Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

2010 is drawing to a close. So many year-end things to wrap up, so little time.

In a last-ditch, madcap, doomed-to-fail rush to get some things done, I’ll be taking a little blogcation until next year.

Be sure to visit that first week of January though. I’ll be hosting one of the nicest ladies in the thriller-writing business, Karen Dionne, author of FREEZING POINT. As part of the blog tour for her new release BOILING POINT, she’ll be blogging about something fascinating. According to author David Morrell, “Karen Dionne is the new Michael Crichton.”

Trust me, you won’t want to miss her visit! (Have I ever steered you wrong?)


Happy Holidays to all! See you next year!


Friday, December 17, 2010

The Proof is in the Galleys

Finished proofing the galleys for KILLER ROUTINE. Whew!

Here are a few observations:

There were many occasions when I’d come across a sentence (or even a paragraph) that I didn’t recognize. As in, “Who wrote this? I didn’t write this, did I? You kidding, I wrote this?” You’d think after spending so much time writing and revising it, I’d have memorized the entire manuscript.

There weren’t too many instances where I wanted to change something (really change, not just fix a word). I guess that’s good.

Most of the “fixes” were of the stylistic consistency type. You know, spelling out numbers, capitalization of certain things, spelling of slang—stuff like that.

I didn’t find any things—situations, events, timing—that would present problems for the sequel, which is mostly written. Those things I did find should be easily fixed (in the sequel).

It’s better than I remembered. Which is nice.

My copy editor is terrific.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Luddite No More

After some dilly-dallying and some shilly-shallying, I finally got an ereader.

Just call me Kind-Al!

So far, I haven’t done much with it. Downloaded a few samples. Downloaded a few games. Downloaded one of my manuscripts to see how that process worked (well!).

I tried the text-to-voice feature, and it reminded me about an internship I had in eleventh grade at the National Bureau of Standards (now called NIST). I was working in the computer department, on PDP 11/45 minicomputers, which were the size of large refrigerators. (Now, there’s probably a hundred times as much computing power in your digital watch than in those things, but back in the day, they rocked.)

To me, a mere eleventh grader, the coolest thing was their text-to-speech function. You typed something on the terminal and two giant speakers spoke it aloud. If you listened very carefully, you could even recognize one or two words out of every twenty.

We’ve come a long way.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks, C.H.!

Right now, I’m in the midst of proofing the galleys of KILLER ROUTINE. Luckily, I have a terrific copy editor; she’s certainly worth her weight in gold (cliché. Try “she’s sublime.”). Thanks, C.H.!

So far, I haven’t found any egregious errors (which is good). In addition to my search for typos, style inconsistencies, and the like, I’m also reading this book with an eye toward the next (which is almost finished). I need to make sure I haven’t written any contradictions between KILLER ROUTINE and its sequel. Of course, if I do find something amiss, most likely I’ll be changing the sequel, not KILLER ROUTINE.

It’s times like these when I wish I was more of a details guy.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Perooz This!

I’ve joined a new book site, called Peroozal, where “Your Favorite Authors” recommend “Their Favorite Books.”

It’s a neat concept and it’s growing fast.

As an enticement to participate, they’re giving away a free ebook, Watchlist, from ITW. Simply visit the Peroozal site and click on one of the free book offer ads (this offer good thru Dec 21).

While you’re there, see which books your favorite authors really like!


Monday, December 6, 2010

Eclectic or Messy?

So I happened to be looking at the design of my blog’s sidebar and realized that there really is no design. Just a bunch of pictures and info and widgets, slapped up there.

Just like how I used to decorate my apartments before I got married.

I’d find a new piece of art, or a new calendar, or a photograph and I’d hammer a nail into the wall and hang my new acquisition.

What do you all think? Is my sidebar too jumbled? Are there any cool widgets you’d recommend that I try? I’m always eager to pull out my hammer!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Not the Best Speler

Required viewing for all writers.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Crank Those Dials!

Today I’m at InkSpot blogging about how working a soundboard is like revising a manuscript. Click over and say hi!

sound board


Monday, November 29, 2010

Out There

When I first started “developing an on-line presence,” I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. The blogging, the Facebooking, the Twittering. Guest blogging. Being interviewed*. Commenting on other blogs. The YouTube of me pole dancing. I’m a private, introverted person, and I wasn’t sure all that interacting would suit me very well.

I guess I was wrong.

As I’ve become more comfortable putting myself “out there,” I’ve found that it’s not so bad. Even enjoyable at times. The best thing about it? The chance to meet so many great people. Other writers, readers, bloggers, stalkers, whatever. There’s quite a supportive community on the Interwebs. For that, I’m grateful

Now, with the release of KILLER ROUTINE about four months away, I’ve begun to think about maybe beginning to start planning for a blog tour.

Any suggestions?


*And speaking of interviews, Jean Henry Mead has an interview, with me, on her Mysterious Writers blog. Stop by and see what I have to say about writing, and improving one’s writing. Sorry, no YouTube video.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Do I Hear Groaning?

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite Hollandaise. It always has bean. In my eyes, it’s hard to beet—family, food, football, and a four-day leekend (which gives me a chance to ketchup* on all the stuffing I’ve been putting off).

Lettuce count our dressings.




(While some of you might relish this post, others might find it corny, or way too dilly. Peas, just don’t be a turkey and wine about it in the comments. It’s how I roll. After all, I yam what I yam.)


*I had a friend who used to put ketchup on his turkey. What a goose!


Monday, November 22, 2010

He Talks!

I’ve blogged about how much I love libraries before here.

That’s why I was thrilled when I received an invitation to be part of Fairfax County Library’s BookCast series of author podcast interviews.

If you’ve got 18 minutes and 43 seconds, click through to hear the interview.

Click Button

If you’d rather listen to the interview when you’re “on the go,” you can download the podcast with iTunes here (see November 18, 2010 BookCast interview). It’s free.

Thanks to Director Sam Clay, interviewer extraordinaire, and Pat Bangs for their invitation and their hospitality. They made this author a happy camper—I had a great time!


Friday, November 19, 2010

Hark, My ARC!

My friend Rachel Brady recently blogged about celebrating certain publishing milestones and posted a picture of her new book DEAD LIFT, and my friend Jude Hardin recently posted a picture of the ARC for his upcoming book POCKET-47.

So I thought I’d join the party. Here’s a picture of my KILLER ROUTINE ARC:



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ooo, Shiny

The holidays are fast approaching and I’m considering pulling the trigger and asking for an ereader.

Kindle? Nook? Nook color? iPad?

So many choices!

Tell me, O Great Blog Readers, which ereaders do you like? Why? What features do you deem essential?


Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday morning, 6:00 a.m.

So what is it with transitions, anyway? What’s the best way to move from one scene to another?

Scene transitions are always a stumbling block for me. I’m usually tempted to start a scene with something simple and direct.

“Three days later, Jim woke up. It was Tuesday morning. In Los Angeles.”

But that gets old (real old), scene after scene (and it sounds like I’m channeling Jack Webb).

On the other end of the spectrum is the scene that begins with no transition, one that jumps right into the action. These are tempting, too, except I’m always afraid I’ll leave my reader confused as to where and when the action is taking place.

In reality, I guess I mix it up. Sometimes I’ll ground the scene, other times I’ll just jump in and try to make the time/place obvious through context. Since most of my critique members and beta readers don’t even comment on my transitions, I suppose I’m handling them adequately, even if I think some of them are kind of clunky.

Writers, how do you prefer to handle scene transitions?

Readers, are there certain types of transitions that bother you?


Friday, November 12, 2010

Recharged and Ready

Astute readers of the blog may have noticed that I didn’t blog this past Monday (you can go back and check, if you’d like—I’ll wait). I was on a long-weekend vacation with my wife.

Very relaxing.

A few highlights:

On Saturday (or as I liked to call it Crabapaloozaday), I had crab for lunch and crab for dinner. I would have had crab sundaes for dessert, but for some inexplicable reason, the Inn didn’t serve them. Had to make do with s’mores instead.

I met a local celebrity (TV/radio sports announcer), just hanging out at the Inn. I’ve been a fan of his for about forty years, and he was as nice and personable as you would think from seeing him on TV. Met some other nice people, too.

I also finished a book. Yes, an entire book.

What does my vacation have to do with writing? Well, sometimes it’s necessary, at least for me, to step away from the keyboard (I didn’t even check email while I was gone!) and recharge the batteries. Gain some perspective. Get a different view of the world. See what’s really going on outside of my cave.

Which I did.

I also met a few local characters who just might make it into future novels.

All in all, a very successful weekend!

How do you recharge your writing batteries?


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Then What?

A peek inside my planning brain (if you can stomach it):

In a few weeks, I should be done with the (latest) revision of the WIP I’m working on (the sequel to KILLER ROUTINE). Then I need to proof the galleys for KILLER ROUTINE. Then I have a short story I’ve written, but need to submit. I also have some ideas for the next book in the Last Laff series I should get on paper. Then… Then…

Then what?

I have an idea for a stand-alone thriller. Interesting premise, strong characters, good plot (what I’ve got so far, in my head—I haven’t actually written anything down yet). But before I start outlining it, I need to do a few things. I need to see if it’s “been done” before. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to research that, but I think I’ll start with der Google and see where that takes me. Then I need to run it by my agent to see if she thinks it’s a good use of my writing time and energy. While the story intrigues me, I’m not sure I want to tackle the book if it’s not marketable. Then I need to pull out my calendar (yes, the “paper” 2011 planner I bought at the dollar store) to see if/when I can shoehorn it in, amidst the promotional activities for the release of KILLER ROUTINE in April.

And of course, like everyone else, I’ve got a billion other things to do.

How do you plan your long-term writing projects?


Friday, November 5, 2010

Re-Direct Friday

In case you missed it, yesterday I blogged about what I learned, promotion-wise, with my first book.

Check it out on InkSpot.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This, That, and the Other

Some random thoughts:

Who is swayed by robocalls imploring you to vote for their candidate? Obviously, someone, somewhere, thinks this is an effective way to campaign. But seriously, who thinks, “Well, based on the issues, I was planning on voting for Kramden for Governor, but, you know, that robocall completely rocked my world. Go Norton!”? I want names, people!

Maybe I’m being a polly-alan, but I am very encouraged by the fact that people with e-readers are reading more than before. More is good, when it comes to reading.

I’d be much more inclined to enjoy autumn if I didn’t know winter was to follow.

I voted with my 18-year-old son yesterday. Pretty cool!

Just got a GPS unit. On the first trip, about a mile and a half to the grocery store, it would have gotten us lost. Luckily, we switched to the back-up system: our common sense. (I was reminded of the episode of The Office where Michael drives into the lake because the GPS told him to.)

Why is it that I think of the good lines AFTER I’ve completed a draft?

StallingForTime I went to an MWA Chapter dinner meeting last week and heard Gary Noesner speak. He’s a former FBI hostage negotiator (and chief negotiator for ten years), and he was terrific. His book: STALLING FOR TIME.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh no! “It’s Nice.”

I’d be completely lost without my critique group. They shred analyze my manuscripts, tell me what’s ridiculous working, and provide me with very pointed point-on suggestions. After they’re done with me, I know my work will be a lot stronger.

But I don’t stop there. After I complete another revision based on my critique group’s comments, I also like to get feedback from a second group of people, my beta readers. (Some call them lay readers, others call them first readers. Just don’t call them late for dinner!) While this group changes a little from manuscript to manuscript, it’s composed of family members (hi mom!) and friends. (They don’t mind doing it—at least that’s what they tell me.)

The two groups serve different functions. My critique group gives me very detailed comments, from line edits all the way through thematic interpretations. My beta readers usually just tell me if they like it and why.

Both types of feedback are important to me.

My beta readers are first and foremost exactly that: readers. You know, the people I’m writing the book for. If they’re happy—if the book is engaging, well-written, suspenseful, entertaining—then I know I’ve got a winner. If they offer up the dreaded, “It’s nice,” then I know I’ve got some more work ahead of me.

Writers, what about you? Do you use the feedback of beta readers, in addition to critique groups?


Friday, October 29, 2010

Blogging Agents

Looking for an agent? Want to learn how to write a killer query? Wonder how a writer’s manuscript eventually lands on a shelf at the bookstore? Then check out these excellent agent blogs:

Nathan Bransford – Nathan’s an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., and his blog is the place to be, judging by his enormous following. Some days, he’ll get several hundred comments. (Just try to be first, I dare you.) Plus, he’s funny and he knows what he’s talking about. Check out the Forums section to catch up.

BookEnds, LLC – Jessica Faust (with an occasional entry from Kim Lionetti) dispenses wise wisdom, about the agent biz in general, as well as offering some of her personal opinions on publishing. Good, solid advice here.

Pub Rants – Kristin Nelson sums up her blog in its subtitle: A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry. Timely industry news here, especially how it pertains to authors.

Query Shark and Janet Reid, Literary Agent – One agent, two blogs. On the aptly-named Query Shark, Janet Reid critiques queries (caveat querier), and on her “regular” agent blog, she provides an amusing assortment of posts and videos. Be sure to memorize her Rules for Writers in the sidebar.

These are just a few of my favorites; plenty of other agents are active in the blogosphere. In fact, I’m sure you could spend many hours a day checking out these blogs as you do your procrastinating research.

Good luck in your agent hunt!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Son Of…

Status Report:

Yesterday, I typed The End on the latest (and hopefully close-to-last) revision. A few weeks ago, I blogged about some general changes I’d planned. Here are some details about what actually happened.

1) Most of the changes were done to increase the conflict/tension.

  • I added a new character/suspect, and a new plot thread.
  • I completely changed two scenes to put my protagonist in more jeopardy.
  • I changed how two main characters relate to my protagonist, mostly making their exchanges more hostile.
  • I added a new scene, right before the end, to ramp up the tension.
  • I changed a few key spots in the ending.

2) I changed some events to make the story more logical.

3) I wanted to “beef up” the reason my protagonist got involved in this investigation in the first place.

4) Some of the changes were to reduce redundancy, in setting and content.

  • I changed the settings of three scenes.
  • I deleted one scene, and drastically shortened another to eliminate similar content.

5) I punched up some of the dialogue. This story takes place in and around a comedy club, for Pete’s sake!

6) I changed something in my protagonist’s personal life that the members of my critique group absolutely hated. (And, once it was pointed out to me, I hated it too!).

7) I changed a few names, just because.

8) Finally, I took out all the bad stuff and replaced it with good stuff :)


For every writing project, I maintain a running “snips” file where I keep stuff (snips and snails and puppy dog tails) that I’ve excised from the actual manuscript. Right now, my snips file for SON OF stands at 16K words, spread out over 67 pages (a lot of white space).

Despite all the additions, deletions, changes, mash-ups, and other alterations, this version only differs in length from the last one by 850 words.

In quality, I think it differs by a lot. In a good way. Thank goodness!


Monday, October 25, 2010

My People Will Call Your People

The other night, my wife and I sat down to watch a movie. We made it through about thirty minutes before we bailed. Lately, we’ve been not watching a lot more movies than we’ve been watching. I don’t know if it’s just me being in a finicky mood, but recent movies and TV shows have seemed repetitive and derivative.

It’s got me thinking about writing a screenplay.

[ASIDE: When the DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD publication deal was announced in the trade press, it received about five minutes of interest from people in Hollywood before they passed on it.

I think KILLER ROUTINE would make a great movie, and an even better premise for a TV series. Sort of a cross between Last Comic Standing and the Rockford Files.]

I jotted down a few positives and negatives about writing screenplays:


  • They’re shorter than novels.
  • They’re heavy on the dialogue (one of the things that comes easier to me).
  • You get to deal with Hollywood types.
  • You can dream about actors who might play your characters (and maybe someday meet them. Hello, Pee Wee Herman!)
  • When you stuck in a scene and don’t know where to go with it, you can just Fade to Black.


  • They’re very difficult to sell.
  • You have to deal with Hollywood types.
  • And the big one: I have a complete and utter lack of knowledge about writing screenplays.

Of course, I knew nothing about writing novels before I started, either. (Some may say I still don’t.) But I had read a ton of books.

I’ve watched a ton of movies and TV shows over the years, so maybe I could learn how to write a screenplay.

Or maybe not…

Fade to Black.


Friday, October 22, 2010


Welcome to Blatant Self Promotion Friday here on the blog.

I’ll go first:



DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD is now available for the Nook!





If you’re a Target fan (and, really, who isn’t?),  you can buy DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD at Target.com.


Killer Routine 72dpi


KILLER ROUTINE can be pre-ordered from your favorite bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, IndieBound, and Van Stockum (for my Dutch friends).



Now it’s YOUR TURN. In the comments, give yourself (or someone else) a shout out. Got something you want the world to know about?Don’t be shy—promote away! Feel free to include links, too!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No Jive Five

Sometimes another writer will ask me for suggestions about how to improve or how to get published. After spouting a few canned remarks about working hard and being lucky, I’ll outline a more concrete five-pronged strategy.

Take classes or workshops. Having never taken a creative writing course in my life (the only English class I took in college was Technical Writing), I figured I needed to learn some fundamentals. I started with an Adult Ed class at a local high school, then moved to workshops at The Writer’s Center. Check out your local community colleges for suitable classes, or ask other writers in your area where the workshops are.

Get yourself into a critique group. I believe getting feedback on your work is a terrific way to improve. And critiquing other writers’ works also is very educational. Hook up with other writers at classes and workshops (see above) or connect on-line. Recommendation: Try to find others writing in your genre, at a similar general writing “stage.”

Join a professional organization. A great place to network and hook up with other writers. Learn about both the business and the craft. The conferences are fun, too. (I belong to MWA and ITW.)

Read, read, read. And then read some more.

Write, write, write. And don’t give up!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Fine Nine

Here are some of my favorite PI/cop series (and authors), in no particular order:

  • Jack Reacher (Lee Child)
  • Spenser (Robert B. Parker)
  • Elvis Cole (Robert Crais)
  • Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly)
  • Moe Prager (Reed Farrel Coleman)
  • Lucas Davenport (John Sandford)
  • Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro (Dennis Lehane)
  • Tess Monaghan (Laura Lippman)
  • Louis Kincaid (PJ Parrish)

What are some of your favorites?


Friday, October 15, 2010

Don’t Pull That Thread!

Sometimes, when I’m trying to impart some wisdom to my children (“aw Dad, not again”), I emphasize the importance of making good choices. Do your homework instead of play video games. Eat vegetables instead of donuts. Use a pair of scissors instead of a chain saw.

Making good choices applies to writing fiction, too.

As a writer, you’re the one in charge. You make the decisions—about the words, about the scenes, about the characters. Each novel is the product of the choices you make.

  • Should your protagonist confront the villain alone, or wait for back up?
  • Should the sidekick be a funny one, or an incompetent one, or maybe an animal?
  • Should the heroine really go down into the basement armed only with a flashlight containing weak batteries?

All along the way, you must make choices, and there are infinite possibilities. Just remember that the decisions you make will dictate future events. Of course, the challenge is making the choices that will lead to your desired outcome.

I’m in the revision stage of my current WIP. As I go through and change some of my original choices, I’m amazed by how many little threads need to be altered accordingly. Talk about a ripple effect!

At least in fiction, you can go back and fix some of your stupid choices. Too bad there isn’t a DELETE key in real life.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I still haven’t purchased an e-reader.

It seems that every week I run into somebody else who’s just gotten one. And he or she loves it.

So what am I waiting for?

Dunno. (I’ve never been accused of being an early adopter. I like to wait until all the bugs and poor design elements have been fixed. And usually, I’m satisfied with whatever I’m currently using (did I mention that my cell phone makes phone calls? That’s it. Just phone calls. No pictures, no video, no web-surfing, no GPS. I think it has an alarm clock feature.))

Maybe I’m waiting for a clear winner. Right now, I’d have to say the Kindle is in the lead, but them iPads sure do look purty.

Maybe I’m waiting until I get through my (printed book) TBR pile. Although that might take a while.

Maybe I’m waiting until ebooks have a greater market share.

Maybe I’m waiting until I get a fancy smartphone and see how easy/hard it is to read books on it. One device that does all would be convenient.

Maybe I’m waiting for prices to go down.

Maybe I’m just putting off having to make a decision.

What about you? If you haven’t bought an e-reader yet, what are YOU waiting for?


Monday, October 11, 2010

Follow This Link!

Join me today on InkSpot where I interview one of my favorite authors, Reed Farrel Coleman.

It’s a very interesting interview! (Now, would I steer you wrong?)


Friday, October 8, 2010

Join the Gang

Writing is a solitary sport.

But even an introvert like me (I scored {I I I I} on my Myers-Briggs test the last time I took it*) needs to interact with like-minded folk once in a while. That’s why I suggest you join…something.

Join a writing workshop. Here’s where you can learn some writing fundamentals and see how a wide variety of writers might approach the same topic in different ways.

Join a critique group. Here’s where you can get some specific feedback on your work. You can also learn a lot critiquing other writers’ work.

Join a professional organization (I belong to MWA and ITW). Here’s where you can network and learn about publishing as a business.

All are valuable. All are good excuses to leave your writing cave.

Sometimes, just being around others with the same “affliction” can be comforting and inspiring.

Join in the fun!


*I might have misinterpreted the results slightly.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Dreaded R Word

I got some feedback for my WIP over the weekend, and I’m still digesting it all.

Many of the “issues” are easily fixed—factual corrections, simple actions my characters did that were way out of, uh, character, needless repetition, needless repetition, needless repetition.

Other things went much deeper, and will require more time to correct:

  • Make characters nicer.
  • Make characters meaner.
  • Change some motivations.
  • Ramp up the tension.
  • Change the beginning.
  • Change the middle.
  • Change the ending.
  • Introduce more possible suspects.
  • Eliminate a flat character.
  • Reduce the number of alien abductions.
  • Move scenes around.
  • Delete scenes.
  • Add scenes.
  • Change scenes.

With all this work ahead of me, am I overwhelmed?

On the contrary. I think I see my work a lot better now, and I’m confident that making these changes will result in a much stronger story (it’s amazing how clear some problems are after someone else reads the manuscript).

But next time, I’m going to skip the first couple drafts and go straight to the third draft.

What about you, writers? Do you feel encouraged or discouraged facing a slew of revisions?


Monday, October 4, 2010


Here’s another great video from funnyman author Parnell Hall.


Friday, October 1, 2010

My Personal Publishing Equinox

Today is October 1, the halfway point between my debut novel and book number two.

Exactly six months ago, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD was released.

In exactly six months from now, KILLER ROUTINE will be released.

brick wall banner

In preparation:

  • I’m working to give my website a facelift (see image above).
  • I’m getting ready to develop a marketing plan.
  • I’m planning out my 2011 conference/event calendar.
  • I’m revising the sequel to KILLER ROUTINE (so I’ll have more time to promote later).
  • I’m trying to catch up on my sleep.

How can you prepare for the upcoming release? Easy! You can pre-order KILLER ROUTINE today!

Killer Routine 72dpi 200x308


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Boob Tube Talk

I’m not sure why, but I seem to be a little more interested in the new TV season this year.

I blogged about TV crime shows yesterday at InkSpot, but I thought I’d continue the discussion here.

When I judge a new series, I have a simple test: Will I watch another episode?

So far, I’ve seen The Whole Truth (yes, I’ll watch another), Blue Bloods (yes), Hawaii 5-0 (probably not), Outlaw (yes). Still unseen on the DVR: Detroit 187, Terriers, and Lone Star (did that already get cancelled?)

What new shows look especially interesting to you?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Drastic Reduction

I had this idea a couple years ago for a novel, and I even went as far as outlining it, scene by scene. For some reason, I didn’t start working on it. Something just wasn’t right about it, although I couldn’t put my finger on the problem. So I put it aside to work on other—more pressing—things.

For two years, this idea festered in my mind. Not everyday or anything, just every once in a while, the idea would burble to the top of my idea stack. I’d bat it around a while and then toss it back. I was always too involved with something else to actually work on it. Recently, a “gap” between writing projects presented itself, and I decided to take another look at this outline.

(Aside: This turned out to be problematic. I searched for my outline everywhere: hard drive, back-up hard drive, other computer’s hard drive, file cabinets, email archives, CD-ROM in the safe deposit box. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. But I remembered the idea well enough to jot down a few notes.)

I thought about the project and finally came to two conclusions.

One, the core idea was pretty cool.

Two, it would make a poor novel.

Instead, I wrote a short story.

What would have been a disaster in 300 pages, fit perfectly into twenty. I was able to develop the limited number of characters, and the plot moved along quickly—no lulls, no “muddle in the middle,” no ten-page interior monologues. If the story had been any longer, I’m afraid both the characters and the plot would have seemed watered down and contrived. I’m glad I listened to my gut in the first place and didn’t try to write it as a novel.

Now my challenge is to figure out what to do with the finished story. (Any ideas?)

Have you ever gotten a good idea for a novel, but then felt you couldn’t sustain it for that long, so you turned it into a short story? How did that work out?


Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad Aftertaste

I’ve heard it called many things: percolation, marination, steeping, aging, letting it rest, stuffing it in a drawer, putting it out back under the woodpile so critters can gnaw it to shreds. (Okay, I made the last one up.)

No, I’m not talking about any process to enhance the taste of food or wine. I’m talking about what to do with a first draft before you begin rewriting it.

For many, the temptation to begin revising five minutes after typing “THE END” is strong (of course, others want to find the nearest paper shredder), but I urge you to wait a while before diving in.

I like to think of my brain as a multi-tasking computer (albeit much slower and much more error-prone), processing things in the background. While I sleep, while I do my mundane chores, while I sit in traffic jams, the semi-conscious part of my brain is thinking about how to improve my story. How can my protagonist be more proactive? What cool plot twist can I incorporate into the third act? Why is my character eating Froot Loops and not Cheerios?

Waiting gives me a fresh perspective. After I’ve just spent several months writing about a certain cast of characters, I’m too close to them (and the story) to see the soft spots. (Of course, it helps to have a spotty memory—after only a few days, it seems like I’m reading an entirely new manuscript!)

What about you? Do you wait before revising, or do you dive right in? And if you wait, how long do you sit on your hands?


Monday, September 20, 2010

Turn Off, Turn On

Right now, I’m reading a very good mystery. Not an unusual occurrence, but here’s the thing: I know I’ve picked this book up before (it’s a few years old) and put it down, thinking I wouldn’t like it. But, obviously, I do.

So what turned me off before?

  • The title? Probably not.
  • The author? No.
  • The cover art? Doubtful, cover art won’t usually make me put a book down.
  • Back cover copy? No.
  • The first page? Nope.

Maybe I had something to read that I thought I’d enjoy more. Maybe I just wasn’t in the “mood” to read this kind of book at the time. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

It makes me wonder. How many other enjoyable books have I shunned?

Does this ever happen to you? Explanations?


Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Links

Two sites to visit:

If you want to know what BICFOK is, go here to read an interview I did yesterday for Linda Faulkner’s Author Exchange Blog.

And go here, to see 50 Blogs for Mystery Readers on the website, Best Online Colleges. It’s a good list, and I’m not just saying that because this blog is mentioned! (Bonus points if you know the connection between mystery blogs and Online Colleges, because I sure don’t.)


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ah, Youth

Topic: The Future of America
Your assignment: Compare and contrast the two situations


Situation A:

As a summer reading project, a group of students at a local high school read DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of leading the book discussion. The students were engaged and enthusiastic, and they asked some good questions and answered lots of mine. They were polite, respectful, and fun to interact with. (Thanks for the invite, and thanks for choosing my book to read!)


Situation B:

Yesterday morning, while I was waiting at the bus stop with my younger son, two teenagers drove by with their windows down, screaming at the top of their lungs. They zipped by us, then stopped, U-turned, and strafed us with a return scream-by. Then they turned down our cul-de-sac, still screaming like banshees. A minute later, they reappeared, still yelling like fools (fortunately, no one seemed to be in pain). Finally they drove off, presumably to bless another neighborhood. All in all, quite entertaining.


Monday, September 13, 2010


Thanks to SUSPENSE MAGAZINE for including me in their September issue (the Special Debut Author Edition). It’s an honor to be mentioned alongside such talented writers!



Friday, September 10, 2010

Ahoy, Readers!

carnival_pride_from_Baltimore This year, the family vacation consisted of a week-long cruise. It was great, except for about seven hours when I felt a tad bit queasy (and by “tad bit” I mean I was in severe discomfort—I believe my quote was, “I wish I were dead.”).

During the cruise, I saw dozens and dozens of people reading books. All kinds. Saw a few Mockingjays, a few Stieg Larssons, Sandra Brown, James Patterson, and a host of other bestsellers.

But I only saw two e-readers.

Which completely surprised me. I’d expected to see a lot more. Ten. Fifteen. Even twenty wouldn’t have shocked me. But two?

Very interesting.

I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from my data, but anecdotally, I do think it’s interesting.

Personally, I’m not in any one “camp.” I like stories, and the delivery method doesn’t matter so much to me. Printed books are great, but I have no problem with e-books. In fact, e-readers have at least one, very neat, advantage (read on).

One day on deck, a guy started talking to me. He asked me what I did, and I told him. Turned out his friend next to us was reading on a Kindle (one of the two I spotted). After a few minutes of conversation, she purchased my book, right on the spot (Thanks!).

Chalk one up for e-readers.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Million Blogging Vampires

Murder In Vein

It’s my pleasure to welcome fellow Midnight Ink author and InkSpot blogger to the blog today. Her latest book, MURDER IN VEIN, was just released in trade paper and in limited edition hardback. Sue Ann is the hardest-working writer I know, writing THREE series (Odelia Gray and ghost Granny Apples, in addition to this new one). Not only that, but she’s also a real sweetheart. Take it away, Sue Ann!

I love the title of this blog – A Million Blogging Monkeys. Makes me think of an old fashioned steno pool of lined-up wooden desks, but instead of 1950’s circa secretaries pounding on old Royals, each seat is filled with an ape pounding a keyboard and staring at a computer screen. Heaven knows, with all the blogs out there, including mine, it isn’t far from the truth.

I feel the same way about vampires that I do about bloggers – that we are over run by them right now. Vampires are everywhere – on TV, in the movies, between the pages of books. It’s difficult to turn on any sort of entertainment without seeing one or two or more pop up. It’s even difficult to carry on a conversation without a reference to vampires or vampiric behavior horning in on the chat.

And, as with blogging, while I’m pointing a finger at our current vampire obsession, three fingers are pointing back at me.

Last week, MURDER IN VEIN, my latest novel, was unleashed upon the world. And, yes, it’s a vampire novel. Specifically, it’s a vampire mystery novel. It’s not so much that I’m chasing a trend as an idea for something a little different chased me and wouldn’t let me go until I paid attention to it and turned it into a manuscript. You might say my fictional vampires had me by the neck.

I like to think of MURDER IN VEIN as a vampire novel for both people who like vampires and those who do not. My vampires do not fly or turn into bats. They can even walk around in daylight to some degree. Silver doesn’t harm them. Nor do crosses or holy water. In MURDER IN VEIN, they are creatures trying to live among the living peacefully and undetected. They are simply trying to live their lives like most of us, just for longer and with fewer meal selections.

Okay. Okay. You got me. I couldn’t go totally against typecasting. My vampires do have some special powers. They can be terrifying. They are generally well-to-do. And, yes, they can be very sexy.

Samuel La Croix, the head vampire of the California Vampire Council, invites you to pick up a copy of MURDER IN VEIN and visit with him and the rest of his friends. But don’t worry if you forget, he knows where you live and will be happy to deliver a copy … just in time for dinner.

I’ve read MURDER IN VEIN, and it’s a very tasty treat! Thanks, Sue Ann, for visiting today!Sue Ann Jaffarian BW

For more information about Sue Ann and her writing (three series? I get fatigued just thinking about it), visit her website, her blog, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rested and Relaxed

I’m baaaaack!

(And whoever’s been partying on my blog, well, it took me a couple days to clean up the mess (Jan!). Next time, I’ll have to get a blogsitter!)

Anyway, I’ll post a little about my vacation, once I get caught up with a few things here at the ranch. I hope you enjoyed the reruns, and thanks for your comments.

Please be sure to visit the blog tomorrow when my friend, and all-around good gal, Sue Ann Jaffarian guest posts, introducing us to her just-released book, MURDER IN VEIN, the first in a very cool new series (A Fang-In-Cheek Mystery).

Murder In Vein


Monday, September 6, 2010

My Last Superpower^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

I have an unsightly (and quite itchy) rash on one arm and both legs. Red, scaly blotches, little bumps, altogether angry skin. As I undressed in my dermatologist's office (coincidentally, I was there for my annual check-up*), I noticed a wall chart explaining poison oak, poison sumac, and poison ivy.

Couldn't be. I've always been impervious to poison ivy. It was my last remaining superpower.** I could roll around in a bed of poison ivy and come away unscathed. Because of my special ability, I was always the one to chase the ball into the woods. I never had to wear gloves or long sleeves or long pants when I did yardwork. I could stroll through the woods (barefoot, if I so desired!) with impunity. I was immune.

I finished disrobing and waited for the doctor.

When she entered the exam room, she glanced at my splotchy arm. "Have you been in the woods or working in the yard lately?" she asked.

"As a matter of fact, I have. A couple days ago, I spent about an hour pulling vines off my azaleas," I responded. No, no, please, no.

"Uh, huh. Well, you have poison ivy." poison ivy

My worst fear realized. I had poison ivy. Common poison ivy.

Sure, it looks nasty and itches like crazy.

But that's not what bugs me.

My last superpower is gone.

And now, I must face my mortality.***

*I go to the dermatologist every year. As a child, I had many severe sunburns. One was so bad I passed out on the Autotrain coming back from Florida. I missed two days of school with sun poisoning and had to sit in a bathtub full of oatmeal. Lesson learned: Always use sunscreen!

**I lost my ability to eat just one potato chip last year at the Fourth of July picnic.

***Did I mention it itches like crazy?


Friday, September 3, 2010

Plodding Along^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

Some famous wag/wit/writer once quipped, "I don't like writing. I like having written."

That's how I feel about jogging. I don't like jogging, I like having jogged.* 

While out on recent jog, I was struck by how similar writing and jogging are. sports_clipart_running_athlete

Both are solitary pursuits. When I write, I stick my butt in my chair and keep my fingers on the keyboard. With jogging, it's all about feet pounding pavement. Left, right. Left right. Nobody trails along or peers over my shoulder telling me how to jog (faster!) or how to write (faster!).

When I run**, I follow a pre-determined course. If I didn't, I'd get lost or lose track of how far I'd gone. When writing, I follow a pre-determined outline. Without one, I'd get lost, too. (Of course, I'm allowed to detour whenever I feel the urge, as long as I leave a trail of breadcrumbs or some detailed notes.)

Each is done for a finite "distance." When I run, I go 5K (5 kilometers), then stop. When I write, I go 2K (2000 words), then stop. After I've reached my daily quota, I'm free to do something else without guilt.

For me, both writing and running are marathons, not sprints. When you look up and you're at page 45 of a 300-page novel, you know you've still got some work to do. You've got to put your head down and keep on chugging. Ditto after hitting the one-mile mark. Just Do It.

Jogging and writing both build muscles and endurance. More importantly, they both build confidence. After you've run a few miles one day, you know you can run a few miles another day. Same for writing. Once you write ten pages, you know you can crank out twenty. Or fifty. Or a complete manuscript. Or a series...

Whether jogging or writing, I watch for hazards. On the road, potholes, traffic, rabid squirrels, and other obstacles appear in your path. If you let them, they can derail your progress. At the desk, you have to contend with the Internet, a stack of books to be read, the telephone, the Xbox, and a host of other diversions calling out to you, "Hey buddy, time to take another break. Come play with us. You know you want to." You have to learn to say, "Shut up, diversions!"

Jogging or writing, I break a sweat.

Jogging or writing, I'm always alert for roadkill--and it can be pretty ugly. (Sometimes in my first draft, when I've written something especially putrid, I'll change the color of the text to "white" so I don't have to keep seeing that particular roadkill until I'm ready to clean it up.)

Both can lead to aches and pains. Often when I run, my knees hurt. Often when I write, my head hurts.

Of course, there are some differences between jogging and writing. When I run, I listen to music on my MP3 player. When I write, I can't listen to anything, lest I won't be able to hear the voices in my head. (You know, the VOICES. The ones TELLING ME WHAT TO WRITE.***)

Frequently, when I'm running, I get great ideas about my writing--devilish plot twists, snippets of witty dialogue, the perfect way to describe the mole on a character's face. Sometimes I get so many ideas, I'm afraid I'll forget some of them before I get back. When I'm writing, I never get great ideas about my running. Not once have I thought, "Hey, maybe today I should try left, left, right, right."

After jogging for a while (years), I expect to be rewarded with low blood pressure. After writing for a while, and after turning in a complete manuscript to my agent or editor, I know I'll be rewarded with high blood pressure.

The bottom line is this: I feel good after I've jogged, and I feel good after I've written. So I guess I'll just keep right on plodding--and plotting--along.

*To be clear, when I say "jog," I mean plod. And by plod, I mean going at a pace somewhere between a slog and a saunter.

**Another euphemism for plodding.

***Yes, sometimes the voices SHOUT.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don’t Make Me Say Cheese^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

I don't like being photographed. camera

I don't like having to smile on command, I don't like looking plastic, and I don't like it when photographers contort you into some kind of preposterous pose.

Okay, now put three fingers of your left hand an inch to the right of the centerline of your jaw and shift your weight onto your right side and throw your head back just a tad while turning your shoulders and flexing your knees. And smile!

Hey, if I wanted to play Twister, I would have worn more comfortable clothing.

My distaste for being in pictures is nothing new; I've always been camera-shy. As a child, I remember running from the room when one of my parents brought out the camera. They have plenty of pictures of my back, the top of my head, and the splayed palms of both hands in front of my face.

I often referred to my dad, not as "Poppa," but as "Poppa-razzi."

On those occasions when I consented to be photographed, I usually refused to smile, letting a scowl reflect my resentment. I'll show you, you no-goodnik picture-takers. Oh, what a fun teenager I was!*

I'm not sure why I feel this way. I guess I don't like being the center of attention, even for the millisecond it takes for the shutter to open and close. I don't think I'm terribly photogenic, and I'm uncomfortable leaving permanent, visual traces of myself. Who wants to be evaluated by loved ones looking at pictures thirty years from now? "Well, I don't know what happened. He used to be presentable. Now...pffft."

Looking at myself creeps me out. (Insert your own joke here.)

It's not just photos. I don't like looking at myself in the mirror either. Sure, I use the mirror when I shave (personal safety issue), and when I blow dry my hair (public courtesy issue), but that's about it. I even close my eyes when I brush my teeth. Once, I walked around with a huge smudge on my face for hours. (I did wonder why my family members chuckled every time they saw me.)

What brought on all this talk about pictures? Well, I took my author headshot yesterday.

And let's just say it wasn't pretty.**

*Sorry, Mom.

**But that's a topic for another post.

Here’s a rare candid photo of me in a cabin in the wilds of Wyoming with two new-found friends who were kind enough to listen to one of my stories. (I’m the one in the middle.)


Monday, August 30, 2010

Enough Already^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

Signs that you should stop fussing with the manuscript you're working on (and move on to the next project):

  • Your critique partners no longer answer your emails or return your calls. stop
  • You've memorized the first twenty pages, word for word. 
  • Your spouse has memorized the first twenty pages word for word, from hearing you recite them in your sleep.
  • You've changed the main character's name from Ryan to Bryan to Brian to Brianna to Elvis to Zzvt#%gr to King Machinar III to Fluffy and back to Ryan. Twice.
  • You've thought about pitching the whole thing into the trash and starting anew.*
  • You're debating whether the Chevy Camaro on page 245 should be white or "eggshell." 
  • You had a prologue, then incorporated it into the story, then took it out, then put it in as an epilogue, then removed it and now plan to offer it on your website as "bonus" material.
  • You've translated the manuscript into Hebrew to see if it works any better going right-to-left. (Strangely, it does.)
  • You've thought about pitching the whole thing into the trash and starting anew.**
  • You've read the entire manuscript aloud, both frontward and backward, in front of a mirror and then in front of your dog (and the fourth time through, the dog left the room). 

Finally, the most telling sign that you should stop revising your manuscript:

  • You're holding the published book in your hands.*** 

Have any to add?

*Of course, this happens at every stage of writing a manuscript.

**Of course, this happens at every stage of writing a manuscript. Multiple times.

***Of course, there's always the second printing!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dear Blogging Monkey

Welcome to another installment of Dear Blogging Monkey.

better Monkey-typing

Dear Blogging Monkey:

I understand you are taking a week off from the Internet. Sure, you’ll have some rerun blog posts, but there will be no commenting, no Tweeting, no Facebooking. No nothing. I also understand the fabulous Sue Ann Jaffarian will be guest blogging here on September 8th. In addition, I understand you think you’re mildly amusing. Could all this possibly be true?

Big Fan of the Blog




One Blogging Monkey


Friday, August 27, 2010

Nom de Bad Guy^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

Darth Vader, Voldemort, Saddam Hussein, Professor Moriarty, Hannibal Lechter. All bad guys. All with great "bad guy" names (and one isn't even fictional!). Without even reading/seeing their story, I’d guess they were bad dudes. Why is that?

I'm no linguistics professor, but I can detect a few underlying "clues." “Darth Vader” sounds like “Dark Invader.” Voldemort and Moriarty have "mort" or "mor" in their names, bringing death immediately to mind. “Hannibal” rhymes with “cannibal.” “Saddam” is close to “sadist.” All negative connotations. (And what about Voldemort and Vader both being called "Lords"? Not negative, but…interesting.)

People develop certain preconceptions about names. If you were terrorized by a bully named Chris Newsome in second grade (just sayin'), then you'd probably have negative feelings toward any other Chris Newsomes you encounter--in real life, or in fiction. (Too bad his name hadn’t been Darth Newsome. Then kids might have instinctively known to avoid him.)

Some of my favorite villain names come from Dean Koontz. I read an article by him (or maybe it was from his great, out-of-print book How To Write Best-Selling Fiction (1981)) where he talked about giving his antagonists "harsh-sounding" names, full of hard consonants (v's, d's, c's, and k's are popular), double letters, and difficult-to-pronounce consonant blends. Check out some of his baddies: Edglar Vess, Vladimir "Corky" Laputa, Bryan Drackman, Preston Maddoc, Vince Nesco, and Thomas Shaddack. Don't these names just ooze badness?

Of course, most of Koontz's books are horror stories and thrillers. Obvious bad guy names don't work as well in mysteries, where the reader isn't supposed to know who the bad guy is until the end. Still, they'd make good red herrings...

Sometimes I think it would be nice to write satire or cartoons or kid's books. Then you can be a little more literal with your villainous  names: Snidely Whiplash, Cruella De Vil, Boris Badenov, Bugs Meany cruella(from Encyclopedia Brown, one of my favs), Dr. No, and Dr. Evil. Those must be fun to make up.

A character's name can have a profound effect on how readers picture him or her. Try portraying a character named Mal Madoff as a philanthropist--it's not going to fly!

What are some of your favorite names of fictional villains?

Writers, how do you name your bad guys?


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Idea Store^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

It's a common question for writers:

Where do you get your ideas?

I used to get my ideas from local, independent, mom-and-pop idea stores. Back in the day, it seemed like there was one on every lightbulb corner. You'd wander in, not quite sure what you were looking for, and some nice--and knowledgeable--idea clerk would come over, chat with you for a while, then walk you over to a certain shelf and select the perfect idea.

Why, that's it! How did you know I wanted something in an 80,000-word mystery with a twenty-nine-year-old male protagonist who works in a sandwich shop?

But the indies were overwhelmed by the big-box chain idea stores. Cavernous warehouses full of ideas. You could get lost for days, wandering the aisles looking for that hard-to-locate gem. But try to find someone who really knew ideas to help you? Fuggedaboudit! (Of course, the prices were appealing. Everyday Low Price: Ideas - Twelve for ten cents.)

Then the Internet arrived in a big way. You could go on-line, browse a catalog from the comfort of your own home, and order an idea (hey, order two--save on shipping!) to be delivered to your doorstep. But I never seemed satisfied with the quality of the ideas, and you couldn't hold the idea in your hands and give it a good squeeze to see if it was robust enough. After all, you were going to be with this idea for months, even years. You and that idea better be a good match.

So I was left with only one option. I had to think up my own ideas.

goldstars Once I started, I couldn't stop. Ideas flowed from my head like words from Joe Biden's mouth--nonstop, and some even made sense. I couldn't turn off the idea spigot. And it's still spouting ideas to this day.

The deluge of ideas presents a different challenge--trying to determine which ones are worth pursuing. (I can hear all the writers out there, saying in unison, "Ah, there's the rub.") Many, if not most, of them I talk to have tons (tons!) of ideas. It's time that's in short supply.

So how do you determine which ideas are worthy of your time and energy? Which ideas will make the best books?

Do you:

  • Write out the pros and cons of each idea, then do some kind of cost/benefit analysis?
  • Write a synopsis for each and see which comes easiest? palm
  • Make a visit to your palmist?
  • Go straight to the marketplace and ask your agent or editor what you should work on?
  • Throw the ten most intriguing ideas into a hat and pick one at random?
  • Pick whichever idea lends itself best to having a vampire protagonist? Or a boy wizard?
  • Choose the idea most similar to the last Michael Connelly book?

Any other ideas? I'd settle for a single good one.


Monday, August 23, 2010

For Extra Credit

Suppose you’re between projects. You’re waiting for beta readers to get back to you and you’ve got some time to write, but you’re not sure what to write about. How do you pick something?

Do you:

a) Go to your list of ideas and pull the top one off the stack?

b) Close your eyes, listen to your gut, and start typing about whatever moves you?

c) Systematically evaluate all your options and pick the one you think is most “publishable?”

d) Try out a different genre, different POV, and different tense than what you normally write in?

e) Write? With all the fun that’s waiting for you on Facebook and Twitter and Photoshop?


Friday, August 20, 2010

Ten Best Things About Being a Writer

dog tired Usually, the dog days of summer don’t affect me. I’m content to plod along on whatever project I happen to be involved in. This year, for some reason—be it the unrelenting heat, the monsoon-like deluges, or the crazy pace I’ve been keeping—I’m ready to just kick back and relax. And read some of the dozens of dozens of books in my TBR pile.

So no deep-thinker post today (unlike all my other posts :) ). Instead, a top ten list (with apologies to Mr. Letterman):


The Ten Best Things About Being a Writer

10. People think you know stuff.

9. A business trip means going to the bookstore.

8. Fame and fortune. Not.

7. You can blame your misfortunes on your agent.

6. You “get” to blog and Facebook and Twitter.

5. Showering is optional.

4. You can kill people who annoy you with abandon (or with a gun or a knife).

3. Watching Comedy Central counts as research.

2. Those voices in your head are supposed to be there.

And the number one best thing about being a writer:

1. Casual Friday becomes Underwear Friday.


Got any to add?


(If this post seems familiar, it’s because I posted it on InkSpot yesterday. I told you I was feeling a little lazy!)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Written in the Clouds

tagxedo picture


Just fooling around. (It’s a DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD tagxedo picture.)


Monday, August 16, 2010

Experts Teach

On Saturday, I attended MWA University, a one-day symposium on mystery writing. It was great! I learned a lot, met some new friends, and caught up with some old ones.

Instead of recapping it here, I’ll direct you to Ingrid King’s blog, where she did a great job of summarizing the day’s events.

If you ever get the chance to attend one of these, my advice is simple: GO!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Care for a Bookmark?

Last week, I mentioned my bookmark project. Here’s what I’ve come up with, front and back. (The actual, printed PDF images seem a little crisper than these on-screen. Also, these images include some bleed room, ie, the margins on the real bookmarks won’t be as large.)

KR Bookmark Front KR Bookmark Back

I know, many of you think I’ve included too many words. However, when someone asks me what my book’s about, I can just hand them a bookmark, rather than go through the spiel myself. And I’m all for talking as little as possible.

Anyway, comments?


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don’t You Hate it When…

You spend a couple days outlining the plot for a novel, in addition to creating some character sketches. You come up with a few character names and you write a portion of the first scene. You put away the project because something more important came along.

Then, years later, you search for the file.

You look everywhere—on your computer, on your backup hard drive, on your backup CDs. You check your file cabinets, in case you printed it out, and you go through old notebooks (just in case you remembered incorrectly and actually wrote the stuff down, old-school). You even check your safe deposit box at the bank.

You consult your Ouija board, too.


The file is nowhere to be found.

Don’t you just hate that? (And don’t you hate reading stuff written in 2nd person? Well, don’t you?)


Monday, August 9, 2010

A is for Me

BACKTOSCHOOLToday, I’m honored to be interviewed at Aerin Bender-Stone’s blog, In Search of Giants, as part of her Back-to-School A-Z author interview series.



Learn what my favorite subjects were, what I looked forward to at lunch (besides the lunch ladies’ evil glares), and find out if I made the high school golf team.

Click over and check it out!

Thanks, Aerin!


Friday, August 6, 2010

2 x 7.25 Inches

Now that I’ve completed a draft of my WIP and it’s out being read by my crack critiquers, I can spend some time on other things. This week’s project: designing a bookmark to promote KILLER ROUTINE.

Over the years, I’ve been collecting bookmarks from other writers, to steal ideas draw inspiration from.

Many elements are included on these bookmarks:

  • Book description
  • Author bio
  • Author picture
  • Book cover art
  • Bibliography of other books
  • Contact info, including web addresses, blogs, mailing lists, emails
  • Publishing info (publisher, ISBN, release date)
  • Blurbs and reviews
  • Awards won

What to include? What to leave out? There’s only so much space, you know.

Any advice? What information/graphics do you like to see on a writer’s bookmark?


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Shoe-Tying Project

I like when tasks are organized into “projects.” Being immersed in something for a finite period of time seems to be my preferred mode of operation. In past jobs, or in school, I was always more engaged knowing there’d be an ending to whatever I was working on (rather than toiling at something day-after-day with no end in sight. You know, like forever).

That’s why I enjoy writing novels.

I can bust my butt on them for two or three months (or longer), then move on to another project. Sure, I’ll come back to them for editing, but I view that as a different project—also one with a finite ending point.

That’s why I call other things I’m working on “projects.”

Every year, there’s the raspberry-harvesting project, and the getting-the-kids-ready-for-school project, and the clean-the-basement project. A few years ago, there was the cross-country-trip project. There have been family-reunion projects and bookcase-building projects, and the record-all-my-vinyl-records-to-MP3 project (ongoing). And don’t forget the tri-weekly grocery-store projects.

One of the best things about having a project orientation is being able to cross each one off your list when complete.

Now it’s time for my catch-up-on-everything-I’ve-fallen-behind-on-while-I-was-working-on-my-last-project project.

Wish me luck!

What about you? Do you prefer working in bursts on projects, or do you like working in a steady-state mode?


Monday, August 2, 2010

Ptomaine’s House of Beef

When you're writing a story, there are many times when you'll have to come up with a fictitious name for a product or place of business. To me, names are important. Some connote class, others bring to mind frivolity. Still others are descriptive, scary, mundane, exotic, or just plain ridiculous.

I always think hard when I make up names in my books.

If only people in real life took as much care.

Here are a few examples of product/place names that I thought were, uh, interesting:

Stumpy's (a stump removal service)

Prunelax (a laxative, in case you couldn't guess)

Jiffy Lube Live (concert pavilion)

And here's one of the most misguided marketing slogans I've ever seen, from a restaurant touting the freshness of its food:

"Any fresher, and you'd need a restraining order."

Well, sure, what restaurateur wouldn't want potential customers associating their establishment with stalkers and domestic disputes?


Friday, July 30, 2010

Look Out Beta Readers!

I’m in the process of making the final* pass through my WIP before it goes to my beta readers.

Specifically, I’m looking at:

  • Bolstering descriptions, of settings and people
  • Incorporating the five senses
  • Spelling/grammar/typos/awkward sentences
  • Overuse of pet words: that, just, maybe, Kyrgyzstan
  • Making sure the chapter numbers are in order
  • Characters who are always smiling, nodding, shrugging, or guffawing.

Last night, I awoke at three a.m. with some ideas about the book. I jumped up, grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, and hustled to the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up my wife with the light. I jotted down my great ideas and went back to bed.

Here’s what I wrote:

Ref go droang xrtg pepperoni aft dincc. Bertttt Xoccwee & frooop. Ha ha ha ha!!! drrb,poipi 799

Any ideas what that means? And why do I have this urge to order pizza?


*Final? Yeah, right!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eleven Times Faster

Something_Bleu It’s a treat to welcome guest blogger Cricket McRae. A fellow Midnight Ink author, Cricket’s new book was just released: SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLEU, the fourth book in the Home Crafting Mystery Series. She also recently started a blog, Hearth Cricket. Take it away, Cricket!

Thanks for inviting me to post here on A Million Blogging Monkeys, Alan!

The other day a few writer friends and I were sitting around talking about, believe it or not, writing. This happens to a frightening degree when writers get together, and if we’re not talking about writing then it’s publishing news, marketing techniques, promotion ideas … or food.

Ahem. Well, food always comes up when I’m around, but that might not be the case among all writers.

Anyway, one of the women had heard back from an agent who had an issue with the pacing in her novel. As we talked, I realized there were several practical techniques I’ve developed over time to increase and/or smooth the pacing in my Home Crafting Mysteries.

First a caveat: Mad pacing is not the be all and end all. My books are light, contemporary cozy mysteries that feature colonial home crafts as the backdrops to the murder and mayhem. The stories move along quickly, which I like. Literary tomes unfold differently, and some thrillers move so fast your hair blows back when you read them. I’m just sayin’ these tips work for me.

Eleven Tips for Increasing Pace

  1. Start in the middle of action. Long lead-ins with tons of exposition lose a lot of readers right from the get go. Start strong and keep it going – the background information can be feathered in later.

  2. Avoid long narrative passages as much as possible. Convey information in scenes or, if necessary, in short narrative bursts tucked into scenes.

  3. Leave out the boring stuff. That includes lengthy transitions, moving characters around, or trying to account for every minute of the day. One way to bypass that information is to:

  4. Use scene breaks. Used within chapters, they serve wonderfully as transitions and move the story along quickly.

  5. Have some kind of tension on every page, and at the very least in every scene. In some cases that might take the milder form of internal conflict and in others escalate into action scenes or psychological thrills that make it hard to breathe.

  6. Write natural dialog. That doesn’t mean realistic dialog, because if you wrote down what people actually say it might not even be readable. So focus on dialog that flows naturally, back and forth. When the dialog is right the pages turn pretty quickly.

  7. Break up long passages of dialog with action beats to keep the reader grounded. Also, use action beats when one character is talking for a long time, for example recounting a story. This breaks up paragraphs and keeps the scene from feeling like a monologue.

  8. Allow white space. The more white space there is on a page the faster the reader reads and the smoother the pacing is. Dialog is a great way to do this, as are short sentences mixed with long ones.

  9. Use description to add to the story, not just the setting. Who cares if the grass is green? But if the lawn if brown, the garbage stinks, and the curtains are drawn across the front windows of a house then the reader receives setting details that also serve as questions and add tension.

  10. Short chapters. Not everyone agrees with this, but my chapters are usually between six and ten pages. Like potato chips, it’s easy to take just one more.

  11. End every chapter with a bang – and every scene if possible. Since I write contemporary cozies, that usually doesn’t involve an actual cliffhanger, but I try to always offer a question or intriguing comment to draw the reader on to the next section.

As a writer, what tricks have you developed to smooth pacing? As a reader, what bogs down a story for you? McRae_Cricket pic

For more information about me or my Home Crafting Mysteries, check out my website or my blog, Hearth Cricket.

Thanks again, Alan!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cricket is Coming

Something_Bleu Please be sure to visit tomorrow to learn guest blogger Cricket McRae’s tips for increasing pace. She’s a fellow Midnight Ink author, and her new book, SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLEU, was just released.

If you want to rev up your manuscript, you’ll want to check out these tips!


Monday, July 26, 2010


Mystery Writers of America is launching their MWA University, a day-long symposium on writing mysteries. The pilot program will be held in the Mid-Atlantic Region, at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, on August 14. Registration begins at 8:15. Sessions begin at 9:00 and end at 5:00.

In MWA’s own words:

MWA University is an entire day of top-notch classes, taught by top-notch mystery writers. Novice or pro, you will benefit from hearing the experts discuss their strategies for all facets of writing and publishing.

Below is a schedule preview (subject to change).

After the Idea
Teacher: Jess Lourey is the author of the Murder-by-Month mysteries and a tenured professor of English and sociology at a two-year Minnesota college.

“If you wish to be a writer, write." But how? You've got the great idea, the one that won't let you go, that embellishes itself as you walk around your day. But how do you grow that kernel into a compelling story, and where do you find the time? This class gives you the tools to turn a good idea into a great novel. Bring a notebook and writing utensil.

Dramatic Structure & Plot
Teacher: Hallie Ephron is the author of psychological suspense Never Tell a Lie, crime fiction book reviewer for the Boston Globe, and author of the Edgar-nominated Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.

Since Aristotle, the three-act structure for storytelling has reigned supreme, but does it still hold true for modern crime writers? Is it the best way, or the only way, to tell your tale? Is plotting simply sequencing your scenes or is there more to it? This class will teach you the art of storytelling and plotting so your manuscript will attract the attention it deserves.

Setting & Description
Teacher: Daniel Stashower is a two-time Edgar award winner, and a recipient of the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship in Detective and Crime Fiction Writing.

“I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday,” Raymond Chandler once said, and this seemingly tossed-off remark has much to teach us about the gentle arts of setting and description. This class will guide you through the process and potential pitfalls of choosing a setting, and explore the ways in which descriptive passages can be honed to illuminate characters and themes.

Character & Dialogue
Teacher: Donna Andrews is the award-winning NYT bestselling author of sixteen novels and founding member of the MWA Mid-Atlantic chapter.

From Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlings, character is arguably the most memorable element of a mystery novel and a series. How do you create a fully-realized unique protagonist that leaps from the page? How should you develop secondary characters as well as the protagonist’s nemesis? This class will challenge you to eliminate cardboard characterizations and create something new and fresh.

Writing as Re-Writing
Teacher: Reed Farrel Coleman (Twice nominated for the Edgar® and a three-time winner of the Shamus Award, Reed Farrel Coleman is an adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University.)

If editing was good enough for William Shakespeare, it’s good enough for you. More often than not, it’s the things you remove, the tweaks you make, and the tinkering you do, that are the difference between another slush pile manuscript and a new book contract. There are some easy methods to learn and follow to help you develop an editorial ear. Give us fifty minutes and we’ll give you a better chance with agents and editors.

The Writing Life
Teacher: Hank Phillippi Ryan is the winner of two Agatha Awards and nominated for the Anthony, Agatha and Macavity, Boston TV reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan has won 26 Emmys for her investigative journalism.

"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning." That's how Peter DeVries balanced art and craft. What's the reality of the writing life? The journey from your great idea to 90,000 words will mean hours of solitude. Days of self-doubt. Revision. Rejection. And then--rejoicing. You'll often say: "I wish someone had explained this to me!" In this class, they will.

Cost: $50 for both members and non-members of Mystery Writers of America. Must register by Monday, August 9, 2010. Registration is limited to 80 people.

For more information and to register, visit the MWA website.

I’ll see you there!


Friday, July 23, 2010

I’m Covered

In case you didn’t see this post yesterday on InkSpot, here it is on my very own personal blog.

Sometimes when I’m giving a book talk, I’ll ask the audience what drives them to purchase a book. Is it the title? The cover copy? The reviews? The terrific things they’ve heard about the witty and charming author standing before them? (Hmm, I don’t get very many positive responses to that one.)

Usually, I’ll get a variety of answers—after all, different people are moved by different things—but for some reason, not everyone admits that a book’s cover is a factor.

Of course, I know they’re lying.

Covers are huge. Covers catch the eye and draw a reader in. Covers entice, set the mood, tantalize the reader with great intrigue. That old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Utter hogwash.

Sure, if a reader likes a particular author, the cover may not matter so much. And the cover might not matter if your BFF demands you read a book because it was the best book ever. But if you’re on the fence about a book, then how you feel about the cover is definitely part of the equation.

That’s why publishers hire talented cover designers. That’s why there’s so much emphasis placed on designing the perfect cover for each book. Why do you think publishers have wonderful, slick, glossy catalogs? To display their wonderful, slick, glossy covers!!!

I’m still relatively new in the publishing business, but I have learned one thing: My publisher, Midnight Ink, designs the best covers in the business.

Not that you need it, but here’s some more evidence. I present to you the cover for KILLER ROUTINE:

Killer Routine 300dpi


Thanks Midnight Ink.


Okay, here are the discussion questions for today. Will the rise of the ebook lessen the importance of a good cover? Will covers have to change in the ebook era? How?


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing to the Market

DELICIOUS  SUSPICIOUS cover It’s my pleasure to welcome Elizabeth Spann Craig to the blog today. Her new book, DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS was released July 6, and it looks positively yummy. Her blog, Mystery Writing Is Murder, was named one of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, and she’s a Twitter goddess. Plus, she’s one of the nicest people around.


I have very little interest in transportation except as a means to an end.

But when my now-thirteen-year-old son was two, he was obsessed with trains, trucks, and airplanes.

And, wanting to keep him occupied (he was a really busy little guy), I made it a point to connect him with the objects of his affection.

We hung out at the airport (this was pre-9/11, and he’d stick his nose against the glass at the gate and watch the planes fly in and out), train stations, and even parked outside construction sites. His favorite site was the construction of the hospital’s new breezeway where he could watch the big crane working.

And the twice-a-week, don’t-miss event was the arrival of the garbage truck. He loved the garbage truck. I’d hear that thing’s engine roaring down the street and I’d grab Riley and hold him right up to the window so he could wave at the garbage men. If he was napping when they came, the sanitation workers looked disappointed and kept looking for the towheaded baby.

What did I get out of this? Well, I didn’t get any direct gratification, since I’m not a transportation nut. But my son was so excited, so delighted, so happy that it rubbed off on me.

Plus, Riley wasn’t at home trying to stick his finger in electrical outlets, drink Clorox, or climb the bookshelves. :)

To me, this is like writing to a market. I think we all have stories of our hearts—the book we’ve been thinking about or mulling over or kicking around in our heads. Some of these stories? They’re probably not that marketable.

But I think we can get just as much gratification by entertaining our readers with a good story…whatever these readers are interested in. We may not have as much of an interest in the subject as the readers do, but we can get just as excited by it because they’re excited by it.

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing, either. No one says we can’t write the story of our hearts and try submitting it while pleasing readers (and ultimately, ourselves) by writing entertaining, marketable novels.

What are your thoughts on writing for the market? Could you get just as passionate about a story you’ve crafted for the market as a story of your heart?

ElizabethSpannCraig Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and, in addition to blogging daily at Mystery Writing Is Murder, she blogs on Thursdays at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.