Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Pachinko Construct

What do you do when the story/characters/etc. bring you to a spot where you can go one way or another and both are great twists? How do you choose?

A writing instructor once told me that a book is simply the result of an infinite number of choices a writer makes as he/she tells his/her story. (To which I replied, “Simply?”)

plinkoTo visualize that concept, I sometimes picture a giant pachinko machine (or the Plinko game on The Price is Right) when I outline my story. As the idea “ball” drops through the story, it encounters thousands of junctures where the story could go one way or the other. Unfortunately, this complexity usually freezes me up, and I’ll have to lie down for a bit to recover.

Seriously, though, that’s exactly what I do when I’m faced with a significant choice, a Path A or Path B kind of decision. I’ll step back and really think about the ramifications of each option. I’ll try to noodle through how the story will go under Scenario A, and then I’ll do the same with Scenario B (and C and D, etc.).

After I do that, I’ll flip a coin go with my gut.

Let me say that I do most of this “What Iffing” during the outline process, which makes it less likely I’ll face a significant decision point during the actual writing. But it happens once in a while (I welcome those flashes of inspiration with open fingers), and when it does, I’ll go lie down for a bit to think it over. Ah, the possibilities.

Of course, if the chosen twist turns out NOT to work out in the end, I’ll go back and revise my story until I get it right.

Pachinko, anyone?

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jimmy the Raisin

How and when do you decide to make a minor character recurring? Or don’t you?

Some writers are lucky enough (skilled enough?) to create characters that speak to them. The characters “tell” the writers where they want to go in the story, what they want to do, who they want to kill. Sometimes I envy those writers because my characters just sit there, like misshapen lumps of modeling clay, waiting for some kind of direction from me.

And it’s not always easy to figure out what those characters should do—I was never good with clay.100_3753

That’s why, when I do create a character that’s complex, fully-formed, and compelling, I like to keep him or her around for a while. I mean, those are the characters that are fun to write!

Thankfully, most of the “funnest” characters I’ve created are main characters who appear in every series book. But when I stumble upon a minor character who fits the bill—someone who is unique or fascinating (or humorous or dark or whatever) and is fun to write—then I’ll find a role for him or her in future books. (I’m all about the fun!)

It’s not just characters within a series that get considered for inclusion/exclusion. I took a fun-to-write character from a standalone work-in-progress and plopped him into one of my Last Laff books (with a name like Jimmy the Raisin and a face to match, how could I help myself?).

But Jimmy the Raisin didn’t seem to mind at all, or if he did, he didn’t complain to me. After all, I’m the writer, this is my show, and I can do whatever the heck I want. I don’t have to answer to anybody!

Right, Jimmy?

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

If you’re looking for some great holiday gifts, have I got an idea for you!

I’ll be participating in two multi-author signing events where you can get personalized books for everyone on your gift lists!

This Saturday, December 1, I’ll be at One More Page Books (yes, that’s right, the indie bookstore where President Obama shops) at 1 p.m., along with 15 other local mystery writers (Chesapeake Chapter SinC members): Donna Andrews, David Autry, Karen Cantwell, Jacqueline Corcoran, Meriah Crawford, Maddi Davidson, E.B. Davis, Barb Goffman, Jennifer Harlow, Smita Harish Jain, C. Ellett Logan, G.M. Malliet, Sandra Parshall, Marcia Talley, and Art Taylor.

The following Saturday, December 8, from 2 – 5 p.m., I’ll be at the Grounded Coffee Shop in Alexandria, VA, with nine other local authors, in different genres. More info below:

Microsoft Word - Flier3.doc

I’d love to see you at one of these events!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

What If?

From a single idea, how do you build enough
of a story to fill a book?

This question is not relevant to my writing process because the plots and characters of my novels appear to me fully-formed.

Yeah, right.

That might be true if my books were two pages long, but when I set out to write a book with 80,000+ words, I know some additional story-building is always in order.

I begin with the premise—compelling characters facing an interesting dilemma—and work outward, always looking for ways to complicate my protagonist’s quest to accomplish his/her goals. A lot of that work takes the form of What If questions. What if he discovers his father’s not really his father? What if his girlfriend turns out to be a Martian envoy sent to negotiate a peace treaty with Earth? What if he studies at the feet of the Dalai Lama, then challenges him to a duel with nunchuks? What if dogs could talk and walk on two legs and drive cars, but still needed to use fire hydrants as bathrooms? (Obviously, some What If questions lead to more promising plot events than others.)

signposts for blogEach twist in the plot (or introduction of a new character, or move to a new setting, or back-stabbing double-cross, or whatever), yields a whole new set of possibilities going forward, so my What If exercise continues with this new set of parameters.

Rinse. Repeat. Increase the stakes.

After some time (weeks, months, eons), I’ll eventually reach The End. Then I sit back and examine what I’ve got. Usually it’s a steaming hot mess of cardboard characters, hokey plot twists, and generic settings (and those are the good parts!).

That’s when the revision process begins. I whittle away all the garbage (Martian envoy? Really?) and bolster all the good stuff. If I need more plot, I generate more What If scenarios. Slowly, painfully, things fall into place and my steaming hot mess begins to actually make sense.

At least that’s the plan.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

No Chianti on the First Date

What fictional character (other than one of your own)
would you like to have a fling with?

I’m a happily married man, so I don’t have flings. In fact, I don’t believe I’m even allowed to think about having flings (I’ll have to check my contract).

But, in the interest of being a good sport I suppose I could come up with a fictional character to have a fling with (you know, taking one for the team).ClariceLecter

I wouldn’t mind, uh, getting to know Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. (Note: Definitely NOT the Clarice Starling from Hannibal. In my opinion, Harris gave her some kind of personality transplant between books.)

Clarice is enthusiastic, conscientious, physically fit, smart, brave, and tenacious. Good with firearms. And fights on the right side of the law.

What more could a guy ask for?

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds)


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Barnes & Noble Mystery Forum and Me!

I am VERY EXCITED to be this week’s featured author at the Barnes & Noble Mystery Forum.

Stop by to join the fun. Ask questions, leave comments, raise a virtual ruckus. I’ll be there all week answering questions and raising my own ruckus (now there’s a word that should be used more. Ruckus, ruckus, ruckus).

See you at the Forum!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Just Enough

How much research do you do for your books?

The short answer is: just enough to get the job done. I’m not one of those research lovers who pores over old books in the stacks or delves deep into the details. I do just enough research to allow me to depict the settings, situations, and characters in my books with verisimilitude.

But, on occasion, I will venture out of my writing cave to do some research. Here’s a summary of a recent research excursion I took for my work-in–progress:

DSCF2134The last few scenes of my book take place in Washington, D.C., on the Mall (The National Mall. You know, the place with the Capitol and Washington Monument). So I put myself in my protagonist’s shoes and drove to the Vienna Metro station where I boarded an Orange Line train (I’m a Northern Virginia suburbanite—it didn’t take long).

Then I made notes about what I experienced (saw, heard, smelled (yuck)) as we paralleled I-66 before diving underground. At Metro Center, I changed trains, but not before darting from platform to platform, trying to shed imaginary followers (as my protagonist does). I kept track of which escalators I took and where I doubled back and what the whoosh of air preceding the trains into the station felt like. If anyone was truly following me, I must have looked quite confused (and/or suspicious)!DSCF2193

When I got off the subway—where the protagonist in my story gets off—I pulled out my camera and began to take pictures as I walked. In many cases, I didn’t even slow down as I pressed the shutter button, because I was timing how long it took me to reach certain landmarks. (In all, I took 221 pictures.)

I continued this for the next hour or so, snapping more pictures and traipsing along the Mall. Then I visited a couple of D.C. “attractions” (which shall remain nameless for the time being), to do some research for two particular scenes. At each place, I took a guided tour, again snapping pictures and asking questions where necessary (the questions had more to do with the buildings’ layouts, than the collections, which I’m sure made my guides suspicious. Thankfully, no one called security on me).

DSCF2040When I got home, I revised my draft to include all the new material I’d learned. I need to make another jaunt into town to shore up a few more details, and then it’s a wrap!

(This entry was “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds)


Monday, October 1, 2012

Bouchercon, Baby!

Every year, a whole bunch of mystery-loving people—fans, readers, writers, criminals (maybe)—get together, all in one place, to celebrate The Mystery. And that place is a convention called Bouchercon.

This year, Bouchercon is in Cleveland. It’s this week, starting on Thursday and ending on Sunday.

I’ll be there, so if you see me, please stop me and say hello!

Here’s my panel info:

Date/Time: Saturday, from 1:30 p.m. - 2:20 p.m.
Subject: Writing snappy dialog that keeps a reader turning pages
Panelists: Myself, Michael Sears, Kira Peikoff, David Freed, Gail Lukasik, and Jessie Chandler

I’ll also be hosting a table at the Librarian’s Breakfast on Friday morning.

As they say, Cleveland Rocks! So does Bouchercon!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scurvy Dogs Unite!

I'm sure ye mateys already be knowin this, but today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, one o' me favrit days o' the yarr. pirattitude-cover_smallest

O' course, me close mates and me young uns get their fill might quick, and they be all babblin' at me to walk the plank--or else. Arrgghh, them scurvy dogs!

To celebrate the day, ye might get a chucklin' by doing what Cap'n Alan tells ye:

Proceed to yer Facebook page. Scroll down to the mid-depths, on yer right, neer the blasted copyright notice. Click whar it sez English, then spy ye whar it says English (Pirate). Click thar, and yer got yerself more fun than a barrel o' rum.

Avast and shiver me timbers! Have a grrreat day. Arrggh!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

At Least I Can Spel!

It’s back to school time! What career or knowledge would you or
your protagonist like to go back to school to learn?

Considering that I call myself a writer these days, my answer might surprise you (maybe not, if you’ve read my books!), but I think I’d like to go back to school and learn, um, English (you know: grammar, creative writing, literature, crumpets).

You see, I never had to take any literature or creative writing classes in college or grad school (us engineers weren’t expected to actually know how to write), and back in high school, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Which has led to some severe gaps in my education. First, I don’t think I ever formally learned the mechanics of writing. Don’t always write in complete sentences. I couldn’t diagram a sentence if you gave me a map. I don’t know a dangling participle from a flying Wallenda. I try to never split an infinitive, but I’m not really sure what an infinitive is. When faced with the choice between “who” and “whom,” I’ll usually opt for “that guy.”flyingwallendas

All this would not have pleased my late father, an ex-English teacher.

And my knowledge of the so-called “classics” is even sketchier. Until recently, I didn’t know the difference between Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. In high school, I stopped reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, before he’d even reached puberty. I never did really understand what was so great about Gatsby. I didn’t even understand Cliffs notes. And To Kill a Mockingbird? Pretty good movie.

So sign me up for English class. If it’s full, though, that’s okay. I’ll just take Phys Ed instead. A little exercise does wonders for the creative mind.

(This entry had been “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Monday, August 27, 2012

Wanna Write A Mystery?

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be leading another workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. It runs eight weeks, on Saturday mornings from 10 – 12:30, beginning September 15 (no meeting on October 6).

Writing the Mystery Novel: Introduction

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.

It’s educational! It’s fun! It’s mysterious!

If you have any questions, feel free to email me or leave them in the comments!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dream On

Oh, if only I had an assistant…

Today, on Criminal Minds, see what I’d have my assistant doing!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Going for the Gold

Today I’m blogging at Criminal Minds. If you’ve always wanted to know which Olympic sport Channing Hayes would excel at, you’d better click over.

And fast!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Killer Dish

For those of you planning a picnic or pot luck party, here’s a suggestion from me. It’s one of my favorite, self-created, vegetarian dishes. (If people like it, I’ll take the credit. If people don’t care for it, you’re on your own!)

Click over to Criminal Minds to see!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nuclear Subs and Comedy Clubs

I’m interviewed on David Kentner’s blog.

Among other things, I talk about why I'm no longer invited to neighborhood barbeques.

Thanks, David!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Character, Plot, or Setting?

Today, I’m answering the following question at the Criminal Minds blog:

As a reader what comes first, character, plot, setting?

Click over and comment about what comes first for YOU!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

A New Cover

As Zak Allen, I’ve e-pubbed two books: THE TASTE and FIRST TIME KILLER. I did it mostly as an experiment, so I could learn more about the ebook world (and there’s plenty to learn, and it changes every day!).

In keeping with that goal, I decided to tweak the cover of FIRST TIME KILLER.

The new version is below!

First-Time-Killer 2 Amazon 600x800


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Oooh, Look! Another Shiny New Career!

Today, I offer six words to describe myself (my professional career, anyway) on the Criminal Minds blog. Click on over to see!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Not Much of a Sailor

DeadlyCampaign200Today, I'm visiting Jenny Milchman's blog, Suspense Your Disbelief, with a Made It Moment. Click over, leave a comment, and join the fun!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

This and That

Today, on the Criminal Minds blog, I answer the question:

If I could no longer write mysteries, what would I write instead?


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Where have I been?

I haven’t blogged much lately. Where have I been? Well, some pictures and links:

At the rainy and cold Kensington Book Festival, With Con Lehane and Kathryn Johnson:



At the terrific Malice Domestic Convention:

Keeping the panel I moderated in line (photo courtesy of Sasscer Hill)

Malice panel from Sasscer

With fellow MInkers, Cricket McRae, Jessie Chandler, and Beth Groundwater (photo courtesy of Kathleen Ernst)

Agatha Banquet from Kathleen

And the rest of the MInker gang (photo courtesy of Beth Groundwater)

Minkers from Beth

I was also at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, Click HERE to go to a photo on Bethesda Magazine.

I’ve also joined a new group blog, Criminal Minds. Click HERE to join the fun!

(Note: I’ll still be blogging here, but on a less frequent basis. Follow me on Facebook, where I’m much more active!)


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Malice Domestic

It’s almost time for the wonderful Malice Domestic Convention! It starts on Friday and runs through Sunday, at the Hyatt in Bethesda, MD. If you are in the area, and you love mysteries, you should plan to attend. You won’t be sorry!

I’ll be around for the duration, attending panels, yakking it up in the lobbies and hospitality center, and hanging out in the bar. I’ll also be at the following events/panels. If you see me, please come up and say hi so I don’t seem like such a lonely loser.

Friday, April 27th, from 10 – 11:30 am, I’ll be participating in Malice-Go-Round.

On Saturday, April 28, 9:40 – 10:30 am, I’ll be on the panel:
Capitol Crimes: All Politics Is Deadly
Audrey Liebross, Moderator
Alan Orloff
Andrea Penrose
Maggie Sefton
B.K. Stevens
Dorothy St. James

and later that day, at 1:30 – 2:20, I’ll be the moderator for the panel:
Three Strikes, You're Dead: Sports-Related Mysteries
Alan Orloff, Moderator
Maggie Barbieri
Laura DiSilverio
Beth Groundwater
Sasscer Hill


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

BSP, One, Two, Three

If I can’t toot my own horn here on my blog, then where else can I? (besides Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my website, other people’s blogs, listservs, email loops, bookmarks, conventions, conferences, festivals, streetcorners…)


1) Tomorrow night, I’ll be interviewed on Triangle Variety Radio at 8:00 EDT. You can listen through your computer—just go to the link above, click a button, and make sure your speaker is on! The show is hosted by Elaine Raco Chase, who played an instrumental part in my writing career. You’ll have to tune in to see hear what! I’m just one of seven mystery writers she’ll be talking to from 8 – 11 pm (I’m first, at 8 pm).

The Taste_cover for website2) If you like to read ebooks, then you’ll want to know about this website and newsletter. It’s Super, and it’s all about ebooks! Every month, they put out a newsletter that features FREE ebooks you can download. This month, THE TASTE is being offered FREE! Here’s the link for the newsletter. Visit today—these books are only FREE for a limited time!


3) And speaking of THE TASTE, I’d like to thank Betsy Ashton for the nice review on her blog, Write Now, Right Now. Thanks, Betsy—I’m tickled that you compared the book to the work of Thomas Tryon! And I’m pleased to announce that THE TASTE is now available for every ebook format!


Monday, April 16, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

MaliceIt’s that time of year again. Spring, yes, but also the beginning of book convention/conference/festival/loll-apalooza season. (For me, anyway.)

I love book events. Each one seems to have its own, unique vibe. Some are huge, others intimate. Some are craft-oriented, others are geared more to fans. Still others are free-for-alls where just about anything goes.

This year, my book event season began a little early. I had the opportunity to attend the Sleuthfest conference in Orlando at the beginning of March. This one is aimed more toward mystery writers and attendance is limited so it’s a nice, cozy group. I was on a couple panels, met a lot of writers, and re-connected with some writer pals. I also learned a great deal about both craft and business. Plus, early March in Florida beats early March in D.C.

Next Sunday, I’ll be at the Kensington Book Festival, staffing the MWA booth. This is a free-for-all festival. Writers of every ilk will be there: self-pubbed, small-pubbed, trad-pubbed, e-pubbed. All genres. Fiction and non-fiction. Writers and fans. Purveyors of food, makers of music. The whole shebang. It’s a lot of fun and you never know what, or whom, you’ll see there. Last year, there was a guy wearing a bright yellow suit, a Miss Maryland (I think it was Maryland, I didn’t get a close look at her sash), and somebody in a cartoon character outfit high-fiving little kids.

In two weeks, there’s the Malice Domestic convention. This one is fan-based, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of my fellow MInkers there. Attendance is capped at about 500, and there are five tracks of panels over the two-and-a-half days. (I’ll be on a panel Saturday morning at 9:40 (with our Maggie Sefton) and I’m moderating refereeing a panel on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 (with our Beth Groundwater).)

Next month, I’ll be appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. This one is modeled after the National Book Festival, held on the National Mall, and it’s all about the readers. There are six or seven large pavilions, and author presentations run all day long. It’s a great atmosphere and I’m proud to say I’ve participated all three years of its existence.

If you’re a reader or a writer, I encourage you to attend a book event. Writers are a friendly bunch (mostly), and they love to interact with other writers and readers (usually). So check out your local listings today to find an event near you!

Did I mention I love book events?

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at a book event?

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


Friday, April 6, 2012

See Me, Hear Me

I’ll be out and about several places in the next two months. If you’re in the area, I’d love to meet you. And if you are at one of these events, don’t be shy—come up and say hi!

April 22, 11 am – 4 pmKensington International Day of the Book Festival


April 27 – April 29Malice Domestic Convention

On Saturday, April 28, 9:40 – 10:30 am, I’ll be on the panel:

Capitol Crimes: All Politics Is Deadly
Audrey Liebross, Moderator
Alan Orloff
Andrea Penrose
Maggie Sefton
B.K. Stevens
Dorothy St. James

and later that day, at 1:30 – 2:20, I’ll be the moderator for the panel:

Three Strikes, You're Dead: Sports-Related Mysteries
Alan Orloff, Moderator
Maggie Barbieri
Laura DiSilverio
Beth Groundwater
Sasscer Hill


On May 19, appearance time: tbd – Gaithersburg Book Festival


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Heart Book Clubs

I’m honored that DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD was included in The's Top 10 Best Mysteries for Book Clubs, compiled and reviewed by Lynn Farris.

I'm in great authorial company: Cynthia Baxter, Jill Edmondson, Keith Raffel, Michael A. Kahn, David Russell, Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, Thomas Kaufman, Nancy Pickard, and Lisa Scottoline.

Thanks, Lynn!


Monday, March 26, 2012


Cooking with Pooh

What’s in a name?

Plenty, if that name is the title of a book. A book’s title is one of the things that attracts a potential reader’s attention (in addition to the cover, the author name, the blurbs, the reviews, and a crisp twenty-dollar bill sticking out from between the pages).

In other words, you want your titles to POP!

You want your titles to be evocative. Memorable. Dazzling. Mysterious. Inspiring. Enticing. Anything but ho-ho-hum.

Sometimes, authors try too hard or get too cute trying to come up with a good title. I understand Margaret Mitchell wanted to call her book GONE WITH THE ZEPHYR until some sane editor stepped in and gave it a tweak.

I seem to be hit-and-miss with the titles I choose, but it’s not for lack of effort. With each manuscript, I’ll come up with a very long list of possible titles. Then I show that list to my wife and agent, and suddenly that list shrinks to “try again.”

HIDDEN FACETS was the title I used to pitch the book that became DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. My title makes sense after you’ve read the book, but Midnight Ink came up a title that is catchy, evocative, memorable—you know, all the things a good title should be (thanks, MI!).

Usually, about halfway through a first draft I change the title of my work-in-progress to STEAMING PILE O’ PROSE. While this might not be a good title for a book, this kind of thing seems to work surprisingly well as the title of a blog post.

My working title for the first book of the comedy club series was THE LAST LAFF, until MI decided to ramp it up to KILLER ROUTINE, A LAST LAFF MYSTERY (thanks again, MI!). And while I worked on the sequel, I called it simply KR2, knowing that MI would come through again with a good title. DEADLY CAMPAIGN qualifies in that regard.

Writing as Zak Allen, I’ve e-pubbed two books. And, without a publishing house, I had to title the books myself. The first one, a horror novel, is called THE TASTE, and I have to say, it’s a perfect title (I won’t go into any details here—some people might be eating their breakfast while reading this). The second book, a suspense novel about a radio talk show, is called FIRST TIME KILLER, which is from a line in the book, “long time listener, first time killer.”

I like both titles, but judging from the sales of the e-books, I might be the only one in the English-speaking world who does. I’m seriously considering change their titles to ANOTHER BOOK BY JAMES PATTERSON and STILL ANOTHER BOOK BY JAMES PATTERSON.

Coming up with a good title has always been difficult for me. The very first (and very awful) manuscript I wrote, which I titled FATHERS & SONS until I realized some old Russian had already used that name, now sits in a lead-lined box underneath my bed where it poses no threat to society. In fact, I’ve changed the title of it to NO THREAT TO SOCIETY.

And come to think of it, I’m sure Dave Barry would agree with me when I say that NO THREAT TO SOCIETY would make a great name for a rock band.

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


Monday, March 5, 2012

I’ll Get To It…Eventually


We’re writers.

We’re experts at certain things. Procrastination is one of them. Here are my Top Ten Ways For Writers to Procrastinate

(Warning: Do Not Try This At Home).


10. Research every possible detail in the book, including the Zagat reviews of the restaurants where your characters eat.

9. Tell yourself that re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird will put you in the right mood.

8. Dig out all those books on writing to help you power through those rough spots.

7. Revise your first paragraph over and over (and over), even though you know it will be gone by the time you’ve reached your final draft.

6. Go to the kitchen to get a snack. You can’t be expected to do your best work on an empty stomach!

5. Explore the many, uh, faces of Photoshop (see picture above).

4. Aren’t those cat pictures on Facebook adorable?

3. Don’t treat the thesaurus as a tool, but as an afternoon excursion.

2. One word: nap.


And the number one way for writers to procrastinate:

Think up Top Ten Lists.


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


Sunday, February 26, 2012


In 2005 (or maybe it was 2006, my memory is a bit murky with dates), I attended my very first mystery writing conference.


And I had an absolutely wonderful time. I was just learning the ropes, and I was in awe of all the successful mystery writers in attendance. I went to a ton of panels and learned a lot about the craft of writing, and about the publishing business, and about how to hang out at the bar like a writer. I met a lot of great writers, both published and unpublished, and began many lasting friendships.

I liked it so much, I returned the following year (2006 or maybe 2007. Did I mention my memory is a bit murky?), met a bunch more great people and honed my technique for hanging out at the bar.

I had another absolutely wonderful time.

That’s why I’m so excited to be returning this year. If you’ll be there, I hope you’ll consider coming to one of my panels:

On Friday, March 2, from 9:00 am to 9:50 am -
The Traditional Mystery: It isn’t gone, it’s evolved.
Panelists: Alan Orloff (that’s me), Toni LP Kelner, Dana Cameron, Joelle Charbonneau. Moderated by Elaine Viets.

On Saturday, March 3, from 11:00 am – 11:50 am -
Get A Job! Finding the right occupation for your sleuth.
Panelists: Jamie Freveletti, Alan Orloff (me again), Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, Keith Thomson. Moderated by Sandra Balzo.

If you can’t make it to either of the panels, I’m sure you can find me hanging out—at the pool or at the bar or just riding the elevator. Come up and say hi!


Monday, February 20, 2012


For those of you who have been waiting for a way to get a personalized inscription, by the author, on a Kindle book—your wait is over!

Check out kindlegraph!

All you do is click on the title you’d like “inscribed,” send an email, and wait for the magic to happen (I think).

You don’t even have to own the book to get an inscription.

Here’s my author page. Try it out today!


Monday, February 13, 2012

What’s So Funny?

I’ve blogged before about my stand-up shtick, but here’s a recap of my recent DEADLY CAMPAIGN launch party, in pictures:

Launch 14

Me and my larger-than-life book


Launch 12

Me trying to lead the group in Simon Says


Launch 3

Bookmarks for all!


Launch 10

At least someone thinks my stuff is funny


Launch 5

Standing room only - I guess they heard about the free cake!


Deadly Campaing cake

And speaking of the cake, it was the funniest thing of the afternoon!

(Look closely…)

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


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Zak Thanks You, Too!

The Taste_cover for websiteA big thanks to Jennifer for the very nice review of THE TASTE on her book review blog, Can’t Put It Down.

Click through to read it, and then start following her blog. She’s a definite book lover!


Monday, January 30, 2012

Mmmm, Cake!

deadlycampaigncoverYou are invited! To the book launch! For DEADLY CAMPAIGN!


It’s this coming Saturday, February 4th, from 4:00 – 6:00 pm at One More Page Books (2200 N. Westmoreland St., #101, North Arlington, VA (across the street from La Cote D'Or Restaurant, Le Marche Cafe, and the Crescent))!


There will be a presentation, followed by a book signing! Rumor has it I’ll be doing some mediocre (very mediocre) stand-up comedy (mostly to demonstrate how NOT to do stand-up comedy).

And! If all those exclamation points haven’t persuaded you, then maybe the following will!

Here are the Top Ten Reasons to come to my book launch:

10. See me make a fool of myself.

9. Get a copy of DEADLY CAMPAIGN

8. Get my autograph on it

7. Free bookmarks, five different ones! Collect them all!

6. Hear some new material (for a change)

5. Support a great independent bookstore (no joke here)

4. Mingle with other mystery readers and writers

3. For the wine tasting

2. Hear a new Top Ten list

And the number one reason to come to my book launch:

There Will Be Cake!!!!


Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Love Affair

Today I end my wonderful stint as Featured Author on Drey’s Library with a post about my continuing love affair. Thank you, Drey, for being a terrific host!

Please stop by, won’t you?


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Secret Promo Tip Is…

question marksI’ve been busy the past 21 months. In that span, I’ve published three books with Midnight Ink (DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, KILLER ROUTINE, and DEADLY CAMPAIGN). I’ve also published two ebook originals, writing as Zak Allen: THE TASTE and FIRST TIME KILLER.

Along the way, I’ve done a fair amount of promotion and marketing. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you which methods work best and which are not worth the time or money.

Yes, I’d like to, but I can’t. Because I don’t have a frickin’ clue.

We’ve all heard the witticism, “Fifty percent of marketing is effective, you just don’t know which fifty percent it is.” I think I’d settle for twenty-five percent.

For each book, I had bookmarks made. Lots of bookmarks. (Did you know that ordering 2000 is only a little more expensive than 1000? And that 5000 is only marginally more expensive than 2000? I do.) I even got bookmarks for my two ebooks, irony be damned. But do those bookmarks translate into sales? Beats me. People seem to like getting them, and they’re pretty, and they describe my books, so on the off chance they don’t end up in the trash…

What about book signings? I’ve done them and sold some books. But there’s a limit to how many you can do. Radio interviews? Did a couple, unclear results. Blog tours? Yes to those, too. They seemed to be good for gaining exposure, but again, did they move the proverbial needle? Who knows?

Postcard mailing? Cable TV interview? Book club visits? Google AdWords? Tried them all. Data inconclusive.

What about conferences, book festivals, library panels, and the rest of those personal appearances? They too, seemed to broaden my exposure, but I certainly couldn’t justify the expense based on the sales at the events.

Facebook? Twitter? Yes and yes. Do I think they’re a good way to get your name out there and connect with other readers and writers? Absolutely. Do I think it all translates into sales? Murky.

If only Oprah were still on the air.

Oh well. Maybe writing another good book is the key.

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


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Few Faves

Today, I offer a few book recommendations on Drey's Library, where I'm (still) this month's featured author.

Have you read any of the books I mention?


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Be a Working Stiff

Today, I’m guest blogging at Working Stiffs, talking about plowing through your writing project after the initial excitement has waned.

Come join us, won’t you?


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Have a Great Drey!

The fantabulous Drey has posted a very nice biblio of my books on her fabtastic blog, Drey’s Library, where I am honored to be this month’s Featured Author.

Click on over and check it out (library pun!)!

Thanks, Drey!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012


To see my “author spotlight” interview at writer pal Richard Gazala’s GAZALAPALOOZA blog, click HERE.

Thanksapalooza, Richard!


Sunday, January 8, 2012




I’m thrilled to announce that today is the official release day for DEADLY CAMPAIGN, the second book in the Last Laff Mystery series (after KILLER ROUTINE).


Just in time for the election year!



Here’s the cover copy:

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.

And some praise:

"Professional comedian Channing Hayes 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."
-- Library Journal

"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 Orloff is a master tightrope walker."
-- P.J. Parrish, New York Times bestselling author of THE KILLING SONG

Available wherever fine books are sold!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

First Time Killer

First Time Killer cover 

I’m pleased to announce that my very, very close friend, Zak Allen, has epublished another book. This one is a thriller called FIRST TIME KILLER. In my opinion, it’s, uh, thrilling! (I also think it has a swell cover! Thanks Ink Slinger Designs!)




Here is a summary:

In shock radio, nothing is too far over-the-top in the pursuit of ratings.

Not even murder.

During his twenty-six-year career, D.C. radio talk show host Rick Jennings steered clear of outrageous radio. Wasn’t his thing. So when WTLK execs tap him for the Afternoon Circus to land a lucrative satellite deal, Rick struggles to maintain his standards—and his dignity. A chilling call (“I’m a long-time listener, first time KILLER.”) leads to the discovery of an intern’s arm in a trashcan. Rick spars with the “First Time” killer over the airwaves. The police are stymied. Ratings skyrocket. And First Time continues to knock off members of the Circus, phoning in to gloat afterward.

In a world of psychics and poseurs, crazy deejays and crazier callers, it’s up to Rick to bring First Time down before more people perish.


If you toss the movies Network, Play Misty for Me, and Talk Radio into a blender and add a liberal serving of Howard Stern, you’ll get the flavor of FIRST TIME KILLER (a full length suspense/thriller – 86K words, the equivalent of approximately 350 printed pages).

Available for Kindle and Nook. Click over to get your free sample!(Soon to be available on Smashwords, too.)


Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

party hats1I’m big on New Year’s resolutions. Here are some writing-related ones:

I resolve not to use the names James, Jim, Jimmy, Jamal, McJames, Jamie, Jimbo, and Jiminy in the same book.

I resolve not to use the name Hortense in any book.

I resolve to use Correct capitalization, good:punctuation; and proper grammar whenever it would been poSSible”

I resolve to use more. Complete. Sentences.

I resolve not to play Minesweeper, check my Amazon rankings, and surf YouTube every fifteen minutes.

I resolve not to end every scene with a cliffhanger. Or will I?

I resolve not to write rough drafts with crayons anymore.

I resolve to do some research for my next book.

I resolve to no longer read Amazon reviews of my books. I’ll just assume they are all five stars. (Hey, these are my resolutions, and I’ll resolve what I want to!)

Got any to add?


Happy New Year, everyone!


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