Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, my reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack pays homage to Stephanie Plum. They’re both Jersey girls, and as Anastasia finds herself mired deeper and deeper in caca, on several occasions she wonders, what would Stephanie do?

Personally, I thinks she’d be better off wondering, what would Fiona do? Not Shrek’s wife, although in the last movie Shrek's Fiona did let loose her inner kick-butt heroine. I'm talking about the other Fiona. Fiona Glenanne, the kick-butt love interest of Michael Westen in Burn Notice. Fiona is a former member of the IRA, a woman who cooks up explosives at her kitchen sink as easily as Anastasia scrambles an egg. Fiona is also a precision marksman (or markswoman) who is equally adept at picking locks, tracking down bad guys, and driving like the proverbial bat out of hell. You don’t want to mess with Fiona.

If Anastasia were more like Fiona, she’d have a lot less problems. Fiona wouldn’t put up with Ricardo the loan shark for more than five seconds. She also wouldn’t put up with all the family melodrama Anastasia deals with from her communist mother-in-law and her (supposedly) Russian princess Mama. Fiona believes in family, but she doesn’t believe in taking crap from anyone.

Most of all, Fiona doesn’t like being told what to do. Everyone is always telling Anastasia what to do.

Anastasia doesn’t get to watch much television, given her family and work schedule. However, I’m seriously thinking about sitting her down to watch a few episodes of Burn Notice. She might learn a thing or two that could help her deal with all that caca flying at her from every direction.

What about you? Do you have a favorite kick-butt heroine? Is it Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander? Or maybe it's the newly kick-butt version of Snow White from Snow White and the Huntsman? Then there's Merida, the heroine of the upcoming Brave. (Thank you, Pixar, for finally remembering the girls!)

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 and has been nominated for a Book of the Year Award by ForeWords Reviews and is a finalist for a Daphne du Maurier Award. Death by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, was released in January. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering Those Who Gave Their Lives Serving Our Nation

By Beth Groundwater

I'm going to deviate from writing about writing today to observe today's important national holiday--Memorial Day. Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed in 1868 in the United States when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. To learn more about the history of Memorial Day, go HERE.

Since then, US soldiers have perished in numerous wars, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War. Regardless of whether you support US involvement in these conflicts or not, I hope you'll join me in supporting those who gave up their lives in these wars and in supporting their families. We Midnight Ink authors write about fictional murder as entertainment--to give readers a puzzle to solve. But the killing of young men and women in global conflicts is not something to make light of.

Memorial Day and Veteran's Day have a special meaning for me since my father served in the Vietnam War during the dangerous year of the Tet Offensive. My family is very grateful that he made it home alive. But some of his friends and fellow navigators and pilots in the US Air Force did not. As a child, I knew the wives and children of some of those brave men and saw the heartbreaking sorrow they went through when their husbands and fathers didn't return.

I hope at 3:00 PM your local time today all of Inkspot's readers will join me in the "National Moment of Remembrance." Take a moment from your barbecues, picnics and holiday celebrations to pause in silence and remember and thank those who gave their lives for us. For more ideas on how to observe this important holiday of remembrance and thanks, go HERE.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

INKSPOT NEWS - May 26, 2012

Today from 2 - 4 PM, Beth Groundwater will sign copies of her May release, Wicked Eddies, the second book in her RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, at Black Cat Books, 720 Manitou Avenue, Manitou Springs, CO 80829. This will be a wine & cheese signing, so come ready to party!

Tomorrow from 2 - 4 PM, Beth Groundwater will sign copies of her May release, Wicked Eddies, at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers store near Chapel Hills Mall, 1565 Briargate Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80920. If you live in the Colorado Springs area, Beth's former home town, please try to make it to one of these two signings!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Inception of a Blog

by Jennifer Harlow

I have my own weekly blog Tales From the Darkside that I write. That’s four blogs a month. That’s a lot considering I spend the majority of my time alone in a room not interacting with the world at large. Not much material staring at my walls. So, where do I come up with my ideas? Here is an example.  Note: mild The Avengers spoilers and adult(ish) content. This blog has been rated PG-13. You have been warned.

Setting: A rare dinner where every Harlow member DAD, MOM, RYAN, LIAM, TREVOR, and MOI are seated around the table enjoying ribs. This conversation picks up about half-way through dinner. Let's enjoy this program, already in progress...

MOI: So, I do any of you have any suggestions for blog posts? I'm coming up empty.

TREV: You should write one about how awesome John and I are at League [of Legends]. We've been playing for like twelve hours and we've almost destroyed the turret.

MOI: Yeah, no. 

LIAM: You should write about The Avengers.

MOI: Yeah, because every other blogger and their mother hasn't already done it and probably better than I could.

LIAM: If you want more people to read it, you need to write about popular topics, not just stories about your stupid cat.

MOI: Have you ever read my blog? I barely write about the cat.

LIAM: I...

RYAN: No one reads your stupid blog. 

MOI: Gee, thanks Ry. Love you too.

MOM: I know what you should write about. You should write about the actor who played Loki. He was my favorite. He had so much...depth.

MOI: [raising an eyebrow] You do realize that that was like the fourth time you've brought up that Loki dude in the past two days. Like every time we even mention The Avengers immediately you pipe up with how cute and awesome whats-his-face is.

MOM: I do not!

DAD: Pass the rice please.

TREV: You totally do.

LIAM: Yeah, I think Mom's on a one-way train to Cougartown with Loki.

MOI: It is very "in" right now. 

MOM: I just thought he was perfect in the role is all.

RYAN: You know what you should write about, Jen. How hot Scarlett Johannson's butt was in that movie.

LIAM: Yeah!

TREV: Totally.

RYAN: I'd read it then.

DAD: Can I have the butter?

MOI: Here, Dad. [to boys] Two reasons that's not happening. 1) I'm a straight female, I barely noticed her butt. 2) I don't talk about butts. Period. I'm a lady.

LIAM: Oh, like you haven't talked about Jeremy Renner's butt on multiple occasions.

MOI: [silence; then] I haven't...recently. Shut up. No, no talk of movie star butts. 

RYAN: Scarett's butt deserves its own post at the very least.

MOI: Whatever. And I'm sorry? All you took away from her character was that she has a great butt? How about how she used her brain to get information out of men. Or how she held her own against every man and alien thrown against her.

LIAM: That stuff was kind of overshadowed by her awesome butt, sorry.

TREV: Yeah, and like you were drooling over Jeremey Renner for his mind.

MOI: I was!

LIAM: And his butt.

MOI: Shut up.

DAD: Pass the rolls, please.

MOM: I know what you should write about, Jen.

TREV: Loki's butt?

MOM: [shooting her youngest a look] You should write about Joss Whedon. How important he's been to pop culture.

MOI: I really don't know what to say that hasn't been said. The man is a pop culture God, end of story. I probably wouldn't have a career without Buffy or Firefly.

TREV: And didn't he show Nathan Fillion's butt in that one episode? Know how important that episode was to you.

MOI: Oh my God! Can we please, for the love of God, stop talking about butts!

RYAN: [standing up] Great dinner, Mom. I gotta take a massive poop now though.

LIAM: [standing too] I know, dude. I'm prairie dogging it right now.   

MOI: Jesus Christ! Can we go one dinner without poo being mentioned?

TREV: [standing] If we did, no one would recognize us. Gotta go destroy that turret.

MOM: [standing as well] You'll think of something for your blog, Jen.

MOI: [to self] Yeah, so far the topic could be The Avengers, Joss Whedon's awesomeness, Mom's trip to Cougartown, Scarlett Johannson's butt, Jeremy Renner's butt, Nathan Fillion's butt, or how at every dinner fecal matter is addressed. Great. They're gonna get cat videos tomorrow.

DAD: [standing] can write about them all.

MOI: Who'd believe this conversation ever took place?

DAD: Anyone's whose ever had dinner with us.

Which is why so few people come to supper with The Harlows. At least I got a blog out of it. Tune in next time for cat videos!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Red Pencil Your Prose

By Deborah Sharp

Wearing my hat as a board member for the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America, I choose the speakers for our monthly luncheon meetings.

Recently, we had a professional editor come to talk. She filled us in on some of the most common mistakes made by newbie writers. Some not-so-newbies, too, since I recognized some of my own manuscript missteps in her talk that day.

I was a newspaper reporter for many years, and I learned to be a pretty ''clean'' writer -- not a lot of typos, misspellings, or bad punctuation. Still, I have some blind spots. I sometimes rely too heavily on adverbs (she said apologetically). I'm also guilty of using ''-ing'' phrases at the beginning of sentences: Pausing while writing, she realized it was now past her bedtime and she should have begun this post two hours ago.

Susan Bryant, the founder of EditorGuru in southern Florida, says both those are common mistakes she sees in manuscripts. Susan provides her editing and writing services to clients who need help with everything from crafting a resume to polishing a full-length novel. As part of her talk, she also gave our group information on the range of services provided by an editor -- all the way from basic proof-reading to a comprehensive reconstruction, which would add depth and details and crystallize focus. Anyone hiring an editor, she said, should request references. The writer and editor should also be in clear agreement about cost, and whether the fee will be based on word count, number of pages, or hours the editor works.

Get those red pencils ready. Susan pointed to the following errors as among the most common she sees. How many have you committed?

* Redundancy (Watch for wordiness, or characters repeating things they've already mentioned)

* Factual errors (Be sure to check the spelling/location for proper names and places)

* Passive instead of active verbs

* Cliches (Whether hackneyed sayings, or one-dimensional characters lacking depth)

* Clunky substitutes for the word ''said.'' (John sneered. Amy chortled. Roger roared. )

* Adverbs instead of strong verbs (Sue angrily set her glass on the table. Sue slammed her glass . . .)

* Stilted, unnatural-sounding dialogue (Read it out loud)

* Telling, instead of showing (Donna was nervous. -vs- Donna chewed her nails. Her leg jiggled.)

* Long tangents that spotlight an author's passion or hobby, but don't advance the story

* Jarring shifts in point-of-view. (You can't be in the head of more than one character at a time)

* Introducing a character with a long description of personality and emotions. Instead, let actions reveal character, or have other characters tell the story of who this person is.

How'd you do? Not a flood of red on your pages, I hope. Have you ever hired an editing pro? Good experience or bad?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mysterious Settings

by Sheila Webster Boneham

Setting is an essential part of many mysteries, as well as other types of fiction. Some settings are important enough to be regarded as "characters" of a sort – Tony Hillerman’s Southwest, John Connolly’s Maine, J.A. Jance’s Arizona and Seattle, Susan Conant’s Cambridge, Massachusetts - well, I could go on for pages!

My own forthcoming Animals in Focus series is set in Fort Wayne and other parts of northern Indiana. I chose the area partly because I grew up there and know it well, and partly because it is a beautiful part of the country that often gets short shrift from outsiders who think all of Indiana is the fairly flat stretch of farmland from just west of Toledo to just east of Chicago. To dispel the "nothing but corn, beans and steelmills" stereotype, I send my protagonist, photographer Janet MacPhail, to the lakes, rivers, forests, and ravines of the state as well as the cities, small towns, and occasional quirky attractions. (Seriously, have you ever been to a pickle festival?)

The Money Bird, the second book in the Animals in Focus series,
will be set partly in the beautiful lake country of northern Indiana.

I’m also working on a thriller, Rattlesnake Mountain, set in the high desert in and around Reno, Nevada. Most of the Nevada novels I’ve found focus on Las Vegas, a good day’s drive south of Reno, or Lake Tahoe, which sits in the Sierras west of Reno. Great locations, but not the Nevada I hiked and explored for fifteen months. When I think about future books, setting is often one of the first things that comes to mind – where would I like to "live" in my creative mind for the year or more it takes to write the book? And even better, where would I like an excuse to visit for research? Somewhere familiar but overlooked? Somewhere exotic?

Wild horses are my favorite part of the Reno area landscape! Bachelor stallions
in Hidden Valley east of Reno, May 2010.

Which makes me think of mysteries and thrillers with exotic settings. What are your favorites, and why? What makes the unfamiliar work? Here are four of my own favorites:
  • Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series set in Tibet. Chinese Inspector Shan runs afoul of the authorities in Beijing and is sent to a gulag in Tibet, where his eyes (and the readers) were opened politically and spiritually. The books are rich with cultural, geographical, and political information, as well as fascinating characters.

  • Alexander McCall Smith’s three series, but especially the Botswana series featuring #1 lady Detective Precious Ramotswe and her friends. I’ve always been fascinated with Botswana as a country, and the characters take me back to my many African friends in graduate school. One of these days, I’m going on safari!

  • Zoë Ferraris’s series set in Saudi Arabia, featuring Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner's office who is bold enough to step out of her expected role, and Nayir Sharqi, a pious desert guide whose beliefs are shaken as he works the first case with Katya in Finding Nouf. Ferraris opens a door most Westerners never approach except through misunderstanding and presents the complexities of female-male roles and relations in a very conservative society with knowledge and sensitivity.

  • Elizabeth Hand’s literary thrillers featuring washed-up, burned-out photographer Cass Neary, an oddly appealing unappealing anti-hero. The books are brilliant, literary, suspenseful, and unputdownable. And the settings! Generation Loss takes places on a creepy little island off the coast of Maine, and the sequel, Available Dark, is set mostly in Iceland. Great reads, fascinating landscapes!

Please add to my to-read list! What are your favorite mysteries and thrillers in which an unusual setting, or an unusual aspect of a more familiar setting, is essential?

Sheila's dog Jay at an obedience trial, which he finds
exotic enough.
Sheila's mystery Drop Dead on Recall (now available for pre-order), takes place in the exotic world of canine obedience trials and will be out in October! Sheila is also the author of 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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Let's Save Our Fictions For Our Novels--a reprint

In the last seven days my son graduated from high school, I entertained numerous out of town family and friends (including the inimitable Terri Bischoff,) my sons competed in state diving and I had deadlines to make for both Midnight Ink and Tyrus Books. Suffice it to say, composing a blog on top of everything else would have been akin to eating a thin mint, Monty Python style. Luckily, my esteemed editor, Ben LeRoy, over at the above mentioned Tyrus Books, did manage to write what I considered to be a fascinating post this past week for Hey There's A Dead Guy in the Living Room and has graciously given his permission for me to share it here.

Let's Save Our Fictions For Our Novels

This week the online writing/publishing community has been abuzz with the plight of Mandy DeGeit, the writer whose confounding story about her experiences working with Anthony Giangregorio and Undead Press went public.
Briefly outlined, Ms. Degeit submitted a short story, “She Makes Me Smile,” to Undead Press hoping to be included in the company’s anthology, Cavalcade of Terror. As it turned out, according to Ms. Degeit, the story was accepted by Mr. Giangregorio and all appeared to be going well.
When a finished copy of the book showed up at her house, she noted that the title had been changed to “She Make’s Me Smile.” Disappointed with the added apostrophe, but still excited to be included in the anthology, she found more changes had taken place during editing though nobody from Undead Press ever discussed them with her. Those changes included the following:
(From Ms. DeGeit’s blog) “Let’s see: They turned a non-gendered character into a boy, they named the best friend, they created a memory for the main character about animal abuse. They added a suggestion of rape at the end…”
Significant changes by Ms. DeGeit’s account—one would be hard pressed to disagree—and changes that were never run by Ms. DeGeit during the editorial process. She submitted one story and received approval, but the final product didn’t really match.
Confused and disheartened she reached out to Mr. Giangregorio and asked what had happened. The surprisingly vitriolic exchange, included this from the publisher “as for the story. the editor had a hard time with it, it was very rough and he did alot to make it readable. despite what you think, your writing has a long way to go before its worthy of being printed professionally. we did what we had to do to make the story printable. you should be thankful, not complaining. ah, the ungrateful writer, gotta love it.”
And…we’ve got enough red flags at this point to start a parade.
(1)    If a story isn’t very good, I fail to see why a publisher would acquire it.
(2)    Publishers/editors don’t rewrite major parts of a work. They especially don’t do this without consulting the author.
(3)    A little respect goes a long way in our interpersonal dealings. I’ve never had a discussion with any author I’ve worked with that sounded anything like the above exchange.

I don’t know Mandy. Neither do I know Anthony Giangregorio, but I’ve found the resulting online discussion fascinating. Like these kinds of dustups do, this brought out a bunch of Internet Lawyers suggesting that Ms. DeGeit sue the publisher. And, even more curiously to me, more than one person stepped up to share a similar story and said the only reason he/she didn’t come forward before was for fear of being blackballed in the publishing industry. Blackballed by the guy running Undead Press?
For serious, Internet?
Let’s be clear about something—Some guy publishing books from his garage doesn’t have the power to blackball anybody in the publishing industry. I know a lot of people in publishing, even the people who are whispered about as the biggest people in the industry, and there isn’t one of them who I believe could or would, in this day and age, blackball an author. If a guy like James Frey can still make cash in this factory even after his troubles with Oprah, what are the odds that somebody who stood up to a guy who runs a publishing company that probably hasn’t ever been mentioned in any of the traditional publishing magazines is going to be permanently barred from the picnic?
We don’t gather as a group to compare notes. There is no shared database to cross reference when considering a project. Also, there are no secret handshakes or passwords. I’ll be honest when I tell you that I’m not anybody special at the country club—in fact, most members probably wouldn’t recognize me, what with my junior status and all—but if there was a secret blackball list, I’d know about it before this guy would.
I’m not sure where this controversy~! will all end up. I’m guessing it disappears in a few days. But in case it needs to be heard somewhere tonight—dear author, we love you. Please continue mastering your craft. Please do not chase after fishhooks that look appetizing but will only cause you pain. Research before submitting (there was plenty of discussion about this guy before this most recent incident). And, for the love of all that is good in the world, quit worrying about secret publishing cabals potentially exerting negative influence on you for calling out trouble when you see it.
It won’t happen.
I promise.
Publuminati Member #66613
AKA (Ben LeRoy)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fart in a Skillet

 Fart in a Skillet
By Shannon Baker
This is the phrase my LG (Lucky Guy) uses to describe someone who has so many things going at once he/she can’t concentrate on anything for long. He might or might not ever use it to describe me.
I wouldn’t admit it to him, of course, but recently, I’ve felt a little like this. After five years living in Flagstaff, AZ and working for The Grand Canyon Trust, a non-profit environmental trust, I got a terrific opportunity to head back up to Colorado’s Front Range and get in on the ground floor of an exciting medical device start-up.
 I love the great outdoors and being part of an organization whose goal it is to protect and restore landscapes, but I’m a capitalist at heart. I also love Colorado and have been jonesing to get back up there.
You’d think doing the real estate dance of buying, selling and moving would be plenty for one couple. The excitement of starting a new business and launching a new mystery series might be enough thrill for one year, right?
Life being what life is and crazy being what we are, we accidently fell in love with Tucson. As a retirement place. Really. In a few years. But why not look at houses now, we asked ourselves. The housing market is as nuts as us and one inexpensive foreclosure on the edge of the desert later, here I am, sitting by my very own pool.
It’s true, there’s no kitchen (I mean none; no appliances, no counters, no cupboards, no sink) and no A/C (while I write this it’s 102 degrees) and the only furniture is a blow-up mattress and some patio chairs.  
Which brings me to the fart in a skillet issue. For the last month I’ve been a whirling dervish of real estate and logistical activity. I’ve been trying to wrap up my day job and tie all those lose ends. So much so, that the draft I need to write for my next book has been neglected.
But no more. I have one month from the end of my job at the Trust to the beginning of my new one. Between packing and moving and life, that affords me two weeks plus of nothing but writing. The only distractions here are the pool every so often, necessary to balance out the no A/C issue, and food scavenged from the cooler. Every two days I need to run into town for more ice.

Welcome to my personal ShaNoWriMo. (Shannon Novel Writing Month) I am cranking, piling up the word count and reveling in near total isolation. LG blows in every few days to make sure I haven’t lost my slippery grasp on sanity.
And I had this pesky blog to write to keep me sort of grounded in the calendar and connected to something real.
Signing off again. See you in a week. Until then, happy writing, dunking, sunning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Not So Secret Notebooks

Vicki Doudera here. I'm recommending a book today, and I'll tell you right off the bat, it's not mine.

It's not even a mystery, although the subject matter deals with the fertile mind of one of the greatest crime fiction authors of all time -- a writer who penned sixty-six novels, twenty plays, six romance novels, and more than one hundred and fifty short stories.

I'm talking about the grand dame of them all -- Agatha Christie.

Vicki as fan: I get to meet Author John Curran.
The book is the first in a two-volume study called Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making.  In it, author John Curran delves into seventy-three handwritten volumes of Christie's notebooks discovered at her family  home of Greenway in 2004. The notebooks themselves -- exercise books that were sometimes castoffs from her daughter -- are crammed with lists, notes and drafts, all in Christie's spidery handwriting, revealing the way the mind of an amazing writer worked.

Christie's journals were not written in any kind of order, nor did she use them chronologically. There are gaps of sometimes decades between scribblings. A given notebook might have an outline of scenes, or a page containing a single idea: Mrs Van Schuyler -- boring American woman elderly snobbish, (a pithy character sketch from Death on the Nile) or questions such as: Who is killed? Philip poisoned -- doesn't wake up or Tina stabbed -- she walks from Kirsty to Mickey -- collapses (part of Christie's plotting for Ordeal by Innocence.)

The notebooks show Christie outlining different novels, working out the nitty-gritty details over which we mystery writers obsess, sometimes indicating multiple murderers (and scads of possible victims) for any given story line. I loved the way this meticulous writer tweaked and re-tweaked certain ideas, as well as the way she captured on paper seemingly mundane scraps of details.

I love it because I do the same thing.

Man walking down road, big bulky coat with eyepatch. I jotted that little gem down the other day as I was cruising south on Route 1. Why "B" will go along with Russian girl -- marry her? I'm starting to plot the fifth Darby Farr, so questions like this are peppering my notebooks.  Like Christie, I'm both thrifty and eclectic, using my kids' discarded school notebooks (spiral-bounds with "Social Studies" written in red Sharpie on the front) tiny scratch pads that fit in a purse; and more authentic looking hardcover jounals that declare "Ideas" in fancy script. Like her, I've learned that the surest way to keep a creative thought is to grab it and put it down on paper, where it can be poked, prodded and expanded upon -- in Christie's case, for years.

If  you 'd like a glimpse into one of crime fiction's greatest minds, I recommend reading Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran. Meeting the author and talking "Agatha" with him after the banquet was a personal highlight of the Malice Domestic conference, a moment in which I switched into besotted fan mode. I'm pleased to report that he is a delightful man and I can't wait to read his second book.

What about you? Do you keep notebooks full of your story ideas? Would any of us be inspired by your scribbles in years to come?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Red Herrings Stink!

 By Beth Groundwater

At the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April, I spoke on a panel of mystery authors titled "Fooling the Reader Fairly." My topic on the panel was red herrings, or false clues that are deliberately planted in mystery novels by authors to mislead the sleuth--and the reader. In debates, the term applies to the situation when an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. I thought I'd share my panel comments on this stinky topic with Inkspot readers.

A "red herring" is a very strong kipper, meaning a small fish—usually a herring but not always—that has been cured in brine and smoked. This process makes the fish smell pungent and turns its flesh red. In 1807 William Cobbett wrote how he used them for training hunting dogs, dragging the stinky fish across the trail of a fox the dogs were supposed to pursue to lay a false trail, thus confusing them and throwing them off the original scent. When the dogs weren’t thrown off, they were deemed trained. Supposedly escaping convicts did this to throw bloodhounds off their track, but there’s no direct evidence it was ever actually done.

The use of herring to throw off a scent hound was tested in a 2010 episode of the Discovery Channel series MythBusters. Although the hound used in the test stopped to devour the fish and lost the fugitive's scent for a while, it eventually backtracked and found its target, resulting in the myth being classified as "Busted."

There are two main ways a clue can be false:

1. It can seem to prove means, motive or opportunity for the wrong suspect, an innocent, such as in my book, A Real Basket Case, when Claire’s husband Roger is found holding the gun that killed Enrique, the handsome young massage therapist (means), when both Roger and the police assume Claire was having an affair with Enrique (motive), and Roger is apprehended on the scene moments after the shooting (opportunity).

2. It can seem to disprove means, motive or opportunity for the true killer. I'm not going to give an example of this here, because I don't want to give away whodunnit in any mystery novel, spoiling the read. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader!

There are many kinds of red herrings, such as:

- Physical evidence, such as the workgloves and beer cans found on the scene of a fly fisherman’s murder in my recent release, Wicked Eddies
- A snippet of dialogue or gesture that divulges motive or seems to show motive, such as the discovery that the victim in my book, Deadly Currents, was having an affair (so did the wife kill him?) then the discovery later that he had cut off the affair (or did the mistress kill him?)
- An alibi that removes opportunity, and is later proven to be false OR that seems to be false at first and is later proven to be true
- When clothing, shoes, vehicles, or the descriptions of people themselves are very similar (for example, in my book, To Hell in a Handbasket, there are six black Range Rovers that figure into the plot, all owned by different people who were given the cars as gifts by one character)

One tricky thing for mystery readers to remember is that a single clue can be both a clue to the right solution and a red herring to the wrong solution. The confusions that result from red herrings can make for a very tasty read indeed!

Do you have a favorite red herring that you came across while reading a mystery or that you used in writing a mystery? Please share it here, but don't give away whodunnit in any book!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Heirlooms of Importance

By Kathleen Ernst

I didn’t set out to write an “issue” novel when I began The Heirloom Murders, second in my Chloe Ellefson series.

I did want to include a plotline about the importance of preserving heirloom varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Historic sites like the real outdoor museum Old World Wisconsin, where my fictional protagonist Chloe works as a curator, play a key role in perpetuating these heirlooms.

And as I’ve written here before, it is important.  When I worked at Old World Wisconsin back in the 1980s and ‘90s, I learned how much genetic diversity we’ve lost in the last century or so—over 90%, by most estimates.  

Small seed companies have been overrun by big ones.  Small family farms have been gobbled by huge factory farms which practice monoculture.  Consumers have come to expect produce that looks good after long traveling half-way around the planet, which encourages growers to focus on only those varieties that can make the trip.

Educators at historic sites help visitors consider that some endangered variety might be the only one that can stand up to the next pest, disease, or drought.   

And happily, more and more home growers are raising heirloom verities.  I try a few new ones each year in my own garden.  Initially, I hoped that The Heirloom Murders would help introduce the fun and of raising heirlooms to a few more gardeners, perhaps in turn keeping a few more varieties vibrant.

But when I started writing The Heirloom Murders, I discovered some pretty scary stuff.  A few mega-companies have been working hard to take control of the world’s food supply.  They promise farmers in rural areas that their company’s genetically-modified seeds will produce better yields and resist drought, parasites, and insects.  If the sales pitch works, people stop growing their time-honored varieties of grain or vegetables and buy the genetically-modified seeds—sometimes taking out loans to do so.

Tragically, things don’t always work out as promised.  In India, for example, many farmers who purchased genetically modified seed have experienced total crop failure.  Traditionally, farmers would save seed and replant the following year, but the new genetic modifications force farmers to buy more seed from the company each year.  According to a watchdog organization, an estimated 125,000 farmers in India have committed suicide after crop failure and financial ruin.

The situation so frightening that a number of countries around the world, from Poland to Peru, are banning the sale and use of genetically engineered seeds.

So as it turns out, the importance of preserving heirloom seeds is even greater than I knew.  I felt good about including that theme in my mystery.  And that made it especially rewarding to learn that The Heirloom Murders was being awarded the Anne Powers Fiction Book Prize by the Council for Wisconsin Writers.  (That's me at the awards ceremony, below.)

By the way, if you’d like to learn more about heirloom gardening, check out Putting Down Roots:  Gardening Insights From Wisconsin’s Early Settlers, by my friend Marcia Carmichael, Historic Gardener at Old World Wisconsin.  Marcia’s book earned Honorable Mention in the Outdoor Writing Category of the CWW’s awards.

And if you’ve got some space in your garden, why not try some heirloom seeds?

Visit to get started.

You can learn more about the Chloe Ellefson mysteries at

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Last week I attended Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD, then the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA. Both events were fabulous. I met many readers, some of whom were very enthusiastic about my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and couldn’t wait for the next one in the series to come out. Others hadn’t read either but decided after hearing me speak at Malice or meeting me at the Festival, to give my books a try.

One of the most frequently asked questions I received at both events was, “Are your books available as e-books?” (Yes, they are.)

I’ve noticed in the short space of a year between the release of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, and Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, that ebook sales of my titles are far outpacing the trade paperbacks. More and more people are moving from physical books to e-readers.

There’s much to love about e-readers. You can carry around a lot of books with you at one time. If you finish a book while you’re traveling, you can easily read another, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles from a bookstore. I like that I can increase the font size of the words on the page, especially when I’m tired. The larger the print, the longer I can read without eye strain.

However, for those of us who love books, there’s something about holding a new book in our hands that an e-reader can’t satisfy. I wonder, what our homes will be like five, ten, or twenty years from now. Will we no longer have bookcases filled with volumes of our favorite titles? Will the Kindle and the Nook put bookcase manufacturers out of business? I love my bookcases filled with books. They take up space in just about every room of my house.

I stopped writing this for a few minutes and walked around my house, imagining each room without its bookcases. I’d certainly gain a lot of space if all those books resided in an e-reader instead of on physical shelves. I guess I’d have plenty of room to expand my teapot collection or start collecting something else. I just can’t imagine living without being surrounded by books.

What about the rest of you? Paper or plastic?

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 and has been nominated for a Book of the Year Award by ForeWords ReviewsDeath by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, was released in January. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My First Reading (Or How I Learned Shouting SEX! VAMPIRES! ZOMBIES! SEXY VAMPIRE ZOMBIES! Always Draws a Crowd)

A few weeks ago I offered to help out at the Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America booths at the Kensington Day of the Book Festival. I thought I would just take an hour or two in a booth to tell people about what the organizations did. Meetings, community of writers, blah blah blah. Then I received an e-mail telling me I would be one of five authors featured in the festival and that I was supposed to do a reading. That hundreds, possibly thousands would be at the festival. Needless to say I was a little daunted by this prospect. I hadn't been in front of an audience since high school in my acting days. What if I burped? What if I forgot how to read? What if I was boring? So the day before I practiced three times, only stumbling a few times but quickly covering up like I was taught in acting class. I was as ready for the hundreds who might show up as much as I could be.

I didn't need to worry. I forgot that my life is ruled by Murphy's Law. 

It was pouring down rain, freezing, windy, and there were maybe three people in attendance while I was there. The day before, fine. Beautiful. The day I'm supposed to shell my baby, not so much. At least I was only there for about an hour, my poor fellow authors had been manning the booths for hours. Kudos to them. Us brave and freezing five walked over to our deserted reading area. We were the only people in the audience. It was a bummer. One author decided not to even go. I so didn't blame him, we were performing for each other. The whole purpose was to sell books, hard to do when you have no customers. The first two authors went, just giving a general overview of their books. I panicked. I hadn't prepared anything but my reading. They each spoke for about five minutes, my planned reading was ten as I was told to do. The entire thing was a cluster fuck from the get go. But since I had nothing to lose I decided to go big then go home.

My turn came third. I had my book marked to my reading, I looked great, and I wasn't nervous at all. Until I decided to implement my master plan I had come up with ten seconds before. I got behind the microphone, and smiled at my fellow authors. "I'm going to try something. I apologize in advance." Then, into the microphone, as loud as I could I bellowed, "SEX! VAMPIRES! SEXY VAMPIRES! ZOMBIES! MURDER!" The people working the booth beside the reading area, including three teenagers, all looked over at me with surprise. 

I heard one ask, "Did she say zombies?" 

"Yes, ma'am, I did! Zombies! Everyone loves zombies! And sex! Come on over!"

And damned if four other people, including the teens, came over and listened as I did my reading. I was kind of afraid to look at my fellow authors in case they disapproved of my antics, but I did almost double our audience. And the teens stayed after my reading to listen to my fellow Midnight Inker and semi-mentor Alan Orloff (Killer Routine, Killer Campaign) do his stand-up. They even giggled at his jokes. The cherry on the cupcake was that those same girls came over to me after and asked how they could buy my book. So, in the end, I had two potential sales by making an ass of myself. Got a good story out of it too.

So that was my first reading. The glamorous life of an author, huh?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Here, There, and Everywhere!

colored spiralby Alan

I’m not adept at saying goodbye. If I can get away with it, I just throw a quick wave and a “see you later,” to anyone who happens to be looking in my direction. Outward emotions are not my strong suit.

But goodbyes are inevitable, aren’t they?

I’ve had a ton of fun blogging here at InkSpot during the past three years. During that time, there have been two things that have kept me blogging: my terrific blogmates and our fantastic blog readers. So thanks everyone! See you here, there, and everywhere!

For grins, here’s a rerun of my very first InkSpot blog, from April 1, 2009:

Hi. My name is Alan Orloff. I'm the new kid on the blog.

Throughout my life, I've written all types of things, including newsletter articles, technical reports, business plans, press releases, users manuals, Website content, direct mail packages, performance reviews, PowerPoint presentations, advocacy articles, editorial pieces, business correspondence, reference letters, grocery lists, technology abstracts--even Twitter tweets. But never a single blog post.

Not ever. Until now. This is my first, so please, be gentle.

Today's topic: How the post-WWII suburbanization of the country changed the way southern literature was viewed by the northeastern cognoscenti.

But first, I need to vent a little.

When I joined this group, I was thrilled to be associated with such a great bunch of writers. They seemed nice (in the blogosphere, at least) and they welcomed me with a host of friendly greetings. Everything was peachy. But…

I guess I'm just a little surprised at all the stuff a new blogger has to do. I mean, I understand I'll be toting around everyone's laptops and book bags at conferences. And I get that I'll be buying drinks for a while, at least until my new guy smell wears off. I'm cool with all that. Because it means I'm part of the gang, for better or worse.

It's just that some of the stuff I'm supposed to do seems a bit…extreme. (GM, I might be a little late coming over tomorrow to wash your windows. It all depends on how long it takes me to reseal JB's driveway. She says she wants it done right this time. And Tom, I've never been a sparring partner before. It won't hurt, will it? I'm allergic to pain.)

Don't get me wrong, it's nice to have so many people pay attention to you. But I'm getting some weird vibes that maybe things aren't what they seem on the outside. For instance, one of my new blogging buddies compared me to a guy named Marx (and not in a good way, I don't think. Of course, I couldn't really tell what he was talking about--he used a lot of big words). Another wanted to flat out get rid of me--before I'd even written a single post! And I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the email messages welcoming me to the group all had the words "FRESH BLOOD" in the subject line.

Here's the last straw. Keith wants me to come over and cut his grass. But how high could it be? It's only APRIL FIRST. What kind of FOOL do they think I am?

I need your help, InkSpot readers. What advice do you have for me, the new guy, about how I can fit in with an established bunch of bloggers? (Please, in addition to your comments, let me know when I can come by to powerwash your deck. I do good work, just ask the gang.)


<waves goodbye>

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Fantasy Job: Hollywood Casting Director

a guest post by Keith Raffel

Out of the blue, a pair of award-winning screenwriters optioned my second book, Smasher, back in 2010. Reading the actual script last fall, I could just imagine the characters up on the silver screen in the local multiplex. Alas, not going to happen--at least not anytime soon. The option expired a few weeks ago. The screenwriters told me they have picked up assignments from producers who liked their treatment, but Smasher: The Movie was not going to be “greenlighted.” My agent went on suicide watch, but I had expected nothing so wasn’t disappointed (much).

What about my next book? In her review of Drop By Drop, Lynn Farris wrote she “wouldn't be surprised to see this as an upcoming movie. Five stars out of five." So why not Drop By Drop as feature-length film even if not Smasher? Why not go along with the fantasy? After all, I live in the world of fiction. Let’s cast the film!
Here’s a précis of Drop By Drop:
Stanford professor Sam Rockman suffers the crushing loss of his wife in a bombing at San Francisco Airport. Seeking meaning in the ruins of his life, he accepts an offer to work for the Senate Intelligence Committee. What Sam wants out of his stint in D.C. is revenge for the death of his wife. What he gets is danger and betrayal. Secret documents are showing up on his doorstep. Russians are trying to poison him. Sam finds allies among a savvy Kentucky senator, a billionaire investment banker, his wife's old rabbi, and the president's national security advisor. Too often, he finds himself thrown together with his counterpart on the other side of the aisle, the whip-smart, six-footer Cecilia Plant. Mourning still for his wife, Sam steels himself against Cecilia's appeal and remains suspicious of her motives.

So we have to cast Sam and Cecilia first. We know he’s six feet tall because he’s the same height as she is. Other than that we don’t know what he looks like. Kind of nerdy maybe. After all, he is a Stanford history professor in his mid-thirties. Lots of candidates then but I’m going to with Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s six feet tall and 32 years old. Earnest in Love and Other Drugs, driven in Source Code. He should be bankable, too.
Next is Cecilia. Getting this part right is the key to the movie. Readers love her. Joe Hartlaub wrote in his review in, “With regard to the characters, Plant almost steals the book from Rockman; if Raffel would see fit to bring her back in a future work, I certainly wouldn’t object.” Here she is in her first meeting with Sam: 
“We need to get the motherfuckers who did that.” She didn’t snarl as she cursed. She spoke in soft tones, as if to minimize the attention that would come unbidden to a foul-mouthed, red-headed woman with a seventy-five inch span between the tips of her heels and the crown of her head.
She’s six-feet tall (the extra three inches are from her heels) and an ex-athlete. Wait, I got it! Adrianne Palicki. She’s within an inch of six-feet. She can definitely handle the bad language--having played bad-girl Tyra Collette in Friday Night Lights. While in high school she played basketball and ran track. I’ve seen her on the screen as both a blonde and as a brunette; no reason to think she wouldn’t look just as great with auburn tresses. (Calling Clairol!) And even when she played a bad girl, she projected underlying intelligence.
Did I mention I myself worked for the Senate just as Sam Rockman did? One of my colleagues back in those days was Fred Thompson who (much later) showed his acting chops on TV’s Law and Order. And he actually served as a senator from Tennessee. Not too much of a stretch then to see him playing a member of the upper house representing the neighboring state of Kentucky. (Always glad to help out a former colleague.)
Billionaire investment banker George Fairchild has made the Forbes list of richest people under 40. Here’s where we first see him in the book:
George measured no taller than five-five, an inch shorter than Rachel and weighed in at about 130, only five pounds more than her. No banker’s suit for George. He wore khakis with a crease sharp enough to slice a loaf of bread and a blue-striped button-down crisp enough to crackle like cellophane.
Let’s go with Ryan Phillippe most recently seen on TV in Damages. A baby-faced 38 he makes the age cut.

My own rabbi says she likes the fact that rabbis in my novels are not figures of fun. Can comedic actor Paul Rudd play a serious clergyman? I say yes.

The president’s national security advisor is a tough, cigarette-smoking, New York dame. Let’s go with Dianne Wiest of In Treatment and Hannah and Her Sisters.

And finally, what about President Lucas? Here we see him on TV:
The guy looked so damned presidential. He reached the same six foot four Lincoln had. His hair was swept back in a Reaganesque pompadour. An aversion to ties part of his brand, he wore an open-neck French blue shirt and navy blazer. He conveyed to the voters that he was no empty suit, but the perfect fit of his clothing, the way his jacket hung from his shoulders, distinguished him from Joe Sixpack even more surely than gray pinstripes.
Here’s the casting coup of the 21st century. Mitt Romney was a neighbor of a friend of mine. I met him at her birthday party. Don’t know how good an actor he would be, but from the description of President Lucas above it wouldn’t be much of a stretch, would it? And it’s my hunch that he will be looking for work after the first Tuesday of November. 
 Thanks for humoring me in my reverie. (But if the agents of Mr. Gyllenhaal or Ms. Palicki see this post, please do not hesitate to get in touch.)


Keith’s Drop By Drop is available for a free download from through Saturday. (Click here.) Thanks to,, huffington post, Wikipedia,, and for the photos above.