I weren’t an author, they’d be putting me in a home and out of reach of sharp objects.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pimping a Good Cause (and Some Great Writing Stuff too!)

At the beginning of May, Nashville, Tennessee got slammed with more than a foot of rain. (I’m in the Northeast, so that much snow is a light dusting to us. But that much rain? Ouch.) Many lives were lost, and the property damage is appalling. So three writers—Victoria Schwab, Amanda Morgan, and Myra McEntire—organized the Do the Write Thing auction. It’s running for ten days total, and as of this post, there are five days to go.

I generally don’t participate in auctions because I’m a cheap broad. Bidding can get very high, very fast. I like to take my time about purchases. But when I saw website design up for bid, I jumped.

My book comes out in February. I need a website. I’ve researched sites whose layout I like, sidebars, tabs, pages, links—it’s a little intimidating.

Okay, it’s a lot intimidating. I know when I need to call in experts: to fix the dishwasher, to get the slugs out of my garden, and to create my website. So since I did the preliminary research, and that includes pricing, I knew I needed to grab this chance with both hands.

Bidding on this particular item closes at midnight. I'm posting this blog before that time--if only the Day Job didn’t require me to set a 6:30 am alarm, I'd stay up till the bitter end! But I have an ace in the hole—my terrific husband, who has the auction knack (and a later wake-up alarm). I’m taking advantage of his eBay bidding-fu in case one or more bidders start a last-minute posting flurry. This website design will be MINE, MINE, I tell you!

And some folks I don’t know and will never meet will get a few hundred bucks toward rebuilding their lives. Win-win.

Go ahead, click the link above. You may find the signed novel you’ve been dying to read, or the perfect set of book-related swag, or even the chance of a phone call with a writer you admire.

This unashamed pimping brought to you by a Northerner who’s happy to deal with blizzards that dump eight feet of snow overnight. You can always dig out of snow, and it melts eventually. Besides, long snowbound winters are perfect for working out that tricky plot situation. (She says, looking out the window at the tulips blooming in the garden. Finally.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Story Fodder Here Somewhere

The weekend before last I attended Malice Domestic, where I met too many wonderful people to list and had the honor of wearing a special green ribbon that read “Agatha Nominee.” Naturally, I had FUN.

I left my family home where things are usually predictable because I’m almost always home and in charge. This time Daddy was in charge. And only one thing was truly predictable.

There was going to be tattling.

The first night I called home, our daughter whispered into the phone. Now, she has a tiny voice so I couldn’t get everything she said. But the gist was Daddy made them rake the grass after he mowed the lawn. And he didn’t want them to wear their “good” sneakers because he didn’t want the grass to stain their sneakers. Unfortunately, our kids only have one pair of sneakers each. So my husband suggested she wear my white sneakers to rake grass. She knew better.

Next my husband tattled. I had recommended he take the kids to an Innovation and Creativity Festival at a local university on Saturday. Something for them to do together, you know. Well, the kids only wanted to observe, not participate. Then our son tattled that Daddy got upset with them.

My flight home was delayed first a half hour, then an hour and a half, then two and a half hours. I didn’t wait to learn how many more times they would delay it. I got on a plane to the next nearest city, which is an hour and fifteen minutes from my home. Good thing my husband likes to drive. We used the ride home to finish exchanging information about our weekends—or finish tattling.

Our daughter announced Daddy put the lid on her thermos so tight neither the stronger boys from her class nor the lunchroom ladies could open it. The school’s maintenance man had to do it.

Then my husband said he prepared chicken chili for dinner on Friday, homemade donuts for breakfast on Saturday, and French toast on Sunday. He proudly added, “And they both took showers every day.” And the kids chorused in unison, “Because he made us.” See, they like one day off a week from showering. I don’t know why—they’re kids.

So does this tattling, of which I’m also guilty, occur in your family, too? Do things run more predictably when you are in charge?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

InkSpot News - May 8, 2010

On Wednesday, May 12th at 11:30 am, Beth Groundwater will present a $1,000 grant check from Sisters in Crime to the Kraemer Family Library at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The library was the February winner in Sisters in Crime's We Love Libraries program. Following the presentation, Beth and other local Sisters in Crime members will share lunch with the library staff.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Panel

By Darrell James

On my way to an author panel last Sunday, I encountered a woman in the parking lot of the local Denny’s. She was loading music instruments into the back of an equipment van. On a guitar case was a sticker that read: New Christie Minstrels.

Now, for those of you who weren’t around in 1964, or who were too stoned to remember, they were a folk group of considerable fame. (Something along the lines of Peter, Paul, and Mary.) This day they were on their way to a performance in San Dimas.

I introduced myself as a fan, and told her where I was heading. The rest of the band was quickly summoned-round to meet the mystery writer Darrell James (no mention of the word famous in my regard).

They were gray-haired, and bleary-eyed at the early hour, but still out there touring and spreading their music to the masses. Four of them were of the original founding members of the group. I shook hands with each in turn and a lively discussion of their early work and my long-time fan-ship ensued.

See, I had only a couple of months earlier related to my wife Diana that there was an old song (by this group) that I would love to find, if it still existed. The song is titled El Camino Real, from the album Land of Giants. To my dismay, Cantebury’s in Pasadena had the album on CD, and I purchased it. I happened to be carrying it with me in my car at the time, and the entire band signed the cover.

It was a chance encounter, of little consequence to anyone other than me. (And perhaps the band, as they’d met someone who actually remembered them from the good 'ol days.) We exchanged business cards. I promised to try to catch one of their performances some day, they promised to read my first book when it comes out.

Maybe either will happen; maybe neither will. It doesn’t matter so much. I left feeling nostalgic and warm. And for the remainder of the day, the song in question played inside my head.

It tells the story of the early days of Southern California, of horse and rider, and of the fight for independence from Spain. The lyrics are powerful and provocative, the characters courageous and sad. I’ve never been able to repeat the complete lyrics without choking up.

My wife comes from the disco era, and if the music makes you want to dance, she’s down. Another friend tells me he has to be able to sing to it. For me, a folk-rocker from the Dylan generation, it’s all about story and about poetry and about words. Much of my writing is inspired by song lyrics.

What about you? Are you a dancer or poet, songbird or storyteller? What place does music play in your life?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brainstorming Techniques

Writing a novel is a solitary undertaking, with many hours spent in front of computer by oneself cranking out the pages. When your characters balk and refuse to talk or your plot drags and feels stale, it can become downright discouraging. You lose your creative spark and sit there staring at a blinking cursor wondering what to type next. That's the time to try a brainstorming exercise to get the creative juices flowing again. Brainstorming is often called "prewriting," and stopping to play with your mind a bit can get you writing again. Here's a few techniques that have worked for me.

1. Ask the journalist questions about a plot event, scene, or situation and write down the answers: Who? What? Where? When? How? Why? So what?

2. Do a sensory inventory when setting a scene. Go through all the senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, etc. Try synesthesia, using one sense to describe another, like colors for sounds. Examples include "brassy blonde" to convey color, sound, and feel or "buttery sun" to convey touch (warmth), taste, and color, or "violet hour" to convey color, a nostalgic mood, and touch (flower petal softness).

3. Try clustering. Pick a word you'd like to explore and write it down in the center of a piece of paper. As fast as you can, write down anywhere on the page as many words as you can think of that are associated with your chosen word. Speed and quantity are your goals. Write down any word or phrase that comes to you, no matter how ridiculous it seems. After a few minutes stop and see what you've got, what associations you can use. You can also do something similar in the "Opposite Game." Pick a common word, like "slow," then think of as many words as you can that express an opposite concept, such as "fast, speed up, smart, lightening quick, accelerate, witty, ..."

4. Try free-writing using one of these Creative Writing Exercises by Aggie Burke, Katherine Hage, and Brian Tanaka to get the creative juices flowing again, then go back to your current project. In the winter of 1991 the writers' group these three belonged to collected 35 of the group’s best writing exercises and compiled them in a small pamphlet called Brain Oil. As they say, think of using the exercises as diving boards. Walk out to the end of one and jump! They suggest deciding on a number of minutes you'll devote to the exercise, picking one, then writing without stopping or looking back at what you've already written until the time is up. You can follow the link to see all 35 exercises, but I've listed a few of my favorites below:

1. It's the middle of the night. The phone rings.

4. Describe the first time you got in trouble with someone other than your parents.

10. Write about something that is commonly cliched (eg. spring, motherhood, death) in exactly the opposite tone ordinarily taken (eg. the vileness of motherhood, the silly side of death).

15. It's your wedding night and your spouse isn't with you.

22. You're late for something.

29. You are making a special meal. What's it for? Describe how someone is feeling by the way they are cooking.

32. You hear a dripping in the middle of the night. You get up to turn off the faucet and find that it's something else.

35. You wake up and everything's different.

So, Inkspot readers and contributors, what are your favorite brainstorming techniques?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Highlights of Malice Domestic, by Kathleen Ernst

I'm on the road home to Wisconsin after spending the weekend at Malice Domestic, the annual convention celebrating traditional mysteries. I've been attending Malice for quite a while, but this was one of the best yet. Here's my top ten list of reasons why:

1. Meeting readers! I often attend writers' conferences, and they are great for networking and honing my craft. But we write books for readers, and meeting them is nothing short of joyful. Malice readers are passionate about mysteries. What better people to hang out with?

2. Meeting and hearing some of my own favorite authors. They were uniformly gracious and informative.

3. Mary Higgins Clark, who received a Lifetime Achievement award. She is such a huge star that I had no idea what to expect. She was funny and articulate, and somehow managed to be both proud of her accomplishments and humble at the same time. She had a tough road to superstardom, and I found her inspirational.

4. Good attendance. I don't know the actual numbers, but it seemed that the conference was better attended than last year, when Malice struggled (like everything else) because of the bad economy. I'm glad to see the conference appears to be on stable footing.

5. The annual auction, which raised thousands of dollars for literacy programs.

6. The Culture Clash panel. I had the pleasure of talking about one of my favorite topics, cultural identity and related issues, with fellow Midnight Inker Alan Orloff, Rhys Bowen, and Frankie Bailey. The moderator was well prepared, and we had a great discussion.

7. No snarkiness. I've attended lots of conferences and conventions. More than once at one of the bigger ones I've heard authors publicly ridicule sub-genres or even individual authors. It never happens at Malice.

8. Friends. We writers are geographically far-flung; I love catching up with people I only see once a year.

9. Calm reigned at the freebie table. In years past, I watched in dismay as a few authors claimed more than their share of tablespace, moving or even covering other authors' offerings. For whatever reason, this year the table seemed to stay well-organized all weekend.

10. Fellow Midnight Ink authors! What fun to catch up with my colleagues-in-crime. After hearing some of them speak (unfortunately, the schedule did not permit attendance at every panel) I am more eager than ever to catch up on their work. Thanks, everyone! What were some of your favorite moments?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Does Time Matter? by Jess Lourey

I just finished the first draft of Octoberfest, the sixth book in my imageMurder-by-Month mysteries. I’m ecstatic, relieved, and a little guilty. Why? Because I wrote the book in six weeks so I could get it to my editor on time.

When it comes to deadlines, I’m normally so anal that I have to remember to unclench so I don’t take the chair with me when I stand up. And here I am, just getting a book in under the gun. It’s given me gray hair and made those around me miserable.

I found out over Christmas that I would be writing the novel, and I chose the May 1 deadline because I wanted as short a time as possible between the release of books in the series. That only gave me four months to write it. I wrote September Fair in six months, my record, and that felt rushed.

So why did I fritter away almost 3/4 of those four months? Because I was in love. It’s been eight years since my last relationship, and I am happily consumed by sitting next to the couch with this guy and reading, going to movies together, talking about the SyFy channel scripts we’re going to write (we have the titles already), and generally acting dopey.

Add two kids, a full-time job, stir just until moist and voila! You have the recipe for a six-week novel. That brings me to the title for imagemy post: does time matter? Most authors are vague about how much money they make and how much time they spend writing. I get why. A $3 bottle of wine doesn’t taste as good as a $30 bottle, and a six-week novel doesn’t read as good as one an author spent years crafting. Or does it? When it comes to writing a novel, does time matter, even if only in our heads? And more importantly, should I be padding my timeline when promoting this book next March?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Brain

The deadline for getting my fifth Home Crafting Mystery to the publisher is approaching. I'm at that stage of the game where I'm editing and proofing, looking for continuity mistakes, and getting feedback from other people.

The whole book is in my head. It pushes a lot of other stuff out.

Yesterday I momentarily blanked on my cat's name. The coffee mysteriously appeared in the vegetable drawer instead of the cupboard. My ability to construct a meal is rudimentary, and we're eating a lot of leftovers out of the freezer. I am a less than scintillating conversationalist.

The book in my head opens at night, and the characters escape into my dreams. They do things they wouldn't normally do. I wake up in the morning and briefly wonder if I really wrote it that way. Or if I should have.

Sometimes I lug the book around with great fondness, like a sweet-smelling baby. I don't want to let it go. Other times throwing it out altogether seems not only like a good idea, but utterly necessary.

At the same time, I'm working on promotional activities for Something Borrowed, Something Bleu which will release on July 1. (You can preorder it now, though.) See, I wasn't kidding about the promotion. But there's no room for the plot of that book in my brain right now. There will be by the time I'm actually out there talking about it, though.

I hope.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

InkSpot News - May 1, 2010

Beth Groundwater is very, very pleased to announce that she just signed three new book contracts with Midnight Ink which will result in moving her Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series from Five Star Publishing over to Midnight Ink. The first two contracts are for the trade paperback and electronic rights for the first two books in the series, already published in hardcover: A Real Basket Case in Fall, 2011 and To Hell in a Handbasket in Fall, 2012. The third contract is for a new third book in the series, to be published in Fall, 2013. Both Beth and MI hope the whole schedule can be moved up if Beth can finish the third book in a timely manner. The ultimate plan is for Beth to write one Rocky Mountain adventure mystery per year for MI and a gift basket designer book every other year for MI, putting her on a book every eight months schedule.

Jess Lourey's Murder-by-Month mysteries are getting a makeover! The covers of the first three books in the series are being redesigned to fit with the streamlined look of August Moon and September Fair. June Bug is being redesigned first--previous cover on left, new cover on right. Woot woot!

I enjoyed the color and detail of the originals, but the new covers are clean and fun, and I'm thrilled with how they've turned out. Is there some way to promote the old ones as collector's items? ;)