Monday, March 31, 2008

Losing A Friend And A Fan


As some of you may know, my stepmother, Mary Jane, died unexpectedly of an aneurysm in February. She and her family lived next door to mine in New Jersey when I was a kid. Her reconnection with my dad thirteen years ago brought that history full circle. She took good care of my father, yes indeed. And she was kind and welcoming to my family, right down to the dogs. But she was also one of my great supporters. She couldn¹t wait to buy a stack of each new release and get them signed so she could distribute them to family and friends. One morning a year or so ago, she called me and announced she hadn¹t been able to sleep. Instead of tossing and turning, she got up and brainstormed titles for my next release. She rattled thirty of them off.

But it wasn't just my writing she enjoyed: She was a huge mystery fan. So I gave her books for her birthday, Mother's Day, and Christmas. And in between I collected my freebies from conferences and sent them her way. A couple of weeks ago, I went back to New Jersey to pack up my dad's belongings. What fun to come across my fellow sisters' books on Mary Jane's bookshelves! I uncovered Rochelle Krich's FERTILE GROUND (well before I'd ever met Rochelle through SinC and before I'd had a book published), a signed copy of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNESTINE by Dorothy Cannell from the last Crime Bake conference, books by Denise Swanson, Elaine Viets, SW Hubbard, Deborah Donnelly, Sujata Massey, Mignon Ballard, and more. (Can you tell she loved cozies?)

So if you noticed a flicker of darkness on February 11--maybe that was Mary Jane passing. I'll miss her terribly--but we've all lost a fan!

Roberta Isleib is president of Sisters in Crime and the author of DEADLY ADVICE and PREACHING TO THE CORPSE.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Few Good Sisters in Crime Members Needed

I'm sure all of you have thought about volunteering for Sisters in Crime. I have a great opportunity for you to join in and improve Books in Print.

As most of you know, Sisters in Crime had a difficult time this year making the transition from collecting data by hand for Books in Print to collecting data on the web site. For 15 years one person, currently Vicki Cameron, collected the data, edited the data, answered 3,000 e-mail per edition and worked endless hours. In this day and age the organization can't afford these old school ways. Vicki did get a paycheck which probably amounted to under a dollar an hour. For one year we notified author members to visit the web site and list their books as we were going to take the paper version from the web site in 2008. Many did not and many were frustrated with the process. And then to top it all off we had glitches which deleted some listings and altered others.

Some of our members need your help!
Please e-mail me at sistersincrime@juno.com and volunteer to help the authors who can't navigate the process of listing their books on the web site. If I'm lucky, I will hear from 3-4 of you who have patience and computer knowledge to "walk" these members through the process. Once I have a group of you in place we will all discuss the procedure. I would like to ask one of you to step up and be the chair of this group and set up procedures for the group.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Beth Wasson
Exec. Secretary,
Sisters in Crime
PO Box 442124,
Lawrence, KS 66044
785-842-1325, fax 785-856-6314
sistersincrime@juno.com
web site www.sistersincrime.org

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Pursuit of Excellence

Sixteen years ago I set out to become a published novelist. During that year I took it upon myself to outline and write my very first book. After finishing the first draft I went through and re-wrote it before holding my breath and handing it to a few trusted readers. One reader, especially, who happened to be a professional proofreader, gave me lots (and lots) to think about. I re-wrote the book again. And again. And again.

After re-writing it a dozen times I began the agent search. I got such glowing rejections as:

*Thank you very much for submitting YET SHE MUST DIE. There is no doubt that you’re a real writer, and YET SHE MUST DIE is merely the first of many books. However, despite its strengths, given today’s tough fiction market, I didn’t feel quite enthusiastic enough to represent your manuscript.*

OR

*It’s a good story, nicely written, but alas, I’m afraid it just doesn’t seem right for us.* (which meant, of course, that they didn’t like it!)

And then there were those simple but heartbreaking one-liners, such as: Sorry, I’ll pass.

I persevered, rewriting and sending out queries, until I decided it was time to cut my losses and move on. While I felt good about the book, it obviously was not of a high enough quality for the market.

I wrote another novel. And another. None of these caught the lasting attention of any agent, although I continued to receive that oxymoron: the positive rejection. Somehow, that was enough to keep me going.

I spent my time writing, reading other books in the genre, and going to writers’ conferences where I made contacts, attended workshops, and learned about the business. I took what I learned and funneled every bit of it into my writing.

Finally I was able to write a book that caught the eye of both an agent and a publisher. In 2004, thirteen years after I began the attempt, I was published. And you know what? It felt great.

I look back at that first novel I wrote, and while I have sentimental feelings for it, I wonder how I ever thought it was ready to be published. While it had, as the agents noted, some things of value, it simply wouldn’t be able to compete with other books. Those agents knew what they were doing. But I refuse to be embarrassed that I sent it out. That book was a stepping-stone. A learning tool. Some might say that first not-quite-good-enough manuscript is a necessity. Because it taught me a world of lessons.

It has been a hard road, and a long one. Every writer knows the pain of rejection and the sinking feeling when those letters come back saying No.

But hopefully every writer will also feel the joy that comes with seeing her work come to fulfillment. She will know that she persevered, taking what she learned and using it to pursue excellence in her writing. And she will continue to perfect her craft – because I know I certainly never stop learning! – making her work the best it can be.

We at SinC love to hear stories of success and how the pursuit of excellence pays off. If you have a story to share, we’d love to know about it.

Judy Clemens
Vice-president, SinC
Author of the Stella Crown mysteries and LOST SONS, coming out in April

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Changing small pieces of the world

By Donna Andrews

As I'm writing this, it's late Sunday night at the Left Coast Crime convention hotel, and I just found an email reminding me that I'm at bat tomorrow for the Sisters in Crime blog. I suspect my fellow board members are probably hoping I'll post something profound about some of the contentious topics facing the organization, but I'm juggling post-convention exhaustion, the dregs of a cold, and a touch of altitude sickness, and I'm not sure I can do justice to any weighty issues. And I'm kind of talked out about books and writing for the time being. I thought I'd talk about something else instead-- not unrelated to SinC, I hope.

A few months ago, I was listening to an interview with someone from The Hunger Project. He said that they had determined that there was no technical reason why hunger couldn't be eliminated from the world, and they set out to figure out what was keeping this from happening. And they found that the main reason was the low socioeconomic position of women--if they could find ways to change that, they could make a real impact on hunger. And that one of the most effective ways to change women's lives was through microfinance--small loans made directly to women to help them change their economic situation. The old "teach a man to fish" premise.

Made sense to me. That's why I was so excited when I discovered Kiva.org. My writer friend Toni Kelner said it best: Kiva is like eBay for charity.

You go on the Kiva site and you can see pictures of entrepreneurs--people who are asking for small loans to help them start or expand a business or make some other improvement in their lives, like repairing their houses or paying children's school fees. The working poor. When you see one that touches you--the smiling Peruvian women who wants to buy more yarn so she can pay her son's secondary school fees with her expert knitting, or perhaps the wistful nineteen-year-old single mother from Mexico who is hoping to support her toddler by starting a food stall in the market--you can click a button and put a loan of as little as $25 in your Kiva basket. When you check out, you can pay with Paypal. And when enough Kiva lenders like you have offered their $25 loans to your entrepreneur, the loan is funded.

Assuming your entrepreneur is able to make a go of it and pay the loan back—loan terms range from three months to two years--you will eventually get your money back, and can take it out of the system or reinvest it in another entrepreneur. And repayment rates are currently in the high ninety percent range, probably because Kiva has partnered in each country with a local organization that vets each entrepreneur’s business plan and keeps in close touch with them to ensure payback.

No, you don't earn interest. So the benefits aren’t direct and personal to me. But there is an intangible but very powerful payback. Today, I look at a map of the world and I see it very differently. When I look at the map of Africa, I think of my tie-dye maker in Sierra Leone, my fishseller in Benin, or the school in Togo whose classrooms I'm helping to outfit. When I hear dire news from Kenya, I think of the two determined and resourceful women there whose medical clinics I've helped to fund, and hope they are still alive and well. Other continents have also come alive for me--I've helped fund a clothing stall in the Ukraine, a flower grower in Cambodia, a kindergarten in Viet Nam, and an Internet café in Peru. I seem to have a weakness for women doing needlework of all kinds--knitters in Bosnia and Peru, embroiderers in Iraq and Mexico, tailors on three continents.

It's exciting and humbling to think that a small amount of cash--what I might spend on a nice dinner when I'm traveling--can help make a profound difference in the life of a woman at the other side of the world. And I can also hope that my efforts combined with many others can eventually help make a dent in the centuries-old socio-economic disadvantages affecting women throughout the world.

Just as I hope my participation in SinC can help end the centuries-old attitudes that devalue women’s ideas and women’s work—attitudes that force women to settle for smaller advances, smaller print runs, smaller publishers, fewer reviews, and less respect at every point in their attempts to build a career in the traditional market. And yes, I’m pretty focused on reforming the traditional market for the same reason Willy Sutton robbed banks—because that’s still where the money is. And because the benefits of changes there won’t just be trickle-down but culture-changing. World-changing.

But don’t get me started on that. You’ve heard me already on the topic of "ask not what SinC can do for you, but what you can do for SinC." (Or if you haven’t, my blog on that is still available on SinC’s MySpace page: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=161917660&blogID=286242493

I'm off to see if there are any more Kiva loans that can seduce me into funding them. Did I mention that every once in a while, you get a chance to support a bookstore or a school? Not just teaching someone to fish, but how to read . . . wow!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Staying Connected


By Marcia Talley

When I still worked “outside the home” at a job in Washington, DC, we were always being asked by our supervisors to accommodate “shifting paradigms.” This usually meant that a hot-shot management guru had treated our CEO to lunch, and presumably held him hostage over double martinis, prime rib and crème brulé until he’d signed the corporation up for the latest management craze — MBO, TQM. Remember?

If you don’t, never mind. After spending millions on training and implementation, we employees usually forgot the mumbo-jumbo, too, and it was back to business as usual until the next management fad came along.

I was thinking about paradigms recently as I sat on our sailboat in a quiet anchorage in the Exuma Islands chain in the Bahamas. My husband and I have been living on Troubadour for several months. While he’s retired, I’m still trying to function as a working writer. This is something of a challenge in the islands, and a real-life test of shifting paradigms, one that has come to depend heavily, but not entirely, on the availability of an internet connection.

Before leaving the U.S., I set up everything electronically — bank accounts, bills, NY Times online, newsletters (like InSinc: save a stamp and download now from http://sistersincrime.org/newsletters/March2008InSinCNewsletterLowRes.pdf) and Skype, a free voice over internet “telephone” service that is so neato-keen that I’m amazed AT&T hasn’t bought it out simply so they could shut it down.

But all this preparation is for naught in the absence of an internet signal, so we dropped big bucks on a satellite telephone to serve as backup when we sail out of range of the wireless internet on the island settlements.

Satellites are not the panacea one might think, however, as they have the irritating habit of passing over my patch of sky, then vanishing over the horizon, taking my internet signal with them. So, I have a regular cell phone with which I make calls and send short text messages — whenever we’re in range of a Batelco tower, that is. Alas, even local residents don’t rely on the on-again, off-again telephone service. Every house and boat has a name and a VHF radio (I’ve got a hand-held strapped to my belt) and contact one another on Channel 16 — “Troubadour calling Lion’s Den, switch and answer channel six seven.”

Several weeks ago I delivered to my editor the final manuscript of the next Hannah Ives mystery, Dead Man Dancing, while anchored behind Leaf Cay, a tiny island occupied only by iguanas, some as big as dogs. I think it was the writer Annie Lamott who said there are only two prayers — “Please, please, please” and “thank you, thank you, thank you” — so as the file began to upload to whatever satellite was currently passing over, I began reciting the first prayer until (after three attempts) the large file went through and I could recite, with feeling, the second.

Can you tell I’m enchanted by the islands?

In fact, I hope to set my next mystery down here, and have been hanging out gathering atmosphere and background at Norman’s Cay, former headquarters of the infamous Carlos Lehder who bought most of the island, terrorized the residents, and used the island as a way station for transferring cocaine between Columbia and the US for the Meddelin cartel, and where a DC-3 that missed the runway is now a haven for fish and a delight for snorkelers. And speaking of spectacular snorkeling, yesterday I donned snorkel and fins to explore Thunderball Grotto, a sparkling cave at Staniel Cay which was named for the James Bond movie, Thunderball, and where scenes from Splash and another 007 movie, Never Say Never Again were also filmed.

Right now, though, you’ll have to excuse me while I do something I will never willingly do electronically. Yesterday at a marina take-one-leave-one “library” I snagged a paperback copy of Margaret Maron’s Winter’s Child (how had I missed it?). I’m going to put on my hat and my sunglasses and take it up on the bow for a good, long read.


Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of THROUGH THE DARKNESS and five previous Hannah Ives mysteries, all set in Maryland. DEAD MAN DANCING, next in the series, will be published later this year. She iserves as Secretary for Sisters in Crime National.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Books in Print changes

Dear Sisters in Crime members:

We’ve had a few problems with our transition to entering titles online
into Books in Print (BIP) this past year. Our apologies to those of
you who were inadvertently left out of the BIP, or whose listings were
incorrect. We are working on ironing out the bugs. If your listing was
missing or incorrect and you haven’t told us already, please email
Beth Wasson: sistersincrime at juno.com. (The deadline for checking your
entry and adding your books for the 2009 edition will be August 1.
I’ll remind you again!)

As I mentioned in the newsletter, the board has voted unanimously to
change the present system for the printed version of BIP to include
only those printed books that meet established marketplace standards.
In other words, the printed BIP will include books that are accepted
by booksellers and librarians. We are making this change because these
same booksellers and librarians have told us they no longer find the
BIP useful in its present form.

Our online BIP will include all member books: the print version
listings, print titles that did not meet the print BIP criteria, and
additional categories for non-print books, e.g. e-books and audio
books.

The online version of BIP will provide a site for readers and
professionals to find information about members' books that may not
fit into the established marketplace. As these books are marketed
mainly to online buyers who are likely to prefer checking online
resources, the online version is a good match and a good way to
provide a service for this segment of our membership.

Following are the criteria for a book that meets marketplace
standards:

Is returnable
Is offered at standard industry discounts
Is available through national wholesaler, such as Ingram or Baker &
Taylor
Is competitively priced
Has a minimum print run of 1,000 copies

(We believe that the minimum print run of 1,000 copies shows a
publisher's intent to place the book in the marketplace. It is the
same number used by Authors Coalition to determine a 'published
book.’)

Any titles that do not meet one of the standards may be petitioned on
a case-by-case basis, so long as all other requirements are met.
Petitions must be submitted in writing, preferably by email.

However, as POD technology becomes a more common practice for books
accepted in the marketplace, we want to create an avenue of
flexibility in print runs for those exceptional titles that now meet
all other criteria, as well as for future circumstances we might not
be envisioning. POD reprints of titles that met industry standards
when originally published will be included in the print BIP.

As you can imagine, it will take time for the board to work with our
BIP editor to make this transition smoothly. As always, we welcome
your questions and comments.

Sincerely,

Roberta Isleib
President, Sisters in Crime