Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where do you Write?

Where do you write?

People ask me this alot, perhaps because several bestselling authors live in my town, one of whom writes regularly in the Camden Deli (or at least he used to.)

Not me. I could never, ever, write in a public place in my hometown, simply because, unlike the famous guy, I wouldn't get anything written. You see, he's one of those reclusive kinds of writers, so people leave him alone. I, on the other hand, am Little Miss Friendly, and people know me and like to chat. Unless I'm out of state, I need to get my pages done in private.

When we first moved to Camden, we owned and ran a ten-room inn. I created a tiny room up in the attic with old-fashioned flowered wallpaper and a desk that just barely fit under the eave. It was perfect -- the quintessential writer's garret, a place where I could escape from my toddlers and the inn's guests, and I loved it. When we sold the inn and moved to our old farmhouse, we built a loft in the master bedroom (formerly the barn) accessed by one of those sliding library ladders, and that was my writing space. Plenty of room to spread out, to keep files, to hang bulletin boards with ideas and inspiring quotes. Camden Harbor sparkled in the distance and I felt completely cut off from the rest of the house.

Too cut off.

Although I wrote all my non-fiction stuff in that loft, including Moving to Maine and Where to Retire in Maine (Down East Books) I abandoned this space when I began writing fiction. Why? I found it hard to concentrate up there because I was too removed from the "heart" of the house. I'd hear a noise from two flights below and get distracted. The dog would start barking and I'd wonder why. A knock on the door and I was flying down the ladder. You get the picture.

By now my little kids were young adults. The boys were off at college, my daughter walked to school, and my husband left each morning for his office downtown. I got myself a little desk and set up shop in our country kitchen, as close as I could to the woodstove. The sounds of the day -- occasional cars going by, the foghorn in the harbor, someone using a lawn mower or leaf blower -- blend into a pleasant hum of background noise. I find that I don't need as much space to write fiction as I did for non-fiction, so it works out just great. One small file cabinet suits me nicely.

In the summer, I do move around a bit. More people are coming and going here -- my oldest son is home, my daughter's out of school -- so I keep myself flexible. On
beautiful summer days, like yesterday, I sit on our front porch and write. When I have a good chunk of time, I'll grab my laptop and drive 25 minutes to our camp (that is Mainerspeak for lakeside cottage) and pound out the words there.

My writing "studio" at our camp reminds me of that attic garret. It's very bare bones, and, like that attic room, all mine. The little outbuilding was once the boys' bunkhouse, and last year I removed the bunkbeds and had a new window and screen door (an old one I found at a yardsale) put in. I head out here, make myself work, work, work, and then reward myself with a walk and a swim. Obviously it's only useable for a few months here in Maine!

Where do you write? The thing I love most about fiction is that you can really do it anywhere. You can solve story problems while walking the dog. Create characters while waiting for tardy clients. And when you have to sit down and get words on the page, that can happen just about anyplace.

Unless you are Little Miss Friendly.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Feeling Uncomfortable

Yesterday while working out on the elliptical machine at the Y, I was reading a woman's magazine to pass the time (instead of panting out the seconds to reach my 30 minute quota!). One article was titled "6 Weeks to a Younger You," so of course, I had to check it out. ;-) It consisted of a recommended set of lifestyle changes to implement each week for six weeks to improve the quality of your life so you look and feel younger, healthier, and happier. You know, the typical woman's magazine article.

In glancing through the nuggets of wisdom that included things I was already doing, like eating more fruits and veggies, exercising regularly, using sunscreen, solving crossword puzzles, and so on, one piece of advice really resonated with me:

Resolve to do one thing each day that makes you feel uncomfortable.

If you followed this advice, you would constantly be nudging yourself out of your comfort zone, trying new things and confronting problems, instead of wallowing in the same old rut that keeps you from growing and learning. Soon, making risky decisions, even little ones, would become a habit. Wow!

Resolve to do one thing each day that makes you feel uncomfortable.

What great advice that is for a fiction writer. The last place you want to be when telling a story is someplace comfortable. Because that means not only are you bored, your reader is bored. Through your characters, you have to experience uncomfortable emotions, solve uncomfortable problems, and confront uncomfortable experiences. Otherwise, your story isn't interesting. So, why not apply what works for your story and your characters to yourself?

I thought back on occasions in the past few years when I've made a decision to do something that felt uncomfortable in my writing life, and how much personal learning or progress resulted. For instance:

When writing my rough draft manuscripts, I now publicly post my word count goals and progress. I used to do it on the Pikes Peak Writers yahoogroup or a Sisters in Crime Guppies goal-setting subgroup or other small forum, but now it's on my Facebook page, for all of my thousands of friends to see. Why do that? It makes me accountable and forces me to put my (ever increasing) butt in the chair and pound out the words instead of finding some housecleaning or gardening to do instead.

Once I stood up to read at a Pikes Peak Writers gathering, even though I hate to do readings and know I suck at them. I asked for honest feedback on my presentation skills (or lack thereof), and then I read not just a piece of fiction, but a poem, one of the very few that I've written in my adult life. Eek! My hands were shaking and I was sweating, but I plowed through it. The feedback from my fellow writers on how to improve my delivery was extremely helpful, especially from those who had done multiple poetry readings before. But what was even more gratifying was the praise I received on the poem itself. That gave me the courage to try writing some more.

I said "yes" to a request from a high school to make a presentation about how to write a short story. You may say, well that's not so bad, but this high school was in the most deprived and dangerous section of the city. All of my writing friends, once they found out where I was going, said there was no way they'd visit that school even in the middle of the day. Frequent reports of knife fights, drug selling, etc. in and around that school appeared on the police blotter. Then, I found out that I would be talking to not just one English class, as I had originally thought, but to a whole auditorium filled with students from five classes. And my contact said, "Don't worry, the teachers will stay and take care of any behavior problems for you." Yikes!

That was another sweaty palms experience. But it turned out fine. Yes, a few students slept through the talk, and the teachers quietly reprimanded a few other students during the talk, but I made my presentation highly interactive and asked a lot of questions. I even was able to get some students participating and talking. Later, a few young writers stayed to ask me about potential markets for their stories, and the teachers' gratitude was enormous. What an ego boost! I've since gone on to make many other presentations to high-school or middle-school-aged teens and have thoroughly enjoyed every one.

Other uncomfortable things I've done in my writing life have included saying "no" to volunteer jobs so I had the time I needed to write, telling a critique partner that their plot twist or character just wasn't working for me, including a character name in a charity auction even though I was a relatively unknown author (I was sweating again while waiting for someone, anyone, to enter that first bid), and more.

What about you? Have you done something lately that makes you feel uncomfortable? What happened? How did you feel afterward? Did you learn something or grow in some way from it? Please share! And,

Resolve to do one thing each day that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"I'm an Entrepreneur"

Occasionally as I click through the television channels, a show that I would ordinarily ignore grabs my attention. And I learn something.

This week I landed on a show that matches rich people to people who want to wed money. A matchmaker interviews the gold diggers, often asking them, “So what do you do for a living?

“I’m an entrepreneur” was the answer twice this week, one man and one woman. The matchmaker asked them to be more specific. I envisioned an entrepreneur as someone with a talent for identifying new business opportunities and turning those opportunities into lucrative ventures, a real risk-taker, a regular P.T. Barnum.

The man and woman both answered, “I’m writing a book.”

I burst out laughing. To her credit, the matchmaker did not. But later I reconsidered and read the definitions of “entrepreneur” available online. Here are a few:

•Someone with an idea who turns it into a profitable venture
•Someone who is their own boss
•Someone who organizes a business with considerable initiative and risk

I decided that a writer may indeed be an entrepreneur. But I’m not sure I would phrase it quite that way, anymore than I would refer to a homemaker as a “domestic engineer”--unless I was looking for the laugh, of course.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Inkspot News - August 27, 2011

Here's news about Midnight Ink authors.

Once Upon a Romance wrote a great review of ROBIN ALLEN's clean, humorous amateur sleuth mystery, If You Can't Stand the Heat.
"[Poppy's] theories and questions are interesting, keeping the reader turning the pages...cozy and sweet with a definite savory bite to it."
* * *

CRICKET MCRAE's first book in the Home Crafting mystery series, Lye in Wait, is free on the Kindle and Nook until the end of August.

* * *

Juliet Kincaid wrote a great review of BETH GROUNDWATER's Deadly Currents.
"Gorgeous setting...A thrilling start...An engaging protagonist...Impeccable plotting..."
* * *

Friday, August 26, 2011


Just when you thought it was safe to put your thin mints back out... SHE'S BACKKKKKK!

Sue Ann Jaffarian guest blogs for me today on Inkspot. As you can see she's been busy...

Sue Ann:

Since I left my regular posting duties on Inkspot a lot of things have changed in my writing career. Some were my decisions, others not. When Darrell James and I switched blogging duties this month (he’ll be guest blogging at Criminal Minds on August 28th), I decided this would be a great time to bring Inkspot readers up-to-date.

First of all, I reached a milestone in June when my 6th Odelia Grey novel, TWICE AS DEAD, was released. I have 12 contracts total for Odelia with Midnight Ink, so I’m half way through them and currently working on Odelia #7.

Next, I decided to throw my hat into the e-book self-publishing ring with my new Holidays From Hell series. Holidays From Hell is a collection of short stories featuring Zelda Bowen, an average, single woman of thirty surrounded by a very dysfunctional family. Through the individual short stories, we follow Zelda as she maneuvers each crazy family holiday like a field laced with mines and booby traps. The first two stories, THE RABBIT DIED and PULL MY PAW, are available for both Kindle and Nook for $0.99 each and are doing very well. In the next month or so they will be joined by WHERE’S YOUR DADDY? and ROCKETS’ RED GLARE.

In the past several months, my agent and I decided to seek a new publisher for my Ghost of Granny Apples books. The third book in the series, GEM OF A GHOST, will be released in February 2012 by Midnight Ink. If another publisher does not want subsequent books, or offers are not to my liking, I will consider self-publishing them. But I can assure you, the series will not end with GEM OF A GHOST. I am already researching book #4, GHOST OF A GAMBLE.

There are also changes on the horizon for my Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries. BAITED BLOOD, the 2nd book in the series, was just released and the early reviews have rocked. However, Midnight Ink decided to cancel the contract for the 3rd book. Not to worry, Madison Rose fans, the 3rd book, BETRAYED BY BLOOD, is in the works and, like Granny, will be self-published if a suitable home is not found for it. These days authors have many publishing options and I intend to explore every opportunity available to me.

I also have ideas for other books and series bubbling around in my head. With only one book a year under contract now instead of three, I may have time to set some of those other ideas to paper. More “me time” is also on the agenda, and I’ve decided to curtail travel in 2012. Between my paralegal career, writing and book promotion, I’ve been hitting it hard for several years now and, I won’t kid you, it’s been a killer.

One of the lines I often tell audiences when I give motivational speeches is: If you don’t challenge yourself, you’ll never really know what you’re made of and how much you can accomplish.

I’m ready to put my own words into action and pen the next chapter in my writing career.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chain vs. Indie?

Cricket McRae

signing hand 

With the release of Wined and Died last month I’ve been doing the usual promotional activities: guest posting on blogs around the Internet, sending postcards to custom lists – in this case wineries and meaderies – and showing up in bookstores to give talks, read, chat with folks and sign books.

I’m a bit of a signing addict, from the other side of the podium. I once moved to a house near one of my favorite bookstores, Third Place Books, just so I could attend more author talks. During the two years I lived there I went almost weekly to hear writers speak, including Dave Barry, Hilary Clinton, Carl Hiassen, Lewis Black, Ralph Nader and our own Keith Raffel.

I do miss living by that bookstore.

But last week I had my fifth opportunity to perform my dog-and-pony show for my Home Crafting Mysteries at Third Place, and it’s always a thrill. I’ve also appeared at a number of other independent bookstores lately, all welcoming, all with loyal customers and staff who hand sell books.

Before I left for Seattle though, I had a rather discomfiting signing at a local Barnes & Noble store. I sold one book. One. ONE. And it wasn’t even my latest.

I’m not one of those fabulously arresting personalities that draw people like moths. I can’t bring myself to wander the store and track people down in the mystery aisles, thrusting my shiny new bookmarks at them and suggesting they buy my book. But if you put me by the front door of a store, I will spend hours engaging people in a low-key way, feeding them cookies or cheese or homemade bread and butter, showing them how to spin on a drop spindle, and finding out about their lives. I always meet interesting people, often good research contacts, librarians and book club members, and at the end of the day I am usually quite satisfied with my book sales.

Barnes & Noble. One book.

I gotta say, I don’t think it was me. As the afternoon wore interminably on and my feet started to ache (never sit down!) I took notes about what I observed and here’s what I saw:

People used the bookstore to meet people and to get coffee. No books involved.

Nine Nooks went out the door. No books in hand for these folks, but good news for ebooks. Yes, I got two of them to download my first mystery, Lye in Wait, which is free for the Nook until the end of August.

At least fifteen percent of the people who came in the door were either on the phone or madly texting. No way was I going to catch their eye.

Several customers bought school supplies. Who buys school supplies at Barnes & Noble? Well, they did.

A lot of people bought gifts for children – books, games, etc. But no books for themselves. Good for the kids in their lives, though.

Of the customers who bought actual books written for adults, most were non-fiction. I saw three people walk out with three or four genre paperbacks, but otherwise they purchased travel books, how-to manuals, cookbooks, and a few had lists that made me suspect they were buying textbooks.

Oh, and The Help, of course. I’ll have to get around to reading that one of these days.

My publicist says most people who shop at the big chains are going to Borders since everything is cheap cheap cheap for their going out of business sales. Maybe. And maybe there are people who only shop at the chain stores and never venture into the independents. I dunno.

At a couple of my talks in the Seattle area I hijacked the question-and-answer period at the end of my yakking for a few of my own questions. I asked how people felt about e-readers, how many owned one, what kind, and whether they’d buy ebooks from an independent bookstore even if it were a little more trouble. I asked how they felt about self-publishing both as writers and readers (because, of course, there were a bunch of writers in the audiences). And I asked how their reading habits had changed over the last ten years.

Mostly they said that people who like to go see authors in person also prefer to read on paper. Few, if any, owned e-readers or wanted to. It was a small sampling, though, so I’m not sure their answers indicate a trend..

Have you noticed a change in the attendees at author appearances, either as an author or as a fellow audience member? Any differences between chain stores and independent bookstores?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If You Weren't What You Are, What Would You Be?

by Robin Allen

I've had lots of jobs over my several years of life.

When I was 15, I got my first job in an upscale toy store, answering phone call after phone call about the availability of Madame Alexander dolls and taking payments for games, plush toys, and other items on lay-a-way.

After high school, I started waiting tables in restaurants and did that all through college. Once, in the mid-80s, I was a cocktail waitress and then a bartender in one of the hottest nightclubs in the city, all dry ice and neon and Rock Me Amadeus.

After I graduated with a BA degree in English, I got a job doing sales support for a computer software company, working my way up to marketing and publicity, then eventually sales, which I was terrible at because "no" means no in my book.

I eventually struck out on my own as a technical writer, developing online Help and user guides for software applications, and doing QA work.

And then I wrote a book, got an agent, got a publisher, and became an Author.

I like working on things that have an answer that needs to be found, a problem that needs to be solved. I like working with my hands. I like creating something that hasn't existed before. And if I wasn't an author, I would be an architect, a crime analyst, or a knitwear designer.

What about you? If you weren't doing what you're doing, what would you do?

Robin Allen
Author of the Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop Mystery Series
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Now available on Kindle, Nook, and eBook
See my poem "A Friday Afternoon" in the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hartless Murderers, Luck, and Persistence

So I have a couple of great writer's groups I belong to. One is an online group who sees each other once a year in person, but are there always to lend a helping hand, give advice, critique, and give a swift kick in the rump as needed.

My other group is local, in-person, and has been my rock since just after I started writing in 2004. We'd all taken a class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis--an intro to writing mysteries taught by Ellen Hart. A couple of the best writers in the class got ahold of me and two others and asked us if we wanted to form a writing group after class was finished. Sounded good to me and to everyone else, so we planned, plotted, met, drew up "house rules," and generally established the group. We decided we needed a name, and after some vigorous debate, settled on The Hartless Murderers... with the "Hart" part in honor of our beloved teacher.

We'd decided almost from the start that once we were published (yup, we all believed it could happen, somehow!) we would tour together like the wildly successful and looney Minnesota Crime Wave, who travels to various events around the midwest and gives talks on their books and writing, and whatever else they feel like talking about.

So the years passed. A couple members took a break, and we brought an additional body aboard. A live one, that is! We all hit one or many breaking points along the line, and the others stepped up to the plate and cajoled, forced, threatened, and dragged the person who was in trouble through the wastelands of "I am NOT a writer! I suck!" to the other side.

Then one of us landed a book contract. Then another. Then I hit a three book deal. Then our matriarch (she'd KILL me if she read that), our eldest member, scored a contract last winter. Pretty soon, out of three of us, we'd sold seven books in six years. Our dreams were becoming reality.

Ther next step was to make the group gig thing happen. So our studious members put together a postcard and started contacting different venues for appearances. I made a tablecloth emblazoned with HARTLESS MURDERERS. And we gathered this past Thursday in, of all places, the public library in Luck, Wisconsin. Yup, you read that right. Luck. Our luck came together and we debuted our entertaining chops in Luck. It helped that the librarian was one of my best childhood friends, and I have a contingent of family and friends in that area that blessed us by showing up. And we went on to give a kick a** presentation. We made folks laugh, they asked great questions, and best of all, they bought books. So we are on our way. It's exciting and somewhat daunting to actually follow your dreams. But none of us gave up, even when we so badly wanted to. We persisted, and we are gonna continue having a great time as we follow this strange, luck and sweat-filled writing path.

So who or what has been your inspiration when the going gets tough? Do you have a writing group you look to for support and guidance? Do you do it all on your own? What role has luck played in your own publishing and writing adventures?

Friday, August 19, 2011


There’s an anniversary coming up soon that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Actually, a day hasn’t gone by in the past 10 years that I haven’t thought about September 11, 2001. I remember every moment of that day. I was getting dressed to go into Manhattan that morning. The Duchess of York was touting her children’s book on Good Morning America when the cable went out. At least, at the time I thought it was the cable. I finished dressing, headed downstairs, and flipped on the radio. The first thing I heard was that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I turned the TV on in the den and started flipping channels until I found one that worked, The Financial News Network. Moments later, I watched in stunned disbelief as another plane flew into the other tower.

Afterwards, I considered myself lucky. Although many people who lived in my town never again came home, I lost no family, friends, or even acquaintances that day. However, I do know many people not as lucky. The guy who lives two doors down from me lost his sister when one tower fell and his nephew, her son, when the other tower fell. There are countless other heart-wrenching stories throughout our area.

The lives of every American changed that day, no matter where you live, and we’re still dealing with the aftermath. We probably always will. The world is a more dangerous place now, filled with angry people who have no regard for human life, and their numbers are growing in staggering proportions. No one is immune. When I think about how our lives have changed since that day, the changes go far beyond the inconveniences of security checks at airports, bomb sniffing dogs at Penn Station, and surveillance cameras on every street corner.

For me, though, that day had a profound effect on my writing. Prior to 9/11 I wrote dark romantic suspense. After 9/11 I couldn’t write. Terrorism was all around me. I didn’t want to create more of it on paper. I stopped reading suspense and thrillers and no longer watched murder and mayhem on television or in the movies.

A week and a half after 9/11 I was back in Manhattan. My girlfriend and I had tickets to see The Vagina Monologues. The theaters had reopened, and the mayor was imploring people to go on with our lives. We couldn’t let the city’s economy go bankrupt. We couldn’t let the terrorists see us cowering. My girlfriend was too spooked to go into the city. I refused to let the terrorists win. My husband didn’t want me going alone, so he came with me, one of two men in the audience. Had he realized what he was getting himself into, he probably would have opted to let me go by myself!

I laughed that day for the first time in 12 days. It helped. When I began to feel that I could write again, I thought about that day in the theater. I had desperately needed to laugh. The healing process was long, and the wounds of that day will never entirely heal, but that first time I laughed 12 days after 9/11 was the first step toward healing for me. And that’s when I realized, I needed to write humor.

I discovered that writing funny is a lot harder than writing scary, but for me switching genres made a huge difference in my life. I may go back to writing suspense at some point. I have a few stories parked in the corner of my brain, and someday I’d like to put them down on paper. However, I doubt I’ll ever stop writing humor. I’ve received too many fan letters from readers who have told me my funny books have helped them get through trying times in their own lives. That’s all the validation I need to keep writing funny. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Lois Winston writes humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. She recently finished up 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 her website 
and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Wish I Knew Then

By Deborah Sharp

I've been racking my brain for something new to say when I start doing events for my fourth book, the upcoming MAMA SEES STARS. By now, I'm a bit fatigued with rehashing my same ol' story of becoming an author: Former USA Today reporter, left the sad stories of the news biz behind at age 50, became a writer of funny, Southern-fried fiction . . .

Yada, yada, yada ...

Sometimes I feel like the dolphins at SeaWorld, performing the same tricks over and over and over again just to see if anyone is going to toss me a fish.

I'm thinking this time out I'll shake things up. I'm going to try some honesty, reveal what being an author is really all about. Okay, I'm always honest ... this is UNVARNISHED honesty; the real, tell-it-like-it-is scoop.

So, here it is:
The Top 5 Things I Wish I'd Known Back Then About Being an Author

1. When authors say they're going on a book tour, it doesn't mean their Daddy Warbucks publishers are tossing money at them so they can fly first class, sleep in fancy hotels, and eat in five-star restaurants. If they're like me, it means they're packing the pickup truck with books, driving somewhere like Okeechobee, Fla., and setting up shop in front of the cattle chute at the rodeo on a day so hot that the Hershey's kisses that were supposed to be reader giveaways melted to resemble tiny dollops of cow manure. (Pictured, the author reading to her ''cowptive'' audience)

2. An author has better odds of getting killed by fireworks (1 in 340,733) than of making enough money off royalties to quit his or her day job. Thank goodness my TV reporter husband earns enough dough that I don't have to sleep in my 1992 Miata.

3. Snagging a signing at one of the chain stores is no guarantee an author will move lots of books at said signing. I've learned that when you stand, smiling hopefully, at a table stacked with books, lots of people ask directions to the bathroom. (It's in the back, down that little hallway. Can't miss it.)

4. At every author signing, someone will ask you how many hours you write every day. Nobody wants to hear the real answer: ''I haven't written a word in weeks. I'm too busy updating my Facebook status and checking my Amazon ranking.''

5. And the Top Thing I Wish I'd Known Way Back in 2006, When I Signed A Contract For My First Book? That I'd still be plugging away today. Yep, I'm working on Book 5, buoyed every so often by a sweet review or a reader who says she loves my mysteries.

Lord knows it's not the money keeping this author afloat!

How about you? What keeps you going?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oh, @%&^

She's done! The weeks of research, the months of writing, the weeks of typing, the month of editing, it's all done! She is ready to be read by my wonderful Beta testers who will see how splendiferous she is! Huzzah!

Three Weeks Later...

Oh, @%&^. They hated it. They thought the main character was annoying. The male lead was too perfect (meaning no real man would act like that). I kept switching between too much description and too much telling and not showing. The entire first fifty pages were dull and not needed. And the grammar! Oy! Didn't they teach you anything at the baby Ivy college you went to? (Yes, that watching Frat boys play beer pong is not how I want to spend my Friday nights, thank you very much).
Well, did you like anything? Yes. The chapter titles were funny.
Anything else? I liked the character names.


What do you do when what you've written isn't that great? Me, there was vodka and three Real Housewives marathons involved. (Kidding about the vodka.) It's hard hearing criticism about something that you spent so much time and effort on. When they're telling me their constructive criticism, I try to put on a brave face while inside I'm considering skewering them with a fireplace poker. (Once again kidding. It was a machete.) Then I watch more Real Housewives, calm down, and think about what they've said and the suggestions they give. Like how to make the hero less of an archetype. Make the heroine have faults instead of her being little miss perfect. See how much of the beginning can be cut away without losing the characterization and world building you presented in those pages to get to the action quicker. Use a thesaurus as much as possible. When in doubt, use a comma. Really ask if you need to describe the leaves on the trees. Then put on your big girl pants and get back to work. (Unless there's a Real Housewives of Atlanta on. Love me some Kim and NeNe.) With every word on the page ask if this is the best choice. Sound like fun? About as much fun as Andy Cohen has at the Housewives reunions. (I think I have a problem.)

Writing is @%&^#*! hard work. Most of my books have gone through at least five edits before I even present it to my agent, who does one more. Right now I'm on the third of the steampunk book I wrote, cutting the first chapter entirely, working eight hours on the current first chapter, twelve on the second, and so on. My main character went from Cher Horowitz in Clueless to a pretty version of Jane Eyre. My hero now smokes, drinks, cusses, and is rude. There is more red ink on the pages than black. As it should be. Nothing comes out of the gate perfect, but if you're smart enough and trust in your skills and vision it can certainly get pretty close.

Publishers are tough. They want something that is come out of the box ready to even consider publishing it. I once got rejected because two character names were too similar and the reader got confused. So though it may hurt, and take bloody forever, editing is probably the most important part of writing. I've learned that 80% of the time my Beta testers are right. As long as you have the backbone of the story and halfway decent characters with potential then all is not lost. Most things can be fixed. And after all the hard work and tears, in the end you get this...

Gotta go! Those Housewives of Beverly Hills won't watch themselves! Oh, and I have some editing to do. :P Till next time!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Your Turn

100_2617A glance at the calendar tells me it’s summer, mid-August to be exact.

A glance at the thermometer confirms it.

Which means it’s vacation time. And one of my favorite things to do on vacation is golf gamble hike eat travel sight-see read!

So I thought I’d throw the blog open today to recommendations. Now, these don’t have to be “beach” reads. They can be any books you’ve read lately that you’re really passionate about. Something that you can be an evangelist for. (To keep this from becoming a Midnight Ink-fest, let’s exclude books written by MInkers.)

I’ll go first.

I read a lot of books, and most of them fall in the pretty-good-to-mediocre range. But every once in a while, I’ll read a gem that I really, really wish I’d written myself. One that I’ll recommend to other readers without even being asked for a recommendation. One I’ll even Tweet about!

One recently-read book that rocked my world was THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton. (Of course, it’s not like this was a lucky find. It won an Edgar, for goodness sake!).

Now it’s your turn. What are some outstanding books you’ve read lately?



Monday, August 15, 2011

To Soapbox or Not

GOP presidential debate, June 13, 2011

Political season is here, the Republican candidates for president are unavoidable, and that acrid smell you detect is the smoke coming out of my ears! It’s not just that I disagree with them on a lot of issues -- helping the little guy, health care, the environment -- it’s the level of intolerance they display towards …me.

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, put it this way:

“One of the most striking aspects of the recent Republican Party Presidential debate was the way the candidates, each in his own way, tried to out-do each other in their disdain for gay marriage and their willingness—nay, their ardent vows!—to do everything possible to make sure that homosexual couples never gain the right to matrimony. One day soon, someone will play back that debate as an exercise in historical shame, much as we now watch documentary clips of serene racial bigots denouncing the efforts of the black freedom movement in days of yore.”

I added the emphasis because I think Remnick’s statement is so powerful. I mean this is the United States, isn’t everyone supposed to have the same rights?

The question I face as a writer is: Do I put my politics on the page? Do I use my characters to mouth my views? The answer is an unequivocal “no”.

I’ve read novels where the author uses a character as a mouthpiece for his or her political views and I find that it pulls me out of the world of the story and into the real world, which I'm trying to escape by reading the book.

I write about individuals, and I know that there are kind and decent (not to mention homicidal) people in both parties. It would simplistic, boring and jejune to define people solely by their political views. In my new Janet’s Planet mystery, Dead by Any Other Name, one of the prime suspects is a wealthy, ostensibly liberal woman who is actually a manipulative, condescending snob.

She may even be a murderer.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wanted: Weak Female Characters by Vicki Doudera

Did anyone else read the New York Times article (July 3rd) by Carina Chocano in which she bemoaned the rise of women who are "tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone"? In other words: strong female characters.

Cocano was speaking more about films than books, but I found her riff on the whole subject fascinating and pertinent nonetheless. She made the point that when people use the term "strong female character," they aren't really describing characters that are complex or well-written, nor are they referencing heroines who figure prominently in a story. What is really meant by "strong female character," she argues, is a female character with the gendered behavior taken out.

I've thought about this with regard to my mystery series and its heroine Darby Farr. Now Darby's not what I would call a "girly girl." She's an expert at Aikido, she's a loner, and she doesn't espouse too many qualities which we'd consider traditionally feminine (although she is a big believer in intuition.) When she acted a little impulsively at one point in the first book, A House to Die For, a reviewer gently chastised me for a "TSTL," or "too stupid to live" moment. You can bet I made sure Darby was a little more careful in Killer Listing, and she's downright precise in Deadly Offer, coming out in April. She is strong. She is invincible. She is Darby...

And yet, as Chocano argues in her article, isn't a little weakness "precisely what makes characters interesting, relatable, and funny"? If our strong female characters all act like Lisbeth Salander, aren't we contributing to the notion that for a female character to be worth identifying with, she can't be at all feminine?

On a personal level, I ask myself why it is that Darby can't make a few mistakes here and there? Might she shed a tear when she gets upset or hurt? And I'd like to see her make at least one close friend, for goodness sake, even if it's someone she meets in Aikido class.

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy writing scenes in which Darby displays so-called "masculine" qualities. When she takes out a bad guy with an expert move, I feel nearly as proud as when my very beautiful daughter makes a killer kick in soccer. But Darby can have a softer side, too, and we may see it from time to time in future books. After all, she's evolving and growing.

Or would that be me?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Double-Nickel Birthday Gift!

This week I will be celebrating my double-nickel birthday. Yes, I will be a grand 55 years old! I sure don't feel or act that old, and I'm very grateful for my good health that allows me to do such things as hiking, biking, sliding down water slides, and dancing the chicken dance--all of which I enjoyed lately (see my blog). As they say, you're only as old as you feel. And, you only have one life to live, so you might as well live it up!

I definitely have an attitude of gratitude because I know I'm very lucky to not only have my health, but also a loving family and to live in an affluent country that allows its citizens freedoms. Traveling internationally, especially to repressed countries like Myanmar (Burma) has hammered home how lucky I am to be a US citizen. Being grateful for our blessings is the key to happiness, I think. Of course, presents help, too. :)

And our publisher, Midnight Ink, gave me a doozy of a gift this week--acquisition editor Terri Bischoff said she'd be sending a contract for the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner! The first book, Deadly Currents, was released to great reviews in May of this year, the second, Wicked Eddies, is scheduled for May of 2012. This third one, tentatively titled Cataract Canyon, hopefully will be scheduled for a year later in May of 2013.

To celebrate my birthday and my good fortune, I am going to give away a copy of Deadly Currents. To enter the contest, leave a comment here on how you helped spread the word about the first book in the RM Outdoor Adventure series. Some ideas include:

- recommending it to a mystery-reading friend or friends,
- posting a review somewhere,
- adding the book to your to-read list on Goodreads, LibraryThing or Shelfari,
- posting a link to the Amazon or B&N page or this blog post on Twitter, Facebook or Google+,
- filling out a patron request form at your local library asking them to buy a copy,
- scheduling a discussion of the book with your book club (you can ask me to participate via speakerphone, chat room, Skype or whatever, too!),
- putting a sign on your car to "Read Deadly Currents!",
- tattooing the cover art on your forehead.

Wait, I got carried away on those last two! You get the idea, though. Be creative, have fun, and think of your own way to help keep that "word of mouth" going for Deadly Currents. Spread the word, leave a comment here, and you're entered. I think there's no more fun way to celebrate a birthday or good fortune than by giving something away yourself.

Now, here's a question. How do you celebrate "milestone" birthdays? How else do you think I should celebrate mine (besides the book giveaway contest)? Any party-down suggestions for me?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hey, Hey, Hey...

…It’s a new release today!! The third book in my Broken Vows mystery series, In Sickness and in Death, is now available.

Please join me in applauding everyone at Midnight Ink Books, not only for doing a bang up job of publishing the novel but also for being one month ahead of schedule. Praiseworthy, I think.

Here’s the summary of In Sickness and in Death:

When her sheriff’s deputy husband, Ray, brings home a shaggy haired and sulky twelve-year-old boy and introduces him as their new foster child, Finger Lakes sports car dealer Jolene Parker doesn’t know what to think. The impulsive son of a jailed car thief, Danny is a handful whose main talents include picking locks and hotwiring cars.

After Danny takes a brief joyride in a car that he claims belongs to his dad, Jolene and Ray discover a horrible surprise in the trunk: a woman’s severed arm. While Ray hunts down the victim’s identity, Jolene races to find out whether Danny’s father did the foul deed, driving her straight into the twisted killer’s sights.

I’m delighted to have my third book on the market, but the timing is bittersweet. My first book signing for my debut novel, For Better, For Murder, was at our local Borders. The store manager placed me at a desk by the front door and put up a big display featuring the book. Dozens of my friends and family showed up in support, some bringing me flowers and buying copies of the novel for every member of their family. In contrast, today the Borders’ store clearance signs are up, and I know that my third book will never be on their shelf.

But hopefully you still can find In Sickness and in Death at all the other usual outlets.

To get things started right, I’m giving away ten copies of the book over on Goodreads, so by all means if you’re a member, check that offer out.

And if any of our InkSpot friends would like a chance to win an autographed “trilogy” set, please feel free to email me at to sign up for my mailing list and enter the drawing to win For Better, For Murder, For Richer, For Danger, and my latest release In Sickness and in Death.

Hey, hey, hey…it’s giveaway day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


RANDALL WILLINGHAM’S first impression of Del Shannon, maybe a dancer from one of the clubs. She was slender in tight-fitting jeans and sandals, a halter top snugged down to a flat, bare midriff. She had a small gold ring pierced into her navel and a tiny, yellow crescent moon tattooed on the outside of her left wrist. She had attitude, this girl. What threw him, though, was the hair. It was cropped short like a boy’s. A blonde sprig of it had fallen across her eyes,that day she walked off the elevator and into his office…

There’s a new girl on the thriller scene. Her name is DEL SHANNON. She’s twenty-nine years old, lean and beautiful, comfortable in boots and jeans. She prefers beer to wine. Takes her meals at the bar, more often than not. And her love-life, to date, is mostly hit-and-run.

“Check this out!” guys might say. “Where’d she come from?” women might ask.

Del works for Desert Sands Covert, an investigative firm in Tucson, Arizona, that specializes in finding and recovering missing persons. And, as a young women in a man’s world, she’s starting to develop something of a reputation for being especially good at what she does.

Her weapon of choice is the Baby Eagle—.357 semi-automatic, narrow profile, slim grip to accommodate a woman’s hand. You’ll spot it tucked into the waistband at the small of her back.

She’s impetuous—something that her boss Randall fears will one day lead to her demise. But her instincts are quick and she’s determined to survive at all costs.

Her debut thriller, Nazareth Child, takes Del into the mountainous reaches of Kentucky, and into confrontation with the infamous faith healer, Silas Rule, in search of the mother she’s never known. This fist dangerous, and emotionally ravaging journey, serves to forge Del’s metal and prepare her for a long and prosperous investigative career.

Says Publisher’s Weekly…

“Del Shannon has the makings of a solid series character.”

I’ve fallen in love with this girl. I hope you all will too.

NAZARETH CHILD, is now available on Stay tuned for Adventure Two , coming in September 2012.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ah, the Writing Life

Cricket McRaeiStock_000014123251XSmall

I’m writing this from the passenger seat of a Subaru Outback, speeding down I-25. We’re heading for three seventy-degree days and two thirty-seven-degree nights in the Rocky Mountains. A bed and breakfast, lake view, hiking, reading, and probably nine holes of golf.

Before I was published, I had a fantasy about the writing life. Oh, I knew it was a job, and that you had to put in the hours and effort. I knew sometimes writing is hard – after all, I was writing. I just wasn’t published yet.

But when I became a full-time writer, things were going to be different. For one thing, I’d travel a lot. You can write anywhere, so why not do it someplace fun? Plus, one of the things I like least about travel is the actual, you know, travel. Time spent in airports and on airplanes, on shuttle buses or waiting for the train. But as a writer, that time becomes downright useful. We could spend a month in Mexico or New England and keep Colorado as a home base.

And then there was the conversion van idea. Smaller than an RV, but self-sufficient. We could wander the country, exploring back roads and meeting new people. I could write just as I am right now, in the passenger seat. Or sitting at a picnic table under California redwood trees, under an umbrella with my toes in the sand.

None of that happened, of course.

Like many other writers, most of my travel involves research, or a conference or convention. Promotion takes a lot of time and organization, so it’s not just a question of hanging out with my muse and churning out the words. And we have rental properties, which we manage ourselves, so leaving for a month at a time is out of the question.

So we go on little jaunts like this, and I write in the car. I’ll put in some time on the keyboard sitting on the veranda and looking up at the lake. In another two weeks I’m heading to Seattle to promote Wined and Died, and my guy will hold down the fort at home. I’ll write on the plane and set my alarm early to get in a few pages before my hosts awaken.

It’s a good life, and I love it. I’m not giving up on the conversion van idea though.


For the month of August my first Home Crafting Mystery, Lye in Wait, is available as a free download for the Kindle and Nook.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Inkspot News - August 6, 2011

Monday, August 8th, at 7 PM eastern time, a panel of Midnight Ink authors will be interviewed on Giovanni Gelati's GZONE blogspot radio show. The panel will include Beth Groundwater, Alice Loweecey, Sebastian Stuart, and Lois Winston. You can listen to the broadcast live or go to the website and listen to the archived broadcast later. This should be an interesting and fun program!

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Hometown

Keith here.

(Photo credit: Palo Alto Historical Association)

I grew up in a lazy college town surrounded by orchards. Two-thirds of the country’s apricots were grown right there in “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” We didn’t lock our doors. Teenagers would stick their thumbs out on the main drag and get rides to school. The local university was informally referred to as “The Farm.”

Do you know what? I’m still there. I live only eight houses away from my parents’ old place. Two of my kids graduated from the same high school I did and I have one about to be a sophomore and one who should show up there as a freshman in two years. But almost everything has changed in a single generation.

When I went to Palo Alto High, I was friends with the daughter of the school custodian. I’ll bet anything that no children of a school custodian live in the Palo Alto of today. Like schoolteachers, fire fighters, or police officers, they just couldn’t afford it. When my parents moved to Palo Alto, they bought their first house for $29,500. Now Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has bought a house in town for $7 million. (Thank goodness, I bought a house here long ago.)

(photo from Wikipedia--one of Facebook's former buildings)

What happened? Somehow my hometown of Palo Alto became ground zero for world technology. Orchards filled with cherries and apricots have been replaced by tilt-up buildings filled with software engineers and MBAs. The Valley of Heart’s Delight has been transmogrified into Silicon Valley. Facebook is headquartered in town as is the world’s largest technology company, Hewlett-Packard. Google’s closer to my place than either, just over the city limits in Mountain View. Venture capital firms, trendy restaurants, and startups have pushed out the hardware stores, supermarkets, and bookstores in downtown Palo Alto that catered to local residents. In addition to Mark Zuckerberg, another high tech icon, Steve Jobs, lives here. Stanford University is now known throughout the world. San Francisco has become a place where Gen Y high tech employees eat, sleep, and cavort on the weekends while spending the week commuting down 101 to Palo Alto and other Valley cities. (Does that make San Francisco a suburb?)

It’s weird. I saw an article that mentioned three cities driving the world economy – New York, Shanghai, and Palo Alto. Wow! One of those cities has 23 million, one eight million, and one 60 thousand. Palo Alto now represents the high tech world in the same way Hollywood does show business.

I left Palo Alto to go to college and stayed away for 13 years. But I couldn’t resist the siren call of my hometown. And now I love having my kids go to the same high school I did, but wish they could have what I had in those simpler times.

But if push came to shove, I would not change a thing. Here in Palo Alto I’ve had the rush of working day and night to do my bit to make an Internet software company successful. I love the drive, the excitement, the people, and the opportunity it gives to build something. The Silicon Valley city-state of Palo Alto has even provided a rich vein of ore to mine in mysteries and thrillers. Plenty of crime fiction novels are set in New York, LA, and Washington, but few here. And why not here? Silicon Valley is where board members of the world’s largest high tech company hire private eyes to spy on each other. Where CEOs buy cocaine for their employees and are sentenced to prison for backdating stock options. We have as much ambition, greed, wealth, and criminal impulses as anywhere. Take that Wall Street, Hollywood, and Capitol Hill!

And yet, in a mental archeological dig, I am still reminded of the way Palo Alto used to be. My best friend from those days (and now) lives down the block, and I run into my high school girlfriend every couple of months. Beneath a thin mask that adds only a few character lines, their faces look pretty much the same. Sometimes one of my kids brings a book home from the school library, and I’ll see the name of one of my classmates scrawled inside the cover. When I consult with my lawyer, I remember sitting in the high school bleachers with a bunch of other elementary school friends and rooting for him, the best high school halfback we’d ever seen. That old Palo Alto is a ghost town occupying the same space as the high tech icon of today. I count myself lucky to live in both.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Little Getaway

by Kathleen Ernst

I write full time. And yes, that’s a dream come true. It also means that I’m pretty much writing, or thinking about writing, or doing something related to writing, all the time. I fall asleep reading reference books. Vacations become research trips. I’m rarely found without laptop, and never without a notebook.

It can be a little overwhelming.

I recently spent a week in Decorah, Iowa, taking a rosemaling class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Rosemaling is a form of decorative painting—a folk art with old roots in Norway. In the photo below, I’m holding a rosemaled ale bowl that some immigrant tucked into a trunk in the mid-1800s before boarding a ship for the new world.


I took a rosemaling class a year ago, primarily for research. The protagonist of my historic sites mysteries, Chloe Ellefson, is Norwegian-American. Her mom is a Gold Medal rosemaler, which is really good. The plot of Old World Murder features a missing antique ale bowl.

There are different styles of rosemaling, each with its own traditions. When I worked in the museum biz I admired the rosemaled pieces in our collection, but I figured I needed to understand the art in a hands-on kind of way. I started with a class in the Telemark style, which is considered the easiest to for beginners.

I learned a couple of things in that original class. First, I love to paint! Second, rosemaling is very challenging for a word-nerd like me. The class was intense and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. But I had two beautiful pieces that I take to programs and signings.

Rosemaling trip 012

rosemaling tray Since I didn’t do any painting once I got home, I decided to repeat the class this year. (Wise move on my part. I am definitely still a beginner.)

It’s been a very busy year. My head is constantly bubbling with plot ideas, my calendar seems too-full of deadlines, and my writing biz to-do list could, as my husband says, choke an elephant.

All that being the case, it was wonderful to once again immerse myself in the painting. We did two projects in the course of five days. Most of my classmates didn’t worry about finishing their pieces in that space of time. I, though, knew that once home I’d never find time to mix a palette and dig in. If I wanted the pieces done, I better get them done while in Decorah.

rosemaling3 That made for some late nights. When the studio closed on the final day, I carefully carted everything to my hotel room and set up there.


I did finish my pieces, a bowl and a box. I had a wonderful time, learned more about this marvelous old folk art, improved my technique, reconnected with friends and made some new ones. And best of all, being so focused on something different and difficult provided a much-needed mental margarita. I came home tired, but also mentally refreshed.


Although I must admit that I got some pretty good ideas for a future Chloe mystery while in Decorah, too.

How about you? What do you do to banish all things work-related from your brain?

Note: these pieces designed by my wonderful instructor, Joanne MacVey. You can learn more at,, or

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Many of the authors here at Inkspot have written about the support they receive from family and friends. But what about the deep dark secret few of us are willing to discuss, let alone admit to? What do you do when you discover that close friends and relatives have either never bothered to buy your books or haven’t even bothered to read the free copies you’ve given them?

I don’t like confrontation with people I have to interact with on a fairly regular basis. I’d rather wrap myself up in my hurt feelings and slink back into my cave. But the hurt lingers for a long time.

When I was writing in the romance genre, I rationalized the lack of support by telling myself some people just can’t transcend the romance genre stigma, even though my books were far from what some people describe as “those” books. No embarrassing clinch covers with bare chested heroes and heroines with heaving bosoms. There were, however, a few sex scenes, and I know some people get really squeamish reading sex scenes.

There are no sex scenes in my mysteries, though, and I dare anyone to find objection to my covers. (See for yourselves.) 

Also, it’s not that these people don’t read. They do. Just not my books, apparently.

One close friend who lives in another state admitted she hadn’t bought my latest book because there are no bookstores near where she lives. I guess she’s never heard of Amazon although she is quite computer literate and does shop online all the time.

One relative only reads “literary” fiction. Another waited so long to buy my first book that it was out of print by the time she got around to it. And a third isn’t buying my books because her daughter is an aspiring author who hasn’t been able to sell her manuscripts. Like that’s my fault???

Then there’s my mother’s friend who told me she wasn’t buying any more of my books because she bought my first one and never got around to reading it. I bit my tongue, but what I really wanted to do was remind her of all the overpriced crap my mother had bought from her kids and grandkids throughout the years for their cub scout, girl scout, and school fundraising drives. Crap either loaded with fat and calories or that simply took up space and would never be used. Yes, thin mints and samoas are delicious, but the popcorn always arrived stale. And how many bottle openers does any one household really need? My books both entertain and they won’t make you fat.

So when I receive a fan letter or email from someone, I treasure that correspondence. I recently received a lovely note from an 81 year old man who took the time to send me a handwritten letter, telling me how much he enjoyed ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN and was looking forward to the next book in the series.

I’m contemplating adopting that gentleman. Total strangers going out of their way to tell me how much they enjoy my books when some of my own friends and family have shown how little they care? That to me is priceless.

What about the rest of you? How do you deal with friends and relatives who act the way some of mine have? And for those of you who aren't writers, do you have family members and friends who have hurt and disappointed you in some way? How have you dealt with that hurt and disappointment?