Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You Asked For It!

Because the Last Laff Mysteries feature a stand-up comic, I thought it would be fun (crazy?) to include some actual stand-up comedy in my book event presentations. When I blogged about it earlier in the year, some of you Inkers wished you could have seen it. Now, thanks to this great website I’ve just recently discovered, YouTube, you can!

(Yes, this is definitely a case of be careful what you wish for. And remember, I’m a writer, not a stand-up comic.)

This is from the book launch party for KILLER ROUTINE at Barnes & Noble last May. The actual “stand-up” part starts about halfway through Part 2. (I had to divide the entire thing into four parts.)

For my book events to promote the about-to-be-released DEADLY CAMPAIGN, I'll need some new material, so if you have any good knock-knock jokes, please let me know!

BTW, I’m the guy with the clipboard.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


(Thanks to my sister-in-law for the video!)




Sunday, December 4, 2011

Would You Vote For This Man?


It’s always a happy day when the author copies arrive.

I’m Alan Orloff, and I approved this picture.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Books Make Great Gifts

Books make great holiday gifts, and I happen to know where you can get some great mysteries, signed by the authors!

This Tuesday, December 6, from 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM, six Virginia mystery authors will be participating in a panel discussion: “The Story Behind the Story: How mystery writers concoct their diabolical plots.”

The authors are: Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, G.M. Malliet, Katherine Neville, Alan Orloff (that’s me!), and Sandra Parshall.

After the program, you can purchase books (if you want—certainly not required!) and get them personalized for you and/or your loved ones. (Did I mention that books make great gifts?)

The event is free!

5005 Duke Street
Alexandria,VA 22304

Call 703-746-1702 with questions.

Hope to see you there!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

The winner of the signed DEADLY CAMPAIGN ARC in the “leftover” ARC giveaway (held jointly here and on InkSpot) is



Congrats, Darcy, and thanks for playing!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Love of Leftovers

RoastTurkeyToday is the day before Thanksgiving, and my refrigerator is crammed to capacity. Some of the food is already prepared, some of it is still gobbling. By 8:00 tomorrow night, much of it will be gone, but if this year is like most years, there will be plenty of leftovers (cooking a 22 pound turkey for only 11 people might be a contributing factor).

In keeping with that spirit, today’s pre-feast blog will be another feast of sorts, a smorgasbord of random tidbits and writing leftovers. (Oh, don’t make that face, not without trying it. And keep an open mind, there might just be something here that won’t turn your stomach. Don’t worry, I’ve got an unopened bottle of Pepto-Bismol at the ready.)


I’d like to pass along three writing tips. Number one, put your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard. And type! Number two, finish your first draft completely; this will prevent you from wasting too much time revising a section you’re going to cut anyway. And number three…well, number three is…um, let’s see…something to do with the EPA? No, no, um…Ooops. (And don’t even get me started on Libya. Or is that Liberia? Or Libania? Well, the Taliban are bad, wherever they are…)


Actually, it doesn’t take that long to amass 80,000 words in a manuscript, maybe a week or two. Of course, it takes another six months to arrange them all in the right order. Ba da bing.


And speaking of writing, my hat goes off to all the NaNoWriMo participants. Well done, even if you don’t hit your targets. Sometimes it’s the effort that counts. Besides, the real book will be written in NaDecEdMo (and NaJanEdMo, and NaFebEdMo and…).


Tis the season to give thanks, and I’m thankful for many things. One of the writing-related things I’m thankful for is the nice Library Journal review DEADLY CAMPAIGN received. The pullquote: “Orloff has put together another winning routine, and mystery buffs will enjoy the fresh venue of a comedy club, not to mention a soft-boiled amateur sleuth case.”


And since we started this blog talking about leftovers, let’s bring this disaster train wreck post full circle. I have a “leftover” ARC of DEADLY CAMPAIGN I’d like to give away. Its official release date is January 8, but one lucky commenter (between now and 6 pm Sunday night) will get his or her very own copy weeks before that!

To enter, just leave a comment describing your best use of leftover turkey. I’ll pick one winner at random (US residents only and, no offense to my fellow MInkers, but I think I’ll limit the giveway to non-InkSpot bloggers, However MInkers, please feel free to leave your leftover turkey ideas—I have a feeling I’m going to need all the help I can get!).






Saturday, November 12, 2011

Your Creative Juices Will Thank You

When I made my first attempts at writing fiction, I was clueless. About how to write, about how to format my writing, about what possible markets existed. I knew how to fire up Microsoft WORD, but I was pretty much clueless about everything else.

Luckily, I realized how clueless I was and did something about it. I took an adult education class to see if I really liked writing (I did). Then I began taking workshops to learn more about the craft (and business) of writing.

That’s how I ended up at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD (I blogged about my experience here). I’m quoted on their website:

“Attending workshops at The Writer’s Center was—without a doubt—the biggest factor in my improvement as a writer.”

And it’s true!

So you can imagine how thrilled I am to be able to come back to The Writer’s Center as a WORKSHOP LEADER! (see, all caps? THRILLED!)

This winter, I’ll be leading an 8-week workshop called, Writing the Mystery Novel: Introduction. The workshop will begin on Saturday, January 21 (from 10 am to 12:30 pm) and run through March 17 (no workshop on March 3).

Here’s the description:

If you’ve always wanted to write a mystery novel but didn’t know where to start, this workshop is for you. We’ll discuss writing fundamentals (voice, character, plot, setting, etc.) and their application to the mystery. We’ll examine characteristics of the many subgenres and learn about mystery-specific conventions and pitfalls such as TSTL (too-stupid-to-live) syndrome, macguffins, red herrings, killer twists, wacky sidekicks, and smooth clue dropping, among others. Sessions will include instruction and writing exercises, with an emphasis on giving and receiving critiques of participants’ work.

If you’re an aspiring mystery writer living in the Washington, DC area, I’d love to see you in the workshop. I guarantee we’ll have some fun and learn a few things, too.

And if this particular workshop doesn’t float your boat, check out the other workshop listings. I’m sure you’ll find one that will excite you and get those creative juices flowing!

(If you have any questions about the workshop, feel free to leave them in the comments or shoot me an email directly. Or thru Facebook or Twitter or telegram or…)


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two-Month Warning

In exactly two months, the second book in the Last Laff series, DEADLY CAMPAIGN, will be released (that’s January 8, 2012, for all you calendar-phobes). (I guess it’s also fitting that I blog about this on Election Day!)

The cover:



The cover-flap description:

A new Last Laff Mystery from Agatha Award-nominated author Alan Orloff

Comedy club owner and occasional performer Channing Hayes thought the comedy biz was tough, but it's a stroll in the park compared to politics. When he and his business partner Artie attend a congressional campaign event for their friend Thomas Lee’s nephew, masked thugs storm in and break up Lee's restaurant with baseball bats. The candidate's people insist that the police not be involved, so Lee asks Channing to investigate. As Channing searches for answers, he finds himself plunged into a corrupt world of payoffs, gangs, illicit affairs, blackmail—and murder.


Snippets from the LIBRARY JOURNAL review (the whole thing can be seen here):

“Professional comedian Channing Hayes (Killer Routine) goes amateur detective in his rousing encore performance.”


“Orloff has put together another winning routine, and mystery buffs will enjoy the fresh venue of a comedy club, not to mention a soft-boiled amateur sleuth case.”


And a blurb:

Deadly Campaign has it all—political intrigue, family warfare and, best of all, a hero. If the line between comedy and tragedy is indeed thin, then Alan Orloff is a master tightrope walker.”

—P.J. Parrish, New York Times bestselling author of The Killing Song


DEADLY CAMPAIGN is available for pre-order! At Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookseller through Indibound.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

And They Are Easy to Wrap


According to my calendar, it’s November (not quite sure how that happened, but it might have something to do with last month being October). When November arrives, it’s time to start thinking about the holidays. And when I starting thinking about the holidays, I think about cakes pies cookies brownies presents.

And when I think about presents, I think about books (among other things).

As a kid, I’d frequently get books as gifts. For my birthday, for Hanukah, for Arbor Day, even for my Bar Mitzvah (and let me tell you, no 13-year-old wants to get a copy of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. Trust me.).

Most of the books were cool. I remember one great book, The Book of Answers, that had (surprise!) answers to a bunch of very perplexing questions. (I recently revisited that book and discovered that some of the answers were complete hogwash, but I guess that’s a topic for another blog). Every year I got a world almanac, and I spent hours and hours poring over all the statistics: populations of foreign countries, exchange rates of foreign currencies, GNP per capita (okay, I was a little geeky). I also got golf books, football books, baseball books, basketball books, tennis books (anyone see a pattern?), and, yes, even a few novels here and there.

I also got socks for presents, and let me tell you, books were way better.

Now that I’m an adult, I still like to give and receive books as gifts. How about you, do books make it onto your gift lists? And since we’re talking gifts, how about ereaders? Are they a must-have item this year? What say you, people?

(This entry has been “simul-posted” on InkSpot)


Monday, October 31, 2011

Treat or Treat


I mean, Yay! Yay for FREE BOOKS!

Tonight, I’m attending a virtual Halloween party, thrown by Joanna Campbell Slan, to celebrate her new Facebook fan page. Guess what? You are invited, too!

I’ll be dropping in from 10 – 10:30 pm. Below is the rest of the author schedule (did I mention FREE BOOKS?):

Location: https://www.facebook.com/JoannaCampbellSlan


9 - 9:30 PM EST
Mollie Cox Bryan (Scrapbook of Secrets)
Angie Fox (A Tale of Two Demon Slayers)

9:30 - 10 PM EST
Betty Hechtman (Behind the Seams)
Laura DiSilverio (Die Buying)
Deborah Sharp (Mama Sees Stars)

10 - 10:30 PM EST
Julie Compton (Tell No Lies)
Alan Orloff (The Taste)

10:30 - 11 PM EST
Casey Daniels (A Hard Day's Fright)
Vicki Doudera (Killer Listing)
Penny Warner (How to Party Like a Vampire)

11:30 – Midnight
Joanna Campbell Slan (Make, Take, Murder)
Camille Minichino (Murder in Miniature)

Special Drop-in Guests:
Linda O. Johnston (The More the Terrier)
Monica Ferris (Buttons and Bones)

All authors will be giving away FREE BOOKS--so you'll want to come and party with us! (Costume optional.)

And speaking of FREE BOOKS, you can still sign up to win an ARC of DEADLY CAMPAIGN (until 6 pm EST TODAY) at Dru’s Book Musings. I’m also giving away three ebooks of THE TASTE at Jenn’s Bookshelves.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Typical Day

If you’ve wondered what a typical day would be like for Channing Hayes, the protagonist in my Last Laff Mystery series, then wonder no more. Simply visit Dru Ann Love’s blog, Dru’s Book Musings, to read my Channing’s guest post!

But wait! There’s more!

We’re giving away, to one lucky winner, a signed ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of the upcoming Last Laff Mystery, DEADLY CAMPAIGN.

Click here!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Idea That Wouldn’t Die

Today, I’m guest blogging on Jenn’s Bookshelves as part of her “scary” Murders, Monsters, & Mayhem Month. My post, The Idea That Wouldn’t Die, is reason enough to visit her blog, but as an added enticement, we’re giving away a few ebooks!

Click on over and join the Halloween fun!


Friday, October 14, 2011

MWA and U

mwa_logoIf you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a mystery writer or mystery fan/reader (or criminal, I suppose, looking for hints about how to beat the law). That’s why I think you should consider joining Mystery Writers of America (unless you’re a criminal—then change your ways and contribute positively to society!). Disclaimer: I am a proud member of MWA and I’m the treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter. However, the opinions I’m expressing here are my own, unofficial and slightly biased, ones.

MWA offers many valuable benefits and services to members, as well as to the public at large (and you don’t have to be a published author to join!)—newsletters, discounts, a listserv, the Edgar awards, anthologies, scholarship programs, and others. But I’d like to highlight two important aspects of being in MWA: the networking and the education.

Our local chapter has monthly dinner meetings, and because of our D.C. location, we get a wide range of terrific speakers. We’ve had an ex-spy, an FBI hostage negotiator, and museum director (and a wealth of great writers, too). During our last meeting, we learned about stalking, which was fascinating, in a totally creepy way (Did you know that about 2% of stalking cases end in murder or attempted murder? And that, in Virginia, stalking is only a misdemeanor?).

In addition to hearing great speakers, these meetings are excellent places to network. You can connect with potential research sources, find other writers for critique groups, or discover which mystery/writing conferences are worth attending. You can also learn about agents, publishers, and other arcane workings of the publishing biz (if your stomach is strong enough).

On a national level, MWA has recently (within the past year or so) begun offering what it calls MWA University, in different locations throughout the country. It’s “a full-day, low-cost writing seminar designed to teach participants the essential skills needed to write a novel, from the idea stage to the final editing. The focus is on the craft of writing, and the college-level courses are taught by published writers and experienced teachers.”

I had the great pleasure of attending the pilot seminar last summer, and it was fantastic. I recommend it to any writer, at any level.

If you don’t already belong to MWA, what are you waiting for?

(This blog entry is simul-posted on InkSpot.)


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mystery Madness!

Tomorrow, I’m excited to be part of a Mystery Day at the Library of Virginia, in Richmond. If you’re a mystery lover, you should attend!

Here are the details, clipped right from their website:

Whodunit? | A Day of Mystery Madness for Mystery Fans
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Time: 9:00 AM–3:00 PM

Fee and registration for lunch; panels are free of charge but require advance registration. Questions? 804.692.3900

If you're a fan of the genre, don't miss this event that hosts a dozen of the best mystery writers in the business for a reader-friendly, interactive, and fun day of discussion and insight. There will be break-out panels in the morning and afternoon to enjoy casual conversation and Q&A, and a lunch hosted by the venerable author and People's Choice Award nominee Donna Andrews. Book signings will be available throughout the day.

This powerhouse lineup of talent includes Donna Andrews, Mollie Bryan, Meredith Cole, Ellen Crosby, Jan Neuharth, Alan Orloff, Brad Parks, Sandy Parshall, David L. Robbins, J. B. Stanley, Andy Straka, and Irene Ziegler.

Moderators are Art Taylor, Steve Weddle, Katherine Neville, and Meredith Cole.

9:30–10:30 AM: “What Comes First: Plot or Character?” – moderated by Art Taylor featuring Orloff, Crosby, Cole, Andrews, and Bryan.

10:45–11:45 AM: “Professionals v. Amateurs” – moderated by Steve Weddle featuring Neuharth, Straka, and Stanley.


1:30–2:30 PM: "The Cutting Edge: What makes a thriller different from a mystery?” – moderated by Katherine Neville featuring Parks, Parshall, Robbins, and Ziegler.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Double Exposure

I’m not usually “in” magazines, but by some quirk of fate, I’m in two current issues. (Maybe it’s time to play the lottery!)

My interview of the very talented Darrell James is in Issue 43 of CRIMESPREE Magazine (page 32).

And I’m featured in a profile by fellow NoVA writer Richard Gazala in the September/October issue of VivaTysons Magazine. You can see it online here (page 102).


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fight to the Death

Today, I’m blogging on InkSpot about the on-going death match taking place in my writing space. Which side are you on?


Monday, September 26, 2011

“O” is for Me

Today, I’m guest blogging on Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare. Pop on over and see what I have to say about riding the emotional roller-coaster.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Five Days, Three Events

In addition to my panel tomorrow night at the Fall for the Book Festival, with Donna Andrews, G.M. Malliet, and Marcia Talley (which I blogged about here—you know, it’s the panel that “opens up” for Stephen King!), I have two more events in the next five days.

On Saturday, I’ll be at the Murder As You Like It Mystery Conference in Mechanicsburg, PA. It’s an all-day event, featuring:

Cordelia Frances Biddle, Chris Grabenstein, Kathryn Miller Haines, Don Helin, Larry Kerr, Valerie Malmont, Paul Malmont, Alan Orloff, Dennis Royer, Elana Santangelo, JD Shaw, Mike Silvestri, Maria V. Snyder, David R. Stewart, and Marta Perry.

My panel, “Jane Marple in the 21st Century,” is moderated by Maria V. Snyder with co-panelists Marta Perry and JD Shaw. (3:30 – 4:30)

For complete details, click here.


Also, next Tuesday, September 27, I’ll be at the Martha Washington Library in Alexandria, VA, with Sandra Parshall and Suzi Weinert, at 7:00. For details, click here.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Bouchercon, Baby!

For those of you who don’t know, the biggest mystery convention is Bouchercon. It’s happening this week, in St. Louis (at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand), and I’ll be there!

Here’s my schedule:

Thursday, 9/15, 8:30 a.m. – Panel: Laughter of the Clowns: Comedy in crime fiction. With Gary Alexander, Allan Ansorge, Jack Fredrickson, Alan Orloff, Robin Spano. Moderated by Jerry Healy. Book signing to follow.

Friday, 9/16, 11 a.m. – 12 noon – I’ll be signing ARCs of my upcoming DEADLY CAMPAIGN in the Midnight Ink booth in the book room.

Friday, 9/16, 12:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. – I’ll be taking part in the charity bowling tournament at Flamingo Bowl. Go Bowling Prose!

Saturday, 9/17, 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Come “Meet the Author” (me) in the Midnight Ink booth in the book room.

Otherwise, you might find me hanging around in the lobby or taking up space in the bar. Come up and say hi!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

King and I

full darkWhen I’m asked which writers have influenced me the most, I always tick off names from a very exclusive list: Robert B. Parker, Dean Koontz, Stephen King. And of those three, I think I’ve spent the most time reading Stephen King. As a teenager, I devoured his stuff, eagerly looking forward to his next book even as I turned the pages of his current one. Whenever I began one of his stories, I knew I’d be taking a suspenseful—and extended—journey (he wrote some very long books!).

A short, fictional, homage:

They say you can’t go home again, but I thought I’d try. Although those were misery-filled days—plagued by insomnia—I did my best to keep the desperation at bay and my rage in check. Thankfully, those were different seasons back then. Would I feel the same way now that I’d returned to the town where I’d been raised?

Just after sunset, I decided on a stroll to see how things had changed. Main Street seemed like it always had: the shining glazed doughnuts under the dome in the coffee shop window, the dead zone where my cell never worked.

I continued the long walk toward the quarry—the green mile, as it were—past the skeleton crew night shift assigned to the roadwork, past the shack where Dolores Claiborne’s two daughters, Christine and Carrie still lived, to a spot across the street where the black house used to loom, with its dark tower and secret windows overlooking the stand of gnarled cypress trees. Of course, that was before the storm of the century blew through here turning the old house into a bag of bones and giving the regulators something to argue about when old Rose Madder applied for a rebuilding permit.

I sat at the edge of the quarry and stared into space, thinking about the time gone by. I must have dozed off, because later, at four past midnight, I gazed into the night sky again, and the black void was absolute: full dark, no stars. Only nightmares and dreamscapes to keep me company.

(For extra credit: How many Stephen King titles can you pick out in the above story?)

So why blog about Stephen King now? Well, I’m excited to say he’s coming to town (at least my town) to speak at the Fall for the Book festival. This terrific week-long book event is held in Fairfax, VA, every fall, and it draws a ton of great writers and fans. This year, Stephen King is one of the headliners (he’s being presented with the Mason Award), and I’ve got tickets to hear him speak on Friday, September 23 at 7:30.

But that’s only half of why I’m excited.

Here’s the other half: I get to be on a panel “opening” for Stephen King!

The Stephen King event is co-sponsored by MWA (he is a Grand Master, after all), and they’ve arranged to have a mystery writers panel (with Donna Andrews, G.M. Malliet, Marcia Talley, and me) that will precede his speech, in an adjacent auditorium (our panel begins at 5:30). No tickets are required for our event, so if you’re in the area, come on by! (If you don’t have tickets for the King speech, there will be a drawing for ten tickets during our panel. So if you feel lucky…)

Did I mention I was excited?The Taste_cover for website

And there’s one other Stephen King “connection” I’d like to note. Until now, my books have fallen into the mystery/suspense genre. I’m happy to announce that I’ve epubbed a horror/thriller in the Stephen King/Dean Koontz vein. Called THE TASTE, it’s available for Kindle and Nook. If horror/thrillers are your cup of tea, check it out!


(This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot)


Monday, August 29, 2011

Meet Zak Allen

The Taste_cover_nookI’d like to introduce someone who is very (very!) near and dear to me, Zak Allen.

Zak has just epubbed his first novel. Called THE TASTE, it’s a full-length horror/thriller, in the tradition of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

Take it away, Zak!



Thank you, Alan, for letting me take over your blog today. (It’s a nice blog and all, but you really should work harder to increase its readership. Maybe you should blog more frequently. And being clever would help, too. Just sayin’ )

As you mentioned, I’ve just epubbed a novel, and I’m very proud of it. It’s really a thriller with a horror premise, but it’s not too gory. (Although some people might find it a bit revolting in spots.) It takes place in the hinterlands of West Virginia and it was a lot of fun to write. I hope people think it’s a lot of fun to read, too!

Here’s the “cover flap” description:

After his mother dies, Jake Wheeler returns to his birthplace of Dark Springs, West Virginia, seeking solace among his kin. But his family’s unique comfort food includes some ingredients Jake's not sure he can stomach.

They eat dead people.

Discovering that skeleton in the pantry and adjusting to a new diet turn out to be the least of Jake’s worries. Storm clouds have gathered over Dark Springs, threatening the family’s peaceful existence. Ax-wielding clan patriarch Dallas Pike and his band of renegade followers have decided upon a violent plan to increase the dwindling food supply. Why wait for your next meal to die naturally if you can hunt it down instead?

With the survival of the entire clan at stake, Jake wages war against madman Pike.

He also battles an even more terrifying opponent.


After all, Jake has THE TASTE.




THE TASTE is available for Kindle and NOOK, for only $2.99. Download a free sample today and check it out!



Thanks for coming by the blog today, Zak! And best of luck with THE TASTE! You can follow Zak on Twitter (@ZakAllenBooks) and “like”" his Facebook page. (Nice author “photo,” by the way!)


Saturday, August 27, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog, Part II…

…for a brief update.

In light of today’s hurricane activity, I have decided I am not moving to a Caribbean island or the Outer Banks.

Too soggy.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog…

…for a brief update.

In light of yesterday’s seismic activity, I have decided I am not moving to California, or any Pacific Rim country.

Too freaky.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Bookmark Time

I’ve been working on the bookmark for my upcoming release, DEADLY CAMPAIGN.

A peek, front and back:

DC Bookmark FrontDC Bookmark Back


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Your Turn

100_2617A glance at the calendar tells me it’s summer, mid-August to be exact.

A glance at the thermometer confirms it.

Which means it’s vacation time. And one of my favorite things to do on vacation is golf gamble hike eat travel sight-see read!

So I thought I’d throw the blog open today to recommendations. Now, these don’t have to be “beach” reads. They can be any books you’ve read lately that you’re really passionate about. Something that you can be an evangelist for. (To keep this from becoming a Midnight Ink-fest, let’s exclude books written by MInkers.)

I’ll go first.

I read a lot of books, and most of them fall in the pretty-good-to-mediocre range. But every once in a while, I’ll read a gem that I really, really wish I’d written myself. One that I’ll recommend to other readers without even being asked for a recommendation. One I’ll even Tweet about!

One recently-read book that rocked my world was THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton. (Of course, it’s not like this was a lucky find. It won an Edgar, for goodness sake!).

Now it’s your turn. What are some outstanding books you’ve read lately?

(This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot. Click over to join the fun!)


Friday, August 12, 2011

Snap, Crackle, Pop (or Story, Notes, Snips)

Another “classic” blog post to beat the summer doldrums.

When I write, I work with three basic documents.

The first document is the manuscript itself, my "Story." I begin at page one and I'm off. I usually write in linear scene order, start to finish. If I don't know something, I'll put in a line of XXXXXXX's. If I need to check on something I've written, I'll highlight the section in red or yellow. Sometimes I don't even worry about chapter breaks. I just keep my head down and plow ahead, knowing I'll figure everything out during the revision process.

The second document I use is my roadmap ("Notes"). Even though it's a single "document," it's really a mish-mash that serves several functions (it's just easier for me to do it this way, especially when I know I'm going to end up searching frantically through it five months later looking for that certain vital detail I needed YESTERDAY!).

This Notes file includes:

  • The outline of the novel, scene by scene

  • A list of character names used, sorted by letter of the alphabet, so I don't have too many names beginning with the same letters (too confusing for readers and too confusing for me)

  • A brief character sketch of the major players (anywhere from a sentence or two ("uncoordinated, couldn't hit his mouth with a cheeseburger"), up to a few paragraphs). For more detailed bios, I will sometimes open new files--but I've found I rarely consult them!

  • Other information I want to include somewhere in the manuscript: nicknames, setting descriptions, types of cars, pets, jokes, possible character names, cool phrases I've decided to plagiarize, etc. I put all this miscellaneous stuff here because I know I'll review the entire file during the revision process.

The third document is my "Snips" file. In it go all the words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters that I've written, then decided don't fit. I cut them out of my draft and put them here, just in case I change my mind and need them again. When I finish and realize I'm 8,000 words short, this is where I look first to see if there's anything worth salvaging. Hey, I've learned you can't be too careful.


What "document" system do you use when you write?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nom de Bad Guy

It’s summer (in case you couldn’t tell from the high temps and humidity), so I thought a blog rerun (or two) might be in order.

darth 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?


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Take My Genre, Please.

The brisk air crackled with unanticipated excitement on the septuagenarian morn; blue-black crows cawed their nervous greetings above the ever-rolling hills, purveyors of nuisance. Beyond the craggy, distant, snow-covered, imposing peaks,—

Muse: Stop. Please stop.

—a plume of wispy smoke wisped up to the azure sky, signaling—

Muse: Oh, stop, stop, stop, STOP!100_3753

Me: What?

Muse: What are you doing?

Me: Writing a scene. Why?

Muse: I step out for a minute to stretch my legs and this is what happens? What’s with all the adjectives? And dude, use a dictionary.

Me: I thought I’d try something different.

Muse: We’ve been through this. Your readers don’t want different. They want you. Your voice. Writing what you write. No space aliens. No romance novels. No vampires.

Me: What’s wrong with vampires? They’re popular, you know.

Muse: There’s nothing wrong with vampires. But you’ve never bitten about vampires before.

Me: Hey, I’m the writer; you’re just here for inspiration. Please leave the wordplay to me.

Muse: See what happens when you try something new?

Me: Point taken. So you’re saying to stick to what I do best.

Muse: Exactly.

Me: Like simple sentences with simple words? Sentence fragments? One adjective per page? Stories about normal people in sticky situations?

Muse: It’s what your readers want. Frankly, you can’t handle much more than that.

Me: So no stories about talking trees? I was hoping to branch out.

Muse: Maybe we should both lay off the wordplay.

Me: Agreed.

Muse: Take your Last Laff mystery series. Please.

Me: Of all the muses I could get, I’m blessed with Henny Youngman? I thought we were going to stop the funny-biz.

Muse: Sorry. But seriously, in that series, you’ve taken a fairly normal protagonist, at least for a stand-up comic, and put him into a sticky situation. That’s what your readers expect from you. That’s what will make them happy.

Me: Not my sense of humor?

Muse: You’re lucky it’s not that. In your books, there’s some humor, but they’re primarily suspense/mystery stories. The humor is just a backdrop. At least that’s what you’ve been telling me.

Me: So what should I do if I feel the burning desire to write in another genre?

Muse: Try to quench it.

Me: And if I can’t?

Muse: That’s what pseudonyms are for. And personal journals. And Twitter. And epublishing.

Me: Oh.

Muse: One more thing. According to my union, it’s one muse per genre. So you and I would have to part company. And I know you don’t want that.


Muse: Well?

Me: Is my next muse likely to be funnier than you? Or at least nicer?

Muse: No.

Me: Okay, then. Let’s get back to work.


What about you, writers? Have you had the urge to write something in another genre? What’s been your solution?


(BTW, that’s a picture of my muse working a pool party on his day off. I guess I don’t pay him enough.)


This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bad Links! Bad, Bad Links!

Bad News: To my chagrin, yesterday’s terrific guest post by Cricket McRae got infected by some bad links. I’d like to blame the big, bad Internet, but the fault lies with me. Sorry!

Good News: They’ve been corrected. So if you visited the blog yesterday, and ended up in cyberspace limbo, I urge you to try again. Visit Cricket McRae’s website; her blog, Hearth Cricket; check out her latest release, WINED AND DIED; and visit Bizango Websites for Writers.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Synopsis Writing Tips

McRae_Cricket pic

I’m happy to welcome my writing pal Cricket McRae to the blog with some terrific tips for completing that most terrifying of creatures—the synopsis. In addition to being a successful novelist and fellow arugula lover, Cricket has a very interesting blog, Hearth Cricket, where she provides lots of crafty home and garden lessons, stories, and tasty tidbits.

Take it away, Cricket!

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

As a result of my fifth contemporary cozy Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, hitting the shelves, I’m on this merry little blog tour and poking my head up here and there letting people know about the book release. Kind of like a literary whack-a-mole. At the same time, I just finished another manuscript for a second series, and most recently I wrote a detailed synopsis for the next book in that series. Now I’m back at work on Home Crafting Mystery #6.

The very word synopsis used to send terror arrowing through my solar plexus. Know why? Because they’re hard. At least they are for me. After all, I’ve never managed to start a short story that didn’t turn into a novel. Or at least an idea for a full-blown novel. Keeping it short is a challenge.

But over time I’ve completed several novel synopses, and have picked up a few basic tips:

Really basic: The format is double-spaced, with one-inch margins, and twelve-point Times Roman font. Pretty much just like a manuscript, but for some reason there seems to be a notion that it needs to be different. It doesn’t. Make sure your contact information is in the header. And some people say that the first time you introduce a character’s name it should be in all caps. No matter what tense your novel is in, the synopsis needs to be present tense.

Know how long your synopsis needs to be. If you don’t know, then write more than one. When I was sending them out to agents I had a one-page, a three-page, and a five-page synopsis, because different agents want different things. On the other hand, book proposals for editors typically have more detailed synopses, sometimes fifteen pages or more.

Map out your major plot points. Then identify crises, turning points, the motivation(s) of your main character(s), and the character arc of the protagonist over the course of the novel. Use this vital information as the skeleton for the rest of the synopsis.

Use the same voice and tone of your novel. It helps to convey a feel for the story if the synopsis reflects the way you’ve written it (or plan to write it). If your character is casual, keep the tone casual. If you tend to use brief, declarative sentences, do that in your synopsis. If you’re funny, let some of that humor come through.

Keep the important stuff. If there’s a character who is key late in the book, bring them up as early in the synopsis as you would, relatively, in the novel. Deciding what is important and what isn’t can be surprisingly difficult. So ask yourself whether a particular piece of information adds to or detracts from the clarity you are trying to convey in your brief rundown of your story.

Lose the unimportant stuff. That clever subplot? A brief mention is enough, and then a quick line to say how it turned out at the end. Sometimes you have to drop whole subplots or relationship details, especially in one-page or three-page synopses.

Leave out dialog and description. Mostly. A single line of dialog can convey a lot, and add to that voice/tone thing I mentioned earlier.

The synopsis doesn’t have to precisely reflect the timeline in the book. If you write with a lot of flashbacks, you may want to include some of those time leaps in the synopsis, but it might be easier to tell the story in shorthand if you present it chronologically.

Have other people read it. Preferably folks who haven’t read your novel. You know too much about your own book to have perspective. Does it make sense to them? Pay close attention to what questions they ask or where they want clarification.

I’d love to hear about any tricks you use when writing a synopsis!

---------------------------------------Wined and Died_1

In honor of the recent release of Wined and Died, you can enter to win a free Author Website ($900 value!) plus two years of free hosting from the creative folks at Bizango Websites for Writers until July 29, 2011. For more details and information on how to enter, please visit Cricket’s blog at www.hearthcricket.com.

A former resident of the Pacific Northwest where her novels are set, Cricket McRae has always dabbled in the kind of practical home crafts that were once necessary to everyday life. The magical chemistry of making soap, the satisfaction of canning garden produce, and the sensuous side of fiber arts like spinning and knitting are just of few of the reasons these activities have fascinated her since childhood. As a girl she was as much a fan of Nancy Drew as of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so it's no surprise that her contemporary cozy series features a soap maker with a nose for investigation. For more information about Cricket or the Home Crafting Mystery Series, check out www.cricketmcrae.com.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Many Hats

Elizabeth Spann Craig posted a question on the blog last week:

You've got a very interesting background...have you used any of your past work experience in your books? Are you planning to?

For those of you who don’t know, I have had, uh, quite a few jobs throughout my career. The following is from my Amazon Author Page bio:

Before Alan stepped off the corporate merry-go-round, he had an eclectic (some might say disjointed) career. As an engineer, he worked on nuclear submarines, supervised assembly workers in factories, facilitated technology transfer from the Star Wars program, and learned to stack washing machines three high in a warehouse with a forklift. He even started his own recycling and waste reduction newsletter business.

In addition, I did piping stress analyses for nuclear power plants, I supervised a group of product planning managers for a TV/radio ratings company, and I was the marketing manager for a hardware/software systems developer. (And I worked at the National Bureau of Standards, and I bought corrugated containers for a major appliance company, and I consulted to a national media company, and I…)

You get the picture.

So, have I ever used any of my past work experiences in my books? I’d have to say no. At least not consciously. I mean, who wants to read about a boring cubicle dweller, who spends all day crunching numbers and writing reports?

Of course, on a subconscious level, I’m sure I’ve used a ton of stuff from my experiences. The way a co-worker acts. The way a factory looks. The psychological effects of a particularly stressful negotiation. Those descriptive details, amassed from all my experiences, have definitely found their way into my books.

And who better to murder than all those evil ex-bosses?

As for the future, who knows? If there’s a market for a story about a rogue nuclear submarine that employs Star Wars technology as it’s used in an evil plot to manipulate the TV ratings, then I’m your guy.

(Here’s a question for you, Elizabeth: How much of your BBQ series is taken from your personal experience? If the answer is “a lot” then I’m inviting myself down for dinner sometime!)


Monday, July 18, 2011


Alex J. Cavanaugh left a question on the blog:

What other genres do you like besides mystery?

When I was a teenager, I read a ton. Oh, I’m not talking about all those stuffy “classics” we were supposed to read for English class (While I actually read a few of those, I have to thank Cliffs Notes for help with the rest). No, I read almost exclusively science fiction back in those days. Then I moved on to horror. I read every Stephen King and Dean Koontz book, including the books written under their pseudonyms (many of which required some serious research to determine).

When I was in my twenties, and working in Boston, I had a boss who liked to read. He recommended a series about a wise-cracking private eye, set right there in Boston. From that point on, I was a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, as well as crime fiction in general.

In addition, I enjoy humorous, coming-of-age stories, such as those by John R. Powers, and more contemporary books by John McNally, John Green, and Brian Katcher.

While most of my current reading consists of mystery and suspense novels, I still enjoy science fiction (in fact, CassaStar is on my Kindle—and I’m looking forward to reading it!), horror, and YA.

Of course, I’ll read any book that falls in the “good book” genre.

As far as writing goes, my published books (so far) fall into the mystery/suspense genre. But I have some exciting news to pass along in the next month or so—about a novel in another genre that someone close to me (very close!) will be epublishing. Stay tuned!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Come On, Monkey!

Dear Blogging Monkey,

I’m a big fan of the blog, but lately, say in the last month or so, you’ve been blogging more infrequently.

What gives?


A Fan

Dear Fan,

You make a good observation--I have been blogging less frequently (although there have been some excellent guest bloggers recently). This blogging monkey has been a very busy monkey. But I’d like to get back on track, so I’ll throw it open to you, my fabulous blog readers. Are there any burning questions you’d like to ask me? Leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll blog with the answers.

Soon. I promise!


Blogging Monkey


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Three For Three

Deadly Campaign

Another book will be throwing its hat into the 2012 ring: DEADLY CAMPAIGN, set for a January release.

This is my third book, and it was still a thrill when I saw my cover for the first time. And what a cover it is! Eye-catching, colorful, enticing (I hope!). For my money, Midnight Ink does the best covers in the business, and I’m very grateful to be part of the team.


Believe it or not, until about three weeks ago, I hadn’t connected the fact that this book—with a congressional campaign as a backdrop—was coming out in an election year (I know, duh!). Maybe it’s because I live in the D.C. suburbs and politics is in the news every single day, election year or not.

My two previous books were both Spring releases, so this will be my first Winter release. Hopefully, the book will appeal to all those who receive bookstore gift cards doing their shopping in early January.

Okay, so what’s the book about? Here’s the description from Midnight Ink’s website:

A new Last Laff Mystery from Agatha Award-nominated author Alan Orloff:   Comedy club owner and occasional performer Channing Hayes thought the comedy business was tough, but it's a stroll in the park compared to politics. When he and his business partner Artie attend a congressional campaign event for their friend Thomas Lee's nephew, masked thugs storm in and break up Lee's restaurant with baseball bats. The candidate's people insist that the police not be involved, so Lee asks Channing to investigate. As Channing searches for answers, he finds himself immersed in a corrupt world of payoffs, gangs, illicit affairs, blackmail—and murder . . .


It’s available for pre-order here, here, here, and here. Register your vote today!


My name is Alan Orloff, and I have approved this message.

(This entry has been simulposted on InkSpot.)


Monday, June 27, 2011

Novel Places

There’s a new indie bookstore in town (if you happen to live in Clarksburg, MD, that is)!

novel places

Novel Places has just opened up, and they are having a Grand Opening Celebration this Saturday, July 2.

I’ll be there! So will fellow mystery author Donna Andrews and local children’s author Barbara Jean Van Meter.

And there will be food and fun (and books!).

Come visit this restored historic building and help Patrick Darby celebrate the grand opening of his new store (and his birthday, too)!

The deets:

Grand Opening - Saturday, July 2 from 10am - 6pm

11am - Presentation by State Senator Rob Garagiola
2pm - Mystery Author Alan Orloff
3pm - Mystery Author Donna Andrews
4pm – Children’s Author Barbara Jean Van Meter

Novel Places, 23341 Frederick Road, Clarksburg, MD 20871


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

8 Keys To Becoming A Successful Writer

Mark Terry

If you look up “professional writer” in the dictionary (you know, one of those fat, printed books with lots of unusual words), you may see Mark Terry’s picture. Freelancer, novelist, non-fiction author, short-story writer, blogger—he’s got all the bases covered. On his blog, This Writing Life, Mark calls them like he sees them, and he sees a lot. He’s blog touring to support his latest release, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS (see below for details). Please welcome Mark Terry to home plate today! (okay, so I was in a baseball mood)

8 Keys To Becoming A Successful Writer
by Mark Terry

You can tell I’ve been freelancing for a living, with the “8 Keys To…” Could be anything: Marketing Your Medical Practice, Choosing New Carpet, Picking Out A New Toilet.

Anyway, I’ve written 13 books, over 600 magazine articles, over a dozen book-length market research reports and hundreds of web page content, directories, white papers, etc. Here are some things that I think can help make you become a successful writer (by whatever definition of “success” you choose).

1. Read a lot.

You would think this was a given, but it isn't necessarily. I have, for years, read rather broadly in the mystery/thriller/suspense area - cozies and PI novels and police procedurals and flat-out thrillers and espionage, etc. A few years ago I began to feel like my reading was getting narrower, so I consciously started expanding outside my chosen genres. I read nonfiction books, some sci-fi, some fantasy, some YA novels, some historical novels. I'm just trying to feed my brain a bit more.

2. Write a lot.

If you're a slow writer, that's okay. Just make sure you're a regular writer. Writing is a muscle and it can get flabby and atrophied if you don't use it a lot.

3. Collect a lot of rejections.

If you're not making a living as a writer and you're not getting very many rejection slips, you're probably not working hard enough. I’m a full-time freelancer and I’m constantly marketing and constantly being rejected. That's just the business. But if you've written a novel and you tried two publishers and they turned you down and you gave up, you gave up waaaaayyyyy too early. If you tried to get a dozen or even 50 agents to take you on and you gave up, you gave up waaaaayyyy too early. The market’s changed with e-books, but still…

My advice is this: don't quit until you've accomplished what you set out to do. Plan on getting an agent? Send queries until you've got one.

4. If you've published a novel, keep marketing.

This is hard. But I've often thought of my successes in almost all areas of writing as coming about from a kind of "constant push." I've thought of it as like me having my shoulder to a rock that I'm trying to move. If I constantly apply pressure, eventually it'll move some. And once it starts to move, I get some momentum going. Sometimes I try a big shove and sometimes I ease off (but not entirely; I always try to be at least leaning against that rock), but there's always some pressure going on.

5. Reach out.

I'm trying harder to help other writers. I wish I had had more mentors when I was struggling. There are limits to what I can do, but I am trying.

6. Stretch.

Like reading outside my immediate preferences, I think it's a good thing from time to time to try something different. I’ve been writing an SF novel for a year or two. I wrote a nonfiction book proposal that my agent is currently marketing. Try something different. It’s good for you. It works different muscles.

7. Allow yourself to hope.

But realistically. It's okay to hope you'll sell a novel for seven figures and get a hot movie deal and end up on Good Morning, America, but you might also get struck by lightning while taking out your garbage on a sunny day. It happens, but not often. But allow yourself to hope you'll get published, that you'll get an advance, positive reviews, and be able to build a readership. Hope big.

8. Have a life.

Writing isn't everything. I've said it again and again. Don't let this passion (obsession) ruin your life. If your happiness depends on getting a book contract, on becoming a novelist, on making a living as a novelist, on hitting the bestseller lists, you're letting your life be run by things you have no control over and letting people you've never even met have too much control over your life. Have a life. Makes friends. Pay attention to your spouse and children. Travel. See movies. Go to a museum. Take your dog for a walk. Play an instrument. Sing. Laugh. Go to the gym. Take up yoga or tai chi or macramé or soap carving or building life-size replicas of historical monuments out of beer cans. Live.

What did I miss?

Valley of the Shadows

THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, is the fourth in the thriller series featuring Homeland Security troubleshooter Dr. Derek Stillwater, and it’s been getting some great reviews. Check it out, along with the first three in the series, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT’S KISS, and THE FALLEN, as well as some of Mark’s other works. Also be sure to visit Mark’s blog, This Writing Life.

Thanks for visiting the blog today, Mark!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Tips for Writing Away from Home

Elizabeth CraigElizabeth Craig/Riley Adams is one of the hardest working writers I know, writing multiple series at the same time, in addition to being a top-notch blogger and Twitter expert extraordinaire. I don’t know how she manages to juggle her writing with being a mother, either, but it’s truly inspirational. Why, she’s so busy, she needs two names! If you like fun mysteries, I highly recommend hers. Please welcome one of my favorite writing pals to the blog!

Tips for Writing Away from Home

by Elizabeth Craig

Do you ever write in cafes or coffeehouses? How about…swimming pools? I took my daughter and her friend to the pool the other day, intending to get some writing done while they entertained themselves. I was so organized, too—towels, goggles, snacks, membership card, sunscreen—but somehow the notebook that was in my hand didn’t make it into the pool bag.

Fortunately, the YMCA was obliging, even though they now think I’m a little odd. “Do you have any registration forms?” I asked.
The teenage staffer: “Registration for what, ma’am?”
“For…anything!” I answered.
There was a pause. “Day camp? Fall preschool? Gymnastics?”
“Yes!” I said.

Luckily, I got enough blank-backed registration forms to keep me in paper for the next couple of hours. (I had to write small.)

The pool isn’t the only place I write. Besides the usual cafes and coffeehouses, I’ve written at the park, at a bowling alley, skating rinks, Disney World…the list goes on and on.

Tips for Writing in Public Places:

Be prepared. Don’t be like me! Obviously, I’d run through my entire emergency supply of index cards when I ran into my problem at the pool. 4x6 index cards are perfect for writing—you can store them in your car’s glove compartment, or other small spaces. Pencils seem to be more reliable than pens (which have a tendency to be gloppy sometimes.) Have extra cards and notebooks with you, too, in case you run out of space in one notebook, or break the point on a pencil.

Voice recorders can be useful (if no one is close.) I’ve got a free voice recorder on my phone that holds a ton of recordings. Obviously, though, I’m going to restrain myself from muttering about murder if anyone is close by  :)

Shed your self-consciousness. Although you’ve got to be a little careful about the voice recorder, you shouldn’t worry in general about how you look when you’re out writing. Yes, I’ve had people come up and ask me questions about what I’m doing…usually they seem to think I’m sketching, which seems weird to me. I guess because I’m usually staring blankly around me as I write. But writing away from home really opens up a lot of possibilities if you’re open to the experience.

Choose a spot where no one knows you. Is there a local coffeehouse that’s a hangout for your friends and neighbors? It’s probably better to skip it and head for a spot a little farther from home if you’re genuinely trying to get some writing done.

Soak up your surroundings. There’s usually plenty of fodder for books in public places: you can find character traits, names, and other tidbits that can be worked into books.

An e-reader can be your friend. Load your files onto your e-reader for easy transport of your manuscript. Text files work best (at least for the Kindle), since PDFs can’t be enlarged. With your manuscript in tow, it’s easy to pick up writing where you left off, or check something from an earlier section of your manuscript.

Transcribe it before you lose it. If you’re writing away from home and don’t have your laptop with you, be sure to transcribe your scribbles over to Word when you get back home…before you lose them. I can’t think how many times I’ve had to search for small bits of paper that had important parts of my book on them.

Do you like writing away from home? Where is your favorite place to write? Any tips for writing on the go? And—many thanks, Alan, for hosting me today!

fingerlickindead--smallElizabeth’s latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead , released June 7th. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink.
Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers
Twitter: @elizabethscraig


Thursday, June 16, 2011

School’s Just Starting

The welcome mat has been dusted off and put out for some special guests to the blog.




Tomorrow, the wonderful Elizabeth Craig joins us with some tips for writing away from home.


Valley of the Shadows



Next Tuesday, the terrific Mark Terry will pass along his 8 keys to becoming a successful writer.


Looks like we’re going to learn some new things in the next few days! Outstanding!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011


DSCF1557Back in April, I blogged about trying to be entertaining. I also mentioned the little stand-up routine I’d developed in conjunction with my KILLER ROUTINE promotional appearances. I’m here today to report on what transpired.

It wasn’t always pretty.

Here’s a dissection of my presentation.

I began with a few warm-up witticisms. “How many people have come to one of my events before?” “How many people have heard me speak more than once?” “How many people are just here for the cake?”

Then I talked a little bit about my books, and why I decided to write a series featuring a stand-up comic. To explore that fine line between comedy and tragedy. To have a suspenseful mystery with an “excuse” to include some humor. So I could watch Comedy Central and count it as research.

While the books in the Last Laff series are not funny-funny, there are spots where characters perform stand-up routines. I went on to explain the difficulty I found in writing a routine to be read and not performed. Without the benefit of the comic’s timing, delivery style, and attitude, the routine is apt to come off pretty flat on paper. To illustrate this point, I read a short bit I’d transcribed from a Brand-Name Comedian. Predictably (and with my delivery style), it indeed fell flat.

I described what I did to circumvent this. I chose a secondary character and had him perform at an open-mic night, where the comedy standards are, well, practically non-existent. I went on to explain how an open-mic night works and then I suggested we simulate one. Right there on the spot.

Who wants to go first?

That’s when I shucked my writer persona and donned my stand-up identity.

After writing a few crime fiction manuscripts, I realized I needed to do some research to learn more about crime. So I knocked over a 7-Eleven.

I discovered that my “comedy” went over better when there were more people in the audience, and that I fed off their energy.

All writers I know eagerly anticipate their reviews, and I’ve been fortunate to get some good ones, for both books. But my favorite review is about DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, and it’s from my son: “No offense, Dad, but that book is way too good to have been written by you.”

I’ve always held an admiration for stand-up comics. Now, it’s doubled. That’s hard work, getting people to laugh. Hard, hard work.

If you’re a writer, you will encounter rejection. A lot of rejection. That’s why you need a really thick skin. And I’m used to rejection, I really am. But lately, it seems like things have been getting worse:

Prince Makeenu of the Royal Family of Nigeria keeps refusing my checks.

Harry and David wouldn’t let me join their Fruit-of-the-Month Club.

Rejection just follows me around. The Salvation Army won’t take any of my old clothes. What’s worse, they won’t take any of my new clothes, either!

So far, I’d have to judge my experiment as a success. Many attendees made a point of coming up and telling me how much they enjoyed the presentation. They thought it was entertaining, even when my jokes bombed.

Now, I did notice a few uneasy looks from the audience, and I imagined them trying to extrapolate my writing ability from how I performed my comedy shtick. So to put people at ease, I made sure to sign books with the inscription: Don’t worry, my writing is better than my stand-up.

I hope they bought it!

(This entry was “simul-posted” on InkSpot)


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Same Bat Time

I’m thrilled to be guest blogging (the weekend shift) at Poe’s Deadly Daughters. Come visit to learn what I think about the use of…

(I guess you’ll have to click over to see!)


Friday, June 10, 2011

Down the Hall, To the Left

Here are the top ten things I get asked at book signings:

10. “Should I know who you are?”

9. “Do you live in a mansion?”

8. “Can I have a part in the movie version?” [Oh wait, that’s my son who always asks me this one]

7. “How come your books don’t have vampires in them?”

6. “Do you know James Patterson?”

5. “Are there refreshments?”

4. “If I give you a great idea, can you write the book and split the money with me?”

3. “Can you introduce me to your agent?”

2. “Have you written any good books?”

and the number one thing I get asked at book signings:

“Do you know where the bathrooms are?”


Monday, June 6, 2011

Free Books, On-Sale Books, and Raspberries

I was going to write today’s post about some free and on-sale e-books from a few Midnight Ink authors. But my writing pal Cricket McRae beat me to the punch on her Hearth Cricket blog, and she did a much better job than I would have done. So I’ll simply provide a link to her blog (along with my gratitude—Thanks, Cricket!).

And that gives me a few minutes to show off my insane wild raspberry patches.


This is the rear patch.



This is the front patch.



And this is a close-up.

Only about one month until pickin’ time!


Monday, May 30, 2011

The Power of the Quota

The idea of sitting down at your computer and writing the first draft of a novel—an entire 80,000 word (or more) novel—can be daunting. An obstacle so tall and formidable that you might be dissuaded from even starting. But I’ve got an easy-to-implement method that will help you get that draft written with a minimum of pain and suffering (oh, there will be pain and suffering, but this method will help keep you from pulling out all of your hair).

Just sit back and rely on the quota.

Here’s how it works. Take your end goal, say 80,000 words, and divide it by the number of days you have until your deadline. If you don’t have any kind of firm deadline, pick a number, like three months (sixty days—you get your weekends off!). Dividing 80,000 by 60 results in a daily quota of 1333 words per day. Why, you can knock that off in an hour and a half! (Okay, two hours, tops.) As a reward, once your goal is reached, you’re free to do whatever else you want that day (yes, even Facebook)!

If you hit your daily quota, then in three short months, you’ll have an 80,000-word draft of a novel.

Of course, then comes the fun part.


Thursday, May 26, 2011


Guilty! Caught reading crime. Visit Jen’s Book Thoughts to see the incriminating photo.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fanboy Forever?

Today I’m at InkSpot blogging about morphing into a Fanboy. Click over and tell me if that stage will ever pass. (I hope not!)


Friday, May 20, 2011

Gaithersburg Book Festival

Q. What do Thomas Kaufman, Rita Mae Brown, Donna Andrews, Alex Berenson, Louis Bayard, Stephen Hunter, Brad Parks and…me have in common?

A. We are all appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in the Dashiell Hammett Mystery Pavilion this Saturday (tomorrow)!

I’m batting leadoff at 10:00 am, followed by that bunch of terrific writers.

But the Festival is not just about mysteries! There are seven other pavilions encompassing other genres: fiction, non-fiction, children’s, YA, and even special interests!

And of course the Unicycle Lady will be there!

It’s a full day of fun and books, books and fun (and food!).

Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I’m a Pod(cast) Person

I’ve blogged about The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD before. It’s a great place for writers of all types: fiction, non-fiction, rookie, experienced, young, old, published, unpublished.

I’ve also blogged about the advertising campaign I was thrilled to be involved in. You know, the one where my ominous face appears on DC Metrobuses along with a quote:

“Attending workshops at The Writer’s Center was—without a doubt—the biggest factor in my improvement as a writer.”

Now, I’m honored to be part of their podcast interview series, alongside other writers Angela Davis-Gardner, Kelli Stanley, Alan Cheuse, and Alice McDermott.

The free podcast can be heard here, and it is available (also free!) on iTunes.

Thanks to ace interviewer Art Taylor (a 2011 Derringer Award winner) for making me sound a lot better than I am, and to Kyle Semmel of The Writer’s Center for asking me to participate!


Doing the podcast interview was a lot of fun, but I’m anticipating having even more fun this Sunday, May 22 at 2:00 at The Writer’s Center. That’s because I’ll be doing a joint reading (it’s free, too!) with my first instructor there, Ann McLaughlin. I’ll be reading from KILLER ROUTINE, and she’ll be reading from her latest novel, A TRIAL IN SUMMER.