Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays from Inkspot!

We Inkspotters are having a little year-end R&R. Hope you're having fun, too.

Back on Monday, January 3. See you then!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Tea Set

This fall I was asked to lead a workshop at a women's weekend spiritual retreat. Since I don't bead, meditate, or do sacred dancing, but I do know how to string words together, I decided to teach a class on writing the spiritual devotional. I'd never written one, but I studied a bunch and realized they followed a fairly standard pattern of a verse or quote, followed by a short personal story, and finally a few questions or take-away points as the conclusion.

I wasn't sure how the whole thing would go over. Would the women want to write? If they did, would they enjoy it? Would anyone be brave enough to share their work with others? After giving a brief introduction, I read a few examples, handed them pencils and notebooks, and sat back to watch.

My "students" turned out to be star pupils, diligently writing their devotionals and then offering to read them as well. I wish I could convey how moving they were! Many brought us to tears, but all of them brought us closer together. Someone volunteered to compile the pages into a little booklet. Once again, the power of the written word had triumphed.

My devotional is appropriate to the season, and so I share it with you here. Happy Holidays!

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. Proverbs 23:12.

Before my daughter's second Christmas, I purchased a little tea set at a local store. I could hardly wait to see her open it, help her set up the flowered cups and saucers, and show her and her doll how to pour "tea." It was still in the back of the car when my mother called and told me she'd found a wonderful gift for Lexi --- a tea set.

I groaned and headed back to the store. On the way I passed my church, a steepled white Congregational in the center of town. Pull in, a small voice told me. And so I did.

The parking lot was quiet. I glanced to the side door of the building and saw a lone woman shivering in the December cold. I put down my window and asked her if she needed help.

"Yes," she said. "I heard there were some toys here?"

I took her into the building where we found the small pile of donated toys. She looked through them and sighed, shaking her head. Impulsively I asked her what she wanted. "I have a little girl at home," she said. "I was hoping for a tea set."

When I handed her the box from the back of my car, a look of surprised joy spread across her face. It was the best Christmas gift I have ever received.

Lord, the whispers of your Spirit work through me. During this busy season, help me to listen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keyed Up Birthday Memories

Today is my birthday.

The day I was born, Harry S. Truman was President, though Eisenhower was poised to take over the nation’s reins a few weeks later. The #1 hit song was I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and the Los Angeles Rams lost the NFL National Conference Championship to the Detroit Lions. Gasoline averaged $.28/gallon.

The day before I was born, my mother was Christmas shopping.

As she told it, she started having labor pains while finishing up her holiday shopping. After all, it was the last weekend before Christmas. Did she tell my father when she went into labor? No. Not. My. Mother. Worried the shopping wouldn’t get done if she left it up to my father (which was a valid concern), she continued on, grabbing a display table every now and then when a contraction hit. The determined and head-strong woman made it home, wrapped and tagged all the gifts and, knowing her, finished her baking, before finally telling Dad it might be time to head for the hospital. I was born late the next morning.

Like every other human on the planet, I have memories of specific milestones in my life. Events not told to me by my parents. I recall walking to the bus stop on my first day of school, holding tight to my lunchbox while my brother held my other hand. I remember my father teaching me to ride a bike. (The man didn’t believe in training wheels. He put me on a hill and when I started pedaling, he let go. Trust me on this. I still have 35mm movies of it.) There was my first bra. My first kiss. My first novel.

But the vivid memory that’s been visiting me this week has been of learning to type, brought about, no doubt, by the recent purchase of a fancy new laptop. Typing. I do it everyday. Often several hours a day. It’s as second nature to me as breathing and just as easy. And the skill has kept food on my table for many years.

I learned to type my freshman year at Whittier High School. I was fourteen. If you do the math, that’s 44 years of typing and my fingers are still going strong. It was in a class filled with the clatter of manual keys smashing against hard platens. When we got to the end of each line, bells would ring. The clatter would stop, replaced by the loud rasping sound of teenage hands yanking the heavy carriage back to the beginning with the help of a slender but sturdy metal arm. The clatter would begin again. And again. And again. There were no delete or undo buttons. No copy and paste features. And definitely no spell check. Not even correction tape. Errors were forever and we were graded on speed and accuracy. And don't get me started on changing the messy &$#@# ribbons.

My typing style is still very aggressive and very fast. I hit the keys hard, often wearing the letters off the keyboard. I blame this on learning to type on heavy machines with stiff keys. It’s also a good thing I learned to touch-type, considering those blank keys. But except for the sound of my fingers hitting the letters, my computer is silent. There’s no bell. No metal against metal return of the carriage. No jamming of keys. The words flow from my brain, down my arms and spurt out through the tips of my ten fingers onto the page like magic. Any malfunction can be solidly blamed on my thought process, not my digits.

Nostalgia is fun and gasoline returning to $.28 a gallon sounds grand, but I wouldn’t want to type my novels on an old Royal or Remington. And I’m sure glad I wasn’t born in the middle of a department store (Thanks, Mom!).

Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm not crying--my eyes are tired. Really.

What a perfect Christmas card photo this would be: Rudolph-themed stuffed animals, ornaments from several generations decorating the tree, adorable cat nestled in the tree skirt… wait. The cat definitely has a look which says: “Back away from me now and I won’t sharpen my claws on your camera.” That look is why I’ve never tried to dress up my cats in adorable holiday-themed sweaters and hats. I prefer to keep my skin intact.

It will surprise no one that I’m not a “fluffy bunny sweetness and light” person. Yet at Christmas this strange hidden side of me appears, causing me to watch cute holiday cartoons. I have been known get all sniffly at certain holiday movies. I even sport a pair of reindeer antlers complete with lights.

Since I still have to function as a normal human, I’ll cut myself off before the sentiment incapacitates me. For instance, I haven’t watched It’s a Wonderful Life in about ten years, because I blubber like an idiot at the same scene every time. Every time! You know the one: Where George Bailey runs back onto the bridge after seeing how Mary’s life turned out. He starts praying “I want to live again” and it starts to snow, signaling us that everything’s back to normal. I could keep the Kleenex company in business on that movie alone.

I even used to cry at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We haven’t yet watched it this year, so I can’t say for sure I’ve become a hardened character regarding the moment the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes.

So—tell me I’m not alone here! What holiday screenwriting is so brilliant that it makes you cry every time? What favorite book is so well written that you love it but won’t reread it unless you’re alone in the house and have a stack of tissues ready? I’ve listed my major two, and I’ll add the movie Scrooged. Guess which places. Yep. The scene where the adult Bill Murray sees his mother and the scene at the end where he asks Karen Allen to come back to him.

As for books: One of my “needs Kleenex” reads is Patricia Wentworth’s Nothing Venture. The other one is The Brother’s Keeper by Tracy Groot, at whose keyboard I grovel. I've memorized whole passages from these books without even trying. The former pushes all my "romantic gal" buttons. Trust me on the latter: My groveling is well deserved.

Okay, it’s your turn. I’ve got plenty of boxes of tissues ready. Let the blubbering begin!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Travel Can Make You Grateful

My husband and I recently returned from an absolutely amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip that checked off the top item on his Bucket List. We took a two and a half week trip to Cambodia and Myanmar to photograph the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples in the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia and the plains of Bagan in Myanmar (Burma). We also saw the sights in the cities of Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar and photographed people engaging in day-to-day activities in the markets, fishing and farming villages, shipyards and monasteries and nunneries.

Once my husband processes the thousands of photos we took, I'll blog about the trip on my personal blog, probably after the holidays. However, in keeping with the theme of gratitude, thankfulness, and grace of recent Inkspot posts this holiday season, I wanted to talk about one experience I had on the trip that really touched me.

We took a break from touring temples in the Angkor Wat area one day to visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This center exists to tell the history of war and landmines in Cambodia, to show how landmines are removed, and to tell the unique story of Aki Ra, a former child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who after the war began clearing landmines and caring for dozens of wounded, handicapped, orphaned and destitute children affected by landmines. He was chosen by CNN as one of their Top Ten Heros for 2010. The center is also a place where these children live and receive medical care and an education. I hope you'll go to the website to read more about the center.

We were lucky that William Morse was at the center that day and offered to give our group a personalized tour. William and his wife are Americans who now live in Siem Reap and work at the center. She is an experienced teacher who teaches the young children at the center, and he is a project manager, fundraiser, and organizer for the American charity, Landmine Relief Fund, that channels money to Aki Ra's Self Help Demining nonprofit organization. I hope you'll read about these two organizations at their websites, too. While there are many NGO's (non-government organizations) working in Cambodia to clear minefields, only Aki Ra's organization is entirely run by native Cambodians and works with people living in small, low-priority farming villages to clear their croplands of dangerous mines.

By giving up their cushy life in the US to live in Cambodia and help landmine victims, William and his wife are inspirational examples. But even more so is Aki Ra, who survived the trauma of being forced by the Khmer Rouge to become a child soldier and is now helping people affected by the war. And the courage of the children is inspirational. While we didn't meet them, we saw pictures of their smiling faces as they learned how to live with missing limbs or other disabilities.

Compared to them, I couldn't help but feel gratitude for my health, my safety, and my relative wealth. I hope you, too, will read this and be grateful for your blessings, and maybe decide to share some of those blessings. You may have your own favorite causes to support, but if you're moved to support the causes I mentioned, there are at least three ways you can contribute:

- Support the museum operation and care and education of the children
- Support the museum's outreach fund that constructs rural schools
- Support the clearing of landmines in rural Cambodian villages

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays!!

It’s that time of year again. Carols on the airwaves. Snow blanketing the ground. Ad circulars cramming the mailbox. Bell ringing at the malls. Lights and sparkle almost everywhere.

It’s no mystery why my first novel is set in December. Christmas is my favorite time of year. In our region, Mother Nature set the stage perfectly by dumping nine inches of snow on December 5th.

Our family holiday traditions started the weekend after Thanksgiving with the trimming of the tree (clear lights only), the assembly of Santa’s Express (all aboard!!), the arrangement of the Dickens Village, the draping of the mantel, and the wreathing of the house. We got out the collections we add to each year: my daughter’s snowmen and my son’s nutcrackers. Then we wandered over to George Eastman’s house for the annual gingerbread, Christmas tree, and wreath display before stopping at the local chocolate shop for turtles and sponge candy.

A week later we assembled our own gingerbread village. Somehow Grandpa turned the bakery into an outhouse. Gotta watch him every minute!

We made candy and cake bon bons; some for gifts, others, well, they’re inexplicably missing already. Then we made cutouts. Grandpa finally comprehends sugar cookies are merely vehicles—showcases, in fact—for frosting.

We became angels for two children we’ll likely never meet and spent hours trying to select the right clothes and toys for them. Can pink and purple be wrong for little girls?

A few Christmas cards are going out this weekend. They were going to include a family portrait. Of course, it helps to schedule a sitting. Instead, they’re glittery snowmen. The snowmen are better looking anyway.

After hosting Thanksgiving for both sides of our family for the twentieth year, we’re looking forward to Christmas Eve at my brother’s and Christmas dinner at my in-laws. We’d love to avoid the stomach flu that plagued us last year.

A couple things are missing this holiday season that can never be replaced. This is our eighth Christmas without my mom, and she is forever going to be missed. And we’re missing young children who believe—which sadly means we’re missing some of the Christmas magic.

We have yet to establish a New Year’s Eve tradition. Some years we party. Others, we go to the movies. Sometimes we just stay home.

So, any special holiday traditions you’d like to share?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TIS THE SEASON (To Be Thankful)

Darrell James

The holiday season has a way of making us turn introspective and take time to ponder all the wonderful blessings in our lives. People are the blessings.

This season will usher in the year of my debut novel, something that I have worked long and hard for. Not alone, I understand. I have been ferried to this place and time in my life on the wings of many, many others. The people who touch my life.

I suppose I first have to offer praise to my mother and father. They were humble folks from the hills of Kentucky who entered life with little more than grit and determination, and a hope and dream of a better life for themselves and for their children. I was the last of seven children to be born, spread out over twenty-two years. I’ve always felt that I received the greater benefit of our parents wisdom and maturity. They were expectant grandparents by the time I came along.

(Father Roy, Mother Minnie, oldest Sister Crystal )

Though their limited education didn’t allow them to outline a path to success, I was always told that I could do, AND BE, anything I wanted. I just had to be willing to work for it.

WORK was the defining value they taught. And LEARNING. We were encouraged to read from a very early age. With few books in the house, I recall stealing my older sister’s school library books. I grew up absorbed in such classic tales as Little Women, Gone With The Wind, The Great Gatsby…

I cherish my siblings. While they were all older, they always made time for nurturing their younger brother. How can you go wrong with four extra mothers. They are the ones I have always primarily worked to please and make proud.

I have also been blessed with a wonderful loving daughter and two totally fabulous grandchildren. These are both of college age (yes college). One has recently graduated.

Then above all, I am thankful for my mate. My wife, my lover, Diana, has not only been my guiding star but the sun ray that warms my path. We’ve shared many adventures over the past twenty-seven years. And on the day I declared that I was going to become a published author, she took my hand and joined me in my quest, creating PRme Promotions as my publicist. These days she not only works to promote me, but represents a number of our author friends in the mystery community. I would be lost without her. I’m guessing a few others might say the same.


As I have said, this holiday season passing will usher in the year of my debut novel. And while I have been blessed with the best family in the world, I would be remiss not to give recognition to the many people who have influenced me and helped me along the way. Generous and caring friends who have mentored and supported me unselfishly—many within our own writer community—too numerous to name. But to all of you (you know who you are) I give my thanks and commit my friendship in return. I hold you all in loving regard.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I have my village. It’s a wonderful village. And this holiday season I’m using this post to publicly say thanks.

Have a Happy Holiday Season and A Wonderful New Year, All.

I know I will.

(Midnight Ink will publish the first in Darrell’s Del Shannon series of mysteries in September 2011.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

National What Day???

Are you ready for the big day? No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about a national holiday coming up in just two days. December 16th is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. What? You never heard of it? To tell the truth, neither did I until the other day when I was flipping through the pages of a women’s magazine.

So I decided to do a bit of detective work. After all, I write mysteries. I should be able to find out who came up with the idea of a Chocolate Covered Anything Day and who declared it a national holiday. I struck out, though. After extensive Googling, all I could find is that no one seems to know who started the holiday or who nationalized it.

Finding no answers, I did what any mystery writer worth her Milk Duds would do -- I made up a plausible scenario:

Hard times had fallen on the Willie Whatsit’s Chocolate Factory. Sales were down. Stocks were plummeting. All because some upstart had opened up a jelly bean pizza operation across the street. People were stuffing themselves full with jelly bean pizzas, to the point that no one had room for chocolate any more.

So Willie Whatsit locked his marketing people in the conference room with nothing but a white board, their brown bag lunches, and a chocolate fondue. He told them they’d have to stay there until they came up with a way to make people put down their jelly bean pizzas and gobble up chocolate once again.

There they were, seven morose men and women, nibbling away on their sandwiches while trying to save both their jobs and the company. No one had a clue how to make chocolate more appealing to the masses. After all, how can you compete with jelly bean pizzas?

“We might as well give up now and trudge over to the unemployment office,” said Neville Bottomworth, the most morose of the morose marketers.

“You have mayo on the side of your mouth,” said Helen Harrowsmith, tossing a napkin toward Neville.

But Helen was no all-star when it came to pitching napkins, and Neville had to reach across the table to retrieve the napkin. That’s when it happened. A slice of bacon fell from his BLT -- right into the fondue pot!

Not knowing whether Willie Whatsit would give them a dinner break, Neville wasn’t about to forego his bacon, chocolate-covered though it now was. He fished the slice out of the fondue pot and popped it in his mouth.

“Eww,” said Helen.

“No, it’s really not bad,” said Neville.

With that, Orville Tessmacher dipped a corner of his bologna sandwich in the melted chocolate and took a bite. One by one the others followed, dipping a bagel, a pickle, a potato chip, even a forkful of Ramen noodles into the melted chocolate.

“By George, we’ve got it!” shouted Neville.

Thus was born Chocolate Covered Anythings. And since Willie Whatsit was good friends with Congressman Calvin Crudrupp, a generous donation to the congressman’s upcoming campaign secured a congressional act, declaring December 16
th as National Chocolate Covered Anything Day.

Hey, it could’ve happened like that!

And since I know you’re all probably dying for some chocolate covered bacon, here’s a recipe:

Chocolate-Covered Bacon


8 slices thick cut bacon

1 bag semisweet chocolate chips
4 ounces white chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Place the bacon on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 20 minutes.

3. Let bacon cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the extra fat.

4. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring until smooth and completely melted.

5. Using tongs, dip the bacon into the melted chocolate, coating all sides. Place on wax paper covered cookie sheet.

6. Melt white chocolate in microwave. Drizzle over bacon.

7. Refrigerate bacon until chocolate is hard.

Monday, December 13, 2010


by Kathleen Ernst

Back in October, I had two launch parties to celebrate the release of Old World Murder.  One took place at Old World Wisconsin, the historic site that provides the setting for the book.  I used to work there.  I’m very comfortable hanging around people wearing period clothing.

OWW Launch1

I also had a wonderful time at launch party held at Booked for Murder, a terrific independent bookstore in Madison, WI.  I signed a goodly number of books, and a good time was had by all.


One person who came had already read the book—on her electronic reader.  She brought it to the store and surreptitiously showed it to me.  “I thought you might like to see how Old World Murder looks as an eBook,” she said.  I’d never seen any of my books on an electronic reader before.

More recently, I spent two days at a book table as part of a Norwegian Christmas weekend at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.  In addition to signing Old World Murder, I signed copies of The Runaway Friend (my only book for young readers which has a Scandinavian theme).  One mom happily bought a copy of The Runaway Friend for her daughter, and said she’d look for Old World Murder for her Kindle.

 OWM Nook

I’ve since seen what Old World Murder looks like on both the Nook and Kindle.  (The color version above is on a Nook.)  Having the ability to adjust font size has made reading possible and fun again for lots of people.  Traveling with a single well-loaded reader is much nicer than lugging ten books along.  And saving paper is a good thing.

Still, I worry about the toll eBooks take on bookstores.  And I hope that readers who enjoy downloads will still be interested in coming to book talks and programs.  For me, meeting readers in person is the most fun part of what I do!  And there will always be something magical about personally inscribing a book for someone.

Technology is catching up with me in other ways, too.  I recently participated in my first long-distance book program.  A school district in Kentucky had chosen my latest kids’ mystery, Clues in the Shadows, for their book group.  The program ended with a visit from the author—that would be me!—through the miracle of technology.  Fifty young readers and their parents gathered at a public library, and I connected with them via Skype.

I’d been asked to talk about my writing for twenty minutes, followed by another twenty minutes of Q & A.  The sound system on their end cut in and out, and the facilitator made an adjustment that meant I couldn’t hear anything from their end during my opening remarks.  I’m used to having a conversation with kids, not to talking nonstop, so it felt awkward to me.  But the kids seemed delighted.

I know that many authors have been using Skype for years to connect with book clubs and other groups.  I haven’t sought it out because I’m always worried that the technology will fritz.  Still, it’s a great way to engage with readers long distance.  I’m sure I’ll do more programs this way.

And yes, I now own an eReader.

So, how about you?  Have you embraced new technologies as a reader and/or writer?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sadness and Grace

I've had a hectic two weeks. It's nearing the end of the semester at the two-year college where I teach. I call this period "HowdIgettaD Days?" I also am trying to finish up November Hunt at the same time edits for October Fest are coming in on top of preparing for a 26-credit teaching load next semester (I did it to myself). Unless you're Sue Ann Jaffarian, this is a lot of work for one person.

As a result, I had only a brief moment to read the headlines before getting to work this past Tuesday. The article that caught my eye was titled, "Elizabeth Edwards Doctors Stop Treatment." Before I read the article, I had only the tabloid snapshot of Ms. Edwards' life: married a hot young attorney, suffered through the death of her 16 year-old son in a car accident, goes on to have two more kids later in life, hot now-older attorney makes presidential bid, wife is diagnosed with breast cancer, wife fights breast cancer, husband cheats on wife and fathers child with mistress. That all this could happen to such an apparently decent human being strikes fear in everything that's important to me as a woman and a mother. It's a tragic story.

That's what I thought before I read the article, anyways. After I read it, I was in awe of this person who, despite every reason to kick life in the head and bubble with anger, had chosen to define herself by her love for her family and her dedication to her community (which includes me and you, by the way. Google it.). She used considerable energy and money to fight against poverty and for health care. She recognized the tabloid view the public had of her, accepted what she couldn't change, and got about her business of making the world a better place.

I was unusually affected when I read, later that same day, that she had died. I don't want to be someone like Elizabeth Edwards. I'm too selfish. But I am glad there were and are people like her, and they inspire me to effect change in some small way. I'm worried I'll continue to be overwhelmed by my responsibilities and let this inspiration pass, however. Please, share with me the ways that you or others you know volunteer/donate/commit time/make a small sacrifice in your life and take responsibility for being a member of a global community.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Morning Pages

Cricket McRae

morning pages 1 It’s still dark outside, and the morning star – which is really the planet Venus – precedes the sunrise. It’s very close to earth right now, a bright, shiny beacon hanging at the end of night. I stepped outside to take a look while the kettle heated on the stove, breathing in the crisp air and listening to the deer – or perhaps raccoons – rustle through the dry grass on the other side of the fence.

Back inside, I brewed a pot of Earl Grey. I am the only one awake in the house, save for a purring orange cat. We’re both curled up in a blanket on the sofa while flames dance in the fireplace, and the scent of honey rises from my cup of tea. The computer screen is the brightest thing in the room.

Soon I will put aside the computer and write in my morning page notebook. Remember morning pages? Julia Cameron introduced them in The Artist’s Way, but Dorothea Brande suggested the same thing in Becoming a Writer back in 1934 (still one of the best books out there for beginning writers or anyone who is having trouble sustaining a writing project). The idea is to get up in the morning – every morning – and write without stopping until you hit three pages. The devilish editor on your shoulder doesn’t have time to engage, you develop a habit of writing every single day, and I, at least, find the process ferrets out a surprising number of truths.

Morning pages can be a kind of self-therapy. At the same time, they can lull you into thinking you’ve written for the day. It’s also possible they could sap some of your writing energy, much as I’ve heard some people say blogging siphons off a portion of their creative mojo. How it affects you really depends on how you view the process.

For a year or more in the mid-nineties I faithfully wrote my morning pages as Cameron describes. But over time, I’ve tweaked them to suit my own needs. Doing them first thing in the morning still works very well, but I don’t do them every day. Or even every week. And though on occasion I just want to brain dump or need to work out a problem that requires what I refer to as “thinking on paper,” more often I try to focus morning pages on something in particular. As a result, they’ve turned into a stepping stone that then propels me into my other writing.

Today I plan to write a scene in which a woman encounters a girl she thought she knew in a place she’d never expect to find her. I need to know how that feels – for both of them. I want to think about how this meeting sets the tone for their relationship throughout the rest of the story. It would be a good idea to play with how a recurring theme in the story can flicker through this scene. And finally, I simply don’t know enough about the girl and her background. Focused free writing will help me find these things out.

Sometimes it's a better thing to simply sit down and write. To allow that magical thing to come out of nowhere and flavor or twist what you’ve planned to put on the page. Or even not to plan at all. But this is a brand new character for me, and an important one. In this story, I’m working in a different fictional world than the one I’m used to.

Being able to write about the upcoming scene will afford back story that right this moment I’m unaware of. It’s the same kind of magic, finding the answers to questions and, more than likely, finding more questions to ask. It’s an aspect of getting to know the story that’s invisible to the reader – not simply research, plotting, or character development, but all those and more.

Do you use free writing as a tool either in your writing or in your life? Do you find journaling useful?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Get Yer News Right Here!!!

By Deborah Sharp

I was reading the newspaper this morning ...

I'll pause here while you grab a bottle of milk from the ice-box and crank up the Victrola. Okay? All cozy in our time warp?

Right. The newspaper. You remember, that quaint artifact from the last century? I still read it most mornings, though it is vexing to turn the pages with my dinosaur claws. When I read in a public spot like Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, I'm usually the only customer in the place perusing the paper old-school. That pains me, as a former newspaper reporter.

Full disclosure: This morning, with temperatures hovering in the un-Florida-like 30s, I was tempted to get on my fancy computer and get my news virtually. The cold snap is so unusual that officials had to put out press releases telling clueless Floridians what to wear: Dress in layers, and don a hat that covers the ears. I manned up, trading flip-flops for wool socks and closed-toe shoes, and hastened down the driveway. There were the three papers we subscribe to, faithfully delivered as always. (Often faithfully delivered into a puddle, but that's another post).

Maybe newspaper ink doesn't course through my veins anymore, but newsprint still stains my hands.

Everyone but me knows that printed newspapers have already lost the battle against newer technology. I'm like one of those old Japanese soldiers from World War II, marooned on a deserted island; still believing I'm fighting a war that's already been decided. I'm rooting for the newspapers.

My husband, Kerry Sanders, has to be up on the national news as a reporter for NBC. So we get the New York Times in addition to our two local papers, the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald. Yes, they're all skinnier than they used to be, and still shrinking. And, increasingly, the Herald and Sentinel run the same stories, thanks to a resource-sharing partnership that would have been unthinkable in the competitive environment that existed when I cut my news-gathering teeth.

Still, there's something about paging through actual pages, seeing headlines and photos as they're meant to be seen -- not postage-stamp sized on my I-phone or zoomed in and running off the screen of my laptop. Best of all, the paper still costs less than a cup of coffee. When I'm done reading it, I can use it to mulch my garden, line my trash can, or pack fragile contents into boxes.

Try that with your I-pads and Kindles, Internet hipsters!

So, all hail the venerable newspaper. I'm going to get back to mine later today, right after I light the wood stove and finish churning some butter.

How about you? Do you still read an honest-to-God newspaper? Do you get your news from online sources? From TV? Are you on strike against the news in general, until the world makes some better news?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The End

What kind of relief do you feel when you finally type (or at least think) those two words when you reach the end of your first draft? I just typed those eight tiny but very meaningful letters last night at 9:38pm when I finished the first draft of the second book in my Shay O'Hanlon Caper series. It's these kind of small but momentous moments that keep me writing. This is actually the fourth manuscript I've completed, and every time I wrap one up, I pause and marvel for just a moment that the damn thing is actually done. Now the work really begins, but I'm looking more forward to this step than I ever have, because now at least I have a better idea about where I'm trying to go.

What are your favorite parts of the writing process? Do you live to fill the page with your characters and their dialogue? Or are you someone who struggles to get those first words out but blossom like a virtuoso when it's time to revise? I know some authors hate revisions, and some people love them. I'm still stuck on Alan's soundboard analogy, and I'm actually excited to begin the dissection and rebuilding of my latest cauldron of mumbo jumbo.

Regardless of how it comes together, as writers we love the process in what ever form it takes, and the end result is a huge thrill and a big 'ol relief.

Jessie Chandler
Bingo Barge Murder

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Inkspot News - December 4, 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.



On Sunday, December 5 at 1:00 p.m., SISTERS IN CRIME/LOS ANGELES will host a "New Voices" Holiday Event at the South Pasadena Public Library

The monthly gathering of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles starts an hour earlier than usual in December, to allow extra time to celebrate New Voices: A Showcase of Emerging Writers. The day's readers will be up-and-coming authors Deborah Kinley, reading from "Are You American?"; Edward Arno, reading from "Coronation Souvenir;" Donna May, reading from "Lucy Who;" and Travis Richardson. Vinnie Armstrong will play holiday carols on the piano, and magician Gerry Schiller will astound the crowd with feats of legerdemain. Attendees should bring a potluck dish to share. Guests are welcome.

The group will be collecting non-perishable food items for this year's designated charity, the food shelf at Hill Avenue Grace Lutheran Church (; 73 N. Hill Ave., Pasadena. The food shelf serves anyone in the community in need. Donations of cash and checks are also welcome any time. For information on the mystery writers'organization, visit It all happens at the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room, 1115 El Centro St., South Pasadena; parking is free, call 626-403-7340 for directions.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I like to stay organized, but sometimes everything happens at once…and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.Deadlines and holidays are usually not a great combination…and that’s what I’ve been handling the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we’ve also had painters over the past week to do interior painting. Oh, and the hot water heater wasn’t working. And two burners on the stove went out right before Thanksgiving…

Then I suddenly had an onslaught of emails, some promo stuff that needed to be done, and a bunch of stuff that came up with the kids.

So…what to do? It’s no good prioritizing what’s most important. It’s all important.

What I do when it all happens at once:

Empty my mind of everything I can think of that I need to do. If I don’t do this, my mind keeps whirring (especially at night.) Everything goes on the master list. This list is not prioritized in any way. ‘Make reservation at the dog’s kennel’ is right over ‘email agent about due dates for new series.’

Break down the big tasks into specific tasks. I have a couple of interviews to give, guest blog posts to write, guests to schedule on my blog, Twitter to update, etc. It helps to see everything written out instead of having something on my to-do list that says “Promote Book".”

Prioritize the tasks and assign days for each to be completed. I get my day planner out for this part. This goes hand in hand with the prioritization of the steps.

Delegate. No one can write our book or promote it for us. But there are people around us that can take care of other important tasks for us. My family has helped me out with cleaning, laundry, and errand-running. I’ve had a couple of friends invite my daughter over for playdates recently, too.

I’m feeling back on track and it’s mostly due to having an organized plan of attack. And having some help in the trenches. :)

How do you stay on top of everything when it all happens at once?

Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams
Mystery Writing is Murder

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Literary Quote of the Day, Tweet, Tweet!

Keith here.

I’ve been having a great old time on Twitter. Each weekday morning I tweet a Literary Quote of the Day (LQOD). I find the quotes in books on my shelves at home and in resources online.

Sometimes I post one that makes me laugh aloud. Like this one from Norman Mailer: “It's not a good idea to put your wife into a novel – not your latest wife anyway.” Or this one from Benjamin Disraeli, author of Henrietta Temple, Coningsby, and Tancred, which I posted on Thanksgiving Day: “I feel a very unusual sensation – if it's not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.” And finally, literary agent H.N. Swanson says, “Whenever I am asked what kind of writing is the most lucrative, I have to say ransom notes.”

Others include a gem of advice like this one from literary agent Donald Maass: “If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”

I like being reminded that there’s more to being a writer than just tapping away on my laptop keys. As Stephen King says, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Mr. King then gives me permission to read and count it as work! Disappointment is part of the job as 19th century author Christian N. Bovee’s witticism conveys: “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this.”

Some get into the craft of writing like yesterday’s tweet, a quote from Mark Twain: “Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Occasionally there's a quote that reminds me what a crazy profession I’m in. As E.L. Doctorow diagnoses, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” And Philip Roth complains, “I write fiction and I'm told it's autobiography, I write autobiography and I'm told it's fiction.” Larry Vincent, mystery writer and radiologist, observes, “The instant my first book was accepted for publication, I switched from being delusional to being tenacious.”

Why do I post a daily lit quote? Is it because I just plain like looking for them? That's some of it. And part of the explanation must be the hope that fellow tweeters are amused, too.

If you’d like to get your Lit Quote of the Day, you can follow WriterKeith on Twitter. Please let me know what you think.


P.S. Today is the first day of Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates dispelling the darkness. I’m for that. Happy Hanukkah everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fiddle Away

sound board

Recently, I “finished” a revision of my WIP (is one ever really finished with a revision?), and the following analogy popped into my head.


We’ll call it the “Sound Mixer And Revision/Transformation,” or S.M.A.R.T., analogy. (By the way, did you know they eliminated the analogy portion of the SAT? I say bring it back, society is too easy on kids today. How are they going to succeed in life if they don’t know how a thistle is related to a frying pan?)

This past summer, I took my son to a Peter Frampton/Yes concert (I fought off the urge to don flared jeans and volumize my hair). We sat a few rows behind the sound guy, who was working two enormous soundboards—each with dozens of sliders and dials and switches. He fiddled with them all, a virtuoso of the knobs, until the optimum sound reached the ears of everyone in the venue.

That’s how I envision the revision process.

Imagine a giant soundboard in front of you, the writer. Instead of it being labeled with different mics and speakers and pick-ups, it’s got the names of all your characters and scene settings (if it becomes obvious I don’t know what I’m talking about with regard to sound dynamics—or the writing process, for that matter—just work with me here, folks. It’s only an analogy!).

You’ve completed a draft of the manuscript, but it’s rough around the edges (and by “rough,” I mean putrid). You need to go in and adjust some of the “volume” levels. A little more Character A and her derring-do. A little less Character B and his annoying drawl. Less description in scene 9 (Exactly how many sentences does it take to say the meadow is lovely?) Ease up on the dialog in scene 32. More tension in scenes 4, 5, and 22. Crank those dials!

It’s your opus—do what you need to. Keep fiddling until you’ve created your masterpiece.

Then sit back and listen for the feedback. That’s what the sound engineers do.

How do you envision the revision process?