Monday, October 31, 2011

Too cold to kill?

Church Graveyard in snow -  Grasmere,Lake District National Park

Well, winter arrived here in the East like an uninvited and very obnoxious guest, the kind who drowns out everyone else and turns your well-planned dinner party into an exercise in frustration.

Millions are without power, downed tree limbs are everywhere, cars are smashed, there's a foot of snow in places, it's a big fat mess and it's still only October.

Got me to thinking: which season is the most murderous? Winter, with its pull indoors, its cozy fires, warming food, camaraderie, and just general constraint seems the least homicidal. It's just too damn cold to kill.

Spring is so lovely, a rebirth, flowers and warming breezes, green buds and pretty girls, promise and play. In the face of all that benevolence, I could see someone snap. He's got murder on his mind, damnit, he'll show all that beauty who's boss! Knock pretty little spring down a peg! Kill!

Fall is such a bittersweet season, the leaves are changing, there's a fragile beauty in the air, days (and lives) are growing shorter, a sense of the clock ticking down to ... death. Our killer feels his time is running out, it's now or never and so ... he makes his move. The deed is done.

Summer, ah, sweet languorous summer, when we've enveloped in the heat, the heat, that terrible stifling sexy heat, those long clinging nights when terrible thoughts and murderous urges percolate in the dense air, clothes come off, passions rise, jealousy and rage and a hint of madness -- it can all lead to only one place and that place ain't pretty.

And the seasons they go round and round, killing urges go up and down ...

p.s. -- Yes, I know it's Halloween (and is there a less scary day in the year?).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Inkspot News - October 29, 2011

On Saturday, November 5th (starting at 1 pm), InkSpot authors Jennifer Harlow and Alan Orloff will be at the Sisters in Crime Mystery Author Extravaganza, held at the E. Columbia branch of the Howard County Library (6600 Cradlerock Way, Columbia, MD). Join them, and 17 other SinC authors, as they talk about (and sign) their books. Just in time for the holidays!

For the week of Monday, October 31 - Sunday, November 6, Beth Groundwater will be participating in the International Thriller Writers Thriller Roundtable "What moved you to write your first novel?"

On Tuesday, November 1, all day, Beth Groundwater will be responding to questions and comments on her Guest Post on "Stretching the Boundaries of a Cozy Mystery" at the
Barnes & Noble Mystery Book Club.

On Thursday, November 3, 2 PM MST, 4 PM EST, Beth Groundwater will appear on Gelatis Scoop GZONE Blogtalkradio Program for an Interview and Discussion.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Readers Who Care

by Vicki Doudera

One thing I found difficult after my non-fiction books were published was the lag time between when the books hit the shelves and when I actually received feedback from readers. Because Moving to Maine and Where to Retire in Maine appealed to an out-of-state audience, it took a good year before I started hearing from and meeting my readers. The nice thing is that when I finally did, they were wonderful new Mainers who had found my writing helpful and heartfelt. In some cases, Moving to Maine changed their lives.

Writing the Darby Farr Mystery Series has been completely different. I'm constantly meeting my readers, whether I'm at a library event, conference, or in the produce section of the grocery store. I remember the first time someone told me they would purchase A House to Die For electronically. The very next morning they sought me out to tell me they were halfway through and loving it. Heady stuff, for which I'm very grateful.

Readers of Inkspot and Maine Crime Writers share feedback and comments with me on a regular basis (thanks, guys!) and I often hear from blog readers on Facebook as well. All great input from People Who Care. But every now and then, I'll think about my website's personal blog and realize it is the one area that's lagging. There are times I feel like I'm blogging to a big empty nothing. Boy, do I hate those days!

But then I'll visit the moderation panel and see that I am oh, so wrong. My personal blog has some very dedicated readers, and these folks are happy to take the time to write to me. Federico Heichl, for instance. He and I are obviously soulmates. He writes: Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. An excellent read. I will definitely be back. Don't you think his constructive criticism is spot on, too? (I'm inserting some photos into this blog as we speak.)

And then there is Ruhrwerk (a one-namer, like Sting) who says: Wonderful web site. Lots of useful information here. I’m sending it to a few buddies and also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you on your effort! I love that Ruhrwerk is spreading the good word about me to his pals, and that he finds my site delicious, like a big plate of pasta carbonara. Obviously!

What about Gloria Buckley? She took the time to give me some much-needed financial advice when she wrote: I strictly recommend not to hold off until you earn enough amount of money to order goods! You should just get the personal loans or just short term loan and feel yourself comfortable. Thank you, Gloria -- my own personal Jean Chatzky.

Of course, she's not alone in offering me some friendly tips. Some of my readers are concerned enough to recommend various drugs that I should be taking. Some even go the extra mile to suggest pharmaceutical aids for my husband. And they are not embarassed to bring up some rather personal body parts! Now these are people who really care.

Really, when you think about it, I'm pretty lucky to have these very caring readers. Glen Bligen's complimentary comment came just the other day: I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays.

I tried to thank Mr. Bligen for his post, but the email came back undeliverable. I hate it when that happens!

I'll close with what's got to be one of the best responses to my personal blog. It's from NovikovNazar, and reads: отличный блок хаyc по отличной цене! I just know that translates to "I loved Killer Listing and cannot wait for Deadly Offer!"

Alright Inkspot readers -- what are your favorite comments from your gentle readers in cyberspace? Please, share in delicious with me!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Judging a Book By Its Cover

During my 2009 Blog Book Tour for the hardcover release of To Hell in a Handbasket, the second book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, I wrote a guest article for the Murder By 4 blog titled "You Can't Judge a Book by its Cover". In that article I wrote about how I was able to get the cover art changed for both that book and the first book in the series, A Real Basket Case.

Why bother, you might ask. Isn't what's between the covers, the novel itself, what's most important? Yes, but first readers must be enticed to crack open those covers and actually READ the novel, and the cover art is often the enticement. That's why authors obsess over their covers, especially when the art doesn't match the story inside. For instance, when the hero/heroine pictured on the cover has the wrong color hair or skin (yes, it's happened--to author friends of mine!)

Some of the large presses give their authors absolutely no say over their cover art. It's take-it-or-leave-it. I'm very lucky in that my mid-sized presses (Five Star Publishing in the case of that 2009 article and Midnight Ink for this article) both solicit author suggestions for cover art that get passed on to the art department. They also give authors a chance to comment on the cover art mockup before it goes final. Because of that, I've been able to influence the artistic concept and get some changes made that resulted in better covers.

Below is Midnight Ink's cover for the November trade paperback and ebook re-release of A Real Basket Case. The acquisition editor and I discussed putting a gift basket on the cover with a gun inside, which is the murder weapon. The art department added the gym-themed elements, because Claire Hanover meets the victim in a gym class. They also added the gift tag series logo, which will be carried on to each book in the series.

The one element I disagreed with was the view out of the window, which was of rolling green fields. I suggested they make the scene out of the window a view of mountains, since Claire lives in Colorado Springs. There really aren't any rolling green hills in Colorado Springs, since the city is located in a high alpine desert. And, you can see that they took my suggestion!

The next cover is the one that Midnight Ink created for Deadly Currents, the first book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. My suggestion to the art department was to illustrate the first scene in the book, where a raft goes sideways over a raging rapid and dumps its occupants, forcing my river ranger Mandy Tanner to go to the rescue. As you can see, they did just that. Plus they added a very cool blood-in-the-water effect. I was so excited about that cover that I had no changes to suggest.

And below is the latest, my brand-spanking-new cover for Wicked Eddies, to be released next May, which will be the second book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. It continues with the theme of an outdoor river-based scene and here the blood-red color is in the sky versus the water. It also contains the oval series logo, which is the logo of the outfitting company created jointly by Mandy and her lover Rob Juarez at the end of Deadly Currents.

My suggestion to the art department on this cover was to picture a river eddy (whirlpool) since that was in the title. Unfortunately, the eddy shown on the first cover art concept looked more like clouds swirling around mountain peaks than like water swirling around rocks. So, based on feedback from me, that concept was nixed. I'm very happy with this "Plan B," though, as are my blog readers, whose comments included:

"Absolutely beautiful...and a little sinister too. "
"It looks suspenseful...and yes, perfect!"
"The cover is stunning! Gorgeous colors. "

I agree!

So, Inkspot readers, have you been influenced by a cover to buy a book and then later felt that the book didn't live up to the cover? Or that it did? Got any cover art stories of your own? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


by Darrell James

There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about the best way to market a book in today’s brave new world of book publishing. Social networking and use of the internet to get the word out certainly offers an economy of scale that’s hard to argue with. But (and you can call me old-fashioned here if you want) there is something marginally unfulfilling about selling a book online, particularly in eBook form where no physical matter has changed hands, and no engagement with the reader has taken place. The greatest thrill for me as a writer is being in the public, face to face with potential readers, getting that nod of agreement… “Yes, you can sign it for me.”

(Lots of Books To Sign, B&N Dayton)
Maybe it’s the salesman in me. But there’s nothing like it as far as I’m concerned.

When we launched my debut novel, Nazareth Child, in September we (wife/publicist and I) set out to meet as many potential readers as possible in the first ninety days of the books life. Our reasoning was based on the premise that “word of mouth” is still the number one influence in a book (or author’s) success. And that word of mouth is spread by either those that like the book or like you. (Preferably both.)

(A Hug Always Helps)

We had a saying in my sales days: “Buyers, by and large, buy from the sales person in front of them.” I still think it holds true to some extent to this day.

(Discussing Nazareth Child at Foul Play Books, Columbus, OH)

During the past eight weeks, I have maintained an almost daily schedule of speaking in libraries and before fraternal and social organizations. Meeting with book clubs and writers groups. Doing-meet-and-greet-signings in both independent and chain book stores. I’ve participated in one national conference and a regional book festival. And, in two locations, have thrown private book launch parties with close to a hundred people in attendance at each. Along the way there were casual venues, extending invitations to friends and readers to join me after one event or another for drinks and socializing. (Between events I would do drive-bys of the area Barnes & Nobles, meeting each of the staff members personally, and signing stock (which I was pleasantly surprised to find available at virtually every store). It was all part of connecting with people in a personal and meaningful way. The result of all this has been that I have had the chance to personally engage and sign books for literally hundreds of readers.

(Even This Little Cutie Joined In The Celebration)

Was technology involved?

Actually, I couldn’t have done without Facebook and email as a means to put the word out. But the real payoff (and the real surprise) has been the incredible involvement of others—friends, family (for sure) but also those I have met and signed books for along the way, those I have spent personal time with, those who have read the book and enjoyed it. It’s been a near symphony of positive support going on across the web for weeks now. And, it’s my belief that the level of buzz in the social media would have been far less fervent had it not been for the personal contact.

(Check Out The Del Shannon Rocks T-Shirts)

At any rate, however you might want to measure results, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve reconnected and spent time with wonderful old friends, and made hundreds of new ones that I hope to become old friends in time.

The photos are just a few glimpses of the many great moments along the way. I’m looking forward to many more.

(Friends Old and New Turned Out In Cincinnati)

Nazareth Child: A Del Shannon Novel is currently available from bookstores and from online retailers in both trade paperback and for all popular eReaders.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Layers of Creativity


“Invent first, then embellish. The production of something, where nothing was before, is an act of greater energy than the expansion or decoration of the thing produced. Set down diligently your thoughts as they rise in the first words that occur; and when you have matter you will easily give it form.”

Samuel Johnson.

Long ago (25 years) and far away (okay, about three miles away) a logic professor told our class that learning something – anything, really – was always easier than creating something brand new on our own. I’ve never forgotten that. Probably because even then I wanted to be a writer, and his statement was a reminder that creativity can be, well, work. Good work, of course, but not to be taken lightly. Apparently Samuel Johnson agrees.

The Johnson quote above relates to the idea that there are different layers of creativity within most from-scratch projects. Painting a picture, the interior design of a room, planning a landscape bed, or inventing a recipe all require the spark of a beginning idea, the first implementation of that idea, and then subsequent improvements.

It’s certainly true of writing. The spark is hard to define. That “where do you get your ideas” thing that I can only answer with “everywhere” and “the weird acrobatics my brain does with my life experience.” Beyond the spark is what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts.”

I love shitty first drafts. They’re freeing. I can experiment. More magic happens when I’m not trying to write something perfectly. My mind is open to greater possibility. And I really love shitty first drafts because then I get to fix them. Fixing a first draft is [almost] always easier than coming up with one in the first place, and each improvement provides a ping of satisfaction that feels like a wee hit of dopamine.

Fixing is the next layer of creativity. Problem solving. Working out the glitches. Making it smooth and clear and pretty and maybe even a little funny. For a room or a garden it’s adjusting the visual flow, changing texture, balancing beauty and practicality. Or a recipe may require a little more cinnamon or the addition of a savory herb to complement all that cheese (and bacon!).

In any creative endeavor you have to know the basics – grammar and storytelling, how ingredients work together, how colors complement each other or affect mood, what grows in your zone and blooms in each season. That knowledge is available – especially with the Internet – and easy to learn if you’re truly interested. Plus, it will grow with each use, increasing with your passion for whatever creative outlet you love.

I’m embellishing, as Johnson put it, a lot these days. And then? Onto another shitty first draft!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unanswerable Questions?

Keith here.

Is there one universe or many? What is the meaning of life? What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?

There are some questions that just cannot be answered.

As readers of this blog know, I am undertaking an experiment in e-publishing. My first two novels, both published in trade paper, did fine (and continue to sell). But I couldn't resist climbing aboard the ebook express and so I uploaded my latest effort, Drop By Drop: A Thriller, onto,, Smashwords, and Apple's iBookstore. Generally, all seems to be going well. While I miss bookstore signings, the fact I have already made more in royalties on Drop than on my last traditionally published book provides some solace.

But in the world of e-publishing, mysteries abound. There are questions for which I have no answers. Here are four:

1. How do people find out about an ebook original? I tried a little experimental advertising of Drop By Drop -- sales were not affected. Drop was greeted by a bunch of online reviews which definitely helped. Lately, there have been fewer. Still, sales have not gone down and are even trending upward. My experience is not unique. I have spoken to a couple of friends whose books were made available on the Kindle with little uptake. Only months later did their sales zoom. Why? They don't know. There's an invisible hand at work, I guess.

2. Living as I do in Silicon Valley, a few miles away from 1 Infinite Loop (Apple HQ), many readers tell me they have purchased their copy of Drop from the iBookstore. I also read about authors selling scads of books on So here's the question: Why do I sell 20 times more books on Amazon than Barnes and Noble's and 9 times more than on Apple's iBookstore?

3. The United States has about 312 million people. The United Kingdom has about 64 million or about 20% as many. According to estimates, 750M paper-and-ink books were sold in the US in 2010 and 229M in the UK or about 30% as many. I did some Googling. According to these links, US ebook sales were $441M in 2010 and in the UK were £180M or about 60% of the US total. So why am I selling 80 times more books on this month than on

4. My second book, Smasher, made it onto a national bestseller list and was optioned for film. Reviews in paper-and-ink newspapers and mystery and publishing magazines were great. Drop By Drop was reviewed only in online publications. Smasher sells for $2.99 and Drop for $3.99. Nevertheless, Drop is selling 14 times more copies than Smasher on so far this month. How come?

Attention: there may be a Nobel Prize in store for whoever can answer the first question of this post, but all you get for answering any of the four ebook questions is my thanks and appreciation.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Inkspot News - October 22, 2011

* Lois Winston will be the Keynote speaker at the Ancient City Romance Writers Bootcamp on the Beach conference today at the Hampton Inn, St. Augustine Beach, Florida.

* The audiobook versions of Keith Raffel's Dot Dead and Smasher are selling for half off over at as part of their "frighteningly low prices" Halloween promotion.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Signing Books

by Kathleen Ernst

In the (many) years between first finished book and first published book, I dreamed of that most writerly of tasks: sitting at a table and signing copies. The notion that someone might actually want me to was almost beyond comprehension.

Well, books got published and sometimes people do want me to sign them. What I didn’t know, way back then, was that I’d be so bad at it.

Malice Domestic 7

Not meeting readers—I adore that part. Not giving programs about my books—I’m pretty good at that too. I even have nice handwriting and a couple of lovely pens.

The problem I have is trying to chat while signing. It’s a reader’s moment to ask a question or tell me something important, and I like that bit of one-on-one. But I’m not good at multi-tasking. When someone is talking with me I have trouble remembering my own name, much less theirs.

Once a family stopped me in the parking lot as I was leaving a signing. I’d written a lovely inscription in the book they’d just purchased, but in the midst of our conversation, I’d somehow forgotten to actually sign my name. Twice I’ve had to purchase my own books because I botched the inscription.

I run into more trouble when someone approaches the table and asks, “Remember me?” I have a horrible memory, and I’m afraid I don’t always remember a reader I met three years ago. Even worse, my Chloe Ellefson books are (so far) set at a place where I worked 20-30 years ago. Sometimes former colleagues come to my programs, and every now and then I can’t for the life of me find their name in my mental vault. (In my own feeble defense, I did supervise 60-80 people a year, for a decade.)


I try to get around such lapses by keeping a pad handy. Whenever someone hands me a book, I ask them to spell their name, and I write it down. “I always like to check spelling,” I say cheerfully. (Me writing it, as opposed to them scribbling it on a Post-it or something, helps solidify the letters in my brain for a moment.) Everyone once in a while even that fails, as with the man I’d met before who gave me a disappointed look and said “B-o-b.”

I always write the date on the top of the pad, as well. I tend to forget.

If someone buys multiple titles, I try to write a little something different in each one. I’m not so good at that either, especially if they hand me five or six books.

KAE signing Waupaca

The hardest signings of all are with kids. I know this is a special occasion. I want them to leave with a happy memory and a legible inscription, but sometimes I do better than others. Kids like to see what I’m writing and watch me sign my name. They crowd around, sometimes jostling the table and sending the pen in a direction I did not intend.

All this is not to complain. Far from it! I’ve had a dream come true, and I try to savor every moment. But if you happen to ask me to sign a book, please don’t mind if I need you to repeat your name, or if I write the wrong date by mistake. The story itself will be much more polished, I promise.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Retreat to Writing

So I'm lucky enough to be sitting at a writing retreat at Rockaway Beach, Oregon. Which is a great thing since I'm way behind in working my next book. I belong to a fantastic online writing group, and we decided that it was time we get together and work our collective magic. When we arrived, I wasn't sure what to expect, but the picture on the left blew my mind. Then I hunkered down at a picnic table to do a little writing with this same view, and what a dream.

Earlier today we sat for a fantastic seminar by Lori L. Lake on character, including a piece on values in conflict. It was a way of looking at motivation for your characters that I hadn't thought of. Fiction really isn't a conflict of characters, it's a conflict of values that drives the characters.

If you take a character and ask them what nothing is more important than XXXXXXXX, you can determine the values of your characters. In my book, BINGO BARGE MURDER, my main character, Shay, values her friends and relatives. She'll go to bat for them to excess if the situation calles for it. She values homesty and loyalty, and will go to the wire for what she believes in.

Shay's best friend, Coop, values the environment, his friends, animal rights, and staying out of jail. Eddy, their elderly confidant and friend, values Shay and Coop, Law & Order, adventure, poker, personal integrity, and a big dose of common sense. JT, my detective who's after Coop, values bringing the bad guys to justice, her cappucino, and her intuition. Bring them all together and you have a big old messy conundrum. I'd never thought of conflict in this way, and I have to say it was quite a revelation.

So we ended the lessons of the day and I went back to checking out the sights. The rest of these pictures are, to me, a little piece of heaven that somehow calms my soul. And kicks in my exploring gene. I better make darn sure I write profusely while I'm here, and maybe the reeds, sand dunes, and crashing, rolling, heaving waves help. If nothing else, it's one hell of a breath of fresh air!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


On Friday I’m flying to Florida to give the keynote address at the Ancient City Romance Writers Boot Camp on the Beach retreat. Because I have to fly through Atlanta to connect to Jacksonville, I’m going to spend a week visiting family outside of Atlanta before returning home. The difference in the cost of the flight to do this on Delta was approximately $75.

The end of January I’ll once again be in Florida, speaking at the Space Coast Writers’ Guild Conference. Once again, I have to switch planes in Atlanta. Only this time Delta wants to charge me an additional $277 to stay in Atlanta instead of immediately hopping on my connecting flight coming home. If I were to fly roundtrip to Melbourne, FL without staying over in Atlanta, the flight would be $206.80. Spending time in Atlanta increases the flight to $483.80, even though I HAVE TO SWITCH PLANES IN ATLANTA ANYWAY!

Where is the sense in this? On any given day on any flight, the person to my left may have paid half what I paid for my seat, and the person to my right may have paid three times what I paid. The seats are the same. The person who paid three times what I paid isn’t getting three times the service. He’s getting the same non-service I’m getting.

And why am I telling you about this, given Inkspot is a writing blog? I’m about to draw a parallel here that brings this all back to writing.

Just the other day I read an article in the New York Times about Amazon’s new publishing division.
 According to the article, Amazon purportedly paid actress/director Penny Marshall an $800,000 advance for a memoir. I know several people who recently sold books to  Amazon’s new fiction lines. They're not getting a dime in the away of an advance. See where I’m going here? On any given day in any given bookstore, the book to the left of mine may have received half the advance I received for my book, while the book to the right of mine may have received ten, twenty, or even 100 times the advance I received for my book. The book to my left might wind up selling better than my book, and my book might wind up selling better than the one to my book’s right.

A huge advance is no guarantee of huge sales. More often than not, the books that receive six, seven, and eight figure advances wind up never earning out those advances. I saw one statistic a few years ago that claimed 80% of celebrity memoirs and fiction “written” by celebrities (We all know they’re actually ghost written. You really didn’t think Snooki actually wrote A Shore Thing, did you?) wind up on the remainders table.

Seems to me Penny Marshall makes plenty of money already. Does she really need another $800,000? Why not give her half of that $800,000 and spread the other half around to the authors not being offered any advance? I know my friends would certainly appreciate that. They might even buy  copies of Penny’s memoir as a way of saying thanks.

As for me, I’m looking forward to February 12th. That’s the date Southwest begins service between Newark Liberty and Atlanta.

Lois Winston writes the 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 and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Them Darned Dames

By Deborah Sharp

Is there anything better than a pajama party with fun girlfriends?

That's exactly what my Dangerous Dames tour of North Carolina has felt like this past week. My pals and fellow mystery authors, Julie Compton and Joanna Campbell Slan have been fabulous traveling partners. North Carolina resident Molly Weston, our escort, den mother, and psychological counselor, has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Not only has she put us up (and put up with us), she's told funny stories, stuffed us full of wonderful, fattening food, and brought in wonderful readers from all over North Carolina's Triangle to share in the fun. What else could you ask of a pajama party planner?

The PJ party comes to mind as Julie and I sit here on the last morning at Molly's house.(Joanna left yesterday, and we miss her!) We're both in our pajamas, clicking away on our little netbooks, sipping our hot beverages of choice (tea for me; coffee for Julie). Writers spend half their life in their PJs. The other half, they spend gussied up, going out to book signings and events to talk about the book they just spent a year writing.

The picture above features the gussied up Dames, Molly at the left, Joanna, me and Julie. I'll spare you the photo of us in our PJs, robes and fuzzy socks, sans make-up, hair products or glamor. That's the image, though, that I'll remember: gathered around Molly's kitchen table, the Dangerous Dames in their natural state. Just a quartet of gal pals throwing a PJ party.

* Note to my fellow Midnight Ink authors: Sorry this post is so late. All the food the Dames ate this past week must have addled my mind enough to make me miss my deadline. Back home, I realized I'd missed my scheduled slot for today. If you make me run laps as punishment, maybe I'll drop a couple of the pounds I packed on eating my way across North Carolina.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse: IT WILL HAPPEN!

I was recently asked in an interview at the blog site Rabid Reads, (to check out the interview and other blog stops check out Harlow Gazette) if I had a zombie apocalypse plan. My answer, being I am a strange person from strange stock, of course was yes. We've had once since I was a teenager after my brothers and I watched Night of the Living Dead. We were so frightened about the end of the world we all sat huddled together and discussed where we would go, what weapons we would need, and who would be the first to be sacrificed for the greater good (sorry, Trevor.) As the years progressed the zombie grew in popularity due in part to video games and their general awesomeness. We each devoured Max Brooks' seminal Zombie Survival Guide. I'm sure you've read it (hell even if you don't believe in the zombie apocalypse it's a great manual for general survival) but if not it covers the best ways to dispatch the undead, which are the best weapons, and who to sacrifice for the greater good (still you, Trev).

I thought the Harlow family was alone in their paranoia, going to the gun range to practice head shots, playing numerous zombie video games, and amassing kick ass weapons like a machete and other blades (I even have a stake in case a vampire pops by), but I was wrong. At least three people commented their families have a plan too. Hell, even the CDC put up a webpage that crashed because so many people wanted to view it about what to do in case of zombie attack. Even the CDC has concerns. IT WILL HAPPEN! BE PREPARED!

My Zombie Readiness Kit:
Bette the Machete
Baseball bat
Far too many guns for living in the suburbs
Approx 25 knives my mother confiscated from my brothers through the years
Coca-Cola Classic
37 bottles of wine
Kindle w/dozens of zombie books for "research"
Canned goods-mostly peaches and Spam for a balanced meal
iPod w/butt kicking tunes since slaughtering the undead is more fun with a soundtrack
Kill or be killed attitude

Note: This was the same kit I have prepared for a hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, Cthulhu attack, and a boring Friday night.

So what about you? Have you and your loved ones prepared for the undead onslaught? Did I forget anything? How many hours of your life have you lost playing games like Dead Island and my personal favorite Zombies Ate My Neighbors to get ready? Discuss.

On a side note, my blog tour rages on. Go to for all the stops. Also if you're in the Richmond, VA area Oct 28th I'll be on Virginia This Morning on CBS from 9-10AM and then on Sunday 29th I'll be at The Fountain in Richmond from 1-2PM for my very first signing! Until next time.

Jennifer Harlow, author of Mind Over Monsters, out now!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Inkspot News - Octiber 15, 2011

Beth Groundwater will be appearing on a Mystery/Suspense Authors Panel that also includes David Boop and Warren Hammond for the Denver Writers Meetup today from 1:00 to 4:00 PM at the Englewood Public Library, 1000 Englewood Parkway, Englewood, CO 80110. If you're in the area, please come to this free event!

Friday, October 14, 2011

MWA and U

mwa_logoIf you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a mystery writer or mystery fan/reader (or criminal, I suppose, looking for hints about how to beat the law). That’s why I think you should consider joining Mystery Writers of America (unless you’re a criminal—then change your ways and contribute positively to society!). Disclaimer: I am a proud member of MWA and I’m the treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter. However, the opinions I’m expressing here are my own, unofficial and slightly biased, ones.

MWA offers many valuable benefits and services to members, as well as to the public at large (and you don’t have to be a published author to join!)—newsletters, discounts, a listserv, the Edgar awards, anthologies, scholarship programs, and others. But I’d like to highlight two important aspects of being in MWA: the networking and the education.

Our local chapter has monthly dinner meetings, and because of our D.C. location, we get a wide range of terrific speakers. We’ve had an ex-spy, an FBI hostage negotiator, and museum director (and a wealth of great writers, too). During our last meeting, we learned about stalking, which was fascinating, in a totally creepy way (Did you know that about 2% of stalking cases end in murder or attempted murder? And that, in Virginia, stalking is only a misdemeanor?).

In addition to hearing great speakers, these meetings are excellent places to network. You can connect with potential research sources, find other writers for critique groups, or discover which mystery/writing conferences are worth attending. You can also learn about agents, publishers, and other arcane workings of the publishing biz (if your stomach is strong enough).

On a national level, MWA has recently (within the past year or so) begun offering what it calls MWA University, in different locations throughout the country. It’s “a full-day, low-cost writing seminar designed to teach participants the essential skills needed to write a novel, from the idea stage to the final editing. The focus is on the craft of writing, and the college-level courses are taught by published writers and experienced teachers.”

I had the great pleasure of attending the pilot seminar last summer, and it was fantastic. I recommend it to any writer, at any level.

If you don’t already belong to MWA, what are you waiting for?



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Movies Inspire

It goes without saying that books have profoundly influenced my writing career. From Nancy Drew to Nancy Pickard, mystery novels have given me tips about plot, characters, and settings. I've studied openers with hooks and endings with twists, traveled to Agatha Christie's Egypt, Sue Grafton's California, and Stephen King's Maine -- all thanks to the written word.

Books are compelling, but movies? Now that's powerful stuff. Give me a good suspenseful flick and I'm educated, inspired, and... scared silly.

I can vividly remember one of the earliest suspense movies I saw as a child. It was The Spiral Staircase, a 1945 drama in which a young mute woman must evade a serial killer. I was ten or eleven, it was a school night, and my mother left the house for some sort of meeting. My father promptly suggested that we watch a movie, and minutes later (or so it seemed) the black-and-white thriller flickered on our set.

I found the film terrifying, even though I'd been a Dark Shadows groupie since kindergarten. The murderer targeted handicapped, or as they said in the film, "afflicted," young women. He was a predator in the most evil sense of the word. Rather than showing his face, the camera revealed his eyes, menacing and dark, stalking his hapless victim. To top it all off, his profession was one that encouraged trust.

When it was over and the villan was dead, I remember wondering whether The Spiral Staircase would give me nightmares. I can't recall that it ever did. The film did impart a sense of true terror, mingled with something like awe. I'd been scared, yes, but in the relief following the movie's white-knuckle conclusion, I was more alive than ever. Energized.

Which movies have scared you silly? Have they also influenced your writing? Which is the one that made the biggest impression?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Promoting a Re-Release

On November 8th, Midnight Ink will be re-releasing my mystery, A Real Basket Case, in trade paperback and ebook. This is the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, which debuted in hardcover in March, 2007. As a result of that debut, it was one of four books nominated for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award (named for Agatha Christie). The book gathered a bevy of good reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Spinetingler Magazine, Crimespree Magazine, and many other places. Quite a few mystery readers and libraries bought the book back then, but because of the publisher's distribution policies, it wasn't widely sold.

Midnight Ink and I hope to gain many, many new readers for the series with this re-release in formats that are more inexpensive, more popular, and more widely distributed than the original hardcover format. Midnight Ink has put a jazzy new cover on the book and updated the back cover copy:

"A-tisket, a-tasket, an indiscretion gone terribly wrong...

Feeling neglected by her workaholic husband, forty-something gift basket maker Claire Hanover joins an aerobics class at the urging of her best friend Ellen. Divorced and bitterly unhappy, Ellen and most of the other women in the class add a little vicarious excitement to their lives by flirting with the handsome instructor, Enrique. In a moment of weakness, Claire agrees to let the charming Enrique come to her house to give her a massage. She realizes she has made a deadly mistake when Enrique is shot and killed in her bedroom and her husband Roger is arrested for the murder.

Determined to clear Roger's name and save her marriage, Claire sets out to find the real killer, encountering drug dealers, jealous ex-girlfriends, and angry cops along the way."

My promotion quandary with this release, though, is how to promote a book that's already been widely reviewed and that I've already conducted quite a few signings for.

I do plan to promote the re-release on-line with a few guest blog posts, Internet radio and chat room appearances, email loop notifications, and getting the word out to my followers on Goodreads and Facebook or who've subscribed to my email newsletter. Also, I'll be running a Goodreads giveaway contest for it from October 15th through November 5th, so if you're a Goodreads member, be sure to enter once the contest opens!

As for signings, though, I didn't think many bookstores would be interested in hosting a signing for a re-release. I did agree to participate in a multi-author fundraiser booksigning for Pikes Peak Writers (PPW) in Colorado Springs on November 12th. But then I was stymied.

Enter Ann Parker. Ann is a good friend and a fellow mystery author, whose historical series takes place in Leadville, Colorado during the mining heydays of the late 1800s. The fourth book in her series, Mercury Rises, will be released November first. Ann lives in California and will be visiting Colorado for a week and a half in November to promote her book. She asked if I'd be interested in doing some events with her. Would I?!

I immediately roped her into the PPW event and volunteered to drive us around and house her at my Colorado Springs and Breckenridge homes. Then we divvied up the work of contacting local bookstores and other potentials hosts. Ann arranged a library event and bookstore signing in Leadville and a panel signing in Longmont with another mystery author, Michelle Black. I organized a workshop in Salida, Colorado, a signing in Manitou Springs, and one in Boulder. A couple of other events are in the works but are not finalized yet. See our websites for up-to-date details about our appearances.

Ann's Colorado visit will be crammed full of events, many more than she would have managed on her own, and I now have some events at which to promote A Real Basket Case. We'll be sharing expenses, making the costs much lower for both of us, and we'll be sharing the fun! What could be better?

But, could there be more? Do you Inkspot readers have any suggestions for me of other ways I can promote a re-release? I'm looking for activities that are fairly inexpensive and that won't take a lot of time away from my writing schedule for Cataract Canyon, the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventure series. I'd love to see some out-of-the-box suggestions here!

Friday, October 7, 2011


Darrell James

Even the weather was perfect when I rolled into Bowling Green, Ohio, Wednesday—79 and sunny. I started by checking into the hotel and running through some notes I had made for the night’s event. See, I was scheduled to speak to a group at the Wood County Library at 7:00 pm, just one stop on the three month book tour I have planned.

The event was arranged and hosted by Mary Boone. Mary is a Sisters in Crime National Board member and Library Liaison for SinC. She’s also the librarian at the Wood County Library, a stunning facility that was recently remodeled to include a naturally lighted atrium reading area, that I found myself wishing I could make my permanent writing retreat.

Mary picked me up at the hotel, making me feel like a visiting head of state. I first got the walking tour of downtown Bowling Green. It’s quaint and traditional. The farmers market was alive with early evening shoppers, the booths filled with baskets of late corn, apples, and pumpkins. We had diner at Easy Street, a charming little eatery along the main drag. (For those who don’t know Mary, she’s charming, gracious, and fun. Everything you would hope for in your favorite librarian.)

At seven, we returned to the library where I had the opportunity to address a group gathered patiently to hear about my debut novel, Nazareth Child. To my delight a number of the attendees had already purchased and read the book, and were quick to add supportive comments. (It seems they loved it. And loved Del Shannon as well.)

Readers are the best. They’re knowledgeable of the genre and know what they like and dislike. Their questions are insightful, and they seem to have as much interest in how an author and a book came into being as in the book itself.

It was a great stop on my continuing book tour that started on September 9th in Pasadena, and will end roughly on November 19th back in California, at the Men of Mystery event in Irvine.

On Thursday, I met Craig, the Assistant Manager, at the Maumee, OH, Barnes & Noble. Nice guy! He immediately ordered in copies of Nazareth Child to be featured in their “new release” mystery section. (BTW: he would have been a nice guy even if he hadn’t ordered my books.)

As I write this post, I’m at the B & N coffee shop, drinking a root beer, and anticipating the signing I have later tonight, at Barnes & Noble Franklin Park, Toledo. The weekend will find me at B & N in Dayton, next week at Foul Play Books in Columbus, then Youngstown to speak to a writers group, and then to Cincinnati for a huge Midwest launch party with high school friends and family.

Many authors lament the trials of book promotion. I have to say, “If this is workin’, I’ll take it any day of the week.”
Now… on with the show.

Nazareth Child- A Del Shannon Novel has just been released from Midnight Ink, Llewellyn Worldwide. It is available through booksellers and online retailers and for download to all popular electronic readers.

Says The Mystery Reader: “The characters make this first mystery a stand out.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Cricket McRae

1321074_paint_splatter You would think on a blog written by mystery authors, I’d be talking blood spatter with a title like that.

Nope. Sorry.

Lately I’ve been refining my workshop on getting to know your characters better. It consists of nine ways to dig deeper when developing protagonists, antagonists and the secondary folks who populate fiction. The last time I taught this workshop I was reminded of a screenwriting intensive I took from Stewart Stern in 2006.

Stern is the soul-sounding writer of, among other things, Rebel Without a Cause, Rachel Rachel and the teleplay for Sybil. He wrote old-school style – no Vogler or McKee outlining how stories ought to work (though I bet he was familiar with Aristotle’s Poetics). In the intensive, he shared with us the impetus behind his genius.

He called it going through splat.

In fact, there is a documentary about his life, writing, and war (he fought in the Battle of the Bulge), called Going Through Splat: The Life and Work of Stewart Stern.

And here is an interview with him.

Splat was his way of talking about the difficult, psyche-scraping process of discovering something about ourselves that we have always avoided facing. In doing so, we are able to give that same gift to our characters. Protagonists in particular need to do that which they have always avoided in order to grow. 

Splat comes from wounds in the back story of a character. They do not have to be huge dramatic wounds – abuse, death of a parent, or great tragedy. But Stern maintained that there needs to be a point of connection between our protagonists’ back stories and our own. That connection may not be obvious to others, but we know it’s there.

Splat is facing the thing that stands in our way in our lives. Facing that thing creates hope. We may deprive ourselves, or hurt ourselves to avoid dealing with it, but in the end it is necessary. Stern maintained, “Courage is the price that life charges for peace.”

Splat is “being skinless in order to communicate,” to really tell the story. Your art lies in your own experience. Your fantasy about facing something you want to avoid is nourishing to others.

Do the thing you don’t want to do, to understand what that’s like, so you can pass that knowledge on. The mission of an artist “is to give to their audience one single moment in which they can glimpse their own capacity for greatness.”

So does all that sound like a bunch of hooey to you? While it resonates deeply with me, I think it does depend on what kind of story you’re telling. Applying the idea of splat to the lighter fare some of us write could defeat the purpose of providing, say, humorous escape. On the other hand, having that dimension of character even in a cozy provides a welcome depth – as long as it’s applied with a feather touch.

As a writer, do you dig deep, uncomfortably deep, to grant your characters life? As a reader, do you enjoy it when a writer does this?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When One Thing Leads To Another…

by Kathleen Ernst

I’ve mentioned here before that I often write in coffee shops. This post is about some nice and unexpected things that came my way because of that.

My favorite haunt is a local spot called the Prairie Cafe. The staff is nice, the food is good, and they make the best mocha lattes in town. There’s an outlet right next to the table in the quiet corner. All good stuff.

prairie cafe sign-image

After my first Chloe mystery came out, several young women who work there told me they belonged to a book club. Would I be willing to meet with the group to discuss Old World Murder? Of course I said yes. Alisha, who manages the cafe, offered to host the gathering in the cafe, which is closed in the evening. It turned out to be a marvelous gathering. In addition to good conversation, the club members put out a pot luck to shame all pot lucks. They gave me flowers. I got a beautiful thank-you card, and even a gift certificate from the cafe (more mochas!).

cafe book club spread

I gave Alisha a copy of The Heirloom Murders when it was released. (The acknowledgments thank the Prairie Cafe staff for their hospitality). She and my husband Scott put their heads together and came up with a plan to display both of my books on a shelf beside the cash register. Pretty good exposure! I think we even sold a few.

Prairie Cafe display

Alisha is a professional baker. I like to work with friends whenever possible, so we asked her to bake the cake for the launch party for The Heirloom Murders. The party was last week, and she provided an amazing cake. In addition to creating the book itself, she created a hand cultivator, Swiss flag, and a chunk of green cheese from fondant. (That all actually makes sense if you read the book.) And she added a crystal to represent the legendary diamond at the heart of the plotline.

THM cake

I know that writing in public places isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, though, you end up making new friends, selling a few books, and serving a cake that will, I hope, have my guests ready for more when the next book launch rolls around.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rules and Regulations

by Robin Allen

I love rules. Really love them. They mean that someone a) is in charge and b) has considered the likelihood of things getting out of hand and c) has put measures in place to keep things neat and orderly. I love neatness and order.

A No Parking sign in front of a convenient place to park? I drive around until a spot opens up, even though I've had to use the little mademoiselle’s room for the past hour. No bottles allowed on the beach? That's why they make Shiner Bock in a can. Clean lint filter before each use? Always. Do not remove this mattress tag? Never have, never will.

I also love working in restaurants. The intrigue, the alliances, the gossip. The fun, the friendships, the factions. With every new customer comes a new challenge, a new story—an allergy to yellow cornmeal or the latest fad diet that forbids cruciferous vegetables to be eaten with red dye number eighty-six.

So when I set out to write a mystery series, what else could Poppy Markham be but a by-the-book public health inspector who has worked every job from busgirl to manager to chef in her family’s restaurant? And when an obnoxious Michelin-rated French chef invades the kitchen—currently under the command of Poppy’s cranky, territorial stepsister—what else could happen but murder?

Poppy loves rules, too, but only the ones she can enforce. Some of the others get a little bent and banged around as she tries to discover who really killed Évariste Bontecou. Yes, Poppy flashed her inspector's badge in a police station, but she was trying to see her stepsister. And, okay, she used her badge to detain and lecture a litterbug in traffic, but he messed with Texas right in front of her! Rest assured, however, that Poppy never wears white after Labor Day and she does not run with scissors. So far.

As readers, are there fictional characters you love (or hate) because you identify with them? As writers, what parts of you have you given your sleuth?

This post was previously published at Murder by the Blog.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Inkspot News: Cheap Read?, a site specializing in ebooks for the Kindle that cost under $5, somehow came across Drop By Drop and decided to feature it. (Click here.) No complaints from the author.