Friday, July 30, 2010

SinC Into Great Writing 2010 -- In San Francisco!

LearnSisters in Crime is holding their annual SinC Into Great Writing 2010! one day prior to Bouchercon By the Bay in San Francisco. Featuring -- Elizabeth Lyon -- Triple-header pre-Bouchercon workshops with teacher and freelance editor Elizabeth Lyon, author of MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER, A WRITER’S GUIDE TO FICTION, AND THE SELL-YOUR-NOVEL TOOL KIT.

You do not need to be registered for the conference to attend this one day workshop. Sisters in Crime has discounted this workshop for its members. The cost for the entire day including dinner is $50.00. The charge for non-members is $150.00 so join Sisters in Crime and save money!

Ayelet Waldman, NYT bestselling author, will be joining us as our dinner speaker. Dinner and coffee break included in $50/$150 registration fee. Check in will begin at 12:30pm in front of the workshop room. An e-mail will be sent to you with the room name at a later date. Special dietary requests will be honored. Please e-mail Beth with your request at

Spots fill up fast and we can only seat 120. Register now!

SinC Into Great Writing 2010! is sponsored by Sisters in Crime. Sisters in Crime will not be able to issue refunds.

Bouchercon2010To make reservations for Bouchercon By The Bay please go to You will be able to receive the conference rate for your hotel room if you need to come in a day early. All arrangements need to be made with the Hyatt Regency.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

5 Myths About Being A Mystery Author

1.)  We all get six-figure advances and are as rich as Janet Evanovich. *
2.)  Our publishers send us out on fabulous, all-expenses paid book tours -- first class all the way. *
3.)  We get all the books we want for free from our publishers. *
4.)  Authors don't have to work hard to get an agent, editor or publisher.*
5.)  We're all ex-police, ex-bounty-hunters, ex-private investigators or ex-wives.*

*#1 -- Pardon me while I wipe the tears of laughter from my face.
*#2 -- Most of us pay for our own book tours.
*#3 -- Authors get a set number of "author copies" (from none to whatever her/his agent can squeeze out of the publisher).
*#4 -- Let's not even GO there!
*#5 --  No, we're all ex-bored...we write because we love it.

Can you think of any more Myths?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Ellen Hart writes:

After returning from the SinC Summit trip to visit Apple, Amazon, Smashwords and Google, my ideas have changed enormously about ebooks.  We're hoping to make the Summit report available to the membership early in August, so stay tuned. 

My question for this week is:

How do you view ebooks?  Are they the Great Industry Satan?  Something you'll never use?  Something you already use and like?  Do you think ebooks are out to ruin the printed book?  Are we about to see the death of the paper book?  Are you anxious about this change in the industry?  Excited?  Wary?  Do you think ebooks will provide you, as an author or a reader, any benefit?  Are you sick of the subject and simply want to ignore it?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's the deal . . .?

For some reason, authors (and it seems like mystery authors in particular) LOVE chocolate?  Why do you think that is?  And how about you?  What's your favorite form of chocolate love?

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Die or Not to Die...But Definitely to Change

By Ellen Hart

Since taking over the blog in January, I've tried to provide new content and new interest.  However, the longer I've been at it, the more I see that we need far more content, and perhaps an entirely new paradigm for the SinC National blog.  What would that look like?  I have ideas, as do many members and board members.  We plan on having an in depth conversation about this during the board meeting at this year's Bouchercon. 

In the interim, between August and the convention, we're going to try something new.  And now for something completely different, as Monty Python used to say. Well, not completely.  Buy different, yes.

The blog is clearly going to need more than one person providing the content to make it viable and interesting, a go-to place for our membership.  What we need is a small, dedicated army.  For the moment, a contingent of the Guppies and a few others, under the leadership of Lorraine Bartlett, has stepped up to the plate.  This is the form it will take:

Monday:  Personal Writing Odyssey Day.  These will be blogs from writers telling their personal publishing story--how they were able to break into print.  I think most of us will find these not only fascinating, but occasionally inspirational.

Tuesday:  Realities of Modern Publishing Day.  On Tuesday we will provide links to various recent articles on some facet of publishing.  Good news or bad, we all need to keep up. 

Wednesday:  Chapter Day.  On Wednesdays we'd like to give chapters the chance to tell the entire membership what they've been up to, what programs they've offered, or speakers who have come to a meeting to talk about their expertise. Anything and everything about a specific chapter.

Thursday:  Nuts and Bolts Day.  The Guppie Army will be asking writers to deliver blogs on various writing topics. 

Friday:  Interview Day.  Each Friday, we will offer the membership an in-depth interview with a writing, publishing, science or industry professional, who we feel would be of interest to the membership. 

Obviously, this change in structure may take some time to get up and running, but please do check back to see what's going on.  And as always, if you have comments, please feel free to share them. 

Onward and upward into the brave new blogosphere!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Ellen Hart writes:

Our blog has received very little traffic since we started doing the Monday blogs and the Wednesday Burning questions. How could we make this site better?  What would you like to see on the blog site that isn't there now?  

Monday, July 19, 2010

You don't scare me, Kindle!

By Guest Blogger Dana Stabenow

Kindle. eReader. EZReader. The Alex. The Que. The Nook, iRex, Plastic Logic.

Every time a new e-reader debuts, the book world hurls itself into a panic.“…[P]ublishers are distracting themselves by fretting over the price of eBooks, withholding eBook releases so as not to cannibalize hardcover book sales, and watching helplessly as their businesses erode,” Reuters quoted Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. (

So. Is this the end of the book? Am I about to be out of a job? Man, I was just getting started here.

I’m bucking the trend. I don’t think so.

The October 25 Sunday New York Times wrote, “Amazon says Kindle owners buy 3.1 times as many books as they did before getting one. Sony says its e-book users are also inspired. “You are going to see very significant growth rates,” said Jeffrey P. Bezos, the head of Amazon.

Gen Xers were raised reading on screens, and that’s how many of them are now reading books. Further, the explosion of online social networking and personal and professional blogs is accustoming many in the baby boomer generation to the habit of reading onscreen. An e-format book is going to look more familiar and reassuring every time they log on to Facebook.

I myself recently downloaded a Great Books app to my iPhone, and guess what? If I were stuck in an airport waiting for a late plane and I’d accidentally packed my book in my checked baggage (it’s happened, and the horror), I could reread Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone just fine. It scrolls past at a speed I set in a font I choose and I’ve got over 150 public domain titles from which to pick, including all of Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers plus both sequels. If I were toting all that around in book form my bag would never fit into the overhead bin. Not to mention what it would do to my back trying to get it there.

So I’m selling my Star Svensdotter and Liam Campbell novels, long out of print, on Kindle and iPhone, and as soon as I get five minutes I’m going to get tech-friendly with uploading all my out-of-print titles, including short stories, for sale on all the other e-devices as well.

As I was writing this post, I checked the iTunes App store book page. The number one free app? Kindle for iPhone. Number two? The B&N eReader. As it happens, I don’t need either one of them because my app has its own built-in reader. And it and all the books it comes with cost me the magnificent sum of $1.99. At that price, you think I won’t buy more?

Eric over at Pimp My Novel says, “These cheap books might be the death of publishing, book sharing might be the death of publishing, Stephen King is delaying his e-book because e-books are the death of publishing…is anyone else bored of this conversation?” and then links to Lit Drift’s 5 Reasons Why the Novel is Not a Dying Medium, where they channel Mark Twain in saying that the death of the novel is greatly exaggerated.

On his blog, literary agent Nathan Bransford says, “Things are changing, it’s going to be an interesting/challenging couple of years as we gradually succumb to our coming e-book overlords, but it doesn’t mean the novel is going to disappear or that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket. Things aren’t going to be worse (at least in the long term), they’re just going to be different…”

I can do different. My feeling is that the more ways you can read, the more you will read, which is only good news for me. I do not mean to make light of the real changes facing everyone at every level of the publishing industry. Change is always scary.

But change doesn’t have to be bad, and in this case, I don’t believe it is.
Dana Stabenow was born in Anchorage and raised on 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. She knew there was a warmer, drier job out there somewhere and found it in writing books. Her first science fiction novel, Second Star, sank without a trace, her first crime fiction novel, A Cold Day for Murder, won an Edgar award, her first thriller, Blindfold Game, hit the New York Times bestseller list, and her twenty-seventh novel and eighteenth Kate Shugak novel, Though Not Dead, comes out in February 2011.  Visit her web site:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

SinC Summit 2010, Part II


Ellen Hart writes:

Most writers seem to be drawn to quotations about writing. I've builtup quite a list over the twenty years I've been at it. Here are a couple of favorites:

"Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery." Henry Miller.

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." Ernest Hemingway.

This weeks burning question is: Do you have a favorite quotation about the craft of writing that you'd like to share?"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First Summit Report - 2010

SinC Summit, 2010.  A report from the road.  Day One.  Seattle, WA.  Amazon.

Monday, July 12, 2010


By guest blogger Penny Warner

Nancy Drew turned 80 this year. Yet she still doesn’t look a day over 18. I want to be Nancy Drew. Now, after selling over 50 books to publishers, including and THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK and my new series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, which features a “Nancy Drew” character and several of Nancy Drew’s sleuthing skills, I realized that everything I know about writing, I learned from reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Here are 13 of Drew’s clues to improving your writing skills—and sell your own sleuthing mystery!

1. Create unforgettable characters: “You know Nancy.” All agreed she possessed an appealing quality, which people never forgot. ~ Clue in the Diary

All stories are based on interesting characters—there are no exceptions. Introduce us to your character a little at a time, using action and dialogue (showing), rather than a thumbnail sketch (telling). Create realistic characters without using stereotypical traits, and include some surprises about the character that are believable. Finally, give the characters conflict—happy characters make dull characters.

2. Use dialogue: Suddenly the young sleuth snapped her fingers. “I know what I’ll do! I’ll set a trap for that ghost!” ~ The Hidden Staircase

Dialogue makes a story come alive. It also helps move the story along, increases pace and creates drama. Listen to real conversations for realism, then edit and tighten them to make the dialogue readable. Keep attribution simple—use action or “said,” rather than adverbs and euphemisms for “said.” Finally, read your dialogue aloud.

3. Set the scene: Many Colonial houses had secret passageways. “Do you know any entrances a thief could use?” ~The Hidden Staircase

A vivid setting pulls the reader into the story. It also intensifies suspense and becomes a character in itself. Show the setting through the character’s eyes and include all five senses, telling details, and occasional metaphors.

4. Add mood and atmosphere: Nancy had heard music, thumps and creaking noises at night, and had seen eerie, shadows on walls. ~ The Hidden Staircase

Give a sense of foreboding through description. Mood and atmosphere give the story depth and stimulate the emotions of the readers. Use foreshadowing to give the reader a feeling of unease.

5. Outline your plot: Ellen was alarmed. “We must do something to stop him!” “I have a little plan,” Nancy said. ~ Quest of the Missing Map

Before you begin writing, outline your plot so you know, generally, where the story is headed. You can keep it simple and just jot down the major plot points of the story—where the story takes a surprising turn and how it ratchets up the suspense. Or you can write a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, with the option of veering off if the story requires an alteration.

6. Start the clock ticking: “Hurry, girls, or we’ll miss the train to River Heights!” Nancy knew being on time was important. ~ Secret of Red Gate Farm

Begin with the inciting incident, which starts the clock ticking. Include not only the situation, but where it takes place, and who’s involved. This is where you ask the story questions: What if….? Think about your goal as start the story and where it will lead.

7. Create conflict: Nancy struggled to get away. She twisted, kicked and clawed. “Let me go!” Nancy cried. ~ Secret of the Old Clock

There is no story without conflict. The protagonist must come up against an antagonist, which can be a person, an idea, a corporation, or some kind of evil. Conflict helps reveal the protagonist’s needs, values, and fears, and causes her to confront her demons, challenge herself, and become a hero of sorts.

8. Pack it with action: “How do we get in?” “Over the top, commando style,” George urged. “Lucky we wore jeans.” ~ Clue in the Crumbling Wall

Today’s reader wants action, so give your protagonist opportunities to do something physical. Give her a choice between fight or flight, and when she fights—make her strong but still vulnerable.

9. Spark reader’s emotions: Nancy was too frightened to think logically. She beat on the door, but the panels would not give way. ~ Secret of the Old Clock

Crank up the reader’s involvement but increasing the character’s emotional risk. This way the reader will care about the story. If she can relate to the protagonist’s emotional jeopardy, she’ll be hooked on finding out what happens.

10. Raise the stakes: In a desperate attempt to break down the door Nancy threw her weight against it again and again. ~ Secret of the Old Clock

The story begins with a challenge for the protagonist. But that’s not enough. As the story moves along, something worse must happen. And just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water, things become even worse. Keep raising the stakes to keep those pages turning.

11. Make the situation hopeless: “We’re locked in!” Nancy exclaimed, and began banging on the door with her fist. ~ Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

When all seems lost and the protagonist is about to give up because she’s running out of time and is under extreme pressure, she must find the courage to go on, make other decisions, and get herself out of this devastating trouble.

12. Give the protagonist strength: “Girls don’t faint these days,” George scoffed. ~ Secret of Red Gate Farm

As the protagonist comes face to face with the antagonist, she must pull out all her reserves and use her own skills to change the situation. This heroic attempt must also create growth and change in the protagonist.

13. Don’t give up: Nancy tried to open the door. It was locked. Not easily discouraged, she tried a window; it was unlocked. ~The Hidden Staircase

I really believe the reason I’ve had over 50 books published is simply because—like Nancy Drew—I never gave up!
Penny Warner is the author of THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK, and the party-planning mystery series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY and HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH, from Penguin. She can be reached at

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wednesday's Burning Question

EH writes:

I've heard writers talk about characters in such a way that it makes me wonder who's in charge.  One famous author said recently that he had a character walk into his story and take over a significant portion of the arc.  He said that when this happens, a writer should consider it a gift and go with it.  Other writers are more cut and dried about it.  They're the author.  Characters do what they say, period.

My question this week is:  Do you ever allow a character to pull you in a certain direction, even if it takes you somewhere you didn't intend to go?  Or is that too woo woo?  Too magical?  Who's the boss in your novels? 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Writing the Other

By Guest Blogger Sarah Smith

Recently I finished a novel, The Other Side of Dark, in which one of the two first-person point-of-view characters is a teenaged African-American boy. Though members of my family are of African ancestry, I self-identify as white (and I’m not teenaged either). I was terrified to even attempt a first-person character whose life experience was so different from mine. 

Still, SJ Rozan had created Lydia Chin, Barbara Hambly had written about Benjamin January.  If they could succeed—well, at least I could try to write about Law Walker, and try to find his voice.

Here are a couple of things I learned.  They might apply to writing about any character who is significantly different in age, gender, class, or ethnicity from you. 

First, though people made me welcome, often I was way out of my comfort zone. It felt impolite to ask about race and class.  It was unfamiliar to read books written for the assumptions of African Americans.  (Nat Turner was a revolutionary hero?  In a kids’ book?)  I visited places where I felt like an unwelcome minority. 

My friends from various “different” groups just rolled their eyes when I thought this was unusual.

I genuinely knew nothing. Barbara Neely gave me some wonderful advice, early on. “You can learn,” she said.  “You can read.  Ask questions.  Listen.”  Research would help?  Research I could do.  I learned new ways of looking at American history, read marvelous authors, and heard stories whose existence I had never suspected. 

Still, research only goes so far; I knew I’d get things wrong.  My friends read drafts and told me what I should change.  I went out and recruited people to read The Other Side of Dark, from historians to landscape architects and African-American activists.  They helped to ground the characters in the details of real life and saved me from repeated stupidity.  They graciously accepted my apologies when I was especially dense.

One of the many rewards of working on this book was hearing new opinions and new voices. I read everything -- mystery novels and history, popular fiction and self-help books—and listened, and I heard people speaking their minds forcefully and persuasively.  I adapted and echoed some of those voices for characters in The Other Side of Dark. Law’s father, for instance, owes a lot to a radical American historian whose work I admire. 

Recently, a white student at a historically black university was asked the cringe-worthy question, “What are black people like?”  He blinked and said, “What are white people like?”  Books about someone who’s different from you are not about the difference, they’re about the someone.  In The Other Side of Dark, Law has wanted to date the same girl for four years without ever daring to ask her out; he wants to be an architect but his successful father looms over him. Mrs. Wilson has to stop a girl getting killed. Law’s father wants success too hard … They all happen to be African Americans, but their problems are no more “African American problems” than (white) Katie’s seeing ghosts is a “white problem.”

What are “different” people like? 

What are people like?

There is one problem about “writing the difference” that does bother me deeply.  Writers who write about “different” people, and who are not “different”, can find it easier to get published than people who are “different”.  (Hard to believe that anyone, ever, finds it easy to get published.)  White privilege exists, the way homophobia and sexism and ageism exist.  “Different” itself is a prejudicial term that assumes something else is  “normal.”  Nisi Shawl’s and Cynthia Ward’s classic book on writing and cultural variety puts it much better: Writing the Other.

If you’re the beneficiary of not being “different,” pay it forward.  Don’t just read books; if you like them, buy them.  Add them to your LibraryThing or Goodreads library.  Review them.  Tell your friends about them.  Friend their authors on Facebook so your friends can find them more easily.

Visit my site or Facebook page in coming weeks for some of the books I like and some of the stories I’ve heard. 
Sarah Smith’s The Other Side of Dark, a YA ghost thriller, will be published by Atheneum in November. Her Web site is; you can visit and friend her at or

Writing the Other is available from Aqueduct Press,