Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Damned List

By Shannon Baker
I love rules. It’s that ol’ check list thing that gives me piece of mind. It’s the same mentality that probably made me good at school. I know just how much I need to accomplish, check it off, and I win!  Unfortunately, writing, like life, is not confined to one set of rules or one giant to-do list. There is always more you can do. Every day is another opportunity to get better, damn it. Still, rules and lists, and especially lists of rules make me happy.
I came across this from Kurt Vonnegut and it made me very happy because he’s, well, he’s Kurt-Amazing-Vonnegut. (And by "amazing" I mean that word my mother told me I could never say.)  If you’re like me, it will make your day.

Eight rules for writing fiction:
1.     Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2.     Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3.     Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4.     Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5.     Start as close to the end as possible.
6.     Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7.     Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8.     Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
- Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.
I’m not sure I agree with Rule #8, but everything else has my seal of approval, even though I’m just Shannon Baker, and not Shannon-Amazing-Baker. (And yes, I do aspire to being able to insert that word my mother told me I could never say.)  Do you have a favorite rule, on this list or not? Do you agree with all eight?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

INKSPOT NEWS - April 28, 2012

On Monday, April 30th, from 4 - 8 PM, quite a few Midnight Ink authors are participating in the Festival of Mystery at the Greek Orthodox Social Hall, 12 Washington Ave, Oakmont, Pennsylvania, put on by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop. They include Jessie Chandler, Vicki Doudera, Beth Groundwater, Alice Loweecey, Deborah Sharp, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Lois Winston. If you can't attend, but would like to have an autographed copy of one or more of our books, you can preorder them from the Mystery Lovers Bookshop prior to the festival.

Friday, April 27, 2012

It's Showtime!

By Deborah Sharp

They say the neon lights are bright, on Broadway -- Lou Rawls

The lights at the Shrine Club in Camden County, N.C., may not shine Broadway bright. But I still wish I'd been there when the curtain went up on a benefit play adapted from my wedding-themed mystery, Mama Gets Hitched.

Oh, sure, they did switch the setting from my fictional slice of Florida to North Carolina. And the production, made up mostly of high school students, did encounter a couple of casting glitches. Until shortly before showtime, the gal who wound up playing the Southern belle Mama character was cast as a tough-but-sexy female detective from New Jersey. When the original actress took sick, the last minute stand-in subtracted the Jersey 'tude, added some honey to her accent, stuck the script inside the pages of a prop wedding magazine, and became Mama. In the play, as in my book, the Mama character is taking a fifth stab at tying the sacred knot of matrimony when things go murderously awry.

And what about the role of the sexy female cop? That was filled by a male thespian wearing a woman's wig. Hey, the show must go on!

In the cast photo pictured, Adelle Drahos, at center, is a radiant Mama in a horrifyingly tacky pink dress. Jesse Mitchell is the the law-and-order ''lady,'' crouching at far left, with the buff arms and fetching black wig.

I never thought much would come of it almost a year ago when Adelle contacted me through my web site and asked about adapting my book into a play. It was for a good cause -- the Camden County Educational Foundation. A number of talented kids would get the chance to be involved from Camden High, which had lost its drama teacher and had no school production planned. And it would be a one-time event, during the weekend of March 23-25.

I said yes.

The local newspaper ran an article before the event. You can see a link here.

At the top left of the newspaper's web page, scroll through a few rehearsal pictures if you'd like. I'm still wondering about the one where a male character seems to be opening a fancy gift bag with some leopard-print ladies panties inside.

The area independent bookstore, Page After Page in Elizabeth City, N.C., sold autographed copies of Mama Gets Hitched, which is the third book in my Mace Bauer Mystery Series. The store nicely donated a portion of the proceeds from the book sales. The play itself brought in about $4,000 for the educational foundation -- money that will be used for grants for teachers in the Camden County schools.

At one of the first author signings I ever attended, a friend who writes kids' books invited some youngsters up to perform a scene from her latest work. I thought it was such a great idea that last fall when my fourth book, Mama Sees Stars, came out, I stole it. (To writer-pal Dorian Cirrone: I apologize for my thieving ways!) At a red carpet launch party for the movie-themed mystery, a group of local actors performed a short scene from the book. It's such a rush hearing words you wrote come out of the mouth of a living, breathing character. On the page is one thing. In the flesh, something else entirely.

That's why I wish I'd been there last month to see this talented bunch of young people mount their production of Mama Gets Hitched. Like Ethel Merman said, There's No Business Like Show Business -- even off-off-off Broadway. Besides, it would have been a hoot and a half to hear the honking Bronx accent of Mama's newly betrothed, ''Big Sal'' Provenza, on a stage in down-south North Carolina.

How about you? Have you ever heard your words read out loud in a play? Have you ever written or performed in a play?


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rollin', rollin', rollin' ...

By Beth Groundwater

Move 'em on, head 'em up,
Head 'em up, move 'em out,
Move 'em on, head 'em out Rawhide!

That's the song that's going through my head as I write this post on Monday to pre-schedule it for its appearance today, when I'll be on the road for a week-long whirlwind book tour back east to promote the new release of Wicked Eddies, the second book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. Monday I was planning, packing, printing, and pre-scheduling blog posts. Tuesday I drove from Breckenridge, Colorado, to the Denver airport and flew from there to Newport News, Virginia, to be picked up by my parents. Yes, I'm squeezing in a visit with them on the trip!

However, while I'm staying with my parents, I will stop by the nearby Barnes & Nobles Booksellers store to sign stock copies of Wicked Eddies, as a "hometown gal made good" author. Also, I'm speaking tonight to the Chesapeake Bay Writers about "Series Writing for the Organizationally Challenged."

Rain and wind and weather
Hell-bent for leather
Wishin' my gal was by my side.

Friday, I pick up a rental car to drive to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, DC, where I'll drop off the car and ride the Metro to Bethesda, Maryland, for the Malice Domestic conference. This is one of my favorite mystery fan conferences, and I'm looking forward to attending. I just hope I don't have to deal with rain and wind while I wrestle my luggage from house to car to airport to Metro station to hotel. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

At Malice, I will be on the "Three Strikes, You're Dead: Sports-Related Mysteries" panel at 1:30 PM on Saturday. I'll also attend the Guppies luncheon, the Sisters in Crime breakfast, and other conference events. Then on Sunday I'll hop into a car with some other Midnight Ink authors to drive up to Oakmont, Pennsylvania, for the Festival of Mystery that will take place on Monday.

Don't try to understand 'em,
Just rope and throw and grab 'em,
Soon we'll be living high and wide.

Monday is packed with a librarian's tea, followed by the festival, then a pizza party for the authors at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, the host for the festival. The Festival of Mystery draws in the most avid mystery fans that I have ever seen. They buy armloads of books and love talking to the authors who come. And I love talking to the readers! Of course, the goal is to sell as many books as possible so I can soon be living high and wide. ;-)

My heart's calculatin'
My true love will be waitin',
Be waitin' at the end of my ride.

Finally on Tuesday, May first, I'll fly and drive home. And yes, I'm looking forward to seeing my true love at the end of the ride!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kids and Mysteries

by Kathleen Ernst

Getting mail from kids is surely one of the great perks of writing for young readers. I recently got a lovely stack of letters from third graders. Their teacher had read one of my children’s mysteries, Danger at the Zoo, aloud in class.  Afterwards they spent some time on my website, and learned more about me and my work.

Whenever I get a batch of letters like this, I can predict some of the questions they contain.   But there are always surprises, too.  I think this is the first time a child asked me my beverage of choice.

letter 2
Other letters are revealing in other ways.  This student thinks I shouldn’t be quite so wordy.

letter 4
Several kids were interested in my Chloe Ellefson mysteries—my "murder books."
letter 1
letter 5
letter 6
letter 3  
In that last one the child was at least asking if their parents might like them.  Still, the interest and questions reveal a quirk to consider in promoting my work.  Many kids are intrigued by the notion of murder.  And if they enjoyed one of my kids’ mysteries, they get even more interested when they discover I’ve written books that include murder.

In general, I believe kids will self-select books that are appropriate for them, and that’s as it should be.  Since these particular kids are in third grade, I explained that while their parents might enjoy the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, I was sure they’d have more fun exploring my other books written for young readers.

End of the story?  Not quite.

A short story I wrote was recently published online in Women Writing the West’s Laura Journal.  It’s darker than I usually write, and although I don’t go into details, the theme is mature (sexual abuse in the 19th century).  It earned Honorable Mention status in a competition, and now that it’s published, I’d like to steer readers in that direction.

But I have young children regularly visiting my website, and following me on my own blog and on Facebook.  Knowing that, I’m just not comfortable posting the link to that particular story in those places.  (As far as I know, we don’t have too many eight-year-olds following Inkspot.)

On the flip side, having young fans has been a boost for the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  I’ve heard from a number of teens who read my children’s books when they were younger, and now have become avid Chloe fans.  That is, of course, extremely cool.

So…what do you think about kids reading mysteries written for adults?  Should kids be allowed to sample whatever they wish, or should certain books be labeled out-of-bounds?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Keep it Real.

Hello there.

Well, there are a LOT of things happening lately in my life. Mostly good, some bad. Got me to thinking about life in general. The good stuff is VERY good, and has to do with the road I'm on that will lead to Untold Damage being released next April. There's been the "vision meeting", where my editor gets together with the marketing people and they talk pretty much about me and my book and how my brand will be developed and marketed. Yup, I've got "a brand" now.

Never thought I'd have one of THOSE, and that's a fact.

Then there was the "launch meeting". That sounds, from what I was told, like it was more "nuts and bolts". The title was finalized, the launch day was agreed upon (well, launch month, for now), and the tagline was also agreed to. The tagline is that line you often find on the front or back cover, usually in a larger font, etc. The line that sort of gives you the theme of the book, in a nutshell.

I had submitted to Marketing my idea for the tagline, and was VERY happy to hear that they loved it and that's what we're going with. They also accepted my concept for the cover. THAT was f'n awesome of them! :-) I can't wait to see the first mock up! I got a real kicker of an email when my editor emailed to ask how I wanted my name to appear. Nice!

I've turned in the first book, and am waiting to see if there's any more to do on it. While I wait, I'm starting the second book, and already thinking about what the third one will be. Oh, and on top of that, I'm writing the screenplay adaption of the first book, so when the ARC comes out, we can say to any potential Hollywood types, "Hey, here's this great new thriller, AND here's what a movie version would look like. Cool, right?"

ALL of these developments are good and happy and golden light with skipping ponies and rainbows, naturally.

Then, there's the other stuff. My mother has been suffering from Alzheimer's for a VERY long time, and finally... she's shutting it all down, at the end of the last stages of the disease. She's being moved into hospice care, and will most probably not last another couple weeks. My sisters and I have known, of course, that THIS is how it was going to go, and we've had a VERY long time to wrap our heads around it, say our goodbyes, plan for what happens... after.

My point?

That writing books and chasing the dream of finding an agent and a book deal is all well and fine, but it does not make illness go away, or make you a better, or worse person. In the great scheme of things, this writing/book stuff means the equivalent of a spec of space dust. We live on a beautiful planet, and while writing can be a lifeline (I know it is, and has been, for me) that keeps us going to our dreary day jobs, it does not cure cancer, feed the homeless, or sparkle like a ray of sunshine on a cherry blossom.

You have to live in the moment, my friends. Yes, focus on the work, work hard, and work well... however, ALWAYS remember to look up from your computer once in awhile, and tell your loved one that you love them. Get the F up and toss the ball with your kid, or your dog. Play with your cat. Or hell, just stare at something lovely for five minutes, like a flower, or up at the clouds as they move across the sky.

We have only one go 'round in this life. Make it a life worth living, yeah?

See ya.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

INKSPOT NEWS - April 21, 2012

This afternoon, Beth Groundwater will be on a "Fooling the Reader Fairly" panel at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference at the Colorado Springs Marriott Hotel, 5580 Tech Center Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80919. Following the panel, she'll sign copies of her books in the conference bookstore.

On Sunday, April 22nd from 1-3 PM, Jennifer Harlow and Alan Orloff, among others, will be reading from their latest novels at Kensington Celebrates The International Day of the Book. 3786 Howard Ave, Kensington MD.

On Wednesday, April 25th from 5:30 – 8:30 PM, Beth Groundwater will dine with the Chesapeake Bay Writers and talk about "Series Writing for the Organizationally Challenged" at the Rivers Inn Restaurant, 8106 Yacht Haven Rd, Gloucester Point, VA 23062. She will autograph copies of her books afterward.

From Friday through Sunday, April 27-29, a number of Midnight Ink authors will appear at the Malice Domestic Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, One Bethesda Metro Center (7400 Wisconsin Ave.), Bethesda, MD 20814. Their panel topics and times are listed below, and they will sign copies of their books during the signing periods after their panels.

Lois Winston and Alan Orloff will be two of 42 authors taking part in the Malice Go Round 10:00-11:30 AM, Friday, April 27th.

Alan Orloff and Maggie Sefton: "Capitol Crimes: All Politics Is Deadly", 9:40 AM, Saturday, April 28th; signing at 11:35 AM.

Jennifer Harlow and Cricket McRae: "Witches & Zombies & Ghosts, Oh, My!: Paranormal Mystery", 10:40 AM, Saturday, April 28th: signing 11:35 AM.

Beth Groundwater: "Three Strikes, You're Dead: Sports-Related Mysteries", 1:30 PM, Saturday, April 28th, moderated by Alan Orloff; signing at 4:20 PM.

Lois Winston and Deborah Sharp: "Elvis and the Commies: Sidekicks Who Provide Comic Relief", 2:30 PM, Saturday, April 28th; signing at 4:20 PM.

Jessie Chandler: "They Love Lucy: If Lucy Ricardo Were A Sleuth" Sunday, April 29th 8:45 AM.

Kathleen Ernst: "The New Nick and Noras: Mixing Romance and Murder," Sunday, April 29th, 9:45 AM.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The 10 Things I Learned at Left Coast Crime

A guest post by Jess Lourey

1. It's okay to be a humorous mystery writer. Really, it is. Left Coast Crime is the only conference that celebrates the art of combining murder with mirth. They offer the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery, which I'm proud to say I was nominated for. And lost. I'm considering putting that on future book covers: "Lefty-losing author Jess Lourey…"

2. Self-publishing ebooks can be profitable, and as of right now, Kindle (Amazon) is where most of that money is being made.

3. If you are considering self-publishing, there is an awesome site called CrowdSpring where authors can post a description of their book for thousands of graphic designers to read. The designers, usually a couple dozen per book, will each create a book cover based on the description. If the author sees one she likes, she can buy it, usually for a couple hundred dollars. If she doesn't like any of them, she doesn't pay.

4. Book trailers are a waste of time and money *unless* they help the reader to connect with the writer, either by answering interview questions or talking about places/people/events that inspired the book and maybe filming at associated locations. Laura Lippmann and William Kent Krueger both do this well.

5. Harley Jane Kozak, the conference’s toastmaster, wears size 9 shoes. She also starred in Arachnaphobia! How cool is that?

6. Along that same line, did you know that Parnell Hall, panelist moderator at Left Coast Crime, wrote the screenplay for C.H.U.D.? I cornered him by the ATM and made him admit to it. I think he thought I was making fun of him, but I'm a sucker for campy horror movies. Give me a glimpse of a zipper in the monster's back, and I'm yours for life.

7. It is incorrect to refer to a Scottish accent vs. a British accent, as Scots are also Brits. Thanks for this, Simon Wood. I blame the American education system for my ignorance.

8. Volunteer at any conference you attend. It's the best way to make connections, particularly for us introverts, and you can feel good at the same time.

9. The television and film industries are going the way of the music and book industries in that they are becoming democratized. Some of the best TV shorts and films are coming from independent people with no connections to the industry, no formal training, and little money.

10. Bring your own books to a conference, if you can. The on-site bookstores can only bring in so much, but they're often happy to sell on consignment.

11. I know, I know, the title says ten, but I didn’t really learn this one; I already knew it: Keith Raffel, Vicki Doudera, Shannon Baker, William Kent Krueger, GM Malliet, and Catriona McPherson are all fabulous people to hang out with!

Jess Lourey is the Lefty-losing author of the humorous Murder-by-Month mysteries. November Hunt was released March 2012, and in a starred review, Booklist says of it, "It's not easy to make people laugh while they're on the edge of their seats, but Lourey pulls it off!"

Thursday, April 19, 2012


by Lois Winston

I’m currently teaching an adult school course on “Writing the Publishable Novel.” One of the topics we covered the other night was opening hooks. I’m a firm believer in dynamic openings. I believe the first sentence of a book should make the reader want to keep reading. The hook doesn’t have to be defined in that first sentence, but that first sentence should lead into the next and the next until you have a paragraph that becomes a hook that grabs and won’t let go.

Your first paragraph should do for the first page what your first sentence did for your first paragraph, and the first page should do for the subsequent pages what the first paragraph did for the first page.

Openings should be filled with interesting action and/or dialogue that intrigues the reader and makes her want to continue reading, not filled with paragraph after paragraph of back-story and/or description.

A good book will often begin by throwing the reader right into the middle of a conversation or event. Dynamic openings avoid head-to-toe descriptions of the characters, movie camera eye-view narratives of the setting, and AccuWeather reports.

One of my favorite opening lines is from Kiss an Angel, an early romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

“Daisy Devreaux had forgotten her bridegroom’s name.”

How can you not be intrigued by that opening? Doesn’t it make you want to read further?

Here are some other favorites, from both classic literature and contemporary novels. All are quite different, but the one thing they all have in common is that they contain bits of information that pique reader curiosity. What you don’t see is all sorts of needless prose, just enough information to ground the characters in a hear-and-now and give a hint of things to come.

See if you recognize the books attached to these openings:

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“Until she was twenty-six, Jody Linder felt suspicious of happiness.”

“July 1st. The most dangerous day of the year.”

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”

“All children except one grow up.”

“Between the parishes of Shepfold and Martlake in Somerset existed an area of no-man’s-land and a lot of ill feeling.”

“I hate whiners. Always have. So I was doing my damnedest not to become one in spite of the lollapalooza of a quadruple whammy that had broadsided me last week.”

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself -- not just sometimes, but always.”

“There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me -- not forever, but periodically.”

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

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 released this past January. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Interview with a F.R.E.A.K.

By Jennifer Harlow

Through some of my Pentagon contacts (thanks Daddy and Uncle George W.) I was given exclusive access to the clandestine branch of the FBI known as the F.R.E.A.K.S. or Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals. Their newest agent, former schoolteacher and telekinetic Beatrice Alexander, agreed to meet with me under the cover of night at a coffee shop somewhere in the Midwest. (It rhymes with “Ansas”)

So, thanks for agreeing to do this.

BA: It’s okay. <rolling eyes> Gave me an excuse to get away from a pest. As long as I’m home in time for The World of Henry Orient. I love Peter Sellers.

I understand you just got back from your first case in Colorado. Killing zombies must be a far cry from finger-painting with fourth graders.

BA: Totally. Though about the same amount of biting involved.

What made you decide to make such a drastic career change?

BA: I, uh, <clears throat> almost killed my brother one night. He was saying awful things about me and I snapped. Almost blew out a vessel in his brain. I never had much control over my curs—sorry, gift, they insist we say that, and the F.R.E.A.K.S. offered me a chance to learn about it. Get that control.

Have you always been telekinetic?

BA: Ever since I was a kid. My mom’s boyfriend was about to hit her, so I sent a plate across the room flying right into his head. There were…other incidents too, but I don’t want to talk about them if you don’t mind. <a pause> I don’t really like talking about what I can do full stop. Sorry. For years only three people ever knew, my brother, Nana, and friend April. She only found out because my first and only sleepover her stuffed animals were dancing in the air. She thought it was cool.

Most people would love to have your gift.

BA: Then they’re morons. Would they love to wake up and find their bed levitating? Getting angry and almost killing someone without lifting a finger? Knowing that if you tell someone what you can do they’ll run for the hills? Being called a freak, an aberration? <scoff> No, it is nothing to love.

Did you know that there were others out there like you before you joined? Others with gifts?

BA: No. God, no. If you came to me three months ago and told me Dracula and the wolfman were alive and sharing a house, I’d have called you nuts. Like everyone else I thought they were all made up. Now I have a werewolf living across the hall and a vampire in the basement, among others.

Who else is in the Squad?

BA: There’s Carl, he touches things and knows all about their history. Uh, Andrew is a medium, Irie a pyrokinetic, and Nancy can teleport. She’s not big on privacy and locked doors. <a private smile; turning red> Then there’s Will. He’s the werewolf. Oh, and Oliver.

Was it hard joining such a tight knit group?

BA: Well, I moved around a lot as a kid, so I’m used to being the new girl, but still. Yeah. We had some growing pains, to say the least, but…we stopped the necromancer and all the zombies. Together. I think they’re warming to me. At least I hope they are. Time will tell. <face falling> Oh, crud. Not again.

When I turned to see what had gotten her so annoyed, my jaw dropped. Sauntering into the shop was the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen. The picture I viewed did not do him justice. I recognized him from my dossier as Oliver Montrose, another F.R.E.A.K. A vampire one. He slid into the booth right next to Beatrice but flashed me a smile that scrambled my brain. Thank God I had the tape recorder still running.

OM: Well, well, well, what do we have here? Who is your new, delectable friend here, Trixie?

BA: <shooting daggers with her eyes> None of your business. What are you doing here? Are you following me? Again? Because this is getting close to stalkerish. I’m beginning to feel like I’m in a Lifetime movie. <to me> He does this. All the time! I turn around, and there he is with that stupid grin on his face!

OM: My grin is not stupid. <to me; grinning to show fangs> Do you find my grin stupid, my dear?

BA: Oh, leave her alone! Now you’re just being childish. We’re trying to do an interview here. Go away.

OM: <cocking an eyebrow> An interview, you say? Fantastic. I do not mind answering a few questions about fair Trixie here. Perhaps your readers would be interested to know some nights she sleeps in nothing but a towel.

BA: <mouth dropping open> I do not…we have not…will you shut up? Get out of here or I’ll…

OM: What, tell Will? <to me> Our team leader has such a soft spot for Trixie here. If she asked him, he would stake me without a second thought. He almost did in Colorado. But my darling Trixie would not let him. <growing serious> She saved my life, you know. She saved us all.

BA: He’s exaggerating.

OM: No…I am not. She was magnificent. Truly.

Their eyes met, almost cooling her anger, replacing it with nervousness. She looked away.

BA: Just go away, okay. Please?

He stared at her face for a moment, almost sad to see she was serious. He rose.

OM: As you wish, my dear. See you at home.

He walked out of the café, and she shook her head.

BA: I am so sorry about that. Sometimes he’s really great and sometimes he’s…that.

It’s alright. So, how did you save his life?

BA: He’s exaggerating. He, um, the necromancer did something to him and he attacked me. Will wanted to stake him, but I wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t his fault. And as you can see he’s fine now. Relatively speaking.

Did this cause a problem with you and your team leader?

BA: Um, no, We’re fine now. Great. He’s actually, um, teaching me some more martial arts. <turning red again> Among other things. He used to be a police officer in D.C. so he knows a lot. He’s just…wonderful.

So far what do you like best about the job? Besides your team leader.

BA: Well, I really liked the whole investigation part of it. Interviewing people, finding clues, getting to the truth. I love mystery novels and now it’s like my life has become one. <sweet smile> Though I felt more like bumbling Stephanie Plum than Sherlock Holmes.

So all in all are you happy with your choice to join the F.R.E.A.K.S.? No regrets?

BA: <laughing> Of course I have regrets. What happened in Colorado was horrible. People died. I had to chop up two zombie hordes with a machete. I have literal scars from the whole ordeal. And it was my first case. But...a large part of me loved it. I’ve faced monsters and won. I can be myself here, warts and all. I need that. I never realized how much until I got here. I’m not alone anymore. That…makes it worth it.

Her cell phone rang. As she listened to the other end, she grew grave before standing up.

BA: I’m so sorry. There’s a golem on the loose in New Jersey, I have to go. Nice meeting you.

She ran out the door off to face another monster. I for one feel safer knowing she’s out there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Alan

MaliceIt’s that time of year again. Spring, yes, but also the beginning of book convention/ conference/festival/loll-apalooza season. (For me, anyway.)

I love book events. Each one seems to have its own, unique vibe. Some are huge, others intimate. Some are craft-oriented, others are geared more to fans. Still others are free-for-alls where just about anything goes.

This year, my book event season began a little early. I had the opportunity to attend the Sleuthfest conference in Orlando at the beginning of March. This one is aimed more toward mystery writers and attendance is limited so it’s a nice, cozy group. I was on a couple panels, met a lot of writers, and re-connected with some writer pals. I also learned a great deal about both craft and business. Plus, early March in Florida beats early March in D.C.

Next Sunday, I’ll be at the Kensington Book Festival, staffing the MWA booth. This is a free-for-all festival. Writers of every ilk will be there: self-pubbed, small-pubbed, trad-pubbed, e-pubbed. All genres. Fiction and non-fiction. Writers and fans. Purveyors of food, makers of music. The whole shebang. It’s a lot of fun and you never know what, or whom, you’ll see there. Last year, there was a guy wearing a bright yellow suit, a Miss Maryland (I think it was Maryland, I didn’t get a close look at her sash), and somebody in a cartoon character outfit high-fiving little kids.

In two weeks, there’s the Malice Domestic convention. This one is fan-based, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of my fellow MInkers there. Attendance is capped at about 500, and there are five tracks of panels over the two-and-a-half days. (I’ll be on a panel Saturday morning at 9:40 (with our Maggie Sefton) and I’m moderating refereeing a panel on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 (with our Beth Groundwater).)

Next month, I’ll be appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. This one is modeled after the National Book Festival, held on the National Mall, and it’s all about the readers. There are six or seven large pavilions, and author presentations run all day long. It’s a great atmosphere and I’m proud to say I’ve participated all three years of its existence.

If you’re a reader or a writer, I encourage you to attend a book event. Writers are a friendly bunch (mostly), and they love to interact with other writers and readers (usually). So check out your local listings today to find an event near you!

Did I mention I love book events?

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at a book event?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lucky 13

A guest post by Joanna Campbell Slan

To celebrate the release of Ready, Scrap, Shoot, the fifth book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery series (aka "Scrap-n-Craft Mystery series"), I wanted to do something really special. Something fun, something extra for my fans. So I've joined together with a dozen other mystery writers, and we're turning Friday the 13th into a lucky day for anyone who loves to read. Yep, today you can download thirteen great reads for free on Kindle.

One of the reads is a short story featuring my protagonist, Kiki Lowenstein. I named it "Kiki Lowenstein and the Purple Passion," and it's been getting five-star reviews on Amazon.

Is it lucky for you? Undoubtedly. You'll get to load up your Kindle with a fresh crop of books (and a short story!). If you don't have a Kindle, you can load the app onto your computer for free.

Will it be lucky for me? I dunno. It's a brave new world out there for authors with the advent of so many ways for readers to access our work. Since all thirteen of us are pitching in to promote our reads, I'm sure I'll attract at least a few new fans.

So why not check out these thirteen offerings? And let me know…does this sound like a good promotional idea to you? Why or why not?
Sink or Swim by Stacy Juba- After starring on a hit game show set aboard a Tall Ship, personal trainer Cassidy Novak discovers that she has attracted a stalker. Can she trust Zach Gallagher, the gorgeous newspaper photographer assigned to follow her for a local series? As things heat up with the stalker and with Zach, soon Cassidy will need to call SOS for real. "Easy read and extremely well written." -Stephenie LaGrossa, Survivor; "I could not put this book down." -Book Club Queen

Darker By Degree by Keri Knutson - A missing girl. A mysterious break-in. A brutal murder. Actress Maddie Pryce is looking for her big break, but finds herself at the center of a series of seemingly unrelated crimes. Soon she's tangled up with a persistent detective, a driven director, a playboy producer, and an unstable ingenue. Can Maddie unravel the clues before her next role is as a serial killer's victim?
Diary of Murder by Jean Henry Mead - Dana Logan's wealthy sister, Georgi, dies and Georgi's husband claims it was suicide. Dana knows her sister would never take her own life and sets out to prove it was murder, with her friend, Sarah Cafferty. During their investigation, they stumble over more bodies and place their own lives in jeopardy when they encounter a vicious drug ring.

Ghost Island by Bonnie Hearn Hill - Is Aaron a dream, or is he something much more deadly? Livia Hinson has just begun a Seminar at Sea when a storm hits their boat. Now, she is stranded with the other students on an island off the coast of California. Far away from her foster home and her heartbreak, Livia finds Aaron, the perfect love. But the only way they can be together is in her dreams.

One Small Victory by Maryann Miller - The story of one woman's courage. Suspense novel by Maryann Miller, based on a true story of a woman who infiltrated a drug ring and helped bring down a major distributor in her small Texas town. Don't discount what a mother can do to protect her children. First published in hardback, now available as an e-book and as a trade paperback.

Rock & Roll Homicide by RJ McDonnell - The 1st novel in the Rock & Roll Mystery Series finds PI Jason Duffy helping the widow of a slain rock star after she climbs to #1 in the police suspect charts. Duffy, an inexperienced former club musician, sorts through suspects ranging from band members to the Russian Mafia in this rocking whodunit. 4.67 Star Average.
Southeast Asian Quartet by William S. Shephard - Suspense and murder in Southeast Asia in the style of Somerset Maugham, these four tales evoke Singapore, Borneo, Malaya and Indochina. Perhaps you'll solve the disappearance of Jim Thompson, the Thai Silk King, missing for 35 years. Draw up a chair at the Raffles Bar and join us!

Taken by Debra Lee - Welcome to the fictitious little town of Watery, Pennsylvania where the district attorney's personal secretary, Mary Murray never planned to become a single mom or a suspect in her infant's disappearance, but she plans to find Jena before she suffers the same fate Mary's younger brother had when he was taken twelve years earlier.

The Four Last Things by Timothy Hallinan - Hired to follow a young woman, private eye Simeon Grist becomes mired in murder and a million-dollar religious scam in The Four Last Things, the first in a series of highly-praised LA private-eye novels written in the 1990s by 2011 Edgar nominee Timothy Hallinan. The Drood Review called it "One of the 10 best books of the year." Publisher's Weekly: "Very satisfying;" Booklist: "a sure winner"
When a Man Loves a Woman: Enhanced Multimedia Edition by Alina Adams - Can a man and woman ever truly be just friends? What about if one of them is married? What if one of them suddenly isn't anymore? Originally published as a paperback by Dell in 2000, the 2011 e-book re-release multimedia edition now features all the text of the original, plus a bonus musical soundtrack to compliment the story! A romance from mystery author Alina Adams.

Willowtree: A Bruce DelReno Mystery by Mike Bove - Bruce DelReno, retired postman, golf and food nut, finds a body near the golf course. He believes the murder is connected to others and involves his Apache friend. Together, they stay a step ahead of the police in trying to solve the cases. They uncover dark secrets of a close knit group of friends in the town of Willowtree, Arizona. This is a fun read with some interesting characters.

"Kiki Lowenstein and the Purple Passion: A Kiki Lowenstein Short Story" by Joanna Campbell Slan - When a customer's daughter is falsely accused, Kiki Lowenstein foils a nasty plan to ruin the girl's reputation. Mystery, crafts, recipes, humor, romance/short story.

Whispering by Gerrie Ferris Finger - Will Cleo Snow admit to making love with charming World War I fly-boy Graham Henry to clear him in the disappearance of an island woman who claims he plans to marry her? Will Graham compromise Cleo to clear himself? With her spirit firmed by deceit, Cleo vows to uncover the truth and keep her secret.

Please mark your calendar for Give Your Child a Free Kindle Book Day on April 19 - in which numerous books for children, pre-teens, and young adults will be free.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Am I in Your Book?

By Sheila Webster Boneham

"Be nice to me or I'll put you in my novel."
(T-shirt seen at cafe)

"Are your characters based on real people?" I’ve been asked that several times recently, and since my first mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, won’t be released until October, I have to wonder whether the subtext of the question is, "Am I in your book?" Only a handful of people have actually "met" the characters at this point, after all.

The answer is an unequivocal "sort of." What kind of people, other than real ones, can fictional characters be based on? Our concept of people comes from meeting and watching and listening to living, breathing human beings. Yes, we also "know" fictional characters through books, movies, song lyrics, and other verbal art forms, but fiction that works is what I think of as "enhanced reality." Even fantasy and sci fi and magical realism have to be grounded in our sense of the world or they just don’t work for most people. Even aliens from planet Sjtxs are based on real people!

Philosophical meandering aside, though, what about those characters in my "Animals in Focus" series? Let me begin with the non-human characters – dogs and cats in the first book, and other animals to come. The critters in Drop Dead on Recall are based on real dogs and cats. One of them is snoring beside me on the couch as I write this. That’s my Australian Shepherd, Jay, whose namesake in the books is quite true-to-life, right down to most of his backstory. In the book, his human, Janet, is not his breeder. In real life, Jay was born into my hands. Otherwise, yep, that’s him in the book. Other animals are composites, but their behaviors are based on real life actions of real life animals. Oddly enough, not a single dog or cat has shown any interest in whether they’re in the books. Go figure.

The human characters come in two varieties, neither of them "real," but both "reality based." Most of them are completely fictional, although of course they do things, wear things, eat things, say things that I’ve observed or heard about real people doing, wearing, eating, saying. A few are loosely based on people I know or, ahem, am. Take Janet MacPhail, the protagonist. She’s very loosely based on moi. She’s a she, she loves dogs, she has a creative career. But Janet isn’t me; she lives a very different life from mine with a very different family. (No, I won’t tell you what’s real and what I made up!)

Here’s the funny thing about reality and characters, though, and I’ve heard this from other authors as well. Readers get the connections wrong more often than not. A reader of one of my drafts said of one not-so-lovely character, "Oh, I know who that is." Thoughts of lawsuits immediately danced through my head as I squeaked, "You do?" "Yeah, that’s..." she said, and then named possibly the last mutual acquaintance I could imagine in that role. Funnily enough, she did not mention the mutual acquaintance who actually inspired the character, albeit with many a change twixt inspiration and book.

So, the answer to the first question is yes, my characters are based on real people, sort of. And the answer to the second question is yes, you are in my book, whoever you are. You just won’t recognize yourself.


Do you know a real life dog who would like to be in the second Animals in Focus mystery? Check out these raffles to support canine health and raffle off a role (and please share with your dog-loving friends).

Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall (now available for pre-order) 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 or on Facebook at

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is it a Mystery?

The other day, a friend asked if I would read his new manuscript before he started the process of submitting to agents. Since this particular writer is not only a friend, but a longtime member of my critique group and particularly talented where scene and imagery are concerned, I was not only glad to oblige, but looked forward to the read.
         Then, he threw me for a bit of a curve.
         “It’s a mystery,” he said.
         Even better, I thought anticipating a more commercial blend of plot with the well-crafted literary work I’ve come to expect from him.
          And then he threw me for another curve. 
         “I just got comments back from a contest I entered and they questioned whether it was really a mystery,” he said. “Can you read it and let me know?”
         I’m halfway through the book and, as expected, am enjoying so much about this story, but is it a mystery?
         Actually, I think there are two, potentially strong mysteries in the manuscript, possibly three. 
What my friend has done, is create what I believe could be a strong series. But, and it’s something of a big but, if he wants to sell this manuscript(s) as a genre story, I think he needs to break the plot lines down and examine what he is trying to do with his main character in light of the good old rules of mystery writing.
         Which led me to the Internet where I found an amusing set of guidelines I thought I’d share:                 
Here is Fr. Ronald Knox's famous Ten Commandment list for Detective Novelists (copyright © 1929 Ronald Knox and Pope Somebody):
               The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
               All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
               Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
               No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
               No Chinaman must figure in the story.
               No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
               The detective must not himself commit the crime.
               The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
               The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
               Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

As for my friend, I think I’ll suggest a more current version.  Or, maybe I won’t and see if I can persuade him to write in a Chinaman!