Friday, December 31, 2010

Breaking & Entering

One of the many benefits of Sisters in Crime membership is members-only access to publications written specifically for mystery and crime fiction writers.

This year, SinC produced the third edition of Breaking & Entering: The Road to Success, a writers’ handbook compiled and edited by L. C. Hayden. The 137-page book features 27 pieces that offer a practical look at the journey to publication.

The entries include:

A look at author preparation for career success by Radine Trees Nehring

A discussion of the value of critique groups by William Kent Krueger

A meditation on tenacity by Maryann Miller

Cartoons by Debra C. Thomas on plot solutions and rejection recovery

Thoughts on rejection by Lynda Fitzgerald

“How to Get Organized” by Kaye George

“Wondering About Websites” by Peggy Ehrhart

Tips on introducing yourself to the writing community by Sheila Connolly

“Standalone vs. Series” by Carolyn Hart

“Series or Standalone” by Margaret Maron

“Publishing Options” by Cathy Pickens with contributions by Patricia E. Canterbury and Marja McGraw

An examination of the young adult mystery market by Gay Toltl Kinman

“Using Short Stories to Break Into the Mystery Field” by Toni L.P. Kelner

“Getting the Most Out of a Conference” by Kelly Nichols/P.J. Parrish

“Submitting Can Be Murder: Strategies for Survival” by Chris Roerden

“A Little Note on Copyright” by Cathy Pickens

“Formatting Manuscripts: Why Bother? And How to Do It Right” by Donna Andrews

“Making Your Mystery Stand Out: Advice from an Agent’s Chair” by Ellen Geiger

“How to be a Dream Author: What Are Editors and Publishers Looking For?” by Toni Plummer

“Agents Are Human” by Cynthia Riggs

“The Agent Search” by Joyce Tremel

“The Query Process” by Kendel Flaum

“The Perils of Publication: How a Debut Author Can Avoid Making a Fool of Herself” by Sandra Parshall

“Reinventing Yourself” by Elaine Viets

“Breaking and Entering: Television” by Lee Goldberg

A trade paper edition of the book is available directly from Sisters in Crime for $14.99 ($11.99 plus $3.00 postage and handling).

In addition, a trade paper ($11.99) and electronic ($1.99) edition are available at via a direct link from the SinC website. Access through this link is required -- the publication is available only to Sisters in Crime members.

For ordering instructions, see the SinC website. Go to, select Resources, then select Publications.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Weight Loss for Writers, or How I Trim Ugly Fat from My Manuscripts

By Jackie Houchin

[Editor’s Note: Jackie wrote this piece with her journalism work in mind. The tips she offers, however, are useful for any type of writing.]

Originally posted published at

Okay, I've conducted my interviews, checked my facts and written my piece. Now I'm ready to submit my story and wait for my check to arrive, right?


There's one more step to take before I hit that "Send" button. I must get out the scale and weigh my chubby little darling. What I usually discover is not pretty. My manuscript is not the lean, fit article I thought it was. There are double chins, love handles, and soft, flabby appendages. Eek! Now what?

Editing, like dieting and exercise, is not fun, but if I want a story tough enough to make it to publication, I must be ruthless.

Portion Control

The first thing I check is the word count. Whether it's a magazine guideline or an editor stipulation, I usually know the approximate number of words I can use. Mystery Scene Magazine limits reviews to 250 words. Some newsletters want no more than 400. The local newspapers I write for stipulate 600-700 words for articles with an occasional "feature" story at 1,000-1,500.

Microsoft Word 2007 keeps a running count at the bottom of the document window. It also gives an accurate character/word/sentence count in its "grammar check" feature. I have no excuse for word count bulge.

If I'm only slightly over, I do a quick scan for superfluous words ("tiny little" to "tiny"). If I've switched words, I make sure I've eliminated the previous one (I drove the my car). Of the 15 times I use the word "just" I take out all but one.

Hyphenations change two words into one, so do contractions if the tone of the piece allows it. (This is not exactly cheating.)

Sentences average about 10 words, so if I can cut one word from each sentence I've reduced my count by 10 percent.

If I'm way over count, major surgery is required. I view the piece as a whole and consider where I can condense or even cut entire paragraphs. I'm always surprised when this makes my article stronger. (Imagine how great you would feel if you could lose 15 pounds of fat overnight!)

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Okay, my article is now comfortably within the allowed word count. Is it ready to submit? Not quite. While I have my red pencil out (finger hovering over the Delete key), I review it once more, this time checking the "nutritional" value of my words.

I look for clichés ("pretty as a picture"), delaying words ("It seems that..."), redundancies ("I thought to myself," "large in size,") and grand phrases ("institute of higher learning" instead of "college")

I change empty calories into powerhouse protein. "A dead body" is upgraded to "a corpse;" "he said in a loud voice" to "he shouted;" "dark yellow horse" to "Palomino;" and "really very funny" to "hilarious."

I exchange fat for fiber (the passive "was meeting" becomes an active "met") and I remove bloated descriptive words (several adjectives, most adverbs). Away with those unhealthy words and phrases! I want fat-burning, muscle-building prose!

Lean at Last!

Editing is not easy. It hurts to cut away words and phrases (or paragraphs) that I thought at first were brilliant. I do it because I want my articles to be published. If I want clips, creds, and checks, I have to work (and rework) at it. As they say, "No pain, no gain."

Wait, was that a cliché? Darn!

Jackie Houchin is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and theatre critic. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and California Writers Club.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SinC Plans Web Technology Update

By Beth Wasson

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of representing Sisters in Crime at an Affiniscape conference in Austin, Texas.

Affiniscape is the company that handles SinC's secured member data, sends out our e-blasts and hosts our custom search features on

The 10-year-old organization has 1,200 clients located throughout the U.S. The company handles data for bankers, veterinarians, pharmacists -- and mystery lovers and writers (although I'm betting we're the only crime writers' association on their client list).

My four days in Austin were filled with lectures and individual training -- a huge amount of practical information that I've brought back to my work at Sisters in Crime.

The biggest news from my trip: you'll be seeing a few new online features in 2011, including increased website speed and some new interface upgrades.

Trust me, the presentation on the company's upgraded hardware was tedious, but the bottom line was the good news of the increased hosting speed.

Of more interest to all of us, will move to a new platform within Affiniscape this summer. The change will be seamless and unseen by members.

One result of the shift will be an opportunity for member profiles in a new attractive format, somewhat like a page from a school yearbook. A member name, picture and book titles all will appear on one page. This will give our authors an attractive "face" to present to the book-buying and reading world during searches of the Sisters in Crime custom online databases.

My trip to Austin had me thinking about the fact that it is an honor and a joy to represent Sisters in Crime. This led me to think about the many others representing our organization in a variety of venues.

Recently, a number of SinC members have been working in support of the organization, including:

Pat Remick and members of the New England chapter -- working on Crime Bake

Katy King and members of the Harriet Vane Chapter -- working on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual conference

Dana Fredsti and members of the Northern California Chapter -- working on the great hospitality room at Bouchercon and the Sisters in Crime reception at Bouchercon.

Here's to all who worked hard for Sisters in Crime in 2010! Thank you for your efforts!

Beth Wasson is the Executive Secretary of Sisters in Crime/national.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How I Found My Agent: Karen Dionne

By Karen Dionne

My “How I Found My Agent” story is one of those rare cases in which the author does everything wrong, but things still turn out right.

The things I did wrong:

Mistake #1. I was querying agents with my first draft.

Mistake #2. I didn’t check agents’ reputations at sites like Writer Beware ( and Preditors and Editors (, and thus queried agents I later learned were scammers.

Mistake #3. I waited six months for an agency to make a decision on representation before querying other agents.

Despite those mistakes -- any one of which could have been enough to ruin my chances (and should have, in the case of Mistake #1) -- after querying 53 agents, I signed with Jeff Kleinman (then of Graybill & English, now one of the principles of Folio Literary Management). How did this come about?

After the agency mentioned in Mistake #3 finally passed, in February 2009, I decided to give these new-fangled "e-queries" a try and emailed 19 agents on an optimistic Thursday morning. Within the hour, I had two requests for the full. One agent’s email began, “Dear Ms. Dionne: I would be pleased to consider your novel.” The email from Jeff began, “Dear Ms. Dionne: Your novel sounds wonderful!”

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Jeff (see Mistake #2), but I loved Jeff’s enthusiastic response. I printed the manuscript per his instructions and sent it off. The following Monday evening, I received an email. Mr. Kleinman had begun reading the manuscript as soon as it arrived, but the manuscript was running into some snags. (See Mistake #1.) Would I call him the next day at my convenience?

I fretted all night. Is a snag bigger than a problem? I wondered. He said “snags” plural. Does that mean there’s more than one? If you’re a writer, you know the drill.

I called the next morning at 9:00. Jeff assured me he loved my novel’s premise, and thought my writing was strong. The plotting, however, was a mess. As he explained where I’d gone wrong, it quickly became apparent that he was being charitable when he called the problems “snags.” However, I knew immediately that he was right. So when Jeff said he wanted to take me on as a client if I was willing to rewrite the book in line with our discussion, I immediately said yes.

It was a bittersweet moment. I’d gone from having a book but no agent to having an agent but no book. However, I now knew what I needed to do and couldn’t wait to dive in.

But it was early days for me. I still had to learn how to write a novel. Jeff has a marvelous editorial eye but, even with his help, it took me three and a half years and three rewrites to finish.

Ultimately, that novel didn’t sell. But eight years later (yes, you read that right -- eight years!) the next novel did and, lucky me, so did the next.

Boiling Point, my second environmental thriller -- about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher and a radical scheme to end global warming -- will be published by Berkley on December 28.

And, yes, I’m still with Jeff!

Karen Dionne is the author of two science thrillers. Her first novel, Freezing Point, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. She is co-founder of the online writers community, Backspace, and organizes the annual Backspace Writers Conferences in New York City every year. Karen, online at , is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the Board of Directors as Vice President, Technology, and as Managing Editor of ITW's monthly publication, The Big Thrill.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Things You Don't Know About Carolyn Hart -- and Her Closest Indies

SinC: Is there anything you'd never leave home without?
CH: If I am traveling, I never leave home without a good mystery to read. For insurance, I always take along a Christie because reading from an old favorite is as comforting as a well worn afghan in wintertime. I especially enjoy Cat Among the Pigeons and The Man in the Brown Suit.

SinC: What do you wish you had more time for?
CH: Lunching with friends. That is a pleasure I enjoy only on days when I'm not writing and I write most days.

SinC: Is there anyone from the past you would like to talk to for just 15 minutes?
CH: Mary Roberts Rinehart. She was not only at one time the most successful author in America, she was an unusual and adventurous woman.

SinC: If the F.B.I. had to give you a new identity, what name would you choose?
CH: Henrietta Collins.

SinC: Favorite food?
CH: Anything Mexican.

SinC: Favorite drink?
CH: Milk.

SinC: Favorite dessert?
CH: Dark chocolate.

SinC: If you weren't a published author, what would you be?
CH: Unhappy.

SinC: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why?
CH: Henrietta O'Dwyer (Henrie O) Collins. The protagonist in seven of my books, she is a retired newspaperwoman with a talent for trouble and passion for life. As a foreign correspondent, she had the career I thought I would have until I ended up marrying, having a family, and writing fiction. That's one of the lovely aspects of writing fiction. You can lead any life you wish through your characters.

SinC: What independent bookstore is closest to the place you spend a good portion of your time?
CH: Murder by the Book in Houston. It is the inspiration for Death on Demand. My hometown (Oklahoma City) independent is Full Circle.

SinC: What can you tell us about the stores?
CH: Martha Farrington began MBTB. The late David Thompson and his wife, McKenna Jordan, took over the store when Martha retired. McKenna is now running the store. MBTB is one of the finest mystery bookstores in the country.

Full Circle in Oklahoma City is a general bookstore with an amazing variety of titles. It is owned by James Tolbert, one of Oklahoma City's most active civic leaders.

SinC: Where can we find the stores online?
CH: The website for Murder by the Book is . The Full Circle website is .

SinC: What's your most recent indie purchase?
CH: A Romantic Way To Die by Bill Crider from MBTB (by mail). A Comfort of Cats by Doreen Tovey from Full Circle.

SinC: Are there any holiday customs particularly unique to your area or your family?
CH: We always attend the Christmas Eve service at our daughter's church in Tulsa, then spend Christmas Day at our son-in-law's family's ranch in Collinsville, OK.

Carolyn Hart
is the award-winning author of the 20-book Death on Demand series (most recent title - Laughed 'Til He Died), the three-volume Bailey Ruth Raeburn series (most recent title - Ghost in Trouble) and the seven-book Henrie O series (most recent title - Set Sail for Murder). In addition, she has written 10 non-series novels and five novels for children and young adults. You can learn more about Carolyn -- and take the Classic Mystery Quiz -- at

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What are you doing today?

Thanks for taking a look at the SinC blog today! We know it's a holiday for many of you and that you have countless things -- and people -- in need of your time and attention.

What are your plans today? Are you partying, eating, reading, writing, going to a movie, visiting friends, visiting family -- or hiding from family members? How are you spending the day?

Where does your love of mysteries and crime fiction fit into the mix? Or are you on a break from all things mysterious?

Safe travels to everyone in the path of winter storms!

Friday, December 24, 2010

While visions of bookshelves dance in our heads…

By Kathie Felix

After seeing Sara Paretsky’s mention of Christopher Morley’s “Haunted Bookshop” in Monday’s SinC blog entry, I started thinking about fictional bookshops and libraries.

The exercise began easily enough. Every December, I watch the 1957 film “Desk Set” (starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gig Young, Joan Blondell and more) and marvel that computers were making such a big splash in the world of research more than 50 years ago. The majority of the film takes place in the research department of the fictional Federal Broadcasting television network, a special library setting that seems similar to many of the library information desks I’ve known.

Next, I thought about the libraries in the 2002 film “Possession” (with Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle). From there, it’s a short jump to those inspiring double-decker libraries in grand houses in books and movies such as “Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre,” “Gone With the Wind” and just about any work by Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. Thinking about the library in “My Fair Lady” led to a Google search, where I learned that the musical seems to have created a benchmark for personal libraries – as in “I’m dreaming of my own ‘My Fair Lady’ library.”

As soon as I realized that I couldn’t remember if “The Music Man” gives us a glimpse into Marian the librarian’s workplace, I decided it was time to move on to fictional bookstores.

The first bookstore that came to mind was the Embryo Concepts Book Shop, Audrey Hepburn’s Greenwich Village workplace in the 1957 film “Funny Face.” The next shop turned up in the “Highlander” television series – Shakespeare & Company, the Paris bookstore operated by Watcher Don Salzer. Then there's the Mystery Woman bookshop that Samantha Kinsey (Kellie Martin) owns in the Hallmark channel's 11-film "Mystery Woman" series.

As I began to run out of fictional bookshops, I called C. Ellett Logan, president of SinC’s Chesapeake chapter. She reminded me of the 1998 film “You’ve Got Mail” (starring Tom Hank and Meg Ryan). The movie updates the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch film, “The Shop Around the Corner,” (starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart) and moves it from a gift shop in Budapest to two bookstores in New York City. The newer film brings the plight of the independent bookstore into sharp focus as The Shop Around the Corner, an indie, finds itself in an unanticipated face-off with a new neighbor, the Fox & Sons Books superstore.

Of course, there are many more fictional bookstores and libraries than those mentioned here. If you can find the time between episodes of wassailing, visions of sugarplums or a long winter’s nap, let us know about the locations of some of your favorite fictional bookshelves.

In the meantime, I’m going to check my own shelves. I have an urge to take another look at Cliff Janeway’s Twice Told Books in John Dunning’s Bookman mysteries. And I'm always in the mood to see what's going on at or near Death on Demand, in Carolyn Hart's series of the same name.

Kathie Felix writes about publishing, technology and education for a variety of media outlets. She is the managing editor of the Sisters in Crime blog.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paranormal Tools: Practical Magic and Mr. Monk

By Barbra Annino

Implementing paranormal elements in fiction can be tricky business. Because the "magic" shouldn’t be used as an easy way out of a tough spot, the writer needs to draw the line on when and how it’s used. If your protagonist is at the bottom of a well and all she has to do is twitch her nose to get out of it, what fun is that for a reader? And what would be the point in turning the page if he never believed she was in real danger?

Magic, otherworldly beings and paranormal circumstances can be fun to play with — but they should also propel the plot forward. They should be used as a tool, like a gun or a special talent, attributed to the character as a source of protection, an element of disguise. Not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

In the book Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman weaves a world where the Owens women are cursed. They can never find true love, even though they have a firm grasp on spell casting. They cannot just snap their fingers and make everything better in their own lives, although they are often successful in helping others — sometimes too successful. In the story, the power of their witchcraft both hinders them and helps them. It’s a delicate balance that Hoffman blends well.

If you apply that formula in your own work, making the magical traits of your characters both bothersome and helpful, the reader will continuously wonder if the next dream, vision or spell will lead to more hot water or get her out of harm’s way.

Think of the Monk books and Adrian Monk's incredible gift for detecting. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” he often says. And it is.

Monk’s observational skills take on an almost superhero-like quality. He sees things that others simply don’t catch, which helps him to solve murder after murder, yet also puts him in the path of danger. Arguably, this gift may be the root cause of his paralyzing fears as well.

Monk is a perfect example of the flawed genius — the superhero with debilitating faults. That’s more than balance, that’s a teeter-totter that makes for great storytelling.

Play with the magic in your books. If your character has the ability to see dead people, as in the Wendy Roberts books, perhaps he’s also blind. He can “see” people that have passed on, but he can’t see his own wife. This would make for compelling plot points.

If the character is a witch, make her dyslexic, so that she needs to use extreme caution every time she casts a spell or crazy things happen. Got a character that can talk to animals? What if the animals lied? Or what if they talked in riddles all the time and she had to figure out what the message was?

Magic in its many forms has captured audiences since storytelling began. But, as in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," magic can cause chaos — and even the most gifted protagonist has no story to tell without succumbing to his own flaws. Make sure you balance the supernatural with human frailty.

Barbra Annino is the author of Opal Fire, a Stacy Justice gemstone mystery. A Chicago native, she freelances for a variety of publications, writing about health, food and travel.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How I Found An Agent: Pat Brown

By Pat Brown

I submitted my first query for what was then called Color of Shadows and Smoke to Janet Reid's Query Shark on March 28, 2010. Around the same time, I was submitting the query to AgentQuest for critiquing.

I fiddled and rewrote the query constantly from then on. Based on what my research revealed about an agency, I would tweak the basic email to emphasize how I fit.

I officially announced the completion of the novel on April 24th. But in all honesty, for me, the novel is never complete. I signed up for workshops, took the ms to my writing group's critique night and made plans to submit it to the Don Knotts contest put on by the Writers Police Academy.

I started making agent lists through QueryTracker. I started with what I classed as "test subjects." They were good agents, don't get me wrong, but I really wanted to test out my query to see if it elicited any reaction. I sent my first query to Veltre Group through their online form on April 25th. The form rejection came a few hours later.

In May, I began sending queries out regularly. I polished the manuscript until it was the best I could do, but I knew it could be better. So, in October, I went to Portland for a week-long Jim Frey workshop. Following that, I revised the novel considerably.

I re-queried the agents who had requested material to ask if they would like to see the revised ms and three responded "yes." On November 11, I sent a query to John Schuster of Literary Group International. On the 12th, I got a request for the full, which I immediately sent. Since they wanted a 30-day exclusive, I sent no more queries out.

On Friday, December 10, an email came from Frank Weinman, the President of LGI, saying he loved the novel and wanted to represent it. I spent the weekend researching the agency and was very pleased by what I found. I sent an acceptance. As soon as I heard back from Frank, I emailed all the agents with submissions that I was withdrawing the novel. To date, I have heard back from one.

By the time December came around, I had pretty well given up on the agents who hadn't responded. I had decided that, at the end of the year, I would start formally submitting the book to indie publishers who don't require agents.

Worse, I was having a writer's slump. I couldn't keep fiddling with the ms, now called Shadows and Smoke, and the couple of manuscripts I was working on weren't going anywhere.

Finally, instead of fighting the block, I decided I'd give my brain a holiday. I gave myself permission to not write for a couple of weeks. I kept reading research novels, but I didn't think of stories. Within a day of getting the request, the idea for my next historical came together.

The next step is waiting for my new agent to begin submitting the manuscript. I'm busy writing my new book, planning to attend Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe and have booked 25 days in Los Angeles to do more research for future novels. I'm looking forward to 2011 with high hopes that my historical novel will find a good home and my other writing will keep flowing.

All in all, I sent out 268 queries, got 188 rejections, 17 requests for either partials or fulls of the manuscript -- and one offer. I began writing the novel now called Shadows and Smoke in late January after doing my initial research. My quest to land an agent, from book genesis to contract, was a little less than a year.

I credit perseverance and the stubborn refusal to quit. There were moments I wondered if I was wasting my time. Maybe my ms wasn't as good as I thought it was. Or maybe there really wasn't a market for it; maybe no one was interested in Prohibition.

But even with those thoughts and doubts, I still kept sending the queries out and writing. I wrote a novella set in the same time period and sold it. I worked on ideas for other novels and did continuous research, concentrating on Los Angeles and Prohibition.

Talent is great. A wonderful book is great too, but the one thing that can see you through is persistence. Never give up.

Born in Canada, Pat Brown's approach to life was tempered in the forge of Los Angeles and, after eight years in the City of Angels, she developed a fascination for the darker side of life and the professionals who patrol those mean streets. She considers those eight years a lifetime's worth of experience that she mines regularly in her novels. Pat is not afraid to explore the darker sides of her characters and the streets they inhabit, including the ones most people are afraid to walk down alone at night.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keeping a Series on Track: 11 Books in 10 Years

An interview by Linda Lovely

Kathryn R. Wall, photo by Vicky Hunnings

Kathryn R. Wall began writing fiction after retiring with her husband to Hilton Head Island, SC. In 2001, she self-published In for a Penny, her first Bay Tanner mystery. The book's success led to an offer from a small regional publisher to reissue the novel and publish its sequel, And Not a Penny More.

Then serendipity struck. An editor for St. Martin's Press, visiting relatives in nearby Beaufort, was introduced to the series. A month later, Kathy had a hardcover contract for her third book. Since that time, St. Martin’s has published eight titles in the series, in hardback and paperback. The 11th Bay Tanner mystery, Jericho Cay, will be released on April 26, 2011.

Linda Lovely asked Kathy to talk about some of the special challenges associated with writing a popular long-standing mystery series.

LL: Did you envision a series when you wrote your first Bay Tanner book?
KRW: No. Since I don't have children, my goal was to leave behind one published book with my name on the cover -- my legacy, if you will.

LL: Where do you get your ideas for new plots?
KRW: Oh, no, the dreaded 'idea' question! Most of the time, the kernel comes from something I've read in the local paper or a conversation I've overheard. Yes, I eavesdrop. It comes with the territory.

LL: Have your main characters evolved in ways you didn't envision early in the series?
KRW: Yes and no. Because I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants writer, I'm never sure how things are going to turn out until I actually get them on paper. Ditto the characters. I do believe, though, that you have to allow them to evolve over time in a way that makes sense for the types of people you've initially created.

LL: What should a series author consider in "aging" her heroine? If you write a book a year, should the character be a year older?
KRW: Bay Tanner has aged approximately five years over 11 books. (I'm trying to figure out how to work that deal for myself.) In my case, I needed her to stay in an age range that allowed her to remain active enough to chase bad guys--literally.

LL: What are the pros and cons of setting a series in a specific geographic area?
KRW: Setting the series on Hilton Head Island has allowed me, through the huge yearly influx of tourists from all over the world, to attract an audience who will carry the books back to their homes, reaching a far greater geographic area than I could ever cover on my own. And it makes research really easy.

LL: Do you have any continuity problems as the number of books climb?
KRW: Yes. Not with the major characters and plot points, but with the bit players. Sometimes I find myself leafing through one of the earlier books in an effort to remember what the heck I called the guy who ran the tour boat or some such. My main focus is always on keeping the star players true to the lives and characteristics I've given them.

LL: Have you ever killed off someone you later regretted doing away with?
KRW: Yes, there have been a couple. And one I wanted to knock off, but my editor wouldn't let me. Turns out she was right, because that character later became the focus of an entire plot in a subsequent book.

LL: Have you considered "spin off" series featuring minor characters?
KRW: Doing one book a year is all I can handle. I do, however, have an idea for a prequel involving Bay's family 150 years prior to the current series. We'll see.

Kathryn R. Wall, the author of 11 Bay Tanner mysteries, is the Treasurer for Sisters in Crime/national. For more information about the author and her books, go to

Linda Lovely is the author of Dear Killer, a mystery set for release in June 2011 from L&L Dreamspell. Her novel, Counterfeit, was a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category of the RWA's 2010 Golden Heart contest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things You Don't Know About Sara Paretsky -- And Her Closest Indie

Sara Paretsky

SinC: Is there anything you'd never leave home without?
SP: My house keys.

SinC: What do you wish you had more time for?
SP: I keep trying to learn French but I don't have time to take classes very often, and I lack the discipline to pursue it on my own.

SinC: Is there anyone from the past you would like to talk to for just 15 minutes?
SP: I'd be tongue-tied around my heroes, whether living or dead, but I'd love to ask Susan B. Anthony how she feels about having the Republican right use her name for one of their women's groups.

SinC: If the F.B.I. had to give you a new identity, what name would you choose?
SP: Boadicea Jones.

SinC: Favorite food?
SP: I love all foods, but I have a special fondness for good bread.

SinC: Favorite drink?
SP: Champagne -- Krug Brut, if I get to choose.

SinC: Favorite dessert?
SP: Profiteroles.

SinC: If you weren't a published author, what would you be?
SP: Renee Fleming. Or Audrey Hepburn.

SinC: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why?
SP: Oh, I'd be V I. I'd love to be as strong and brave and risk-taking as she is.

SinC: What independent bookstore is closest to the place you spend a good portion of your time?
SP: 57th Street Books.

SinC: What can you tell us about the store?
SP: 57th street is part of the Seminary Co-op, which is a cooperatively-owned store in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. It's about 60 years old. I love 57th Street Books -- I always think I'm going into Christopher Morley's "Haunted Bookshop" when I walk down the four stairs to the half-basement entrance. It is a general bookstore with a real strength in fiction; the Sem Co-op is the heavy-hitting non-fiction partner.

SinC: Where can we find 57th Street Books online?

SinC: What's your most recent indie purchase?
SP: Great House by Nicole Krauss (although I got that at Women & Children First).

SinC: Are there any holiday customs particularly unique to your area or your family?
SP: I'm Jewish and my mother came upon Mouse, who always brought Paretsky children our special present at Chanukah. With time, Mouse expanded his/her (Mouse was always ungendered) repertoire to bring us unexpected gifts during the year. I love having Mouse be part of my nieces' and nephews' lives. My newest grandnephew, Henry, 11 months old, is getting a lovely soft stuffed mouse as his special gift from Mouse. My mother, who was more creative than I, always hand-made a gingerbread Mouse House at Chanukah.

Sara Paretsky is the award-winning author of the 14-book mystery series featuring female detective V.I. Warshawski. The newest title in the series is Body Work. Sara was recently named the recipient of the 2011 Grand Master award by the Mystery Writers of America. She is the founding mother of Sisters in Crime.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Wassail, part one

By Kathie Felix

Molly Weston, the editor of InSinc, the Sisters in Crime quarterly bulletin, knows her recipes. When we spoke at Thanksgiving, she was whipping up a Bailey's Irish Cream Tiramisu from instructions she found on mystery author and independent bookstore owner Kris Neri's website.

This week, as I was thinking about holiday preparations, I immediately thought of Molly as a go-to recipe source. When I asked for some ideas to share with our sisters and misters, she provided some quick and easy recipes perfect for holiday get-togethers.

Today's offering is Christmas Wassail and Dilly Crackers. According to Molly, the Christmas Wassail is great with cheese straws but, if you're lacking the time or the ambition to tackle cheese straws, go for these much simpler Dilly Crackers.

And, if you haven't already visited, check out the website for Kris Neri's bookstore in Sedona, Az., The Well Red Coyote.

Christmas Wassail

2 qt. water
1 cup sugar
3 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
1 qt. cider (not apple juice!)
1 qt. orange juice
1 cup lemon juice

Boil water, sugar and spices for 1 hour. Remove spices; add remaining ingredients. Heat before serving.

Dilly Crackers

1 bag Premium (brand name) oyster crackers (Somehow the shape of these
helps them absorb the other ingredients than other brands.)
1 pkt. dry Ranch dressing mix
1 tblsp. dill weed (I use dried)
1/2 cup canola oil

Put dry ingredients into a zipper bag & shake. Add oil, all at once, and shake until all oil is absorbed and crackers are evenly coated.

Molly Weston is an editor, mystery reviewer, media escort and lecturer on the subject of mysteries. She books mystery authors into stores, libraries and other venues in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Character Building Blocks

By Loni Emmert

Originally posted at
on April 5, 2010

While going over a manuscript this past month, my writing partner and I have had some serious discussions regarding characters and what drives them to do what they do. As writers, we all know that our characters can develop their own quirks and do things that we, the authors, certainly did not intend for them to do. But that’s why we grow to love them, because at some point they become an actual person to us and, optimistically, to our readers.

However, in the early days of their creation we need to fill the empty, plastic mold with the silly putty that will begin to shape them. It’s easy to describe hair and eye color, height, weight, scars or tattoos and any other physical attributes that we can imagine. What is not always easy is to delve deep into their psyche and find those childhood traumas or life-altering adult decisions that are the building blocks of our characters’ personality — quirks and all.

For example, perhaps your character refuses to learn how to drive a car. Give him a background story that includes a harrowing car accident that renders him with an overwhelming fear of driving. If your character has trouble forming friendships, explain it with an adolescence of disinterested parents that never bothered to hug the child, making her an adult that is uncomfortable with emotional bonding.

Childhood isn’t the only place where wounds can occur. Adult decisions can have a lasting impact, either good or bad, on one’s behavior. A marriage to a bad partner or a spiteful divorce can render a person with a fear of relationships. An unplanned pregnancy, an abortion, or a miscarriage can etch profound grooves into the bravest of souls. Filing bankruptcy, betraying a friend, watching a loved one pass on, or having a physically challenged child contribute to the experiences that form the creases in the putty that turn us into who we become.

It is the same with our characters. An author needs to engage readers with the events — past, present and those yet to come — that our beloved characters must live through.

If your character is having trouble conceiving a child, provide the reader with an understanding of her ordeal and why it is so important to her to have a child. If your character cannot hold a job, display the personality quirks that keep him unemployed. Perhaps those DUIs in her early 20s are the reason your character refuses to have that glass of wine at dinner. Even a murderer needs a plausible motivating factor to keep a reader connected to the story. The reader needs to experience the highs and lows along with our protagonist — and needs to appreciate what makes him or her tick.

Do not be afraid to probe the depths of your character’s mind and explore why you want them to behave as they do. The more back story and tribulations, damage and distress that you can pile up on a character makes them more believable and more lovable.

After all, we all know and admire people who have overcome incredible obstacles, but it can be hard to empathize with someone who has a picture-perfect life. Deep down we know that no one’s life is perfect, and it’s nice to have a sneak peek into a person’s core, to be one of the very few that are allowed in to really see why someone is the way they are.

Being an observer of the mind is a remarkable thing and, as a writer, it is your job to allow the reader in for a closer look. You never know, you may discover why your character does those strange things that you weren’t counting on.

Loni Emmert is the co-author of Button Hollow Chronicles #1: The Leaf Peeper Murders and the author of Lights! Camera! Murder! A member of Sisters in Crime since 2006, she is currently working on her first thriller.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Readers and Gender: What Works?

By Corrina Lawson

Originally published in an expanded version at

I had expected RWA's “Crossing Gender Boundaries” workshop presented by bestselling authors Suze Brockman and Lee Child to be about how to write to appeal to both genders. It turned out to be more an exploration of what appeals to both genders. In that, it was somewhat eye-opening.

Brockmann said her work likely isn’t viewed as romance any longer by traditional romance readers. For those not familiar with her books, she writes military action/adventure with a strong helping of romance. Some romances take place over several books, others take two steps forward, one step back.

Brockmann is also a big advocate for male/male romances and GLBT causes. Her books appeal to many, many readers, including men.

Child has a large female crossover audience for his hugely popular Jack Reacher thriller/mystery series.

I’d always assumed that crossing the gender boundaries to snag male readers was sort of a holy grail for a romance writer, but Child upended that. He said the potential male audience is very small.

“It’s bad to limit yourself to male readers. Bankruptcy lies that way.”

“Men are a difficult sell. They tend to be hung up about reading fiction, almost considering it demeaning. The ones that do read tend to pick up a lot of nonfiction and, those that do read fiction, many of them read literary fiction. That leaves a small slice that reads genre fiction.”

He said the crossover readership is much more generous coming from men to women than the other way around.

He also said, as a mystery/thriller writer, he encounters the same sort of pre-judgments about the work not being serious enough as romance writers encounter.

Both Child and Brockmann talked about what they called the "Ugly Brown Couch." What they meant was an issue or moment really unpleasant or dark or too realistic that can scare away some traditional romance readers. Brockmann said these traditional readers want the familiar and not do not want to see their fantasy world upended.

And women tend to have triggers that men don’t always have, Child said.

“There’s something elemental about an unjust situation that offends women,” Child said.

One of the most interesting comments, though, came from the audience. When a question was asked about Jack Reacher’s appeal to women, Child said he thought it was because women viewed him as the perfect guy to have a one night stand with – he’s great in bed and he’ll leave in the morning, so he’s the ultimate fantasy.

I thought an audience member hit it closer to the truth. She pointed out that Reacher is a man with no ties and leaves home with only a toothbrush. No responsibilities, just him and the road. She said this is an escapist fantasy for many women who have to support and care for their families and juggle so many responsibilities.

Basically, she said it’s possible women want to fantasize about being Reacher far more than about sleeping with Reacher.

This seemed to take Child by surprise.

I think it’s pretty close to the truth. Running away is, I think, one of those fantasies that “good” women aren’t allowed to have. That’s because they’ll be bad mothers and bad daughters and all those other things, whereas for some reason, it’s a little more acceptable for men.

It’s similar to how, years ago, women weren’t supposed to want sex as much as men because that would make them somehow bad or evil.

Now, I’m not advocating women pick up and leave their families. I’m just saying that even the fantasy of wanting to leave is perceived still as making women bad people.

Even more, the lone wolf male is still more acceptable in our society than the lone wolf female. Some in our society consider women who want to be alone to be somehow wrong and unfulfilled, whereas men like George Clooney are celebrated for staying unattached.

As a result, it’s left to male characters -- like Jack Reacher -- to embody this escapist fantasy.

Corrina Lawson is an editor for the GeekMom blog and the author of Dinah of Seneca, an alternate history adventure novel set in a world where Romans and Vikings have settled in North America. She has been a finalist in the national Golden Heart contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America and has won several regional RWA contests. A longtime mystery reader, she hopes to see her series featuring a crime-fighting couple published soon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SinC Extends Library Grants through 2011

Jennifer Blakely, Director of the Lenox Township Library

We Love... The Lenox Township Library

The Lenox Township Library in New Haven, Mich., is the November 2010 winner of the Sisters in Crime (SinC) "We Love Libraries" funding.

The library will receive a check in the amount of $1,000 to be used for book purchases.

More Library Funding for 2011

The monthly SinC library lottery was expanded recently to continue to provide $1,000 grants for book purchases each month throughout calendar year 2011.

SinC members are encouraged to make sure the libraries in their areas know about -- and enter -- the "We Love Libraries" lottery program.

Libraries may participate by completing the online entry form at and uploading a photo of one or more staff members with three books in the library's collection written by Sisters in Crime members. A list of SinC author members can be found by clicking here.

A winner will be selected in a random drawing at the end of each month from the entries submitted online. Libraries must be located within the United States to be eligible to participate in the grant program.

The “We Love Libraries!” Program

Since January 2010, the monthly Sisters in Crime “We Love Libraries!” lottery has awarded $1,000 to a total of 11 libraries located throughout the U.S.

The previous “We Love Libraries!” winners include: the Kingstowne Branch of the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Library in Alexandria, Va. (January 2010); the Kraemer Family Library, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Co. (February 2010); Pineville-Bell County Library in Pineville, Ky. (March 2010); Cresco Public Library in Cresco, Ia. (April 2010); the Seminole County Public Library in Casselberry, Fl. (May 2010); the Bartram Trail Regional Library in Washington, Ga. (June 2010); the Newton Falls Public Library in Newton Falls, Oh. (July 2010); the St. Joseph Township-Swearingen Memorial Library in St. Joseph, Ill. (August 2010), the Yuma County Library District in Yuma, Az. (September 2010) and the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Mass. (October 2010).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SinC Announces New Vice President/President-Elect

With sadness, the Sisters in Crime Board of Directors announces that award-winning author Dana Stabenow has resigned as vice president of the organization.

In her short time on the board, Dana brought many energetic ideas about ways to strengthen SinC’s outreach efforts. While serving as vice president, however, she realized that her personal and professional demands wouldn’t allow her to allocate the amount of time she wanted to have available for Sisters in Crime projects.

On a brighter note, criminal justice professor and mystery novelist Frankie Bailey has agreed to join the SinC Board as vice president/president-elect.

Frankie is the author of four mystery novels and 10 nonfiction works examining crime history, crime fiction, and crime and mass media/popular culture. In addition to her writing background, she brings a wealth of experience to the SinC position, including a stint as Executive Vice President of the Mystery Writers of America.

As specified in the Sisters in Crime bylaws, the SinC Board of Directors votes to replace a Board member for the reminder of the term. The board vote for Bailey was unanimous.

Please follow Dana’s adventures on her blog, and please welcome Frankie to the SinC Board!

The current Sisters in Crime Board of Directors includes Cathy Pickens as President, Frankie Bailey as Vice President/President-Elect, Barbara Fister as Secretary, Kathryn Wall as Treasurer/Authors Coalition Liaison, Sandra Parshall as Chapter Liaison, Ellen Hart as Publicity Chair, Jim Huang as Bookstore Liaison, Mary Boone as Library Liaison, Nancy Martin as Member-At-Large, Val McDermid as Member-At-Large, Barb Goffman as Monitoring Project Liaison and Marcia Talley as Past President.

Sisters in Crime (SinC) is an international organization founded in 1986 to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers. Today, the organization is made up of 3,200 members in 48 chapters worldwide—authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, and others who love mysteries. Sisters in Crime is online at

Monday, December 13, 2010

Things You Don't Know About Ellen Hart -- And Her Closest Indie

SinC: Is there anything you'd never leave home without?
EH: I try to always remember my brain, but sometimes I can't remember where I put it.

SinC: What do you wish you had more time for?
EH: Reading. Playing with my grandkids and my dogs.

SinC: Is there anyone from the past you would like to talk to for just 15 minutes?
EH: Oh, my. So many. Not even sure where to start. Lincoln, for one. Oscar Wilde. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. FDR. Darwin. Hitler. Bobby Kennedy. Socrates. The Buddha. Aaron Burr. Shakespeare. Barbara Stanwyck. Tallulah Bankhead. Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Orson Welles.

SinC: If the F.B.I. had to give you a new identity, what name would you choose?
EH: Mary Higgins Clark.

SinC: Favorite food?
EH: Popcorn with real butter. Or cream. On anything.

SinC: Favorite drink?
EH: Alcohol--a good bourbon. Non-alcoholic--sparkling water with a twist. Or tea. Or coffee. Hate soft drinks.

SinC: Favorite dessert?
EH: Oh, please. I have to pick? Pie. Any and all pies.

SinC: If you weren't a published author, what would you be?
EH: A chef. That's what I did before I became a working writer. If I could pick a career not based on my talents, I'd like to be the director of a prestigious (and therefore wonderful) symphony orchestra.

SinC: If you could be one of your characters, who would it be and why?
EH: They're all too tortured. Then again, my main characters are richer and better looking than I am. Guess I'll go with Jane Lawless—on one of her good days.

SinC: What independent bookstore is closest to the place you spend a good portion of your time?
EH: Once Upon A Crime mystery bookstore.

SinC: Who owns the store and when did it open?
EH: Pat Frovarp and Gary Schultze. The bookstore was started many years ago by Mary Trone. At one time, she was an editor at Doubleday. She also reviewed for years for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Mary owned the store for many years, and then sold it to Steve Stilwell. I think there may have been another owner before Pat and Gary bought it. It's a landmark in Minneapolis, one of the best mystery bookstores in the country. In fact, Once Upon a Crime was recently named a recipient of the 2011 Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

SinC: Where can we find it online?

SinC: What's your most recent indie purchase?
EH: Still Life by Louise Penny.

SinC: How much snow is on the ground in Minneapolis?
EH: Officially, 17 inches (at the airport). We received a little more here in south Minneapolis. And the drifts (on the side streets) are four and five feet high.

SinC: How has the already legendary blizzard affected your daily routine?
EH: Spent the day yesterday (Dec. 12) digging out. My partner was at it after dark--and it's still not done! The main streets are in good shape by now--if you can get to them. That's the tricky part. They're calling this the fifth largest snowfall in Minnesota history. This is the kind of snow I remember from my childhood.

Ellen Hart is the author of the award-winning 18-book mystery series featuring Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless and the eight-book mystery series featuring food critic Sophie Greenway. The newest book in the Jane Lawless series, The Cruel Ever After, is available this month. You can learn more about Ellen at

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Talking Books: The Audiobook Narrator

Sandra Parshall talks with Tavia Gilbert, audiobook producer, director and actress (Part two of two parts)

Tavia Gilbert

This is an abridged version of an interview that originally appeared

Sandra Parshall: I couldn’t live without audiobooks, and one of my dreams has been to have my own work recorded. That dream has come true with the Blackstone Audio edition of my new mystery, Broken Places, narrated by Tavia Gilbert.

Tavia is a stage and voice actress who also produces, directs and narrates books, full-cast recordings and documentaries. She has won the audiobook profession’s Earphones Award and been nominated for an Audie. Recently, she agreed to satisfy my curiosity about the way books are recorded and how audiobook narrators work.

SP: How long have you been an audiobook narrator? How many books have you recorded in that time?

TG: I've been narrating books full time since September of 2007, when I got my first contract with Blackstone Audio. I was, truthfully, a bit lost before that gig. I had left my day job the year before, and I was really struggling to make my way, half-heartedly auditioning for commercial voiceover work and dreaming of really meaningful narration work. After my first job with Blackstone, I continued to get assignments monthly, and now it's a rare week when I don't have a book to record. I've worked on more than 70 books? 80, maybe? I'm losing count.

SP: How does someone get a job as a narrator? Did you audition?

TG: I did audition for my first Blackstone title, after I met Grover Gardner, a veteran narrator and the studio director for Blackstone, at the Audiobook Publishers Association Conference in New York in May 2007. I gently but persistently followed up with Grover after that initial meeting, and he finally sent me an audition piece. He cast me, and the following day he called me back. I was sure he was going to fire me before I even started -- realize his mistake -- but he gave me a rush title to work on, so I had my first two gigs. Every book I do I have a moment of a crisis of faith, and I think that it will surely be the very last book I ever get to do, but so far I'm adding new publishers and new projects fairly steadily.

SP: Have you ever been asked to narrate a book that you hated? How do you handle that kind of problem?

TG: Yes! And it's painful. It's got everything to do with the quality of writing. If the writing is masterful, there is great pleasure in narrating. If the writing is poor, it's an uncomfortable process. There is a vulnerability in great writing -- a revelation of the author's heart -- that is rich and beautiful in its idiosyncratic truth no matter what the subject matter or genre. Knowing that there are gorgeous books to be read, it's disheartening to get a book that relies on trendy cliche, author egotism, or cheap formula. But if I do a project, I am committing to embodying it and believing in it during the whole of the performance. Whether I'm working on a book that is gorgeous and transcendent or just pretty okay, I want the performance to be enjoyed and appreciated by the listener and the author, and so I endeavor to stay present moment-to-moment and not judge the material in the process of recording it.

SP: Recording a book must be like appearing in a play or movie in which you play all the parts. Writing a novel is a lot like that too. Broken Places has characters from different levels of society and different places, and many are natives of the mountains, so when I was writing I heard various accents in my head. How do you prepare to do different voices and accents?

TG: I would LOVE to have a lot of time to prepare dialects and character voices, but a full time audiobook recording schedule is pretty tight. I have a stock of characters that I can pull from ("Ok, he'll be my low, slow Southern guy, and I'll use my bright, breezy snob for her"), and I continue to explore and challenge my vocal instrument and my acting specificity to create new people to play. I use my friend Paul Meier's International Dialects of English Archive, which is an invaluable resource, as well as his dialect training materials, and I use the International Phonetic Alphabet as a shorthand to transcribe the key sounds of a dialect. I constantly soak in the way people speak, listening critically to how people express themselves with sound and language, tone, pacing, rhythm, volume, pitch, placement. I have started finding clips of interesting and idiosyncratic speakers that I can imitate for a particular character, from YouTube or NPR or movies. I also just work on the fly and I try something out until it works. It's very challenging, and I've gone back through an entire book and rerecorded the dialect of a character (a very manipulative Eastern European criminal) because I just wasn't satisfied with my first interpretation.

SP: What do you enjoy most about narrating audiobooks?

TG: I love the moments of work when I am filled with joy and delight with language. Language is the most beautiful gift, and an enchanting phrase, a complex idea masterfully unfolded, the brave exposure of a terrifying truth -- all these awaken me, make me more fully alive, engaged, and present. Sometimes when I'm reading a book I will gasp and tears may come to my eyes because something the author has written is so true, or because I've just learned that I've truly not been alone in thinking or feeling something all my life, or because the writer has been so delightfully playful with their words. I love narrating a book that I wish I myself had written.

Learn more about Tavia and her work at

Sandra Parshall is the award-winning author of the mystery series featuring veterinarian Rachel Goddard. The most recent title in the three-volume series is Broken Places.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Talking Books: Creating An Audiobook

Sandra Parshall talks with Tavia Gilbert, audiobook producer, director and actress (Part one of two parts)

Tavia Gilbert

This is an abridged version of an interview that originally appeared

Sandra Parshall: I couldn’t live without audiobooks, and one of my dreams has been to have my own work recorded. That dream has come true with the Blackstone Audio edition of my new mystery, Broken Places, narrated by Tavia Gilbert.

Tavia is a stage and voice actress who also produces, directs and narrates books, full-cast recordings and documentaries. She has won the audiobook profession’s Earphones Award and been nominated for an Audie. Recently, she agreed to satisfy my curiosity about the way books are recorded and how audiobook narrators work.

SP: Who decides which reader will record which book? Do narrators specialize in certain genres, or in fiction vs. nonfiction?

TG: A publisher's studio director or casting director is in charge of choosing the narrators for projects. From time to time an author will have the right to approve the reader assigned to their book, so a few samples may be sent to the author to review before a final casting decision has been made. There have been a handful of projects I've hoped for, and it's thrilling when I've been chosen and heart-breaking when another narrator gets the job.

I think yes, some narrators have their niche, and I imagine that every narrator has a genre they are most fond of, but no matter what the material, the job of the narrator is to serve the vision of the writer with the most authentic voice. What I mean to say is that it's imperative for the narrator to fully inhabit the narrative voice and serve as a medium between the printed word and the listener. So no matter the genre, the process is the same: get out of the way of the work, let the work flow freely through you and humbly embody the author's voice and vision.

SP: Do you read a book more than once before you start recording? Do you mark it up, check pronunciations, make notes on characters, etc.?

TG: I read the book in full once before I read. Ideally, I would read the section the night before that I will be narrating the following day, but most often I am reading and prepping next week's project at night. I don't mark my script much at all, though each book is different and so it may require its own marking. I do always try to mark paradox, because to bring those juxtapositions to life requires mindful intention and inflection.

I am responsible for the research for my projects, so I look up a lot of the language in a dictionary or encyclopedia, call hotels or city halls or embassies to double check pronunciations of geographic locations and proper names, call librarians for assistance. When I'm reading fiction or narrative non fiction, I note each character and what they say about themselves, how the author/narrator describes the character, and how they are described by other characters in the book. That's exactly how I would prep a theatrical character, and it helps me make specific acting choices. I will also note how I think the character's voice sounds, i.e., low, laconic, whiny, halting, bright, strained.

SP: How long does it take to record an average length book? How many hours a day do you record?

TG: It generally takes me about two hours to record one finished hour of narration, so a book that totals 10 hours will take 20 hours to record. Sometimes I get down to an hour and a half for one finished hour, but that's a rare, victorious, shining star recording day. I record for five hours a day, at most. I used to do seven, but it's really hard on my body, especially my neck and shoulders.

SP: Do you work with a director who is on hand while you’re recording?

TG: Unfortunately, many audiobooks are no longer being directed. With digital technology transforming the publishing world, budgets have been cut and audiobook narrators are often self-engineering and self-directing.

But I love working with a director, and have frequently paid out of pocket in order to bring one in for the duration of the recording. It's great to have someone to pay attention to the long arc of the story, and it allows me to relax a little bit and trust that someone else is in charge.

I produce, cast, and direct as well, and I've found that when the budget doesn't call for a director for the entire process, it can be very valuable to work with the actor on the narrative voice at the beginning of the recording. The narrative voice is SO important, and I enjoy "sculpting" with an actor the voice they use. I'll sit in on a book for the first couple of hours and then check in later to answer questions, give support, and remind the audio engineer what they should keep in mind creatively as they're running the session. Later I'll give the actors feedback about phrasing, breath, relaxation, paradox, pace.

Sandra Parshall is the award-winning author of the mystery series featuring veterinarian Rachel Goddard. The most recent title in the three-volume series is Broken Places.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Tried (and Sometimes True) Interview Techniques

By Jackie Houchin

[Editor’s Note: Jackie wrote this piece with her journalism work in mind. The tips she offers, however, can be used in interviews related to any type of writing.]

Originally posted June 10, 2010

So many people; so many interesting stories! To pick their brains, pry out their deepest secrets, find out how and why they do what they do, I have to interview them.

There are three main steps (or methods to my madness) in how I interview folks.

Before the interview

I first decide why I want to interview the person, what I hope to learn and what kind of story I want to write. (A lot of this will depend on where I hope to place or sell the story.) Will it be informative, inspiring, promotional, or ... simply someone I personally want to know more about? (Having my own News & Reviews website helps with that last one.)

I contact the person (on the spot or by phone) and set up a time and date. I let them know who I am, who I write for and the general topic I want to cover. Then I do a little research on the person or their specialty, occupation or craft. From my "research" I make a list of questions I want to ask.

I make sure I have a notebook, pens, my camera – and a tape recorder if it's going to be a fact-heavy interview. (Fresh or recharged batteries are a given, of course)

During the interview

I try to establish a conversational mood by commenting on or complimenting (depending on where we meet) our surroundings. I thank them for letting me interview them, tell them what I hope to write about and collect some basic info (correct spelling of name, title if any, etc.)

Then I pick up my notebook and pen, turn on the recorder if using it, and dig right in with the first (and easiest) questions. I never stick strictly to my written questions. If something more interesting (or tantalizing) comes up in their answers, I will follow it like a vein of silver in a Colorado mine. And – confession-time here – sometimes I will ask a question I have no intention of using in my story, just because I want to know.

I mostly listen and add questions as promptings to keep them talking. I smile and encourage them with nods or soft, sympathetic sounds. I haven't mastered the "silence strategy" yet, but I'm told that if you can simply remain silent, your subject will fill it with more info. It's usually too uncomfortable for me to do that.

I take "off the record" seriously and will never write something I'm asked not to. That doesn't mean I don't want to hear it, however. Secret confessions sometimes help me to understand where the person is coming from. I'll take notes, and I might use the revelation to shade or slant the story, but not even that, if it is too sensitive.

If I get behind on my note-taking, I ask them to repeat, slow down, or clarify what they said, especially if I plan to quote it in the story. (Quotes must be 100% accurate!) If they are showing me objects they've collected or made, I will ask if I can photograph them. Always, at the end of the interview, I will get several shots of them with something meaningful to the story. (Projects, pets, creations, gardens, workplace, etc.)

When the interview is winding down, I quickly look over my questions to see if I got everything I need, then I'll ask if they want to tell me anything I didn't ask about. (Great stuff sometimes comes out this way.)

I thank them, give them my card with contact info, and offer to send them a hard copy of the finished story in the paper or magazine (or the link, if it appears in an online venue).

After the Interview

I review my notes (it's easier to decipher my scribbling if I do this right away), underlining key words and looking for a really cool approach to the story. I also try to come up with a good strong opening statement – whether it's dramatic, provocative, humorous, or teasing. What I want is something that will suck in the reader. Wait, that's called a "hook" right?

I also look for facts that I might need clarified or explained. If I find any, I'll do a brief call-back by phone.

And the rule is to never show the interviewee the piece before it is published. But on occasion, under special circumstances, I have been known to do that. (I'm such a softie!)

Jackie Houchin is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and theatre critic. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and California Writers Club.