Wednesday, November 30, 2011


One of the writing organizations I belong to had a recent online discussion about “When is it about selling books?”

As authors, we’re often boxed into a damned if we do, damned if we don’t situation. Too much promo turns readers off; not enough promo doesn’t get the word out about our books and thus adversely impacts sales. And when books don’t sell well, authors don’t get offered new contracts.

Many people outside of publishing have the mistaken impression that by virtue of being published, we authors are rolling in Franklins. If only that were the case! The outside world only reads about the publishing deals scored by celebrities and the occasional really, really big name authors. They think a book contract means an automatic bloated bank account, no matter who you are or what you write. That’s why friends and family are always asking for free books. They believe we wealthy authors can well afford to give away truckloads of our books.

Some writers claim they write for the pure enjoyment of writing. If they didn’t get paid for their writing, they’d still write. This may be true, but if they weren’t getting paid for their writing, they wouldn’t be killing themselves to meet deadlines. They’d write at their own pace.

Others admit that their writing is a business, and they expect to make a decent living at it. Unfortunately, most don’t. I’m juggling three full-time jobs. I have friends who consistently make the NY Times lists and still can’t afford to quit their day jobs. And yet we all continue to write. To meet our deadlines. To angst over our reviews, our print runs, and our sell-thru numbers. To hope and pray for that next contract.

Are we crazy? No. We’re writers.

So here it is the end of November, and in five weeks DEATH BY KILLER MOP DOLL, the second book of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, will be released. As part of my promotional efforts for the release of the book, I’ve scheduled a series of guest blogs throughout January. I hope readers find them entertaining rather than hard sell, but I also hope they’ll buy the book. Is that really too much to ask? I hope not.

Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed 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, November 29, 2011

Whoa, I'm Hot!

By Deborah Sharp

Like so many other missteps, my self-delusion involved alcohol.

It was a warm night in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale. The waiter at a waterfront restaurant placed a second draft beer on my table.

''It’s on the bartender.''

I stared at the glass in disbelief. I thought maybe a sweat droplet or a stray mosquito had lodged itself in my ear. I must not have heard him right. The first George Bush was in office the last time a man bought me a drink.

It wasn't always so. In my day, I was a looker. Not “Get-This-Gal-A-Vogue-Cover!’’ gorgeous, but pretty enough that construction workers hung off scaffolding and yelled stuff as I passed by.

It's been a long time, though, since I've heard anyone shout, ''Ooooooh, baby, how'd you like to hold my hammer?’’

I peered at the free drink like it was a terrorist's cocktail. ''Do I know the bartender?''

''He's new,'' said the waiter, oddly evasive.

Dim memories surfaced of clubbing with my girlfriends when all of us were single. Free drinks would stack up, like planes trying to land in Atlanta. I'd often take a sip, nod thanks at the guy who bought it, and leave the remainder sitting on the bar. I took the attention for granted; never thought about the day it would stop.

But it did. And I don’t miss it, for the most part.

Yet, all those memories came rushing back when the waiter delivered that beer, on the house. I was flattered. I felt twenty-nine again.

''Tell me the bartender’s name.'' I'm pretty sure I batted my lashes. ''I want to be sure to thank him.''

Long pause. ''Actually,'' the waiter looked embarrassed, ''the free beer was a mistake.''

Everyone in the bar must have heard the crash of my ego plummeting back to earth. Turned out the new bartender mistakenly poured a second beer I hadn’t ordered. Instead of tossing it, the waiter brought it over. On the house. In a way.

So, I'm still fifty-plus and invisible after all, merely the beneficiary of a new bartender’s learning curve. I drank every drop.

And as I did, I wondered: Why can't we spread those free drinks around? Take a cocktail from the line in front of some young, nubile thing, and pay it forward to someone old enough to be her grandma. One more free drink means nothing to a gorgeous girl in her twenties. But to the formerly pretty, now middle-aged and dowdy?

Well, let's just say that one draft beer on the house – briefly – made me believe I've still got it.

How about you? Any ego-deflating moments you'd care to share? Look at it this way: It's all material.

Monday, November 28, 2011

For The Love of Libraries

Reading is in my blood. Both my parents are huge readers. In a week they go through a book a day. I can't remember a single week in my whole life where they haven't had a book in their hands. Every night before I went to bed as a child one or the other read at least two stories to me. (Did I mention that my parents are awesome? Well, they are.) I got this "reading" gene big time. The story goes that when I was four Mom was reading to me, and she noticed I was mouthing the words before she said them. She handed me the book and I started reading to her. I haven't stopped since. On rare days where I have nothing to do I have been known to read three books in that one day. They're usually James Patterson's, but I still count them. So libraries were a big part of my childhood and still are today. I Heart Libraries.

The first time I realized this I was eight. We were living in Sterling, Virginia at the time and they just built this new library. I was going through my classic movie monsters phase, as we all do, and they had all these kid books on them! Here was this magical building that gave me what I wanted. For free! I could get as many as I could carry. I loved this place so much I even volunteered for special programs like animal shows and reading to little kids, well littler than me. (I was eight so I mostly handed out programs to people walking in, but still.) It only lasted a short time because, you know, elementary school got in the way. But Mom would still take me at least once a week to get my fix.

As the years progressed, and we moved around even more, (I'm at an even dozen now), I had to find some sort of lifeline. Something that could stay consistent in a crazy world. Libraries provided that. The location might change but their services and the books stayed the same. When I went to college the third thing I did after moving into my dorm and finding the dining hall was to hot-tail it to the library, sit down at a table, and read. The strum and drang inside my head faded away surrounded by all those books. It was as close to home as I could get.

I wrote my books in libraries too. If you're so inclined to stalk me, check out the acknowledgments section of Mind Over Monsters. Those are my usual haunts. I'd just sit down at a table or study carol, put on my headphones, and write. It gives me a place to focus on the task at hand. (And on occasion shoot flirty looks at cute boys.) Libraries are a safe place to do research, be quiet, and find my next mental adventure. So imagine my glee when I came in to work on my next novel and finding my own book on the shelves. Even better when an hour later I went to see it and the book was gone and one of the librarians I know winked at me as I passed. So yes, I love libraries and the people who work in them. Always have, always will. They make what I do possible (and give me a free fix of my drug of choice). So support your local library. Volunteer. Donate books. If you see programs getting cut due to budget problems, speak out. You know you love them too.

Viva la biblioteca revolucion!

What about all of you? Share your library stories or just show your support in the comments section.

-Jennifer Harlow

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gobble, Gobble

From all of us here at Inkspot, enjoy a peaceful and joyous Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Love of Leftovers

RoastTurkeyToday is the day before Thanksgiving, and my refrigerator is crammed to capacity. Some of the food is already prepared, some of it is still gobbling. By 8:00 tomorrow night, much of it will be gone, but if this year is like most years, there will be plenty of leftovers (cooking a 22 pound turkey for only 11 people might be a contributing factor).

In keeping with that spirit, today’s pre-feast blog will be another feast of sorts, a smorgasbord of random tidbits and writing leftovers. (Oh, don’t make that face, not without trying it. And keep an open mind, there might just be something here that won’t turn your stomach. Don’t worry, I’ve got an unopened bottle of Pepto-Bismol at the ready.)


I’d like to pass along three writing tips. Number one, put your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard. And type! Number two, finish your first draft completely; this will prevent you from wasting too much time revising a section you’re going to cut anyway. And number three…well, number three is…um, let’s see…something to do with the EPA? No, no, um…Ooops. (And don’t even get me started on Libya. Or is that Liberia? Or Libania? Well, the Taliban are bad, wherever they are…)


Actually, it doesn’t take that long to amass 80,000 words in a manuscript, maybe a week or two. Of course, it takes another six months to arrange them all in the right order. Ba da bing.


And speaking of writing, my hat goes off to all the NaNoWriMo participants. Well done, even if you don’t hit your targets. Sometimes it’s the effort that counts. Besides, the real book will be written in NaDecEdMo (and NaJanEdMo, and NaFebEdMo and…).


Tis the season to give thanks, and I’m thankful for many things. One of the writing-related things I’m thankful for is the nice Library Journal review DEADLY CAMPAIGN received. The pullquote: “Orloff has put together another winning routine, and mystery buffs will enjoy the fresh venue of a comedy club, not to mention a soft-boiled amateur sleuth case.”


And since we started this blog talking about leftovers, let’s bring this disaster train wreck post full circle. I have a “leftover” ARC of DEADLY CAMPAIGN I’d like to give away. Its official release date is January 8, but one lucky commenter (between now and 6 pm Sunday night) will get his or her very own copy weeks before that!

To enter, just leave a comment describing your best use of leftover turkey. I’ll pick one winner at random (US residents only and, no offense to my fellow MInkers, but I think I’ll limit the giveway to non-InkSpot bloggers, However MInkers, please feel free to leave your leftover turkey ideas—I have a feeling I’m going to need all the help I can get!).





Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Last Hero?

Keith here.

Today is the anniversary of the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. Each year since 1963, when November 22 slithers across the calendar, I remember that day and those that followed. The shock. The widow’s blood-stained dress. The riderless horse. The son’s salute.

In office President Kennedy stood for culture, for civil rights. He was a family man and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a student of history. Now we know the truth is far more nuanced in each case. (I visited the Kennedy Library and saw his college transcript: D+ in European History.)

I do yearn for those days when we had heroes. Remember? I did have heroes growing up, but none have lasted. Even if JFK was not the hero we thought, he did perform heroic acts. I’ve read the transcripts of the Executive Committee that met during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There he deserves his reputation. The generals wanted to bomb Cuba and invade it. He did save the world from nuclear war. And I must admit his inauguration address still inspires.

So for me November 22 is more than that horrible day when our president was murdered. In retrospect my listening over the school loudspeakers as a pre-teenaged boy was the beginning of growing up, of knowing how little can be counted on in this world we live in.

P.S. This is my last regular post on InkSpot. I want to thank my fellow Inkers for letting me tag along. Thanks also to those of you who read my blatherings and commented. It's been a great community. If anyone wants to see what I'm up to, keep an eye on my website and my personal blog. Friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. See you around the Web!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten Years and One Day

Hi, I’m Linda Hull, and I used to refer to myself as the most successful unsuccessful writer around. Fact is, until very recently, I was enjoying (in what can only be considered a masochistic way) an illustrious career in almost getting published.

Since this is my maiden InkSpot post and I figure there are a few of you out there who know the pain of which I speak, I thought I’d share a few highlights from all that time spent chasing both the muse and that even more elusive beast known as the book deal:

Years in Front of the Computer: Ten.

Hours in Front of the Computer: I’m hopeless at math, but a whole, whole, whole lot.

Hours at Critique Group: See above.

Completed Manuscripts: 3 1/2.

Revisions to Completed Manuscripts: See Hours in front of the Computer.

Agents-Literary: 3 (The third time was the charm—I’m talking you, Josh Getzler!)

Agents-Film: 1 (until said agent wrote a manuscript, sold it for major bucks and retired from agenting.)

Offers of Representation: 5 (Not counting that one agent who wanted a fee and another I met at a conference who read ten pages of a WIP, asked me to send everything I’d ever written, then neglected to ever call me back.)

Editor Rejections: Enough to paper the one wall in my office not already covered with the rejections by agents not so swayed by my literary charm.

Highlights of Editorial Rejections: “We gave Ms. Hull’s manuscript, in fact both of her manuscripts, a great deal of consideration around here but ultimately decided to go in a different direction.”

“I liked this novel. I really, really liked it—engaging fast-paced, funny but…”

“The prose is cinematic, witty and a quick fun read. Unfortunately…”

Number of Times I Quit Writing: My keyboard doesn’t seem to have an infinity sign.

Planned Alternate Career: Stripper at a nursing home.

Number of Times My Husband Talked Me Out of Planned Alternate Career and Reassured Me the Writing Would Someday Pay Off: See Number of Times I Quit Writing.

Luckily for the folks in the Denver area nursing homes, I got the proverbial call this past September. (Actually, it was way cooler than a call and happened ten years and a day after my first writer’s conference, but I’ll get to that, likely in an upcoming post.) Suffice it to say, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Teri Bischoff, Midnight Ink, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and my dear friend Ben LeRoy who co-authored the idea I developed into Eternally 21, the first book in a series featuring Mrs. Frugalicious, who trolls the malls for savings until she’s accused of shoplifting and suspected of murder.

For me, now the real work begins. For those of you stuck in the purgatory of almost, don’t quit. Or, do quit, but only long enough to drink off that last horrible form rejection or evisceration by your critique group and do the revisions necessary to make it happen.

It can and does happen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Expose Yourself

Last night I made spicy Thai chicken curry and served it over quinoa. So what, you ask? For one thing, I am definitely not a foodie and even more assuredly, not a great chef. B) My mother was a terrible cook whose idea of a gourmet meal involved ground beef smothered in a can of Campbell’s vegetable soup. And thirdly, I spent my formative cooking years in Nebraska. For the uninitiated: most indigenous Nebraska meals involve a slab of meat, a copious serving of potatoes, bread and gravy, Jello to represent the fruit/vegetable group and anything with sour cream, cream of mushroom soup and/or Velveeta. Finish it off with thick hunks of cake or pie.

In other words, cooking low-calorie, high-nutrition, spicy, delicious, ethnic meals doesn’t come naturally to me. So how did I reach this gastronomic pinnacle? Completely by accident.

Several years ago I escaped from rural Nebraska to Boulder, Colorado. I can’t quote the vegetarian to carnivore ratio in the Republic of Boulder but we’d be safe to say it’s higher than in Nebraska. I experienced Indian restaurants, vegetarian deli’s, Vietnamese and even, gasp, sushi.

A string of (fortunate or unfortunate depending on how I feel on any given day) events brought me to Flagstaff where I spend my days working for an environmental non-profit. I’ve gone out in the field with real, live vegans. Exposure involved more than the weather. They’ve fed me soyrizo and scrumptious hummus burritos. One of them even gave me my first jar of curry paste. Without noticing it, my palate and recipe list expanded. It now seems natural to serve eggplant stuffed portabella mushrooms with sun-dried tomatoes and call it a meal.

And so it is with writing. (Did you wonder when I was going to get around to that?) Surprisingly, I didn’t start out with the knowledge to write a publishable book. I didn’t even know what ingredients a person might combine to make a good novel. My first attempts resembled a dried up flank steak with a side of canned peas and overly sweet bread pudding smothered in heavy cream.

I started going to conferences, reading books on writing, experimenting, entering contests, going to critique groups. I exposed myself to all manner of writing influences. I’m now getting ready to serve up a savory read with a blend of spices far more interesting than the salt and pepper I limited myself to previously.

I’m no Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen and any time I get a meal on the table it’s still a minor miracle. I admit I’m not an Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver or John Irving. But if I keep exposing myself (not THAT kind of exposing—mind out of the gutter, please) maybe I’ll keep producing an ever more tasty dish—uh--book. Who knows, I might even try fried tofu next time.

What about you? What kind of silly extended metaphors can you come up with for your writer’s journey?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What’s New at New England Crime Bake

Just back from the 10th annual Crime Bake, a mystery conference for writers and readers held outside of Boston and sponsored by the NE chapters of Sisters in Crime & Mystery Writers of America. Thought I’d share a little report while the whole experience is fresh in my mind.

A panel with several “top guns” emphasized the need for persistence in our profession, as well as a little luck. Guest of Honor Nancy Pickard (The Scent of Rain and nancy-hrLightning) described herself as a “thirty year overnight success,” and said that although she came along in the early 80’s -- the right time for women in crime fiction (that’s the luck part) -- she realized early on that “somebody has to be published – it might as well be me.”

Doudera EislerBarry Eisler (The Detachment), Nancy’s co-honoree, stressed hard work and our need as authors to stay on top of the entire process of publishing. He told many stories about less than stellar covers and/or titles of his books, decisions in which he was denied input and that led him to turn down a lucrative contract in favor of self-publishing. I hope he realized how lucky he was to have his books beside mine at the bookseller’s table…

HeartbeatAway175wMichael Palmer (A Heartbeat Away, The Last Surgeon) consistently offered down-to-earth advice that really resonated with me, such as how important it is for writers to care about the characters they create. It made me think of an early version of my first mystery, A House to Die For. I had a smarmy spinal surgeon murdered in the prologue and my agent pointed out that he was a really despicable character. “Is anyone going to care that he died?” he wondered. In later revisions, I made Emerson Phipps more dimensional, making him a volunteer for a relief organization and showing him through the eyes of his sister as a loving uncle.

Frequently these conferences provide not only suggestions “from the experts,” but hard-earned wisdom from writers such as those of us blogging here. I spoke on a panel with three other series writers about setting and how it influences characters and plot. We had a nice crowd for our discussion and fielded many excellent questions from the floor. I came away with tips from the other writers as well as imparting some of my own.

Of course, we all know that writing conferences aren’t all work, work, work…

Vicki and TerriI was thrilled to discover that Terri Bischoff, Midnight Ink’s Acquisitions Editor, was among the attendees, and she and I enjoyed catching up and talking mysteries. I met the owner of a bookstore in Vermont as well as several local readers who want me at their mystery club. I sold and signed copies of Killer Listing and made many new friends.

And then there is the ball…

This year the event featured “Sleuths, Spies, and Private Eyes,” and it was great fun. I dressed as Jill Masterson, the unfortunately gilded victim from Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, and was delighted to discover 007 waiting when I exited the elevator. We teamed up as a last-minute entry in the “Partners in Crime” category of the costume contest and captured second place!  (Mrs. Peacock and Mr. Boddy from CLUE beat us out.) Some of you know Nikki Bonnani who hosts the Killer Coffee Club… She came as a chilling Lizbeth Salander, dragon tattoo and all, and won the whole thing.

BOND AND GOLDFINGER GIRLDancing in gold lame may be akin to being sprayed with the precious metal, and by the end of the evening, I felt poor Jill’s pain. But I also felt buoyed up by the spirit of the conference: camaraderie, optimism, and sheer love of writing. I’m now back in Maine, hard at work on my manuscript, and using the tips I gleaned from Crime Bake to try and make it better.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Darrell James

When I first set about creating the Del Shannon series of mystery/thrillers, I troubled over the setting, where to establish the character’s home base. At the time, I was living primarily in L.A. and the obvious choice seemed to be to set the stories there, in a city known for crime and volience. The idea, frankly, left me a little bored. L.A. has more than it’s fair share of fictional cops and investigators, crime heroes and heroines. Everyone from Connelly to Ellroy to Wambaugh to Crais, all have set their stories there.

I was convinced I didn’t want to write just another “L.A. story”.

For that reason, I decided to place my lead character on the landscape I have long romanticized and loved—Arizona, the Sonoran Desert, the Great Southwest, Tucson.

It’s a place I know well. My wife and I first arrived there together in the late eighties, and since that time we have crossed deserts, climbed mountains, driven every highway and hiked nearly every trail. We’ve explored mine shafts, chanced ghost towns, learned the names of indigenous species, studied the lore... It’s an awe inspiring land. (Don’t believe me? Just pick up any copy of Arizona Highways and I think you’ll have to agree.) For that reason, it became the most likely next choice for my protagonist’s home setting.

There was just one problem.

Tucson (my Tucson) just didn’t inspire much of a sense of mystery and suspense with me. Really, how can anything particularly villainous take place in a town populated mostly by retirees. Where golf resorts and country clubs are around every corner. Where majestic mountains rise to meet an endless blue sky. Where the travel guide boasts 323 days of sunshine per year. I mean… murder, mayhem, madness… these things are supposed to take place in dark alleys aren’t they? Brooding bars. Rundown tenements. Where’s the noir?

Well, I suspect it’s there. And Tucson does have its share of crime. But, more appropriately, I’ve learned to adapt Del’s fictional life to the setting. The series, has taken on a somewhat different tone than I’d first envisioned. The stories themselves have turned more adventurous than noir. More thriller-ish than mystery. (And for the better, I believe.)

And, Del Shannon, well.. she fits right in. From the Baby Eagle she keeps tucked into her waistband at the small of her back, to the red Jeep Wrangler that has become her trademark vehicle, Del fits the mold of the rugged individualist that Arizona is known for.

While her missing persons cases may sometimes take her afield, it is planned that each story in the series will start and end in Tucson. It’s where Del lives and loves, finds happiness and heartbreak. And there’s plenty of villainry to go around.

NAZARETH CHILD, book one in the series, released this past September, takes Del into the Appalachian region of Kentucky in search of the mother she’s never known. But the blazing climax takes place right there in her old home town of Tucson.

Book two, SONORA CROSSING, finds Del closer to home, on a quest into the senderos, the dangerous drug corridors between Arizona and Mexico, to retrieve a kidnapped child who many believe to be clairvoyant. Will Del survive the crossing? And what secrets might this strange little girl reveal? This book, like it’s predecessor, finds it’s climax in Arizona. SONORA CROSSING is scheduled for release in September of next year.

Whether sunny or dark, warm or cold, Del has made the Arizona desert her home. I hope you’ll give one of her adventures a try.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Inkspot News - November 12, 2011

Beth Groundwater will be promoting the November 8th ebook/trade paperback re-release of her mystery, A Real Basket Case, and signing copies of her May release, Deadly Currents, at a number of appearances in November that she's sharing with historical mystery author Ann Parker. The event information is listed below:

Saturday, November 12, 4 – 6 PM
Pikes Peak Writers Fundraiser Signing with Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
1565 Briargate Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80920

Sunday, November 13, 2 – 4:30 PM
“Constructing a Mystery” Workshop and Signing with
Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker
The Book Haven
128 F Street, Salida, Colorado 81201

Wednesday, November 15, 6:30 – 8 PM
Joint Signing with
Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker
Old Firehouse Books
232 Walnut Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524

Wednesday, November 16, 7 – 9 PM
Presentation and Joint Signing with
Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker
Highlands Ranch Public Library
9292 Ridgeline Blvd., Highlands Ranch, CO 80129

Thursday, November 17, 7 – 9 PM
Mystery Panel with Beth Groundwater, Ann Parker and Michelle Black for
High Crimes Mystery Bookshop
at The Oriental & Navajo Rug Gallery

927 Main Street, Longmont, CO 80501

Friday, November 18, 2 – 3:30 PM
“Researching and Writing a Mystery” Workshop with
Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker
Lake County Library
1115 Harrison Avenue, Leadville, CO 80461

Friday, November 18, 5 – 7 PM
Joint Signing with Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker
The Book Mine

522 Harrison Avenue, Leadville, CO 80461

Friday, November 11, 2011

Talkin’ & Walkin’

Cricket McRae


On Inkspot we’ve talked a bit about where we write, about our different offices, writing areas and techniques for buckling down and avoiding distraction. Despite my luck at having a rather large and cushy office, I tend to wander away from home to write whenever possible. I mix it up – one of the three public libraries, the University library, various coffee shops around town, and in warm weather I spend hours in parks and picnic areas around – and outside of – town.

On one hand, I’m avoiding yard work, housework, errands, phone calls, people dropping by because they don’t think I have a job, workmen, Internet surfing, social media, cleaning closets, looking to see if anything interesting has materialized in the refrigerator, etc. You know: life.

On the other hand, I’m seeking quiet, inspiration, chunks of uninterrupted time, beauty, solitude – or being around people but not having to talk to them – sunshine, a work mindset (particular to college libraries) and regular doses of caffeine.

However, there are two times when I’m forced to hunker down in my own home in order to get the job done. The first is when I’m plotting and developing new characters for an upcoming WIP. The second is the final rewrite/edit at the end of the process.


‘Cuz I talk to myself. Seriously talk to myself. I mutter at characters. I ask them questions. I ask myself questions. I answer myself. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the joke. And yes, I might very well go slightly insane at these times.

But wait. There’s more.

I walk while I talk. I pace and stride and shuffle back and forth in my office, and sometimes all over the house. And into the backyard. Still muttering. This is not the kind of thing which one should do in public, not even in a park. Even the cadre of homeless guys at the downtown public library would look at me funny.

But for me, it works. Starting with writing college papers in the middle of the night and continuing right through preparing presentations in the corporate world, walking-and-talking has been part of my creative process how I get things done.

So be it.

How ‘bout you? Do you have any particular writing quirks? How about reading quirks (e.g. I used read paperbacks on my three-mile morning walks)?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

With A Cast Of Thousands

by Kathleen Ernst

Well, no, not really thousands. But my current WIP, Beyond Death’s Door, does have a large cast. And although my protagonist Chloe is the primary character, three others have point-of-view scenes. Most of the book takes place in 1982, but it does include an historical timeline as well.

iStock_laptop WTF

Given that, I’ve been thinking about including a “Cast of Characters” at the front of the book.

A recent discussion on a mystery writers’ Listserv touched on that idea. I didn’t catch it all, but at least some posters lamented how the inclusion of a cast list seems to have fallen from favor. I’m paraphrasing here, but one person noted that the characters weren’t the most important people in readers’ lives, as they may at times seem to the author. She voted in favor of inclusion.

Great! I thought. I will include a character list in Beyond Death’s Door.

Then I happened across a comment from Chris Roerden in her book Don’t Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques To Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A. It’s a good book, and I often flip through it as I near the end of a draft. While encouraging writers to introduce characters gradually, she writes: “One novel I began to read named twenty characters in the first chapter. If I hadn’t been looking forward to reading that author, I would have viewed the family tree on the flyleaf as the omen it was.”

Obviously a too-big cast, poorly introduced, is not the hallmark of a great book. But her comment about the family tree on the flyleaf as “omen” gave me pause.

So…what do you think? Do you see a cast list as a helpful tool, or an omen of bad things to come?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's NaNoWriMo Time!!!!

November is in full swing, and so are 200,000 novelist wannabes. National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, is an annual, internet-based writing marathon that lasts the 30 days of November. Nanowrimo is in it's twelfth year of existance, and has grown from twenty-one people attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days in 1999 to well over 200,000 novelists attempting to slam out the words in 2010.

2011 is the fifth attempt I'm taking at going for literary gold and that elusive 50,000 mark. I've succeeded three times, and the third try was actually my first published book, Bingo Barge Murder. (That was after a gazillion rerwrites and a ton of edit work) Back in 2004, I think it was,

I stumbled across this strange internet site that encouraged people to write 50,000 words in a single month. You're kidding me, right? Nope, it was serious. I had just finished a series of books that I adored, and when I'd read the last one, I was crushed. What was happening with my alternate family? People (NOT characters!) I'd come to love!! I decided if I wrote my own book, my characters would never have to end. So after looking at the Nanowrimo site and reading some of the comments by Chris Baty, Nano founder, about writing during the month, I decided to give it a whirl. Here's a few examples from his 2008 Pep Talk:

November 2: Stop writing. Wonder if you should start over. Keep going. Feel better.

November 8: As the first full week of writing comes to a close, you will be at 11,666 words. This is more fiction than most people write in their lifetimes, and you did it in a week. Go, you! This is also Municipal Liaison Appreciation Day, a raucous international holiday that celebrates NaNoWriMo’s volunteer chapter-heads (the folks who organized the write-in you went to last week). Chocolate, flowers, and gifts of expensive electronics are appreciated.

November 13: Nothing really happens on November 13.

November 15: After the second week of writing, you will be at 25,000 words. This is the approximate length of such legendary works of fiction as Animal Farm, Death in Venice, and Gossip Girl: I Like it Like That. You’re halfway to winning! Attend a Midway Party in your town, or come to San Francisco, where the Night of Writing Dangerously Write-a-thon will set records for group noveling and candy consumption.

November 30: By midnight, local time, we will all be the proud owners of 50,000-word novels that we could barely imagine on October 31. Plan to attend your local NaNoWriMo Thank God It’s Over Party, where grins will abound, champagne will flow, fives will be highed, and wrists will be iced.

With a healthy dose of humor, Chris Baty helped propel writer wannabes into full fledged writerdom. Granted a lot of what is put forth during these 30 days is a lot of crap, to put it bluntly, but within the mess there's almost always some golden eggs. The point of writing should be fun, and Nanowrimo made it fun for me. I never expected to have any success at selling a book, and the fact that I did is just icing on the cake.

So As I wind up the first week and enter into the second week of blissful or maybe not so blissful outpourings of words, I'm happy to say this is still a hoot! I just hope I can stay on track to earn this badge again:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


A little over a week ago on October 29th, parts of the east coast and New England were hit with a freak snowstorm. Some towns received as much as 19” of snow. The trees here in my neck of New Jersey hadn’t lost their leaves yet. That’s how uncommon snow is in October for us. The result was trees and branches and power lines, laden with heavy, wet snow. A recipe for disaster that turned into disaster as those trees and branches began to snap from all that weight, taking power lines with them. You couldn’t get from here to there because either here, there, or both were blocked and inaccessible.

A branch came down at the end of our block. It hit a power line, sending sparks that ignited the phone, Internet, and cable lines to our street. Another branch dangled precariously over a power line, threatening to fall at any moment and take out our power. One report I heard said that a million people in New Jersey were without power. That's over 10% of the state's population. Two days later, 600,000 still had no power.

Some parts of the country are used to snow before Halloween. Not us. Half the time kids go trick or treating around here without coats covering up their costumes. This year there were few trick or treaters. Too many branches still dangled and threatened to fall on little goblins and ghosts as they tramped from one house to the next.

In the last few months we’ve been hit by an earthquake, another rarity in New Jersey, and massive flooding. Now a freak snowstorm. I’m wondering what’s next, a plague of locusts? Perhaps we need to sacrifice a lamb and mark our doorposts with its blood.

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,

Monday, November 7, 2011

Would Your Husband Sign My Book?

By Deborah Sharp

What is it about TV that turns normal folks into idiots?

I showed up to do a book-signing the other day, and I could tell people who'd come hoping to meet the guy on TV were disappointed my husband wasn't in tow.

"Oh, Kerry's not here?'' said one woman, frowning. "I thought you'd bring him.''

"Nope, it's just me. I'm only the author,'' I said.

If she hadn't gotten in for free, I'm sure she would have demanded her money back. People at signings have asked -- often -- if my husband could also autograph their books. "No problem,'' I always say. "Just so long as you remember I'm the one who wrote it.''

Look, I get it. My husband, NBC reporter Kerry Sanders, works on TV. I'm proud of the job he does, covering stories all over the globe. But the fact he appears regularly on that glowing screen in the nation's living rooms, mere channels away from true celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Flavor Flav ... well, it makes people act weird.

I realized how weird early on. Take my normally stolid, down-to-earth Lutheran minister, for example. When Kerry and I went in together 23 years ago to talk to him about performing our marriage, he didn't question us about whether differences in religions or core values might cause problems down the road. No.

"What's it like to be on TV?'' he asked, gazing starry-eyed at my husband-to-be.

"Hello,'' I said. "I'm over here. The bride?''

I only expect the star-struckiness to get worse this week. Kerry's appearing alongside the Today show's popular anchor during the network's heavily promoted feature, Where in the World is Matt Lauer?

In preparation, I'm rehearsing my answers to the non-book related questions I expect to get at my next book-signing:

"Nope, I can't tell you what country Kerry is in. It's Top Secret.'' (Tune in Thursday morning on the Today show, if you're curious. My husband will be the one who isn't Matt Lauer at that day's fabulous location.)

"Nope, I don't know what Matt Lauer is really like. I've only met the man once, briefly. I'm certain he couldn't pick me out of a line-up.''

"Nope, I can't get Matt Lauer to autograph my book for you; but I'd be glad to ask my husband to sign it. Buy two, and he'll pose for a picture.''

How about you? Have you ever met someone from movies or TV? Did you act cool, or giddy? I still remember how nervous I was as a teenager when I met my famous sports star crush, quarterback Joe Namath. I spilled a Coke all over both of us.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Inkspot News - November 5, 2011

To promote the November 8th Midnight Ink re-release of the first book in her Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, A Real Basket Case, Beth Groundwater has scheduled a number of appearances:

On Sunday, November 6th, from 5-7 PM MST, 7-9 PM EST, Beth Groundwater will be a guest at the Writers Chatroom, answering questions from participants. Come and join her with a juicy question of your own!

On Monday, November 7th, all day, Beth Groundwater will respond to questions and comments on her guest article at Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers.

On Wednesday, November 9, all day, Beth Groundwater will respond to questions and comments on her interview at Pat Bertram Introduces....

On Thursday, November 10, all day, Beth Groundwater will respond to questions and comments on her guest article"A Day in the Life of Claire Hanover" at dru's book musings.

On Friday, November 11th, from 6-8 PM, Beth Groundwater will sign copies of her Deadly Currents and A Real Basket Case mysteries at a Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate Signing with fellow mystery author Ann Parker at Black Cat Books, 720 Manitou Avenue, Manitou Springs, CO 80829.

On Saturday, November 12, 4 – 6 PM, there will be a Pikes Peak Writers Fundraiser Signing with Beth Groundwater and Ann Parker at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1565 Briargate Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I'ma Gonna Be on the Tee-Vee!

I don't like being in the spotlight. I don't like drawing attention to myself, talking about myself, and especially hate praising myself. I learned through the years that fading into the background is far better than having people watching or actually caring about what you're doing. That way they leave you alone so you can do whatever you want with limited judgement or disapproval. So when I had to begin promoting my book, and essentially myself, it was difficult. If you hadn't guessed when I do talk I am pretty outspoken. I tell the truth, hopefully with a side dish of humor and love, like putting arsenic in the sugar. Goes down better that way. So when I was asked to go on television to promote my book my first reaction was hell to the no. I don't even like people taking my picture (I swear I'm much prettier in person and don't have twelve chins) let alone being seen my potentially tens of thousands of people. But I know a good opportunity when it's presented and couldn't turn it down. (Money trumps vanity every time.)

I had to wake up at four AM to do my hair, make-up, descale my back and claws to be even close to camera ready. I left the house around six to make the two hour drive. By the time I hauled my already weary, badly in need of a touch-up in every department body to the studio I was ready to go home. But no, I had five minutes to sell the hell out of my baby and promote the signing the next day. As I walked in a million concerns flew through my mind. What if I get tongue tied? What if I can't remember what F.R.E.A.K.S. stands for? What if I fart? What if I cuss? What if I scare small children with my twelve chins? It's me. Something is bound to go wrong. But I walked in with my head held high and kept a smile on my face the whole time.

I also didn't know what to expect regarding the studio either. Would it be like CNN with people running all over? Would I get to be in the green room? No, and no. Once again Hollywood has lied. I was ushered from a tiny reception area to a bench. A bench. A few of the other guests of "Virginia This Morning" had already assembeled including the "pie ladies" with one of their adorable daughters dressed as Yankee Doodle Dandy to act as Vanna White during their demonstration, and real life ghost hunters the Richmond Investigators of the Paranormal. Those boys and I had an interesting conversation about ghosts. (Yes I am a believer). One even did a mock interview with me to prepare as they had been interviewed several times before though the years. (They even wanted my picture. Such sweet guys).

Finally it was time to go into the studio. Once again nothing like the movies. It was the size of my living room with three sets: a basic news desk with teleprompter for one, two chairs and a coffee table with a giant TV behind, and the weather station which was a desk with a green screen behind. I sat off to the side while the local Alice Cooper cover band, got ready in the corner. I was on after them.

I took my seat. I recited Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals a dozen times in my head. I prayed no farts or swear words would be uttered. Then the interview began and I WAS ON. All my years in drama class paid off. A switch was flicked and I went from the exhausted Quasimodo to the articulate, funny, smart girl who I let out only on special occasions. The five minutes flew by and I even remembered what F.R.E.A.K.S. stood for. Then I took off my mike and walked out the back. I don't know if I sold any books, but I sure do feel $%#@&^% good about myself. Though I do need to see someone about my chins.

To see my interview on "Virginia This Morning" go to my website And if you're in the DC area this weekend come see me, Alan Orloff, and seventeen other mystery writers at the Sisters in Crime Mystery Author Extravaganza, East Columbia Library, 6600 Cradlerock Way, Columbia MD. Hope to see you there!

-TV Star Jennifer Harlow

Thursday, November 3, 2011

3 Secrets -- The Alchemy of Inventing Realistic Characters by Guest Blogger A.B. Bourne

Let me introduce you to today’s guest blogger, A.B. Bourne. Just published in September, her first novel, THE FIRST SECRET OF EDWIN HOFF, is a thriller about an elite commando living the unexpectedly public life of a billionaire tech entrepreneur. Like me, Annie has a high tech background and, like me, she is represented by the HSG Agency. She worked at Akamai Technologies on strategic deals with IBM and Oracle, and managed Akamai's initial public offering. She now lives in Massachusetts where she is hard at work on THE SECOND SECRET OF EDWIN HOFF.


Often - maybe always - real people and real events inspire fiction writers. An author must disguise these sources, and convert their energy into made up characters and scenes that feel authentic. How?

I used several techniques to write my new thriller, THE FIRST SECRET OF EDWIN HOFF, a Batman-meets-Bourne thriller about an elite commando, living the unexpectedly public life of a tech billionaire, until called upon to stop a bio-threat set to release with a 9/11 plane. Edwin saves the world from terror, turning the folks he meets into heroes. Edwin is pure fiction, but believe it or not, he’s inspired by a real man. Danny Lewin started Akamai Technologies, had a unique background, and a profound impact on most people he encountered, including me. Until that terrible Tuesday.

The book is all fiction, but working with Danny was powerful, as was the peak and trough of the era. Some of the lessons and essences of that time have migrated to this novel - but nowhere obvious. Here’s how I made sure of that:

1) Use “Slivers” from Real Life.

In college, I had the rare opportunity to attend a small seminar led by Toni Morrison, the Nobel and Pulitzer winning author. “How do you start a book?” someone asked. Ms. Morrison said she began with small “slivers” -- a glance exchanged on a pillow, she offered – and then she would layer the rest of the character and plot over that sliver until she had a book. I figure a Nobel/Pulitzer prize winner must know what she’s talking about so I’ve tried to build the psychology of my characters on a memorable blush or hesitation, a prideful boast, or surge of adrenalin. Usually, a single character will end up with attributes from several different real people, and then a few more that just start to make sense as she or he takes shape.

2) Mix it up! Human character strengths and failings do not discriminate.

Surprisingly, a single human attribute fits as easily on a character that is old or young, male or female, of any ethnicity or nationality. If the fierce focus of a young man moves you, see what an old woman would do with that skill. If you sense weakness in a successful middle aged man, make a younger woman wrestle with it. I nearly always change age and gender when working with character traits inspired by real people. No one feels exposed and the demographic changes create space for new plot, dialogue and character development for my truly fictional, but resonant, characters.

It works. Nine months before we published THE FIRST SECRET OF EDWIN HOFF, I gave manuscripts to the top people at Akamai to be sure that truth was not stranger than fiction; offering to change anything that inadvertently had struck too close to home.

“It’s fiction,” one shrugged. “I can’t figure out who any one is.” Later another reader, also a former co-worker, sent me an email: “I’ve spent the first 50 pages projecting our old friends on every new character but I’m over that now.”

3) Work with your character’s psychology, not their CV.

Before beginning a book, some suggest building an elaborate profile for each character – decide where your character was born, where he went to school, his favorite colors, etc.

I don’t do this. First I focus on my character’s fundamental strength; then on his weakness, or his profound yearning; then what caused each. The positive and negative forces of these attributes spin the character’s development like a top - which then turns the plot believably. This storm helps me pull in character history that supports the character’s fundamental dilemma. When an author stays true to the character’s real strengths and forces her to transcend her limitations – or fail because of them -- readers keep turning your pages.

The other night, Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock kept me up until 2:31 a.m. The girl who falls for the killer is train-wreck compelling. We know only that her father lives in a dingy flat, bargains weakly, then sells her to a threatening stranger for 150 quid. We watch her squint to see her new husband. All she sees in a drawer full of switchblades and a stashed can of cash is a husband’s savings, something that should buy his wife a pretty pink dress. This compulsive delusion, and where it leads her, makes us fear for her, blame her, want to protect her and – keep watching her.

Good luck!

Note: You can read more about Annie and her book at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

And They Are Easy to Wrap


According to my calendar, it’s November (not quite sure how that happened, but it might have something to do with last month being October). When November arrives, it’s time to start thinking about the holidays. And when I starting thinking about the holidays, I think about cakes pies cookies brownies presents.

And when I think about presents, I think about books (among other things).

As a kid, I’d frequently get books as gifts. For my birthday, for Hanukah, for Arbor Day, even for my Bar Mitzvah (and let me tell you, no 13-year-old wants to get a copy of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. Trust me.).

Most of the books were cool. I remember one great book, The Book of Answers, that had (surprise!) answers to a bunch of very perplexing questions. (I recently revisited that book and discovered that some of the answers were complete hogwash, but I guess that’s a topic for another blog). Every year I got a world almanac, and I spent hours and hours poring over all the statistics: populations of foreign countries, exchange rates of foreign currencies, GNP per capita (okay, I was a little geeky). I also got golf books, football books, baseball books, basketball books, tennis books (anyone see a pattern?), and, yes, even a few novels here and there.

I also got socks for presents, and let me tell you, books were way better.

Now that I’m an adult, I still like to give and receive books as gifts. How about you, do books make it onto your gift lists? And since we’re talking gifts, how about ereaders? Are they a must-have item this year? What say you, people?


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reviews Rollercoaster

Keith here.

The rubescent glow that Lynn Farris's review of Drop By Drop on left on my cheeks has scarcely begun to fade:

"I found Drop by Drop... to be an exciting political thriller as well as a fascinating philosophical political treatise. While the political thriller part offered the reader an excellent whodunit, the philosophical discussion is what makes it a powerful book to read....

"I love the title
Drop by Drop because it serves as a metaphor for so much occurring in the book and perhaps society today. Drop by drop we are giving up our civil liberties. Drop by drop we are losing our principles. Drop by drop, our government officials break the law and others ignore it....

"I thoroughly enjoyed this book and believe that readers of all political persuasions will like it as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as an upcoming movie. Five stars out of five."

Now I understand that is not the New York Times, but I don't care. (Well, maybe a tad, but why the Times doesn't hire Ms. Farris is beyond me.) Any author will tell you the real joy of writing is connecting with that one reader, the one who sends you the laudatory email, the one who leaves you a Facebook message that she is gifting a dozen copies for Xmas. (BTW, I am not a friend of Ms. Farris, except now on Facebook and that doesn't really count, does it?)

Of course, it works the other way, too. Well-known mystery writer and critic Hallie Ephron gave my second book, Smasher, a real put-down in her Boston Globe review a couple of years ago:

"We follow the narrator as he caroms among the story lines.... Too bad, because with so much going on, this novel desperately needs a main character with an emotional core that can hold it all together".

I suspect a few more people read the Globe's reviews than read's. While this less than stellar review might have hurt just a little less than committing hari kari with a butter knife, research shows that Ms. Ephron did me a favor. A study in Marketing Science found that "For books by established authors, a negative review led to a 15% decrease in sales." Well that makes sense. But "for books by relatively unknown (new) authors, however, negative publicity has the opposite effect, increasing sales by 45%." This 45% is roughly the same, if not a little higher, than for positive reviews.

Those of us who are not quite selling as many books as James Patterson, Stephen King, or Dan Brown can take heart. A great review warms our hearts. A bad review increases sales. A win-win!