Tuesday, May 31, 2011


When I was in junior high school (which my kids will tell you was around the time the dinosaurs roamed the earth,) I learned grammar. Boy, did I learn grammar! You had no choice if you had Peggy Riley Hughes for your English teacher. I’ve since come to realize that the world could use a few more Peggys.

As writers, we have the license to take liberties in our writing. When we’re writing dialogue, no one expects us to write in perfectly formed sentences. People don’t always speak in perfectly formed sentences. We speak in sentence fragments. Style often dictates that sentence fragments also be used in narrative. But there are grammar rules that should never be broken.

If you want to be a writer, you need a firm grasp of the English language. You may ask why this is important. Won’t the editor correct whatever needs correcting? Once upon a time that may have been the case but not any more. Editors don’t have the luxury of time to mollycoddle an author who refuses to learn how to write well, no matter how good a storyteller that author is. There are plenty of other well-written manuscripts sitting in piles on editors’ desks. No editor is interested in a high maintenance author. Submit a manuscript full of grammatical errors to an editor/agent and you’ll receive a swift rejection.

As I said above, thanks to Peggy Riley Hughes, I know grammar. However, thanks to Peggy Riley Hughes, when I read books where grammar rules are ignored, I’m pulled right out of a story. The grammar error that grates my nerves the most is the one people deliberately make because they think it sounds more intelligent and educated. Because this is such a pervasive error, I often find it on every other page of many books.

Are you ready to learn that error?

Drumroll, please…

My grammar pet peeve is the misuse of pronouns.

A little background on pronouns. There are 3 types:

Nominative: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who

Possessive: my, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, and whose

Objective: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom

Too many people substitute the nominative form for the objective form. The nominative form is used when the pronoun is the subject of a sentence. The objective form is used when the pronoun is the direct object of the sentence or is part of a prepositional phrase.

WRONG: He likes Mary and I.

RIGHT: He likes Mary and me.

He gave the papers to Mary and I.

RIGHT: He gave the papers to Mary and me.

You wouldn’t say, He likes I, so why would you say, He likes Mary and I? Nor would you say, He gave the papers to I, so why would you say, He gave the papers to Mary and I?

The use of the nominative in direct objects and prepositional phrases are the worst pronoun rule offenders, but here are a few more pronoun rules to keep in mind:

If a pronoun follows than or as, mentally insert the missing words to determine the correct case.

WRONG: I am as tall as him.

RIGHT: I am as tall as he (is).

WRONG: The coach picks John more often than I.

RIGHT: The coach picks John more often than (he picks) me.

Avoid reflexive pronouns -- pronouns ending in self or selves. Reflexive pronouns are used only when they refer back to the subject: He injured himself.

WRONG: The award was shared by my partner and myself.

RIGHT: The award was shared by my partner and me.

So there you have it. A few simple grammar rules governing pronouns that will make you stand out from the grammar-challenged masses.

Do you have a grammar pet peeve?

Lois Winston is currently hard at work on the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book,
Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at
http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Remembering

So I was chatting with my partner Betty about what I wanted to talk about during my upcoming blog turn here on Inkspot. Betty said to me, "As we celebrate Memorial Day weekend we should take time to thank those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. Without that sacrifice, the very words you battle to write could've been censored, your true voice drown out."

I thought about her words. She's absolutely right. My Betty is a very smart cookie... and is usually pretty quiet. She's happier to contemplate her next musical CD purchase than think deep and philosophical thoughts. However, every once in awhile she spits out a zinger that's unexpected, eloquent, and spot on. Indeed, because of the noble sacrifices our Armed Forces have made, everyone's voice has a fair chance to be heard, whether their point of view is agreed upon or not.

People write and say many things, sometimes things not everyone agrees with. Having the ability, having the very right, as an author, to pen a book on any topic we choose is something we can't ever forget. Thanks to the 1st Amendment, freedom of speech is one of our core rights. And thanks to our Armed Forces defending, to the death if necessary, our rights--our 1st Amendment, the rest of the Amendments, and our Consitituion--we have the ability to speak and write our minds as we please.

So this blog entry is dedicated to those who have fallen in the defense of our country so that we may continue to have rights and freedoms. So that we may write what is in our hearts. This is for those who have been injured--both mentally and physically--protecting America, protecting my right to independent thought. This is for those who continue to safeguard our way of life. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Inkspot News - May 28, 2011

Beth Groundwater has two signings this weekend for Deadly Currents. Today, Saturday, she has a wine & cheese signing from 2 - 4 PM at Black Cat Books, 720 Manitou Avenue, Manitou Springs, CO. Tomorrow, Sunday, she'll be participating in Paddlefest in Buena Vista, CO, signing in front of Colorado Kayak Supply, 327 E Main Street, from 1 - 4 PM.LinkOver at The Rap Sheet, Keith Raffel tells "The Story Behind the Story" of his new ebook thriller, Drop By Drop. (Click here.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Old News

As I write this, the “May 21, 2011 Rapture” predicted by a California preacher has failed to materialize. It was all over the Internet for a week beforehand and one day after. Now? Not a word on the first page of Google, CNN, Yahoo, or MSN. The world moves so fast today that like the “Rapture moment” any hot news item may be cold and old in 24 hours.

The mystery series I’m writing takes place in the present day. I always have to make certain that I don’t have my characters talking about a fad that couldn’t hold the headlines longer than a month. We can always count on “stupid celebrity tricks” to be in the news, but beyond the expected drugs-and-rehab duet, it’s impossible to predict which celebrity will be all over the headlines by the time my next book goes to press. In addition, I’m a geek who doesn’t keep up on fashion, but fortunately I have co-workers who do.

I mention Paris Hilton in my next book, but will her name make people scratch their heads come February? Will the musician I have my characters listen to be a one-hit wonder? I’ve read recently published books that referenced an event whose fifteen minutes were over six months ago.

Writers: How do you avoid “missing the moment?” Do you keep tabs on current events in news, sports, entertainment? Do you beg your copyeditor to let you make a last-minute change? Or do you only make references to long-lasting celebrities and news—the Beatles and gas prices, for example?

Readers: Do you just chuckle when a present-day book talks about something outdated? Or does it take you out of the story altogether?

If you’ll excuse me, I need to refresh MSNBC again.

Newspaper photo copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Take this Job and ....

By Deborah Sharp

A guy wrote recently in the New York Times Sunday magazine about his worst job ever: Dressed in a gorilla suit, he delivered flowers, cakes, or balloons, even doing a monkey dance or singing songs. He recalled the night that a bunch of drunken college boys celebrated their pal's birthday by dousing the gorilla-gram guy with beer.

Reading about the beer-swilling celebrants got me thinking about awful jobs. High on my list was a cocktail waitress gig at a college bar near the University of Georgia. It was the 80s; I was in grad school, and always short of money. The tips were good, but I had to put up with being pawed at by legions of UGA frat boys. Even worse were the aging alumni, who'd return on game days in huge, tricked-out RVs with horns that blared ''Dixie.'' They were old enough to know better, but there they were: Drunk, stupid, dressed from head-to-toe in red and black to relive their good ol' boy glory days as Georgia Bulldog football fans.

Like the gorilla guy, I had plenty of beers spilled on me when I worked at O'Malley's Tavern. Unlike the pawing, though, I'm pretty sure the dousings were unintentional. A Ph.D. candidate in psychology, I chalked all those beer baths up to alcohol-induced impairment of sensory motor functions. Sloppy drunks, in other words.

That wasn't even my worst job as I worked my way through UGA. Ask me sometime about being a member of the late-summer cleaning crew charged with sprucing up Sanford Stadium for the opening day of football season. My job was washing down the plastic seats. They numbered eighty-some thousand back then, and most of them covered in pigeon poo. The upside: Swabbing bird turds made the spilled beer seem benign.

Joel Lovell, who wrote the Times' essay on wearing the monkey suit, concluded his piece by revealing that one of the beer-swilling college students gave him a $30 tip. He said he could have rejected the money, asserting some pride. But he didn't. ''The pay was worth the humiliation,'' he wrote.

Is it?

I look back, and remember the tips I pocketed at O'Malley's. I kept my mouth shut, plastered a smile on my face, and learned to side-step the worst of the roaming hands. The pay didn't make the humiliation worthwhile ... it just made it a necessary evil.

What was your most humiliating job? Looking back, would you have done things differently?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Once a Fanboy…

meandthecatDuring the past two years, I’ve been to a number of conventions and book festivals, and I’ve enjoyed them all. One of the coolest aspects is getting to meet some authors who I’ve been reading for many (many!) years. And when I do, a strange feeling comes over me, as I morph into Fanboy.

Here’s a sample conversation:

Me: I-I-I-I’m a huge fan of your work.
Big-Name Author: Thank you very much.
B-N A:
B-N A: Well, nice meeting you…

It doesn’t seem to happen with people in other glamour occupations. If I happen to see a movie star or athlete, I’ll notice, but I don’t get weak in the knees. I once talked to Patrick Ewing in a shopping mall, and my pulse didn’t even start racing. For some reason, though, there’s something about meeting a favorite, Big-Name author, in person, that gets me drooling. I mean, come on, these people have written books that have captured my imagination. Taken me to worlds I’d never dreamed of. Kept me enthralled for hours.

Of course I idolize them! I wanna be just like them when I grow up!

I know it’s not cool; I know it’s not professional. I know it’s a bit childish, even. After all, they put their culottes on the same way I do. I just can’t help it! (Maybe it’s because I was a reader—and not a writer—for so many years.)

Some Big-Name Author encounters:

I got blurbs from two of my favorite Big-Name Authors* (thanks again, guys!). I took a picture with Big-Name Author* at Malice Domestic (by the way, Jessie 2 or Vicki, was it taken on one of your cameras?). A very gracious Big-Name Author* moderated my panel at Malice. At a ThrillerFest dinner, I spilled an ice-cold beverage in Big-Name Author’s* lap. At another ThrillerFest event, I got introduced by one Big-Name Author* and met another Big-Name Author*, the keynote speaker. Recently, I chatted with a Big-Name Author* at a local MWA event, and managed not to make a fool of myself. And I’ve shaken hands with a number of other Big-Name Authors* along the way.

(I know what you’re thinking. These Big-Name authors are just people. And you are correct. They. Are. Just. People.)

Not too long ago, I was invited to be in a writer’s group with some Big-Name Authors**, one of whom wrote one of my favorite books EVER. (It’s a wonder I don’t drool every time we get together.) And now that author is asking me for critiques? Positively surreal.

Here’s my question to you MInkers: Does the fanboy (or fangirl) phenomenon ever fade? I kinda hope it doesn’t!


*Big-Name Authors, not in any order

  • Michael Palmer

  • Reed Farrel Coleman

  • Sue Grafton

  • Michael Connelly

  • Andrew Gross

  • Harlan Coben

  • Margaret Maron

  • John Lescroart

  • John Gilstrap

  • P.J. Parrish (both of them)

  • Jeffery Deaver

  • Brad Meltzer

**Sorry, some things should be kept private.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jennifer Harlow Reporting from the Trenches of BookExpo America

Let me just first say hello and thank you for reading my inaugural posting here on InkSpot. I'm the author of "Mind Over Monsters" out October 2011, pre-order today! Okay, the shameless promotion of this post is over. Time for the good stuff.

When I was first notified I would be attending Book Expo, the biggest book trade show in the world, I was so excited. Trip to NYC! Free books! My first signing! Free books! But really it was as if I had come full circle. Twice I had attended the pre-show where seminars were given on how to break into publishing followed by pitch sessions to agents. My second time at BEA was when I got my agent, so to have a physical copy of my hopes and dreams in my hand with my agent by my side was surreal. Wonderful, but surreal.

I started the day going to the Jacob J. Javitz Convention Center without a clue what I was doing. I knew that I was signing at 11:30 but the rest of the time was mine. Major publishers, minor publishers, book stores, anything related to books had a booth. The booths ran the gamut from just a paper sign over a table to huge displays with spots for authors to sign. I got an autograph (and free book) from Charlaine Harris at the Mystery Writers of America booth and spied a Real Housewife walking to her signing. People would wait in line for half an hour to get a signed copy or advance copy of a book (myself included).

Then came time for my signing. I met my handlers at the Midnight Ink booth and was escorted to the green room where other authors like me waited for our time in the autographing area. (Everyone was bummed Caroline Kennedy had to cancel, rumors abounded.) Then I made my way to my seat, oddly not nervous. I had set my expectations very low. If one person wanted the book I'd be happy. But right away there was a line! And there were only two lulls when no one was there! I think 50ish people came, spoke to me, and had me sign my baby. Most were librarians, some were bloggers and reviewers, some just liked the cover and thought they'd try it out or give it to someone else as a gift. The time just flew by as fast as the books. It went so much better than I expected and the book isn't even out yet.

Now I sit in my hotel room a few blocks from Times Square exhausted but happy. My first professional apperance done with hopefully a ton more to go through the years. But I'll never forget my first.

This is Jennifer Harlow, signing out from BookExpo America.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Real Deal on My Ebook

Keith Raffel here.

As I wrote in my last posting here, I’m doing some diversification of my literary portfolio. My agent in New York has a manuscript he’s circulating to publishers. He even has another in his back pocket. So I held back a third manuscript and have decided to publish it as an ebook original. Drop By Drop draws heavily on the four years I spent in Washington working as the counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Once I decided to go down the ebook route, all those housekeeping chores the publisher had done on my first two books became my responsibility. So I figured out how to copyright the manuscript, obtain an ISBN number, and more.

Then there’s coming up with a cover. I didn’t have much to do with the cover on my first two books. The publisher asked for ideas for a cover for Dot Dead. I said any cover was okay with me except for a woman dead in a bed. Guess what showed up on the cover? (See left. Over time, it did grow on me.) When the publisher came up with a preliminary cover for Smasher, I was delighted to be asked for comments. I took the request seriously and showed it to a few trusted booksellers and relayed their suggestions back to the publisher. No changes were made.

With Drop By Drop I was on my own for the cover. I found a designer and told him what I had in mind. I took the first draft of the cover and posted it up on Facebook for comments. It turns out my friends, especially Shelly, know what they’re talking about. This time suggestions were taken into account, and we discarded a tricolor cover and ended up with the one on the left.

Over the weekend I uploaded the text of Drop by Drop onto Amazon (click here) and Smashwords (click here). Smashwords in turn makes certain the ebook goes into the catalogs of Apple’s iBookstore and Barnesandnoble.com. I'll let you know how things go.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Promotion in a Parade

I have an absolutely thrilling (to me) announcement to make.

But first, I have to lay some groundwork. The first book in my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series, Deadly Currents, takes place in Salida, Colorado during their annual FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) whitewater festival. FIBArk is billed as the "oldest and boldest" whitewater festival in the United States, with this year being its 63rd year.

Thousands of people converge on this mountain valley town in mid June (this year, June 16-19) from all over the world to compete in and watch the events. There are a variety of long-distance and sprint races for kayaks, canoes, rafts, and stand-up paddle boards. There are rodeo events where boaters display gymnastic prowess, flipping and twisting their boats in the rapids. There's the famous "Hooligan Race" where teams build creative rafts out of anything that can float, pick a theme and dress up in costumes. And there are junior races for youngsters, running and biking events, karaoke contests, musical performances, and more. Multiple award ceremonies and parties last long into the night.

And on Saturday morning, there's a parade. The FIBArk Parade draws hundreds of spectators who line F Street to cheer everything from homemade raft entries for the Hooligan Race to horse-drawn wagons and monster trucks, all in a spirited family atmosphere. A VIP guest is selected to be honored each year in the parade, riding in a convertible near the front.

Guess who that VIP is this year?


Yes, me!

Is that cool or what? I'm so pleased and proud to be selected that if I was wearing a shirt with buttons, I would be busting them!

To boot, the Book Haven bookstore in Salida will be selling copies of Deadly Currents behind the Boathouse Cantina, which is between the boat ramp and Riverside Park, next to the main walkway along the Arkansas River. I'll be autographing books Friday and Saturday afternoons during the festival at that location.

Since I'll be spending the weekend in Salida for the festival, I volunteered to do whatever else the festival organizers want me to do--hand out awards, speak at ceremonies or dinners, judge costume or crazy river dog contests, try my hand at paddling a watercraft, whatever. This is going to be so much fun! I know I'll be beaming the whole weekend.

My participation in FIBArk is one example of "outside-the-box" book promotion activities I've been doing to target the whitewater paddling community as well as traditional mystery readers. I've guested on river ranger and whitewater outfitter blogs, held a fundraiser booksigning for American Rivers, placed copies of my books in rafting outfitters' stores, will be appearing at PaddleFest in Buena Vista, Colorado over Memorial Day weekend, and more.

Now, I just need to practice my princess wave! :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Debate

In Sickness and In Death, the third installment of the Broken Vows mystery series, releases September 2011.

Here’s the cover blurb:

“Jolene Parker isn't sure what to think when her police deputy husband, Ray, unexpectedly brings home a new foster child. The impulsive son of a jailed car thief, twelve-year-old Danny has talents that include picking locks and hotwiring cars.

Following Danny's brief joyride in the car that he says is his dad's, a horrific surprise turns up in the trunk: a woman's arm. While Ray hunts down the victim's identity, Jolene tries to determine whether Danny's father did the deed. And it drives her straight into the killer's sights.”

The Broken Vows mysteries have an underlying story arc involving family relations that hangs in the balance from book to book. Those of you who read the first book in the series know it had a happy ending for the protagonist. Book two, not so much. I debated with book three. It could have easily gone either way and the mystery would not have lost any of its punch. I had a perfect moment and a perfect line for a happy or a bittersweet ending.

I debated whether readers who now have a vested interest in the family saga would tolerate two unhappy endings in a row. Is that too much of a downer? Are most readers like me, preferring the “happily ever after” ending? Of course if they are like me, they write that ending in their own heads and wait to see if that’s what occurs in the next book.

So, when you’re vested in a character and a series, do you prefer a happy ending or doesn’t it matter? Does your answer depend on whether the series is more of a cozy or not? Whether it’s the last book in the series or not?

(Psst…In Sickness and In Death is available for pre-order. Pass the word, please.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Darrell James

I like learning new things. In fact, I’ve always thrilled to it. As an adolescent, I would spend much of my time, not on the playground (although there was plenty of that also), but on some excursion into the unknown in search of something new to learn.

I recall (at the age of eight) attending railroading classes at Cincinnati’s Union Terminal. It was a special learning series, just for kids. The seminars were held once a week, on Saturday mornings, and ran throughout the summer. I went alone (my parents trusted me). It took three buses to get me there, leaving early-morning from my small town of Crescent Springs, Kentucky. I had always been fascinated by trains and wanted to know more about them.

I learned a lot that summer, much of which I still retain. But the big pay-off (the real learning) came on the last day of class when we actually got to take a train ride. The trip was only about fifty miles round trip. But…Wow!... eight-years-old, on my own and riding the rails, feeling the rumble of the wheels beneath my feet, and feeling on top of the world!

On another summer, I took the same buses to attend a series of summer long, children’s theatre productions. The costuming, the lighting, the amplified sounds… not to mention the fairytale storytelling… filled me with delight. Live theatre still does that to me.

A lot of time has transpired since those childhood days, but my love of learning has never diminished. I’ve accumulated degrees in both Engineering and Business Administration (mostly for something new to learn). I’ve learned to play a number of musical instruments. And I’ve taken classes in acting, as well as writing and screenwriting. For something else new, I spent the past six months teaching myself HTML. I now build websites in addition to writing the next book. (You can see my handiwork at: http://www.darrelljames.com/ )

Did I mention I read a lot to learn?

I know I’m not alone in this regard. I have been on several author panels in the last year, speaking to senior groups whose programs are geared toward “learning for life”. (Exploritas is one such.) The audiences at these programs are among the most inquisitive and intuitive I’ve run across. And nearly all are avid readers.

When it comes to writing fiction, I go somewhat against the common wisdom of “write what you know.” Instead, I search for ideas that first teach me something I don’t know. And it’s my hope, that when readers read my work, many will come away feeling they’ve experienced something new, as well.

What about you? As a reader or a writer, what were some of your earliest learning experiences? Do you still have a lust for learning?

Darrell has had close to thirty short stories published in various mystery magazines and book anthologies. His debut novel, Nazareth Child, is forthcoming from Midnight Ink in September. It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Many years ago, I read a slim little book called A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr. It’s about a World War I soldier hired for the summer to restore an ancient mural in a village church. It’s on the depressing side: none of the characters are on track for a happy life at the last page. But what makes the book memorable is its flawless evocation of summer. So flawless that I’ve read the book more than once—and I’m one of those readers who like escapism and humor. I can’t remember any particular passage, but sitting here at my keyboard I can recall the book’s summer: endless sun, blue skies, the drone of bumblebees, the scents of earth and grass, the feeling that my entire self, body and mind, is in Paradise.

“The Harlequin Tea Set,” an Agatha Christie short story, almost captures summer this way. Liz Michalski’s novel, Evenfall, also has moments of pure summer—eating peaches warm and ripe from the tree, basking in the sun in an overgrown orchard.

I live in the Northeast US—winter lasts a long, long time here. So it’s no surprise that I favor summery books. Even the one sort-of-winter book that I’ve always loved—The Snowstorm by Beryl Netherclift—isn’t really about snow. The title refers to one of those glass balls you shake to make “snow” fly around a scene inside. (There is a real snowstorm at the end, and the book is one of the better time-travel novels I’ve read.) There’s also Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. He creates nuclear winter so well that the first time I read it, I kept looking out the window to make sure the world was still green.

I scanned my bookshelves for a spring book, and found none. I do have a favorite autumn book: The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. That’s it—one book—even though Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday. (That’s a post for another time, and a discussion of movies that scare the pants off you. Love ‘em.)

I love to write in the summer. My laptop screen can’t compete with sunshine, so I take my three-ring binder and fountain pen and sit in my backyard. Grass between my toes, iced tea at my side, red-winged blackbirds (among many others) calling in the trees, and katydids everywhere. Yet I’ve written all different kinds of weather into chapters on those days. I’m weird like that. This is also one of my favorite places to read.

Is there a book on your shelves that epitomizes your favorite season? My TBR pile in only 6 books deep at the moment. It needs to grow—after all, summer’s only a few weeks away.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Inkspot News - May 14, 2011

Today, Saturday, May 14th, from 2 - 4 PM, Beth Groundwater will be discussing and signing copies of Deadly Currents at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers across from Chapel Hills Mall at 1565 Briargate Blvd, Colorado Springs, CO.

Tomorrow, May 15 at 2:00, Alan Orloff will be discussing and signing KILLER ROUTINE at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA.

On Saturday, May 21 at 10:00 am, Alan Orloff will be presenting at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Gaithersburg, MD. He leads off a long list of mystery authors in the Dashiell Hammett Pavilion, including Thomas Kaufman, Rita Mae Brown, Donna Andrews, Alex Berenson, Louis Bayard, Stephen Hunter, and Brad Parks.

On Sunday, May 22 at 2:00, Alan Orloff will be reading from KILLER ROUTINE in a joint reading with former instructor Ann McLaughlin at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Advice From Sue Grafton

by Kathleen Ernst

Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone series, was the Lifetime Achievement honoree at Malice Domestic this year. You may know it as “the Alphabet Series.” Sue published A Is For Alibi in 1982; her latest is U Is For Undertow. All told, she’s officially sold a bazillion books.

Sue Grafton I had never heard Ms. Grafton speak before, and she didn’t disappoint. She managed to convey both humility and pride in her accomplishments; she expressed opinions, but often with a touch of self-deprecating humor.

One of her comments struck me in particular. “You have to be willing to fail,” she said. “You have to work right on the edge of your talent.”

I’ve been thinking about that. Am I willing to fail? Yes, been there, done that. Many times, actually. I have sixteen books in print. I also wrote ten or twelve that were never published, prior to getting my first book contract. Those will never see the light of day, but I have several newer manuscripts I love that have not sold.

Am I working at the edge of my talent? A trickier question.

I am willing to try new things. Does that count? Old World Murder, the first book in my Chloe Ellefson series, is told entirely in alternating 3rd person point of view, in 1982. In the second book, The Heirloom Murders, I experimented with two timelines. Most action still takes place in 1982, but that’s interwoven with a thread from 1876. (The book won’t be published until September, but content reviewers have given it a thumbs-up.)

And I’m not complacent. I know that learning to write good books is a perpetual journey. I don’t take anything for granted, and look for opportunities to learn and grow.

So I’m not sure about the whole “working at the edge of my talent” thing. But I like the concept. I’m going to keep it in mind—an ongoing challenge to do everything I can to make each book stronger than the last.


Shortly before leaving for Malice Domestic, I received a snail mailed fan letter in my PO box. On the advice of other published authors, I had taken out the PO box over six years ago after I sold my first book. Back then, most social media was either non-existent or in its infancy, and most readers still contacted authors via snail mail, not email. My PO box address was included in the bio at the back of my book and on my website. By the time I’d sold my third book, email had replaced snail mailed fan letters, and I dropped the PO box address from both my book bio and website.

So you can imagine my surprise when a fan letter turned up in my PO box, not just any fan letter, though. This fan letter was mailed from a state correctional facility -- a PRISON!

Although ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, my current release, is an amateur sleuth mystery, I began my publishing career writing romance. I’d heard that prisoners liked to read romances and often contacted romance authors, but I’d never received a prison fan letter back in my romance days. Now that I have, I wish I hadn’t.

My prison fan started off by telling me that he’s finishing his violation of parole (through a bit of Googling, I discovered the parole violation was for illegal possession of a deadly weapon, but I wasn’t able to uncover the reason for his various previous incarcerations.) He then went on to compliment my writing and tell me how beautiful I am (I’m old enough to be his mother!) Then he finally got to the point: He’s going to take the time to give me a few free pointers!

My prison fan had come up with a plan for me and an example of a story line -- all for a percentage of my book sales! He even outlined a plot. Now keep in mind, he wanted me to write romance because “romance is the greatest escape.” Except in his story, a prisoner (I hesitate to use the term hero) kills the heroine “after she helps get him released. (ha ha)” It was that parenthetical “(ha ha)” that really creeped me out.

He also gave me all sorts of marketing advice, including promoting in towns where prisons are located because the female employees of these prisons are “prisoners of there (sic) own passion and fantacies (sic).” I should believe him on this point, he said, because he has first hand knowledge.

He concluded his letter by telling me if I have any business questions, he’ll be incarcerated until early next year (he gave an exact date.) Along with the letter, he included Forbidden Love, a two page short story. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to.

Come next year, I’ll be on the lookout for twenty-something males loitering around the post office lobby. If I spy any, I’ll keep walking. Luckily, my fan is out-of-state. I hope he stays out-of-state. Meanwhile, I’m really glad I’m now writing about murder and mayhem. I’ve never heard of mystery authors receiving business proposals and marketing advice from prisoners. Have you?

Lois Winston writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Visit her at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blurb It Forward, by Jess Lourey

I have a question of much urgency: if you are an author, what is your policy on writing blurbs for other authors? If you are a reader, how much credibility do you give book cover blurbs? If you are an ethicist, what is your stand on being nice over being honest?

Here’s why I ask: just this week, I’ve been asked to blurb three books by first-time authors, all three published by small regional image presses. I’ve been in their shoes, not knowing anyone in the business, needing that snippet of praise to put on the cover of May Day in 2005 so it didn’t look like the self-published loner in the corner. And you know what? I found out that the mystery community is incredibly supportive. Some of my favorite authors agreed to blurb me, an unknown writer, and thanks to their kindness to a stranger, I was able to break into the business with a fighting chance. I’d like to pay that forward, and as such, I’ve blurbed every booked that I’ve been asked to since then. Some were very good and some were just okay, but I could find something honestly nice to say about all of them.

But this time is different. One of the books I’ve just been asked to blurb is bad. Truly, irredeemably awful. In the off-chance that the gentleman reads this blog, I won’t use any direct quotes, but here are representative lines taken from “The Top 15 Bad Romance Novel Opening Lines”:

“Claire felt swept away by this dark stranger, a helpless dust bunny imagein the roaring cacophony of his gas-powered leaf blower.”

“"The heaving waves on the vast, ink-black ocean sent a salty spray over the proud bow of the three-masted ship, leaving beads of water on the exposed alabaster skin above the bodice of the tall, raven-haired woman who stood sobbing on the deck, her salty tears mixing with the storm-tossed sea."

"Gentle cascades of vermilion poured over Daphne's heaving, lily-white bosom. 'Call 911, Scooby,' she breathed."

Yup. Throw in a lot of product placement (I counted three businesses mentioned on one page alone: Wal-Mart, Applebees, and Starbucks, as in the main character had to stop at all three and tell us what he bought/ate).

Besides weak (over)writing, frequent grammar and spelling errors (it is an ARC), this one book I’ve been asked to blurb lacks any plot. Supposedly a mystery, I was on page 172 of 212 before a dead body appeared. Most everything to that point was a summary of the backstory peppered with sex scenes too bad to read but not bad enough to be funny.

So what do I do now? This gentleman worked hard on this novel, I know he did. He is also kind, polite, and intelligent. With a good editor and more practice, I don’t see any reason why he can’t image improve his craft. And you know what? My first novel sucked, too. It was so bad, in fact, that I never found a publisher for it (thought it was because I was ahead of my time; in retrospect, it was just a shitty book). I want to encourage his dream and his discipline, but I don’t want to mislead an innocent shopper into dropping $15 on this sad puppy. Oh, and he needs the blurb by Friday. Help me! (WWJPD?)

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Gift

Cricket McRae

gift box

Some of my friends are serious about birthdays. Serious. Not content with a mere, single-day hoorah, they celebrate for at least a week: birthday lunch with one friend, birthday dinners with other friends, an intimate celebration with their man (yes, these are all women – well, there’s one guy, but he still has a man), another get together with parents and siblings and usually a nice chocolate sheet cake in the break room at work.

Not me. In fact, I once forgot my own birthday until UPS delivered a package from someone obviously more on the ball than I was. I’m afraid this also means I’m not always good about other people’s birthdays. But I make an effort because I know it’s important, and everyone deserves to have a fuss made over them.

Last weekend I turned forty-seven. My guy is much like me about birthdays. He gave me a funny card, a practical gift, a single tulip, and took me out for brunch. No fuss, no muss, no bother, just eggs Benedict. He’d already brought home a flourless chocolate cake for Arbor Day, and it was way too soon to repeat the decadence.

(Side note: We celebrate Arbor Day largely because Hallmark doesn’t try to make us. The cake said, “You’ve got me treed.” What a romantic, eh?)

And that was that. Until …

The mailman brought a box to the door in the afternoon. I have a friend who still sends me birthday presents. They are thoughtful, often funny, and distinctly personal. This woman knows me well. After all, we’ve been pals for thirty-three years.

Her gifts were, as usual, spot on and much appreciated. But this year the card took the cake. So to speak.

She wrote me a story.

Two pages, about one teenaged girl teaching another one how to drive a stick shift on the dump road outside of town. About almost getting hit by a truck. About how they made up a song about it.

About a friendship overflowing with laughter that ended up spanning more than three decades.

The little story is so well-written. Poignant sans sentiment and intensely personal to yours truly. It made me cry. Hell, I’m tearing up as I write this now. That this thoughtful gift, utterly free and utterly priceless, came from her when I know she’s swamped with work, family, and a dozen other obligations just floors me.

But there’s more. I’m working up to the deadline for my next book, and that always makes me a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. I planned for the stress better this time, as well as the inevitable distractions, visits from friends and family, etc., but let’s face it – I’m still crazy. In this frame of mind, writing loses its luster. After this many go-rounds, I know it’ll come back, but the word that comes to mind when I sit down in front of the keyboard yet again to fuss and rewrite and add scenes and make decisions is slog.

That precious, two-page story turned out to be a gift in another, unexpected way: It reminded me of the power of words, of how much I love them, and that stories are truly important. It shifted my attitude at a time when it sorely needed a shift.

There just isn’t a Thank You big enough.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Inkspot News - May 7, 2011

Today, Saturday, May 7th, Beth Groundwater has two appearances:
10 AM - Noon
Teaching a Hampton Roads Writers “Traveling Pen” Workshop on
Realistic and Effective Dialogue in Fiction
Hampton Library
4207 Victoria Blvd., Hampton, VA 23669

3 – 5 PM Book Signing
Barnes & Noble, Yoder Plaza Shopping Center
12170 Jefferson Avenue, Newport News, VA 23602

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Dumb Ugly Baby

By Deborah Sharp

Why don't people like my middle child?

Don't work yourselves into a lather, parents. I'm not about to cyber-humiliate an actual youngster here. I don't even have kids. I'm talking about my middle book, Mama Rides Shotgun. Don't all authors think of their books as their babies? I know I do; and it makes me as mad as any mama to see my second-born being ignored.

This became clear to me last week at Malice Domestic, a conference of mystery readers and writers held each year near Washington, D.C. The good news: The conference bookstore, Mystery Loves Company, sold out of the first and third volumes in my Mace Bauer Mystery Series. The bad: There sat an ample supply of Shotgun, forgotten and forlorn, like the unpopular kids at that table in the back of the school cafeteria.

What is it? The trail ride setting? Too many would-be readers afraid of horses? Or is it the Shotgun of the title? Too old-fashioned a firearm in a world of SIG Sauers and Glocks? Ohmigod, is it the poor child's mother? Is she trying too hard?

Whatever. I feel like that mom who just knows her unpopular kid is as smart and special as the homecoming queen (maybe more so), if only the other kids would take the time to get to know her.

Maybe I'm just fooling myself. As a middle child, I have tons of experience in the realm of being overlooked. When the First Born comes along, everyone says: ''What a tiny, perfect miracle!''
With the baby of the family, friends and relatives gather to coo: ''Awwww, so cute!''
Here's what they say, eyes glazing over, about Little Miss Middle Child: ''Oh, I didn't realize you had three kids.''

Is it just me, or do other series authors see the same phenomenon? The debut continues to sell. The latest release garners some excitement. And the one in the middle? Glazed eyes and, ''Oh, I didn't realize you had three books.''

How will the series fare as I add more titles? My fourth, Mama Sees Stars comes out in September. So, will there now be two middle books as series wallflowers, while No. 1 and No. 4 dance under the disco ball at the prom? Or, will it still just be Shotgun, all alone in the corner, wearing the dunce's cap?

How about it, series authors? Do your middle ''kids'' get ignored? Readers, do you prefer to start at the beginning of a series? Or, will you happily pick up the author's titles in no particular order?

In other words, is this a general trend? Or, is it just my poor little Shotgun that's so unappreciated? Go ahead, be honest. Break a mother's heart.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Malice Domestic, Second Books, and Jess Lourey's Launch

So many things have happened quite rapidly in the last couple of weeks that my poor brain is still spinning in my cranium!

I wound up at Malice Domestic with Alan and the rest of the very cool Midnight Ink crew along with fab editor Terri Bischoff over this past weekend. It was a great time! I only wish I'd been able to attend Oakmont and the Festival of Mystery at Mystery Lover's Bookshop Monday after Malice. It sounded like a hoot, and I'll be sure to do that next time. To hear it told, fellow MInker Alice Loweecey kicked a** and took names selling her debut book, Force of Habit!

Then when I got home, I got the news that my second book in my Shay O'Hanlon Caper series will remain titled, thanks to an Ellen Hart suggestion, Hide and Snake Murder. The cover is going to be purple and decorated with a six-foot long, neon-green, stuffed snake named Doodlebug. I'm lovin' it! It was just the juice I needed to really start seriously thinking about book 3, The Book of as Yet No Name.

Tonight I had the pleasure and honor of attending Jess Lourey's launch party at Pat and Gary's MWA Raven-Award-Winning bookstore Once Upon a Crime. Jess provided Octoberfest Beer straight from Germany, and of course, the standard Octoberfest staple, l'il smokies and BBQ sauce in a nice pot-luck crock pot. Top that off with the necessary Nut Goodies, and you can be sure a great time was had by all. Now, I hate to say, it's naptime. Why couldn't we appreciate those enforced snoozes in school when we were young??? What I would give for a manditory heads-down!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Heart My Friends

Today’s post will be a short one. I think I’ve still got jet lag. Which is weird, because I haven’t flown anywhere.

Group pic at BanquetThese past four days, I’ve been attending the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, MD, and the Festival of Mystery (FOM) in Oakmont, PA., and it’s been all about friends. Making new ones, seeing old ones, meeting ones I’ve only known online. (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and other forms of connecting via cyberspace are terrific ways to make and maintain friendships all over the world, but sometimes there’s no substitute for that face-to-face contact.)

Luckily, I didn’t have any trouble recognizing my cyberpals. Most of them looked like their profile pictures. Some even looked better than their pictures (I’d like to thank everyone for not pointing out that my profile pic has far less gray hair than my actual self). Not surprisingly, everyone seemed to “behave” like I’d expect, too (a good thing, of course).

I got a chance to hang with members of my wonderful MI family (some of whom I met for the first time): Terri Bischoff, Jessie Chandler, Vicki Doudera, Kathleen Ernst (and her sister, Barbara), Beth Groundwater, Jess Lourey, Alice Loweecey, Gin Malliet, new Inker Maggie Sefton, Deb Sharp, Joanna Slan, and Lois Winston.

I spent time with people I’d met at other events and through Facebook and Twitter, members of my local MWA and SinC chapters (I was even made an honorary Guppie), writing idols, peeps from my Bouchercon bowling team, fellow Agatha nominees, the wonderful Malice volunteers and FOM organizers (Hi Richard and Mary Alice), booksellers, and, of course, many, many, many mystery fans. Which was the coolest thing of all. (Meeting Sue Grafton was pretty cool, too!)



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The unwitting internet victim

by G.M. Malliet

Our guest at Inkspot today is Detective Kristyn Bernier.

Detective Bernier is an 18-year veteran of the Portsmouth, NH, Police Department,  specializing in undercoved internet crime investigation, child exploitation, sexually based crimes, domestic violence, sex offender management and undercover narcotics work. She is currently a member of the New Hampshire Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, actively investigating offenders who possess, manufacture and distribute child sexual assault images. Prior to becoming a law enforcement officer, Det. Bernier was a family assessment specialist and caseworker working with juvenile offenders and juvenile victims of child abuse and sexual abuse. Det. Bernier is the co-author of Cyber Crime Fighters: Tales from the Trenches (Que 2009), and gives internet safety presentations throughout New Hampshire. She was recently published in Serial Offenders in Theory and Practice (Borgeson & Kuehnle 2012) having co-authored a chapter on Adult Sex Offenders. She trains law enforcement professionals in various areas, including the interview and interrogation of sex offenders and child predators and victim interview techniques, hostage negotiation, domestic violence and stalking. Det. Bernier has been recognized by the Department of Justice, the NH Attorney General's Office, Sexual Assault Support Services and other agencies with awards and commendations with regard to her work.

Kristyn writes:

So, here I am on a deadline. I need deadlines, and yet, I have great difficulty adhering to them. Yes as a writer, however more-so with everyday things, like paying bills online, completing my police reports and getting my son’s school field trip permission slips in on time. I’m a "pressure makes a diamond" girl. When Felicia Donovan and I were writing our book, she would meticulously set aside time every day just to write. I thought that was hilarious. More than once I stressed her out with the fear that I would not get the many pages I owed completed. Her desk, orderly. Her life, orderly. My desk, sheer and utter chaos, with a dash of crazy hoarder thrown in. My life, literally flown by the seat of my pants. Scary, considering that I am a mom and a police detective, two roles that one would think might require planning, organization and some semblance of order. Not. Anyway, my modus operandi is to wait until the last minute, and then, in whirlwind fashion, pull a final (and generally acceptable) product out of nowhere. And here we are, still waiting for a brilliant blog to magically appear…

The concept of me blogging would be entertaining to anyone who knows me at all. Blogging requires focus and commitment (I said yes to this because it was a one shot thing). I have not been successful yet committing to taking a vitamin, checking emails or even harvesting crops on Farmville. At last count, I had 16,000 emails in my Gmail account, hundreds not read. I can’t even commit to deleting things. I cannot commit to using my Outlook calendar at work (I prefer sticky notes and a dog eared day minder), I completely disregard the 3000 mile sticker for my next oil change, and I allow my cell phone battery to go dead constantly. I have my appointments, court dates and other such obligations in the rolodex in my head.

Now that I have procrastinated for two paragraphs, I need to have a purpose here. Funny, that  I am never at a loss for words or opinions about things when they are not solicited from me. Just ask my co-workers and supervisors. I was once described as being “overly generous” with my thoughts. However, now that my thoughts have been requested,  I am experiencing a little block, similar to that of being asked to produce a sample at one’s doctor’s office on demand.

My day job provides never-ending anecdotes and “you can’t make this stuff up” moments. I have had some amazing experiences, my favorite, and most dangerous, being as an undercover narcotics detective, buying crack in city drug houses. But my mind keeps going back to a niche in law enforcement into which I fell, never really intending to find myself. I have always been a staunch victim advocate, fighting for victims and children in an in-your-face way, not caring who I pissed off in the process. On the occasions when I have testified in front of our legislature, I have had people on either side of me prepared to kick or elbow me when I get out of hand (verbally or just by way of my exaggerated facial expressions). I have been given a “gag order” with regard to my stand on a recent issue involving the release of sex offenders when my boss got word that I was not making friends in the political world in our state’s capitol. I honestly believe that people really don’t want to hear the awful truth about crime, about victims and about how the system and laws often re-victimizes them. Unless one has been a victim of crime, it is easiest to believe that bad things don’t happen to good people.  I have made it my personal mission to make sure the truth is heard.  A deputy chief once told me I did “the work of the angels”, a mission I am drawn to continue. The victims I have fought for have been the “hands on” victims who have been physically hurt by someone who was supposed to love them and take care of them. Yet, more recently, my motivators are no longer just the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, but now also those who have fallen prey to the perils of the world wide web and technology.

Every day, a new victim of technology finds his or her way to my caseload. While there are adult victims of the crimes that I investigate, the majority are children, and the numbers increase in a mind boggling manner every day. We swim against the tide with child exploitation crimes, in part because it is not just the child porn collectors and “traveler” child molesters chatting on line who we must chase. There is an alarming trend of children armed with technological devices but with minimal supervision, boundaries, maturity or sound judgment,  who are essentially handing themselves over to the online predator with their high risk behavioral choices. The right predator in the right situation need not make much effort at grooming or enticing anymore. The kids are now packaging themselves up and readily giving themselves up for victimization.

We fight everyday to lock up the collectors who have been passing around child sexual assault images through file sharing software such as Limewire or through emails or social networking sites like Gigatribe. The battle is endless looking for known victims in FBI identified videos. And now we have a surge of new child pornography that our children are making of themselves willingly, until it is too late and they realize that the video or picture has been disseminated and can never be removed from the internet. They are victimizing themselves in a very risky activity that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

This week alone, I handled three separate cases involving minors disrobing and performing sexual acts via their webcams  on Skype. They each willingly gave their number to a stranger they each met on a site called Omegle. Omegle is akin to “stranger roulette”’ – you have no idea who you might be connected with to chat. These young girls walked on the edge for fun, and only too late realized that they had been videotaped by the other person. They were then threatened that if they did not continue, the person would upload their video and information to the internet. Voila, brand new child pornography – child pornography that is being created unwittingly by children every day. The creation of these videos at the urging of some predator in internet land is horrifying enough, and yet we haven’t even touched on the possibility that those predators know who these children are,  their cell phone numbers and where they live.  Each parent emphasized that they thought they had safety rules in place. Yet clearly they didn’t,  as these videos were made by their children using laptops, webcams and cell phones at all hours of the night. This is common these days, as is the young teen who videotapes herself and sends it to her boyfriend, who years later posts on adult pornography sites; or the 12 year olds who pose naked and send the pictures to someone they met on a  gaming site at 2 AM. These kids are not necessarily from “broken homes” or low income families. These kids are nice kids, good students and athletes, kids you would want your kid to hang out with. Their parents are good, hardworking people. So what the heck is going on?

I believe that we have forgotten the basics of safety. You know, the safety rules you learned as a little kid. Look both ways before you cross the street, hold hands and stick together, never go anywhere alone, red means stop, don’t ever show anyone your underwear,  and do not talk to strangers. These are simple rules, completely applicable to modern technology, and yet we have failed to adhere to them. We take the car keys away from the disobedient teen, we ground the kid for getting poor grades, we enforce a curfew, and we do not let the kids run around with people we do not know. But we have no problem handing the 12 year old a little laptop with webcam and an iPhone complete with web access and no real rules. Parents have no problem taking the car keys away, but they won’t put a curfew on the phone or internet use.

The internet takes us to just as many places as the car does, and it allows an unlimited number of strangers and potentially dangerous people into our children’s lives, so why don’t we do a better job of setting and enforcing basic safety rules? Personally, I see no reason why the 12 year old needs the iPhone, but at least if a parent is going to give that device to the child, then that parent must be willing to set firm boundaries. Parents can monitor calls through their mobile plans, can locate their child through GPS and can block certain calls. Parents can monitor texting, calls and web access, just as easily as they can know every place a child goes on that laptop through a keystroke logger or monitoring software. There is nothing wrong with enforcing that internet activity will be done in a location within eyesight of a parent, and certainly nothing wrong with demanding that that cell phone be on the kitchen counter in the charger by bedtime. Parents can even automatically shut down a child’s web access at a specific  time each night. There is also nothing wrong with taking that device away for infractions, just as you would take away the car, the gaming system or that party. There is nothing wrong with expecting that your child will provide you with login and password information on all active accounts.

We can also instill boundaries with our children as to what is and is not acceptable information to share online not only with strangers, but with email and social networking friends. As parents, we can model that behavior. Far too often we see adults posting way too much information about themselves or their personal drama online. We should be showing our children that there are some aspects of their lives that should be kept private and certainly personal information that should not be shared over the internet.

I have had parents counter that they want to be their child’s friend and don’t want the child to feel as though he or she is being monitored. Too bad. Your children have plenty of friends, just check their Facebook pages – they probably have more friends than you do. What they need is a parent. A  parent who is willing to set boundaries and enforce the unpopular rules for the sake of safety. A parent who stays aware of current issues and trends and who makes time to keep open lines of communication with  that child every day.  A parent who teaches the basics of stranger danger and look both ways because it is your responsibility to do everything in your power to guide your child safely toward making solid, mature behavioral decisions.  A parent who would rather risk having a pissed off teen than risk having a child fall prey to the online predator who is always looking for that opportunity to take advantage of a vulnerable child. 

I would welcome the day that I do not have to investigate the victimization of a child in any way, however I would settle for the day that I do not have to respond to a preventable case involving a child who unwittingly became an exploitation victim by his or her own actions online because no one had set boundaries.

And once again, my scattered mind finds last minute direction and purpose, hoping to remind readers that our safety is often in our own hands, and certainly that the basics of safety we learned as kids can serve our own children well, even in the technological world.