Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Thousand Words

by G.M. Malliet

The other day on a writers' listserve the question was asked: Does a writer really need an author photo for the jacket of his/her book? As I recall, the poser of the question (no pun intended) was reluctant to provide her publisher with a photo--either out of modesty or privacy concerns, not because she had two heads or something. I didn't participate in the discussion because, frankly, my immediate thought was, Yes, of course an author needs a photo! It wasn't until I thought about it later, though, that I wondered if that were really true.

I have bought hundreds of books without knowing or caring what the author looked like.  I tend to buy books based on reviews, and the occasional recommendation of a friend with similar tastes to mine. Unless its a self-help book (Lose ten pounds and ten years!) what the author looks like seems hugely irrelevant.

Having picked up a book while bookstore browsing, I will probably idly flip to the photo on the back. I don't recall ever buying a book on the basis of the photo, however. I may have been turned off if I'm wavering over the purchase and the author looks just a tad too pleased with him/herself, or certifiable, or vaguely illiterate.

I had a lot of fun with author photos in my second book, Death and the Lit Chick, so I may just be asking for it here in asking you to help me decide on mine. But my new editor has asked for a black-and-white for my first book in a new series, and I'm just plain tired of the color photo I've been using. (What was I thinking, with the pearls, anyway? Yikes!) This time, I didnt want to go for a studio portrait. I just wanted to be, well, myself, wearing pretty much what I wear when I write. No pearls.

This posing business is all much trickier than it appears. First requirement, I would say, is that the author somehow look like a writer rather than a professional ice skater, for example. Many authors fulfill this need by holding a pen or sitting at a computer, although I would maintain that holding a Starbucks cup would be more authentic. Second, the photo should be appropriate for the type of writing the person does--a children's author should probably not scowl, for example. A thriller writer should look thrilling.

And again, while the photo may not cause someone to buy a novel, it should not actively discourage a sale, either. This is someone in whose company youre going to be spending at least a few hours, after all.

Here are the results of my photo shoot. Please cast your vote for 1, 2, 3, or 4 below.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My First Mystery in the Days of Mail

by Julia Buckley
Back when I was a kid--maybe first or second grade--my parents entered me in a children's book-of- the-month club. Of course this was long before e-mail or even computers, so it was when the notion of mail was still almost glamorous, even exotic, to a child who had no correspondents. I looked forward to that brown package every month with great excitement, and when it arrived and I opened it, there was always some great new book inside, with crisp pages and new-smelling ink.

I was reminiscing today about those earliest books--the first ones I read alone. I think the one pictured here--BIG MAX--may have been my first mystery.

Big Max was a wonderful book: the tale of a detective who traveled by umbrella and was hired to solve a case for the King of Pooka Pooka, who had lost his beloved elephant.

I can still remember the joy of getting BIG MAX and reading it again and again, but also the thrill of mystery. I'm not sure if I figured out the ending or not, but I know it was satisfying, even to my seven-year-old self. Eventually I moved on to such sophisticated fare as Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, and after that I read single-title suspense novels by authors like Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt.

Big Max is still in print and available to a whole new generation of children (and perhaps future mystery lovers). Thank you, Kin Platt, for my first mystery reading experience.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Inkspot News - November 27, 2010

G.M. Malliet will be part of a multiple-author event at Loews Hotel, Annapolis, on Dec. 5. Valet parking available!
Read Between The Wines
@ Read Between the Wines
126 West St, Annapolis, MD

Authors appearing:

Donna Andrews  *  Charlie Boyle  *  Anna Hart and Cherlynn Conetsco  *  Kimbra Cutlip  *  Jon Franklin
Thomas Kaufman  *  Richard LaMotte  *  G.M. Malliet  *  Lisa McCue  *  Ellen Nibali
Sarah Pekkanen  *  Cynthia Polansky  *  Lucia St.Clair Robson  *  Daniel Stashower  *  Marcia Talley

Tickets:  $25 in advance (by Dec 3rd) or $30 at the door
Proceeds benefit the artistic excellence and educational outreach programs of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A long time ago the Pilgrims sailed,
To find a brand new land.
They wanted to worship God themselves,
Not by the King's command.

So begins an eight-verse epic poem written by yours truly in November of 1971. I was a fifth grader at Norfolk Elementary School in Massachusetts, steeped so deeply in the lore and legend of the Mayflower, Squanto and Governor Bradford that I felt as if I, too, had planted my shiny black-buckled shoe upon the famous Plymouth Rock.

Growing up in the Bay State it was hard to avoid the Pilgrims. The wide-brimmed hat sported by Pilgrim men (called a capotain) was on signage for our highways, the state flower bore the same name as the Pilgrims' sturdy ship, and Plimouth Plantation, the living history museum replicating a 1627 English village and Wampanoag settlement, was the default class trip for hordes of school children, including those of us from Norfolk Elementary.
It's not surprising that a young girl who feverishly penned poems, short stories, soap operas, and magazine advice columns should turn her attention to the most famous immigrants of all.

What is surprising is what happened after I wrote the poem.
I recall the noisy auditorium of the school, the kids antsy to go home for Thanksgiving break, and me, wearing a plaid dress no doubt, ushered by my teacher up to the front of the assembly. Did I read the poem slowly, emphasizing the dramatic moment when the Pilgrims nearly starved? Or did I hurry through the verses, eager to get back to my seat?

Here is what I do remember: knowing deep in my core that I am a writer. It's a feeling as solid as Plymouth Rock itself, one that reviews, contracts, and sales figures can't touch, and for that I am grateful.

Today I'm taking a little detour with my daughter before joining the rest of my family for the holiday. A pilgrimage, if you will, down the coast to Plymouth. Having been born and raised in Maine, my kids missed out on the whole Pilgrim-related indoctrination.

Fortunately it's a heck of a long ride. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Revealing The Woman Behind the Curtain

Recently I was incensed by an ignorant blog posting written by Maura Kelly on behalf of Marie Claire magazine. In fact, I was so enraged, it moved me to write a very personal piece on Babble ‘n Blog, my personal blog. The piece was extremely well received.

A short time later, I re-posted several political items from Facebook friends to my Facebook wall. The last re-post was a very short political statement with a very funny picture and statement. All postings triggered several lively discussions. While most of the people commenting on the last post agreed it was humorous, one reader cautioned me to remember that my readers might not believe what I do. That comment also started a lively discussion wherein the consensus was that we all are allowed to believe what we believe and to say what we believe, as long as we are respectful of one another.

But here is the million dollar question:  How much information about ourselves should we, as published authors, put out there?  Of course, we all know better than to post our telephone numbers and home addresses, but what about our personal beliefs?  Will letting readers in on our real selves cause them to flee from our work in droves?  Maybe. After all,  I’ve never viewed Mel Gibson the same since his drunken bigoted tirade, let alone recent accounts of abuse. Others will still flock to his movies.

But I’m not talking about drunken, abusive behavior here, or criminal activities.  I’m talking about basic viewpoints like political affiliations, religious beliefs and social attachments.  Would a reader of any of my series really stop reading my work because I’m a Democrat, a defender of gay rights, and voted in favor of the legalization of pot in California?  Who knows.  It’s not like I’m saying child porn should be distributed on newsstands, but to some folks, I might as well be.

The invasion of social media into our daily lives has allowed authors to be in touch more intimately with their readers, and vise versa.  Many of my readers have written to say they love getting to know me through the shared details of my life. But maybe all this personal information has also shattered images readers have established through the reading of our books.  If we allow it, they get to pull back the curtain and see us as we really are – not wizards at all, but everyday people with everyday lives, loves and heartbreaks, and opinions. 

But when is it too much information?  For some, any glimpse into their personal lives is too much to reveal. While others gladly share a lot. I found it interesting that my sharing the scars of childhood was celebrated, while sharing who I voted for was not.  They are all important pieces of me.

I’ve always been someone who has worn my emotions on my sleeve. I’m not good at facades. They take too much energy to maintain. 

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holidays, Food, and Character Traits

Thanksgiving’s in a few days, for Americans. It’s like the "om nom nom" starter’s pistol for the season that lasts through the beginning of January. This is why I finally joined a gym.

I’m a pretty good cook, and I like working in the kitchen. I’ve been saying for years that the first Thanksgiving after my maternal grandmother passed, her spirit touched my hands and gave me her gravy-making skills. Watching that smooth, rich, brown gravy come together exactly as planned was a beautiful moment.

Some of my characters are good cooks. In my first (trunked awaiting rewrite) book, the horror plot was relieved by lots of good cooking. In my Falcone and Driscoll series, not as much, although I do manage to work in how to make homemade Sicilian pizza.

Other hobbies of mine, like knitting and playing musical instruments, aren’t as universal as cooking and eating. After all, Patricia Wentworth created the best detective-who-knits in Miss Silver. Is there a musician detective? I don’t recall one.

I’ve learned a few things as my characters have informed me of their talents and quirks. I know the techniques of cello playing, how to research someone’s ancestry, online RPGs, navel piercing, and all-natural foods.

Have you ever been so interested in a book’s MC that you wanted to learn to do what they do? In my own case, I got so irritated at Miss Silver’s continual “knitting in the Continental manner” that I taught myself that method. (I knit a lot faster now, and two-color knitting is a breeze.) Have you ever researched something for a book and ended up incorporating the skill into your real life?

I’ll be happy to share my recipes with anyone. And then we can head to the gym together.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Darrell James

A few weeks ago, Jimmy Kimmel—on Jimmy Kimmel Live, national television— proclaimed November 17th as NATIONAL UN-FRIEND DAY (NUD) His cause: "to put and end to the foolishness of social networking.” The subsequent campaign that he mounted would have rivaled that of any modern day political incumbent, rallying the support of celebrities and garnering widespread support across university campuses.

Together, on one glorious day, with surgical precision, the aim was to set about, cutting loose all the people, who in a weak and delirious moment of un-sobriety, we so casually and carelessly Friended on Facebook. Stomp out the OMGs, the LOLs. Rid ourselves of Farmville and Mafia War requests (which, well, kind of makes his point.)…

Still, the man was serious (or sort of), because that’s the kind of guy he is. He even went so far as to have War create a music video to underscore his message.

Now, I know that Jimmy has a lot of things to juggle, what with the joke telling and all. So I’m sure that it was a simple oversight on his behalf that he selected November 17th, my BIRTHDAY, as his day of social reckoning. (BTW, Jimmy: I’m still waiting for the card.)

So, as the NUD campaign gained momentum, I began to wonder…

How will it effect my Big Day? Will I wake up on my birthday, expecting well wishes from friends and family, only to find that I am suddenly alone in the cyber universe, adrift, without having a clue who baked brownies today or whose cat is now wearing shoes made of Dixie Cups. OMG, LOL!

As the days ticked down toward, and past, the Ides of November, I began to sweat.

I did I tell you!

For Jimmy had masterfully manipulated the power of the media. And support for NUD had reached viral frenzy…

When the big day finally arrived, I awoke early, grabbed a cup of coffee, and fired up Facebook.

To my joy and wondrous surprise (something like Christmas) not only had I NOT lost any of my Facebook Friends, but there were two welcome requests for Friendship waiting. And, the birthday wishes had already begun rolling in.

Now, it’s my custom (call it my creed) that if someone writes me a personal message on Facebook, I always respond with a personal reply. Well, the birthday wishes kept coming, and so did a few more requests for Friendship (that I happily accepted). Family, writer friends, reader friends, and those who I have found or have found me through the marvel of modern technology. They poured in from across the country, from Canada, from Italy, from Germany, and as far away as Queensland Australia. And before the day was over I had responded to more than 140 birthday greetings. All Friends.

I tuned in to Jimmy Live that evening (which BTW: isn’t really ‘live” at all….just sayin’). He was still claiming victory, even showing a tote board to display the grand tally of Unfriended.

Well, perhaps, somewhere in the distant cyberspace, there are those souls who have been banished to “Un-Friend Land”. My heart goes out to them. To you, huddled masses, misfortunates of cyber-warfare, I say: “Come over to my Facebook page. There’s always room for one more, or two more, or however many more of you there might be…Come! (At least until I hit my 5000 friend limit.)

As for you Mr. Jimmy (the Kimmel, who doesn’t even have a Facebook page) when your heart finally thaws and you find yourself alone on your cyber iceberg, with only a few discarded Farmville and Mafia War friends to drink with, take out a page. Send me a request. I’ll welcome you in. Because… well… because that’s the kind of guy I am… I got Friends!

Thanks for all the birthday wishes, Facebook Buddies!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bells and Buzz

For years I worked in human resources, and one of my biggest challenges was getting managers to complete their employees’ performance reviews in a timely and effective manner. While emphasizing the positives, managers had to include “Here's what you could do better.” Hard message to deliver when almost everybody thinks they’re giving their all and wants the bigger raise tied to the performance rating.

Of course, performance ratings should be tied to objective, measurable goals. One time I joined a company that used a very subjective essay style of performance appraisals. In an appraisal for a dentist, I read one sentence summing up her skills and three sentences about the wonderful kuchen she baked for the department. Geez Louise. I had to laugh, but we changed the company’s rating methodology pretty darn quick.

Training for performance reviews always included the instructions that any employee who was meeting expectations should be rated a “3.” In fact, most ratings should be a “3.” Remember the bell curve in statistics? Any manager who rated their employees all fives or even all fours was not doing their job—and, yeah, I was the one who got to tell them that.

But now I’m an author, and I’m looking at all my ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a little harder to be happy with a “3” even though I should be. Ratings affect sales. Sales might be higher if everyone rated my books “5” or even “4.” Now I prefer the fives, appreciate the fours, welcome the threes, and tolerate a couple twos.

I’m happy people are taking the time to rate my book. It creates buzz, or at least the beginnings of the “b” sound. Ratings mean I have readers. Readers are good. Readers who publish ratings are even better. Readers who publish reviews are the most interesting. Of course, they’re a little like the kuchen—very subjective. But then writing is subjective: to tastes, to trends, to popularity, etc.

So I’m going with the old adage: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Ratings and reviews are publicity. Therefore, I love them, regardless.

And I’m going to love my bell curve, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hurrah for Book Clubs!

I belong to a neighborhood book club of ten or so women who meet once a month over wine and snacks to discuss a book we've all read. We tend to focus on literary and women's fiction, with an occasional nonfiction book thrown in. I decided to join the book club so I would be forced to read books outside of my default genre--mysteries. Being a member has caused me to read many books I never would have selected on my own, and most of them I've enjoyed.

We tend to pick books that address a controversial topic so we have something meaty to discuss. And my group has a diversity of opinions, so the discussions can get interesting, though they're always polite. For example, this month we read Zeitoun by Dave Eggars, our nonfiction book for the year. This book created a lively discussion, as it's about the horrible effects on one family of the inept, illegal, and irresponsible response of Homeland Security to Hurricane Katrina. Many of us couldn't believe that it happened in the USA, and many feared it would happen again. Pretty scary stuff!

Some other interesting books we discussed this year included Still Alice, a fictionalized account of a university professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer's, Mudbound, a story about prejudice and cruelty in the 1940s Mississippi Delta area, and Tallgrass, about the effects of a nearby World War II Japanese-American internment camp on a nearby small Colorado town. It's not all heavy reading, though. We usually try to pick a small, light book for December and one of the summer months. One was The Mighty Queens of Freeville by advice columnist Amy Dickinson.

What really focuses and deepens our discussions of many of the books we read are the discussion questions we obtain from Reading Group Guides or the book authors' websites. That's why I always provide discussion questions for my own books on my website (go here to see those for my upcoming March release, Deadly Currents). I try to make my discussion questions open-ended so they draw the members into talking about the issue as it relates to their own lives, not just the book.

Meeting with book clubs to discuss my own books is my favorite kind of event. I've visited with many book clubs in person in Colorado and via speakerphone for long-distance groups. The in-person visits have the added benefit of a glass of wine or coffee and food, but all of the group visits have been immensely fun. I always come away with a list of suggested books to read to take to my own book club. If you'd like me to visit your book club, contact me at my website.

How many of you Inkspot readers are in book clubs? How often do you meet and how do you select the books you're going to read and discuss together? Got any interesting stories of having an author visit your book club or if you're an author, of visiting a book club?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. Have you thought about what you have to be thankful for over the past year? I certainly have. It was just a year ago that editor Terri Bischoff offered to buy what has become my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. In only seven weeks ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in the series, will be on bookstore shelves.

Prior to last November, I’d been wallowing in a huge vat of self-pity and wasn’t feeling the least bit grateful to anyone. I’d made a professional decision several years ago that I still don’t regret making, but I never expected the impact of that decision to mean that it would be nearly two and a half years between the release of my last novel and the sale of my next novel.

In those two and a half years I had several near sales, each of which fell through due to circumstances beyond my control. An editor can’t buy a book, no matter how much she loves it, if her publisher folds the line where the book would have gone. I was beginning to think I’d seriously offended the Karma gods in some way.

So when Terri made her offer, I refused to let myself get excited. I held my breath. For a long time. Not until I had those signed contracts in my hands did I allow myself to get excited. Or even tell anyone about the sales.

So I’m extremely grateful to Terri for buying my books. I’m also extremely grateful to the rest of the Midnight Ink staff who had a hand in ushering my manuscript to printed book.

Two months ago I received my edits for ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN. It was now time to decide to whom to dedicate the book. I’d dedicated my first book to my husband and children. My second book was in memory of my grandparents. For my third book I knew immediately to whom I’d write the dedication.

In 2000 I began a critiquing relationship with a group of women. Over the next seven years I developed a very strong friendship with one woman in particular from that group. In all that time we never met in person; an ocean separated us. She lived in Germany where her husband ran one of the American schools. But thanks to the Internet we’d become as close as sisters. Until Karen entered my life, I never had a friend who was so much like me in so many ways. We shared many of the same life experiences, the same talents, the same likes and dislikes. We thought so much alike that it seemed we had to have been twins separated at birth.

In September of 2007 Karen and her husband were moving back to the states, and we were making plans to meet in person for the first time. However, right before Labor Day, Karen died quite suddenly. I not only lost a fabulous critique partner, I lost an amazing friend. I felt cheated. My grief overwhelmed me. Eventually, I realized that I’d been blessed to have nearly eight years of this extraordinary woman’s intellect, humor, and compassion. Many people will live their entire lives without being touched by someone like Karen.

So as I look ahead to Thanksgiving this year, I know I’m thankful for many things, the least of which is the friendship I had with Karen Davenport.

The dedication in ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN reads: In memory of Karen Davenport, amazing critique partner, friend, and Anastasia’s biggest fan.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Write Like Sarah Palin

Yesterday, I drove three hours to Fargo (yeah, that Fargo) to sign books as part of the Altrusa book imagefair. This wonderful group raises money to build bookshelves in Habitat for Humanity homes and then stocks the shelves with brand-new books. Twila, the woman running the event, said the children who move into these houses are so happy to have books of their own that they run straight to the shelf when they first enter their new house and plop on the floor to read. Sigh. Makes you happy to be part of this world, doesn’t it?

During this signing, a lovely woman in her 60s picked up a copy of September Fair, turned it over in her hand, and asked me why she should buy it. I said, “It’s funny.” (I’m not a saleswoman, never have been, don’t wanna be.)

She “meh’d” and hemmed and hawed before deciding to give it a image try. As I’m autographing the title page, she remarks that I sign my name just like Sarah Palin, whose book this woman had recently waited eight hours in line to get autographed.

As my brain tries to sort out all the implications of her comment, the woman leans forward and conspiratorially whispers, “You know, I wouldn’t trust that lady to run our country, but she was really kind to the people in wheelchairs who were waiting a long time. She walked over to all of them personally.”

Her comment tickled me on all sorts of levels, but mostly because it was so perfectly Midwestern: kind but judgmental, with a total absence of irony. I wrote down the line in my “buttons” book, where I keep all sorts of great dialogue that I hear. Last Thursday at the train station, for example, my boyfriend and I were waiting for the Empire Builder to Milwaukee when we heard deep laughter rumbling out of the closed back room of the depot, where a group of conductors were meeting about something.

Two grizzled travelers were seated next to us. It was Veteran’s Day, imageand they had been talking about their service in the Korean War and what a shame it was that Amtrak gave 20% discounts to students but only 10% to veterans. When the laughter spilled out of the back room, one commented to the other, “Sounds like they’re having fun back there.”

And the other guy nodded and said, “As much fun as four men can have, anyhow.” Then they both started chuckling.

Hee hee. Love that random, honest stuff. What's the last great line you heard?

p.s. Speaking of the beauty of sharing books with others, the Mystery Writers of America is collecting gently used books to donate to underfunded libraries in Mississippi. If you have a pile you'd like to send to a good home, contact your local chapter and they'll send you instructions. It's easy to give!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Writers’ Police Academy

by Kathleen Ernst

WritersPoliceAcademyLogo Old World Murder has two point-of-view characters, a museum curator and a cop. As a former curator, I had that one covered. When I started writing, though, I knew little about police work. Fortunately, the chief and officers of the PD I’m writing about have been wonderful, answering countless questions and letting me ride along on duty shifts.

Still, when I had the chance in September to attend the Writers’ Police Academy in Greensboro, NC, I took it. The event was organized by Lee Lofland, a veteran cop with a reputation for being generous with his time and knowledge. Lee assembled an astonishing group of professionals to provide programs, demonstrations, and workshops.



Topics included Crash Investigation, Going Undercover, Guns 101, Arson, Profiling Serial Offenders, Jail Searches, Police Equipment … and lots more.




Two of my favorite sessions were offered by Susan Powell, who works in Forensic Science. I got hands-on practice in dusting for and lifting fingerprints. I also learned about fingerprint analysis.



Susan also taught a session called Tools of the Trade, which covered firearms evidence. My WIP includes a gun being shot at close range, and I learned exactly what the powder residue would look like.


A couple of the programs were a little challenging for me. I attended a talk called “Why People Kill – Motives For Taking Life” by Bill Lanning, who has researched this topic for years. His presentation included slides, which I hadn’t expected. But as he explained, he was talking about—and we are writing about—something intense and terrible. He wanted to remind us that real people are affected by murder.

jonathan-hayes2 Another guest speaker, Jonathan Hayes, provided an Autopsy seminar. Mr. Hayes is both a writer and a Senior Medical Examiner in New York City.

I sat in the back, just in case I felt a need to slip out! But although a few of the slides were distressing (to me—no one else seemed squeamish at all), Mr. Hayes was such a respectful and fascinating presenter that I was glad I attended.

The Academy was deemed an enthusiastic success by everyone I talked to. Lee Lofland and his team are considering the possibility of future events. If you’re interested, you can keep track of the news on the WPA website.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wined and Died Cover

Cricket McRae

Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, my fourth Home Crafting Mystery, hit the shelves last July. I recently noticed that the fifth in the series, Wined and Died, is already available for pre-order on Amazon. But there wasn’t an image up until this week.

Here’s the final cover:

Wined and Died_1

I have our own Keith Raffel to thank for his off-the-cuff title suggestion. Once I began using Wined and Died as a working title, it stuck. Before, I’d been calling the book A Drink Before Dying.


So thanks, Keith! And expect another thank you in the acknowledgements come publication.

The “died” in the title is pretty self-explanatory, but the “wine” isn’t your usual stomped grape variety. It’s honey wine, commonly known as mead. The blue bottle is from a meadery in Boulder, Colorado. I had to do a bit of research, right? And so did Lisa Novak, my fabulous cover designer. So I had them send her a bottle. Full, of course.

I love the logo she created for the fictional Grendel Meadery in the book. The rough-hewn stone monster is perfect. So is the pewter skull wine charm. Subtle and, well, charming.

This book doesn’t start with a death – it starts with a death threat. Newlyweds Sophie Mae and Barr Ambrose are acting as surrogate parents to eleven-year-old Erin while her mother is away. When Erin stumbles into a dead psychologist’s notes regarding a homicidal client, Sophie Mae races to discover the identity of the potential killer. Clues lead her to the Grendel Meadery, a traditional honey winery operated by the tight-knit Swenson clan. Everyone has a secret, and soon Sophie Mae is up to her neck in deadly herbs and drug dealers while trying to juggle a handsome lothario, her responsibilities as a temporary parent, a major contract for her soap making business, and a strangely distant husband.

Despite the pre-order status of Wined and Died, it won’t be released until July 11, 2011. That’s eight months away, for Pete’s sake. So I’ll hush up about it for a while. Promise.

In the meantime, though, early orders usually show up in your mailbox a few weeks before the official release date. I’m just sayin’. ;)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scheduling Hell

By Deborah Sharp

I've been invited to speak at the prestigious Miami Book Fair. That's the good news. The bad news: Organizers have scheduled me opposite Dave Barry, the Pulitzer prize-winning humor columnist, author, and beloved Miami icon.

With 350-plus authors at the fair, they couldn't have found someone a little less intimidating to shove into my same time slot?

Of course, this is the same international book event where in 2008 I fought with Salman Rushdie over the last lemon poppy seed muffin left on the breakfast buffet in the authors' reception room. Long story, but I definitely spotted the muffin first.

Maybe the festival's powers-that-be are punishing me for the muffin incident. I mean, really, the man survived having a fatwa declared against him. Is a little kerfuffle over a breakfast pastry really that big a deal?

Anyhoo, back to Dave Barry. He'll be packing a massive auditorium that Saturday morning, Nov. 20 at 10 am. The sound of belly-laughs and general hilarity will probably ripple all the way across the sprawling campus of Miami Dade College, echoing into the empty classroom where I'm supposed to speak. Room 7128. Did I mention the room is on the bottom floor of the campus parking garage? I can just hear the sound of errant car alarms going off now.

It's not the first time I've dwelled in scheduling hell. I've been slotted opposite the editor and agent panel at Sleuthfest. I lost out to baseball mania in Tampa, when my signing and the Rays first shot at the play-offs fell on the same night. I was trampled once at a Barnes & Noble by fans of the Twilight series, who clambered over my pathetic table to get to the merchandising bonanza tied into that same day's release of Stephanie Meyer's latest.

It's all in the timing, right? At least that's what I told Salman when I snatched the last muffin from under his nose at my first Miami Book Fair.

How about you? What's the worst scheduling snafu you've endured? An outdoor event spoiled by hurricane-force winds? Competing against Michael Connelly at a conference? Put on a panel with someone you hate?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Two of the hottest releases of the year released on the same day--unbelievable!

One is a light-hearted take on mostly made up stories designed for escapism without much basis in reality.

The other consists of Duffy Dombrowski stories, basset hound rescue essays and basset hound Haiku.

DTTR is available only at the http://www.theslobbershoppe.com and all of it goes to basset hound rescue.No rescue dollars were spent producing it.


How Duffy punches a Dorothy re-enactor at the Wizard of Oz Fest in the mouth...

Read about Duffy's encounter with a certain Mexican dog trainer

Follow Duffy as he helps the lesbian and pregnant daughter of a certain politician very similar to one from a certain very northern state...

Watch Al go through agility training...

Read about Ben, the paralyzed basset rescued from China...

And Jaime, the blind basset and Otis the anti-bite therapy dog...

Beats the hell out of WMD, Cheney, Osama and the crap in that other book...

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's NaNoWriMo Time!

Yes, folks, it's that time again. November has arrived (I'm still scratching my head at that...where did August go?) and along with the eleventh month comes NaNoWriMo .

Haven't heard about it? Well, National Novel Writing Month is a project that was created in 1999 by Chris Baty, with the idea that the participants would attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel of their choice in one month. Yup, that's a five with four zeros after it. In 30 measley days. Well, twenty-one brave souls signed up, and NaNoWriMo was born. Every year attendance and participation has blossomed, and by 2009, 170,000 people took up the challenge. Now, as an official non-profit run by the Office of Letters and Light, National Novel Writing Month is a force to be reckoned with.

So, Nano sounds cool, but why am I talking about it? You see, back in 2004, I was noodling around the internet and stumbled across NaNoWriMo. The premise intrigued me, and, just like 87% of the population, I always thought it would be fun to try and crank out a book, but never put the thought into action. So I plotted and researched, outlined and re-outlined. November 1st came and I bolted from the starting gate and never looked back. By the time the 30th rolled around, I had typed my 50,000th word. I shocked myself. Holy cow, I'd written the better part of a real novel! That accomplishment led me to the Loft, here in Minneapolis, where I took a number of writing classes from Ellen Hart and Lori L. Lake.

November 2005 arrived, and I did NaNoWriMo again. I again surpassed that 50,000 word mark by the end of the month. Sheesh, in two years, I'd written two (albeit rather horrid) first drafts! I worked on revising and editing the two novels, and learned just how much I didn't know that I didn't know about writing. That little lesson about did me in, but was absolutely necessary. When NaNo 2006 came calling, I changed my groove entirely, and pumped out 50,000 words of what is now Bingo Barge Murder, the first book in my Shay O'Hanlon mystery series that Midnight Ink will be releasing in May of 2011. This effort was SO much better than the previous two, and I really found my voice. The book was funny and quirky, full of danger, chases, kidnappings, and of course, the Boxer dog named Dawg.

Really, I have National Novel Writing Month to thank for being the match that ignited my writing flame. Without having stumbled on nanowrimo.org, I wouldn't be be able to say the words, "I'm a writer," and really mean it. This is one lucky and incredibly fun phase of my life that I hope lasts a good, long time.

So, if you happen to know any wanna-be writers, someone who really would like to write that book one day but can't quite get around to it, send them on over to the NaNo site. You might just have a hand in creating the next John Sandford.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inkspot News - November 6, 2010

Today, Beth Groundwater will be speaking and signing books at the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Association of University Women's (AAUW) annual Author Day luncheon to be held at the USAF Academy Falcon Club Dining Room, from 10 am to 2 pm. Other authors present will include Margaret Coel, Kathryn Eastburn, and Suzanne Young.

G.M. Malliet will be among twenty-seven (yes, 27!) Sisters in Crime chapter members with crime fiction published this year who will speak, mingle and sign their works at the Sisters in Crime/Chesapeake Chapter’s Nov. 6 meeting. Mystery Loves Company bookstore will be on hand to sell these authors’ works. The program begins at noon. Download the flyer to see a list of speakers and to register! (Free event.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Keeping it Professional

Rue de Rennes Paris, 1920--mario-tozzi-1895-1979_thumb[1]Sometimes it’s a challenge to act like you’re a professional person when you write.

People don’t really get writing, sometimes. They know we’re at home, but they really don’t know what we’re doing there.

And children can make it difficult to be professional.

When I upgraded my cell phone and gave my son the old phone, I had no idea that the contact list would still be there, even though we’d gotten a new phone number assigned to the phone. He was busily thumbing through, adding contacts to his directory (all 7th graders) and said, “Hey. Who’s Ellen?”

“Ellen? Ellen is my agent. Hey…give me that phone!”

And then my 3rd grade daughter, who tried to make me change my profile picture on my Gmail account so it would have kittens on it.

I’ve no problem with kittens. I love cats, actually. But a book cover would be a better choice for my particular books.

Then, of course, there was the radio interview where my daughter knocked on my locked bedroom door for 20 minutes.

Still, I’m trying hard to portray myself as a serious professional.

Things that help:

  • Business cards.
  • A snappy, interesting one or two sentence summary of your book, if someone asks what it’s about. (Think of it like a pitch.)
  • Introducing yourself as a writer (this is a tough one. I’m working on it.)
  • A professional-sounding email, Twitter, Facebook account. My email is my name, and so is my Twitter account and Facebook. I have two Facebook accounts---one professional and one personal. This keeps me from feeling irritated when old sorority sisters post pictures of me from 1989.
  • My voice mail message sounds professional.
  • A website. This is important, even if your book isn’t out yet. Make sure your contact info isn’t buried on there.
  • Respecting our writing time and asking others to do so, too.
  • Making sure our children know when we’re about to be on an important phone call.

Alan Orloff had a wonderful idea for keeping children away when you need to work. He puts a sign on his office door that says: Please come in so we can get started on chores.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning From the First One

Me and OIf mistakes foster learning, then I’ve become a much smarter man during the past year.

Seven months ago, my first book (DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD) was published, and, although counseled by different members of this blog about what to expect, I was still surprised by many things. Now that I’ve been through the pre-pub, pub, and post-pub promotion cycle, I know more about what’s heading my way for KILLER ROUTINE. Not that I’ll be ready for everything this time around, but at least I’ll know what’s coming.

I’ve ordered (and received) bookmarks for the new book, using the same printer I used before. This time, it took me only a fraction of the time to design them (in large part, because I didn’t have to re-learn Photoshop).

I’ve got my “basic” PowerPoint presentation ready, and it won’t be difficult to update it for the new book/series. Having done a ton of presentations (including signings, panels, radio, TV, tent revivals, etc.), I’m a lot more comfortable talking about myself and my books.

The website has been up and running for a year or so, and I plan to give it a facelift. But since I’m well along the learning curve, it won’t take nearly as much time as the original design effort (I now know HTML and CSS!).

My online presence has grown (Hi, Facebook friends! Hi, Twitter followers!), and I’ve got a good base to build upon. I’ve been blogging, three times a week on my personal blog and once a month here on InkSpot. I’ve also got some ideas about how to improve my blog tour and Goodreads giveaway promotion.

I’m planning my conference schedule now. From my experiences, I know which are worth the time and which ones are marginal. And I’ve heard from other writers about other conferences to try.

Looks like another busy—and fun—year!

Anything to warn me about for my second book, MInkers?



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If This Is A Delusion, Please Don't Wake Me Up!

As an author I spend an awful lot of time in Fantasyland. When I’m writing, that world seems just about as real this one. Remembering which world I’m in is important, but sometimes I get confused. Driving past Arastradero Road in the foothills above Palo Alto, I can say to someone, “Oh, this is where Rowena got run down.” And that someone can reply, “Oh, how sad, but, um, who’s Rowena?” And then I remember she’s a character in that other world which exists only in my mind and in the mind of readers of Smasher.

Now, though, I am really confused.

I’ve told friends that I just wanted the Giants to win the World Series before I die. Last night I watched TV and I think I saw them win their fourth game. Really? Am I still in Fantasyland?

I grew up watching the Giants finish in 2nd place five straight seasons despite the presence of such baseball deities as Willie Mays and Juan Marichal. I was in the stands at Candlestick just before game 3 of the World Series when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck. In 2002 I was not surprised when the Giants were up five runs only six outs away from winning the Series and still managed to lose to the Angels.

This lifelong experience with the Giants has colored my outlook on life. Something bad is always ready to snatch away consummation of your dream. This world-view might be what drove me to writing fiction. In Fantasyland I can control what happens.

So now I am still dazed. Did the Giants win or am I as delusional as ever? Ever an optimist, today I’m going up to San Francisco to watch the Giants' victory parade.

If this is a delusion, don’t wake me up!


P.S. I received a text message from my agent last night right after the last out: “Now you can die in peace.” I replied, “Please not yet.” And he hastened to text back, “No, no, first a deal [on your next book] and grandchildren.” (Considering I still have an 11-year old child at home, that could be awhile.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


by G.M. Malliet

This is from a diary entry of mine of about five years ago—Autumn 2005. As it documents the ups and downs, and the inanities, of the unending struggle to stay motivated and get published, I thought I’d share it with you here.

I was still working full time, and fitting in the writing as best I could. Making up rules, and breaking promises to myself, as I went along. Being "good," and then backsliding. I am glad to see that I didn't really whine much--at least, not on this particular day. I'd been at it a long time and perhaps had learned that whining is a time-waster.

As I waited to hear back from people, I entered contests. I wrote short stories. I started and abandoned novels. I was rejected; I was accepted. Death of a Cozy Writer was finally published July 2008. 

An aside: The cat I mention turned out to belong to a neighbor, and was named Sybil. She turned out to be a little con artist who went from house to house, looking for handouts. Sybil passed away two years ago.

Yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox, a day of change and celebration. Deciding I liked the celebration part, and that I clearly needed a rest, I got my hair done (change) to gear up for the new regime. I will write until the day before the Winter Solstice. Three months, gearing up for 2006. It is said agents and editors don’t do anything at all, whatsoever, in November and December anyway.
     Now, all I have to decide is my method.
     Should it be the Dick Francis method: three pages a day, no matter what, handwritten? He used legal pads and the trick was, when he didn’t feel like writing, he would write as big as he liked. I think he had the right idea. You have to cheat sometimes. You just can’t let the cheating go on for longer than a day or two.
     So…off I go. Every day is writing day, and the work must be on my novel. Three pages a day. Somehow I have to squeeze the short story in here somewhere, too. Deadline for Zoetrope is Oct. 1.
     This morning, a little black and white cat dropped into our patio. Very friendly little thing, mewing for food or company, no collar, but it used to have one, you could see the indentation on its neck. I named it Equinox and fed it two bowls of milk.
     I just got an email from the Debut Dagger people. My novel Death of a Cozy Writer is not among the 13 short-listed entrants. Big sigh; rock on.
     I was going to give up my Wednesday night online writer’s chat room, but now I’m going into withdrawal. I really do get a lot done on those nights. It’s become a sacred ritual.
     It’s the rest of the week that’s a problem. Finding a balance is hard. Certainly writing one night a week is going to get me nowhere fast.
     I can think of a million reasons not to write, on any given day. The question is, how badly do I want to be published? Enough to work hard for it, and give up other things (like sleep) for it?
     Incredibly, I am now into negative figures on the manuscript. Some of what I had in there was duplicated material. However, opening up the file and putting the story in order is the hard part. A good day.

Photo taken from news.therecord.com

Monday, November 1, 2010

Letting Madeline Speak for Herself

by Julia Buckley

This week when I posted my novel Madeline Mann on Kindle, I also began the sometimes weary process of promoting the book.

But then I remembered that, way back in 2007 when I initially sold Madeline Mann, Maddy had started her own blog. I unearthed this online diary and found that she had a lot to say. After all, Madeline is a reporter with an appropriately inquisitive mind.

One of her challenges, however, is being saddled with the nickname "Madman." This moniker was given to her by her brothers when they were all very young, and Madeline has been trying (unsuccessfully) to live it down ever since.

I'll let her tell you in her own words.

I'm thinking that Madeline might be better at telling her own story than I ever could be.

Do you let your characters tell their stories?