Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cryin' in Your Beer Songs

Tom Schreck writes the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries. His "Duffy to the Rescue" ebook cracked Amazon's Top 50

Alright, he or she dumped you. You got nothing.

No prospects and nothing to look forward to.

Just memories that remind how much you lost and how little you got to look forward to.

But you got three things to help.

Your regular hangout (hopefully you didn't bring him or her there and saved it as an oasis), alcohol and jukebox money.

Stare straight ahead, don't talk to anyone, get a seat at the non-busy end of the bar, and commence with self-pity, self-loathing and the hopeless romanticism about how perfect the one who treated like shit was. Now, go to the jukebox and play these selections.

1. Indescribably Blue, Elvis Presley

2. Drive All Night, Bruce Springsteen

3. Permanently Lonely, Willie Nelson

4. Wurlitzer Prize, Waylon Jennings

5. Whiter Shade of Pale, Procol Harum (Yeah, I have no idea what the song's about either but it makes me incredibly blue.)

6. I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston

7. Running Scared, Roy Orbison

8. Send in the Clowns, Frank Sinatra

9. Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straits

10. I'll Never Fall in Love Again, Tom Jones

I'm outta quarters. You got any? Whatcha gonna play?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


by Kathleen Ernst

OWM We writers get a lot of feedback. In the course of publishing a book we may hear from critique groups, trusted first readers, content specialists, agents, editors, reviewers.

Sometimes an email pops up from a reader I’ve never met, which is always a wonderful surprise. What I’ve come to treasure are the opportunities to have an actual conversation with people who have read one of my books.

I’ve visited several book clubs since Old World Murder came out last fall. I love to share some behind-the-scenes stories about how the book came to be, but I also try to leave lots of room for open discussion.

Sometimes people mention some little something that I would never have guessed would resonate in a particular way. Sometimes a reader asks a question that helps me think more about what to reveal within the pages of a mystery, and how to reveal it.

And sometimes it becomes clear that one or more readers interpreted a scene or event entirely differently than I’d intended. It’s fascinating to listen to the conversation as each group member explains what they believe happened. My thoughts may range from Really? to That’s exactly what I meant! Some comments are validating, a few may be surprising, all are interesting.Heirloom_1 cover

The most surprising comment I’ve heard about Old World Murder came from a person who thinks that Ethan, protagonist Chloe’s best friend, is angry with her at the end of their final conversation. Not my intention! And, from what I can tell, not what most readers took from the scene. I’ll take a careful look at their first conversation in the next book.

Have you ever read a book, and learned later that others interpreted a key conversation or action completely differently? Writers, have you ever been surprised by something a reader interprets in an unexpected way?

Review copies of The Heirloom Murders, Book 2 in the Chloe Ellefson series, are going out this week. I will be waiting to hear what reviewers, and especially readers, think of this one.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My New Website Is Live! by Jess Lourey

My last Inkspot post discussed my travails in creating a website and asked YOU for your input on a new one. Most of you agreed: author websites should be clean, uncluttered, without flashing and blinking, and easy to navigate. I took your input to heart, I hope. You can see my new site here.image

Beth Tindall of Cincinnati Media did a brilliant job of making the site navigable and clean. Steve Tuytschaevers of PlanetMaker Design worked with her to craft the seasonal trees (Murder-by-MONTH mysteries, get it?) in the banner and the thriving secret garden walls of the side columns. Thank you both. I’m super happy with how it turned out!


In honor of my new website, I’m listing some of my favorite online time-suckers below.

  • Hyperbole and a Half. Sometimes crude, always funny mixture of adolescent artwork and simple stories. If you can get through her writing about moving cross country with her dogs, or her parents and tipsy aunts humoring her Christmas play without laughing tears, you’re made of concrete.
  • Jezebel. A beautiful mix of politics, feminism, pop culture, imageand humor.
  • Awkward Family Photos. Because we’ve all been there. Like literally. I think that might be me and my sister in that photo.
  • The Nation. This is one of the few places I can still regularly find investigative journalism.
  • The Onion. Because sometimes I need a break from investigative journalism.
  • Awful Plastic Surgery. Because it’s rude to stare in person.
  • Groupon. Are you kidding me? I’m stuck on this site and I haven’t even bought anything from it yet. The old grandma in me loves to vicariously save money. And shake her fist at kids.
  • Preditors and Editors. Thanks to Barbara Moore, I don't need to visit this site very often anymore, but it's an excellent resource for writers searching for an agent/publisher, despite the cacophonous colors and formatting.

Where’s your favorite place to waste time online?

Monday, March 28, 2011

What’s in a Word?

Cricket McRae
Writers love words. Readers love words. There are many of us who actually see words when we think. (Do you?) And new words continually crop up that reflect changes in technology and culture. There was a story on the news just last week about the recent addition of “LOL” and “OMG” to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Along with “taquito”.
Several new terms have recently come to my attention. At least they’re new to me. Now, it’s possible that I’m woefully behind the times, unaware of current cultural touchstones simply because I’m spending the majority of my time locked away in a basement office. Have you heard of these? Do you use them regularly?
Decruitment: Euphemism for laying off employees.
Gastrosexuals: Men who cook as a hobby, aren’t afraid to wear an apron, and often use their cooking skills to impress friends and potential partners.
Noughties: A reference to the years between 2000 and 2009, like the “thirties”, “sixties”, etc.
Notspot: An area where there is no or only very slow Internet access.
Recessionista: Someone who dresses with great style on a tight budget.
Spinnish: The language used when trying to present not-so-favorable information in a favorable light. This came up in relation to the idea of “kinetic military action”.
Vook: A combination of video, text, images and social streams in an electronic book.
Wordle (tm): At first I heard this in reference to a word cloud or text cloud, but it turned out to be a tool used to create a text cloud. I’ve heard of writers plugging in chunks of their prose to see what words they overuse (the most frequently used words appear larger in the text cloud).
What new terms have you encountered lately? Any favorites?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Inkspot News - March 26, 2011

On Saturday, April 2nd, from noon to 6 PM, Beth Groundwater will participate in the Pikes Peak Library District's Mountain of Authors program at the East Branch Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO 80918. She'll be signing copies of her new Deadly Currents release there.

And today, March 26, from 1:30 - 2:15 PM, G.M. Malliet will appear on the panel "Series vs. Standalones" at the Left Coast Crime mystery conference in Santa Fe. Also appearing on this panel are Rosemary Mild (M), Michael A. Black, Janet Dawson, Larry Mild, and Penny Warner.

Keith Raffel is a speaker today at TEDxSanJoseCA whose theme is "People, Passion and Possibilities." Click here for live streaming of the event.

Tomorrow, March 27, Alan Orloff will be speaking at the Hadassah Book Fair at the Reston (VA) Barnes & Noble. The Book Fair begins at 1:00 PM, and Alan's presentation will begin at 2:00 PM.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Are You Lookin' At?

By Deborah Sharp

Does where you write make a difference? Well, it definitely would if you were plopped in close proximity to the 'gator hole pictured, left. Nothing like a little incentive to meet your deadline, right?

But, in general, are you picky about your surroundings when you sit down to write? I am. I envy authors who can shut themselves into a windowless room and hammer away at their masterpiece. I know I'm supposed to be creating a physical world for my characters. It shouldn't matter to my imagination where I am or what I see as I do that. But it does.

My Mace Bauer Mysteries are set in the outdoors in Florida. Hence the 'gators. Just a little toothy research. I don't necessarily need to be sitting in the swamp to write about the swamp, but I do like to write outdoors. I like to feel the warmth of the sun; hear the breeze rustling through the trees. I can usually accommodate this need to not be cooped up because of Florida's weather, and because I do my first drafts in longhand, then polish on the computer. Yep, I'm a proud Luddite. It's easy to pop my journal or a notebook into my backpack and leave the house for open spaces.

As I scribbled out version one of this post (Kids: ''Scribbling'' is what scribes did before laptops and netbooks), I absorbed the atmosphere of one of my favorite writing spots in Fort Lauderdale. It's a garden behind the Unity Church, where I park myself at an outdoor table under a shady gazebo. Leaves from a Seagrape, as big as salad plates, flutter to the ground. The afternoon sun dapples through the branches of a Gumbo Limbo. Florida natives call it the Tourist Tree, because its peeling bark is a sunburn-like red.

I'm not a member. Yet no one at the church has ever questioned this middle-aged woman who arrives on a bicycle, slides out her notebook, and gets lost in writing for a couple of hours. When I get stuck, I wander around the garden and look at wooden sculptures with colorful prisms and inspirational passages. I'm not particularly religious, but something always manages to strike me.

Like this one: Divine imagination is awakened in me

And indeed it is, outside.

So, how about you? Where do you like to write? What do you like to see when you write?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hibernation is Over

Killer Routine 72dpiFor a good portion of the year, I’m content to hide in my subterranean cave, butt in chair, fingers on keyboard (BICFOK). I toil away, lost in another place with a cast of deranged characters fabricated entirely from my feverish mind.

It’s what I do. I’m a writer.

But now that I have a new book being released, I’ll be venturing out into the real world, into the harsh sunlight of the public’s critical eye, so I can talk about my book. Promote my book. Sell my book. I’ll be the guy in the blue blazer passing out bookmarks and taking names.

It’s what I do. I’m a writer.

A year ago, before my first book came out, I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to like giving presentations and book talks and appearing on panels and at book festivals. Etcetera. Talking about myself and my books. Ad nauseum. But I put on a brave face and did a lot of events. I got out there. I met a ton of friendly people who really loved books. I met scores of great volunteers and booksellers and conference organizers who really loved books. It felt as if I had found my people.

Yes, I actually enjoyed my excursions into reality. I was eager to hear about other books people had read and about writers they had discovered. I loved listening to other writers describe how they approach their craft and about the books they had written. Once or twice, I even derived some small amount of pleasure talking about my own book.

It’s that time again. My shoes are shined. My pants are pressed. My presentations are prepared. I’ve practiced signing my name and talking and smiling at the same time. The spark plugs on the proverbial promotion machine have been changed and it’s all gassed up. I’m ready to roll.

It’s what I do. I’m a writer.

Although the official release date of KILLER ROUTINE is April 8, it’s available now! I’m happy to say pre-release reviews (Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly) have been good. Here’s the latest pullquote, from RT Book Reviews (4 stars, out of 4.5 stars): “Gritty and full of surprises, this is a fascinating glimpse into the world of stand-up comedy; it’s definitely worth a read.”


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whew, I'm glad that's done! (Virtual book touring)

This is the last week of my virtual book tour to promote the March 8th release of Deadly Currents, the first book in my new RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series from Midnight Ink. And the title of this post says it all. I'm soooo glad I'm nearing the end! My last blogtalkradio interview was yesterday, and my last blog visit was the day before. For the rest of this week, I'm just chatting with the Barnes & Noble Booksellers Mystery Book Club on-line and giving them "reports from the field" about the Left Coast Crime conference that I'll be attending next week.

To see my virtual book tour schedule, go here. And to see the schedule of the virtual book tour I did two years ago in 2009, go here. I made 21 stops during my tour in 2009, and I vowed to make this year's tour shorter. Well, that didn't quite turn out as planned. I had 20 stops on this year's schedule. Late in the planning process, I added some on-line reviewers and two blogs that are related to my sleuth's current profession as a river ranger (the River Ranger blog) and past profession as a whitewater rafting guide (the O.A.R.S. Waterblogged blog). Important additions, in my mind.

I started planning the tour in December and finished writing my articles and answering interview questions by the end of February. I did all that up-front work so I could focus in March on juggling logistics, responding to comments, and promoting the virtual book tour stops. Also in March, I've had to do radio and print interviews, design and order bookmarks, update my website, send out an email newsletter, conduct two launch signings in Colorado Springs and Denver, and attend the Left Coast Crime conference, with two signings in Los Alamos, NM and Pueblo, CO on either end of that trip. There's no way I could be writing my guest posts while all that was going on!

Other authors have asked me whether a virtual book tour is worth all the work that goes into it. After doing two virtual book tours, my answer is I don't know. Yes, my Amazon and Barnes & Noble ranks decreased (which is a good thing). Yes, reviews started popping up on reader forums and groups. Yes, the number of libraries stocking Deadly Currents went up in WorldCat. But were those positive signs due to the virtual book tour or something else? Who knows?

It's way too soon after the release to have any kind of hard sales data. And, even if I did, there's no way to know if a book purchase is due to the buyer having heard about the book or me from my virtual book tour, or if they found out some other way. A virtual book tour is just one part of the whole mix to create buzz.

In sales, they say a consumer has to hear about a product 5 - 7 times before they make the buy decision. My hope is that readers seeing some of the articles, reviews, or interviews with me or my characters during the course of my virtual book tour took care of 1 - 3 of those "product views." And, that once they see it again in a bookstore or on-line retailer, they'll make that buy decision. Or, that once they see me in person at a signing or mystery conference, they'll make the buy decision. Those in-person events are where I can glean some anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of the virtual book tour. Do people mention that's where they first heard about the book, or were intrigued by the setting or main character?

Another question I get from authors is, would I do it again? You know, I equate it to having a baby. Right after the birth, when all the pain and hard work of labor is fresh in a mother's mind, the answer is "Heck, no!" But about two years later, those vivid bad memories have faded and are replaced by the sweet smiles of the baby in your arms. And mom is ready for another one.

It's the same with a virtual book tour. In about two years, I hope the memories of the hard work I put into the tour will be replaced by the sweet smiles of readers telling me how much they enjoyed reading Deadly Currents. Until then, my answer to the question of would I do it again is "Heck no!" ;-)

I'd love to hear your feedback on my tour, or virtual book tours in general, especially if you conducted or followed one recently. What do you think of them?

Monday, March 21, 2011


Keith here.

It's so peculiar. I was invited to speak at TEDxSanJoseCA. What is that? Well, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The TED Conference is held in Long Beach, CA each year. (It used to be held in Monterey, closer to Silicon Valley, but it just got too big.) Even though the conference costs $7500, you have to apply to go and hang out with the band of digital glitterati from politics, show business, and high tech the conference attracts. That's a little pricey, but TED streams all its presentations live and then posts them on YouTube for free. Speakers have included Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Elizabeth Gilbert, Bill Gates, and Al Gore, as well as less famous people who just have something to say like a volunteer firefighter and a campaigner against sex slavery.

In keeping with its mantra of "ideas worth spreading," TED licenses local groups to do their own conferences. This Saturday is the first TEDxSanJoseCA whose theme is "People, Passion, and Possibilities." Other speakers (besides me) include a Grammy-nominated rock violinist, neuroscientist, founder of a girls' school in Kenya, principal research scientist at Apple, and more. (We'll all be up on the stage at the auditorium you can see up above.)

Why was I invited? Why did I say yes? What the heck am I supposed to talk about? It's been strongly recommended that whatever I prattle on about be done without notes. But I have photos that go with what I'm saying. That means I can't really prattle, because I have to go in the order of the slides. Gives me a great chance to foul up in front of the 400 people in the audience and, I'm told, tens of thousands more watching the live stream.

How bad can it be? My talk, like everyone else's, will be less than 18 minutes. I guess I'll say something about living in two worlds, this one where a crazy dictator tries to slaughter his compatirots with supersonic aircraft and the fictional one inside my head where good has at least a shot at triumphing over evil.

Ah well, no matter how my talk goes, I'm looking forward to hearing what the other speakers have to say. Information on how to watch the streaming live should show up at before the event.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Inkspot News - March 19, 2011

Two Inkspot authors, Beth Groundwater and G.M. Malliet, will appear at the Left Coast Crime conference in Santa Fe, NM, March 24 - 27. Their panel appearances are:
Friday, 11:30 AM - 12:15 PM, "Murder in the Great Outdoors", Beth Groundwater
Saturday, 1:30 - 2:15 PM, "Series & Standalones", G.M. Malliet.

In conjunction with her travel to Left Coast Crime, Beth Groundwater will conduct signings of Deadly Currents in Los Alamos, NM (Wednesday, March 23, 6:00 -7:30 PM at the Otowi Station Bookstore, 1350 Central Avenue) and Pueblo, CO (Sunday, March 27, 4:00 - 5:00 PM at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 4300 North Freeway).

A reminder: Keith Raffel (as writerkeith) sends out a Literary Quote of the Day each weekday morning via Twitter. For St. Patrick's Day, the quote was from Irishman James Joyce: "Writing in English is the most ingenous torture ever devised for sins commited in previous lives." Subscribe if you'd like!

Alice Loweecey returns to her old stomping grounds in Syracuse, NY. On Wednesday, March 23, she'll host a reading, conversation, and booksigning of Force of Habit at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore on Erie Blvd. East.

Friday, March 18, 2011


There’s a growing trend in fiction that leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m sure you’ve seen it. James Patterson seems to do it the most, but other bestselling authors are jumping on the bandwagon. They write books with co-authors. The co-authors are pretty much unknown or even totally unknown. I don’t know where they come from. I don’t know how the advances and royalties are split up. I doubt it’s 50/50.

What’s in it for either author? The no-name author gets a huge career boost by immediately winding up on the bestseller lists. The big name author gets someone else to do most of the work, then he or she goes in and spit polishes the manuscript until it’s worthy of his name. I suppose it’s a win/win for both. If it weren’t, the trend would die a quick death rather than be growing the way it is.

As I said, I’m not sure how I feel about this. At first I was leaning more toward being against it. In some ways it feels like cheating, but if James Patterson wanted to offer me a partnership, I’d probably jump at the chance. Really, could you turn down an offer to co-write a book with a bestselling author?

Lately I’m having second thoughts from the perspective of the bestselling author. Disclaimer here: I am not now, nor have I ever been a bestselling author. As much as I’d like to be, I have yet to hit a list, even an extended one. However, I began to wonder if maybe James Patterson and others were doing this co-authoring stuff not so much to see how many bestsellers one author could possibly have on the NY Times list at once but because there are just so many hours in a day and too many ideas.

That’s my problem. I have all these ideas for books, both series and stand-alones, spinning around in my head. I’m on deadline. I have books I’m contracted to write. I have proposals out for more. And I have still more I’d like to write. What I don’t have are enough hours in the day to write all the books I’d like to write. Maybe that’s what James Patterson thought, and this was his solution. After all, no matter how fast a writer you are, if the number of books you want to write outnumbers the time you have to write them, you’ve got a problem.

So what about the rest of you? Are there books you’d love to write but can’t find the time to write? Do you wonder if you’ll ever be able to write them? Would you ever consider a partnership with another author to solve this problem?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Van Gogh, Vision, and Vitality

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all! I realize that for many people, this is a date to look forward to.

There's another March date that I tend to remember, though--the 30th. On that day in 1853, Vincent Van Gogh was born. He lived only 37 years, at the end of which he took his own life, but he remains a significant name not only in the art world, but in popular culture. Van Gogh is in many senses a mystery, but one that his beautiful and distinctive art makes people believe they can solve.

One of the many theories I've read about Van Gogh and his distinctive vision (which of course in his own time was not appreciated) was that, because of his addiction to absinthe, he tended to see a yellow glow around objects. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but I find it fascinating in light of the way that so many of Van Gogh's paintings look. Art buffs, art history critics--any truth to this random bit of information?

In any case, I think about Van Gogh now and then, always with great sympathy, because he had such talent and yet never sold a painting. Although I don't claim to have his demons, I, along with all writers, can certainly understand what it is to struggle with one's art and one's vision.

In his famous song about Van Gogh, Vincent, Don McLean sang of the torment and passion of a great artist:

"Now I understand . . . what you tried to say to me; and how you suffered for your sanity, and how you tried to set them free--

They would not listen, they did not know how; perhaps they'll listen now."

McLean also sang the line "This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

But I think Vincent had a special place in the world, and continues to reside there.

(art link here)

Here's McLean in 1979.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Book on the Block

It's here!
Killer Listing, second in the Darby Farr Mystery Series, is shipping a little ahead of its "due" date, but hey, who's counting? It is a thrill to hold a new book in one's hands, and even better to sit down, open it up, and start to read it --- and discover that you are hooked. Even though you composed every word, know the scary bad guys, and went over it page after page, so many times...
My official launch party will be April 8th at the Owl and Turtle Bookstore in Camden, Maine. My first mystery outsold The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo there, so small wonder this little shop is a top fave! All are welcome, and I'd love to see you there.
Even though this book is still "en route" to most of my readers, it has already pulled its weight as far as I'm concerned. Just like my protagonist, Darby Farr, I sell real estate, and right now I'm in the middle of a particularly tricky sale of a spectacular oceanfront home set to close at the end of the month. In a strange turn of events, Killer Listing is helping to seal the deal.
That's a story for another time, and I promise you I'll tell it. But for now, join me in welcoming the second in my series. Dreams do come true, and I'm thankful every day to be living mine.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Twitter: Now I Think I Get It

by G.M. Malliet

I was reading a newspaper the other day. You know, a newspaper. It's this thing that gets printed on a printing press and gets delivered to your door, in my case by a guy in a pickup truck. A printing press? Well, a printing press--just, never mind.

Anyway, the article I was reading on this old-fashioned handheld device was about Charlie Sheen. I had, up to this point, actively avoided reading about Charlie Sheen. I had never seen his TV show and I have no plans to see it now. But somehow an article in the mainstream press made me think this was something I needed to be up on. It mentioned that Charlie has about a gazillion followers on Twitter. All of which is prompting a lot of online comment, which the Post (print edition) duly reported on.

I am not in the group of people bashing Charlie. I really, truly am not--it's clear this is a guy with troubles of his own, and if it were someone less blessed with money, talent, opportunity, looks, and the works, no one in the world would be interested in bashing him. But there was one comment repeated in the paper that made me choke on my coffee laughing--I really couldn't help myself. It was from Rob Thomas ( and it went like this:

"the more charlie sheen speaks, the more i think, "you know, lindsay lohan really seems to have her [stuff] together."

Now, I'm sorry, but that is funny. Bundling together two people who simply cannot see they have the world by the tail? Yes. Because we all have this blind spot to some degree? Yes--although most of us are operating on a much smaller budget. (Charlie's upcoming live shows are selling out, btw.) And so of course, I had to go online to see who Rob Thomas might be. It turns out he's a songwriter, and (as of the last time I looked) he has 219,150 followers on Twitter. I would bet he had a whole lot fewer followers before the Sheen tweet.

And surely some of these followers have gone on to look up Rob's Web site...

This is the power not of tweeting, but of tweeting in an original way, combined with some Zeitgeist-y thing that gets you mentioned in the mainstream press, driving people to go online to see who this funny or interesting person might be.

But without print, I'd most likely never have heard of online Rob.

The other day Paul Hochman, the Director of Social Media at St. Martin's Press, was interviewed at Jungle Red about how every author MUST be doing Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube--but only for 20 minutes a day (relief). I do all three (sometimes) although I am lamer when it comes to YouTube than I am with, say, roof repairs. But I did try with my first book, and I have an old trailer up there somewhere that at least ten people have viewed.

Would anyone shopping for a book start with YouTube? Probably not. But they might find a book through that Zeitgeist-y thing, so if you're an author, you need to be there.

Facebook I'm not crazy about lately. No reason, except it's become such a promotional tool it no longer seems friendly. My opinion? Authors are starting to overuse FB as a vehicle to sell their books and only to sell their books. A little of FB is starting to go a long way.

Twitter, as you can see, I'm coming around to. There are all kinds of people on there commenting on all kinds of things.

Cricket did a great blog here the other day about the many different sources for books these days, and that blog made a similar case. It's not an either/or proposition. Writers have to take advantage of all the choices out there. Online, in person, and what have you.

But, not all at once.

And only for 20 minutes a day.

Now, if someone could please just explain the point of FF on Twitter to me...

G.M. Malliet
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Twitter image taken from

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Networks and Catalogs

Among other things, Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing are:

• Social networks
• Online book catalogs
• Venues for readers to connect with other readers
• Publicity tools for authors
• A way to find new books
• An avenue to rate/review books

I’m not a fan of social networking in general, but I do like Goodreads. I use Goodreads to find new books through other readers’ recommendations/ratings, to keep track of the books I enjoyed reading, and to promote my own books. I also enjoy reading the other members’ profiles and looking at their “profile” photos: cute pets, adorable kids, funny sayings, cartoons, or smiling faces. It’s interesting how people choose to represent themselves as well as to see what they’re reading.

Last month an advertisement for a book appeared on the sidebar while I was cataloging one of my reads. I’d been on the hunt for a women’s fiction selection for my book club, and the advertisement seemed to promise a novel to fit the need. We’re discussing Alice I Have Been next month thanks to Goodreads.

Publicity is a necessary evil for selling books. I friend the mystery readers on the site and ask them to check out my books. Many of them respond positively. I also have offered giveaways on the site prior to the release of my books.

In 2009, I started out cataloging and rating every book I read, like it or not. But after receiving a couple tactless reviews of my own books, I decided to rate only books I like to avoid offending anybody.

I registered for Shelfari in 2009 but never could figure out how to navigate around the site. Other people seem to like it, though. LibraryThing is also popular, but one book social network is enough for me.

So, do you belong to these book social networks or to different ones? What value, if any, do you see in them?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Inkspot News - March 12, 2011

Next week, Beth Groundwater will launch Deadly Currents, the first book in her RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first party is in Colorado Springs, CO, on Thursday, March 17th, 7:00 - 9:00 PM at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 795 Citadel Drive East. The second is in Denver, CO, on Saturday, March 19th, 12:30 - 3:00 PM, at Murder by the Book, 1574 South Pearl Street. Cookies, balloons, and cake will add to the festivities.

On Saturday, March 19, MInkers Alan Orloff and Joanna Campbell Slan will be appearing at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA. Alan's panel is "Death: Another Time, Another Place," and Joanna's is "Death: Not in my Job Description." Both panels begin at 10:00 a.m.

Friday, March 11, 2011

FOR THE LOVE OF BOOK (do something)!

Darrell James

On almost any week of the year there is a book event going on somewhere. A writer’s conference. A book festival. Readers and writers come together for two, three, four days, to share in a mutual appreciation of the written word. Book festival grounds are lined with booths, the aisles teem with book lovers. There are festivities and receptions surrounding the event. In adjacent halls, book panels are conducted and speakers discuss latest works. At conferences there are luncheon speakers, dinner receptions, panels, workshops, author venues, agent venues…

In the next few weeks alone, there will be more than two dozen book events across the country. It’s a glorious thing. And attending one can be inspiring for readers and writers alike.

But how do these events come about? What does it take to pull one off?


Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, Naomi Hirahara

L.A. Times Festival of Books

My wife, Diana, and I have been part of the organizational planning for a number of book events over the past five to six years. I can tell you it is nothing short of phenomenal, the amount of work that goes on.

Scores of volunteers come together. Committees are assigned. Hotel locations are arranged. Book sellers are identified. Agents and editors are queried. Programming is outlined. Faculty authors and speakers are confirmed. Meals are planned. Someone is in charge of merchandising. Someone else handles registration. One or more prepare raffle baskets and collect giveaways. Sponsors are sought. Programs are designed. Advertising is sold. There are printers involved, attendee badges to be created. Monies to be collected and checks to be written. Caterers need coordinating. Crowds need to be controlled. There’s security personnel, emergency personnel, traffic cops, and venue guides. A team collects trash…

If your head is spinning, consider the chaos that reigns in the months leading up to a single event. Then multiply it my the dozens and dozens of book events that go on throughout the year.

Jeri Westerson, Darrell James, Diana James, James Lincoln Warren; Left Coast Crmime Writers Conference, Los Angeles 2010

In the upcoming weeks alone, we will see The Tucson Festival of Books unfold on the University of Arizona Campus, March 12-13; Left Coast Crime Writers Conference in Santa Fe, March 24-27; the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books will draw more than a hundred-thousand attendees, April 30-May 1; Book Expo will see publishers from around the world in New York, May 23-26; California Crime Writers Conference, June 11-12, in Pasadena, CA.

And that’s but a few.

If you are an avid reader and have never attended a book conference or festival, pick one in your area and attend. I’m sure you’ll come away inspired to read more. Perhaps, even, to write a book or two.

But while you’re there, stop and take a moment a look around at the beehive of activity. Consider the hundreds of organizers, volunteers, workers, and servers, speakers and authors who put their time into making it an entertaining, educational, and motivational experience. And all for the love of the book.

Care to throw your own book festival? Or join us at one of the above?

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I gave three book talks this week, plus one radio interview. Because my book is about an ex-nun, I expected to field questions about the convent at all four venues. Yet it’s surprising what people want to know, or what readers will take away from a book.

Audience questions at the first talk were all about the convent and the Catholic Church—and the state of the religious life in today’s Catholic Church. I think people were disappointed when I prefaced all my answers with a version of the disclaimer, “I’m no longer Catholic, but this is what I’m seeing…”

At the second event, the questions were all about the publishing process. The audience was fascinated by the length of time from contract to books-in-stores, and about all the steps that go into pounding a manuscript into its final shape.

At the radio interview, the super-professional host asked basic questions like “Is writing still a solitary occupation?” and “How do you keep your plot and characters straight?”

And at the last talk, the discussion was about how a live reading can still paint visuals in your head the same as reading the book yourself does. (With a slight derail on how an audiobook reader can make or break the book.)

This is what is great about interacting with readers: They all see books from a different angle. I love not knowing exactly what to expect when the questions begin. And I realize that what I bring to a book affects what I take away from it. I’m reminded of a play I saw years ago—it was a family-type drama that was quite well written. Except that the climactic scene involved a fight between the main character and her mother, which was way too close to home for me.

I figure someone’s going to come to one of these events with a large chip on their shoulder from a bad experience in Catholic Grade School. Or, perhaps, a band of irate nuns with torches and pitchforks. )I rather like the latter possibility: Think of the news coverage. Think of the sales!)

As readers and writers, what books have you liked because of what you brought to the read? What books turned your expectations on their heads?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Life of A Sparring Partner

By Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

I'm working hard on my fourth Duffy Dombrowski Mystery. In this one Duff gets hired to be the sparring partner for a Russian heavyweight in Las Vegas. As a judge I'm around the game but I don't know a lot about the business end of hiring and working with sparring partners.

Luckily, Iceman John Scully, a retired world class fighter, who fought for the title a couple of times himself, helped me out. Scully still gets in the ring but most of his energy is around training fighters and working for ESPN doing boxing commentary.

Ice wouldn't be considered an average sparring partner. He was used by the very, very best in the game.

How do you get hired? Who makes the call?

ICE: Almost always it is a case of where the fighter or his managers gets a call from someone representing the fighter who needs the sparring. I can think of a few times when I made my own opportunities, though. Back in Atlantic City in 1992, for example, I ran into Jackie Kallen in the lobby of a hotel there and I told her if she ever needed sparring for James Toney I would be more than willing to take the trip. She took my number and a few months later she did call and I did end up going out to Michigan on two separate occasions to spar with the champ as a result of that.

How much sparring do you do?

ICE: I have always been one to do a lot of sparring, even when I didn't have a fight coming up. I didn't box as a job, as a means to make money. I boxed for the same reasons then that I do now to this day. Because I love to box. I sparred 711 rounds in 2009. That's about 200 rounds more than my previous high for one year. I've been sparring hundreds of rounds each year since 1984.

Not to be personal--but is the money good? Can guys make a living just being sparring partners?

ICE: Some guys, if they aren't married and don't have children, sure. I remember back when Tyson was champion there were certain heavyweights around who used to travel with him for five weeks at a time and they were making one thousand or two thousand a week plus all expenses paid. You do that three times a year, on top of all the other sparring you pick up in between and they were doing okay. Plus they often used to get opportunities to fight on his undercards and they made more money for that, too.

What are the sparring rules--do the champions treat partners well? Do they ever take cheap shots, wear lighter gloves? Hit off breaks, low etc...

ICE: I've never encountered anyone who was dirty like that, no. I mean, they know they have to treat these guys with some respect because otherwise they wont come back in the future and then they wont be able to get the work they need out of them. Every gym is different though. When I was with James Toney, for example, he likes to talk a lot of trash during the sparring and he never ever touched gloves before or after a round either. Most guys touch gloves but James, he never did. He liked to talk trash and make it rough on there. He wasn't friends during the sparring at all. Before and after he was your best friend but once we hit the gym it was all business.

Do you get treated with respect or are you treated as equipment?

ICE: I would say most guys who go to spar someone in a camp get treated with enough respect. I've seen occasions where the fighter wasn't exactly treated as one of the champ's best friends but he wasn't treated badly either. Sort of indifferent. For the most part it was fine. I can remember times going to spar with Vinny Pazienza and after the gym we'd stay and sit around talking for an hour about boxing. Another time he took me to his house and cooked dinner for Kevin Rooney and I. Now you may not get a home cooked meal out of most guys but for the most part they are at least cordial to the guys who come in to work with them.

Is it tough on the body...head?

ICE: It's tough on both, sure. These guys are world champions or top contenders, among the best in the entire world. They pay you to work with them and they want every pennies worth.

What's the psychology of it...what's it like going to work to fight the best p4p guy...all week long?

ICE: For me personally it was always a spectacular time. I loved every minute of it. I used to go box with some of the best guys on earth and I looked at it as an honor but also as a way to prove myself, either to the guy I was boxing or to myself. I've always been a fan first so getting to spar with an elite world champion on a regular basis was great for me in every way. I would take it seriously. Each night I would go back to my room and think long and hard about the sparring that day, what could I do better the next day. I was always trying to figure out how to win the rounds in my head. It makes you better, definitely. It puts you on a different mental level to know you're in there every day swapping shots with a legitimate world champion

I asked a question wrong...When you are working as a sparring partner how much sparring will you do? every day? How many rounds when you spar? is it always all out?

Ice:Every boxer is different. Some guys like to spar every day, some like to spar every other day. If they have several partners then you may only have to do 3 rounds in a day. Or if your work is better or if your style is more similar to the upcoming opponent than you will do more. I used to spar ten rounds regularly with Vinny Pazienza. With James Toney I usually did six rounds at a time but the rounds with him were always longer than the standard three minutes.

Its not always all out but sometimes it is. Depends on the day and the guy. Vinny was always ready go all out on a moments notice for example.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Under the Big Umbrella

by Kathleen Ernst

Last week Deborah Sharp posted about writers at conferences who don’t play well with others. Most of the comments revolved around people who take over panels.

I have my own particular pet peeve when I attend conferences: writers who bash other writers.

My introduction to the mystery community came long before my Chloe Ellefson series launched last fall. I published my first middle grade mystery in 2000. I soon learned that while some writers and conference organizers welcomed children’s writers, others did not. The first Bouchercon I attended did not include even a token panel about J/YA writers, even though there were a handful of us there. I was told that one of the organizers had made it clear from the beginning that Bouchercon was for and about those writing for adults.

Many conference planners have, of course, not only welcomed J/YA writers, but put great energy into fostering literacy efforts and engaging local kids. If nothing else, most people realize that authors who write children’s mysteries are hooking future adult-book buyers on the genre.

But the bias is still out there. At one event I did after Old World Murder was published last fall, the author who introduced me said something about me now being a “real writer.” Ouch.

The so-called cozy writers also seem to take it on the proverbial chin. At Bouchercon Chicago, I attended a panel titled something like “Things That Bug Me.” An author I greatly admired was on the panel, along with three authors I didn’t know. I thought they’d be discussing poor characterization or unfair reviews or some such. Instead, it turned into an hour of cozy-bashing. The panelists were very funny—in a mocking and condescending kind of way. One writer was singled out for special ridicule.

If I hadn’t been in the absolute middle of a packed room, I would have walked out. (And was I ever disappointed in the Writer I Used To Admire.)

Although that was the worst example I’ve seen of sub-genre bashing, it pops up from time to time at other cons as well. Interestingly, I’ve never heard cozy or traditional writers criticize those who write other types of books.

My advice? If you don’t like a particular sub-genre of mysteries, don’t read them.

Another example of writer-bashing happens when published authors get their shorts in a wrinkle by aspiring writers. I taught writing for years, andumbrella Shutterstock I’m one of those people who uses the phrase “pre-published” instead of “unpublished.” The mere term drives some writers to outbursts of peeve.

I don’t assume that everyone who wants to write a mystery will find a home for their manuscript. But I know how much courage it sometimes takes a novice to walk into their first MWA chapter meeting, or to participate in their first serious writing class. If I can encourage newcomers by referring to them as pre-published, I will.

The mystery umbrella is pretty big. I think there’s room for us all.

graphic: Shutterstock

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inkspot News - March 5, 2011

Deadly Currents, the first book in Beth Groundwater's RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, will be released in trade paperback and ebook on Tuesday, March 8th. Find out what reviewers in Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly are
raving about!

Deborah Sharp, author of the funny, Southern-fried Mace Bauer Mysteries, is at Sleuthfest this weekend. If you missed it this year, it's not too early to start planning to go in 2012 to Florida's premier mystery convention.

Friday, March 4, 2011

How Do You Get Your Books?

Cricket McRae

1219898_old_books____2Between e-readers, the closing of Borders, and the surge of self-published authors there has been a flurry of discussion about where the publishing industry is going. Keith posted recently about the future of independent bookstores, an excellent examination of what’s been going on with e-readers and the instant downloading of ebooks.

I’m not looking to enter into the debate about e-readers or whether reading on paper is better or not. I don’t think print books will vanish altogether, and I love, love, love them. But electronic books and their green delivery (sans fuel oil) are here, and they ain’t going away. It seems it would behoove those in the publishing industry to figure out what comes on the other side of the current ebook trends in order to leap frog ahead instead of playing reluctant catch up. What that new thing may be is beyond my ken right now, though. I feel as if I need a workshop  class advanced degree in what’s already going on with different formats and new marketing before I could venture a guess about what comes next.

But looking at the various books I’m currently reading, I realized their sources are widely mixed. And note that I don’t have a Kindle or Nook or any other e-reader, so that influences where I’ve obtained these books.

  • 871147_paperback_booksI’m making a point lately of catching up with mystery series that I’ve fallen behind on or missed one in the middle. So when I saw our own Jess Lourey’s Knee High by the Fourth of July at the library, I grabbed it and headed for the checkout desk. What a fun read! At the library I also picked up Laurie R. King’s The Language of Bees .

  • And even though I don’t have a Kindle, I do have the Kindle app on my I-Phone. So when one of my critique partners who keeps an eye on YA trends suggested I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I downloaded it for $5.00. So far I’ve read the first two in the series, on my I-Phone of all the crazy unintuitive places, and am nearly done with the third in the trilogy. This is my middle-of-the-night, can’t-sleep, don’t- want-to-wake-up-my-partner-but-want-to-stay-under-flannel-sheets read, and I can easily see downloading another book when I’m done with this one.

  • 236506_earphonesAlso on my I-Phone is Die Trying by Lee Child in audio form. This I dip into when I’m cleaning, walking, or whiling away my time on the elliptical if there aren’t any good cooking shows on television.

  • In honest-to-God hardcopy, I’m reading Heather Lende’s If You Lived Here I’d Know Your Name which is a collection of essays by an NPR contributor about living in small-town Alaska. I bought this book at Third Place Books in Seattle after hearing Heather speak. I’ve had it in my TBR pile for a few years but only got to it recently. Since starting it I’ve gone to her website and see she’s written another book. I’m enjoying the first, and will probably pick up the second, too.

  • And then there’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, which I’m rereading in part because I’m blogging on occasion about the series’ influence on my weird fascination with colonial home crafts. My parents gave me this book 37 years ago, and it’s gone through three cousins before coming back to me. Still in pretty good shape, too.

  • And finally, I’m regularly referring to three books I bought for background and research for my current writing projects. These I bought via Amazon because of ease, time efficiency and free shipping, despite the fact that I’m pretty unhappy with Amazon after they dumped all their Associates in Colorado over a tax issue. 

How do you read? A mix? How do you find books? Does the targeted marketing Amazon sends to your inbox or Google pushes at you work? Do you go with recommendations from friends, Goodreads, or particular websites?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Seated to my Right

By Deborah Sharp
Sleuthfest starts today in south Florida, my home turf. I hope I seem friendly and welcoming to the authors and conventioneers who travel here from elsewhere. I don't want to be like those obnoxious surfers in California, who begrudge outsiders the chance to catch a single wave. ''Locals Rule,'' is their credo. That sentiment resides in other cliques besides surfers, though.

Writers, for instance.

How many of you have felt excluded by the more experienced hands at mystery conferences? Felt like everyone was in the know but you? Maybe it's my own insecurity, but that was how I felt -- a lot -- in the first year or two I spent as an author. It took me at least that long to learn the secret handshake. (Note to the newbies: That's a figure of speech. There is no secret handshake. Or, maybe there is, and they're STILL keeping it from me.)

This weekend, I'll be on a panel at Sleuthfest. Panels can be either a welcoming or an exclusionary experience, depending:
Is the moderator a dear friend of a panel hog, and loathe to rein him in?
Is everyone on the panel -- except you -- from a similar genre, making you the ugly cousin?
Is the panel led by a graduate of the Narcissistic School of Moderating, who believes this session should rightfully be her 50 minutes of fame?

Vicki Doudera, a fellow Midnight Ink author, made a great point recently about panel etiquette on our Yahoo group. Panelists, Vicki wrote, should try to reference other writers instead of acting like they're the only people on Earth who ever wrote a book. They shouldn't bogart the microphone; and they should answer the questions they're asked without using every one as a springboard to blatant self-promotion. Vicki didn't say why she felt moved to post tips for polite panelists, but I'd bet she's been seated somewhere on a Panel from Hell. I know I have. Here are a few of my most-hated panel types. No names, of course, to protect the guilty:
The Unprepared Moderator. Really? You didn't even take 10 minutes to Google me? I don't expect you to read all the panelists' books, but at least have a clue about what we write seeing as how you're supposed to be leading the discussion.
The Name-Dropping Panelist. I was once empaneled next to an author who made much of a friendship with a famous country music star. Each topic raised was another opportunity to brag about how much this certain star LOVED the author's books; how the star couldn't wait to make them into movies; how the star called just to chat about how FABULOUS these books are. Okay, we get it. You're somebody.
The Time-Sucker. You've been there, right? As an author, or maybe in the audience. Tapping your fingers and seething as one panelist goes on and on and on . . . Yeah, you're terrific. One of a kind. Now, stop being a baby and let somebody else grab a hold of that microphone.
How about you? What's your worst panel experience ever? Or, is it just me, and all the panels you've seen or been seated on have been dreams.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thick Heads and Stuffed Noses

So I came down with the crud Tuesday before last, you know the kind... plugged sinuses, plugged ears, aches and pains, general malaise. It's hung on now for a week and a day and doesn't want to let go. I'm frantically trying to finish my second book, and boy, it's hard to think clearly through all the junk (okay, let's say it like it is: snot) stuffing my noggin, my ears, and my nose. It reminds me of the "new" guidelines for going in to work. If you're sick, stay out. No more "sickened warriors" in the workplace. We don't want anyone else contaminated with the Asian flu, the bird flu, and now measles in the airport. All kinds of strange and fancy illnesses are out there.

The one good thing when we write is that we can usually do it from the comfort of our own home. The only ones we're infecting, if we're ailing, are our poor significant others and kids, if we have 'em. So unless our ailment is an injury to our typing fingers, and I say that because I use three digits on one hand and one on the other to push those keys, we can usually plug on. Even when we're plugged up. Writers are a persistent bunch, kind of like postal workers. You know, getting the job done through wind and rain, snow, hail, and blistering heat... Instead of battling the elements, we writers battle brain blockage in its many forms. Head colds, writer's block, drippy noses, aching wrists. We carry the bardic banner proudly, my friends, and keep those words flowing one way or another. Most of the time, anyway!

How do you battle through the winter cold season? Any tricks that have helped you feel better, think clearer, and keep you writing?