Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One of the Best Books You Never Read

by Leighton Gage

As people with experience of the entertainment industry will tell you, there is no truth in the adage a star is born. Stars aren’t born; they’re made. They’re constructed, role by role, sound bite by sound bite, press release by press release. The more famous an actor becomes, the more press coverage (and the more plum roles) he or she is likely to get.

Talent, contrary to popular belief, has little to do with stardom. Many unknown actors have talent, while many famous stars, particularly movie stars, have none at all.

It’s much the same with writers.

Take the case of Lenny Kleinfeld.

Lenny who?

Yeah, that’s exactly my point.

Lenny isn’t new to writing. He’s done plays and screenplays. He was a columnist for Chicago magazine. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. And, a while back, he sat down and wrote a mystery novel, Shooters and Chasers.

The book is chock-full of witty one-liners, terrific dialogue and memorable characters. Lenny told a cracking good story and told it superbly well. It’s the kind of book any writer would be proud of.

His struggle to publication was the usual path-of-thorns. Rejection followed rejection. At long last, the happy day arrived. He got picked up by Five Star. Kirkus praised his work (spellbinding…wit, style, suspense plus all the authenticity of an Ed McBain procedural. Lose yourself in it.) and awarded him a star. The book went on to sell…wait for it…1,377 copies.

Yes, I’ll be happy to repeat that number.

One-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventy-seven, one of which was mine.

I have never met Lenny Kleinfeld face-to-face.

I hope to, someday, but he and I live on the opposite sides of the world.

When I read Shooters and Chasers, I thought it was so darned good that I wrote to say so. I did more. I shared my opinion all over the internet, as I’m sharing it with you now.

Lenny wrote back to thank me, which is how I found out about the 1,377 copies.

That kind of success, or rather the lack of it, is enough to make a grown man cry. As a matter of fact, two of them did when they heard about it.

Lenny and myself.

Undaunted, Lenny dried his tears and got to work on his second.

Which is as it should be. It’s the profession we’ve chosen, and it isn’t for wimps.

But, if you’re a reader do yourself a favor: try to score one of the few copies of Shooters and Chasers, most of which are in libraries.

But, if you’re an aspiring writer as well, take heed from the example of Lenny Kleinfeld: the fact that people aren’t buying your books doesn’t mean they aren’t good.
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Lenny Kleinfeld was born in Brooklyn, became a writer in Chicago, and is now 24 years into a business trip to Los Angeles. In 2009 he became a first-time novelist, which in Southern California means: Screenwriter over 50. 



Leighton Gage lives and writes in Brazil. Every Bitter Thing, his next book in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, launches in December.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Brief Talk with Tamar Myers

By Norma Huss

Tamar Myers was born and raised in the Belgian Congo (now just the Congo). Her parents were missionaries to a tribe which, at that time, were known as headhunters and used human skulls for drinking cups. Hers was the first white family ever to peacefully coexist with the tribe, and Tamar grew up fluent in the local trade language. Because of her pale blue eyes, Tamar’s nickname was Ugly Eyes.



In 1964, four years after Congo became an independent nation, and after living through retribution and civil wars, the family returned to the United States permanently. Tamar survived the culture shock of high school and began submitting books, unsuccessfully, while still in college. She persevered and now has 37 published books in two mystery series (all still in print) and stand-alones. The cozy mystery community recognizes her as one of the best. Along the way she’s given hilarious workshop lectures (and I can personally testify to that). In 2003 she was chairperson of the Edgars committee that selected the Best First Novel of the previous year. Her website is http://www.tamarmyers.com/

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First, I think our members would like to know how a girl who grew up in the Belgium Congo and only learned how to dial a telephone at the age of sixteen managed to keep writing for 23 years before being published.  

Ironically, I started college as an art major. (My real desire was to be a painter.  I wanted to attend the Dayton Art Institute but my parents wanted me to get a degree in teaching from a "real" college.)  Anyway, my first art assignment was to do a drawing of my choice, but it was so severely criticized by my professor in front of the class, that I changed my major that day from art to English.  I thought that by becoming a writer I could live in seclusion and never have to be criticized again!  Wow, what a naive dumkopf I was!

At any rate, I began to write in earnest, and I tried every genre, and for 23 years before getting that first sale!  To answer your question, there were two things that kept me going.  1.) In a high school creative writing class I'd written a longish short story/novella that was good enough to make the teacher, by his own admission, weep with envy.  He said, about himself,  "I'll never be able to write that well."  2.)  The loving support of my husband, who would prop me up every time a returned manuscript would knock me flat on my butt.  My husband, Jeffrey, read a great deal and always reminded me that I was "just as good a writer--even better--than" so-and-so.     

I agree!  The titles of the books in your two series are delicious!  Which comes first, the title or the story? 

I sell my books by the titles alone!  The plots and synopsis come later.

You have these two mystery series with more books scheduled to come out this year and next.  Still, you write other books as well.  Tell me about your latest one, The Witch Doctor's Wife.  There is mystery in this too, is there not?

Yes, The Witchdoctor's Wife is a mystery, although frankly I think of it as just a good story that is told through the eyes of people living in another culture in another time and place.  I have retired the other two mystery series, and this is my time to concentrate on writing the stories of my childhood.  The mystery part provides a framework for telling these stories.     

How about a Nuts and Bolts type question.  What is your daily schedule like?  (Or weekly.) 

 I have an office inside my home.  It is upstairs.  It is painted Chinese red, to provide me with energy, and has white French doors that open out on to the loft.  On the walls I have hung framed photos of exotic places I have lived or visited, and famous people I have met, etc., so that when I die, my children won't think that I was a nobody (because by then all of my books will have been remaindered--believe me!).  My desk is a massive wooden desk with three deep drawers on either side and pull out leaves as well, plus a center drawer.  It came from an industrial office sale--and it would be impossible to buy one this large in a retail store.  I have written 35 books on this one, and lugged it around to many houses and three states.  To me it has become sacred by virtue of so much creativity happening atop it.  In a similar vein, i don't allow any computer games to be played on my PC.  This is a sacred spot, an altar--a place for reverent behavior.

I believe as Einstein did, that time is not a sequence of events.  That is a man-made construct.  The past, present, and future are all happening simultaneously.  Therefore my "future" books have already been written.  So why should I struggle to write them?  Well, I shouldn't!  That is why I begin each day asking the Universe to give me my daily portion of creativity (I hold my arms skyward), and then sit down and write a thousand polished words--five days a week.  After seventy days you have a book.  You don't need to plan it out, because the book has already been written!  All you have to do is receive it!   Just be open each day and let your subconscious mind receive what the Universe wants to give it.  It is that simple!  It has worked for 35 books!

Tamar, thanks so much for visiting the Sisters in Crime blog today.
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Norma Huss has been writing mystery for years, but only had her first novel published last year. YESTERDAY’S BODY was published by Wings ePress, Inc. Another mystery, DEATH OF A HOT CHICK is ready to make the rounds of agents. She’s a wife, mother, and grandmother as well as an advocate of a local bloodhound search and rescue unit. Visit her at http://www.normahuss.com/

Sunday, August 29, 2010

SinC Still Loves Libraries

We love libraries so much, we've extended our "We Love Libraries"  lottery through 2011.  Monthly grants of $1,000 will be awarded from through December 20111.  At the end of each month, a winner will be drawn from entries received at our website at http://www.sistersincrime.org/.  Only U.S. libraries may enter the drawing.  Click here to see our winners.

To enter, simply complete the entry form and upload a photo of one or more of your staff with three books in your collection by Sisters in Crime members.  You can find a list of our members who are authors by clicking here, or by navigating to our left side menu under Resources, SinC Authors.

After the random drawing on the last business day of the month, the winning library will be contacted and announced.  All branches within a larger system may enter; however, once a library in the system has won, no other libraries within that system can win the grant.  Those not successful in one month will automatically be entered for subsequent drawings.  Grants must be used to purchase books and may not be used for general operating expenses.  Book purchases are NOT restricted to the mystery genre nor to those by Sisters in Crime members. There is no cost or obligation other than allowing us to post winners' photos on our website.

 The Newton Falls Public Library in Newton Falls, Ohio was our July winner
All libraries are welcome to enter. If you have Sisters in Crime author mysteries in your collection we would love for you to enter this money giveaway.

We at Sisters in Crime LOVE our libraries and want to see them thrive. Enter for your library's chance to win.  Click here for the entry form.

If you have any questions please contact Beth Wasson.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ahhh, Greenway . . . A Dame's Hideaway

By Hannah Dennison

My parents were avid readers. Every other Saturday, we’d troop to the library to select our next read. Naturally, Agatha Christie was often among the stack of books we brought home to devour.

Greenway was Agatha Christie’s summer home in England and is just five miles from where my mother lives in Totnes, Devon. Mum has worked as a volunteer for the National Trust for 30 years and last summer, she added Greenway to her ever-growing list of things that keep her busy. Not bad for someone who just celebrated her 80th birthday.

We’d known for ages that Greenway had been undergoing a massive restoration process — to the tune of $7.8 million. The house and glorious woodland garden were given to the National Trust in 2000 by Agatha Christie’s daughter Rosalind and her second husband, Anthony Hicks, and Rosalind’s son, Mathew Prichard. When Rosalind and Anthony passed away in 2004 and 2005 respectively, Mathew took the generous next step of gifting virtually the entire contents to the National Trust.

Mathew said that his parents were fiercely protective of the Greenway legacy. His greatest wish was for people who visit Greenway to feel some of the magic and sense of place that he felt as a child in the 1950s and 1960s. Hence the house has been recreated in the style of those years that Mathew remembers as his happiest — during his grandmother’s heyday.

The current house was actually built in 1790 by an American from Boston named Roope Harris Roope. Over the years, Greenway was rebuilt, altered and extended by various owners, including local MPs, merchants and bankers, until Agatha Christie — known locally as Mrs. Mallowan — or just “Mrs. M” — bought the house for £6,000 in 1938 with her second husband, Max, the famed archaeologist.

They, too, made changes — although Christie was to remark later that she wished she’d had the foresight to add a small kitchen next to the dining room. It had never occurred to her there would come a day when there was no domestic help!

Shortly afterwards, World War II came. As part of the preparations for D-Day, the Admiralty eventually requisitioned Greenway for the use of the United States Coast Guard. Greenway became the Officers Mess for the 10th US Coast Guard Flotilla based in the Dart Estuary. Among them was Lt. Marshall Lee, who was to become an unofficial Greenway war artist. He created a vividly poignant frieze around the walls of the library that can still be enjoyed today.

The National Trust has kept their promise to Mathew Prichard. Greenway remains in a 1950s English time warp — right down to the thick Bronco medicated toilet paper in the Victorian lavatory.

Greenway is not a museum with “do not touch” signs and roped-off rooms that provide mere glimpses of the treasures beyond. It feels more like an open, private home where the owners have just popped out and will be back shortly.

Anthony Hicks’ hat collection is stacked on an oak gate-leg table, family photographs are scattered throughout and an antique drinks tray is set up, ready for an evening cocktail. Visitors are invited to play the grand piano in the drawing room and use the tennis court. The dining room can also be hired for private dinner parties. Some of the chairs can be sat on, making it more comfortable to leaf through wonderful scrapbooks filled with anecdotes. I particularly enjoyed the “Confessionals,” listing each family member’s favorite flowers, pet peeves, cherished values and fears. In fact Greenway is such a warm and welcome place to visit, my mother related a story that caused much merriment among the volunteers. One afternoon, a four-year old girl was discovered, snuggled under the duvet, fast asleep in Agatha Christie’s bed. She’d even taken off her shoes.

The Victorians were great collectors and Agatha Christie — born in 1890 — was no exception. The mind-boggling collection of antique furniture, house wares and accouterments at Greenway span five generations. They include Tartanware, Meissen, Maunchlinware, papier mâché, enameled boxes, Bargeware, Verge watches, Stevengraphs, Treen and Tunbridgeware. Many items were collected from trips Agatha Christie and Max made to the Orient. I nearly fainted when I saw a camel from the Tang dynasty sitting happily on the sideboard, instead of being protected under reinforced glass.

The highlight of my visit was reading facsimiles of Agatha Christie’s notebooks. It is of great comfort to know that even the Queen of Crime, with more than 80 books under her belt, said, “To begin with I had no joy in writing, no élan. I had worked out the plot – a conventional plot – I knew, as one might say, where I was going, but I could not see the scene in my mind’s eye and the people would not come alive. I was driven desperately on by the desire, indeed the necessity to write another book and make some money.”

Another Agatha Christie gem is a tape recording of an interview she had with a BBC radio program in 1955. When asked to describe her writing method, she said “…the real work is done in thinking out the development of your story and worrying about it until it comes right. That may take quite a while. Then, when you’ve got all your material together, all that remains is to find time to write the thing!”

Unfortunately, if anyone is expecting to see her writing room, they will be disappointed. Robyn Brown, Greenway’s Property Manager who has overseen the entire rebirth of Greenway, said that Agatha Christie wrote when traveling with Max on digs throughout the Middle East. Greenway was a family summer retreat and the place where she celebrated finishing a book. 

Greenway was clearly the inspiration for many of her plots. Dead Man’s Folly (1956) was set at the late Georgian, early Victorian Boat House — complete with plunge pool — overlooking the River Dart and the Scold’s Stone, supposedly where disobedient wives were trussed up to drown in medieval times.

As my mother and I finished our champagne and ate the last of her birthday cake, a certain chill came over me. The dark waters of the plunge pool seemed to glimmer ominously. Was something lurking beneath the muddy waters, or were our eyes tricked by the dappling sunlight pouring in through the half-opened door?

Now there’s an idea for a story …
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Hannah Dennison writes the Vicky Hill mysteries. Her third book, Expose! will be released this month. Visit her website.  Hannah is a member of the Killer Characters blog and posts every 12th of the month.
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Getting to Greenway
Greenway is 200 miles southwest of London. This year there have been 80,000 visitors — the house is small with a lot to see. If traveling by car it is essential to pre-book a parking spot. There are no exceptions as it is physically impossible to park on the narrow roads leading to Greenway and you will be turned away. The recommended route is either by old-fashioned steam train from Paignton or Dartmouth or even better, the “Green Way” along the tranquil River Dart. Ferries run from Dartmouth, Torquay or Brixham. On disembarking at Greenway jetty, it’s a very pretty short walk up to the house. 

For opening times and events, check www.nationaltrust.or.uk/greenway and ferries www.greenwayferry.co.uk. For diehard fans, one floor of the main house has been turned into a five-bedroom apartment available for rent — so continuing Greenway’s legacy as a holiday retreat.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

SWAT Boot Camp -- Sniper Verb Training : TARGET "And"

By C.L. Phillips

Attention!

Well novelist, I see you are back for another SWAT Boot Camp session with Sergeant Wordslayer. Remember what SWAT means? Stop Withering Away Tension. Now drop and give me five verbs as a warm up. Quick, pick up a pencil. What? You don't have a pencil? Then write it in blood. After all, you are a mystery novelist, aren't you. Hey, you there in the back, Cozy Writer, this means you too.

Five verbs. Fast. Top of Mind. Quickly. Five More. Don't you dare use any form of "to be", do you hear me? (This is where you scream at the top of your lungs, YES, Sergeant Wordslayer.) Good.

That wasn't too tough was it? Now, pull out your current work in progress. Today, we're going to Whip that WIP in shape with a little Sniper Verb Training. Grab a chapter or ten pages. Get out your pencil. Quickly now, go through the pages and circle all the verbs. VERBS ONLY LADIES and GENTLEMEN.

Don't make me wait, get going.

Finished?

Ok, that was the easy part. Now, go back and put a square box around all the ANDs, ands, and ands. You get my point right?

Now, I want you to reach inside your brain and pet that tiny little ego of yours. Remind yourself that only the truly gifted novelists are willing to slay their own words. Repeat after me, "I'm special. I'm a great writer except when I choose weak, sniveling, spineless verbs." Set fire to a recipe card or something. It's time for war.

Rewrite every sentence with circles and squares. That's right. None of this "He looked at his watch and reached for the phone." Or, "He turned to his left and grabbed the box of Cheerios and sat down at the breakfast table."

Why are we SNIPER KILLING these sentences? Because in most cases you are saying what you see, as if it were in a movie. Not what you mean. Not what builds tension. Unless you are using AND to separate a list of nouns, you must seriously consider how "and" neuters tension in your sentence.

Do you agree? You can argue with Sargeant Wordslayer...but beware, if you are wrong, you will have to submit a list of twenty five totally awesome verbs, which you will subsequently inject into your WIP.

Don't believe me? Pick up a best selling author's book and highlight all the ANDS in the first ten pages. I challenge you to find more than five.

Dismissed!
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C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: http://www.clphillips.com/ or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Little Chapter That Can

by Polly Iyer

I’m always envious when I read about “The Big Sisters in Crime Chapters.” You know the ones where best-selling authors are members and crime specialists belong who actually write books. The Upstate South Carolina Chapter, on the other hand, occupies a tiny corner of the state, and we have used all our powers of imagination and perseverance to keep coming up with great guest speakers. Somehow, we manage.

We try to alternate between crime professionals and published authors. We love writers with a sense of humor. Those who tell us about their failures before achieving publication give the unpublished among us hope as we strive to connect with an agent or editor. Yeah, they can do it—well, so can we. We’re energized and empowered by their stories. One of our latest guests, A.J. Hartley, kept the group amused with his wonderful sense of British humour as he described all the things he did wrong before becoming a New York Times best-selling author.

Linda Lovely, Carla Damron and Polly Iyer
We’ve hosted a who’s-who list of mystery writers that includes Suzanne Adair, Kathleen Delaney, Carla Damron, Lynda Fitzgerald, Rick Helms, Kay Hooper, Terry Hoover, Gwen Hunter, Charlotte Hughes, Angela Knight, Vicki Lane, Jim and Joyce Lavene, Tamar Myers, Cathy Pickens, Patricia Sprinkle, J.D. Rhoades, Kathryn Wall, and past chapter president, Ellis Vidler. Many have generously visited multiple times. Some discuss their books, others the craft of writing. Chris Roerden, whose book is a master class on writing, shared her valuable knowledge, a definite learning experience. We’d love to have her back. One of our Brothers in Crime, black belt karate expert Howard Lewis, showed us his moves and held us captive. Literally. We look forward to the publication next year of another past chapter president, Linda Lovely.

Our group is supportive of the authors who visit, and we buy their books. Real paper books, with covers and everything. And they sign them. Writers are just so darn nice.

Blood splatterWe love authors, but I have to admit, we’re a bloodthirsty group. We love gore. No, really. Give us a PowerPoint presentation with dead bodies, blood spatter, and decomposition, and we’re riveted to the screen. Our guests have included medical examiners, coroners, and a prosecuting attorney who trashed the major network investigation show that covered his case because it distorted the facts. One arrogant defense attorney turned down a case because the client couldn’t pay. Hello, public defender. We’ll never have him back. Conversely, a federal public defender kept our group enthralled past the time limit, and our bookstore had to kick us out. We’ve had him twice and hope to have him again.

We’ve hosted sheriffs, P.I.s, male and female FBI agents, forensic specialists, medical examiners, cops dealing in human trafficking, fraud investigators, the first woman cop in the county, a forensic psychologist, a weapons expert, a campus security cop, and an arson inspector, among others. We’ve even had an arson-sniffing dog. All shared their experiences, took our questions—except for the dog—and taught us a thing or two we didn’t know before.

We’ve seen changes this year. Our indie bookstore closed, leaving us scrambling to find another venue. We did. It’s not the same, but we eat better because the meeting is at a restaurant. Things are happening in our little corner of the world. So I guess we’ve done okay.

For more information on the Upstate South Carolina Chapter, please contact Polly Iyer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Good Read

by Tim Myers

I’ve found that there are a great many similarities between reading a good story, and trying to write one.

When I’m telling the story, I see myself in a clearing in the middle of a great and dark forest at night, with no one else around except a single reader. We’re sitting on the ground across from each other with a mighty bonfire between us, and we can’t see each other through the wood and the flames. There is a chill at our backs, but our faces are warmed by the heat. Only the sound of my voice carries beyond the pops and hisses and crackling of the fire as the logs burn and settle in place. As glowing embers dance skyward through a narrow opening into the sky, they quietly fade away, as if they are being blown out by the very breath of my words. As the story unfolds, we are both swept into the tale, and the most important questions for any storyteller become more and more urgent as the story continues: what happens next, and how does it all end?

When I’m reading a good book, there is a sense of safety there for me as I take my place on the other side of the fire. I know that I can ease my grip on the world around me and lose myself in the tale. The shadows don’t worry me, because I am focused on the fire, and that tantalizing voice coming from the other side.

There are times it’s all I can do to keep myself from rushing to the end of a really great book. I fight, and lose, the battle every time to slow my pace as the story unfolds. I want to savor each moment and hold on to the world the author has created, just for me. I know that, too soon, the tale will be over, and that brings me joy, but it also brings a hint of sadness as well.

To be honest, I have to admit that I love sitting on both sides of that fire.
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Tim Myers is the Agatha Award nominated author of 22 novels, 10 of which have been IMBA National Bestsellers. He is also the author of over 80 short stories, and has been nominated three times for the Derringer Award for Excellence is short mystery fiction.  Tim writes the Chris Cavender Pizza Mysteries as Chris Cavender and as Casey Mayes for the Puzzlemaker Mysteries (A Deadly Row). Visit his web site: http://www.timmyers.net/

Monday, August 23, 2010

Disintermediation : Power to the Consumer

By C.L. Phillips

Yellow dollar sign
When you look at the coming changes in the publishing industry, there's one word you should know. Disintermediation. It's a fifty cent word that means billions of dollars of cost are going to be driven out of the supplier-distributor-consumer supply chain.

Do you remember when mainframe computers ruled banking? Or when you used a travel agent to make airline reservations? If you were born after 1980, you probably don't. A more recent example, remember when you went used iTunes to get new music instead of going to a record store to buy a CD.

Mainframe computers have been replaced by minicomputers, by personal computers, and by lightweight machines that access applications on the internet (e.g. iPad). General travel agents were replaced by self-service airline reservations. The travel agents that survive today were forced to specialize and market to a niche. Example : Cruise Ship Travel Agents, or China travel agents. In the music business, Tower Records closed store after store. If you want to buy a CD now, you have to find a quirky little music shop or hit the music section of the Barnes and Noble. Even Best Buy and Walmart have significantly reduced their inventory.

Disintermediation happens when technology provides a new method for connecting suppliers with consumers. Computing power decentralized. Travel information became available to individual travelers. Knowledge decentralized. iTunes put entire music catalogs at your fingertips.

Disintermediation and decentralization of power, control, and knowledge travel together.

In any industry, if you make your living from the middle, as a distributor, disintermediation strikes fear in your heart. Margins decline. Processes and systems have to change quickly or your costs can drive you out of business. The very people that thrived on centralized control are the ones that suffer the most when the shift comes.

I actually loved my travel agent. She took care of me. She saved me from a snowstorm in Newark, NJ and put me on the the last plane headed west (to Memphis) so I could make it to my father's sixtieth birthday party on time. But even with stellar service, I now make my own travel reservations. Disintermediation puts more control in the hands of the consumer, and the consumer responds.

How will the consumer respond when the publishing industry completes its transition? Can you imagine a world where the reader has the resources to easily find the books they want?

As authors, we need to know what the readers will do. How will you find the books you want in this new worlds? How do you find the books you want today? Inquiring minds want to know. Share your tips in the comment section. Together we may have the information we need to surf this wave, starting now.

Write on!
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C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: http://www.clphillips.com/ or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787

Saturday, August 21, 2010

SinC 2010 Summit Report is now available for Members

The SinC 2010 Summit Report is now available for members to download. 

This treasure trove of information on the exciting world of e-publishing--where it is, where it's going--was put together by members of the Sisters In Crime board:  President Marcia Talley, Vice President Cathy Pickins, PR Director Ellen Hart, and Bookstore Liaison Jim Hueng.

Click this link to take you to the members sign in, which will lead you to the Summit Report.

Tell us what you think:  we want to know!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hank Phillippi Ryan talks to writer/producer Lee Goldberg




Lee Goldberg is an ex-Navy SEAL, freelance Sexual Surrogate and a professional Pierce Brosnan impersonator.


Okay, that's not true. But he wants this biography to be really exciting, so pay attention. Lee published his first book .357 Vigilante (as "Ian Ludlow," so he'd be on the shelf next to Robert Ludlum) while he was still a UCLA student. .
Goldberg broke into television with a freelance script sale to Spenser: For Hire. Since then, his TV writing & producing credits have covered a wide variety of genres, including sci-fi, cop shows, martial arts, whodunits, the occult, kid's shows, comedy, and utter crap. His TV work has earned him two Edgar Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America.


His two careers, novelist and TV writer, merged when he began writing the Diagnosis Murder series of original novels, based on the hit CBS TV mystery that he also wrote and produced. And he also writes novels based on Monk, another show he's worked on.

Freel free to visit Lee's web site and his blog.
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HANK: Do you remember when you fell in love with mysteries? Why was that? Was there a book, or a movie…do you remember a moment or a time or a reason?


LEE: I don't remember a specific moment or book, though the book "Nothing Ever Happens on My Block" made a big impression on me as a toddler. It's about a kid who is miserably bored because his street is so boring...and is so caught up in himself that he doesn't notice all the amazing things that are happening around him.

I think I had my Dad read me that book every night for, oh, a year. You could argue, I suppose, that it got me interested in characters who are missing the details... sort of a reverse detective novel. I devoured the HARDY BOYS and NANCY DREW mysteries and I was reading The Saint and the Matt Helm books by the time I was in fourth grade.

HANK: What do you mean, characters who are missing the details? You mean when there are clues and they don’t see them? Or...what? And what intrigued you about that?

LEE: I have no idea...I am just guessing. In "Nothing Ever Happens On My Block," the kid doesn't see all sorts of interesting things... a thief breaking into a house, a witch peering out of different windows of her home, a house on-fire, etc. The details change on each page of the book. I'm simply theorizing that perhaps his inability to perceive the details around him... the clues, if you will... piqued my interest. Writing mysteries is all about the details, the clue, the ticks of human behavior...perhaps that book influenced me. Or not. Perhaps I was more influenced by "Green Eggs and Ham."

HANK: Oh, Green Eggs and Ham is very suspenseful! (And actually, it's about persistence, right? Which is very important for a writer.) Are you devoted to your work? Can't wait to do it? Or do you have to convince yourself to get to the computer

LEE:  I procrastinate just like every other writer I know. But am devoted to my work. When I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. I have been writing all of my life and can't imagine not doing it. However, sometimes I like the idea of writing, or of having written, better than writing itself. When writing is going well, and it’s as if you are channeling a spirit rather than working, it's a fantastic, wonderful, incomparable feeling.

But when it's work, when it's like chiseling in stone, and the inspiration has to be coaxed, begged, and surgically extracted from your mind, then it's hard to stay in front of the computer and keep at it. That's when I thank god for shooting dates and publishing deadlines. I can't wait for the right moment, I have to plant my ass in the chair whether I want to be there or not. And I am thankful for it, even as I swear at the screen and sweat blood on my keyboard.

HANK: Somehow, it’s reassuring to know that it’s not always easy for someone as successful as you are. When you watch TV now, or read a book—can you just relax and, maybe, enjoy? Or is your editor-writer brain always assessing? What do you see as the flaws and gaps and missteps? The successes?

LEE: With a mystery, no, I can't just read or watch. I am always very aware of the construction of the mystery.

But you're not supposed to be passively entertained by a mystery. You are expected to track the clues. Part of the fun is that the mystery is there to be solved, and if the author (or writer/producer) has played fairly, then you can and should participate along with the detective.

If a movie is really good, I can stop looking at the construction of *the story* and just be swept up in it. But if the movie is flawed, it pulls me out, and I start seeing the work/structure/component parts and then it's hard to be entertained by what I am watching. I begin to watch it like a producer watching a director's cut and thinking about what he's got to go into the editing room to fix...

HANK: I know--it's so annoying. We'll be watching TV and I'll say--oh, someone CAN'T SWIM. As if that's supposed to be subtle. You know, lots of authors read their work out loud, testing the dialogue. But lots of what you do is written to be read out loud, to be spoken. Does that change how you think?

LEE: How I write, and how I think about story, depends on the medium I am writing for. I write scripts differently than I write books. In a script, everything has to be conveyed through action and dialog. A script is a working document, a blueprint that other professionals -- actors, directors, set decorators, etc. -- have to read and interpret in order to do their work. As a result, it's created and structured differently than a book. So you also have to think of how you write, and how your characters speak, and what they say, in a different way than you would with prose.

HANK: When you need to start a new story—what is it that makes you think: “go!” And hey, I don’t mean a deadline. (Unless that’s what it is.)

LEE: Usually it's a character conflict more than a mystery, situation or a clue. What makes a mystery, or any story, interesting to me is the conflict it creates for the heroes or for them to grapple with internally... or, preferably, both.

HANK: Can you give us an example or two?

LEE: Bill Rabkin and I wrote an episode of SPENSER FOR HIRE that begins with Spenser returning to his apartment after an all-night stake-out. He hasn't slept in 24 hours. He's having a cup of coffee, glances out the window, and sees a woman standing on the ledge of the building across the street. Their eyes meet for a split second....and then she jumps. Spenser runs outside. The woman is barely alive, in a coma. He becomes obsessed with finding out why she jumped...and can't sleep until he does. The episode explored why Spenser does what he does. No one has hired him, no one has asked for his help, no crime has been committed. So why is he doing it? It was that pitch that sold the script ten seconds after we pitched it....nobody even asked what why she jumped or what the mystery was. They liked the character conflict that was driving the investigation.

My upcoming MONK book, MR. MONK ON THE ROAD, arose from a character issue. Monk's life is more balanced than it's ever been... he's solved his wife's murder, his job is secured, he's about as happy as he's going to get. But his brother Ambrose's life is as "unbalanced" as ever. Ambrose is afraid to go outside...hasn't stepped out of his house in thirty years (well, there were two very brief moments when he did, both involving attempts on his life, but that's not important). For Ambrose's birthday, Monk "kidnaps" him and takes on a roadtrip in a motorhome...with Natalie at the wheel. Ambrose doesn't have to leave the house, so-to-speak, but still gets to experience the outside world. I love the conflicts that would create...the mystery was secondary to me (not that it wasn't important)
HANK: Do you remember your first moment of MONK? Don't just say "yes."

LEE: My first moment of MONK was watching the pilot. Within two minutes, I knew it was a show I should be writing and I called my agent and said "GET ME A MEETING!" Thankfully, he did.

HANK: How bad are your first drafts? Are they better now than they used to be? What would you say about that?

LEE: Hard to say, since I rewrite as a go along. By the time I get to the end of my first draft, the book has probably been rewritten a dozen times along the way.

HANK: Putting a book on Kindle. Ebooks in general. Epublishing. How do we catch this wave? Are you excited about it? Or fearful?

LEE: I think it's fantastic for writers with out-of-print books. It's an opportunity for your books to be reborn...and whatever you earn is found money. For instance, my novel THE WALK came out from Five Star in 2004 and nobody noticed. I figured that was it. But I put it on the Kindle about 13 months ago and have sold over 8000 copies, far more than I sold in hardcover. And, incidentally, earning me far more than I earned from the book in hardcover as well. So, thanks to the Kindle, books that were gathering dust in my garage and earning me nothing are now generating income again. That's a win-win. It's also great for mid-list authors who've been dropped...but still have a completed manuscript or two that were in the pipeline that now won't be published.

It's a very easy wave to catch...and best of all, it's free. If your book is in Microsoft Word, you just upload it to dtp.amazon.com, write a product description, set a price, and you're done (you also need a cover...you can do it yourself with Photoshop and stock photos/art bought off the web...or you can hire someone to design one for you). If your book isn't a Microsoft Word file, and you have the galley, you can scan it into a Word file and upload it. If all you have is your published book, you can take it apart and scan it. I have used all three methods to get my out-of-print books on the Kindle.

If you don't want to do any of that... or don't have the time... there are plenty of people out there you can hire to do it for you. You can get your book scanned, formatted, and a cover designed for under $600.

On the other hand, the ease of self-publishing has led to a tsunami of swill showing up on Amazon. Yes, there IS good self-published work out there. But I think it has become far too tempting for aspiring writers looking for a short cut to "publish" their work before it's ready...or any good. Just because all it takes is one mouse-click to publish your work, that doesn't mean that you should do it. You aren't doing yourself, or readers, or other "indie" writers out there, any favors by selling work that's sub-standard. It poisons the well for everybody. (And keep in mind, if your manuscript has been rejected by every publisher and agent on earth, it might be because it is crap).

It's too soon to tell if the preponderance of awful self-published work is going to make readers leery of sampling or buying self-published books. My fear is that readers, after sampling so much garbage, will associate any ebook with a low price tag on it, or that's from a writer or publisher they don't know, with unreadable crap...and that will hurt all authors, "indie" or not. Detroit turned out so many bad cars for so long that consumers stopped buying American...and bought cars from overseas instead. Producing garbage will turn off consumers.

HANK:  Practical practical advice. You said: “And I would have paid much more attention to networking.” But you’d still write first, right? And make that the priority? That’s so difficult to balance.

LEE: Of course writing is the priority... but once you've written something, you need to get it published or produced, and that's when it's important to have contacts. I got so caught up in writing, and producing, that I think I didn't do enough networking, that I didn't devote enough time and attention to maintaining the friendships and contacts that I had.

HANK: So we sit at our computer in the morning. Pull up our work in progress. And then you walk in to give your morning advice! Give us some words of wisdom.

LEE: I have no words of wisdom. I am wisdomless.

HANK: Oh, Lee, we doubt that! But here’s the latest: Lee’s newest MONK novel, MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT, is out now. His next one, MR. MONK ON THE ROAD, comes out in January.

In the meantime, he is writing for the new A&E series THE GLADES and I'm about to write & direct a short film, REMAINDERED, in Kentucky next month that will be screened at Bouchercon in October.
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Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate. Her first mystery, PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. It was also was a double RITA nominee and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner. AIR TIME was nominated for the AGATHA Award for Best Novel of 2009 and is now an Anthony Nominee for Best Paperback Original.. Hank's short story "On The House" won the AGATHA for Best Short Story of 2009, and is now an Anthony nominee and a Macavity nominee. Hank is on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her website is http://www.hankphillippiryan.com/

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SWAT Boot Camp for Novel Beginnings

By C.L. Phillips

You're a successful writer and novelist. So why are you constantly reworking and tweaking your first ten pages? Oh, I get it. If the first ten pages don't hook your reader, then you might as well go home, right.


So what are you doing about it? Besides gnawing on your fingernails? Do you need a little tough love from Sargent Wordslayer's SWAT Boot Camp for Novelists.? What? You don't know Sargent Wordslayer? Sure you do. He's that little voice in your head screaming, "this is the best you can do? Drop and give me twenty." At least, that's what he says to me.

Sargent Wordslayer's SWAT Boot Camp, that's SWAT - Stop Whithering Away Tension, kicks your opening chapters into shape. Sargent Wordslayer doesn't care about your fears or phobia's. He turns introverted middle-grade poets into vampire thriller writers. He can turn you into a world class, ass-kicking word-bashing samurai. But do you have what it takes?

Test yourself. Take out your first ten pages. Read them quickly. Now, put them away. Really. Turn the pages over. Better yet, take those first ten pages and put them in the freezer. Get a Popsicle while you are there. Sargent Wordslay encourages the use of sugar in all forms.

Ready?

We're going to put your hero in the three opening scenes of famous books. You're going to take the details of your story and insert your characters and try to make it work. Let me give you an example. You are writing a mystery (obviously, or you wouldn't be here, now would you?).

Example One: Ordinary day turns to....incoming danger. Put your hero into a scene like the opening of Micahel Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer. Your hero is going to work. A normal day. S/he gets a phone call. Something unexpected happens, and you are off to the races. Sargent Wordslayer says "Get that iincoming bomb in the first 150 words."

Example Two: Get the story problem in the first line. Example, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. The first line. "It wasn't a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance." Give Sargent Wordslayer six new first lines that foreshadow your story problem...now! Get writing. You've got three minutes. Put that Popsicle down and get cracking. No looking around the room. Write, golly-gosh-darn-it.

Example Three: Pick a fight. Check out Harlen Coben's Deal Breaker. Make your hero pick a fight with a throw-away character so we can bond with his righteous indignation, ability to protect the weak, and possibly admire his mental acuity and muscular body. Sargent Wordslayer gives bonus points if you can make the fight happen in two pages while simultaneously demonstrating your hero's internal psychological flaw and one endearing little quirk.


Did you do it? Or did you just read about it? Sargent Wordslayer says, "Private, print this blog post out and tape it to your forehead until you do it." You'll feel better. Promise.

Write on!
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C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: http://www.clphillips.com/ or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not a Sister, but a Mister in Crime

By Leslie Shortlidge

Though most emphatically not a women and a Johnny-come-lately to detective fiction compared to writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Anna Katharine Green, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) will be forever loved as the creator of master-sleuth Sherlock Holmes.

Why talk about Doyle here in the SinC blog? Because Doyle was a believer in fiction that did not cheat the reader, fiction that rather rewarded him or her with a satisfying conclusion based on observable facts and the latest scientific methods.

In precious movie footage from a 1927 newsreel, Doyle himself addresses the camera and his legion of fans to explain how and why he came to create Holmes (or does so until about half-way through when he shifts his discussion to Spiritualism). Mostly, Doyle wrote detective fiction because he didn’t like the detective fiction he was reading. He disliked the style of the time, which depended on a “lucky chance or a fluke of some kind” that lacked plausible explanations.

“It didn’t seem to me quite playing the game,” says Doyle in his Scotts burr. And when Doyle began to write, he decided that his character would “get the thing by building it up scientifically.”

For his creation, Sherlock Holmes, Doyle “thought of a hundred little dodges . . . a hundred little touches by which he could build up his conclusions.” Inspired by a colleague, Dr. Joseph Bell, who employed the same holistic consideration of a person made famous by Holmes, Doyle succeeded in setting the bar to a much higher standard than heretofore realized—and the style still inspires.





Leslie Shortlidge is a member of the Sisters In Crime Guppie chapter and lives in Columbus, Ohio. You can follow her on Twitter, where her handle is @Bookorama. Most of her posts are exciting updates on her word count, using the #amwriting hash tag.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jan Brogan's Writing Challenge

by Julie Hennrikus

Jungle Red Writers is the blog of six Sisters in Crime--Rhys Bowen, Jan Brogan, Hallie Ephron, Rosemary Harris, Roberta Isleib and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Earlier this month, Jan Brogan issued a challenge--for six weeks, write a page a day BEFORE you get on the internet. Just one page. Dozens of writers signed up, agreeing to check in at least three times over the next six weeks with their progress. The initial post has 101 comments. The update has over 30 comments, many from inspired writers.

Jan, did you expect this reaction to your challenge?

I actually worried that in August, when so many people are on vacation, that I wouldn't get enough people to even read the post, let alone reply. I was grateful my Blog sisters so eagerly signed up, because at least then, there would be the six of us. I was surprised at the groundswell of other writers, who like me, needed a way to attack their Internet procrastinations.

What made you think of it?

 I read about a really cool challenge in the New York Times, it was a fashion challenge: You had to choose six items of clothing -- any six -- and that's all you could wear for a month. (not counting shoes and accessories). A number of  women signed on and learned interesting things about their fashion/shopping addictions. I thought -- what kind of challenge  would be appropriate to writers?  I knew  I needed to be more productive and that  my biggest enemy was the Internet -- because once I start checking email for the day, it becomes a way to distract myself from a story problem. I chose one page a day because it's doable. There's really no excuse NOT to write one page -- no matter what's going on in your life. And starting is always the hardest problem for me. Once I get going, one page leads to another.

The lazy days of summer are one thing, but do you think the challenge will continue after the six weeks? Are you hoping to inspire new habits?


I'd love it if the challenge continued past the summer. For me, I plan on expanding, rather than stopping my own new, improved habits. Even now, I'm not checking email until after noon. Email and the Internet are incredible time thieves that make you THINK you are working when you are just goofing off. 

Have you had any unexpected results from the challenge?


Yes, the enthusiasm and the comments I've gotten -- which have been so terrific. One woman suggested doing the same thing AFTER Lunch. Writing a whole page before you check email again. Hank suggested a Twitter hashtag to search and follow #JRWRITEFIRST, and authors have come to share some of their daily frustrations with me there, as well as with all of us on the blog. I feel like I'm making new friends.
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Journalist Jan Brogan is the author of the Hallie Ahern series, set in Providence and the stand alone Final Copy, which won the Drood Review of Mystery’s Editors Choice award. She recently finished a screenplay based on the 1976 Combat Zone murder in Boston which has been accepted by a director. She is currently writing a narrative non-fiction account of the same murder, as well as a comic noir mystery, The Devil In Waverley. 

J.A. Hennrikus is a member of the Sisters In Crime Guppy Chapter and on the board of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Escapist Fare

by Gillian Roberts

It should be relatively easy to write about murder, especially when a perfect premise is given to you. Without such a ‘gift,’ I’ve done it in sixteen novels and a few dozen short stories. I’ve even written a how-to-write-about-murder.

Here’s what I know now: It is (relatively) easy--as long as it’s a mystery.

And it’s fictional.

The resulting puzzles or pulse-racers are called escapist fiction. It’s suggested we read such works on a plane where anything that makes travel less onerous is a plus, or at the beach (what on earth are we escaping there?).

“Escapist” is generally not a compliment. There’s a small sneer in the term, as if the crime isn’t on the page but within us. Our brows are low. Nobody gave us permission to escape. It’s a critical form of Mean Buddhism: Be Here Now--Or Else.

But we do escape, even when we aren’t flying or sunbathing and return to the pleasures of crime as readers and writers.

I did or thought I did. And then real-life murder hit home, almost literally. A gentle woman--who was active in the library, who wanted to write, who had been a career counselor, who had dreadful back problems about which she didn’t complain, whose husband, a lawyer and wildlife photographer died of Alzheimer’s a few months earlier, who had fine sons and grandchildren--was killed.

Early one early-summer morning in this quiet town she was murdered a few feet from her front door, with a point blank shot to her skull.

Nothing was taken from the house.

Nobody heard the shot.

The local weekly just won a national prize for their coverage of the crime, but a year later, it remains unsolved. And a year later, I find myself still thinking of her on a daily basis, and looking at life differently. I was a casual friend. What is her best friend feeling? Her children and grandchildren? Her next door neighbors? Everyone in this small town is changed in many ways. One gunshot echoes forever.

“You ought to write about it,” more than one person said. “You’re a mystery writer and here it is--a real life mystery in our own town.”

True. It has every element the crime novels I most enjoy reading and have written. It’s a classic mystery.

And yes, I spent a lot of time puzzling who could have, why anybody would have, done such a thing, and I have a working, if unprovable idea. I also know that to a writer, ‘everything is material.’ I have borrowed shamelessly from news stories that gnawed at me. The books that resulted weren’t of the ‘ripped from the headlines’ type because big headlines interest me less than small, human stories. Like this one.

But when I think about borrowing this woman’s death--even though it haunts and mystifies me and feels important in ways I can’t yet articulate--I feel as if I’d be dishonoring her because of what a writer must do in order to turn her story into mine.

Everything I know about her is benign, loving, wry, kindly. She was ordinary, in the nicest of ways. That’s what gives her story such power--it makes no sense.

But what we demand in a mystery is to go beneath smooth surfaces and find fissures, secrets, and dark places, a handful of enemies--suspects--who have cause to have wanted her gone. I couldn’t do that to that good woman, but then I’d have no plot, no story, no motives--no book. I’ve been trying to think through this, about why I never felt this queasiness and revulsion when I’ve borrowed bits from real events and real people’s behavior and turned them into something new. We say we want believable stories, and believable characters, but we don’t, not really. We want art. Escapist art, if you will.

Only since my friend was killed did I consider what, precisely, we’re escaping. I know our books can help us assuage grief and anxiety. I’ve heard from readers who said my books got them through long sieges by or in a hospital bed, or sleepless nights, or just plain bad times, and I am so grateful that is so.

But after a year of thinking about the unfathomable insanity that took a good life, about real crime and its aftershocks, I think that we turn to fictional mysteries to escape the terrible lack of a plot in “real” life. We’re escaping the randomness and meaningless of the evil we cannot escape in the ‘real’ world by diving into a book where loose ends are woven together, motives are clear and maybe most of all, we’re given an ending, a conclusion, a meaning--whatever that might be.

It’s a good thing. Thanks be for the magic and the solace escapist fiction provides. Without it, life in its amoeba-like shapelessness might smother us. So while I won’t ever ‘use’ the one murder story I know, I will keep writing escapist fiction and consider “escapism” a necessary blessing and a term of praise.
______________________________
Gillian Roberts is the author of the Anthony-award winning Amanda Pepper mystery series, the Emma Howe series, and the how-to guide You Can Write a Mystery. All's Well That Ends is the fourteenth and final Amanda Pepper novel. For more information on Gillian and her novels, check out her web site.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wide Open Spaces

By C.L. Phillips

Susan Gibson, singer songwriter, gave the world the gift of Wide Open Spaces, a song recorded by the Dixie Chicks in 1998.  In the chorus, she says,

She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes


So my question to our published authors and pre-published writers alike is, where is your wide open space with room to make big mistakes?  Where do you go to experiment with your writing?  When you read the line "she needs new faces", what comes to mind?  New characters?  New critique partners?  Or perhaps something deeper.

In June I had the good fortune to hear Susan Gibson reminisce about this song.  She pitched the song to Lloyd Maines, music producer and father of one of the Dixie Chicks.  She said she believed that Lloyd responded to the song first as a father.  Suddenly I realized her words connected with an audience she never intended when she crafted the song. 

A song of a young woman's journey to break out on her own spoke to the heart of a father whose own daughter was searching for her path.  I was more moved by this story than the song itself, because I realized the power of truth bridges the sexes, generations, and life experiences.  There is more here than meets the ear.

How will your readers respond to your work?  Sometimes the most powerful stories are those that speak to the hearts of more than your intended audience.  Who will you unexpectedly move with your truth? 

Sometimes we need wide open spaces.  Room to make mistakes.  A place to learn and grow.  And a spark.  That's what you bring to the party.  Come on, tell us about your wide open spaces.  What about the mistake that turned into a miracle?  

Write on!
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C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: www.clphillips.com or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Zooming With Twitter

by Julie Hennrikus

This past April, Krista Davis provided a great service—a two part Twitter lesson on the Cozy Chicks blog. (Read part one here and part two here). She is also part of a Guppies team encouraging Twitter use by hosting Friday tweetups. Lists Krista has created on her Twitter page (like this list of writers) help Guppies (and others) jump in and find people to follow.

All of this helps get people started. But for many the question remains: why?

Krista Davis: Lots of reasons!

·         Twitter has the ability to reach more people than any other single promotional idea outside of extremely expensive TV or radio advertising.

·         It's free, which makes it affordable for everyone.

·         Unlike other social media, there's little expectation of interaction.

·         Tweets must be 140 characters or less, so it's not time-consuming.

·         Authors can target audiences and readers through the use of hashtags.

·         A lot of social media churns in the same circles of writers. Twitter zooms outside of those circles and reaches a broader audience.

Question: You intersect foodies and mystery readers with your tweets and your blogs (especially mysteryloverskitchen.com). Do you feel that the cross promotion helps grow your followers? And is that helpful?

KD: Absolutely. Branding is key to marketing mysteries these days. In my case, I don't have to look far to see the explosion of interest in food. When Julia Child had her show, no one would have ever expected that we would see an entire TV network devoted to food. Not all the people following Top Chef and Food Network are fascinated by mysteries, but there is a group where the interest in food intersects with enjoyment of mysteries -- that's my audience!

What is your most interesting RT*?


I once re-tweeted a tweet about storing a severed body part in the crisper of the refrigerator. We were having a Guppy chat on Twitter when I saw it, and I thought it was hilarious. That tweet was retweeted all over!

*An RT, or retweet, is a way of repeating someone else’s tweet to your followers. And it may get retweeted to others. And so on, and so on.
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National Bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Domestic Diva Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime.  Her most recent release is The Diva Paints the Town.  The Diva Cooks A Goose will be in bookstores in December.  Learn more about Krista's books at her web site  and visit her on Saturdays at  the Mystery Lovers Kitchen blog , where she blogs on Saturdays. Follow her on Twitter at @KristaDavis.  She promises to follow you back!

J.A. Hennrikus is a Guppy and on the board of the NE Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What you DIDN'T know about Mary Roberts Rinehart

By Joyce Tremel

If Sisters in Crime had been around at the turn of the 20th century, Mary Roberts Rinehart would have been an active member. Born in the North Side (then called Allegheny City) of Pittsburgh in 1876, Rinehart was the natural choice for a namesake when the Pittsburgh chapter of SinC needed a name.


Rinehart began writing after she and her physician husband lost their savings in the stock market crash of 1903. Often called the “American Agatha Christie,” she became a pioneer in the world of mystery fiction, and invented the Had-I-But-Known type of storytelling. Her novel, The Circular Staircase, the second in the Miss Cornelia Van Gorder series, propelled her to national fame. She was also a prolific short story writer and a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post. In true pioneer fashion, she became the first female war correspondent when she was sent to the Belgian front during World War I.

Rinehart was a pioneer in other ways, too. One of her novels, The Bat (which was made into a silent movie), featured a costumed supercriminal. Sound familiar? Although disputed in various sources, rumor has it that Bob Kane, the creator of the Batman comic, may have used the character as his inspiration for his superhero. Who would have figured a middle aged woman may have been responsible for Batman?

When Rinehart had a radical mastectomy for breast cancer, she went public with her story in an issue of Ladies Home Journal in 1947. She encouraged women to have breast exams at a time when this issue was not talked about in public. She also founded the New York publishing house Farrar & Rinehart with her sons, where she served as director.

One event in Rinehart’s life sounds like it came straight from a mystery novel. She owned a vacation home in Bar Harbor, Maine. One summer, as she sat in her library reading a book, her cook of 25 years entered the room. He walked up to her, pointed a gun at her head and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired and Rinehart ran for help. As she passed the front door to her home, a man standing there told her he was looking for work. She allegedly said, “Young man, you’ll have to come back later. There is a man here trying to kill me.” The cook then tried to attack her with knives, but was subdued by other servants. He committed suicide in jail, and the gracious Rinehart paid for his funeral.

Rinehart was awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America in 1953 for her contribution to the field of mystery. She died in 1958 and is buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Pittsburgh chapter is proud to carry on the legacy of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Please feel free to visit our web site.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WE'VE GOT A NAME -- WE'VE GOT A NAME!

For the past four years, this blog has been only known as the Sisters In Crime blog. Period.

Well, things have been changing round the blog -- as we hope you've noticed -- and if you'll look above this post, you'll see we now have a blog banner that includes our new name:  SinC into the Depths of  Mystery -- and that's what we hope will happen.  We intend to delve into the mystery genre -- the nuts and bolts, what makes a good read, introduce you to some of our members, and hopefully educate our readers about the publishing industry and the place women have in it.

So, what do you think about the name, the banner, and the changes so far?

We'd love to hear from you!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Writer’s Journey: Say Cheese!

By Avery Aames (a.k.a. Daryl Wood Gerber)

Getting published is hard work. It takes tenacity. It takes passion. It takes friends who won’t let you give up. J.A. Konrath says: "What do you call a writer with perseverance? PUBLISHED!"

Are you just about to give up? Don’t!

Over the course of fifteen years, I wrote a number of books, both traditional mystery and suspense thrillers. I submitted these books to agent after agent and received a number of comments like, “This is so close, but it’s just not for me.” [Sound familiar?]

Two years ago, when I was ready to give up, a critique partner suggested I write to the market. ‘Cozies are selling,’ she said. With nothing to lose, I decided to give it a whirl.

But before I wrote another full book, I wanted to make sure that the cozy hook that I’d chosen was a good hook. I approached agent Jessica Faust at Bookends, whom I had met a writers’ conference. She had given me encouragement on previous work. I asked if I could submit cozy ideas to her to see if they would fly with a publisher. She agreed. I submitted professionally crafted bibles, [my bibles included sample chapters, an overview of the series, character sketches, and a basic outline], but none captured her fancy. After a few tries, we agreed that maybe we weren’t of like mind, so I asked if she’d be upset if I approached her fellow agent, Jacky Sach, who I had also met at a conference. Jessica gave her blessing.

I approached Jacky with the same request. Jacky agreed. I tried three, but she didn’t think any would appeal to a publisher, so I tried three more. Mind you, each of these took me a while to write, and mind you Jacky was such a good sport! Again, I received encouragement from Jacky, but none of the ideas were “just right.” Because I knew of people who had been “hired” to write books based on a bible created by the publisher, I asked Jacky if she would keep me in mind if she heard of an opportunity. [Note: I used to write in Hollywood. I created the format for a series on TV called “Out of this World.” I had no qualms about writing somebody else’s idea.] Jacky said she would.

I didn’t waste another moment thinking about the possibility, and I returned to what I had been writing before I changed track – a suspense thriller. Note: I was still considering giving up writing, but I hadn’t decided what I would do next with my life, and sitting on the couch day in, day out was out of the question (for me). I polished my new novel and started the quest again to find an agent who would think it was the most brilliant piece of writing ever. I received requests for full manuscripts and was feeling pretty sure that something was going to break for me this time…soon. [Perseverance requires that you see the rainbow behind the clouds!] At the same time, I took a cozy writing class and a suspense writing class. I polished new chapters and ideas through my critique group. And, yes, I had the occasional mini-pity party. [Note: Don’t let pity parties last longer than twenty-four hours. It takes grit to stop a pity-party, but you can do it.]

And then one day, out of the blue, I received an email from Jacky. She had a work-for-hire possibility. Would I be interested in auditioning for A Cheese Shop Mystery series? Of course, I would! A cheese shop sounded tasty, fun, and felt like a perfect fit for me. I loved to cook. I used to cater. I almost sold wine and The Cheese Shop, per the publisher’s bible, had a wine annex. Last but not least, the grandmother who raised the protagonist was a sassy character who managed the local theater. It just so happened that I had acted in local theaters and on television and in film.

To audition for the job, I was asked to provide three chapters. I set to work, researching, tasting, and writing. Working within the publisher’s parameters provided a freedom I’d never felt before. I was writing something that had a strong hook and was already “wanted” by the publisher. In a matter of weeks, I turned in the chapters.

But I didn’t kid myself that I would be hired. I’d been rejected before. So I returned to my regular job of writing the next book.

When I was offered a three-book deal, I just about fell off my chair. I was going to be published, writing something I truly enjoyed!

In the future, I hope to sell one of my own stories, but for now, I write as Avery Aames, author of A Cheese Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, and I’m thrilled and proud.

My advice: If opportunity knocks on your door, open it and: Say Cheese!
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Avery Aames (aka Daryl Wood Gerber) is a long-time member of Sisters in Crime and the author of The Long Quiche Goodbye, first in the Cheese Shop Mysteries.  Avery blogs every Monday with Mystery Lovers Kitchen.  Check out her web site at www.AveryAames.com.

(This article originally appeared on the Bookends Blog.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gadget Magic

Here at Sisters In Crime, we love gadgets that make life easier.  And, in fact, we just installed a new gadget here on the blog that will make it easier for oure readers and members to share our blog posts.

If you look down at the bottom of the blog, on the right, you'll see a series of buttons.  Let your mouse hover over those buttons and you'll see that you can share any of our posts on your Facebook or Twitter pages.

How cool is that?

We're hoping our members and readers will make use of these cool buttons.  Go ahead -- try it now.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pictures, Prompts and Poetry: What's your secret weapon?

By C.L. Phillips

"My name is Sara and I'm a writer. It's been 12 days since my last writer's block."

12 stepsAdmit it. You'd sneak into a twelve step program for writers if it banished writer's block. So what do you do when the muse goes on vacation? After you've cleaned your desk, polished the stove, eradicated every cobweb in your house? How do you bootstrap your creativity?

I've got a new book with a thousand pictures. I'm on page three. I open the book, and write a five hundred word flash fiction story using the picture as my writing prompt. If you twist my arm, I'll tell you what the pictures are about. Hint - I was inspired by a recent best seller.

A dear friend, Patricia Lee Lewis (http://www.writingretreats.org/), posts a writing prompt each week on her blog. Each prompt comes with a time limit. You pick up the pen and write like a demon, usually for twenty-five minutes. Something magical happens as my fingers sprint against the clock with each word, shoving my writer's block into the corner. I simply do not have time to mess with the resistance. Instead, I smash it on the head and press on.

Sometimes I use these prompted writings in my current project. More often, I find after the exercise that something clicked in my brain. My characters start chatting to one another, and I'm off to the races. Writer's Block vanquished.

And what do I do when pictures and prompts fail? Poetry. Yep, that's right. I *cough*gag*spew read poetry. Not that I would ever admit that to my friends. Scrubbing bubblesUsually Robert Frost. Something about good fences or the road less traveled. His poetry tumbles around in my brain like the scrubbing bubbles on a bathtub, taking the ring of self-doubt and confusion down the drain.

As with any secret weapon, there's one final instruction. Do it when you first arise in the morning. Before life invades. At least, that's what I've found. When I prime the creativity pump, first thing in the morning, it never runs dry. As with any personal advice, I'm sure your mileage will vary.

What's your secret weapon? What exactly do you do to keep your creativity pump spewing like an oil rig in the Gulf? Oops, maybe I could have picked a better analogy. Better yet, while you are laughing, hit that comment button and share a little of your own magic. Like all good 12 step meetings or Weight Watcher meetings, the best advice comes from those on the path.

Write on!
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C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: www.clphillips.com or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787