Friday, July 30, 2010


Darrell James

In the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey (Clint Eastwood) stands in the darkened corner of a bar in Santa Rosa, Texas. It’s post Civil War and Josey is a confederate outcast, refusing to pledge his allegiance to the Union. A bounty hunter arrives to take him to justice…

You're wanted, Wales.
Reckon I'm right popular. You a bounty hunter?
A man's got to do something for a living these days.
Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy.

"Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy." It’s one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite lines. The movie is based on the book Gone To Texas by Forrest Carter.

It’s been said that every good story has one completely unforgettable line. It causes me to consider whether these memorable quotes are the premeditated work of master storytellers or pure accident—the work of characters just being themselves.

I have always believed that fictional characters can take on a life of their own. A kind of metaphysical transference between author and character.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

My short story, the Art of Avarice (Politics Noir, Verso 2007), was a 2008 Derringer Finalist. In the story, long term, North Carolina, Gubernatorial incumbent, Berk Cabot, finds himself in a close race against the dark horse challenger, six-time NASCAR champion, Donnie Ray Banner—a wavy haired, Redford type, running on nothing but his good ol’ boy reputation and good looks. As the mudslinging reaches its pinnacle, Berk reminds his campaign manager, “It’s all just politics, the way we do it in the south. We chain our dogs to the porch and send the cat out to lay down with them.”

I recall writing this line without so much as a thought. The character had completely taken charge and decided what to say.

I heard Elmore Leonard say once, in an interview with the late George Plimpton (Paris Review), that he would name a character a certain name and couldn’t get him to talk. He would change the name and couldn’t get him to shut up. Another way of saying, perhaps, that fictional characters become independent of the author who creates them.

Still, you have to give the writer credit. Book and movie characters aren’t real, but writers who are able to fully immerse themselves in their characters psyches, breathe a special kind of life into them.

It’s magic! The work of muses! And for the writer, a thrill like none other.

What’s your take on it? And while you’re at it, what’s your favorite book or movie line?

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Birthday Gift --- for YOU!

Sometime in the next few weeks, I will be celebrating my birthday. I won't tell you exactly when, because for identity theft protection purposes, I protect the date almost as well as I protect my social security number and full name. I will divulge that I am a Leo. And, don't ask how old I'm going to be either! ;-)

To celebrate, instead of collecting gifts, I am giving one away--in a contest that I'm running both here and on my personal blog. I will give away a personalized autographed copy of one of my books (your choice), plus a selection of books written by other mystery authors, to one lucky winner.

How do you enter the contest, you ask? I would like to encourage people to sign up as followers both here and on my personal blog. So, that's all you have to do to be entered! Sometime in the next 4 weeks, sign up as a Google/blogger follower on both blogs. If you're already a follower of both blogs, you're already entered into the contest.

At the end of 4 weeks, when I'm due to post here again, I will use a random number generator to pick the blogger profile of someone who follows both blogs. Then I'll contact you through the email associated with that profile to find out your mailing address and send you the books. That's all it takes. So, if you ever read Inkspot or my personal blog, now you've got a good reason to sign up as a regular follower!

To encourage comments, I'd like to know what your thoughts are on author contests. Do you enter them often? What kinds of prizes do you prefer? Do you prefer ongoing contests (such as the one that I keep running all the time for subscribers to my email newsletter) or contests that are one-time shots like this one? Do you prefer that the prize be divulged ahead of time, or would you rather have it be a mystery?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Real Me

by Kathleen Ernst

“So,” my agent said recently, “don’t take this the wrong way, but you need some new author photos.”

Ernst07 Gerold The whole professional photo thing is not one of my favorite parts of the writing biz. I’ve found a wonderful local photographer for studio work, and I dutifully made an appointment and updated my headshots. (Photo, left, by Geri Gerrold)

But I’m a low-key person. I never wear suits. I rarely wear makeup or pantyhose. I wanted to supplement the “For the Media” page on my website with some casual photos as well. Shots that reflected both my personality and my new Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites series. Fortunately, I have a professional photographer friend who thought that a day spent taking pictures at Old World Wisconsin (setting for Old World Murder) sounded like a good time.

So I’m borrowing an idea Beth Groundwater had a while back (imitation equals flattery, right?) and posting some shots below. I’d like to narrow the field to a top pick for full figure (Group A), and top pick for tighter views (Group B). What do you think? I’d love your opinion! (All photos by Kay Klubertanz.)

Group A:

KAE KKlubertanz 003


KAE KKlubertanz 007


KAE KKlubertanz 010


Group B:

KAE KKlubertanz 001


KAE KKlubertanz 011


KAE KKlubertanz 005


Which are your favorites? And…how do you choose to present yourself to the world?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Humorous Writing through the Ages, by Jess Lourey

I write a humorous mystery series based on the idea that a big city gal is trapped in a small town where a murder happens every month. Hahahaha! See? It’s funny. I’ve also just begun work on a young adult novel with a three-book arc. My desire to write it arose mainly out of the fact that I want a forever snapshot of this period in my kids’ lives (they’re 11 and 8), along with a mash-up of ideas percolated by reading The Magic Treehouse series, Inkheart, and three of the Percy Jackson books with my children.

Without giving too much away, my modern YA novel idea requiresimage me to read and research a lot of 1800s-era novels, starting with HG Wells’ The Time Machine and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. We’re all familiar with the plot of Wells’ novella, and I can unconditionally recommend it as a fun, short, and creepy summer read. A Tale of image Two Cities was a reread for me, but I loved it in high school and appreciate it even more now. And in reading these books, I found something amazing: the authors are funny. Dickens in particular is so dryly humorous that he actually makes me giggle while reading about the French Revolution. And in researching Wells and Dickens, I find that they were both progressive, intelligent, politically-active human beings who believed and worked hard for basic and universal human rights.

Maybe this is a newsflash to only me. (If so, thanks for keeping the eye rolling to a dull roar.) Anyhow, my first thought upon discovering this was, “I wonder how many other imageauthors in the canon were politically active and progressive, and what does this say about the mind and personality of a successful writer as a whole?” That was just a passing thought, though. Mostly, I’m happy that that there is an established history of nuanced, funny writing that not only entertains but can change the world.

What other bright and funny classic authors am I missing? I’m specifically looking for novels written in the 1800s by humanists, and I should warn you that I couldn’t get farther than the second paragraph of The Last of the Mohicans.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lying Liars

Cricket McRae


I love Pinocchio. It’s a great coming-of-age tale, inspirational and hopeful, plus it has a cricket as a major character (ha!). But I also love it because I’m a lying liar. No comments on the size of my nose, please.

All fiction writers are liars. We make up people, situations, places, events, timelines, and may introduce magic, vampires and werewolves as well as other fantasy elements. We can seriously mess with science or even rewrite history. Our kind of lying is tricky, though, because the folks we lie to know we’re doing it. They actually seek out the stories we create.

Notice I didn’t say they seek out our untruths. That’s because fiction, though not true by definition, must be True in a larger sense. It doesn’t have to be believed; it has to be believable. Another tricky bit to manage.

I have a writing friend who was a reporter for many years. The research for his historical baseball mystery is meticulous. Every game he uses in the book was actually played with the players he names. In fact, the actual plays were made. The streets, the food, the police uniforms – really everything about the atmosphere is exact and accurate. Even the jargon is spot on. All that lends a great deal to the believability of his story.

Another writing friend makes up everything he can, even though he may use real people and places as part of his stories. But because he never fudges with things like cause and effect, coincidence or acts of God, his stories make sense and are, again, believable and therefore entertaining.

I sit on the fence. The small town that my Home Crafting Mysteries are set in is based on a real town, but I “fictionalize” it because it gives me more freedom. I want the leeway to make some things up as I go along, yet I don’t have to create all the details. The fourth in the series, Something Borrowed, Something Bleu is set in a different town, also based on a real town and fictionalized. In the acknowledgements I note that if anyone recognizes the town they should know that the sheriff’s department operates differently because I made the town much smaller than it actually is.

My characters feel real to me, especially the series characters, and there are simply things they won’t or can’t do. For example, my main character, Sophie Mae Reynolds, is a terrible liar. Everyone says so, and she believes it. And sometimes she is awkward when trying to lie. But actually she’s the best kind of liar because she incorporates as much truth into her lies as possible so she doesn’t really think of it as lying. That makes it much more effective.

Kind of like fiction.

Her mother is a pretty good liar, though, or at least Sophie Mae thinks so. So in this latest book, which involves a trip back to her hometown in Colorado to investigate her brother’s suicide note which surfaced after eighteen years, Sophie Mae thinks a lot about lying. How to do it well. How not to get caught. It’s like a goal for her.

And she does get better at it. I wonder how that will backfire later? Because I can already tell it will.

I’ve been tagged a couple of times with the four-truths-and-one-lie challenge, and I’ve yet to step up. I can’t decide whether that’s because I don’t want to tell the lie or because I don’t want to reveal four truths. Maybe if I make the lie thoroughly boring it won’t stand out from the truths.

How do you feel about lying? Are you good at it? Do you feel guilty? And what about characters in books lying: Is it good or bad or simply a matter of what the story demands – like in Pinocchio?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Party Hardy!

By Deborah Sharp

I don't know what I was imagining might happen when I handed over my microphone to a drunk reveler on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

You know Fort Lauderdale, right? Famous for raucous Spring Breaks, wet T-shirt contests, and chug-a-lug nights at the beachfront Elbo Room. Literary readings? Not so much.

Okay, I was supposed to be reading from my latest ''Mama'' book, so not exactly literary ... but still. I'm not sure what my friendly local bookseller was thinking (or drinking). She brought a karaoke machine, like the kind kids at PJ parties play with, to the corner of A1A and Las Olas Boulevard and asked me to read from Mama Gets Hitched.

Harleys rumbled past. Drunks stumbled up. Bar babes peddled shots from bandoliers around their bikini-clad bodies. And, did I mention the wind was whipping off the Atlantic at gale force?

A group of women dressed for the nightclubs tottered past in high heels. "Oh, look how cute you are, trying to read out here!'' one girl said. "That's so pitiful.''

At least she bought a book, one of the very few I sold that night before the skies opened up and poured rain. And, no, I'm not above taking advantage of a pity purchase.

I thought I could talk the drunk guy into buying a book, too. But he got ugly when I wrestled back the mic after he started an impromptu, X-rated rap. Come to think of it, maybe that would have drawn an audience.

The whole experience got me thinking about the worst spots I've done signings. Here are my Top (Bottom?) Three:

1. Sitting on a hay bale in 100-degree heat right next to the cattle chute at a rodeo in Okeechobee, Fla. It was so hot, my give-away Hershey's kisses oozed out of their silver wrappers. They looked like miniature versions of the cow patties that spackled the ground behind me. I learned a lesson: Hard candy trumps chocolate in Florida's summer swelter.

2. Standing in front of a table at a chain bookstore, on launch day for the latest installment in Stephanie Meyer's saga. Fans of vampire romance elbowed past me to get to a humongous Twilight display to select their books, posters, coasters, calendars, T-shirts, coffee mugs ... whatever. Can you say, ''Humbling?''

3. And now, of course, the bar-packed, loud-music-blaring, motorcycle-revving, drunks-lurching ''Strip'' along Fort Lauderdale Beach. After my throat recovers from trying to holler out my prose, maybe next I'll try a NASCAR track or monster truck rally.

What's the worst place you can imagine for a book reading?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I’m Covered

Sometimes when I’m giving a book talk, I’ll ask the audience what drives them to purchase a book. Is it the title? The cover copy? The reviews? The terrific things they’ve heard about the witty and charming author standing before them? (Hmm, I don’t get very many positive responses to that one.)

Usually, I’ll get a variety of answers—after all, different people are moved by different things—but for some reason, not everyone admits that a book’s cover is a factor.

Of course, I know they’re lying.

Covers are huge. Covers catch the eye and draw a reader in. Covers entice, set the mood, tantalize the reader with great intrigue. That old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Utter hogwash.

Sure, if a reader likes a particular author, the cover may not matter so much. And the cover might not matter if your BFF demands you read a book because it was the best book ever. But if you’re on the fence about a book, then how you feel about the cover is definitely part of the equation.

That’s why publishers hire talented cover designers. That’s why there’s so much emphasis placed on designing the perfect cover for each book. Why do you think publishers have wonderful, slick, glossy catalogs? To display their wonderful, slick, glossy covers!!!

I’m still relatively new in the publishing business, but I have learned one thing: My publisher, Midnight Ink, designs the best covers in the business.

Not that you need it, but here’s some more evidence. I present to you the cover for KILLER ROUTINE:

Killer Routine 300dpi


Thanks Midnight Ink.


Okay, here are the discussion questions for today. Will the rise of the ebook lessen the importance of a good cover? Will covers have to change in the ebook era? How?



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Someone Else's Voice

by Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Series

I got sent a contract last week from Brilliance Audio. They're going to make an audio version of "Planter's Punch", the novella my buddy, Joe Konrath and I did.

I love audio books and always have one going. Right now I'm listening to a 24 hour version of the "Given Day" by Dennis Lehane that's been keeping me company for a few weeks during commutes.

Here's the thing though--I'm a little scared about whose voice is going to do Duffy.

When narrators suck it really ruins the listening experience. Robert B. Parker had his son do one of his books and he was dreadful. Darrin McGavin did Travis McGee and though he's a competent actor, he just never was McGee to me.

I don't get any say in it, of course.

I would prefer it not be Mel Gibson, RuPaul or any of the judges from "So You Think You Can Dance."

Brian Williams from NBC would be okay. If Jack Lord is still alive he can do it or Mike Connors from Mannix.

What if they give Duffy an Chinese accent or if he overannuciates the "Gs" at the end of words? That'll suck.

It might be cool if they had an Elvis impersonator be Duffy...maybe not.

I know who I'd want to do it. The same guy I'd have play him in a full length movie (Hollywood types--I can reached at

Who, you ask?

Mickey Rourke.

Circa 1985. They guy in "The Pope of Greenwich Village" and "Angel Heart."

Is that too much to ask?

Mickey, you can reach me at the same email.

You can buy "Planter's Punch" here for the price of a cup of coffee. Alright, it would be expensive coffee.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

8 Things No One Told Me About Being a Writer

blog4 I feel like there were some things I was fairly well-prepared for when my first book came out four years ago.

I was prepared to spend a lot of time revising. I was prepared for the tough slog of finding an agent and editor. I was prepared that getting a book contract didn’t mean I was going to retire as a lady of leisure. :)

But there were a few things I was less-prepared for. And so, I offer you…

8 Things No One Told Me About Being a Writer

1. That I’d lose control in office supply stores. Yes, just the aroma of an office supply store is enough to turn me into a Post-It note and Sharpie pen-grabbing zombie. I could drop $100 at Office Max without even trying.

2. That I’d talk about my characters as if they were real people—and how crazy that sounds to non-writers. Yes, I’ve actually caught myself saying, “Oh boy. She’s not going to like that…” when I’ve gotten an editorial revision request for my protagonist. When people ask me about my book, I’ll start talking about the protagonist, “Well, Lulu is a strong-minded lady with a great sense of humor…” Sometimes these people will ask me if I’m writing biographies. :)

3. How much I’d talk to myself. Yes, it happens a lot. I used to pretend I was talking to my children or my pets (who usually just keep sleeping in their sunbeam.) But this talking happens even when the kids are at school and no animals are in the room. Sigh.

4. How much more attractive yard work and cleaning bathrooms can be compared to writing a tough scene in my book.

5. How reading books would never be the same again. It’s really, really hard for me not to pick apart a novel that I’m reading for pleasure. Am I the only one who has this problem?

6. How far removed I’d be from that perfect little writing cabin we all dream about. I write at swimming pools, indoor amusement parks, skate rinks, parks, carpool lines, and doctors’ waiting rooms…basically wherever I can grab a few minutes.

7. How I’d take snippets of facial features from one person I know, marry it with the personality traits of a second and third person, and piece together a Frankenstein of a character who is their own person.

8. How much I’d still love writing—despite the deadlines, headaches, and daily grind.

How about y’all? What have you learned about being a writer that you didn’t know going into it?

Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams
Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen
Twitter: @ElizabethSCraig

Monday, July 19, 2010


This question came about awhile back when I participated in a group signing of authors from a local writing organization at a local town fair. The town, which will remain nameless, is an affluent commuter suburb. Many of the residents work in Manhattan; most have at least an undergraduate degree. So I was dumbstruck when a certain percentage of the adults who stopped by our table and were asked if they’d like to read a good book, answered with, “I don’t read.”

They DON’T READ? EVER? I’d expect an answer like that from a surly teenager plugged simultaneously into his Game Boy and Ipod. But college educated adults living in an upscale community? All right, maybe they meant they don’t read any of the genres represented by those of us participating that day. I can accept that as much as I’d wish otherwise. But that wasn’t the case. Neither was it that they only read non-fiction (although a few did admit to that with an air that spoke without a doubt that fiction -- any fiction -- was beneath them.) No, most who admitted not reading meant THEY DON’T READ. As in NOTHING. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not books. Not magazines. Not newspapers.

And what amazed me the most was that they admitted this to total strangers! I’d think that any adult who didn’t read would keep that admission buried deep underneath the widescreen TV, not voice it with a sense of pride. But no, they looked down their noses, their voices filled with disdain, as they proclaimed, “I DON’T READ.” As if reading were a bad thing, something to be avoided at all costs. As if we authors were the enemy, trying to infect them with printed and bound versions of some lethal strain of bird flu.

Now the truth is that we had quite a successful day, selling dozens of books and passing out promotional literature for our writing organization to many interested people. I’m not complaining. Just mystified by the responses of some who wandered past our table. My fellow authors felt likewise. None of us could possibly imagine living a life devoid of the pleasures of the written word.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I’ve been hearing for some time now that publishing is in its final death throes, and the new generation of e-readers (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.) is the final nail in the coffin of printed and bound books. I don’t know what the future will bring in the way we receive and read books and magazines. We’ve been taking some huge virtual leaps into Star Trek-like realms lately. I do believe, though, that publishing will survive. I know this because of a conversation I had recently with a member of Generation Y.

I was in an Apple store, drooling over an iPad. Yes, I want one. I’ve already sent Santa my list for this year, and it only has one item on it. I was playing around with an iPad when one of the Apple Geniuses came up to me and asked if he could show me anything. We began to talk about reading books on the iPad. This kid, who couldn’t have been more than 19 or 20, admitted to me that prior to buying his iPad, he NEVER read books, other than those he had to read for school (and even then, he often resorted to the Cliff Notes versions.) Since getting his iPad, he’s reading an average of 2 to 3 books a WEEK!

The author in me was about to break out in the Happy Dance right there on the floor of the Apple store. I wanted to send Steve Jobs a thank-you balloon bouquet. If one Gen Y has discovered the joys of reading, thanks to new technology, I’m sure many more will follow. No matter what those Cretans at the street fair said, the rumors of the death of the written word are greatly exaggerated.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

InkSpot News: July 17, 2010

Three Inkster books garnered reviews worth noting this week:

Sue Ann Jaffarian's Murder in Vein won't be out until September, but is already generating terrific buzz. The notoriously critical Kirkus Reviews came up with this rave:

"Odelia Gray (Corpse on the Cob, 2010, etc.) and Granny Apples (Ghost à la Mode, 2009) have a new cousin: Madison Rose, a human living in Los Angeles's twilight world of vampires.... Like Stuart Kaminsky, Jaffarian juggles her franchises deftly, giving each a unique voice and appeal. Her latest series kickoff may be her best yet, blending supernatural sexy with down-to-earth sassy."

There's little higher praise than being compared to the late Stuart Kaminsky, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. Bravo, Sue Ann!

In the upcoming issue of the country's highest-circulating Jewish periodical, Hadassah Magazine, Zelda Shluker goes looking for recent compelling crime novels with a Jewish protagonist or theme. She finds an even dozen including Alan Orloff's latest:

"Diamonds for the Dead begins with a shiva, as Josh Handleman tries to figure out whether his father’s death was an accident or something more sinister.... As he does so, he recovers the man his father was: a man with great business acumen, modesty and generosity."

Ms. Shluker also includes Smasher by Keith Raffel (that's me!) in her tour d'horizon:

"Accelenet needs an infusion of cash—but the only offer [CEO Ian Michaels] gets is from a ruthless billionaire who want to “smash and grab” it; he is intimidating the competition and undervaluing the company to buy it at a low price. Bad things multiply as Michaels’ tries to figure out how to save the company: a car deliberately runs down Ian and his wife, Rowena, leaving her brain damaged and comatose.... In this cleverly written mystery, Jewish actions are an innate part of Ian’s life."

Read Alan and Keith's reviews in full here along with ten more.

Congrats to Sue Ann and Alan.

Why not hit beach, pool, camp, or air-conditioned living room with a compelling crime novel this weekend?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cover Me

by G.M. Malliet

My second book in the St. Just mystery series, Death and the Lit Chick, has just been "re-covered." The idea is to bring this book more in line with the look of the rest of the books in the series. Now that I see the two covers next to each other, I like them both. Which is your favorite? Vote below.

(Note: It's the same book as before, just with a new cover.)

Which cover of Death and the Lit Chick do you like best?
Original (with lipstick)
New (with bottle) free polls

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Perfect Storm . . . on a Runway

by Julia Buckley
People think it's odd that I don't fly. I've never wanted to--not since childhood. Part of it is just my Capricorn nature. Just as travel lovers can barely wait until they're in the air again, I can barely imagine not staying on the ground. I like the ground. I realize that adventurous people have an entirely different vision of the world.

But something always comes along to verify my decision to stay off of a plane. Last night, it was NOVA, one of my favorite shows, and their Tuesday night show entitled: "Worst Plane Disaster." I should have run in the other direction, but this story of the crash of two planes in 1977 on a tiny island called Tenerife was fascinating in a horrible way. 583 people died in total, but the fateful series of events that led to their deaths is the sort of thing that one would think might happen only in suspense fiction--or a horror novel.

First of all, the two planes were both headed for an airport on Gran Canaria Island. Within minutes of their arrival, a terrorist called the airport and said there was a bomb in the terminal. Officials rushed to evacuate the airport, and minutes later a bomb went off. The airport was immediately closed.

So when a Pan Am 747 and a KLM 747 (with an all-Dutch crew) radioed in for landing instructions, they were both sent to the much tinier island airport at Tenerife.

The two planes followed instructions and landed; the Dutch crew, in a terrible irony, even let their passengers disembark and wander around the airport. Both planes were stuck on the tarmac until the other airport declared that it was open. When this announcement was made, the Dutch crew scrambled to get all of the passengers back on the plane. One airport official had to go looking for a family whose children had wandered away. They were found and ushered back onto the plane. The attendant, interviewed for the show, said that it haunts him to think that, if he hadn't found them, they would be alive.

The Dutch plane took on fuel, a decision that would have fateful consequences.

The two air traffic controllers were not used to the number of planes that were diverted to them; they were listening to a soccer game while they communicated with the planes.

In addition to this potential confusion, the weather worsened while the planes waited on the tarmac. A fog rolled in, and visibility lessened.

By the time the 747s were cleared for take-off, the visibility had decreased. The captains of each plane had to continuously check with the tower, who had them both on the same runway. The plan was that they would both taxi to the end of it, then turn around for take-off.

The American crew was told to turn off the runway at the third intersection; they were unfamiliar with the airport and confused by the fog. They weren't sure if they were supposed to count three from where they started, or three from where they were when they received the information. The three men in the cockpit discussed this, and it can be read on the PBS website under the heading "The Final Eight Minutes."

In the end, the crash, which killed all but 28 people on board the American 747, was investigated by 70 officials from three countries. The reasons for the crash were many, but it was ultimately the pilot error by the captain of the KLM flight which was blamed for the fiery crash. As NOVA puts it:

"A series of unclear communications and time pressure on the Dutch crew ultimately contributed to the KLM captain's fatal error—one that violated the fundamental rules of aviation and baffled expert investigators for decades to come."

There was one survivor of the Dutch flight--a KLM flight attendant who decided not to re-board the plane, but to stay on Tenerife because her boyfriend was there. She tried to convince some friends to stay with her, but they got back on the plane.

One aviation expert said that this tragedy was one of those bizarre combinations of events--without any of the invidual parts, perhaps the tragedy could have been prevented. But with all the elements combining in endless ironic layers, the people on board both planes seemed to be the victims of Fate.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thrills (Really!) and Chills (Anything But!) in NYC

Keith here.

The last three years I stayed with friends on the Upper West Side when I went to ThrillerFest. This year they were out of town, but told me their apartment was mine for the week. So I brought #3, my 14 year-old, for a few days of pre-conference sightseeing beginning on July 5. (Did my friends know something I didn't? They were away on an Arctic cruise. The temp in the City hit 103 degrees while we were there.)

I shipped #3 back to California on Thursday afternoon, July 8, when ThrillerFest began. The feet above belong to pal Andy Gross who's managed to combine his previous career in sportswear with his current one penning bestsellers. After the opening reception, Andy led a bunch of us to a Greek seafood place where the food was almost as good as the conversation. Sat next to Otto Penzler, who it turns out, reveres Ross Thomas's thrillers as much as I do. Also slung words back and forth over the table with Michael Palmer, who told me how he got a blurb from Bill Clinton, aspiring novelist Dr. Julia Kinder, Haligonian Pam Callow ("Halifax's answer to both John Grisham and Tess Gerritsen"), and thriller writers Julie Compton, Carla Buckley, and Alan Orloff.

Friday night we cabbed it over to a terrific party at Otto Penzler's terrific Mysterious Bookshop where I met the latest Swedish thriller sensation, Camilla Lackberg. Afterwards, the gang in the photo above had a great time at dinner. (Or at least I did.) From left: me, Dana Kaye, Robin Burcell, Craig Reid, Rick Mofina, and Julie Kramer. Then it was to the bar and schmoozing with, among others, two of the best of Boston, Hank Phillippi Ryan, who was just down for the day , and Joe Finder, who'd just been interviewed by Russian TV about the sleeper agents that had been arrested and then exchanged.

Found time Saturday to grab a bite with old pal and International Thriller Writers co-president Joe Moore. Steve Martini joined us mid-chew. Now it wasn't all play (just mostly). Saturday afternoon I sat on a panel led by Edgar Winner David Ellis (at far right) that also included (from right) Karna Small Bodman, Don Helin, Casey Moreton, me, and Rick Robinson. Considering we were up against other panels led by the fabulous ITW co-president Steve Berry and Andy Gross of distinctive footwear fame, we drew pretty well.

I didn't go the awards banquet on Saturday night. For shame. But wouldn't you know it -- I showed up for the after-party anyway. Here I am with the glamorous ITW Vice President of National Events, Kath Antrim. What a fabulous job she, Shane Gericke, Liz Berry, and their army of volunteers did!

It looks like a fight is about to break between me and singing debut author Brad Parks on the far right, doesn't it? Fortunately, Dr. Kinder, next to me, and Alan Orloff, next to Brad, kept us apart.

The after-party in the ballroom ended around midnight and then the after-after-party in the hotel bar ended around one-thirty. I was headed back to the Upper West Side and a few hours sleep when bro Marcus Sakey shanghaied me to an Irish bar down Lexington Avenue. (That's the talented LA novelist Steve Schwartz on the right and Dutton publicity manager Amanda Walker squeezed in between Steve and Marcus. All three look pretty good for three in the morning, don't they?)

Before leaving Sunday, I had to get a photo of Nellybelle, Pat Brady's jeep on The Roy Rogers Show. I grew up watching reruns of that program. Anyway, Nellybelle along with Roy's horse Trigger are being auctioned off by Christie's this week. (I got a look at Trigger. He might be stuffed, but still looks great for his age.)

Now reading this column over, I realize I didn't spend any time recapping what I learned at the conference's panels and interviews. Tough. Read about that stuff elsewhere.

See you at ThrillerFest next year?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer naps, NaNoWriMo, and writing

Summer has descended on all of us, in some areas with a vengeance (take the northeast and northwest this past week...100+). When the heat and especially the humidity soar, I personally find myself drawn to napping under cool sheets in 65 degree air conditioning. This sounds the most appealing when I've hit a snag in output as I work on the second installment of my Shay O'Hanlon mystery series. However, I guess I better leave the napping to my apparently exhausted cat, Hooch.

So I've written three books. All have been done during NaNoWriMo, better known as National Novel Writing Month, where you attempt to pound out at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. My first to-be-published book, the Bingo Barge Murder, was my third go. The next book in the Shay O'Hanlon series is due to Midnight Ink March 1st, so I thought I would try a JulyWriMo and try to get the first draft done by the end of August. Hmm. I guess I should actually call it JulAugWriMo. Anyway, it would give me plenty of time to revise and rip and rewrite before the due date.

I hadn't thought about it, but there's only one main distraction in November: Thanksgiving. And while usually a big "I ate too much" stomachache is the worst of that, July is proving to boast many more diversions. The fact it's in the middle of summer is the most obvious. Then there's the 4th of July, which can go for at least four days if you plan it right. And the 'I have to weed the patio plants and the cracks in the sidewalk' chore. Those darn weeds just keep popping back up! Household projects like roofing, installing new counters, and trying to decide what kind of new appliances we MUST have add another sort of exciting dimension to preoccupation.

However, between these, indulgences, shall we call them, I am pumping out words. I just need to increase the output by a few hundred a day and all will be fine. I'm a writer now, and I better act like one. Right after a little snooze on the deck in the shade.

Jessie Chandler
Author of the Bingo Barge Murder
Shay O'Hanlon Mystery Series

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Oh, to be an artist now that summer's here...

So Vicki has an artist friend who finds it difficult to paint in the summer. Fellow authors, let us shed a few tears for this poor oppressed artist. If only I could be so lucky as to have the talent she has. Maybe I was born too late. I picture myself out in the fresh air with my easel, my staw hat, my canvas and my tubes of paint creating masterpieces that would hang in museums all over the world. Passersby would stop and stare in awe at the landscapes I'd painted. I'd be lumped with Monet, Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. The money would roll in. Although living the simple country life, I wouldn't really need it. Goodbye 21st century with your computers, e-mail and Internet. I've returned to the 19th century and I don't miss cars, TV or rap music. As for writing those books I used to do, painting looks so much easier. Just blob some paint on the canvas, stand back and give it a name. Like - "View From My Adjustable Recliner Chair." Or "Exhausted Author in Overgrown Garden." "Deserted Desk." " or "Former Writer in Hammock" That's what's called Impressionism!
What would you be if you weren't an author? Artist? Psychotherapist? Veterinarian?

The Living is Easy

A few days ago I was at the home of an artist friend and she commented that it is difficult to paint in the summer. "It's too nice to go up to my studio. I want to be doing this." She gestured with her hands to the sunshine outdoors, a movement that took in all the wonderful distractions a July morning in Maine might hold -- her garden, the farmer's market, the harbor, the bustling little town where she lives. In other words, everything but the canvas and paint awaiting her upstairs.

I know what she means. In the words of the old Gershwin song, "Summertime and the living is easy... " -- that is, unless you are trying to get some words on a page. Like many of you who live in a four-season climate, I've waited all year for this glorious 8-week span of time we call summer. And yes, it is difficult to pull myself away from my bicycle, or vegetable garden, or the hiking trails, and get my butt in the chair.

But Darby Farr's next mystery isn't going to write itself. If I want to work on Fatal Sale (we'll see if that stays the title), fulfill my obligations as a Realtor, and still have time for the fun stuff, I have to think strategically. Since I'm the spontaneous sort, rather than rigidly disciplined, I've come up with a few tricks to keep myself somewhat productive this summer. Here's my list:
  • Aim for a weekly target. I remember my kids' pediatrician saying what they ate in a day wasn't as important as looking at net nutrition over the week. By applying this same thinking to my writing, I can allow for the days when I'm running around with real estate clients (or sailing in Penobscot Bay) and make them up somewhere else in the week.
  • Jot down just a few lines. I say this to myself when I'm tempted to head out the door instead of writing. Ususally, a few lines turns into a page and I've hooked myself into getting something done.
  • Use praise as motivation. When someone stops me on the street to say they loved A House to Die For, I'm eager to write. Remembering positive feedback can help me get back on track when the beach beckons.
  • Take it outside. I sit on the deck, or the front porch, or take my laptop with me "up to camp" (how Mainers describe going to their lakefront cottages) and perch on the dock. I find I can get quite a bit of work done if I allow myself to also enjoy my surroundings.
  • Reward for good behavior. I'm not above bribing myself with a hike or a swim IF I accomplish a little writing first.

Summer is an all too short season, especially here in Northern New England, and I want to enjoy it. Every now and then I just need to remind myself that putting words on the page will make my summer even better. What tricks do you use to keep the words flowing?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Celebrating a Milestone

Yesterday I turned in book 6 in my Odelia Grey series to my publisher. Yep – book 6. I have 12 of them under contract to Midnight Ink, so that puts me and Odelia at the half way mark – mile 13 in a writing marathon that started many years ago.

In a publishing climate where most series seldom get beyond 3-4 books for one reason or another, I consider myself quite fortunate, if not blessed. Not only do I have contracts for an even dozen books in the series, but they continue to sell strong, including my entire back list. Each time a new Odelia comes out, the previous books enjoy a nice jump in sales.

It’s magic.

I’m also working on book #2 in my new vampire mystery series and book #3 in my Ghost of Granny Apples series. In total, I currently have 18 books under contract and I have delivered 9 of them to my publisher. Another halfway point. Another milestone.

It's exciting. It's my dream.

I found it fitting that this milestone was reached over the 4th of July weekend.

I pretended the fireworks were for me.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Black cats, knocking wood, and WIPs

We got attacked by two—count ‘em: two— nasty little hackers two weeks ago. My time on the computer time was limited to trying various fixes and cleans recommended by geek co-workers. Fortunately, I married a geek (WIN) and after he consulted with uber-geeks who speak a language I’m not privy to, our computers are back to their healthy selves.

One positive outcome of this odyssey through hacker hell was lots of old-fashioned longhand writing. I’m a fountain pen addict—I own one for each book I’ve written plus a couple more I couldn’t resist. I start each new book with a new pen. I prefer to think of it as ritual rather than superstition. Hey, it’s my quirk, so I get to name it.

Another positive was more indulgence in manga. When I’m writing a mystery, I can’t read one. Writing is fun but it’s also hard work, so manga is my relaxation of choice. I love the angst, the scenery-chewing, the purple prose. All the things I don’t indulge in when I write. Nowhere else can I find demons with a sense of humor or vampires who preen like beauty pageant contestants.

It’s also a learning experience—sometimes I don’t get the humor. Sometimes I do, but the timing of the joke seems off. And often I learn cultural tidbits that I squirrel away for possible character creation in future books. (Yes, that is the cover of Noah Lukeman’s invaluable The First Five Pages on the far left. It’s one of my essentials.)

So, fellow writers, what’s your new WIP ritual? Pens? A new playlist? (Adam Hurst’s amazing cello music is the soundtrack for the current book.) And as long as I’m being nosy, do you read the genre of the book you’re writing, or do you do a one-eighty like me? I love seeing how everyone else does the process.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why the Finger Lakes?

The Broken Vows mystery series are set in the Finger Lakes region of New York State for two main reasons:

1) It’s a beautiful area, worth recommending.
2) A lot of my happiest days occurred there.

My first book, For Better, For Murder, opens in Wachobe, a fictional town on the region’s western border. With a fictional town I hoped to write whatever I wanted without being corrected or offending anyone. But in the eastern Finger Lakes, Skaneateles hosts a Dickens Christmas that surpasses the Dickens Festival in my book.

In the second book, For Richer, For Danger, my protagonist travels to Canandaigua, where I spent childhood summers camping, swimming, exploring, and riding the carousel in the Roseland Amusement Park which closed in 1985. My family enjoyed the summertime Waterfront Arts Festival and the Canandaigua Art and Music Festival for years and the more recent holiday-time European-inspired Christkindl Market and Festival of Trees.

As kids, when not in Canandaigua, we spent weekends in the western part of the region on a hill above Hemlock Lake, where my grandfather built a cabin on ten acres across the road from his birthplace. We picked blueberries, played games, swam, planted sticks that magically grew into candy, etc.

Nowadays, my family hangs out on Keuka Lake, where it is possible to:

  • Buy tasty Mennonite baked goods and gorgeous handmade quilts

  • Boat or drive to scenic restaurants and wineries with excellent offerings

  • Go fishing, catch nothing, and still come home with a cooler full of fish because friends will share their catch

  • Fall off your friend’s jet ski, be unable to climb back on, and have said friend swim out to rescue you, your small child, and the jet ski

  • Have a dozen strapping young men appear on cue to carry your newly assembled boat hoist into the water and position it for you (several times) even if they have to stay under water longer than really wise

  • Attempt to water ski, wipe out multiple times, and still have your neighbors cheer your success

  • Find talented retiree labor when you need help installing drainage ditches, water pumps, wood flooring, etc.

  • Swim all day—and not think about the fish, turtle, or snake that lives under your dock

  • Relax by the water and have friends float by just to say “hi”

Mind you, I’m not saying all these experiences are mine or my loved ones. I’m just saying the Finger Lakes are a great place to be.

So, what’s your favorite summertime vacation spot? Favorite summer memory?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Will (The Real) Darrell James Please Stand Up

Whenever asked to stand at a public gathering to identify myself, my usual flippant response is “I’m already standing.”

Okay, it’s a clichéd old joke. But, in those instances, I can afford a little levity because I arrive with a basic egocentric attitude, an intrinsic confidence, that I will be the only Darrell James in the room rising from the chair. And why not? I have, after all, never actually met another “me” in real life.

My concept of self is rather limited. I am a former sales engineer; now a mystery writer; a husband, father, and grandfather; a friend to those who know me; and an all around nice guy to the world at large.

At least that’s what I choose to think. So, to verify and affirm my identify, I turned to the keeper of all great knowledge—the Internet. Imagine my dismay when a Google search of myself revealed that I am NOT the only me.

For one thing, I am Darrell James Inmate Looking For Love.

It had never occurred to me that I was both loveless and an inmate. Although, there are days when I feel strapped to my laptop and not feeling any love at all .

I also discovered that I have my own country western band in Chicago. This struck me as though I’m really not taking complete advantage of my celebrity. Where are all the cute cowgirl CW groupies, throwing themselves on my stage?

I am also a New York actor with a number of film roles to my credit (again, the groupies). I’m a photographer specializing in action sports photos. And, I am quite the business man, it seems. Among my financial successes are my travel agency in Winter Haven, Florida, my maintenance business in North Carolina, and my sixty story office building in Sydney, Australia, appropriately and justifiably bearing my name—The Darrell James Building.

(I really need to stop by there sometime and check out my penthouse office digs.)

All these “me”s. All these successes. Where do I get the energy? And how can I be in so many places at the same time?

The answer has to be… Imposters!

I’ve decided there are a lot of people running around out there impersonating me. And in some cases (sadly) doing a better job of it than, well… me!

As authors, we all work to make our name well known. We post it, we blog it , we Facebook it, and U-Tube it. But, alas, a name is just a name. And, as you can see, we don’t actually own the exclusive rights to ourselves.

It’s depressing. But, I take heart in the fact that at least a few of me are upholding some fairly good standards. And, to all us Darrell James’s of the world, I promise to do my part to represent us as best I can.

Tell me: Who’s impersonating you? Google yourself, then come back with what you’ve learned.

And, if any of “us” are listening, stop by and say hello.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Moving a County Line for my Opening Scene

My upcoming Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series with Midnight Ink stars 27-year-old river ranger Mandy Tanner and is set in the real community of Salida, Colorado, where Mandy lives. She works for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) patrolling the whitewater sections of the upper Arkansas river, pulling people out of the river as needed--some of whom are dead. ;-)

The series will debut with Deadly Currents in March, 2011, and I'm finishing up the manuscript for the second book, which I've tentatively titled Wicked Eddies. I had some final location scouting to do for that book before I turned it in, so my husband and I headed out to Salida from our Colorado Springs home the Friday before last to check out some sites. Wicked Eddies kicks off in Chapter One with Mandy finding the dead body of a fly fisherman in an AHRA campground along the river. I'd chosen the Vallie Bridge campground from the list of campgrounds on the park website because it was along a quieter section of the river more popular for fly fishing than for whitewater rafting and it was a primitive tent-only campground.

The first photo shows the campground from the bridge that crosses the river from highway 50 to the day use area connected to the campground. The day use area has a couple of picnic tables, pit toilets and changing rooms, and a parking lot. Campers are supposed to walk into the campground along a path from that day use area, or if they are traveling by boat, there are wood posts sunk into the ground near the river for boats to tie up to. There's also a nice man-made eddy showing in the photo as a line of white rocks in the river, providing a quiet pool for boats to swing into and beach.

As you can see, the campground is deserted, on the busiest weekend in Salida--the weekend during which the First in Boating on the Arkansas (FIBArk) festival was taking place. Perfect! All the other campgrounds I checked along the river were teeming with people, RVs and whitewater boats.

The second photo shows a tiny me standing by the river, where Mandy will be when she first gets out of her raft. The third shows the view Mandy will have from that spot. The large trees are Peachleaf Willows, and the far one in front of the back fence of the campground is the one under which Mandy will find the body.

The fourth photo shows me pretty much where Mandy will be when she sees the body. It will be hidden in a dark, shaded depression behind the tree so people going by on the highway or river won't notice it, and Mandy will smell it before seeing it. Again perfect!

The fifth photo shows the brush near a stile separating the day use area from the path to the campground, a perfect place for the killer to throw something away that gets found later. Everything was fitting nicely with the scene I'd already written from photos of the campground posted on the AHRA website.

The only problem was that the AHRA campground map didn't include county lines. I realized after we got there that the Vallie Bridge campground is in Fremont County, not Chaffee County. Mandy works with a detective from the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office in Deadly Currents. I wanted her to work with the same detective in Wicked Eddies and had already written him into a lot of the scenes. What to do?

Well, as the title of this post says, I moved the county line about 10 miles south in the book so the campground will be in the jurisdiction of the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office! This is fiction, after all, even though I am setting the series in real Colorado locations.

I'm sure I'm not the only fiction author who has conveniently distorted reality when it serves the plot. And I've done it before. To avoid slandering an existing business by setting a murder or drug deal or some other nefarious activity there, I have created imaginary businesses in the real towns where I set my fiction.

Have you read a fiction book set in a real location you're familiar with, where something in the book wasn't real? Have you written a fiction book set in a real location where you're changed something to fit your story. Tell us about it!

PS. I've posted a companion post to this one at my blog that shows pictures of the FIBArk festival and of the Book Haven bookstore in Salida that hosted me for a signing that evening.