Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Please Pass the Mayo

I write to you today from the depths of writer's despair.

Yes, I received a critique of my work in progress.  Strangely, my trusted reader did not share my mother's, "I laughed, I cried!" sentiments.

Sure, he said it was fun and funny (the bread) and had cool quirky characters (the other piece of bread) but the meat in the critique sandwich was as hard to swallow as week old dry turkey. A Turkey Club sandwich apparently, because couched in between an equal number of compliments, none of which I can or will ever remember, were some not so delicious slabs of constructive criticism:

"The characters gossip too much."

"Not sure about the pacing in the second 100 pages." 

"Maybe you should add another death sooner in the book."

While I didn't agree with all the comments, I can certainly read between a line or too. My perfect, wry, funny mystery which was going to be finished here in a matter of weeks will need a run through with an eye on tension and a pacing edit before it's ready for the big time.


If it weren't for a newly acquired intolerance for lactose and butterfat, I'd have headed right down to Bonnie Brae Ice Cream (If you're ever in Denver don't miss it) for a banana split.

Instead I'm going to quit the writing biz (but only for tonight) and dig back into finishing this not quite final draft tomorrow. As I'm working, I'll be praying for the inspiration I'll need to go along with the perspiration it's going to take to serve up the book the way I want it to be.

In the meantime, I'd love any tricks, hints and suggestions on upping tension and pacing from you pros out there.

Please?  I'll buy the ice cream.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

by Shannon Baker

The laundry is about done, the gear is rinsed and drying in the shower, I’m mopping up all the emails and issues that came up in the last week and our dive trip is now memories. But what a mess of memories we accumulated in just one week. I know this post has nothing to do with writing (unless I set my next book along a reef somewhere--which I might) but my brain is too vacation addled to focus.

We have the good:

Diving on Bonaire is amazing. There are so many shore dives with a short swim out to a reef we’d have to go back for years to dive them all. Corral looks like something from a Walt Disney acid trip and fish are so abundant and diverse we’d constantly have our mouths agape if we didn’t have to keep the regulator firmly rooted to breathe.

Then there was the bad:

As in Bad Boys of the Reef

This is a Lion fish. They are invasive and breed like rabbits on speed.

And Bad as in the sorry sack, bottom feeder who busted our window and slinked his way inside to steal my laptop.

And last but certainly not least, there is the ugly:

Who else has some vacation stories to share?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Lois Winston will be giving a talk and signing copies of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun and Death By Killer Mop Doll next Saturday, March 3rd, from 1pm - 2:30pm at
Foxtale Book Shoppe
105 East Main St., #138, Woodstock, GA
FMI: 770-516-9989

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Telling Detail

by Beth Groundwater

Russian author Anton Chekov, 1860-1904, is often called one of the greatest short story writers in history. He is often quoted as saying that short fiction is "the casual telling of a nuclear experience in an ordinary life, rendered with immediate and telling detail." Much thought and discussion has gone into defining what a "telling detail" is, exactly, after he made that pronouncement, and writers have struggled for years to craft those telling details to include in their stories.

A telling detail is the description of some single aspect of an object, person, setting, or action that distills the very essence or uniqueness of what is being described. Upon reading the description of the telling detail, the reader knows what the author needs him or her to know, for the purposes of the story, about the described item. Also, the telling detail often reveals emotion and hidden meaning along with it.

I've recently finished the rough draft of Cataract Canyon, the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series and have begun editing the chapters. I have multiple goals for my editing work, but one important goal is to make sure that I have telling details that pull my readers deeper into the story by making them feel they thoroughly know the characters, the setting, and the events in the book.

In describing characters, telling details can reveal what the characters are feeling at the moment, their underlying personality, what they do for a living, or how the POV character feels about them. For example, in the photo below, the age of the book, the lines and hair on the hand, and the way the hand grasps the book tells a lot about the character of the man pictured.

In another example, in the first chapter of Cataract Canyon, my river ranger/guide, Mandy Tanner, and her business partner and lover, Rob Juarez, are checking in clients for a multi-day rafting trip on the Colorado River that will go through Cataract Canyon. Two women step up to the counter, who have similar features but vary in age, so Mandy surmises they are mother and daughter.
Then comes the following sentence:

"Contrary to expectation, the daughter wore a loose T-shirt, and the mother’s V-necked stretch top clung to her curves and showed some cleavage."

What does this tell the reader about the characters? Maybe that the daughter is shy and not very confident of her body image. Also, the mother excessively displays her sexuality (this is a river trip, not a night out on the town) and may be on the prowl. Lastly, by Mandy noticing the difference, the reader gets a sense that Mandy doesn't approve of the mother's outfit, because it is "contrary to expectation."

In describing setting, the writer wants o include telling details that make readers feel they are there, experiencing the environment right along with the characters. In Cataract Canyon, early the next morning after checking in the clients, the trip begins with transporting the clients and rafts to the river. Here's how I describe the vehicles:

"The vehicles sat with full gas tanks and engines running, so heaters could warm the interiors. The exhaust steam rising around the dark hunks of steel made Mandy think of hunkered-down dinosaurs, with the prehistoric-looking backdrop of Moab’s looming sandstone formations in the background."

From the description, the reader knows that the morning is cool. The use of the words "dinosaurs" and "prehistoric" are meant to deliberately evoke a sense of the primitive, wild country and geologically rich canyons the travelers will explore. Also, the description is meant to be foreboding and anticipatory, implying that something dangerous is going to happen on this trip.

As a final example of "telling detail," I'll give a description of an event, in this case, unloading the vehicles and carrying everything to the river. Rather than just describing what happened, I wanted to show some emotions and client behaviors that would be important later. Here's what I wrote:

"The whole Anderson family, except for Alex, treated the guides like porters at the put-in. The five of them stood off to the side, talking about the ugly structures of the Potash mine just upstream and taking photos. The others did all of the work, lugging gear and rafts between the vehicles and the river bank. The Andersons didn’t even carry their own personal dry bags down to the river."

The description conveys Mandy's dismay over how the Andersons are treating the guides and shows their disdain for not only the guides, but the environment around them. The use of the word "lugging" shows that the work is hard, and by mentioning gear, rafts, and dry bags, I convey the sense that a lot of stuff had to be moved. This is another aspect of the telling detail, to convey the essence of meaning in as brief a description as possible, so you're not boring the reader.

In the next few weeks, I'll be whittling away at my descriptions, trying to hone them into the evocative shapes that I need. And, I hope my readers will appreciate my efforts when the final book is published. I know that when I read an especially good passage of telling details in a book, I often go back and re-read the passage, savoring it and teasing out how much emotion and information the author crammed into it. A small, well-written "telling detail" can hold as much beauty in the words as the delicate butterfly in the hand in photo below.

Do you have a favorite example of the use of "telling detail" that you'd like to share with the rest of us?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Darrell James

“It was Saturday, February 21, 1925 and in Tucson, Arizona, excitement was everywhere. This community of 34 thousand souls was getting ready for a thing called La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, the Celebration of the Cowboys. Thousands of visitors had arrived for the festivities and rooms were as scarce as snowdrifts. Cowpokes drifted in to pay their entrance fees, parade contestants turned up to register, and long lines of prospective spectators waited to buy tickets for the western show. The sun had just begun to peek through gray skies raising the mercury to a comfortable 68 degrees. An eager crowd lined the route and 300 persons waited to fall into procession. Gear was checked, horses calmed, hats adjusted, drumheads tightened. The signal was given promptly at 10:30 and the La Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade moved out onto Congress Street and headed east…”

Thus reads history.

It’s rodeo time in the Old Pueblo this week. La Fiesta de los Vaqueros. While modern Tucson is a city of close to one million inhabitants, it still celebrates, with honor, its grand tradition of rodeo. More than 200,000 fans will attend this week’s wild west eshow and rodeo.

Bull riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling, calf roping--it’s rough and tough doings-- that mirrors the past, exemplifying the rugged nature of the men and women who first settled the territory.

I look forward to rodeo week each year. A chance to step back into the old west for a short time and relive the cowboy past. It’s a tradition that defines the area and, as in the past, defines the people who choose to live here.

As authors, we look for settings for our fiction that are rich in history and tradition, and that can serve to define the fictional characters that populate the stories. It was for this reason I made the decision to place my series protagonist, Del Shannon, in Tucson.

Coming this fall, book two in the series, SONORA CROSSING, will draw on setting in a big way, taking my female protagonist, Del Shannon, on a quest into the dangerous drug corridors along the Arizona/Mexico border near Tucson. An area that, in many ways, is as lawless, today, as the territory of old.

Great story settings define the characters that populate them. And Tucson, rich with a tough and rugged history, serves to define Del Shannon.

There will be more forthcoming on the book. But for now, I’m going to don my cowboy hat and head for the rodeo.

In what way, does setting work to define your character? What traditions work to define your setting?

Nazareth Child, the first novel in the Del Shannon series, has been nominated for the Left Coast Crime Eureka Award for Best First Novel. It is available at bookstores and online retailers in print and for all popular electronic reading devices.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Deadly Row to Hoe Cover

Cricket McRae

Here’s the official cover for my sixth Home Crafting Mystery, Deadly Row to Hoe. I’m really excited about this revamp! The book will release this November.


Looks pretty different from the previous covers in the series, doesn’t it? This is the direction all the covers will be going from now on, and the earlier books will likely change over to this illustrated style in subsequent printings.

Now don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love the wonderful photographed covers put together by Midnight Ink’s Lisa Novak. She captured the clean, spa feel I wanted for a series featuring a woman who makes her living making soap and bath products.

However, the home craft featured in in Deadly Row to Hoe is vegetable gardening, specifically a community supported agriculture farm. Another photographed cover would have probably involved vegetables, and a few people have already commented that the books look a bit like cookbooks – despite the fact that one has soap and bath oil on the cover and another is all about fiber and yarn. Granted, though, a lot of traditional colonial crafts involve food. ; )

So this illustration captures the whole farm (and even includes a mountain that looks a lot like Mt. Rainier in the background – how cool is that?).

Many thanks to Midnight Ink for making this change, and to Lisa for spearheading the mockup and finding the illustrator!

Change is good.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Last, But Not Least

by Kathleen Ernst

(Note - I wrote this before heading out on a trip, not knowing that Lois would address the same issue last week. Scroll down and check out her take on things too!)

At the recent Love Is Murder conference (“when wine and chocolate aren’t enough”), I participated in a panel discussion about endings. As I prepared, revisiting some of my favorite books, one of the things that struck me was a fundamental choice that writers with a series underway make about closure in each particular book.

≈ The End ≈

The crime is (almost) always solved by the last chapter. What may or may not be solved is whatever emotional dilemma is driving the protagonist through the series.

Some authors choose to end each book on an “all is well” note. Life may not be perfect, but the protagonist is in a good place. Readers who care about this character can close the book feeling content, reassured that all is well. Yes, she’ll surely get in trouble again, but there’s no need to worry about her right now.

Other authors do just the opposite. The crime is solved, but some final plot twist knocks the protagonist for an emotional loop. Readers are now anxious all over again, concerned for the main character’s well-being.

When I finished Old World Murder, the first book in my Chloe Ellefson series, I decided to go with the latter option. I’d heard that the second book in a seris can be the hardest to launch (the theory is that they lack the flash of a new project, but have yet to develop a true following). I hoped to entice readers by placing an emotional hook in the last line. Just when Chloe has finally turned a corner, leaving behind a painful episode…surprise! The past reaches out to grab her again. Is she strong enough to resist this time? Stay tuned.

The second Chloe book, The Heirloom Murders, addresses the question raised at the end of Book 1. This time, I gave the final scene to Roelke McKenna, a local cop who very much wants to win Chloe’s affection. And this time the twist moves in the opposite direction: just when he has given up, and concluded that a romantic relationship with Chloe is beyond his grasp…surprise! He receives an unexpected spark of hope. Is it enough? Can it happen? Stay tuned.

Either approach, of course, offers both opportunities and risks. We writers strive to comfort, but not bore; intrigue, not but annoy.

What do you consider a satisfying ending?

Thursday, February 16, 2012


by Lois Winston

I recently began working on the fourth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. When I first began to write, I never thought about writing a series. I wrote stand-alone novels. Once I typed “the end,” that was it for those characters. 

I sold The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries based on a completed novel, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, and a partial (three chapters and a synopsis) for the second book in the series. The end of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, leads into the premise for the third book, which I turned in the end of the summer and which will be called Revenge of the Crafty Corpse

Although a mystery has to be solved at the end of each book in a mystery series, because the books are part of an ongoing series, there needs to be a story arc that encompasses all the books in the series. All personal issues can’t be resolved within the confines of one book. With each book the characters in the world I’ve created continue their journeys, pursuing their goals and dealing with the conflicts that get in the way of achieving those goals.

Goals. Motivation. Conflict. What do the characters want? Why do they want what they want? What’s keeping them from getting what they want? Every major character in a book needs both internal and external goals, motivations, and conflict. In a stand-alone book, these questions are all answered by the end of the book. In an ongoing series, they continue from book to book to book. Give the characters everything they want, and the series ends.

So I’m going to throw obstacles in Anastasia’s way for as long as readers want to follow her journey. She’ll continue to solve a murder by the end of each book, but the financial problems that set the series in motion will continue to dog her. And her family problems? Those of you dealing with your own dysfunctional relatives know that those problems never end.

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 was a January release. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Down, Dog! I'm Writing.

By Deborah Sharp

The question is common at book-signings, workshops and panels: How do you deal with writer's block?

During my days as a newspaper reporter I learned there's no such thing, I tell people. Take one ill-tempered editor with the power to fire you, add a looming deadline you know you must not miss, now sit down at the frickin' computer and write. Abbacadabra, writer's block disappears!

The truth is even the best writer's flow can hit a snag. Not saying MINE has . . . just sayin.'

There's all kinds of advice out there for overcoming that blo ... er, snag. John Steinbeck counseled blocked writers to pretend they're writing to an aunt. P.J. O'Rourke said: ''Write badly. Bad writing is easier.''

The Internet is rife with offers to unblock through meditation and yoga. Hmm ... I've practiced yoga for many years. I wonder if this yogic writing thing could work for ... er, a friend?

I have my doubts about yoga helping my concentration, though. I usually spend about two-thirds of my class thinking about food. Indian food, in particular. Though sometimes I dream about layer cakes, too.

I’ve dabbled in yoga for almost 20 years. But I’m old, so my down dog refuses to learn new tricks and my half-moon pose is more of a crescent. Even so, I’ve pretty much grasped the physical aspect. The meditative part has always been a bit more slippery for me.

Here's my typical yoga class:
Instructor, employing guided imagery: Imagine the tension in your neck and shoulders floating away.

I’m with her---picturing the stress of the day soaring off; a gray ball of bad energy cushioned in a cleansing white cloud.

Instructor: Now, relax the muscles in your jaw and throat.

I swallow. My mouth waters. I think: Wow, some tandoori chicken would taste REALLY good about now.

My meditation skills are even more lame. The teacher is chanting OMMMMmmmm, and I’m compiling a mental to-do list. She instructs us to center ourselves to the soothing sound of ocean waves. That makes me think of water, which reminds me my dishwasher needs to be unloaded, and the water heater at my mother's house just sprung a leak.

I crack open an eyelid and steal a glance around the room. Am I the only one incapable of clearing my mind? Hey, who's the hottie with the buff biceps? Haven't seen him in class before.

Finally, the instructor clinks her little finger cymbals together: Binggg . . . Binggg . . . Binggggggg. Class is over. We’re at one with the universe. And I’m that much closer to dinner.

Still, I might be getting more mentally from yoga than I realize. A recent episode convinced me something might be sinking in. Near the end of every yoga session, we can hear the Abs-Workout people clamoring outside the door, wanting in. They’re the stalking tigers of the gym, versus yoga’s fluttering butterflies. When the studio door finally opens, in rush the abs people, nearly trampling the mellow yoga folks.

A few days ago, a twenty-something taut-ie grabbed a floor mat right out of my hand as I was trying to put it away. Once upon a time, I’d have growled, tiger-like, and yanked it back. Instead, I smiled serenely, and bid her Namaste.

My spirit salutes yours, it means. Which was true in a way, since I had centered myself by imagining her head as a giant slice of coconut layer cake.

Step aside, Frosting Face, I chanted to myself. Nobody makes me late for dinner.

What do you do to clear your head? Writers, have you ever tried meditation as a cure for blo ... er, a snag in your writing flow?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy League of Women Voter's Day*

*Brownie point for those of you who get the reference

by Jennifer Harlow

When I was informed I was the person to post on this blog on Valentine’s Day I was a bit flummoxed. I mean, I’m the only one of our posters who has never been married or been in a long term relationship. I am one of the least sentimental, romantic women on the planet. I'm a fighter, not a lover. I've cried at exactly two movies in my lifetime. I'd much rather watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre than The Notebook, unless I want to fall asleep from boredom or see how many times I can roll my eyes in the space of two hours. When I read Romeo and Juliet I just wanted to smack the two teens upside their heads for being so stupid. I mean, hello! They were fourteen! So I was a bit wary about writing about romance, especially on Valentine's Day, as I am perpetually single and through feminism classes know that Valentine's day is just a holiday sprung from corporate greed and the only real reason all us female singletons feel bad about VD is the not-so-subtle brainwashing of females that we need a man to complete us and make our life worthwhile. (Thank you Disney).

I started on a post to reflect this, but since my last one about the West Memphis 3 was kind of aggressive and a downer I decided to embrace this “holiday” and do something upbeat(ish). So today I will pour some antifreeze in my veins to combat the ice and write about the romantic influences in my writing. Because I do believe in love, and do enjoy writing about it (as long as I get to kill a few things along the way.)

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Titanic: This was one of the aforementioned movies that made me cry to this day (the other being Apollo 13 for some unknown reason.) The first time I saw it when my parents came to pick me up at the theater I was sobbing so hard they thought I'd been assaulted. It took a couple minutes for me to calm down before I could tell them what really happened. That I'd just seen the most touching love story ever. Not only is it a thrilling movie, the love story between Jack and Rose is wonderful. They shouldn't be together but find one another. They sacrifice for this love, him his life for her. And that last scene, when old Rose is on the boat, dies, then is reunited with Jack on the Titanic with everyone still makes me verklempt. Best epic love story ever.

2. Charlotte Bronte: Not her books, though Jane Eyre is a pretty decent love story especially considering something like it had never been done before. No Bronte's life is something that no writer could ever have come up with. Cliff's Notes version. A plain girl, she was born to a poor clergyman. Her mother and two older sisters died, leaving her the eldest girl. She had an isolated childhood with only her remaining three siblings and imagination to keep her company. As she got older she had to go to school to learn to be a teacher and she fell in love with her married teacher. He rebuffed her and she returned to the moors. Then she wrote a book, and it was a sensation. Of course within a year of it coming out all three of her siblings died, leaving her alone with her hard father. Then, out of the blue, her father's curate tells her he's been in love with her for years and wants to marry her. Her father goes ballistic, and though she's in her late 30s tells her to refuse. Curate then falls apart all over town, performing grand romantic gestures. She eventually gives in, and realizes on her honeymoon she's fallen in love with her husband. They're not even married a year when she dies of complications from her pregnancy. You can't make this stuff up.

3. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: This is one of my favorite books ever. I laughed, I got misty, I stayed up all night reading it. It's about two un-perfect people who try to stay away from each other but fate keeps throwing them together. It's how I wish love could be. Just read it.

4. Ralph Fiennes: Yes, I heart Voldemort. While all the other girls had Johnathan Taylor Thomas or Brad Pitt posters, I had Mr. Fiennes. From age 12 to 20 he was the lead of all my insomnia fueled imagination sessions. He was my romantic hero, and from The English Patient to Strange Days (I still melt in that final scene when he scoops up Angela Bassett, stares into her eyes, and kisses her) he gave me a lot to work with. I even decided to write my first book after seeing one of his movies, Red Dragon (it hasn't been published yet). He's still my favorite actor.

5. My grandparents and parents: Once upon a time there was a 19 year old girl living in Nottingham, England who attended an Air Force dance with her mate. There she met a dashing plane mechanic from New Jersey. They danced the night away, had two more dates, then she agreed to move to America with him. They are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary this year. On the other side of the pond Jim and Ginny were introduced through friends. They married, had two sons, divorced, then ten years later realized they still loved each other and re-married. Right now he has Alzheimer's and she's taking care of him. From those two unions came Mark and Susan. They met on a blind date, dated for two years, then married 30 years ago. They've survived ten moves to four states, cancer scares, a sick possibly dying young son, raising four children, and having the snarky me as a daughter. This is real love. It's all about mutual respect. Loyalty. Compromise. Being equal partners. Theirs are true love stories.

What about you? What is your definition of romance and love? What movies/books/songs make you feel the love?

So anyway, Happy League of Women Voter Day AKA Valentine's Day! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with a box of chocolates I bought for myself and Leatherface.

Happy Valentine’s Day! =P XXXOOO

Monday, February 13, 2012

What’s So Funny?

by Alan

I’ve blogged before about my stand-up shtick, but here’s a recap of my recent DEADLY CAMPAIGN launch party, in pictures:

Launch 14

Me and my larger-than-life book



Launch 12

Me trying to lead the group in Simon Says



Launch 3

Bookmarks for all!


Launch 10

At least someone thinks my stuff is funny


Launch 5

Standing room only - I guess they heard about the free cake!


Deadly Campaing cake

And speaking of the cake, it was the funniest thing of the afternoon!

(Look closely…)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hair of the Dog, Part II

Sheila Webster Boneham

A couple of posts ago I wrote about dog hair, which is a big part of my life, especially now that shedding season is upon us here on the coast of North Carolina. Dogs (and cats and horses and birds and other critters) are not only vital characters in my forthcoming Pets in Focus Mystery series, but also an important part of my larger life. I showed horses in my teens and twenties, and I’ve been active for two decades in canine activities, competitive and not. My profession, though, for the past few decades, has been writing and helping other people learn to write better. At first glance it may seem that showing animals and writing are completely different sorts of pursuits, but they have more in common than you might think.

I’ve considered the similarities in my passions before, but a couple of weeks ago I entertained myself with this question as I languished in an airport after judging a dog show. I was tired of playing backgammon on my iPad (it cheats), and I had finished the book I brought to read. Assuming that I’m a reasonably consistent human being (potentially a topic for another time), I figure that dog sports and writing must have elements in common to keep me so passionate about them for so many years.

The first element that comes to mind is aesthetic appeal. Beauty, yes – a well-turned phrase, a gorgeous head. But there’s more to aesthetic appeal than beauty. There’s rhythm, function, timing, and all the other things that come together to stir us to respond emotionally and intellectually to the thing before us. A dog may be beautiful in itself, or in its performance, or – ideally – in both, just as a piece of writing may be beautiful for its language and rhythm, or the way it moves us, or – ideally – both.

Then there’s the challenge of doing well in either arena. Training a dog to compete successfully is a lot of hard work for trainer and dog alike. Learning to write well is also a lot of hard work. This is, of course, true of anything we want to do well. To the casual observer of the finished product – the book, the competitive performance – it may appear to be no big deal. Trust me, it is. In fact, novices in both fields are often amazed to discover that they have to work, and work hard, if they want to make it look effortless.

Of course, no matter how good you are, you don’t win every time. Editors say no thanks. Judges put you and your dog at the end of the line. Rejection is part of both games, and rejection sucks. But here’s the thing.... the people who win a lot – with book contracts and in canine competitions – have also lost a lot. You just keep playing, and learning to play better, and eventually you win more often. And along the way, you're bound to get a little messy.

I thought of a few other parallels before we started boarding the plane, but the one that stood out - that has stood out for me for many years – is that I write and I show dogs because they’re both so darn much fun. In fact, despite the hard work and disappointments and frustrations that come with the territory, I’ve found some of my best friends through both activities, had some great laughs, enjoyed profound and moving moments. I can’t think of two better ways to live large parts of my life.

Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Drinking at the Conference Bar can be Murder

Hi Folks,

Luckily it's morning and the bar here at Love is Murder in Chicago is closed.  In fact, the conference is coming to a close.  Before our esteemed and beloved editor Terri Bischoff hops into her car and drives back home, or better yet, to her office to do a little catch up to make sure all our author type needs are met, I thought I'd pull her aside for a little Q and A.

To set the scene, our dear Terri is sprawled on the couch in my room, having nursed a few (or a lot too many) cocktails last night.  She claims to remember the evening spent at the bar, so all should be well.

Q: What was your favorite cocktail this weekend?
A: I don't know what it was called.  It was a Martini with cranberry and mint, served in a glass made of ice.

Q: Sounds fancy. Who paid for it?
A: I have no idea.  Oh wait,  Several were purchased by agent Christine Witthohn with whom I'm afraid I may have made several deals.

Q: Did you actually attend the conference?
A: Why yes I did.  I participated in three panels.  One, with Kathleen Ernst.  I also took hours and hours of pitches.

Q: Did get interesting pitches?
A: Of course, but the proof will be in the pudding when the manuscripts appear in my inbox.

Q: What was your favorite conference moment?
A: Dreaming up our new sitcom with you and Ben LeRoy--The Housewife, The Lesbian and The Bachelor.  Also my new illegal business venture with Donna Bagdasarian, Ben LeRoy and Christine Witthohn.  (Please, no questions).

Q: Do you think you will sober up enough to get to another conference this year?
A: I will be attending the Writer's Institute at UW Madison, Malice Domestic, The Rocky Mountain Fiction's Writer's May Workshop and Bouchercon in Cleveland.

Q:What is the value of a conference like this for you as an editor?
A: Taking pitches and finding potential new authors, but talking and networking with agents and other editors.

Q: Is there a downside?
A: The damage incurred to my liver.  Also, I think I agreed to feed Jessie Chandler's cat while she's out of town.

Q: Thanks Terri!
A: I need another drink.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

by Shannon Baker

I admit, sometimes I need a little inspiration. Once in a while (daily) I doubt myself and wonder just what makes me think I can do this thing called writing. Even though I know almost every writer has times of doubt, sometimes I think everyone else is confident and fearless. For those of us who don’t always feel like Super Man or Woman, here are a few tidbits to pump you up.

One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill, a man famous for failure. He flunked 6th grade and lost a handful of elections, in fact, every race he attempted, until he was elected Prime Minister.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Among a myriad of failure to success stories I have collected, here are a couple of blubs I plagiarized from the InterWebs. (It’s not a sin if I confess, right?)

J. K. Rowling: Rowling may be rolling in a lot of Harry Potter dough today, but before she published the series of novels, she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel. Rowling went from depending on welfare to survive to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination. Did you know that this author of the Harry Potter phenomenon (which has sold more than 400 million copies), was rejected by twelve publishers? In her own words: “So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable.”

Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published and the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time.

Jack London: This well-known American author wasn't always such a success. While he would go on to publish popular novels like White Fang and The Call of the Wild, his first story received six hundred rejection slips before finally being accepted.

One story close to my heart is that of Mari Sandoz. She was a famous Nebraska writer, publishing from the mid-thirties through the mid-sixties. She grew up in the same isolated and rugged region of the Sandhills where I spent twenty years. Her controlling and abusive father ridiculed writing; she married and divorced in the 1910’s, and pursued her writing through poverty and illness. By her own account, she received thousands of rejections over the course of sixteen years. Yet, she kept writing. Kept sending it out. In the end, she had a slew of award-winning books and I can tell you, they are amazing.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I can't win if I don't play and for every great writer, there are hours of self-doubt, angst, and ultimately, seat in the chair. They did it. We can, too. I’m ready to climb back into the cab and fire up the old engine.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Finding the Quiet Center by Vicki Doudera


Yesterday I’d planned to walk down the hill to church, but at the last minute I started re-thinking my decision.

There are so many clients I need to contact, I reasoned, plus two websites that need updating, long-overdue Facebooking, Tweeting, and blogging commitments, housework, and, oh yeah, the biggest “have to” of all, my 300+ page manuscript needing another revision and due in just a few short weeks.

There’s no way I can spare the time to sit quietly for an hour or so, I figured. What about fitting in some exercise? Making something for the Superbowl party? But then I thought about the times I do change my plans at the last minute and how usually I’m annoyed at myself later. So down the hill I went.

Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed. Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see, all the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.

Those words were the first verse of the opening hymn, Come and Find the Quiet Center, written by Shirley Murray in 1989. Our new music director prefers using the Steinway piano to the organ, and for me, this makes the music more approachable and meaningful. We stood and sang, and of course my eyes teared up instantly at the powerful message of the simple words. “Be at peace and simply be.” I found myself wondering whether this crazy Gemini knows how to do that anymore.


Even when I undertake solo endeavors such as hiking (there is a great trail walking distance from our house in the Camden Hills State Park – that’s the view pictured above) I’ve generally got my mind whirring away. Car trips to show property down on “the peninsulas” aren’t quiet times for reflection, they are opportunities for me to figure out Darby’s next move. (I used to make endless phone calls, but I gave that up at New Year’s.)  I’m sure it’s the same with you. You’re plotting out a troublesome scene, making that “to do” list a little longer, or wondering how you can write the next best seller.

Is it important to clear the chaos and the clutter? If so, how do you do it? Does it make you more productive when you do? (Oops – wrong question! But see, I can’t quite fathom the “simply be” part yet!)

I would love to hear how you find the quiet center. In the meantime, shalom to you, my writing friends!

Top producing Realtor Vicki Doudera uses high-stakes, luxury real estate as the setting for a suspenseful mystery series starring crime-solving, deal-making agent Darby Farr. A broker with a busy coastal firm since 2003 and former Realtor of the Year, Vicki’s next mystery, DEADLY OFFER, takes Darby to a winery where murder, mayhem, and Merlot all mingle. As in the popular KILLER LISTING and A HOUSE TO DIE FOR, Darby discovers a dangerous truth: real estate means real trouble. Read more about the Darby Farr Mystery Series and Vicki at her website,

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The nominees have been announced for the Left Coast Crime 2012 awards. Congratulations to:

  • Jess Lourey on her nomination for The Lefty (best humorous mystery novel) for her Murder-by-the-Month mystery Octoberfest.
  • Darrell James on his nomination for the Eureka! (best first mystery novel) for his first Del Shannon mystery Nazareth Child

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Importance of a Good Critique Group

by Beth Groundwater

I have been in a long-standing writing critique group that originally formed at the 1999 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. The group has had between four and six members since its inception, and members have come and gone. I'm now the only original member remaining, but regardless of the make-up of the group, I've ALWAYS received useful feedback on chapters that I've submitted for review.

I'm currently submitting chapters from the manuscript that will become the third mystery in my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series, that I'm calling Cataract Canyon. The group members are once again proving their high value to me, and the manuscript is improving a great deal. Also, over the years, I am sure I have become a much, much better writer because of my association with the group. Different members have brought different skills in areas ranging from plot logic to grammar, portrayal of emotions to fight scenes, and more, and all of those skills have rubbed off on me.

I think it is vitally important for authors to have either a critique group or a few trusted first readers to run our manuscripts through before they go to our editors. We need fresh eyes to read those words and fresh brains to try to decipher those sentences and understand those characters and plot points so mistakes can be found. And there are always mistakes! No matter how carefully I pour over my chapters before submitting them to critique group, they always find things I've missed.

Because of the group members' thorough review, most of those mistakes get fixed before my editor sees them. And that makes me look good for my editor. I know that it's because of my critique group that my manuscripts usually only need light editing before they're published as novels.

One thing I always do, though, and I advise other writers to do with their critique groups or first readers, is to get at least halfway through the first draft of your manuscript before you start submitting chapters for review. This is so you have a firm idea of where you're going with the story and who your characters are before you get feedback. Then you can evaluate suggestions from the group against those firm ideas. You'll have a basis for deciding which suggestions to use and which would derail you from your plan.

Otherwise, if you keep re-writing the first three chapters based on multiple people's opinions (which, unfortunately, I've see writers do), you'll end up with mud. Your unique voice will have been lost. However, making the opposite mistake of going it alone all the way won't help you, either, and could very well prevent you from getting published. If your critique group or first readers aren't working for you, find some others, but don't give up on the concept all together.

There are lots of ways for critique groups to work. Some meet weekly, some meet monthly, many meet twice a month or every two weeks. I prefer groups that meet in person, but I know of very effective groups who operate completely on-line. Some groups are single-genre and some are multi-genre. I've seen both work well, and my group is multi-genre. Then there's size. My personal preference is to keep the group fairly small, so everyone has a chance to submit a chapter or twenty pages for every meeting, and everyone's suggestions can be heard.

Also, I think it's very important to have members of both sexes in the group. I find the feedback I get back from my male partners who say "No man would do/say that" to be extremely helpful. You're going to want both sexes to read your published books, so it's important to have both sexes give you feedback on how they perceive your novel.

The most important criteria is to find a group of fellow writers who you can get along with and work with and whose goal is to help each other improve and publish your manuscripts. You don't want a mutual appreciation society or the opposite, people who stroke their own egos by cutting down others. Constructive criticism has to be the purpose of all feedback in the group.

I know for a fact that I would not be published without my critique group, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I have them!

If you're a writer, what experiences have you had with critique groups, good or bad?