Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Just Keep Writing!

by Kathleen Ernst

Last November I wrote a post I titled Gratitude about why I feel grateful to be a working writer, despite the inherent challenges.   Most comments were positive, but I did receive one message from an aspiring writer whose basic message was, “Easy for you to say, oh published one.”

I did try to stress that making my way along the writer’s path has not always easy.  Perhaps a few more examples will help:

image*In the 11th grade, I once received a zero on a writing assignment—“because the work was not good enough to earn an F.”

* I wrote at least a dozen novels before one was picked up for publication.  Probably more; I stopped counting at some point.

* The first time I entered a novel in a statewide contest, the judge for my category chose to not acknowledge any entry that year.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

I’m celebrating the publication of my 25th book, a children’s mystery called Traitor in the Shipyard, and I’m under contract for two more books. Does that mean I’ve passed some magic mark where everything I write gets published?  Not hardly. I have a handful of manuscripts that I love, that I worked on for years, but have never landed on the right desk at the right time.

My beloved agent of ten years recently returned to the editorial side of the business.  When we talked about our momentous decade together, she summarized what she saw as perhaps my greatest strength: “You just keep writing.”

To that I’d add always trying to improve my work and striving to understand the business end of writing.  Nonetheless, if there is a single strategy that got me where I am, it’s simply that. Despite frustrations, disappointments, and setbacks, I just kept—and keep—writing.

I wish  you aspiring writers all success!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Have Book, Will Travel

By Deborah Sharp

What to pack, what to pack?

I know that shouldn't be the biggest thing on my mind as I head off to an out-of-state mystery conference. Makes me sound so shallow. But hey, if the shoe fits  . . . or even if it doesn't, which is really the issue here. Since I live in southern Florida, where it's warm, and I work at home, usually in bare feet or socks, footwear is always a challenge. I'm not one of those women who loves shoes. I hate them, and they hate me.

As I write this, I'm preparing to attend Murder on the Menu, in Wetumpka, Ala. Through the magic of pre-scheduled posting, by the time you read it, the event will be over. Hopefully, I will have solved the mystery of what to take by then. You can check back with me to see how my feet and I fared.  

For now, though, I know whatever shoes I decide upon have to ward off the cold, not pinch my feet, look okay with black slacks, and not take up too much space in my suitcase. I ask less from my husband than I ask from these all-around, miracle shoes. On the other hand, it is easier -- or at least more legal -- to pack an extra pair or two of shoes to meet my different needs than it is to marry an additional guy or two to do the same.

Packing got me thinking. Not about bigamy, but about traveling to various conferences. Before I became an author, I could count on one hand the number of events I ever attended as a conferee. As a reporter, I covered a lot of different conferences, popping in and out to write a quick story about a speaker or particular topic. But I rarely got the full conference experience: hotel, luncheons and dinners, sitting in (or on) a panel to learn (or teach) something about writing mysteries. I can't say whether book writers and readers gather more often for conferences than other groups do. I do know they gather A LOT.

Like everything in life, conferences have their pros and cons. My favorite things include: 
* Camaraderie with other authors, a plus since writing is so solitary.
* Face-to-face meetings with readers.
* Learning things that kick-start (or re-energize) the writing process.
* Getting out of my pajamas.

The cons?
* Getting out of my pajamas.
* The exhaustion and hassles of travel.
* Expense.
* Eating too much.

I still remember my binge on decadently rich cheese straws and other Southern delicacies at my last Murder on the Menu, in 2009. There's a reason conference organizers put the word Menu in that title.

How about you? Do you go to conferences? What do you love about them? What don't you like? What are some of your favorite conferences, and why?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Old House

By Maegan Beaumont

Your novel is a house.

Yes, I said a house—just trust me, it’ll make sense in a minute…

Writing a novel is like building a house. Your plot provides the foundation. Without a solid foundation, your house with never be structurally sound. It’s the same for your novel. Having an idea for a book and developing a plot are two different things. A plot must be able to withstand every possible "what if" scenario you can think of. You must poke at every spot, find its weaknesses and shore them up. If the hole is too big for a patch-job, then you scrap it and start over. It's a process—a long, time consuming process but it's necessary. If your foundation is cracked, your house will fall. Without a solid plot, so will your novel.

Your narrative—the story you build within the confines of your plot—provide the bones of your novel. Timber, nails, trusses—these are the materials you need to make your house a solid structure. They need to be the right lengths and sizes—cut and weighed to fit the exact dimensions laid out by your foundation, or, when finished, your house will look like you hired a troop of hyperactive toddlers to do your heavy lifting.

The same goes with your narrative. It should flow effortlessly. It should never sound forced or unnatural. When you write a paragraph or even a sentence you’re not comfortable with, you should re-read it and ask yourself, “does this sound like me?” If it doesn’t—if it’s not something you would say, or worded how you would say it, then either change it or toss it. If your narrative sounds forced, your reader will know. They won’t trust you. They’ll know that you don’t believe the words you’ve written and if you don’t believe them, neither will they. They’ll tuck a grocery receipt or parking slip between the pages of your book and set it down… and never pick it back up again. That distrustful feeling will stick with them and the next time they’re offered an opportunity to read your work, they’ll say, thanks, but I’d rather watch paint dry.

So, if your plot is the foundation and the narrative is the house that we build on said foundation… that’s it, right?


You’ve build this beautiful house that is solid and strong, but what’s the use if you don’t fill it full of people? We do that with our characters—we built this house for them to live in. Without them, what’s the use? For me, they’re the most important aspect of writing—the most important piece in building your novel. Your characters make your house a HOME.

Your characters are individuals—they have personalities unto themselves and the words you have them say portray that. Or at least they should. Your dialogue should flow as naturally from them as your narrative flows from you.

Dialogue is important.

It reveals who they are. What they think. How they feel. A single sentence can speak volumes to who they are as a person. Would you have your protagonist’s nine-year-old daughter spout lines that sound like they belong to a stuffy old butler from some BBC drama? Would you have your hard-boiled detective whine like a sorority girl who just chipped a nail? If the answer is yes, you need to re-evaluate who your characters really are... and possibly seek professional help.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Greetings from NYC

With the release of my debut novel, THE BIG BANG, and the gearing up for ETERNALLY 21, the first in my Mrs. Frugalicious series for Midnight Ink, my life has been something of a whirlwind. (Yep-- another sorry excuse for the tardiness of my blog post). In any case, I've had a wonderful time traveling to old and new haunts alike these past couple of months. There's nothing like a first novel to bring out all your long lost elementary school friends, old boyfriends, very distant cousins, admiring new fans (a girl can dream), and even that heckler or two who doesn't quite "get" your writing. Well worth the planes, trains and automobile grind of it all, which started in Denver moved to St. Louis and featured stops in Chicago and Los Angeles.

I ended the tour with the biggest bang of all (pardon the obvious and awful pun) in New York City. As a newly elected Mystery Writers of America Director-at-Large, I was not only invited to do a signing  at the storied Mysterious Bookshop with the likes of Charlaine Harris, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Hillary Davidson and a host of writers I'd be thrilled to be asked to fetch coffee for, including our own Jess Lourey and Darrell James, but got to spend a weekend getting to know and working with them. A true honor and a thrill.

Here are a few of the suitable-for-work photos!


                                          My hubby and Darrell James.

                                           Lovely ladies-- Hillary Davidson, Roseanne Coleman and Jess Lourey
                                          Michelle Gagnon and Harley Jane Kozak
      My hubby trying to making time with Jess Lourey. (Can you blame him?)
                                          The incoming and outgoing MWA board.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

INKSPOT NEWS - January 19, 2013

Here are the new releases from Midnight Ink for January, 2013. They're ALL great reads! Scroll down for more news from our authors.

Burden of Proof by Terri Nolan

"With enough characters and plot twists to fill an entire TV series season, Nolan's debut mystery doesn't hold back. Suffused with Irish Catholicism, her cop melodrama makes for an addictive read...Think Mario Puzo goes Irish."

Hiding Gladys by Lee Mims

"[A] solid debut."

Revenge of the Crafty Corpse by Lois Winston

"Chuckles begin on page one and the steady humor sustains a comedic crafts cozy...Recommend for Chris Grabenstein ("John Ceepak" series) and Jess Lourey readers."

In other news, Midnight Ink author Deborah Sharp will appear Jan. 26 at Murder on the Menu, a day of mystery panels and tasty dishes in Wetumpka, Ala. Deborah writes the Mace Bauer Mysteries, featuring Mace's wacky "Mama.'' The fifth book in the series, MAMA GETS TRASHED, comes out Sept. 1.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How Ben Franklin Got Me Here

 by Shannon Baker
I credit (blame?) Benjamin Franklin for me ever writing a single word toward publication. More accurately, Steven Covey (the 7 Habits guy) for being inspired by Ben to create the model of organization, The Franklin Day Planner. I know there are myriad organizational and goal-setting tools but this particular system smacked me upside the head about twenty years ago.

Until then, I had this vague I idea I’d like to write a novel someday. It would be a masterpiece and I’d sell a million copies. But I was young and busy and thought that I’d have more time to devote to that pursuit later.
Then I serendipitously ended up in a seminar on the process of the Franklin Day Planner. The idea is that you start with your values. You write all this down and from values, you develop long term goals, medium term, and short term, eventually landing on daily tasks that will lead you to success.

This isn’t new or groundbreaking. But it did get me off the “someday” track and onto the “write something every day” highway. I’m not saying that is a good thing. (Who is the writer whose best advice to aspiring writers is never start?)

Bit by bit, day by day, I approached my goals, made new ones and inched down the long and winding road toward publication, just like Ben said I would.

Along the way, I had a life. It got complicated with children and jobs and all manner of things. Eventually, I ended up going from one duty to another, checking off all those tasks in my day planner but not enjoying much of anything. During a giant transition period, I tilted. I needed simplify.

Away went the day planner, along with a husband and other useless things.

A little at a time I’ve added stuff back. Suddenly, I find myself in the midst of multi-tasking hell. I really love everything I’m steeped in at the moment but, honestly, the water’s getting pretty hot. .

I’m making lists. And losing them. I have an Outlook calendar at the office but it doesn’t sync to my phone or my home computer. I’m waking up at 3 A.M. in a panic. Who doesn’t do that, though? Right?

Maybe it’s time to get organized. But like a diet, if you do it once, you learn how to cheat and it’s never as effective the second time around, I fear I won’t work the Franklin method well. Plus, there are so many great electronic solutions out there. I just don’t have the time to search them out because of, you know, all that stuff that’s got me hopping.

So this is my chance to have you all do the research for me and report back. What do you use to keep all the chainsaws in the air? What can I use that will work on my Android and my laptop and make me look like the hip, together professional I pretend to be?    

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Interview with an Independent Bookstore Owner

By Beth Groundwater

In 2010, I interviewed one of my favorite independent bookstore owners and posted it on my personal blog. It's such a great interview and Natalie Johnson is such a wonderful bookstore owner that I thought she deserved repeat exposure. In light of the recent news in Shelf Awareness that Independent bookstore sales were up 8% in 2012, I thought it would be enlightening to read an interview with a hardworking store owner who is still making a go of it in Manitou Springs, CO. Natalie is also the source for mail-ordered autographed copies of my books, so please feel free to contact her if you'd like to help her out with an order!

The above photo is of me signing my first book for some friends in Natalie's lovely store, Black Cat Books. On with the interview!

1. How did you get into the book selling business and acquire your own store?

I sort of fell into the bookstore business. I moved to Manitou Springs eight years ago and decided that I wanted to live and work here. Since there aren't many job opportunities in Manitou, I had to create my own. When I looked back on my life experiences, it was clear that this is what I was born to do. Several years prior to moving out here, I wrote a thesis on chain bookstores, had worked in several bookstores, ran a community center in Seattle and had been a waitress on and off for most of my working life. All of these things came together and I opened a community-centered bookstore with a license to sell wine and beer.

2. Tell us more about your store, including its history and location. Also, what types of books does your store stock and specialize in?

The building that Black Cat Books inhabits was constructed in 1890 and was once a milk dairy. The original grain elevator is still here and there are many nooks and crannies that once had some sort of "cow" function. The rock walls and small spaces are great for climbing into with a book and glass of wine. We are located in the center of downtown Manitou Springs near the Stagecoach Restaurant.

We try to carry a little of everything at Black Cat. I carry new and used books and have best sellers as well as locally written "unknown" authors. I also base my book collection on local favorites. I try to carry everyone's favorite book or author.

3. What characteristics do you think a person needs to be a successful independent bookstore owner? What has been the key to your success?

Wow. These days I feel like the book world is a crazy place to venture into at the moment. I would suggest that they wait a year or two and see how everything plays out before opening an independent bookstore. It appears as though some of the large chain stores might be going under. This would leave a huge niche to be filled in the market.

I think that a lot of the characteristics of a bookstore owner are similar to those of any small business owner. I think that my biggest asset is my stubbornness. I am not sure that I would have a liquor license were it not for this particular quality. I also love people and reading. I enjoy talking about books and work A LOT. I am also very involved with the Manitou Springs community. I believe that this is a must for a small bookstore.

Keep this in mind: I picked up a book titled "100 ways to live to be 100" and the fifth item listed said, "Do not own your own business."

4. What do you most enjoy about being a bookseller?

Talking about books and surrounding myself with people who love to read and talk about books is by far my favorite part of the job. After five years in business, I can count the number of days that I have had to drag myself into work on one hand--not too shabby.

The photo above is of Natalie on the left and her helper Val on the right selling author books for an American Association of University Women Author Day event. Back to the interview!

5. What do you least enjoy about being a bookseller?

I often have to read books that are not in a genre I enjoy. I have a difficult time reading books by local authors who write about things that are not interesting to me. However, this also means that I am exposed to new and different ideas that I would not have considered or read otherwise.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to your business?

I typically work about 9-11 hours a day. In the summer I work about 65-70 hours a week and in the winter about 50-60 hours a week. This does not include running errands for the shop and the local organizations that I volunteer for in the community. I take care of almost all aspects of the shop including cleaning and accounting. A typical day involves cleaning, organizing, ordering books, planning events, bookkeeping and if I am lucky, a little reading. I will get very cranky if I do not fit in at least a little reading every day.

7. Do you think it’s important for a bookseller to be actively involved in the community? If so, how are you involved in your local community?

Without a doubt. I am actively involved with the schools, city and library. I currently sit on six boards and have been on as many as eight or nine at a time. This includes Author Fest, a yearly event for the Manitou Springs Public Library. Over fifty authors give presentations on everything from reading to publishing to writing a great fight scene.

8. What do you think the future looks like for independent booksellers? What do you think you and your fellow independent booksellers need to do to survive?

I think that things actually look pretty good for us. I believe that the chain stores are on their way out and all books will be purchased online or from small stores like Black Cat Books. The key is to find a need within the community, reading-related or not, and provide that service as well.

9. What advice do you have to offer to an author who would like to conduct an event at your store?

I always read the book before agreeing to a signing. Please bring a copy of your book with you and be prepared to leave it. I also suggest that you invite a few key people to "hang" out and either distribute materials or stir up the curiosity of onlookers during a book signing. Snacks are a good idea too. I would also dress for the weather. Sometimes the best thing to do is to be outside on the sidewalk. Also, figure out a quick catch-phrase to describe your book to passers-by. Be prepared to talk about what you have written in an interesting way.

10. Could you tell us more about you as a person, your likes, dislikes, family life, etc.?

I love to connect people and get things done. I am fairly active and enjoy a good game of soccer. I love reading short stories and anything on economics. I am not a night person and have to struggle to remain alert for the last hour or so that I am open in the evenings. If you have a complex question, I would refrain from asking me after 8pm. I love goat cheese and can be easily persuaded to do things for a good meal. My family is incredibly supportive and live in the Chicago area. They typically come out to visit 3-4 times a year. I am surrounded by friends who try to help me maintain a life outside of the shop and for that I am truly grateful. I always joke that it takes a village to run a bookstore, but I think that just might be the truth.

11. Is there anything else you would like to tell our blog readers?

I typically have about 15-20 events at the store every month. For more information about the "goings on" at Black Cat Books, visit the website. Also, we love special orders and event ideas. We are on facebook and have a monthly newsletter that we can mail to you or email. You can sign up for the newsletter through the website. I am open most days from 10am-8pm with extended hours during the holiday season.

Black Cat Books
720 Manitou Ave.
Manitou Springs, CO 80829

So, readers, do YOU have a favorite independent bookstore near you that you frequent? Tell us about it and the owner!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mother + Mother-in-Law = Conflict

by Lois Winston

Mama here. Yesterday was the official release day of Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in author Lois Winston’s eponymous mystery series about my daughter – the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Lois left us all hanging at the end of Death By Killer Mop Doll. That nasty communist, otherwise known as my daughter’s mother-in-law Lucille, wound up having a stroke.

I was hoping we’d be rid of her at last. But apparently, Lois has no intention of relieving the Pollack household of that huge nuisance. She claims conflict is good for fiction. It might be good for fiction, but it’s wreaking havoc on my social life. After all, I’m the one who has to share a bedroom with the pinko prude. She may not have had sex since Eisenhower was in the White House, but I’m too young to give up such pleasures.

At least I’m rid of her for a month while she recuperates from her stroke and subsequent surgery. Good thing, too, because I’ve met someone special.

Things are looking up, though. Less than twenty-four hours after Lucille is settled into the Sunnyside of Westfield Assisted Living and Rehabilitation Center, someone does away with her roommate. And because someone overheard Lucille threatening to strangle the woman, she lands at the head of the suspects list.

Now if I could only convince my daughter to mind her own business and let the police handle the investigation...

But no. Anastasia decides Lucille might be a lot of things – none of which are remotely admirable – but she’s not violent and definitely not a killer. I suppose she’s forgotten about that time the Bolshevik attacked me with her cane.

Anyway, I’m hoping for a decidedly different outcome this time around. But even if Lucille doesn’t wind up behind bars for the rest of her life, I just might have found myself a new husband. You’ll have to read Revenge of the Crafty Corpse to find out.

Anastasia Pollack’s dead louse of a spouse has left her with more bills than you can shake a crochet hook at, and teaching craft classes at her mother-in-law’s assisted living center seems like a harmless way to supplement her meager income. But when Lyndella Wegner—a 98-year-old know-it-all with a penchant for ruffles and lace—turns up dead, Anastasia’s cantankerous mother-in-law becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Upon discovering that Lyndella’s scandalous craft projects—and her scandalous behavior—made her plenty of enemies, Anastasia sets out to find the real killer before her mother-in-law ends up behind bars.

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, a 2011 release, was the first book in the series and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum” Death By Killer Mop Doll and Crewel Intentions, an Anastasia Pollack Mini Crafting Mystery, were released in 2012. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse is a January 2013 release. Lois also writes romance, romantic suspense, humorous women's fiction, and non-fiction under her own name and as Emma Carlyle. Visit Lois at, visit Emma at, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog,

Monday, January 7, 2013

Join Pinterest they said. It'll be fun they said.

by Jennifer Harlow


I am not a big fan of social media. Mostly because I'm not a big fan of being social. Hell, my cell phone is always turned off. Nothing against people, I love people, I'm just an introvert who doesn't like to draw attention to herself so she can do what she wants when she wants to. Yet I chose a life path where I have to draw said attention to myself to pay the bills. So with pushes from both my patron and agent I was forced to engage in social media. I have a Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest page. That last one I had to be dragged into kicking a screaming. "It's a useful tool for selling books," said my agent. She's regretting being a Pinterest pusher right about now. That site is like crack. Once you start you cannot stop until you've seen all the pics in a category. I mostly frequent the "Geek" and "Humor" sections. I look down at my Kindle Fire, and the next time I look up an hour has passed. And you can't just check it once a day, oh no. New content is uploaded ALL THE TIME. And it's all so good. So funny. 

I don't know if I've sold any more books because of my pinning, but I have learned quite a few things in the past month about my fellow mostly female and teenage humans:

* Forget Channing Tatum and Justin Bieber, scrawny pale British dudes are what all the teenage girls are dreaming about. Forget Robert Pattison even, no it's all about Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock). Every damn picture in the Geek category features one of these men. They are the new pin-ups (literally) to American girls. I get it, I'm a Cumberbitch, but I've always been into this type of man. I just got shit for it. No Justin Timberlake for me, it was all about Ralph Fiennes in high school. And I was a weirdo for it. Seems I was just born ten years too early.

* People are really snarky. Once again, I am guilty of this too. (No duh readers, right?) But people are thinking and saying the same things I am too like "You are one smart-ass remark from us being featured on Deadly Women." Those words have passed (jokingly of course) from my lips and there it was on an e-card. Snark is in.

* There is a lot of creativity in the world. Not only do fans draw or Photoshop pictures of their geek favorites but some of the clothing combinations and bakery items are just downright interesting and beautiful. There are even mash-ups of fandom like combining Hunger Games with Harry Potter in really interesting ways. 

* Feminism isn't dead, it's just on Pinterest. There are more hate pins of Twilight than for it, mostly focused on how Bella compares to other vampire fighting characters. For every one pin about how wonderful getting married and having babies is there are three about it being okay to be single and if married, not putting up with an immature husband. Took the words right out of my mouth.

So basically I was shocked that there were so many people out there just like me. I have found my tribe and they are awesome. I just wish they'd stop telling me to Keep Calm.

What about all of you? Are you smoking the Pinterest crack? What do you enjoy looking up on it? Has anyone actually used it as a business tool, or like me do you just use it to stare at cute British boys?

And I keep forgetting. You can pre-order What's a Witch to Do? the first Midnight Magic book in a three part series. Here's the cover:

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sometimes My Heroine Cracks Me Up

When I watch America's funniest videos, I always laugh the hardest at the ones where someone or something jumps out and scares some unsuspecting soul. One of my favorites is when a group of school kids (8-12 years old) pass a snowman in a front yard, and the snowman jumps at them. Throwing their books in the air, they run like there's no tomorrow.

What does that say about me? That I have a sick sense of humor? Then there's the one where some young men run a mouse on a string across the floor in front of an unsuspecting frat brother who screams like a little girl and jumps on the counter. That one usually brings tears to my eyes. And a drunken Red Skelton and Mickey Rooney in the cave with Elliott the Dragon in Pete's Dragon can set me off just thinking about it.

In my latest book, MURDER FOR THE HALIBUT,  I had an opportunity to include a scene like that, and I jumped all over it. The problem was I couldn't stop laughing. Since my culinary tastes tend to run like my Clueless Cook’s, I nearly gagged right along with her.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this scene, my clueless cook is judging a cooking contest on a cruise ship. (Think Top Chef meets Chopped!) A little backstory is that my heroine is really a wannabe sports reporter who can only find a job writing the personals. When the culinary reporter gig falls into her lap, she jumps on it as it comes with her own byline. The problem is she’s a fast food junkie, and she can’t cook a lick. She’s managed to fool everyone so far and now has been asked to judge the contest.
Here’s the scene.

Glancing down at the appetizer, Jordan was surprised to see that it resembled a chicken nugget. So far she'd made it through four of the appetizers without making a complete fool of herself. She was pleased to see that the last entry might be something she actually enjoyed.
Reaching for one of the chunks, she dipped it into the sauce. As soon as she popped the morsel into her mouth, she let out a relieved breath. Although it didn't taste exactly like a chicken nugget, it was close enough that she was ready to declare Marsha and her sweetbread the overall winner.
She ate the other two chunks, pleased with herself for having survived the evening. With her lips still burning from the jalapeño dip, she wiped her mouth with the clean napkin then pushed the plate to the side. Choosing the scorecard with Marsha's name, she scribbled a big 4.5, taking off half a point for the sauce. If it had been served with a nice avocado ranch or a creamy honey mustard dip on the side, she would have given it a perfect score.
“It looks like we’re ready to hear the judges’ decision,” Emily said, moving to stand beside Marsha. “This is the all-important vote where we find out who is eliminated tonight and who wins and gets an advantage in tomorrow night’s competition. Judges?”
Somehow Marsha had managed to open the top button of her purple sweater. Even though most of her chest was covered by the apron, a tiny bit of her ample cleavage peeked through. A visual designed to get the judges’ attention, which it definitely had. Poor Beau was nearly foaming at the mouth.
What was it about men and boobs?
“George, what did you think of Marsha’s sweetbread?” Emily asked.
     Christakis eyed her for a moment, glancing once toward Beau, making Jordan wonder if he knew something was going on between him and Marsha. Then he held up the card with a large 3 scribbled on it. For a minute, Jordan thought the audible gasp had come from her, but then she realized it had actually been Marsha, who was now staring at Christakis in disbelief.
     “Although I love sweetbread and I appreciate the rich white sauce you made, I found the glands to be overcooked and gristly. It would have worked so much better if you had spent a little more time sautéing them rather than frying them in the oil.”
Glands? Jordan squeezed her eyes closed, grabbed the napkin, and spit into it, but the morsels were long gone. Catching her breath, she looked up to see that everyone was staring, and she felt heat crawl up her cheeks.
“You cooked glands?” Her eyes begged Marsha to deny it.
“Yes. It's one of my favorite appetizers.”
Jordan took several deep breaths in a row, hoping to push back the lump in her throat threatening to ruin her debut as a cooking judge. “What kind of glands?” she whispered, so low that only those close to her could hear.
Christakis twisted in his chair to face her, laughter in his eyes. “The thymus gland. What did you think sweetbread was?”
There was no way she'd admit she thought she had eaten chunks of fried chicken. “I figured it was glands, but I wasn't sure what kind,” she lied.
Mentally, she slapped her head for the lame response. She knew it was glands but didn't know what kind?

The point I'm trying to make with all this is in that short period of time when I was writing that scene, I was actually Jordan, discovering I had just eaten glands. (My friends did this to me with squid. I thought I was eating purple onions in a salad. I spent the entire night waiting for the little buggers to pop out of my stomach like the little space creatures did with Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.)

So my question for you all is do you ever find yourself in that situation? Do you ever imagine yourself as your heroine? Does it help writing certain scenes? I would love to hear your story.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

by Kathleen Ernst

Do you make resolutions each January?

For many years I belonged to a critique group.   We organized an annual weekend retreat so we could focus on whole novels instead of the twenty pages we each brought to our monthly meetings.  And for quite some time, one retreat ritual was the declaration of our writing goals for the coming year.

We had to name goals that we had the power to achieve.  “Hitting a best-seller list” wouldn’t work, but “Finishing my novel” would.  It seemed like a fine plan.

Only trouble was, many of us found our projects shifting as the year went by, and we often didn’t meet our specific goals.  After a while, we let the tradition lapse.

Since then I’ve been wary of setting making resolutions about writing.  My basic plan remains simple:  work hard, hit deadlines, and try to make each book the best it can be.

Still, there’s something about a new year that calls me to introspection.  So, here goes:

In 2013, I will endeavor to improve my work by analyzing books I love, reading and writing poetry, and taking pleasure in the whole complicated, messy, unpredictable process.

In 2013, I will also endeavor to find a healthy balance between writing and family time, friends time, and other important parts of life.

How about you?  Whatever your goals, stated or not, I wish everyone a wonderful 2013!