Saturday, April 30, 2011

Inkspot News - April 30, 2011

Today at 10:15 AM, Midnight Ink author Beth Groundwater will take part in a panel at Malice Domestic entitled Shot At, Robbed, Hypothermic and More: Travails Authors Endure to Get it Right. Other panelists include Sandi Ault, Joanna Carl, and Vicki Delany with Toni L. P. Kelner moderating.

Today at 10:15 AM, Alan Orloff will take part in the panel, New Kids on the Block: Agatha First Novel Nominees, along with Avery Aames, Laura Alden, Amanda Flower, and Sasscer Hill. Moderated by Margaret Maron.

Today at 1:45 PM, Jess Lourey is fan-girl geeked out thrilled to take part in the panel, Gumshoes with Gams: Female PIs on the Job, along with Sue Grafton, Laura DiSilverio, and Cathi Stoler. Moderated by Con Lehane. Signing to immediately follow.

Today at 4:10 PM Midnight Ink authors Lois Winston and Jess Lourey will take part in a panel at Malice Domestic entitled Funny Gals, Dark Books: An Intellectual Look at Humor in Mysteries. Other panelists include Donna Andrews and Judi McCoy with Cathy Pickens moderating.

Tomorrow at 8:45 AM, Deborah Sharp will take part in the panel, Here Comes the Corpse: Wedding-Themed Mysteries. Other panelists include Rhys Bowen, Mary Jane Clark, and Tracy Kiely, with Ilene Schneider moderating.

Tomorrow at 11:45 AM Midnight Ink author Alice Loweecey will take part in a Malice Domestic panel entitled: Grannies with Guns and Trash-Talking Nuns: Characters Who Defy Stereotypes. Other panelists include Rhys Bowen, Chris Grabenstein and Parnell Hall with Chris Roerden moderating.

Monday, May 2nd at 4 PM Midnight Ink authors Lois Winston, Jess Lourey, Alice Loweecey, Beth Groundwater, Alan Orloff, and Vicki Doudera will appear at the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA.

Then, Beth Groundwater goes on a whirlwind tour with the following signings (see the Appearances page at her website for details):

Tuesday, May 3, 6 – 7:30 PM
Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Barracks Road Shopping Center
1035A Emmet Street, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Thursday, May 5, 12:30 – 2:30 PM
Fountain Bookstore
1322 E Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Friday, May 6, 2 – 6 PM
William & Mary Bookstore
345 Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA 23185

Friday, April 29, 2011

For Margaret Fenton and my Alabama Friends

Until last week, the closest I had ever come to seeing damage from a tornado was the famous twister on The Wizard of Oz. Here in Maine, we have blizzards and hurricanes, black flies and mud season, but tornados are something that happen in other places, to other people.

Last week, I witnessed the effects of tornado damage up close. We were driving south on Route 95 through North Carolina, the day after severe twisters ravaged that state, and even from the highway, the wreckage was apparent. Later, passing through some small towns, I saw scenes of destruction and despair. One scene stood out in my mind: a tree completely full of pink insulation -- wrenched from a house and somehow deposited on the branches. All around us, homes were flattened, trees were severed, and homeowners wore the look of resigned determination I've seen here after whopper snowstorms. The only difference? Instead of snow shovels, they were wielding chainsaws.

And now the twisters have devastated Alabama, and my heart aches for the many people I met there in February at Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham, and Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka. 194 people are estimated to have perished in Alabama alone: the 173 tornadoes that have ravaged the south are the deadliest since 1974. I'm writing this to let the mystery fans and authors that I met there know that we are thinking of them -- praying for them, and hoping that their lives can return to a "new" normal as soon as possible.

I'm especially thinking of Margaret Fenton, who got me to taste my first-ever Fried Green Tomato BLT. (Yes -- it was delicious.) For those of us in the mystery genre world, Margaret is one of our champs: she works tirelessly to organize a great conference and promote our books. She's a writer herself (Little Lamb Lost) and a remarkable woman. Margaret -- I know I am not alone in thinking of you and wishing you and your family the best! Also Tammy, who organizes a fabulous luncheon and discussion in Wetumpka --- hope all is well....

What does this have to do with writing, you may be asking? Well, even though we may write our novels in a vacuum, we promote them in community. I absolutely loved meeting the writers and readers of Birmingham and Wetumpka. They are my friends, and in this dark time, I want them to know that they aren't forgotten.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On the Road Again ...

When this article posts, I will be sitting in the Denver, Colorado, airport waiting to board my flight to Washington, DC after having gotten up at o'dark thirty to drive to Denver from my home in Colorado Springs. Thus begins my East Coast Book Tour: 9 events in 10 days in 3 states (Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania). To see what I have planned, go to the Appearances page of my website.

Am I crazy? No, I'm just trying to make my promotion dollars stretch as far as possible. You see, every single bit of this trip will be paid out of my pocket. Like most authors, my publishers don't pay for me to go on tour. That only happens for bestselling authors, who really don't NEED to go on tour--readers are going to buy their books anyway. But for mid-list authors who DO need to visit different locations to get our name out there and meet booksellers, librarians, and readers, that tour money isn't forthcoming. So, it comes out of our advance checks.

Thus the need to stretch those travel dollars as far as possible.

Here's how I'm doing it. First, I dug into my frequent flier mileage accounts to pay for the flights, flying out on one airline's miles and returning on another's. I will rely on public transportation and a friend to get around in the Washington, DC area. That's so I can put off picking up a discount rental car using a Costco coupon until Sunday.

When I'm staying in hotels or motels for the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, I'm sharing a room with another mystery author. Otherwise, I'm mooching on a friend in Arlington, Virginia, for one night, an author friend in Annapolis, Maryland for one night, my sister in Charlottesville, Virgina, for another night, and my parents in Hampton, Virginia for four nights. Bread-and-butter gifts to my hostesses will likely be autographed copies of Deadly Currents.

I'll have one bookstore signing in each of the first three "mooch" locations, then I will use my parents' home as a base of operations for four events in the Tidewater area of Virgina: a signing at my alma mater (The College of William and Mary Bookstore), signings at two other bookstores in Newport News and Richmond, and teaching a class to the Hampton Roads Writers on "Realistic and Effective Dialogue in Fiction" that will net me a small speaker's fee. I spent my high school and college years in Hampton and Williamsburg, so even though the Tidewater area of Virginia is a loooong way from my current home in Colorado, I can claim "home town girl" status.

Whenever I can find a spare moment, I'll stop at other nearby bookstores to sign stock, if they have my book on their shelves, or to leave a postcard or bookmark if they don't, along with a suggestion that they order some copies. And those meals that aren't included in conference registrations or provided by my much-appreciated hosts? Will they be at fancy restaurants? No way, Jose! We're talking fast food salads or subway sandwiches for most of them.

So, what do you think of the glamorous life of the author on book tour? Want to join me?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


What makes a story memorable? The plot? The characters? The action? The lines? The gist? Or maybe the author.

I’m pretty sure it’s not the plot. Who remembers exactly what happened and when in any story, even your own life’s tale? In fact, some argue only seven literary plots exist, so it’s got to be other variables that make a book memorable.

It could be the characters. Many people seem to have fallen in love with Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s series. And Scarlett O’Hara holds a spot in many readers' hearts as does Rhett Butler. All three are extraordinary…and maybe that’s the ticket…being extraordinary.

But then action does seem to make a difference. Lisbeth Salander kicks some butt, and wouldn’t we all like to do that on occasion? Scarlett was a master of manipulation, and Rhett recognized—and loved—her for what she was. And isn’t being good at something and being loved, even in spite of ourselves, what we all dream of?

Or do the lines make a story memorable? “Tomorrow is another day.” “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” As for Lisbeth quotes, well, some of those words aren’t in my vocabulary, which made them all the more attention-getting.

Now the gist of the story, the central idea, the essence, could be what ultimately makes a book memorable. I remember reading Still Alice and being horrified I was developing Alzheimer’s, and all the other members of my book club thought they were, too. So does reading about someone suffering through an event that could happen to us make a story memorable? If so, I probably ought to remember more stories, since I read plenty of women’s and almost zero science fiction.

I currently have one hundred and six books in my catalog on Goodreads. Looking at their covers, I remember the gist of one quarter. The others, regardless of whether I rated them a five or not, have completely left my memory. Is that because I really am developing Alzheimer’s or because the stories, while entertaining and well written, were not, in the end, all that memorable?

Of the one quarter I recall, half were written by an author I’ve met, which made them more interesting to me. I didn’t necessarily rate them any higher, but I remember them better because of that additional significance.

So what is it that makes a book memorable? Does each of us have a different answer, depending on our own life experiences? Or does a universal thread exist, woven through all of the memorable tales, embedding them in our minds? If so, I can’t put my finger on it; can you? Is it even important for a book to be memorable? What do you think?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Darrell James

I was once asked, What’s the toughest part of writing a novel? Without thinking, my knee jerk answer was “Decision Making.”

Authors make decisions even before the writing begins. What to write about? Where to set the story? Where to begin the telling? And the decision making continues throughout the process until the very end, deciding on the minutia as well as the major plot and character elements.

One of the decisions an author must make early in the writing process (perhaps even early in their career) is: Will my story(s) have a fictional or real setting?

Some authors have made real settings part of their own storytelling brand, (Michael Connolley’s L.A., Dennis Lehane’s Boston) by using real places (restaurants, bars, hotels, buildings, streets, rivers, and landmarks) as the backdrop for their fictional characters. Others prefer to fully fictionalize their settings. While, still others, offer a mix of the real and fictional elements.

Stephen King has created towns so familiar and real to us that we can hardly think of them as fictional. Yet, the towns of Derry and Castle Rock are fully the fabric of King’s imagination, set topographically amid the greater (real) Maine landscape.

I personally like this approach. And, as an author, it offers a couple of advantages. The first is flexibility. Elements of the fictional setting can be decided (that word again), manipulated, and fully architected to support the plot. The other advantage (and this is the important part to me) is that the author can fully imagine the setting and breathe a personal life into it, treating it, in many ways, as a character in the story.

In my forthcoming novel, Nazareth Child, missing persons investigator, Del Shannon, goes in search of the mother she’s never known. Her quest leads her into the clannish hill country of southeastern Kentucky, to the town of Nazareth Church, where the infamous faith healer, Silas Rule, seems to hold the key to her mother’s past.

These hills (and it’s people) are my roots. It is the birthplace of my mother and father. The DNA of my existence. Take the mountain parkway southeast out of Winchester, and your journey will take you through the very real towns of Clay City, Stanton, and Bowen, all mentioned and used as real topographic anchors in the story. But, search as you might, you won’t find the town of Nazareth Church anywhere but between the pages of the novel.

From the giant cross that marks its entrance, to the old cemetery, and church without windows, it’s all fictional. And, yet, so very real to the possibilities and likelihoods that one will scarcely know the difference.

Nazareth Church has become real in my mind. It lives. It breathes. And it plays a very “real” role in the development and outcome of the story. Only in fictional form can it fulfill its role so completely.

What about you? As a writer, do you prefer to write real or fictional settings? As a reader, which do you prefer?

Nazareth Child, a Del Shannon Novel, is scheduled for release in September. It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon

Monday, April 25, 2011

Never Enough Books!

I’m in the midst of preparation for Malice Domestic and the Festival of Mystery right afterwards. Just before this, I was giving book talks and driving to signings, mailing bookplates and books readers had won in giveaways. I’m fried.

Then I updated my website with this picture:

I felt a bit silly when it was taken—it seemed so “posed.” But when I look at it, I realize that this encapsules the goal I started reaching for in 2005. I’m at a bookstore about to sign my books.

That’s what this is all about, really—books. I almost lost sight of it what with everything that needs doing. So I went upstairs and stared at my bookshelves. There are five of them, they’re all packed to bursting like this, and I’ve read every single book on every shelf; some more than once. Some several times.

Then I took off the shelves this selection of books:

Every one of them is written by a writer friend of mine. It makes me proud to bursting when I see them. We’ve all been on very long roads to achieve this. JD Salinger, in Seymour; An Introduction, put into words what my friends and I wanted to do: “Ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world [you] would most want to read…. [Then] sit down shamelessly and write it yourself.”
So we did. Because we love books.

Writers, please share if you would: What was your lightbulb moment? Was it a quote from a book? Was it staring at your own bookshelves? Something else?

Readers, please share if you would: What book do you most want to read? Do you already own it? Are you waiting for someone to write it? You never know—it might be the WIP on an Inker’s laptop.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Inkspot News - April 23, 2011

Next Friday, April 29 - Sunday, May 1, the Malice Domestic conference will take place in Bethesda, Maryland, and many Midnight Ink authors are participating.

Friday, April 29th, at 10:30 AM, Beth Groundwater, Alan Orloff, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Deborah Sharp will participate in the Malice-Go-Round.

Saturday, April 30th, at 7:30 AM, Alice Loweecey will host a table at the New Authors Breakfast.

Saturday, April 30th, at 10:15 AM, Beth Groundwater will take part in a panel entitled Shot At, Robbed, Hypothermic and More: Travails Authors Endure to Get it Right. Other panelists include Sandi Ault, Joanna Carl, and Vicki Delany with Toni L. P. Kelner moderating.

Saturday, April 30th, at 10:15 AM, Alan Orloff will take part in the panel, New Kids on the Block: Agatha First Novel Nominees, along with Avery Aames, Laura Alden, Amanda Flower, and Sasscer Hill. Moderated by Margaret Maron.

Saturday at 1:45 PM, Jess Lourey is fan-girl, geeked-out thrilled to take part in the panel, Gumshoes with Gams: Female PIs on the Job, along with Sue Grafton, Laura DiSilverio, and Cathi Stoler. Moderated by Con Lehane. Si to immediately follow.

Saturday, April 30th, at 4:10 PM, Lois Winston and Jess Lourey will take part in a panel entitled Funny Gals, Dark Books: An Intellectual Look at Humor in Mysteries. Other panelists include Donna Andrews and Judi McCoy with Cathy Pickens moderating.

Sunday, May 1st, at 8:45 AM, Deborah Sharp will take part in the panel, Here Comes the Corpse: Wedding-Themed Mysteries. Other panelists include Rhys Bowen, Mary Jane Clark, and Tracy Kiely, with Ilene Schneider moderating.

Sunday, May 1st, at 10:15 AM, Kathleen Ernst will take part in a panel entitled Behind the Curtain: An Inside Look at Unusual Settings. Other panelists include Janice Hamrick, James Lavene, Joyce Lavene, and Clare O'Donohue.

Sunday, May 1st, at 11:45 AM, Alice Loweecey will take part in a panel entitled Grannies with Guns and Trash-Talking Nuns: Characters Who Defy Stereotypes. Other panelists include Rhys Bowen, Chris Grabenstein and Parnell Hall with Chris Roerden moderating.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cops on TV, 1982

by Kathleen Ernst

The first two books in my Chloe Ellefson mystery series take place in 1982. I once asked a retired policeman about issues he remembered from the 80s, and he answered without hesitation: the widespread integration of women into police departments.

I recently revisited two police dramas that debuted in 1982. (Hey, it’s research.)

cops William Shatner

T. J. Hooker starred William Shatner as a veteran police sergeant. In the first season, women were largely invisible. One female officer shows up behind a desk, and officers’ wives bake for PD social gatherings.

In the second season Heather Locklear is introduced as Officer Stacy Sheridan. She’s on the street, fluffy hair and all, working with the guys. (Except when she shows up in short-shorts.)

cops TJ group 2

cops TJ group 1 Cagney and Lacey, which also became a prime time series in 1982, focused much more on the role of women in police work. Christine Cagney (who is single) and Mary Beth Lacey (who has a husband and kids) are detectives in New York, struggling to find their place among their male colleagues.

cops Cagney lacey2 In the first episode, the two women are asked to portray prostitutes, serving as decoys for a murderer. The implication is that while they strut their stuff, the men will do the real cop work and catch the killer. Later episodes deal with a variety of social issues, including date rape. The male cops, even when well intentioned, sometimes make insensitive or demeaning comments. Meanwhile the two women, who are very different, forge an honest friendship.

Debates about the presentation of women cops took place behind the scenes as well. Most people identify the role of Christine Cagney with Sharon Gless. In the first TV season, however, Cagney was played by Meg Foster. According to various reports, CBS canned Foster because she wasn’t “feminine enough.” (Trivia question: Can you name the well-known actress who originated the role of Cagney in the 1981 television movie?)

cops Cagney Lacey.Foster

T. J. Hooker aired for five seasons. Cagney and Lacey had a longer run; it was brought back from cancellation by a tidal wave of fan protest, and after the series ended, four movies reunited the main characters.

It’s been fascinating to watch some of these old broadcasts. I don’t assume that they accurately portray 1982 police procedures, any more than CSI accurately portrays the current state of forensic investigation for today’s average crime. Still, these shows provide a window back to the early 1980s. These were the shows that my characters might have watched.

I remember watching, and enjoying, Cagney and Lacey. T.J. Hooker—not so much. Do you remember watching either of these? What were your impressions at the time? (I know, I know, that’s too long ago for some to recall!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. After all, I’m only human, and as such, I am not a perpetual motion machine. Neither do I have a clone, a wife, nor a personal assistant, although I’d settle for any of the above.

I juggle three separate careers. Along with writing, I continue to design for the few companies and magazines still buying needlework designs, and I handle some clients for the agency that represents me. All three are full-time jobs that I squeeze into a far more than 40 hour work week. If only I were receiving three full-time salaries…but that’s another story for another day. Today I want to tell you about the day I dropped one of my juggling balls.

Last month I attended a 1-day conference that concluded with a book fair. At the end of the fair, as I was getting ready to leave, one of the other authors said, “See you next week!”

I gave her one of those blank stares that goes hand-in-hand with long days, lack of sleep, and AWOL brain cells. “Huh? What’s next week?”

“You’re scheduled to speak at the Sisters in Crime meeting.”

“I am?” I had absolutely no memory of having scheduled the talk. Sure enough, though, I had it marked on my office wall calendar and on my phone and computer calendars. Might have helped if I’d actually looked ahead to upcoming dates at some point.

My next big problem was that I couldn’t find any email correspondence outlining the topic of my talk. I checked the SinC chapter’s website, only to find it was sorely in need of updating. Luckily, the person who reminded me of the engagement was able to email me the chapter newsletter which gave a blurb of my scheduled talk.

I spent the entire next day preparing for that talk, made the meeting the following Saturday, and no one was the wiser, other than me and that one other author who will forever now be known as my lifesaver. If not for her, a dozen mystery authors would have been cooling their heels, awaiting a no-show speaker.

I dropped a ball, but luckily it bounced back up, and I caught it. I’m still juggling, but I’m checking the calendar more often. What about you? Ever drop one of your balls?

Lois Winston writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries for Midnight Ink. Read more at her website and Anastasia's blog.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Education and Writing, by Jess Lourey

I have two semi-related issues to discuss with you. The first is the pronunciation of the word “ribald.” Kirkus Reviews wrote of October Fest, it’s “funny, ribald, and teeming with small-town eccentrics.” (They also wrote some crap about the plot falling apart toward the end, but I can’t really remember that part—I subscribe to the ellipses method for getting the stains out of book reviews.) I was pretty happy with that little blurb and told lots of people about it, including a critically-acclaimed author out in New York I was trying to impress. Here’s howstupid my conversation with him went:

“Getting any reviews on your latest?”

“Yeah! Kirkus Reviews said October Fest is funny and ribald.”

Pause. “RYE-bald, hunh?”


It was that pause that signaled to me my pronunciation was off. Honestly, it was the first time I’d ever said the word out loud. I got off the phone and hurried to my computer. Turns out it is really pronounced “ribbled,” like how a giggling frog feels. Really. Hear it here.

I got to thinking. I consider myself pretty smart. In fact, I am an English professor, and a well-larded vocabulary and a tight-lipped stare of derision are prereqs for the job. However, my book reviews have consistently shown me how little I know. I had to look up “surfeit” when a reviewer of May Day wrote that the protagonist has a “surfeit of sass.” Another reviewer called her “insouciant” in June Bug. Now, I don’t want to embarrass you, but did you know that word is pronounced “in-soo-si-ent” and not “insooshiant?”

What kind of world is it we live in that reviews of my own books go over my head?

And now that I’ve established my credibility as a teacher of the written word, I am asking for your input. I’m creating mystery curriculum on behalf of an MWA committee I’m on. My goal is to create six teaching modules: three on mystery-focused creative imagewriting and three on mystery-focused literature/reading, each group divided by age lines (middle school, high school, and college). These modules will be available for any teacher to use, free, and will hopefully bring further legitimacy to the mystery genre as well as provide interested teachers a way to liven up their curriculum. What I’d like from you are suggestions as to the “best” mysteries out there. I’m looking for mostly dead authors so there is no favoritism, and as much gender variety and multiculturalism as possible. I could particularly use YA mystery suggestions. Within those guidelines, what should students be reading?

Monday, April 18, 2011

We Find the Defendant …

Cricket McRae


In high school I once skipped classes to go to a trial. I didn’t know anyone involved in the case. It wasn’t scandalous or even all that interesting. Fraud, if memory serves.

I went because I found out most trials are open to the public. I loved Perry Mason, thought it would be cool to see a real case being tried, and had a friend who as much of a geek as I was who was also willing to skip school that day.

Since then I’ve gone to three other trials just to observe. All were civil cases, and all did involve someone I knew peripherally at least. I sat in the back and took lots of notes in case I’d ever need them for a story. Twice lawyers approached me and asked why I was there.

Because I could be.

Then a couple months back I got my very first jury summons. I could have postponed, but this was as good a time as any to do it. Plus, they’d never actually select me, right? After all, I make up stories about crime. So I entered the courthouse with mixed feelings last week. I wanted to be selected, and at the same time I didn’t.

Arguments! Objections! Witnesses! Experts! What fun!

An actual crime, perhaps someone hurt or worse, and it’s partially up to me to decide what happens to the accused? Not so much fun.

There were thirty people in the jury room. We watched a film designed to deflect resentment about being there at all. I could tell it didn’t really work for most people. Twelve people were selected from that pool. I was one. Six were eliminated after a ton of questioning from the assistant district attorney and the defense attorney. I was one of the six who remained, mostly because I don’t have children, have never been through a nasty divorce, and was not abused as a child.

See, this was a case of negligent child abuse. It was hard to watch the two young girls who tearfully and unwillingly testified against their mother. Photo exhibits, maps, and reports from the police and social services were all introduced. What had looked like a one-day trial spilled into the next day.

I didn’t sleep very well that night.

After closing statements, we were given our instructions and sent off to deliberate. The six of us began earnestly going through the details of what we had to determine in order to find the defendant guilty. After some general discussion one brilliant soul pointed out we would save some time if we went at it from the other direction: Was there or was there not reasonable doubt?

We voted on slips of paper. Not guilty six times over. And not a single one of us liked it. Something had happened that day a year ago. It didn’t appear that an injury had occurred, but it was a volatile household going through a very ugly divorce, with each of the parents and the children playing off each other. Toxic. Unhealthy.

But details were murky at best and contradictory at worst. Reasonable doubt did exist, and just because we didn’t like it didn’t mean we could ignore that.

Have you ever served on a jury? What was the case about? Do you consider jury duty an honor in a free society, a duty, a pain in the patootie, or none of the above?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Inkspot News - April 16, 2011

Today, Saturday, April 16th, Beth Groundwater will be discussing and signing copies of her new release, Deadly Currents, from 1 to 3 PM at Beth Anne’s Book Corner, 1532 North Circle Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80909. Beth Anne's chocolate fountain will be flowing, so stop by for a yummy treat!

Tomorrow, Sunday, April 17th, Beth Groundwater will participate in Englewood Library's 12th annual "Meet the Faces Behind the Books" multi-author extravaganza from 1 to 3 PM. The library is located at 1000 Englewood Parkway, Englewood, CO 80110.

Thursday, April 21st, from 4:30 to 7 PM, Beth Groundwater will conduct a 1 hour signing of her book, Deadly Currents, followed by open-to-the-public book club discussion of Deadly Currents at The Book Haven bookstore, 128 F Street, Salida, CO 81201.

Midnight Ink acquisition editor Terri Bischoff has just started her own blog, Under Cover At Midnight, and she's running a free books contest for those who sign up as followers. Go check it out HERE and sign up!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Thief in the Night (and Day)

By Deborah Sharp

I have no qualms about stealing. Before you call the morals police, let me clarify. I'm talking quirks, tics, snippets of speech -- the kinds of things I observe in strangers and friends, and then turn into personal traits for my characters. All authors do it. It's the reason that websites can sell t-shirts to writers that say: Careful, or I'll Put You in My Book!

A former reporter, I've long been skilled in eavesdropping. Just because I changed careers doesn't mean I stopped doing it. When my husband and I are out to dinner, he can always tell when I start: Head cocked, distant look in my eyes, finger-shushing him. Yep, I'm mining the conversation two tables away for a valuable nugget.

Hard work, right? Well, somebody has to do it.

Sometimes, though, I don't even have to work that hard to steal. Sometimes, I'm given a gift. Like the note from a stranger that came across the e-transom the other day. ''I'm a 67-year-old who says whatever needs sayin,' and people can like it or not,'' wrote Carol, a feisty reader from Florida. ''A lot of people want me to be nicer sometimes, but people in Hell want ice-water, too . . . ''

I knew two things immediately when I read that sentence. One, I LOVED Carol. Two, Sure as shootin,' her words would be coming out of my ''Mama'' character's mouth just as soon as I could work them into the plot of my work-in-progress. (I know you're not asking, but that one's No. 5, and it's called MAMA GETS TRASHED.)

I e-mailed back to Carol, confessing my thieving tendencies. I told her I planned to steal her saying, and give it to Mama. She was so happy about that, she offered to send me some more.

I'm not always that upfront about it. And, people aren't always pleased to have their personalities purloined. To research the setting of my second book, I rode the Florida Cracker Trail cross-state horseback ride. After MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN came out, several of the female riders asked me, accusingly, if I'd based this description on them: ''... a middle-aged cowgirl whose bottom was too broad for her jeans.''

I denied it. In that case, I was actually describing me.

People always assume the Mama character is based on my own mother. They're right, of course, and they're wrong, too. Unlike the books' Mama, my mother is not a Southern belle. She's . . . gasp! . . . a Yankee. On the other hand, my mama has had multiple marriages. She drinks cheap pink wine. She's gambled a bit with the Seminoles. Just like the ''fictional'' Mama.

Even so, it's never bothered my mother that I borrowed some of her traits for the books. The one thing that does bother her?

"I don't like that title,'' she told me, as No. 1 was hitting bookstores.

"Well, it's too late now,'' I said. "But, why not?''

She pointed at each word on the cover: ''Mama Does Time? People are going to think I'm in prison!''

So, allow me to set the record straight here. My mama, at 96, is not in prison. At least not currently.

How about you, writers? Do you steal for your characters? Readers, have you ever recognized yourself in someone else's book?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Nothing But A Bad Influence

I've read books, devoured them, from the moment I learned to read. I was always drawn to the Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown...then as I got older I fell into Clive Cussler and his historical adventure thrillers. Give me a thrill, a mystery, some breathless excitement and danger, and I was a goner.

Then the tube teased me with mysterious visual stimuli -- Remington Steele, Hart to Hart, Magnum PI, CHiPs, Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, Quincy, Kojak, Rockford Files...and so many others.

I completely feel that the draw I had to these shows helped make me who I am today. What were some of the books and television shows that helped shape you as a writer, a reader, and yes, a person? Take a little trip and skip on down memory lane with me and fess up to your past mysterious indulgences!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crickets? Do I Hear Crickets?

Different people have different goals. So it follows that different writers (who generally qualify as “people”) also have different goals. Some writers go for the heartstrings; others go for the scary. Still others try for some kind of intellectual enrichment or spiritual enlightenment.

Me? I just aim to entertain.

That’s my goal, to be entertaining. I want the reader to put down one of my books and think, “Man, that was one entertaining book!” Of course, “entertaining” is a rather broad, and rather vague, term. One person’s entertaining book may render another reader comatose. But I figure if I’m entertained writing it, then there will be others entertained reading it (I’m not that much of an outlier in my tastes).

What’s entertaining? Hard to describe exactly, but I know it when I read it. I like interesting characters, but not too “interesting.” Suspense. Mystery. Some humor throughout. A personal challenge for the protagonist to tackle. Unexpected plot twists. You know, stuff that compels me to keep turning pages.

My prose may be pedestrian, my settings spartan, but if someone calls my book a “real page-turner,” then I’m a happy guy. As one recent president said, “Mission Accomplished.”

open micI try to achieve the same goal when I do an appearance or book talk. Be entertaining! With that in mind, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and try something new as I promote KILLER ROUTINE. Since the book features a stand-up comic and takes place in a comedy club, I’ve put together a short (very short) stand-up routine.

Now, I’m certainly no comedian (just ask my kids). But in doing research for the series, I had the opportunity to “experience” some open-mic performances. For those of you who haven’t, the quality of the “comedy” is a bit, uh, “uneven.” So my “routine” should “fit” “right” “in.”

My “debut” performance will be this Saturday, at my KILLER ROUTINE Book Launch (If you live in the DC area, you’re invited: Sat, April 16 at 4:00 at the Reston (VA) Barnes & Noble. There will be cake!).

What’s the worst that could happen? I’m already used to plying my trade in complete silence.


Who else has stepped out of their comfort zones when promoting a book? Or anything else?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Writing and the "Prisonhouse" of Language

by Julia Buckley
In writing there is always that terrible disconnect between what is in one's mind and what translates into text on paper. It's never the same, is it?--no matter how hard we labor. I always end up deciding "Well, it's not exactly what I was thinking, but it's pretty good."

This notion that we can't even translate our own language has always fascinated me. I've blogged before about the Romantics who thought that writing inspiration was "magical." But recently I read a reference to Fredric Jameson (a literary scholar and Marxist political theorist), who described this disconnect as "the prisonhouse of language" because we are, in a sense, trapped with the thoughts that we can never entirely express, and limited by the size of our vocabularies.

I wonder if there is a better way to tap the thoughts that float in our brains. Are they hard to access because we think in symbol and metaphor, and therefore cannot always translate those into words? Would we write better under hypnosis? Or would our thoughts, like translated dreams, make no sense at all?

When I ask my students what they consider the hardest part of writing, the largest percentage of them say it is starting--merely starting--after which the writing may not flow, but at least it comes through. It's the beginning that involves opening that prison door and finding some way to connect the abstract to the concrete.

Writing, when it comes right down to it, is a miracle and a mystery.

Have you ever had a writing experience in which your product matched your idea? Can you recall the frustration of the opposite?

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."

So, to all writers, from novelists to those who compose grocery lists: do you ever feel that your words actually LIMIT your writing rather than ENABLE it?

My philosophical question for the day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trading Cards

Keith here.

When I was a boy, my grandfather distributed Topps baseball cards. (Pez, too, but that's another story.) As you can imagine, I had quite a collection. I traded them with my chums and even clothespinned a couple of duplicates to the spokes on my bike to get just the right sound as I pedaled around the 'hood. I was eight when we moved from Chicago to Palo Alto. My cards disappeared. My mom probably saw no reason to keep them. I guess the reason old cards are worth so much now is lots of moms saw no reason to keep them. (That one Willie Mays card on the left lists at $400; his 1952 rookie card lists at $3000.) I had some autographs, too, including one of Dale Long who hit a home run in eight straight games.

A baseball fan I remain, and my friends and colleagues know it. At the instant my Giants won the World Series last fall, I received a text from my literary agent that said, "Now you can die in peace." Thanks, Josh.

Nowadays there are shows where cards are sold and where all-stars sell their autographs, but I'm not interested in baseball cards and autographs anymore.

Two weeks ago, on March 26, I spoke at TEDx in San Jose. All attendees were given a pack of cards, one for each speaker. (That's the front and back of mine below.) People brought my card up to me to sign. For a moment - at least in my head - I was an all-star. And heck, don't we writers deserve the recognition that ballplayers get? Why doesn't someone start producing writer cards anyway? What would I give for a Malliet or Jaffarian? I'd buy one at any price. How about trading? Would anyone take 10 Raffels for one Hank Phillippi Ryan or Karen Olson or Cara Black? No? Okay. I'll give up a damaged Raffel for five Orloffs. (If he wins the Agatha, though, it will only take two.)

Let's deal!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Inkspot News - April 9, 2011

Today, Saturday, April 9th, Beth Groundwater will be discussing and signing copies of her new release, Deadly Currents, from 3:30 to 5 PM at Who Else! Books, in the Broadway Book Mall, 200 S. Broadway, Denver, CO 80209. Next Saturday, April 16th, Beth Groundwater will be discussing and signing copies of her new release, Deadly Currents, from 1 to 3 PM at Beth Anne’s Book Corner, 1532 North Circle Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80909. Beth Anne's chocolate fountain will be flowing, so stop by for a yummy treat! Also next Saturday, April 16th, Alan Orloff will be holding a launch "event" for his new release, Killer Routine, at the Reston (VA) Barnes & Noble, starting at 4 PM. There will be cake! The Mystery Writers of America is holding its April Giveaway Contest for Readers, and two Midnight Ink books are included: Deadly Currents by Beth Groundwater and Killer Routine by Alan Orloff. Enter the contest HERE.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Interview with Hostage Negotiator Gary Noesner

by G.M. Malliet

Our guest today is Gary Noesner, author of Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator.

Gary retired from the FBI in 2003 following a 30 year career as an investigator, instructor, and negotiator. A significant focus of his career was directed toward investigating Middle East hijackings in which American citizens were victimized.

In addition, he was an FBI hostage negotiator for 23 years of his career, spending the last ten years as the Chief Negotiator for the FBI. He retired as the Chief of the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit, Critical Incident Response Group, the first person to hold that position. In that capacity he was heavily involved in numerous hostage, barricade, and suicide incidents; covering prison riots, right-wing militia standoffs, religious zealot sieges, terrorist embassy takeovers, airplane hijackings, and over 120 overseas kidnapping cases involving American citizens.

Following his retirement from the FBI he became a Senior Vice President with Control Risks, an international risk consultancy, and most recently spent five and a half years working a kidnap case involving three American defense contractors taken hostage by the FARC in Colombia, South America. He continues to do kidnap management consulting work for Control Risks part-time.

Gary has three grown children and resides in Virginia with his wife, Carol.

Q As I read your book, I remembered nearly all the cases you discussed--and there were many famous ones. Is there a particular case that stands out in your mind?

A Perhaps the most challenging and interesting case I worked was the 1996 81-day Freemen Siege in Montana. This was the first major incident after the FBI's tragic involvement in the Waco incident dealing with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. The eyes of the nation were focused on the FBI's ability to resolve the Montana incident without force. The primary focus was on negotiations through the team that I led. With the high stakes involved, not only in terms of human life but with the potential impact on the FBI's reputation and standing with the American people, the pressure was significant. Our success at achieving a peaceful surrender with no injury or loss of life was a high water mark in the FBI's negotiation program. A creative negotiation strategy supported by FBI leadership was the key determining factor.   

Q As your book makes clear, negotiations that are going well can rapidly spin out of control. Is there a particular case you wish you could revisit? And what would you have done differently?

A  As far as wishing I could revisit a case, it would have to be the Waco incident that resulted in such a tragic loss of life, including innocent children. I remain very proud of the negotiation approach to dealing with this incident, which led to the safe release of 35 individuals, including 21 children, while I led the negotiation effort. However, on-scene FBI management made some bad decisions which in my view contributed to the outcome, hence my wish that we could do that incident over. My advice wouldn't have changed, but I would hope FBI leadership at the scene would be better trained and more responsive to negotiation input this time.    Despite FBI decision making shortcomings, in my view David Koresh was the sole individual responsible for the tragic outcome. He and he alone had the ability to safely lead his people out at anytime, something he steadfastly refused to do despite our many attempts to convince him to do so. 

Q Some organizations have adopted the policy of never paying for the release of hostages or kidnap victims. What recourse is there, if there is no way to meet demands? In your view, does this endanger the victims needlessly, or is a no-ransom policy more likely to gain their release?

A [Gary first clarified my question to make a distinction between kidnappings and hostage situations.]
While similar, kidnappings are a slightly different animal from hostage taking events which we typically define as a barricaded/siege incident where law enforcement is surrounding a location wherein someone is holding and threatening the lives of hostages. In contrast, the whereabouts of a kidnap victim are unknown, thereby limiting the amount of control the authorities can exercise over the management of the event.

So, a hostage taking incident is by law enforcement definition one in which we know the location of the victims and the hostage holder(s). In those cases, we do not advocate giving in to demands such as paying money to a bank robber and letting him take the hostages away from the bank. Fortunately, in all but the most rare situations, such criminals want to live more than they want to die, and we are very successful in eventually securing a safe surrender, as they know harming the hostages will result in their being harmed or even killed by the police.

In contrast, a kidnap situation is different in that we typically do not know the location and whereabouts of the kidnapper and the hostage. Sadly, in most such incidents (typically overseas) the failure to pay a ransom leads to the continued incarceration of the hostage or their death. Therefore, simply refusing to pay a ransom does little to secure the safe release of the victim. Rescue attempts are often extremely dangerous and are the leading cause of death among kidnap victims. No one enjoys paying a ransom, which indeed rewards the kidnapper, however, there is usually no alternative to secure the safe release of the victim. A "no ransom" policy embraced by a government or corporation does nothing to prevent or safely resolve such situations, despite making us feel resolute in the face of this terrible crime.   

Q Pirates are the "modern" scourge of the hostage-taking world. Many people are held for months and years before being released--if they are lucky enough to be released. According to the AP: "The average ransom for a large shipping vessel is now near $5 million, according to piracy experts." Given the sums involved, do you see any end in sight?

A In my opinion, the Somali pirates will continue to prey upon any victim they can find in international waters as long as they are successful in obtaining large amounts of money. Kidnap is a crime that exists where there is a lack of competent law enforcement and an absence of strong prosecutive efforts to bring perpetrators to justice. Until these pirate are made to pay a price for their criminal conduct, they will continue their successful business model. Until western navies begin to use more confrontational response strategies that punish the pirates, this crime will fourish. Heretofore, some shipping companies have found it less problematic to pay a ransom than to lose crew members and valuable ships and their cargo. This has unfortunately only served to embolden the pirates. Again, the pirates will cease this terrible crime when they begin to experience negative consequences for their actions and not before.   

Q Many nations have differing laws when it comes to the limits set for hostage negotiators. Are different nations reacting to the piracy situation by different means? Is there any one nation you think is in the vanguard?

A  Several nations have raised the stakes for the pirates by undertaking efforts to interdict their boats after they have taken hostages. This is meant to deny them the opportunity to take the seized ships and crews to Somalia where they can be safely held until a ransom payment is made. However, when western navies block the movement of pirate boats to shore that hold hostages, this can lead to a very dangerous confrontation, as we recently saw with the Quest incident. Certainly, the U.S. Navy and some other western powers have stepped up their capabilities in an attempt to deal with the pirates in a more robust manner. I don't know that any particular country has set a lead in this area, rather it's a slowly evolving set of lessons being learned through the cooperation of several nations.

More information on Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator is at

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Justice is Served

Readers of mysteries, like those of romance novels, expect a certain type of ending. Romance readers expect the hero and heroine to be together in the end, living "happily ever after." In mysteries, readers expect justice to be served. The killer meets a fitting end, be it death itself, arrest and conviction, or some other suitable punishment for taking a human life. In that way, readers experience closure and its accompanying sense of satisfaction.

Closure is a psychological term. In the European Review of Social Psychology, cognitive closure was defined as "a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and the eschewal of confusion and ambiguity." So, people have an innate desire for a firm solution as opposed to enduring ambiguity. People's need for closure varies. Those with a high need for closure prefer order, clear rules, and predictability.

I know that I personally have a strong need for closure, and I suspect the same is true of most mystery readers. This need is what drives us to solve the puzzle of "whodunnit" along with the sleuth. We're struggling to close the gaps in our understanding of the situation by looking for clues, interpreting the behavior of suspects, etc.

Sometimes that driving need for closure can cause us to reach a conclusion too early that is erroneous, as described in this article in Psychology Today. And there are plenty of mystery authors that use that to their advantage in devising plots. They plant "twists in the tale" in their stories to drive readers into make one or more false conclusions before finally revealing some new information that leads to the real killer or the real explanation of what's going on.

But knowing "whodunnit" isn't enough for those of us who love reading mysteries. The murderer also has to be punished for their misdeed(s) so justice is served. That is true closure. We understand what happened and the characters receive their rewards and punishments as they deserve them. As I said before, sometimes a punishment is delivered within the legal system, and sometimes it occurs outside the legal system, but it's always fitting. And most mystery authors I know spend a lot of time devising an ending that is fitting and satisfying for their readers.

In my recent release, Deadly Currents, my protagonist, whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner, is faced with a decision near the end. She has discovered who the killer is and has a choice on how justice should be served. She makes that choice based on her character--her upbringing, ethics, beliefs, and training. Her choice brought a satisfying closure to me, and I hope it does for my readers, too.

What about you? Do you have a strong need for closure, to not only understand what happened and who the killer was, but also to see that justice is served? Have you ever been disappointed in the ending of a mystery that didn't provide that satisfying closure to you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is Once Enough?

I generally don’t read books more than once. Gone With The Wind was an exception as well as a few of Jane Austen’s and William Faulkner’s novels, mainly because teachers chose them over the years. Oh, and sometimes I pick books at the library more than once, but that’s a whole different issue: failing memory. I know I read one book in college twice; in fact, paid for it twice. It was book of poetry—-a thick, expensive one—-and I don’t ever want to discuss Ode On A Grecian Urn again.

I did re-read the first Harry Potter book to my son. As expected, he loved it. Then I put my husband in charge of reading the next three books in the series to him. After that time, he was ready to finish the series on his own.

It’s not that all the books aren’t wonderful in their own way. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy them—-except the poetry. It’s just with so many books out there and a limited amount of time, I can’t see reading one twice.

I know others see it differently. Some people read and dissect to learn how to write better. Some people read for inspiration. Some people just love one author and can’t get enough.

So, I’m curious. Do you often read a book more than once? Or do you have a select few favorites you return to over and over? Or are you like me, always looking for a new story?

Monday, April 4, 2011


Darrell James

Storytelling is an art. It’s also maybe a science. Stephen King has related the relationship between writer and reader as a kind of mental telepathy, where thoughts and ideas are exchanged through words and word pictures. A means of lifting imaginings from one psyche to imprint them emotionally on another.

It’s magic really. And awesomely wonderful to boot. It inspires questions from readers and aspiring writers alike about how the process of creating a story takes place. And what makes a story work? The most often asked question is “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is always “anywhere” and “everywhere”. (A truthful but not very helpful response.) My answer is that I usually start with an idea that simply intrigues me. Something that I find personally fascinating, a tickle of curiosity. My goal, in starting, is to tell myself a “really great story”. And do so in a way that fills my imagination. My assumption is that if I can thrill myself beyond belief, then others will thrill as well.

From there, the work begins. Characters must be imagined and brought to life. Relationships are defined. Conflict must arise. (Good is almost always pit against evil.) And a hero or heroine, with much to lose, must emerge to right the wrong, and do so against all odds. (Or at least that’s my approach.)

My forthcoming novel, NAZARETH CHILD, was conceived in just this manner. An idea that has always fascinated me (the idea on which this book is founded) is the idea of charismatic power. That found in the likes of Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite (You remember, Do, the Haven’s Gate guy?), self-proclaimed prophets and messiahs. Who are these dominant types? From where does their power to influence come? What motivates them? What secret of life do they possess (or believe they possess)? And, why… seemingly against all reason… do thousands, sometimes millions, follow?

The story introduces Del Shannon, a young female investigator who works for Desert Sands Covert in Tucson, a firm that specializes in finding and recovering missing persons. She’s smart and tough, but mostly she’s determined. A woman in a man’s world. Del enters this debut novel already well acknowledged as being good at what she does. Ironically, despite a lifelong search, the one person Del has never been able to find is the mother she’s never known. Secrets surround her mother’s existence. And her father, Roy Shannon, has guarded those secrets with vengeful determination. Even the family Bible’s genealogy pages have been torn away to conceal the past.

Whatever became of Ella Shannon?

When a seemingly unrelated federal investigation, into the infamous, faith healer, Silas Rule, brings authorities to her door, Del learns of an abandoned property in the clannish hill community of Nazareth Church, Kentucky— surprisingly still owned by her father. There, Del’s quest takes her into confrontation with this charismatic leader, who seems to hold the key. Is her mother alive or dead? And what secrets does the healer work to conceal? Only through Silas will Del find the answers. But can she survive the truth?

It’s an emotionally charged tale of love and retribution. I thrilled to writing it. I hope you’ll thrill to reading it.

NAZARETH CHILD is scheduled for release, from Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing, in September. It is currently available for PRE-ORDER on Amazon.

"James cranks up the tension while spinning a classic tale of good versus evil.” —Paul Levine, author of Lassiter.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Inkspot News - April 2, 2011

We've been asked to spread the word:

The Wolfe Pack/Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's annual Black Orchid
Novella Contest is underway. The deadline is May 31, 2011. The winner
receives $1,000 and publication in AHMM. Details are at

http://www.nerowolf neroaward/ black_orchid_ award/BO_ award_proc. htm

Also, the Al Blanchard Award Contest closes for entries April 30 (by midnight). Don't miss this opportunity to win:

--$100 cash prize
--publication in Level Best Books' ninth anthology of crime stories by New England writers, Dead Calm.
--free admission to the Crime Bake conference in November (you do not have to attend to win)
--a handsome plaque

Your submission should be:
--story by a New England author or with a New England setting
--no more than 5,000 words
--previously unpublished (in print or electronically, including on your website)
--may include the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, horror (with no killing or torture of children or animals)

For details on how to submit, visit the Crime Bake website:

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool!

I write humorous dialogue one-liners, but in real life, I’m one of those curmudgeonly writers. Leave me alone in my corner with coffee, lots of paper, and my fountain pen, and no one gets hurt. My husband, however, makes jokes all the time, and loves puns. I would love to write a character that drops puns that easily, but my brain simply doesn’t work that way.

I’m a Marx Brothers fan. I love their subtlety and lightning-fast wit.

My father, husband, and sons are huge fans of the Three Stooges. Should I say “Of course”?

Nearly every male I know is a Three Stooges fan. Sometimes I think it’s genetics.

And, since today is often about practical jokes, I’m forcibly reminded of this:

My sons got one of these things when they were in grade school. Nothing on the planet was funnier to them than that farting sound. That’s when it hit home: Humor is a very personal thing. My entire family loves The Muppet Show, but the boys like Family Guy (we don’t) and no one else shares my Monty Python addiction.

So, writers and readers: What’s your style of written humor? PG Wodehouse? Pearls Before Swine? Elmore Leonard? Doonesbury? Scott Adams? I'm a die-hard Pearls fan. In honor of today, I’ll be hiding in my house, avoiding the practical jokers and watching Muppet Show reruns.