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.)