Monday, January 31, 2011

Thanks, Good Snowmaritans!

Last Wednesday, the Washington area had a “snow event.” Here’s the recipe for disaster: Combine a fast-dumping snowstorm with a DC area rush hour. Top it off with drivers who don’t know how to drive in snow, then let the ingredients steep for a few hours.


My son and I left a doctor’s appointment at 4:20 pm. to travel the fifteen miles home. (It had taken us about twenty-five minutes to get there at 3:00.) Guess how long it took us to get home. (Go on, guess.)

Two hours? No.

Three hours? Not even, uh, warm.

Four hours? No siree.

If you guessed six hours, you’d still be almost two hours SHORT!

That’s right, almost eight hours later, we stumbled through the door into our dark and cold house (yes, the power had gone out).

Eight hours! It would have been faster if we’d walked the fifteen miles.

And the funny thing? It would have taken us a lot longer, if not for the help of six Good Snowmaritans.

We got stuck on three separate occasions. And each time, anonymous, good-hearted people stepped up and pushed us back into the fray.

So, thanks to the two guys on Jermantown Road, who were pushing all the cars up that incline.

Thanks to the guy who practically lifted the front end of our car out of that snowbank on Bennett Road.

Thanks to the lady who kept our car from sliding down the hill on Bennett.

And thanks to the two guys who got us going at the top of the hill on Bennett (Bennett Road has one killer hill, if you couldn’t tell!).

Without your selfless assistance, I think my son and I would still be out there, somewhere, huddled together for warmth, waiting for Spring.

Thanks, Good Snowmaritans!


Friday, January 28, 2011

“Where’s Alan?” Book Giveaway Contest

As I described in my last post, my picture will be riding around the mean streets of MD, VA, and DC. On Metrobus ads (inside, behind the driver, I believe).

To refresh your memory, here’s what it looks like:


To further draw attention to myself have some fun, I’m holding a two-part book giveaway, sort of like a real-life Where’s Waldo? Except yours truly will be playing the part of Waldo.

Here’s how Part A works:

Simply email me a snapshot of my picture in the wild. That is, take a picture of one of the Metrobus ads for The Writer’s Center that has my face on it. (You can send it to or post it on your Facebook wall and send me the link.) Try to get something/someone else in the picture, so we can get a sense of the Metrobus ambiance. If you can get someone else to take a picture of you next to my picture, all the better. Also, if you want to say approximately where you spotted me (ie, cross streets or bus line), that would be fun, too.

Now, I hear you asking, “What about a picture next to the diorama in the Woodley Park Metro Station? Does that count?”

And the answer is, “Yes. Yes, that counts, too!” I’ll accept a picture of me in the advertisement for The Writer’s Center pretty much anywhere you can find it (See? Isn’t this a fun treasure-hunt contest?).

I’ll put all the people who send me pictures into a hat (or other vessel), and pick a lucky winner. The winner can have his/her choice of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD or the upcoming KILLER ROUTINE (but you’ll have to wait a bit, until it’s published).

I reserve the right to post the pictures you send in on my blog, website, Facebook page, or elsewhere. So, please, no nudity!

Now, I hear some of you saying, “Wait! I desperately want to participate in this superfun contest, but I don’t live in the D.C. area. What can I do?”

You’re in luck! I also will be giving away a book to another lucky person in Where’s Alan? Part B. To be eligible for this part of the giveaway, simply email me a picture of yourself holding (or pointing to) a copy of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD in a bookstore or library. I’ll put the names of all the people who enter this way into a different hat (I’m a man who wears many hats) and draw a winner. Again, because I may post some of these pictures, please keep your clothes on.

Both parts of this contest will run through the end of February. Be sure to include your name and email address with your entry.

Happy Hunting! (And don’t even think of drawing a moustache on my picture.)


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ahoy, Metrobus Riders!


DO NOT BE ALARMED by the picture of a scruffy-looking individual staring back at you from an advertising poster behind the driver’s seat. He is harmless.

I should know. I am that scruffy-looking individual.


Yes, it’s true. My picture and quote are being used in an advertising campaign for The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD (read past blog about what The Writer’s Center has meant to me).


I take every opportunity to sing the praises of the Center, so when they asked if I’d like to participate in this awareness campaign, I said, “How high?” I’m thrilled (and honored) to be among the authors chosen.

The ads will be on selected Metrobuses in Montgomery County, MD, Northern VA, and Northwest D.C. during the month of February.

A diorama, including me and the three other writers in this campaign, Patricia McArdle, Eugenia Kim, and Glen Finland, also will be in the Woodley Park/Zoo Metro station (subway station, for you out-of-towners).


Come back to the blog on Friday to learn about a fun and exciting contest involving mass transit, cameras, free books, and my face.

Late-breaking news: there already have been sightings!


Monday, January 24, 2011

What’s On Tap

I figured that since I don’t do much enough housekeeping in my house, I should at least do a little here on my blog.

I usually try to post three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ll do my best to keep to that schedule, but this is going to be an especially busy six months or so (I know, I know, I say that often). In addition to my next book being released, and all the promotional effort associated with that, there’s a joyous family event taking place.

Some things to watch for:

In the next week or so, I’ll be announcing a fun and exciting contest/book giveaway. (At least I think it’s fun and exciting.)

I’ll also be holding a book giveaway on Goodreads, to be announced soon.

In a couple months, I’ll be “embarking” on a blog tour to promote KILLER ROUTINE. I’ve already done the most important part, designing the tour logo:

KR Blog Tour Logo

As I finalize more dates, I’ll be posting the entire blog tour schedule in the sidebar.

Also, I hope to host more guests on the blog this year. If you’re interested, drop me an email!


Friday, January 21, 2011


My new business cards arrived yesterday. (I know, the excitement around here never ceases.)

This is the third or fourth version I’ve ordered in the past few years. With prices from the online printers so reasonable, it’s very easy to “upgrade” whenever there’s a change in info (or whenever else, for that matter). I ordered these from I think I’ve ordered more versions of business cards than I’ve bought new shoes during that span.

My previous business cards were kind of busy. Stuff on the front, stuff on the back, stuff on the edges. I listed a variety of ways to contact me: email, website, Facebook, blogs (2), Twitter. I had book ordering information. I had cover art. It seemed the only thing I didn’t have was a map to my house.

This time, I wanted something a lot simpler.

I already have “fancy” bookmarks with cover art and blurbs and plot descriptions. I figure I can hand those out to interested readers to spark interest for my books. I’ll use the business cards more in their traditional sense, to give people contact info in a form that fits in their Rolodexes and card files.

This time, I also left the back blank, so people can jot down notes.

Boring? I prefer “simple.” (Yes, this is simple compared to my last version.)

And if I grow tired of them, I know where I can get more. Cheap.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jumping the Snark

The other night, my family and I were watching a movie on DVD. It was a comedy about a high school girl telling a lie and getting ostracized by her peer group and yada yada yada. Pretty funny, if a little more adult than the PG-13 rating.

About two-thirds of the way through the movie, though, it took a sharp turn south (IMHO). We learn that one of the characters, a high school counselor, is having an affair with one of the students. And she transmitted an STD to him. Funny, huh?

Of course, stuff like that does happen in real life, too often. But it sure seemed out of place in this little comedy. My wife and I exchanged glances, a non-verbal wtf. For the rest of the movie, we (anxiously) waited to see what other things might pop out of left field (thankfully, there were no space aliens).

My point? Besides high school counselors shouldn’t have affairs with students?

Actually, I have three points:

1) Writers need to know their audience.

2) Writers should adhere to the conventions set forth in their genres (generally), or risk alienating readers/viewers.

3) Writers need to be consistent within the world they’ve created.



Monday, January 17, 2011

I Wanna Know

Today’s Marketing/Promotion Question:

Are promotional postcards mailed to libraries and bookstores effective, or are they a waste of time/money/paper?

What say you, blog readers?
(All opinions welcome, but please, don’t throw food.)


Friday, January 14, 2011

Hello, 2011!

As most of you know, we recently started a new calendar year (2011). And as tradition dictates (at least my tradition), I made a list of resolutions. Then I checked the resolutions I made last year (and blogged about here), and they were virtually identical!!!

Hmmm. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it must say something! Here’s the list from last year:

  • Read more.
  • Maintain my exercise regimen (I've been a little lax on the stretching component).
  • Spend my time more wisely, and its corollary, don't waste so much time surfing the Internet and cruising the blogosphere (some version of this one ends up on the list every year).
  • Take Vitamin D and B12 (the B12 is new this year).
  • Reduce clutter. Simplify.
  • Eat a new food (Every year I resolve to add a new (healthy) food to my repertoire. Some winners: beans, avocados, hummus. Still can't do Brussels sprouts. And don't get me started on cheese. This year's candidates: edamame or fennel.)

Two changes for this year: I’m adding Vitamin B12 to my supplements. And last year’s new food was edamame, but I still need a new food for this year.

Any suggestions? (Not fennel; that ship has sailed.)


Wednesday, January 12, 2011


You may have noticed a new widget-thing on the blog’s sidebar: an animated photo montage (I put a larger one on my website).

I generated it using Photobucket, and the process couldn’t  be much easier. You upload a bunch of pictures to their site, then you choose a slideshow and size you want. Voila. Instant cool-looking slideshow.

The site makes it easy to email the slideshow to friends, post it on Facebook, or generate HTML code so you can plug it into your blog or website.

If you’re looking for a nifty plug-in, give it a try!

(This is a non-paid, non-celebrity endorsement.)


Monday, January 10, 2011

At the Scene of the Mime

Detective Ted Sullivan surveyed the scene. A dead mime sprawled on the sidewalk, face down, knife in the back. Off to the side, the uniformed cops had corralled three witnesses who belonged to the same mime troupe as the victim. All wore black pants and black turtlenecks. All sported black berets. All had black smiles painted on their ghost-white faces. Sullivan strode over to begin his questioning.

He addressed the first mime. “Okay. Tell me what you saw.”

The mime made an “X” over his mouth and bugged out his eyes.

“Look, I need to know what happened here.”

The mime started working his arms, laying flat palms against walls in the air.

“The victim was being held, against his will?” Sullivan asked. “In a box?”

Three shakes of the head. Now the mime climbed an imaginary rope.

“He was trying to escape? Climbing out of a hole?” Sullivan glanced around. No boxes. No ropes. No holes. He turned to the second mime.

“Who killed your friend?”

The second mime frowned and knuckled away a pretend tear, then began eating a non-existent ice cream cone. And he was making a mess.

“Are you trying to tell me the victim was eating when he bought it?”

The mime shook his head, then leaned against a counter. Or a lamppost. Or a wall. It was hard to tell.

Sullivan had always hated cases involving mimes. He moved on to the third witness. “How about you, buddy? You got something to say?”

Another “X” across the mouth. Then the mime started to fight against a fierce wind. A moment later, he pulled out an invisible umbrella and tried to keep it from blowing away.

“Enough,” Sullivan bellowed. “Your mime friend is lying there, dead. And you’re not helping me one bit.”

The third mime stopped struggling with his umbrella. He laid it down on the sidewalk gently. He smoothed out his unwrinkled clothes, adjusted his beret, then faced the detective. “Okay. You cracked me,” he said, aloud. The other two mimes slapped their hands over their ears and recoiled in horror. The third mime continued, “I did it. I killed Marcello. I’m sorry.”

“You killed him?”

“Yes, yes, it was me. I stabbed him.”

The other two mimes shrank away farther, pretending to bawl.

“Why’d you do it?” Sullivan asked the mime murderer.

“Jealousy. He did the best walking-in-the-wind the industry has ever seen. I just couldn’t take being in his shadows any more. I do a great wind thing myself. You’ve seen it. But it didn’t measure up.” The mime started crying; this time, the tears were real. “Please, don’t put me in jail. Please. I won’t last long in the slammer.”

Sullivan simply shook his head. Don’t do the mime, if you can’t do the time.


Friday, January 7, 2011

From Electric Blue to Dull Maroon

Yesterday, I blogged about New Beginnings at InkSpot. If you missed it, hop on over and take a look.

And speaking of fresh starts, I’ve given my website a refurb (how’s that for a segue?).

What do you think? What can I change to make it better?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How Many Ways Can You Say, ‘Gray’?


Please welcome one of the nicest ladies in the thriller-writing business, Karen Dionne. Her first book, FREEZING POINT, is a favorite of mine, and I’m very much looking forward to reading her latest release, BOILING POINT.

My new environmental thriller, Boiling Point, is about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming involving geoengineering. The story takes place during the time of a real volcanic eruption: Chaitén volcano, in Northern Patagonia, Chile.

Chaitén Volcano came to life for the first time in 9,000 years on May 2, 2008 in a major eruption. The magma blasted 3.1 miles through Earth’s crust in only four hours, giving the people living in the town at the base of the volcano six miles away just 30 hours’ warning. The volcanic plume climbed 12 miles into the stratosphere, covering much of Patagonia with ash and drifting as far east as the Atlantic. No one lost their life, but ten days later, heavy winter rains washed the ash that covered the ruined mountains into the river, creating a lahar that caused the banks of the Rio Blanco to overflow and destroying 90% of the town.

Because my publisher bought Boiling Point before it was written, I was able to travel to Chaitén volcano one year after the initial eruption for onsite research. I stayed in Chaiten town, even though the town was still evacuated and without electricity and running water, and hiked to within one mile of the new lava dome, where I saw steam vents, heard explosions coming from the caldera, and felt a small earthquake. It was an amazing and inspiring trip that definitely informs the novel!

I chose Chaitén as the location for Boiling Point after I saw this amazing picture of the initial eruption that was making the rounds of the Internet:


As I wrote the chapters leading up to the moment of eruption, was really looking forward to describing that amazing plume:

A colossal pillar of ash and gas spewed from Chaitén’s caldera. Molten rock colored the column red as it streaked for the stratosphere, turning the sky around it a sickly yellow. Plumes of steam erupted from the surrounding rocks, cheering the inferno heavenward like hissing demons.

Boiling Point follows several characters’ stories until they all converge at the volcano at the end, and so not long after, I had the chance to describe the plume again from another character’s point of view:

To the east, the massive pillar of ash stretched into the night. It roiled and pulsed like a living thing, lit from within by great sheets of orange and red flame like a Hollywood explosion that just kept going. Flickering around it and through it were brilliant bolts of lightning, dancing and chasing each other, lighting up the whole plume and the layers of cloud above and below with purple. A terrifying construct of fire and lightning and smoke. A vile, elemental monster, looming over his town, threatening to rain down flame and thunder. Heart-stopping. Terrifying. Like something born of the perverse imagination of a disaster movie director. This wasn’t something that happened in real life. And yet there it was, right in front of him, and Gabriel was watching it with his own eyes.

And not long after that, again:

And then there was the volcano. At the edge of the caldera, wisps of steamlike mist. Beyond, a smoking hump—a newborn lava dome, barely visible in the shifting ribbons that curled up around it. A brand-new mountain where none had been a day ago. It smoked and shuddered, and even from this distance they could hear it pop and rumble as boulders tumbled down its slopes. The tendrils of steam that spewed from its sides rose up to meet the main column, a vast nightmare tower of churning ash and steam. It rose up into the heavens and mixed with the clouds until Ross couldn’t tell where the volcano’s plume ended and the sky began, spreading its umbrella over the world and raining down ash. Ash that was falling on them.

– and again:

An angry black column of ash and debris filled the sky, writhing and roiling like something alive, so big, she felt like an ant contemplating the smoke from a roaring campfire. Like the lone survivor of an atomic blast.

– and again

At last, the caldera. She craned her neck as she drove through a passage that was eerily similar to the one she’d entered from the other side barely twenty-four hours ago. Towering walls guarding a narrow entrance, the gates of Hell. Inside, a world of fire, steam, and smoke. Staggering in its immensity and power. Elemental. She could feel Chaitén’s vibrations thrumming through the floorboards. See the rocks crumbling off the cliff faces as she drove between them. Smell the sulfurous odor belching from the bowels of the Earth. Hear the mountain roar. The vast expanse of rocky ground was split apart, riddled with cracks oozing new rock, spurting steam. And in the middle, a hill of red rock that was already the size of a small mountain, vomiting a roiling tower of ash and gas from the center of the Earth, darkening the skies and raining down cinders and ash: the newborn lava dome. Dante’s Inferno.

– again and again and again. I’ll admit, by the time the last character saw the volcanic plume for the first time, it was becoming a real challenge to find a fresh way to describe what was essentially exactly the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong: Boiling Point was a lot of fun to write. After all, the novel has a 40-page climax that takes place IN the caldera of an erupting volcano – it doesn’t get more exciting than that! But having the bulk of the story take place immediately following Chaitén’s eruption created another descriptive challenge, as the following photographs illustrate:







Next novel, I’m choosing a more colorful setting!

Karen Dionne (peroozal)(Chaitén volcano, Northern Patagonia, Chile. Photos by Karen Dionne. To see more photos and video of my research trip to Chaitén volcano, visit


Thanks, Karen, for sharing your amazing experiences. Talk about doing extensive, first-hand research! Best of luck with BOILING POINT—I’m sure it will do great!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Bye, 2010

All in all, 2010 was a very good year for me. A brief recap:

DIAMONDS 72My debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was released in April. I spent a lot of time promoting it, including giving a slew of presentations, attending conventions, and holding signings. Highlights included my launch party (where we sold out of books), and appearances at Malice Domestic, the Festival of Mystery, the Gaithersburg Book Festival, BookExpo America, the American Library Association annual conference, the Library of Congress, and Thrillerfest (where I had the good fortune to speak BEFORE Brad Parks serenaded Brad Meltzer).

I did a couple live radio spots, a half-hour cable TV interview, a podcast interview, and a live TV appearance.

I got a bunch of very nice reviews, from both professionals and mystery lovers. A few: here, and here, and here.

I did a fun blog tour, and I blogged here and at InkSpot.

I was quite active on Facebook. A little less active on Twitter. (Non-existent on MySpace.)Killer Routine 72dpi

I cranked up the early-stage promotional efforts for KILLER ROUTINE (pub date April).

I wrote the next book in the Last Laff mystery series.

I revised and polished and outlined a few other projects.

I wrote a short story.

I served as Treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic Mystery Writers of America chapter.

And last, but not least, I met a ton of great fans and terrific writers!


Be sure to stop by the blog on Wednesday for a visit from guest blogger Karen Dionne, author of FREEZING POINT and the newly-released BOILING POINT.